If you live in the UK and missed this you must have been living in a remote cave on the Isle of Arran or something.
In a nutshell, the National Audit office needed some sample data to do a random audit of shild benefit, which is a state benefit to which all parents/guardians of under-16 year old children are entitled. Although all the NAO asked for was 100 name,national insurance number, child benefit number tuples. What they got was an extract the entire child benefit database showing the info they'd asked for along with address and bank account details. Actally, the NAO didn't get this because some staffer burnt the lot onto 2 discs and popped them in internal post, whereupon they were lost. But that's ok, isn't it, bacause the files were password protected. (But not encrypted)
I'm slightly less rantingly angry thatn I was a few days ago, but still...WTF is going on? What makes HMRC think internal post is a secure transport system? Why are HMRC moving data on disks. WHY WASN'T IT ENCRYPTED? Ultimately, why does a junior staffer dealing with this sort of data have access to a CD burner , or come to think of it the access rights to be able to copy this data onto aany removable media anyway? Doesn't someone have the common sense to install THE MOST OBVIOUS AND BASIC security measures? How many social engineering attacks are there on this patently shite security infrastructure?
It's inexcusable, and most likely criminal under the UK's data protection laws. Apologies are not enough- I want arrests and jail time for whoever's responsible for opening me, my wife and my children to identity theft either now or at some future stage.
And forget all about ID cards.
The Register has a good article on the debacle.
I'm going for a coffee to cool down.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
If you live in the UK and missed this you must have been living in a remote cave on the Isle of Arran or something.
Monday, November 12, 2007
There are transitions in every parent's life when a child does something for the first time. There were had two today: our son read his first few sentences, and then came out with a word which had me going back to first principles to work out its meaning.
Today's word is digraph: two letters which when written together make a single sound. He must have heard it from his teacher but his use of the word, in correct context and with explanation, just floored me.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Sometimes things just, well, work out.
Yesterday we were scrabbling around looking for material for capes for a children's superhero party this weekend. Our car wouldn'r start so Tracey couldn't get to the market and I wandered down to the Galleria to see if there was a shop selling material. Returning empty-handed, I walked through reception to discover that Sony Ericsson were handing out..capes as part of a promotional giveaway.
Last night I was playing around with my new camera, experimenting with depth of field and high ISO black and white. Just a few minutes ago I got an email telling me I'd won 30 days of free coffee and pastries at our on-campus Starbuck concession.
Yes, I know it's just co-incidence, but it's nice.
Monday, October 01, 2007
There's no denying Autumn has arrived; most of the veg have finished so it was time to pull up dead plants, weed any tidy up ready for the winter. The veg beds are bare now, bar a few cabbages and some curly kale, all of which are going very well. (The kale is shaping up nicely for Calda Verde or Kale and Bean soup later in the year.)
With few exceptions it's been a disappointing summer for the vegetable experiment, both in the beds and the greenhouse. I'll blame it on the weather..
- Shallots 7/10. Grew well, not an incredible yield but they are tasty and very pungent- as I found out peeling some last night with streaming eyes. I'll grow more next year.
- Garlic 2/10. Poor yield, died back early. Planting in spring won't have helped. A possible for planting again in the next few weeks, there are already a few shoots coming up from bulbs I missed when harvesting them.
- Broad beans 5/10. Got off to a good start, minimal blackfly infestation once I'd nipped out the growing tips. The plants were battered by the rain at the end of May, then fell victim to some sort of rust-like infection. I'll plant again later in the Autumn at a slightly wider spacing and put in supports for next year.
- Runner beans 5/10. Not a huge crop, but OK- at least the poles stayed intact. When digging over the bed I noticed it was very dry where the means were growing, so they'll go in a different bed with more watering next year.
- French beans 2/10. Low yield and no-one in the family likes them enough for them to be worth the hassle next year.
- Courgette 3/10. Very disappointing, after being snowed under with fruit last year I'd expected a good yield, but many fruit rotted/mildewed at the tips before having time to develop. Need full sun for them next year.
- Lettuce 7/10. Good results- not show-winners but enough to make fresh salads. Need to pay more attention to sucessional planting next year.
- Carrot 5/10. Grew better than expected but were crowded out by other plants.
- Raspberry 8/10. Only a few fruits in the first season, but very tasty. I'll put in some more canes and better supports for next year.
- Peas 7/10. Reasonable yield and well liked by the family. Need to protect against pea moth and ensure sucessional planting next year- wider spacing would be a good idea.
- Cabbage/Kale 6/10. Looking good so far.
- Tomatoes. 3/10. Failed to control side shoots, resulting in lots of foliage but few fruit. What fruit there was tasted good. Need an earlier start next year, with fewer plants.
- Aubergines. 0/10. Abject failure- few flowers but no fruit. May try again next year but needs planting earlier.
- Chili 6/10. Produced fruit (still green)- no idea of the heat yet since they're still unharvested.
- Basil 4/10. Grew OK but nothing spectacular due to overcrowding from other plants. Needs more space and full sun next year, I think.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Despite the name, the 'ring road' is not really that grand, just a set of normal streets which link to run round the north side of the city about two-thirds of the way out. Traffic can be busy, but it's not intimidating. Close to home there's a couple of mini roundabouts about 75 yards apart; at this stage in my commute I'm well warmed up, the road is flat to slightly downhill and I'm riding fairly quickly (about 18-20mph), maintaining a distance of about 4 feet from the kerb to set myself up to turn right at the second roundabout. My speed and the distance between the two roundabouts means that I'm not holding up the traffic to any real extent and traffic in the other direction usually prevents safe overtaking.
Anyway, last night I'm about 3 feet from the kerb approaching the first roundabout when a van starts to overtake (pretty stupid thing to do, but no problem, I have space to move into if needs be), then pulls in sharply to within 18" of me when it's half way past and almost up to the roundabout (big problem). I slap the side of the van, not hard, just enough to let the driver know I'm there, and shout 'give me room!'. The driver bakes, and I clear the roundabout ahead of him. This is red rag to a bull to the driver, who then sits on my back wheel tooting his horn and follows me as I turn, keeping up the agression and the horn. As we approach a parked car he's nearly parallel and it looks like he's going to box me in. I'm on a road bike, so hopping the
kerb isn't really an option and I stop before we get into a road duel which I'll only lose. Most of all, I don't want him to follow me home.
The usual enraged cager diatribe ensues; I tell him he was too close, he threatens to 'slap my face like I slapped his van' and follows up with the tired old 'you shouldn't be on the road, you don't pay road tax, don't have insurance, yadda, yadda yadda.' He's virtually foaming at the mouth, won't admit he pulled in on me at the roundabout, won't listen to me, so I just let him spew his bullshit and calm down a little before saying 'whatever' and riding off unfazed.
There's no solution to this sort of outburst which doesn't invite further agression, so there was no point in continuing the 'conversation'. In retrospect I'm slightly annoyed I forgot to pull my phone from my jersey poket and video the encounter to follow up with his employer, possibly "CV plumbing" or similar but I couldn't be sure- a plumbering/heating firm in any case.
This incodent isn't a big deal, I've commuted by bike for more than twenty years, I'm well used to this sort of thing and it doesn't happen often. What bothers me is the degree of ingorance and bigotry and the downright agression of a small minority of drivers.
We need a local road strategy which educates drivers about leaving adequate room for other road users, and infractructure design/signing to reinforce the message.
On the other side of the Atlantic, blogger Cycledog writes about simialar attitudes in the US and references analysis which refutes the 'freeloading cyclists don't pay for the roads' myth.
Friday, September 14, 2007
It's the end of my second week of higher intensity bike riding, and for the first time so far I'm feeling tired. Tired, but at least not aching; with a couple of 'red mist' exceptions, I've been targeting lower intensity, longer rides in low gear rather than mashing big gears. I still can't climb worth a damn, but that'll come once I've got better basic fitness and shed a few pounds.
The 'plan' (a very loose interpretation of the word) is to spend about a month more just getting miles in my legs before upping the intensity to the next level by working more on hill climbing. The daily commute is up to around 7 miles each way and I'm doing two or three lunchtime sessions of about 11-12 miles. It's not really enough for base training as none of the sessions are longer than 40 minutes, so I'll chuck a few hours a week on a turbo trainer into the mix in a couple of weeks' time.
Here's the stats for the first couple of weeks. Don't laugh, I'm starting from a very low base! Some of the data is a bit suspect since my HRM seems to randomly corrupt samples.
Week 1 week 2
Mileage 75.4 89.9
Rides 12 14
Calories 4135 4357
Av heart rate 147 147 (in the 'fat burning and re-energise glycogen' zone. Ha.)
Max heart rate 171 170 (approx 90% of estimated max)
av speed 15.9 16.7 (not my primary target but nice to see an increase)
The target for next week is 100 miles, which should be easily achievable if it doesn't rain too much.
Days until I'm 40: 23.
Age-related angst level: amber.
Monday, September 10, 2007
The Tour of Britain is back, we have a Brit in yellow and a load of promising other British riders.
The Daily Peloton has an overview of the event, and raises a good question: the race is scheduled for the first week of school term, starts in a fairly inaccessible area of London and has no city centre crit finish. After the great sucess and huge crowds of the our de France earlier this year, can we really expect to see the same interest in our home event?
Lack of remaining holiday and a race route which finishes in Glasgow means I won't be able to watch it live this year. Typically, terrestrial broadcast TV coverage is meagre compared to the Tour de France, so I'm looking out for alternatives.
Off-road, Brits did well in the Mountain Bike World Championships, taking four medals in the downhill, including gold in the mens juniors.
Friday, September 07, 2007
40 approaches, and with it the customary angst payload. Baldness I can't cure, but I can (hopefully) regain some of the fitness I once had.
So, I've rediscovered my bike computer's zones feature, so my commute is punctuated by plaintive beeps as my computer snugly points out that either a. I'm slacking or b. I'm riding at an intensity which isn't optimal for burning my beer belly.
Spill, could be worse, at least I have on urge whatsoever to own a sports car-
Thursday, September 06, 2007
With a tip of the hat to Unphotographable.
Friday, August 31, 2007
Thursday, August 30, 2007
I've never been a fan of trail improvements done by non-cyclists. A fat design manual and a love of straight lines and smooth surfaces means these 'improved' trails lose the character they had, changing from interesting to bland, packed dirt to rolled crushed stone.
Farm tracks are another matter. They take tractors, for a start, and this means ruts and mud. This section used to be badly rutted and pretty swampy in winter; nothing impassible, but not a section you really want to ride at 8am on a wet January morning in the knowledge you'll have to wash the crud off the bike again that evening. It was a bit challenging to ride in the dark at times too.
Now it's looking weather (and tractor) proof, with a crushed stone surface which should stand up to the equestrian traffic too.
Thank you, trail pixies.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Spotted these just round the corner from West Kensington tube station as I was en route to a meeting.
Oybikes are rental bikes, available at selected locations around the city, though unfortunately concentrated in certain districts. The bikes are locked to special stands until activated by a PIN sent to registered users via SMS. The bikes I saw were well suited to city use with light, basket, mudguards and shaft drive (to avoid those chain oil on suit leg moments), and these ones at least seemed to be in good working order.
Given the nightmareish tube journey I had yesterday (20 minutes became an hour due to problems on the line I wanted to take), I'd have been better off travelling from Kings Cross to West Ken by bike. There's an OYbike rank on Euston road, just down from King's Cross station where I'd usually arrive by train; not on the station as I'd expect, but down the road outside a hotel.
Commute riding in an unfamiliar city can be a bit of a challenge. As an out of towner who usually travels by tube, my mental map of central London doesn't really focus on above ground journeys longer than a mile or two, so navigating and dealing with heavy city centre traffic can be stressful. As a result I often take the easier option and look for bike route and backstreet options which are more roundabout but often much more interesting. I'm sure this is the case for many of oybike's customers, and it's in oybikes interest to extent usage beyond the 30 minute free period.
So, you'd expect a bike2.0 outfit like oybike to at least present a 'quiet streets' option on their website routefinder then? Nope. The google-powered mashup the oybike site uses routes you down the major streets between the two destinations, not the quieter backstreets, and there's no easy way to change the route criteria to suit a bike.
The Transport for London site gives a better route.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
I can't adequately put into words the dissapointment I feel at this year's (alleged, at this stage) cheats, especailly Vinokourov, Rasumssen and Sinkewitz. Luckily my son isn't old enough to understand they're cheating, which is just as well since-up to now- Ive portrayed these riders as heroes and role models for him.
What were they thinking? Were they consider the team-mates their actions have affected? Did Vino think his epic recovery wouldn't be subject to scrutiny? Did Rusmussen think he be let off for lying about his whereabouts, or even that a missed tests wouldn't be seen as 'accidental' in a sport sensitised by scandal?
In the future how can we look at heoric efforts like those of Vino and Rasmussen without discarding them as drug-fueled?
Bah. Life bans for doping- get caught, end of career. No messing.
My symphathies are with Bradley Wiggins, withdrawn from the Tour along with the rest of the Cofidis team following team member Moreni's positive test earlier this week.
Monday, July 23, 2007
OK, here we go:
- I'm a talk radio listener. Not shock jocks, more 'broadsheet radio' - Radio 4, the World Service, random public serive broadcasters worldwide. Commercial radio winds me up- too many adverts and brain dead DJs. R4 primarily feeds my news/current affairs habit; Today for breakfast, PM when I get home, random stuff in the evening. They do air some crap stuff though- that's generally the cue for me to wander through the other digital stations. R4 or not, there's something in the style of a good spoken word program which I like; the rhythm of words, differences in accents add colour. Content too- I listen to stuff I'd rarely find otherwise.
- Despite a degree in Mechanical Engineering and a lifetime of being around bikes, I have little or no mechanical aptitude. Never ask me to fix your bike unless you've got a lot of time to wait. Come to think of it, I'm pretty much death to silicon too, so don't let me near your pc.
- On the third day of my first job I got a verbal warning about my coice of commuting transport. I was working at the Raleigh bikes factory in Nottingham at the time, and the engineering director was not impressed that I rode a Peugeot to work and locked it to the railings right outside the main office entrance.
- I met my wife becuase of the film 'Hardware'. Having watched it a couple of times, I decided to weld a robot skeleton out of scrap tubes and other stuff I fished out of skips, but put my back out lifting the weld set back into the car. Surgery ensued, and I ended up renting loads of videos from her shop during recovery. The rest is history..
- I'm an economic migrant. I used to do 'real' jobs in factories which made bikes, pumps and vehicles exhaust systems- like much of Britains manufacturing industry these firms went downhill fast in the face of Far Eastern competition and I jumped ship to telecoms. (A growing dislike of walking around factories in a white coat helped this decision significantly). These days I mine data for a living, panning for nuggets of insight in the datastream (more like data torrent) created by 14 millions Brits on 'phones. I 0wn your mobility data. Be afraid, be verrrry afraid.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
1 km in 42.6 seconds. Good start, but I faded badly at around 750m. Still, a good way to get the blood pumping at lunchtime, enough to get me on the leader board for a bit and plenty good enough for some team schwag- a pair of shorts and a shirt.
Friday, June 08, 2007
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
The compost heap is cooking away nicely- in fact it's steaming.
A quick probe registered temperatures around 62C in the centre of the pile- that's 143F, which is plenty hot enough to kill weed seeds and other nasties, and indicates that the carbon:nitrogen balance is about right.
Cornell university has a page on composting physics which describes the temperature characteristics of decomposition.
Material choice is key- the last load (which was around a 30cm layer over 1sq m so about 0.33 cubic metres) consisted of:
- 2 grass boxes grass clippings (form a recently-fed lawn so probably high in N)
1 shredder box (40cm*15cm=0.045 cubic metres) of shredded paper (bills, very satisfying)
- approx 4 kg spent coffee grounds
- approx 3kg kitchen waste (veg peelings, coffee grounds, teabags and paper kitchen towels)
- 1 large cup Garotta compost accelerator.
No leaves this time, unlike previous loads.
This was mixed together, on top of (but not mixed with) an already-composing layer of much the same material. No added water this time since the grass clippings were fairly moist.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
The veg project was going well until the inevitable bank holiday downpour wreaked havoc. Beans were the main victims- broads flattened to the ground, runners and French were battered by the rain and hail, lost leaves and had a couple of broken growing tips. A bit of time with string and cane should've saved the broads, and with luck the runners and French will re-grow some more stems. I need to plant up a tepee of runner/s French for a second crop anyway The outdoor tomatoes took a hit too, but tied in they seem OK.
Elsewhere in the veg project, the lettuce is going well and is producing enough leaves for tasty salads. Spring onions are just about OK but not really growing as strongly as I'd hoped. There's another gutterfull germinating in the greenhouse waiting for planting out in a sunnier location, assuming I can find some space. The first sowing of spinach has been similarly disappointing so there's another gutter of that under way.
The courgette plants are in, and I planted a couple of spare cucumber plants in the bed to see how they fare- better than chucking them on the compost. Also crowding into the second bed are a couple of butternut squashes which I'm hoping to grow up stakes: the idea is to have courgettes and cucumbers rambling at ground level to block out weeds while the beans, squashes and tomatoes work vertically. I've a feeling this bed is too crowded, but only summer will tell.
In the greenhouse, I'm beginning to regret planting so many tomatoes..I've planted up the ones I want to grow and the remaining dozen or so plants are either being given away tomorrow or going on the compost. Chillis and aubergines are growing well and will be in growbags soon.
Spuds seem to be doing well, though I'm not sure they are meant to have such rampant foliage- possibly a result of growing them in compost?
Sowed recently: in the greenhouse; spring onion, spinach and cabbage in gutters. Outdoors- country cottage mixed flowers in gaps in the beds, (which have germinated OK) and cornflower (which haven't).
Planted out: 2 courgettes, 2 butternut squash, black Geranium, Cosmos, a Day Lilly-like plant which I can't remember the name of, loads of Nasturtiums.
Friday, May 04, 2007
Anyway, the result was predictable- hardworking sitting LibDem retained his seat, followed by Conservatives, Green and Labour in last place. The Green vote was 1% higher than Labour, which is encouraging, and in the end the local LibDems are fairly green-tinted these days. Full results here, I must learn how to do tables in HTML.
Votes cast, % Votes cast, % electorate
CHURCHARD, GEOFF LIBERAL DEMOCRAT 1200, 53.1%, 24.9%
FOSTER, JOHN CONSERVATIVE 744, 32.9%, 15.4%
PAUL, ROSALIND MARY GREEN PARTY 177, 7.8%, 3.7%
McCOURT, RUAIRI ANTHONY LABOUR 138, 6.1%, 2.9%
Votes cast 2259
Thursday, May 03, 2007
Jason and me went for a ride last night. I'd planned for an easy loop round St Albans, pootling round singletrack in Batchwood, Symondsyde and points between. We had a quick look at Beech Bottom Dyke on the way to Batchwood, me scaring myself silly at the size (30 feet approx) of the drop from the trail into the earthwork. Onwards and just about upwards to the woods at Batchwood for a quick blast on the singletrack before heading off towards Harpenden and the rest of the loop. As we headed though Childwickbury we were caught up by a group of 8ish riders from one of the local shops, so we tagged along for a while, finding a couple of new linking trails through Sandridge to Symondshyde. At Symondshyde the main group was heading up towards Codicote; feeling tired I made my excuses and we headed back through the woods. Pretty much the last stretch was down a track leading onto House Lane. It's fairly smooth (apart from the collapsed badger sett half way down) and I ride it at least twice a week on the way home, so I shouldn't have had any problems..not so. Approaching the junction with the road and braking fairly hard I had an earth/sky/earth/sky moment, ending up braking with my chin as the bike flew over me and landed three or four yards further down the hill. Winded, but bike OK and no bones broken I picked myself up and we headed back to my place via the off-licence.. Woke up this morning with a few random achy bits and bruising, no big deal.
So...what did I learn?
- Commuting 20-30 mins each way every day does not give you the fitness required to keep up with the shop riders. More lard-burning miles required!
- I brake far too much in corners and need to trust the bike and flow round more.
- Don't touch the front brake on dusty fast bits!
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
It's high time television started to take cycling seriously... - Independent Online Edition > Features:
Pity the research team at Cycling England, the charity set up to promote
the activity. They've just spent four weeks watching Britain's leading soaps, in
an effort to track the way cycling is portrayed as part of normal life on television - or if it is portrayed at all. Their conclusions won't come as a great surprise to anyone who cycles regularly, since riders are used to being thought of as misfits who have taken up some weird obsession.
In four weeks of watching EastEnders, Coronation Street, Emmerdale and Hollyoaks, the Cycling England researchers identified 95 lead characters. Only two of them were shown to own bikes (Mickey from EastEnders and Amy from Coronation Street). Of the four times lead characters were shown with bikes, viewers were hardly given the most positive image of cycling - the most noticeable way in which a bike featured was when poor old Stacey from EastEnders was mowed down by a rogue rider.
Given that three of the four shows are set in city locations, where all the figures suggest that cycling is booming, the lack of two wheels on the streets of the shows seems odd. Emmerdale characters, given the hilly location of the show, might be forgiven for being less inclined to ride regularly.
Does the lack of cycling on television in general and the soaps in particular matter? Well, yes, if you believe that what people watch on television influences how they behave in their own lives. Soap operas are meant to feature characters with whom viewers can identify - if the characters never ride a bike, it's less likely people will think about this form of transport.
Phillip Darnton, chairman of Cycling England, certainly takes this view. It's no coincidence, he suggests, that 50 per cent fewer children cycle regularly compared with a generation ago - or that the UK has one of the lowest levels of cycle use in the European Union, in terms of the average mileage covered by bike by each citizen."The more cycling is portrayed as an everyday activity for normal people - on television and throughout the media - the more likely it is that the rest of us will feel more comfortable riding. If driving is always shown to be the default mode of ransport for Britons, it will continue to be so."
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Runner beans are heavy when they're fully grown- last year's bean teepee partially collapsed under the weight. The plan had been to use 1" poles this pear, but in the end all I had was these thin and whippy 6' poles. Delving into memories of long-past engineering lectures I made the joints out of wire for extra rigidity and added diagonal cross braces, resulting in a structure that is a lot stiffer than its components suggest. Time will tell if it's up to the job.
Friday, April 27, 2007
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Composting is a good thing (tm), pretty much all our veg waste, paper towels etc get chucked in a dustbin which I add to the heap once it's full. A couple of weeks ago we had a semi-annual purge of old paperwork which needed shredding and therefore wouldn't go in the recycling. Rashly, I put the lot in the compost- a good 2 bin bags full. This was rapidly followed by a load of kitchen waste and a lawn's worth of grass clippings to try to rebalance the green:brown ratio , in order to avoid a stinky mess of sludge at the bottom of the garden.
The Starbucks concessions at work give away their used coffee grounds for composing, so I picked up a couple of bags, mixing coffee into the pile in the hope of getting everything cooking nicely. The following day the compost felt warm to the touch, so I shoved the greenhouse thermometer into the middle of the pile to check...85 degrees F. Not bad. The pile was steaming when I added another six bags last night so I'm doing something right. There's still some way to go before I get to the 150F or so required to kill weed seeds, but it's a good start.
The Starbucks Coffee Compost Test- chemical analysis of soil nutrients in used coffee grounds.
Starbucks page on coffee composting
YouTube video (Which I've not watched yet, so don't blame me if it's crap
Bike training note- riding home with 8 kilos of coffee grounds in your rucksack is good training. Now I need to see if I can get away with storing tens of bags of coffee in my cupboard at work ready for a single trip with the bike trailer...
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
This week is the UN Global Road Safety week. Here's some chilling stats about the global carnage which just seems to be seen as 'collateral damage':
- Road deaths are now the leading cause of death worldwide for 10-25 year olds
- 1000 people under 25 die on the world's roads every day
- Every minute of every day, a child under 15 is killed or seriously injured on the world's roads
- 96% of child road deaths occur in developing countries
- 70 children a week are killed or seriously injured on UK roads
Seventy children a week KSI in a highly-developed Western country? Imagine the outcry if this was caused by two or three minibus crashes, or a train wreck. Every week. Year in, year out. But no, most of those 70 children get killed or injured singly, their families grieving alone- no national outpouring of grief, no charity appeal, no public inquiry. Few headlines mark their passing.
It's a disgrace.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
So, an expensive local housing market increases traffic loading as workers are forced to commute longer distances. A Tesco store drawing shopping traffic into the city and a occupying prime local housing land from where people working in the city could walk to work doesn't help either the local housing crisis or reduce congestion.
Protest and survive
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Spring has arrived, bringing with it our customary Easter period of sunshine. It's been unseasonably warm (10 degrees above average last Saturday) and the forecast is good until next weekend.
As a result, we've been busy. Easter weekend saw the arrival of the 'great anti child fence', partitioning the greenhouse and working area from the rest of the garden and screening the piles of bricks etc which remain from previous projects. It's a simple (ie cheap!) post and wire fence fronted with fern screening, probably not the most long lived material but it looks good.
Growing peas and lettuce in guttering has been a great success, with three gutters' worth of peas now transplanted into the beds along with a gutter shared between lettuce and spring onions. There's a further gutter of lettuce & spring onions growing now, but that's it for the moment as the beds are full or earmarked for the runner and French beans and courgettes which are germinating in pots in the greenhouse. I've sown catch crops of lettuce, carrots and spinach next to the courgette bit of the bed as they should be ready by the time the courgette grows big enough to shade them.
Shallots, garlic and broad beans are shooting up in the next bed, where the potatoes are also finally showing. I'd almost given up on the outdoor spuds- in contrast the bagged spuds in the greenhouse are way ahead and got their first earthing up. It's going to be a race for light between some of the beans and the spuds since they're quite close together.
I'll be dotting Marigolds into gaps in the veg beds to attract hoverflies, and I'm on the lookout for other companion plants to attract blackfly-eating insects to protect the beans.
The latest batch of tomatoes was potted out last weekend, adding to the tomato forest in the greenhouse. I grow tomatoes. You grow tomatoes. Everyone grows tomatoes, it seems.
The kitchen-window-ledge cucumber plant is safely in the greenhouse, and growing strongly- it'll need potting on into its final pot this week.
- Outdoor sowings of peas, lettuce, carrots, spinach.
- Indoor sowings 1 doz each Chilli, Aubergines in propagators indoors.
- 3 more cucumbers in pots in the greenhouse propagator.
- Hanging basket plants (inc Petunia, impatiens, Lobellia) in propagators indoors and in the greenhouse.
- 6 each of French and runner beans in pots in the greenhouse. (More to go in in 2-3weeks)
Another rear rim falls prey to the ravages of winter road grit and year-round Hertfordshire mud (with added flint dust for extra abrasion).
Disc brakes are looking more and more like a good idea, but at a high price- fitting them would mean new brake levers and shifters on top of two new wheels.
The green travel legislation which underpins the company bike scheme won;t help- employees can't buy accessories without a bike, and I don't really need another bike. No, let me rephrase that, I obviously need more bikes /, I just can't justify the spend. It is possibleto buy a cheap'n'nasty £80 Halfords bike just to be able to save money on accessories though...hmm.
Friday, April 13, 2007
Liz Bowgett, a teacher from Newham, for example, took it upon herself to get more children in her school on to two wheels. After announcing plans to launch a programme to give children some basic bike training, she found she was oversubscribed three times. Within a few months, she was managing a full-scale project: organising mass bike rides, building storage facilities for bikes at the school and buying a trailer to transport bikes for trips away, as well as buying second-hand bikes for those children who didn't have their own.
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
This post is a follow up to this entry on flickr, where I looked at the applications I was using most in November.
There's something about my N70 which means that over time the phone runs slower and slower, and strange behaviours start to creep in. The phone slowed to pretty much unusable levels when my memory card corrupted earlier this year, so I backed up my phonebook using zyb.com's free synchronisation service, downloaded the Nokia software installer and updated the phone's firmware. Some of the built-in applications seem to have changed with the move to the latest build- the music player is better, for example- but mostly it's neutral. My biggest annoyance, switching between browsing and bookmarks in Opera, is still very slow, taking between 1 and 30 seconds.
Armed with a half-gig memory card, I started re-loading applications:
Lifeblogger. The best I can find for uploading photos to flickr, but the version I have now needs manual intervention to import new photos.
ZoneTag. Still out there and still in prototype, Yahoo's very own minimal-click flickr uploader which location-tags your photos. Re-installed to see if it's improved, but not getting much use as it's still not reliable enough for my phone, and only allows uploads immediately after the picture has been taken.
Google Mail. This wouldn't load last time round, but loaded fine and works a treat. There's no messing about with setting up the phone's built-in email client, most attachments are readable without a translator and you have virtually all the functionality gmail offers at your fingertips.
Fring. A 'know your enemy' experiment in understanding the mobile VoIP experience! Fring is a Nokia-only app which interworks with Skype, GoogleTalk and MSN messenger for VoIP and IM. VoIP seems to work pretty well, but I get more than enough minutes for free as part of my contract so I don't need VoIP for national calling. IM works well, but hasn't displaced texting either.
I'm rapidly approaching 40, and maybe I'm a little old to be part of the IM generation. It's hard to beat the usability of the phone system for voice and text- sure it has its shortcomings, but you can call or text anyone on a single number, in the knowledge that you'll get through. With its multitude of different networks and standards, VoIP/IM won't get a real foothold until everybody's mobile has a VOIP/IM aggregator to allow all combinations of VoIP/IM networks to be used on the same device.
Screenshot for Symbian 2.45. A freeware screenshot app for Symbian phones, works fine and saves to jpeg or png formats, trouble free and easy to use.
Left on the bench at kick-off:Google maps. A previous favourite for route-finding and looking at satellite photos, just won't install for me this time round, giving 'not enough memory' errors when I try to install it on the memory card which still has loads of spare space.
Free transfer to the Sunday league:Widsets. Nice interface, lacked click-through from headline titles to the feed's website so ultimately useless.
I haven't exhaustively searched for candidates to fill these needs, but I have found that there are many useful-looking symbian apps which won't work on my N70. I'm too tight-fisted to actually buy software without a long, free evaluation trial. In an ideal world, all these apps will autostart when I turn the phone on, and will be robust enough to cope with handovers between GSM and 3G during data transfer and in standby)
- RSS reader. A real, fully functional RSS reader that allows me to easily add feeds, and preferably has an opera add-in. (Yes, I know mini-opera does this, but my phone chokes on mini opera)
- Podcast receiver. Similar requierments to the RSS reader (in fact one app that does both functions would be good)
- Better Flickr photo uploader- something with the tagging and location functionality of ZoneTag, but the ease of use and flexibility of LifeBlooger, coupled with automatic map placement on Flickr.
- Fix for my Gmaps install problem.
- A way of synchonising mine and my wife's diary and contacts info from 2 separate outlook accounts (one corporate, one on a home pc)
- A new phone with a better camera, flash and macro.
Monday, April 02, 2007
Our children are grateful recipients of hand-me-down toys from their cousins. This weekend it was skateboards, and they're really excited.
I haven't skated for 20 odd years. I also haven't been in hospital for a major spinal operation for about the same period. This is not a coincidence.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
7:15- breakfast. "It's a lovely day, aren't you taking your road bike this morning Dad?" "No son, I'm riding the woods today"
The spring solstice has come and gone, leaving behind it daylight saving time as a reminder of the changing season. This morning is cool, still and fresh. A deep red sun glows through the mist as I wheel my bike out of the garage and coast down the hill with the children's shouted goodbyes ringing in my ears. Which route to take...road..trail..woods? Thirty seconds later I'm turning off the road into the first strip of suburban woodland, weaving through the trees, dropping in and out of small chalk pits and hopping over trunks of trees brought down by the winter gales. This section is short and easy, but coming so early in the ride it's always a good wake-up call.
Out of the trees, up the alley, lift the wheel for the step up onto the road, cross to the next section of bridleway which the kids and I walked the other day, counting squirrels and looking for treasure. Thirty seconds later cross another road, faster now on a smooth bridleway past another pit where the carcass of last year's pantomime cow decays gracefully, papier mache flesh falling away from its wooden skeleton. Cross the lane, carve a line past a sleepy schoolboy texting on his way to school. Keep the speed up, unweight and float the first drying-churned-mud bumpy section onto the footpath skirting a field of winter wheat. This was muddy drudge riding a month ago, but dry and worn smooth by tyres, paws and feet it rides fast today. Float more bumps past the mist shrouded pond where coots stand on the bank taking stock of the day, more narrow fast singletrack to another lane. Cross the road to the next bridleway, down to the middle ring for the hill because I'm still warming up and not in hero mode. Easy spin up, avoid the collapsed badger sett which is a real hazard on dark descents, crest the hill and ride along the ridge, past the clutch of cell towers in a corner of a farm compound full of well-used machinery.
Real countryside now, pause for a photo at the gate at the end of the ridge, cameraphone not doing justice to the view but good enough to record the moment. The first section of tarmac- change up and spin along a single track narrow unfenced lane through the fields. Looks like the farmer's planted wheat this year instead of last year's sickly-smelling rape, good. F*ck, I don't remember that pothole, deep, sharp-ended and wide it must've been caused by the winter frosts. Ten minutes in and the first car of the commute is behind me but hanging back nicely, just as well because it's too narrow to overtake and I'm not pulling in. T-junction coming, I pull in slightly to give it room to get past in recognition of its lack of aggression. It's Simon, he lives maybe half a mile from me and works in the building next door. Brief hellos though the open window- "Get a bike mate" before he's off down the lane. I follow, peeling left through a gate onto the next track. Another muddy rutted nightmare in the wet, it's drying now. Slightly downhill, picking a careful line between the soft bits and the ruts where I stacked last year though lack of concentration.
Right into Symondshyde Wood, smooth flat bridleway, 'improved' with a crushed stone surface last summer. Birdsong in the tree canopy above, bluebells pushing through the leaf litter and sticks below, a blue carpet waiting for late April. The bridleway is the boundary of a strip of beech, I'm riding though tall commercial pines now, muddy patches, narrowing. Shots in the distance, bird scarers perhaps- there are deer in this wood but I think it's closed season. Passing a couple of familiar landmarks- rusting machinery left over from planting the pines- turn left onto a forest ride. Less familiar, this wasn't the track I was planning to use but it's heading in the right direction judging by the position of the sunlight slanting through the trees. Easy ride down to the lane, left and right through the livery stables onto a long flat farm track through open fields recently ploughed and harrowed to a fine tilth ready for planting. Clock's ticking, short of time. Change up, pick up the pace, spinning fast on the smooth surface. Left and right around the corner of a field bounded by high earth banks awaiting sand quarrying. Looks like we'll get another few seasons before the quarry reaches here. That square green patch of grass on the right used to hide a ROC observation post; post cold war it's filled in and used by radio controlled fliers. 8:21 and I'm pushing pushing harder now, past the clanking conveyor, though the gate and over the road to a disused lane. Faster still, turn hard right over the berm, meandering track through the parkland next to new houses, gravel pinging off the downtube. Cycle lanes through the housing past the postman delivering to mews style townhouses. Ivy Walk, Cornflower walk, Campion road- echoes of countryside which came before the aircraft factory before the houses. Roundabout, first real traffic and last quarter mile sprint to work.
8:27, drop into the underground car park.
Another day, another dollar.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
CycleDog: "Everyone who uses the public way has both rights and responsibilities. That includes motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, and even horse back riders or horse-drawn vehicles. I'm getting fed up with motorists who think that their larger, heavier, more powerful vehicle gives them a greater right to use that public space, and I'm getting especially fed up with the pencil-necked geeks who use their vehicles as weapons. It's an annoying problem, and that problem has a solution.
Cyclists should carry guns."
Camden Cyclists, an inner London cycle campaign group, have this excellent googlemaps mashup on their site which shows overlays of bike shops and routes. The combination of high resolution satellite imagery with vector overlays of routes in excellent since it adds a feel for the route which you can't get from a map alone- size of roads, complexity of junctions, shortcuts etc. They hope to add bike rack locations soon, though the ultimate mashup would combine this with a door to door routefinder- enter start and end locations and get a bike-friendly route map using quiet or less quiet roads according to your preferences.
Resources like this are a boon ror occasional London cyclists like me- I tend to go everywhere by tube when I'm in London, so it's difficult to relate to surface routes.
Monday, March 19, 2007
I took the bike trailer into the city centre for the first time for the weekly food shop on Saturday, eager to see how it coped with a load of fruit and veg from the market and happy to be avoiding shopping at Tesco.
Riding in from my house is easy- a round trip of 3 1/2 miles or so on flat roads, following pretty much the same route as I would in a car. Speed is never going to be an issue when pulling a trailer, just trundle along in a lowish gear and take your time, watching out for the extra length on sharp corners. Traffic was light that morning, so I've not yet found out what it's like to progress through lines of stationary vehicles. Once in the city parking was easy, just unhitch the trailer and chain it to the bike rack with the bike- no messing around queuing for a car park and searching for an empty space. There was plenty of room for the trailer, but parking might be a bit more of an issue when the racks are busier- we still need more racks in the city centre to make up for the loss of the railings on St Peter's street. Next time I'll push the trailer round the market to load directly instead of carrying heavy bags- another thing you can't do in a car.
Overall impression- quicker and easier than I was expecting.
A quick comparison of car vs bike costs for the trip- I was amazed by the amount of CO2 a car produces on such a short trip- as much mass as a bunch of bananas!
In the green corner, a bike trailer.
Ride into town- 10ish minutes.
Park on St Peter's Street, just accross the road from the market.
Unlock bike, load trailer 2 minutes, ride home 10 minutes.
Cost- approx £0.25. (Trailer depreciated over 5000 miles, bike over 12,000 miles)
Additional CO2- nil.
In the dirty brown corner, a diesel car.
Drive into town-5ish minutes.
Find car park space, park, walk to market- 10 minutes.
Walk back to car, pay car park ticket, queue to leave car park 10ish minutes.
Drive home 5 minutes.
fully allocated cost per mile (<10,000>
Hydrocarbons and Nitrogen oxides 1.7g
Thursday, March 15, 2007
So there I was, up early(ish), kids dressed, bag packed and psyched for an off-road commute on the nicely drying trails through Symondshyde. Blue sky, warm, a beautiful spring morning. OPen the garage, unlock the bike, wave goodbye to the family (they always wave from the window and shout goodbye as I spin off down the road). Get on the bike and the front tyre's flatter then a very flat thing. Feck. Thornholio kicks my arse once more. At least the road bike was ok and I blasted down Hatfield Road fuelled by caffiene and raw pissed off temper because I'd been looking forward to this ride all week. And I got cut up by an aggressive wanker in a BMW who thought it was ok to leave a gap of nearly a whole foot as he passed me before turning left at the roundabout 10 yards ahead. Some days I think Spike Bike has a valid worldview, I tell you.
In a perfect world trails are always dry, horses wear snowshoes and hawthorns are afflicted by a GM virus which makes them bear marshmallows instead of thorns.
Existing plants are pushing their way through, Autumn plantings are doing nicely, with good colour from the hyancynths, crocus and primulas though they're a bit sparse and will need more planting this year. Tulips are still growing, though this isn't too surprising since most pf them were planted very late. First signs of shoots from lilies in containers (though not in the beds), hopefully they won't get munched by the Scarlet Lily beetles which decimated the container plants last year.
The pear and peach trees are budding. We had some problems with the peaches last year so they'll need wrapping with fleece this weekend since there's a frost forecast. I think I've left the pruning too late for most of the fruit trees, so they'll have to wait until June or July except where the branches are getting in the way. The furtinia is lookng a bit unhappy in its container so it will need planting out into the last gap in the main bed soon- this is good since it will give some winter interest as well as a bit of vertical definition.
There are signs of growth from both shallots and garlic, which is very encouraging given how wet the soil was when they were planted. No sign of activity from any of the spuds though.
Peas are doing well in the greenhouse, they'll be ready to harden off once the forecast frost has passed before transplanting in 10 days or so. Sweet peas are doing well, and the first few broad beans are coming through. The first batch of tomatoes are safely transplanted into pots and stashed on the new racking, which is filling up fast.
I need to get hold of some more guttering- freecycle seems the best idea.
Planted this week:
- Another gutter of peas, planted nearer the centreline of the gutter this time to see if it makes a difference to root growth.
- A gutter each of lettuce and sping onions.
- Basil- a six pot tray under a propagator in the greenhouse and a girly pink 6" pot on the kitchen windowsill.
- Cucumber- 4 in pots on windowsills.
- Tomatoes- 8 each cherry/moneymaker/beef as before
- Spinach- 2 rows
- Spring onion- single row between the spinach to see if it works as a catch crop.
Monday, March 12, 2007
Phil Wadey runs the local BHS cadre (Hertfordshire) email distribution list, which carried this alert the other day:
BRIDLEWAYS (No. 2)27.02.2007
Hoyle, Lindsay That this House recognises the
importance of bridleways for horse-riders to exercise in safety and enjoy the countryside; notes that many bridleways are in poor condition or are abused by people using motorised vehicles; and calls on the Government actively to promote the use of bridleways, ensuring that those who use bridleways inappropriately are fined, to look to extend the number of bridleways across the country and to ensure that existing bridleways are kept open and are well-maintained for horse-riders.
Some MPs have tabled Early Day Motion number 1004 in support of bridleways.
Early Day Motions (EDMs) are often used to find out how much support different policy choices might attract, and to see whether proposed legislation might get through the Commons. This could be such a flyer. Even if not, it's important to show the Government that there is as much support for new paths this year as there was last time such an Early Day Motion was tabled.
If you would like to see the EDM supported, you need to write to your MP giving the number of the EDM (1004), and reasons why you think it needs support. It is always best to give your own personal experience relating to one or more of the aims of the EDM rather than to use a form letter.
This is well worth supporting if you ride off-road at all.St Albans MP Anne Main is silent on bridleways both in parliament and on her own website, and hasn't yet signed up to the EDM. (She's equally silent on cycling generally)
Find out who your MP is here, and then write to them using this free and convenient site.
Friday, March 09, 2007
They're growing nicely, there were only a couple of seeds which didn't germinate. The weather's looking good for the weekend, sunny and temperatures in the mid teens C- so not too much of a shock for the seedlings moving from a warm house.
That leaves me room for another batch, which will give me a longer harvesting season and some spare plants to swap.
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
John Broad, aged 89, of Shenley Hill, Radlett, had been due to make his plea at St Albans Crown Court on the charge of causing death by dangerous driving. However Judge John Plumstead closed the case because the defendant was suffering from Alzheimer's disease."