23 April 2015

Driving a bus

Back when I first started this blog, I was working in the city and catching the bus to work. In fact, that's what inspired me to start blogging, in a round about way.

We were sitting at a red light one morning and the bus was making funny noises and the suspension seemingly levelling the bus out. I wondered if the driver was doing it, or whether it was automatic, so I googled it when I got home and came across Dave's blog. I thought, I could do that, blogging I mean, and started this blog shortly after. I've since created a couple of other blogs and had a couple of other jobs.

About three weeks ago I started a new job and I won't give you any guesses what it is, because it's in the title. I'm now driving buses for a living.

I didn't wipe the lens properly before I handed my iPhone over to a colleague, so the pic is a bit dodgy.



















We started off the training early this month, covering all sorts of stuff like customer services, driver fatigue, ticketing, manual handling, even national security. The classroom stuff was interspersed with route familiarisation where we took it in turns driving around the area the company services. We have several types of bus in the fleet, from old, manual Volvo B10Ms to nice flash Mercedes coaches, so we got a broad taste. The pic above is during our route familiarisation, in a Mercedes low floor bus. I have to publicly state here that the trainers at my company are brilliant. They're serious about the job they do, but they also have great senses of humour.

Today was my first time with paying passengers and it's quite a leap from driving around with your course-mates sitting behind you, ribbing you when you mount a curb, or make a wrong turn, to carrying real passengers that might ring up the depot and complain.

I had a split shift today, the first part of which was an express run into the city. My mentor did the run in and I drove empty back to the depot. That particular bus had brakes that you needed to stand on to get them to work. In Aussie parlance, bus 512 was a shit-box. I pretty much had the hang of it by the time we got back though.

The afternoon shift was a school run and fortunately it was one of the better schools in the area, the one my step-daughters attended. The bus for this run had brakes the total opposite of the morning run, to the point that it didn't take long before I realised the kids had noticed I was braking a bit heavy. A bus full of kids going, "Ooooh!" and bags falling over every time I pulled up, tends to teach you to be gentle. I did get some feedback from one of the kids, whose mum is a friend of the family. Apparently I did okay, not sure what that says about the other drivers doing that run.

I'm on a big learning curve at the moment. I've sort of got the hang of getting 12 metres of bus through some pretty tight turns and chicanes, but I still need to get used to the ticketing, remembering to stop at bus stops and then open the doors, and learning the routes. At the moment though, it's a pretty good job and it seems there are quite a few old hands at the depot who agree.

Did I mention the pay's not bad too?

14 September 2014

Bee Vomit

We recently did a native bee course with Dr Tim Heard at Redlands Indigiscapes. Tim's a recently retired entomologist who worked with the CSIRO and really knows his bees.

There were equal parts theory and practical. We learnt about the different species of native bee and how they differ from honey bees, how they breed, make their hives and honey. Did you know that honey is actually bee vomit?

In Australia there are three main species of native stingless bees that are social, as in they build hives and work together. Two of these are kept for their honey, Tetragonula carbonaria and Tetragonula hockingsi. They look similar, but the latter are slightly bigger, they don't build their hive in a nice pattern like the Carbonaria and they're more likely to bite you if you upset them, as we found out later.

After the initial bit of theory, we went outside to where a hollow log full of bees had been left. The hive had been rescued by one of the workshop participants and Tim showed us how to split it and transfer half into a purpose built box.






Above is a Carbonaria hive that was completely filling the inside of the log. The spiral bit on the left is the brood chamber. It's laying on its side at the moment, as you'll see later, but the bees build it in a spiral pattern, gradually working upwards. The larvae develop inside, then emerge and the chamber is pulled apart. The wax is then re-used to make another chamber for another baby bee. Once they run out of room at the top, they start again at the bottom. It's a bit like a bee conveyor belt.

The stuff to the right is a mixture of building materials made from resin and wax, as well as honey and pollen. Those yellow bits you can see are the pollen.


This is the same log, with the top part of the brood chamber removed and placed in a new box, along with some of the building materials and food that the bees will need. There's enough left in this hive for them to rebuild.

After being shown how to transfer from the log, we were shown how to split a hive.



This is another Carbonaria hive, or the bottom half of it at least. The pollen is more obvious in this one. You can tell it's a Carbonaria hive by the shape of the brood and also by the black entrance at the bottom of the picture.

The idea is, the top part of the hive is removed and placed on top of an empty bottom, and an empty top is place on this bottom. The bees will then rebuild and eventually fill both hives and a year later you can split them again. If you're lucky, there'll also be about a kilo of honey a year later too and native bee honey sells for about $70 per kilo.



After some lunch and a bit more theory, we went outside to split a Hockingsi hive. These bees don't build their brood chamber in a spiral, so it's a bit harder to split. In fact some bee keepers use a hive that has the two halves side by side, like our friends John and Kara. The idea is that the brood is split vertically instead of horizontally. You can see in this picture that the entrance to the hive is a lot cleaner than the Carbonaria hive.


After splitting this hive, the top part was removed, the hive is actually three pieces, as shown here


























There's a partition between the top level and the second one that the bees won't build the brood past. In honey bee hives, I believe there's a mesh between these two levels that the workers can get through, but the queen can't. This is where most of the honey ends up.

To get at the honey, this evil looking device is used to mash up the contents.

The honey is then poured through a strainer to remove all the bits of wax, resin and pollen.

I mentioned that the Hockingsi bees are more likely to bite than the Carbonaria. Fortunately, none of them sting and the bite isn't as bad as, say, an ant bite. Some of those little buggers bite you then fling formic acid into the wound. Ouch!

That said, it can't be very pleasant when one climbs up your nostril and bites you inside the nose as one did to Tim. Here's a small selection of the Hockingsi bees defending their hive from him.

 

By the time the hives were put back together, our group resembled a troop of monkeys, everyone picking bees off of each other.

I you're interested in doing a workshop with Tim, check out his website here. I'd also recommend having a look at his YouTube channel here.



15 July 2014

New business

It's been a while since my last post, in fact I've only blogged twice in the past year. So what have I been up to in the interim?

Well, I'm no longer a postie. Back in September last year, I got sick of being told I needed to get my times down. I was riding as quickly as I could between letterboxes, without being unsafe, but the time I was spending at each letterbox was slowing me down. The only way I was going to get quicker was to read and ride. That is, read the addresses on the next piece of mail while riding along. It's exactly what new posties are trained not to do, but all experienced posties know it's the only way to get the job done on time. I also got sick of having to ride around cars that were illegally parked on footpaths and get off the bike because people parked their cars right up against the letterbox. And then there were the occasional dogs, always small, snappy ones.

So, I left the postie job and started looking for something better, preferably something where I could use my degree. I also started writing again and published my second novel, more about that later.

By the end of the year and no luck on the job front, I decided it was time I did something to improve my chances and enrolled in a Graduate Certificate course at the University of Southern Queensland. As I've always wanted to be involved in the publishing industry, preferably as a writer, I decided to study editing and publishing. I figured it would probably improve my writing, but might also help me get some freelance work as a proofreader, or editor.

As a result, back in May, Redlands Editing and Proofreading Services was formed, with Donna and I as the owners. You may notice the banner in my sidebar on the right. Here's another copy of it.

Reditproof banner

Before anyone says the bit to the left of the R looks like a part of a woman's body, it's a fountain pen okay. It never occurred to me that it was anything other than a fountain pen until my 18 year-old nephew saw our business cards.


















But what about that second novel? I hear you ask.

Well, I went through the first one recently looking for something to use in one of my uni assignments. In hindsight, it seems pretty amateurish now. I'm already working on books three and four, and four is so much better than the rest that I'm planning on completely rewriting the first three, combining them into one book. The first two are still available at Amazon and Smashwords, but not for much longer. When they do come out again, they'll be under a different name. I'll let you know what it is at a later date.

In the mean-time, if you know anyone that needs the services of a proofreader, send them my way.

27 October 2013

Penny Auctions and a Cheap GoPro

A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to be asked if I wanted to help out with a TV shoot for a local lifestyle program called Great South East. My niece Katrina and her husband Tony run Redlands Kayak Tours and the show was doing a segment on them. Here's the segment. That's me in closeup, about half way through, in the blue cap and green PFD.

The cameraman, as well as using the normal ENG camera that news cameramen use, had a small video camera, not much bigger than a match box, that he fixed to the front of the host's kayak. I was amazed, especially when I found out the price. Here was a camera being used by a professional TV cameraman that cost less than $400. It was the first time I'd seen a GoPro and I wanted one.

Back then, I was filling shelves in Coles, so I wasn't making much money. The pay situation hasn't really improved since then, so I haven't been able to justify buying one. The latest model, the Hero 3+ Black Edition is about $529 and the Silver Edition about $429.

About a week ago, I read a news article about penny auctions. If you haven't heard about them, the idea is you register on their website, buy a certain number of bids, then use those bids in auctions on the site. Unlike eBay, every time someone bids once the auction is in it's last 20 seconds, the clock resets to (usually) 20 seconds. If you place a bid and no-one else bids inside those 20 seconds, then you win the auction. Each bid you place adds only 1 cent to the price. If you're the only person to bid on a particular item, then you get it for 1 cent, since the price starts at 0c.

Sounds too good to be true? Well, yes it is. There's a catch. Keep in mind that you've paid on average, 60c for each bid (depending on the website) and you may have bought about 100 bids. The chances of you being the only person to bid on an item are pretty small, although it does happen. If it's a sought after item, like an iPad or a camera, then the bidding will be furious and you could quite easily use up all your bids in your first auction. If you get out-bid, you've blown your money.

That's how the penny auction sites make their money. A $529 GoPro camera might sell for $29 for example, but that's 2900 bids at 60c a bid, which works out to $1740 worth of bids, plus the $29 winning price that the website gets. A pretty good profit, I'm sure you'll agree.

Well, I figured I'd give it a go, signed up with QuiBids and bought a block of 120 bids. They recommend you start off small and bid on something cheap to get a bit of practice and get an idea how the system works. I took their advice and the day after registering I won a set of electric salt and pepper mills for the princely sum of 1c. Yes, I was the only bidder. Add to that the delivery charge and it came to $9.90, for an item that retails for $19.

Emboldened by my win, I decided to bid for a GoPro Silver Edition, without success, wasting about 20 bids. Oh well, you can't win them all and I'd picked up a view bonus free bids from winning the mills, so I still had plenty of bids left.

The next day I tried again and hit the jackpot. Including postage, I got a GoPro Hero 3+ Silver Edition for $18.02c and it was in my hot little hands two days later.


















I've since taken part in a few other auctions, for items such as iPads, backpacks, etc. My only other success so far is a Rank Arena Food Dehydrator, so now our bananas won't go to waste. I still have plenty of bids left and I'm getting pretty good at picking which auctions to avoid. Now if I can only get myself an iPad and that Dyson vacuum cleaner that Donna wants.

If you've come across this blog as a result of researching penny auctions to see if they're a scam, well, some of them are, some aren't. You can definitely lose a lot of money if you're not smart, even on a reputable site. There are plenty of stories of people maxing out their credit cards in one day, because they couldn't help themselves. If you're the kind of person that goes to the races and puts your money on a horse because you like its name, or the colour of its jockey's silks, then penny auctions are not for you. You'll be better off going to JB HiFi and paying full price for your GoPro. Incidentally, that's where QuiBids gets theirs from.

If you want to give it a go, here's the link to QuiBids http://qb.cm/r40456011

I should tell you though, if you follow that link and decide to register and buy a bid pack, I get 25 free voucher bids.  

04 October 2013

A man in a bowtie

We had a bit of a problem with one of the local cockatoos deciding to destroy part of our vegetable garden this morning. He didn't eat anything, just bit some of our corn, silver-beat, lettuce and kale off at the base.

So we decided to do something about it. We enlisted the help of a man in a bowtie, because bowties are cool.

Smiffy. Official vege garden security
























If that doesn't work, I'm going to turn that compost bin behind into a Dalek.

16 July 2013

Ticking another box

I mentioned in a previous post that I'd managed to tick two boxes in my postie career on the same day.

One of those was dropping the bike, apparently everyone does it at some time. There are, however, different levels of dropping the bike. Today I took it to the next level and dropped it while I was riding it.

Here's the only injury I sustained, other than the injury to my pride.

























It really bothers me when I see people riding scooters, or even proper motorcycles wearing short sleeves and skirts, especially when they're male. The grazing on my elbow was where it rubbed on the inside of my shirt-sleeve. Imagine what it would look like at 60 km/h on bitumen, with no protection. I landed on the grass. I have some pictures somewhere of the grazing I got when I stacked my 750 Zephyr a few years ago. I was wearing a proper motorcycle jacket, with armoured elbows, etc, and my elbow looked a lot worse than this, as did my knee.

So, how did I fall off, I hear you ask?

I'd just delivered to a house and looked at where my next delivery was. It was around the corner, meaning I had about four or five houses I could ride straight past to get to it. It's always safer, and faster, to ride on the road than the footpath, so I headed to the next driveway with the intention of getting onto the road. I didn't get to the driveway.

The next thing I know, my front wheel is sliding out from under the bike. I put my foot down to try and save it, but before I knew it I was lying on the grass, surrounded by my water-bottles, my scanner and a few loose items of mail. I rolled onto my back, uttered a naughty word then sat up and killed the ignition on the bike. It's amazing how quickly it all happens. One moment you're riding along without a care in the world, the next you're lying in a heap, wondering how that happened.

Luckily there was no damage to the bike, those things are bullet-proof. I guess it could have been a lot worse too. One of my colleagues collided with a roo a couple of weeks ago, he's now off sick with a cracked rib.

I'm wondering if there would have been any damage if I'd been riding one of these, our new postie bikes. I hope I'm not the first one to find out.

30 June 2013

Trees

I like trees, you can cut them down and make really useful stuff like boats, and books.























You can use them to hold up birds, so the cats don't get them.
















You can plant them near your letterbox and let them grow wild, so the postie can't get close enough to deliver your bills.

You can buy an expensive house and poison them to improve your view, forgetting that the trees are actually part of the view.

They also have another use that people don't always think of.

While I was delivering mail on Friday, I looked at the time and realised I was really going well. It was a light load and I reckoned I'd finish well before three. A good way to finish off the week. I'd had a good week too, Monday to Wednesday had all been beautiful, weather-wise. I'd had light loads and no junk mail to deliver. Thursday was a bit crappy, because it rained, but Friday looked to be good. There was rain around, but the way I was going, I'd be finished before it hit.

Then, just over a third of the way through my run, I did a u-turn across a street and noticed the bike was feeling a bit wibbly-wobbly. I looked down at the rear tyre after delivering some mail to number 4 and thought, that tyre shouldn't look that wide.

I'd got my first puncture since I started the job.

I rang the depot and they told me a spare bike was on its way. In the mean time, a lady asked me if I was okay and offered me a cuppa, which I politely declined. Caffeine and 4 hours on a bike without access to a toilet don't really mix. Shortly after that, someone from across the road came over for a chat and he offered me the use of a pump and some sunscreen, since by now I'd taken off my helmet and the sun was out.

He mentioned the soggy footpath on his side of the street. I'd discovered it pretty soon after starting the job. It's really waterlogged and a bit scary to ride on. I assumed it was a leaky water-main, since I can see the water-meters there, but it seems the reason for it was something else.

This particular street is at the bottom of a hill. A little way up the hill, one of the neighbours used to have a lot of trees in his backyard. Apparently he cut down about forty of them. That's forty trees that are, or were, sucking all the excess moisture out of the ground. Once the trees were cut down, all that water ran to the bottom of the hill and turned the footpath into a swamp. Before the trees were cut down, the footpath was always dry.

It's a common problem in areas where trees have been cleared, especially on hills. Where the trees used to draw the water up to the surface on the hill, that water now comes closer to the surface on lower ground, bringing with it salts from the under-lying rocks. The resulting salinity makes the land unusable, since nothing will grow in it.

I don't know about salinity in this particular case, the grass there is certainly loving the extra water. However, it was a good example of one of the things I learned about at uni in one of my ecology units.

Trees might spoil your view, drop their leaves in your gutter, get in the way of that swimming pool that you want in your backyard, but they're not just a source of timber, or a habitat for wildlife. They're more important than that.