Why is it so hard to get a good tradie?

September 29, 2017

Letter to a roofing company, after quoted $495 to fix leaking flume and $3003 to fix badly-designed clear-roofed enclosed patio / sunroom area
Thank you for the quote.

I have delayed responding because I wished to consider my response.

As the property (a family home temporarily a rental) has several problems, and I wanted to get urgent ones sorted and budget for the others, I asked for someone to inspect the property to estimate both for the items you quoted and for other work – including things of which I might not be aware.

I was told that the inspection might be on the following week’s Thursday or Friday, and that I would be called so I could be there. Late in the next week I was doing a minor repair there, and one of the tenants told me that workmen had been “seeing to the roof” on the Monday – no card had been left, so I was unsure what had happened. I called your office, and was told that a quote had been sent (I check my spam, and had not seen it. I ran a search over our email in case it was in deleted or junk, and it was not.) I was sent a copy of the quote and was told that I had been called on the Monday but not responded – I did not remember a missed call, but had I had 2 from the same number I would have remembered. There was no text or voice message. In any case, it would not have been convenient for me to attend that day.

Your office put me in touch with the tradesman, whose manner left me feeling both that he was certain that I was silly and that he was unwilling to consider that I needed to be present for the quote process “as I had been quite detailed about what I needed.” As one of the details was that I wanted to talk about work needed later, this was irritating; as one of the items I wanted to talk about for the quote was whether there should be sarking with the tiles, and as another was to find out exactly what changes would be recommended to the back room’s roof and gutters, I was beyond doing more than politely ending the conversation. I cannot agree to $3003 for work without a detailed explanation of the proposed changes and the reasons for them.

I have had a tiler visit, who said that the rear room and the longer-term items were better discussed with a business dealing in more roof plumbing and reroofing, but for $80 changed the way the leaking flume was collared and flashed – and lowered its hood, so that rain could no longer blow in sideways. Since then, there has been no water ingress in the room beneath. What happens with the next pounding storm remains to be seen.

I understand that the difficult weather will have put your company into a stressful period, and so have delayed responding – giving time for your work and my temper to calm a little. If you are interested in trying again to quote on the longer term problems, on changes (if any) the flume area might need to make it permanently watertight, on stopping another leak found the weekend before your inspection, and can provide a more detailed description of the proposed changes to the back room roof and gutters, I am interested in considering your itemised quote.


Lies, damn lies, Same Sex Marriage and press responsibility

September 25, 2017

Should there be some requirement for “letters to the editor” to be fact-checked? What is the editorial responsibility if letters misrepresent the law?

Subject: Editorial irresponsibility
Date: Sun, 24 Sep 2017 12:29:40 +0800

To: letters@sundaytimes.com.au

Dear Editor,

In “Your Say” 24 September, Leslie L Cummings suggested that same sex marriage imperils children, Andre Nel claimed that homophobic bullying is a “red herring,” and ID Smith claimed that legal marriage is required for access to IVF, artificial insemination, and adoption. As the “Indicative Survey” is being seen as a serious vote, and as anti-SSM speakers are verging on calls for children to be removed from same-sex couples, I feel it is irresponsible of your paper to print these letters without an associated factual article citing:

– the statistics which show greater psychological and physical
well-being in children raised by same-sex couples (the opponents of SSM generally cite stats from single-parent families to show ill-effects of lack of one gender in the house),

– recent reports of bullying at school of children of same-sex couples because their parents “shouldn’t have children” or are “unnatural,”

– statements of the legal situation in the various States of Australia, for example, lesbian couples can now start a family using IVF in every state and territory in Australia except the NT. 2014 Australian Census data indicate that 12% of same-sex couples have children (3 % of male couples.)

The amount of spreading of false statements about the welfare of
children and the rights to adoption and parenting is nearing
vilification. I hope someone whose children are bullied, or whose house is vandalised, brings a case under the protective legislation.

FYI, I am in an over-30-year hetero relationship, and have 4 admirable adult children. So no homophobic hatemail, thanks.

What if Trump was literally being honest for once?

July 10, 2017

President Trump tweeted “Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded..” Consider the literal meaning (assume prescriptivist semantics apply) : Putin and Trump get an “impenetrable” unit protecting their election hacking etc from detection and publicity.

What if he is telling the truth this time? If hacking is being guarded, rather than guarded against?

When political activism is triggered by falsehoods, what do we do?

November 6, 2016
I was curious about the alleged blasphemy which had been reported as triggering violent protest in Indonesia – none of our local news services cited the inflammatory words.
A bit of googling found several sites saying that it was because a Christian Governor had had electoral opponents citing the Koran to say Islamic believers should not vote for a non-Muslim, and he had responded that the voters were being misled by the use of the Koran verse. More digging found:

According to sites including the Sydney Morning Herald, some Islamic groups had urged voters not to re-elect Ahok, citing verse 51 from the fifth sura or chapter of the Koran, al-Ma’ida, which some interpret as prohibiting Muslims from living under the leadership of a non-Muslim. It is often translated as:

“5:51 O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends: They are but friends to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust.”

Others say the scripture should be understood in its context – making allies a time of war – and not interpreted literally – its context excludes those who respect the ways and beliefs of Islam. e.g. http://www.answering-christianity.com/sami_zaatri/friends.htm and http://seekershub.org/ans-blog/2009/09/07/friendship-with-non-muslims-explaining-verse-551/

I wondered whether it was extreme sensitivity to allegations of anti-Muslim bias which led the newspaper and TV  reports I came across to avoid dealing with the misinterpretation of sacred words as a basis for violence. If so, it is a pity – much of the world’s politics is shaped by invincible ignorance or deliberate lies, and we really need some mechanism for dealing with that.

This is a serious topic which has not been addressed by our parties’ policies.  It is time we wrote to our representatives and called for legislative action to protect the ignorant from falsehoods in the political arena as well as in the commercial world.  Maybe even time to picket or pillory those who are caught out misleading the public.  If they should have known better, if they could have checked with reputable experts, if they chose to speak from ignorance while acting as demagogues – they are as culpable as if they had lied.

In this case it is worse than usual, as the protests could be used by those already nervously aware of the Koran’s approach to those who are not of the Christian or Jewish faiths (why not to be an active atheist or pagan in Indonesia or Dubai…) to fear that Muslims could be led to vote for radical candidates purely on the basis of their faith, and thus destabilise our political system.

Australian Poverty Line

October 17, 2016

Recent reports of 3 million Australians below poverty line (where defined as below 50% of median income) – currently $426.30 per week for a single person – have started some public response. One person commented online that increasing welfare wouldn’t help, as it would drive up the average income and thus leave them still below par – another voter who does not know the difference between mean and median. Depressing that they can vote…

My immediate thought was different: have a major depression, and weaken Unions so more workers join the 32% of below-current- poverty-line whose main income is paid employment. Then the dole will be above that definition of poverty, while the executives stay on salaries giving over the poverty level weekly income per executive hour!

To compare with cost of basic needs: The March 2016 Henderson poverty line for a single person, including housing, is $425.61 for a single not in work, $524.89 for a single in the workforce. (The Henderson poverty lines are based on a benchmark income of $62.70 for the December quarter 1973 established by the Henderson poverty inquiry. The benchmark income was the disposable income required to support the basic needs of a family of two adults and two dependent children. Poverty lines for other types of family are derived from the benchmark using a set of equivalence scales. )

Australia’s Newstart Allowance (single person over 22  unemployment benefit) currently is at best about $335 per week, including rent assistance, and the Government is proposing to cut the Energy Supplement from it – about $8 per week. That is why I keep calling for those on welfare to have the right to surrender 90% of their income for guaranteed, supervised basic living provided by the Government.

Don’t diss dyslexics

September 30, 2016

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So we needed a bed base for a queen-size mattress, strong enough for a big man who had shattered slats on a standard single base. It had to be high enough for airflow and access for sweeping under it, but low enough for access to the bookcase’s lower shelves. It also had to be brought around a tight corner and fit into minimum space when assembled.

The dyslexic genius who volunteered to do it has worked through books on many crafts, has applied what ve has learned, and has recently studied a book on campaign furniture – partly from interest in British Imperial history. It takes ver longer to read, but ve remembers details well: reading is so tiring, get it right so it doesn’t need re-reading!

Three days from request to installation, including design, purchase of some materials, repurposing of others, cutting, gluing, bolting, labeling, transport to the nook, and assembly.

A queen-size bed which can be disassembled and transported in a medium-size car – longest parts (with folding) are 1.5 metres.

Damn fine work.

Literacy and maths geek : QED

September 30, 2016


Life in my head: weather warnings

August 29, 2016

On the State weather forecast tonight they had a high wind warning for the North and a sheep graziers warning for the South. (No apostrophe.)

Scary things, graziers, good to know to dodge them.  A change from cats and dogs.

What future for the average intelligence student? The problem with education “for employment”

July 10, 2016

Both our major political parties are talking about education to fit students for jobs in “the new economy.”  At the same time  Our Coalition Government wants to give Company Tax reductions to large businesses.  However, for large companies,  increased company profits invested in expansion tend to lead to job losses.

Not just from offshore subcontracting of labour to exploited workers with no leave entitlements, OH&S rights,  or superannuation. Consider  http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-36376966

It includes a quote from a former McDonald’s senior staffer : “It’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who is inefficient, making $15 an hour bagging French fries.”

The main item in the article is that 60 000 (probably OH&S nightmare) jobs have gone because Chinese factories invested in technology not humans – even at their pay rates the robots are cheaper.

These job losses are not just the semi-literate jobs.  Consider the rise in expert systems, even self-reprogramming learning systems: the first white-collar job robots are already here, even doing work for lawyers: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/innovations/wp/2016/05/16/meet-ross-the-newly-hired-legal-robot/

The students know about this.  They know that machine intelligence researchers are even starting to find ways to program the machines for creativity.
(see John Gero on Creativity emergence and evolution in design concepts and framework
and  https://www.jwtintelligence.com/2016/06/cannes-2016-creativity-and-machine-learning/  )

So why should the less bright and less creative struggle to learn the basics, if they are told education is “to get a job” and they know they are headed for love on the dole?   (Read Greenwood’s book, or at least a detailed review, if you haven’t come across a film or play adaptation yet )

It is time for the meme of “education to be fit for work” to die.  Move to “education to get tools to make more fun and happiness, or dodge trouble.”  Start classes in “Learning something new without a teacher’s help, and demonstrating it to others,” “Comparing and testing health benefit claims,”  “Bullshit detection,” “website reliability testing,” “effective complaints,” “Dealing with Bureaucracy 1:  Completing a basic tax return so you don’t pay your refund to an accountant,” and  “Dealing with Bureaucracy 2:  Complying with Dole paperwork requirements.”

Of course, you may end up with a lot of activists trying to improve the Nation because they realise that the  current socio-economic system is the source of much unhappiness.  They may even realise that money is just another social construct – and not a good one – and demand a world run on social obligation instead.
Would that be so bad?

Old Pea Soup recipe

April 8, 2016

It seems it is the time of year for thinking about soups for those wanting comfort food after rotten viruses attack.

Per request from colleagues – this is public domain, so don’t put it in a copyright book!

pea soup                                 

(old family recipe with a spice mix which suggests it dates from middle ages, put in metric format)

250 ml = 1 cup,  tsp = Australian metric teaspoon (5 ml)


500 ml dried yellow split peas  (rinsed, soaked, and drained if possible)

2 litres water (plus 500 ml if peas not soaked)

750 ml chopped onion

750 ml carrot

250 ml celery

2 large bayleaves (fresh – adjust number if small or dried)

¼  (lumpy) tsp cloves (rounded if ground)

1 (rounded) tsp pimento

½ (rounded) tsp black pepper

2 tsp salt, or 1 hamhock (cheap at many major supermarket deli areas) criss-cross cut through skin, or about 200 – 400g bacon bones


Grind spices if not already ground.  Pimento and pepper ground come close to the original whole spice volume.  (Change the amounts to fit your tastes – the traditional measure is “enough, judged on the day  in the curved palm of your hand,” and varies depending on the intensity of the spices on hand and the tastes of the cook.)

Add all  to large pot (pressure cooker if available) and bring to simmer, stirring occasionally.

If pressure cooker, once it simmers,

seal pressure cooker, bring to spin, lower to murmur, cook 30 min (45 if not soaked peas).

If pot

put on low simmer for 1 ½  to 3 hours, stirring as often as needed to prevent sticking, until peas are very soft and vegetables are easy to mash.  If ham hock used, much of the meat should fall off and the bodes should disassociate.


If you have time, remove bayleaves (and bones / large chunks of meat if any – a ham bone may separate into several bones and large chunks, you may wish to save (can freeze)  2/3 from this step  to do a second soup)  and stick-blend in pot (needs a sturdy blender such as Bamix, 2-minute limit types are too weak) or sieve to another pot if blender is kaput.  Or allow to cool and blend in bench blender.


Put the bayleaves, (some) meat,  and (some) bones back into the soup, add water if needed (but is supposed to be a very thick soup, sets to pudding consistency when cold.).  Simmer, stirring, 20 minutes.


Serve plain or with crusty bread and butter (not margarine or olive oil – taste is just wrong.)

Some people like a little milk spiralled into the bowl.

Leftovers microwave well.