The Time Has Come (the Walrus said) Archives

Manufacturing in Australia

Over the last decade, I’ve worked in an industry that designed and actually made things – real products picked up and held by people, which can make their lives more comfortable.

And during the same time, much of the manufacture of those products, like so much else in this country, was shifted offshore.

The hard brutal truth in the move offshore was that by the time shipping costs and various taxes are taken into account, the offshoring of manufacture pretty much broke even. There is an exception: very high volume products which are highly labour intensive to manufacture will actually bring a one-time cost reduction when made in a country with lower labour costs.

But small to medium volume products don’t really give an actual improvement. Small to Medium means, in this context, volumes up to about 50,000 pieces / year. Below about 5000 pieces / year offshore makers generally won’t even be interested, and even at that low quantity the manufacture is usually done as a favour, as part of a deal where something in much more significant quantity is being made.

Although the offshore labour can be significant cheaper than making in Australia, the labour component of many modern electronic products is around 10% of the total cost of product manufacture. Result: if factory labour costs 1/2 as much in a foreign country, the resulting reduction in cost is about 5%.

In spite of membership of the World Trade Organisation, and the various mealy-mouthed platitudes uttered by pointy-headed economists, many of the foreign countries where products are now manufactured impose various charges – especially on foreign companies. Paying a bonus of 1 months pay is pretty normal. As is paying a county tax, a goods movement tax, a workers health care levy, the list goes on and on. These don’t figure in the headline labour rates (why ruin a good story?), and each is usually quite small – perhaps only 1% or so. But they add up and quickly reduce the benefit of the lower labour rate.

This all begs the question: How come stuff make in China / Vietnam / Malaysia / Cambodia / Thailand is so much cheaper?

The answer, as is often the case, is more complex than just “cheap labour” or the photos you occasionally see of Chinese factory sweat-shops.

In fact, modern foreign factories are frequently modern, with vast amounts of money and new technology thrown at them. Modern process flow-lines require a certain amount of investment – in planning, process worker training, infrastructure. None of this comes cheap.

Modern toolmaking in foreign countries uses the latest equipment for sintering, model-making, spark erosion, and so on. Again, none of this comes cheap.

Modern manufacturing relies on volumes, where economies of scale mean that profit margins can be cut and profit relies on high turnover. Economies of scale in turn mean that suppliers can be pressured to reduce prices or cut margins – again relying on high turnover.

The net effect of all these factors together means that offshore manufacture comes with a number of advantages:

- A lower labour rate reduces cost a little (and this is offset by taxes, charges, etc) making in many cases the labour component cost-neutral;

- Better productivity per worker can be achieved by eliminating batch-process style manufacture, and reducing work-in-progress (and thus having less capital tied up in partly made goods);

- But elimination of batch-process style manufacture requires significant investment in production facilities, equipment, training;

- Higher production rates achieve better pricing from suppliers;

- Investment in tools and technology allows faster production of tooling, at a lower cost (and where using the technology over and over means the investment can be paid off).

When many older Australian factories, set up through the 1950’s to 1980’s, are compared to a modern foreign factory, the difference is stark. The foreign factories are better designed, better lit, better planned, better resourced, and have more capital investment.

Where this really points is to a failure of Australian management, and Australian unions. Collectively they have signed the death-warrant for Australian manufacture. Their culpability comes down to simple factors:

- Excessive focus on short-term profits ($ today, ripped out, can’t be re-invested)

- Inability or unwillingness to try and get better prices from suppliers (Australia in global supply chains is seen as a bit of a back water, is frequently poorly serviced, and nobody wants to move on price);

- An unwillingness to spend on rejigging factories to use newer equipment (management don’t want to think or work hard, or try and justify a few million dollars of new investment);

- Unions who want to dig their heels in about work practices (seems they’d rather have their members out of a job than changing how they work);

- A frequent focus by management on “the bottom line” – that is, on costs. A better focus on the top line (sales, and growing them) is more work, but makes better profits that can be relied upon over longer periods.

THIS is why manufacture is going offshore: Mostly, its a failure of management.

Consequences…

The list of companies affected by the Carbon (Dioxide) Tax has finally been released.

Remember, this is the list of the “worst polluters” who must pay for their evil sins, and such like.

Apart from the usual suspects of electricity generation, cement works, and brick makers, there sure are some surprises on the list:

  • Blacktown Waste Services
  • Brisbane City Council
  • Central Gippsland Water
  • Downer EDI
  • Fonterra Australia
  • Gladstone Council
  • Incitec Pivot
  • Kilcoy Pastoral
  • Kimberley Clark
  • La Trobe University
  • Maranoa Council
  • Melbourne Water
  • Murray Goulbourn Co-Op
  • SA Water
  • Simplot
  • Snowy Hydro (WTF?)
  • Tatura Milk
  • Teys Australia Meat
  • Toyota

I bet most readers won’t have a clue what most of those companies even do. So here they are, arranged by industry:

Garbage Disposal

  • Blacktown Waste Services

(just one of many, I gave up finding the others)

Water Supply

  • Central Gippsland Water
  • Melbourne Water
  • SA Water

Hydro-electricity Generation

  • Snowy Hydro

City Council

  • Brisbane City Council
  • Gladstone Council
  • Maranoa Council

(There are other councils as well)

Food and fruit processing, Rural / Agribusiness

  • Fonterra Australia
  • Kilcoy Pastoral
  • Murray Goulbourn Co-Op
  • Simplot
  • Tatura Milk
  • Teys Australia Meat

Manufacturing, Heavy Engineering & Electrical

  • Downer EDI
  • Kimberley Clark
  • Toyota

Fertilisers

  • Incitec Pivot

Universities

  • La Trobe University

The rhetoric and the reality are not lined up any more. There will be consequences for imposing the tax:

  • Water and sewer rates will rise (water authorities can’t pay a new tax without passing the added cost on).
  • Some council rates will raise (councils are likewise not a charity and have to get their operating costs from somewhere – namely ratepayers).
  • Fertiliser prices will rise. The farmers will be grateful.
  • Food prices will rise. Not just because of the increase in the prices of transport fuels, but because of cost increases in their processing.
  • Some manufacturing industries will close – I have left all the steel makers out of my lists, there has been a whole lot of newspaper bleating and announcement there already.

Just picking on the food processors list:

Fonterra Australia – Milk and Diary processor – one of the largest milk and dairy processors in the world and Australia, dominating Victoria, NSW and Tasmania. Brands in Australia are Mainland (cheeses), and many local milk brands, including Bonlac, Western Star, Perfect Italiano, Allowrie, Diploma.

Kilcoy Pastoral – Queensland boxed beef processor and exporter.

Murray Goulbourn Co-Op – Milk and diary processor – with brands including Devondale, Liddels, Cobram.

Simplot – one of the largest fruit and vegetable processors, with brands including Edgell, Birds Eye, John West, Leggos, Seakist, Top Cut, Chiko, I&J, Ally, Harvest.

Tatura Milk – another milk and diary processor, exporting most of its output as ingredients such as cream cheese, frozen cream, milk powder and infant formula.

Teys Australia Meat – a major Australian meat processor. A great deal of the beef purchased in Australia is processed by Teys.

Prediction: Food prices will have to rise, milk producers will get squeezed or screwed (again).

Some businesses, for example Simplot, have been known to have poor profitability for years but private ownership keeps the actual facts quiet. I’d expect some operations to be closed down with the usual further loss of rural employment.  After all, why process tomatoes in Australia? We’ve been able to buy Italian canned tomatoes for lower prices than the local product for many years, and now the price difference will just get a whole lot more pronounced.

“Worst polluters” seems wildly overblown when considering what some of these companies do. As to why city councils should be paying the tax… beats me.

Fixed tha Fitba!

Over dinner, I came up with a way to fix those English football scores. You know the stuff:

Today’s football results. Manchester United defeated Leeds 1 nil. Arsenal drew Aston Villa nill all.

Of course, included in this is all soccer, rugby in it’s various forms… all those boring games.

A few changes to make the game have a faster pace and a higher score should make it far more interesting.

We can start with that round ball. Far too predictable. It needs to go. An oval shaped ball would bounce in all kinds of strange directions – so change to one of those.

Next we need to get rid of all that bum sniffing. It’s just gross.

Then, allow the ball to carried as well as kicked, and require it to be kicked to score a goal. High is good, so like American football, some really tall goal posts are called for.

Because accuracy can be a problem, whilst the goal is a fine idea, you need some kind of encouragement for getting close. So allow the region either side to earn some reward, just not as much as a goal. Let’s call this a “point”. A goal should be worth quite a bit more – say 6 or 7 points.

Using the head is dangerous, there are enough lessons in that from boxers who have had their brains shaked a few too many times, so bouncing balls off heads is out on OH&S grounds. We will instead allow a hand-pass of the ball from player to player. To make the game faster, this can only be done while a player is running.

That should make things far more interesting. Perhaps we can call it “World Series Football”.

Oh… whats that? It’s been done? It’s called Australian Rules?! Damn!

Weekends in wonderland

Perhaps the title is a little exaggerated. Wonderland, in liddle ole Adeldaide?

Not really… but even this big country town can turn out a decent performance now and again.

We’ve just had a typical February hot weekend. Saturday saw a high of only 39.7 degrees C – a touch over 103 degrees F.

In spite of this I made bread. Or more specifically, Jamie Olivers stuffed brunch bread. Or more specifically: our variation on this. The loaf is made as a ring and is filled with bacon, boiled eggs, baby mozzarella cheese, roast capsicum, sun-dried tomato, and loads of basil pesto. The making worked very badly – probably too much water in the dough – so it was thin and stuck to everything. This led to what can be best described as “leakage”. Getting it transferred to an oven tray required 2 sets of hands and a great deal of luck; ably assisted by a liberal dose of swearing.

After all the blood and tears of making the damn bread, it ended up looking like a giant ring of cow pat.

Oldest son meanwhile had been out all day playing cricket. When he made it home he was “hot”. No kidding. There was time for a quick drink, a shower, grab the aforementioned CowPatBread(tm), a stop to collect The Girl Friend (TGF) of Oldest Son, and we set off into the city for the 14th Santos Symphony Under The Stars.

Finding a spot on the lawns at Elder Park was far easier than in some past years – the heat had driven a few people away. Nevertheless, a jolly good size crowd had turned out, so as the sun was setting we were treated to some of the better sights of Adelaide and the Torrens Lake at sunset.

Large and exceedingly well behaved crowds:
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A full orchestra getting prepared in over 35 degree heat:
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Paddle boats and black swans as the sun was setting:
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The sun giving its version of a starburst from behind the clouds:
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Just over the other side of the river – the South Australian Redbacks were playing Tasmania at cricket. I quite liked the lights at Adelaide Oval reflected in some of the glass of the Festival Centre:
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Having been to this event a couple of times before – admittedly quite a while ago – I never cease to be amazed at the “picnic” dinner that some people bring. Perhaps it’s an Adelaide thing – but there were a huge number of bottles of wine being consumed. Sensibly. A Lot of sparkling wine. A lot of red. There were people making up sophisticated salads on the spot, mixing dressings, dishes on rugs full of all manner of enticing goodies. In my stickybeaking I don’t think I saw a single sandwich, though I’m sure they made their appearance in some small forgotten corner. Unlike some years, there were no small portable BBQ’s – probably too hot.

By 8:00 pm the sun had just set, and the show began. The compare announced to the relief (?) of all that the temperature had just dropped to a much more manageable 35 degrees. Hooray!

The next two hours were a collection of music, old and new, punctuated by occasional bursts of cheering from the Oval just the other side of the river as the Redbacks clawed their way closer and closer to their eventual victory.

The evening finished with the traditional 1812 overture, with the part of the cannon played by fireworks. Timing, it seems, had to be coordinated carefully due to an overhead aircraft flight path!

In normal settings – certainly in a concert hall, the part of the cannon needs to be substituted for something a little less destructive. If the only thing you know about this piece of music is that it is about war – then just listening tells the story. We get distress, attack, retreat, victory bells and of course the chase and cannon shots. Perhaps an outdoor setting with fireworks is a little frivolous, but actually as a celebration of the defence of Moscow against the invading army of Napolean, I think old Tchaikovsky would have approved. Some decent bangs and some visual sparkle just adds to the occasion.

During all this, the orchestra ploughed on, in their specially made sound shell, under lights. If we were hot out in the park they must have been sweltering. The conductor had a jacket on the whole time, god only knows how. Hero’s, the lot of them.

As for bad drunken behaviour: None. The cricketers finished up about the same time and some were a little the worse for wear. For the free community music event though, it was all terribly civilised.

And CowPatBread? Actually it tasted pretty good.

Oh yes, and the Redbacks won.

—–

To cap off the weekend, we finally made the McLaren Vale wine region trip that we’ve been too busy to manage for the last three or four years.

Lunch at Woodstock Coterie included one of the best green salads ever ever ever. Amazing how using good produce makes such a difference: good tomato, good olives, a very good fetta cheese and a decent dressing makes simple ingredients into something sublime. Everything else was good too – apart from getting a little lost finding our way there.

Along the way we managed to stock up on some excellent red and fortified wines from Kay Brothers. And finally, some decent McLaren Vale olives: good Kalamata olives properly cured in brine instead of chemical muck. What more could one ask for? In hindsight we didn’t buy enough. Oh dear… that means we’ll have to take a trip back soon. What a shame!

Bathrooms. Sigh.

Once upon a time, Wally had a nice bathroom.

In fact, Wally had a couple of bathrooms: like most modern houses, Wally has a BATHROOM, and an EN-SUITE. And, as Mr Hogan says, it is (was) “Kinda sweet”.

Anyhow, Wally also hates cleaning bathrooms so when the small wallies (aka, The Chaps, aka, the Walrii) grew out of having a bath, it became the family habit for all the Walrii to just use the en-suite, on the grounds that this makes for only one shower that needs to be cleaned.

Over the years this has worked reasonably well, except for increasingly older Walrii using the Mum and Dad Walrus’s bathroom… which sort of irritates everyone – as the young ones get older and as the old ones approach their dotage.

A little problem popped up though: the en-suite shower was getting fairly grotty. Various attempts at cleaninghad various successes and various failures. The biggest trouble though was GROUT.

Yep, the shower grout was gradually disappearing… getting more and more eaten away, and more and more grotty. Keeping the ever growing mould away was getting more and more difficult.

So… says Wally… easy peasy I go fixey. Clean it up and bit and shove some new grout in over the top. This has worked a couple of times before; never a complete solution, it seems to buy another 6-12 months before the new addition disappears as well.

This time around, the problems were far, far worse – the grout just washed out in the first oncoming shower. Time for a proper fix. A grout cutting tool seemed to help: Well, it sure made a big mess. But it looks like the secret for grout is you need a decent thickness – cutting back 1/2 or 1 mm really does not make for a good result.

The normal bathroom reno questions apply: rip it all out and start again? Or do a minimal makeover? The tiles, fortunately, are not the 1970’s floral or burnt orange disasters. While not modern and current, they are ok – after all, 1991 was not really that far away. The passage of time and the cheapness of original tradies have taken their toll, but it’s not an unrecoverable disaster.

So in the end, the bathroom is not getting a gutting, but it is getting a decent renovation, only 21 years after it was built. The rather horrible shower screen is gone, as is the awful and cheap shower curtain. The cracked taps are gone. All the tiles have had the grout completely cut out using a small rotary abrasive saw (imagine the dust this might make, then triple it). The painted finish shower head, complete with peeling paint and blocked jet holes, is gone.

The tiles around the taps had such large holes cut out that the new taps were never going to cover them, so with a vast effort Wally has been able to remove them, as well as the old soap dish, and some of the tiles where the old shower screen was. The carefully stored stash of spares from all those years ago is finally getting used: to carefully replace the tiles that needed to be removed, with original new ones. This appeals to my pale-green principles of not wasting things. If it can be repaired and improved without pulling everything out and starting again, then that has to be a good thing.

But the old basin needs to go. It was horrible cheap pressed enamelled steel, and the enamel seems to be worn through so that it constantly rusts – both around the taps and the waste exit. Likewise the toilet cistern does not shut off properly, it’s cheap plastic and has deformed so it is leaning off the wall, so it probably needs replacing as well.

Like many things, that quick fix job has turned into a major undertaking. In another couple of months it should be all nicely fixed. right now, its an unusable disaster zone. The cunning plan, my lord, should fix it all though. That and a couple of thousand dollars. Gutting the lot and starting again would be 10 times more expensive. Would it look 10 times better? Nah. Thought not.

A hot day in Adelaide

Saturday was just another hot day in Adelaide.

The usual January / February heat waves are upon us, a run of a few days of about 40 degrees or more. A good time for staying inside under the air-con, or going to the beach. Or, something my father taught me – go see a movie. Cinemas have air-conditioning.

So after a couple of false starts earlier in the week, we took off for Semaphore, where the local Odeon Star cinema has $8 moves – one price only, every movie, every session, every customer. After hearing, over and over that Avatar was a must see – we went. Good movie , by the way. Go see it.

Afterwards, we wandered down to Sotos Fish Shop, which must have been raking in a small fortune – order your fish-n-chips and wait 1/2 hour. There were 8 staff behind the counter, going flat out. One wrapping, one battering fish, one frying, one taking orders, one making hamburgers…. and so on. They cut their own chips… need I say more. The best fish and chips in the world – eaten on the grass of the wide median strip running down Semaphore road.

And then a walk along the beach as the sun was setting… then home… exhausted.

Of course, we took photos. Click to make ‘em bigger.

Sotos Fish Shop - best fish and chips FEED ME! Don't Fall In!

Largs Jetty Sun is setting Largs Jetty as the sun goes down

Largs Jetty Largs Jetty Gulls in Flight

Sunset over the beach Sunset over the beach

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 :)

A fine way to spend a Saturday

Youngest son was full of excitement. After Saturday morning cricket, he rushed home, grabbed his bicycle, and took off:

“I’m off to see Fred, don’t hold lunch for me, I’ll be back later.”

This happens now and again (and the names are changed to protect the innocent). Of course, every parents nightmare is to get a phone call to say their little scrumkins has been maimed / injured / bitten / run over. But you have to let kids go and do stuff.

The Lady Of The House had to work Saturday afternoon, so I was happily minding my own business when came the dreaded call from Fred’s mum:

“There’s nothing to worry about, he’s not hurt. He’s just broken a bit off a tooth, we’re bringing him home. It might be an idea if you get him to a dentist.”

Oh.

Righto then.

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Imagine my surprise – that’s not a piece broken off. That’s a front tooth snapped in half. He’d done the right thing and found, and salvaged the broken piece.

Now do you think the medical / dental profession are open on a Saturday afternoon? I rang the usual suspects – his dentist, then mine. Got plenty of out-of-hours numbers to call, none of which answered or were helpful. Eventually I found a dentist across town – 24 hour emergency – who could see us – only an hour’s drive away. We hoofed it off there, lugging our busted piece of tooth in a jar of milk.

The nice dentist, in running shoes and a polo shirt, took one look.

“Nah – the root is exposed. If we put it back together it will just break. There’s only one thing for it. Root Canal, then eventually you can get it capped or crowned. It’s going to cost ya though.”

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So, we’ve begun. The tooth can’t be saved but root canal + lots of messing about should mean that something can go there and eventually fill the gap.

The bill – for an hours dental work and step 1 root canal on a Saturday afternoon. A cool $680. And from what I’m told, there’s about two grand still to go. Oh joy.

Software and the internet

The internet has, without a doubt, changed the software business forever.

Once upon a time software was delivered by mag tape – great big reels of 1/2 inch tape that stored about as much as a couple of modern floppy disks.

Then.. we had floppies – umpteen generations of them storing from sod all to not very much – and I fondly (not) remember installing Microsoft Office 4.3 from floppies. There were about 40 of them, and the install took well over an hour, constantly shoving floppies into a PC.

Then there was the CD, then the DVD, with a few diversions into other tape technologies along the way.

These days, on-line delivery means you never need sell a boxed product. Everything can be downloaded, fast, and easily. The only challenge is registering that a user is genuine – painful but a problem that can be solved.

In my own case, I’ve had backup software up for download now from a dedicated web site. Thought I was doing pretty well originally to get 5 to 10 downloads a week.

Things have grown… In October (that’s last month) I had 423 downloads – that’s actual downloads, not viewings of the various web pages.

Here’s the monthly figures over the last few months:

May: 99

June: 112

July: 156

August: 144

September: 218

October: 423

It’s awfully hard to tell if the Google ad campaign (which was VERY expensive but that’s a story for another day) had a big impact in October or not.

But the moral of the story here is that having software which works, at a reasonable price, with ready availability – leads to downloads, eyeballs on a screen, and ultimately users who might even pay and become customers.

Who needs a boxed product? Who needs to burn CD’s? The internet makes software delivery a piece of cake.

All I need now is to extract a couple of dollars for each download and I’ll be a rich chappy. In my dreams.

Die Zitrone

The ongoing saga of The Lemon continues. In the spirit of it being an Opel car, it is also henceforth know as Die Zitrone. When means The Lemon. Although the car is of German origins, it was built in Belgium but we’ll ignore this minor detail.

About 3 weeks ago, I leapt into The Lemon to drive between the two offices at work that I currently split time between. The car promptly turned on 2 service lights and the automatic transmission would not shift out of 3rd gear.

Of course, this happened on the Wednesday before we were to go out looking to buy a replacement for it. :(

From that point on, it would run like Baby Bears Porridge – Just Right, until it warmed up. Then it would flip into emergency / limp-home mode.

I decided I was tired of throwing money in the direction of Holden – I’d do some car work of my own. First step was to find what the service codes were. Dealers and garages will happily attach their diagnostic equipment and find the service codes – for a fee. Mr Google came in handy, and I found a place selling car service code scanners. For less the price of paying a garage for 2 vehicle scans, I now have my very own service code scanner.

In the meantime, I found I could drive the car like a manual – just put the transmission in first, second, third, and try and do so at about the right engine speed. That got me to and from work for a fortnight.

Using the service code scanner turned up 3 codes: P0220, P1550 and P1890. These code indicate a throttle position sensor error and an automatic transmission switch to emergency / limp-home mode.

A bunch more googling showed that the fault here could be the electronic throttle body – they get gummed up and need cleaning. A happy day with oldest son pulling that out and cleaning it left the car no worse. And no better either.

The remaining possible faults were a serious failure of the throttle body, or a stuffed engine computer (also called the ECU or ECM). A quick trip to my friendly local mechanic confirmed this diagnosis. The packing-it-in-only-when-warmed up left me suspecting the more expensive of the possible failures – the ECU.

Now an ECU in a modern car is a pretty serious beast, and in this car it controls EVERYTHING. It makes the power windows go. It runs the engine. It runs the door locks. It does the cruise control. Without an ECU the car is just a big pile of scrap metal. Trouble is, a new ECU costs about $1500, and then you need your friendly local Holden dealer to program it to the car – setting things like the type of ABS you have, putting in the Vehicle ID number, setting the various car options (power windows – yes/no, rear window wiper – yes/no) and so on. Programming it to the car allegedly costs another $300.

Mr Google came to the rescue again. ECU’s can be repaired, they are know to fail quite frequently and especially in this model of car. HINT TO DESIGNERS: Bolting a lump of electronics onto the side of a hot vibrating engine is NOT the way to make the electronics reliable. Most of the ECU repairs I found require the unit to be sent to England. Then – relief, Injectronics in Melbourne also fix them, with agencies through Sprint Auto Parts in SA and REPCO nationally.

Ripping the ECU and immobiliser out is a 20 minute job if you know what you are doing. If you don’t, like me, it takes about 3 hours. Anyhow, I got the sucker out and dropped it in last weekend to be sent away for it’s lobotomy. A few days later an exchange unit was sent back with all the car programming transferred into it, and I fitted that today. The last week has been difficult – transport-wise, but we managed.

Re-assembly of everything, again, takes about 20 minutes when you know what you are doing. I did quite well to have it done in about an hour and a half.

HOORAY! The car seems to be running OK now.

Now we can sell it. I just need to get one more thing fixed first :(

When the time comes…

The slogan on the Kelloggs Nutri-grain pack reads:

When the time comes, will you be prepared?

A reference to having the energy and stamina to go and slay dragons, or play football, or catch fishies.

Clearly the Marketing People who put this together don’t remember the advertisements that used to be run by a prominent local funeral home, using almost exactly the same words.

I’m left wondering therefore just WHAT IS THE EFFECT of eating Nutri-grain?

Lemons and Slides

Today I took a day off work – second to last day of the school holidays.

When The Chaps were smaller I was going to a good dad. Around the place. Not one of those fellas at work till all hours. Alas, it’s not quite turned out like that. I’m usually at work till 6:30 pm, I have things to do both volunteer and otherwise on weekends, and so have all the usual regrets. Especially seeing as Oldest Chap will be 16 in about 3 weeks and wants to rush off and get his Learning-To-Drive permit. Ye Gods, it seems like only a few months ago that I was cleaning poo out of his socks. (And he’ll be mortified to read this, naturally, which is why I wrote it.)

So anyhow, today we did a bit of Boys Stuff and Silly Stuff.

The Lemon, see, is playing up again. This time with some kind of weirdness where after it’s been driven about 10 minutes the automatic transmission gives a big “clunk” and after that its locked in 3rd gear. At the same time it seems to be running hot. Again. A few days ago I bought a car diagnostic fault analyser that you plug into the vehicle – it extracts and displays the fault codes from the car on-board engine management computer.

This is very informative, it tells me I have a P0220, a P1550 and a P1890. Gosh.

It seems that P0220 is related to muck building up the in the throttle body (the newfangled version of the carby that applies to fuel injected vehicles). So we went and bought some carby cleaner, and pulled bits of the engine apart. Got the throttle body out enough to squirt cleaner in, and polished it all up nicely so you could eat yer dinner orf it. Oldest Chap got covered in as much grot as me so it must have been fun!

After reassembly – the car did actually start. I cleared all the fault codes from the computer, and we took it for a spin. Ten minutes in…. CLUNK. And a Christmas tree worth of fault indicators on the dash. Drat. Well, that one didn’t work then.

So what the heck – we went off to the St Kilda adventure playground with a couple of daggy old towels, climbed the fort and the hill, and spent an hour zipping down the huge slides, the double helix slide, and generally being a bit silly. The Lemon got us there and back – driving the automatic as a manual and changing through the gears works reasonably well.

But after 40-mumble years I feel I’m getting a bit old for  this playground thing. The slides are not wide enough, so I have bruises on the sides of my hips. And have had the living daylights shaken out of me from the bumps. They still terrify me – looking down – and they still exhilarate - sliding down. But it sure is more difficult than it used to be.

Perhaps I just need more practice.

Zzzzzzz

I spent today writing a Software Development Plan. The sort of thing you need to do now and again as part of quality systems and such like.

I’ve reached 23 scintillating pages. I have some very good reference material, previous documents, and other odds and sods to draw on.

There is one big trouble with writing documents like this.

It’s as boring as bat shit.

I’m having trouble keeping the attention focussed on it. Sooooo looking forward to having it completed. Another day or two should see a reasonable first draft. How ever do full time QA professionals avoid the boredom?

Creepy, yes its creepy

The Lady Of The House (otherwise known in Acronym Soup land as The LOTH… which seems better than the male equivalent, being The MOTH), Anyhow… The LOTH has been hunting down all sorts of weird stuff for her work – which at various times involves kiddie-winks and school groups and such like.

In her travels, she found The Creepy Halloween Vampire Dude:

dracula-mask

She was very excited. “Take away the teeth – who does it look like?”

Scroll down for the answer.

——

In other news, this one caught my eye about the entry of the US giant Costco to Australia. Sounds a bit like Tom-The-Cheap (of 35 years ago) meets Bunnings Warehouse.

—–


Read the rest of this entry »

Oh dear, oh dear

Gosh. Perpetual motion machines ARE REAL and you can use them to generate FREE ELECTRICITY and power your home.

And the reason it’s not used more widely is because OF A BIG CONSPIRACY TO COVER IT UP.

Oh dear.

http://www.smallbizcenter.info/magniwork.php?apid=A1M&apflag=1&v=1

If you watch the videos – it all seems so plausible. There is even a patent so it must work, right? Wrong! Patents are patents, they are not a determinant of truth.

Do some more digging, you will find this: http://www.rexresearch.com/christie/christie.htm#how

The bit right at the end explains how the fallacy works.

For a historical list of free energy devices and perpetual motion machines: http://www.phact.org/e/dennis4.html

If ever asked, don’t invest your money in such devices.

Plagued…

In amongst the fun of getting The Lemon fixed, both The Lady of The House and I have come down with the same ripper of a cold-in-the-head at the same time.

We’ve been a pair misery-gutses, I’ve been off work since Wednesday, the LOTH since Thursday. Today was an annual leave day for us both because the kids have day off school. We had been going to have a noice family day out somewhere. Instead, the chaps have been lying low while their Mum and Dad mope around feeling sorry for themselves.

Now Youngest Son says he thinks he has it on the way as well. I hope not, because it’s a mighty powerful one this. The Snot Fairy had extra strong magic in her wand when she cast it in our direction.

I feel like putting a sign on the door: “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here”.

I spose it will be sorted in a few days.

The Lemon – today’s exciting adventure

Today The Lemon came home from its overnight stay in car-hospital.

Total bill for the cooling system repairs: $1100. Costs you less to have children.

It turns out that the water pump was busted, and the nice chap who did the repair sees a lot of this model for the same fix. At the same age, the water pumps all go. Apparently they are in such demand that the suppliers have them on back-order.

While they were at it, they replaced the special hard-to-get-at Y-shaped hose that the dealer service people had suggested might need replacing – it was leaking so it had to be done.

And in order to do the water pump, the timing belt needed to be replaced as well. You have to pull the timing belt to get the water pump off. But it was just as well, the timing belt was shot and pretty much ready to give up the ghost at any time. He kept it to show me the cracks in it, and questioned if it had ever been replaced.

Now on this car, the timing belt is supposed to be replaced every 60,000 km. the car has done 105,000 km. I just checked back through the service receipts – the 60,000 km service was a shocker – at that time they replaced the water pump also (so it’s now on #3), timing belt, and a bunch of other things. In other words, the timing belt was replaced when it was supposed to be, but the replacement may not have lasted the scheduled time. And getting under 60,000 km from water pumps?! What were these designers thinking?

Interesting though was the price for all this work:

Item Quoted Holden Dealer Price Price I paid
Y Shaped Hose $170 $121
Coolant $65 $50
Labour for Y shaped
hose replacement
2 hours 1 hour

If this is what a nice guy in the ‘burbs can charge – for genuine parts, then watch out – your friendly Holden dealer is most likely ripping you off.

The whole repair has been very expensive – but as the nice man said – had the timing belt gone, it would have been 3 times the price to fix it.

I can thoroughly recommend the chap who did the fix: McLean Automotive Services at Ridgehaven. They seem to be honest, they charge less than a dealer, and most impressively – the workshop is immaculately clean – a sign that they take a great deal of care. This is our second dealing with them now, and they’ll be getting more of our business in future.

You did what, Mr Potter?

So yesterday afternoon / evening, we continued the long family tradition of going off to see the latest Harry Potter movie and going out for dinner afterwards.

We went to the Piccadilly, one of the few remaining Art Deco theatres still in Adelaide. It’s still been converted to a multiplex internally, but the biggest theatre is mainly the old upstairs stalls, and it’s quite large by modern standards.

As we arrived, the previous session must have just finished – hundreds of people were spilling out, heading away. We arrived with chaps to meet my parents – who were in the queue which stretched the full length of the downstairs foyer, up the stairs, and the full length of the upstairs foyer. In this theatre, that’s a very long queue. We managed to get seats together, and settled into the Swine Flu Incubation Chamber for 2 1/2 hours of Mr Potter and his wizarding fantasy madness. Talk about ending with a What The Heck. The final film better not be another 2 years away. We need to see it NOW.

When the film ended, I started counting people leaving. About 100 had already gone before I started counting, I counted 150, and the theatre was still half full. There must have been about 400 to 500 people in that session. As we left, the huge queue was forming ready to do it all again. The theatre must love this, the big hits are money for old rope.

After, we ambled down O’Connell St, trying to find a place to stop for a bite to eat. The first two restaurants we tried were full: “Sorry Sir, we’re completely booked out”. Third time we struck lucky. Recession? What recession?

Tell em their dreamin

“Hmm, show me that bit of source code again”, I said, leaning through the car window and pointing.

The other guys shuffled things around a bit, and opened the file.

“Chocolate?”, I asked.

“Yep”, came a distracted reply.

I grabbed the chocolate, a block of caramel goo encased in soft milk chocolate, and popped it in the microwave. The lurid red, green, and yellow colours went round, and round until the machine went “ting”.

I passed the bendy block around. People broke, or perhaps, bent off a piece. When it came my way I just took the whole lot. 6 pieces of coloured caramel goop choc JUST FOR ME! I started on the first piece. Red, was it?  Yummmmmm. Second one was green, and the choc was soft, and the goo was gooey…

——- BZZT ——-

Then I woke up. Feeling slightly sick. Gee we dream some crap. Car windows? Microwaving a block of chocolate to make it soft and bendy? And where the heck was that microwave? Inside the car, or out? Source code? Chocolate with bright lurid colours?

But worst of all – caramel goo chocolate. Yuk.

Damn this insomnia!

Yes, it really is 3:46 am while I’m writing this.

I’ve found over the years that when unable to sleep, sometimes it is better to get up and do something else for a while.

So the family snore away, and I”ll surf for 1/2 and hour. Quietly.

Recession, what recession?

Twice in the last seven days, we’ve visited the electrical goods store of a certain monster-national-housewares-retail-chain, let’s call it Hardly Normal.

The fandangled new “Gepps Cross Homemaker Centre” (and for you out-o-towners, it’s pronounced “Jeps” – as in Jets and replace the t with a p). Anyhoooooooo… This place opened with some fanfare a couple of weeks ago.  Fun it aint. The car parks are a maze, and you get the twin excitments of playing “dodge” as well as “spot the brain cell” when making your way from the car to any of the buildings. This, because the car park design is such that pedestrians were never considered – to get where you need to go you either walk on the roadways or leap over the newly planted garden beds.  And its a concrete jungle.  Certainly on the outside, it’s big, bold, and boring.

The Hardly’s store in this place is just a relocation of the store that was a little down the road. It’s not new in the area.

Our first visit to the Gepps Cross Hardly’s was earlier in the week, when I had a day off from work.  The place was packed, on a Tuesday at 11am. Tuesday was the start. The lead-in.  The teaser.  The visit to look at LCD TV’s,  figure out how big they are,  and how much they cost.

So after looking and doing a bit of research during the rest of the week,  today we made the journey back from Outer Bogansville to Gepps Cross Boringsville.

Now knock me down with a feather.  I thought we were supposed to be in recession.  Somebody forget to tell Mr Hardly.  The place was as packed as an Ikea store on a long weekend, but thankfully without the evil floorplan.  We had to stand around for 20 minutes just to catch a salesman,  so we could spend 4 minutes haggling the price down.

During the entire hour and half we were there,  the queue for the cahiers never shrunk below 100 metres long,  and at times ran the full depth of the store.  Having struck our deal,  we spent 45 minutes in the cashier queue waiting to pay our money.

Who says the economy is crook?  Clearly, it’s doing very nicely here in the The Deep North.

There needs to be a new measure of economic health:  Monitor the heart rate of a Hardly Normal cashier on a Saturday afternoon.  If heart rate approaches medical norms,  then the economy is sick.  Based on today’s carefully collected evidence, we’re a long,  long way from that case.

Green what?

Here’s a curious thing. There is some new charity house being erected in Blackwood (SA). It supposedly has an 8 green star rating.

All well and good, but 2 of those stars come from the use of special green star concrete.

“Green Star Concrete have supplied a number of housing projects through out Adelaide, using specialized concrete mixes containing over 55% recycled aggregates … The Green Star Building Council recognises the use of recycled aggregates in the production of concrete – plus the use of fly ash – to obtain a 2-Star Green Star rating.”

Now the use of recycled materials in the manufacture of cement, the use of fly ash (otherwise a waste product) – these are all good and noble things.

But doesn’t it seem a little odd that I can buy an existing house on a block of land, bulldoze the perfectly good but “old fashioned” house and build a “modern” house, where 55% of the concrete for the new house is recycled from the old house.

The only way to get recycled (using energy) materials is to destroy (using energy) something that already exists (has embodied energy) so we can build something new (using energy).

How is this so-called progress worthy of a star rating?

Does anybody else see a tiny contradiction in values here?

(with thanks to DB for pointing this out)

Share options and start-ups

Todays Financial Review carries an article whining about the new tax rules on shares options.

A quick summary: The government have changed the tax rules so that shares granted are taxed on receipt, instead of when the shares are eventually sold.

Example (taken directly from the newspaper in another article): Suppose company X has little money and does not want to pay big salaries. So it gives it’s employees share options in the company. The option entitles the person to receive shares at a fixed price at some later date – usually provided certain performance targets are met. The assumption is that the shares will be worth more than is paid for them, and when sold the government gets its slice via capital gains tax and the employee cleans up. This compensates for a lousy salary.

[Just to muddy the waters, examples are being thrown around citing cases where employees receive shares, rather than options, to prove that there will in the long term be less tax paid. Gah. Keep the story consistent, please.]

The particular whinge is for start-ups who want to issue options rather than shares, and do this instead of salary – or in leiu of a larger salary.

The reason the government have changed the rules is simple – it’s a loophole. If an employee is paid in cash, then income tax is paid. If an empl0yee is paid in kind (school fees, house mortgage, etc) then Fringe Benefits tax is paid. So why should the issue of shares or options be any different?

Next… bear with me… Options.

The trouble with options is folk (and especially company directors) think they are somehow magical: they cost the company nothing but give great value to the employee. The ultimate Magic Pudding. The trouble with options is they are a RIGHT to do something at a later time. There is no obligation to exercise the right. (Suppose the share price tanks and is below the price at which the options can be used to buy shares… you’d hardly exercise the options if you could buy cheaper on the open market.) So placing a value on the options is difficult. If the market value rises, the options are worth something. If the market value falls, the options are just a bunch of junk.

So the effect of the changes to the tax law is to make it difficult or expensive to issue options, and doubly so because tax has to be paid up front for something of unknown future value.

Perhaps it’s a good time to get rid of the unscrupulous and immoral practice of issuing options!

If start-up companies REALLY want to give their employees some stake in the company with a future benefit through share sales, they can just fall back on the good old fashioned way. SELL THE EMPLOYEES THE SHARES! This is done all the time. It’s called a Capital Raising.

Furthermore, in a private company, or an unlisted public company – there is no open market, so the share price is whatever the parties agree it should be. There is plenty of scope for selling employees shares at an (agreed) low price. No options. No grant of free shares. No problem. Stop bloody whining.

Just imagine…

So Sol and the three amigos are gone from Telstra, and now the chairman of the board as well.

Donald McGauchie was formerly with the National Farmers Federation, and had a lot to do with it’s conspiracy, along with Peter Reith and Chris Corrigan, to overthrow the waterfront unions. The TV series “Bastard Boys” showed all the emoting in glorious detail – though McGauchie’s part was pretty small in that series and Corrigan took a battering.

Interestingly, it turns out he was also a director of James Hardie Industries, back in 2004, about the time they were trying to squirm out of Asbestos liabilities. Strange how the other directors have been tarnished, and McGauchie hasn’t.

After being so cosy with government during the waterfront dispute, he moved on and became chairman of Telstra. He played a major part in getting Trujillo appointed, and had a big part in the strategy of taking on his former mates in the Federal Government.

After 5 years of fighting,  McGauchie has finally got his comeuppance. He’s been pushed off the Telstra board, having made things there go from bad to worse.

Just imagine where Telstra might be with less energy spent fighting.

Imagine a Telstra that:

- Had staff who know what they are doing and want to serve customers

- Had a wholesale division that worked with competitors, instead of against them, to make a bigger pie for all

- Had better and more competitive pricing, encouraging higher take-up and innovation comparable to European telcos

- Worked with the government to deliver better, faster broadband instead of causing a government to spend a stupid amount of money duplicating what Telstra already have

Much, if not all, of this mess can be laid at the feet of McGauchie and Trujillo. Both now gone, with a huge mess left behind. In the case of McGauchie, much like the mess he’s left behind elsewhere.

Good riddance.

Dr Grumpy

Quite by accident, I discovered Dr Grumpy.

Go read. He’s a hoot.

Whats this engineering thing anyhow?

Indirectly, I found out what engineers are. How they are educated, what makes them tick. It’s all here:

No user servicable parts inside.

More bushfires

From a couple of replies to this post about my prediction for the outcomes of the Victorian Bushfires… I started to comment and then decided to turn it into a post.

So firstly, I’m not asking for agreement from anybody. I’m merely making a prediction. We’ll see how it turns out.

Regardless of what readers THINK: Fuel reduction burning does make a difference. It does not prevent bushfires but there is evidence from many studies to show that it leads to a smaller, cooler fire which does less damage and has a faster recovery.

As for the comment about councils butting out. I have some sympathy for the ieda of owning the trees and doing what I like. Where I live I’ve planted hundreds of trees. When I came here it was totally bare – everything here I planted – usually with a damn crowbar to dig the hole. As far as I’m concerned, I’ll cut them down if I want to and councils with significant-tree legislation can go jump.

However, getting councils to complete;y butt-out is not always a solution either. Sometimes they have a role in forcing idiots to clear junk away from their houses!

Here’s an idea:  mandatory house insurance. Instead of it being optional, you must have insurance, and if you don’t the council has the right to set your rates at (say) 10 times normal. The insurance industry would then police the risk and price policies accordingly – if you reduced your risk you get a better price. You can just imagine the insurance companies would have a few guys out doing an actual property inspection before the price was set! A nice market solution with incentives all round.

Right now there is little incentive for a home owner to do anything, the fire events are few and far between. When the devastation comes the loss is huge and may or may not be covered by insurance. A regular jag in the hip pocket on the other hand would force behaviour change by those who need it most. They can live in the bush if they want – so long as they pay according to their bahviour and choices.

Humourless

The Queensland government is most unimpressed because a fake Osama Bin Laden applied for their tourism job.

The full YouTube application can be found here.

Hasn’t it occurred to the Queensland tourism minister? Say nothing and it will go away. Say anything and you get two outcomes:

1. You look like a prat with no sense of humour.
2. You keep the story alive for longer.

Then again, maybe they wanted the publicity.

Wreaked?!?!

You can wreak havoc.

But the past tense is WREAKED. Which sounds clumsy and horrible. And newsreaders and reporters seem to love using it.

So there I was getting all grumpy, writing a blog post the chastise their incorrect English usage, when I decided to actually check.

Grr!

Imagine my chagrin to find that the past tense of WREAK is in fact WREAKED.

WROUGHT, on the other hand is an archaic past tense of WORK.

In some cases, the thing that WREAKS HAVOC actually WORKS HAVOC, and so a past tense WROUGHT HAVOC is in fact correct. But generally, the past tense is WREAKED.

Which is still ugly sounding, and clumsy.

Blink, blink

Like bunnies caught in the headlights… today we have been able to venture outside, blinking in the cloudy day. The first time in 2 weeks where the temperature has been under 33 – and most of those 2 weeks we’ve had 37 to 46 degrees. I think there were two days under 37 (and above 30).

A consequence of the heat is the grapes have ripened a lot earlier than usual. I did a quick sugar test this morning from the poor, pathetic shrivelled things. If it’s possible to ferment out, this should yield a red with 16% alcohol. This is the highest sugar level EVER, and one of the earliest harvests.*

We picked today, a whole 6 1/2 buckets. A simlilar amount had to be dropped on the ground, or just left, because whole bunches are so dried there is no juice left to get. What we picked is now crushed and the juice is hard to find. The fermenter is under half full – and that includes the seeds, pulp and so on. The heat has taken its toll, the berries that looked good had very little juice in them either.

Still, we’ll get the ferment started soon, and might scrape in 4 to 6 bottles this year. In a more normal year, we would make somewhere around 30 bottles per row… this year I donated a row to the birds and a row for ourselves. So much for generosity to the birdies!

(The eye, by the way, seems to be just fine… and must be if I’m out picking grapes and making wine all day).

—–

* when the sugar level is too high, the little yeasties die before they can ferment all the sugar… the alcohol they make kills them. So making a wine with an alcohol level above about 14% to 15% is very difficult. A few winemakers can get up to about 16% or even a tiny bit higher, but it’s not the norm. So in this case, we’ll probably end up with a red of about 13% or 14% with some residual sweetness.

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