To Have a Laptop

Our company recently offered to package laptops into our remuneration. Yay! I finally get to own a laptop, or notebooks — as it is called nowadays by the manufacturers. I’ve always dreamed of having one myself. Actually, my Dad gave me his laptop (an archaic x386 laptop) back in the early 90s during my time in university, so, I could say I already had one. But, what I mean is that I want to have a new one.

Well, here’s my chance — thanks to our company’s new policy. I also get to pick the laptop I wanted, which was great. But that doesn’t mean we get to choose the most expensive one on the market. If it’s too dear, some of it will come out of my pay.

Anyway, I did a lot of research in deciding which laptop to go for. In the end, I went for a Dell Inpsiron 6000 which can only be ordered on the Dell website. I don’t like ordering expensive equipment online. On the plus side, I was also able to customize it online. I ended up with the following specs: Pentium M740 1.73GHz, 2MB Cache, Intel Media Accelerator 900 up to 128Mb shared memory, 15.4″ wide screen, 512Mb SDRAM (should I have gone for the 1GB SDRAM for an additional $200?), 80GB hard drive, DVD dual layer burner and 9-cell 80WHr Lithium Ion battery (supposedly lasts for over 5 hours when fully charged even when the WiFi is in use).

Some might say that I should’ve went with a laptop that had a better graphics card. This time round though, I don’t intend to use the new laptop primarily as a game machine. Sure, I’d probably still play Half-Life 2 or Unreal Tournament 2004 on it on occasion. However, I don’t think that that justifies getting a more powerful and dearer machine. I will probably use this more for typing/writing, digital drawing/painting, programming, Internet surfing and DVD watching. I could always just turn on my Playstation 2 if I want to play anyway.

I also compared the Inspiron against a Toshiba Satellite M50 (my ex-first choice) and a Compaq Presario V4004 but the Inspiron still came out on top. The Presario, in this case, was a less powerful machine than the Inspiron I customized. The Presario had the same processor, same memory and approximately same screen size (15″ wide screen) but only has a 60GB hard drive and a 64Mb video card, has less battery life (according to reviews) and costs more by $200.

The Satellite had similar specs to the Presario except the screen on it was smaller (14″ wide screen) — this is an advantage in terms of portability. I wanted to have a smaller screen because it’ll make the overall machine smaller, too. I could always just plug the laptop on a 17″ monitor if I wanted to use a big screen. Unfortunately, this laptop was out of the running because according to user feedback I’ve read, the empty area below the keyboard, where your right hand will rest while typing, heats up to 45 degrees Celsius over time. Apparently, there are heating issues with the newer Satellite notebooks. I would’ve gone with the M50 if it weren’t for the heating issue. Another disadvantage it had was its short battery life of approximately two hours.

The Dell courier called me up today and told me to expect my new laptop on Monday. I can’t wait. Now, I will be able to easily bring my work home with me, if I wanted. I can also go to a cafe by the beach and type up a blog there or do some digital painting (provided I bring my Wacom tablet along, too, of course). I can go to the library and write my stories there where the reference books are easily accessible. I’m having fun just thinking of the possibilities.

It’s just too bad that I won’t get it before the weekend. It can help to have all the detailed information of the houses we will inspect (taken from the Internet) over the weekend on the laptop so we can always refer to it on the road if needed. I’ll just use it for that purpose next weekend provided everything is fine with the laptop when I get it on Monday. We’ll see then.

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Published in: on August 31, 2005 at 5:24 pm  Comments (6)  

A House Hunting We Will Go…

We just found out last week that our pre-approved loan application had gone through. According to our mortgage broker, we could now officially start looking for houses to call our own. With the pre-approved loan, at least we know how much the bank is willing to lend us in the likely event that we have chosen a new home.

With that said, we didn’t have much of a rest this past weekend because we had to go drive around Melbourne’s southeastern suburbs to go to pre-scheduled house inspections. There wasn’t a house inspection earlier than 11:30 AM for the suburbs we were going to visit so we decided to check out a house auction at 11 AM before we start inspecting houses.

We selected a house in the suburb of Highett that was listed as being worth over $390,000. Based on the photos of the house exterior and interior posted on Realestate.com.au, the house would be something Raquel and I fancied if we were at all interested in buying a house through an auction rather than through a private sale.

We’ve seen the auction process on TV a few times (TV shows about real estate is quite popular in Australia it seems) but we’ve never seen one before then. We just wanted to have the opportunity to see an auction first hand and see for ourselves if it’s something we might be willing to go through to get a house we wanted.

The auctioneer was already detailing the rules of auctioning when we got to the property. There were already some twenty-odd people there waiting for the auction proper to begin. We did notice however that the house on auction was actually one of two houses sharing a lot. The house on auction was the house at the back and has to share a driveway with the house in front.

It was certainly a weird setup for us because we haven’t encountered such a property before. I could understand if the front and back houses were both for sale to one owner but to have the two houses belonging to two different unrelated owners? Who owns the land? What if the front house owner got into an argument with the one living at the back and decided to block the driveway indefinitely?

So, even though we were too late for the final house inspection of the property, we pretty much decided that this wasn’t a kind of home we’d be bidding for. After that, we were very curious to see how much such a property will buy for at the end of the bidding. And as it turned out, there wasn’t much of a bidding.

The auctioneer started by asking for an opening bid in what he claimed to be a very lovely home in a very sought after location (it was fairly close to the shops and public transportation, after all). There was silence for half a minute when an Asian couple opened with a bid of $370,000. And that was it.

No matter how hard the auctioneer tried to coax the people there to raise the bid by $10,000, nobody did. I guess, like us, the people there didn’t think the house was worth more than 370k (if that). The auctioneer went inside the house to consult with the sellers on how to proceed. The only bidder was granted a first right of refusal. Whatever that meant. We didn’t stay to find out. All we know now is that the property was eventually sold, according to their Internet listing.

We had to leave the auction to be in time with our first house inspection of the day in Aspendale, a bayside suburb south of Melbourne. Although we didn’t think much of the first house, we did love the coastal feel of the neighbourhood. Not to mention the fact that most properties there are near the train stations along the Frankston train line.

We spent the rest of the afternoon driving back and forth between the northern and southern suburbs looking at various houses. Most of them were not our type of household. However, it wasn’t a completely fruitless undertaking. We did find three houses to our liking — modern looking, well maintained and located in a peaceful area. The only problem with these houses was that the land area wasn’t that big. Also, we still couldn’t say that these houses were what we could call our “dream homes”.

There is always next week. And the week after that. And so forth. But we only have three months. At that time, our pre-approved loan expires and we would need to re-apply for it again. So, although we are not yet in too much of a rush to buy a home, we certainly couldn’t risk just sitting around twiddling our thumbs. Hopefully, we could find our dream home next week.

Published in: on August 29, 2005 at 9:43 pm  Comments (4)  

Climbing Nadine Done

Whew. Finally finished with this thing! It’ll be a while before I digitally “paint” something like this again. It just takes too long to do. Even now, I know I could’ve made it better but I settled for “presentable” just so I could call this piece “done.” And so this is now the final version of this piece.

As usual, click on the thumbnail to see the larger version. You could also compare this to the previous two versions: the sketched/work in progress version and the rough coloured-in version.

Done entirely on Photoshop 7 (instead of OpenCanvas which I typically use) and with my Wacom tablet.

Published in: on August 26, 2005 at 7:31 am  Comments (4)  

The importance of research

Someone recently left a comment in one of my old posts regarding migrating to Australia. He stated that he’d like to know more about the process and has repeatedly asked for help but it was obvious from his post that he hasn’t done any prior research of his own. He was asking questions that would have already been answered if only he took the time and effort to read the link I’ve provided or just by reading my reply to a previous comment.

To me, this constitutes an unwillingness to do his own homework and trying to pass the work off to me. Well, let me tell you now that if you don’t put in the time and effort to your own application, no one will. Certainly not me, I have posted my experiences in this blog with the hopes that it would serve as a guide to someone who might be undergoing a similar process. My knowledge does not extend beyond what I have gone through and I won’t be able to advise anyone what is the best way for them to migrate to Australia – every case is unique and you’d be better off assessing your situation or going through a professional agent than asking me. Do your homework and read up on the topic, there are a wealth of resources on the internet for anyone who’s determined enough to find it. Stop being so darn lazy! Do NOT give me a copy of your resume without any specific question as to what kind of advice you are seeking, it wastes my time and yours, so don’t even bother. You’d be better served by researching the topic from the following resources (among others):

Published in: on August 24, 2005 at 11:41 am  Comments (1)  

Mooncakes

MooncakesGeejay was hunkering for some Nagaraya peanuts and thought that it may be available at Asian shops so off we went to Chinatown, in search of this particular brand of peanuts. We went to the Asian grocery store we normally frequent and browsed the aisles of shelves. There were packed peanuts on sale, but unfortunately for Geejay, no Nagaraya in sight. I was trying to convince him to try the other brands of peanuts but said that only Nagaraya would do, adobo flavour specifically. We didn’t leave empty-handed though as we bought some seaweed and peanut cakes. Yum.

On our way back to the office, we went to another Asian shop inside an arcade along Bourke street. Still no Nagaraya for poor Geejay but there were rows upon rows of tinned mooncakes on display. Geejay customarily buy hopia whenever he goes to an Asian shop and with his predilection for anything with eggs, a mooncake promising 2 yolks is a tempting purchase for him. He bought one with white lotus paste filling with 2 yolks while I got one with only one yolk. The cakes came in small gorgeous tins. Geejay is in it for the cakes, I was in it for the tin. Proof of this, Geejay ate his cake the minute we got to the office while I waited till we got home from work before consuming mine. The mooncake festival is celebrated every 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar and if this Western to Chinese calendar converter is correct, we still have till the 18th of September this year to enjoy more mooncakes and collect a few more tins.

Published in: on August 23, 2005 at 11:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

Disney sand sculptures revisited

I was using Gabriel’s PC and was wondering what to do next when I thought of checking the visitor statistics for my photo blog. I was expecting to see the usual number of page views, which would be about less than 20 in a day, when I noticed that the number I’m looking at is 138. I did a double take and looked at the site name, half expecting that I made a mistake and I’m actually seeing this site’s stats instead of the photo blog. Hmmm… no, it’s there plain as day, http://raquelphotos.blogspot.com. My eyes darted to the page views again, still 138. What’s going on and where is this sudden flurry of activity coming from?!?

Checking the site referrals I got, I found out that the photos Gabriel and I took of the Disney sand sculptures last January were featured at the Luxo blog, a fan site dedicated to all things Pixar.

There were a few others hits from Nancy DTC, Sculptures de sables Disney, Upcoming Pixar and Boing Boing Mini. So if you haven’t seen those famous sand sculptures yet, now’s your chance.

Oh, and by the way, that photo on the left was taken by Gabriel and is my favorite of the lot. Enjoy!

Published in: on August 23, 2005 at 1:04 am  Comments (2)  

Shopping for a home loan

Last Saturday saw us trudging our way to Aussie Mortgages’ Southland shop to talk to one of their advisers with the hope of going through the process of getting a loan pre-approval. Aussie Mortgages is a mortgage brokering service designed to help prospective home buyers find the best mortgage for their needs. Although they don’t offer home loan products from every financial institution in Australia, their panel of lenders include some of the biggest names in the industry. This means that they could easily compare product features and rates from various lenders and find several that may suit your needs. Compare this with the tediousness plus amount of time and effort required to understand each home loan product offered by different institutions on your own and you’ll see that there is merit in using a mortgage broker’s assistance. Best of all, Aussie’s service is free – they only get a commission if you sign up and they supposedly get the same commission regardless of which lender you choose.

We’ve been to the shop several weeks before when we attended their free First Home Buyers information session. In that seminar, the presenters explained how Aussie Mortgages could help us and discussed the things that a first home buyer would need to consider. They stressed the importance of having a healthy 10% deposit saved up, loan types, grants available to the first home buyer, researching the real property market and the other costs that comes with purchasing a home aside from the purchase price (stamp duties, loan mortgage insurance for people who have less than 20% deposit, inspection fees, rates, building insurance and legal costs). Attendees were also given show bags containing reading materials and quick start guides for prospective home buyers who don’t have any idea of where and how to start the process.

The past few weeks saw me trying to get all our documentation in order and reading Finding and managing your mortgage for dummies by Maureen Jordan every chance I get, hence the lack of blog posts. Anyway, here’s a list of the documentation you’ll need to provide before talking to a mortgage broker:

  • payslip from last 3 pay periods
  • proof of savings (i.e. bank statements for the last 6 months)
  • group certificate(s) from the previous year
  • 100 points identification for verification purposes

Armed with our papers, we talked to the adviser and he asked questions regarding our financial position plus more. Questions include how much we earn, credit limits for credit cards, other loans (if any), how much we put away for savings as well as the frequency, car model and value, number of dependents, visa status, how long we’ve stayed in our present jobs (if less than 3 years, you’d also be asked about previous employment history) and how much we’d like to borrow. Gabriel and I have looked at house prices in the weekend papers and online and we’ve agreed on our maximum price even before we went talked to the adviser, so we have a ready answer to this question. The adviser told us that based on the information we’ve provided him, we could borrow up to double the amount we were asking for. We laughed and said no thanks, since we won’t be comfortable with that level of debt. He smiled and replied that although we could theoretically borrow a large amount, it would also mean that we’d be allocating a sizable portion of our salaries for repayments. Scary thought, specially since that would mean that although we might be able to purchase a very nice house with that kind of money, we may not have anything else left to enjoy life or even for emergencies.

The adviser entered our details in his laptop and took notes during the interview and before the hour is over, the specialised software they are using recommended several lenders whose products suit our needs. Imagine our surprise when the software recommended the financial institution where we’ve been banking all these years! There were a lot of things to consider and we asked some questions regarding the product’s interest rate, ongoing fees, portability, early repayment penalties (if any), its features and how it compares to the other lenders (comparison rate). In the end, we decided that our bank’s rates are reasonable enough and the product’s features are satisfactory so we signed an application form to get a pre-approval. Besides, since there is no obligation to go through with the loan with this bank, we could still shop around and see if we could find a better product.

One hour and 15 minutes later, the interview is over and the adviser said that we’d have to wait 2-3 days to learn the outcome of our application. Papers were photocopied and signed and we exchanged numbers before going our separate ways. Fingers crossed that we get that pre-approval. Meantime, we have another appointment this afternoon with an adviser from another mortgage matching company to see if we could get a better deal. Wonder if he’d recommend our bank’s products too?

Published in: on August 22, 2005 at 2:17 pm  Comments (1)  

St Kilda Botanic Gardens


Last weekend, Raquel and I headed over to nearby St Kilda Botanic Gardens for a stroll. It’s not as big as the other parks we’ve been to around Melbourne but it was still pretty nice and peaceful. For more pics, check out Raquel’s photoblog.

Published in: on August 21, 2005 at 9:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Climbing Nadine – Rough Version

Nadine. Climbing. Rough version. I still haven’t decided whether to finish this with a more comic-book/animation look or a more painted look. I’ll probably go with the former as that is much much easier and faster to do. Yeah, I’m lazy like that.

Also, notice the new costume for Nadine (that is, if you read my comics). This time, she will be wearing chainmail armor unlike before if for no other reason than to increase her Armor Class (just kidding… just a little D&D reference there). Anyway, watch out later on for another version of this same pic.

Digitally drawn using Photoshop 7 and my Wacom tablet.

Published in: on August 21, 2005 at 11:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Daily Drawing: Daffodil Day

Today in Australia is Daffodil Day. It is not really a holiday but rather Daffodil Day is a “merchandise based national fundraising event of its kind for cancer research, education and patient support in the Southern Hemisphere” as described by Cancer Council Australia. So, with that as an inspiration, I decided to digitally draw this daffodil using Photoshop 7 and my Wacom tablet.

I realized after this that I don’t draw flowers that well. I need more practice. Ah well. That’s why I’m doing these daily drawings anyway.

Published in: on August 19, 2005 at 10:24 pm  Leave a Comment