Tuesday 21 July 2009

Down with the (swine?) flu

DS2 woke up with a temperature on Sunday morning, and it had hit 39.5C by early evening and wasn't going down with Panadol and cold towels. So we dropped DS1 at my parent's house at 8:30pm and drove to the local hospital's emergency department. The car park was completely full and there were people wandering outside wearing face masks. I left DW and DS2 in the car while I went to check out how long the queues in the emergency department waiting room were (I've had to wait over six hours to see a doctor on previous occasions), but didn't go past the entry due to a large sign stating that anyone with a cough of temperature could not enter unless they were wearing a face mask. There weren't any masks available at the door, so I decided to drive home to either collect some face masks, go to a local 24-hour medical centre, or call the locum to make an after-hours house call.

The locum service advised that they were very busy and it would be at least four hours before a doctor could attend us. Since it was already after midnight I decided to wait until Monday morning and visit our GP instead. By this time DS2's temp had dropped slightly and he was sleeping.

This morning we made an appointment with our GP in the morning for 11:30am, and I took DS2 in for a check-up. His chest and ears were fine, and the doctor thought it more likely to be a gastric virus than swine flu. We were given a prescription for a course of Tamiflu for DS2 "just to be safe" (since it's from the government stockpile we didn't have to pay anything, other than the normal GP consultation fee), and DW and I should go back to the doctor tomorrow if we're feeling worse (we both have a slight cough and temperature, and DW has some aches and pains). I was having bad chills last night, but was feeling reasonably OK today (although the cough seems to have settled in my chest), so I suspect we may just have the normal "seasonal" flu rather than swine flu that is spreading around Sydney at the moment. I had a seasonal flu vaccination last month, which would explain why I'm not as sick as DW or DS2. DS1 is still feeling OK, so he's staying with my parent's for another night. Fortunately it's school holiday this week, so my parents had previously arranged to have him during the day anyhow.

Hopefully we'll all be feeling better tomorrow morning.

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Looking for new tenants

The tenants of our rental property have bought their own house, and are moving out at the start of next month. They gave us more than one month's notice, and we have engaged the estate agency that sold us the property to find us new tenants. It costs a bit more than one week's rent to use the estate agent rather than advertising and screening potential tenant's ourselves, but I think it's worth the expense. In any case the fee is tax deductible against the rental income. The estate agent also has the benefit of being able to access the database of "bad" tenants - those who have a history of not paying rent, damaging properties etc. - although the privacy and tenant's rights laws make the database of limited practical use.

We had the first 30 minute "open for inspection" session last Saturday, and the estate agent phoned DW afterwards to report that their wasn't much interest yet from potential tenants. Apparently there has been some damage to the carpets (a burn) and the garden is a bit overgrown. I suspect that the agent would like us to lower the rent in order, although the amount we're asking is already in the bottom 10% for a three bedroom house in the area, and is a lower percentage of the average rent than it was when we bought the house nine years ago.

Of course the agent would prefer to quickly sign up a new tenant for less rent than have trouble leasing the property. A quick $750 for two half-hour inspections and some advertising is preferable to spending more time and effort to earn a $1000 fee. While we also don't want to have the property sit vacant for an extended period, lowering the rent from $500 to, say, $400 a week would cost us over $5000 a year ongoing, as it's very hard to raise rents for sitting tenants by more than the prevailing market increase each year.

Coincidentally the hot water tank at our rental property had rusted out and started flooding the laundry last week, so we had an unexpected $1,000+ expense. If we have to pay for gardening and carpet repairs/replacement to attract new tenants my cash flow for the rest of this year will take a hit.

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Sunday 19 July 2009

Cancelled my Kogan Full HD 1080p camcorder order

I was suffering a bit of buyer's remorse even as I wrote my post about ordering a Kogan Full HD 1080p camcorder two days ago! The thought that KMart may be selling an identical product for around half price made me wonder about the value for money of this product, despite the "low" price for a HD system. Later that evening I viewed some YouTube footage that had been recorded using a Kogan HD 1080P, and it looked pretty poor compared to what I'd previously obtained from my old Panasonic miniDV camcorder. In fact, it looked a lot like the results I can already get the 'pocket' camcorder I bought from Aldi last year! Higher resolution (2.14 mp) doesn't count for much if colour, focus and brightness are poor. My old Panasonic SD camcorder is SD PAL, so it's resolution is around 0.8 mp, but the DV recording is almost loss-less, whereas the HD Kogan recordings showed significant jpeg compression effects. Also, the Panasonic camera has superior optical zoom, colour balance and low light performance compared to the Kogan.

The final straw was when Kogan emailed me to advise that the unit was going to be shipped out two weeks later than had been advertised when I placed my order! Their website has now been updated with the new delivery date, but I think it's really poor customer service to only update the advertised shipping date the day AFTER you've sold out the current shipment. I emailed a request to cancel my order and they sent back a confirmation of my order cancellation and credit card refund within a couple of hours.

Instead of getting a new camcorder I've now ordered two "PANASONIC CGR-D16" (compatible) camcorder replacement batteries (Li-ion, 7.20 V, 3000.00 mAh) for $48 (+$10 postage) from e-Store.net.au. My old battery was only 1700 mAh, and lasted around 1 hour recording time when it was brand new, so these new batteries should each be able to record a full 90 minute mini-DV tape on a full charge. Hopefully using new batteries (and making use of my head cleaning tape) will be enough to get my Panasonic camcorder back in business for a few more years. So, instead of playing with a new Kogan camcorder, I'll spend some time trying to download my existing mini-DV tapes onto my PC via firewire, editing the videos and buring some DVDs. I've seen reports that the DV-out on the Panasonic NV-DS15 isn't sufficient for transferring files to a PC, as DV-in is also required, but I find that hard to believe, given that my camcorder came bundled with a bonus video editing application (that I've never used). Once the new batteries have arrived (and I find the firewire cable for my Panasonic NV-DS15) and have a go at downloading some recordings using Vista Movie Maker. 9-yo DS1 has done some video editing experience (including some "green screen" special effects!) on footage he recorded using his digital camera, so I'll probably have to get some lessons from him ;)

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Tuesday 14 July 2009

A new HD camcorder

About eight years ago I bought a Panasonic NV-DS15 mini-DV camcorder (just after DS1 was born), and was very happy with the quality of the recordings. However, problems developed while we travelling in Europe last year - the camera battery would only last 10-15 minutes between overnight charges, and the tapes got stuck during reloading a couple of times. I had been thinking of just buying a new battery (a "compatible" battery would probably cost around $50), but if that hadn't fixed the tape loading problems a service would end up costing as much as buying a new camera!

I'd also considered buying a new mini-DV format camcorder, to maintain compatibility with the existing tape collecting (and to use up my stock of blank tapes), but the cheapest models still cost around $200, and mini-DV isn't cutting-edge technology by any stretch of the imagination.

In the end I decided to order a Kogan "Full HD" digital camcorder online for around $380 (after a 5% discount coupon code, plus shipping). New stock (which has HDMI output) is due to ship on 24 July, so I expect to have the camera to play with by the end of this month. Aside from the relatively low price for getting 1920x1080 resolution, this camcorder hasn't got a great feature-set, and reviews have highlighted it's budget-level build quality. There are also some limitations that would be intolerable on a higher-priced product, such as no external mic facility, the internal mic being side-mounted, a slow, modest 5x optical zoom, and the fact that the automatic image stabilization only works in standard definition mode, not when operating in HD resolution mode. However, I honestly don't expect to be bothered by many of these missing or limited features. After all, I never used an external mic with my previous SD digital camcorder, hardly ever used a tripod mount, and only used the IR remote control unit once or twice!

One big plus is that the Kogan provides USB connectivity to download the MOV files to my PC, or I can just swap out the SD card in the same way as my digital SLR camera. I never got around to downloading my mini-DV recordings to my PC using the firewire connector (even though I paid a few dollars extra to get a firewire port on my Dell desktop PC), so the new camcorder will make it more likely I'll actually edit some of my home movies in future.

I'll be interested to see what the battery life is like under 'real' conditions. One review was critical, but according to the specs it should be reasonable: Li-ion 3.7V 1700mAh Rechargeable Battery (with 2-3 hours recording time). I'll be happy to get one hour one a full charge, which is similar to my old camera when the battery was brand new. I've no idea how long a full recharge will take.

The Kogan camcorder has a seven day money back guarantee, so I'll give it a work out the first weekend after it arrives and decide whether or not to keep it.

ps. Just after I'd ordered the Kogan camcorder online, I came across a link that showed the same camcorder (? apparently - but re badged as Audiosonic) had been on sale for $199 (normally $279) from KMart back in June! I'm not sure if KMart still sells this camcorder, but it may be worth looking for it in KMart before my order gets shipped on the 24th.

Once I've had a play with the camcorder I'll post a review.

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Thursday 9 July 2009

Free money for the kids

The latest issue of Money magazine has a special offer - a coupon for a $50 "Money for Jam" bonus deposit when a new NAB Smart Junior Saver Account is opened before the end of August. DW dropped in to a NAB branch and opened accounts for DS1 and DS2. She deposited $20 into each account, and the next day the $50 bonus had been credited.

These accounts have no fees and normally earn 1% pa interest. The interest rate goes up by another 1.35% pa for months where there's a deposit and no withdrawal. The kid's also got a free soccer ball money box each ;)

PS. An original coupon is required, but photocopies are accepted for additional accounts opened in the same family.

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Sunday 5 July 2009

Net Worth Update: June 2009

My net worth as at 30 June had increased a little (up $2,898, or +0.45% for the month) to $646,571.

My retirement account gained $5,440 (+2.05%) to $270,511, and the estimated valuations for my half of our real estate assets (house and investment property) were up $8,969 (+1.18%) to $766,806). My employers superannuation contributions for April-June should be processed in July, which will boost next months NW figure a bit.

However, much of these gains were offset by a drop in the value of my leveraged stock portfolio down by -$11,558 for the month to have a net value of -$27,716. The stock market losses were exaggerated by some of the margin loan interest for the 2009/10 financial year being capitalised during June.

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