Monday, 31 December 2012

No escape!

The rented holiday house comes with a landline – a nice touch in this era when many people don't have a landline even at their permanent home.

However, within minutes of walking in the door, the phone rang. Hello, we thought, someone has already worked out that we're here. No such luck! The caller was “David”, and he spoke with the familiar call-centre accent. “I'm ringing to let you know about our special offer.......”. I can't tell you whether the offer was chimney balloons, draught-stoppers or something else, because I hung up!

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Packing up!

Leaving to go on holiday to a rented house is a bit of a hassle! No hard decisions about what to leave out of the suitcase, as you can always squeeze something more in the car. Lots of food, because the local prices are perceived (no doubt correctly) as being expensive plus all the left-over food in the fridge, bottles of the favourite wine because it probably won't be available down there, the extra clothes ('coz you never know what the weather might be), footwear to cover every eventuality, books that I hadn't quite got around to reading... and so it goes on. 

All that food.....!
Although we were warned that the traffic on the Westgate Bridge was going to be bad, there's no viable alternative route for us, so we were stuck in hardly-movng traffic for 20 minutes admiring the non-activity of the “work” (not sure why both directions have to have lane closures when it's obvious that work was only happening on one side at a time). Come to that, why is it that the Westgate Bridge has to have surface renewal every year, when every other highway in the State manages to get by with much less frequent maintenance?

However, eventually we arrived, and it all seems worthwhile after all (even if, or perhaps because, internet access is very slow (if you manage to log on), no matter what network you use).

Friday, 28 December 2012


I have to admit that one of my daily checks on the internet is the Alex web-site!      This cartoon is published in the London Daily Telegraph and also in the Financial Review, but you can get the most up-to-date cartoon on the web-site ( ).

Alex is a "yuppie", right-wing English investment banker, who is obsessed with appearances, displays of wealth and schemes to stay "one up" in the world of international finance.   In his world, personal status comes first, his work second and his family a distant third.

I find the strip's wordplay and twist endings very engaging, but sometimes you need to be a regular reader to understand the full significance of the humour because it frequently depends to an extent on the relationships between the characters.

This year, for the first time, the website has what is described as a 15 part feature over the Christmas period.  I'm not sure whether or how this is going to turn up in the AFR, but in the meantime it makes good summer reading!

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Eating Japanese (2)

There are certainly a number of Japanese restaurants in our neighbourhood, and my earlier post  mentioned only a small number of them.    We ate recently at another - Sozai.  

This is very popular locally, in the mid-range segment of the market and catering for take-away is well as dining in.   You can see the food being prepared in the food preparation area right in the heart of the dining area, and our choices were all good.

We ate there on a warm evening, and were offered a table on the 1st floor (air-conditioner wasn't working, but we were told this).  However, we were fine, and in fact appreciated the fact that we had more space.   However, they don't allow BYO, so we couldn't drink the wine we had with us.   But since it was warm, it was a good night to drink Sapporo beer instead.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012


I have some sympathy for Sarah Armstrong, the corporate lawyer for South Gobi Resources who was refused permission to leave Mongolia while an anti-corruption investigation was underway (but who returned to Australia on Christmas Day).

I have no knowledge of the circumstances of this matter, and even if I had, it would probably be better not to comment.    But suffice to say, it's not always easy to do business in Mongolia.  There are a whole heap of reasons for this, but one reason is that, often, the rules aren't clear.   To take just one example - the tax law preventing the deduction of interest when a company is "thinly capitalised". 

The Mongolian provision is as follows:

14.3. A deduction shall not be made in the case of interest paid to the extent that the interest is paid in respect of the part the total debt owed to the recipient that exceeds three times the value of the capital invested by the recipient in the taxpayer.

That's it, just 3 lines.

Australia has a similar rule, but it  embraces pages of law in Australian tax statutes.  It's division 820 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997.   This has 16 subdivisions and 88 sections, and that's without including the provisions dealing with "foreign hybrids".    In this age of the internet, the pages aren't numbered, but if you printed out all this materials, there would be a lot of paper..

Yes, Australian legislation these days is unfortunately enormously complex.  Sure, it may meet some sort of "readability" test (euphemistically, "plain English"), but this doesn't simplify complex concepts.   But at least it addresses at least some of the inevitable "grey" areas. The Australian thin capitalisation provisions deal with situations such as what happens when the taxpayer is a member of a partnership or is some sort of hybrid entity, but the position in Mongolia regarding these isn't clear.   And, since the Mongolian rule only applies to loans from entities that invest in the taxpayer, what happens when the loan is made by a brother entity - literally, this wouldn't be caught, but if this were to be permitted,  wouldn't it defeat the whole purpose of the provision?  What about amounts that might be owing as a result of foreign currency transactions, or other short term arrangements?    How do you account for undistributed profits - and, if they are included as advances, when do they arise? 

It is the "grey" areas that are going to cause difficulty for investors (both local and overseas) in Mongolia, because ultimately the result of vague laws is that their interpretation  often comes down to bureaucratic attitudes.   What might be OK one day suddenly ceases to be OK when the political climate changes.

I have no idea if "grey" areas of the law have been relevant to Ms Armstrong's case, and of course there has been no suggestion that the tax laws have been relevant (I have merely quoted one provision as an example of the issues that may arise)  - but if the whole story ever comes out, I shall watch with interest.  In the meantime, no doubt there are other expatriate would-be investors who are thinking very carefully about their travel plans!
Ulan Bataar in the spring!

Monday, 24 December 2012

The Christmas function

We had a great time at a "black tie" Christmas function!    Good company, acceptable club food, rousing singing of Christmas carols, a few jokes (most of which were actually funny, or so they appeared at the time) and free-flowing wine (but I was driving, so I was careful).   

We lingered for a little while after the main part of the evening ended when there was some impromptu singing (over port).    Even though we were in a good mood, we were sufficiently in possession of our senses to refrain from participating and to remain as observers!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

The world is still here!

Well, the projected budget surplus has vanished, but otherwise the world still appears to be here even though the Mayan calendar may have ended  (see

This has apparently been achieved without the necessity for any human sacrifices, which I read was a habit of the Mayans.

It's interesting that the news report suggests that hardly anyone took the "end of the world" prediction seriously - which of course is as it should be, even though the Mayans were apparently good astronomers. I can't say that I have much sympathy for the "disappointed journalists" who, it is reported, could turn up few, if any, "true believers".

Friday, 21 December 2012

Eating Japanese

There are a number of Japanese restaurants in our area.   One of them is upmarket (and apparently gets good writeups in the foodie guides), but a number of the others are more in the nature of "quick and cheerful".   We recently tried Men-Tei Ramen and it certainly came out tops in the value-for-money stakes.     The service was good and we liked the food, but this has to be taken in the context that that we're not very experienced or adventurous when it comes to Japanese.  

I notice that on Urbanspoon there are a couple of queries about aspects of its authenticity, but I'm not qualified to assess this aspect.    My hunch is that, even if this is so,  it might not be the only restaurant around town offering a particular style that has staff from a different part of the world.  For example, how many Australians are there out there offering "French" cuisine?  In any event, for the price we paid, we're not going to complain!

Upmarket option!

Another Japanese option - downmarket

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Christmas decorations (2)

It seems to be "in" to have a conspicuous lighting display at Christmas.    Here's one that we passed.   Fun?   Yes.   Tasteful?    No comment!   EDIT:  I see that there's even a website that tells you where to find all the displays!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Buying on the internet

The battery on my laptop finally got to the end of its life, so I had a look around on the internet for a replacement.    A genuine one had a price of over $200.  Yikes!    The battery specialist in a bricks & mortar shop a couple of suburbs away had one for $110 or thereabouts.     Then of course the various internet sites had offers ranging in price from a little over $50 upwards.    

I've often booked air tickets and accommodation over the internet, and at one time bought some books from Amazon.    However, I haven't had a lot of dealings with what you might call "run of the mill" selling sites (although, from what you read, lots of people do buy things on the internet all the time).   I was a bit concerned that a couple of the sites that I came across seemed a little short on contact details.  One or 2 had 1300 phone numbers, but one had nothing apart from an email address (so I dismissed it immediately).   

As it happened, one of the cheapest offerings came from a site that set out a street address in a Melbourne suburb, a landline local phone number, the name of the company behind the site and an ABN.    I know that none of these can be absolutely relied on as providing evidence of good faith, and I would have been more reassured had it been possible to pick the item up at the street address (which the site said was not possible - presumably the items themselves come from various "interesting" locations!)   However,  I trusted them with my credit card details, and I'm gratified that the battery duly turned up a couple of days later.  Not quite the "next day" service mentioned, but I'm not complaining and a lot more convenient than trudging across town in the pre-Christmas traffic.  And at least so far there haven't been any unusual transactions on my credit card account.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Council bureaucracy

Mowing under way.......
I've previously mentioned that I believe there are considerable efficiencies that could be made at our local Council (see here).    One example is the issue of park maintenance.    Every week, no matter what the season, the grass is mowed.    No matter that there's been no growth.    In fact, it doesn't matter that there's no grass!
....but here's what is being mowed!

Monday, 17 December 2012

The Office Christmas party

Initial impressions weren't too good - the entrance was down a lane beside a multi-storey car park.    Then security people ushered us into a lift.  The lift doors opened a couple of times on the way up to reveal the upper levels of the car park.  But at the top, there was a lavish function area with views towards the city.
Not my photo, but you get the idea

It was the office Christmas party.   For as long as I can remember, the format was a sit-down dinner.  However, this year, it was a stand-up drinks function.    Nevertheless, there was lots of food and plenty of places to sit, if you so desired.  Not only was food handed around (including mini-fish & chips, sushi and chicken sandwiches) but there were food stations as well - sushi, pizza slices, dumplings and paella.  Hence, the advice not to eat before arriving was definitely well founded.

The formal bits of the evening were handled early on (a couple of speeches and the graduates video), so the cocktail party format gave lots of opportunity to mingle.  Once the disco music started, it was hard to talk of course, but the rain had stopped so many people went out on the deck where it was quieter.    As usual, I didn't stay late, but on the whole, I thought it worked quite well.
Deck area

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Trusting the GPS

It was interesting to read about people being led by their GPS into a desolate national park because the Apple Maps application erred in the location of Mildura (see report here).    There's been a lot of publicity about the troubles with Apple's maps, which I would have thought would put users on notice to be careful.  However,  even if the particular issue with Apple is put to one side, it strikes me as strange that people become so reliant on their GPS that they're prepared to turn off sealed and well sign-posted highways on to sandy tracks just because their GPS tells them to do so!

I invested in a GPS some time back to see how it worked.   As a trial, I used it for a while on routes with which I am familiar, to see how it compared with my own knowledge.    Yes, on one occasion it suggested a route that offered a better option than I had thought of.  However, by and large I became frustrated with it because it insisted that I use busier roads, which often involved tram lines and shopping strips and the need to make turns at congested intersections.    The routes I chose from experience, on the other hand, while still on main roads (and involving no greater distance), generally provided a better run.    Presumably the technology can only improve, but based on my experience (and that of Apple users, perhaps?), it seems there's still a way to go.

I still keep the GPS in the car but not switched on, and I admit that it did come in handy on one occasion when I became disorientated.   However, my first recourse is to the street directory or a map!

Edit:  Here's another GPS story -

Friday, 14 December 2012

Snow in Europe

While we were having a hot spell over the last couple of days, I noticed that it was pretty cold in Europe, including in Serbia.     Ah, what a difference to when we were there just a few months ago!

TV report about the snow

The Ada Ciganlija beach (Belgrade) - cool relief when we were there on a hot day

For more on Ada Ciganlija and the beach there, see here.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Coffee at Chaddy

I have coffee every few weeks with R, a former colleague.  Chadstone is middle ground for us, so that's where we meet and keep up-to-date with what the other is doing.   

Shopping centres such as Chadstone are universes all of their own, and I don't find them particularly interesting.  The idea of all night trading in the lead up to Christmas (see here) has no appeal to me at all!    However, I accept that they offer the convenience factor, and so there is a place for them in the scheme of things.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Simplistic Solution?

How to solve the country's economic problems?   Simple, according to the group handing out flyers in the city a on a couple of days recently - just impose a 1% stock market turnover tax (on transactions of more than $10,000).  Look at the daily turnover figures on the ASX - there has to be a bonanza here!

But, is it as simple as that?

Perhaps this group has been inspired by the  European proposal to introduce a Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) (see here).  If it is, then they appear to have misplaced the decimal point (the European proposal, insofar as it relates to shares, is 0.1%).

Although my instincts suggest that there would be a lot of downsides to a tax of this nature, I'm certainly no expert.  I guess we ought to remember that, here in Australia, only a generation or so ago that we had a 0.3% stamp duty on trades of listed securities (although the finance industry has obviously "moved on" - or at least changed - a lot since then!)   But already France has already introduced a FTT at 0.2% (see here).

However, like most simplistic tax proposals, I suspect that things aren't quite as easy as that.    Even a tax that seems designed to hit the perceived baddies in the financial sector, such as "high frequency traders and intermediary financial players",  would presumably flow through to institutions closer to real the real economy (superannuation funds, asset managers, insurers and corporates) as both direct and indirect costs are largely passed onto end-users.  
And so long as there are jurisdictions out there without such a tax (such as, in the case of Europe, Britain), there will obviously be moves to relocate transactions to those jurisdictions.  Certainly, the European proposal is that the FTT will apply to transactions undertaken by entities based in Europe even if the transaction occurs elsewhere, but this seems to be giving something of  a "free-kick" to overseas competitors (why would a corporate retain a French bank if a British or American bank has a lower cost of doing business?)  And there would be obvious employment ramifications in the financial sector and probably elsewhere.

In the meantime, all credit to those who have the courage of their convictions to stand on the street advocating their ideas - even if, in my personal opinion, their energies would be better focused on some of the other issues affecting our world.

On another day, further up the street

    Tuesday, 11 December 2012

    File management

    My work establishment has recently issued instructions on "Good File Management".
    It makes a number of points (such as, do your filing regularly!) but  I was particularly interested in the following:
    -  The electronic file is the primary file and should be comprehensive.
    -  Don't print every email (but store them in the electronic file).
    -  The physical file contains documents which originate in paper form, but these should be scanned so as to be placed on the electronic file.

     All good points - particularly the acceptance that the electronic file ought to be comprehensive (even though it is a bit of a challenge if you were brought up in an era of paper!) - but for many of us, there's still some way to go in organising the electronic file.  We live in an age where there are more documents, albeit  electronic, associated with each transaction, and filing them all represents a challenge, at least for me.    Obviously the electronic file needs be be split into folders, but deciding on the folders isn't always easy.  Assuming that one of the reasons that a file is maintained is so that, if necessary in the future, the course of the transaction can be discerned, the filing of emails  by author (which I've certainly encountered) isn't necessarily the best way of making it easy for a person in the future to recreate the "big picture".

    Monday, 10 December 2012

    Christmas Decorations

    One of the local papers had an article stating that Stonnington had spent more than a number of other councils on Christmas decorations.   Well, at least they seem to be getting something for their money, as the decorations are certainly noticeable.    Apparently retailers think the "Christmas feel" is good for business and, from my perspective, I think that some effort is this direction is worthwhile.

     If the Council were inclined to save money, I think there are a lot of other areas where this could - and perhaps should - occur!

    Many shops have this decoration, presumably from the Council

    Saturday, 8 December 2012

    A station at Southland

    The proposal for a station to serve Southland has been around for a while.   Daniel Bowen a short time back set out some of the recent history here.    However, at present, things seem to be moving slowly, as indicated in the report here.

    I am following this with a certain amount of self-interest.   I am not a great fan of shopping centres, but for better or for worse, it's occasionally convenient to visit one.  Chadstone is not too far from us, but it's a bit of a challenge to get there by public transport.   Hence, when we go there, we drive.   There are a few public transport options, but even the simplest involves taking a train and then a bus.  And in spite of rumblings in the media, there doesn't appear to be much prospect of any change to this in the foreseeable future.

    However, if a station were to be built at Southland, it would be simple train ride to get there, about 10 stations down the line.  As the timetable is presently configured, the trains that stop at our station would also stop at Southland.  Moreover, during the day (including weekends) it's a 10 minute frequency.   The only catch is that travelling to Southland would involve going into zone 2, which would be slightly more expensive than a local trip (but if you're on a Seniors card....).

    All that it would take is for the politicians to decide to get on with it! 

    Friday, 7 December 2012

    Port Melbourne Yacht Club

    I was invited to a drinks function at the Port Melbourne Yacht Club, and can report that it's a good venue with an interesting view out over the Bay.   The service on the night we were there left nothing to be desired.    The company was good, and the feats of the wind-surfers outside in the blustery conditions provided a topic of conversation.
    Modern venue

    Watching the "Spirit" leave
    It's not too hard to get there.  I drove,  and there was plenty of parking at that time of day both alongside and on the street, although I was a little taken aback that the City of Port Phillip charges $4.50 an hour (albeit with a maximum of $10.50 for the whole day).   But the machines take credit cards!

    Another option, I'm told, is the Port Melbourne tram.  This was said to be within reasonable walking distance (at least one person came this way). I think there's also a bus a little distance away (but closer, I think, than the tram) in Bay Street.

    Thursday, 6 December 2012


    According to this article, domestic shorthair (that is, non-pedigree) cats are less friendly then pedigree cats:
    We can certainly vouch for the fact that our cat Ted  had plenty of "attitude"!

    Ted was with us for many years, but has now gone to "pussy-heaven".   He was definitely a domestic shorthair.

    In spite of this, it seems that in New York, there's sentiment in favour of alley cats.  I came across this article when looking for something completely unrelated:

    Apparently in New York - and elsewhere in the US - the plan is to manage feral cat populations by the "trap-neuter-return" method.  In other words, the feral cats are neutered and then returned so that they can continue to be feral!   I like domestic cats, but I don't think the world needs feral cats.  TNR sounds to me as an emotional response over-riding common sense.

    Wednesday, 5 December 2012

    Agatha Christie

    I guess it's old-fashioned and not "in" to admit, but I like Agatha Christie!  Her detective stories have quite varied settings, and of course the detectives range from Miss Marple to Hercule Poirot and Superintendent Battle.   Nevertheless, most are variations on a familiar theme:   a defined range of suspects, most of whom have a motive, virtually all the clues are made available to the reader (mixed in with numerous "non-clues"), a false exposure of the "culprit" occurs then there's an unexpected twist and the exposure of the real murderer.  And often her stories involve the English upper classes in their element of fine houses and up-market hotels - nice to read about, although I suspect that life in reality wasn't always quite as she portrays it!

    I came across one of her books in the library last
    week which was "almost new" to me (Towards Zero).  Actually, I did have a vague memory of it but I read it so long ago that I couldn't remember any of the details so it was as if I was reading it for the first time.

    It's set in the 1930s.  One point that I noticed was that one of the characters on a couple of occasions refers to  "good cooking", such as in, " excellently cooked and served dinner.  Clearly Lady Tressilian had no difficulties with her servants."   One is left to ponder as to what constituted good English cooking in the 1930s?  And the mind boggles as to what may have been "bad cooking" in that era!

    Tuesday, 4 December 2012

    Waiting for the train (2)

    Well, it seems that Metro have been persuaded to replace some of the seats which had been removed from one of  the Flinders Street platforms.  About half the original number appears to have been reinstated.
    Some seats have been returned to platforms 4/5

    After my original post (here), I emailed Metro and received what I gather was a standard reply.  It explained that there were more trains operating from this pair of platforms and they were stopping for a shorter time, so they wanted to allow "improved passenger movement".  But they said they were  "reviewing this and exploring options available to ensure that some seating is provided for our special needs customers".   So, credit to Metro for being prepared to adjust their thinking.

    But there are still marks where other seats once were!

    It's interesting, isn't it, that in the two random pictures that I took, most people are sitting and hardly anyone is standing!   Admittedly this was at a quiet time but it does show that the seats are appreciated.  And no, this wasn't contrived - I only had a short time to take the photos before catching my train (on a different platform).

    EDIT:   2 weeks later, the Herald-Sun catches up with the reinstatement of the seats!   This article appeared on 17 December (even though it's filed on the web-site in the local news area):

    Monday, 3 December 2012


    Sister-in-law N was over at the weekend.  She's a good cook, and muffins are one of her specialties.  She knows I can't resist them!

    This time the home-made muffins she brought with her were even better than usual.  Perhaps the white chocolate and raspberries she put in them helped!

    Saturday, 1 December 2012

    Eating Indian

    When we're looking for a casual meal close by, we sometimes eat Indian at Banjara's.  Even though the decor is fairly basic, the service is pretty slick, the food is reliable, the prices are reasonable and it's close enough to walk home after drinking more than we intended from our BYO wine (but we do aim to have some left over to take home).

    Actually, last time we were there, Banjara had changed hands, so hopefully they'll be able to maintain the standards.

    Alternatively, for a few more dollars, we can go a little up-market (linen napkins and also a linen tablecloth underneath the paper!) at Moti Mahal.   This gets mixed reviews, and I can understand why.  The food is usually good, but the service sometimes comes with a degree of "attitude".   Actually, the main waiter is quite a nice guy underneath it all, but sometimes he conveys a the impression of being a little, shall I say, erratic!

    If I have an issue with Indian food, it is that so many of the dishes we get in this country involve brownish "sauces" or  "gravies" (for want of a better word).   I'm no expert on India food, but it does seem that dishes that are described as including vegetables often turn up with the said vegetables smothered in the sauce.  Yes, lots of flavour, but not our concept of vegetables! So it's a personal challenge to get some diversity into our order, for example by making sure that we get something cooked in the tandoor.  And of course we order roti bread to mop up the sauce!