Category Archives: Waffle and randomness

Waffle and randomness

How not to change the tyres on your bike

Hopefully, in two weeks’ time, I’ll be soaking up the delights of Paris having cycled there from London – and I’m in full prep mode at the moment, buying up all sorts of things that I might need. I’ve also bought some things I definitely need – like some new tyres for my road bike.  They didn’t arrive in time for the bike’s service (mental note: when buying from Ribble Cycles, free postage doesn’t just mean first class instead of next day, it means it might take a couple of days to pick too) so, when my son’s football match was cancelled due to the downpour yesterday morning, I took the opportunity to change my tyres.

Because it was tipping it down outside and the garage is too full of “stuff” (and has pretty poor lighting), I decided to work in the kitchen.  Yes, I was that bloke with his bike in bits in the kitchen, and Mrs W. seemed to understand why.

Having changed the front tyre – rule 40 applies –  (and taken the opportunity to test inflating tyres with a CO2 canister…), I remembered that tyres are normally directional. Oops. I hadn’t popped the back one off yet, so I was examining what was left of the tread pattern to try and work it out, holding it up to the daylight from the kitchen skylight when… it slipped out my hand and my rear cassette made some nasty gouges in the edge of our rather expensive Silestone counter. Arghh.

After determining the correct tyre direction I found that, by luck, the front one was on the right way (50/50 odds) so I proceeded to change the back tyre.  I popped it back onto the bike – following rule 41 – inflated it with my track pump and, whilst watching the gauge more than tyre I didn’t see the bulge where the tyre had popped off the rim at one point. After pumping it up to 110PSI, I bent down to investigate and – BOOM! – the inner tube exploded right next to my ear. Not good.

So, spare inner tube fitted, careful inspection and this time everything seems OK.  I guess we’ll find out when I take it for a ride tomorrow.  Should have been a simple job – but was made far harder through my incompetence - and I spent the next couple of hours phoning around to try and find out if anyone can repair scratches/chips in Silestone counters…

There’s nothing in the Velominati Rules about being an idiot is there?

Waffle and randomness

The importance of good communications for project success

Once or twice a month, I travel to Manchester for work.  I usually get around by tram (Metrolink) when I’m there – there’s a stop close to our office and its convenient for travel to/from my hotel and the railway station.

Manchester’s tram system is being upgraded at the moment and, last week, I was amused by posters asking passengers to “bear with us whilst we make Victoria posh”:

As much as my southern sensibilities (actually, I’m from the East Midlands) cringe at the idea of “making something posh”, in fairness to Metrolink, they do have a great series of communications around their project (and whoever is responsible clearly has a sense of humour). One of my favourites is reproduced below:

“Dear [customers]
It can be fast.
It can be slow.
You can measure it in feet, inches, weeks, months and years.
And, occasionally, in leaps and bounds.
It’s going to take a little time.
And a lot of hard work.
But, rest assured, it is moving forwards.
Creating something better for us all.
So thank you for your patience.
And while our network is undergoing this transformation, we’ll keep you up-to-date with information.”

I like that poem, and I started to think about other applications for its use… something to consider for my next IT transformation project, perhaps – because good communications are vital to project success (and so many updates that I see are just dull walls of words).

Technology Waffle and randomness

Fixing the Apple iOS SSL bug on a jailbroken iPhone, without upgrading

My iPhone (4S) is jailbroken.  I won’t go into the details of how I did it as it changes with every release but I currently run iOS 7.0.4 and I used the Evasi0n method. Unfortunately, Apple has a pretty shocking bug in that version of iOS which means SSL transactions are not secure.

I didn’t want to go to the hassle of upgrading the OS, then jailbreaking again and, luckily, there is a workaround for fixing the iOS SSL issue on jailbroken iPhones without updating to iOS 7.0.6 (or 6.1.6) - although by the time I get this post written, 7.1 may well have hit the streets…

  1. Launch Cydia
  2. Switch to the Manage page, then select Sources
  3. Add Ryan Petrich’s repo (URL is http://rpetri.ch/repo)
  4. Go back to Manage and select Sources
  5. Search for SSLPatch and install as usual
  6. Restart SpringBoard when prompted

To test the patch (before and after), use the Goto Fail Apple SSL bug test site.

Technology Waffle and randomness

Some thoughts on wearable tech…

Almost a year ago, I wrote a great blog post about the rise of wearable technology. I know it was great, possibly my best ever, and it was inspired by some thoughts on the journey to work, hurriedly scribbled on a piece of paper when I got to the office, waiting to be fleshed out with research and published. Except you won’t find it anywhere, because I accidentally put the scrap of paper into the confidential waste bin…

Wearable hype

Fast forward to January 2014 and it seems that wearable tech is at the peak of the hype curve. I haven’t actually checked the analyst reports – it’s just an observation based on the tech news that’s reached me of late, particularly since CES.

So, whether it’s personal health and fitness, location tracking, lifeblogging, information on the move – or something else we haven’t thought of yet – wearable seems to be the first buzzword of 2014. But the key to making it successful is an ecosystem for devices to work together. My data is only useful when combined with other data – islands of Fitbit, Nike fuel band, Google Glass (bad example – we’ll come back to that in a moment) and other data sources are really just of personal interest/vanity (a bit like me publishing my exercise activities on Facebook) until they are combined to actually mean something. Whilst Cisco’s vision of a connected world sounds a little too Orwellian for me, there is definitely something there – could wearable tech, combined other machine to machine (M2M) communications (e.g. home automation) provide enough benefits to make us all sign up?

That’s where we come to Google. The current incarnation of Google Glass may be a bit clunky, but it will improve. Google’s acquisition of Nest is surely intended to provide a foothold in home M2M communications. Most people seem increasingly accepting of the ad agency’s services*, being prepared to exchange our personal data for “free” services that are of value. Google is about data. Vast amounts of it – and we’re generating more and more!

The personal communications hub

So what’s at the centre of all of this tech – surely something is needed to act as a broker, to combine data feeds and act as a personal communications hub in an ever-connected world? Ah yes, communications hub – that will be our smartphones then. Forget about where we will put the wearable clothing. As the technology develops the sensors become less obtrusive and less noticable.

 

The smartphone, meanwhile, remains as the voice, video, and data device that we carry about our person at all times. Increasingly powerful, with better battery life and containing a plethora of sensors, it can interact with others about our person and provide the conduit for our personal data streams – to and from the ‘net. Google is well placed with its online services, Android operating system, and recent steps into the wearable tech and M2M marketplaces (indeed, I’d argue that wearables are just one part of a much wider M2M market but it will be difficult to separate them soon). The question is, in this “post-PC” world, what are Apple and Microsoft doing to follow? An Apple iWatch has been rumoured for years – and I’m sure it will offer a vastly improved experience compared with Samsung’s Galaxy Gear but for now it’s just vapourware (or is that vapourwear?). Microsoft had the idea of building connected screens for its devices a few years ago but they just didn’t take off. Google’s Glass is the closest anyone has come to something that might just be acceptable in the marketplace but I firmly beleive that the watch/glasses/whatever-the-wearable-interface-is is simply that – an interface – something to use instead of pulling our smartphones out of our pocket.

One thing’s for sure, as wearables and M2M comms become more and more established, we’ll start to see some amazing uses for technology – as long as the privacy concerns can be overcome. It’s a bit too soon to say who will dominate, but short of a new entrant taking the market by storm, or an industry-wide federation of companies creating an ecosystem for smart devices, my money is on Google.

Random thoughts

This is certainly not my best ever blog post – perhaps it’s little more than a jumbled collection of thoughts – but at least I got something on the web this time (unlike the thoughts I had on virtual currencies in 2011, that never got further than an item on the “to do” list).  Talking of random thoughts, that reminds me… somewhere I have a t-shirt with built in light-up graphic equaliser – is that an example of mid-2000s wearable tech?

* I believe that most of the Google’s revenues still come from search, but clearly not in the UK or else there would be corporation taxes to pay.

Waffle and randomness

Good old fashioned incandescent light bulbs

The main light bulb blew in our living room earlier this week. Nothing unusual there – it happens. Except have you tried to buy a dimmable, bayonet fitted, pearl finish, low energy, 100W equivalent bulb? If anyone has found one, I’d be interested to know more because, for the life of me, I can’t find a modern replacement.

Luckily, our local independent hardware store (no relation) still stock “old skool” lightbulbs, so we’ve stocked up.  I like to be more energy efficient where it makes sense but the major retailers who have stopped stocking these bulbs have done so because they were lobbied by government the bulbs are inefficient – except all that heat they give off is not going to waste… it just means the central heating doesn’t need to work so hard, surely?

Of course, I’d like to save money, just like the next man, but have you tried to navigate the maze of light bulbs in the average DIY store recently?

Unfortunately, it looks as though the dimmer switch has failed too as the new bulbs won’t fully illuminate in the living room (but are fine elsewhere)… that’ll be a job for me this weekend then…

Technology Waffle and randomness

Collecting train tickets at the station? Seems it doesn’t matter which station you select…

At least once a month, I travel to Manchester for work. I tend to use the train, rather than drive because: it’s pretty straightforward; I can work on the journey; and I’m not so tired at the other end (although having the car with me can be more flexible at times).

Today is one of those days when I’m heading north but this time, instead of a straight out and back from Milton Keynes Central to Manchester Piccadilly, I need to be in Crewe tomorrow. That meant buying three single tickets – and even though my train from Manchester to Milton Keynes sometimes goes via Crewe, it cost more to break the journey than to go direct. That’s just one of the many vagaries of the British railway ticket system (and contrary to a popular money-saving tip)… go figure!

Anyway, the reason for this diatribe is that the Virgin Trains website defaulted to letting me collect my tickets from the “Fast Ticket” machine (a complete misnomer when it involves looking up and entering an 8 digit alphanumeric reference on a not-very-responsive touch screen using a non-QWERTY keyboard) at the origin of my last journey (i.e. Crewe) rather than my first (i.e. Milton Keynes Central).

In horror, after spending £150 on train tickets, I thought I would have to *drive* to Crewe to collect them! In a state of panic I called Virgin Trains (calls cost 4.5p a minute from a BT land line – on other networks you may need a small mortgage), who told me it doesn’t actually matter which station I collect the tickets from, as long as I have my payment card with me.  Bizarre! So why ask me which station I want to collect from then?!  (Maybe blame the Trainline.com back-end – or perhaps the rail ticketing systems…)

I didn’t trust the advice and didn’t want to be caught out whilst trying to catch the something-way-too-early train to Manchester this morning, so I headed to my local station to collect my tickets on Friday evening, just in case I needed to get someone at Virgin Trains to help me out.  Actually, I drove over twice because I forgot my credit card on the first occasion and left it next to my laptop on my desk, from where I’d bought the tickets (idiot)!

Anyway, the verdict is that it really doesn’t seem to matter which station you select to collect your tickets at – you can collect them in any Fast Ticket machine at any station (as long as you have the card used to purchase them).  Something that might be worth knowing about if you ever find yourself panicking as a result of some poor UX design on a website…

Motoring Waffle and randomness

Be safe, be seen #cyclesafe

Listen to a cycling podcast or read a cycling campaign website and you’d be forgiven for thinking that all of the issues with cycling in the UK are down to motorists, poor road design, and the mixture of large vehicles and vulnerable cyclists.

So, as I wandered from Vauxhall station in South West London to my hotel this evening, I was flabbergasted to see just how few cyclists had adequate lighting.  Perhaps as many as a quarter of the cyclists I saw on the Albert Embankment just after dusk had either no lights, or lights that were so dim as to be useless. I even saw one rider, in black clothes and with no illumination, concentrating more on operating his mobile phone than watching the road ahead.  I also watched as a concrete mixer truck pulled out of a petrol station, then waited for a barely-visible cyclist who appeared a few feet away: nice road bike; nice gear; no lights; death wish?

It’s not an isolated incident either. This morning, I had a ringside seat from the top deck of a bus as I watched a cyclist cut down the inside of a construction lorry, despite large warning signs on the rear of the vehicle warning cyclists of the danger (and the tragic loss of life earlier this week when another cyclist was killed after a collision with a tipper truck - for the record, I’m not suggesting that the cyclist who died was at fault – we simply don’t know – but that there are clear and evident dangers and the cyclist this morning was being reckless).  This is in spite of the efforts of organisations like TfL and RoadPeace with campaigns like See Me Save Me trying to warn of the danger presented by large vehicles. There was an excellent piece on ITV’s The Cycle Show about the issues that truck drivers have in seeing cyclists – and even the dangers that advanced cycle stop lines can present (it’s a pity it’s not been released as a public safety film).

It may be a minority that give the rest of us a bad name (I’m a cyclist as well as a motorist – and I can recount stories of idiot drivers too) but it’s a significant minority and the consequences could be fatal. Maybe the Times’ Cities Safe for Cycling campaign should focus on educating cyclists on the dangers they present for themselves and others, rather than just on the dangers that they face from other traffic.

[Updated 21:56 with reference to yesterday's tragic death]

Exercise Waffle and randomness

Great service, great bike, great experience!

I’ve written before about the interest in cycling I developed last year but I wasn’t able to buy a road bike at the time. A few weeks ago, that all changed as I found myself attracted to a beautiful piece of Italian machinery at just about the same time my bonus was paid…

Mrs W. may think it’s a toy but I’m currently building up to my first (sprint) Triathlon and hope to be riding from London to Paris with friends next year.  That means that my Bianchi Via Nirone 7 Veloce Limited Edition is ridden several times a week as we enjoy the summer here in the UK and I try to build up my fitness (and knock off a few more kilos) – indeed I’ll be heading out tomorrow morning (and anything that gets me up early on a weekend must be fun).

The reason for this blog post is not so much to rave about my first road bike though (lovely though it is) but to commend the dealer where I bought it.

You see, I spent weeks looking at various bikes from Giant, Scott, Trek, Cannondale, etc. and I found many helpful dealers along the way. Unfortunately, I also found some who were less so – Pedalworks in Dunstable wanted to charge me so that they could spend twenty minutes working out which frame size would be right for me with the Scott Speedster 20 I was considering at the time. I managed to ride a machine from lower down the range at Phil Corley Cycles in Milton Keynes (they didn’t have a 20 in my size) but it just didn’t feel as comfortable as the Trek Domane 2.0 I rode next. The Trek was a lovely bike but this years colours are just so… dull (the 2.3 is OK, but outside my budget). I was tempted by the Giant Defy 1 (but struggled to find one in red/white) and I even gave Boardman Road Team Carbon Limited a try as it’s a stonking deal but a bit too racey for me (a*se up head down – as someone referred to it) and, despite their best efforts letting me ride one around the loading bay, Halfords’ staff just didn’t seem to know much about their bikes and how they compared with the competition (apart from on price).  Then, when two people independently suggested I took a look at the Bianchi Via Nirone, I liked what I saw.

I called Epic Cycles who were a) incredibly helpful b) really friendly and c) willing to let me come and spend some time with them to work out what size bike I need.  And when I say “some time” – I mean an hour and a half fitting session working out how best to set up the bike. I said “but I just need to work out my size” and they said they understood – this is a sizing evaluation – apparently a full performance bike fit is 3 hours!

So I set off to Ludlow, and Epic’s Ben Williams put me onto the turbo trainer, before setting about measuring various angles to get me in just the right position, each time explaining why it was so important and how it will make a difference on long rides (I have the measurements, but I wish I’d taken notes!). The thing is, it works – who would have thought that taking 1cm off the stem would make such a difference in comfort but it does – as does the position of my saddle (height and fore-aft), bar height, stem angle, etc.  Not only that but it made a huge difference in my purchasing confidence and the order was placed very soon afterwards.

The Via Nirone 7 is available in various spec levels but Epic buy so many they’re able to have their own limited edition bikes built up.  Mine has a Campagnolo Veloce groupset (roughly equivalent to Shimano 105) and K-Vid Kevlar/Carbon seat stays which really make it a smooth ride.

A few days later, and the bike was ready for collection - Epic would have delivered the bike to me, free of charge, but I elected to collect it – I didn’t want to entrust my pride an joy to a TNT courier. Even better, when I bought some pedals to go with the bike, Epic fitted the cleats to my shoes for me (even though I’d bought the shoes elsewhere) and helped me to get set up*. Great service, great bike, great experience – and hopefully the start of a great new hobby for me.

Unfortunately, Mrs W wants me to ride around in neon colours now so that I can be seen… ah well, at least that’s an excuse to buy some more gear…

 

* That still didn’t stop me from falling off after failing to unclip at the first junction on my first ride – but that’s something of a rite of passage, I believe.

Exercise Waffle and randomness

London cyclist (for a few days)

As I’m staying in London for my training course this week, I thought I’d try and offset the hotel breakfasts and pizzas/corner-shop evening meals (I struggle to get a hotel restaurant meal on my expenses budget) with some healthy exercise.

We’re having a mini heat-wave in the UK right now (and very welcome it is too!) so, even at 21:15 my jog on Monday evening was a bit slow and sticky (and I gave up on tonight’s – it was just too hot!).

Boris Bikes

Consequently, I decided to take advantage of the (Barclays) London Cycle Hire (Boris Bike) scheme to cycle from the hotel to the training centre and back each day and hopefully burn a few calories on the way.

Cycling in London

I’ve heard a lot on cycling podcasts and TV shows about cycling in London and whilst six rush-hour journeys on a Boris Bike don’t exactly qualify me as an expert (even if I did cross some of the cycle black spots like Elephant and Castle and Blackfriars) I have to say that my impression of a lot of what’s written/spoken is a touch dramatic and maybe verging on the unrealistic.

Sure, cycling in London traffic is not always easy – there are problems where cycle lanes just stop; buses block roundabouts; and getting into traffic can be difficult – but much of that is about people being selfish (or hesitant) and it’s just the same with motorised traffic.

As for the danger – well, speeds are lower (if I get out on my bike back at home I’m straight into 60mph traffic on the main roads) and, yes, lorries and buses present their own challenges – but some common sense is needed there too.  I’m not suggesting that all of the tragic incidents that have led to loss of life are down to the cyclists – but take a look on YouTube and there are some nutters on bikes too…

Buses weigh about 12 tonnes; lorries up to 44 tons. A cyclist weighs perhaps 100kg so there’s no contest really – watch out for what others are doing and don’t put yourself in a risky situation.  I guess, as a former motorcyclist, I learned to watch out for people doing things that they shouldn’t – and on a pedal cycle you’re just that little bit more exposed.

A couple of things struck me though.  As a pedestrian in London, I’m always annoyed when cyclists nearly take me out on a zebra crossing but London cycling is very stop-start and I can see why people jump lights and don’t give way at crossings (I’m not condoning that behaviour, by the way – just empathising). I was also surprised at just how many cyclists there are these days – certainly a lot more than I remember a few years ago – and enough to make motorists a little more aware of their presence.

Cycling Policy

As for “Cycle Superhighways” – I do have to agree with the bloggers and podcasters there – some blue paint splattered on the road is not enough! I honestly can’t see the difference between one of the cycle superhighways (I used a couple of them) and the normal cycle lanes/bus lanes.  Even so, the idea of segregated cycle ways in an overcrowded city seems a little unrealistic. It would be lovely to create a dedicated cycle network but the costs are potentially astronomical.

Just as I watched BBC Newsnight examining the case for high speed rail last night (it’s something we need as a piece of national infrastructure but should we really expect a positive ROI – the Jubilee Line extension didn’t get one – and, in any case, can we afford it right now?), if I were mayor of London I’d be asking similar questions about segregated cycle lanes. That’s why TfL’s current “Vision for cycling in London” is a start but it will take time to build out. What we really need (nationally) is a programme to build cycling into regeneration and new build projects – not just in London but for all of our villages, towns and cities.

Boris Bikes

The London Cycle Hire Scheme is not perfect but it’s not bad either.  Only once did I find there were no bikes for me to use but I did have problems with broken docks (presumably preventing the scheme’s operators, Serco, from realising that a docking station is full – they certainly didn’t move any bikes away) and local residents resorting to adding notices to stop people from trying to use them (thank you!).  It is annoying to have to cycle a few streets to the next dock (and then walk back to where you wanted to be) but at least there’s a free BarclaysBikes iPhone app that I can use to direct me to some spaces.

The bikes themselves are heavy (23kg) and slow (three gears – all of them low) so cycling on a Boris Bike can be hard work. Also, releasing a bike from a dock seemed to require quite a physical effort – maybe OK for a stocky guy like me but not so for those with a more petite frame.

I was kicking myself when, after failing to change gear for the first mile or so of using a Boris Bike and thinking the lever must be broken, I realised that the gear change is a twist grip mechanism (doh!). Once I’d worked out how to move up to third gear, I rarely dropped lower (and was wishing there was a 4th, or a 5th). The step-through frame is surprisingly easy but the rubber grips are sticky in hot weather and leave you with dirty hands. One change I really would like to make – replace the tiny bell with a great big air horn so motorists can hear you (pedestrians too!)

My biggest issues were with payment.  The process of buying access and then being retrospectively charged for usage is a bit clunky and I could find no way of generating a receipt (I want to claim the cost of my cycling back on expenses). I’ve contacted TfL but there is a 5 day response on emails so am still waiting for a reply.

Conclusions

So – London cycling – hit or miss?  Actually, I liked it – and if I lived in London I would definitely be considering buying a cheap(ish) fixie for the commute (or an old road bike). My own bikes are too expensive to be left chained up outside an office but the cycle hire scheme is really quite convenient – unless you live in the suburbs (where there are no Boris Bikes) I guess.

As for infrastructure – yes, the roads are a mess – but that’s the same everywhere and whatever your transport methods.  I was surprised at how many drivers did seem to notice me  (pedestrians on their smartphones whilst crossing the road less so), with only a couple of frantic bell-ringing incidents and two “ois!” shouted at drivers who pulled across my path (although I saw an unmarked police car do the same to someone else this evening, before shooting off on “blues and twos”).

London cyclists should try somewhere else before complaining – meanwhile everyone should be encouraged to get out of their car and onto a bike for a day or two to see how it looks from the other side.

Tomorrow I’ll be off the bikes, lugging my luggage through the tube, then back home to Milton Keynes where we have lots of segregated cycle ways despite constant complaints that the town was designed for cars…

Site notices Technology Waffle and randomness

Fighting back to the spammers: charging for removal of blog spam links…

Right from (almost) the start, this blog has suffered from spam. I guess it just goes with the territory but I’ve written in the past about people who’ve left spam comments and then found Google’s index quotes them out of context or tech companies criticising their competitors “anonymously” in blog comments.

Even when I was helping my then-CTO to raise his social media presence, my employer’s PR agency was encouraging the use of comments on blogs to generate backlinks and now the tide is turning as Google cracks down on low-quality backlinks.

As a result, I’m getting an increasing number of emails from digital agencies including phrases like the one below:

“I’m writing to request the removal of a link to my clients’ [sic] site which is located at the following page:”

They’re (or their clients are) wasting my time, so I reserve the right to charge for removing such links.

The irony is that, over the last few years, Google’s index changes have penalised original content creators like myself in favour of corporate websites and this blog has just a fraction of the traffic it once enjoyed (oh, those were the days)…

Would be blog spammers at this site should check out the Rules for Comments.

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