ARCHIVES 1997-2007  --- ARCHIVES 2007 +

7th November 2008. Obama, Telstra, Lights.

Barvennon agrees with Murdoch that President Elect Obama will probably tip the recession into full on worldwide depression if he follows the stated policies of himself and the Democrats.  We can hope that good sense prevails.

Similarly we hope even more earnestly that PM Rudd revokes his stated green policies and concentrates totally on keeping employment high.  A good starting point would be to get Julia to strengthen the "work choices" legislation by allowing employers to reduce salaries and wages and sack surplus workers.

TELSTRA boss Trujillo is reported as being extremely reluctant to accept the government's offer to submit a bid for that $5billion to help build the broadband backbone that was promised by Labour in the lead up to the election.  Sol is concerned that the government will not guarantee that it will not force Telstra separate out it's retail and wholesale businesses if it's bid wins.  I accept his contention that it is not in his shareholder's interest to do that.  Barvennon advised John Howard to enforce that separation back when he was selling Telstra to the public.  I guess Johnny's greed got the better of my good advice.  Now the horse has bolted, and trying to corral it would almost certainly earn a high court challenge that could see Telstra shareholders asking for massive reparations (say in the region of $3.00 a share refund) from the government.  Well all we can say now is, Kevin should not have made those promises.  (But then, the Rudd government does seem to be making a lot of mistakes, doesn't it?  Unlimited bank deposit guarantees*, the $10 billion giveaway, trying to save union jobs in the auto industry by raising tariffs).

LIGHT BULBS of the incandescent variety are apparently now illegal to import, and soon to be illegal to sell.  I think that I just might stock up on all those lamps that are to be restricted.  Hopefully this madness (like that about closure of the analogue TV signal) will go away, but the storage cost is unlikely to be as expensive as would be rewiring my lighting system.

*  I tried to find a parliamentary capital and asset register for the PM and his wife, but could not find it.  To me it seems that it would have been a conflict of interest for PM Rudd to give an unlimited guarantee to bank deposits if Rudd's wife had a $100 million in a bank.

11th November.  Reserve Bank economists say: "Recession is deepening, but better next year."

I have theorized before (1) (2) that this is not just another recession, but rather it is the harbinger of change from the era of industrial capitalism to (I don't know what to call it, but maybe) the "Dynamic Data" era.  We could construct metaphors from the changeover from feudalism to industrial capitalism and apply them to this change.  As Feudalism (based on land ownership) lost it's power, industrial capitalism supplanted it.  The feudal barons were still powerful  The change had been a pareto improvement.  However the landowners had lost out relatively.  They had a somewhat larger slice of a very much larger pie.   The peasants had gained independence from serfhood, now they could get a (wage slave) job in a factory.

Now industrial capitalism is, in it's turn, losing it's stranglehold on our society.  A data wizard who knows how to exploit data flows can carve out an empire like early industrial capitalists Henry Ford or Carnegie.  That is what the owners of Microsoft and Google have done.  Data flow wizards do not need equity capital to do their thing.  Niche businesses are evolving and employing labour outside the corporate model.  Some of those businesses will explode, and equity will not be available until they have begun to decline.

Expansion of the equity in industrial corporations is finished.  Another Pareto improvement is happening.  Those that will prosper will do so as a smaller part of the total economy.  IPO's will be seen for what they mostly are, a way of flogging dead horses.  It follows that the world's stock markets have lost their nexus position.  The only investments left that are worth tuppence are monopolies.  Monopolies can be defined as legal monopolies (e.g. patents and copyrights), and "natural" monopolies, (such as e.g. infrastructure, mines, bandwidth etc.)  Technology is making patents and copyrights increasingly difficult to enforce.

The economists of the world cannot see what is happening because they look backwards.  Like the warriors who constructed the Maginot line, they are trying to fight this recession with the tools that they think would have worked in the Depression.

We must reconstruct our society.  Government needs a new tax paradigm.  IMHO they could do worse than look to Henry George.  In the interests of fairness and simplicity, the natural monopolies are the best source of government funds.

19th November.  Clover & Wet Footpaths.

Congratulations to the City of Sydney's Mayor Clover Moor on her resounding victory at the recent election.  I was a voluntary helper to her campaign.

A few months ago, during a raining spell, I slipped a couple of times on some of that nice looking granite pavement that has been installed around the city.  I suspect Clover's predecessor Frank Sartor should get most of the credit for beginning the installation of granite pavement, because (it is my recollection that) he originated the idear leading up to the 2000 olympics.

Sure, it probably costs a bit more, and as a selling point, looks good (at least when just installed).   Although after the foundations have subsided, or a few service people have done their thing, they break and begin to look quite crappy. (see for instance the NE corner of the Victoria and Liverpool streets intersection, shown below).

NE corner of Victoria & Liverpool Streets.
NE corner of Victoria & Liverpool Streets.

So I wrote to Clover, and got a nice letter back, that hoped I did not hurt myself & referred me to the city engineer, who when I contacted him advised that all the pavements had to comply with Australian Standards AS 3661.1/1993.

I went to the city library, and photocopied the relevant page.  The important point on that page is that the tested value of Mu, aka the "coefficient of friction" between rubber and the pavement, can be as low in wet weather as 0.35 and still comply with the standard.  (The standard requires the average value should be 0.4, but in any one specimen, the coefficient of friction can be as low as 0.35).   This is like the weakest link of a chain.  If the quality test required that the average strength of the links of a chain should be 40 tonnes, but that the chain would not be rejected if one link tested as low as 35 tons, then it's no good trying to sell someone that chain as a 40 ton chain on the ground that the average strength of the links is 40 tonnes.  It is a 35 tonne strength chain.  Likewise, somebody is going to slip on the slipperiest bit of pavement.

Let us get a bit technical here.  As a Mechanical Engineer, I have dealt with the theoretical aspects of friction on a daily basis.  The measure of slipperiness between two surfaces is called the "coefficient of friction".  This varies between near zero (e.g. an ice skate on ice) up to above 1.0 (rubber e.g. tyres or thongs aka flip-flops on bitumen.)   The coefficient of friction between two materials is actually the tangent of the slope angle down which an object would slide.

A slope of 45 degrees has a tangent value of 1.   {Tan (45) = 1.0}.   If you had to tilt a board to 45 degrees before an object on the board would slide down the slope, then the coefficient of friction between the object and the board would be 1.0.  If the coefficient of friction (Mu) were 0.4, then the object would slide down a slope of 22 degrees.   If Mu were 0.35, then the slope down which the object would slide would be 19 degrees.  Put another way, on a level surface, where the coefficient of friction was 0.35, a person of leg length 70cm who placed their feet 50 cm apart would slip (as in, do the splits).  Or if that person walked carefully on a level surface with steps longer than 50cm, s/he would almost certainly slip.  If the footpath has a slight incline (say 5 degrees uphill) then any step longer than 35 cm would cause a fall.

It gets even worse.  That data is for static friction.  That would be where the pedestrian put each foot down carefully, only increasing the weight on that foot gradually.  But when people walk, their feet impact the pavement.  So the reality is, in normal walking, we have dynamic friction.

I found this paper on the www, and it discusses the matter in some depth.  These engineer authors claim to have been consulted for civil damages claims where pedestrians hurt themselves.  According to them, a "coefficient of dynamic friction" below 0.4 (equal to a static friction of 0.5) is "unsafe" and a "coefficient of dynamic friction" below 0.3 (equal to a static friction of 0.4) is dangerous.

So Sydney streets are, in those experts' opinion, (and my own experience) dangerous in wet weather.

Only when Mu reaches 0.6 do they consider the situation to be "safe".  (I wear thongs a lot.  I would prefer Mu be 1.0, which is thong on bitumen or concrete)

So although according to at least one professional engineer with expertise in the matter is of the opinion that those footpaths are "dangerous", City of Sydney Mayor Clover Moore can safely state that she has obtained advice from her Engineer, & her Engineer can state that he obtained his specifications from the Australian Standards institute, which is a QANGO that constructs standards with expert technical committees.  And that QANGO cannot (according to it's charter) be held liable for anything.  A quote from their website...

Our Technical Committee members are the lifeblood of standardisation. They willingly give their time and expertise to advance the principles and practices of standardisation. Their contribution to Australia's well-being cannot be overestimated. Although they give their time freely, it is estimated that their contribution is worth more than $30 million per year to the national interest.

Of course a civil claims lawyer might decide to check the constitution of that particular technical committee, but so what if the people chosen as most qualified happened to be working for organizations that had connections with the manufacturer of footpath materials?  As I read it, the city council would be exonerated, and Australian Standards is obviously an impartial body.

So it is unlikely that the City of Sydney would have to pay damages to litigants who hurt themselves falling over, (although with those liberal judges, you never can tell).

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