It is Obvious

Chris Rick has got altogether too much to say

Archive for October, 2013

4 cents a passenger mile…again

Posted by chrisrick13 on October 24, 2013

It is obvious: it is on the news so it must be true

I have friends live in the Sydney suburbs.  They live next to a canyon and…the bush.  So if fires are near Sydney then they are vulnerable…perhaps only a little.  I checked up on them.  No problem the fires are 50 miles away.  There would be time to hire a removal van if there was a risk approaching and the house is well insured.

The huge fires are a concern.  They are a natural feature of ‘the bush’.  Life is based on periodic burning and some of the flora and fauna actually depend on it.  Of course killing all the local animals (kangaroos) means that there is much more dead vegetation to burn so the fires are bigger.  The small number of Australians have not only killed the inner reef but are having a good go at destroying things inland.

But are they leaving such a big mark on the landscape?  I saw on TV and in the papers that 120,000 hectares of bush (and people’s houses) had been destroyed.  That is a huge amount of land.  Roughly that is 300,000 acres or 468 square miles.  That is a square 21 miles on a side, about half the area inside the M25 and that is certainly a decent size…in a country of 2,942,282 square miles?  I would love to see the fire area portrayed on a zoom out of a map of Australia.

It is obvious: it is on the news so it must be true but who decides the angle to look at it from


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Work is overrated

Posted by chrisrick13 on October 23, 2013

It is obvious: I’ve got a job

The avid readers of my blog will be pleased to hear (see) that I have work and someone gives  me money for it.  Jumping through the hoops of a purchasing department might well detach the payment date and put it a long way away from the work-done date though.

I have reversed my situation at the Job Centre.  There I was unemployed and they worked very hard to get me off the count.  I think I went into the economically inactive group.  I still spent money so I considered myself active!  Now I am generating income for a company but beyond my wife, the company where I sit at a desk (careful choice of words) and now you, nobody knows.  So I am doing my bit to stop the MPC from increasing the base rate.  All you mortgage holders should be grateful.  Perhaps if I come round you can give me a donation.

In another one of my pointless conflicts with authority I have not been employed by a company for a long while.  “Ah”, the revenue said, “you are a director of a company”.  My response is that I am not paid by the company and have no contract of employment with it so how can I be employed.  They said that as I drew expenses that I had a relationship with the company and could be deemed employed.  My response was: what expenses?  Then they said that they would split my tax code between employers and take money via PAYE…but I don’t have any employers!  The final one was that as a shareholder in the company I would be considered an employee.  I pointed out that I held shares in BT, Inmarsat, BSkyB and a dozen other companies who would be surprised to find I was one of their employees.  As the company I own has not received any money for at least 3 years it will be difficult for them to decide on an income deemed or otherwise.  Perhaps I can be an employee with £0 pay.  So it is that I see the complex systems that government creates that seem to do little other than distract citizens and employ civil servants.

Remember Hot Black Desiato?  Dead for a year for tax reasons.  I see an angle here.

It is obvious: I’ve got a job if you are not working for HM Customs and Revenue

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You can’t touch me I’m part of…

Posted by chrisrick13 on October 17, 2013

It is obvious: I put my trust in many people

I have an abiding hatred of the trades unions.  I was there when they ran the country while the Labour party pretended to be in charge.  A lot of the union leaders were committed to the destruction of the UK for political ideals.  Many had no thought of the well-being of their members.  They were democratically elected…except they weren’t.  I remember Jack Dash who lead the dockers in London to…what?  I remember Red Robbo in the midlands leading his car workers in the midlands to…what?  I remember Arthur Scargill though starting a miner’s strike at the beginning of the summer does make me think he was working for Margaret Thatcher.

The unions had an excess of power.  That power was eroded by Margaret Thatcher and enshrined in laws that made everything much more visible and open.  Union power declined and any thought that it might return was dashed by the economics of recent years.

I also like the unions.  They have stopped companies from exploiting their workers…much.  They have fought many injustices.  At the same time I have seen a public sector employee who has not done any work for many years arbitrarily take a year off ill and work at her own business during that time.  The union defended her when it was clear she was playing the system and got her a huge payout.  Would not have happened in a private company.  In the USA she would have had 2 weeks before being sacked.

So there is a balance that is not easy to maintain.  Unions and business stopping the excesses of each other.  Perhaps keeping everyone honest.

I know my postman well.  If there is a definition of hard-working then he is it.  His tales of what the Royal Mail are demanding of the workers are amazing.  They are being pushed hard.  The result is a company that might have a longer future than the one it was heading for.  Delivering stuff to people’s doors is becoming very competitive for a shrinking market.  So it is appropriate that the Royal Mail workers go on strike next month to protest against something that has already happened.

Ineos run a big oil refinery in Scotland.  The union said that they were going to strike this weekend so Ineos shut it down.  Oil refineries are complex beasts that require time to start up and time to shut down.  They are not like a light switch.  A two-day strike will take a refinery out of service for many days.  The union have turned around and called off the strike.  However Ineos have said that they will not re-start the refinery.  The union have called this ‘holding Scotland to ransom’.  I wonder what the strike threat was doing?  Ineos have power here.  The incremental cost of keeping turned off for another day is low.  The refinery has been losing money for 4 years and keeping it shut down might actually cut the losses.  Power has shifted here.  I wonder who will win?  Will the population of Scotland in any sense win?

It is obvious: I put my trust in many people but the only one I trust is myself

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I’m happy

Posted by chrisrick13 on October 16, 2013

It is obvious: headlines tell you everything

I heard some good advice on the radio many years ago that helps me in my writing every day.  It was an editor of a newspaper who was talking.  He said: cross out the first line of any item.  They are essential for the writer to get going but not needed by the reader.  He then gave a longer explanation.  Part of the rationale was that a lot had already been said in the headline.

I read today that house prices have surpassed the previous highs of the credit crunch.  In London that is.  What about inflation since then and the cost of owning that asset?  Add those two together and it is well over 5% a year.  So house prices are down at least 25% from their previous high.  How do you feel about that now?  If you are not in London then it is a lot worse.

I read, over a year ago, that the Chief Whip of the House of Commons swore at policemen in front of a crowd outside Downing Street and then refused to say what he did say in a meeting with other policemen in Sutton Coldfield.  CCTV shows that there were no crowds outside Downing Street and a recording of the meeting includes the Whip detailing what he did and did not say.  The new headline I saw yesterday was that the police investigated the meeting and decided that the policemen involved had no case to answer.  How will you feel next time a police officer testifies against you?

Shaun Richards highlighted the inflation numbers yesterday.  CPI is down.  House inflation is up.  If you add the two together to give inflation that includes housing costs (thought RPI did that) then it comes out lower than CPI!!!!!!!!!!  As they say on Quest Tv: How do they do it?

It is obvious: headlines tell you everything except what you need to know

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I’ve got a dream

Posted by chrisrick13 on October 15, 2013

It is obvious: I love a good tax

There is a big debate about increasing the cost of alcohol to stop people abusing it.  No longer is it news and it is not in the headlines.  Part of the debate is that it will drive people to find ways around it.  They will brew their own or buy it on the black market.  The other leg to that argument is that it will hit people who do not abuse alcohol.  Of course it will!  If increased prices reduces consumption it will cut consumption for everyone where they do not have enough disposable income.  That means most people.

Do you wonder why the government is reducing tax on petrol?  Transport is a large part of the cost of just about anything so it will help reduce the cost of lots of…stuff.  What else might it do?  Just as with an alcohol tax we are driving fewer miles and buying cars with larger and larger MPG numbers.  Not much black market activity but my friend the Laffer curve is active and the price of fuel is standing firmly on the wrong side of it.  Government revenues from fuel are declining.  Do something.  Lower the price.  Who cares about the environment?

I am watching the Labour party and its attacks on the government.  They are using the ‘sound-bite’ of lowering the income tax rate for rich people.  They also lowered the income tax rate for people with large salaries who are not rich.  Is that a bad thing?  Why is this attack on the government not used where a debate can take place?  The answer is that tax revenue has gone up.  The highly paid people,mostly not bankers, are ‘working harder’.  Isn’t that the other sound-bite that I hear all the time: hard-working people?

I wished that the Labour party would attack harder.  However I see them permanently stood on the wrong side of the Laffer curve.  They come into power with the sure knowledge that they will  increase taxation and thereby have less money to do what they promised to do.  Indeed the top 2% of earners pay more tax than the bottom 30% and they are much more able to avoid high taxation.  As a last resort they just stop working…the very people who do generate wealth.

So why can’t the Labour party do all the social stuff it does and work with the Laffer curve for a low-tax economy?  Why be scared of a few people making lots of money.  Work hard at honesty, morality, consistency, justice.  Keep taxes as simple as possible but work equally hard to move them to that point on the Laffer curve that maximises the money government gets to spend.

I wonder how we get them to spend it wisely?

It is obvious: I love a good tax – not seen one yet.

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I’ve got a job

Posted by chrisrick13 on October 15, 2013

It is obvious: work all your life

You have heard the joke where a boy asks his dad (or a girl asks her mum…but perhaps girls are not so stupid) why his grandma is reading the bible so much.  His dad replies that she is swotting up for her finals.

So I seem to spend more and more time considering past blunders and maximising what I can get out of the pensions that I have paid into.  What put it in my mind today was a compelling argument I read that inflation in the UK is really 9%.  I know it is not what ‘official’ figures say.  That is obvious as the way of calculating the numbers is changed so often.  Do you know what measure is used to ‘inflate’ your pension, calculate the interest on your student loan (though there are few that do both at the moment), decide how the tax bands are moved, and many more?  That is why it changes and always in a way that minimises the number for inflation.  Do those in power believe that we all that stupid?

There used to be an inflation measure that gave a very good indication at speed and that was the price of a Mars bar.  Then they started changing the recipe and the size.  So it is with inflation.  It is now very difficult to look back at history and get a trend line even out of the current parliament let alone back a generation or two.

It all becomes anecdotal.  I remember my first paid permanent job was £1560 a year or £30 a week.  I didn’t live frugally and I didn’t spend it all.  Roll forward 41 years and what does an IT graduate get on leaving university now?  If it is £19,000 then wages have come on by a factor of 12 over that time.  About 7% annual inflation sees that salary standing still.  I have a suspicion that £19,000 a year does not do it in Reading.

What about my pensions?  I am still convinced that putting the money under my mattress would have been better than putting into a pension.  I am further still convinced that the only pension plan to consider (other than final salary) is where your employer at least matches your contributions.  If you worked for yourself for 95% of your career, as I did, then there is no benefit in a pension whatsoever.

What to do?  You have bought your house, got rid of your kids, no longer feel safe driving a car that can do 0-60 in anything under 10 minutes, do not lust after designer clothes, get drunk on two glasses of wine, get to bed most nights at 22:00 and fall asleep after two pages of your book.  So you can manage on half your previous earnings easily.  A bit of savings and working 6 months a year or 3 days a week easily does it.  Maybe you don’t want to work but one thing about a salary is that if you have good, and preferably rare, skills then your income is proofed against inflation.

Don’t worry though the government will come after you with new taxes.

It is obvious: work all your life but don’t forget to have some fun along the way

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This is interesting

Posted by chrisrick13 on October 8, 2013

It is obvious: your country needs you

Yesterday the Chancellor was attributed as saying that his support for borrowing to buy houses, or rather our support arranged by him, was OK as the housing market was not over-priced.  I would challenge him to find someone who might support that view and would note that he was not challenged when he said it.

We all know that interest rates are being kept low so that huge numbers of house buyers do not default on their home loans thus crashing the banks and creating a huge economic crisis in the UK.

I am not so sure.  What I am sure is that interest rates will go up.  The governor of the BoE might well stand at the edge of the water and declare that interest rates will not go up.  He has lots of say and little influence in this matter.  When the conditions demand it, interest rates will rise.  Who will suffer?  You will.  In rough terms the government (you and me) owe £1.5tn.  This ignores all the other debt that is not easy to find which brings the total to over £10tn.  (Yes that is a ‘ten’.)  The interest payments on the debt are around 3% which means that the debt costs us £45bn each year.  The government is overspending by £120bn each year – why do you think Labour has shut up about austerity?  If interest rates went up to 9% then we would overspend by £210bn a year.  We would not be able to cut enough or grow enough to cut our deficit.  It will be a sticky end.

It is obvious: your country needs you to keep paying money to it

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Are you a mouse or a man?

Posted by chrisrick13 on October 8, 2013

It is obvious: I mean what I say

I love the M25.  It is a lengthy psychological study.  I am sure that aliens are watching us and encouraged us to build it so that they could carry out all their studies in one place.  It is also a fantasy land.

Theoretically if I travel in the outside lane at 70mph I can get the rest of the motorway to obey the speed limit.  Nobody can be angry with me as they cannot go faster and cannot go past me on the inside.  Does it matter?  There would be a lot of anger and a lot of people going past me on the inside lanes.  I thought going faster than 70mph and under-taking were both illegal.  There is a source of much revenue to be had for just a little effort.

I often see cars in the third lane trundling along at 60mph or less.  These theoretically funnel 4 lanes of traffic through one lane.  They are stupid and dangerous.  I also note that few people travel in the inside lane.  I have some sympathy as if you move there, often you are trapped for many minutes unless you jump out between two fast-moving cars.  There is no reward for doing what is supposed to happen.  Lanes 2, 3, (and if it is there) 4 are officially called overtaking lanes – Hah!

A switch to the American system would work well.  Travel in any lane you want and overtake or under-take.  This means that there is someone in nearly every lane doing the speed limit or less so traveling in excess of it is very hard.  The offender also stands out.  The traffic gets evenly spread over the lanes.  The biggest problem is that convoys tend to build.  However a lower speed convoy is better than lots of lone cars many of which are breaking the speed limit by a large margin.

Last week I was trained twice by the Highways Authority.  If you do something then mean it!  The signs came on above the motorway demanding a reduction in speed to 60mph.  I pulled into the inside lane and went down to 60mph.  As best as I could tell I was the only one.  Then 50, then 40.  I was definitely the only one.  I went under several of these.  Then an all-clear sign appeared.  I suppose I increased my fuel efficiency for a while.  We were all trained that these signs don’t actually convey useful information and can safely be ignored.

The second time was late at night.  There were lots of warnings of congestion and road works and lane restrictions ahead.  Then an overhead sign had the outside lane with a red cross (do not use) and arrow pointing to the inner lanes.  In short order we were down to 1 lane.  I joined a queue of about a mile of nose-to-tail traffic that delayed my by maybe 10 minutes.  While in this queue 23 cars came past me in the closed lanes.  None of them came into my lane in front of me but idiots in front let them in.  When the bollards eventually shut it down to 2 lanes I straddled them and stopped anyone with ideas from going past.  The guy behind me closed up tight and the one behind him also moved out to straddle.  If they are going to do this then they should physically shut the lanes down as they close them or simply mount a camera at the end of the closed lane with a long view.  More revenue but importantly showing they mean what they say.

I’m thinking of mounting a loop camera on my dashboard for various reasons.  Maybe I can send my footage to the police.

It is obvious: I mean what I say and it is a shame that authority does not show that it does as well

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I remember

Posted by chrisrick13 on October 4, 2013

It is obvious: you do not get wiser as you get older

I described the angst and agonies of re-aligning my communication costs earlier.  My angst continues.

The Asus Phonepad for my wife was the pivot point that enabled me to get what I thought was the perfect solution…until it broke.  I sent it in for repair and it is a long and sorry tale that today is a month-long with no resolution (or Phonepad) in sight.

After two weeks I bought a phone for £29.  It is unlocked so I could just drop her SIM into it.  Except that for some reason it will not work with it.  My SIM and every other SIM I tried worked in it but not my wife’s.  No matter my daughter has a pay-as-you-go SIM that she no longer uses so I put that in it.  My wife can now ring or text me to complain about her missing Phonepad.

Things did improve as my wife has a smartphone from work that she has never used and we had both forgotten about.  I stumbled across it in a draw put her SIM in and she is up and running.  The noise from my wife is somewhat lessened but there is still a low-frequency rumble.

I sent the Phonepad back to Asus and that was a mistake.  I should have sent it back to Amazon.  Under sale of goods act they would have sent me a new one.  Asus, under their warranty, can keep it for pretty well as long as they want.  They offered me a refurbished one.  Not sure about that, but as they have been on the market only 5 months I’m dismayed that they have refurbished ones.  Surely if they have then they got broken ones from customers, sent them a new one and now have the refurbished one to offer to me.  No thanks – I’ll have a new one please.

Anyway I wanted to mention Asus here.  Avoid them if you can.

I have undergone a deal more angst as I realign my computing and in particular my storage.  I live and die on a laptop that I have had since 2005 and maybe longer.  It does everything I need and that includes running an Oracle database of some size.  Obviously I can get faster with a new cpu, more memory and a SSD.  So a new laptop…but which one.  Watch this space.

My main problem is storage not speed.  This computer had 60Gb and that is not enough.  Why?

In 2005 I abandoned my mail program (The Bat!) and moved to Thunderbird.  Since then I have kept all my sent mail at 1.2Gb.  There is no need.  I sometimes go back to see what I sent and sometimes need to prove a point.  I doubt it has happened 20 times over the last 8 years.  So I will keep that without removing any for a while longer.  Maybe I should just copy it and then remove all but the last year.  The rest of my mail I keep a year and every 6 months remove the oldest 6 months of data.

Then I have books, my blog, and articles that I have written or am writing.  All that I have kept runs into small megabytes.  Writing a million characters takes time!  Let me put a lifetime on that of 100Mb.  This allows for Word to bloat the files.

I have programs, many of which I have kept for one reason or another.  It does include things like Oracle forms where I actually write a few characters and the form comes out at several megabytes.  I can put a very large margin in there and call it 1Gb.  My typing will be a few megabytes only.

There is duplication.  For each of my main computers I have copied all my stuff on to the new one when I got it.  Each time the old computer plus the storage of all the earlier ones took less than 1% of the storage on the new one.  Generous again and it comes to 1Gb.

I am at 3.3Gb.  So why to I need more storage?  The answer is photographs.  Hundreds of Gigabytes and we have not had digital cameras that long.  We take a photograph look at it a couple of times, send some to friends and that is it.  So why do we keep them?

We went through our printed photographs pre-digital a while ago.  We still have a lot.  However there were many photographs of places.  Many of those places we did not even recognise.  We threw out everything that did not have someone on them that we knew.  (There were lots with people on who neither of us could name!)  This reduced the bulk by about 70%.  The idiocy of it was that I found several pictures of the Eiffel Tower.  If I want some really good shots of it Google comes up with 39,000,000 hits all of which have a picture of it.  I just saw one with Hitler in the foreground looking at it.

Provided I put my photographs somewhere where I can forget them and let someone throw away when I am gone a 256Gb SDD looks like it will meet my storage needs at speed for some very long time.  I’m paying for 60Gb on Dropbox each year so I don’t even need to backup by stuff as it is done as I go along.  I’m paying for 10 times more storage than I need!

So I lurch along and am nearly in the 21st century.  I have come full circle adopting new technology and at long last saying no thank-you to some of it.  I’m still lusting after one of those 24hr body monitors…

It is obvious: you do not get wiser as you get older you just have more mistakes to look back on

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I’m like a rubber ball

Posted by chrisrick13 on October 1, 2013

It is obvious: it is impossible

I saw a minister being grilled on tv today.  That is a generous description.  It was more like sun-drying a tomato.  The number under discussion was new housing starts.  It is a touch over 100,000 and has been there for some while.  The minister was exposed as saying that it had gone up under the coalition as it indeed had for two years by 1,000 and then down by 2,000 in the last year.

The answer to the rise in house prices is to build more I see and hear a lot.  In the 18th century there were a class or even an under-class of people who used to live in the sewers.  A lot of valuable stuff gets flushed down sewers and they made a living sieving it and selling what they found.  They were called: Toshers.  So I can say that building lots more houses to depress prices is…a load of tosh.

Were it a proper market and prices were driven by supply and demand then it might well be true.  However the price is not closely linked to demand.  Of course the prostitute’s question applies and a million houses at £5 each would quickly sell and move the price of all houses substantially.

If building houses is the answer why does the government not grab a couple of billion from the HS2 budget, dig up an old RAF airfield or two and build 30,000 houses.  They could make a tidy profit, see what it does to house prices, and then build a few more if things are moving as they want.  They could pay for HS2 out of the profits.  Not bad to have it for free.

This is a good thing to try.  You see at 2% GDP growth, which is what all the political parties often mention as a target, in passing and without challenge, we will need another 26m homes over the next 35 years.  In round numbers that is 600,000 a year…and we can’t manage more than 100,000 a year.  Perhaps I should add in those that fall down each year and we might need a few more than that.  So the government needs to get a move on and become expert at this.  This year they are already going to be 500,000 homes behind the schedule they need to support the growth they are aiming for.

It is obvious: it is impossible to get the economic growth needed to rescue our economy

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