Friday, 28 February 2014

The parking contract

Signs have recently appeared at the entrance to a car park associated with a local store.    I know that the land is owned by the store, although it's adjacent to some council-owned parking.    For some reason, however, the owner (a large ASX listed entity) has chosen not to have the Council enforce  the time limits that it wants to apply or to go to the expense of installing boom gates (perhaps because there isn't room for "in" and "out" lanes), but instead has invoked the services of a private contractor.  Note that the legislation (here*) allowing Councils and car park owners to enter into this type of arrangement (section 90D) also prohibits private wheel clamping (section 90C).

The signs, in effect, state that by parking your car there, you've accepted the terms of a "contract", which include an obligation to comply with time limits etc.  If you don't comply, then you're liable to pay "damages".

I see that Consumer Affairs Victoria mention these arrangements, but let me relate the tale of my encounter with the operator of another such car park.

A car registered in my name was on permanent loan to a family member, who was not living with us.    It appears that the car entered the car park concerned and didn't comply with the "terms" of the alleged contract.  I don't know who was driving the car as it may have been lent to another person (possibly a flatmate).   Well over a year after the incident, I received a letter, requiring payment of an amount of money (by way of "damages"), and stating that the delay in writing was because the operator had been required to go to court to obtain an order that VicRoads reveal the registration details of the car.

I'm not suggesting the letter I received was misleading ( see here), but I wrote back stating that I was unclear how the "damages" claimed had been calculated, and moreover, I had not been the driver of the car, as at the time the car was in the possession of a family member, who may or may not have been the actual driver at the time of the incident.  Whoever the driver had been, they were certainly not acting as my agent in entering into any "contract" for the parking of the car.

Since that time, I have been looking forward to putting forward my side of the story to a court when the threatened legal action to enforce the payment (or to find out from me who was the driver) was instituted, but so far I have heard nothing.  In fact, although I haven't checked the dates, it may well be that when the action is in fact taken (!), I'll be able to add a Statute of Limitations defence to everything else!

* Note: There have been minor amendments to these provisions since 1996 (they're part of the Road Safety Act), but it's far, far more convenient to look at the 1996 Act rather than trawl through the immense Road Saftey Act to find these provisions.  The substance remains the same.

Thursday, 27 February 2014


I haven't read many of Georges Simenon's Maigret books, but I recently read (and enjoyed) Maigret and the Ghost.  I had no idea how many Maigret books there were until I read this New Statesman article (thanks B for alerting me to this).   In fact, the article states that there are 75 of them and that Penguin are re-publishing them all, re-translated, at the rate of one a month.

I particularly liked the bit towards the end of the New Statesman article, to the effect that a number of the Maigret books were translated into English by Geoffrey Sainsbury. It seems that Sainsbury took some liberties with his transactions, often altering details.    Nevertheless, his translations  "were duly submitted for the author’s approval, which was always forthcoming. And for good reason: Simenon did not understand a word of English.”

Even though the New Statesman article says that Maigret is one of the few detectives in literature who is possessed of characteristics not shared by their creators, it seems that in one this respect, Maigret is similar to Simenon:  In Maigret and the Ghost, the point is made that Maigret speaks hardly any English.

EDIT -  I am uncertain if I've previously posted this item.  I thought I had, but when I edited it to add an additional label, blogger posted (or reposted?)  it under the current date.   This has left me unsure of the position, so I'm putting it here.
FOOTNOTE:   I now see that Simenon lived and worked for some years in the USA.    This seems to throw doubt on the statement that he didn't speak much English!

Wednesday, 26 February 2014


I suppose there are all sorts of reasons not to cull sharks, but I hadn't thought the fact that they don't drink coffee was one of them!
Seen outside a coffee bar.

Posted 26 Feb 14

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Olympic Sports

Well, the Winter Olympics are over.    It's interesting that, every time the normal Olympic Games, or the Winter Olympic Games, occur, we often end up watching sports that we just don't bother about the rest of the time.

Yes, they're usually fast-moving and entertaining, but so often the rules and scoring systems are just a mystery!

And just how do people start off in sports like bobsledding, curling and so on?  Perhaps these sports are encouraged in Nordic countries, yet we find Australians participating at an elite level in events that we rarely hear about and for which there would seem to be few, if any, facilities here.

True, some of the skiing and bobsledding events are indeed truly amazing, and the ice hockey is fast and furious, and, yes, these sports are not often televised at other times.   However, even if they were, would we actually watch them?

I guess it doesn't matter if the "pull" of these sports, at Olympic standards, is that we know we're watching them at the "elite" level, and perhaps that in itself is enough!

Monday, 24 February 2014

White Night (2)

I hadn't planned to go to White Night, but at the last minute I thought, "There's a train in a few minutes", and headed off.   Well, the train going to the city was packed but I merely thought, "Oh, well".   But it was a sign of things to come!

I got off at Melbourne Central, and walked - well, struggled - down Swanston Street.  People everywhere.  Notice the crowds in a number of  the images in this report.

There were quite a few performers, mostly on small stages or in small areas, quite interesting, but the word "busker" comes to mind (especially when at least a few of them had bags for donations!). 

Most people seemed in good humour, but I'm afraid that being mixed up in an immense crowd is not, for me, conducive to the enjoyment of relatively small scale performances. The lights on Flinders Street station and along Flinders Street  were impressive, I must admit. I was left wondering whether people just like to be part of a big crowd, at unusual time and on roadways normally occupied by traffic?   And eating fast food (good supply of that)?

Flinders Lane

I didn't get as far as the Arts Centre, but headed instead for the train at Flinders Street.   There were crowds here as well, and there was no way I could get onto the first train, but moved to the end of the platform and managed to board the next.  I was impressed that. when I got off the train, I noticed that an extra train (not on the timetable) was following, and waited until it arrived.   It, too, was full even though it wasn't going to the end of the line.   Nice to see Metro being a bit responsive (although, on reflection, given the number of people that were hoped for, ought not more trains have been provided?). 
Extra train to Moorabbin

And, by the way, when thinking about all that electricity that was used,  perhaps the people who gathered in the streets will be participating in Earth Hour on 29 March?

Saturday, 22 February 2014

The Elsternwick Club

We had a Sunday catch-up lunch at the Elsternwick Club.   I see that this was originally a gentlemen's social and bowling club, but these days I see it's described as a "family club" (ladies have been admitted since 1972, after all) and visitors are certainly welcomed (especially if they play the pokies).   The building is quite impressive and we were enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere.  A contributing factor in this is that there weren't a lot of people around while we were there, and those that were, were mostly in the "senior citizen" category (.....but who are we to comment?).  

Prices in the restaurant were reasonable and the meals, perhaps best described as "traditional",  were satisfying. 

Friday, 21 February 2014

White Night

To be honest,  I'm the sort of person who wouldn't really mind if New Year celebrations occurred at 9 pm on New Year's Eve instead of at midnight, and am quite happy for cultural events to take place during normal waking hours.  Hence, I don't think I'll be one of the all-nighters at Melbourne's White Night festival (and here), which runs from 7 pm on Saturday 22 February until 7 am the next morning!   Besides, we're going out for dinner that evening, and the idea of heading into the city afterwards is a bit daunting, even though the trains and trams run all night (that's from the city - you can't catch a train into the city in the early hours, only a nightrider bus). 

The idea of these festivals came, I thought, from cities that indeed have "white nights" (or the "midnight sun"), so the name "White Night" seems a little out of place to me.  Just the same,  I extend all the best to those who will be present at the exhibitions, street performances, concerts and other events. 

All this came home to me when I was in Flinders Lane and noticed temporary lights being erected.    Seems that they are indeed part of the White Night activities - something about an artistic activity known as "Illuminations".

Edit:   After originally posting this item, I saw the report on White Night on 7.30 (see below).  Looks as though it will be impressive (when did they take these pictures?  Were they from last year, or was there a trial?)

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Windows XP

Microsoft pulls the plug on support for Windows XP on 8 April.    That means it will no longer provide patches to update any security vulnerabilities that may emerge after that date.  [Edit: This is in spite of Windows 8 not being very popular].

XP is said still to constitute a significant proportion of operating systems in use - the Australian quoted NetMarketShare as giving a January 2014 figure of 29.23%(!), although the information appears to be behind a paywall.

At a recent Melb PC User Group meeting, two experts gave completely opposite views about the implications of this for anyone who still uses XP.

One view was, "Don't risk it, the world might fall in".  The other said, "Don't panic, there's only a remote chance of a major security hole being discovered in XP after all this time that the normal third-party anti-virus programs won't cover."

Let me say that (a) I'm in no position to make a judgement about this matter; and (b) the issue is academic so far as I'm concerned because we no longer use XP.

I do notice that Microsoft are using the event as an opportunity to push Windows 8.1 (see link above), but of course, they would, wouldn't they?   Likewise anti-virus vendors such as Kaspersky say that they'll still be there to provide "protection" to XP useers, but of course, they would, wouldn't they?

I suppose the issue that concerns me is that I've read that business is still a major user of XP.  I hope that any business that I have transactions with over the internet which is still using XP has fully assessed the situation and is taking good care of any data that they have about me!.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Lunch at Seville

We were invited to K and A's place at Seville for a weekend lunch.    Good food, nice company, and a view of the neighbouring vines (although still some smoke haze in the distance).

K and A have a yard full of chooks (and some ducks, too) and quite a herd of alpacas.  Although alpacas are quite docile and not too hard to look after,  from what we heard, obviously quite a commitment is involved when you're running a breeding herd!

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Enginemen of the Victorian Railways

B lent me Enginemen of the Victorian Railways, in two volumes, by Nick Anchen.  These are collections of reminiscences by engine drivers and firemen, focussing on their experiences on steam locomotives and also (in the second volume) on rail motors, but there are some stories from the diesel era, too.   Numerous excellent photos (many in colour) are included.

For me, it was fascinating reading, especially being able to relate to many of the railway lines mentioned. It's clear from the acknowledgements that although the author has presumably collated the material, he has drawn on interviews conducted by others, at least some of which have been broadcast on Eastern FM.

Obviously, working on steam locomotives was often not romantic in the slightest, although it's said that many of the locos had personalities of their own.    The shifts were sometimes long and at awkward times, the conditions for overnight rest breaks were poor and at least for the fireman, the work often involved a lot of physical effort.    On the other hand, there are several stories about the "highs" of the job, such as driving the S class on the Spirit of Progress and the single H class loco, Heavy Harry.

Other themes that come out are the distinction between the enginemen (who, in the Victorian Railways, came under the Rolling Stock Branch) and other employees, in different branches.   The career structure for an engineman typically started in the workshops, progressing as a cleaner and hostler in the loco depot before becoming a fireman and finally driver.  In the 1930s, promotion was often slow.   Guards and station staff were in Traffic Branch. It emerges at a couple of points that often there was no love lost between these branches,  or between them and the Ways and Works Branch (including gangers and the like).

But even on the footplate there were sometimes issues between the men.   Although the driver and fireman often worked as an effective team, mention is made of at least one "old school" driver who produced a piece of chalk and drew a line down the centre of the cab, informing the young fireman that he was to stay on his own side.    Another driver had a habit of drinking a bit too much before arriving at work, until all the firemen refused to work with him.   Other depots were renowned for their friendliness.

R765 at Guildford on an excursion train to Avoca, 4 Nov 1964
There are lots of stories which give an insight into life on the railways in the days of steam.   Many are about things going wrong and people getting up to mischief, such as the guard who hopped off the train to collect mushrooms and then couldn't get back on it.   I guess these are the aspects that are remembered and make the best stories!

Monday, 17 February 2014


We ventured out to Kangaroo Ground and had a nice lunch at Samsonhill Winery.  If the fact that there's a winery at Kangaroo Ground comes as something of a surprise, then I can say that it was also news to us when we came across it during our research.  But in fact, I think there may be a couple of wineries out there, just a little way past Eltham.

The reviews on Urbanspoon have been mixed, but we were very satisfied with our gnocchi and kangaroo respectively.  The menu perhaps isn't cutting-edge in sophistication, but the dishes were certainly competent.  And the apple and rhubarb tart was great!
The wines (we had three, in total, by the glass) were quite acceptable, too, but we weren't moved to buy any additional bottles to bring home.

You can sit outside or inside.   The only mildly disappointing aspect was the view:  the restaurant is at the top of a hill, and would normally have great views out to the southwest.  However, there was a lot of smoke haze around so while the vineyards close by were pleasant on the eye, the distant view wasn't quite as good as it could have been.    Of course, there wasn't much the restaurant could have done about this!

Saturday, 15 February 2014

"System error"

So, NAB duplicated a number of EFTPOS transactions?   I noticed the notification on NAB's log-in screen on 13 February, and it stated that the solution was [still] "underway" with reversals to occur on that day or the next.  The notification had been removed by the next day.

Errr, the transactions were on 7 and 8 February......up to 6 days beforehand.  I'm uncertain when NAB just happened to detect the problem (but the tone of the notification suggests that it may have taken a few days).  I don't know how many of these transactions there were, but even if there weren't many, it doesn't inspire confidence when it takes a week or so to identify and sort out an issue such as this.  

Friday, 14 February 2014

Valentine's Day

Everyone knows that sellers of roses are busy on Valentine's Day - but they're not the only ones.

It seems that the roses have to get where they need to be, and hence the couriers are busy, too...apparently so much so that regular clients might miss out.  This note came around  the office in which I work!

Pity about all the commercialisation, but I don't want to seem to be a grouch, so all the best for Valentine's Day!

Thursday, 13 February 2014


Bitcoins have been in the news lately.  Most recently, some sort of "technical glitch" has affected one of the exchanges that deal in them. Hacking and wildly fluctuating values seem to be real issues, but even if these weren't sufficient to dissuade me from even thinking about becoming involved with them (not that I am likely to have the opportunity, anyway), there's a deeper issue.

There was a report on 7.30 about bitcoins a little while back which I watched with interest.

The aspect that I just didn't "get", and the ABC made no attempt to explain, is how is this currency created?    I see that Wikipedia refers to it being "mined", but in my world, a person who derives an object as a result of mining it gets the full value of that object, paying only the cost of production.   Yes, the purists might say that this isn't perfect, but mining for gold and other precious metals is long-established and there is some sort of correlation between the cost and difficulty of mining and the value of the commodity.  Can this be compared with the cost of running a computer program to produce a unit of exchange?

The bitcoin webite didn't help me much, and I must admit that I get really, really, dubious when I read that the "mining process" is too hard for mere mortals to understand!  But, as I see it, you "mine" a bitcoin by solving a complex numerical problem, that is, it's like a prize.   In fact, I had already deduced this, when I came across this quote: "Mining bitcoins, at the end of the day, is literally solving a math problem again and again".   It seems that the difficulty of the problem is somehow adjusted (or ought that be "manipulated"?) to regulate the supply of bitcoins.

Hmm, funny basis for creating units of exchange, if you ask me.  Even if there isn't someone, somewhere who is making money as a result of the production of these units, what guarantee is there that the system won't be corrupted in the future?  Government control of our conventional monetary system may not be perfect (and there have certainly been massive failures in some countries over the years), but at least it is less opaque than is the case with bitcoins.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Mail to your door (2)

Shortly after my post about the proposal in Canada to deliver the mail to "community mail boxes" instead of to your door, a similar issue emerged here in Australia, namely, a proposal that mail (and also here) would be delivered on, say, 3 days a week with the option of paying extra for daily deliveries.  This seems to have been dropped, but instead it's intended to increase the base postage rate to 70 cents. 

Leaving aside some of the rather shrill comments on the various websites (do I detect a note of the "entitlement culture" amongst them?), I wonder if increasing the price of postage is a little counter-productive?

Don't get me wrong;   I don't suggest that the cost of posting letters should be cross-subsidised on an on-going basis, and in this digital age, conventional mail is going to come under pressure.   But I do think the proposal that Australia Post's service standards be reconsidered merits attention.   Assuming that a reduction of deliveries to 3 days a week is off the agenda (for the time being anyway), another possibility would be to look at the need for "next day" delivery in metro areas.  In most cases, would an additional day for a letter to arrive make much difference?   Or, possibly the "next day" requirement could be maintained, save that postbox clearances could be adjusted so that they occurred earlier in the day (instead of 6 pm as is usual at present in many areas).  Thus, if you wanted next day delivery, you would have to post by noon. This could reduce the amount of work required to be done overnight, presumably with a reduction in penalty rates payable.

I suppose another approach would be to charge extra for next day delivery, but to introduce this into the normal mail stream would obviously make the sorting process more complex and would seem to be counter-productive. In fact, the "Express Post" service already caters for this (even though its focus is interstate mail).

Another possibility is, do we need quite so many street postboxes?    Apparently there is a mandated minimum of 10,000;  perhaps this could be adjusted.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Fare evasion (2)

I've often noticed that a lot of people don't seem to "touch on" when they travel by tram, especially in the city.   I commented on this some time ago.

It seems that this isn't "fare evasion" if you've got a "Myki pass":  see section 2.1 of the PTV's Network Revenue Protection Plan.   So perhaps not all those who fail to touch on are getting a free ride.   Additionally, I suppose that others who don't touch on may still be within the 2 hour period of an earlier trip (paid for with "Myki money"), so wouldn't be charged any more for their tram travel even if they did touch on.   But my understanding is that they are still supposed to touch on.

The PTV's plan notes that the failure by Myki pass holders to touch on may contribute to a "domino effect", in that, if the pass holder doesn't touch on, other passengers may gain the impression that they're evading payment. I'm not sure that there's any easy solution to this.   To impose a penalty if pass holders don't touch on seems a bit heavy-handed. 

In the meantime, I notice that continued focus is to be given to measures such as checking disembarking passengers at platform stops.   I noticed this action occurring at a city stop recently, but it was occurring at a quiet time of day (the AOs out-numbered passengers).  Although I can't say with certainly, my impression (albeit based on fairly limited observation) is that ticket checking seems less likely to occur at busy times, and certainly never on busy trams or trains, although AOs do monitor barriers at city stations at busy times.

Further, few if any of the AOs in this particular exercise appeared equipped with Myki card readers.  I wasn't close enough to see with certainty, but at least some of the passengers who were checked appeared merely to show a Myki card to the AOs, who looked as though they were concentrating on passengers with no Myki card at all.  I guess this is better than nothing, but it seems less than perfect.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Private Lives

Noel Coward's Private Lives is a witty comedy, enjoyable because of the sharp dialogue and farcical story-line.  Of course, it's all very light-hearted and 1930s-ish, but there's nothing wrong with that.

MTC's production has great sets making full use of the revolving stage.  It includes a little music and singing.  The different personalities of each the characters shine through - as do the traits that (it turns out) they share!

A good night out.

Saturday, 8 February 2014


It was 7 February, and SBS was showing "no signal".   I then remembered that somewhere I had read that further changes of the some of the TV channel frequencies was occurring.    In fact, it was an advertisement in the local paper that I had read.  If it had been mentioned on SBS - the channel that, at least so far as we were concerned, was affected - then we'd missed it. [Edit - seems that this is in fact what had occurred, or perhaps we watch at the wrong times.]

The challenge then was to do the retuning.   I scrolled through the menu, and tried "update".   After this had finished, still no SBS (even though I got a report that 7 channels had been found - must see if we really do have anything new).  Only when I set it to "install" was SBS again available.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Credit cards and PINs (2)

I've already posted about the fact that we'll all be supposed to use PINs when we use our credit cards from later in the year.

One bank is wasting no time in "encouraging" this move.  Within days of the news about the need to use PINs, I received a letter from the bank stating "We've noticed that you currently do not use your PIN with ...[the particular credit card]".   So the letter set out my PIN number.

True, I may not have used the PIN on this card - but I haven't used it for transactions where I sign, either.  The reason I've never used a PIN with this credit card is that I use the card as a "back-up", mostly for on-line transactions.   I don't generally use it for transactions where I am asked to sign.  Perhaps I'll make an effort to use it for a normal purchase just so the bank's computer has a record that I have in fact used the PIN.

On a similar note, I wonder how long it will be before cheques are phased out?  It was announced some time ago that they were to be on the way out in Britain, although later reports seem to suggest that they might last a little longer than originally intended (although "for as long as customers need them" sounds very vague to me!)

Thursday, 6 February 2014

The ward newsletter

Intermittently we receive in the letterbox a "ward newsletter" from the Council.   There's probably a schedule for their issue, but I haven't bothered looking for it.  Be that as it may, one has just arrived.  It seems to have shrunk in size - although the inevitable write-ups about each of the ward councillors have suffered no reduction in space.  I suppose that this is one of the perks of incumbency.

I'm not sure whether it's by accident or design, but this issue arrived a few days before the rates (when paid by one annual amount) are due to be paid.   It couldn't be that the newsletter is intended to convey the impression that we're getting some sort of value from our rates, could it?

The other time when we can be sure of receiving one is in the weeks leading up to council elections!

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The National Archives

Housed in the East Block, the display rooms of the National Archives are quite interesting.    Like the National Library, one hopes that what is on display is only the tip of the iceberg and that somewhere there are warehouses full of historical records.    Like the the bookstacks that I now understand the National Library has in an out-of-town warehouse, boxes of old documents aren't on display at the main Archives building!

I visited the Archives when in Canberra, and the material on display was interesting, even though the  theme is similar to that encountered elsewhere in Canberra:  a look at aspects of our country's history (often through a "politically correct" lens).  The first room is an introduction to the Archives' work, and is called "Memories of a Nation".   Other areas deal with early photographs of Canberra (the Mildenhall photos) and there's quite an area devoted to the Snowy scheme.

At present, there's also a special exhibition called "I've been Working on the Railway", devoted to the experiences of indigenous people working on railway construction and maintenance in the 50s, 60s and 70s.   This was an era that included the re-construction of the Mt Isa railway as well as the large scale construction of the first Bowen Basin coal lines and Pilbara iron ore lines.    Apparently many indigenous people were employed on these projects, which involved hard physical work, separation from families and camp life.   I found this well presented and interesting, although it needs to be remembered that although indigenous people were involved in this work, and the display is all about their story, other people were also involved - a fact that, at least so far as I could see, was only mentioned once.   It would be helpful to know, for example, what percentage they comprised of the workforce, even if only an approximation.

It was also interesting to have the opportunity to see inside parts of the East Block, one of the original Canberra buildings.