Pages

Saturday, 25 April 2015

bicycle days are here again

I'm sure these bits go somewhere?
A messy bike picture as I start to get machines properly functional for the summer months. I'm doing the London to Brighton again in June and am thinking about which bike I will use.
Never usually this clean
I've been riding the aluminium hybrid which has good pumped up tyres, sharp brakes and my own patent gears using combined SRAM Doubletap road and mountain parts. It's the same bike I use with the turbo and doesn't normally get long runs on the road.
focus cayo
The summer carbon bike is functional too. Although ready for action, it will benefit from a quick once-over on the bike stand.

I'm actually torn between the speedy well-maintained Focus Cayo for L2B and trying it with my in-need-of-attention mountain bike. The lightweight Cayo got suitable Oohs and Aahs from my fellow cyclists in Brighton last year, but might not be the best choice. My experience from last year was that the route can be quite slow, with quite a lot of standing around. The mountain bike has crazy low gearing and platform pedals which, given the amount of standing around, might be better so long as it has some slick tyres.

I'll have to consider this, as well some more hill practice. Unlike my companions from last year, I wasn't able to get up Ditchling Beacon without a pause. Some would say it was the extreme choked road conditions, but I'll also admit to a lack of puff before I reached the top. They all bought triumphal T-shirts, but that's one I don't have.

Meanwhile, I'm still quietly clocking miles, this year at 1,491 miles according to my Garmin readout. My rolling year average is still around 4,400 miles although that is about to plummet when May 2014 drops out of the averages.

Still, I'm on track for my personal Bronze(74%), Silver(49%) and Gold(37%) for 2015.

Friday, 24 April 2015

in which an elemental squill overload moves from sanguine to phlegmatic

P4230001.jpg
I've been one of the many with that cough and sneezy bug that seems to be running around at the moment.

As well as taking some medicine, a side effect has been listening to more talk radio than usual. It's filled with politics and I decided to jot down a few of the confusing phrases that are being used.
  • austerity - a type of fiscal policy which politicians apply to the less well-off
  • avoidance - applies to taxation of the rich, taxation of some politicians and also to answering questions
  • balancing the books - an accounting practice that does not apply to political promises
  • blukip - a type of ill-advised compromise creating a coalition of chaos
  • bribe - offering something and expecting a specific outcome - such as cash for votes.
  • coalition - a mix of politicians that nullifies prior promises
  • coalition of chaos - applied to any cluster of politicians from different parties pretending to get along (see also blukip)
  • damn lies - telling people something that is untrue whilst deliberately hiding the facts
  • explanation - supposed to clarify, but used with good effect by politicians to muddy the water
  • insurance - scurrilous stories stacked to be played over the last two weeks before the election
  • I promise you - a phrase used by desperate politicians
  • lies - telling people something that is patently untrue, perhaps when they have a way to know
  • media clarity - randomly connected soundbites of equal duration per party, replayed with limited analysis.
  • negativity - instead of focusing on the issues, focus upon the opponents' point of view and disagree with it
  • personal attacks - frowned upon in civilised society but used extensively by politicians
  • quantitive easing - government condoned printing of vast quantities of money which helps bankers and well-heeled hedge funds
  • relentless negativity - as negativity, but focus on the opponents' personality and criticise it
  • sham - pretending something is true when it patently isn't - as in the next government having a majority
  • shut out the scots - a policy from the Conservatives attempting to stop a Labour coalition
  • statistics - see lies and damn lies
  • tax breaks - used by the well off to legally avoid paying their full proportionate share to support the economy
  • trickle-down effect - supposed to add money to the less well off by giving it to the very well off (see also lies)
  • truth - factual accuracy which is generally avoided in the latter stages of a campaign
  • uk deficit - a huge form of debt created by UK politicians
Yes, I know, I should keep taking the tablets.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

the best way to explain it is to do it, said the Dodo


Time to do another one of those voting quizzes. This time I used Votematch. A different process for the questions in this one, although a similar outcome.

Here's the one I did a couple of weeks ago with whoshouldyouvotefor.com. It shows my preferences based upon the questions and my responses are closest to Green, followed by Labour.

Today I used votematch.com, which gave a similar result, although the lower ranked order changes, with UKIP (who I would never vote for) coming out higher than the Conservatives.

Of course, other due diligence beyond the question responses is also required, although these systems are not that sophisticated. The whole process is also somewhat academic...

When I look on theyworkforyou.com it becomes apparent that my vote has almost no power whatsoever. Here's the last few results from the area: The male icon means man, female icon means woman, blue means Conservative, red means Labour, yellow means Lib-Dem, etc.

Hmm. Not much change there, then. And here's how the prior votes have split.

The blue picture prevails. Maybe the European results would be different?

Maybe not. Or perhaps the local election results for councils?

Yikes. All the findings are the same.

In my constituency the democratic process appears to lead to a forgone result of Conservative. The Bookies have odds of 1/100 for Conservative. That's without them spending any significant campaign money around here either.

The democraticdashboard.com website shows the low spending and Ultra Safe classification of the seat:

So despite the telly debates and sloganeering, it's much easier for habitual voters to drive the outcomes without needing to think about any of the issues.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

small theatres in London - a tube guide!


I spotted this on Diamond Geezer's website, but thought it was a useful addition here too.

It's the London Small Theatres Tube map, published by TfL and the London Assembly. It shows the best way by tube to get to the sub 400-seater theatres such as Royal Court, Theatre 503, The Rose, Menier Chocolate Factory, Rich Mix. Many are the type of theatres that get mentioned here on rashbre central from time-to-time and although the map is aimed at tourists, it's pretty handy for Londoners visiting the smaller venues.

Glancing around it, we could add (for example) the Leake Street Vaults and Udderbelly (both Waterloo), but I guess they are only seasonal, so perhaps that's why they don't get included.

Next, it will be interesting to see whether the map gets used or cross promoted.

experiments with Blu-Ray vs DVD to H.264 conversion

Blu-Ray and DVD writer
Aside from Apple not formally supporting Blu-Ray on their systems, there's the extra faff when converting them to a digital image to add to iTunes. I've got a Blu-Ray reader/writer (which looks just like the Apple ones). Despite being faster and USB 3 enabled, there is the lengthy extra step to process a Blu-Ray. It goes:
  • Use MakeMKV to pre-process the Blu-Ray into MKV format
  • Use Handbrake to squish it to digital streaming H.264 compressed format
  • Use MetaZ to add the tagging information to copy it to iTunes
I used the topical controversial frolicsome black fable* 'Die Blechtrommel' from Günter Grass as a comparison test, because it's one of the few movies I have as both as a DVD and a Blu-Ray (they were in the same packaging).
Die Blechtrommel
The original image converts to a MKV with German dialogue and carried over English subtitles at around 29 Gigabytes. Compressing it with Handbrake to H.264 quality RT20 takes it to 9.6 Gb. The MakeMKV + Handbrake process to do this takes about 35+25 minutes.

A straight Handbrake DVD extraction to H.264 takes about 15 minutes, including adding the burned in English subtitles. It's about 1.3Gb.

So:
- best quality: 30Gb, 35 minutes to convert
- high quality: 10Gb, 60 minutes to convert
- good quality: 1.3 Gb, 15 minutes to convert

For me it illustrates the trade-off between quality and simple ability to view. I'll still mainly stick with a 'utility' view that I'd rather watch the movie than see every last grain of sand captured during filming.

* 'whose frolicsome black fables portray the forgotten face of history' : Grass, left, as described for his Nobel literature prize - here with David Bennent who plays Oskar Matzerath, the boy who stopped growing and film-maker Volker Schlöndorff

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

roll on the summer tyres


I received that text a few days ago to remind me to swap back to summer tyres. And yes, spring is indicated with a late night hedgehog in the back garden on the prowl again. There are certain - er- signs.

So, I'm dropping the car in for a pit stop today. I'm wondering if the summer tyres might also need an update at this point. They are certainly legal, but may be getting close to that 3mm point where they ought to be replaced. Foolishly, I forgot to get the measurements when the wheels were sent off to Poole for the winter.

It can be hard to get too excited about tyres, although they are the thing that keeps the vehicle on the road. Like in cycling, the rule is to keep the black bit pointing down.

I decided to take a quick look the web-sites advertising tyre replacements. There seemed to be several categories.
  • The ones that imply "don't you worry about this, we'll handle it all for you whilst you sit in the lounge drinking coffee and using the wifi"
  • The ones that scream "Price comparison - we have whatever you need cheaper than anyone else"
  • The type showing racing cars and pumping music with a hedgehog being swerved around.
  • The fancy films with complicated diagrams explaining long chain polymers for rolling resistance and efficiency, short chain polymers for cornering and braking, the silicates, carbon black and cross linking agent.

For me, the diagrams about stopping distance seem more important. Tyres grip loses efficiency geometrically with wear(slower at between 8mm-4mm then dramatically speeding up after about 4mm). There's a well known chart.

And the effect of the same thing on stopping distance...

So when I'm sitting in my comfortable dealer lounge waiting to get the car back, I'll be expecting something with all the right polymer chains, at a good price and that is kind to hedgehogs.

Monday, 20 April 2015

does Fortitude contain the ultimate plot hole for a new series?


Ever since that polar bear on the tube's Arctic Circle line back in January, I'd been intrigued by the telly series Fortitude, which was delivered in weekly blips on Sky Atlantic. I even watched the pre-series trailers. The DVD set isn't making its appearance until June.

Sky spent plenty of money on stars such as Michael Gambon, Christopher Eccleston, Sofie Gråbøl and Game Of Thrones’ Richard Dormer as the police chief. There's a Met police detective too, played by American Stanley Tucci.

There's also great snow, mountains and lakes locations in Reydarfjördur, Iceland and Hayes, Middlesex. Oddly there wasn't enough snow in Iceland for part of the filming, so they imported loads of fake stuff from the world leading Snow Business based in Gloucester, England.

The budget for it all must have been magnificent.

The show started with promise, with some leading characters doing their thing in very dramatic climates, which, unlike some dark-scened Scandic-Noir, was mostly quite visible because of the cinematically brilliant whiteness.

Unfortunately, after about three episodes I found this wasn't something I felt compelled to watch each week. The series link recordings would stack up and I watched the series finale as a 4 episode binge from the Sky+ recorder.

I wonder if they'd ever intended it to be as many episodes?

The dominant viewing mode becomes one of icy anticipatory dread interspersed with the tungsten lit too-ings and fro-ings among the locals. Kind of snow-bound East Enders on steroids.

The main storyline plot points were generally signposted and guessable by late February, so there needed to be something else to keep the interest. They've been doing this with various slasheresque set-pieces dialled up to eleven.

"We're gonna need a bigger morgue," as one of the characters nearly said. "Let's do some Coen brothers scenes," as one of the producers might have said. They were positively buzzing with ideas.

And, in fairness, with all those glittering glaciers, there has to be an ice drill scene. "We're gonna need a bigger ice drill..."

Extra episodes would also account for some of the people and things that pop up and then disappear again part way through. Maybe the main actors were only available for a short section and other sections had to be scraped in, like a messily made jam sandwich. Try to eat it, it gets all around the mouth.

There's still some very effective scenes and proper surprises, once one has mentally switched to an appropriate movie watching mode (after mealtimes is best).

I've watched it all now and it's clear they are setting up Series two. For the survivors.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

froglet or soup-dragon? BFI highlights the divine Clangers Election Special from 1974.


40 years ago, on a small blue planet far away, it was polling day for the Clangers...

BFI are highlighting this 1974 episode which sees narrator Oliver Postgate trying to persuade the woolly creatures on the merits of party politics.

But the Clangers aren't taken with the prospect of a society ruled by one group - even though the Soup Dragon stands for election on a 'free soup for all' ticket and the Froglet just decides to oppose everything that the Soup Dragon suggests.

Click to play.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

take a look around you boy, it's bound to scare you boy


Aside from not mentioning the true size of the UK national debt (£1.5tn) or the possible increase of VAT to 21% (yielding £5bn per annum), another topic that gets scant commentary is the options around UK's nuclear deterrent.

It's very much a binary discussion typified by 'Yes, spend £100bn' vs 'No, scrap, it'. I recently re-watched the movies Dr Strangelove and Fail-Safe, which are both about Mutually Assured Destruction. Both from 1964, shot in black and white, one billed as a comedy with Peter Sellars and the other with Walter Matthau playing a professorial hawk to Henry Fonda's president.

No surprise that in both movies it doesn't end well.

Today's major political parties don't want to mishandle this egg-basket ahead of the election so we don't get much real analysis. "Don't unbundle this argument" as the strategists will advise.

I decided to have a quick look at some costs.

Technically a part of Trident's replacement, the most recent aircraft carrier built by the UK is called HMS Queen Elizabeth, and was estimated to cost £3.9bn. The spend so far is over £6.2bm, some 60% increase over budget, in around five elapsed years. I'll use that 60% as a typical budget overrun figure in my later calculations.

Next I thought I'd look at the rest of the main elements allocated to Trident's Successor.
  • 4 new submarines, to replace the existing Vanguards. These Successor class would cost (according to Tony Blair originally) £15bn-£20bn altogether. Originally it was thought that three, instead of four would be sufficient. The accident when nuclear-laden submarine HMS Vanguard crashed into a French ship and requiring a two-and-a-half years off the sea deep fix might have changed that somewhat.
  • Add a second aircraft carrier (HMS The Prince of Wales?), say £7bn. (i.e. a similar amount to HMS QE)
  • New missiles. Each submarine carries 16-24 missiles. The system will probably be based upon a lower capacity version of the latest American system, like the Vanguards, which use the Ohio mechanisms. Current Trident II D5 missiles cost about £16.8m, so a submarine full of them would be about £270m, before discounts for bulk. There's a standard size and shape for ICBM MIRVS, so I guess the new ones will follow the same form factor, only with more graphite coatings.
  • New planes to put on the boats. Each aircraft carrier will have capacity for, say, 35 F-35B jet-planes and about 4 helicopters. The F-35B costs about US$235m per unit. The next version (the F-35C) ups that to $337m. I'm not sure whether these will all need to be included into the budgeting - presumably the old planes will still fit onto the new carriers? I'll allow 40 units at £200m each = £8bn.
We could also add on the time delays associated with this programme.

The already built HMS Queen Elizabeth won't be ready for service until 2020. The pencilled in submarines won't see the first one in service until 2028. The existing Trident II D5s have modifications which keep them current to 2042.

This all represents a potentially never-ending sales model, linked to the Mutual Defence Agreement with the United States. It seems weird to sell stuff which can't be operational for such a long time that there is a real chance it will be outdated by the time it is operationally commissioned?
Scan Eagle and Super Hornet For example, I'd expected even more military planes to be smaller and unmanned in the future, like this reconnaissance Scan Eagle, which I spotted racked up next to a F/A 18E/F Super Hornet. Already in heavy use, the unmanned Predator is only one of a class of currently 15 distinct devices including the European EADS Talarion and the curious Italian Piaggio-Selex P.1HH Hammerhead.

But the conventional process is to sell the military some sort of container such as a submarine or a large carrier. Point out it won't do much unless it is populated with the relevant accessories (like a part-work magazine). Then sell or lease all the bits and pieces of missiles, warheads, planes and spares.

Leverage the technology and know-how (but not all of it) from the Americans.

If I add it all together I get something like:
2 Aircraft carrier: £14bn
4 Submarines: £20bn
40 (new) F-35Bs: £8bn
4 subs full of missiles: £1bn
SUBTOTAL: £43bn

But wait, we've already spent the first £6.3bn on HMS QE.

So £36bn * 1.6 estimation error = £60bn.

The other £40bn must be for spares and administration, I suppose?

That's if we want to get to that £100bn figure that is being bandied around. Not far from the £113bn TOTAL cost of the NHS in 2014/15?

The fact that all those expensive planes would then be floating around on just two expensive Palace of Westminster sized egg-boxes probably should not be mentioned.

The D5 missiles are spread over three or four submarines assuming no more shipping accidents. The missiles have a 7,500 mile range, can fly at 13,000 mph and have a purported accuracy of 120 metres at destination. The max per missile payload is 1.4 megatons, so a full submarine load could be as high as 22 megatons, which is about 4 times the power of all the conventional explosives used in World War II.

Like the movies, whether NATO or 'European Army', there wouldn't be much left if it kicked off.

The argument runs that there need to be a few sane nation states with control over nuclear deterrents, so that the nutty states are put off. Here's the list of who has what at the moment...Draw your own conclusions.
So for anyone that is interested in what a missile warhead deployment represents, you can try your own impact analysis here.

My example shows a single 1.4 Megaton explosion with 15mph wind-drift landing on central London.
No wonder the politicians are avoiding this topic.

Friday, 17 April 2015

snapshot photos software

P4091263
The new version of Photos arrived on my iMac whilst I was away. Time to once again decide 'whose the leader of the band?'

I've now had time to give Photos a spin but am so far rather unimpressed. Apple had two image handling programs, iPhoto and Aperture and for many years I used Aperture as the photo catalogue and basic editing weapon of choice.

That changed sometime last year when Apple announced that they would cease updates and switch to a new combined product - which is the now freely available Photos.

I can see what Apple have done, moving to an ostensibly Cloud-based version of their photo catalogue system, which works across all of the Apple platforms. Snap something on iPhone and it shows up in the same library as stuff taken on a Nikon DSLR. Actually, that was all possible with the older products although the speed was sometimes questionable. Now there's a revenue model beckoning as the libraries get larger.

In my case I'll say that Aperture and Adobe Lightroom have both been for a more advanced type of use. A few characteristics might include:

- 10s of thousands of pictures
- need for multiple catalogues
- Use of meta-tagging to describe the photos
- Need to use some of the copyright information
- Need to colour correct/change exposure/contrast or other base settings
- Ability to work with plug-ins such as Nik Software or Photoshop

The old iPhoto started to fall down on some of the above short-list - I know I'd have a longer list as well - lens correction, keystone straightening etc. Aperture and Lightroom used to play the usual hopscotch where one would be better and then the other one would overtake it.

It is no longer the case, and I moved my large Aperture libraries to Lightroom one week in mid 2013. I'll have to find the old post that described how I did it, because it involved using the utility called Aperture Exporter at the time.

My original plan was to work in parallel until things became clearer. That happened sooner than I expected because once I'd got used to the different layout used by Lightroom, I soon discovered that everything I'd previously used still worked, including all of the plug-ins and other labour-saving devices.

In effect I'd swapped to Lightroom as prime, along with a new backup regime which used straightforward Chronosync copying instead of the somewhat arcane vaults of Aperture.

So I wasn't unduly worried when Photos didn't appear with OS/X 10.10 and required a longer wait.

Now I've seen and briefly used it, I can see it is more like a lifestyle adjunct to the iPhone than to a piece of serious photo management software. I guess it's all a new code base, so there is a chance that it will get significant uplift in later versions.

I can't help wondering, though, if this is really the everyman software and will be designed to stay simple and obvious for those Instagram-like effects and snapshots of Mickey Mouse.

I've decided to stick with Lightroom for now.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

when logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead


Having recently returned from a world of immersive Disney characters, I could feel pretty at home watching some of UK political debates. In the US, aside from an accidental tuning to C-SPAN, I'd managed to escape nearly two weeks of the UK election broadcasts.

Now, as I return, the caucus race cartoon portrayal of politics is all too familiar. There's been a Prime Minister telling us how his party have reduced debt, but it's in a way that I can't understand. At least the BBC have named the Press Room as the Spin Room.

When the conservatives came to power, the national debt was somewhere in the £850 bn range. Now it's about £1500 bn. Yet we are being told it is being reduced. It's like being suckered into playing one of those shell games on Westminster Bridge and in this one the real numbers are being hidden, mainly by just not being mentioned. Instead we're given the differential calculus derivative because it gives a better sounding figure.

There's also a reluctance to say where the money to fund the extra steep government savings shown from 2016-2018 will be generated. It'll require at least 2-3x the cuts from 2014/15 to achieve the numbers for 2015/16 and then 4-6x the cuts to achieve 2016/17.

For the current government, I assume the advice from the American spinners being used is about 'mood management over facts' at this stage.

Oh, and preservation of Tweedledee and Tweedledum politics.

And the latest televised debate didn't really give much more useful information away.

I'll still hazard that the two main parties are sitting on around 33% each of the votes, including the maybe 40 or so Conservative swing seats that could go to Labour. At the same time Labour lose their Scottish seats to SNP and the Conservatives pick up about 10-12 seats from the Lib-Dems.

The Conservative strategists are still playing for an overall majority, presumably by bombarding the 40 swing seats with visits and special letters. The Tory side-swipes at Miliband continue and the potential allies of a Labour coalition don't do any favours by having flame wars with the Labour leadership.

A dominant approach of 'don't confuse the voters with facts' prevails. Maybe I need to join the caterpillar on the mushroom?

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

a petrol pump, a knife and fork, a cup of tea and a P

IMG_2700
Impromptu alfresco lunch today. Not the most exotic of locations, because I was at a motorway services. However, the sun was shining and the open air beckoned.

I could remind myself of the last two weeks in more or less continual sunshine.

A red admiral butterfly flittered across, two crows lazily looked at my lunch as if to wonder whether they'd be able to scavenge any.

Then, a solitary ant wandered across the table, no doubt on a search and report mission back to a distant base.