Thursday 31 July 2008

Werewolves of warming

Man does affect the climate. But let me just adjust that statement to read "micro-climate". Mankind might have some marginal impact on the climate of the entire planet, but I doubt it is significant. However, we can have a big impact on the micro-climate. That much I know. But it is quite a stretch to say that just because we can affect the micro-climate, we therefore impact on the climate.

My first direct experience of this was when I went in search of one of the locations where An American Werewolf in London was filmed. Don't ask me which scene - the movie came out in 1981, I saw it not long after, and then went hunting for the location in 1991. I do know that the location was Hamstead Heath, and to add to the eerie factor, we went looking for it at night.

Yes, we found the location. It was at the back of a house, which we could see into - just like in the movie. But what struck me was how cold it was out on the Heath. It was summer in London, and quite warm - at least it was warm where the countryside was covered under 10 feet of concrete and tarmac. It was bloody freezing out where there was only grass and trees. The micro-climate of the area surrounding the heath had obviously been affected by the laying down of all that heat absorbing concrete and tar.

It is also why I believe strongly in the idea of the "heat island" effect when it comes to measuring the so-called impact of climate change. I've experienced it first hand - you only had to walk 20 steps out of the Heath, and the temperature went up markedly.

Let me be the first to claim that hunting for a fictitious celluloid werewolf was a large factor in me accepting the sceptical arguments.

Going on a binge

My parents have just been to stay for a week, and whilst they were here, my mother discovered that fennel is significantly cheaper and much more available on this side of the country.

We therefore went on a week long fennel binge.

I'm not against fennel - I like it from time to time, but it starts to wear a bit thin after having it twice a day in industrial quantities.

I must write to Nicola Roxon and ask whether she might consider slapping a tax on fennel in order to prevent more binges like this.

Does the media not understand why people drive cars?

Another tollway scare story in the SMH today:

THE State Government's secret plans for an underground inner-city motorway connected to the M4 will lead to citywide gridlock that undermines its own transport and clean air policies, says the Steer report, a cabinet-level review obtained by the Herald.

Blah blah blah. This is just another silly attack by the SMH on the use of the private automobile - if those socialists had their way, we'd all be walking to work wearing Mao suits. I am all for riding a bike to work, but that decision has to be one freely made by the individual concerned, not coerced by some state instrumentality that knows what's good for you. I can't stand a media organ that is constantly harping on about freedom of the press, and accused HoWARd of silencing dissent, then trying its hardest to clamp down on a freedom so important to the rest of us - freedom of movement. Freedom to go where we want, when we want and by whatever means we want, without cowtowing to any rules except those that govern safe and civilised behaviour on the roads.

Remember the "Pass laws" in South Africa that the likes of the SMH campaigned against so hard during the aparthied era? Those laws restricted where blacks could live, where they could travel to and all sorts of other things. The bloody watermelons at the SMH seem to be all in favour of bringing in that kind of system for everybody, but cloaking it in a "save the planet" mantra.

I should get back to what I was going to talk about - the reasons why there are so many cars and trucks on the roads.

The stupid journalists at the SMH behave like they believe that all that wicked congestion is brought about by people driving around on unnecessary personal errands. What they fail to consider is that a huge amount of driving is done for business reasons. I used to lease a car, and work paid 40% of my motoring costs because that is about the percentage of work related travel that I did each year. Most of that travel was non-negotiable; I could wake up on Saturday morning and decide that it was too cold to drive to Bondi for a swim, but I couldn't ignore a call from a far flung office to go out there and fix whatever problems they were having.

Couriers can't just decide not to deliver 10% of their parcels (although you can do that if you work for Australia Post).

Truck drivers can't decide to not deliver the last 20% of their petrol deliveries to service stations.

Photocopier repairmen can't decide to ignore 25% of their repair calls.

Vitamin saleswomen can't decide to fail to make 25% of their sales calls to health food shops.

Newspaper delivery vans can't decide to not deliver bundles of papers to 20% of the newsagents on their route.

Travel is so inelastic when it comes to higher petrol prices and tolls because business just has to suck up the increased costs and get on with it. They might make some changes at the margins - improve the efficiency of their delivery routes, or move to more fuel efficient vehicles, but in the end, very little business travel will move to rail or bus - it's too slow and inefficient. You try making 10 sales calls to businesses in a suburb by catching the bus.

The SMH - staffed by people not living in the real world.

Monday 28 July 2008

Belinda Neal and Flushed Away

I read somewhere that Belinda Neal was fond of keeping lists of her enemies in the freezer.

I wonder if the press made a hash of that, and should have said that she was fond of keeping her enemies in the freezer?

There is a fantastic scene in Flushed Away where the Toad tries to freeze the hero and heroine - seen here on YouTube. The Toad is voiced superbly by Ian McKellan - one of his best roles ever.

Note - I am not trying to imply any resemblance between Belinda Neal and a ficticious toad. If anything, it is her husband that looks like a warty amphibian. But I would feel better if both of these sad characters were flushed away for good. The sooner the better.

Some teachers are not that bright

The SMH plays host to another anti-Howard dig today, this time from an ex-teacher complaining about the "lack of funding" for state schools.

Here are some things to ponder.

School education is a state, not federal, responsibility. NSW has had a Labor government for longer than I can remember, so if state schools are falling apart, who is to blame?

People who hate private schools like to trot out statistics that paint state school funding in a bad light, usually by only looking at the funds that schools get from the commonwealth, and ignoring the money that the states provide. But think about this - private schools run with very little overhead. Most of the money that they get is spent on their schools.

I was told today that when Charlie Court was Premier in WA, his education minister was horrified to find that 60% of all education spending was swallowed by the head office of the Department of Education - and there was nothing he could do about it. Charlie Court didn't want to upset anyone - the last thing he wanted was an education revolution.

That was the better part of 30 years ago, and under a long standing Liberal government.

Just imagine how bad things these days after decades of entrenched Labor rule. The teachers at the front line are probably quite right to complain about underfunding, but they are attacking the wrong target. Instead of attacking this government or that government for failing to spend enough at each budget, they should be attacking their own head office. If you went through the Department with a very big axe, you could probably cut the overall education budget and still deliver more funding to schools.

This is nothing new to me. I spent a few years in a public sector organisation, and an audit found that 50% of their money was spent on head office (we're talking 50% of an annual budget of about $1 billion) - and that was after 15 years of slashing the workforce and implementing all sorts of efficiency gains and productivity improvements.

Sunday 27 July 2008

Is this bloke a tosser?

Tell me the truth - am I really turning into a bileous old fart? I see things parked on the street like this, and all I can think is "tosser".

I just can't bear these things - to me, they look like the stupidest form of conveyance ever made. I don't have anything against utes, or 4WD's - what gripes me is the combination of an attempt at a load carrying, "off road" vehicle and the ridiculously gay and nancy-boyish rims and tyres. I don't know what this fool is thinking, but there is no point on putting low profile tyres on a beast like this - dual cab utes like this handle like pigs and brake like wallowing elephants on a skid pan. The ride is generally setup for carrying half a tonne in the back, so the suspension is already harsh - low profile tyres, with less air in them than usual, just make an already brutal ride even worse. This thing is a one way ticket to a chiropractor, and if driven hard in bad conditions, probably a one way ticket to a grave, via a roll-over.

I have changed my mind. People who drive these things are not tossers. They are brainless tossers. When the RTA issues the number plates, they should also issue a big plastic "L" for the owner to glue to their forehead.

Dawn Fraser - defining tough

Just had a long Sunday lunch with a cousin of mine. Roast lamb, apple pie, red wine - that sort of thing. Cousin turns 74 this year, so he has been around and done a lot. He's the sort of bloke that had a life and career where he met everyone worth meeting, and had the charisma and personality to be able to chat with all he dealt with.

One lunchtime anecdote deserves recording. At the Empire Games in 1962 in Perth (now called the Commonwealth Games), his wife was on the team as a reserve and he was in a pub one night drinking with Herb Elliot and some other notable persons, none of whom I can remember. This was during the games remember, and before everyone had participated in their events. I think it was the Highway Hotel. Cousin knew them all of course.

Someone suggested they call Dawn Fraser, as she was known to like a bit of fun, so they rang the athletes village and told her where they were. After they hung up the phone, someone said to remind her when she arrived that the taxi would be paid for by someone at the bar.

The bloke who had rung said, "She's not in a cab - she's running here cross country from the village". Now this was at night, a reasonable distance, and could well have been done barefoot. Anyway, Dawn arrived, they all sank lots of beers and then retired to my cousin's house for more once the pub shut.

Dawn left the party at 4am.

That day, she won the 110 yards freestyle.

I call that tough.

Saturday 26 July 2008

Blackfella justice

I was reading Andrew Bolt today, who kindly provided this link to a story about working in the justice system in the NT.

I'm glad I read it, because after a dozen years, I am certain that a mate of mine is not a bullshit artist, and that his mind was not messed with by the anti-depressants that he took for a few years.

You see, my friend was a policeman in WA. We had known each other at school, and we caught up again years later after he had medically retired, slightly unhinged by all the death and trauma that he had seen in his short career with the force.

I always took his stories with a pinch of salt, since most of them were told after we'd had a couple of beers, and he was still taking his little blue pills a couple of times a day. But given that the article above corroborates some of what he told me, I have to accept that the whole lot is probably largely true.

I'll start with payback.

My mate worked as a cop in Perth, then several country towns, then the back of beyond; doing patrols through the Aboriginal settlements out as far as the SA and NT borders. Don't ask me how he ended up out there - I never asked.

He told me that when they went out to arrest somebody, the culprit would be given a choice - they could be punished with white man's justice or black man's justice. If they went with whitey, they would be shielded from further payback when they got out of gaol. If they went black, they'd leave them alone.

He witnessed several spearings, and explained the form. The person being speared had to stand stock still - no movement allowed. The spearer had to stand a certain distance away, and could only spear below the waist. No chest shots allowed. I guess if he threw badly and hit the guy in the lungs, his turn would be next. I am not sure if he only got one shot or not. I don't know about whether the spear had to be barbed or smooth. Trials were short and sharp (excuse the pun) - the trial might start at 10am and whole thing might be over an hour later - the delay being the time it took to ask the nurse to collect her kit and come down to the spearing point.

Once the spear had landed, the white medical staff would come in from the sidelines and cart the patient away for treatment. It sounded like once they got over the initial shock of ritual justice, they became pretty blase about treating the wounded.

Apparently a lot of young blackfellas almost wet themselves with gratitude when given the choice, and leapt into the back of their Landcruiser with much relief. They'd then immediately plead guilty when they got back to town and hope for a reasonable stretch inside - anything to keep them away from the mad blackfella's at home that wanted to hurl a wickedly sharpened stick into their thigh. Next time you read about the high rate of incarceration of Aboriginals, think about how many are using gaol as a means to avoid payback, which is so many times worse than anything prison has to offer. Some though found out that regardless of their prison stay, they were still going to get payback when they got out. I sometimes wonder if that is the real driver behind Aboriginal suicides in custody - the thought of facing some very rough justice that they just couldn't handle.

He saw one bloke sentenced to stick a boning knife through his thigh seven times. The point of the knife had to emerge from the skin on the other side. The crim had to do it himself. I think the deal was that once the crim had accepted Blackfella justice, the cops wouldn't touch him, even if he reneged after hearing the sentence. If they took him away, every male in the settlement would be chucking a spear, or worse, within seconds.

This was also why they carried body armour and military style helmets (unheard of in the WA Police back in the mid to late 1980's) and were routinely issued an M-16 each; something that street cops never, ever carried. That kind of thing only ever went to the special weapons groups (the local version of SWAT), never beat cops. Well, I guess his beat was different.

Story two related to the above. If they drove into town and all the elders were there to welcome them, life would be good. If all the elders were standing there rattling spears together, they suited up with the body armour and helmets and pulled out their rifles. It meant they were unhappy about something - generally the idea that they arrest someone that the elders didn't want taken away.

The crimes that they dealt with blew me away when he first told me about them (this was the early 1990's), but we now routinely read about them in the paper as a result of the intervention. The one that sticks in my mind has to do with a white nurse being raped and having her nipples bitten off. That job involved suiting up in armour and hunting the perpetrator through a field of broken down car bodies - knowing that the perp was armed with a rifle. No wonder my mate went a little mad. That would scare the crap out of anyone.

The third story involved the "feather feet". Feather feet refers to just that - the elders would stick emu feathers to their feet to ensure they didn't leave any tracks. They'd do that in order to deal out a bit of summary justice to some particularly nasty little reprobate in their midst. My mate would turn up somewhere to arrest "young Jimmy", and be told by elders with a straight face that they'd never heard of him, even though they had been back there to arrest him half a dozen times in the last year.

After a bit of pressing, they'd admit that they had heard of "young Jimmy", but the feather feet had taken him away.

That is, the elders had grabbed him in the middle of the night, taken him out into the bush and bashed his head in with a rock. Young Jimmy was lying in an unmarked grave somewhere, and according to tribal custom, was never to be spoken of again. We hear consipiracy theories about how the CIA or Mossad just makes people "disappear"; well in outback Australia, that happens for real. Some elders had no time for criminals that refused to reform.

At that point, Police enquiries would cease. There was no point in asking further questions and bringing on a spot of spear rattling by the elders.

Wednesday 23 July 2008

Shadow lands

In the spirit of Le Tour, I attempted to take some photos of my own shadow when I went for a spin the other day. Here are riders on Le Tour:

Here is my slightly more robust frame:

Does my bum look big in this?

This is not me.

Ah, that's more like it.

Blacks better than whites, according to ABC

I was listening to ABC Radio National yesterday afternoon (a thing I rarely do - I only flick over to AM when I am sick of the rubbish being broadcast on FM) and there was a music program about the Aboriginal mission at New Norcia, near Northam in WA. The place is renowned these days for the excellent bakery.

I missed the first part of the program, but the bit that I listened to had a single theme - that Aboriginals were more musically talented than whites. Various passages were read out about amazing feats being performed by Aboriginal bands with gum leaves, 10 year old kids with flutes and so on, and all promoted the idea that Aboriginals were innately gifted with better aural skills than whites. That was because they needed better aural skills to survive in the bush etc etc.

Now apart from being innately racist to a horrendous degree, I think the whole idea is bollocks. Plus it smacks of eugenics. But think for a minute if the presenter had said that Aboriginals were innately less talented at certain things, like tool making, and then imagine what would happen to them. I reckon they'd currently be sleeping with the fishes. It's fine to say that blacks are superior to whites, but woe betide anyone who dares to challenge that statement, or reverse it.

I think the idea is bollocks because anyone that spends time in the bush finds that their senses quickly become more attuned to an un-urban environment. After a week or so, you start to see and hear and smell things that a casual visitor from an urban environment would miss. Funnily enough, the same thing happens when you leave the bush and return to the city. The body tunes itself to its environment. The same thing happens when you go to sea on a sailing ship - after a while, you hear every creak of the rigging, and can differentiate the creaking of this bit of rigging from that bit of rigging. It has nothing to do with "innate genetic ability".

When I was rowing, I made a pretty descent stroke because for some bizarre reason, I was able to tell the difference between rowing at 32 strokes per minute vs 34 strokes per minute without reference to any external aid, like a stroke watch. I don't have rhythym - can't dance for love or money - but I seem to have a metronome in my head when it comes to beats or strokes per minute. No one else in our entire rowing squad of 40 or more blokes could do that. Does that one example make whites better rowers than blacks? I don't think so.

It's also hilarious, given the absolutely horrendous rates of ear infections in Aboriginal kids - brought about by poor hygiene. Lots of them are doing attrociously at school because they can't hear a bloody thing, which leads to all sorts of poor life choices.

Innately better my arse.

Tuesday 22 July 2008

Environmentalism - killing freedom of choice

This article from Kerplunk skirts around a topic dear to my heart - obtaining a drinkable iced coffee. There are very few places in the universe that serve a good iced coffee - a drink that should contain no cream, ice cream and preferably no sugar. It should contain good, strong esspresso, milk and plenty of ice. A tall glass is a bonus.

Sounds so simple, but it's so hard to get. It is an example of a product that is rare, and only offered in small, widely distributed locations.

If it was not for the wonders of the jet engine and the internal combustion engine, I could spend the rest of my life going without them. My parents fly in from Perth tomorrow, and they will be carting as much Brownes Coffee Chill as their luggage will bear - frozen, of course, so that I can enjoy a milk product over a period of several weeks. When that supply runs out, I will have to fall back on driving to distant suburbs where I have discovered cafes that serve something that doesn't turn my stomach.

If the greenies get their way, my freedom to buy the best product and services that suit my tastes and lifestyle will be severely curtailed. I'll only be able to buy stuff that is available locally, which might be utter crap.

Driving to Bondi for a swim and a coffee and breakfast will be a thing of the past. Travel for the frivolous purpose of frollicking in the ocean, followed by a feed and a fang back through the cross city tunnel will be on the verbotten list. If I want to swim, I'll have to do it locally, even though the harbour around here is six inches deep and the bottom is covered in the sort of noxious chemical residue that produces mutant fish with 6 eyes. Don't even get me started on the lack of surf.

Frankly, they can go fuck themselves.

When we say that the car ushered in a period of never before known personal freedom, we mean that not only are we free to drive down Route 66 with the top down and stereo blaring; it also means that we are free to enjoy goods that can be cheaply and conveniently shipped to where we live. In this regard, the truck is a much bigger harbinger of freedom than the car. And don't forget the shipping container, and container ships. I can travel to Ireland to drink stout as it should be, without having to put up with subsisting on the muck brewed locally. Or the Irish can ship their stuff over here, with the upshot being that the competition keeps the local brewers on their toes. Even if we choose not to drink the Irish product, the very threat of drinking it, our ability to drink it if we want to, is sufficient to ensure that the stuff that is produced locally has to keep up with the standards and quality of the stuff produced far away.

The big problem with localism is that it suffocates competition. I don't want to wear hemp shirts with frilly collars, and if all the shirt makers within walking distance of me decided tomorrow that they would only produce scratchy hemp shirts with frilly collars, I would be bothered not. I would simply travel to a shirtmaker who offered me what I wanted, and deal with him or her. Or I would order them from an English shirtmaker in Paris, and have them shipped to me. That is freedom. The ability to not dress like a dork.

But the enviro-fascists don't want me to do that. They don't care if I don't want to dress like a dork - my personal preferences are irrelevant as far as they are concerned. It will be Mao suits for all if they get their way.

The sooner we start sticking their heads on pikes, the better off we'll be.

No one gets between me and my preferred iced coffee. They'll have to pry my car keys from my cold, dead hands.

The Loch Ness Monster vs Global Warming

There are two ways of looking at our planet. I consider it to be a ball of rock, surrounded by a thin breathable atmosphere, rotating through space around the sun.

Others prefer to think of it as a living thing, Gaia, inhabited by an Earth Goddess, and that we should worship it like the Druids did in the days of old. Ley lines, the mystery of Stonehenge and all that guff go hand in hand with a cult little different from Aztec worship of the sun.

Don't get me wrong - it was my ancestors that had druids, erected Stonehenge, painted themselves with woad and ran into battle naked. They seemed to enjoy drinking mead, raping, plundering and pillaging and sacrificing virgins. But we gave all that up about 1500 years ago, began to study the world around us instead of believing in fairy tales and hobgoblins, and applied logic and analysis to problems rather than reading the entrails of chickens. We cast out the demons of superstition, witchcraft, faery magic, the Evil Eye and all those other things that marked us as primitives.

I like to think of myself as a product of the modern age. I prefer logic to emotion. I like to look at the facts, rather than relying on supposition, conjecture and folk magic. I prefer things that I can see and feel and hear to the make believe. Cold analysis beats and passionate argument.

Why then are so many people slipping back into the kind of behaviour that we laugh at when we read about the same thing in National Geographic being practiced by a bunch of unlettered tribespeople wearing nothing but penis sheaths who spend all day hitting each other over the head with stone axes?

I have been to Loch Ness. I paid good money to go there, because it seemed like the done thing to do. It's a splendidly spooky place in the middle of winter, when it's freezing cold and the mist rises slowly off the waters of the lake like a demonic fog. Plus the whisky that they make roundabout is worth a sample. The lake looks even spookier and more mystical and magic after 10 or so of the local whiskeys.

But I never saw the monster, and I doubt anyone else has ever seen it.

It's a myth. A great myth. A money-spinning myth for the locals that live off the tourist trade that it supports. But a myth nonetheless.

It's a harmless myth, and I am happy to go along with it and sit by the lake in a ruined castle, drinking whisky and buying a couple of Loch Ness Monster tea towels as souveniers.

But just because I am prepared to self indulgently go along with one myth, it doesn't mean I am prepared to go along with all of them - global warming especially.

Because it isn't harmless.

But it is a monster, and from the evidence to date, no one has ever seen proof that AGW exists.

Wanting to believe in a myth does not justify throwing buckets of money at it. Especially money that belongs to other people, which is what carbon trading amounts to.

So there is no "versus" between the Loch Ness Monster and Global Warming. The complement each other, like the Yeti and the Bunyip and the Unicorn. It's time we treated it as such.

Death by Queenslander

What is it with Queensland drivers once they get south of the Tweed? Are they all stupid, or is that their normal state of mind when north of the border? Compared to being on the road with a Queenslander, I feel safer driving alongside a stolen Commodore full of 14 year old aboriginal kids all high on paint thinners and Ice - even when it is being chased by half the local Constabulary, leaning out the side windows and shooting like the Keystone Cops.

Take this recent example.

I am driving from the Fish Markets at Glebe onto the Anzac Bridge. The road system at that point is an insane spaghetti junction - an easy place to get lost, dazed and confused. Most drivers don't seem to have too much of a problem with it - even Taswegians, who have crossed the pond and are driving around dumbstruck at all the buildings more than two storeys high, and the lack of people with two heads. But not Queenslanders. Show a Queenslander a road that isn't straight, and their brain turns to mush.

So I've got the green light, and I am driving up the on-ramp towards the bridge. I'm driving 2.5 tonnes of 4WD, and I don't accelarate like a dope smoking slug. On my right, there is a road that joins the on-ramp, but it has it's own set of lights, and they are never green at the same time as mine are. In fact they are phased in such a way that it's very, very, very difficult for cars to crash into each other at that point.

Unless one of them is driven by a Queenslander. Then anything is possible.

I see this little Mazda thing approaching up the road from the right. My brain can't compute what is happening at this point - that car should just not be there. The only way it could have got there is if the driver went through two red lights and did an illegal U-turn across a traffic island (I am exagerating only slightly here). Do you know how you react when you drive along a stretch of road hundreds of times, and nothing untoward happens, and then one day, something totally unexpected and illegal happens?

Well, you don't react at all. My brain just failed to do the old, "I'll just move your right foot from the power-pedal to the brake pedal". I just watched in horrid fascination as this 3/4 tonne, rice burning, tin coffin continued to drive up the road from my right, directly into the path of my still accelerating planet killing 4WD.

Then I glimpsed the number plate, and then the brain kicked in. My automatic reaction now when I see a Queenland plate is to brake, swerve and duck for cover. The safest option is usually to pull over, read the newspaper and wait for them to get into the next suburb.

The funny thing is that they seemed to be totally oblivious to the certain death that they had just avoided. Or too stupid to realise the complete catastrophe that they had been the authors of.

Kevin Rudd would have been more accurate if he'd said, "I'm from Queensland, and I'm as thick as two short planks".

Death by bicycle

How odd that no sooner should I scribble about cyclists hitting pedestrians, then a young loon on a bike comes within a whisker of knocking me down on the footpath.

I was wandering down the main drag of Five Wog, trying to decide which cafe I should risk dismemberment in by asking for an iced coffee (there are about 10 cafes in a short strip to choose from) when a bloke of about 15 comes ripping around a blind corner, sees me and the old duck walking next to me, slams on the rear brake, throws a broggy and skids around us. I'm sure his knobbly rear tyre almost ran over my foot. He was fairly flying too.

I happen to know the kid - he works in the local supermarket, and is quite recognisable. I must have a quiet word with him next time I am doing a spot of shopping.

The size difference between us is such that if he did flatten me, and I was not knocked unconcious or suffered any broken limbs, then the next thing he would have felt would have been his face being repeatedly driven into the pavement, powered by my foot.

William the Conquerer can't be wrong

You can do this here.

More name dropping

Since I have been accused of name dropping, I can't resist the urge to do a bit more.

When I was about 9 (which is so last century), I played croquet with Malcolm Fraser at the Lodge. Yes, the Man Who Was PM, at That Place of Residence in Canberra.

The only thing I remember about that day at the Lodge was whacking a few wooden balls through hoops via a wooden mallet, and being taught some of the finer points of mallet-handling by the PM. Looking back, he probably had the same level of understanding of the actual rules of croquet that I did - we just punted the balls around and laughed when one boinged off into the rose garden.

I have no idea what we were doing at the Lodge, or why the slaves had set out a croquet pitch. What I do know is that I was shoehorned into a suit and tie, forced to shine my shoes and frogmarched through the gates with dire warnings not to push any dignitaries into the pool or steal the silver.

Those are totally unnatural things for a nine year old to do, particularly for an entire afternoon.

That the Lodge is still standing is a testament to the disciplinary powers of my parents. Malcolm lasted another 6 or so years as PM, so my presence can't have done him any harm either. Although his back gave out before his last election campaign, forcing him to delay the election and allowing the Labor Party to install Bob Hawke as leader. I hope Malcolm's back was not put out by him practicing croquet on a daily basis, just in case I returned for a grudge match.

Thinking about it, would any OH&S obsessed flunky allow young kids to play with heavy wooden balls and mallets in this day and age? Would a risk assesment allow such an activity to be permitted? Could the PM have found himself in court if I had brained another guest with a mis-hit ball?

Say what you like about the Fraser years, but they were the last time before this country went completely soft and pussy-like. They are the time before PC. A lost era that I weep for.

Monday 21 July 2008

Wogs kill Gloria Jean's

I couldn't believe the audacity (or stupidity) of the marketing manager that decided that Five Wog would be a good location to open a chain coffee shop. Balmain has a Starbucks, but I understand that they are willing to stomach 5 years of losses at that site in order to maintain a presence.

Gloria Jean's does not appear to have survived that long in Five Wog. This shop has been closed for a couple of weeks now, although there is no sign on the door to say whether they are closed for good, or whether the owner is having a bit of a holiday somewhere else.

I suspect they are gone for good, killed off by the old-style wogeria's that dominate Five Wog. (A wogeria is like a wog cafeteria, or cafe). I think the first mistake they made was employing staff that couldn't speak Italian - that's a disaster for any business around here. When I go to my favourite wog deli, which sells the most marvelous double smoked ham and other Italian delights, I often get shunted from the mama who only speaks Italian to one of the English speaking kids. It's that kind of place.

I miss Gloria Jean's because they did a reasonable imitation of an iced coffee, because like many West Australians, I am very fond of such a drink. The beverage that Gloria Jean's lists as "iced coffee" on their menu is hardly drinkable, but those in the know ask for an "iced latte", and all is good in the world from that point on.

I think I would be lynched if I asked for an iced coffee in any of the wogeria's, so I am reduced to making it at home.

The funny thing is that most of the coffee served in the wogeria's up and down Great North Road is crap. Utter crap. There is the occasional island of excellence, but most of the coffee served up around here tastes like carbonated toast.

Sunday 20 July 2008

Logitch universal remote - review

The number of doo-dads in our lounge room recently dropped from four to three when we finally got around to ditching the dust covered, hardly used VCR. I plonked it outside the front door with a note on it saying that it worked and was free to anyone that wanted it, went inside, came out 5 minutes later to find that it was history.

Our remote situation was therefore simplified for the one week between when I got rid of the VCR and when the Mediagate thingy turned up. I don't know how to describe it - it's just a 350GB hard drive that connects to the TV, and we plonk all our movies on it and play them from there instead of the original DVD's. What I am leading up to is that we went back to having four remote controls, which is three too many in anyone's language.

It just so happened that I had to visit an Office Works shop to pick up some stuff for the office, and as I was browsing through the shelves of things, I happened to find a Logitech Universal Remote. I have fiddled with these things before, and always rejected buying one because setting them up was too difficult. I liked the idea of this one because you connect it to your PC via a USB cable, and program it from a much simpler interface.

That's the theory at least.

It claimed to support 80,000 devices, but I wasn't sure if it would support our more ancient technology, so I went home, plugged our device model numbers into the Logitech website and found that it supported the lot.

So I went back to a different Office Works (the one that I had been in when I chanced upon it was suburbs away) and found that I had to search high and low before I eventually discovered one locked in a cupboard where no one would ever find it (and buy it). It only took me 10 minutes to find a staff member to unlock the cupboard to let me at it, and I then shelled over $77 for it.

I drove home feeling that I had probably dudded myself out of $77. Technology like this is notoriously unreliable and useless, and I've bought a few gadgets in the past that have been totally hopeless and have ended up in the bin after a few weeks.

So far, so good on the Logitech remote. Setting it up took longer than I thought, mainly because the software interface that you install on your PC is not as intuitive and straightforward as it should be. But I managed to figure it out after an hour or so, and managed to get most of the functions I wanted programmed into it. It works using the concept of "activities". Watching a movie from the PVR is an activity, so you tell it that you want to watch a movie, and it turns on the TV, sets it to the right channel, turns on the PVR and turns on the amp and sets it to the right input. You need to leave the remote pointing at all your devices for 10 or 15 seconds whilst it sends out all the right commands, and it gets it right most of the time. If it doesn't get it right, it's easy to tell it what needs to be done to get it right.

I've had to pull the old remotes out from time to time to carry out a function that the remote doesn't have, but on the whole, it's actually done what the marketing says it's supposed to do. I'm kind of impressed.

Get one.

Hollowmen and the Irish Ambassador

Although episode 2 was a bit flat compared to the first one, I still had a good laugh at The Hollowmen. That's because our family once stayed with the Australian Ambassador to Ireland (and the Holy See). This was back in 1983. Dad knew the ambassador, and arranged for us to crash at his residence whilst we were having a gander around Ireland.

I think we spent 8-10 days there. 8 miserable bloody days, stuck in what was then a 3rd world country. The EU subsidies had not really kicked in back then, and it was still possible to be driving down a 6 lane highway that suddenly turned into a dirt track, complete with donkey carts and farmers with flat caps and a milk churn on the back of the cart.

And yes, it rained an awful lot. And it was very green. And I couldn't wait to leave.

The ambassador told us that Northern Ireland was a much nicer place to visit - wealthier, cleaner and much easier to get around; and that was at the height of the Troubles. Harrods was bombed whilst we were staying in London. We'd hired a flat not far away, and we popped out of a tube station near Harrods to find streets closed off and police everywhere. I missed the "boom", but even with that going on, apparently Northern Ireland was a better place to go.

Staying with the ambassador was pretty good, given that we were collected from the airport by an official car, filled up with Irish Coffee and generally well looked after by the staff. Proper Irish Coffee. I've never had anything like it since.

Yes, if you thought they were pulling your leg when they talked about the duties of the ambassador on The Hollowmen, then I can tell you that they weren't. I never asked the ambassador what his golf handicap was, but I'm sure it would have been in single digits.

I can confirm that Guiness tastes much better when drunk in a proper pub just outside the gates of the brewery. Given that I was 16 at the time, I didn't develop much of a taste for it. I could only drink 2 or 3 pints of it before I had to move onto lager. The stuff we get here is crap by comparison.

Travelling with my parents always involved stopping in a pub for lunch, and sometimes a pub for dinner, so I returned home with a bit of a beer gut.

I had been silly enough to sign up for a pre-season rowing camp before going on holiday, so I stepped off the plane, white and pasty and paunchy, and went straight into camp. The head coach was a bit of a bastard - he had spent the holidays turning his son into a super-fit rower, and expected that we had done the same. He was not impressed when I told him I had spent the last two months drinking Guiness and eating pork pies. His son had spent that time hardening his hands with a bit of broomstick and a brick - you cut off about 8 inches of broomstick handle, drill a hole in it, attach a rope and then tie the rope to a brick. You then wind the brick up and down until you get blisters. The blisters form calouses, and you do it all again until your hands are like leather.

Mine were like gloves made from the softest hide of a kid goat. I was probably accused of having gay hands.

I am pretty sure he pushed us so hard, I spewed on the first rowing session. And I went through a bottle of Bettadine and another of metho that week hardening up my blisters. (You don't drink the metho - you pour it on the open blister to dry it out. Yes, it hurts). I paid dearly for that trip to Ireland, and all that Irish Coffee and Guiness.

In case you are wondering, I am not consulting on the script of The Hollowmen. But someone who knows what they are talking about certainly is.

Life amongst the underclass

I did a Theodore Dalrymple today and put on my pith helmet and paid a visit to the underclass who live just down the road. I blogged last week about the housing commission development on the waterfront with million dollar views - well, here is a view of the development, with an example of their preferred mode of transport out the front.

Yes, that is a nice Mercedes that has had the bogan mod pack applied. Fancy rims, low profile tyres and a good paint job. The owner must spend a packet on washing and polishing this baby.

Note the obligatory fluffy dice hanging from the rear view mirror. I didn't want to get any closer than this, so I have no idea what the interior looks like.

And also note that the car has P plates attached, meaning the driver is 18-19 years old. I am pretty sure this car does not belong to a visitor, as it has been parked there for at least a week.

I guess this is the modern idea of "poverty". Poverty is now defined as having to put up with driving an old Mercedes rather than a new BMW.

Remember this next time you see a whingeing press release from ACOSS.

Will CO2 levels now start falling?

Here is an interesting test of how our climate works.

According to Algore, increases in CO2 concentrations drive up the temperature.

However, ice core data shows that CO2 seems to lag temperature by about 800 years.

Now, the global temp appears to have fallen rapidly in the last few years. Does that mean that CO2 levels might actually start to fall, regardless of how much we are pumping into the atmosphere? I guess the driver is that you can disolve more gas into a liquid at lower temperatures, so the oceans (which are truly massive) simply soak up more CO2 as they cool. Conversely, they give off CO2 as the temperature rises.

Although if there is an 800 year lag, we might not be around to see how things work out.

Friday 18 July 2008

Pussies with bombs

What is wrong with people these days? Doesn't anyone know how to build a proper bomb anymore? Sheesh, after all the carbombs and such in Iraq and now Afghanisatan, you'd think nutters would have an idea of what it takes to reduce a car to its component parts.

Check out this car.

Apparently a pipe bomb has exploded under it.

Uh, right. More like a firecracker. Yes, it might have been a pipe bomb, but it looks like it had the power of a firecracker in it.

I once partook in some quite legitimate explosive undertakings that were used to clear old trees from a farm paddock, to blast stone in a quarry for use on a house, and to "tidy up" an old car that was "spoiling the view" in a rather large paddock.

This all happened because the Big T decided to get his Shotfirer's ticket. Since his job involved banging rocks together as a rockologist, he thought it would be fun to bang rocks together at high speed - say 5000 feet per second.

The Big T was short of transport at the time - I forget the reason. Drunk driving perhaps? Not enough moolah for a car? Whatever - I had to drive him to and from most of his lectures, which meant I got a 2nd hand education as a shotfirer. I listened to him recite the lessons, read all the course notes, and then got some hands on practice with detcord, detonators, fuses, dynamite and mixing ANFO. We used detcord to cut down trees that you could wrap your hands around, dynamite to blast stone in a quarry, dynamite to launch an enormous pine tree into orbit (it certainly seemed to lift off like an Atlas rocket when we blew it) and finally to "clear the view" in the top paddock.

I don't recall what the car was - probably an old Falcon, as in a 1960's model. I do seem to remember a 20 litre chemical drum (probably used to hold DDT) and a bucket load of ANFO. We used way, way, way too much ANFO. Like about 10 times too much - but the shotfirers manual never said, "Use x kgs of ANFO to separate a car".

I saw a photo the other day of explosives being used to disassemble a disable Hercules that had made a bad landing at an airport in Iraq and it needed to be chopped up to move it. There is sure to be a manual somewhere that tells you how much explosive to use and where to place it to chop the wings off a C-130. There might even be a pam somewhere that explains how to disect a 1960's Ford Falcon - but we didn't have it.

All that I will say is that part of the window winder mechanism landed something like 400m away. Until I got to fire the Carl Gustav, it was the loudest noise I'd ever experienced. It was one of those "oh shit" moments you get when you realise you have done something really silly.

Anyway, if I had been tasked with taking out this car, it would currently be scattered over 4 postcodes. What's happened to turn even our mad bombers into pussies?

Overrun with public transport

The most common complaint that I hear about the ferry service out this way is that there is an enormous time interval between services. Well, something screwy must have gone wrong with the scheduling today, because these three ferries can't have been more than 2 minutes apart.

They must have been carrying 20 people between them.

Your tax dollars at work, subsidising practically empty services. Like many public transport services, lots of people like the idea of public transport, but few want to use it.

Crap scooper

If you happen to spend anytime around the canals (industrial sewers) that run through Sydney, you'll soon notice crap traps here and there like this one below. It's amazing how much rubbish westies throw into these canals, or allow to blow into them. The flora lining the canals has to compete with an introduced species called "rubbish", and there is enough of it to choke a lantana vine.

The traps are emptied now and again by small boats like this one - they've got a front end like an LCI, and a small crane that allows them to hoist the traps out of the water, drop them on the deck and then presumably replace the full trap with a fresh one. The boats are low, as they need to be able to get under the low lying road bridges that cross the canals.

I hate to think how full of shit some of our waterways would be without this service.

Cycling like an ABC journo on crack

I have a bit more to say regarding cyclists hitting pedestrians and killing them.

I went for a spin today, taking a westward-ho direction; mainly since it was heading in the opposite direction to the office. Part of my ride was on wide, open roads like this, and part was on enclosed bike/foot paths around the old Olympic site at Homebush.

Give me a bit of open road like this, with no pedestrians or kids around and no potential for idiot drivers to back out of their driveways without looking and I'll open it up. As the speed shows, I was doing 38 km/h along this stretch, and you can knock 4-5km/h off my normal speed due to me having to take one hand off the handlebars to hold the camera, and then jockey around to get a photo of the bike computer. If the road and lungs allow, I'll sometimes find myself overtaking buses and other slower moving vehicles. It doesn't happen that often, but I can move quickly at times.

Then there is the other end of the spectrum - narrow, winding paths with lots of overhanging shrubbery. This is typical of a lot of Homebush.

And look at that - a few seconds after taking the above photo, this kid comes around a corner from nowhere. Max speed through here - 20km/h.

This particular path leads to a playground, which was covered in sprogletts on bikes, scooters and foot today.

See the kid in the foreground in the brown jumper? Just as I took this photo, his mate came running out from behind that shrub and ran across the path in front of me. Good thing I was down below 15 km/h at that point.

Then there are the really narrow paths with the really young kids.

My speed through here? A max of 9km/h. That's a fast walk, or slow jog.

A bit further out, the path opens up enough so that you could easily drive a car down it at a reasonable clip. However, the path still winds through the shrubbery, so sight lines are limited, and pedestrians with dogs or prams can pop out of a side track at any second. And idiots walk down the middle of the path, instead of keeping to the left.

As this photo shows, the path kinks and merges and does all sorts of wierd things - you just don't want to be fanging it through here.

Although I could have floored it through here and cruised at over 35km/h, I kept a lid on it and went no faster than 25km/h. I was itching to go faster, but I kept my sensible head on.

That's all you have to do.

Greenpeace fails to inspire

I had nothing better to do yesterday than sit in our local mall and watch two Greenpeace "annoyers" try to drum up business from my fellow Five Woggers.

They didn't have much luck.

Last week, Greenpeace was stupid enough to send two feral looking hippies with dirty dreadlocks into Five Wog to try and sign up a few whale hugging members. That went down like a lead balloon - this is the sort of area where it is still reasonably common to see men walking around in suits, with or without a tie, and they aren't going to work. They're just out attending to their daily business. Although this electorate voted strongly Labor at the last election, my gut belief is that most of them are the old style blue collar Labor voters, rather than the basket weaving, middle class, latte drinking teachers that have been wrecking the party of the working class since the late 1960's.

I sat and watched this pair for 10 minutes (sorry about the lousy quality of the photo - I was trying to capture the slogan on the back of their shirts) and they failed to engage with a single pedestrian. I watched people walk right out to the edge of the footpath to avoid them. I saw someone cross the road to avoid them. I laughed as people pulled out mobile phones and made imaginary phone calls.

The classic was the old Italian bloke, who looked like an extra from the Godfather, who was one step away from needing a walking frame and was thus unable to get away from them - he simply started jabbering at them in Italian, asking directions to the supermarket (which was right in front of him), which left them completely lost. Imagine that - sending Irish backpacker annoyers to a suburb where more people speak Italian and Greek on the streets than English.

How's that for cluelessness?

If we were a few suburbs across in Balmain, these two would have been swamped with tilty headed fellow syncophants who would already be Greenpeace members. I reckon you'd be hard pressed to find even a single Greenpeace member in the entire 2046 postcode. The people who live here either grew up in poverty on a farm in Greece or Italy or Yugoslavia, or are one generation removed from that, and they are the type that are not squeamish about killing and gutting chickens and pigs and things like that. Talk to them about being nice to whales and they'll give you a look that signifies that you've been out in the sun too long without a hat.

Wednesday 16 July 2008

I don't want to know that you are a kiwi

I have seen some dopey numberplates in my time, but this one takes the cake.

It's almost bad as advertising the fact that you are a Queenslander.

Motorised idiot on two wheels

It has been some years since I did a motorcycle course, but there are a few things that I will never forget - in fact, I apply them daily when I ride my non-motorised two wheeler.

The first lesson was to always wear gloves. When you go over the handlebars (and I've done that on a motorbike), the first thing you do is stick out your hands. I landed on dirt, which meant I only had to pick a few bits of gravel out of my palms. If you land on bitumen, it is goodbye palms.

Another lesson was to always wear eye protection of some sort - goggles or wrap around glasses. This dope is wearing neither. I've had stuff fly into my eyes when I've been riding a pushbike at 30km/h, and I can tell you, it is really hard to retain control when you can't keep your eyes open because of the crap that is irritating the hell out of them.

The last lesson had to do with footwear. The silly shoes that you can see in this photo do not cut the mustard. They will stay on his feet for about half a second if he drops the bike, and then the road will do nasty things to his feet.

There were many other lessons to be absorbed during that motorbike course, but it's clear that this bloke sailed through it with his ears and eyes welded shut.


Nice view

This is 10 photos stitched into one panoramic view - thanks the wonders of the software that comes free with your average digital camera these days.

I took this from the back door of an upmarket housing development in Canada Bay. I think this is just around the corner from Hen and Chicken Bay (yes, that is an actual name of a water feature around these parts). To live where I was standing when the photo was taken, you'd probably need somewhere around $1.3 million - and I might be conservative in my estimation, since I usually don't look at property when it gets over the 7 figure mark.

The hilarious thing is that I am looking straight across the water at a clutch of low rise Housing Commission estates. I don't know who thought up the bright idea of putting shiftless, drug addled, unemployable criminals and losers onto millions of dollars worth of waterfront property, but my guess is that it was Neville Wran. The buildings certainly date from his era.

Only a lefty could be that stupid.

Tuesday 15 July 2008

Six frangers

The Phanton Franger Dumper has been at it again - my regular rubbish run up and down the street netted a 6th condom this week, this time with a packet. Our street rooter appears to favour a ribbed condom of this variety.

I am going to have to ask the Council to install one of those dog poo plastic bag vending devices in our street so that street rooter can have easy access to a bag to take his wriggler receptacles home with him.

This might give me the excuse though to go and buy an enormous maglite, or perhaps a hand held spot light - the sort that blinds and stuns roos at 50 yards. The fun I could have with that.....

Saturday 12 July 2008

Cyclist vs pedestrian - who is right?

Bystander published a piece this week that generated a reasonable amount of comment. It concerned a cyclist that hit a pedestrian. The pedestrian hit the ground, hit her head and later died.

The article that Bystander quoted from made it sound like the cyclist was a bit of a loon, and was therefore at fault, and seemed to have gotten away with a ridiculously light penalty.

I weighed in and said he should have been charged with manslaughter.

The solicitor for the cyclist came on board a while later and said that the pedestrian was drunk, the cyclist was not riding on the footpath, and he was not a loon.

A lot of the case, and the comments, seemed to hinge on the cyclist yelling, "Move, because I'm not stopping" before he hit her.

Where to start with my comments?

The BBC covered this case, and there is a photo included that shows a cyclist riding on the wrong side of a double white line. It doesn't say whether this is the cyclist in question, but if it is, let me just start by saying he is a bloody idiot for being on the wrong side of a double white line, and a bigger idiot for not wearing a helmet. I don't care whether it is compulsory to wear one or not - coming off your bike can kill you, or leave you as a vegetable. I do not intend to end up as a nuff-nuff.

I have pesonally experienced a great deal of stupidity from my fellow cyclists - in terms of them doing stupid things that have come close to running me off the road in order to avoid a collision. It all comes down to them going too fast for the conditions. I am not referring to the weather - I mean the state of the pavement that you're riding on, the bends and curves and blind spots, the width of whatever bit of road or path that you are riding on, the presence of pedestrians, joggers, dogs, kids on skateboards etc etc etc.

I spend a lot of my time riding on designated bike tracks, which are completely separated from the road and many have a line down the middle to place pedestrians on one side of the path and bikes on the other. None of these paths have the usual warning signs that a motorist would normally see in the course of even the simplest journey - speed limit signs, dangerous curve warnings, merging traffic - all that sort of thing. One of the beauties of a bike path is the lack of intrusive signage, although sometimes they could do with a bit more directional signage (ie, Sydney is thataway). I've had a number of near-crashes where I have gone sailing over a crest or around a bend and found that the path suddenly ends in a brick wall, or a canal, or just dirt and bush. Bike paths are still the wild west of the transport system.

I think the lack of signage is driven by the mentality of road engineers, who could never concieve of a bike travelling at more than say 20km/h. At that speed, you don't need a plethora of warning signs for the unwary - you have plenty of time to spot a hazard and take evasive action. Or stop.

Take this foursome for instance. These are the Volvo drivers of the cycling world. They're all in their 40's - 50's, riding sensible bikes with helmets and hi-vis clothing. I saw them coming down the road behind me, and they rode sensibly on a major two lane arterial. Notice that they've pulled up at the lights behind a car, without snaking through the traffic to the front, and they've bunched up into a tight group.

I drove past them, and they also weren't going that fast. Like I said, Volvo drivers.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is what I like to call the "monkey bikes". They can best be described as a 6 foot tall, 16 year old male on a bike built for a 5 year old. When they ride, their knees come up to their ears, they wobble madly from side to side and they never, ever have a helmet. Their bikes are also bereft of lights, bells, whistles and reflectors, and they tend to like wearing dark, hooded clothing at night, and listening to loud music on an iPod, thus ensuring that they never hear me coming up behind them and yelling "Get out of my way, you can of monkey sputum!"

I was too slow off the mark this morning when I saw one riding north on Kent St in the city. He had no helmet on, and he went through a series of 4 red lights as I watched from the safety of my car, shaking my head in bafflement at his stupidity. I will not weep if one of his ilk goes under a bus one day.

On the other hand, if someone like that flattened a pedestrian that was crossing with the green light, I'd throw the book at them. I'd throw the book at them for going through that many red lights in a row. There's just no excuse.

Then there are the lycra clad roadies - people like me (or people generally a lot thinner than me) who ride very expensive carbon fibre bikes at warp speed. I don't quite make it to warp 1, as the engines are a bit long in the tooth, but there is a long, flat and open bit of bike path around They Bay where I can wind it up to 50km/h and maintain that speed, pacing the cars on the road beside me that are stuck with a 50km/h speed limit. If there is a good tail wind, I can outrun them.

I can do that for about 1km, then my lungs tend to turn into sandpaper and I have to pull over and rest for an hour in the shade.

My point there is that bikes can go quite fast if necessary. I did a calculation once and found that at my weight and speed, if I hit a pedestrian at 40km/h, it would be the equivalent of the 119kg Jonah Lomu flattening Mike Catt at the 1995 Rugby world cup.


I think that would hurt. This is one reason why I get so annoyed at pedestrians who don't have the brains or courtesy to stay in the pedestrian lane when there is a bike path and pedestrian path side by side.

What I am trying to get at is that you have to ride to the conditions. When the road is wide open and free of pedestrians and obstructions and blind spots, open up the taps by all means and hit warp 10.

But there are other bike paths that I ride on where the path winds through the trees, where the path is too narrow for two fast moving bikes to pass safely, where there are many blind spots and sharp curves, and where the path goes past tennis courts and playgrounds and toilet blocks that block your view of oncoming traffic. I just know from experience that if you are going past a playground, there is a near certain chance that a kid will kick a ball across the path in front of you, and another young kid will chase it without looking. When I see kids, I slow down. I put on my sensible head, and pull the throttle way, way back. I'll slow down to the point where I am starting to wobble, and a jogger could pass me. I never, ever want to knock a kid down.

I even get right the way out of the way of little kids on bikes, because one was so dumbstruck at seeing me one day, he fell right off his bike, landed with a thud on the pavement and started howling. I had to stop and pick him up as his Mum was walking miles behind him.

Riding out of the city on Friday night also means taking it easy. The streets are full of pedestrians rushing for the bus or train, dashing across busy roads without so much as a glance at the traffic. Or idiot businessmen in suits with a Blackberry glued to one ear. Or drunken men in suits staggering out onto the road to flag down a taxi. You just have to take it easy. I'd love to be able to ride without holding the handlebars, so I could wield a foam light sabre double handed and whack all these silly bastards in the face as I went past, but I can't, so they will have to remain un-whacked, and I will have to continue to ride sedately until I am clear of the drunks, bus-rushers and blind Blackberry blatherers.

And yes, I have yelled the equivalent of "Move, because I'm not stopping", but only because I have had a mad bus driver or taxi or Subaru WRX up my arse, and I was not risking being cleaned up from behind because I had to make an emergency stop to avoid some idiot that crossed against the lights.

I think a lot of cyclists don't stop or slow down when they should because of the whole issue of momentum. Cycling can be all about momentum - at least once you start to get up to a certain level of speed. Getting up the next hill can be all about building as much momentum before you hit the slope. There is nothing worse than slogging up a hill at a steady pace and then having to brake for some reason - getting moving again can be agony. Most cyclists don't want to lose their momentum, so they keep going when they shouldn't, or they go faster than they should, given the conditions. I've certainly blasted down many a hill at 60km/h in order to have enough momentum to give me an easier climb up the next one. Or to give me so much momentum, I don't have to pedal at all for 500m once I hit the flat at the bottom of the hill.

However, I ride partly for fitness, and I long ago worked out that getting moving requires a lot of energy expenditure, so stopping at red lights and stop signs, and slowing down when things get risky, is a great way to burn more energy. I look upon the road rules as providing me with an excuse to do interval training. Once I made that psychological jump, obeying the rules became a snap. I am happy to dump all my momentum if it means obeying the law.

The thing is, most cyclists don't think that way. They want to get from A to B with the minimum level of effort, so they are manic about building and keeping momentum, which means doing stupid, stupid things all the time.

In the case of this cyclist killing the pedestrian, I would have ridden the route that the cyclist took and tried to determine his "momentum state". Fighter pilots would use the term "energy state" - trading height for speed etc. If he was cycling into a dip between two hills, and he hit the pedestrian on the downward slope or the flat bit, then he may well have decided to trade safety for energy. That is a concious choice that one makes, and that's why I'd charge him with manslaughter. As much as I like my momentum, hanging onto it does not justify hitting people, no matter how drunk and stupid they are.

Friday 11 July 2008

Carbon tax rates vs tax raised

I will start by saying that I have not read the Garnaut report. The following is based on an interview with Garnaut that I heard on JJJ. He said something like:

"If you set the tax rate at $10 per tonne, you'll raise $4 billion in taxes. If you double the rate to $20 per tonne, you raise $8 billion in taxes".

Now it has been 20 years since I studied Economics, but even to a dim, lazy, C+ student like me, that sounds like economic illiteracy.

I am not going to wade through the report searching for a correction, because all I care about is what Garnaut is telling the public. If he is spouting bullshit on the radio, he deserves to be called on it.

I put together the following 2 graphs using made up numbers, but they serve to illustrate a point about how the output of CO2 should decline as the tax rate increases. I pulled these numbers out of my backside - economic modellers are paid lots of money to run these sorts of models on a supercomputer, using lots of numbers pulled from their backsides.

In the spirit of openness, I am publishing my model so that others can review it, modify it and use it as they wish, and also debate the underlying numbers and assumptions. Here it is, in all its glory.

The statement made by Garnaut had to assume that emissions stay the same as the tax rate increases. In this case, I have assumed 100,000 tonnes of emissions per year to make the maths as simple as possible. If you double the tax rate from $10 to $20, the only way the total tax take can double is if emissions fail to decline by even one tonne. (You can pull out a calculator and prove this for yourself if you like).

I have extrapolated that here to show what the tax take would be like up to a carbon tax of $60 per tonne. Treasury would love it if this was how the real world functioned.

Which of course, it doesn't.

Simple Economics 100 (not 101) teaches us that as the price of something increases, demand decreases. (It also teaches us that there are some strange goods out there were demand increases as the price goes up. I can't remember what the term is for them, but think of Tiffany diamonds. No one wants a cheap one - call them status goods if you like).

Once again, I have pulled a set of numbers out of my backside to demonstrate that as the tax rate increases, demand (or emissions in this case) can behave in such a way that the total tax take starts to fall at some point. In my model, the total tax take peaks at $30 and then starts to decline when it hits $50, because emitting has become so expensive that output falls faster than the tax rate increases.

This sort of modelling is supposedly done by companies so that they can set the optimum price for their products. Charge too little for that hamburger, and you won't maximise your income. Charge too much for that hamburger, and total sales will fall. If I remember my Economics, the Laffer Curve described what happens when income taxes get too high - everyone shoots through to the Carribean, and the total tax take falls.

My point here is that using numbers extracted from my bottom, as the tax rises from $10 to $20, emissions fall from 100,000 tonnes to 95,000 tonnes, so the tax take goes from $1,000,000 to $1,900,000 - not quite doubling. The next increase to $30 causes emissions to drop to 80,000 tonnes, so the tax take goes up to $2.4 million. An increase in the tax rate of 50% (going from $20 to $30 a tonne is a 50% increase in the tax rate) increases the tax take by only 26%. Not 50%. The total tax take is not increasing at the same speed as the increase in the rate, because emissions are falling.

This is supposedly what happens in the real world when rational people make rational decisions. If something gets more expensive, a rational person consumes less of it, or switches to a close alternative (or substitute - all my Economic theory is starting to come back from the dark depths of my brain). If you don't understand that point, you have no conception of how the economy works.

This is also the rational that was used to justify the increase in the tax on alcopops. Remember that? Increasing the price was supposed to reduce consumption, thus reducing binge drinking. A higher price is designed to reduce consumption. Green taxes on fuel are touted as a way to reduce consumption. Higher interest rates reduces the consumption of home loans. Congestion pricing is supposed to make people drive less, thus reducing consumption.

But in Garnaut's world, increasing the tax rate has no effect on CO2 emissions. If that is the case, what is the point of a carbon tax at all?

Wednesday 9 July 2008

MG-350 HD MediaGate review update

After a few more hours of messing around with our TV and the sound system, I finally got the MediaGate hooked up satisfactorily. That involved much messing around with cables, and a bit of trial and error with the screen sizing and resolution settings. This is not a particularly intuitive gadget.

I bought a software package from for ripping the DVD collection. It's an easy to use package, but it refuses to allow me to rip a DivX avi image. It gets about 2 minutes through the DVD and goes up like Hiroshima. I tried ripping to a wmv format, which works, but then the gadget refuses to play that particular format.

In the end, I had to do a trial rip using about 20 combinations of settings to see:

a). whether the software could actually rip a DVD with a particular group of settings, and
b). whether the gadget would then play the image.

I have settled on using an iPod format rip, which might look great on a dinky little iPod screen, but it's not the best when viewed at 80cm across. Until I can sort out this software problem, it will have to do.

I have been able to copy about 25gb of stuff to the gadget using the USB interface. At least that is fast and easy to use. When a movie is played off the hard drive, it seems to work quite well. When I try and stream it wirelessly from my PC, it has a tendency to hang, then play the next section at quadruple speed as it bizarely tries to catch up. It might work better with Ethernet cables and a good network switch, but I am not going to be laying any cables in order to test that theory.

The verdict so far is that it is a bit disappointing, but has great potential. The beauty of a unit like this is that it is easy to release and install updates. If the company that builds them is on the ball, it could be so much better by this time next year if they keep on working on the bugs.

I would recommend it only for the very technically adept.