Wednesday, October 24, 2007

nebulocity unplugged

a quote from a recent boundless article, advocating the taking of an info-techno sabbath ie take a break from all the information and technology in which we are surrounded:
"Ironically, we consider it peculiar that followers of Islam stop their activities five times a day to offer prayers to Allah yet we stop what we do five times an hour to pay homage to our e-mail. "One of the most basic biblical insights," says theologian J.I. Packer, "is that whatever controls and shapes one's life is in effect the god one worships." For many of us, the one true god to whom we give our devotion is the deity known as IT: information technology."
while i'd like to claim such pious reasons for the lack of entries on this blog, the truth is i haven't so much taken a break from IT as i just haven't the time for anything much blog related - writing my own or reading others. i feel a small sense of disconnectedness even though i've remained "online" the whole time. so i can't even really say that at least i'm achieving some of the effect of sabbath taking. maybe i'll get there one day.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Net Optical - for savings on contact lenses

i've actually been buying from net optical for over a year, and have been meaning to post about them for a while but never gotten around to it. given the sorry lack of new material on this blog, i can try for a quickie...

when i first started wearing contact lenses regularly some years back (thanks to silicone hydrogel technology), i got my supplies from my optometrist. i was paying about $140 / 3 months supply of purevison lenses. after a while i found out about online suppliers, offering the same products at significantly lower prices. when i asked my optometrist about getting contacts from such places, they indicated a reluctance to supply scripts for patients to get lenses elsewhere, citing lack of control/supervision etc. i guess there's some sense to that line of argument... but then again, there's loss of revenue/commission from product sales? anyway, being a family friend, i decided not to push the issue.

skip forward a few years and i'm itching to save some money, and after chatting with another optometrist friend, got eyes checked. then with an updated script available, went shopping. there are a number of sites offering online ordering of lenses, and i can't remember why i chose to go with net optical out of them all. possibly because it had quite low prices, didn't need you to fax them a script (most places require this extra step), and was run by a practicing optometrist with a real physical presence, which was somewhat close enough to home for me to consider making the drive to the actual premises in case i ever needed to.

things i like about net optical:
  1. cheap prices - among the lowest out of the various sites i've checked out. combined with the private health insurance benefits for optical gear, i'm laughing!
    • the same purevision lenses cost $96 (saving of $54 from what i was paying)
    • i switched to focus night and days when i changed optometrists and started using net optical - these cost $85 (compared to ~$120 from opsm direct)
    • i switched again with my latest order, now using fortnightly acuvue oasys which cost $32.50 for a 6 pack (compared to nearly $40 from opsm direct)
  2. fast and reasonable shipping
    • $6 will get you any number of lenses plus a pack of contact lens solution
    • i've usually received my lenses within about 2 business days
  3. top-notch customer service
    • i'm not sure if net optical is a bit of a one-man show, run by the optometrist himself, but whoever handles the enquiry emails replies very promptly and is very courteous.
    • you are kept well informed of the progress of your order - confirmation that it's been received, advice when the items are despatched etc
    • going above and beyond - my very first order contained a big error whereby i basically ordered the wrong lenses for what i actually needed. net optical picked up on this because it was an atypical request, and emailed me for confirmation before proceeding with the order. i thought this was great service as it prevented a situation where i would have gotten the "wrong" items, had to send it back, request a refund and reorder the correct items... plenty of time, money and frustration saved all round.
well so much for this being a quickie... hehe.

anyways, in conclusion: if you're looking to buy contact lenses online, i throughly recommend net optical. if you decide to use them and would like to give me the referral credit, my referral code is "quop" :) it would be a win-win situation for both of us!

ps. apparently opsm direct have a price matching policy which you may wish to test out if you'd prefer buying from a bigger/more well known supplier.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

i feel better now (somewhat)

given my misgivings about their level of customer service, i feel a bit better after extracting just about as much benefits as i can from my basic private health extras cover for this year. all without needing to deal with any "service" staff on their end.

premiums paid: 12 x $14.55 = $174.60

benefits claimed: $354.50, composing of
  • new pair of glasses $170 (no out of pocket expenses)
  • contact lenses $30
  • dental check up etc $112.50
  • wisdom tooth extraction $42
net gain = $179.90 (or an ROI of 203%!)

too bad this will probably be the last year i can approach this level of 合算-ness, as i contemplate hospital cover in avoidance of the stings of MLS and LHC. and i suppose in case/when my body eventually needs it... ah the joys (and costs) of aging!

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related posts: medibank's "impressive" customer service

Thursday, August 23, 2007

medibank's "impressive" customer service

about a month ago, i sent an anonymous request to medibank private via their website, requesting a specific document:
Date: 27/07/2007 1:17:08 AM
Subject: Claiming, Benefits, Waiting Periods

Hi, I'm after a copy of the "Schedules of Contribution Rates, Benefits and Specific Conditions" referred to in the fund rules. I can't find this on your website. Please either email me a pdf copy (if one's available), or let me know where I can find this information online. Thanks.

to which i got this immediate autoreply:
Thank you for your enquiry about Claiming, Benefits, Waiting Periods made at

Due to the large number of enquiries we receive via email, we will aim to respond to your enquiry within 3 business days. If your enquiry is urgent, please contact us via [blah blah blah]

and so i waited...

(3 days later) and waited...

(3 weeks later) and waited...

then yesterday, i got a reply which was blank...

and today, after almost 4 weeks of waiting, i got this:
Thank you for contacting Medibank Private.

Please find a document on our general conditions attached.

which, of course, wasn't what i requested at all! i even wasted a few minutes opening up the attachment just to check that the information i wanted wasn't buried in there somewhere.

why is it so hard to read a simple request and offering a tailored response?!

ironically during my period of waiting i had been contacted by a medibank private representative wanting to sell me an upgraded cover, and i took the opportunity to ask about the benefits information i was trying to track down. she told me that medibank doesn't give out that information in general, but if i had a specific item number i wanted to check on, i could always contact them to find out the benefit payable for that item. seems to me to be a somewhat convoluted process, especially given that at least one other major fund is happy to tell you up front what they'll pay for a whole range of benefits.

either way, i fail to see how good customer service has been achieved. i wasn't overly impressed with the face-to-face service i got at a retail branch recently either, but that was unrelated and is another story...

Thursday, August 09, 2007

counting to five

i started blogging 5 years ago, and every year about this time i say something (more or less) about this anniversary and another event that happens at about the same time every year.

i joined facebook 5 days ago, and have probably gotten (at a guesstimate) more birthday greetings, wishes and virtual gifts via that site than via any other medium combined. maybe i should call this the year of the facebook birthday...

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i'm still undecided as to whether or not i actually like facebook. it's certainly very good at sucking up lots of your time, with a plethora of trivial activities with which one can whittle away hours and get no meaningful return. on the other hand, it has been surprisingly effective at reconnecting me with people from my past, with whom i've largely lost touch. snap comparison with multiply (which i realise doesn't have the same aims, but it's another social network type site where i have an account):
    • length of membership: at least two years, but more actively for the last 1.25
    • total contacts/friends to date: 28
    • length of membership: 5 days
    • total contacts/friends to date: 69
spot the difference...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

What is the gospel?

Poster image by Outreach Media.

on a mini-theme following the last couple of posts, i thought it's worthwhile revisiting the topic of the gospel, and what it is. the april edition of the briefing had an article by D B Knox which deals with this precise question, and here's a few quotes...
The news of the New Testament is not that there will be a judgment [the certainty of which has been known from Old Testament times], but rather that this judgment is imminent; the kingdom of heaven, the rule of God -- that is, his judgment -- is at hand. Action is called for from the hearer.


The gospel was the news that God had fixed the judgement day when he would judge the world in righteousness, and he had appointed the judge, Jesus, whom he had sealed in this office by the resurrection from the dead and by his exaltation to the throne of God as Lord. He was king and judge, and not only king and judge, but saviour from the consequences of the judgement of God on sinners. For God in his graciousness had sent his son Jesus to be the saviour of the world, so that all who call on him for salvation, all who recognize his lordship and seek his help, will receive that salvation, which consists in the forgiveness of their sins and justification in the eyes of the judge.

So the news is not only of the judgment but more significantly, of salvation in that judgment.
Briefing editor Tony Payne then reflects:
While few of us would (presumably) be satisfied with a gospel that was simply 'Come to Jesus and have all your problems solved', we are often sorely tempted to preach an attractive Jesus who connects with people's aspirations, hungers and needs. Want real and satisfying relationships? Want the freedom to live authentically? Want to find purpose and meaning in life? Want a new story to live by? Want to find resources for dealing with suffering and pain? Want to be a better dad? Come to our special dinner/course/breakfast, and we'll show you how.

Now these sorts of things do go along with being a Christian believer (along with persecutions, being hated, and constantly battling the relentless assaults of the world, the flesh and the devil). And surely there is nothing wrong with telling people about these things, especially in response to accusations that the Christian life is the opposite (that it is a life-denying, joyless slavery, for example).

But apologetics is not the gospel, nor are the benefits of becoming a Christian the gospel. The gospel is an historical announcement about the coming kingdom of Jesus, the crucified and risen Christ, who will soon bring judgement, and who now calls on everyone to repent and flee to him for forgiveness of sins while they may. It is a message, as Knox says, that "overleaps cultural divisions and requires no cultural interpretation" because it directly addresses the conscience of the hearer. Judgement is coming in Jesus Christ; you are guilty; salvation is available through this same Jesus; what will you do?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Yellow人 (YellowRen) live in concert

a review of sorts about a concert i attended a few weekends ago, performed by "yellowren" at redeemer lutheran college, part of the australian leg of their "destination" (在那一边) tour 2007, linked with the release of the group's second album of the same name.

i only found out about this group and concert via some promotional flyers i spotted at home one night - i supposed that my parents were helping to distribute these amongst some local churches / their network. anyway it sounded interesting, though i didn't really know much about the group, apart from some basics i gleaned from their website (, which defaults to chinese; there's also an english version) and myspace page. basically they're a group of 3 christians from singapore. i had never heard of them before, and neither had a few christian friends in singapore whom i asked in passing[1]. anyways, i decided to go along in the end as i didn't have too much else to do... and arrived amidst drizzling rain to a sea of mostly young asian faces milling about. i had read that the melbourne concert held a few days prior had "sold" out of the free tickets, and wondered if brisbane would also be packed, so made an effort to go a bit earlier. but there were seats available throughout the whole show. there was an english-speaking "interpreter" (who was more saying similar/related things or interacting with the mandarin speaking host/mc than strictly interpreting) before and after the concert proper. i don't know what the point of that was, given that the concert itself was done in about 95% mandarin without any translation. anyways, a few thoughts about the concert itself (bearing in mind that my own level of mandarin is not that great, so i did not understand 100% of what was sung and said):
  • there was a lot more talking than i expected, and i expected a bit, knowing this to be a christian concert that would have an element of evangelism...
  • the songs themselves were ok, with some catchy tunes and clever arrangements, like the song "creation" (创造), which makes its way through the first 6 days of the genesis account and then comes to a quick and unexpected (but totally logical) stop when the lyrics reach day 7 - the day of rest.
  • another song "chasing" (追, 追, 追) had a good theme that sings against the chasing after of things in this world, asking where all this ultimately leads.
  • the proficiency in mandarin of 2 out of 3 of the artists was lower than i would have thought, for a group that sings in mandarin and seeks to target chinese speaking people. then again, i've met many singaporeans whose chinese is... not so chinese :p
  • the audio mix was not very well done - the music/instruments in the first few songs was much too loud, overpowering the lyrics. this is probably par for the course when it comes to typical concerts, but i think christian music needs to have a much higher bias for, and focus on, the lyrics that's being sung. a much better balance was reached a few songs into the show.
  • partway through the concert (and in the middle of one of the songs) a short static-y buzz/crackle came through the main house speakers and the audio promptly cut out. it sounded like what happens when someone trips over a cable, ripping the jack from its socket. no idea if this is anything like what actually happened, but they were in the midst of turning all the foldback speakers (which were still working) around to face the audience before the problem was rectified... oddness.
these are just minor quibbles/observations. the main issues i had were more theological in nature:
  • there was an altar call segment, which itself wasn't unexpected, and which started by asking a variant of the question: if you died now/tonight, are you certain you'll go to heaven? if you you need to listen to this... etc. and there were a good number of youth who responded, after a period of perhaps typical asian reluctance to be the first to move. i have no particular issue with the act of an altar call, but in this instance i struggled to identify what it was that the people were responding to. it sounded like the respondents were accepting a jesus who would help them with their troubles and difficulties in life, which is all well and good, except where is the saviour Christ who died to pay the penalty for their sins?? i'm pretty sure this was not mentioned -- if it was, either it was so fast that i missed it, or once again my language deficiencies failed me. you're not accepted into heaven on the basis of wanting Jesus to be a friend who helps you in this life, but on the basis of receiving him as your saviour and Lord, which then makes you his friend in this life and the next.
  • following the altar call to accept jesus, was another call for those who were in some way shape or form, sick. come down to the front to be prayed for. again, i don't have a particular issue with doing this, with praying for healing etc. but it's the content and tone of the prayer that didn't quite sit right. it sounded like the pray-er was essentially asking God to heal these people on the basis that he can (because he is all powerful), and expecting that he will, because he can...?? (ditto the qualifier about my language skills, as above) what happened to "if it is your will", or praying for patience, endurance, perseverance, growth in godliness etc should the person not be healed, whether immediately or ever?

the concert ended with the trio performing a mandarin cover version of "praise you in the storm", originally sung by casting crowns (a partial clip of this is at the end of this post), and afterwards there was a signing session for those who bought their CDs. i wasn't quite sold on the whole package, so didn't trouble my wallet, but esperance bought some and joined the queue to get the autographs.

[1] i have since discovered (while writing this post) via a bit more digging online, that the group hails from evangel family church, a "pentecostal church under the assemblies of God", which probably answers a few questions... the lead(?) singer/main speaker on the night (chan mong yee / 陈梦义) is an assistant pastor (the worship pastor) at this church, and the other female singer (dayna lim) is the daughter of the current and previous senior pastors of this church. the male singer (zhang zhi gang / 张志刚)) presumably also attends the same church. the musicians on this tour are all from this church.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Guy Sebastian on Catholicism

so guy sebastian, winner of the first Australian Idol competition in 2003 and someone who "identifies himself simply as Christian"[1], has written and recorded a gospel song titled "Receive The Power", chosen to be the theme anthem for the World Youth Day 2008 congress - the Catholic Church's week of events for youth and with youth.

He is quoted as saying:
I am not Catholic as such but I guess the fundamentals are in place, which is Christ-based faith.[2]
i assume by this he's basically saying something like "I'm Christian. I'm not Catholic. But really they're quite similar aren't they?" now i'm not sure if he's being diplomatic or ignorant, nor indeed what type of "Christian" he really is, but if he means anything along the lines of protestant/reformed/evangelical christianity, then (despite the seemingly large area of similarities) there are some serious fundamental differences between the two. perhaps the biggest being that one believes in salvation by faith PLUS works[3], and the other in salvation by faith ALONE[4], a subtle but deadly[5] difference if you get it wrong.

on a sidenote, i'm also not sure where the gospel is in the song itself. can you pick it?

though granted it's the journalist who uses the label gospel, not someone else whom one might expect to have a better grasp of what the gospel really is... anyways, for another look at the lyrics and some "theological reflection on the song by WYD08 Coordinator Bishop Anthony Fisher", check out this blog entry (this link/referral does not constitute endorsement).

[1] Guy goes gospel: Anthem moves Vatican, by Jonathan Morgan, The Sunday Mail June 24 2007 p. 29
[2] ibid

Monday, June 18, 2007

saving on CTP

i could have just saved over $15 on my CTP (compulsory third party) insurance renewal, if only i had bothered to check the CTP premium calculator at before assuming my current insurer is already offering me a good deal, and proceeding to pay my rego/CTP bill.

wonder why there is a variation of around 5% in premiums between the various insurers, when CTP is a pretty stock standard thing (or so i thought). but i can't quite be bothered to look into any differences there might be in the actual policies... maybe i'll remember the lesson learnt when it comes to next year's renewal...

Friday, June 01, 2007

have psp, will travel

noodlez lent me his psp (playstation portable), the original intent of which was for me to be able to finish watching all the lost season 3 episodes so that he can discuss it with me when i get back from my overseas trip.

i have watched a few episodes on the psp - i never thought watching video on a small screen could be so nice (nice, if you had to watch anything on a small screen).

i have spent considerably more time playing lumines, the simple but addictive game he also passed me with the implicit challenge of wanting to know how i'd score. so far, i've knocked him down to #10 on the high score chart. i think i've been playing waaaaay too much, to the detriment of other things i really should have been doing with my time :|

anyhow, am about to head off to the airport, for my third trip to singapore in the past 6 months. meanwhile here are a few photo albums from my last trip, some of which i've only just recently uploaded:
and no prizes for guessing what i'll be doing while waiting at the airport ;)

Saturday, May 19, 2007

the ATA decorations

we had our site ATA presentation last week (representatives from the ATA came to view our entry to the ATA awards), and there was much activity from the teams putting up their decorations, which created an interesting tension between the need to service phone calls (after all, we are a call centre and we're there to answer phone calls) and the need(?) to complete the decorations in time...

my work was pretty hectic and i didn't manage to see the results until after the event. as i was on overtime duty this weekend i brought my camera to take some shots of the decorations that were still up - unfortunately most of the stuff in my section (with the star wars theme) had been removed by then.

well, i recently found out how to embed picasa web album slideshows in blogger, so am giving it a whirl :)

Picasa SlideshowPicasa Web AlbumsFullscreen

[edit 20070526] have just found out that there's an easier way to embed album slideshows, direct from picasa web album. slightly less functionality but less fuss... should have just read the help file from the get go :p
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related posts: darth vader's many siblings

Sunday, May 13, 2007

by request: quop vader

this post is dedicated to mr DT, who is signing up for the briefing, and who came up with the quop vader sugggestion. well there's no mask, but i have wielded a more fancy looking lightsaber in the past. this video is from my trip to KL in september 2005, where i met my high school friend kampung chick, dropped by her house and found that her husband is a huge star wars fan, and had this fancy fancy lightsaber. it lights up and turns off with the appropriate sounds, also when you swing and make contact with something. it was fun :)

NB. original video was taken in portrait mode - i finally figured out how to rotate it but transferring to youtube has squashed it somewhat... nevermind.

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related posts: darth vader's many siblings

Thursday, May 10, 2007

the "help us grow The Briefing readership and get your next annual subscription completely free" campaign

i'm a subscriber to the briefing, an excellent monthly christian magazine from the folks at matthias media. it's an irritating publication - and here's why (in their own words):
We know that sometimes we irritate our readers. In fact, we plan to.

Wisdom is a pearl born of irritation. We grow and develop not by having comfortable, familiar words wash over us like a warm bath. Growth comes through challenge -- through hearing something new, or grappling with something foreign, or discovering that an old comfortable truth has some uncomfortable sharp edges.

And so if The Briefing never makes your pulse quicken, your brow furrow, your brainwaves agitate or your blood boil, then we'll have failed.

If the only people who ever read The Briefing are people who agree with every sentence, then we might as well pack up and go home.

We want to provoke more thought and more passion. We not only want to encourage minds and hearts, we want to change them, so that together we all come to think more biblically about life and ministry.

So if The Briefing sometimes irritates you, do something for your friends: share the irritation around.
they're seeking to double their readership by year's end. as an existing subscriber, i have been given some subscription cards. if you want to sign up as a subscriber we can both gain by using these cards:
  • you get $10 off your subscription
  • i get 4 issues added to my subscription for free
i need 3 friends to sign up for new subscriptions (not renewals of current or recently lapsed subscriptions) to get my year's worth of free editions :) so drop me a line and i'll hook you up! even if you're not sold on handing over your money, you can still browse the site for some free articles (webextras) and the regularly updated CHN (couldn't help noticing) blog/column. highly recommended food for your mind from the guys who provide resources for growing christians.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

buddha birth day festival

went along to the buddha birth day festival at southbank on the weekend. not that i have any inclination to celebrate or remember some dead religious figure's birthday, mind you. i'm happy to admit that my reasons are a lot more shallow - i'm simply drawn by the accompanying food fair :p since first stumbling across this annual festival a few years ago, (it's now in its 10th year), i've made it a point to try to drop by for a meal if i have the chance, though i think i tend to forget that the food is all vegetarian until i get there!

this year i went with a few clay people, watching a somewhat lackluster lion dance performance before searching for options to satisfy our rumbling tummies. there were probably around 20 stalls selling food and drinks, with a lot of signage in chinese which is always helpful for the majority english-speaking population... (though granted the bulk of visitors to the festival itself would probably be chinese). anyways, i always have trouble choosing, never knowing how to separate the good from the bad, or the good from the ordinary, until i hand over my money and taste the food for myself. bumped into an old high school friend who recommended a few items, and i ended up getting some fried dumplings, a drumstick (which was itself a smallish and fairly expensive piece of faux meat), a herbal tea drink, rice (pyramid) dumpling, and a "fresh roll" (like a spring roll, but not fried, and more like a spring roll than a popiah) for a total of $12. i was quite satisfied, at least in terms of quantity. quality wise, the fresh roll and a salt and pepper chicken item (recommended by my friend, and which i tasted thanks to the sharing of my dining buddies) were the yummiest. everything else was fairly average, with the "drumstick" the least value for money.

we stayed around for more performances at the suncorp piazza, including some martial arts demonstrations (which i think involved a certain "chik" i know) and a hip hop / breakdancing routine by planet fresh, from which i was hoping to see more breaking. i wasn't initially intending to record this, but thought that the name of the group sounded familiar (i think i know people who know them) so got out my camera...

after this it was time for the fireworks. we got there early enough to have front row position, which i don't think i've ever done before. good vantage point for more video recording. the ~15 minute footage is split into two parts due to youtube's 10 minute limit.

more photos on my multiply album.

Friday, May 04, 2007

darth vader's many siblings

because we (meaning my workplace) were a state winner last year, we're in the running again for the 2007 ATA (australian teleservices association) awards. the various teams in the call centre have been assigned themes for decorating their work area - this time round movie titles were picked out of a hat, and my current area drew "star wars". one of my colleagues brought in a toy lightsaber (with sound effects) and a darth vader helmet and accompanying gizmo that emits authentic darth vader noises and quotes, as well as modifying your speech to make you sound like the masked heavy breather. another colleague was playing with it, and i happened to bring my camera to work that day, so shot a little clip:
could he be darth vader's long lost brother??!!

for a dose of video fun starring darth vader's "real" brother, check out "chad vader: day shift manager" by blame society productions. it's a fan film series featuring the less well-known brother of darth vader, a guy who works as a day shift manager in a supermarket. the episodes follow his run-ins with colleagues and his boss, and his lacklustre love life. episode 8, which is supposed to bring season 1 to a close, is rumoured to be released this coming week...

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related posts: sorry dr. spin, i'd like a second opinion please

Thursday, May 03, 2007

effortless improvement!

six months ago, i submitted an application for a role. i was told that my written application was quite badly done, and that i barely scraped through for the practical assessment. in the end, i made it to the order of merit, but was ranked fairly low in the pecking order.

a few weeks ago another round of application for the same role was conducted by the same person, using the same job description, selection criteria, and application format. i was on leave overseas at the time, so my superior (the one conducting the EOI - expression of interest) sent me my previous application for review. in the end i was unable to write a new application by the deadline, so i SMSed him to say if he can accept my previous submission then please do so, otherwise i would sit out from consideration.

this is the response i received today [with specific details removed]:
Thank you for your Expression of Interest in the [...] position within [...]. The position attracted a high quality pool of applicants and having considered all the applications [sic] advise you that, in this instance, you have been rated as "Fully Effective". Higher Duties will continue on a short term basis pending a permanent selection process.

We wish to thank you for the time and effort you put into preparing your application.

If feedback on your application is required please let me know.

so, by spending no time and effort on preparing my application (since i was reusing my previous one), i had managed to go from "barely scraped in" to "fully effective"! anybody want me to write their next job application?? ;)

(of course, there's a bit more beneath the surface which goes some way to explaining this farcical situation. hence i didn't bother asking for feedback. i'm actually not very good at writing job applications :p)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

making sense of advertising

does advertising work?
It's easy for us to think that we aren't affected by the things we watch, but if that's the case why do manufacturers pay thousands of pounds every month for TV advertising? And why, now that technology exists to record TV shows while skipping over the adverts, are more and more manufacturers paying for product placement in top shows rather than sticking to traditional advertising? We are fooling ourselves if we try to claim that TV has no impact and influence on our lives.
-- Get more like Jesus while watching TV, by Nick Pollard & Steve Couch, Ch 1 (p. 4)
my agreeance with the advertising argument[1] is ironic for (at least) two reasons:
  1. i watch a lot of tv, but disproportionately few ads. i tend to record shows, and fast forward through the ads when watching them later. i'm typically not interested in being sucked in by advertising. spurred on by my recent spate of travel (VCRs were just not meant to handle looking after half a dozen weekly shows for more than a week... yup, no HD/DVD recorder for this tv junkie), and now thanks to the combined powers of xvid, bittorrent, a broadband internet connection at home, and those nice(?) people in america who encode episodes from there which haven't even screened here, i catch most of my shows on a CRT of a different kind (yup, no LCD screens for this computer junkie). which of course means i miss all the ads, cos the encoders always edit them out to make the file smaller. even if the ads were left in, they're meant for a north american market, and won't typically be relevant to me.

  2. i have started advertising on this site. which i guess means at least part of me wants advertising to work! i've signed up with google adsense, and spent the last few days upgrading my blog from the old classic templates to the new layouts structure (trying to reapply the few tweaks i'd added over the years took a bit of time -- i just know i'd never get a job in web design!) and incorporating a number of adsense products on the page. i have to be careful about what i say about the ads, eg i can't ask visitors to click on them, nor click on them myself (though i'm curious how that would be policed/verified). what if i go the reverse psychology route and say don't click on them?? haha. anyways, just trying it out to see if i can generate additional income. you can too, but i can't tell you how i can refer you so that we both benefit... (but maybe if you wanted to, you could work that one out for yourself)

[1] of course, "advertising" is used to demonstrate/argue that what you watch in general (ie not just the advertisements) does have some impact and influence on our lives. and i agree with the general statement. (hopefully) more on this later...

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

here today, gone tomorrow

it's been barely two months since i returned from my last trip to singapore, and i'm gearing up to return. thanks to the ability to take some leave without pay, this trip will be the longest i have ever stayed (and the longest i ever plan to stay) -- 5 weeks. within those 5 weeks i'll be hopping over to hong kong for a few days, catching up with YC, seeing some of the sights and maybe catching a movie or two at the hong kong international film festival. then island and i will also be joining up with noodlez, mellow yellow and slam man for a a week in kota kinabalu, including climbing mt kinabalu.

should be fun :)

i've barely caught up with the uploading of photos since the start of the trip... but here's a roundup in pictures of some of what i've been up to since late december.

got a few days left to get all my packing and other prep done... i feel quite disorganised and tight on time, so probably shouldn't be sitting here blogging! anyways, gonna go salivate at the prospect of eating some nice nice food, such as the likes of the fare featured on singapore food blogs like ieatishootipost. might even try to tag along as a makankaki if i get the chance :)

Sunday, March 11, 2007

not quite a LAN party, as looks might initially suggest :p

cccb now has a website! MC conducted a workshop to brief content managers on how to add content etc. hope to see it grow into a useful resource.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

the intricacies of airfares - part 2

i decided to add a hong kong leg/side trip to my upcoming overseas holiday to singapore, somewhat spuriously as a result of jetstar's sale fares from singapore to HK. after checking with YC - the only person in HK i know well enough to rope into the role of tour guide/interpreter - i changed my travel dates to be outside of the sale period, so as to coincide with YC's already planned leave from work. when i finally got around to booking the flights, i was pleasantly surprised to find that my outbound leg was again on (a different) sale. so in the end i get to fly for only a bit more than the original sale fares, and enjoy the availability of a local host. it was then that i struck another peculiarity of the world of airfares...

having learnt my lesson from the last time i almost missed a bargain, i made an immediate booking for the SG-HK leg of the journey, but decided against booking the return leg in the hopes that the price would drop. i then found out the reason for the cheaper SG-HK trip, and concluded my hope for the return leg might be in vain, so i proceeded to book the HK-SG leg. here's the thing:

if i had booked my return leg together with my outbound leg, it would have cost me SGD209 ($149 for flight, $60 for taxes). but if i book it as a single one-way trip from HK, it costs HKD906 ($628 for flight, $278 taxes).

converting to AUD that's a total of about $175 and $145 respectively. exactly the same flight, but with a variation of about $30 depending on where you book from. don't ask me why! i'm just glad i stumbled across the unexpected saving, as a result of trying to hope for a different type of saving :p

it's a bit like the travel between singapore and KL, from what i understand... the same numerical figure fare applies for flights from KL to singapore and from singapore to KL - the former you book/pay for in malaysia, using malaysian ringgits; the latter you book/pay for in singapore, using singapore dollars. at a conversion of roughly 2:1 for MYR:SGD, that's a significant difference!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

the intricacies of airfares - part 1

i don't understand how airfares are priced. i'm sure there's some economic model that determines when they go up and when they come down, accounting for factors such as the busyness of the travel dates, length of time between booking date and travel date, fixed duration promotions, competitors' price movements and the like.

i also don't understand the value of travel agents in the travel industry when it comes to booking (simple A-to-B-and-back type) flights. i've long stopped bothering to contact travel agents for domestic flights, heading straight to the likes of the virginblue and jetstar websites when i need to fly. the last time i tried to book a domestic flight at flight centre, i was quoted a much higher fare on a qantas flight than what i had already found on a vb flight. when i mentioned this, the consultant checked the vb website, and i ended up making the booking with vb. but what really happened was that the flight centre person made the booking for me on the vb website, and when i asked what the difference was between her doing that and me doing exactly the same thing at home on my own computer, she muttered something about their lowest price guarantee and arranged a $10 refund to my credit card.

the web has also become my first port of call for international flights. i used to book through one particular travel agency because the boss/owner is a family friend, and has authority to give some discounts. however the last few times i've done the brisbane-singapore round trip, i've consistently found that the lowest price i could get was direct from the airline's website (in my case singapore airline). not even the likes of zuji or union shopper's travel service could compete in sourcing cheaper prices than what my buddy firefox and i found with a few mouseclicks. so the moral of this story is: book directly with the airline if you can, as this cuts out the middle man and associated costs.

having said this, i saw that zuji's price for the qantas flights were slightly less than the price you get from qantas' websitef! go figure... so the moral of this story is: don't immediately book directly with the airline, but first see if the middle man is offering discounts/incentives.

in the end, i went with british airways, as they happened to be having a sale (half price tickets!) just when i was about to book. so i scored :) the funny thing with this is that although these BA flights are actually operated by qantas, the equivalent qantas flights (same physical plane, different code/flight number) were still at about $11K. so the moral of this story is: when a flight has multiple personalities, seats may vary significantly in price depending on which 'person' you speak to.

i first found out about the BA special via an smspup advertising email. the prices it mentioned half shocked me from my morning not-quite-wakefulness, and i was rejoicing at such a find of cheap tickets available for the dates i wanted to travel. at $760 (including tax) for the return flights, who wouldn't be happy when every other airline's starting price was something in the $11-12K range. but i had to go to work, and didn't have time to check into conditions etc and make the actual booking, so left it for after work. when i got home, the cheap seats were no longer showing! i was spewing big time at the thought of missing out on such a rare bargain, particularly as the price of the singapore airlines flights i was originally intending to book had just gone up. thankfully, the next morning i saw the special prices available once more for my desired dates - this time i couldn't get my credit card out fast enough. so the moral of this story is: when you see a bargain, carpe diem!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

remarkable customer service

"I'm using the word remarkable literally—the goal is to provide customer service so good that people remark."
so says joel in a recent article on the topic of customer service. i guess i'm not ignorant of the theories and principles in customer service, as mostly covered in the 7 steps joel expounds in the article. having worked in various customer service roles for some time now, i am much more aware of the occasional good and often ordinary or sometimes bad customer service that i receive as a customer - but i can't say that i set out to provide remarkable customer service. maybe because i'm getting rather sick of my current role, and because the 8th step to providing customer service seems to be somewhat lacking in my workplace...

and maybe if customer service staff were given the freedom to provide customer service without the constraints of having their performance measured by average call handling times and the like. one colleague, when asked by a customer as to what it's like to work here, answered:
"I have two words for you: battery hens."
i thought it was funny. if only it didn't sometimes feel too true!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

happy new year?

there's never much of an atmosphere for chinese new year in these parts of the world. i wasn't even sure which day CNY actually fell on. in a more asian setting, one might break out the mahjong set and go a few rounds. but not me (mostly because i don't have a mahjong set :p) - i've been getting into a bit of texas holdem poker, so took the opportunity last night to break in my new set of chips after the clay intro/dessert party ended.

i thought i'd post the few pics i took at clay, since k seemed appreciative that her efforts at arranging the food did not go unnoticed ;) even the humble lamingtons were given a bit of a lift!

and of course there's a pic of my poker chips... thanks to some dogged and savvy ebay bidding, the beauty of multiple purchases with combined shipping, and a bit of onselling, my set are effective free - not bad for something that would retail in the 3 digit mark :) there's even some surplus that i'm puting towards better quality cards (the ones in the set were... let's just say not the greatest), viz. a double (duo-tone) set of classic bicycle 808 rider backs.

oh and i'm also getting a black tiger and ghost deck, mostly as a differentiation device (and cos they look cool :p) and as a bit of indulgence/spending of the ang pao money that i don't actually get anymore! i didn't realise these cards are used more widely for magic tricks than playing, until i found blank cards which you obviously can't play with but are handy for tricks like this:

neat huh? for the curious, here's how it's done.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

chicago's... not famous for ribs!

i can't sleep, so i'm tending to my much neglected blog...

i can't remember if i've been back to chicago's piano bar & grill since my first visit for lunch over a year ago, but in any case i found myself dining there again on friday night when i met up with some clay folk for dinner. this time i sat outside, where a male duo on guitar and tambourine sang some pop songs, thus providing a bit more of an atmosphere than during the day.

perhaps spurred on by the fond memories of the ribs i had last month in sydney (see previous post for pic/details), i thought i'd try it from a local eatery. prior to tony roma's, the only other time i can remember eating ribs in a restaurant was some years ago when i tried some from a friend's sizzler meal... and so i went for the "smoky bbq pork rack of ribs".

well, this turned out to be probably the worst ordering decision i had ever made. the only point of redemption was to get the half rack with chicken rather than the full rack - at least the chicken was ok, and the combo was $1 less than getting the full rack. so i didn't feel quite as cheesed off as ST, who ordered the full rack...

now i'm not an expert on cooking ribs (ok i'm not an expert on cooking anything... except maybe 2 minute noodles??), but from what i understand, the aim of producing good ribs is generally to end up with tender meat that almost falls off the bones. this is certainly what i was served at tony roma's. chicago's on the other hand served a rather antithetical version, with meat quite unwilling to come off the bone despite the best intentions of teeth or knife (ST said her teeth were sore after getting through her rack). the meat was tough, chewy, and just unco-operative to the efforts to tear and pull off the bone and into the mouth. i did manage to cut up the ribs (never mind the tearing apart by hand idea of eating ribs though... you'd be building some muscle if you tried that method!), i tried to cut the meat off each individual bone. bad idea... whatever meat or non-bone matter that was, it wasn't coming off the bone without a fight. in the end i gave up and returned to the more primal means of hand and teeth. honestly, can you imagine ribs that are difficult to cut even with a knife? i'm talking proper meat knife here, not your butter variety.

ok enough ranting. apparently the vast disappointment i had with the ribs was not repeated with the dishes the others ordered, with the pizza apparently worthy of repeat ordering. some say the meat might have been old, and hence my experience an anomaly. i don't know enough about food and its preparation to know whether i got a bum deal, but i know that it was frustrating to eat and i had no satisfaction for my monetary investment. the more i reflect on the situation, the more i think i should have taken the dish back, even if it was somehow meant to be served that way... oh well. live and learn.