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Apr 2008


I offered to host a Reconciliation GetTogether for GetUp but no-one accepted the invitation to come to a gathering in Barraba so I had to cancel. I guess that the GetUp membership which is, I believe, about 280,000, all live elsewhere in Australia.

I keep forgetting that we are no longer city folk. I am gradually getting used to being a country person and am very glad that we settled in Barraba which is an iconic country town with all the virtues usually ascribed to country folk.

Posted: 30/4/08 1:03 AM

Journalist's Innumeracy?

I was browsing edge.org and came across a reference to a Daniel Dennett essay on the future of religion which I found most interesting. There are also several other interesting essays on the page.

As I scrolled down the page, as you do, I came across an essay by Alun Anderson of New Scientist entitled The Sunlight-powered Future.

My attention was attracted to the numbers in the first and second paragraphs, the world energy use, 4.5 x 10^20 joules p.a., and the total "amount of clean, green energy that pours down on the Earth totally free of charge every year" 3,000,000 x 10ˆ20 joules. The article goes on to say that "The Sun is providing 7,000 times as much energy as we are using".

I wondered, as I do, if these numbers made sense as it was obvious that 3,000,000 divided by 4.5 doesn't equal 7,000. A quick back of the envelope calculation of the total insolation on an area equal to the projected area of the earth at 1AU from the sun is approximately 20 x 10^20 joules p.a. or perhaps an order of magnitude higher which is only 4.5 or maybe 45 times the quoted world energy use.

I might of course be wrong but then so might he and I am the reader and he is the supposedly technically qualified writer.

Posted: 27/4/08 6:46 AM

The 2020 Summit Report

I have read the preliminary report of the 2020 Summit and was surprised by the degree to which I agreed with most of the stuff. I had expected a slew of stuff about growth, standard of living and such like. Most of what I read seemed to me to be a well reasoned approach to sustainable development of the nation.

The Strengthening Communities and Supporting Working Families group impressed me most with some highly desirable ambitions and some positive and practical proposals for improvement.

There were a couple of groups which seemed to me to be self-serving.

The Towards a Creative Australia - The Future of Arts, Film and Design group included in its Ambitions statement "Creativity is broader than the arts, but the arts are central to creativity". In a world faced with so many problems which are amenable only to technical solutions, the thought that we should rank the arts as more important the science and technology is absurd.

The Australian Governance group found that the republic was most important issue to be addressed. While I would welcome the change to a republic as an demonstration of our maturity as a nation, I find that anyone who sees this as a necessary change fails to accept that the model we currently use works perfectly well for us. One of the potential dangers of becoming a republic is that we might lose the essential concept of a "constitutional monarchy" which was largely developed by George VI and has been followed so well by Elizabeth II has provided Britain and the rest of the Commonwealth nations with the most successful system of national headship every to exist. If the "brightest and Best " of Australians believe that the republic is more important than a Bill of Rights I suspect that they are not truly representative of the rest of us.

Posted: 24/4/08 8:19 AM

War on Drink

The recent proposal to regulate the use of alcohol to minimize harm to drinkers and to others has been labelled "a nanny state intrusion on personal liberty". The assumption behind this is that people are rational and will always do the right thing. This is clearly not a universal truth.

The opposition to regulation of alcohol consumption is clearly ridiculous in the light of the facts about the amount of damage caused to themselves and to others by alcohol fuelled people. Binge drinkers not only harm themselves by causing alcohol related illness but they also harm others in drink driving accidents and in violent behaviour such as that exhibited by a famous Australian swimmer recently.

While considering this issue, an example came to mind. Why do we need any kind of regulations if people always behave rationally and do the right thing. Clearly none of us would like to live in a society where we had no policing of the road rules or the food hygiene rules. Many more of us would die in road accidents or due to food poisoning.

Alcohol has been shown to cause as much harm as tobacco and most of us applaud the efforts that have been made to reduce the deleterious effects of tobacco. Perhaps Kevin Rudd's "war" on binge drinking will do some good. I fear that it might only target the young when all binge drinkers can be a danger to themselves and to their fellow citizens. I applaud the WHO for planning to put in place a global Framework Convention on Alcohol Control based on the somewhat successful global Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

We have a "War on Terror" but we don't have a "War on Uncivilized Behaviour" when most of us are at much greater risk from our fellow citizens who behave badly than we are from "terrorists". It is a bit like having plans to combat global warming while ignoring all the other unsustainable human activities (see my posting 2020 below).

Posted: 22/4/08 9:37 AM

A Sign of the Times

I was horrified by the report that one of "Australia's Brightest and Best" at the 2020 Summit got angry because the debate on one topic was shorter than he wanted. If 1000 people have just 2 days to debate all the ideas they bring to the table, there must be some limitation of the time to debate each issue. One would assume that the timetable was in the hands of each group so getting angry must mean that one participant wanted to dominate the debate. Perhaps the choice of "Australia's Brightest and Best" was a little flawed. Oh well, 1 in 1000 wasn't too bad.

I await with interest Phillip Adams take on the event.

Posted: 21/4/08 5:03 AM

The latest good news

It rained today. I don't think the drought broke because we only got enough in the rain water tank to make up for the last eight days consumption. But it did rain. Oh! I forgot, now the damned grass will grow again.

Posted: 20/4/08 9:25 PM

More Good News

I went to the specialist in Tamworth yesterday because Dr Sanji had arranged the consultation after last Thursday's "scare". He found that I was "perfectly healthy". I have to see him again in June but that is just the normal follow up procedure after the angiogram.

Jean had her new spectacles adjusted because they had been causing some discomfort. She is happy that they are better.

I was delighted to become acquainted with a python which was on show in the Shoppingworld.

Posted: 18/4/08 6:40 AM

The Good News is coming faster

I was startled to read this in today's paper.

Centrelink and all privatized job agencies have been instructed to show more compassion towards the unemployed and resist imposing eight week dole payment suspensions.
The Rudd Government's directive comes after figures reveal a doubling in the number of people who lost their welfare payments for eight weeks under a tough enforcement program introduced by the Howard Government.

I have long held the view that the Howard Government policy was designed to reduce the expenditure on welfare payments by "breaching" recipients illegally. I am heartened to hear that the Rudd Government recognised this and is prepared to do something about it. It would be better if the rules were changed and the agencies were made fully accountable for their behaviour.

Posted: 16/4/08 11:49 AM


Get Up, an internet lobby group, has asked us to contribute ideas to the members who are members of the Government's 2020 Summit. This is the draft version of my contribution.

My latest insight into the problems our society faces is that Governments seem to try to run the country as though it is a business when it should, of course, be seen as a not for profit operation.

Two of the current policies that I don't understand are surplus budgeting and inflation control with a target rate of 3% per annum.

Surplus budgeting assumes that the government needs to raise more in taxation than it spends. I assume that the surplus is "invested". We are not kept informed as to the nature of these "investments" but if they are in the share market what is the logic behind that.

If inflation can be controlled, why is the target rate not set at 0%. As I see it, all that inflation does is to devalue the currency and reduce the value of personal savings.

Perhaps all these policies arise from an irrational belief in "growth".

The Limits to Growth which was, when it was published in 1972, criticized by many "experts" and its message fell on deaf ears. The conclusion of the studies on which the book was based was that growth would accelerate the consumption of non-renewable resources to bring their total depletion some time in the foreseeable future perhaps as soon as the middle of the 21st century. Growth would also increase the pressure on the vital environmental services such as air and water to a point where life would become unsustainable. The overall conclusions was that if no changes were made in the way we use the planets resources, and no reductions were made in the increases in the population of the planet, the population would increase to an unsustainable level and some kind of disaster, war, famine or pestilence, would cause a dramatic reduction in the population to bring it back to a sustainable level.

Since the book was published, many influential critics have said that its forecasts have been shown to be wrong. Limits to Growth - The 30 Year update published in 2004 concludes that the forecasts in the original book have generally been shown to be correct. The world has largely come to accept the potential of man-made global warming to bring disaster but there has not yet been a similar acceptance of the concept that growth is not sustainable and if unchecked. will lead to disasters even more dramatic that those which might arise from global warming.

My recommendation is that all government policies should be primarily based on sustainability rather than on growth.

Posted: 15/4/08 7:33 PM

Karelia makes good on its warranty promise

I had purchased Sandvox in my search for a new approach to the website. I found that I had to upgrade to the Pro version to get the ability to edit the HTML. I tried to use it but I couldn't get what I wanted from it and I found that the code it produced didn't pass the iCab standards verification process so I had to abandon it. Karelia had advertised a 60 day money back guarantee so I asked for a refund. I was pleasantly surprised to receive all the money back.

Posted: 14/4/08 8:47 PM

Another Good News Story

The Barraba Lions have a Charity Golf Day every year at about this time. This year the money raised will go to the Hunter New England Health Oncology Unit Extension Fund. The Oncology Unit needs an upgrade to enable patients to receive some treatments which are presently only available to them in Newcastle or Sydney. The travel required for this is burdensome for people ill with cancer and the plan is to alleviate some of this burden.

We have run a raffle for Charity Golf Day and have sold lots of tickets and received lots of donations. The final figure for our donation to the Fund was $5,600 which is 12% of the amount remaining to be raised so we felt we had made a significant contribution.

The main agenda of the day is for teams of three to compete on the golf course for several different trophies. We also laid on a barbecue lunch and and a sausage sizzle tea. I had spent an hour and a half on Saturday afternoon slicing 10kg of onions and I spent 9 hours on Sunday helping with the set-up, selling raffle tickets, receiving donations, and helping with other tasks.

Posted: 13/4/08 8:27 PM


At the Cardiac Rehab Clinic yesterday my resting pulse rate was measured at 34 beats/min while my pulsox was OK at 95%. Rose, the Cardiac Rehab Co-ordinator was a bit worried and she arranged for me to have an ECG taken. This showed that I had a marked ectopic heart beat which was identified as ventricular bigeminy.

Even though I was asymptomatic, Doctor Deepal was called. He took blood for electrolyte tests as potassium deficiency is one cause of bigeminy. He asked me to see Dr Sanji today and to bring forward my next visit to my specialist in Tamworth which was scheduled for mid June to further the investigation quickly.

I visited Dr Sanji who confirmed that my potassium level had been OK on all my previous blood tests including the one taken on 31st March so it was unlikely that low potassium level was the cause of the problem. The preliminary diagnosis is that it is probably a heart block which may or may not need a pacemaker. She arranged for me to see the specialist in Tamworth next week. We'll see how it goes from here.

I'm puzzled that this problem has arisen even though I have none of the normal symptoms. I still feel "blooming marvellous".

Posted: 11/4/08 3:36 PM

The Limits To Growth resurrected

I was very chuffed by the editorial in New Scientist in the 3 April issue which reminded its readers that what is happening to the world today was predicted in "The Limits To Growth" in 1972. The editorial writer noted that many "experts" denigrated the book when it was first published and have continued to claim that it was a fatally flawed study.

I read the book when it was first published and was impressed. One of my PhD colleagues said that its methodology was wrong but I maintained my belief in it. Recently I found "Limits To Growth - A Thirty Year Update" which showed that many of the original predictions had been proved correct.

Like the IPCC Report, it didn't predict what would actually happen in the future but presented some probable scenarios which led to the conclusion that if we continued with "business as usual", very bad things would very likely happen in the not too distant future.

I still wonder if the nay-sayers are simply unable to grasp the bad news or are they so selfish that they don't care what we leave to future generations

Posted: 10/4/08 5:02 AM

Hooray. I've found a good news story

I normally have to produce my own good news stories to encourage people to be optimistic but now I've found a story out there that defies the usual "all news is bad news" content of the mass media.

The good news story I found in the paper today is this

For 18 months it has been a closely guarded secret that Sea Horses, exotic creatures from tropical waters are alive and well in the Thames estuary.
The Zoological Society of London discovered the sea horse colony in 2006 but kept quiet until legislation could be enacted to protect them.
They live in the river's estuary between Essex and Kent.
Scientists have greeted their arrival as an indicator of the increasing purity of the river's water. Fifty years ago the Thames was declared biologically dead - killed by the pollution from industrialization and urban growth.

The story I use to convince people that bad news is really quite rare is this.

If you have been driving a car for a number of years, you would have experienced a situation where you are driving one way along a road and had passed a vehicle going the other way on the road many, many times, probably numbered in the millions. How many times has the driver of the other car crossed to your side of the road and hit you car? Most people can say "none". Even if the answer is "One", the odds of being hit are vanishingly small, less that one in a million. Therefore good things happen in this situation 99.9999% of the time or more!

Posted: 7/4/08 2:32 PM

Blood Group Inheritance

I had asked the doctor to check my blood group because I had never had it checked and I was puzzled that my daughter, Rachel, had been found to be O- while all the other members of the family were O+.

The result came back O+. The doctor was extremely concerned because she thought that two O+ people couldn't have an O- child!

As we were leaving the surgery, she came out of her office and said that she had checked the inheritance of Rh- blood type and found that two O+ people can have an O- child if they had been born of parents who both carried at least one Rh- gene. As I had thought, the Rh- gene is recessive and only is expressed if the genes inherited from both parents are Rh-. Obviously Jean and I both carry the recessive Rh- gene and as expected, it was expressed as an Rh- child in one case out of four. Rachel was the one who drew the short straw. Happily the doctors who managed both of her confinements were able to obviate any potential problems with her pregnancies.

Posted: 7/4/08 1:22 PM

Literary Criticism

I found myself watching "The First Tuesday Book Club" on ABC TV. One of the members of the panel was a young woman who I assumed was a representative of the rising generation of educated readers. Her only comment about one of the books being reviewed was that she had no interest in the subject and didn't like any of the characters in the book. I consider that her comments were entirely devoid of any critical content A description of her personal likes and dislikes do not help us to assess the book. The producers would have improved the program by editing out this segment.

Posted: 6/4/08 5:10 PM


Sadly, I've just tripped over another thing that's "broken". A Slashdot post says

"According to a new lawsuit, taking notes in class is copyright infringement. Of course, it's not quite that simple. The professor is partnered with an E-book maker that wants to sell the material themselves, and the people taking notes pay students to take good ones, then sell copies to everyone else. But that just means that the case will hinge upon whether or not lecture notes are fair use. Either way, I wonder how long it will be before you will have to sign a EULA whenever you walk into class"

If this is true, it wouldn't be unreasonable to suggest that some academics are taking advantage of the horrible mess that the law has made of copyright to enhance their income at the expense of their students by using other peoples work.

Of course, a good skeptic would have to say that there are some inconsistencies in the post that reduce its credibility. Perhaps the reference to the lawsuit is correct, in which case my reference to "the horrible mess that the law has made of copyright" may be sustained.

Posted: 6/4/08 6:32 AM

The Age of Save Money by cutting back on Maintenance

Some consumers in Victoria are incensed because their electricity supplies have still not been restored after the damaging gales of early in the week. The Premier defends his position by saying that it was caused by "Global Warming" and warned "wild winds would become a regular weather feature".

How global warming affected the maintenance budgets of the privatized electricity distribution industry defies logic. The fact that the companies were "totally un-prepared" and "totally under-manned" surely has more to do with the management of the companies entrusted with this essential service than it has to the vagaries of the weather which has always been "variable".

Many years ago, I predicted that the inquiry into the fatal gas plant explosion in Victoria would find that the maintenance budget had been cut. I was proved right when the inquiry report was published. On that occasion several workers died because essential maintenance had not been carried out.

Just before Ansett Airlines collapsed, they were near to being de-registered because of a failing in their maintenance procedures. I had a theory that the maintenance budget had been cut and that the poor guy left holding the can didn't have the time or resources to keep up with the mandatory maintenance notices from the US FAA. I expounded this theory to a friend who had been a professional airline pilot and who had friends who flew for Ansett and he confirmed that I was quite right.

It seems perfectly clear to me that the normal business model used by the management of large companies in these times (perhaps for the last two decades or more) do not adequately address the needs of proper maintenance. This is a dangerous situation and more people will be inconvenienced and more people will die un-necessarily as a result if this situation doesn't change

Posted: 5/4/08 9:45 AM

Gyms are supposed to be dedicated to the well-being of their clients

A story from a friend of mine who has been an insulin dependent diabetic for many years and has learned to cope well with frequent hypos.

He went to a gym for a workout and explained his condition to the trainer. During the exercise he detected the signs of a hypo and told the trainer who took him to the drinks fridge and suggested he take a soft drink to restore his BGL. The trainer left my friend to select his drink which he did. Because he was suffering from a hypo he wasn't fully aware of what he was doing. He took a bottle of Coke which would normally restore his BGL and went to the change room. He drank the Coke but instead of coming out of the hypo, he fell into coma. When somebody else went to the change room an hour later, they found him unconscious and called for help. They found that he had drunk Coke Zero thinking it was ordinary Coke.

I would have thought that the trainer would have supervised his selection of drink and would have kept an eye on his client until he was assured that he had recovered. Perhaps the trainer needed more training.

Posted: 4/4/08 5:53 PM

Journalists Rights

I am still very upset at the news that the Appeals Court overturned the verdict of a lower court which had found Alan Jones guilty of breaking the law by publishing the name of a witness who was a minor. The Appeals Court seems to have accepted the argument that freedom of speech gives a journalist a right to publish information even when there is a law denying that right. 

I continue to gather examples of processes in our society which are "broken". Processes which have been put in place to regulate our lives are overturned by those in positions of power for no good reason.

I know I will be called "a Grumpy Old Man" but my ethical position is this "Everyone has a right to do whatever they like as long as they do not harm others or infringe on the rights of others". That isn't a "grumpy old man" position.

Posted: 4/4/08 7:12 AM

Revisiting "Ownership"

A couple of days ago I posted a piece about "lending " shares. I ended with a thought that perhaps the "owners" had created the problem themselves. The truth or otherwise of this concept is apparently to be tested in court with some owners claiming that the were guaranteed beneficial ownership of their shares.

Posted: 3/4/08 07:15 AM


An expert commentator on TV the other night said, apropos one of the reported market disasters, "That's not investment, that's gambling".

I felt a great deal of satisfaction that one well versed in the "market" had a view not a lot different from mine. As an engineer, I am not expected to understand these things and my views are usually seen as ill informed. I remember a story I was told when I worked at Wormald Technology. We had recently had a major management change which my boss had to present to a senior manager from our Swedish customer. When David had explained the new management of the company, the visitor said, "Oh, I understand. They are speculators, not industrialists".

I have a view that one of the most significant changes that have occurred in our society in the last few decades is that "speculation" has become much more important than "industrial activity". Making real things and providing real services are no longer, I believe, the prime objectives of our economy. The only thing that really matters is making money even when the money is made not by making real products or delivering real services but by taking advantage of other players in the market. Money makes money but I was taught that industry is the foundation on which the whole economic edifice is based, money is simply the vehicle for managing the distribution of the result of real industrial activity.

I find it hard to believe that anyone can put up a satisfactory case against the proposition that gambling is what most of the players in the market are doing.

Posted: 2/4/08 07:15 AM


The story on the front page of yesterday's Australian which irritated me most was a report on the collapse of the stockbroking firm Opes.

Opes's "stock lending " business borrowed shares from custodian companies to lend to hedge funds, which used the stock to execute their short-selling strategies.

ANZ and Merrill Lynch, as secured creditors, stand ahead of other Opes creditors, including its clients and the super funds and custodian companies that loaned it stock.

I assume that someone, not any of the players mentioned in the piece, actually owned the stock. Nevertheless the "secured creditors" of Opes were able to sell the stock to recoup what they had loaned [lent] to Opes. If I lent my car to someone and a debt-collector took it from the borrower and sold it to cover a debt to the debt-collector's client that the borrower of my car had incurred, I think I would have a case against the debt-collector and his client for "stealing" my property. Clearly such a common sense approach is not applicable in the "stock market".

Perhaps the "owners" of the shares really had agreed to forego their ownership rights in return or the loan they had negotiated. In that case we should have no sympathy for them when they lose money.

Posted: 1/4/08 09:17 PM


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