Friday, April 27, 2007


I am compost geek, originally uploaded by mike1727.

Air temp 11C
Compost in bin 1 34C
Compost in bin 2 24C
Soil temp 13C

Thursday, April 26, 2007


Compost coffee, originally uploaded by mike1727.

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

Suffer the little children

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

Tesco's double whammy on congestion

The Herts Advertiser - Key workers priced out of housing And it's 'even worse' for others: "FORGET trying to buy a home in Harpenden or St Albans if you are a 'key' worker.Harpenden is among the top-10 least affordable places for key workers to buy their first home. Key workers are teachers, police officers, firefighters, nurses and paramedics.St Albans, in 34th spot, is also well out of the reach of such workers when their average salaries are compared to the average house prices in the district."In St Albans the average house price is now 11.1 times the average key worker salary compared to 9.4 times in 2002.St Albans District Councillor Roma Mills pointed out that the problem was even worse for other workers who had no Government help. She said: "Workers are being priced out of the area. The Government has put a lot into key worker schemes but ordinary workers like shop assistants cannot afford to live here and we can't keep expecting them to commute from other towns."

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


originally uploaded by mike1727.

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.

Planted recently:
  • 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)

Carniverous V-Brakes ate my rim

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

Give me a child until it's seven and I'll give you the cyclist

We went to meet a bunch of the childrens' friends at a local park the other day. It was a warm, sunny afternoon so the park and play areas were swarming with kids, many of them riding bikes. There didn't seem to be the same penetration of bikes into the older groups of children.

This got me thinking-At what stage in a child's development does cycling start to become less frequent, and why? My sunny-day-at-the-park sample is fundamentally flawed, but bike usage seems much higher in early years (say 3-6) than it is later in childhood and adolescence. There seems to be a strong correlation between leisure activity and cycling in early years (Mum & Dad taking a child's bike to the park) which isn't strongly carried through into utility transport in later years. You don't see so many kids going to Saturday morning football/swim class etc on a bike, or cycling to school, and I'd bet that fewer families go for bike rides together than take their young children to the park with their bikes.

Factors like increased distance, changes in environment from park to road, perceptions of danger, fashion and increased complexity of journeys all play a part, but in the end what's lacking is the perception of bikes as a real, practical means of independent transport rather than a just another toy to compete with the playstation. This perception gap is key to getting more people on bikes- and it needs to be addressed early.

James Daley writes about the Cycling for London's Cycling Community and Emergency Services Awards in the Independent's cycling column:

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.

This is a great example of grass roots work on cycling, building and maintaining interest in cycling through enablers and involvement, linked into the school curriculum. It's the way forward if we want to build cycling locally, but this example clearly shows it won't happen by itself...this is where local cycle campaigns come in!

Read more about Liz's sucess in ceating New City Cycling club on the London Cycling Campaign website , at the safe routes to schools site here and at Newham Council's website.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

What's on my phone/more adventures beyond the browser

Mobile web 2.0 more adventures beyond the browser
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'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:

Star players:

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.

PulsePaper. Reloaded without second thoughts, PulsePaper continues update my wallpaper with a stream of 'interesting' photos from Flickr.

        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.

        Wish list:

        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

        Must . . .resist. . temptation.

        Must . . .resist. . temptation., originally uploaded by mike1727.

        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.