Wednesday, July 15

Fleet Carnival Cars (Maser 2nd in class shocker)

Mark A told me about this car show on the Friday before it was due to happen, as I had no idea it was even on. It turned out to be a great day, and I am just getting over my "Red Panda" sunburnt look today I think. Despite the small turnout (possibly due to the promotion of the event or lack thereof) there was a wide range of classics from Jaguars to Chevy's. Lots of interesting stuff amongst the participants, too, including an old Berliet seen here that looked and sounded very impressive:

I don't have many pictures at the moment, though there are a number of people who did take pics that I hope to be able to get hold of. A half-decent camera is on the list of "nice to have's" at the moment. This lovely Austin 7 caught the eye - these little cars always get lots of attention, they're like old Minis, Beetles, Minors and Fiat 500s, they all just seem to make you smile.

The Westfield caught Gareth's eye, very nice it was too, next to an absolutely mint, 13,000 mile from new 1972 Mini automatic:

Fantastic Porsche 911 Turbo won a prize ...

... as did the Maserati! I failed to take any pics of it and certainly wasn't expecting a certificate. 2nd in the 'Other Foreign' class was totally unexpected and perhaps left the owner of the mint Renault Caravelle soft top who only took home a Highly Commended a touch miffed, but I'm not going to complain, and I'll certainly be going back next year.

Good to see Gareth, Mark H, Mark D and some of the Bovington clan there too enjoying the weather!

I'm going to put a bit of elbow grease in for the Elvetham Heath show this coming weekend and see if I can get another honourable mention, though I suspect it will be a bit trickier :)

Petrolhead Nirvana at the Ace - July 09

So yet again I'm slack for months. Urgh, this blogging thing. Anyway there's tons of stuff to be updated on here.

I stumbled across Petrolhead Nirvana the other day, and it sounded a riot. I noticed they had a meet at the Ace Cafe coming up and so I pootled on over there this Monday just gone. Great bunch of petrolheads they are too, and I can see this is going to be a regular meet for me from now on. I had the mixed blessing of getting an easy parking spot, hiding at the back:
Of course the car park soon filled up with motors of all shapes and sizes from MX5's to a Murcielago, so I was going to be in it for the long haul:

No problem there though :) The fabulous weather obviously resulted in a great turn out and what a diverse range of machinery there was too. Lotus and the local Lotus dealer both turned up with black Evoras for everyone to have a sit in and drool over. It's probably not the greatest time to be introducing a new high-end sports car, especially at over £60k, but I'm sure it's going to sell well, given it's awesome writeups in the major motoring press and looking as good as this:

Wednesday, October 15

Saturday Drive

As Saturday was such a beautiful day, I decided to go out and enjoy it. I'm quite keen on heading up to the Dandenong Ranges, as it's such amazing scenery, contrasted from the flat areas closer to Port Philip Bay.

The roads are great fun, they range from unsealed tracks winding through the forest and hillsides to ... well, tarmac roads winding through the forest and hillsides, I guess.

One of the best attractions in the Dandenong Ranges is Puffing Billy. I'm still cursing myself for not having been on it yet, since I've been here so long now. But I got pretty close on Saturday. It winds 15 miles through the national park from Belgrave to Gembrook, and from the parts of the railway that are easily accessible from the road, looks like it's a spectacular journey.

There are apparently five original wooden trestle bridges along the line which date from when the railway was first opened around 1900. This one doesn't look like it's from the standard mould of railway bridges, but it's apparently very stable ...

I was lucky enough to be in the area when a couple of trains were headed through. Unfortunately they were going in the wrong direction for me to get the real classic tourist shots, but even so, it's quite impressive to watch.

On the way back I took some of the back roads and came out at Aura Vale Lake, which is very picturesque.

Over the main road from the lake is Cardinia Reservoir, or at least it's supposed to be there according to the map. There wasn't really anywhere to stop and take pictures but I was shocked how low it was. We're supposed to be at about 30% in our reservoirs at the moment; it didn't look anywhere near that full to me but then I don't really have any reference points to go by.

I got back to Frankston just in time to catch a beautiful sunset from Oliver's Hill.

It made the waterfront look idyllic - it's nice normally, but there's something about a good sunset that makes things look a bit better in a photograph.

Tuesday, October 14

Rant about the Global Financial Crisis

I'm going to do something I hadn't planned on doing on this blog, I'm going to get suddenly serious and topical. This wasn't meant to be about finance or politics, but I find a couple of the things that have happened over the last few days in particular slightly disturbing.

Firstly, the attitude of some of the senior management in the banks that are lucky enough to still be around at the moment. Take for a moment the fact that Lloyds TSB was one of the potential saviours for HBOS some days ago and is now revealed to be in need of the odd sniff of smelling salts and a good rub from a Premier League Trainer's Magic Sponge to make things better again. What happened there? I can't believe for one instant that there was some seismic shift in the last few days that saw the executives there scratching their heads and saying "Well, Clarence, I didn't see this coming, we'd better get on the Batphone to Number 10".

Clearly one week ago, two weeks ago even, it was possible for these guys to realise that the situation might just worsen a bit and that their bank could be next. I mean, these banks aren't lending each other any money for that very reason. "It's the state of the market, you know," they were probably saying. "How would we know if we'd get our money back? We have to be careful these days."

But when they see a competitor in trouble, circling the great plughole of bankruptcy with all the menace of a mid-west twister, it's suddenly all different. "Break out the wallet, chaps, we can make a killing on this one!" What do they hope to achieve? Seriously, when you look at it, they won't lend money to banks that are still in operation, but they wanted to BUY one that is going down the toilet ... Hey, Einstein, where's the bigger risk in THAT equation? Or were they just making a cynical land grab in order to bump themselves up the Market Share rankings, at who knows what cost to the long-term sustainability of their own bank? "Never fear, we can introduce some imaginary cost savings from the new acquisition onto our balance sheet for this financial year! Oh, and if we get big enough, the Government won't dare let us go bust"

But really, the big question marks in this respect have to be in the American market. JPMorganChase, for example, bought Bear Stearns back in May when (granted) the full reality of this situation had yet to hit home. Today, it's one of the top three beneficiaries of the US bailout. Aside from the possibility JPM didn't see this big crash on the horizon (and if you believe that, then please form an orderly queue, the withdrawal forms are on the counter), you have to wonder at their eagerness to gobble up the company that was at the leading edge of the sub-prime crisis more than 9 months prior to the deal, the company which was coughing up blood long before everyone else went looking for their own white flags.

Also finishing on the podium in the great US Bank Bailout Race 2008 is Bank of America, who swallowed up 'troubled' Merrill Lynch for the bargain basement value of $50bn (bargain because Merrill's market capitalization just over a year ago was $72.5bn; Mergers and Acquisitions generally happen for a premium on the market cap as a sweetener to existing shareholders). Almost exactly a month later, Bank of America promptly got $25bn of that back from the US Government in the bailout package. Now that's a deal, folks!

My second concern is that now we, the taxpayer, are guaranteeing the banks. These would be the same banks who "look after" our money for us, ostensibly because they can manage it better than we can. What does this say about the banks themselves?

For as long as we can remember, people have been told that money in the bank is much better than money in the mattress, and that the banks will safeguard your money in a way that nobody else can. But you almost have to smile at the irony when the taxpayer has to step in and steady the ship when the free market system would prefer to drive them into oblivion.

These are the banks that gave out mortgages and loans to people who really couldn't afford it in the first place. I can remember considering a mortgage in the UK when people were starting to talk about 100% of the property value at 5 times your annual salary, and this was seen to be a good thing. The same people would push credit cards and loans with huge no-interest, no-repayment periods onto the people who could least afford to purchase the expensive items that they would be used for.

I wonder if the governments haven't gone far enough, whether they should perhaps be completely nationalising and merging all of the banks together into a single finance centre, where people can go to get a home loan and what have you as long as they meet strict and publicly announced rules. When the taxpayer has to bail out the banks because they screwed up so badly with our money the first time round, you really need to question whether they are even relevant any more.

It is widely held that two things drive the financial markets - fear and greed. We saw the greed in evidence when institutions were trying to buy each other up even whilst in trouble themselves, and we saw the fear when they refused to lend money to one another to continue normal day to day activities. Even though we have had some painful lessons in the markets in the 80's, 90's and even in more recent times, the tenet of "Greed is good" has always held true within Wall Street and the other financial centres. Perhaps now, there will be a radical rethink of strategy. But then again, until all the people who got us into this mess are sacked or indicted, I think we'll be waiting for the Danish Bacon Air Display Squadron to come flying to the rescue.

Ultimately, to me, it looks like if you're not in the market and don't understand the market, you're always going to lose out.


For some interesting background, I urge you to check out this Four Corners episode, Mortgage Meltdown, first broadcast more than a year ago. I saw it for the first time today, and I marvel that while everybody knew the 800lb gorilla called Sub Prime was in the room, nobody wanted to do anything about it, until the very viability of the global financial system, and even the solvency of some large national economies, was in serious danger.

Saturday, October 11

Next door's Kitteh ...

... thinks he owns my place too.

Wednesday, August 20

Olympics meets Data Visualisation

I can't keep quiet about the Olympics any more - what an absolutely fantastic job so far by the British team! As the East Coast of Australia is only a couple of hours different to Beijing, the TV coverage here has been extensive (although because it's not on the ABC most of the events have to compete for air time against the adverts - any given hour of programming could have up to 20 minutes of ads).

These are some of the things I know for sure about the Olympics.
  • I know that London is going to struggle to match the spectacle of the Beijing Opening Ceremony, and probably shouldn't even try to compete.
  • I know that Michael Phelps is a machine, and I know that I've been making the mistake of eating his diet without doing his exercise for far too long. (Joke, by the way. Honest.)
  • I know that the pressure of 1.3 billion people's expectations resting on one man's shoulders is too much for anyone to bear.
  • I know that no other countries need to bother turning up to the velodrome in four years time.
  • I know that despite this, none of the cyclists will get more than a passing mention come December and SPOTY.
  • I know that if we can stay in third in the medals table, and be behind second place by less than one Michael Phelps-worth of medals, there should be an open top bus tour when the athletes return.
  • I know that our success is really winding the Australian media up, though the general populace doesn't really seem all that concerned, as long as Australia is doing well.
On that last point, I was driving home yesterday listening to Will and Lehmo and I was almost crying with laughter at their "The Brits must be cheating, call in with your proof" section (my favourite one - "They must be shipping in good athletes from elsewhere, I saw one of them smile the other day and he still had all his teeth". Followed closely by "One of their cyclists had an engine in his back wheel! He tried to hide it with a cardboard disc and claimed the noise was coming from spokey-dokeys!"

Qualifications required to survive in Australia: Sense of humour (check).

I also know that the New York Times medal map is one of the most visually pleasing ways of representing data that I've ever seen. And believe me, I've seen some web dashboards in my time!

Tuesday, August 12

Ahh, memories ...

I saw one of these pulling out of the basement car park at work yesterday:

It's a Maserati Quattroporte IV. I was very tempted to get one of these instead of the Ghibli, because it's far more practical, but in the end decided that it was too ugly. Having now seen one in the flesh up close, I have to say it looks a lot better in real life than it does in photos.

Cheap, crappy digital cameras seem to be able to get things all out of proportion.

Anyway, perhaps it was for the best, I have enough trouble with the Ghibli's ground clearance, imagine that plus an extra foot or so in the wheelbase and that's just asking for trouble.

Also on the way back home, I followed a Ferrari 360. I can honestly understand owning a GT car like the Ghibli, or a luxury sedan like the QP over here in Australia. Distances are huge, comfort is a big factor. But the Ferarri? C'mon. The speed limit is 60mph, and the standard of the roads is pretty awful. I can't imagine that it would be a pleasant experience to drive a supercar in Melbourne. Especially given that over here, every hoon's first car is a V8 that's older than they are, and they're all going to want to try it on at the lights.