I have called her ‘Christine’

23 01 2020


I bought my current car (2008 model) in 2012 from my parents when they upgraded to an SUV around the time my Dad had a hip replacement and needed a car that was easier to get into and out of. It’s served me well and has given me almost no bother (except a couple of small light globes going out) in the 9 years I’ve had it. Until now. Now I think she’s slightly possessed, so I’ve called her ‘Christine’.

It all started when I went on a quilting retreat at the beginning of this month. This retreat is some 3 hours’ drive from where I live. I parked my car in their car park and except for the first night when I drove it into town, didn’t go near the car the four days I was there. When I went to pack the car at 6am to leave later that morning, I couldn’t open the car with the key fob. Nothing. My first thought was the battery in the key fob was dead, or the car battery was dead. I remembered there was an emergency key in the fob, so pulled that out and opened the driver’s door. I put my fob in the ignition and turned it on. Nothing. Not even the ‘whrr’ sound of a dead battery.

At 7am I called the RAC (I’m a member, but as I found out, not a ‘high enough’ member, despite some <mumble> decades since I joined at age 17). They said someone from a nearby country town would be out in about 90 minutes. Two hours later and no-one had arrived, so I called them again. They told me the guy was sick and couldn’t come until at least the afternoon, but I could pay an extra $130 for someone to come from another town, and it would be another 2 hours at least before they got there (where I was staying is only an hour from Perth, so these times seemed a bit odd). I said I’d wait for the local guy, but in the meantime would call my dealership.

I described the symptoms to the service manager, and she said it may not be battery at all, but possibly the steering system, in which case a battery recharge from the RAC may not even work, and if it did, I’d have to drive straight to the dealership with NO stops along the way. So now the question was how to get the car to the dealership (remember, it’s 3 hours’ drive away) so they could assess it. Yes, there are some dealerships in Perth, but then I’d still have to get the car to Perth and then collect it from Perth at a later date. Having it local was really the only way to go.

Back on the phone to the RAC to change my request from roadside assistance (for a battery kickstart) to towing. The RAC person was most helpful and gave me quotes for getting the car to Perth (around $300) and to the dealership close to home ($800). And told me that my membership level meant I was only eligible for a free tow in the Perth metro area for up to 80 km round trip. (One reason I haven’t gone to a higher level is their restriction on towing to the metro area only—it’s useless if you’re outside Perth). My service manager said if I got the car to the dealership in Perth, then they could get it from there for $160 on a car carrier, for a total of around $460. But all this was a lot of running around and having to be picked up by my other half (OH), who already had a 6-hour round trip in front of him to collect me from the retreat location. Extra trips back and forth to Perth weren’t really practical.

Did I mention that phone reception at the retreat is poor, which meant going outside to make/take calls, and it was 42C that day, and I was in semi-panic mode?

I bit the bullet and decided to go with the tow direct to my local dealership. The towing guy from the nearby town called me shortly after and we got that all sorted—he would pick up the car the next morning (it was already 1:30pm by now and too late for him to get it to the dealership before they closed). I waited for my OH to get to me (that was an exercise in itself, as he’d never been there before), and we drove back home.

Next day, my car got delivered to the dealership by noon, and the service manager called me later that afternoon to say it was ready to pick up the next day. The steering system wasn’t at fault (thank goodness as that would’ve cost an arm and a leg), but the battery was severely compromised and they had to put their super-duper charger on it to get any response. They were all gobsmacked that the battery was dated 2008, and was the original one! It lasted 12 years, which was amazing. They replaced the old battery with a new one, and I drove the car home.

The service manager also told me that someone had very slightly touched my car’s front bumper with theirs and that the dealership would pay for it to be repainted. She showed me the damage, and it was a minor paint scrape at worst. But she insisted that they would get it fixed for me and we arranged for me to bring the car in the following Wednesday afternoon. I went about my normal business, going to the shops on Friday and again on Monday, with nothing untoward.

Late Tuesday afternoon, my OH went into the garage to get some drinks from the fridge and didn’t turn on the light. This was a blessing in hindsight, as he noticed that my car’s right rear tail light was reflecting back from the closed garage door. He called me and we noticed that the front right parking light was also on. I locked the car, unlocked it, relocked it, but no matter what I did those lights would come back on and start flashing intermittently. The service department at the dealership was about to close for the day, so I called the service manager right away. She got me to try some stuff with the headlamp switch but that made no difference, so she said to bring the car in straight away and hand it off to one of the other staff. Fortunately, she had a loan car available for me, so I was able to get home. Remember, I’d already booked the car in to go to the panel shop late Wednesday.

On Wednesday she called and said they were able to get the car into the panel shop right then, and had figured out that the light controller was faulting, causing the brand new battery to drain. After it had been to the panel shop, they got it back to the dealership, and had to wait on a replacement light controller part to arrive from Melbourne (by air to Perth, then road to the dealership some 2 hours’ south of Perth). Once they got that all installed and recharged the battery, I went back in to pay yet another bill (ugh!) and pick up my car on the Thursday.

You’d think that would be the end of it, but not quite yet…

Either later that day or the next day, I decided to put all my stuff back into the car that I’d taken out when it went in to the dealership for the panel work etc. (maps, phone chargers etc.). One of the things I do is keep a mini pack of tissues under a flap in the dashboard where there’s a screen for the audio system etc. I rarely open this flap, and have only done so when I’ve been driving. This is significant. I repack my car with the bits and bobs, including the tissues, then close the car and lock it. The keys are in my hand, and this is a 2008 car, so there’s no ‘talking’ between the fob and the car as there is on more recent vehicles. I turn to go back into the house when I hear music. And it’s coming from inside the car! The CD (yes, this is an older car) that was playing when I last drove it, is now playing again. OK, so that’s weird. And creepy! I call my OH, and we try various things—start the car and move it out of the garage then back in again to see what happens, then turn it off. All is OK. Then I explain to him what I did when I repacked the car, moving the flap open as I do so (the car is off at this point). I lock the car and turn away and the CD starts playing again! At this point, the car becomes ‘Christine’!!!

I call the dealership in a panic fearing that the entire electrical system is out to get me. The assistant service manager answers (my main person is out). She has no idea what’s happening either, so I tell her I’m bringing it in to be checked. Off we go, me in my ‘Christine’ and my OH in his car. I get to the dealership and the service manager is back—she knows exactly what it is, as it happened to her in a similar model car just the day before. It seems if you open the screen flap when the car is off, the auxiliary entertainment system comes on—this allows a passenger waiting in the car to listen to music etc. when the driver is away and has the key fob. And it’s ‘by design’. Who knew?? Certainly not me, even after 9 years owning the car, and when I asked my Dad about it, he said he never knew either. So that was a wasted hour-long round trip for the two of us, but at least we knew the car wasn’t possessed!

While I write this, she’s being a good girl in the garage—no disco lights and music. I’m still calling her ‘Christine’ though.

Ducks… and snake

16 11 2019

We’ve been in this house for nearly 10 years. In that time, I’ve seen plenty of Australian Wood Ducks (aka Maned Geese) when I’ve driven to and from town — they tend to live near the water courses on the low-lying land close to the estuary. And I’ve seen maybe three snakes (likely dugites) in 10 years crossing the road on that same drive.

So imagine my surprise when a family of wood ducks wandered across our front lawn a couple of weeks ago! We’re up a hill at least 200 m from a natural water course, and we’ve never seen adults here, let alone adults with seven babies!

Then just two days ago, something caught my eye outside the office window at the front of the house — it was a snake, likely a young adult dugite. It slithered across the concrete pad, took in some shade behind the portico pillar near the front door, then slithered over the lawn and over the retaining wall beyond, then disappeared. The previous owners of the house (who built it) said they’d seen three snakes in the garden/around the house in the three years they were here, but in our 10 years, I’ve never seen one. Until now.

Trying something different

28 10 2019

I purchased a Bluprint (ex-Craftsy) class the other day when it was on sale. And decided to watch part of it yesterday and tackle the techniques shown. The class was ‘Step-by-step Photorealistic Colored Pencil Portraits’ by Karen Hull (an Aussie!). I certainly didn’t have all the materials she used, and only had drawing paper (she uses matt or bristol board), but I did have a set of standard (i.e. not watercolour) coloured pencils that I hoped had enough range of colours to do things such as skin tones. I’m a couple of chapters in, and have already made inroads into the first eye and cheek area (with freckles!).

Progress so far:

And I’m finished:

Here’s the original photo I worked from:

Can’t delete my OLA account

21 10 2019

Did you know you can’t delete an OLA account???? (OLA is a ride-share service in Australia/NZ [elsewhere?]; it’s like Uber but the drivers supposedly get a better cut.) (see Update dated 23 Oct below—it looks like you can do so now)

I signed up when I was in NZ, but there’s no way to delete your account if you no longer need it. Not only does OLA have my personal contact details, it also has my credit card info.

You can’t delete your account through the app, and Googling the issue told me that the only way to get deleted or ‘blocked’ was to send OLA an email (support@olacabs.com). I sent an email on 8 Oct, another on 12 Oct, and got nothing except a ‘we’re working on it’ reply. I tried again today (this time sending the email to care.australia@olacabs.com). I got another automated reply, followed by this a few minutes later:

“We would like to inform you that we cannot delete the driver’s information due to rules related to record-keeping. At this stage, we need to preserve the information and this overrides any general privacy law considerations. So do not worry as we keep the data with high safety.

We understand that this is not a resolution that you were hoping but we hope you will be able to understand our limitations in the matter and not take this as a representation of our services.”

So drivers’ info/OLA recordkeeping trumps a customer’s right to delete their account?

I responded asking for my account to be blocked, and got this (unedited):

“We can understand your worries about your account. We would like to inform you that your account will intact as it was but as you are not using it .So keep it in a safe way. We can understand that you are concern about the account but it is totally in safe hand.”

To say I’m not happy would be an understatement. I’ll now look into reporting the company to my state’s consumer affairs department or the ACCC.

Update 22 Oct 2019: After more emails with OLA support personnel, finally someone told me how to delete my credit card from the app, which was my main concern. If you need to do this:

  1. Log in to the OLA app.
  2. Under the menu, tap Payments.
  3. Tap on the credit card you want to delete.
  4. Tap the trash icon.
  5. Tap Delete.

Your account isn’t deleted (their latest email says: “we want to inform you that according to the Ola policy you have taken rides with us, deletion of your Ola account is not possible.”), but your credit card details are.

Update 23 Oct 2019: I fiddled around in the OLA settings looking to put in a temporary email account. Instead, I found a way to delete my account—I swear this wasn’t there a week or so ago! Now, whether it will actually get deleted or not, I don’t know, but when I tried to go into the app after ‘deleting’ it, it asked me to sign up, so here’s hoping. Here’s how I did it:

  1. Open the OLA app on my phone.
  2. Under the menu, tap on My Profile.
  3. Tap Data and Privacy.
  4. Tap Manage your data.
  5. Tap Delete your account.
  6. You get information about what will happen next—essentially, they don’t delete your account immediately. Instead, they deactivate it for 30 days, during which time you can sign back in. At the end of the 30 days, your account is meant to be deleted.
  7. Tap Delete my account.
  8. Confirm the deletion.

I then got an error message (‘auth failed’ or something like that). I closed the OLA app, then reopened, at which point I was asked to sign up again, and offering to sign me up with my previous credentials. So it looks like my account is now deactivated. I’ll set a reminder to check again in 30 days…

If only chemistry was this interesting when I was at school

11 10 2019

My last two days’ of classes at the Quilt Symposium in Auckland were held in the chemistry lab at St Cuthbert’s School (the venue for the entire Symposium). We were surrounded with inspirational sayings, women role models, soft toys (I’m still not sure why they were there), and chemistry info sheets that were fascinating because they pertained to the real world.

If chemistry had been like this when I was at school I may well have continued on that path into university. Alas, chemistry in my day was dry, dull, and not at all relevant to ANYTHING as far as I could tell.

Here’s a small sample of some of the stuff that surrounded us in this chemistry lab.

Heating a sandwich when you don’t have a sandwich press

11 10 2019

At the Quilt Symposium in Auckland, NZ, last week, ‘brown bag’ lunches were provided. For most of the classes I was in, we got sandwiches, which were pretty fresh. But on the last day, we got stodgy rolls, which were dense, slightly stale, and really only suitable for toasting in a sandwich/cafe press. So what do you do when you don’t have such an appliance? You improvise!

We used both baking paper (a staple for any quilters who do fusible applique) and brown paper bags to protect the irons, and the end result was slightly toasted bread—toasted enough to make these rolls far more palatable. We didn’t apply heat long enough for the heat to get all the way through, but it was enough to take away some of the stodginess! MacGyver would be proud!

A bit of a rant

10 11 2018

What is it with people and large events? Do they have NO awareness of anyone else but themselves? Yes, this is a bit of a rant, based on my experience in the vendor mall at the Houston International Quilt Festival. Let me count the ways….

  • People stopping in the middle of the aisle for no apparent reason. They just stop. And you walk into them. Move to the side if you need to answer you phone, respond to a text message etc.
  • A group of friends wandering about together — one stops to look at one thing, while two booths ahead are the others who now stop and wonder “Where’s Katie?” with them both turning around and half heading back or wandering about. Here’s a tip: If you go to an event such as this with friends, it’s very likely you’ll have different things that attract you and that you want to look at. So why not say “Let’s meet back at xx place at xx time” and go off by yourselves. You’ll still meet with your friends, and because you haven’t been in each others’ pockets, you’ll have things to share instead of resentment that Susan wanted to look at all the bead things, while Jane wanted to look at fabric, and you wanted to look at machines, yet you all had to spend time on each others’ interests when you couldn’t care less. It’s really not that hard to agree to meet somewhere at a specified time.
  • Meandering — yes, an event such as this has hundreds of booths, with lots of new shiny things to look at. Before you wander across the traffic, LOOK at the traffic and pick your moment to cross. Wandering aimlessly from side to side really annoys your fellow shoppers.
  • Scooters and walkers — many people have to use these for mobility reasons and know how to handle them. But at an event like this, there is a scooter (gopher) hire place and as far as I know ANYONE can hire one, whether they need it or not. And they MIGHT get a 5-minute lesson in how to operate it. The end result is LOTS of scooters with clueless drivers who run into people walking. Add in the meandering thing above, and you have a recipe for disaster. And it’s poor form to use your scooter to get into some events early, like I saw one woman do on Tuesday night. She aggressively pushed and shoved her scooter to the front of the line for Winners’ Circle, then the next day I saw her walk off the escalator and walk to her classroom — no scooter required now!

End of rant.

Solar PV system not working as it should

16 08 2018

For most of this year, my renewable energy rebates have been way down. When I compared this year’s billing to previous years’ rebates for the same billing periods, there was a noticeable drop-off. For example, from Nov 2017 to Jan 2018, the system fed some 800 renewable units back into the grid. From Jan to Mar 2018, a period of perfect, mild, sunny, summer weather, it fed only 79 units into the grid, compared to Jan to Mar 2017, when it fed 500 units in, and Jan to Mar 2016 when it fed back 408 units. The same pattern occurred over the billing cycles for the first half of this year — the feed-in units were down substantially, and we hadn’t changed our electricity use.

I called my solar PV people to see if there might be a reason for this big drop. On their advice I checked the overall output from the system, which was a tad down on the average, but not enough to be significant. We decided to wait another billing cycle and see if there was any change. When the latest bill arrived, it was clear that something was up. Instead of the usual 100 or so feed-in units over May to Jun (winter months), it was zero. Nada. Nothing.

I decided to take two measurements at the same time over two consecutive days of similar weather. And it was then I noticed that something wasn’t right with some of the figures displayed on the inverter. In particular, the PIN 1 and PIN 2 figures. When the system was installed, I was told that the PIN figures were the ones to focus on as they told me how much electricity the system was producing at any moment in time. The PIN figures have always been slightly different, but always within 50 or so of each other.

However, when I checked on these two days, the PINs were way out. For example:

Normally, these figures should be about the same. Instead, they differed by more than 1500 units. The same for the next day.

I got back on the phone to the solar PV people and sent them the photos I’d taken of all the displayed information on the inverter, and my concern about the wildly varying PIN numbers. Yep, something was up. They organised for a local solar guy to come out and check the system, particularly the arrays on the roof. And it was there that he found the reason. One of the two isolators (one for each array) was full of condensation, what looked to be salt (we live near the ocean), and some rusty grungy stuff. No wonder it wasn’t working! (click the photo to see it larger, with all the water drips on the top and back, and the salt particles on the dry surfaces)

Yesterday, he came out and replaced both isolators (I figure if one was like this after 5 years, the other might not be good either, even though he said it was fine and still well sealed). The new isolators have better weather protection (a new standard brought in since we had our system installed 5 years ago), so here’s hoping the problem has been solved for good.

When he’d finished, I checked the inverter display and both PINs were back to being within a few units of each other. Problem solved!

May storms

27 06 2018

I’ve been a bit lax writing new blog posts and putting up recent photos.

A month ago (around 25 May) we had a big storm front come through, finally heralding winter after a very long mild autumn. The black swans that normally float serenely on the very calm estuary were tossed around on the wind-driven waves, and I saw a bunch of them huddled on the shore on my drive home from town. The writhing black mass of them reminded me of tadpoles in a small puddle struggling to survive.

There was a high tide combined with the strong winds, too, so water inundated places where it doesn’t normally go.


A few days later, after it had all calmed down, the swans were back doing what they do. This group were bunched around a stormwater channel that spills into the estuary from the paddocks on the other side of the road. Obviously, they found something good to eat there, but they swam away quickly when they heard me get of the car to take their picture.

When naturalisation means nothing

4 06 2018

I’ve been researching various parts of my family tree on and off since the mid-1990s. Most of it has been inconsequential — no famous lives, no famous connections, no connections to Australian convicts, no scandals that I can find. Just ordinary people going about their ordinary lives.

Like every non-Aboriginal person in Australia, I come from a mixed, multicultural, immigrant background — South Africans on one side (going back to the Huguenots moving out of Europe in the 1500s and 1600s), English and German (Prussian really) on the other. Although I can find out quite a bit online about the English and the South Africans (those Lutherans certainly kept detailed family records!), finding out about my German ancestors has been much harder — I don’t speak or read German, and my ancestors lived in a place that has variously been under the control and jurisdiction of  Prussia, Poland, Germany, Sweden, and Russia, among others. Two world wars in the area also mean that many records have been lost forever, and even when you can find records, many are written in languages (such as Old German) that are almost extinct. Knowing the name of a town doesn’t help — town names have changed as various countries controlled the Prussian region, and often bear little resemblance to the current name (e.g. Posen [Prussia] became Bomst [Germany] and is now known as Babimost [Poland] — only the ‘o’ and the ‘s’ survived!; Marienburg [Germany) became Malbork [Poland], etc.). And the names of people have changed too — when my German branch came to Australia, they anglicised their name (or it was anglicised for them); e.g. a name like Wiegmann could easily have become Wigman or Wegman, or something else entirely. What this means is that this branch of my tree is hard to trace.

So kudos to my uncle for going to Germany and Poland a few years ago to find out more about his grandfather’s family (my great grandfather). My uncle was able to get the correct name (my great grandfather was named Johannes, but he was known in Australia as James), the name of the town he came from, and some other records — enough to continue to research James’ life once he came to Australia in the 1890s, at the age of 23.

By 1900, when he married my great grandmother, James was living on the Western Australian goldfields and working on the gold mines and the power stations as an engine driver (likely called an engineer these days). They went on to have 5 children. In 1903, he became a naturalised British subject (Australian citizens weren’t known as that then — they were known as British subjects), with all the ‘rights and capacities of a natural-born British subject’ (see first document below).

During the 1900s and early 1910s, James was an expert marksman, receiving certificates and awards from the military through the local rifle club. He was well-liked and newspaper articles of the day (as well as employment references my uncle found in the National Archives) show that he was reliable, sober, and a hard worker. He and his family continued to live in the Kalgoorlie area, and he continued to work as an engine driver for various gold mines, holding down jobs for several years at a time.

And then came the Great War.

Family folklore has it that the family was forced out of town because they were German, and that they came to Perth where they set up a vegetable market garden and poultry farm. No more engine work for James. By the outbreak of World War 1, his children ranged in age from 9 months to 13 years. Three of them were at school, and were no doubt ostracised there too. Remember, this was the family folklore. I didn’t have verification, or dates.

My uncle hunted the National Archives and found the document (below) that verified this tale, and in many ways it is worse than the family folklore led us to believe. James was ‘reported to be an enemy subject’, his ‘natural born British subject’ status is questioned (despite his Certificate of Naturalization 1903 stating that he has the ‘rights and capacities of a natural born British subject’, and it is stated that ‘advice has been received’ (advice from whom? gossip? allegations? someone who didn’t like him?) that he has ‘pronounced German sympathies’.

All this happened in September 1916, some two years after he’d lost his job at the Main Reef Gold Mine because he made ‘disloyal utterances’. He was 45 at this time, and had lived in Australia almost his entire adult life. His Certificate of Naturalization meant absolutely NOTHING.

I’m not sure what happened between 1916 and 1919, or where the family was living, but by mid 1919 he had purchased some land in Perth for a poultry and vegetable farm (by this time the children’s ages ranged from 6 to 18 years). More police investigations into his ‘allegiances’ followed as to whether he was a ‘proper’ person to own land, and he wasn’t granted Certificate of Title to that land until 2.5 years later.

I can’t imagine how harrowing this was for James, his wife, and the whole family. All their children (all born in Australia) were brought up in an environment where they could have seen their father taken to prison or a prisoner of war camp at any time — all because he publicly stated he wouldn’t fight against Germany because he still had family living there (his parents, 5 brothers and 3 sisters, and 2 step-brothers and 3 step-sisters).

What makes me particularly angry is that he was officially a British subject, and had been for some 11 years before World War 1 started. But that meant diddly. The parallels with what’s happening with immigrants in Britain and the US today are frightening.

Note: I had no idea what a ‘non-efficient member’ of a rifle club was, so I looked it up. There’s not much, but this letter to the editor from 1909 explains it quite well [Source: “RIFLE SHOOTING.” Northern Times (Carnarvon, WA : 1905 – 1952) 6 March 1909: 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74881360]: