It is Obvious

Chris Rick has got altogether too much to say

Archive for September, 2012

I’m not stupid

Posted by chrisrick13 on September 30, 2012

It is obvious: I don’t mind being fooled

When you are with chidren around about 5 years old they run you ragged.  As a parent you have the energy to hang on.  Not when you get to my age.  One of the things that they do, in totally guiless manner, is to try to pull the wool over your eyes over all sorts of things.  They are convinced that they have you fooled when they are as transparent as a sheet of glass.

For the last few weeks the review of Spanish banks has been trailed in the press.  A lot of people of one level of expertise or another have been coming up with predictions of the funding that those banks will need.  This funding does not fix anything.  It is a valid move to keep a company going so that it can trade its way out of trouble.  That is what receivers do all the time.  Trouble is they often fail and wind the company up.

The predicted amount of bail out required from official and semi-official sources was widely estimated and reported at 60bn euros.  Other more independent views were that it was a lot more.  The people doing the review, as noted by Shaun Richards, are the same people who declared Allied Irish Bank the best in the world just a couple of months before it crashed.  On Friday the number came out: 59.3bn euros.

It is obvious: I don’t mind being fooled, but they at least have to put some effort in


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It’s still 4 cents a passenger mile

Posted by chrisrick13 on September 28, 2012

It is obvious: you don’t have to bury bad news

I have to go to Shaun Richards again for the spur for this blog entry.  He noted that GDP targetting is often expressed as aiming for 5% growth a year.  I can put that a better way: aiming to double the size of the economy every 14 years.  I might be able to find someone I could lay a bet with on the failure of the first expression but not the second.

A hundred years ago that was a good bet.  I couldn’t name a point when that bet became a sure loser.  It will be at some point on the ‘elbow’ of the exponential curve.

There are ways to make that bet without the other party really knowing you made it through complex financial instruments.  Indeed often the bet taker (bookie) will not care as he will lay-off the bet via a CDS.  Indeed once taken, your bet will wander the financial markets looking for a bigger-fool to take it.  You will not really care except that the bigger-fool will not likely be around when you come to collect.

It is obvious: you don’t have to bury bad news just get people to look at it…through the looking glass

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Excuse me – I haven’t finished

Posted by chrisrick13 on September 28, 2012

It is obvious: I’m going to retire

Shaun Richards noted today that pension reserve funds are an endangered species.  Ireland and Spain have now raided theirs in can-kicking exercises.  These funds should be protected, though the possibility of doing that effectively is remote.  Still there is no problem in the UK (or the US for that matter) as there is no fund.  We are sensibly relying on our children to pay for our pensions.

These are the children who leave university with £30,000+ of fees debt, cannot find work, and are forced to live at home.  They are not getting married and having the children that they will need to pay for their pensions.  I hope that they don’t think it through.  For my generation a good strategy is to live and work until enough of your peers have died so that the next generation can afford your pension.  (This is a strong case for choosing your parents carefully.)  Of course when enough pensioners die their vote becomes less important and politicians don’t have to think about them…or give them money.  I can almost say ‘we’, pensioners need to unite and join with another power-block.  Perhaps the criminally insane will do the job.  There should be positive discrimination for old people in parliament and government just like there is for women.  Maybe 10% of MP’s should be required to have Alzheimer’s disease to reflect the population in general.  I’ve set up for it so I’ll say it: oh, they have already exceeded that quota.  My wife has commentated that if I get it nobody will notice as this blog proves.

I’m sitting in my son’s apartment in Washington DC.  Number 2903 1/2 13th Street.  I missed the ‘1/2’ off on the customs form to avoid a long discussion with immigration and customs.  He lives in an area that reminds me of Clapham.  It is not Brixton, it is not Mayfair.  Just a block away it morphs into an area that does not seem dangerous but is definitely a lot poorer.  Early in the morning I see people bustling off to work.  I wander up to the coffee shop an hour later to see a lot of people sitting around or standing staring at goodness knows what.  Clearly no jobs and no money.  I am occasionally accosted by people asking to even out the distribution of money in the area but none demanding it down the barrel of a gun…yet.  Luckily I don’t speak their language so after a short exchange, if I can’t avoid eye contact, they walk off in disgust.  I represent too big an investment in time for the dollar they might get.

I spent time with a good friend in Baltimore at the start of this trip.  Sailed on his yacht and sat behind home plate at an Orioles game.  This is the other end of life.  The problem is that he has health problems that can be put down in large measure to working 12 hours a day practically every day and still racing his yacht and going to baseball games.  This is the other side of the USA.  Someone who invested in himself and then made that investment work hard.  He just needs to find a way to stop…or maybe not.

My daughter-in-law is a nurse and has just started in a hospital working 3 * 12-hour shifts a week.  When she has finished all her induction stuff she plots to get a second job on at least 2 of the days she is not working in the hospital.  I’ve seen her after three days of keeping very ill people alive.  A day is barely enough recovery time and she plans to cut her time off down to 1 day a week.  Still she has invested in herself and is making that investment work hard.

I sensibly left my wife at home when I came to the US to enjoy myself, then she turned up at the airport yesterday.  There goes the pension fund.  Damn!  Got to keep going a bit longer.

It is obvious: I’m going to retire when I’m 65…66…67…


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We’re all doomed

Posted by chrisrick13 on September 26, 2012

It is obvious: they can see what you are doing

One of my collection of scratched and broken records I regularly play is on dieting: it is simple to lose weight but it is not easy.  I have lost the best part of 15% in recent years and oscillate around that.  One of the ways I managed it was that we did not have any food in the house.  At least we have no ‘easy’ food.  If you want to eat then it is out with pans and preparation is required.  Waiting also.  It means that often you put it off and indeed decide the effort is not worth it.  The other side is that you can become very inventive at turning stuff in the cupboards/fridge into a snack.  So when shopping I can just about apply the discipline and not buy snack food, as I shop when I am not hungry, that gets me through the lack of discipline at home when I am hungry.

As everyone comes back from holiday and in particular the people who move markets the ‘crisis’ in the EU and many other economies starts to come back to everyone’s attention.  I put the word ‘crisis’ in quotes as it implies a sudden large but short event associated with disaster.  What we have is something that is going on for a long time and I am sure still has some way to go.  I am in the group who believe that there should have been minimal intervention and that a short, sharper shock would have been bad but that if it had happened the situation would be much better now.  That the ‘much better’ would be a return to exponential growth is not a better thing but there I think I am in a group of 1, or maybe 2.

The problem countries are still problems and nothing seems to be getting any better despite the best (sic) efforts of governments, central banks and the IMF.  Those efforts seem at best to be incompetence and at worst moves to protect…banks?  Greece was not the first up but seems to be a key economy.  Larger than Ireland and Portugal is possibly why it has significance.  Who cares though those Greeks are just getting what they deserve after a decade of lying and profligacy.  Except that all that happened was that there was food in the fridge and they ate it.

Spain is more important than Greece as it is so much bigger.  Those greedy Spaniards deserve all they get.  All that happened was that there was a housing bubble and everyone needed to get into the housing market or they would never ever own a house.  A lot of people had spare cash and the investment that made the biggest return was a house so they bought.  All that happened was that there was food in the fridge and they ate it.

Italy stands ready with a cleared-out fridge.  What about the UK?  Much or even most of the growth in the UK over the last 10-15 years was funded by people borrowing against their houses and spending the money.  Back to my record collection: Labour actively tried to achieve that.  The fridge was full and is certainly empty now.

I cannot complain about any of it as I have exhibited exactly the same weaknesses.  Should it not be the government’s job to recognise human weakness demonstrated to be in most us and manage it?  Of course there are no votes in that so I should not expect it.

It is obvious: they can see what you are doing but will do nothing to help you


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Have you got a big brother?

Posted by chrisrick13 on September 20, 2012

It is obvious: they are not out to get you

When I was running an active company or two the Postman used to like me.  They had a sweepstake in the sorting office for the round with the address with the most mail on given days and he nearly always used to win.  Never offered me any of the winnings though.  There was a long run stretching over many years where post came through the letter box every day.  I was writing software for direct (junk) mail so I felt obliged to take the junk mail that came at me.  It was my proud boast that I could assassinate anyone by causing so much junk mail to arrive at their house that they could not open their front door and would therefore starve to death.

Now I’m out of it I put my name on the lists that stop me getting mail and phone calls and e-mail.  I even thought of putting myself on the dead-list which is a great way to turn marketing material off but thought it might tempt fate too much.  The major mailers in the UK use the lists, but foreign companies do not.  However for simple cost reasons and my efforts I get almost no junk mail through the letter box.  Postie is happy enough as his bag gets lighter and lighter.

The focus has switched to e-mail.  My ISP filters my email.  It filters more than I would like it to, but for a while I checked the spam and marked stuff I wanted each month.  I’m happy now that I don’t miss much.

I also filter.  If anything gets through that I don’t want again I ‘create message from filter’ -> trash, marked as read.  I distribute junk I want to another folder via filters marked as read and I can visit it if an interest arises.  Otherwise it is kept for a while and then automatically removed.  It is a pleasant enough experience.

I have thought of another extreme policy.  I could junk all mail that is not from someone I know and then maintain a presence on Facebook and LinkedIn.  If anyone wants to contact me they can via the social networks and I get all the mail from people I know.  I might go there except that I would have to put HMRC and a few other undesirables into my known list.

Mostly I don’t get junk mail that is not of interest to me.  (The exception is via my androgynous name I used to get offers to increase the size of bits of my body…some of which I had and some of which I didn’t or at least not to any great extent.  I wonder if they mailed everyone in the universe as I can think of no reason why they might target me.)  So I suspect that junk mailers out in the wild world are running their own filters.  They know me.  They know I am not interested in cars, sofas, or clothes.  They do know that I will look at financial stuff, books for sale and cheap flights to Oz and the USA.

So out a lot of organisations that are building up a lot of information about me.  Experian know more about me than I might want them to, but I have stopped one fraud because of them.  HMRC know more about me than I want them to, but I run a clean tax regime and have no interest in evasion so I don’t care.

Here is something scary that occurred while writing this entry.  Last week in my efforts to learn Portuguese I bought the Dummies book as it had a CD so I could listen to pronunciation.  A few minutes ago I got an e-mail from a holiday company I have never heard of before offering me cheap flights to Portugal!  But it’s OK, I fooled them, I’m learning Brazilian Portuguese.

So if I’m ‘legal’ then having just about anyone knowing anything about me is not going to hurt me.  It will hurt if bad guys get hold of the information though.  So for this widespread knowledge about me to be at least neutral I need to have a high bandwidth path to people who can do stuff about it when there is a problem of any sort.

As it stands the bandwidth is low.  For example when I looked at my Experian report and found someone using my name living in Clapham was trying to open a bank account in my name it took most of a morning before I could find someone who could understand what I was saying let alone take an interest.

The agency of last resort is getting a newspaper interested so that they will ask the questions of organisations with the threat of wide publicity…and you know what I think of the media.

Perhaps there is a job opportunity here.

It is obvious: they are not out to get you they just don’t care.


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Hippo Birdie

Posted by chrisrick13 on September 18, 2012

It is obvious: time goes by

Hippo birdie to you.
Hippo birdie to you.
Hippo birdie dear blog.
Hippo birdie to you.

Three years old, 462 blog entries.  Soon be old enough to vote.

I am on the record.  I can turn round and say that I said that 3 years ago.  I also get people asking me what I think of what I said in…September 2009.

I spent a little time reading some old blogs today.  A very few are superb.  A lot are OK.  Many are mediocre.  Too many are not at all good.

However although I found things I got wrong there was nothing I wouldn’t own up to saying no matter how badly said.

What a smug b**stard.

It is obvious: time goes by: are you doing with it what you really want to?


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Don’t interrupt! I’m busy

Posted by chrisrick13 on September 18, 2012

It is obvious: you can run

Do you remember 9/11?  Do you remember: It’s now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury?  Remember who said it?  Jo Moore.  Wonder what happened to her?

She was not the first one to suggest burying bad news, Campbell was an expert at it.  She was just the first person to ‘go into print’…and be caught.  It happens all the time and continues today.  I suspect that every political party/government department/company/organisation now has that strategy in place and a code to use to bring it to their collective minds without actually saying it.

These techniques are all part of the manipulation that takes place all the time.  The video on You Tube mocking Islam caused riots in arab countries.  US embassies attacked.  These riots were orchestrated by Taleban and other parties that want to see the US ‘defeated’ (in quotes as there are so many slights that people want to right).  It works because these people need an enemy and because for so many years anything they can read or access has been controlled and manipulated by their rulers so if it is You tube the US government must have done it.  Try explain to a howling mob that it was done by just 5 or 10 people in isolation.  Try asking a howling mob what kind of insult is it to burn a stars and stripes and stamp on it?  Do two wrongs make a right?  Bah!

But there is nothing new in this world.  2000 years ago the population in Rome was distracted and amused by allowing them to watch christians being thrown to the lions.  It is the same thing.  Come forward to more modern times and Hitler used the Olympics to show how great Germany and the Aryan race was, only to have it spoiled by Jesse Owens.  It always puzzles me where the short black-haired Hitler fitted in the Aryan super race of blonde-haired giants.

Come forward further and you can see NFL games which are little short of gladiatorial combat (and which I’m going to watch this Monday).  Rugby is much the same.  The Olympic games are still a big distraction for the population as we have just proved in the UK.  It is an enemy to be defeated and putting the ball in the back of the net is just like skewering and opponent with a sword.  I was amused by the Chinese and their paralympic team.  I suspect that the politburo had long debates about whether they could admit that they had disabled people or not.  In the end they recognised that there were too many pictures of disabled people on the internet so they decided that if they were going to admit to having disabled people they had jolly well better be the best disabled people in the world.

Close to UK interests but a long way from home Argentina has started trying to get the Falkland Islands back.  Thank goodness Thatcher put a fortress there – she could see what was coming.  (Obvious really.)  The Argentinian president is having trouble with the economy and needs a distraction to get elected again.  Unfortunately there is no British presence in Argentina so rioting crowds have nothing to riot against.  Of course oil has been discovered off the Falkland islands.  Perhaps an equable solution would be to go back the 125 years to when we took the islands off the Argentinians…and at the same time return all land to their then owners all over the world.  Yeah, that’s going to happen!

These techniques have been used by despots over all time.  Oppress your people for your own particular reasons and you can get away with a lot if you give them a common enemy to fight.  It works for a time and then the regime collapses.  This would in general be a good thing, but seldom is a deposed despot replaced by a democracy.  It is though the sign of the population in general seeing through the lies of the current regime.  It is a solid signpost on the road to the collapse of a regime and chaos.

China started aggressive action over the Senkakus/Diaoyu islands that it disputes ownership with Japan over.  Of course oil has been discovered in the region.  You can now see poverty-stricken people in China rioting in carefully staged events outside Japanese consulates and Japanese owned factories that are then destroyed.  There is at most 10 years to the end of the Chinese economic miracle.  (I really should put that in quotes.)  It will be interesting to see how the many millions of people in the massive Chinese cities lured off the land where they fed themselves survive when the economic collapse occurs.  I do not think it will be by acquiring other countries and taking their food.  I fear they will start eating each other…or us.

It is obvious: you can run but be careful as you will end up where you started.


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Keep awake at the back!

Posted by chrisrick13 on September 17, 2012

It is obvious: don’t trust anyone

A friend recommended PC Pro magazine to me a long while ago.  It was good enough for me to start subscribing and I still do.  It annoys me at times but it is worth the read.  When it comes in I put it in the loo and throw the old one away.  Over the month it usually gets read cover-to-cover…who says men can’t multi-task?

I like the A-list and have to have a very good reason when buying IT stuff not to shop off it.  They have lab tests which provide the candidates for the A-list.  Wandering the tests does give interesting snippets of information.  After pestering a friend,a look at their tests on motherboards, ssd’s and cpu’s enabled me to select the right components for my recent PC purchase.

They also have articles about just about every aspect of IT.  This month there was one about pricing polices for bandwidth in the various forms that it is available.  A lot of the problems come from the pipe providers trying to charge differing prices depending on what  goes through the pipe.  If Thames Water get their water from the Lake district then the people who own the pipe it travels through charge £X.  If they switch and get it from Wales then the pipe owner charges £2X, because…just about any reason you care to name, but mainly because they can.

I remember hooking up to a Broadband line from BT and wanting to put a router on it.  When I rang them up they said that not only would they not help me but would charge me £50 a month extra for doing it as I was clearly not a human being.  I promised faithfully not to do it, connected one to the line and found out from the internet how to set it up.  There were many sites with the information because a lot of people were upset at BT doing this.

Today I got Virgin to update my line speed and cut my bill.  I needed a new cable modem for the extra speed.  When it arrived it had a wireless router and 4 standard cable sockets in it.  How times have changed.

The article in PC Pro was fascinating and I learnt that Thorstein Heblen who coined the phrase ‘conspicuous consumption’.  He also coined the phrase ‘sabotage’.  This is the situation where suppliers limit supply to push the price up and where workers might do the same as well through making the system not work.  I thought this was just cartel activity, but he describes it as essential to arrive at optimally efficient production.

I was lulled by this interesting economic diversion when the author said: Our current economic crisis is largely one of overproduction.  It was close to the end of the article and I got there before it hit me.  That statement is such a nonsense it is almost impossible to pour enough ridicule and scorn on it.  We might well have overproduction now and over-stocking because people are not buying things.  They are not buying for just about any reason you might care to mention other than overproduction.  Indeed it is overproduction that is keeping people in work when they shouldn’t be and thereby keeping their buying going.

Enough of my apoplexy.  I like this to friendly fire.  Here I am in a magazine that I know and trust.  I am in article that is interesting and informative.  Then suddenly I am kicked in the teeth by a friend.

It is obvious: don’t trust anyone especially the ones who have gained it


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Orange – one of your 5-a-day

Posted by chrisrick13 on September 12, 2012

It is obvious: I know what I’m doing

I was an early adopter of mobile phones.  The support staff at work started walking around with equipment in a bag the size of two house bricks.  Not for me.  Then one of the software people came in with something about a third the size of a brick.  You could almost get it in your pocket.  I decided to do the same and it was Orange.  Then over most of the country most of the time I could make and receive phone calls.

It was a bit annoying as I had to charge it each night or there was no service for the day.  It wasn’t long before I got a new phone that fitted in my pocket.  It also went a week between charges…well certainly 5 days.  Not long after that I got the next phone and it certainly fitted in my pocket and did manage the magical week between charges.  Stayed with that phone until 21 months ago.

I was on some sort of package but switched that to a ‘Virgin equivalent’.  This meant I paid a bit of a premium for calls and texts but that was it.  For most of the time I was paying something like £6 a month.

Two Christmases ago my sons insisted I move into the 21st century.  I got a Blackberry and a Dolphin.  The fruit was my phone, the mammal was my contract over two years that gave me unlimited texts and some large number of minutes.  Seemed about right but I had no idea.  I’m paying £30 a month.  Also my phone now lasts a week on its battery…provided I don’t use it.  Otherwise it needs charging each night.  It has a lot of neat features and I can even make telephone calls.

After 6 months Orange got in touch me and told me that for my usage there was a better package.  Excuse me while I run screaming from the room.  I wanted a contract that was simple and really changed in cost in direct proportion to my usage.  But no it is like the old BT charging where a 1 second call cost you the same as a minute.  A 59 second phone call you the same as a minute.  A 61 second call cost you the same as 2 minutes.  Eventually they had to go to by-the-second charging as popular opinion forced it.

No matter, I could not predict my usage and it changes.  I would prefer a ‘Virgin equivalent’ but I’m going to get the best deal after only 6 months on a poor one.  Except I look at the small print and see I’m signing up for a new 2-year contract.  So now I have a delicate calculation on running on a sub-optimal deal for 18 months and then doing the end of contract bargain for something better, or switching to something better but staying on that for 2 years.

I don’t want to do that I want things simple.  I suppose that it is a compliment to consumers.  If the likes of banks, phone companies, food manufacturers, energy suppliers, and just about every other company did not give us complex tariffs we would all be on the best deal thus reducing their profits.

This comes round to a no growth economy.  The only way to grow and even to survive as a company is to get more efficient at what you do so customers come to you…or fool them into thinking you are the cheapest.

But it is not as simple as that.  With a telephone call, or a Watt, or an interest rate (mostly) you can compare like with like.  When I am in the supermarket I have no idea what is in tins of beans from different manufacturers.  Today I wanted to buy chicken.  There were 5 different kilogram prices for chicken breasts.  I have no idea what the difference was between the chicken breasts.  I have discovered that with the value (cheapest) breasts, there is much more water  injected into them.  You have to boil before you can fry.  I still don’t know what is the best value between them and more expensive cuts.  They need a percentage water injected by weight number on the side.  That one has been psychologically damaged during its life and one has not is not really going to get to me.  If one was on organic grain and the other fed on old landfill sites it might matter to me…but I have no way of finding out.

So I am sitting here with my phone waiting…for Christmas.

It is obvious: I know what I’m doing – doesn’t help much though


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Grow up

Posted by chrisrick13 on September 6, 2012

It is obvious: problems never go away

What is the best way to get the economy to recover?  Don’t start from here.  Cutting spending, were that ever to be achieved, reduces government income and the deficit does not shrink.  Borrow and spend is an obvious failure reinforced by the bond markets.  How can we step from here to a recovery?  I think there are plenty of ways, but they all mean pain for a large number of voters.  So the government, any government, will fudge and dither.  The implication of this is that ‘things’ will bumble along until a trigger occurs and it will be taken out the hands of the government.  At that point they can heroically struggle to resolve the problems.  Just as long as they are not seen as the cause.

I’ll ask the question: what is recovery?  The answer is a very long document mainly because one man’ recovery is another man’s illness, or another country’s.  I might try with: a return to exponential growth so that current debts can be serviced and lenders persuaded to lend more against future incomes.  This is the old joke of jumping off a skyscraper and as you pass each floor saying that everything is OK so far.

There is a universal desire to get the economy to grow.  I see few people pointing out that continued growth is impossible yet everyone espouses trying to achieve it.  Even Shaun Richards talks of growth in worrying terms.  Since 2007 the UK economy has shrunk.  Was it so bad?  There is some individual suffering, even a lot.  This is due to the unequal sharing out of the reduction of life-style spending.  (Not a reduction of lifestyle.)  Some have reduced more than others.  However the state has captured those at the bottom.  Nobody died out there…well not many.

So a no-growth economy does work.  We have just proved it.  Get used to it.

It is obvious: problems never go away.  Left long enough options reduce to 1.  Take it before there is any further reduction


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