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Comment This is not a done deal! (Score 1) 120

This is a great sign that the NBN won't be scrapped by any upcoming parties.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. What the Government and Telstra have signed is a "Heads of Agreement", which is not a binding contract; it's more like a broad set of terms both sides agree on.

The finer details still need to be discussed and the resulting contract approved by Telstra's shareholders before we can really rest easily. Until then, either side (incl. the next Government, should it change) can pull out.

It's definitely good news – not least for the current Government, coming fortuitously a scant day after a by-election hiding in Sydney –, but some commentators have already suggested Telstra holds a bit more of the bargaining power going forward as a result.

Comment Re:$500 as the max? (Score 3, Informative) 257

I most emphatically second this experience. I bought a higher-end tablet PC for AU$3500 (US$2700, €2100; the difference to the list price is b/c I upgraded from the standard specs) back in 2006 before starting my second degree, and it was an absolute godsend. "Print" the lecture slides to OneNote, annotate them, cross-reference (between lectures and/or subjects), type in speech and scribble equations/graphs directly onto the screen. Everything is searchable – pictures through OCR, handwriting, even audio.

I know I'm extolling the virtues of a software more than necessarily the hardware, but the two go hand in hand. I need a more powerful machine for gaming, video work etc., but for academic and any graphic work a tablet is killer piece of hardware.

Would I buy another tablet? Most definitely. I almost grabbed the Eee T-91 until it turned out it didn't differentiate between between fingers & palms and couldn't recognise handwriting.

Based on my experience, a touchscreen is only going to be good for navigation. For actual data entry, you're going to want to switch to a keyboard or stylus (or perhaps one of those little finger-nubs the DS has). But when they get that right, my >$500 will be waiting.

Comment Gee wizz.. (Score 4, Interesting) 452

Economists routinely use highly complicated mathematical models on stuff like this, and are just as routinely criticised for it because their simplifying assumptions aren't close enough to reality. Then along comes this bloke and uses a model that's not even based on human behaviour: the economy as a heat engine. No wonder he's been panned. Criticise economic models all you like, but at least the modern ones* have a foundation in human behaviour.

I can see why this gets a run here – scientists are cool nerds; economists are not – but in the end it's a guy doing research outside of his field. Sometimes you get tremendous insights, but most of the time (as in this case) you don't.

* I'm not talking about the physiocrats here, okay?

Disclaimer: I am an economist.

Comment Re:I for one... (Score 1) 178

Is there actually a "right" level of reserves that can withstand crises, though?

There is, but unfortunately it's not the same level that's "right" for the non-crisis time. Ideally the financial sector would see the crises (or rather, the change in demand for or supply of reserves) coming and adjust, but that obviously doesn't happen when external shocks occur.

Comment Re:I for one... (Score 5, Informative) 178

[T]he way fractional reserve banking in general and the Federal Reserve in particular is set up, there is always more debt built into the system than there are dollars in circulation. That's because debt is attached to money the moment it is created; i.e. for every X dollars in circulation there is always X+Y debt. This system is just not sustainable. How could it ever do anything but ultimately fail?

Dear Parent, I presume you understand the fractional reserve system so you can skip down to paragraph 4 whilst I provide an Economics 101 refresher for the gallery (and this really is first-semester stuff; I taught it earlier this year):

You and all your friends deposit money at the bank. The bank holds a fraction of the money in reserve (hence the name), at minimum the amount the law specifies, usually plus some amount X. We'll come back to this. The rest of the money it lends to people who want to borrow it; they pay interest, you get interest, the bank takes a cut, hooray.

These borrowers spend the money, and the people who get it stick some of it back into the bank, where the cycle starts afresh. It depends on how much money the bank holds in reserve and how much the populace deposits but, yes, usually there is more debt around than originally produced currency.

Now, you claim that this is a Bad Thing (TM). You don't state why. Presumably you are relying on the intuitive logic that having more debt than official assets can't be good. That intuition relies on the following crucial point: having more debts than assets is only a problem when people try and collect on their debts. Amazingly, this very rarely happens.

You have the absolute right to go to the bank and demand your money, in bar. All of it. Buy who does that? Practically no-one. You ask for a portion of it; some here, some there, more at Christmastime and during the holidays. So long as the banks have enough money to give everyone what they want – and this is the amount X from above – holding the rest of it would just be inefficient, since none of the depositors want it and there are plenty of borrowers who can do productive things with it. Fact: if the banks decided to hold more money in reserve, the government/central bank would simply create more 'original' dollars until the effective level of money is back where it was.

The fractional reserve system does have its problems. But the problems lie in deciding how high the reserves should be – too low, and when people do decide they want their money everything comes crashing down (e.g. AIG). Too high, and businesses can't borrow money and productive potential lies wasted (e.g. the current situation in much of Europe and the US). But the system is not inherently flawed. If the right level of reserves are held – and this is usually the case – the system provides a much more flexible and efficient supply of money than a representative currency.

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