The Time Has Come (the Walrus said) Archives

Beyond Fear – Take 2

Some good quotes from “Beyond Fear” by Bruce Schneier…

p112:

… Society continually demands more options, greater convenience, and new features in products. The economic incentive, then, is for greater complexity. Technological systems are naturally complex. The more technology, the more complexity. Newer systems are, by their nature, less secure than older systems. Often technology requires complexity, but that doesn’t mean simplicity shouldn’t be a security goal. Albert Einstein supposedly said: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” He could have been talking about security.

p113:

Modern systems are constantly evolving, which affects security. The weakest link doesn’t stay weakest for long….

Someone might think “I am worried about car theft, so I will buy an expensive security device that makes ignitions impossible to hotwire.” That seems a reasonable thought, but counties such as Russia, where these security devices are commonplace, have seen an increase in carjackings.

And (p276) for our crazily litigious world:

Finding blame or fault is a perfectly human reaction, but it’s important to accept that sometimes failures simply happen. Not all grievances can be redressed. Not all wrongs can be righted. Not all things can be fixed. This fact can be tremendously serious and heartbreaking. When a sniper attack makes the front page or a rare surgical accident debilitates someone you know, it’s natural to demand safeguards so the problem won’t happen again. But in a country of XXX million people, even incredibly unlikely events will occur once in a while. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the system is flawed, someone is at fault, or retribution is deserved. Too often people image all sorts of horrific scenarios and then demand to be protected from them. Lawyers exploit this misconception, as do politicians. Even warning labels on the products we buy (seen on a Dominos Pizza box: “Caution! Contents hot!”) imply that somehow we can avoid the risks inherent in life.

Beyond Fear

I’ve been reading Bruce Schneier’s book “Beyond Fear”, which I was able to pick up from one of the Amazon associated sellers for a decent price.

This should be compulsory reading for those crazy people who want to confiscate tweezers at airport checkins, and who removed all the rubbish bins from out main railway station.

Security is more than what you first think of. Putting your money in a bank is a security measure. So is not walking down dark alleys. Same with keeping your car tyres pumped up, and keeping oil in the engine. Security is all about evaluating the things we do or don’t do, and working out the consequences.

The book gives a simple 5 point evaluation / checklist to figure out if a security measure is worthwhile.

It is the clearest, most straighforward explanation you will ever find for so many of the crazy things you see happening around you in the name of “security”, and it covers a lot of human behaviour as well.

This book is well written, well structured, straightforward and so, so sensible.

Teachers pay rises

OK all you teachers and those with teachers for parents, brother sisters, etc. STOP READING NOW, you will only feel offended.

My blood is boiling.

I was listening to the radio this morning driving to work, and the head honcho from the state school teachers union was saying that the teachers will be on a half day strike next Tuesday (2 July). This strike is because they think the government offer of a pay rise of 14% is not enough.

For crying out aloud, we desperately need a Jeff Kennett to come and knock these people into shape.

Whingeing teachers going on about being underpaid. They should do a comparison with other professionals.

I get 4 weeks leave a year. Teachers get 10.

I work 9am to 6pm every day with 1/2 hour for lunch. Ask lawyers, doctors, engineers and computer people how long they work and you will get the same answer. Teachers work 8:30 to 3:30 with 3/4 hour to 1 hour for lunch. And yes I know they are supposed to do marking and preparation after school closes.

Don’t give me that rubbish about preparing lessons after school closes and during the holidays. 3/4 of my children’s lesson material comes as photocopies from books. Not much preparation there.

Take a look in the school car parks after about 4 pm – you won’t find many teachers cars left. When I used to pick my children up at 6:15pm from out of hours care, the ONLY car left in the car park was the principals.

Take a look in the car parks at the school during school holidays. The only time you will see teachers at the school is in the 2 to 3 days before the end of the long Christmas break. The place is deserted during the 2 week term breaks.

I KNOW this – I live near the local school and drive past it to and from work each day. I used to drop my kids off at out of hours care, or pick up. No teachers there during term breaks. I know a few teachers and I know what they do during the term breaks.

Let’s to a simple calculation, ignoring the different work hours per day and only looking at the holidays.

There are 52 weeks / year. Most people work 48 (4 weeks leave). Teachers work 42 (10 weeks leave).

Lets assume $50,000 salary per year (a bit light on), and 8 hours / day.

That means most people work 1920 hours / year. Teachers work 1680 hours / year.

So the normal professional on $50,000 pa gets $50,000 / 1920 = $26 / hour.

Teachers on the same yearly salary get $50,000 / 1680 = $29 / hour.

So the holidays alone are worth an extra 10% over and above other professionals.

Don’t come up with arguments about marking in the evenings, and reading journals. ALL OTHER PROFESSIONALS HAVE TO DO THINGS IN THE EVENINGS. So it is not relevant.

And lets not mention the 1 or 2 days a term for staff training, called a “pupil free day”. What a scam that is.

And then these people have the hide to complain about being under paid, and reject a 14% pay rise. If they go on strike over this, a responsible government should sack them.

When this lot go on strike, a huge number of families are inconvenienced. It is impossible to get a single day of child care at a moments notice. I work, the other half is studying. So the only option is to take a days annual leave, or for her to take the children to her tertiary classes. Guess where the kids will be next Tuesday?

Gee I’m angry.

Is it any wonder so many Australians send their children to private schools?

(CAVEAT: to the best of my knowledge this kind of thing does not happen in private schools, and most of the teachers there work very hard. I’m not convinced that the public school teachers are as hard done by as their union makes out.)

Edit 29 June: OK – I know – the 14% is over 3 years. That is still 4.6% per year whether they perform or not. Still a damn good deal.

Programming in Delphi

I’ve spent most of the weekend modifying a program written in Delphi. This program is something we use at Clipsal Integrated Systems, as part of the support of the C-Bus system.

We need to have some enhancements done very urgently so we can supply the program to a contractor who is developing a new product for us. These changes were started by somebody else, but for various reasons were not finished in time. So, there was no choice but to leap in and finish it off.

Delphi is PASCAL on steroids – add all the graphical stuff, wonderful conversion libraries, exceptions, classes, etc etc.

The last serious PASCAL programming I did was back in about 1988, and I have never programmed in Delphi before. I had a crash course in installing components on Friday afternoon.

Now, after about 2 hours to get used to how things work, and for all my PASCAL to come back to the top of my memory – I’m very impressed. Delphi does make graphical UI programming nice.

Now to finish the changes off so I can deliver the updated program on Monday morning.

The end of oil

There have been predictions for many years about oil running out.

Oil is actually unlikely to run out for a very long time – there is a lot of oil in the planet still, it is just not economic to recover it.

The days of CHEAP oil though, are numbered.

Based on present recoveries, known reserves and current consumption, we are only a few years away from “Hubberts Peak” – the point of maximum production which cannot be surpassed. We might even be there now.

Technically, it is fairly complex, but basically the rate of consumption keeps going up, but its getting more difficult and expensive to recover what is left. This pushes the cost up which tends to cause consumption to decrease. But due to the difficulty of extraction and its associated cost, the trend is for the rate of extraction to drop.

You can find a good explanation here.

Current projections put Hubberts Peak occurring in about 2008, though recent news that the Saudi reserves have been overstated might actually bring that date back a bit.

There was also an interesting news article about how the manufacturers of large 4WD vehicles are offering up to $3000 in free petrol, as an incentive to try and move their stock of guzzlers.

Conclusions:

1. Don’t expect any significant declines in the cost of oil or petroleum products. In fact the long term trend is for prices to keep rising. And rising. And rising.

2. If you bought a large 4WD Toorak Tractor / SUV / Hummer, you are really going to suffer. Your evil gas guzzling ways will cost you a packet.

Builders

Why do blue collar workers (and builders in particular) start at 7 or 7:30 am, and finish work at about 3 pm?

Why do white collar workers work roughtly 9am – 5pm? (Ha ha – in this day and age, more like 9am to 6pm or beyond).

Beats me.

And worse – why do builder HAVE to do a concrete pour on the building site next door at 7am on a SATURDAY morning?

What a bunch of dickheads.

Rebuilding

Exactly 2 weeks ago today, a house down the road and round the corner was struck by lightening. The resulting fire destroyed about 1/2 the roof and the place looked a mess.

These people are no slouches.

Last Friday (1 week after the event) they had builders in taking the remains of the roof down, and a couple of days ago it looked like the whole of the roof had been dismantled.

Today, new roof timbers are up and it is all covered by a huge tarpaulin.

Most fire damage I have seen sits for 2-3 months before demolishen or rebuilding. These people must have contacts – getting their rebuilding started within a week is nothing short of miraculous.

Red nose day

Grrrrrrrrrrrr….

On red nose day (June 24) we are encouraged (exhorted) to buy a small lump of red plastic, or foam, or other merchandise. The proceeds from this sale are supposed to go to medical research for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and other “vital programs”.

So the idea is we buy a lump of red plastic, look like an idiot having it strapped on our schnoz all day (in reality – 5 minutes), and then it gets thrown in the bin to be turned into landfill.

This is a completely immoral use of a precious resource. Plastics are made from oil. Oil comes out of the ground. Once the oil is used up, there is not any more.

There is so much useless crap in the world made from cheap oil, and red nose day has to be one of the most awful examples of a good idea taken to a stupid extreme.

What an appalling waste.

SAY NO TO RED NOSE DAY!

The Firm

I’ve just finished reading “The Firm” by John Grisham.

In usual Grisham fashion, it is a compelling page-turner. For the last few nights, I have been sitting up until way too late, unable to put it down.

Finally finished! A damn good read. Now I can talk to the family again.

Hmm… I think I have “The Partner” sitting waiting somewhere…

I guess I had better finished Bruce Schneiers’ “Beyond Fear” first.

New book I’ve got to get

Looks like I’ll be out hunting for this new book edited by Joel Spolsky. The titles of the chapters / articles are enough to prick my interest.

Engineering, IT and Art

Duncan was having a real downer when he wrote about Why an IT career sucks.

I think the picture is a bit more positive.

An engineering / IT career can very quickly and easily become non-technical, or very transient – if you let it. Something like 80% of engineering graduates don’t design things – they manage contracts or have titles like “Manager of environmental policy”. Whatever that means. And many IT people write code with a lifetime of a year or two before it is replaced.

Those who do actual creative, innovative IT or engineering design work are pretty few and far between, and certainly not as well paid as the people with the fancy titles. But those of us who do that creative design work do it for many reasons – money is one, but getting a kick out of doing something special, or clever, or new or neat is… well… often it is it’s own reward.

This is where I think there is a lot of similarity with the visual and written arts. You know – the painters, sculptors, graphic designers, architects and authors.

In each case, you start with an idea and through hard work, imagination and effort, produce something that is new and different. [Though the guy designing the cheap electric drill to be made in China and sold for $10 does not count.]

When I see something I designed actually being bought and used, it gives a great deal of satisfaction. I feel like I might have made a difference for somebody else.

So… for all those who do creative work, whether in arts, engineering or IT, give yourselves some congratulations. Most of you make life better for everybody else.

Sometimes that is through paintings that give pleasure to the eye, sometimes through books that are fun to read, and sometimes by designing a bridge, inventing the telephone, or putting software into a pacemaker.

Sometimes the output of the creative people is of dubious benefit – abstract art, awful buildings, and mobile phones with cameras. But the best judge of the creative people is time….

We are a privileged few… those who work in this field… be grateful, there are not many who can get the satisfaction we do from the things we do each day.

Rain rain rain

We have a 3 module rainwater tank (it’s a fairly common Australian thing, and encouraged, in the driest state of the driest continent). This holds 1000 litres, and is connected to only a small part of the house roof.

Normally once the winter rains start, it takes about a month to fill.

About 2 weeks ago, before the rains started, it was damn close to empty.

I checked it this morning. Chock full – brimming over. In 2 weeks. We’ve had lot of rain.

Indian cooking

I did a great Green Masala Chicken last night (second time).

The Green Masala Chicken starts as a paste made with lots of coriander, mint, garlic, ginger, vinegar, and spices. Then you add a whole lot of other spice, mix, marinate the chicken for a hour or 2 and then grill. It is low in fat, and very very delicious.

The recipe comes from Charmaine Solomon’s “Complete Asian” cookbook.

This book is a must-have, it is just great. It has about 4 lifetimes worth of cooking in it. It must have been published 15 or 20 years ago, and we regularly drag it out to try something new.

I’m amazed, it is still available from Amazon

If you like this kind of thing, buy this book!

SQL

It’s been a fun day. There is a long story – not repeated here, that resulted in the need to generate a financial report for an organisation the other half is involved with.

We managed to extract the relevant data from the package that is used [which cannot generate the reports - it isn't flexible enough], and import it into MS Access.

Then, using a combination of the bits I knew about Access, and the SQL that SWMBO* knows from a past life as a database administrator we were able to do a bunch of queries, generate strange measures, do various accumulations and totals and so on. Report done & faxed off, very spiffy looking.

I must admit to being impressed. SQL has always been a mystery to me, so to see somebody enter it and get it to do something useful has been a bit of an eye-opener.

*She Who Must Be Obeyed

Wordpress Theme

Finally found a WordPress Theme I like – this one is CleanBreeze.

I’ve tinkered with it a bit to make the text larger (I needed a microscope before).

You can get CleanBreeze here.

What I like:
. Fairly clean without fluffy frilly bits
. Post headings stand out enough for you to find them
. Post dates are actually in a sensible format

What I don’t like:
. Text was too small (tinkered with that and fixed it)
. Not wide enough on the page (will fix that with a bit more time and fiddling

More on Telstra

Driving home, there was some stupid pollie on the news going on about how Telstra should be broken up.

WELL HANG ON A MOMENT!

I’m a Telstra shareholder (including some T2 bought at $7.20). WHAT ABOUT ME?

I don’t want Telstra broken up. It is not in my interests to do so. The same goes for the other 49% of non-government shareholders.

GET THE POLLIES GRUBBY HANDS OUT OF TELSTRA.

Privatising Telstra

Edited 17 June: Telstra is the dominant telephone company in Australia, currently 51% government owned. The rest was sold to the public in two batches over the last 6 years or so.

The imminent and much awaited (or feared) privatisation of Telstra will occur within the next year or so.

Here are a few thoughts about the matter:

1. It does not matter how much fuss is made about service levels in regional areas – they will never be at the same level as the cities. Simple economies of scale apply. The regional areas will always need subsidies, will always cost more to service, and will always have longer call-out and service response times due to greater travel time.

2. The universal service obligation should not be imposed on Telstra only. Sometimes the government contracts it out – but this should become truly universal (amongst the providers) if there is to be a true competitive market. Anything else amounts to cherry-picking by the competitors leaving Telstra with the unprofitable business.

3. The present state of Telstra is a bit like being 1/2 pregnant. It is majority government owned and therefore subject to (constant) interference. The constant tosh being uttered by MPs is evidence enough of that. All the claims of a separate board are lovely but in the end the will of the majority shareholder is what counts. That is the nature of the capitalist system. At the moment the will of the government prevails, which is not a good way to run a company for the other 49% of shareholders.

4. Telstra, and in fact all telcos, is and always will be a lousy business – it consumes vast amounts of capital in plant and equipment, and struggles to get a good return on that investment. The infrastructure (the plant and equipment) constantly needs to be maintained and updated. This makes for huge capital expenditure and depreciation charges it has to wear. That situation will never improve. It will probably get worse as new features and services are introduced in the name of competition.

5. The other telcos – pretenders to the throne – have an artificially constructed and manipulated system to work within. We can all see that:

– It is foolish to build a second (or third or fourth) national or even local telecommunications infrastructure

– In the interests of its shareholders, Telstra is obliged to obtain the highest possible access prices for other telcos wishing to use its network. In fact, under the law, if they did not try and get the highest prices for access the shareholders could take the directors to court.

– To prevent Telstra getting the highest prices for access we have a system of regulation imposed, whose purpose is to undermine Telstra’s ability to set prices. In the process the regulator destroys value for Telstra shareholders (the owners of the business).

6. The whole thing is just crazy. We used to have a telco owned by all Australians. It provided a jolly good service. It employed a lot of people. It was probably not a very good business, but it was a good social service. Now we have a telco that’s partly privately owned and subject to constant political meddling (that is – political comment – the pollies are not on the board thank god).

There are two ways out of this awful mess:

- Have the government buy back all the shares that have been sold, for what the buyers paid in the floats. (Ha ha – hysterical laughter!)

- Fully privatise it, so that it can operate as a proper commercial entity. Any service obligations are not a commercial function, they are a government social service function and should be funded as such. The lightest possible regulation should be applied to let genuine competition in the market determine an outcome.

Seeing as hell will freeze over before the government buys back the shares, the second option is the only viable course of action.

For goodness sakes, get it over with!

Stinking horrible wood fires

I’ve just been outside to take the rubbish bin out ready for tomorrow morning’s collection.

I was only out for a few minutes and come back in smelling of the usual winter curse – the stench of smoke from crappy horrible badly set up wood heaters.

I hate wood heaters.

The cleanest form of home heating is gas.

Gooooood Chilli Sauce

We have finally found a good Chilli sauce – nice heat and not too sweet.

BEERENBERG – Made in the Adelaide hills, available in most supermarkets.

Well done chaps, its good stuff.

Quote on politicians

A good politician is one who reverses really bad decisions made by previous ones.

- DT (you know who you are)

Johnnies Senate Majority

Lord Acton, in referring to the power of the church, wrote “All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Of course, this applies more generally.

The Australian Federal Parliament will soon have a single party in control of both houses. This will be similar to Queensland with its single house of parliament – the house of review for all practical purposes will be impotent.

I wonder what excesses will come from this…

Already we are seeing the start of a new legislative agenda (Industrial Relations) being rushed through. This appears to be strongly driven by ideology rather than pragmatism.

Other matters likely to come up, and some comments:

. cross media ownership – why would anybody set out to hand more power to the already immensely powerful media interests? The advantage for a media owner is clear, but what advantage is conferred upon the population? I would have thought a diversity of owners and opinions makes for a more vibrant and open society.

. movement of more functions of government to the Federal jurisdiction – there are rumblings about taking health and education away from the states. Interesting how when Labor was in power many years ago, any such move was met by howls of outrage about “more power to Canberra”. Now that the Liberals are in power it seems OK to give the States a bollocking and try to take as much function away as possible. [Curiously enough, many on the left side of politics have wanted to reduce the 3 tiers of governement. Maybe state governments will soon be made irrelevant and the lefties will get their wish courtesy of the most conservative Federal Government in a very long time!]

. the full sale of Telstra – selling to some Australians and many foreigners what is already owned by all Australians. This one is a bit more complex because there are already a large number of private shareholders who are being screwed by the current ownership structure and constant political meddling.

. a speculative pick here: voluntary voting – one of the most undemocratic moves that could ever be made (I’ll have to do a separate post about this one)

I’m reminded very much of our former Liberal State Government in South Australia – these people sold the local government betting agency (TAB). The amount they received for it was about 1.5 years PROFITS (not revenue – PROFITS). In stock market terms, it was sold on a Price / Earnings ratio of about 0.5. Most businesses are sold on a ratio of 5 to 25. Talk about ideology over business sense. What a useless bunch of tossers that lot were. They should have been sued for economic vandalism. Queensland TAB (who bought the business) must have been unable to believe any seller would be so foolish.

Now the Federal Liberals can do the same sort of damage on a national level.

What a disaster for Australia.

The best Federal Parliament has one party in charge in the lower house, and the other in charge of the upper house. That way at least the damage gets minimised.

Passing the tax cuts

I never thought I would think this – but thank goodness for the Australian Democrats.

They have now agreed to pass the new tax schedules so we get out tax cuts at the end of the month.

Kym Beazley – you have been in politics a long time but you still have a lot to learn.

Joke of the day

I received this the other day and thought it was worth passing on…

A bloke starts his new job at the zoo and is given three tasks.

First, is to clear the exotic fish pool of weeds.

As he does this a huge fish jumps out and bites him. To show the others who’s boss he beats it to death with a spade. Realising his employer won’t be best pleased; he disposes of the fish by feeding it to the lions, as lions will eat anything.

Moving on to the second job of clearing out the Chimp house, he is attacked by the chimps that pelt him with coconuts. He swipes at two chimps with a spade, killing them both.

What can he do? Feed them to the lions, he says to himself, because lions eat anything. He hurls the corpses into the lion enclosure.

He moves on to the last job, which is to collect honey from the South American Bees.

As soon as he starts he is attacked by the bees. He grabs the spade and smashes the bees to a pulp. By now he knows what to do and throws them in.

Later that day a new lion arrives at the zoo. He wanders up to another lion and says,
“What’s the food like here?”

The lion says “Absolutely brilliant. Today we had fish and chimps with mushy bees.”

Salad

Check the colours in this salad:

This is dead easy to make. It is just mixed salad leaves, cherry tomato, capsicum, cucumber, avocado, black olives and quartered hard boiled eggs.

The secret is to roast the tomatoes and capsicum, for about 1/2 hour in a moderate oven – until the tomatoes are a little browned and sticky. This brings out a different and more intense flavour. Remember to drop a tiny amount of olive oil over first to help prevent sticking. Once roasted, let this cool before making the salad.

Dress the salad by mixing the juice of 2 limes with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil (which is full of anti-oxidants), and whisk in about 1/2 teaspoon of Dijon mustard.

Why do they bother?

We bought a bottle of big-name brand Olive oil from the supermarket. It comes in a nice bottle with a dinky little spout taped to the side.

We opened the bottle, jammed in the spout, and that is when we found they should never have bothered.

Here is the bottle and spout:

There are 5 things wrong with this design:

1. The bottle is plastic. Soft plastic. Easily squeezed. When you squeeze it (which happens easily when you pick it up), it forces olive oil up and out the spout which runs down the side of the bottle.

2. The little lanyard that holds the sealed cap in place has nothing to retain it. So when you flip it off and tip the bottle, the cap falls into whatever you tip into.

3. You have to use a finger or thumb to take the little cap off. Now oil spouts are oily, this means you get oil all over yourself.

4. The spout does not fit tightly enough into the bottle. So if you want to get lots out and tip the bottle up, oil runs between the edges of the bottle and the spout. Which is fine until you put the bottle down again, and more oil runs down the sides of the bottle.

5. The spout is too big to fit into any other bottle. So even though its not tight enough for the bottle it was supplied with, you cannot use it anywhere else.

Here is an example of the job done properly:

Notice:

1. Glass bottle. Nice and rigid. Actually the glass bottle was bought years ago – filled with olive oil with the same brand as the plastic bottle.

2. Metal spout with built-in flip cap. No need to flick it off, and it cannot fall off.

3. Plastic bottom fits into a standard bottle.

4. When you tip it up to get lots out, the cap is out of the way and the oil runs out in a nice smooth flow. You cannot squeeze the glass bottle to try and get a faster flow.

So why did the maker even bother with the crappy little plastic bottle and spout

Did anybody even test it to see if it would work?

Personal Finance Software

I use a well-known big-name Personal Financial software package to track a few the household expenditure which includes a few small shareholdings, thereby hangs a tale…

In Australia, companies can pay Franked Dividends.

When the statement arrives you get three numbers on it:

- the first number is the Franked Amount. This is the amount of cash you get, on which the company has paid tax.

- the second number is the Unfranked Amount. This is the amount of cash you get, on which the company HAS NOT paid tax.

- the third number is the Franking Credit, sometimes called the Imputation Credit.

Most companies pay Franked Dividends which makes the discussion that follows a little easier to follow – ignore the Unfranked Dividends.

The treatment of these numbers is important for tax purposes. There is an important principle here of avoiding double taxation. The Franked Amount represents a payment after company tax has been paid, and the amount of company tax that was paid is the Franking Credit.

So…

If your personal income tax rate is the same as the company tax rate, there is no more tax to pay.

If your personal income tax rate is less than the company tax rate, it means that too much tax has been paid, and you get some back from the tax office.

If your personal income tax rate is more than the company tax rate, it means that you need to pay a bit more.

Here is a practical example. Suppose a company has a profit of $100, and they pay tax at the company tax rate of 30%. This means they pay $30 in tax, and that leaves $70 for you.

Your dividend statement shows a cash payment of $70, and a franking credit of $30.

Suppose my personal income tax rate is 20%. This means the amount of tax I should pay on the earnings of the company (in my hands) is only $20. Seeing as $30 was paid in tax before I got my hands on it, the tax office owes me $10. That is why it is important to record and enter the franking credits on your tax return.

Suppose my personal income tax rate is 40%. This means the amount of tax I should pay on the earnings of the company (in my hands) is $40. Seeing as $30 was paid in tax before I got my hands on it, I owe the tax office $10.

The way the tax office work out what you need to pay (or they pay to you) is easy:

Step 1: Add the franked amount and the franking credit, and add these to your other income sources.

Step 2: Work out the amount of tax your have to pay based on the sliding scale (this means it works out the amount of tax to be paid on the earnings of the company, in your hands.)

Step 3: Give you a credit for the Franked Amount.

Using the above example, add $70 and $30, gives $100 (the earnings of the company, in my hands). Based on my tax rate, work out that the tax on the $100 is (say) $20. Levy that tax against me. (I owe $20.) Now give me a credit for the tax that was paid ($30). Result: tax office owes me $10.

So far this is all lovely, the tax forms and guide make it all clear.

Now… when I use the big name Personal Financial package it does something really dumb.

This program works on the idea of transactions, and categories for each transaction. It is not an accounting package, though it has a few similarities.

The package sold in Australia is an Australianised version that has been adapted from an American package (and that is the cause of its fatal flaw – they do not have Franked Dividends in America).

When I enter a Franked Dividend into the packageit ADDS the Franked Amount and the Franking Credit, and enters that as an earning amount, into a category called “Franked Dividends” (blarp – wrong – it should be called something else!!).

It then enters a second transaction, being the Franking Credit, as an expense amount, into a category called “Franking Credits”.

These two transactions are its means of capturing the two amounts into two categories – but notice that the earnings amount has the Franking Credits ADDED on…

When you generate a tax report to take to your accountant or to use yourself, it just totals up the figures in the categories.

So… using the example above, the package tells you that you have a Franked amount of $100, and a Franking Credit of $30.

What does any normal person do…

They enter Franked Amount $100, Franking Credit $30 into their tax return (even though they only received $70!!!).

Using the example above of the 20% tax rate, this means that the tax office calculates the income as $100 + $30 (=$130). Tax payable on $130 at 20% = $26. Tax paid = $30. Refund from tax office = $4.

You can see that this package, by presenting misleading figures in its reports, leads to people innocently paying more tax than they should. You only find this by manually adding up your statements at tax time to check that the package has done it right…. but nobody does that, because we trust the computer.

How many people are paying too much tax because of this stuff-up

Seeing as there is only an install guide and a CD in the box when you buy it, isn’t it time for the manufacturers to write to all registered users, and tell them how to use the package?

How many taxpayers need to lodge amended returns?

Markets & Lightning & Fires

Yesterday (Friday) I to do child-minding duties because the school had a pupil-free day.

Strange how these pupil-free days seem to occur on the Friday before a long weekend (Monday public holiday).

Anyhow late in the day the whole family met up in the Adelaide Central Market, and we spent a very nice hour wandering around buying cheese (Jarlsberg – oldest son’s favourite, and a nice mild cheese from France, and chilli-marinated Fetta), tomatoes, olive oil, free-range eggs, salami, and other goodies.

We also found the Chinese grocer selling bags of limes – 10 for $2 – WHAT A BARGAIN! They also had bok choy, fresh coriander, snow peas, bean sprouts, and lots of other things. We came away with a huge bag of green vegetables for $8.50 – including the limes.

As usual from a visit to the Central Market we spent too much, but came home with all sorts of nice fresh vegetables, a few good cheeses, and the usual top-up of bulk South Australian olive oil.

Driving home from the city was very slow – a huge storm was passing over the whole of South Australia. There was a spectacular lightning display, thunder and heavy rain.

We had been home only about 5 minutes when there were lots of loud fire-engine sirens. We went outside and checked – it did not seem like we were on fire – nor any of the immediate neighbours but there was a large amount of smoke.

This was very worrying. I grabbed an umbrella and went out in the pouring rain – checking down the road, checking the back of the house, checking neighbours houses. We could not see anything but there was choking smoke everywhere, and more and more sirens. My wife popped the manhole cover and checked in the ceiling space – all OK.

Eventually we went inside and listened to the rain. The sirens gradually faded, and the smoke cleared.

Today it turns out to be a house down the road and around the corner. Most of the roof is missing, lots of cars, people around – presumably salvaging what they can. Poor sods.

Update 13-Jun: It turns out they had a direct lightning strike onto an air-conditioner on the house roof (other links: cfs, abc).

Rain

Last night it rained!

We have had about 20mm of rain in Adelaide since Christmas, and one of the driest April / May periods ever. The native trees and shrubs are struggling, and everything else has needed watering way past the time the season normally breaks at the end of summer.

Finally though, it looks like the rain has started. Hooray!

Spell checker for Firefox

I’ve found a fantastic add-on for the Firefox browser. It is a spell checker, which adds a right-click menu option.

You can use this in any text entry panel, it supports multiple languages (there are some huge number of dictionaries available for it), the installation is dead easy, it allows your own custom word dictionaries.

What a great little piece of software. What’s more – no more spelling mistakes in these posts!

You can find it here: Spellbound.

To install – follow the instructions about opening Firefox up for web sites to install extensions, then click the installation link on the main page (above).

Then you need to install a dictionary – that was easy also, and finally to activate it just shut Firefox down and start it again. No Windows reboots!

And it’s free!

Very impressed.

Roast Lamb

Conroys are close to work, and had a sign out the other day advertising legs of lamb for about $7 / kg.

I went in and bought a small one – which was about 2.5 kg.

We cooked it today (!) – just roasted, but it was so big it took about 4 hours.

It will feed us for about 3 days, and it is one of the best lamb roasts in ages.

Well done Conroys!

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