rashbre central: September 2012

Sunday 30 September 2012

Morden Tower

MT Audience
We'd arrived after the start. In fairness we'd also been in Manchester earlier in the day and the last part had become gently rushed.

There had been a couple of detours on the walk to the spot. One to get some Montepulciano and another when we'd walked along the front of the fortified walls instead of their inside in order to reach the entrance.

We could have known something about structures having an inside and an outside.

We could have used logic. You don't put a door into the outside of a castle except where there's the drawbridge. Sure enough we could see the little slit windows suitable for firing arrows at marauders.

Our objective was to reach Morden Tower for the poetry reading. Up some clattery centuries-old stairs towards a door jammed tightly shut.

We mused about how to gain attention "knock quietly, perhaps". I don't think the siege in 1644 would have seen the outsiders knocking quietly.

Then we were inside to hear 2012's North Eastern poets in the tiny venue where Ginsberg, Corso, Ferlinghetti and many others have honed their words.

Camera and iPhone-less, the picture is from Morden Tower's own archive.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

splish splashing around

I've been driving around the UK to various meetings and staying in a mixture of hotels over the last few days. I'm wondering if the wet weather has been following me around the country.

Last Thursday and Friday I was away and a couple of days later the place I stayed was in the news because of the torrential rain, a river burst its bank and part of the area was flooded.

Then I've been staying in another town at the beginning of the week. The hotel was also hosting an unrelated conference of some kind. I was in the coffee bar part of the hotel, blissfully unaware of the unfolding drama. The conference had been cancelled and several of the people in the hotel had been stranded because of other floods in the vicinity.

To be honest, I didn't quite believe what I was overhearing and started to google the local weather forecast and news, when I noticed the boot type footwear that some of the guests were wearing.

I still had a short walk to get to my meeting and realised that some of the area surrounding the hotel had been flooded too.

Fortunately my route was clear and also my subsequent journey home. I think we'd had a whole month's worth of rain in a day. Tomorrow I'm back on the road and after another day or two in the West Midlands I'll be heading to Manchester.

Hopefully, by then, Manchester won't be a source of more rain ;-)

Sunday 23 September 2012

tunnabora test on the trainerroad

Garmin Cadence Sensor
The rain was blowing horizontal by the time I'd decided to go for a bike ride this morning. It gave me an excuse to further shake down the winter season bike.

I was out yesterday in comparative sunshine on my blue bike, although I did notice a slight cooling of the air. Today it was time to take out the semi-winterised orange one, which I'd set up a few days ago, but only just added a cadence sensor so that I can measure things properly. At the time my early prep seemed needlessly pessimistic, but what a difference a few days make.

I use that ANT+ protocol for my bike metrics. It's a bit like a very short distance wireless personal area network and I decided to standardise on it about a couple of years ago.

Interestingly, just adding the cadence sensor to the bike means I can also use it as a sort of power meter when it is connected to a PC or Mac. Power meters for bikes are generally quite expensive, but there's a software version that simulates the effect and can be used for a workout.

I'm using something called Trainerroad for this purpose - which is surprisingly good and simple to set up. It uses ANT+ to link the cadence sensor, speedo and a heart rate monitor to the PC and then takes readings. It doesn't even need a readout on the bike, although I do use my Garmin for that.

I can then play various trainerroad turbo trainer tests whilst it sets goals and monitors performance like a regular trainer would do. Its doesn't control the turbo (or rollers) but uses their calculated resistance (virtual power) to set the targets for the workout.

I'm only working through the so-called Intermediate scripts at the moment, which (no doubt for ego reasons) is basically the simplest set of workouts, designed to last over six elapsed weeks. The first time you use it, there's a test to analyse for the maximum personal output sustainable over an hour (Functional Threshold Power), using two 8 minute tests. This then calibrates the other scripts so that they are do-able. If I'm honest, I found the original FTP200 setting too high and had to wind it down a bit.

I've now worked out how to set up the individual session to run at the bottom of the PC screen, with a TV show playing above it (I'm watching Mad Men Series 2 at the moment). At some point I might take some pictures of the set-up, but for now, here's an example of one the outputs from a one hour ride.
tunnabora test
To begin with I'm finding it difficult to track to the targeted output levels, although I suppose I'll get better with a bit more practice (& fitness).

Saturday 22 September 2012

golden spiralling - but not out of control

Before the picture of the sunflower scrolls out of the main pages on the blog, I thought I'd mention that it's a 34.

I don't do it with most plants, but sunflowers require that special extra moment to (a) estimate and sometimes (b) count the number of petals. Not if they are a complete field full of flowers, you understand, but if they are singular.

Some people are surprised that flowers have set numbers of petals when they grow, but I think I'm 'amazed'. I know it is all about Fibonacci series and phi and golden means, but for some reason the sunflower is the perfect type of flower to check that nature is still working properly.

The right number of petals for flowers are (1), 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89 and not really any other numbers (I know there's a few mutations, and so-called 'doubles' like on lilies, but let's stick with the main ones). The arithmetic is simply that the two previous numbers add up to the next available combination.

So my sunflower planted by the birds is a 34, and Pat's Michaelmas daisies are also 34s.
My picture of the complicated rose above is probably an 89, but it is a bit difficult to count the petals. I suppose that's the attraction of sunflowers for the purpose. They are easy to count.
The same thing happens with the spirally bit in the middle of a sunflower. The clockwise and the anticlockwise number of spirals are also in a similar ratio. It'll be something like 34 one way and 55 the other way.

Even pineapple bumps do it. Count the clockwise spirals and then the anti-clockwise ones. It'll be something like 13 one way and 21 the other.

There. I've managed to rationalise my flower petal counting. Now, back to the spreadsheets.

Friday 21 September 2012

drive my car to penny lane

penny_lane A bit of a helter skelter day tripper visit to Liverpool today, including a stop in a road with a famous name.

Altogether now, it was a magical mystery tour, during which I had to drive my car, following someone along a long and winding road.

I should have known better, but my ticket to ride didn't give me time to let it be. I suppose I was here, there and everywhere, before I had to follow the sun to get back.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

a bat, an indifferent hedgehog and a sunflower

Our sunflower planted by the birds
The bat that flitters around our garden at sunset is quite unphased if I'm outdoors and will usually swoop for a quick look before going on with its hunting for insects.

The midnight rambling hedgehog is similarly happy to continue about its fairly slow speed rummaging for earthworms. I have this theory about townie hedgehogs having a good turn of speed so that they can avoid cars, whilst country hedgehogs are more likely to roll up in balls which might not always be in their best interest.

The one in our garden treats me with indifference. And yes, I do know that song by Stackridge. And the one by the Incredible String Band.

Today's feature, though, is one of the sunflowers which have been donated by the birds. I spotted it a while ago, when it could have been mistaken for a fast growing weed. Fortunately I decided it was a plant in the right place, so it survived and today receives the iPhone photographic treatment.

Sunday 16 September 2012

pickin' me a bouquet of dogwood flowers

Candy 1
I took yesterday's bike picture with the camera set to 'automatic' and the flash-gun popped up. I couldn't help notice how it made the bike look quite shiny.

No such luck with these pictures of the bike's pedals. Most people seem to use either the original flat pedals that come with bikes, or get those road clipless pedals. For some reason I've always used the mountain bike type clips even with road bikes.

I'm sure there must be some down-side to using them on a road-bike, but I'm not sure that it makes all that much difference.

It also means that I can have the same pedal types everywhere and also that they have little flat pedal surfaces for cycling in other shoes.
Candy 3
The ones I use are called Candy and I notice I still have what would now be a collector's edition of an old type on one bike. The black ones are the long surviving originals, with special plastic inserts for different colour combinations - see my imaginative choice of grey.

The blue and the gold pedals supposedly signify different qualities, although I'd say the blue ones are by far the highest mileage.

And speaking of mileage, I see that I have now passed my 3,000 mile cycling target this year, which I think I decided would constitute a Silver Wagon Wheel award. My original target set back in January was 1,600 miles, so I think I'm doing quite well.

And I'll now see if I can achieve 4,000 miles by the end of the year to achieve a Gold Wagon Wheel. Construction and consumption of the wagon wheel (Silver at this stage) will follow in another post.
Candy 2
* title is a line from a banjo song... called Wagon Wheel.

Saturday 15 September 2012

steel frame and disk brakes being prepped for the upcoming season

winter prep already
This is going to sound sort of daft, what with it being sunny outside at the moment, but I thought I'd better check a different bike in preparation for the upcoming seasonal changes.

After my recent musing about the fixie, I've decided I'll go back to a retro steel frame and some wider tyres for the winter. I took it out for a preview spin to check that the various components were working. I know it's early, but I'd rather be adjusting things in the warm than later on when everything gets a bit more painful.

Truth be told, everything was in good nick, except that I discovered after the trip that the brakes were very slightly 'on' the whole time.

I'd initially put this down to just being on a heavier bike but after I'd finished I thought I'd just spin the wheels to see how they compared with my road bike.

Hmm. Quite a difference. The road bike's wheels will spin for quite a long time (many revolutions), whereas the steel bike was only 2-3 revolutions at most.

I initially wondered about oil and bearings and things like that, but then loosened the brakes just in case they were the culprits. Sure enough, there was a marked improvement. This winter steel bike has disk brakes, so I did that thing with the thin piece of card to get the clearances right and then retightened everything.

I think the next trip will be easier.

Next is to remember where I've put all the little lights and clip on mudguards.

Friday 14 September 2012

a surfeit of scrumpy

arch duke
We'd agreed to meet in one of those railway arch type wine bars near one of the main-line train stations.

It's a well-known London venue, but was surprisingly quiet when we arrived.

We'd both taken the precaution to travel by public transport, so that some modest imbibing would be possible.

I should have heard the buzzer making that 'Brrp' noise and seen the big red cross in the air.

But I didn't.

"They do a good cider here," said my friend.

"I'll give it a go," I replied.

It looked innocent enough and fairly clear. Not an obvious rough scrumpy candidate although the apples had that tart taste.

"It's only six-and-a-half-percent," said my friend.

I should have remembered that I am not very cider-proof.

We had a great afternoon.

Although I did decide to make it an early night.

And this morning's 6 a.m. start was surprisingly difficult.

Tonight it will be comfort food.

Beans on toast.

And no cider.

Thursday 13 September 2012

all of your adapter are belong to us

I see the new iPhone has been announced and that it can show even more icons for Apps purchased from the App Store on the new bigger screen.

The faster chip required to refresh the larger screen and the increased pixels require more battery, so they've shaved the circuit boards to pack the phone with ever more lithium ion polymer.

I also noticed that there's a revised connector - named Lightning, which is to go with the already available Thunderbolt high speed connector.

It's a clever commercial move to design a new connector.

None of the existing stuff will fit it, except with an expensive and fairly ugly adapter which costs about £25.

I guess next iPad will also move to the new connector, so we'll all eventually have another collection of defunct power blocks and adapters.

* excuse the poor artwork above. I've been using PS CS6 and not quite figured out a few of the changes.

Wednesday 12 September 2012

iPhone 5 unboxification

Katzenstok technology threatens to upset the launch of the newest Apple iPhone via Puppetshed.
Thunderbolt and Lightning, very very frightening me.

Tuesday 11 September 2012

sun appears again

Kudos to our fellow blogger Daniel (@danielh_g) for getting the lead in this advert for the Sun newspaper. I saw it on telly last night in the middle of a drama show and felt the need to rewind it and watch again. Very entertaining.

As is the way with T.V. ads, there appear to be several versions and the one I've featured above is the full 1:30.

The sun seems to get featured in these 'morph between scenes' type adverts, as witnessed by the one below about the sun coming out - and featuring the fastest beachside quickdraw of a mayo that I've ever seen.

And of course, there's always the ones where there 'Ain't no sunshine' too - as witnessed in the famous walkthrough scene in the movie Notting Hill.

Friday 7 September 2012

head clicks, but in a good way

Failed 1Tb disk from iMac
It's been a little over a year since I rebooted the way I'm operating and I can honestly say it's been a good change. I've also been a little surprised that there's still a pile of projects that I'd planned to do that haven't really reached fruition.

I guess it is partly because I'm still quite busy, albeit in a different way. I still have business meetings, phone conferences, travel and so on, although in a more balanced mix than previously.

I certainly feel more in control of my time and no longer get those Saturday morning business calls from the middle east when I'm in the Sainsbury's car-park with a shopping trolley.

Similarly there has been a drop off in the number of meetings scheduled on Californian time, which would often mean 8 or 10 o'clock in the evening for me.

Someone said to me that 2012 is blurring past, and although I understand the comment I'm not sure it's quite how I feel.

As an example, glancing through my 2012 photo albums is enough to remind me I've already had a lot happen. It includes time working in Wales, sunshine in Miami Beach, kicking around in Key West, the recent trip around a chunk of Europe as well as the inevitable London adventures. Add in some theatre shows and music plus the typical home stuff and it starts to get hectic.

I still found time to dismantle the broken disk drive from my iMac - I may even upload the video showing the broken heads clicking.

Thursday 6 September 2012

Thursday Thirteen (V52)

get shorty
Its an age since I did a Thursday Thirteen, but I'm reminded that it's a quick way to summarise a few random topics from today in a single post.
  • I arrived at the office today at 07:10, which I thought was quite early, although there were already several others sitting at their desks
  • A few of us decided to have coffee together in the downstairs coffee shop, to talk about the progress in the current Games and to opine on the government's re-arranged deckchairs.
  • We ended up talking about whether tubeless tyres were solid (No - they'd be very heavy).
  • And palmistry, including whether both hands need to be read (Yes, left for what it could be and right for what it is, apparently)
  • There was a new experimental desk which created some interest. One of those height adjustable ones. I was reminded of my time working in Denmark, where all the desks were electrically adjustable so that you could stand to work for part of the day, instead of just sitting.
  • Someone said it would be even better with a treadmill as well, but I wasn't so sure
  • I'd taken some papers in for bulk shredding, but noticed that somehow some important car documents had got into the pile. I'd already put half of the batch into the shredding container by this point.
  • I managed to get away at a reasonable hour and to finish working on something from home. I printed the draft on the new replacement home printer. The old one lost its ability to print red and although I think I knew how to fix it, there were an awful lot of screws and wiring looms to remove to get down to the laser mirror assembly. Better instead to get one that prints double sided.
  • The late afternoon sun also beckoned so I took the bike out for a bit of a spin, although I'm starting to think about where the next layers of clothing are stored away.
  • The pipistrelle bat is back hunting insects in the garden at sunset, swooping around the perimeters at a height of about 2-3 metres. If I walk outside it will flitter to have a quick look at me in passing.
  • Tonight's dinner was some kind of Jamie Oliver recipe variation, which was particularly tasty.
  • There was a half full bottle of French rose in the fridge from a week or two ago, which made a pleasant accompaniment
  • Now I'm watching some telly. A programme with loose connections to Bletchley, some Paralympics, an interview with Plan B and the strong debut episode of Being Human. Not sure whether to watch 'Get Shorty' now or to go to bed.

Tuesday 4 September 2012

i finally watch the hunger games

hunger games
I just got around to watching ‘The Hunger Games’. I gather the target market is similar to the Twilight films. They were not my cup of blood tea although I did like Being Human (UK version) which was another vampire type series.

I actually sought out The Hunger Games thinking I might enjoy it. Strictly, it is more of a teen-flick and the de-rated violence has ensured it's needed 12 Certificate.

The premise is a sort of ultraviolent X factor gone mad TV show that is used by foppish alphas to keep the manual working epsilons in check via fear. In a re-defined and slightly future USA, pick two people from each of 12 redefined US areas and in a fight to the death let the last person left standing be declared a winner.

We get the heroine and hero(ish) person defined from the start and watch the handheld shaky camera carnage as they fight their way to the end of the TV show, leaving 22 other undeveloped characters dead in the woods.

And that’s about it. No real commentary on the totalitarianism and no other resolutions - there’s a franchise to feed.

I initially had high hopes, but I found the run-on-rails plot-line started to drag soon after they disappeared into the forest. We got a series of well known war film scenes replayed with bows and arrows.

I preferred the bow and arrow quirkiness of the much lower budget and far more interesting movie ‘Hanna’. A next-generation super-heroine flick.
But Hunger Games is a film that’s made north of $400m already, so the producers and marketeers clearly know what keeps the X factor generation happy.

Monday 3 September 2012

cycling moments

eye burn
Coincidentally, after my post yesterday, I read FAQ's concurrent blog entry about cycling.

It reminded me of a few of my own non-expert observations during cycling.

City Version
  • Recognise that fixies are generally ridden by quick people. Some commuter lanes (like the Embankment around rush-hour) can be very competitive.
  • Other cyclists will, in general, be faster than me.
  • My own fixie is more or less a vanity project. I have even flipped the rear wheel so that it can freewheel. And yes, it has proper brakes.
  • The weight of the security and safety devices needed for London are around 1/3 of the bike's weight.
  • Stay away from the left hand side of big vehicles and expect car doors to spring open at a moment's notice.
  • Don't tell anyone where your secure secret bike parking spot is located.
  • For entertainment, it is worth stopping with the Brompton foldable bike around Westminster or Buckingham Palace and collapsing and reassembling it. There will be tourists genuinely interested in the process. The reassemble with a 'rear-wheel-flip' is particularly crowd pleasing.
  • The Brompton's hub gear is surprisingly useful.
Country Version
  • Overtaking in hilly countryside needs to be ego-less. The elderly couple or the tourers with laden panniers will inevitably re-appear. It is best to hop off and adjust something.
  • The countryside route long hills often have alternative quieter routes which are just as difficult but with less people around to watch the struggle.
  • There is a ping-whizz sound from fast cyclists as they overtake.
  • It's courteous to make noises when otherwise stealthily overtaking joggers and pedestrians in quiet lanes
  • It's good to say hello to people moving at similar speeds in the other direction
  • There is a point where getting wet ceases to matter. It is better to just smile in such circumstances and watch motorists give a wide berth.
  • Everyone has already heard all the smug quotes about the right clothing.
  • Surprisingly small adjustments to the saddle and even the handlebar height can make quite a difference to the amount of aches and pain.
  • A small camera is better than a mobile phone when needing an excuse to stop for a rest because it can look more obviously purposeful.
  • Take the small bag with the spare bits, mini pump, emergency £10 note and all-in-one tool.
  • Even a heavily squashed Nutri-grain bar at the bottom of a rucksack can be extremely welcome after a certain amount of pedalling.
I'm sure there's more and I may come back to add some at a later date.

Sunday 2 September 2012

cycling update

I've been keeping the cycling going, when possible, and just uploaded some more stats from the little Garmin gadget on the handlebars. Amazingly, despite the European vacation gap, I managed to keep up with my minimum of 160 miles per month in August (262 miles).

I've already passed my original target for 2012 (miles and calories) but back in January when I set it I said that I'd low-ball the target so that I could feel good about being ahead rather than always trying to catch up.

The interesting thing now is that I'm within sight of the 3,000 mile mark for 2012, which is a kind flattened version of London to Athens, zig-zagging via Paris, Frankfurt, Munich, Rome, Venice and Zagreb. I shall nonetheless consider it as my own Olympian journey when I click over the 3,000 mile mark some time in the next month or so.

No gold medals, but maybe a chocolate wagon wheel* when I get there.
* The XXL sized Olympic medals this year remind me of chocolate wagon wheels, although I suspect the currently sold wagon wheels are smaller nowadays. I will test them in due course.

Below: The truth about wagon wheels

Saturday 1 September 2012

a weekend at home

We'd sort of agreed that this would be a quiet, stay at home kind of weekend rather than gadding about. It's probably at least 6-7 weeks since we spent the whole time at home and it means a few things can get done around the place.

I realise this means the highlight is more likely to be the delivery of the Ocado groceries than, say, a trip in a cable car, but you should see that organic broccoli.

So it's become an opportunity to watch some of the uplifting Paralympics on telly and be quietly pleased that the coverage has maintained a good quality, albeit with fewer channels now it has moved to Channel 4. Kudos to whoever came up with that canal-boat C4 ident that flows to a view of the stadium.

Like many, I'm not familiar with all the special classifications used and there's some more noticeable differences in the speeds among athletes, but it's still exciting to watch.

The challenge now will be to find a way to bottle the positivity created from both the Olympics and Paralympics and to keep the sentiments flowing forward as we hit September and more normal news returns.