Thursday, 30 April 2009

Why do so many people baulk at buying a car kit?

What is it with people that buy an expensive car and an expensive mobile phone, yet have a mental block when it comes to putting in a car kit for the phone?

I see so many wankers in very new cars from BMW, Mercedes and Lexus who are tooling along with a phone glued to their ear. If you can afford $100,000 for the car, you can afford a few hundred for hands free.

I was stuck in a narrow street this morning behind a wally who was having a really hard time parking their late model Lexus. They reversed in (badly), drove out (badly), reversed in again (incompetently) and repeated this process enough times to start my blood pressure rising. Not only were they backing in and reversing in a manner that suggested that they had parkinson's disease, they were doing so very, very slooooowly.

I calmed down when I thought, "Must be a granny. Give the granny a break."

The car finally made it into the spot, and I drove past. At the wheel was a woman in her 20's, with phone glued to ear. She had been attempting to turn the wheel with one hand, which explained the crapulent motions of her car.

Very, very annoying.

Exporting dead gangsters

Interesting twist in the story of the crim who was shot dead over the weekend:

Hilel Merhi, a 26-year-old with an extensive criminal record, was shot dead at a 21st party on Saturday night.

Merhi was an associate of one of the western Sydney chapters of the Rebels Motorcycle Club, and spent more than two years in jail after committing several armed robberies in late 2003. He served a second stint in jail recently for driving offences.

Only two years (!!!) for several armed robberies? How about adding another zero for offenses like that.

His funeral was on Tuesday, but his body will be buried in Lebanon.
Home is where the heart is. The guy was 26, and may I assume that he was born in Australia? if so, why the need for burial in Lebanon? Why are we letting people in who have so little connection to this country and to our society? If you aren't prepared to be buried here, don't bother living here.

Some people never give up

Spotted on the way to work this week - hanging from the rear view mirror of the car next to me was a photo of George W. Bush with "WTF?" written under it.

Ummm, hate to break it to you mate, but there is a new guy in the White House, and he's been there for some time now. Just over 100 days in fact.

Given that the Howard-haters are not over JWH yet, I take it that Bush Derangement Syndrome is not something like the flu, which you eventually recover from, but more like a genetic disorder.

I think most conservatives in Australia got over Keating the night he conceded the election, and promptly forgot about him until he decided he needed some media attention and opened his yap. My advice to all lefties is....... just let go. You don't need to hate Bush anymore. Get on with life. If your life is centred around hating conservative hate-figures, then you need to get out more.

And apart from that, what is an Australian doing interfering in the politics of another country?

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

By my armpits will you know me

The chills have descended rapidly on Sydney. Three weeks ago, I was smearing on factor 15 sunscreen before going for a ride. Today, it was a chilly 16 degrees (61 Fahrenheit), which might ordinarily be T-shirt weather, but that's a bit nippy for riding without a jacket when there is no sun. That meant digging the riding jacket out of the back of the cupboard, where it has lurked since I put it away at the end of last winter. I don't think I remembered to wash it before putting it away, on the principle that most of the smell would have leached away over summer.

It's a great jacket, but it's just a tad too warm for days like today. It needs to be about 12 degrees before it is really comfortable.

By the time I was 2km up the road, I could feel the sweat breaking out on my arms under the jacket. Unzipping the front didn't help much as it was too cold to go without the jacket entirely. I just had to live with a slowly escalating sauna.

It was a short ride - a jaunt around the block essentially that took just under an hour. I was able to pick up the pace as I seem to have finally coughed up the last of the green gunge that has been hanging on my lung sacs like grapes, and that meant the first bit of sweat in a month.

By the time I got home, conditions inside the jacket were well and truly ripe. My legs felt like they had a nice coating of ice on them, but my nipples were toasty warm and very non-pointy. I sat down inside to cool down and ingest a bit of water, and then I unzipped the jacket.

Phwoooarrrr! I was straight into the shower after that. It smelled like I had rubbed a rind-washed cheese into my armpits before going for the ride.

I was too damned lazy to wash the jacket though. It's gone back in the cupboard to await tomorrow's ride.

That's how men do it.

A thousand cubic yards of dog shit

OK, I made up that bit about the thousand cubic yards, but the rest is broadly true. My ride today took me along this canal, which has been undergoing a major renovation for some time - the leaks in the sides are being fixed and all the muck in the bottom is being scraped up and hauled away.

I got to this point and got a whiff of what they were digging out. I had to stop and take a photo as a reminder - it was pure eau de dog poop. A front end loader like the one in this picture has been digging this crap out day after day for months - it has taken them all year to scrape up the goop over a 500 metre stretch, and there is a long way to go.

Next time you see a dog owner failing to pick up their dog's crap, you know where that will end up. In a layer about two feet thick in a canal like this.

Economic illiteracy

Correct me if I am wrong, but surely if you work at the Consumer Action Law Centre, you should have some idea of the issues coming before you.

From the SMH today:

ANZ Bank revealed today it set aside $1.4 billion for bad loans in the half year to March. It follows National Australia Bank's $1.8 billion bad debt charge flagged in its half-year results yesterday.

''We should be a bit nervous because we haven't seen the worst of it yet,'' said Nicole Rich, of the Consumer Action Law Centre, advocacy group. The rising bad loans and provisions were worrying given that both interest rates and petrol prices have fallen in the past half year, she said.

''Essentially, the provisions are not for people who default on their mortgages per se, it's for when they default on their mortgages but don't have enough equity in the property to cover the bank's losses,'' she said.

''Banks and lenders have obligation under the Consumer Credit Code.''
I think Nicole Rich should bone up on what a provision for bad debts by banks actually is, particularly when it comes to housing loans.

Here is my definition of what a bank would be providing for.

Mr & Mrs Bogan borrow $530,000 to buy a $500,000 house in 2004. The extra $30,000 is used to cover fees and charges associated with buying the house.

By 2009, they have paid off $30,000 of the loan, but the housing market has softened and their house is now only worth $400,000. They still owe the bank $500,000. The bank auctions the house, pays the costs associated with the sale and books a loss of $100,000 on the deal - that is the bad debt. A provision for bad debts is when you know you are faced with lots of these, and you set funds aside to cater for them.

It has nothing to do with how much equity the owners have in the property. The only two factors that count in these circumstances are the remaining portion of the loan and the market price of the property. If the bank is preparing to write money off, it means the owners already have zero equity in the home. They are in fact in negative equity.

Nicole Rich would have been better of saying that these people borrowed more money than they could afford and paid too much for their homes. As a result, lawyers are running around blaming banks.

Who supplied the goats?

Remember the big idea of giving money to a charity so they could buy someone in Africa a goat?

Sounded great, right?

But where did the goats come from? I don't remember seeing any news of ships (such as sheep carriers) being stuffed full of European or Australian goats and sailed to Africa.

(When I was 12, I worked on a sheep station for 2 weeks during the school holidays. Towards the end, we did a big goat muster and shipped off several road trains worth to the abattoir. We are not short of goats).

I suppose the money was collected here and then wired to the African office of the charity. The locals then went to the market and bought a gaggle of goats.

And what do you suppose that did to the local price of goats? A sudden influx of western money, and demand, when supply is fixed could only mean a big increase in the price of goats in Africa.

Now that's nice if you happen to be selling a truckload of goats at that moment, but what if you are not one of the lucky recipients of western charity, and you need to buy a goat? Suddenly, it's not going to cost you 10 shekels - it's going to cost 50.

That's how we help the poor. Giving some feel good aid to the few, and shafting the many.

How to vote for Snow Cone and O'Brien

I got this survey via email the other day - Australia's TV Personality Survey. It asked me to rate hundreds of people I have never seen before. But two I did recognise - Tony Jones and Kerry O'Rudd.

Why can't they have an answer button marked "wanker"?

MOMA moments

MOMA is the Museum of Modern Art. Haven't been there in a while, and who would need to when the kids are producing works of art like this:

Scroll down for the answer to what it is:
A fully sorted box of Lego Star Wars figurines. Heads over here, helmets there, arms and legs in this one, light sabres and laser pistols down there.

A matter of degree

We have hit that time of year when a few degrees difference in temperature can turn a pleasant bike ride into a nightmare.

Due to a combination of feeling lousy and lousy weather, I've been restricted to three rides in the last two weeks. I might squeeze another one in this morning if I get this post over and done with quickly.

Day 1 - it seemed to be pleasantly warm (a balmy 22 or so), but within a kilometre of leaving home, I discovered that the wind chill was nasty. Going into "canyons" between shops where the sun did not shine, but the cold wind howled, was pretty unpleasant. I am used to getting home lathered in sweat. This time, I was almost shivering on return. Having the leftovers of the flu doesn't help, because I can't open it up and get moving at a pace guaranteed to produce sweat.

Day 2 - based on my experiences of the last ride, I put on an extra layer under my jersey. The temperature was about the same, and although there was a very strong breeze, it was coming from a different direction, so the wind chill was not there. I had a miserable time battling into strong headwinds which reduced my speed to a paltry 20km/h for long periods. Thanks to the undershirt, I was baked by the time I got home.

Day 3 - to rug up or not rug up; that is the question. I rugged up, got all my gear on and went outside to prep the bike. A minute later, I was disrobing in the backyard and stripping down to remove the extra layer.

In summer, it's easy. You ride lite and bake. It's as simple as that. Regardless of when you ride, it will be hot.

In winter, it's easy. You rug up. The fingerless gloves get packed away and out come the full length gloves. Leggings and arm warmers are searched for in the back of the drawer and worn by default. The spray jacket and cold weather jacket and thermal vest make an appearance. The small backpack is also invited on every ride, so that if it does warm up and I need to strip off, I have somewhere to stash the clothes.

Waterproof neoprene covers (like wetsuit material) for the shoes also have to be squeezed into (an art in itself). On really cold days, a skullcap also has to be worn under the helmet (which has lots of holes in it to let in the draught on a hot day, making it a scone-freezer on cold days).

But the in-between days are a problem. Getting the clothing right is an artform, and even if you do get it largely right, there is still going to be a certain level of discomfort. Gloves that cover the fingertips are great for the first 10 minutes (watching your fingertips turn blue in fingerless gloves is always an interesting experience), but once you warm up, they become uncomfortable sweat traps. A windbreaker is a great thing to have, but the zip is constantly going up and down and up and down as heat needs to be expelled or trapped.

You have to wonder about the mental state of someone that turns their back on a car with a split system climate control unit, 10 speaker stereo, air suspension, leather seats with lumbar support and a nice cup holder. Oh, and of course a roof and windscreen to keep out the rain, wind and bugs.

I thought Kleenmaid went belly up

I read in the papers recently that Kleenmaid had gone down the gurgler, owing millions to creditors and leaving those that had ordered and paid for white goods in the lurch.

I drove past this Kleenmaid store after that story broke, and not only did they appear to be open for business, they were still advertising that they were taking orders and so on.

Either the stores have worked out some sort of arrangement where they can keep trading on their own, or head office has not done a very good job of telling their franchisees that they are broke. That they are an ex-company. They have ceased to be.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

All the news that's fit to skew

A thought struck me today. I read and listen to a reasonable amount of US news direct from the US, and it occured to me that I had not read a word about the recent tea parties in the SMH.

So I did some searches.

I found one reference in the SMH to the tea party protests. It was buried in an article about how Obama wanted a cut of $100 million in the budget.

The cabinet meeting came days after a string of "Tea Party" demonstrations across the United States, which saw Obama critics claim the administration was busting hopes of future prosperity with high taxation and ballooning deficits.

By comparison, a search of the SMH for the "million man march", which occured in 1995 - long before the SMH even thought of putting any content online - drew 45 hits.

Cindy Sheehan rated 109 articles.

"US Gay pride" returned 315 articles.

Just interesting, is all I am saying.

NSW - the crack head state

Does anyone think it is good policy to give a crack addict more crack in order to cure them of their addiction?

I'm sure there will be some soft-headed crackhead's rights types out there that will think that it is a good idea, and that taxpayers should pay for it. But I'm not so sure that it's the best way to proceed.

Why then is the federal government continuing to bail out the states by throwing billions at infrastructure projects? The states like NSW cry poor and claim that they can't afford them, and trudge (or fly) down to Canberra with the begging bowl. Rudd, like all suckers that think they know better than anyone else, obliges by handing over fistfuls of our cash.

The NSW budget is in a hell of a state, and we can thank 10 years of Bob Carr for that. Whilst he kept the headline rate of public sector pay down to supposedly reasonable levels, he allowed plenty of shifty lurks to go unchecked that have left us with a massively expensive state sector payroll.

I am going to simplify things a lot here, and make assumptions, but my aim is to illustrate a general trend. Let's go with a grossly oversimplified model of how nurses are paid.
We wind the clock back to 1990, and assume that nurses are paid $30,000. We have a single class of nurses, and let's say there are 1,000 of them. They are all classified as "nurse". Total payroll is $30 million.

Fast forward 20 years, and we can expect two things to have happened to this calculation. First, there are more nurses - let's say numbers have grown by 50% to cope with an ageing and growing population. That would increase the bill to $45 million. Second, payrises to cope with inflation over 20 years would have seen a doubling in their salaries to $60,000, giving us a total bill of $90 million.

That is not the bill today though. It is several times that. Here is what happened under the surface to many, many occupations throughout the state sector.

To start with, management positions were massively upgraded. In 1990, a matron might have earned 30% more than a nurse, giving matrons a salary of say $40,000. In 2009, we'd expect that to be $80,000. What happened though is that the position of matron was abolished, and replaced with a coterie of nursing manager positions, all suddenly paying $120,000 or $150,000 or $180,000.

Second, we no longer have plain old bog-standard nurses. We now have a wide variety of specialised positions that also pay a lot more. So whilst there is always a lot of song and dance in the media about each annual pay negotiation for nurses, it concentrates on the pay rate for the bog standard variety, which is always a measely 2-4% increase. What's happened though is that you now have lots of specialty types earning a lot more than the bog standard - remember we assumed that the total nurse population grew from 1,000 to 1,500? Well, let's also assume that all those additional 500 nurses are specialists, and they are not earning the basic rate of $60,000 - they are on $90,000.

Suddenly your salary bill is not $90 million, it's (1000 x $60,000) + (500 x $90,000) which is $105 million. If even more of your nurses specialise, so that we have 500 bog standards and 1,000 specialists, your salary bill blows out to $120 million.

And then we have a wholesale migration of "front line" nurses into paper pushing occupations. The government wants to combat childhood obesity - it sets up a programme and it needs staff. Nurses are needed to produce posters and pamphlets and to staff a hotline and so on. Because it is a special program, it can offer salaries of $90,000. Bog standard nurses sick of dealing with drooling drug overdoses on $60,000 jump ship for a desk with a view, a life in front of a PC designing the next range of colour brochures and a 9-to-5 lifestyle. Yes, we have lots of "nurses" working in the system, in that we have employed a lot of people who are professionally qualified as a nurse, but a huge number of them are no longer actually nursing real live people - they are doing an office job like any other office worker.

Now I am sure those working in the medical profession will kick lots of holes in my assumptions about payrates and so on - they are not meant to be realistic. They are just there to illustrate a feature of the last two decades - the massive growth in passive, back office, paper pushing, highly paid useless services, and the ignoring of front line services. New brochures and a fancy poster are sexy - and launching a new campaign against childhood smoking in front of the media is very attractive to bureaucrats and politicians, whereas standing around in an emergency room at 2am on Sunday morning is not.

I watched this happen in my industry. Position descriptions would be revised in order to bump that position up a few pay grades. New positions would be created with pay levels that supposedly matched those in the private sector (pay level consultants were paid fortunes to analyse private sector pay scales in order to support public sector pay scales).
So that's why if you had say a position of "gardener" on your books in 1990, you now have a position of "plant and grounds maintenance specialist", and although the work is exactly the same, the position is graded several levels higher, and paid commensurately more.

That is really where our tax dollars went. In my particular neck of the woods, I had a boss earning $90,000. A few years later, I had a new boss doing essentially the same thing earning $230,000. A new layer of management positions was created, and the 6 jobs all paid up to $180,000. I shouldn't complain too much, as my salary more than doubled during that period as I jumped from one position description to another, but kept on doing much the same work. My underlings went through the same process, so that by the time I left, some had gone from $30,000 to $80,000 - the same as what my old boss made a few years before. We had only a few more people on the books, but our salary bill was enormously higher.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Me? Fuming?

According to the SMH, I should currently be fuming:

Sydney's cycleways are not so much an organised network as a fragmented collection of winding paths and half-finished ideas. Most were built or designed when cycling was viewed as a pleasant pastime rather than a practical form of travel and are now poorly suited to commuting.
That statement could also be made about many roads around the inner parts of Sydney, which were laid down when cars were either a century in the future or the play thing of the well off.

The article lists 10 cycling blackspots, and they betray the inner-Sydney centric view that the SMH has. I have ridden through 9 of the 10 blackspots listed as part of my commutes, and all of them are within 8km of the CBD. There are some truly shocking cycling blackspots in the outer west and north that put all those on the list in the shade, but who cares about what the bogans have - right?

I had a laugh when I viewed the list - they are more a collection of minor annoyances than terribly risky sites. For instance, the author lists the steps that you have to climb up to get onto the Harbour Bridge bike path. I climbed up and down them daily for over a year, and never thought twice about it. Sure, no one really likes getting off their bike, but if you have to then you have to.

Big deal.

I was always more worried about the ride home that involved chugging up hill along the Pacific Highway from North Sydney to Crows Nest, which generally had to be performed with an impatient bus driver a foot from your bum on a four lane highway. I wanted to be somewhere else - anywhere else really, but that was the only way to go north. The slow grind past the area of the North Sydney train station was the worst section - speeding cars to the right, nasty buses to the rear and a bastard of a hill in front of you. If you ask me, that was a major blackspot.

I am too tired to comment any further. Let me just say that the Herald will have to do better than this if it is to convince the taxpaying public that cyclists are having a tough time. I'm not saying we're not having a tough time out there in some locations - but this list is like complaining about a sprained finger when you've got a broken leg.

Art in two parts

More Monkey photography - it's no use trying to guess what this is, as I have no idea what it is. It does however look very good when blown up on a big screen. I call it "Narrative of the oppressed" - a paean to taxpayers everywhere.

The 2nd bit of art - feast your eyes on that landspeeder. The Star Wars exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum is now closed, so any geeks in Sydney that missed it..... missed out.

And yes, the place was full of nerds dressed as their favourite character. Monkey learned a new word - "geek". I was showing him the photos that we took and when one came up of a rebel pilot and two people in brown robes carrying light sabres, he said "What are they, Daddy?"

You can guess the rest.

They'll just have to go back to their Lego:

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Four boxes

"There are four boxes to be used in defense of liberty: Soap, Ballot, Jury, and Ammo."

Ed Howdershelt.

I heard that saying on the radio the other day. When I heard it, the first thing that popped into my head was that you used the soap to wash dirty hippies.

It took me a few days to realise they were talking about standing on soap boxes and exercising free speech.

I still prefer my original thought.

Those pushy middle class ingrates

I like to read Maralyn Parker's blog over at the Tele from time to time. If I am feeling a bit sleepy, it's great for raising the blood pressure and ire - and that helps ward off nap time. Maralyn has it in for anyone that dares to want to educate their children outside the state system, and will brook no adverse comments about the modern version of the Virgin Mary, now known as state school teachers.

The vibe that I get is that she detests those awful middle class types who want their children to succeed in life, for in her view, the only way they can succeed is if they stomp all over the heads of less fortunate kids. She rails against the stress that teachers are under, causing many of them to quit each year, but believes that a return of stricter disciplinary measures in schools is the equivalent of bringing back the iron maiden and stocks. She laments incentives being given to better performing teachers, but agrees with the modern philosophy of giving every kid a gold star, no matter how appalling their behaviours or performance.

She decries the dead hand of the state education bureaucracy and its deleterious effect on state schools, yet is horrified at the idea of giving state schools their independence and freedom - for that might lead some of them to fail! My goodness, imagine the catastrophe if a school failed! Car manufacturers can fail. Enormous multi-billion dollar banks can fail. Restaurants, furniture suppliers, car dealers, house builders, cafes, book stores, airlines, shipping companies, supermarkets, drycleaners, trucking companies, farms - these can all fail, and life carries on. We adapt, improvise, overcome. But if a school fails - merde! This has to be stopped at all costs!

Maralyn is constantly puzzled as to why some kids do well at school and others fail utterly. Oops, sorry. In her world, no child "fails". They may be unable to add 3+3, they may be unable to spell "CAT", they may think that Spain is a planet and that an amphibian is a form of punk rock band and that the First World War is the title of an X-Box game, but they have not "failed". Their learning outcomes may be lacking in certain categories, and their behaviours may fall short of departmental norms, but their report card will show that they got through with a mark of "non-negativised accomplishment criteria in a normalised comprehension assessment".

Here is my thought for the day on all this.

The weather today is fine but windy - warm enough for a T-shirt, but too windy to be pleasant to remain outside for any length of time. Therefore, I took Monkey to a nearby indoor play centre - it looks like this:

After 2 hours of jumping, running, climbing, sliding and doing bombies into the ball pit, Monkey was knackered. He is now snoring his head off through an afternoon nap. I am exhausted from just watching him. He climbed up to top of this thing countless times and then took the big slide down. He should be fit enough after that to do Kokoda.

The place was packed with families and kids - and get this. In the midst of a so-called obesity epidemic, I did not see a single fat kid there. Not even a slightly chubby kid. They were all lean and mean, even though half of them were wolfing down ice cream and popcorn - and I don't blame them for that. They needed the energy to keep going.

The parents who turned up here today and paid good money for their kids to run around are the sort that probably ensure that their kids get to run around every day, regardless of the weather. They don't plop them in front of the idiot box, pick up a fag and ring for a pizza. They take active steps to exercise them into the ground.

The kids in this photo may turn out to be the high achievers at whatever school they end up attending, because their parents presumably read to them every night, and are teaching them numbers and the alphabet and how to spell and write simple words, and are keeping them busy with activities like drawing and puzzles rather than watching 9 hours of cartoons each day. These are the parents who will sit down with their kids each night and ensure they do their homework, and that they pack all their books for school each day, and that they eat properly before school and have a good lunch, and who continue their education outside of school with extra-curricular sports and museum visits and language lessons and so on. The ultimate horror is that they may choose a non-state school for their kids. Parents like that deserve crucifixion in Maralyn's world.

I'm not talking about those nutter parents who have every minute of their kid's day planned. I'm talking about those that put in that extra bit of effort to nurture and educate their kids.

And to Maralyn, that is some sort of middle class conspiracy. She probably hates the idea of Monkey turning up at school being able to read and write (like I did) - whatever will primary school teachers do if the kids can already read? And how dare I teach a child to do something - I am not properly qualified to teach Monkey to spell c-a-t. I might put foul thoughts in his head, like showing respect to elders and consideration for others and the sanctity of property rights and the importance of freedom and liberty and the idea of personal responsibility.

Yes, we are a bunch of middle class ingrates. Imagine, daring to usurp the right of the state to bring up our kids. We should just relax and wallow in a slough of mediocrity.

It's not my fault

Oh, I am so sick of hearing that said - "It's not my fault".

I'm not referring to hearing it around the family home, but rather reading about it in our wet-as-fish-lips newsrags. Although we are starting to hear it around the home with increasing frequency - Junior has reached that age where contention is the only way to conduct a civilised discourse, which means it quickly turns into an uncivilised discourse. He is Never Wrong, you see. That would be impossible. He has suddenly decided that because hair is now growing in odd places around his body, he Knows All. We must Bow to His Majestic Opinions.

J is having none of that of course, and slaps him down as and when required. I fear however that she is a rarity, with too many people these days believing that it is ok to allow untrammelled stupidity to roam freely across the land.

I have a theory about that, and it relates to hardship and war. Those that have seen one or both tend to have a short fuse when it comes to putting up with stupidity and uselessness. They simply won't put up with it, because they have seen first hand what happens when you do (ships sunk, people killed, cities burning etc etc). They have developed a certain ruthlessness of mindset, and it brooks no silliness.

The Boomers of course mostly had it easy, and Gen-X even easier than our forefathers. We have become soft in body (obesity) and soft in the head (political correctness, unlimited human rights, diversity studies and so on). We refuse to regularly and loudly exercise our right to say, "That is the stupidest fucking thing I have ever heard." See global warming, and why it has gained the momentum that it has.

I fear that my teachers were the last generation to fail to put up with the narcissistic stupidity of youth. I was once as young and silly as Junior, but I was told in no uncertain terms by my elders and betters that my idiotic opinions held no sway, and such utterances would not be tolerated. If I didn't have something sensible and worthwhile to say, I was better off saying nothing.

That advice is of course lost on the current generation. Convinced of their innate superiority over us old farts, they believe that they are the Masters of the Universe. Few old farts seem inclined to educate them on their true position in society, which is down with the fleas infesting a dog's bottom.

Back to "It's not my fault". Junior has just had a week away, and before he left, I gave him the old camera so that he could bring back a swag of snaps of his time without us. He returned with zero, because the camera lacked a battery.

I was blamed of course for not checking that the camera had a battery in it, but I am not the one that regularly removes the battery from the old camera. You see, when he is taking lots of photos with the new camera, if the battery goes flat, instead of recharging it, or using the spare, he simply removes the charged battery from the old camera and leaves the flat battery in some odd location around the house.

He then doesn't bother to tell anyone that we now have a flat battery that needs charging (and a camera without a battery), and he then proceeds to flatten the other battery utterly by taking even more photos, and he then leaves the camera lying around on my desk. I take it out on a ride, and when I go to take my first photo, I find that the battery is flat.

So the only reason the old camera had no battery is because of his actions, but he refuses to acknowledge that it was he that removed the battery (we tend to end up blaming the "house elves" for things like that) and that maybe he should have checked the battery before departure, since he tends to be the one that flattens them and then fails to recharge them.

That was "not my fault" number one.

The second one is that the camera came back with the rear screen smashed to bits. He has no idea how that happened, but I suspect that he tossed his bag from A to B and that did the trick. I am to blame for not giving him a padded camera bag - how should he know that hurling his bag 20 feet across a parking lot would break something?

I hope that one day, the cocktail of teenage hormones roaring around his bloodstream will settle down and he will grow up and start to accept responsibility for his actions and his failings. It seemed to happen to me when I hit about 25.

During that period though, we have to put up with him. J is not one for quietly kowtowing to his teenage idiotic tendencies though, which is good. Too many parents (and teachers and magistrates and so on and so on) just bend over backwards and let these things slide in the name of "harmony". And of course, anything bad they do is not their fault - society or their parents or the Space God Elg are to blame. Anyone but themselves, their immaturity and their limited life experiences.

I'm just thankful I survived that stage without anyone shooting me. But it did us no harm to be slapped down on a regular basis by our elders, who did their best to knock some sense into us, and I wish more people would grow a spine and do the same today.

Has Obama got the right sort of spine?

No idea if this story about how the pirate action was handled is true or not, but it rings true.

Despite the Obama administration’s (and its sycophants’) attempt to spin yesterday’s success as a result of bold, decisive leadership by the inexperienced president, the reality is nothing of the sort. What should have been a standoff lasting only hours — as long as it took the USS Bainbridge and its team of NSWC operators to steam to the location — became an embarrassing four day and counting standoff between a ragtag handful of criminals with rifles and a U.S. Navy warship.
The vibe fits. That's all that's important.

Anyway, the SEALS were only shooting at plastic pirates.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Kids these days don't know how to binge drink properly

School excursion to Rottnest Island, 1984. Our house was awash with king browns of Emu Export Lager, baked beans and V.O Invalid Port (chateau goon) - we were all 17 or so at the time. The teachers that accompanied us were in another rented house down the road, getting blitzed on the same beer and possibly a better brand of port. It was a male-only expedition.

Yes, the well dressed bloke in the middle has a fish dangling from his mouth.

Note the old fashioned, original ugg boots on the far right. The curtains are also a major fashion statement. Australian Crawl would have been blaring from the stereo in the far left corner. If I published the next photo in this series, you would see everyone smoking.

2nd from the left ended up flying Blackhawks, and was supposedly grounded after flying one under the Narrows Bridge in Perth, scaring the SAS troopers on board so much they complained about him. There is not much room between the water and the bridge. Far right ended up as a captain with a US airline. 2nd on right is a Captain of Industry. Not sure what became of the other two - probably a doctor and an accountant.

Thems were the days.

Tomorrow is Laugardagur

See point 9.

It could be thought of as "the day to change your undies".


Time. Where does it all go? Yesterday was Monday, and today is Friday. It is a common complaint everywhere that we are too busy, overworked, overtired and so on.

M put me onto a great idea this week - an E-Free week. This is not something that we have formally implemented in our household - mainly because it would drive the adults insane - but I have resolved to have E-Free time so long as the kids are awake. This is not as hard as it sounds, as we are a one TV family. The only time we will ever buy another TV is if the current one goes end of life.

So if I get up before everyone else and sit down at the bloguputer to do some reading of the intranets, that is fine. But if the Monkey arises and walks in and says good morning, then the bloguputer goes off and we spend the time between the Arising of the Monkey and Work: Departure for the Purpose of, doing puzzles and colouring in drawings and writing words and letters and building train tracks and watching Gordon make a jammy mess (you have to watch Thomas the Tank Engine a lot to get that).

I am getting better at drawing a dog, and then helping Monkey write the letters for D-O-G underneath it 10 times. I can also draw cats, hats, pigs, milk cartons (don't ask), monkeys, reindeer and ducks; houses, flowers, cars, boats, trees and planes. And then there is the ninky-nonk, Iggle Piggle, Upsy-Daisy, the Tombliboos and the pinky-ponk - all of which I can now passably sketch.

When he comes home from daycare (Children, management for the use of), the bloguputer and the Box of Rapidly Moving Idiotic Images stay firmly in the off position and we ensure that Buzz Lightyear saves the universe from the Evil Zurgg, and he learns how to write a few more letters. Junior is back at school next week, so there will be homework to do as well. Electronic entertainment can commence after dinner, giving us a bit of downtime between feeding them and getting the kids to start snoring.

This is all much more fun that watching some mindless bit of regurgitated pap on the brain-sucker. I can't understand how anyone could not get pleasure from teaching a youngster how to sing the alphabet song (the one that goes A B C D E F G, H I J K etc etc), and then showing them how the letters in that song relate to stick symbols that you can draw, and how you can then put those symbols together to make words that he understands. I am very thankful for the invention of the car. It is the only place where I can sing with Monkey without feeling like an out of tune prat. He doesn't seem to mind if I am off-key.

I really did flush with pride last week when we were sitting at the dining table and he pointed at the carton of soy milk and said, "Daddy, is that an 'S'?"

"Yes Monkey"

"And is that an 'O'?"

"Yes Monkey"

"And is that a 'G'?"

Yes Monkey"

He went on to spell out 'so good', and has been doing since everytime we sit down to have a glass of milk. Letters now hold an interest for him, and everywhere we walk, he wants to stop and point to the letters and say them to me.

And so their education begins, an hour at a time at the dining table, with blessed silence from the lounge room, and no flickering screens in the office. I can see this E-Free week idea lasting about a decade.

In defence of the free market

Got a problem with free markets and "rampant capitalism"? Yes? Well then, have you used e-Bay recently, or bought a new mobile phone?

What is e-Bay, if not a wonderful exemplar of the free market? Buyers and sellers meet in joyous anonymous harmony and exchange goods and money, with millions of items being traded every day. If you think the free market sucks, I suggest you delete e-Bay from your favourites list, as to trade there would be hypocrisy at its best.

In a similar vein, bought anything at a hippy market like Glebe recently? Some tofu flavoured soap or a hemp seed milkshake? There are days like today when I feel like taking a can of paint and going down to the Glebe Markets and painting out "Glebe" and replacing it with "Free". Would those greying hippies with the balding pates and the ponytails (the hippy version of the Mullet) still peruse the handmade diaries and have their aura's divined if they realised they were dabbling in a free market rather than a Glebe one?

Look at what free markets have given the hippies. Back in the early 1960's, was it possible to buy tie-dyed T-shirts or hemp jeans or tofu soap? Was it possible to buy tofu at all? Even a few years ago, the shelves in your local supermarket fridge would not have been groaning with nine flavours of soy milk (I only drink milk from cows - if God meant us to drink soy milk, he would have given the soy plant a set of tits). It is the free market that allowed these products to be tested, marketed, developed and then massively expanded and widely distributed.

That hippy in gumboots selling organic goat's milk in small quantities this weekend at Glebe may evolve into the Bill Gates of goats if they tap into something that enough people want, and are prepared to pay for. The market signals what works and what doesn't - a goat's milk chocolate milkshake might be a disaster, whilst a goat's milk iced coffee might be the frappuccino of the future.

Which takes me in a roundabout manner to phones.

But also give some thought to where your gratitude lies. On an economics blog this week a reader complained that ‘We are all making the mistake of paying tribute to “technology” for these wonderful achievements when really they have been brought to us by competitive free markets and globalisation.’

He’s right, isn’t he? It’s not the technology of the mobile phone that’s remarkable so much as the fact that we can all afford one. The first billion mobile phones took 20 years to sell worldwide. The second billion were sold in four years. The third billion were sold in two years. It’s not technology that is doing that — it’s markets.

Think about what your phone would look like if we were still stuck with a single national carrier - Telstra in Australia, AT&T in the US and BT in the UK. We'd have a choice of any handset we liked, so long as it was white and came in the shape of two bricks stacked on top of each other. In Australia, the market would be limited to about 100,000 corporate and government users with deep pockets. An open market - not a perfect market - has given us wider choice, lower prices, a dizzying array of useful and useless features and coverage in places we never would have thought possible 15 years ago.

Next time you see Krudd blitzing somebody via an email sent from his Blackberry, consider what an arse he is to attack the free market system that put that Blackberry in his clunking fist. Free markets are not perfect, but no markets are even worse. Don't take that from me - go ask the North Koreans.

Political wisdom of the day

Alain de Botton was on TripleJ this week and I missed most of what he had to say - tuned in too late. However, I then switched to a Counterpoint podcast and listened to Peter Oborne give the Sir Keith Joseph lecture. He passed on this favourite saying of Tony Blair:

"Go around smiling at people, and then get someone else to shoot them".

Sums up a lot of modern politicians perfectly. Explains why Krudd is nowhere to be seen when the news is bad - he gets Gillard or Dufus or Woin to front up and cop the flak. Krudd only does milk runs*

*–noun Slang.
a routine trip or undertaking, esp. one presenting little danger or difficulty

May they all die in fiery car crashes

There is a street not far from here where I almost cleaned up an idiot yesterday.

The street is straight, but narrows sharply about halfway down so that if cars are parked ineptly on either side of the road, you might have to stop to allow cars coming the other way to get through. It is pot holed like an Iraqi road that has seen a spate of roadside bombings. It is a rough, narrow lumpen kind of transport artery. Perhaps "clogged artery" is a better description.

Partway down it, another road enters from the side. The side road has a Stop sign on it, it is on a decline, and the side road is also a lumpy mess. I drive down that side road fairly often in order to turn into the road in question. You come down it slowly, stop, and check both ways with caution because the corner also comes with restricted visibility.

I was blundering down the road when a green Suzuki Swift shot out of the side road right in front of me. The driver was yapping on his mobile phone, and had not even slowed down for the Stop sign. I only saw the car at the last moment (due to the restricted sight lines) and he didn't even bother turning his head my way as he blasted through the Stop sign and turned right, crossing the front of my car. Because he was holding his phone against his right ear, his hand and phone totally blocked his vision in my direction. He was unable to see me unless he bothered to turn his head - which he did not.

I had to stand on the brakes to avoid him - the ABS cut in and the truck shuddered to a skiddering halt in the pot holes. I also gave him a good blast on the horn as he zipped past, narrowly avoiding taking out the corner of the bumper on my side. If I hadn't swerved left as well, I am sure he would have clipped me. If he'd done that, he probably would have been spun into a 180 and then smashed into cars parked to my right.

Even with the horn blast, he didn't move his head or eyes to look at my rather large 4WD. Did I mention I also had my lights on? To him, I just wasn't there. Neither was the Stop sign.

If he had popped out a second later, there is no way even ABS and good reactions would have stopped me cleaning him up. I would have been standing on the side of the road, giving a statement to the police and watching the firies cutting him out of his car. I imagine that when 4WD meets driver's door of Suzuki Swift, the ending will not be pleasant. For me, maybe a new bumper. For him, a new set of tin legs and a wheelchair. And maybe a bib for the drool.

The reason I hope he drives into the back of a petrol truck whilst smoking is that I occasionally meet idiots like this when I am on my pushbike. I don't mind so much if I am in the 4WD - if he drives like a loon and hits me, he will suffer more than I. But if I am on my bike, no matter how careful and risk avoiding and law abiding I am, I will be the one in traction if I end up in his path.

Is there anyway to swivel mount a voice activated bushmaster cannon on the front of the car?

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Utterly shattered

I have not been riding much for the last three weeks due to the lousy weather and a horrible dose of the never-ending flu. I spent a week hardly able to leave my bed, another week where I was ok in the morning and back in bed in the afternoon and the last week has been ok, bar a nagging cough that just won't pack up and go home.

During that time, I have done three gentle rides. Three girlie-man rides. Each one ended up with me conked out on the couch for several hours, utterly spent.

I tried again today, thinking that the shakes and chills and fevers and pains and so forth were well and truly in the distant past. I did not push it. I stuck to the flatlands and low-geared it up anything that looked anything like a hill. I raced no one and barely moved my heart rate above resting pace. I got home without a single trace of sweat anywhere on my body. I sometimes get more active than that playing computer games.

J has just kicked me off the couch. I pretty much passed out there after dinner and didn't move for three hours. I am totally drained and utterly shattered. My legs are wobbly and I can hardly keep my eyes open.

This damned thing just won't quit.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

P.J. O'Rourke nails it again

P.J. O'Rourke in the Aus today. Must read.

I will tell you a small story about my experience within government and why I distrust it so heavily.

Years ago, I was handed the job of looking after some offices in the country. The staff in them were really disgruntled and hated us "city folk", who never visited and simply crapped on them from high with an endless stream of useless memos that bore no resemblence to the reality they were dealing with in the bush.

I paid them quite a few visits - partly because I loved getting out of the office and going on a road trip, partly because they really needed our help and partly because they were mainly really nice people. They had none of the pretentions that their city equivalents carted around every day.

On my first visit, the manager of one site asked me for a certain bit of equipment. I asked why he needed it, and he showed me what he wanted to use it for. I knew immediately that his request was valid and that this bit of kit could make his life a lot easier, and really help out when it was needed. As soon as I got back to town, I procured it for him and was back a week later to set it up. I thought that the other sites could also benefit from it, and asked them if I should buy some for them as well.

Bugger me, but I thought they were going to tongue-kiss me.

The previous incumbent had rejected their requests for this same equipment on a regular basis for years. This bloke never paid the country sites a visit to see what they needed. If they phoned him up, he wouldn't pick up the phone. If they left a message, he never returned it. He simply thought he knew better than they did in regard to the kit they should have, and he then made sure that his mind could not be changed.

About a year before I took over, they went over his head and got approval from much higher up to have this kit supplied. When he got the order, he shelved it. He lost it. He shredded it. He deliberately denied them the equipment that even his superior wanted procured.

This sort of thing is rife in the state sector - you have all these know-it-all busybodies who think they have a better idea of how you should do your job/run your life than you do. Now, just remember that they do this sort of thing to people who they work with, in an organisation where people have some contact with each other. Just imagine what it is like when you try and get served by the guy in the field, and you have this jerk two or three times removed telling them what they should tell you.

The bloke you are dealing with doesn't know you or your circumstances from Adam - but at least he is talking to you face to face. But he is being directed by an idiot 400 miles away - an idiot that has never visited and met the guy you are dealing with, and who is wilfully ignorant of the facts.

This is a recipe for failure, and it is the way that government operates at most levels.

When 100MB isn't really 100MB at all

I just left this comment over at Andrew Bolt's place:

Always remember to read the fine print when someone says "up to", as in Kevni saying that it will offer speeds of "up to 100mb".

From the Concept Economics report:

committed information rate of 2 Mbit/s—which at a contention ratio of 50-1 provides for end user speeds of up to 100Mbit/s

Note the bit about the committed information rate - normally called the "CIR". That is the guaranteed minimum bandwidth that you will get - but at times of congestion, it is also the maximum that you will get.

So if you are sharing a 100MB pipe with 50 other people, you have a CIR of 2MB. If they are all asleep with their computers turned off, you get the whole 100MB to yourself. If they are all reading The Age online, you are choked down to 2MB.

In technical jargon, OneTel Mk II is capable of "bursting" up to 100MB speeds from a minimum of 2MB. It can only burst up to higher speeds if no one else is around.

There are lies, lies and then comments about network speeds.

Until today, no one has said anything about the CIR and burst capability of OneTel Mk II. I'm glad someone finally cottoned onto it.

By the way, if they built a network using the switches that I outlined in an earlier post, this wouldn't be an issue - but it costs a bomb.

The only way Kevni can promise low prices is if they build a cheap and nasty network that always talks about "up to". At present, I can get "up to" 1.5MB out of my existing ADSL link - but I almost never get anywhere near it.

Boks Bacon - putting it to the test

0705 hours - removed from packet and separated the slices. I will have to allow Junior to have some after all - there is way too much here for just me and one meal. Damn. My goodness - the feel of it..... it's like silk. It's unlike any other bacon I have sliced and cooked. The texture is slightly slippery, unlike the normal powder-dry surface of most bacon. My nose is bunged up, so I can't comment on any aromas. I study the ingredients and note that it contains only sugar, honey, natural wood smoke and sodium nitrite. Bacon as it should be.

0711 hours - whoops, first observation is that this stuff cooks 4 or 5 times faster than normal bacon. The first side is almost burned. Experiment almost ruined by blogging that first paragraph. The ingredients say that the honey is "yellow box" honey. I know that smell well, and the kitchen is now redolent of yellow box honey. As soon as I walked back into the kitchen, the smell overpowered me. This stuff really packs a punch in the nasal department, and I can barely smell a thing. I can't even smell my own farts at the moment.

0716 hours - experiment almost over. Bugger, blogged too long on the 2nd paragraph as well. Bacon is overcooked. How can this be? It was on medium heat. Our stove is no good. I should be wandering in to turn it over for the first time around now.

So how much water did it lose in cooking?

Bugger squared. Knew I forgot to do something, like weigh it before putting it in the pan. It hardly spat at all, showing a very low leakage of water (I think bacon spits when enough water leaks out to hit the fat, whereupon it vaporises in a puff of steam so rapidly that it explodes and throws hot oil at you).

I can't swill it around my mouth like wine (we had a 1998 Main Ridge Estate pinot noir last night - it was utterly delicious. The only pinot I have ever liked). The non-burned bits are beautifully soft in the mouth, with a complete absence of chewiness. The crispy bits are properly crispy, and the skin has taken on a crackling-like texture rather than evolving into a form of rubbery, unchewable tyre tread. I can even taste the yellow box honey coming through. This stuff is amazing.

There is no sign of white sodium nitrite bubbling out and forming on the surface, as happens with cheap and badly cured bacon. The fat has an awesome texture. This is how bacon oughta be.

Is it worth $40 per kilo? Hell yeah.

Will I buy it again? Hell yeah.

Has it spoiled me and put me off cheap crap bacon? Hell yeah.

Will Junior appreciate it? He'd better.

0724 - fed, happy and satisfied. Mission accomplished.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

"Basil Fawlty" is correct

From across the Tasman comes this gem of a story about a hotel owner fed up with the unruly behaviour of sports teams from a certain town.

Mr Donnelly said teachers and parents repeatedly failed to keep their charges in check, letting them run wild in the motel's facilities.

Wainuiomata Indoor Sports Club owner Calena Hura denied the accusations and said the motel manager, Malcolm Glen, described on Supreme's website as a "Basil Fawlty" after the John Cleese character had been unprofessional towards the club's indoor netball team from the start.

Wainuiomata High School's touch team was turfed out of the motel two days into its stay, but principal Rob Mill also said the motel manager was to blame.

"They are teenagers, so there is going to be some level of noise. The manager was quite unreasonable and actually quite aggressive."

When I was at school, we went to a sports carnival in Hong Kong - there would have been about 24 of us, all 16 or 17.

We were absolute shockers once we landed. We were there for a week, and spent most of it drunk. People chundered during practice sessions. Our rooms were about 20 floors up, and we found that the windows opened, so we had a lot of fun setting fire to toilet rolls and chucking them out the windows. When we ran out of toilet rolls, we raided the maid's carts and nicked more. When they ran out, we started tossing oranges out as well.

Our rooms were utter pigsties, being knee deep in beer cans and other flotsam and jetsam. We'd break into the rooms of team mates, tie toilet rolls to the legs of their beds and then toss the roll out the window. The hotel could be spotted from miles around, due to the great white streamers dangling from our floor.

We abused taxi drivers and did runners without paying. We were thrown out of night clubs, pubs and strip joints all over the island and mainland. Most of us had to run from the cops at some point. We filled bath tubs and toilets with butane and ignited it (and ourselves). We drank and threw up in hideous quantities.

Two blokes got creative one night after a session on the vodka and visited the landing on every floor in the hotel, scooping up the ashtrays and pot plants and coffee tables and chairs and sofas, loading them into the lift and then dumping them on just one floor. There were 20 floors worth of furniture crammed into one landing, piled from floor to ceiling. It was impossible to get past, and that was almost the last straw for hotel management. If they'd had CCTV back then, we would have been toast.

The school didn't send another contingent until years later - it took them half a decade to get over the trauma of our trip. I think Hong Kong was well and truly pleased to see the back of us.

So I have every sympathy with this hotel owner in NZ - I know what little shits boys can be when on a sports trip.

Makin' bacon

Some years ago, I read the most fantastic food review in the Spectator (story not available) about how the author of the article bought a dozen different types of bacon from various suppliers, weighed them, cooked them and weighed them again to see how much actual bacon was left after all the water had evaporated from the bacon in the cooking process.

The results were quite shocking. Cheap bacon practically vaporised in front of her eyes, leaving little left to eat. The more expensive stuff proved to be much less watery, and when she calculated the price per pound of bacon post-cooking, she discovered that the more expensive stuff was better value.

I wish that article was on line. It was quite instructive. It was also quaintly scientific, in that she took measurements, published her methodology, data and calculations and ensured that the experiment was repeatable by anyone else that cared to try it.

I decided to try something similar today during a shopping expedition in a fairly up market shop. I bought a packet of this Boks Bacon, which worked out at just under $40 per kilo. That makes it more than twice as expensive as the stuff I normally get at the supermarket - maybe even three times more.

I have to cook it and weigh it tomorrow morning, because Junior gets home tomorrow night, and if this stuff is as good as its price, he'll want to eat it in future. So I have to eat it in his absence - otherwise, we will be broke.

The photo doesn't do it justice - it is a lovely dark red/brown, redolent of proscuitto. There seems to be some marbelling of the meat, not just a slab of fat around the edge. It is not the wishy-washy pale pink stuff that we have become so used to. It is closer to steak in colour than a barbie doll. Best of all, it looks like it will go crispy at the slightest hint of warmth, which is how I love my bacon. Some good quality toast, two eggs lightly poached in vinegar, crispy bacon and some spicy Five Cup Relish (a tomato based relish) from Griffith.

What more could a man want for breakfast?

More on our "$18 billion" electrical overhaul

A number of media outlets have run stories on how the electrical supply system in NSW is about to get an $18 billion overhaul.

Given that the current electrical network is not worth that much (in terms of current book value of the assets), I was wondering where they are going to spend that $18 billion and on what.

I went hunting for media releases in the last week by Ian Macdonald MP, the Minister for Energy and everything else. This is all I could find:

There appears to be not a single document anywhere that actually lists all the projects that add up to $18 billion.

Then there is the matter of households paying an extra $2.50 a week to fund this.

According to this press release, there were 2.65 million households in NSW in 2006.

If each pays an extra $125 per year, it will raise $331,250,000 per year.

This $18 billion project is supposed to be completed in 5 years. In that time, the additional household levy will raise $1,656,250,000, or $1.65 billion. At that rate, it will take nearly 54 years to raise $18 billion.

So, what is it going to be?

If we stick with a 5 year time horizon, the expenditure will be $1.65 billion (assuming the remaining $16.35 billion is not borrowed in the meantime).

If we stick with the $2.50 per week per household idea and an $18 billion project, it will take 54 years to deliver.

Either way, it doesn't stack up. Someone is playing fast and loose with the numbers.

Monday, 20 April 2009

More artistic photos

This is what happens when a three year old Monkey takes off with your camera.

Reflections on a playground.

Monkeys in motion.

Cheerios at dawn.

If I hadn't told you that this was the work of a 3 year old who can't focus and can't hold the camera still and has a problem with using too much flash, you'd probably think these were from the latest exhibition at MOMA.

(With thanks to 1.618 for the inspiration)

Media deaf to electricity price increases slugging families

I blame global warming.

The media has become so used to being told that electricity prices will have to rise to pay for carbon offsets and so on, it is blind to the pain that these increases inflict on working families.

Government-owned EnergyAustralia, Integral Energy and Country Energy have sought weekly rises - ranging from $1.80 to $2.50 - a week to fund the huge capital works program which will take five years.

The SMH tells us more:

The five-point plan also includes an $18 billion investment in electricity infrastructure across the state, the $800 million CityGrid project, a multi-million spend on protection equipment for the four main cables into the northern part of Sydney's CBD and a requirement for government buildings to make sure back-up power systems are working. Mr Macdonald said a third of the state's electricity infrastructure would be upgraded, replaced or renewed over the next five years under the plan.
The SMH, in their usual bloody-minded fashion, spun this story as the government getting tough on people that damage power cables! The bit about price rises that will slug the public was buried towards the end. They really have become the mouth piece of government.

Only News seem awake to this idea:

Increasing electricity prices to pay for infrastructure maintenance will raise controversy because the Government strips more than $1 billion a year from its energy companies in dividends and taxes.

Let's look at an audit report for 2008 on Integral Energy, one of the three government owned companies seeking a price rise.

Network reliability measures the number of minutes that customers on average are without electricity each year. Reliability has been steady over the last three years and remains within Integral’s target. Integral advised that factors affecting network reliability performance are largely external to the network and beyond mitigation through network management practices. Supply failure can result from adverse environmental conditions such as wind, lightning, rain, bushfires, defective equipment, loss of transmission supply, and vegetation coming into contact with powerlines and other assets.

Let me get this straight - the government is saying that $18 billion needs to be spent to improve network reliability, yet the latest audit report on Integral Energy says that reliability is within target and the factors affecting reliability are beyond mitigation!

More from the same report:

Earnings before interest and tax:
2007 - $346.8m,
2008 - $336.1m

Total distributions to Government:
2007 - $193.0m,
2008 - $182.3m

Capital expenditure
2007 - $381.7,
2008 - $373.5m

Total distributions to Government were better than target due to higher net profit.
The decline in capital expenditure was primarily driven by expenditure on the network being $66.3 million below target.

Contributing factors to this included increased pressure on suppliers to meet demand from the New South Wales electricity industry and time delays resulting from increased community expectations with respect to environmental due diligence and consultation.

How much has the government extracted from Integral Energy via dividends over the last decade? Perhaps $1.5 billion or more? I can't be bothered sifting through all the past annual reports. If these capital works had to be performed, why has Treasury spent the last decade taking money out of this company instead of allowing it to re-invest it?

I suspect that most of this $18 billion spend that they announced is hot air - it has either been announced before, or is already part of the planned capital works for these companies. All the government is trying to do is to protect or increase its dividend (because it is broke) and using the "failed" network as an excuse to gouge more funds from the public.

Note the problems Integral had with spending last years capital program - nearly 20% of it was unspent due to environmental NIMBYS and other hangers-on slowing things down. So how are they to accelerate their capital program when the enviro-tards currently have one foot on the brake?

Let's have a look at the same report for EnergyAustralia:

Earnings before interest and tax:
2005: $378.9m

2006: $527.2m

2007: $594.1m

2008: $574.4m

Total distributions to government

2005: $144.2m

2006: $304.0m

2007: $277.7m

2008: $272.1m

Capital expenditure

2005: $483.7m

2006: $603.9m

2007: $783.5m

2008: $951.1m

EnergyAustralia reported no problems with spending their capital works budget, and notice how it has nearly doubled between 2005 and 2008 - they are already spending like gangbusters. EnergyAustralia have just over $7 billion in assets - I take it that is their valuation for the network. As they are spending just under $1 billion a year on capital works, either they are expanding their network like crazy (new homes and more capacity to existing suburbs) or they are replacing existing parts of the network like crazy.

Given that many of their assets probably have a life of 30 or 40 years, you'd expect their capital works program to assets ratio to be something in the order of 1:20, yet it is more like 1:7.

I thought that because of global warming, we were supposed to be using less electricity rather than more of it. If we are supposed to be using less, why are we spending so much money to upgrade the network so that it can carry more? Am I the only one to sense a disconnect here in government policy?

The TransGrid audit report offers an answer:

Energy use in New South Wales has increased at about 1,380 gigawatt hours (GWh) per annum over the past ten years. New South Wales has the largest summer peak demand in the National Electricity Market (NEM), with maximum summer demands forecast to increase by some 440 megawatts a year. In January 2008, TransGrid recorded a peak summer demand of 12,954 megawatts (13,458 megawatts in 2006-07). TransGrid has a $1.3 billion capital works program over its current five year regulatory period to 30 June 2009, to help it meet increasing demand. TransGrid expects to achieve its program.
We see the same pattern in TransGrid's dividend payments to government and capital works expenditure:

Dividends to government
2006: $69.5m

2007: $71.5m

2008: $105.9m

Capital expenditure

2006: $158.6m

2007: $218.2m

2008: $355.0m

Another audit paper on the overview of the NSW electricity industry tells us this:

Electricity entities accrued distributions to the Government were $1.4 billion ($1.2 billion in 2005-06), comprising $541 million ($490 million) of tax and $818 million ($758 million) of dividends.

The 2007-08 Budget Papers show the Government is expecting annual revenue of around $1.1 billion over the next few years from electricity entities.

If you really want to know how hollow all the rhetoric about global warming is, have a look at this table (I could only grab a small section of it) - this shows all the new power plants that were proposed or being built at the time this report was written:

Then consider this quote on the next page:

the New South Wales Government’s Energy Savings Fund was established to provide $200 million over five years to fund projects that encourage energy savings, address peak demand, and increase public awareness and acceptance of the importance of energy saving measures. From September to October 2005 the Fund provided $15.0 million to 20 projects, saving an estimated 75,000 MWhs of electricity.

The second round of applications was held from September to November 2006 and a total of $13.0 million was allocated to 29 energy generation, efficiency and education projects, estimated to save 64,401 MWhs of electricity a year

75,000MWhs sounds like a lot, doesn't it?

Well, consider that the smallest new plant being proposed in the table above is 40MW. How many hours are there in a year? 24 x 365 = 8760 hours.

8760 hours time 40MW equals 350,400MWhs, assuming this plant runs at 100% capacity all year round.

In other words, these two rounds of "energy saving" projects, which "estimated" savings of 139,401MWhs only saved less than half of the potential output of the smallest power plant currently on the planning board.

All those proposed plants add up to 5771MW of power. Multiply that by 8760 hours in the year and we get 50,553,960MWhs.

So if all of them get built, we will be adding a potential of 50,553,960MWhs of electricity production to the network. Balance that against savings so far of 139,401MWhs. If you divide the 139,401 by 50,533,960 you get 0.00275. What's that? Two and three quarter poofteenths of fuck-all? It's not even 1%. It is a fraction of 1%, and it cost $28 million.

Another way in how our money is sacrificed on the alter of green nihilism and feel-goodery.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

The SMH - a byword for accuracy

On a happy note, at the rate this cyclepath is being funded, our great-grand children may be able to ride from the Barents Sea to the Black Sea:

'Death strip' becomes cycling trail

Twenty years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, a project to convert the former "death strip" into a cycling path is picking up speed. The new cycle trail, which will run 7000 km from the Barents Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south, is aimed at promoting eco-tourism along the former militarized zone and tapping into booming interest in cycling holidays. Michael Cramer, a German Green party member of the European parliament, is spearheading the project to complete the trail, which is supported by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
Given that this strip used to be sown with land-mines that blew up quite a few desperate easterners seeking to escape the dastardly clutches of communism, I think "booming" is not the best term to use to describe it. Unless the SMH also wants to describe the recent boat explosion off our north coast as a symbol of a "booming" trade in illegals.

Just one small problem with this story, which became obvious after visiting Michael Cramer's website:

"The Iron Curtain divided Europe for several decades. The memory of the separation of our continent – and the way it was overcome – can be preserved for future generations by the introduction of an 'Iron Curtain Trail', stretching in a 6,800 km 'green ribbon' from the Artic Sea to the Black Sea."

I even worked out the gist of that by looking at in Austrian:

Entlang des ehemaligen Grenzstreifens wird auf 6800 km ein Radweg geschaffen, der europäische Kultur, Geschichte und nachhaltigen Tourismus verbindet und so einen Beitrag zum Zusammenwachsen Europas leistet.

My Austrian is a bit rusty - I'm sure that says something about being a jelly donut.

So where did the SMH find the extra 200km? Do they know something that the European Parliament doesn't know? Or did they just decide to alter the facts because '7000' sounds better than '6800'?

All the news that's fit to wrap fish in, and facts we just know we can trust.