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Net Toxic Custard newsletter

The end of Toxic Custard

Before blogging and the web, there was email and Usenet and FTP sites.

Just over 29 years ago I started writing online, sending out literal undergraduate humour to mates at Monash University and beyond mostly via email, under the truly ridiculous name “Toxic Custard“.

It got into the student newspaper, then in 1996 it went onto the web and became the early version of this blog. Along the way the content has continued to morph, to more autobiographical material, and more recently a concentration on transport.

The email list still exists… and to my surprise it’s still got about 600 people on it.

But I’m shutting it down – because it requires manual intervention to crank it up and send it out, which I rarely get around to doing, and because it relies on YahooGroups, which recently announced most of its features are being shut down. Emails to lists will be the only thing left, but it’s probably pretty safe to say these won’t last much longer. It’s obviously not a business Yahoo wants to be in anymore.

Edit: In classic Yahoo style, the final email to the list took almost 24 hours to be delivered.

The blog will keep going. Those wanting to receive posts by email have a couple of options:

Subscribe to all posts – I’ll be sending out invitations to this to those on the old list.

…or you can subscribe to just transport posts (via MailChimp):

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There are also options to get new posts via RSS feeders (just add this URL), and I promote most of them via Twitter and Facebook. Edit: Of course you can just read it on the web.

I also occasionally blog on technology and various geeky tidbits at geekrant.org

Thanks to all who stayed on the email list over the years.

Categories
Consumerism Toxic Custard newsletter Working life

Does your super match your values?

The wave of climate protests (the Climate Strike a few weeks ago, and to a lesser extent the Extinction Rebellion last week) are a good reminder that although our current political masters (especially at the Federal level in Australia) are keen to do nothing, pretty soon a large mass of people who want action will be joining the electoral roll and voting.

Oh, the politicians may claim they’re acting. But the numbers speak for themselves: Australia’s emissions are rising, not falling, and some politicians’ love for coal (including building new coal power stations, even when it makes no economic sense) and the constant criticism of clean power and electric cars makes it obvious which way they lean.

Anyway, if you’re working, there’s something you can do.

Pretty much every working Australian adult has superannuation, your mandated retirement fund, and for most people it’s probably their largest, or second largest asset (perhaps second only to their house, if they own one).

For many people it’s Set And Forget. But you can choose to direct your super fund to put your money into ethical investments.

These can avoid your money going into things that you may be philosophically opposed to: for instance arms manufacturing, gambling companies, and fossil fuels. The precise definition of ethical varies by fund, but I suspect they’re all a step in the right direction.

What’s the financial cost of this? Probably nothing. In fact shifting to ethical might well be financially beneficial, as many of these investment options actually have very healthy returns.

For instance, for some years my own super has been half in an Australian Shares portfolio and half in an Ethical fund. The compound return on the Shares in the past 10 years is 8.8%; Ethical is 10.6%.

(Note: this blog does not constitute financial advice, past performance is not an indicator of future performance, etc, etc.)

The easy option

In many cases your current super fund will already have an ethical option, which makes it easy.

Just log onto your super fund’s portal, and find the setting for investment preferences. In mine it’s called “Future investments”, eg where any future deposits go to.

If you’re lucky, this will take all of a couple of minutes to do.

Australian Ethical Super: investments

Go harder

Different funds decide for themselves what is “ethical”. The above explainer is from Australian Ethical Super, but the bigger funds may not be as fastidious.

If you’re super keen, you can look around at the ethical super fund that best meets your values.

This Choice article is a good starting point.

If you decide to roll your super over into a new fund, this involves a little more work, but isn’t overly onerous these days.

I must emphasise that I’m not a financial adviser, and there is inherent risk in any investment.

But your super is (hopefully) a huge amount of money that is working for you. So why not have it match your values?


  • Note: I’ve got no link with Australian Ethical Super, but I am a customer of their Managed Funds. Managed Funds, if you’re wondering, are similar to Super, except the money is not tied up until you retire.

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Going green Home life Toxic Custard newsletter

Wall insulation

Improving my house’s heating and cooling and energy efficiency is an ongoing project.

This week it was wall insulation.

Obviously this is best fitted when the house is built, but in a house built circa 1930, the only way is to retrofit it.

They do this by drilling small holes in the walls all the way around the house, then spraying in filler stuff into the wall cavity.

Insulation installation

They’ve filled the holes, but they’ll need sanding and painting, which leaves me somewhat regretting I didn’t do this before I got the house painted in 2015. Not to worry, but for now the house looks like it has measles.

Last year’s winter gas bill (covering 15th June to 15th August) was a whopper, at $489 ($7.87 / 354 MJ of gas per day) – similar to 2016. (In 2017 we were away on holiday for some of winter.)

I’m hoping that by getting the new insulation in time for winter, the gas bill for winter this year can be reduced quite a bit – hopefully daytime warmth can be better retained into the evening and overnight.

It might be a while before the investment (not insubstantial) pays off, but already there’s a noticeable difference, which is good.

Future options around the house include:

  • double-glazing on the windows
  • under-floor insulation
  • PV panels for the roof
  • replacing gas cooking with electric
  • replacing gas central heating with more reverse cycle units
  • and one I learnt about recently which seems like an easy no-brainer: a balloon in the fireplace.

Categories
Photos from ten years ago Toxic Custard newsletter transport

Old photos from April 2009

Another in my series of old ten year old photos.

This turned out to be a bit of a bumper crop – a few months before I’d got the Nokia N95 phone, my first with a decent camera, so perhaps no surprise the number of photos was increasing.

Melbourne’s first wind-powered tram had launched in 2008. Note the “Gone With The Wind” reference, and the pre-platform “safety zone” Elizabeth Street (at Bourke Street) tram stop.

Elizabeth Street tram, April 2009

Bentleigh – directional signage for bus drivers. This one for rail replacement buses inbound into the City.

Connex bus sign, April 2009

A trip down to Geelong one Saturday…

Geelong station, April 2009

…to visit the special Myki Shop in Ryrie Street, so I could try it for the first time.

Myki shop in Geelong, April 2009

I got to try out a Myki card, which you can read about here. I also came home with these amusing Myki wristbands, I guess to get The Kids on-side with the concept. Note the “scan on, scan off” messaging which later became “touch on, touch off” when they realised just how slow the first generation readers are.

Myki wrist bands, April 2009

Spotted in Footscray: a special bus stop for Regional Fast Rail project rail replacement coaches. RFR had finished about five years earlier.

V/Line bus stop sign at Footscray, April 2009

An excursion to the in-laws farm. Like many farm practices, burning off a field was a bit of an eye-opener for this city boy.

Burning off at the farm, April 2009

Federation Square. Note the pre-renovation mustard colour of Flinders Street Station.

Federation Square, April 2009

Flinders Street from another angle, showing the red Tourist Shuttle (not a shuttle) bus that was funded by the inner-city parking levy. When the bus was free, it could be quite crowded, but was virtually unused once they introduced a $5 fare.

Tourist shuttle bus, Flinders Street, April 2009

The Parkiteer cage at Brighton Beach Station was getting plenty of use, as was the fence outside. Prior to 2015, a lot of people from further out would use zone boundary stations like Brighton Beach to avoid paying a Zone 1+2 fare which was about 55% higher than just Zone 1.

Parkiteer bike cage, Brighton Beach, April 2009

The old Bentleigh station in the autumn fog.

Bentleigh station, April 2009

Also at Bentleigh station, where walkway crowding was becoming an issue, authorities made an effort to discourage bike parking.

Bentleigh station - don't park your bike here

Connex introduced its trial layout Comeng train, with a mini-launch for stakeholders one lunchtime. It had fewer seats; similar to later changes made across the fleet by Metro in 2015-16.

2009 Connex demonstration train layout
2009 Connex demonstration train layout

I got Connex’s Lanie Harris to introduce the new layout.

The students are revolting! I don’t recall how big this protest was.

2009 fare protest poster

One of the contenders for the prize of most confusing bus route was the 627. It has since been split into two separate routes, and is much easier to understand. This was one of few recommendations of the 2010 bus reviews that actually got implemented.

The old route 627 - confusing

Finally, this moron in Bourke Street.

Moron in Bourke Street
Categories
driving Toxic Custard newsletter transport

The monetary cost of driving

One of the issues that contributes to excessive car use is that it’s not straightforward to calculate the cost of driving.

Once you have the car, the cost of each additional trip you take in it is obscured. Apart from tolls and fuel costs, many might see an already-paid-for car sitting in the driveway as “free”, making it an easy option. This is why good alternatives are not based around park and ride, but instead aiming to replace the entire trip, enabling households to own fewer cars.

I thought I’d have a go at calculating the total cost per kilometre of my car.

Obviously there are a lot of variables, so each person’s result will be a bit different.

Depreciation: The Lancer I bought last year cost me $18,000 new. If I assume it’ll be near-worthless by the time it gets 200,000 kms on the clock (I’m not actually likely to drive it that much while I have it, but later owners might), then that’s depreciation of 11.1 cents per kilometre.

Some of the other costs are annual fees, so the cost per kilometre will vary according to how much I drive. The Australian average is 15,000. We’re well below that in my family, though it’s increasing a bit since one son got his P-plates last month. I’m going to use 8,000 km as an estimate.

Insurance: $708.20. (It’s definitely gone up since having a P-plater behind the wheel!) That’s 8.9 cents per kilometre.

Southland Station - shopping centre car park

Registration: having just bought the car, it was paid for the first year, but ongoing annual cost is $816.50. That works out to 10.2 cents per kilometre.

Servicing: This will vary a lot, and will get more expensive as the vehicle gets older. But for now, because I bought a brand new car, this is capped at $230 for each of the first three years = 2.9 cents per kilometre.

Petrol: The car’s got an information display which can tell you various things. One is how many litres per 100 kilometres it’s burning. From my observation this usually varies between 6 and 10, depending on whether we’re driving on country freeways with little traffic, or start-stopping along a busy city road. (On the bright side it never gets driven in commuter peaks.) The official government number for a 2017 Lancer is 7.4, but let’s be a little pessimistic and use 8.

How much does petrol cost? The Australian Institute of Petroleum reckons in Victoria the average price in 2017-18 was 135.2 cents per litre, which seems roughly right, though I wonder if it’s creeping up.

So every 100 kilometres we’re using $10.816 of fuel, or 10.8 cents per kilometre.

Thankfully this is not my car

What about tolls? We only use tollroads occasionally, perhaps about $50 per year, so I think I’ll exclude this for now.

So the cost for me is: Depreciation 11.1 + insurance 8.9 + rego 10.2 + servicing 2.9 + petrol 10.8 = 43.9 cents per kilometre.

(Contrast: public transport within Melbourne is generally $4.40 for any individual trip of up to 2+ hours, with a cap of $8.80 per day, but it gets a lot cheaper if you buy a Pass and use it regularly.)

Obviously there are a lot of costs that motorists don’t pay for directly. Driving is very heavily subsidised.

But having a number, even if it’s only an estimate, means I can quantify how much it’s costing each time we use the car.

Did I miss anything, or mess it up? What’s the cost in your household? Leave a comment!

Categories
Photos from ten years ago Toxic Custard newsletter

Old photos from December 2008

My regular post of ten year old photos

The smiley in the sky (first posted here)
Smiley in the sky

Tram of the beast (First posted here)
Tram of the Beast

The next station is Connex
The next station is Connex

Back when the trams were battleship grey, and they used obscure route numbers like 47.
Tram in Collins Street, December 2008

In December 2008 a brand new bike parking cage was under construction at Bentleigh. It would be demolished just 7 years later as part of the rebuilding of the station.
New Parkiteer cage under construction at Bentleigh, December 2008. (Demolished: 2016)

Selfie on a train
Selfie on train, December 2008

I’m not even sure why I snapped this photo: view of the city from above the Bunbury Street tunnel in Footscray. It certainly wasn’t high resolution by 2018 standards, but you can view it larger here.
Bunbury Street tunnel, looking towards the City, December 2008

Categories
Toxic Custard newsletter transport

Desire lines: signs of bad design?

Desire lines are where authorities intend for people to go one way, but people (especially pedestrians) quite logically ignore them and go a different way.

Often they indicate poor design.

Here are some quick examples from my neck of the woods.

You have to wonder whose bright idea this was. Try and divert the pedestrians away to a crossing. Why do it? The worn grass indicates not many people follow the recommended path.
Desire lines in Bentleigh

Similar story at this roundabout. It’s a less busy street for pedestrians so the grass looks more intact, but again, why? Puzzling since another roundabout 100 metres away doesn’t have this design.
Desire lines in Bentleigh

Down at Southland, the new station is a roaring success… except for the pathway to the shopping centre, which diverts people via an indirect route – though at least it’s got priority zebra crossings all the way – visible at the left. Still, an awful lot of people come out of the station and instead dodge around the fence and make straight across the car park for the entrance. Are we really that surprised? Hopefully sooner rather than later, Westfield will fix it.
Southland station desire lines

The centre of central Bentleigh: the station. This new pedestrian crossing is very welcome, as it connects the westbound bus stop with the trains. Amazingly, before the grade separation, there was no nearby crossing. With a little thought, they could have made this new crossing wider, stretching towards the bus stop, as when buses arrive, there’s a swarm of people crossing the road.
Bentleigh station pedestrian crossing

And this, around the corner. Having a zebra crossing is good, but it’s clearly in the wrong place. It should be no surprise at all that most people cross at the point aligned with the supermarket entrance. Authorities must have realised this, or there wouldn’t be this signage.
Desire lines in Bentleigh

Often this type of thing appears to be just trying to make life difficult for pedestrians.

I really hope whoever is responsible for these designs is observing how people use these spaces, and isn’t continuing to make these mistakes.

More reading: Desire paths: the illicit trails that defy the urban planners

Categories
Photos from ten years ago Toxic Custard newsletter

Old photos from November 2008

Continuing my series of ten year old photos

The coal industry trying to pretend they’re good guys. I don’t know if they even pretend these days… note yesterday Adani announced it would press ahead with its new coal mine, in the middle of a state bushfire crisis — nice touch.
"New gen coal" ad November 2008

Warrnambool holiday! This was fun. Should go back sometime.
Central Warrnambool

Unprotected level crossing somewhere near Warrnambool. With little traffic, and about half-a-dozen trains per day, probably not going to be removed anytime soon.
Railway crossing

I remember we hired a car from a place in the ‘Bool where the bloke said “No worries” about every 20 seconds, so we could drive part of the Great Ocean Road. Here it is. Straya.
Kangaroos

Plenty of tourists at the Twelve Apostles
The Twelve Apostles and many tourists

Back in Melbourne, a train ride to “Unknown Line ID”
Train going to "Unknown Line ID" November 2008

Motorcycles parking all over the pavement are not a new problem, but as the CBD gets busier, they’re a growing issue. This is a photo snapped for a blog post about them back in 2008.
Motorcycles on the footpath, November 2008

The election of Barak Obama. I was watching on a CRT, obviously… and blogged a whinge about the ABC cropping the CNN ticker of useful information.
McCain/Obama election November 2008

A big Connex advertisement in Newmarket. This was the month they moved Werribee trains out of the Loop on weekdays, and started running the Clifton Hill loop clockwise all day. Not everyone liked it, but both changes have helped enable more trains to run.
Connex Melbourne "We're moving more people every day" November 2008

Categories
Politics and activism Toxic Custard newsletter transport

Election wrapup

Many people have written about the state election result. I thought I’d add my two-cents worth… noting that as of Wednesday night, some seats are still in doubt.

The Coalition crime fear campaign didn’t resonate. The stats don’t match the rhetoric, and while the accounts from actual victims could be harrowing, Melbourne is not a crime-infested cesspit. That’s no comfort to those who have been victims of of course, and more can be done to combat crime, but this is not an unsafe city.

Anecdata is only convincing (eg reflective of reality) if enough people are directly affected. How many people do you know who have been the victim of a violent crime? I thought the rhetoric, especially when the Coalition got to the point of declaring that anybody who committed any offence while on bail would be locked up, over-the-top.

(Amazingly, the Federal Libs are still pursuing this rhetoric in some parts of Melbourne this week.)

The anti-Skyrail campaign didn’t resonate. People living underneath it might dislike it (though not all do) – but ultimately the broader community didn’t hate it. All the seats with skyrail in them now (Caulfield, Oakleigh, Mulgrave, Keysborough) and getting skyrail (Bass, Carrum) swung towards the government, not away from it.

Perhaps that was helped by the fact that skyrail exists now. It’s real. Perhaps it’s not pretty, but it’s not covered in graffiti or filled with drug dealers as some claimed it would be.

Skyrail at Carnegie, November 2018

From where I was sitting, the Coalition had few prominent, positive policies. They took a back seat to the negative campaigning.

Their best (in my book) policy was announced and then quietly dropped: trains every 10 minutes. What a shame.

Their decentralisation policies seemed a good idea at a high level, though the fast rail pledges looked undercooked, and some of the detail around the rest of it either wasn’t thought out in detail, or wasn’t communicated well.

The ridiculous intersection grade separation plan didn’t resonate. Plenty of people drive absolutely everywhere, but I don’t think many of them thought this was a good idea.

Former Liberal Premier Ted Baillieu said it well:

The campaign didn’t work. The policies didn’t work. The organisation, the administration didn’t work, the leadership didn’t work. We didn’t have any cut through. Across the board it didn’t work.

Big swings to Labor, putting normally safe Liberal seats like Hawthorn and Brighton at risk showed that even though people live in wealthy suburbs, it doesn’t mean they’re dinosaurs, and they were clearly not keen on the crime narrative, nor the Liberal party being dragged to the right by the likes of Dutton and Abbott.

Meanwhile, Labor’s narrative of “a positive and optimistic agenda” (this literally became their catchcry) was perhaps clichรฉd, but also justified by some big achievements in just four years. Who’d have believed they’d get 29 level crossings removed? It meant many people overlooked their failings such as the redshirts affair.

Daniel Andrews claims victory, State election 24/11/2018

So now we have four more years of Labor. More level crossing removals – which is good. And thanks to the benefits of incumbency, plans for rail upgrades that are arguably more logical than the Coalition’s ambitious (perhaps impossible) pledges for high speed rail.

Labor will borrow more money to pay for infrastructure. I remember being at a transport breakfast thing years ago with some bigwigs who were saying it was ridiculous that governments have such a fear of borrowing. You borrow to buy your house, and it costs money, but it’s good. Why not borrow to invest in infrastructure that grows the economy?

I don’t have a major problem with this, though the question is: are the specific big projects they’re borrowing for actually worth the money? North East Link, for example – Infrastructure Victoria gave it the thumbs up in 2016 based on a cost of $5-10 billion, but a Business Case released early in 2018 appeared to inflate the benefits.

Speaking of business cases and infrastructure, the Suburban Rail Loop doesn’t yet have a business case. If the project happens, it may be decades away. But it caught the imagination of the populace, and I’m told the ALP reckon they saw bigger swings in the electorates nearby.

In the meantime, what about Metro 2, which by any logic is a higher priority to ensure Fishermans Bend is a success and the Werribee and Mernda rail lines cope with growth.

And right here and now, there has to be a commitment to upping all-day service levels on the existing infrastructure.

Melbourne is growing fast, and we can’t wait for the Metro tunnel to open in 2025 to see more trains running.

Let’s hope the newly re-elected government realises that it’s not just infrastructure that’s important — how you use it is vital.

Update Thursday lunchtime: The Premier has announced a reshuffle. The new Public Transport Minister is Melissa Horne. Jacinta Allan picks up Transport Infrastructure. Roads Minister is Jaala Pulford.

Categories
Toxic Custard newsletter transport

Low bridges in Euroa

Family business took us to Euroa on Saturday.

The station is on the western side of the town centre. The main street goes over the railway line to the south of the station — Wikipedia notes that the the road overpass was built in 1960 during the first round of standardisation. The second round, last decade, converted the other track to standard gauge as well.

North of the station the railway line is elevated… but not by much.

One bridge has 2.5 metres clearance, and this one has just 2.3 metres:
Euroa railway bridge over road

Euroa railway bridge over road

There’s also a pedestrian underpass that’s even lower – only just a bit higher than me, so about 2.0 metres. An adult wouldn’t be able to ride a bike through here.
Euroa railway pedestrian underpass

Unlike the Montague Street bridge in Melbourne (3 metres clearance), a quick search finds no records of collisions with the Euroa road bridges.

I mentioned the Euroa bridge on Twitter. I was pointed to a 2 metre clearance on a freeway overpass in Pyrmont, Sydney, and also this 1.7 metre railway bridge in Wales — just high enough to fit a conventional car, with a manually-operated part time level crossing adjacent for taller vehicles — amazingly, not too long ago something similar was proposed for the Dandenong line!