Thursday, December 18, 2008

Emissions trading

You all knew this was coming. It was inevitable. It's the Midga response to Penny Wong's emissions trading idea. Now I've only just got up and not eaten anything yet today (it's my day off, I can spend it in bed if I want) so my brain isn't feeling too good - therefore this will be a goonish response not a 100% serious one.

First, a disclaimer which will come as a relief to all of you - I'm not going to tackle the whole thing of climate change. I want people to reply to my blog, but I don't want it that badly. I'm going to assume that Wudd and Rong want the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere reduced and take it from there.

Ullo ullo - what's goin' on here den?


OK, I'll clear off then.

He's gone! Heeeee'''''sssss - goooooooonne! To cover the silence, I will tell a little jokule! Penny Wong is the Ministrer for Climate Change - so why doesn't she change it faster? Ehee! Pauses for audience applause, not a sosinge. Thinks: if I'd told the joke about Sabrina they would have applauded.

Bluebottle you little devil, stop that naughty thinks! You're too young for that sort of thing!

Thinks: that's what you think!

[jelly splosh in face]

Ehee! You have splashed me in the face and wetted my shirt all the way down the legs! Exits left to change shirt. Remembers second jokule and comes back. Laddies and gennerplums, what is emissions trading? It's when I misser Seagoon gives me his cigarette smoke and I give him my [BLEEEEP] Ties self to mast, waits for 50 lashes. Mr Greenslade, you have bleeped me! Can't I say [BLEEEEP] on the BBC? Well how about Methane? Ladies and gennlemens, Seagoon gives me his cigarette smoke and I give him my methane! Still not a sosinge. Exits left to buy record of applause.

That was the Goon Show, a BBC recorded programme, ...

Ahem, I'll be a bit more serious now.

1. Will emissions trading reduce carbon emissions?
I guess this is the most important point. Effectively "emissions trading" really means "emissions tax" - every industry that makes emissions will be made to pay up. Companies that abate the carbon they produce (usually by planting trees) will of course pay a negative tax. The rest of the kitty will be spent by the government on things it feels are strategically important - research into environmentally friendly technology, rebates for Working Families who put solar panels on their roof, sweeteners to car manufacturers who build low emission vehicles in Australia, and of course keeping Penny and her department in superannuation.

And of course to save the WFs from having to pay the passed on costs, Kevin Claus is going to give rebates on things that are thought of as essential like petrol and electricity. If you're finding it confusing at the moment, so am I, it looks like we're all going to have to become environmental economists before we can understand what goes on.

But in its simplest form, the idea is to make people's hip pockets (a very sensitive part of the anatomy) feel the pain that they inflict on the atmosphere. Sounds all well and good. But will it work? Andrew Bolt (whatever you might think of him, he does come up with some good ideas) wrote one of his columns on that very thing. 30c/l price increase on petrol was the idea at the time. It will save our children's children, said Kev. But hey, said Andrew - we've just had a 30c/l increase in the last two months due to the price of a barrel of oil! Has it cut consumption all that much? No, it's just created more hot air from people talking about it (to say nothing of the environmental destruction of a Senate Enquiry printing millions of copies of their findings on paper that a tree died for).

However, and this is where I will very briefly allow my other life to enter my blog, we did notice that public transport patronage went through the roof at the time - a 30% increase in patronage I think was the figure quoted. But a 30% increase from a base of an 11% market share doesn't equate to much really. Did anyone notice freeways getting emptier? Nor I.

OK life, that's your lot, now get out. [SLAM] Insert a Greenslade quote involving listeners with a degree in higher mathematics.

So the question was, will it work: NO. Midga 1, Rudd-Wong, 0.

2. Will it have harmful side-effects?
Will it ever! Let's see if we can brainstorm a few...

1. Rorting - can anyone imagine a savvy company with an eye for a dollar or three and no conscience? Funny, so can I. Can anyone name ten in one breath without stopping to think? Yes, quite. Now imagine this hypothetical company making press releases about becoming carbon neutral by planting trees on public land. And claiming its carbon credits of course. A tree will absorb a tonne of CO2 over its life - I know that because I read it on the internet. It was in the Google snippet in fact. Actually opening the link would have told me it takes 100 years to get to a full tonne but let that pass. This hypothetical company is planting 200 trees a year which means they can claim to have abated 200 tonnes of CO2. OK, that was fun and we paid on average $1000 a year more for the planting than we would have spent on carbon tax, but we probably made that up in goodwill with our press release. Good times.

In five years we'll have used up all our available land, so we'll call in an environmentally friendly logging company to cut down those trees and make woodchips for export. Then we get to go round again! Anyone notice a problem here? I don't think Penny's Department for Climate Change will be checking up on every single company that's claimed carbon abatement to make sure they actually do it.

Midga 2, Rudd-Wong 0.

2. Apathy - can anyone imagine people just paying up instead of making efforts to reduce their carbon emissions? The pattern is fairly clear. Australians don't economise until it becomes absolutely necessary (and usually not even then). When prices go up sharply they whinge, and some might try cheaper alternatives for a while. But like a frog in a pot, they get used to it after a while and just pay anyway.

Look at the price of coffee in the 70s - there was a shortage, the price went way up, people paid it anyway. (After the shortage finished the price just stayed up, of course. No good business misses an opportunity like that.) And petrol in the last year or two, as I said above. And what about Council rates, they go up by massive percentages but people don't move to Dandenong South just because it's cheaper there.

Midga 3, Rudd-Wong 0.

3. Overheads - has anyone factored in the energy usage that would be required for all this carbon abatement? I'm guessing tractors will be used to look after the trees. Will they be plug-in hybrids connected to dedicated wind power plants? I don't think so. Do solar panels use silicone? It's made by melting sand in a very hot kiln. Will the solar panel manufacturing company's carbon emissions be treated the same as everyone else's, or will they get special grants because they're innovative? Truth be told, the energy required to make a solar panel is still greater than its output over its entire life. That fact isn't repeated often, it's politically incorrect.

Midga 4, Rudd-Wong 0.

An alternative
Just let it get hotter! What's the prediction, 2C by 2050? That means for every day in 2008 that's 16C (cold enough that I'll stay inside and play computer games) it will be 18C in 2050 (warm enough that I'll go outside and pick some of the nectarines off the tree before they go rotten). So the polar ice caps will melt and the sea will rise by six inches? That will drown the ants! Every island with a beach that slopes at 20 degrees will lose (fires up calculator and works out the sine of 20 degrees) 18 inches of their land, and everyone who lives within 18 inches of the high water mark will lose their home! But let's not stop there - everyone who suffers from fever during the hot summer will die because their body temperature will be 2C higher than it used to be! Fever happens more than pneumonia doesn't it? And people will use their air conditioners more often, leading to spiralling increases in heat and energy usage, and the planet will rock off its orbit and dive into the sun!


Well how about just creating huge tracts of land somewhere in the middle of the Simpson Desert for the dual purpose of sucking carbon out of the atmosphere and desalinating water, like I put in my last post?

Midga 5, Rudd-Wong 0. There's something to be said for water on the brain.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Apology to blondes

Today we honour the fair haired peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were the subject of "blonde jokes" – this blemished sector in our nation’s humour.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have failed to prevent inflicting profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the sale of hair colouring products to minors, alienating blonde children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Dyed Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parody writers of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this Parody writer resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, fair and dark-haired, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their looks, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

Signed: the Prime Midga Mr Ruddiculous

Monday, December 1, 2008

Water, water everywhere, but never a drop to drink

We've finished with psychology and we're back to politics. Ladies and gentlemen, this song is called Rattler, or, how a high school dropout with water on the brain can out-think the best political brain in Spring Street.

In case any of you don't believe me, yes, I did drop out of high school after about Grade 14. It was university level education by Australian education standards but we homeschoolers call it high school because we have high expectations. As for the water on the brain - that's metaphorical, not physical. I've had a fascination with dihydrogen monoxide since the age of four.

Now as we all know, Mr Brumby has achieved quite an amount of publicity for his proposed solutions for Melbourne's coming water crisis. All publicity is good publicity isn't it mon Premier? Ah well, better luck next time.

The letters sections of the newspapers are ringing to the sound of people offering solutions - and the criticisms of the solutions offered. Great fun reading.

Let's go back a few steps and look at the situation in detail.

Back in the 70s the Cardinia reservoir was built, and the government of the day promised that Melbourne would never need to have water restrictions again. That idea lasted until very recently (30 years, not bad for a political promise!).

So suddenly water becomes a hot topic (no puns please) and the government Must Do Something About It.

I know, says Mr Brumby, the Goulburn is in flood this week, let's build a pipe to take all that water away from where it's doing damage to where it can be useful! Brilliant thinking sir, but did you know floods recede in less time than it takes to build a pipe?

Well just in case the pipe construction takes longer than we expected, we'll have a desalination plant too. Oh hang on, that takes lots of power. Well we'll bury the carbon!

Talk about thinking aloud without worrying about whether it's a good plan or not...

Let's all go back to primary school. Australia is a dry continent, right? And that's because it gets really hot, right? And because it's hot the water dries up and we need more of it. So let's spend lots of energy heating water to purify it, then cooling it and using it to replace the water the heat dried up.

Anyone else seeing a really big short cut we could take here?

OK, enough politics, down to a bit of just plain water. Here's my ideas for making sure there's plenty of water for the extra million people whose taxes are going to pay for public transport improvements in the next ten years.

1. Wider use of grey water
Grey water can include just about anything - stormwater mixed with leaves and dust from the drains, household waste water (excluding the really nasty stuff - that can still be sewage), water from rivers deemed not clean enough for drinking, etc.

What we can use grey water for is just about anything that doesn't involve human or animal consumption. How many industries need water for cooling? It doesn't have to be guaranteed free from bacteria, it just has to have a high latent heat of vaporisation. And even in the household every toilet flush, every car wash, every floor mop can be done in grey.

For the same cost as a north-south pipeline, how many residential areas could be fitted with grey water pipes? And which would be better for the water supply, really?

2. No half-measures with pipes!
Our good friend in Darwin constantly reminds us that the rain in the wet season is infallible, the lawn grows so fast he has to hose the clippings off his driveway after mowing, and by the time he finishes it's time to mow again. And while we're moving onto Stage 3a water restrictions here there are floods in Queensland and northern NSW.

So let's have a massive network of pipes - not for constant flow like the north-south is supposed to be, but just enough to balance water needs with water supplies. And of course we have a wonderful river system - all we have to do is pump water up to the source of the rivers and let it flow down hill to where it's needed. Hey presto, we have water in the river to keep the lesser carnivorous polkadot bellied Murray trout population alive, AND we can pump the water off in the population areas and drink it (or wash our cars in it)! Two for the price of one!

3. Catch that great steaming monster before it flies away!
Evaporative cooling is quite efficient in terms of energy consumption and mechanical simplicity - but of course it uses water. But it doesn't really "use up" the water - it will be back again, as rain - somewhere.

So why not capture it? Build a nice long steam pipe heading down to an underground condensation tank with a Stirling Engine to pump the steam down and the water up. Free water. Probably drinking quality.

4. Don't be ridiculous
Sorry to have to say it, but rice (for instance), which needs to be grown in a paddy field, is not exactly a suitable crop for the Echuca area. Not without a lot of irrigation anyway. Until we have that network of pipes and a plentiful supply of tropical rainwater, we should be importing our rice. Swap you for some wheat? It's more suited for our climate.

5. Make it rain!
If you get out of your warm bed on a winter morning and go to some of our fringe suburbs where open paddocks, apple orchards and medium density industrial estates share a square mile block (a dying breed I'll admit) you can see that the fog forms on the open ground. Thus, a large body of plant matter will partially sustain itself, by attracting precipitation.

Of course it has to be a large body of greenery to achieve critical mass, but that sort of thing should be possible to organize.

The other thing is to make sure the water doesn't blow away. Open paddocks big enough to swing a combine harvester probably won't hold much. Stick a few lines of trees in to break the wind and watch the grass grow.

6. Free desal!
Roll up, roll up! Yes folks it's absolutely FREE! Just warm your seawater in the heat of the sun and condense the vapours and it's yours gratis and for nothing!

I touched on this above. Why spend energy heating water to purify it so it can be used to replace the water lost to heat? We should be using some of our excess square kilometerage for a sort of greenhouse setup, which can have seawater or bore water introduced, heated in the sun and the vapour captured to make drinkable water.

There was an experimental setup in Queensland which did exactly that, and had a fairly ingenious safety cutout so that it would never let unfiltered water through - if anything went wrong it would fail safe and shut itself down completely. It was even designed to be isolated from maintenance for years on end.

So there you have it. Plenty of ways to manage our water crisis without spending heaps of energy, or robbing Peter to pay Paul, or leaving the fish out to dry. Can I be a consultant and earn a six figure salary now?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Define: "Busy People"

This is something that has massive significance in my life, so I assume you're all interested to hear about it.

There are two kinds of people, Ghandi was told by his father: the people who do the work, and the people who get the credit for it. Try to be in the first group my son, said Ghandi Senior - there's less competition there.

Half a globe and several decades away in Australia today the same concept is true. There are Busy People and the rest. It's a well known concept that if you want something done right you need to ask a Busy Person, so here are some helpful tips for finding them.

First, a brief definition.

The rest spend their mornings in bed, their day time at work earning a living, their afternoons stuck in traffic listening to the radio, and their evenings glued to the TV.

The Busy People (I think I'll call them BPs from now on) spend their mornings frantically reading meeting minutes over breakfast, their day time at work earning a living, their afternoons composing replies to the minutes they read that morning, and their evenings on the phone to other BPs working out exactly how to move their mutual organization forward into the future, bearing in mind that there are a dwindling number of BPs in the world.

The trouble is, BPs are invariably fairly modest about their efforts and achievements, and almost NEVER mention their selfless sacrifices of "life" (whatever that might be). So spotting them (in order to get something done, as above) is often quite a challenge. Here are a few clues.

First of all, you ask them if they saw the footy last night. This doesn't always give a 100% correct answer because some BPs are excellent multithreaders (mothers are almost always BPs, but even in males there's a genetic correlation between BPism and multithreading ability) and can listen to sport on the radio while composing submissions in response to a set of minutes as distributed. Of course if they happen to mention that they only heard bits of it due to the fact that they were concentrating on their submission you have your answer, but most BPs are fairly self-conscious about the image they present to The Rest so they'll usually fudge an answer on the spot. Incidentally they're always fairly good at that sort of thing, it's another genetic correlation.

The next test is to ask them (on Monday morning) how their weekend was. If they talk about washing the car or planning their end of year holiday, it's a fairly good indication that they are not BPs - although again this isn't perfectly reliable because they might have done that for half an hour on Saturday and be maintaining a "normal person" (ie The Rest) type of image in order to fit in with society. Remember that bit about where the competition is?

Further and more accurate tests really need to be done over a fairly long time and a closeish relationship like a workmate in a team of no more than ten people.

The specific tests vary from subject to subject, so I'll just give a sort of word picture of the BP and you can all work out some tests from that.

Structured thinking
The true BP can analyse a situation down to its essentials in less than 3.14159 seconds. We want to save theatre hire overtime costs by bumping in on Monday night instead of Sunday afternoon? We'll need to hire a truck instead of using a van at mates' rates, and we'll lose two hours of our tech run which we'd scheduled on Monday. Will it be a false economy? Circle yes or no. BPs often make snap decisions (although not always) but they're always well thought through and usually the right course of action in the situation.

Operating economies
I've already touched on the way BPs use time economies by doing useful work while eating. They will also create cost economies by using their best buying power (ie what's on special at the shops) to benefit their organizations. Surprisingly, this doesn't actually create much overhead on their brains. They simply have the organization's mental thread running in the background almost all the time. Remember the multithreading ability of most BPs.

Also, they know the limits of their own expertise and will very readily handball matters to other BPs whose expertise matches the situation. Protocol overheads (ie the headers and footers of the job, which have to be spelled out in full when handballing anything) are always very light when matters are moved between true BPs (especially those who have worked together for more than six months), because they know they are working with the same baseline of operating parameters and only specific details have to be conveyed. In handballing situations between The Rest, the "come on, you owe me a favour" packets can sometimes take up more bandwidth than the actual job information itself - an obvious ineconomy.

BP Tools
BPs come in almost every industry so the range of tools used is quite diverse. Pens and paper are almost universal, as is some form of device that allows writing while on the move (laptops, mobile phones with application support, clipboards and pocket notebooks are the most common). BPs also know how to use their tools to the full extent of their capacity, and sometimes even beyond by knowing when the usual safety rules can be broken without actual danger. The downside of this is that the tools of a true BP will usually wear out faster than those used by The Rest. The amount spent by BPs (out of their own pockets, almost invariably) on replacement tools after their unpaid activities have effectively destroyed the originals has never actually been calculated but is thought to be a significant factor in the national economy.

The BP at work
Where does a typical BP work? What kind of companies are worthy of so valuable an individual? Anywhere, actually. Even in government departments, major banks, ASX-listed insurance companies, telephone sanitising contractors and supermarkets. They do all kinds of roles (without exception) and can be spotted in situations like these:

The BP is the one who, while everyone else is taking a tea break, is refilling the sugar and then cleaning the bench where it spilled.

The BP is the one who, while The Rest are clocking off to go home, is making sure the customer is fully satisfied with their purchase.

The BP is the one who, when the building floods because it actually rained for the first time in two years and the drains were full of leaves, wades into the water and rescues a $1500 laptop from the display stand before teaching everyone else how to shovel water into a bucket using a dustpan and brush.

The BP is the one who, if a delivery is delayed, spends extra time clearing the decks for action rather than taking an extended lunch break.

These are just examples by the way. Hopefully by now you're getting enough of a picture to be able to fill in the blanks yourselves.

The BP's appearance
This is actually quite significant.

The BP's car is the rust bucket on wheels, minimum five years old, washed whenever the BP has to go somewhere during real rain. BPs often carry passengers, but if they don't then committee minutes etc will be all over the back seat.

The BP's clothes will seldom if ever be stylish but invariably be highly useful - for instance, there will be pockets in abundance. Large numbers of small pockets are preferred due to the BP's structure of thinking - the phone goes in THIS pocket and the pen in THAT one, because fumbling around looking for the right tool is a useless waste of time. Oh, and ties are only worn on special occasions or where there REALLY is no choice.

BPs will often have glasses - large amounts of time spent reading and writing in evenings take their toll on natural eyesight.

Grey hair is also fairly common. The brain, I'm fairly sure it has now been proven, acts like a muscle - the more it is used the larger it gets. It is said that hair grows inwards as well as outwards. When it strikes grey matter, it turns grey. Thus it stands to reason that BPs, with their significant levels of brain usage, will go grey before The Rest. And besides, almost all BPs are over 40 anyway...

A BP among BPs!
I would like to say a few words about Mr V.A. Cant. I know he will be highly embarrassed to be picked out of all the rest of the BPs, but I can say with sincerity that he stands head and shoulders above the rest.

He works hard enough for ten other people in his paid employment, which is signing the locks on public toilet doors worldwide. But as if that wasn't enough, he holds or has held down roles of significant responsibility in almost every volunteer organization I have been involved with. President, secretary, treasurer, ordinary committee member, and a host of other roles (with or without titles) have had his name beside them.

In closing may I urge you all to do what Ghandi's father told him - become a BP, there's less competition. Find a role currently held by Mr Cant and take it over, allowing him to devote more energy to the rest. The rewards aren't obvious in terms of money, career advancement, horsepower or screen inches, but come in the sincere thanks of other BPs, who will almost invariably become the best friends you will ever have.

With thanks to FOLDOC "Real programmers don't use PASCAL"

Saturday, November 22, 2008

SIGN MY PETITION - for to have more interesting stuff and less politics

I think it's pretty self-evident. I for one am TOTALLY SICK of seeing nothing but boring politics when I need a fix. Please all sign your names below and next Saturday I'll send the petition to the author and see if we can't persuade the idiot to pick up his act.

The petition is:

We, the undersigned, are sick and tired of hearing nothing but politics on - which is after all an essential service provided to the public for the benefit of all who suffer from the killer diseases melancholic pessimism and terminal ennui, and the psychological disorders political disillusionment, humour impairment and gunzel withdrawl symptoms.

We would like to point out to the author that it is his philanthorpic duty to deliver light, punchy humour bites individually tailored to the patient's nutrition and pleasurable sense data.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Google Chrome rocks - in a limited fashion

I've been using Chrome for a while now. Coming from Firefox it's a bit of a shock to the system in some ways (eg the "standard elements" that should be the same on any window, eg the close button, aren't the same) but once you get over that it's good.

Probably the best thing about it is the sheer speed of its Javascript execution. Anyone who uses heavy Javascript sites is a prime candidate for the switch. That includes GMail (and Google Reader, Picasaweb, etc), Youtube, Facebook, The Register, and of course anything with lots of ads and stuff. Today I happened to have Firefox up so I used it for my Google Reader stuff, and I was thinking the whole time "WHO HAS STOLEN MY P4 AND PUT A 486-33 IN ITS PLACE?!?"

Speed of opening is good too. It just flashes straight up as if it was minimised. I don't think it's one of those rogue programs (like Adobe Photo Downloader) that stay in memory even when they're closed, because it's like that all the time, even after a reboot.

The default opening tab, which shows the nine most used sites, is a good feature but I'm guessing it will soon be copied by other browsers.

There are some bad points though. I can't seem to get Firefox-style middle button scrolling to happen, even though I'm told it's supposed to be available. Ditto for Thinkpad middle button scroll, which is a hardware feature and should usually work on anything.

Also, it (so far) only runs on Windows. Sooner or later they'll make an EMX Unix version which will run on OS/2, and THEN we'll see the chips fly.

All in all, it's worth having - but don't throw Firefox away yet.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Midga aims his guns squarely at the finance industry in general

They've had a few squirts in passing as they happen to walk through my line of fire, but now they're going to get it and get it good. Lawyers, mosquitoes, professional dole bludgers, bloodsucking leeches, underworld crooks and the inventors of CD shrink wrapping just aren't in it. Politicians are getting close, but only the very worst of them and only in the way that Napoleon was close to being like Hitler.

(Anyone trying to invoke Godwin's Law will be heartily Bromaged - this is not a discussion forum so Godwin's Law doesn't apply. If you don't know what it feels like to be Bromaged, don't ask, you don't want to know either.)

As I said somewhere else, I don't have a problem with banks looking after our savings for us. It's way better than hiding them under the bed you know. I have a slight problem with the fees some banks put on that sort of thing, but hey, it's no skin off my nose, if you want to use Commonwealth instead of Maroondah Credit Union, it's your funeral. You pay your $5 a month and you get ATMs in every shopping centre.

I also don't have a problem with them lending that money to other people until I need it. Recent accusations of pushiness in encouraging people to take bigger loans than they can pay back may or may not be true, I don't know and I don't care, but whatever, every industry has its pushy salespeople and people need to get a fact or two and look behind the marketing soft soap.

What I hate with a passion about the finance industry is:
1. The over-inflation of prices with no real addition of value
It happens mainly in the stock market. What does the price of a certain share really mean? What someone is willing to pay for it. That's fine, it means the free market can value a company based on its perceived future worth rather than on something tangible like its last year's earnings - but it gets the wikipedia problem. Anyone can buy shares and affect the price. They might be right, they might not. If they're not, eventually the price will drop sharply and people who have paid over-inflated prices will effectively lose their money. If it happens in a large enough scale the shrapnel from the bursting of that bubble can fly around in all directions and burst other bubbles. Bad news for lots of people.

2. It takes up the attention of management
A company needs money to finance some expansion. What does it do? Walk up to a bank, ask for a loan. The bank wants to satisfy itself that the business model is sound and that the company will be in a position to make its repayments, but apart from that you get your money, do your project and then start paying it off.

But if the company thinks it's smart, it doesn't go to a bank and pay hefty interest. Instead it appoints a finance manager (who has a huge salary and a company car) who has the responsibility of selling shares in the company to raise capital - and making sure the share price stays up.

Now this finance manager has a duty to get as much as he possibly can for the company. He has to be a real salesman. How should management support a salesman? VERY well. He brings in the money that keeps the company afloat. All good companies should look after their salesmen.

But the finance manager can bring in a lot more in the short term - after all that's what he's there for, to bring in money on a scale that "ordinary" sales couldn't. So management will tend to look after finance more than they look after true sales. How will the stock market react to our announcement to expand the factory? How will the share owners treat us when we tell them we upgraded the air conditioning in the operations office and there's no money left to give them a bonus dividend?

Bob Ansett in his book "The Customer" postulates that businesses tend to think like the people that lend them money. But a bank can only deny a loan when you need it - a stock market can blow you out of the water on a whim.

3. It encourages ridiculous executive salaries
I don't usually take jealous swipes at people who earn more than I do, but with some of the salaries going around you have to ask questions. How can one person give $3 million of value to a company over a year? That works out to $10,000 a DAY! There is no way a CEO can create that much value in (say) encouraging the employees and inspiring them to bring in more customers, or personally overseeing the big expansion project and preventing cost blowouts, or revising internal processes to streamline the company.

The only way it can possibly be justified is that the appointment of a "big name" CEO will drive the price of stock up because people believe he will do wonderful things for the company - and that way the company's own stock increases in value and the paper loss they took last year will turn into a paper profit. To me, that just sounds like throwing good money after bad... or buying time to gamble on more sales later on with which to buy back what they're spending now.

4. It turbocharges the ups and downs of the economy
In the absence of a finance industry, the economy consists of the sum total of what we produce. If we start producing something people want and can do it cheaper/better than the rest, we can make a profit. If costs blow out we make a loss. The way to stop making a loss is to fix the problems and look after the customers. Well and good. Stability. Customer service.

But for a company that exists on the stock exchange, a bit of bad news can spook the market and make a small loss into a massive one. Then that loss leads to a drop in confidence and a vicious circle of losses. Enough of that happening can cause companies to actually go bankrupt (which is where the real trouble starts because a paper loss turns into a real one).

And unfortunately it's not as if they're only losing what they had previously gained by getting onto the stock exchange. The only way to get back to being a privately owned company operating out of the back of a warehouse is to do a management buyout, and even then the debt levels might kill them.

5. They work business hours
OK, I'm *not* being serious here. Some months ago I had a rant on one of the various transport related forums about the problem of peak time. The people who cause peak congestion, I said, are the most useless people in the country. The kinds of people who do real work (nurses, transport workers, food processing factory workers, etc) almost invariably work different hours. In that rant I spoke of reducing peak time services to encourage these useless middle managers to do a real job, and got slapped down for it fairly hard. I probably deserved it somewhat. But anyway, get on any overcrowded tram at 5:30 and look around you - how many of those people shuffle paper in a large financial institution? A goodly number. Get a job which involves carrying people's groceries from the warehouse to the shops you lot, and leave the tram for me to get to my evening meetings.

Rant over, I'm being serious again.

6. They encourage people to get something for nothing
Gambling is a recognised social problem. Poker machines usually get a mention in political speeches, but what about the ads that say "Hey everyone, if you had invested $1000 three months ago we would have just mailed you a cheque for $130,000! Get on board today!"?

It may be true that under ideal circumstances people can make fairly vast amounts of money in the finance industry. But where does that money come from? Usually from the pockets of the people who have lost their investments. Or else from the increasing size of the bubble of hot air - which effectively means from the pockets of the people who will later lose their investments by being caught in the bursting of the bubble.

Get rich quick schemes, no matter how they're dressed up, are always a problem. King Solomon said in about 1000 BC that people who chase fantasies will always be hungry. Nothing has changed.

7. It encourages size rather than service
Takeovers make big news, they hit the headlines in the Financial Review and journos put direct quotes from the CEO into the article. That sort of thing drives the price of stock up.

Encouraging organic growth by changing recruitment policies to bring in people who will give outstanding customer service doesn't do anything of the sort. It might get a minor mention at the bottom of page 21 if it's a slow news day.

But which one actually does more for the country? Not the takeover, not by a long shot. That's why we have an ACCC to (supposedly) make sure takeovers only happen when it's not going to hurt the country. Currently it's a toothless tiger, but that's a separate issue.

I would really like to see at least a DOZEN major players in most fields. Supermarkets for instance - currently we have two major gorillas and two smaller but growing monkeys. Competition on price is there to a greater or lesser extent , competition on product range is almost nonexistent, competition on service is completely nonexistent.

Or what about banks - we currently have four big ones and a few smaller ones (I can't keep track of who's merged with who else) and that's protected by law. But if the Big Four were each split in half to become the size of the second tier ones, do you think they'd be passing on the entire interest rate cuts? Quite possible...

Transport I won't mention because I'd start using language that isn't appropriate for a public blog. Regular readers will know my views on the matter. Others may trawl through my Railpage posts from the time of the death of FCL.

So there you have it. Six and a half reasons why the finance industry is bad for Australia. If you're in it, get out. If you're looking for a job, don't get in. $45k a year and work/life balance in a simple office job is nothing compared to the regret you'll feel when you retire, look back on your career and realise all you've done in life is funnel money from one place to another in the hope that the numbers on one side will add up to more than the numbers on the other side.

Don't forget there are employment application forms at the Service Desk of every Officeworks store. A career in rescuing lovely maidens from having unprofessional looking party invitations is a career worth having.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Mandatory censorship of the Internet??!?

Chairman Rudd you must think you're still in China! What on earth could give you such an idea?

To set the record straight at the start, let me say I'm totally AGAINST the sort of things he wants to block. Kiddie porn, incitements to crime (including terrorism), email spam and phishing are BAD things. I symathise with His Kevinship's wish to have them gone - but this is not the right way to go about it.

Let's weigh it up against the two criteria which should be employed in assessing just about any new move (and not just by governments).

1. Will it work?
Does any government intervention on the internet work? Hardly ever (to coin a phrase). The internet is full of geeks who know so much more about packet routing protocols and all that guff than any lawmaker will, that they'd look like an ant on a runway looking up at the cab of a 747-8I. So all Australian ISPs are ordered to block certain IP addresses and test every packet to see if it might be suspicious? I'd estimate that a good geek will take all of five minutes to script something completely legal, completely according to all the Internet standards documents, completely convenient to use, which will get those packets through.

The nature of the internet is that it doesn't recognize national borders. (That's one reason why spammers can operate with relative impunity - they just do it from a country where it's not illegal to spam people. Even if it is illegal, the international laws concerning a crime in one country which affected people in another country are something of a grey area and require a lot of work in the courts, which nobody is prepared to do.) So all the geeks have to do is have the banned material whitewashed - by some offshore ISP so it can't be legally prosecuted under Rudd's censorship laws.

2) Will it have harmful side-effects?
Censorship is a difficult topic - again we have to balance the government's role of protecting the people (that's why we have police and a defence force) with the people's freedom.

To say nothing of the people's convenience! Mr Rudd apparently admitted that the filter would slow down our internet "a bit". No I'm not going to suffer reduced internet speeds just so you can have a press conference hailing yourself as the grand protector from terrorists and pedophiles! Go stick a length of Cat-6 up your nose!

Once again Krudd has shown himself to be completely clueless and unwilling to get a fact or two before opening his mouth. I'm getting to the point where I think Costello would be a better PM...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Goons

Yeah, I'm a fan of the Goons.

To some that makes me an instant old fogie. That's thought to be a bad thing.

To others it makes me an honourary old fogie. That's thought to be a good thing.

To still others it just makes me a complete bore, because anything they say I can immediately follow with "And a merry needle nardle noo to you too" and they have no idea what I mean.

If you, dear listener, are interested in the goons the chances are there's nothing I can tell you in the way of lines to or anything like that so I won't bother.

But it does rather look as if BitTorrent is the Place to Be for anyone with an MP3 player. /me decides to spend a LOT of time there some time soon...

Also, Audacity is a great tool for extracting clips. My phone is full of things like this:

Yes, the Lost Year, the greatest motion picture of all time! You will want to see this film the moment you see the "X" certificate! Made at a cost of $33 billion and filmed on the very spot in Spain Madrid Africa Jersey Guernsey and Socks! A cast of thousands, ten years in the making!
See handsome midget Harry Secombe with the signing voice of Mario Lanser, and the body of Owen Bowles! See the voluptuous Minnie Bannister dance the sensuous, sinful Knees Up Mother Brown! See the famous Eccles in his greatest role to date - his only role to date! See it all on the new insanitary stethoscope four-sided screen, made in glorious three-dimensional hysterical gorilla colour, with the new explodable multi-gringe sound process!
You saw them in 'Dustbins at Dawn' - you saw 'The Son of Lassie's Owner' - you saw 'They Died with their Boots Reversed'. Then see them in 'The Lost Year' and prove you're still an idiot when it comes to pictures!

Just one thing more - there ARE young goonatics around. In the cast of my recent "Pirates of Penzance" I was amazed to find THREE very attractive female goonatics under the age of 25. Happy times.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Wayne Swan is a moron!

I've been fairly sure of this for some time. But today (or rather last night after midnight) I heard the clincher. Four investment houses have been forced to suspend withdrawls because there's been the start of a run. I needn't say that this is a BAD THING. A fairly substantial loss of confidence which says that the economy is in bad shape.

What caused them to panic so? Why the government's promise to underwrite the banks of course. Whowhatwhenwherewhyhow??? Let's take a step back.

Step 1, which I read about in the London papers back when I was over there in mid-2007: it seems there's a bit of a financial crisis in the USA. A few people have lent money to people who couldn't pay it back, and can't cover the fact up any longer. I read an opinion column in the financials section which said "Yes the stock market is in a bit of upheaval at the moment, but you only make a loss when you SELL at a lower price. Ride it out and the economy will recover." So I thought "Storm in a teacup" and turned to the comics.

Step 2: It didn't stop there. "A few people" were followed by a few more, then a lot more. Eventually the market panicked, loans became unserviceable and people declared bankruptcy. Now we have a real problem, it's not just paper losses any more because the employees of those bankrupt companies don't have a salary and are cutting back on spending. So the USA (which was already in dodgy territory because it was spending heaps of money on a war or two) started to edge towards a recession.

Step 3: It didn't stop there either. Our economy is based on our coal and iron ore exports, mainly to China. That doesn't stop just because the USA is in financial trouble. But the finance industry doesn't work to normal rules! Any hint of panic and everyone goes down.

Step 4: Mr Rudd and Mr Swan saw the terrible hardships being suffered by the American people. "How terrible!" they thought. "We must stop things like this from happening in Australia! Our people elected us to protect them, we need to do something!" So instead of letting the robust economy (which they'd been all over the papers about just a few days earlier) sort itself out, they decided to meddle. "What would we do if one of the big four banks went belly-up?" they asked each other. "Why we'd have to bail them out so the Working Families of Australia don't suffer!"

So they passed a law that said that if ever an Australian owned bank went under, the government would pay the bills. Of course if they'd asked Glenn Stevens first he would have told them that the reserve bank is ALREADY the final port of call for loans for Australian banks! But no, they had to be seen to be doing something to look after people.

The next day they probably woke up in eager anticipation of the financial press being full of praise for the masterly way they had headed off the dire possibilities of the fallout of the financial crisis. But no, instead they found angry statements from the foreign-owned banks which had Australian branches saying that they were suffering from a lack of confidence - and that many people were closing their accounts and moving to Australian-owned banks! Oh dear, when we said "only Australian banks" in that draft bill we never saw this coming.

And today we have a similar statement from non-bank investment houses! Oh dear, what can we do?

So Mr Swan, in trying to bolster up confidence and prevent a run on the banks, has instead triggered that very thing. A master stroke Wayne. You're so clever.

As for the finance industry... I wish it'd just curl up and die. I'm not against banks taking our savings and investing them to get a return. I'm not against long term loans to allow a business to operate before it has money of its own. I'm not even against personal loans, even though a lot of people take them to excesses and make a millstone for their own necks. But all this fiddling around on the stock market, over-inflating the price of a company which has no real value to it, and basically creating a big bubble made of nothing but people's expectation that they can sell it at a higher price later (ie that someone else is more of a sucker than they are), is not only a great way of making people believe they can get something for nothing (never a good thing) but is incredibly damaging to the economy.

This is why, when I was searching for a job for two years straight, I didn't even apply for any in finance. Keep your $45k salary and work-life balance, I'll do something which involves real achievement.

Anyway Wayne, I hope this will be a lesson to you in future to hold your tongue sir. "Prosperity cannot be restored by raids on the public treasury" said President Hoover in the 1930s. When I want to live in a socialist country I'll tell you. Until then, hands OFF - or change your surname to Kerr.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Grand opera sucks

I am in the same room with a video of Lucia di Lammermoor by Australian Opera, starring Joan Sutherland.

Now I thought I had a vague idea that I'm in the same basic industry - with a slight difference of scale of course, like a Diamond Valley Railway air brake techie looking up to George Westinghouse.

But I'm NOT. Or if I am, please shoot me now.

Seriously, if any daughter of mine made the sounds Joan is squealing out the speakers right now, I'd have her over my knee and lay into her with a strap. And if any son of mine made the gurglings her brother is making, I'd tell him to sit up for goodness sake and open his mouth properly when he's talking.

It's not even as if they were trained in the Josephine style of singing (which consists in la-la-ing all the vowels and allowing the consonants to take care of themselves) and are making a nice vowel sound. That would be OK, I can appreciate a good sweet voice even when it's singing rubbish. (Hey, I even enjoyed Orpheus and the Merry Widow...) A good sweet face helps too. ;) But the voices and faces in our recent Pirates (eugh, how quaint! You do comic opera! I am so sympathetic...) or even our slightly less recent Iolanthe were so completely superior to this as to be beyond comparison.

And they keep dropping out of character! How many bloody curtain calls do you need? Every second song seems to get one! For goodness sake stay in character until the END of the show! If you want to do a concert version go ahead, but don't mix concert and performance, it's very unprofessional.

Not that the curtain calls are badly rewarded. If AO had a dollar for each clap they wouldn't be losing money. If we had as many for Pirates we would have encored With Cat-Like Tread no matter what James and Martin thought. So what exactly are the audience applauding? Not her clear diction. Not her dramatic acting. Not the composer's skill in putting together a catchy tune either. It must be that they felt that they'd paid a lot for their ticket and sore hands at the end of the show is part of the value they get from it...

Or else it's a big claque.

The future of Microsoft

It's good fun googling for "When will Microsoft die?". Lots of articles. Lots of opinions. Some incredibly amusing.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cycling can be dangerous...

Damn, have to go to work on my day off, to argue about my shifts. They put me on weekends, and my weekends are sacred. Might be a while arguing, don't want to miss the bus - better take the bike.

Argued for half an hour. Argh, it's 3:30pm and I said I'd be home by then! And I've got a day's work to do there! Time to turn on the afterburners.

Downhill section. Shove it into fifth gear and try to match speeds with the cars. BLAST YOU inconsiderate car drivers, can't you give me a bit of clearance? Stop pushing me into the blinking gutter! Those black holes in the gutter aren't painted on, they're DRAINS. You with your tyres might be able to go over them just fine but I CAN'T! Do you want to see me splattered all over your radiator grill? Because that's where I'll be if I hit one of those drains as you go past. Hope you have a strong stomach and a REALLY good excuse to give the coroner.

Uphill section. Take it back to second. The cars are even worse here because they can just plant the boot and go past me. Trouble is they don't wait until their rear end is past me before getting their wheels back into the ruts in the road so I'm constantly shying away from a rear bumper bar, to say nothing of smelling their exhaust. Blow this for a joke, I'm taking the footpath. Nobody around, let's go.

Remember how the tram tracks were covered up during the Commonwealth Games cycling events? Well tram tracks have nothing on lawn edgers. I can cycle over tram tracks at 45km/h with no ill effects at all, they're shiny and stand out on the road. But an edged lawn, with a deep rut between the concrete footpath and the dirt and a thin layer of grass to hide it, is a perfect death trap.

When my front wheel dropped in, I knew I was coming off, no doubt about it. Luckily I managed to aim myself away from the road. But there was a fence on the other side, with a nice gate all ready to catch my pedal. Straight over the handlebars I went. My water bottle flew out of the pocket of my backpack and landed 2m ahead of me.

Luckily I got away with a few minor abrasions. But just imagine if there had been a pedestrian around - just getting hit with a water bottle would have been enough, but if they'd been close enough to get the full force of a Midga in the sternum there would have been bones broken.

We need cycle paths! And we need car drivers to be more considerate!

When I was working for FCL Transport I had to interview truckies. The #1 most common thing they said was "Put people in a truck as part of learning to drive, and tell them to bring it to a stop from 60km/h". I'll add to that: "Put them on a bike and tell them to take a 10km ride on a major road".

And for goodness sake, learn how big your vehicle is!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Debt collection

I'm doing debt collection for my family business. It's not fun but it has to be done.

It's not like I'm nervous on the phone, or hate talking to customers, or anything - I absolutely LOVE ringing people to say that their order is now available for shipping and could I have a new expiry date for their credit card. How beautiful are the feet of those that bring good news, and all that. (Incidentally how can feet be better or worse? They just do the propulsion, it's the letter itself that can be better or worse looking!)

But somehow I get the idea that people aren't going to be too happy when they get a letter telling them to pay up. They're probably a Ruddism aka a Working Family with not much money to spare. They probably feel guilty for not having paid it already. They might even feel helpless with not enough cash in the bank at the moment because of the price of petrol.

And now I've sent them a THIRD nice letter and had no response. Will they be happy to hear from me on the phone? I think quite possibly NOT.

So I fire up the database. Get the phone number. Psych myself up for this harrowing ordeal. Oops, get the invoice record up too just in case they ask me what it was they bought. Take a deep breath. Dial.

"Optus advises that the number you called is disconnected. This has been a free call."


So now I have to go to White Pages online, find the right number, and then go through all that again.

It's really amazing how many important and urgent things crop up when I'm in the middle of a list of debt collection jobs. The phone has a voicemail message, it tells me when I pick it up to dial. That might be a customer wanting to place an order, quick, play the message! My water bottle is empty, quick, refill it! If my throat gets too dry while I'm on the phone it sounds very unprofessional. An email comes in, it might be a reply to one of the letters which would save me making a phone call! A thought comes to my head, quick, blog it! Log on to Facebook! Take an extended lunch break! PROCRASTINATE AT ALL COSTS!

Running a small business really is a LOT of fun.

Well, here it is.

Yeah, I've joined the rest of the free-speaking world (the ones that make speaking free because supply exceeds demand) in having nothing to say and a forum to say it on.

People who like my sense of humour, read on. People who don't, go elsewhere.