Sunday, 27 May 2012

Foxes at Chimney Meadows

Another walk down to Chimney Meadows Nature Reserve really early on a Sunday morning.  The river has fallen another foot or so, but still has a good level.  I think I got used to it being really low back in February / March and now it looks high still but is really something more normal.  Some people were camping at Shifford lock when I got there at about 5:15am - very nice spot too.

The first highlight of today's Chimney visit was a deer that appeared near the woods.  In the low light and mist, I was hopeful I got a decent clip of video.  This was followed by another highlight - a hare that slowly made its way all the along the stream to just below where I was filming from, all the time seemingly oblivious to me being there.  At its closest, it was perhaps 5 yards from me!  Maybe the wind was favourable to avoid me being detected.

But the real highlight was the appearance of two foxes.  The first came out from the woods on the left, and made its way slowly to the stream, hunting all the way, presumably for mice.  It eventually seemed to leap into the stream (though was hidden from view when it did so) and then trotted off back to the woods.  I would guess it had caught some sort of bird.

Around 10 minutes later, a second fox appeared from the other direction to the first, trotting across the ground in front of me, again without detecting I was there.  I filmed that one for nearly 30 minutes before it vanished into the long grass close to the main river.

Some more nice deer shots rounded off a great bit of filming.

The second fox - perhaps 30 yards from me.  Just a shame it is like from behind by the early morning sun

Back to the main river and 20 minutes spent filming dragonflies.  One had caught a mayfly and was busy eating it head first - nice footage of that!
So enough for a new video, which I put together the next day.  Very pleased with this one

My Youtube channel has now had over 100 views.  Nothing has gone viral yet - perhaps when I post more fishing videos later in the year!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

My new toy - a cassette to MP3 walkman. The Siddeleys, etc

An Amazon email a few days, tailor made to my previous searches concerning recording equipment, included a cassette-MP3 converter.  Like a Walkman, but with a USB cable to connect it to your PC, it plays the cassette and records it to your PC as an MP3 file straight into itunes.  A bargain at £20 I thought.

In the garage, I have two boxes of cassettes, mostly Peel show edits and live bootlegs.  There are over 250 of the former, starting in 1979 and continuing to 2001.  At my peak of recording around 1990, I would record every Peel show during the week onto a reel-to-reel tape recorder, then edit out the tracks I liked while I studied for my professional exams in the evening. 

I am therefore embarking on a huge project to transfer all 250 cassettes (some are bound to be lost) onto my PC. 

I started today with Tape 149 featuring one of my all time favourite Peel sessions by The Siddeleys.  Some internet searching reveals a website for them, listing their handful of records, none of which I was ever able to find and none of which are available now.  I'm still amazed that they weren't hugely successful.  In the end, I did manage to find a handful of tracks by them on youtube.  Listening to them again for the first time in perhaps 5 years was just wonderful.  The highlight of my week/month.

Another band on one of the tapes that I hadn't heard for ages was Yeah Yeah Noh.  Clever lyrics or what?  I don't know what happened to them either, but I do remember listening to tracks like Cottage Industry, Bias binding and Stealing in the name of the Lord loads around 1984/85 (?). 

Then Tape 144 featured the amazing session by King of the Slums.  Leary Bleeder was a fantastic track, the wild electric feedbacking violin sound - outstanding

Finally The Happy Flowers - what more needs to be said about them?  Possibly the most bizarrely original band ever (on a par with Captain Beefheart perhaps).  Today I heard I ate something from the medicine cabinet and Charlie got a haircut for the first time in ages as well.  What a breath of fresh air they were.  Where are they now when music so obviously needs them?  Probably US senators by now I would think.

My first 6 Peek show transfers.  Number 149 featuring Peel sessions by The Telescopes and The Siddeleys; number 150 with a live set by Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares and a Pixies session; number 213 with Peel sessions by Dinosaur Jr and Bikini Kill; number 214 with no Peel sessions; number 144 with a Ukranian Wedding Present session, Dinosaur Jr, My Bloody Valentine and the stupendous King of the Slums session.  Finally number 140 featuring a Darling Buds session (never liked them!)

Monday, 21 May 2012

Thinking through new possibilities

Last week, Jerome sent me a link to a business-for-sale website where there was a French house / gite complex for sale.  I emailed the site for more information and received a PDF file today showing more detail of the property itself and some financials of the business. 

For £285k you got a 3 bedroom house plus three detached 2 bedroom gites, another small house for conversion, a swimming pool and 2.5 acres of land.  The current turnover of the gites was about E15k per annum but it was claimed that this is lower than normal as the owners have concentrated on their restaurant business nearby. 

Our cost of buying this property is around £3k per annum in financing, plus upfront costs of perhaps £25k.  Over 10-15 years, this works out at about £5-6k per annum, ignoring changes in the value of the property over the life of the project.  So the turnover is well above our costs.  But the issue for us in buying in France was always a wish to avoid the need to deal with the local bureaucracy.  That's where Jerome steps back in. 

He would be willing to take this on - he being dual French-English suggests that he would have little of the problems that we would have had.  He had already worked out that he could fly to the place from Bristol and so, given his kids arrangements, he could go for about 6 days every two weeks.  Moreover he has family and friends in the area and so has ready made support.

So suppose Jerome does run the entire operation.  If he generates E20k of turnover, then we would take £6k to cover our costs and then split the balance.  Jerome has, like us, long thought about running such a place, not just gites, but also various courses like photography, nature walking, yoga, pilates, etc.  Indeed, he has aspired to things like yurt-based camping, and so on.  As long as we covered our costs, we would be happy to have a place we could go to for perhaps 6 - 8 weeks per year.

A bit more website searching throws up a whole raft of other choices - a 4 bedroom farmhouses with 3-bedroom gites attached for £185k, another 5 bedroom farmhouse, 3-bedroom gite with loads of land for £250k.  So for the next 3-6 months I will think about this deeply doing a little associated reading.  Then in October we had planned to drive down through France for a week or two's holiday and we could view the area better (Poitou Charantes in West-central France) and start to form a plan.  It is not impossible that we might look to buy something over the winter with a view of being up and running by next Easter ready for the new season.

So I have dug out some old books we have with titles life Foreigners In France: Triumphs and Disasters; Buying a Property in France; Earning money from your French home, and so on.  And in the current lists of books in the downshifting abroad genre, there are a couple of books set in that precise area which I have ordered and will read on our forthcoming Italian holiday.

A new video - my first using Adobe Premiere

Daughter bought me a copy of Adobe Photoshop 10 for Christmas and selected the bundle of this with a programme I hadn't heard of, Adobe Premiere Elements, a movie editing programme.  My first couple of Youtube videos were edited with the extremely basic programme that comes free with Windows.  As I've used this, I have occasionally run up against issues that I assumed a better programme would cover.  So I have spent the last couple of days free time working through some tutorials on Premiere and have produced my first movie using this.

My aim was to get used to a far faster cutting style like the fishing programmes I have been watching.  I also wanted to control the associated audio better.  My first attempt to use the programme was based on producing something like a 1920s silent movie.  I watched Harold Lloyd's classic, Safety Last (1923), the other day and sampled some music from it.  I also found an image file of the sort of card that silent movies used for dialogue and a soundtrack of an old super 8 projector.  My aim was not to make an actual film of course, just to learn the various features of the programme by combining various soundtracks, title pages etc.  And this went surprisingly well, with a much greater degree of overall control than I've had before.

One of early cinema's most famous shots - Harold Lloyd in Safety Last

The actual video project that I have produced subsequently and put on Youtube was made up from some of the shots I took in late March/early April of the Upper Thames when the river was very low which I combined with the recent footage I have of the river in flood.  I also included the film of chub taking floating crust despite the flood.  The film only lasts about 6 mins but does contain over 50 seperate shots.  I was even able to line up the selected music so that it went slightly quieter at exactly the point when the first chub was about to take the crust!

So video number 3 is now out there  

Monday, 14 May 2012

Tape Loops

It was 1979 when I first heard a piece of tape looped music - Robert Fripp's God save the Queen album, swiftly followed by the two Fripp and Eno albums.  Since then, I have remained totally captivated by such music.  Current favourites in the same broad genre include Hildur Gudnadottir, Julia Kent, Zoe Keating, Steve Roach, and so on.  The genre becomes more nuanced over time, rather than less.  No doubt this is due to the existence of easy to use electronic equipment and the widening of access to such music via the internet.

Jerome has a keen interest in electronic music making and we were discussing Pro-tools the other day.  I have been reading a manual on using this and there are looping systems included in this programme.  I am very tempted by buying this and having a go myself. 

I also came across a Youtube video in which a guitarist demonstrated a simple electronic looping machine.  I was greatly impressed by this too.  I bet I can find a way to connect Daughter's old MIDIi-keyboard, that remains languishing somewhere in the garage, onto my PC and into Pro Tools.  Then I could work out how to make droning loops of my own!

Addendum - later this afternoon

I had forgotten that my PC already has the Audacity music software programme on it - the one I use to use when digitizing my cassette collection.  It turns out that this programme has looping facilities, is multi channel and can take MIDI input from Daughter's keyboard.  So I am all set - once the MIDI/USB connector has arrived and I have worked out how to get the PC to recognize the keyboard.

In half an hour I "created" my first piece, 1min 6sec of six sampled cello tracks, mostly slowed down, ut with one speeded up, and each looped and so on.  A six track mix.  I sent it to Jerome who is predicting it will be the Christmas No 1.  It probably won't be.

A developing "paradox" of democracy

For the relatively brief period that I studied political philosophy, one of the topics I thought about most were the so-called "paradoxes of democracy" where "naive" democratic principles clash with other principles.  For instance, can a majority today vote to remove the democratic rights of future generations?  Presumably not.  Can a simple majority vote to enslave the minority?  No, such a vote would clash with the individual human rights of the minority.

So what if something has to be done that voters would vote against?  For instance, what might a majority do if a Government ran out of the money required to keep them in the style to which they have voted? 

The current economic debate is percieved as being "growth versus austerity".  Voters are fed up with austerity and are voting for more or less anyone who tells them what they want to hear - that austerity is unnecessary and that things can go back to how they were before the current austerity.  Certain groups remain targeted as villans in this process.  "Bankers" is a generic term for those whose fault it is all said to be - politicians have done a superb job of holding them responsible.  "The Market" also is held responsible - we are told that we should not be beholded to "the markets", or, as a letter writer said in the Guardian last week, the markets should serve the people not vice versa.

These generic terms work because they enable an "us and them" to be created.  "They" are to blame for "our" problems.  It is also like the problem of global warming.  No one is individually to blame for global warming, it is the sum of individual decisions.  No one can make that big a difference to solving the problem either.  So no one sees any need to make any of the necessary changes which we as a group would need to make if the problem is going to be fixed.  Likewise no one sees themselves as responsible for the economic crisis and no one sees why they should face any austerity in order to fix it.  Someone else should, but not them. 

This raises questions about the extent to which a people are responsible for what their government does on their behalf.  The most left wing of the Greek parties seem to have little notion that the greek people are responsible in any way for the level of debt of their country.  This is the fault of the corrupt old regime and the people should feel able to renege on this indebtedness.  Instead the greek people should throw off the shackles of the market and reclaim their future.

Yet the term "the market" means, in this case, "those institutions that will lend us money in the future and are the people we owe money to now".  Phased like this, it is less apparent that we should not be beholded to the market - if you do not want to be beholded to creditors, the solution is simple.  Don't borrow money.  If you do borrow money, it is critical that you keep your creditors on your side

But what if "the people" would prefer to vote for no more austerity?  Quite a lot of politicians have been arguing that we should delay austerity, ease up on austerity, so that growth might start again and, as the ludicrous David Blanchflower argued in the Independent, once growth is restored, the deficit will take care of itself. 

Such a statement is only true if the gross level of debt at the start is relatively low (probably less than 65%), the current deficit is low (less than 3%) and the stimulous required to produce growth is very tiny (less than 1% of GDP).  If you are past these levels, then the real danger exists that you will tip your creditors past the point where they wish to lend to you any further and will either sell their current debt or will not buy any new issuance.

The issue is like the question that arises when faced with the choice of whether to have chemo-therapy as a treatment for cancer.  The treatment is extremely painful, takes ages to recover from and might not work.  Suppose then, someone comes along and says that you don't need top bother with the chemo, just drink this fruit smoothie and all will be well.  How tempting is it to drink the smoothy and hope for the best?  Yet if that fails, the cancer will have spread further, the chomo might need to be more severe and will have less chance of success. 

The distinction between growth and austerity is a false distinction.  Economic growth cannot be simply decided by a government.  Like "confidence", it is something that can rarely be boosted.  The conditions for its emergence can be created and it can be stopped by poor policy.  But it is not possible to adopt policies to boost growth per se.  Indeed, it could well be that the more you go on about boosting growth the more elusive it will become as people worry more and more that there is something really bad going to happen.

If you decide to release austerity now, there is a chance that creditors will be unimpressed and hold back on future lending, and that others will defer growth decisions until they see whether the promised growth is occuring, which by their actions will then ensure that it won't.  Then the extra debt will not be cleared by growth and the situation takes a step towards a worse outcome.  If you pass the tipping point where creditors lose confidence, you are more or less finished. 

What I also find odd in this process is that the root cause of the eurozone crisis is not even the levels of debt as such - these are a symptom.  The actual causes are the trends in relative competitiveness between the regions of the eurozone.  And restoring competiveness in a fixed exchange rate zone, is virtually impossibe once it has been allowewd to occur.  Like a football team that decides to not bother training for a period, once you lose your competitive position, the work required to regain it is so much more than would have been required to keep up earlier.  And if you decide you don't like training and are not going to do it, then you lose to those who are prepared to train hard.  In the end, what you most cherish about your lifestyle as a winning team will be lost.

As the Chinese curse goes, may you live in interesting times.  I suspect that things will get more and more interesting.  

Thursday, 10 May 2012

New CD by Hildur Gudnadottir

The latest issue of Wire Magazine has arrived in the post (I now subscribe, having accidentally missed a couple of issues last year).  For two days it languishes on the top of my reading pile.  A glance at the contents page reveals that one of the main featured albums is the new one by Hildur Gudnadottir, my favourite performer of the last year or so.

The wonders of Amazon downloads mean I have this in about a minute.  As I write this, the one track is barely 5 minutes old, the cello being augmented by her voice - not something she has featured much before.  The review in Wire speaks glowingly of the work - I can barely wait to hear it all, before playing it again!

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

First fishing trip posted to new Blog

So from now on, fishing related stuff gets posted to the new blog.  An account if a trout fishing trip to Barnes Lake and an associated video have been posted today.  As I sketch out my fishing plans for the new season - now just five weeks away - I am really excited about the associated video project.  My goal for the rest of 2012 is to produce around 50 fishing videos - two a week - and to get at least one of them to have 1000 views.  A huge amount of work required to pull that off I suspect. 

Monday, 7 May 2012

My new fishing Blog

With a bit of effort, I have managed to create a new blog which will feature just my fishing.  It already includes all the entries from this blog - 65 entries.  Going forward, this blog might only refer in passing to what is going on in the other blog.

So the address of my fishing-only blog is

Hopefully, I will post 3 or 4 entries per week from the start of the new fishing season in June.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

A breakthrough in our risk management systems

The impact of our first really poor day for a month or so has been that the last piece of the risk management protocol that I have been working on for the last month or two has dropped into place.  A hint came from some of my reading of Cottle's Option Trading, but the main leap was from re-thinking some of the old mathematics of limit exits against MFE targets.  I also needed Friday's fall to provide some data for showing how the risk management systems would have performed in practice.

So far Jerome has not been around today, but I really need an hour or so with him to discuss it further and to check that my description makes sense.  Five new colums have been added to the daily spreadsheet and various estimates have to be made from the pricing models.  Also it will be quite hard to actually execute the risk management model in real time, except that it won't be needed much in normal trading.  But when it is needed, it will be quite intense to use. 

Maybe these difficulties will fall away a bit once I get the system programmed better.

A trip to London

Wife wishes to visit her brother today.  The last few weeks have seen a huge change in his circumstances with the diagnosis of prostate cancer.  Visiting him today, he seems in surprisingly good spirits.  However, there is the slight suggestion that he is not fully aware of his circumstances.  We have done lots of research and, in any case, have far more experience of cancer and understanding of it that they do.  We believe that his condition is quite advanced, while we are unsure that he realises this.  But regardless, the best strategy is to carry on and hope for the best.

Later we meet up with Daughter in central London.  We have a drink and some pastry goodies, buy imperfect chocolates at Borough Market, plus carrot cake and brownies.  We drop off some stuff and collect other things she doesn't want in London. 

On the way home, I calculate that it is 32 miles from home to Junction 12 on the M4, the turn off point for some fishing spots that I want to try next season.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

A return to academic work

For the past three or four days, I have been sorting out the huge pile of academic articles at the far end of the study.  And in the last day or so, I have actually done a little academic work, the first for ages.  I have taken notes on five or six articles, mainly from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and today I had a more challenging target - to read and take notes on Rheticus's Narratio Primo, the world's first printed text on Copernicanism. 

But anyone expecting a tightly argued case for heliocentrism would be disappointed.  Much of the work is highly technical and though it is clear that Rheticus is a committed Copernican, he is not very upfront in his arguments.  His most sustained argument concerns the ability of heliocentrism to "explain" retrograde motion.  Here Rheticus avoids using any diagrams and describes the explanation.  This is a pretty technical description, but surprisingly clear I thought, but then I knew what he was trying to say.    

Lots of nice photo montages on the internet of Mars in retrograde motion.  And it is even clear that Mars is at its biggest and brightest midway through retrogression.

Though Rheticus does emphasize the harmony of heliocentrism and notes how the overall system must be bound tightly together (changing one bit changes it all), he does not argue for some of the obvious simplifications e.g. that the relative distances of the planets from the sun can be fixed, or that the length of each planet's year becomes more contstant.

Nonetheless, I have really enjoyed reading such a detailed text.  I can see this becoming a big part of my day-to-day life again.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Thames in flood

A brief trip down to Standlake to visit Barnes Lake, a local trout fishery that I am planning to fish for an afternoon / evening in the next few days (weather permitting).  It has rained virtually everyday for the past few weeks and the Thames has finally burst its banks at Newbridge.  What a contrast to the end of the fishing season when the river was really low and slow moving.  On the plus side, this might have finally cleared out some of the debris accumulated over the winter.  On the negative side, it might disrupt spawning.

Yet we remain in drought.  The effect of April's rain has been to just about contra out the lack of rain in March.  But the drought started two winters ago and ground water levels are the real issue, not vast flows in rivers and associated flooding.  I read somewhere that April's rain has only reversed about 10% of the drought's effects so far.  It is really down to next winter to clear the drought.  Another poor winter for rain and the summer of 2013 could be exceptionally bad.

The Thames at Newbridge, over the fields on the right bank.  The regular bank is where the faint line of vegetation is in the near foreground by the trees in the garden of the Maybush pub (to the left)