Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Thugnotes on Don Quixote - a pretty neat summary of the masterpiece, gangster style

Inflation - celebrating capitalism!

I recently bought a pair of Reebok Crossfit trainers on sale for less than £35. Upon my researches, I am finding that trainers from the popular brands (e.g. New Balance, Nike, Reebok, Addidas) are not particularly difficult to find in this price range. Thinking back to my younger years, trainers in the same quality bracket would have cost a bit more (even in nominal terms), and that's at a time when you could get a bag of chips for less than 50p! Delving into the inflationary data, the numbers do indeed show that while prices have generally been rising year on year, clothing and footwear is one category that has fallen quite a bit. Go capitalism!

Year on year price changes:

Clothing and footwear shown as a price index:

Source: Guardian

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Economics - cycles

Despite strong evidence to the contrary, we humans seem to display a tendency to anchor our expectations on recent history and extrapolate recent trends far forward into the future. It seems part of the evolved human psyche. Recent examples include expecting high oil prices (above $100/bbl) to become the new normal; food scarcity due to strong Chinese demand meaning that we'll have to get used to permanently high grocery prices; high gold prices being with us forever as people lose faith in government printed money; permanently low volatility in financial assets due to a Great Moderation. What people forget is that the world moves in a non-linear manner with multiple feedback mechanisms that act as self-correcting triggers. Policy may get in the way of corrections, allowing imbalances to build up to dangerous levels before they revert, but sooner or later the correction occurs. It's then a question of depth, extent and potential over-reaction. From an investment perspective, it would be interesting to analyse the speed of market responses to price movements e.g. farmers can switch crops from one year to the next but it can take years for the oil and gas industry to respond to high energy prices with meaty capital expenditure projects, although the ability to turn production off is much quicker.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Economist gets special access to the Yakuza

This narrated photo montage on the life of the Yakuza is worth a view if you're interested in organised crime...which is just about everyone, right?

Long live Yogi Berra

The legendary baseball player Yogi Berra just passed away. If you didn't tell me he was dead, I wouldn't have known he was still alive. That ones mine and it's true. It's the type of thing Yogi Berra became famous for saying. Here are some more 'Yogi-isms' lifted from the BBC article on his passing:

It's like deja-vu all over again
It ain't the heat; it's the humility
Baseball is 90% mental - the other half is physical
I never said most of the things I said... Take it with a grin of salt
If you don't know where you're going, you might end up some place else
He hits from both sides of the plate. He's amphibious
You can observe a lot by watching
The future ain't what it used to be
Never answer an anonymous letter
When you come to a fork in the road, take it
I always thought that record would stand until it was broken
If the world was perfect, it wouldn't be
Always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't go to yours

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

American Dad - more quotes from Roger

Minstrel Krampus (my favourite episode)
Stan: Wow. Full moon tonight.
Roger: Actually, once you get above the clouds, it's always a full moon.
Stan: Is that true?
Roger: Is any of this?

Steve: You know that beautiful girl Jenna I've kinda had my eye on?
Roger: Is this the same girl whose picture you put in your pajama bottoms before you go to bed?
Steve: You know about that?
Roger: Who do you think takes your pajamas off at night?

Roger: Ah, I love your religion - for the crazy! Virgin birth, water into wine; it's like Harry Potter, but it causes genocide and bad folk music.

Roger the Alien: I've waited my whole life to do this. The finger pyramid of evil contemplation. Feels good.

Roger the Alien: Cops already? What, are we next door to a freakin' Krispy Kreme?

Roger: [after getting a faceful of cocaine] I AM INCREDIBLY FOCUSED RIGHT NOW!

Roger the Alien: Don't hurt me! I know it sounds cliche, but I mean you no harm!
Stanley Smith: You're the alien? But they said you'd be bigger, and with claws.
Roger the Alien: Oh, I've got claws. Look how fat you are. See? Kitty can scratch.

[Roger enters wearing a festive sweater]
Roger: Merry, merry everyone!
Hayley: Wow, great sweater, Roger.
Roger: [drunkenly] Thanks, I totally sniped it from a guy on eBay. I not only stole the sweater, I stole his holiday spirit and that made my holiday spirit grow stronger. Because, that's how it works, right? Like "Highlander"? There can be only one?

Roger the Alien: I'm going to make you cry and dip my cookie in your tears.

Roger the Alien: [excited about Stan's fancy new drink] Oh my god, what is this and how can I replace my blood with it?

Roger: You think this fake detective agency with real cases in a pretend office in your father's garage is a joke?

Roger the Alien: Remember we were watching CSI, I said I want to do that, you said you totally should, ring a bell?
Klaus: No, are you sure you weren't high on angel dust and talking to the ceiling fan?

Stan: Roger, I think I've found a way off this island! Is there such a thing as a time crab?

House prices

This article by The Economist looks at the housing market with a series of fascinating but sometimes confusing charts. The simplest one above is my favorite. I may have to dig in to the data to investigate the trends before 1960 in more detail as it looks like there were several periods of prolonged negative returns. Fundamentals aside, it's surely a sign to tread very, very carefully when the perceived wisdom of the day is that renting is akin to flushing money down the toilet and that you can't go wrong with houses in the long run.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Roger of American Dad

Roger is the resident alien in the animated comedy series 'American Dad'. He is, quite possible, my favourite animated character of all time.

one seriously twisted alien

[Foster children are working in Roger's vineyard]
Roger: That's right, foster children. Hard work builds character.
Foster Child: Water break, boss?
Roger: Oh, honey, don't call me "boss". That makes me feel like some kind of monster. Call me "Dad".
Foster Child: Water break, Dad?
Roger: No. 

David Hume the Buddhist philosopher?

In an article titled 'How an 18th-Century Philosopher Helped Solve My Midlife Crisis', the author finds shades of Buddhist thought in David Hume's work and asks whether the philosopher might have encountered the belief system during his stay in La Fl├Ęch, France. After reading the article, Hume's book has jumped up several places on my reading list. Here are some quotes from the piece:
In 1734, in scotland, a 23-year-old (David Hume) was falling apart. As a teenager, he’d thought he had glimpsed a new way of thinking and living, and ever since, he’d been trying to work it out and convey it to others in a great book. The effort was literally driving him mad. His heart raced and his stomach churned. He couldn’t concentrate. Most of all, he just couldn’t get himself to write his book. His doctors diagnosed vapors, weak spirits, and “the Disease of the Learned.” Today, with different terminology but no more insight, we would say he was suffering from anxiety and depression. The doctors told him not to read so much and prescribed antihysteric pills, horseback riding, and claret—the Prozac, yoga, and meditation of their day.

... In his Treatise, Hume rejected the traditional religious and philosophical accounts of human nature. Instead, he took Newton as a model and announced a new science of the mind, based on observation and experiment. That new science led him to radical new conclusions. He argued that there was no soul, no coherent self, no “I.” “When I enter most intimately into what I call myself,” he wrote in the Treatise, “I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception.”
... My research had convinced me that our selves are something we construct, not something we discover. I had found that when we are children, we don’t connect the “I” of the present to the “I” of the past and the future. We learn to be who we are.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Coursera - The return of 'Buddhism and Modern Psychology'

One of my favourite on-line courses to date is Buddhism and Modern Psychology, taught by Robert Wright of Princeton University. The course is short and mentally engaging, and is now available on-demand i.e. the course can enjoyed at your leisure and doesn't expire. Rest assured, there is no new age nonsense here; the course even keeps well away from the religious side of things.

No go forth on your journey to enlightenment, young grasshopper.

Class of 2013

Monday, September 14, 2015

Video - Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows: Lutalica

House - so close and yet so far

Sink me! I've just joined the ranks of people whose house purchases have fallen through (apparently around 35% of sales don't complete in the UK). In this instance it was myself who pulled out of the transaction at the last moment due to unforeseen circumstances. It's a shame because the house I was buying had loads of character. However, on the upside it means I can continue my tramping existence, renting rooms as I go.

Here in the UK it is a received wisdom that renting is like 'flushing money down the toilet'. However, this is certainly a misconception when it comes to renting rooms compared to ownership. Lets say a room costs £600 per month all in. If you owned a flat you'd be paying at least £450 a month in bills (utilities, council tax, insurance, service charges, minor repairs). Add a bit more for mortgage interest and you are back to flat again. That said, if you can buy a place which has a spare bedroom that you don't mind renting out, then owning starts to make financial sense.

I may be tempting fate here, but I have no concern about house prices escalating further from current levels. While prices may go up a touch, buy-to-let investments are barely washing their face in the current environment and interest rate rises are expected around the corner. It's probably a good time to keep my powder dry, so to speak.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

White pigeon

I think this might be a homing pigeon whose GPS went a bit faulty. Either way, it's been wondering around our garden recently and I almost had it eating out of my hand.

UPDATE - The bird wasn't budging from the patio all day so my neighbour came over and managed to catch it in a fishing net and take it to a friend who keeps pigeons. Quite lucky really, because it was fast becoming a prime target for the neighbourhood cats and foxes!