The Time Has Come (the Walrus said) Archives

Gillarrd lossage theory

This blog is pretty much in archive mode these days, but what the heck, time to come back for another serve at politicians.

So today’s topic is: why is Labor under Gillard going to get absolutely belted at the September election?

Answer: Because a large percentage of the population can’t stand Julia Gillard.

It’s also fair to say they don’t like (and often can’t stand) Tony Abbott either, it comes down to a choice of picking the least worst, and right now that’s Tony.

Why is it people can’t stand Julia? Dunno. I for one can’t bear the school-marm voice that spouts meaningless platitudes, in a manner designed to make me feel like I’m 7 years old, staring at my feet, being told off for some minor infraction.

I honestly thought that after Simon Creans falling-on-sword moment, that Gillard would be gone within a fortnight; something that turned out not to be.

But Labor have been staring for ages at this mystical light at the end of the tunnel, knowing full well that it is the lamp of the front of the oncoming train, and they’re about to get smashed. They’ve known for months, at least a year. The bull and spin about the most important poll being election day is just so much bluster. They thought some magical rabbit could be pulled from a hat that would fix their troubles: have Tony make some fatal mistake, and they’d squeak back.

This was never to be – simply because the public stopped listening a year or more ago – except when some daft new piece of legislation was to be enacted in which case a big stink has stopped it, not once but 3 or 4 times in the last year. That’s not the sign of a government that knows what it is doing, or a bunch of pollies with confidence. Out of touch: yes. Arrogant: yes. Foolish: yes. Trusted: No!

But why, why, why has Julia not been tipped out by now?

She’s never going to go herself, the glory of being the first female PM with a huge ego means that she thinks she owes one to the girls, and besides, there’s not really any clear replacement anyhow.

But my theory is that the clincher is overlooked: The Julia screaming lecture in Parliament to Tony Abbott about misogyny. Whilst this has been used by the dictionary compilers to redefine the meaning of the word (!), I believe this speech served 2 purposes:

(1) it was meant to try and switch as much as possible of the female from the Liberals – stirring up a bit more hatred for Abott; just another version of an excrement-throwing exercise (hope some sticks); but also (and far more subtly):

(2) it scared the crap out of any leadership pretenders on her own side; anybody now making a move against Gillard will by her own definition be a misogynist. In the politically correct world of Labor and quotas for female MPs, this will be used internally and in the media to cast a death-wish on any male.

So now we have the spectacle of Labor sitting like a rabbit in the headlights, unable to move out of the way, just moments from being splattered over the road.

When Tony Abbott has led his party to a landslide victory we will need, more than ever, a strong opposition. Ditching Julia now won’t let Labor win, but it might lead to Tony’s victory being a little less decisive.

F!@#$%g Bankers

So… Now it’s LIBOR.

Back in 2008 / 2009 when the financial systems of the Western World started falling apart, we had much wailing from the WBankers claiming that the world NEEDED clever, innovative, bankers who could come up with clever financial “products”.

This is the same group who were paying themselves huge bonuses so they could use it to splurge on Bolly and throwing up around the City of London. (or New York, or wherever). Self interest? Nah.

Now… it turns out that the worlds biggest banks have been manipulating interest rates.

Time for a good look at the WBankers and send as many as possible to goal (jail… in modern speak).

Watch this:

Today’s spelling lesson: LOSE v LOOSE

Today’s  spelling lesson is brought to you by the letter grump and the colour grizzle.

Our word today is LOSE, pronounced LOOZ.

Not LOOSE.

The two, kiddies, are not interchangeable.

LOSE is what happens when you had something, and can’t find it any more.

Likewise, a LOSER is a a person with an “L” on their forehead, who has had some misfortune or done some foolish thing.

LOOSE, on the other hand, refers to a rattly thing not attached properly.

LOOSE can also refer to the kind of women your mother warned you about.

There is no such thing, or person, as a LOOSER.

But if the handle on your  bedroom door was a bit rattly, and was bumped by a LOOSE WOMAN, it might become LOOSER when it got more rattly and threatened to fall off.

Please learn the difference. Thanks.

UK Satellite Image – Snow, anybody?

This satellite image has been doing the rounds a little recently, and has apparently made something of a splash in the UK, where the entire country from top to tail is covered in snow.

No, its not a “spot the polar bear” picture…. look closely.

uk_snow

Flying…

So if all these delegates to the climate-talk-fest are so interested in reducing carbon emissions…

Can somebody tell me why Australia needs to send 90 people?

And can somebody tell me why they don’t use a video conference? After all, its much cheaper and it emits far less muck than flying almost half a plan load of people half way around the world. And buying carbon credits is a BS answer that does not cut it – that’s a silly excuse for rich people simply buying off their guilt with somebody not so fortunate.

Or perhaps its really just a big junket?

Driving me where?

Oldest son has a Learners Permit.

November has been abnormally warm for the last fortnight – with daytime highs of around 35 to 43 degrees. This has all been tiring and unpleasant, and so there has been no incentive to go spending time on a bit of driving practice.

So The Chap has had little learning or practice apart from the hour or so spent in getting familiar with a vehicle, starting and stopping, and going around a few corners. Slowly. With his terrified mum alongside.

Yesterday we spend a thrilling 1/2 hour in the deserted car park of a nearby (former) hardware store – speeding up, slowing down, braking, turning corners. Over and over and over. I think 1/2 hour was enough for us both.

Today we went and did the same again. Cornering is getting better, and thankfully, slower. Too much watching blokes laying rubber all over a test track on “Top Gear” does tend to be a little misleading.

After 1/2 an hour of pootling around the same ole boring car park – I directed him out and down a major-ish road –  only 100 metres but that was a fairly big deal… and then down into some local streets on the flat bit down the bottom of the hill. Speed humps, traffic-slowing chicanes, parked cars, bad signage. In other words – normal suburbia. After another 1/2 hour in this – it was time for cricket. A session of an hour all up is probably about long enough.

It’s beginning to sink in… situational awareness (”you forgot to check on your right… consider yourself flattened by an 18-wheel semi-trailer”), where the car is in relation to the side of the road (”don’t take out the tyre side walls on the kurb please, they’re $90 a pop”), and concentration.

Concentration is the big one, and I’m glad it’s him who said “You have to concentrate a lot, don’t you”.

Yes – sure do…

We both make jokes about how the “L” plates on the car are warning signs for everyone else. Of course, we all know also that this is EXACTLY what they are.

More fun times a-coming :)

Keep off the roads!

Oldest son sat the test for his (driving) learners permit yesterday.

He passed on the first attempt with about 3 wrong answers (I think you are permitted no more than 8 wrong answers – do worse and you have to sit the test again).

Now he’s an official learner driver. And I’m an officially worried parent.

Super, just super

The other day a couple of large letters arrived from my friendly not-so-local Superannuation Industry Fund. It’s not-so-local cos they are based in Queensland.

One contained yet another of those damn credit-card size friendly happy here-are-our-contect-details cards. Why? I can look the phone number up on the web site, or in the phone book.

So many organisations seem to think that their contact or other details are of such vital importance that I must carry them at all times: membership cards, credit cards, health insurance cards, drivers licences, the list goes on. Some are important. But the phone number to ring my super fund?  If we all carried every card we were ever sent, we’d have wallets and purses 4 cm thick, and walk Quasimodo-style with a limping gait becuase of being unbalanced. Sack the PR flacks and cut your expenses!

So, I’ve ceremonially filed the card. I should just throw it out but the bower-bird in me struggles.

Then came the even bigger envelope, the one I’ve been putting off opening. Putting off because of expecting it to be yet another announcement of their terrible results: telling me how much money they’ve lost.

But no – it was not to be. Instead, it announces that one of the myriad of fund options is closing, and I need to either accept their default change or nominate a new allocation.

Now, folks, I consider myself to be moderately financially literate. But when I get a 40 page book from a super fund telling me the methods to allocate risk, select a set of up to 10 fund options, evaluate past performance, yada yada yada,  well – my brain turns to mush, I lose the will to live, and seriously consider poking an eye out with a fork because it’s more fun.

Most people don’t understand share markets, risk/return trade-offs, or finance in pretty much any form.  I struggle wading through the waffle. It is completely beyond me how others who know less can make a sensible decision about allocating their super contributions into different fund options.

Speed Rabbit Pizza

Saw this place in Paris.

You have to wonder what they were thinking.

dsc_1790

Turning off gravity

Some bright spark at work pointed this out, and I thought it worth posting here just for the heck of it.

http://steveblank.com/2009/05/13/gravity-will-be-turned-off/

Up the mighty revolution

Excellent article about newspapers and the internet revolution. Give yourself 15 minutes to read it. Worth the effort.

Not good enough

Gee, these Wednesdays roll around with monotonous regularity. Wednesday means it’s Not Good Enough day. The day when we celebrate nudity and naughty bits in all their various forms, because the City Of Tea Tree Gully (or is that Teat Ree Gully?) won’t allow it.

Today, we show just what those naughty statues get up to when you leave them alone.

They molest the women folk! It’s just not good enough! Lock up your daughters, they must be protected from the statuary!

dsc_1019

OK, OK, so maybe they were cleaning the grime off.

But its still not acceptable – those poor women were most likely terribly offended and upset, and bore their task with stoic dignity.

The irresistable draw of naughty bits. Good enough for Germany. Not good enough for Tea Tree Gully.

Crazy, crazy prices!

I’ve been going through the filing cabinet and throwing out old receipts and records.

The first PC: with a Pentium 120 processor and 8 MB of RAM, with a 1 GB hard drive cost $2800, back in 1996.

In 1998 I bought a few upgrades: 32 MB of RAM cost $152, and a 4.3 GB hard drive was $360.

Nobody can complain about modern prices when you look back.

The Geek Songbook (Part 2)

(Sort of start with “Oh Carol”, and then let it drift and wander a bit from there)

Ohhhh Ada
You make me sad
You took Pascal,
And made it bet-er-er-er

Now you have grown up
But got so dowdy…
Whatever happened
to object meth-o-o-ods?

You’re obsolete now
And big and bloated
Used in defence now
Surpassed by Rubie-ie-ie…

(make up the rest for yourselves here to suit… mentions of Algol, Fortran, Delphi, Cobol and BASIC don’t count. Mentions of Java might earn points. PHP earns negative points.)

Ah, Warren

I’m reading the most recent Berkshire Hathaway letter to shareholders.

For anybody, anyopdy at all, even those without financial savvy, READ THIS. It’s 22 pages of sheer common sense from one of the most rational, down-to-earth, and richest men in the world.

Just read it.  Once you’ve read it, trawl their web site and read the last letters as well. Everything is presented in terms an idiot can understand. Read this and you pick up a total distrust of financial spivs using terms like “rebalancing your portfolio”, and “leveraging your assets.”

Want to know about housing finance, utilities, and what the heck those “monoline insurers” are about?

You can’t go past this:

The cause of their problems was captured long ago by Mae West: “I was Snow White, but I drifted.”

And this:

The present housing debacle should teach home buyers, lenders, brokers and government some simple lessons that will ensure stability in the future. Home purchases should involve an honest-to-God down payment of at least 10% and monthly payments that can be comfortably handled by the borrower’s income. That income should be carefully verified.

And this:

Our advice: Beware of geeks bearing formulas.

Just read it.

Donate

In spite of the levity in the post after this (which is scheduled in advance… the Wednesday “not good enough series” is prepared about a month in advance and just dribbles out)…

Following the devastation of the Victorian bushfires, I’d urge the few readers of this blog to please donate something – whatever small amount you can afford – to the Australian Red Cross. So far over 180 people confirmed dead, over 650 houses destroyed, and it’s not over yet. Whole towns are gone, families wiped out, terrible.

So far also, A$13 million in donations has been received. It won’t be enough.

Go here.

Please note that the Red Cross have been overwhelmed and their web site can’t handle the load. If at first you don’t succeed, please try again later.

Please remember for Australians, donations are tax deductible. If by chance anybody from overseas reads this – you can donate as well. It’s just a credit card debit in A$. You might struggle to get an address in but give it a try.

Wots in a name, then

Fellow blogger, Redcap, has categorised some of the modern wierdo spellings of children’s names as “SBG” names.

SBG means Shallow Bush Grave – the idea being that people with names like “Penzy Mae”, or “Shaniquwaah” seem to end up in the news, after being found buried in a Shallow Bush Grave.

Go over HERE and read all about it.

Well… somebody took exception, emailed her, and she’s had a suitable reply.

Strange though this might seem, I’ve just finished reading a fascinating book: “Freakonomics”, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. The sub-title, appropriately enough is “A rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything”.

The book covers a few topics, including school teachers who cheat in standardised tests (and how they were caught using statistical analysis), and “why is it that if drug dealers make so much money, so many live at home with their parents?”.

But the topic that really caught my attention was a rather long chapter on children’s names and their long term prospects and educational outcomes.

The study group is large, and comparisons are made in the changes over time to conventional, as well as unconventional, names.

The important conclusions from this are:

- children with strange names – be that odd spellings (JassMyn for Jasmin), or just unconventional (DeShawn) tend to be indicators for parents with low levels of education.

- children with strange names tend to have poorer outcomes.

- you can’t determine causality:

In some cases, the name IS USED to judge a person when applying for jobs and so on. If you can’t in the high door because of a strange name, you only get the low-door opportunities.

But in some cases, the poor outcomes for children are simply reflecting the poor outcomes their parents had, which is correlated with the level of the parents education.

(Which came first? Strange name caused a setback? Or a poor choice of parents caused a setback AND a strange name?)

So Redcap might not like the strange names. And some parents will get terribly defensive about their choice of strange names. In spite of the difficulties of causality, if a parent wants their children to do well in life there are some things that can help:

- don’t give a strange name with weird pronunciation or spelling. It just makes the kid have a life of unneeded torment.

- encourage as much education as possible.

- and if you are well educated as well, even better.

Posting the poo

Seen in one of the Parks around London, this bears an uncanny resemblance to a post box, you know, the sort for posting letters.

You post something else, here. Good thing it’s painted a different colour. I guess the white doggy on the side helps.

Really, though, you don’t want to think too much about some of what could be posted here.

Noted

You have to check this – needs broadband – a lot of broadband.

What you can get up to with 280,000 post-it notes, from the diet-coke and mentos guys.

Shareholders of the World: Unite

The problem

We are now coming down from the exalted heights of a few years of good times, when CEO’s pay has grown by outrageous multiples. The pay of the CEO has grown to the point where it is in the millions. Where once the guy who ran a company was paid perhaps 10 times average earnings, they are now paid around 100 times, if not more.

This has been justified over the years by the Remuneration Committees who set CEO pay. These committees are formed from the board members of the company setting the pay. The pay levels are often justified as being needed because good management is a rarity, good managers exist in a world market, so we have to pay world market prices.

The fallacy of this argument becomes apparent when we import CEO’s from other countries (remember AMP under George Trumball?), and then find to our shock and horror that their reign-of-error ends in disaster. Likewise the various other managers and CEO’s who do a seagull: come in, make a big flap, crap everwhere, and then piss off.

The boards and advisors who set remuneration are usually members of the ex-CEO’s club, so it’s hardly surprising that they help their mates to stick their trotters further into the trough.

To add insult to injury, there are two other common practices when setting a CEO’s pay: giving them shares in the company, or issuing options.

In both cases, the reason given is “to align the interests of management with those of shareholders”. What utter piffle. Read on.

The Fallacy

Giving a manager shares (at no cost)  allows that person to share in the upside, if the shares rise in value they do nicely. Naturally there is an incentive there for them to work to increase the value of the shares. But remember, if the shares don’t rise in value for whatever reason, the executive concerned started with nothing and still has something. And something is better than nothing. So they can’t lose: Shareholders share the upside and the downside, free shares given to executives allow them to share only the upside and not the downside.

Options are even more insidious. The option is a right to purchase shares at some time in the future, but at a price set now. The time of purchase is called the exercise time, the price is called the strike or exercise price. Normally, options will be priced in such a way that all concerned hope the shares will be worth more, at the exercide time, than the strike or exercise price. So the executive gets to buy below market. The incentive here is for the executive to work to get the price nice and high so they can exercise the options and make an instant paper capital gain.

Both approaches are often dressed up in all sorts of other variations. You can get “performance rights”, and “executive option plan vesting shares” and god knows what else. Fundamentally they are all either a grant of shares, or of options.

Fortunately the bad old days of options being issued with a price of 1 or 2 cents are gone. Those were the ultimate get-rich-schemes for executives.

All these schemes amount to a free ride for the executives.

Here’s why:

  • Shares in a company are an ownership stake. If you own shares, you own a little part of the company.
  • Grants of shares and options come at a cost to the ordinary shareholder who had to use real money to buy the shares.
  • Granting shares to executives dilutes the holdings of the other shareholders.
  • Irrespective of how you pitch it,  the executives bear no downside risk. Apart, perhaps, from to their reputation. But not in monetary terms.

And finally, and most fundamentally, executives are there to work for the good of the company owners: the shareholders. It’s their job. If the executives are broken, get rid of them and get some new ones that work.

The Solution

If executives want to own shares in the company they work for, they should pay for them. Just like anybody else. Then they have a real ownership stake, and feel real pain when the share price falls.

Nothing else counts.

The Manifesto

So, shareholders large and small: sign up to the shareholders manifesto. Three little things you need to do and remember:

  • I will vote in company elections at the Annual General Meeting.

Always. Without exception.

  • I will vote against pay rises for the board members.

The board are there to represent the owners, not to get rich.

  • I will vote against all issues of shares or options to executives.

Always. Without exeception.

If you want, vote against the Remuneration Report as well. This sends the board a strong message that you, the owers don’t like the excessive pay packets of the management of your company.

Do these things! Help to begin and then maintain the ejecting of bloated executive entitlement princesses from the their palaces.

Make business better by thinking and behaving like an owner.

Geez you sometimes have days like this

It’s been a lousy, crappy 24 hours.

Things started with a call from a bunch where I do a bit of volunteer work: “The server has crashed. What do we do?”

Over the phone… from what they read out… I had no idea. A trip in was needed after work. Two hours of farting around trying to get disks checked and repaired… fiddling around with a RAID mirror set (geek speak)… finally it seemed to be on the mend.

About 8pm, just as this was nearing being sorted out, the phone call: “I’m at the vets with Spike, he’s been hit. Can you pick up the chaps from Kung Fu.” Oh shit. Errr… maybe. Shortly after, the next call, “fractured skull, bleeding, head injuries. He’s breathing but has no chance of surviving, he has to be put down.” Double shit.

So while SWMBO was rushing back and forward to the vet, picking the guys up, getting home, telling the chaps… I rushed and got home as fast as I could to the stunned family.

Eventually we managed to get fed, watered, to bed. The fellas, distraught. The mum and dad not much better. While that’s all fraught, I still had to finish the repair job. Doing it by the magic of remote control helped but it was still midnight before that was complete.

Today I took the chaps and we collected Spike from the vet, then dug a hole under his favourite tree out the back and buried him. It’s probably best that the chaps helped do this, it’s easier to see it’s final.

Spike has been a gentle and fun part of our family for only 18 months, but he’s one of the nicest, friendliest cats we could have wished for, and we will all miss him terribly.

Then… the craziness…

Looking across the fence into our frontI had to go outside and round the side of the house, next to the neighbour and round where we have rear access. That’s when I found some of the shrubs in the garden smashed up at crazy angles, and great lumps of the side fence missing, or smashed into mud and puddles of slush. And a garden centre delivery truck, stuck in the neighbours place leaning on the fence.

What the heck?!?!

Time to call the garden centre. Spoke to the operations manager who knew all about it.

Seems like yesterday, the neighbours gave access for THEIR neighbours who wanted to get a truck load of gravel in. The truck turned up in the rain and got part way down the hill to where he had to go before the driver decided it was all too slippery, so he baled out. In trying to drive up the hill and out, he got stuck. So they called in a 4WD digger to pull him out. The digger got stuck and slithered around, smashed down the fence and stopped less than a metre from sliding through our house. The only way the digger stopped was to put the bucket down and dig into the ground. So then they called in a fully loaded articulated truck to pull out the digger that was trying to pull out the truck.

Eventually they got the digger out and gave up and left the truck.

With our other crises last night we were not around for them to come and see us to tell us what had been going on – then I came across it after lunch.

Truck extractionThis afternoon they turned up with another huge digger, this time, the guys doing the work were the supervisor and a relative. They seemed to know what they were doing.

Mind you, I was so concerned by all this that I got the boys out of the house and we went and stood some distance away. If it had gone wrong we would have been demolished and though it seems a bit paranoid now, it was a heck of a worry.

Now thats a diggerSo the truck is pulled out, there is mud and crap all over the road, the fence is down and we have mud and grot all over the place. They have said, over and over, that they will be back to fix all the damage (both for us and next door – who were only doing a favour.)

This is the second time somebody has tried to take out our house. Wondering if it might be time to get some Armco Railing.

May tomorrows troubles be small ones.

Black box

Thank you Jeremy. There are some things in your blog which I think are just a bit beyond the pale. But it is yours after all.

But this one is a gem: Beyond the myths about the Black Box Flight Data Recorder. Well worth spending the 1/2 hour or so to read.

Pertinant for me in some ways because I worked for a time for one of the government defence labs, the cousin to A.R.L. Got to know the beuracracy well :)

Some facts about me

Drat. Don’t like web-games much. But I’ve been tagged by the delightful Kath for ANOTHER of them damn me-me-me thingies.

What the hell.

What was I doing 10 years ago?

Hmm… 1998… not sure when that was, can’t remember.

Ah yes. The dark days. Working for a defence contracting company, designing really cool neat stuff for some ingrates who didn’t know, didn’t care, didn’t want what we made because it was not made in the USA. Mega stress, long hours, a budget too small, management by schedule and nowt else. Ah the joys of working in technology! Even more the joys of working for ignorant boof-heads.

Youngest wee gennelman would have been about 2, and the oldest about 5.

Five snacks I enjoy in a perfect, non weight-gaining world

In no particular order:

1. Lindt dark chocolate 70%

2. Lindt dark chocolate 85%

3. A wee glass of red

4. Chocolate chip biscuits but only with LOTS of chocolate chips

5. Ice cream, or maybe anzac biccies, or perhaps a lump of roast chook, or a wee slice off a freshly cooked roast leg of lamb, or oh hell almost anything really. So long as it’s not Brussel Sprouts.

Five snacks I enjoy in the real world:

Err. See above. Though the tum has begun to show it, AND I don’t have the appetite I used to, so these days they are all in much reduced amounts. Moderation begins at 40.

And besides now I have two teenage liddle gennemen who eat the way I used to. So they can have the snacks instead (except the red ned) and I’ll just make do with a glass of water.

Five things I would do if I were a billionaire:

1. Pay off the debts!

2. Go see a bit more of the world. Travel first class (I can’t stand long trips in cattle class) and staying one or two stars up from the flea-pit hotels. Not worry about the cost. Enjoy it, in the happy knowledge that my profligacy makes employment for others and is thus socially responsible and slightly lefty.

3. Go to work and have fun and not be afraid to tell jerks to f&^% off. And if it got too much, then f%#& off myself to somewhere and something that I like doing.

4. Smile more.

5. Find some really truly worthwhile causes, set up endowment funds for them so they can live off the earnings and make sure the buggers can never get their grubby mits on the capital. What cause? Hmmm… hard one… something very pragmatically pale green.

Five jobs that I have had:

1. Gardener, tree-water-er, weed puller-er and grass cutter-er.

2. Maker of the chook-machine and co-writer of the pig program. (ha ha bet that has you wondering what the heck that was all about).

3. Junior Boffin and writer of learned papers for technical journals and do-er of things so secret that if I told you I’d have to shoot you.

4. Boffin and techno-thingier for a big defence company and do-er of even more secret things that nobody much wanted :(

5. (And now) Boffin and techno-thingier and inventor and guy-who-writes patents for a company doing neat stuff that gives people cool things in their houses and, when used correctly, reduces electricity consumption.

Three of my habits:

1. Worrying too much

2. Trying to do too much (a 30 hour day would be about right) and always feeling tired

3. Getting cranky about untidiness but knowing I’m a terrible hypocrite. One look at my desk tells the story.

Five places I have lived:

1. Highbury. North East suburbs of Adelaide. Growing up territory. Roamed far and wide on foot or by bicycle. Came home when hungry. Got schooled. Went to uni for 5 years. Got a few degrees. Swot. Scraped in, scraped through.

2. St Peters, Adelaide. Moved out of home into a flat. Memories: COLD. NOISY. If not the religious nut downstairs, it was the dog on the tennis court of Mr and Mrs Nob next door, yapping at 2 am. Total zombie from lack of sleep. Saved from insanity by earplugs.

3. Klemzig. Moved to small unit, bought on two mortgages with SWMBO when we were both young and foolish. Before marriage. Gasp, horrors. Married young, by modern standards. Lived there for 5 or so years. Sold privately and saved a motza on agents fees. No debt for a massive 2 months! Until progress payments to the builder sorted that out.

4. Birdwood, Adelaide Hills. House sitting a small farm for 5 months. In theory while the House-Of-The-Walrus-Family was being built. Ha ha. Birdwood through a wet winter. Cold. Cold. Cold. Damn cold. Wet. Did I mention cold? Up every morning to feed hay to the cows, and smash the layer of ice that had formed over the water dish for the chooks. Walking dog in the rain at night. Ice on the fences by 10 pm. Vast amounts of driving… over the hills and far away. (And thence… back to Mum and Dads… for 2 weeks that turned into 6 months while the builders spent three lifetimes on constructing the Walrus Pen.)

5. Outer Bogansville. Side of a hill. Northern suburbs, just near the massive Golden Grove development (but not part of it thank heavens). Moved into a just-completed house. Concrete floors for 7 years. Sheets on the windows for 5 years. Cold in winter. Stinking hot in summer. Windy as all hell in November. Interest rates at 17.5%. Spent the next 8 years building and landscaping. Learned to lay bricks. Built 7 retaining walls. Laid thousands of pavers. Mixed about 100 tonnes of concrete. Planted hundreds of trees. Dug huge lotsa holes. Filled them in again. Had a coupla liddle chillens. Survived the neighbour from hell. Survived a number of The Evil Ones. Gonna leave in a pine box.

New Camera

We bought a new camera. Finally, we’ve splurged and bought a Nikon D40X Digital SLR. Not a planned purchase – an opportunity came up to buy one second-hand. It had barely been used and is in perfect condition. About 2/3 of retail – you can’t sneeze at a chance like that!

SWMBO went snapping…

A couple of gratuitous pics from in the garden:

Easycap or Easycrap?

We bought one of those video capture devices on ebay. It’s an EASYCAP DC60.

It plugs into your computer through a USB port and is supposed to let you digitise the output from a TV, camcorder, VCR, etc.

These things are all over the place, made very cheaply in China.

They have one big drawback, which we found to our cost. The software stinks. Getting the drivers for the damn thing to install proved impossible, in spite of 3 hours of trying all manner of cunning tricks.

In the end I did stack of searching using the ever-helpful Mr Google. This led me to a bunch of other drivers that might or might not be suitable. I even eventually found the manufacturer of the Easycap – in Shenzhen, China. They even have downloads from their web site!

But nothing at all that I downloaded and tried would work.

Finally, though, I proved I AM THE GEEK. I sorted the damn thing. Well, almost. We have video coming through now just fine, but the audio capture part of it does not work. But we can feed the audio into the sound card on the PC so we have a moderately satisfactory work-around.

So, for those who have the good fortune to buy an EasyCap DC60 that seems to not work when you install the drivers, here is the recipe:

Step 1. Plug the thing into the USB socket on your PC. Windows should identify the new device and burble away a bit, then prompt for where to find the drivers. Cancel at that point. Then open up the Device Manager (you can run devmgmt.msc from Start->Run). You should see a video capture device with a big yellow ? by it, indicating an uninstalled device.

Step 2. Double click the video capture device, to get the Properties page open. Click the details tab. You should see something saying “Device Instance List”. Under that should be something a bit like this:

USB\VID_05E1&PID_0408\5&14FFBCD&0&1

The important parts here are that the number next to VID must be 05E1 and the number next to PID must be 0408. If you don’t see this, give up, I can’t help you any more. The parts after the “\” following the PID number are not so important.

Step 3. Close the properties page, then click once on the video capture device and press DELETE to delete the device. Unplug it. You must delete the device from Device Manager!

Step 4. Take the CD supplied with the device, put it in your CD drive, then BROWSE the CD. Find the folder full of drivers. Copy that folder to your hard drive, into a temporary place (c:\temp, for example).

Step 5. In the folder of drivers, locate the file called OEM.INF. Open the file in notepad. You will find some lines that look like this:

[SYNTEK]
%StkAMiniDescription%=SYNTEK.USBDCAM,USB\Vid_05E1&Pid_0400&MI_00
%StkAMiniDescription%=SYNTEK.USBDCAM,USB\Vid_05E1&Pid_0408&MI_00

The part you are most interested in is this part:

….USB\Vid_05E1&Pid_0408&MI_00

There may be other such parts through the file, so you need to look throughout.

DELETE from the end of the line the portion “&MI_00″, so that the text now looks like:

…..USB\Vid_05E1&Pid_0408

Locate ALL lines in the file that are similar and similarly delete the stuff that comes after the PID number. The file is big and this is tedious. Deal with it.

Step 6. Save the file. The run the setup program that comes with the driver files. Then plug the device into the USB port. When prompted to install drivers, select to install from a location, and give the location as the temporary place where you put and edited the driver files (ie c:\temp\blah, or whatever). There should be some more burbling by windows and it will complete the installation OK.

Step 7. Fiddle about with the supplied ULEAD video studio software and see what you can see. You should have video capture!

Q: Why does this work?

Answer: The supplied driver and installer is trying to match the Vendor ID (VID) and Product ID (PID) of the device, to the Vendor ID and Product ID in the installation file. Normally the bit that comes after the product ID is some kind of revision – used to tell different versions of the product apart.

It looks like the PRODUCT revision is different to the revision expected by the drivers. By deleting the revision part in the driver INF file, Windows does a coarse match instead of a fine match, installs the driver (which it would not previously do on the grounds they did not match). And all is tickety-boo.

Water… more water…

Finally we have bit of rain in lil-ole Adelaide.

Which reminds me, that water bill came in the other day. Our 1/2 year consumption from August 2007 until March 2008 was 157 kL.

The same period last year (also on restrictions, just not so heavy) was 256 kL.

And two years ago (so August 2005 to March 2006) was only 159 kL.

Conclusion: we have had 2 very dry years, and in this last year we did significantly reduce the consumption. Surprisingly, though, it still amounts to about 860 litres PER DAY !

And this with all the sprinkler systems turned off, very limited watering using drippers, carting buckets out from the shower and tipping the dishwashing water on the lawn.

I’m stunned how much water we use.

Oh what the hell…

I’ve been tagged by the delightful Kath for one a them Meme thingies. Grr.

This blog is for me to rant and rave about things that drive me mad, not about me… me… me…. But what the hell.

Seeing as I’m orf in Melbourne for a couple of days at a conference, I’ve pre-posted this to appear while I’m away. (Evil laugh).

Todays exciting topic is: Seven random and weird facts.

1. Milk. I’m not a big milk drinker, it seems I’ve become lactose intolerant, though I’ve never had a formal test to confirm or deny. Not long after I started work, about 3.5 million years ago, I did the same as many others and had a big flavoured milk at lunch. Talk about feeling sick! Nothing twigged though, until years later when I used to have the obligatory bowl of cereal for brekky, and then feel sick, bloated and gassy until about 10am. After subjecting myself to this torture for another 5 or so years, somebody else described their problems and the effect of cutting out milk – or switching to low lactose milk. I did the same and the trouble cleared up in a few days. These days I’ve given up the low lactose milk as well, and just have a bit of plain milk in tea, and that’s about it. The thought of drinking 600 ml of flavoured milk makes me feel ill.

2. First serious job was a spot of nepotism by my father, working over summers for the electricity authority pushing lawnmowers, pulling up weeds and so on. I did this 2 summers in a row. Shovelling 20 tons of mulch off the back of a truck with a pitchfork on a 35 degree day was not especially intellectually stimulating. But in that job I learned how to plant things, how to run out drip irrigation pipe, changed my share of lawn mower blades, and when things got really boring I would mentally calculated how much I was being paid, in dollars per hour, and then cents per minute. Then count off the minutes and figure out how many dollars (or cents) had gone by. My brother did the same thing a year or two later, for one summer only, and hated every moment of it.

3. First really serious professional job was working with a friend from uni, for a guy he knew. We built some electronic thingies and made some software to automate the operation of his chicken hatchery. The amount you can do, and learn, in 10 weeks of summer holidays is astounding. It was installed and ran happily for several years. Later we worked for the same guy writing software – to manage a piggery. I must have been about 19 or 20, something like that. There is nothing quite like driving to the other side of Murray Bridge to see the piggies and then going home to roast pork for lunch. Strangely enough, piggies in a pen smell much like roast pork. It took years for the smells to become disassociated again. Those holiday jobs paid for my first car. Looking back now I realise how fortunate I was to get that kind of work experience, it comes very rarely.

4. First car. Was a brand spanking new Ford Laser, KB, in post-box red. I paid cash for it, and had almost nothing left to use for putting petrol in it. But I didn’t want a second hand car. More fool me, probably one of the worst decisions ever. The first and only new car I’ll ever own. The value of a new car falls by about 20% the moment you drive it out of the showroom, and that money can be put to use for better things. I did keep and drive that car for over 16 years, and sold it when the constant need for maintenance drove me mad. When it reached the point of spending a whole weekend doing repairs, enough was enough.

5. Study and all that. I spent FIVE years at university, travelling in on the bus each day. That five years was about 2 years too much, I was thoroughly sick of it by the end. But that did get me two degrees, one with honours, and an offer to come back for year 6 to do honours in the other. Which I gracefully declined. There was some special arrangement, since gone I think because they didn’t like it, where I did the first 3 years of a 4 year engineering degree. Then took a year off to do final year of a maths / science degree (there being so much overlap), then back for final year engineering. Seeing as my year 12 score saw me barely scrape in, I was kinda chuffed for pulling this off. Mind you, it required massive study and hard work and a completely zero social life for the first 4 years. I finally got the hang of the studying thing and breezed through the final year. The best part was getting out. These days, if in town and we park in the right place, we can walk through the grounds of the university. It feels completely foreign, which seems odd after it being such a bit part of my life for a long, long time.

6. Worst ever bout of laughing. All sorts of things make me laugh. Sometimes I’m the only one to see the humour, which probably says more about me than anybody else. The worst time ever ever ever was at the aforementioned university, where I was sitting in a very boring Physics lecture about quantum friction dynamics, or something equally exciting. The lecturer was small, balding, and spoke quietly. We utterly relied on what he wrote because otherwise you got completely lost. Somebody leaned over and said “what’s that blob” – pointing at the board. To which another quick-witted friend replied “that’s the lecturer”. That was it, I was off. Uncontrollable giggling which I could not quite get out of. I was painfully, helplessly giggling for the next 1/2 hour. Poor guy must have wondered what on earth was going on. Hmmm. I suppose you had to be there.

7. Thin. When younger I was very thin. OK, skinny. OK, skin & bone. First job after university was for a large Commonwealth Government department, where you had to get prodded and examined in an obligatory medical. They are not supposed to tell you the results, but this doctor did. His advice: gain weight. I was underweight, that means more than 20% below the mean. Nothing I did for the next 10 years or so made any difference. The last 10 years have been wildly different. Now I’m technically a normal weight for my age, the downside to the girth expanding has been the need to go and buy new trousers. Seeing as I detest shopping for clothes, I normally buy 2 pairs of trousers at a time. It’s very frustrating though to end up with two pairs that are fine in all respects apart from not fitting. It’s not just the girth, though. Things from when I got married over 20 years ago don’t fit either (yes, I still have a few clothes from those days), which means I’ve expanded across the shoulders as well. I put a lot of that down to the years of physical work on weekends after we built a house. Years and years of digging holes, building retaining walls and laying bricks. Or perhaps that’s just wishful thinking as well.

——-

NOW… the way these thingies are supposed to work is that I have to tag some other folk. Seeing as half the blog-folk won’t bother, and the half that would might be grumpy about it, I’m not going to push that side.

Spike has been sick

Cats being cats: they fight.

Our cat, being our cat: loses fights.

A few days after getting back from the wee cool state, the Spike seemed to have a bit of bother with ‘is back. Being the fools we are, we put it down to a bit of crankiness and ignored it, until Friday, when we thought it was time for a visit to the vet. Saturday morning was the earliest we could get in.

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Saturday dawned bright and sunny. The Spike seemed a little better than before, so we decided to do a quick checkup before cancelling the vet appointment. That’s when we found the sore spot on his back – a big tender lump, and when pressed, it oozed. Lots and lots of ooze. More than I’ve ever seen before, ooze without end. The vet visit was on.

At the appointed time, Spikey was happy enough to go in the cat carrier, only to yowl all the way to the vets. And when we were called in, the only way to get him OUT of the cat carrier involved a set of deeply scraped claw-marks through the carrier – the kind the Coyote did regularly for Mr Warner. A quick check showed a couple a puncture marks, and more ooze.

“Looks like a bite” says Mr Vet.

“Standard cure: antibiotics. Injection now, tablets after. That’ll be $150, please. Pick yer tablets up on the way out.”

Strangely, Mr Spike was happy enough to come home without a peep, again in the carrier. By late Saturday night the ooze was still there, but the volume was decreasing, and he was much more tolerant of having it all squeezed out.

By Sunday, no more ooze, but he has to have tablets.

Now… normally giving tablets to a cat requires a few exercises where a past life in gymnastics comes in mighty handy. First, catch your cat. Second, force its mouth open. Third, rush to the bathroom, disinfect mauled hand and wrap in something big and soft. Repeat from step 1. By about step 93, cat’s mouth is open. Drop tablet in back of mouth. Watch cat spit tablet out. Start again from step 1.

Filled with anticipation of the excitement to come, we checked his back and steeled ourselves for the fight. Spike nuzzled at SWMBOs hand, holding the tablet.

“Let him sniff it, see if he’s more comfortable with it after that”, I suggested, feeling mighty pleased with myself for thinking of a way to defer the fun.

Spike promptly sniffed at the tablet, then daintily ate it, then licked her hand to get every last skerrick of flavour!

After we’d recovered from the shock, and carefully checked to see if he’d spat at out anywhere, we concluded he must have liked it. Come Monday morning, and evening, he’s done the same.

Is there something in the tablet, or is our cat just strange?

Or perhaps… those long months of feeding him yoghurt coated currents at breakfast time may be paying off.

Fletcherise

My Grandfather was a life-long Fletcheriser.

Mealtimes with him took an hour of more, I’d never known the reason for his strange way of eating. Then suddenly, this, with thanks to World Wide Words, and my father who found it:

Fletcherise:

To chew thoroughly.

The word commemorates “The Great Masticator”, a title that these days might lead to hearers getting the giggles. He was Horace Fletcher, a food faddist of the end of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth. He advised people to chew each bite of their food 32 times, to eat small amounts, and only to eat when hungry and free from stress or anxiety. Hence this rhyme of the time:

Eat somewhat less but eat it more
Would you be hearty beyond fourscore.
Eat not at all in worried mood
Or suffer harm from best of food.
Don’t gobble your food but “Fletcherize”
Each morsel you eat, if you’d be wise.
Don’t cause your blood pressure e’er to rise
By prizing your menu by its size.

The heyday of Fletcherism was the early 1900s. Time Magazine wrote a retrospective on the craze in 1928, “For a time wealthy mothers counted their children’s jaw beats at the table while ragged micks in the streets threatened to ‘Fletcherize’ their little enemies.” A good example appeared in 1908 in Food Remedies by Florence Daniel: “But whatever is taken must be ‘Fletcherised,’ that is, chewed and chewed and chewed until it is all reduced to liquid.” The word for a while became frequent in writings of all sorts. P G Wodehouse used the term in The Adventures of Sally in 1922 to illustrate the serious nature of a dog fight: “The raffish mongrel was apparently endeavouring to fletcherize a complete stranger of the Sealyham family.”

Fletcherism was taken seriously by many people and had some distinguished adherents; it lasted until the 1930s. Unfortunately, eating meals took much longer than usual and there were complaints that it severely restricted the conversation at dinner parties.

Grandfather took this very seriously, and until his death diligently chewed every mouthful of food the required 32 times. He was never overweight either!

What purpose the cat’s tail?

Have you ever noticed that cats like to stay warm?

Years ago, when my brother and sister were about 5 or 6, I convinced them that cats store sunlight in their tails, where they can use it later to stay warm when there is no sun around.

I’ve tried the same on my kids – it worked for a while. Now it’s just a case of Dad Being Silly Again :)

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