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This page has some things about my life and family. Only the things I want to share with everyone are here.

Posts related to my life are under this page.

Well, hello there ...

May you be condemned to live in interesting times.

It may be more than a year since I posted here. A long time and yet, it went by so fast. It has been an interesting year. I think I will celebrate the ending of 2018 with three articles. Plus maybe a dozen book reviews. Possibly an update or two in cricket umpiring, brewing and other personal things. Definitely a bit on work.

A quick catch up

"It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to to , We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do. "

Steve Jobs

The following is a little bit catharsis and a little bit still feeling bruised. I will not go into the messy details - for multiple reasons ...

I was working as the Managing Partner with a longstanding management consultancy firm with responsibility for the Public Sector. 2017 was a very good year for us and a major project received an award for best change project of the year from a project management body. We had a small team in Canberra and a decent pipeline of work. However, at the end of February the owner of the business (based in the UK) called and told me that staff would not be paid the following day. I will not go into all the details but the key thing to note is that the liquidator sought funding from creditors to pursue the company directors for a significant amount of money.

For most of the staff, the Australian Fair Entitlement Guarantee helped out by paying most, if not all entitlements apart from redundancy. There were three employees that were not so lucky while still getting some of the lost pay and leave entitlements. Superannuation that was not paid was also lost. Overall a nasty business.

It would most likely have been possible to save the business and continue on with a restructure, had the UK directors approached it the right way. Work I was asked to do to find alternative investors was successful in finding them but the UK directors were not able to negotiate an arrangement due to time constraints and associated issues. Fair to say that March was a busy time for with nothing but additional travel bills to show for it.

One staff member in Canberra was able to start a piece of work we had just won after we were able to negotiate with the client to "novate" the contract. Half the other staff were able to find alternative work fairly quickly, however two had some difficulty. The way the company was just shutdown overnight  caused a lot of stress and anxiety to staff - that is an understatement.

Personally, I was in the fortunate position to choose between offers. I chose to join a company with which we had been doing work on a partnership basis for the past two years. It was the path of least resistance and the right one at a time when much was still uncertain. I worked with them from early April until the end of December. We had a number of goals in mind when I started and, while the revenue ones were exceeded, we were not able to win the larger pieces of work which would have allowed the achievement of growth and margin targets. As a consequence, I notified the board that I would be finishing up. I am now looking forward to a "new set of challenges", I think the current orthodoxy demands.

I will go back to nearly a dozen articles that I started to write and left unfinished over the past year or so. I seem to have ideas and not enough time to finish writing them down.

Three articles

So what do I need to write about?

Working with Smart People. This is after seeing the remarkable reactions from several employers over the years.

What is Consulting Today? A general question that should be asked. The title is Consulting Now!

Startups, Business Agility, Design Thinking and Customers in the real world. This is a little of the trend(s) I have seen in the past decade.

... here goes

Small-ish Change; Big improvement

Last weekend A friend and myself took down a 30 year old pergola. Already I am feeling an improvement.

A pergola produces benefits in the Summer when you want to shade windows from the sun. In a Canberra Summer, you want as little as possible sun hitting the windows and heating an already warm house. In a Canberra Winter, you want as much sunshine as possible to hit the windows and warm a cold house. My pergola was not very good at either. It was designed to have a vine of some sort grow on it to provide Summer shade and that did work well. Unfortunately the vines gradually prised the joints apart making it start to collapse.

As well as that the construction of the pergola meant that there have been large shadows across the windows in Winter. A cross beam cast a shadow of 1.2 m2 and other beams and poles produced shadows of another 1 m2 . Effectively this amounts to 1.4 kW of shading when taking into account the angle of the sun in Winter and a few other factors. Removing the pergola has therefore produced the equivalent of a 1.4 kW heater for 5 hours a day (on average considering fog and cloud). At current electricity prices that is worth 7x$.21 or about $1.50 a day.

Looking out to an unshaded paved area. No pergola adds a large amount of heating.

Looking out to an unshaded paved area. No pergola adds a large amount of heating.

What does it mean in reality? Well, on Tuesday, the indoor temperature at 5 PM was 22.9 degrees. On a cloudier Wednesday it was 21.8. On an overcast Thursday it was 20.1 and on Friday it was 22.3 with light cloud and haze. Saturday was hard to compare because I turned heating on until 11 when the sun came out. It was 22.5 degrees then, with a lot of cloud but warm patches. Minimum temperatures varied from 16.2 to 18.1 over the week, depending mostly on how cold it was outside.

This morning with no fog and clear skies, it is warm enough before midday with a temperature of 22.3 degrees. It should be higher than that soon. Comparing with two weeks ago when the weather pattern was similar, there is a difference of 0.8 degrees. Not very scientific but it is a fair comparison.

Overall, there will be a warming of the house by somewhere between 0.5 and 1 degree. Presumably this reduces the amount of heating required in the evening and saves a substantial amount of energy.

Compared to this time last year the temperature in the house is just over 1.0 degree warmer at 5 PM. It is hard to tell how much of this is due to paving (reflecting more light through the windows) and how much is due to the reduced shading of the windows. It could be just due to more sunlight and higher average temperatures. However, the comparisons do not show that much variation and, in terms of minimum temperatures, this year has been a bit lower.

Next things to do are:

  1. Replacement pergola that will be completely redesigned and provide good shade in Summer while casting no shadows in Winter. It will effectively give the house eaves on the North and use solar PV panels as the "roofing material". More about that soon.
  2. Organise for two or three additional adjustable shade blinds over each of the windows. This will allow me to make real time adjustments in October-November and March-April which are months that have highly variable temperatures. I can let more sun in or exclude it to adjust temperature. Also, in Summer, they provide an extended shadow to reduce reflective light (you can see how reflective the paving is in the photo)
  3. See what I can do to increase the thermal mass and wall/slab insulation to retain more heat or cool within the house. There are several options to consider.

See also

Next Steps for My Sustainability

It is a few years since I updated my plans. Some of the plans have been realised and some not yet started. I am now start putting some costs and outcome/benefits projections into the posts so we can see if those come true.

Current Projects


I have been planning to do some paving for several years. Now I am ready to do it. I have chosen the materials and even got started. Broadly I know what I want and plan to adapt the work to what makes sense over time.

Paving 10 March 2014

Second go at the paving after the very hot weather and cricket stopped me finishing the job. All the pavers in place.

What I Wanted

There are a few things I want from the paving and most of them are about convenience and lifestyle.

  • Remove the scrappy grassed area outside the large windows. Grass is hard to maintain in small areas and needs a lot of water in Summer to keep alive. In Spring and Autumn it needs a lot of maintenance, while in Winter it can become soggy and slippery. Not a great thing when I am looking to use that part of the house more
  • Provide a better entertainment area for pizza parties and the like. Solid footing is a good thing
  • Integrate better with the garden beds and pond. More formal lines will help to make it look clean and tidy
  • Reduce the need to water the area. That will save water usage and contribute to the objective to use much less water in the garden - preferably to use rain water collected from my roof
  • Provide a small improvement in winter light through reflection. This is likely to be around 200W of additional contribution to heating (16 sq m and between 1 and 2% light reflected). It is essentially free so it is good
  • Make it a more attractive entrance area. That happens when I complete paving to the driveway and can convert this part of the house to the main entrance for people.
  • Have a sensible and attractive space for all seasons

What I did

Paving has been almost finished. I did most of it in Summer while I had a week of leave. Then January was far to hot and also cricket called. I finished it off in March. I chose large diorite blocks for the paving so that I will get reflective heat in the Winter. In Summer, I will shade the paving using artificial grass strips as an experiment. If it works I will just move the artificial grass twice each year. Otherwise I will find a way to shade the area attaching shade material to the upgraded Pergola.

The Paving project will cost $740 for materials. The diorite blocks are most of that with sand and tools completing the costs. I have/will do this myself for the enjoyment more than any cost saving. I also know I will get the job done the way I want it. I may need to get hold of a high pressure cleaner to remove discolouration from them once finished.

One thing I found after a period of rain was that there was a lot more subsidence than I expected. I am not sure if it is just that the underlying clay has absorbed water or whether it is the sand base. When I have time off work in August, I will lift the pavers and see. At the same time I will add two more rows of paving to complete an area outside the main windows. It will be finished when I mortar the end of the pavers that is towards the lower part of the block and cap the mortar with square basalt blocks to provide a secure and defined edge.

 Materials Used

  • Diorite pavers from Stonehenge in Fyshwick, selected for their ability to reflect light in Winter and be relatively low maintenance. They also look nicer than clay or concrete pavers.
  • Washed river sand. 2.5 m3 was used to level out the surface and bed the pagers.
  • Crushed quartzite for the edges. 2 bags of 25kg each. This is the edging to keep the look fairly organic and accommodate the curves and straight lines.
  • Level, rubber mallets, decking edging to use for smoothing and levelling. Matock, shovel etc.
  • Basalt blocks to use as edging over mortar to secure the far edge of the paving and prevent erosion of the sand.


I estimated $1,000-1,500 for the paving. It will be completed at around $1,200 all up for materials. Plus labour ... maybe a few thousand dollars worth of it.

It looks good. It seems to perform well. Winter is no problem when walking out there now. Entertaining is a pleasure. Roll on Summer and lets see how that works out.


The pergola needed to be replaced because it was old, falling apart, needed too much maintenance and was not very effective.Here are the issues:

Looking at the pergola after vine removal

Looking at the pergola after vine removal

  • The pergola is 30 years old and made from Oregon Pine. That is not an ideal material for outside structures.
  • It had been covered by grape vines and wisteria. Wisteria damaged the pergola structure and grape vines were quite messy. Moth vines were quite intrusive and high maintenance.
  • Using vines to cover a pergola sounds very eco-friendly. You grow something that has leaves in Summer and none in Winter. However, in Canberra this is not so great. Summer is ok but only if there is complete coverage from the vines so that no sun gets in. If you have that complete coverage, then you almost ensure that Winter sun is excluded too. more than 70% of the Winter sunlight was shaded out by the bare branches of the vines, especially the wisteria.
  • Poles and beams of the pergola contributed to the shading.
  • With the pergola built as an extention of the roof, it is too low in Winter - that is one of the main reasons for it being too shady then
  • There are no eaves. The pergola was supposed to provide a kind of eave but does not do that at all well.

In short, the problem was that shade in Summer was not great and there was far too much of it in Winter. I would be better off with a higher pergola that acts as an eave and lets the Winter sun in, taking advantage of the window efficiency.

As with many things I want to do at my house, tradespeople are not very helpful. They simply want to do what they are familiar with and not consider alternatives or help me to create a design that will do what I want. I continually get the line that what I want to do will be illegal and or dangerous.

What I wanted

The things I wanted most were about efficiency and low maintenance. Above that there are a few things that are good to have and should be possible with a bit of creative thinking.

  • Pull down the existing structure. It has to happen and will reduce Winter shade. Also it is better to remove it than let it fall down at an inconvenient time and potentially do damage.
  • Build a new pergola based on a fairly simple frame that will connect to the walls, fascia and roof tiles. This is different to a pole and beam approach as before.
  • The pergola frame needs to be low maintenance. Colourbond seems a good thing.
  • It should be possible to dismantle and rebuild if needed. Bolted together might be the best.
  • To minimise shade on the windows in Winter. Keeping the pergola high and minimising beams and poles will achieve this
  • Use solar PV panels to provide eaves. They are good roofing material and the cost of solar panels is not much greater than the cost of other roofing materials fixed to a frame. They are designed to withstand the elements and last 25-30 years.
  • Be able to generate electricity from the PV panels
  • Be higher than the lower roof line so that the difference of sun angle between Summer and Winter can be used to better advantage. To do this it will be around 200-300 above the guttering and have a lower slop than the roof. Roof angle is 22 degrees and the ideal angle for the panels will be 11-13 degrees (latitude 34 with 23 degrees deducted in summer. More electricity is generated in the summer when the sun is out for longer periods so an angle that is to perpendicular to the sun in midsummer gives close to the best efficiency. A degree or two more than that is not a bad thing because the rest of the year loses out if the angle is too shallow.

Materials and costs

Pull down. Just labour.

Pergola Frame. About $2500 for the materials and fitting.

Solar Panels and fittings. 2x  1640 x 992 x 35mm modules with 250W and 24 V output. Slightly larger than the remaining 5 which are 1580 x 808 x 50mm and 200 W output at 24V. This is about 11 m overall for these panels and the length  that I want to cover. Cost is going to be around $1900 with shipping and fittings.

Wiring will be around $200. An electrician to certify the install will be another $300. Miscellaneous cabinets and fittings will be about $200.

Batteries and chargers are not included in this costing. I have bought them separately.

What I did

No Pergola and the amount of light that comes through the windows is noticeably greater.

No Pergola and the amount of light that comes through the windows is noticeably greater.

The pergola project has been delayed. Firstly it was delayed when the person I thought would do it for me stopped answering phone calls. I am not sure why. After that it has been delayed because my mother has been ill. Also because I had very little time. I now have someone else who will do the job and some time soon we will start (May 2014).

There is another motivation. The existing 30-year-old pergola is falling down. Nails and other fixings are coming out and the timber is falling apart.

July 2014

With a friend doing most of the work, we pulled the pergola down last weekend. It has an immediate visual impact as well as providing noticeable improvements to light and heat in the house. After two weeks, I can declare this to be a great success. Certainly for Winter where the average inside temperature has been nearly a degree higher compared to last year. Outside temperatures have been lower than last year, in the mornings and about the same in the afternoons.

Next Season

Standalone Power

Water self-sufficiency

Solar Hot Water

Hello Again World!

Starting to get back online.

The headline is that after a failure at Servage, my blog was corrupted. Several things could be fixed but others could not.

On a new host now at Go Hosting and things are much better. I will reconstruct old posts as I am able to retrieve the content.

Research on WWII

Looking through a lot of online resources, I have been able to get a sense of what my father experienced during his time in the army. There is a book that I need to read called Green Shadows which is a history of the 1st and 2nd New Guinea Battalions where he served in the last months of the war. The ACT Library has it and I can borrow it on Monday. It is clear that he enlisted relatively late - 10 December 1932. This was because he was in an essential occupation, (brick and tile making?) I think. The War diary has extensive Intelligence reports in it and also a kind of "lessons learned" about jungle warfare. Many mentions are made that Australian soldiers are at least as good at jungle warfare as Japanese soldiers. Obviously the legendary ability of the Japanese to beat the British, Dutch and Americans in SE Asia was on their minds. I first thought that I recognised my father's words in the typing of the War Diaries but I think it is just that they all learned to talk/write the same way. I have many questions to ask of the War Memorial Staff when checking the 1st and 2nd NG Battalion records. It is interesting to see the type on the diaries gettign fainter until the ribbon is replaced after some months of usage. Much mention is made of air raids on Darwin and all of it is marked SECRET. It is unclear how he got to the 8th Battalion in Adelaide River and exactly when he joined the Battalion. He appears in the War Diary from 15 February 1943 where it shows him going to the Intelligence School in Brisbane. This would be after completing basic training. He was a Sergeant at that time. I recall him saying that he was promoted to Sergeant quickly during training and refused Officer training. A Sgt Fergusson seems to have been the Intelligence Sergeant until March when he disappears from the records until May and the Intelligence establishment shows 2 short. My father returned to 8th Battalion on 12 May after some leave. I wonder if this is the leave when he had a broken leg? From 21 May the Battalion strength shows that there was a surplus of sergeants and a deficiency in corporals in the Intelligence area. Intriguing to see the passwords used. They all have V or L sounds that are hard for Japanese people to speack correctly. It is also interesting to see how much their daily lives are regulated by orders from above. On 1 June Sgts Guy and Ferguson (plus others) did a recce (recconoitre). From about this Time Sgt Furgusson stops appearing and I. Sgt appears or Sgt Guy. From April to June it is clear that there is a lot of re-organisation of the Battalion going on and that the focus is on training them for jungle warfare and infantry manoeuvres with air, artillery and tank support. Presumably the reason for Intelligence Sergeants being mentioned so often is that they were the ones doing the ground work for getting the units where they were supposed to be. Both Sgts Fergusson and Guy were involved in giving feedback to companies on exercises. It seems that the Intelligence Officer arrived back on 12 July, relegating the Sergeants to the status of O.R.s - inter-unit cooperation seems to be the focus of July. I suppose this is what they mean when they say that the lessons learned include the need to equip and train new units well before sending them into battle. The troops seem to have got bored and there seemed to be a lot of disciplinary action. Sports carnivals seem to be the preferred solution to boredom. I hoped to see my father feature in some of them but it looks like he was too busy to enter them. On 5 July it seems that Sgt Fergusson was reverted to Corporal then promoted to lance sergeant. I presume this was so that the establishments balanced and they did not have to give up a Sergeant. This probably reinforced the idea that being a substantive rank was the safest thing. Cricket and football matches were scheduled in the "dry" for July and August. Ballarat seemed to do well. At this time nearly everyone was from Victoria and presumably from Ballarat area. The field return of other ranks showed that there was no surplus Sergeant in Intelligence as at 9 July. Many of the officers seem to have been training staff. That is they were there to train the Battalion and possibly move on to others later and do the same. My father turned 26 on 11 August and 7 officer cadets came into the Battalion. Most were from outside Victoria. Lots of planning for exercises must have consumed a lot of time and effort, judging from the detailed orders given for the exercises. Averaging 3 exercises a month would have been solid work. Plenty of air raids mentioned as they came closer to Darwin. On 26th it shows that my father conducted a cypher school. He showed me the techniques of cypering when I was about nine and I loved it. He also showed me how to do Morse code. Mrs Miniver showed on 10 August. Now I know why it meant something to my father! It was at his birthday and he was far away from his beloved sisters and mother. There was a big exercise that simulated a crossing of the Adelaide River under fire that must have been quite awkward to stage. Sept 22 moved to Alice Springs and on to Adelaide from 2 Oct everyone went on leave and the Battalion regrouped at Watsonia Base in Victoria. New people joined the Battalion at the end of the month and in November, many from NSW. The mention of Watsonia Station reminded me of the fact that it is only 300m. from the camp gate to the station and that this base has a very large area of bushland - presumably for training. I lived almost next door to this base for two years in the 1970s. My father appears again in the diary preparing the way to MAREEBA from 22-25 Nov. All this activity must have meant they would all know that active service was approaching. New Brigade reporting arrangements focused on New Guinea would confirm this. Intensive training recommenced at the end of the month. In early December the Battalion was designated an AIF unit. This meant that it could be deployed outside of Australia. Prior to that it was supposed to only stay in Australia to defend against an attack on home territory. Lots of training and movement in January and February 1944. Along the way PYTHON HILL is mentioned, reminding me of the stories of 30+ foor pythons that could swallow a pig whole... overage or unsuitable people were identified. In early March "refits" were added to get the Battalion near proper strength. Intelligence gets a mention more days than not. It shows how important it was. The description of the role makes it clear that Intelligence is the eyes and ears of the Bn and intelligence must know all the lines of communication so that information is swiftly transferred. Through to May, the war diary notes mainly weather and general deployments. Then on 17-18 May they embark on the SS Both and Van Der Lijn to LAE where they camped from 25th. LAE was a place of more tarinign and limited contact with the Japanese. Moved to Emirau Island end of Sept. Island defence preparation ... The overwhelming sense I get reading the standing orders for September and October through to December is that of a group of young men preparing themselves for unknown danger. Orders are trying to keep the men safe but trying to do that by controlling details. Making sure that the men do not take unnecessary risks. Making sure that they look after their health. Making sure that they are properly supplied and keep fit. The talking about tax, life assurance policies and other details of life. Informing the men that they can share ration coupons with their family. Issues of vitamin C and B tablets along with anti-malarial medicine. Patrols to remove mosquito breeding places within half a mile of camps. Above all, weapons training and tactics are the most important things in their lives while acting as a garrison for the island. Strategically unimportant but still close enough to danger for it to matter. Still, beer and cigarette rations get a mention. My father traded his beer and cigarette s for condensed milk and chocolate, according to him - he did not drink or smoke. In December came an invitation to join in the UN sponsored rehabilitation schemes for destroyed communities... already thinking was about the end of the war and what to do better than the end of WW I. Around this time it was obvious that the Japanese were going to lose th ewar and that there was no real reason to clear the islands around New Guinea in order to force Japan to surrender. Bypassing it all was the best strategy. However, political considerations menat that Australia felt compelled to clear the islands completely. In early January there are suddenly a lot of officers moving out to the NG battalions . On 13 Feb My father and several others went to a tactical school on Green Island returnign on 20 March. Reports of some advance units serving with 23 Brigade near Torokina suffering deaths in action. My father then marched off to 2 Battalion of the NG Infantry 27 March. By the end of June the 8th Battalion was fighting Japanese troops at Chabai - the war diary becomes more interesting from this point and I read it with mixed feelings of admiration and horror. Anything more about my father will be found by reading at the War Memorial because the NG Battalions are not on the internet

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