Sunday, 24 June 2012

How Did I Miss This Album?

Janis Ian wrote her first song when she was 13 years old, Society's Child, released in 1967; it tells the story of an interracial romance doomed by social pressure. Many radio stations in the South refused to play it at all, and a station in Atlanta that did play it was burned to the ground.

She went on to become well regarded for her clever melodies and melancholy lyrics, her best selling album probably being the 1979 release Night Rains. I thought she had completely stopped recording, but apparently not: Folk Is The New Black was released in 2006, and it's an amazing 'back to your roots' journey. Working with Victor Krauss on upright bass and guitars, and Jim Brock on percussion and drums, Ian produces a masterpiece of intimate sound, delightful melodies, and unforgettable lyrics (the context here is a rising tide):

" While politicians lie and cheat to get to higher ground
We follow them like sheep, and salute them while we drown "

She has also been writing science fiction for the last 15 years or more, and therefore gets an extra 50HP and +3 on Charisma from me.

You rock, Janis, you truly do.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

This Way Madness Lies

I have an occasional need to transport my bicycle in my car. The car is a Volvo C30, which looks something like this without the rear spoiler or the twin exhausts:



So with the rear seats folded flat I can just fit the bike in the car, passing it through the tiny tailgate opening, provided I remove the front wheel. Which ought to be easy as it has a quick release. It isn't easy because the bike is quite old and only has a quick release at the axle; getting the fully inflated tyre past the brake blocks which have no release, quick or otherwise, takes a mountain of effort.

So much effort, in fact, that I went looking for a better solution. On the Interwebs I could see that Volvo had two solutions in principle: a bike carrier on the roof, or a bike carrier on the towbar. The latter solution looked expensive and so it turned out, so it was fortunate that they no longer make the rear bike carrier anyway. Volvo offered me a very attractive price for the rooftop solution, so I went with that.

The solution comes in two parts: a pair of load carriers (your generic roof racks) which are transverse across the vehicle, and bicycle carriers which run longitudinally, fitted on top of the load carriers:



Now add the bicycle carriers and the bicycles:



So the collection of parts eventually arrived and, after reading the instructions 10 times, I fitted the load carriers without much difficulty. It would have been no difficulty at all except stupid here tried to fit the rear carrier with the wrong side to the left; eventually sorted. Emboldened, I went to fit the first bicycle carrier. The manual had two fixing methods: either a clamp tightened around the load carrier or a bolt fitted within the aluminium extrusion of the load carrier. The latter didn't appear to be possible since that space was occupied by a rubber seat, so I tried the latter. Over and over again, failing every time.

So I gave up and went back to Volvo with my tail between my legs and said to the parts man: "Help. I can't do it." He said: "Ah, yes, there's a trick to it, I only found out about it myself a few days ago." So we went out to my car and he started to show me the trick: "See, what you do, you release the end cap of the load carrier. Right, now peel out the rubber seat. Right, now insert the bolt with the head inside inside the extrusion ... no, not that bolt, the one with the fat square end." I said: "I didn't get a bolt like that, this one is all I have." So he said: "OK, you'll need that other bolt, those ones you've got won't work, I'll order some."

I picked up the replacement bolts today, which brings me to the point of my post. I don't believe I'll have any trouble fitting the bits and finishing the job, but let's look at what I received. First, 3 plastic bags each nearly half a metre long containing 1 folded sheet of A3 paper, 2 bolts, 2 washers and 2 complicated nuts for hand tightening:



The front page of the A3 told me I had a 'T-groove kit and wheel holder' for every model of Volvo under the sun EXCEPT mine. The next page contained this useful diagram which has nothing whatsoever to do with my situation, and a comments form:



Page 3 has this diagram which has exactly nothing to do with my situation either, but did inform me that the washer goes on the nut side, not the bolt side:



As you can imagine, these little diagrams did not occupy much of the page. Page 4 was totally blank.

If you refer to the image of the bag above you can see that the bag itself has a Part Number, and two applied labels. The first label (the big square one) just tells us the Part Number for the contents of the bag. The other label is where madness lies:



This label refers to the total order, not just the first bag. But in what demented universe does an oversize bag containing 2 bolts, 2 washers and 2 nuts require both a Part Number and a Product Number? Why is the Part Name 'Retainer' when the enclosed manual refers to the bits as 'T-groove kit'? What is a Case Code? Why is the 'Spec emb' field blank, and what would it mean if it wasn't? And why does a plastic bag need a Part Number? And so on.

Now if we run out of electricity before we run out of oil, then all the world's computers will crash and the Volvo Parts facility will no longer be able to work at all. But the guy at Roof Rack City will just hand label his bits and buy some candles. Makes you think.

Friday, 1 June 2012

The Tenant's Dilemma

When we moved into this house over 20 years ago, we were very lucky. It's a nice house in a good area, and was offered as a rental, which suited us just fine, as we had very limited capital and not much disposable income either. Over the years the rent has diverged from the market, becoming lower and lower relative to the competition, and is now sitting at 80% (est.) of the free market rent. This has made the place, financially, a good deal, certainly compared to buying, and so when I received a letter from the agent inviting me to renew the lease at a slightly increased rent, I agreed.

Which is where the problem began.

Clearly the agent hadn't discussed the renewed lease idea with the owners, because they came back and said they had no clear idea where they were going in the next 12 - 18 months and would not be interested in renewing the lease (which means the tenancy would become month to month). It doesn't take much of a brain (fortunately) to realise that they have paid out the mortgage on their investment property, and are looking to get the capital gain as soon as the market is right.

Now this property is in Canberra, and presently the market here is going backwards for houses and townhouses, and likely to continue that way for some time as an avalanche of blocks is being released in new residential subdivisions. To find a previous era when this much land was being released you almost have to go back to the 1960's. If you are the owner of a residential property here where a portion of the market value is attributable to scarcity, be prepared to take a bath.

In other words, get out quick. Which doesn't help me in the slightest. Here are the options:

OPTION A: Buy the place. And then watch its value diminish over the next 5 - 10 years. Yuck.
OPTION B: Rent somewhere else in Canberra (at a minimum 20% premium over the current rent). Yuck.
OPTION C: Buy somewhere else in Canberra, and then watch its value diminish yadda yadda yadda. Yuck.
OPTION D: Buy somewhere else in Australia where houses are a lot cheaper, and then who gives a rat's fart whether it does or does not increase in value? My hankering is for the Queensland Sunshine Coast, because I have been seduced by its climate. Prices are 60% - 65% of the same thing in Canberra.
OPTION E: Leave Australia altogether and buy something in France.

Wait ..... what? Where did that last one come from?

I borrowed a book from the local library titled 'Buying A House In France' aimed at English audience; it was just an impulse borrow, I didn't have a plan. Flicking through the pages without reading anything I came across the colour illustrations. First one, a 5-bedroom 2-storey stone and grey tile roof house with gorgeous pale green shutters on over 7,000 sq.m. of land, with the back lawn sloping down to the river (un-named). And I thought, yeah, right, how many million euros for that?

In 2010 it was 310,000 euros (just under A$400,000) at present exchange rates.

Of course, that house is no longer available, but trawling the Interwebs I found something comparable for 250,000 euros (A$320,000). Do I speak French? Barely a word. Do I know anybody in France? Nope. How would my income be affected (memo to self: check 3 times)? Probably very badly. However, I know I won't want to do this when I'm 70 years old; while the last flush of youthful vigour is still with me (hah!) is the time to do it. Or pass the chance by, and have no regrets.