25 January 2013

The Perils of Online Shopping

I've been an online shopper for quite some time now. I think my first ever purchase after getting my first credit card was done online. Over at least 7 years I thought I'd become quite savvy and wary of certain transactions and quite experienced. But, as life does, there's always something that comes along to challenge that.

So, never having any major dramas in the past - maybe some delayed deliveries and things like that, I went ahead and purchased some car parts from Europe (part of the joys of owning a European built car in Australia where local prices are way overpriced for similar items). The retailer was well known on the forums I perused and came recommended, plus they offered the best price for the parts I was after. There were only a few stories of note where assistance from the owner of the shop based in Germany were slightly negative, but overall, I figured I was in for a(nother) positive experience.

Things went well, the transaction went through (using PayPal) just fine and tracking numbers were provided. Within a couple of weeks, in late June, the items had arrived - and then things went pear shaped. 

The items were a pair and sadly, one of them had been damaged - either in transit or perhaps even at manufacture. There was a certain 'fragile' element about the item and the standard packaging provided by Ford Genuine Parts just wouldn't stand up to the sort of torture they would endure in the journey from Germany to Australia. But, you'd have to think that several other buyers must have had successful transactions as they had bought the same items without problem from the same store in the past. Anyway, one of the pair was damaged internally and was unusable as a result. On contacting the seller, they informed me to lodge a dispute with the delivery company. I originally presumed this to be DHL, but it turned out to be Australia Post.

The Auspost claims process can take some time - and so it did. During this time, I enquired with Paypal as well and called on their buyer protection. They froze the funds, much to the annoyance of the seller who became quite irate and abrupt in email conversation. I will credit PayPal and their staff in the fact that they were very friendly and helpful all along the way, as opposed to Auspost's who were reluctant to help and less than optimistic about my chances for a successful claim due to the packaging of the item.

Four weeks pass, we're now in August and Australia Post knocks back the claim, but thankfully PayPal rules in my favour, offering a refund for return of both items. But there's a catch - there will be no compensation for the postage costs incurred to send them back.

I confer with other members on the forum who agree that returning the items as per PayPal's instruction is the best way to go - even with the postal charges, the better outcome is to get back what I can. So I head to Australia Post to return the items. The postal component for the items to be shipped from Germany to Australia was about $60AUD plus insurance. The cost to return the items to Germany? Close to $300AUD! This was partially because the two items, while they arrived together as a single unit, had to be returned as two separate items due to Australia Post's maximum parcel size rules.

I went through with it. Thinking I would be compensated appropriately and all of this would soon be over.

Upon sending proof of return of the items to PayPal, I got my refund but things weren't all smiles. For the original transaction I paid 585.50 Euros, which was $759.14AUD at the time in June. Come August, 585.50 Euros had depreciated to $686.42AUD - which is what I received. Subtract the near $300 postal fees and you can see why I wasn't smiling.

I dispute this with PayPal, but, after two emails I merely receive the same party line from them that I received a refund of the payment amount - which was 585.50 Euros. They did not comprehend that I was out of pocket due to depreciation of the Euro currency over the months.

But, this saga wasn't over yet. Even with tracking applied, the items took their time to find their destination. They were even showing up as being delivered to different locations and this continued the rather irate emails from the seller. Things continued to escalate when he only received one of the pair back and asked me to claim with Australia Post, yet again, for the missing item - which was held up somewhere in Germany, nowhere near his address. After much to and fro, Australia Post located the item, determined the packaging had been damaged in transit and delivered it to the recipient - who then complained about the damage incurred. So I had to deal with Australia Post yet again - and, after a few weeks, now in October, determined there was no case for compensation as the items were not appropriately packed (they were as I received them, in Ford's minimalist and insufficient packaging) - even after admitting that the box was soaked with perfume - how are we supposed to protect items against that sort of thing?

The saga ends after contacting the recipient about the development and informing him that Auspost won't compensate. I waited for their reply but got none. I can only assume they gave up or had enough. I even wonder whether the item was damaged at all, or if he was trying to claim compensation back for the one item that was damaged originally. I guess I will never know. I figured I would wait three months for a reply before clearing out the records of the transaction and the paperwork involved with it. So here I am in January, writing about it.

It was a horrible part of the year. Always looming over my head as to what would go wrong next. I'd go to sleep wondering what email I would have to face when I woke up, I'd wake up wondering what email I'd have to face and I got anxious every time I saw a new email arrive in my inbox. That has gone away now with several holidays to ease my mind and the fact it's been over three months since I last contacted them. I put that particular modification on hold for some time but recently managed to source the parts from somewhere else without problem.

I have deliberately stayed away from naming the company involved. While I had a bad experience, there are many others who have had successful transactions. I just wanted to write about how wary we all have to be with online transactions and researching who we are purchasing from. If I had my time again, I probably would have held onto the damaged item and tried to purchase a replacement for it - it would have cost me less in the end as opposed to how much money I lost due to Australia Post's exorbitant postage fees and PayPal's pocketing of the difference due to currency fluctuations.

Do I still use Australia Post and PayPal? Yes. Because in Australia we have no other option for postage and with our eBay accounts, we have to use PayPal by default. But this experience has definitely made me aware of what to expect should something like this happen again - and I will look at different alternatives should something this unfortunate happen again.

14 January 2013

B5 Review: The Coming of Shadows, Season Two

Season Two was originally a huge void for me in the Babylon 5 universe. On my first viewing of the series, it was much of Seasons One and Two that I missed out on before coming back during the early parts of Season Three. It's a bit of a shame since so much happened and a lot of important arcs are put in motion.

Picking up a few days after the end of Chrysalis, Season One's finale, the show goes through some dramatic changes. A new Captain, John Sheridan is appointed to the station and he immediately finds himself in the middle of a potential crisis with the Minbari - to be a somewhat recurring theme. The opening episode, Points of Departure answers some of our questions about the Earth-Minbari War and Sinclair's importance in the B5 universe.

Throughout the season we begin to learn and see more of the mysterious ancient race that made a couple of appearances in the previous year - the Shadows. Sadly, the Narn take the brunt of their hostility from Revelations right through to the events that would provoke the Narn-Centauri conflict (The Coming of Shadows) and those that would finish it (The Long, Twilight Struggle). The Narn-Centauri conflict would take up much of the season with the Narn in need of much help and sympathy as their losses mount. 


Narn ship at Z'ha'dum

There is much to learn about our new commanding officer as well. We know his wife passed away some years prior but it's not until the mid-season episode All Alone in the Night we realise he was chosen to be Sinclair's replacement for a reason - and one that alerts us to some dark happenings back on Earth that could be linked to President Santiago's assassination in Chrysalis. Eventually we find out much more about John Sheridan's wife and her fate with an interesting and worrying link to Mr Morden (In the Shadow of Z'Ha'Dum) while Talia Winters is revealed to be a plant within the station's command staff by Psi-Corps (Divided Loyalties).

Aside from the emotional rollercoaster in the Narn-Centauri War, we see conflicts involving Earth forces and Marines in GROPOS, the entire Markab race is wiped out by a plague in Confessions and Lamentations and Delenn is put through an extreme test at the request of Kosh in Comes the Inquisitor.

Mirroring the hard times and the struggles, we learn about the Rangers. A group of Humans and Minbari who appear to have something to do with Sinclair's new assignment on Minbar. Their role is to watch, but eventually we learn they under the authority of Delenn and eventually Sheridan.


Sheridan and Delenn

Our characters experience much change. Sheridan learns secrets that he cannot reveal, Londo finally earns the respect he's been craving, but at what price? While G'Kar attempts to warn us about the coming darkness to being removed from the advisory council by season's end due to the unfortunate result of the Centauri conflict. The rest of the crew are affected by many events including the arrival of Franklin's father in GROPOS and the reveal of Talia's sleeper personality. Delenn asks Sheridan to help teach her about humanity while Sheridan asks to learn more about Kosh.

The season ends on an ominous note in The Fall of Night. With the Narn-Centauri war over, Earth signs a non-aggression treaty with the Centauri, an assassination attempt on Sheridan and Kosh finally reveals himself. However, the Shadows are coming and Nightwatch and Earthgov in general are sending out alarm bells from home.

2259 does have its lighter moments though, from Sheridan and Ivanova camping out in Sheridan's office to avoid paying extra 'rent' for their quarters (A Race Through Dark Places), to the green/purple Drazi 'conflict' (The Geometry of Shadows), to Londo's disatisfaction at the lack of endowment on a doll in his image and Sheridan throwing a teddybear with his initials on it out into space (There All The Honor Lies) and how could we forget Ivanova's demonstration of sex to the Lumati in Acts of Sacrifice?

Kosh

The Coming of Shadows fared slightly better in reviews compared to Signs and Portents. The average episode score being 6.88 compared to 6.82. The episode scoring the highest 9/10 being The Long, Twilight Struggle, followed by The Coming of Shadows with an 8.5/10. The lowest score of 6/10 for the season went to a handful of episodes compared to the first season's lowest score of 5.5 for Infection.

The rollercoaster will only continue as Season Three awaits...
 

12 January 2013

The Best of 2012

The year's continue to flash by and if you believe the believers, we survived the apocalypse in 2012 so we should count ourselves quite lucky! 2012 was a fun and interesting year and the ratings continued so let's see how things stacked up shall we? Some items/events that were rated in 2011 aren't applicable for 2012.

Best Holiday: Japan, November
Runner-up: Melbourne F1 Grand Prix, March

2012 was almost without a major holiday but after some quick investigation and cheap airfares with a full service airline, Japan was locked in for November and what an adventure it was. While I haven't yet blogged about it at this point, it was an amazing trip in a wonderful country where the people are so polite and welcoming. It was our first trip without being part of a tour group and we found our independence gave us a chance to really explore the place and see what we wanted to see, in our own time and pace. The only problem was that we had to come home again!

In March, we attended the Melbourne Formula 1 Grand Prix which coincided with my birthday weekend and that was a great experience as well. We got to spend some time in the city (which I hadn't done before) and enjoy what it had to offer and have our ears bleed to the sound of the F1 cars flying around the Albert Park circuit. I very nearly won a hotlap around the circuit as well but my 'dumbphone' and lack of social media access didn't help that. Still, the weekend was great fun!

Best Restaurant: Mamak, Sydney
Runners-up: Spice Temple, Sydney & Feddish, Melbourne

As with previous years, 2012 was filled with trying different culinary experiences. It's hard to count for all the Japanese restaurants we visited overseas (mainly due to a lack of proper translation of some of their shop names) so I'm discounting them from the running. I'm slightly surprised that Mamak is the restaurant to come out on top - not that it's not a worthy winner but the fact that nothing else we tried in 2012 came close. Mamak scored a 9/10 for speedy service and excellent food that was well priced.

Coming second is Spice Temple, also located in Sydney. This restaurant had a very different, intimate vibe about it with very professional service and excellent food. The other end of the price scale from Mamak but definitely worth a look if you like spicy Asian food.

Feddish was also a nice experience while we were in Melbourne and should be looked at if you are near Federation Square. Feddish was where we ate for my birthday and the restaurant had a nice ambience while the meal and service were great.

Honourable mentions go to The Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay and Black Angus in Parramatta, both scoring 8/10's for their food while the most average, lowest score of the year went to Open Korea in Camperdown with a 5/10 which provided very average service and not what we would have considered 'authentic' Korean dining.

Best Movie: The Avengers 4.5/5
Runner-up: The Dark Knight Rises 4/5
2012 promised some eagerly awaited action movies and others that tuned out to be quite interesting. For me, I had higher anticipation for The Avengers while my wife and many others couldn't wait for The Dark Knight Rises. So it's no surprise then that The Avengers managed to score the highest for the year, the only movie to get a 4.5/5 and The Dark Knight Rises came close in 2nd with a 4/5. Much of the remaining movies from the year scored 3.5's including 21 Jump Street, Ted, Skyfall and The Amazing Spider-Man. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the year was John Carter scoring a 2/5.

The list is incomplete as neither Battleship or (more importantly) The Life of Pi have been seen by year's end - but that is difficult to do when the latter film is released on New Year's Day! 2013 will be an exciting year for me with the May release of the long anticipated sequel to J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot. Eleonor and I were already treated to an exclusive screening of the first 9 minutes of the feature titled 'Into Darkness' and the agonising wait for May continues...

Best Concert: Alter Bridge - World Tour III
We were fortunate to have a few bands and performances come through our parts this year and all were quality acts making the choice of a 'best concert' quite difficult. In the end, I gave it to Alter Bridge for their high energy, entertaining performance at the Enmore Theatre in February. They followed the equally entertaining and questionnable Steel Panther (who we only caught the end songs from) and provided the concert in full mp3 format afterwards (something I think more bands should do to get more money out of us fans who'll pay the money for it!)



The other performances we got to see included Roger Waters 'The Wall', the 1979 album modernised for contemporary times and so fantastic, Evanescence toured for their self-titled album with Amy-Lee's voice as strong as ever and their new drummer providing a show of his own. We also saw the Flight of the Conchords perform at the Opera House, Nickelback light up Acer Arena (and invent a new word 'neglective') and ended the year's performances with the Doctor Who Symphony Spectacular, back at the Opera House. 

Roger Waters - The Wall

Evanescence


Nickelback

2013 promises to continue the trend (I hope), with Soundwave acts including Blink 182, The Offspring, Metallica, Linkin Park and many others...

Best Album: Linkin Park - Living Things
Linkin Park take the prize for the only new album I purchased in the year (not including various soundtracks!) so they win this award by default with a return to form (yet still too short) album for fans old and new. We will be fortunate enough to see them live on two occasions early in 2013.

07 January 2013

Abraxas Video - 300+ Videos in 3 Years

On Sunday, 6th January 2013 my first YouTube channel, AbraxasVideo celebrated its third birthday online. The first video uploaded was titled 'Serenade of the Skies' and was a showcase I had put together of aviation footage I had filmed between 2007 and 2009. It marked the beginning of a place where I could share my aviation videos and show my video production skills at the same time.


Three years on and with 312 videos online, the channel continues to grow with a following of 363 subscribers and over 124,000 views. The 'brand' of AbraxasVideo has grown to include a Twitter account tweeting interesting aviation related news, information and photos and interacting with the online aviation community and last year a Facebook page was started to grow the audience even further.

With footage filmed right up to the beginning of 2013 as I type this blog entry and the current uploads being from 2010, there's guaranteed videos to keep the channel alive for the foreseeable future :)

Take a look at the third anniversary video 'An Epic Age', a decent sequel to 'Serenade', showcasing footage from 2010-2012.