My Father's improving health

He has use of a tripod base walking stick, this enables him to walk slowly. I recall him saying that he would walk again during my first visit to him on the stroke ward; Promise fulfilled. He needs someone to walk beside him on his left hand side in case he loses his balance. He manages small distances, from room to room, and in terms of development we are on an upward path. He was able to walk around the garden, admittedly taking a few moments to stop and rest.

He now longer goes into hospital for physiotherapy as he has developed past all the equipment they have. This is good as he has become very prone to car sickness, going above 40mph or going around roundabouts at 20mph+ make him feel ill. He has home visits from community based physios who work on the physical skills he needs around the house, reaching and stretching for items, walking up and down steps. Unfortunately the lower limb of his hand is non-responsive and shows no sign of improvement.

Please insert the correct DVD-ROM

My current pc has come back from warranty repairs; The motherboard was at fault two times in a row. Each repair cycle took 7-10 days for the pc to be shipped off, fixed and then returned. I've been spending some time with the old pc and its games. I played a bit of Galactic Civilisations and I thought that I would see how Medieval Total War 2 ran on the new machine. It has a Solid State hard drives (SSDs) rather than a traditional hard drive and is one of the best upgrades I have made in a long while as everything runs faster and quieter. MTW2 will install but when I run it I get a message "Please insert the correct DVD-ROM" and it exits to the desktop.

After rooting around the internet it turns out that many games written in a world before SSDs look for IDE drivers while SSDs work on AHCI. The solution to this involves disabling the AHCI drivers, installing the IDE drivers and hoping this doesn't cause any new problems to appear. Games from just a few years ago, now transiting through data degradation. I had a similar experience looking for roleplaying links, when free hosting sites such as geocities die they cull the users of that time period. Fortunately there is the digital archaeology of the Wayback Machine which offers the users of the internet a chance to find long lost treasures, new adventures and new lands. They long to cross uncharted seas and discover unknown countries. To find secret gold on a mountain trail high in the Andes. They dream of following the path of the setting sun that leads to El Dorado, and the Mysterious Cities of Gold.

Speaking of Gold, it has taken a mighty tumble in the past few days. Some say that it might fall towards $1200 before finding long term support. Safe havens from financial chaos should not behave in such a volatile manner, they should be predictable and stable.

In 2010 the govt was convinced that it needed to embark on a policy of austerity. They said it was necessary, politically and economically. The previous govt had allowed a debt crisis to occur so a political signal had to be sent that the coalition took debt repayment seriously. The IMF, OECD and academics took turns to praise the govt's course of action. In 2009 Professors Rogoff and Reinhart published a book This Time is Different which set out the vital importance of resolving debts in a timely manner.

Since then the IMF has realised that Austerity is tough medicine when taken at home. This view was probably thought of as anecdotal when the IMF applied its slash and burn policies to Latin America and Africa but here in the 1st world, we just didn't realise it.

Now it seems that the data in the book by the esteemed Professors could have been miscalculated, stripping away the prestige of academic credibility the govt has hung onto. A coding error in excel, or maybe it was the wrong drivers on the system. Just re-install, reboot, sure it'll be fine. Your govt, now transiting through policy degradation.

What I am listening to

What I am listening to

Analysis – Programme examining the ideas and forces which shape public policy in Britain and abroad, presented by distinguished writers, journalists and academics

Ken and Robin talk about stuff - Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff is the podcast of authors and game designers Kenneth Hite and Robin D. Laws. Stuff talked about includes hobby gaming, history, occultism, chrono-travel, food, cinema, narrative, art, politics, food, maps, Cthulhiana, and in fact any matter subject to jocular yet penetrating erudition. Their recurring seminar at Dragonmeet was a highlight of the show. Now they put on their show weekly for the world’s entertainment. Early shows did stray a bit toward self promotion and product puffing but they soon put that behind them.

Both are weekly though Analysis is on hiatus until the Autumn.

Two free podcasts have tried charging for their content. For every 100 listeners who subscribed only 1 is prepared to pay. I listen to one but not the other.

Yog Radio was stopped at episode 50 and was replaced by The Silver Lodge, available to patrons of Their shows also include audio games of most Chaosium Cthulhu campaigns.

The HP Lovecraft Literary podcast changed format once they had reviewed all of the Lovecraft’s work. They now cover the wider world of weird fiction.

What I am watching

Community on DVD – One of the more interesting shows of recent years. If the Big Bang theory is a mainstream view of geek culture then Community is a show from that weird part of youtube. Is Community too meta or is it a reflection of emergent culture where the socially, politically or culturally awkward parts of society have found a place to evolve before their inevitable rise to global domination.

Stargate from Pick TV on freeview. One of the many genre shows filmed in Vancouver, it is the opposite of Battlestar Galactica in its story progression and character development. In the world of stargate there is no obstacle that cannot be overcome, no foe that cannot be beaten or talked round. While BSG is an American parable on the consequences of empire and the loss of life, liberty and happiness; Stargate is a Canadian fantasy where no one is truly bad and everything can be resolved with just a little understanding. Peace, prosperity and good govt, blandness as a civic virtue? Or just Liberal Fan service.

What I am seeing

Spain has a 27% unemployment rate and they recently downgraded their growth prospects from -0.5% to -1.5%. Some say that they should quit the Eurozone, default on their debts and restart growth by becoming a cheap destination for inward investment. Forget the foreign banks and bondholders, what we need is jobs for Spaniards and we need them now.

There is a problem with this plan and that is Spain’s reserve social security fund. In 2007 the fund was invested 50/50 with national debt/foreign debt. By 2011 it was 90% Spanish debt. In 2012 it had invested 97% of its funds in Spanish Govt debt. If Spain defaults it takes a massive hit on all the payments to pensioners, the poor and disabled.

There was rejoicing amongst economists, even amongst doomers like Nouriel Roubini, that the Philippines were upgraded by credit rating agencies to Investment grade status. Slowly but surely the world is growing and developing. Some people are becoming richer and absolute poverty is decreasing. Is that really that simple? Yes and no. A solid economy that is built on sound finances, yes; But one which is subject to price shocks from actions taken in another country, no.

The stimulus spending out of America (QE, Quantitative Easing) is reckoned to have pushed up prices around the world and in doing so driven up food prices which prompted the revolts of the Arab Spring. Here people felt the harsh effects of inflation, which destroyed the value of their savings.

Japan is determined to end its cycle of debt-deflation, it has had 20 years of poor to no growth and it has had enough. This is the cycle that Europe is entering. Therefore the Bank of Japan has a new round of QE that is an order of magnitude greater than before. The US spent $85bn a month, Japan will spend $200bn a month. Their target is to create growth and to achieve an inflation rate of 2% in an economy a 1/3 the size of the US. The possibility of unintended consequences and profound inflation for other countries around the world is high.

Actually understanding what is real or will be real into the future is becoming increasingly difficult as govts/banks/cultures are conducting increasing bold experiments in an effort to maintain living standards of the past. We are driving forward with lingering glances in the rear mirror. Anti-capitalists may not have to come up with a new narrative if capitalism dies under the weight of its own contradictions. Their dream of arriving at a pre-industrial post-feminist utopia will not occur due to someone inventing something which catapults society into a completely different direction.

Save or spend? Buy now or save for tomorrow? There's so many pros and cons. How can you decide? The good folks at econstories have this helpful video to help you make up your mind.

My Father's condition - an update

He went into hospital late August and returned home mid October through the process of early stroke discharge. Blue and yellow coloured ambulances are for while green and silver are for transport. He is in the dining room which has been converted into a bedroom, all the equipment he might need was supplied in good time for his arrival. A bed that can be electronically raised with a handset with up/down for the whole bed or just for certain parts of the bed, legs, head, etc. Electric hoists to allow him to move/transfer from bed to chairs, a commode and sundry waste bottles. His schedule of care is 4 visits a day which is on the high side. Two carers arrive each time, mostly the same people but with occasional changes of personnel. Each visit starts and finishes with paperwork where they note what they did and what they observed in a folder which remains on site. He has a morning visit to get him out of bed, wash, use the commode, change clothes and transfer from bed to chair. This usually runs from 10am-10.45. Then a lunchtime, teatime, 9pm visit to check for the same things. During the week he gets council staff and at the weekend it is a local private agency called Elite Assurance.

Add into this visits by Occupational Therapists and Physiotherapists and there can be quite a few callers during a day. The therapists always call ahead to check if it is ok to come over and often bring students from local universities who are doing related courses. In order to give my Mother a break I go over to the house to be there a number of times a week to allow her to visit her friends and do shopping.

In terms of progress everyone is happy with the improvement in his leg and praise his bright spirits and positive attitude. I sense from the carers comments they are a lot of people with struggling with being awkward or curmudgeonly. He does not need the electric hoist which has been sent back. He used to require two people with a electric pulley to transfer him from place to place. Now his leg is strong enough that he can stand on it with someone else to support him. He has a cricket hoist which one person, even my OAP mother, can transfer him from chair to wheelchair. He now has full run of the ground floor, provided someone can move him around. His arm is making slow progress with some activity in the upper arm and little activity in the lower arm and hand. He can feel pressure on his fingers but they are swollen and puffy. He has a task of trying to keep his hand wrapped around a kitchen roll but the hand keeps sliding off. There is talk of cutting the number of calls as he becomes more mobile, possibly beginning with the lunchtime call.

He is now mobile enough to make regular trips to the hospital for longer physio appointments. The physio work at home usually lasts for 30 mins but at hospital they have more toys to play with.

My Father's stroke

My Father had a stroke in late August and was rushed to Solihull Hospital. He was declared medically fit and able to discharged back home in early October. The stroke affected the left hand side of his body, paralysing his face and limbs. It took about 2-3 weeks for him to regain full control of the left of his face, he used to keep a constant supply of tissues to catch any dribbling. He has limited movement in his leg, he can move it slowly and carefully but he requires three people to help him walk. His upper arm muscles do show resistance but there is no movement in the fingers. His voice is a bit weak and the left leg muscle spasm in pain at times but I hope that will improve with time.

Right hand strokes tend to affect memory and speech. It can rob some people of their personality or reduce them to the mental age of a two year old. The experience of visiting my father (3-5pm most days or 7.30-8.30) was that I got to see him improve bit by bit as the weeks went past. He is on an upward trend of improving health and regaining mobility and ability to function. I got to witness the families who visit loved ones who didn't improve or who couldn't meaningfully communicate. Patients who lay in their beds with blank or perturbed looks, who would burble or mouth guttural sounds. Yet those families would continue to come in with photo albums, treasured mementoes, trying to revive a measure of self. Emotionally and physically draining.

The nurses and physiotherapists are in constant attendance, never more than a few feet away. Solihull has a physio gym just by the ward where the patients get daily treatment. The hospital does not have robocop/robot devices to aid the patients but they are in use around the world. Powered limbs help to restore the brain/limb connection if used on a regular basis. Some apparently come with mountings for Uzi 9mm's. Not all patients are fit to receive physio treatment. The hospital's job to make people medically fit so that they can be released back into the community. The nurses are skilled in warmth and compassion, creating an atmosphere that invites anyone to approach them with any questions. Allowing people to express themselves on their own terms and in their own voice. I experienced the opposite of this when I went to buy a mobile broadband dongle so my Father could use his Mac during visiting hours. I asked the store whether there was anyone who could install the dongle and get it running, guaranteeing the promise of internet access to a bedridden parent. A man stepped forward and proceeded to install it while dragging the story of his ill health from me. He was keen to express how sad he was for my Father's condition and equally keen to see me express a similar measure of emotion. The conversation wasn't about me or my Father but the salesman's need to express his emotions. It was the social reverse of the Stiff Upper Lip and equally as manipulative.

He was discharged through the early stroke discharge scheme back to home. The first 6 weeks of care are free and then you have to pay if your net worth is more than £23,500. Many of the elderly, infirm or unaware are sent on to Care Homes or Nursing homes. For my Father to be sent home to recover was seen as a victory by the ward staff. A Thank you to Nats for her comments on medical issues, Stuart for his advice on social care and to the staff for their care and devotion. A Thank you to everyone else for their thoughts and prayers.

The downstream consequences of bailing out the banks, Robots and Rioters.

The past week has seen commentators reflecting on the death of Northern Rock in Sept 2007 and Lehman Brothers in Sept 2008. The govt on behalf of the nation asked taxpayers to bail out everyone with money in the bank. The sums involved were astronomical but they would be paid back over time. In addition to this, interest rates were slashed to zero to stimulate the economy.

You, the taxpayer, spent money to help the savers keep their money in the bank. Had the banks gone bust, they would have lost a lot in savings, pension funds, devalued ISAs. Bank would have called in loans and businesses would have collapsed. Unemployment would have soared.
You, the saver, then had the return on that money cut to zero to help taxpayers. All new govt debt has interest that needs to be paid.

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Banks were told that they must increase the level of capital they hold on their balance sheets to ward against bad debts. To stimulate the economy the Bank of England pumped lots of money into the banks to allow them to pay off their bad debts from the boom of past decade. It told them that they must be careful in their lending and they had to loan the money out to the rest of the economy. They had to lend it out the extra money while improving the level of capital they hold to avoid losses.

You must loan out the extra capital while keeping it to buffer against losses. If this sounds contradictory it is because it is. Many banks kept the trillions they were given by the Central Banks on their accounts at the Central Bank earning a small amount of interest.

Imagine a simple bank. It has £1 in equity (shares) and it borrows £9 to invest in money producing assets and to make loans. It is leveraged to 10 to 1 in a ratio of assets to equity. In the good times when it makes a 10% return on its assets that is 100% on equity, which means bonuses all round. In the bad times, a 10% loss means its equity is wiped out; The bank is insolvent. It can keep on trading until all its creditors (those who lent it the original £9) ask for their money back. If the truth about the bank were to become public knowledge other banks would not wish to do business with it. A bank run begins and everyone races to withdraw their funds. Fear becomes the primary motivation. Fear of contagion can drive good banks to become insolvent. A domino effect can take place and within time even the safest bank can become under threat. Those money producing assets could be other bank debts or more likely govt debt.

Govts fund banks and banks fund govts. The two are tied together. When a govt issues debt it relies on banks to buy that debt. It tells the banks that can hold those govt bonds on their balance sheets as risk free assets that do not count against the level of capital they must hold and are not supposed to lend out. The bank gets a new source of income from the govt debt and they get to borrow on cheap money terms to buy the debt. Everyone wins as long as the govt can always sell its debt. If it couldn't then all that risk free debt would turn into potential losses.

The banks used all this new capital for their latest and greatest inventions, High Frequency Trading and Algorithmic Trading. In Superman 3, a genius programmer finds there are sub fractions of interest of less than a penny in every bank account. He takes them all and builds a super computer that takes over America. That's kind of how it is for High Frequency Trading (HFT). The big banks are making millions and millions from taking sub fractions of trading all the market they can stuff into their machines. People are wondering whether HFT is leading to increased instability.

Banks and Hedge Funds use robot systems to trade news releases and breaking stories. They parse the text and instantly buy and sell to create new positions in the markets. These machines are turbo charged by govt bailouts and massive data centres, beyond the reach of the average man. Not just beyond the 1% but the 0.0001%.

In his report on Northern Rock, Newsnight reporter Paul Mason said the response of govt and regulators was a fiasco. The regulators completely failed to see the crash coming and seem to be part of the problem, not part of the cure. The public sector has failed in its own fashion.

These new ways of making money for the banks and the vast wall of money from the central banks have meant that the robots have been pushing prices up, down and are changing the very fabric of markets. Prices can shoot up and within a few months, govts fall and we have the Arab Spring. They can shoot down and we can bankrupt mining companies in Brazil and Australia.

The rioting over austerity and cuts is fed back into the robots who trade without a care or consideration. Rational, Logical, Emotionless. The ability of politicians to fashion a consensus and lead is one of the key failings of the past few years.

Debt remains the problem. We can inflate it away, which help the taxpayers but not the savers. We can erode it with deflation, which helps the savers, but not the taxpayers. We could even forgive the debts and start afresh. Perhaps that's too radical. It could hurt the saver and the taxpayer. Which resolution do you prefer, quick and painful or slow and lingering?

A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you're talking real money.

Guardian News & Media, Publisher of the Guardian paper, published their annual results this week. They lost £75million this year. This prompted the Economist to answer the perennial question, Can the Guardian Survive?. It has been an extraordinary year with phone hacking story as a standout but a few years of losses on this scale and the paper will be history. The Telegraph makes a profit, can the Guardian with its strong worldwide readership and brand recognition find a way to it cut its costs and increase revenue? Or will that be a cultural step too far.

Are Guardian readers going to pay for the paper to survive? I am a digital subscriber as I think the paper has an important role to play in uncovering and reporting stories. I am much less inclined to renew my subscription when I read some of the stories in their Comment is Free section. Like many other news sites it feels like they are trolling for page clicks, desperately seeking to push the ad rates. In the Observer we have the story about Posh Baiting which contains the line "Even if posh-bashing is technically a hate crime, no one cares much." Try reading the line again with jews, blacks or gays instead of posh. Why should I or anyone subscribe to a paper that publishes articles like this? Why does anyone want to support hatred against another part of society?

The Independent was bought by a Russian Oligarch, are there any billionaires willing to fund the Guardian?

Natwest IT problems

There is a report on the Register about Natwest's banking problems. Read the comments, the site allows anonymous posting under the name of 'Anonymous Coward' and it seems that a few RBS/Natwest IT staff who have been outsourced are commenting. Apparently the Management at RBS/Natwest couldn't see this coming...

Too much outsourcing is like juggling with hand grenades, one failure and you're gonna have a bad day.