September 30, 2009

Horse 1041 - The Death of Austext

“Seven is aware that Austext has many loyal supporters and we know that many of you will miss the Austext service. We sincerely regret any inconvenience the cessation of this service may cause and we have endeavoured to provide you with as much notice as possible.”

Channel 7 started offering teletext services in 1977 with the system going live in 1982, but now on 30 Sep 2009, some 32 years after it began, Austext dies. Naturally Channel 7 cites technology issues and upgrade expenses and the internet for the service being shut down, but really it comes down to a matter a of commercial viability.

I will be quite unhappy when tomorrow morning, Austext will be no more. How many people has sat staring at a screen waiting for sports results to change, willing the numbers to click over?

120, 140, 160 - National News, International News, Sports News... 329, 333 the Weather for Liverpool and Sydney... and then... sans teeth, sans eyes, sans everything...

Where do all the calculators go when they die? Silicon Heaven? Will Austext join them? Goodbye sweet Austext, you blocky thing you.

September 28, 2009

Horse 1040 - V8 Supercars "Memory Hole"

Horse 1039 has now got a dead link thanks to either the people at Holden or the people who run the V8 Supercars. I did a google search for a key phrase and found that the Motor Report also took the grab and that Carpoint were also suspicious about who spoons out the information:
Another matter this week which reflects V8 Supercar racing in a different light is the removal -- or attempt to remove -- a story from the website because it wasn't music the V8 Supercars Australia honchos wanted to hear.

We heard that the boys at V8 Supercar headquarters weren't happy with the story and that V8SA media manager Cole Hitchcock was delegated to contact the man with the contract to supply the editorial content for V8, Neville Wilkinson of V8X, to get the story removed. The story's headline, 'Holden may not play if CoF isn't right', promptly disappeared from the site news list or story menu.

We still feel the bottom line is, as we said at the outset on this matter, that V8SA is being thin-skinned and intolerant of views that don't align with its own.

How very interesting all of this is. Whilst I could make mention of this being rather like the pages of Pravda and information mysteriously "disappearing" in Soviet Russia* it smacks more of a situation of being inside Oceania's Ministry of Truth in 1984 where the revision of old newspaper articles in order to serve the propaganda interests of the government is routine. I don't really know who is at fault here but someone is operating The Memory Hole.

It could very well be that either the V8SA themselves or Holden didn't like the adverse reaction to the story or perhaps this may have been a "rogue" story which was known inside the editorial staff of the website that was only half cleared and in an effort to ensure content was kept up was released.

Either way, the whole thing looks very suspicious indeed, almost as though my accusation in Horse 1039 has far more credence than first thought.

*In California, you can always find a party. In Soviet Russia, The Party can always find you!

September 25, 2009

Horse 1039 - Well Done Holden... Bullies.
Neither the prospect of technical rule changes that dilute the level of General Motors DNA in a Commodore V8Supercar or the entry of other brands onto the grid impresses Holden, says its motorsport manager Simon McNamara.

"If they go down a path that doesn't suit us in any way shape or form then we just won't do it. Simple as that," McNamara said.

Well done Holden, absolutely true to form. It must be said at this juncture that both Holden and Ford when it comes to motorsport in Australia generally treat the fan as chumps.

Ford's greatest hour in 1977 was won by the Moffat Ford Dealers Team but over the next three years they gradually pulled back their effort when in 1980 Ford didn't supply any real effort at all until 1992.
When Ford did finally decide to again put their tag on a motorsport team, they picked Dick Johnson and just to prove their loyalty they then picked Glen Seton, then Gibson Motorsport before buying out the two latter. And then when Stone Brothers and 888 were more successful that their own team, they dumped them all cold.

Holden on the other hand were perfectly happy to bask in the glory of Peter Brock through the early 80s but when Holden and Brock parted ways, from 1988 onwards they kind of tightened their grip over the sport.

CAMS were bullied and harassed by Holden until the creation of the 5L formula in 1992 and the eventual split when Holden and Ford assumed partial control of the sport through manipluation of the new V8Supercars series. They effectively denied both Mitsubishi and Toyota from entry at various stages and there was the curious case of the Bathurst 24hr races where Holden bullied PROCAR into admitting a GT2 car (in their Monaro 427C which was virtually a hybrid of a V8 Supercar with a racing Corvette C5 engine) into a GT3 race.

Now that the V8Supercar category could be opened up (notwithstanding the fact that GM itself declared bankruptcy) Holden are again trying to bully the motorsport world; basically saying if they don't get what they want, they're taking their bat and ball and going home.

Quite frankly I would not expect anything less from Holden or Ford for that matter. Whilst they both rant long and loudly how it was they who built V8 Supercars to where it is today, they conveniently forget the decade that went one before 1992, when both of them showed chronic neglect of the sport. All Holden have done with this weeks statement is shown that they still treat motorsport in Australia and the fans as chumps. Well done Holden.

September 22, 2009

Horse 1038 - Nissan GTR, The Menace of Godzilla

GTR: Three letters that either bring peril to the Australian Touring Car fan or lament, as they remember the terror that was "Godzilla"*.

Somewhere in Victoria, presumably Clayton Business Park the so called "Car of Tommorrow" is being built and tested, and although it might be the first technical step forward for the V8 Supercars, the finished product will more than likely be yet another single overhead cam, rocker driven, 2 valve, 5 Litre V8. How dull.

Why do I even mention this? Well over in Japan, the GTR wasn't killed off. In fact the car continued to be raced, and the Japanese Group A series developed into the Japanese Super GT Series. The cars themselves are quite mental, and the letters GTR still hold a great deal of menace.

The Nissan GTR GT500, is now a 4.5L, camless, 4 or 5 valve per cylinder (depending on which produces the best tune for the circuit) V8. Like the rest of the cars in the series they're limited to 500bhp.

Now this is a bit of Wild Mass Discussion (WMD) but I'm wondering how difficult it would be to take that 4.5L V8 and bore it out to 5L, and then drop the whole drivetrain into a Nissan Maxima.

Actually come to think of it, there are a whole slew of V8s that are already raced in the world hovering around the 4.5L mark, such as Lexus' SC430 in Japan and their IS-F in America, BMW's M3, as well as the DTM Audis and Mercs. Would Holden and Ford let anyone else play with them though? Of course not. Holden and Ford are whingers.

PS: Even more mental looking than the Nissan GTR GT500 is the Toyota Corolla Axio GT300. It's a Corolla?!

*or indeed if they're even older than that - the GTR-XU1.

September 21, 2009

Horse 1037 - Structural Separation of Telstra

I'm going to choose my words very carefully here, and produce the reasons why I think that Telstra should undergo a structural separation.

Telstra is a very highly vertically integrated company that exists within a natural monopoly. That is, they are the biggest player in terms of scale and therefore are able to control prices; they are what economists call "price makers". They own the infrastructure, the wholesale rights to that infrastructure and the retail business which is attached to it therein.
If this was a road, they'd own: the Road, the Traffic Lights and something in the order of 90-95% of all of the Cars on the road.

My esteemed collegue the Noble Prawn had this to say:
"Yet this morning, the Australian government has decided that it doesn’t like an Australian company being too successful. After all the the time, money and effort that Telstra has invested into becoming the leaders, the Government has decided that it’s time to slow it down."
Sep 15, 2009

The basic question that needs to asked here is "What is the definition of successful?". Success for every private company is mainly defined by a single outcome - profit. Unfortunately, that profit is extracted from none other than the consumer.

The consumer on the other hand doesn't really care who their provider of services are. What the consumer's basic desire is, are reasonable services at a reasonable cost. Is Telstra "successful" because it genuinely provides reasonable services at a reasonable cost, or is it using its position which it inherited as a natural monopoly to overcharge its consumers?

That question can not be answered currently, because in coming up with a charge model, Telstra which also owns the infrastructure and the wholesale rights is able to shift costs around its accounts internally. What a structural separation would do would actually force the company to track costs through itself, rather coming up with a generic wholesale charge rate.

There is another issue contained within the Prawn's post, and that is an ethical question which is wrapped up with a closing paragraph:
"Bring on the comments telling me that Telstra is a big bully and that it’s the right thing for “competition” and for Australia – I’d love to hear them and I’m ready for a fight. Cos you try and tell me that the government isn’t being the biggest bully of them all right now."
15 Sep, 2009

A company by its nature is essentially an amoral organisation, that is not to say "immoral" which implies "not right" behaviour, but "amoral"; that is, without morals. The company even said as much within its 2003 Annual Report:
"Rather than being on the superhighway most of us are limping along a two-lane road and the rest, mainly but not all in the country, are still on a dirt track - let Telstra go and do what it wants. At the very worst we will end up with a world class piece of infrastructure."
The 2003 Telstra Annual Report

If you let a company "do what it wants" then the inevitable outcome is one of maximising profits, which again are extracted from the consumer. Does that imply reasonable services at a reasonable cost? The direct answer is no. If a company was able to "do what it wants" it would invariably charge the consumer as much as it could possibly get away with (which from the company's perspective is entirely fair and reasonable). But this is in stark odds to the wishes of the consumer, and it's not like they can easily go elsewhere when the the infrastructure and the wholesale rights to that infrastructure are owned by the same company.

So then, is the government acting like a bully? Quite frankly it is, but it should in theory be acting on behalf of the electorate, rather than unnamed shareholders. They of course have the basic right at law to exercise this right as well:

Commonwealth Of Australia Constitution Act (1901)
51.The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to:
v. Postal, telegraphic, telephonic, and other like services.
xxxi. The acquisition of property on just terms from any State or person for any purpose in respect of which the Parliament has power to make laws:

What is of course the definition of "good government"? Admittedly that has never been tested in the High Court of Australia, but anything which is for the betterment of the Australian people must surely fit that definition.
As for whether Telstra should be compensated for the loss of its assets if that's how this proposed National Broadband network is to come about, then the answer is obviously "Yes" and on "just terms" whatever that would happen to be.

Horse 1037 - Aside:
The European Union when it came to the issue of functional separation produced a hideously massive document extending into just over 12,000 pages, but it was quoted in the House of Reps this afternoon:
Functional separation has the capacity to improve competition in several relevant markets by significantly reducing the incentive for discrimination and by making it easier for compliance with nondiscrimination obligations to be verified and enforced. In exceptional cases, it may be justified as a remedy where there has been persistent failure to achieve effective non-discrimination in several of the markets concerned, and where there is little or no prospect of infrastructure competition within a reasonable timeframe after recourse to one or more remedies previously considered to be appropriate.
However, it is very important to ensure that its imposition preserves the incentives of the concerned undertaking to invest in its network and that it does not entail any potential negative effects on consumer welfare.
Directive 2002/21/EC of the European Union on a common regulatory framework for electronic communications networks and services.

September 14, 2009

Horse 1036 - Bakkie to the Ute(ur)

It is an open secret that I really like the idea of a ute. To me they represent the whole idea that you can have an entirely practical two door coupe, and still fit a shed load of stuff in the back, and quite possibly the shed (if you dismantled said shed).

Imagine then my excitement when I heard on the news this afternoon, that Ford in South Africa, intend to turn the already cool Fiesta 7 into what Seff Efrikens call a "bakkie" or what we'd call a ute.

The current 1.6L Ford Bantam (derived from the Mark 5 Fiesta) will set you back 115,950 Rand. Whist that sounds excessive, bear in mind that the Aussie Dollar currently buys 6.43 Rand. 115,950 Rs = A$18,005, which for a 1.6L ute isn't too bad. The only logical competitor in Australia currently would be the Proton Jumbuck.

The whole idea of a little ute in Australia isn't a new thing at all. The Morris Minor 1000 ute, used to be a common sight on Australian roads; even the NRMA used them. Datsun's 1200 ute became the stuff of folk lore and has invariably turned into something of a tuner's martket icon. So perhaps the Fiesta as a ute (would they call it a Bantam here?) might have a market. Certainly I'd consider buying one... and if Ford brought out an XR4 Turbo ute, well... consider it sold. If it's good enough for South Africa, surely it's good enough for Oz?

September 11, 2009

Horse 1035 - Is the RTA on the take?

This morning, I actually saw the speed camera on Fitzwilliam Rd go off and nab a motorist. Now my problem isn't necessarily with the obvious fact that excessive speed in inappropriate conditions is a bad thing, but that the whole campaign is basically a cover for a giant revenue take.

Nobody for a second doubts that when small children are about, that they often do not check for traffic and will simply dart across the road. And in that respect, 40km/h in a school zone during prime school hours is perfectly acceptable, but the rest of the time, because the speed camera is there, it turns into a giant game of watching the speedo which is a distraction and does not promote safe driving at all.

On Victoria Rd, there is a camera outside of Holy Cross College in Ryde. Now during school times when children are about it's fair enough but that same camera in peak periods, causes drivers in both directions to take their eyes off the road and all simultaneously look down at their speedos. The result is ironically more nose-to-tail accidents than if the camera hadn't been there in the first place.

I should also point out that speed by itself doesn't kill you. There was an advert a few years ago that showed a couple of kids being wiped out in a Ford Laser with the caption:
72 in a 60 zone. Safe speeding, there's no such thing.
Firstly, that 60km/h limit is a function of the authority who decided to put the limit there. If that same stretch of road was labeled as either 70 or 80, would the road be any more or less inherently safe? Ok, so the question is daft, but that's precisely the mechanics of the Pacific Highway between North Sydney and Hornsby, there are heaps of speed limit changes without any inherent change in the actual physicality of the road, but it's posted as 60, 70 & 80 depending on where you are.

There are of course several separate issues at play here. Namely, what speed limits are actually appropriate and at what point are they put in there simply on the basis of collecting revenue?

Take Brians Road between Windsor Rd and Old Windsor Rd. That was originally upgraded as part of a Sydney Ring Roads Project. The road itself has a set of design tolerances such that it is a safe road to be driven on at 90km/h. Yet when the M7 went in, as if by magic, that section of road instantly dropped its limit from 80 to 70. No single other factor changed about the road, except for the change in speed limits. If our friends in the Laser according to the commercial who would have been "safe" doing 72 in that 80 zone, are they now "unsafe" doing 72 in a 70 zone; considering that the road itself had been designed for 90?

I suppose my question about the speed camera on Fitzwilliam Rd is coloured by the fact that at 06:30am and against the flow of traffic, our friend would have been perfectly within a case of reasonableness doing 64km/h on that stretch of road. Yet because somebody decided to put a camera there, the RTA gets to push the buttons on its cash registers.

September 09, 2009

Horse 1034 - I'm Beached Az

"I only eet plenkton"

What began as a cartoon lasting a mere 1'38" long has now launched its own series on ABC2.

What I find somewhat odd about this, is that New Zealand seems to be able to find money from nothing to be able to create a cottage animation industry, what with Bro'town and the like hitting our television screens.

No-one as yet in Australia seems to want to tell stories that relate to an Australian audience. You could look at the success of say the Simpsons with its massive budgets and ask why the best that we can do appear to be twee and cliched series like "The Adventures of Blinky Bill", "Skippy: Adventures in Bushtown" or "Lil' Elvis and the Truckstoppers"

Would anyone for instance like to make a show about our own sordid past? Perhaps the life of Ned Kelly, Roy Cazaly, or even the perennial long-runner Ginger Meggs? Why is it that we don't have the capability of doing anything for ourselves?

Admittedly the same question can be asked about comedy, drama and other assorted programs on telly. Really about the only thing which Australian television does which is the envy of the world is OB productions of sport. Maybe that does say something about this country, I don't know.

September 01, 2009

Horse 1033 - Pontiac G8... Game Over... But Not?
This means the local Pontiac G8 will be sold in two guises not available in the US (where it was a sedan only), making the ute and wagon particularly rare. Even though all cars will be based on the Holden Commodore SS V and wear SS V badging they are expected to become collector's items as they will mark an important milestone (and memory) in Holden history: when it last exported cars to the world's biggest car market. Significantly, the limited edition models will not wear Pontiac badges, but they will get all the other Pontiac parts. The parts include the Pontiac G8 bonnet, front bumper and grille. On sedan models, the lower 'lip' boot spoiler will replace the SS V's high-mount spoiler.

Sometimes I'm particularly scathing of Holden for treating its customers like idiots, but in this case I'm more than prepared to give Holden a standing ovation on this one.

Holden's excursion into the US market, selling the Commodore as the unimaginatively named Pontiac G8, was not quite the success they had hoped for. To be honest, the G8 was the best car in GM North America's lineup bar none but failed at the final hurdle because the Pontiac brand was chopped under GM's Chapter 11 bankruptcy program.

America's loss however is Australia's gain. Holden is about to pour salt in America's wound, with an iodine chaser. If the above article is to be believed then we'll not only be able to purchase a Pontiac G8 SS-V sedan, but Wagon and Ute variants as well, which not even America got.

Somehow it's like Holden is giving head office a giant "two-fingered salute", before leaving a great big number 11 on the pavement. The car that refuses to die, refuses to die quietly.