Permanent Portfolio check and eShop additions

Well, this is ridiculous. Such a long time not posted a blog. This is no way to increase traffic and try to sell anything. There is a good reason, I work in the financial industry and the last two months of 2011 and January were rather busy. Which left very little energy for other projects. It’s a bit better now, so I want to start writing little posts again. First an update of my permanent portfolio:

Amount Percentage
Stock 10.61 8.33%
Bonds 0.00 0.00%
Cash 112.55 88.37%
Gold 4.20 3.30%
Total 127.36 100.00%

In December I increased my amount of stock, mostly with conservative funds. Also, as you can see, the total went up. From 100 to 127 in about two years. Savings substantially contributed to that. Yields on saving accounts and funds are obviously pretty low. Still the proportion of cash is way high to and I need to start buying stock funds again for my permanent portfolio. In these uncertain times in the EU that’s the only thing I dare to do, although all that cash in EURO’s isn’t exactly prudent either.

As you know I do have an eShop with Zazzle were I show my amateur designs. Now and then I do post some designs and create in Zazzle a series of product classes (one usually adapt a design for f.i. all light coloured t-shirts, or round buttons). This is my latest:

This design is adapted for the product class “light t-shirts”. You can use this pattern for all light t-shirts Zazzle currently has to offer. My goal is to add at least one combination of a design of mine with a product class per day. At the moment I’ve passed the 100 and at the end of the year it should be at minimum 400.

Jolly Kitty and a cat bell

Some time ago I started to upload designes to Zazzle in the hope to sell them from my Zazzle store. No sale still and the main reason is that Zazzle is a numbers game, the more products you have in you store the more likely it is to make a sale. Ofcourse quality also counts, but quality is time consuming. A bit of a “catch 22”, quality versus quantity. But I have to start somewhere and with practice comes perfection in my design. So my first new design is this the Jolly Kitty:

jolly kittyIt’s a cartoonish variation on the Jolly Roger. Whence Jolly Kitty. I think it’s a great idea but the execution isn’t all that good. One lesson I learned is that the black space between the white parts shouldn’t be so different in width. The stroke should be more harmoniously like in a proper cartoon, see f.i. the teeth and the space in between. It is too smallish compared to the rest, but for now I’ll leave it at that.

Therefor the next design is a bit different. I took a leaf from the pop art book and tried to make the strokes more harmoniously. I think it’s a big improvement compared with first one.kattebel
A thing to keep in mind with Zazzle is how best to apply your design on Zazzle products as efficiently as possible. F.i. create an image at least 1200 by 1200 pixels and allow it to be used for all sizes buttons. Also make a design for a square button (or magnet, or sticker etc.) seperately if the design demands it. The result is that you quickly have covered all sizes and shapes of a product.

Besides that, I always tailor-make a design to a product, may it be a hat, bag or mug. Creating a design in a vector program like Inkscape is a big plus in this case. A vector drawing can be scaled and modified quite easily without loss of quality. The downside is you have to learn such software, which isn’t everybodies cup of tea. At least I can have a bit of quantity withou sacrificing quality to much.

Steve Jobs died

Never owned one piece of an Apple product, no hardware no software. Still, I’m very sad that Steve Jobs died last Wednesday. He was one of a very select group of people that changed, touched life’s of so many individuals across the world.

Without him personal computing would have looked a lot different today and probably the industry wouldn’t be pushed to provide computers for the ordinary consumer.

Personally the rise of consumer computing (whether be PC, tablet or other way mobile) affected me in two ways. First it gave me the chance to make a career shift when I needed it the most. It gave me the possibility to earn a decent wage and to create a bit of security which most people in my situation will find hard to do.

Secondly, personal computing allowed me to be a space geek in stead of a just a space enthusiast. Thanks to my computer skills I could start doing the website for the Mars Society and now its successor Explore Mars. It brought me in contact with many other space geek-s, one of them who actually had flown in space.

Steve Jobs died

There is one other point I want to bring up, Steve Jobs was a visionary and he was able make his vision a reality. In many respects he shares this aspect with leaders in the space community, to have a bold dream and make it real, to envision a different and better world and then pursue it.

People die, that’s nature for you. Hopefully they leave something behind, Steve Jobs certainly did in a game changing way. Probably the coming days people will talk on and on about the loss of Jobs, but it is perhaps better to start to look at that tiny little dream you have and honour Jobs by making that small idea a reality.

Alien planet and how to make one

I always wanted to make space art but I never really go around to start properly. Since I regularly make some sort of computer art I thought I should start something with an alien planet and just try. From a magazine I took a tutorial for Photoshop and tried it in Gimp. With a little help from another tutorial specifically for Gimp I got the following result.

alien planet

There are some aspect which can be improved, but all in all I pleased with the picture. Next step is to acquire some extra techniques. I think I can use this type of alien planets for all kind of print merchandise. If you want to try yourself, this space and planet tutorial is a good place to start.

Shortage of engineers

Recently my thoughts were wandering to the state of engineering in Holland these day. I do have a degree in mechanical engineering, though I’m working almost fourteen years in IT as a specialist. Now and then I get a bit nostalgic.

Usually I google on “shortage of engineers”, a lament from the industry which it is moaning about for at least twenty years. And behold, a small search results in articles as recent as this year. To many vacancies and to few student, Holland will descend in the Dark Ages if immediate action isn’t taken.

“Shortage? Really?”.
Unfortunately, this is not my experience and of many others, no doubt. I started my career in engineering as expected with my fresh degree and saw some industrial companies from the inside. What struck me most is that these companies were really struggling, as a result I was sacked twice.

Money was short and so was pay, those companies that were not in the red were very hardnosed to their employees. Cheap office space, no perks, and most of all they tended to sack their precious engineers at short notice when the economy went south.

Now that was many years ago and I made a switch to IT and the financial industry. An excellent decision. So did, and still does, exist really a shortage of engineers? Short answer, “no”.

Yet how does a western nation as Holland keep its level of high consumption? It clearly is lacking in innovation of new products, for which you need plenty of engineers. Innovation is a government policy for about 20 years and they keep failing at it. Also I can’t remember in recent years a new mind blowing product Holland showed the world. It is a riddle which is bugging me for many years. Especially now a see a lot of high value production (think Philips) and IT jobs going to Asia.

Borrow as if there’s no tomorrow.
I’m able to come up with only a few possible answers.

  • First, most production is local and can’t outsourced that easily. Think of toilet paper, canned food, produce etc. How badly does one need to innovate a can of fruit is syrup? The production of all this local consumption only need maintenance. Since only recently babyboomers starting to leave the workforce en masse, an urgent need for engineers didn’t exist really.
  • Secondly, we borrowed heavily from future generation. Most western nations have a serious debt problem, especially the Dutch households with its infamous mortgage scheme. Both government and private citizen are deeply in debt and with this debt they bought consumption. Obviously, as we learned last couple of years, this gig is up. For the last 40 years Holland could afford to do with less engineers, since we could so easily buy our consumption from other countries with borrowed money. The lenders start to not play along though.
  • Another part of Dutch society, the pensioners, got some extra consumption thanks to risky investments by the pension funds. These funds were allowed to invest more in risky stocks an bonds, which went well as long a the market went up. And up they pretty much did after the shock of 9-11. The result was that the funds could guarantee the benefits to the pensioners, offer early retirements and keep premiums low for contributors, the workforce. Of course they were kidding themselves, the stock market went south and some funds came in serious trouble. Again, it was guaranteeing a western style consumption without the necessary production. Therefore no engineers needed.

All this reflects in a poor labour market for engineers, whence gradual lower level of entries for engineering courses. Young people decided, and still deciding, to start careers in different industries, which is possible thanks to the massive debts. Well, until now that is.

“Mum! Dad! I’m going to be an engineer!”. “Are you sure about that, fruit of my lions?”. So you still want to be an engineer, but what future awaits you? What if there aren’t enough industrial companies?

Well, since the trick of borrowing from the future will be of the table, a western consumption lifestyle has to be in lock step with a proper production level. Already the pension age is raised in Holland and most likely young people will start to save like crazy as in Japan in lieu of future pension security. Maybe we have to work until we drop or when we can afford to stop. Either way we have to produce more ourselves.

Create your own engineering job!
What we need is new engineering and industrial businesses. And not just another failing government scheme, like an “Innovatie Platform”. Easier said than done, making a product needs machines, factory facilities and serious investments up front. You can start Google or Apple in a garage, a production line is a whole different ballgame.

It is possible though, just look at America. SpaceX is a rocket producing company which successfully launches into space. As is Scaled Composite or Aerojet. Sexy new innovative companies will inspire young people to become engineer and give them a proper job. As a bonus, governments won’t have to lure teenagers to engineering schools and deceiving them with the false prospect of a guaranteed job.

My final thought is that as an engineer you shouldn’t bemoan the lack of vacancies, but perhaps create you own job by starting an engineering business. An aerospace company might be far fetched, but I think there will be new opportunities for local production. Dutch society simply can’t get any more cheap credit to buy, increasingly expensive, Asian products and services.

Concluding, the best way to stop this silly discussion about engineer shortages is to teach engineers to start their own high tech business and that way inspire new generations to become engineer.

Ottoman Patterns in my Zazzle store

After my first attempt to make an illustration and upload it to Zazzle, I was thinking about what would be nice for a line of products. I always had something in mind about patterns. In a bookshop I stumbled on a few books about patterns used in different cultures. And they contained CD’s with jpeg examples. A good start for me for improving my vector illustration skills. I wanted to convert the book examples into vector drawings in order to use the result for many sizes. First a mousepad with one of my Ottoman patterns.

ottoman patterns

Also with a vector drawing it easy to change the colour scheme, which I did a bit. A lot of Arab, Turkish, Egyptian patterns are ideal for this kind of merchandize. Now if somebody just buys some.

Putting money where your mouth is

Over the last year I did some writing about propping up your finances. Now, I’m not really a finance guru and my idea was only to write about my own experiences. Specifically about how to save money enough to last a lifetime, because if I want to witness that marvellous “space future” I’m in for a long trip. Also, I actually might become a hundred years old. I better have a nest egg, for whatever reason.

Saving and investing won’t get you very far, though. The most obvious advice is to increase your income, for instance by asking for a raise with your boss. In Holland? Fat chance. It is much better to do something on the side. Try to sell something, preferably with a profit. Or create a service and sell your “time”. Make money.

My first step is to try to sell stuff by means of websites like Zazzle and Cafepress. Here I can put my own design on shirt, mugs and the sort. It’s an easy way to make a buck. Since I want to increase my artistic capabilities anyway, a web-shop like Zazzle is a good start. By the way, I want to be a little bit more artistic because I don’t want to depend solely on my IT-skills. Why? That’s a subject for another post. Firstly, my newest addition to the shop. Come on, click on the image.

money making with zazzle

Again, the New Frontier

So I was logged into Facebook and looked what Arno Wielders had posted recently. He always knows to find some gems. This time a Youtube video of a Ted talk made by the one of the founders of Xcor, Jeff Greason. It’s about why NASA isn’t the future and why those space 2.0 startups are. Welcome to the new frontier.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8PlzDgFQMM[/youtube]

I hope his business model will work. A great talk, about why it’s hard and why NASA is making it harder. There was one obstacle I missed and that’s the government. Rockets and rocket propelled planes are high energy objects and those things make any government jumpy. How much free market and liberty you might crave for your space business, government will enforce its regulation.

In the end it will be a tug-o-war between government and the space companies on how much those companies are allowed to do. For instance to the new frontier.

Taking “Stock”

And an important correction. So, how did I go last year. It’s been a strange year, 2010, a year ago I feared for my job and Euroland was heading for a meltdown. I still got my job, at least for 2011, and the Euro didn’t collapsed, yet.

Money wise I saved like crazy and I was capable to make some gains. Unfortunately my spreadsheet contained a mistake by which my gains looked way too positive. I look of course to the real amount so I didn’t noticed. My fictive total amount in assets stood at 130 (I started at 100 December 1st 2009) and that was a little bit too steep. The last two moths witch corrected data look like this:

January 1st 2011

Amount Percentage
Stock 7.09 6.18%
Bonds 0.00 0.00%
Cash 103.12 89.81%
Gold 4.61 4.02%
Total 114.83 100.00%

December 1st 2010

Amount Percentage
Stock 6.42 5.79%
Bonds 0.00 0.00%
Cash 100.08 90.36%
Gold 4.26 3.84%
Total 110.76 100.00%

All in all, last year I increased my assets with more than 10% and I’m completely debt free. The amount is nicely going in a direction I’m aiming at. Also, I started buying commodity funds for my “Gold” asset class and in two months it did quite well. Resolutions for 2011, less Cash more funds.

Wrong data in previous will be corrected, by the way.