Friday, 27 February 2009

[BlogSite.027] Style change

Thanks to The Browns's blog, I noticed this site called The Cutest Blog on the Block and decided to give their fancy background image a try - I have been in the same look and feel since April 2007!

Hope you like the new style...

Thursday, 26 February 2009

[Others.037] Hello Queen Mary 2!

Queen Mary 2, the largest cruise ships to visit Sydney is here!

We can still see it even from our office at Martin Place, which is quite far away. I only have my mobile with me, so sorry about the not-so-clear image...

2nd try, with a bit of zooming.....

Still not very good... Looks like I need a new phone that comes with a much better camera...

Alright, to have a much better photo of the beautiful ship, have at look at this page on or their official photo gallery.

Sydney Morning Herald also have a report here, but there's no photo and not as interesting as the previous one...

From their official Australian web site here, I was quite impressed about the facilities available.

According to this page it cost $12,629 for a 44 days trip. Sounds a lot, but if you divide that by 44, it's only about $287 per day. Don't forget that this also covers accommodation and they still have to feed you! If only I can have so many holidays....

Sad to know that it's leaving tonight and heading for Tokyo. Wait, don't go! Every passenger has to spend at least AU$500 before you are allow to leave Sydney :-) !

Finally, some interesting facts about the ship:

# The Queen Mary 2 is two thirds the length of the Sydney Harbour Bridge
# The ship's engines produces enough thrust to launch a jumbo jet and can reach a top speed of 30 knots
# It has 1072 deck chairs, 2000 bathrooms, 3000 telephones and 5000 stairs
# It weighs 150,000 tonnes and is 345 metres long
# The Queen Mary 2 is the largest passenger ship to ever visit Australia, it is more than double the size of the Queen Elizabeth 2 and more than three times the size of the Titanic
# The ship is 44 metres longer than the Eiffel Tower is tall (300 metres)
# It is 34 metres longer than the original Queen Mary
# It cost an estimated $800 million dollars to build
# The Queen Mary 2's whistle is audible for 16 kilometres
# The ship has no wheel but a joystick to control its movements.

Monday, 23 February 2009

[Others.036] We all need something like this...

[Tips.017] A little tip about your drive way

We have a visitor the other day asking why we don't extend our drive way from our boundary to the road, as shown below from one of the houses in our suburb with the front part of drive way highlighted.

It would certainly look better and actually that was our original plan. But after discussion with our landscaper Joe, we learned that because that part of the drive way belongs to the council, there's a risk if we extend our paving all the way to the road.

We all know that occasionally, the council would have some sort of maintenance work on sewage, water pipes, gas pipes, underground pipes, ...etc for whatever reason. When it happens, your drive way could be more or less damaged. According to Joe, our council will only replace whichever part of the damaged drive way with concrete. To fix it properly using the same paving (or even concrete stencil surfacing) would be at our own cost.

Plus, as that could be X months/years later and it would be almost impossible to get the exactly same colour of bricks(as it would be from different batch), it won't look good at all!

Well, I guess you can say that we could just order extra bricks and keep it somewhere as spares. We did have some, but surely won't be enough if it's a major work. Plus the worry of extra cost and trouble also scares us a bit.

That's why after some discussion, we decided to do the paving of our drive way up to the boundary only.

One other thing is, may be your council is different from ours, better find out the answer from your council in case you believe extending the drive way to the road is quite important to you...

So for all of you who still hasn't finish your drive way, there's this little extra thing FYI and hope you find it helpful!

[Progress.151] Big hail storm last Saturday, leaf guard installed

Saturday (21/2) around 11:30 am, we went to one of the Chinese restaurants in Eastwood (a suburb next to Epping) for lunch. It was pouring quite heavily, and half way through our meal all the lights in the the restaurant went off. Luckily the emergency light turned on immediately and we were still able to quickly finish the lunch. Without the air con it was extremely hot.

When we walked out the restaurant, we found that all the shops on the street lost power. It certainly caused some impact to all the businesses that day! Then the hail storm started, it didn't last a long time but it's quite amazing watching all the little ice blocks falling with the rain.

We quickly rush home after the storm and found half of our sun room flooded with water. Didn't have time to take any photo as we were busy cleaning up.

The water slowly disappeared after about 10 - 15 min. This is what our sun room looks like after the clean up, flooring tiles still quite wet.

We have 3 drain holes at the back, I quickly check all of them but couldn't find any sign of blockage. I think it's probably because there's just too much water to be handled.

Also found that there's so much water that it formed a small valley in the garden at the front as below.

Talking about the front garden, I took a photo from different angle as below. And yes, you can see the new house by Eden Brae right across the road.

Compare to the following one last July, these plants have certainly grown pretty well! Urh... Please ignore the ugly fence, which neighbour refused to share the cost for replacement... Our plants have done an excellent job in blocking the view...

We just finished the installation of leaf guard over all the gutters, which should have also helped with the water drainage. A few photos below, it wasn't very clear though.

Tell me how you feel about the quality of the work, and like to see if you can pick up any problem from these 2 photos. We are still waiting for ABC Seamless to fix a few things, which I will try to cover the details in future post.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

[Others.035] What's next after 3 more builders collapsed?

You might have already heard about this sad news: after last year's collapse of Beechwood Homes and late this January Wincrest Homes, it's really sad to see 3 more NSW builders go bust.

The formal media release from Office of Fair Trading/Department of Commerce can be found here for Kingstone Homes on 9th Feb, Tsurami on 6th Feb and Pacific Blue Homes also on 6th Feb.

Compared to the 450 unfinished houses in previous 2 incidents (350 for Beechwood and 100 for Wincrest), according to news here and here, the number of unfinished house is a smaller number of about 40-45.

But each of them will still be heart breaking for each house owner & family, and of course, the builders' staff members.

People always say that in most cases, buying a property is the biggest lifetime investment. Then building a house would be even more risky one as until you got the key, you won't know what could happen.

And if you are like us, who have to pay "triple mortgages" during the construction period the situation is even tougher. I call it "triple" because one is for the land/house that's under construction, one is the money for the construction of the new house, and another one for the rent as we need to have a place to live in.

The economy isn't that well in the past few months. Having this kind of problem with the builder will certainly extend the house completion date for at least months or even years. Hope all those families can go through this without too much impact...

Talking about the bad economy, the other day I suddenly notice opposite the Epping Station, on the Northern side of Beecroft Road which I rarely visit, more than half of the shops are either vacant or have a big "For Lease" sign. I took a photo from my mobile as below and mark those shops with red arrows.

And not only this, even the "Epping Club" walk on the other side of the road, which I walk pass almost every day has 2 out of about 10 shops been vacant for a few months.

Good to see the government trying different things to help everyone going through the hard time. But personally I still don't think giving out cash is a good strategy.

According to this article by the opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull:
the Rudd Government's latest $42 billion spending package includes provision to borrow up to $200 billion - that is, a total of $9500 for every man, woman and child in Australia.

Everyone should also have a look at this article by John Rolfe
"Kevin Rudd's national debt show a poor savings record".

The most interesting thing I learned from the article is this table about "Australian Government general government sector net debt and net interest payments" since 1970, which is "table D4" from Appendix D: Historical Australian Government data of Australian Budget 2008-2009.

It took the government more than 30 years to get out of debt. With the bad spending habit of Labour Party, wonder how long would that last.

About the $42 billion spending package, other than a very short term cheer from those who received the money, is this going to create more jobs in the long run? I really doubt it. It's just like Credit Cards, you can have a really good time while spending. But if you can't pay it on time, the interest is going to kill you!

Any way, for those of you who still have a half finished house, may be it's safer to save those extra bonus/spending money for the unexpected. Nowadays cash is king! Just hold on a bit longer, I am pretty sure most of the builder should be alright and will finish your house on time (as it's not very busy right now...). Wait until you receive the key then you would be safe to celebrate your new house in whichever way you like, good luck!

Saturday, 21 February 2009

[Progress.150] 50 years warranty - what else could you ask for?

On Friday, we have an inspector from TermGuard on site for annual inspection of the termite protection system.

First he climb up into the ceiling area with a big torch. Then he use this Tramex Moisture Meter device to carefully check each and every wall inside the house. This thing cost about $800 each, not cheap!

After that, he walk around the outside of the house and then to the backyard, checking all the timber fences. He paid lots of attention to the half-rotten fence on the southern side. Yes, we know it's very ugly but since the neighbour refused to share the cost, what can we do if that attracts termites? I bet their old house would look more tastier than ours....

At the end, he use a long screw driver to pick/punch a few areas/holes under the root of the 2 big trees in our backyard, looking for termites. Luckily everything was clear and there's no sign of any termite.

I heard that TermGuard is the only company in the industry that provides 50 years written warranty. We have no choice as it's the termite protection system used by our builder.

I copied this fancy flash demo from their web site, showing how their system works. Basically you pump some chemical into the box which connects to the longs pipes which surrounds the house. Have a look at this old post of mine last year to see what the pipes look like. You can also get further information from this page on their web site.

The 50 years warranty sounds too good to be true. Of course there's always a catch - your house has to be checked by their qualified inspector every year, and every 3 years you have to refill those chemical stuffs, also only by their qualified technicians.

From a different angle, I am actually quite impressed with their business model:

If the customer is afraid of X, we can provide Y years of protection warranty. Under the condition that it has to be inspected by our qualified, professional technician every [month/year], and every Z [months/years] you have to purchase this special ABC product/service from us....

In this case, X=termite, Y=50, Z=3... Which means for every new customer, it brings in 50 years worth of inspection business, plus about 17 years of chemical product sales... Not bad at all!

I am start thinking of different areas, what are the things new house owners would be afraid of? Noise, Leaking/plumbing problems, Landscaping, Gutter Leaf Guard protection, surge protection, ...etc.

May be we can also apply the same thinking to other areas... At work, car, health, computer virus/spyware/malware, ...etc.

This post doesn't sound like it belongs to a house building blog at all, more like a business guide/idea thing... Well, who care? As long as someone can find this helpful, I would be willing to share! There's business ideas everywhere, just depend on whether you can pick it up and do something about it...

Thursday, 19 February 2009

[Others.034] Epping to Chatswood Rail Link open to public next week!

We are all very exciting to hear the news that the Epping to Chatswood Rail Link is going to open to public next week!

When I was at the Epping station on Friday (20/2), the gate was still shut and this guy was busy working on the escalator. May be some last minute clean up before the grand opening?

This is a better view through the glass walls from the other side.

According to the City Rail web site, it will be open to the public (No it's not free! You still have to buy a ticket!) next Monday (23/2) morning.

At first we all thought we could now travel from Epping to Chatswood, and straight to City for work. Then notice from this page that this is actually only the "Phase One", and it's only a test "shuttle" service between Epping and Chatswood. Still have to wait under Phase Two, which is God-knows-when (hopefully before 2010?) to have the full service. Well, at least it's better than nothing!

There has been lots of bad news in the past few years (for example, the one below Epping to Chatswood underground rail link a disaster, and NSW Govt admits serious flaws in $2.3b rail link) and now finally, more than doubles the budget, only half been delivered (the other half from Epping to Parramatta was chopped), can't remember how many years behind schedule, it's finally "almost" finished. Damn, don't we love our wonderful NSW state government!

There were a few very nice photos shown on the City Rail web site as below. I hope it's not misleading, as according to the 2 articles mentioned above, it was extremely noisy and the latest train (photo shown below) won't be "powerful" enough to "climb" the steep track under the Lane Cove Park, as:
"Mr Graham today admitted the Tangara trains - around eight per cent of the CityRail fleet - could not be used on the tunnel because the 4km incline from under the Lane Cove river would cause the train's traction motor to burn out too quickly.

Instead the tunnel will be serviced by trains up to 30 years old and special outer-suburban trains intended for inter-city routes."

I was thinking of giving it a try next Monday but wife strongly against it. She prefer to stay away from it for at least a month to see how it goes, wouldn't want to get stuck under the tunnel or damage my hearing due to the extreme noise!

Finally, I found this interesting article Project Update May 2008 which talks about how the Epping to Chatswood Rail Link (ECRL) will help our old Sydney rail way system. As shown below, by adding this line, it will reduce the number of trains per hour from 8 to 4, and thus allows more train from the Western line. Although it's a bit expensive, that sounds great isn't it?

But hang on, doesn't this also mean that the poor Chatswood to City line will get 4 extra trains per hour??

Well, may be unfortunately the poorer western side of Sydney seems to be more "supportive" to the Labour government. So if you are on the Chatswood line, may be you should forget about the bad spending habit/credit record of Labour and vote for them, see if Labour might change their mind and improve the rail way service for you... Good luck!

Saturday, 7 February 2009

[Others.033] Home DIY kills more Australians than shark attack every year?

As attached below, I saw this interesting diagram from the January - March 2009 issue of Australian Geographic magazine.

In case you can't see it clearly, it says:

Number of Australians are killed each year by:
Shark attack: 1.2
Lightning strike: 1.4
Bee, wasp or hornet sting: 1.5
Venomous snake or lizard bite: 2.6
Parachuting accident: 2.9
Rock fishing: 9.8
Falling off a ladder: 18.3
Home DIY accident: 60
Sources Sharks: Taronga Zoo; Lightning, Snakes & Lizard, Parachuting, Ladder, Bees, Wasps & Hornets: Karen Bishop, AIHW National Mortality Database; Parachuting & Fishing: National Coroners Information System; DIY: Monash University Accident Research Centre.

If you think from different angle, it's certainly understandable for animal/nature lovers like Australian Geographic to make a big fuss on things like this. Yes, shark attacks are quite rare, they are lovely creatures as long as you stay in safe areas,....etc.

We all know that whenever there's a shark attack, it goes to the headline of all media. I was quite surprise to see the figure to be that low, may be most of the shark attack victims luckily survived?

But for most house owners like me, we will certainly be more interested to the last 2 figures, as most of us would more or less have done (or always "in progress"...) at least a few Home DIY projects. And accidents during these projects tend to due to carelessness, lack of safety knowledge, trying to do things unprofessionally, ....etc.

The other day I also saw this article on The Wall Street Journal by Neal Templin about some Home disasters feedback from his readers after he wrote about how he hurt his knee, and also another one here about some other stories. Have a look and you will definitely find it quite interesting.

Any way, while everyone is having a laugh in all these, hope this reminds everyone to be more careful with any Home DIY projects.

Make sure you look after yourself and the families, and if that "small piece" of work (say trimming some branches, or changing faulty switches, ...etc) sounds a bit dangerous or you are not 100% sure if you can do it properly, may be it's indeed safer to get a trades person to do it. It might cost extra but most importantly, at least you don't have to worry about injuries! Also, make sure you find a licensed and properly insured one as at least if anything goes wrong, there's insurance to cover everything!

Thursday, 5 February 2009

[Others.032] B&D Park-A-Lert

We received a brochure in our letter box today about a product from "B & D" called "Park-A-Lert. Which is a nice little parking sensor to be installed in the garage and display different light colour depending on how far away the car is.

Have a quick look at their web site and as shown below, there's quite a lot of information about it. It runs on 4 x AA batteries, and you can choose 3 different distances: 30 cm, 60 cm or 90 cm. Sounds quite interesting.

At $43 each it's not cheap, and would be even better if it can also make some noises other than just lights. I remember seeing in some electronic shops about some DIY kits that can do something similar. But as I haven't touch those things for so many years and unless it can at least look as good as this thing, I guess the chance of getting it installed won't be that high...

What we love best is what they mentioned in their brochure: "no more hanging tennis balls from the ceiling...", which is exactly what we have in the garage. Because "you-know-who" has extremely terrible parking skills. Not many people believe that, actually our double garage can only park one car, and need this ugly thing from the ceiling as "distance indicator". I did demonstrate to the family a few times that it's capable of handling 2 cars in the garage. Problem is, once both cars are in there, only I can moved both cars out smoothly.... Alright, I give up, I will certainly try to build a much wider garage in my "next" house.

Monday, 2 February 2009

[Progress.149] New Year Surprise!

Happy New Year everyone!

We have a new year surprise the other day. First my wife noticed the water flow into the bathroom drain was quite slow during shower time. After some continuous nagging, oops sorry, I mean "friendly reminder", we decided to get our hands "dirty" and visit the "underground world"...

Before that, all my dear readers, can you please show your hands if any of you ever open your bathroom drain cover and look what's inside the plug hole? It's certainly not a nice scene, and normally we would just expect to see lots of hair down there causing the blockage.

Well, then take a look at the photo below and see what we found in our Ensuite bath room:

Yes, concretes! Big handful of them! In our newly built house and we just moved in for around 8 months!

We quickly checked all 3 bathrooms and the laundry. All the ground floor ones are clear, a few smaller concrete debris were also found in the main bathroom shower area upstairs.

The worst one is the floor drain in the middle of the main bathroom upstairs. The whole thing was blocked by a huge concrete as shown in photo below, only a few small holes left around the corner could allow the water to flow through. We suspect someone poured the cement down the drain during the construction...

We contacted our builder and they quickly sent someone to remove it last week.

The problem sort of resolved, but that doesn't solve the mystery, why?

Conspiracy thinking starts emerging....Why is there concrete in there? Was it done accidentally or purposely? Who would do that kind of damage? .....

After some discussion within the family we think the only person who could be using cement/concrete, and working in the wet areas after lock down (and before handover) would be the C & L tiler subcontracted by our builder.

We did have our own tilers after handover for tiling the kitchen floor and front porch areas. But we watched/followed them quite closely everyday, they won't have a chance to go upstairs to do anything.

We also recalled that the tiler from C & L did the ground floor tiling job quite well. But when it comes to the upstairs ones, not sure whether he used it as an opportunity to train his apprentices, or was he busy with other jobs and thus not paying much attention to ours, we complaint a few times about the quality and even the builder's own inspector asked him to re-do a few tiles in some areas.

I don't think that's a problem with my builder as the tiler is the subcontractor, and it's almost impossible for inspectors to check each and every drain/plug holes for wet areas...

So, as a lesson for all new house owners who ever complaint about the tiling work (who didn't?), make sure you check "inside" the plug holes for all your wet area! It might be a "common trick" for tilers to show their "revenge"?? Don't know...

Any way, that's it for the not-so-happy stuffs. I like to share with you some more interesting ones, hopefully would cheer everyone up a bit for the new year...

I found these beautiful drain covers from Linkasink. It's quite amazing to see the plain, boring, drain covers can be in so many different kinds of shape and design!

Finally, to stop those hair blocking your bathroom drain, there's this product from Kaboodle.

Note sure if all these products are available in Australia...
Happy New Year!