Thursday, 16 November 2017

Autumn Sunset Over The Air Park

You are, of course, also subscribed to Sis' blog and you will notice that she has a line in photographs that consist of a lot of very dark bits contrasted with patches of intense light. I was out for an afternoon constitutional in the Air Park the other day, with a cold and clear autumn sunset and the strong yellow light which is quite unusual. So I tried a few of Sis' hi-contrast specials. Double-click for more details because these are all about the sky. What I really do, is take pictures of blue skies.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Student Debt Isn't - In The UK

Recently I had to look at Student Loans. The UK version. I went to university when students got grants, so I don’t really grok Student Loans the way my younger colleagues do. I had read phrases like ‘burdened by student debt’ and stories about rising fees increasing student debt and assumed that, well, students had to pay these loans off. In the USA they sure do, and in ten years. So I read up at the Student Loan Company’s website, and was astonished by what I learned, and then puzzled that anyone who one might think would know this stuff by virtue of being a journalist, banker or politician would be concerned by how many people had Student Loans to what degree.

My first surprise was that the credit rating agencies do not count Student Loans as part of anyone’s indebtedness. I suspect this is built into the legislation. It follows that no British bank or other lender can take account of a graduate’s “student debt” when making lending decisions.

My next surprise was how student debt is repaid. Over a threshold amount, which varies by the year the course started, a student pays 9% of their salary to the Student Loan Company, and continues to do so until the account is cleared, until the debt is thirty years old, when the outstanding account balance is written off. It follows that the only thing that the ‘debt’ affects is the length of time the graduate pays this 9%-over-threshold amount. At top decile incomes it amounts to around 6% of pre-tax salary, and under 1% at the third decile. It’s a progressive Graduate Tax by another name and method.

A regular loan, such as a mortgage, has a monthly repayment that, if made throughout the term of the loan, will settle the original advance and the accrued interest. If you miss payments, a real lender makes helpful-but-firm noises about how you might carry on repaying. If it’s an unsecured loan, they will hand you off to a debt collection agency after three months or so. If it’s a secured loan, they might throw you out of your house, repossess the car and otherwise send in bailiffs to seize assets and sell them to settle the debt. You have not lived until you’ve had the bailiffs knock on the door.

A Student Loan has no such conditions and consequences. HMRC garnish the 9%-over-the-threshold payment at source, so you can’t miss payments, and if you aren’t earning for some reason, no-one is going to seize and sell your laptop. After thirty years, the SLC writes off the loan. (I mentioned that before, but it bears repetition.) It has none of the characteristics of real debt.

The SLC is not a commercial company: it is owned by the UK Government. It’s not a real company that does anything, it’s the site of an accounting fiction, like a Cayman Islands company but without the bronze plaque. The Government pays the universities, just like it always did. But it does so via some double-entry book-keeping that assigns amounts to individual students. The debt is not intended to be repaid, but serves as the basis of a calculation that determines how long the student will pay the Graduate Tax.

Do the calculations in real terms (I have) and it is clear that for graduates starting in 2018 all but the top earners will reach the 30-year limit with some outstanding debt, which will be written off. Add in some mild salary inflation, and because the threshold is not adjusted for inflation, all but the lower earners will repay their ‘debt’ at some point over the thirty years. If there is not enough wage inflation, the SLC will be writing off at least £2bn a year and everyone will have to go through the farce of pretending it is real money that the taxpayer must provide. (Whereas it isn’t. It’s fiat money invented by the Band of England and hidden by specious double-entry book-keeping.)

The smart student takes all the money they can get, and pays the Graduate Tax. In their early-50’s the balance, whatever it is, will be written off. Only a fool would use real money repay their Student Loan any earlier. The smart investor would no more provide or buy UK student debt than they would a lottery ticket.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

How To Have A Safer, Happier Online Life

Stop looking at or talking on your god-damn phone when you are walking in public places. It makes you weave from side-to-side like a drunk, you lose your sense of what's going on around you and it reduces you to the level of a five-year-old. Plus it makes you look like a klutz who can't memorise a simple route.

The Golden Rule is that you should never put anything in writing or appear in any photograph that you don't want to see on the front page of the Daily Mail tomorrow.

The Internet is “in writing”. It’s not a conversation that vanishes with the air used to say it. The privacy of personal conversations and phone calls are legally protected: someone else might record you, but if the recording is leaked, you can sue the leaker and the media organisation they leaked it to. Letters sent through the Royal Mail are also protected, but What’s App isn’t the Royal Mail. Neither is text messaging service.

What you do and say in your home is private. Maybe a hotel room as well. Anywhere else is public: cafe, restaurant, workplace, street, and, oh yes, online. The Internet is not a private place. So...

Stay off Facebook - looking at other people's fake lives depresses you

Don't Tweet - Twitter seems to make people mean

Instagram is for self-promotion or advertising your services - don't post holiday pictures, unless, of course, wandering around in a bikini is your service

Tumblr. No. Just no.

Pinterest. Is for girls.

LinkedIn is for professional self-promotion.

You Tube / Blogging / Medium etc: see the Golden Rule

Remember the other person can take screen shots of your text / What's App and other messaging conversations.

If you have anything to say, say it by voice:

Beware the Wayback Machine. It has a long memory.

Contribute to herd immunity by password-protecting your mobile devices. But remember that if the NSA or Mossad really want to know what's on your phone, you've got bigger problems than any password can protect you from.

No. This isn't being a spoil-sport. Your parents never had to worry about this stuff. Private was private, unless you were at the top. For CEOs, Princes and Ministers there never was any privacy, there always was a Private Secretary recording everything, at least outside the family and very close friends. Sensible people assumed that someone might be eavesdropping in those castles - there was no underlying noise as there is today to blanket quiet conversations.

The Internet, says the man writing a blog post, is best treated as a publishing medium. If you wouldn’t want to put it in a book, magazine or newspaper that will be seen by the general public, and are not prepared for the possible publicity and controversy, then don’t put it on the Internet.

Monday, 6 November 2017

September / October 2017 Diary

The outside of my house is shiny and spotless. It’s a mid-terrace, so we’re talking front and back. It took Primrose Decoration nine calendar days, with I suspect two men each day, to do the job. I had left that paint and the woodwork underneath, way too long. That was mid-October, and the Monday they started, I was recovering from food poisoning, so I spent the day over at my Mother’s house, and walked in and out of Kingston through the suburban fairy-land that is Teddington-by-the-Thames. After the decorators had finished, I took a Friday off to vacuum and clean the place from top to bottom.

The food poisoning knocked me for six for about three weeks. Sis had something similar, and the low point was both of us ordering the Suet Pudding at our annual visit to Rules. Usually we have game and relish it, but not this time. Comfort food. I was having a six-day weekend, and it wasn’t the best time off I’ve had. As always this year, the weather was dull and colder than the surrounding days. When I went back to work, the sun shone.

I'm hesitating now because I can't think of how to phrase what I keep thinking I need to say, or for that matter, if what I think I want to say is actually really about the issue.

My life is running in a nice little rut: sleep, commute, work, gym, home. I am less and less inclined to break out of it, not even to see the Alma-Tadema exhibition at the Leighton House, and I feel no great urge to see all the rest of the art shows in London, which is silly, because some of them would have had me queueing at the door five years ago. Now I’m like… meh. I don’t feel like I’m missing out, but I feel that I should feel like I’m missing out. Pretty meta, huh? Having put it like that, it’s obviously a silly feeling and I should let it go.

One nice thing I did in September was to get to the gym on Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon, then the NFL decided to block the A316 at Twickenham for two consecutive Sundays, I had the food poisoning, and now it’s cold and dark. So I’m doing Saturday morning, Monday and Wednesday afternoons.

Sis couldn’t make our September supper, so I had supper for one at Eneko, tried Jamon Jamon after a Sunday afternoon at the gym, and then Sis and I went to Rules. Not doing Caravan in Exmouth Market again: when it’s good it’s good, but when it’s merely okay, it’s over-priced. Something that can be said for a lot of mid-market places now.

I saw Logan Lucky and Blade Runner 2049 at the local Cineworld, and Daphne at the Curzon Bloomsbury. The autumn dance card was Hofesh Schecter and the Lyon Opera Ballet at Sadler’s Wells.

On DVD I saw The Night Of, Californication S6, Stand Lee’s Lucky Man S1, London and Robinson in Space, Vivre Sa Vie and Julietta, and Vinyl. Vinyl was watchable but given the talent, could have been so much better.

I finished reading Vaihinger's The Philosophy of As If, though I did flip the pages on a lot of the reviews of how other people's thinking did or didn't recognise the idea of fictions; also. Mackenzie Wark's Beneath the Pavement, The Beach (a title by the way that happens to make literal sense in the Netherlands); Antonio Garcia Martinez's Chaos Monkeys; Benjamin Lytal’s A Map of Tulsa; Dan Lyon’s Disrupted; Rob Brotherton’s Suspicious Minds; Hugh Aldersey-Williams’ Periodic Tales; Helen Czerski’s Storm In A Tea-Cup; Hans Fallada’s Tales From The Underworld; Dominique Loreau’s The Art of Simplicity; John Kuprenas’ 101 Things I Learned in Engineering School.

Of these Periodic Tales and Storm in a Tea-Cup are excellent popular science - you will learn new stuff from both. Tales From The Underworld may be the best single collection of short stories I’ve read. (Not the most arty and stylistic remarkable - that’s Hemingway or Ballard - but as stories.) Chaos Monkeys is an eye-opening look at Facebook, while Disrupted will make you even more sure that the current fad for Internet start-ups is an insider's game played by sharks.

The fake outrage over Harvey Weinstein and the roll-on to the House of Commons is the last straw for me and the Good-Think media. Frack them all, hypocrites with full-time jobs on three month’s notice who don’t tip their Uber driver, order in sushi from a piece-worker for Deliveroo, and then ask who is going to look after the children now the Eastern European nannies won’t come over to be paid a pittance? So I may be going on a media-exclusion diet for a while. (“The Guardian? (sniffs) I can ‘andle it”.) Time to start looking at my art books at breakfast again.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Really? This Is News?

I’ve missed both my regular blogging days. This is because I’m working on a couple of things that take up much of my write-the-blogs-on-the-train time.

The biggest story out there is “Middle Age Men Occasionally Make Passes At Girls Who Wear Glasses”. The men, who have committed the cardinal sin of Not Being Hot, are required to resign and emasculate themselves in the town square. For making clumsy and crude passes at women.

I’m expected to take newspapers who even print this nonsense seriously? The editors who put it on the front pages, and the op-ed writers who churn out misandrist garbage, are expecting me to treat them as serious adults?

This is attention-seeking, virtue-signalling revenge and internal politics.

While the world should not have persons of any gender seeking sexual favours in return for career advancement, it does, and while it does, the correct response to requests for such favours is "I'm sorry Mr Farnsbarns, but if that's what it takes, I'll carry on as a supply teacher."

Kevin Spacey was dropped on allegations, not a confession or a verdict of guilty. When people get dropped on allegations, it's because the other side have been waiting for an excuse to do it. Same remark about MP's. The brave women coming forward with tales about MPs are being used to facilitate some internal re-arrangements and sackings.

The commentators are a bunch of hooting monkeys, double-plus goodthinking hypocrites who know they are so far from even the margins of anything important, they have invented a parallel universe of specious issues (*) that gets its justification from click counts and readership figures. Even Private Eye are Remoaners, while Guido Fawkes has been White Knighting. And people wonder why I read Zero Hedge.

The goodthinkers feel have lost control of what they thought was their world, and most of all they have been revealed as as entitled, arrogant, smug and patronising. Of course they are making the most of any little scandal they can. It's a distraction.

At first I thought it was a moral panic.
In the 1980’s the Left lost it after Thatcher-Reagan. There was a moral panic then as well: Satanic Child Abuse and what’s now called False Memory Syndrome.

The first time as tragedy, the second as farce.

(*) Real issues? Aside from anything to do with Brexit? Zero hours contracts; piece-workers (aka 'the gig economy'); house prices and rents; the lack of NHS preparation for replacing foreign nurses and doctors; the lack of jobs for school-leavers and even graduates; the ticking time-bomb of low wage inflation; the continuing polarisation of skills and knowledge; removing illegal immigrants and failed asylum-seekers; policing the UK's borders; the poor academic performance of young white males...

(This post was edited and improved 5/11/17.)

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Most of my Box Sets

These I still have. I dumped a lot of others which I now can’t remember at all.

Game of Thrones S1-3
Black Sails S1
Braquo S1- 3
Southland S1+2
Penny Dreadful S1
Fringe S1
The Event
The Shield S1-7
The West Wing S1-7
Blood Ties
Battlestar Galactica S1-5
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles S1+2
Dirt S1
True Detective S1+2
Nurse Jackie S1-3
Sons of Anarchy S1-7
The Closer S1-3
Lie To Me S1-3
Burn Notice S1-7
Nikita S1-4
Justified S1
Mad Men S1-4
Miami Vice S1
Inspector de Luca
Homicide: Life On The Streets S1-6
Boomtown S1
Dark Angel S1+2
The Wire S1-5
Tru Calling
Buffy the Vampire Slayer S1-3
Dollhouse S1+2
Californication S1-6
Life S1+2
Elementary S1-4
The Prisoner
Generation Kill S1
K Street
Murder One S1+2
In Plain Sight S1-3
How to Make It In America S1
The Bureau S1
Follow The Money S1
Young Montalbano S1+2
The Newsroom S1-3
Angel S1-5
Inspector Nardone
Inspector Montalbano
The Returned S1
Fog and Crimes
Billions S1
Arne Dahl
Unit One S1
The Bridge S1+2

Cop shows. I like cop shows. And Joss Wheedon.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Six Weeks With Tidal

I’ve now had about six weeks using Tidal Premium, the 312kps streaming service. Given that the CD-quality hi-fi service needs around 5Mb/s streaming, I would not trust, given my recent experience, Talk-Talk not to throttle me back and then take four weeks to pretend they hadn’t done anything of the sort and re-set the service.

I thought I would use Tidal to listen to new music, and indeed, the very first time on, this was the first track I heard, from a playlist:

What I’d forgotten is that most new music, given how much I’ve heard in my life, is either awful crap not to my taste, or is a lot like music I’ve already heard before.

What I’m really doing is listening again to albums that I grew tired of or just left behind at some point: to my old record collections. One big surprise was how much I liked the Paul Simon album, which is now on my Wish List, along with Laura Nyro’s Smile. I had a Frank Sinatra binge one Saturday, and a Duke Ellington binge another weekend. I’m listening to Van Morrison’s Hard Nose The Highway now, and it’s as good as I remember it. I finally listened to the Eagle’s Hotel California album all the way through. Also some War Against Drugs, Snarky Puppy, Famous Blue Raincoat, some ABC, and Steely Dan. I’d forgotten how downright weird Katy Lied is.

This is a walk down memory lane. It will come to an end, and then I’ll have the whole classical and new music thing to address again.

Tidal's classical music coverage is weak, but now I think about it, classical music lovers will pay for the CD, and I can imagine that the Naxos and others of this world might not want to play. Then there's Classical Archives, at $80 a year.

Now for the serious bit. The lack of the Complete Works of the SOS Band is criminal. I have no idea which record company is screwing around with their catalogue, but they should stop it, and release re-masters of all the albums. The SOS Band were the greatest single contribution that Jam And Lewis made to Western Culture, and that’s saying a lot, given the rest of their catalogue.

I’m not sure I’ve put the effort into getting the best out of the Tidal search engine: from a quick tour round some classical forums, the search engine is rated as rubbish, but they say the music is there if you can find it.

Would I recommend it? Sure. Why not? Is it better than the others? I don’t know. Right now I’m streaming Classical Archives Internet Radio which is making a darn fine job on my Mac Air of a Sonata for Two Pianos by Muzio Clementi - and if you don’t know Clementi’s work, you’re in for a treat. So I may be subscribing there for a while.