February News


Quick Summary

New office desk with glass top

Still a lot of woodwork with the renovations, but we managed to get some software written as the office gets back into shape and the year looks more promising.

Part of the renovation was to put epoxy paint on the desk surface, sand down to 1500 grit, then buff with cutting compound and shine with turtle wax. A glass top coat was added and also sanded to the above spec. The small Apple server was placed above the monitor on an IKEA stainless steel rack to make space for evaluation boards on the desk. The printer is normally placed on the overhead bookshelf, but for scanning it is easier on the desktop. The photo was taken after scanning lots of invoices for BAS filing.

The Apple server (silver box in the middle of the shelf above the screen) is smaller than many of the digital signage development kits. The lower cost version, the Mac mini is US$ 599, while the quad core i7 mini server is US$ 999. The lack of decent pricing for any digital signage on ARM devices was a deciding factor in discontinuing work in this area. Tablets will squeeze prices in the near future as well — hopefully with a development system that does not require pioneering into embedded Linux territory.


Comments


Counter Productive

We felt that embedded hardware was adversely affected by Australian Consumer Law, but it appears that software startups are not much better off. A rather sobering article caught our attention. See Insane Australian laws force startups across to Silicon Valley, by Ross Brooks, dated 3rd Feb, 2014.

Regarding Venture Capital, we have been through numerous meetings with potential investors (in South Africa admittedly), but found that their expectations were based on what they had read about Bill Gates and others who started massive empires on small budgets some time ago. It is probably going to work out better to go to family, friends, and then the bank to get the least amount of capital, while retaining the greatest number of shares. We also remind the tech savy that high-tech is not really a place to invest your super fund into.

How about having to pay tax on invoices for a company that went insolvent and never paid for the goods? This was reported on a recent visit to a component supplier in Australia.

$25 Smart phone?

Pretty catching headline we thought. See Mozilla shows off $25 Firefox OS smartphone prototype, dated 23rd Feb. It includes a screen by the way. Can they really deliver? What is the development kit based on? Google promised to do amazing things with phones and tablets, but risked “eating their young” in the Android space. An advantage Google have over Mozilla is being able to fund the project.

Other Tech announcements

HP is taking another stab at tablets, and Samsung is bringing out a redesigned smartwatch. These are tough and fragmented markets, but will make the HMI market more interesting.


Plant Closures


The motor industry is not alone. Alcoa announced the closure of their plant at Port Henry. See Aluminium producer Alcoa confirms decision to close Point Henry smelter, rolling mills, 18 Feb, from ABC News. Almost 1000 employees will be out of work. In the article, “Alcoa says a comprehensive review of the 50-year-old smelter says it has no prospect of becoming financially viable.”

The plant closure was widely expected; we even had it on our May news last year, see towards the end of the item Manufacturing Demise.

We have done some work on blast furnaces and a rolling mill — Commissioning a motion control system to control the chute angle for charging the blast furnace at Iscor's C Blast Furnace at Vanderbyl Park, and proposing an upgrade to the control system at Columbus Stainless (Samancor) after examining their existing system's source code and VxWorks trace output. These are plants that were very expensive to setup, and any rolling mill is indeed a complex system.

 

How can it be cheaper to walk away from a smelter when there is a local coal plant for a power station and bauxite comes from the same country? Sure they were making huge losses, but how can Dubai Aluminium manage when they need a desalination plant? (We know how much the Adelaide Desal Plant cost). For an idea of the Dubai Aluminium corporate profile, see the company's website. We don't have photos of the stainless steel mill as they did not allow cameras into the plant, but there have been several video clips on the news channels on the Port Henry smelter mills. This is expensive stuff to walk away from, or to operate without demand for the end product.

Alcoa said the plant was 50 years old. That means they had a 15 year technology learning advantage over the DUBAL smelter, which celebrates its 35th anniversary this year. What happened?


Motor Industry


In Australia, the announced layoffs in the Motor Industry are attracting a great deal of attention. The kind folk here gave notice that the plants would close a couple of years! Industry is taking a hit everywhere in the world for those who are blaming present and past governments.

Toyota to exit Australian Manufacture

In February Toyota announced it would cease manufacturing in Australia by the end of 2017. See Toyota Australia Announces Future Plan For Local Manufacturing. This follows General Motors (Holden) and Ford, and several years back, Mitsubishi.

In Toyota foreshadows it will close manufacturing in Australia, the government funding per vehicle from taxpayer dollars was $2117 per Holden (2012), $944 per Toyota, $2372 per Ford. Why should taxpayers fund manufacturers they don't even buy from? When Ford owned Volvo (1999 to 2010), the same vehicle in South Africa was about 60% of the Australian price (2008). Ford kept on pushing the Falcon rather than introduce the Volvo in Australia possibly due to the cost of a new assembly line for the expected volumes. Management are the only ones who can explain what happened.

Vehicle Recalls

This one is blamed squarely on software — Toyota to recall 1.9 million Prius cars for software defect in hybrid system, which should be of interest to embedded developers involved in any transport systems.

Peugeot in trouble?

Peugeot said net loss narrowed to €2,32 last year, compared to a €5bn loss in 2012. Sales fell 2,4% to €54,1bn. Absolutely scary compared to Australian volumes and still making such losses. See Peugeot signs rescue deal with China's Dongfeng Motor for the full article on BBC Business.


High Tech Job Outlook


Sony to cut 5,000 jobs

EE Time reported 5,000 jobs to be cut at Sony (6 Feb) Sony Dumps PCs, Splits TV Op, Cuts 5,000 Jobs.

They seem to be directionless at the moment. My wife's recent phone acquisition does not bode well for their bid in that market. It is a better camera than a phone.

IBM retrenching

About 2000 workers in India were retrenched as IBM restructures. Apparently, 130,000 of IBM's 430,000 workers are based in India. This is a fraction of the workforce, and under 2% should hardly make headlines, but it is a sign of things to come when highly skilled workers are loosing their jobs in low-cost destinations.


Tales from the Woods


Weather

While the folk in the UK are developing webbed feet to handle the flooding, Adelaide broke a record for the number of days over 40 degrees C for February (which happened before the middle of the month). Treading water is no fun, but neither is the dry hot wind that has been behind the spate of raging fires. Some deliberately lit by resident retards, others by power lines, .... There were fires in Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, and even Western Australia. People have been arrested, and according to our local newspaper, six deliberately lit fires in February around McLaren Vale and the Fleurieu Peninsula. Footage of the losses to homes and livestock shows how heartless people can be.

A little after the heat records, Adelaide had several times the average rainfall for February in two days (90 mm), and the most since 1974 (by the 15th Feb). A bit of trivia from the news channel, but sorely needed rain after the ground was baked as hard as a brick.

Some days later, places in Queensland had 245mm in a single sitting, while many parts of the state are still in a drought.

Although a bit strange, the receptionist (grey little four legged bitch) has learned to walk in the evenings, as her feet get burnt on the pavement during sunlight hours. The evenings just before sunset on the nearby beach are most pleasant.

NBN

McLaren Vale has to migrate off copper to fibre after the NBN connected up the area. We were on ADSL (not even the fast version as when we transferred our Telstra account on buying the house, the exchange had no free highspeed ADSL ports). The signoff involved pointing a browser at a test site and checking the data rate. We got the advertised download speed of close to 25 Mbps, and not sure what the upload speed was, but as per the advertised contract. However, for everything we used to do, there is no noticeable change in speed. Software updates are not in seconds as they advertise for movie downloads (also about 4 GBytes like a SolidWorks upgrade), but take hours. Maybe the backends will catch up with the extra bandwidth of fibre-to-the-house, but this looks like a poor use of tax payers' money. Data rate costs from the local telcos are high, so hosting is still much cheaper from Singapore or Dubai. Will it make Australia more competitive compared to copper as promised by the Labour Government? We will all have to wait and see. The initial price was A$40 billion, but apparently that was a gross underestimate. Not sure how far into that pile of money the NBN Co. ploughed, but it has been scaled back with the changing of the guard.


Bankers' Slot


In previous News pages, we added the bankers under a title of The usual suspects, but their contribution to the regulators justifies a special slot for these financial wizards.

A touch of insider trading

Was this really surprising? See SAC Capital's Mathew Martoma guilty of insider trading, 7 Feb on BBC Business. SAC paid out a total of $1,8 billion last year to settle related charges. And you thought you could make money as a casual day trader?

Barclays to lay off 12,000

Does this go under High Tech Job Outlook, or with the bankers slot for the monthly fines and tales of woe? We think it is pretty sad when over four times the number of Toyota workers about to leave their Australian jobs (towards the end of 2017), just get tossed out into the street without years of notice.

 

 

On 11 Feb, CNN reported Barclays stokes bonus row as 12,000 jobs go, and also a quote from the article, “It cannot be right in any business for the executive bonus pool to be nearly three times bigger than the total dividend pay out to the company's owners,” said Roger Barker, director of corporate governance at the Institute of Directors. “The question must be asked — for whom is this institution being run?”

One can only assume when the workers were originally hired, they contributed towards the bottom line, but they must have become a little tired of late.