Monday, February 27, 2012

Watch your electricity consumption

This is a power meter I recently bought from Aldi. You just need to plug it into the household socket, and then plug your appliance into it. The display will show the wattage used.

I used this to check the power consumption of several appliances in my house. The result is quite interesting. I'll show you how much power my computers consume, as well as the cost per month at 22c per kWh, which is what I am paying to AGL now.

Our gaming computer (moderately hi-end): On standby, it consumes 90W (=$14.25 pm). With monitor on, it consumes 170W. When playing an intensive game, it is 355W. Assuming it is used for gaming for 4 hours per day, the extra wattage is 355W-90W=265W (= $7.00 pm, using 4hrs/day). In total, the running cost is $21.25pm.

My own computer (rather low end, dual core CPU, 2.66GHz): On standby it consumes 134W (=$21.22pm), even more than the gaming computer! This doesn't include the monitor, which is typically switched off when not in use.

The above may not look much, but together they represent 28% of my electricity bill. This beats spending thousands on solar panels. The 28% is slightly less than what my 15KW solar panel generates and it costs me AUD$3k, after government rebate of AUD$6k.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Melbourne house auction results not accurate

Yesterday, I visited few house auctions with a friend. In Australia, for those reading this from overseas, houses are typically sold in an auction where people bid for it openly. Auctions are held on a Saturday and the results are reported on Sunday.

Out of the 5 places we visited, 4 were not sold on the spot. Three had a bid from one person in each case, and were quickly "passed in" (i.e. vendor rejects the offer, but is open to further negotiations with the bidder). In the fifth place, we missed the auction but the signboard outside indicated the auction was unsuccessful.

Here's the result. In the widely published Domain circulation for yesterday's auction, only one of the four "passed in" properties was reportedly sold in the after-auction negotiation. The other four were not even included in the report. Quite likely they were not sold. If this is the case, the auction success rate has been inflated, intentionally or not intentionally. It gives a impression that the market is more vibrant than it actually is. I am only talking aboout 4 out of the 224 reported auction results I saw. Goodness knows how many unsold auctions go unreported. Caveat emptor! 

Generally, I do not trust statistics on face value. Unless I know the intention of the organization creating the statistics, many statistics are just distorted truths. Figures are juggled, and graphs are prepared in a way that gives the reader an intended impression at first glance. While statistics are meant to inform, many should be banned from publication because they are actually mis-information.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Money is a depreciating asset

Money no longer holds a constant value in this day and age. The sooner one realizes it, the better able he is to prepare for his impoverishment.

Money actually depreciates at the rate goods, services, and taxation go up in price. Let's say you have a certain amount of savings in the bank, earning an interest of 6% per year. Assuming you do not touch the interest at all, letting the principal grow cumulatively. At the same time, cost of living goes up by 10% (for utilities, transport, house, food, council rate, etc). Your net wealth is actually poised to drop by 4% at the end of the year.

In an ideal capitalist society, the system is supposed to be self-correcting such that the price of goods and services will always remain in check. Well, the system has cracked. Price stability is no longer the norm. Constant price increases is the new norm as corporations set ever-higher prices with no restraint. Politicians join in the game to increase taxes everywhere under whatever guises they can think of (e.g. carbon tax).

Unless the government acts to curtail price increases that do not reflect actual costs (such as banking industry practices in Australia), the government is actually letting the economy run wild. Unchecked, the average taxpayer will soon see his take home pay disappear before he can take it home.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Protecting the rural way of life

Our prosperity is relative to the place where we live and work. For example, a person surviving on a government pension in Australia will be able to live like a rich man in most places in a third world country (but probably not in a major city).Therefore it is only fair that a person not allowed to buy real estate in foreign country because of this disparity. Otherwise it will upset the socio-economic balance, and hence the way of life, to the benefit of those in the rich country.

When I was in Bali, I was told that you can buy an acre of padi field for less than AUD$15k. The villa we stayed in in Ubud (in the middle of a padi field) was built and run by an Australian. I think this is an injustice to the local Balinese. A local who works hard and is saving up to buy his own padi field will inevitably be priced out.

In parts of Australia, farmlands have been quietly purchased by foreigners, with the intention of mining for coal. There should be a law against this, as the transaction price does not reflect the true value of the land. Farmland is a contributor to the GDP. It is a renewable source of income, unlike mineral resources which get exhausted eventually.

Governments should enact laws to ensure that farmlands are not sold to people who are not interested in adopting the rural way of life, be it to foreigners or to city-dwellers. These people are only interested in buying a laidback lifestyle but not the life that comes with it.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Protect, not destroy, the rural way of life

Many people think that to bring progress to the rural community is to introduce the lifestyle and modern amenities of city living to the country folks. "Progress" means new shopping malls, planned housing estates, recreation centers  - all of which only succeed in replacing a rural lifestyle with a city lifestyle, without a clear long term benefit to the former. In the process, it destroys a good way of life.

I grew up in a small town. People made their living from tapping rubber, growing vegetables, or tending to the orchards. Everyone seemed to have enough to live on while the government provided adequate and free health care and education. Those who had more did not indulge in anything extravagant; one had no need of such things in rural living.

Unfortunately, "progress" crept in. Instead of beautiful traditional village houses, brick and mortar link housed sprouted. They are cramped into little estates. Undisposed construction material in time are covered by weeds. The houses are small and their fenced compounds are barely sufficient for hanging the laundry. I cannot understand why anyone thinks this is progress.

In other places, I have seen farms being sold and converted into housing estates. This provides a windfall to the farmer but diminishes the country's food production. I see young people emigrating to the cities to look for work. Some make it big but most are just eking out a living. In my opinion, they would have done better if the authorities have protected the conventional rural way of life. Instead, rural lifestyle as a way of life is never consciously preserved as a complementary system to city living. A country must always have a good balance of rural and urban dwellers, without one overwhelming the other's lifestyle.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Camera: Panasonic GF1 vs Canon S95

(While on holiday, I started to write a blog on this subject using my mobile phone. It was slow and awkward. Then I accidentally hit the SEND button and published it prematurely. Here, I'll re-write the intended blog)

On my recent trip to Malaysia I had a wonderful time playing with two of the top cameras on my drool list. I got to know both cameras thoroughly and tested all the features to my heart's content, until the batteries went flat. While the S95 was as good as all the reviews claim, the GF1 won my heart. But neither won my pocket and I am still faithfully attached to my D90.

Here's why I literally couldn't put the GF1 down once I started. With the 50mm f2.0 lens mounted, I found it delightful and easy to handle. The shots were all beautifully rendered on the high resolution LCD display. It was easy to get shallow depth of field when I wanted that. There was no zoom lens to play with, but I did not find this a letdown. I was pleased with one shot after another. The artistic mode provided some useful effects that were really fun to use, although I did tire of using this mode after a while.

The S95 proved to be supreme in the supercompact camera class. Images were beautifully rendered and it was hard to find fault with it. Understandably, depth of field was not as good as in the larger-sensored GF1. Also, manual controls were fewer, as expected of supercompact cameras. Truly the S95 is an excellent camera, but the GF1 covers a wider range of creative shooting, which bodes better for me.

So, why don't I forsake the D90 for one of these beauties? I had difficulty letting go of the GF1 but when it comes to serious business, my D90 gives me all the controls and capabilities I need, and more. In other words, these beauties are fun to use but will not contribute to making better images for me, like what a full-frame camera will. Hence, I'll stick to my gun and shoot with D90.... for now.

New on my drool list..... the new Canon G1X.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

My holiday in Bali

Many days after returning home from Bali, I was still thinking of the padi fields. I looked through all the photos I had taken, over and over again, while I re-lived the experience in my mind. Maybe this is a good way to tell if a holiday had been a success or not. For me, I had a holiday as a holiday is meant to be: totally relaxed to do what I love to do (take photographs) and be pampered by my wife all the time.

Before I went to Bali, I had expected to be greeted with  crime and corruption, smog in the air, and filth on the roads. Instead, I found a charming retreat in the rural town of Ubud where, poor as the people were, impoverished they were not. The people were friendly toward strangers. The environment was clean and I saw no carelessly strewn rubbish anywhere. The air was clear and the rivers were unpolluted. The people I saw looked happy and contented with their way of life. I saw little material possessions; modern trappings that do not make our lives spiritually any richer by comparison. This was in a unmarked village and not in a showcase resort set up by the government to promote tourism.

I cannot say the same for Kuta, though. While this seaside resort is tourist-friendly, some of the beaches are full of trash washed up by the tides.

As for my photography experience, I was wrong in thinking that I would not be able to do much serious shooting while tagging along with a group of sight-seeking and sightseeing people (all relatives) who just want to have fun. While it is true that I couldn't always go where I wanted to get the anticipated shot, I had a great time practising all the compositions I had learned but not mastered. My greatest satisfaction is in taking time to talk to the locals before asking them for a shot. It relaxes them and I get great eye contact on the camera. And I cannot be charged for shooting an unsuspecting individual.

To see my favourite Bali shots, go to my Facebook site: