In Defence of Desks. 

There was a classroom a long long time ago when there was no bickering over who sits next to who, it was treacherous to copy your neighbour and the current plague of migrating pens, pencils and photocopies was non existent. It was the golden dusk of the Thatchereich, it was 10% interest rates, the IRA, Black Wednesday, it was the age of Desks. 

These boys are now 10x richer than you and can still say rude things in Latin…

Rows of ordered wooden boxes contained the necessities of life, fountain pens, pencils and your text books, there was no need for separate cluttered boxes and plastic trays. The more sensitive and less dominant members of the class were inherently separated from the more wilful; and the socially awkward were not humiliated when no-one wanted to sit next to them. It was also easier to focus on your work when other pupils were not elbowing your writing hand and creasing your worksheets.

For the year that you had your desk you owned it, it was your responsibility and so was the area around it. You were praised and reprimanded for the state of your property. In the current faddish, open plan, “hot seating” world no single pupil is responsible for the tidiness of any single area. If you cannot be called to account for your untidiness or rewarded for your neatness then you are unlikely to try and keep anything ordered. For anyone who has lived with filthy housemates you will understand the situation, when one housemate doesn’t make the effort to clean up after themselves in shared areas of the house it just stays dirty. It’s the same dastardly principal that made the Soviet Union so polluted and why the EU’s common fisheries policy is not popular with fish. In many schools with majority shared space the teachers now seem to clean up after pupils, an unnecessary task that definitely does not teach children about the realities of life. 

Preparing children for life in Utopian Telly-Tubby land…. 

Ordered rows of desks benefited teacher access to pupils. While completing an exercise you would feel the silent gaze over your shoulder and perhaps the muttering of encouragement. With labyrinthine table arrays barring access to pupils it’s sometimes only when the books are handed back in that a teacher realises which pupils are struggling. 
 
Although this could all be seen as moaning I should say that I am a great believer in the cyclical nature of things including education. Open plan classrooms were probably around before people realised the excellent noise cancelling properties of walls; Socrates probably got fairly fed up when swordplay was scheduled in close proximity to his Philosophy class. The Northern Europeans were struck by the idea of open plan schools in the 1970’s but over the next 30 years managed to see sense and brick in the gaps between classes. I’m fairly sure the current fads for hot desking, yoga balls and the overextended buzz of “collaborative working” will also revert at some point. 

When the money is available where do the global elite want to send their kids? To the best schools for results and these are still overwhelmingly traditional, rigorously academic, competitive relics (desks or no desks). 

Cameco, the largest western uranium producer.

Value Investing, finding Value this Month.

Obviously these ideas are not solicitations to invest, you should do your own research and get advice from a professional that can take into account your personal circumstances. I have lost money on many investments and will again in future.

It’s been a couple of months since I published my last list of things that I am finding interesting. I thought it might be useful to look at some of previous investments as some of these are correcting and I may again think about topping up these positions. The US markets still to be very frothy and I although I’m no market timer I sense with the election result in the US and the realisation that European politics is dramatically changing the market will soon break from it gentle sideways meander. Upwards or downwards I have no idea. Could a flight to safety drive the US markets and dollar higher or will a world falling apart and nosebleed valuations let it drop?

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twin bulbs

Cloning investment ideas; issues for the small value investor.

To the retail value investor keeping up to date on the portfolio holdings of superinvestors like Warren Buffet, Seth Klarman, Daniel Loeb and Bill Ackman is an important part of the investment process. Intelligently cloning ideas from the most successful in our craft is an excellent way of achieving above par results. The whole strategy has been explained most succinctly by it’s biggest cheerleaders Mohnish Pabrai and Guy Spier who can elaborate much better than myself on the merits of this strategy.

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Value investing, finding value this month.


Although I mainly write about education and technology I have an avid interest in finance especially value investing in the manner of Graham and Dodd. As I spend a lot of time scouring for value in the global markets, I thought it may be of interest to some of you to begin writing a monthly brief showing what I am looking at; areas and industries where I am finding what could be good value!

Read on for this month’s list

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10 Tips when relocating to Russia for business.

  1. Invest in some serious cold weather clothing. Don’t mess about with the cold when relocating to Russia, buy yourself a good quality Parka and some warm shoes. You’ll be wearing them all winter so get the best you can afford and in a style you feel comfortable wearing. The super trendy Nobis, Canada Goose and Woolrich brand parkas will all keep you warm  when the temperature dips to -30 degrees. On your feet you will need insulated shoes or boots, Uggs are great as is the Sorel brand. Something that is extraordinary to experience is that in very cold weather your boots will not get wet in the snow, you will stay dry. Remember to buy warm gloves and hats and some scarves. The hood on your parka is not principally to keep the rain and snow off but to keep you warm. Most young people will wear a wool beanie and when it gets very cold pull their hood up. You can wear fur but I would suggest waiting to buy till you understand the style and how it is worn by the Russians first. When it gets really cold I also wear the super comfortable and luxurious Zimmerli wool and silk thermals. Get them!

The excellent Nobis Yatesy Jacket, Click on the image for details.

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Solwara Project Excavator. C. Nautilus Minerals

The Amazing Future at Work (Part 1)

17/02/2016 by Thomas Murr

Technological change is a constant, the others, life, death and taxes are not really so pleasant or as interesting. There has of course been hiccups in our technological advancement; the fact that the great castles of England are made not of concrete but hewn stone is perhaps one of the most poignant examples of technology moving in the wrong direction. Even with these types of rare setbacks I think we can safely assume that our children will live in a far different future to that which we imagine today, it will be a radically different world, probably more different than that between your parents and yourself.

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160026-Singing-Bird-2 house of marbles

Affordable gifts for the kids who have everything.


Header Image: Clockwork Songbird, House of Marbles Online.

8th February 2016 by Thomas Murr

For the kids who have everything the monetary value of a gift is completely irrelevant, a quadcopter is just another quadcopter, right? Another iPhone? Stack it with the others, you only need two anyway…

When you get to a certain wealth level it can be easier to send your PA out on the mission to buy something for your friend’s son or daughter than doing it yourself. You give them a budget and they return with the new iPhone, remote-controlled helicopter or, yawn, drone. If it’s a birthday party and the father is a hotshot you can expect to see a pile of these wrapped gizmos on a giant table, tribute to the family’s status and power. The intent is good and I’m sure the thought will be appreciated but what if there was another way, a new way?  Imagine seeing that golden child, their cherubic face filled with genuine glee, holding your gift aloft and shouting praise!  Their Parents turn in surprise to scan the faces of the guests, who realising that it’s not their electronic wonder, pretend not to have noticed. An assistant leans in and whispers into the fathers ear, looking up, he sees you, a rare smile across his usually stern face. Very good Karma indeed….

If you really want to make an impression with your gift you will need to put the effort in, research the interests of the child, ask the family’s staff members or the parents directly what their offspring are interested in. You usually don’t need to spend a lot of money to get something that will make an impression. Remember it’s not a money thing, the key is to simply match the child with a gift.

There are some rough guidelines that I should think will help you find your target.

  • Get them something they don’t already have.
  • Something that doesn’t require batteries will probably be novel and can be used without any set-up.
  •  Don’t get them anything that is too complex for them to use by themselves.
  • Immediate novelty value, something to pique the curiosity of the child so they will not be able to put it down until they understand what the present does or how it does it.
  • Something usually unavailable to them in their location.

Read More to Find the Best Hunting Grounds!

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Prevention of the disease is much easier than finding a successful cure.

A newly classified disease and how to prevent it spreading to your children.

Published on 01/02/2016 By Thomas Murr

I have seen the symptoms up close and personal and it’s not good. Once treatment begins you shouldn’t hope for the best, those who are infected cannot be cured quickly. It’s symptoms can include, nihilistic apathy, depression, rudeness, feelings of worthlessness, deceptive practises, introversion and recklessness. It can strike early in childhood and usually cannot ever be truly cured once caught.

Read More of this important warning

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Thomas Murr 2016

10 tips for success in the HNW service industry. 

 

By Thomas Murr 28/01/2016

1. Money follows the relationship.

You need a genuine relationship. HNW individuals need to genuinely know you, your morality, your trustworthiness before they entrust anything to you. If your motives are not in the best interests of the client don’t expect to be invited on the yacht… Put in the hours to understand your client, get in the banya, sit and drink tea, learn their customs and language and remember their children’s birthdays!

2. Be great to have around. 

Can you be fun, kind and amusing while staying professional; Generous with your time and stimulating while never becoming over familiar? If you can, perhaps your client will pull up another chair for you at the table.

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Would Warren Buffett buy a tuition agency?

First Published on 14/10/2015 at Estate and Manor Magazine

Would Warren Buffett buy a tuition agency?

Warren Buffett looks for excellent businesses where there are considerable barriers to entry, high returns on investment and excellent, honest management. This strategy has led him to become the most successful investor on the planet, compounding value over many decades for his shareholders.

What would Warren make of British tuition agencies? Would Berkshire make a bid for Bonas MacFarlane, Keystone, or even Bright Young Things?

I would haphazardly suggest that you are not going to see any one of those names pinned up in an office in Omaha, Nebraska any time soon. Over the last few years it has been clear that everyone and their Labrador has had the excellent idea of starting a tuition agency. I would guess that over half of agency owners have no relevant teaching experience and perhaps a quarter have come from a separate profession. How did this happen? To answer this question we have to think about what you need to start a tutoring agency and how innovative technology has made it so easy. Although I have never started my own agency I know many people who have, it is an asset light business, no heavy machinery is required to squeeze information into a thirteen year old boy’s head. The use of a laptop, mobile phone and access to tutors, clients and perhaps the use of the wonderful TUTORCRUNCHER software to automate all the boring maths is the bones of the business; some staff and an office outside of your bedroom can obviously come later.

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