Stop Internet Censorship in Australia

The Australian Labor Party Senator Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, has put together a plan to censor all Internet traffic in Australia with the stated intention of protecting children from pornography and blocking “illegal material”.

It is my opinion that this plan is completely unnecessary and serves merely as a distraction from the real issues affecting our country at this point in time. It is also a huge waste of money, with $44 million being budgeted in this financial year alone, with more to be spent in the following years.

The are a number of readily available options available today to concerned parents. These include PC software packages, routers with in-built filtering, and Internet Service Providers who offer optional filtering services on a per-account basis.

Australians will not be able to opt out of this scheme – we will only be able to choose between a ‘child-friendly’ setting or an ‘illegal content’ setting. What is illegal or child friendly will of course be determined by the government. It has not been discussed how one would get an incorrectly blocked site removed from the list.

The adoption of Conroy’s plan will result in web browsing being slowed considerably due to the overhead of filtering.

Filtering technology is known to be highly ineffective. A recent Tasmanian trial showed that a significant number of innocent pages were falsely blocked, and similarly, a significant number of ‘child unsafe’ pages (1 in 13 clicks) got through.

Apart from the inaccuracy of the filtering, its overall impact is highly limited – it appears that the filter will only be applied to HTTP (web) traffic. P2P networks such as BitTorrent will not be filtered. Even the HTTP filtering can be easily bypassed using any number of off-shore anonymous proxy servers and VPN gateway.

If you don’t want Internet censorship forced upon you, contact your local Federal MP and let them know. If you don’t know who that is, this site should help:

http://apps.aec.gov.au/esearch
 
And if you want to complain to Senator Conroy, here is his contact page:

http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/senators/homepages/senators.asp?id=3L6
 
The following sites are leading the campaign to oppose the filtering scheme and have detailed information:
 
http://nocleanfeed.com/
http://www.somebodythinkofthechildren.com/

Investing in Gold Made Easy

October 26, 2008 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Business, Finance and Investment 

Many people like to own some gold. It’s a shiny yellow metal and brings up romantic images of Pirates, Spaniards, the Wild West, James Bond Movies, Fort Knox, Bullion, Nuggets and Jewellery.

It also has a reputation for being stable and immune to the inflation and devaluation that affect fiat (paper) currencies. Wars and economic uncertainty almost always spark interest in the metal.

I personally don’t care much for gold as an investment because it generates no income, but a reader asked for my opinion on what are the most convenient and cost-effective ways to invest in gold.

I consider the following methods to be the most convenient due to their accessibility, ease of use and relatively low fees. I must note that I have never personally used them.

Exchange-Traded Gold Bullion Securities

These are listed stocks that allow investors to buy a share in an allocation of gold that is held by a trustee in a vault. Each share represents a beneficial interest in a unit quantity.

For example, each share in the ASX-traded stock ‘GOLD’ entitles the shareholder to a beneficial interest in approximately 1/10th of a troy ounce of gold, and the share price trades at the current Australian dollar value of that amount (AUD$115.70 at the time of writing).

For an investor, the only immediate expenses are brokerage and the buy-sell spread. There are internal administration expenses such as gold storage fees and these are reflected in the share price.

More information can be found here:

http://www.goldbullion.com.au/

http://www.exchangetradedgold.com/

Online Digital Gold Certificates 

These are a form of electronic money that is based on unit amounts of gold. These are issued by private companies that operate websites, the most famous being E-Gold. Think of it like Paypal, except your account balance is measured in ounces or grams of gold.

You can top-up your account by purchasing gold at the current market price in a supported currency, and you can redeem gold at the current market price. You can send and receive any gold, to and from other parties. Each time you carry out a transaction, you are typically charged a commission, based on a fixed quantity or a sliding percentage scale.

Online digital gold currencies have generated controversy due to their abuse by fraudsters and money-launderers. Questions have also been raised about the proportion of clients’ funds that are actually held in gold bullion, but I am not aware of any cases in which the digital gold providers did not meet their financial obligations to clients.

More information can be found here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_gold_currency

Stock Valuations and Kevin Rudd’s $1M Bank Deposit Guarantee

Hello Everyone,

Pardon the sparseness of my posts in the last fortnight. I have been reading and thinking very hard. For me, it is important to try and say something meaningful rather than contribute to the endless media waffle concerning the current financial crisis that does nothing more than waste time and confuse people further.

As first glance, many ASX stocks look incredibly cheap based on historic valuations. There are now heaps of shares that have P/E ratios less than 10, and offer fully-franked dividend yields greater than 10%. These are not just the battered property trusts who have high debt – many of these companies are in other sectors and are still reporting record earnings growth. So why aren’t these companies’ share prices going up?

The reason is that sentiment is very very poor. The market is anticipating future drops in earnings over the next few years as the financial crisis runs its course. People lack accurate, trustworthy information, so they are expecting the worst.

I personally see reasons to be positive. Emerging markets like Brazil, China and India are still growing strongly, and many Australian companies have exposure to these economies. There will still be demand for cheap consumer goods. Plenty of money will still be made in biotechnology and agriculture.

My share portfolio has been battered heavily – I have many small cap stocks which naturally are more volatile and lack liquidity, but they’ve all been paying their dividends like clockwork and most of these dividends are higher than last year. I do not buy shares that do not pay a good dividend – I see the dividend as a mark of business stability and compensation for periods of stagnation.

Right now, I expect the market to see-saw up and down for a prolonged period. I am looking at ways to take advantage of this. One area I am reading up on is the investment technique known as Value Averaging. Most people are familiar with Dollar Cost Averaging, in which one regularly invests a fixed amount of money into a share or managed fund, regardless of the price. 

With Value Averaging you vary the contributed amount depending on the value of your portfolio at the end of each time period, in order to reach a pre-defined target. The end effect is to buy more shares when prices are lower and buy fewer shares when prices are higher. Research has shown Value Averaging to outperform Dollat Cost Averaging about 95% of the time. I plan to write a post on this in the near future. If you can’t wait, click on the above link.

In other news, on the 12th of October, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd surprised everyone by announcing a package to provide an unlimited  guarantee on bank deposits. The financial markets reacted like an agitated grizzly bear hit with a tranquiliser dart – there was a day of temporary euphoria, followed by a swift return to instinctive behaviour.

A week later, Kevin realised that the package may have been overly generous and he announced that the bank deposit guarantee would be limited to $1 million. Beyond this amount, bank account holders would have to pay for insurance.

I question the wisdom of this scheme. Although this may have allayed consumer fears about the solvency of banks, it may have had the unintended side effect of further fuelling an exodus from shares and other asset classes into this newly created ‘perfect safe haven’.

Furthermore, in the event that the financial crisis worsens and a bank does become insolvent, where is the Government going to get the money to meet their guarantee obligations? Probably by printing more money! This will cause increased inflation and devalue everyones’ wealth. Nonetheless, this is probably far more emotionally palatable than going to your bank and being told that your money is gone.

Speaking of inflation, the Australian Bureau of Statistics stated that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) will reach a 13-year high of 5% this year. The current interest rate on Australian bank deposits is around 6%-6.5% per annum, so people who have their money in cash will be treading water.

In contrast, corporate earnings are more resistant to inflation. Assuming that demand remains constant, corporate revenue rises with inflation. For this reason, I see better value in making defensive investments in defensive low-debt stocks than blindly putting money in the bank, unless you need to access your money in the short-term.

A Parable for Religious People

October 19, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Religion 

I am staunchly secular and so are most of the people I know.  I respect other peoples’ choice to follow a religion as long as they do not try and force their beliefs onto me.

One of the most powerful polemic pieces on mainstream religions I have ever read is the parable named “Kissing Hank’s Ass“, written by James Huber. The story uses simple down-to-earth language, but indirectly addresses many philosophical concepts, such as:

  • Identifying circular arguments
  • Occam’s Razor
  • Pascal’s Wager
  • Evidence for the afterlife
  • Contradictions in religious scriptures
  • Religious restrictions on sexual behaviour

Check it out.

The Great Short-Selling Swindle Explained

The recent decisions by major market regulators to reduce market volatility by restricting short-selling have generated much controversy.

Most media coverage has sought to educate the public as to what short-selling is and debate whether the growth of the practice is a cause or merely a symptom of the financial crisis gripping the world. Questions have also been raised as to whether it should be permitted or not.

Despite this, I have not seen anybody attempt to explain how short-selling has been abused in the last year to lead us to the situation we have today.

This article aims to uncover how short-selling has been abused as a tool of market manipulation and deception on the Australian Markets (the ASX). Before continuing, it is essential that you understand the following terms: short-selling, hedge fund, short-position, long-position, margin calls and stop-loss order.

Read more

Tips for Singing Karaoke

October 5, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Music 

For some, Karaoke is a way for drunk people to take the piss out of songs by singing them badly. For others, it is a way of releasing their inner ambitions and displaying latent performing talent. The fact is that good karaoke will be enjoyed by all.

When I was travelling alone in the USA, I found singing Karaoke a good way of generating a good vibe and meeting people. Here are a few tips I picked up along the way:

Read more

How to Take Advantage of the First Home Saver Scheme

The Australian Government does not concern itself much with the affairs of young people these days – we have an aging population and the young person’s vote is not considered important, but every now and again, it throws a token gesture their way.

By this, I am talking about the First Home Saver Scheme, which commenced last Wednesday, the 1st October.
Read more

Satirical US Election Campaign Videos

I found these satirical US election propaganda videos earlier today. The first, I’m Voting Republication,  was released by Democrat supporters a while ago. The latest video, I’m Voting Democrat, was released in response by Republican supporters a few days ago.

For those of us outside the USA, we can poke fun at both sides.

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