The Time Has Come (the Walrus said) Archives

Throwing things away

I’ve been trying to clear out my workshop – this being the void area under the house that I lined a few years back.

It has a nice concrete floor, I put in some big fluoro lights, a nice big workbench, and so on.

The trouble with a big area that you don’t use very often is that it tends to accumulate junk. This is the stuff we should just throw away, but don’t “because it might be useful one day”.

The junk lies around for a few years, cluttering up MY workshop, and making it hard to get in, hard to move about, and impossible to do or make anything BIG because of the clutter.

So, in a fit of cleanliness, I’ve been throwing out mountains of old boxes, an old freezer thats broken, and various other bits of crud that have been building up for years. So much room!

Throwing things away is liberating – it makes a good feeling at making a decision and getting stuff out of your life.

We need to do more of it.

Satay Sauce

Try this Satay Sauce some time. I think its originally from The Complete Asian Cookbook, but I have not looked at a recipe for years, I just do this one from memory. You will need:

  • About 2 cups boiling water (I never measure it)
  • About 1-2 tablespoon peanut paste (try and avoid those with added sugar, which unfortunately is most of them)
  • About a tablespoon of soy sauce
  • Juice of a lemon
  • Chilli power or 1 finely chopped, seeded chilli
  • (optional) about 1/2 teapsoon palm sugar

Put everything in a small saucepan, over a gentle heat, and stir.

It won’t look all that wonderful at first – sort of watery lumpy muck. Let it boil gently for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and then it will suddenly begin to thicken. At that point, you may need to add more water to get the consistency you want, and you will need to be careful it does not spit everywhere. Stir more!
Before serving, taste it, and add more chilli, or soy sauce, or lemon juice until you get a nice flavour.

This is really nice to go with the old-fashioned Satay Chicken, or you can make a Gado-Gado by quickly cooking some vegetables and then pouring this over the top. For an extra 10-15 minutes you can make BORING vegetables much more interesting with this.

Try it!!!!

Build your own financial fortress

A good simple article from “The Intelligent Investor” magazine.

Build your own financial fortress.

Worth a read.

Making bread

Making bread is one of those fascinating activities, it’s hard to get tired of. It’s not very hard, but few people do it. These days, most of those that make their own use a machine.

What I find most fascinating about making bread is the contrasts, and you lose this appreciation using a machine.

You start with flour – fine, white and powdery.

Adding the yeast (dissolved in a little water and with some suger to feed it) makes lovely smells.

Then add the yeast and some more water to the flour. If you add too much water it turns into a doughy, sticky mess. If you add too little, it’s like a hard lump and you can’t do anything much with it.

Adding just the right amount of water turns the fine powdery flour into a soft, flexible, pliable mass. When it’s about right it does not stick to you any more (or not much), it’s easy to knead, it pops while kneading from the air bubbles in it as the yeast does it’s work.

The kneading gets easier with practice, it helps to swing back and forth from the hips and use the back muscles rather than the arms. 10 minutes of kneading can pass in a flash… the mind wanders while the dough gets it’s treatment.

Once risen, the dough is like a new living organism (and with all the yeast growing like mad in there, in some ways thats just what it is). Cut it, shape it… It has almost no resemblence to the flour that it started out as.

And then, cooking… it turns brown, there are tricks to find to get a nice crunchy crust…

And finally, the best part of all is the eating.

The ONLY downside to making your own bread is that it is fairly time consuming.

Lawyers paying tax

I’ve just been reading in Crikey about  new tax office project to do some data matching of buyers of luxury cars, against other information.

The article mentioned the previous lawyers project which found a large number of Barristers and Solicitors who had not lodged tax returns, and who in some cases resorted to bankruptcy to avoid their tax obligations.

This issue has come up every now and again – with some pretty lame excuses, like the lawyers in question being “too busy” to file tax returns.

These cases seem to pop up and then quietly fade away without answers to some obvious questions.

Questions like:

- Why does the tax office not follow up with a tax payer who has not lodged a return? Surely they will know when a return is 12 months overdue and can mail the person or their accountant?

- Everybody else has to lodge a tax return, even busy people. Why should excuses like being too busy even be raised? It’s just silly and should never come up in the first place. I assume these folks are not too busy to go spending all their lovely money.

- (the important one) – As I understand it, lawyers (once admitted to the bar) are officers of the court. This is not something that can be switched off out of hours, it’s forever (or until struck off). As officers of the court they must be beyond reproach. This means, in lay terms, squeaky-damn-clean in everything they do. Breaking the law by non-payment of taxes SHOULD in my view lead to being AUTOMATICALLY struck off, or de-barring, or whatever the term is. In other words, removal of the right to practice in the legal profession. It should of course be proved in court so there is a measure of natural justice, but is this the outcome? We don’t seem to hear about it, so I’ve no idea.

I suspect part of the reason that middle Australia holds lawyers in some contempt is that there is a great deal of publicity about lawyers who break the law, but very little publicity about the eventual outcome. It creates the perception, rightly or wrongly, that there is one law for all of us common muck, and another law for thems who are in the club.

I’d love some comments about the outcome of the lawyers tax cases – I really want to know what eventually happensd to those who were found guilty of non-lodgement of returns and non-payment of tax.

The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy

Douglas Adams was a man ahead of his time.

When he first wrote The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy as a radio series back in 1978, there was no Internet, and the World-Wide-Wait had not been invented.

But the series had as a feature, a book, “The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy” with “Dont Panic” printed on the cover in large friendly letters. This book had the amazing property that it seemed to stay up to date as it was opened and used – or at least pretty much up to date.

Zoom ahead to 2006. Now we’ve got Wikipedia, a free on-line encyclopaedia where nobody is really in control and contributors add things as they see fit. The potential for abuse is huge, but it seems to work.

Thanks to the web browser we also really do have The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy – Earth Edition. It was started in 1999 and is now hosted by the BBC in England. It claims to be an unconventional encyclopaedia, and it sure is! Unlike wikipedia it aims to describe Douglas Adams original idea – a guide to Life, The Universe, and Everything.

For the die-hards, you can even read it on mobile phones!

The sections on Australia make for humorous reading. I’d not realised just how Oz it is to use the expression “It’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick”. I use that often!! And the page on buying beer in Australia makes an interesting read as well.

Food, food, food

We have been hearing of lot of huffing and puffing about school canteens, and how they will soon only be allowed to sell “healthy” food.

In fact, I think this was a promise by one side or the other in the recent state election. Consequently I expect there will be changes afoot sometime soon.

So, kiddies, grab all the coke and chips you can while you are able. Soon it will be apples and fruit juice. But… er… fruit juice has quite a lot of sugar in too.

Perhaps the ideal school canteen lunch will be a nice tender juicy steak, a big plate of salad, and an apple. Protein, vegetables and some fruit should meet the new guidelines for low-to-moderate carb eating. Hmm. I can just see that happening!

In the meantime, the schools persist in sending home their fund-raising stunts. 9 out of 10 times this is an emotional plea to go and sell boxes of fund-raising chocolate to family and friends.

HYPOCRISY!

Why is it OK to sell fat food to adults but not to children?

If the school canteens are going to have the fat-food banned, surely it’s time for the chocolate drives to be banned as well?!

Tendonitis

I’ve had tendonitis (an inflammation of a tendon) in one elbow for about 3 months now.

The chiropractor says it’s “Golfers Elbow”, common as muck, and it will clear in about 12 months. On my periodic visits he is able to stretch and poke around a bit, which helps. Apart from that… it’s just going to be time.

Weird thing is, it’s worse in the mornings and improves during each day.

The biggest downer is that it hurts most of the time, and especially when making bread.

Ah well, such things are sent to try us.

Painting a stairway to the rubbish tip

The title is a lousy parody of a line from an oldish song… (you figure out which).

Just finished sorting out the mess from one of my favourite bugbears: leaking paint cans.

It’s one of those things I just can’t work out. You go and pay $50 for a 4 litre can of paint, and use 3/4 of it. Carefully seal up the can after use, and next thing you know the can is leaky because its badly / cheaply made and rusts out.

Why can’t we have decent paint cans?

———

After using paint I put the lid back on, then turn the can upside-down, then right way up again, and stand for a day with a block of wood under one side on the bottom. This makes a paint seal around the lid and lets the excess run back down into the bottom of the can.

When the can fails and leaks, it always seems to be at the seam on the sides, or where the sides are crimped to the bottom. Usually before it leaks, the inside begins to rust and drop yummy brown rust gunge into the paint that’s left.

Feynman

I’ve been reading the popular books about Richard Feynman, the Physicist. Strange guy… not your normal crusty acedemic.

I’ve been so inspired I’ve bought “The Feynman lectures on Physics”, all 3 volumes of it.

This arrived the other day… not yet started reading. It only needs to get added to my pile of outstanding books and magazines… only a mere metre high.

(Although published in about 1958, the books of the lectures are still in print and available. You can get them from Amazon.)

I got a cheap bonus – Feynmans book “QED” – his lectures on Quantum Electrodynamics specially written for non-physicists. It’s wonderful reading, I wish I’d had this back in the stone age when I was suffering through Quantum Theory in Physics 2.

Referees available on request

A couple of comments taking issue with my whine about CVs with referees available on request.

Let me explain a little more:

I was taught that its polite to ask somebody before hand if they will be a referee. That means even if “available on request”, you should really have lined them up beforehand. If they already know, then why not write their names down?

And, when sending in a CV cold (as many of my whinge CV’s have been), you need as much in your favour as possible. If the applicant is good enough and the referees stack up, a position can often be found or created…. But this will never happen if the reviewer of the CV is made to work hard to extra any information.

Utterly utterly stuffed

I’ve been using Microsoft Word since Word for Windows version 1.

I’ve paid good money to BUY Word for Windows 2003.

Up until now each version has been better than the last.

This time, though, this is simply the worst version of Word I have ever used.

It does magic things.

It changes the formatting of what you enter, and I’m fighting with the damn thing for 1/2 hour or more to get what I want.

The drawing editor is phenomenally stuffed.

The formatting magical changer and style sheet shower has some neat things but its STUFFED STUFFED STUFFED.

It insists on going on-line for help. Whats wrong with installed help files? There was enough crap on the damn CD.

WHY OH WHY do they try and make it so bloody easy for dumbos to use. In the process they have totally fucked it for people who used to to know what they were doing.

I repeat, Word 2003 is simply the worst version of Word I have ever used. If you value your sanity DO NOT buy or use this!

AAAAARRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHH

The revolution in bill payment

Years ago, paying bills was a pain. There was no internet, and no telephone banking. Bills were paid in cash or by cheque.

Yup, paying bills was a pain. It was either expensive or time consuming. I would regularly have to take a lunch time to go off and pay the gas bill, or sort out medicare claims, or go to the bank to get the cash to pay the bills… The saving grace was the post office, where many bills could be paid. But it still required a visit in person. Those people in jobs where they could not get out at lunch time were in trouble – because all the offices for payment were only open during business hours on weekdays.

Paying by cheque was more convenient, in some cases the only practical way. Doing so added around $0.50 to $1.00 to each bill, because of the added costs of postage (buy a stamp), bank fees for the cheque, bank accounts debit tax (who remembers that!!), cheque fees and stamp duty.

I used to go through around 50 to 100 cheques a year, mainly for paying bills. How anybody managed without a cheque account is a mystery to me.

Of course, cheque accounts were a grand thing for the banks – they had to be kept in credit (otherwise an overdraw fee applied, or worse a cheque dishonour fee), and the interest paid on the credit balance was atrocious, if they paid interest at all!

Then came telephone bill pay. You could take your bills to the bank and for a small fee (about $1 per bill from memory) they would pay them for you. I was always too cheap to take this up.

Now we have BPAY, direct debit, credit card payment, and a multitude of others.

I’ve paid bills using phone banking, the internet, and BPAY for years now and there is no charge at all. It is fast, simple, and very low cost. Direct debit is even faster – completely set and forget.

I presume many other people are doing the same as me. Using the low cost bill paying facilities, and rarely using a cheque or posting a payment. Strangely, the volume of letters carried by Australia Post keeps on rising – these new forms of payment should have caused a drop in the number of letters carried.

Similarly, the BAD tax is now gone, and using BPAY does not cost me anything in fees (well not for my bank anyhow) so the bank gets less revenue per bill compared to cheque fees. But still bank fee income has risen, and risen.

I still keep a cheque account. Partly for the approximately 4 or 5 times a year when something still has to be paid that way, and partly out of morbid curiosity.

But just think – there are now so many low cost ways of paying bills, and still we whine about the costs of banking. Just imagine what the fee and tax take would be if we were doing it the way it was done only 15 years ago.

How quickly we forget.

A dead donkey can make money in a rising market

I’ve just been doing a periodic grinding of the numbers for the family fortune (ha ha, cries of hysteric laughter). This being the small amount we’ve managed to stash in the share market over the last 15 years or so.

I’m using a marvellous magical software program that tracks shares owned, dividends received, and changes in market value. Based on the calculations done by this thing, the family fortune has delivered some interesting returns:

Total Return (since inception): 50%

1 -Year return: 26.9%

The total return figure is a bit hard to get the head around. It’s the total income received + the total change in market value, calculated for each share since original purchase. It does not include things that have been sold where a capital gain or loss has been made, so its a bit misleading. It is not an annualised compounding rate of return (which is harder to calculate but a much more interesting number).

Of more interest is the 1 year figure, especially seeing as not all this years dividends have been come in yet. The figure of nearly 27% means that the investments + change in market value for the last year have returned… yes, 27%. This includes the results from the investment decisions that bombed badly.

These results are not gained using anything clever. No options, no contracts for difference, no warrants, no short selling. Just buy and hold, based on reading the newspaper and subscribing to one of the market tip-sheets.

On this last point, I often disagree with the tip-sheet, but it does make interesting reading and helps to give some idea of a thought process to use.

Has your managed fund returned 27% in the last year? And if it came close, how much did you pay in fees to keep the fund damagers in their BMWs?

Has your clever trading strategy returned 27% for a typical hands-on amount of work of under an hour a month?

These kind of return figures are both exciting and frightening. They are exciting because it’s nice to see the investments grow, and it vindicates the thought process used in making the investments.

The returns are frightening because it leads to complacency – an expectation that this will happen each and every year (it won’t!).

More generally, the fact that such returns are available leads to the current rash of “investment” touts who push greedy unsuspecting mugs into markets they don’t really understand.

When markets are rising, making a good number is easy. When markets fall, which they inevitably will, many will lose their nerve… and their shirts… or more. There will yet be much wailing and gnashing of teeth!

Multitasking makes us stupid

Read this, please, please.

Especially all you folks who thing you really can do 2 or 3 things at once.

Now, I’ve got to remember to turn off the email at work. Then I might be able to THINK for a while.

Oh, and read this one as well, just for some backup.

Silly sods laying concrete (again)

Why do concreters start at 6am?

This is in Adelaide. There is no peak hour traffic to try and avoid (well, Ok, there is a morning rush between about 8:30 and 8:45).

But worst of all, when laying concrete for the next door neighbour, why oh why do these stupid bastards have to wash the black crap and oxide and leftover concrete off their wheelbarrows and onto my side driveway.

Stupid horrible plain rude bastards. Wake me up early in the morning, and then wash up their tools and leave crap all over my property. What the hell is wrong with these people?

Salsa

Here is a really easy salsa that takes about 2 minutes to make. It does however require REAL tomatoes, not those horrible supermarket things. So if you know somebody who grows their own, get some and give this a try.

You will need:

  • 1 large or 2 medium tomatoes
  • black pepper
  • salt
  • balsamic vinegar (ahhh nectar of the gods!)

Do this:

Quarter the tomato, then dice each quarter so you have small pieces, about 1/2 cm square. Put these in a bowl.

Add about 1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar, and a pinch of salt.

Grind over generously with black pepper, then mix it all together well.

Serve this spooned over your steak, or with anything really. Put it on toast and use as a bruscetta. Just shovel it down straight from the bowl. YUMMMMMMY!

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