2020 Manifesto

2020 Manifesto

An attempt to reclaim a much-maligned word. A better fit than "resolutions" for these...

1 - Regain 2nd Cat Race License

In theory I should have already started the campaign on this, however as I type this while the 2020 race season has begun, there have been no races organised locally. I haven't raced since June 2018, so as of the 1st December 2019 I lost my 2nd cat race license...so I'll need 40 points to get back up there before the end of November. Ideally I'll get it done way before that.

Based on previous seasons, it will either go pretty well, or I'll struggle. Right now my core fitness is there (aka the Diesel Engine), but my top end is not...but that really only comes by racing. I've been getting some decent sessions in at Reading Velodrome with fast chaingangs, but nothing compares to race efforts. I'm confident I can sit in a pack, however I need to get capable of getting off the front and into breaks.

2 - Complete LE-JOG in September in top 1% of finishers

In 2010 I did John O'Groats to Lands End on the bike, having only taken up cycling (or rather triathlon back then) about a year previously. In retrospect I had very little idea what I was doing, and it was mainly ignorance and stubborness that got me round at the pace I did. A decade on, I've decided it's time to re-visit the challenge. I'll be using the same company (Threshold Sports), as I have no desire to either lug all my own stuff around or route-plan for 900+ miles of riding.

A few things have changed...they go the other way now (start in Lands End, finish in John O'Groats), and in Scotland they head via Edinburgh and the Cairngorms rather than Glasgow and Glen Coe. It's also later in the year (September, rather than June)...so less chance of sunburn, more chance of storms.

I went back and found my re-cap notes from 2010, and also had a look at the training I did. I may be a decade older, but I've spent a significant chunk of that time improving my cycle-fitness, so hoping to have both an easier and more rapid time. Top 1% will be top 10, and timings will include rest stops mid-route each day. No, I don't intend to stop mid-route unless I absolutely need to.

Notes from RideAcrossBritain 2010

Training Volumes for 5 months prior to RideAcrossBritain 2010
(I only got a Garmin for Christmas 2009, so no consistent records prior to that)

  • Jan 2010 - 495km/19hr (awful weather)
  • Feb 2010 - 885km/36hr
  • Mar 2010 - 1454km/56hr
  • Apr 2010 - 1102km/40hr
  • May 2010 - 1481km/54hr

(includes commutes)

...compared to the last 5 months currently, where I've just been doing general training.

  • Jul 2019 - 1827km/59hr
  • Aug 2019 - 1515km/49hr
  • Sep 2019 - 1314km/41hr
  • Oct 2019 - 1419km/47hr
  • Nov 2019 - 1103km/33hr

(does not include commutes...approx 280km/10hr a month)

So I do a lot more riding a lot faster these days, and I have a much better understanding about how my body operates (along with modern tools like power meters to help gauge efforts). The rough plan is to focus on racing upto May/June, and then ramp up the distance in summer...just top up the resiliance in the legs, and hopefully smash it all come September. There are a couple of other things I want to do that I missed out on last time;

  • More photos/videos. Action cameras and phone cameras were not a big thing back then, and we missed most of the official photographers by being too far up the road.
  • Sign the bloody register both ends. I didn't sign the Lands-End register, so couldn't get an "official" end-to-end certificate.
  • Don't pack 25kg of shite to lug around

I have treated myself on the way back, and booked the overnight sleeper from Inverness to Euston in 1st Class. Main Goal...shower in a moving train!.

3 - Commence Project-55

So this one is already in planning, but the first official action kicks off on 1st January 2020. The official goal of Project-55 is "to be in a position to fully retire at the age of 55". Notably it's not "retire at 55" as there are too many variables between now and then (and Gill may kill me if I swan around the house for 2 years while she is still working)...however there is no downside to putting a plan in place now, and having possible options later.

It's not actually that complex (as all the best plans should be). I have 3 pensions...a Final Salary pension that ended contributions in 2013 and starts paying out when I'm 60, the State Pension...which will start paying out when I'm 68 (probably), and a Defined Contribution pension that I'm currently paying into. I have to do another 10 years of National Insurance contributions in order to get the full State Pension, based on current rules.

Using the data I got from last years resolution to record all purchases, I can get a pretty good idea of what income I need to maintain my current lifestyle. From all that I've constructed a model where I can map out various scenarios and budgets to estimate earnings and income from my pensions against my living costs. From that I can work out various targets and goals (all residing in various spreadsheets and accountant reviews of the pension schemes).

A - Increase Pension Contributions
Including the company contribution, I currently pay in 20% to my defined contribution pension. As of the 1st January this will be upped to 32%. I need to manage the associated reduction in take-home pay...it's not massive (as it's only ~60% of the absolute value due to tax relief), but it will mean I'll need to be a little more careful, as this money is locked away until I'm 55. Ideally I'll up this again in 2021 and beyond, but this year will be assessing if that is viable.

B - Up Residual Savings to £20K
Last year I set myself a big savings target...this year I just want to nudge that up to a round number. Taking A and B into account I should actually have a bit more disposable income this year compared to 2019...however there will also be some purchases I've delayed from 2019 that will make this attainable, but not easy. This savings buffer is mainly there to cover any shortfall due to reduced overall income from the upped pension contributions from A.

C - Plan to finish mortgage by 2031
Currently it's due to finish in 2033 (I'll be 57), but I think there is room to shorten it a bit. This might be overpayment, it might be a lump sum from savings. It might be a lump sum from a pension scheme...there are options, aim here is to work out the most viable option. Being hyper-realistic, 57 is a probable target retirement age anyhow, but as per the initial goal, there is no downside to aiming at 55 instead.

D - Record and Categorise every purchase
Same as last year, but the capture method has been refined. In 2019 I didn't do great categorisation...I went through a process to re-categorise everything into more useful segments...those will be used in 2020. The Google Form is...complex...with many sections, but use is pretty simple. The data from 2019 is very useful, but there are some unique features to the year. I bought literally no petrol (you'll see why below), and I didn't race (there are costs involved). A second year of data will be very useful.

4 - Discover 4 new authors

It's back again. I read a lot in the early part of 2019 (when you're limited to lying down, and spending time in hospital Kindles are a godsend!), later on in the year I got mired in some long series...good books, but a little slow. I'm looking forward to reading some new stuff.

5 - Complete 2 games of Reasonable Size

There are a couple of big games that are on my radar (Final Fantasy VII remake is definitely there). I've had some un-expected games on Switch that have really twigged with me (Rogue:Legacy and The Touryst) that got me over the line in 2019, so a look-out for games of a similar ilk would be good. I want to give Astral Chain a try-out as well.

6 - Pay Carbon Offsetting

A little bit tree-hugger, however I should probably not actively try and kill the planet. I always get a little narked when people say "what about the children?". I'm properly not worried about the continued existence of the human race (success or failure...the root cause of most environmental issues is too many humans), however I'd like to see the general flora and fauna have a fighting chance. We swapped to a carbon-neutral energy supplier this year, and I sort of twigged that apart from flights, I contibute less to emissions than Joe Bloggs (again with the lack of petrol purchasing this year and cycling pretty much everywhere). I've done various questionnaires, checks on flights etc. In 2020 currently I have 4 trips abroad planned (Nice in January, Malaga in February, Majorca in April and New York in October), and it's pretty easy to work out the "carbon cost" of those.

There is absolutely fuck-all chance of me not eating meat, and until tracking food miles becomes a simpler affair, I am not going to bother with that. Consider me a very, very lazy environmentalist. I also fully understand that carbon emissions are just one part...single-use plastics, particulate pollution etc are all there as well. My general lack of use of an internal combustion engine means I'm low on the scale for particulates. Single-use plastic is probably high for me, however I once again raise the "I'm a very lazy environmentalist", and if easier options become available (primary area is probably food packaging), then I will adopt them.

General estimates have my 2020 lifestyle generating approximately 10 tonnes of CO2 (this was the higher end of estimates). Typical offsetting costs from a Gold Standard supplier will be between £150 and £200. I'll select a suitable Gold Standard project (ideally I'd like to support a forestation project, however there are concerns about the long-term viability of those...the trees need to be in place for 50-100 years to capture the carbon...in large areas of the world that then requires a stable, supportive government to defend the land from farming etc), and pay my dues at the end of the year.

7 - Get the Motorbike back on the road

I was unable to ride the motorbike for the first few months of 2019...as a result the MOT ran out and I declared it as SORN as I couldn't tax it. When I was able to ride it again I discovered it had a puncture, and I've been unable to find the hole so can't repair it. As such, it's been sitting in the garage for about 15 months now.

Probably in early spring I need to get a bike garage to come and pick it up, fix the rear tyre, service and MOT it, and then get it re-taxed. I will probably also need to get some distance in to get some confidence back on it. I don't do huge mileage (again with the cycling everywhere), but occasionally I need to get myself somewhere not in lycra, and the motorbike is the best option. I did actually look at the possibility of getting an electric motorbike, however current costs for something I would consider worthy of me are still prohibitive.

8 - Catch up on replacement purchases

As noted above, I skipped some purchases that were "needed, but not vital" in 2019. Mainly bike stuff. I'll need to get these sorted in 2020...ideally being cost effective and grabbing stuff in sales;

  • New bike shoes (both road shoes and MTB shoes for commuting). Both are falling apart
  • Bike clothing - my indoor training shorts are dissovling, and I need some new summer shorts too
  • Bike winter jacket - I'll need this before LE-JOG in September. My current one is about 6 years old, and while warm it's water-proofing is questionable.
  • New Wheels - again, something suitable for LE-JOG. I have a good idea of what I want (it will mean nothing, but Hunt 50mm carbon hoops), it's getting them the most cost-effective way. My race wheels are not practical for long-distance bad weather riding, and my climbing wheels brake surfaces are not ideal for poor conditions.
  • New Phone - Probably after LE-JOG, as all the new models come out just before Christmas. My Honor Play is doing really well, but the battery is starting to show signs of fatigue. I could well be tempted with replacing the battery alone, as there is nothing really "new" in any phones these days...

I hereby commend the document to the house.

Comments

As always a fascinating read and inspirational too. I really have no idea what 2020 is going to hold for me.

brainwipe's picture

I think it's reasonable to say that 202 has not exactly gone to plan so far. I can envisage a lot of mothballing of plans.

Regain 2nd Cat License

Well, to do this I need races. The Winter Series at Hillingdon (my normal season start) never happend due to a lack of organisers, and then the virus pandemic has put paid to racing until at least June...more realistically I think that the 2020 race season is over already (for amateurs in the UK at least). The rework of the bike room has been fortuitous, as it doesn't look like there is much outdoor riding happening this year generally.

Complete LE-JOG in top 1% of Finishers

No idea if this is even happening right now...the organisers have it as pending. My gut feel is not...September is a long way away, but even then the logistics before it will be impacted.

Commece Project-55

When I said "too many variables between now and then", I wasn't wrong!

As of tomorrow my working hours have been reduced to 4 days a week (with a corresponding pay cut) for the next 2 months. With no businesses operating in the UK, there is obviously very little marketing going on, so we are being reduced to skeleton staff. I'll probably be working 5 days but on reduced hours (as I have daily live support tasks).

I've been able to offset this to some extent by re-reduing my pension contributions (I had gone from 4% to 16%...I've now moved it back to 4%, so in real terms I have an ~8% pay reduction). My focus now is immediate access savings, as that "rainy day" may be right round the corner.

Discover 4 New Authors

Right, back on less shaky ground. Doing OK on this, having already ticked off 3 new authors;

  • Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone - This is How you Lose the Time War - pretty dull. Nearly didn't finish it.
  • K.J Parker (aka Tom Holt) - Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City and The Engineer Trilogy - 16 Ways... is an excellent book with great pacing. Really enjoyed it. I found the Engineer Trilogy over-long, and it re-used a lot of factual material that 16 Ways... worked with.
  • Mary Robinette Kowal - Lady Astronaut Series - an alternate history of the 50' and 60's after a meteorite impact in the USA in 1950 (which causes a slow extinction event), leading to an accelerated space race. Currently 20% through the second book and really enjoying it. A lot of focus on 50's and 60's sexism and racism.

Complete 2 Games of Reasonable Size

I have played a lot of "Slay the Spire" on the Switch. I've technically finished it with all 4 characters, but there is a "proper" finish that I haven't yet gone for. I would say I have a successful run 1 time in 10 currently, and going for a good finish requires 3 specific tasks (all with detrimental risk), and the completion of a 4th level.

I'm also plodding through "Good Job", a physics based game where you complete tasks in an office in a vaguely destructive way.

Pay Carbon Offsetting

This is going to be significantly less than expected. I have flown to Nice in January and Spain in February (getting back about 2 weeks before all hell broke loose), I've already had confirmation that flights to Majorca in April are cancelled, and the chances of going to New York this year seem a bit low.

Get the motorbike back on the road

This is being deferred for now. Partly as I don't need it (lets face it, not going anywhere soon!). If/when the lockdown finishes this will need to be done, just in case I need to start looking for a new job and need transport above and beyond that which I can cycle (realistically a 20-30 mile radius of Reading).

Catch up on replacement purchases

Again, a lot of this is going to be deferred. I've done some bike clothing purchases out of necessity, however winter jacket, wheels and shoes will wait until I have a better idea about future plans. Ditto with the new phone.

babychaos's picture

Is your job at risk at all? Or is it just in the "unknown" bucket?

brainwipe's picture

I'd say it's less about my job and more about the company being at risk...though I doubt we are the only ones.

babychaos's picture

You're far from the only ones. I now of four others whose organisations are in doubt. One held a niche (in LAN-only financial software) and the lead dev there has been asked to work out a migration strategy for one of their biggest clients because being only within a network isn't really as secure as having multi factor auth. The very fact that loads of people are WFH has shown that their model isn't sustainable.

Best of luck, mate! Fingers crossed for you.

brainwipe's picture

I remember enjoying the Engineer trilogy a lot when I read it years ago, quite fun idea where the main character isn't some superhuman godlike being but just a very skilled maker of things something you don't see a lot in fantasy esq stories.

I bounced off the first Lady Astronaut pretty hard I found the main character to be quite an annoying mary sue with her constant repeat of "I'm great at maths!" every five seconds. It was a shame as I liked some of Mary Robinette Kowal's other works.

Currently I'm playing the new Animal Crossing New Horizons on switch very chill game and it reminds me a lot of Stardew valley which of course was inspired by earlier titles in this series. It's starting to feel a little samey like I'm just in maintenance mode collecting things paying off my vast mortgage. I've not done some of the visiting other islands which you can do but I wonder if it's starting to wear a little thin. It doesn't quite have the variety of things Stardew has no dungeons or more complex interactions with npcs etc.

Anyway Stay safe and best of luck mate.

Evilmatt's picture

I've had streams of people playing Animal Crossing up...as you say, it's pretty chilled, but I could never play it myself as I don't have the patience (I'd definitely be the sort of person who fiddled the system clock to jump forward)....while I've plughed 100+ hours into Stardew Valley for exactly the reasons you say...simply more to do, and you can move the game at your pace (in my case completely ignoring the village, and turning my land into a battery farm and high-intensity Ancient Fruit Wine Distillery, mass producing cheese and wine).

I think I probably read the KJ Parkers books the wrong way round...13 Ways to Defend a Walled City is a bit like a readers digest of The Engineer trilogy. They both have a similar main character (in 13 Ways there is more flippancy, less omniscence, which comes across better), but the trilogy drags stuff out a lot (I mean, seriously, there is only so much I want to know about how to conduct a hunt for boar in varying terrains), while 13 Ways really does get on with things...the book is half the size of one of the trilogy, and covers the same ground as the final book in the Trilogy in terms of story. I also felt that while the main character in the Engineer trilogy was "just a normal guy", the entire "I had this all planned out to the n'th degree" epilogue was just bullshit...far too many random things happened, and it felt a bit like a very long, drawn out deus ex machina. It probably wouldn't have grated in a single book , but over 2,000 pages it wore thin.

babychaos's picture

The ability to play at your own pace is a vast improvement over the "You have to wait in real time" nonsense in animal crossing sure you can fiddle the clock but it feels like that's bad game design. The multiplayer in Animal crossing is similarly weirdly designed and even offline if you have more than one person using a switch with different accounts even if you have multiple copies of the game you share an island and there is a primary owner and everyone else is a guest and can't progress the story and unlock the various things. That doesn't bother me but it's indicative of the sort of design decisions they make deliberately making things harder for their users because it fits their esthetic.

Yeah the Deus ex machina element of it did feel very forced, it's been quite a while since I read it but i remember a bunch of things happened he couldn't have anticipated. It almost felt like he was claiming responsibility after the fact for something he had nothing to do with and just saying "yes that was my plan all along!". I might have to check out the 13 ways to defend a walled city it keeps popping up in my goodreads.

Evilmatt's picture

Well, it was definitely not the 3 months I was expecting when I was working out my plans in December. Some major re-prioritisation has gone on in the last quarter. I've been on reduced hours and pay since April (I go back to full time/full pay on the 1st July), and working from home since mid-March.

Regain 2nd Cat License

Well, once again you need races. British Cycling are the arbiter of such matters, and their most recent update has been that "some racing may commence from August", and an indication that local/low level racing will start first (due to lower travel requirements, less spectators etc), however it's also been pointed out that pack racing is basically riding through other peoples snot. I'm not confident really...which is a shame as I've been able to maintain a pretty decent fitness level throughout lock-down.

Complete LE-JOG in top 1% of finishers

This has now been officially postponed until September 2021, so out of the window for this year.

Commence Project 55

This has most definitely taken a back seat, with the new immediate goal of bolstering savings for any short-term mishap. I don't directly save anything for working from home (I don't have commute costs, and I don't have a wardrobe of work clothes), but at the same time I have still saved in terms of food (snacking is reduced to what is in the house, and lunches are cheaper now as well). I've been on a low/no spend out side of that, with most purchases being delayed or postponed. Income returns to normal from July, however I'm going to delay putting pension contributions back up until Q4, again with a focus of bolstering savings for short term stability. I had initially set a goal of £20k residual savings, but I've already popped that, so probably looking at getting ~£25k instead.

Discover 4 new authors

As part of the cost-savings, I've instead been reading a couple of more main-stream authors from Gill's Kindle collection (we are an Amazon Household, so I can access her stuff). I've read the "Wool" trilogy by Hugh Howey...this may as well be called the "Fallout" trilogy, as I'm pretty sure there is some major influence there. I really liked the first book (Wool), found the second book a frustrating slog (Shift), and the 3rd book (Dust) was a sort of middling tieing up of loose ends really.

The other series (which I'm on the final book of now) is Phillip Pullmans "His Dark Materials" trilogy (Golden Compass, Subtle Knife, Amber Spyglass). Honestly, I'm underwhelmed...given the noise and fuss about these books, the first 2 books at least feel quite slow, and the writing style feels old-fashioned. It reminds me a lot of C.S Lewis's "The Silver Chair" (in fact I'd put a lot of parallels between the 2 series, with both having religion as a strong theme and meta-theme, though in opposite directions), which is sort of the goth entry in the Chronicles of Narnia, and my least favourite in the series. I've also watched the BBC adaptation of the Golden Compass...I feel it did a better job going through some of the core concepts, and it notably ret-cons in an early chunk of the second book (The Subtle Knife), which makes me think Pullman did a trilogy based on the success of the first one, and realised he needed more characters and story.

Complete 2 Games of Reasonable Size

Final Fantasy VII:The Remake. Hmmm... OK, I really enjoyed playing through it...it's a different game to the original FFVII...less JRPG, more Action-RPG. It's beautiful (played on PS4-Pro), and I think the new quasi-real-time combat works. The character development is much better...there is a major story point early on where some characters you have been interacting with a lot die, and it was genuinely gutting to see this time. WHat was really missing is the open-world and character-building. FFVII was all about maxxing stats, building Materia (magic and skill-giving rocks that slot into weapons and items) combos, and synergising builds between characters. Moving away from turn-based has lost some of that, and instead it's about 3 self-supported characters to some extent...

...and then there is the big ret-con at the end of the game (about 40 hours in), where Square-Enix do a big shift from the original story...partly to add an end-of-game boss-fight (the game ends at the point in the original where you walk out into the open world, and realise you've been playing ~20-30 hours in a single location of a massive world), and partly to say "the future is not set", basically saying any future episodes are NOT going to be a remake of the original. That is a bold statement, and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in being on-board with this project as having the original story re-told with next-gen graphics... I'm not sure how I feel about this re-write, this sort of thing rarely goes well.

Other games I've played. Golf Story, which is an excellent Switch game that combines old-skool Zelda-esque games and Mario Golf...a whimsical story about someone trying to play in the pro-tour. It just works really well...the golf part is well-done, and using golf-mechanics to "solve" puzzles (most of which resolve to hitting a ball on/near an object), a nice campy story of the other characters, and strong controls. Honestly, it's probably the best golf-game mechanics I've played (an award previously held by Hot Shots Golf on the PSP).

I really want to try the Wonderful 101, but need to wait for a sale I think.

Pay Carbon Offsetting

This is an end-of-year one, and will be less. We are resigned to not going to New York this year...I don't think a trip to Majorca is entirely off late September/October, though at moment we are not in a situation to book anything (and the hotel we like over there is shut). I've used some of my holiday to continue my reduced working hours in July (so working 7am-1pm Monday-Friday, and getting long afternoons), so I'm getting plenty of cycling in at least.

Get Motorbike back on the road

Again,a delayed one. I have nowhere to go, so don't need it right now. Motorbike garages are busy this time of year, so I'll probably look to do this as winter sets in, as getting a slot is easier.

Catch up on replacement purchases

As part of the cost-cutting most of this has been delayed or postponed. My cycle shoes actually broke (the mechanism that tightens them snapped), however it turns out that the mechanism has a life-time guarentee, and I was able to order free replacement bits that could be swapped on.

The positives of Lockdown

I've probably gotten off lightly in lockdown compared to others. I have a decent work-from-home environment (sorting out a desk/monitor etc when my back went has paid off big time), and we have space so both of us can have an office. It took me a couple of weeks to start getting my head into the work-from-home mentality, but now I'm used to it. I've been able to set up a very good video-conferencing setup (full green-screen, condenser mike, lighting, and I've got all screens feeding into both webcam and screen-sharing via OBS). I've been able to do some new system demos that have been shared company-wide in what I would call "streamer-style", with me in the bottom-left, doing funky screen transitions, animating stuff in and out etc. I can now also do this live via screen-share in video-call apps, so getting a good side-hustle in the office of running workshops and presenting back on projects.

I've been able to get plenty of exercise and fresh air. Cycling is literally social distancing in motion. I've been used to riding my myself for years now, and in the last 3 months I've racked up ~6,000km of riding, partly helped by the good weather. It does unfortunately mean I see some of the less-good stuff regarding social distancing (locations like Henley, Marlow, Wallingford etc have had visitors and locals with a complete disregard for the basic concept of "stay the fuck away from each other", with gatherings around "takeaway" coffee shops, and dense groups by the river etc).

Our food supplies have been relatively un-interrupted. The only thing we have been unable to buy is bakers yeast...however I started a sourdough culture about a fortnight into lockdown, and that has now been supplying all our bread for the last 2 months...meaning all I have required is strong bread flour and salt (both of which our local Waitrose have had supplies of regularly before my own stock ran out). We have a weekly "takeaway" pizza from it as well in lieu of PieDay Friday, and that's saving us ~£20 a week easily.

Both (Gill and myself) our companies are mooting a more permanent work-from-home model for IT, and we have both agreed that so long as it's both of us, it would be OK. Gill has had a phase of working-from-home for a previous company, and didn't like it...but then she was in a flat by herself. I think for both of us really we're at the point now where we need to know if that's going to be the future, so we can start figuring stuff out. If we do end up with full-time home offices, there are a couple of infrastructure things I'd like to do (air-con upstairs, and wired internet to the offices), and then we have a conversation about dogs.

babychaos's picture

Always enjoy reading these, they even give me a bit of a pep too. This line tho...

and then we have a conversation about dogs

I think it would be fair to say that you've been very patient.

brainwipe's picture

A quarter where the world seems to have stood still somewhat...

Regain 2nd Cat License

About 2 months ago British Cycling formally said "no racing this", or more precisely "no racing for points". Categories are frozen, which sorta sucks for me, as I can't go any lower (as I'd already been relegated in 2019 when my back went). I'd put a Plan B in place to do the Masters European Championships in Mallorca (4-day stage race), and was due to be flying out this weekend...but the Covid resurgence has put paid to that...while in theory we could travel, we would be un-insured as the FCO have said only essential travel. I've been doing some local time-trials (basically "ride as hard and fast as you can for 10 miles by yourself"), but really now looking ahead to the 2021 Season.


Complete LE_JOG in top 1% of Finishers

Commence Project 55

It's suffered a hiccup, with 3 months of reduced hours/wages, but as of October I restart the higher pension payments. Covid generally has hit pension funds in the short-term, but it's still the most tax-efficient way of saving. Short-term funds are now near £25k...mainly due to lack of holidays, races...reduced spending on food etc. I'd say it needs a proper restart in 2021, however I think at the moment the global challenges are going to stretch beyond that somewhat.

We had a rather interesting evening being quizzed by the Office of National Statistics...we were randomly selected, and they wanted an in-depth view of our finances, jobs, lives etc. The lady who did it seemed to think we were too sensible for our own good (sounded like she was quite used to people not knowing a lot of their own financial numbers).

Discover 4 new authors

I've been in Sci-Fi series for the last 3 months. After finishing the Dark Materials trilogy (weak sauce, not a fan), I've gone through the "Embers of War" trilogy by Gareth L Powell. Enjoyed them...it had a Firefly/Expanse feel to it (eclectic crew onboard a spaceship), but with some of the space-opera big moments that Neal Asher and Adam Roberts do so well. Add in a sentient spaceship (ala Iain M Banks) and you have an enjoyable, if slightly generic, sfi-fi series. The other series I'm just finishing off is the Odyssey One series by Evan Currie. This comes under the heading of "Military Sci-Fi", and is very, very much US Army in space, with a lot of Oorah-Marines and teh old, tactical genius constantly out-playing the technologically-superior-but-less-strategic enemy. If you take the bit in "Hunt for Red October" where Sean Connery directs the submarine to close on the torpedos (niche reference), and expand that out over 7 books, you're there. It's OK, but didn't need 7 books.

Complete 2 Games of Reasonable Size

I've been picking up some Old Skool, or inspired by Old Skool games.

Hotshot Racing is awesome. I grew up with RIIIIIIDGEEE RACERRRRRRR!, and this ticks all the boxes. It's perfect for a 5-15 minute blast, and is the 90's and early 2000's refined.

Herzog Zwei...ah man, Herzog Zwei. 12 year old me me picking this up on a rare trip to Merry Hill Shopping Centre, as it had a giant robot on the front. I played this for hours...solo, and with friends. One memorable game had us place a cardboard partition down the screen (split-screen multiplayer) and as 2-man teams we played a 4-hour battle (we needed to tag-team the controller, as you couldn't pause and our bladders would not last long enough). Probably the first ever RTS game, and I didn't even know until 20 years later.

Slay the Spire - I've called this one out before, but it's still getting regular play...it's just that good. I recently saw it called out as one of the games of the generation and I can't really fault that description. There is an insane satisfaction to finishing a run with a half-baked deck of cards, tehn hoping and praying for a draw to give you the one card you have that may save you. Most of the time it doesn't happen, and you're dead on the floor, but when it does, and you turn the fight around to glariously wipe the opposition...it's beautiful.

Steamworld Quest is the single-player game I've finished this quarter. I wrote another post on it, but it's just a really lovely game to play, and another game with surprising depth. I've actually now got one of the other games (Steamworld Heist) loaded up and ready to play on my time off (not going to Majorca, but still taking 2 weeks off as, lets face it, weather isn't going to magically get better over winter!)

Another things I've done is bought the 6-month GeForce Now plan. A bit of testing round the house showed that I can get good 5Ghz connections pretty much everywhere, and I've been able to connect my DUalshock controller via Bluetooth to all my devices. I'm currently seeing what is the slowest spec machine you can turn into a gaming PC. I think the winner may be the old Linx Windows tablet I had sitting at the back of a draw. I can confirm that this will connect to a 5Ghz network, and I've had it running Tomb Raider at 1080x1920 at 80fps. The real kicker here is that it has a HDMI-out, so it's literally a PC/console hybrid. I think that, above anything else, has convinced me that the future of gaming is cloud hardware.

Pay Carbon Offsetting

Still have this on the plan, however it's going to be significantly less than expected (as we are down several flights...back in January there was a plan to head to New York in October).

Get Motorbike back on the road

As discussed in Matt's electric car thread, I did look at the possibility of replacing the motorbike with an electric version, but it's just not financially viable. I haven't used it for almost 2 years now (I last used it to go to a post-operation check-up, before the infection set into my spine and I lost the ability to walk for a bit). I probably should have a long-distance travel method, but for the next 3-6 months I can't see it being needed.

Catch up on Replacement Purchases

I've spent a bit more money this quarter, mainly on important stuff. Some of my cycle clothing had to be replaced, including the more thermal winter kit. I've recently gotten a new phone (Google Pixel 4a...apparently I was one of the first 2,000 in the UK to pre-order, so I got it a week early, along with a balloon) to replace my battered and aging Honor Play. I don't need an expensive phone, and at this point I'm fairly heavily invested in the Google ecosystem...the entire Huawei/Honor thing was becomgin more problematic as the Google services were being removed from them, and (having previously had Nexus phones) I do like being on stock Android. There are a couple of frustrations... I use Google Music a lot, and it's being folded into Youtube Music, with the main pain being that you have to pay to have your music saved locally (which is nonsense...free to stream it, "Premium" to save music you own on the device you own). I regularly listen to music in low/no signal areas, so I've had to download all my music, and I'll have to get a new mp3 app and load my songs in the old fashioned way.

We bought a new toaster! I read some stuff a while back around replace-culture, and how a lot of perfectly functional manufactured goods are simply thrown away. That committed me to trying to purchase repairable items. When our toaster broke (the pull lever broke), I decided this was the time to actively buy repairable. So we now have a Dualit toaster, which will probably outlast us.

The Positives of Lockdown

At this point I think it's pretty certain that we'll be working from home for a year at least. I'm now well into the routine... I had a bit of a funk late-June, early-July when I resigned myself to having no real sports targets this year (a big motivation driver for me), but the last month I've moved away from that, back to the training routine, and would have been in reasonable shape for Majorca (as a bit of a numbers geek for training my 10-minute power was up about 10-15% from early July, as well as showing decent recovery from repeated short, hard efforts). We've now moving into the Winter training routine...more indoor, focused sessions with the longer rides reserved for the weekend. It's much harder doing outdoor efforts in winter...you need good layers to keep warm, but then doing a hard effort can easily overheat you. I've ticked off just shy of 14,000km so far this year, and I'll use my time off to shuffle that up as a last hurahh to daylight for 2020.

Since March I've had a sourdough starter thats been providing the household bread, and weekly pizza. It unfortunately died a couple of weeks ago, but it's actually been quite nice moving back to bakers yeast (during the initial panic-buying yeast was sold out everywhere, which is why I did the starter in the first place). It's all well and good doing hipster sourdough, but it is a royal pain in the arse, it's so slllloooooooowwww. Typically I'd start making a loaf the evening before, doing the final knead about 6:30am, and not getting the loaf out of the oven until midday. A bakers yeast loaf, by comparison, can be start-to-finish in 2-3 hours.

We have looked at in-house aircon, however the costs were a bit beyond what we were (currently) willing to stomach. I had in my head about £1k per room, but quotes we had were coming out well above that (roughly double). It's not off the table, but I think it needs a re-evaluation. I'm fine with spending money for a better quality of life, but I think that money could be used to improve living in other ways much more. For wired internet, I'm going to try the plug-based version for now (I ordered the fastest models I could find, but now waiting on stock).

I'm hoping to use my time off work to tick off a few projects I've had sitting around. I want to get my winter bike up and running (I have the parts, I just need to work through the steps slowly to get them all right), and I've had some ideas about (finally) getting the strawberry farm working. Due to my saving regime I have some spare cash right now, so it would be a good time, and getting items delivered to the house is not a problem!

babychaos's picture

I'm a fan of the google mid range phones I had a 3a and switched to a 4a recently they have the parts I want in a phone, a good camera, decent performance and battery life yet don't cost upwards of a grand. While they might not have the latest super processors I've very rarely noticed any issue with running stuff maybe because I don't play mobile games much and none of the more intensive things like the forkknights and publicG's and pacman go's that the kids these days are playing. Yeah it's missing a few of the more fancy things like wireless charging but to be honest I've never found that to be very good slower than wired charging chargers tend to be expensive (yet I can't move for tripping over the many usb chargers they ship with every device so I never need to buy one of those) and very fernikity half the time you put it on the charger and it doesn't charge for some reason easier to just slap the usb in.

Evilmatt's picture

I was a big fan of the Nexus series of phones (in fact I found my original Nexus recently while cleaning out a drawer...it doesn't charge, so is effectively a brick. I've also recently donated my old Nexus 4 to a lecturer to use as a secondary webcam, and that's still going strong). When they moved over to Pixel instead, the first couple of years they only did flagship, high-end spec models...this was when all phone manufacturers thought they could compete with Apple for the stupidly-expensive market (not realising that people dumb enough to buy $1000 iPhones were only buying it for the logo). This let all the other, smaller manufacturers into the mid-range space for Android (Oppo, Nord, OnePlus etc...as well as notably Huawei and their sub-brand Honor). I reckon if Google had kept on putting out good quality, mid-range handsets then they would pretty much own the market now (with Samsung probably taking the top-end).

From a hardware perspective I'm very happy with the 4a so far. For me it's mainly an alarm-clock, an eMail/Whatsapp/Text client, an mp3 player and a random point/click camera. It spends a lot of time in a cyclying jersey pocket, so I really do prefer smaller models over the monolith handsets (the Honor Play was a little too large for my liking, the 4a is about 1cm shorter, and a little narrower, and fits well in a jersey pocket). The camera is by far and away the best one I've had. The Honor Play one really over-saturated the colours, and had a lot of post-processing that you couldn't turn off (for example, it would sand-blast skin and dilate pupils in faces automatically, senpai). The 4a has an "AstroPhotography" mode that is sort-of hidden. You need to use it in a very dark environment, and with no movement (so a tripod)...but it means you can take photos of stars (the photo to the left was taken over a 4 minute period as I gently froze in a t-shirt next to it at about 11pm on Sunday night...it was pitch dark, and I couldn't see about 75% of those stars with the naked eye). I would have killed for tomething like this when we went to Iceland...we had a borrowed DSLR on a 30 second exposure to get Aurora Borealis shots, while I'm pretty sure this phone would have done a better job.

My main dislike (which, to be fair, is nothing to do with the phone, and everything to do with Google and "Live Services" generally) is the ham-fisted swap-over from Google Music (which I've been using for years) over to YouTube Music...and specifically how that tries to force you down the monthly subscription route. I don't really want "new music on tap", as given what it tends to recommend I don't really want a service, I just want to lisen to ~6,200 songs I uploaded a few years ago, and for the most part actually own (I still have my CD collection in a big folder somewhere in the store cupboard, and I remember spending about 5 days methodically burning them all, using a variety of laptops and desktops). Trying to charge a monthly fee to allow me to store and play those songs locally on my own device can do one.

Some of the gesture-based controls are a little temperamental...for example swping up from nearly the bottom brings up the full app list, while swiping up from the actual bottom goes to the home screen...but if you pause before releasing the screen you get the swap-app screen. I'm trying to adapt, rather than swap back to the bottom navigation buttons (as I suspect at some point in the future they will be deprecated fully), but sometimes it feels inprecise. Likewise with the-based swipe-to-go-back...this can sometimes interact with an on-screen control (for example I was trying to trim a video, and the Start marker was right on the edge of the screen...trying to move it forward was triggering the "Back" command rather than moving the trim point). Imprecision, and minor annoyances.

babychaos's picture

yeah I've been buying nexus phones the stock android the lower price point it seemed like a good option. I've had a few pixels before this but tended to not bother upgrading until the thing started to lose battery life or somesuch as they were expensive and the differences kinda slight between models.

The pixel line have always had among the best cameras available in phones taking very good pictures and I'm glad that's a feature they didn't cut corners on with the 3a and 4a sharing the same sensor as it's more expensive siblings. I'll have to try out the astrophotography mode at some point might be too much ambient light where I am to make it work tho.

yeah the google music to youtube music switch over has been a bit rough and I'm not sure the point of the rebrand.

I found the gestures a bit clunky (especially since it drops them on you with no explanation so I spent the first few hours wondering how I got it to go back) found the back swipe would not work if I was holding the thing one handed using my thumb. I fiddled with the options and got that to mostly work although it still occasionally just refuses for some reason and I have to move the phone in my hand so my thumb is more parallel or use my other hand. Feels like something that needs some tweaking.

I noticed that the new pixel 5 is going to be pitched at the $699 price point so maybe google are coming round to selling more phones in the mid range. Still a little on the high side but I guess with pixel 4a at $350 they've got something for people looking for something on the cheap end already.

Evilmatt's picture

This is great to read through, well done Pete! You've had a stonking year; set backs aside.

My Pixel 2 (and the Mrs) is starting to wane on battery; I am hoping to bounce this iteration but would definitely go with the 4a if it finally conks out. I love the pictures my #2 takes.

We had the google music subscription service and we prefer the YouTube music app but I am annoyed that some of the songs I uploaded aren't the preferred ones. When I ask for song X, I want the one I uploaded, not some chopped-fucked-version some cock end has uploaded to their YT channel There doesn't seem to be an easy way to sort that, tho.

brainwipe's picture

I had some good success using a local phone repair shop to replace a cracked screen, you could probably get a battery swap if the phone is otherwise going strong (and I remember the Pixel 2 getting good reviews!). I think they charged me £60 for parts and labour, and were able to order the screen in overnight (and the Honor Play is not exactly a common phone). THat basically extended the life of the phone by a year, so definitely worth it for me.

I'm probably going to go back to an on-device mp3 player. I spend a decent amount of time out of network (or in low quality network locations...the Chilterns has a lot of black-spots). I don't buy a huge amount of new music these days, and when I do I prefer to purchase off the artist directly, rather than stream/service it. I've downloaded my library from Google Play, and also had my original mp3 library in archive, so I'll just have to get used to moving songs on and off storage (one other downside to the 4a, and all other mid-range phones I could find...no SD-card expansion).

babychaos's picture