rashbre central: March 2016

Sunday 27 March 2016

what Katy might do?

One of those days when the weather changes in minutes.

It's like we have already moved into April a few days early.

The cherry blossom is back on the tree, but I'm wondering whether Katy is about to change all that.

Saturday 26 March 2016

time for an iTunes reshuffle

Away for part of Easter and an ideal time to run some of those long duration batch jobs to tidy some of the rashbre file system. Aside from the ongoing routine backup, the main chore at the moment is cleaning up iTunes, which in my case contains both music and video.

I've done that thing where you select File/Library/Consolidate and iTunes speedily rebuilt its directories into a much tidier form. I think the prior mess was a consequence of various generations of iTunes having different spaghetti ideas about how to organise.

The tidy-up is one of those simple push-a-button things. However, it shouldn't be undertaken lightly because it does completely re-organise the iTunes structure.

Afterwards, I wanted to ensure iCloud hadn't hi-jacked various files. That's the part that takes the longest, because there were still around 1,000 files that were in a state of cloud confusion.

I've since clicked the little iTunes iCloud button to sort it all out, but it will take a day or so to process, even on quite a fast internet connection. The main reason I'm doing this is to get the best quality legitimate versions of all of the music and videos, based upon the index entries in my iTunes directory.

Then I must backup the newly recrafted iTunes directories, using Chronosync.

I've decided to move the prior backups out of the way and to create new fresh clean ones, in effect streamlining the whole file structure. I noticed the Master iTunes directory has crept up to just over 2TB of disk. That'll be the digital video content I suppose.

Anyway, by the time I get back, it should all have rearranged itself nicely.

Thursday 24 March 2016

wet motorway jams and the heavyside and lightside sectoral balance

A change of plan today, on the basis that the roads could be rather overloaded. It looks as if I was right to follow the advice to not travel.

That was even before the rain started.

But yippee, it's easter, so we can have a few days break.

Just like all the traders selling shares defensively against unexpected news during their time off.

Red = Down and Blue = Up. That redness of the FTSE100 looks fairly down to me?

Except for blue spots on betting shops this sporty weekend and, curiously enough, for the makers of motorway concrete.

I think I can see why there's enduring strength in motorway construction.

so the new iPhone looks like the old excellent industrially designed iPhone?

The announcements about the newest iPhone are more muted because it is, after all, a device that looks like one of their previous generation designs.

For me this is great news.

My existing phone still does great service, although I often use a battery pack to keep it working for a full day. I've had occasions when the phone has been at 45% by 10:00 in the morning, when I'm doing busy things around London. That's more about me than the phone though.

The svelte 5s design is still, for me, a winner and I'm pleased to see that Apple have figured a way to cram just about all of the electronics of the 6s series into the 5 (SE) shell. For once, if I update, then I won't need to change my car accessory holder again.

I'm probably not exactly the target market for the SE (I assume that's the 7), but the SE could well be a useful way to get better battery life, near-field Pay and improved camera capabilities for what amounts to about 55% the price of my original device - And still be able to use the old accessories with it.

As Apple sets its sights on China and India, these smaller form factor and less expensive units become their gateway devices.

I assume they will prefer to ship as many units as possible with the Pay facility, which they can also link to their wider plans in these markets.

The share price hasn't moved much yet, but I'll guess there will be action as the implications of these relatively modest sounding announcements become apparent.

Wednesday 23 March 2016

should i stay or should i go?

One of the things we covered when I studied economics was the role of government to encourage stability and reduce uncertainty.

Later, a European boss of mine used to refer to the need for things to be 'boringly predictable'; I knew what he meant. Kind of 'Say it, Do it.'

I can understand these sentiments for the big picture. If the future path of government policy is uncertain, it raises risk premiums and can lead businesses and individuals to delay spending and investment.

If there is uncertainty about the monetary or fiscal policy, the tax or regulatory regime, or even over voting outcomes then it all gets added into risk pricing.

Our leadership, here in the UK, seems to have just about all of these effects.

Government spending has swung around with inaccurate forecasts from no less than the Chancellor himself.

The current fiscal mandate is being challenged by many economists who think that (a) the target for 2019/20 is misguided and (b) it will be missed in any case.

Some politicised tax changes were announced in the budget and then rescinded within a couple of days.

This introduced a new gap on top of the unexplained prior gap and both are currently left hanging and unaccounted for.

There's stealth measures around tax credit cuts that no-one is yet spotting but probably the chancellor relies upon.

The GBP to USD is bouncing around about its five year low.

The main parties are themselves divided and at least two of them have rumours about new leaders, ranging from Boris Johnson for the Tories and Dan Jarvis for Labour.

In both cases the popular date for this further upheaval is just after the referendum.

With that still to decide, as The Clash might say, "Should I stay or should I go?"

Tuesday 22 March 2016

fire up the fitbit

I've re-gobbledegooked my fitbit so that it is working properly again. It went through one of those phases where the device sulkily folded its arms and said it wouldn't re-sync with anything. It was a few days before I realised and noticed that my position in my family and friends league table had slid away to the very last position.

After I re-installed the sync software, a combination of recharging it, pressing the button for 10 seconds and then re-synchronising it eventually worked. Yay, hop, skip and jump (3 steps).

I still prefer the hidden type of fitbit device, not wanting to sport a plastic LED readout on my wrist.

Curiously most of the newer device types are not designed to be hidden, and if anything are becoming larger visible devices. Not just from fitbit, but all of the other manufacturers as well.

This summer it will be three years since I first walked fitbit along the beach in Santa Barbara. That's apparently 11,242,616 steps. Perhaps it just needed a break?
statutory feet on beach shot

Monday 21 March 2016

i finally see the martian movie

I finally got around to seeing Ridley Scott's 'The Martian', the space movie about a biologist (Matt Damon) getting trapped on Mars after a space mission goes awry.

The movie has been on my list to watch, along with my slight intrigue to compare this Matt Damon character with his Dr Mann in Interstellar, an astronaut stranded on a planet the other side of a wormhole.

The Martian becomes a classic space rescue movie, in the vein of Apollo 13 or Gravity, with maybe some Silent Running thrown in for good measure.

I quite enjoy this type of space film, closer to reality than Star Wars / Star Trek franchise movies.

Admittedly this one still glossed over the reduced gravity and -60 C temperatures on Mars. It also had the inevitable explanation of a science point with a couple of cups and a biro, but it still made for a good story. If thrillers have MacGuffins, then this type of space movie's alternative is to include slingshot gravitational effects.

I was intrigued to see the movie is classified as a comedy, but maybe that's on some kind of special Ridley Scott scale, where the cat scene from Alien is also comedic.

choreographed responses

The unravelling following the budget is already bringing out co-ordinated responses from a group of government MPs. The briefing appears to be along the lines that "we are all great friends with Mr. Duncan-Smith, but don't agree with him on this issue" (sometimes adding that it is part of a EU exit diversion).

I listened to the Iain Duncan-Smith interview with Andrew Marr at the weekend and it seemed clear that ID-S was mainly championing welfare reduction of inequality and that this had little to do with EU arguments. He has run his welfare positioning for at least the last eight years and it is not something hastily assembled as a back-story.

Rather, the situation seemed to reveal someone cornered by the political machinations of his party, a party determined to use the rule of spreadsheet to achieve its ends.

That's not to say that ID-S schemes have worked. He is no project manager. Among other things, Universal Credits delayed and overran, with Osborne now stealthily using them as a vehicle to re-introduce tax credit cuts. Universal Cuts, one might say.

By now the political landscape has all changed. IDS resigned from the Cabinet and already speedily replaced. Cameron has slammed the brakes onto Osborne's 'take from disabled' scheme and rank and file conservatives are being wheeled out to replay the party line version of events. Corbyn has hinted that Osborne should 'consider his position'. Politics as a twitch game.

Disruption coverage assures that the signal to noise over the next few days will be low, and I expect there is already a team looking out for a good diversionary story to overtake this in the news.

I'll go back to my jelly steering wheel viewpoint from a few weeks ago. Maybe with Ant and Dec driving.

Thursday 17 March 2016

bitter sweet or some other coke and osborne headline

Aside from sprinkling sweet Oofle dust across the budget, our Chancellor has magic'd away some of the more awkward parts. His central mandate is around achieving fiscal balance by 2019-2020.

I decided to take a look at the post-budget Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) charts and tables. In my opinion, the big charts now show a 55% probability of hitting George's target by 2019-2020.

I've referred in the past to smudging, that technique to blur the later outcomes of graphs, but I'm wondering if George might need to do something more 'Frank Underwood' in nature to be sure of success.

The House of Cards man would change the game, and I suppose that's a possibility for George.

Looking at the big numbers in OBR, there's a couple of inevitable major contributors to the chance of a miss, in the form of the RDEL and CDEL (run rate and capital expenditure) by the government. It has already been a problem this year for George, who doesn't want to borrow money even when it is very cheap.

So maybe some reclassifications could help swing things around? We'll need to pay close attention over the next year or so to see whether any new accounting miracles occur. It is surprisingly difficult to keep track of the various pots of money that get shifted around, like a version of that shell game played on Westminster Bridge.

I took a look at the changes to the forecast numbers since last November - just three and a half months ago. There's that £18 billion swing and the new measures to bring it all back in line.

Maybe some fundraising via sell-offs will be used to increase the chance of success? Beyond the delayed Lloyds Bank sell off, there's a chunk of UKAR on the books.

UKAR is the now discounted ex-Northern Rock and Bradford and Bingley business which is still in government ownership. Even for that, late last year they added the Help to Buy ISA into that organisation's remit, so tracking the value of any sell-off is already more complicated.

But, like that shell game, distraction and palming are part of a political skill-set. Izzy whizzy, let's get busy, as Sooty might say.

Wednesday 16 March 2016

look out for the helicopters

P3160062-Edit Helicopters pre Chancellor
I was easy to spot that the budget was happening today, if you were anywhere near to Parliament.

I was just over the river on the South Bank and it was easy to hear and then see the helicopters hovering over the Palace of Westminster, no doubt to film the Chancellor en-route from Downing Street. Look carefully and you'll see two in the photo above.

Tuesday 15 March 2016

mimi disrupts my hearing

I thought I'd try that Mimi music system, after reading about it on the FAQ blog a couple of days ago.

It starts with a hearing test, which I flunked completely the first time. I followed the instructions and plugged in a pair of Sennheiser headphones. The iPhone App even showed a little picture of Sennheiser headphones before I started the test.

Then it pumped out a couple of test tones at 500 Hz. Left ear or right? I couldn't hear anything. I waited and eventually after about a minute I pressed the 'heard it' button anyway. No, it said, you pressed too early.

I restarted the test. This time I waited a couple of minutes. Apparently no tone but it still let me go to the next signal. Same pattern. My hearing must be really bad as I haven't heard any of the tones. Another long wait.

I abandon the test until later.

Second attempt, I swap out my fancy Sennheisers. I've always liked Sennheiser headphones since the time I first tried HD414s and couldn't believe how amazing the sound could be from such a plasticy-looking headset. My original HD414s died long ago, when one of the membranes cracked, but I've stuck with Sennheisers pretty much since that time.

However, for this test I'm using the Apple EarPods. The type that come with the iPhone.

Re-run the test and this time it worked. Mimi were quite serious about the software only working with certain types of earpiece. This time I could hear the various tones in each ear, although in the gaps I could also hear a distant Radio 4 broadcast from a clock-radio.

And so I was presented with my findings. My left ear showed worse hearing than my right. Something I already knew. The frequency range wasn't too bad, although by my age one should expect some drop-off in higher frequencies.

At a practical level, one can make charts that show the types of impact hearing loss has across the spectrum, and it's something that the Mimi technology aims to rectify, currently for music playback.

It would be interesting for Mimi to produce a customised chart similar to the one I illustrate above, with left and right ear showing the approximate positioning and sensitivity of a person's hearing. I expect it will follow.

In the short term, Mimi provide a kind of hidden equalisation and compression algorithm to drive music listening from the iPhone. I tried it, using their selected track from my iPhone, which was "Don't Know Why" by Norah Jones. The effect of Mimi was quite noticeably different, more immersed in the sound, and with some of the detailing increased. I noticed that the vocals also showed boosted treble and that it created a harshness which wasn't in my original experience of the song. There was a switch to reduce the level of the effect and I found that better vocal rolloff produced a more natural sound.

However, when I played it a little longer I could also hear a kind of 'banding' effect across the whole track, something like a rolling lower frequency pulse that wasn't part of the music. No, it wasn't my heartbeat or anything like that, it made me think that the software was having a slight challenge to keep up with the processing. Either that or there was eventually going to be a 'Pay' button pop-up to make me splash some cash.

The phone I used for the test was an iPhone 5s, and I'm wondering if the processing is actually quite computing intense, maybe with active processing on multiple bands of equalisation and compression. I haven't really tried it long enough to cross check this via the battery use or heat from the phone, but I noticed that the FAQ review mentioned battery life as a challenge, and I think that was with an iPhone 6.

It is well-known that hearing sensitivity drops as one gets older.

Back in analogue days, a couple of tone controls would make the necessary adjustments. Bass and Treble. The circuit would reduce the whole signal by about 20db and then put back some of the frequencies.

The Mimi ideas certainly improve the space inside the listening experience - assuming the processing can properly keep up.

I'm pretty certain the real trajectory of this technology is towards hearing support. Like the old tone circuits, analogue hearing aids also boost and then tweak the frequencies in a fairly basic way. The more expensive ones add filter ranges, more akin to what Mimi appears to be doing.

I'd previously wondered whether an iPhone could be used as an aid to hearing, and this seems to be along that direction, presumably with the phone as a low energy (Bluetooth Smart?) controller and a new type of dedicated processing in ear-mounted hardware. Piezo electric sensor, programmable amplifier, analogue to digital converter, reconfigurable decimation filter, waveform creator? Something like that - similar block schematics to something Line 6 would make to simulate guitar sounds but much, much smaller.

Interestingly, there's a whole ton of legislation related to actual hearing aids, which are classed as medical devices and which means that folk like the Mimi developers are having to tread somewhat carefully. Let's hope their footsteps are heard by the right people.

Monday 14 March 2016

existential solipsism and the art of motorway driving

I suppose the impending announcement of driverless truck trials will become an easy source of pickings for cartoonists, especially if it gets announced on Wednesday as part of the budget gimmicks.

The design is to provide platoons of trucks spaced close together in a convoy, as if on rails, all operating on the same autonomous wireless system software.

Call me old-fashioned, but the effect of it seems to me something like a railway train?

It's supposed to be based on the AHS (automated highway system) and there's already a Europe-wide system called SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) which has been trialled by the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and Scania. Being called SARTRE, I suppose it will have an existential attitude, perhaps characterised by a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world.

I'm also a frequent user of the M25, and I can't help notice there that there's always a few motorists who consider themselves so important that they can cut across 3 or 4 lanes of traffic to exit through a tiny gap at the last second like in that Channel 4 ident.

These planned road trains appear to operate with a maximum 6 metre gap between vehicles, so a block of say 4 or 5 articulated lorries could make the 'important motorist manoeuvre' a thing of the past.

My car already has some of the technology that these new road trains will incorporate: lane control, overtaking warnings, automatic speed management, traffic jam auto edge forward, radar and that thing that tells me when I should stop for a coffee.

Mine has a twister control that allows the distance from the variable speed vehicle ahead to be adjusted. I always keep it on maximum gap. I suppose that for the 'important motorists' it will become a technology arms race to get the latest gizmos and to run with 'minimum gap' selected.

That assumes, of course, that it all works. One of our cars has the rather simpler Stop/Start capability which cuts the engine at traffic lights to reduce emissions.

And guess what? It only works for part of the year. When the temperature drops it switches off, presumably because of the number of energy using systems running in the car.

Sunday 13 March 2016

early easter egg or am I over reacting?

The latest from our ultra-politically driven chancellor is that there will need to be a further dollop of money found to cover his apparently newly discovered spending gap of a further £18bn. Probably another example of attempting to cut ones way to greatness?

Osborne reveals this all at the last minute as if it is some surprise, when anyone with sufficient interest and a pocket calculator could have spotted this gap (or the more likely £27bn gap) months ago. What he does in his role and with all his experts to support him is something of a mystery.

None of it really makes a lot of difference in a situation where the upcoming budget will be probably driven by easter eggs of opportunism, maybe some new sell-offs and even repurchases as well as the need to preserve a position for that part of the government that George and Dave represent.

So with easter approaching, I'll use the metaphor of an egg cracking. This is another one of George's projects and might be one really ready for a U-turn. First, take a peek at the Areva constructed Flamenville EPR, used to build EdF's over budget and late reactor.

Areva let their carbon-weakened steel reactor shell be installed and covered in metres of thick concrete in the hope that no-one would notice. They have, though, and Areva has tanked (excuse the fission pun), and some may expect to see it merged with EdF, no doubt to contain the problem.

George may also be paying attention to this, because last year he announced the spend for Hinckley Point's reactor to be built on the same model as the French one - indeed by the same people, with additional input from the Chinese.

Before the undoubted overrun, the amount involved is, yes, £18bn.

Different money and different NPV, of course. Although, like all of George's gaps we should assume they will just keep growing.

Friday 11 March 2016

ultra violet bike chains precede the nano-tech

Around three weeks ago I had one of those 'only hurts when I laugh' moments with the bicycle.

It was one of those almost stationary falls, and more embarrassing than anything, although at the time I had to do that quick zone by zone assessment to see which bits of me hurt.

The verdict was along the lines of 'keep taking the tablets' rather than anything involving bandages and sympathy and I'm more or less back to fully functional again.

I'm also doing okay against my annual target (around 32% complete) and we are now entering the bicycle update season again, where I start looking at gear cassettes and new chains.
Just for fun, in the short term I may just get some of that new chain lubricant that glows in ultra violet light.

I've wondered for a while why they don't make a different coloured glop to put on chains to see the coverage, and now they are starting to do it. And soon there'll be a nano-technology version as well.

Thursday 10 March 2016

power turn

Cornish pasties, tax credits, pensions and now possibly power stations? Areas where we've seen the man in the hard hat in a spin.

I mention the power station because of that photo-opportunity deal that George did before the Chinese visit last year. The one where he agreed to let the French and Chinese try build a nuclear power station at Hinckley Point.

I say "try to build" because the design seems to be an unproven money burner.

Not that it is dangerous, just that they can't complete other similar models which are all in massive overrun. Part state-owned EdF has taken a bit of a nose-dive over the last year.

Check the plans and notice that Thomas Piquemal, the EdF CFO who signed off the idea has just resigned allegedly because of the threat that the project poses to EdF's balance sheet.

Remember those signs? I'm not alone in thinking it was a terrible deal for the UK, topped off with an indexed linked £92.50 per megawatt hour for 35 years - roughly three times the current wholesale cost of power.

Bonkers, but it gave George a flag to wave when Xi Jinping was in town, because China agreed to invest 40% next to the 60% from EdF.

Now, with that EdF resignation, and a subsequent French auditor's report, it gives our Chancellor a small opportunity stop going in a straight line. With his upcoming budget, his views on UK overspending/size of the UK economy and so on, this possible change of direction may be one unbalanced force too far?

Wednesday 9 March 2016

a few trading anomalies suggest strange forces at work

It is almost impossible to think of that movie 'The Sting' without mentally hearing Scott Joplin's rag-time music that was its theme tune.

The plot was about the delayed results of a horse race relayed from coast to coast relying on the delays inherent in the wire system to cheat the results. The scam was referred to as 'the wire' and was already obsolete when it was used in the time of the movie because the technology had been overtaken.

That was in the days when messages were delivered slowly in morse code. Since then, things have speeded up and we now get into the realm of very fast switching.

I've been dabbling with the stock markets, purely in the interests of investigation, and noticed a few odd facts.

I know my own trading system uses delayed information, even when it is set to show real time figures, but there's enough information to notice a few phenomena which somehow remind me of that movie.

First, the closing price and the next opening price of the same exchange are different. Those closing bells are rather symbolic because of the amount of out-of-hours trading. A jump of a few points on FTSE or NASDAQ may not seem a lot, but it is surprisingly common and means that someone has been making money from the side-lines.

Then, the amount of trades that don't seem to be made on the main exchanges at all.

Mere punters like me would use the main exchanges, but the serious players go off into another world known as 'dark pools' where they can exchange their shares at separately agreed rates, which could be different from those displayed in the main market.

In the USA, nowadays about half of the total trades are outside of the main exchanges. That's changed upwards since 2003, when 80% of the trades were inside the main systems.

And on top of that, there's the people operating like in that movie, who know the differences between the individual dark pools and the main market. In effect they are playing with the time delay before all the numbers resynchronise.

They are the so-called High Speed Traders.

I won't call them investors because they are simply in it for the turn on the money and may only keep particular shares for a matter of seconds.

Which brings me to the point about speed. If morse code was slow, then nowadays it is possible to transact in milliseconds, heading towards nanoseconds. All of a sudden the length of a millisecond becomes highly relevant.

I once attended a session where someone explained a nanosecond. He borrowed from Grace Hopper's presentation of the same thing. The amount of distance covered by electricity or light in a nanosecond is around 30cm (11.9 inches)

A whole second at light speed is, well, around 300,000 kilometres. Let's halve it for resistance etc. That's still the kind of speed/distance that suggests an awful lot of computer circuitry can be used in just a tiny delay.

So this is how it works.

Spot a trade, run in front of it to market, buy some, watch the price rise from the following orders, then sell and scrape off the profit, returning the price to its true value.

HST traders nowadays front run trades in those milliseconds of delay. It's not illegal, although some might find it questionable, save for the exotics that mean most folk won't really know about it.

No wonder the high speeders all want to put their computers close to the market exchanges.

Short distance = more milliseconds of advantage. Kind of like that movie, only legal.

#MFOR, not #Money For Old Rope in this case., more #Money from optic reduction.

Expensive to implement, but then money for doing very little.

Tuesday 8 March 2016

how to convert a cooked pizza back to its raw ingredients

The so-called debate about the UK and the EU is getting even more bizarre now that players like the Bank of England are being jumped on when they say anything.

If Mark Carney had remained quiet or not announced any kind of contingency plans, it could have looked as if he was putting his head in the sand. He mentioned the planned liquidity contingency, which was already in a prior letter and announcement.

Inevitably, he got picked on by an oafish, floccinaucinihilipilificatious and time-wasting early 20th Century jester for showing bias - an accusation he was quick to cut down.

It all makes the idea of any serious content related to the debate even more difficult to imagine.

Then there's another story about City Hall being embargoed from non Boris friendly EU statements, and then not embargoed, and then the order not being rescinded.

Perhaps it is all too complicated now?

Carney has said that the UK is home to the largest international financial centre in the world. Either side could use this fact towards their case.
  • In = We need to maintain the position and its links, or the players may move on.
  • Out = We are big/powerful enough to look after ourselves and take control.
And so it goes on for just about every argument. The whole fabric of UK is intertwined with varied EU elements, like a DNA helix running through everything.

Unpicking the shift, slide, rise, tilt, roll, and twist of every nucleotide could be a job for a whole generation, much like the generational time it has taken to get to the current position where, still, even things like shoe sizes are different in UK from the continent.

And that's what make a vote difficult. In outsourcing, any deal is constructed with an exit strategy. Yet, despite all its bureaucracy, membership of the EU operates more like an inadvertent lock-in model.

Once things are done they enter the fabric of the way things get done around here. Like sprinkling strands of cheese onto a pizza. Once it is cooked, there's really no way to go back to the raw ingredients, although, there's that trick to turn leftover slices into a waffle.

Come to think of it, there's an awful lot of waffle around.