Thursday, 25 November 2010

Eric the fruit bat

We have a smallish peach tree in the back yard, which we'd like to get a taste ofthe fruit from this year.

However the local birds (Currawongs) seem to be doing their best at pecking them well before they're ripe.

So we put some bird netting over the tree to hopefully reduce the losses.

Today late in the arvo I was looking out at the tree and noticed some bundle of black rolling around in the netting ... yep a fruit bat had made its way into the netting and gotten caught up.

so armed with the scissors and a ladder my wife and I carefully cut him (or her) out.

The poor creature looked so shagged from the struggle we thought that a local cat might get it. So we rummaged about for a box and brought it inside for a bit of recuperation.

It didn't seem comfortable with the box so I cut a couple of holes in the sides and pushed a bit of wooden dowel through ... give it something to hang from ...

it seemed more comfortable, so we thought we'd give it some food and drink to help it recuperate from the struggle. He didn't seem so keen on the apple slice (although he kept licking it) so I thought about some (recently home made) strawberry nectar mixed with water. Some sugars and water ... seemed to be a hit as he drank from the end of the syringe as if he was born to the job...

after a hour or so I took him out and placed the box near another tree, and he climbed out and into the tree.

An hour or so later on and I heard the rustle of him moving off and getting back to life again.

One more wrong righted

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

bad decisions - failure to invest in people

Its been interesting to see the unfolding of the Queensland Health Payroll debacle. I read today that some $200 million (yes, thats $200,000,000) will be required to "fix" the system. Assuming that does the trick.

As one who has been a developer for some decades I find it interesting to see how large government institutions have been increasingly divesting themselves of any internal skills or experience in IT and outsourcing everything. Once upon a time organisations had both process knowledge as well as technical knowledge and built systems which worked well and functioned. These were often done in house at low cost.

Back in those days management would whine like a fully functional jet engine at the thought of hiring 3 more programmers at $30,000 to complete large tasks. Looking at the numbers above you'd get a team of over six thousand developers (not just 3) for the same money.

Ok, that's maybe simplistic ... lets say you'd need to have them for 3 years (how long has the QLD Health debacle been in the planning?), say there is an admin overhead of 100% (meaning you'd have to pay double) and put it in todays dollars (about 50,000 per annum for a developer).

So 3 x $50,000 x 2 = $300,000 ... or six hundred teams for the same price.

Why has noone realised that expensive consultants who own expensive downtown buildings and get paid high salaries can't be saving you money when they're getting rid of low paid employees.

But no ... its more cost effective to outsource it or is it ...

At last the ABC reports that the Government has broken off from this supplier:

"Corptech, on behalf of the Government, has terminated its relationship with IBM," he said.

but where to now?

Try and find experienced IT staff who have a long history with an organisation, people who get to develop stuff; not just patch packages like "SAP or People soft" or have to work with "pre made" stuff which does not suite the task and gets nails hammered through it to "fit".

I've been saying for some time, if there's a skills shortage in Australia it seems to be focused around upper management who decide its not worth investing in a good team.

Monday, 22 November 2010

addicted to cars

Cars are great tools, but we seem to have (in the last 30 years) wanted to just jump in our car and go where we want without thinking.

I started riding my bicycle to work back in about 1997 (about 17km each way) and found that not only was I getting healthier but I found much more money in my wallet at the end of each week!

However I'm in the minority in Australia ... and its a shrinking one too. Enough car drivers are just insane in their attitude in this area. Ask any cyclist and you'll hear stories of near death experiences.

Ask the average car driver who hates bicycles and you'll hear more simple whinges like "they touched my car" (leaving no marks) "they held me up" (for no more than 10 seconds till the next red light) or "roads are made for cars".

Essentially its just dribble to justify their irrational hate.

I'm glad to see the publication of these findings which indicate that:

Drivers were at fault in 87 per cent of incidents with cyclists and most did not realise they had behaved in a reckless or unsafe manner, according to the Monash University Accident Research Centre and The Amy Gillett Foundation.

Its interesting to read some of the methods and findings:

The three-year study into cyclist safety on the roads used mounted video camera footage, as well as helmet-mounted cameras worn by cyclists, to determine the main causes of road accidents between cyclists and motorists.

Fifty-four events were recorded; including two collisions, six near-collisions and 46 other incidents.

The helmet camera study found that of the 54 incidents recorded, more than 88 per cent of cyclists travelled in a safe and legal way.

Conversely, drivers changing lanes and turning left without indicating or looking were the cause of more than 70 per cent of the incidents, Amy Gillett Foundation chief executive officer Tracey Gaudry said.

“We believe there is a strong argument to introduce a road rule that prescribes a safe passing distance (at least one metre), as well as further educating drivers that they need to indicate at least five seconds before changing lanes,” she said.

After 2000 I started living overseas, in places like Japan, Korea, India and Finland. All these places have an active and functional cyclist population and car drivers who are tolerant of this.

These days I'm back in Australia I've been forced to give up or get injuries.

So, what do we do about it?

I'd love to suggest we force drivers to use bicycles, but we've really started to make our cities in such a way as to totally preclude bicycle transport. We now live too far from work and its almost impossible to use a combination of public transport and bicycle.

How can we go back? Well probably we can't ... so where should we go forward to?

Greater reliance on cars, greater traffic congestion (another tunnel anyone) and greater costs for transport ...

looks like we've painted ourselves into a corner doesn't it

Sunday, 21 November 2010

dads back yard

Dad called me today to say there was a family of Tawny Frogmouths just recently out of the nest in the back yard. So I pulled out my trusty FD 300mm f4 and my G1 and toddled over.

They're commonly thought of as Owls, but they are in fact not. They are related to the Nightjar family.

They are nocturnal, so there isn't much activity by day ..


just keeping still

and keeping an eye on photographers


But this is the "classic" pose for the Tawny.


I must say I'm quite pleased with my existing image making tools. The G1 does well with adapted lenses in this sort of work

People today confuse me ... they want to spend thousands on cameras and lenses which more often not fail to do any better than this. They often fail to see the worth in learning a little about their craft and equipment. These were taken with a lens made in 1970.

G1 with 300mm f4

I just use a monopod to stabilise it and this wonderful optic can get images which are as sharp as you could ask for. This is a 100% sample from the keeping still image above (click it to load the full image).

enough detail to make a very good looking 50cm high print of the little guy

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

utilisation rate

I just read that the Australian is complaining that Migrants are under-utilized in Australia.
Taxi driver Jagdeep Singh, with a BSc and MA from Punjab University, outside his home in Algester, Brisbane, yesterday.

Well bully for him ... there is far less discussion on how many native born Australians are in the same situation.

I can speak from personal experience that I am not working in the area I spent years of hard work training to be in.

Personally I'm very happy to have a job and income.

Perhaps the real issue is to understand why we have so many migrants here (presumably encouraged here under skilled migration under John Howard) while at the same time having housing shortages due to high population growth (fueled by migration) and under-employment of Skilled Australians.

as the old slogan used to say "Wake Up Australia"

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Aussie culture - what is it?

We often too and fro about this issue, what is Australian culture. While its hard to put down in a bullet point list I would say the beach and the surf would be part of it.

This weekend gone a member of a group of 4 died here on the coast going swimming in the evening. I also heard on the radio that increasingly children are not learning to swim. This is a tragedy, especially so when you consider how easy it is to teach kids to swim.

The latest figures (according to a report by the Royal Life Saving) is that 56% of drownings were children.

One of my earliest memories in my life was learning to swim, which we did at Kindy. Naturally (living in Southport) my family got into Nippers.

Nippers are a great way to get kids into fun safety and sporting events all at the same time.

The above scene is a typical nippers day morning on the beach, with a beach race about to start.

Beaches, family, kids and fun ... surely this is part of Australian culture.

It seems unreal to me that people who would be drawn to the beach would not have the basics of safety such as being able to swim even 50 meters.

Australia has had a vast influx of migrants from locations of the world who do not have a beach culture. It is no surprise that these people are not engaging in things in the same way. Perhaps have come from an urbanized area or a place with no swimming.

But what ever your past has been if you like the beach, and you value your kids ... please teach them to swim.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

why the US Dollar

Anyone with a passing interest in finance (seems to be more people today) will notice (perhaps) that we always use the US Dollar in comparisons.

It would seem to be the basis of all comparisons. There is some historical reason for this, but in a nustshell it essentially boils down to the USA being the last big boy standing after the all out brawls of WW1 and WW2 were over.

The USA could step in and say we hold the cards. Its a simplification but more or less supported by a number of views. Have a quick look at the history of the Bretton Woods Agreement at Wikipedia here, but a quick potted history from wikipedia is:

Preparing to rebuild the international economic system as World War II was still raging, 730 delegates from all 44 Allied nations gathered at the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, United States, for the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference. The delegates deliberated upon and signed the Bretton Woods Agreements during the first three weeks of July 1944.

Setting up a system of rules, institutions, and procedures to regulate the international monetary system, the planners at Bretton Woods established the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), which today is part of the World Bank Group. These organizations became operational in 1945 after a sufficient number of countries had ratified the agreement.
Well anyway ... it was all going well for them till the USA itself (embroiled in a costly campaign in Vietnam) pulled out the main pin with the Nixon Shock of removing Gold from being the governing commodity for the US currency.

So apart from habits (and they really do die hard) there is really little to tie us to use the USD as a currency comparator.

Back when I first went to the USA the price of the US dollar was actually less than the Australian dollar. For one reason or another the Aussie was floated by Paul Keating in 1983 and we have been gradually working out it worth since then.

For the last number of years however the USD has been falling against with AUD, the US Sub-prime crisis seems to have shown a significant fall in the USD (seen as the spike below)

... that more or less has settled out and we're back to the regular fall in value we've seen over the last 5 or so years.

The EURO on the other hand has been more resilient to the USD issues. Tere have been some fluctuations up and down as the exposure to high US Dollar exposure was worked out (as well as some internal crises such as Greece).

Over all however the US Dollar has fallen from 85 EURO cents in the end of 2005 to be about 72c now. Representing a long term failure.
So when comparing the Australian Dollar to the EURO we see a more steady and even happening. The value has moved up from being worth 60 cents in 2005 to about 71cents.

To some extent I have felt that in the period from 2002 to 2008 the Aussie was undervalued. The market had not see the or understood commodity boom with China and the confusion of the sub prime crash in and around 2008 led to international uncertainty, but now we seem to be steadily moving away from these problems and being seen as we are (for what we are worth).

Good as Gold?

The use of Gold as a standard to determine currency has a long history, in fact its more illuminating when and why we have moved away from it. For example from this article we see the following points:
Governments faced with high levels of expenditure, but with limited sources of tax revenue, suspended convertibility of currency into gold on a number of occasions in the 19th century.

the US government did so during the US Civil War

As in previous major wars under the gold standard, the British government suspended the convertibility of Bank of England notes to gold in 1914 to fund military operations during World War I

When you look at the increase in value of Gold against the US Dollar it looks like its gone bezerk. The interesting thing however is when you compare it .

In the graph below (sourced from I have altered the scales on the EURO by scaling the height of the graph. Both started from being worth about the same (4oo currency units)...

while the US has risen to being around 1500 currency units (dollars) the Euro is only fetching 1100.

So the moral of this post is that if you're wondering about how well you're doing, don't compare yourself to the US Dollar anymore. Because its falling, if you're on parity then you're falling too.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

we used to do it

but now we don't ...
The Japanese were encouraged to broaden into it by the Americans after WW2.


It was only in 1962 that we closed the whaling at Tangalooma.

Which may seem like a long time ago to kiddies, but to people over 40 its within their lifetime.

Placed on the other side of Moreton Island its often only thought of by the local people as a resort, but it of course has a history which few know and fewer seem to consider today.

I am not wishing to defend whaling at all in the modern world. It is in my opinion an anachronism, something we once did but which has little or no relevance to us anymore.

There is no place for blame, it is pointless to say negative things about what we did in the past. But the future is a different thing. I don't wish to force anyone to give up their traditional practices, but the modern approach to whaling has little resemblance to that.

The picture below was taken at Tangalooma in about 1960, it shows two whales Humpback whales tied up at the bow of whale chaser. You can see on the deck the canon which fires the explosive tipped harpoon as well as a little rigging.

Today whaling is almost the iconic representation of over fishing, unsustainable practice and humans not being willing to change as our world changes (or as we create a new world).

Personally I would like to see the practice halted as it really provides little which can not be substituted with other items. We no longer need it for food and whale sourced oils are perhaps fully replaced by synthetics.

I think that its time to change ...

the Indigenous Gap

Various people in are often going on about the "gap" between Indigenous Australia and the rest of Australia, the latest referendum by the Government is intended to bring this recognition to the constitution.

As a non-indigenous but (depending on the branch you follow) 5th generation Australian I would ask if this "gap" is not in some ways of the Indigenous Communitys own making.

While there is totally no doubt in my mind that through history various Colonial and Post Federation (but still perhaps Colonial in thinking) governments have done much wrong (such as unpaid wages) to the Indigenous Community, it should be pointed out that the rest of the country gets its fair share of being ripped off too.

To me the main source of "gap" seems to be leveled at indicators such as health (mental and physical) and life expectancy. There is little doubt that these indicators do indeed show a large difference between the people who call themselves Aboriginal and those who do not.

As I see it, this would seem to be something which is exactly created by the life choices that Aboriginal people make. The places they choose to live in and the lifestyles they choose to lead.

A case in point was the recent rampaging community that spilled out of Yuendumu over into South Australia. The violence was about payback for killings, something which is variously illegal, condemned and the source of all the strife in the middle east.

It seems that the first death (which started the bloody vengance) was sparked by claims that a fella who died of cancer was in fact killed by another "witch doctor" who cast a spell on him.

yeah, right. Pull the other one, that plays Jingle bells.

At present anyone who applies for a job in Government (local, State or Federal) will know that there is actually positive discrimination towards Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders built into the application process. In other words the system actually stacks against non-indigenous people.

Even Noel Pearson has made statements that recognize the comprehensive failure of the Indigenous community to even properly raise and care for their own.

I would argue that if Aboriginal People joined the modern world, and lived as the rest of us do that this gap would disappear.

I would be very interested to hear from anyone in the community who can clearly make a case to me that there remains any significant gap which is not in the favor of Indigenous peoples that is not contributed to by them.

Time moves on ... I know its hard to change values, and there are certainly many existing values within mainstream society in Australia which need changing. However as I see it we stand to gain more as a society by coming together and working towards a future together than by working on perpetuation of division. I can not see anything in "Indigenous Recognition" which does anything other than perpetuate that division.

Can you?

Saturday, 6 November 2010

after years of struggle

Since the crew of the Bounty were resettled to Norfolk Island it has been largely an independent territory, but things are changing. Recent issues of over spending and acquiring a debt greater than it can manage have pushed the Norfolk Island governing body into accepting a greater amount of Australian Commonwealth control.

It may seem insignificant, but Australia should look carefully at this "take over" and consider what lessons can be learnt with respect to our own overseas debt, sell offs to international stake holders, international ownership of many (if not most) of our food production (and lets not forget the wine stan).

What if we suddenly can't service our debt?

More bases to the USA?

Mines sold to China?

were will we get our income then? Tourism?

Great! Australia, the dumb blond of the world turns to selling herself to customers. Say isn't that close to a definition of prostitution?

Friday, 5 November 2010

water woes

How long have we been debating the Murray Darling area and its water troubles? The area and its issues are not simply symbolic of the problems of the entire country they truly reflect well most of the issues.

I would guess that only overseas readers are unaware of the issues here and that they have gone on for decades. The calls from environmental interests in this issue have gone from prediction of problems, identification of problems, identification of impending crisis to finally crisis.

Its only the once in 30 or so years massive La NiƱa swing which has saved the day (but only for this or next year).

Today I see that people are starting to identify that the Government being involvement is going to hinder solution to this problem.

Folks even printed out on the lightest weight paper, there is a ton of material on this issue and almost all of it is in agreement:
  • water is being over used
  • the environment is being massively degraded
  • there are threats from sulfate soils being exposed to air
  • a few high water crop growers are consuming the majority of the water
  • the highest use water users are unwilling to pay more for their water
Center to this issue is the fundamental issue that the various State Government Water and Irrigation acts are to blame as well as the Tokenistic historically Colonial governments.

I fully appreciate the local people being up in arms about the "solution" to the issues, but as they say:
  • there has been little or no consultation with the community
  • the responce is simply that of an unfeeling bureaucratic machine.
Like the article mentions:

The result will be a monolith incapable of timely and opportunistic response to changing localised weather conditions.

It will be staffed by federal bureaucrats trying to co-ordinate with state officials with the operational responsibilities, all reporting to politicians eager to secure short-term political mileage that does not necessarily correspond to long-term environmental improvement.

The environmental bang for the taxpayer buck is likely to be significantly muffled by the bureaucratic padding provided by the CEWH.

In reality this problem can only be solved by us ... we need to start to understand the problem at a public level and then tell our politicians what to do.

If we don't do this, then they will simply rule us. But unlike a benevolent Dictator or Monarch this is not a person, but a machine.

Currently that machine is mainly being used by the inept and incompetent to make money for themselves. Don't think so? Well just look at the level of "debate" happening in any area of politics (especially Federal) right now.