All posts by daverave999

Musings on the latest Bitcoin price increases

I’ve been interested in Bitcoin for a few years now and started investing in small quantities a couple of years back. Literally every time there’s a big price rise I start getting the fear that it’s a bubble and am tempted to sell out. Then there’s the other part of me that wonders if this is like my first experience of the internet in 1997, and whether it will continue to grow in that manner. The internet is really quite difficult to avoid now in the UK.


Fiat currency is inflationary i.e. as much as is needed (and probably more…) will be created by your government and it’s subsidiaries (the banks in the UK), which means that if you save in fiat, a fixed amount will likely become worth less over time due to the effects of inflation. Now Bitcoin is a different fish; only 21 million can ever be created, which effectively means it is deflationary. Buying a deflationary asset with an inflationary one will automatically mean that the deflationary one will go up in price, when measured in the inflationary one. It’s just maths.
The problem with this is that humans do the valuing, and they are quite emotional. Hence bubbles happen. They don’t only happen because of emotion though, they can occur as a result of legislation or politics or numerous other things. Compare the current UK housing bubble caused by cheap debt and lax rules on buy-to-let.

Much as I want to believe Bitcoin is the new saviour, I don’t feel it is, hence I’m keeping a close on eye on things and taking profits as and when I see fit. Whilst the meme says HODL, I’m trying to take a bigger picture view on the off-chance that the forthcoming cryptopia™ doesn’t happen. The fact that Bitcoin is deflationary suggests to me that it won’t perform as a currency, even with Lightning Network in place. For example, I tried to make a Bitcoin transfer earlier and suggested transfer fees were thirty quid. For future reference, a can of decent lager is around a quid in the shops in the UK. Fuck that I thought. Bitcoin may function as a digital version of gold, but there will an alternative currency that wins out as the day-to-day use one.

So what would I look for? Almost instant (5 seconds?), increased every year  in proportion to the global population by some measure that is difficult to game [difficult one] and insanely cheap to send (free?)
I’m not really up on everything out there, so this may already exist (tell me!), but

Pressurised refill pens

Now most of you will have hopefully heard of the Space Pen. It’s not the pen itself that is special here, but the refill. The Space Pen refill is sealed against atmospheric pressure and pressurised with nitrogen gas so the ink will still keep flowing even if it used underwater or upside down. There’s a joke [I assume!] that NASA spent a million pounds developing the Space Pen in an attempt to find something that would write in space, and the Russians used pencils… Many years back I purchased a retractable Space Pen in black anodised aluminium, and even though it lived at the bottom of my work bag it still looks in remarkably good condition to this day. I never used it much though as I wasn’t keen on losing it. Also, it was a little slippery to use with dirty hands so not ideal in a work environment. No photo as it’s a an old work bag somewhere… A couple of years back I bought a Pilot Down Force pen in yellow, as it was advertised as having a pressurised refill, made of ABS to resist destruction by construction worker types, and was cheap to boot. I was confused by the fact the refills were no different to some of the other Pilot pen refills, so was sceptical about the pressurised claim. I like the Down Force as it suits my job use, being indestructible and write-anywhere. It is however, somewhat ugly, and I am not confident of the clip strength. I’ve not had a problem with it, but there’s always that nagging doubt. It did write quite nicely however. I recently discovered another little pressurised pen called the Tombow Airpress. Reading further, it turns out this does not take pressurised refills either, but Tombow actually bother to fill in the blanks with the crucial info. When you click the pen out to write, it pressurises the normal refill! Absolute genius! Had to get myself one of these.So this amazing idea, why has nobody else thought of it? Turns out, this is exactly what the Down Force does too, they just don’t bother to advertise the fact.


So, the Airpress. Nice in the hand, writes well too and actually feels more sturdy overall (when you take the clip into consideration) than the Pilot. It’s small size encourages me to carry it more, and use it more. Never really did that with the Pilot Down Force, but this one has spent nearly a week on me at all times. This is very unusual for me, but I am carrying and using it. Was only £3.59 from eBay so if I lose it I will be buying another immediately.

Scooter experience

I’ve ridden a 600/650cc motorcycle for around 4 or 5 years now, and have only ever used manual gears, even right from the start. I wondered if I was missing something by not having tried an automatic and was starting to consider buying something cheap as a second two-wheeler.

This of course was daft without having tried one, so I recently took the opportunity on holiday in Spain to hire a scooter. It was pretty hot so I wasn’t particularly keen on the All The Gear All The Time approach that I favoured in the UK so I decided to go for a 50cc so I wasn’t tempted to cane it. In the EU, I believe these must be limited to 45 kph, which is around 28 mph. You can reach that on a pushbike!

I’m pretty sure the scooter I hired was a Motobi Jump, which is some Chinese junk. Did the job for a tester though.

Stability

Compared to the motorbikes I’ve ridden, the scooter had much smaller wheels. This means bumps are much more easily felt, and there is less gyroscopic resistance to turning them when moving.
It also felt like the rake and consequently the trail were less, which felt much more unstable (but also more manoeuvrable). Getting on it for the first time, I wondered how I was ever going to stay on the thing! It got easier once I got moving though…

Automatic transmission

The scooter had CVT instead of manual gears, AKA twist-and-go. There is a centrifugal clutch that only engages once the revs get up a bit, and though I knew it would have one, it was a bit odd at first. I’m used to gentle throttle control on my bike, as wanging it wide open will just get you thrown off the back. With manual gears there is a much more direct response in terms of movement, but with CVT there seems to be a bit of lag.
Treating the scooter gently was pointless. The low-power engine meant there was no need to baby it, and you could literally use the throttle as an on-off switch. Once you were moving, the throttle was a little more useful, but the minimal engine braking did diminish the feeling of a connection between throttle position and acceleration. It made for a smooth but unengaging ride.
This low power also meant lugging my 13 stone frame up a hill was a bit of a struggle. One time I was actually overtaken by a child on a mountain bike!

Seating position

It was like sitting on a toilet. Admittedly, this particular scooter was probably too small for me, but being able to put my knees together and not having anything to brace myself against only added to the feeling of instability.

Brakes

Contrary to a motorbike, on its own, the rear brake felt the more powerful of the two. Which was surprising as the front was a disc and the rear a drum. They were better used in combination though, probably as putting the rear brake on compressed the front suspension a bit.

Storage

Now this is where it shone. Under the seat there was enough room for the legal paperwork you need to carry in Spain, a helmet and probably some other stuff too, but I didn’t test that as it also had a small topbox attached. Made it great for going shopping, and wearing minimal gear meant I could just get the helmet out from underneath the seat and go.
For comparison, I would struggle to get a packed pencilcase under the seat on my Versys.

Fuel economy

Another astounding feature of this scooter was how it sipped fuel. You were supposed to return it with a full tank, so I went to top it off and only managed to get 1.08 worth of fuel in. This was definitely less than a litre of fuel, and realistically, I could have gotten away with not bothering. I got some very funny looks at the petrol station…

Summary

I would definitely not buy a 50cc anything. I might consider a 125cc or larger scooter, but only as an addition to a proper motorbike. I can see their value as commuting tools in an urban environment, but they are a means to an end. I would like to try one with a larger engine and longer wheelbase i.e. a maxi-scooter, but I suspect it will be more of the same, just more suited to longer distances and higher speeds.

Long trip on a 2007 Kawasaki Versys

I mostly use my current motorbike, a 2007 Kawasaki Versys, for commuting to and from work. This is only a few miles at 30mph, with lots of filtering so the Versys is somewhat overkill. Recently I had occasion to visit Leicester which gave me a good opportunity to assess its capabilities as a touring machine before I go and actually do any. Hopefully this won’t read too much as stream of consciousness.

The journey was about 300 miles spread over two days, mostly motorway, and I enjoyed the journey more than I would have done in a car. I’m not keen on driving since getting a bike as it feels cramped, visibility is worse, and you get stuck in traffic jams.

What worked

  • The Givi V35 hard panniers that were on the bike when I bought it were great. I don’t use them much as they hinder filtering, but they were ideal for this. Even though they were unevenly loaded (chain in one side), handling wasn’t affected but acceleration was a little reduced. No concerns about them coming off at speed either. The only water that got in (it rained on the way) was when I opened them. I bought the pannier-specific Givi V35 bags from eBay a while back as the side-opening aspect of the V35 panniers is a bit of a pain i.e. stuff falls out when you open them, but the bags made them much easier to use. As they are purpose-designed to fit the boxes, there’s barely room to fit anything around them if they are full, which is kind of the point, that they utilise the whole space. This meant that the bag in the side with the chain in was squashed. A centrally mounted bag would be best for the chain because of the weight, and as I already have a Kappa RA308 tanklock bag on the tank, a tailpack was the obvious solution. Upon my return, a QBag Dakar Rearbag was ordered from Sportsbikeshop.
  • Fuel consumption was spectacularly good. I’d always heard the Versys was capable of high mpg figures but to actually get near them was pleasing. My usual figure around town is approx. 37 mpg (Imperial). I filled up at the start of my journey and again before my return, putting the figures into my spreadsheet, which gave the spectacular 61 mpg for that leg. The return figure was 55mpg, though I didn’t fill up until after one commute. Bear in mind I was not riding particularly sedately, and had the luggage on which would likely increase drag.
  • The Held Air N Dry gloves kept my hands completely dry the whole trip. On the return journey when it was dry, I found them actually slightly too chilly when used in the vented configuration. Heated grips would have helped here, but see below…
  • I used earplugs and they reduced the fatigue from wind noise greatly. Thinking about it, when I used to drive the MX-5 with the top down on the motorway wearing them, they also helped then. Not just for bikes! I used foam rather than reusable as the stalks on the latter tend to catch on the helmet lining. I’m seriously considering buying a bike-specific pair with minimal stalks as they made that much of a difference.

What didn’t work so well

  • My heated grips are well past their best; they’ve worn down so much that the heating element is visible on one side and the rubber is leaving a residue on my glove. Consequently, I was wary of turning them on. A replacement set have been ordered.
    On the way back, I found the vibration of the bars was making my hand go numb, possibly from holding the throttle in the same position for so long, or too tightly. I’ve ordered the Gear Gremlin Cruise Control to use for long journeys in an attempt to alleviate this happening again. The Cruise Control is a clamp-on palm lever so you don’t need to grip the throttle for long distances, that generally receives rave reviews considering it only costs £6.
  • My navigational skills were not up to scratch. I tried to do it from memory, but ended up around 15 miles off course. I’m going to think about some kind of bike satnav or phone holder, but previous experience with helmet-based bluetooth satnav left a lot to be desired.
  • My Givi D405ST touring screen appears to direct wind straight onto my helmet, as ducking down reduces wind noise massively. Might be worthwhile playing with different heights to see if it makes any difference to the wind noise, or looking at alternative screens with a spoiler/lip to tip the airflow up.
  • My RST Slice textiles were adequate, but are definitely not 100% waterproof. They are also exceptionally sweaty! They were however surprisingly warm at motorway speeds without added insulation. Goretex replacements needed…
  • The Versys seat is OK for a while. It seems to be tilted forward so you slide off the cushioned part; you can wedge yourself back with your knees but it’s an unnatural position. Short of modifying or replacing the seat, there are mods mentioned on versys.co.uk that I’m going to try.
  • Tutoro chain oiler was set too open, so it had dumped all the oil within the first twenty miles of the journey. Considering their automatic version so I don’t need to keep turning it on and off and risking getting the wrong setting.

Overall, I was very pleased with the bike for long journeys, and would certainly use it for a multi-day tour.

Selling ‘the’ car

I remember when I was a child of about 6 or 7 years old, seeing the coolest car EVER when someone’s mum picked them up from school. Beautiful shape, convertible and pop-up headlights (no jokes about the mother…) For years this memory was lost until a few years ago my thoughts turned to the fact that a second car would be incredibly useful to my girlfriend (now wife) and me. Looking around at all kinds of cars, some from a practical point of view, some for fantasy reasons, I spotted THAT car again. Turns out it was a Mazda MX-5, and there had been a couple of updates since I noticed my first. Still just as attractive to me nearly 30 years later, I read lots about it but dismissed it as impractical and likely too expensive. Other cars, even old bangers, were also expensive. Insurance for someone with no no-claims discount built up was extraordinary, even in their mid 30s. I just couldn’t decide. It was it this point my wife suggested I just get the MX-5 as that was what I really wanted, so I researched the price of insurance. I was ecstatic to find that on classic car insurance it would be about a THIRD of the price of that on your bog standard runabout. The hunt was on.

Less than a week later I found one in the spec I was looking for, checked it out, and I proceeded to buy my first car at the age of 32. For three years this was our fun car. It only seated us and was just amazing fun to drive. I was so proud of it and it signified something special between us. I don’t think it’s coincidence we ended up married!

Towards the end of this three year period it needed more maintenance and we were using it far less. Part of the reason was I had discovered motorbikes (there will surely be a post about bikes at some point!) The cost to benefit was getting too great but we thought we needed two cars. Two cars. And a motorbike. When we live by a railway station. I was so sad, but I didn’t want to resent what it was costing me. It had to go.

After a couple of false starts I managed to sell it to the first buyer for a price I was happy with. The chap seemed as enthusiastic about it as I was, so I was pleased it was going to a good home. I’ve since seen it being used in the good weather and they still look pleased!
The upshot is I had a great experience owning it but realising when to let it go was a valuable experience, and I have now cut out a drain on my income that can be going towards my savings.

The walk to work

As I stopped being bothered with the gym a couple of years back I’ve steadily been getting more unfit and what my wife loves to call my ‘foodbag’ (h/t The Simpsons) has been growing. For a number of irritating reasons, I’m not currently using my motorbike so I’ve been catching the train to work with relative regularity. At £3.70 return a day this soon adds up – if I did this every working day that would be nearly £800 a year! To alleviate both these problems I had considered getting a pushbike but this would require either an initial outlay that would make my wallet cringe, or signing up to 18 months of wage deductions if I purchased it through the Cycle-To-Work Scheme that my employer runs.

I’d looked at how far it might be to walk and how long that might take; Google Maps said an hour. Considering I need to leave the house at about 8am to catch the train, I wouldn’t actually have to get up any earlier to arrive at work on time if I walked. I’d put it off time and time again as the thought of that much exercise before a whole day’s work (then the same to get home) filled me with anticipation of aching, exhaustion and general displeasure.

I don’t sleep well and today was no exception as I woke up an hour and a half before my alarm, but for some reason I had the urge to try the walk in this morning. Leaving the house at just before 8am, I started striding away in my normal manner. Within 200m or so, I slowed down as I realised I had plenty of time!

It was a sensually enjoyable experience: I smelt the flowers as I walked past people’s gardens, I had time to look at what was going on and unfortunately, I felt the spray of light rain on my skin. But it was only light rain and I have arrived at work as dry as I would have done if using the train. The journey takes me past several local parks so it’s not particularly grim visually either. I did feel slightly smug as I walked past people waiting at bus stops; one in particular had a man wearing actual hiking boots, waiting to catch the bus less than a mile into town!

There are some who argue that I’m wasting these two hours a day by walking but it’s a much more enjoyable experience than wasting that time sat in railway station with other commuters. It also allowed some time for reflection which I feel I’m sorely lacking recently. I’m not tired or aching from walking and in truth, I really enjoyed it. Whether I still feel the same once I get home remains to be seen…

Ideas for the future

Or for now! It’s all well and good having plans for the future but they will always stay in the future if you never start them. I know everyone’s busy but there’s ALWAYS a few minutes spare somewhere. Rather than wishing you can do something and enjoying the idea, just do it. The reality will likely be much better, or you can move onto your next exciting idea.

So, in an effort to motivate myself, I’m going to list things here that I want to have done before I die. Having the list to look back at regularly will hopefully give me a little push towards doing some of these things. This list will be updated when it needs to be!

THE LIST

  1. Retire early. Multiple ways of going about this, but at the moment I’m trying to invest a reasonable chunk of my income into the stock market. It’s something I’m interested in so this is currently being worked towards. There will likely be a post to expand on this at some point.
  2. Learn a musical instrument. My wife bought me a guitar for Christmas so this has started, albeit slowly.
  3. Become fluent in another language. Spanish is currently top of the list, though anything that I might find useful will do. Others that might are Chinese, Arabic and Welsh.
  4. Make and release a film. (Or movie to those not speaking British English.) My wife has an idea for a film, and I’d like to make this happen for her. Other possibilities of personal creative outlet are: release a single that charts and write a book that sells.
  5. Go hang-gliding. Looks exhilarating.
  6. Build something out of bricks. Anything from a barbecue, to a wall, to a garage/mancave. I also want to build my own fireplace in our lounge that actually works well and looks good.
  7. Learn to code. (added 3 Nov 2016) I’ve always wanted to be able to write software and have made half-hearted attempts in the past. I think this would be enjoyable, and another potential income source.

A new beginning?

As I’ve recently got married, thoughts have unsurprisingly turned to ensuring our life together stays as comfortable and stable as possible. I’d like to think we work hard on the emotional side of our relationship, but there are other pitfalls that can occur, with money being a common one. Given my lack of confidence in the UK Government’s ability to look after anyone financially apart from itself, it occurred to me that it might be worthwhile trying to sort us out with some kind of safety net for the future.

In my younger days, I would hear older people bang on about pensions and other boring stuff like that, and I felt totally removed from the situation. That was something old boring people spoke about, after all! It never occurred to me that a pension was anything other than the State Pension. My parents went on about getting one, so when I joined my current employer at the age of 24 and the option was offered, I thought “Why not?”. BEST. DECISION. EVER. Turns out now I look into it, I’ve been paying into an employer-matched final salary pension for the last ten years. I was exceptionally pleased. Further research gave the depressing figure that I needed to spend another 30 years working for them to get half my final salary as a pension.

Now I don’t know about you, but no way am I intending to do that. I realise I may well end up doing so through not being motivated to go somewhere else, but then that still leaves me with the horror of turning up 9-to-5 somewhere for at least another 7500 days. OK, so how do I manage to slip out of this? Two options immediately spring to mind:

  • Bum off the State. This looks attractive on account of seemingly being able to choose this straight away, but there’s only so far you can go with this. You are still relying on someone else to provide for you, and as mentioned above, I’m not massively confident that this is viable long-term. Being a belt-and-braces kinda guy, that sounds too much like all my eggs being in one basket.
  • Work part-time, and live on less. This leave the former as a fallback option, whilst still decreasing the amount of effort put into supporting myself. Downsides appear to be a lower quality of life as I’m used to living on my current wage, and still having to turn up somewhere at least once a week and play by someone else’s rules voluntarily.

Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy my current job, but don’t be under the misapprehension that I would turn up if they didn’t pay me. Ideally, I would like to be able to afford not to turn up. Looking around the web, there seem to be an increasing number of websites about Financial Independence. The general principle is to live on a lot less than you earn for a few years and build a chunk of savings to eke out for the rest of your days. This, quite frankly, sounds like the worst of both worlds. You work full time AND don’t see the benefit of it now? The upside of not working for those remaining days does seem attractive though…

So, for a laugh, I thought I’d start making some vague attempts at changing my attitude towards life in that general direction.

A lot of these sites seem to be biased towards investing in the stock market. I’d never considered this before as my impression was it was the preserve of a certain undesirable type with red braces, and those who already have money to burn. I was definitely not the latter, and I hoped I was not the former but as I already owned some red braces I thought it might be worth looking into further. Long-term returns looked promising, and through using a selection of index funds (like shares in the whole stock market), risk of making newbie mistakes seemed minimal. So as of the 11th of November 2014, I was a stock market investor.

Considering that we had been saving hard for the wedding and being a Dave had not changed much at all, it made me wonder how much more I could save. I’d been putting nearly 20% of my take home pay into savings each month with no detriment to my lifestyle, and this process prompted me to look at my monthly outgoings. I was shocked, in truth. Having covered living expenses (housing, food, vehicle costs, weekly poker game), I had a quarter of my net wages left. There were two ways to look at it, yet again:

  • “That’s not much!”
  • “What am I spending this much on?”

Notice a subtle difference? It’s either not much or quite a lot each month.

So I’ve set up a spreadsheet, and am itemising each thing I spend out of that cash and it’s been quite a surprise. As an example I appear to be buying a can of Coke most days. Now that might not sound like it would add up to much, but that’s nearly £250 a year. If I didn’t spend that for one year, and put it in a savings account at 5% until I retire, not drinking Coke (just in work) that would equal over 1100 quid. What if someone said they’d give me a grand to not buy Coke in work for a year? Being me, I’d probably buy something else, but it made me think. More sums suggested not buying Coke at work EVER AGAIN (saving £18 a month) would be worth £15k. That’s quite a lot of cash. Another thought: if I bought supermarket own-brand at half the price, I would STILL be getting my fizzy sugar fix and the difference would be worth £7.5k! How many other tiny differences could I make that would not impact my quality of life AT ALL and make such a significant difference later on?

I know this sounds like a chronic nuisance but I truly believe this could be the difference between living like I live now in old age, and living in fear of a big bill arriving. Which is not the way I want to live.

Electronic cigarettes – my journey… Part 1

I started smoking at the age of 13 and have always enjoyed it. I started smoking ‘proper’ cigarettes and eventually moved onto rolling my own. I’ve had dalliances along the way with a heavy interest in Cuban cigars, and the occasional enjoyment of a corncob pipe but nicotine has been a part of my life for over twenty years now.

The venture into cigars taught me that it wasn’t all about addiction, and that nicotine wasn’t necessarily best enjoyed as a ‘quick hit’ but a gradually titrated dose. Having a cigarette didn’t necessarily take that ‘wanting a cigarette’ feeling away, but a cigar was something to be savoured. Not just for the taste, but for the stimulation and the hobby aspect of storage and finding the ideal cigar for the moment.

The ritual has very much been part of it for me and whilst a ready-made cigarette fed the habit, I missed the preparation aspect of it. Electronic cigarettes have been around for a few years and I’d always feared that they wouldn’t be as satisfying as a real cigarette. On a holiday to Spain I saw the film The Tourist, where Johnny Depp uses one.  On the same holiday, I saw an old man sitting on a bench happily puffing away on something similar to my first e-cig purchase. There was a good chance he’d been smoking properly for many more years than I had, so if he was satisfied, there was a distinct possibility that it might be worth a try.

I’d had the odd look before and the choice seemed overwhelming. Given I currently smoked around seven rollies a day, even a basic kit with some juices was equivalent to a couple of month’s smoking for me. Bear in mind I have smoked a lot more in the past, and you need a rather heavy tolerance to not OD on some of the cigars I smoked, so do not match your own x-a-day habit with mine. This was my bare minimum ‘maintenance’ level that I could not break through.

I’d had a couple of years off at one point but it sucked me back. The physical effects start to catch up with you once you reach a certain age and I was not content to tolerate these, but still felt unable to lose my crutch.

So after about a month’s research (very much my style as you might come to learn) I bought a Kanger Mini Protank 2 with a Ego-C Upgrade battery, a charger and an odd variety of juices. I didn’t know at this stage what juices I would take to, so wanted the glass tank to be able to use certain juices that could damage plastic tanks. It took a few days to get round to trying it but within a week I’d pretty much stopped smoking. I was shocked. It was not my intention to stop smoking at all, I just wanted a less harmful nicotine delivery system. I got this and a whole lot more.