Sunday, 30 December 2012

planning for the future.

Byebye 2012. Don't let the door smack your ass as you leave.

A few days ago, Jim Bliss posted  a video on facebook. This is an assessment of where we are and where we're going by a guy called Nate Hagens. (It's probably why Nina Hagen came to mind!)




More and more informed opinion is coming to the conclusion that we're in for a rough ride. Instead of vague predictions, Nate actually included a timescale.

Since 2008, the government has stepped in to keep growth going for just a little longer. That growth is not more materiƩl or energy or real wealth. It's debt. Borrowing from the future.

Hagens made the point that, in effect, the US is now a "socialist" country. Not in the sense of the workers owning the means of production or anything progressive like that, but really, the governmment IS the economy.

It could never last of course. Build as elaborate a castle as you like. Without foundations it's bound to fall. The quantitive easing and bailouts bought a couple of years, but increasingly, people in a position to understand what's going on are warning that the buffers are looming. Hagens claimed that we have perhaps five years, but probably less, before the shit really does hit the fan.

This, by the way, is not a party political thing. The economic, growth based system we use to order our affairs doesn't really work anymore. This is not necessarily a bad thing. If you're up to your neck in debt, it's hard to be happy.

So our problems are a miniature mirror of those of our society in general. This is not coincidental. If others have less money to spend, those that provide goods and services in exchange for that money will get less.

The solution. or at least one of the available solutions to those problems is the same for us in miniature too.

Simplify. Move to a smaller, more sustainable mode of living. Prioritise for a debt free, less materialistic lifestyle.

It also has to be said, I am unspeakably proud of my wife. She's the one with the courage and foresight to have put us on this path. left to myself, I'd have stuck my head in the sand and done nothing until the bailiffs and locksmiths arrived to take possession of the house.



"You don't need these weights around you. Let them go. Let them fall."

Indeed.

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Friday, 28 December 2012

HaGeN

Nina Hagen popped into my mind this evening. I have one of her albums somewhere. It's not something I listen to often, I must admit, but still, I found myself wondering if she was still alive. I was conflating her with Ari Up, the former vocalist with UK punk band, The Slits.

So off I went to Wikipedia, and I learned that Nina, apart from being a dissident in her own right, was the step-daughter of a West German socialist, Wolf Bierman, who moved to East Germany, but became disillusioned, became a dissenter and had his citizenship renounced while performing at a concert in Cologne, West Germany.

Nina, already a presence in the Art world of East Germany, asked to join her step-father, claiming that he was her biological father. She threatened to become a cause celebre. Her request was quickly granted.

Anyway, Bierman made an album on a smuggled tape recorder that was critical of the "communist" regime. He called it "ChauseestraƟe 131", his address at the time, openly mocking the Stasi.

I looked for this address in Google Earth, but was sent on a wild goose chase to some geometric, communist era housing blocks. Many of them looked like letters.

Hmmm. Letters. It's been a while since I did any of that kind of stuff, yet from there, it was easy to find a geoglyph. It looks like it's in the font known as "magnetic" and could be either a lower case "e" or a lower case "a".

Take your pick...



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Monday, 24 December 2012

PostSecret

I just watched one of those TED talks by a guy called Frank Warren.




Frank has a website called PostSecret. I think it's well worth a link on my sidebar.

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Sunday, 23 December 2012

railguns

There's a famous thought experiment about ethics. In that experiment, an out of control trolley is hurtling along a railway track, and is certain to kill the five railway workers ahead unless something is done to affect things. People are asked whether it would be right to push a person off a bridge in front of the trolley, killing that person but stopping it from killing the five workers.

If you've not encountered this before, perhaps you're considering the ethics of it right now.

On a pragmatic, utilitarian level, it makes sense to push the person off the bridge, killing the one to save the five. But few people are comfortable with this. And this is a human truth that persists regardless of culture. When asked the same question, using canoes and crocodiles, Amazonian tribespeople give the same answers. Another variation is that of a surgeon, who needs five organs to save five people's lives. A healthy person happens to come into the hospital, and it is realised that he is a match. Should the surgeon kill the healthy person, take his organs, and save the five sick people's lives? Again, you're almost certainly going to say no, despite it being in one sense, the greater good.

And so, once again to guns.

Let's just suppose that as chance would have it, there is a spate of spree killings. In two weeks, no fewer than six different gunmen go on the rampage, and in each case, kill between 20 and 30 young children in various schools across the length and breadth of America.

The outrage is immense. The extremist rantings of the gun lobby count for nothing against the demand that Something is Done, and finally, strict controls are brought in against the ownership of certain kinds of weapon.

And because of this, the massacres almost completely stop happening. (You, dear right wing reader, may choose to argue otherwise, but this is a thought experiment, remember)

Over ten years, thousands of children who would otherwise have been shot dead, survive unscathed.

So the obvious question is "should we in some way hope for or encourage such a spate of school shootings, so that such positive change occurs?"

Or is it better that these massacres occur over a couple of years, rather than a couple of weeks, but then keep happening?


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Saturday, 15 December 2012

Sweepstake

Place your bets.

Guess the date of the next US high school massacre. Just to the nearest month will be fine.

As a tie-breaker, how many children will be shot dead?

The winner will recieve a bottle of tizer and a packet of cheese and onion crisps.

No I'm not serious.

Yes it's plausible. Do-able. If I was to do such a crass thing, a person betting some time in the first 6 months of 2013 would have a pretty good chance of winning. A tie-break guess of 20 wouldn't be so far fetched either.

And you know what? It won't make a blind bit of difference. The same old arguments will be trotted out.

A guy went crazy in a Chinese school too. With a knife. He injured a whole load of people.

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Thursday, 13 December 2012

And so it starts...

Bren started it. I came into the living room to find her going through the books on the bookshelf. And so it is that we've started the process of stripping things down. Most of the stuff is to be sold. Even if we don't get much for individual books, it will all add up.

So far about 2/3 of the books are in the "sell" pile. A handful are for the bin, either because of their condition, or because nobody could possibly want them. We have an introduction to Windows ME, for example. Bin it.

There's a couple of nice box sets that might bring in a few bob. And each of us have things that we really don't want to part with.

We're tending to put the paperbacks into the "Sell" pile, as they can easily be replaced. I'm tending to keep the non fiction stuff but the sci-fi and fantasy are generally going. It just ain't my thing so much any more.

Right. Enough blogging. There is work to be done.

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Band of Gold

It is quite plain and unadorned. Yet it is precious to me.

One habit I have is to slide my open hand over the gear lever when I'm driving, causing the ring on my finger to click as it contacts the knob. I miss it when it's not there. It's just not as satisfying somehow.

Anyway, the trim 36 year old cyclist that married Brenda has somehow been morphed into a sedentary, rather flabby, 44 year old, and the ring that used to fit the finger is now tight. So I sometimes wear it on my little finger instead, where it hangs loosely,  and sometimes falls off. Clearly I need to put on more weight so that it fits snugly on my pinky.

And so it was that one evening last week, I looked down at my hand, and noticed that the ring was no longer on my finger. Yet I had no recollection of it slipping off.

I'd put fuel in the car at a petrol station, 10 miles away that afternoon. Could it have fallen off there? I'd been to buy a couple of things from the new shops in New Brighton. Home Bargains, and Morrisons. Had it somehow slipped off while I'd been perusing the baked beans?

By the time I noticed, it was pretty late. Far too late to go to these places to ask. I decided that if it didn't turn up early next day, I'd phone them and ask if a plain gold wedding ring had been handed in. In the meantime, I checked the various plugholes it could have been in, and looked all over my desk and the floor beneath.

Then, next day, as I was about to put an empty carrier bag into a bag full of carrier bags, I noticed a gleam. And there it was, nestling in the bottom corner. Phew.

Don't misunderstand me by the way. If I had really lost it, I'd have felt absolutely awful about it. It's a symbol of the most important relationship in my life, and is really irreplaceable.

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I dig it!

I've just found that the eviction notice for the allotment has been rescinded.

I got shouted at for working the plot when it's really in Alex's name, but it's not going to be taken from us any time soon.

Huzzah!

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Tuesday, 11 December 2012

What to say? It's definately happening.

Today we chose a static caravan on a caravan park in Meols. The difficult task of informing Lisa has been done. There were tears from all of us, but she'd sort of seen it coming, although she hoped it wouldn't. Same as me and Bren. She has the option of coming with us, but she'd only have a tiny space. Her eldest brother has a spare room in his flat. She will probably move in with him, at least in the short term. She's almost 23 years old. We couldn't have made this decision 5 years ago.

This is a serious downsize. We're going to have to part with a lot of things we no longer have room for. Most of what we get rid of, we hope to sell, to raise a bit of money. The stuff we can't or won't part with will have to fit into a 37" x 12" box. (if " is feet and not inches!)

We're trying to put a brave face on this. There's nothing wrong with a fresh start. We have accumulated much clutter, and the house is a source of stress, with it's holes and damp and broken windows and rotten woodwork.

We've done some sums. If we manage to get £70,000 for our house, we can clear all our debts, and knock over £300 a month off our monthly living expenses.

The market value for houses in our street is about £105,000. We reckon that if a builder were to buy it, he or she would have to spend perhaps £20,000 to bring it up to a reasonable standard. They would want to clear a profit on top of that of course. So that £70,000, which is far below market value, may be as much as we can hope to get.

The caravan will have a telephone, and therefore broadband. That's important to me. It has an open aspect, and will get sunshine, when there is sunshine to be had, for pretty much the whole day. That's important to Bren.

I just want to cry, and I can't. Not properly.

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Sunday, 9 December 2012

Level 4 living

We currently live in a fairly large house. It's an old semi detatched, over 100 years old. The ceilings are high. We have 4 bedrooms and an attic that's a 5th. We used to sleep in the attic until a few months ago. But just two and a half people live here. Myself and Bren, and Lisa, who's only here about half the time. We also have a lot of junk stuff. Mementoes and memories. Books. Craft materials. Computer bits and bobs. Rooms full of things we keep just in case.

Don't get me wrong here. It's no palace. We're on the second lowest tier for council tax, and we're in very much an urban area. Our street is fairly quiet, but there are places a stone's throw away that are pretty rough.

I've had the title of this post in my head today. You see, Bren went out this morning to view a property, and she seems set on moving. We've been running to stand still for years, and everything we do has somehow never got us to a point where we could breathe, knowing our income was going to exceed our outgoings. And we're not extravagent. We haven't had a holiday for years, apart from a weekend in a caravan two years ago, and Christmas in a converted barn, courtesy of my brother in law about 3 or 4 years ago. We never go out. We do our best to keep costs down. Yet it's not enough. The tide of debt has crept, slowly, but inexorably further up. Bren, who didn't think she had the mental strength to work full time, was forced to try something to bring in money. First she spent 3 years at university. That brought in a certain amount of cash that she now officially owes to the student loan company, but which she'll almost certainly never pay anything towards. £15,000 a year? Or whatever the threshhold is? That's just unimaginable to us. We've got by on pretty much half that for a decade now. Somehow.

Level 1 living is under a bridge.
Level 2 gets you a tent.
Level 3 is a caravan.
Level 4 is a static caravan.
Level 5 is a council flat.
Level 6 is a terraced house.
Level 7 is a semi detatched like what we live in now.
 ...
Level 98 is a chateau.
Level 99 is a palace.

Static caravans are things that people who can't afford a proper holiday use. That's not to say a good time can't be had, but if you're affluent, you're going to stay in a hotel or some kind of self catering arrangement with 4 solid walls, a masonry chimney, and no wheels whatsoever.

Yet that's what we're going to go and live in. Bren has decided. She doesn't want to. She bought this place as both a home, and as an investment. Her previous husband's death meant the life insurance paid off the mortgage, and for a while, it was all she had.

A part of me feels like I've dragged her down with me. That if she'd never met me, she wouldn't now be having to make this choice.

The stress of it all has been taking it's toll. Both of us worry about each other's mental health. If selling up and moving to something cheaper frees up enough to pay off our debts, and reduce our overheads, it will be surely better than struggling to maintain what we have.

It's going to mean changes.

For one thing, Lisa might not be coming with us. There isn't much room, and she has a lot of clothes. Bren has spoken to Alex, her eldest son, who has a flat near here. He used to live there with Mike, his brother, but Mike now lives with his girlfriend, so Alex has a room free. He and Lisa get on well, and he's happy to have her move in with him. Lisa also has a boyfriend over in Liverpool. She spends a lot of time over there with him, so she may choose to move in with him. She's 22 now, nearly 23, and is generally pretty streetwise.

We will not be able to cram the contents of a large house into a static caravan. We plan to go do car boot sales etc. This will make the move easier, and also might free up some funds.

Then what? We're going to get well below market value for the house, because of it's condition. I have no idea about the figures involved. When the dust has settled, we may find ourselves with £20,000 in the bank.

Some years ago, we remortgaged, and we would have to pay that back, since we're not moving to another property. That's about £15,000 I think. We're locked into a lease on a shop for another two and a half years. That's another £16,000 we will have to find over the next couple of years, plus rates and electricity etc, but it should bring in some income, either in it's present incarnation, or in some other way. Then there's the caravan itself. The second hand one that Bren saw and liked is for sale at around £25,000. It should be cheaper to heat and power than our house, and the site fees include water and rates. Telephone access is not as straightforward as it is here, and so neither will internet access be.

And generally, we will have to get used to living with less space. We're supposed to vacate the site for a month every year, to comply with some regulation or other, but the site operators, nudge nudge, wink wink, don't spend a lot of time checking.

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Friday, 7 December 2012

The Flicks

I've been to see films from time to time. The last film I went to see on the big screen was probably Moulin Rouge. Actually, no. That was the second to last. The last was the movie version of the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. And before that? Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, in a now-demolished cinema in King Street, Wallasey.

That's about one in five years or so.

My mum used to take us to the Theatre Clwyd when I was a little boy, to see plays and films from time to time. We saw a play called Buzz Buzz, Critch Critch, of which I can recall nothing except the title, and the fact that one of the leading actors also appeared in the television programme, Z Cars.

We saw Willy Wonka. That's what I remember. But we also went to see other things too. In those days, the film would often be split into two. you'd get the first half of the film, and there would be an interval, then a short film, then another interval,. then the rest of the film. I have wispy memories of Laurel and Hardy. Also pretty much the last Buster Keaton film.



But over the last few months, a couple of things have piqued my interest, and I hope to go see a couple of films over the next few months.

The first is the Life of Pi. I've "read" this several times as an audiobook. It's a fabulous and nuanced tale. It's also a story that would lend itself well to the kind of abridgement that is necessary to transform book to film.

Here's the trailer:



Secondly, I saw a trailer for a film, and was so impressed that I bought the book. the book turned out to be a really good story, and now I want to see the film that inspired me to read the book upon which it's based.



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Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Skeptical of kettles

Those pesky goddamned commie scientists have been at it again.



The latest idea is that if you pass an electric current through a metal coil, you produce resistance, and therefore, heat is generated. They reckon that such technology is causing the water in my kettle to heat up.

Well I'm not having it, do you hear?

First of all, it might be quite nice if the water in my kettle is warmer.

In any case, I have serious doubts about the science. Lots of electrical engineers and quantum physicists signed a petition on the internet debunking the myth of electric making kettles boil. Clearly there is no consensus on the issue.

And frankly, even if there is a connection, well there's no conclusive proof that it's human activity that's responsible. The kettle is by a window, so it could be sunlight that's making it warmer. Or some other factor we don't know about yet.

And here's the clincher.

Back in 1503,. people had kettles, which sometimes boiled. Yet there was no electricity. So the idea that it's electricity that's causing kettles to boil is just clearly ludicrous.

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December is the cruelest month

The Place: Here

The Time: Now

I keep trying to blog, but I somehow can't.

I am 44 years old. I will shortly be 45. I am 5 feet and 8 inches tall. Perhaps five feet and nine inches when I wake up. I weigh somehwere between 13.5 and 14 stone.

From about 16 to getting on towards 30, I was a skinny runt of about nine and a half stone. Somehow, over the last 20 years, I've got to be twenty years older. It's not been altogether a bad thing. People have far more respect for me now that I'm an adult. Far more than they ever had for me as a child.

Seasons pass, Months pass. Weeks pass. The beginning of december vibe is as low as it gets.

We probably have the worst of it in front of us. The shortest day, though just minutes shorter, is weeks away. Come January, when you get the worst weather, you at least know that you're heading for spring. No wonder we put the two biggest festivals at this time of year.

Financially, things might counteract each other. The drop off in earnings I always get in these pre-christmas weeks should hopefully be offset by an increase in earnings from the shop.

The Shop is failing to thrive.

We've always struggled to keep our heads above the shit. Always. When I was younger I would sometimes skive, but I've been a fully paid up member of the working class for the last decade or so. No matter how hard we try, we never ever can relax in the knowledge that our income covers our overheads.

Right now, I'm quite optimistic about how things are going for my driving school. Here's why.

A couple of months ago, I established a really good working relationship with a Woman who is in a relationship with a web wiz. We established a sort of barter arrangement, where I would work for a reduced price, in exchange for a professional and fully SEO'd website.

Thanks again to Jim Bliss at this point, who offered to do this sort of stuff, pretty much for free. I don't think I really appreciated what WordPress was capable of at the time, or realy understand what Jim was offering.

But ther cheap lessons are being given, and the site is up and running, and appearing in the listings without me spending £££££££ on advertising. I'm on the top page for many sensible search enquiries, and once Christmas is out of the way, I reckon I will be getting rather busy. While the next few slack weeks go by, hopefully, the shop wil become busy with Christmas shoppers.

The shop.

The shop was many things. It was a way of my restless, creative, pragmatic wife to try to bring in more money. Bren wasn't some wide eyed newbie. She spent a lot of time working out how it was all going to happen. She researched the local economy. She prepared several different plans - an optimistic plan, a middle plan, and a pessimistic plan. She did everything she could have to maximise her chance of getting things off the geound.

It's never ever thrived. Things may change over the next month, but hand crafted local goods are a luxury at a time when such things should be becoming the norm. But so far, something that should have taken a weight from my shoulders has instead just vastly increased the weight on Bren's.

I'm happy to acquiesce in terms of what we do in life. My needs are very simple. I resent the work involved in relocation but I'll  make a nest in any old tree.

She's pretty much decided that we're going to sell up and move to something smaller/cheaper. The house needs a huge amunt of work doing on it, which we can't afford. Some builder will get it at a knock down price, and we will free up some assets, and move to some form of living with lower running costs.

Our options include living on a barge or narrowboat, living in a mobile home or static caravan, moving to a smaller property in a worse neighbourhood.

I hope I can earn enough for us not to have to move.



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Monday, 3 December 2012

Indecision day down at the allotment

As previosuly mentioned, my plot should have been inspected on 27th November, following which, a decision would have been made about whether I would be allowed to keep the plot.

I still await notification.

I am in limbo. Is this some sort of test? Are they watching to see whether I continue to work the plot, while awaiting a decision? Has it just been overlooked? Has a decision been made but somehow not been transmitted?

I just don't know.

As it happens, such considerations seem to be shrinking in the face of bigger things. We may be about to lose our home.

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Whoops there goes another rubber tree plant

Things are afoot in Azerbaijan. Big things.

Like the Middle Eastern States, Azerbaijan sits on a wealth of mineral resources, and there are people that want to turn those resources into dreams. The city of dreams. The emerald city almost. The Wizard of Az.

Well, they're going to build some artificial islands, and put some mega-tall sky-scrapers on them if the hype is to be believed.

Here's what the area looks like now.


Well OK. It doesn't look like much right now, but then, much of Dubai was just dirt a generation ago.

Here's how they reckon it will look.


8 Square miles of real estate, split over 40 islands. The viewpoint of this picture is from the top of what they're adventurously calling "Azerbaijan Tower", which is going to be as tall as the Burj Khalifa if you were to stick the Post Office tower on top of it.


When I come across stuff like this, I look for a date. If it was proposed before 2008, I tend to think it's just a castle in the air, and that the global financial meltdown will have changed the economic footing for it. But this is all recent.

When we think of Azerbaijan at all, I suppose it tends to be as something of a backwater. Azerbaijanian people, to the uninformed (like me) are sort of like Arabs, but a bit like Russian peasants or something. Just another anonymous mid-asian former soviet colony that's gone muslim since the collapse of the USSR.

But they've got... High hopes.

This proposal has some high powered backing from China amongst other places, and is symbolic of how global power is shifting from the West to the East. Who knows? It may even get built.

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Sunday, 2 December 2012

personal theology

not sure that theology is the right word  but anyway. Here's an attempt to set myself, not against infinty, but against an infinite number of infinities...

I don't know about God. I sort of believe in science. At least some of Science says that new universes are being created all the time. Being 3 dimensional beings, trapped in the universe we happened to be born into, we can only look beyond it using maths and physics, rather than theology, but at least some of the clever mathermatical brains out there reckon that there is not just a universe, but a multiverse.

According to them, new universes are popping up all the time.

And so, at some point, an identical universe to this one will occur. In fact, given time, an infinite number of universes identical to this one will occur.

So at some point, a universe identical to this one will occur, that will share an identical history, right down to the decay of individual atomic particles.

It's going to take a fuck of a long time, but I won't be around for the intervening period, so won't really care too much.

It does of course raise questions about the definition of "self".

I'm absolutely certain that out of the 7 billion human beings on this planet, there will be at least several that are very close to me in terms of how they look at the world, but they are not me.

Yet I am not me either. My interests and outlook are not the same now as they used to be when I was younger. I have memories, but I cannot say for sure how true they are. I've also lost continuity. Whenever on the odd occasion I've undergone a general anaesthetic, I've gone to a level far deeper than sleep, yet woken up still "me" what ever that may be.

I suppose I might also be wrong, but my absurd idea has as much merit as any Holy Book.
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