The Head of the River

Written for Fandango’s One Word Challenge (FOWC), head.

In my early twenties, my first job took me to the city of Oxford. It was a city I loved, and in fact I lived there until my spell in the USA. There were really two very different sides to Oxford. On the one side, there is the world-famous university, comprised of 39 individual colleges, some of which with splendid architecture of their own. On the other side, there is a major motor factory just on the outskirts of the city, in the suburb of Cowley.

My first job equalled my early twenties, and at that age, what better pleasure in life than going out socialising? Oxford has many excellent pubs, one of which is the Head of the River. It is positioned on the Thames, of course, as it exits the city centre, and also happened to be the start-point for some beautiful walks along the river.

Oxford is also known for rowing, most of the colleges have their own crews, plus the university itself takes part in the Boat Race each year. Especially early morning, if one walked along the river one would frequently see the crews training.

What have we become?

Written for Fandango’s One Word Challenge (FOWC), ship.

I never really had a problem with online shopping, although it has always been rare for me to buy anything high-value online. I have used eBay quite a bit for low-value purchases. After every transaction, eBay allows both the buyer and seller to leave feedback on each other, and my record is about 1,000 positive, no negative experiences. Of course, as a buyer, you’re only ever judged on one thing – do you pay in a timely manner.

I think I was pretty much there anyway, but certainly, since I became disabled, I am far more frugal. Shopping holds absolutely no interest for me – I only even enter a shop if I have a specific purchase in mind. The disability benefit paid by the UK government is several tens of GBP each week, which is probably not far different in USD or EUR. The amount just about covers the mortgage, with very little left over, and I try not to dip into my savings if I can at all help it. As a result, I usually go months between online purchases, although when I do purchase something, it is most likely from eBay.

I’m happy that even in the current crisis, online deliveries still seem to be happening. Couriers are deliberately dropping things off without knocking, but as we are in all the time anyway, one of us usually sees the van pull up and brings the parcel in as soon as the guy has gone.

I am still doing my charity phone calls from home, in fact I am doing about twice as many as usual. Sometimes just courtesy calls – are you okay for groceries/meds? One oerson, I am even calling to remind them to take their meds! And last weekend, I decided to try and save some money on those calls by using my computer’s internet connection instead of a traditional telephone. I got it working, but I wasn’t happy with the sound quality. So I ordered a cheap headset, something wqhich will just plug into my USB port and act as headphones and a microphone. I guess, the sort of thing people must use in call centres. I am told that it has shipped, but it has not arrived yet. I’m hoping to be using it by the time I make next week’s calls.

The other thing, I needed a new sharps bin, into which to put my used insulin needles. I can get them through the doctors, but they are tiny and it is easier just to pay a few pounds and to source them privately – at least then, I can get a bin big enough to last several months. That item shipped immediately, and when it arrived today, it was the highlight of the day!

I really wouldn’t have written this post, except I saw Fandango’s prompt 🤣. I bet you had something better to do! But a final glimmer of hope – this song just came on The Simpsons. Do you remember it?

A Hot Date

Written for Fandango’s One Word Challenge (FOWC), engine.

I’m gonna post today about a component I once wrote in my professional life, which was a date engine.

For part of my professional life I was a consultant to an asset management company. Asset Managers run funds, hundrends of them. The way each fund is set up might be different. Half of it might be based on a commodity, like gold or silver, and half of it might be based on a spread of stocks in such-and-such a sector. Or, you might have a fund which is based on other funds. For example a fund might be based a third on Fund A, and two-thirds on Fund B. The possibilities are endless.

We use the term pension fund, and in fact the two are very similar ideas. The plan is just to invest into a fund, and allow the fund manager to grow the fund, without having to worry about too much detail. In fact, the funds we handled were popular with many pension companies.

Unlike the raw stocks or commodities themselves, each fund would only deal periodically. They tended to be long-term, rather than used by day-traders. In the simplest case, something might deal every day, but you could also have funds which dealt:

  • every Monday,
  • every other Tuesday,
  • the first Wednesday of each month,
  • the 2nd last Thursday of each month,
  • the 15th of each month,
  • once a year, on 31st December
  • once a year, on the first Friday

…and so on. The possibilities were pretty endless. Except that in practise, only a few tens of options were used.

The place I worked, they used to calculate these dealing calendars manually, for each fund, a year at a time. Just this process, over about 1,500 funds, took somebody about six months every year. And somebody else, another six months to check.

So they wanted to build a system which would automate the process. After all, it’s simple enough to have a computer just apply a set of rules and tag one date onto the last.

So I built an engine so they could do this. You needed to tell it the last dealing date, and once it had this, it would apply the rules for the fund and calculate the next dealinng date. So you can imagine, you could run this engine again and again, on each fund, to calculate dealing calendars years in advance.

The trickiest problem was in capturing all of these rules. Capturing them flexibly enough so as to allow many different types of rules to exist, but rigidly enough so the rule could be used to calculate a dealing date.

One of the oe other problem was, what if the engine came up with a non-banking day, for example a weekend, or New Year’s Day?

Plus, the funds were based in different countries/currencies. Different currencies have different ideas about what day is and isn’t a bank holiday. So straight away, you’re having to also capture bank holidays against all the currencies (although funds tended to be only set up in the main half-dozen currencies).

It had to take all of this into account, and more besides.

We got there in the end. It this sounds quite boring to you, that’s because it was. Working with banks was quite well-paid, but it wasn’t rocket science. The reason it paid well was because people had to be meticulous*. A lot of the time you would be working on something to improve a manual process. Either to make it quicker, or less error-prone (in this case, both). Banks are quite a specialised environment, in that respect. In later years, when I was hiring people, previous banking experience was always a big factor, just because it showed that somebody was used to that environment.

* some banks are more meticulous than others!

Lobsters

I caught a Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie writing prompt this morning, asking us to write about soul mates.


I’ve got to say, I don’t believe in any of it, this idea that two people are just destined to end up together, anyway.

When I first met my wife, Friends was airing for the first time on tv. Phoebe talked about lobsters – you know, two lobsters will meet each other then will pair for life… All very romantic, but I don’t think it works like that for humans.

In my teens and twenties I did that whole falling in love thing three or four times. At the time, it is forever, but then it ends. With all those three or four, I look back and think lucky escape. It’s a bit easier now to be objective, to see the differences which ultimately split us up. I can see it for what it was – two people hook up together for a short while, then look for pastures new.

I think at twenty it is impossible to tell what we want in a partner. I was thirty when I met my partner, by which time I had a fair idea. I knew, at least, that it was something to get into bit-by-bit, rather than head-over-heels. We were together a longtime before we talked about love.

So are we lobsters? Well, my wife likes to think so, but I don’t agree. I think that, if we hadn’t have hooked up with each other, we’d have hooked up with somebody else. (I would have, anyway 🤣.) Seriously, we’re both good people. Whether other relationships would have lasted as long as we have, I don’t know.

So, made for each other, no. Happy coincidence, yes. We met because we happened to be in the same bar on the same night – a bar I never went to before or since, and only decided to go to at all when my friend suggested it, ten minutes earlier. Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world… the probability of meeting this particular woman was so minute, how could it possibly have been planned? Besides, something planning all of this does not fit in with my beliefs in any case (for that is ultimately what it comes down to – it’s evolution versus intelligent design). Maybe if I did believe something different, I might have a different view?

Sorry, hopelessly unromantic. Having children does that to a person.

My Recipe

Written for Fandango’s One Word Challenge (FOWC), fiction.

I try to keep my FOWC responses short, but today I saw the prompt and thought I might actually write a proper post. But don’t worry, I’ll try to keep this short, too.

I guess we all have comfort zones, even in the context of blogging. Subjects we like to blog about, subjects we like to avoid. I wonder, does anybody else think consciously about this?

When I used to read books, I had a straightforward preference for biographies, or at the very least nonfiction. I maybe put that down to being quite a serious person, but didn’t really think about it in any great depth. Even now, if I listen to a book, it’ll fall into those categories. My knowledge of the world’s great fiction authors, like Shakespeare or Dickens, is zero. In fact I did try reading Dickens once … and got about three pages into the book before I decided we were incompatible.

Maybe my reading tastes, however, mimic my writing tastes? For I mostly like to write nonfiction. Just everyday life. Beyond that, the subject matter could be anything, especially nowadays, but it will be nonfiction rather than fiction. Furthermore, this is a very deliberate choice, on my part.

I have written one piece of fiction in my life. Well, outside of school. I never really got bitten by the bug. Maybe one day I will? But right now, it doesn’t float my boat. It actually took a fair amount of up-front thinking, before I felt able to write a word. With nonfiction, the thoughts are already flying around my head, it is just a case of getting them out in an order that makes sense to other people.

I follow a few people who regularly write poetry. I have a very basic knowledge of poetry. I have no idea what a haiku is. (And before you tell me, I’m not much interested right now. Maybe one day …) I have written a few limericks, enough to know that they can be quite a challenge to write, even though they tend to be just nonsense fun to read. As for other poetry, I am very ignorant.

I guess other types of poems must follow that same pattern as limericks? A challenge to write? So I can appreciate the author’s penmanship in not only saying what they want to say, but in massaging/cajoling the language so that it fits into their chosen format. But maybe the final poem is that much more difficult to comprehend as a result? How many of us have read poetry and not fully understood its meaning? Or, at least, had to look at something three or four times, before we “got it”? Come on, I’m sure I can’t be the only one!

At the moment, at least, my writing priority is to be clear, unambiguous. That is prose, nonfiction prose.