Back on the horse

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And blogging here

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The end of an era – farewell TGS

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If anyone has read the about me section they will know that I picked up the Great Simpleton  tag when I took a job with a client because they were NYSE listed and I had taken a senior position in a controversial subsidiary. Whilst I didn’t expect to say anything untoward I felt that if I did and it was taken out of context it could have had some serious consequences both for the company and for me contractually. Prior to taking the tag I had always used my real name when commenting on blogs and  the BBC Radio 5 discussion boards where I was a frequent contributor. Its now a year since I left that job and whilst the subsidiary is still controversial it is no longer listed on NYSE (Sarbanes Oxley sorted that one out).

Furthermore, we completed a house purchase in Dorset in late June and will be moving there in a couple of weeks, once some work has been completed. We had always intended to retire there and having been made redundant and taking a year off it seemed a good time to start looking. The wind of fate blew kind and we found the ideal place within 3 months and on our second visit.

I say the wind of fate because we were looking for something very specific and expected it to take a couple of years. Instead we were passing through on our way to a friends birthday party in Devon and dropped in to a small town outside the area we were looking but knew it did carry some properties in the area of interest. I went off in one direction to register with estate agents whilst The Great Wiseone went off in the other. When I eventually found her she was in rapt conversation with a young estate agent. It turned out that when she explained what we were looking for the young lad said we had described his dad’s house and furthermore he had just put it on the market. Incredibly it turned out to be in the village where we had stayed on our last unsuccessful house hunting visit and right in the middle of the area of greatest interest.

After a couple of phone calls he arranged with his sister and the office with which the property was registered for us to view the next morning. A quick change of accommodation found us back in the pub 75 yards from the property. We viewed it on Friday morning and knew straight away it was exactly what we wanted, made an offer Saturday afternoon and the offer was accepted on the Monday morning. There have been a few extensions which required a footpath to be moved so the purchase was a bit slow and took 3 months.

To add to our luck even further when we got round to putting our house on the market after Exchange we had 10 days of glorious weather. Three families were very interested and one has now managed to sell their own house and get a mortgage offer. So it looks like we won’t be the proud owners of two houses for too long.

When the stars line up like that you just know that the right decisions have been made.

I’ve no idea what I will do with myself work wise when we have moved but I’ll worry about that in the winter. I can’t quite retire and live the lifestyle I want, golf, sailing, photography and the occasional holiday are quite expensive, so I will be looking for some work or perhaps to buy or set up a small business. What I do know is that I won’t be going back to the corporate tread mill and will have more control of my own time, like I did before taking my last job. In the meantime The Great Wiseone now has proper studio in the garden and can concentrate on her career.

So with all that going on it seems an appropriate time to lay the Great Simpleton to rest. I will continues to read blogs and comment, but using my real name of Simon or probably SimonF if there are too many Simons. I also intend to start blogging again once settled in, probably in autumn and have picked a name and started preparations. It already looks like the Big Society is going to provide lots of frustrations and contradictions and the socialists haven’t gone away.

I will report the new blog here, but until then may the bars are always open to you, as we said in the army.

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Even Blair didn’t stoop this low

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David Cameron has said he will fly the flag of St George over No 10 during the football World Cup in South Africa.

This really is gesture politics of the lowest kind, and we haven’t even got an election looming! Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be following England although there won’t be any flags flying my house or car.

But not only is Cameron stooping low he is also showing his ignorance of the Welsh, Scots and Northern Irish when it comes to the England football (and just about evry other) sports team):

No matter what part of the UK people came from, he said he hoped they would be shouting “come on England”.

All this will do is add to the victim culture of the Anybody But England and encourage them to increase the size of the chips on their shoulders and push more into the grouping.

When my father had a pub he used to say there was two subjects he wouldn’t get involved in – politics and religion, as you could never win those arguments. English politicians  should learn that there is one subject they should steer clear of, English national sports teams; they are on a hiding to nothing when it comes to the Celtic fringes.

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The Great A Simpleton’s Guide To The Labour Leadership Contenders

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So Labour’s finally got round to deciding who can be a contender for the leadership position. I’m sure the membership will be ecstatic with the choices they have been given. A true reflection of the the working class background of the party that will inspire the working class to believe that the party will understand their concerns and help to deliver their aspirations.

Double click image for a large version

Hat Tip:  Mark Wadsworth who had something similar a couple of weeks ago.

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Loft Insulation And Ther Snow Test

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We’ve just had the compulsory  EU energy survey done on the house. The results were fairly predictable, more loft insulation and change of light bulbs.

We could “typically” make and annual saving of £34 by increasing the loft insulation to 270mm. A quick google for some prices and fag packet calculation shows a cost of around £150 if  I do the job myself, a 5 year payback. This doesn’t take in to account the cost of me going to buy the stuff or the extra generated CO2 in that journey*.

The only problem with this typical saving is that I’m not convinced. When it snowed heavily last winter the snow on my roof thawed at about the same rate as the snow in the garden, which, to my simple mind, shows that the current insulation is fairly effective.

I could also save £45 a year if I replace all the lights with those low energy light bulbs. Well that is being forced on us and will have to happen over time, but I refuse to destroy the value of the existing bulbs and replace them with those damned things that make it impossible to read comfortably any sooner than I have to so I’m not going to bother working out a payback period.

Under the measures that cost over £500 I am told that if I replace my boiler I could typically save £39 per year. So even if I could get a boiler that meets this threshold of £500 that is a 13 year payback, but a new boilerof the size we need is going to cost over £1000 so we are now looking at a 26 year payback. Anyone want to bet that the new boiler will last that long before some new EU edict means it needs changing? Even if it lasts mechanically, which I doubt.

But there’s more. Our current boiler was installed in 2004 and cost c.£1,200.  Lets say it has a life of 15 years that means it cost us about £80 a year in capital costs and as it still has about 9 years of life left that means it still has an economic value of around £560. So to make a saving of £39** a year I would have to destroy over £500 worth value in the existing boiler and find another £1200, including removing the old one and installing the new one, to buy a new one. You shouldn’t need a to do Economics 101 to figure that one out.

Next, I can save £37 if I install solar water heating. A quick google shows I can expect to pay between £1,500 and £3,000, a payback of 40 years at best and 80 years at worst. At 53 I’m unlikely to see those benefits.

Finally, if I install 2.5kWp of photovoltaic panels I can save £172 per year. Another google consultation shows that a 3.15Kw system costs £13,000. I can’t be bothered doing more detailed research so lets  be generous a say that the 2.5Kw system costs £10,000 (2.5/3.15*£13000, but it doesn’t work like that) which would give me a payback of 60 years. Just as well the system comes with a life expectancy of 40 years then! Our son (who doesn’t want to be referred to as the sprog so I need a new name) might just live long enough to get that benefit.

And if I do all of this I can improve my CO2 rating from E48 to D61, or E52 if I am such a bad citizen and enemy of Gaia that I don’t install solar water heating and power. Apparently this will cut my CO2 emission from 6.6 tonnes per year to 6 tonnes but it doesn’t say what impact this will have on improving Gaia’s health or reducing global warming, my guess is the square root of sod all.

Well, I’m really glad that I was forced to part with £75 plus VAT to be told all that and they left me to carry out my on cost benefit analysis. Just think, if I hadn’t paid for that survey I could have bought 12 bottles of my favourite white wine and still had some change. So I suppose that’s the health fascists ans as well as eco-fascists placated.

*Two and a half years of that payback will pay for the report!

**What’s the betting this is at the top end of the guesstimate as well?

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Why not localise voting systems?

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I was thinking about the upcoming debate about whether we should replace our First Past The Post voting system with Alternative Vote as a sop to the LibDems’ desire for PR (and yes I do know that it isn’t PR, but in the minds of many it will be and what’s more it will be referred to as PR in the debates) and got to thinking why do we have to impose from on high the way each constituency chooses its representative? Once we’ve agreed the number of MPs in Parliament this determines the size of each constituency, boundaries can then be drawn, we already have an independent commission* to do this, and constituencies  could decide how they select their MP.

Ah, you say, how would constituencies decide on their preferred voting system? My first thoughts, and I’m open to suggestions, is some form of electoral college to be formed from all the mayors in the constituency? They could then decide whether or not to go for FPTP or AV or any other voting system for single member constituencies.  The college could even decide whether or not political parties have to hold open primaries, which is a way of ensuring some contest in constituencies where a single party has a strong majority, like here where the Conservative got over 50% at the last election. This would also have the benefit of ensuring that parties don’t use safe seats to get cronies elected against the wishes of the local party.

But that wouldn’t suit the PR purists as it doesn’t provide the opportunity for multi-member constituencies which, they will claim, provide a better representation of the vote and is closer to true PR. Personally I’m against any break with the single representative for a constituency and if we must have some form of true PR would prefer the Scottish system with top up lists,  but being a libertarian I am happy to see some diversity. In the system I propose there is nothing to stop a few constituencies banding together and pooling their representatives. Kernow, which has 6 MPs, could, for example, decide to have a County wide multi-member PR vote, all that is needed is for the colleges to vote that way.

Work in progress but it would certainly get people involved.

*OK, so they are open to political interference but its a start.

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House prices and the supply and demand curve

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I was listening to a R5L discussion on house prices a couple of nights ago and one of panel kept shouting “supply and demand” to back his prediction that house prices are going to crash. Apparently demand has dried up so much that the only way to get the market moving is a classic drop in prices to the point where demand is once again generated.

This got me wondering whether or not the housing market follows classic supply Vs demand curves and my recent experiences lead me to conclude that they don’t.

A factory or other business owner just looks at the bottom line. If they start to make a loss because sales are falling they just drop the price to a level that stimulates demand, if that level is below cost for too long then there isn’t a business and its time to go off an do something else. Conversely, demand rises and start to outstrip supply so prices can be increased, producing healthier profit margins – and encouraging competition to enter and increase supply, reducing prices again. All classic schoolboy economics which should, in theory, apply to house prices. The problem is that in classic economics pricing and other decisions decision are made dispassionately, or rationally as economists are wont to say, whereas people have a deep emotional attachment to their house and what it is worth and they don’t often have to sell to stay in business. This encourages them to react irrationally when it comes to selling.

We are in a position to see this first hand as we have just exchanged contracts on a place in in Dorset. We went to see it again yesterday and discuss some work and other things with the sellers (he’s a builder and doing some alterations before we move in). When we got home we got a lovely email from them saying how pleased they are that their home is going to such a nice couple (/blush). I’ve heard similar stories from other people and whether or not it would lead to someone pulling out of a sale if the didn’t like the purchases is unlikely, it does show the emotional attachment people have to their homes.

The other example is something I’ve seen from a fellow blogger and which I have just done myself, and that is refuse to drop the price below a certain level. When discussing putting our current house on the market with the estate agent I told him that if we don’t sell by a certain date and with a minimum price we’ll take the house off the market and rent it out. We don’t have a mortgage to pay off so that isn’t a driver. Is this rational? No,  but I have an expectation of value and rents are quite high round here so I would be willing to take a longer view, something our widget manufacturer can’t do.

Yes, I know that if the land around me suddenly received planning permission and scores of similar houses came on the market I would never get my asking price, but that’s not going to happen. Hell will freeze over first, this is hallowed green belt and the NIMBYs round here will be in Parliament Square with [pitchforks and hempen rope should that be proposed.

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Sometimes when things go wrong, they just work

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I’ve been getting in to photography over the winter spending a lot of time understanding all the theory about focal lengths, apertures, shutter speeds, ISO, depth of field, hyper focal distances and all the rest of the technical side. Its been quite interesting but more so when put in to practice.

I’ve had a few successes which I might put up but many failure. Most of the failures were caused by forgetting to change something like the aperture and ending up over exposing. Most of these can be recovered by shooting in RAW format and using programmes like Adobe Lightroom. Just occasionally, though, the failed picture just works.

I read a magazine article on photographing animals that all you can do with cats is follow them round and hope to get a good shot. I was following our female cat, Sadie, one day and she wasn’t having any of it. One thing you must do with portraits is focus on the eyes so I set the auto focus on my 70-300mm lens and pointed. Unfortunately because I had to be quick I missed the eyes. The other setting meant that I had a very shallow depth of field and this was the result:

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Germany wins Eurovision song contest

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Really!

Reminded me of my single days as a youngish soldier Germany. This was just about every other record played in discos, night clubs and bars. I quite liked it as well although the English version didn’t quite work:

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Why should university places be subsidised?

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Before going on to claim that perhaps we shouldn’t be subsiding university courses with tax payers’ finest either through loans or direct grants, I should declare an interest. The Sprog has now decided that he wants to go to University. He will be 24 when the course starts in September and as a mature student  qualifies for full grants and loans.

We all benefit from the education of children up to a certain age and level. It could be argued that having a population that is numerate and literate is a public good, not in the strict economic sense,  but that we all benefit from our children having the basics that allow them to go on and become fully functioning members of society. We can argue at what age we should stop providing a subsidy for schools but I would argue that benefit should stop when the education becomes specific career training to which the recipient of the education is the major  beneficiary.

I started thinking along these lines last year and was reminded of it a couple of weeks ago when this story* first started to be discussed:

Almost a quarter of a million people applying for university this year are going to miss out on a place, university leaders are forecasting.

Spending cuts have reduced extra university places at a time when there has been a huge surge in demand.

Last year and then a couple of weeks ago, I have met some young men (well young by my standards, in their late 20s and early 30s) who are all airline pilots. They paid to get their licences privately rather than go to university. This meant they raised the funds themselves as loans and are paying back the loans at commercial rates. The cost training to be a pilot is around £50k, although sponsorships from the airlines may be available for some.

So, we can read in to this that where highly skilled people are needed training is available at a cost that reflects the long term benefits of gaining the qualification and working in those jobs, funding is available to pay for that training, the jobs pay enough to cover the cost of that training and everyone is relatively happy. A market has duly formed and we can be sure that we are getting supply and demand matched, all without the need of tax payer subsidies. Furthermore, we can be quite sure that taxes aren’t being used to pay for oversupply of pilots, undercutting salaries and proving an indirect subsidy to airlines.

This got me wondering what other industries could be left to the market rather than requiring tax payer subsidies to prime them:

Health – doctors are extremely well paid, albeit at the tax payers expense, so why do we also subsidise their training? Especially as there is no guarantee that the doctors and nurses will stay in the NHS. Of course the argument of many is that we should make doctors, dentists and other health professionals work in the NHS as aprt of their traing costs. This is a form of slavery and anyway, once we have changed the  way we deliver health care a real market will develop and there will be enough doctors and nurses to balance supply and demand.

Law – do we really need to provide tax payer subsidies to pay for more lawyers and solicitors? Let the market decide how many we need and their true worth. I appreciate that we may pay more for legal aid but that will be more than covered with the savings in education .

Teachers – another job for life qualification. Schools vouchers will help but why do we need to subsidise teacher training

We could keep going through all the courses that universities provide and make the same arguments. Let those who want to do the course pay their own way, let a market develop and we will soon find the true value of all those courses and lecturers.

The left would put up lots of arguments against this sort of measure, especially the affect on the poor. As we have seen in the USA and even at the university the Sprog is going to attend, there are plenty of bursaries available from many sources. I would be willing to have a bet that if the state got out of the way we would see a growth in local and national charities dedicated to supporting poor people through university, especially if this is matched by vouchers and, dare I say it, for profit schools.

I’ll probbaly return to this subject now I’ve started as it opens up a whole different world of the way we do things.

*Yes,I know that this BBC story is only a few days prior to my post but the subject has been widely discussed for weeks

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