How do I pay the electrician?

A couple of years ago I got a ceiling fan fitted in the kitchen.

The electrician was pleasant, competent, and did a good job.

He said he’d send me an invoice. He never did. A couple of months later I emailed him and asked him to send it. He acknowledged the email and said he’d send it. He never did.

A couple of weeks ago I got a ceiling fan fitting in one of the bedrooms.

The electrician was pleasant, competent, and did a good job.

He said his boss would send me an invoice. He hasn’t so far. A week ago I emailed him and asked him to send it. No response.

I don’t seem to have this problem with other tradies. Plumbers and painters seem only too keen to bill me.

I want to pay for the work they did.

Some questions spring to mind:

How do electricians stay in business if they’re so disorganised?

Is it just me?

When do my obligations cease? How many times do I have to remind them to take my money?

Update: I realised the second electrician sent me a quote before the work commenced, which included bank deposit details. It’s not an invoice, but if I don’t get an invoice, I can just pay that amount.

Update 2: He rang me and said he’d been on holiday, but would be sending an invoice. Either that or he reads my blog…

TreatYoSelf: Sonosed

Brace yourself… a non-transport-related blog post.

A couple of years ago I bought a Yamaha surround sound setup, which has been fabulous. I’d single out the sound track on Mad Max Fury Road in particular; very immersive.

Heck, even later seasons of the West Wing had some subtle surround going on, adding to the viewing experience.

I’ve used it for music too, and it sounds great. I copied all my iTunes music onto a USB stick* which can plug into the front of the receiver. You can play tracks or albums by navigating through on the TV, or via a phone or iPad app. But it’s a bit clunky; it’s not really designed well for that, and it can’t fathom tracks within genres, nor play lists, and it certainly can’t do anything as fancy as random/shuffle play. (Hey Yamaha, how about an upgrade?)

You can play music from iTunes to it via Apple AirPlay, but that requires using a computer.

*By the way, I have iTunes configured to rip CDs as MP3s at the highest bitrate. I figure those files are more widely playable than any other format.

Sonos Play 1

But I was still craving J+M’s Sonos system, particularly the idea of music playing in perfect sync around the house, preferably without wires everywhere.

I considered other cheaper options. Could I achieve the same with a few Google Chromecast Audio dongles? Perhaps, but it’d be messy. And other manufacturers have Sonos-like speakers (though the good ones aren’t really much cheaper).

Then a few weeks ago JB Hifi offered $50 off Sonos speakers, so I thought what the hell, I’ll go for it. I thought maybe I could splurge for a Play:1 (the smallest speaker, $299 less the $50 discount) and get a Connect (a little exhorbitant at $549) to sync music through to the Yamaha receiver and speakers.

Nagging doubt on the Sonos Connect: Sonos speakers have a fixed delay of 70ms (to allow them all time to sync), which is fine. And the Yamaha can be adjusted to delay, if it’s ahead. But if the Sonos is ahead, you’re stuffed. You can try switching the Yamaha to Direct Mode, but if it’s still behind, you’re still stuffed. No music sync. (I also vastly prefer the Sonos gear in black. The Connect is only available in white.)

Anyway, I got the Play:1 and tried it out. Very impressive. It thoroughly exceeded expectations. Great sound.

When the kids heard it, they thought the music was playing out of the Yamaha’s big speakers, not the tissue-box-sized Sonos speaker on the mantlepiece.

Which made me think: if the goal is multi-room music, why even bother getting the expensive Connect for a (possibly troubleprone) link to the Yamaha? Why not just buy another Play:1 for half the cost?

Ingenious. And of course the Play:1 can be moved around if ever required.

Done. Bought.

Meanwhile I’d been looking around at what secondhand dealer Cash Converters had in the way of Sonos gear. The Parkdale store had a Sonos Bridge, used to configure Sonos systems to use their own network instead of the WiFi. It’s the old model (the new one is called Boost, costing $149), but was only $29. Sold.

So now I can play synched music in the livingroom and kitchen, which in my small house, covers most of the common area of the house. And the speakers are small enough that I can move them around if needed.

Some people online reckon that there’s not much difference sound-quality-wise between the Play:1 and the larger Play:3. And I think I like the style of the 1 more than the 3 or 5.

For online radio, it’s not perfect, because it’s relying on good internet. Like the Pure radio I already had in the kitchen, it seems to be occasionally prone to dropouts if the home internet (Optus cable) is clogging up. (The Pure radio also does actual radio, including DAB+ digital radio, so I can flick it to Double J if BBC Radio 6 Music is playing up.)

I still think the Yamaha was a good choice for surround-sound movies. Sonos’s option (Playbar plus Sub plus speakers) is around three times the price, and it can’t do DTS sound. It’s also dependent on the TV being about to output a 5.1 signal, which some can’t.

My next step was going to be to put my home music collection on a shared drive that the Sonos can play, such as a Raspberry Pi set up as a NAS — but I checked and my cable modem/router has that feature. It’ll share anything plugged into the USB port. So I plugged the USB stick I’d been using in the Yamaha into the router instead, then told the Sonos where to find it… job done!

Of course, Sonos is one of those things like DSLR camera lenses… addictive… I’d be surprised if I don’t end up buying more gear at some stage. Hmm, one for my bedroom perhaps?

Ikea Billy upgrade

I bought some Billy bookshelves for the livingroom some years ago. I picked their beech colour… and then they discontinued it.

While I love the look, and the reconfigurability of the moveable shelves and the fact that you can always buy more (well, except in beech, so not really in my case), I can’t say I’m impressed by the strength of the shelves.

Some of the longer (80cm) shelves of the two bookshelves are noticeably flexing under the weight. Perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise — they’re obviously built down to a price.

Billy bookcase bowing

It may be time to have a clear out of old books (I can see a few in the pic that I suspect we don’t read anymore), and switch the contents around and put some lighter items on the long shelves. Do other people with Billy bookcases have this problem?

This article says that Ikea has been upgrading Billy: including stronger shelves. I wonder if this is why they discontinued the Beech colour? Perhaps it was more susceptible to bowing?

Ikea is a worldwide operation, but it’s unclear if/when the upgrade made it to Australia (the above link and this article indicate they started shipping them in North America in August 2014), but I’ve been pondering more Billys anyway for a neighbouring room, as the shelf options mean they are more space-efficient than the current bookshelves.

I could fill the wall with the shorter Billy option. It’d be more expensive (45% more, since it’s $69 for 40cm vs $95 for 80cm), but hopefully avoid any future shelf strength issues — and they’re not really expensive.

On the other hand the old solid wood bookcases I have are pretty tough, probably inherently superior to any Billy wood veneer bookcases, so perhaps I just need to stick with what I have, and re-arrange things to be more efficiently shelved.

Are there other good, widely-available, affordable options which include configurable shelves?

Heatwave: external blinds under test

Over the weekend Melbourne went through our biggest heatwave so far this summer, and the first real test of my external blinds, which were fitted to the house early this year.

Looking at the two nearest weather stations to me, yesterday the temperature at Melbourne (Olympic Park) peaked at 40.7 at 4:27pm. At Moorabbin Airport it peaked at 41.2 at 3:30pm. Happily by about 6:30pm the temperature had dropped about 10 degrees, but the lowest measurements overnight were in the high-20s.

I was away (in air-conditioned comfort for most of the day), but inside the house on Saturday it got to about 30 degrees. This compares to an inside peak of 33 degrees when I last measured it properly in 2014.

So on the face of it, the external blinds make about 3 degrees difference, which does take the edge of the heat, and combined with plenty of fans can make for a reasonable level of comfort. Fans all night have made sleep perfectly possible, and looking at our power consumption in daytime, keeping the house to 30 degrees while using fans, computers, TVs etc and still only burning 670 kW watts of power doesn’t seem too bad.

Window external blinds

Good roof insulation was installed some years ago, but seems to help more in winter than summer. Other options to explore would include wall insulation and double glazing. (One ceiling fan, suspected to be 15+ years old, also needs repair, as it’s stopped working.)

While they slow down the warming of the house, what the blinds and other passive measures don’t do is completely stop it getting hot, or cool things down. For that I would need actual air-conditioning or a split system, which I’ve tried to avoid, but is an idea I am slowly warming to. (Sorry x 2.) Perhaps to be installed with solar, to assuage guilt about increased energy consumption/emissions. Bear in mind of course the other measures have reduced what any cooling system would need to do.

The Billing Season

Once a year, the planets align, and I get hit by heaps of bills — often all three utilities, plus car rego and home insurance…

It’s pretty much a consequence of having bought a house mid-year (in 2005) and bought a car mid-year (in 2008) as well. Plus other, quarterly, bills seem to arrive around the same time.

Everything arrives around the end of July, and is payable in August or September, then hits the credit card bill in October. Yes, it’s The Billing Season.

Home and contents insurance (for a year) with fairly high excess I may one day live to regret — $639.95

Car registration (a year) — $270.40 registration + $443 TAC charge + $44.30 insurance duty = $757.70, up about $45 from a couple of years ago.

Car insurance (a year) — ye olde 2000 Holden Astra covered for $2900 (hmm, about a third of what I actually paid for it in 2007) plus Third party property damage = $317.02

So rego and insurance together costs $1074, or about $3 a day, even if you drive nowhere (eg excluding fuel and maintenance).

Rates — total this year of $1427.10 (up from $1351.20 last year) thanks in part to the fire services levy — which moved the cost of fire services from insurance to rates… which makes sense; the burden shouldn’t be just on those who bother to insure. First payment of $356.75 due at the end of September.

Electricity — I recently switched to Powershop, which is interesting — you can pay in advance (and choose between different options at different prices) or just pay afterwards like with a conventional provider. It’s quite interesting seeing what specials come up. Anyway it’s currently costing me $3.83 per day, down from $4.82 at this time last year. But they don’t have a fixed rate all year, and costs may rise a bit as summer demand kicks in, though to an extent you can pre-purchase to minimise that. If anybody wants to switch to Powershop, let me know — if I refer you, we both get a $75 credit.

Gas — $464.50 for 61 days = $7.61 per day over the winter, when we use the heating a fair bit, so this should drop off in coming months.

Water — $212.10 for 76 days, but this includes a government rebate of $100. Without this, it would be $4.10 per day. Apparently we’re using an average 247 litres each day. I’m not sure why the rebate has kicked in now… it’s ages since we switched to the efficient shower head, and I don’t recall any more recent changes. Or was that the thing where they overcharged us in the past?

It’s time to buy a new Yearly Myki Pass — the cost these days for the discounted Commuter Club fare is $1395 including PTUA membership — compared to $1501.50 for a retail yearly. Some people saw price cuts in January, but most fares went up by CPI+2.5% (which is a reason to buy your Yearly Pass before December when the old prices stop being offered).

As a bonus, the drains had their biennual(ish) partial blockage, caused by a tree behind my property. The plumbers came and this time recommended a water jet which they say will clear away more of the tree roots. $250 later, the drains are clear again. I’ve got a coupon for a 20% discount next time.

Some costs are more regular: I get monthly bills for my ISP and phones, for instance, mostly processed automatically.

One other trend is obvious: more bills are arriving online than a year ago. It’s not hard to see why Australia Post is in trouble.

I’m not complaining about all the costs above. I do okay in the income stakes. But perhaps I should try to shift things around so they don’t all hit at once.