Friday, 30 December 2016

Annual Spending Review - 2016

With just one day to go until the end of the year, and no plans to venture beyond the garden gate until 2017, here's the annual look back at where all the money went ...

click on it for a larger image

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Making a Planter from an old gas stove ...

Yes, it's yet another garden planter ...

This is a one-off, made from an old cast-iron gas stove I picked up a couple of weeks ago.  It had been standing out in someone's garden for the past three years but was in great condition, with no cracks or other damage - even the glass in the front was unmarked.  The previous owner had originally bought it to convert to a woodburning stove, but soon lost interest in the project and now just wanted rid of it, so I snapped it up for a tenner.

We already have an open fire in the house and so I don't have any use for a woodburner, but it's a beautifully-made stove and I thought it would make a great feature in the garden if it was turned into a shrub planter.

It stands around 560 mm (22") high including the legs, with a width of 360 mm (14") and front-to-back depth of 300 mm (12").  Although it's quite compact, the carcass is all cast iron and it's very heavy, weighing in at around 50 kg.  The internal volume is just over 40 litres, big enough for the roots of quite a large shrub.

as bought...

Friday, 2 December 2016

Premium Bonds Review - Good or Bad Investment ?

To the uninitiated, Premium Bonds are a form of lending to the UK government but without any guarantee of an investment return (although your original capital is always safe, in nominal terms at least).  Instead of paying a regular bond coupon, there is a prize draw on the first day of each month in which it's possible to 'win' from £25 to £1m.

The bonds are denominated in £1 units, although these days there's a minimum purchase amount of £100 each time you invest, and every £1 bond has an equal chance of winning at the prevailing odds each month, which are set by the responsible treasury department, i.e. National Savings & Investments (NS&I).  

At the time of writing, the odds of winning are 30,000 to 1 and the prize fund is configured to return 1.25%.  All prizes are tax free and do not need to be declared in your annual tax return, so there's no administrative burden.   There's an upper limit on the number of bonds you can hold, currently set at £50,000, and no lower limit except for the minimum purchase requirement.

You can opt to have any prize wins automatically reinvested into buying more bonds, up to the maximum holding limit, or just take the cash each time.

Because the lowest prize value is £25, the real chance of winning anything at all is quite complex - if you don't hold very many bonds in total, then the odds are actually heavily stacked against you.  This is better explained on this site, where there's also an odds calculator based on your own particular holding value and time horizon.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Making Planters from old car wheels....

Another post on the same theme as the last one !  

Although I don't intend the blog to become simply a repository for information on making garden planters, there's no doubt that it's the flavour of the month in our household...

The wife wants to grow some ornamental grasses, yet we've no specific location fixed in our minds and so we'll put them into planters that we can move around for maximum effect.

Grasses tend to be quite shallow rooted, and therefore we don't need an excessive depth to the planter.  I decided to try out an idea I'd considered before, namely to make some planters out of old car wheels.

It doesn't really matter if they're steel or alloy, they can be prepared in much the same way.

I found some on eBay from a seller just a few miles away, three alloy wheels off an old Saab 900.   I've actually owned two Saab 900s in my life, but the last time was around 25 years ago and so I can't imagine there's a huge market for their old wheels these days ...

as advertised....

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Making Planters from an old gas cylinder...

As a disclaimer to this post, strictly speaking even old and abandoned fuel gas cylinders still belong to the company that issued them - when you buy the gas, you're only renting the cylinder which is why there's usually a hefty deposit the first time around and then you swap like-for-like with full bottles when they're empty, and only pay for the contents.   Despite this, there's still a ready market for empty gas cylinders (just search on eBay, for instance) but perhaps their general sale may be outlawed in the future, as has happened with beer kegs.  However, there will still be damaged cylinders out there that would otherwise be condemned if they're beyond economic repair.

And on a safety note, never attempt to cut a cylinder unless you're 100% sure it's unpressurised, completely empty of gas and has been adequately purged !   Note that if you fully open the valve and leave it open with the cylinder upright, after an initial escape under pressure it will still remain full of gas at atmospheric pressure because these fuel gases are heavier than air and therefore can't escape upwards - the cylinder would need to be inverted to empty it of gas.  If in any doubt at all, unscrew and remove the valve adaptor altogether and then fill the cylinder to overflowing with water from a hose, leave it full for an hour, tip it up and empty it, and then leave it standing upside down for a few days.

Anyway, lecture over and back to the post....

We're always on the lookout for garden planters, and this autumn we'd bought two rhododendron bushes of varieties Rasputin and Golden Torch for which we wanted to find a permanent home before the cold weather really starts to bite.  These evergreen shrubs need acidic soil to thrive, which we don't have in the garden here, and so they're better off in pots filled with ericaceous compost.  The planters themselves must be large enough for the shrub roots to grow into over many years, and also heavy enough so they won't get blown over in the wind.

I regularly search on eBay to see what's available locally on a secondhand basis, using keywords such as barrels, urns, planters, drums, pots, tubs, bins, cauldrons etc, but it's difficult to find anything pleasing for a reasonable price, i.e. next to nothing !  

However, I remembered there was a damaged 47 kg propane gas cylinder lying behind the shed, just accumulating snails...  I'd tried to chuck it out in a skip once, but the driver said he couldn't take it.

So I heaved it out, measured it up and in spite of the damage (a crease in the centre), I decided I could still make two 40 litre planters from it.  It's around 375 mm in diameter, and I cut around the cylinder with an angle grinder in two places to remove the damaged section and make two half shells of around 400 mm in height.  

the cut cylinder...

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Garden Review - in Pictures

I don't seem to have been out in the garden very often with the camera this year, but here's a brief review anyway :-

apricot blossom in late winter...
and a futile attempt to protect the apricot flowers from frost with fleece....
it's just too cold & windy here to set fruit outdoors on plants that make
blossom so early in the year, so the tree's now been cut down.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Yet more landscaping works ....

Our rabbits both died this year, within a few months of each other.  They were getting on for seven years old, so I suppose they had a decent enough innings in rabbit terms.

We'd already decided we won't be keeping any more animals, so we demolished their large roofed shelter, hutches & runs, and set about cleaning up the area they'd occupied with a view to re-integrating it back into the rear and side gardens.  

They'd had a very generous plot between them, around 30 square metres including the hedgerow behind, and so it's now freed up quite a large additional garden space.  

the rabbits and their enclosure, taken after we'd built it in early 2011

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Should I continue to add to the Investment Pot ?

From the last few years of monitoring, I can see I've been saving around 50% of my income, most of which is now added to the pot on a monthly basis.

At current valuations, the pot has grown to the point where my monthly additions increase the pot value by only a fraction of a percent each time.    This is well within the expected volatility range of the combined investment pot, even in the most stable of market conditions.

So does it make any sense to continue to add to the pot, or should I put a stop to the monthly contributions and just accept the market return without adding fresh money ?

Now, I'm not about to start wild spending on things I don't need, so you might well ask what's the advantage here, since there's a monthly surplus anyway and therefore doesn't it count as savings if it's not being spent ?

Sunday, 9 October 2016

A Grand Tour ...

I mentioned in a previous post that we intended to take our 'new' convertible on a driving tour of Europe.   Well, we've now returned from a great holiday, and here's brief diary of the trip.

the route, anticlockwise from Zeebrugge to Amsterdam

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Safe Withdrawal Rates - with respect to inflation ...

The subject of Safe Withdrawal Rates is cropping up again regularly on the blogs, so I thought I'd take a quick look at it myself.

The general acceptance criterion seems to be a drawdown rate at which an initial capital sum would last for 30 years without becoming depleted, after the withdrawn amount is increased annually in line with inflation.

Instead of trying to predict any particular safe withdrawal rate, I decided to take a slightly different approach and examine what the annual investment growth rate would need to be to sustain a 4% rate of withdrawal, and with reference to the assumed inflation rate.  4% is the oft-quoted safe withdrawal 'rule'.

So I set up a simple spreadsheet based on a £100k pot from which an inflation-adjusted amount is withdrawn each year, and then I played around with various input values.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

A new toy ...

Well, I say new but it's an eight year old Astra 'Twintop' coupe-convertible....

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Overhead Power Cable to the Greenhouse.....

I recently decided to remove the solar panels from the greenhouse roof.  After several years of daily charging & discharging, the deep-cycle batteries were almost completely shot and to replace all three batteries would have cost around £150.

However, I still like the greenhouse to be illuminated by the LED growlights in the evenings, so I priced up a few bits and pieces and reckoned I could fix up an armoured mains power cable from the house to the greenhouse for only around £60 in total.

Running a mains cable will also let me use my two heated propagators in the late winter, to get a headstart on the vegetable seed sowing.

If I ran the cable underground from the house it would need to cross the concrete driveway. This whole hardstanding area to the front and side of the house could probably do with being completely replaced, but since there's more than 150 square metres in total it's a very big ticket project and therefore it's not a high priority.  Still, there seemed little point in routing an underground cable across there if it's likely to need digging up in the future.

So I decided instead to route the cable overhead, a distance of around 11 metres from the front corner of the house to the entry point at the greenhouse.

The first job was to establish a few basic design parameters and buy the necessary equipment; a 25 m length of 3-core 2.5 square millimetre cable with galvanised steel wire armouring (SWA), a pair of guide tubes, U-bolts and wire rope clamps.

cable with outer sheath stripped and armoured wires cut back

Monday, 15 August 2016

Overwintering Chillies......

I read last year somewhere that chilli pepper plants are actually perennials, although very few people tend to treat them as such, instead sowing fresh seed every spring and discarding the plants in the autumn after fruiting.

So I thought I'd try an experiment ...

After a very poor crop last year from several plants, their first year, I brought the healthiest specimen indoors and overwintered it on the workshop windowsill.

With a very occasional watering, it survived the winter OK but looked a bit sick and bedraggled in the spring, so I didn't hold out too much hope.  Still, I trimmed it up and potted it on.

And look at it now after a summer in the greenhouse !    Hopefully there's still enough time for the peppers to ripen properly because they're supposed to produce a beautiful multicolour display.

from seed sown in 2015....

Friday, 22 July 2016

Cloning a laptop hard disk drive...

For the last couple of months I've been having problems with my No. 1 laptop, so-called because it's the one I use every day for business and entertainment, and so it's loaded to the gunwales with a whole range of software.

I've several other laptops; two higher-spec machines dedicated to analysis software only plus three serviceable older machines which were each previously the everyday No. 1 machine, and are kept as backups.  These earlier machines all run various versions of Windows XP.

The current No. 1 laptop is now three years old but was quite a high specification when new, and so it's well worth repairing.   The problems I was having related to slow boot times, which were getting longer and longer, and eventually the dreaded 'preparing automatic repair' loop which, in the end, prevented the laptop from booting up at all.   I'd previously ran diagnostics software from the hard disk drive (HDD) manufacturer (Seagate) which had indicated that the drive was about to give up the ghost, so the failure wasn't entirely unexpected.  

Three years doesn't seem much of a life for a disk drive, but this laptop is used day and night and is very rarely switched off - I also tend to use custom power settings which don't permit the disk to sleep if the machine's not being used for a while.

Anyway, I ordered a new 2.5" internal HDD, which is actually the exact same 1 TB capacity and type as that currently installed.   I thought about taking the opportunity to upgrade, but I don't need any more disk storage capacity on this particular machine.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Investment Review - June 2016

Here's an update of the combined portfolio as of today, the last day of June :-

Overall, we made very good progress during the last quarter, with new portfolio highs being recorded at the ends of April, May and June, despite the market uncertainties before and after the Brexit referendum.  

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Slow Start in the Garden this year ....

It's taking a long while for things to get going in the garden this year, mainly due to the cold we've experienced for much of April.

this is the problem, very cold, especially at
even inside the greenhouses....

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Investment Review - March 2016

Well, the first quarter of the year's gone already.   Here's the current Combined Portfolio position, as on the last day of March :-

Click on it for a larger image, although I think you'll need to click on ' more..' first.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Financial Planning - 2016 Review

It's been three months since my last post - things were very quiet on the work front at the turn of the year, but in the second week of January a great design and build project came along and I was very busy on that for around three weeks either side of a fortnight's holiday in sunnier climes.

And just when I thought I was in the clear, another project followed immediately afterwards and there's been more design and analysis works in parallel.  Let's hope I can get them all out of the way before the warmer weather really kicks in - there are gardens to tend and golf to play !

It's the Factory Acceptance Test (FAT) on Monday for that first build project, with the client in attendance, so fingers crossed...

Anyway, back to the subject.   I'm now three years into the 'Grand Plan' (for an explanation and last year's end-March review, see this link), and so here are the updated graphs ....

Sunday, 3 January 2016

2016 Goals - Remember, trying is the first step towards failure...

With an acknowledgement to Homer Simpson, for the excellent piece of lifestyle advice in the title.

It's the time of year when many bloggers are writing detailed reviews about their last year's personal and lifestyle goals, and either congratulating themselves or indulging in self-flagellation depending on their degree of success.  

And then setting out even more ambitious plans for the year ahead.   Some I've read mention up to 25 goals for the year - that averages out at two per month.  

Cut yourself some slack, FFS !  

Friday, 1 January 2016

Investment Review - December 2015

I've just compiled the latest Combined Portfolio position, as shown in the graphic below.  Click on it for a larger image.

I've included the column from the previous post for comparison, as usual, but there's also an extra column from this same time last year, i.e. at the end December 2014.

I've shown this because, in spite of the quite poor market performance over the year, and in particular the rout in commodities stocks in which I'm heavily overweight, all is not doom and gloom and the year-on-year overall position doesn't actually look bad at all.