Blog

Unlike every other weblog you ever saw, this one is in correct chronological order so you can read it the right way round. But it always shows you the latest entry first so scroll up for earlier stuff.

The 2018 index will appear here in a mo ...

Good intentions

This year starts off like every other that I can remember; best of intentions on the road to hell.

If the man on the Clapham omnibus would feel threatened by my behaviour then I'm guilty of common assault without laying a finger on anyone. Oh, that I could push my way through life so idly.

It's much the same in all circumstances with all people. It's not your intentions that matter nor seldom the actual outcome of actions; it is how you are perceived by others who often have a preconception of your motives. What you may think is a joke, they take as bullying.

Back in the 1970s when Kevin Brewin, Gordon Wallace and I were turned away from campsites because we were on motorcycles, Kevin, a serving police officer at the time, advised against trying to reason with the proprietors. He pointed out that they had probably arrived at their view through bitter experience and that reversing it could leave them vulnerable to future abuse.

Times have changed and these days people arrive at their preconceptions through social media, alternative facts and false news. It's a waste of time arguing if your evidence doesn't fit in with their opinion. The hands have been set on their clock and the batteries removed. They are spot on right twice a day.

If you can't beat them, don't join them!

Damage limitation

It won't take you long exploring LPMCC.net to come across an error of some kind.

Quick and easy way to spell check a text document: Paste it into an email message that will underline doubtful words in red.

Despite procedures, automated checks and random sampling there are plenty of mistakes. Some are simply spelling and punctuation mistakes that spell checking didn't pick up. Indeed, every time I look at a random page another gaff pokes me in the eye.

There is a hierarchy for errors. Interchanging colons with semicolons in cascading style sheets results in elements on the page appearing wrong. Swapping a full stop for a comma in JavaScript can bust six thousand lines of carefully crafted code and screw up the whole website. Those are errors that give me sleepless nights worrying and then burning the midnight oil tracing their cause. Sorry pedants everywhere but incorrect apostrophes in the text only cause a brief blush.

O C C U R R E N C E S
P R O B L E M S
  PAGE
minor
severe
fatal
  SECTION
minor
severe
fatal
  SITE
minor
severe
fatal

Errors can also be subdivided by cause. Glancing back over recent problems show they stem mostly from carelessness (complacency, inattention and haste - just like RTAs) and ignorance (lack of thorough background research). Those are inevitably rooted in laziness rather than stupidity.

I'm indebted to regular readers who send a message when they spot summat up. Hearing about problems causes anguish but is far and away the most valuable feedback I get. Much better than chest-puffing praise.

What I really need is a strategy for dealing with errors. They need to be recorded, classified, prioritised, corrected, documented, mitigated, reviewed and eventually prevented.

As my school reports used to say, "room for improvement".

Don't look back

Recent cycling exploits reminded me of the painful consequences of not looking where I'm going. It's a lesson I should have taken to heart long ago.

Teaching people to ride motorcycles resulted in a lot of deep research and some soul-searching.

You can't "command your bit of the road" on a 125cc machine surrounded by juggernauts.

A moped can't "maintain progress" into a headwind on a 60mph dual carriageway.

What the hell does "60% on the front, 40% on the rear" mean? You know from experience. That's exactly what a novice doesn't have yet.

Then there is the old chestnut that 80% of motorcycle accidents are caused by the other road user. That's a slight misquote. Well over half of motorcycle accidents are single vehicle loss of control. Of multivehicle accidents most are caused by another road user. (And a disproportionate number of those other road users are fellow motorcyclists)

I even questioned the religious fervour of making rear observations. What? Even when moving off from traffic signals? Why? If you are going to be shunted then faffing about looking back only makes the prospect more frightening.

The difference between Teutonic and Carioca driving: In Germany the vehicle behind has priority so failing to get out of the way results in a Mercedes passing on the central reserve with horn blowing. In Rio the car in front has right of way which is why everyone races to be there.

One of the Caribbean islands issued a leaflet for tourists tempted to hire a motorcycle. It gave the usual sensible advice and included the warning not to look behind! "It's none of your business," stated the leaflet "watch where you are going!"

Sage advice. If folk would just look where they are going it would prevent a lot of accidents. Do you squirm when a film or TV programme shows a driver turning to face his passenger? It's as bad as watching an actor ride off with helmet unfastened.

Just make sure you aren't moving into someone's path. That's why you look back. And that is what essential "lifesaver" shoulder checks are for. Nothing more.

I asked Ron Bryan how many accidents were caused by riders not looking back before starting from signals and stop lines. He said "Very few, because everyone does look back before setting off."

Neuro mining

Running LPMCC.net takes a lot of resources. As well as the rent on our offices, the lease of website servers and full time staff salaries to be met there are the additional expenses incurred by our freelance contributors and consultants. Roland Potter pays for air fares and accommodation when he attends all the MotoGPs. Hans Veenendaal employs a huge number of researchers. Phil the Spill labours for hours in his extensive archives using the latest technology.

So far our income has come from advertising revenue, carefully transferred into an off-shore account to minimise tax liabilities, all perfectly legal.

In the interests of transparency here is the bottom line.

OutgoingsDomain & server costs£39.98
IncomeLatest 12 months£54.46

That is a healthy balance for our shareholders and investors. However we are issuing a profits warning. Due to increasing use of ad-blockers our income is on a steep downward trend. You can see our figures on our statistics page.

We wish to assure our readers that we will neither be installing a pay wall nor crypto mining on LPMCC.net.

If our pages are slow to open it is only because they are crammed full of interesting and unique content.

The only mining that happens on LPMCC.net is entirely in your head as your mind digs up memories you thought (hoped?) had been lost forever.

That is priceless!

Absolutely necessary

This time of year we get people in authority spouting the phrase "Do not travel unless absolutely necessary".

WTF does that mean?

OK, it may not be absolutely necessary for me to go to the pub.

When I lived out in the sticks and there was a particularly heavy snow fall I was listening to local radio for road reports. I had the pleasure of hearing my own boss at County Hall advising listeners not to travel unless absolutely necessary. Knowing that I could probably get to work, unless the roads were blocked by HGVs and idiots who think spinning their wheels will somehow develop traction, I took my boss's advice and stayed home.

I was stopped a days pay!

So, what they mean is, do not travel unless it is absolutely necessary to eat and pay your bills.

Although you and I may not be travelling to the pub, it will still be fully staffed because, apparently, absolutely necessary is left to your own judgement.

It doesn't need someone in authority to make meaningless sound bites.

Losing sight

Car manufacturers are losing sight of road safety issues by giving all their attention to secondary safety features.

We have seat belts, air bags, crumple zones.. Manufacturers have not just abandoned primary safety - they are actively working against it. See the latest news on how keyless ignition is causing deaths.

Three other examples spring to mind.

In-car entertainment

Take a look at your car's handbook: Hidden somewhere is essential safety information. Tyre pressures, fuse and bulb replacement (damned difficult), oil check and screen wash replenishment (mucky job).

Then you have the other 80% of the handbook dedicated to the vehicles radio, CD player, USB connection, sat nav, phone, computer, reversing and dash cameras. Controls for these distracting frivolities are either more complex than the flight deck of a jumbo jet or obscurely minimalist with one button to control everything with a tap, long press, double press, press and hold for this, that and the other.

Solution

This device should be out of sight and reach of the driver. A passenger to (read the handbook and) operate it would also reduce single occupancy.

Indicators

Indicators must be the cause of many accidents for several reasons.

  • Not used
  • Not used correctly
  • Not visible
  • Not understood

Yes, we all know the car drivers who never use them.Good! Neither should anyone else.

I used to take motorcycle trainees to a roundabout, park up and invite them to predict where drivers were going.

My point was that a motorcycle going through a roundabout changes position and speed too rapidly for drivers to cope. This results in a disproportionate number of motorcycle accidents on roundabouts.

Few drivers indicated, fewer still did it correctly. That wasn't the point. Nor was my point that you can guess their intentions from their road position and speed. However it shows that we can and do cope with people not indicating or indicating incorrectly. So why bother indicating?

To this end it would appear that car makers are intent on making misdirection indicators or hiding them completely.

Where is this thing going? Click the picture to find out.

They either place them within the width of the headlights or so far out and round the side that they are not visible to the vehicles that may need to give way to them on a roundabout.

Bob Nash, Born Again Biker, has bitter experience of this problem.

Solution

Bring back arm signals.

Front pillars

Designed to preserve the occupants of cars following a roll-over so they can buy more cars, front pillars have bulged from a strut holding the quarter light into Doric columns of stalwart proportions.

Despite piercing it with nominal quarter windows it has become a substantial obstruction to peripheral vision even if the driver rocks about to see round it.

On approach to a junction the sweep of the obscured section of road can coincide and keep in synchronisation with the movement of a vehicle from the left.

Not only motorcycles; it can obscure cars as well!

The danger extends beyond first appearance
into the psychology of optical illusion.

Area between green lines is obscured
by front pillar.

Click to see the animation.

When part of the other vehicle becomes visible beyond the A pillar, it appears (to the subconscious) to be part of the pillar. It doesn't register as an outside agent (approaching vehicle). Drivers attention then focuses forward and the last opportunity for an emergency stop is missed. The red car (or motorcycle) appears as if out of nowhere. SMIDSY

Solution

It is up to the car industry to get its act together. For your part, be aware of both sides of this trap.

Be merry

Let me make it perfectly clear: I am not claiming to be a health expert or diet guru. What I know about nutrition can be written on the back of a crisp packet with a ball point pen.

Experts will tell you what is going to cause untold health problems after research based on giving truckloads of it to some unfortunate dogs. A truckload of anything would be quite bad for you. (If you are testing on dogs, please bear in mind that chocolate is poisonous.) Wait until next week and the same stuff will be hailed as the latest wonder food.

Here are my two principles...

Anything in moderation: Excluding the kind of thing given to defecting Russian spies. Legend has it that kings would take small quantities of poison to build up their immunity. Mercury and lead probably contributed to the decline of several ancient dynasties.

Don't worry about what you eat: Stress is the real killer.

I just need to find candy coated crisps.

Off the map now, matey

In October last year I blogged how to disable cache so you always get the latest website content. Technology being what it is Firefox have changed their system during their constant updates. Ironic that they insist on updating their browser but stop you updating the web pages you see on it.

Any-road-up, here is how to disable the cache and Firefoxes fixation on old website content.

  1. Type in the address bar
    "about:config"
  2. Here be dragons! Press the button
    "I accept the risk!"
  3. Type in the Search box "browser.cache.disk.enable"
  4. Double click on the line that is found to make it false
  5. Close Firefox and restart-it
  6. Do the same with "browser.cache.memory.enable"

There you go George. Another dragon slain.

Glued to the spot

Many things have greatly improved during my lifetime.

  • Radios: from loose valve wireless sets that you turned on five minutes ahead of the programme then twiddled the knob to reduce it's whine to
    digital radio with pictures?
  • Televisions: from 12 inch blue-and-white floor standing cabinets and watching the dot disappear at 10pm after the National Anthem to
    wall size color TVs with hundreds of useless channels?
  • Computers: from air conditioned rooms with punched paper readers to
    internet microchips in fridges?
  • Telephones: from party lines and rotary dials to
    mobile phones that do everything?

Somehow I think most technology is over-egging it.

Something I do appreciate is the progress made with glues.

Tenacetine was my first experience of trying to join two items together. The tube was pierced and later sealed with a pin. The rest of the contents of the drawer became permanently stuck to the tube which was more than could be said for the two items intended to be joined.

Balsa cement was a happier discovery of childhood. This clear adhesive dried quickly to a glass hard varnish that held together paper-light gliders until the clinging branches of a tree provided a stronger hold.

Plastic cement held together non-flying aeroplanes from Airfix and Revell. A plastic solvent effectively welded the parts together. MEK applied with a fine paintbrish will do the trick without leaving a gob of glue to be sanded off the join.

I learned about animal glue that my dad would boil up in a bain-marie glue pot in his workshed. Lovely smell and I still have a bathroom stool that contains the last will and testicles of our milkman's horse.

In woodwork class we used casein made from milk protein. I didn't like the smell of that so much. It needed clamping and took hours to set but the result was as strong as the wood.

PVA adhesive replaced other wood glues in most circumstances. It is ideal for use in self assembly furniture to make sure it isn't self disassembly furniture.

I just used Evo-Stik Timebond contact adhesive to stick leather and it worked well. My only problem was getting the glue off the knife used to spread it. Had to resort to a stiff wirebrushing. Good job it wasn't the family silverware.

Contact adhesive in it's red screw top tin was the business when it came to sticking a formica top onto a contemporary table. Only problem was unscrewing the top of the can for a second project.

Epoxy resin used to be the best stuff for a permanent job. As an apprentice we used to repair bakelite instrument cases by cleaning, gluing, clamping and baking them. Good as new. Today's quick-set versions are useless in comparison. More like never-set. I've eaten tougher cakes.

If you have a British motorcycle you will know the value of Loctite. It reduces the auto-QD properties of parts attached by nuts and bolts.

Superglue was pretty revolutionary. I'm sure it can be really useful for some applications other than vandalising keyholes. I believe it needs (atmospheric) moisture to cure and water will eventually degrade it so you can get your fingers apart.

Hot glue guns are great for small quick jobs but they set too quickly for a big construction. If someone would invent an electrically conductive glue stick it would solve my dry joint soldering problems.

The latest trend for big stick-up jobs is grab adhesive. Delivered smoothly from it's cartridge using a sealant gun.

In my enthusuasic youth I made furniture from sapele mahogany with carefully chiselled dovetail joints.

When I was grown up I knocked together items using metal brackets screwed to veneered chipboard.

My next job will be No More Nailed MDF given a lick of water based paint to cover my sins.

Cascade of rain

In case you need a little refreshing rain during this gorgeously hot summer, here are some tekky hints on how we add it to photos on LPMCC.net.

It used to be done with JavaScript but because browsers are now mostly able to render the latest standards, we use appropriately named Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).

The general plan is to add a layer of falling rain over the top of a photo. The "rain" is pixel spots on a transparent .GIF image. We use light and dark grey so they are more or less visible over dark and light backgrounds. We also make them slightly transparent so they don't look like volcanic dust.

The trick is to put the rain as the background-image of an empty DIV rather than as a proper IMG image. That way the rain will always be seamlessly tiled over the underlying photograph.

The CSS has animation that moves the vertical position down to represent falling. It moves at a constant speed by the height of the rain image, then returns instantly to the top so it looks continuous.

We can also make it "blow" left and right by animating a skew to the photo.

Here is the CSS. This is on the page rather than in a linked Style Sheet because we hopefully won't need to use it very often!

(Dimensions are to suit pictures that are 540 pixels wide by 405 pixels high.)

The "rain" is added to the HTML photo IMG thus ...

Et voilà! Here is the wet result.

John Muschialli and Mick Ayriss pleased to cool off in the rain, courtesy LPMCC.net

Jupiter Pluvius can also control how hard it rains by tweaking ...

  • rate of falling (animation-duration seconds)
  • drizzle or a squall (transform skewX angle)
  • shower or cloudburst (opacity)

Similar methods are used to provide snow (two layers of snowflakes swirling about), sparks from rally bonfires (through .PNG images with transparent holes), mist, dust and smoke.

(It's all done with mirrors)

Skype

It's that Alan Jarvis, Derek Foster and I researched and instigated regular Skype Nights to bring together far flung friends for a virtual club night. We were impressed by the simplicity and effectiveness of this new Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) that even we could easily operate.

That was many years ago and we've kept up regular Skype Nights on the last Wednesday of every month since. But technology moves on.

Even before Microsod took over Skype we endured updates to the system every month to tweak a bit more performance, patch a vulnerability, add new features or just modernise the appearance. Every month we old dogs had to learn new tricks.

Last month saw a move from the old Classic version 7 to the latest, all singing, all dancing version 8. That threw us. Alan suggested we look for something else that would do the job in a simple way that would fit our needs - without the singing and dancing.

I've looked at the alternatives and have crossed them off one at a time. WhatsApp was a strong contender but ain't no good unless you have a smartphone. Then getting it to work on a PC is a bit of a work-around involving scanning QR codes. That's What's Up.

Other systems are ruled out by limitations, obscurity, instability or cost.

UPDATE 5 SEPTEMBER:
Microsoft backed down over their latest Skype update! Following a backlash from core users they are removing their chorus of dancing girls and will just feature a baritone intoning a traditional ballad.
(I was one of the core users who wrote to complain)

So it's back to Skype. Sooner the devil we know...

We need to get to grips with this 'ere new-fangled version 8. Luckily the latest issue of Computeractive has a workshop on Skype's "brilliant new tools" that is aimed at about our level of comprehension. Unlike all the tutorials that Google throws at you, this is up-to-date. None of this "Click the sausage at the top left of the window" nonsense when the sausage was removed five versions ago to be replaced with a hamburger .
(Not to be confused with a gearwheel  )

Armed with this "How To" and using Skype desktop sharing I'll be ready to lead a self help group on Wednesday 29 August on our regular Skype Night, flagging the tips and tricks that turn down the volume of all that singing and exiting the dancers to stage left.

Meanwhile the subject remains in flux. If a simpler system appears we'll give it a try.

Join us this or any Skype Night to teach, learn, grumble or be entertained.

Start of quotation We share Ben's enthusiasm for version 7 of Skype. Version 8 was a dog's dinner big enough to feed Crufts. As it plans its next version, Microsoft should remember that most Skype users just want a simple program that does the basics well - video and voice calling. It should leave the gimmicks to other apps. End of quotation

- Computeractive

Gullible travails

False news isn't something new and limited to social media and the internet. We've learned to live with it for so many years that we ignore it automatically.

Take, for example, clocks on public buildings. They were essential in the good old days when people couldn't afford to own a watch - yes I can remember that far back! Since then many clocks have fallen into disrepair. Mechanisms are expensive to maintain so they are allowed to repose at some arbitrary past hour. Usually we can see the indicated time is wrong but just occasionally we may be caught out if it is close to what we are expecting. Never mind about the trains running on time. We can't get the clocks to run on time so what hope is there?

Apart from the broken face, this old clock factory shows different times on opposite sides.
Click here to see.

It would help if any public clock that isn't running is set to 12 o'clock. Bring back sun dials.

Recently we were inconvenienced by a pub that was closed. Ain't it always the same? On this occasion we had researched it's opening hours ... on the web. On the day we telephoned ahead to check but there was no answer. We continued and on arrival the place was closed.

So much for their website that probably hadn't been updated for some years. Landlords change more frequently than traffic lights so it's little wonder that they lose track of domain names and website hosts.

If you ever Google for information about computer hardware or software you will get more pages than you can shake a mouse at. Google ranking is a black art that takes into account the popularity of a site and a factor based on the popularity of sites that link to it. That automatically favours information that is well past it's sell by date. When you try to follow the instructions on the top sites you soon realise that version of the product went out with the BBC Micro.

Nor should you plan a journey in too much detail based on Google Street View or aerial maps. The copyright may be this year but the photos could well be seven or eight years old. Long before the by-pass was opened and the roundabout built.

You will also be subjected to false information when you ride down the road for real. Last week we dodged sign boards that warned there were no white lines. Not true. They were at the edges and centre of the road and quite dry. Signs to be removed by a team lost for efficiency savings or outsourced to a company that went broke?

"Road Works", "New Traffic Signal Sequence", "New Road Layout Ahead" become permanent. What goes up must come down unless it's a 'temporary' traffic sign. Little wonder that drivers pay no attention to traffic signs.

It goes without saying that politicians of all persuasions use NewSpeak. If they aren't outright lying they are putting spin on the facts.

Newspapers and TV pick and choose their stories to engage their readers, viewers and advertisers.

Weather forecasters don't have a clue what we are in for but portray absolute confidence to assure you they are worth your attention, time and money. Surely we've learned not to trust the weather!

It's surprising that anyone thought social media possessed any credibility in the first place!

The real problem is that we may cease to believe anything.

Missing posts

If you look at it, you will hit it.

It's a fact that we instil into motorcycle trainees. If you look at a pothole, manhole cover or traffic cone you will ride over it. So look at the gap!

Same thing skiing a slalom. Look at the gaps or you end up with skis either side of a post. OUCH!

There is a rumour being passed round on Facebook that you have to cut and paste to get posts from all of your friends. It is total tripe of course. Here is how to control what and who you see on Facebook.

Desktop version on your PC

Open Facebook

EITHER

Look at the line at the top with a blue background which says ...
f - Search - Joe - Home - Find Friends ...
and the right-most item is a down triangle . Click that.
A dropdown menu opens up and third UP from bottom it says News Feed preferences.
Click it.

OR

Go to News Feed. In other words, look at the line at the top with a blue background which says ...
f - Search - Joe - Home - Find Friends ...
and either click the f symbol or Home
(obvious it ain't!)
Down the LEFT side under the top blue line is a list of options. Click the three dots (...) on the News Feed line.
A context menu opens up and at the bottom it says Edit Preferences.
Click it.

Mobile versions on your iPad, tablet or phone

Open Facebook
At the RIGHT of the top line with blue background is the hamburger Menu symbol. Click it.
WOW! lots of options. Scroll down, down, down until you reach the gearwheel Settings line and click it.
MORE options. Scroll down until you reach the transistor wireless News Feed preferences near the bottom.
Click it

Away you go, choose who you prefer to see first and hide who and what you are NOT interested in.

Now it just depends on your friends posting and not some superstition such as it always raining when you clean your bike.

The limit

Thanks Microsoft for making old Skype available

We are a group of old motorcycle club friends (from the 1960s), scattered across the world in the intervening years. Since Christmas 2005 we have enjoyed virtial club nights every month thanks to Skype.

Regrettably, Skype has evolved faster than we can keep up and version 8 pushed us over the edge. We started to search for something that returned to the simplicity we can cope with. Nothing seems to cater for us oldies.

I used Skype feedback to complain bitterly. We were delighted that Microsoft has listened to users and made version 7 available again. I've even been able to reintall it on my Windows XP computer. On our next virtual club night (or day in some parts of the world) we'll be raising our glasses to Microsoft.

Ben Crossley

Computeractive     10-23 October 2018

Despite what I wrote on 21 August and my letter published in a following Computeractive magazine, Microsoft have welched on their promise to retain their desktop version (7) of Skype. It was withdrawn on 1 November which, even by political standards, is a very fast U-turn on their election promises.

So far we've stuck with Skype through thick and thicker but we are now getting sick of these shitty slickers.

Last Skype Night we struggled through despite everything being jumbled or hidden or missing.

Here's the best advice I can find at this date.

Skype for Web

You need to be using Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome browser to make voice and conference calls. Go to web.skype.com and sign in using either your Skype or Windows login. If you don't already have one of those you can create one there.

Skype for Web is under development so it may become available on more devices throughout the coming weeks and months. Also Microsod may start adding the bells and whistles that will drive us mad.

A big button

On Skype Night we set up our conference call ahead of our start time and post a link to join on our Skype page. It will appear up at the top in the form of a Big Button, really BIG!. It's only there on Skype Night.

The link effectively takes you to our virtual club night. If you have Skype installed it will offer to open it and take you straight into our call. If you don't have Skype installed as a program on your computer it will take you into the call via Skype for Web. In that case, make sure to use Edge (boo) or Chrome (hurrah) so you can talk!

I call you

Simples: Let me know in advance that you want to join us and give me your phone number. On Skype Night I'll call your phone. It will look like my mobile (07970 etc) is calling you. Just answer and you're in.

Last Skype Night we included Dirty Eddie (Paul Draycott) in this way and previously we spoke to Pud (Rod Hull) who, by the way, is now home from hospital.

So there are a few ways of surviving Skype meltdown. I'm looking forward to the 7 November issue of Computeractive. They are asking if it is time to ditch Skype (vote leave) and testing alternatives.

Note for Skype Night: If you want to join the group you can raise our attention by calling one of the group but we cannot answer your call without putting the conference on hold. Therefore we reject your call and add you to the group. So don't ring again or call someone else or wander off. Wait for us to find the pesky "add to group" button!

- Ben Crossley