Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Measuring the fuel economy of my 2007 Aurion AT-X

Aurion Dashboard

“With great power comes great fuel bill”.

When I bought my car, I did not think I would have to drive it a lot. I still believe that is the case. Everything is accessible within 5 minutes to from where I live. Work, supermarket, shopping centre, hospital…pretty much everything.

But as I wrote in my last post about getting my driving license, I had to drive a lot more than I expected to. I am fine with that – in fact, I am very pleased to have been able to drive the car a lot in the past few days. I was able to take a good look at various roads and areas. But more importantly, I was able to take a look at the fuel consumption of the car.

I knew this would not be an economical car. You cannot expect it to be with a 3.4l engine. But I wanted to see how optimistic the 9.9l/100km figure in the specifications was. It turned out that it was slightly optimistic. Here are my results.

  Distance (km) Consumed fuel (litres) Fuel economy
Result 1 197.9 21.60 9.16 km per litre
Result 2 326.1 33.50 9.73 km per litre

But you should know that I drove a lot in the small roads to explore the area in Broadmeadows as well as nearby. I also did not take the freeway even when I could, just to get a feel for the different roads. But this should be a good “average” figure as I drove on fast roads (80km/h to 100km/h) as well as slow ones (40km/h to 60km/h) during this span. Manufacturers always quote specs that are very hard to match in real world, because most of the times they measure them in well controlled environments. Also, my car has done quite a lot of miles anyways, so it should not be working as efficiently as it originally did. Considering all that, I think I should not be too worried about it the engine performing less efficiently than it should have.

Got my Victorian driving license

Roads in Victoria

Permanent residents who have an overseas driving license are allowed to drive with their overseas driving license up to 6 months from the time the visa is granted or the first entry to Australia, whichever comes later. At least, this is the rule in Victoria. After that, they have to have a Victorian driving license to drive on the road. Since my first entry to Australia was in October 2015, I had to get my Victorian license before April of 2016.

Note: There was a some confusion as to which date is considered as the first entry to Australia. This is because, in October, I arrived as a temporary visitor, although I used the same visa. In February 2016, I arrived as a migrant. This distinction was only applicable to the immigration at the airport, but for VicRoads, October was my first entry to Australia, and it had to be 6 months from then.

The first step in obtaining the Victorian driving license is to pass the learner permit test and the hazard perception test. They are the same tests you have to take to get your probationary license (one that allows you to drive with someone who has a full license, if you are beginning from the scratch). These tests have to be taken at a VicRoads (that's the governing body for licensing and registration) centre and are computer based.

But first, you have to have a client account at VicRoads. For that, you need to take documents that can prove that you reside in Victoria. This could be a hassle for someone who just moved in, as he does not have a bank statement or a utility bill sent to his current address, which will most likely be his friend’s or relative’s address. The easiest option is to open a bank account and apply for a debit card. If you get the debit card, the letter the card comes in is enough to certify your address as the debit card is always posted to your residential address. I had opened a bank account with Westpac when I was in Japan (yes you can do that, and it is called Westpac Choice for Migrants), and within few days after moving to Australia, I received my first bank statement. It stated I had zero fund, but meh! I took this to VicRoads in Broadmeadows, which was the closest centre to me, and I opened a client account. I applied for the aforementioned tests on on the same day, and I got time slots  in two days. There was a 1hr 2hr 30min gap between the two, originally, but on the test date it was possible to take them successively as there were some free slots.

The learner permit test was easy as they ask questions from the booklet (well, I did not buy it; I simply downloaded the PDF from their site for free) and there are ample mock exams on VicRoads website. Same questions seem to get asked at the test, as I had  seen the questions that  I got for my test before. Deja vu? The hazard perception test was not easy though; not that the questions were hard, but the video was of very low quality (low resolution and low bit-rate). And VicRoads does not have sample questions to practise with, although the South Australian governing body, 'my license' has some sample practice tests on their website.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Planning to build a NAS

DIY NASImage courtesy of Lifehacker

Now that I am mostly settled down in Australia, I think it is the time to kick start that old project of mine: building a NAS box.

I looked at the prices of of- the-shelf NAS enclosures online and the ReadyNAS 104 which I was looking at when I was in Japan, is still an economical option at around $240. But all of these ready built NAS enclosures have one problem that I am not very happy about. They use proprietary filesystems or not-so-easily mountable ones in Windows. Thus, I am still leaning towards the DIY solution. But it is expensive, however at first. But in the long run, it would be economical as I can easily upgrade the hard drives. If I get a proper case, I would be able to add as much as 6 hard drives in it. A six bay ready built NAS would be very expensive.

So here is the list of components I have come up with.

  • Case: Fractal Design Node 304 (mini-ITX with support for ATX PSU and six 3.5” HDD)
  • Motherboard: Gigabyte H97N Wi-Fi (because of 6 SATA ports, dual LAN ports and Wi-Fi)
  • CPU: Intel Celeron G1840 (cheapest Intel CPU that would fit the above motherboard and I plan to under-volt the CPU as much as possible)
  • RAM: 8GB DDR3 1600 (no specific brand, will be getting the cheapest; and will be under-volting)
  • SSD: 120GB (no specific brand; will be getting the cheapest – just for the OS and other utilities; 120GB is overkill but 60GB is only slightly cheaper)
  • PSU: Corsair V350 (cheapest PSU with a known brand)
  • Video card: AMD R5 230 1GB card (because the onboard video cannot drive my QX2710 monitor, and can be used as a backup video card for troubleshooting the main PC)

The total cost of the NAS box would come close to $600. I wish I could get rid of the video card and go for a cheaper motherboard + CPU combo by using an add-on controller card, but it is difficult with mini-ITX. But having the PC as not-so-crappy. I can use my GTX 970 whenever I want to troubleshoot something, but it is too much of a hassle; so I suppose the above configuration will stay.

I will be using Windows Server Essentials on the NAS, so yes, Windows and NTFS! I won’t be using RAID. I will manually setup daily backups. I will be using the two Western Digital Green 4TB drives that I bought last year from Japan for the data. I think they are about half full and I should be able to survive with them for some time to come.

So that is about it. Now it is time to start shopping. Fun times after a long time!!!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Bought my first car–it took me 31 years!


Last October when we visited Australia for our first visit after getting the PR, we could see a clear picture of the situation with public transport in Melbourne. It is OK, but for someone who has spent the last 5 years in Japan, it was a huge let down. In Japan, you don't need a car if you live in a metropolitan area. Even in Sri Lanka, you don't need a car unless you live in a rural place. Australia is not an efficient country. It probably is because Australia has a lot of resources with a very little population density. So, they do not seem to care much about improving the public transport system , hence roads are the main medium of transportation.

That means, I needed a car. And I needed to buy one soon, as I would need my cousin’s help as he knows about cars. And after I move to my apartment, I would be far away from him, and it would not be practical for him to come look for cars.

I was originally planning to get a cheap car and get a decent one later on, but after talking to my cousin, I felt that I had to spend at least $6,000 on a car if I did not want any immediate repair work. You can get a 10 year old car with that amount, but they would have travelled over 200,000 km. Australia is a large country, and to travel about 60km a day is not unusual. Some travel even farther. The roads are good and very (VERY) wide with 3-4-5 tracks on each direction, so if you can avoid the city, you can get to your destination pretty quickly.

My target was to get a car with less than 100,000 km on the clock and below the $7,500 price tag. I found few cars that fit the criteria, but obviously I was not the only one who was looking at similar cars. Unfortunately, I only could check out the cars during the weekend because that is both my cousin and I would be free. So I missed out on few opportunities.

One of them was a 2007 Honda CRV, but ironically that happened on a Saturday. It had been done only like 100,000km and the owner was asking about $10,000, but we could not make it in the morning and someone grabbed it before we could check it out. There was a 2005 Honda Accord which had done only 57,000 km for $8,400 and sadly that was also grabbed by someone else.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Renting a place in Melbourne


Like I mentioned in the previous posts, I was living with my cousin after migrating to Australia. But now that I have a job, it was about time I moved out of my cousin's place. Let's be honest now, it is a hindrance when someone else is living with you.

I looked for available places for lease on RealEstate and Domain mobile apps, and noted down a few. It is easier to check them up on the phone because the apps show the places on the map.

On the day before I was supposed to start working, there was a schedule for inspection of a house near the work place. I went there, because I was free on that afternoon. That was when I realised the state of renting in south east of Melbourne. This area is old, so the houses are old; some of them look like my parents' parents' houses. Most houses do not have air-conditioning. They only have heating; some very rare ones don't even have heating! People in Australia seem to have a made up a habit of spending the hot days at shopping malls. There are of course new houses; they demolish old houses and build three small houses on the same land. And they are expensive. But there are cheaper and newer houses if you are willing to go farther from civilisation, but I did not want that. I set a maximum rent target of $350 per week, which is still crazy high compared to what we paid in Japan. Sadly, you should be really lucky to get a cheaper rent in this part of the country.

So that first house was a bad one. Then there were few inspections on the next Saturday. I went there early in the morning by train. The first house was a $340 one and it was quite large, had a split air cooling system but was pretty old still. I wanted to look around a bit.

After that inspection, I paid a visit to my friend's place in Clayton and he drove me around to the other inspections. We checked about half a dozen houses and towards the end of the day I was able to shortlist 3 places: two houses and an apartment.

One of the houses was right in the centre of Clayton and they asked $360 for it. It lacked an A/C but considering the fact that we could simply walk to do the grocery and that I could walk to the office, I decided to give it a go and I could apply easily as it could be done online.

Monday, March 7, 2016

The MagSafe charger of my MacBook Air is kaput!


When I moved to Australia, I could only bring the CPU part of my desktop PC with me. I had to leave the display behind. I did not bring the keyboard as well, since I was planning to buy a mechanical keyboard from Australia. So my desktop PC is not currently functional. That means, I am stuck with my 2011 MacBook Air.

I really miss my desktop PC. What happened a few days ago made me miss it even more. The MacBook Air's charger got damaged. The charging adapter is intact, but the cable is damaged near the adapter. It was slowly coming apart since a week or so ago, and last night it had its last breathe.

I do not know what is wrong with Apple’s cable designs. I have had similar experience iPhone cables as well. But the iPhone cable is easily replaceable. With the MagSafe charger, the cable is permanently attached, so you need to take it apart, find a replacement cable and solder it again if you want to bring it back to life. There are eBay sellers who sell replacement cables and there are guides on how to solder it back. But that is not a urgent solution. Without the PC, I am lost. The phone is not a replacement for the laptop.

I needed an urgent fix, which meant that I had to buy a new charger. There is an Apple store about a 30-minute-bus-ride from the office. But the original MagSafe 45W charger would cost $129!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The next hurdle: finding a job–and success

Moving to Australia was not that hard as I had all the qualifications, but settling down would be much harder. At least, that is what I originally thought. First of all, I needed a job. Without a job, I cannot have my own place (well, I cannot afford to have my own place), buy a car (without a car, you are going to waste a lot of time) and do anything for that matter. Finding the first job in Australia is the hard part, because there is a risk for the company when hiring someone who is new to the environment. After that, "people say" that it gets easier.

So, in the first few days, I had one goal: find a job as soon as possible.

Soon after leaving Japan, I made a connection with someone in Japan who offered to hook me up with recruiters here. Unfortunately, it did not yield me with any job opportunities but I received some good advice. And then, I did what everyone would do. I prepared a decent resume (which I had started couple of months ago and was continually evolving), updated my LinkedIn profile and applied to jobs on popular job boards like Seek and Indeed. I mainly applied for C/C++ related jobs, but it was underwhelming because most of the opportunities were for Java, C# and web development jobs. I wanted to go in the direction of C# development, but nobody would want to give me a shot without any commercial experience with C#.

But then I got lucky.

One of my former colleagues who had moved to Australia a while back, was resigning from an embedded hardware/software company thus a vacancy opened up. I went for the interviews there, and I received a job offering; probably my friend's influence helped a lot. It is a known fact that internal references get a high priority when filling positions. My experience developing the printer drivers, which was not exactly embedded, but close enough, must have helped too. It was a decent pay for a first position and there was the opportunity to try out new things, so I accepted the job. But it is a bit far away from  my cousin's place. It takes about 1.5-2hrs to get to work from there using public transport. But it would only be for a short time as I am looking to move into an apartment/house near my office, so that would cut down on the commuting times significantly.

I had several phone interviews from several other companies too, some of which I did when I was in Sri Lanka. The ones I did when I was in Sri Lanka did not advance any further, probably due to my lack of immediate availability. I got one HR phone interview after arriving in Australia from a company that had a fabulous working environment, and they invited me to a test and a formal interview, but I had already taken that other job, and I did not want to waste someone else's interview slot, so I rejected. I got an invitation to a phone interview from another company as well, but it was too late (and they took a whole month to sort it out), so I rejected that as well.

So, now I have a job in Australia. It only took me like 2 weeks to secure a job, so I am very pleased. There are people who go on without jobs for months and months. So I should consider myself pretty lucky. But to be honest, the luck only helped me get the interview. It is my experience/capabilities that got me the job.

Objective one complete; to finding an apartment then.

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