Sydney has a long way to go on transport

I've been out to Telstra Stadium in the Olympic precinct twice in the last few weeks. The first for the Australia vs Uruguay football match and last night for the Swans vs Collingwood AFL match. They've really got a lot of things sorted out in this development, testament to what you can do when you've got an unlimited budget and a hard deadline.

The first time we drove out because we were going with Holly's Dad and he wanted to drive. It was a nightmare and we nearly missed kickoff, traffic jams starting miles away from the car parks. And you have to pay an exorbitant amount to park, then walk miles to get to the stadium.

Last night I caught the train and my 17:05 train from St Peters to Redfern got me, after changing, to the stadium by 17:25. Amazing! And the price of transport is included in the ticket for the match.

The thing that blows me away, though, is the number of cars we saw queued up to leave after the match. So despite the public transport being free and insanely efficient, loads of people still chose to take the expensive, slow and frustrating transport option.

We've got a long way to go to get these people out of their cars. I'm not sure what more you can do though, considering the alternative is so damn good.

Regional broadband plan

Peter Lieverdink blogs on the government's regional broadband plans. I actually think they've done a pretty good job of balancing service provision with cost. It's never going to be easy to provision all of Australia's vast, mostly uninhabited regions, and I don't think it really should be the government's job. Governments aren't forced to provide free water, gas and electricity connections, so I don't see why broadband has suddenly become some must-have.

That said, there are clear economic benefits to getting the regions some form of connectivity. The Grameen Bank in Bangladesh showed this at a base level when it covered the country with mobile towers and built a workable way of getting phones out there. It meant farmers could phone ahead to see what prices they could expect for their crops before paying a truck driver to take their crop to market.

Similarly there's a lot of tangible benefit farmers in remote areas will get from internet access. Climate information. Remote education. The latest best practices in farming.

But we shouldn't necessarily be writing a blank cheque to subsidise this. The cost of communications should be factored in as part of the farmer's cost of doing business. Just as transport costs, rising and falling market prices for their crops and the inputs like fertiliser are built into their costs.

Many years ago, when Telstra still had a monopoly and a duty to provide telephones to anyone who asked for one, I visited a vast sheep station outside Quilpie in Western Queensland. The homestead had a phone line, provisioned by a huge microwave tower. He'd paid only $5,000 for the phone line, a tiny fraction of what must have been an immensely costly installation. Because of the massive subsidy, he also had such a phone line put into their other, uninhabited, house across the other side of the property. Previously anyone staying in that house had, quite effectively, used HF radio to keep in touch with the main house, but due to a massive subsidy they'd installed a phone line that would rarely ever be used.

What needs to be kept in mind with the Opel rollout is that the most important factor is the rolling out of ADSL2+ to regional towns and cities. For people living in these towns and cities, they'll soon have access to the same broadband we currently get in some parts of the capital cities. That's a major step forward, and the fact it's being done as an open, competitive platform open to all ISPs is an incredible leap forward, and something Telstra would never have offered.

Peter's quip about hosting servers in the regions misses the point. You'd never dream of hosting out in the bush when you can, much more cheaply and much better-connectedly host in a world class data centre in the big smoke. Hell, I'm amazed anyone bothers hosting anything in Australia at all given our high prices and the ridiculously cheap, reliable hosting you can get in the US.

All up, and somewhat surprisingly given how clueless Coonan is, I think the government have made a good decision here. It remains to be seen if they are rushed into making a poor decision under Telstra's hectoring when it comes to the FTTN proposals that are (in the case of the G9 at least) on the table. I would much prefer they deferred a decision on this until after the election, or we risk seeing Telstra effectively re-monopolize the entire telecommunications market in Australia. Again. Remember when it used to cost $300 (probably $600 in today's money) to get a phone line connected?

Thieving scumbags

Two "news" sites have stolen one of my photos from the last Glastonbury. Fortunately Google News makes it easy to find such infringements. Does this or this look familiar to you?

They'll be receiving invoices shortly.

If you're going to Glasto this year, I'm very jealous. Looks like you'll need your wellies!

How not to land a design job

I'm looking aroung my Linked in network vaguely looking for a graphic designer to work on a project I'm pitching for. Anyway one of my network knows someone who calls himself a designer. I go to his site only to find the front page Javascript resized my browser and has a Flash animation as the only content on the front page. Bing! You're no longer in the running buddy.

If anyone can recommend a good, reliable designer who knows standards and isn't addicted to superfluous Flash crap, get in touch. People with personal sites that behave as described above, don't waste my time.

$5 steak!

Now this makes being back in Sydney quite worthwhile. Last night we went for dinner at The Lansdowne and I ordered a $5 steak. Could you imagine what a £5 steak would be like? Well the $5 steak was delicious, and well (i.e., not very) cooked. Yum!

ABC redesign looks good

The ABC launched their redesigned news site today. Poor timing as there was downtime around 13:00 on the day of a really big story but first impressions look good.

You can add a bunch of "tags" to a "My Tags" section, presumably stored as cookies. This means you can quickly and easily jump to those stories. The most useful feature of this is that the stories with a particular tag have an RSS feed. So you can subscribe for all stories truly local to you which is quite cool.

Video now seems to be served using Flash video, which is a massive improvement to the proprietary, not-very-cross-platform crap they used to use. At least it means Linux users will now find it as easy to watch stuff as YouTube.

Overall, quite impressed so far! Then again, they haven't turned on the ads yet.

Tip for people thinking of returning to Australia

If you're thinking of moving back to Australia from London after an extended stay, check the El Nino-Southern Oscillation and if it looks like we're headed into a La Nina phase, stay in London. It'll be dryer!

It's rained so much since we got back to Sydney. The last couple of weeks have been insane. It looks like it's gonna be a very very wet Winter.

In other news, we saw a house today that we just might sell ourselves into debt slavery for.

Why are worm farms so expensive?

Worms farms are pretty simple pieces of equipment. You have a few layers of trays where you put your veggie scraps and worms, separated by a perforated mesh that the worms can move through. The top and bottom are sealed to keep the worms in and insects out, while collecting (very fertile) liquid at the very bottom. You fill the bottom tray with scraps, then move on to the next tray up. When the worms are done with the bottom tray, you empty it into your garden as wonderful compost and soil improver, move that tray to the top and continue.

Most worm farms are made out of molded plastic. The structures are very simple. The material is cheap. The Chinese manufacturing miracle should be able to churn these things almost for free.

Thing is, the cheapest I've been able to find is $65 from The Watershed, run by Marrickville and Sydney councils. At Bunnings the cheapest is about $80, yet you can buy a Mitre Saw, full of complex machinery and electronics, for $30. Someone, somewhere is making a lot of profit on these worm farms.

If anyone out there has any expertise in plastics moulding and mass manufacturing, there's a lot of money to be made undercutting these price gougers.

One option is to make your own, but it shouldn't be so hard!