The Ermine considers returning to work

I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’
Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’

Bob Dylan, 1960-something

I retired eight years ago. There are many people who retire and return to work because they find their lives have no meaning without the 9 to 5, or they miss other aspects of work. I’m not one of them.

If we didn’t have coronavirus in the world I wouldn’t give the idea the time of day. I am old, and compared to the young mustelid that graduated in the early 1980s I have no human capital left. I look at some of the jobs that come through LinkedIn and I have have neither the desire nor really the capability. Imagine the job interview

“Yes Mr Ermine, tell me about how you tackled blah blah blah”

“Well, nine years ago I….”

Nope. Not gonna wash. Plus after a few years out of the workplace I dress like Dominic Cummings, so I am on a sticky wicket from the start. Or maybe not, I quite fancy being untouchable in the workplace. 1

So why even consider it. Everybody wants you to be passionate about work, and I’m not.

Financially I am OK. I have a DB pension that pays my needs and wants, particularly at the moment when some of my wants can’t be had anyway. I have a couple of S&S ISAs which are probably about half the value backing my DB pension, and I don’t need to touch them. In less than 10 years I will draw a State pension. But –

A hard rain’s gonna fall

We have taken a massive economic shock, but on its own we could probably overcome it. The trouble is the background  – the Western Empire is falling, and this shock could accelerate the decline, because predators always prey on the weaknesses.

Most likely I will pass another couple of decades, cash in my chips and then the state of the world will be other people’s problem. But I have already had the experience once of blithely carrying on as if nothing will change while there’s fire burning underground, and then playing catch up to deal with the outbreak – getting out of the workplace in three years rather than a decade.

I need to also qualify what I am trying to fight, because some things are unfightable. I am at the coffee end of the spectrum. Social collapse, zombie apocalypse – wine is for that. If the answer is guns, beans and ammo, the question is wrong.

Let’s scope the enemy

Monevator is the cheerleader for never stopping work, and part of the problem is summarised in it takes a lot of money to replace a salary. But this is not relevant to me, after all, I am unlikely to get sacked from my pension, so in some ways my income is more secure than my salary was. The bar to getting it is to keep on breathing. Compared to the misery of mendacious metrics that’s a low bar 😉

But there’s an enemy in town. That enemy is inflation. It moves slowly, but irresistibly. My pension will keep up until it gets to 5%, and every year inflation overtops 5% I get poorer by the difference for the rest of my life.

Monevator has a depressing table of the value of capital in terms of income.

This is not quite so bad for me. For starters I began a few years back, so I have gotten myself a fair way down the chart already. While inflation will erode my pension it is unlikely to destroy it, unless we have a Germany situation. In which case nothing will help me, other than wine.

Inflation is good for people in work, as long as they stay in work. It’s even better for people who stay in work and take out big mortgages. One reason2 my Dad paid off his mortgage on a blue collar wage earlier in his life than I did on a white collar wage and without kids was inflation – his wages rose in numerical terms quickly but the value of the debt was frozen in time at the nominal value when he took it out.

Inflation is bad for people on fixed incomes. There will be enough people going inflation – schminflation. The hazard is deflation. At the moment you can make the case:

Petrol at less than £1/l in May 2020 (diesel was £1.04). The short shutter speed on a sunny day meant it didn’t catch all of the information on the sign due to strobing.

Compared to this picture, taken over ten years ago

This photo was a year old in 2010

and in the short term that is probably true. But we have borrowed a shitload of money, and the easiest way of making that cost less is to devalue the currency. The pound in your pocket stays the same, you just get less Stuff for it.

Change offers opportunity as well as hazard

So what are the possibilities for me? I could look at the electronics/IT industry, there is a lot of aerospace around Bristol. Main pros here are the money. Cons are everything else:

  • Employers
  • performance management crap
  • Commuting
  • The Man
  • I am out of date

Probably the biggest con is a serious mismatch – I don’t need to earn a huge amount, and my time is more valuable to me. I could see if part-time work were available, but the engineering industry, being male-dominated, despises part-timers.

I am more after a side hustle, but without the main job it’s a side to.

Big downside: hustle. I am neither entrepreneurial and nor do I hustle. I lose interest in people very quickly when I detect they are trying to network/sell something to me, and I could not do that convincingly to other people. It seems a very big part of the contracting/self-employed world, and I have been an employee all my working life. I despise hustle, and this may be a show-stopper. Also I am going to be in an environment full of people trying to hustle once the furlough scheme stops.

Passive income

Ah, remember the halcyon days of five or six years ago when every FIRE dude and their dog were after passive income? I actually have some from ten years ago, because I sold pictures and recordings to stock agencies. This seems to be reliable, it has been static for about ten years. I did a lot of that in the early fearful days of setting my exit plan, and it pays off. Unlike when I was writing for a content mill, which was, in all fairness, quite successful to the tune of thousands of pounds until it wasn’t, when Google deprecated their stuff and the business case went titsup overnight.

I could look at this again. I am less desperate and perhaps more creative now. There is some network effect, the more you do the more your other stuff sells.

A big disadvantage I have is that I don’t play computer games, which is what a lot of field recordings are used in. So I don’t really know my customer, what does well and what doesn’t is purely a matter of luck.

Other vaunted wheezes for passive income in the FIRE community were –

Matched betting . It’s too much like work to me, and bullshit work at that. Plus I have zero interest in sports.

Chuntering out Kindle ebooks. Sort of like writing for a content mill but a little more control. There was a fellow called Huw who was big on this a few years ago. I presume the business model went titsup, which I am grateful for as a Kindle reader, because there is a lot less shit to wade through on Amazon these days. Presumably Amazon deprecate the results of that sort of desperation.

Non-passive income.

I have made a slight name for myself in some electronics/recording areas by writing a couple of rants deconstructing why some sensors sound crap as typically misused. There is perhaps a product in there. The hazard with selling electronic products are

  • lead-free solder- just hurt for hand soldering
  • regulation – I’d have to wing it with CE marking
  • it’s Stuff, and there’s a lot of hurt in selling Stuff
  • The large country full of copycats who can work at scale for little that is China

Some of these are tractable, you can get things made cheaply now. The maker community has solved a lot of these problems. For instance I recently bought an AudioMoth to scout recording locations.Sure, I could have got the boards made and done the work myself, but CBA.

I could leverage that reputation, perhaps, and also it would save me having to answer some questions from wannabe makers that make me totally despair about the current state of training3 of electronics engineering courses. Some of the things being asked I knew before leaving primary school, FFS… But it’s Stuff. I don’t like selling Stuff, because some things about it don’t scale. Like going to the post office.

Oddball coronavirus opportunities

One thing that has happened is everybody is spending much more time online, and videoconferencing is a much bigger thing these days. I have occasionally helped some performers locally and shot some movie clips for them. I’m fiercely aware that this is an area where there are huge numbers of young media studies4 folk in prime competition.

And yet being in basic control of sound and vision seems ill-taught, along the general lines of “take that f*cking thing off auto, you muppet” as well as educating people that if your microphone is where your camera is then either your sound is shit or you subject will have the most enormous conk and teeth like a horse.

However, for every 100 muppets there are a few of these media studies people that are really good, particularly when it comes to NLE editing. I stopped working as a studio engineer at BBC TV Centre in the late 1980s, so vision mixing was still done in real time although shots were of course assembled in nonlinear time with VT5. Nowadays most of what was done in real time vision mixing is done in non-real time on computers with a NLE editor. There are great similarities between the old method of working and mixing/producing a live presentation with multiple sources. You can do all that on a computer, you don’t need hundreds of thousands of pounds of Grass Valley‘s finest hardware.

However, with the increase in the use of Zoom and live conferencing and presentation, there are opportunities for live vision mixing but with software. And I may have some relevant skills there, both from a background in videoconferencing, and also being able to  set up scenes and vision mix live. There’s nothing in there that a half-competent YouTuber won’t know, but many people only seem to know the boundaries of their phone…

Whether it will amount to ‘owt remains to be seen, after all I have to both add value and find people who will pay. But I was surprised that a couple of opportunities along those lines have opened up here.

many of us have learned new things about ourselves in the last couple of months

There are lots of problems, but some interesting possibilities. I don’t have to make enough to live on, and indeed I have just signed off being self-employed, so I wouldn’t expect to make more than the £1000 tax-free earnings allowance. It would kind of make me sore to pay 20% tax on the output of any such sideshow. I may hate it. And I will have no lifestyle benefit, though through this coronavirus lockdown I have discovered that while an introvert, I am not as much an island as I thought I had been. So perhaps helping other people do interesting shit will have some intangible value, even if I bank all the income against the troubled times to come.

There there is the question of whether such frivolity will hold in hyperinflation. After all, knowing how to make knives out of vehicle leaf springs, or use car batteries and scavenged solar panels off roofs to make light and comms work in a grid down situation are more relevant skills for that sort of world. But – red wine is for that scenario, you have to be 20-something to have a chance of making a good life in that sort of hazard.

So I don’t really know what I fear, other than financial capital draining through my fingers as the underlying assumptions of western capitalism begin to fail. There are too many of us, and we don’t create the amount of value that we consume, and somehow things that can’t go on for ever don’t.

But none of what I am looking at needs a huge investment of capital, so I may end up losing money I can afford, as well as some time and effort, in finding out I am still unsuited to working. And that’s OK. But it may turn out differently, and that’s OK too, and it may give me some resilience in the troubled world to come.

Even in this post I see that most of what I think about working is negative, and I need to overcome this, because otherwise I will hamstring anything I try to do. And the impetus is more a degree of fear than the deep search for meaning and purpose many seem to attach to working. Perhaps I will get over it. Perhaps the stock market is right and we will have a V-shaped snap-back recession.

Our beautiful blue skies are increasingly scarred by aircraft trails, supporting the snap-back theory

and this will be an oddball post that never went anywhere.  But at the moment – nah. The stock market6 is still bloody mad, and snap-back ain’t gonna happen. There’ll be hell to pay, and I can’t work out who is going to pay it.

  1. Correlation is not causation – Dom isn’t in charge because he doesn’t dress like a gigolo, he can dress like a slob because he’s in charge 
  2. The other reason he got there quicker was absolutely terrible market timing in my part into the residential property asset class. Unlike buying shares, which is always elective, you get to the stage of wanting to buy a house roughly as a function of the date you were born. So while there was financial muppetry there, some was forced. Buying that house is still the #1 personal finance mistake in my life. 
  3. In analogue electronics. Although it is a much, much smaller part of the electronics world now than when I started work, typically only where sensors meet the real world, sensors are finicky oddball elements which usually don’t tolerate sloppy analogue design well. 
  4. Why on earth is meeja studies so popular? It strikes me as a serious misallocation of capital. There used to be money in it, like journalism, but the film and TV industries in the UK are a place for rich kids with decent connections and the ability to live in London while doing unpaid internships. And my second gripe is why do these courses chunter out people who can sort of control their equipment, kind of string a story but abjectly can’t handle people. I am an introvert and not great at it, but I was at least able to see that I had to get better at directing the talent in front of the camera to get better results. You can learn to get decent results from equipment in reasonably short order, but getting decent results out of people, now that is a lifelong learning curve 
  5. Professional video tape recorders were shockingly expensive in the mid Eighties, and a bitch to maintain and keep lined up within spec. They were also mechanically noisy as hell, a dire chainsawing noise you had to keep well away from any open microphone. As a result in Television Centre VT was in the basement, where they have about 10 recorders servicing a 8-studio production centre. Nowadays you can run and record all the cameras and do all the mixing in post on a NLE, but then you could only really afford to record one signal, so you had to mix the cameras in real-time and record the output of the vision mixer. 
  6. The stock market is absolutely freaking outrageous. I have just had a look at my ISAs and the total value is shamelessly more than it was in January. WTAF? There is absolutely no earthly reason, hundreds of thousands of firms will go bust, output is dramatically down and a lot of consumers will not just be skint, they will be destitute. Even the mid-cap index is in the bloody money. The only explanation that makes any sense to me is that the Great British Pound is worth a lot less now than it was in January. The gold price lends that some credence, £1150 on Jan 1 and £1400 now, so the £ has fallen 20% 

55 thoughts on “The Ermine considers returning to work”

  1. Interesting post when contrasted with much / most of your other stuff in which you seemed to have done with the world of work.

    My own bob’s worth on the subject: I stopped working about 6 years ago. Work had been increasingly hard to find, and I was getting mighty tired of the game of expending ever more energy chasing ever diminishing bucks. I don’t think I ever had any real qualms about stopping working. What isn’t immediately obvious is how different a game having large volumes of time and no-one to tell you how to fill them is. There’s a lot of adjustment required. This didn’t really hit me until about the three year mark. I frittered a year or so in which stuff that used to take five minutes to knock off in my working days might take an hour. Or two. Eventually I realised what was happening, and started to give it some serious attention. As a result, I now feel that “retirement” (I don’t like the implications of the word) should be equally as organised and in some ways as driven as the working life you have left behind, but the big gain is that this drive can now be applied to the things that you always wanted to do when younger but never had the time for. The last year I worked, in 2013, was as a project manager on a large new IT system (new territory for an unapologetic techie); it was interesting, well-paid, decent colleagues, etc, but all I could think about was the year ticking away, never to return. And that is one of the main reasons I could never go back to a “real” job: the ever increasing awareness of limited time and an immovable brick wall somewhere down the line..
    I know this is predicated on having thing(s) to do that are of compelling interest to you , that are essentially open-ended, and having enough money to take you through to the drop. So not applicable to everyone.

    Sorry for the ramble 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. > I know this is predicated on having thing(s) to do that are of compelling interest to you , that are essentially open-ended, and having enough money to take you through to the drop.

      I think this is the key problem for many people. I never found it so, the world is plenty full enough on interesting nooks and crannies to stick an inquisitive snout into. Someone on MSE once had the greatest riposte to a fellow who couldn’t see how he would fill his time after stopping work

      “it seems you lack hinterland”

      but it’s a common affliction. I’ve experience the time to do something expanding with more time, but as long as it’s interesting I am okay with that. I sometimes fix things where you absolutely can’t make the business case, some of it is satisfaction of doing something well, some of it is learning how it works.

      My issue is an indirect fear. I now don’t trust the stock market to hold value long term, because of the bizarre response to this crisis. I am not sure it will defend my long term. But I might get over it. There isn’t anything better in town – I have enough gold and cash to balance, and the DB pension is more than enough bond allocation for me.

      I suspect across time retired I have gotten less introverted than I was throughout my working life. I actually find some of these opportunities both interesting, because it’s doing something new, and also because it’s a different culture. Perhaps that weakens my aversion to approaching people, or perhaps it has connected me better because in general I respond to word of mouth, I don’t hustle.


  2. I have a second house (used to live there FT, and just kept the place when we had to move for work due to a previous worldwide financial debacle), and I’ve appreciated having a capable retired guy to look after it. Less than a house manager but more than a handyman, and he is making a good living working at his own pace and on his own just handling 5 or so houses none of whose owners want to have renters but who do need someone to handle getting people in for maintenance tasks, gardening, taking flyers off the door, etc., so the place looks maintained and ready for when we visit. There are property management companies that do some of this for a lot cheaper though they are mostly geared toward rental units, but this gentleman is hooked into the community and is worth his weight in gold. Just a thought as he once told me he makes more money now than when he commuted to his corporate gig!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. > but this gentleman is hooked into the community

      That seems to be something I am learning. Not so much from COVID but more from having moved – it is making connections that seems to bring reward, both in terms of opportunity but also interesting activities/stuff. As a general observation people seem to get more cut off as they retire, but working for an employer seems to have made me more introverted than perhaps I naturally am.


      1. Do I understand correctly that your trying to have a side gig to earn a £1,000 ?

        It does not seem a significant amount.

        Don’t overthink the stock market and the present crisis, in five years time it’ll be “why did we make such a fuss”, it’s a big deal when your in lockdown and yet now with normality slowly returning it’s not quite such a big thing.

        (It’s a big thing if you work in a restaurant or a theatre etc or have lost a relative, but we are talking here about the general picture not the individual )

        The 58 and 68 flu epidemics killed a lot of people but it did not leave a lasting impression.

        I am surprised that markets are so blasé and that may yet change , inflation or deflation are bad news but all of this means getting a portfolio mix that is resilient and robust.

        I was travelling throughout January , February and March and financial resilience was my project , shame it all blew up before I got home and was able to implement my findings !!!

        I am sympathetic to your concerns and at an emotional level I have exactly the same response, I feel I need to tinker with the portfolio, do something!

        Yet on a different level I know it will work out and the less activity on my part the better.


  3. This really chimes with me because I see that I might be in the same position wrt work and my skills relatively soon.
    The whippersnappers have all the “passion” I lack and once you have the funds in place you realise that you choose what to do with your time and work is something you do for money for someone else.

    On the topic of passive income – matched betting is not passive in my view. And having done it myself it’s just like work at the end of the day.


    1. MB was one of the most boring jobs I’ve ever done. Quite amazingly, since I used a separate computer booted off a Knoppix CD and a totally isolated gmail account I never used since the betting crew didn’t get to follow me around the Web which I feared at the time


  4. The old chestnut comes to mind…if work was such a great idea, they wouldn’t have to pay you to do it!

    Maybe you’ve already read it but if not I recommend “The Wisdom of Insecurity” by Alan Watts…very appropriate for the current climate.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. ‘The stock market is still bloody mad, and snap-back ain’t gonna happen. There’ll be hell to pay, and I can’t work out who is going to pay it.’

    I also reckon there’s going to be serious economic blowback coming fast and that we’re only at the beginning, people don’t even see the danger in the tip of the iceberg, let alone the rest of it. Everyone’s still enjoying the extended break of lockdown before the consequences, unaware like mice nibbling the bait that bait is meant to feel good and distract. So I’m desperately trying to figure out how to be best positioned when the pain comes and worried like when you can’t work out who the patsy is at the poker table that the patsy must then be you. But still, I have no good solutions yet.


    1. My thinking is that we are on the edge of a big transition right now – whole industries that once made a profit in the UK will disappear- the new ones will come but employ fewer people or be done from a cheaper country.
      How to position for this change? Idk


  6. I also read when money dies a decade or so ago. It was turgid but also illuminating. There were some similarities here (much more extreme) – the german stock market kept going up because the value of the DM kept falling. Some of that might be happening here. I also found it interesting to read that in terms of whom was affected, the poor stayed poor, the rich got richer due to the ability to borrow in a currency that was massively devalued and the middle class were carried out on their backs as the value of their paper investments (bonds, cash) evaporated. Deflation feels the issue here short term but a decline in the value of the £ medium to long term against other currencies is a ongoing and pressing problem. That decline will cause some inflation and there remains a medium / long term risk of inflation but I suspect we will not see the type of inflation seen in the 1970’s. Asset price inflation will continue is my bet as interest rates push further negative until mmt starts taking centre stage (a guess) at which point all bets are off (that could be a long time away). Financial repression will continue. Pretty much every UK government since we came off the gold standard has used weakening currency as method for avoiding fixing structural problems in the economy. Your not so favourite friend David Davies is on record at saying a 20% decline in the £ to offset the structural trading problems caused by Brexit would be positive. I am amazed this wasn’t picked up more as to my mind the mask clearly dropped here. Your link to the BBC news article is also amusing seeing the $ at 2.40 when we are circa $1.20 45 years later. It’s quite possible we test parity at some point although I have no particular insight. For that reason, I continue to hedge myself away from the £ where I can through a global tracker and $TIPS / Gold. I’m still substantially exposed to the £ through work, real estate and ST cash savings and so if it snapped back then all to the good but I just don’t see it at all. In God we trust all others invest in $.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. > the poor stayed poor, the rich got richer due to the ability to borrow in a currency that was massively devalued and the middle class were carried out on their backs as the value of their paper investments (bonds, cash) evaporated

      I guess it’s the middle part I fear 😉 Like you I have moved as much as I can either towards VWRL or in my case gold. Short term cash is lower now, moved down from three years’ outgoings to about a year, and I have the old ILSCs for the emergency fund. I note that capital controls are an essential part of financial repression, I guess Brexit will make that a lot easier, although the large size of Britain’s financial sector may make that hard to implement. They need to find a way of setting capital controls for the little people.


  7. 15 years into retirement and I still don’t care if I ever work again. I am reading “Bullshit Jobs” right now and I am convinced I had a few in my working life. No desire for any more – especially anything to do with Performance Management.
    My wife and I can manage inflation well enough with just reducing our cash outflow. In the COVID era we are making money hand over fist simply by staying home and cooking our own meals. I’m not using my RRIF (your private pension) money at all so that’ll be there for me as an inflation hedge. Honestly I don’t expect everything to go to zero – including the value of money.
    We live far from the madding crowd here in a little town – no commuting, no lattes at Starbucks, no fast food lunches.
    I had to pay to get a dishwasher changed out today and after watching an active young plumber crawl
    around my kitchen floor I concluded I have no future as a handyman. I am still good at basic IT and computer repair but I don’t need or want to charge my friends to save them from themselves.
    I just want to chill, pet my cat and hopefully see my grandkids again.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m quite an introvert and have been working from home for a couple of months which I thought would be a dream come true – it isn’t – I miss the people from work (nobody I’d really call a friend just nice colleagues) and I’ve got a bullshit job too. I miss the bullshit! Not all the bullshit is bad – some of it is funny; especially when you’ve got some money in the bank and a little more financially secure.

    If you fancy going back to work because you miss the bullshit there’s nothing wrong with that – just own it. I’ve read this blog for long enough to know you don’t need the money.

    If you want to get philosophical maybe you could ponder whether a better route might have been not to go full FI but to go and work for a different Man who wasn’t such a demotivating fool. (I’ve got an in-law working for the same Man and performance reviews are still being weaponised). Fewer hours working for a tolerable Man would’ve given you some more spare time and the cash would’ve certainly have made the glidepath easier.

    The blog would’ve been less interesting of course.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. > whether a better route might have been not to go full FI but to go and work for a different Man who wasn’t such a demotivating fool

      There are some things in life that have a precipice, and realising The Man was an evil shit was one of those cliff-edges – once you have seen that you can’t unsee it. As an example, there’s a Facebook group where people reminisce about working for The Firm, and I enjoyed reading people’s accounts – and realised just how damn weird the place and the people were – absolutely batshit crazy, you’d never let that sort of thing happen now. And yet there were tales of weird stuff that was absolutely great, and innovative, I was reminded of just what the attraction to work there had been for a young Ermine.

      Then up popped the sonofabitch that squeezed me out, and everything went grey, and click, time to switch all that shit off and do something else. That was just seeing the icon.

      I went back and after enough coffee read his post, it was innocuous, but I will not look at that group again. So for such reasons I am not sure that working for any employer is a possible route forward for me. Perhaps when I am 75 and have no money left needs must, but for the mo I still can’t do that.


  9. All the very best with the job hunting and hope you find something which will bring both a little income and a bit of joy.

    Like you, I’ve always been an employee and have no yearning whatsoever to be any kind of entrepreneur and be hustling all the time.

    Too soon to say whether my plans to FIRE in 4-5 years have been completely derailed. As with many people, my job isn’t 100% secure and the recent recovery of the stock market could be the calm before the real storm.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m actually even more of a basket case, because while I can’t stand hustling, seeing a FB post from the ex-boss who initiated my exit has reminded me I can’t be an employee ever again.

      But I can do some of the creative passive stuff, which hopefully will become possible again. That doesn’t really involve employers or hustle, it’s low-rent but steady. And perhaps I can draw other work to me by example and word of mouth, which may avoid the hustle. I don’t need very much.

      But something that has come out of this post is that something really, really weird is happening to the numbers. More scarily, I don’t have a good feel for what it is. As FI Warrior said “when you can’t work out who the patsy is at the poker table that the patsy must then be you” – and I’m getting the feeling that guy is me at the mo!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. “… the Western Empire is falling”. Back to Foundation again!

    The cost of human labour tends to drive core inflation and we’re still in a post-scarcity period for that. More commoditized, cheaper. Now, China’s labour surplus was projected to go to a deficit in 2022-23. Places such as the UK and US were likely to hit zero “effective” unemployment this year or 2021 (albeit with huge amounts of underemployment). So there was a possibility that the bargaining power of human labour might have seen a resurgence over the next decade or two as the boomers retired and machine learning/AI hadn’t quite delivered. An extended global slump might kibosh that window of opportunity. So I find it hard to see conventional inflation (in terms of metrics like CPI and RPI), at least near-term.

    Where you are correct is to think about how you measure wealth. It drives me nuts how people measure their wealth in £ without ever mentioning that a weak £ increases the cost of living. I tend to use USD and AUD as metrics aswell. More importantly measuring anything in terms of a bilateral metric is by definition relative. When the S&P goes up 10% in USD terms, it might be the S&P is up 10% but it might be the USD is down 10%. You’ll never know. And in a world of fiat currencies that isn’t something that should be overlooked. Measure wealth in USD, AUD or GBP over the last 10 years and everything looks wonderful. Measure it in terms of how many units of S&P you can buy, or how much income you receive holding Gilts (or just a depo account) and it looks pretty rubbish.

    Hence I stayed in my job for a decade more than I could have. It’s about having that as a hedge. Moreover, once you leave there is no coming back, and no “side-gigs” exist. It’s all or nothing. That’s specialization for you. Nonetheless, I can’t hide that fact that all work is shit. It’s just slavery by another name. Don’t go back.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I can only agree with that. I actually now measure net wealth in $ primarily and £ secondarily. Which is perhaps a bit harsh as many liabilities are in £ but many are not. And in $ gives you an idea of your ability to move around the globe and maintain a standard of living, which I may want to do. Albeit I still think the UK is one of the best countries to live in. I suppose its a matter of perspective as many US colleagues I know are keen to diversify away from the $. I also don’t see much inflation in the near term and thinking positively if the cost of energy falls through renewables over the coming decades this would keep inflation low and could be a partial route out of the unpaid liabilities that have been accumulated. I can’t shake the feeling that increasingly there is going to be a large number of very pissed off people as they eventually realise that asset price inflation has substantially reduced the purchasing power of their savings in terms of annuities, dividends etc. Second that on work, going back will be sh*t, fear of decades of funding liabilities from savings keeps you earning.


  11. Ermine – you may want to resize the Shell image – it’s over 3MB, compared to some 140KB for Morrisons, loads as fast as me on a bicycle, and I suspect must be eating any bandwidth quota you might have.


  12. Ermine – my first reaction on reading this post was NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
    Don’t do it. Work is a 4 letter word. I think we are around the same age so I guess about 7 years to the state pension. Do not let the fear of a little inflation worry you back to a place of business. The only reason in my book to take another job is if it would fit in with your lifestyle or be good for your mental health.
    I don’t think you need the money – with your DB pension & clearly with a lot of assets behind you.
    Just dip in & draw a bit out of an ISA if you find yourself short one month – you earned it my friend.
    I have read a 100 times the post about the day you finally retired. The pain of surviving those final work years and the effort you put into making that dream happen was an inspiration and definitely some of your very best writing.
    (you are a little heavy on the investing side for me these days)
    I recognized a lot in me that was similar to you – an employee sick of the system and I too spent about 3 years preparing & finally making that break from work.
    My pain was endless business travel & stupid corporate demands, crap computer systems and a general feeling I was an unwelcome cost to be managed rather than someone with 38 years’ experience to call on. I retired in April 2019 age 56 – no regrets. Now running a short SIPP to my DB in 4 years and then running it a bit more alongside the DB pension to SPA.
    I never worked at the firm but I am a mid Suffolk resident & my village featured in one of your past posts. I wish you well.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. First of all Ermine, I’m really liking your new posting schedule – new thoughts every other day!

    Second, based on what you’ve written you don’t want a ‘proper’ job. Have you considered teaching or mentoring in your discipline? Or writing a book / guide on your specialisation? I haven’t a clue about electronics but I bought a Raspberry Pi a couple of years ago I’m finally getting around to tinkering with and you can attach a bunch of sensors with wires, breadboards and all these other funky new parts I’ve never known about before. And there’s scattered info out there… but how about a pro show you how to do it properly? Would probably sell very well to hobby-ists such as myself (I’m having some right problems with an analogue thermistor (?) right now argh).

    It would build on your other great strength of an entertaining writing style which has made me come back to your blog again and again over the years to see what your latest thoughts and rants will be about! Surely it is the duty of the older generation to pass along their wisdom to the young idiots who struggle to get even a bleedin’ LED to flash on and off correctly… 🙂 In my own discipline (software), I’ve been training up a newbie (8 years younger than me and fresh out of Uni) and it’s amazing how many unwritten rules and methodologies I’ve unconsciously picked up over that time that he needs to be shown ‘how we *really* do things here’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. hehe – there are some great people doing that already. Take a look at Ladyada’s Pi temperature sensor tutorial – the Pi has no analogue GPIO inputs, so getting accuracy from a thermistor is harder. Whereas the Dallas 18B20 gives you 0.1C precision, and our Chinese friends will sell you clones for not much at all. I use their stainless steel encapsulated version to track our compost heap.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. > something a bit more compact than that

        I’m not sure I understand – the 18B20 comes in a TO-92 package although you can get it in SMD if you feel that’s too big.

        These are the suckers I glue into a piece of stainless pipe and ram into my compost heaps.

        If you want to use a thermistor you’ll have an easier time with an Arduino kit, which can drive a LCD display, has analogue to digital capable pins out of the box and is probably cheaper. But if you want it on your wifi network or t’internet then run with the Pi and the 18B20. Nice thing about the 18B20 is you can parallel a load of those guys up and detect the results from each device via its unique ID.

        OTOH if you simply want a temperature switched heater you could go old-skool and use an analogue comparator with a little hysteresis (about 1M from + to o/p usually does) into something like an optoisolated zero-crossing triac if your heater is mains-driven. I constructed a programmable bottom heat germination device for Mrs Ermine and she groused about the modal setup of the device, even though it remembered previous settings. So I used a couple of thermistors, a LM319 dual comparator and a pair of six-way switches labelled with the germination temp of various seeds to run two heat trays and that turned out to be the favoured device.


      2. Sorry I was referring to the giant ribbon cable with the Adafruit board not the actual sensor itself 🙂 I’m still just playing with a pack of different sensors I bought and messing about – I have no proper project to dive into yet.

        Saying that I would love to build a smart thermostat one day… (data analysis, integration to other web services and building a GUI would be cool!) but messing with mains electricity is faaaar away for me.


      3. > Saying that I would love to build a smart thermostat one day… (data analysis, integration to other web services and building a GUI would be cool!) but messing with mains electricity is faaaar away for me.

        Use the Force, sir. Solder the sensor yourself. You can buy RasPi header connectors – it’s a standard 40-way IDC connector FWIW. Then follow a onewire tutorial eg this one.

        I use MRTG for display, but that’s because I am a crabby old git who has already had several free web services become paid, or go freemium, so I use MRTG to generate the graph and scp to update it on the web server driven by cron on the Pi. I put a lot of work into making my sensor run on Xively, who then decided they wanted to charge me monthly for the privilege, so I told them to take a running jump. I don’t pay a monthly subs to stick a frickin’ chart on the Web, FFS…

        Once the Pi is capturing the data, however, you can Cloud it as you fancy. Although bearing in mind that a couple of weeks in the lab can save an hour in the library or five minutes on Google, you could have a butcher’s hook at OpenEnergyMon 😉


      4. I’m saving some of the details for a possible future post, but bouncing around ideas here has got me all excited to start building something… I may not be a dab hand with hardware, but I can do web services, parsing and reporting pretty well!

        I’m currently doing a one-two-three of teaching myself about hardware (Raspberry Pi), Linux (command line stuff) and Python. A good four hours of messing about today and building a web service call, a parser and working out some basic graphing tool options has led to:

        Being able to graph one day’s electric consumption data! I’d genuinely forgotten how much fun I have learning new skills and playing with things like this. Thanks for the kick up the butt 🙂 Now to stop polluting your post with irrelevant junk 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Python’s pretty good – the right match for the Pi IMO. Not too demanding for the hardware, enough libraries that you can do a lot of good stuff off the back of other people’s work. Main downsides are the revolting version control/backwards compatibility, and the bizarre use of whitespace for program flow. But hey, whatever works.

        My compost tracker is a munge of Python and MRTG, using some radio modules to send the temperature data from the back of the garden to the Pi server in the house. Signal’s getting ratty with time because I ought to change the 4*AA batteries in the transmitter, which is an arduino and the data TX,

        I failed to get enough chickenshit in that heap to make it true thermal compost and get above 56C three times, but it probably got hot enough for long enough to kill off weed seeds


  14. Be sure the problem is with The Man and not Your Man From The Firm. Wouldn’t it be terrible if you gave up your human capital because you once worked for a dick ? Don’t let Him become the opposite of the gift that keeps on giving.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Maybe reframe the side-hustle/entrepreneur angle as something more positive? Think about people you’ve bought things/services off where it wasn’t a poor experience and more of a win-win. Then flip it round and think of yourself being that person. Providing value rather than playing some zero-sum game with the customer.

    You’ve definitely got the skills to deliver some value.

    Good luck with it. And when you figure out what ‘it’ is let me know, as I’m out of work too, could do with a bit of inspiration..


  16. I don’t think I have ever commented here – an interesting read as ever. That AudioMoth thing looks interesting – I might get one for investigating bats so thanks for the link! Not sure if it will allow real time data capture but could be fun. The solder thing reminded me of my friend James who hand built a CPU / processor from discrete components with something like 40k discrete transistors and he used lead solder for this very reason you mention

    Good luck with finding some sort of side work. I was going to retire early about 18 months ago but managed to change my software job to part time working only 2 days having established I could and was already live on 2/5 or less of my pay. Also had some helpful women colleagues at HR and engineering VP level on my side with going part time – luckily the male dominated thing not always in evidence, but I think possibly more the case in corporates than small companies. Working part time for a corporate is kind of a pain though as all the meetings I cannot get out of and other “fluff” take such a larger percentage of my time I could be doing useful work. It has been the perfect thing in lockdown as I can work remote and don’t have to go to an office. I am pretty sure I will work remote for the duration of the job now – have to see how long it lasts as layoffs are probably coming!


    1. The AudioMoth doesn’t do real-time out of the box, well, it’s a recorder so it records in real time but I imagine you mean take the signal into a computer in real time via USB. If you want to do it in real time using a USB audio card running @ 192kHz which will do you most UK bat species then you can buy MEMS microphones from mouser UK. The analogue sort you just need to bias up like an electret, the digital ones can go in via the I2C bus. MEMs microphones often go up into the ultrasonic range because they are used in mobile phones for signalling. The tinfoil hat brigade got their knickers in a twist about that, personally I’d have though they lost the privacy fight as soon as they bought a mobile phone never mind carried the damn thing around with them, but whatever. Anyway, choose the right mic, particularly some Knowles variants and you will be in batty range. If you want a better (lower noise, greater sensitivity) ultrasonic microphone then use Polaroid ultrasonic sensors – robotics hobbyists use them. It’s tiresome to generate the 60V polarising voltage, though I guess P48 power would work.

      If you want the non plus ultra then a Sennheiser MKH8020 is rather nice and good for 60kHz. But you might not like the price…

      Yeah, I’d use lead solder if I was making that many connections. I can hand solder with lead free, but it never looks right after a lifetime of normal solder, and it’s hard to spot duff connections. That’s an absolute labour of love and speaks volumes to his craft skills. As a youth in my first company I constructed a 16k(?) ZX81 RAM pack out of 32 1k*4 bits chips and heroic amounts of soldering to a breadboard. I did get it to work after troubleshooting a zillion connections, but maybe I should have pitched for some overtime and just bought one!


      1. You should have bought one. The ZX81 16k RAM pack only cost £29.95 in 1982. I remember vividly because it was still cheaper to buy a ZX81 with a 16k RAM pack than the ZXSpectrum with 16k and as a 9 year old money was a bit tight! I was seriously put off by the fact that the RAM pack only had an edge connector. It was so top-heavy that people kept reported it would just drop off the back crashing the machine!

        Anyway they then dropped the price of the Spectrum 48k so it was all decided for me. Halcyon days.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I probably should have bought it, but I’d borrowed a third of my annual salary to buy a preamplifier so I could hear my favourite lady singer without the top end getting all scratchy and distorted. And the chips were there to be scavenged from the circuit board of an old piece of kit a customer returned to get refurbished. I think they were Intel 2114 SRAMs that I unsoldered from that box, because I didn’t have the smarts or cojones to know whether the ZX81 would meet the refresh rate of DRAM. I’m quite chuffed I managed to desolder all those guys without wrecking any of them!

        I’d heard the stories of the ratty edge connector RAMpack so while I did use an edge connector I soldered a ribbon cable to it, and made the memory on a 160×100 Eurocard prototype board on the other end of the ribbon. I didn’t have problems with the memory extension. Well, once I’d got it to work in the first place, that is.

        At least the preamplifier was on interest-free credit, which was paid back on time and therefore really IF. And the it served me for 35 years until I sold it on Ebay for half the nominal price a couple of years ago. So it didn’t owe me anything, though it was a dumb thing to do at the start of my working life. Beats the other common option, spaffing half a year’s salary on a motor that will be a wreck in five years I suppose.


      3. Thanks for the microphone links. There do seem to be some ultrasonic USB mics for a few £100. The audio moth still looks like a good thing to play with and perhaps a cheap bat detector. I might even pick something up in the low range on my hand held audio recorder that can sample at 96Khz as suggested by this interesting article

        I got into software through dabbling in electronics in my youth – not doing much circuitry these days. My friend is pretty dedicated when he gets a project in his head. He donated to the whole thing to the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge – it is funny how it is often the making of something that is more interesting than the use of it!


  17. One lesson from the COVID debacle is that I ought to be employable as a writer of scientific software that isn’t a bloody disgrace.

    Would mean learning an up2date language, mind. And, anyway, I loved it when I was young because it was all so new, so powerful, such fun. And because I wasn’t just coding the stuff, I was devising the mathematical models, and designing the algorithms to solve them. Presumably division of labour means I’d find any modern opportunity humdrum. Sharp, high-spirited young laddies of my sort presumably do different things with their time nowadays. I wonder what.

    Anyway, I’m not as bright as I was.


    1. > I wonder what.

      Work for Google on AI, I’d imagine 😉

      Wouldn’t R be the weapon of choice for this sort of data munging these days? I did learn how to run that at a very low level with some MOOC which was maddeningly slow in some parts and then way too fast in others. Certainly can’t claim to have mastered it at all.

      I suspect the problem we are having with COVID is that nobody has repealed GIGO in the meantime…


      1. R last time I looked was single threaded (that’s why MS bought Revolution R), Python is also single threaded normally.
        Most of the DS work is using PySpark nowadays – run it on a small Databricks cluster on Azure.
        Or download the Cloudera VMs and run it in there.
        Maybe play around with some Jupyter notebooks as placeholders for the code or even download a free version go Dataiku.
        100 billable days left for me before retirement – unfortunately my current client has just let me go after 6 years.
        Let’s see what happens.

        Liked by 1 person

  18. Hmm… Three questions. Can you do the work? Will you fit in? Do you want to do the work? I think the answers might be probably, maybe, and not really, or am I speaking for myself?

    Liked by 2 people

  19. How about dog walking? Pros:
    – outdoors and exercise
    – cash in hand (which of course you will pay all your taxes on)
    – no “the man” to a answer to.

    I also have considered grinding my way through a year to become a substitute maths teacher.


  20. Any chance of getting a link to the article mentioned:

    _ I have read a 100 times the post about the day you finally retired. The pain of surviving those final work years and the effort you put into making that dream happen was an inspiration and definitely some of your very best writing.

    Regards Dave


    1. Not sure which article you’re after, let me know. The MSE hinterland quote was this post from Clifford Pope

      It’s a bit sad to spend such a large part of your life working, retire, and then realise you haven’t actually got a real life to enjoy so go back to work again.
      It suggests an absence of hinterland

      Since writing this post I’ve boiled some of the reasoning down more. Although the inflation fear is there, I think the basic problem is the limitations on what you can do with the coronavirus restrictions, in particular travelling. It’s the small bits of variation here and there , the odd day trips, a bit of hillwalking, messing about with amateur radio on summits, with a camper van I had the ability to increase my range by being able to stay overnight. It appears I did more of that than I thought, and/or it added more to my quality of life than I had realised. And that’s nixed for the moment.

      The thinking is that if I’m going to be home more, then I may as well be earning a little bit. I have absolutely no desire for five days a week of the 9 to 5, however, so I will be sunk if the inflation that occupies a lot of this this post does arrive. But entertaining the work idea was the result of the coronavirus restrictions. I just took a really long route to find the source of the itch.


  21. Pingback: Learning – MedFI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: