Confessions of a directionally challenged mind

Several weekends have passed spent on the road, with me desperately trying to read the map while Gabriel keeps on driving with no idea of where we are. Our house-hunting excursions would have been a lot easier if I’m not so hopelessly directionally challenged. You see, I often get lost because I couldn’t read a map properly and can’t tell where I am in relation to the map. On some occasions when I’ve figured out where we are, I often get confused as which direction to travel in. Often, I go to direction opposite to where I want to be, realise my mistake and retrace my steps. Map reading wouldn’t be as painful if we’re travelling slowly as this would give me more time to figure out where we are in the map and which way to go next. However, that is not at all possible if we’re travelling in a car and there’s a long queue of cars behind us. We’d have to keep moving (getting lost fast) thus making it more difficult for me to figure out where we are in the map and having to ask Gj to find a quiet street, park and handing him the map.

You’d think that something as important as map-reading would be taught at school. This generation, after all, travels more than the ones before it and being able to decipher a map is a skill that could benefit anyone. Yet, the first time I had to read a map was when I finished university when I had to show up in unfamiliar places for job interviews. In those cases, I had to consult the map, write out the directions to get from point A to B in a piece of paper and follow these directions. I’d then allocate a time one day before the scheduled interview and make sure that I could find the place the next day. Yup, sure-fire signs of a directionally challenged mind here but is map-reading something that comes naturally or is it a skill that could it be learned?

I’ve picked up a book by Linda Grekin titled I’ll Never Get Lost Again: The Complete Guide to Improving Your Sense of Direction during a recent visit to the library and read through some of the chapters. The book discussed several symptoms of directionally challenged people like not being able to tell which direction is which when inside a building without looking out the windows, having to rotate the map in accordance to the orientation of the street while travelling, people not being able to tell where they are or where they are going without the aid of landmarks and having to follow a set of instructions to get where they would like to go instead of consulting a map. It was interesting to read about the experiences of other people and know that hey, I’m not a freak of nature after all, but the book disappoints in its promise to improve my sense of direction. The author believes that one’s map reading ability is highly dependent on a person’s ability to mentally rotate objects but that’s as far as she went. Although I’d admit that the capacity to mentally rotate objects may help in map reading, I don’t think it is the end-all and be-all of it.

Now, I’d be the first to admit that mental object rotation is not my strongest suit. I’d have to struggle through these exercises on intelligence tests but I do get average, and even on rare occasions, higher than average scores. Still, that doesn’t prevent me from getting lost or heading in the opposite direction from the one I intend to be in. And if the past weekends are any indication, practice and experience doesn’t help much either as my sense of direction doesn’t seem to get any better with the number of U-turns we have to make. I guess some people just have a natural knack for it and some people, like me, don’t. I do hope we find the house we’d purchase soon as I’m certainly not looking forward to another weekend trying to decipher the map when all I want to do is rip out its pages and burn them one by one.

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Published in: on September 12, 2005 at 5:45 pm  Comments (10)  

We Don’t Like Being Rushed

Today, we inspected some more houses in the Point Cook western suburb this time. It’s a fairly new land development so there are still a lot of brand new houses and empty lots for sale there. We planned to visit more display houses like those we visited in Caroline Springs yesterday (see my previous post).

In the end though, we decided to primarily visit finished houses that are in the market at the moment. The houses available for inspection there were either absolutely brand new (sometimes unfinished, even) or pre-owned for less than a year.

We took a great liking to the last house we’ve seen. The bus stop was just beside the house and the shopping centre is about a 10-minute walk away. The house had four rooms – a study, a formal lounge (sala), a formal dining area, a meals area, another lounge and a area called a rumpus which seems to be just another lounge. As you can imagine, it’s rather spacious. A little too spacious, in fact.

The real estate agent warned us, though, that somebody else would make an offer on the same house later in the day. That is, a buyer wanted to buy the house for an amount specified by the buyer and if the seller/owner of the house accepts the offer, it’s a done deal. However, the said buyer was dealing with another agent.

The agent was very anxious to get an offer from us. Very insistent, too. In Filipino, we call him makulit. He wanted to find out how much we’re willing to get the house for or how much we thought the house was. We didn’t want to quote anything at the time though. We love the place but we don’t want to reveal how much we love it until Raquel and I discussed it with each other in private. We kept saying that we’re interested but we weren’t ready to make an offer or even quote an amout for it. But he kept on asking anyway. In the end, Raquel ended up quoting a really low price, to be safe. That certainly silenced him.

We told him that we’ll have a think about it first and that we’d call him in the afternoon when we’re ready to make an offer. I just wanted to make sure Raquel liked the house as well. I certainly liked it and it might have already been showing on my face but it’s no good if Raquel didn’t like it at all. As it turned out though, we both liked it.

Another reason why I didn’t want to make an offer then and there was that I was afraid I might be forgetting something important about the whole process. We went to a first home buyer seminar and talked to some mortgage brokers and in both instances, we received various advice about buying a house. The only problem was that, we couldn’t remember most of the advice given. I had to refer to the notes we have filed at home.

One advice given to us was that when we make an offer, we should mention that it would be subject to certain conditions: Subject to finance with a 10-day finance clause and subject to a favourable building inspection. I’m sure there were other things we needed to remember but, for the life of me, I couldn’t recall much else.

I made the call anyway. If what the agent was saying was true, unless we make an offer, another party will get the house. I told the agent that we were willing to purchase the house for X amount of dollars. I also remembered to mention that the offer was subject to the conditions I’ve noted above. He told me that the owners already had another offer (currently already in writing, he emphasized) that was already above the price I’ve quoted. Okay. How about X+Y dollars? He said he’d call me back.

It was pretty quick because a minute barely passed when he called back saying that he needed that in writing. He was asking us if we could drive on over to do that. It was like an hour’s drive away and it was already pretty late. I said we couldn’t. How about tomorrow? He said that he needed to have the offer in writing by tomorrow morning. He said that he was willing to drive all the way from Point Cook to East St Kilda just to get us signed up.

We were rather uncomfortable with the idea of him coming over, though. We also wanted to have a bit of time to consult our friends and our mortgage broker first before we go through with it. I just called the agent to let him know that we were ready to make an offer and that what our offer will be but I guess we just weren’t ready to take it to the next level.

We were afraid that if we signed whatever it was that we needed to sign without consulting others first, we might be signing up for more than we bargained for. We just wanted to be prudent about it.

So I told the agent that I have to call him back in fifteen minutes (so I could discuss with Raquel our options in private). I don’t want to make a decision that Raquel may not agree with on this matter. A couple of minutes in talks with Raquel and my phone rang. It was the agent! Er, I remembered saying I’d call back in 15.

He reminded me that there was also a three-day cooling off period where I could back-out of the deal. I’d get a refund of the deposit I’ll make when I sign up for an offer on the house if I decided to call it off for whatever reason (so he says).

I couldn’t really tell if I should believe him or not. After all, he works for the seller and not for me. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t getting myself in over my head so I’d prefer to be given the time to consult with others about this before I sign anything. Sure, it’s entirely possible he wasn’t pulling my leg but I didn’t want to take the risk.

I now realize, of course, that I should’ve talked to the people I should’ve even before I called the agent — even before we went to look for houses. The problem was, we didn’t exactly know which questions to ask until today.

In the end, I said that if he couldn’t wait for me for at least one day to make sure I’m doing everything right, then we’ll have to skip on the property. He insisted that we wouldn’t find a better deal. He could be right. He didn’t budge. I told him that we are skipping on the house then. I just wished he wasn’t rushing us into it so much. If he had given us but one day to get our bearings, we would’ve signed up. I guess the other reason why we became more adamant with not going through with it was because the agent seemed too keen to have us sign up for the offer. It just seemed so dodgy.

Ah, well. Afterwards, we realized that maybe that property wasn’t what we wanted anyway. We originally wanted a house that wasn’t too big, near amenities and near a train station. The Point Cook house was none of those.

Also, after reading more about the process of making an offer on the Internet tonight, it seemed like the agent was just doing what he was supposed to do and he wasn’t pulling my leg or anything. Well, we rather be safe than sorry. We’ll just mark the whole thing as a big learning experience in buying a house.

Published in: on September 11, 2005 at 11:29 pm  Comments (2)  

More House Hunting

Just got back from a very long day out west looking at houses yet again. I apologize if our blog lately contained mostly about house hunting but it couldn’t be helped. Our free time is largely being devoted to looking for a suitable house in the next two months or we’ll have to re-apply for a loan pre-approval with our bank. Not to mention the fact that we might miss on the government’s First Home Owner Grant (worth $7,000) if we wait around for too long as the grant is going to be abolished soon.

Last night, instead of going out with friends having fun, we were mostly doing research online: finding houses open for inspection tomorrow (today, actually) and determining if the houses that were available for inspection were indeed close to some form of public transport. It’s a lot of hard work cross-referencing the house addresses to maps specially if the street did not exist the last time the online maps we were using were updated.

So today, we decided to head out West again. We’re sort of decided to concentrate our house-hunting efforts in the Western Melbourne suburbs like Werribee or Altona Meadows. We were only able to visit four houses in that area early today. Of the four, we only liked two. But we liked them more than any of the previous houses we’ve inspected to date so it wasn’t a waste of time.

We liked the last two well enough that we’re really considering getting one of the two houses. It’s not exactly perfect but both we’re pretty close to what we wanted.

Now, our day didn’t end there, though. So far now, two people recommended to us that we take a look at Caroline Springs which is Northwest of Melbourne. Since we still had half-a-day to burn and there were display houses there open for inspections until 5 pm, we decided to see what the fuss was all about in Caroline Springs.

On the drive over, I just felt that it certainly took a while to get there. But when we got there, it was like: WOW! The place certainly felt posh and opulent.
There was even a Captain Cook Memorial (water) Jet look-a-like at the entrance. Looking at the houses there felt like I was driving around Ayala Alabang or Forbes Park in the Philippines. I was thinking, “there is no way in Hell we would be able to afford a house here.” Still, I was curious about what the houses here look in the inside to we proceeded to the Display Village where four to five houses by a handful of well-known Australian builders were on exhibit.

Now, these houses weren’t really for sale. In fact, these builders aren’t really selling built properties. What they’re selling is a sort of service. Pick a design of a house you like, customise it to suit and choose a lot where it will be built. Once everything is in writing, they start building your new home which should be ready in 12 weeks or so. The houses on display gives you a glimpse at the finished product.

The display houses were truly impressive. One after the other, I was thinking, these houses must cost a fortune to have built. I was also thinking, my friends and relatives will think I must be very rich if I did own a house as such. Most of the houses there were pretty big (ie. harder to keep clean without a maid staff) so the smaller houses (if you could call them small) appealed to us like Metricon’s Prada design.

Surprisingly though, as I had no idea about these matters before today, having that house built on Caroline Springs was still within our budget! My mind suddenly swam with the possibility of owning such a nice home. I wish you were there to see these display houses. It really makes you wish you live there!

Unfortunately, we rather live in a place that is near some form of public transport whether it be by train or by bus. I think there are buses that pass through Caroline Springs however the bus stops wouldn’t be anywhere near the remaining vacant lots in the area, I suspect. The builder agent suggested the Watergardens train station. She said that some of the people who now live in Caroline Springs just drive to that station and take the train there. We drove to that very train station and it wasn’t at all near Caroline Springs.

Well, that idea is now a no go.

Still, it now opened us to the idea of having a home built to our specifications rather than getting a home that was pre-owned. By having a home built, we get to decide on the finishing touches put into it. I was only apprehensive about having a home built because I heard that doing so is such an overwhelming undertaking. That is, unless you had a home builder company do everything on your behalf.

It’s kinda like the difference between having to buy all the components and assembling your own PC yourself versus having to choose the components you want on a PC and let the shop get all the parts for you and build it for you.

Anyway, it’s unlikely we’ll be looking at getting a home in Caroline Springs. However, there is a similar development at Point Cook which is between Werribee and Altona Meadows. Although there are no buses that go through there, the nearest train station there seems to be nearer as compared to Caroline Spring’s nearest train station.

Tomorrow, there are display houses in Point Cook that are going to be open for inspection. We’ll have a look certainly. We’re still undecided at this point on whether to have a home built or just buy one of the two houses we liked from our today’s house inspections in Werribee and Altona Meadows.

The research is tiring. The driving around to house inspections is tiring. The house inspections themselves are tiring. And now, deciding from all the options available to us is also tiring us both.

I just want this to be over with but then, we don’t want to make a mistake we’ll regret for a long time. I’ll sure be glad when we finally move to our new home-to-be.

Published in: on September 10, 2005 at 11:15 pm  Comments (7)  

Received the Laptop

I just received my new Dell Inspiron 6000 Notebook this Monday and I’m quite happy with it so far. Raquel teased that because I have a new toy, I’m all giddy again. Well, I certainly wasn’t disappointed with the new laptop.

Honestly, I was a little wary on purchasing a Dell laptop online. I mean, I’ve never seen it except on the images Dell had on site. I wasn’t able to try it out unlike the display laptops in brick & mortar computer shops. I could only hope that the reviews I’ve read for this notebook are fairly accurate.

It’s a sleek and shiny machine and it didn’t weigh as much as I originally thought. The screen looked nice and clear and I was thankful that I upgraded to the 15.4″ Ultrasharp Wide Screen SXVGA+ (with a 1680 x 1050 display resolution) just before ordering the laptop. The default 1280 x 800 resolution doesn’t look nearly as crisp as the one I have. I had to increase the display font size though as the text were so tiny at the 1680 x 1050 resolution.

If your eyes just glazed over that technical mumbo-jumbo, the short of it is that I bought the notebook with a better screen than what it would’ve been by default.

I’ve also been installing software on the machine since I got it two days ago and I’m still not done. I wanted to have all my stuff in there as soon as possible so that I could quickly determine if there’s something wrong with it — so I could return it if there is. And so far, so good.

The typical programs I use seem to run just fine on the notebook with the exception of Half-Life 2 / Counterstrike: Source. Granted that the laptop I bought wasn’t really designed to be a gamer’s PC, it’s understandable that it didn’t match the performance of my current desktop PC, game-wise. Still, if I really want to play HL2 or CS:S, I still could; I just have to endure the skips in frames.

I also tried the wireless feature (dual band 802.11 a/b/g 54Mbps) on the laptop when I got it. It was the first time I had a machine capable of WiFi networking so I was a little daunted by it at the start. It didn’t take a genius to make it work in the end. When I turned on my laptop’s WiFi at work, I found over ten WiFi capable machines and/or ports, most of them secure.

I was curious so I connected to one of the unsecured WiFi nodes belonging to an Australian telecommunication company (the node was labelled as such). I was very hopeful that that telecom company was offering free WiFi Internet access to everybody around the Melbourne CBD. Unfortunately, I was only able to gain access to that company’s Intranet (internal Internet). Ah, well. At least now I know the WiFi on the laptop works.

At home, I plugged the LAN cable I usually reserve for my Playstation 2 to the laptop to test the LAN card. At first I thought there was something wrong with it because I couldn’t connect to the Internet even though my PS2 could using the same cable. In the end, I realised the problem was that I was running the laptop on batteries. The default setting on the machine was to turn off the network card when the laptop is on batteries. I’ll have to change that later.

I also tested the DVD drive by playing my The Matrix DVD on the laptop. According to the Dell site, the notebook should come with CyberLink’s PowerDVD software. Well, it did, in a way. It was part of Dell’s Media Centre software which I thought to be a little crappy. I was happier with PowerDVD 5 which I use on my desktop machine; it had more features. So, I installed PowerDVD 5 on top of the one already installed. It worked without problems.

I still have a lot of stuff I need to install and test on the new laptop in the coming days like my PocketPC programs, my programming software suite and graphics software. Once I’m all done with that, I can finally get back to doing what I used to do during my spare time.

Published in: on September 7, 2005 at 1:54 pm  Comments (5)  

House hunting misadventures

Another weekend has come and gone with Gj and I spending most of it on the road or looking at potential houses to purchase. We looked at the south-eastern suburbs the previous week and found that the houses on offer were too expensive, too ran-down or worse, both. The first week was depressing and tiring, with no real prospects. This past weekend, we headed westward to Werribee to inspect the houses on sale there. As this is quite a ways from the city, we short-listed several properties that were within walking distance from the train station. With the rising prices of petrol and the cost of parking, we thought we’d still like to take public transport to the city on weekdays and just use the car on weekends, as is our practice now. The trip was okay, with light traffic in the Western freeway, we were in Werribee in about 40 minutes.

We’ve been to Werribee once before when we went to the Werribee zoo with some friends but this is the first time we looked at it as a possible place to live. I once quizzed a friend who lives and works there as to why he chose to purchase a property there. He said that for him, the decision was simple since he works around the area and the local vibe reminds him of his hometown in the Philippines. Incidentally, we came from the same town and now that I’ve had a pretty good look at Werribee, I could have to say that the place does indeed remind me of home. The only thing still holding me back from deciding that we should get a property there is that it is quite far from the city (27km) thus translating to a more expensive train ticket and longer travel time. There is also the concern that taking the public transport passing through rather some scary suburbs may not be a safe proposition.

Anyway, the first house we went to was huge with well-maintained gardens and interiors and very near the train station. I loved the place while Gj was a bit hesitant, saying that the house and the garden would require a high level of maintenance – to which I agreed, it was quite over the top anyway and also pricey compared to the other houses in the area. The second one was a bit more modest than the first, although it is also located near the station. Gj actually liked this one better than the first but this time, I am the one who’s hesitant. The layout of the rooms weren’t very well thought out and didn’t take advantage of any natural light coming in thus making some parts of the house, such as the kitchen and the bedrooms, quite dark even at noon on a sunny day.

The other properties were a blur, with one property meshing in my mind with the others. It was interesting to see how some people lived and how well (or not) they took care of their abodes. The palatial home we first inspected was so well maintained that it looked like it came right out of a magazine. There were others though that seem to have not seen a lot of cleaning before the doors were opened for potential buyers. One property we went to has an incense stick burning in the lounge area, which does practically nil at masking the strong smell of cat piss and dog poo in every room. At that same house, there was soap scum covering the shower panels so thickly that what should be a transparent divider is now opaque. Then there was the one with the strong smell of human urine in the bathroom with only a bathtub installed (the toilet was in another room). Which makes me wonder, was there a problem in the house’s plumbing or did someone thought it would be a good idea to convert the tub into a toilet? Either way, the picture wasn’t pretty. Another property we went to looked great in the photos supplied in the internet but turned out to be a big disappointment. The photo was taken at night, with the house well lighted from within and the lawn well maintained. Well, when we got there, we found out why they decided to take the photo at night. The roof looked like it has seen better days and would be ready to fall piece by piece on the ground any day now while the interiors were okay but shows its age as well.

Needless to say, we didn’t find any of the properties suitable to our needs. Fingers crossed that this weekend’s search would yield better results and better smelling places.

Published in: on September 5, 2005 at 3:40 pm  Comments (7)  

Ruined Day Because of a Spoiler!

I turned my PC on early today, even before I left for work, because I had to copy an Excel spreadsheet from my PC that contained a list of houses we will inspect in Werribee on Saturday. I figured, since the PC was already on, I’d check my email anyway. I got an email from Friendster telling me that my brother had recently updated his blog: Blog ang Mundo.

Always keen on knowing what’s going on with him and the family back in the Philippines, I went to his blog only to have my day ruined. He knew I was reading a certain book. He knew I wasn’t finished. He knew I was reading his blog. And what do I see? A bloody spoiler for the same book revealing the identity of a secret character and who freaking died!

There was no spoiler warning. It was like three sentences long. Even if there was a warning, I wouldn’t have been able to avoid the spoiler as I read fairly fast and would’ve read the spoiler at almost the same time I’ve read the warning. To make matters worse, he even started with a sentence that calls attention to those people still reading or haven’t read the book before writing the spoiler. Also, some words in the short paragraph were in bold typeface making sure you don’t miss the spoiler.

It’s kind of like this:

To all of you who haven’t seen Sixth Sense yet. Bruce Willis’s character is actually a ghost! He’s dead already!

And no, his spoiler wasn’t actually about the Sixth Sense movie.

Anyway, after reading that post, I became very furious. I hadn’t felt anger like that in a long time. I wanted to punch something (and I did: the walls)! I kept shouting out expletives! I was frustrated and aggravated! My brother was fortunate he was in the Philippines and I’m in Australia or I would’ve punched him in the shoulders repeatedly.

All my effort in trying to avoid spoilers for the book by skipping on my other friends’ blog posts concerning the same topic was all useless in the end. It was like trying to get shot in a war torn neighborhood and I ended getting shot deliberately by my own brother. Nice. I think that’s what aggravated me more: the idea that my own brother dished out the spoiler when he knew for a fact that I didn’t want spoilers of any sort, more so about the book I was reading.

I imparted on to him my profound displeasure by leaving a short comment on his spoiler post that basically says: “If this isn’t a joke, you’re a bloody idiot!” But that didn’t lessen my anger, so I sent him two SMS text messages that basically said the same thing except longer. I also recommended that he remove the stupid post as soon as possible. To his credit, he did so immediately.

When I got to work to check on the post again, it was already gone. It was replaced by a sort of apology that wasn’t really much of an apology since he was still being cocky about it by quoting the secret words to activate and deactivate the Marauder’s Map from the Harry Potter series: “I solemnly sware, that I am up to no good.” and “Mischeif Managed!” Because I thought the apology was not sincere didn’t help quell my still lingering anger.

With that, I wrote a long and heated retort. I said that whether it was a joke or not, it wasn’t funny either way. I told him that I wander over to his blog to read what was going on with him and instead I get a stupid spoiler. I also told him that courtesy dictates that he shouldn’t have given out a spoiler and ruin a book for everybody else that may be kind enough to read his blog. I actually said more than that and in a stronger language.I vented my anger into that comment so much that I was afraid that I might have overdid it.

Well, he removed my comment. I thought it was for the best as I really meant that rant of a comment to be for his eyes only anyway. He posted a second apology as a comment to his original one. The second one was slightly more sincere than the original. Either way, I forgave him. The rant-comment I wrote must’ve helped vent out my rage, and I really couldn’t be angry with that oaf for too long anyway. I guess, it’s also because I like my brother more than any silly book.

In the end, my morning was still ruined as well as my complete enjoyment for the book I’m reading. However, I feel like I’m somewhat over it now that I have had the chance to rant about it here and on my brother’s blog. We’re okay now. I’ll just put this extremely annoying incident behind me — just as long as he doesn’t do it again.

Published in: on September 1, 2005 at 11:53 am  Comments (4)