Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Gold amid the muck

I was watching the Citigroup share price tumble last week. It eventually reached US$3.77 a share - a tenth of its value earlier this year - before the US government announced it would bail thr group out. It occurred to me that there was no way this ank would be allowed to fail and it might be a really good idea to buy as many shares as one could...knowing there would be a big bounce when the bailout came.

I didn't do it.....the other half would have KILLED me for a punt of the sort I had in mind.

But today those shares were at US$6.85.

Had I bought them last week when it came to mind, I'd have almost doubled my money in a few days. That would have been very cool. More than cool.

I suspect there are people in the markets making a killing on the volatility we're seeing right now.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Vista: deceased (for now) / Ubuntu linux is on the job

On Saturday, the Windows Vista system on my laptop decided it didn't want to boot any more. It's a preload, so I don't have any install media. What I do have is the backup I made when I first bought it. This should return it to the factory defaults.

I ran that restore and it appeared to complete successfully. But when I attempted to boot it, it declared that it had found problems that meant i would have to do a complete re-installation. That isn't possible because my system is a preload. I had just attempted all that it is possible to attempt.

In comes Ubuntu 8.10. I installed that to a USB pndrve, thinking I may be able to somehow resurrect Vista by booting anoher system and having a lurk around. Nothing obvious appeared.

Instead, I did a full install of Ubuntu Linux into a new partition using space stolen from the Visa system partition. I wanted to make a fresh backup of my data file before trashing he whole thing and starting over with preload restore one more time.

But Ubuntu Linux 8.10 has been doing a great job. It recognised all devices (including Broadcom B43 wireless and my Epson 1670 scanner) except my MS Lifecam VX-3000, which is replacable, and it looke like the video editing package, Kino, now includes filters / converters that let me import the MPEG videos my digital camera produces. Video editing was one of my main issues with Linux and why I was using Vista.

Linux just keeps getting better and better. *Almost* there!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

And then there were nine......

In the final elections results released today, the Greens picked up a 9th MP - Kennedy Graham. Kennedy is brother to former National Party minister, Sir Douglas Graham.

I'm glad he made it. He's a credible person and will make a worthwhile contribution.

The Green vote share in the specials improved enough over the preliminary result to get them to 6.72% of the vote and win that final seat. National's Cam Calder, their 59th MP, came out the loser on the day. They now have 58 MPs.

Friday, November 21, 2008

New Gmail Themes!!!

Google's Gmail now has a good selection of new themes for use with your gmail account.

Here is a sample, using the "Planets" theme.

Go have a play! It's very kewl (IMHO).

National + ACT Government? So what?

Don't let the spectre of TABOR sinking lids on government funding get you down.

Never mind the huge deficits we'll be running to "pay" for tax cuts....which we will then have to re-pay (with interest).

Who cares if the yellow-blue crony-crats shovel hundreds of millions into the non-transparent pockets of their mates via "commercially sensitive" PPPs who will cut the services, charge higher fees and cost more overall!

Yeah....Barack Obama may think the evidence of climate change is beyond dispute, but John Key and Rodney Hide know better.

So public transport in Auckland may remain a fragmented, incoherent, inadequate mish-mash of private operator....and?

Always look on the bright side of life!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

MMP question of the week - #2

Some have said that MMP gives disproportionate power to small parties.

Can one of them please explain how a handful of MPs (4? 5?) can out-vote the other 115-odd?

"The science is beyond dispute..."

When they eventually meet, I wonder what our new PM, John Key, will have to say to Barack Obama, the new President of the United States, about climate change?

While National backpedals on our own ETS (Emissions Trading System), Barack Obama will be moving ahead aggressively to set one up in the United States.

Meanwhile, John Key and National want to set up a forum to look at the evidence.

Obama seems pretty clear climate change is a big problem and a serious threat to the security of his country.

Obama says the science is beyond dispute. No denialist 'forums' for this leader.

See for yourself.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Economic weirdness

Can you spend money you haven't got?

I can't.

But this seems to be what the leaders who claim they can save the world from economic collapse expect to happen. I can't see how it will work and it looks like it isn't.

Rewind. Last year, there was concern consumers had far too much debt. People could barely make ends meet. Banks were "extremely concerned" about consumer debt levels.

In the present, the obvious answer to that problem would be to reduce spending to pay off debt. But to pay down debt significantly, people in debt would have to retrench for a long time - perhaps several years (and the rest). To pay off a $20,000 credit card debt in just two years, you'd have to put about $1000 a month into it, above and beyond the $400 / month interest charges. That's a big chunk of money every month for most people and any mortgage would be on top of that...and you haven't bought any food yet.

The effect? Reducing consumer demand by even several percentage points overall for periods of years would lead to a long recession at the least and perhaps even a depression if enough people try to save enough, fast enough, at the same time....and ironically end up throwing each other out of work.

Debt starts to look more and more like an addiction. When the world tries to go cold turkey on debt, it starts to feel very ill and rushes off to the local central bank for a fresh "fix" of cheap and as much as possible and - now - backed by the taxpayer.The same taxpayer too often mired in peronsal debt and loss of their job. Tax takes must fall.

The G20 just met and the main thing to come out of that meeting is a plan to get together in April to actually talk about doing something about the broken financial system and rapidly deteriorating economic situation. The other main thing to come out of the meeting is the expansion of the G7/G8 to include 20 countries, with China, Brasil and India among them. Many have called this a sign that global economic power is shifting to the developing countries. A cynic might see it as the old powers scrounging for cash from the up and coming powers.

The immediate aims are to keep trade barriers low, ensure access to capital for vulnerable countries, keep consumers spending and the economies of the world flying.

But if people are saddled with debt, concerned about job security and looking at their primary asset - their home - having lost a chunk of its value, they won't have any new money to spend. A short term fix might be to cut taxes, but that endangers the people who are already vulnerable at the very bottom and don't forget the tax take will be falling even without tax cuts. Tax cuts start to look like a dumb idea, not much helping consumers while at the same time limiting the options open to government.

The bottom line appears to be the only way to keep this albotross in the air for a bit longer is to make debt cheap again....and back it all with taxpayer guarantees. But isn't that - in effect - the country hollowing itself out the same way home owners were spending their home equity on consumption via credit lines secured by the equity in their homes? Sure looks like it.

Won't taxpayers just end up having to pay more tax tomorrow to fund their consumption today? On top of the debt they also have, of course.

How long can that go on?

Did Social Credit win after all? Is funny money now the only money?

It looks like the climax to this situation is yet to come.

Ya gotta wonder......about cars.

John Key's new government and Cabinet is worthy of closer examination and I will get to it soon. I want to let that one settle a bit.

Today I am thinking about cars. Make that car makers. US car makers.

I remember, back in late 2003, I was standing in the paddock behind the house on a property we have since sold, thinking about cars.

My train of thought had run across and through the US invasion of Iraq and on to a falling US dollar. If past cycles held true, the Saudis and others would seek to compensate themselves for the decline in the currency their oil is valued in and oil prices would rise. Alongside this, the avalanche of war spending that would surely ensue in Iraq over a period of what could only be YEARS would see debt explode and interest rates rise leading to........a recession.

When? Unclear....but as certain to arrive as almost anything I could imagine. The signs would be there along the way.

In this context, cars came to mind. The last time the United States did this to itself, the Vietnam War era, the big US automakers made almost no provision for a possible future that involved selling smaller, more efficient cars. They suffered and the Japanese and European car makers began to eat their lunch.

Surely, this time around, mindful of past cycles, the legion of experts the major US automakers would have on tap would see to it that this contingency was covered. How could I, standing in a paddock in NZ, possibly have more insight into global economic trends than they could or would? Seemed bizarre to me that they would allow this particular process to engulf them.

I clearly recall concluding that they would. I was betting on the myopic stupidity of people I've never met and never will...based on my own knowledge and experience of US corporate culture.

Looks like I was right.

Whenever I think I'm right, I look for an alternative explanation. There is one, but it requires some faith in clever people working for US auto makers and if they really were that clever, they would be able to avoid the whole problem in the first place by being tooled up and ready to make smaller, more efficient cars....and would have been pushing for laws to push people in that direction in order to address climate change, energy independence, national security...or whatever.

It could be that running the US-based auto industry off the cliff is their way of breaking the powerful unions who ensure that US (and Canadian) auto workers have good wages and conditions. While times are good...No problem. When times get tough, the automakers let the shit hit the fan, take the inevitable bail-out....and bust the unions.

This alternative explanation accounts for all the facts BUT FOR the effect such a plan would have on the current crop of executives....who would almost certainly get the sack and have their reputations tarnished and possibly their business careers ended.

Whatever....there are some dumb people in big automaker offices in Detroit.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Ubuntu 8.10 on pendrive: Lovin' it

I've been running my Acer Travelmate 2483 laptop (1.73 GHz / 1.5GB RAM) on Ubuntu 8.10 for a week or so. It runs off a 4GB Toshiba USB pendrive.

This is a HUGE improvement over the Windows Vista hog that boots from the hard disk. The system is much more responsive and does everything much faster than Vista. The Ubuntu GNOME desktop gives me most of the eye candy that Microsoft's 'Aero' has copied from Apple and innovative Linux/Unix desktops. Microsoft won't let me have Aero on on my Vista Home Basic system. I'd have to upgrade to Home premium for that.

Ubuntu is cheaper, easier and faster.

If you haven't tried this, do it.

Use a 16GB pendrive though. The 4GB one I'm using leaves me only about 1.5GB of free space for files....which can be a bit tight. I compensate by using another 4GB USB pendrive inserted into my DLink wireless Storage Router for additional space. Ubuntu has no trouble accessing the Windows share on the router, but Vista has problems seeing it and I had to reconfigure the firewall and security settings.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

MMP Question of the Week

For those would like to dump MMP and return to FPP, I'd like to know your answers to some questions. I'll be asking them over the coming weeks.

Question 1:

Why do you want to vote for only one MP locally, when MMP lets you do that, AND vote for dozens more nationally?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

No One as Irish as Barack O'Bama

Everyone seems to have a litle bit of Irish in them.....even Barack O'Bama.

Original version by Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys

Extended and revised version by Shay Black

Green Party vote by electorate

Interesting....and thanks to Jeremy Hall.

Election night Green percentages by electorate

20.13%   Wellington Central
16.50%   Rongotai
15.46%   Auckland Central
15.42%   Dunedin North
13.58%   Port Hills
10.83%   Christchurch Central
10.46%   Mt Albert
10.28%   West Coast-Tasman
  8.91%   Nelson
  8.89%   Ohariu
  8.19%   Mana
  7.79%   Ilam
  7.59%   Dunedin South
  7.53%   Hutt South
  7.38%   New Lynn
  7.32%   Coromandel
  7.22%   Te Tai Tonga
  7.18%   Selwyn
  6.97%   Christchurch East
  6.95%   Northland
  6.95%   Hamilton East
  6.79%   Kaikoura
  6.69%   Waitaki
  6.61%   Wigram
  6.47%   Northcote
  6.37%   Epsom
  6.36%   North Shore
  6.30%   Palmerston North
  6.24%   Waitakere
  6.16%   East Coast
  6.14%   New Plymouth
  5.76%   Tukituki
  5.74%   Whangarei
  5.69%   Rimutaka
  5.62%   Wairarapa
  5.39%   Maungakiekie
  5.39%   Otaki
  5.34%   Napier
  5.20%   Rangitikei
  5.19%   Waimakariri
  5.07%   Hamilton West
  5.06%   Rodney
  5.04%   Whanganui
  5.00%   Tamaki
  4.79%   Clutha-Southland
  4.76%   Rotorua
  4.72%   Helensville
  4.68%   Taranaki-King Country
  4.66%   Bay of Plenty
  4.31%   Taupo
  4.31%   Tauranga
  4.02%   Mt Roskill
  4.02%   Invercargill
  4.02%   Rangitata
  3.91%   Tamaki Makaurau
  3.90%   Te Atatu
  3.81%   East Coast Bays
  3.68%   Waikato
  3.42%   Pakuranga
  3.42%   Te Tai Tokerau
  3.40%   Te Tai Hauauru
  3.24%   Hunua
  3.14%   Hauraki-Waikato
  3.06%   Ikaroa-Rawhiti
  2.84%   Papakura
  2.57%   Waiariki
  2.35%   Botany
  2.28%   Manurewa
  2.11%   Mangere
  1.82%   Manukau East

Monday, November 10, 2008

ACTing up.....

ACT Party leader, Rodney Hides' performance on TVNZ's "Sunday" last evening was informative. He claimed to represent the policies of the "real" National Party and taunted National leader John Key, also present, by describing his party as "to the left of Helen Clark". Most interesting is that he said this publicly, obviously talking over John Key's head to John Key's own voters.

Clearly Hide is signaling hardball....and appears at the same time to be positioning his party to capture more of National's vote....and maybe not in 2011, either. Hide sounds impatient....and would be more impatient if he doesn't get what he wants.

It may be ACT's game plan to have a bust-up at some stage if their policy aims are frustrated, and claim to be the "real" National Party in an election campaign. Grabbing a bigger chunk of the centre-right would certainly give them more leverage in any government....though any such government would be very unlikely.  It would have to happen sooner rather than  later in order to avoid scaring voters with policies they don't like. Go for the populist stuff first.

It has that feel about it. Maybe it is supposed aid ACT's bargaining position. Roger Douglas has a history of blitzkrieg. Maybe John Key is in for more than he realises.

If there were to be an early election as a consequence of some power play by ACT, that would get around the issue of a referendum on MMP....which ACT has said it would support but would be crazy to actually follow through on (based on what Hide said in that interview).

Key needs as many allies as he can get accross the spectrum. He may find ACT to be something of a poisoned chalice if he drinks too deeply from it. The Maori Party...and even the Greens and Labour should not be afraid to marginalise ACT in policy areas where National wants to do things ACT won't support or National can't stomach ACT's terms.

For the moment, I'm putting ACT's public boorishness down to post-election jockeying for influence.

Key also have to be careful about what he does and who he does it to. many of the new voters he won over on Saturday were most likely loyal Labour voters through 3 elections who had grown tired of Helen Clark. A new Labour leader by itself may not be enough to win many of them back, but worse lower wages and conditions combined with reduced services could do it.

Also be alert for the "Shock Doctrine" approach to the global financial crisis. I am already hearing business leaders attempting to co-opt this event to justify their own pet policy changes.......

Combined, this could all quite easily make this National-lead government a one-termer....and it may not be the whole term at that.

Hide needs to keep in mind that their new government has actually won by a whisker....and it took former Labour voters to do it. They won't make that mistake twice if what they end up getting is ACT.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Congratulations and other things

Congratulations to National and John Key for their success.

Congratulations to Helen Clarke and Labour for holding a solid 34% of the vote despite the hostile press.

Congratulations to Winston Peters and NZ First for polling far higher than anyone expected. Special praise for the gracious speech few expected.

Congratulations to Rodney Hide for winning Epsom and winning ACT 3.7% of the vote.

Congratulations to the Maori Party for picking up another local seat.

Congratulations to Peter Dunne for holding Ohariu-Belmont.

Congratulations to Jim Anderton for holding Wigram.

Well done, Greens, for winning 8 (maybe 9) seats and becoming the 3rd-largest party in the Parliament.

I don't think John Key will be overly keen to meld with ACT and lose any chance of a second term. If the economy tanks and National fails to look after the people who left Labour to support National then, again, they will be a one-term government. It would only take 6% to change their view of National and John Key to see a different government in 2011.

The campaign to defend democracy and MMP from an anti-democracy National Party and to win the next election for the centre-left, begins tomorrow morning.

Election Day

08:55: Arrived at Beach Haven Community Hall. The doors were not yet open to voters and there were about twenty people waiting to vote.
09:00: Doors opened and we streamed in. Lots of tables and staff waiting. All over in about 5 minutes. Three National Party scrutineers, one Green scrutineer (Hi Roy!), one Maori party scrutineer at the Te Tai Tokerau voting table......and no scrutineers from any other party at that point.

09:10: Grocery shopping at New World in Birkenhead. The wait begins.

Delicious irony

Someone at TV3 was having a long day by the time they posted this story about a certain party leader's activities on the final day of the election campaign.

Friday, November 7, 2008

What a party vote for the Green Party stands for

  • reducing New Zealand’s oil dependence and climate change emissions
  • improving public transport and the rail system
  • cleaning up our waterways
  • increased protection of threatened species and ecosystems
  • improved local food security, keeping NZ farming and environment GE free and supporting organic growing
  • reducing child poverty and reducing violence against children
  • forming a genuine partnership with Maori under the Treaty
  • making education free and accessible
  • protecting our national sovereignty from overseas ownership of land and strategic assets; and keeping us out of foreign wars
  • protecting public healthcare, and investing in preventative health measures to keep us healthy and well
  • protecting workers’ rights and raising the minimum wage
  • open government, protecting democracy and civil rights
(h/t Frogblog)

The one party I can't vote for is the National party. They are the party who want to take my vote away. They do not resepct democracy. They deserve no one's vote. It's perverse that such an anti-democratic party enjoy the support they do from people who don't appear to understand that a vote for the National Party tomorrow may mean one day soon they no longer have a vote that counts.

A National Party voter in Porirua who votes for National is voting to have their own vote taken away one day soon. If MMP is dumped, that National voter in Porirua will once again be condemned to electing no one if they don't vote for Labour.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Dawn after the long Republican night

Barack Obama is to be the next US President. It also appears Americans have given the Democratic Party majorities in both houses of Congress.

This represents a comprehensive rolling back of the Reagan/Bush conservative agenda. Not surprising, as it has proven itself to be ultimately destructive rather than constructive.

There is a certain irony in this. Living on the North Shore, as I do, where the National Party is dominant, I'm surrounded by people who echo the views of the US Republicans while at the same time apparenly not realising much of it is nonsense and propaganda. It's the usual menu of dumbness: Invading Iraq was a good idea; unregulated, free markets will cure everything; government is always bad while private business is always good.....and so on, without actual evidence ever intruding on the minds of these faithful.

America had to suffer the disasters wrought by this nonsense. If National wins on Saturday without understanding that much it has advanced as good has been shown to be not good (PPPs too often = unaccountable crony capitalism, etc...) then that will be sad for New Zealand.

There is much in conservatism that is good.....but not much that is good in religious fundamentalism (whether the deity is the Sky Father or markets) and its partner, wilful blindness. National has been too prone to faith in things the evidence has long shown to be wrong or not the best way of doing things.

National is also New Zealand's declared anti-democracy party. They seek a return to First Past the Post and don't appear to mind at all that this will mean depriving fully half of all voters of the meaningful vote they currently enjoy under MMP.

How anyone could vote for a party who want to take their vote away is a mystery to me......but blind faith does make people do silly things.

Thankfully, today, here was a moment of reason - open-eyed, clear thinking - in the United States sufficiently widespread that Brack Obama won.

Fingers crossed those eyes remain open.

Obama vs McCain: Final YouTube stats

As of November 4th, 14:00 EST, my final count in the YouTube subscriber stakes between Barack Obama and JOhn McCain stands at:

Obama: 116,731 subscribers / 18,593,478 channel views

McCain: 28,784 subscribers / 2,068,249 channel views

If this is seen as a measure of immediate interest (channel views) and ongoing interest (subscriptions), then Obama has wiped the floor with Jon McCain.

Today we get to find out whether or not Obama wins by a landslide. That he will win appears to be all but certain.

If McCain were to win today, despite all the polls showing Obama 10 or more points ahead and other indicators in Obama's favour, I think we'd see the biggest "WTF!!!" moment in the US since 9/11.

The rest of the world would be left to wonder what is really going on.

It would not be pretty.....

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ubuntu Linux 8.10 from USB pen drive

I was looking forward to Ubuntu Linux 8.10 because it was to have a utility to install Linux to a USB pen drive easily.

The utility was certainly there, but the first time I tried it, all I got for my troubles was a message on boot that said the partition was invalid or damaged.

After Googling around, I found one comment on the forum that said the utility is looking for a partition number on the target partition. This applied to me as my USB key appeared to Ubuntu as a FAT32 partition on /dev/sdb. But that partition name describes a device, but has no number.

I booted Ubuntu and unmounted the USB key (Toshiba 4GB). That allowed 'qparted' to delate and recreate a partition on the USB pen drive. This time the partition was called "/dev/sdb1".

I then ran the USB pen drive utility. It said the partition needed to be formatted, so I formatted it as FAT32 and specified 1.5GB of persistent space. Much more than that on a 4GB drive and you don't have enough room to install Ubuntu and the attempt will fail that way instead of the way already mentioned. My first attempt was at 3GB (of 4) for persistent space and the install errored out saying Ubuntu needed another 690MB. Oh. So that would make it about 1.7GB at least.

The install to /dev/sdb1 on the USB drive went fine and within a few minutes I was up and running on a persistent USB install of Ubuntu.

My Acer Travelmate 2483 laptop's wireless is 'B43' Broadcom 802.11g, so I had to connect to the Internet via ethernet into my router, then click on System -> Administration -> Hardware Drivers and download, install and 'activate' to the B43 driver. This went smoothly. A reboot had the driver loaded and in a minute or two I was wirelessly connected to the net.

Even allowing for the stumble over the lack of a partition number and the need to re-partition the key drive, this USB Linux install was my easiest and simplest yet.

Now I just have to figure out how to get the latest kernel update to install correctly. It fails saying it's a LiveCD.

Another reason to NOT vote for National

Have you ever met Tony Ryall? I have.

I can't vote for any party that would put a party hack like that anywhere near its front bench.

As Minister of Health , Ryall would be the very LAST person you would want anywhere NEAR a PPP.

Having watched him for 20 years, his allegiance is to the party, the ideology and the cronies....and the facts come a very poor 5th.....out of four.

In 1990, on his first run as a candidate, he caught my attention when he wrote a detailed letter to the Kawerau Gazette explaining why we didn't want MMP. But his entire letter was a critique of entirely different voting system.

Didn't matter. He was against it - whatever it was.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

US elections: Says it all, really.

The comment quoted below highlights the gap between reality and propaganda in the Republican narrative.
I'm a little confused. Let me see if I have this straight.....

* If you grow up in Hawaii, raised by your grandparents, you're "exotic, different."
* If you grow up in Alaska eating moose burgers, you're a quintessential American story.

* If your name is Barack, you're a radical, unpatriotic Muslim.
* If you name your kids Willow, Trig and Track, you're a maverick.

* If you graduate from Harvard law School, you are unstable.
* If you attend 5 different small colleges before graduating, you're well grounded.

* If you spend 3 years as a brilliant community organizer, become the first black President of the Harvard Law Review, create a voter registration drive that registers 150,000 new voters, spend 12 years as a Constitutional Law professor, spend 8 years as a State Senator representing a district with over 750,000 people, become chairman of the state Senate's Health and Human Services committee, spend 4 years in the United States Senate representing a state of 13 million people while sponsoring 131 bills and serving on the Foreign Affairs, Environment and Public Works and Veteran's Affairs committees, you don't have any real leadership experience.
* If your total resume is: local weather girl, 4 years on the city council and 6 years as the mayor of a town with less than 7,000 people, 20 months as the governor of a state with only 650,000 people, then you're qualified to become the country's second highest ranking executive.

* If you have been married to the same woman for 19 years while raising 2 beautiful daughters, all within Protestant churches, you're not a real Christian.
* If you cheated on your first wife with a rich heiress, and left your disfigured wife and married the heiress the next month, you're a Christian.

* If you teach responsible, age appropriate sex education, including the proper use of birth control, you are eroding the fiber of society.
* If, while governor, you staunchly advocate abstinence only, with no other option in sex education in your state's school system, while your unwed teen daughter ends up pregnant , you're very responsible.

* If your wife is a Harvard graduate lawyer who gave up a position in a prestigious law firm to work for the betterment of her inner city community, then gave that up to raise a family, your family's values don't represent America's.
* If you're husband is nicknamed "First Dude", with at least one DWI conviction and no college education, who didn't register to vote until age 25 and once was a member of a group that advocated the secession of Alaska from the USA, your family is extremely admirable.

OK, *much* clearer now.