Philippines Bucket List

When I was back in Oz for Christmas it was bush fires. The bush had been burning in my home state of New South Wales since last August-September but mercifully recent heavy rain has either put out or allowed the Rural Fire Service yo being the remaining fires under control, although the rain has brought problems of its own. The fire season is now two-thirds the way through so hopefully there is no more damage to come, especially in the hotter days of February. All us cockroaches hoped for rain, a lot of it but it looks like we got somewhat more than we wished for.

I got back to Manila on New Year’s Eve. The Philippines has been an interesting learning experience for me. I experienced first hand my first typhoon back in either 2001 or 2002 when I was staying at the Sofitel on Manila Bay. Seeing the waves break over the sea wall was quite an experience, from the safety of my hotel room.

Last year it was earthquakes, and one in particular which gave Manila a good shaking, mercifully not causing a great deal of damage, unlike more recent quakes in the Mindanao area of the Philippines.

I was teasing mum about having clean air in Manila while she was suffering from bushfire smoke when Taal volcano decided to blow its top a little, spewing ash, smoke and steam into the atmostphere. Taal (pronounced Ta’al) is one of the most active volcanoes around, and is about 70 km from the centre of Metro Manila. So I got to experience my first ash fall.

The bucket-list? See:

  1. Typhoon – check
  2. Earthquake – check
  3. Volcano – check
  4. and now, Pandemic – check

It is more fun in the Philippines

Sydney Morning Herald – Yer Dreamin’

imageI received yet another email from the Sydney Morning Herald letting me know that they had now moved from a traditional news print way of selling the news (the news had always been paid by advertisers with the cost of the physical papers being a re-imbursement of the distribution cost) to digital subscriptions. Did I want one?

The Herald was pushing a package where for AU $15 a month I could read the Herald by accessing it through the website. That is $180 per year. OK, that may not seem so bad except that in real terms, the paper version did not cost me anything and came from a newspaper that had many more reporters and journalists than it now does (the Herald dumped so many journalists and reporters into the job market last year to cut costs). So now, in real terms, I am expected to pay more for less!

It gets more interesting however.

imageFor only an extra AU $10 a month (and therefore the princely sum of AU $300 per year) I can get the same Herald but with access from my tablet (iPad in my case, Android tablet in the case of others). So now the Herald expects me to pay AU $120 a year for an iPad app!

Now they are definitely dreaming!

The biggest problem with Fairfax (the owners of the Herald) and indeed News Corporation (Rupert Murdoch’s non-government surveillance organisation) is that they do not really understand the digital world. They have not got the necessary digital vision to see what is going to work for the digital future. For example, in the past, newspapers charged advertisers based on their audited circulations. They argued that this was an indication of the number of people reading the ads, which of course it was not. In a digital world, advertisers can see when the advertisement has piqued the interest of a reader by the reader clicking through so they will no longer pay for a blanket “oh, your ad will be seen by 500,000 people because that is our audited circulation”.

What is the secret to digital newspapers? Simply speaking, either charge $300 per year (and lose I would guess around 90% of your readership and therefore relevance) or adopt a better model – but really, $120 per year for an iPad app – is that the most expensive iPad app ever?

Even More on Aussie Submarines

After our spirited discussion on submarines recently in More on Submarines and then the post Submarines – some more, I came across an article in the Sydney Morning Herald today with a title of Defence to get new supercomputer. It seems that Cray Inc., the company making supercomputers has sold the Department of Defence a $2.2 million supercomputer to help with research for the Future Submarine program.


A Defence Department sopkeperson noted that,

The system will be used to undertake computational fluid dynamic studies to increase knowledge and assist the evaluation of technical risks associated with the hydrodynamic performance of future Australian navy platforms.

The capacity of the system will enable large computational fluid dynamics simulations to be performed in the order of days rather than months.’

So, seems the Australian Department of Defence is trying to make the next batch of submarines flow through the water, better – even if they can’t get enough crew to man them.

Personally, I would have thought a $2.2 million supercomputer wasn’t that flash!

The other two interesting bits of news with regards to this is that they apparently are looking at container-housing the computer so that it is portable. Not sure why they want to do that rather than just ensure they have the necessary channel bandwidth to access back to the supercomputer.

The other interesting part of the report was where “client and vendor are expected to run performance tests to see whether the system would qualify for nomination for the biannual top 500 supercomputer list”.

Right! Not very highly I would have thought.

Read more:

Online car insurance – how hard can it be?

Mother’s car insurance has came up for renewal. It happens every year and every year Mum asks, “is this the best deal son?”

Every year I then devote the best part of a couple of hours or so out on the InterWebs searching to see what the best car insurance deal is for mum. It’s not like we are insuring a Ferrari or anything, it’s just a harmless old Nissan Pulsar but Mum has grown quite attached to it. Takes her shopping, lets her do her Meals-on-Wheels delivery and generally gets her around.

So, every year I spend a few hours and find her the best deal I can.

Those that know me too know that I hate “dicking” around. Systems should make it easy for me to do things, not harder. They should speed the process up, not make it longer. Right then, let’s have a look at a couple of fun moments from my recent searching.

qbe_captureFirst off though, I should mention that Youi Car and Home Insurance has been her insurer for the past two years. Before that it was AAMI. We had a quote from them already as part of the renewal notice. The first of the failures was QBE Insurance. I spend about 10 minutes stepping through all the questions, identifying the vehicle, recording details of all the potential drivers, recording my mother’s details, what the agreed amount was that we were looking for insurance for and whether we wanted excess protections etc.

When I got to the end of all this and clicked the “get quote” button, the image on the left was returned. Yep, after asking me how much insurance I wanted the system went ahead with the other 50 questions and only when I had completed every question including how much insurance was required, QBE then told me that the amount of insurance requested was below the minimum amount they will deal with. In Twitter terms …. #fail!

Of course, the other thing about this is that there is no link backwards to change any of the information given, like did I want to increase the amount of insurance.

budget_capture was the insurance quote system to annoy me. Again, after answering the 50-odd questions, plugging away to the end the one thing that I had not answered was any amount for the insurance (“agreed value” in Australian terms).  I progressed through and the screen to the right was eventually returned.

The lump sum payment amount was nice – it was about $20 cheaper than Youi. However the issue was that now where did Budget tell me what the insured value was. They mentioned “market value” only which could be any value really. It was not specified. So budget wanted $512.33 of my mother’s hard earned money for an unspecified amount of insurance. #Fail!

The other nasty thing about Budget – look at the instalment option. Pay back over 12 months on a month-by-month basis and pay $599 instead of $512 – and $87 premium for paying by the month on an agreed insurance value that presumably is going to get smaller as the year progresses. Another #fail.

There were some other annoying things as well – GIO Car Insurance for example. After answering the questions they came up with a quote that was around about the same level as Youi. The only problem was it was for about $2,600 over insurance coverage whereas Youi was $4,750.

The other thing I noticed is that same quotation system is used between many insurers. That is not surprising as many of the insurers are owned by the same company, Suncorp.

The good thing from all this? I won’t have to do this for another 12 months 🙂

More on Submarines

A comment was left on the post Singapore Submarines by mhalblaub who appears to be from Germany. I had noted that the the Singapore Navy hqad acquired from Kockums two Archer Class (Ex-Västergötland Class) submarines under the Northern Lights programme. I had also made a comparison to the length of the Västergötland Class and Archer Class to that of the Australian Collins class vessels – noting that the longer Collins class would provide a better platform for crew in long voyages.

mhalblaub noted that:

The enlarged Västergötland-class is also known as Collins-class. Most problems Collins-class has are related to the divorce from the original submarine builder Kockums in 2000 because the Australian government thought they can do it on their own with some help from the US. Until today Australian Submarine Company (ASC) is proof of they can’t even properly maintain submarines.

HMAS Rankin - Collins class submarine at sea in 2007
HMAS Rankin – Collins class submarine at sea in 2007

Australian submarine crews is one area I have some experience with as my brother-in-law for many years whilst he was in the RAN was responsible for drafting crew – trouble was, crew didn’t want to serve on Submarines and it is a voluntary posting. That has been a problem plaguing the Australian submarine fleet for many years now, the difficulty of getting crews together and this is one reason that so few of the Collins-class are at sea at any time.

Whilst there is no doubt that the Colllins class building program was best with many problems – welds not to specification from Kockums, large problems with the weapons systems and the ASC being on a learning curve with submarine construction and maintenance, one of the chief issues was and is still crewing.

During the First World War, the Australian Navy operated two submarines, AE1 and AE2 and their feats are well recorded in Australian naval history.

During the Second World War there were, as far as I am aware, no submarines operated by the Royal Australian Navy. Based in Australia during that war however were may US submarines.

Wikipedia notes about crewing for the Collins class vessels:

During the late 1990s, a combination of low recruitment and retention rates across the RAN resulted in the number of trained submariners falling below 40% of that required. As an attempt to retain submariners, the RAN offered a one-off A$35,000 bonus in 1999. Other measures introduced around the same time included priority transfer of volunteers for submarine training and rotating submariners between sea and shore assignments to relieve them from continual sea service and prevent burnout. A year later, these measures had increased submariner numbers to 55% of requirements.

However, the problem with submarine crewing continued; by 2008 the RAN could only provide complete companies for three of the six submarines.

So, it may not be a case of the inability to maintain the vessels that is the issue, but rather the reluctance of Australians to serve in small metal chambers generally floating around under the sea.

Nuship Canberra

A tour of what will become HMAS Canberra when it is completed and commissioned.

This video gives a good look around the Nuship Canberra at its current state of completion. Nuship Canberra is the first of the Landing Helicopter Dock ships (LHD) and is currently under construction at the BAE Systems Williamstown Shipyard at Port Phillip Bay. The ship is due to commence sea trials in late 2013.

Ski jump flight deck for helicopters? Hmm, apparently she’ll have the ability to operate 18 aircraft but which aircraft?

Anniversary of Darwin Bombing

USS Peary – built in 1922 and sunk at Darwin in 1942

February 19th, 1942, Darwin itself was bombed by 260 Japanese fighters and bombers twice during the day. The attacks were directed against the port and shipping and 252 Allied service personnel and Darwin citizens were killed during the two raids. Over the coming months raids were also made against Broome, Wyndham, Port Hedland, Derby, Darwin, Katherine, Townsville, Mossman and Horn Island (in the Torres Strait).

There were a total of 97 Japanese air raids against targets in the north of Australia which, along with the attacks on Sydney, mean that three of Australia’s six states were attacked as well as one of the territories.

HMAS Mavie
HMAS Mavie and 19 ton wooden patrol boat built in 1903 – also sunk at Darwin.

The air raids did tie up a great deal of anti-aircraft defenses and managed to interrupt the shipping in the port so from a strategic point of view were probably considered successful by the Japanese High Command.

Interestingly, although a much less strategic target than Pearl Harbour, more bombs were dropped on Darwin in these first two raids and a total of 10 ships out of 45 were sunk. 23 Allied aircraft were destroyed for the loss of seven Japanese aircraft.

The four IJN aircraft carriers (Akagi, Kaga, Hiryū and Sōryū) that participated in the bombing of Darwin were later sunk during the Battle of Midway in June 1942.

Strangely enough there is some debate to the number of ships actually lost with estimates ranging from seven to eleven. Ships lost include, however:

  • USS Peary, a United States Navy destroyer
  • USAT Meigs, a large US Army troop transport ship
  • MV Neptuna (used as a troop transport)
  • SS Zealandia (used as a troop transport)
  • HMAS Mavie, a Royal Australian Navy patrol boat
  • SS Mauna Loa, a 5,436-ton US merchant freighter
  • British Motorist, a UK-registered merchant refuelling oiler
  • Kelat, a 1,849-ton coal storage hulk

Another two ships were beached and subsequently refloated bring the total to 10. 25 ships in total were damaged.

Aircraft lost were mostly US aircraft:

  • 10 x P-40
  • 1 x B-24 bomber
  • 3 x C-45 transport planes
  • 3 x PBY Catalina flying boats, and their moorers outside the harbour
  • 6 x Lockheed Hudsons (RAAF losses)

All-in-all, an effective raid and along with the next 60-odd raids, it was enough to persuade the allies to use Brisbane and Fremantle as naval stations rather than Darwin.

CanCon 2013 – the Convention


The Countrylink Explorer - transport to Canberra for me from Sydney
The Countrylink Explorer – transport to Canberra for me from Sydney

CanCon 2013 was on over the Australia Day long weekend in Canberra, Australia. Canberra is Australia’s capital and famous more for its circuitous roads ((you have never really been to Canberra until you have been lost at least five times coming off the same set of roundabouts)) than anything else. It is, however, a quite pretty country town.

CanCon itself it put on by the Canberra Games Society every year at this time and is the largest game convention in Australia. As such it deals with all manner of recreational board games and similar. These include wargames, card games such as Magic the Gathering and other board games. There are normally a number of demonstration or participation game for folks to try out as well.

The Zulus are massed to Attack - one of the demonstration games
The Zulus are massed to Attack – one of the demonstration games

I took three days holiday from the office and headed off to Canberra.

The trip to Canberra was an interesting experience for me. I’ve had the lady flying Scoot before (it is cheap after all) but this was my first experience on Scoot so I was curious to see how it went.

The flight left at 2:00 am Singapore time and arrived at 12:55 pm Sydney time. I then had to get from Sydney airport to Central Railway station, meet the lady and then catch the 6:11pm Explorer service (train) to Canberra. It arrives around 10:30pm (1:30 am the next day Singapore time). Yep, 23.5 hours travel, Singapore to Canberra ((Aussie and New South Wales politicians note – major Asian capital to Australia’s capital city – nearly 24 hours)).

Scoot was OK. As I had not booked any in flight meal (I had heard it was very ordinary), I sat at Cedele at Singapore airport Terminal two and enjoyed sandwich and a soup which got me through to Sydney quite well. The good thing was that as I wasn’t eating on the fight at all and as there is really no inflight entertainment unless you pay extra for it, I was able to pretty much sleep all the way to Australia. More on the Scoot flight later (and the seating size there).

The foreign legations in Peking 1900 are under threat from the Boxers (I keep seeing Robert Helpmann as the evil Mandarin)
The foreign legations in Peking 1900 are under threat from the Boxers (I keep seeing Robert Helpmann as the evil Mandarin)

We arrived in Canberra to the cool evening air after a hot baking kind of day.

CanCon 2013 started around 8:30am the next morning. Doug was organising the DBMM competition so we left early to give him organising time. My games did not come around until Sunday and Monday.

There were number of traders there although not nearly as many as in the UK shows but a reasonable number for Australia. Four or five figure suppliers along with a similar number of board game sellers were all plying their trade. Milsims was not there unfortunately and at least one second-hand figure seller was also missing.

There were a couple of great participation or demonstration games. Particularly impressive was the Zulu one. I was also impressed with the Boxer Rebellion game – Peking never looked so good. Another game that caught my eye was the 3mm modern warfare game played across GeoHex terrain ((I think the terrain was GeoHex -if not it was something very similar)). Even the 3mm armour was based on the same sized hexes and therefore represented a full company I think.

The 3mm Modern wwargame - look closely
The 3mm Modern wwargame – look closely

The Wings of War (now Wings of Glory) folks had a couple of participation games on covering World War One and World War Two aerial combat. The zeppelin model they had there was so impressive – almost a metre long.

There was also a “games library” where for a fee you could sign up and sit in a separate area and borrow games to try. This was very well attended and appeared full for most of the time. That area is also used to promote the local games society which is constantly buying new games for the library.

I avoided buying much – just a copy of Maurice (wargame rules) from Nic at Eureka Miniatures and some flowers for decorating bases. I also managed after much searching to find some 15mm gabions (the last packet) for Anthony.

The second and third day at CanCon were game days for me. The Worlds for DBA. I’ll do a separate AAR for that later. Let me note here that at the end of the first day I was 4 wins from 6 games and one win (8 points) behind the overall leader. I was sitting in 6th place out of 24 gamers. Team Singapore was doing well. You will need to wait for a later post covering the actually DBA competition and the final results of that.

The crowd in the main hall at CanCon 2013 on the first morning
The crowd in the main hall at CanCon 2013 on the first morning

One of the nice things with the DBA competition is that there is a kids competition there as well with a couple of volunteers working with the kids to help develop the hobby. Well done for that.

I must admit that apart from a broken coffee machine causing long queues at the only surviving machine in the place on the second day (soon remedied – by the third day as an additional coffee cart as wheeled in) the show went very well. If you are into games and can get to Canberra in late January, it is well worth attending, especially if playing.

Cancon 2013

It’s getting near that time. The Canberra Games Society Inc is presenting Cancon 2013 which comes up in 11 weeks time. First Christmas, then Cancon. This year many of the Cancon events, like the DBA event, will be part of the Worlds. Good chance to come to Oz, enjoy the warmth of a Canberra summer (not to mention the sweet sounds of the crickets chirruping and the bogans flapping ((the moths, not the rev-heads)). It is also the centenary year for Canberra so another good reason to visit the Australian national capital.

As it is the World’s for DBA, then it is a great time for players from around Asia to trek off to Canberra and compete and maybe be crowned World Champion. I guess I am competing as team Singapore (now where did I put my white t-shirt and red shorts)?

Details can be found at

Now I just need to work out two DBA Armies – one from books 1 or 2, the other from books 3 or 4 and then paint and base them ready for the competition.

Oz Citizenship Test

I had cause to spend some time on the Australian Government’s Citizenship website tonight so after checking the information I was asked to check, I thought I would give the citizenship quiz a go. Fortunately I got all questions correct (a great relief I will add). There was one question that threw me a wee bit – it was concerning state governments and whether they have their own constitutions. Logic suggested to me that they do but hey, when has logic ever applied to the Aussie way of doing things?

They do!

That is, they each have their own constitutions. Of course, now I am wondering whether there is any real relevance in them any more?