Category: Articles

Ashurst’s Web of Conflicts

As a follow-up to this popular post on Ashurst’s conduct around the receivership appointment over Sargon Capital Pty Ltd, I bring the Australian business community’s attention to issues around conflict management and how breaches of client confidentiality by Ashurst might have coloured advice given by Ashurst to China Taiping which led to Sargon’s unnecessary demise. My next post will be on Ashurst’s handling of Sargon’s transit money and likely breach of fiduciary duty. For the eager students, you can get some background in the LEGAL PROFESSION UNIFORM LAW (NSW) – SECT 140.

Let’s start with the solution:

They are seemingly struggling to hire for this role going back to at least June 2020 and it is becoming extremely urgent I can tell you. I commend Ashurst – better late than never – but have a few comments on spelling, perhaps it is the spelling issues which are causing your Sydney-office conflicts team to miss direct conflicts?

We are keen to speak to any candidates with Senior Adviosry (sic) Conflicts and Ethics experience within a legal setting who would be interested in reclocating (sic) form (sic) the UK to Sydney.

https://www.professionalsinlaw.com/job/37767/senior-conflicts-advisor-sydney-/

In the 12 months prior to appointing receivers over Sargon, Ashurst’s Sydney office acted routinely for and around Sargon and her allies. Typically, Ashurst would act on matters relating to financing, capital structure, note issuances and our client’s debt situations in Sargon’s Corporate Trust business. It’s a complex web of appointments, but at a high level this is what was going on:

Ashurst Client in 2019Potential Conflict with SargonConflict Disclosed and Waived
IPO Joint Lead Managers (JLMs)YesYes
Trimantium InsuranceNoNo
The Global BankYesYes
The InvestorYesYes
SargonN/AN/A
China TaipingYesNo

I have kept innocent parties’ names out of this post. The anonymous names (2 JLMs, The Global Bank and The Institutional Investor) are all large credible global businesses and I’m happy to share them should it become relevant.

Twenty Nineteen (2019)

What you see below is an invoice to a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sargon Capital Pty Ltd, fairly obviously associated with Sargon, called Sargon CT Pty Ltd being invoiced by partner Tony Ryan from Ashurst’s Sydney office. Tony Ryan styles himself as being a Partner in the Restructuring, Special Situations and Insolvency team. This may look familiar as it is the same team and office as Mr James Marshall, the Ashurst partner who appointed receivers over Sargon.

Concerningly, it is entirely possible that Ashurst were simultaneously assisting Sargon issue financial products to retail investors whilst advising and implementing the appointment of receivers over Sargon and creating significant risk for those same retail investors.

There are heaps of these Ashurst invoices to Sargon over 2019, this one was particularly poorly timed for them as it appears to be quite a bit after they were acting for China Taiping (in the exact same team and same office without disclosing the conflict).

In fact, the following Ashurst people were involved in the above Sargon-aligned appointments (ex. China Taiping) over 2019 and were provided confidential information regarding Sargon in that capacity (these are the ones known to me through invoices and correspondence with Ashurst at the time; there were likely more involved in the background):

  • James Marshall – Partner, Restructuring, Insolvency and Special Situations, Sydney
  • Tony Ryan – Partner, Restructuring, Insolvency and Special Situations, Sydney
  • Kyle McLachlan – Law Graduate, Restructuring, Insolvency and Special Situations, Sydney
  • Jamie Ng – Global Head of the Finance, Funds and Restructuring division
  • Lisa Simmons – Partner, Corporate Practice, Sydney
  • Rehana Box – Partner, Corporate Practice, Sydney
  • Sarah Dulhunty – Partner, Corporate Practice, Sydney
  • Con Tzerefos – Partner, Corporate Practice, Melbourne
  • Jared Lynch – Senior Associate, Corporate Practice, Melbourne
  • Kevin Lu – Senior Associate, Corporate Practice, Sydney
  • Megan Fung – Lawyer, Corporate Practice, Sydney
  • Steve Smith – Partner, Banking and Finance, Sydney
  • Jack O’Shea – Partner, Banking and Finance, Sydney
  • Elly Ko – Senior Associate, Banking and Finance, Sydney
  • Timon Ibrahim – Senior Associate, Banking and Finance, Sydney
  • Alice Au – Associate, Banking and Finance, Sydney
If you look hard, you’ll notice Ashurst’s Sydney restructuring team in the picture, having the audacity to fish for additional clients at Sargon’s launch event in October 2019, having likely already been appointed to act against it by Taiping.

From May to July 2019, Ashurst’s acted for Trimantium Insurance Partners Pty Ltd (Trimantium Insurance), related to Trimantium Capital Funds Management Pty Ltd and (indirectly) to Sargon and China Taiping by beneficial interest. The appointment was in relation to a prospective insurance venture which was in partnership with Sargon and Taiping (all of which Ashurst should have been aware).

In March 2020, shortly after the receivership appointment, Ashurst’s finance team followed up Trimantium Insurance in relation to an outstanding invoice (which was sent to Sargon’s office address) in respect of the insurance matter. The individuals acting on the matter included Rehana Box, Lisa Simmons, Con Tzerefos and Jared Lynch. This (small) invoice was missed due to an administrative oversight but Ashurst hadn’t followed up (presumably) because it was a very small balance for a strategic group client. I thought it was amusing how bad Ashurst’s conflict systems must be – this email said “Hope this email finds you well today and out of harm’s way”. No, I was not out of your firm’s harm’s way.

Trimantium and Sargon are not common names so you’d expect the conflict processes would notice them pretty quickly. Alas.

From January 2019, Ashurst’s Sydney office was engaged to act for the investment bank syndicate that had been appointed by Sargon as joint lead managers (JLMs) for Sargon’s IPO capital raising process (the JLMs having been appointed in December 2018 for a minimum period of 12 months). Ashurst likely obtained significant confidential and valuable information about Sargon throughout this process, particularly in respect of the capital structure of the company.

From Jan – May 2019, Ashurst also acted with Sargon’s and the JLM’s informed consent for a potential investor into Sargon which was a global banking group headquartered out of London. The deal was paused because the bank had a leadership change and put a pause on expansion initiatives. Sargon, Ashurst and the JLMs were all aware of, and cleared this conflict for the Global Bank.

James Marshall, award winner.

Here’s James Marshall acting for a potential Sargon institutional investor from May 2019. Ashurst sought Sargon’s consent to the appointment (due to their plethora of other roles, which Sargon provided). This was a collaborative investment conversation where James and Steve Smith likely obtained quite a lot of information about Sargon.

I wonder if this investor was ever asked for informed consent before James Marshall took on China Taiping’s retainer and decided to place Sargon into receivership. I know for a fact that this investor was continuing due diligence and structuring negotiations with Sargon while Ashurst was acting for China Taiping, and the investor had never indicated they’d changed lawyers, so for all I know Ashurst had never resigned from this investor’s brief before accepting instructions from a different party to cause an insolvency event on the investor’s prospective investment.

Concurrent client conflicts: 

11.2 If a solicitor or a law practice seeks to act for two or more clients in the same or related matters where the clients’ interests are adverse and there is a conflict or potential conflict of the duties to act in the best interests of each client, the solicitor or law practice must not act, except where permitted by Rule 11.3.

11.3 Where a solicitor or law practice seeks to act in the circumstances specified in Rule 11.2, the solicitor or law practice may, subject always to each solicitor discharging their duty to act in the best interests of their client, only act if each client:

11.3.1 is aware that the solicitor or law practice is also acting for another client; and

11.3.2 has given informed consent to the solicitor or law practice so acting

Australian Solicitors’ Conduct Rules

The crux of the conflict is that there’s no way for a law practice to fulfil their duty to act in the best interests of both clients in circumstances where the clients interests actually or potentially conflict. Even if the conflict is not immediately apparent at the time of appointment (for example, a negotiation between two clients on friendly terms), it may quickly deteriorate. As such, unless the clients are made aware of the conflict, and provide informed consent, a firm cannot act – information barriers alone are not enough. Even with informed consent, the law practice’s ability to act is “subject always to each solicitor discharging their duty to act in the best interests of their client”, and as such it’s practically impossible for a single solicitor within the practice (such as James Marshall) to act for both clients where their interests diverge

Successive client conflicts

Even if Ashurst had resigned from the bank, the institutional investor, Sargon/Sargon CT, Trimantium and JLM appointments, it’s well known that lawyers owe some residual duties to clients – most importantly, centred around preserving their confidential information. 

10.1 A solicitor and law practice must avoid conflicts between the duties owed to current and former clients, except as permitted by Rule 10.2. 

10.2 A solicitor or law practice who or which is in possession of information which is confidential to a former client where that information might reasonably be concluded to be material to the matter of another client and detrimental to the interests of the former client if disclosed, must not act for the current client in that matter UNLESS: 

10.2.1 the former client has given informed written consent to the solicitor or law practice so acting; or 

10.2.2 an effective information barrier has been established.

Australian Solicitors’ Conduct Rules

It’s unknown to me whether Ashurst obtained informed written consent from all of these clients in 2019 regarding the Taiping appointment, but they certainly did not attempt to do so with respect to their direct engagements with Sargon or Trimantium. In the course of their engagements with Sargon, providing advice and due diligence on structured finance transactions in which Sargon acted as issuer and/or trustee, Ashurst was made intimately familiar with Sargon’s upstream finance and capital structure, in addition to material volumes of other commercially sensitive information.

If Ashurst did in fact resign from all Sargon-related financing and debt capital appointments prior to accepting the Taiping appointment, they would still have needed to establish an effective information barrier. The Law Society of New South Wales sets out comprehensive guidelines to what should be included in an effective information barrier (which they encourage firms to employ as ‘minimum standards’), including:

  1. The existence of documented protocols for setting up and maintaining information barriers.
  2. A nominated compliance officer to oversee each information barrier.
  3. Obtaining acknowledgement in writing from the new client that the law practice’s duty of disclosure to the new client does not extend to any confidential information which may be held by the law practice as a result of earlier matters.
  4. Clearly identifying all ‘screened persons’ (i.e. a person who possesses confidential information from a previous retainer which is relevant to another, current retainer), with the compliance officer keeping a record.
  5. Obtaining undertakings from each screened person that the screened person will not have any involvement with the client or personnel involved with the current matter; has not disclosed and will not disclose any confidential information about the earlier matter to any person other than to a person in accordance with the instructions or consent of the client in the earlier matter, another screened person, or the compliance officer; and will, immediately upon becoming aware of any breach or possible breach of said undertaking, report so to the compliance officer.
  6. Similarly, implementing controls so that personnel involved in the new matter don’t discuss the previous matter with, or seek any relevant confidential information about the earlier matter from, any screened person. Such personnel (on the new matter) should also provide undertakings similar to those made by screened persons. 
  7. Contact between screened persons and personnel on the new matter should be appropriately limited.

The list goes on, but let’s take a pause there. Ashurst, as a ‘leading global law firm’, no doubt has some form of conflict management protocol and information barrier practice in place. After all, they did seek informed consent in the past, and have defended their “usual process” in other circumstances. Let’s consider how it may have been implemented in the current circumstances, starting by considering who would likely to be considered a ‘screened person’. 

James Marshall acted for a potential investor throughout the back half of 2019, in negotiations and due diligence for a prospective investment in Sargon. As far as I’m aware, the engagement had never been terminated prior to accepting instructions from Taiping, but even if I was to give Ashurst the benefit of the doubt and presume they resigned first, this would have been mere weeks before his advising Taiping to appoint Receivers over Sargon, and clearly required either informed consent or an effective information barrier – I imagine most prudent law firms would do both.  

I note, with some concern, that James Marshall’s side-kick, David Greenberg, revealed in the days after the Receivership Appointment (on or around 30th January 2020) to one of my lawyers that he understood that Sargon had $60 million of cash on its balance sheet. In fact, Sargon had closer to $22 million of cash which Ashurst would have known had they read the company’s 1HFY20 financials. This identifiable figure was a relic from the investor’s process (arising out of a modelled pro forma outcome of that investment had it proceeded) and could not have been known to Taiping or McGrathNicol other than through Ashurst. Remember this, it will become very important later 🙂

I ultimately have no idea what (if any) information barrier procedures Ashurst followed, but when an obvious ‘screened person’ in James Marshall is not only not restricted from interacting with the lawyers on the Taiping appointment, but is somehow the partner on the appointment, I really don’t have any confidence in Ashurst having adequately implemented an information barrier. As a practical matter, with so many Ashurst people working for or around Sargon in their Sydney office, I don’t know how you could practically enforce an information barrier even if you put one in place.

Obligations of confidentiality

At this point, it’s fair to ask whether Ashurst simply avoided the need for an information barrier by seeking informed consent from the investor (and everyone else). That seems unlikely – as you’d expect in a financing negotiation, all the information Sargon provided was provided under the strictest of confidentiality, and with the customary legal protections. It’s very difficult to think of a circumstance where the investor would consent to Ashurst acting for a different (hostile) shareholder and providing that investor any benefit from Ashurst’s work for the investor on a purely commercial basis, let alone when factoring in the potential liability exposure such consent could enliven in terms of the investor’s own confidentiality obligations to Sargon. In fact, the investor emerged as a potential bidder in the E&Y sale process (not supported by Ashurst/Taiping) – presumably, with new lawyers. 

Again, even when Ashurst acted for successive non-hostile parties, in the bank and then the investor, it sought consent not only from the bank (and the JLMs), but also Sargon – presumably both to cover off their existing appointments with Sargon CT and other subsidiaries, and also acknowledging that much of the confidential material in their brief was Sargon’s. 

No such consent was sought from Sargon prior to the Taiping appointment – perhaps they wanted to preserve the element of surprise. To be fair, there may be circumstances where seeking informed consent isn’t viable – that’s where a good information barrier can come in handy. James Marshall, as global co-head of Insolvency, Restructuring, and Special Situations, could have presumably handed the Taiping brief off to a different partner in a different office and minimised his contact as per the Information Barrier Guidelines – and should have, given his prior involvement with Sargon (which itself built off confidential information from the bank and the IPO JLMs). Instead, he took personal responsibility for the Taiping retainer. How neither he nor Ashurst’s risk and conflicts management team recognised the issues in doing so is entirely unclear.

More to come.

Ashurst destroyed Sargon, wiped out Taiping’s investment.

I am still bombarded with questions about Sargon from investigative journalists, shareholders and creditors. I have been silent on this saga publicly for the last year while I’ve been working with many Sargon shareholders and creditors on the best route for recovery, and litigation is ongoing so I am somewhat limited in the scope of what I can say.

tl;dr: Ashurst destroyed Sargon and its clients prospects of recovery with its recommendation to appoint receivers in the circumstances, and then sealed their client’s fate by completely botching the execution.

The basic facts

For those who haven’t studied the statutory reports resulting from the administration of Sargon, it’s not a complex story. Here is what happened from my perspective as one of only a handful of people with complete knowledge of the financing structure in Australia and Hong Kong:

  1. Receivers were appointed by Ashurst (who were advising China Taiping – an investor in Sargon’s debt and equity) over Sargon on the 29 January 2020 “to get the company’s attention” (David Greenberg, Ashurst).
  2. Interest on the facility was paid up to and including 31 January 2020 (and therefore paid up on the date of receivership). Sargon was fully up to date on all salaries, contractors, rent/leases, superannuation, taxes, etc. and Sargon was not in any kind of financial distress.
  3. The facility with Taiping was not due to mature for another year or so.
  4. The facility was part of an overall strategic relationship with Taiping that was delivering significant value to Taiping’s expansion ambitions outside of China including laying the groundwork for significantly growing their insurance premiums and assets under management.
  5. Ashurst appointed receivers for what was stated by the receivers at the time as an “information-gathering exercise” and (while not mentioned by them to the company on their appointment) changed their story to be an appointment over a few weeks late interest. Ashurst subsequently said that an interest payment was missed on or around December 31st, 2019, meaning interest would have been approximately 29 days late on the date of receivership, in the least favourable interpretation of the facts. As explained here, the only way for this to be true mathematically is if Ashurst consciously misdirected funds paid into its trust account for a purpose other than instructed (as transit money). As mentioned above, interest was in fact paid up to 31 January 2020.
  6. Despite claiming they wanted to resolve the situation, Ashurst and Taiping refused to provide even the bare minimum of cooperation to prevent Sargon’s subsidiaries from being left no choice but to enter voluntary administration. Presented with this likelihood, Ashurst dismissed it offhand as an idle threat (apparently ignoring the cross-defaults they had caused to arise). They then presented roadblocks to the voluntary administrators (E&Y) pursuing recoveries for the benefit of creditors and shareholders at every opportunity. Ashurst’s conduct has and continues to guarantee a net zero recovery to Taiping.

The larger story

It is apparent to me that Taiping would not have appointed receivers if not for Ashurst’s advice and it quickly became obvious to me that appointing receivers would have disastrous outcomes for everybody involved, but most of all for Taiping. Despite multiple opportunities to fix it, Ashurst stubbornly forged ahead, losing hundreds of millions of dollars of their client’s money in the process. 

There have been reports that Ashurst felt that there had been a ‘lack of communication’ from the company. I find this ironic given Ashurst specifically instructed me not to communicate with their clients, and then themselves ignored my responses to key correspondence. In particular, James Marshall wrote to me directly, and I responded with a number of important clarifications. Neither James nor anyone else at Ashurst acknowledged my letter in the three weeks between my sending it and their appointing receivers in late January 2020. I can only assume James was on holiday and didn’t bother to check his inbox. Even aside from that update, their client was expecting Sargon’s half-year financial accounts by the end of that week, yet Ashurst pulled the trigger on appointing receivers on the Wednesday evening. In fact, Taiping’s Sargon board appointee along with the rest of the board was sent the accounts mere hours before McGrath Nicol notified Sargon of their surprise appointment. These 1HFY20 accounts demonstrated Sargon’s best performing half-year since inception.

Lawyers do not normally cause loss, they usually come in afterwards to help stem it. In this case, however, James Marshall and David Greenberg turned a substantively performing financing arrangement between Sargon and Taiping’s entities generating millions a year of cash flow to Taiping on A$100+ million of invested funds (mostly equity-linked) to zero. By evidently failing to make any basic inquiries into their own client’s loan facilities and equity structures, they inadvertently destroyed their own client’s assets.

In all likelihood, they could have avoided this if they’d made a genuine attempt to understand the investment structure. Sargon was a guarantor of the facility, but the actual borrower was Trimantium Taiping Investment Management (now known as Trimantium Investment Management, which was also placed into receivership by Ashurst). Despite the borrowing entity bearing their own client’s name, to this day, they still haven’t enquired as to the beneficiaries of the fund it was set up to manage. In fact, the entities and the investments in it were Taiping’s own assets. Effectively, Ashurst appointed receivers over their own client’s investment vehicle. If their concern was with me being a director, they could have simply replaced me under the constitution.

As a result, Ashurst destroyed the very investments their client appointed them to advise on, along with Sargon as a whole.

In trying to determine why and how this happened, I have to refer to comments made to on the day of appointment; McGrath Nicol said that they had accepted the appointment, having been referred by Ashurst, “before they had a chance to get their feet under the table“ (Shaun Fraser, McGrath Nicol). They went on to say that “this is not a normal receivership appointment, we have been appointed to conduct an information gathering exercise” (Shaun Fraser, McGrath Nicol).

Sargon was in the business of owning regulated financial services businesses and trustee companies, in an industry where trust and stability are paramount, with those subsidiaries subject to a variety of regulatory capital requirements. It also had a variety of secured financing arrangements at the subsidiary level that – as is the norm in corporate finance – would cross-default upon an upstream receivership appointment.

These were all facts known to their client, who had a representative on Sargon’s board, and were facts that should have been obvious to professional insolvency lawyers. Yet, disturbingly, McGrath Nicol also indicated that in starting their “information-gathering exercise”, they weren’t aware of any other secured creditors in the Sargon group (senior to Taiping). Appointing receivers to gather information is the commercial equivalent of setting your house on fire to clean the carpet. Appointing receivers in ignorance of information already available to you is arson. 

Even if information gathering wasn’t the true purpose, and Taiping wanted to secure their investment at any cost and/or commit some form of hostile takeover, any competent lawyer in Ashurst’s shoes would have realised that receivership was the worst option available to Taiping in the circumstances. Alternatives included taking control of a significant holding in Sargon’s equity without business interruption.

Taiping was in possession of documents that would enable it to have taken control of Sargon, and then managed it to their liking (some options being: to have repaid their loan over time from Sargon’s positive operating cash-flow; to have sold assets; to have taken their equity upside; or have secured their principal exposure and entered the market as an insurer and asset manager and harvested a huge return). More restrained but similarly effective approaches also existed, which would have been obvious to Ashurst had they properly done any due diligence over the entities and contracts they were pursuing.

To top it all off, Ashurst executed the receivership appointment so haphazardly that they only locked down A$0.7 million of Sargon’s cash and left A$20 million+ outside of their appointment scope. A competent strategy would have locked down closer to A$22 million simultaneous to their appointment. If Ashurst had taken the time to read Sargon’s December 2019 half financial report when their client received it earlier that afternoon (or Sargon’s FY19 financial report), they would have realised this.

Further, Ashurst have created a significant liability for their client because of how much other loss was caused to third parties (including Westpac and OneVue) by the reckless and improper appointment. I understand actions are already being explored by various stakeholders in both Australia and Hong Kong. Sargon had its biggest ever financial half to December 2019 and was 10 times bigger than when Taiping originally invested only two years earlier so Ashurst are going to struggle to argue that company mismanagement or other post-hoc conveniences caused it to fail.

Given what I’ve observed, my view is that Ashurst thought they had a naive client which they could take advantage of, and have led them down the garden path on various, often self-contradictory, wild goose chases. So far, the only winners in all this have been Ashurst and (to a lesser extent) McGrath Nicol, through their sizeable fee harvests. 

Ashurst and McGrath Nicol then failed to manage the relationship with Ernst & Young (E&Y, the administrators of Sargon’s subsidiaries resulting from Ashurst’s botched appointment), and as a result E&Y was forced to walk away from at least 64 expressions of interest to acquire the assets of Sargon (leaving these bidders perplexed as to why they couldn’t access the data room and why there wasn’t a market-driven sale process).

It appears that Ashurst advised Taiping to not support the E&Y administration (where Taiping was in a position to assist with very short term professional indemnity insurance required for ongoing licencing compliance) which meant that E&Y was unable to conduct a proper bidding process. In administration, creditors should have received 100 cents in every dollar based on how much the value of the assets exceeded the value of the debts. Instead, EY had no choice but to accept cents in the dollar. The assets were sold for A$29.6 million, which included the group’s cash on hand – meaning the enterprise value obtained was around A$15 million, before millions of costs in the Federal Court of Australia.

Further, Ashurst’s incompetence has resulted in Taiping only having a tenuous claim to those proceeds.

By my estimate, China Taiping has, to date, lost at least A$100m, plus costs, as a direct result of the course of action Ashurst advised them to pursue. This figure doesn’t include any (now destroyed) upside on their equity exposure – which could have been realised as quickly as April 2020.

Beyond this, they’ve also burned the Taiping brand in Australia and China Taiping would struggle to enter the market now given how rightfully cautious APRA (and prospective domestic partners) would be. Not to mention their potential litigation exposure to everyone else harmed by the actions Ashurst advised they take.

Based on my assessment of how utterly negligent Ashurst’s advice has been to Taiping all along, I am now of the view that one of Taiping’s best courses of recovery for this mess is now against Ashurst itself.

It’s likely that a professional malpractice suit brought by Taiping against Ashurst could recover at least A$100 million of completely avoidable loss.

Ashurst will no doubt justify their conduct by saying they were just following their client’s instructions. At the end of the day, their client relied upon their supposed expertise with Australian insolvency and followed their advice to appoint receivers. Lawyers should not be absolved of their professional duties, or shielded from financial consequences when they failed to consider critical information (whether by design or incompetence) and steered their client down a fee-lucrative but inferior path causing wholesale destruction of value. To those with first-hand knowledge of the facts, there’s no credible scenario where Taiping would have gone down this path if they were competently advised. 

To add insult to injury, it seems that a good amount of this bad advice was given over the Australian summer holidays by Ashurst consultant David Greenberg, while Partner James Marshall was on holidays. How David Greenberg was allowed to cause so much damage unchecked, particularly when the file was supposedly under the responsibility of Ashurst’s global co-head of its Restructuring and Special Situations Group, James Marshall, is a question every lawyer and client of Ashurst will have to ask.

There is also the matter of the fact that Ashurst was acting for Sargon and Trimantium immediately prior to their acting for Taiping (and, I have to presume, continued on acting for them afterwards, considering they never wrote to Sargon or Trimantium identifying their conflicting appointments and resigning from their prior engagements).

Somewhat optimistically, Ashurst’s accounts payable team actually sent me a statement and invoice follow-up from work for Trimantium in mid/late 2019 after their insolvency team had just destroyed Sargon in the first weeks of 2020. Suffice to say that, realising their misstep, they haven’t followed me up since. As far as I’m aware, Ashurst continued to work for Sargon’s subsidiaries before, during and after receivership. Conflicts and ethics aside, it isn’t good business development practice to put your clients into receivership.

It truly takes a unique combination of unethical behaviour and incompetence to accept conflicting client appointments and then lose both clients everything.

Stay tuned.

Additional information for creditors and shareholders of Sargon and Trimantium investment vehicles available here.

Galactic Bioware soft launches

The website has now gone live and the most of the 2021 Casual Collection has been announced – there are 3 more products to be added in the coming weeks.

Galactic Bioware “Ranger Hood” Hoodie

Galactic Bioware was founded to address three problems:

1. Gun-control and routine violence in the US and many places around the world is not improving, and recent politics hasn’t helped. Responsible gun laws seem so far away that many other initiatives need to work together to reduce the injuries and deaths resulting from city violence. New schools (and some retrofits) are designed to be school shooter resilient and modern school designs avoid large open spaces as well as providing safety zones amongst other safety features. Digging further into this, there is no mass-market low-cost and casual looking/subtle protective outerwear for children and families. We’re addressing this with our 2021 Casual Collection for adults and children – our children and young adult ballistic and stab resistant gear launches in a matter of weeks. It’s not military grade gear but you’re going to be much better off in our gear than in regular clothing. Check out some of the products here. All made in Australia and shipped to the world.

2. Technology and innovation absorption into the safety industry’s products is extremely poor. There is more tech in an consumer iPhone than in any professional-grade first responder safety equipment. There is a culture of rusted-on government & corporate suppliers selling the same fire fighting gear, radiation gear, PPE, CBRN, life vests, etc that haven’t had an incentive to innovate in any material way since World War II. Galactic Bioware has designed an advanced fire fighting power suit – the Fire Knight – which is many multiples safer, more comfortable, better communications, voice controlled, has a full audit trail for training and investigations, armoured in key areas, etc. read more about it and our plane & helicopter crash survival suit – the Velociraptor – on the Power Suits page.

3. The research and development as well as production capabilities we are refining in armour, insulation, fire, radiation, energy systems, defense systems, etc will ultimately lead to major advances in power suits for space / interplanetary settlement and long duration space exploration as well as highly sophisticated Earth suits (think Iron Man). We’re building this capability in real time, all in Australia. I want Australia to develop new and future-proof manufacturing based industries that use our natural resources advantage for ourselves, rather than giving away all of the value to foreign countries and companies.

Galactic Bioware “Main Shield” Cap

Stay tuned. If you’re interested, we’re hiring a range of technical roles in electrical, chemical, mechatronic, software and materials/textiles engineering to join our 10 person team. I’ll post again when the jobs page is up.

Shopify Github Musings

Shopify is extremely powerful, and I use it across many projects, but some of the themes and apps have strange limitations. I’ve started publishing small fixes & modules where I could not find a solution online in the form of a tutorial, accurate Stack Overflow post or a free app. Many of the paid apps in the Shopify App Store do not add enough value to justify their large monthly fees, often they are just a few lines of code that are not updated, and victims are paying US$5/month for this code in perpetuity thinking that it is difficult.

Shopify :: Trigger Product-Variant-Change

Trigger a product variant change outside of the default select input in Shopify e.g. via a color swatch or thumbnail image. Here we’re trying to trigger the select change event as though the user actually changed the variant by clicking on the select and picking a new variant. We want to maintain the integrity of the change event so that all downstream triggers are also activated e.g. updating inventory levels, availability, and ensuring that the Add to Cart button adds the active variant selection originating from the swatch or thumbnail.

A few simple lines of code to trigger a change in a product variant on product pages in Shopify from two colour swatches. Many projects in the Shopify App Store are a) expensive or b) do not work with the default Shopify Theme in 2021 (Debut) or c) do not work at all. I found it difficult to find a single article on Stack Overflow or other developer community websites that explained how to do this with maximal cross-browser support.

This is very simple to implement:

  1. Login to Shopify, Go to Themes -> Actions -> Edit Code
  2. Put the JS into the theme.js file in the Assets folder, make any changes you want.
  3. Put the CSS into the theme.css file in the Assets folder, make any changes you want.
  4. Adjust your triggering objects in the product-template.liquid file in the Snippets folder from the example provided. These are the color swatches or thumbnail images that you want the user to be able to click on to change the active product variant.

Observations:

Many of the guides on Stack Overflow, etc do not work because they’re trying to hook into very busy DOM elements that have a lot of javascript from Shopify or they simply do not understand the interaction of jQuery events and browser events.

Code: https://github.com/phillipkingston/Shopify—Trigger-Product-Variant-Change

Shopify :: Change Product-Image On-Hover

A few simple lines of code to swap product images on hover across collection pages and feature product sections on homepage and product pages in Shopify. Many projects in the Shopify App Store are a) expensive or b) do not work with the default Shopify Theme in 2020 (Debut) or c) do not work at all. This method doesn’t use any JavaScript.

This is very simple to implement:

  1. Login to Shopify, Go to Themes -> Actions -> Edit Code
  2. Put the CSS into the theme.scss.liquid file in the Assets folder, make any changes you want.
  3. Make a few lines of insertions into the product-card-grid.liquid file in the Snippets folder and adjust product.images[1] with whatever array index you want as the swap image on hover. Note this counts from 0 as it is an array of images linked to the product in Shopify. If you want the last image in the image array, you can use product.images.last

TODOs:

  • Error handling if there are not more than 1 images per product
  • Dynamic sizing of the swap image to match the image sizing setup in the theme, currently its hardcoded e.g. 450×450 but you can change to what you want in the meantime
  • Use more obscure class names so as to not conflict with other Shopify plugins.

Observations:

  • Why are people charging $4.99 per month for a plugin that does this? 6 lines of code.
  • Many of the guides on Stack Overflow, etc do not work because they’re trying to hook into very busy DOM elements that have a lot of javascript from Shopify and are getting confused finding two clean hover events to harness for the image swap.

Code: https://github.com/phillipkingston/Shopify—Change-Image-On-Hover

Consumer-grade Mesh Home Wifi Experiment

I think it is safe to say that the home / retail end of the mesh wifi market is still pretty nascent. I thought I’d try something new at home, so I ventured into the Mercku ecosystem. I picked Mercku because it had a good blend of the following criteria:

  1. Minimal and discreet aesthetic
  2. Reasonable reviews for reliability and uptime
  3. A demonstrated commitment to maintaining firmware
  4. Nice origin story on Indigogo

I have 3 Queens and 6 Bees for a total of 9 nodes in the mesh. Each Queen is hardlined to the NBN router with Cat 6 ethernet cable and each Bee acts as a booster in the wifi network (i.e. is not cabled). There is a lot of bluestone in the house, so the design principle was to never have wifi needing to penetrate a bluestone wall. The ethernet cables handle the bluestone walls and the wifi (boosted by Bees) only has to handle plaster.

Mercku M@ Queen
Mercku M2 Bee

Thoughts so far:

  • Setup and configuration was incredibly simple, it literally couldn’t be any easier.
  • The admin interface is really good and would be harder to make simpler for non-technical users.
  • Firmware updates are frequent enough, although the changelog detail is probably a bit light on e.g. v 1.8.0.
  • Speed is fine, definitely could be faster but is not a problem for regular home use (streaming, gaming, etc.), it would be a problem in an office application, but it isn’t an office system so moot.
  • Bandwidth is a question mark – multiple devices (3-6) seems to drag down speed faster than they would in a non-mesh “off the shelf / cheap” wifi router bundled with an ISP connection. The bandwidth problems are probably not fatal but I’m designing a test to compare it more directly to non-mesh to try to firm up this hypothesis.
  • Reliability is a bigger question mark, every few hours the network seems to grind to a halt and then come alive after 20-30 seconds. I’m not sure if this is heat related or memory management / some other software problem. When the mesh comes back online, the Queens do not report any internet downtime (i.e. it doesn’t affect the continuous uptime diagnostics in the admin software) which indicates to me that the issue is Mercku / Mesh side, not NBN / ISP side. I’m trying to see if I can replicate the crashing to find an underlying cause and report it to Marcku with a potential solution. To Marcku’s credit, it does bring itself back online without human intervention, so for novice users this is not a fatal problem and will just present itself as a temporary internet slow down.

Overall, happy with price, aesthetic, setup, speed and the jury is out on bandwidth and reliability for now.