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.

DateSubject
1 Jan 2010Not last week's news
8 Jan 2010Dave Richmond's website
21 Jan 2010Classic case
30 Jan 2010Virus warning
18 Feb 2010Tarting it up
26 Feb 2010Setting idle
1 Mar 2010A choice of browser
3 Mar 2010Not bad for February
11 Mar 2010Using your (new?) browser
18 Mar 2010Welcome back
25 Mar 2010Next time
30 Mar 2010A different view
5 Apr 2010Music to my ears
11 Apr 2010Google toolbar
15 Apr 2010Stitch-up
21 Apr 2010Firewatch
9 May 2010Advertisement
18 May 2010Content and satisfied
21 May 2010Insurance
27 May 2010Mucky hands
31 May 2010One star - no cigar
16 Jun 2010Soap on a dope
1 Jul 2010Trying your patience
11 Jul 2010Going for a burn-up
12 Jul 2010Blame Raoul Moat
16 Jul 2010Marching ants invade marquee
29 Jul 2010Conveniently conventional
1 Aug 2010Phone home
8 Aug 2010You've been frame of mind
10 Aug 2010Shine a light
25 Aug 2010Who needs cameras?
29 Aug 2010Perfect pitch
5 Oct 2010Hitting another wall
15 Oct 2010Rally badge pictures
31 Oct 2010Battery of answers
3 Nov 2010Charging on
8 Dec 2010Missing links
21 Dec 2010Open docx

Not last week's news

Christmas week's LPMCC.net News ran over two weeks because I was away on holiday. But I forgot to turn off the ten day automatic refresh that looks for a more recent page after the set time period.

It would be a bit of a waste of time for you to see last weeks cached news every time you looked for a rundown of the latest additions, messages from friends and the Foz Spot.

I do all the usual stuff like
<META HTTP-EQUIV="Pragma" CONTENT="no-cache">
and
<META HTTP-EQUIV="Expires" CONTENT="-1">
to try to prevent the page being saved in your computer.

To really nail this down I use a function that checks how many days it is since the News page was last modified and if it was more than ten days ago (allowing for me missing deadlines) it runs ...
document.location.reload(1)

Because there is an argument in the parenthesis - any argument - it forces a reload from the server not the cache.

You can achieve the same result on any page by holding down the Ctrl key and pressing the f5 key.

Dave Richmond's website

Dave Richmond wrote about all those ancient rallies as they happened and cemented the traditions that we continue to enjoy. Dave still does the occasional rally on his faithful Panther Sloper. Now Dave has unleashed his own website dedicated to the heroes who began motorcycling two centuries (and more!) ago.

Start of quotation I finally got the motorcyclingmemories.com website together, sort of. Not much copy on it yet but it's a start. Hope to be able to put the first pics and cartoons up soon with some links.

I might have a bash at doing the Force 10 in January.

All the best - keep warm End of quotation

- Dave

As you would expect, Dave's website is great and more history is being added even as you read this. It is not a dry old list of motorbikes and mechanical development - it is about the history of motorcycling!

Classic case

Last week was a classic case of "biting off more than I could chew" from the menu. I worked through from the start of the system and got deeper in trouble as I progressed. In the end I gave up and restored the backup file. Starting again from scratch I just altered the bits that needed improvement and left the parts that are OK. In the process I learned two things - three if you include "if it ain't broke don't fix it".

  1. Getting menus to overlap in the right order is a lot simpler than I was making it once I sorted out "relative containers".
  2. If I createElement("FORM") I cannot access the form name. (Obvious init?)

Any-road-up, I have tarted up the menus on the left of the page so they work an itsy-wisty bit better.

Virus warning

LPMCC.net frequently receives warnings about emails containing damaging content or scams. Many are hoaxes just sent out to strain the email system. They also encourage complacency about real threats. A bit like the Bird Flu/Swine Flu scares - one day it will be a real pandemic and we will ignore the warnings because the past threats never materialised.

This week I received a note about a real threat. The bogus messages, titled "UPS Delivery Failure" or "Your Tracking #," etc., claim a parcel was undeliverable due to an incorrect mailing address. The user is instructed to open an attachment containing a copy of the invoice. The attachment actually contains a virus that may infect the user's computer.

  1. Check whether a warning is true and a real threat by putting a typical line from the message into a search engine. In this example paste "UPS Delivery Failure" into Google.
  2. If it is a real threat that you want to warn friends about, please add their addresses to the BCC (Blind Copy) line of the email NOT the TO or CC (Copy) line where they can be harvested by spam senders.
  3. Keep your browser, antivirus program and operating system up-to-date and use security measures.
  4. Get a spam filter and delete from your mail server emails that you don't trust.
  5. Don't click on any attachment until you have right-clicked it and let your virus checker give it a once over.

In the meantime, if you hear of real threats, please let us all know.

Tarting it up

There is bound to be mischief when I'm left for long periods without adequate supervision or effective sedation. Last week I produced a vertigo inducing merry-go-round of thumbnail pictures for the section index pages, warning unprepared viewers of the shocking contents. Each orbiting pic is a clickable link to the page containing the full size photo.

See examples of the merry-go-rounds on the Rally Index, Motorbike Index and a slightly different one on the Ex-Members Index.

Pause the circulation with your cursor. A bug with the device is that you can increase the speed of rotation by whipping the pics with your cursor.

Setting idle

There are about 3000 photos on the website to check and catalogue. Have you ever needed to do a mind numbingly repetitive keyboard task? Three bleddy thousand photos to check! I'm far too lazy for that kind of work and my mind was long ago numbed riding Triumphs. So I can recommend a programming system called AutoHotKey. It is a doddle to install and a breeze to set up macros that do what-it-says-on-the-bottle ... automate your choice of key combinations to run and repeat a series of key presses.

It is not just out of laziness that I use AutoHotKey. Once it is set correctly it operates without making all the silly mistakes that I usually make as my mind wanders.

A choice of browser

If you didn't received a pinch and a punch because you forgot to say "White Rabbits", maybe you was reminded when Microsoft popped up "AN IMPORTANT CHOICE" on your computer. They bowed to EU pressure to stop hogging the browsers and used the Windows Update system to present a choice of other products.

The main choices are Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera and Safari. If you scroll the "Choice" page right there are additional alternatives. Flock, Avant, FlashPeak, K-Meleon, Sleipnir, GreenBrowser and Maxthon.

LPMCC.net works in all the main browsers so I hope you take the opportunity to give one a try. They all offer interesting features and characteristics that you may find suit you. I use Chrome for web applications because it is fast and clean. I use Firefox because it has useful add-ons to debug my pages, measure their delivery speed and send them to the server. Safari and Opera both look gorgeous and are very clear to read. You can install more than one browser and will be asked which one you want to make "default" ie click a webpage link and it automatically opens in that browser.

If you own an older computer you may find that Internet Explorer 8 will not work and you have to choose one of the lighter alternatives.

Not bad for February

After almost breaking through 10,000 visitors in January I knew February would have less because there are three less days. Therefore you can pat yourself on the back for helping to reach an astounding 8978 last month, third highest ever and showing no signs of falling back - at least - not until the weather entices you out on your bike more often!

Using your (new?) browser

Last week Microsoft presented Windows users with a choice of browsers to install and I encouraged you to give the alternatives a try. The information pages about each browser are mostly about 1000 pixels wide. If you are still using an older computer or moderatly sized monitor you may find you need to scroll sideways to read all the information. It seems that the Internet is making technical progress that is leaving LPMCC.net behind. This website still fits into an 800x600 screen size. Therefore, if you have a new system and monitor showing acres of space, LPMCC.net may be looking a bit emaciated in a corner of your screen.

One of the great things about the new generation of browsers is that you can ENLARGE your view. With a wheel mouse, hold CTRL key with one hand and roll the wheel with the other. If you don't have a wheel on the middle of your mouse the rescale control is a little magnifying glass at the bottom right of the browser window. It enlarges (or reduces) the images and navigation buttons as well as the text size. Ideal for older geezers with f a i l i n g  e y e s i g h t .

Welcome back

It is over half a year since the last blog entry and things have been progressing on LPMCC.net, except of course, for this blog. I have no excuse. I could say that I have been busy adding new material, which is largely true - but for the last couple of weeks I had plenty of time to jot down my feverish thoughts.

Or I could say I was too busy at work and tired when I reached home, which would be a downright lie now since I retired at the end of January.

Truth is I've been frittering my time away and selfishly keeping all the scandal to myself.

There is no excuse whatever when you consider that there is usually something in the News update that can be usefully archived in the Blog, with a little bit more depth for anyone interested enough. That's where all the previous entries this year have suddenly appeared from.

So with a quarter of the year gone already and not a bike in the house washed, here is my New Financial Year Resolution ...

The Blog will be updated weekly.

(Scripts will creak. You may need to use Google Chrome!)

Next time

A week last Tuesday I received an email invitation to ... and I quote ... " a conference next Thursday "

All fine and dandy. Nothing in my busy social calendar so I turned up at the prescribed time at the given location to find out that they meant " Thursday week ".

Everyone tells me that they didn't mean " this Thursday " else they would have said so.

I've known other people get confused over this and I think it is a geographical issue with Leicestershire on the border where some mean one thing and others t'other. " Next week " is simply the week after this. If you say " next week " on a Sunday you mean " week coming " don't you?

There is potential for confusion that demands that I should check instructions before making a journey a week early or - worse still - being a week late. So far it is just a personal issue but ...

On LPMCC.net there is a dinky little JavaScript function that writes a date in English. I put the date into the function that then writes it out as you would say it in normal speech. For example, if I put the date in as getWhen("3/4/2010"), today it returns the text " Saturday week ", and in one week from now will say " this Saturday ". I avoid ever saying " next Saturday " just as there is no such time as midnight.

A different view

I have had a bus pass for several years but never had the time to use it. It is all very academic having free travel if you don't have free time.

Recent retirement gave the first opportunity to use my pass for a trip to the city. It meant a small saving on fuel and a more substantial saving on the cost of parking.

It also took up a whole day for a thirty minute shop visit. Of course I could have gained value by visiting more places while I was in the city but then would spend money, either on products I didn't plan on buying or for refreshments. That would more than negate the saving from a free bus journey.

It is not that buses are slow, you understand. First I walked to the stop early enough to be sure of not missing the bus. I'm sure I can cut that finer with practice. Buses are every bit as quick as the rest of the nose to tail traffic - which says nothing. I couldn't start until 9.30 because that is when the concessions begin. At that time of day most of the bus lanes are open to all traffic, or rather, open to parking.

The bus takes a serpentine route to pick up a few passengers in villages and satellite estates. I went through places I'd never seen when my commute was the shortest route between A and B. From the top of a double decker I could see new places and old locations from a new perspective. I could see further and I could gaze out of the side window instead of concentrating on the road ahead. For a first experience it wasn't unpleasant but I'm sure that familiarity will breed...

The problem with the return journey was caused by my bladder. I missed the bus by two shakes so I had to wait at the roadside for thirty minutes. The traffic noise was deafening. When they design bus shelters they should take account of accoustics. This shelter was one of the rare ones in the city that had not had the glass kicked out of it yet and it acted like an echo chamber for the traffic roar. They should issue ear defenders. (Incidentally they should also be issued in public conveniences that have the latest skin-dewrinkling hand dryers.)

The trip home was a little less interesting than the morning journey due to my difficulty keeping awake. It turned to rain and the view of footpaths through distant fields and woods no longer looked attractive.

My interest in the view over the fields is due to new enthusiasm for country walking - a delaying tactic to economise on lunchtime pub visits. This activity also gives me a different view of familiar places.

The first half of my life I lived in the city and valued the countryside because it required an effort to get there. The second half I have lived in the middle of the countryside but never had the time to enjoy its advantages - too busy scurying off to work.

In the third half of my life I mean to look at the hidden areas between the A to B via C, D and E roads. But what do I actually see on my fresh air fests? Only the ground in front of me!

I have not yet learned to stride out regardless of the mud, tree roots and animal-poo; I'm still wary of where I plant my boots with the result that I can only look at the scenery when I pause and lift my gaze. On those occasions I am rewarded by a view that you cannot find on Google Street View (yet). As I stroll along the Grand Union tow path I watch the passing narrow boats to see if one is carrying a camera periscope to add Google Canal View.

In the days when I motorcycled all over the country I could never see all the growing things along my journey but I could momentarily experience one spot as a sample of nature quietly going about its business. I would often turn off the rushing motorways to seek out hidden byways, then stop at a gate and enter the field beyond. I would consider how each thorn on a hedge, each blade of grass and every petal of blossom were all at the centre of their own, personal universe. The only way to appreciate the view is to stop and look. My mum used to say "If you stop to catch the raindrops you will find them beautiful".

Then, relieved, I hurried on.

Music to my ears

If you are interested in saving some of your ancient cassettes and LPs onto DVD or for use on an MP3 player you will need Audacity.

Audacity is an Open Source program. This means it is written and developed by many enthusuastic computer wizards who collaborate to add features and improvements. Anyone (with the necessary computer skills!) can contribute to the building of the program and all do so on the understanding that the program will be available free. In other words - it is FREE.

Open Source has other advantages. Because of the social nature of the system there is no shortage of help files and tutorials.

The easiest way to get into Audacity is to watch a tutorial on YouTube. My favourite on installation is from Lisa Hartwell. I like it because Lisa makes (and corrects!) exactly the same errors that everyone else does.

Fabian Brown covers the same subject of installation in a funkier style ...

Watch them all the way through to get an idea of what is involved. They make it sound easy and, by golly, it is easy.

There are other tutorials on YouTube to help you through editing, saving and all kinds of other things. I've only scratched the surface (there goes another irreplacable 78) but easily convert casettes and records to MP3 files. Don't forget to install the LAME MP3 converter - they explain how.

I use audio books all the time on my country walks. I have earphones that loop over the top of my ears so they don't shake out and I pull a big woolie hat down to cover them. The wire goes down the back of my sweater to the MP3 player in my pocket. When I am on my own it is playing all the time. I have listened to King Solomons Mines and Allan Quatermaine by Rider Haggard, Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad, Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope, the first three "Barzoom" books from Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan is next) Jules Verne's Journey to the Interior of the Earth, Kipling's Jungle Book and exceedingly nice cakes, Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

Most are from LibriVox, some are recorded from Radio 7 and Radio 4 (or listen using iPlayer or direct from the BBC website), some are from cassettes via Audacity, some are ripped from CDs.

The only problem I have encountered was rather unfortunate. I completely forgot I was wearing the MP3 player when I went to the loo. When I wiped I pushed the MP3 player up my aaah.... and had to pull it back out using the earphone wire.

Google toolbar

Your opinion is always appreciated.

That is one of the objectives of running a Blog. I say something contentious and you argue the point. Or wind me up further. Just like club nights but without the beer.

You can easily respond using the Contact Centre and trust me to add your contribution to the page. If you have Google Toolbar as an add-on to your browser you can use the Sidewiki to add your comments to this or any page on the World Wide Web. It will then be available to everyone else with a Google Toolbar, but only when they show the Sidewiki and it is not visible to anyone else.

I don't check all 1000 pages to see if they have a Sidewiki entry so I still prefer you to write in directly. Heaven knows, there could be all kinds of scurrilous tales hidden away in the Sidewiki. I could become paranoid if I didn't have more faith in apathy!

What do you think?

Stitch-up

When I waxed lyrical about Google Street View recently I wondered how long it would be until they included Canal Views. I thought I was joking. But in the continuing arms race between Google and Microsoft you can be sure that they are leap-frogging each other in pursuit of your loyalty. Therefore I was delighted to discover another FREE program, Microsoft Research Image Composite Editor (ICE) that will turn the roughest set of overlapping photos into a seamless panorama. I've used similar programs before with partial success. They are pretty good at stitching photos into a fairly good single picture but are weak at several tasks.

  • The spherical aberation or perspective at the edges of photos cause the joins to show where the overlaps don't quite match up.
  • If the camera was not on a tripod the horizon angles could vary slightly and the software didn't level them out.
  • Taking photos in different directions with regard to the light source results in different exposures and the blend from one photo to the next could show sudden darkening.
  • The photos needed to be arranged manually in the correct order or the program will make a stab at stitching in entirely the wrong places.

Microsoft ICE overcomes all of those problems as long as you overlap photographs sufficiently. Somehow it works out your lens angle so it can calculate the total angle of the panorama. A full 360° circle is faultlessly stitched together. It adjusts for camera tilts and different exposures into the sun, back to the sun, bright sunshine and cloud cover. Most magic of all, you just throw (well, drag and drop) a whole bunch of snaps into ICE and it figures out the correct locations for the whole patchwork. This program is more ACE than ICE at solving jigsaw puzzles!

But that's not all.

ICE incorporates Photosynth (also download and install free). Photo panoramas can be uploaded to the Photosynth website. There you can pan round the view, look up and down and zoom in to see the detail. I can embed the result into LPMCC.net ... which I have done with the panorama of Cranes Lock at bridge 47 of the Grand Union Canal. Photosynth is more than just a collection of panoramas though. By uploading many overlapping photos shot from lots of different positions, a "Photosynth" is created that reproduces the location in 3D. It identifies points in overlapping photos and works out where they are in three dimensions.

I can't wait to have a go at that one. If you create a Panorama or Photosynth, send the address to LPMCC.net. I can see this being a splendid tool for showing rally sites, autojumbles and shows, dealer showrooms and individual bikes in detail.

Firewatch

Just watched James Lovelock (Gaia hypothesis) explaining his early life on the Beautiful Minds TV programme. He tells of his early employment with the Science Department of the Ministry of War. Everyone, without exception, had to do firewatch each week and this gave him his first opportunity to mix with the senior scientists of the time. When the buzzbombs were passing close by, these senior scientists became afraid for their lives. They felt the need to pass on their knowledge - kept from competitive colleagues - to young Lovelock, who described the process as a "data dump".

Let LPMCC.net be your "data dump" for your youthful motorcycling memories before they are forgotten forever.

Advertisement

About four years ago I looked at using advertising on LPMCC.net as a means of funding a move to a bigger server. It would take a lot of strain off the task of putting photos on the cloud and keeping tracks of them. Back then there was no prospect of making any money from adverts unless all of you bought something from the advertisers every other month!

Over the years the visitor numbers to LPMCC.net have consistently increased so I looked at the prospect of gaining a revenue from adverts again. By my calculations LPMCC.net would need to feature adverts for four years before it produced a payable income, assuming continued growth. I reckon the Inland Revenue would snaffle that.

I am pleased to confirm that LPMCC.net policy remains one of commercial independance. For buying and selling go to eBay. If you want a warts-and-all product revue you could aways risk providing your product or service for revue by an LPMCC.net test rider.

Content and satisfied

If Content is King then NEW content is EMPEROR.

It's all well and good regularly creating unique and high quality content but it's a waste of effort if people don't know about it. I have covered this issue on the site ...

  1. Every page has a list of New or Recent additions in the left hand Menu since your last visit to LPMCC.net.
  2. Links to new material have or to alert you during the first week after addition.
  3. There is a page of Recent Additions over the previous two months.
  4. New content is introduced in LPMCC.net News every week.

But if you are not on LPMCC.net - heaven forbid - how do I let you know about new content?

  1. You can subscribe to the News update email. It is free and I'll send it to anyone, even you.
  2. A lot of visitors still arrive at LPMCC.net the first time via a search engine such as Google. I let Google robots know about new content by keeping a special index file up-to-date.
  3. The Site map carries a copy of the News announcement. Although the simplified navigation diagram is constructed using JavaScript, there is an HTML list of the full site structure that search engine robots find easier to index. It is very long ... so it is hidden.
  4. The newsfeed is updated to provide links to the latest content.
  5. I announce new pages on Facebook.

That looks like an awful lot of things to be updated on top of the task of preparing the new pages - luckily there are keen writers creating the actual content. Being the lazy and error-prone blighter that I am, once the menu data has been completed, items 1, 2 and 3 are automatic and items 6, 7 and 8 are achieved using my Sitemap administration tool. It validates the data then writes all the necessary scripts and markups and provides cues and links for posting the information.

Insurance

We have been searching for insurance for a "family" motorcycle that our teenagers can learn on and that Rachel and I can use occasionally. In the process I have found that insurance has become horrifically expensive yet no longer covers the things we expected.

We always needed to declare and pay extra to use for work purposes but now we are not covered for going to and from work unless we pay extra. The reason is that too many people have been claiming for accidents at work by saying they were only "on the way there" or back.

Insurance has never covered competitive events so many policies do not cover the National Rally. Some insurance does not cover (going to and from) camping rallies or toy runs! The problem lies in the definition of Rally. The insurers and the law imagine cars somersaulting along forest tracks and cleaning up spectators.

We always laughed at the redundant term "Fully Comprehensive". It is no joke these days because it isn't comprehensive any longer. It doesn't cover the rider. That requires additional personal insurance. Could we sue under trades description?

Back in the sixties we faced up to Compulsory Passenger Insurance. The law was enacted and we absorbed the increased costs even if we protested our moped wasn't constructed to carry a pillion rider. These days, if you want to carry a passenger you will need to pay extra again for the compulsory insurance that was already added to all insurance costs in the sixties.

We have also discovered that the old practice of providing third party cover for riding or driving a vehicle not belonging to the policy holder has been quietly discontinued. That makes it almost impossible to road test a privately sold bike and a pain to arrange insurance so that the bike can be ridden home.

There is no economic advantage to adding several riders to the same policy. Long ago it was reasoned that only one person at a time can ride a motorcycle so the risk was not multiplied by the number of names on the policy. Evidently these days the insurers are up against teams who ride the vehicle on a shift rota. Can you recall why Tuff Shoes reduced their guarantee from 12 months to 6 months?

Some motorcycle policies don't give a "no claims" reduction but if you do have an accident the policy is "loaded". ie Heads they win, tails we lose.

The full annual cost for a learner is much more than the value of the vehicle, even with a substantial excess.

Insurance companies and brokers have the most TV adverts and pay highest for website banner advert click-throughs - Where do you suppose they get the money from?

Things have moved on from the days when I struggled on apprentice wages to pay 30/- for fully comp. Can you point me towards somewhere we can take out secure insurance at a reasonable price? In the meantime, check what you are not insured for ... going to work, toy runs, carrying a pillion ... and yourself!

Mucky hands

The spanners are out but it is not the Trident that is being fettled ... yet. We bought a "family" CG125 that is eleven years old and by golly it has led a hard life. With 30,000 miles on the clock it shows the kind of wear and neglect I would be ashamed to find on a bike four times that age. It must have been subjected to the kind of wanton abuse that I dished out to my NVT Rambler in the early 80s.

Take a look at the footbrake pin for example. You can see the shape it is in - the holes in the rod end and lever arm are both worn oval to an even greater degree. The same wear is evident all along the system leaving so much slack in the brake it was a wonder that it worked at all.

But it did. The whole bike is as sweet as can be and works despite the neglect. In fact it probably works so well because whoever owned it kept his fingers clean and didn't fiddle with things. Like not greasing the brakes.

Now I have my spanners out it won't be long before I fix something to death.

One star - no cigar

Last week I received a one star rating for the Club Runs index page and the comment "Everything is too slow to load".

The internet offers instant gratification so a website that is too slow to load usually loses its visitors very quickly. No matter how good the content is, viewers demand speed and efficiency of delivery. That is why I offer a bounty (in drowned kittens) for fault reports. I also take a lot of care to keep the files that make up a page as small as possible. Images are rarely more than 500 pixels wide by 375 pixels high and are compressed until they scream.

You can find the time it takes for a page to appear by checking Info in the Contact Centre. If I keep the file sizes as small as possible, what else could slow the page? Here are a few guesses:

  1. There are large data files used on every page to create the menus and interactive content. Once they are cached on your computer they are not reloaded when you move to another page on LPMCC.net. However it could take time if this is your first visit to LPMCC.net, or you have purged your cache (when doing a computer clean up) or if you have cache disabled. You can check the difference this makes if you hold down Ctrl and press F5 to reload all the files from the server - useful to ensure you have the very latest version of the page. Now check the time in Info again.
  2. There are clever third party gizmos that open from other servers
    • a widget that lets you know when I am on Skype,
    • Google Analytics and Maps,
    • the AddThis bookmarking and sharing tool,
    • photos delivered from Windows Live.

    If one of those servers is very busy (they get a lot more hits than little ol' LPMCC.net) the page may hang. The status line at the very bottom of your browser window should say "Waiting for www.whateveritis.com". Let me know if this is a common problem!
  3. Sometimes your own ISP experiences problems or good old BT may have a loose wire that slows down your whole internet. If you are on broadband you will probably be on a contention ratio of 20. That means you share bandwidth with 20 other people locally. If one or two are downloading from iPlayer or filesharing they will slow down the whole plot. All other websites will be slow if that is the problem.
  4. As mentioned in item 1, data is used to construct the page. Some of it is created before the page opens, some as soon as the page opens and some after a short pause. It is done using scripts that run on your computer. It is called client side as opposed to server side. That means the speed of delivery also depends to some extent on your computer.

This Blog page is heavy with scripts that may make your browser groan. Typically it will pop up a warning that "Scripts are taking a long while - do you want to kill them?" Please persevere. If you want a quicker result try using Google Chrome. It is what I use to run script-intensive administration pages that drop to a crawl in IE8.

Soap on a dope

Still getting mucky hands in the garage (though not on the Triumph yet) and the house is beginning to hum to the perfume of Swarfega. Problem is, at my age I have to make more frequent visits to the little boy's room and "an engineer is someone who washes his hands before he goes to the lavatory" as Brian Jones at Triumph Meriden used to say. I plan my visits with care. Last time I fettled bikes I was a bachelor so hand towels that stunk of Swarfega were part of the territory. With a wife and two daughters to consider I have taken care to put the Swarfega out in the bathroom before I start fettling and keep my own hand towel with my overalls. That way minimises the spread of black paw prints into the home.

Thinking about cleanliness and hygiene made me take notice of a TV advert selling an automatic soap dispenser. The point seems to be that OCDs can avoid touching the germ laden pump button. For heaven's sake, you're just gonna wash your hands. Are they admitting that their soap is useless?

I suppose if it is strategically positioned it could give a passing cat a shock.

Our plumber says hot air hand driers atomise and spread diseases. Another rumour is that ordinary water in a screen-wash bottle harbours Legionnaires Disease - so duck when the car in front sprays.

My opinion is that these ideas are the results of siphoning leaded petrol.

Trying your patience

Little wonder I don't have kitten-saving reports about error messages from you. Yonks ago I added message suppression to ensure that you have uninterrupted enjoyment of LPMCC.net. It appears to be working.

If mine are the only bloodshot eyes that get to see the errors it is poor sport for kitten drowning. So to give cats a fairer chance of survival I will switch error reporting back on for July (ain't you lucky!)

The error reports will be written in the Contact Centre where they can be saved up or sent as they occur. Just click the "Send" button - you can do it anonymously if you wish.

I did think of offering prizes for the most reports ...

  1. Top Prize - a Basket of Kittens
  2. Runner Up - an Incontinent Old Moggy
  3. Highly Commended - a Bucket with DIY instructions

(no cash alternatives!)

Going for a burn-up

To check that LPMCC.net works for as many of you as possible I test it in five of the main browsers (and some of the older ones on the slow computer in the attic that still creaks along on Windows Me). The versions I use (all on Windows XP) are ...

  • Microsoft Internet Explorer 8
  • Mozilla Firefox 3.6.6
  • Google Chrome 5
  • Apple Safari 4.0.5
  • Opera 10.6

I run administration pages to create or format data used on LPMCC.net. These are generally Javascript intensive applications that make reference to many pages or graphics. Therefore they are run locally, not from the internet. They are also run using Google Chrome because that always seemed faster than the others.

Today I downloaded the latest version of Opera that now claims to be faster than Chrome. Time to put it to the test. Here are my results after running the page that creates a search site map, new page list and RSS file whenever pages are added or changed (ie once or twice a week - see the Recent Additions page).

  • Internet Explorer and Firefox I closed after they passed ten minutes. I wanted to test the browsers not my patience!
  • Opera came in at a very creditable 1 minute 35 seconds.
  • Safari took me by surprise at 40 seconds (I had to run it twice as I wasn't looking the first time it completed!)
  • Chrome Still comes in fastest at 35 seconds. Safari was so close I ran Google again to check against its time.

I actually ran all the tests twice as there is a small gain once the files are cached (because they are only downloaded the first time) but it hardly makes any difference when they are from my local hard drive.

Speed isn't everything - although as motorcyclists you may dispute that. Also consider starting (Firefox is v e r y slow), safety, extras and, of course, style. Chrome has the minimalist look of the Google default search page. It is the street-fighter of the bunch. Maybe you prefer a sports-tourer or a classic?

Pages on LPMCC.net complete much quicker than this admin page (This blog may be the exception!) I rely heavily on feedback from visitors to let me know if there are any problems in other operating systems.

Despite all moving towards "standards compliance" there are still many differences between browsers. Main differences are ...

  • Internet Explorer's use of style filters for things like opacity and some features the other browsers cannot replicate.
  • Internet Explorer does not yet work with HTML 5 Canvas so it isn't used on LPMCC.net. It is used by Admin to create diagrams from data - using Chrome of course.
  • Encapsulation of special fonts as used in quotations on LPMCC.net.
  • Fancy-pants cursors to ... er ... spark your interest.
  • Events management, which is how the site is made a little bit interactive.
  • How the DOM handles whitespace between elements. A bit geeky but it always catches me out.
  • Whether form text has a line feed and carriage return or just a carriage return and whether title tooltips can have line feeds.
  • ... and whether images should have an ALT or a TITLE.

Vive la différence.

Blame Raoul Moat

Today I looked at the BBC News website report of the Raoul Moat affair. They have so much to say that the reports are tabbed. Eureka!

Perversely I brag that LPMCC.net has over a thousand pages and then struggle to make them navigable. You will only ever find a small proportion of the pages, possibly the bulk of those by pure chance. I was fighting a losing battle when the monster menu system moved into the fourth dimension. That's when I gave up. In contrast the BBC tabs are so clear and useful.

After some back-of-envelope calculation and a bit of process planning don't expect visible results soon. When they arrive you will enjoy an improved experience on LPMCC.net. With any luck the dreaded fourth-level-menu will be banished. The zig-zag menu will link to 25% less pages. All the content will still be there but it will be easier to find and faster to appear.

In the meantime trials begin with a simplified version on this Blog. Go to the top to see what I mean.

Marching ants invade marquee

Now that the headline has your attention - this is not a disaster involving a rally beer tent.

Marquee has several meanings on computers. A marquee selection is the rectangular window drawn by holding down the left mouse button and dragging diagonally across the screen. In graphics applications the resulting window is defined by lines of moving dashes - hence the description marching ants.

 

In web pages it is a line of scrolling words or pictures that are produced using the markup <marquee>.

This is an example

It isn't something to use a lot on a page unless the intention is to replicate a long night in the beer tent. Which is where we know the word marquee from.

For years LPMCC.net has displayed random lists of short quotes, one-liners and whimsical definitions in a marquee scrolling at the top of every page, between top banner and page title. These are chosen at random from a list of fifty sets sent in over the years by Adam Fosberry and other friends. Sometimes the order of the quips is also shuffled. It is to put something different on the page every time you look.

There are a few problems with this marquee. Different browsers handle it slightly differently. You will no longer see the jokes once you scroll down the page. Until then they can be considered a distraction - or, if they don't grab your attention - a waste of time and effort. But the biggest condemnation has been from this month's error reporting exercise.

Therefore the scrolling jokes have been removed. But we still love them even if they are old so they will be appended to this year's Foz Annual at Christmas.

Now you have something to look forward to, keep sending them in!

Conveniently conventional

Back on 18 May I mentioned that the Site Map contains a full list of all pages on LPMCC.net as ordinary links for the benefit of search engine robots. At that time this simple list of links was hidden from human view because a list of over a thousand pages would be a little bit daunting for anyone trying to find their way.

However it did seem a shame that the data so carefully updated every week should not be available for you. The simplified relationship diagram at the top of the site map may be too novel for people to understand. So today I completed a more conventional list of pages. It unfolds deeper layers of informations using and symbols when required, the same as revealing and hidding the folder structure in My Documents.

Only the initial twelve sections are shown until one of the icons is clicked. This protects you from data overload and only reveals the bit of the site structure that you are interested in.

Assuming, of course, that you know where to click.

Phone home

Various methods are used to pass the word about LPMCC.net and to help you keep in touch. There is the regular free email sent out each week to those who ask for it. Search engines are presented with data in easily digested form. There is an RSS feed for those who know what to do with it. But the technology that is booming faster than anything else is Mobile Phones -(Cell phones).

I experimented with a WAP page in 2007. A lot of effort for tiny screens labouring to download a few bytes of data. Things have moved on a long way in the intevening three years so I've tried to catch up with the technology.

It you have a web-enabled mobile phone you can now keep up with the latest developments at LPMCC.net via a page designed specifically for the purpose.

http://lpmcc.net/mobile

Stay in contact with LPMCC.net wherever you are. I hope it reminds you to use your phone to take photos for LPMCC.net. Good grief, you could even call me for a chat!

You've been frame of mind

When someone comes a spectacular cropper, as soon as we realise they aren't dead, there is an impulse to laugh.

Friday we went tobogganing at Tamworth Snowdome. I was prepared to be bored by simply going up and down for half an hour. Coming down was anything but boring. First run and I rolled about in the snow. After that it was freestyle all the way. At one stage the toboggan spun round and I began to gather speed going down backwards. The family, coming down behind me say my look of bewilderment and panic was hysterical. Luckily we had a change of clothes and I didn't leave brown stains on the snow.

This set me thinking of the many occasions when strange - not to say comical - things have happened to us as motorcyclists. Things never captured on video for You've Been Framed or YouTube but etched into our memories as episodes that we need to confirm with other participants and witnesses before we can believe that they really did happen. There are a few of these antics on the Dropping It page. Many others come fleetingly to mind when triggered by some stunt on TV or film and I think "I did that!" These need jotting down and adding to LPMCC.net .

Shine a light

Ken Wells phoned me today and asked why I wasn't in the garage fixing the Trident. Droll sense of humour has our Ken.

Told him I was fixing a rattle on Sacha's Honda Lead. It was something to do with the centre stand and I had to look underneath to find the culprit. So I needed the inspection light that was still in the loft from the last time I was up there. The inspection light had been left on too long or used a higher wattage bulb than it should and had partly melted the cage. (Good design, making a lightbulb cage out of plastic but there you go ...) So I was putting a new reflector behind the bulb. Seemed sensible to make it from the reflective aluminium from a drinks can so it would also act as a heat sink. First I checked the internet for the price of a new inspection lamp. My philosophy is, it is worth £20 of my time fixing a £10 product, to keep my money out of the avaricious paws of vendors who cannot be bothered to design a practical product. In this case it was a close run thing.

I had visions of digging the garden for stones to put in the pond to bring the water level up to where it could be used to cool the grindstone I would use to sharpen the shears so they would make a clean cut of the Coke can I was using for the reflector. Then I could locate the rattle and set about fixing it.

The reflector really needs to have tabs that will fold back over the protective frame. You may not be able to tell from the photographs but the Coke can isn't big enough. I need to use a beer can.

Did you really think this blog was going somewhere else?

Who needs cameras?

Government cuts of funding for road safety are resulting in the closure of speed camera partner­ships. There are ac­companying warnings that this will lead to a rise in serious and fatal accidents.

My daughters recently did motorcycle training in Leicester and I accompanied them too and from the centre because they were unsure of the route. What is it about small motor­cycles with L‑plates that attracts psycho­pathetic car drivers? There were so many nutters driving up our exhausts, cutting into our lane and generally trying hard to wipe us out. I think the Speed Partner­ships should dump all their expensive cameras and buy a few cheap second-hand mopeds, stick L‑plates on them and then get out in the traffic taking numbers.

Rush hour traffic isn't picking on learner riders, we just feel more vulnerable on small bikes. Two drivers were competing for road space and we were collateral damage. The "lady" in the mini was wearing long black gloves with pearl bracelets that were displayed to good effect when she gave her opponent a two fingered salute. In the lane on the other side was a police car being purposefully oblivious of the proceedings. Well, it wasn't threatening him was it?

Dave Honneyman notes that police in Durham are breathalysing early morning drivers and wonders if they don't need adequate reason to stop and test. From my experience there are enough aggressive drivers and people who get in their cars before they wake up to keep the cops in business.

Blow On

Perfect pitch

I was half watching TV. Dragons Den and I heard that the appli­cant had been offered more than she had asked for.

That gained my full atten­tion. What was the amazing product or service that had cap­tured the support of the Dragons? It looked like a two foot piece of yellow plastic. I had to know more. Was it inte­gral to the NASA space prog­ramme? Would it­ revolutionise health­care? Solve the Energy Crisis? Reverse Global Warming? I searched the web to find out.

Sharon Wright's product is a MagnaMole for threading cable through walls. Sharon had watched work­men using a wire coat­hanger and thought there must be a better way to do it. The product swaps plastic for elec­trically con­ductive wire, and magnets instead of duct-tape to attach the cable to be pulled through.

Sharon's pitch carried the day. It was pre­cisely target­ted at what the Dragons could cope with and eval­uate. Good present­ation of market­ing and sales figures and a sound financial projection.

But after success in the Den, Sharon was dis­appointed by lack of support from the Dragons. I can understand why.

They must have gone away and spoken to their technical product advisors. Why use a specif­ically manu­factured piece of plastic when a stick for holding a child's balloon is perfect? Why attach the cable to a magnet and then draw that through the wall - why not attach the cable directly to the plastic?

This isn't a consumable. How many elec­tricians are there in the world? There was a machinery sales shop in Market Harborough opposite Har­borough Bike Centre in the late 70s. The company took multi-page adverts in Exchange and Mart and sold hundreds of thousands of pounds of machinary. The way their sales were rocketing I had visions of every home in the country having garages and sheds full of mach­inery. The owner must have had a Dragon's bus­iness accumen. One day the shop was gone, replaced by an Indian Take­away. It was a case of recog­nising the vert­ical curve in the river that marks the start of the waterfall - and parachuting out.

Another invention. It is a timer blue­tacked to a tea caddy. For old farts fellows who forget they mashed tea. You can have a ten per­cent stake in LPMCC.net for a million quid.

Hitting another wall

Last year I panicked when LPMCC.net files exceeded the 250MB limit on my server. As a result all the photos have been consigned to Windows Live because they provide oodles of free online storage. It is a pain to upload them and then link to them from the pages of LPMCC.net but that is the price I pay for my parsimony. It does have another advantage. It means that my server doesn't deliver those photos using my limited bandwidth. There are other limits to using a free server besides total file size. I am also limited to delivering no more than 250MB per day of LPMCC.net to you eager viewers.

That certainly hasn't been a problem in the past. This year is running at an average of 64MB per day, well inside the figure that would cause my ISP to write me a stiff email. However, figures are rising and September the average was 70MB. Of greater concern is the daily variation from the average. The peak is quite likely to be 100MB according to statistical probability. Yet even that puts the day LPMCC.net gets pulled off the web some years away.

The really worrying feature occurred on September 1st when the daily file load was more than 160MB! Visitor numbers were not remarkable on that day so the cause must have been something else. It looks like someone sucked a huge chunk of LPMCC.net onto their local hard drive on that day. If two people captured the whole website on the same day LPMCC.net would be flung off the web.

Steps have been taken. Protocols are now in place to prevent site capture and other tricks that could jeopardise your pleasure of exploring this unique resourse.

If you want the whole of LPMCC.net - photos and everything - for your own computer, drop me a line and I'll post it to you on a CD. It is cheaper than paying for a Pro server!

Rally badge pictures

We are closing in on 2,000 Rally Badges (1,978 at this date) and I have a long outstanding appointment to visit Nigel Woodthorpe to photograph his collection. If Nigel and Ted Trett didn't attend the same rallies from time to time that could double the badges on LPMCC.net!

The simple logistics of photographing Nigel's badges and then preparing them for the website is making me drag my heels. Last week I constructed a camera stand and set of badge mount boards to speed up the process.

Badge pins are pressed into slots cut into the foam backing so that the badges lie flat. The camera is set for macro and is far enough away from the subject to need to be zoomed in to neatly frame the badges. Exposure is made using the 2 second delay self-timer.

I tried it on recent National Rally badges. The reflective gilt details don't copy very successfully when scanned. The camera and correct lighting captures them far more naturally.

All the effort will be worthwhile if it brings happy times to mind for old friends. A necessary part of that objective is that friends can find the badges. Google have an excellent "Image Search" facility but if you type in "motorcycle rally badge" only one of the 1,978 LPMCC.net badges appears! So, as well as making my what-not stand, I have made an effort to bring the badges to the attention of Google by creating a single HTML page containing all the rally badges with descriptions to help the Google webcrawlers. Because it is such a huge page of images it is not linked through the usual menu system and this is the only place you will find a link.

Battery of answers

... for the battery of questions you didn't ask.

When I choose a digital camera I look for two main features.

First is an old fashioned viewfinder. Since I now need bisexual spectacles I find cranking my neck back and forth to squint at an LCD on the back of a camera damned annoying. An eyelevel viewfinder is also much better for dark and very bright conditions when an LCD just doesn't show up. With feet apart and elbows tucked into the body there is less chance of exceeding anti‑shake technology.

Second essential feature is easily replaceable batteries. Preferably AA or AAA. Many new cameras come with rechargeable Li‑ion batteries that last for ages but the battery is still the weak link in digital cameras. With memory cards that hold hundreds of photos, are light to carry and quick to change, the battery has become the limiting factor. Proprietary replacement camera batteries can be very expensive and the problem is worse if they are "built in".

There is a wide choice in AA batteries but Li‑ion batteries are not yet available. Some cameras that take AA batteries will alternatively accept a single (double barrelled) CR‑V3 Li‑ion battery. You have a choice of long-lasting disposable or rechargeable. If you have lost the manual for your camera and cannot tell if it takes a CR‑V3, look down your battery compartment for a bulge on one side that only allows a CR‑V3 to fit in one way.

For cameras, MP3 players and other kit that will only accept AA (or AAA) batteries the question is "what is the best rechargeable?" Hopefully your NiCads have long since been recycled. They have poor efficiency and "memory" problems that limit their capacity if they are recharged before being completely flat. Memory problems are not so bad for NiMH but they do share the same problem with NiCad that they discharge over a fairly short time even in storage. You need to recharge all your batteries before a trip.

Until Li‑ion batteries become available in AA and AAA sizes there is a rechargeable that seems to share almost all of its advantages. This is "hybrid" battery. The only place I have seen them is Maplin. When charged they have a storage life comparable with disposable batteries. Although they are marked 1.2v (compared to the usual 1.5v) they seem perfectly adequate with 2100mAh.

Here are a couple of tips for using rechargeable AA batteries.

If you use them in pairs, keep them in the same pairs. I mark the pairs with a CD marker pen so I can keep them "balanced". In other words, a fairly unused battery is not supporting a knackered battery that is a drag on performance.

Spare batteries need some protection to prevent them shorting out through wet or metal items such as coins or keys. Adapt a tictac mint box with a craft knife. Write "CHARGED" (twice) on one side of an inch of paper and write "EMPTY" (twice) on the other side. Fold the paper in half so it says charged until those batteries are exchanged with the drained pair, then reverse the fold. Put an elastic band over the cap for security - 5mm of old bicycle innertube is perfect.

Charging on

A few more thoughts about rechargeable batteries.

Last week I wrote about keeping rechargeable batteries in pairs. It is worth bearing in mind that battery chargers often only charge AA or AAA batteries in pairs. If you have an item that only takes a single battery it is still worthwhile keeping batteries paired, one inside the device and the other for the spare. What really causes a problem is the odd bit of electronic wizardry that takes three cells. It is possible to get battery chargers that will recharge a single (or three) cells but make sure this feature is specified in the sales literature or the packaging. It should say "for 1 - 4 cells" as opposed to "for 2 or 4 cells". If it isn't specified, ask!

And another thing about batteries ...

Back in 2007 I wrote about an obscure problem in my Windows Live Blog. I am repeating it here because Microsoft may be doing strange things with my old Blog which I don't keep up-to-date.


Come Christmas Day there will be a lot of disappointed kids and angry parents out there who have new toys that won't work. Not because dad forgot to buy the batteries. They just won't work. So begins the frustrating job of rescuing the hastily ripped off packaging, the impossible task of locating the receipts and the fight through the post Xmas Sales to present the item to a busy shop assistant for a replacement.

Then that most irritating line "Have you tried NEW BATTERIES, sir?" (Of course you numbskull, what do you take me for?)

"Let me just try it with NEW BATTERIES sir" upon which the assistant takes two cheap batteries off the display and fits them into the toy followed by a manic whirring, flashing, musical demonstration of the full gamut of the toy's repertoire.

"There you are sir. Just needed NEW BATTERIES. That will be £6.99 for the NEW BATTERIES sir" as he throws your (new) batteries into a bin.

You walk away absolutely furious but utterly dumbfounded.

Here is Why.

  • The batteries are only supposed to go in the case one way round. (reversing it could damage electronic parts)
  • The spring end usually goes at the flat negative polarity end of the battery.
  • The positive protruding end of the battery contacts a flat plate terminal.
  • The flat plate positive terminal is recessed to prevent the flat negative end of the battery making contact if you put the battery in the wrong way. (I know you didn't do that!)
  • The recess on many toys is deeper than the positive protrusion on some batteries so the battery NEVER MAKES CONTACT!
  • The difference is very small and the way to fix it is to shim the gap with a sliver of aluminium foil. Not very high tech and damn fiddly. Mind it does not short circuit anything!

Just another crap design.

Missing links

I use an automatic check to ensure that off-site links are still working. I use an icon or photo direct from the linked website; the practice is usually frowned upon because I am effectively using their bandwidth to deliver my content but as this is a link to their site I figure it is fair. You may have noticed from time to time that, if an image is missing from LPMCC.net, there is a notice in its place saying ... er ... "missing image". I expect you to let me know using the Contact Centre so that at least one kitten will stay dry. In the case of links to other websites, if the image does not materialise I figure the link is broken and the whole paragraph is made invisible. In script ...

if (this.style.backgroundImage == "missing.gif")
      this.parentNode.style.display = "none";

... or something to that effect.


Often when I put out the News update I have just received new content from one of our correspondents. That means I can confidently predict that something new is coming soon. But because it doesn't exist yet I cannot put in a link ... unless it is a broken one! I hate "Under Construction" pages so instead the News has special links that go to an apology page until the new page becomes available. Then it redirects to the new content.

Originally I began to make this a much more general function that worked anywhere but after struggling to get five out of the ten special indexes and site maps to adopt the new system I decided to Keep It Simple Stupid! The postdated links are only used on the News so far and they use a different system from the mechanism that only allows this year's Foz Annual to be opened from Boxing day.

Open docx

Let me be clear: I accept your stories for LPMCC.net in whatever form you wish to send them.

My preference is plain text, either in a .TXT file or simply typed into an email or the text box of a Contact Centre form.

I can open most other documents. Lately I have received contributions as .DOCX files. This is the default file type from the current version of Microsoft Word. I don't have a recent version of Word so I downloaded a conversion utility from Microsoft. Regrettably it doesn't work. So I opened the .DOCX on a computer with the latest Office software, intending to export it as a .TXT file or a Rich Text Format (.RTF) or an older version of .DOC file. But I couldn't understand the "ribbon" system and came away frustrated.

Eventual success was achieved by going to OpenOffice.org and installing their free and highly useable Open Office suite of word processor, spreadsheet and presentation programs. Problem solved and .DOCX submissions now accepted with Open Arms.

Sooner or later someone may send a story as a sound file or a short video. They are easy enough to make with a webcam or mobile phone. Downside is that there is an even greater variety of sound and video file types, all needing special CODECs to allow them to be played. We have a Freeview+ recorder that claims to play video from camera and phone SD memory cards. The practice is ... er ... different.

The bottom line remains - send me your file and let me worry about reading it.

Open quote It made me smile : ) Close quote