Monthly Archives: March 2010

drama@home

This morning I was sitting at the ‘puter (as one does), when there’s a ring at the door.  Stick the head out of the window to communicate: there are three men.

“Hello?”

“Are you Flat 3?”

“No” (dammit, that would be the doorbell labeled “3”, and it doesn’t ring in my flat)

“Can you open up so we can access it?”

“Erm … I think you should speak to the agent” (all four flats are managed by the same agent for the same landlord, but it’s a long, long time since a tenant has been seen in Flat 3).

“It doesn’t matter; if you don’t let us in we’ll break in anyway.  We have a warrant.”

WHAT??????

“Erm, if you have legitimate business there, I’m sure the agent will arrange access”

On the one hand, I wouldn’t exactly expect a housebreaker to ring my doorbell.  On the other hand, this is alarming.  OK, time to ‘phone the agent.  The ‘puter is on, so it’s a ten second job to google the agent’s number.  ‘Phone it.  A recorded message tells me a mobile number for emergencies only.  Try that one, get voicemail.  Heh, so much for emergency hotlines!

Hmmm …

OK, next stop, try the police.  Explain what’s going on, let them either sort it or disclaim all interest.  At least the presence of the workmen outside should help deter anything too extreme, if the men are up to no good.  The police do show up fairly quickly, and find the men do indeed have legal authority for what they’re doing!  Meanwhile the men have got in (turns out Clare from Flat 1 let them into the building), and I hear drilling as they force entry to Flat 3.

Going out later, I see a notice on the door of Flat 3, the lock has been changed!  The notice is (or claims to be) from British Gas, so not a repossession[1].   Before anything else I go straight to the agent’s office in search of an explanation.  It seems they knew some of the story: BG was in dispute with the tenant and cut off the supply (wow, that must’ve involved a marathon legal process even if, as seems likely, the tenant never answered any of their correspondence).  But they didn’t know the flat had been forcibly entered and the lock changed!

Black marks to both BG and the agent there: it could’ve been handled so much better if they’d communicated.

[1] A repossession would’ve been alarming for me. If a mortgage holder is in difficulties, huge amounts of taxpayer help are available.  If a tenant defaults on the rent, he can only be evicted after months of legal process.  But if a landlord defaults on a mortgage, the tenant gets treated like dirt, and may not even get notice of the bailiffs coming to evict.

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A plague on both your houses!

The spectacle of our politicians going into the general election just gets ever worse.

Last week, not unexpectedly, the chancellor gave us the pampers budget: a bit of superficial feelgood, but absolutely nothing to stem the disastrous effluence of ten years of monetary and fiscal incontinence.  Modest election bribes for key interest groups pensioners and motorists, confirmation of previously-announced tax rises, absolutely nothing to surprise.

But then he goes on to say we’ll need cutbacks a great deal tougher than those Mrs Thatcher introduced to dig us out of our last major trouble.   Another stroke of PR genius: everyone’s in favour of savings in the abstract, but as soon as a future government turns that abstract into real proposals, they are inevitably horribly unpopular.  All hell breaks loose amongst – at the very least – relevant interest groups and their representatives in the meeja, and now Labour is positioned to point and say “it wouldn’t have been so bad under us, but they killed the recovery.”  Worse, noone is even challenging the notion of “the recovery”: they’re all complicit in the “feelgood” encapsulated in the pampers budget.

A while ago I wrote that I’d hold my nose and reluctantly support the tories.  That was on the supposition that they’d at least be better than the current lot.  Since then, they’ve done nothing but disappoint.  We desperately need a credible programme of substantial cost savings, but instead they’re giving us exactly the same as labour: more pampers!  And looking back, they’ve been complicit in many of Labour’s worst deeds, from the Iraq war to Bank bailouts.  A thoroughly dismal prospect.

Then finally today a real policy: they’ll reverse one of Labour’s tax rises.  Except … not reverse it, rather tinker with it, to affect different people differently.  WTF?  More labyrinthine complexity for the poor taxpayer to wade through.  This is the very mindset of rampant Big Government and a principal root of what’s wrong with Brown.  For ***** sake, choose one or the other; either keep it or abolish it, don’t tinker!  Obfuscation and complexity serve the corrupt: should we take this as an announcement ahead of time?

Or, far better, get rid of the NI designation altogether, and replace it with honest taxes.  Best would be radical reorganisation, but failing that they could at least fold NI into income and corporation taxes.  But that’s another rant.

So I reluctantly conclude that I can’t support the Tories, not even as a less-bad option than Labour.

What else can one hope for?  There isn’t another option for our national government.  There is, as usual at election time, lots of media speculation about Libdems holding the balance of power, so what about them?  Alas, yet another unpromising prospect.  A couple of years ago they caved in to meeja pressure dumped a leader I liked on the grounds that he was too old(!) in favour of a chinless wonder.  They include an alarming element of “Old Labour” style ideology, and until recently had by far the most unaffordable spending plans of any national party: the luxury of someone who won’t have to govern.  To their credit, they’ve gone much further than the main parties in identifying specific policies they’d have to abandon (or postpone) in view of the economic disaster.  But a look at their website (in composing this post) tells me they’re still hugely pledged to tax-and-spend at utterly innumerate levels.  Oh dear.

Shall I change my name by deed poll to None Of The Above and stand for election?  On a central platform headed by the abolition of the Westminster parliament.

Wishing a Wet Weekend

A funfair has come to Tavistock.

That in itself is fine.  Could even be fun.  Except ….

Instead of setting up somewhere suitable, like the Wharf carpark, they’ve plonked themselves in our otherwise-pleasant riverside park.  That means huge pantechnicons have churned up the grass into huge muddy ruts.  On and around the path are great rainbow slicks where volatile hydrocarbons have been spilled.  Ugh!

OK, it’s nowhere near as nasty as the present-day goose fair.  But given the damage to our park, I can only wish them a thoroughly wet weekend and the stonking loss they deserve.

Mac apps glitch

Dear Lazyweb, can anyone enlighten me?

Today I installed a web conferencing app on the Mac.  It’s packaged the usual Mac way as a .dmg, but it was downloaded from within Oracle’s intranet.  So I downloaded it to the OpenSolaris box (which has the VPN connection), then copied it across to the mac.

Click on the .dmg in finder?  No use, it refuses to open, with an error message about no mountable volumes.  Aaargh!  Three minutes to the conference … think!

So I uploaded it to my webserver in public_html, and typed the new URL into Firefox.  Now it loaded just fine!  Into the web conference – and jolly glad I had the web part of it!

Any mac afficionados tell me why the .dmg won’t load from the local disc?

You read it here first

Even economic news seems to have a pre-election flavour.

Today’s government borrowing: horrendous, but less bad than expected, due to tax revenues above predictions. Well, yes.  I made a couple of biggish purchases(1,2) back in December to get the lower rate of VAT.   A small effect, but we saw a mini-boom in spending at the end of last year deflate this year when the tax break ended.  Right now there’s a much bigger tax change looming: the huge rises in income taxes, particularly for higher earners.  I expect that means that among others, anyone rich enough to use a tax advisor has brought their tax liabilities forward, so as to pay at this year’s rates – hence the improved tax take.

Corollary: March will be better than expected too, ahead of a collapse in the new tax year.

Yesterday’s news: unemployment down (that’s the headline).  Also, employment down, but a rising number of people classed as economically inactive.  They’re moving unemployment off the balance sheet.  Should we call it Enron Unemployment, or now even Repo 105 Unemployment?

Actually that’s not entirely new.  We’ve long had a system that prevents you signing on as unemployed if you’re doing or attempting anything worthwhile, even unpaid/charitable work.  So if you have neither a living wage nor sufficient private resources, you’re stuck with a choice of enforced laziness on benefits or real poverty on nothing.  Or – perhaps the least bad option – benefits fraud.

Equinox

Sunrise: 06:24, Sunset 18:24. Later today the sun passes over the equator, en route to Northern Hemisphere summer[1].

And indeed, after a winter characterised by unusually cold nights and the first real snow since I returned from Italy in 1998, spring is upon us.  It’s getting rapidly warmer, even within the timescale of the week, though cloud yesterday looked like possible rain after several weeks of bright sunshine.

Another sign of spring is a burst of bright colours from the spring flowers, now out in force.  But though the March flowers are happy, not everything is well.  The local tree that normally blossoms in February or even January is looking sick, probably having suffered from the winter.

[1] Unless, that is, I am misled by misinformation or some aspect of terrestrial asymmetry.  I don’t know exactly what those published sunrise/sunset times represent, bearing in mind that the sun appearing/disappearing over the horizon is not instantaneous.

Tax shackles

I’ve just received a notice of my next year’s tax coding (next UK tax year starts on April 6th).  HMRC are famously messing up on many of these, but in my case I thought it could just carry through from last year – too simple to mess up.

Tax code D0.  Huh?  What’s that?  It’s a penalty rate!  Bugrthat!!!

In smaller print, I see it refers to my income from WebThing.  Well, my income from WebThing over the past two years (since joining Sun) has been a whopping £0.00, so I guess I can cope with paying a high percentage in tax 😉  But it does mean that if WebThing were to start paying me again, the government would take 66 pence for every £1 salary, from the very first pound.  Ouch!

No mention of what tax code they’ve told Sun and/or Oracle, so there’s hope they’ve got that right.  Guess it means I’m tied to Oracle with shackles of red tape, no matter what happens.

I should try to haggle a reduction, on the grounds of paying money into tax-exempt things!  Paying by the rules and claiming a rebate when they’re bankrupt is getting ever more scary!

Rebuilding

Last week, a couple of men appeared outside to do some minor works on the wall across the road from here. They were announced by signs warning that things would be happening for two days. OK, I can live with that, and as it turns out they weren’t a major disruption: no more than a little noise; no clouds of dust and fumes.

But having cleared the wall of the vegetation that was holding it up, they discovered that having stood for hundreds of years it was in imminent danger of falling down.  So next day there’s a surveyor looking at it in detail: if the wall goes, the road and the houses are at risk!  Evidently he too concludes that it’s falling down, because the powers-that-be move with lightning speed, and this monday new contractors appear to fix/rebuild the section of wall.  I spoke to one of them, and he told me they had an emergency budget granted by the council in record time to get on with the works.

These new workmen are the Heavy Gang.  As I write, my earplugs and closed (aaargh!) double-glazed windows are utterly ineffective against their equipment.  If I open a window, the dominant aroma is petrol fumes.  And having spoken to one of the men, I understand they’ll be here for a long time.

Ouch!  I think I’d rather let the road take its chances 😦

I should perhaps add that this is no ordinary roadside wall.  We’re on a hillside, and the far side of the wall is a big drop.  If you look over the wall, you look down on the roof of the newly-built three-storey apartment block on the far side, and recollect how those building works shook the whole surrounding area including road, houses and (presumably) wall.

works

View from my window

The curse of the timewarp

You’d think in this day and age you could get a reasonable unmetered internet connection pretty-much anywhere in the developed world.  But that seems to exclude distressingly many of the best spots.  Regular readers may recollect a lovely cottage I didn’t take due to uncertainty over broadband.

Recently a house has come on to the market at Huckworthy Bridge, a regular swim-spot, and my #1 idea of an idyllic spot to live locally to here.  So I checked broadband connectivity.  BT indicates that ADSL is likely be problematic, so this morning I pedalled over to check the strength of mobile broadband signal.  My ‘phone indicated just a faint 2G/voice signal that would be pretty useless for data 😦

Guess I’ll have to pass on viewing that house.  But I’m making it an excuse to share a snap of somewhere I think I’d like to live, if modern amenities were available.  The available house is just off the picture to the right, and not quite as lovely as those across the bridge.

Orange pulp

Just had lunch with my favourite lunchtime drink: freshly-squeezed juice.  A bag of oranges, with a couple of lemons for a bit of extra tang, make a glass for today and a jug for the fridge.

Making the juice is very easy with the orange-juicing attachment to the food processor.  Just hold the fruits down on it as it spins, and juice trickles through.  After a dozen or so fruits, the processor is about half full of juice, and there’s a lot of juicy pulp in the top.  Work the pulp with a soft/flexible plastic spatula, and about 50% more rich juice works its way through, leaving a much dryer, pithy, and altogether less appetising pulp in the top.

Today I’m throwing that pulp away.  But I dislike waste, and I’d like to think or hear of something productive to do with it.  For example, if I were to feed it through the liquidiser (another function of the same food processor), would that yield something I can re-use, or would it still retain an irredeemably pithy/stringy consistency?  What about adding it to cooking: for example, in the stock for boiling root vegetables destined to be liquidised for a soup?

Anyone successfully using this pulp?  Any good tips?