Get with ponz…

Those who remember “Happy Days” would of course remember The Fonz, the coolest dude around. For somebody who was supposed to be about 17 why did he always look to be aged about 30? Ah well, yankee crap.

I had an investment in Great Southern Limited. The timber planations company. That went bust.

NOW, it turns out according to todays Financial Review,  the company was telling a few porkies. They started paying out the proceeds of timber harvesting a few years back, and found the returns were not as good as claimed. So to keep the timber scheme investors happy, they “juiced up” the returns by boosting the payout to existing investors using the funds supplied by new investors.

This is what is known as a Ponzi Scheme, and it is as far as I know illegal.

The best known example is Bernie Madoff who MADE OFF with a few billion dollars in the US, and has just been jailed for about 160 light years.

One has to wonder: why did the Australian regulatory authorities not wise up to the local Ponzi Scheme being run by Great Southern and its management?

And why are they not currently being prosecuted?

These crooks should also be in prison.

In the meantime… I’ve just written out the official notification to serve on the wreckage, asking for my money back. I don’t expect to see it.

And I’ll do a post soon about how much the corporate vultures, otherwise known as Administrators, get paid. That’ll frighten ghosts and have children waking in the night screaming in terror.

I didn’t invest in a tax-driven timber scheme. Just a corporate bond. That actually makes me a creditor to them, not an investor. They owe me back my loan.

Here be a lesson: don’t invest in anything that derives its appeal and business model from a cunning tax planning arrangement. Shades of Baldrick: “I have a cunning plan, my lord”. Look how they always turned out.

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.

Changes…

As part of the family photo-preserving effort, we’ve been gradually scanning the negatives of all the photo’s we have ever taken. As you can imagine, this is a fairly large undertaking… It goes in fits and starts depending on energy and enthusiasm.

One of the interesting things, though, was the comparison of some of the sights in Lucerne between our visit in 1989, and last year.

These two illustrate the point rather dramatically.

1989: This building just by the river and the wooden bridge, is looking rather grotty, tired, dirty. The tacked-on extension has seen better days.

1989_4-30

2008: Different angle, same building. Clean, and rather tarted up. A trendy eatery where there was previously some stonework in serious need of a cleanup. It seems impossible at first that these are the same place. Check the details carefully… they are.

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Looking back through the older photos of Lucerne, one other thing really struck me: In 1989, all of the beautiful squares and the narrow roads of the old town were filled with a jumble of cars and trucks, making it chaotic and rather untidy.

In 2008, the cars and trucks are gone, the buildings are painted and much cleaner (see above), and only pedestrians have access.

Looking back now, on the basis of the older photos alone I never would have gone back. It was prettier then than the photos showed, but now… quite outstanding.

Leaking ship of state

So a Treasury official has been leaking to the Opposition.

Surely he should know that his work and knowledge is the property of his employer. The Opposition cultivating public servants and using them to get the low-down on government policy, plans, and actions is not OK, in spite of what they might say. A public servant serves their employer – the GOVERNMENT, not the public (in spite of the title), and not the Opposition.

If he has been found to actually have passed the information on, he is most likely in breach of his employment contract as well as various bits of the law, and he should be sacked. This is what would happen in private industry.

Public servants might vote, but they must never bring their own politics into their job. Not a good move!!

What?

Another from the “What were they thinking?” files.

Today we bring you:

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Yes, that’s right: “Extra Juicy” juice.

One is naturally forced to wonder:

- Is this the premium brand, big brother of “Not So Juicy” juice? Which is perhaps dried, or watered down.

- Or perhaps instead, Extra Juicy is because the juice contains something extra. What could it be? Sugar? Illicit drugs? Artificial muck from a chemical factory?

This reminds me of those things, brands and places that put “Plus” on the end of their names, connoting some grand additional thingy or experience. “Supermarket Plus”. Hmmm, right. “Gardens Plus”. Perhaps your plants come pre-supplied with diseases and grubs. And my favourite, seen on pubs around Adelaide a few years ago: “Schnitzels Plus”. Does that mean it comes with mushroom sauce? Or just the $4 ambience of a pub and short-order cook, with sticky carpet underfoot that squelches when you walk?

I suppose it does get hard for the marketeers when you are flogging fruit juice. After all, the truly awful artificial muck is only allowed to be called a “Fruit Drink”, meaning it has less than 25% of the real thing in. Once you cross that line, you are a Fruit Juice, and in theory this gets you the premium price, and in a crowed market this is probably a Good Thing. How do you compete? Freshness? Nah. Boring, everyone has that. Packaging? Once some bright spark put handles on a bottle, that one was pretty much pushed to the limits. What’s left? Name.

However, “Extra Juicy”, I’m sorry, gets a fail grade. The teachers are disappointed and suggest trying again in the supplementary exam.

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.

Education Apologists

The other day when driving to work, I was listening to Matt-n-Dave the shit-stirrers on ABC 891. These guys seem to take it as their duty to give a hard time to everyone they interview, but especially politicians.

The other day, they made a passing comment about “Elite private schools” getting a slice of the cash being splashed at schools by the Rudd Federal Government.

The switchboard must have lit like a christmas tree. Of the callers who phoned in to complain, every single one had their hand out for private schools. One chap in particular was quite plain about his feelings and intentions:

“I send my children to a private school so they can get a better class of education…. and I pay my taxes so I should get some of this money being thrown around as well. And I find it objectionable that you refer to private schools as ‘Elite’.”

Fellow clearly didn’t understand the English language, and had an even smaller understanding of Moral Hazard.

It should be pretty clear that if he expects a “better standard of education” then that carries an implicit elitism. So why is he so sensitive?

Curious also that all callers seemed very defensive of “their right” to stick their hands into the taxpayer till. There was not a single defender of public education. All of those who called to whine were not doing so about the preceding interview with the various pollies and public servants, which was about how the money is being used. All hijacked the agenda.

But consider now, something a little more complex. Bear with me here.

Proposition 1: Education of children is compulsory. Our governments have deemed that children are to be educated, and in return that education is provided at no (or, in practice, extremely low) cost.

Proposition 2: Parents have choice and can choose to opt out of the government provided education system. By so doing, they elect a different provider and paywhatever the fees are, consistent with their choice.

When schooling decisions are made whereby a free choice is made to use a different provider, the use of government funds in addition to the private provider’s fee leads to a funding asymmetry. Or, to put it another way, if the private provider were to be funded on a per-head basis by the government in addition to fees, the result is more money per student than in the public system. We won’t even take into account the mandatory contributions to private school building funds. Although the government funding of private education is not at the same dollar-per-head rate as the public schools, the fees + government top-up still leads to the problem: funding asymmetry.

This is a form of Moral Hazard, and we can draw some analogies:

- Should people of private means also be allowed to take the age pension? (They [aid their taxes…)

- Should people who wish to use alternatives to mainstream medicine (pick your favourite example… Iridology, Homeopathy, etc) have those services provided at government expense as part of Medicare? (They paid their taxes…)

One can take these things further, into the realms of silly extremes, but the basis is simlar:

- Should people who work be permitted to collect unemployment benefits? Consider all the whining in recent years about the “cost of moving off welfare” and “welfare to work reforms”, which all involve exactly this issue.  (And remember… they paid their taxes…)

The answers to most of these questions are usually clear – until you find the devil lurking in the detail.

Returning to schooling though, the funding asymmetry becomes blindingly apparent when the private schools are compared to their poor cousins, the state schools. In a country where education is compulsory, the private apologists are obscene in putting their hands in the public trough. Public funding should go to areas of greatest need.

I challenge anyone to pay a visit to Salisbury East, or Elizabeth, or Davoren Park – and then explain why those schools should receive less money because some of it must go to private schools. I likewise challenge anyone to show me a private school that has not had some form of building improvement work done in the last 5 years. The funding asymmetry is in front of all our eyes. Open them.

Friday Photo (on a Sunday)

Todays Friday Photo comes from Lucerne (Luzern), Switzerland.

We spent a day in Lucerne about 20 years ago, and liked it so much that we had to go back. That, and it was an easy jumping-off place to head up Mount Titlis.

Switzerland is expensive.  Food is expensive.  Hotels are expensive.  And the old town part of Lucerne is simply stunning.  Each Saturday, two markets appear – a food market on one side of the river, and the bric-a-brac (aka junk) market on the other.

We were staying right on the waterfront – alongside the river, so the food market appeared overnight, right outside our window.  Everything appears very quietly – it wasn’t until the Saturday morning that I opened up the window and found bustling market outside!

It was fascinating walking along the side of the river,  looking at what is on sale, and looking at the people.

So today’s Friday Photo is the horse dog at the riverside cafe. Flick back and forward through some of the other photos so see more of Lucerne.  I’m still adding these, one per day, so all of Lucerne will be there in about another week.

Lucerne

Click to embiggerate.

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.

Pollie wants a bikkie

Really, this needs no introduction or elaboration. The bit about pollies as bikkies, I mean.

Super, just super

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday Photo

Today’s Friday Photo is again brought to you on a Saturday thanks to the miracle of wordpress scheduled posts being broken.

But it does have the advantage that I can take my time in choosing something I want to show, whilst sipping on a nice coffee, with the heater roaring away.

Our current Adelaide winter is finally here, cold, and wet. The most rain we have had for several years. Today will be raining – and it is forecast to be much the same for the next week. Right now, the rain has stopped and the sun streaming in the window is rather nice.

All of this puts me in mind of this:

Sunset at McLaren Vale

(click to go full size)

Which looks terrible in a tiny little shrink-pic, but bigger…

The winemakers of the McLaren Vale region, south of Adelaide, produce some of the outstanding wines of Australia. Region is small, and fairly easily overlooked. Spending some time there gives a different perspective. The photo shows the (rather small, and incongrously named) Mount Lofty Ranges in the background, and the tops of the posts and vines, lit by the setting sun during Autumn. I like the subtle range of colours.

Zis iz not good enuf

Ello again, mah friendz, it iz zat tahm again when we muzt zelebrate ze naughty bitz zat are all around in ze Europe.

Ziz week we af ze palace of ze Versailles in France. Ze king ere was vey vey powerful and alzo vey vey rich. And ze oppulents iz vey fine to zee.

Ere we af ze zings in one of ze royal apartmennntz.

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Az you can ze, she az no cloze on ze top bitz. In France, iz no big zing. In Australie, in ze Adelaide, in ze Tea Tree Gully council, zis is not ze caze. Zadlie.

Royal nude statues. Good enough for France. Good enough for royalty. Good enugh for 25 million visiting tourists a year. Not good enough for Tea Tree Gully. How sad.

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)

Pig of a thing

Does anybody else think that this Swine Flu thing is getting a little out of hand?

My sister in Germany reports that it rates not a barest mention in Berlin.

Friends wtih relatives in Denmark report that it has no visibility in their news.

Those who have been found the have “Swine Flu” are back at school/work within a week. You can be off for that long with a heavy cold. REAL FLU knows you over, shakes, fever, aches. REAL FLU is so bad you can’t get out of bed for 2 or 3 days, and will be sick for about a fortnight.

This all seems like a huge beat-up. Who benefits from this bullshit?

Friday Photo

Todays Friday Photo is brough on a Saturday (again).

The Malls Balls

(click to go full size)

Rundle Mall, in Adelaide, is THE shopping street. And Bert Flugelman’s Big Silver Balls have been a fixture for about 30 years. The sculpture is known, somewhat unkindly, as “The Malls Balls”. Or in my case: Bert’s Balls.

If you look carefully, you’ll see the subject in the reflection… hunt carefully for Borders Books.

It’s Not Good Enough!!!

Today we have things that go BANG!

Yes, cannon. No – not church law (though you’d think so by the attitudes of the prudes) – that’s canon. But instead, ka-boom.

Yep – cannon-that-goes-bang needs handles-for-picking-up-with. And what better for keeping up the morale of the soldiers than adding a few naughty bits:

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Things that go bang with rude bits: Good enough for the French Army. Not good enough for Tea Tree Gully.

Bankers, *ankers

A while back I was driving home from work, and onto the radio came some banker. This guy was giving a long and impassioned plea for understanding of bankers, and seeking to justify the huge salaries and the bonus structure of investment bankers of recent years.

The main thrust of his argument:

“Investment Bankers deserve bonuses and being paid lots of  money, because it encourages innovation, and we NEED innovation in banking and finance.”

Riiiiiiight.

The same innovation in banking and finance gave us:

  • Bankers loaning more than a house is worth to people who can’t meet the paymeants (> 100% of valuation; insufficient income)
  • Bankers packaging mortages and selling them as investments – thus getting the loans off the banks books (called “securitisation” in case you were wondering what that was)
  • Bankers dressing up those packaged mortages by slicing, dicing, and mixing the good, the bad and the ugly to magically make lousy grade investments into high grade investments. Silk purses from sows ears, anyone?
  • Bankers paying themselves bonuses of millions of dollars – to blow it on cocaine, expensive Champagne, and call-girls.
  • Bankers putting in place exciting things like interest-rate swaps, credit-default swaps, and things that supposedly spread risk – and therefore shift the resulting contagion to everyone.
  • Bankers devising such things as Contracts for Difference so you don’t have to buy and sell shares, you can buy and sell pretend shares. The options you have when not having options. Push them to the Mum’s and Dad’s! Yay!
  • Bankers getting into, or pushing companies into, the futures markets with hedging arrangements that periodically send companies broke (think Pasminco, Zinifex, and many many others)
  • Bankers pushing along the trade in options and other derivaties which reached the terrifying levels whereby the VALUE of the underlying securities of the outstanding options exceeded the entire national gross domestic product AND capital values!

These guys created the house of cards.

It fell down.

We all suffer.

Many of these guys lost their jobs last year. Well boo-bloody-hoo. With the salaries you lot got paid, if you had any left that you didn’t snort up your noses, you’ll be on easy street forever. You might not be able to call yourself a *anker any more but if you had any sense at all you’ll be an extremely well-off unemployed.

The rest of us suffer thanks to the actions of “Innovative” Bankers.

Don’t expect any sympathy, and don’t try to justify your bonuses. And don’t try and tell us we need more innovation in banking.

We need banking to be dull, boring, and peopled by guys in cardigans. We don’t need more innovation by a bunch of fast-talking spivs. That’s what got us into this mess in the first place.

And politicians who came from banking backgrounds** should be slinking off into very small dark spaces, and shutting their stupid gobs.

—–

** Our current Leader of Her Majesties Opposition, the Hon Mr Turnbull is an ex-Merchant Banker. Trustworthiness factor = 0.

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.

Friday Photo

Wordpress has a bug which means my attempts to write the Friday Photo in advance are failing miserably.

So Friday Photo today comes on a Saturday.

Today’s is another sequence – today we have the journey to the top of the world. Or more specifically, up Mount Titlis (and don’t giggle – THERE IS A REASON it has that name) in Switzerland.

Todays link is only to the first in a sequence of about 10. Each has a small commentary. Mouse over / find the navigation arrow buttons to move through the pictures. The picture below is about half way through the sequence, when we are at the top of the 10,000 foot mountain.

The Journey Up Mount Titlis

National Broadband = national censorship

So our Federal Government decided that they will build a new National Broadband Network covering most of the country. When it was election policy it was to cost of about $13 billion.

Now its even bigger, better, and shinier than before – with a price tag of about $43 billion.

In a country of about 20 million people, that means the cost to the taxpayers for this new broadband system will be about $2000 per person, whether used or not. And all for something about 4 or 5 times faster than we can get right now using ADSL2.

Stop and think for a moment. All that money to deliver something that, in large measure, we already have. Sure the current technology is a bit iffy here and there and the coverage is not universal. Sure, it can be ramped up a bit more.

But stop and think a bit more. Why would a government want to duplicate what is already being run by Telstra, Optus, AAPT, and the myriad operators of other telecommunication infrastructure? Sure, Telstra is the elephant in the room – but the other operators are not exactly asleep. when Telstra gouges the prices, others move in to build something with which to compete. That’s the market at work.

Sure, Telstra could be regulated harder. Or have its infrastructure nationalised. Oops – can’t do that. It used to be nationalised before!

Is there some other agenda, perhaps?

This all coming from the same government that wants to censor the internet in Australia, and which has a vast amount of push-back from the ISPs.

Could the government perhaps want to build and control the infrastructure in order to bring the recalcitrant ISP’s into line?

After all – if you control the tubes, you control what goes in and what goes out.

Are they really that desperate to control the message they they would spend this much money on doing so?

Perhaps.

Not good enough

Oh yawn. That time again. Yep, it’s Wednesday, which means its not-enough-day. You get the drill by now. No? Well, go read the link then, and then wallow in 6 months worth of Wednesday displays of what’s allowed in other cities around the world, but is not acceptable in little prudish Adelaide. Well, specifically, Tea Tree Gully council.

So, today, right outside the local Catholic Church round the corner from where we stayed in Paris comes this:

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And what liddle Catholic Church might that have been, you might ask? Why, only this one:

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That’s right – just down from Sacré Coeur. And OK, it was not right next door, it was a couple of stops on the Metro.

But nevertheless, can you ever see this being allowed anywhere in Australia? Let alone Adelaide?!

Piddling Kiddies. Good enough for Paris. Not good enough for Tea Tree Gully.

Speed Rabbit Pizza

Saw this place in Paris.

You have to wonder what they were thinking.

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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.

Friday Photo(s)

Today’s Friday Photo comes courtesy of my former work colleague and distant relation (by marriage to a 17th cousin 9th removed, or something like that) David B, who produces Mataro Road wines from Hope Valley in South Australia.

Each year he also usually has an Autumn Jazz-Out-The-Back day – with lunch, wine, and about 4 hours of performance from a local Jazz Group.

So this week – we have – Mataro Road Wines:

Mataro Road

I especially like the reflected colours in the bottles.

And, a few of this years Jazz Day performers:

Peter The Professor

The Big G Sax

Click each to go to full size.

Turning off gravity

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

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

Not good enuf

After a break of a couple of weeks, it’s time for the naughty bits to make a come-back. Pun! Geddit! Oops. Bad. Bad pun. Must not have fun about naughty bits in the not-good-enough segment.

So, why are we here? To recap: The prudes in the local council – The City of Tea Tree Gully, banned a couple of nudes from the 2008 council art exhibition. Can’t have Tits in Tea Tree Gully. Wonder about the little birdies. They’re called tits, aren’t they? Must be called something else hereabouts. Can’t use names that might incite the natives to naughtiness and depravity, can we?

So each Wednesday, we’ve had a photo of (shudder) Naughty Bits from somewhere in Europe, and today I’ve got back into the swing. Plenty more pics to come yet!

So, todays nasty, depraved, naughty picture comes from the seat of European deravity: Paris. Worse, worse!!! From a place visited by millions!!!

Horrors  - the Arc De Triomphe, slap bang in the middle of Paris – a grand monument, right at the end of the Champs-Élysées, contains pornography! On public display!! Oh shock. Cover your eyes!  How could they do this:

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Dangly bits. Good enough for Paris. Not good enough for Tea Tree Gully.

And another thing

I didn’t watch the Budget speech.

So much has been strategically leaked to the press in the last week that we must know it all anyhow.

I seriously hope a few things will be changed:

- Age discrimination in tax rates. Why is it that people over a certain age can have a take-home pay of over $65K per year and pay zero tax? Us working mugs subsidise this. Thanks Mr Costello for that one – buying off the grey vote. Needs to be undone.

- A new higher tax rate for the ridiculously high income earners. Perhaps a new marginal rate of say 55% cutting in a about $500K.  And then a rate of 65% cutting in at about $1M. This will be a big disincentive to offering stratospheric salaries to all those CEOs whose pay has gone ballistic over the last few years.

- I don’t really care much about the Medicare safety net. But the private health insurance rebate (much hated by the socialised medicine lobby groups) should stay UNTIL the government can get the cost of health care rises to equal inflation. Seeing as much of the cost of health care is payingthe health professionals, this means containing the incomes of the medical profession.

- It would be nice to see the first-home-owners-bribe getting a phased reduction. Maybe not elimination – I can’t ask for that, this would be hypocrisy. After all, I benefited from a simialr grant back in 1987. Mine was for $1000, mind. So paring back the current grants of something crazy like $25K would be a good move.

- Some of the defence spending (which is all money going overseas) is just crazy. Defence has had above-everyone-else budget increases for years. Time for a bit of a look at where all those dollars go.

- There’s much ado about middle class welfare. Perhaps a little surgery in the land of upper class welfare would be a good thing, too.

Unerringly unblurring

We found some articles in a photography magazine about software that can remove blur from photos – to handle either motion blur or when you didn’t quite get the focus right.

Two of these are freeware, one needs a small payment.

So far, 2 of the 3 programs have had a test run with very mixed results.

The one you pay for has done an outstanding job on one of 3 test photos (and been completely terrible on the other 2). Of course, the best results were on the very first image tried – leading to elation and thoughts of “oh wow this is great lets rush off and try and fix lots of others and gee this is good and I better tell everybody about it and…”. Then the let down when it did a terrible job on the next few tried. And it has the user interface from hell.

One of these programs that is free seems to be immensely powerful, with all the functions of Photoshop, and all sorts of goodies. But, there is no help, and little to tell you what to do. A hackers paradise, but painful, oh so painful, to try and figure out what it does. Results so far, on the test photos, have not been enough to warrant further consideration. This could be that those photos just can’t be rescued, or it could be finger-trouble, not knowing how to drive it.

And program #3 is a java program – which has until now been a disencentive to try it. Perhaps it’s worth a go anyhow. Just have to make sure Java is installed first.

These things… they are meant to be easy. Oh bliss! Far, far from it.

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EDIT: Well the Java program aint all that flash either. It’s slow, the user interface is terrible (a standout worst of the three), and it’s clunky to start it up.

On the plus side, a lot more fiddling with the free-program-that-has-no-help does seem to be yielding results – another photo so far has been refocussed quite well with it. Still a pig to drive though.

Recommendations so far:

Focus Magic: Costs US$45, works well for some things. Easy to drive until you want to tweak and then does not have keyboard accelerators. 4 million mouse clicks is not nice.

Image Analyser: Free. Good for geeks. Needs lots of searching on-line to find how to use it. Seems to be immensely powerful. Test / Preview modes don’t seem to work very well.

Unsharp: Free. Needs java. Slow. Awful user interface. Works better on defined size square images. Other sizes cause conniptions and make it run slower.

So far I’m leaning toward Image Analyser (and a lot of fiddling… refocussing photos is very time consuming).

Up the mighty revolution

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

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