Friday, 16 December 2011

Hardtop Hassles

Paint it silver or leave it black?

Now that what felt like an interminable wait for the MX5’s hardtop is over, I decided I’d better get organised to actually fit the thing.

I’d taken a photo to see how it looked. It looked OK.

I’d even stuck it on top of the car, clipped the two front brackets in place, and drove it around the block.

This disabused me of any notion of actually using it before all clips and brackets were installed. It made the most amazing rubbery creaking noises, and threatened to detach itself and fall off onto the road. The results would not have been pretty.

Now we’re told by the aficionados that any genuine Mazda hardtop will fit any series of MX5. This is true, but there are a range of clips and brackets and you have to match the clips on the hardtop with the latches on the car.
Frankenstein bolts aren't rocket science

Brackets and clips changed with three models of MX5 and I presume three models of hardtops. The mathematicians out there will probably contradict me, but I think that amounts to nine possible combinations. Given that I had no idea of the vintage of the hardtop (although I did of the car) this matching up exercise was not necessarily straightforward.
Lots of bits

I did lots of browsing on MX5 websites (there are plenty) and after a careful inspection of both car and hardtop came up with pics of what was needed. These I emailed to the three or four suppliers and got info about price and availability. In the end the best deal was local (Brisbane) so I drove and collected the parts. In the process I discovered that the hardtop is about five years older than the car.

I checked the packaging carefully to make sure I had an LHS bracket and a RHS bracket. Turns out I should have taken the brackets out of the packaging. When I got home I unpacked two RHS brackets. Even weirder, they were different breeds of brackets.

The Frankenstein bolts were the right ones. I guess there’s not much to change in a Frankenstein bolt.

I decided to go ahead and fit it. I reckoned that only one securing device missing out of six would probably not be a major problem. I phoned the supplier who promised an LHS bracket to swap for the RHS one when I was next in Brisbane.
It got a bit messy

The most difficult part of the exercise was cutting an opening into the plastic panel behind the front seat to access the thread for the fixing bolts.

I didn’t have a Dremel, so I went to a hardware store where I was sold a twenty dollar drill attachment which took Dremel bits. It worked OK cutting the panel. The aperture has rough edges but that doesn’t matter as it is hidden by the bracket once mounted.
Dremel attachment

I discovered that a fair bit of mucking about is necessary to adjust each of the brackets to get a tight seal. First time on is not the two minute job it’s supposed to be.
RHS bracket installed 

Anyway, it all bolted together, and is watertight after spraying with a Karcher (which didn’t go “twang” when I packed it away).

There seems to be less wind noise with it mounted which means that you can hear the motor – a much more pleasant sound.
Front bracket and clip

The greatest advantage is security. I can leave the thing parked now without worrying that some lowlife will quickly and quietly slit the soft top to get at whatever is in the car. Rear vision is also improved.
Rear clips over Frankenstein bolts

It doesn’t leak, but then the convertible top was also watertight. This has always been one of the Mazda’s main advantages over classical British roadsters.

Ballad of the GFC

Hat tip to Plane Talking.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

A Certain Symmetry

My big cleanup is revealing a lot of interesting forgotten stuff.

These two photos for instance – ignore the quality.

The top one was taken in Port Moresby at a RAAF base in 1944. My dad is front row, second from left.

The lower shot was taken during rookies at Singleton in 1969. I’m the only one without a hat – always hated wearing hats.

There’s a certain symmetry about this.

The separation was 25 years. My sons have missed out. There is no photo for 1994 (which would have been 25 years on).

I’m not at all disappointed about that.

Looking Back

I was having a cleanup the other day and came across an opinion piece I wrote for the local rag, the Toowoomba Chronicle, back in October 1997.

At that time I was the principal of one of the two special schools in town.

It's interesting to look back. The numbers of children in special schools are beginning to rise again, and the corporate emphasis has moved to issues such as NAPLAN.

Some things haven't changed. Excellent work is still being done in these schools. This work - where it brings kids from dependency to Independence saves the community a fortune. It's not recognised because it's not sexy - not edgy.

Many of the issues discussed in this piece will hopefully be addressed by the mooted National Disability Insurance Scheme. Both parties support it, but it remains to be seen whether or not the pollies are simply blowing bi-partsan hot air.

The funds to allow this transition from institutional schools to community schools originated in the Whitlam era.

That is something else lost in the mists of time.

The article is much longer than what I normally post here (1400 words), but stick with it.

It has a happy ending.

I can vividly recall a conversation I had in the mid eighties that helped me clarify my understanding of the word “education”.

In 1986 I was given the task of establishing and opening a new school for children with severe disabilities in a large regional centre in North Queensland.

Almost all the children who were to attend this school were living in a nursing home run by a private charity, and had always attended school-in a building on the premises of their residential.

It was my job to persuade the board of directors of this agency that the children should all attend the new school. On this particular occasion I was trying to convince an eminent (and scholarly) director of the merits of this proposition.

The fact that he always took every opportunity to criticise my grammar whenever I spoke with him wasn’t helpful, nor did it do much for my confidence as a young principal in his first large school. The new school was some five kilometres distant from the nursing home where the children lived and was in the process of construction. After issues of safety, transport, supervision and accommodation had been planned to this director’s satisfaction, he was still unable to give his sanction to schooling away from the institution.

The reason he gave was that these children were “unreceptive to education”. It took me some time to realise that we didn’t share a common understanding of the term.

To this person, the product of a generation schooled in the 1940s and 50s, education meant academic learning as applied to grammar, trigonometry, history, geography, algebra, and the classics.

Given our very different backgrounds, it was no surprise that we disagreed. In our own ways we were both correct. The difference was in the respective values we placed on what is learned, on curriculum.

As a teacher of children with disabilities, I had an understanding gleaned from working hands-on with these children. I had seen them develop over time the hard-won ability to move, communicate, speak, socialise and organise themselves to perform the routine tasks of daily living.

Education is about all these things.

Society is inclined to put a value on curriculum that devalues the importance of the more fundamental and functional skills.

I wonder which of the following is more likely to produce an individual capable of living a productively independent life – the skill of calculating the area of a complex geometrical shape, or the ability to safely prepare a nutritious snack.

For most children these skills of independence are learned before they go to school or at home while they are of school age. For some children with disabilities, this is not always possible, and they have to develop these skills at school.

Although providing sufficient resources to help children with severe and multiple disabilities towards independence is expensive in the short term, it does pay off in handsome savings over the lifetime of the individual. Remember, it costs around seventy thousand dollars per year to provide care for an individual who lacks independence.

The trouble is nobody bothers to measure this. In any case, often the true economic costs are not borne entirely by the community. Much is hidden, unmeasured, and borne by the parents and carers of these individuals.


The preoccupation of economic planners with measurement of corporate inputs and outputs simply fails to recognise the contribution of parents, carers and volunteers.

Because this vital contribution isn’t measured as a financial input, in the world of the corporate managerialist, it doesn’t exist.


Try telling the people providing this care that these hours of toil are a figment of their imaginations. The economic analysis is both half baked and half hearted. It doesn’t take into account the whole picture and the heart has no place in it.

We need only to look back to the early 1960s to get some idea of the progress that has been made in the area of education for children with disabilities.

At that time many of these children were not considered worthy of a place in the public system. Private charities (for example the various Crippled Children's Associations and the Queensland Spastic Welfare League - as it was called then) provided what were generally called "training centres", as well as some schools.

These training centres provided programs for children who fell below a predetermined ability level based on intelligence quotients. Remember the reference to this practice in the deep south of the United States as portrayed in the movie "Forest Gump"? Back then things weren't much different in Queensland.

As the State accepted more and more of its responsibility towards the education of children with disabilities the style and structure of provision changed.

A quiet revolution ensued, which began to see children with severe and multiple disabilities attending state schools, typically Special Schools earlier called "Opportunity Schools",

Responsibility for the schools set up by the volunteer organisations moved to the state. Progressively more of the children with less severe disabilities moved into "regular" schools.

This process was for the most part engineered by teachers at school level. I remember it well, beause I was one of them. Support services were slowly and gradually developed to keep pace with this movement. So much that has been successful has been taken for granted.

To develop an understanding of the massive changes that have occurred quietly over time it helps to look at some figures.


In Queensland in 1989, 6624 students with disabilities were receiving programmes of education in special schools and 207 in units. By 1997, that figure had risen to the point where there are more than four times as many of these children in inclusive settings (units, classes attached and regular schools generally) than in special schools.

In 1975, there were 21 special education units operating in Queensland. As this is written, the number is 136.

In a large organisation like Education Queensland, it is important to maintain elements of the activity of the organisation that can solve unique problems in unique ways.

Special schools do this well as they are structurally more pliable institutions than large primary or secondary schools.

To be relevant into the next century they will need to become even more responsive and flexible in the delivery of services, and work with school communities in other sectors to create programs around groups of children for varying lengths of time.

Special schools in the 1990s are becoming way stations, not destinations, and children will be able to move in and out of their programs as they become more socially, physically and intellectually independent. Many children are at the same time enrolled in both mainstream and special schools, when their learning needs and characteristics demand it.

I am very proud to be part of a state system that is open to all. I am dismayed by the use of the word "exclusive" applied to schools. I am also dismayed by the recent tendency to blame the public education system for the unemployment statistics. Allocating blame is entirely non-productive. It is also very easy – and very lazy. It is much more difficult to do something about the problem.

It is easy to identify the people who are doing something daily about improving the life chances for our young people with disabilities. They include the teacher who is training a boy with autism to comply with instructions, so that he can live safely in the community, They include the physiotherapist who is teaching a child to drive a powered wheel chair so that he can get around by himself.

They include the teacher aide who is helping a teenager who can't speak or move to attend lessons in a secondary school. They also include the parent who comes to school as a routine to help her son overcome the massive social anxiety that his autism triggers.

These people, both teachers and parents, but especially parents, require a kind of stubborn valour, as well as all the skill, knowledge, patience and endurance that they can muster. They also need, from the wider community, recognition that their endeavour is enormously productive.

Incidentally, the result of the conversation referred to at the beginning of this article was from my viewpoint, as the founding principal of the new school, very positive.


All the children from the nursing home were attending the new school by the end of the following year (1987). No longer were their lives confined to the grounds of the nursing home and the school on the premises. Like other children, going to school meant travelling some distance.

One of them was a six year old girl who at that time had been given six months to live. As I write this over ten years later, she is thriving and still at school.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

When hysteria is HIP

On this blog you’ll find a site called “The Failed Estate”.

It’s listed because it’s well-written, frequently updated, and often caustic in its criticisms of mainstream media.

The author concentrates his criticism on style and bias. He doesn’t often deal with substance.

This post is an attempt to do that – deal with substance, I mean.

The topic is the much maligned home insulation programme (acronym used is HIP).

We all know the history of this “abortive” programme. That’s the word most often used, after all, together with “botched”, or “disaster”.

For an initiative to be described in these terms, it must have at least failed in its purpose, killed many people and/or destroyed the lives of many.

Let’s look at purpose. It was designed both to save energy and stimulate the economy. How much energy it has actually saved will probably never be measured accurately, but let’s try.

By the time the programme was suspended, 1.1 million homes had been insulated. The best estimate of energy savings indicates bills of $200 per annum less for the average household.1

That amounts to roughly $220000000 (count the zeros). OK – the scheme has saved 220 million in energy costs. That doesn’t sound like a “disaster”, but perhaps I don’t understand the journalistic meaning of the word. Obviously, there’s some version of poetic licence operating here.

Did it stimulate the economy? It probably did provide jobs and encourage business growth in the home insulation industry, up until the point when the political decision was made to can it. Perhaps the government of the time should have toughed it out? If they had, the consequences of termination wouldn’t have been so severe. One rational interpretation of the history of this programme was that those shock jocks and opinionistas who screamed the loudest bear a responsibility for the result.

OK – there was a cost caused by the hot potato effect.

That brings us to the fires. Note the segue – hot potato – fire – never mind…….

National data has been kept for years identifying the reasons for fire service callouts. Prior to the implementation of HIP, fires in roof insulation were averaging 2.4 callouts per 100000 dwellings per year across Australia.2 Given the hue and cry when fires occurred, you would expect a sharp rise in the incidents of these fires post and during HIP.

You’d be wrong.

The rate of callouts initially rose to 2.5 per 100000 dwellings per annum. That’s a rise of 0.1 per 100000. I’ll leave it to those of you across statistics to determine how significant that is. But then something really strange happened. The rate of fires started to decline.

In the six months to the end of January 2011, the rate has decreased to 1.63 per 100000 dwellings extrapolated to twelve months.

Now that’s really interesting. Could it be that the publicity about the fires has alerted folk who’ve had insulation in for a while to have it checked? Perish the thought – it doesn’t fit the MSM narrative.
The most tragic element of this issue is the deaths of the insulation workers – four in all – three in Queensland.

 These deaths were tragic and unnecessary, but I can recall the language used by Tony Abbott (amongst others) at the time.  Abbott claimed that Garrett could be charged with industrial homicide.

Titans Insulation, a Queensland company was fined $100,000 in August 2011 for unsafe practices after a 22 year old employee was electrocuted at Millaa Millaa. He was killed by shoddy workplace health and safety practices, not by Peter Garrett.

So where does that leave us?

BIP has lowered energy consumption in 1.1 million homes.

It has saved $22 million in energy costs.

It has resulted in the rate of fires caused by faulty insulation to drop from 2.4 callouts per annum per 100000 dwellings to 1.63 callouts.

Maybe the only government incompetence demonstrated in regard to HIP was its early termination. And that really doesn’t fit the narrative at all…….

First Dog

Perhaps I have a warped sense of humour, but I find this funny.
It's reposted from the Crikey website.

Hugh White - Without America

Hugh White is always provocative, and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to criticising current defence policy. In 1995, he was appo...