May 31, 2014

Agents and Agencies

I've thought a lot over the last few years about how our world is organised, and how it has changed.  Namely, that everyone outsources. And this is ever-increasing, so that you get more and more layers to everything, and everyone gets more specialised.

The New York Times tweeted this yesterday:

Well, why not the fight against terrorism? Everything else specialises, and farms out what it is inefficient to do itself. It's the story of our age: everything uses third parties, agencies, proxies, aggregators.

I work in stockbroking operations. Since 2008 the stock market has been DEAD. For the last 3 years everyone has expected the coming year to pick up. Now we're saying 2015. Surely 2015? It has to pick up sometime!

In the meantime, as conventional brokerage has been DEAD, companies have been scrambling. The growth area (well, "growth" is a bit much - let's say "segment everyone is scrambling to") is to form small - tiny - advisory firms and build up a list of clients, and pay bigger brokers to do your trade execution. These days not only is the cost of running a brokerage firm prohibitive, but the compliance onus is very high. Only medium-to-large firms can do it now. Everyone else has given it up and is operating these tiny, ever-morphing advisory groups.  Many of those groups do work for other advisory groups, so for example, Broker A has client Firm B which has direct clients but also has a client Firm C which has its own clients, one of which is Firm D..... So you end up with very diffuse, multi-layered business and client structures.

Another growth area is portfolio "wrap" services and reporting services. These are aggregators, who take in data feeds from brokers and custodians and create custom reporting, data mining or portfolio management for clients. They might do this under their own banner, or offer "white labelling" so that reports are branded for another firm who passes them on to its clients.

Among brokers, even larger players are using each other to perform some functions, or execute for some sectors of their business. No one is trying to do everything anymore.

Everywhere the same thing is happening. Insurance: a million different small firms, underwitten by the old large ones that used to do it all. And various aggregator businesses specialising in filtering options and helping you choose.  Utilities: as governments have privatised services like electricity, we now have multiple providers, but it goes further: the electricity provider uses a billing service to manage its billing, and on-sells debts to a debt collection agency. I would not be surprised to learn that beyond each of these there are a further two or three "layers" or agents, responsible for different portions of the work.

Governments privatise services when they become too costly to run, which is essentially all of them in these days of low-taxing low-spending governments. Companies take them over and quickly work out they are not profitable, so the companies become more efficient and specialised and farm out or sell off the bits they can't afford to do to someone else.

Is it good?  Is it bad?  These questions were asked more often in the previous decade. We're all used to it now (more or less), and on balance I think it's good. It makes commerce vibrant and varied, it keeps things nimble and fosters growth and change. And it spreads risk and limits damage: if one part goes wrong it doesn't affect the whole; another small part springs up to take its place. What I can't figure out is if, holistically speaking, measuring the whole system, it is more efficient or not. I'm sure that it is, but it's hard to quantify. But regardless, whether it is or not, it is now such a fact of business and life that it's just the way it is. We could no more unwind it than we could un-layer an onion.

May 30, 2014

Three skills

I think I am an intelligent person, but I am not gifted in spatial logic. I have real trouble figuring out those flipped around shapes where you have to choose which ones are the same. I have to turn a map the way I am going.

Many years ago I went backpacking with my cousin J and her friend J (we called ourselves Triple J, ha ha). The friend J was a wizz with maps. Whenever we arrived in a new city, she could look at the map and immediately know which way to go. My cousin J, like me, has a terrible sense of direction, but she has one weird gift, that she always knows which way is north. I only know which way is north from two places: at my house, and driving up North Road.

While travelling through Turkey with J and J, we went by bus to Canakkale. The road followed the coast and it is really beautiful. At one point I was unable to work out which direction we were travelling in and started poring over the map laboriously trying to figure it out. It was a genuine epiphany to me when good-with-maps J pointed out that the sea was on our right so we were travelling in the direction where the sea was on the right side of the road on the map.  I'm serious. And this knowledge has been seriously helpful to me ever since.

Apart from school geometry and map reading, there are three other skills I have struggled with. I have finally mastered them all, but not without great hardship and difficulty.

1. Knowing which way to twist a thing to open it

The key to mastering this valuable skill is one small phrase which I learned from a bartender I worked with many years ago: LEFTY LOOSEY RIGHTY TIGHTY.  Oh, the other people there laughed at this bartender, aged 23, intoning seriously "lefty loosey, righty tighty", but that phrase has been INVALUABLE to me I tell you.

2. Knowing which way to put the batteries in

I finally decided to teach myself this and remember it forever, just LAST YEAR. I don't think about positive and negative and such, I just remember the flat end goes against the spring. YES!

3. Knowing which way to turn when I step out of the elevator at work

This one has been the hardest. I spent eleven years in my last work building, and I memorized which way to turn coming out of the elevator after about nine years.

I've been in my current work building one and a half years, but I'm getting older and I don't want to struggle with this another seven years, so I've made a real effort.

My problem is, I overlook the obvious. Because I can't do something, I assume it must be really intricate and clever (instead of considering that maybe I'm just thick).  So initially I started by trying to keep the spatial logic of the building in my head. I'd walk up to the elevator bank, and consider which way I was facing in the lobby in relation to the street outside, then picture in my head where the street was in relation to our office window upstairs, and in relation to the elevators on our floor.

But then JUST THIS MORNING while composing this post in my head, I got into the lifts and stepped out at my floor, and suddenly realised that if I get into an elevator on my right, then I turn right when I get out. If I get into an elevator on my left, then I turn left when I get out.

As you can no doubt immediately work out, this means that when I walk into our building and into the elevator bank, I am already facing the direction of my office.  Which means even my initial mental mapping method should have been easy.

But it wasn't.

How is your spatial logic?

May 25, 2014

Sunday Selections #173

It's time for Sunday Selections!
Sunday Selections is a weekly meme hosted by River at Drifting Through Life. 

The rules are very simple:-
1. post photos of your choice, old or new, under the Sunday Selections title
2. link back to River somewhere in your post
3. leave a comment on River's post and visit some of the others who have posted and commented: for example:
    Andrew at High Riser
    Gillie at The View From Here

 Here is this week's collection of orphan photos:

This is the front of a beautiful box of loose-leaf tea given to me by the grandfather of my daughter's best friend, who has recently returned from Sri Lanka

Rainbow Loom bands as featured in The Age today. This is a photo of a photo in the M Magazine in today's paper. The article was spot on about all aspects of this current craze. I particularly liked the description of enthusiasm, followed by frustration and tears, culminating in expert enjoyment. That's certainly the trajectory we've seen here. 

A lovely glass paperweight I bought many years ago, photographed recently so my daughter could post it on Instagram:


Here's the old Sherlock Holmes book I mentioned recently
Awarded to my grandmother by her school in 1936.

A Fairfax cartoon from this week. Tony Abbott is depicted badly bruised (one eye 'winking'!) and a bit bewildered after a shocking week that included budget criticism, student protests and the wink incident. Treasurer Joe Hockey, relatively unscathed, encourages him from a safe distance.

Book house, for my many-years-old Mexican onyx animal figurines, which the girls love to play with - when I let them

This pencil has multi-coloured lead: it draws a changing coloured line that is really pretty. Something that only existed in the imagination when I was a kid, but my kids think it is completely normal.

This one is a couple of weeks old, and he hasn't done it since. But it seems Harry had taken some lessons from the cat, who regularly lies on top of my newspaper.

How was YOUR week?

May 24, 2014

I forget new names as soon as I'm told them

Do you do this? Or have you managed to beat it?

I STILL do it. My only hope is to quickly write the name down or jot it in my phone, otherwise it goes. But writing down someone's name as soon as you're introduced to them is weird and creepy; the only time you get away with it I think is mums-at-the-school-gate in an our-kids-are-friends-lets-organise-a-playdate situation. Even there I've stuffed up - there are a couple of lovely mums at school who I just simply cannot ask their names again as I've done it at least once (twice) already, and "oh god I'm sorry I'm SO bad at names!" is only charming once (twice).

I've tried repeating the person's name back, it still doesn't stick.  I have noticed others doing that trick of asking you a couple of questions soon after being introduced and always including your name in each question. It is oddly flattering even though you know they're doing it to remember your name. Perhaps it's the effort of trying to retain your name that is flattering?

Anyway it's something I'm pretty terrible at, and I need to find a way to improve.

I've drawn a little cartoon of how this feels for me.

You see? It's not my fault! (I wish I could blame birds).

Do you forget people's names? Have you learned any good tricks for NOT forgetting?

May 23, 2014

What I've been watching

I haven't had a TV obsession since Breaking Bad.

Until now.

The last few days I've been poorly, and have spent a good amount of time lying down watching Sherlock on DVDs.

Magnificent. I love it.

Try this brief and perfect sample:

It is very clever and very funny. I read Sherlock Holmes stories as a kid at my grandmother's house, reading the volume she had received for a school prize and enjoying it immensely. I have that volume now and have not picked it up in many years, but I am now itching to read it again.

When my headache goes away that is.

For now, TV's modern Sherlock will suffice.

I can make do, I suppose.

I know, it's very boring and common to be enamored of Benedict Cumberbatch, but you can now add me to the throng of adoring fans.

What have you been watching lately?

May 17, 2014

Budget Bugbears

When the federal budget was handed down this week my initial reaction was less anger than I have now.

No, there is not actually a "budget emergency", and the constant spam about Labor's "spending" is unfair given we are actually talking about economic stimulus following the GFC - but, we do have a big deficit and it has to be fixed, and that means cuts to things we don't want to cut.

So, cuts to the public service? Expected. Not good - in some cases no doubt, terrible - but expected.

Return of the fuel excise? Not that terrible, a sensible measure.

Cuts to renewable energy programs? Totally expected given we all know where this government stands on that.

Cuts to family tax benefits? Both sides have had this on the agenda and the cuts were less than expected.

The income tax levy on higher-income earners: surprising for a coalition government, though of course it's not permanent.

But these things make me angry, firstly because they're wrong, but perhaps even more than that, because they are lies - they are nothing to do with fixing a "budget emergency", but are about ideology:

  • $20 billion medical research fund. Medical research and science are absolutely great and all, but this is wrong for two reasons. Firstly, if we are truly in the grip of a dire budget emergency and all sorts of cuts have to be made, why commit to this now? Secondly, it is funded by huge cuts to public health funding, and the outrageous GP "co-payment". Somehow I feel like this has Tony Abbott's health freakery stamped all over it. I don't know how, but you know, "it's the vibe of the thing".
  • $7 GP "co-payment" - very harsh, will have unintended (but entirely predictable) consequences, and it goes entirely against what Medicare is. Plus, it is nothing to do with fixing finances. $2 will go to the doctors (probably just to cover the admin required) and $5 to fund the medical research future fund. It is wrong, and unfair. 
  • Cuts to welfare generally. Abbott says we have to "break the welfare mindset". Well, there isn't one. Sure, there was in the past, from some people. But welfare bludging hasn't been a thing for years. People receiving disability pensions, Newstart and the like are already on the breadline. And also, why does "everyone" have to "chip in" to fix the deficit? Spread the pain, sure, but spare the very bottom. And yes, you could take a bit more from the top without hobbling business and waging class warfare.  
  • Funding increased for school chaplaincy program (despite growing public resistance to it) with removal of the current option for schools to use the funding to appoint a secular student welfare officer. It's religion or nothing. Sorry, but are we, or are we not, a secular state? And how can increased funding be found for school chaplains when school funding itself is being cut and we are in a budget emergency? Because the program is less about student welfare than proselytizing, that's why.

Look, for most of us it's not the end of the world. Times are tough economically, and things need to be done. This budget is not a total horror. I get sick of the silliness that is pervading public debate at the moment - that Abbott is evil, that Labor did no wrong whatsoever, that the government is sure to lose the next election (two years out!) based on its current unpopularity.  I'm a measured person, and the truth for me is always in the middle.

But there are things that many of us are unhappy with, and I'll leave the last word to Mike Carlton at the SMH, who wrote this week:
It is a delicious irony that Abbott has destroyed the faith the voters placed in him. Endlessly blackguarding Julia Gillard for her broken carbon tax promise and trumpeting himself as a paragon of probity, he raised the bar.
On Tuesday he fell beneath it, face down in the mud, and will never be trusted again.

May 9, 2014

Words for Wednesday: Riddles

'Words for Wednesday' is a writing prompt held by Delores at Under the Porch Light.
Use some or all of the week's words, write a poem or a story or part of a story, and visit Delores' current week's prompt to let her know you've joined in.

This week we have the option of playing a description game, using a second list of words.

I've decided to do this with riddles.  Can you guess what this week's words are? 
(I'll put the answers in the Comments)

A safer place you will not find
To hide small secret things inside
But if it has a hole don't doubt
Your precious things will all fall out
   What is it?

I used to use this item's light
To help me read my books at night
But now I lie in the dark in bed
And read books on my phone instead
 What is it?

Write upon me what you will
To remember one who you miss still
May the words upon my face
Provide some comfort in their place

What is it?

This may hang upon a wall
It may be big or may be small
What it shows is not quite me
But is the only version I can see

What is it?

From Latin for 'a room' this comes
A thing not blind, but deaf and dumb
Catch an image, store it well
To keep, to print, upload or sell

What is it?

Hold this item in your hand
You won't believe it's made from sand
Do not drop it, or you'll regret:
It will break and you'll get wet

What is it?

May 8, 2014

Things we don't need to see in any more movies

Last month I posted a list of weird situations that are common in movies

Continuing the fun, I now present a list of really, REALLY overdone things that are in a LOT of movies. Most of these are visual tropes, but some are just plain old cliches.

Got any more?

I've seen enough to last me forever of:

  • Runaway Ferris wheels rolling through city streets
  • Fruit carts being crashed into by cars
  • Random St Patricks Day or Chinese New Year parades 
  • Unhinged scientists
  • People/vehicles bumping into ladders and causing workmen to fall off them 
  • Men jumping off things into rivers before other things crash into them
  • Vehicles mounting footpaths during chases
  • Cars driving the wrong way down freeways
  • Dogs stealing strings of sausages from butchers
  • That really insanely heavy rain
  • Really mean high school football coaches 
  • Drill sergeants
  • Women screaming (or crying hysterically)
  • Men not screaming (or crying hysterically)
  • Overly literal, unimaginative scientists proven wrong by mystic/wonderous events
  • Any character living in a houseboat, for any reason
  • Young boys who are smarter/calmer than their grown women carers
  • Mysterious strangers at funerals
  • People running through airports being chased by security
  • Female villains wearing dark lipstick
  • Pies cooling on windowsills
  • Old guys in denim overalls sitting on porches
  • Dogs chasing cats through other people's houses
  • People caught kissing via their shadows behind a lit curtain/screen
  • Mechanics spitting on the ground
  • Bus passengers in third world countries traveling with cages of chickens 
  • Ululating women in black abayas 
  • People escaping being run over by lying down under trains/trucks
  • Cute children's drawings or painted signs that were obviously created by an art department
  • Creaking wooden screen doors banging while a wind chime twirls ominously 
  • Cork boards with papers tacked all over them to help the hero think
  • White boards with crime figure head-shots tacked to them and arrows joining them up
  • People hiding in bedroom cupboards with slatted doors
  • POV shots through camera lenses (complete with freeze-frame and clicking for photos taken) 
  • Partners who refuse to take the hero/ine's claims seriously despite mounting evidence
  • Children's school concerts that descend into chaos
  • Assistants saying "You can't go in there!" and then "I'm sorry sir, s/he just barged in" 

I feel like I could go on, but I will pass it on to you.

What other scenes and visual tropes are totally overdone in movies?

Stuart Miles /

May 6, 2014

Words for Wednesday: Memories of the Sea

'Words for Wednesday' is a writing prompt held by Delores at Under the Porch Light.
Use some or all of the week's words, write a poem or a story or part of a story, and visit Delores' current week's prompt to let her know you've joined in.

Last week's words were:







Memories of the Sea

In the lounge room above the wide couch was Holly's favourite painting, a beach scene. It was a wild beach, obviously windy, with pampas grass bending over on the dunes and gulls wheeling in the sky. A rolling wave crashed on some unseen rock, sending spray high into the air. Swirling foam lapped the sand.

Holly could imagine standing on that beach - the blast of salt air on cheeks, the crunch of broken shells in sand underfoot.  She imagined it so much, she had real memories of being there. Sometimes she walked with a dog, who barked at the spray and the gulls and ran in and out of the water. Sometimes she carried a stick for him. She called him back when he went in to swim, as the riptide was dangerous. Usually though, she was alone. She wore rolled up jeans and an old jumper, and her hair was long and untied. She passed through the crooked, broken palings of long-rotted fencing that marked the start of the public beach, down the small dunes past the grass and onto the rough sand. She walked, or she stood watching the sea and the gulls, arms wrapped around herself tightly. 

It was always late afternoon on that beach. It was always cool, and the sky clouded pink with the beginnings of a beautiful sunset. But Holly never saw the sunset. There was nowhere to go if it got dark while she was there, after all; that part didn't really exist. She didn't know if she was visiting (and if so, did she have a car?) or if she lived nearby and had walked. If she had walked, she had to get back home before evening. (Why?) Occasionally, she gave herself physical memories too: the itch of the pampas grass on her ankles, the sting of hair whipping her face, the beginnings of a blister in a sneakered foot.

Back in the lounge room the cries of the gulls began to fade and Holly pulled her hair into a pony tail. Her ankle was itchy and she scratched it with the toenail of her other foot. 

12 Resolutions: May (and April recap)

This year I'm playing along with #12Resolutions on Twitter and Facebook. The idea is to set yourself short-term, achievable goals, one each month. 

For April I set myself a very achievable goal (which I stole from Dr Bron who posted it for April herself): VISIT MY GP.

Yay, I succeeded!

It sounds simple. And it is. And it was. And yet it was something I had put off for FOUR years. I had my very overdue Pap test and had blood tests done and all is well and I can carry on.  Without that 'must visit the GP' thing nagging at the back of my head as it has for the last four years.

So it's time (a bit late actually) to set my resolution for May.

Late last year I enrolled in a professional accreditation course for Project Management, which is what I do for a living but I don't have the fancy letters to put on my CV to show off with. 

So far I've done very little of it.  I have done the important things of course: created inbox folders and Evernote folders, saved sites to my browser favourites, logged into my online library and downloaded books and articles of interest (some of them even related to my course). I've opened up each course in turn (there are four), looked through the modules and the topics and tried to guage how long each one will take me and which one I should do first. Last month I made a start and have done three topics in the first module.

But, I will admit, even though I have done all of that, I still have a lot to get through if I want to finish this course and sit my accreditation exams before the year is out. 

I want to finish the courses by end of the financial year, so my next few #12Resolutions are probably going to be about this.  I'll keep my posts brief as online study for business-related courses is not as fascinating as it sounds.



January: walk 5 times a week (done - I now walk daily)
February: write 2 short stories (failed - wrote none!)
March: write 1 short story, and start Project Management course (done)
April: visit GP and complete or schedule the follow-ups (done)

May: complete one module of Project Management course

May 5, 2014

Nude lipstick

Nude shades are back in makeup and in particular lipstick.

Cosmetic ads are featuring lips like this:

marin /

This is a shade I used to wear sometimes in my twenties. Cue nostalgia shot: me swanning around Santorini, wearing pale creamy lipstick, oversized sunnies, black platform sandals and a black swing dress. I thought I looked pretty hot.

The one I used to wear was a Gerlain Kiss Kiss (my first expensive lipstick) in a pale, pale fawn shade. I bought a second one when it ran out, and then the shade was discontinued and fashion moved on.

So recently I had a sudden urge to try a nude lipstick. Being older and poorer, I bypassed my old favourite makup retailers Gerlain and Estee Lauder, and headed for the supermarket.

I picked up this, which I thought would probably suit most people, including me.

WRONG! It does not suit me at all. I think of my skin as fairly pale, but it is not as pale as it was, these days. Wearing this lipstick makes my skin look dark, wrinkly and blotchy.

I guess I'm not twenty-five anymore.

But all is not lost.  I have found that if I wear this lipstick and then apply a red balm on top, I get a lovely shimmery pinky-caramel shade which is much nicer.

It also makes a good cream eye shadow.

May 4, 2014

Sunday Selections #170

It's time for Sunday Selections!
Sunday Selections is a weekly meme hosted by River at Drifting Through Life. 

The rules are very simple:-
1. post photos of your choice, old or new, under the Sunday Selections title
2. link back to River somewhere in your post
3. leave a comment on River's post and visit some of the others who have posted and commented: for example:
    Andrew at High Riser
    Gillie at Random Thoughts From Abroad

This week I have photos from ... today!

The kids were determined to go to the park today - with a picnic - despite the weather.  

I packed some snacks and off we went.

The park looked like this:

When we arrived, it was raining hard, so we ate lunch in the car, the kids in the front pretending to be spies on a mission driving a car and me in the back pretending not to listen.

When the rain stopped - or more accurately, slowed down for a bit - we got out and the kids got a good half hour playing on the equipment before the rain came back.  They even had a swing by sitting on their jackets.

I walked around the park a few times, as I've decided to do every park visit now, instead of sitting on a bench.

Then we went to the supermarket to buy cake ingredients, and home to make chocolate cupcakes.

M. is into googling and baking at the moment, and this is a recipe she found herself.  It is from Taste, and is here. It is very easy, and makes quite a rich cake. The ganache on top is very rich though, and I would leave it off next time.

Instead of milk, the liquid in these comes from three eggs (instead of the usual two), and melted chocolate-and-water.

My favourite mixing bowl with the handle and pouring spout is not great for sitting on top of a saucepan to melt chocolate, but it works.

These photos are actually of the ganache-making stage later:

I had to double-check the recipe because the oven temperature is only 160 degrees (normal for cakes is 180) and cooking time is only 20 minutes. But sure enough, it was right - the cakes cooked to perfection and rose nicely too.

The icing - sorry, ganache - on top is made from more dark chocolate, melted with sour cream.  It is a bit too bitter for my taste, and very rich.  Also, the recipe makes a huge amount of it. I made two thirds the amount the recipe called for, and even after applying it generously to the cakes, had more than half of it left over.  As none of us liked the ganache that much, that went in the bin.

But the cakes were certainly easy and came up a treat.

What else to do on a rainy day?

The kids surprised me by pulling out an old toy from the cupboard, one they haven't played with since they were little. Because even Big Kids can play with Little Kid toys, after all.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...