Two thirds

Pie

I left work almost to the very day when I had lived equal time on two different continents. The first half was spent growing up in different parts of Australia, while the second half has been spent getting married, raising a family and working in England. Is this my half-time, or do I have another third still to come?

I can look back at my early life with nostalgia, regrets, fond memories and laughter. The second seems to have been more of a grind, due perhaps to the efforts of raising a family and “doing time in the big city”. I didn’t enjoy work – not in the sense that I hated every minute of it and I had great colleagues and fun times, but the sense of purposefulness was missing. I really couldn’t see the point of it and the repetitiveness became a grind.

It was remarkable to realise that my life changed radically at exactly the same amount of time from when the first had occurred, and it was a moment of serendipity for me. Personally I don’t have great ambitions nor aims for what happens next; perhaps it will be the the third season of my life, the autumn before the winter or perhaps it will be a new era of discovery.

Whatever comes, it will examine it with interest.

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Pruning grapes

I have a grape arbour over my back patio. My father loved grapes and grew them for many years in Australia and I’ve inherited his love of the grapevine, if not yet his skill in keeping them pruned.

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Grapes have the advantage of growing very well in early spring and covering an area in shade leaves, while dropping during the winter and allowing light to come through. This is good for our north-facing house as we don’t get a lot of light during the winter months. However, it brings with it a couple of issues: the first is the sweeping necessary to clear away the fallen leaves which for a few weeks each year adds a little burden. The second is more tedious and involves dropping and dead grapes littering the patio and becoming squashed underfoot. The yellow jacket wasps which at this time of the year are missing the hatched grubs feeding them (look it up!) and searching for sweet material, infest the bunches and make a real nuisance as they buzz around drunkenly.

We can’t yet use the grapes as they are largely sour. This is because I haven’t mastered the art of pruning grapes to bring out the best flavour. Hopefully, with the vine trained over the large pergola which forms the arbour, I will now have the space and time to create some sweeter grapes!

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I cleared away approximately three bags full of  solid grapes – last week when I took the other half of the arbour to the recycling centre I think the staff wanted to try them! I advised against it, but have no idea what happened when I left…

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The tidy-up has produced a large mound of grape trimmings which awaits a trip to the green waste bin at the local recycling centre, and then on to actually pruning using the rod and spur (also called the cordon) system. Hopefully this will produce better tasting grapes next year, along with a covering over our outdoor patio during the summer months.

Aquarium monitor

Not satisfied by not finishing my first project, I boldly go where I have gone before. This time I approach my other hobby of fish keeping with all the unbridled enthusiasm of the wandering electronics geek. I’m going to build a fish tank monitor!

This was all started by building a small tropical fish tank for my in-laws. This will be sited away from where I live, and rather than the hard landscaped gravel aquarium with plastic plants which it started as, I have suggested a more living aquarium with shrimp, snails, few fish and easy plants such as ‘Cuba’ and lilies. In addition a much more capable external Eheim canister filter will scrub the water well, and I am recommending little if no water changes as that works very well for my 120l fish tank.

But all this will happen a long distance away from here and I want to know how things are going remotely – hence the felt need for a monitoring station. While there are ones like the Seneye they do need a replaceable slide every month, and others like the Mindstream or Apex are truly expensive – plus they are built to control dosing or other schedules like lighting. I can do all of that using a cheap timer, and don’t need the expensive gear for what needs to be a simple tank.

Ideally I’d like to hook up a couple of sensors to a single-board computer such as an Odroid or Raspberry Pi, and connect to the local WiFi to transmit readings through to somewhere else – none of that worries me at all and using things like MQTT make it all very simple. Apparently for the Seneye you don’t even need the branded web server as you can use another server to do it – see here. But the sensors are the right pain as I’ll explain below. I’d like to be able to read:

  • temperature probe – these are simple
  • pH probe – much more complex and needs both calibration, and removing from the water due to fouling. I could use something like this to read the probe
  • NH3 as this affects the fish badly
  • light levels – likely simple as well
  • water levels – no water = bad! Conduction strip or
  • … anything else I dream up.

I don’t need a display nor a GUI front-end as I am happiest when treating my SBCs as remote and headless – I find it tunes the mind to not trying everything and understanding how to recover remotely without a keyboard.

Want in a sea of plenty

I earn a fairly decent salary. Using the http://globalrichlist.com shows that I am in the top 1% richest people in the world by income.  So things should be okay, right?

Well, no. Each year I struggled to makes ends meet. I budgeted rigidly and allocated all my spending into a number of buckets. I had a spreadsheet with lots of columns and measured my electricity down to the kilowatt. I had multiple bank accounts for different categories and put money into each of them after it arrived in my main account. Yet each year I seemed to be worse off.

Where did all the money go?  I don’t smoke, drink heavily, nor gamble. Reducing subscriptions to only two magazines and a programme of reduction in insurance costs helped a little. Getting rid of fixed telephones and using VOIP through my broadband was great. Curtailing long holidays overseas helped but even without taking any holidays away from home for five years it did not stop the slide. If the motto of thrift is ‘to live below your means’ I obviously wasn’t getting it right.

Until I started using the excellent YNAB program I didn’t know how much I spent on different categories – for example I now know that I spend around £40 per month on electronics. That may sound high but it includes single-board computers like the Raspberry Pi and controllable lighting which reduces my electricity. As this is almost my only hobby except for reading I don’t think it is so bad. But until I recorded everything I spent over a year I had no idea it was so much! What YNAB has done is allow me a way to allocate every penny I earn into a budget category and then record each and every purchase against one of those categories throughout the year. It wasn’t even painful as I used my phone app each time I spend money.

Actually, maybe I am a whole lot better off than a lot of people, and should be thankful for what I do have – my salary is better than the average UK salary of around £25,000 and many other people live in more straitened circumstances. While I do support 4 adults off that income, I also get to spend on some things that bring me pleasure, and enjoy watching three other people live life to the fullness of their ability.

Piccadilly Circus in the freezing slush

So the coffee house walk is going okay.  Children have stopped avoiding me in the street so the bleeding must have stopped.  Now all I have is a frozen nose and sniffle – a natural hazard of being alive this time of year.

I’m now consuming a sort of ‘Christmas sandwich’ at a chain coffee shop. Now I appreciate the seat, like the cleanliness, and need the power plug to keep my laptop alive but the sandwich is just so-so.  Full of walnuts or something it has turkey and cranberry sauce with some lettuce.  Christmas what????

So what does ‘Christmas’ mean?  Other than the religious and commercial cash-in, is this worthwhile?  Banksy just unveiled a statue of a pixelated priest to remind us of the true meaning of Christianity – lies, corruption and abuse apparently.  No-one I pass seems especially happy right now although the music makes us jive while we fight for the toilet cubicles (I’m perched right outside the door to one in this restaurant). No-one smiles but that could just be the weather!

My walk has taken me from the gutter areas south of the river today back past the altars of commerce and into the richest shops in London.  Along the way I have past the beggars and street vendors, ogled the wonderful Bentleys and Mercs and Beemers, seen the Big Issue sellers and brushed past the tourists.  It is no wonder that Monopoly’s top estate is Pall Mall because that was the road I just walked up.  Rudeness and wealth are juxtaposition and the rule of life seems to be just feral.  Hustle, grift, work and we’ll let you live another year.  Christmas be damned, it seems.  TS Eliot, where are  you?

Jobs

Sometimes my job is hard; customers who don’t want to talk to you, long journeys with many changes of train (or plane, airport, taxi – I’ve done all of them), staying away from home overnight in lonely hotels, long times on planes without much to do except read or watch movies.  Lots of disconnectedness without seeing colleagues from your own team very much: we often would see each other overseas more frequently than we would in our home country!

Sometimes my job is easy.  Long train trips looking out the windows, many interesting forms of transport filled with people all going places, getting loyalty points for hotel stays which you can then spend on family holidays, lots of time to read books (or blog).  But it does make you wonder if elsewhere there could be a better life…

Walking down the street from the last place I passed lots of market traders looking very bedraggled in the rain.  It was cold, it was raining, and there wasn’t any shoppers in sight.  So close to Christmas you’d think that people would brave the cold just to get some things but as most Londoners know this can last a while and on a good day may end in snow … which then turns into slush and mire splashed everywhere and doesn’t actually improve things like it does elsewhere!  I thought about those men and women who’d set up their stalls in the cold morning before light, waited and waited then had to pack away perhaps without a single sale.  I should be so lucky.  Maybe what I do isn’t so bad after all?

Now to drink the espresso, eat the almond croissant, and read a bit after checking the work emails.