Reduction with micropayments

The environmentalists have taught us the three Rs.


  • Reduce
  • Reuse
  • Recycle

Reduction makes us think about unnecessary items, such as packaging. Packaging is useful to protect items we purchase and to advertise the contents of the product.

Micropayments is a trend in consumer behaviour. Advancement in payment systems makes it common-place to purchase low-value items electronically.


Let’s say I want to purchase one litre of cooking oil. My only choice is to purchase a plastic bottle along with my oil. This is because there is no reasonable means to transport the oil from the supermarket to my home. Taking my old bottle for a refill doesn’t help, because oil is not sold on tap. This is because the cooking oil vendor has a barcode stamped on the bottle in order to collect payment. To persuade the vendor to sell me his oil on tap I need to replace the barcode with something else.

This is where micropayments can help. With an Near Fields Communication device (NFC) attached to a dispenser the point of sale and collection can be combined. Oil can now be purchased from the dispenser using any container of my choice. Given this option, I would choose to Reduce the number of plastic bottles going from my home to landfill 🙂



Manchester Attack

The extermination of a single mosquito does not eradicate malaria
Another approach is to target the breeding grounds, rivers, swamps etcetera.

At the heart of the Manchester tragedy is a young man who decided to end his own life
Irrespective of subsequent events this itself is a tragedy
The same is true for any person who resorts to suicide.

Communities should adapt and defend against forces that lead to fragmentation
Prejudice is such a force
Society members must get better at reading the signs of alienation
All must develop more effective treatments to help those who become desperate.

This act of suicide, however was also an act of mass murder.
The simultaneous combination of these acts changes everything.

Ultimately only the murderer knows what influenced his fatal decision, but we can speculate that:
They were derived from the suicide bomber behaviour pattern
Or influences that emanated from his immediate peers and family members
Or solely from his own determination, from entirely within his own mind.

Although it is difficult to separate the external from the internal influences, they must exist
Such external influences are nothing to do with religion
Religious belief gives us reason to live, not to die or take-away life
The architects of this terrible act are not Muslim
Wearing the cloak of a Muslim does not make it so.

Within the broad church of our plural society such facades create confusion
Complex societies lack the precision with which to see imposters
To rescue religion from the parasites embedded within, we must re-focus
We need to re-align religion to society and society to religion.

Evicting the fake Muslims is necessary to constrain the influence of terror
To be a Muslim (or a Jew, or a Christian) should anyway not require access to  privileged enclaves
Such divisions do not exist amongst the victims of the Manchester Attack
Nor should not exist within the institutions of religion.

Removing terrorism demands interventions that are both micro and macro
The micro interventions are to reduce suicide through greater social cohesion
And at the macro level, the challenge is to prevent religion from being a safe harbour for terrorists.

As social cohesion is an attribute of religion then we can put it more simply and say that
To eradicate terrorism we have to promote spirituality over everything

Even materialism.

On the dangers of afternoon naps

On Sunday I mowed the lawn in the new house.
After that I had to take anti-hystamine, due to the pollen.
Feeling extremely drowsy I crashed out on the sunlounger in the garden.
In my sleep I dreamt about the last time that I took anti-hystamine.
This was last summer, when we went canoeing and I fell asleep in the canoe.
But in my dream this was due to natives on the riverside firing tranquilisers through blowpipes.
And somehow I mixed this up with what my son had said about a bush in the garden.
A bush in the garden that was next to the sunlounger where I was sleeping.
A bush in the garden that had .. what was it again, a nest of insects?
I awoke with a start in a cloud of wasps.
One of them had just stung me in the arm.
But it didn’t hurt too much, because anti-hystamine is also a form of insect repellent.

I moved the sunlounger and went back to sleep 🙂

The Great Unlenders

There is a joke in this, but first I need to set the scene. In Sept 2013 I visited my local bank in Spain, Andalusia. After subjecting my status to some minor inquisitions I departed with a quotation for a mortgage. Yay! Actually, I learnt retrospectively that the quote was not legally binding but nonetheless Our Great Property Hunt was officially underway. Sometime later, my family and I found our dream home and I returned to the bank to refresh the quotation against the agreed sale price. No problemo. Armed with the confidence of an approved budget we set out to fulfill our part of the bargain and source the deposit (forty two percent of the sale price).

dream home

This meant selling our family home back in the UK. Given that we lived in a small community with some of the most fantastic people I have ever met, this was definitely the toughest part. But we did it, paid a deposit to the Spanish seller (ten percent of the sale price) and returned to the bank to seal the deal. What happened next was a mysterious series of:

  • Computer system failures
  • Banking staff absent
  • Zero response to communications
  • Ambiguous and conflicting messages from .. Madrid

Time passed. We recruited a Spanish lawyer. A great guy, very determined with oodles of experience, but even with this mighty assistance we were still unable to find a resolution. We tried again with another bank. Much the same story, but after forty days we received this email (translated from Spanish).

The appraiser (TINSA) gives me a very low value, 20 percent of the sale price.
I understand that with this value we cannot provide the mortgage.
Thank you and regards

I contacted TINSA directly to try and understand what had happened. Like the banks, there was no response. We kept trying with other banks but it was agonisingly painful as all followed a pattern that I can best describe as a strategy of procrastination.

So what’s the problem here?

Well really there are only two possibilities. Either they don’t like my house or they don’t like me. Despite an increasing sense of paranoia I can’t accept that it is anything to do with me. None of the banks have raised any concerns about my Age, Income, Nationality or any other aspect of my status. The house is the problem. It could be that it is because the house is classified as a Casa Rustica (Country House). Of the 2,823 mortgages granted in Andalusia last month only fourteen percent were Rusticas. The remainder were Urban Dwellings.

Data sourced from the National Statistics Institute (INE).

To put those mortgage approval figures from INE into some context, In April this year, La Vanguardia reported that:

The signing of new mortgages for home purchases fell by 33% last February over the same month of 2013 and has already accumulated 46 months of declines, according to data released today by the National Statistics Institute (INE ).

But nevertheless 408 mortgages were granted to lenders buying Casa Rusticas, so why do the banks decline my business? The other possibility is that the bank doesn’t like my house because it is not owned by them.

Let’s think about that.

On the 9th June 2012, the BBC covered the Spanish bailout.

Spanish banks to get up to 100bn euros in rescue loans.

At the time, Senor de Guindos (Spain’s economic minister) said

We hope that as a result of these injections [of capital] families and companies will have more solvent banks which are able to offer them credit.

So the intervention of Senor de Guindos should have helped me right? Let’s look at some numbers. These are extracted from The Bank Lending Survey, published by the Bank of Spain.

The Bank Lending Survey is an official quarterly survey that has been conducted in coordination by all the euro area national central banks and the European Central Bank (ECB) since January 2003.

From the survey, I became interested in the following question.

Over the past three months, how have your bank’s conditions and terms for approving loans to households for house purchase changed?

The following chart shows the share of banks reporting that terms and conditions have been tightened, minus the share of banks reporting that they have been eased.


So that’s pretty clear, the banks basically shut-up-shop after they got the bailout. Senor de Guindos’s hopes were not realised and the reason for the lockout is because the banks tightened their T&Cs. But can we go further? Does any of this show that Spanish Banks are actively obstructing mortgage applications in order to promote the sale of their own toxic stock? Well not necessarily. To know that for certain we’d need to know whether the mortgages that were approved were on properties owned by the banks. And to the best of my knowledge, the banks don’t publish figures to show that. Looking more broadly for circumstantial evidence however, The Economist wrote that

With more than 600,000 new homes still unsold, a flood of new properties onto the market would hurt both banks and house prices.

And this Bloomberg article about how the EU smiled while Spanish banks cooked the books strongly suggests that there has been little or no pressure from the EU to pass funds from the European Social Fund onto lenders (in spite of Senor de Guindo’s good intentions).

But perhaps the most compelling clue about the true destiny of those European funds is revealed by the announcement this week from Spanish news agency EFE.

Banco Sabadell earned between January and September this year a net profit of 265.2 million euros, 42.5% more than in the same period of 2013

Banco Sabadell is my bank and where my search began over twelve months ago. My family is stuck. We are anxious about the security of our ten percent deposit and as temporary residents we are not properly integrating with our local community. And now there is another family stuck behind us, waiting to move into the property that we should have vacated months ago.

Anyway, here’s that joke.

Q. At the end of the Spanish crisis who will own the bigger villa, the Estate Agent or the Bank Manager?
A. Neither, they both end up in la prisiĂłn.


An idealistic solution to the Spanish housing crisis

The central government of Spain should sponsor a programme to address the problem of incomplete building works. The role of the government should be to facilitate a programme that is implemented by each of the Spanish regions. The scale of the problem differs between regions, for example Andalucia has a large number of incomplete buildings littered along the Costa Del Sol. The central government should work with the central banks to provide a loan to the region that is proportionate to the reconstruction effort. Each region would then create a backlog of developments rated according to the cost of completion.

spanish building site
An abandoned building site in Spain

The region would then sponsor the formation of housing co-operatives. Each co-operative would draw on a mixture of unemployed people and those with experience in construction. A co-operative would apply to take ownership of a building site. The criteria for awarding a site to a co-operative would be based on the following:

  • The estimated capability of the co-operative to fulfill it’s promise
  • The amount of loan required to fund the re-construction
  • A loan repayment plan based on a mixture of rental earnings and sales from the salvaged properties
  • The destruction of one or more sites that have been rated as un-salvagable

During the re-construction and destruction period, co-operative members would draw on the loans to provide a social wage and funds for building materials. As habitable properties emerge from the projects, co-operative members can re-imburse themselves through either a period of rent-free occupation, or by selling on the open market and keeping a share of the profit. The remaining income would then be used to settle the initial loan to the central bank.

In this way, all the incomplete sites would either be converted to habitable dwellings or the land made suitable for re-use. A positive side-effect of the programme would be to reduce unemployment amongst young Spanish people.

It is possible that such plans exist already, but from my reading of (English-written) media it would appear that the hopes of the Spanish government rely entirely on foreign investors. The above solution maybe idealistic but it would offer the Spanish people autonomy, and control of their own destiny.

Letter to Obi-wan Kenobi

Dear Obi-wan,

Only you can save our community.

We are about 100k people living in a region blessed with sun and surrounded by the wonderful blue of the Mediterranean. Our community is not recognised by politicians and has no officially recognised borders. Our community has no name but we will call it La Gibranea for now. We live in the area from Europea Point in the South of Gibraltar to Santa Margarita in the North West. Including Campamento to the East but not as far as San Roque in the North. We are a single community. We live, love, work and die together but we are confused. Our community is divided and we need your leadership Obi-wan.

In La Gibranea we are even confused about what language to speak. For example, you will often hear “Spanglish”, an unwritten hybrid of Spanish and English. We are also confused about how to exchange goods for money; there are three currencies but where can we spend them? We are confused about everything: where to pay our taxes, buy our houses, send our children for education and our elderly for care. And we are very confused and frustrated about how to travel. Every morning we engage all conceivable forms of transport to carry ourselves across the hated border that divides us.

Floating ants

Like the senators in your Republic Obi-wan, the elected powers are too obsessed with themselves to see that we are adrift like the ants in this picture. Those elected are meant to help us but they cannot because each is strung to competing sovereigns. Obi-wan, you cannot understand our community when you are looking outside in. Viewed from the perspective of a nation state, La Gibranea does not make sense and this is the root of all our problems.

We need a new power to rule us and time to resolve our destiny. We need to create a new, transitional state with a mandate for a ten year rule. We need La Gibranea to be governed with a three-way sharing of power between Gibraltar, Spain and the UK. Each in equal measure.

During this time we need all the children born in La Gibranea to be granted dual nationality. We need a single currency. We need trade agreements to disincentivize the smugglers and proper recognition for our bi-lingualism. But most of all we need to abolish the border. We need to join the Schengen Agreement and establish freedom of movement through the introduction of an integrated transport system. These problems cannot be solved by the current leadership. Please Obi-wan, help bring balance to our community and recognise the state of La Gibranea.

Thank you.

The Street Performers of El Rastro

Had a great day in Madrid where I was amazed and entertained by some amazing street performers.

beautiful boleros

energy and ancestry from simplicity

keeping the old glasses humming

when the kids are happy ..

trad jazzers










skin deep

mud statue





Rayburns don’t burn (properly)

In response to the completely rubbish performance of the most single major investment I’ve made in the last ten years I did this.
the inside of my rayburn cooker

See, it’s been cleaned. Completely and absolutely free of any carbon. If you see even a speck of carbon, login and comment. The cooker has brand new wicks and should now burn for twelve months without further ado .. let’s fold arms, stand back and wait.