passive investors, are you destroying your children’s world?

Most of the brouhaha about the rise of passive investing comes from the intuitive feeling that passive investors are only along for the ride, they don’t know or care ‘owt for what the companies they hold passively are up to.  Insofar as they are not engaged shareholders, they don’t guide the companies they own collectively, and the burden of shareholder feedback falls upon a smaller band of active investors.

Most of the argument about this in the FI sphere is a concern on corporate governance and returns, and there are various forms of rebuttal. The dumb passive billions are like the carriages on a train following the remaining active engines, but they switch to a different locomotive depending on the outcome, the fickle bastards. So it comes out alright in the end, is the received wisdom – the passive crew are amplifiers to the results of the active guys, rather than sponsors of their yachts. So the dumb money is safe1, because it follows the smart money.

The Anglo-Saxon business model eats the future, quoth the British Academy

who make the case in an extensive report that the narrow definition of the aims of the corporation in the English-speaking Western world makes companies focus on making money to the exclusion of all else. They are required by law to make as much money as you can for your shareholders. There is an implied “by legal means”, but globalisation means that there is a race to the bottom because what’s legal there isn’t necessarily what’s legal here. That this has been damaging to Western working populations can be seen by the changes in the workplace, particularly since the global financial crash – disaffected Western aspirations voted for Trump, and Brexit.

One of the problems of globalisation is that it has massively reduced the leverage of government regulation. The UK government could regulate to reduce practices that harm the environment, but the activity so discouraged will then migrate to a jurisdiction that doesn’t have such scruples.

On the other side, as buyers we qualify our investments by the desired rate of return. This is marginal enough as it is – the common assumption is a 4-5% real return on investment integrated over decades. The corollary of that is that you need a capital of 20-25 times your desired annual income. Shift that down to 2 to 3% and that starts to become 50 times your desired income; doing that in a 30 year working life starts to look really tough.

A quick spin through the top components of a whole world index fund

Do big firms eat the future? A glance at the undesirable practices of the biggest components of a well-regarded recommendation of world index fund VWRL isn’t happy reading for those with a social conscience:

Apple Inc: Failure to adhere to Chinese labour laws. I’d charge ’em with price-fixing, planned obsolescence, anticompetitive practices, non-replaceable batteries2 and refusal to engage with third-party or DIY repairs. Pictures of workers and pollution here

MSFT: I couldn’t dig up that much dirt. Yesterday’s men, they tried to rule the world and failed, though they were done for antitrust offences ISTR. Bill’s still rich as Croesus

AMZN: So bad Wikipedia has a page dedicated to AMZN criticism. Closer to home they treat people like shit in distribution centres. I think their riposte boils down to ‘treating people like shit is part of our business’ and while it’s true that I left work because I was treated like shit at a critical juncture, it’s notable that for the vast majority of my working life treating people like shit wasn’t a widespread part of my work experience or that of people I know.

FB: Suborning the political process, getting rich on fake news, making sociopaths of us all, aiding and abetting Dominic Cummings, refusing to stop meddling in elections by showing different things to different people. Selling personal data to the highest bidder, lying about it until caught. The problem was manifest from the get-go as the youthful Zuck described his punters as dumb f**s. Evil courses through the company’s veins. If I were God for a day social media is a class of product/service I’d uninvent and rewire human brains so it could never be dreamed up again. Yes, it’s nice that Grandma in York can keep in touch with the grandkids Down Under but the collateral damage in terms of human misery is appalling IMO

JPM: I couldn’t come up with any dirt but they paid a $13bn fine for something to do with the GFC. Presumably they have enough money to pay decent lawyers to get them off the hook, so it must’ve been bad.

Two lots of Alphabet, Google’s holding/parent company: How’s that ‘Don’t be evil’ thing going down with y’all? Oh and this

on Youtube, owned by Google. It’s either irony, hubris or advertising, and I am not clever enough to determine which. Orwell called it forty or fifty years too early with “if you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever.” Usual charges against Big Data, suborning the common weal, all that stuff. I’m kinda tickled that the Google search of what’s wrong with Google assumes you have technical problems, rather than searching for the central heart of darkness. Chapeau for the subtle control of framing, guys. What’s wrong with Google? Nothing to see here, move along now.

JNJ: I couldn’t dig up that much dirt.

VISA: I couldn’t dig up that much dirt.

NESTLE: Baby Milk Action. ’nuff said, although the £25 Kit-Kat should get an honourable mention just for taking the piss, I can’t make the case that it’s evil.

It may help me retire early, but I’m not sure I can actually feel good about owning VWRL. Perhaps I can tell myself that’s only 12% of the market cap (and mainly American) and that the levels of evil were dropping as I went down the list to the smaller fry, but to be honest I’m not sure I want to know what the rest of them get up to after this exercise!

On the other hand if you try and stick to being ethical you get slaughtered in the markets. Sin pays. You can read countervailing arguments, but it’s people talking their book. It is interesting to observe that ethical investment screening locks you out of nearly two-thirds of the UK’s largest firms. This suggests ethical passive investing just isn’t possible in the UK market. Passive investing only works if it is representative of the market by capitalisation, and a third just isn’t representative. Turn the telescope round and the British Academy chaps have some point – two thirds of the top British firms are harming the public good somewhere.

Maybe nobody will be able to retire in future if this is cleaned up, the rate of return will be so dreadful you just aren’t going to live long enough to save enough to get out of the rat race. Historically, capital accumulated very slowly across a human life, to the extent that dynastic and ancestral capital ruled society. You still see the background radiation of this in that 25000 landowners own half the UK. and the largest share of a third is the aristocracy, where the land has remained in the same families since William the Conk declared himself owner of all of it after 1066 3.

The problem is that money is power, and power corrupts. Most of these firms get an edge through scale. With the exception of FB, they all provide a useful or valued service, they just happen to cut corners in parts of their operation, and globalisation weakens limits on their ability to cut those corners in dark places. We’ve seen some of this movie before – the robber barons of the Gilded Age, and a lot of the pollution and abusive work practices echo what happened4 in the industrialising West in the last century or two. Tim Worstall would probably say that sort of exploitation is a price worth paying. It worked in the West and it’ll work for the global poor.

Globalisation was good for humanity in general, but not for most people in the West

In the article the crisis of capitalism Milanovic argues that

The western malaise is the product of uneven distribution of the gains from globalisation. When globalisation began in the 1980s, it was politically “sold” in the west – especially as it came together with “the end of history” – on the premise that it would disproportionately benefit richer countries. The outcome was the opposite. Asia in particular was a beneficiary, especially the most populous countries: China, India, Vietnam and Indonesia. In Europe, as in the US, it benefitted the 1%. It is the gap between the expectations entertained by the middle classes and the low growth in their incomes that has fuelled dissatisfaction with globalisation and, by association, with capitalism.

Harvard isn’t noted for being a hotbed of Marxist anti-globalisation thinking, but their Dani Rodrik made a similar case in 1997 in his book Has Globalisation Gone Too Far5, observing that lower-skilled wages have fallen in real terms in the US and then Europe since the 1970s. This fall predated my entry into the workplace. I did not observe this at first, because my experience of the workplace was different from my father’s6. He was a maintenance fitter, I worked in industrial research. The suckout took thirty years to reach me, but reach me it did – I retired eight years earlier than normal retirement age for The Firm to escape this deterioration in the workplace.

It’s quite chastening to see that the pathologies dragging us down now were foretold in 1997, exactly as I reached the halfway mark of my shortened working life. Of course, the problem with working out which portents of doom to heed is that  there are so many of them, most of the things that could go wrong don’t go wrong. The bear case always sounds smarter. It’s still eerie to see that over twenty years ago a forecast of the troubles we  face now was written:

Globalization is exposing social fissures between those with the education, skills, and mobility to flourish in an unfettered world market―the apparent “winners”―and those without. These apparent “losers” are increasingly anxious about their standards of living and their precarious place in an integrated world economy. The result is severe tension between the market and broad sectors of society, with governments caught in the middle. Compounding the very real problems that need to be addressed by all involved, the knee-jerk rhetoric of both sides threatens to crowd out rational debate.

The standard answer to that from Calvinist work-is-good-for-you believers is adapt to creative destruction, get on your bike, or die, suckas. Bollocks to that – life is about more than work, I don’t want to hustle for the rest of my days, because I loathe hustle and self-promotion. Had I been born ten years later, that escape route wouldn’t have been an option open to me.

There’s no good reason to put up with a deteriorating workplace if you can buy manumission from The Man. Arguably the stagnation in living standards since I left work meant I haven’t gotten relatively poorer as a result of rising wages in the time I have been out of the workforce. Observation shows that in the West, and in Britain in particular, work is getting more shit for most people. Rodrik was right.

There’s a case to be made that Brexit was partly a rejection of globalisation, the line that if I am going down, you lot are going down with me. Time will show if they get what they wished for. Let’s hope they like it, eh? They’re not going to get a do-over.

Globalisation is much more popular in Asia than in the West, according to Milanovic

But the dissatisfaction with globalised capitalism is not universal: a YouGov survey showed a very high degree of support for globalisation in Asia, with the lowest support in the US and France.

It stands to reason – it has been a win, particularly for the Asian middle class.

Who has gained from globalisation, 1998 to 2008. Tea-leafed from Milanovich’s report in the Harvard Business Review, “Why the Global 1% and the Asian Middle Class Have Gained the Most from Globalization”

Right-wing nut-jobs like the Adam Smith Institute’s Tim Worstall makes a cogent case that globalisation has been a good thing for humanity in the round. He is probably right in that nobody has experienced an absolute terms retrenchment7, but if I had followed my Dad into a blue collar job and Tim showed up in a bar telling me “chin up old boy, your end of the boat had to go down for the greater good, but though you can’t buy a house your telly’s sharper and your phone isn’t screwed to the wall like your Dad’s” then he might end up with a robust and physical riposte, because I don’t particularly care about humanity if I am feeling shat on. He’s also got an answer to the tosspot8 David Attenborough yammering on about environmental issues and that there is no problem that exists in the world to which the right answer is ‘more human beings’, basically don’tcha worry your little head about that, capitalism will fix that too.

Even on a white-collar income, Dani Rodrik’s declining trajectory is shown in my life. I discharged my mortgage ten years later in life than my Dad did, on his single household income. The arrow of time still points in the same direction, the retrenchment in home ownership9 in more recent generations. Worstall would say so what, Millennials will live longer than previous generations, and they have far more choice in what to spend their incomes on. If he makes the case in some hipster east London bar through a mouthful of smashed avocado on toast, he may be met with some pushback in the form of “as long as those things we can afford don’t include buying a house or having children, yes”.

Is your passive FI/RE dream eating your children’s future?

The British Academy lays out the charge on page 27, Corporate Financing that the arm’s-length passive ownership is not only detrimental to the common weal, but it amplifies the actions of bad actors

Traditionally, corporate financing has been concerned with the interests of investors alone. Stock market listed companies in the UK and US are dominated by dispersed passive shareholders who do not provide the active engagement with companies that is associated with larger share blocks in other countries around the world.

In particular, universal shareholders who hold the global portfolio of shares through index funds have risen to the fore. To the extent that there are engaged investors, they take the form of short-term hedge fund activists who hold blocks of shares in companies for an average of between two to four years.

What is for the most part missing in the UK and US are long-term, engaged holders of blocks of shares who act as true owners of corporate purposes . Since one cannot have a relationship with the anonymous, the absence of identifiable holders of blocks of shares undermines the provision of long-term relationship forms of equity finance. The result is not only insufficient governance and stewardship by investors but also a deficiency of committed owners of corporate purposes.

I am not clever enough to see if they are right, but at least some of that seems to have a grain of truth to it. This bell has been tolling for some time – 8 years ago I watched the programme Finished at Fifty that showed a stark contrast between the lifestyles of a Chinese middle class aspirant in an economy with rising prospects and a fifty-year old Brit who had already been offed from one job, carried too much mortgage for his stage of life, lived high on the hog and wasn’t looking at the road ahead. Some of the anger I had in that post is because I saw myself in him, and I was half-way through extricating myself from that sort of folly. We hate seeing in others the dim reflection of our Shadow, and that was why watching this berk do what I had done two years before got on my tits so much…

The stench of decline in the West has grown worse since that programme, in the English-speaking world it’s names are Trump and Brexit, and they harken back to making America Great Again and its Mini-Me Brexit Putting the Great back into Great Britain Again over here.

Putting the Great back into Britain

It just ain’t gonna happen, guys. Sic transit gloria mundi. Well, it’s going to happen for the better off, but although I am over halfway up the UK wealth scale10  I am nowhere near safe from that firestorm, and I don’t even have the right to live elsewhere any more11 any more because of these nostalgic dreamers of Imperial glories past selling their jingoistic story.

Jacob Rees-Mogg will do all right out of it

Jakes will do all right out of it. Of course he’s not influencing Somerset Capital Management‘s investment decisions since he’s an MP. So that’s all tickety-boo and above board then. But the engine of globalisation is driven by our money as well as his. Perhaps I am closer to Tim Worstall than I like to think. It’s not a good feeling.

  1. I am sure one day there will be someone with enough cash to be able to flush this dumb money by pumping and dumping enough stocks along the index rebalancing cycle, but it hasn’t happened so far that we know of. 
  2. The battery works on a chemical process and has a finite number of cycles before it loses capacity. Once upon a time you could change the rechargeable battery in a mobile phone just like in any other electronic doo-hickey. Apple led the way by glueing the damn thing inside the case, so you get to throw the whole thing in the trash when the battery is knackered. 
  3. The Domesday Book of 1086 is the first and last comprehensive record of land ownership in England. Unlike any other self-respecting European country the cadastral records of the modern Land Registry don’t cover 14% of the country because the aristocracy don’t want you to know how rich they are. Land is their preferred method of preserving capital across the generations. Estates aren’t sold when inherited, so they can do this on the Q.T. 
  4. for instance the Dhaka garment factory fire of 2012 has echoes of the Triangle Shirtwaist disaster in NYC a hundred years earlier 
  5. Yeah, that’s an Amazon link. I am part of the problem, as I’m sure are most of you. Don’t like His Jeffness? Google it…oh never mind 
  6. My Dad retired just after his 65th birthday, having worked at that company for 23 years, but he started work at 14, so he worked for 50 years in total. 
  7. I find this hard to square with the increasing signs of overt poverty in the UK, the increased amount of visible homelessness, the food banks that Iain Duncan-Smith regarded as just the third sector picking up the slack rather than the direct result of his vile disdain for the lower orders not being able to ride out the five-week delay built into Universal Credit welfare reforms pour encourager les autres. But let’s not pick the fight with Sir Tim Worstall, eh? 
  8. If you’re about to pound the keyboard giving me what for about the dastardly disrepect shown to Sir David, may I respectfully suggest to you that your irony detector has failed in service. 
  9. You can make the case that home-ownership isn’t as well suited to modern insecure working patterns. The trouble is that the rental market is too skewed to favour landlords in Britain, with virtually no security of tenure what with the section 21 eviction at short notice without reason, though there are moves afoot to change this. That won’t take things anywhere near the sort of security of tenure German renters have, for instance. 
  10. the median UK household wealth is about £260k according to the ONS 
  11. I suppose I could buy Maltese citizenship but Brexit has shown just how frail supranational entitlements of residency really are. You gotta admire Maltese chutzpah, when the EU gave them a bollocking for selling citizenship they simply raised the price (to more than I can probably afford) and said that that was all right then. Malta’s got other serious problems – it is far too close to obvious geopolitical hazards, the government seems to have issues with journalists who find out too much. Before Brits point fingers at those Maltese fly-by-nights note that the UK government sells citizenship on a sliding scale of £2,000,000 to £10,000,000. Interested? Apply right here on The extra £8M readies buys you three years off the settlement delay, and you can fast-track the application for 500 nuts (on top of the £1600 fee).  We don’t give you all that US bollocks about moral turpitude. Acts of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private and social duties which a man owes to his fellowmen are absolutely fine with us. As long as you do your crime and skip the country where you perpetrated it within 12 months, or your criminality is more than 10 years ago we’ll whistle a dancing tune and welcome you and your money with open arms. What’s more, unlike those money-grabbing Maltese the money is still yours, all we ask is you lob it in a UK bank and convert it to sterling. Ta muchly. Obviously if you wanted to get EU citizenship you are SOL, but £2mill ought to get you a suitable gated pad with a concierge, so you don’t need to fear the revolting proletariat in the years to come. Toodle pip old boy and the best of British luck in sharing your ill-gotten gains with us investing sagely. 

Crafty Klarna card bites savvy student

Fintech is a jazzy name for innovation in ways of providing you with financial services. It usually involves a mobile phone, which should never be involved in anything valuable to you, because of the ease with which ne’er-do-wells can run off with your phone number via a SIM swap. But it doesn’t have to. The trouble is in the word innovation. A lot of innovation is put into parting you from your money. It began with Access being your flexible friend, helping out Money when you run out of month. The song’s still the same after 30 years, but innovation is there to riff on the tune.

The problem is that innovation means that your usual spidey sense for scams or bad outcomes doesn’t work. Take Klarna, f’rinstance. Classic piece of fintech, it’s designed to reduce friction in spending for the young. I’ve already had a grouse about Klarna this time last year in the YOLO train-wreck post, and now there’s this story about a young lady who has only just discovered the impact of Klarna on her credit score.

Our Klarna victim

Your grizzled scrivener has a sneaking admiration for Erin, because at 21 she is keeping an eye on her credit score and seems to be managing her general finances with a competence that my younger self failed to achieve. I had to chase earning more to assuage the leakage from my pay packet into things like beer, music and high living. OTOH my younger self was still not so far from the principles my parents had instilled

Don’t spend more than you earn, son, and if you have to do it, only for non-wasting assets. Do not borrow money for consumption

Klarna seems to be a specific case of a new class of fintech, basically designed to part the poor from their money, by salami-slicing the sticker shock over time. It comes with instagram-friendly puffery but the basic premise is that £100 sounds high, so make it four lots of £25. It is absolutely true that it’s easier to pay off four lots of £25 from four pay packets than one lot of £100.

Always pay cash for your thneeds

What you must not do, however, is to then go and do that another three times that month, thinking to yourself it’s only £25, I can easily manage that.  Because four lots of £25 is just as tough as one lot of £100, but now you’re stuck doing that for four months rather than one. This is the fundamental scam behind all these slice-it-and-dice-it buy-now-pay-later schemes, they’re trying to get you to spend more.

The rule is simple. Always pay cash for thneeds. What is a thneed? The Lorax had this taped way back in the 1970s. It’s something that you think you need, but the subtext is you don’t really. And it destroys the environment in some way. Fits fast fashion perfectly.

In the personal finance world we call these Wants, as opposed to Needs. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Wants, they make life a bit more interesting and colourful. But you should never borrow to buy Wants. Pay cash. Or use a credit card but pay it off at the end of the month.

If you can buy it with Klarna, it’s a Thneed. You can’t buy food, or toilet bleach with Klarna. Take a butcher’s hook at Klarna’s Instagram. It’s lifestyle, not substance. Strapline

The Pay later people. Highlighting UK retailers smoooth enough to offer Klarna.
Shop our Instagram here

For God’s sake don’t borrow to buy shit like that. If you have money left over at the end of the month, fine. Head on over to MSE’s Demotivator first, however, to find out how many weeks you have to work a year to buy this garbage.

The trouble with Klarna is it’s a ragtag mix of different products

Pay in full in 30 days? It’s a charge card. Pay in 3 instalments? It’s a personal loan application, but for a pissy small amount. Worse still, use the instalment procedure often, and you look like a deadbeat trying to get loan after loan after loan, which means any self-respecting financial institution is going to be very wary of lending you money. If you’re going to take on a hard credit search, then borrow a decent amount of money in the thousands, don’t piddle about with £100 here and there.

Sure, you don’t pay interest if you pay over three months. But you hurt your chances of getting a loan, credit card or mortgage. Here’s a radical idea. Save up for your thneeds before you buy them. There are things in life you do have to borrow money for, and they are important enough (housing, a buffer against losing your job etc). Don’t screw your chances of getting to borrow when you need to for saving a couple of month’ interest on your thneeds. If you must buy your thneeds before you have the money use a credit card, preferably just after you’ve paid off the balance. You get a month and a half of interest-free credit if you pay it off, and if you don’t, then at least it doesn’t crap on your credit score.

Klarna is the fintech version of your grandmother’s catalogue shopping

Back in the day there used to be catalogues of consumer crap and thneeds and clothes delivered to working-class neighbourhoods. These advertised some ghastly object, say for £50. It wouldn’t say this was £50, it would say that this was 50p a week over three years. Their hope was to reduce the sticker shock so people would think that’s only 50p, I can afford that for a while, let’s have it. Then they get to pay nearly £80 over the three years. Klarna is using that sort of principle. It’s not quite Brighthouse, which is the online version of the catalogue scam.

Fintech credit is bad, but fintech isn’t inherently bad.

New ways of borrowing money are bad for your wealth IMO. There are established ways of borrowing money: mortgages, bank loans and credit cards. We are used to them and they are reasonably regulated. We don’t need new ways of borrowing money in funny ways, particularly for Wants.

However, some sorts of fintech are good IMO. I use Starling Bank. Starling means I can buy things in foreign currencies without eating the stupid fees that old-tech banks charge, just because they can. The ability to switch off the card and re-enable it has some value, as does the immediate itemisation of card purchases including contactless. All good stuff. Fintech is doing some good stuff with investing, reducing transaction costs.

If you can’t Pay Now, then Don’t Pay

Klarna. The Pay later people.

The red flag is right up there. Pay Later is always bad for your financial health in some way. If your current self can’t pay now, what do you know about your future self that means they can pay later? Particularly when your future self is only a month away? When was the last time you saw a mortgage advertised as Pay Later? That’s what it is, but at least it’s on an appreciating asset. Nothing you can buy with Klarna is an asset, it’s for consumables. Pay cash for that sort of thing, or use a credit or debit card and pay it off in full. If you can’t do that you can’t afford it, and your next-month-older-self won’t be able to afford it any better than your current skint self. Buy your consumer shit just before the end of the month, with cash or a debit card 😉 Then you know you can afford it. Want to buy a consumable that’s dearer than a month’s spare cash? Here’s a radical idea. Save up for it beforehand. No spare cash? Don’t buy it.

Klarna. Just Say No. Erin can buy several sizes, try them on and return the ones that don’t fit using a regular credit card. If she’s buying enough that five of each size is maxing her credit card limit then perhaps she needs to think about her fashion habit, but she’s probably OK.

For sure if she screws up she will end up paying interest, but it sounds like she’s organised enough to avoid that – just don’t buy fashion in the week before her statement is produced, or have two credit cards, one with a statement date at the beginning of the month and one in the middle, and use whichever one has been billed most recently. And make sure to pay them off. In full.

Bear markets are a bastard when investing at a fixed time in life

Most of the younger folk reading this will go WTF? Bear markets are the investor’s best friend. You get more for your money. The trouble is, that a human life is not infinite. It is short, and a working human life is shorter still, unless you have a trust fund working for you until your 20s.

Reading this article brought this home to me, getting good results with financial markets is a combination of luck, being in the market a long time1 and never be a forced buyer or seller.

Never be a forced seller

The human financial life cycle – buyer at the start

There is a human financial life cycle2, and that life cycle has two big events in it where you make a big financial decision at a time which is more a function of when you were born than any financial considerations. In the first case, you are a forced buyer. In the second, you are a forced seller.

The first one I got very, very wrong, and that is the time you buy your first house, should you be earning enough to do so. Buy at a bull market high with a mortgage, and it will take you decades to recover from that error. Although it’s true that you don’t have to buy a house at any specific age, the human lifecycle is such that that becomes more of a consideration in your thirties, and it tends to be more of a consideration when breeding. The latter you need to make happen in a space of about 10 to 20 years, and you’re probably too skint or haven’t met the Right One in your early twenties, so this window is more like 10 years in practice. Unlike the financial markets, cycles in the housing market are long and slow, and you take this decision with little experience of market cycles.  And you do it with leverage.

The upside is that you take this decision early in your working life, so there is enough time to recover from errors, though if you get it very wrong it will cramp your style for a long time. Leverage is lovely when the asset you purchase rises in value over time, and it is frightful when it goes down over time. Most of the time housing goes up over time, which is why 90% of Britons regard residential property bought with a mortgage as a money tree3. But if you take a negative equity suckout early in your career you’ll be paying off a long time.

The second decision you take when you are out of ammo, and you become a forced seller, every year. It’s called retirement, and while on average a 4% ‘safe withdrawal rate’ SWR is considered acceptable (it used to be 5% a few years ago) you’re still a forced seller.

And a seller in retirement – an early bear market hurts your SWR

The early retiree, and particularly the extreme early retiree, has a tough balance to strike. What most people want to run their life is a steady income, preferably matching inflation or earnings growth, whichever is the greater4. Sure, in an ideal world you’d want to have as much as possible, but when wrangling the art of the possible, something that looked like their income when working would be nice.

Living off a capital sum and unreliable investment income is really, really hard. It leads to suboptimal outcomes, too. I will be glad when I have a base income that is defined. There’s then a clear answer to ‘how much can I spend in a year’. In the years of living off savings and investment income, the answer to ‘how much can I spend in a year’ was always ‘as little as possible’ and now in hindsight there’s a case to be made that I spent too little over the last eight years. Now that’s easy to say looking at an ISA bloated by ten years of a bull market. It could have been different, and I could have needed the money I didn’t spend had things gone differently. Most of the win I had was in the fact of not working for The Man, the stress of weaving a way through the financial jungle is far less than the stress of working was at the end.

But I never considered taking the CETV of my DB pension. Younger readers probably tap their heads and think that crazy. But I have had enough of living from an unstable income. It’s just not how I want to live. The Irrelevant Investor’s article shows the problem. If you set your income at 4% of marked-to-market investment income at the start, then a bear market at the start of your retirement will kill off your capital in 20 years.

You can fix that easily. Stick with the 4% rule and spend 4% of your capital as marked to market at the beginning of the year. Simples

Your income if you suffer an early bear market, predicated on a 40k income at a 4% SWR at the start of retirement. Swiped from The Irrelevant Investor

Our retiree didn’t get anything like 40k that his SWR promised him most of the time, and suffered 2:1 swings in income. “Can we go on holiday next year? God knows…”. Had the bear market happened at the end, then of course he’s been living high on the hog, ending up with a lot of money.

You can theorise all you like, but you have to live a particular sequence of returns trajectory rather than the Monte Carlo average. Sure, you can pool resources with other people to reduce the swings a bit. That’s called buying an annuity. It’s what you had to do until as recently as 2014, but when most people look at how much they have to pay for an annuity they run away in the opposite direction. Heck, even where people already have an annuity in the form of a defined benefit pension (which is annuity in all but name) and someone dangles a CETV in front of them to buy them out of getting that annuity many of them take the money and run.

There aren’t any good answers to this problem. There’s an argument that I have made the other mistake – fearful of the hazard of ever having to go back to work, I ended up with an ISA that is worth five times my gross salary at the high-water mark of my career, about to draw a pension that meets my needs and most of my wants. There is a case to be made that I underspent in the last seven years.

And yet it could have turned out differently. Because I started in the teeth of the financial crash, more than half of that capital came from investment rather than from savings. That investment gain might not have come. The market could have gone lower. That is the conundrum of trying to live off investment returns. There are a number of paths through the maze, as things like firecalc can show you. But you don’t know which track the hand of Fate has allotted you until you look at the path you lived, and there is much variation in the particular sequence of returns you can live through. In the early years I believed I would run out of money within five years, reaching 2017 with no fuel in the tank.

I was lucky. That early bear market never happened, and so I reached the finish line with more than I started with. It now makes sense to draw my main pension a little early, and to shift the profile of the ISA towards income, so that I smooth my income until I get my state pension.

I will give up some total return doing that, but in return I get peace of mind. I learned many things across the interregnum between taking my last pay packet and getting my first pension pay. One of those is that I am not a good judge of sell calls. Although the largest holding I have is VWRL which probably is my largest dividend paid per year, I have shifted recent purchases towards higher yielding investment trusts and of course the original HYP is still working. I should be able to make my income aim out of the ISA with the top up from my PCLS over a couple of years, while still nto having to sell.

Sure, if I wanted to optimise income, I wouldn’t start from here, particularly with all the VWRL which is a lousy dividend payer at 2%. I was led off the HYP path by the siren song of the passive investing shibboleth. But I can get what I want by a shift back towards income with future purchases. Without having to sell anything. I don’t want to shoot for the moon now. I want an easy life, and get an income uplift without making investment decisions.

  1. a long time because the real return of the market is piss poor on average, 3-5% in real terms I would guess. That means you need 100k of capital to get 4-5k of annual income 
  2. This should be prefixed “in the developed Western world” – and perhaps even more qualified “In pre-Brexit Britain”. Other European countries are more rent-friendly or have multigenerational living, and in Britain itself there have been higher levels of homeownership and more stable employment patterns, both of which are changing as a result of globalisation. 
  3. It always puzzles me why people don’t ask themselves what ground that money tree grows in. It is the hopes and dreams of their children trying to buy their houses 20 years down the line, because the parents pay politicians to water their house price money tree with tax breaks and credit pumped into the residential housing market. After perhaps too many drinks I greatly offended some berk at a party once who was mithering on about how it was so unfair that his kids couldn’t buy a house nowadays, after talking about how he’d done so well with property that he was thinking of getting into BTL. You couldn’t make it up… 
  4. Matching inflation keeps your absolute standard of living stable, but humans generally compare themselves with other humans, and if the others are working and earnings increase above inflation then workers will be able to buy the latest iPhone when you can’t, because they will be able to pay more. 

Two Factor Security shouldn’t involve a mobile phone

If I were God for a day the piece of technology I’d uninvent in a heartbeat is the mobile phone, with a special mention for its bastard spawn the smartphone. It’s made rude shits of us all, because the phone trumps the person you’re talking to in meatspace right here right now. It enables zero hours contracts, things like Uber and pretty much anything that allows us to treat human beings more like pieces of machinery. It allows Facebook to track the proles all over the place and sell them shit they don’t need to impress people they don’t like…you  know the pack drill. Pretty much anything that’s good for Facebook1 is bad for the common weal.

I give a few people I want to talk to my phone number, and even fewer a mobile number, along with the exhortation do not make the assumption that you can get me on this. One colleague summed it up perfectly when I was at work – he only uses a mobile when he is mobile. Well, yeah. Duh.  Unlike the rest of the human race it seems, I go about my business without carrying a mobile phone with me. I don’t want to be disturbed at anybody’s whim if I am doing something else. I think the AI guys can beat humans by just taking a break for a few years, then the gormless numpties that are us will lose the fight, like Idiocracy on speed.

Asimov missed the target in The Feeling of Power.

The congressman took out his pocket computer, nudged the milled edges twice, looked at its face as it lay there in the palm of his hand, and put it back.

It’s not just maths, it’s orientating ourselves spatially using a map, knowing shit that you ought to know without the Big G, all sorts. But this fight has been lost, the bad guys won. In the fight between Them and Us, Them routed Us comprehensively.

Increasingly seems that banks want, nay demand to have a mobile number, and they just can’t believe I don’t have one. So the blighters continually demand one, and say I can’t use t’internet to buy shit without. Sure I possess one, but since it spends most of its time in one place it’s not the vade mecum that it is for everyone else. I gotta switch the damn thing on, because I’m sick of the FAANGs “following me around with Rays2” otherwise.

2FA – what you have and what you know

I understand the point of 2FA3. Way back in the mists of time, you could present your credit card, and the spotty yoof would take a print from the embossed card and get you to sign it, and then inspect the signature with the one on the back to see if it matched. That was the something you have – the card – and the something you know, which is how to scrawl your moniker in such a way as to match the one on the back. The obvious problem was presumably visual artists could match anyone’s signature, so we went away and invented Chip and PIN, and all was well with the world.

Then some more spotty youths invented t’internet. Bless their idealistic souls, they built it along the models of some prelapsarian Eden where Bad Guys didn’t exist. It’s one of the reasons why email is so broken and you get all those letters from people you know, even those that are dead, saying they’re stuck in some God-forsaken place without money could you just Western Union4 over some cash.

So we all got on our computers to buy our consumer shit that we see people with on Instagram, and they had to invent some other sort of out of band authorisation, involving injecting spurious data from third party sites5 and calling it 3d secure, ‘cos obviously knowing the number on the front and the one on the back is trivially easy for some punk that’s just nicked your card, as long as it’s not something he wants delivered.

That’s not up to snuff for actually using your bank online. Obviously they could ask you to put your PIN in the computer the way you do at an ATM, but all sorts of Bad Guys are in your computer along with the NSA, GCHQ and some random assortment of Russian whatevers. You’re probably OK form the latter sort of Bad Guys but it’s the ones who don’t have enough money that you have to worry about. Sometimes it’s a wonder you can get the lid back on your computer, there are so many bad guys in there. So the banks give you a gizmo you stick your card in that has no ports for a keylogger etc. Yet, anyway. The whole point is you don’t plug it into your computer where all the Bad Guys are hanging out.

I was pretty much OK with that as an option, and I would have been OK to use that on the Web instead of 3D (in)secure. But the banks now want to send out text messages to a mobile phone.

A mobile is highly thievable, insecure and spoofable

Hoodied n’er-do-well on a bike about to half-inch a phone in London, as shown by the Metropolitan Police

Now I don’t spend time thinking about mobile security but it’s pretty obvious that mobes are highly liftable. Plus, it turns out, they are highly spoofable by design, which is a big Security Fail for the banks, because Mr Big Bank sends you a SMS text message to a phone number.

In an epic fail, Mr Big Bank failed to realise that the phone number is not an inalienable parameter of the mobile phone, it is a function of the SIM card. The clue’s in the name – Subscriber Identification Module6.

So there’s no security to be had by texting your mobile number, because Bad Guys can get your number reallocated to them. As happened to gobshite Jack Monroe. While she may sometimes talk rot in along with a fair amount of sense presented in an edgy manner, she doesn’t deserve to have Bad Guys run off with some of her hard-earned. There’s also an object lesson here, which is if you must put your birth date on Facebook then for God’s skae make it a day, month and year which are not the same as the ones you give to your bank, huh? HM the Queen can have a real birthday and an official birthday. If it’s good enough for Her Majesty, it’s good enough for her subjects. OK so she has managed a fail by blathering her real birthday on the website, but she has the advantage over you and I that she has staff to sort out her money, so it’s not like she has to ring up the Bank of England and some droid in another continent asks her for her birthday to let her know how many billions she has in the Bank light now. Don’t plaster your birthday over social media, peeps, and if you must, make sure it’s wrong. Sure, it’s an example of security by obscurity but don’t make it unnecessarily  easy for the bad guys, eh? At least make your Social Media Self a couple of years older or younger if you’ve already let the cat out of the bag.

Mr Big Bank., let’s have less of this garbage about enhancing security and making life twice as hard as it needs to be. You had a perfectly serviceable method with the card reader gizmo to get an out of band validation of the customer’s pin, which you spurned in favour of the mobile phone. There is absolutely nothing secure about a mobile phone, and the smartphone is known only for being a totally uncontrolled piece of computing hardware which has a totally uncontrolled set of software applications and an equally uncontrolled software patch status.

The one thing we know about the smartphone is that is does pretty much anything it does incompetently, it’s nickable as hell and there’s no process of nailing the phone number to the phone, even if that were desirable. So, banksters, quit the fetishisation of the smartphone as a way to add security. Use either the card readers you have already, or suck it up. As for the rubes that grizzled on the radio about not being able to use their bank details stored on their mobile phones due to yesterday’s Three outage, well, whaddya expect? A bank card just is. If you want to save yourself the burden of carry less than 1g of plastic by sticking it on your phone where you need a working network connection as well as the damn phone, well, you’ve just discovered that the extra requirement inherently reduces reliability. Live and learn, eh?

  1. OK, let’s not pick on the Zuck. Anything that’s good for the FAANGs isn’t good for the common weal. 
  2. Terry Pratchett, Soul Music, Foul Ole Ron 
  3. Two Factor Authentication
  4. The rule is simple. If it involves Western Union it’s a scam at best and criminal at worst. Presumably there is a correct use for Western Union but I’ve never run across it. Why the heck they don’t re-christen it Bank of Con-Artists and Thieving Scumbags is a mystery to me. 
  5. how injecting cross-site scripting Javascript into a web page makes the system more secure beats the hell out of me because in pretty much every other application on the Web that’s a big No No. 
  6. Else it would be called the PIM, huh? There is a phone identifier snazzily called the IMEI that is meant to identify the phone. No idea how spoofable that is. There’s still the problem that phones are small and valuable, thus attractive to thieving barstewards. 

DB pension options – an object lesson in the power of inflation

The Ermine is advancing of years. It comes to us all, hopefully. I am not yet of the age when I would have quit The Firm after thirty years of service and gone to the pub to celebrate my forthcoming freedom. But it’s not that far off.

Seven years after retiring, I have now burned through half my DC pension AVC savings and invested the other half into the ISA. In cash-flow terms the Ermine is almost skint, and I am on the final approach to taking my main pension, a little early. So I asked them for the information pack.

Every pension is different, and with mine there is the usual  option to take some as a tax-free lump-sum. After that there are two options. One is to take a pension that is index-linked up to a cap, and the other option is to take a higher pension that is part non-increasing, and part index-linked up to the same cap.

Why on earth would you do that? Well, the logic is that you get a higher start, since they are paying you to take your claim of index linking off their hands. The higher start makes some sense – one is in best health at the start of retirement than at the end when you’re eyeing up a pine box. They also made something of the fact that the State Pension will turn up later, which should fight some of the later attrition.

Inflation can easily kill the higher start

It looked reasonable at first sight. There’s a common argument that people spend more in the early years of retirement, and less as they get older. Unless they are unlucky enough to end up in a care home, but fewer than 20% of us end up in a care home1. The difference between the higher start and regular isn’t huge, however, it is about three grand p.a. after tax. But it doesn’t take much inflation to erode that, it falls behind in my early seventies and typical inflation rates of ~3%. Some people take the argument that it is the cumulative shortfall that matters,and it is true that this falls below zero later on, a few years past the age that my Dad died. But I am in much better health than either of my parents were at my age. So I might be leery of assuming I cark it at the same age, though of course I could be flattened by a bus tomorrow. Risk is tough to qualify, eh? Continue reading “DB pension options – an object lesson in the power of inflation”

Monzo, metal cards and bullet journals

There are intrepid folk like RIT and TA flaying fees on their investment products. Quite rightly so. Anything to do with storing and processing your money should cost as little as possible, subject to delivering a satisfactory service. After all, your money is embodied life-force. You exchanged hours of your life for it, and you want the leak in the tank to be as low as possible.

Oddly enough, when it comes down to credit cards, this seems to escape people totally. I can live with over 20% APR on my credit cards because I don’t pay it. I pay them off or I use promotional deals. If you carry debt on a credit card at 20% off, that’s like every store you buy things from using that card having a big notice – Anti-Sale – pay 20% more for everything. However, clever marketing folks being what they are, there are even more methods to separate credit card users from their money – even if they don’t pay interest! Step forward modern fintech fast-movers. Y’know, the guys that don’t come with lots of legacy Big Iron in their IT systems, who can most fast and break things, and rip you off on the Q.T. , make you feel special about the colour or materials your credit card is made of. The thing replaced by that whizzy fintech app is on your phone so you don’t need to use?

The Ermine  failed to understand why some of da yoof chooses to spaff £72 p.a. for a Hot Coral Monzo card. It’s not a one off. I sparked up You and Yours on the wireless1. The programme was mainly about Greta Thunberg, but there was a segment about money saving.

handsome Monzo CEO in front of the colour he’s managed to separate his customer from their hard-earned money for

Apparently as well as rushing some punters for a brightly coloured card, Monzo is ripping off their even vainer customers charging a premium for a Metal card, as are Revolut. I was tickled to hear Alexander, a fresh-faced and insecure twenty-something digital media wallah opine that a metal card is also more environmentally friendly, well, no use of plastic, innit? Dude, if you are in the presence of a fire, piss on the nearest bit first. That’s your food packaging and Amazon Prime packaging, not a 5×9cm piece of plastic you replace every three years… Continue reading “Monzo, metal cards and bullet journals”

Work is not a job, and the web of life

Over at Retirement Investing Today there’s an intriguing differentiation between work and jobs. I confess that I never thought about either until mid-teens, and conflated the two. Let’s hear it from RIT

Soon after joining it became very obvious that while there were some pieces of meaningful work (where I define work as something you do for purpose) the vast majority of what I was going to be doing was just a job (which I define as something you do because you need the money) and right now I don’t need a job.

You know how listening to someone speak, somewhere in the back of your mind there is a guy with a tape recorder taping the incoming soundstream1. Every so often you have a hey I didn’t quite get moment and yell down to the guy in the depths of your brain “Hey, roll tape and gimme that again”

Well, there must be a similar process in reading, I had gotten past that section on to

Living it again enabled me to see that the role, my industry and my own needs had changed beyond recognition and at some point, much like the boiled frog, my meaningful work / career had actually predominantly become just a job with me just not noticing.

before it occurred to me that this was a way of looking at work that was seriously new to me and something I had missed through a lifetime of work 😉

RIT approach to work and investing is in some ways the yin to my yang, or perhaps the other way round. Anyway, he is a steady and rational investor of the passive kind. He had sufficient overview of his industry to lay out the distant early warning system that picked up the sound of incoming thunder early enough for him to plan an exit strategy

I originally pursued FIRE as back in 2007 I saw some changes starting to occur that made me think my job at the time would eventually be outsourced to a low cost country.

Whereas I discovered I was in trouble after The Firm took a stake in an outsource and my work turned into a job (in RIT’s parlance) and then started to become seriously shit.

When a Job is not Work

I confess I never sought meaning from work, this is still something I don’t get. What I wanted was for it to be interesting and above all to be enough to live on. I saw leisure time as the time to chase meaning. It has not escaped me that this seems to be an atypical approach to work nowadays. Perhaps it comes from a working-class background, people don’t carry bricks or fix cars as a source of meaning in their lives. These were jobs, though people still think of it in terms of going to work.

So I am intrigued by RIT’s taxonomy, and perhaps what I called a requirement for work to be ‘interesting’ was what many people call ‘meaning’.

Certainly as time went by micromanagement became more and more a feature of the workplace although I rose a few levels up the greasy pole. When I started at The Firm I could sign off up to £500 of spend, when I left two decades later and some layers up the tree I had to get return train tickets authorised in advance to London (where the project was). There was much more job in my work.

A company doing white-collar work used to be a group of people working together to a common goal, there was more leeway and co-operation. Nowadays it’s a bunch of work units performance managed to an inch of their lives, measured individually against following processes. No surprise that there’s less esprit de corps then 😉

RIT’s experience and description of retiring and returning to work and then leaving it again confirms my prejudice that once you walk away  from a professional job you become pretty much unemployable in that sort of thing.

The work is all right, it is the job part that sucks. Filling in timesheets, getting authorisation for spend, all hands events where lying bastards lie blatantly to you and it’s not the done thing to call them out on it or ask “why is this going to work this time when it failed the last three times it was tried here?”

Those locked into the hamster wheel make the best of a bad thing I guess and say they get meaning from this and good luck to them. An Ermine in The Firm would be a very dangerous thing indeed, because a company runs on a shared belief system that does not necessarily correspond with reality, and it doesn’t need troublemakers highlighting the dissonances.

There seems to be an increasing trend to corporate belief in the principles of Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret2 – the current UK government seems to also be a fan of the modus operandi of wishing for what you want really really hard and it will happen. Perhaps there is truth in “Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad“.

Companies avoid dissent in the ranks against the obvious stupidity of the latest management fad with the simple threat of economic sanction – do it our way and don’t rock the boat else you’ll lose you job. The financially independent think to themselves ‘so what’ and also ask themselves how they could better use their time.

Others say contracting is the way and many people make a success of that. You don’t have to buy into the corporate ethos. I could never see that as a reliable source of income of the sort I’d have the balls to raise a mortgage against. I wasn’t even aware of it as a possibility for the first decade or so of my working life, BPO wasn’t a big part of the companies I worked for at the time. Mrs Ermine, who comes from a different background, has no trouble with the notion. It ain’t me.

When Work is not a Job

… it’s called volunteering. Presumably nobody volunteers for things they think are without worth, and the great advantage volunteers have over employees is they can walk off the job at any time with no downside. As an aside, that can make managing volunteers really tough. When the task in hand is obvious – like clear this brushwood, then one volunteer is better than ten pressed men. And employees are pressed – they show up because they need the money 😉

But when the job is obscure, or controversial, like shooting deer3 in woodland, or will have a result in the long run, or just lacks feelgood factor, well, give me paid staff any time.

There’s a feelgood story about these deer in Captain’s Wood, but I have been sworn to secrecy about deer in other wildlife places… If it’s a dirty job, then use staff, not volunteers.

By RIT’s definition, though not by mine4, a while ago an Ermine did about a week of work. I can’t say the process agrees with me, getting up regularly for a particular time malarkey isn’t to my taste these days. It was a long video job shooting unpredictable stuff under awkward light. You have to make a lot of decisions quickly as an event starts5, because professionals can get away with zooming the camera in vision but I am not talented enough to do that, though I can track action serviceably enough with a sort of fluid head.

Much has improved in this biz since I worked as a studio engineer at TV Centre in the 1980s, the cameras are sharper, better, smaller, lighter. The combination of optical stabilisation and software post-stabilisation makes handholding without a Steadicam feasible6, indeed I was amazed I could raise the camera on a monopod four feet above my head and still get a usable result. So I learned a combination of practical stuff and people stuff, and hopefully the result will make people happy.

The web of life

I am far too conservative to make RIT’s sort of move. The place you worked is not necessarily a good place to retire – London is the classic case in point. It’s easy to feel poor there as the joint fills up with the super-rich. Simple economics also points that way – people congregate where there is a higher density of well-paid work. This tends to push the price of accommodation and some services up. We had someone from New York stay with us and they were amazed at the low cost of wine. Even American wine, which is illogical, it’s come a long way and we have significant alcohol taxes.  Her perception was that the discount was a lot more than the 20% due to the fall in the pound. Presumably stores in NYC can charge higher prices because the market will bear them.

I stayed where I had worked for several years before moving westwards. Although the move was logical for someone interested in ancient stones and occasional hillwalking, we had commitments and a retiree should take a lot of time to ponder their web of life before moving. Before we moved we had made contacts in this area and taken on some common projects, expanding who we know. I personally think with contacts that matter you need to have physical connections with – see them, walk with them, do things together, eat and drink together, celebrate significant events. In the flesh.

During your working life these connections are easier to make7. You usually are in the same place as the people you work with, and share breaks with them. People who have young children also connect with other people with similar age children, and coincidentally this tends to be in your working life due to the vagaries of human biology. As an (early) retiree you are probably past those opportunities, so you need to take a lot more care about moving. The aspect of who is as important as where.

The ‘nearer to the grandchildren’ trap

Beware one trap regarding the who and where, though it seems to be particularly for those around 60. The first time I saw this I though that was just tough luck, but I’ve seen it several times now. Some people move away from an existing web of friends and acquaintances and somewhere they know to be closer to their children and new grandchildren. It all sounds idyllic, and they can help greatly with childcare in those pre-school years etc. But while those ties are strong, it seems to start unravelling roughly when the grandchildren start going to secondary school and being more independent.

You don’t want to be stuck in a place where you have no other friends and are too far away to see your previous friends who have drifted away as you start entering the hazard of having lower mobility or not being able to drive, that seems a very lonely row to hoe. Particularly if you are unlucky enough for your children to have to move for work, as can happen. So if you are going to do that, make non-family connections in the area a priority too. Do things with other people, seek shared interests.

Non-family connections matter too

Modern work is inimical to non-family connections in many ways. For starters, you move away from your home town, often for university, very likely for work. So far so good, as you are still in the early phases of life where making connections is easier. You may make connections through work or children, but compared to previous generations jobs are less stable, and people move for work more often. Childcare seems to take up more energy that it used to do. Work oozes past the 9 to 5, seeping through smartphones and computers into a low-level background load.

This is a hit for very early retirees, because their peer group is largely still at work. I don’t know what the answer is. Moving to an area where there is less employment because it’s cheaper may not be wise, because this tends to skew the age distribution too. Philip Greenspun tackles this in where to live for early retirees.

You can, of course, take the digital nomad route – you can reduce your costs and see a lot of the world that way. Great if it is for you. I did a reasonable amount of travelling for work for a few years. About once a month was great. I was single, and could extend the journeys with some extra vacation allowance and have many fond memories.

More than that and it became wearing. Being ill on the road is particularly tough – and this was only things like the flu and gutrot.

I can’t imagine a more alienating and lonely experience than travelling all the time, but it seems to have a great following, particularly with Millennials. A chacun son goût…  I would suggest at least say try it for six months before building it into your future permanently. It seems to work for some.

All this is tougher to get right for the very early retiree. You have to live with the results for longer, you are making some connections many people make in the workplace, and you are an atypical retiree. That is not a reason not to do it, but it’s a task that needs more getting right that simply for an early retiree. People look at me as an early retiree and assume I was lucky. Whereas if I were 40 they would file me under the category ‘alien being’.

Even as an introvert with less need for human connection than average, this much I know. Early retirement is not all about the money. Humans are social creatures. Make connections, and do things with your fellow people. Having more time to do that is one of the gifts of not working.

  1. apparently this tape recorder guy in the depths of your head is a real thing, a bit like the job VT did for TV studios when I worked there – they were banished to the basement of TV Centre. So says the Guardian:  “Audiobooks, by contrast, exploit our “echoic memory”, which is the process by which sound information is stored for up to four seconds while we wait for the next sounds to make sense of the whole.” 
  2. I have never read The Secret but it seems a take on the earlier fad of  cosmic ordering. Humans are storytellers and to some extent you do make your own world, but there are limitations to how far that will take you. If you want to step beyond those limitations then you probably have to dedicate time and effort to improving your art of changing consciousness through acts of will. Even with that there are going to be hard limits somewhere ;) 
  3. I have never seen Bambi and don’t see anything wrong with shooting deer, but it’s a real tough one for conservation organisations who really don’t want the public to know they shoot deer to stop them browsing new growth and generally buggering up forest management. 
  4. I wasn’t paid, so it’s not work in my book. But it was interesting, so it sort of falls under RIT’s definition. Certainly wasn’t a job… 
  5. Too many people tried this previously on automatic settings, which looks ghastly in tough light. But on manual, you get to rack levels yourself, in real time. In my TV days there was someone solely dedicated to racking and colour balance 
  6. There are now gizmos you can buy that use motors and gimbals to do the chicken-head thing and I may get me one of these. Paradoxically I had an easier time holding the monopod at the bottom with the camera raised over my head than with the damn thing on the ground and holding the head. Either I improved my art over time or there is something weird going on. Bird necks are amazing, I once videoed a hunting kestrel through a telescope, and the bird’s eyes were held steady it seemed the rest of the bird body moved around in the wind. 
  7. This article posits a counterfactual for millenials, I don’t know if this is a peculiar pathology of London where most journalists seem to be, because the millenials I see don’t seem to suffer such a shocking dearth of friends. I do agree that when your cohort start having children is a massive nuke for school/college friends if you are child-free. You do start seeing some of these again in their  mid-fifties for some of the reasons this article takes the piss out of Fern Britton