Thursday, 17 December 2015

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Countries scaled to their debt levels

InThe World Map of Debt Jeff Desjardins shows a map of the world with countries scaled to their debt to GDP ratio.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Imply vs Infer

I don't want to imply that readers might have trouble with their grammar, although some might infer that, but Tina Blue has written a useful little guide to help Learn the Difference BetweenImply and  Infer.

Friday, 17 July 2015

A mini ice age isn't coming

As Dana Nuccitelli reports in No, the sun isn't going to save us from global warming
To sum up, a number of scientific studies have asked the question, ‘if the sun were to enter another extended quiet phase (a grand solar minimum), how would that impact global surface temperatures?’. Every study agrees, it would cause no more than 0.3°C cooling, which would only be enough to temporarily offset about a decade’s worth of human-caused global warming.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Strawberry Oatmeal Bars recipe

Ree Drummonds Strawberry Oatmeal Bars.

Note, 1 stick of butter = 113 grams, so use 200g in this recipe.
350F = 180C

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Walk to improve your health

In A Little Bit of Walking Can Add up to Improve Your Health Christopher Wanjek and LiveScience report on the reduced mortality risk of even a moderate amount of casual walking over a more sedentary lifestyle.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Thursday, 23 April 2015

NIMBYism leading to increased inequality

In Inequality is growing in our own backyards Michael Pascoe looks at an article in The Economist by Matthew Rognlie who argues that a major cause of growing inequality is the growing cost of housing.

Pascoe posits that house owners, keen to "preserve its character", actively campaign against changes that would result in more efficient and higher density housing. This not only leads to a shortage of supply, but may also rob the owners of heritage listed buildings of dubious value the opportunity to reap the maximum returns from the value of their land.
In many of the trendier suburbs, you may well be a Green or Labor supporter who rails against inequality but also rabidly supports the imposition of heritage orders to freeze often dreary and inefficient architecture and, heaven forbid, limit or ban higher density housing for the masses.

But it's you who is creating the inequality gap.
He concludes:
But that's only part of the solution to the housing problem. If any government took that problem seriously and could ignore the rent seekers, medium density should be the default option for cities like Sydney. Anyone with a suitably sized block of land or any group of willing neighbours should be able to build a fashionable row of terraces instead of their isolated boxes, if they so wish.

Those who prefer their own quarter acre would, of course, be welcome to it, and the land tax that it would incur in a rational nation interested in sensible tax reform.

So put your hand up if you're genuinely interested in a fairer society, in preventing increasing inequality, in making housing more affordable for your children, in living in a more efficient, greener city with better infrastructure, and, effectively, freezing housing prices and restoring individual property rights?

I think I just lost the owner-occupier and NIMBY vote.
I think Pascoe has nailed one of the main reasons for the high cost of housing in Australia.

Monday, 9 March 2015

How the government spent our boom

In How the Budget was mugged (Treasury publishes the photo) Peter Davidson has a great graph, taken from a speech by the Treasury Secretary John Fraser, showing the impact of our unexpected revenue windfalls, spending decisions and tax cuts on the federal budget:
The following chart, included in his slides, shows how the windfall revenue gains from the boom between 2002 to 2008 (grey bars, circled by me) were spent (green, blue and red bars).

Basically much of the boom was spent on personal income tax cuts and public support for people who didn't need it (via mechanisms such as superannuation tax breaks and the Seniors Supplement).

A brief history of tax

Peter Davidson has prepared a brief history of tax:

A brief history of tax: Part 1 Income tax, the great leveller
A brief history of tax, Part 2: Clash of the titans
A brief history of tax (Part 3): the trojan horse

Performance reviews aren't performing

In Performance reviews: Get rid of them Samuel Culbert argues that we might be better off without them.

What's now good to eat

In Why you should never eat a bacon sandwich: what you can - and can't - eat Anna van Praagh document some of the latest thinking on what's good and not good to eat.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Chocolate Yogurt Mini Cheesecakes recipe

Dani Spies' Chocolate Yogurt Mini Cheesecakes.

Raspberry Ice Cream

Dani Spies' Raspberry Ice Cream.

Freezing bananas

Dani Spies shows How-To Freeze Bananas.

Make your own vegetable stock

Dani Spies shows How-To Make Veggie Stock.

Sweet Potato Chips

Dani Spies' Baked Sweet Potato Fries.

Mint Mint Chocolate Chip Ice-Cream (with spinach)

Dani Spies' Clean Eating Mint Chocolate Chip Ice-Cream.

Banana Ice Cream

Dani Spies' Clean Eating Banana Ice Cream.

Strawberry spinach salad

Dani Spies' Clean Eating Strawberry Spinach Salad.

Making pickles

Dani Spies shows how to make pickle cucumber.

Dani's Basic Vinaigrette

Dani's Basic Vinaigrette.

Gluten Free Chocolate Chunk Cookies recipe

Dani Spies has a Gluten Free Chocolate Chunk Cookies recipe.

Chocolate Mug Cake recipe

Dani Spies has a Chocolate Mug Cake recipe.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The most and least addictive foods

In Researchers reveal the most addictive foods Susie Burrell lists the most and least addictive foods.

Most addictive

Potato chips
Ice cream

Least addictive

Brown rice

Sweet potato fries recipe

Jill Dupleix has a recipe for Sweet potato fries.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Monday, 23 February 2015

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Is declining union membership driving inequality?

Nicholas Kristof in The Cost of a Decline in Unions writes that up to a third of the increase in inequality in the USA may be due to the decline in private sector unions.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

One man's journey from libertarianism to liberalism

Edwin Lyngar in Why I fled libertarianism — and became a liberal explains how seeing the crazies in the libertarian movement, and thinking about the world around him, especially the not so well off, turned him into a registered Democrat.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Fitness balls, chairs and posture

I’ve heard of people using fitness balls (also called Swiss balls) instead of chairs. So I thought I’d check if they offered any benefits. It seems the consensus is no:
Is Sitting On An Exercise Ball At Work A Bad Idea?
What are you sitting on? Using exercise balls at work
Fitness Ball Is Not Suitable As A Chair
Should I Sit on an Exercise Ball at Work?
Ask Well: Do Ball Chairs Offer Benefits?

If anything they may increase lower back problems.

However, I did come across this:
Researchers have determined that increasing the seat angle produces reduced muscle activity in the back and reduces disc pressure. Leaning back at an angle between 110 and 120 degrees decreases disc pressure to even lower than that in standing. In addition both lumbar support and the use of armrests have been found to always result in reduced disc pressure. Muscle activity is reduced even further with a wider seat/backrest angle.

As a result, chairs have been developed with a variety of back rests and improved adjustability, including seat-to-backrest angles. These features assist the sitter to achieve optimum posture. Modern approaches to chair design reject the concept of a fixed 90 degree sitting posture, in favour of a more dynamic posture centred around an 'open' trunk-thigh angle of 105 degrees or more. A variety of chairs provide this dynamic posture, such as dynamic chairs (adjustable seat/backrest angle), 'sit/stand' chairs and 'sit/kneel' chairs.
And this:
The [United States Army Public] Health Command also explains that sitting in a chair in a reclined position significantly eliminates disc pressure in the back.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Hockey gets it wrong on tax, again

Greg Jericho in Joe Hockey either doesn't understand how tax works or he is deliberately misleading the public finds that Treasurer Hockey's claim that people in Australia pay half their income in tax utterly wrong.
In 2011-12, the richest 10% – those who earn over $110,000 a year – paid on average around 32% in tax. This includes the top 1% who earn on averaged $611,000 a year. But even that minute segment of the population paid just 39.5% of their total income in tax – well below Hockey’s “nearly half” amount.

By contrast the middle income earners in the fifth and sixth deciles paid just 14% and 17% of their income in tax.

In 2011-12, the median taxable income of taxpayers was around $49,700. People earning that amount paid on average 15.6% of their income in tax.

Rather than meaning they had to work “July, August, September, October, November, December” for the government, it meant they had to work just 57 days. Or from 1 July to 26 August in the financial year.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Sautéed Spinach with Garlic and Poached Egg over Toast recipe and video

Nathan Lyon has a Sautéed Spinach with Garlic and Poached Egg over Toast recipe and video.

Our government should be borrowing more

In Low 10-year bond rates are the deal of the century but Abbott's not at the table Peter Martin writes that our Government is basically being offered free money.
The 10-year bond rate is the rate at which the government can borrow for 10 years at a fixed rate of interest. Right now it's just 2.55 per cent, an all-time low.

By way of comparison in the 1970s it exceeded 10 per cent, in the 1980s it passed 16 per cent, in the 1990s it passed 10 per cent, in the 2000s 5 per cent, and until now in this decade it has usually been above 3 per cent. It dived below 3 per cent at the end of last year and is now just 2.55 per cent, the lowest in living memory.

If Australia was to borrow, big time, for important projects that took the best part of a decade to complete, it would have no risk of ever having to fork out more than 2.55 per cent a year in interest. The record low rate would be locked in for 10 years.

Australia's inflation rate is currently 2.3 per cent. Although it will almost certainly fall in the wake of the collapse in oil prices when it is updated next week, the Reserve Bank has a mandate to keep the rate centred at about 2.5 per cent. That means that right now our government is being offered billions for next to nothing, billions for scarcely more than the expected rate of inflation.
Martin goes on to list any number of projects that could be funded this way. Martin does have a warning of us though:
The risk is that bad projects would be chosen over good ones and the money wasted.
He says even cheap money should be spent well

Monday, 19 January 2015

Medicare spending is under control

In As Sussan Ley tries to patch the cuts to Medicare, the question is: why? Lenore Taylor shows that Medicare spending is not out of control. She also suggests some alternate savings.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Medicare is not unsustainable

In The facts on Medicare don't lie: it's affordable and effective without a GP tax Catherine King writes that Medicare has become cheaper, not more expensive.

Exercise because inactivity is more dangerous than obesity

This article Lack of exercise deadlier than obesity: study reports on a study that finds that lack of exercise is more dangerous than obesity.
Lack of exercise is twice as likely to lead to an early grave than obesity, research has shown.

A brisk 20-minute walk each day is all it takes to avoid dying prematurely, the findings suggest.

Scientists looked at the effects of obesity and exercise on 334,161 European men and women whose progress was followed for 12 years.

They found that people who engaged in moderate levels of daily exercise - equivalent to taking an energetic 20-minute walk - were 16 per cent to 30 per cent less likely to die than those classified as inactive.

Although the impact of exercise was greatest among normal weight individuals, even those with high Body Mass Index levels saw a benefit.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Unconscious Bias

Howard Ross in How Unconscious Bias Affects Everything You Do explores the question of how our hidden biases affect our decisions.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Nick Hanauer on "middle-out" economics

In Why capitalism has nothing to do with supply and demand Nick Hanauer explains his concept of "middle-out" economics (as opposed to tickle-down economics).

Nick Hanauer on paying more people overtime

In This is why the middle class can’t get ahead Nick Hanauer, who became rich as one of the original investors in Amazon, explains why the USA should increase the maximum threshold for overtime pay, and where companies and the rich spend their money (that the middle class isn't earning).

David Marr: Don't use the Lindt Cafe seige to justify new laws

David Marr in The Sydney siege should not be used to justify draconian new anti-terrorism laws expresses the opinion we don't need new laws to deal with the likes of Man Haron Monis.
Australia was not changed in the early hours of this morning. But it may be changed if these terrible events in Sydney are used to drive another agenda altogether: the criminalisation of the press and the needless extension of surveillance into the lives of all of us all in the name of fighting terrorism.

Gerard Minack doesn't seem optimistic

In The bear is back: A cautionary tale of global gloom Patrick Commins interviews former Morgan Stanley analyst Gerard Minack about the state of the global economy and financial markets. Minack seems to be of the view that the Australian dollar hasn't finished falling and iron ore prices will halve. He's suggesting bonds might offer the better medium term investment.
Fairfax: So it's worth owning bonds, not equities this year? With bond prices sky high, will there be a day of reckoning as interest rates normalise?

GM: I can't see a day of reckoning any time soon. The forces of disinflation still have the upper hand. Last year, in terms of equities, certainly the S&P was the stand-out performer, but you'd have been much better off holding a 30-year bond in the States. It would have given you a better return.

You can't look for bonds to give you the same returns as the past couple of years, or the past 30 years, but as we saw in Japan for over a decade, there's a time to own bonds not because of what they were but because of what they weren't: they weren't things that were going down. Investors want a premium return to own a riskier asset. If bonds are flat this year in price terms you'll get a pick-up of 2 or 3 per cent, which would imply you need to expect 6 or 7 per cent from equities just to compensate, and if you can't see 6 or 7 per cent, you should be in bonds or something safe like cash.
Minack also seems to be a Euro sceptic.
Fairfax: So the biggest risks are in Europe?

GM: Yep. The problem is the next crisis will not be in the periphery and it will not be in the banks; it will be economic and it will be in the core.

The big problem is the internal competitive imbalances in Europe. The problem's not [that] the euro is too high against the dollar, it's not that the euro is too high against the yen. The problem is that the French franc is too high against the deutschemark, and Mr Draghi can't fix that. From the resulting economic stress you're getting political blowback. You're getting fringe parties flourishing everywhere. There are whole landmines of elections coming up in the next 18 months, any one of which could throw up a result that could get the crisis back as front page news.

Fairfax: So you still don't believe the euro can survive?

GM: That's still the case. You can't restore your competitiveness in a fixed-exchange-rate regime.

The solution is simple, and it's what the periphery has done: it's called having a depression. It's 20 per cent unemployment and large nominal wage cuts. The trouble is that the small economies can be bossed around, but you can't see the French taking the same medicine.

But what's quite clear is they will not take the action pro-actively. Mr Draghi bought them time with "whatever it takes", but they sat back and twiddled their thumbs. They need the cattle prod of crisis to get them to react.

I actually think that the next crisis – which is inevitable over a two or three-year horizon – will be a great buying opportunity for euro equities because they will get very cheap.
Minack thinks the next downturn is still a little way off. But he's not confident that the world will whether it well.
Now, we've shot a lot of bullets in the global financial crisis and the next downturn I think will reveal most other people are turning Japanese. Unfortunately the one policy that blindingly obviously works is fiscal policy, but it's very unlikely to be doable in the next downturn; in the US due to congressional gridlock, and it will be disabled in Europe because they won't have a centralised fiscal authority.

So you're left response-less when you enter the next downturn, with monetary policy that is ineffectual, unconventional monetary policy that's just embroidery, and very close to deflation.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Has paying CEOs for increasing shareholder value done the opposite?

In CEO pay more complicated than it looks Michael Pascoe discusses a paper that argues that paying CEOs based on "shareholder value" has been a terrible idea because it's led to an eight fold increase in executive remuneration whilst reducing long term shareholder value.
James Montier, a former co-head of global strategy at Société Générale and current member of the asset allocation team at GMO made the case that rewarding CEOs on the basis of "shareholder value" had finished up destroying the value of corporations.
Pascoe also sought feedback from Paul Anderson, former CEO of BHP and Duke Energy.
One of the things that distinguished Paul Anderson, aside from revolutionising BHP and then effectively rescuing Duke Energy, is that he's the only CEO I've interviewed who readily agreed that he had been paid too much. His response to the Buttonwood and GMO paper was characteristically honest and insightful.

"As in all things, it's not that simple," he said. "The era of the long-term manager led to a lot of complacency and managing for the benefit of the CEO as well.  The idea of tying CEO remuneration to shareholder value shakes up that model, but it has gone way too far.
"A stockholder once asked if I would work any less if I was paid a million dollars less. I simply answered 'no', but in the back of my mind I was thinking that I couldn't even tell him within a million dollars what I did make.

"I believe the big driver in CEO pay has been the constant public comparisons. CEOs want to feel that they are appropriately recognised and rewarded within their universe. I don't care what I make, but it irritates me if I make less than a bunch of idiots running half-assed companies. Also, compensation committees don't want a policy that says we pay in the bottom quartile and hope to get top quartile performance.
Making it to the CEO's office doesn't necessarily mean great talent or wisdom. Sometimes it's pure luck, being in the right place at the right time with a series of fortunate binary decisions on the way there. Sometimes it's a talent for corporate politics and knowing how to smooge the board. Sometimes it's just the Peter Principle at work.

But whatever it is, the board will want to pay him or her wonderfully well.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Becoming fluent in Maths

In How I Rewired My Brain to Become Fluent in Math Barbara Oakley writes that developing an understanding on a topic isn't enough. You also need memorisation and repetition to retain that understanding and develop fluency. In other words for understanding to turn from ephemeral to permanent students need to practice.

Oakley explains how chunking is vital in developing skills (in language and maths):
This approach—which focused on fluency instead of simple understanding—put me at the top of the class. And I didn’t realize it then, but this approach to learning language had given me an intuitive understanding of a fundamental core of learning and the development of expertise—chunking.
Time after time, professors in mathematics and the sciences have told me that building well-ingrained chunks of expertise through practice and repetition was absolutely vital to their success. Understanding doesn’t build fluency; instead, fluency builds understanding. In fact, I believe that true understanding of a complex subject comes only from fluency.

Writers Write: a blog on writing

Writers Write is a blog on writing. It has some useful tips on writing stories.

Biscuit recipes

goodfood has a collection of Brilliant biscuit recipes.

2014 the hottest year on record

According to Ben Cubby in Climate changes amid the blaming game 2014 was the hottest year on record. Not only that, but the ten hottest years have all been since 1998.
Over the weekend, as bushfires scorched the Adelaide Hills, southern Australia was the hottest region on the face of the planet.

On Monday, it was announced by the respected Japan Meteorological Agency that 2014 had been the warmest year the world has seen since reliable measurements began in 1890. On Tuesday, our own Bureau of Meteorology revealed that 2014 had been Australia's third-warmest year, and NSW had just endured its hottest on record. All of the world's top ten hottest years have now taken place since 1998.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Being depressed doesn't mean you're always sad

In Depression doesn’t make you sad all the time SE Smith writes about the conflict between wanting to show that you are depressed and the desire not to appear depressed.
Yet I feel a strange conflicting pressure. On the one hand, I feel like I need to engage in a sort of relentless performative sadness to be taken seriously, for people to understand that I really am depressed and that each day – each moment of each day – is a struggle for me, that even when I am happy, I am still fighting the monster. I feel like I need to darken everything around me, to stop communicating with the world, to stop publishing anything, to just stop. Because that way I will appear suitably, certifiably sad, and thus, depressed – and then maybe people will recognise that I’m depressed and perhaps they’ll even offer support and assistance. The jokes die in my throat, the smile never reaches my lips, I don’t share that moment of happiness on the beach by turning to my friend and expressing joy.

I don’t, in other words, do the things that can help ameliorate depression, encourage people to reach out, and help depressed people with functioning, completing daily tasks of life, and finding a reason to live again. I don’t find and build a rich community of people who can offer support (and whom I can support in turn), because I have to be so wrapped up in performing my sadness at all times to prove that I’m depressed enough – even as I want to scream that this is a reinforcement of stereotypes that hurt people, that by doing this I am hurting not just myself but others.
On the other, I feel an extreme pressure to perform just the opposite, because sad depressed people are boring and no fun, as I am continually reminded every time I speak openly about depression or express feelings of sadness and frustration. I’m caught in a trap where if I don’t perform sadness, I’m not really depressed, but if I express sadness at all to any degree, I’m annoying and boring and should stop being so self-centred. Thus I’m effectively pushed into fronting, putting a face on it even when I am depressed and deeply sad – when I feel like I am choking on my own misery, I put up a cheeky Tweet. When I hate myself and I want to die, I post a link to something fun, or I write up something silly to run somewhere – even though as I write it, I am drawn deeper and deeper into my unhappiness.
Above all the writer makes the point that even when suffering depression there are bright moments of joy. Depression is not a constant. It has its ups and downs.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Bankers are inherently dishonest?

In What cheek: the unwashed are breeding John Birmingham mentions research that found that bankers, when reminded that they were bankers, were more dishonest than other professions.
A report in the journal Nature has found that among the professions, bankers "distinguished themselves by their dishonesty". Crucially, they became more dishonest the more they were reminded that they were bankers. Sneaky scientists asked a bunch of suits and bizoids to report the result of a series of coin flips in return for a pay off. After being asked about their jobs, the other professions behaved as before. Honestly. The bankers, suddenly remembering they were bankers, started to cheat.
As Jason Karaian put it, reporting for Quartz on this fascinating research, "what makes the persistent misconduct and toxic culture of modern banks so galling is that, in the words of a former head of Britain's financial regulator, so much of what they do seems 'socially useless'."

There is even evidence, suggests Karaian, that once the financial industry gets big enough, it actually restrains or even subtracts from economic growth.  "Untethered to the economy it is meant to serve, banks devise self-serving, self-referential products and services with massive risks and meager rewards."

Friday, 2 January 2015

"I" or "me": a grammar tip

Now, I'm the first to admit that my formal knowledge of English grammar is woefully inadequate. I may have completed high school, a Bachelor degree and a Graduate Diploma, but at no stage was I ever taught more than the rudimentary rules of grammar (e.g. this is a noun, when to use "there", "their" and "they're"). When I hear people, usually those who have English as a second language, start talking about rules on past perfect and present perfect continuous my brain seems to shut down (and please don't ask me what they are, I have no idea). So when I come across a simple way of resolving some grammatical issue I treat it like gold.

One of the issues I have is when to use "I" and when to use "me". Should I say "The Queen and I" or "The Queen and me"?

Which brings me to a recent column by Jonathan Holmes. In Jonathan Holmes' grammatical hate-list Jonathan has a little rant about some of his pet hates. He opens up on "the grammatical and linguistic solecisms that drive me (irrationally, I admit) to distraction".

In the process he explains when to use "I" and when to use "me".
But supposedly literate politicians, and journalists, and the great and the good generally, seem incapable these days of understanding that if Tasha and I are the object of a verb, or in the predicate of a sentence, then we should become "Tasha and me".
And here's where he makes it simple (my emphasis):
Every one of them wrong. Just get rid of the girlfriends, wives and journalists, and it's obvious how wrong:  "The stars shine bright over I", "he invited I to watch", "two of the judges quietly told I of their displeasure", "there were guffaws among we".  Me, me, me and us are the appropriate pronouns.
That's it. When trying to figure out which of "I" or "me" to use, remove the other person from the sentence and then see if it makes sense.

So "Jonathan and I are pedants" is correct, because "I am a pedant" sounds correct, whereas "Me am a pedant" sounds wrong.

"Santa gave Jonathan and me a book on grammar" is correct, because "Santa gave me a book on grammar" sounds correct, whereas "Santa gave I a book on grammar" sounds wrong.

So there you have it, a quick rule of thumb on when to use "I" and when to use "we".

Thank you Jonathan.