Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The smartphone generation

Somebody just mailed these to me.

No comment necessary!

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Unfortunately I don’t have any attribution for the above.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Australian Cancer Atlas, and an online melanoma risk predictor

"According to Melanoma Institute Australia, one Australian dies from a melanoma every five hours, with an estimated 14,000 diagnosed each year."

It would be a similar per capita rate in most other countries (Australia’s population is 25 million, in round figures.)

After having a melanoma excised from my scalp early in 2013, I’ve become hypervigilant about skin cancer and read extensively about melanoma research and other news. I like passing important info on to others …

I came across the following story which is good news for ladies who enjoy the sun:


So for the first one instead look at the Australian Cancer Atlas
so put in your suburb's name or postcode and find out your exposure.
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Also, I recommend that you try the following one online test:

It’s supposedly for people 40 or over, but might be worthwhile for younger folk too.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Abandoning a domain name can lead to major security exposures

This is dynamite bad news, potentially …

Abandoning a domain name can come back to bite you, research shows

Cybercriminals can use an abandoned domain name to obtain all manner of private information belonging to the company that formerly owned the domain, as well as to its clients and employees, a researcher warns.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Winaero Tweaker for Windows 10 version 1809 ("October 2018 Update") has been released

If you're a Windows users, and if you like tweaking Windows to suit your preferences (such as appearance or function) or to resolve issues, then Winaero Tweaker may be right up your alley.

For some background on the developers, see About Winaero. I would say that they really know a LOT about Windows in order to be able to develop such in-depth tweaking functions.

This very handy utility has many useful functions, and you may well find some that are good for you. I've been using it to of the title bars of all the windows I have open across multiple screens, so that the currently active window stands out with a blue title bar (instead of guessing which is the active window, or hunting around for it).

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Version 0.12.0.0 of Winaero Tweaker for Windows 10 version 1809 (often called "October 2018 Update") has been released (scroll down to "Useful links for you" to find the download link).

This version of Windows 10 is imminent, indeed it recently started rolling out and caused some users to lose files,  lots of them in some cases (see Microsoft halts Windows 10 update after users lose files)  but this latest automatic update of Windows 10 is sure to be heading our way soon.

The Winaero website has a very useful description of the changes at What’s New In Windows 10 October 2018 Update Version 1809

Also, be sure to read and get some tips from Useful features for Winaero Tweaker for Windows 10 version 1809 "October 2018 Update"

One such new feature of version 0.12.0.0 of the tweaker allows the user to prevent Windows 10 from reinstalling built-in apps. In addition to existing functionality, Winaero Tweaker will stop the Windows 10 updater from irritatingly re-installing built-in apps which were previously uninstalled by the user.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Net Promoter Score (2018) for IBM compared with other top brands

This is for the IBMers out there, current employees and past (including old retirees like me) …

To quote:

NPS is a customer loyalty metric that measures customers’ willingness to not only return for another purchase or service but also make a recommendation to their family, friends or colleagues.

It is a powerful and effective technique, which can greatly increase a company’s revenue if used properly.

The main advantages of NPS are close correlation with a company’s growth and easy collection, interpretation and communication of the data.

Is IBM’s NPS of 27 considered to be good?

Yes, it is.

Net Promoter Score is a number from -100 from 100.

Scores higher than 0 are typically considered to be good and scores above 50 are considered to be excellent.

The industry average for Consumer Brands / Electronics is 45.

Mouse across the infographic on the above web page to see how IBM compares with other well-known brands.

Click on the screenshot below to see the article:

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Refilling ALDI coffee capsules, for limited edition or unavailable flavours

A few months ago I purchased a pack of Irish Cream Expressi coffee pods (capsules), which use the K-Fee pod system.

imageThe Irish Cream pods are one of ALDI’s limited editions, which they sell from time to time and there’s no guarantee that they’ll ever be sold again.

Another limited edition that I’m trying right now is Rwanda, and both of these are shown in the adjacent photo number “1” (click image to view enlargement).

Unfortunately my wife has taken a liking to the Irish Cream flavour, and I had to inform her that when the pack of had been used up there would be no more on offer from ALDI – a problem with ALDI for lots of other items too.

Several years ago I had investigated the emptying of the pods and refilling with non-ALDI coffee flavours.

Back then my results were mixed, because all the pods that I tried had to be sealed off at the top somehow, a my experiments using cling wrap to do the sealing weren’t very satisfactory. So I fairly quickly gave up on doing any refilling.

Because of my wife’s Irish Cream impending crisis, I resumed my investigations into refilling the pods, knowing that this flavour is available from other sources.

CafĂ© Palazzo is one such source, and they also offer my favourite flavour French Vanilla shown as number “2” in the photo.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that in 2016 – unlike when I did my experiments several years ago -- most (but perhaps not all) of ALDI’s Expressi pods in 2018 come with a plastic filter that snaps into place at the top of the pod sufficiently well to prevent the ground coffee from coming out of the pod during the brewing process.

In the photo, number “3” shows a pod that has been washed out, and “4” shows a pod being refilled with French Vanilla coffee. The refilling process is a little time-consuming and a bit messy, but it’s something you can live with.

A little Web surfing (include several demos on YouTube) shows that others had alre1ady mastered this technique some years ago, and had come to much the same conclusion.

I certainly don’t claim the be the first to do this, my post is as much railing against ALDI’s attitude to not repeating Limited Edition coffee pods as much as anything else!

Bad German Engineering - Mercedes C180 coolant expansion system weak points [UPDATED]

Why on earth did the Mercedes engineers use weak plastic connectors (marked A and B in the images below) in the C180 Kompressor model W205 engine coolant expansion system?

These two weak points tend to break, and break again - and Mercedes has the temerity to charge and arm and a leg to replace them.

The cost of the field replaceable unit (image 1) is approximately AUD $150 to $160.

It's crazy that the broken connector (marked A in image 2 below) cannot be purchased separately for a few dollars!

I used copper tubing to rebuild connector A …

Image 5 below shows the finished repair:

Just when I thought that I had finished the repair, to my great annoyance the plastic connector on the coolant expansion tank snapped off. It was too weak to withstand the stress of reattaching the rubber connecting tube at point B.

You can assess just how exposed to being broken it is from image 6 below. When this fragile connector (B) breaks off the entire tank becomes useless, and your vehicle is rendered effectively undriveable.

So it looks like I'll have to try using copper tubing to rebuild the pipe on the coolant expansion tank. Otherwise a replacement tank will be needed, at a cost of around AUD $100, and that's inexcusable.

Obviously not all Mercedes Benz engineering design and implementation features reach the exalted heights often associated with the Mercedes name. So-called "German engineering excellence" – Phooey!

Examine just about any product of any sort (and that certainly includes software), developed by any organisation anywhere in the world, and you’ll find weak points without having to look too hard.

UPDATE (26 July 2018)

Yesterday I filed the end of a 3 or 4 cm length of copper tubing so that it was a snug fit into the hole left at the top of the coolant expansion tank. I also prepared a small copper strip to sit on top of the tubing and used epoxy resin (Selleys Araldite brand, here in Australia) to glue the tubing and strip in place. Then, it being cool winter weather in Melbourne, I waited a day to allow the epoxy resin to set firm.

Here’s what my latest burst of jury rigging accomplished (image 7):

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Today I gingerly tested the strength of the bond, and it seems to be pretty strong, I would say at least as strong as the stupid original plastic tube shown in image “6”.

The only thing left to do is to start driving again and keep a watchful eye out for the “Check coolant level” warning, hoping never to see it again. Only time will tell.

By the way, I highly recommend Solvol heavy-duty hand cleaner for washing your hands after work such as this. It comes in a convenient bottle as shown below:

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Monday, July 16, 2018

Are Australia’s Big Four banks effectively bankrupt (and will they pursue you to the grave)?


The Australian government claims the banks are “unquestionably strong”. The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) is given credit for this strength, through its supervision of the banks through the 2008 global financial cri sis, and its subsequent lifting of the banks’ capital from 9.5 to 14.5 per cent of their assets.

If anything, APRA is sometimes criticised for making the Big Four banks too strong and profitable, because it has come at the expense of competition in the banking sector, and the banks’ duty of care for their customers, hence the misconduct and abuses being exposed by the royal commission. APRA ignores such complaints, pointing to its mandated responsibility for “financial stability”—strong, profitable banks, even though an oligopoly, make for a stable financial system.

At least, that’s the story.

Hiding in plain sight is a glaring contradiction to this claim of financial stability, which is Australia’s world-record housing bubble. Australia’s Big Four banks are more exposed to the housing market than were their counterparts in the USA, UK, Spain and Ireland when they suffered banking crashes following the collapse of the real estate bubbles in those nations in 2008. Around 63 per cent of Australian bank lending goes to mortgages—compared with 30 per cent in the USA; between 20 and 30 per cent in the UK and Canada; and 15 per cent in Hong Kong. The borrowing that has fuelled this bubble has driven up Australian household debt to around 200 per cent of annual household income and 120 per cent of GDP.

Not everyone accepts the housing market is a bubble, and that determines their view of the health of the banks. For instance, the government, regulators and banks, which hold that the banks are “unquestionably strong”, all deny the bubble. Those who acknowledge the bubble recognise that the financial system is in fact extremely unstable, and teetering on the edge of a crash that will bankrupt the banks.

Eerie precedent

There are striking similarities between Australia today, and Ireland before its banks crashed in 2008. In the lead-up to the September 2008 global financial crisis, virtually the entire nation of Ireland was euphoric about its economic boom, centred on real estate development. Sound familiar? And 28 per cent of bank lending went to property developers, slightly less to mortgages—combined still less than the 63 per cent of Australian banks’ lending to housing.

One economist, Morgan Kelly, had warned for a year that Irish real estate was a bubble, but his warnings were met with universal denial. Also sound familiar? The denial was so ingrained that when the September 2008 crisis impacted the liquidity in Ireland’s banks, the Irish government announced it was guaranteeing the banks, confident that they were well capitalised and that the guarantee would be enough to see them through the liquidity crunch.

Within weeks the Irish property bubble burst and the banks collapsed. As the government was on the hook for the banks’ losses, the government bailed out the banks, and then itself required a bailout from the EU, which dictated crushing austerity on the people of Ireland.

Early warnings

Among a limited number of organisations and individuals, the Citizens Electoral Council has long warned that Australia’s housing market is a bubble and heading for a crash. As early as 2007, CEC press releases questioned whether one or more Australian banks were in danger of collapse due to the brewing mortgage crisis and their derivatives. Unbeknownst to the CEC at the time, bank regulator APRA had in early 2007 suppressed an internal report which revealed that due to the lowered lending standards APRA had approved, the banks had extended 3.4 times more credit into mortgages than they would have, had they stuck to their previous, higher standards.

The report effectively identified a bubble. It also foreshadowed a sharp rise in mortgage delinquencies, a possible mortgage crash, and a recession. Given that this report coincided with the early alarms in the United States about rising defaults on sub-prime mortgages, it should have spurred Australian authorities to act; instead APRA kept the report secret, and it only came to light in an April 2016 report on ABC 7.30. As it happened, 7.30 observed, the eruption of the global financial crisis in 2008 drove Australian authorities to slash interest rates and pump money into the housing market, which averted the property crash and recession that the report had warned of: “But some say that has merely allowed the problem to get far worse, with mortgage debt doubling since APRA’s alarming research was carried out.” (Emphasis added.)

So where do the banks stand today?


Bubble of lies

The mortgage portfolios of the Big Four banks account for 80 per cent of Australia’s $1.7 trillion mortgage market. At least $500 billion worth of these mortgages are identified as so-called “liar loans”, meaning they were based on false income and expense information.

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The volume of credit that has gone into housing has soared, creating a
world record housing bubble. Source: John Adams

However, as Denise Brailey of the Banking and Finance Consumers Support Association (BFCSA) insists, and as the royal commission has confirmed, the liars were the banks, not the borrowers—the banks doctored loan applications to record household expenses at the equivalent of the poverty line. An even bigger chunk of these mortgages are interest-only, reflecting the inability of borrowers to repay interest and principal at current house prices.

Interest-only loans reached a peak of 40 per cent of all mortgages in early 2017, following a spike in the rate of interest-only lending that got to almost 50 per cent of mortgages issued in 2016 (compare this with the US rate of interest-only lending before the 2008 crash, which peaked at 25 per cent of mortgages in 2006).

These are official figures, but Denise Brailey reports that the mortgage brokers she surveys reveal that the actual rate of interest-only loans they write is more like 80 per cent. This wave of interest-only loans in recent years is starting to reset to interest and principal, which is almost doubling monthly payments, and that’s before any rise in interest rates. In October 2017 UBS reported its survey that found a third of borrowers with interest-only loans were unaware that their loans were interest-only and they weren’t repaying principal, which sets them up for an even greater shock when their mortgages reset.

Threat of rising interest rates

This mountain of mortgage debt is therefore extremely vulnerable to rising interest rates. According to the latest survey by Finder.com, an extra $100 per month in mortgage payments would push 54 per cent of borrowers over the edge. Martin North of Digital Finance Analytics warned ABC on 11 July that even a 15 basis point (0.15 per cent) rise in interest rates could push a million households into delinquency by September.

The Reserve Bank of Australia’s cash rate is at the record low level of 1.5 per cent, unchanged for the longest period in RBA history. But the best efforts of the RBA cannot shield Australia from rising rates overseas. The banks rely on overseas borrowing for 40 per cent of their funding, and bank liabilities make up the majority of the $465 billion in Australia’s foreign debt that has a maturity of 90 days or less. Therefore when this debt is rolled over every three months, they have to take the interest rate on offer. As foreign observers have been shocked to discover, 80 per cent of Australian mortgages are variable-interest-rate loans, so the higher borrowing costs that the banks incur will be passed on immediately to already overstretched households ‘Unquestionably weak’ capital The truth is that the banks are also dangerously overstretched.

The claim that bank capital is at the “unquestionably strong” level of 14.5 per cent is based on the ruse of “risk-weighting”. This scam allows the banks to claim that only a quarter of their mortgages carry risk, and only hold capital against those mortgages, not all of them. The actual capital of the Big Four banks is razor thin, less than 6 per cent, meaning their leverage of loans to capital is 19 times.

Given that the collateral for 63 per cent of this lending is overpriced housing, an across-the-board real estate market slide of just 10 per cent would wipe out collateral equal to the banks’ capital. Australian house prices have already fallen 4.6 per cent in the last year, and informed observers are anticipating falls of 30 per cent and more. Without collateral backing their loans, the banks would be entirely at the mercy of households making repayments on the liar loans that the banks knew they couldn’t afford in the first place.          

Australians are far less likely to default on their mortgages than Americans, due to Australian mortgages being full recourse, meaning the banks can pursue borrowers to the grave; however, there is a limit to what any household can take, and Australian households are reaching that limit. Not only are they already overstretched, but falling prices will trap increasing numbers in negative equity, meaning they owe more than their house is worth.

Such a demoralising plight will trigger outright defaults, especially by the large percentage of “investors” in the market. On top of that, the thousands of job losses in high-paid automotive industries in recent years, and 8,000 high-paid Telstra jobs to go in the next few years, could also trigger a wave of defaults, to be followed by even more as falling house prices flatten the construction industry, which grew into Australia’s second-biggest economic sector on the back of the bubble.

Derivatives

The banks’ bogus capital claims also do not properly reflect their exposure to derivatives, the “notional principal” of which has soared from $14 trillion in 2008, to $40.56 trillion according to the RBA’s latest figures. Most of these derivatives are in one way or another bets on their mortgage lending. Banks always understate their derivatives risk, because they ignore the possibility of extreme events like the 2008 GFC—or a collapse of Australia’s housing bubble.

As unbelievable as it may be, Australia’s financial authorities are not paying attention to this looming danger. A well- placed sourced informed this author that a very senior political-economic expert in Australia in early June asked the RBA if it assesses and manages systemic economic risk, but was informed that was APRA’s job, not the RBA’s. Experts familiar with APRA, however, including former APRA principal researcher Dr Wilson Sy, know that APRA is not assessing and managing risk; in fact, APRA doesn’t even have a research department anymore.

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The ruse of risk weighting allows banks to claim they have increased their capital to
the “unquestionably strong” level of 14.5 per cent (top line), whereas actual capital
has barely changed, remaining around 6 per cent (bottom line). Source: Investment Analytics

Conclusion

Banks hold capital as a buffer against possible defaults. APRA has allowed, actually encouraged Australia’s banks to run up a massive exposure to mortgages and mortgage-related derivatives, against razor-thin capital. With borrowers at the extremes of their limits and interest rates rising, there’s no way the housing bubble won’t burst at some point in the near future, and there’s no way that wouldn’t crash the banks. Right now, Australia’s banks are dead men walking, effectively bankrupt.

-------------------  ATTRIBUTION  -------------------

Citizens Electoral Council of Australia
Postal Address: PO Box 376, Coburg Vic 3058
Phone: 1800 636 432 Fax: 03 9354 0166
Home Page:
www.cecaust.com.au   Email: cec@cecaust.com.au
Authorised by R. Barwick, 595 Sydney Road, Coburg, Victoria 3058.
Printed by Citizens Media Group Pty Ltd., 595 Sydney Road, Coburg, Victoria 3058. Independent Political Party
11 July 2018