rashbre central: October 2013

Thursday 31 October 2013

witching nation

Somehow the bill poster advertisements in Liverpool seem to be very tidily arranged compared with London. Of course they are promoting the various Halloween events and will probably all change in the next 24 hours. Sure enough, tonight's street fashion seems to be witches, goblins and zombies.

We're staying in rooms at the recording studio in the centre of the clubbing district at the moment. Last night there were guitar riffs into the small hours and tonight it's mainly drums and bass-lines.

Of course, the nearby clubs have their own sounds too, which quieten just before the dawn.

Wednesday 30 October 2013

espresso martini

espresso martini
I've decided to try an experiment using the iPhone for most of my snapshots over the next 2-3 weeks, instead of my various other cameras. I've always used the iPhone for casual pictures, like at an impromptu gathering, but usually regard it as a backup.

I suppose I still really prefer cameras with viewfinders, but I want to see how well-behaved the iPhone's camera can be, and I guess to do that I need to use it more purposefully.

I've already noticed that I sometimes accidentally switch it into a mode that overexposes everything (need to RTFM?) or flip it to video or burst mode unexpectedly.

I'll try to stay clear of all the special effects modes whilst I do this, to get a sense of the colour range and focusing. SOOC (Straight Out of Camera), so to speak. Some might say this should be a walk in the park.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

cupcake sushi

cupcake shushi belt at the chocolate studio
I noticed that the cup cakes on the sushi belt at the chocolate studio had a Halloween theme today.

As well as sparkles.

Sunday 27 October 2013

almost witchery time

Today's fallen leaves indicate the changing season.

Around Princes Street, here in Edinburgh, we've had a rotating mix of gusting winds, rain and then sunshine. Somehow we've managed to time our City forays to match the finer weather.

I'm less sure this evening.

We've been given a weather warning before we head into the Old Town for supper at the Witchery. It's already dark, the clocks have changed and there's a mysterious look to the skyline.

Friday 25 October 2013

a traffic based north-south divide

dominator conesTravelling north and finding a few problems with the roads. The original estimate was that we'd get to our destination at 18:06. The big road is the M6, which provides a 3-lane motorway link from south to north. There was some kind of major hold-up north of Birmingham. I had to give in and resort to the next big road that goes north.

That's the parallel A34, which is mainly dual carriageway and which goes north near to the M6. My sat-nav gave a revised estimate that we'd reach our destination at 19:30. Then the A34 was downgraded via cones to single carriageway accompanied by a major hold-up. I had to resort to the next big road that goes north.

That's the A51, which goes north-ish but you need to cut across to get onto it. The revised estimate moved to 20:06. Although the cut-across road from the A34 to the A51 had been closed. I noticed several cars behind me following a similar route and needing to abandon it. I resorted to another cut-across road and eventually got onto the A51 via a single track road covered in mud. Now the revised estimate was 20:30.

Unfortunately, part of the A51 also was closed and we were diverted by yellow signs onto the B-something. This was about the time that we decided to stop for a meal.

Afterwards, I looked at the sat-nav and the M6 and the A434 still showed a problem. We were able to complete our bypass manoeuvre, via the A49, but the revised estimate was now 21:54.

Yes, we arrived 4 hours later than the original estimate for what should have been our 5 hour journey north.

Could it be half term week?

Thursday 24 October 2013

chasing mavericks

Image 24-10-2013 at 18.49
I took the plunge on the new Mavericks version of the Mac operating system, OS X Version 10.9. Like others, I was slightly cautious about jumping straight onto it, but I've generally found the new Mac environments to be pretty stable. First up was the iMac27 which is, I think the phrase goes, "fully loaded".

It took a while to download the 5.4Gb update from Apple, but then only an alleged 34 minutes to install. No device driver queries or weirdness, it just worked. It hardly changed anything overt, except the desktop wallpaper which became a maverick tube of Santa Cruz water. It told me about an older program which wouldn't work, but aside from that was all pretty event-free. There's plenty of new things lurking in the revision, but the surface remains fairly clean.

Next was my MacBook Air, which meant another lengthy download. I resisted the temptation to do them in parallel, and just left the install to run overnight. Yes, by the morning it was all done although I didn't have a chance to check it before I headed to a meeting.

I was on a train when I read about another less positive experience and made me wonder if I'd return to something amiss.
Fortunately, it also works fine. The iMac27 performance for regular activities didn't seem any different (but it does have 32Gb memory and one of those fusion drives). The MacBook Air seems slightly snappier. It's a more modest configuration with maybe 4Gb of memory (I'm not using it right now and I can't remember) but it certainly works fine.

By comparison, I've still not updated my Windows 8 machine to Windows 8.1 because I'm wondering what the revised start menu will do and whether it will be worse than the utility update that I did myself to bring back "start". And my official work PC is still running Windows 7.

I think I'll call it riding the wave of technology adoption.

Sunday 20 October 2013

cake mix factor

Dr Strangelove
It's ages since I watched x-factor on telly but I sat through some of it yesterday. We started a good 30 minutes behind real-time but before the end had caught up and had to watch all the adverts.

There's a few savvy advertisers now who put a brand image throughout their whole advert, presumably to ensure it registers, even on 30x fast forward. A fine recent example of this is a mid-century styled cake advert by Betty Crocker, which uses their brand on the screen the whole time.

See how easily I'm distracted from the Xfactor? Even by a cake mix advert? One that says there's no-one judging?

Anyway, I've not particularly been keeping up with the premise that each of the judges gets a batch-bake of artists and also a vote to knock someone out after the public has voted.


In the spirit of game theory, surely the judges will want to retain whichever artist is the least threat to their own survivors? A piece of cake (sorry, Betty)

And where was the term X-factor originally coined? Game theory, by any chance?

Saturday 19 October 2013


I was caught out by a neighbour a few days ago. I'd been wielding garden implements twice within the same week. "But you don't do gardening," was the spirit of the comment.

It's the restoration of some of the grass, which needed extra seed and some of that top dressing to help to get started.

It's amazing how much technology I could have brought to bear on this simple operation. Instead I used handfuls of seed and stamped them down with my boot rather than dedicated lawn machinery.

Then the weather forecast said it was going to be bright and sunny over the whole weekend, so I assumed the seeds would have to wait longer for some rain to germinate. Wrong, of course, the whole weekend so far has been marked by downpours. Consequently, I'm expecting great things from these seeds. I even used the green coloured type, which mean the birds don't just peck their way through them.

Next week I may add some 10:10:10 fertiliser. Nitrogen:Phosphate:Potassium.

After that they will have to get used to the usual neglect.

Thursday 17 October 2013

Thursday Thirteen - another case of red

iphone 5s space grey red case
I know, I originally posted this picture a few days ago.

There's an update though. I've persisted with the leather phone case for a few more days and it's kind of broken itself in. The main difference from when it was new is that it has now acquired a small amount of flex. Real leather.

This is a good thing, because it is now much more easily removable than the first experience.

I'm still waiting for the replacement car cradle for the phone, and had originally decided to jettison the case when the cradle arrived. Now I'm less sure, because the case is becoming more pliable and consequently easier to flip on and off of the phone.

Bizarrely, since I detached the old 'factory fitted' car iPhone 4 cradle, the car is properly recognising the new phone via Bluetooth and all the controls are working.

Main personal observations on the new phone, which replaced my iPhone 4.

  • Better reception - holds signal better - both voice and data - like on the Waterloo train line.
  • Better speech quality on incoming calls - noticeably clearer
  • Better battery life - although the other phone was over two years old - I'm getting more than a day from the new one, with lengthy bizzo calls included. Still nowhere near my olden day Nokias which managed 5-10 days, but were -er- phones only.
  • Slightly larger form factor than the 4 but still fits pocket etc. About the maximum conveniently portable size though. Bigger and it starts to become a pingpong bat.
  • fingerprint sensor
  • Fingerprint recognition works really well. Although I've had to use three of the 5 slots for two thumbs and an index finger. And I sometimes forget that I can use it. What do they say? motor memory?
  • Snappier response than the old phone which was fine on iOS6 but seemed slower on iOS7.
  • Transferring old phone stuff to new phone was easy. It re-loaded the latest versions of all the apps in the process.
  • Needed a new SIM card - nano SIM now. Cutover was via web site and a couple of text messages. Very simple.
  • I was already using the new iOS7 on the iPhone 4, but tidied up folders and similar on the new phone. Simplified access and better organisation through the revised iOS7 embedded folders.
  • I'd already switched to the new tones, warbles and vibes of iOS7 - some of these are better and more tranquil than the old ones
  • Low power Bluetooth 4 is useful working with telemetry gadgets, like Fitbits (it was also on iPhone 4s, but not my iPhone 4)
  • Surprisingly good camera. I'm thinking of using it as a 'main' day to day carry-around camera now, along with a few of the camera apps.
  • Siri is generally usable. To my surprise.

They say the iPhone 6 will have a bigger screen. I'm not convinced that the larger devices are not as usable, because once they fail to pass the 'jean pockets test' they start to be more like a small tablet device (aka phablet - eek.)

I'm not convinced that the form factor needs much work. There's a fashion thing about being able to recognise the next version and the range of colours etc, but some of that is mainly eye candy rather than functional. Like a pen is still a pretty good design as a writing instrument.

Other things missing still include Near Field Communications and, given that they've added a MEMS device for movement, they could have added the altimeter circuit too. There's talk of new edge based sensors for the next generation, but as they've just added the fingerprint gizmo, it would seem slightly odd to remove it again. And as the pixel counts increase, the processor power and ultimately the battery need to get bigger too, so there's a creeping size challenge to these things.

Maybe the rest of any telemetry will be part of the thingiverse iWatch, whenever it gets released? Although for me there is a flaw in any prerequisite to have the phone nearby in order to use the watch. I'm also not wild about having to charge a watch every few days either.

It's interesting though, because it starts to herald the next turn of gadget innovation.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

a fistful of kuai

The weird thing about the USA teetering on the edge of its implacable sovereign debt status is that the US dollar actually appears to be getting stronger.

There's no secret that America prints around $86bn per month of quantitative easing (a.k.a. new money) reaching around $2.8 trillion so far. I think the USA annual economy turns over $16-$17 trillion per annum, so its already printed about 16% of that as new money.

Intriguingly, the site that informs the rest of the world about this sort of thing is closed because of the US Government shutdown.
Oh, and so is the site it suggests referencing at the end of the message...
It raises an interesting point about global financial stability, because usually the traders move to the dollar in times of uncertainty. As this uncertainty is about the dollar, it seems an unusual thing to do. Except everyone knows that the uncertainty will cause the US presses to keep on printing money.

$500 Monopoly noteOf course, most of the moves that these highly rewarded traders make are part of computer algorithms and the 'flee to dollar' is probably built in, creating the paradox. Not that there's any real alternative. It would take decades to devise an alternate Monopoly currency to be used in times of strife.

From time to time a humorous three dollar bill is reproduced in America, usually as part of a satirical message. I even have a couple from the Lewinsky era, which I picked up in Washington. But it's currently the $16 bill that is receiving attention.

That's the one that George Osborne and Boris Johnson have gone fishing for, over in Beijing.
renminbi 100 yuan
Yes, the renminbi currency of Chinese yuan is the one to watch. Bottom right the notes even have the denomination marked in something that looks intergalactic.

So it'll be yuan, mao* and fen, whilst we watch the rise of the new ABP Chinese business district around the Royal Albert Dock, right next to City Airport. Maybe a new station for the Monopoly board, that Custom House Crossrail station due by 2015 is beginning to look a little understated.
Custom House Crossrail
* Okay, or jiao

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Enjoying Grayson Perry's Reith Lecture

Grayson Perry's Art Quality Guide
A few months ago I had an off kilter argument about the artist Grayson Perry. Not about his work, but about the location of some of it. I'd just seen it exhibited in London, but the other person running a gallery shop swore it was somewhere in Sunderland.

I think we were both right and it had been moved. Today I was listening to the Reith Lecture by the very same artist, during which he talked about whether the uniqueness of a piece was one of its defining characteristics. It made me briefly wonder if there was more than one copy of some of his, but I decided there wasn't.

His was a playful speech, (click here) covering points about arbiters of artistic taste, whether we (the public) are supposed to 'like' stuff in galleries, and the value of a good 'museum quality' piece to an artist's market price.

I've stumbled into liking Grayson Perry's approach. He's both serious and irreverent at the same time. He clearly knows his subject and whilst not to everyone's taste (what can be?) he will include messages and social commentary in the work.

I bought one of his earlier sets of drawings (Cycle of Violence) as a gift, but on closer inspection *cough* decided that it might not quite suit the taste of the intended recipient.

Plenty of points in his Reith speech resonated.

One was about the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. I think I've seen it a couple of times. Once before the extra layers of security protection and again more recently. Perry made the point it can't possibly live up to expectations, especially when there is so much theatre with the crush of people viewing it. More an ambient installation than a picture.
Gallery crowd 1
In my experience, there was another da Vinci around the corner, just as striking, more able to elicit the 'wow', yet hardly observed by the mob that headed directly to La Gioconda.

A different point from Perry was about the scale of paintings. Would size of the canvas directly influence the price?

It brought me to thinking of smaller pictures, like the topical one of the Goldfinch, which I saw somewhere in Belgium and is now the subject in the title of a new novel by Donna Tartt.
Madonna Litta - da Vinci and co.
It's surprising how a small picture can also be part of a big idea. In this case the goldfinch as symbolism related to crucifixion. Da Vinci placed the occasional goldfinch in his own work (as above), but Fabritius, whose picture gets stolen in the novel, netted the idea down to its essence. And in a picture smaller than an LP cover.
Carel Fabritius The Goldfinch

Monday 14 October 2013


Time to find properly waterproof clothes again.

The London commuter umbrella still works but some of the recent rain has been horizontal. Apparently, if cycling, the statistics for London are to only get caught by the rain 8 times in the winter months.

It seems too early to need to plan transit routes that are subterranean, rather than through the streets, but the early indicators are there.

Sunday 13 October 2013

Mixtape in Newcastle

Okay, shameless publicity for daughter Melanie and co-conspirator Lee Mattinson.

Enjoy ten minutes of fabulous Ingrid Hagemann's radio show from BBC Newcastle, describing Mixtape at the Dog and Parrot and Singles Club at Live Theatre. And a short slide show spin around Newcastle and Gateshead.

Win Golden Cassettes and Five English Pounds at the events!

Thursday 10 October 2013

a case of red

The man from UPS dropped off some electrical components in a couple of packets the other day. It was my updated phone and various related bits and pieces. The switchover was fine and it's all up and running. Using the 'Waterloo train line test', it's holding the phone and data signal a lot better than the prior phone.

There's one area of particular irritation.

It's the case, which is described "to follow every hole, button and curve of the phone". Yes, "even the holes on the bottom are cut to exact specifications with a high speed drill normally used for cutting circuit boards."

The thing is, with this red artwork on the phone, it won't charge in the charging dock.

It's too big.

The precision case fits snugly, so getting it back off the phone is a small test of strength. The only leverage point on the back is the small aperture for the camera. I'm not happy about using the '5 element lens' as the pressure point to remove the case.

screenshot_269As another experiment I tried using an old dock with one of the little old style to new style pin adapters. That doesn't work either. The 'new' pins are not long enough. So the phone won't work in its case on any music playback device from the older style (or presumably the new style).

The front of the new dock is also poorly designed given the new fingerprint scanner. There's a small overlap so that the button is fiddly to use.

I'm expecting the car cradle dock to arrive any day. I'm already predicting that it won't work with the case either.

I get the impression that the case/dock/connector designers have been kept apart on this particular piece of industrial design.
iPhone connectors

Monday 7 October 2013

Trainerroad experiment with cadence

TSS 101 cadence practice
I decided to have a go at a specific cycling test profile using that Trainerroad custom workout creator.

Most of the regular ones I use have a block shape for the ups and downs, but I thought I'd do something tapered, so that I could use it to practice increasing my pedalling speed.

To my delight it works. The basic shape is firstly a short warm up - I used this after I'd already been for a spin outdoors. Then a 15 minute segment progressively increasing the required power output by 'simply' pedalling faster.

I selected an gear at the start. Number 4 on the index. I then pedalled just above the target power line. It stayed easy for the first few minutes until I reached my own threshold limit (that's the white line across the graph). I'd designed the power graph to keep going. My idea was to simply spin my way through to the top without changing gear. It worked and did noticeably drive my pedalling faster than normal. My first go with this has already created a new best average cadence.

Then a few minutes under and over my threshold power and a repeat. The second slope was a shorter steeper interval which was also okay.

Then the final shortest slope where I failed to sustain the power. I'm bouncing along at my threshold level.

I'll try it again and am already wondering how to build something like this into another type of plan.

Sunday 6 October 2013

October seaside sun

October seaside
A chance to make the most of the sunshine, down at the seaside.

A pub lunch, people watching and a stroll, even as the shadows get longer.
October seaside

Thursday 3 October 2013

virtual cycling with a turbo trainer workout creator

Trainerroad workout creator
I've set up the recently adapted silver bike as the basis for turbo training during the winter months. The Doubletap indexed gears with the little number windows work a treat and give an extra feedback useful for turbo sessions. The leather saddle has lost its over-slipperyness since I re-Proofided it.

I've already clocked a few hundred road miles on it since I swapped the gear system over, and I've left a heavy duty TACX skewer in the back wheel to make it easy to pop on and off the turbo.
Hybrid bike gear swap 11:24 -> 11:32
One day I'll draw the schematic of the turbo set-up, which uses a TACX wireless Bushido trainer, which is ANT+ enabled, a Garmin Edge 810 to read the speed, cadence, heart rate and power and a TACX Head Unit to set gradients and generally vary the effort required. It really is a wireless setup, with the Bushido generating its own power from the pedalling.
I've also got a PC as part of the set up, which can read the ANT+ signals and commune to the house wi-fi. This is handy because I can then use the immense TACX TTS4 software. This can use video, google or virtual routes and varies the load to the Bushido brake automatically as the route is traversed. The little video illustrates some of the features and also why it can take the tedium out of turbo training.

As well as TACX TTS4, an altogether simpler environment, ideally suited to parallel watching a movie is Trainerroad.

Trainerroad can be used on a PC/Mac full screen to run a series of intervals, or the playback of the intervals can be run horizontally across the bottom of the screen. It works fine with the Bushido and the Garmin and can even send a virtual power calculation back from the PC to the Garmin.

On the PC screen there's a space for a full screen graph of the training workout or to make a space to watch a video. I've been re-watching Weeds and Green Wing.

One day I'll provide some comments about some of the training videos that work with Trainerroad, but today I thought I'd mention my latest quick experiment, which is to create my own interval training scripts.

There's an option in Trainerroad to create custom workouts, and they use Functional Threshold Power rather than an absolute value when the workouts are being created.

If that all sounds like mumbo-jumbo, it's to do with the point up to which one can exercise aerobically. At the threshold power, glycogen starts to gets converted to support the effort and one's exercise goes anerobic with lactic acid accumulating in the blood (and accompanying huffing and puffing sounds). The little video shows how to create the custom workouts.

The trick with the exercise programmes is to do base training in the sweet spot around Functional Threshold Power. Just under and it's good for endurance, just over and it's building power.

There's a load more numbers too, like the Intensity Factor of an Exercise and the Training Stress Score (the load that the exercise creates on the individual). I wouldn't dream of creating my own plans if I hadn't already used the system for a while. The basic system includes training plans for Base Workouts and beyond to Intermediate levels. I guess any sane person would start by using some of those. I know last Winter I went through the entire Base and Intermediate plan set (50+ different routines).

The point of all of this is to make any time spent in hamster wheel mode productive rather than just pedalling. The programmed routes from Trainerroad and TACX help to do this.

For me, a big advantage of Trainerroad is its reliability. I'm running it on a Windows PC in the garage and it always starts, identifies all the gadgets, creates the plans and saves everything back to the Cloud at the end of the session. It doesn't mind whether you run it with music from iTunes, DVDs, Netflix or integrated training videos from the likes of Sufferfest and RideFit.

In the winter months I'm sure I'll appreciate that reliability.

In other news I've refitted mudguards and lights to the orange bike ready for seasonal duties.

Wednesday 2 October 2013

ravens and writing desks?

many hats?
It said 138.9p on the pump before I pressed the trigger. After the guy in the shop had pressed the start button, the price changed to 154.9p a litre. Hardly an example of energy and fuel price freeze in action.

We've just had a slew of political party speeches hinting at pre 2015 election positioning. Behind the scenes, the UK, like America, continues to print money to offset the bank piracy of the last few years. It's quietly eroding pension schemes and similar long term money, ultimately affecting citizens who can't see any of it happening.

caucus raceI normally try to stay as positive as possible, but it's hard to think of a good storyline for the current situation. Our Chancellor of Exchequer George Gideon Osborne may have been travelling around wearing as many photogenic working hats and hi-viz jackets as possible, but it can't really wallpaper over Bullingdon Club membership, curious house expenses or that he is his heir apparent to Baronet Ballintaylor and Ballylemon.

Not quite the common touch his photographer is trying to promote.

Worryingly, across all of the conferences, I find my comparisons drawn once again from Alice's adventures. A mix of the Mad Hatter's tea party and the caucus race.