Life saving story 1: the school

There is no first cause, only links in a chain of causation. So, in this article, I must start somewhere, and omit mentioning other events prior to that.

In an earlier post, I related how I went to Skegness, and chatted to and took a picture of the lifeguards from RNLI. It was a very positive experience for me, and the guards were all smiles when I left. It got me thinking more seriously about how I can have a positive impact on people.

I am, by nature, a very analytical, unemotional, and cynical person. It’s the Western Disease. I also consider myself a spiritual person, so there is often a conflict between doing good and taking a “somebody else’s problem” attitude.

Last week, I became aware that the BBC was running a series on the RNLI. Needless to say, I felt compelled to watch it.

On Saturday, I attended the Cullen beach gala, which had some volunteers from the MacDuff RNLI. I have started a draft blog article on my experiences there, but I won’t publish it yet until I have spoken to local RNLI Press Officer and incorporated the answers to some questions that I would like answered.

It got me to thinking about the incidents in which I saved lives, in my own humble way. I have two stories to tell, “the school”, and “the escalator”. I will save “the escalator” for another post. Here’s the story of “the school” …

I lived for a spell in Australia, before I was a teenager. A friend and I, Steven, decided to walk around town. It was a weekend, so the schools were closed. We decided to walk along some school grounds. I don’t remember the name of the school, but neither of us attended it.

Steven was a bit of a delinquent, despite coming from a proper, and more prosperous, family. He was also a boy scout. He was something of a bad influence on me, owing to his own less-than-perfect behaviour. I would not necessarily say he had a criminal mentality, or was necessarily a “bad” person. Maybe he was just a young kid who did not know any better, as young kids often don’t.

There was a secluded part of the school. As we walked past it, there was a woman sitting down with her back against the wall. We worked out that she was attempting suicide, having taken a large quantity of drugs. How we worked that out at the time I do not know. I think she actually told us. She also told us not to tell anyone else, so she was clearly intent on carrying through on the suicide.

At this point, my memory is hazy. I can’t remember if it was me, or Steven, who decided to raise help. I think that it was me who insisted upon it, although I am not sure.

So we went back to Steven’s house, if I recall correctly. Bear in mind that this was a long time ago, and my recollection of events may be inaccurate. An ambulance was called.

I seem to recall that we returned to the scene of the incident, where the woman was hauled away. I don’t remember how I got there. I guess Steven’s parents drove us there. I also vaguely recollect some policeman, and a reporter.

The reporter talked to Steven. I interjected with a few comments, but the reporter gave me the brush-off, as she remained focussed on Steven.

I think the story made the local paper. Sometime later, Steven showed my an article from his scouting magazine in which “Steven and a young friend” raised the alarm.

What seemed to stick in my mind was that my recollection was that I was the one whose actions led to a woman’s life being saved, and yet was treated as a non-entity.

It’s not that I begrudged this, so much as being mystified that the adult world seemed to be lionising him, whilst I might as well have not existed.

Pfft, adults.

The incident did not have an emotional impact on me, as I don’t think I fully appreciated the gravity of the situation at the time. Not like the escalator story. But that’s for another day.


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An effective HYP strategy

Mechanical HYP (high-income) strategies were discussed in March 2012 on a Motley Fool post ( by a user called F958B. I don’t think he has posted for a long time on account of the negative criticisms he attracted sometimes. In my eyes, and in the eyes of many, he is worthy of respect for the insights that he bought to the boards.

His thoughts on HYP strategies are worth a re-airing. Click the link above to read the full article. I will just present a summary here.

He found the best strategy (“strategy E”) was:

  • Select only the non-cyclicals from the FTSE.
  • Rank by yield.
  • Select the ten highest yield non-cyclicals.

He did not present an exact method for identifying cyclicals; but I would have thought that a company that has not cut its dividend in a decade is likely to be a suitable candidate. You might also add debt safety factors. It seems that when he says FTSE he is referring to the FTSE100. I suspect you will get a better return if you use the FTSE350, or some other similar criteria like the market cap being at least £200m.

Here’s his conclusion on the strategy:

Exceptional outperformance with any portfolio size and any time period.
No great correlation between number of holdings and performance on a one-year period, but portfolios of five or more shares (little difference in performance of five shares vs a larger number of holdings) showed significantly superior performance on a two year holding period cmpared to portfolios of 1-4 shares.

Here are his overall conclusions:

Non-cyclicals need less portfolio diversification.
Non-cyclicals are more resilient.
Non-cyclicals are more predictable.
The very highest yielding cyclicals are very likely to underperform.

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Fyvie Castle, Aberdeenshire

I took a little trip out. Here’s what I saw.


Fyvie castle itself


Lake along the trail near the castle.


Front view of the castle


Tolquhon Tomb. In Tarves, not Fyvie.

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Cullen Beach, Grampians

Cullen beach is described as one of the best beaches in the Grampian region. It is located in Moray, not far from Aberdeenshire, where I live.

Fresh from my trip to Skegness, I thought I owed it to the Scotts to demonstrate that we can have some beautiful weather.

Cullen is the birthplace of Cullen Skink, a soup made from smoked haddock, potatoes, and onions.

Pictures below.


View of the harbour


Along the beach


I seemed to have taken this by accident. It’s cool, anyway.


Close to the car park, so there’s more people


Seems to be a pet cemetery, which I never knew existed


Wellies are so “in” this season. But perhaps not.

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Butlins redcoat demonstrates meaning of life

I returned from my holiday at Butlins, Skegness, on Monday, experiencing my first “staycation”.

The famous Zen koan of Hakuin Ekaku is: what is the sound of one hand clapping?

What caught my interest is that in the pavilion, a Butlins redcoat declared that one of them could clap with one hand. Intrigued by what might happen next, I tried to catch a glimpse of the one-handed clap in action. Unfortunately, my view was obscured, and I wasn’t able to hear what was being done.

So maybe it is one thing to clap with one hand, but it takes the truly enlightened to hear it. I wonder if the redcoats ever knew of the existence of the riddle.


World’s greatest mystery revealed, but view obscured

Here’s a view of the amusements down the road, along the beach, within walking of the Butlins complex:


Oh I do like to be besides the seaside, ‘ave a banana

Here’s a view of the beach that’s directly behind the back entrance to Butlins:


Notice the windmills in the distance

Here we see the plucky British making the best of it. The sea is behind the sand. Those things sticking up are windmills. They didn’t seem to do much rotating, so I assume that they were a colossal waste of money.

Unfortunately, I only had my Nexus with me, which is rather unsuitable for taking good quality photos. I would have liked to have taken some better pictures of the windmills, which were generally more visually striking than is suggested by the pictures I took.


More of the same. Some tourists are about to plop down on a towel. Or should that be towel down on some plop? The water looks pretty manky, you know.




RNLI lifeguards, Skegness.

Thanks go to the lads for agreeing to have their pictures taken. They were good sports about it and were happy to oblige.

During the last day of my stay, I started to develop a nasty cold. I was fearful that I would not be in a fit state to drive the 500-odd miles back home, but fortunately my body seemed to repair itself a little during the night. So my trip home was actually less tiring than the outbound journey.

Having taken a look at the recent decimation of my portfolio, it might be my last holiday in a long, long while. Hey ho.


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Some internet kooks


I have a keen interest in surrealism. So naturally, I am interested in many zany things on the internet.

Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared

With any luck, tomorrow should be an interesting day! DHMIS is a Youtube channel that has published some high-quality videos that start out as kids programmes, but then morph into schizo-paranoia part-way through. It seems to cover themes of commercialism, indoctrination and conformism. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, though.

A weird channel indeed. You can check it out here:

Tomorrow promises to be an eventful day, possibly, as a calendar showing the date 19th June appears in many of their videos. Two of the main characters seemed to have been killed off, with only one remaining. So it could be that we will learn the fate of the remaining character tomorrow. Or not.

Babya Software

Babya Software is, ostensibly, a one-man-band software company run by “A.A. Fussy”. The software is actually a suite of applications covering such things as office and media programmes. The author would often post links to his latest version over on alt.comp.freeware. He would claim that the software was “world-beating”.

However, the software never seemed to perform any task for which it was apparently designed. Commentators were baffled. When people posted as to how useless the software was, he would reply with such dismissive remarks as suggesting that they install the latest version, or that perhaps a missing library needed to be installed.

He seems to have a thing for Apple products, and media presentation software in general. He once asked if he could take icons from OSX and use them in his software. The consensus of replies was that it was likely to be a breach of copyright, but he would not take “no” for an answer.

So perplexing was Fussy’s behaviour that he definitely earns a place as a kook. You can see him demo “Figures”, which is supposed to be an all-in-one spreadsheet, graphing and database package at this link:

It looks like some kind of performance art. However, his behaviour generally seems to be that he sincerely thinks that he is releasing software. Artist? Troll? My conclusion is that the poor lad isn’t exactly dealing from a full deck.

I don’t know much about his true identity. He seems to live in Brisbane, Australia, and must now be in his mid-20’s. His real name is Anthony Mark Sullivan. There is a link which purports to be an interview with him from around 2004, when he was 14:

Needless to say, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of any information in this article.

Anthony seems to have a mismatch between what it is he thinks he’s doing, and the way others perceive him. Whilst some of his behaviour might have been put down to his youth at the time, he does not seem to have improved, leading to suspicions that he is actually at least mildly retarded.

The interview was discussed here:


No discussion of internet kooks could ever be complete without a mention of the Timecube, the brainchild of “wisest man of earth” Otis Eugene “Gene” Ray. The time cube is based around the notion of “4-simultaneous 24-hour days”. So there is not one earth, but 4 “simultaneous” ones.

The only explanation I can come up with is that Gene has somehow latched onto the fact that you can fit a sphere inside a cube, and cannot shake the notion that this does not imply that there something significant about that fact.

Timecube is so well-known that it even has its own Wikipedia page:

There is even an interview with him on Youtube from 2003:

Timecube had a website. It seemed to have disappeared in 2015. Gene was advanced in age, so the most widely-held theory as to its disappearance is that Gene has died. Here is just the smallest extract from his former site:

Until you can tear and burn the bible to escape the EVIL ONE, it will be impossible for your educated stupid brain to know that 4 different corner harmonic 24 hour Days rotate simultaneously within a single 4 quadrant rotation of a squared equator and cubed Earth. The Solar system, the Universe, the Earth and all humans are composed of + 0 – antipodes, and equal to nothing if added as a ONE or Entity.

Gene also appeared to really hate the idea that if you multiply two negative numbers together, you get a positive one.

It is likely that Gene suffered from schizophrenia.

So there we have it. Enjoy your Internets.

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A lesson in data file formats

I have written a number of accounting packages in the languages C, Go, Haskell Python, Tcl (non-working), and C++. My C, Go, Python and Tcl efforts have been lost in the mists of time.

I write my input data in a bash-like format; that is to say, as a “command” with arguments separated by whitespace, using quotes if necessary, and the shebang for comments. The command is actually the description of a data item.

In my experience, this is a good engineering decision, as input is easy to parse.

Two things happened recently:

  • I wanted to combine several years worth of data together. This is a tricky process, because I close off the accounts at the end of every year. So there are opening balances that are redundant if I aggregate years together. There are also transactions duplicated from the previous year. These, too, would need to be eliminated from the aggregation process
  • I am interested in exploring John Wiegley’s ledger program. The data in my format is incompatible with the program. I had experimented with ledger in the past, but I generally abandoned my efforts for a number of reasons. Repos tended to supply only an old version, closing off did not work as I needed, the output was difficult to process downstream, and compilation required boost. In the past, I was extremely resistant to installing boost, as I am keen to avoid unnecessary bloat and dependencies. I have relented recently, though, as boost provides many tempting features.

Consequently, I am faced with the dilemma of how to aggregate all the data together, and how to transform the data.

My solution comes in two forms:

  • shlex, a program I wrote in C++ that takes input in bash-like format, and prints each field as a line. It also builds a library that can be linked with other programs. I have added a feature that reprints the input in an m4-like syntax. The program was inspired by the Python module of the same name.
  • m4, a general-purpose macro processor. m4 takes input text and transforms it according to a set of macros. The macros can defined anywhere. m4 is language-agnostic, it is just a text-transformer. m4 is a very old language, and should be ubiqitous on all UNIX and UNIX-like systems. m4 powers GNU autotools.

So, I convert my raw input to m4-compatible macros via shlex. All I need to do now is write m4 macros to transform the input into a suitable form. This should be relatively straightforward.

m4 macros can be a bit kludgey. If more power is needed, then there is a non-standard package called pyexpander. This is a macro processing language in the style of m4, but you can embed python code. This should, theoretically, make it a more powerful, less kludgey, processor. I have never tried it, though.

It is also worthwhile considering using Tcl, which seems tailor-made for transformation work. Tcl seems quite underrated.

If I had not chosen to write my inputs in a format that was easy to parse, but had used some kind of custom format, than I would be facing difficulties.

In fact, I am inclined to say that program output should be in a bash-like syntax, too. This should make it much easier for down-stream processes to parse.



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