Monthly Archives: April 2010

Flattery Spam

In recent years I’ve had my fair share of “who’s who” spam: senders calling themselves who’s who and inviting me to check my entry[1].  It seems like a descendant of one of the very oldest forms of online spam from a more innocent age “your website has won our prestigious award” (subtext: please display our logoaward and link to our site)[2].  Since I never follow the links, I’ll never find out if there’s a more sinister motive such as trying to infect my machine with malware.

The latest variant on this is new on me:

Dear Nick,

You were recently chosen as a potential candidate to represent your professional community in the 2010/2011 Edition of Distinguished Professionals Online.

We are please to inform you that your candidacy was formally approved March 15th, 2010. Congratulations.

The Publishing Committee selected you as a potential candidate based not only upon your current standing, but focusing as well on criteria from executive and professional directories, associations, and trade journals. Given your background, the Director believes your profile makes a fitting addition to our publication and our online network.

Not so bad.  Much better English than yer average spammer!  It even goes on to say

As we are working off of secondary sources, we must receive verification from you that your profile is accurate.

So they even have a reason why I should have to check my listing!   But that way I’ll never compete with the likes of Walter Mitty.  Funny then that to confirm my listing, I get to click what looks like an individualised tracking link at an unknown domain whose owners are hidden from the public whois listing.

Something to publish?  More like something to hide!

How fortunate then we have Google, where you can find information about me, or indeed about anyone else online.  And that in the unlikely event that you want to know more about me, you can research further based on what you found there, and get it for real.

[1] No, I don’t have one.  At least, not to my knowledge 🙂
[2] Come to think of it, blog comment spam is perhaps the real modern successor to the award.


A better year (on virtual paper)

Today is the last day of the UK financial year, so I’m taking a snapshot overview of my finances.  How have I fared?

Firstly on our ever-rising taxes.  Last year I made some considerable efforts to reduce my tax liability.  This year I’ve used the same three tax-saving vehicles as last year, but taken it further by investing considerably more in Venture Capital, to offset close to 100% (excluding, alas, the portion of the tax that can’t be offset).  This strategy is based on the premise that, while I’d like in principle to buy a house, our housing market is too buggered up by government meddling and bubble credit to get into for some time, and either buying a house or staying in cash is a sure way to lose very large sums.

The biggest investment is the SIPP.  Last year I reported that it was 65% up or 1% down, depending on whether we include the tax breaks or just the investment performance.  This year I’m happy to report it’s much improved: the corresponding figures over two years are 112% up (in total) or 27% up (investment performance alone).  A substantial majority of it is in non-sterling-denominated assets around the world, with an emphasis on emerging areas with the best prospects of delivering growth between now and my drawing a pension.

The venture capital is hard to value due to liquidity issues, but since all VCTs are listed on the stock exchange I can get a notional value.  Based on that I have a capital gain of 27% net of the tax breaks, plus £540 over the year in tax-free dividends.  The investment is locked up for a minimum of five years (else I lose the tax breaks plus illiquidity premium and make a stonking loss), but the income should rise in future years as more investments mature.

Finally, the Stocks-and-shares ISA is 24% up, despite being the most conservatively-invested (mostly in bond funds).  As against that, the cash ISA (which is larger because I’ve been saving longer) is losing heavily in real terms.  The only reason to keep it in cash is with a view to using it in a future mortgage offset account.

I’m trying to base all investment on what I believe in.  So a proportion of the money is invested positively in things I support, notably clean energy, and companies that I’ve judged as more efficient than their sector peers (“light green”).  The dark greens are performing rather badly, but the light greens are among the best!  The remainder is mixed, but avoids sectors I can’t support such as the military, fossil fuels, animal abuse of any kind, or tobacco.  And of course our government: not so much point keeping the tax from them but then just lending it to them!

Other things being equal, will I do the same next year?  It’s too early to say.  I expect a correction to the housing market may happen after the election.  I don’t think it’s very likely I’ll buy within a year, but I’m not ruling it out.  If I do buy, it comes at the expense of no longer having the funds to invest as I have done of late.

Fear Novell. Or buy Novell.

Remember SCO?  The world’s saddest, most ludicrous software company?  Well, if not, Groklaw has a rich and colourful (not to mention opinionated) archive on the subject.

The ghost of SCO has long since joined that of Jarndyce & Jarndyce, the perpetual litigants.  But this week, an actual decision by a Utah jury: Novell owns the Unix copyrights.

Some believe SCO’s litigation was inherently doomed: there’s nothing to be had from Unix IP.  Yes, there’s value, but that’s long-since been opened to the world, and of course independently re-engineered elsewhere, most importantly in GNU/Linux.

Others take a different view: there’s gold beyond the dreams of avarice in that Unix IP.  SCO had a great idea; they just made a hash of executing it.  After all, in the real world, pirates have taken such major companies as Blackberry-maker RIM and even Microsoft to the cleaners over IP that is, by any standards, a drop in the ocean set against UNIX.

So when a hedge fund bids for Novell, I expect they’re in the latter camp.  They’re not an Oracle, a huge and powerful software company getting Sun, a crown-jewel complementary company on the cheap.  They’re a pure money-machine.  They have no business to fit Novell’s.  So it seems likely they want the crown jewels of Novell’s IP.

That was before the jury declared Novell owner of such an important part of the IP!  It must be worth more now, to a cash-rich wannabe-pirate.

Novell under current management has shown itself benign, and hero of the SCO story.  Under other management, all bets would be off.  The fact that they rejected one bid (or did they?) doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll always be able to do so – that’s up to the shareholders.

How much is it worth to lay that spectre to rest?  Are you a shareholder, and if not, why not?