Those poor, poor banks

RBA cash rate, 7%

So the banks are crying poor, claiming there's not enough liquidity in the market. You'd think this would mean their savings interest rates would be hovering somewhere around the RBA Cash Rate so they could encourage some deposits.

My bank's "high interest" savings account is currently paying its loyal customers a "huge" (their word) 6.75%. But new customers get 8.1%. Nice way to treat your existing customers!

If getting bought by one of the big four banks wasn't enough incentive to find another bank, this treatment of long-term customers is!

We're all doomed! Doomed I tell you!

Stop me if you've heard this before. It's been around for ages. I keep getting asked to explain how this subprime crap works. Apart from explaining that Lurlene and Jethro, who've never had jobs in their lives, were able to get mortgages to move out of the trailer into a seven bedroom home, there's a slightly more complicated backstory to how this idiocy has happened.

This presentation, while very funny, is also quite a good explanation of how subprime has destroyed the economy. It also explains why we really shouldn't be bailing out the idiots who made this happen. In fact, it already provides a really good practical example for the Wikipedia Moral hazard article.

Update: Des sends this excellent Bird and Fortune video which also does a good job at explaining the mess.

Terror needs help with geography

An article on the Daily Telegraph site seems a little confused, geographically.

A MILLIONAIRE banker was beaten to death by a mob after stepping in to save a couple being assaulted at a taxi rank in London.

...The family went out for dinner on Saturday evening in Norwich, southeast England, after which Mr McGarahan's wife Alison and their children, aged seven and four months, returned to their hotel.

Okay, first of all, Norwich isn't in "southeast England". Second, Norwich is not a suburb of London, so neither the assault nor the taxi rank were "in London". This BBC piece kinda gives that away, particularly the multiple references to Norfolk Police.

One wonders whether their "correspondents in London" really are, or if it's just a sub-editor in Sydney hacking up the Reuters piece.


A great letter in this week's Guardian Weekly.

If Bill Goodman (Letters, September 5) is indeed correct that atheism is in and of itself a religious belief, then surely not collecting stamps is a hobby.
James Beattie
Reservoir, Victoria, Australia

ZigBee sensors

I've been watching the space of low-power wireless networking for some time, as it has some cool possibilities for sensor networks. ZigBee is one such standard that seems to be gaining support. It's a lot simpler and lower power than other protocols like Bluetooth.

Make magazine had a really interesting article recently about using ZigBee inertial sensors to track the crashes and hits taken by a roller derby team, and use it to trigger "zap", "pow", "boom" sound effects. Very cool, and it all seemed quite simple!

I'd like to use the ZigBee temperature sensors in my garden. The long-term plan is to monitor the weather and supply tank water through an irrigation system only when it's needed.

So has anyone used this ZigBee stuff and know any good resources to start out?

How the hell do NSW local council elections work?

On Saturday NSW local councils (or at least the ones that haven't been dissolved) had their elections. I was handing out material for The Greens in St Peters and one of the voters asked me how we were directing preferences. This got me thinking about how the votes are counted, and I'm still no wiser.

The ballot paper was arranged with parties or groups along the top and, beneath the line, the candidates for those groups. Voters were instructed to number either above the line or below the line, and I seem to remember to number as many boxes as they wished. Confusingly for those of us used to above-the-line voting in Federal Senate elections, the ALP how-to-vote suggested voting 1 in the ALP group and 2 in the "independent" group, above-the-line.

First step was to go into the polling place and ask the person in charge. She didn't know how it worked. When I got home, I tried looking it up on the Electoral Commission NSW site and didn't come out any the wiser, though it appeared to be a straight optional preferential system. Then on election night Antony Green's results included a quota column, which got me very confused, because that's something normally associated with our Senate elections, which are proportional representation (by state).

Digging a little deeper, I discover that Optional Preferential is used for popularly elected mayors (a la Sydney, Byron Bay etc) and council wards with two or fewer council positions. Wards with three or more council positions get Proportional Representation. Helpfully, the Electoral Commission site gives a good rundown on proportional representation systems, but doesn't mention which system is used for NSW local government elections!

So I have two things that confuse me here. First is how are preferences distributed for above-the-line voters? Since there was no list of preference flows at the polling place, as you get with Senate elections, I presume it's just numbered down the list of candidates in that group list.

Next is how are quotas transferred? For example in Central Ward of Marrickville Council we seem to have 1.44 quotas in the current count. What happens to the 0.44 quota in Group C if they don't make it over the line? If it's optional preferential, if the voter didn't continue from that group, are the votes thrown away? Wouldn't this lead to the full quota not being filled?

You would imagine this kind of information would be kinda essential for the Electoral Commission to disseminate. I'm sure the counting handbook tells the returning officers how this works, but it's not available online.

Anyone got any better information about how this works?

Update: Rich points out this page (which I'm sure wasn't on the site this morning, but perhaps I missed it) which answers my second question. It's a quota-based system, with a formula similar to the Senate in federal elections. Digging further I found this page which answers my first question. Above-the-line votes go down the list for the numbered groups, as I expected.

Cats and MythTV


Geek resourcefulness at its best. This just got posted to the MythTV users list:

Subject: Cats and MythTV...
Recently my cat has decided that the top of my MyhTV box is a great place to have a nap... This is a situation I am not happy about, in spite of the positives (like noise reduction), I am concerned about fur shed and heat trapped. Moving the MythTV box to a place the cat wouldn't be able to climb/jump on top of isn't an option. I have tried putting a large plastic toy (a piggy bank) on top of the MythTV box, but the cat has found she can push that aside...

So, anything that hurts the cat is NOT an option, on the other hand, stopping the cat from napping on the top of that PC case is a a priority.


Geeks being great problem solvers, the responses are well worth a read.

Super cheap USB keys

I can't remember who it was, but someone on the Planet Linux Australia was talking about using cheap USB flash drives to teach RAID. I thought it was Russell Coker but can't find it now.

Anyway, just wanted to point out that 1GB USB flash drives are $9 at Dick Smith. Insanity! I remember paying UK£80 for my 1GB flash drive. Not all that long ago.

Bugs on my garlic

on my garlic

Something is eating my garlic. Little black bugs. What's that all about then? From what I've been reading, garlic is something that repels garden pests, and that you can use to get rid of garden pests. Yet everything else in the garden is doing fine.

In other garden news, my potatoes have shot up and the fruit trees have started growing leaves.