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.

August 24, 2020No Comments

Taking a Covid-19 Test

[Edit: It came back negative. Not surprising but worth knowing, and hopefully useful information. I’d be more interested in an antibody test but that wasn’t on offer].

Did anyone else get one of these testing kits? I received a letter last week inviting me to take a home test. I suppose they want to figure out what proportion of the population has asymptomatic Covid. I am happy to help.

Lateness in the year aside, it all seems very well organised – so far. I am taking the samples tomorrow morning and a courier will pick it up during the day. Apparently they need to have it in the lab within 36 hours.

August 24, 2020No Comments

MTB Serra Grossa

My brother lives in Alicante, where in his spare time he's a keen mountain biker. He’s recently got a new GoPro camera and has produced this stunning 4K video cycling around Serra Grossa.

Thought I would share. Enjoy!

May 16, 2020No Comments

In wildness

Some musings I had while out for a run the other day.

There’s not a huge amount to say about running other than that I have ‘discovered’ it over the last two years it’s a now thing that I seem to be partially dependent on. When I fall out of the routine, say due to illness or tiredness from going out too late, everything seems to begin slowly unravelling. There are obviously many worse things to be hooked on so I’m not that worried about it but still it is an addiction of sorts.

Running is also the only time I really get to myself where I’m not busy, mentally speaking, with something. It is good thinking time, although this can unfortunately lead to blog posts.

...

Some time around 2005 I was traveling by plane on my own. I was reading Richard Dawkins’ 1986 book The Blind Watchmaker. I studied A-level biology so know a bit about the mechanics of genetics (dominant and recessive alleles, experiments with fruit flies and so on) but had never really thought about it deeply or philosophically. And the book does go quite deep.

I came to a particularly astonishing passage in the book describing and explaining how all life is really connected. And it is connected in the scientific sense, not just as some vague hippie sentiment. I had a moment of sudden insight (exactly what the author intended to convey), framing all life on Earth as genetically related, interconnected, and symbiotic. Seeing life forms as essentially different configurations of vehicle for the replication of DNA. And while each species is opinionated about how best to go about the mission, all of us have (in a reduced and ultimate way) exactly the same mysterious end goal of keeping life going.

Naturally Dawkins put it much better than me, and I don’t have the book to hand, but I do remember that when the concept sank in the hairs on my arms and the back of my neck stood on end, and I lowered the book to my lap, stared out the window at the Earth from above for a moment and mouthed the words ‘fucking hell’.

One of those moments, anyway.

...

So a few days ago I was out running. I nearly always take my Bluetooth headphones and distract myself from the exertion of it all with an audiobook or podcast but on this occasion I’d been having problems with the Audible app and it was stuck in some kind of loop syncing to my watch. This was holding me up so I decided to leave the headphones at home and go ‘unplugged’. It was early. I took a route further out of town than usual, one I’d only cycled or driven before.

The weird atmosphere of the COVID lockdown has been commented on at length, but that morning the whole area felt particularly deserted. As I ran the weather started to turn. The wind picked up and whirled around so I was being rained on from all sides. It was the sort of weather that, had I just been walking, would have been miserable but I don’t mind the rain when I’m running because I get hot and so it’s refreshing (within reason).

There is not really a point or conclusion to this post, nor do I wish to imply pretentiously that I had any particularly special or unique revelation. It’s just... because I had so much time to think after the moment had passed, as I ran home, I resolved to write it down if only because it was interesting to me at the time and I want to remember it. A personal experience.

I had not passed a single person for at least half an hour. I was completely drenched but warm and in that running zone where you start to feel like a well oiled machine that could keep on going forever.

Everything seemed wilder and more overgrown than usual, brambles snaking aggressively out of hedgerows. Of course this could have just been down to the changing season and the amount of both sun and rain there had been recently but my imagination was wandering.

There was this sense of the very beginnings of nature reclaiming the land, which of course it always is until we cut it back. The trees seemed huge and impressive, twigs swishing noisily through the air as the branches swayed around. The birds were singing loudly in the canopy overhead. The wind seemed to get stronger, whipping the trees more violently, and due to the air swirling in different directions there was, I thought, a slight doppler effect applied to the birdsong which mixed in with the rain gave it a dreamlike sense.

And all of this brought me back to that moment on the plane in that way that you sometimes remember a feeling.

Yes it does sound a bit pretentious but, hell, whatever. Nature is pretty amazing.

I suppose the lesson is that I should leave my headphones at home more often, and also maybe that the most obvious outdoor weather: a nice sunny day, is not necessarily the most interesting.

May 3, 2020No Comments

Thanks for the donations

My little 26 mile challenge this week has so far raised £918 for Cancer Research UK (£1,037.75 including GiftAid) which is really great. Thanks to everyone who made a donation, or shared, liked, commented on my posts about it, it all helps! Should you wish to donate, my JustGiving page is still open here.

I have combined all three running routes just to see it all together on the same map. Red, then green then blue.

Strava links: Run 1 Run 2 Run 3

February 14, 2020No Comments

Meat alternatives

I’ve lately seen a lot of convincing cases made to go meat-free. First there was The Game Changers which I watched on Netflix back in November. It did come across as fairly heavy pro-vegan propaganda, but then I thought about the old adage “follow the money”, and figured that if anyone was going to be pushing a dodgy agenda then surely the meat industry is prime suspect here. So maybe what it is, is that we’ve been hammered by pro-meat propaganda for decades and The Game Changers is a fair and timely pushback.

Anyway, it’s worth a watch, and presents some pretty convincing arguments, endorsed by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lewis Hamilton among others. If I had any critique I would say it is largely anecdotal. These are high profile case studies. But evidently at least some top athletes are succeeding without any animal products in their diets. So on balance it makes a good case for veganism.

Personally while I do occasionally enjoy a burger or a steak it’s now only roughly once every six months. Health and nutrition arguments aside, surely – given the terrible environmental cost of cattle farming – we can at least cut down and start to see beef as more like a delicacy rather than something that has to be on every plate. Obviously there’s also the amount of milk we consume to to take into account. I’ve been using almond and hazelnut milk (the latter of which is great in tea!) recently but then there was that story about bees so as usual nothing is simple.

People argue at great length about nutrition and organic and so on and in my view a lot of what gets claimed is bullshit, in part because it’s hard to prove or disprove what actually happens inside your digestive system and beyond. I find Snopes good for fact-checking this kind of stuff. It seems to me that the human body is impressively versatile at dealing with whatever you chuck down your throat. But of course over the long term a healthy diet is going to be better for you than an unhealthy one. Surely the odd bad thing now and then isn’t a disaster unless perhaps you’re a high performance athlete. Everything in moderation.

Anyway, burgers aside I don’t think I’ll be giving up chicken or fish anytime soon but we do have a lot of vegetarian meals during the week and options are getting better. Quorn mince seems as good if not nicer than meat for making meals like chili con carne (technically chili sin carne I suppose).

Today this (apparently not sponsored) video by Mark Rober (remember the glitter bomb guy?) popped into my feed and I have to say those Beyond Meat burgers look very tasty. And I’ve just been informed on Facebook that they are available in Tesco. So I’m going to pick some up later and give them a try.

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