A good week's snowboarding

Waz, Simon
and Ben at Perisher

Holly and I just got home from a week's snowboarding at Perisher with Holly's brother Ben and his mate Warren. It was a great week with brilliant weather, a deep base of snow and even a mid-week topup of the snow.

My boarding went from a bit rusty through to quite good by the end of the week. Sadly Holly gave up on this snowboarding thing and has decided it's not for her.

Now I'm thinking about going to Niseko in Japan in February...

Bring on the lifetime of crippling debt

Today Holly and I exchanged contracts on a house in Marrickville. Yes, this is the neighbouring house to the one we bid on a couple of weeks back.

For those of you in the UK who seem to be able to have a house deal go on for 18 months only for it to fall through on the last day, in countries with a marginally sensible land title system, "exchange of contracts" means that both parties are now committed to the sale. At a date defined in the contract, the final amount will be paid to the vendor and the ownership of the property will be transferred to the buyer. The buyer also ends up owning the land, which I know will seem odd to Londoners -- nope, there will be no toffs whose great-grandfathers sucked a royal nob involved.

Settlement is set for the end of November, which suits both the vendor and our circumstances.

Crippling debt, here we come!

Great online customer service, in Australia?

Since returning from the UK, I've been massively underwhelmed with the way Australian business has embraced the Internet. While most companies now have web sites, they're invariable brochureware of the 1998 variety. Things really haven't moved on yet, even in industries that aren't that complex.

I tried multiple times to move my gas an electricity services to new suppliers online, to either reach an email form or to submit my request only for... absolutely nothing to happen.

The big retailers tend to have little more than (clunky) store finder and links to PDFs of their latest catalogues, and nothing like a comprehensive listing of their products.

It's really quite disappointing that things have stagnated so much. So it was refreshing when recently I experienced amazing online customer service from a very unlikely service.

As we're buying a house, I ordered a catalogue of fruit trees from Daleys based up in Kyogle near the Queensland border. The extensive catalogue arrived, with the latest availability listing and prices, a couple of days later. So far so impressive.

A week or so later, I get an email from them checking it arrived and asking if I have any questions. So I ask a few questions about suitability for the Sydney climate and planting times, and get a response shortly afterwards. The exchanges were all tracked in a ticketing system (I'm guessing something like RT from the format) so the conversation will be archived, they can have escalation procedures to enforce service levels. Amazing!

This from a tiny tree nursery business run from the hippy-heavy Northern NSW hinterlands. They've got all the ingredients for brilliant customer service: good infrastructure, a simple business model, enthusiastic staff and a basic CRM system. Hippies. Northern NSW. Tree farmers.

So what the hell is wrong with Australia's big companies?

How?

Earle just posted the search terms starting with "how" used to reach The Open Guide to London and I thought I'd check it out in my Google Analytics account for my own site. Quite enlightening. The first one is the most popular with two unique visitors. Who'd a thought?

how to piss people off at work
how do i get sound working
how far is sofia to skopje
how to aero bar recipe
how to get over bad decisions
how to get sound working in linux
how to piss people off
how to speed up sis 630

In answer to the Skopje question: a seemingly very long way if you're driving with the suicidal maniac driving the minibus we were in!

Photo scene completion

Sienna

While we were travelling through Europe, the sign that a building was truly old was that it was covered in scaffolding. Sure, these buildings really need their maintenance, but it's kinda annoying. I don't think I've seen Notre Dame scaffold-free, ever. Ditto St Pauls.

Enter computer scientists James Hays and Alexei Efros who've got a great paper detailing an amazing system they've built. You can chop a chunk out of a photo and it will replace it seamlessly, drawing on a large database of photos taken from the net. Also works for annoying tourists walking through your carefully lined-up photo. Brilliant!

We bought a house! (nearly)

Holly and I last night negotiated the details of our purchase of a lovely house in Marrickville. It's next door to the place we bid on last Saturday.

The process here is quite unusual. At the end of the auction on Saturday, the owner of the house on the other side of the shared wall, in other words the mirror image of the house we'd bid on, tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I'd like to look at another house "the same only in better condition". So we went in and had a look, chatted to the owner and discussed it. Turns out the owner hates estate agent scum as much as I do, wanted the process to be honest and painless, was keen on a long settlement which also suits us, and was in possession of a house that's in quite a bit better condition than next door!

So we've negotiated the price and conditions. Contract late this week or early next week. Settlement in December. Lovely!

Now Holly and I have lots of time to plan improvements and dream.