Sunday, April 26, 2015

ANZAC Day commemoration

I'm sure the Mum's of the ANZACS were thrilled to know that their sons were actually fighting and dying for the spoils of the break up of the Ottoman Empire.  Not for anyone's freedom.  Just so that the guys in charge would have more to rule over.  Useless pricks.

If we want to commemorate the ANZACS, lets do it by not fighting any stupid wars.  And that is most of them.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Australia's new religion

After many years of Australia being fairly evenly split between the Anglican and Catholic brands of Christianity, a new religion is springing up.  Its been around for a long time.  It was there when I was a kid, when it was much like the other religions.  As a kid you played your part on the sacred days, but it wasn't exactly popular.

But now it is booming.  It is popular with the young and the elderly.  And this year the celebration of its major annual event has been going on for weeks already.  Just like Christmas and Easter, the shops have been quick to cash in.  But so sacred is the new religion that the government has banned shops from taking its name in vain.  They only commercial opportunity is the sale of a traditional biscuit.

I talk, or course, of commemoration of war.  Just as the Christian calendar is marked by key dates, so soon will the calendar of our secular religion.  There will be "the third Sunday after ANZAC Day", and no doubt similar festivals around VE day, VJ day and Remembrance day.  The famous battles of WWI and WWII will provide further Holy Days.  Plans are already in place for "Breaker Day", a celebration of our participation in the Boer War.

At this stage is is too early for the more modern wars to be incorporated, but experts think that the stink from the Vietnam War should be gone in about 20 years, allowing it to be added to religious calendar.

It is hard to believe that back in the 1970's ANZAC day was on the nose, the domain of grumpy old men, snubbed by the younger generation.  My how things change.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Payday lenders

Watched Four Corners on payday lenders (actually just the end).  They are such sharks.

In Australia in the 1980's, Cash Converters started up.  They were a hock shop where you sold second hand goods.  Their inception coincided with a heroin boom in Perth, and suddenly it wasn't safe to leave your house unlocked.  Everyone got broken into.  And the things that were stolen ended up at Cash Converters.  OK, some of them went straight to the drug dealers, but most of it ended up at Cash Converters.

At some point, laws were made to make it harder to sell stolen goods.  Pawn shops like Cash Converters were required to supply a list of serial numbers for products they received.  But often, they couldn't quite enter the serial numbers correctly.  They tried hard, but for some unknown reason, a digit here or there would be wrong.

Anyway, Cash Converters realised that one criminal way of making money was closing down, so they moved into payday lending.  There are rules in payday lending.  The maximum interest rate is something like 48%.  Now you can't make money lending out at that rate!  So the payday lenders "renegotiate" the legal contracts they sign with their customers, and charge more like 500%.  Ahh, that's better!

Monday, March 23, 2015

The economic problem

Back when I was a kid in the 1960's and 70's, we were a lot poorer than we are now.  Houses were smaller.  Most families had one car.  Hardly anyone had air conditioning.  We used to get take away food once a week, and rarely ate in restaurants.  An overseas holiday was a rarity, as were swimming pools.  Most of my clothes were second hand.  And we were a middle class family.

And yet, we are now poorer.  My father retired in in 1985, in his mid fifties, from his job as a school social worker.  Thirty years later he is still paid a pension from that job.  If he was 55 today, and had he had the same career path, there is no way he could retire.

Many more jobs are now part time or casual.  This means that we don't have the security that we once did.  And home ownership rates are falling, which means that housing is less secure for a lot of people.  This uncertainty can be very stressful, taking its toll on relationships and mental health.

So while we are richer, we are poorer.

And as we look to the future, even as we have an army of unemployed, we are told that there aren't enough workers to look after the elderly.  Joe Hockey tries to implement a budget that would make the poorest even poorer.

So given we are so much richer, why are we poorer?

The answer, I think, is international competition.  In Australia, we are aware that we need to be internationally competitive.  Many formerly Australian jobs have moved offshore, to China, India, Bangladesh, The Philippines etc. A computer programmer I know doesn't bother to ask for pay rises, as he knows that could send his job to India.  The Australian government feels under pressure to lower company taxes, for fear large companies will shut their Australian operations.

Don't get me wrong, I love competition.  As a consumer, competing companies give me cheaper prices and better products.  And I love this.  But on the other hand, it means we can't afford to look after pensioners, sick people, the unemployed etc.

So what do we do?  Do we just throw up our hands and say that its all too hard?

I don't think so.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Well behaved students - again!

My ongoing search for why todays uni students are better behaved than their parents were at uni.

Thinking about it, there may be an epigenetic reason.  Their parents were born from the mid 1950's on.  If you had to choose a time to grow up, this was a good one.  It was a good time to be a parent too.  So the parents of todays students didn't have much stress growing up.  And their parents were not subject to too much stress around the time of procreation.

Contrast this with the previous generation.  They lived through the great depression and the second world war.

So just maybe, we were all ratbags at uni because of the stresses our parents experienced as children.

Thus far, I favour lead exposure.  But I don't know much about epigenetics.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

University education policy in Australia

The rich and ambitious need to see some reward for their ambition.  Fast cars, skiing holidays in exotic places, 5 star hotels, fantastic clothes, mansions...

But there are some things that should be more equal.  Like education.

In Australia we have an interesting system.  In primary school, most kids go to government schools.  Catholics go to Catholic schools, and some rich kids go to expensive private schools.  In high school a lot more kids go to expensive private schools and Catholic schools (even non-Catholics try to get in), and fewer kids go to government schools.

Then in the old days (like when I was young), all the very smart kids left high school and went to the local university.  There only was one, and that was where you went.  But not that many people followed this path.  In my day a fair few students finished school the day they turned 15.  Most finished at the end of their 12th year of education, and only a few went on to uni.

When I got to uni, Gough, the great man, had made university education free.

In the intervening years university fees have been re-introduced, a move largely made necessary because of a huge increase in the number of kids going on to uni from school.  However the fees at uni are the same whether you attend Melbourne uni or Edith Cowan uni.  Despite the fact that a Melbourne uni degree is worth a lot more than an Edith Cowan uni degree.

Our current government wants this changed.  Melbourne uni and its ilk would charge a shitload for their degrees, while Edith Cowan would charge a lot less.

To understand where our government is coming from you need to look at high schools.  Many parents make significant sacrifices to send their kids to a private school.  The teachers will be better, the facilities will be better, and perhaps most importantly, the kids will make contacts that will be very useful later in life.  In the old days, this school network could kick in immediately you finished school and entered the workforce.  But these days you are likely not to need it until you've done between 3 and 7 years at uni.

And the families who send their kids to private school realise that the educational dichotomy between private and government schools needs to be extended to universities.  So that their kids will be mixing with "the right sort of people" at university, and getting superior degrees.  And since these people have money, the proper way to discriminate is not on academic ability, but on the ability to pay.  Which is why our wonderful government want universities to set their own fees.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Interesting data...

I recently started losing weight.  And I've been tired.  So I worried about the symptom "unexpected weight loss", which so often seems part of serious illness.  However my weight loss wasn't unintended, as for the first time in my life I'd started a diet.

Its a simple diet.  When I finish dinner, I don't eat any more, or drink anything other than water until the next morning.  This is also supposed to be good for oesophageal reflux.  Its precisely this sort of diet I can stick to.  So I'm happy to be losing weight, but a little bit worried none the less.

I weigh myself nearly every morning, and make a graph.  Its been going for just over 3 montsh, and looks like this:

The diet started about the same time as the weight loss.  A bout of gastro coincided with the first time my weight dropped below 93kg.

At the same time, I've started on Strava, a great app that tracks my cycling (and other people's running).  So some time in the not too distant future, I'll have a time series of my cycling performance, particularly on hills.

One would expect my climbing speed to increase as my weight falls.  So I can choose a particular hill, and plot my times on that hill.  However, cycling times are highly variable.  The wind is a huge factor.  So you'll need lots of data over a long time to identify any trend.

Here are my times on Stock Road hill since I started Strava at the beginning of January.

As you can see, there is no discernable trend, or if there is one, it looks as though I'm getting slightly slower (the time axis is inverted, so that the higher a dot, the shorter the time).

Anyway, if lots of people start keeping records, then medical researchers will have much more data.  They may be able to identify patterns corresponding to particular illnesses.  Maybe in the future, your phone will be suggesting its time to see a doctor...