Going green Home life

CFLs – an everyday household object that is almost impossible to dispose of properly

The entire country converted to Compact Fluorescent Light-globes years ago, which is great, as they use much less energy and have a longer life.

Well, if you use them properly. For instance I don’t use CFLs in the bathroom/toilet, as these lights are generally on for short periods of time, and CFLs are better when used for 15 minutes or longer.

And the greenhouse gas reduction might be overstated – this Wikipedia article reckons it has resulted in a total nationwide GHG reduction of just 0.14%.

Stash of dead CFLsThe real problem is there seems to be no well-organised way to dispose of them safely. You’re not meant to just chuck them into landfill because they have a small amount of mercury inside them.

Proper disposal locations are few and far between, and a lot of the information available on safe disposal relates to fluorescent tubes, not CFLs. Or it’s clearly at commercial disposals, not households.

Some companies that sell CFLs are also involved in their disposal. I seem to recall both Ikea and Aldi advertising that they’d take them in the past, but I don’t recall actually seeing a collection bin in their stores.

More recently, apparently Ikea has said they’ll only sell LEDs by 2016 — this would be even better than CFLs, as they last even longer, and don’t have any hazardous chemicals.

So, how to get rid of them?

I asked my local council what their position was on CFL disposals. Their reply included a number of web links, the best one being Sustainability Victoria’s A to Z of household chemical waste disposal.

This lists a number of permanent and mobile collection points, the closest one to me being the Monash Waste Transfer and Recycling Station in Notting Hill. They will take CFLs for free, provided they are separated from any other stuff you’re dropping off (charges apply for most other types of waste).

This is fine for me, I can stockpile dead CFLs and take them there once every year or two, but really it’s pretty poor for something now used in most households.

How many people just chuck them into regular garbage because they don’t know?

And how many people would find it impractical to get to a drop off point, for instance because they don’t have a car?

A follow-up from the council said they’re investigating more collection points – not kerbside, but bins at places such as libraries and other council facilities. That could work quite well, but of course, part of the problem here is that there’s no nationwide, or even statewide approach.

Witness hard rubbish – with some councils doing scheduled pickups and some doing booked pickups, the different methods across parts of Melbourne means that confusion reigns. In Glen Eira, if you book a collection and put your stuff out, half the time your neighbours will put stuff out as well, thinking an area-wide collection is coming.

The other thing the council said is that apparently a scheme involving manufacturers/importers is being considered, but that sounds like it would require Federal legislation, so it could be years away.

Until an easy, consistent method is provided for disposing of CFLs, you can bet most people won’t be getting rid of them properly.

Or maybe it’s time we all moved to LEDs.

Politics and activism

More party political propaganda disguised as “voting information” #AusVotes

Look, if you’re going to send around party political propaganda, you should at least have the guts to not disguise it as something else. This arrived in the mail yesterday:
Liberal party mail disguised as "Voting information"

…and inside was this:
Liberal party election material

I note that in their brochure, they’re still using the rail icon, despite repeatedly proclaiming that they will not fund urban rail.
Federal Libs still using rail icon, despite refusing to fund rail

This sort of thing is not quite as bad as their data gathering exercise with postal ballots, but still deceptive.

Seems the State Coalition are up to similar tricks, with The Age reporting today that they’re sending out letters in support of the East West road link, paid for by the Liberal Party but without any party markings.

Are the other parties doing it to? I’ve heard Federal Labor had been sending out the postal ballot letters, but haven’t seen any myself.

Politics and activism PTUA transport

The @PTUA rating of the three biggest parties on transport #AusVotes

Abbott’s outright refusal to fund urban public transport (while throwing billions into motorways) hasn’t won him any friends here. Make sure your vote counts.

PTUA 2013 Federal Election brochure


Computer names… what’s next?

For some years now we’ve named our home computers after characters in Tintin.

First we had Tintin and Snowy, both desktops.

Snowy was replaced with Haddock.

The two of them were joined for a little while by Nestor, which was called that because it was a server.

Tintin and friends greet Armstrong

Haddock broke down (probably a motherboard failure, I suspect), and has been replaced by a secondhand 2008-model Mac Pro, which given it’s much brainier, we called Calculus. (If you ever manage to get a secondhand Mac Pro, I recommend them. They make excellent desktop PCs, even if you run Windows, which the 2008 and later models do easily via BootCamp. This beast may be old, but the build quality is fantastic, it’s still fast and rock solid.)

I also got a laptop, which given it moves around and visits various parts of the world (well, okay, various parts of the state), I called Alcazar.

Now Tintin is set to be replaced, by another Mac Pro. The question is, what should we call it?

One idea is that, given the two Mac Pros will be near-identical, we rename the existing one and call them Thomson and Thompson, but let’s face it, that’d be too confusing.

Perhaps it’s time to start re-using names.


Oh, and while I’ve got you, can any Mac people recommend a TV tuner (preferably dual tuner) that will work with the Mac Pro in both OSX and Windows/Media Center?


Bay ferry proposals – politically appealing, but not very useful to people

While the East-West tunnel has got a lot of attention, another questionable transport project is lurking in the background.

Every so often someone will take a look at cities with ferries and conclude that Melbourne needs them too, despite the radically different geography to somewhere like, for instance, Sydney or Brisbane.

And they forget that for transport options to be useful, they need to provide not only speed and comfort, but also frequency. Frequency is critical.

Brisbane Citycat ferry

The current proposals getting airplay are from Werribee South (Wyndham Harbour) to either the city or Docklands, with some detail in these recent articles.

The problem with both is that they purport to appeal to commuters, but neither stacks up with existing public transport from the area.

  Ferry proposal 1 Ferry proposal 2 Current train
From Wyndham Harbour Wyndham Harbour Werribee station
To Docklands Station Pier Southern Cross/Flinders St
Also stops (peak) Point Cook, Williamstown None All stations to Laverton, then Newport, Footscray, North Melbourne
Travel time (peak) “under an hour” 40 minutes 35 minutes
Full trip to city Travel to wharf plus above; about an hour? Travel to wharf plus 40 minutes plus 15+ minutes on tram = about an hour? Travel to station plus 35 minutes = about 50 minutes?
Frequency of service Unknown, perhaps once an hour if using two boats? Two boats; every 40 minutes Every 10-12 minutes
Fare (return) Unknown $22
Plus $7 tram fare = $29
Capacity of vehicles “hundreds” 226 800-1000, easily

Some might think: Ah! All public transport is good public transport, right?

Wrong. The cost and benefits need to be weighed up, just as with any project.


The key points, as far as I can see from available information:

The travel time is broadly comparable, presuming provided the bay isn’t too choppy (but hey, trains have delays too).

Wharf: How do you get to Wyndham Harbour? Some might be lucky enough to walk, but for many they’d have to get in the car to reach it. Is car parking included? It’s not clear. (Werribee station has 582 spaces, and numerous connecting bus services, though these really need to be improved.)

The cost (of the proposal that’s revealed it) if you include the requisite tram/bus fare to get anywhere useful at the city end, is almost three times that of the train (plus bus and tram) fare.

But what really kills it for commuters is the frequency. Every 40-60 minutes is not at all useful to people, particularly if coming from a connecting service.

When leaving home in the morning you might be able to time the trip, but it wouldn’t work in the evening. Can you imagine the stress of trying to time your tram trip out of the CBD to catch the ferry, knowing a 40 minute wait to the next one if you miss it?

This would be an utter failure for commuters.


It might possibly work for tourists, who are less fussy about departure times and waiting around, but it’d need a lot of promotion to get people down to Docklands or Station Pier — apart from cruise ship arrivals at the pier, there wouldn’t normally be many tourists down there.

And it’d need a bus connection to Werribee Park Zoo, as I’m assuming Wyndham Harbour itself isn’t much of a tourist attraction.

The cost?

The real concern with these ferry proposals, if they get up, is the cost to get them running. The second one is said to be without government subsidy (which probably explains the $22 fare), but it’s not clear if the first one might go ahead with some sort of subsidy. The cost of ferries, even a small fleet, could be huge.

For both proposals, how much government money will go into Wyndham Harbour and other wharves to make them suitable for public ferries?

In total, how much money is likely to be spent, and will it provide a service people will actually use? What is the cost per person likely to be? With infrequent departures, I can’t see many people using it for work travel.

If millions gets spent upgrading wharf facilities, how many trains and buses (which could move another 800-1000 people) would that money have paid for?

The alternative

If we are serious about mass movement of people from the Werribee South and Point Cook areas into the city, without them being in their cars, shouldn’t we be giving them less flashy but more useful fast, frequent public transport?

How about buses every few minutes to the station, along dedicated bus lanes (with traffic light priority) so they don’t get caught in traffic (which will build as the population grows), timed to properly meet the trains.

And the trains of course should run more frequently (when RRL opens, capacity will be freed up for this) so the wait is never long and the journey’s not over-crowded.

It’s really not that hard, but it does mean government should avoid getting distracted by expensive but flashy gimmicks we don’t need, such as cross-bay ferries.

Update 12/4/2014

An Age article today has some more detail:

Initially a single ferry, capacity 350 (a bit less than half a moderate train load), from Werribee South to Docklands, taking 45 minutes (if they can get the river speed limit lifted) or 65 minutes (if not).

Two departures each peak, presumably at least 90 to 130 minutes apart, depending on speed. To start next summer, and cost will be $25 return (so about 3.5 times the train fare when Melbourne two-zone fares are abolished from January).

No mention of car parking or bus connections at the Werribee South end. And although it mentions the recent Wyndham to the City race, it doesn’t point out that the speedboat actually took marginally longer than most of the other participants from Point Cook: 1 hour and 13 minutes.

Update 16/6/2014

The Age: Ferries to Melbourne’s west ‘not a priority, not viable’ — PTV advised the Coalition government that: a long-running concept to get ferries servicing a Werribee South-to-Docklands route was not advisable.

This was because a five knot speed limit on the Yarra River made the final leg of the journey too slow.

And a ferry service from Melbourne’s west would suffer from “large swells”, “cancellations and uncomfortably rough trips on a regular basis”, the advice said.

Update 28/10/2015

They’re having another go at a Portarlington/Wyndham to Docklands ferry.

Initially it would be Wyndham to Docklands. They’ve asked for the Yarra river 8 knot limit to be raised, and would aim for a 40-45 minutes travel time. Fare discounted at first, but eventually “less than $30 return”. They seem to see the competition as road, not rail (which costs $7.52 return). They say 2 departures per day initially (eg in the peak direction).

Again, it’s very hard to see how this would catch on.

Update 29/4/2016

Plans are pushing ahead to trial a Wyndham to City ferry, with services beginning in May (probably the 16th).

They haven’t overcome the issues I’ve raised above: it’ll be two trips per peak hour, taking about 70 minutes, costing at least $30 return.

The best local comparison I can think of is “SuitJet”, a similarly-priced luxury commuter bus service launched in 2014, it was also hoping that a guaranteed seat and a comfortable ride would make up for it being less frequent, slower, and more expensive than trains. It failed within weeks of starting, and hasn’t returned.

One can only wish them well, but I suspect this ferry will be a SuitJet of the sea.


The lump

I’ve got a small lump on my thigh. Not painful at all. Probably harmless, the GP said, but he wrote me a referral to get it removed.

He asked if I private health insurance. Nope. I gave it up several years ago. It cost me thousands each year (and increasing) and rarely paid out anything at all.

He gave me a little lecture, along the lines of “You insure your house, your car… why not your health?”

I had a previous lump in my chest removed at Cabrini, when I did have insurance. It was very good — they examined it and took it out on the spot.

How much would that cost if I paid it myself? Heaps, the GP said, perhaps $1500 or more. Yikes. Public would be free, but he said getting it done would take ages in the queue. Ah well.

Monash Medical Centre, Moorabbin

The referral went off, and a letter arrived — appointment at Monash Medical Centre Moorabbin, which isn’t in Moorabbin, nor in City of Monash, but is a medical centre.

The wait had only been a couple of weeks. I went in thinking hey, they might chop it out same day. Take that, private insurance! BEHOLD, THE POWER OF UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE!

The specialist took a look, agreed it was probably harmless (probably a lump of skin growth, rather than the fatty blob the last one was) and said I’d go on a waiting list to get it out.

The waiting list would take a year to get through.

A year.

Whatdaya know, my GP knew what he was talking about.

Knowing that many specialists do both public and private work, I asked the specialist how long it’d take and roughly how much it’d cost if I paid myself to have it done privately. ‘Cos I’m in no particular rush, but it’d be nice to get it done and dusted. And this is a variation on self-insuring… not giving the insurance companies their profits, but being willing to spend money on your health where it’s beneficial. At this stage in my life, I’m well ahead doing that.

He said it’d cost $150-200, in about 4 weeks.

Wow, that’s great, I’ll be in that. Sold!


Another wisdom tooth bites the dust

I had a second wisdom tooth out on Saturday — bottom left, the counterpoint for the top left which I had extracted back in 1998.

The dentist had said it was best it came out now. It was moving upwards anyway, due to no pressure from the top left one. Worse, cleaning around it was becoming an issue, so I risked damage to the next (more useful) tooth along.

This time, no particular issues — once again I tried to concentrate on other things as two needles went in, then various equipment (I dunno — grappling hooks, pliers, that kind of thing) until the tooth was yanked out. This time no stitches.

Here’s the tooth (TMI alert):

Photos from ten years ago

Ten years ago: Pics from August 2003

Another in my collection of photos from ten years ago…

Murrumbeena, in the days of M>Train. I quite liked the logo and slogan (“Moving Melbourne”) — less sure about the colours, and of course the splitting of the network into different operators was silly.
Murrumbeena station, August 2003

2003 was probably the best fall of snow at Mount Donna Buang that I’ve ever seen.
Mount Donna Buang, 2003

A 360 degree (and a bit more) pan from the snow… click to see it bigger.
Mount Donna Buang, 2003

Yep, this is probably a tram. (That building in the background on the left is the Melbourne Sports Depot… which is now a big EB Games. See, the geeks have taken over from the jocks.)
"Probably a tram" (2003)

On the 26/8/2003, my first TV appearance on behalf of the PTUA. I was nervous as hell.
Daniel's first PTUA media, August 2003


My local station’s dodgy #Myki reader – out of service at least 17 times since 2010

How often does the Myki reader in the middle at the main entrance to Bentleigh station break down?

2/3 Myki scanners at Bentleigh this morning

Thanks to my archive of Tweets, the answer is: at least seventeen times since the start of 2010.

Was it more than 17?

I thought there’d be more complaining tweets during 2010, especially as the one in December 2010 (following those in April) makes it clear that particular reader regularly has problems. I wonder if Twitter has lost a few of my tweets.

Of course, I don’t check it every single day of the year. There’s a fair chance it’s been out of action more often.

Early on in the development of Myki, I got the impression that there’d be a degree of automatic detection of out of service devices. Along the lines of: it’s peak hour, there are five readers at this entrance, and the other four have had lots of Myki cards presented, but this one hasn’t — get someone to investigate.

Plus of course, why do they crash in the first place?

What is amazing is that a single reader would be so unreliable. Is it a dud? Who knows.

But along with continuing response time and other issues, it’s symptomatic of a system that, almost four years after its introduction in Melbourne, is still frustratingly inconsistent.

Update July 2014: Marcus Wong has a similar tale of woe from Flagstaff station: How many times can one Myki gate break?

Home life

Live-blogging the plumber

Drain has been blocked for a while. Sometimes it clears itself. Not this time.

I couldn’t find the plumber’s details from last time, and ended up ringing Drains Direct. (How could I blog the plumber’s visit, yet not keep track of his contact details? How stupid of me.)

8am. Plumber arrives. Wants to look at sewerage plan. Fair enough too. Why did I not think to have this on hand?

Plan shows drains go under my rear neighbour’s property, then to a boundary trap out there. We go knock on the door and ask her to have a look. Graciously for an unexpected visit at this time of the morning, she lets us know her drains aren’t blocked, but she has heard gurgling noises, and she shows us to the back garden where the plumber needs to check where everything joins up.

So… it’s gonna be a bunch of dosh for the first 90 minutes of work. And by the way, no guarantees if the blockage is so far down the pipe it can’t be reached.

Her drain joins the communal pipe near the top; mine is at the bottom.

8:20am. First step is trying a jet thingy from that rear connection, up my drain to see if it unblocks anything. It doesn’t.

The plumber's tree root machine

8:40am. Tree rooter device. Not as ancient as the last plumber. In via the gully trap in my back garden. But it won’t go down around the bend. Bugger.

He tries a couple of times. No dice.

9:00am. The second plan: in via another drain which has no trap at the bottom. But this is going to involve cutting an existing pipe, and knocking away some concrete to do it. It sounds involved, and expensive. On the upside, he will leave a much improved access point for if this ever happens again… which no doubt it will.

This is going to take more time, and more money — another block of time, probably taking until lunchtime. I have to think carefully about this. The last plumber didn’t need to do this. But is it a different problem this time? Who knows.

Sigh. It’s hard enough these days getting time off work and arranging this kind of thing. I might as well just go ahead and do it.

Now he’s cutting and chopping and making a helluva lot of noise out there. It’s doubly unfortunate that he’s working just outside Isaac’s window… and for the first time this year, Isaac is sick in bed trying to sleep. Blargh, I wonder if this was a good idea.

10:00am. Tree rooter thingy back down the new hole. 5 metres… 10… 15… 20… Ah, breakthrough! The blockage is cleared!

10:20am. Ran lots of water and flushed the toilet a few times to verify it’s draining properly. It is. Thank goodness for that.

Tried to work out which tree it might be. Possibly one in the neighbour’s back yard. As the last plumber said, not much you can really do about it without digging the whole lot up, which would cost many thousands. If it’s only going to happen this bad once every 5-6 years, then hopefully it won’t take too long to resolve in future.

Interestingly, the sewerage plan notes the pipe used to go direct, but was diverted so it doesn’t go under the neighbour’s house — when that house was built in the 90s. Sensible.

11:40am. After going off to get parts, he came back and replaced the pipe that had been cut away with a new inlet thingy. Looks rather good… for a pipe. Should make this saga a lot quicker/easier next time.

11:50am. All done. And the final cost? The basic callout and first 90 minutes is $385. The extra work (including parts, thankfully) was another $385. So, $770, plus GST of $77 is a whopping $847. Sigh.

Here’s hoping it’s at least another 6 years before this happens again.