Wednesday 22 December 2010

Start of the holidays

My workplace is shutting down between Christmas and New Year's, so all the staff have to take some of their annual leave days during this period. It isn't much of an imposition though, as most staff would probably want to take leave during that period anyhow. I've also taken a few extra days off before Christmas, so today was my last day of work until the 4th of January.
During the break I want to read through a couple of the planetary science textbooks I got from I'll also have another go at using the Meade CCD camera I bought last year. I've written a first draft of an application for a student fellowship position at the Australian Astronomical Observatory - the competition for these positions is fierce (usually 30+ entries for the 2-3 available slots), so I'm not likely to get one. I'll revise the cover letter and CV during the holidays and send the 'final' version to the lecturer at JCU for some feedback before I send it off to the AAO in late January. It does no harm to apply, and some of the documentation can probably be recycled if I apply to the JCU doctorate program in a couple of years time. If I did get accepted I'd have to arrange to take the 10-12 weeks off work in June-August. Fortunately I have 8 weeks of long-service leave and 8 weeks of annual leave accumulated so this should be possible (although the boss might not like the idea).
Subscribe to Enough Wealth. Copyright 2006-2010

Sunday 12 December 2010

The down-side of ordering textbooks online

My textbooks order arrived from a couple of days ago, so I'll have lots to read while I visit my parent's farm for the holidays. Unfortunately the cardboard box had been broken in transit and 'repacked' by simply dumping the entire contents and box into a soft 'tote bag'. Obviously that didn't provide much protection for the books as they travelled airmail from the US to Australia, so all the books arrived with some damage. The heavier, hard-cover textbooks (costing over $100 each) arrived with damaged spines and covers. I emailed both packaging feedback and their customer service, but the response so far has been underwhelming. The customer service department responded within 24 hours of my complaint, but all I got was a boilerplate response offering either a refund or replacement books if I send the damaged books back to

That would be fine if I lived in the US (so postage costs and delivery time wasn't an issue), but sending the damaged books back for replacement would cost at least $50 postage, plus I'd have to wait two or three months for the replacement textbooks to arrive.

Since I want to start reading the textbooks NOW, I've emailed again reiterating my original request for some compensation by way of a partial refund. A small amount of compensation by way of an gift card would appear to be a win-win solution. I'd be able to keep the damaged books and start using them immediately, have some funds to use towards buying additional books from in the future, and avoid having to pay expensive postage to return the books to And Amazon would win by the gift cards costing less than the cost of mailing replacement books out to me (which could get damaged again!), and would also benefit by my next order using the gift card most likely being for more than the value of the gift card.

We'll see if I actually get a "human" responding to my second email, or just another stock standard response to return them for a refund or replacement.

One especially irritating feature of the customer feedback process was that the customer feedback form doesn't allow attachments (so I could not include the photos of the damage to the books and packaging that I had sent to them using the packing feedback form), and the reply (with photos attached) I sent to their initial customer service reply bounced - so I had to reply using the same customer feedback form that doesn't allow attachments!

UPDATE: Amazon came back very quickly with a refund of the shipping cost plus a "goodwill refund" of part of the cost price of the books. In total I will get $146.46 refunded out of the $585.84 originally paid. Part (~2/3) of the refund is being credited back onto the CC I used to make the purchase, and the remainded will be credited as 'gift card' value onto my account (and will be automatically deducted from the total of my next order). Overall, I'm happy with Amazon's response as I don't have to wait for the books to be replaced and I get some compensation for the books not arriving in good condition. Although the box used for the shipment of 7 books (which included three hefty hardcovers) was obviously not strong enough in this case, my previous orders from Amazon had all arrived in excellent condition. So the problem could have been caused by excessively rough handling of the package through the postal system, rather than the standard of packaging - in which case it was not really Amazon's fault.

Subscribe to Enough Wealth. Copyright 2006-2010

Monday 6 December 2010

MoA update

The results for my second semester subject (Astronomy Instrumentation) came out this morning -- another Distinction. Considering I was ill for a month in the middle of the semester it's about as good as I could reasonably expect. On the one hand I need to start earning some High Distinction grades if I'm to have any chance of getting a university medal, so I was hoping I might somehow still have done well enough on the final exam to get an HD. At the same time I was worried I might wind up with only a credit, as I had been too busy finishing off my assignment tasks at the end of the semester to put in enough time revising for the exam.

While I'm waiting for my textbook order to arrive from I've started reading through some of my old technical writing and research project management textbooks in preparation for the Literature Review and Pilot Research Project subjects I'll be taking in the final year of the MoA course. The last time I did a literature review and project (for a GradDip in Applied Chemistry more than a decade ago) I was woefully disorganised and just dived straight into reading papers and "doing the lab work" without spending any time defining specific goals or planning the overall project. I'm also re-reading the posts in the 'Study Hacks' blog ( as it seems to have some good pointers on how to narrow ones focus (and underload) in order to achieve excellence. This is the exact opposite of my previous approach (attempting to do too many things simultaneously - such as enrolling in two different post-grad courses at the same time!).

Subscribe to Enough Wealth. Copyright 2006-2010

Thursday 2 December 2010

Net Worth Update: November 2010

The stock market didn't do so well this month, what with Ireland going broke, North Korea going (more) insane, and locally the Reserve Bank raising interest rates only to find that the economy had practically ground to a halt in the last quarter (0.2% GDP growth). However our property valuations rose a bit during the month, so my overall net worth figure hardly declined. With the economy slowing down, unemployment rising slightly (although still at almost 'full' employment) and interest rates rising at a time household debt is at an all-time high, I don't expect Sydney real estate prices to rise in 2011 or 2012. Most likely prices will remain close to current levels, which will result in a small (5%-10%) drop in real prices over that period.

Assets___________$ Amount______$ Diff_____% Diff 
Stocks_*__________$16,491_____-$7,486______n/a % 
Retirement_______$347,568_____-$1,261____-0.36 % 
Properties_______$942,757______$4,815_____0.51 % 

Debts____________$ Amount_____$ Diff_____% Diff 
Home Mortgage(s)_$363,441________-$81____-0.02 % 

Net Worth________$943,376_____-$3,851____-0.41 %

* the Stocks figure is portfolio value - margin loans. As my portfolio value (and margin loan debt) is around $500,000 relatively small movements in the stock market produce huge percentage swings in the net value of my stock portfolio each month.

Subscribe to Enough Wealth. Copyright 2006-2010

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Extra expenses due to the new car

The week before I collected our new car I decided I'd better tidy up the garage and install an automatic opener on our roll-a-door. I'd been parking the old car outside in the carport, but didn't think that would be such a good idea with the new car - someone had stuck screws into two of our tyres a couple of weeks ago, and on Halloween night some eggs had been thrown at our house (but luckily didn't hit the car or make too much mess).

I bought the cheaper 'HomeEntry' brand door opener kit ($275) at the local hardware as it was almost identical to the version made by B&D (the local 'name' brand roll-a-door manufacturer) - but the B&D version cost over $400. After cleaning up the garage and grinding the padlocks off the roll-a-door I found that it was very difficult to open the door manually, and that it had a lot more wear and tear than I remembered. So I arranged for a couple of quotes for the old door to be replaced with a new one, and for the automatic opener kit to be installed. The cheapest quote was $1,190 but the door couldn't be delivered before Christmas, so I ordered the slightly more expensive B&D door ($1,280) as it 'might' be ready for installing the week before Christmas.

Hopefully there won't be any other unexpected expenses due to owning the new car.

Subscribe to Enough Wealth. Copyright 2006-2010