High Interest Savings Accounts for Kids

So Bankwest offers the headline rate of 10% interest on their kids saver account. I’ve got kids who are of the age to get pocket money, so I chaecked it out.
There are some terms and conditions. Basically, you only earn 10% if you make deposits and not withdrawals, and only if each month you deposit between $25 and $250. After 12 month, the account resets to $1 (and the balance is shifted to a lower rate account).
You can’t start with more than $250, and you can’t deposit more than $250 a month.
So what looks pretty nice to start with, 10%!!, actually is somewhat less. If you had $3000 and trickled it in to the account to make the $250 a month maximum deposits, the total interest would be $167.56, or about 5.5%.
Of course, there is no reason you couldn’t keep that money in a higher rate saver account before you deposit, but most also have withdrawal penalties. If you used ubank for the balance, it would pay 6.0% on the declining balance. If you started with $3000 and transferred it into bankwest $250 a month, after a year ubank would pay you $82.50.
Obviously, both these deals are predicated on marketing – you will be ill disciplined in your payments, and once you have an account you will go on to use them for loans/mortgages/credit cards etc.
But if you are smart and organised, you can get a pretty nice return, a touch over 8%, or $250 interest a year on $3k. For me, I’ll be trying to scratch up $3000 to deposit in a kids name and see if we can achieve the rates suggested. I’ll post in a year or two to report back.

Gigabyte m1405 review

I purchased a nifty little laptop last month, and could find no review on the web, so I thought I would remedy that.

First up, my requirements. I need a notebook light enough to cart around on the train (I have a long commute) but with a big enough display to be able to do some work. A requirement I didn’t realise until last year is I need a Directx compatible video card to play a few undemanding games (Humble Bundle, I’m looking at you).

These were pretty well met with my BenQ u121, but it’s 11.6″ screen was on the smaller side, and the graphics chip was not up to scratch for the games I want to play once in a while (it did have awesome battery life and was super light).

I saw the ‘thin and light’ notebooks emerge a couple of years ago, and suspected one would be in my future – they have the feature set of past top of the range portables (I’ve had several Toshiba Porteges) but much less expensive by shipping a value processor.

The Gigabyte m1405 is one of these. You have probably seen Gigabyte before as a supplier of motherboards and other PC ‘guts’, but they seem to be new at complete laptops. The m1405 has a core duo chip, a generation behind intel’s current “i” family, but quite speedy compared to netbook Atom chips I had been using. Mine shipped with 2Gb of ram in a single DDR3 SODIMM, but there is a second slot free to install a 4Gb chip, which I expect to do soon.

The 320Gb HDD is on the smaller side, but it is a standard esata, so can be upgraded later if it gets cramped. Note it has some odd partitioning – there is a Windows 7 32-bit install, a separate Win7 64-bit install and a third partition for data. This is to allow you the choice to boot into 32 or 64bit windows, should you need to for compatibility reasons. Except for an old laser printer, everything I have tried has been fine in 64bit, so I plan to scrub the 32bit partition and reclaim the space.

This 32/64bit dual personality could be quite handy, though, if you have something you need to run under 32bit regularly. Another curious feature is the USB/eSata port on the right side. It accepts either cable, although I have yet to use it with an eSata drive. The system also powers the USB ports while asleep, allowing a phone or ipod to charge, even if the laptop is unplugged (you can configure a lower charge percentage when this will stop, say 50%, so your phone won’t drain your laptop if you mistakenly leave it charging via USB but not plugged into the wall).

Nice to have features are 3 USB ports (but all on the right side, urgh!) HDMI and VGA out, SD multi card reader, 1.3mb webcam and a fingerprint reader. I’ve been using the last for my Windows login (as opposed to no password) and it is fairly reliable once you have learnt the speed it likes to read at.

Battery life is a little over 3 hours with a 3G wireless stick in use, and the unit is a nice, light 1.6kg – not bad for a 14in screen and built in DVD writer.

There is a slot and internal antenna for a 3g wireless modem, but I haven’t played with this, similarly, there is a second battery available to replace the optical drive, but the only source I have found so far wants $150 for it, so I’ll pass. The accompanying documentation and original press releases show a nifty docking station which in meant to hold an nVidia graphics card – the idea being you can play demanding games when you are docked to a bigger monitor. I like the idea, but as far as I can tell, the device never got released to retail (correct me if you find one!).

In the box comes a fake leather slipcase and a screen cleaning cloth (the screen is shiny and does pick up prints). It has a 3.42a 18v 110-240v universal power supply, the same type used by BenQ and Acer laptops we have around, and readily available as a non-OEM purchase for about $20 on ebay. The outer case has a bright red metallic surface on top, with sort of a brushed matte finish – quite attractive, but a matter of personal taste. The underside is matte black plastic and the screen and keyboard bezel are brushed aluminium. Build quality is good, and the unit feels solid, but the aluminium bezel is not precisely flush around the base so it flexes a little bit. Not a big drama.

The keyboard is fair. It is close to full size, but the keys aren’t raked at an angle, they all sit flat, and they don’t have much travel. There are real home, pgup and pgdn and arrow keys, a pet hate of mine is when these are lost to function keys.

The built in speakers are quite good, as these things go, and boast some sort of THX signal processing. The result is they are loud enough to use for watching a DVD, a feature not always good enough on many notebooks.

Overall, I find this a great laptop, and extremely good value. I could be convinced to add a second battery if the price was more reasonable, but the current power is adequate. It is pretty snappy with Win7 and the plethora of little value add features make it a nice versatile machine. The screen is nice and large for a very portable machine.  I got mine at http://www.onlinecomputer.com.au for about $500, but I have seen them since for $50 less on Catch of the Day.

BenQ u121 Eco Joybook and Option GTM378 – playing nicely now

So my new netbook is a BenQ u121. It has a lovely 11.6″ screen, 2GB RAM, 250GB HDD and great battery life, all in a 1.3kg package. In a step forward for the environment, it also uses the same power supply as my old Acer netbook, so I didn’t need to buy an extra one (19V 3.42A)! A bargain at $399.
In Australia, these machines don’t come with 3G installed, as they do in some markets, but under the sticker that says removing it voids my warranty is a mini PCI-E slot laying empty along with two antenna pigtails. Talk about taunting me.
The problem is, there is almost no information about making use of it. I followed some tips from a forum around installing a 3G modem on an Acer netbook, and figured I would give it a go.
A trip to Ebay got me a second hand Option GTM378 3G modem – it does HSDPA at 7.2Mbps on a bunch of network frequencies, including the Voda/Optus and Telstra ones. $50 and a 7 day airmail trip from Hong Kong and it was mine.
Plugged it in and XP recognises the device. Pointed it to the drivers downloaded from Option’s site (version 4.0.17.0) and … nothing happens. Installation fails with a message stating appropriate drivers couldn’t be found.
Very aggravating. I spent several hours searching and trying different things, to no avail.
I even emailed Option support, although they publish no contact details and claim to offer no end user support, just OEM. Needless to say, no reply.
Eventually, I tracked down an older driver – version 3.313 and like magic it works. So, thumbs down to Option’s support and website for providing the wrong drivers, but a big thumbs up to BenQ for supporting on board 3G!

Vivitar K mount lens with Pentax digital SLR k100d

Old manual focus lenses are super cheap, and very compatible with current Pentax digital SLRs.
Because the CMOS sensor in digital SLRs are not as larger as a 35mm film cell, you end up with the lens delivering 1.5x the focal length it would on a film camera, which is kind of nice on a telephoto lens, but a hassle with wide angle.
Anyway, some old Vivitar lenses won’t fit on new Pentax digitals, the little guard for the aperture pin is too wide. I got myself a very cheap ($20!) Vivitar 70-210mm zoom off ebay, and needed to trim down the guard so it would fit.

1) here is a pic showing the enlarged guard. The kit lens with my k100d is about a third the length, only a centimeter or so.
I am going to cut the guard back to just after it reaches its full height.

2) Remove the two *tiny* screws that hold the ring in place. Don’t lose them!
You might want to do this in an environment less dusty than my workshop, but I like to live dangerously.
3) Clamp the ring securely in a vise. Be careful, the metal is quite brittle and more likely to snap than bend.4) Carefully saw away the superfluous guard metal. I found the waste piece easily snapped off when the cut was long enough. It is necessary to support the ring while you are sawing – I held it firmly with my fingers next to where the blade was cutting. I also only used the draw stroke so the cutting was more gentle.

5) Re-attach the ring. You can see the silver arc where the guard was cut away. I was intending to file the rough edge, but it is not too bad, so didn’t bother. Now would be the time to find the screws you lost earlier.

7) All done. Here are some snaps showing the zoom range:

For more details on using manual lenses with Pentax digital SLRs see here.

0x0000007B Inaccessible_boot_device fixed

I spent most of Sunday trying to sort out a super weird error.
I was trying to get some info back off a dead disk (and the DVD back-ups are showing errors too – grrrr) so I added the dead disk as a slave off my desktop.
It took me a couple of attempts to get the jumpers right on my main disk as it was ambiguous about which setting to use for master, and whether that setting would limit total drive capacity to 32GB. So after a few reboots I get the bootloader screen that says loading windows, but then bang!, BSOD with the error 0x0000007B Inaccessible_boot_device and a load of advice around disk management, viruses and hardware conflicts.
My first thought was I had booted off the dead disk, so I removed it but got the same error. Now my dead disk was poisoning others!
Lots of frustration followed, taking the disk out and checking it in another PC, flipping jumper and bios settings, as that had been the last things I touched, but eventually the system booted fine. Hmmm. No errors to be found on checking the disk.
Later, I decided to try a final time to get the data off that dead drive. I knew the jumper settings now so it would be fast. I plugged in the dead slave again, hit thepower, both drives show up fine in the BIOS check, but BANG! 0x0000007B Inaccessible_boot_device.
The conversation went something like this “I thought you had fixed that computer” “I did, but now I’ve fixed it a little bit more and its broken again.”
Removing the slave didn’t fix it this time, nothing would, but the disk checked out fine in another system.
Eventually, I decided to pack it up and come back to it. I slid the drive back into the chassis, which requires taking out the system RAM,and gave it one last flick of the switch – SUCCESS! I discovered that the IDE ribbon must have a dry joint somewhere. When it was twisted with the drive not in the chassis – like when I was trying the dead slave, the contact is good enough to load the MBR, but dies straight after. Very non-intuitive. So it might be worth eliminating hardware as a potential failure if you hit this error yourself.

Response to an Australian ID card

The senate is looking at the proposed access card, which with a name, photo and signature is likely to become ade facto ID card. It is poorly thought out, rushed and mismanaged. Here is my submission to the inquiry.

Dear Committee Members,
I am writing to express my opposition to the Access Card in it’s proposed form.
Firstly, the card is costly as budgeted, and offers limited scope for
fraud savings in even the most optimistic projections.
Previous experience locally and internationally shows such complex IT
projects are extremely prone to budget overrun.
Secondly, the rationale for the card is unclear. The claimed benefit
of reducing 17 cards to one is nonsensical, since some of the 17 cards
are exclusionary nobody will see a benefit of that scale. For the vast
majority, it will replace a single Medicare card, and offer no
advantage. Additionally, the administrative costs and hurdles to
issuing the card are likely to negate any overall benefit.
If there are really too many entitlements cards, replace 16 with 1,
and leave the bulk of people with only a Medicare card unaffected.
Thirdly, the inclusion of a signature and photograph on the card face
will encourage its use as an ID card, even if laws prevent its demand.
Those reluctant to provide the card to a voluntary request will be
stigmatised as potentially somebody with something to hide.
The inclusion of card face photo and signature does not appear to
further any aims of the card as stated, and seems ripe for it to be
abused. Should the card proceed I strongly oppose the inclusion of
this information on its face.
Fourthly, the minimal analysis conducted to date provided
recommendations from Professor Fels group that have only partially
been accepted, there is a need for more considered analysis and a
commitment to implement any recommendations.
Finally, I object to the haste, lack of adequate consultation, poorly
articulated scope, secretive approach to process and the amateurish
approach to date in managing this project. A project of such scope is
extremely serious, complex and far-reaching. To attempt to deliver it
in the haphazard way demonstrated to date is seeking failure and
increasing risk.
For these reasons I urge the committee to recommend:
– A careful, transparent and thorough review of the proposal,
including consideration of alternatives.
– A reduced scope for the card to maximise chances of success should
it proceed, including consideration of removing medicare card
replacement from the scope.
– Release of budget and analysis documents currently kept from the public, and;
– removal of photograph and signature information from the card’s face.
Yours Sincerely,
Michael Skeggs
242 Leura Mall
Leura NSW

ETR as a feature of a car stereo

I just spent ages trying to work out what the feature
“ETR” is with a car stereo.
It stands for eletronic tuning radio, but it was a bugger to find.
Here are some meta search key words to help any other poor person find this a bit easier:
AM/FM ETR/PLL car audio stereo tape cassette CD ETR means, ETR stands for eletronic tuning radio

Submission to Fair Use and Other Copyright Exceptions

The Attourney General is still mulling over the possibility of a “fair use” exception to copyrights in Australia, something the US takes for granted, and makes creepy laws like the DMCA less scary for them. Recently there was a call for submissions on an issue paper. Below is my contribution to the murky pool of IP debate.

Submission to Fair Use and Other Copyright Exceptions

Ms Helen Daniels

Assistant Secretary

Copyright Law Branch

Attorney-General’s Department

Robert Garran Offices

National Circuit

BARTON ACT 2600

Dear Ms Daniels,

Please find my submission regarding fair use and copyright exceptions listed below.

Firstly, I note that the issues paper states copyright promotes content creation “It does this by providing exclusive economic rights to copyright owners to control certain uses of their works.” I would remark that it is essential that these rights be applied only for a limited time, allowing the entire community to benefit freely from the works when they enter the public domain.

Secondly, I urge the Attorney-General to reform copyright law in Australia to provide enhanced flexibility for end users. Such a reform is necessary to maintain the balance between rights holders and the community that has been shifted in favour of rights holders by the adoption of the USFTA.

Thirdly, I would urge the addition of a broad fair use exemption to existing laws that is technology neutral and that eliminates anomalies in current laws operation (such as format shifting, time shifting and non-commercial sharing amongst friends).

Fourthly, I would oppose the introduction of any tariff on blank media, as these media can be used for many purposes other than copyright infringement

Fifthly, should either a fair use exemption or a statutory licence be adopted, I would urge that a complementary regulation be adopted to prevent rights holders limiting fair use or statutory licensed copying by technological means.

I thank the Attorney-General for this opportunity to comment.