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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in B.D.Mills' LiveJournal:

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Wednesday, August 6th, 2008
11:02 am
Google Maps
Google Maps is interesting, most of the people in the office have already taken a look around where they live.

I have had a bit of fun determining the exact date that the photos of my street were taken, and I can narrow it down to a single date based on the following clues:

* The garbage bins were out, so it must have been garbage day.
* The garbage bins also allowed me to determine which garbage day it was. The local council pick up the recycling bins and garden waste bins on alternate weeks.
* Hydrangeas were just coming into bloom so it must have been late spring or early summer.
* A particular tree was in bloom so it must have been late spring (November).
* A few clues from particular trees and other hints allowed me to determine the year.
* The weather was sunny and cloudless. Cross-checking with the cloud cover reports from the nearest weather station allowed me to narrow down the date to a single day: 16 November 2007.

See how well you can do!
Thursday, June 5th, 2008
11:10 am
Insurance taxes in Victoria

If you have a home and contents insurance policy in Victoria, you will have various taxes in addition to the policy itself. These taxes are:

  • GST
  • Stamp Duty
  • Fire Service Levy

These taxes appear as individual entries but it is not immediately obvious how they are calculated. Here is the detail, and it makes for some disturbing reading.

  1. Add Fire Service Levy to premium at a rate of 22% of premium
  2. Add GST to total at a rate of 10% of total
  3. Add Stamp Duty to total at a rate of 10% of total

This means the GST and Stamp Duty include taxes as a part of their components. Here is a fully-itemised list of the taxes, calculated as a proportion of the base premium:

Fire Levy on Premium22.00%
GST on Premium10.00%
GST on Fire Levy *2.20%
Stamp Duty on Premium10.00%
Stamp Duty on Fire Levy *2.20%
Stamp Duty on GST on Fire Levy *0.22%
Stamp Duty on GST on Premium *1.00%
Cumulative Tax component (sum of *)5.62%

On all home and contents insurance policies, Victorians pay an amount equal to 5.62% of the base premium in cumulative taxation. Furthermore, the Fire Service Levy is an inefficient way to fund the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and Country Fire Authority because it is possible to freeload. That is, people without insurance or with reduced cover still have fires put out. Most other states have shifted the taxation burden to the rates notice, which is a more equitable way of funding the fire brigades because freeloading is no longer possible and differences between policies no longer determine the tax paid.

Some taxation reform is clearly needed here.

Thursday, September 20th, 2007
7:34 pm
Enrol to vote
The Federal Treasurer let slip in Question Time today that today's session of parliament was the last before the election. Assuming that to be the case, voters who are not correctly enrolled may have just two working days from today to get their enrolment details in order before the election is called. The election could be called as soon as next Monday. The recent controversial changes to electoral laws mean that the electoral rolls close to new enrolments on the day the election is called. Existing voters have three days to update their details.

If you are not correctly enrolled and you wish to vote, do not waste any more time. Enrol to vote. NOW.
Sunday, August 26th, 2007
2:38 pm
Lunar Eclipse
There is a lunar eclipse on Tuesday night. For those of us in Eastern Australia, it is our first total lunar eclipse for seven years, but this eclipse makes up for that by being particularly well placed for us to observe. The winter moon will be high in the sky, and the eclipse starts not long after moonrise. This means we can see the whole eclipse in the evening, rather than getting up at some inconvenient time of the night to enjoy this spectacle.

Eclipse times, Eastern Standard Time:
Start5:52 pmNothing much to see at first. A subtle shading gradient may be seen as the eclipse progresses.
1st Contact6:50 pmThe Moon starts to slip into the Earth's shadow starting from the eastern edge.
2nd Contact7:52 pmStart of totality. Moon is no longer in direct sunlight.
Greatest eclipse8:37 pmMoon is at its deepest in Earth's shadow and should be at its darkest around this time.
3rd contact9:22 pmMoon starts to emerge from Earth's shadow.
4th Contact10:23 pmNothing much to see from now on. The moon will have a shading gradient at first but this will gradually disappear.
End11:22 pmEclipse ends.
Monday, August 6th, 2007
7:45 pm

Seems nobody remembered my birthday again. Not that I go out of my way to remind people. I don't walk into a room and say "today's my birthday." I shouldn't have to. After all, nobody else needs to do this. But it is really depressing when nobody can be bothered to find out in advance when my birthday is. Some people treat me as if I don't have a birthday at all.

There are good reasons why my Livejournal avatar is a lion: I like good flash animation, and it is my starsign. Not that I believe in astrology, mind you, but other people may find such reminders helpful.

There is one bright side to this debacle. It makes it less likely that people I know will try to steal my identity. They won't get past the "date of birth" question because their minds probably go blank or something when they try to remember.
Tuesday, June 19th, 2007
6:25 pm
Steve's Still
We have Jeff's Shed, now it seems we're going to get Steve's Still.
Friday, June 8th, 2007
4:54 pm
Vehicular disagreement

I had a minor bingle yesterday, but it's nothing to worry about. Really.

In the carpark at work, one of those ubiquitous white vans managed to back into my car before I could get out of the way. He hit my vehicle on the passenger side, but due to the low speed only did minor damage. It did look alarming as the side mirror was bent to an angle that it should never see in real life. Fortunately those mirrors are designed to take abuse and it emerged from the incident unscathed.

The only damage to the car was a slight rippling in the door panel and a small scratch in the paint on the door.

We didn't bother exchanging names and addresses because the damage was so minor. After we had ascertained that no harm was done, we ended up having a friendly chat and went on our way in a good humour.

Monday, April 2nd, 2007
7:07 pm
Why men leave the toilet seat up
Some reasons why men leave the toilet seat up:
  • We care enough not to piss on the seat. Better a raised seat that is dry than a lowered seat that has been pissed on.
  • Most modern homes do not have urinals.
  • Whether the seat is up or down is really not that important.
  • If the toilet seat was meant to remain down, it would not have hinges.
  • It's bloody hard to clean the toilet with the seat down.
  • Men repress their emotions. If men expressed their emotions more, not only would the toilet seat be left up more often, one day a year would be a national day of action where toilet seats would be removed altogether, burned in public and men would stage mass demonstrations in the streets until building codes mandated the installation of urinals in all new homes.
  • A boa constrictor that has made it as far as the S-bend isn't going to turn around and find another toilet just because the toilet seat and lid are down.
  • You want the seat left down? Fine. Here's a quote for $20,000 worth of home renovations to install a separate urinal.
Tuesday, March 6th, 2007
6:43 pm
Politics By Distraction

In the last few days we've had a clear demonstration of the Federal Government’s political tactics. I call it “Politics by distraction”.

It works like this. If there’s an issue in the news that makes the Government look bad, the Government distracts the media by putting some new issue in the media to distract the media – and thus the public – from the issue that would damage the Government. It could be a controversial new policy, it could be some manufactured scandal, it doesn’t matter. The idea is to force the damaging issue out of the media so the Government does not have to face media scrutiny of the issue.

On Tuesday last week, reports hit the media about a company called “Australian Nuclear Energy Pty Ltd”. This company was founded by people associated with the Liberal Party at a time when the Government first launched its investigation into nuclear energy in Australia. No doubt this would have damaged the Government, which is known for enriching their mates in the Liberal Party. (A Resources Minister owning shares in a coalmine and the Government providing taxpayer-funded subsidies to an ethanol plant owned by one of their own being just two examples.) No doubt this issue was making the Government and the Liberals look bad as it simmered in the media on Wednesday.

So they lobbed their Burke grenade at Rudd on Thursday of last week.

It doesn't matter that members of the Government knew of this issue since last November, when news of such meetings were reported in The Australian. It’s apparent that they have been sitting on this for a while. And it is very suspicious that they lob this political grenade when yet another of their grubby dealings is being scrutinised in the press.

So anytime the Federal Government lobs a grenade like this, take a close look in the media coverage for the last four or five days, and it is very likely that you will find some news of a scandal that the Federal Liberals do not want scrutinised too closely.

Unfortunately for Johnny and his Government, the Rudd-Burke effort appears to have backfired on them. The latest Newspoll – which was taken last weekend after the Burke grenade – has support for Labor actually increasing to its best levels since they were last in Government. Rudd’s approval rating has dipped, but he still enjoys a higher approval rating than Howard and he also retains his lead as preferred Prime Minister. It seems that the electorate are not to be fooled this time.

And this gets even more interesting. Last Friday, the offices of three Queensland Federal Liberals were raided by the Federal Police. Howard knew about these raids, because he was told about them prior to them taking place. So when Howard was continuing to ask Rudd to fess up to the contents of the gatherings with Burke, Howard was quietly concealing news of another potential scandal that affected his own party. And now, just a day or two after he was attempting to place pressure on Rudd about alleged dealings with Burke, Howard was playing down the raids on the Liberals’ offices.

When compared to a raid by the Federal Police on three Liberal Party Members of Parliament, Rudd’s meetings with Brian Burke can only appear innocuous by comparison.

It's becoming clear that the electorate are tiring of Howard’s political games. In an election year, the electorate want to hear about policy, not negative attacks on political opponents. Whitlam lost the election in 1975 when he tried to smear Fraser in the “Shame, Fraser, Shame” campaign. Keating did the same with the “Leadership” election in 1996. Now it seems that Howard, too, is falling into the trap of denouncing the opponents instead of fighting the election on the issues. Unless he improves his performance soon, Labor will win the next election comfortably and Howard and Turnbull will both lose their seats.

Monday, January 22nd, 2007
10:15 pm
Comet McNaught is currently visible in the west after sunset. I saw it today for the first time, and also showed my 12-year-old neighbour the comet. It is fairly easy to see right now after 9.30 pm if you know where to look.

Take the time to look for the comet, it is quite bright right now and is easy to see. However, it is fading quickly and will not be visible for much longer.
Saturday, January 13th, 2007
1:52 pm
One way to save water

I have found a useful way to save water.

If you have a hot water system with a storage cylinder, the hot water system may have a pressure relief valve. If you place a bucket under the outlet of this valve, you can capture water that would otherwise be wasted whenever your hot water system overflows. This water may be hot, so use it with care. It is clean hot water, so it's possible to use this water for mopping floors, cleaning and the like. If you let it cool down, it can also be used to water the garden.

Using this method, I capture two or three buckets of water a week. I use this water to water my garden. I no longer need to use a hose on my garden.

Not everyone knows about this way to save water, so spread the word if you can.
Thursday, December 21st, 2006
9:19 pm
One of those days
It has been one of those days. Today can be summed up in one word: disruption.

First there was the barbecue that we were supposed to have as the Christmas party at work today. That didn't happen as planned because the barbecues in the park were turned off due to today's total fire ban. We eventually managed to get an electric frying pan going in the office carpark and had the barbecue in that way.

Then I checked my phone and found I needed to call my mechanic, who was servicing my car today. Turns out the car needed a bit of extra work done which meant I couldn't pick it up at the end of the day as I was expecting. That wasn't so bad, but my being without a car this evening just made things more interesting. I had to go to Moonee Ponds after work, and of course that meant I had to take public transport to do so. Both ways.

So now I have to take the train to Moonee Ponds. The train is approaching Newmarket station and the driver says that there was a signal fault at Broadmeaows and the train was going to be at Newmarket for a while. He recommended that we got off the train and got onto the platform, because the train wasn't going anywhere in a hurry. Oh, great. But then we pull into Newmarket and the driver says the signals at Broadmeadows were working again and the train was going to continue as normal. Phew.

So after my business in Moonee Ponds, I take the train into the city, and change to a train at Melbourne Central station. Only just caught the 6.39 Cranbourne train because it was on the platform when I arrived.

Okay, that went well, I saved some time by not having to wait for the next train.

Or so I thought.

We're just pulling into Oakleigh at about seven o'clock and for the second time today I hear the driver of the train announcing a disruption to the regular service. This time it was more serious: the train was terminating at Oakleigh due to a fatality at Springvale.

Now things start getting ugly.

We were told to go out into the side street to wait for a replacement bus. So we went there and waited for fifteen minutes. Then there was an announcement at the station that the replacement buses were to run from Westall station, not Oakleigh station. A shame they waited until after the train to Westall left before telling us that.

So back into the station we all went, maybe a hundred of us.

Then we wait for the next train and take it to Westall. By the way, Westall is an unusual place for a train to terminate.

Now we get to Westall and there's a couple of hundred people waiting for the bus. One bus turns up - but we can't all fit in! So most of us had to wait for the next bus. While we're waiting, another trainful of people turn up. Some people are complaining that there's not enough buses. Well, have you considered where the buses come from, that each bus is being driven by someone who had to come in at short notice?

Fortunately I managed to get onto the next bus, but only just because about five people got on after me.

All that for a bus trip of one station! It would have been quicker to walk, I think.

So the bus makes its way to Springvale. The police had closed Springvale Road at the level crossing because they were still doing their police work.

The body was still there. It was lying in the middle of the level crossing. It was covered in a white cloth but it wasn't hard to guess what was under it.

There were also those little markers with numbers on it and someone was making distance measurements with a trundle wheel. I guess this information is being gathered for the benefit of the coroner.

And finally, my bus was not running so I had to walk home from the station, a distance of more than two kilometres. I finally got home at about 8.45, hot, tired, thirsty, hungry and just wanting a rest.

So I have had one of those days.
Monday, November 13th, 2006
8:25 pm
MSN Sucks

...but it seems I need to use it to keep in touch better with some people. While I loathe closed, proprietory standards (I think talk and IRC are better because they are open standards), after much deliberation I have chosen to create an MSN account and start using it.

The MSN account creation process includes a captcha. Below is a screenshot of the first one I got, and I swear I am not making this up:

For those who do not see why that captcha is amusing, it helps to know that I work at a company known as AMC, where I spend a lot of my working day investigating software bugs. I haven't worked out what KN means, however.

I will give my MSN ID to various people later. I won't post it here because Spam spiders are voracious predators and I don't wish to feed them.

Sunday, October 15th, 2006
11:17 am
More Microsoft shenanigans

I discovered an interesting thing about Windows XP's Frequently Used Programs list: Microsoft applications get allocated a disproportionate rating when assessing how often a program is used.

To see this for yourself, you will need Windows XP with Internet Explorer, and the Frequently Used Programs list set to display about ten items.

Do the following:

  1. Remove Internet Explorer from the Frequently Used Programs list.
  2. Remove a non-Microsoft application from the Frequently Used Programs list.
  3. Run Internet Explorer once.
  4. Inspect the Frequently Used Programs list. Internet Explorer is back on the list and is probably ranked fairly highly.
  5. Run the non-Microsoft application once.
  6. Inspect the Frequently Used Programs list. The non-Microsoft application will probably not appear.
  7. Repeat the previous two steps until the non-Microsoft application appears in the list again. It will probably take a few tries before it does appear.

For me, the non-Microsoft application had to be run three times before it appeared in eighth spot in a list of eight items, but running Internet Explorer just once was enough to have it display in seventh place in the same list.

This behaviour shouldn't be surprising considering Microsoft's past behaviour, like fake error messages when Windows 3.1 was run on DRDOS.

Saturday, September 30th, 2006
6:25 pm
End of the Football Season and Life Goes On
Today I watched the Grand Final at a friend's place, with one or two fellow fans and a few sympathetic neutrals. The Swans lost the Grand Final by one point. One lousy point.

I have not yet come to terms with the loss and the closeness of the game. The Swans played poorly in the first half, and did well to come back in the second to make the game close. Well done to the Eagles; they have been a superb side over the last two years. In the future the fans of both clubs will look back on these two close and thrilling Grand Finals and be satisfied that these epic games produced one premiership for each side and thrilling entertainment for the neutral fans.

Yet life goes on. Now that the football season is over it is time to do these chores that have gone undone during the football season. The first thing I did when I got home from watching the game was to spend some time weeding a garden bed that I had not touched for months. Soon I will plant some new plants there. While it will take some getting over such a close loss in a Grand Final, I will find some solace in nurturing these new plants over the spring and summer.
Friday, September 22nd, 2006
10:39 am
Windows Media Player 11 removes your backup rights

An article was posted to Slashdot today about the forthcoming release of Windows Media Player 11. The disturbing development here is that Microsoft have decided to strengthen their controversial DRM by taking away your legitimate rights to back up your content using WMP11. If you have a problem with your legally purchased content, Microsoft refer you to the content providers. Translation: “We're taking away your rights, and if you don't like it then it's not our problem.” More about this at The Inquirer.

Do not under any circumstances install version 11 of WMP nor allow Version 11 of WMP to be installed on your computer. Be sure to spread the word even if you don't use WMP, because you may have friends that do. Only by vigorous opposition to this blight can the public be protected from this abuse of corporate power.

Thursday, September 7th, 2006
7:39 pm
Is the Howard Government in Breach of the UN Conventions on Human Rights?

And now for a political rant. For the right-wingers out there in LJ land, some of this may make uncomfortable reading.

Today, I was disturbed to learn that industrial relations laws in this country apparently give employers the right to employ their workers under conditions tantamount to slavery if the employees have any form of industrial ban in place. Slavery? I think refusing to pay employees for a week's work is slavery. So what if the law allows it? That doesn't make it right! Slavery is in breach of article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which reads thus: "No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms." If refusing to pay employees for a week's work is not a form of slavery then what is?

These industrial laws also apparently offer employees no protection from wildcat lockouts by their employers. If employees went on a strike that did not satisfy the stringent provisions against strikes under these draconian laws, they could be fined $28,000 each. Yet employers can lock out employees without notice and without fear of reprisal. These industrial relations laws have no hint of balance in them. If the laws were balanced, the employer would have to give due notice to have a lockout, and if they didn't they would be paying a fine of $28,000 for each employee that they locked out. Clearly, employees have much fewer rights than employers in this country.

The Howard Government has also flouted human rights on other occasions.

The anti-terrorist laws, for example, may be in violation of Articles 10 and 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 10 says: "Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him." Secret court sessions are not a public hearing. Article 11 says in part: "Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence." The laws apparently require defendants to disprove the charge, rather than require the prosecution to prove the charge. That is guilty until proven innocent. While these laws were promulgated as a part of the anti-terrorism fight in this country, these laws are on the books and could be abused in the future. While that is unlikely, one must be mindful of this possibility.

Then there were the 43 asylum seekers from West Papua. The Government tried to pass laws that required all asylum seekers to be exported offshore for "processing". Fortunately, these laws were withdrawn. A good thing too – Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in part: "Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution." Deporting asylum seekers does not permit asylum seekers to "enjoy" asylum from persecution in Australia.

And the human rights abuses just keep on coming. The Howard Government also used their majority in the Senate to pass controversial changes to the Electoral Act recently. One controversial provision is that electoral rolls will close on the day the election is called. I will warn you now – if you are not correctly enrolled at the next election, you will be disenfranchised and may not be permitted to vote. If you have moved house recently and have not taken care of this paperwork, you had better do so now. Another controversial provision is that prisoners are no longer allowed to vote. Both provisions are in breach of Article 21, which says in part: Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. Disenfranchising people is an obvious breach of this article; Everyone means everyone.

The industrial relations laws and the skilled worker visas are being rorted by some employers, and the Government is not doing enough to prevent this abuse. Article 23 says in part: Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. Yesterday, the ABC reported the case of a Chinese man who was required to pay employer expenses of $200 a week – and when the $10,000 "debt" was repaid, he was promptly sacked. Those are not just and favourable conditions. While the Government are not responsible for the actions of others, they do not seem to be doing very much to prevent abuses like these.

I haven't covered the anti-union actions (Article 23), attacks on working hours and holiday pay (Article 24), the winding back of free tertiary education (Article 26) and the destruction of human rights (Article 30).

Clearly, this government has gone too far, particularly with its lack of regard for the welfare of employees. The Howard Government should remember that it is only in government at the pleasure of the people. Unless they start paying attention to the growing anger of the people, they will be voted out at the next election. Do you hear the people sing, Mr Howard?

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006
5:35 pm
Monday, August 21st, 2006
8:02 pm
An update

In my free time lately, I have been working on two things: simpler spelling for the English language and fictional solar systems for Celestia.

English spelling badly needs reform but at present no authority exists to manage the language. That does not stop some people from attempting to reform English spelling. Reform does not need to be drastic. Something as simple as respelling every word with "gh" in it would do a lot to regularise the spelling of English.

The system I have devised is largely for my own amusement. The latest spelling system I have devised would likely have too many umlauts and macrons in it for it to be accepted by the general population. Then again, English is a Germanic language with a lot of Latin vocabulary, so why shouldn't it have umlauts from German and macrons from Latin?

It looks like this:

It woz on dhe fërst dā ov dhe Nū Yir dhat dhe ønaunsmønt woz mād, ölmōst simøltānēøslē from thrē øbzërvøtrēz, dhat dhe mōshøn ov dhe planit Neptūn, dhe autørmōst ov öl dhe planits dhat whēl øbaut dhe sun, xad bikum verē iratik. Ogilvy (Ōgølvē) xad ölredē köld øtenshøn tu a søspektid rētärdāshøn in its vølosøtē in Disembør. Suc a pēs ov nūz woz skeørslē kalkūlātid tu intrøst a wërld dhe grātør pörshøn ov xüz inxabitønts wër unøweør ov dhe egzistøns ov dhe planit Neptūn, nör autsīd dhe astrønomikøl prøfeshøn did dhe subsikwønt diskuvørē ov a fānt rimōt spek ov līt in dhe rējøn ov dhe përtërbd planit köz enē verē grāt eksītmønt. Sīøntifik pēpøl, xauevør, faund dhe intelijøns rimärkøbøl inuf, ēvøn biför it bikām nōn dhat dhe nū bodē woz rapidlē grōiñ lärjør and brītør, dhat its mōshøn woz kwīt difrønt from dhe ördørlē prōgres ov dhe planits, and dhat dhe diflekshøn ov Neptūn and its satølīt woz bikumiñ nau ov an unpresidentid kīnd.

With a little practice it is quite readable, although it helps to know the vowel mappings, and also that x=/h/, not /ks/.

The fictional solar systems for Celestia are a lot of fun. They do take some effort to create, but once created can be quite rewarding. My latest creation is not finished yet but below is a sample image that shows one of the worlds. It is a world the size of Neptune, with cloud bands like Saturn, rings like Saturn but much fainter and darker, coloured like Jupiter and tilted like Uranus. It’s like the whole of the outer solar system in one world.

Thursday, July 20th, 2006
7:22 pm
Indoor plants

I have just bought some indoor plants. I now own indoor plants for the first time in about 25 years. I have a fern for the bathroom, a Monstera for the lounge and a Philodendron for the laundry. The three plants together cost less than $20. For now, I will keep them in their original pots. In the future I plan to repot them into better pots, and the fern will be in a hanging basket.

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