Air conditioner upgrade

I can’t find any technical data on one of our two existing air conditioners. It’s 1960s through-window technology, and it seems it might be somewhere around 130% efficient. A run-of-the-mill air conditioner today is about 400% efficient. What I do know is, when that air conditioner runs our power consumption spikes 2kW; for the cooling we’re getting, this suggests we should be using 700W. It’s costing 40 cents/hour more to run than a modern unit, and it isn’t providing us with heating. It also sounds like a jet aircraft. We don’t use it much.

If it’s replaced with a $2000 unit, the payback is 5000 operating hours. It actually operates for something like 150 or 200 hours a year, so there’s a more than 25 year payback – which isn’t outlandish, given the existing unit is 50 years old now, but I will be surprised if a unit manufactured today survives that long.

Modern units come with DRED support.

Picking an air conditioner is… complex. We’ve taken our home off gas, so we need some kind of electric heating, which I expect to run daily for a number of hours for four months of the year, and the cooling side is something that will get much less use. So, where I live, I need to optimize my “heat pump” for heating performance – COP in the lingo.

As of March 2020, there are more than 3700 air conditioners with performance metrics listed by the Australian government. Thankfully this data is available is CSV format, so can be folded, sorted and mangled. 2000 can be eliminated because they’re not single-split units, so their efficiency will suck balls. Another 450 can be eliminated because they’re not the classic wall hung variety, so will be stupid expensive. Anything smaller than 3KW and larger than 5KW is badly sized for the areas I’m looking at, so now I’m at a “manageable” 300 units. Purging others for efficiency reasons, and I’m down to less than 80. I sort for COP, and start down the list.  The first is $2550, then $1420, then can’t be purchased anywhere, then $880 (a ten-year TCO of $3000, plus installation). A feature check confirms it can be set to a weekday operating cycle and a weekend cycle; we’re off to the races. I locate a supplier who will deliver two for $1,716.00 after trying the local retailer who refuses to answer the phone.

Now for the easy task: I’ve simply got to find a tradie to install my units.

Upgrading Win7 to Win10 with a non-standard Profiles location

Windows 7 has come out of mainstream support, so it’s definitely time to upgrade.

I’d held off because I like Windows Media Center, which isn’t available on Win10, though there is an unofficial method. More about that later.

The machine in question is an old Mac Pro 2008 that I got some years ago.

Apparently some Macs this old have problems with Boot Camp not allowing versions of Windows later than 7. This didn’t affect me (and others have had no issues), but it can be worked around by changing the Boot Camp config file.

From there it should have been like any other Windows 7 machine – use the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool and choose “Upgrade this computer”. (Despite the free upgrade offer having finished years ago, just about everyone finds this still works and the resultant upgrade is fully licenced – assuming the old version of Windows had a proper licence.)

But there was a hiccup. It failed midway through with an error:

0x80070011 – 0x2000D
The installation failed in the SAFE_OS phase with an error during MIGRATE_DATA operation

If you Google around, you’ll find lots of generic advice on forums suggesting to scan your drives, turn off your virus scanner, even try it again in Safe Mode (which doesn’t work – you can’t start an upgrade in Safe Mode).

Only this tip seemed relevant to me:

0x80070011 indicates that the system was trying to move data to another disk drive

0x2000D indicates that there was a problem during the data migration.

It would seem that you have data on another disk drive that the system is trying to migrate and it fails. With your current Win 7 have you moved data about and changed the location of system folders such as programs, users, etc. If so, you should try and get everything back to default locations and try the upgrade again.

Thank you to that person who actually looked into what the error means!

This rang alarm bells for me because some years ago I moved Windows to an SSD (drive C) and put the user directories onto drive D, using SYSPREP so Windows would figure out what was meant to be where.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I now realise Microsoft warns this is not supported for Windows upgrades. Damn.

In my case, the SSD is too small to hold all the users’ documents/photos/videos, but should be okay with most other files.

How to fix it

I’ve worked through this (it took several attempts).

Here is my solution, assuming that like me, your user and ProgramData directories are on D: drive and Windows needs to be convinced they’re on C: drive:

  1. If you’re short of disk space, you might want to clean up each user’s D:\users\USERNAME\AppData\Local\Temp directory – eg delete everything older than today.
    (Be warned, this could cause some minor issues with some applications, so if in doubt, don’t delete.)
  2. Disk Cleanup to remove all the unused temp files and empty all the Recycle Bins and free up any other possible space on C:
  3. Copy all the D:\users\USERNAME directories (except the ones that are likely to be big, and can still be located on D: drive: Documents, Pictures, Videos, Music, Downloads) to c:\users
  4. The tricky bit: we need empty Pictures, Videos, Music, Downloads directories, as these don’t get created automatically once the user profile is moved in step 5. I found it was easiest to start copying these one by one, but cancel, then remove all the files in the c: copy, so each was empty – for step 7. We’re using Copy instead of just creating them new to hopefully avoid any permissions problems.
  5. Edit the Registry: Under HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\ProfileList change each user’s ProfileImagePath to the new drive
  6. Log on as each user and check everything looks okay. If it refuses to log you in, you know something’s gone wrong with the C: drive directories or their permissions.
  7. As each user, open Windows Explorer or the Start Menu and browse to My Documents, Pictures, Videos, Music, Downloads, for each of these go into Properties and Move the location back to D:\Users\USERNAME\Whatever. When asked if you want to move files, choose No (since at step 3 you didn’t copy them). (You can do this after upgrading to Win10 if you prefer)
  8. You can then delete the directories you DID copy in step 3 from d:\users\USERNAME – since these are no longer used
  9. Also the ProgramData directory needs to be on C: if it isn’t already. There’s probably no need to copy it back, as applications should re-create what they need. Check and change if required the ProgramData setting in the Registry: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\ProfileList to point to C: drive or %SystemDrive%
  10. Verify Win7 is still working okay for each user, then do another Disk Cleanup to clear out the Recycle Bins again. (Clearing old Windows Update files is also possible, but takes ages.)

After all that I found it was okay to go install the Win10 upgrade.

After the upgrade, Public Documents/Pictures/Videos also didn’t show up by default for the users, but these can be added by browsing to the old D:\Users\Public directory and right-clicking each one and choosing Pin To Quick Access.

Other stuff

  • To my surprise, Microsoft Security Essentials wasn’t removed by the Win10 upgrade, at least not the time it worked. The normal MSE uninstall is buggy – you have to jump through some hoops. Running its SETUP.EXE worked for me, but note you have to set the compatibility for ALL users if your normal user it not an Administrator.
  • I briefly tried the claimed method of installing Windows Media Center, which didn’t work for me. I tried Kodi, which needs NextPVR to watch and record broadcast TV… then I discovered that NextPVR can do that on its own – so I removed Kodi again, since I don’t need it!
  • NextPVR did need the LAV decoders, but other than that, it seems to have worked fine with my old EyeTV Diversity USB tuner.

Good luck!

uBank: Sorry, Internet Banking is temporarily unavailable.

uBank is an Australian “Internet bank”, in such that they don’t have any branches. That’s fine, they can do everything except deal with cash. They’re owned by the NAB.

They have an app, which gets an absolute bollocking in the App Store. So people use the website instead. I need to do things with that account about once a month.

Close enough to half the time I try to login, I get the error message “Sorry, Internet Banking is temporarily unavailable.” with a page title of “Login Maintenance”. There’s no other kind of banking with these guys. The last time this happened was just before 4pm, which I believe is the close of transactions for that day. Why the hell would you do site changes in the middle of the day, and why just before the close of business? The NAB is a real bank, and I presume it doesn’t pull this kind of crap. They don’t even give a window (“Out until 14:30” or “Down for five minutes”). No post on their FaceBook website saying “there’s a planned downtime this afternoon” or “Sorry for the emergency outage, but rats were chewing on the coolant lines and that just isn’t okay. We humanely hit them with sticks until they stopped.”.

This is a very bad railroad.

YahooGroups sails into the sunset – export your data now

YahooGroups is mostly shutting down.

This official notice tries to describe what’s being removed and what isn’t, but succeeds in being a bit confusing: emails to groups will keep working, but “Conversations” and “Email updates” won’t.

My reading is you’ll still be able to send emails and they’ll be distributed – but nothing else will work.

But I’d also assume this is not a business they want to be in anymore, so even emails will probably be discontinued before too long.

There’s an option to download all your data: it’s accessible via this link: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/getmydata

It took a week for it to be ready.

Then it took 5 goes for the download to actually work. It repeatedly conked out part way through.

When it finally worked, the result (for me) is a 1.6 Gb zip file with everything from (it appears) every group I’m in, including messages, files and everything else.

Inside the subdirectories for each group is:

  • files.zip
  • links.zip
  • medias.json – this seems to be metadata for the photos and attachments, below
  • messages.zip – looks to be mbox files with the entire archive of messages
  • photos_and_attachments.zip

I can’t see some of the more esoteric data from YG, such as Databases, Polls and Events. Export of those might have to be a manual process.

If you’re interested in getting your data, I’d get onto it now. It’s all scheduled to be wiped in mid-December, and the process may become even slower than a week.

2020-01-16: The deadline was extended to the end of January 2020.

Comment numbering on WordPress

One thing I find quite handy on my blog is comment numbering.

I had it for a little while ages ago, and people liked to be able to say they were responding to Comment Number Whatever.

Alas, whatever mechanism I had been using stopped working.

If you Google for it, you’ll find any number of hints and tips pages from about 2013 which refer you to Greg’s Threaded Comment Numbering plug-in… which is no longer maintained, and no longer works with new versions of WordPress.

Thankfully I found a way that works – and it’s actually simpler.

The new ability to add custom CSS into Themes means you can add this:

li.depth-1 {
    list-style-type: decimal;
}

There are further tweaks you can do if you’re using threaded comments, but the above works for me.

One catch: On some templates, a comment by the blog author is highlighted. This may suppress the numbering for that comment (so it misses out). It’s doing that on my personal blog template, but not here on geekrant. I’ll look for a fix for that.

How to block notification requests in Chrome

Oh the irony.

Anyway, the steps:

  1. Go to Chrome Preferences
  2. Advanced
  3. Site settings (or “Content settings”)
  4. Notifications
  5. Click the “Ask before sending (recommended)” switch off. It should then say “Blocked”

Yeah it’s a counter-intuitive caption on that button. It implies that switching it off will just drown you in a sea of unwanted notifications without asking you.

But it seems to work.

If you use Firefox or Safari, this How To Geek article covers those. The article notes that Edge doesn’t currently have an option to turn them off for good.

New used laptop: Thinkpad T430

I meant to post this ages ago: I got my first Thinkpad – an old T430. Very nice.

I had been looking for my first Thinkpad; an upgrade off a slow Lenovo (non-Thinkpad) laptop, and I thought I might splash out on a new one.

But then I discovered my sister had an ex-work T430 she didn’t want. Sold it to me for what she got it for: AUD $100.

Specs: i5-3320M (2.6 GHz), 4 Gb RAM, 1600 x 900 display, SSD. With a dock (that I’m not sure I’ll ever use)

Some scuffing on the case, but overall it’s in very nice condition.

And I found I could still upgrade it from Win7 to Win10 for free, using the Media Creation Tool.

I added another 4 Gb of RAM.

The keyboard is lovely, but I never did get used to the Fn/Ctrl key locations being backwards from most layouts, so I ended up swapping them in the BIOS.

Problems

One oddity after upgrading to Win10: Microsoft Edge was extremely slow to respond to clicks. The solution was a clean Win10 install – via the “reset your PC” feature.

I also found that under Win10, the trackpad would sometimes freeze up for a few seconds, particularly after two-finger scrolling. This turns out to be an issue with the Lenovo trackpad “palm check” feature. Set this to the minimum setting (or turn it off) and it seems to go away. The same problem occurs for some other Lenovo laptops.

Modding

More reading for myself when I get the chance: Modding guide

But I hope this old laptop will keep me going for a while for my on-the-go computing needs.

If your XBox One game disc is faulty, you can install the game from the network

I was going to blog about this some time ago, but it slipped my mind. Better late than never.

I bought an XBox One, and some games. Then I looked for secondhand games, and bought one or two, mostly stuff you can’t buy new anymore, like Halo remastered and Star Wars – Battlefront.

The Star Wars disc turned out to be faulty. The shop would happily take it back, but didn’t have a replacement they could give me.

It turns out that, provided it can be at least partially read, you can use the disc to prove to the XBox that you own the game, then install it off the network.

It’s easy: pop the disc in, cancel out of the installation, then go to the XBox store and find the same game. It’ll give you an install option, which will download it from the servers.

Unlike a game bought online, you’ll still need the disc in the console to play the game.

Neato.

(Source: This Reddit tip)

Sanden Heat Pump water tank outlet size

The outlet size on a Sanden Heat Pump’s water tank is 3/4 inch (DIN20) with a BSP thread, so be aware you’ll have to use a reducer to get down to the normal 1/2 inch (DIN15) copper pipes. At least, that’s what I was told on the phone. The Sanden specification sheet, which has legible diagrams and writing compared to the installation instructions for an Australian Sanden, says the thread is NPT – but admittedly the model numbers are different (GAU-315EQTE on the clearly Australian installation instructions, GAUS-315EQTD on the American spec sheet). It also gives the dimensions, which when turned into SI units are 756mm H x 883mm W x 362mm D for the compressor and 1490mm H x 678mm W diameter for the 315L tank. For further fun, the installation manual includes a photo of an installed system on the first page – the system is installed too close together, according to the instructions.

However, 3/4″ pipes are able to transport a greater volume of water per unit time. If you’re running warm water down them for bathing, rather than hot for subsequent mixing, greater carrying capacity means better water pressure when running multiple showers, for example. If one was replumbing a whole house, and doing so with pre-mixed warm water, replumbing with 3/4″ copper would be a reasonable thing to do.

Be aware that the cold water inlet has a maximum pressure of 650 kpa.

Refactoring the tax code

Our tax system is broken, properly.  It is insanely complex.  It’s a messy mix of transfers (e.g. the old age pension) and taxes (e.g. income tax).  Normally, when code ends up as a huge ball of mud someone steps in and re-writes it, or re-expresses it bit-by-bit (refactoring) until it’s much better – clearer, faster with a smaller footprint.

Before you refactor, you’ve got to figure out what the system is meant to do – what kind of country do we want Australia to be?


Generally I imagine Australians agree they want a progressive taxation system, where poorer taxpayers pay a smaller proportion of their income in tax compared to the richer members of society.  They want one where tax can’t be evaded (the system has high integrity), and the proportion of the economy devoted to the evaluation, collection and remittance of tax is low (it is efficient).  There seems to be an appetite for a system that operates, over the long term, neutrally – no Greek-style runaway spending, nor perpetual budgetary surpluses.  Equally, while Australians like the idea of a small government, they actually want a large one – one that intervenes to take the rough edges off of life, that provides a safety net no matter what misfortune befalls you; but they don’t want their government’s generosity to be exploited by those without need.  I look at as: I don’t want to look at poor people; make it better.


We’ve got unemployment benefits, single parent benefits, old age benefits, disability benefits and more.  But the nub of all of these payments is that a civilised society doesn’t leave anyone in abject poverty, and that problems that aren’t your fault ought to be covered by broader society. So what makes the unemployed less in need of support than a single parent?  Free money reduces the incentive to work, if one can.  How can a government tell if you’re merely free-loading?  Should it care, or should we – as a society – deem that if you don’t want to work, you shouldn’t have to?  What should we be doing when there’s a worldwide depression, and there just isn’t any work to be had?  If there’s no work for you locally, ought to be compelled to move, potentially away from friends and family – it reasonable to say that if your friends and family are so great that you refuse to move, they (instead of the government) can look after you?  If you bought your own home while you were working, ought the government give you have an easier go of it once you retire?  If you retire in the city, ought payments be made to you to compensate for the higher cost of rents than rents in the country?

The recent budget has decided that tertiary students ought to contribute more towards their education (by way of paying for a greater proportion of the cost of their education, and then paying more for the associated debt), and do so more quickly (by way of lowering the repayment threshold to basically the minimum wage).  Which is all good and well, but it seems that all those who got their education at lower rates or even free ought to shell out too – so if you got your education in the late 1970s, you ought to have a retrospective charge levied against you today.  I’m not clear on what use art degrees are to our economy, but if fewer are undertaken, is that so bad?  Don’t we want a well-educated citizenry?  It’s been pointed out that graduates earn more, so they ought to pay their way – but don’t they do that in higher tax brackets? What, if anything, should we do about the perpetual student – gaining education but never applying it to the benefit of society? What of those who build up a substantial education debt and then move to another country to apply said education?


The tax system is a little more complex – there are some taxes (sin taxes) that try to discourage legal but morally undesirable things – drinking, gambling, smoking, greenhouse gas emissions.  Other taxes discourage consumption – taxes on insurance, land transfer, Goods and Services Tax, excise on fuel.  Still more taxes try to level income inequality; our income tax system taxes are proportionally higher on higher incomes. In Australia we don’t have much in the way of asset taxes to level out disparity in asset ownership, but there are the odd example here and there.

If you design a tax system wrong, it discourages desirable behaviour and relatively encourages undesirable behaviour.  These behaviours ought to be enumerated somewhere.  Is saving better than consumption?  Can you have too much of one or the other?  Societal happiness increases with greater income and asset uniformity, but communist societies have shown that reward must follow effort or work becomes demoralising. So how much equality is enough, and how much inequality is too much? Should sin taxes be eliminated by eliminating the associated sin, as New Zealand is doing with tobacco?


I see a lot of our tax expenditures don’t mesh with any reasonable model of how the world ought to be, or commonly held views.

FBT – what the hell? Weddings are funded by the taxpayer? Allow me to refactor FBT for you: Organisations can spend money on whatever they like.  If they want to deduct that expenditure from their taxable income, they need to either: show it was a legitimate business expense, or attribute it to another taxpayer for whom it will be income.  Thousands of pages of legislation replaced with two sentences.

There’s been a lot of rhetoric lately, and from it I’ve learned that apparently debt is bad – especially being indebted to foreigners.  If it’s bad, make interest payments to foreign entities deductible at 98% rather than 100%, and keep lowering the proportion of the international interest bill that Australian taxpayers will subsidise until an acceptable mix of domestic-international debt is reached.

The Howard government decided that we needed more children, and women in the home, so paid for giving birth and underfunded childcare.  Payments were made for birthing and having children, almost regardless of income.  Welfare payments blew out to be by far the largest part of the budget, and importing children (via adoption) just got harder, slower and more expensive. I guess they were the wrong colour or something – bloody protectionists. Anyway, we ought not be growing babies locally, we ought to be importing them.  The demographic issues have been well studied.  Global population is expected to top out after the next couple of billion people, and then start dropping, but as I understand things Australia has no plan to balance its population growth. Is that the kind of country we want, covered in population centres, with cities that smear across hundreds of kilometres?

The biggest expenditure is on the Department of Defence, but I’m unclear what that department is tasked with or why it costs so much.  Apparently its role is to “protect and advance Australia’s strategic interests by providing military forces“, but that could be any armed force in the world.  Is it meant to repel a foreign invasion?  Is it meant to protect our exclusive economic zone?  Is it meant to provide an acceptable contribution to UN interventions?  Is it a coiled spring, ready to train up millions of soldiers in case of emergency?  Why does it need tanks, or fighter aircraft?  The USA is clear what their DoD is for, it’s the employer of last resort and a jobs program for domestic companies that can’t find other purchasers elsewhere. What is our DoD for?

There’s currently a bunch of whining about how Australian median Real Disposable Income has been stagnant for the last decade. The Liberal party is convinced the only way to get it moving is with Trickle-down economics – dropping the corporate tax rate. Labour seems to think if we get rid of enterprise bargaining, roll-back anti-union legislation and raise the minimum wage everything will be sorted. I think it’s globalisation at work – everything will level out, with wages in the developing world rising, and those in the developed world dropping. If you want less of something: tax it; if you want more of something: tax it less. If you want employees to be paid more, make wages deductible at more than 100%, rather than taxing corporate profits less.

So, tax system broken, needs more income (and perhaps dramatically less air superiority fighter jets).


Increasing and broadening the GST would dramatically increase the tax take, but that comes at a cost.  The GST is a regressive tax.  Taxing things like fresh food, health-care and financial payments (interest, insurance) is complex, in that there are a large number of interacting considerations. On the whole, I’m in favouring of taxing everything (broadening that tax) and hiking the rate.  But this is where the complicating considerations come in.

Push up GST and a lot of high-value purchases will go overseas – cameras, phones, breast implant surgery, etc. – because international transactions are not taxed.  This no-tax on international transactions has the effect of pushing multinational companies to bill from foreign countries and avoid GST on their sales (e.g. Google, Apple, et al). So: just tax international financial transactions; credit cards and PayPal to start with, that will catch 99% of low-value transactions, but you’re going to have to keep moving to catch whatever the latest work-around becomes. I can see health insurance funds moving overseas, for example. Or just tax all international transactions, with a simple piece of paperwork to fill in if that wasn’t a payment for goods or services, but was in fact a transfer.

There’s a complaint that if taxes are set too high, the taxpayers will leave.  High income earning English speaking workers are highly mobile, and can move to whatever tax jurisdiction they like, and they can move their money there too.  But if they’re living in Australia, consuming Australian government services, they’ll get taxed here.

Anyway, once you’ve hiked up the GST tax take, you’re going to have to compensate the poor – consumption taxes are regressive (i.e. the proportion of your income gobbled up by them is higher the lower your income is).  This is where negative income taxes come in; everybody (children included) becomes a taxpayer, and gets a cut of the negative income tax goodness.  And thus we’ve closed off this inequity – yes, more GST is paid, but if you don’t have any income the government hands over money that ought to cover the additional GST you’ll be shelling out.


Companies and Trusts are taxed as a different rate to the rest of the population, although I’m not clear as to why that is.  In fact, I’m not clear as to why companies pay tax at all.  Companies and Trusts ought to be legally obligated to hand over their profits to their owners each tax year, and have the owners deal with the tax liability arising from that.  Doing so would remove an enormous world of complexity and opportunity to manipulate the tax system.  Naturally taxpayers without TFNs will have to have tax withheld at the highest marginal rates, for later imputation.  Admittedly, this will lead to an increase in unemployment for accountants and lawyers, but I’m really not upset by that.

Although donations to a registered charitable cause are wholly tax deductible, for some weird reason there’s a company tax exemption on companies owned by charities – why not just donate all of this year’s profits to the owning entity?  In the same breath, government-owned businesses pay tax, but the tax paid by businesses owned by state governments are refunded to those same state governments. No doubt this is some relic from the transfer of taxation power from the States to the Commonwealth, but enough is enough.

Often companies don’t pay out all of their profits as dividends – some of that money is retained to fund growth.  This can continue to happen under my proposed system; the liability for the full profit is transferred to owner, but the amount of cash transferred is up to the directors.

So, by taking companies out of the tax-paying regime an enormous amount of fiddling and pissing around will be removed – creating a simpler, more straight-forward and transparent tax system.


Capital Gains Tax makes a poor attempt at smearing the real (i.e. inflation-adjusted) realised capital gain over period it was made and taxing it as income, but while treasurer Peter Costello introduced concessional taxation and since then Australian housing has become unaffordable for a large section of the population.  The ATO is perfectly capable of applying capital gains over the entire earning history, and ought to do so.  50% CGT concession ought to be removed, as it doesn’t encourage investment but instead speculation.

CGT exemption for housing is a hard problem, but one I think I have a solution for.  Read below.


Houses have proven to be a failing in our taxation system.  Concessional taxation treatment means CGT is not payable on homes.  State governments have become addicted to the revenue of turnover in the property market, which is a volatile income stream.  Stamp duty on property is a substantial impediment to transactions – it costs a lot of money to move home, which means labour will be much less willing to move to follow work. Inflexible labour markets drive up employment/business costs. Instead of stamp duty on property transfers, state governments ought to do as the ACT is doing and move from stamp duty to levying annual property taxes.


Tony Abbott said in 1995, “The basic objective of compulsory superannuation is that the government is taking our money now so that it does not have to pay us a pension when we retire.

“The government is making us worse off now so that it will be better off in the future.”

This is a laudable goal. Choosing to not work merely because you’re old is foreseeable, and the government ought not be expected to insure you, or the broader populous, against foreseeable certitudes.

Super is not a con as Abbott asserted, and the rates need to be increased.  Given that people can generally be expected to earn income for 45 years and be retired for 20, putting away a third of your income for old age wouldn’t be outrageous.

Superannuation is fabulous idea, tucking away income for the future, and is concessionally taxed on the way in, and also while in the super system – enabling growth of superannuation savings.  On the way out – if you wait long enough (60 years of age) – the money is tax-free.  Why tax free?  Isn’t it income?  This is madness, and needs to stop.

Because of the tax-free status, super is seen as a fantastic mechanism for inheritance planning, and that’s outrageous.

It’s time to rework superannuation; make it an income-smoothing scheme:

Make all contributions 100% tax deductible, and split each contribution into two – one part vested until retirement, the equivalent of today’s super system.  Money transferred into super, or earned while in super, will be non-taxable. If you inherit super money, it’s income – but you can shove it straight into your own superannuation account and avoid paying tax on it.  When you pull money out of super, it’s income. Employers won’t pay their employee any more – it will all go to their super fund, who withhold appropriate amounts for tax and old age, and pay the employee whatever they ask for – more or less than they earned, it’s up to them, because it is all smoothed out and tax accounted for. There’s only hundreds or thousands of super funds, so push the tax paperwork onto them rather than the millions of businesses around Australia.

If you want to buy a house, they’re considered superannuation investments and can be bought with your superannuation money. When you sell it the sale proceeds are wholly income – which you can pay tax on or shove back into your super account.

When not working, for example if you’ve retired, you draw down on your super account and pay tax on it like everyone else.

This set-up will demolish the distinction between assets and income. For too long you’ve been able to build up enormous assets and hand them on to subsequent generations without being clipped for a contribution to running the country.


Of course, much of this was considered by the Henry Tax Review,  The Australia’s Future Tax System Review couldn’t consider super or GST, and they’re two areas that need reform too.  But this stuff is simultaneously obvious and too hard for our politicians.

Replacement Hot Water Service

All my electricity is green: my retailer buys RECS sufficient to back my electricity purchases. As such, I don’t care how much electricity I use, except such that it costs me money.

Breakeven analysis is fun.

My house has a twelve year old 160 litre resistive electric hot water service (HWS). General opinion seems to be that a HWS will last perhaps as long as 12 years before failing (my last house had one that was 30 years old and still going strong). It’s currently inside the house (taking up valuable floorspace), and may not survive being moved outside in the coming renovation. I want an instantaneous gas HWS (unlimited hot water at exactly the temperature I dictate), but refuse to use gas.

Instantaneous electric HWS exist and are only about $1000, but require three-phase power (an upgrade costing a surprisingly small $1000, plus electrical work on my side of the divide).  How much power will it consume?  Turns out, the same as resistive heating the water, but it’s all peak electricity.  That pushes its daily cost quite high.  There are other HWS options; reusing the existing tank (free-ish), replacing it with a larger tank (still resistive, $1000), sucking up all the spare electricity from the PV solar system (perhaps $1000), or a heat pump ($3400), and combinations of the above.

I was able to figure out how much electricity we’re using to power our HWS by virtue of it being on a separate meter to the rest of the house – 4.6kWh/day, costing about $0.85/day because it runs off peak. Hot water consumption is expected to increase after the renovations.  It turns out that how much hot water is consumed, and when, is very important for accurately pricing electricity consumption. I’ve a fairly complex spreadsheet modeling current and projected consumption patterns, and the resultant energy requirement timing and costs. We have a PV solar system, which is how I thought I could push our cost of hot water down – heat it from the panels during the day, when electricity is cheap for me ($0.119/kWh).  If your tank is too small (which ours will be/nearly is already) then you’ve got to heat using electricity other than cheap solar electricity.

I calculated the Total Cost of Ownership at the 5 year mark, and the average daily cost of hot water for the various options (note, this is for my projected hot water consumption profile – yours will differ, altering the values):

Option TCO Daily Cost
Keep existing HWS, peak electricity $4,340 $2.27
Keep existing HWS, off peak only, coupled to instantaneous electric HWS $7,411 $2.69
Buy 315L resistive HWS, off peak only $5,497 $2.46
Keep existing resistive HWS, run off PV solar and off-peak $3,764 $1.51
Buy 315L resistive HWS, run off PV solar $4.968 $1.63
Buy 315L heat-pump HWS, run off PV solar $3,888 $0.27

The heat pump can run off solar using its built-in clock, saving $1000 in diverter costs. You can see that its TCO is a little more than a salvage job on the existing HWS run from solar power, but the daily cost means the heat pump is going to pull away at a mad rate. Hot water that cheap is making me think of grand ways to heat my house.

Ditching gas

All my electricity is green: my retailer buys RECS sufficient to back my electricity purchases. When I calculated my household’s Green House Gas emissions equivalence, we pulled in emissions below 15% of that of the average Australian household. In fact, our emissions were down to two sources: our car (7000 km/year @ 9l/100km – emitting a quarter of that of the average Australian household) and our natural gas consumption (20300MJ/year – home heating emissions 57% of that of the average Australian household).  Apparently emissions can vary from 3 to 30 tonnes/year – I’ve calculated my household at around 2.5 tonnes per year at the moment. I think we can do better. How about 1.5 tonnes per year?

I’ve had a poke around the non-hydrocarbon motorised transport market. There isn’t much there for me, cars are north of $50,000, lifespans are limited. If I could buy an electric car for $20,000 that was going to last 20 years, I’d be up for it. Because I can’t, hydrocarbons will continue to be used for this form of transport. Will revisit when car fails, I’m guessing in less than a decade. Besides, I’m pretty convinced “car ownership” will end up being something people did in the 20th century, not the 21st.

We don’t cook with gas; we have an induction cooktop. I hate electric cooking – resistive electric cooking. It’s inefficient, slow, too cold, too hot, ugly and messy and too expensive. I’ve always cooked on gas. Induction cooking has turned me around; it’s everything gas cooking is, without the explosions, burnt-on gunk, poisoning and GHG emissions.  However, it is fussy (it only works with ferrous cookware) but that’s inconvenient, not a showstopper (example: coffee pecolators are almost all aluminium, and those that aren’t have a very small base. The pecolator has to go in a small pot to be used).

Our gas consumption is purely for space heating via a ducted heating system. It costs less than $770/year to heat our house, so an electric replacement will need to be competitive with that. Having run the numbers, I’ve calculated our gas consumption produced 4000kWh of heat in the house each year. Doing that with air conditioners would (assuming 400% efficiency, which is pretty middle-of-the-road) require 1000kWh of electricity. I seem to pay about 30 cents/kWh (if you can figure out what your electricity actually costs you, I’d love to hear what you did to get that number), so that’s $300/year to run air conditioners instead of ducted heating. Payback is less than 10 years if $4000 is spent on adding aircon units.

From an environmental and financial perspective it’s time to ditch gas, so I’m off. Each gas bill raises the daily connection fee.  It’s about $1/day now, so if you don’t use much gas there’s an increasing incentive to use no gas at all. Nearly half my bill is for the privilege of having a gas supply.

But wait! I love wok cooking, and there’s almost no way to wok-fry stuff without gas. What to do? For a couple of years we’ve used a butane camp stove as a stop-gap until we got around to plumbing in our dedicated wok burner, but if we’re cutting off gas we’ll continue living like animals for the rest of our squalid lives! No fear, says my plumber: convert to LPG – like used for BBQ cooking. And so, we now happily wok-fry on gas, which I figure will cost us $30 – $60 a year to refill the bottle. $38 for the LPG conversion kit for the burner, which would have been avoided if I’d thought this all through a couple of years ago when buying the wok burner.

The next problem is: what to do about hot water?