Monthly Archives: April 2009

Rudd Stimulus Package lets down struggling small businesses

Preamble

The year is 2009, the world economy is seriously in the brown stuff, primarily due to a lack of regulatory oversight of US financial institutions.  The Australian Labor (supposedly socialist) government under Kevin Rudd creates an Econonic Stimulus Package to promote economic growth in these difficult times and reduce the effects of recession.

Let's give out lots of money!

Part of the Economic Stimulus Package involves cash hand-outs to those earning under $100k AUD per annum.  The amount of these hand-outs is determined by income, with a maximum of $900 AUD per person.

Who can object to free money?  If someone were to give me a legal, tax-free 900 dollars I should be delighted – if it were not for the fact that this money actually has to come from somewhere.  Putting the nation in to debt to give people freebies doesn't strike me as being sound economic practice but heck, I'm a software developer, what would I know?  Nor could I really object if someone actually gave me some "free money".

The hidden conditions

I – and many others – have only just discovered the hidden conditions behind the cash hand-out.  Whilst this has been much touted in the media for some time, these conditions have been quietly ignored.

Let me divulge my own business situation: as those who know me are already aware, I have had chronic health issues for the last few years that have seriously impacted my ability to work, and thus my income.  Due to my short hours, in the last tax year, my nett profit was such that I did not pay any income tax.  (I did, however, collect GST and had to donate my own time for free to the Australian Tax Office to report this.)

It was only when I received a newsletter from my accountants, which had an article on the Stimulus Package, that I discovered that the hand-outs were only going to those who had actually paid income tax or Medicare Levy in the past financial year.  Did I hear this from the government press-releases?  Was this ever mentioned in the media coverage?  No.  It took until the time when the supposed hand-outs were to be given out that I found that I wasn't going to get anything.

It is not the fact that I am not going to get free money (and thus run the country into debt) that annoys me – it is the fact that this fairly significant condition was never openly disclosed.

It gets worse

That I am not entitled to the benefits because I have not been able to work enough are neither here nor there.  What is far worse is that small businesses that are trading normally but, for whatever reason, have not made a profit are also missing out.  I know of a person who runs a specialist retail business (food industry) who made a good turnover but, due to current conditions, did not make sufficient profit to be paying income tax.  The result: no hand-out.

To me, if anyone actually needs the "free money" then it is small businesses that are struggling. The retailer I mentioned already had plans for the stimulus money before she found out that it wasn't happening.

Small businesses are the life-blood of any nation; to ignore those that need help whilst giving help to those who don't really need it is ill-considered, to put it mildly.

I will pre-empt the cynics who may regard this as commercial natural selection: whilst some small businesses will always be doomed to failure, many current hardships are due not to poor business planning/market research but to external pressures over which business owners have no control.  In the same way in which public healthcare protects and nurtures the population (or at least it should,) "economic healthcare" should be protecting and nurturing businesses, especially those that are most frail and need this healthcare the most.

Conclusion

Whilst there are still benefits that can be enjoyed by those missing out on the benefits described (tax incentives on new capital purchases – if they can be afforded,)  I feel that the whole hand-out scheme is ill-conceived.  Not only does it not reach some of those who really need it, but it is putting the nation – including the recipients – into debt that they certainly do not need.

By the way, if you are a small business owner who is struggling and, by reading this, have just found out why that cheque hasn't turned up, please don't blame me; I may be the Harbinger of Bad Tidings but am not about to fall on my sword as I have already been wounded enough by the government's deception (intentional or otherwise) in this sad affair.

 

TinyURL for this page: http://tinyurl.com/cgboln

Serendipity and German Popular Music

Preamble

I have been listening to two German bands since I was in my early teens: Kraftwerk and Nena.  Last year, in building my collection of the music of these two bands (mostly replacing long-lost vinyl,) through means serendipitous I discovered more modern German music which I liked very much.  For those who don’t mind music with lyrics in a foreign language, here are some suggestions to widen the horizons.

Kraftwerk

My father recorded (on open reel) a radio broadcast of Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn”; he was fascinated with this track, especially the stereo effects.  It is one of the pieces of music that is now stuck in my mind as “music of my childhood”.  My first direct contact with Kraftwerk (ie: not via my father) was The Model.  I loved that track.  I then went and bought “The Man Machine” (from which The Model comes) and Autobahn (the album) on vinyl. Note that we are still talking ancient history here.

Years went by, including ones where I listened to very little music. With the arrival of my iPod (or eyeProd as I call it,) I decided to start rebuilding my music collection.  Some of my vinyl (which – to the best of my knowledge – is sitting in a friend’s loft in England) had already been replaced with CD. All my CDs were “ripped” to iTunes.  Kraftwerk was one of the bands for which I wished to increase my collection.  The iTunes Store yielded only one album, if I remember correctly (Tour de France.)  All other Kraftwerk albums had to be obtained on CD via amazon.com or amazon.de.

Nena

Remember 99 Red Balloons?  That came out the year before I took my German ‘O’ level exams at school.  We all loved it.  I bought the UK release “Nena” album which had English re-works of some tracks on Side A and some of the original German ones on Side B.  Whilst there is a certain timelessness to the works of Kraftwerk, Nena is one of those bands that might come and go as fashions change.  However, as I have grown older, my love for the music of Nena has been undiminished.  I assume that dates me somewhat.

When I lived in the UK, I had the one Nena album – on vinyl.  This was before the days of Amazon and way before the days of music over the Internet.   Over the last five or so years, I have continued to build my Nena collection – from iTunes Store where possible, with older stuff coming on CD via amazon.de

I’ve loved every single album.  For some reason, “Willst Du Mit Mir Gehn” didn’t gel with me for the first two playings.  I was actually thinking “oh no, what has happened?”  But now I do not understand the earlier antipathy – I really like this album, which is great for long trips, like the bus from here to Adelaide.

It was when I purchased my last Nena CD from amazon.de that I was given a recommendation of:

Klee

Klee is a band that has backed Nena on tour.  Through Amazon’s preview system, I was able to hear a couple of brief samples and decided to give them a go.   Their first album, Unverwundbar, remains my favourite to date.

Once again, due to the lack of content on the iTunes Store, I was forced to buy a Klee CD through amazon.de.  When I purchased this, I was given a recommedation of:

Rosenstolz

Klee is good pop, but Rosenstolz (site in German, WARNING: Flash-based site) is far more my cup of tea, especially the earlier stuff.  Kassengift, to me, is their definitive album.  I also note that this duo is of my age group, not that this is really relevant to the discussion.  Anna’s vocal delivery on Kassengift tend towards the operatic, which I love.  (I like opera.)

The track “Total Eclipse” on the Kassengift album – which is actually a cover of a song by Kristian Hoffman for Klaus Nomi – has been re-worked with Marc Almond and:

Nina Hagen

Nina Hagen, what can I say? Find out what you need to know about who she is on Wikipedia but be advised that she is one of a kind; somewhat alternative, with operatic training and a voice that – I am lost for words to describe it.  If you like punk, if you like opera, if you like the unconventional, if you want a real musicians’ musician, Nina Hagen is for you. I have yet to acquire a complete collection of her works (some are rather pricy on amazon.de,) but she has become one of my firm favourites.

Conclusion

Assuming that you, dear reader, are familiar with the works of Kraftwerk and Nena, you may wish to broaden your horizons with regards to popular German music.  There really is some fantastic stuff out there.  My oral German is very poor – I can understand very little of the sung lyrics in what I have described, but this bothers me not.  It just sounds good. (I also like the operas of Richard Wagner and I can’t understand a word of what is sung there.)  Go forth, discover, enjoy!

 

TinyURL for this article: http://tinyurl.com/clsojb

Dear Oracle…

Dear Oracle Management

Allow me to congratulate you on your prospective purchase of Sun Microsystems (regulators willing.)  The potential synergy of your business methods and Sun's products is quite awesome.

Another thing that would be quite awesome would be if you were to allow the use of your database and tools under the same FOSS terms as Solaris, MySQL, Java, Glassfish, and friends.  As a small, independent, developer I would love to integrate your products that have, to date, been outside of the financial reach of both myself and my clients. In doing so, I would be able to help increase your market penetration.

I hope that the acquisition goes smoothly for you.

Sincerely yours

A. Developer

Smiffy’s Random Tech Tips

Preamble

(Listen carefully, I shall say this only once!)

Every now and then I feel a need to communicate various little technical tips that stem from my work or stuff that I observe on the web.  They rarely get written up because they tend to be too short to justify an article on Smiffy’s Place and, now that I am using Twitter, too long to fit into a silly 140 character limit, even when written in Newspeak and with ridiculous abbreviations.

Today I decided to start making collections of these as draft articles, publishing those articles when I felt that I had enough to make it worth anyone’s while to read them.

The number of tips per article is something on which I am, as yet, undecided.  Somewhere between 3 and 10 sounds sensible to me, so I may well just stick at that.

The First Tips

(X)HTML authoring – the Joy of Comments

Add comments to the end of block-level elements with IDs so that you can see what you are closing and pick up any orphaned </div>s, etcetera, that are stopping your code from validating.  (This can also apply to classed elements.)

This can also help other people working on the same project keep track of what you are doing, say you are writing backend code and someone else is doing the styling.  (Documenting your IDs and classes can save others on the project much frustration and puzzlement.)

Unless you have a specific reason to retain them, comments may be removed easily using regular expressions or other pattern patching. Note that superfluous comments can contribute to the overall weight of a page and thus slow down your site for visitors and also eat into your bandwidth.

Hardware repairs, modifications – Use a Camera

Where hardware can be anything from laptops to washing machines to cars to X-Wing Fighters.

In addition to the tools that you would use regularly, have a digital camera on hand and photograph every stage of disassembly, especially if you do not have a manual.

I recently had cause to disassemble our wheelbarrow so that it could be stripped of its defective powdercoat and painted.  There was a gap of a couple of months between the disassembly and the painting/reassembly.  Without the photographs that I took, I would probably have a very strange-looking wheelbarrow now.

The “use a camera” tip can also extend to excavations.  If you are building or renovating a house (shed, office, bat cave, whatever,) photograph all trenches where pipes and cables run, from several angles.  This can be very helpful in the event of any future excavations, fencing work, etcetera.

Don’t forget to file your images where you can find them again (tagging with Picasa can be useful,) and make sure that they are backed up.

Pressure pumps – the Peril of Snails

This one’s a bit obscure – mainly applies to rural Australia.

If you have an outside electric pump on rainwater (or other) service which has not been run for a while, remove the fan cowl (with power disconnected!) before operation to check for infestation of white snails.  These may or may not cause the pump to jam, but should be removed anyway.  Also check that the pump is primed and any inlet valves are on before starting.  And put the fan cowl back.

JavaScript – JSLint

If you are working with large chunks of JavaScript (ECMAScript,) you may wish to consider validation using JSLint.  You may also wish to consider checking that you are using good programming practices: always declare your variables, comment your code, don’t try coding when you are too drunk, etcetera.

Conclusion

There you go, just a little taster.  More will follow, sometime.

TinyURL for this article: http://tinyurl.com/d3jdqb

Accessible Twitter, Accessible Tweets

Preamble

Twitter is one of a host of web-based social networking tools, excellent in concept, but (in my opinion) less-than-perfect in implementation – especially when it comes to usability/accessibility.  Whilst this article discusses Twitter and Twitter messages (updates, tweets,) certain aspects apply equally to other contexts.

Accessibility Through Alternative Interfaces

Like many of the web applications that I encounter, it appears to me that little (if any) thought has gone into the accessibility and usability of interface. I see little point in working through the issues and proposing possible solutions when this work has already been done and can be seen as Accessible Twitter. Accessible Twitter, the work of one Dennis Lembrée, is still in the alpha stage of development but is already everything that the Twitter web interface should be and more.

In a way, Twitter actually gains accessibility points through offering the API which Accessible Twitter and numerous other alternative interfaces operate – if one looks at the Big Picture. (My more cynical side looks at the API as a cop-out on the part of Twitter: Don’t like the interface? Here, go build your own.)

Could this be the modern-day “provide a text alternative” from WCAG10? (Which was also a cop-out.)

However one feels about this, APIs for many web applications are available and may be used as a Force for Good (or at least to provide more usable/accessible interfaces.)

What the Heck Did That Mean?

Twitter has one major limitation: 140 characters.  Historically, this was to allow messages to be sent by SMS; SMS messages can be up to 160 characters (or 2 lines of an 80 column terminal for those old enough to remember) long.  The 140 character Twitter limit is based on 20 characters of user name plus 140 characters of message.  I have always questioned the logic of this; if Twitter was designed to work via cellular telephones, why not use WAP which has no limits? (The sophistication of today’s cellular telephones – even the basic ones – offers a host of better ways to work than SMS.)

Here is not the place to debate this issue, nor is there any real point in doing so – Twitter has a 140 character limit: it is a given, we are stuck with it, end of story.

Brevity is the Soul of Wit

If this is so, oh, what a witty place Twitter must be!  (My attempt at humour in less than 140 characters.)  There are those who argue that the 140 character limit can make us better communicators.  This I dispute: if it takes me 20 seconds to type a message and then a further 5 minutes trying to re-phrase, remove punctuation, and (horrors!) abbreviate words to fit that message into the permissible 140 characters, I do not feel that this is effective use of my time.

Whilst many messages might fit into 140 characters without requiring any form of re-work or compression (“happy birthday!”, “dinner’s ready”, “war is peace”, “ignorance is strength”, “freedom is slavery”,) there is much that does get shortened into an oft-incomprehensible form of Newspeak. I read Twitter messages from people that I know beyond the realms of Twitter and frequently find myself mystified by industry-specific abbreviations which leave me thinking “what the heck did that mean?”  Generally I feel too embarrassed to ask.

Accessibility Implications

Consider this: however we access Twitter, it can be considered to be “on the web”.  Twitter messages are, therefore, web content.  If the various interfaces to Twitter are used to create web content, that makes them authoring tools.  Should these interfaces therefore be covered by the ATAG? No, that’s not part of the discussion.  Just thinking tangentially there.

Twitter messages are, nevertheless, web content.  By causing people to use degenerate (can’t think of a better term) language (2 for ‘to’, 4 for ‘for’, u for ‘you’ – and all the others that make me twitch and occasionally froth at the mouth,) the web content that is Twitter messages becomes anything but plain language – and thus becomes less accessible, especially to those for whom the language in question is not a first language, those with literacy issues, etcetera.

Answers?

I have no practical answers to this issue.  One can write a blog post with the required text and post a link with just a headline on Twitter.  This, however, is just too slow and inefficient.  A 200-word answer to a one-off question may not justify a blog post anyway.

Splitting a message into a series of Twitter messages is something that I have seen a few times but:

  • Twitter has very little support for message threading.
  • Messages may arrive with messages from others interspersed and thus lose sense due to the broken context.

Conclusion

This article seeks to raise awareness of the following:

  • Third-party applications may be used in place of Twitter’s less-than-perfect web interface.
  • The limitation in length of Twitter messages may create accessibility issues due to the use of abbreviations and degenerate language.

@smiffy

TinyURL for this article: http://tinyurl.com/cbxphx

Further Reading

Cider Farm For Sale!

The proprietors of the highly successful Thorogoods Apple Wines based in Burra, South Australia, are looking towards retirement so are seeking expressions of interest from those who might want to take on the business.

They have established the orchards, the brand, the reputation – all it needs is someone to continue the success.

Visit The Cidershed to learn how you can own your own boutique cider business!