Archive for November, 2008

Lansdown Treetops

St Stephen’s tower through trees, North Bath (photographed, at least, on a Friday–@ 15:30, Nov 28)

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Monkey Nuts from the DFC

From Galleon-a-Go-Go, a Monkey Nuts story in the DFC Issue 22

I mentioned The DFC comic a few weeks back:-

There’s been a new Friday ritual in the Knackered household since May. A vibrant red-and-yellow A4 envelope, emblazoned with the letters “DFC”, drops through the letter slot to sizzle like a stick of cartoon dynamite on the doormat until the kids (8 and 13 years old) get home from school. They can’t wait to rip it open and devour the 36-page comic inside.

For newer readers (welcome aboard, me hearties!), this is a project from David Fickling Books and a large group of talented storytellers and illustrators aspiring to revive the children’s comic format, somewhat in the image of the adventure comics of the post-war period.

Our friends at The DFC have just informed us that copies will be available this week on a non-subscription basis for the first time. This gives you the chance to test out the comic on your kids, grandchildren, godchildren, nephews or nieces etc without requiring the full commitment to a subscription. So, for those who won’t take our word for it and sign up immediately, we’re happily spreading the message. Make a trip to Tesco between Nov 26-Dec 2 and be sure to pick up a copy for the modest outlay of £1.99 (it carries no ads, folks). Perhaps get one for your school too, and encourage them to subscribe. The enterprising DFC team is also looking for schools who would like them to conduct a comic workshop.

If you’re outside the UK, you can avail yourself of a subscription to The DFC online in any event. As a Christmas present that arrives every Friday throughout the year, and one that will keep the kids away from the TV and off the computer, what could be better?

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20/11/2008 Cropped

About a year ago I suggested I might post a fractal image each Friday. What was I thinking?

Well, a combination of guilty conscience about a commitment unkept and this sentence in Didier Sornette‘s cheerily entitled book Why Stock Markets Crash: Critical Events in Complex Financial Systems prompted me to revisit this partial promise:-

It turns out that many of the natural structures of the world are approximately fractal and that our aesthetic sense resonates with fractal forms.

Those who remember my misdirected concern about dangerous trees may appreciate that the oak has been safely pruned, and the only objects falling now are the autumn leaves and occasional acorn.

My recent routine interest in trees, and flora in general, seems closely correlated with a) the acquisition (for no financial outlay) of a Nokia N95 mobile phone containing a 5 megapixel digital camera and b) adherence to the paleo diet. The latter, you might think, is not seriously possible. But putting aside the confirmation bias, it has not been the only manifestation lately of a heightened sensitivity to fractal forms. Spooky.

More, if you can bear it, at my Flickr Photostream.

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Ready.. Aim.. Fire!The BBC announced spending cuts last week, fearing that the recession will lead to TV licence fee evasion and reduced revenues. According to the FT,  it banned the corporate purchase of champagne in a sop to the newspapers, after being forced to reveal an annual spend on the bubbly stuff of £40,000. Of course, if the BBC had something to celebrate, this expenditure–provided it was on Veuve Clicquot–would not look like such a mistake. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the Beeb brass were defending themselves in Parliament for the Brand/Ross/Sachs scandal.

It’s bad to bash the BBC if you get a lot out of the BBC, as I do. But it does often seem to be an organization that has lost its way. It remains somewhat technically innovative, although with unintended consequences (iPlayer), produces good costume dramas (Jane Austin/Dickens etc), entertains the kids well on Saturday evening (Dr Who, Robin Hood, Merlin) and continues its flagship natural history programmes, although these are starting to be more photographic than informational. Don’t tell anyone, but for the past few months I’ve come to believe that Radio 3 might actually be perfect.

More generally, though, its editorial and commissioning decisions seem not to be informed by either a current or future sense of what its public service needs to be. I’m waiting for the day, for instance, when its senior management is hauled before the UK’s Treasury Select Committee to answer questions about the role its programmes on property played in fuelling the real estate bubble.  But then, I wonder if the committee members have yet gotten round to reading any Robert Shiller. This, of course, is old news, well visited by belligerent websites, and even mainstream newspapers have pointed a similar finger, except of course that their own property supplements played an essential part in peddling the idea that rising property prices were for keeps.

But given that we are now at the end of a period of speculative excess, that we collectively passed the last outpost of the Shit Creek Paddle Company Shit Creek Paddle Companysome time ago and failed to take on supplies, it is hard to explain a programme I saw last week called Beat the Bank. Dragons’ Den fitness millionaire Duncan Bannatyne invited a young couple to wager their £10,000 house deposit on the abilities of one of three alleged experts to exceed the return from bank interest over three months.

The leading experts brought in were from the world of fine wine, antiques and fine art. Charming though these people were, they represented markets one could reasonably assume are highly correlated with the recent credit-fuelled boom, Veuve Clicquot HQ, Reims, Franceand not without their own fair share of fakers and finaglers to make the average punter’s chance of “beating the bank” slim at best.

But what bothered me was the premise that money in the bank was for schmucks. And none of us would want to be schmucks. The opposite in fact is true. Most of us are schmucks, and the bank is the best place for our money. The social service that the banks provide, or should provide, is as a repository of funds where we (the clueless, idle, or generally insecure) should choose to lay down our hard-earned, our windfalls and our easy-pickings, while the bank lends it out with discretion and on reasonable terms to the those with ideas, the adventurous, the quiet risk-takers, entrepreneurs and even the occasional desperado, each individually to try their luck: to fail, break-even or succeed, and on balance pay us back a decent rate of interest. All that while keeping the bank in sturdy buildings, functional IT, an occasional boozy lunch and not to forget the annual bonus payment–which should be conditional and deferred by 10 years (at least).

Squircle - Veuve Clicquot Champagne BottleThe idea that we should set a challenge to deliver excess returns over a three-month period flies in the face of all that a public service broadcaster should be providing in way of financial education. It would not be so bad if the three-month expectations cycle did not already blight the ability of many publicly-listed firms to deliver sustainable economic growth, lure them into all sorts of obfuscation or encourage all sorts of counter-productive hoop-jumping to appear to be performing satisfactorily.

If there’s a lesson that the BBC might better highlight to the risk-taker–whether in the domain of business, art, or experimental science, or even for those planning to cultivate a great vintage– it’s that you may have to bleed for forever and a day waiting for your ship to come in, before the muse descends or that eureka moment arrives, or some final vindication materializes from out of the blue. Then you’ll feel justified in tearing off the foil, untwisting the wire and popping your cork.

Veuve Photo credits: Top: Andrei Z , Middle: Matt Hamm, Bottom: jillclardy

Paddle Shop:  SailorRandR

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black swan jake


Tweet Jake Thackray’s Black Swan is about a pub and lost love. The opening verse is:- Down at the Black Swan We’ll go sing our love song We’ll sit, we’ll booze We’ve got nothing to lose We’ve lost it all, lost it all. Well, the last two lines speaks to our theme at least. In […]

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