Monday, December 24, 2012

Jozi Skyline

I did a little 'photo tour' with some friends while in Joburg last month. The city centre has changed quite a bit over the past few years, with some funky little coffee shops, markets and arty spots cropping up all over the place. Very cool. There may be hope for Jozi yet. ;-)

We also trekked out to the Orlando Towers for lunch (Shisa Nyama style), got a little lost, and watched some crazy people bungee jump. The food was fantastic and cheap. The company was great.

The main thing I wanted to get out of the day was a nice shot of the Johannesburg skyline, which we got from the top of The Parktonian: 360 degree view of the CBD and surrounds - it was perfect. Here are two of my drawings from the day's photos. Just accepted on iStock.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Recently accepted on iStock

This one inspired by photographs I took at the Durban Airshow a few months back. More to come!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Just when you thought it was safe to come out, Standard Bank screws up AGAIN

I thought I was footloose and fancy free after closing my very last accounts with Standard Bank last week. I was wrong. 

Having already closed my new cheque and credit accounts (see previous posts) and gotten my new FNB accounts up and running, I could finally close my old E-plan account as well as my revolving loan with Standard Bank. Big sigh of relief.

I went to the "newly refurbished", "upgraded" Standard Bank branch at Windermer Centre. And by "upgraded" they actually mean "downgraded" as you now have to walk a block from the shopping centre branch to see a consultant at a building "across the street" because they no longer have consultants at the centre branch - and no cashiers at the consultant building. Yes, banking with Standard Bank is now even more inconvenient than ever before, and I bet you didn't think that was possible. 

I met with consultant Shireen, to close my accounts. As requested, I transferred out what money was still in my account and was told, "your accounts are now closed" while she looked at my ID and shuffled around a few papers. Er... just like that? I asked her if I needed to sign anything and she said, no. I asked her if she needed to give me any proof and she said, no. I asked her (quite befuddled) if I would receive something in the post to confirm the accounts closed, and she paused and said, yes. She also said she would post me a cheque for the rands and cents that I could not withdraw/transfer. It wasn't very convincing but anyway, I left there mildly satisfied that I was rid of Standard Distaster once and for all.

Then today I thought, hang on, let me just double check. And true as Bob, I log in to internet banking and there my accounts are, both spritely and active as the day they were born; quietly awaiting the next onslaught of bank charges to be debited off them, unbeknownst to me, who years later gets blacklisted and jailed for the astronomical debt in bank fees that has steadily been accumulating....because... MY ACCOUNTS WERE NEVER CLOSED!

I think I aged about 10 years right there and then.

So I went to lunch with a friend to calm down. And then I went back to the branch (oh joy) where I promptly exploded at the poor lady who tried to put me at number 5 on the waiting list to see a consultant. She subsequently looked me up herself and reported that there was "no record of me closing my account last week". Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. And Shireen was not there to explain herself. So basically Shireen had done NOTHING while I sat in front of her last week. Zip. Zilch. And then on top of that, she lied to my face by saying I did not have to sign anything. Today I had to sign stuff! Important stuff that said "closure of account" on top. Stuff that I was expecting to sign last week. But no. Perhaps Shireen had plans of her own for my revolving credit of R22 000....!

As you can probably tell, I am angry. And shocked. I am seriously shocked. Besides the fact that Standard Bank has just been one disaster after another; that she could have just sat there and spoken such absolute bull straight to my face, still shocks me. That she could have left my accounts open to accrue countless bank fees for ever and eternity on, without my knowledge, shocks me. It probably shouldn't. But it does. That she could've said straight to my face that my accounts were closed and I needed no proof nor to sign anything, makes me wonder why she hasn't been fired yet. Or at least demoted. And perhaps I will see to it that she is.

I will be reporting her to her superior tomorrow (when I have calmed down some more) and I will follow up to see what measures have been taken. That woman should not be working in a bank. Full stop.

The reception lady that did help me in the end (someone promote her please), then called me downstairs so they could issue me with a cheque for the R13.10 that was owed to me. A cheque, because they don't have a cashier. For thirteen rand. Really? And so that I can walk to the building a block away and stand in a queue for 45 minutes to cash my thirteen rand? Why, oh why, oh why?!!! Do they not have a cashier?! 

I told her to keep it. There are places I would've liked to tell her to put it. But she was the only person helping me. So I didn't.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Banking update

This follows on from my earlier post titled 'Should I open a Standard Bank Account? No you should not'.

I know you were all on the edge of your seats waiting to hear how it turned out, so here's a little update:

I did go back to the bank the following day to close my new accounts. But first I emailed the branch supervisor, Moira and directed her to my blog post. So when I arrived at the bank, Moira was expecting me and met with me herself (I did have to wait 35 minutes first though). To her credit, Moira was professional, to the point, and quite understanding of why I was upset. She got all the details from me, made a copy of the other person's statement that I had received in the post, and has since escalated it to a higher level. She helped me close my accounts, and even went as far as having all charges, including the R1240 initiation fee, credited back into my account. Turns out the initiation fee is a percentage of your total loan amount. I took a loan that was double what I really needed 'just in case', which meant I would've paid double the initiation fee. I still think it's a bit off-sides that Koovi, knowing I was only going to activate half the loan amount and only needed half, didn't tell me that I would be paying extra for that 'in case' amount! Thankfully, Moira sorted that out.

She also told me that there was currently a bad batch of new Standard Bank cards and that quite a few people had cards that weren't working. Two people came into the bank with the card complaint while I was there, and I saw a few complaints about it on the Standard Bank facebook page as well. Strangely enough, the rest of Standard Bank's staff did not seem to know about this bad batch of cards - they had insisted I had made a mistake with my pin, and even on the Facebook page, nobody was telling people about the problem or what they should do if they they had one of the bad cards. Surely it's not that hard to make an internal announcement, and post something on the website or FB page for their customers, or send an sms warning people? I read one post about a lady who had filled her tank and was stuck at the petrol station not being able to pay... and had to wait a few hours for someone to come and rescue her!! I'll bet she's loving Stranded Bank right now.

Anyway, all that aside, Moira was great, and kudos to her for saving a little of the bank's dignity. I have however, opened my accounts with FNB since then... and I haven't had to go into a bank once!  Things have gone pretty smoothly. I have loads of control over my accounts on-line (which were automatically linked for me), I can set my own limits on-line,  and I even have someone I can email directly should I have any problems or questions. What took about 5 hours of my life with Standard Bank has taken me probably one hour to do with FNB (if I add up all the time I've spent filling in forms, scanning, uploading, going on-line, activating things by phone, etc) but more importantly - I have felt looked after! They have gone above and beyond expectations already. For example - you email them the debit orders you want transferred to your new account and they not only take care of it for you but they also follow up and phone you when they can't, and then help you as far as possible: My medical aid would not transfer my debit order without my permission, so FNB phoned, told me I had to contact my medical aid myself to do it, and then, wait for it... gave me the exact number and email address to use to contact them. That's 5 minutes less hassle for me. And I appreciate it! My only worry now is that Standard Bank may have stuffed all that up, because just the other day I got an sms from SB saying they had successfully transferred my debit orders to my new Standard Bank account. Huh? But that account was closed like 2 weeks ago?! And FNB had already transferred my debit orders. So we'll wait and see.

In the meantime, I'm quite excited about trying the FNB app.  Oh! And! They are actually going to save me a bit of money in the long run, with their much lower interest rate (9.9%) on their Balance Transfer option for consolidating your debts. Happiness.

Some people say banks are all the same, but I don't.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

I am officially an iStock contributor!

About 2 months ago I got my first vector illustration accepted into the iStock stock library. There was a bit of rejection and frustration along the way, but I eventually figure out what they wanted and how to meet their stringent technical criteria. I managed to get six drawings accepted before my graphics tablet broke on me. And hope to do a whole bunch more once I have a working tablet. It's really just a hobby - because I like to draw sometimes, just for the sake of drawing. And this way I can draw the most random stuff and it doesn't have to mean anything. I also get a little feedback, and earn a little extra cash. And there is no client on the other end telling me how I should change it. And no deadlines. Win-win all round.

So, last week, I got my first download!!! I am still pretty excited about that, as you can see by my multiple exclamation marks. :-) I earned $3.30 USD from that one download. Woohoo, I'm a millionaire!! Well, almost.

I have heard about people that make a pretty decent living selling stock. Passive income baby. Once the work's done, you can earn money from it for the rest of eternity.

More here:

That awkward moment...

... when you write a post about how awful Standard Bank is on your blog
and from then on in, Google places Standard Bank ads all over it.

Why is it that we are so surprised when we receive good service in this country?

Bad service is everywhere in South Africa. In fact, we have come to expect it. We get a LOT of bad service. And I am always complaining about it. But today, I am not going to complain. Because today, I went to Computer World in Hillcrest.

Just over a month ago I bought a Genius Easypen graphics tablet from them, against my better judgement.Genius is a relatively cheap product, that tends to break eventually, down the line, every time. But it is cheap, so you almost forgive them for that. Disappointingly, my new Easypen was faulty from the get go. I plugged it in once, just after purchase to test it and it worked fine. Then 2 or 3 weeks later when I actually needed to use it, the pen malfunctioned. It seemed  stuck in drawing mode, drew when you hovered anywhere above the tablet surface (which it should only do when you touch the surface) and couldn't click anywhere on your page, select anything etc. I emailed a support person in the US and they confirmed, the pen was faulty. They offered to send me a new one, but then found out I lived in South Africa and decided they weren't allowed to ship to me.

I phoned Computer World about it and they asked me to bring it in. I was concerned because it was almost a month after I had purchased it, and I knew I wouldn't be able to get to Hillcrest until today. They said, no problem, today would be fine. I was expecting a big hassle. Or at least a long wait while it gets sent off to the manufacturer for repair etc. I was prepared to argue, plead my case. There was none of that. Instead I got a really helpful gentleman who, after offering to send it off and promising to get me a new one within a week (a few days more at the most), heard my mumbles about Genius being cheap junk. He then said I should have bought a Wacom tablet in the first place (yes I know). I mumbled that they are expensive and you can't really find them. He pulled up a website, located the correct tablet for me, wrote down all the details I needed and then, quick as a flash, gave me back the R400 that I'd paid for the Genius, so that I could put it towards a new Wacom. Which I will buy online - not even through them! Really? That simple? And that helpful?! That is a very rare thing in these parts and should not go by unappreciated.

I left Computer World, a very happy (and slightly surprised) customer. And will continue to drive out of my way to go to them for computer stuff in the future. I long ago discovered that they have the cheapest cartridges in the whole of Durban (for my printer at least) at R20 or R30 a cartridge! And now I have discovered they also have the best service. Big up to Computer World. Thanks for making my life easier! :-)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Stadiums of Durban

Last month - at the Shark Tank (aka Kinspark, ABSA or Mr Price stadium?).

We had great seats!

This month, my first visit to the Kingsmead Cricket Stadium for the finish of the Comrades Marathon.

And just the other day, the Moses Mabhida stadium for the Top Gear Festival!

The show was fantastic (maybe a bit short, but very exciting). And I love Moses. It's beautiful. But we discovered a flaw... we were seated in the 3rd row on the second level. Which is just under the very edge of the lip of the ceiling ie. where it opens to the sky. As evening turned to night... the seats filled up, the temperature dropped... and  the people behind us in row 4 got dripped on, for about half an hour. We got a few drops but not nearly as bad as those behind us who were really getting wet. It was a beautiful clear evening, so we can only assume it was condensation coming off the lip. Mmm... I'm pretty sure that's not supposed to happen.

Note: second level, row 4. You have been warned.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Should I open a Standard Bank account? No you should not.

I have had an account with Standard Bank ever since I was a student, which is close on 20 years now. I still have the very same account. And it is costing me a lot of money - a million bank charges charged if I just sniff in the direction of my account. It no longer serves me or offers me what I need. It is time I upgrade to a grown up account.

Everyone I know, for the past year or so, has been raving about how fabulous FNB is with it's one set fee and all transactions are free, and all the other fabulous benefits that just make your life fantastic when you have an account with Fabulous National Bank. Customer service has always been shit at Standard Bank, so the obvious choice for me now was to move to FNB. Obviously. My dad had a few things to say about this as he has always been a loyal Standard Banker, and he pointed out that they too now offer a set monthly fee that covers all transactions, etc etc, and so I said I would keep an open mind. I started filling out the FNB easy-peasy online applicatio form and got to the part where they work out your personalised interest rate on your proposed overdraft, and then called my dad to see if what they were offering me was any good. He laughed and said it was ridiculously high and that I should go and talk to Standard Bank before I make any decisions. So I stopped filling in the form.

The next day (!) I got a phone call from an FNB consultant who offered to assist me in opening my account as she saw that I had not completed my application. I was impressed. The very next day! Not shabby for a bank. But I declined and told her that the interest rate was too high and off I toddled to Standard Bank  - I wanted to talk to a consultant and have all my questions answered (I don't think you can apply on-line anyway). My consultant - Koovi, at Musgrave Branch, was fantastic, or at least that's what I thought. She was really friendly and full of great advice. We spent about 1.5 hours discussing what I needed, filling in applications, signing papers. The interest rate offered to me was a little lower than FNB, so I was chuffed. And off I went with the promise that everything was sorted and that I would be notified when my new cards arrived in 7-10 days. That was Saturday morning 19 May.

The following Monday I got a phone call from Koovi. "Sorry there was a computer error and your loan application did not go through, so we have to do all that again." What? But the computer spat out papers saying it was confirmed and I signed them and everything. I even have copies. No worries, she says she will sort it all out but I have to come in again to sign the new papers. Shlep. I couldn't get there that week because my life does not revolve around the bank's operating hours, and so I was chuffed when I got the sms the following week to say my cards were ready for collection, thinking I would just sign the papers at the same time that I collect the cards. Easy peasy.

Now here I should mention that in the interim I received a bank statement in the post, for one of my new Standard Bank accounts. That was all fine and dandy except that folded up between the pages of my statement was in fact a page from someone else's statement. Complete with their name, address and account details. Surely this should not happen? Surely this is a huge security breech???! This makes me wonder whether my account details are safe with Standard Bank at all? And does Mrs C A Gallo of 22 Crateford Court, Musgrave, know that I have a page from her own personal bank statement? And who should I report this to?

But back to my account - it took me about another week or two before I managed to get to the branch last Thursday 7 June. During this time I received 4 phone calls from Koovi wanting to check that I was still coming in to sign the loan papers. At this stage I was still quite impressed with her, thinking that she was looking after me really well. In hindsight I suspect it was because she was trying to cover her ass. You see when I finally did get my cards, set up internet banking, transferred beneficiaries, linked accounts etc (another 1.5 hours in the bank with 3 different people) and went home and logged in to my account, I noticed that the first debit order for paying off the loan had already gone through at the end of last month. Seven days before I had even signed the new set of papers and before the money was even made available to me! So I suspect that protocol was not followed correctly there and that Koovi pushed my loan though without my required signature - ostensibly to do me a favour, which I probably could have appreciated had the loan money actually been transferred into my account at the time - or at all! Because after my second visit to Musgrave branch (7 June), my loan money was still not available in my account, even though I had sat in front of Koovi and asked her to check that it was that very day.

So the following morning (last Friday) I got on the phone to try find out what was going on. Koovi was suddenly not so easy to reach. Surprise. I left her one message to call me back. 2 hours passed. Nothing. I tried again and left her an urgent message requesting she call me immediately. She got back to me and seemed surprised that the loan wasn't available. (As was I.) Then said she would call me back as she had to get someone to approve the transfer quickly. WHAT? Surely that should've been done the first two times I was sitting in front of her in the bank?! But never mind. That is now sorted. And she has insisted that this has never happened before. Also, the previous computer error - never happened before. Yeah right. I question her about the loan repayment going off before the loan was available and before I had signed the papers; and she comes back with some story about me having agreed to it that very first day. Yes, but those signed papers were apparently not valid or else why did I have to sign a new set of papers for a new application?  Anyway, so I asked her how I could check what was happening in my loan account (I am now concerned that the first payment that was taken from my account may not have ended up in the right place... since as far as I can see, the loan was not actually active at that time, and since I have now technically signed for 2 loans!?). She says... "you will have to link the loan account to you current account to see it. You will have to come in to the bank to do that." WHAT??! I tell her no, I was there yesterday and I am not coming back into the bank as I do not have the time available to do so and that she should've helped me sort all that out the last two times I was there as she was my consultant and one of my first requests when I met with her was that I have all my accounts linked please. I threw my toys. She insisted I would have to go in to the branch. I continued to be upset. And then suddenly it dawned on her... I can link my accounts by sending a secure message on-line via internet banking. Ok, so all that  rage was for nothing. That evening I send a secure message. The day after (yesterday) I get a phone call from someone at the bank saying they received my message and just wanted to confirm before they acted on it. Fabulous. I am now feeling better about Standard Bank. Sigh of relief.

Then today... I try to purchase something with my brand spanking new debit card. And would you believe it, my pin is rejected. Three times. Great, now I will have to go to the bank to get the card re-activated. I still have to pay for my purchases. I try my new credit card. Same thing. Pin rejected. This, using the same pin that I used for these cards inside the bank 3 days ago! And yes I am 100% sure the pin number is correct. I am also sure that the card machine used was not faulty as I tried 2 different machines. I am furious. Standard Bank is so freaking inefficient! If so many things can go wrong in just three weeks, what am I to expect from them down the line... what if I need vehicle financing, or a home loan? How difficult will that be to get right if they can't even handle a simple debit card??!

So, on Monday, I will probably have to go back into the bank. While I am there, I will probably close my new accounts. The thing is, I plan to have a life-long relationship with whichever bank I choose at this point and I would be stupid to stay with Standard Bank after what they have shown me in the last few weeks. There is no way in hell I would recommend anyone to open an account with them. I have heard of one person who has had some issues with FNB but everyone else is smiling and laughing at me saying "I told you so". On the other hand I have heard endless complaints from others with Standard Bank. So if you are now where I was a few weeks ago, trying to make a decision about which bank to choose - whatever you do, do not choose Standard.

11 June
 After writing this blog post I logged in to my internet banking to check that everything was in order in my newly linked loan account and to my surprise found that a R1140.00 had been charged as an initiation fee. Which I was most certainly not told about. I know I was not told about it because if I had been told I would have decided against taking the loan. That, to me, is way too much to pay to initiate a loan, which you are already going to be paying huge interest on, as well as a monthly service fee of R57.00. To be honest, I feel ripped off. I know I signed the papers. But I signed about 50 papers that day, all the while Koovi 'explaining' to me what I was signing. Which is why I was surprised to suddenly see this initiation fee. When I asked Koovi about this on the phone today - "Koovi what is this extra R1140.00 that has gone off my account for?" She was confused. She said it is the scheduled R1100 that I agreed to pay every month. I told her that that amount had gone off as well. She sounded more confused and said there should not be anything else, and that she would look into it and call me back. Then when she called me back she had the gall to say that she had told me about the initiation fee when I first signed the papers. Really? Then how come she didn't know about it herself 5 minutes ago?

Anyway, today I tried to get my cards sorted out as well and to find out what had gone wrong. I went to the Windermere branch where they swiped my cards, re-entered my pins and was then sent to phone card division. I phoned Koovi and asked her to sort it out please. Anyway, long story short, after Koovi finally phoned card division I was told that I must have entered the wrong pin number, 4 times. Which I am 100% certain I did not do. The same pin number worked in the bank today afterall. Then I was told the card machine must have been faulty. But I tried one at Woolworths as well as at Clicks. So I was told to come in to the branch. Again. Or otherwise if I like, they can order me new cards. 

So tomorrow I am going in to close the accounts. I expect it will not go smoothly. I expect it will chew up a good 2 hours of my day. But please, for crying out loud, can this be the end of it now.

Final update to this story here

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Genius Fail

I have been using a graphic tablet device for many years. The Wacom tablet has always been out of my price range and as such the first tablet I bought myslef was a Genius. Years later I got to try out someone's Wacom and it responded a little differently to what I was used to so I decided to stick with the Genius products and continue to use them. However, yesterday my G-Pen 450 stopped working. I have replaced the battery, replaced the pen tip, re-installed the CD, and downloaded the driver off the internet. Still not working. I have tried it on 3 different machines, all of which it worked on just days ago. I have tried it in different USB ports.

Another sad G-pen, being ignored by it's tablet.
The problem is, the tablet is being recognised - I get a message saying the device is installed and ready to use when I plug it in, and the little tablet icon appears at the bottom of my screen as normal, but I get no response of any sort when I tap the pen to it. In total I have bought 4 Genius tablets in the last 7 years and each time they get to this point - the pen just stops working. For no good reason. And each time I go out and buy another one, because there never seems to be any solutions to the problem, and because I have yet to actually see another brand of tablet in any shop in South Africa. Even if I could afford a Wacom (the Oscar winner of tablets), I would apparently have to go overseas to get it. Yes, it's a little out of my price range.

So my question is this: Is the Genius tablet just a really shoddy product, or is this fail that inevitably happens at all avoidable or fixable? It is worth noting that I do not use my tablet on a daily basis, but once in a blue moon for a few days and then again a few weeks later, so it can hardly be a wear and tear issue.I have had it for under two years. I know people who are still using their Wacom's ten years on.

I have Googled my problem endlessly today and all I find are a bunch of other unhappy souls with the same problem... and no solution. If anyone out there has an answer, or would like to send me a decent tablet, I would be ecstatic to hear from you. After years of using this make of product and encouraging others to buy it even though EVERY TIME it fails me, I must deduce that I am not all that clever, and neither is Genius.

Update: I have found somewhere to buy a Wacom tablet in South Africa! The on-line store: Don't know why I didn't think of them. I discovered them a few years back when I was looking for a particular art book and they were the only place that had it. I also discovered that they were R200 cheaper on another art book I had been looking at at Exclusive Books so I bought it straight away! Their priced are fantastic, cheaper every time, and their service is great, delivering to your door, and usually ahead of schedule. So now I just need to decide which Wacom I want from this lovely selection... and wait for my next pay cheque... :) Yay Loot!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Have sketchbook, will sketch.

It's been a really, really, long time since I last posted anything. It's also been a really, really, long time since I've done anything arty or creative to post about. Not counting work, which is a bit creative I suppose, since it's web and graphic design (a real office job  *shudder*) or counting painting furniture (I've been doing a little house makeover.)

Anyway, I suddenly got the urge a few weeks back to do some personal artwork again. Don't really know what triggered it, but it's great and I'm getting a little addicted.

I hadn't put actual pencil to real paper in probably two or three years now(!), with all the digital stuff I've been doing for work, but I really wanted to get back to it. I also desperately wanted to start a sketchbook/ visual journal project - like these:

Every time I see one  (and there are loads of these beauties on-line) I feel pangs of envy and guilt that I haven't managed to make one yet myself. And I've always wanted to. For some reason I never get past the first few pages before losing interest. Nonetheless, a few weeks back I headed out with Pinterest-inspired high hopes and bought myself a shiny new (pink) sketch book. And promptly sat down to try to remember how to draw. With a pencil. On paper.

And it wasn't easy. The biggest challenge was not being able to Ctrl+z after I erased a huge portion of detail (the eyes), redrew, and then decided I preferred the first version and wanted to go back. Bugger. No undo. But here it is, my first, rather tentative, pencil sketch that I did in March, of my beautiful niece Hadas. It's drawn from a photograph.

Since then, I have only managed to fill two or three more pages of my sketchbook (hopeless, I know), but it did kick start me into working on some projects I have had in mind for a while, mostly to do with digital illustration, and large pieces I want to do for my home. I also received a phone call last week from a lady who bought one of my paintings a while back and has now commissioned me to do something new for her. Her timing is perfect and I am quite excited to get cracking on that. There is plenty going on to post about now, so watch this space, I will be back.