16 Nov 2015, 5:21pm
personal finance rant


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  • The Guardian misinforms punters how to deal with the cost of Christmas

    The Guardian, which is a broadsheet paper aimed at the left-of-centre middle classes, hipsters and other good sorts, brings us an article on how to deal with the fiscal impact of Christmas. Which is absolutely, totally, stupendously wrong on all counts. It is like, WTF is wrong with these guys. It’s a total riot of wrong-headed gormless thinking. They trip up right out of the starting gate, with the headline.

    Overdraft or a ‘money transfer’? How to ease the cost of Christmas

    Repeat after me, you addle-brained punters, you never, ever, ease the cost of anything by borrowing money to pay for it 1. You always make your future self pay more and go without so your greedy current self can Have. It. Now. That’s fine and dandy when you’re in short trousers, but by the time you’ve gotten to 18 and over when you can legally buy beer and drive a credit card, you should have noticed something about Christmas.

    Christmas is not a random event

    It’s so unrandom that I can tell you when it will be in a hundred years time – 25th December 2115 since you ask. It’s not a random event or some act of God – well, depending on who you speak to it might be, but not in the OMG that’s totally unforeseeable category of things.

    less bad than the timer.. just. Still begs the question, why...? Just why make it, why buy it?

    Do not spend more than you have to on crap like this

    The choice is not overdraft or money transfer, you blithering nincompoops, because the other thing about Christmas is that is a totally gratuitious and elective expense. There is nothing at all wrong with spending shitloads of money on consumer trash to see the beatific smiles on your kids’ faces for five seconds if you save up for it first. You did, didn’t you? We presume since you are an adult you have noticed that regular things happen, er, regularly…? Mind you, I do wonder when the writer was born

    This is a relatively new facility on offer to some credit card holders, and allows someone to take part of their credit limit in the form of cash that is paid directly in to their bank account.

    Err, I used this newfangled facility to borrow £15,000 interest-free from MBNA to put down as a bigger deposit on my first house, over 25 years ago. There was a lot wrong with buying that house, but the MBNA loan was repaid and did not cost me any more than £15,000. This feature ain’t that new.

    Not only are the Guardian normalising infantile consumer behaviour, they are also telling their readers

    Go find a store that is offering x% higher prices for your Christmas goods. And shop there

    Normally you’d look for money off, but borrow for Christmas and you are spending more on your Consumer Stuff than you need to, which is the mark of a prize airhead.

    It’s simple. You spread the cost of Christmas by saving up for your consumer splurge before Christmas. Otherwise all you are doing is getting the same goods but paying more, or paying the same money and getting fewer goods. And that’s just pain stupid, dear Guardianistas. Don’t do it to yourselves.

    If you need to borrow money for Christmas, you can’t afford it

    So do yourself and your family a favour, cancel it for a year, and resolve to start saving in January for this predictable expense that will come round in 12 month’s time. You worked hard for that bloody money, and it’s rude to take 10-20% of your time working for the Man and just toss it down the toilet because you can’t think ahead. Suck it up for this time and resolve to get your act together for next Christmas, because y’know what? You have 13 months, starting now 😉

    That’s an F for Total Fail, Guardian. Do not borrow money for predictable expenses, because if you do you are spending more to get less.


    1. unless you can borrow for a total effective cost below inflation, which is not the case now
    10 Oct 2015, 12:55pm


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  • The scientific method according to Coca Cola

    It’s time we stopped calling anything published or PR sponsored by a company with an interest in the outcome science. We have a term for this sort of thing. It is called advertising. I am not saying that big companies don’t do science – I worked in a industrial research lab, and companies sometimes do publish science in peer-reviewed journals, but it’s always worth asking who pays the piper. Particularly if the conclusion is consuming more of something novel and unnatural is good for you. The Escape Artist gives you a rough guide if the simplicity of Michael Pollan’s Eat Food, mostly plants and not too much is too simple –

    • Eat as close as you can to what a caveman / cavewoman would have eaten
    • This means eating real, natural food that used to grow (vegetables, salad, fruit, nuts), swim (fish), fly (birds) and run (red meat)
    • Do not eat things that were made in chemical plants (e.g. margarine) or factories (e.g. Ready meals, Smash, Custard Powder, Vienettas)

    As an Imperial alumnus, I received this stirring letter from Professor Alice Gast, current Rector of Imperial. Heck, it makes even this retired Ermine a little teary-eyed to recall the young pup who started Physics in the dog days of the 1970s

    Throughout history universities have been founded with the purpose of creating new knowledge and producing educated citizens. Imperial College London is no exception.

    Ah those distant days, when the goddamned market hadn’t grabbed our hearts and minds, when institutions like schools and universities had qualitative human values rather than make the fastest buck we can, ASAP. When governments and universities did the blue sky research she was talking about, and when basic science was paid for by governments, and indeed we were not so solipsistic as to fondly believe that 50% of our children are academically gifted, because it’s pretty obvious that they aren’t, now we’ve tried the experiment. Proust made the distinction between involuntary and voluntary memory with his madeleines in In Search of Lost Time and Alice Gast’s letter was an involuntary memory of this more human and less market-centric time. Though let’s not forget the dreadful draughty cold, the insipid food, unreliable electrical goods and cars and then tremendously racist and sexist attitudes of the time Before Thatcher too!

    I’m glad that research is still considered important at Imperial – when I went to university academic research into discovering new stuff and how the world worked  was the whole point of a university (in science, I confess I have no idea even now what the equivalent is in the humanities – I was born after CP Snow’s Two Cultures). There was the suspicion that the undergraduates were a bit of a PITA and got in the way somewhat of the real work of the university. Whereas now it seems the point of a university to make shitloads of money out of as many people as possible, some of whom aren’t bright enough to see they’ll never get a return on that investment. This is in the same vein as some other once fine institutions – like the point of a hospital used to be to try and make people better, as opposed to try and stop the marketised and cash-starved company running it going bust, all the while overseen by some prize prick who in other news, wants us to work like the Chinese because work is good for you in and of itself, as opposed to a way of paying the rent.

    The scientific method from the Enlightenment to 1980

    Anyway, back to science. Science is a methodical process which seeks to determine the secrets of the natural world by using the scientific method. A lot of people miss the boundaries there, which then gives us materialist rationalism – science will never tell us the meaning of what it is to be human, or how to organise our societies or even just plain be nice to each other – these are not its job. Once we have determined the overall aims it can help us with the how, but not with the why. But since I was grouching about the trouble with science now, let’s remind ourselves of the principles of the scientific method, which haven’t really changed that much since the Enlightenment:

    • Observe the natural world
    • Develop a hypothesis as to why things are so
    • Experiment to test the hypothesis
    • Review if your hypothesis matches observations
    • repeat – and modify your ‘king hypothesis rather than your observations where there are discrepancies, people

    That’s how it should work. But science costs money, all that Wrangling Stuff, and expensive kit, there are always more nooks to poke an inquisitive snout into than there are resources. So we had the Science Research Council to match this and allocate resources. Now we have the market.

    The scientific method from 1980 onwards, a.k.a. market driven science

    Ah, civil servants shouldn’t be picking winnners. etc, etc. Let the market decide sounded the battle cry in the 1980s. Now I worked in an industrial research lab for a long time. Industry is perfectly capable of applying science, and obviously they get to pick and choose the bits that are profitable or help them make profitable products.

    But industry is shit at doing science 1, because science is meant to inform us about our world. And industry wants you to buy its stuff. Let’s take the scientific method according to Coca Cola. The Telegraph is there with a repeat for free

    • Observe your product – water, sugar and flavouring. One of these is bad for people because it makes them fat
    • Develop a story to sell more of it
    • Take a partisan view of the world and amplify the reasons to buy your product as opposed to using a common and cheaper alternative – water
    • if desperate simply lie and falsify results (that’s the VW arm of the decision tree) – in Coca Cola’s case you consumers are fat because they don’t exercise enough, not because they are chugging 35g of sugar per can
    • Obfuscate information, spawn endless organisations such as the European Hydration Institute to add puffery and ways of disseminating your advertising/sponsored factual information, like this example published by Oxford University Press
    • shut down all the council-operated water taps in parks and public places 2
    Once upon a time (before the 1990s ISTR) the local rugrats could get hydrated, for free, in the park

    Once upon a time (before the 1990s ISTR) the local rugrats could get hydrated, for free, in the park

    Rinse, repeat, collect £loadsamoney in shorter and shorter time increments, for ever. Marvellous, innit? Trouble is we are getting fat bastards and it’s harder to lose weight than it used to be in the 1980s. And I (and more knowledgeable folk) charge Coca Cola and manufacturers of ‘sports drinks’ with a modern lie that many people seem to believe, but was considered garbage when I was a kid. Listen to the winsome Rosie Huntington-Whiteley give us this line

    Now ask yourself, did she get to look so sylph-like drinking a couple of cans of Coke a day?

    Now ask yourself, did she get to look like that drinking a couple of cans of Coke a day? Probably not…

    The Exercise Myth

    “Exercise is the key to losing weight”

    This is bullshit. It is one of those things that is true in theory but not in practice. In theory you could do enough exercise to compensate for drinking a 330 ml can of Coke at 140 calories, but the truth is that Britons don’t generally do that – you have to walk about 45 minutes. Coca Cola want to sell us more sugary shit, so they tell us exercise is the way to get fit. Well, it helps, but you’re always better off not drinking the Coke in the first place. That’s the sad truth about losing weight – stopping the calories getting into your gob is by far the easiest win. You cannot outrun a bad diet.

    Eat less and for God’s sake don’t drink Coca Cola. The retired Ermine weighs less than the in work Ermine. One day I would like to have the same waist size as when I was 21, but it’s going to be a long way coming. Yes, I probably do more exercise than when I was working, but it’s of the order of Mike Evans with occasional bursty peaks over at times

    It’s eating less that made the difference, and it kinda just happened. There are all sorts of minor second-order things about life that improve when you control your own time, and it so happens eating less is one of those things. The amount of calories consumed by half an hour’s walking is jack shit, about 120 calories, about a slice of bread. It’s irrelevant – it’s about 5% of the daily calorie consumption.

    Exercise over your normal level does use calories, but it hardly shifts the needle on the dial. This was brought home to me when I discovered that the 13-mile round bike trip to work and back consumed less than the 220 calories in a Mars Bar of the time. A man on a bicycle is an incredibly efficient transportation system – the bike journey used about 140 calories. The next problem with exercise is that it makes you hungry, particularly if you are unfit. The exercise only helps you slightly lose weight if you fight that urge to eat more, and don’t even think about consuming sports drinks to replace the calories you worked so hard to try and lose.

    We took a big wrong turn in the 1970s when we decided fat was the enemy rather than sugar, because there’s another dark truth – it’s much easier to overeat sugary calories that fatty calories. Let’s take a Coke at 140 calories a can – it is more calorific than beer by volume, so I’d go for the healthy option, better for your teeth, too. Looking at how people use it, it’s not unreasonable to imagine someone getting through four of those in a day, particularly if they are doing some sort of sport 😉 That’s like eating an extra Big Mac that day. If you wanted to eat those 140 calories as butter that’s about a tablespoon and a half, it’s easy to drink two cans of coke in one go but you’d be queasy on three tablespoons of butter. Six? I battle tested this with crackling. The crackling you have to eat first as it comes out of the oven, else it draws water from the air and becomes a soft dog treat. You can only eat about three square inches of crackling before you just can’t physically do it any more. That’s probably 500-800 calories, we aren’t talking healthy living, but you wouldn’t reach the same total endstop after troughing a whole one of TEA’s Vienettas

    Now somebody like TFS can make a dent in that 500 calories in half an hour and five miles. But he’s running a bloody marathon, and he’s not your average Brit, who apparently does a lot less exercise than me! I am definitely among the idle bastards of the PF community compared to all those marathon runners and mountain cyclists, and yet despite having never, ever, been inside a gym for my entire adult life I am in the upper half of British adults physical activity by a long chalk

    It found that just over 8% of adults who could walk had not – with the exception of shopping – walked continuously for five minutes within the previous four weeks, while 46% had not walked for leisure for 30 minutes continuously over the same period.

    Now I’m of the opinion that it doesn’t matter if your walking is for shopping or for going to work or just for the hell of it, and indeed I am a utility cyclist and walker. I walk to the shops, and I walk to the library for instance, but half of British adults not walking for half an hour in four weeks? C’mon guys! Anywhere less than 1.5 miles away is walkable, and a bike more than doubles that. Anyway, if these guys want to lose weight they should start by eating less. And hydrating using water, or tea and coffee, or if push comes to shove drink beer, not Coke.

    My mother 3 had a simple motto on diets: Friss die Hälfte  – eat half. It’s not about what you do eat, just eat less. Having said that, do be careful of sugary stuff, because the energy in it is so concentrated you can trough down a lot very quickly. Take a Starbucks Frappucino with cream and caramel  It sounds truly disgusting, and note Starbucks make it pretty hard to find out the calories in their stuff because you have to download a PDF and cross-correlate it, but order any of these in Venti size 4 and you’re north of 400 calories.

    Thatcher was no fool - she opened Mickey D's HQ but she didn't take a bite out of this Big Mac :)

    Thatcher was no fool – she opened Mickey D’s HQ but she didn’t take a bite out of this Big Mac, the whole body language is “what the heck can I do with this to get rid of it ASAP?” :)

    For comparison a Big Mac is 550 calories, but the thing is, you’re unlikely to be able to chow down two Big Macs in one session, whereas sit in Starbucks for an hour with your iPad and you could quite easily get through two of those.

    This so-called coffee is food, not drink. The clue is that the surface isn't level, which is uncharacteristic of liquids in Earth gravity

    This so-called coffee is food, not drink. The first clue is that the surface isn’t level, which is uncharacteristic of liquids in Earth gravity. The second clue is in the excess sweetness, but you’ve already lost the fight at that stage

    Let’s take a look at sports drinks. This again is not something I know from experience because a) I have avoided sports ever since school, which made me hate it with a vengeance which hasn’t faded in 30 years and b) such sports drinks as I have tasted tasted like disgusting sugary shit. So I took a look at this from the Guardian as research and came to the conclusion I am on a different planet. I am okay with doing exercise to do something, like chopping wood, or to get somewhere useful cheaply like cycling, or to see something interesting in the case of walking. I can understand going to a gym to lose weight, but to do it for fun beats me. Anyway, apparently a sports drink is there to replace the calories you use while exercising, and here is where I lose the point totally. Why? And when I see a large individual come out from a gym and glug down a sports drink I ask myself WTF are you doing this to yourself?

    there is something wonderful about watching Bolt run, desp[ite my school experiences of sport

    If you look like this, then maybe you have a use for a sports drink

    If you’re Usain Bolt, you may have use for a sports drink. If you went into that stinky gym because you are too fat, then you just paid the sports drink maker good money to sabotage the whole reason you paid the gym operator to go there. The terrible conversion rate of calories to exercise is the reason you feel shit, and feeling shit is the whole point, to rip some of the fat out your lardy flesh, not go replace the stuff you sweated buckets to use up. Just save the money on the gym and the drink and do something else with your time.

    Given the level of physical activity of Britons, there is no need for supermarkets to stock sports drinks, because not enough sport goes on to make that sort of demand. Just. Say. No. to fizzy drinks. Oh yes, and parents – don’t do it to your kids.  As a measure of how far Coke has advanced, yes I did have Coke as a child – but only on birthdays and maybe Christmas holidays – you can get away with 35g of sugar a few times a year. You just look at the pallets of the stuff in Tesco to see a lot more is being shifted. My mother did me a great kindness early on when she suggested knocking out the sugar in tea (nearly everyone seemed to add sugar to their tea in the 1960s). It was a fight for two weeks, and has served me for getting on 50 years.

    The british Sugar plant in Bury St Edmunds. We still subsidise sugar production

    The British Sugar plant in Bury St Edmunds. The taxpayer subsidises sugar production for some bizarre reason, Britain grows half its sugar consumption, 3/4 of which is sold directly to industrial users such as manufacturers of food, soft drinks and confectionery according to DEFRA

    The Escape Artist has a nice piece on this – basically follow Michael Pollan on food. I disagree with TEA regarding science that used to be funded by governments – the UK used to have government agricultural and hydrological research labs that published some good stuff which is still to be found in obscure places but since 1980 this is increasingly done by the big ag chemical and biotech firms which seem to have infested Defra, and surprisingly the ‘evidence based research’ so happens to point towards we need to get bigger, more high tech and use GM. Obviously some of these chemicals end up in the watercourses, but hey, some other bugger can pay for that, eh, and we have to ram our big scale factory farm animals with antibiotics to control disease, but again, pfft, your children can deal with the problem of antibiotic resistance but at least you can buy a chicken for £2 so it’s all good.

    Keep it simple, and go easy on anything your great grandmother wouldn’t have recognised as food. That includes puffery like vitaminwater which is also brought to you by Coca Cola. The bastards are at it again – adding 65 calories of sugar to every bottle of something marketed as ‘water’.

    Coca Cola screwed up selling real water in Britain in 2004. When I was in the US I observed Americans are perfectly happy paying for purified tap water. Now it has to be said that some of the water I got from motel rooms on that trip was worth paying to avoid, but in Europe we are only happy to pay for water if it has been purified from a natural source coming out of the ground. Of which Britain has plenty – every supermarket seems to be able to find a source. Coca Cola decided to try and sell us Dasani purified tap water from Sidcup in south London, and it didn’t go right for them at all.

    What is now often reported as ‘science’ is nothing of the sort

    The trouble with saving money by not doing science as a country is that you lose impartiality, and increasingly you just can’t tell what the bloody hell is what in a ghastly echo chamber of special interest pleading masquerading as science. It applies in many fields, but nutrition seems to be a particularly bad case – as Scott Adams said, pretty much everything about nutrition and diets is 100% Science Fail. Doing science on living things is hard because it’s difficult to separate the variables, and it’s a lot easier to do science on things like fruit flies that only live for a short time than on a beast that lives for 70 years and gets ornery as soon as you try and control what it does. It’s particularly hard when you’re doing the science like an A level student where you know the result – Coke is good for you – and have to munge the experimental results to give you that answer and ignore any counterfactual evidence. That’s advertising, not science. It’s done by “scientists” working for firms like this

    The European Hydration Institute (EHI) was founded in response to the need expressed by a number of scientists, nutritionists and health care professionals, for a one stop shop relating to hydration where: All hydration science and knowledge could come together; strategies for further advancing understanding in the area of hydration could be developed and support for efforts designed to ensure people across Europe are properly hydrated could be provided.

    What need was that? If you’re thirsty, drink water, tea, weak beer. How did previous generations ensure people across Europe were properly hydrated? They provided municipal water fountains in the 1960s and 70s FFS. When was the last time you heard on the news that somebody going about their daily business died of thirst in Britain? It’s just not a problem that needs a hydration institute to sort out. There are parts of the world where hydration is an issue. That is what Water Aid is for.

    Why can’t we do science any more?

    We can. Although there are some who ascribe the dropping of productivity and the return on capital as being due to the wellsprings of science and technology running dry, it does still go on. The problem is that the quality control department has downed tools and gone AWOL. So much crap is being published that you can’t tell the science from the puffery, and because even those doing research are incentivised by publications and citations we get exactly what we incentivise – these are bright people, after all. We get loads of publications and citations, but unfortunately nobody is making any more time for people to keep up with this or referee the papers properly. The signal stays roughly the same but the noise increases.

    Companies have jumped to the fact that the modern creed is science but few people can actually recognise science, so they are incentivised to create spurious rubbish that looks like science, and since everybody needs to pay off their student loans they can hire scientists with the right credentials to write claptrap that looks like science and pollutes the scientific literature and tell us great big porky pies like that you can exercise your way out of eating too much. Marion Nestle (author of Big Soda) has been collecting sponsored studies and their sponsors and has found that 95% of the results favour the sponsors. How, er, tremendously odd that is. Looks like it is game, set and match though – a 95% confidence interval is a commonly accepted benchmark of a clear result, so yes, sponsors do fix the results of their studies, either by selective hypotheses or by more nefarious means. The piper really does call the tune. I’m shocked.

    The FT’s Izabella Kaminsky roughs out the wider problem

    For what Rogoff is saying is that if we are experiencing technology stagnation, it’s not because humanity has suddenly become less innovative. Rather, it’s because incumbent interests now have the biggest incentive ever to impose artificial scarcity, which is stopping the speed of innovation.

    One of those artificial scarcities incumbents need to create is in information. It’s become much easier to disseminate information, so they do it by flooding the information space with false information. It’s a propaganda war – all advertising is propaganda along the lines of We want to make You buy Our Shit and Believe Our Story. There aren’t any principles beyond the love of money, so if it’s bad for you then we start with propaganda to make you believe the bad effects are due to something else you’re not doing, and dress it up as science.



    Reference for Coca Cola’s denialists:

    The European Hydration Institute

    downloaded on 9 Oct 2015 at


    Founding Partners:

    The Coca-Cola Company

    In 1886, Coca-Cola® brought refreshment to patrons of a small Atlanta pharmacy. Now well into its second century, the Company owns more than 500 brands which are enjoyed in more than 200 countries. Innovation and solid science are the foundation of everything the company does, from the development of new sparkling beverages, juices, waters, sports drinks, energy drinks, coffees and teas, to the environmentally-friendly packaging and refrigeration equipment and the new (and the world’s largest) plastic-bottle-to-bottle recycling plant and other actions to support recycling in the U.S.

    The Coca-Cola Company is committed to advancing scientific knowledge, awareness and understanding of beverages, and recognises the importance of an active, healthy and balanced lifestyle. Initiatives like the “Beverage Institute for Health and Wellness” are part of this commitment, serving as a valued resource for health professionals and others worldwide on the science, safety and benefits of beverages and their ingredients, as well as the importance of diet, nutrition and physical activity to health and wellbeing.

    The Coca-Cola Company is also committed to local markets, paying attention to what people from different cultures and backgrounds like to drink, and where and how they want to drink it. With its bottling partners, the Company reaches out to the local communities it serves, believing that Coca-Cola exists to benefit and refresh everyone it touches.

    The Coca-Cola Company has been instrumental in supporting the establishment of the EHI. It is providing funding to the EHI as part of its commitment to a better scientific understanding of human hydration and related societal issues.

    More information at www.thecoca-colacompany.com


    1. now – arguably some of the great industrial research labs of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s did do science and advanced knowledge, but this started to fade by the 1990s as timescales shortened
    2. I totally made that up, but WTF, what’s sauce for the goose is good for the gander. Anyway, there used to be working municipal water taps in Britain when I was a child and I can’t recall the last working one I’s seen recently
    3. she is German
    4. That’s huge, for those of us who don’t frequent Starbucks. It’s a pint. When was the last time you drank a pint of coffee at home? I have never, ever, seen a reason to buy a large coffee unless there are two of you and you want to split one
    7 Sep 2015, 4:07pm
    housing rant:


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  • house prices – finance grabs punters by the balls with the invisible hand of the free market

    Housing is the third rail of British investment classes, and I don’t usually go there for the simple reason that I don’t invest in it.

    However, I never really spent much time working out exactly why this asset class is so heady and dangerous. I spent a lot of time looking in the rear-view mirrror working out how it hurt me, examining how, after 20 years of actually paying down the mortgage I had just about broken even relative to the estimated cost of renting, and how terribly front-loaded the risk was – I got away with it because I stayed in the same job for 24 years and bought that house six months into that job.

    Even Monevator declared the asset class overvalued and he’s not a fellow who likes to let on that crystal balls have their place at very rare times :) Although I am still chortling about this –

    by the 1980s they could begin amassing the property wealth they have today – aided enormously by the right-to-buy and buy-to-let booms that the current Government is only just applying the brakes to.

    Not me, mate, I took the sucker punch here and I’ve read the early 1990s news reports that predate the Web where 3 million of my compatriots were in negative equity. The specifically housing part of my networth is probably less than a tenth of the total, and I own half the equity in the house outright (Mrs Ermine owns the other half, not a bank :) ). I do own land elsewhere that roughly doubles that, arguably my property asset class worth is about a suburban semi . Before Londoners start to spit bricks and think the Ermine is on the Sunday Times Rich List, remember that house prices in the provinces are much lower than in London.

    As an aside, I’m intrigued by the result of 80 years of peace in Europe leading to the nonchalance of

    it could eventually be the country I live in. The gulf between what you can buy in the UK and in the great livable cities of Europe is staggering.

    The ermine is a jittery fellow, and even if we discount Brexit, I hear the distant drumbeats of serious social unrest in Europe. Sometimes it takes an outsider to clarify the matter

    At different times and for different reasons, all of the large European states—the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany—have blocked attempts to create a common foreign and defense policy, and as a result they have no diplomatic or political clout.

    They haven’t wanted European leadership, and most of them wouldn’t have wanted American leadership either, even if any had been on offer. The richest economy in the world has a power vacuum at its heart and no army. Now the consequences are literally washing up on Europe’s shores.

    But that’s not the point of this post. It is the discovery of the cogent rant linked to here in the comments of Monevator’s Yes, we do have a house price problem article. Unfortunately it’s far too long, so my service here is to summarise some of the observations in a post that is too long but a hundredth of the size:

    In an industrial consumer society, shelter is the one basic Maslow need most people buy on credit

    1402_Maslow's_Hierarchy_of_Needs.svgTake a look at the bottom two layers, which are basic and fundamental needs. Most of us don’t buy food on credit – cash is king here, from income. If you do buy love you probably use cash too 😉 Unlike in the US, healthcare is free in the UK. Although I am sure that there are many who would like to try, we don’t currently charge for air, and most people pay for water as they go along too.

    Unfortunately there’s one big item that addresses homeostasis, sleep, security of body etc, and that is shelter from the rain and other hazards, in short, housing. A hairless mammal in a Northern European climate needs a home. The vast majority of people, on leaving the parental home, are not rich enough to buy a house outright. They need to borrow most of the price.

    The free market fails dismally where everyone buys an essential product with credit

    If I want to buy a pound of apples, or a car, markets work well, because what is called market substitution happens if suppliers price-gouge. I switch to oranges if apples are too dear, I use public transport or a bicycle if cars are too dear. In this way the balance of power is matched – if the buyers are too tight the product is withdrawn from sale because producers don’t find it worth their while, if the producers want all the money the buyers disappear. Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand does its job well when everybody can walk away and do without. When you can’t, the Invisible Hand grabs you by the balls and your heart usually follows. Nowhere is this clearer than with housing.

    more »

    5 Sep 2015, 12:11am


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  • You don’t need a remote-controlled iKettle. You need remote controlled coffee in the morning

    The kids are back to school and the wage-slaves are finally back to work, leaving the world blissfully quieter for retirees 😉 However, the silly season was extended over at the torygraph, who bring us the amazingly useless invention of…


    This Smarter iKettle allows you to boil it remotely from your bedroom when you wake up, or when you’re on your way home from work. It will also tell you when your hot water is ready to pour, remind you to refill, and tell you when the kettle is empty.

    the iKettle. Much like the Internet Connected fridge and the smartwatch, at £80 this is a solution in search of a problem. One which has had perfectly reasonable solutions ever since the 1960s, as the Telegraph very well knows. Indeed a search for the device shows it exercises the minds of our retired colonels-pining-for-the-glory-days-of-Empire an awful lot. Perhaps they had a crush on the woman in the ads back in the day :)

    1509_teasmadeI like the enterprise of the British search of a morning cup of tea –

    Mostly it was bought by a middle-aged, middle-income workforce who needed help getting out of their suburban beds.

    Presumably they were sore that that the price of servants was so high in the 1970s… The Teasmade had some  positively lethal forerunners in the form of a methylated spirit burner lit by a match struck by the clockwork. What on earth could go wrong, eh – on a good day you rise to the pong of meths and stewed tea, on a bad day you get woken up by the smell of your house burning down. What’s not to like?

    The trouble with the iKettle is that apart from a few people who drink hot though probably not boiling water as is, what you want to do with your boiled water is use it for something else, be that making beverages or boiling some spuds so you may as well go over there and press the damn button, and you tell whether the kettle has water in it by sloshing it about or listening to the noise. There is no need for the remote control at all. Indeed, if you want to spend money on simplifying your boiling water experience a Quooker tap is the way to go, you cut out all that filling the kettle first malarkey.

    Tea? In the morning? What is this risible concept anyway?

    The ermine household has no truck with the idea of tea, pretty much until 4pm. It’s coffee that is needed before the sun rises above the yardarm. Way back in working days I used a timer connected to a coffee machine in a gonzo version of the Teasmade and it served me well for years – far better to rise gradually to the smell of coffee than to some ghastly buzz or the latest Autotune hit. Obviously there’s no point in having an alarm as a retiree, so I have much sympathy with the concept of remote control – as long as it does the full job. So out with the timeswitch and in with the JS designs remote control mains socket. I have tried numerous Chinese cheapie remote switches, but they are all ghastly – no frequency control so if they work in summer they don’t in winter. What you really don’t need is one with a single switch that toggles state, because if the coffee is not in the same room you can’t get feedback on which state is ON. Separate on and off buttons, please.


    JS uses a CR2032 cell, it’s easier for the Chinese crap alternatives to use one of those infernal 12V lighter batteries that has 10 LR44 coin cells in them, which makes running costs dear. I’m of the view that for something you get to use frequently it’s worth paying more to get something without rattiness, and lightwaveRF took all the Chinese rattiness 1 away for me…

    Anyway, the remote controlled mains socket and a lo-tech manual filter coffee machine that will power up if left switched on when the mains appears solves the problem the iKettle fails dismally – and you don’t have to putz about with a smartphone to launch coffee either.

    There’s a certain fin de siècle decadence of something so complicatedly futile being exhibited at the IFA tradeshow as part of the leading edge. At least you could eat a chocolate teapot, and I have more admiration of the colonial entrepreneurs of over a century ago with their Heath-Robinson meths burners and matches. Let’s hear it from Stephen Covey and his Seven Habits of Successful People

    Begin with the end in mind

    You want a hot beverage at the end, not an excuse to piss about with a smartphone. 2. If we nailed this in 1902 we can keep to Covey’s maxim a century later.


    1. investigation with a frequency counter of why the Chinese sockets would work some of the time showed they used a LC tuned circuit oscillator with a strip of PCB track inductor for frequency control of the TX, and were susceptible to temperature, humidity and hand capacity
    2. While on the subject of smartphone driven hardware, experience has shown me that software has a much shorter mean-time-to-obsolescence than hardware. Any gizmo that needs an app to make it work will have the service life of a bluebottle, as Apple’s planned obsolescence orphans the app with an iOS upgrade.
    14 Jul 2015, 4:51pm


  • November 2015
    M T W T F S S
    « Oct    
  • Archives

  • hunting with dogs – class war by the aristocracy

    Gawd bless the Establishment, eh. Class war is normally the province of lefty sorts, but there’s a fightback on the cards at the moment. Hot on the heels of George Osborne’s boost to retaining ancestral wealth tax-free with his inheritance tax reductions for housing, because any fule kno that what Britain really needs in future is more expensive housing.

    You have to love the aristocracy, it made Britain what it is today. It owns more than half the land in Britain – in 2004 less than half of the land in England was on the cadastral records, for the simple reason that it had remained in the same family for over a hundred years.All the rest of us and our towns and cities make do with less than half of this green and pleasant land. And no, I don’t want Mugabe style land seizures – just that the noble inheritance tax that facilitated the middle class owning the freehold on their hovels in the ‘burbs 1continues to maintain the fight against the understandable but socially negative process of people favouring the fruit of their loins with the fruits of their labour – after they are gone and pushing up daisies.

    In an attempt to roll back the clock from the cheese-eating metrosexual times of 2004, Cameron and his chums want to restore the ancient tradition of charging around the countryside on horseback with a load of dogs with the aim of tearing a fox apart –

    The English country gentleman galloping after a fox – the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable

    Oscar Wilde

    I think Call Me Dave lacks ambition on this rural sports lark. Yes, it’s animal cruelty, but jolly japes, it’s such good fun, Carruthers. Obviously the bleeding hearts moan, but although Britain claims to be a nation of animal lovers, the popularity of the Tesco £2 chicken raised on factory farms and the way we keep pigs indoors for cheap pork gives the lie to all that. So many of those townies who bitched about animal cruelty with foxhunting just do it by proxy to save money, who are they to demand we give up our ancestral right to hunt foxes. It’s vermin control on the cheap, and you get to dress up in red coats and put some sweat on the hounds and steeds. Tally-ho and all that.

    No, the problem is that we need leadership on this front, we should get more in touch with our traditional British sports. The noble tradition of cockfighting was cruelly arrested in 1849 but there’s still a lot of demand for it. Let’s go for gold and bring back more traditional British rural sports. To assist us on the way, let’s consult the Encyclopaedia of Traditional British Rural Sports for inspiration – one of their references was a book edited in 1911 by the Earl of Suffolk (woot!) and Berkshire – the somewhat colonial Encyclopaedia of Sport. You can inspect a rather fine facsimile of it over at archive.org

    So what else do we need to bring back along with the ancient rural sport of foxhunting with repeal of the Hunting Act tomorrow?

    Badger Baiting. Angry buggers, badgers, and have you seen what they to the the garden shrubs, dahlink? Set the hounds on ’em.

    have you seen what badgers can do to ones' prized lawn? Off with their heads!

    have you seen what badgers can do to one’s prized lawn? Off with their heads!

    Bear baiting with dogs – popular in Elizabethan times but dying out in Victorian times. Not because of any namby-pamby feelings but because the cost of importing bears was getting too much, don’tcha love the invisible hand of capitalism, eh? Maybe we could fly them in?

    of bull-baiting fame = "The dog that grabbed the bull by the nose and pinned it to the ground would be the victor. "

    of bull-baiting fame – “The dog that grabbed the bull by the nose and pinned it to the ground would be the victor. ” Blimey – that’s seriously overwhelming odds!

    Bull-baiting which has given the traditional symbol of British pluck in the face of adversity and overwhelming odds – the bulldog. Trained to seize the bull by the nose. That must be jolly good fun to watch, Dave.

    Cock-fighting – from which we get the term cockpit :)

    Dog-fighting – the pit bull terrier wasn’t bred for its attractive visage and placid personality

    1507_pigstickingPig-Sticking – get the lowdown from this fine treatise by R Baden-Powell, of Scouting fame 😉

    RBP shows an interesting new angle on blood sports and how it legitimises the the aristocracy – having noted on page 9 that hoghunting takes the place of foxhunting in India he observes

    “on becoming a pigsticker the pursuit of sport will take the young “civilian” 2 to covers in all corners of the district; he will of necessity be brought into personal contact with all classes of natives of his district […]

    An admiration of physical courage is inherent in every race, and among the less civilised peoples such prowess is looked on as a necessary qualification in any conquering or governing race”

    R Baden-Powell, Pigsticking, chapter 2

    Quite, young man. I didn’t realise the exercise of blood sports is a necessary part of showing dominance to the lesser people, but this is what he seems to claim 😉

    That’s the trouble with Cameron’s desire to repeal the Hunting Act. It lacks ambition  and intellectual rigour. If we’re going to advocate having the well-to-do getting to practise blood sports legally, then let the proletariat have its low-brow blood sports too  -there’s clearly a demand for dog fighting and cock fighting. If the toffs want to go on chasing and tearing up foxes with their hounds then let’s have some equitable thinking about this whole noble tradition of blood sports thing. Otherwise it’s class war by the aristocracy, suborning the government to legalise their blood sports while retaining bans on the blood sports of the common people. I know that foxes are a pain in the arse at times, but it is possible to shoot them, y’know. Our good friend R Baden-Powell confirms that the death of the fox is by the by –

    Foxhunting, on the contrary, needs money, and although of a tamer nature [than pigsticking] has just as many delights born of the glamour of its particular home associations, surroundings and comforts.  But here the main point is a good gallop over a fenced country, the death of the fox being a secondary consideration.

    RBP, Pigsticking, p17

    If you’re reading this and getting ready to spit bricks in the comments about advocating animal cruelty then you’ve failed the spotting irony test. Sadly it’s easy for people really into a cause to miss, so for the record, I don’t want to see hunting with hounds and I don’t want to see any more ancient blood sports like bear baiting, cockfighting or dog fighting legalised either. Got that?

    PS Since writing this I see the lily-livered Cameron isn’t up for a fair fight. He is going to rig the playing field, by withdrawing until he can hobble the opposition in the form of the SNP and then have another bash. WTF has happened to British sportsmanship and what the bloody hell is Eton doing letting such cowardice escape their tender ministrations?


    1. my parents bought a semidetached house leasehold in the 1960s, and purchased the freehold from the landowner for a respectable sum in the late 1970s. Before the Sixties and Seventies many urban houses were sold leasehold on a 99 year lease because the greedy bastards of the aristocracy couldn’t quite believe that the reforming Labour governments of the post-war era would make them pay IHT on non-agricultural land, thereby breaking up estates that had been granted to their ancestors since the time of William the Conqueror. The aristocracy negotiated an exception on agricultural land so that the it could continue to hand its wealth down the generations – this exception stands even now. The pretext was ‘you wouldn’t want to see our little family farms broken up’ – of course now they get contract farmers to do the dirty work on mahoosive estates and use agricultural land as an IHT-free way of cascading the value of their ancestral wealth down the line. They have also agitated for EU CAP benefits for rich people costing every British household about £250 p.a. because, well, they’re worth it FFS. Plugging that IHT loophole would gradually distribute land more equitably over time
    2. member of the Indian Civil Service I presume

    Middle-Class inflation – it’s big, it’s bad, and it’s eating your lifestyle

    Brought to you by the Ermine department of first-world problems  this Torygraph article ruminating on how terrible middle class inflation is gives me much to sink some needle-sharp teeth into on so many fronts. It misdiagnoses the problem, the sense of entitlement is risible, and hell, there’s opportunity for much fun. Let’s take the headline and standfirst

    How ‘middle class’ inflation is threatening your standard of living

    An extensive Telegraph Money study into our readers’ spending habits reveals the alarming rate at which “middle class inflation” is taking hold


    Dudes, your lunch was eaten, digested and shat out t’other side years ago. How come you only just noticed? People have had the time to write books about the problem. Ermines have written posts on how the middle class needs to wake the ***k up and get ready to take the sucker punch, middle class families on the brink, savoured the come-uppance of Shona Sibary stupidly selling her house in bits to fund her excessive lifestyle then discovering she doesn’t own her house anymore. The middle class threw the poor and the working class under the bus by voting for neoliberalism in the 1980s 1 that destroyed blue collar jobs, without asking the questions about where this was all going to lead. The Guardian was drawn out with a riposte along the lines of what part of we’re all in this together did you not understand…

    So what is this lifestyle-eating inflation you speak of, Mr Telegraph? Well, the cost of some desiderata has been going up faster than average wage increases – to wit

    increasing cost of luvverly stuff going up

    increasing cost of luvverly stuff going up

    Let’s take a butcher’s hook at what these essentials are. School Fees – despite every child being entitled to free education in the UK and indeed this is wot drug up your ‘umble scrivener that’s not enough for some people, and all those hard-working furreners are bidding up the price. Health insurance. Eh? We have the NHS, and if you are rich enough to be middle class then if you want to jump the queue for your hip replacements then take the Ermine line. It’s about 15k to pay privately. Things like that are what the middle class used to save for before they discovered home equity lines of credit to buy consumable shit. They knew a thing or two, your grandparents when they saved for rainy days, ‘cos they’d seen hard times… Dental care, well, yes, it probably is increasing, but it’s what, £200 a year. You’re not middle class if a 100% increase in that is going to make you sweat, and stop giving your kids sugary shit advertised on TV, at least after they have changed out their milk teeth. Holidays – the middle class used to have one foreign and maybe a UK holiday a year. Now you’re deprived if you don’t have four. The enemy is consumerism, and the enemy is within – lifestyle inflation.

    What are we comparing this with? Average wages covers a multitude of sins, but most jobs created in Britain since the mid 1990s have been  at the lower end of the scale. These are not middle class jobs where people aim to send Tabitha to public school. Some of these are jobs where people aim to make last week’s rent. These are some of the people that you, Middle Class Boss Person Sitting in your Corner Office, downsized or outsourced or just plain fired. You would have to compare middle class wages for this to have meaning. In fairness, the poll of their subscribers’ income indicates times are getting hard for them. Again, there could be sample bias – Telegraph readers are not spring chickens  – indeed a fair number may have retired between 2007 and now time because they’re not picking up da yoof.

    The Daily Mail and The Telegraph have the largest percentages of over 65s, making up almost half of their audiences – at 45 and 46 percent respectively.


    One item shows just how damned ungrateful the middle class is. The price of the average new car driven by Telegraph readers is £13,456. When I first read this I went WTF? you can get a new car for that little? The last car I bought second-hand in the early 2000s was ~£5000. These Torygraph readers presumably buy a new car every three years because that’s what one does if you haven’t been educated otherwise. Given that they therefore spend on average a shade under 10% of their gross wages, roughly £4000 p.a. on new cars and this big-ticket item gets 6% cheaper than the last time they bought it you’d think the blighters would show a bit more gratitude.

    A word in your shell-like, Mr and Mrs Middle Class. The good times ain’t ever gonna roll again, because you are in competition with the whole freakin’ world now, rather than a third of it. And most of the rest of the world is generally poorer than you, they’re ready to work harder, because the extra wedge will make a bigger difference to their lives. They want to eat your lunch and your nice sinecures where Mr Wealthy but Dim used to cling to the pipes of capitalism like slime-moulds slowing down the system a bit. Your kids may actually end up richer in absolute terms but feel far poorer and less secure, because being middle class is all about relative status.

    How did we get to such a sorry pass, eh? Let’s take a look at history, shall we.

    A history aside

    We have to go a long way back, to when the definitions of a middle class lifestyle were defined – roughly meaning owning your own house in the ‘burbs outright by retirement, a decent middle-management job, sending up to two kids to private school 2, owning a car and having a foreign holiday a year, though the latter were children of the 60’s and 70’s. This was the deal struck by Whyte’s Organisation Man 3

    Way back in time, there was a hell of a bust-up called the Second World War. Shitloads of capital got destroyed and a lot of people got killed and hurt. The British Empire that had coloured in most of the map of the world pink imploded, because so much of the energy that was used to rule other places had to be recalled to defend the homeland in an existential struggle that is still now worthy of admiration and I am grateful that a flame was kept alive in Britain while the lamps went out all across Europe, twice in 50 years.

    The British Empire in 1915, when the sun didn't set on it. Sic transit gloria mundi and all that...

    The British Empire in 1915, when the sun didn’t set on it. Sic transit gloria mundi and all that…

    In the aftermath of this the world divided into power blocs with different ideologies, glowering at each other across iron curtains and Berlin walls and suchlike – they drew clear borders and so it came to pass that Russia and China were outside the global trading system as perceived by Western middle class consumers and the firms they worked for. And the green bit didn’t endanger Western jobs either.

    First, second and Third worlds. Decoding the colour scheme should be clear enough :)

    First, second and Third worlds. Decoding the colour scheme should be clear enough. You’re with the blue team :)

    Communications were expensive and computers were dear, hard to use and few and far between. 4 There were no useful databases  – there were shocking levels of basic admin work and most middle management couldn’t type – they dictated their memos for others to type out for them. In 1979 at university in one of the premier science institutions of Britain I looked up books in the library using the high-tech solution of…6×4″ index cards in polished wooden cabinets.

    What a database looked like 30 years ago

    What a database looked like 30 years ago

    Cold war capitalism’s world was smaller, productivity stank by modern standards, far more people were employed and there was far more work for people at lower end of the ability spectrum.  People had children earlier, and jobs were more stable – the residual defined benefit pensions were a carry-over from this era, when employers sought to hold on to staff (and in the case of scientific and technical jobs, invested in training people).

    There is an argument to be made that the number of scientific and technical jobs were artificially inflated during the Cold War compared to what the economy needs which is why there was a push to educate some of the lumpenproletariat in grammar schools and free university education provided you could pass the tougher exams of the time. Again, I am personally grateful for this – I gained from the grammar schools and free university places, but when I entered Imperial College 7% of school leavers went to university. We could afford free university education then, and I would be all for making it free again – provided the entrance criteria were made tightened up again so that these free places went to, say 10% of school leavers. 5

    Then in the 1990s along came the Internet improving communications enormously, the Iron Curtain came down because it turned out that the problems of communism showed up in economic breakdown earlier than the problems of capitalism show up in economic breakdown 6. The Chinese decided they would like to join the party on their own terms.

    This means that a UK worker at the start of their working life now is competing with three times as many people as I did in 1982; the odds are in fact worse because the world population is higher 7 and better communications means that the pool of workers that can be drawn upon is far larger by at least an order of magnitude than it used to be. On the plus side you live in a far richer country, healthcare is better, opportunities for the talented are far-far better, which is the flipside of the better communication, so the average post-Gen X reader of this (if there are any :) ) has probably progressed a lot further in their career than I had at the same age. Many such have travelled and worked abroad and had a wider experience that I have. I’ve worked in international teams but never based abroad – it was by no means impossible but it seems much more prevalent now. 8

    Living standards are normalising worldwide. So far this is a win for humanity but a lose for Mr Daily Telegraph and his kids

    So, roughly boiled down, the problem with the middle class is that they are in competition with a lot of their worldwide peers, but they normalised how rich they expected to be relative to other people in Britain in an era when they were only in competition with the rest of the First World. Globalisation is reducing inequality worldwide, but increasing it in the First World 9. When it comes to specifically their children and their dreams for them, then not only are their children going to face far worse competition than their parents in the employment market did as communications get better. The birthrate in the UK isn’t as high as it is in places that can supply the competing workers which amplifies the competition. It is patently clear to me that middle class parents who want their offspring to have a middle class lifestyle need to start getting on the side of capital for their kids unless those kids are both brilliant and driven. Leave them shitloads of money, because Dim Rich isn’t going to find sinecures like they used to in a more competitive world. Even Halfway Average rich ain’t gonna get ahead through hard work faced with those odds.

    Alternatively they could adjust their expectations of how rich relative to other people they want their children to be. Mr Money Mustache’s takes the battle to the enemy as usual – if you don’t want your kids to join the rat race then maybe teach them not to race rats, which is broadly what the current charade that passes for ‘education’ goes for. We need to teach children to learn and adapt in a changing world, we aren’t making factory units any more. Then there’s the whole automation and Humans Need Not Apply thing. Just like Dustin Hoffman was urged to get into plastics, Capital is your best hope now – don’t buy shit you can’t afford and identify yourself with what you spend money on.

    Seeking validation in what you are as opposed to what you have is also a potential win here- Erich Fromm posited the question in the 1970s. If you’re rich enough to be reading the Telegraph article and thinking ‘that’s me’ then you have the choice – clearly if you are a single mother working five zero-hours jobs to pay last week’s rent you don’t really have this choice, but that’s a different problem from grizzling that the price of wine and holidays is so expensive these days, dahlink.

    Living standards will go down for the middle class – they need to keep an eye on quality of life

    One of the problems the middle class seems to have had is they lost their historic values of thrift and deferred gratification. Once upon a time they knew to put money into healthcare and schools before blowing it all on holidays, wine, eating out and going to the movies. The middle class had annuities to look after them when they got old (before those DB pension) because they saved for it, no doubt encouraged to do so by seeing what happened to the poor in the poorhouse.  Then they got soft.

    Living standards are going to go down because of the shift of power from labour to capital. Mine is, yours is probably. The smart response is to roll with it – because although there’s some correlation of quality of life with living standard, if you deliberately change attitudes to the changes ahead of time you can do more with less, your quality of life need not go down with your lowered living standard. This is because many aspects of quality of life (autonomy and being able to express free will) are not a function of stuff or resources. It won’t be easy but fortune favours the adaptable.

    The middle class are locked into the school-university-job loop. It’s broken for the middle classes – an ever increasing money pit that is less and less likely to pay off for the next generation anyway. Mr Money Mustache nails the problem succinctly

    It may be that most parents of the very-upper-middle class are still operating from a scarcity mindset. If they are addicted to a high consumption lifestyle, earning $600,000 per year but still making car and house payments, they will assume that their children will need to earn and consume just as much in order to be happy. This of course dictates a job in the top fraction of the top percent of the economy, and education with enough prestige to secure such a job.

    There’s a lot of conspicuous consumption in the Telegraph’s list. The school fees etc are all passing on the image of replicating what worked in the past. Fingers crossed that past performance is a guide to future returns despite the rapidly changing world, because if not this is a dramatic misallocation of capital. Above a certain level, quality of life and standard of living are different things. That rings hollow if you’re poor, because it isn’t true for you. But if you’re griping about the price of wine and foreign holidays over the canapes like our DT readers, then you still have choices. Use them well, before you don’t have any choices because you can’t tell the difference between what you want and what you like.


    1. That’s a slightly harsh charge as technological progress would have done that job a little bit later, but they didn’t  help people change, since the postwar consensus was nuked around then
    2. this seems to be a peculiarly UK aberration, I haven’t detected in from US writers for instance
    3. that old  ideal cast a long shadow on the ermine, because I did not grow up in a middle class background, I learned some of this from books and inferred from the values of those around me, particularly those at university, who were mainly from a richer background than me. The deal started to fall through in the early 1990s, paradoxically just as Thatcher was defenestrated. This distorted model jammed my vision to seeing what was going wrong. I learned from my mistake – the OODA loop is a description of how to stay on guard against being trapped by a mental model becoming obsolete. There are many assumptions about the modern world that may unravel – and the principle of being able to preserve value in financial instruments and the SWR aren’t immune from that
    4. When I started as a professional electronics engineer in the eighties there was a single VAX computer for circuit simulation accessed by green-screen terminals via 9600 baud serial cables and all the output was in Courier text – shared across the entire facility of a couple hundred people. Most of the time you did your circuit simulation by building it in the lab and measuring and messing with components – I can do all this at the same time on the same machine as writing this now.
    5. I’m not against those that don’t make the bar paying their way as now – if you want a vanity degree or have an insight that you will get a return on investment knock yourself out
    6. harbingers of trouble with capitalism seem to be the destruction of the middle classes that I’m writing about, rapacious consumption of natural resources to produce worthless tat and increasing inequality leading to revolution as the rough trajectory capitalism is on, so it won’t necessarily end better. A capitalist consumer economy needs consumers and rising inequality is running consumers out of town, a process slowed by rising debt.
    7. when I started work in 1982 there were 4.5 billion of us compared to 7 billion now
    8. As a simple example, I admire and am gobsmacked by Early Retirement Guy who had the bad luck to graduate into the credit crunch recession and took the enterprising solution to take off and travel and see if the dust would settle. I left school after the Winter of Discontent, worked as a kitchen porter over the summer and started university in September. Gap years were for rich kids in those days ;)
    9. A view from the City of London’s Gresham College – the words of Christine Keeler ‘well they would say that wouldn’t they’ spring to mind, but the case is made well. Similarly the Social Affairs Unit and this paper seem to support this view
    25 Mar 2015, 10:33am
    personal finance rant


  • November 2015
    M T W T F S S
    « Oct    
  • Archives

  • how Britain fell back in love with borrowing

    In the Ermine world, people clearing their unsecured debts sounds like A Good Thing in general, after all, when I was growing up there was no unsecured personal debt 1 and people survived, the sun rose each day and they seemed to have fewer financial crises… In the Through the Looking Glass world we have now that’s all bunk. Apparently, more unsecured borrowing is a good-news story. Let’s hear it from PriceWaterhouseCoopers

    Just as daffodils herald the beginning of Spring, it’s a sure sign that people are feeling better about their economic prospects when they dust off their credit cards. […]

    In the five years after 2008 people worked hard to reduce their debts and managed to clear almost a quarter of their unsecured borrowing. But the latest report shows a sudden and sharp return of unsecured lending

    […] In cash terms, that’s more than ever before and a reflection that many people feel more confident about their finances than they have in a while.

    Matthew’s Moronic Money Muppetry

    On the radio I hear such a stupendously moronic statement from a mouth-breather that makes me  ask WTF is going on here? Did I stick shift somewhere and end up on a different planet rather than a different lane?

    The man-child Matthew tells us something at 16:44 that informed me that the fight is futile, the good guys lost and the bad guys won.

    Q: Are you spending money you don’t have:

    Err, yes, people do these days, things are expensive, you have big outgoings, …Christmas, I put things on credit card… then you get into a cycle of just paying the minimum amount…transfer the balance again…hopefully that won’t run out

    I definitely use credit cards to pay for major times like …Christmas… I’ll spread that over the year, won’t be gone by the end of the year…you wanna have a good time, wanna have nice food and things…it’s important for me to keep a good credit score

    Q: when was the last time you were credit free?

    6 or 7 years ago

    Q: is there any end in sight?

    when those interest-free offers run out, and I do pay interest on some things; when that all comes on top of me I will eventually get a loan, and then it will stop..until then it works for me.

    Fundamentally my lifestyle revolves around exceeding my income and I think that’s a normal thing

    There are times that you weep for all the previous life-forms that struggled their way across the geological aeons, the fish that left the sea, and indeed our own human forebears who endured desperate privation to produce the pinnacle of wisdom delivered by Matthew encapsulated in

    Fundamentally my lifestyle revolves around exceeding my income and I think that’s a normal thing

    Live intentionally, Matthew. Christmas should be about gratitude, not spending to make corporations rich

    Go on Matthew

    Go on Matthew. In the unthinking stir-fry that occupies that cranium of yours, ever look at things like this and ask yourself if there’s more to life that rolling over your Christmas consumer debt from year to year?

    Now I know you’re not a fellow who’s given to deep thought on the meaning of life and all that jazz, but Matthew, has it ever occurred to you that the purpose of your life on this sparkling blue planet may not be totally summed up in doing as you’re told and buying shit you can’t afford to make other people rich? Let’s take a look at that Christmas thang, for starters. What is Christmas? Why is it there? Ever thought about that, y’know – why do you want to have a good time, drink yourself stupid on wifebeater and pig out? Let me tell you a story

    more »


    1. this isn’t strictly true, there were ways and means but usually associated with the threat of violence for defaulters. What we know as consumer credit to buy Stuff was regulated hire purchase secured on the goods
    30 Nov 2014, 6:38pm


  • November 2015
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  • Dear Mr TV Licensing. The Ermine has no TV licence…

    Because he doesn’t watch live TV. What part of that do you not understand?

    It’s not often that the Repo Man tries to call at Ermine towers, but one of your boys visited this Sunday, while the Ermine is laying out a printed circuit board, so no, I don’t appreciate the gratuitous interruption to something that needs concentration and keeping a load of spatial stuff in mind. But you’re also cheeky enough to want to come inside my house because you want me to prove that I am not lying to you. Well F*** off.

    I’m not having you search my house for it. An Englishman’s home is his castle etc. And I’m not pulling down my aerials either. I may want to use them one day, in which case I’ll pay out. All I have to do to be legally absolved of the need to buy a TV licence is not watch live TV as it is broadcast. And I don’t do that. It’s really no great deprivation, despite the apparent incredulity. One of the joys of becoming financially independent is you usually get to do that  by living a bit differently to the way other people do. This is one of them.

    There are ways of looking for signals leaking from TV gear in use. It’s a lot harder now those damn Europeans with their pesky EMC regulations mandate lower emissions from  consumer electronics. I wouldn’t imagine it’s economically viable for TV licensing to have people capable of driving the gear and making sense of the results. And it doesn’t look like this

    And it doesn't look like this you bunch of chumps

    And it doesn’t look like this you bunch of chumps

    There is a satellite dish and a TV aerial on the outside of my house. You are very welcome to park a Transit van on the public highway and point a dish at the Satellite quad LNB and look for the 11GHz local oscillator, and use a Yagi aerial to look for the Freeview local oscillator leaking from the TV aerial, it’s about 39MHz off the wanted channel if I remember right. Take yourself down to Livingston Hire and book out something suitable, the Rohde & Schwartz FSV13 would probably see you right. If you pay my consulting fee I’ll show you how to use it :)

    You won’t find any signal, because I don’t watch TV, there’s nothing connected to these aerials. I do still have the Humax Freesat box I talked about a while back but it is in a box in my loft – the resale value is sod all and I might one day change my mind. It’s not hurting anybody and I’m not using it.

    I’m not one of the rabid refuseniks who doesn’t think there should even be a TV licence, though the vexatious rudeness of TV licensing could turn me into one. There may be other better ways to fund the BBC but to be honest that’s not one of the problems in the world I give too much headspace to. The reason I don’t need a TV licence isn’t that I don’t watch TV, but I don’t have any way of picking out what’s worth watching ahead of time, other than people telling me. Obviously they have to watch TV first – thank you Under The Money Tree and Mr Squirrel for the last couple of recommends. I can’t abide TV series of the sort most people really rate like Breaking Bad or The Wire. I don’t do sport.  If I am interested in someone’s recommendation  I watch it on iPlayer or the ITV/C4 equivalents. There’s not much point in me shelling out £145 a year for the privilege of being able to do something I don’t do. If I needed to pay for iPlayer I’d live without. I do vaguely miss the TV news but it’s hardly as if the Web is without news, for instance if I want to see some people fighting over buying a television set then due to the magic of the new-fangled intertubes I can do just that. I think this is my favourite clip of Britons behaving badly, though I do note on some of the videos the gentlemen of the press outnumber the punters. The weather forecast is that much better on the Web, and if I want cat videos then there’s always Youtube.

    I do have a TV, though not the big one from this post – that went to the county dump a while back. Mrs Ermine uses it to watch DVDs. It is so old it doesn’t do Freeview or HDMI, though it has a nice analogue tuner showing many varieties of snow. I was even toying with getting a bigger TV monitor, preferably without fighting for it, because a 20 inch 4:3 machine at not even SD resolution isn’t that easy to see from a distance 1 and does lose the effect somewhat. But then I’d have to get a secondhand stereo for the sound because that’s half the story and it would end up in some ghastly version of the Diderot effect. And I’d like to go HD but couldn’t find anywhere to rent HD movies without being sucked into a subscription, and movies aren’t important enough in my life to subscribe to anything. DVDs seem to be £1 a go PAYG from the library, and you can’t argue with that.

    TV Licensing are a vexatiously rude bunch of tossers

    The reason TV Licensing get such a load of shit from people is that they are bully-boys. There’s a tradition in this country that you are innocent until proven guilty, but in TV Licensing start from the assumption that nobody in 21st century Britain can live without the glass teat feeding the lifeblood of consumerism directly into their face. Despite there being the competing multimedia firehose pointed at their face that you’re now looking at, and the smartphone for da yoof. So you are guilty and they address you as such. It starts off with the wheedling


    TV Licensing -> Ermine after 1 month  Shurely Shome mishtake, Sire has omitted to renew?

    NO, you numbskull, I don’t watch live TV because it consumes too much of my precious time to find what I want, so I wait for others to tell me, OK?




    Ermine to TVL – no, I am not telling you anything, this is something I am no longer doing. I’m not paying money, wasting time on your phone system, giving you my phone number or email address to hassle, and the onus is not on me to prove my innocence. The onus is on you to prove I am doing something you can charge me for. As I walk down the street I can see lots of people’s TV screens. You are more than welcome to see if you can see mine from the public highway. Maybe I should get me one of these TV simulators  to make your pay-per-hit Capita dudes have a rush from the thrill of the chase, eh?

    TV Licensing -> Ermine after 2 months, random mailed intimidation and final demands.

    Random unjustified aggro by post

    Random unjustified TV Licensing aggro by post

    I haven’t had this sort of aggravation since Thatcher’s Poll Tax in the early 1990s!

    TV Licensing -> Ermine after 4 months  Up close and personal we want to inspect your house to make sure you aren’t watching TV.

    Eh? I haven’t ever had so much bloody grief for something I’m not doing and don’t need to do. It’s not 1984 guys, where you get into deep doo-doo for switching the damn telescreen off! Chill out and piss off.


    It appears that I will never be shot of this grief, this bloke has been harassed for the last 8 years…. Still, saving ~£150 a year is worth some aggro, the opportunity cost is a respectable  amount in red wine and coffee or 3 DVD rentals a week!


    1. I can see the damn thing perfectly well but it hardly fills the field of view :)

    Self-seeking vacuum cleaner manufacturers lambast energy efficiency moves

    Consumerism, don’tcha love it. Take the humble vacuum cleaner – invented around the turn of the last century. They served previous generations well, given our Northern European habit of carpeting homes. In much of the rest of the world people use hard surfaces for floors like wood or tiles, but that’s a bit chilly in winter. Hence the need to clean carpets using technology more advanced than a broom or a mop.

    In a curious marketing arms race started by that James Dyson fellow, what was once a pedestrian and functional piece of kit throughout the 1970s and 1980s after being perfected over the previous 50 years became an aspirational product with innovation for the sake of it – one obvious problem was solved and a few more subtle ones introduced. Consumerism loves that sort of thing – make big positive changes and introduce faults that take time to develop – you only find out about the irritations as you own the product. It also became a damn sight more noisy that it used to be, with a particularly horrible high-frequency whine, in the case of the Dyson DC03 I used to have. Yeah, I was that middle class consumer suckered by the hype. The Dyson was a lot harder to troubleshoot. There were only four things that could go wrong with a bag-ful vacuum cleaner. The bag filled up, something got stuck in the intake hose or something jammed the brush roller, and all of these were something that were easily visible to the untrained householder. The fourth thing was the motor burning out, and you could smell that :)

    Compared with that the airflow of my old DC03 had loads of rubber seals, plastic channels that would crack under use and the whole thing gradually degraded so it was replaced after changing lots of expensive parts because it lacked suction compared to the basic Henry vac in a church hall we hired. I pulled it apart to see if there was anything worth salvaging, expecting to see all sorts of high-tech wondrousness. And was greeted with a bog-standard universal motor – so much for all the high-tech wizardry, eh, James? I don’t doubt the cleverness of the cyclone engineering, but it was the marketing of a new, and ultimately not very useful, technology that enabled you to jack up prices in the 1990s. Yes, bags make the suction fade, but the consumer can fix that. Whereas whatever made the DC03 fade over a few years wasn’t replaceable by a reasonably technical consumer – for all I know the usual little lumps that get sucked into the airways and trashed the plastic channels I replaced may have knackered the cyclone bit. I always hated that DC03 for the earache, anyway, glad to see the back of it :)

    Vacuum cleaners are now marketed by the power of the motor, which seems to be pure specmanship and lazy engineering. Previous generations worked in dirty manual industries, their kids played out in the street and garden rather than sitting in front of the computer. These generations were served by vacuum cleaners that were specified in hundreds of watts – I recall being surprised in the late 1980s to see a Miele vacuum cleaner that was rated at 1100W on the high range. So the question has to be asked, if one and a bit horsepower 1was enough to clean the homes of our grandparents with their grubby street urchins, why do we now all of a sudden need the power of three horses running flat-out to clean a carpet?

    Apparently, according to Which,and Dyson  an affront is being perpetrated on the human rights of European consumers by those pesky bureaucrats in Brussels limiting vacuum cleaner motor powers to 1600W, one and a half times the power of the machine that surprised me 20 years ago. It’s still more than two horsepower – people used to deliver coal and collect scrap metal with less power than that.

    Right. So you're telling me that after 100 years of impovement, you need more power to clean your carpet than this guy needed to haul tons of coal? Ain't progress marvellous, and don't spare the horses...

    Right. So you’re telling me that after 100 years of vacuum cleaner refinement, you need more power to clean your carpet than was needed to haul tons of coal? Ain’t progress marvellous, and don’t spare the horses…

    Now some pieces of technology have been reasonably perfected for the requirements most consumers have of them. The bicycle, screwdriver, the pen and paper, the digital SLR and many others. It’s not that innovation isn’t possible in any of these, but 90% of users’ needs are met adequately. The vacuum cleaner reached this stage by the beginning of the 1980s – my experience of Mr Dyson’s much vaunted advances were mixed – great at the start but hellaciously noisy, and, to be honest, overpriced to boot as well as fading over the years and being fiddly to maintain.

    I’m with the Eurocrats here – you don’t need three horsepower to clean a domestic carpet, and motor power doesn’t seem to be turned that well into sucking power. This is specmanship and marketing spin, and more power means more weight and more noise. It’s easy to sell something on a number, but after more than a century of making vacuum cleaners this isn’t a high-tech market in its infancy.

    Also if you have to make more vacuum cleaning stuff to sell to people to make them buy things they don’t need ,why not go the Roomba route – at least it’s genuine innovation in one aspect, rather than just making the motor bigger, noisier and heavier so the marketing droids can push the bigger number? Then at least you can use the time you save to go to work to pay for it. The very fact that people will put up with a Roomba, which clearly doesn’t have a three-horsepower motor 2 shows you don’t need stupendous amounts of power. One horse power, maybe. Knock yourself out with the power of two horses – the eurocrats are easy with that too.


    It’s when you running the same sort of power  that used to pull a coach and horses up the Great North Road that you have to ask yourself whether you aren’t just being suckered by specmanship.

    More power, more noise and more weight  is not the answer. Let’s hear it from Mrs Kingsland – whose machine failed in service after 70 years of cleaning her B&Bs. Apparently the new one is quieter – but too big and heavy 😉 They don’t make ’em like they used to, eh?


    1. one horse is good for about 750Watts – your can call on the rippling muscles of nearly three from one UK socket – ain’t modern technology marvellous
    2. very few things powered by batteries have a 3hp motor. And yes, total energy consumed is a function of power and time – even there it seems the Roomba scores relative to one of those eighties-powered units of 2/3 the new EU limit, never mind a 2010 behemoth, and there are many extra inefficiencies to a Roomba)
    3 Jun 2014, 2:12pm


  • November 2015
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  • Dear Amazon. Want more than 40%? Quite frankly, stick it

    The Ermine occasionally flogged off some spare CDs. In a previous life I used to wholesale some and occasionally I’d come across yet another bunch of these. It was an easy win – I get to clear out some space and somebody gets a new CD. But I’m down to the last box now. I had an Amazon Marketplace account. And today, having sent one of these and mailed it off yesterday, I get this peremptory message from His Jeffness.


    Dear Seller,

    We are contacting you today regarding your Amazon.co.uk seller account. Please be advised that we have made some structural changes to our EU Marketplace. As before, Amazon Services Europe S.à r.l. operates the Marketplace platform and provides the Selling on Amazon service. However, from now on, Amazon Payments Europe S.C.A. will provide the new payment component of the service.

    [translation: we have opened up yet another tax-beneficial scam joint who will no doubt start raking off more fees just like Paypal with Ebay]

    In this regard, EU regulations require Amazon Payments Europe to collect certain business and personal information from you and take steps to confirm your identity. To fulfil those requirements, we need your support to make some changes to your existing seller account with Amazon Services Europe:

    In addition to your current seller account you now need to open a Selling on Amazon payment account with Amazon Payments Europe. The proceeds of your transactions on Amazon EU Marketplaces will be disbursed from this account to your bank account.

    [translation: we will be salami-slicing you for fees upon fees, because we can]

    The Business Solutions Agreement has been amended to reflect this change, and you will need to agree separately to the Amazon Payments Europe User Agreement. Because these are new agreements and formats, we ask that you accept the new and amended agreements and provide the requested information in Seller Central.

    *** It is essential that you accept the new agreements and provide the requested information within the next 60 calendar days in order to continue to sell on Amazon. If you do not provide the required information within 60 days, you will not be able to open your Selling on Amazon payment account and you will not be able to continue to sell on Amazon. ***

    [translation: we hold all the cards and have you by the balls. You will do what we say because you’re a sharecropper on our estate and we’re bigger than you are]

    Err, no. Piss off. All items removed. If you aren’t prepared to pay me the less than a tenner for that last CD then I am absolutely fine with that – my customer will get his goods, presumably Jeff gets a few quid to take over more of the world(edit: 5/6/2014 in the interest of observing Queensbury Rules  Amazon will pay for that last CD in the old way I have now heard) and I don’t have to agree with yet another non negotiable shrink-wrap you do what we say or you suck it up demand. I had enough of that sort of stupidity at work, but at least they paid properly. Working for Amazon is already low-rent enough as it is, Amazon makes about 40% on the deal – more than the postage. Royal Mail actual do the work shifting goods from A to B, Amazon just pay the ‘leccy bill for their website. Well, okay, and make it easy for people to find stuff 😉

    As a retiree it isn’t always totally possible to avoid the issue of making money, but it’s the power-play I always want to avoid. I have done too many things for too long because I didn’t have options, and now I have the option it’s sweet. I don’t have a religious opposition to making use of skills, though curiously enough most of what I have done that’s made people money since leaving work has had nothing to do with engineering. Maybe I was too narrow in my engineering career, and lifting the daily grind has shifted the balance.

    This much I know, however – selling or giving mind and know-how is far preferable to wrangling Stuff. Cash-flow and storage is always such a pain with buying and selling stuff, you have to store this clobber, you have to look after it, even after you’ve turned a profit on the deal it feels bad to just throw stuff out that has sold well even if you have a more profitable/timely product. Compared to that shooting sound and video, editing it, or hacking code doesn’t consume anything other than a bit of power, you get to see new situations  and problems, and junk doesn’t build up in your garage or loft. Selling knowhow or ways of doing something has other subtle business benefits – there are often indirect lock-ins or costs of changing, whereas with mass-market products you’re just a rat on a wheel, particularly selling made goods on the internet.

    Every so often I’m tempted to make products, and even got a bunch of boards made for one design, but after I’ve used half of them on my own sensor network I think about all the EU crap like CE marking that didn’t exist the last time I produced devices and figure I need to remember the lesson from my multimedia company on the side relative to the CD operation run by DxGF.

    Don’t. Do. Stuff.

    Yes, if you’re starting out and want to make your fortune it’s not a bad way to go if you have the skills, but it’s a full time job. If you want to turn a little bit on the side it’s a hard row to hoe, because the margin on Stuff and the added value seems lower than adding Mind. And you need to warehouse Stuff and it moulders quietly if you keep it too long. So I’m going to toss the remains, get it out of my way and declutter. Jeff can get on his bike, and thank you very much sir for highlighting the low rent of that sort of work by being such a greedy bastard as to prep for extracting another slice of the action. The rake on Amazon Marketplace makes people like Hargreaves Lansdown look like public-spirited philanthropists -only 1.5% fees at HL compared to 38% at Amazon. And I’m no longer prepared to be a sharecropper for them and their bunch of Luxembourg umbrella companies.

    I’m starting to warm to the concept of Bitcoin, just to get shot of all this bollocks. Seriously, Amazon, there’s less than a ton left worth of goods here. I’m not validating my bank account and giving you shitloads of personal details, which you will use a) to scam me brainless with advertising crap to me that I don’t want and b) no doubt fail to secure your corporate network at some stage like your mates over at Ebay, spewing this information all over the internet so some bunch of ne’rdowells can cause me grief. No. And of course you’ll probably do like the fine fellows at Selftrade and ask for all sorts of extra useful marketing cobblers because, hell, the EU made you do it.

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