the season of mellow fruitfulness is on us

Nutscape

and it’s time to look at the non-financial investments. In this case, indeed, the non-financial investments of the local Squire, the Fonnereaus. Not only did they build this gaff

Christchurch Mansion

Christchurch Mansion

but they planted some chestnut trees, and the chestnut harvest is awesome this Autumn. The recent winds have brought down a fine crop, and it’s before the weekend when World + Dog will have got to these. The trick is to win your chestnut harvest from the spiky hulls

Herein dwells a fine nut

Herein dwells a fine nut

Sweet chestnut

Sweet chestnut

with the minimum of cursing.

a fine  nut harvest

a fine nut harvest

and win a fine harvest of fresh, sweet chestnut from veterans like this tree

one of the chestnut trees

one of the chestnut trees

 

Now there may be some of you reading this that think to yourselves

goddamnit I earn £200,000 p.a which boils down to £125 an hour and I can get loose chestnuts from Tesco delivered to me for £7/kg so all round so WTF? Why would I be pissing about scavenging nuts in the park

And I would respect your opinions. But I would venture you’re missing out of some little piece of being human as you sit behind your  screens oblivious to the passage of the seasons. Being a flâneur is one of the good things about owning my own time and if I want to go pick nuts then I damn well can ;) It’s the sheer optionality of it that adds to the sweetness. As summed up delightfully by The Escape Artist – the Ermine tips his hat and welcomes yet another soul across the event horizon of FI.

Supermoon reflections

It’s not often that someone goes and moves a celestial body closer to us so we can see it clearer. The Grauniad has a far better series of supermoon pictures along with why it’s a supermoon, ‘cos decent photography is about the context and telling a story.

However, although the tail of storm Bertha had been giving the region some stick it all cleared for the moon. I don’t know how your astronomer types get to see anything through a telescope, because when I stuck my birdwatching telescope at it it was far too bright to see much. However, it was easy to take a photo 1and I was surprised to see all the gnarly bits on the bottom. Taken a hell of a hammering, that has

1408_moon_a_IMG_1410

And I’d never noticed that in many decades of looking up at the moon. Obviously if you want a decent picture of the Moon you head over to NASA, cos they have better gear, my photo shows I’m not totally over the chimping of a tourist with their crappy smartphone photo – but hell, it’s my picture, I pressed the button. Kudos to NASA for a superior take, nevertheless :)

NASA have better gear and get to spin it round a bit

NASA have better gear and get to spin it round a bit

While over at NASA I took a gander at their Apollo mission pages, I have fond memories of watching the July 1969 landing at school (we didn’t have a TV at home) at about lunchtime – they had dragged the great big set into the assembly hall. Either it’s me or we just don’t have big stuff like that with the widespread buzz of some Really Interesting Stuff Going Down now. Then I looked at the timeline, and thought of Jacob ERE

How far are we?
That depends on your perspective. If you take the view from 400000km, humans are no longer going to the moon and have not been doing so for 40 years. From an energy perspective, the available energy/capita ratio peaked 30 years ago. Real wages have been declining for a good 30 years as well (a connection?)

and of course Tim Morgan on the same string in a different key. Basically the 1973 oil crisis pole-axed the world I’d read about in far too much crappy science-fiction where everything was going to get better and more exciting because people were going to boldly go into an ever-expanding space exploration.

Carter and his solar panels

Carter and his solar panels

Then the price of oil went up, Jimmy Carter stuck solar panels on the roof of the White House, told people to ease off the gas 2 and the American people went bugger this for a game of tin soldiers. They considered that defeatist cheese-eating surrender-monkey cobblers and elected a B movie actor who told a much more cheerful story, which sort of stuck for the next 30 years, but I notice that humanity is still too skint to go to the moon. We last put boots on the ground in December 1972.

Strange to think back at those fast and furious years of innovation and exciting stuff in my primary school years. It’s not like we haven’t made things a lot better and progress has arrested – if things had stayed like 1972 most of Britain wouldn’t have central heating, never mind a notable section being able to live like kings. Somewhere, however, I wonder whether that last footprint in 1972 wasn’t the day some of the vision died in the West, the first time we came up against insurmountable limits to growth… You can coast a long way from the peak with the engines out, and as ERE said, it took many years for Rome to fall. Maybe we are partying in the endgame…

Notes:

  1. There was a surprisinglylarge amount of  light – ISO200, f/8, 1/250s
  2. the story of what happened to those panels is interesting, you can read it courtesy of the Scientific American

Time for homage to the Holly King

Summertime in the city finds the good people at Monevator dwelling on thoughts of refreshment, but out here is the sticks while sipping my iced coffee I sensed a stirring in the Force and the distant laughter of the nascent Holly King, with thoughts of Winter. The old boy Thomas Tusser has something to say about summer idleness

Some of the Five hundred points of good husbandry, Thomas Tusser

From “Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry”, Thomas Tusser 1580 (link to Google books scan of reprint from 1848)

Even though the Oak King holds sway, the Holly King‘s powers are now rising. Hard to believe on balmy lazy Summer days when school is out, but this too will pass, and the nights draw in.

A depiction of the Oak King, on Lloyds Bank in Ipswich for some reason

A depiction of the Oak King/Green Man, in this foliate head on Lloyds Bank in Ipswich for some reason

Now, at the height of Summer, it is a good time to convert a pallet into the finest kindling known to Man – the wood is so dry the pieces are almost musical when they hit the ground, like the plates of a xylophone.

an axe, some wooden tongs to hold the piece upright, and some iced coffee

an axe, some wooden tongs to hold the piece upright, and some iced coffee are what’s needed to make a lot of kindling out of pallets

Sound of kindling pieces being moved – each almost has its own note, the tonality sounds different to me from ordinary bits of dry wood being moved.

Like so many things you can do yourself for modest cost, consumerism has a ready-made alternative – Wilkinson’s will sell you some in a plastic bag

Wilko kinding

Wilko kindling

but what’s the fun in that? The cynical part of me did wonder if the plastic bag might not have more calorific value than the product if you could use it without the noxious byproducts. I knew one fellow in an old house with an open fire and a massive inglenook who would toss an entire bag of coal on the fire, plastic bag and all. There was enough draught up the chimney that it didn’t stink the place out, but I still felt it a teeny bit on the coarse side of living.

Thomas Tusser would look askance at such effete consumerism, and I’m with him there. I now have a couple of great big garden bags full, probably about £200 worth of kindling at Wilko prices. And running it in July means it’s absolutely bone dry, I stow the bags in the garage so it stays that way. A fine alternative are pine cones which make good kindling, and they are to hand in the coming months.

£50 worth of pine cones, at Wilkinson's rates

pine cones – some people pour wax into them but if you collect them in summer they work just fine on their own

It’s the open structure and large surface area that seems to be the win here, rather than any particularly resinous property like fatwood. I figured I’d see why my kindling is almost musical in its dryness with a fine Chinese gizmo

what my cheap Ebay meter says for the kindling water content

what my cheap Ebay meter says for the kindling water content

Now you can’t rely on a cheap piece of Chinese junk traceable back to national standards of a finger in the air via an indirect measure (bulk resistance?) but comparing the kindling with

arbitrary piece of recently acquired pallet

arbitrary piece of recently acquired pallet

a piece of a joist that's been in a neighbour's garage since 1969

a piece of a joist that’s been in a neighbour’s garage since 1969

Biomass willow harvested earlier this year

Biomass willow harvested earlier this year

Log dropped off with us earlier this year and drying since

Log dropped off with us earlier this year and drying since

the kindling does seem pretty good! The willow is deceptive – the end I stuck the meter in is good (you can burn anything with less than about 20% water content) but further in it is too high, over 30%. They do generally say you have to season willow for two years to get the best of it.

The universal handy rustic construction resource – the wooden pallet

Loads of these get thrown out, and indeed I’ve seen many people on building sites burning pallets in the open to get rid of them. In the US they seem to worry about termites and stuff so they chemically treat them. I’d probably draw the line at using them for construction inside the house 1, but for a log store extension they were neat

we need to finis the roof trim but this was done running ahead of an incoming thuderstorm so it wanted to be fast rather than great

we need to finish the roof trim but this was done running ahead of an incoming thunderstorm so it wanted to be fast rather than great

Unlike in the States the majority of pallets round here are untreated so they will rot, or maybe that’s just the result of scroungeable pallets tending to be one-wayers 2. This was constructed so the pallet used for the base and the side can be dismantled and replaced if need be. You can’t have too much wood storage, though most of our core drying is on the farm on a bigger scale. The one thing I am hopeless at is stacking wood – Mrs Ermine converted my efforts into something a third the size

I am just no good at this compared to Mrs Ermine

I am just no good at this compared to Mrs Ermine

That’s enough headspace allocated to the Holly King for now, time to consider the virtues of Pimms in the late afternoon like those decadent city folk ;)

 

Notes:

  1. not only do you not know where they’ve been, but all the pieces are of slightly varying thickness and width. I’m not a competent enough woodworker to do cabinet making with decent regular sized wood, never mind all sorts like that!
  2. According to this in Europe we do not permit chemical treatment of pallets, which is why your pallet compost bin rots so fast. That’s good if you want to burn them, though avoid engineered wood bits like the compressed blocks of the side riser because the glue gives of bad stuff if it burns.

a little bit of Africa comes to Suffolk

Noticed more dust in the air and it’s a git to get off the windscreen. Apparently a little bit of the Sahara is paying a visit, so the wipers are sanding the glass. The reports in the grauniad seems to be particularly dire, however – I walked four miles today, partly in search of the perfect black car to take this. Can’t say I felt particularly like this mother and child - it must be really bad in The Smoke!

Leanne Stewart, from Eltham in south-east London, described feeling breathless after a routine half-mile walk to her son’s school this morning.

“I’ve been doing the usual school run about half a mile from my house, which is usually quite an easy walk, but I’m still breathless now,” she said. “I could feel my chest getting tighter and tighter and my son, who’s eight, had to stop and have his inhaler.

What I really wanted was a classic black Beemer with the dust on the bonnet but we clearly don’t have the wealth or the drug dealers in my part of town

Saharan dust on a black car in Ipswich

Exotic Saharan dust on a black car in Ipswich

with London and East Anglia in the boresight of the winds bringing this sand

incoming pollution aleart from DEFRA

incoming pollution alert from DEFRA

It’ll be interesting to stick a microscope slide outside tonight and try and catch some of this stuff and see if it looks like miniature sharp sand. It’s a shame that I didn’t try that when we had those lovely aircraft-free skies with the volcanish ash clouds from Eyjafjallajökull

The Guardian has a bit more about where the dust comes from

So just where does this pinky-red dust come from? Dr Steven Godby, a drylands expert at Nottingham Trent University, thinks he has the answer:

The Sahara is the largest desert in the world and contains a number of significant dust source areas. Looking at satellite images captured last Thursday and Friday it seems the dust was generated from two source areas, one in central Algeria close to Tamanrasset and another in southern Morocco to the south of the Atlas Mountains.

To generate dust storms large numbers of silt-sized particles are needed for the wind to pick up and transport and these two areas have been identified as dust ‘hot spots’ in the past.

Google maps link

All this talk of the winds from the south making the old ones feel lethargic brought this old Grace Slick tune from the cusp of the 1980s to mind :)

Postscript 4 April – I got my Beemer in the end

one dusty black BMW

one dusty black BMW

I left a microscope slide out in the garden for 24 hours to pick up some dust. The dust looks reasonably sharp and spiky through a microscope. It’s been a long time since I’ve driven a microscope, and the Ermine student microscope is probably not really up to the job ;)

the odd sharp little bits

odd sharp little bits of Africa

 

dark field variant

dark field variant

 

the misery of metrics and measurements destroying job satisfaction

Yesterday I chose to get wet in Ipswich town centre to demonstrate about Mr Gove.  Okay, that’s bull, but I was roadie for the day as I ran the PA 1 for the NUT strike demo about pay and conditions, and Mr Gove.

The NUT rally. can't work out why this iPod photo is such bad quality; is it me or do mobiles always take crap pictures?

The NUT rally. Can’t work out why this iPod photo is such bad quality; is it me or do mobiles always take crap pictures?

I’m not a teacher and don’t have kids so he isn’t specifically my problem. However, some of the themes sounded familiar. In particular the rise of collecting ‘data’ for performance measurement systems and the trends of micromanaging the shit out of white-collar jobs was exactly the sort of thing that pissed me off about work. I wrote about digital Taylorism in 2010, and the NUT’s Jon Parker indicates the issues that sound similar – listen to the crowd response to ‘data’ being collected pointlessly 2

Ipswich NUT John Parker on data and metrics (MP3 1min)

There’s a case to be made that The Firm was trying to squeeze their old gits out of the place, which is why they employed pointless pricks to produce software systems to piss people off. This doesn’t seem to apply to teaching, however, where it seems the working environment is such that 2 out of 5 teachers quit within the first five years, there’s presumably no imperative to thin the ranks at a time when Britain is experiencing a baby boom and somebody presumably has to teach them.

Now some of the changes to the workplace are the result of secular trends like globalisation and technology, which at least does somebody some good even if the end of the boat Western workers are in is sinking. But the stupid pursuit of pointless performance metrics making jobs a misery seems to be 100% own goal. Not only do we have to employ useless patsies  to collect the pointless performance data to piss people off, but the measurers are usually paid more than the people who do the work being measured, because of the Peter Principle.

That’s the trouble with the homogenized management theories that come out of MBAs. Theories and fads go through companies like a dose of salts. and because we have people benchmarking along the lines of bollocks like ‘business best practice’ they all follow the same bullshit until the next fad comes along that is going to be the Holy Grail and sort out the crap that the last fad made. Let’s have a sample of bullshit MBA fads from my working life.

  • Empowering employees
  • TQM (total quality management)
  • winning edge – mindset management
  • investing in people
  • managing my performance
  • shareholder value (that’s 1 year share price hiking so the CEO can Maximise his Apparent Performance by buying today at tomorrow’s cost)
  • Agile development (in a big firm?)
  • six-sigma
  • just-in-time
  • business process re-engineering
  • mission statement
  • outsourcing
  • Putting Customers First
  • core competency

All of these can work well some of the time in specific instances. None of them work when applied across the board like velveeta. One of the worst things they must teach people on MBA courses is that there is a silver bullet. You see these wet-behind-the-ears young pups promoted into a situation beyond their competence as they wax lyrical about the next best thing that’s going to transform everything and have to keep a level gaze… Because you know that it’s never different this time, and it wasn’t different the last ten times either. One size does not fit all. And these berks have insufficient experience of the real world to have had that belief in the silver bullet beaten out of them in the school of Real Life™. Reorganisations are political, they are the new Top Banana and Chief New Broom acting like a tomcat 3, spraying his mark on the organisation. They are not functional.

The teachers are just taking the same hit from performance management theory which is a Current Big Thing – tell people how shit they are doing, preferably every quarter, because you can manage expectations about pay that way. That’s obviously the way to motivate people to do better. That toe-rag Tom Peters has a hell of a lot to answer for. You get what you measure. Right. You can measure a pint of beer easily enough. How do you measure a teacher? A CEO? An income tax inspector? Ah, teachers, that’ll be exam results then? What about if they have to teach a whole bunch of stupid kids then, or the kids of parents that don’t really give a shit and probably shouldn’t have been encouraged by Tony Blair to have ‘em in the first place? Ah, let’s measure how clever they are when they enter school. Right, so how do you measure how clever they are? Is cleverness the only dimension of success – maybe a reduction in sociopathic behaviour and not kicking the shit out of the municipal bus shelter is a good outcome too? How do you measure the civic street furniture not trashed by the little tyke because he’s inspired to do something else? Measurement always has a problem with the counterfactual and the road not travelled. And so on. I’m with Lord Kelvin when it comes to measuring things that have a numeric answer that matches with the aspect of reality you’re trying to get, but when it comes to people the belief that Tom Peters prosyletised that ‘measurement works’ seems to be responsible for a lot of hurt in the workplace, and some not  particularly great outcomes. If you link people’s pay to metrics you get those metrics, but you don’t usually get great performance 4.

However, thankfully this is no longer my problem :)

Notes:

  1. Our farm isn’t on the electricity network but every so often we want to all get together and have a party so I have a music system of a couple of hundred watts  run off a 12V leisure battery. Using this saves having to wheedle a mains power feed from some local business or run a genny in a public place with all the safety issues.
  2. the dreadful distortion is because the recorder was overloaded, the Ermine delivered a better quality PA service to the crowd
  3. I have some trouble picturing Michael Gove as a tomcat, he’s a bit on a weedy side for a big old ginger tom
  4. for example, CEO pay since the 1990s, NHS waiting lists and beds, Enron, the Global Financial Crisis, the list goes on

Capitalism, crowdfunding and gadgetry

Capitalism brings up thoughts of great big phallic buildings, a concrete forest of tall buildings thrusting towards the light to eclipse the others in a Darwinean struggle for urban domination. Loads of folks in sharp suits talking important stuff into mobile phones.

God v Mammon contest - Mammon has the edge when it comes to size...

God v Mammon contest – Mammon has the edge when it comes to size…

That gherkin in particular dominates the skyline, it’s not just the sheer size of it, but the symbolism is all Wolf of Wall Street

more tall buildings

more tall buildings in the Wolf of Wall St

A couple of finance guys from the Square Mile party.

Couple of guys from a Square Mile press release

Couple of guys from a Square Mile press release

Seems to be a lot of guys, FinanceRomance sheds a bit of light on some of the issues. Maybe all this testosterone is why the buildings have a certain profile ;)

still there, rising...

still there, rising…

And that’s all good. Finance is something that Britain happens to be good at 1, or perhaps I should say the future city-state of London is good at. Must unearth my birth certificate and apply for dual nationality when it secedes, and hope citizenship is jus soli. We’re good at it, and we have scale, but let’s face it, share-owning capitalism isn’t that widespread in Britain, because, er, you need capital to make it work for you. And you still need to be a pretty big fish to list on the LSE.

Gonzo capitalism – no tall buildings and yachts needed

However, there seems to be a curious form of capitalism rising, called crowdfunding. I’d already come across this phenomenon in the electronics small biz area. Getting a small run of electronic items made is dear, because you have fixed non-recoverable engineering costs for making masks for the printed circuit boards and assembly. These are sunk costs before you even start the project, they aren’t dependent on how many items you make. I’d used radio modules from Ciseco and they used kickstarter for one of their projects.

Crowdfunding gets a bunch of ordinary people together to put up some of the money in small bite-sized chunks. It’s gonzo capitalism – or alternatively capitalism going back to its roots. The Stock Exchange originally started a few hundred years ago with a bunch of people coming together to share risk-funding of projects that were too big for any one individual to take on. I like the story that they got ejected from the original place for being too rowdy – looks like the high jinks that seem to go with the territory nowadays started a long time ago!

Crowdfunding the Calf at Foot Dairy’s move

The Ermine came across this again because I got to dig out my old MiniDV video camera a couple of days ago. This is seriously ancient, steam-driven technology from about ten years ago, and it was pressed into service to shoot a crowdfunding video for the Calf at Foot dairy, which has been given short notice to quit the place they’ve been for the last year and a half.


It’s been an awfully long time since I worked at the BBC and saw how people pulled a programme together, and I was an engineer, not a creative sort. It’s no easy task to try and tell a story using video – you’re always fighting the tendency to run too much material and overrun. Plus the Ermine no longer has a working TV in the house, and much has changed in the 10 years since I last worked with video – HD has arrived, and computers and progressive scan seem to have muddied the waters. Culturally, it appears that attention spans are much shorter. Obviously what I needed was new video camera, but what the hell, I will see if I can tell the story with the junk that I had.

Because in the end the story is one bunch of humans relating a tale to another bunch. The technology is part of it, and it would be a lot better with a HD camera. But there are some universals to video – hold the camera steady,  preferably with a tripod, don’t hosepipe , do not zoom on-screen. The elements of story-telling haven’t changed much from the original three act drama told around prehistoric campfires.

A lot of the challenge here wasn’t technical. I grew up in a city, FFS. I am really, really scared of cows, indeed any animal bigger than myself. And cows are HUGE…

Cows. They're big. And they're scary - could just crush you by sitting on you

Cows. They’re big. And they’re coming to  get me!

Crowdfunding seems to take two forms. The sort that the Calf at Foot use, and the sort used by Ciseco to get enough interest to do a prototype run is in fact fundraising to do a specific job or project. It’s the kind of co-operation that previous generations used for a barn-raising – everyone chips in a little to help get something to happen. In some ways it’s closer to a retail bond, but with the coupon paid in kind. These are relatively easy to qualify and secure against the natural fears of fraud because of the transparency. With Ciseco, if they achieved their target, you get a circuit board or kit, if not you get your money back. With Fiona’s dairy move, you get to see that the cows are up near Lowestoft rather than out near Hollesley – in this case it’s a straightforward support of the specific project, rather than a purchase as such.

However, there is an equity form of crowdfunding that is in its infancy, that is closer to shares. There are strict conditions around both forms, but particularly the equity variant. After all, what do you get as an equity shareholder? You get a share in the company, and sometimes a share in the earnings of the company. Many of the equity crowdfunding projects are hard to measure value, and they are startups, so they are unable to produce money that the shareholders can take out of the company as income, just as in general you don’t go to the AIM looking for dividend stocks. Of course, this applies to stocks and shares too, but it’s particularly hard to qualify risk and do all the due diligence associated with qualifying counterparty risk. After all, over half of startups fail within the first three years. The FCA seems to require investors declare they don’t have more than 10% of their free capital 2 in equity crowdfunding.

Nevertheless, it is heartening to see that there are attempts being made to democratise capitalism, that it isn’t all about massive buildings, that people are looking for ways to increase access to small scale funding. It’s to the stock and bond markets like Zopa is to the banking and savings market. And it’s where some of these large institutions had their roots. After all, building societies got their name because in more cash-straitened times, people banded together to raise the capital to build houses. The crowdfunding website Abundance Generation draws out this parallel in their blog. One of the things the original building societies got wrong is the concept of one member one vote (OMOV), which gave rise to carpetbaggers taking out a lot of accounts with the minimum amount of £1 or so. They then used their OMOV votes to force a demutualisation and get a hold of the fossil wealth accumulated by the building society. The moral of the story is allocate voting rights by invested capital, but the problems weren’t obvious in the 1700s. I don’t know how equity crowdfunding works, but if you see OMOV as an investor avoid. Or open lots of accounts funded with the minimum amount for lots of voting rights ;) OMOV is one of the problems with consensus decision making. It hamstrings it – in the end people who put more in should have more say, to build an effective system. Dunno where this goes with democracy, perhaps we have to live with the Churchillian democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

One of the pluses of being in charge of my own time – I can say Hell Yeah if I want to

I don’t know if this is the way of the future, or it is an evolutionary dead-end of the tree of capitalism. But it was an interesting diversion. And it’s one of the things that is a joy of being retired. It didn’t cost me anything apart from a couple of late nights to start with nothing and end up with something that might help someone take their cows to pastures new. An Ermine is capricious. If something tickles my fancy, I’ll have a go. If it doesn’t, I’ll pass. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to make a coherent story out of this. Of course the result could have been better if it were made by some indy video house somewhere. It would be better if I used a modern video camera, it would be better if I’d had more time and less coffee. But it’s probably good enough, and I learned about crowdfunding, something I had no idea about. I don’t personally have any application for it, but I have to say, looking at the projects on crowdfunder and kickstarter, that there are a lot of small enterprises that are in the extreme bootstrapping phase.

Although I worked for a year in a 10-man SME firm at the start of my working life I didn’t realise it was so hard out there for entrepreneurs. I also ran a multimedia firm on the side for a few years, but that was purely selling the products of mind – I took on commissions but didn’t have the cashflow issues that are associated with doing real stuff, where you have to buy the supplies and services  to make the product. I have a renewed admiration for the grit of Britain’s SMEs!

It isn’t all about your camera

Oh yes, and one in the eye for consumerism. A lot of consumer goods like cameras and the like are sold with the promise that this gizmo, feature or gimcrack will make you creative. And I’m sort of susceptible to some of the siren song. But I don’t need the latest, I probably do want to upgrade to HD if I do more video, but ebay will probably be my friend – you can get now for about £150 what you’d have to pay £500 before. But what I do need is the ability to set the exposure to manual. And a camcorder sound is junk – I shoot separate sound with an audio recorder and separate furry microphone and resynchronise in post, so all I need of the camera is some sound to sync to. Eliminating any quality cares there saves me a load of cash.

I did experiment with an iPod, my stills cam and with the last gadget I bought before I went into save for retirement mode, a Flip cam. All of those are great for shooting first-person simple stuff, and facebook here’s my mates mucking about in a bar, but they just don’t let you shift perspective. All of them can give a better rendition in that first-person up to 10 yards away scenarios that my 10-year old camcorder – two of them can even do HD. But I realised why they make me angry when trying to do anything else – the auto gain kills anything in the shadows and the lack of zoom is a massive handicap. A truly talented artist would probably be able to work within those limitations, but it would take them time. I ain’t got that sort of talent. But I’m not so gormless that I need face-tracking.

So I learned something and had some fun. I saw a new form of capitalism in the making. And the cows didn’t crush me!

Notes:

  1. yes, we did have a major snafu a few years back, but it seems we sort of survived that, and animal spirits seem to be back
  2. free capital excludes property and pensions. I am pleased to see that the FCA has adopted the Ermine’s policy – your house is not part of your financial capital assets. It’s official, and you read it here first :)

Scandinavian invasion – Waxwings

This morning I heard a welcome noise, a fine trilling in the air. It can mean only one thing, Scandinavian invaders on the loose. Stand by your ornamental garden berries!

Waxwings

Waxwings

These guys had come all the way from Scandinavia over here, in search of berries. And they parked themselves on a telephone pole at the end of my road. so I could go get a camera for a second look at these handsome creatures with their jaunty crests. They aren’t particularly shy, and tend to group in garrulous flocks, trilling away to each other.

 

what they're really after is berries

what they’re really after is berries

They post some of the ranks on the telephone pole as lookout, busily digesting the spoils of war.

waxwings massing

waxwings massing keeping a lookout

Sitting around also helps them digest :)

They crap a lot too

They crap a lot too

It’s kinda rude to ignore something as lovely as these guys, and what’s nice about them is they are drawn to urban areas, because fo the ornamental berry crop. They aren’t particularly shy and have a penchant for supermarket car parks which have a lot of that as low ground cover. first time I’ve had them in my road!

Christmas is a time for … getting into debt and polluting the world with low-grade plastic tat?

The nights are drawing in towards the end of the year. After the imported ghoulishness of Halloween we have the splendid and ancient tradition of –

  • celebrating the return of the sun’s life-giving light after the nadir of the darkest day 
  • honouring the birth of Jesus Christ, emulating the gifts of the three Kings
  • splurging on our credit cards, going into debt to buy stuff for Christmas, save retailers from going bust and keep the wheels of capitalism running for another year.

More debt, more plastic, more trash. Ah, that’s what it’s all about, and I introduced myself to some of this when I took a wander into town to get a 5 x 2.1mm breakout power cable from Maplin. They seem to have displaced all the vaguely useful, if overpriced, stuff to make way for the Christmas gadgetry. No power cable for me, then. Perhaps I could get a cheap set of Christmas lights in time for our early December party then.

We all seem to feel a bit poorer nowadays than in the heady days of the Goldilocks economy, but clearly this isn’t bringing out an attitude of make do and mend in us. We simply want our tat, but cheaper, so welcome to the Pound shops across the high street from Maplin.

Yes, it's only £1, but you're still being taken to the cleaners

intense competition in the sub-prime retail space

Let’s take a look at what we’ve got here then. What really strikes me about Christmas in these pound shops is the absolutely execrable taste and design of this garbage. If this is the stuff that appeals to the children in the family, then the parents need to do some serious soul-searching as to why they are failing to inculcate any sense of taste in their progeny. Sadly however, looking at some of the customers, I fear that this is doing the underage population of Britain a disservice – it’s the adults that seem to have no detectable sense of taste.

People filling their baskets with plastic Xmas trash

People filling their baskets with plastic Xmas trash in Poundland.

Makes you want to slap these folks around the chops with a wet fish and holler in their ears

‘Stop fixating on the price. You’re still being taken to the cleaners because this junk should have never been made, never been shipped over here and should have been sent straight to landfill if we’d failed on the first two counts.’

But no. It’s only a pound, so what have you got to lose? Well, a pound, duh!!!! It’s actually worse that that, because you have to buy more house to store this crap!

How about some inflatable Father Christmases over here on the left.

Roll up, roll up, plastic rubbish for just a pound!

I mean, really, when is an inflatable Father Christmas ever a good idea? How are you ever going to bring up your kids to appreciate two thousand years of Western culture when you sully your dwelling and their braincases with such addled, vile and ephemeral trash? Just Say No. See the top photo – there’s a convenient bin outside the store. If you find yourself outside Poundland having spent good money on such crap then for God’s sake repent now and cram it in the bin to save everybody any further embarrasment.

Now there’s nothing particularly wrong with Christmas lights, and the move to LED lights is a welcome one, provided they are mains-powered via an adaptor. You reduce the power consumption, and the lights should last a lifetime. However, there is everything wrong with Poundland’s battery-powered LED lights flogged here.

Poundland e-waste designed to help them flog you batteries

Basically this is plastic e-waste that is designed to sell you their consumable batteries. Depressingly, if you try and be clever and use rechargeable batteries you will find that the 2.4V rechargeables gives a result dim as Toc H lamp compared to the 2.8-3V from disposable batteries, because there’s a  threshold effect on the LEDs. You’d either have to change the heat-shrink encased resistor in series with each and every LED to fix that, or chuck out the battery cases and use a three-cell battery case. Neither of which the punters are going to do, so you might as well add some of Poundland’s value packs of batteries. Because they presumably have them made to a £1 price you’ll be changing them all the time but at least it keeps Poundland in business.

Notice these are all strings of 10 LEDs because Poundland get these made to their £1 retail target, so it’s a royal PITA to string up enough of these for a show worth doing, in itty-bitty short strings with a battery box every 10 lights. They ought to give the lights away free as they’ll make it up on the batteries. Where else other than a pound shop can you buy such a short-assed string of lights? That’s the price you pay for being cheap – if you pay a bit more for a 30 or 40-light string then at least you can rig a decent show. But hey, it’s only a pound, you can’t lose!

Oh yes you can – saving money on lights at Poundland is going to cost you a fortune by Christmas – you’re gonna get through a lot of batteries by then ;)

Strangely enough, I escaped from Poundland without buying anything. Let’s take a butcher’s hook at Yippee next door

Classy shopfitting, perhaps some corporate social responsibility to give the local schoolkids something to do maybe?

Here we have a cavernous cathedral dedicated to plastic tat that used to be a JJB Sports before it all went titsup

Cavernous cathedral of tat

Why do they have security alarms on the escalators? I thought Poundland was bad, but the stuff on sale here defies description; it makes Poundland look like a outpost of Design Museum. I’d have thought they’d be grateful if people lifted it.

‘Ello madam, did we pay for this plastic abomination? No? Please, please, take more, let me get you a boxful, get it outta here!

Why? For crying out loud, why?

It’s at times like this that serious questions come to mind. For the last three hundred thousand years humanity has been involved with an epic struggle to self-actualise. We stand on the shoulders of giants, previous generations used hand tools to carve things of timeless beauty.

Saxon purse lid, Sutton Hoo, about 1000 years old. Where did we start going wrong?

Surely someone, somewhere, in the long journey from plastic pellets in some Chinese factory to the placing of this vile cat-shaped kitchen timer in pole position on Yippee’s display, should have asked themselves why? What are we doing here? And ideally smashed the mould ;) For Pete’s sake, they couldn’t even line up the eyes and whiskers graphics with the nose button, or the zero marking.  Be competent at least, even if you can’t be tasteful. Talking of which, it appear that the town is short of Christmas -themed cowboy hats. Once again the waste of human potential struck me – somebody spent time ‘designing’ this for manufacture. Bet they’re going to wish they’d spent more time at the office designing such life-affirming tat when their time is nigh, eh?

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

It was time to get outta there, before the cloying stench of decadence sapped any more of my will to live. People are wondering why consumers aren’t buying, perhaps its because the fire of aspiration of make things of value has failed in the face of the need to make a fast buck. People are getting themselves into debt to buy shit like this for Christmas.

In a last attempt to find something of value I went to Wilkinsons, to see their Christmas lights. I am in the market for some lights to add to the party kit. It’s a pain needing to be able to rig this for 12V battery power for the summer parties outdoors, but Christmas LED lights are easily modified for that. Wilkinsons was a large bump up in the taste department, I’m glad to see. Kitsch I can forgive in Christmas decorations, some of that goes with the territory and is even necessary, it’s the downright fugly and the appalling taste that I can do without. Thomas Kinkade kitsch, OK perhaps. Malformed plastic garbage, no. Wilkinson’s are crafty buggers, too – I thought I’d clean up this January on discounted Christmas lights from 2011, but they don’t sell them off cheap, they clear the shelves, presumably landfilling the stuff.

Looks like the Chinese manufacturers of this Wilko product  have found a use for their chicken feathers, probably doesn’t pay to dwell too long on what happened to the birds. They probably weren’t free-range ;)

One of the reasons people are in such dire straits now is that we have unlearned our ability to do even the most basic things for ourselves. Take this, for instance –

Wilko wreath, plastic pine, real-ish cones, yours for £10 fully loaded

We appear to be so deracinated that we’d prefer to spend £10 of our heard-earned dosh on a plastic (yet again) simulacrum of pine, rather than getting ourselves and/or children into the pine forests that lie to the nearth-east and north-west of the town and having away with a few pine cones from the forest floor and some branches. However, if the thought of constructing our own wreath does occur to us, then Wilko have that covered over here at the make your own Christmas wreath experience. In a nod to Poundland, all the natural stuff, holly sprigs, pine cones come at £1 throw in six-up lots. At that rate my box of firelighting pine cones is worth about fifty quid.

£50 worth of pine cones, at Wilkinson’s rates

It’s barmy, you don’t even have to go to the forest – Access to Nature Ipswich is holding a Festive crafts event on the 15th December where they will show people how to make Christmas wreaths and provide the materials – all free of charge! These are wholly compostable and contain no plastic.

I came away appalled at the sheer ephemeral waste of it all. None of this stuff is going to last more than a year at best. It wouldn’t be so bad if this were just a waste of money, but this plastic trash holds a darker secret, one that people who are buying disposable plastic trash for the children should know be aware of.

Nearly every piece of plastic ever made still exists today somewhere

Yes, that includes biodegradable plastic other that that made of corn starch, it simply becomes smaller pieces. Plastic has only existed since the last century, and nothing on earth has yet worked out how to eat it and break it down. This TED talk has more:

This alterative take by Brooklyn band Chairlift has something to be said for it too

Even though I don’t have kids it made me think about trying to reduce single use convenience plastics. It’s about getting things into perspective. The plastic that keeps a hospital syringe needle clean is good even if only used once. The plastic in my computer serves me every day for about 5 years. But the plastic in a shopping bag is needless, in the face of good alternatives. And ephemeral, low-grade trash like from Yippee needs some thinking about before we continue to give the market the feedback that this is something we want more of in the world –

Ephemeral, low-grade plastic trash from Yippee

Perhaps something really bad happened over Halloween, and the town has been taken over by zombies, shuffling their abused plastic credit cards to the tills of Poundland and Yippee in exchange for these vile and tasteless plastic products of decadence.

Yet again, I escaped the High Street with my wallet undented.  Not because I was dedicated to frugality, though unlike some of my fellow citizens I hadn’t come to spend money purely for the sake of spending money. No, I came away empty handed for one simple reason. I found nothing of value. This is the thing people are getting wrong when they crowd Poundland. Just as Ellen Ruppel Shell identified in her book Cheap, we have lost sight of the value side of the “value for money” equation. Without value, it doesn’t matter how cheap it is, indeed something value-free is worse than nothing, because it is an insult to dwindling resources and takes up space in homes and landfill.

I needed cheer, and I have polluted the Web enough with pictures of trash. Two miles in the other direction from my house the crisp autumn day I cycled in the countryside for eight miles, looking for attractiveness rather than garbage.

The light was crisp and low, and I rested my eyes on the delights of the natural world instead of the garish colours of tawdry Christmas items made in China.

the way out of town

Good honest crap, none of this plastic garbage. It will be returned to the soil and become something useful in due course

Nightingale’s Hill

I’ve lived fewer than three miles from Nightingale’s Hill for more than twenty years, and to my shame I’ve never been here before. It is remarkable how much more of the world, including the locality, I see once work is out of the way ;)

I will come here in the Spring and see if it still hosts some of the dwindling stock of nightingales – down some 50% over the last decade. Most of the nightingales I have heard have been towards the coastal areas, though I did hear one on the way to work a year or so ago

another place two miles from home I hadn’t observed in 20 years, though I often passed it on the way to work when driving ;)

Finally time to head home at this tree

 

23 Jul 2012, 12:33pm
Suffolk
by

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