Sunday 31 July 2011

Just how many members does GetUp! have?

Ever wanted to find out more about GetUp!? If so, they don't make it easy. The first place I normally go when I want to know something about an organisation is their annual report.

It took a bit to find their annual reports - Google is your friend in the end.

Although the front page of their web site says they are a "movement of 579,343 Australians", the most recent annual report with published numbers is from 2008/09. Page 2 of that report says that as of July 1, 2009 they had 312,875 members.

Frankly, I'm amazed that for an organisation that is so big on disclosure that they haven't put out their 2009/10 annual report yet - and I would have thought that their 2010/11 report couldn't be very far away either.

If you ask me, if you want to be counted as a member of something, you have to pay to join. GetUp! is being sneaky in saying that they have 312,875 members - in 2008/09, only 17,295 individuals actually paid GetUp! money. Many of them must have given a few times, as there were 31,095 donations in total. $96 per donor, of $53 per donation on average.

What they'd be more correct is to say that they have 312,875 on their mailing list (collected over a variety of campaigns), and 17,295 "members".

But that's just me.

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Unintended consequences

Preventative medicine is all the rage these days - how to save lives (and money) by avoiding illness and injury through better diet, behaviour and exercise.

Lots of middle aged blokes are being told to exercise more by their quacks to avoid heart attacks etc. Since their knees are shot and their feet hurt, they take up cycling.

I'm sure lots of policy analyst type boffins ran lots of numbers before this sort of advice was pushed by government to show this would save the health budget a squillion dollars per year.

Just one problem. Those middle aged blokes are now being knocked off, or are falling off their bikes, in record numbers. Emergency admissions for this group have skyrocketed.

I wonder if the boffins ever thought about that little problem when they were doing their predictions of how much money would be saved? It might be cheaper to tell the unfit, fat old farts to go back to eating hamburgers, smoking and then dying quietly in their comfy recliners in front of the TV.

Tuesday 26 July 2011

A very hard man to stop

I've just read part of the manifesto of the Norway killer, Anders Behring Breivik. If this thing is the real deal, then the cold logical part of me says this - I doubt anyone could have stopped him.

This was not a flash in the pan - he started planning this in 2002. Nine years in the making.

He was native born, and was careful to not bring himself to the attention of the authorities.

He managed to conceal his thoughts, motives and travel plans from all his closest friends and family. No one had a clue. He was very disciplined. There were no leaks.

He's obviously educated and quite smart. Mad, but bright. He's Norwegian, and the manifesto is written in better English than most native English speakers could manage.

He had his own money - hundreds of thousands of Euros. It appears to have been made legitimately, so there are no connection to criminal activities like drug running or bank robbery; and no connections to foreign sources either like charities or foreign governments.

He developed a lot of very sound cover stories - which all held up.

His information management was good. He was meticulous and careful.

He trained and prepared for his mission.

He was the perfect sleeper in a lot of ways. It would have been very hard for any intelligence agency or Police force to have picked him up in advance - they'd have to get lucky, and it appears he didn't slip up - ever.

And he was also a stone-cold killer. How anyone could walk around for 90 minutes shooting kids is beyond me.

I can see his motive too, which many appear to have missed. He's angry about Muslim immigration (amongst other things), and he blames the Labour Party for that. His motive was to punish the Labour Party and its supporters and members in the nastiest possible way. The kids at that camp would be the kids of committed Labour Party members - perhaps even of serving MPs and party officials. He's slugged them where it hurts the most - through their children. You'd have to be a bastard of the first order to think that one up. I guess he's tried to eliminate the next generation of the Labour Party, hoping that if he can wreck the party, it will remove support for immigration from parliament. That's a cold and ruthless way to steer the political process - eliminate my enemies so they can't vote for things I hate.

I know it's the done thing to describe this guy as a madman, but clearly he wasn't mad. He was bright, thoughtful, resourceful, meticulous and consistent - not the normal signs of someone who is nuts.

Our saving grace is that western societies don't throw these sorts of people up very often. They're either ideologically motivated and stupid and careless, or ideological and don't have the guts to go through with it. It's rare to find someone in the west with the combination of being ideologically motivated, smart and with the balls to go all that way. And yes, it would take balls. He would have been resigned to either dying, or spending the rest of his life in prison. That's enough to stop most people from committing violent acts. His life is over, and he consciously made that decision. He might be a completely repellent bastard, but if we fail to think about what he's done, how and why then we are doomed to suffer a repeat.

Friday 22 July 2011


When I was riding home the other day, I looked up and thought I saw the driver of the courier van in front of me toss a 3/4 eaten burger (complete with wrapper) out of his window onto the road. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me - I wasn't really sure if I saw what I saw, so I wasn't going to risk picking it up, riding alongside and dumping it back in his lap. Just in case.

Maybe I'm being too cautious about this littering thing.

I was sitting around outside a supermarket tonight, wasting a bit of time, when a woman went past and dropped a bit of rubbish. I was brain dead after a long day at work, and didn't react very quickly. It was only when she was almost out of the shops that I realised she had dropped her parking ticket. The lost ticket fee at that place is 40 bucks. Ah well - that'll learn her.

Thursday 21 July 2011

Wind farms - claims vs reality

The PM opened a new wind farm this week. Depending on who you believe, it will supply the equivalent of either 23,000 homes or 30,000 homes. What's the story?

There's a very useful site called Wind Farm Performance that details how much power Australia's wind farms actually produce. Let's have a look at the claims of the spruikers.

Pacific Hydro for instance have 13 wind farms in operation or development. On the Pacific Hydro website, each project has a page that shows total capacity and the number of homes that it can supply with "clean power".

For instance, Challicum Hills opened in 2003 and has a claimed capacity of 52.5MW - enough to power 23,000 homes each year. This is based on average household usage of 6MWh per year (although I have seen 8MWh quoted for NSW). On average, it is supposed to produce 141GWH per year.

According to the Wind Farm Performance website, which draws its data from AEMO, the capacity factor for Challicum Hills in 2010 was 27.1%. That is, instead of producing 52.5MW as claimed, it only put out an average of 14.2MW.

Challicum Hills performance 20 July 2011
The above graphs show how Challicum Hills has performed over the last 24 hours - it's been pretty good at around 50%.

At an average capacity factor of 27.1%, this farm would have produced about 124GWh last year - not enough to power 23,000 homes. At 6000MWh per household, they'd consume about 138GWh. If you take the NSW figure of 8000MWh per household, they'd need 184GWh per year - a large shortfall.

Clements Gap opened in 2010. Claimed capacity is 56.7MW, supplying up to 30,000 homes. This is odd, as in Victoria, 52.5MW is claimed to supply up to 23,000 homes. I guess it all depends on what figure you pick as the average usage per household - 5.3MWh, 6MWh or 8MWh.

In 2010, the Clements Gap average capacity factor was 32.1%.

It didn't produce anything from about noon to 8pm yesterday.

Clements Gap
So let's calculate how much power Clements Gap would have produced in 2010. 24 hours x 365 days x 56.7MW x 32.1% capacity factor = 159GWh. Dividing that by 30,000 homes gives an average of 5.3MWh per household per year. That's oddly less than the average of 6MWh quoted for Victoria and 8MWh quoted for NSW. Hmm.

Codrington. 18.2MW. Generates 49GWh per annum. No statement regarding how many homes it would serve. It doesn't appear on Wind Farm Performance, so who knows how it's going.

Portland (Yambuk). 30MW capacity, 100GWH per annum. The page for this site states that its numbers are based on average household usage of 5.3MWh per year, but it doesn't say how many homes it could supply.

Average capacity factor for 2010 was 34.3%.

Portland (Cape Bridgewater). 58MW, 195GWh pa, no statement on how many houses it could supply and its average capacity factor is lumped in with Yambuk to give 34.3%.

All I can say is that the numbers are all over the place like a mad woman's breakfast.

How to drown a camera

Bad case of bum spray

I've killed two Canon Ixux cameras in the last six years - all through horrible abuse at either my hands or the kids. I thought the third one had kicked the bucket today.

It's been pouring down in Sydney for the last few days. I think we got 4 inches in the last 24 hours in our area. It certainly feels like it - the lawns are swamps, the road side gutters everywhere are overflowing and the canals are running fast with run off. Every time I rode through a gutter, I had that icky feeling of cold water running over one of my feet - that's how deep the water can get.

I've been happy to wear a spray jacket on my rides, as it isn't that cold - it was 12-15 degrees today, so wearing a heavy jacket would have me soaked with sweat from the inside.

Although the spray jacket is pretty water resistant, it seems the pocket that I keep the camera in isn't. Or my saturated glove squeezed a bucket of water into the camera when I took each photo. When I got home, the camera looked a little "fogged", a little light was blinking orange and it refused to start up.

Remedy - undo six fiddly little screws, put the "shoe tray" in the dryer and put the open camera in there for an hour. That seems to have done the trick - for now. We'll see if it's still working in the morning.

Good thing I have two more of them if it isn't.

Wednesday 20 July 2011

Wednesday photos

Two drowned rats
Today was a really bloody miserable day to be on a bike in some respects -  there's nothing like waking up before dawn and hearing the rain pounding on the roof and the wind beating against the walls, knowing that you will soon be out in that with nothing but a few bits of lycra and goretex between you and the elements.

It's always tempting to delay the start time until after the sun comes up, because somehow, riding in the rain in the dark is worse than just riding in the rain. It's a hump that I have to get over, and I don't always get over it every morning. I managed that today though.

Why not take the bus?

Well, I arrived at work like a drowned rat, but was in a hot shower a minute later, and in dry clothes not long after that. As I sat at my desk, I watched a conga line of soaked colleagues wandering in, all dressed in damp suits and shirts crumpled by the rain. They looked miserable. I was happy. I hate - absolutely hate - getting wet in a suit. There's just something so wrong about it.

It wasn't an easy ride though. Coming over the ANZAC bridge was a bitch - the wind was howling from the right, and that meant the rain was blasting in at 45 degrees. That side of my face was totally hammered by the pelting rain - I thought it was hailing at one point, because it hurt so much. I was riding with one eye closed, as I couldn't open it on that side due to the velocity of the rain. The wind was nasty to ride into - I'm shattered from the effort. I had to keep my distance from parked cars as well, because the gusts from the side were knocking me around so much.

Still, at least my suit didn't get wet.

Tuesday 19 July 2011

Tuesday photos

I'm sitting in my home office, listening to the rain lashing against the wall outside, and thinking how thankful I am that I got away just before the bad weather really hit. It drizzled all the way home, so I didn't bother getting the camera out for any homeward shots. There was just enough cloud cover around this morning to make for some lovely sunrise photos.

I've mixed up the bike and scenery photos so you don't get bored with one or the other. Don;t know how this guy was riding with bare legs - it was barely 7 degrees!

More bare legs - I reckon my hairy legs would be growing icicles if I rode about uncovered on a day like today.

I generally see the same people walking most mornings - the wild-haired ranga with the hand weights, the two old Italian dudes who chat for the entire 7km circuit, the guy who wears a white singlet no matter what the weather.

There's a pelican somewhere in one of these photos - I can't seem to find it though.

Bloody hell, dawn is a good time to be alive. The sleepy heads still in bed don't know what they're missing out on.

Words fail me

Letter in the SMH today:

Moderate liberals need to stand up now
The great moral challenge of our time rests with the moderate small ''l'' liberals of the federal coalition, parliamentarians, members and supporters; those who believe in a Greiner/Baillieu type of liberalism. The current lurch to the loony right under the brains trust of Abbott, Alan Jones, Angry Anderson and the flat earthers will irrevocably change the party and politics in this country. While the short-term electoral benefit of fanatical support from the US Tea Party-allied Murdoch press and the commercial shock jocks may be appealing, the medium-term result will be a party marginalised on the fringes of politics. The moderate Republicans in the US are all too aware of the threat posed to conservative ''liberal'' parties from their own right flank. The much-maligned rural independents appreciated this situation and despite their own historical political leaning had too much integrity to follow the dog whistle.
Lou Collier Surry Hills
I don't know what they're putting in the tea in Surry Hills, but it must be pretty strong.

I love letters like this in the SMH - I really do. It's good to see just how out of touch some inner-city types really are.

Monday 18 July 2011

Monday photos

Make up your own captions - I can't be bothered.

Friday 15 July 2011

Friday photos

Friday - grey, murky and then wet. And windy. Not even a pleasant day for ducks. At least it was "warm" - a toasty 8 degrees. That was until the rain started coming in sideways on the way home.

About the only people I saw riding for "pleasure" today.

Like I said, it turned wet and miserable after lunch.

Nice accessory. Don't know how the umbrella would hold up though at 60km/h.

Poor bastard - changing a flat tyre in the pouring rain. At least I was dressed for the rain and mentally prepared to spend all afternoon in it.

Thursday 14 July 2011

Solar costs

On Monday, I looked at the costs of installing a 5kw solar system and an 84MW system. What I didn't get around to calculating was a lifetime cost per kw/h. After all, my current power bill is based on how many kilowatt hours we consume each quarter, and we currently pay about 19 cents per kw/h.

kw/h per month in Sydney with 5kw solar system

I did a calculation based on the above graph of actual results and determined that a 5kw system will generate an average of 679kw/h per month, or 8148kw/h per year. That gives it an average efficiency of 18.8%. ie, the nameplate capacity is 5kw, but you only get 18.8% of that over the course of the year due to things like night time, cloud cover and the lower angle of the sun in winter.

Let's assume this installation lasts for 30 years (the warranty goes for 25) and that there are no importation or installation costs and no maintenance costs over the life of the unit. There are also no financing costs (ie, interest on the money you borrowed to buy it). Those are all unrealistic assumptions, but they provide a base cost.

You can currently buy a 5kw system in China for $US49,260 - let's make that $AUS50,000 for ease of calculations.

We know our system will produce 8148 kw/h per year, or 244,440 kw/h over 30 years (and I'm also assuming that the panels don't degrade and lose efficiency - which they do in reality).

If we divide $50,000 by 244,440 kw/h, we get an average price of 20.4 cents per kw/h. That's not much more than what I'm paying now.

So on those numbers, you'd think, "Hey, solar is price competitive!"

Not so fast. Like I said, I assumed away lots of costs and also assumed no drop in efficiency. The brochure for a good panel that I looked at specifically tells you that efficiency degrades by about 0.8% each year, so that after 25 years, you've lost 20% of your original capacity.

If we assume a 0.8% degradation in performance each year, then our 30 year total output drops to 218,000 kw/h. That puts the price up slightly to 22.9 cents - still in the ball park.

Now, if solar is this competitive with coal and gas, why was the solar feed-in tariff in NSW set at such ridiculous levels (60 cents I think)?

Let's assume no installation, importation or maintenance costs, but assume that you had to take out a mortgage to buy the system. Using the Westpac mortgage calculator and an interest rate of 7.86% on a 30 year loan, we get monthly repayments of $363. Over 30 years, that comes to a total of $130,680.

Now if we do our kw/h costing again, we find that the cost per kw/h is now 59.9 cents. Of course this cost drops if you go with a shorter repayment period. If you can pay it off in 10 years, the monthly repayments are $603, giving a total cost of $72,360, or a cost per kw/h of 33 cents.

I don't know what the installation and importation costs are, but I'm guessing those will set you back at least $10,000. You can run the numbers any way you like - it's still significantly more expensive than what we're paying now.

And the big kicker here is this - where does your power come from when the sun goes down? If you are 100% reliant on solar, you also need to buy storage capacity and install it, and that also means buying replacement batteries every few years. When you factor that in, the cost explodes.

Here's what annoys me about the Carbon Tax - it's claimed the tax will make renewables "more competitive". That's crap use of the English language. What it will do is make non-renewables less competitive. In racing terms, it's a handicap placed on the best performer to make the poor performers look good.

One reason I don't mind Bjorn Lomburg is that he proposes a massive R&D program to truly make renewables "more competitive". By that, he means investing in research that will bring the manufacturing and installation and running costs of renewables down to match that of coal and gas. Reducing the manufacturing cost of a 5kw system from $49,260 to say $20,000 through better wafer production techniques or the substitution of cheaper input materials etc will make solar "more competitive". Everything the government is doing at the moment is designed at making good energy production systems less competitive. If you want to win a team event (like a relay), you don't win by slowing down your fastest runners. You win by boosting the speed of your slowest runners.

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Wednesday photos

ANZAC Bridge, from underneath
As you can see from the above photo, Sydney is now covered in clouds, and likely to be so for another week. Instead of freezing this morning at 6 degrees, it was 10 degrees and positively balmy.

Very retro and very cool. And very pale blue.
Although its "warmed up" a bit thanks to the cloud cover, I saw quite a few cyclists zipping around with hoodies on under their helmets. I took plenty of photos today, but the computer has eaten most of them - a first. They've just gorn.

Anyway, the hoodies. I hate them as they block your side vision and you can't hear what's coming up behind you. I gave this woman a bit of a shock when I went past - she had no idea I was there until I was past her front wheel.
Even though it's freezing, there's still a line up at the lights

Bike bus?
I've read about bike buses, and I think I've seen one, but I've never joined one. They're a good way for novices to learn how to ride into town. The idea is that the bus has a leader who picks other riders up at certain pre-designated points and times, and everyone cycles in as a tight pack - or a "bus". You get safety in numbers, and don't have to worry about navigating.

Where can I get leg warmers like that?
How do you think my legs would look in red?

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Tuesday photos

The Bay. With sunrise. Obviously.
No pelicans this morning. Not many people about either - it was 6 degrees again. Although I had the long fingered gloves on, with fingers were frozen. I've bought a new pair of gloves - they're much grippier than the last pair, but they're also a lot thinner (as I discovered this morning). Brr.
A hill. With six cyclists struggling up it. Can you find them?
It was still quite dark when I got to this hill. The wonders of post-production editing have allowed me to make it light enough for you to see the road. There was just enough light that when I looked properly, I could see six bikes in front of me on the hill. Up until then, I thought I was the only one on the road.
Boats. And more boats.

Cruising over the Pyrmont Bridge before the pedestrian traffic chokes it.

Bridge for sale.
I took the long way home, going north on George St to The Rocks and then heading under the Harbour Bridge. Beautiful day for it.
Harbour bridge approach on the southern side
Everyone always photographs the bridge, but no the approaches - which are much longer than the bridge itself.
More of the harbour bridge approaches
See the bottom horizontal girder that sits on the bridge supports? If you ever do the Bridge Climb, you walk along that girder in order to get to the bridge proper. For me, that was the scariest part of the climb. There's a whole lot of nothing below you.

Rock. On car. Face. On rock.
I haven't been down this way in months. Someone has painted a face on this artistic rock. Is it art?

Roxy chick. Very groovy.
Definitely not the lycra brigade.
And now the bridge is behind me
An over the shoulder photo as I was heading away from the bridge. Point, click and pray.
Struggling home. Slowly.
This guy was so slow, he made me look good.