Monday, May 29, 2006

Geek Test

I completed this "test" and it says:

You are 50% geeky.

Not bad. Maybe you spend a little too much time with your computer, but at least you have friends. You do have friends, right?

The current average score is: 32.50%

Stupid test. What would they know? Besides, I gave my second dictionary away months ago (it was in physics). Well, anyway I'm going to watch X-men 3 if I can find someone...either that or I'll watch it by myself.

Bloody Australian Banks

I lost my ANZ debit card the other day (yes, I was slightly drunk) and it cost me $15 to replace it. That's disgraceful. Particularly after ANZ recorded a staggering profit last financial year. For the last couple of years I've been painfully aware that Australian banks love charging the consumer like there's no tomorrow. Ireland, probably the most expensive nation in the EU, has banks which charge less than banks in Oz. The fact that they use our money to invest* in order to reap huge profits and then charge us stupidly high fees is bloody deplorable.

Thusly, to come the point of my rant, I'm searching for a better, cheaper, "nicer" bank account. I was recommended HSBC who have a free internet bank account and you receive a fee-free VISA debit card (where ANZ charges you $6 per month for this "luxury"). It's a pity HSBC is a UK based bank, I think. Or is it Hong Kong?

Apparently, the NAB (Australia's largest bank due to their overseas investments) has a pretty reasonable deal as well. Any other suggestions?

*In fact, ANZ gave a presentation the other day in the hope to recruit more maths PhDs to help them maximise their already fat profits. Ah, the beauty of financial darwinism. Do or die.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Macquarie Bank

They call the Macquarie bank the millionaire factory. Not hard to see why with this very impressive list of assets:

National Assets

* 43 aged care facilities
* 118 industrial properties
* 6 marinas
* 85 commercial radio licences
* 23 office buildings
* 5 major tollroads
* Dreamworld
* 47 ten pin bowling centres
* 80 supermarkets and other retail properties
* Sydney Airport
* 3 energy distributors

And you can add to that list MacBank's international assets:

* 6 airports
* 28 tollroads
* 14 energy utilities
* 2 ports
* 4 media/communications assets
* 17 office buildings
* 241 retail shopping properties
* 4 transport assets
* 178 industrial properties

Think of something that makes money. A supermarket. A local radio station. An airport. Odds are Macquarie has a stake in it. They even recently tried to make a hostile bid for the London Stock Exchange. The poms told the cheeky Aussie bank to get stuffed. Don't worry. We'll get 'em.

Money for Speeches

Did anyone catch John Safran and Father Bob last Sunday night on JJJ? They interviewed founder and shareholder Stephen Mayne and discussed how various protestors (and others) earn money by giving speeches and lectures at various institutes and conferences. Apparently, socialist hero and regular tubby, Michael Moore makes $40 grand per university lecture, and then buys various luxuries such as Manhattan apartments.

Although not a socialist but a regular hero nonetheless in many Australian eyes, Peter Cosgrove charges $20 k per speech and expects to stay in the best hotel in town (Cosgrove also sits on the board of Virgin Blue). Not a bad effort, I say. Recently, Cosgrove honourably took control of the re-building operation in Northern Queensland after Cyclone Larry came to town. Mayne, just a tad cynically, points out this recent aid work of Cosgrove will make for some great speeches in the future as his old East Timor stories are growing old with the paying masses.

I reckon I should start protesting to make a pretty penny or two. Surely somebody will pay me to ramble on about something or another? Surely?

Natural Number

The number pi, the ratio between a circle's circumference and its diameter, receives much attention. Perhaps an equally as important number, but not nearly as famous, is the number e, which was labelled by the great Swiss mathematician Euler*. You've probably only seen this fascinating number if you've studied highschool calculus like these two former maths students who made it big:

Google constantly leaves numerical puns and riddles for those who care to look in the right places. When it filed the regulatory documents for its stockmarket listing in 2004, it said that it planned to raise $2,718,281,828, which is $e billion to the nearest dollar.

What's so special about e? The number is commonly used when deriving equations to model and predict growth and decay in nature. Thus, one can predict the growth of, say, bacteria or the decay of nuclear matter quite accurately with this universal constant. The number also arises frquently in statistics and probability. Indeed, the equation for the famous normal (or bell) curve contains the number e (pi cunningly also sneaks into the equation to ensure the area under the curve is one).

The number e, like pi, is never ending though the digits can be calculated with a simple equation up to desired point. Interestingly, a mathematician once used the Law of Rare Events (found in probability) to calculate e to a decent degree of accuracy by counting the number of horse-related solider deaths in the Prussian War. Although he was off by 1%, it's still a good effort at calculating a universal constant by counting soldiers deaths from horse-kicks.

*While in Swizterland I noticed Euler has a youth hostel named after him in his home town of Basel. If I had stayed there, I would have been the coolest lad around. Well, at least the coolest maths student around...

Friday, May 19, 2006

Interesting Comparison

Just for a little fun, I decided to post this message found by mate (during worktime, of course) on User DragonflyBlade21 writes:

A woman has a close male friend. This means that he is probably interested in her, which is why he hangs around so much. She sees him strictly as a friend. This always starts out with, you're a great guy, but I don't like you in that way. This is roughly the equivalent for the guy of going to a job interview and the company saying, You have a great resume, you have all the qualifications we are looking for, but we're not going to hire you. We will, however, use your resume as the basis for comparison for all other applicants. But, we're going to hire somebody who is far less qualified and is probably an alcoholic. And if he doesn't work out, we'll hire somebody else, but still not you. In fact, we will never hire you. But we will call you from time to time to complain about the person that we hired.

Aptly put, I reckon.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Google Trends

I just discovered Google Trends. The lads at Google have been collecting statistics on word searches for various cities around the world. It's entertaining, if not rather frightening, to see what words people search for.

I decided to look up a random word like "feminism" to see if women in countries in which they are not treated entirely fairly are doing any research. Stockholm in Sweden, a nation apparently acclaimed for being feministic, ranked first while my former stomping ground Brisbane came second. Perhaps not surprisingly, Brisbane ranked third for a somewhat ineffable word loved and used by many feminists. Bravo the Aussies, Kiwis and Poms.

Once you've looked up the regular words you (well, at least I do) begin to wonder who's looking up more irregular words. I can honestly say I've never googled this word but now I do wonder what's happening on the West coast of the States.

What words have you looked up and who ranks number one? Be honest now.

Newspaper, eh

Some "haters" out there have accused the The Age of being nothing but a glossy tabloid no better than the rags of Murdoch. I sort of see where they're coming from with headlines* like this:

Miner's wife shared 'telepathic connection'

The hell? I can't believe The Age mentions this "story" which is being reported in that stellar Aushtrayan publication known as New Idea. It is intereting though that it took the rescue team five days to locate the miners. Surely the wife's telepathic abilities could have helped? Stupidity truly is the flame that never goes out.

*In the name of humanity, I downright refuse to hyperlink this particular "article".

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Eastern Australia

New Zealand's high taxes are supposedly causing an exodus to Oz. And then there's this interesting fact:

Australia's founding constitution, dating from 1901, gave New Zealand the right to become a part of its larger neighbour if it chose to do so. The clause has never been revoked.

Go on, New Zealand. You know you want to. By the sounds of it half of you already live here anyway.

(Via Quentin George)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A paper, eh?

Last winter I did some research work in the environmental faculty. It involved performing a statistical analysis* on Brisbane River tide-times and outlining their effects on salinity levels in "fresh" groundwater in a neighbouring region (a important research area in recents years as the farmers keep draining "their" groundwater dry in Oz).

What do I know about salinity levels and statistical analysis? Nothing. Well, I knew pratically nothing before I did the 4-week project. After I knew next to nothing. I simply googled a few key words, sent a couple emails out and then received some tidal data (apparently some government office has been recording hourly tide-times for the last couple of years). I ran a random sample of data through some programs I wrote/pinch and modified and produced some pretty graphs.

I wrote up the results, handed it in and cashed my cheque. No worries. Imagine my surprise last week when I discovered the researcher has polished my report up (significantly) and submitted it to a journal, which has accepted it on a number of conditions and changes to be made. Now I have to remember what I did a year ago and try to fix up a paper in an area I know next to nothing about. Also, do I know anything about writing scientific papers? No.

The due date for the final submission is the end of this month. Hence, future blog entries may be slightly fewer in number. Who's to blame here? Well, probably me or the researcher but I'm going to cast the blame squarely on the farmers. Or I could blame El Nino?

*A statistical method that is highly used in finance.

Monday, May 08, 2006

College and TV

As a lad growing up in Queensland, I couldn't get enough TV. Now I rarely watch the thing. In fact, our flat* hasn't had a TV for the last month or so. No worries. Thinking back now, I watched TV regularly in highschool and then almost completely stopped when I came to university. Since there were more, let's say, entertaining activities to do, TV become sort of irrelevant at college.

My flatmate's girlfriend agrees. She says she grew up in country Victoria watching stupid amounts of TV and then suddenly stopped when she too came to college. Is this a sign that college (and getting drunk) reduces your level of TV watching? There should be studies done. College effectively cured my need for watching TV. Sure, I may have picked up one or two other naughty habbits on the way like binge-drinking, but it can't be bad as watching the idiot box all day long, can it?

*Do Brits say flats or apartments? I forget which. Seppos must say apartment.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Australian Diaspora

Yesterday a Melburnian (probably in his 40's) told me that a bunch of 25 or so of his former classmates had recently their highschool reunion in New York City. The class total being 200 odd students, this unbelievable scenario is definitely a rarity but it does demostrate the high number of professional Aussies residing overseas (and not just working in London pubs).

Dr Michael Fullilove of the Lowy Institute (founded by Mr Frank "Westfield" Lowy) applauds the fact there is a large number of Australian expats working abroad, which he believes improves our image as hard workers, and possibly strengthens relations and increases foreign investment. With around a million Aussies overseas at any given time (and about three quarters of them living and working permanently), it's not hard to see how Fullilove comes to these conclusions.

Remarkably, Aussies have climbed some impressive ladders over the years. The head of both MacDonald's and British Airways are Australian, as was the head of Ford until a couple years ago. Perhaps an abundance of Aussie talent, the so-called "gold collared" workers, overseas partly explains why there are Scottish expats heading 3 or 4 of our main banks. Or are Scots just drawn to money and power?

Despite our humble beginnings and an image of being a bunch of beer-drinking yobs* a journalist at The Times of London, seeking to explain the number of Australians leading British cultural institutions, wrote: “Aussies are seen as competent, confident, smart, cultivated
and literate.” Well, I guess he had to. The editor of The Times was indeed an Aussie.

*Actually, wines sales have been on the increase for sometime now, hence Fosters' investment in a number of wine labels.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Where the hell is THAT?

Some Victorians have no idea where Mackay is. Gosford is on the south coast of NSW, I think. I used to think Geelong was a suburb of Melbourne. It's not. It's a city - and a AFL club (but who cares about that ;). So geography can be a bit tricky, and I understand America is a big place but this, this is just terrible:

Even though the US has been at war in Iraq for three years, six in 10 young Americans could not find the country on a map of the world, a Roper poll conducted for National Geographic found.

They did little better with their own country. Despite the media coverage of Hurricane Katrina, almost one-third of Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 could not locate Louisiana, and almost half were unable to identify Mississippi.

The hell? FOR DAYS - if not weeks - we received footage about Hurricane Katrina and its location. I've seen more satellite photos of the Gulf of Mexico than photos of myself - actually, this could be a good thing.

Well, perhaps it's not fair for me to criticise America since I'm bit of a geography nerd (I once sat down in early highschool and memorised ALL the American states), but honestly young America, what's going on, eh? As they say in Minnesota, doncha know where Iraq is?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Stupid Uranium

Uranium is strange stuff. It sits in the grounds for eons causing presumably no harm at all, and then it's dug up, refined and used to safely* produce practically pollution-free electricity. The only major drawback is you're left with nasty nuclear waste. Now why can't you simply dilute the nuclear waste and put it straight back where it came from? No worries, eh?

OK, admittedly you have to consider geological stability, water catchment areas, environmental issues and general human activity when choosing a suitable storage site. But Australia has no shortage of land and it's incredibly geologically stable. The Great Artesian Basin is vast but it doesn't stretch everywhere across Australia (23% of the continent in fact). Surely there are dozens of places you could store nuclear waste with no problems.

Although Australia has no nuclear power stations, a couple of decades ago Australian scientists studied naturally-occuring ores that trap radioactive materials and used them as the basis for developing a new uranium-containment ceramic called Synroc (synthetic rock). Synroc, according to the lads at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, is far superior in various aspects to the previous methods of nuclear disposal.

Additionally, a number of naturally-occuring nuclear reactors existed millions of years ago in Africa. These natural reactors can no longer occur today due to the fact that uranium has decayed over the ages to a non-usuable concentration. What is interesting is the radioactive by-products from these natural nuclear reactions remain geologically trapped, which may give scientists insight into desiging new means of waste storage.

I doubt that Australia will adopt nuclear-power in the near future with its vast amounts of coal (and blatant scare-mongering from the far-left). However, with countries such as France (where nuclear-power accounts for 79% of its electricty generation) producing large amounts of nuclear waste, some form of safe and practical disposal is obviously needed. Former prime-minister (and beer-drinking champion) Bob Hawke recently suggested that Australia could stand to make a lot of money if it handled the world's nuclear waste. Personally, I reckon that's a foolish idea. Why store it in our beloved sun-burnt country when we can store it in New Zealand?

True-blue Aussie: "That's right, mate. We don't bloody care if you're 'nuclear-free' - or a 'country' for that matter. Consider this payback for all that welfare you mob been claiming over the years."

*The number of deaths and injuries relating to coal-power (mining included) are signifcantly higher than that of nuclear-power. Yet no word on how many people or birds have died from wind-power related accidents.

Update: Sciam Blog discusses nuclear power.