May 15, 2021No Comments

Keeping yourself out of a rut

If you always feel amazing, all day every day then there is nothing for you here. For everyone else – if you’re anything like me then you have good and bad days, and sometimes good and bad weeks. In my case these things come around in cycles. By ‘bad days’ I’m talking about what is probably a form of mild depression – that thing that nobody wants to talk about but nearly everyone gets. I’m pretty sure in my case it’s nothing serious because it never lasts that long, and it's probably pretty normal but it is very disruptive.

To be clear: If you do have persistent and / or debilitating depression then I’m absolutely not an expert and you should seek professional medical help. I know nothing much about it and would hate for you to think I’m trivialising a serious illness.

No, I’m just talking about getting stuck in a rut. For me being stuck in a rut presents itself in some of the following ways:

  • Habitually staying up too late then sleeping badly (intermittent insomnia), and for only around 5 hours.
  • Drinking alcohol during the week and at home. Not too heavily, in my case, but maybe two beers or half a bottle of wine in an evening. I feel like I want it to de-stress after a hard day. It’s way over the recommended limit if it becomes a regular habit.
  • Gulping down two large coffees in the morning and sometimes going for a third.
  • Bad diet, snacking during the day on whatever is in the house. Oh look there's some Häagen-Dazs in the freezer, that will go nicely with my 11am coffee (whaaat?)
  • Inability to focus during the working day.
  • Needing to nap sometimes more than once a day during the day.
  • Feeling stressed about how much work I have to do but being seemingly paralysed and unable to start it until it’s almost too late, at which point I will then work several very long days (12+ hours, often working till 11pm) to get it finished by the deadline.
  • Lack of interest in the things I really want to do (e.g. making music) when I do have some time off. And feeling stressed that I’m not doing it.
  • Stopping all exercise, feeling like I don't have the time or energy to do it, and the feeling that with each passing day on which I don’t do it, it becomes an increasingly distant and daunting mountain to climb.

I am having none of these problems at the moment but I was a bit like that back in early March. And looking back over the past few years I’ve dropped in and out of good habits every two months or so. Keeping up with running (which I am into) sometimes feels like trying to keep a ball rolling uphill. As soon as you lose momentum you can fall a long way back down.

Being overly ambitious

I’m sure we’re all familiar with that “Right, this is it. Today is the day.” epiphany moment where one day you wake up full of determination to sort your life out. Maybe you go and buy a yoga mat and new clothes to work out in, or a new bike, or join a gym. Famously (in normal years) gyms are busiest in January after the excesses of the Christmas break.

For me running kick-starts some sort of chain reaction that leads to most of the above bad habits becoming dialled down or even stopped completely. So in February one determined morning I decided to start doing a daily run.

The problem with this approach – I have come to realise – is that these sorts of optimistic plans are generally made when you are fired up and feeling positive and determined. But you cannot count on waking up with that same drive day, so it is almost bound to fail.

I managed to run for nine consecutive days before some small thing conspired to get in the way on day 10 and I didn't make it out. I don’t even remember what it was, maybe I just felt too weak to put on my running gear and get out the door. Or the weather was terrible. Or childcare commitments made it impractical on that particular day. So I missed a day but that broke the cycle and I stopped. And felt bad about it. I had failed.

I was very busy in March and quite stressed out by work and it quickly started to feel like I just didn’t have time to get back to running. I would tell myself that I would get back to it ‘once I had this big chunk of work out of the way’. But then it got to a week, then two weeks, and then pretty much the end of the month. And with each additional day that went by the very thought of going running became a more distant abstract idea. I put weight on. And the pressure to get back to doing it mounted the longer that I didn’t do it, which in turn made it become this Really Important Thing that I should be doing but wasn't doing – and so my not doing it became something else to feel stressed about.

That big glass of red wine with dinner dissolved that stress away, and I found myself back in the bullet list territory.

Balls.

But now I believe I have found a hack that works. It was inspired by the running / cycling app Strava. They have various challenges that you can sign up to for free. At the end of March The 1% Better Challenge appeared. The basic idea is to do at least 15 minutes of some form of exercise every day. Strava is primarily for runners and cyclists but you can track any sort of activity on there, sync it after the event from another app or just record it manually.

The kicker for me was that 15 minutes is just 1% of a day. To claim I couldn't spare just 1% of the day to move around a bit would have been nonsense. Even when I’m “too busy”, after my morning alarm goes off at 7am I will sometimes lie in bed for 30 minutes scrolling through social media (which, yes, is a bad habit).

I started on 27 March recording Daily Something 1

Trying to commit to a daily run was biting off more than I could chew. But now, worst case scenario, I can just log a walk into town and back, which at least keeps the streak going. If it feels too much to do something intense there is always a fallback option that’s easy. I do some home HIIT workouts, we have a rowing machine and I do yoga some days. In April I only ran about twice a week, but on the other days I did something at home or at least went out for a walk. So far in May I am running more like three times a week. I’ve started to get more visible muscle definition, I'm sleeping better and drinking a lot less, and am able to focus all day at work.

For me, making sure I religiously do one thing a day ensures that it never becomes a mental mountain to climb. The longer I leave something the more my brain builds it up into that Big Important Thing. And the more important it is the less I feel ready to start it for fear of not being ready.

Do what works for you but if you’re struggling to keep the momentum going I can highly recommend lowering the bar and just taking a short walk every day if that's all you feel up to. And importantly: Track it or log it in whatever way works for you and keep that unbroken record going. By doing this I have found that when I do feel strong I can then easily notch it up and do a decent run or bike ride without it feeling like a big deal, or like I ever stopped. Today was Day 50 and to mark the milestone this morning I ran my first ever half marathon. Tomorrow I absolutely plan on doing 20 minutes or so of something very easy.

Photo: Nintendo Ring Fit Adventure is great for home workouts

May 5, 2021Comments are off for this post.

In Praise of Experts

I had my first dose of the Oxford–AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at 1pm yesterday. I found the whole experience impressive and surprisingly moving. After months of mistakes (both by the U.K. government and W.H.O.) bad timing and false economies it feels like we are finally getting our act together and hopefully sorting this thing out. Everything ran smoothly, from the SMS notification, to booking my appointment on the web, to actually turning up a few days later. Driving into the facility friendly volunteers helpfully ushered me to where I needed to go, checked details and ran through safety. The nurse who administered it was lovely and explained everything clearly including various side effects and the likelihood of them. The whole thing took less than ten minutes, with only a couple of people ahead of me in the queue.

I felt absolutely fine until around 22:30 last night when I started to experience symptoms. I could feel my body reacting to it, exactly like it’s designed to do. I got a mild fever, shivers, aches and pains and felt a slight swelling of the lymph nodes in my neck (these days I get that even with just a mild cold). The immune system is an amazing thing. I was torn between finding it fascinating and at the same time of course unpleasant.

I’ve had a broken night's sleep due to the fever and eventually took some paracetamol washed down with a pint of water at 5am. I’m feeling almost back to normal now at 10:30 with just a mild headache.

I know that not everyone gets these reactions and presumably in those who don’t the immune response builds more gradually. But for me it was reassuring to actually feel that something was happening.


For months it has felt like people who don’t know what they’re talking about have had far too much of a platform from which to rant incoherently about Covid. Some seem to have all but lost their grip on reality. I am absolutely not a fan of the government and of course we should be suspicious of corruption both in governments and multinationals and should scrutinise them. But the idea that there's some kind of conspiracy behind all of this just fails to stack up. It’s a naive fantasy. There is no coherent motive and the various theories swirling around in many cases cancel each other out.

I think in part what drives this is that some people feel the need for someone to blame for everything. They don't like to feel not in control. And they don’t feel comfortable accepting that reality is complicated and nuanced.

Yes of course lockdowns are awful and deeply damaging (and – honestly – we ALL hate it) but by far the most likely explanation is that these things just happen. I am not denying here the increase of virus transfer to humans caused by our unhealthy relationship with the natural world. But nobody wants this. It benefits no-one. And of all governments surely a Conservative government hates to shut down businesses the most. There is no believable motive here beyond a few PPE manufacturers and some contracts being awarded questionably. Maybe one might imagine some short-selling hedge fund benefitting, but that’s far fetched Bond villain stuff. The damage both to the economy and to our collective mental health is enormous. That’s the whole point and why we need to bring it to an end, right? We all want it over with, let’s at least agree on that.

The anti-mask/lockdown brigade frustratingly don’t seem to grasp the simple maths of exponential growth. The fact that the England at one point had the worst outbreak in Europe was due to the fact that we instigated lockdown too late and too loosely. But when we did finally shut things down the numbers eventually came down significantly (and dramatically more so since we started vaccinating). It’s precisely because of these harsh mitigating measures that the outbreak wasn't much worse than it turned out to be. But then the whingers use the resulting relatively small number of deaths (~128,000) as an argument that we shouldn't have lockdowns and mask wearing.

Would they be happier to pop on a mask in Waitrose if the deaths had hit 1.28million? When it’s already too late?

It is like complaining about the budget spent on building a safety fence on account of there having been no deaths from people plummeting to their death since it was constructed.


I wonder if it is just a small but vocal minority. Social media algorithms give voice to people with no academic credentials in the subject they are talking about, but they can do a lot of damage.

Dickhead Michael Gove famously asserted, “I think the people of this country have had enough of experts”. Well no, Mr Gove. I want to hear much more from experts and less from taxi driver politicians and individuals like Lawrence Fox. It is thanks to experts that we are going to science the shit out of this Covid problem.

Professor Sarah Gilbert at Oxford was awarded the RSA Albert Medal for her work on the Oxford vaccine but in a just world she and her team would be hailed as heroes outside of academia too. I wonder if enough people fully appreciate how complicated the genetic engineering of viruses is. It’s basically the Science of the Gods, but still we call them ‘boffins’ and treat them with mistrust. I find it utterly insulting that we treat experts in this way. Experts who gave us the modern world.


So this was running through my head while I was getting vaccinated and is why I found the whole thing moving: Brilliant people coming together and solving a massive and difficult problem. Humans really can be amazing and it is perhaps evidence that I spend too much time on Twitter – which too often boosts the wrong voices – that I lose sight of this fact.

Mute the morons and when you take that first sip of a pint inside a once again safe and cosy pub perhaps subtly raise your glass to the experts who made it possible.


Photo: The Jenner Institute Laboratories, University of Oxford, Old Road Campus Research Building © Make Architects

April 2, 2021No Comments

About male problems and women’s safety

Back on 13 March I saw a tweet from my friend Hana that read:

So strange, most of the men I follow on Twitter are talking about rugby, startups, algorithms, basically anything else but what most of the women are talking about. It’s really jarring.

Hana Sutch on Twitter

Later that day the vigil for Sarah Everard, who was murdered, allegedly by Wayne Couzens, was held at Clapham Common. Hana’s comment was of course made in the midst of the conversation about not only the murder but how practically all women feel (or have at some time felt) unsafe, or been harassed (or of course worse) by men.

So why were we talking about rugby, startups and algorithms?

I don’t know if I’d recently tweeted about any of those things specifically but of course that’s not the point – I don’t think I had commented on the trending topic of men’s treatment of women. I had actually started writing a blog post but I got stuck and wasn’t sure if it was appropriate or needed or helpful (I tend to have several half written blog posts on here that I start on a whim then think better of). I wouldn’t have tried again and written this had I not seen Hana’s tweet.

Here are some reasons I can think of that explain why I had not said anything:

  • It often feels pointless adding to an already very active conversation.
  • Because it might look like mere ‘virtue signalling’ (as this blog post might).
  • It felt like it was women's time to be heard and I felt saying something could be perceived as trying to make it about myself.
  • It felt that I had nothing useful to add from my own experience. But saying that would essentially be another "not all men" response so I thought best just to shut up.
  • Fear of being cancelled (not that I’m particularly un-cancelled as it is given I’m not well known but you get the point) for making one bad tweet. Or a well intentioned tweet that is misunderstood.
  • Twitter is in my opinion a bad place for important debate because of its short form. Even though you can make threads, individual tweets and particularly replies are usually seen in isolation and nuance is hard to cover within the character limit. The real world is very complicated and there is always nuance in everything. But on Twitter you are either right and an angel or wrong and basically Hitler.
    That said I do think it has its place and is a very powerful platform (I love it really!) but it tends to support the rapid generation of bubbles of people singing from the same hymn sheet. And in this case that’s a good thing because women were able to boost each other’s messages. But then is there any point in me, a man, stepping into that? What would anyone care what I think? Am I even welcome?
  • I’m not that great at people-y stuff generally. I find even an uncooperative computer easier to understand.
  • Probably some other reasons. I wrote and didn't send some tweets and replies. I try to self-censor. Pile-ons aside there is nothing worse than a tumbleweed tweet, and having to sheepishly delete it 24 hours later. I jest.

That all said while this was going on I watched and read it all with great sadness. This column from Marina Hyde, about being harassed on the street recently was particularly depressing – precisely because it is not very surprising. I imagine these things are happening to a woman or girl somewhere all day every day.

Fortunately these things almost never lead to murder. The man who killed Sarah is presumably a psychopath or otherwise deranged. Nobody was saying “all men are murderers”. The point was about women’s safety and the fact it is men that make women feel unsafe all the time.

Yes of course men also make other men feel unsafe too – but surely not anywhere near as often or as much. And I’m sure you could dig out some isolated examples of awful women being awful too. But primarily and statistically speaking it’s men being dicks here. And by statistically I mean practically always.

I believe a woman should be free to walk anywhere she wants wearing whatever (or not) she wants and not expect to have anyone harass her. And the blame should be 100% on the perpetrator of the crime if one does happen. There should be no “Well she shouldn’t have...” response. It should be safe to dress how you want, and it would be if society wasn’t broken.

Women are repeatedly expected to change their behaviour and reduce personal risk but that shifts the responsibility away from men who are the cause of the problem.

What the recent outpouring of sentiment and anecdotes from women made me realise is how sad it is that society just sort of shrugs its shoulders and says “that’s just how it is” over this. Really we’re not very civilised if we think it’s fine to accept it. And it’s not just about walking the street, it goes on in workplaces, pubs and clubs too.

A lot about maleness – and the expectations of you when you are born male – is pretty broken or at least in dire need of reinvention. In many circles you’re expected to be a certain way – tending towards this alpha male type persona. Sensitivity is seen as ‘gay’ (Why is that even a bad thing? What are they actually saying by that?) We’re ‘supposed’ to be thick-skinned and sort of Jeremy Clarkson-like. Waheeyy lads. Join in or you’re one of the weirdos. The nerds (oh but then some of the nerds evolved into incels... ughhh we’re fucked...)

I’m not claiming to be whiter than white or to have never objectified a women or never looked at porn or anything. As a heterosexual guy women are attractive to look at, it’s hardwired. But you can of course look and appreciate without crossing a line: staring, harassing or more. We should be respectful.

Why would you expect a stranger you wolf-whistled at to be attracted to you? And then get angry with her for not wanting to talk to you. Do you have no self control, like an animal? And don’t get me started on unsolicited dick pics. I suppose it’s the modern version of flashing. Has one ever lead to any kind of continued relationship? I doubt it.

But now I’m making it about me (or implicitly not-me) again.

Having seen her tweet I had a brief chat with Hana, and I have since discussed it with my wife Rachael. I’ve been helped to understand that women generally would appreciate it if more men spoke up about this, and that it might help in some way. So that’s why I started this post.

Lots of us guys also feel that a lot of of male culture is toxic and though our inaction we are complicit in allowing it to continue. So here I am calling it out. We can do better, surely!

Also I think the more difficult aspect of this is that it can appear rewarding to be like one of those Dapper Laughs type characters. Of course you can be a confident and successful man without being a predator but far too often the charmers turn out to be nasty pieces of work behind closed doors (How could anyone be horrible to FKA Twigs? [Yes I know the court case is ongoing... but honestly??]) Psychology demonstrates that is an allure to aggressive men. As a teenager they do appear to “get more girls” to use a colloquialism that is itself part of the problem.

The long road to fixing it surely has to start with parenting and role models. The wolf whistling types are not being brought up properly, right? It is clearly seen as acceptable and funny in very large circles. The problem is not limited to Sun-reading builder types*. Rachael has to deal with misogyny on a regular basis.

I don’t have the answers because quite honestly I am more comfortable talking about algorithms, but there are my thoughts on it all for what it’s worth.

(*Sorry, nice builders)

Photo: © Thomson Reuters A woman brings flowers to a memorial site at the Clapham Common Bandstand, following the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard, in London, Britain, March 13, 2021. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

October 19, 2020No Comments

Sign

Ankle now seems mostly fixed so back on the running since last time and clawing back some semblance of shape. My weight is heading back down grudgingly. I can’t do anything about looking older, or male pattern balding, but at least I can try to keep in good condition otherwise. Partly vanity, yes, but also something to do other than sitting at home sliding into the abyss.

The new album from Autechre, SIGN, came out a few days ago. Ever since Incunabula their “thing” has been to substitute your more typical Roland drum machine type sounds with pitch shifted / modulated replacements, or hits made from unrecognisable sampled sounds. But over subsequent albums they really pushed the abstraction boat out into uncharted waters making a lot of their stuff inaccessible to a lot of people. Myself included for a long time.

Over the last two years I’ve worked my way through all of their albums. What’s striking is that their music often does have a deep and melodic undercurrent but it can be found hiding behind – or within – the mechanised devices that present themselves on the surface; almost as though the melody itself is too self-conscious to come out into the sunlight in the manner of a more traditional synth line.

What keeps me going back is most of their albums contain at least one track that gives me that deeply pleasant dopamine-linked effect known colloquially as “the chills” but in the case of Autechre, and Autechre alone, it’s both my arms and legs, all over my neck and down my back and also sustained sometimes for minutes at a time. It feels like I’m becoming totally immersed in their soundscapes, which are remarkably three dimensional. Most other music feels quite flat in comparison, a mere stereo field.

And yes it’s sound design porn but I LOVE it.

Standout tracks from the five-disc release elseq (2016) are pendulu hv moda, and freulaeux. Even thinking about freulaeux is giving me goosebumps. 2018’s NTS Sessions (1-4) ends with the 58 minute all end and I currently listen to that about three times a week. It’s partly therapeutic, admittedly. Something about it speaks to my mental condition.

If in elseq and ‘NTS’ they developed new tools and what could be described as ‘systems’ (it’s all bespoke software written in MaxMSP) then it feels like with SIGN a lot of that work has been brought together in the form of a more traditional (by AE standards) album. It’s certainly calmer and more obviously melodic, something that feels quite profound during our current and difficult juncture.

Tayyab Amin writing in The Guardian said its “dystopian soundworld is now in a crowded market” and gave it only 3/5. While sci-fi themes have obviously dominated electronic music since forever this seems both a lazy and a false equivalence. Their work is abstract to the extent that it lives in its own genre – it’s never trying to be like anything else. I don’t know of any other music in the same “market” but I’d love to hear more of it if there is any out there.

Take care, try to keep it together, and don’t pay any attention to Ian Brown.

September 22, 20201 Comment

End of the Summer

I’ve been working in the garden today. What a privilege. The weather is perfect, and Henry is back at school. Tomorrow there is rain forecast so I felt obliged to make the most of it, and top up my tan before I become pasty and unattractive again over the winter.

Under our big tree there is enough shade to see my laptop display, and the WiFi signal is good.

I have been desperately missing going running. In early June I reached probably my all time peak fitness, and my lowest weight for 20 years, before my seasonal hay fever kicked in and I had to pretty much stop. This year it started later than usual, so late that I thought I’d got away with it, but when it hit me it was I think the worst it has ever been.

I don’t know if this is typical or not but for me hay fever brings on seasonal asthma, so I’m getting very short of breath even if just going for a light jog. I end up wheezing heavily and having to walk home.

I’ve previously been prescribed a Salbutamol inhaler but the one I have is empty. I couldn’t get a repeat prescription this year because it had been too long since the last one, and I didn’t feel like waiting 3 weeks for an appointment.

And then August came around and the symptoms went away almost overnight. Then within a week we were in the park and Henry was playing football with some friends and the kids wanted the dads to join in. Other than kicking a ball about in the garden with him I hadn’t played since I was at school. I was never that into it, but actually it was really good fun! Until I went over on my left ankle and – it seems – sprained it pretty badly. It was very swollen the next morning.

And so I have had a lot more time on the sofa lately, and started to put weight back on.

It’s now coming up to eight weeks since I did the ankle thing, and finally it feels strong enough to run on. And Stamford Striders is back on doing socially distanced runs in smaller groups, so I’m going tonight. Joy!

Things are feeing strangely positive for the first time in weeks. I’m sure this is just a combination of a good night’s sleep and the sun on my back but I’ll take it.

September 16, 2020No Comments

House / techno mix, Andrew Weatherall stuff, circa 1998

Tonight’s pick from the archive is this vinyl set from late 1998. It was recorded in my student bedroom on the top floor at 24 Royal Park Grove, Leeds, LS6 1HQ. This was the view from my window in the direction of Kirkstall.

I was really into Two Lone Swordsmen at the time (which was current in 98, obviously Sabres of Paradise came before that) and used to listen to a lot of that kind of stuff while most of my contemporaries living in the area were more into the burgeoning acid techno and trance scenes, neither of which were really my cup of tea. Not that I didn’t enjoy some nights out of that ilk; such as Templehead, and various things I’ve forgotten the names of that took place at the West Indian Centre

But anyway, I recored this mix on my trusty decks (when heat death of the universe finally arrives the last intact objects will be Technics 1210s). Rounding off with the luscious Rico’s Helly, followed by Hardly Breathe by Weatherall side project Deanne Day.

It gets cut short because the tape got chewed!

I have 14 mixes here on on Mixcloud. Do have a dig through if you find yourself unable to find any other music on the internet!!!!!

September 9, 2020No Comments

Tokyo virtual walk – 4K, binaural audio

I am absolutely loving this video by Nomadic Ambience. A walk through some streets and backstreets of Tokyo in the rain. The binaural sound works best through headphones.

It gets better in the last quarter as the rain subsides – the environmental sounds are less drowned out and you get a better sense of the 3D audio field.

© Nomadic Ambience

September 8, 2020No Comments

New website launched! (meta)

Now feasibly you might be reading this in your favourite RSS reader like it’s 2007 or something i.e. you might not be looking at my website at this exact moment. But most likely you literally are reading this on my new website, in which case welcome, I hope you like it.

[Version for the Feed Crew: Hey I just launched my new website, check it out it at https://aderowbotham.com ]

In any case it seemed fitting to mark the launch with a blog post. So here we are.

Speaking of this blog, in 5 days time it will have been running for 17 years. Here is the first post. It started out as an anonymous journal of my day to day experiences having recently moved to London. The first few years are on Blogger and I can’t actually get into that account any more. It seems it’s not associated with my Google account, but they’ve left it up so *shrug emoji*.

The archive here in WordPress goes back to February 14 2008.

Anyway – the website. I decided it was high time that I had one again, seeing as that’s what I do for a living and so on. I have been working on it “live” for the last few weeks and now It’s pretty much done (except for a small glitch in Safari that has surfaced, third party thing, blah).

Mostly it’s archival work currently due to the fact that I’ve been heavily involved with long term business stuff with both Milk and WRP for many years. However I have a few more projects to add including some work in the pipeline and some experiments, oh and and music too – all of which I will no doubt share as it happens.

A good website is never *finished* it should always keep evolving.

Do click around and so on.

September 6, 2020No Comments

Money money money…

(Root of all evil?*)

At the end of 2019 I had one of those overdue paperwork sort outs, and had a bit of a scare. After years of burying my head in the sand I realised I didn’t have a long term plan. I have a stakeholder pension that I’d not been paying into for years and, due to us paying for recent home improvements, didn’t really have anything left in the way of savings, other than the value of our house itself.

It’s probably a familiar situation to a lot of people around about my age. I decided it was time to sort it out.

So I made some changes (and spreadsheets of course) and I’ve started paying into the pension again but really that is not going to cut it based on current projections.

Options for what to do with any money you want to save have become pretty limited – as you will know savings accounts basically give you zero interest, cash ISAs are not much better, and pensions – well they are better than nothing but even they are not without risk.

Around about the same time someone introduced me to the app Freetrade and I tentatively dipped my toe into the world of investing.

My dad was always very good at this sort of thing but somehow investing was never something I engaged with in my younger years. I suppose it never seemed interesting to me, and I didn’t then see it as a necessity. My uncle Jon is a stockbroker and in the 1990s I was bought some shares in (early UK ISP) Freeserve. I then proceeded to pay no attention to it for years while the value climbed meteorically and then crashed again. So I missed out on making any return on that. Stupid.

Based on conversations I have had online it seems there are now millions of people like me realising midway through their lives that their only option for having any kind of retirement plan for later life is to start actively investing. And this coincides with the rise of commission-free trading platforms. It’s all become a lot more accessible to the everyday person. Or retail investors as we are known.

I’m also acutely aware that there are a lot of financial institutions licking their lips at the prospect of making money out of us.

Apps and platforms

Freetrade is great and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to try out investing for the first time. It is a nicely designed app that’s simple to get your head around.

I have more recently moved everything over to Trading212 (yes that is my referral link). Trading212 is more advanced than Freetrade, with features such as limit orders. In addition it has a sophisticated web interface, as well as a mobile app, whereas Freetrade is currently mobile only. The header image is from Trading212.

On both platforms buying and selling is free in the sense that they don’t charge a fee, and this is attractive especially if you only want to test the water with a small amount of money – but be aware of the hidden costs of ‘free’. There’s a good article here on Forbes about that.

Both platforms offer a stocks and shares ISA (basically a separate portfolio within an ISA, subject to ISA annual limits, and where the gains are not taxed).

Trading212 also has a CFD service but I would not recommend going anywhere near that unless you really know what you are doing (high risk!) Both platforms give you access to more than just the London Stock Exchange, buying Nasdaq stocks is just as easy.

I have not tried any others but there several out there. The big one in the US is Robinhood.

Learnings so far

The upshot is that I actually now find it all pretty engaging, and so far we’ve made a very respectable return in just a few months (partially withdrawn and partially still in stocks and ETFs). I’m not going to quote figures but let’s just say it’s much more than any savings account would ever give you – but I’ve also invested a lot of time in educating myself so that has to be taken into account.

It requires you to keep an eye on things, but it’s possible to set alerts and also automate actions when things go outside of certain bounds (not without its pitfalls but has its uses).

I have dabbled a teeny bit in short selling and it was hair raising, and I took a small profit (luck!) but I’m not ready for all of that. And I’ve not touched Crypto or Forex yet. Not sure if I will. Maybe, I don’t really know anything about it at the moment.

There’s a wealth of info on YouTube (and lots of bullshit too) and I’ve read a couple of Kindle books. I’ve learned the difference between day trading, swing trading and investing. I’m very much in the latter camp but dabble a bit with swing trading too. Day Trading is not something I am interested in right now, as really it has to be learned and treated as a full time job. However it is useful to understand the technicals that those traders use.

At this point if you are still reading you may be either rolling your eyes and thinking “Finally caught up have you Ade? I’ve been doing this for 15 years”, or possibly “Oh no he’s become one of THOSE people.” – Well, yes, and sorry but I don’t want to be skint.

Alt account

To keep things separate I have a new Google account and Twitter profile that I use when I’m doing or researching stock market stuff. It’s probably not interesting to most of my friends and followers, and it's nice to shut it off when I’m done.

In my alt accounts I am bombarded with ads for dubious sounding get rich quick schemes, trading courses and for various platforms and services. It’s like another world.

Unsurprisingly it’s a world full of chancers. Day traders post impressive winning trades they have made. Apparently some go long and short the same instrument in two separate accounts and then post the winning trade in a bid to convince you to sign up to their whatever. I have read this is a very old trick. There’s an inherent bias because people don’t tend to want to share their massive losses.

On Twitter in my alt-persona there's an effervescent mixture of Californian or Scandinavian liberal Tesla Fanboi types, and ragingly right wing / pro-Trump / pro Wall Street types. It’s all quite an eye-opener especially coming from my usual tech / science / liberal arts bubble.

Right now there’s a lot of shouting about how “the Marxists” are going to wreck everything if Biden gets in, mixed in with anti-mask conspiracy theory crap (generally the same people). What I hadn’t realised though is how many young people were Trumpists, I’d always caricatured them as somewhat redneck types but, no, there’s a big contingent of market-savvy wealthy influencers who I guess don’t like tax and regulations (i.e. right-wing, stating the obvious). But yeah, I would now not be surprised if he gets a second term.

I would say it’s healthy that I’m exposed to these people outside of my normal bubble. But I still think they’re wrong. You can run a society that is pro-business AND regulates appropriately, cares for the misfortunate, invests in public services and so on. But apparently everyone is either extreme left or extreme right these days. I think they’re both deluded.

But I digress...

In summary

I have no real point as usual, other than satisfying my desire to share rambling thoughts on whatever is occupying my brain. I hope someone finds it useful.

I am obliged to state that none of the above is financial advice. Do your own research.

But if you are interested then it’s quite easy to get started and genuinely I have found it to be an intellectually engaging pursuit, and one that could (should?) reap benefits in the long term.

I am quite technically minded and usually I can reduce complex problems to fundamentals and eventually solve them. But this is a bit like the ultimate problem because it’s chaotic and human-driven (although increasingly AI-driven too). That makes it an interesting puzzle. But equally you could say it’s just a form of gambling, which is at least partially true.


(*Massive Attack – Five Man Army)

September 5, 2020No Comments

Old NET magazine article

Remember Net magazine? It ended publication a few months ago after 25 years on the news stand. As a keen amateur / pre-junior designer I used to buy it to be inspired and learn various coding top tips.

I blogged about this back in 2013 but this morning while I was searching through old files to create the Pirata work page on this site I found the actual PDF of the article they published about us. Rather than let it languish on my backup drive it deserves to be on the web.

I’m not loving my profile photo (no fault of the Photographer, James) – I was much heavier back then and resemble a kind of young Steve Ballmer, but anyway here is the article:

Read more about Pirata here.

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