Manchester Geek Socials

I haven’t posted about these for a while, so here is a reminder of the geek socials I’m running in Manchester this year.

Geek Walks: Monthly walking group which takes place on Saturdays based on an availability poll. We get a train and go to somewhere within an hour’s journey of Manchester, which takes in a wide range of locations. We usually walk for 40-60 minutes on mostly level ground (sometimes longer depending on who turns up, and occasionally there are a few hills) and then finish in a pub for lunch. It’s not a serious hiking group and the walks are accessible to anyone with sensible footwear who can keep up a sedate pace. We set off mid-morning (10:30-11:00am) and return late afternoon (around 4-5pm).

Bletchley Park: Most years I organise a day trip to Bletchley Park, with people travelling either in cars or by train. We set off at around 9am, have a guided tour on arrival, lunch in the cafe, and then spend the afternoon wandering around the park and the National Museum of Computing. We have dinner in Milton Keynes before heading back to Manchester, usually returning late evening (around 9-10pm).

Currybeer: On the first Friday of each month we go for curry and beer in Rusholme. We start at the pub at 7pm and head for curry by 8pm, usually finishing around 9:30-10pm. Sometimes we also go for other cuisines in and around the city centre on the third Friday of the month, though this depends on availability.

All socials are open to anyone who considers themselves a geek (there’s no definition, you might be a sci-fi buff, a Unix beardy, a political geek or something else) and there’s no charge to attend beyond the cost of travel, food/drink and any entry fees (generally the latter only applies to Bletchley Park).

There’s a separate mailing list for each social which you can join via the relevant website. I’m the only person who can post to the lists, and you’ll generally receive 3-4 emails per month about each social (you can view the archives for any given list to see what the traffic is like). Occasionally I’ll post the announcements to other lists, particularly for Currybeer, but I don’t always remember (or sometimes it’s not appropriate) so the official lists are the only ones guaranteed to get every email.

I don’t get anything from organising the socials, other than the fun of organising (yes, I like organising) and attending them, and I’ll carry on doing so whilst I’m in Manchester and there are other people who want to attend.

posted by Paul at 8:03pm on Saturday 24th January 2015 | Comments Off on Manchester Geek Socials

Initial thoughts for Nanowrimo

For those who haven’t heard of it before, National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) is an annual event held over the course of November, in which participants aim to write a novel in a month. More specifically, the target is to write 50,000 words (around 1,500/day), which is likely to form the backbone of a novel after many edits and redrafts.

This year I’m keen to run with an idea which has been knocking around my head for a while: a historical novel centred around Julius Caesar’s rise to power, and the civil war which divided Rome and began the transition from republic to empire. In some respects the plot is already written, although of course we can never be certain what happened given that our primary source was penned by the protagonist and is hardly likely to be an unbiased account (chapter 2 of my MA dissertation has a brief discussion of the reliability of sources). There are gaps in the narrative and opportunities for some artistic licence though, and Robert Harris hasn’t done too badly with his trilogy based on Cicero.

posted by Paul at 9:26pm on Wednesday 30th October 2013 | Comments Off on Initial thoughts for Nanowrimo

New job

For those who haven’t seen on social media, I have recently accepted an offer for the position of Software Support Officer at the University of Manchester. The role is new, so I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing, but broadly speaking it involves helping students with final year projects and encouraging them to do collaborative/group work through the course of their degree. I’ll be based in the School of Computer Science, where I spent 4+ years as an undergraduate and postgraduate, so I know most of the staff and my way around the building.

The job involves a pay cut from my current position, but that is offset by a (much) better pension, fewer hours, more holidays and no requirement to travel to London for meetings. Plus I get the benefit of access to the University library, including all the journal subscriptions, which is something I miss from not being in academia.

I’ve no idea where the role will lead over the next couple of years – one possibility is that I might have another go at completing a PhD (part-time) and then see if I can get a lectureship, which would be the next logical step on the University career ladder.

My current job has a three month notice period, but I managed to negotiate that down to 6-7 weeks so I can leave at the end of November, and hopefully start at the University at the beginning of December.

posted by Paul at 5:07pm on Tuesday 15th October 2013 | Comments Off on New job

Another book clearout

Having moved again I’ve now found myself in the possession of books which I either don’t read or have electronic versions for me to purchase. If you want any of the books and can pick them up from me in person (posting is too much hassle), post a comment or drop me an email. They’re all free to a good home, and I’ve linked to the relevant edition on Amazon. Anything unclaimed by the end of September will go to charity or MadLab.

More books to follow once I have got this batch off my hands.

posted by Paul at 12:17pm on Sunday 22nd September 2013 | Comments Off on Another book clearout

Achievement unlocked: House sale

My house sale completed yesterday, so I can no longer tell people to “get orf my land” in a Somerset accent. I’m now looking for a flat in the city centre or Didsbury, on the basis that being in Bury is a crimp on my social life – plus another reason which I can’t mention for a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I’m back at my parents’ house, which is a bit cramped but will force me to work out what I actually want to keep from the mountain of stuff I’ve accumulated over the years.

posted by Paul at 10:28pm on Saturday 21st September 2013 | Comments Off on Achievement unlocked: House sale

Solicitors for house sales and purchases

Recently I was asked for recommendations on which solicitors to use for house sales/purchases. I ended up composing a fairly lengthy email, and thought it might be useful to others as well. None of this is legal advice for your specific situation – it’s more a general guide as to how you might find someone to provide you with that advice.

The first thing you need to check is whether your mortgage provider will allow you to use any solicitor (assuming you are buying and borrowing to do so). There are three possibilities:

  1. You can use any solicitor.
  2. You can use any solicitor, provided they are on the lender’s panel or are willing to join the panel.
  3. You can only use a solicitor from the lender’s panel.

If your mortgage includes the payment of legal fees, you will probably have to use whatever solicitor the lender provides. Be very careful about checking first, as otherwise you could end up having to pay two solicitors: yours and the lender’s if they are different firms.

Solicitors I have experience of dealing with for residential property transactions are Peter Robinson & Co (reasonably efficient, but based in Oldham) and AST Hampsons (efficient and open on Saturday mornings) – specifically the Bury branch. One of my friends from university, Gareth Aubrey, also works at Griffiths ings (I haven’t used them, but if you ask for Gareth and mention my name he’ll at least know where you’re coming from).

Whilst you can do everything by post, you might find it more convenient to use a local solicitor near your house or work, as then you can drop off and pick up documents without risking loss/delay in the postal system. Small firms are likely to give you a better service – large firms are unlikely to care about residential property unless you are spending substantial amounts or are an important client who might have other business to send their way (e.g. a CEO who will use them for corporate issues).

Watch out for hidden costs – there are two main types of charges/fees:

Solicitor fees: Pays for the time of dealing with your case. May be paid by your mortgage provider, and will probably be around 1% of the price paid for the property (or about £400-500 if you are just selling).

Disbursements: These are costs the solicitor incurs on your behalf, such as Land Registry searches, CHAPS fees etc. They will be recharged to you at cost, possibly with VAT added. Budget around £500 for this. Watch out if your lender says they will pay for your solicitor – they usually mean just the fees and not the disbursements.

You will have to pay all the costs even if the offer falls through. However, your solicitor might pro-rata the fees if they’ve only completed some of the work, and they shouldn’t charge you for any costs they’ve not incurred (e.g. if it falls through before they’ve started the searches).

Just to complicate matters, there are two types of firms: conveyancers and solicitors. Conveyancers just handle property/land sales and purchases, solicitors are more general but will usually have someone who specialises in conveyancing. There are slight differences in how they are regulated and insured, but nothing of practical significance. You might find a conveyancer a bit easier to deal with as they’re a specialist, but they probably won’t be able to advise you on other services – e.g. if you want to make a will at the same time (though you can use a separate firm for this).

Before you register with a solicitor or conveyancer, call them and ask:

  1. Who their regulator is and what their registration number is. It will either be the Council for Licensed Conveyancers or the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Go to the regulator’s website and double-check that the details you’ve been given by the firm match those on the register. Especially check the branch address details – some rogue firms have managed to get themselves on the register by adding themselves as a fake branch of a legitimate firm.
  2. Who their professional indemnity insurer is. This covers the firm if you have to sue them for negligence – e.g. if they forget to check something or give you poor advice (the insurer will pay as the firm probably wouldn’t have funds to meet the claim). It’s compulsory for conveyancers and solicitors to have this insurance, so avoid any firm which is reluctant to disclose the details of their policy.
  3. How they handle client money. You will transfer your deposit into an account with the firm, so there is a risk that they will go bust before handing it over to the vendor’s solicitors. They should keep the funds in a separate client account with a trust deed that means it can’t be seized by their creditors in the event of the firm becoming insolvent. They will mix your funds with other clients in the same account, but they should have a mechanism in place to work out which parts of the balance belong to each client.
  4. What their fees are, including an estimate of the disbursements. They won’t be able to give you an exact figure as there might be some unexpected costs – e.g. if they have to order extra documents – but it will give you a ballpark figure to see if they are competitive. You may have to pay part of the fees upfront before the solicitor will commence work.
  5. Whether the firm will deal electronically – e.g. via email, allow you to make bank transfers instead of writing cheques etc. A lot of firms are still stuck in the 19th century, and even with more up to date firms you’ll probably have to do some things on paper.

Residential conveyancing is a pretty standard process at the sub-£1m end of the market, so there shouldn’t be a great deal of difference in price between solicitors. If you do find a price differential, make sure that the firms are including all the fees in their quote, as some will leave out certain disbursements or VAT.

When it comes to exchange of contracts, if anyone pulls out after this stage they will have to pay the costs of everyone else in the chain. You might exchange and complete on the same day, which keeps thing simple, and your solicitor should be able to exchange on your behalf – i.e. you don’t have to attend in person.

If you’re buying a property with other people (e.g. a partner) you need to think about how the property ownership is split. Specifically it’s important with regards to what happens if one of you wants to sell (relationship break up, new job etc.), or passes away. If you’re not married, you won’t get any of the default rules regarding inheritance (including the tax-free transfer of assets), and living together doesn’t give you much in the way of rights. There are also potential complications with the difference between legal rights and rights in equity, but your solicitor should explain this in plain English if it applies to your situation. Even if you are married, it’s probably sensible to ask your solicitor about wills, just so everything is written down and agreed with regards to inheritances.

Finally, if in doubt, ask, double-check and if necessary get a second opinion. Solicitors make mistakes and have gaps in their knowledge just like everyone else, except when they mess up it tends to cost other people a lot of money. Also, I’ve found that if you ask the occasional sensible question, you get taken far more seriously than if you just sit there and nod at everything the professional says.

posted by Paul at 3:34pm on Wednesday 21st August 2013 | Comments Off on Solicitors for house sales and purchases

House and business plans

Despite having only been on the market for two weeks, I’ve received and accepted an offer on my house. It’s roughly what I paid for it, so if all goes to plan I won’t have have lost any money and will have effectively rented the property for the best part of two years (cost of interest plus maintenance work is roughly the same as renting a similar sized property). Although I’m selling and then buying – as opposed to at the same time – I’m going to start calling agents tomorrow so I can see what is available in terms of flats in Didsbury/Withington and the city centre.

Work-wise, things have more or less ground to a halt. I still have one day a week free to pursue other interests though, and there are a couple of business plans which I’m trying to get out off the ground whilst I have the spare time and a steady income – i.e. I’m not taking a risk in doing so.

One idea that I’m currently working on is PHP Recruiters, a specialist recruitment agency for PHP developer vacancies. There are a lot of IT recruitment companies out there, but two major bugbears I have about many of them is that they’re not run by technical people and they don’t answer emails promptly – if at all. I often find myself thinking ‘I could do this more efficiently’, and unlike solicitors I don’t need a licence or qualifications to set up an alternative option. I don’t know if there is a market for a technically knowledgeable recruiter, or standalone services such as organising interviews and external interviewers, but the cost of testing the water is only £5 for a domain name and a few hours of my time writing the content.

posted by Paul at 10:02pm on Tuesday 23rd July 2013 | Comments Off on House and business plans

House on the market

My house is now officially on the market and has made its way onto Rightmove and Zoopla (between them they more or less control the online market). So far the estate agents have been quick and efficient, generally turning things around the next working day (by industry standards, that is lightning speed).

Current plan is to sell my house, move back with parents in the interim, and then buy a flat in the city centre or Didsbury.

posted by Paul at 10:48am on Friday 12th July 2013 | Comments Off on House on the market

Moving preparations

The estate agent came round yesterday and took some photographs – fortunately as they sold the house last time and I haven’t done any internal structural work they can re-use the floor plans and measurements, which saves a lot of time. They picked up a few minor issues which might put off some sellers, but these are all small jobs which hopefully should be fixed in the next few weeks.

Expecting the house to go on the market early next week, with any luck viewings will commence by the last week in July.

posted by Paul at 9:22am on Wednesday 10th July 2013 | Comments Off on Moving preparations

Moving back to Manchester?

I’m feeling a bit stuck where I am at the moment, and considering moving back to Manchester. Initially I thought buying a house in Bury would be the right move, but I’m having to spend the equivalent (and more) of a service charge on jobs such as new boiler, new garage roof etc. The property is also just too big for me—I don’t even use two of the rooms—and keeping on top of the two gardens is a bit much (I like gardening, but not the amount which is required to keep everything ship-shape). Location isn’t a problem most of the time, but in the evenings I often end up waiting for a bus or walking from Bury to my house (about 25 minutes—fine in summer but less so in winter).

The advantages of moving back to Manchester would be proximity to social activities (I’d be able to stay for a drink after meetings), reduced maintenance work (I’d probably buy a flat in the city centre or Didsbury) and access to a wider job market (Bury is too far out to commute to places like Stockport or Liverpool).

Disadvantages are the hassle and cost of moving, being a bit further from family, and having a smaller living space. The hassle of moving doesn’t bother me too much as I’m used to it, and the bulk of my possessions are books which can be boxed up in advance and moved to my parents’ house for a short time. Cost is a nuisance, but the interest saved by overpaying on my mortgage would absorb a large chunk of that. Distance would mean I couldn’t pop round to my grandparents’ for a cup of tea on a whim, but getting to Bury and back in a morning is easily achievable.

If I moved back and continued to work from ‘home’, I’d actually find a cheap office in the city centre and use that instead. It would cost a bit of money, but would allow me a wider choice of lunch venues and mean that I would already be in the city centre when it came to evening meetings. It would also create a distinction between home and work which I think is a good thing.

I’m currently pondering whether to put the house on the market as-is, and accept that I might not get as much as I’d hope and selling might take a while, or pay for pieces of work to be done in the hope that this will up the selling price by at least the cost of the work. House prices appear not to have moved much since I bought, and a new owner would have fewer jobs than I did.

posted by Paul at 1:55pm on Friday 28th June 2013 | Comments Off on Moving back to Manchester?