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Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Packing Lists

I love going away but I hate the process of making sure I've got everything I need. So I make lists, print them out and then cross out items as I add them to the car boot, rucksack, etc. I've learned several things:

  •            It doesn't work to try and work through the list from start to finish. Sometimes you can't immediately find the item that's at the top of the list. Even if you can find it, should you really pack the toothpaste the day before you leave?
  •          Best to work on the basis that if you see an item that you can sensibly pack right now, do so and check it off on the list. Later, scan the list for unchecked items.
  •          I used to rely on a paper list but it's pretty inconvenient and I kept on losing it
·        So, I started developing a little program to sit on my computer. To give you an idea, here's a  picture is based on the packing list  the America naturalist, Thoreau used for his expeditions. Computers hadn't been invented in 1854 but let's pretend he was ahead of his time!

·        I put in some neat features:

o   You can sort the items alphabetically, makes them easier to find.
o   Or, pop the unchecked items to the start of the list. Great towards the end of the packing process.
o   (For completeness, you can also pop the checked items to the start)
o   Option to make the program float on top of everything else (“Stay on top”)
o   Obvious stuff like saving lists as files, printing, editing, etc.
o   A function to clear all the checkboxes so I can use a list again and again

I realised that what had started as a personal project might be useful to other people so I tidied it up a bit, wrote a proper installer program and recruited a small team to test it out. Finally, I decided to release it as freeware – for non-commercial use and offered a commercial version for US$29.95

You can read a bit more here or dive in and download here.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Caspian Fish Bar

In many ways, this is an ordinary chippy. The menu has the usual list of fish, chips, pies, sausages, etc. It stands on one of the less-fashionable stretches of the Gloucester Road in Bristol and I almost passed it by.

Then I noticed something. There was a big queue crammed inside (The picture above is just one I found on the web)

So I ventured in. Everything still seemed entirely normal. Then I got my fish and chips. Certainly generous portions but nothing special to look at. It was when I started eating I discovered the reason for the queue. It was very good. The chips were not the slightest bit burnt or greasy. The cod had lots of nicely flavoured flaky cod in it. Very ordinary in some ways but a fine bit of chippy craftsmanship.

If you want to try for yourself, pop BS7 0SF into your satnav.

Locally grown food

 This pub/restaurant appears to have its own veg patch across the road. Click the picture to enlarge

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Bailouts and Haircuts

I think that was just the third Greek bailout whooshing by? It will be the last one until the next one – or, more likely, until the default. It's clear that Greece is in a mess, the Euro is shaky but more importantly, the banks have dug themselves into a hole.

The bailout money barely gets a quick tour of the Acropolis before the international bankers grab it. It's not really a Greek bailout, it's a bank bailout. The austerity measures are a kind of ritual sacrifice designed to reinforce the message that the Greeks have been very naughty.

In an attempt to get this to stick, the banks have appointed the current Prime Minister of Greece which is quite a trick. The Greek people are not happy with this and there's a risk of a violent overthrow.

What is going to happen one way or another is a default – indeed, it's starting to happen already as some of the debts are reduced by agreement. There's a lot of bleating that this is unthinkable and will have terrible consequences. Actually, “sovereign defaults” are not at all rare although they're often sugar-coated.

We've done them several times in the UK. The latest was called “Quantitative Easing” (which sounds lovely) when the Bank of England created £50B out of thin air. Another example was in 1967 when we devalued the pound. Harold Wilson told us that “the pound in your pocket" had not lost its value. What he didn't say was that he'd imposed a 14.7% haircut on people who'd lent us money denominated in pounds.

The Greeks don't have these options since they're in the Euro. So they'll default – probably by imposing ever more severe haircuts on the creditors.

I'm sure that some of my readers will be wondering how the Greeks are in any position to impose anything on anyone? If you've ever been in the position of having someone owing you a lot of money and being unable to pay, you'll know that the power balance is reversed. They tell you “Sure, make us bankrupt, you'll get nothing – but if you wait or agree to a further haircut, it will be better for you”

It's a banker's nightmare of course. :-)