Archived entries for observations

Beneath the Surface

I generally consider myself to be a financially responsible, frugal person. That is, I don’t set budgets or track my spending; rather I simply try my best to spend money wisely by taking advantage of discounts and special offers (OzBargain is my most visited website second probably only to Google or Facebook).

That is especially the case when I make a big-ticket purchase, such as a new gadget. But today, something happened that actually made me feel a little bit sick. Make no mistake, I made an epic purchase, but I’m left wondering whether I’ve made a Faustian deal in order to score my “bargain”.

There is no short version, just the long one…

Last week Sydney was hit by a freak storm, which caused chaos and devastation throughout the state. In an attempt to avoid having to battle the elements, I asked, and was granted, leave to work from home. In hindsight, this turned out to be a rather bad decision since a fallen tree took out the power lines and left us without electricity for 6 hours, and me completely unable to do any work. “I need a laptop,” I thought to myself.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

If only there were such a thing as a tablet that was also a laptop…

The following week, there was a post on OzBargain about a sale on Microsoft Surface tablets. I’d already been um-ing and ah-ing about whether to finally admit defeat and declare “pure iPad” a failed experiment. Then I read a leaked memo saying that Microsoft would be bumping up the prices of Surface by around 20% in response to the declining Australian Dollar. I was also lamenting having not salary sacrificed a laptop in the previous FBT year.

Anyway, each and every sentence in that last paragraph could have been a separate blog post. Suffice to say, I talked myself into getting one, but at that point “insane mode” kicked in – this is where I attempt to find every possible discount and benefit available.

Here is a brief summary of my process (excluding options that were considered but rejected):

  • Regular price: $1,549 (increasing to $1,849 on May 4th) – Surface Pro 3, i5/256
  • Accessories: $149 – type cover, $229 – dock
  • Bundle price from CompNow – $1,628
  • Price match at JB Hifi ($1,629.40 due to some technicality with their discounting system)
  • Paid using JB Hifi gift cards, purchased using discounted Wish gift cards from Entertainment Book
  • Salary sacrifice

In theory my out of pocket is around $750, minus whatever I can get selling the iPad. I should be jubilant, but then there was the collateral damage to consider:

Piles and piles of receipts and used gift card carriers

It’s even worse than it looks, ‘coz I haven’t spread them all out properly.

Big W and Woolies had run out of $100 denominations in JB Hifi gift cards, so I purchased thirty-one $50 gift cards. This is in spite of the 10-card transaction limit, and the fact that each card had to be activated online, so I was probably hogging a self-checkout terminal to myself for a good 10-15 minutes.

Then there’s the waste. Oh the waste. The small tree’s worth of receipts and carriers (the cardboard bit attached to each gift card) from my little endeavour was unfathomable. Having only just this morning read an article about this woman in New York who lives a zero-waste lifestyle, I saw the folly of my ways. I’ve done all sorts of things in the past to get discounts, but my mind boggled when confronted with solid physical evidence of these schemes.

Granted, this feeling will likely vanish the moment I unbox the device and marvel in its awesomeness, but for one brief enlightened moment, I knew the true cost of my thrifty ways and caught a glimpse into the dark heart of our capitalist system.

Car ad

Monaco luxury car crash

A very expensive accident in Monte Carlo, Monaco, involving several luxury cars - caused by a woman (

When it comes to gizmos and gadgets, women are usually less enthusiastic than men, with computers, electronics, and, well… machines generally being seen as the domain of males. They also have a reputation (however undeserved) for being bad drivers, yet when it comes to car ads “single female owner” is lauded as the epitome of custodianship and care. It makes no sense – a car owned and driven by a woman is more likely to have been involved in an accident, is not mechanically well-looked after, and – if you compare the state of the interior of Jenny’s car to mine on any given day – contain a mess of girly stuff (water bottles, shoes and other fashion detritus, etc.)

Now that I’m commuting to work, we don’t need two cars and I’m considering selling my Corolla. With the above in mind, here’s the ad I plan on using:

For sale: 2003 Toyota Corolla Ascent, Silver, Manual, Hatchback
Single geek owner. Maintained with OCD-level meticulousness; full service history with Toyota dealership despite otherwise sound financial judgement; always used the most efficient route to get from A to B (low kms); never crashed, although bodywork does contain minor dings and scratches as a result of skirmishes with malicious inanimate objects such as parking-lot pillars – but no structural damage to chassis; wind-screen wipers, air-con, etc. – used extremely sparingly in a questionable attempt at minimising wear-and-tear; I have never: done a handbrake turn, drifted around a corner, cut off other drivers and gave them the finger, had sex in the car. $7000 ONO.

Do you think it’ll work?

Ingredients for success

The road to successI’m such a sore loser. Last week I entered a competition on Gizmodo to win the new Samsung phone, which required participants to submit a 50 word description and an accompanying image or video describing why you deserved to win. Seeing as I’m still unemployed and had oodles of spare time, I actually put effort into my submissions, going on location to take pictures, Photoshopping, and tapping recent Internet memes. In spite of that I was pipped to the post by several folks who obviously spent that much more time and effort on it than I did by creating videos*, leading me to post a crypto-emo remark on Facebook that “No matter how good you are, there’s always somebody better :-(”

As a result, I spent last night mulling over what it takes to be successful and came up with a few thoughts. Here are the things I believe are the ingredients to success:

A deep passion
The key word here is “deep”. There’s a veritable gulf between taking an active interest in something, and being passionate about it. Whatever you want to be successful at, from playing an instrument to building an iPhone app, requires a significant investment of time and effort to get to the level of expertise where success happens.

I love the sound of the cello, can play the violin worth a damn thanks to Chinese parenting, and was even given a free instrument by my father in law. But even after setting myself the goal of learning to play the Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite #1, I couldn’t dredge up enough discipline to keep at it beyond the first few bars. That’s how I discovered interest and passion are not the same thing.

If you want to be successful, figure out what your true passions are and look for success there, instead of playing in the shallows of where you think success might lie.

A very good memory
Another quality I’ve noticed in people who succeed is their ability to call from a huge mental database of information relating to their passion, be it sporting statistics or musical repertoire. This could very well be closely related to passion since the deeper you go into something the more space it occupies your brain.

I’ve always marvelled at Jenny’s musical recall – back in the period when it seemed like all our friends were getting married (including us!) she created several excellent playlists for wedding ceremonies purely from the vast store of tunes in her head, which we still occasionally use as background music while entertaining. (Her talent only applies to musical melodies though, she’s rubbish with lyrics…)

A large network of friends
Next time you finish reading a book, any book, take a note of the acknowledgements page if it has one. Very few authors will count their work as a solo Herculean effort – at the bare minimum, there will have been a contribution from an editor (if not, how the heck did the book get published?) You need people to bounce ideas off, proof-read your manuscript, help with research, motivate you to finish, etc.

An audience
This is the most obvious, but the most easily forgotten about. You could think of the most awesome idea (“an ancient global war between mermaids and centaurs has been hidden from mankind for centuries, accidentally uncovered through deforestation and overfishing, which dooms humanity to becoming a statistic in the battle for this planet!”) but unless there are other people also interested in the same idea, success will exist only in your own head.

If you’ve ticked off every one of the points above and success still eludes you, then probably the only reason left is that you must give it time. How often have you heard somebody famous comment that their “overnight success” was 10 years in the making or similar?

As for me, I’m still trying to figure out what my passions are, which was the inspiration for the poem Jack. I’m good at so many things, but what do I want to be great at? I’ll let you know if I figure it out. Meanwhile, what are you passionate about?


* Well, except this one guy who everybody is complaining about because he used a cheap trick that obviously fooled the judges.

The evolution of Corolla

3 silver Corollas of various vintages all parked in a row
The cars belong to – from left to right – Jenny, me and somebody else that frequently parks here on weekdays. What is it with consecutively parked Silver Toyota cars?

Oh what a feeling!

Silver Toyotas

I had a bit of a Toyota Kodak moment today in Strathfield. As you can see in the above photo, parked on either side of my car was pretty much the rest of the Toyota range of passenger vehicles – all silver, no less. Might as well have been a Toyota dealer! From left: Camry, (my) Corolla, Echo sedan and Rav 4.

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