Vale Billy the Pig

Vale Billy the Pig

Billy the Pig was one of a kind.  She had the sweetest temperament right up to the end. Unfortunately her body - or parts of it, gave out and we had to make the hard decision to let her go. And hard it was.  Even at the very end there were contented snuffles as she munched her favourite treat of pear.  It was heart breaking.

Billy had been with us for over 13 years, and when we first picked her up it was in a cat carrier.  Before we had to put her on a diet we estimated she weighed over 200kg. She was fiercely independent and would not accept help even when it was obvious she couldn't get around without it.

When she blew her cruciate ligament and had to be separated from her sister, she seemed quite happy with the situation. No doubt not having to fight with her pushy sister for food was part of that.  Still, for over 8 months she was kept apart and never lost her sweet nature, and was always up for a cuddle, even it if was a pretext for giving her an injection.

Sweet Billy, we are raising a glass in your honour.  We will sorely miss you

Gone Girl

Gone Girl
Injira in a chicken brooder looking for rats

On Saturday my stupid, lovely, endearing, infuriating, dearly loved dog Injira died suddenly in tragic circumstances.  It appears she attempted to jump a picket fence and ended up getting caught up, breaking her neck, and dying. My poor wife discovered her.

Losing a dog is not new to us.  We have been married for over 30 years and have outlived 8, now 9, dogs.  The difference with this one is the manner of her death.  Most of the other dogs we knew their death was coming, and were able to prepare for it, however briefly in some cases (I'm thinking of you, Daicos and Meg). This time there was no way of preparing and the shock hit us both hard.  So much so I'm only now game to try and put my thoughts into words.

Injira was a rescue - as have been most of our dogs.  A staffy cross, totally insane but lovable all the same.  She tried her damnedest to kill herself multiple times over the 10 or so years we had her.  From running out and getting hit by a car - luckily only grazed and no real injuries, to trying to get kicked to death by an alpaca - multiple times.  She had no respect for boundaries or fences, and for a little dog, had an impressive ability to jump.

On the other side, she would spend most mornings with her head resting on my chest or hip as I read my email before getting up out of bed.  She would love to go out of a night on our rat hunts - we were a team.  She'd wait until I was able to get the rats running and then she'd pounce.  I know it sounds gruesome but we live in the country and the rats are a huge problem.  She would jump up into all sorts of places to hunt out rodents. The photo above was taken where she had jumped into a disused chicken brooder that was precariously balanced on a pile of boxes.  She didn't care.  When it was time to go outside she would ignore anyone and anything in her rush to get going - keeping her eyes on me to see if we were really going outside.  More than once she has jumped off my lap and landed on another dog in her haste.

She was always the last to get out of bed and the first back in.  If you felt like an afternoon nap or were feeling poorly and snuck off to bed, Injira would be there with you.  When I was working she would find the dog bed closest to me and settle down.

She tolerated our other dogs but hated any foreign dog - making walks in the park a nightmare.  For a small dog she had a lot of strength, and would just about pull your arm out of its socket trying to get to another dog.  She was absolutely fearless.  She'd take on anything from a rat to a fox to an Irish Wolfhound.

And then she was gone. And there is an Injira sized hole in our lives - which is surprisingly large for such a small creature.

We'll miss you.

Its a Total Fire Ban and I'm tense

As I type this I'm thinking about the fires in NSW and Qld and the 6 RFS members in hospital right now and the 2 RFS members killed. As far as I'm aware they were all volunteers. Like me. I'm also thinking about the fact it is a Total Fire Ban (TFB) day, the temperature expected to get to 46 (it is 44 now) and the wind is picking up. Dry thunderstorms are predicted later this afternoon. I'm tense. Waiting for the inevitable pager that calls me out onto a tanker and out to fight an implacable, relentless and completely indiscriminate enemy.

I live in a relatively safe part of Victoria as far as fires go. It is mainly grass fire risk, and the majority of fires are started by lightning strikes, machinery malfunction or misuse, or embers from other fires. Even so, the risk is real, and ever present at this time of the year. This is the time of year that normal farming activities become risks of starting fires. A harvester hitting a rock can produce enough sparks to set fire to the tinder-dry crop, and it may not be immediately obvious to the operator. While we hope that farmers don't engage in risky activity during a TFB, at some stage they have to harvest or lose the crop.

I'm also a contractor. That means that if I am not at the computer, I am not doing billable work, and I don't get paid. I'm not pointing this out to seek pity. It is just a fact of life. A data point. As a contractor working in the computer industry I'm probably luckier than others. I can at least do some work outside normal working hours. Others are not so fortunate.

I also live on acreage and have animals and poultry. My wife and I are getting outside every half hour or so to water down pens and check on the animals. I know I'll have to bury some birds this year that will have died from heat stress, despite all of our precautions. It happened last year, and will continue to happen in the coming years.

A lot has been said about this fire season, which has really only just begun, and climate change and politicians and getting the ADF to help out. A lot has been well meaning, a lot scathing, and a lot misinformed. Let me give my take on it.

We are currently in an existential crisis. The climate emergency is not waiting for politicians to make up their mind. It is here, it is now. If you still believe that climate change is a hoax then fuck off now. You are just making it easier for politicians to put their heads in the sand. There is no credible scientific evidence of your claim - the climate is getting hotter, it is caused primarily by burning fossil fuels. Get over it and deal with it. I have no sympathy for your position. Even the oil companies have known what they were doing for more than 30 years, and like the tobacco companies before them they have spent billions in trying to undermine the science and get politicians to sit on their hands. Unlike tobacco, the climate is completely non-selective when it comes to its victims. Nobody is immune to the effects, no matter how much you might like to think otherwise. Stop enabling them.

Politicians like to say we need to go slowly or we might hurt the economy. Sorry, that one doesn't wash either. Investment in renewables, and in the grid to enable renewables to take a bigger role, is going to bolster the economy. Even now renewables are cheaper than fossil fuels in energy generation - one of the largest contributors to CO2. They say that we have to be mindful not to hurt the coal industry because it is a money earner and if we don't dig it up someone else will. Why don't we take the $2 billion or so that we currently give to the mining industry to prop it up and instead spend it on bolstering renewables? That would pay dividends beyond the surplus-fanatics dreams. But no, somehow coal mining is sacred. The car industry was left to die on the vine, and that employed something like 3 times what coal mining does. Automation is seeing less jobs in coal. On any purely free market view, renewables is where the action is. Coal mining is on life support.

The finger is often pointed to India and China as building new coal-fired power stations so what we do doesn't matter. I don't know about China, but I do know that in India many of the proposed coal generators are unlikely ever to be built due to water stress and air quality. Even now two of the largest are 7 and 9 years behind schedule with not even a sod turned in the latter case. In India there are something like 17 provinces that are now declared as "eternally in drought". There is intense pressure in India to cut coal. They are facing similar issues to us - politicians unwilling to wean themselves from the teat of the fossil fuel lobby. But action is happening, and things are moving quickly. Watch this space...

How do I know this? As I said I work in the computer industry. One of the companies I work with is a non-profit that is already achieving greenhouse gas reductions with innovative solutions. They work with electricity grids worldwide, and with governments and other stakeholders. Their system is already legislated to be used to make energy storage systems throughout California carbon negative. I.e. they will be removing CO2 from the Californian grid by clever algorithms to ensure they don't charge when the grid is powered by coal or gas. I've seen the data. They are now working with Google to extend that coverage worldwide using satellite imaging to detect emissions. This is just a tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of groups actively working out how to reduce carbon in a way that is compatible with a free-market economy. It is possible, it is happening, and it will only accelerate.

Back to politicians. Well one in particular. Scott Morrison. Our Prime Minister. The guy who touted a piece of coal through parliament. The guy who was missing in action and only returned when fire fighters died. The guy who thinks that coming back the day he was expected is cutting short his holiday. The guy who won't talk about climate change. The guy who thinks saying sorry for people taking offence is anything other than passive aggressive insult. The guy who doesn't understand that leadership isn't just having the title and saying you are on top of things while sipping a mai tai. That guy. I think I'm done there.

What can ScoMo do? A lot. I can't think of another PM that has been as cavalier in his duty than ScoMo. You are there to govern for all, not just the chosen. You could, for instance, show up on a fireground and hand water bottles out. Sure, it doesn't do anything, but it does show that you are interested in "the quiet Australians" you so often go on about. You could have made a few quick calls and got some food and water supplies to the firegrounds. You could have declared a climate emergency, as well as a national emergency and all that that entails. You could have given a damn. But you didn't. You don't. You can't.

Meawhile the chatter on the CFA radio is now almost constant. Fires in multiple areas in our region. I'm still tense, still waiting, still haven't had to turn out - yet.

Tipping point and the pollies play

I am not surprised by this week's ousting of yet another Prime Minister in Australia - the fading glory of the ultra-conservatives lashing out was all too predictable.  However it comes at a time when clear and focused policies need to be put in place to save not only Australia, but humanity.  We are at a tipping point - actually two, one good, one bad.  The bad tipping point is that if we don't do something about climate change we are going to be too late to stave off the worst of its effects.  The good is that there has never been a better time to actually do something about it.

Solar PV (Photo Voltaic - or the direct conversion of sunlight to electricity) is at an all-time high, generating jobs across the globe.  Even better, it generates jobs in rural and regional communities.  Battery storage systems are now being deployed at grid-scale for stabilisation and time-shifting of available renewables.  Software to be able to directly provide demand-side responses to the cleanliness of the grid are now becoming available.  All of these together, along with wind and hydro, are coming at prices that undercut fossil fuels and make mincemeat of the arguments of the right that we can't have reliable power without fossil fuels.  The South Australian grid-scale battery storage system has already saved that goverment millions of dollars just in grid stabilisation services, besides what it offers in time-shifting of demand for renewables.

To the politicians of Australia, why are you so tightly linked to the fossil economy?  What dirt do they have on you that you are scared to go against them?  Sure they provide heaps of funds for your election, but aren't you supposed to be governing for all Australians, and not just those with deep pockets (and deeper holes in the ground)?  Surely even you can see that renewables provides better jobs growth than mining, and the related jobs in IT and tech to fine tune and realise the fullest potential are just off the scale when comparing to mining - which is becoming more and more automated, meaning less and less jobs.

Some of the biggest users of electricty on the globe are moving rapidly away from fossil fuels, many with idealism, but mostly because of pragmatism - it is far cheaper and it is easier to create meaningful change in emissions in the energy market.  How is it that you've missed the boat on that?  There are 3 states in the US actively pursuing virtual grid-scale batteries (similar to the proposal that South Australia had before the change of government) while there are at least 5 others lining up behind them to see how they go.  And I'm not talking small states here - I'm talking about some of the largest economies in the US.  All of the top US tech and retail giants have moved to or are moving to 100% renewable energy, and many are demanding it in their supply chain.  Yet here in Australia we still think that burning dead dinosaurs is the future.  It isn't.  It isn't even the present.  It is the past.  Get over it. Catch up with what the state of the art is - and it isn't that oxymoron "clean coal".

I'm currently working with some fantastic people whose software can virtually eliminate carbon from the grid based on modifying demand.  It is exciting to see that some of the biggest electricity users, and grid operators, are looking at this to enable their future.  Yet in Australia our politicians don't even give a damn about farmers going bankrupt due to drought, because if they are bankrupt they can't bankroll your election fund.  To the voters of Australia - demand your right to a livable planet, if not for you, for the next generation.  Knock on your local member's door and demand that they stop pandering to coal and start doing the right thing.

More fixing - more waiting

More fixing - more waiting

Our Saeco Talea Giro Plus automatic coffee machine bit the dust a year or so ago, at Christmas, while we had guests - so it hasn't been popular.  I'd replaced the power board as it kept blowing fuses, but that again did so - so it was stuck in a corner in pieces as I contemplated my options.  The other night I got to work and managed to get the beasty working again.  Primarily it just didn't like the over voltage situation here that we finally got sorted out when it was causing random shutdowns on our solar inverter.

Parts for a power tool battery charger arrived, only to find that I'd ordered the wrong case style, in both cases.  Firstly I ended up with a 3225 (1210) style SMD resistor instead of a 3216 (1206), and they were tightly squeezed so the extra few millimetres meant that they'd be on top of each other.  In a similar vein I ordered a MOSFET with a TO-263 case (D2PAK) instead of a TO-252 (DPAK) case.  I could probably have gotten away with that one as the better heat transfer would have worked in my favour, except that it would cover the screw hole for the associated heat sink - meaning I'd need to do board mods to get it to fit - which I wasn't really up to and the bloke I was fixing it for is overseas at the moment, so time isn't an issue.

I've also got parts on order for an inverter that we use in the car to power my laptop.  It has been sitting in a box for almost a decade and died when I tried to use it to power a fluorescent light fitting - even though it was well within the wattage, I'm guessing the startup current and power factor was enough to kill it.  It didn't blow the fuse, but it does seem to have taken out the primary MOSFETs. Everything else looks OK, so hopefully it will be a simple job once the parts are here.