27 October 2013

Penny Auctions and a Cheap GoPro

A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to be asked if I wanted to help out with a TV shoot for a local lifestyle program called Great South East. My niece Katrina and her husband Tony run Redlands Kayak Tours and the show was doing a segment on them. Here's the segment. That's me in closeup, about half way through, in the blue cap and green PFD.

The cameraman, as well as using the normal ENG camera that news cameramen use, had a small video camera, not much bigger than a match box, that he fixed to the front of the host's kayak. I was amazed, especially when I found out the price. Here was a camera being used by a professional TV cameraman that cost less than $400. It was the first time I'd seen a GoPro and I wanted one.

Back then, I was filling shelves in Coles, so I wasn't making much money. The pay situation hasn't really improved since then, so I haven't been able to justify buying one. The latest model, the Hero 3+ Black Edition is about $529 and the Silver Edition about $429.

About a week ago, I read a news article about penny auctions. If you haven't heard about them, the idea is you register on their website, buy a certain number of bids, then use those bids in auctions on the site. Unlike eBay, every time someone bids once the auction is in it's last 20 seconds, the clock resets to (usually) 20 seconds. If you place a bid and no-one else bids inside those 20 seconds, then you win the auction. Each bid you place adds only 1 cent to the price. If you're the only person to bid on a particular item, then you get it for 1 cent, since the price starts at 0c.

Sounds too good to be true? Well, yes it is. There's a catch. Keep in mind that you've paid on average, 60c for each bid (depending on the website) and you may have bought about 100 bids. The chances of you being the only person to bid on an item are pretty small, although it does happen. If it's a sought after item, like an iPad or a camera, then the bidding will be furious and you could quite easily use up all your bids in your first auction. If you get out-bid, you've blown your money.

That's how the penny auction sites make their money. A $529 GoPro camera might sell for $29 for example, but that's 2900 bids at 60c a bid, which works out to $1740 worth of bids, plus the $29 winning price that the website gets. A pretty good profit, I'm sure you'll agree.

Well, I figured I'd give it a go, signed up with QuiBids and bought a block of 120 bids. They recommend you start off small and bid on something cheap to get a bit of practice and get an idea how the system works. I took their advice and the day after registering I won a set of electric salt and pepper mills for the princely sum of 1c. Yes, I was the only bidder. Add to that the delivery charge and it came to $9.90, for an item that retails for $19.

Emboldened by my win, I decided to bid for a GoPro Silver Edition, without success, wasting about 20 bids. Oh well, you can't win them all and I'd picked up a view bonus free bids from winning the mills, so I still had plenty of bids left.

The next day I tried again and hit the jackpot. Including postage, I got a GoPro Hero 3+ Silver Edition for $18.02c and it was in my hot little hands two days later.


















I've since taken part in a few other auctions, for items such as iPads, backpacks, etc. My only other success so far is a Rank Arena Food Dehydrator, so now our bananas won't go to waste. I still have plenty of bids left and I'm getting pretty good at picking which auctions to avoid. Now if I can only get myself an iPad and that Dyson vacuum cleaner that Donna wants.

If you've come across this blog as a result of researching penny auctions to see if they're a scam, well, some of them are, some aren't. You can definitely lose a lot of money if you're not smart, even on a reputable site. There are plenty of stories of people maxing out their credit cards in one day, because they couldn't help themselves. If you're the kind of person that goes to the races and puts your money on a horse because you like its name, or the colour of its jockey's silks, then penny auctions are not for you. You'll be better off going to JB HiFi and paying full price for your GoPro. Incidentally, that's where QuiBids gets theirs from.

If you want to give it a go, here's the link to QuiBids http://qb.cm/r40456011

I should tell you though, if you follow that link and decide to register and buy a bid pack, I get 25 free voucher bids.  

04 October 2013

A man in a bowtie

We had a bit of a problem with one of the local cockatoos deciding to destroy part of our vegetable garden this morning. He didn't eat anything, just bit some of our corn, silver-beat, lettuce and kale off at the base.

So we decided to do something about it. We enlisted the help of a man in a bowtie, because bowties are cool.

Smiffy. Official vege garden security
























If that doesn't work, I'm going to turn that compost bin behind into a Dalek.

16 July 2013

Ticking another box

I mentioned in a previous post that I'd managed to tick two boxes in my postie career on the same day.

One of those was dropping the bike, apparently everyone does it at some time. There are, however, different levels of dropping the bike. Today I took it to the next level and dropped it while I was riding it.

Here's the only injury I sustained, other than the injury to my pride.

























It really bothers me when I see people riding scooters, or even proper motorcycles wearing short sleeves and skirts, especially when they're male. The grazing on my elbow was where it rubbed on the inside of my shirt-sleeve. Imagine what it would look like at 60 km/h on bitumen, with no protection. I landed on the grass. I have some pictures somewhere of the grazing I got when I stacked my 750 Zephyr a few years ago. I was wearing a proper motorcycle jacket, with armoured elbows, etc, and my elbow looked a lot worse than this, as did my knee.

So, how did I fall off, I hear you ask?

I'd just delivered to a house and looked at where my next delivery was. It was around the corner, meaning I had about four or five houses I could ride straight past to get to it. It's always safer, and faster, to ride on the road than the footpath, so I headed to the next driveway with the intention of getting onto the road. I didn't get to the driveway.

The next thing I know, my front wheel is sliding out from under the bike. I put my foot down to try and save it, but before I knew it I was lying on the grass, surrounded by my water-bottles, my scanner and a few loose items of mail. I rolled onto my back, uttered a naughty word then sat up and killed the ignition on the bike. It's amazing how quickly it all happens. One moment you're riding along without a care in the world, the next you're lying in a heap, wondering how that happened.

Luckily there was no damage to the bike, those things are bullet-proof. I guess it could have been a lot worse too. One of my colleagues collided with a roo a couple of weeks ago, he's now off sick with a cracked rib.

I'm wondering if there would have been any damage if I'd been riding one of these, our new postie bikes. I hope I'm not the first one to find out.

30 June 2013

Trees

I like trees, you can cut them down and make really useful stuff like boats, and books.























You can use them to hold up birds, so the cats don't get them.
















You can plant them near your letterbox and let them grow wild, so the postie can't get close enough to deliver your bills.

You can buy an expensive house and poison them to improve your view, forgetting that the trees are actually part of the view.

They also have another use that people don't always think of.

While I was delivering mail on Friday, I looked at the time and realised I was really going well. It was a light load and I reckoned I'd finish well before three. A good way to finish off the week. I'd had a good week too, Monday to Wednesday had all been beautiful, weather-wise. I'd had light loads and no junk mail to deliver. Thursday was a bit crappy, because it rained, but Friday looked to be good. There was rain around, but the way I was going, I'd be finished before it hit.

Then, just over a third of the way through my run, I did a u-turn across a street and noticed the bike was feeling a bit wibbly-wobbly. I looked down at the rear tyre after delivering some mail to number 4 and thought, that tyre shouldn't look that wide.

I'd got my first puncture since I started the job.

I rang the depot and they told me a spare bike was on its way. In the mean time, a lady asked me if I was okay and offered me a cuppa, which I politely declined. Caffeine and 4 hours on a bike without access to a toilet don't really mix. Shortly after that, someone from across the road came over for a chat and he offered me the use of a pump and some sunscreen, since by now I'd taken off my helmet and the sun was out.

He mentioned the soggy footpath on his side of the street. I'd discovered it pretty soon after starting the job. It's really waterlogged and a bit scary to ride on. I assumed it was a leaky water-main, since I can see the water-meters there, but it seems the reason for it was something else.

This particular street is at the bottom of a hill. A little way up the hill, one of the neighbours used to have a lot of trees in his backyard. Apparently he cut down about forty of them. That's forty trees that are, or were, sucking all the excess moisture out of the ground. Once the trees were cut down, all that water ran to the bottom of the hill and turned the footpath into a swamp. Before the trees were cut down, the footpath was always dry.

It's a common problem in areas where trees have been cleared, especially on hills. Where the trees used to draw the water up to the surface on the hill, that water now comes closer to the surface on lower ground, bringing with it salts from the under-lying rocks. The resulting salinity makes the land unusable, since nothing will grow in it.

I don't know about salinity in this particular case, the grass there is certainly loving the extra water. However, it was a good example of one of the things I learned about at uni in one of my ecology units.

Trees might spoil your view, drop their leaves in your gutter, get in the way of that swimming pool that you want in your backyard, but they're not just a source of timber, or a habitat for wildlife. They're more important than that.

15 June 2013

Ticking the Boxes

When I started working for Aussie Post, someone said there are two things guaranteed during your career as a postie, you will drop your bike and you will get attacked by a dog. I managed to tick both those boxes within fifteen minutes of each other this week.

I should mention right from the start, neither of these incidents were major.

Wednesday was an absolutely miserable day, it was raining, but despite it being winter here in Australia, it was uncomfortably warm in my wet weather gear. I was feeling a bit off colour on the way to work. You know that feeling, when you start to feel seasick and the more you think about it, the worse it gets?

I started off on my round, going a lot slower than usual, partly because of the wet ground, partly because I had junk mail to deliver, meaning I had to stop at nearly every letterbox, and partly because my mind wasn't fully on the job, due to feeling ill. About five streets into the run, I had to get off the bike to post something at the back of the letterbox, as it wouldn't fit through the slot at the front. It's something that will happen more and more in the future, as people shop more online.

I put the side-stand down, slipped the bike into neutral and applied the park-brake, then got off. As I was leaning over, discovering the parcel wouldn't fit in the back of the letterbox either, I heard that familiar 'crump' sound, as the bike toppled over and letters and rubber bands spilled out of the front carrier.

I swore, reached under the bike to turn off the fuel tap and ignition, then picked up the bike. They're actually quite easy to pick up by yourself and, as they have a side-stand on each side, I could lean it over the other way, where it wouldn't fall again.

After having rung my team-leader to let him know what had happened, checking the bike for damage, removing my jacket and helmet because I was starting to sweat, I managed to get the bike started again and was off. Actually, I think it was trying to start the bike that made me sweat, it took a while.

On the very next street, right at the top of the hill, is a house I don't always deliver to, even if I have mail for them. The reason is, their letterbox is at the top of their driveway, instead of down by the footpath where it's supposed to be. I can usually ride the bike to the top of the driveway, then reverse the bike down, but if there's a car parked in the way, their mail goes back into my pannier and I try again the next day. I just can't get safe access.

As I approached the house, I had already put their mail away, as I could see I couldn't get access to the letterbox again. This time though, there was a dog running toward me down their driveway and into the road.

Now there's another dog on my run that often comes running toward me. He's a Staffy and just wants to say hello. He invariably has a ball in his mouth. Once I've patted him and handed his owner the mail, he leaves me alone.

I wasn't sure if this dog was the same, but slowed to a stop to greet it, giving it the benefit of the doubt.

The little bastard grabbed my boot and tried to drag me off my bike.

Here's an example of what it looked like.

I blew my horn three times to try and get the attention of the owners, but as soon as I did, the dog walked off, as if nothing had happened. It was like it was saying, "I didn't do anything". We're told not to kick out at dogs when they attack, since you may fall of the bike. I reflected as I rode away that, had I kicked this particular toilet-brush-with-teeth, it would have ended up in Ormiston, the next suburb in that direction.

Things only got worse after that. The rain got heavier, my right pannier clipped one of those plastic pillar thingies that have something to do with the underground power and I nearly collided with a letterbox. By the time I got to one of the retirement villages on my run, where I usually get off the bike and have a bite to eat and a drink, I'd decided that carrying on the way I was, I would probably kill myself. I rang the depot and told my boss I was coming back in sick and had the rest of the day off.

Yesterday, on the other hand, was a great day for being a postie. The weather was beautiful, there wasn't a lot of mail and no junk mail. When I got to my last pick up, someone else had grabbed four bundles and delivered them for me. I knew he was going to do that, but not that much. So, a great day, working outside, and an early mark. Couldn't ask for better than that. I'm finding the job much easier now. The first few weeks were killers. Now I'm more used to it physically, it's just a case of plodding along until I get to the end of the run and I'm gradually getting quicker.

I just hope I don't have too many days when it rains and there's junk-mail while I'm feeling ill.

25 April 2013

Helmet hair

I've now been delivering mail for Australia Post, for a week and a half.

My round should take me about four hours to complete. I'm currently spending about five and a half hours on the bike per day and that's with someone else doing a couple of bundles for me. To explain about bundles. When the mail is sorted, it's bundled up with rubber bands and each bundle is numbered. I start my run with bundle number one, then when I finish that, I turn around and grab bundle number two out of my pannier, put it in my front carrier and continue from there until I run out of mail. Then I ride to the nearest drop box and refill my panniers with another eight or nine bundles. All up, there's around 1200 addresses on my round, in about twenty-five bundles.

I started learning the round last Monday by following my mentor, Jodi, around. He's been doing the job now for ten years and seems to know the area like the proverbial back of his hand. The first thing that surprised me is how tiring it is. Bouncing around for five or so hours really takes it out of you. The bike is actually quite comfortable, with a really nice soft seat, but most of our footpaths aren't concreted, so they're uneven to say the least.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, I did half the round while Jodi did the other half, then he came to check and see how I was getting on. The rest of the week, I did pretty much the whole round, with Jodi doing a few bundles here and there. This week it's been more of the same, I'll do most of the round, while someone does a few bundles so that I'm learning the round, but not spending too long getting it finished.

I'll eventually get faster at the job. At the moment I'm spending a lot of time having to do u-turns because I've ridden straight past a letterbox. There's a couple of reasons for this. A lot of people don't seem to see the necessity of having a number on their letterbox, which is okay if you're in a middle of your street and your neighbours either side have big numbers on theirs. If the house is on a corner though, I don't know the number until I get to the next house, then I curse, turn the bike around and ride back.

More annoying than the lack of numbers are the letterboxes that are hidden by hedges, or have garden beds in front of them. The ones that are hidden can't be seen as I ride up to them. I usually see them as I'm going past or when I look around wondering where it is. The ones with garden beds in front of them are just plain dangerous, as I have to either lean right out to deliver the mail, or park the bike on uneven ground and get off, hoping the bike won't fall over. We're actually within our rights to not deliver if we have difficulty getting access to a letterbox, but if we did that every time, we'd be taking a lot of mail back to the depot, and we'd still have to leave a card anyway. It's amazing how many people park their cars in the way of the letterbox too, which is actually illegal if they're blocking the whole footpath. The council could make a fortune in parking fines if they followed me around for the day.

I'm gradually getting used to it all though. I'm certainly less tired at the end of the day and I'm getting to know where all the hidden letterboxes are and what the best approaches are to get to the awkward ones. I'm also getting a lot better at my slow riding. The funny thing is, I can ride slowly around a parked car and between bushes and trees, but if I have to do a tight u-turn in the middle of the footpath, someone's driveway, or the street, where there's no obstacle, I still have trouble and usually end up putting my foot down.

One thing I'll definitely have to do is cut my hair more often. Check out this helmet hair.



















This is how I come home from work every day, with three ridges on the top of my head.

13 April 2013

Going Postal

I started a new job on Monday.

Since leaving my Airservices job back in September, I've spent most of my time writing novels. Codename: Digby is available for sale through Amazon and most other eBook websites such as Kobo. Codename: Greenland is in the editing stage and I hope to have it ready for sale some time in June. Unfortunately, my books aren't going to make me rich, so I needed to take the plunge and get a job.

Australia Post are always advertising for posties, so a few weeks ago I put in my application and after going through the process of interviews, police checks and a medical, I finally got a call, Wednesday before last, offering me a job and telling me I was to start on the following Monday. A big difference to the eleven months it took me to get into my previous job.

Monday to Wednesday this week was all induction, filling out paperwork, learning about Australia Post and who does what, security, health and safety. We even had a session on the power of positive thinking.

Thursday and Friday was when the fun started.

If you don't live in Australia or New Zealand, you may not know that we deliver the mail here on a little Honda CT110 motorbike. They're known as postie bikes here, because Australia Post is the biggest purchaser of them. Basically, they're a 1980s technology, single cylinder four-stroke, with a centrifugal clutch and they're practically bullet proof. We had to be trained to ride them safely.
I must admit to being a bit nervous on Thursday morning, it's been over six years since I was last on a motorbike and that was a 750cc Kawasaki Zephyr, the only bike I've ever crashed.

After introductions and some theory in the classroom, the ten of us went downstairs and were shown the bikes and how to do our daily inspections, something that has to be done every morning before going out on the rounds.

We started off by just riding around the range, a big parking lot kind of area. We had to go up to second gear, then back down to first and practice slowing down for give-way signs and stopping at stop-signs. When you're used to using a clutch to change gear, it takes a bit of getting used to, not having to do anything with the left hand.

From there, we did slow riding, which involved slaloms, doing u-turns in really tight spaces and riding a fixed distance of ten metres in over ten seconds. If my maths is correct, that means about 0.3 kilometres per hour. I managed to do it in about fourteen seconds. By lunch time, I was absolutely loving riding the little Honda.

After lunch we did some emergency stopping, getting up to thirty-five kmh, then hauling on the brakes at a certain point and stopping as quickly as possible without skidding, or falling off. We also did some figure eights, where we had two groups of six riding around and around, crossing each other's paths in the middle and not crashing. The day was finished with more slow riding practice.

Friday, we started off by inspecting our bikes under the watchful eyes of our two instructors, to make sure we were doing it correctly and not forgetting anything. It's something we can be audited on out at the depots.

This time we had panniers fitted to the bikes, each with about twelve kilograms of phone books in them. We're allowed to carry up to twenty five kilos of mail on the bikes, twelve and a half on each side. It makes the bike about two feet wider and, needless to say, I knocked over a traffic cone within about ten seconds of riding off. The panniers make the bike wider, but they also make it more stable, because the weight is low down. It's a bit like the pole a tightrope walker uses for balance.

We did more slow riding and I found it harder this time. It wasn't so much the extra weight on the bike, but the instructors telling me to look up all the time and distracting me. If I looked up, I couldn't see the cones and was worried I'd run over one, which I did. We did more figure eights and some more emergency stopping and an exercise where we had to come around a corner at about twenty-five then stop quickly, before going onto counter-steering. Essentially, counter-steering is swerving around an obstacle, but if you want to go right you turn the handle-bars to the left. Trust me, it works, it's all to do with gyroscopic procession.

We then did a little exercise where we had to ride up a short incline, pretend to deliver a letter, then reverse the bike and turn around so we could ride off. It's not as easy as you might think, since you have to make sure you don't touch the front brake and you have to be really careful you don't tip the bike downhill. Then we rode over to three letterboxes, all at different heights and pretended to deliver to those. There's a different technique for each one, for example, with a high letter box, we select neutral, put down the kick stand and use the park brake. Yes, they have a park brake on postie bikes.

Having now ridden up to some letter boxes, I was starting to feel like a postie.

After lunch we had our road ride. We followed one of the instructors to a nearby football field, attracting a lot of attention as we went. Twelve people on little red bikes in high viz gear tends to do that. At the football field, or rather next to it, we practiced picking up a dropped bike, then we practiced locking up a brake and recovering from the skid before it got too bad. It's amazing how quickly the ground went from wet grass to slippery mud.

From there we went to some back streets and played follow the leader, taking it in turns being the leader, while the instructor observed from second position behind you. We attracted a lot of attention here too, as it's school holidays at the moment, so there were plenty of little kids standing on the footpath watching us ride past and waving to us.

Once that was done, it was back to the school to do a quick theory test and then we were finished. It's hard to believe I got paid to have so much fun.

Next Monday I start learning my route. I'll follow another postie around on the first day and gradually deliver more and more mail over the following days, until I'll be delivering by myself the following week.

Getting paid to ride a motorbike on the footpath for four hours a day. How cool is that? And, I'll still have time to write my novels.

I'm not too sure about all this rain though.