August News

Almond blossoms McLaren Vale

Almond blossoms in McLaren Vale

Don't get me started on information
Magazines and T.V.
There's one man under his big umbrella
While it's raining on you and me
Everyday it's getting harder to judge
Fiction from fact
I'm tired of truth being denied me
It's mine and I want it back

   Don't Get Me Started, Phil Collins, 2002,
Testify album
Lyrics at Phil Collins Lyrics


Software Development

Apple has announced a new language, Swift, which is pretty significant as it looks more like Modula than Objective-C. Documentation is available for free from the Developer website, and the new Xcode can compile it, which is also free. We started to move away from Objective-C as the iTunes store and Apple review process was too uncertain for industrial automation where there are several small customers, compared to one application with many downloads. Making calls from an Apple desktop computer if an iPhone is close (within Wi-Fi range) is very impressive, plus finally making the phone a hotspot as standard will reduce the number of data plans. What more could we ask for? — migrating the screen from a desktop to an iPad or using the iPad as a data entry device for a nearby desktop machine without having to go through iTunes validation process every time a new field is added to a form.

Will we adopt Swift? There is an option of returning a tuple, which at first gloss over the documentation looks like an equivalent to Microsoft's Linq, and very useful for parsing XML documentation. We are pretty firmly stuck with C, but the interface to Cocoa and C from Swift looks a lot more intuitive than the message passing of Objective-C, and hopefully easier to debug.

The desktop (OS X Yosemite) and device (iOS) are being integrated closer and efforts are being made merge the two interfaces. Microsoft recently announced their efforts (July news) to merge their different Windows operating systems for desktops and devices.

Stainless steel

This has taken a back seat for a while, but we are clearing out the old welding tables and storage bins so that there is no contamination. New designs will be sent for laser cutting at the end of September, as we plan to take a holiday in Melbourne and along the Great Ocean Road for most of September.

Renewable Energy Target Shifts

The Renewable Energy Target has shifted. This will certainly affect the solar power companies. It seems that whatever the government touches in terms of incentives, the price shoots up. A water tank gets a rebate, artificial grass another, and so the list goes on. No wonder the deficit is so high. Will this affect our energy projects? We always wanted to be able to use our own power, which is what we were used to in South Africa. There the power grid was so unreliable that you had to store power in batteries, but when we first enquired about that in 2008, we were told it was “illegal” to use your own power and if you did you would not be able to connect to the grid. We have not yet managed to find a definite answer on what we can and cannot do regarding power, batteries, low-voltage connections, etc. We will go ahead with prototypes later, and pick up a few solar panels as prices tumble. When the tariffs changed a while back, the prices dropped sharply, so when the tariffs disappear we believe the prices will drop again. Batteries are not cheap in Australia, but they are still the simplest way to store power for small installations.

Tales from the Woods

Holden

According to The Advertiser in Holden could close Australian plants by 2015 - automotive industry, union, many of the suppliers could go earlier as volumes decline. (15th August)

Destroyer Project

The Defence's Air Warfare Destroyer delayed project $500M over budget, dated 14th August, suggests that the delays and overruns might be even worse, as nobody wants to be frank about the state of the project. No point in being a “detractor” as I saw mentioned at a previous corporate whenever anyone pointed out the obvious. The culture of pretending all is good is a result of the bad news being suppressed until it all collapses. The software industry is notorious for delivering bad news and we still cannot estimate timescales, but this is spreading into other areas as folk hang in for dear life. Not good for the fabrication industry.

Quantas $2,8 billion loss

See Qantas' $2.8 billion loss explained in The Sydney Morning Herald, 28th Aug. The $2,6 billion write-down of its international fleet looks like a paper exercise to get ready for selling, as they must have received a hint that they were over valued. There was an underlying loss of $646 million. Expect staff to go, which is long overdue if you compare similar staffing at competitors (even with Virgin Australia). Quantas shares went up on the news. It used to be one of the most profitable airlines in 2008 (not sure if per capita or in total volumes), but prices for local flights are often more than flights to Bali, and up to twice the price of a similar Virgin flight.

Virgin Australia's $355 million loss

A day after Quantas' worst loss, Virgin airline releases full-year results after Qantas' dire loss was revealed. These were unexpected for casual observers, but what is the answer? Higher fare prices? Perhaps stop the gimicks like also having a low-cost airline as the fleet servicing should surely be the same, plus what about salaries on the low-cost airline? The food was definitely not the reason for the losses on either airline.

Politics

As seen by Phil Collins..... and many others, it should be noted, but he still sings it best:


Don't get me started on politicians
And the lies they spread
Don't even mention sex and religion
And who they take to bed
But if you see me running down the street
Know where I'm running to
I'm tired of honesty being denied us
I'm coming looking for you


Phil Collins, first verse of “Don't Get Me Started”, which seems timeless in light of the latest resignations amongst New South Wales politicians, with an uncontested by-election as a result. In some cases, the amounts were as small as $20,000 or $10,000, which makes one wonder whether it was worth their efforts or how much actually crossed palms. Did they learn from the masters in Africa or was it the other way around? At least they had the decency to walk.

There might even be some local job creation opportunities outside of work safety — writing “Thank You” notes to property developers and mayors! We might just be available to write an App for that — but cash only and upfront in case you forget about us. We can even use location based information for wine delivery so denials at future dates will be less common. What about the camera on all devices? Cloud storage will help for the new rules that require information to be stored for longer than the average phone contract now that governments are cutting budgets in their data storage departments.

Bankers

It was all quiet for a while, but then some more fines worth mentioning — Bank of America To Pay Record $16.65 Billion Fine, 21st Aug, on Time. “Since the end of the financial crisis, the bank has incurred more than $60 billion in losses and legal settlements.”


Claims of enormous evidence points to Russia

Was shooting down MH17 an accident? Perhaps read the Wikipedia entry for Iran Air Flight 655 to see how the downing of an Iran Air civil passenger flight over Iranian territory by a US Navy guided missile cruiser killed all 290 on board. At the time (1988) I was in South Africa doing navy camps and recall the Aegis radar being described as the world's most advanced with phase array antennae and the alignment required etc, yet they claimed the Airbus A300 looked like a F-14 and although they had entered Iranian waters illegally, they never apologised for the incident (they did pay compensation almost ten years later in a settlement in the International Court of Justice). Was that a mistake? How will this one play out with both the Russian (rebels?) and Ukrainian people having missiles — perhaps some falling into the wrong hands as army camps were overrun? Luckily John Kerry has enormous amounts of evidence, which he will hopefully share with the world. The West and European allies, plus Australia have been convinced enough to place sanctions on Russia, so the evidence should be made available from both the US and Russia so we can all go about our lives and trade again. The poor folk in the International Space Station are surely hoping that the sanctions won't include restocking the Vodka supplies or getting them home for Christmas. Maybe SpaceX and others were asked if they could fill the gap before relations turned sour or a rocket exploded shortly after launch.

Until the enormous evidence is generally available, I for one will not be flying over Russia again. Sorry Virgin, but it looks like Singapore Airlines or Emirates on our next flights to the UK and Europe. Last trip via Hong Kong and then over Russia was indeed impressive looking down at the long highways and towns along the flight path, but there was no location information on the in-flight entertainment system, so not exactly sure which cities we flew over, but they were big. The flight was at night, in November, but the air was crystal clear.

The Google search gives dates for the “enormous amount of evidence” around 20th and 21st July, and then during a visit to Australia to tie up some loose ends there, as US and Australia sign defence agreement on 12th August. Hopefully the McLaren Vale wines will still find willing buyers in the largest trading partner, and the ASC will get some business out of the deals. The photo opportunity was spectacular, but both foreign ministers are such professionals at this by now, that there really would be no “take 22” to get the perfect shot. During a TV news clip on ABC News24, there was mention of John Kerry saying how the US were amazed on the imagery of the MH17 plane being shot down, but once the sad events of remembering the victims and paying respect to those whose lives were terminated far too soon, justice will prevail and the evidence will surely be made available before the world is again divided along lines of “with us” or “against us”. Australia has a small population but has more than done its share in shouldering the burden of Middle Eastern conflict, and with so many Australians onboard MH17, those with evidence owe it to the Australian people to hand it over so that rational decisions can be made.


Rocket Launches

The high tech, high risk and potentially high profit business of rocket launches only makes general news when something does not go to plan. The video footage in SpaceX rocket explodes during testing over Texas, (23rd Aug on BBC) shows the rocket explode seconds after launch. The article said the unmanned rocket was destroyed when its self-destruct system was triggered after an unexplained malfunction. Hopefully not software, which is always difficult to blame as it does not leave any molten blobs or fall to earth with the help of gravity.

Galileo launch on the 22nd August on board a Soyuz rocket carrying two satellites reported the next day, Galileo satellites go into wrong, lower orbit - Esa.

Sanctions

Thankfully we live in the heart of a lovely wine region, and never really took to drinking Vodka. Not sure what Russian imports Australia relies on, but it sure was a surprise to hear how big the beef exports were to Russia. Almost as big a surprise to find out that while the English media were having a go at Zimbabwe's president — who has dedicated his whole life to serving his people — they were importing hundreds of millions of pounds worth of beef from Zim. It makes sense when Mad Cow is in the English beef and not something in the kitchen, plus Argentina is still upset about some islands off the coast and not sending their best steaks to the UK. What about some GM beef from the US? Well done President Bob Mugabe for spotting the opportunity!

Was Zimbabwe hurt by sanctions? Absolutely, and for what purpose if we compare crimes against humanity with innocent people being killed by advanced weapons on a daily basis — weapons supplied by super powers with full knowledge of the outcome, so long as it suites them. Not sure what Zimbabwe had to offer other than stunning scenery and wildlife, but the average person suffered much more than the people supposedly targeted by sanctions. They ended up streaming across the South African border at rates of 6000 per day into townships where the unemployed were openly hostile to the Zimbabwean refugees. What justification can the mightly western civilizations bring to the table?


Willunga Market

The Saturday morning market in Willunga (7km from McLaren Vale) is organic, does not track your “pasta versus fresh veg” purchases to profile you for car insurance, or other data mining evils. We pay cash, get stuff picked the previous day, produce has low food-miles, plus members get a 10% discount. The money goes to the growers, not the supermarkets who make huge profits down under (almost as much as the banks). The two larger supermarkets do not stock Fleurieu Milk products, and one even advertises permeate-free milk! We like the idea of supporting local and buying local. The supermarkets expect us to buy at high prices but do not support local suppliers. The promotional trinkets for wine and the marketing emails to try and get you into their grips is a touch intrusive. We will soon reach another milestone where the points for a free flight will be taken (sometimes the “free” flights where the airport taxes are not included are more than the specials that also arrive in you inbox). We will then slip off the radar of the data mining companies, as well as unsubscribe from the torrent of emails.

Willunga Saturday market

Willunga Market on Saturday mornings


Wood work

A previously varnished pine slab was planed, sanded and oiled. We have oiled a few pieces of wood, and are please to announce that we will never be buying varnish again. We have settled on equal measures of Tung oil, Citrus oil and linseed oil. Easy to apply, smells nice and the surface smoothness is hard to beat. We have also tried the Festool wax kit, which is good, but for occassional use, the applicator pads dry out or become sticky. You are also at the mercy of their secret mixture.

When we first started some desks and cabinets, we asked around at the hardware stores and paint suppliers, but they were not very helpful, plus the instructions on the tins seem to be “cut-and-pasted” from some master file — stir with a paddle so as not to introduce bubbles. On some cans, the opening is so small, a paddle does not fit, and when applying with a brush or roller, who cares about bubbles? The folk selling decent wood working machines have all the various oils and shellac in stock, plus are willing to share their mixing experiences. A very good book, Understanding Wood Finishing, by Bob Flexner, says that “The Secret Is That There Is No Secret” (pg ix), much like our food where you have no idea of what is in it, or why the the dog biscuts for the little grey bitch in reception smell of sheep droppings.

Other High Tech

AMD has replied to the applicants for ARMv8 development systems. It looks like their launch is for September.

After 34 years at Microsoft, Steve Ballmer Steps Down From Microsoft Board. He certainly keeps himself busy. In the same article, Ballmer is the largest individual shareholder in Microsoft with shares valued at $15,1 billion. Since Ballmer announced his plans a year ago to retire as CEO, the stock price climbed 39%.

In Oracle reveals 32-core, 10 BEEELLION-transistor SPARC M7, 18th August, from The Register, give some of the details of the M7 chip described at Hot Chips the previous week.

Cisco seems to be replacing older workers with newer ones, as mentioned in Cisco COO: Our Annual Layoffs Is The 'Wrong Way To Do It', 20th August, in Business Insider. The layoffs or restructuring will cost $700 million for 6,000 workers (roughly $117k per employee). You wonder why they don't go out and start some competing business with all their networking experience and severence pay, or were they really the dead wood?

Cypress Semi

Have a look at the new PSoC promotion at Cypress Semi. The promotion is for $1 PSoC devices and $4 evaluation boards. This is sure better than samples and still having to put them onto a board. We are away for almost a month in September, so more of this later.