Friday, 28 November 2014

Who are You in Breaking Bad _

Unlike many other of the super-series, Breaking Bad comes to an end and I am prolonging the agony as the last series ricochets its way through the various end games post Fring departure stage centre.

I am as far as the unexpected (look away if you are not beyond the train heist) demise of Mike in series 5, the finale.

That episode is a kind of cruical crystalisation of the characterisation - their motivations are laid bare, their vulnerabilities all apparent and their fate's all driven by their personalities.

Who then do you identify with?

We are probably supposed to identify with one or other of the comic book characters we are presented with. The prissy Fring. The cool hand Mike. The young drop out with morals, Pinkman. The mother caught up in the mans ego.The Brother in law stuck with his obsessions and abrasive self defensive supersilious personality. Or of course the Heisenberg or the Walter Wimpy White duality.

The characters by in large are comic book and two dimensional.  Gus Fring has Tarrantino like overtures to being a little larger than life in his gentleman drug baron play. Mike and his neurotic social climbing wife. Skyler, the all american mom with absent love for her kids, on hold while the cameras roll. And Walter White, the guy who sold out for 5 grand and took the safe route to nothingness.

We middle aged men are supposed to either go then for one of the three = the protangonist Heisenberg and his two antagonists, Fring and his Brother in Law. Lets face it, the majority of folk our age are not successful, on a western basis even then. Hank and Fring are successful but both in their own stress missions , locked into lives which have risk, mundanity and inescapability. They have a plan to retire, but enjoy the game too much.

So we have Walter, who finally gets to be a big roller, like we all would want to be although we would not choose
to intoxicate the desert states with class A. He becomes Heisenberg, and that is clear from the first time he tells the amatuer cooks in the car lot to stay off his patch to when he takes over Mike's exit deal on the Methyl Amine.

A younger me may have had some time for Jesse, but the kid is too much of a paradox between his morals and ropues codes and his wild crystal meth days. He just does not have the credibility , middle class slackers turned drug addicts care no more than their next hit and the next party. You want to think you or anyone has a moral base. But not down crack alley bud'

Walter white is the only one who is in control of the next step, be that a series of blind critical path , tactical choices and everyone else dances to the tune he plays, not that he knows how they will dance, but he has a route to a quick win at every twist and turn of fortune or misadventure.

I started to identify most with Mike. He is a planner, and maticulous in his thinking., But he is also able to react to circumstances with a coolness and simple means of rationalising. It is called experience and maturity, both of which he has too much of. He should have been out of the game five years back, but like them all was banking on a bigger deal and a final pay off, a pension from his risky business.

Then I identified with Walt. He has played the nice family guy for what, 18 years of the best of his life. He has been a jerk for the voluptious embrace of Skyler, who is not near his intellectual equal. Then it all finally caves in on him, with the cancer. Nothing to lose, now play Mr Existentialist DeLuxe.

By 50 we truly have made it or not, ok you can say that 60 is the new 40 when Life Begins as a new cliche of realising one is not immortal. Smell the flowers, kick the asses. health issues. life's a bitch.

Hank then, is he more the you and the me of the day? his obsession which is the real deal, but he fails to keep everyone on board. He is a little of the round peg in the square DEA hole. He is probably the best actor with the performance of his life in this, he is perhaps least comic book and most believable all american asshole. He has success but it is always on the brink due to the risks of his job and his own neurosis and fear of being killed.

We are masters of our destiny and we rationalise away our failures and down size our ambitions, or realise our goals in life to find them to be hollow and we are not really where we want to be anyway, the journey was more interesting before we arrived at middle aged comfort zone..Are we like these characters? Just a mirror of us all, not quite reflecting the whole picture but catching a glimpse of ourselves from an uncomfortable angle.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

The Rectuitment Consultancy Industry

Rectuitment consultants have a bit of a hard old time of it, and I am often too harsh if the truth be told. To me they are like a man offering a luxury umbrella on a dry day, while they are someone who suddenly doesnt have an umbrella and no, sorry you cant come inside out of the rain when you are unemployed.

It began that my first two real career moves in the 1990s involved employers trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the consultants and admittedly hedging their bets a little. Both jobs took a while to hear back from and I was in. some time after being in both jobs I either happened to be looking for a new job with the original agency I believed had landed the job for me, or they just phoned up a year into the job out of the blue. Naughty naughty, the recruiiter had not been told I had been employed, and hey presto they could now send a bill to the employer because there is a nice little clause in the contract about candidates presented are embargoed wares if given other jobs.

When changing from the second of those jobs, I did not see the point in going through rectuiters having learned this, and applied directly to a big ad agency and landed a good job. From that job in 1999 I took the slightly dodgey move into the internet consultancy and programming company world, but you know we did not have hindsight of how much a bubble this was- everyone needed web sites, and the emporer's new clothes need a complete shift each year.  Two recruiters and two failed companies later I lost my taste for the economics of agency land and how miserable bosses were becoming in not giving out company cars any more, while expecting bags of free overtime off our backs.  Then of course recruiters were just not interested, the internet bubble was burst, traditional advertising was in a long hang over  and the rush to "client side" was palpable.

Finally I managed after a year of doing very little but part time for my mate's small company, to get then a move into a real job and it proved to be very good. I took three or even four attempts, I had also made maybe five attempts to get into said largish company before, European HQ of a US company. This time there were two jobs and two rectuiters making everything seem like double the opportunity. Howevver I did not fit the bill for either recruitment company. I went direct and the director was delighted with my open application and actually rebudgeted a job specifically for me, minister without portfolio as it may have been, but tantamount to doing a paid for MBA due to it being a wall street listed company and all the reporting of actual sales, forecasts, marketing spends, sector growth and so on.

I emmigrated after just over two years there and that is when my real issues with consultants started. In ten years of being in Norway I have had one temp job doing B2B telesales in my home town, and very, very few interviews infront of employers. Recently I was enticed into a two hour drive and city centre parking prices to an agency who had promised to take me to an employer for a real life job opp'. Instead they apoligised, and then gave me the spanish inquisition on why I left my last job or actually lost it.  I felt very deflated and since then, they have not been answering my calls or e-mails either which is insult to injury.

The trouble is now with the internet and low price volume advertising on the main national web sites, agencies work differently. You tend to get into a bemanning company, outsourcing or what have you via a first advertisement, and then if that is just a temp position but you are a worthy character then you are high on the list for the next as a proven nice little earner. These companies then like Manpower seem to have their books filled with worthies and get hundreds of applicants when they advertise attractive jobs.

. The finders fee and head hunter branch proport to the employers that they have extensive databases of candidates and a business network. This means in fact that they have cheap advertising to the great self selecting database of the public with internet access, or they use Linked in to annoy people sitting in jobs.

Now my language skills have got a little ahead of me unfortunetly, I am able to think and babble on a little too much in Norsk than my previously nicely stalled brain to mouth interview sililoquys used to go. I just need to slow down a bit, but I wonder if now finally I will be able to use the agencies to get something temp now that I no longer want to be a self employed consultant or be sitting in a very boring admin job like my last one, on a permanent contract with no real excuse for leaving. I made a scene and got kind of fired, by mutual agreement but more me telling them nope, this was no good and you cant complain about me.

The key according to my employment services (outsoruced) advisor is that I should now just hassle them on a regular weekly basis for work because so many employers here are hedging their bets on their being a change in the law to enable them to basically take on all new employees they see fit to, on indefinite temp' contracts. Also in the oil industry I would be damned lucky given the oil prices.

However the industry is just going to have a correction in fact, where they will be actually able to rectruit engineers and staff willing to work outside the Norsk sector to right-size finally after many years of not having enough staff and relying on either over time, or actually slowing down contracts of refusing them out right. For me now as a skilled administrator, hey presto in fact those punters in jobs or with Stavanger mortgages do not in the name of hell want to shift now with all the uncertainty. So every cloud has its silver lining and that cant be bad after my last supposed silver lining contained a nasty thunder cloud followed by a bloody tornado of crap, firefighting project failures, tedious unrelated admin dumped on me, poor systems I was not allowed to redevelop and a hum dinger of a bitch as a departmental boss who has gone through about ten employees in three years.

I have worked around recruiters here or been taken up by a dark horse recruiter having backed off from an initial one so unfrotunetly I am starting to meet recruiters who have moved agencies and remember me, and after a nice chat they never call me back. They have me down with hopefully just a mental note. I could still have dollars on my head, but more liklely I am risky to them as they have to land every contract they get so far with. So there is the straight approach to all the others, and there is then also finding out who the employer is and hearing directly with them.

In truth it looks like I will need to accept a bit of a mid paid admin job with a lot of boring stuff in it to keep my self going back into the real employment market, but it is ideal to go through an agency as I say in order to be more attractive to for employers with a good posiition for me, and eminently available. Finally at my grand old age I may have to make peace with the enemy and get on with ringing them incessently to get a foot in the door.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Economic Naivety

Several times  in my life I have exposed myself to absolute economic naivety, while also being occaisionally a bit coy and generally very conservative with 'leverage'.

First of all take school and the last refuge of social mobility. At school and university I followed what I was interested in, but that enthusiasm proved to be a little half hearted when compared to my competition- basically there is always someone with a PhD or an MBA ahead of me. Anyway, the bigger picture is that the three professions plus engineering and math driven chemistry are the only way to get a better lot for yourself, your head above water if you like, and have a better standard of lviing than your working class parents. If you are middle class, then you are on about evens to have as good a life as your rather well educated, well pensioned baby boomer parents.

Outside these proffessions really you are in the area of you-may-as-well have been a train driver or a plumber. You, like me, followed your vague interests and what you got A's in at school and ended up within some form of service industry such as business services or social services. I have by a little bit of design worked more  in industry and with technology so have had some pretty good pay and some really interesting jobs.

Naivety for me is that by in large, you cannot be really laid back about career and personal capital unless you have a base  of either being in one of the proffessions and fully qualified by age 32, or having rich parents. Career is about a risk-payoff investment of your time, and the truth is you have to grunt for a few years before you get your break to the career ladder propper. I have always jumped on short cuts and that means my CV is just anathematic to many recruiters and I need to go direct to decision makers to get decent contracts and now again jobs.

On the matter of risk, people take far higher financial risks on purchase-vanity and wander-lust than they actually do on building personal capital. In the UK the average age of first house purchase average age is 37, and likely rising. For me I just did not like the areas in which I could afford, and in fact if you do not let out the properties to multioccupancy getting over a grand a month for them, cheap and nasty areas are just that! But I did miss the boat of several areas, Aberdeen and Edinburgh where I could be standing on a pension fund of a hundred grand today! Same with my mother, could have used half her invesments on a flat for me at uni, covered half the mortgage renting the second room out and making on average over 20 years, 10% per year compound with a major capital gain in the late 90s which could have sprung me into my all time plan to 'get into property' as so many have.

Several pals have got on the subsidised gravy train of buying cheap for rental to basically housing benefit dependents. That is another story, but a typical advantage of capitalism being depedent on socialist policies and the tory reversal on council housing.

When getting then into your non big proffessions career,  the pay is mediocre and really has not kept pace with any form of middle class inflation since the mid 90s. The going rates for graduates and two year experienced are the same as they were in 1996. House prices and particularily rental prices have of course grown. Student debt has grown.

My naivety is then actually not taking enough risk in capital and leveraging my access to credit in order to get ahead, rather that my risk taking has been a lot to do with relationships to girl friends and to my home land, Scotland. Risk taking is as pointed out, as much emotional as it is black on white figures. Half of the loves of my life have been either poor or financial disaster areas. None have really shown any promise of improving my economic lot beyond what a usual DINKY mortgage set up could offer in the short term.

The other big change in the UK at least has been the perpetual move away from real wealth creation and into the realms of the mortgage, pension, life assurance and consumer credit driven business and the greater business of the financial markets in London and their satellites. So much has become funny money, with the high margin production goods being more and more tied into government spending or as in green energy, preferential taxation.

So you have to choose your education, your career route, your spending  vs investment and even your choice of partner carefully if you want to have even the same standard of living as your middle class/skilled blue collar parents and making the right choices if you do not make it in the professions is a matter of taking an acceptable level of risk and investing in your own ability to make money in jobs and return on investment. 

Thursday, 23 October 2014

A Fact of USA Life Coming UK Way - The Middle Class Are Skint

A Fact of USA Life Coming UK Way - The Middle Class Are Skint

This sums the lot up of the median income middle class in the USA. Sound familiar?

With the thankful exception of healthcare you could transatlantocate much of this to the UK at least, probably Ireland and some other countries too where the middle class are not really making their middle ends meet.

A crushing statistic for the USA is that the former largest employer , GM, payed an inflation adjusted $50 USD per hour to their 1950s workforce. Today's largest single employer in the US is Wallmart who pay $8. Hardly middle class, but the economic principle behind this affects the middle class. For one wages have not kept up with the real inflationary pressures of life, and they have not therefore kept up with the expectationary spends and savings of people. For the other, the great working class are  no longer feeding the pyramids of insurance, the coffers of savings plans or the local hardware store on saturday mornings. They instead have split into pour subsiders and a new class, the skilled self employed blue collar workers who have a ballsy attitude to risk and loans and are the winners both sides of the Atlantic.

What has far outstripped wages growth for my generation both sides of the Pond is consumer debt ie non capital item debt. Also there is the new insidious perennial debt- student loans which get deferred to interest only payments and installment 'holidays' and worse, never ending house debt and no real capital and often negative equity or inflation neutralised equity. You have to down size a long way to catch the wave of house price rises, and in the US, that means threatening to loose your health care just at the time when you need to secure a long term plan most.

My generation in the UK and probably this is reflected across the EU/EFTA, was not huge on consumer debt and had a cautious attitude to debt when it concerned all things apart from bricks and mortar, where we went quite bonkers, pouring flames on the 1990s and 2000s market which should have actually been declining in line with slow wage growth. Industry colluded, with 5 times salary, interest only , 110% mortgages which were basically sub prime in all but the state meddeling them. In fact the very laisez faire approach meant that people could simply lie about their income when applying for a mortgage, and cross fingers hope to die that interest rates did not go up, while equity did so they could climb the ladder further.  Some like me spotted this big time, and avoided buying houses in the slightly shadey areas they could afford, which have indeed proven the worst for negative equity and maintaince costs, and slow resale over time.

Read the artiicles, all 8 pages, and I will be back!!! The big con and the white russian hoards will be blogged on again.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Politicians and UFO Hunters Have a Lot in Common

What do UFO-ologists and Politicians have in common?


I have been thinking a lot about belief this week, and the difference between religious and political belief and the belief that science is not a belief.

The truth is out there. More so in politics than in UFO and mysteriology. In the world we have various systems but generally two diametrically opposed beliefs today -democracy and oligarchy``````````. Either you get to decide somethings about your environment, family life and working conditions or someone else does. That applies equally to both views, the ultimate socialist view point and the ultimate capitalist vis a vis oligarchist view point.

In the UK and to some extent the USA, after the 2008 melt down of the international financial loans and invesment system(s) the left got the blame for the woes of the country. This was a conflation: juxtaposing two unrelated phenomena so as to build credibility for the arguement. They couldnt pull it off in the USA, because Obama was not on the scene long enough to be blamed, but they did try, by saying of course he was making things worse.

Leaping to a conclusion, attributing cause away from the real root, over looking contrary evidence. This is very much the connection which bonds politicians to UFO-ologists. Sound bites actually become little packets of belief carried and amplified by the media.

One of the best conflational stories was that of the UFO ology 'church', the seekers, who were lead to believe by their leader, that the world would soon meet its end in destruction by aliens. A date was chosen, in the 1960s sometime, when the event would happen and the group made ready to meet the aliens with prayers and chants. It was either midnight or sunrise or whatever time, but on a hill top in a circle with perhaps hands held in a chain, the seekers fell silent awaiting the second of the apocalypse. It passed. Some more time passed. The charismatic leader and founder of the "religion" took some time and then announced : " Ah, our faith was strong, the aliens heard our chant and we have spared the earth !!!"  Putting the con in conflation.

The same happens today all the time with on the one side politicians and on the other UFO ologists. The funniest example is probably the Dark Knight Alien Satellite . What is funny strange and ridiculous is the way the image of an unidentified orbital object, photographed by the US during a space mission, is juxtaposed immediately with the claim that this is a 13000 old object known to be omitting radio signals. There is then presented a whole chain of mysterious radio observations, merely loosely connectable and never substantiated or previously connected to the object and then just the presentation of fiction as fact or a belief system we should follow, because we are being mislead by the authorities. The fact that strange  claims and undocumented, uncorroborated observations go unchallenged by governance, and do not warrant official denial, means that of course via conflation a tautology is created which some people choose to follow.

What is lacking in our education systems which means that we do not as a huge majority of sane middel intelligent, rational beings just see through the false logic?  Well it is just rude for governments and institutions to go round dneying these things, and a waste of time. There is some serious research into phenomenii such as the Hessdal Energy Emission Lights (there I just made my own little conflation for my own purposes!!) However we as the public are left uninhindered to believe these things as long as they do not do us harm, or that our belief does others harm. You can see where I am going with this. Radical godless "islam", fundamentalist nazistic zionism, Christian fascist conservatism. See three more confaltions slipped into three massively damaging total systems of conflation.

Governments cannot go against the logic of conflations otherwise they threaten not only to incurr the wrath of religion, but also to avoid them losing the biggest party and political movement tool of basically juxtaposing some economic facts, or environmental facts with a cause or with an outcome which are only tentatively linked. But they sound good together. They sound chain of events, cause and effect.

Teaching greater use of logic and enabling individuals to think critically is the reserve of the university system and outside the command economies of the east, that is a tiny proportion of global society. School tends to avoid metaphysics and logic. Critical thought and expression is tallied to language and literature, and that just exacerbates the potential for conflations to be presented to others and promoted in the media as fact and likelihood.  Science of course touches on basically the concept of the 'rigourous scepticism' from Hume and Descartes. The binding theory of the Null Hypothesis and the need for observation and experiment as a series of small steps. It is boring, it changes the world slowly, the atom took 40 years to split. But it makes planes fly and iPads work.

Politicians it can be asserted, make an environment in which planes can be designed to fly, and iPads designed and built to work, and they believe that environment must be built on belief, because science does not build confidence. It answers most often with more questions. Economics, sociology and even accounting are most often taught at traditional universities in the colleges of arts. Belief builds investor and consumer confidence, and that does to some extent build economic growth.

In fact the belief in the need for economic growth, the top line industrial output, exports, price and volume harvest and so on is so paramount as to be suspiscious, like the birth of jesus on the 25th of December. It is a blunt weapon, growth is a simple cause and effect parallel to build investor confidence on.It is a big day one economic mega-digm which is based on a massive string of conflations and juxtapositions. Perhaps it is just belief which floats it as being so important and so 'effective' in creating well being. Inflation is the enemy, but also a consequence of growth. So in fuelling growth and value multiplication in the western world where we are still de industrialising, the sub prime vehicle emerges as the angel of terror, the unicorn in the mist whcih shows the folley of the whole system. Bang.

Teaching logic and the rigourous scepticism in state schools is dangerous in the west. Perhaps though in China you can see that the combination of a huge history of a hierarchical mega bureacracy and also the grand scale destruction of religion by the cultural revolution. Now they play at command capitalism, but in many other aspects of building a society, and industry and other structures of a new mega power, they are at a huge advantage. There is a rational chain of command and corresponding chain of events, cause and cascade of effects.Perhaps they are better poised not only to tackle the challenges of their own existence as a giga state, but also the challenges of the world.

A final conflation, With Freedom comes Responsibility. You could say that this idiom is just that, a nice bit of wishful thinking.

Facebook Becomes the Inevitable Spam Book!

Well it had to happen at some point. Judging by my own newsfeed, facebook has finally crossed into being a big source of spam, like your first hotmail account, it has gone over the level. Today i counted well over half the entries served up  in my newsfeed were commercial. Facebook has evolved into Spambook.

The odd thing is It is not Zuckerberg who is actually to blame!! The management of facebook get blamed by the flamers. In fact all they have done is make the environment for a profitable company whose stock value represents better now their ability to earn money and expand. The tweaks a couple of years ago and the opening of mobile devices to advertisements allowed for the worst exposure to commerciality from a body of capitalist minded people - we the users.

First of course we liked too many sources which soon started spamming through their posts. We unlike, hide, report but we keep on Liking new causes, comedy stores, personalities and sports clubs. Worse we keep on joining groups who spam us. Our likes have now become shared in a neat little banner section which does appear frequently but less frequently than the old system of Likes with algorythms that maybe presented you something you may too like. Hmm, I am on ignore by about 95% of my 'book I feel, mostly because of an excessive period of liking a couple of things a day, and being on long threads.

Now we get to the darker places of CGM - consumer generated media - where we actually torture each other. Some groups were started to actually sell stuff to each other. Community markets took off here about two years ago, no doubt they have always been a feature of the 'Book in the USA as much as Craig List and Ebay. Now there are endless beigey brown puffa jackets, cathode tube TVs, cracked iPads and the chip board detritus of divorces and upgrading in useless furniture.

Yet do we clear out this spam? The Like Banner of what freinds are liking is the best thing on FB for ages. Manages spam for us. Gives us something to look at while we wait for a plane. Why then do we not just put everything on ignore? Well the consumer generated community markets we have a kind of fondness for, and the eternal hope of a bargain within easy driving distance, or perhaps helping someone out we know are on hard times, or saving the enviornment by recycling. The Spam rolls on, people still want an iPhone 5 half price, there are all the duller colours of last years utility clothes on sale in the sizes that our kids have just grown out of.

Neither do we bother to vote with our feet when out favourite sports personality starts spamming with over 50% posts being commercial ?  We plug on, it is only the odd ad'. Sites you may like are wildly innaccurate, I have never had anything more than the usual insurance, dating, holidays mass marketing trawl. Never once anything to do with my hobbies. Instead that type of marketing has now gone word-of-keyboard by what my freinds liking likely to be likey by me. Never more true, we flock together, we like consumer referral, it makes us feel empowered. Advertising is seen as a lie all too often..

"Truth Well Told" was McCann Eriksons motto,, and we shyed away from the traditional media and creative, interesting adverts.  Now we expose our selves to the absolute most dangerous types of scam and phishing via that good old consumer generated Face Book. Unfeasably cheap Oakleys and Raybans are just that, it is a scam. Yet we see our friends Likes for these, and these seem to be paid to appear in their own Liked box.  We link out to god knows what with a demand to access our facebook and suddenly we have some dodgey folk trying to freind us or our accounts Fraped.

I find that my pals of my oldie generation are now posting far less often, yet often on more important news. Facebook has become an obsessive compulsive disorder for us as we seek some distraction in our recreational time, and that time therefore gets spread thinner as we waste time in the offiice on social media nano holidays, thus needing to work later at night, thus having social media up in the back ground, complaining about needing to work late, replying to answers, thanking for Likes....... we have a self induced Facebook Fatigue and we seem powerless to do anything about it, finding the pinging sound of alerts more attention grabbing than a child's subtle or obtuse reach for comfort. Little candies of social media, falling from the stars, we feel important and connected. We disconnect and become inconsequent to steadily more people on our facebook list who put us on ignore.

What consumer generated media most of all teaches us is that in fact we generate a lot of crap and the quality content comes from people who are still payed and have a degree of talent and professionalism in their content and channel.   If you have read this far, in what I hope was a high quality amateur blog, then you are in a tiny minority of people who came from the web here, and in a minority of those who read further.

Social Media sites and mechanisms like Twitter, are  now fragmenting again as with the whole thing about the Model T ford, we all want on to begin with and then we all realise we are individuals and one size does not fit all. The current move is off facebook for the younger generation, and although they arent shouting about it, FB are probably struggeling acquire and maintain up time from under 22 year olds. This generation are growing up with mobile internet and wifi 90% uptime, with the SMS fast becoming a thing of the past for social interaction. We like twitter because we have a degree of interaction with our searches and Twitter have taken up on the best of the TweetDecks and evolved a decent GUI. Facebook has become channel 1, it is on because we think the news will maybe have something for us, but its interactivity is reduced to an extent where as I say, we have more commercial spam in our news feed than stories from friends. Just as with terrestrial, analogue TV we grew bored with and migrated away from, a trickle of lead consumers at first, then a torrent of the masses will leave the chewing-gum-for-the-eyes internet 'channels'. 

Facebook was for a very long time too good to be true. Tiny little side banner ads we never ever clicked on, opt outs for all forms of potential spamming, rich content when we all bothered to put good stories up and we then gave a damn about catching up with each other, which I found very cool, but maybe the people I found did not share that side of the experience of linking up with me and my spamming.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Conservative Party Shops for Growth With Consumer Spending Yet Again

I listened with interest, as I often do, to radio 4's business round up today. It contained two or three very contrasting views on the economy and the concept of responsible citizens.

Firstly, not content with the concept of small , weak government, now the Tories are gambling with all people's futures on making pensions effectively a mid term ISA. You will not only be able to manage you own anuity upon a pensions plan's maturement, you will also be able to take out money earlier to not only sensible alternative investments, but also to CASH.

This reeks of anarchy, and irresponsibility. What have we learned from Black Monday 1987 and Darker September 2008? That consumer credit and a liberal attitude to liquidity personal and institutional is irresponsible. For liberal you can often read just anarchic, or to my mind "trickle up".

The problem with this scheme is caused by same class myopia as the conservatives have always had in the UK, which is shown most prominently in Scotland where they are almost a political irrelevancy, so out of touch with the classes.  Their own 'people' are conservatives with a small "C" and those others are just folk who see that lower taxes or higher defence and police spend will suit them just fine. The problem is in the second group, in that the masses are really not responsible enough nor will they ever become responsible enough to manage their own pensions. They will all too often take-to-cash and have a live now, sod being old approach to that big pot of cash at the end of life's long monochrome rainbow that is working life for most of us.

This actually affects mostly the richer top half of society anyway, because the lower third have rather poor pension provision so far., often like me having had several employers and disjointed pensions which would have been better served by state PAYE. This also plays into the more dynamic sectors of the finance industry and the stock market, where of course the biggest losses were made after 2008 collapse.

In essence these policies are very anti pension company, which are by nature small c conservatives and have made historically boring investments. Freed partly from "with profits" pensions it means that they can now cut off more of the pie from those boring investments for their profits instead of actually taking responsibility for furbishing inflation busting pension funds.  They claimed that it would enable higher returns from more balanced risk taking, rather than the need to "bank" high growth into pensions, but from my analysis this does not benefit the small guy like me.

Nigel Wilson of legal and general. one of the UK's largest domestic investors,  no doubt will have some comments on this. However here is the next conflict in that more lumps of money in the economy will benefit London first, and not the regions. More people seeking get-rich-quick with lumps of cash taken out their pension pots into high risk city invesments is not good for his company, and not good for the regions.

Nigel sees that devolution to the regions brealks the hunger of London for power and its mypoia on spending. This is of course epitomised by HS2, which so far is planned to be built SOUTH -NORTH. I would propose a North-south, starting in fact in York such that the NE-NW can get a benefit. His company stand on a strategic cross roads where the divergence of commercial property prices between the great metropolis and the regional cities could be stark and in fact there is a risk for negative equity if the regions continue to be dominated by post industrialisation, and low wage, low tax return jobs.

London Myopia, City Self Importance, South East Over Heat. London forgets very quickly that it is in all likelhood a wealth and tax vacuum from the rest of the country. It demonstrates that there is no such thing as trickle down, rather it is all about trickle-up. The privatised utilities and railways got a City centric, soft cushion which limited competition and subsidised the edges of areas the private sector did not want to take responsibility for. Now these deliver profits to the city based on above base line cost growth and Retail price inflation. Then there is of course the property market, where growth in house prices and commercial property sites across the UK has fuelled London while in fact since 2008 and before that too, the market has been failing the new generration of adults born in the late 70s through to the 90s.

If you take London then and all its institutions and departments, its public transport and its civil service, and then add the South East, from Cambridge and Oxford down and towards Dover, then it probably is a net importer of income taxes, and in terms of operating companies which create value, the most taxes are generated outside London but reported on the LSE or Companies' House.

Pensions and the future of the country are much more sensibly managed in Norway where I live now, from many perspectives. We have the same employer contribution private pension and a revised yet still generous PAYE state pension. But of course Norway has as a country put money aside from its large oil economy into inward and international investments. Also Norway has a common agreement that its people will all share in the oil boom by having high salaries, that there will be relatively high taxation on those salaries and that people will get good public services. Further common sense with the cut backs in some public budgets being called in relation to running the multi billion dollarr 2022 Winter Olympic Games. Democracy killed that idea, cocktails with the King and Queen for the IOC Aside.

Now we come back to my little nippy pet animal in the cage, Scottish Independence.  The BBC and the rest of the partisan, traditional media had decided for themselves that this would be the decisive vote for the whole generation, that it will take 30 years for the next one. Well what has happened is that the runway is opened up more by there being more transparency on wealth creation in Scotland, in that more powers are coming to Holyrood regardless, and that Labour may be marginalised from UK power even more by the West Lothian Question being answered as is discussed in parliament today. Labours only chance in the UK is then to go the Proportional Representation route in a first coalition government, and then sit in an eternity of PR coalitions as we have in Scandinavia, for better and for worse.  With UKIP now in full nationalistic sabre rattling flight, with their latest  MP trying to sound like Socrates or King George the sixth, they cover a lot of flag waving, xenophobic bases, while the Scots have never voted against the EU in any numbers rather supporting by around 70% and more parties and policies which are pro EU.

Where do UKIP want to go? Renegotiating with an EU who will be pleased to be rid of their constant need for special exemptions and some amount of fillibustring of policy. The EU will want to keep the UK in an uncertain place such as to attract the major investment banks over the waters to EU countries. That is a once in a lifetime, perhaps once in a century possibility to gain more share of inward investment for the continent and weaken the LSE and the City.
Do they want to try and stand against America, where the billionaires can decide what is in their interests in dealing with the UK on what will be a very minor, assymetric trade deal, especially with the Continental stock exchanges becoming more interesting for investors. Or do they want to turn to BRICS, with all the wierdness of dealing with Brasil and China thinking of the UK as a tiny, silly little island who lost their empire and ability to be a power long ago?   Or of course then the EU through the cosey back door of EFTA?  Well Norway and Iceland would not want a right wing, London City Centric partner. Whereas Scotland with her common maritime and sub sea interests would be a happy bed fellow in EFTA, the UK as a whole would be an elephant on the matress, demanding a huge amount of room by simply the act of getting into bed.

In all this there is the basic common sense of putting by for tommorrow, spending within your limits of income and mortgage, and building a stronger house and mind for the future. The march towards this is for me, the Scandinavian model and Scottish Independence, the march away from this is the isolationist, London Centric tax haven UKIP and back bench conservative view. Wealth creation is vital, and not just the funny-money, but also wealth retention is vital to the regions, which means private investment, private wage levels in what is taken out from the region, and of course government mediated wealth distribution via education, infrastructure and good public services.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Middle Aged Spread....winning the battle

Just an update and it is good news.

My seemingly unambitious plan of a kilo per month is on track, down to 114kg which was a surpise since we have been on holiday, more on that later in another blogg.

My aim is slow weight loss reflecting an undramatic change in diet and lifestyle, just concentrating on removing high calorie "luxury extras" and prelonging training sessions to over 2hours duration. Here are more tips for the active still sporty yet lardy 40 something:

1) count your extra calories per week and mulitply by four. Include in this tally, any more than two glasses of sugary drinks per day, and all beer ,snacks, sweets, cakes, desserts and extra/double helpings of dinner. Wow. You will find you are a fat bugger over 16 or 18 stone because each month you are consuming 7000 to 14000 kcal in "extras". Each hour of training down the gymn or whatever is only maybe effectively 600kcal and all of that is glucose and glycogen.

2) now limit yourself to a level of life's little extras which add up to 3500 kcal max per month. That is twelve beers or ten slices of cake if you like, but think per week with a max of two beers per week, one cake, one extra portion dinner, one post training extra portion dinner/lunch, 50g crisps or nuts per week and one single orange juice (250ml)  per day and one single diluted squash per day.

3) now change your training style and duration. A minimum of five hours quite vigourous exercise per week in three or four longer sessions. My target has been seven hours per week, base five hours from two long sessions.

Aim then to have 2 hour sessions three times a week as a target. These have to be aerobic, sustained with heartbeat over 120 bpm which means good breathing and a fair degree of sweating! One of the three sessions can be easier going, such as brisk walking, gentler cycling, walking in the hills, badminton, kayaking.

If you only manage to fit in two sessions per week then try to stretch them out to two and a half hours each such that you switch on fat burning and burn more. Every half hour over 'one and a half hours' at medium intense will burn a lot of fat and your body will go on burning fat for some time after you stop exercising ( that being if you avoid sugary drinks and snacks. )

Consider stretching your duration out to four hours for one session a week,  with only light eating and take a rest day after being careful not to over compensate with food: when out on a longer session,  if you near 3 hours and feel empty, eat no more than a bannana and some nuts or a slice of bread with margarine.

Sports drinks can be packed with calories, watch out. No matter a promise of slow release, the complex carbo ones  are really for endurance atheletes or as meal substitutes. Choose instead lighter calorie isotonic drinks to take around three hours and drink only water until that point.

If you are pushed for available time to make up five hours total say from a single four or two twos, then do an hour or two half hour session which include hard conditioning training after a warm up. This will help your body become more muscular and fitter so you burn more calories per hour total next time you train at low intensity.  Aim though to do three longer, two hour or longer sessions though as your outset if you want to loose more than say 8 kg.

Also try to use more "grey" calories by walking around more at work or to the shops, school run etc . There are seven days in a week ! Throw in extra small sessions of jogging or cycling or play a quick bit of football with colleagues or your kids for half an hour or more. Weight training is purely additional as desired, it should not be part of the core long sessions.

4) split your "eating week" up as monday to sunday so you avoid friday-saturday being split and tempting more mini binge eating in two days. Also having the whole weekend means that you can achieve your five hours training per week if you have been too busy during the week.

5) two hour sessions can make you hungry to begin with: plan around meals with this in mind- take a healthy packed lunch or fruit / nuts with you to have after exercise as a meal. In the evening eat a lighter dinner before training, with no dessert and then have a bannana or other slow fruit like pears right after training. Avoid snacking or extra "make up" portions, you can only have one of those a week. 

6)  Wine, pure spirits and fruit are  "free":  except for avoiding more than two bannas and more than a handful of grapes a day, or downing a whole bottle of wine yourself on friday night.

7) try and break the "beer and nuts" pavlovian cycle. Drink your two beers without access to snacks! Have your 50g crisps another time as a treat, especially when you have sweated a lot one day when training.

8) Avoid eating dinner after 19:30. Aim to do at least one of your two hour sessions on an evening in your first week after an early dinner to break old habits of either sitting by the TV or eating at 9pm after the gymn.

9) set a total goal of weight loss and then realise how long this is going to take at a kilo per month  (an achievable loss rate: this will be your minimum loss if on this regime strictly, beleive me !) : for me it is a sixteen kilo weight loss and i expect to be half way after six months, a kilo a month and then a little burst of long sessions before winter comes and i have to move indoors or to xc skis.

10) Remember this may be your best chance to enjoy being on the young side of middle aged, slim and trained:  and as in anything worth achieving, it will take effort and moving outside your comfort zone.

The hardest is to maintain three long exercise sessions a week: think then that these are indeed, probably an hour more than your current sessions and you need to work this hour in by changing job and family logistics more than any grim determination. 120 bpm is quite light and easy to maintain for two hours if you have an underlying fitness from shorter sessions. Also you can take short breaks of upto 5.minutes or freewheel downhills if cycling in that two hours as long as your heart rate does not fall below 120.

Set then a target : for me it is  now 14kg, ( from 18kg , I lost two already some more slowly in the winter before i counted up my wee treats to 7000kcal per month, and then have lost two more per month now on this regime and with a holiday which messed it up a bit but not completely ,see later blogg to follow !),  and I therefore am prepared to work 14 more months at it. Period. If my VO2 max goes up enough to burn more fat quicker then great,  so be it, but I am in for the long haul from this point forward as much I have been the last months. Patience ,self discipline and hard work, no quick fix.

11) from the last point - I found it really quite easy to break the two hour barrier, and did it in my first session on xc skis of the season having previously shot out for an hour to one and a half hour session in all my time on skis. Summer cycling sessions were often over two hours to begin with, but i just got fitter and did the same routes faster and lost only a bit of weight !  Back off and enjoy the view. Concentrate on technique in your sport for endurance, this can help make time go quicker or encourage some tips from people you train with underway to pass time. But to the core of it: You get sweaty. Your heart pounds.  You breath hard ......You do this for two hours! 

12) Work in some ways of "cheating" your time allowance in getting that level of intensity going and up to two hours or more. One session at least can be brisk walking, but that is best done with a back pack to keep up the intensity and burn 600kcal per hour instead of the 400kcal brisk walking can burn. You get sweaty. Your heart pounds. You do this for two hours!  Building up the weight you carry to 10kg for ladies, 15 to 20kg for men depending on build and your joints! Cheating a hard walk into your week to make a session or two, can mean bus or lift to the shops, walk home via a park, or a commuting walk home with a pack on a long detour. This may replace your direct half hour jog or cycle home from work twice a week, which will not have been burning fat and may have been counter productive in giving you a bigger appetite when you get home for dinner. On that point-  Alternatively Take a packed dinner to work, eat it after 4pm while you work, and then go a longer bike run into the evening straight from work, including the commuting time, or play a double round of soccer, or three sessions in the aerobics studio: think like this instead of that one quick, intense burst followed by dinner and TV. You will find that the two hours can go surprisingly quickly. If it bores you, then take a sports mP3 player with something good or even a talking. book downloaded onto it, or listen to radio discussion and new programmes (not good for cyclists in traffic though!!) Vary your sessions: as mentioned a heavy ruck sack transforms a slow paced walk into a challenge- take one on a family tour. Or arrange to be social with someone for the first part of your session, maybe make that a jog followed by an extra hour of jog-walk on your own. Try throwing in new sports like kayaking, xc skiing, roller blading/skiing or mountain biking.  Martial arts often have two to three hour sessions where initially at least you may find your heart rate is kept above 120 for most of the session, even when meditating or under technique supervision.

Combining mulitple aerobic studio sessions is a good mid winter or get into shape means of covering two hours with variation, an element of keeping up with the gang, and some fun- often they run back to back and you may find they cater for several members like yourself or fitness fanantics, in having a series which lends itself to warm up and warm down, with an intense sweat sess' / dance/thai bo in the middle. Or choose a session you can take at medium intensity and warm up for it on the tread mills and down from it by rowing and cycling. Keep track of time and keep your heart rate above 120.

Last point from this : you only "need" to do the long sessions for the duration of the weight loss period. Thereafter you can tone it down. See other comment about this above. However 6kg means aiming to keep it up for six months. That is about 15llbs.

My philosophy is that :

A) you change your bad ways of extra little luxuries for good!  You learn to count extra, uneccesary spoiling-yourself calories which is really why we are fat, not because our core diet and exercise is lacking in something.

B) we only burn fat when we are emptied for blood glucose, and the glycogen stores in muscles and the liver are depleted. Studies have shown that the fat burning heart beat zone of 65-75% max heart beat will promote fat burning with exercising earlier than this, but really the combination of sustainable moderate intensity and duration past the glycogen bottom out point around an hour or so,  is what kick starts and maintains fat burning.

C) Once your body remembers how to burn fat and you get fitter and more active, your body will burn more fat in general even at the point when blood glucose is supplemented by liver glycogen. It has learned to open the burning pathways up and employ them quickly from all your long sessions.

D) An alternative to longer duration exercise to kick start fat metabolism is the low carbo diet. The famous Atkins diet actually creeps carbo intake back in until you reach a level where you stop loosing weight or start putting it back on. Low carbo should NOT be combined with my diet and exercise regime, but you can moderate starch and sugar intake greatly when you cannot train due to injury or weather or busy weeks.

Basically Atkins was able to clarify that a high fat diet does not lead to obesity. We already knew that a high sugar diet does and Atkins proposed that all carbos are to blame, from our carbo maxed 1980s diet cycle. In fact starchy carbos are only problematic in larger amounts or when taken with too much sugar. It is when the body is overloaded with sugar in a meal or even a single super sized fizzy drink , that the system compensates for potential hyperglycaemia by re-engineering sugars to fat for storage. Fitter people have higher capacity in the other store, glycogen, which is not related to significant weight gain at all.

E) In a sporty 30 something we begin to forget that our peak as amateur sportsperson was earlier and we now train less,  though, but at least think that this is maybe more intensely. Also we eat as we did when we trained and peaked, plus some we forget.  And we have higher income and more opportunities for socialising and beer drinking. By 40 we have kids and hop out for shorter sessions, often leaving competitive sport behind. We dont adjust our eating habits and exercise makes us more hungry and we snack, like we did 20 years earlier, but without the same calorie deficit we had back then. We wear our surplus round our middles and on our lower chin.

F) With this diet and exercise regime, we should also find that we have a peak weight loss after some months of strict adherence to it. This is partly because the body achieves a higher VO2 max, and we can achieve a higher max than with shorter, intense sessions five times a week  - long steady but sweaty sessions are excellent for we ageing "atheletes" because they are less wear and tear on the body than the "gynm bursts" most of us got used to.  In reality we only achieve 20- 40 minutes good effect on VO2 max by a typical gymn work out of mixed aerobic and weights. The super burst nano training is better for VO2 max and Insulin response as demonstrated bgy researchers at Nottingham and Glasgow universities. However the 30 second times six max outs will not really help you burn much fat. You can of course include them in a long two hour session anyway!

E) That the body learns to use fat again seems also to be important in long term weight loss and maintenance, but more important is to change lifestyle : when finished with the regime, you cannot turn back from the new eating and drinking lifestyle you now have learned if you want to hold your new figure you have worked so hard for.

F) Awareness to life's wee extras is the key to this diet for sporty fatties, as much as doing the longer training sessions. The key to staying slimmer post diet phase is to keep up this awareness of extras and you can calorie count in times when you lack time or health to train normally in future.

Basically here for the once very sporty, now a bit rotund over 30, I have counted the calories for you, and worked out that they lie in luxuries and that we no longer burn off as much as we used to,  and that therefore our mid rift spare tyre needs to be burnt off slowly but surely with longer duration exercise and cutting way down on luxuries to a point when they are just that, and we can even live a week or two without them.

F) IMPORTANT : This diet is for people who have been well trained in earlier life and have maintained some degree of training through their lives, just that they have put on weight overtime in fat deposits.  If you have never been fit or are now quite obese then you will find it hard to follow this regime, but not impossible. Consult a doctor if you are obese, totally unfit, or have health issues such as  a heart condition or anything unusual happens when you train.

G) once at your desired weight , then you can ease down the duration of sessions of exercise and change over to shorter, more intensive sessions which will help you maintain your VO2 max and general fitness and muscle mass. As long as you follow point E. Alternatively you can take up bigger nights out on the town say , but then walk home to burn beer sugars down, and then throw in a gentle two hour session the next day to help shift glycogen from your liver such that that reserve is what is being filled up by your normal diet opver the weekend, and you are not overloading into fat gain.

Democracy as Mass Dictatorship

An interesting way of expressing how it feels to be governed by "the other half"- the opposite political colour. The majority religious parish. Health and Saftey. Brussels and Strasbourg. The intellectual or the brute.

This concept of democracy actually as a means of mass dictatorship, oligarchy of the lowest common denominator, tyranny by the lower classes is brought to me by the danish author Kierkegaard. He writes in the context of the French revolution and post napoleonic denmark, a monarchial ally of napoleon until his descent from power after 1812.

His view is a prevailing christian neo conservative one: that the church and monarch allow more freedom and justice for the righteous, pious individual than the movement to democracy. This is of course from the point of view of old  Trinity:  the capatilist, monarchist  and ecumenical establishment. Worse, Keirkegaard was that most ill type of proponent of all things fascist and conservative- he was from a nouveau riche family. Having climbed out from the great unwashed, there is no worse a snob and nazi than the newly baptised of the bourgiouse.

How is this relevant today?

Firstly we can take the bourgious social climbers as the first part of an important schism in the UK:   England has become ruled by a large and influential minority, with an americanised philosophy that the provision by the state in family life should be minimalised, or rather that you should not look to the state with any sense of trust in running what little states do now: health and education, with "welfare" being a metademocratic issue for those on subsistance while there is in effect no safety net for injury or unemployment over age 50. 

The current unholy coalition is hell bent on a strategy of "divide and conquer" when it concerns these two last bastions health and education, on the basis that we cannot afford the nhs as it is run today ,it needs to be managed locally and as a markey in order to function and that education can be an instrument of tory politics by schools becoming increasingly independent of the state.

As with most conservatives with large or small 'C' they do not want to understand a different view point and life experience than their own over priviledged upbringing and pampered career path. Also they are coming with that solution proposal and then looking for problems to fix, and that has been the case since 1979 and the subsequent over beaurocratisation of both health and education.  The NHS after thatcher years left with more managers than beds. Teachers left with more hours unpaid administration than paid teaching infront of classes.

The schism has lead to a major division in that Scotland now votes on independence, having already diverged on a different route. There in is of course a great divide with just under half the population going to be against independence.

Back to the concept: democracy has two or three possibilities for being experienced or percieved as mass-dicatatorship. Firstly as above in the UK , a large minority or even the majority get a government they dont want (in part due to the seat based electoral system ) or a new country border they dont want ,or the exit from the EU in 2015 voting they dont want.   The other area is that democracy becomes highjacked by the rich, who realised long ago that it is dictatorshiip by the masses from their perspective. This has happened totally of course in the usa, where they just want to forget that the masses actually can vote for change they dont want.

Secondly as in the USA, there is a federal meta-democracy driven in the uk by the judiciary, the unions and the EU.  This centres on human rights and health and safety and fair-trade/movement of goods, capital and people. This can be of course interpreted as the march of the beaurocrat from the social democratic seeds post war on both sides of the atlantic. Incessant and dangerous to many, the courts over turn state rulings and enforce a highest common demonimator on issues which national politicians would like to be seen to have actual power over, even if infact they would bow to juris prudence, given constitutions and the declaration of human rights.

Truly the UK is also en route if not in full swing with  the same oligarchical and faceless judicial oriented post democratic status we see in the USA. Scotland is a sore thumb for the rich as is Norway because as an independent state they may well just do better for the average punter and the unwashed silent minority under left wing governance with a more transparent and immediate democracy.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Can't Believe She Hasnt Got a New Man

I was onto a different type of blogg, self centred crap ,when my thoughts fell onto a few very attractive women, separated, and back in the market. Same goes for men I would guess.

What they do wrong? First and foremost they have a really bad wing-girl to go out with and secondly they dont trust the dating web sites. Think that is all cross gender

Also women in their thirties tend to over compensate with make up and jewlry and clothes when going on the odd big night out as a separated parent. This scares off the easy going bachelors and the once bitten twice shy divorcees and leaves them with the chancers and the trophy hunters.

This last issue is not cross gender. Men can make themselves look foolish in fashion clothes and fake tan, but generally attract a different type of inappropriateness altogether.

There is an age perception thing here too: some men see themselves as shadows of them former selves and have some body confidence issues. Women have the same issue, but are perhaps more comfortable with going with older men, who are now suddenly a much older age than last time they were single. Men have a bigger issue with women and their sensible haircuts, small glasses and spare tyres when they are divorced and forty five.

Suddenly I know i felt surrounded by "ladies" some mumsie, some spinster, and no longer in with a mix of attractive young , girlish women. Separation now begs me to ask myself why I tried for five years to make it work when i should have been on the market. That would have been the wrong choice , ah, wouldnt it?

I guess the same is true of the "gorgeous pal, cant believe she's not got a new man". Bachelors are usually alone with good reason, divorced pappas are usually on the thick end of the middle age spread. Shark exes are out there of course with masculine bodies and a daring eye:  the training fanatic , the body builder, the womaniser.

Back to the two big mistakes: a bad wing-'person'. Usually the attractive girl has one single still clubbing pal, who is an albatross round their neck for finding new men. Firstly they are usually over made up and basically not very attractive. Also even if they are pretty, they can give out the wrong signals , usually extremes of 'stay away from us',  or 'I am desperate'. Also they may well be consumate at pulling men and one nightersx ,or whipping the prospect from under the feet of the lone, white or brown female they were wing pilot to. That is worse in men, especially with an attractivde married man on your starboard wing.

The issue is to stop going out with your millstone in hand, and all the randomness and low productivity of pub-club meets, and instead move over to the internet dating scene and all its randomness dressed up as matching and its counterproductivity. Seriously though, you can at least trawl in safety through avatars and profiles, while also being contacted by would be suitors in their droves if you live in a city. Easier to ignore and brush off than even a pub, and you can report them to the doorman on the web site too.

Personally girls, ladies rather, I dread the thought as much as going for a prostrate examination or to an aunty's funeral. However I know that it is the only reasonably effective way of getting to potential partners and also of learning to be single and sociable again.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The Next Generation Browsers.....That Havent Quite Happened

Way back when in the early days of the www open internet, i started getting ideas about a super-browser which would be a personal oracle for content on the internet (in the original greek sense). By 2009 these had crystalised into a more specific concept of a personalised web-bot which would work in the background from your pc and deliver you the holy grail of relevant, salient and up to date information in a standard GUI platform.

This was no stroke of genius, all search engines have been striving for relevancy and anti spam since their inception, and personalised feed has been available since the pre www news groups and into the era of RSS feed (did anyone really use rss for more than a week?).  The ground was trodden but the trail had been blazed by the errant and often unstable marching elephant that is the do it all web browser.

Next generation to me in 2009 meant a super-info-deck outside of the social media circus, to which i was yet to become such an addict as I am today. All your favourite web sites would be scoured for new content, rss news would be screened for relevancy, meta engine searches would be compiled and pages automatically visited and spam screened, and the bot would crawl inexorably looking for highly similar sites and content to your favourites or those of current interest. Essentially a drag and drop lazy gui, which then did most of the leg work in sifting through the shit to get to the news and the stuff you are really interested in, at the same time you worked or even when the pc was on screen saver. More over server side or cloud systems could be employed to deljiver really well plucked content for you and present it in a deck which you could define as you will.

Today we are no where in particular nearer in terms of PC or standard tablet platform browsers: they are generic and have to cover the bases of all html and javascript while also being a cornerstone of consumer commerce and on line banking via secure https. All this and Bill Gates and competitors can't charge a dime, euro or rubel for the consumer software.

There were however many seeds and some still exist, of a more personalisable web browser interface with automatic content supply. For example rss as stated, but then google update alerts on searches and the loknger standing meta crawler pages.

What interceded in the potential for wonderful browser was of course the explosion of mobile devices and the two system tablet war. The outcome has indeed been personalised browers -plural- with uncountable apps which utilise html5 programming as a browser for specific source content, such as facebook or twitter. More open and nearer my concepts are the  newspaper crawlers and the multi social media decks.

In effect then the mobile device has become the interface by means of apps and some with their incessant alerts. I feel we are steered by them and use much of our time looking at paint drying in order to get juicy content and the whole process becomes distracting recreation like patience on windows 3.1.1.

Facebook in particular has its up-sides with news channels and feed filtering but it is irrritating to control the feed now and frankly i don.t want an algorythm deciding what is important for me. I have systematically dropped all meme addicts (bar one very sexy blonde) but then i miss all their good stuff and they get used to me being no likey them and no parles avec moi.

Mozilla firefox and app community has come nearer than many to providing a true post 2010 next generation browser, but they falter now and what was a fast, slim line browser seems to be baggier than IE v5. Opera has some plus points too, but the great white hope of Google Chrome has to be taken with the backdrop of consumer profiling and potential abuse by the US government.

Tablet browsers scare me a little too, especially the standard android one (which is wierdly not yet deleted in favour of Chrome presumably because they are device optimised) it allows for pop outs, split tabs and automatic downloads as soon as you stray down tin pan alley on the electric lady net.

The stage is hardly set and i bait no breath here : yes there could be a super deck, a non social media info oracle. Yes there could be a nice https only browser which is locked from all other browsing and client side app's. However no, it is in no-ones interest to fight against the major browsers and search engines and of course with a robot crawling basis you will get flicked off many sites or entire server banks or served spam from ghost sites.

Apps on mobiles are all the rage and they need to score fast on a pretty narrow benefit proposition, a USP or a brand halo effect, in order to gain critical mass and make money. When we start to think a big app, a  major cross genre of content personalisable browser which uses bot technology and perhaps some server side or cloud computing, then we are some time away. Not because of technology, which is all there, but because of the crazieness of consumer economics.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Shimano History Proving the Unreliability of the Internet particular of Wikipedia, not because of the concept of Wikipedia is so very flawed, it is just a little inherently flawed by it being really first to post. In corporate terms this is likely to be a professional web PR firm these days, but a few years ago it was out to the nerds run by the webmaster and some pretty amateur entries were punted for some corporations.

Shimano, case in point: in terms of bicycle components that is: The article is factually incorrect due to the "stub" nature of historical information on the internet. In fact the tradition of shimano is probably only held in dusty vaults under the sushi cafe at their HQ, and in some anorak's bedroom cupboard in form of old catalogues, pictures, boxes, reciepts etc.

On Wiki, both Shimano 105 and Deore are given a far later date for their arrival on the market. This is probably because shimano was not a major supplier even by 1980 after nearly a decade of producing good quality kit. So the aural or folk tradition that has transferred to the internet is tainted by what people actually remember, and that is tainted by asking Mr Average cycle enthusiast who is probably in their 30s.

Here though is one guy , Sheldon Brown,  seems to have a fairly honest collection of actual facts, pitted with some holes like the "W" notch ring machining which was a predecessor to hyperglide, where one tooth was sunken a little which generally promoted smoother downwards "derailing" , whereas hyperglide improves both due to the thinner, wedging machining to the lateral profile as well as the verticle height

The internet, and Wikipedia in particular, suffer from a terrible recency effect in what they present as fact. Disclaimer aside, it is just irritating. It is caused then by

1) Lack of Digital legacy history in  ASCII / HTML / XML / JPEG for most everything pre 1989 or even 1995 you could say.

2) "Experts" being contemporary, not knowing the full history,  or from say the USA, where as a product / Science / you-name-it may have developed for many years outside the US.

3) The search engine effect : recency, search word relevancy and links are pretty high at getting you on the first few pages of results, there after you are down in spam alley and fishing for other, correct key words. A search engine which snow-balled special key words to suggest new key words would be ideal, but probably reach diminishing returns in both quantity and how far back in time it finds results anyway.

4) Amateurs being the only ones who have time. WIki entries for "minority reports" and real corporate histories (which are often fascinating, especially for American technology start up successes) are in the hands of amateurs who are inaccurate and uninformed, or sometimes avoid the risk of revealing insider knowledge.

For Shimano, my three irritations are

a) That Deore has always been a mountain bike group set:

b) SIS was missing from its actual inception in the early eighties, or even late seventies

c) Shimano 105 was a far earlier group set than they claim

Taking a:

a) Deore was a rather pricey touring group set, with a finish in semi polished aluminium, probably available from the late 1970s. It was essentially a copy of european manufacturer's touring group sets, but priced below Campagnolo while above Sachs Huret in terms of quality too. Apart from the long cage arm derailleur front and triple chain set, the other innovation was ergonomic thumb shifters (which may have been an option on campag' touring sets earlier, but I admint to not being an expert)

The thumb shifters allowed for bar top shifting and were located on the inboard ends of the touring bike's bar-tape (or foam as had become popular in the 1980s) on the ram horn / drop handle bars. There may have been a deore bar end shifter too, which was popular in cyclocross, a kind of tab shifter which was mounted into the end of the drop handle bars on each side. Anyway, the rear thumb shifter received indexing before STI style integrated shifters came in, and the rear shifter retained the feature from the "down tube" old fashioned road shifter position, in having a ring to switch from indexing to friction mode. This actually was the preferred option for serious mountain bikers in the late eighties right through to 1992 or even later, well after STI and in particular, Grip shift had established themselves. I think it was the latter which killed off the market for them, as much as shimano doing a dirty, as with those indicator numbers we all though were so girly, but actually we quite like!  The front shifter was friction only.

In those days MTBs by in large did not sprout suspension forks for amateur racing because the forks were too soft and not reliable enough , so the bikes and riders took a beating. Also cables were probably not as well pre-stretched and not PTFE coated as they are now, so in the course of a hard race you could find your indexing had gone, or your rear "mech" was so clogged you had to switch to friction and more over, use your whole hand to shift the thumb shifter.

Some riders mounted the shifter below the bar, which has obvious ergonomic advantages, and this is where probably SCOTT got their idea for their odd bat wing under-bar shifters, which worked pretty well but it was easy to get your knee onto them when ejecting from the bike involuntarily.   Perhaps too Shimano got their idea for their under bar shifter from that too, but in any case it is fairly obvious to do it firstly as they did with the two levers, rather clumsy and always falling to bits, and then over to the ideal solution.

Grip- Shift (the birth-right of SRAM) was then the nerdy alternative, and I seem to remember it also having a friction only mode in the models from the early nineties.

One issue with the early Deore I remember seeing in the bike Shop where I worked then, Dales of Dobies Loan, Glasgow, was that the original front gearing had followed the european convention for 52/50 as the big ring, followed by a 44/46 and then a "granny ring" between 32 and 36 teeth. I can see the wisdom in this now, because of the principles of leverage - a smaller ring on the front gives you more torque, and also momentum, in that the amount of chain you turn and throw off is larger on a mid ring for the same actual "inches" of effected gear. So you reserve lower gears and higher torque per llb pressure on the pedal for the alpine ascents or the belgian "bumps" , and you have your 46/48 for rapid progress on the meandering, roller coaster back roads onto a wide back set where your effective 3rd gear sprocket is a 21 ( 28 / 24 / 21 / xx xx xx being usual low gears, with the xx higher gears depending if you were on the old 5 speed or onto 6 by the mid 1980s)

So successful was Deore in being a cross over set into MTBs that both Sun Tour and Campagnolo came out with copies, suntour if I remember correctly going for a cheaper and a better version, kind of LX and XT on each side of the standard, while campag had a pretty dear set, with their clunky non Hyperglide indexing onto 7 speed. I think it was the first campag group set of modern times which was brushed rather than highly polished. It was either lighter or rather heavier than Deore, I cannot remember but I know it differed.

b) Now to SIS. Shimano had a system called Positron ( not the rear differential trade mark) for indexed shifting which was catastrophically launched in cheap OEM bikes for the USA; with plastic levers and so on. In fact an american kid I knew must have had this in 1981 with the horrid plastic shifters mounted up on the bar stem. He had "clicky gears".

Anyway, it is claimed in Wiki and by Herr Sheldon that SIS came to light in the 1984 Dura Ace group set, which did so much to establish Shimano as a major player by being light and innovative. In fact I had seen a shimano 600 shifter from the early eighties with the SIS logo on it, and been told that it had been a fiasco by an experienced mechanic and road racer who worked at said Dales Cycles. 600 had been in fact offered to lower level pro's ( on the continent there are thousands who never make it to the "grand tours" ) with the SIS. Whether they had not perfected it, or more likely that those riders got little time from mechanics if the team actually had one, is for debate, but the mechanic did dig out an article on the system which looked dog eared and circa 1980.

The pre 600 EX group set was a rather scruffy looking affair, with a gun metal finish with speckled logo back ground, and I remember both my mate's Elswich Stag tourer having a mid to long cage version (probably a 26 mid length) and then seeing the SIS logo on a short cage version which came in on a bike.

According to the mechanic, shimano did not take into account stretch in cables, and the resulting difficulty in getting a correct indexing as the cable tightens when you go to the lower gears with more teeth on the rear block. This was solved by better quality "pre-stretched" cables and a longer adjustment barrell on the rear derailleur with it's own quarter turn cam adjuster widget inboard to facilitate quick road side adjustments (it may have been better to incorporate a fine adjust barrell or mechanism of some sort,  to the lever as they later did with STI and maybe Deore Thumbshifters)

I would not say that index gear shifting was "driven" by the mountain bike boom, where as STI was clearly a related development in terms of supply and demand. The earliest STI shifters I saw were dura ace and 105 , and both sets which came into Dales had an apparent "hand made" appearance to them, with some uneven metal working and polishing, and a milky finish to the aluminium incidentally.

Back to Shimano 600 being a rather cheap looking affair in the early 80s prior to the lovely much missed polished chrome like finish prior to the bastardisation to mediocre Ultegra-ness. 600EX was a beautiful group set, especially with dual caliper brakes, and when it was properly indexed around 1987 it was a better group set than Campag' Chorus for club riders, or the then fancy Athena which was lovely but still clunky in comparison to even the 105 SIS gear shift.  Prior to 600 EX the 600 rear and front mechs suffered from failures in the bushings around the riveted little pivot axles, however these could be re-engineered by any machinist worth their salt.

105 though..-

c) One-oh-Five. Shimano 105 is widely quoted on the internet as beginning with the rather innovative, and super light 1986/87 model, when Shimano produced an SIS group set that was lighter than the last Dura Ace. It featured SIS six speed, biopace chain rings (which I dumped) and soon into its life it had double pivot calipers, before 600EX got them. Also this had SLR, springy brake hoods, which did help the set up a bit - i had them onto nice 600EX single pivot calipers though because the 105 were frankly ugly and luckily out of stock when they built my 531 C machine. 105 had some other innovations to save weight in the bottom bracket and head set, and the hubs were super light. The finish was dull, brushed aluminium, but the next dura ace followed suit, dropping the fine polished finishe for a super light set for serious cyclists who didn't care about bling.

However, 105 has a longer history than that. I bought an old stock 105 derailleur , non indexed, from about the same production period as the gun metal 600 and it was a superior looking bit of kit, maybe a tad heavier, but nice and apart from not being a high chrome finish, the item was pretty much in line with Campag. The date must have been 1984 import latest, so maybe 1982 model, and I bought it in 1986 / 87 on an upgrade impulse.

The packaging box was chrome yellow with shimano's then blue, white, green stripe probably in the wrong pan tones.

I also saw a set of shifters (for some reason I bought campag, just to own some shiny campag) which also were better qaulity look and feel than the old 600.

There ends my rant about innaccuracy's, but I only pose my own half memories and half-truths to you.  

I would be pleased to get any comments which support this kind of chronology and so on of Shimano, while any criticism should come with non internet generation fact!

Post script It seems campagnolo suffer the same fate : i remember the athena groupset was introduced in either 86 in the UK or maybe a year earlier on the continent. It was non indexed and the last launched then without it. The lovely dual pivot brake calipers of chorus were in the set iirc, and these were nice - many say as good in chorus as the vastly expensive delta brake. Also the set had at least one other innovation which was at that time unique to athena: a special derraileur to rival perhaps Shimano's w-cut, or hyperglide introduced about that time and certainly to compete against indexed gearing which became standard on Shimano group sets in 1986. The first Athena derailleur had a geometry and mechanism which pivoted the jockey wheel cage backwards as the cable was engaged for an up shift to a lower (more teeth) gear. This meant that there was less chain on fewer teeth to disengage and made for a very elegant shift. I was told this was not new, but rather a more relevant introduction to what would have been a 7 or maybe only six speed cassette/freewheel over the five speed from history. I saw the athena group set on a bike at Dales Cycles of dobies loan, glesga, and tried the shift on a lifted back wheel and it was very nice if a little clunky sounding for some reason. At that time a machining company in Northenglandshire somewhere offered to machine cut any cassette or set of rear sprockets to "hyperglide" and I heard a few serious cyclists talking of getting this done to campag or older dura ace sets. Despite being poorer at indexed shifting for many years than the japanese, if you exclude the Armstrong fiasco years, campag have dominated the tour de france and many other competitions for the last six decades. They survived by making things of beauty and also eventually catching up in the innovation for top end group sets.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Cyclocross Bikes Take Off

Cyclocross bikes used to be the reserve of a small band of devotees and "serious" cyclists looking to train and race while there was salt on the roads. In Europe they predated mountain bikes of course as a form of racing, but were usually regarded as a quirky investment.

Now the wheel so to speak, has come full circle again after the long love affair with the 26" wheel, 1.95 inch tyre and straight handle bars wanes. Where once riding a muddy fox courier was cool and a sign of "hipster" rebellion, now mountain bikes are standard consumer items for the masses. Teenagers bikes today would have been exotic items to drool over in the 1990s. Cyclist "nerds" were looking for something more exclusive and esoteric, and therefore the explosive rebirth of cyclocross as a sport began.

Just to focus on the bikes: there is a happy sweet point now with technology and price point. Now you can have disc brakes which give extra stopping power and much longer life to rims. Frames are quite light at the entry level (which is about mid level compared to mountain or road bikes) but importantly they are stiff with good clearances. And then most of all there are the shifters: gone are the drop bar end ungainly shift of old cyclocross, in are hood shift-brake units from road bikes.

The next move will be to use the mid sized 584mm wheels which are half way between mountain bike and 700c road clincher wheels. This will make the bikes more sturdy, and offer the average user spoke key free seasons on a wide set of terrain.

What i liked about hybrids was their lack of pretention: they were city street bikes as much as they were "trail" bikes. I worked in bikeshops when there was a steady stream of people wanting to ahem, drop the drops so they could commute with better access to brakes and gears in the morning rush hour traffic.  Mountain bikes, like range rovers, offer a tough off road pretence while most users will spend most of their lives on tarmac.

In my days of youth though, i loved mountain bikes because you could just go mad down a rooted, bolder topped path and then ride back to town. You could power slide corners and sprint downhill. However the older me wants to do longer sessions now and explore the countryside more, joining up forrestry roads, tarmac and the odd dry good footpath to make for a 2-4 hour ride.

Drop handle bars have such a big windage and comfort variation factor that they are a must for faster and longer runs. The " African" tour bikes of the 1990s were very often either hand made hybrid on 26" wheels with drops, or just bastardised MTBs with bar end or the legendery Deore top bar thumb shifters so loved by serious mountain bikers in the early nineties over the plasticy double lever under bar cousins of the time.

That is another thing these days of getting three bikes in one wijth a cyclocross: trail and cross bike for smoother off roading, touring bike for paniers and road racer with 23C tyres at 120psi.

Most of my riding now then would be better on a cyclocross bike. However i do enjoy unlocking my forks for a comfortable blast down hill or a trip off the beaten track.

There is my tuppence on the whole MTB vs Cyclocross debate.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Middle Aged Spread - The battle Continues

I will be moving this to a new custom made, slim and nimble little blog of its own soon btw.

What struck me with the Atkins diet (all info to adhere to the diet is freely available btw on their web site) was that you remove of course all the goodies in life, our little self allowed luxuries, completely during the diet period and then only creep them back in later. Luxuries are high sugar basically: beer, chocolate, sweets and then high carbo-fat combinations like crisps or chips and then finally high sugar-fat combos namely cakes and buns and the like.

What I pondered, if you cut out all these extras , beer and crisps and sweets, and then ate a healthier, fairly high carbonhydrate diet? The old F-plan fibre diet?  Then if you did a lot more exercise in the fat burning zone you would not need to cut out all the luxuries?

If like me you eat healthy meals but have middle aged spread and it goes up and down a few kilos but is really about 20-30% over your ideal and stable, then you are actually balancing your luxuries and binges against either dieting or the amount of exercise you do. The beefy rugger player, the chubby but fit cyclist, the jogging mummy with the un-shiftable spare tyre round her middle.

As I said in my last blog, my luxuries account for 9000kcal a month, so on top of a normal diet with no exercise, I would gain a kilo a month, and around Christmans I do! However my exercise in training this year has been about 12500 Kcal / month on top of normal activity (@ 500kcal av.per hour, 5 -7 hours per week) So given for miscalculation, forgotten snacking,  injury down time and larger dinners which I thought weren't luxury, I am about in balance and that was reflected by a meagre loss of maybe 4 kg in the last six months, away from my super heavy 118-120 kg.

Back to the cutting out of all things bad. Well if you do a lot of exercise you can have luxuries if you know the rest of your diet is healthy and around the recommended daily intake for man or woman. Only you have to be strict on what amount you have, and be open to include all sorts of extra hand-to-mouth-repeat opportunities.

Then it does come to counting calories: In an Out. This has been weight watchers mantra for years. I decided to up my training duration to improve my cardio vascular and put my body in the fat burning zone longer. My sessions went up from 45 mins-60 mins to 90-160 minutes with a total of five to seven hours per week since second week in january. Plus then some other walking to the shops, school "run" and so on. However four kilos loss on a target of 20 was poor, and I did not weigh myself often enough to know if I had hit a lower figure and bounced up since I was afraid to do so.

I found it to be my luxuries and I include extra whole portions of dinner in that. Sometimes I just need to bowls of pasta to be satisfied after training days or cold days. However that was being used as an excuse along with the now well trodden lie of "carbo loading" for the next day's training.  From a standing start, anyone who is middle aged and healthy has enough energy in glycogen for at least one hours intense 600-800 kcal training. There is no need to carbo load.

Snacking and training are also bad. You should look to not snack at all during anything under three hours exercise unless it is -7 or below when after an hour you may need a small snack to keep going another hour comfortably. Then when you finish exercise, midt in the danger zone for the munchies, have your lunch in the car or a single piece of fruit to hand, and do not what ever you do go into the shops. Alternatively have half your lunch or dinner with you, and control the other half at home.

Being strict means setting the number and then counting the beers, the squares of chocolate and the grams of crisps you are allowed by virtue of training or a raised level of physical activity, walking being not bad at 300Kcal / hour. You then need to keep a tally somewhere and use a weekly basis, beginning each Friday morning with a new week such that you do not split your goodies friday-saturday between two weeks. You may use up all your goodies on Friday, in which case you may put on wieght that night, but you will then be exposed to how much you used to eat, if for example you like me come on halving luxuries as creating a calorie deficit. That is it, your allowance is used up until next friday by which time you will have had almost a week's training in abstinence!

I included those extra meal portions as a big culprit, and have only allowed myself two per week. A fly on my wall from the last six month's training period, may argue that I was up at six or seven doubled dinners! Saying I have two, and now this week I have by the way used them up, means that I do not allow myself more on the basis of carbo loading or being empty from the day.

The next real culprit was beer and crisps, so they are cut way back, with a miserly 100g crisps and no nuts , or 50 -50 per week. The other thing about crisps and nuts was that I was using them to bridge the gap to dinner after training or when the school run home was running late due to sports etc.  100g is not very much, a couple of small bowls full, and it is still about 200Kcal at least but there I have the discipline of a red light through the week, and a little green one for a single bowl each night of the weekend.

If you have more limited time for exercise then you can make it count more by doing it before breakfast and after dinner, with no eating there. A good alternative is to have a light breakfast, walk 45 mins to an hour to work or to transport to work, or with the dog locally. Some people respond well to this in stimulating their metabolism for the whole day, I happen not to really burn any fat this way as I have tried.  I need the two hour sessions plus a higher general level of activity and less snacks to attack the issue personally. Otherwise for me it would be no luxuries and also calorie counting on ordinary meals during and after the diet weight loss period, which I think is tedious and unsustainable for me.

Two hour sessions can burn a whole hours worth of fat for most people which means that over a month of eight two hour sessions you can burn about a kilo of fat. So think again of those saturday mornings with the paper, twitter and FB and get out. Or think of those one hour sweat sessions followed by a bar of chocolate which are quite possibly putting fat on you! Extending sessions take will power and planning around jobs, family and as said above, meals. The trick is then not to snack.

The only snacking I allow myself is fruit, and I have take fruit as a "free" but I have also taken that two or three pieces of fruit after exercise can be a convenient lunch. Bananas and grapes should not be combined: they deliver a lot of sugar over a long time from first injestion. Pears are quite low in sugar as are fresh strawberries. Apples are about mid way.

Because fruit is more satisfying to your appetite than salty or refined sugar based snacks, you will quite likely find that snacking urges begin to disappear as you loose a bit of that Pavlovian-dog response. That is to say the mind has associated  a reward, which is transiently satisfying, with finishing exercise and learns to expect it, more over it demands it!  ( I have it terribly for beer and snacks in either way at the weekend, having never ever got the munchies from beer as a young adult!)    Furthermore,  those type of foods actually lead to cyclic cravings for more of the same, because they were high value foods in our species' evolution and we were  subconsciously encouraged by the evolved feedback mechanism to gorge ourselves on them so as to take advantage of the rare sweet or salty find. Like Honey for example, or a salt deposit on the inland plains.

I think that saying no to all luxuries in life is counter productive when you are doing a lot of exercise which is in the fat burning zone, mid intensity, high duration or before breakfast for example. I remember 14 years ago I was actually unemployed a while and very poor,  I  had only £10 pounds spending money per week after bills and basic food, while I had access to a virtually free public gymn and pool. I also walked about 8 km home, sometimes both ways too. I lost about 10 kg, yeah,  but I was miserable. I felt good with the weight loss though, but when I started in a new job I became weekend snack central! It all went back on without me noticing and I was very chubby once again within a year. So I did not learn to manage my luxuries because I was so pleased to be able to afford them without really needing to think about budgeting for them again. I think that is an unreasonable way to go about things if you are willing to do some serious hours of exercise per week, with 2 hour sessions being at least two of the times you do it.

Once the "diet" is over then you have to be able to avoid the things which will rebound you out, and the only way to do that is to go back to tallying up. However once at a desired lower weight, you can probably do less exercise, concentrating on one hour or less conditioning and strength exercises which will keep your body in trim and strong. Keep an eye on your weight, and as with Atkin's maintainance period, you may find that you need to reduce luxuries more, and be aware of weeks you do not achieve much exercise or when there are many temptations.