Unlike every other weblog you ever saw, this one is in correct chronological order so you can read it the right way round.
Here we go
This is the day when I look back on last year's Blog entries, usually measuring success by quantity rather than quality or success.
Quality is probably in the eye of the reader. The LPMCC.net blog is a mixture of website background and personal grumbles. The background is a bit tekky at times. It either fails to meet the aspirational needs of computer savvy readers or goes clean over the heads of technophobes who stumble upon them. Grumbles are just the beer talking. It may ring your bell if you are equally inebriated.
Gauging outcomes means simply counting page views. In 2013 the blog was viewed 800 times and numbers naturally related to the posting of a new blog. Furthermore, my tekky ramblings seem to be a general turn-off for everyone so there'll be none of that malarkey this year.
Stand by for plenty of grumbles in 2014. All the old subjects and I bet there'll be a few we haven't met before.
Cap in hand
Simply inserting a new battery into my car key has disabled remote locking and almost immobilised the ignition. Now I have to go cap in hand to the garage for an expert to fix it. So much for "switch on ignition - press button A - switch off - remove key - hey presto"
That's the least of my worries today. Last year I boasted about how easy it is to upgrade a hard drive when I fitted a swanky new 2TB Toshiba.
Yesterday it sent me a message. I thought it was tapping out Morse code. It was a death rattle. With it went all my emails since last March. Yes, I'd archived them ... er ... on the hard drive.
The only bright spot is that the original hard drive was still working fine when it was put away in case of just such an eventuality.
I usually back up all data at the end of the year but didn't at the end of 2013 for some reason - complacency. What else did I lose besides emails?
Over the next few days I'll be updating Windows, browsers, anti-virus, add-ons and message services. It's amazing how many security patches have been added over the intervening period. I'll also be making a comprehensive review of backup and disaster recovery plans.
Maybe the worst outcome will be an early move to a new computer running Windows 8 and the need to throw good money after bad on peripherals that will connect to it.
I feel your pain. Last year I added a 500GB disk drive from a defunct PC into my system. It disappeared one day with a load of photos, videos and music. Luckily, I had been using that drive as a back-up, so I had most of the stuff elsewhere, it was just a case of finding it again. Not fun.
- Phil the Spill
As if a hard drive failure wasn't enough this week. New computer arrived today and I've been on a very steep and downward learning curve.
It's different to the point of perversity. As if it's been done as a personal attack. The email client is appalling with no visible way to alter the layout or organise rules for incoming mail. Will I ever be able to back-up or archive emails now? Skype has always been a fairly robust and simple program to work with. The new version is minimalist enough to be unusable. What happened to Tools that let me check microphone and webcam? And where is the delightful lady who chatted with me on "Test Call"?
When at last I get a program running (or is it an APP?) how the heck do I close it down?
I've spent a full day setting it up and haven't tried to connect the old printer yet. It has put me completely behind with this week's reports and News update. This gripe is coming to you via my old XP computer that is a familiar friend.
Compared with Windows 8 I preferred my recent hard drive failure! At least I knew where I was.
What makes it all ten times worse is that Sacha came home from work and had the damn thing jumping through hoops. Rachel actually prefers it to the previous systems.
Next thing they'll be putting electic starters, automatic ignition advance, windscreen wipers, lights and gearboxes on automobiles. Where will it all end?
Yesterday I posted a report on the 1969 Pennine Rally from Keith Knowles who recalls a very cold night after his sleeping bag zip broke. There are few things as annoying as a busted zip fastener. Zips are used everywhere and they are fairly simple things. But if they break or jam the whole function of what they are attached to is ruined. Whether it is a sleeping bag, tent flap, motorcycle suit or the fly of your pants, if the zip goes you end up exposed.
In my continuing struggles with Windows Hate I wanted to email some files in a ZIP. Recent versions of Windows translate ZIP files as "compressed folders"; the suffix ".zip" may be hidden and the file icon looks similar to a folder icon . It works much the same as a normal folder but you won't see thumbnails of photo files. Really it is just a clever way of integrating ZIP files into Windows Explorer.
So I did the usual thing. Selected the files and right clicked for the context menu and chose "Send To > Compressed (zipped) Folder" and was greeted with an error message - "Access Denied" even though I was logged in as administrator.
Plan B: Right click again and create a compressed folder called test.zip using "New > Compressed (zipped) Folder". That worked OK. Now drag and drop files into it. "Access Denied". Try to open it ... "Access Denied"
There followed several hours of Googling the problem and trying all the suggested solutions. "Access Denied"!
SUMO. I exported the required files to a different (Windows Vista) computer, zipped them up there and sent them.
As you may be aware from previous posts on this blog, I suffered recent hard drive meltdown with repercussions I don't want to repeat. Therefore I am now paranoid about backing up data. And I check it is backed up. And suddenly backups were failing! Digging into what was causing the failures was time consuming but I eventually tracked it down to ... the inaccessible test.zip! It was like a busted fly, neither use nor ornament and exposing me to bitter winds.
I eventually managed to delete it across the network using my Vista computer.
Now I have to use a workaround for compressed folders.
When I need a compressed folder or ZIP file ...
I'm holding together Windows Hate with safety pins!
With a fast new computer running the latest version of Internet Explorer I thought I'd retest to see if it was up to speed. Chrome browser cruised home in 40 seconds and Firefox flashes through in 20 seconds. The latest Internet Explorer claims to be the best ever. Well the test took 14 minutes. Yes, I did say minutes!
Internet Explorer on Windows Hate now fails to work at all ... so it isn't all bad news.
Some years ago I did the website for a group of academics. Keen to find out their expectations and what they needed from the website I asked what specific things they were looking for. The clear and resounding answer was "big buttons". It made sense. These were highly professional people who didn't want to faff about on the internet. They wanted big buttons that were quick to recognise and easy to click.
That lesson is taking a lot longer to sink in for me. I still use piddly little links on this website and get complaints from aging past members who can't read the captions and can't keep the mouse over the button. I tell them "Tough, hold down control key and roll your mousewheel" instead of fixing the problem. This website has more than 1400 pages so it needs a fine and complex index.
Times move on and a lot of people now access the web using mobile devices. Tablets and tiny smartphones don't take kindly to microscopic buttons. People of a certain age choose their phones based on the size of the buttons. LPMCC.net isn't built for mobiles. It's for leisurely exploration from the comfort of home with a beer at hand. Exceptions are produced specifically for mobile use and are used extensively. The European Rally page is the most visited. It meets a specific need and I don't think other content would be so widely used. Horses for courses. Pages that benefit from a mobile format are specifically written for that purpose. The rest of the website is best served by desktop applications.
So far that is the sum total of my effort to achieve the new buzzword "responsive".
Microsoft has its own method of making pages suitable for all devices. They make them for mobiles, call them tiles and expect desktop users to adapt to the lowest common denomiator. Hence Windows 8. You might think that Microsoft could either detect if you are using a tiny touchscreen or a mouse and keyboard and provide an operating system to suit. Irresponsibly unresponsive!
I thought it was about time I added a few big buttons to LPMCC.net in case they prove useful to you.
They are used on a handful of pages: Home page, Site Map, Navigation Help ... If you stumble upon them give one a prod. But don't get to like it too much!
The world is full of dimwits. I knew that. You probably knew it as well. Over the past few days I've been dismayed to learn that many of the people who we hope are knowledgeable, even experts in some particular specialisation are also dimwits and because of their positions they are casting shadows on the world.
First I was told of a couple of door-to-door evangelists who were giving their spiel. Their target explained "Thank you, but I'm Jewish" to which they both responded confidently "Yes, but you still believe in Jesus don't you. Everyone believes in Jesus."
These guys believe in some "truth" yet they don't even have "knowledge". Ignorance is probably a prerequisite!
Years ago I worked with a Baptist minister who had plenty of tolerance for door-to-door evangelists. One guy earnestly quoted a bible passage that was new to my friend. "That's not in the bible." he told his visitor. "Ah, it's in the original Greek version." assured the young man, whereupon the minister brought out a Greek version of the bible and invited the rather put-out visitor to point to it!
Today I noticed a news story about Reddit and curiosity drew me to their website for the first time. There I found a thread about rocket science. Someone asked what can be paraphrased as "Can a rocket go faster than the speed of its thrust gas?" Apparently it is rocket science.
Yes, you, I and Isaac know the answer.
Regrettably the Redditors who responded to this simple question - and who are supposed to be scientists, engineers and experts from the industry of at least degree level - to a man either couldn't understand the question or perversely obstructed the simple answer with irrelevancies about fuel load, ion drives, relativity and friction.
I despair for NASA and wanted to shout at these experts "Read the question!" (and KISS)
Other people do
Occasionally on recent motorway trips I've been intrigued to see gantry information signs with the following message...
I guess they don't really mean that other people are binning my litter. What they mean is more peculiar than that!
My behaviour should be influenced by what other people do.
Observation on the motorway reveals that I should also be ...
If other people do it must be what I should also do ... officer!
Next time I go for a job interview I hope they ask the old chestnut "What would others say is your biggest fault?"
I'll avoid the usual stock answers "I'm a perfectionist" - "I'm a workaholic". They just indicated lack of imagination.
From my pocket I'll pull a large sheet of paper and say "I expected that question so I conducted a survey..."
Then I'll start to reel off the many things that have been said of me and often to me.
The list is too long to go into here. You could no doubt add a few new ones. Many of them I consider insulting, derogatory, abusive but nevertheless accurate.
I'll mention one in particular. I laugh at my own jokes. Well, someone has to. I must have heard it before but it still raises a genuine laugh. It must be because I've a bad memory.
Having a bad memory is why it's good to have friends who will cheerfully fill in a survey on my biggest faults.
My wife is always keen to oblige without an invitation.
Progress is s l o w when you are working backwards.
I was thinking about how to make the website available on mobile devices. It wasn't until a few weeks ago I realised that means tablets as well as smart phones. LPMCC.net is almost there because it has remained suitable for viewing on an 800px X 600px screen despite the advances in flat screen displays over the past ten years.
That is not quite small enough for tablets and smart phones. But if I hide the menu from the left hand side, the content is just under 600px wide. Hmmm - now how would you navigate without that pesky pop-out menu system?
In March I wrote about Big Buttons. They are the way to go and I've already plotted them out. For a screen under 800px wide I'll use big buttons instead of the fiddly menu system.
Except there are too many (12) sections to show them all as big buttons on a phone. Hence the apparent disappearance of several LPMCC.net sections. In fact they are still there, they have become subsections of other areas.
The only page to have physically moved is the Regalia page. The rest are still physically where they were and your bookmarks (and links) to them should be unaffected.
That prerequisite to making LPMCC.net responsive is relatively painless. The next stage is not so easy because it requires all 1400 pages of the website to be rewritten in a slightly different order.
Hopefully I will not need to rewrite them one at time. With any luck they can be rearranged using powerful find and replace editing. Of course that has the potential to screw up hundreds of pages at a time! So I'll need to back up everything and keep checking as I work. Progress will be slow just preparing for the new code that will make the site responsive.
I have plans for how the responsive features will work. The desktop version will remain as it is now. The mobile appearance will have tabs on the top for INDEX and CONTACT. Contact will be the current Contact Centre, maybe format to fit the screen. Index will be simplified into the new main sections plus backward and forward through the sites linear progression.
More complex navigation across sections will be as now, using tabs and links within page content.
It's a daunting task in terms of technical issues and quantity of work so don't expect it to be ready for some time. I'm aiming to achieve it by the end of the year and expect unforeseen issues to set me back a few times. So...
Join in the Goon Show song "I'm working backwards to Christmas ... "
Swings and roundabouts
There is something about roundabouts that frightens drivers. They try to get through them as quickly as possible for similar reasons that they won't slow down in fog. Frightened they'll get their bum bitten.
Back in the 70s we had to take rider trainees from Market Harborough to Kibworth to show them how the closest roundabout worked. We'd stand nearby and try to predict where drivers were going. You can't tell from their signals (nor lack of them) You have to make a judgement based on speed and road position. And that takes some experience.
Motorcyclists are over-represented in roundabout accidents. Where it is difficult to make a call based on the road position and speed of a car it is nearly impossible to do so for a motorcycle that changes both speed and position very quickly.
One excuse I've heard is that "there isn't time to signal properly". The answer is obvious. Take more time! You have plenty unless you are planning to run out of it here and now.
There is another exception to the Highway Code that drivers believe applies to roundabouts.
Rule 170: Take extra care at junctions. You should ... watch out for pedestrians crossing a road into which you are turning. If they have started to cross they have priority, so give way.
Ho hum. Try walking across a road that exits a roundabout!
Until recently highway engineers avoided painting right turn arrows on the approach to roundabouts. That encouraged drivers going ahead to use the right turn lane. Maybe they still avoid right turn arrows near ferry ports.
It seems that Rosetta has discovered Comet 67P to be a huge derelict spaceship 150,000 times the size of an aircraft carrier. Since being blasted in an intergalactic conflict billions of years ago it has suffered further damage from space debris as it orbits our Sun.
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko - Photo Credit ESA/DLR Rosetta/NAVCAM August 2014
As we go to press the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research is withholding this week's photos taken by the Osiris camera on Rosetta. They are rumoured to show harrowing views through a porthole of the ship's occupants. All descended from the ship's cat!
Correction: Professor Mark McCaughrean and his team have publicly identified the object as a Klingon Bird of Prey - partly cloaked.
Our cycle rides are usually a bit of a lottery. Even when we have an idea of where we want to go to, we usually get lost along the way. It's all part of the adventure and the only time I get grumpy is when our arrival at a pub is delayed.
When we get back (we always manage to do that) we haven't a clear idea of where we've been. So recently I've been recording our route using a smartphone app from Google called My Tracks.
It is pretty simple which suits me down to the ground. Turn on the GPS, open My Tracks and press the big red button to start recording.
At the end of the ride I stop recording, open the ride file and export it as a CSV file. It goes into a folder in the phone memory at /storage/sdcard0/My Tracks/csv. Connect to my PC with a USB cable, find the file and double click it to open it in a spreadsheet such as MS Excel or Open Office Calc.
This is what the file looks like in a spreadsheet ...
There are lots more rows of data and extra columns giving Time, Power (W), Cadence (rpm) and Heart rate (bpm) if you connect biometrics but the columns I need are C (Latitude) and D (Longitude)
My GPS is a bit hit and miss so there are a few glitches.
For these reasons I need to clean up the route before using it on LPMCC.net. I've found the best way to do this is to plot My Tracks onto a Google Map and then trace it. (Tracing is quicker than editing.)
Want to try it?
When a fellow rallyist or member from years past discovers LPMCC.net and submits a paragraph of their memories they are eagerly added to the website to jog everyone's memories of times long ago. Problem is, they have probably just looked at the page where the addition is inserted. Returning within a few days means they cannot find their addition. Because their computer, in its effort to be fast and frugal with bandwidth, is not taking fresh data from our server but looking at a copy of the file it has temporarily saved in local memory - in a cache.
If I remember I'll let the contributor know when and where their new content is on LPMCC.net and tell them how to make their computer call for the newest file from our server.
Pressing the f5 key on the top row of your keyboard is enough to redraw the page if there is a minor glitch in the rendering but it still uses the old cached file.
To force most browsers to ask for the latest files from the server it is necessary to press f5 while holding down the control key (bottom right of keyboard marked "Ctrl")
There is another way on LPMCC.net: At the top of every page is the LPMCC.net title banner, just under the advertisement. Double click that to force the latest files from our server. You will see all the icons and photos reloading as well!
That's all well and good for the desktop version of LPMCC.net but we also have mobile phone versions of the Rally List and where we are meeting for our next Cycle Ride. On a smartphone there is neither an f5 key nor a title banner.
If you get stuck with old data on an Android phone you need to come off the page, go into Settings > Privacy and look for something like Clear Browsing Data. When you return to our mobile page you should no longer be sent to an outdated location.
We've two cats. One lays on the floor with his tail curled away from him looking like a big apostrophe. The other spends most of his waking hours licking his butt. It's so clean he could win prizes - maybe a Cat Ass Trophy.
We're careful to use apostrophes correctly on LPMCC.net but things ain't always so simple. In HTML text content there are few problems. If a report is submitted as a Word document it usually has clever quotes (like those) that indicate whether they are opening or closing. To get those to appear correctly on a web page they need to be converted to “ and ” and these are nonstandard entities. It's the same with single quotes.
I bet if I hadn't pointed them out to you they would have gone un-noticed. So I change any double quote to the standard " (") mark used for opening and closing quotes, inch and second symbols. The single quote ' (') is used for apostrophes, minutes and sometimes quotes within quotes.
All well and good but ...
... why does there always have to be a but?
That's my excuse for leaving out the curious apostrophe from most references to the Sweed Bashers Rally.
Cycling with the Embers is always an adventure. More so for me because my bicycle brakes are useless. They are quasi-ATB centre pull cable system with the brake calipers pivoted on the fork stanchions. I've tried various methods to improve them including new brake pads and regularly cleaned wheel rims. All without success. So, back to the drawing board and some basic engineering.
The brake lever acts via Bowden cable to pull on the middle of a link cable between the left and right brake calipers. The problem is that heaving on the brake lever is using most of its force to pull the levers up with only a reduced component actually pinching the wheel rims between the brake pads.
Simply by reducing the length of the link cable (and increasing the brake cable length correspondingly) the brakes are improved by 60%.
Next ride I'll be skidding on my arse!
If you can see the above diagram congratulations! It is the first Scalable Vector Graphic (SVG file) used on LPMCC.net. It was created using OpenOffice Draw, an application that comes with the free OpenOffice suite of word processor, spreadsheet, presentation and database.
It isn't just science that promulgates theories and hypotheses. There are many well known laws and rules from all walks of life.
Here are a few more laws that I observe but haven't seen written anywhere.
You cannot have reached your ripe old age without discovering a few more pearls. Send them in.
I expect you've come across the phrase "Sorry mate, I didn't see you." hopefully not as you are being loaded into an ambulance. It's such a common phrase that riders on the receiving end shorten the experience to Smidsy.
A video doing the rounds suggests a way to reduce the chance of suffering a smidsy. The method is referred to as a Smidsy Identification and Avoidance Manoeuvre. Of course, this mouthful is reduced to SIAM (Don't call it a SIAM manoeuvre - like don't say PIN number).
I have no problem with double loading abbreviations. I used to work for RoSPA Motorcycle Training Scheme that was shortened to RMTS. The rule seems to be - if you can say the acronym as a word then it's OK to include just the first letter inside another abbreviation.
I'm not so happy with the SIAM. Here the rule seems to be - watch for motorists on side roads (Identify, that's fair enough) and then weave your motorcycle from side to side to present some horizontal movement against the background (Avoidance?)
Traditional methods of preserving your life might include slowing down but there is a perceived risk that could make the Smidsy think you are slowing to make a turn, pull up or give way. This is what put me in a French hospital in 1972 when I cautiously slowed down before crossing a green light and the following bus accelerated because he thought I was going to turn off.
Back in the dim and distant past I suggested that motorcycles had become too quiet and needed to be fitted them with a Hand Operated Rude Noise to alert road users of their approach.
This is much safer than flashing your headlights as a means of warning others of your approach, something that most definitely should not be done in a Smidsy situation. Despite the Highway Code defining a flashed headlight as being a warning, the colloquial meaning is the exact opposite and would most probably invite a Smidsy to pull directly into your path.
Of course a hand operated rude noise device - let's just call it a horn - is just as perversely misused as flashing head lights. It is supposed to be a warning to other road users but is usually used as a friendly greeting or a rebuke.
There is a reluctance to use a horn for its proper purpose, a bit like walkers who avoid pedestrian crossings, won't press the button or wait for the green man. When Embers cycle on the highway, cars approaching quietly from the rear don't like to toot to let us know they are there. Similarly, when we are on paths shared with pedestrians we feel it is impolite to alert them that we are wobbling towards them by ringing a bell. When I cycled to work I carried one of those little electronic key rings that emitted "space invader" sound effects that I thought were more acceptable for issuing a courteous "excuse me".
While practically every other device on a vehicle has been upgraded, computerised and automated, the humble horn remains not much more developed than a rubber bulb on a bugle. We no longer have Colonel Bogey blared out from air horns on every suburban estate. The time has come for "town and country" horns with amplitude controlled by pressure or duration. Imagine the following code...
The last must be audible with windows closed and a boom box blasting out seven megadecibels.
Phil the Spill has been spilling the beans about rallies in the 1980s with corroborating photographs. I'm sure they won't offend you if they show a side of rallyists deviod of customary badge-covered denim and leather. However, they might cause a shock to your maiden aunt. Thoughtfully Phil also sent a supply of fig-leaves to protect the innocent.
Although you may wish to protect your wife and servants from lewd content, I appreciate that you should be allowed the freedom to choose what you have access to. Therefore the carefully positioned fig-leaves are removable.
But I don't want to make moving the fig-leaves too simple because that would risk any old site visitor peeking at the naughty bits. The secret is to doubleclick on the leaf to bring on autumn when leaves leave.
A slightly different method is used on a Big End rally page where the fig-leaf needs to be pulled away to gently reveal salacious content. Conventional method is to press down the left mouse button and pull the pointer with the underlying object across the screen, appropriately called "drag and drop". That has two disadvantages...
So the method on LPMCC.net is a bit more obscure. Doubleclick on the fig-leaf and release the left mouse button. Now pull the pointer across the screen and the fig-leaf will follow until either you click again or move too far away.
Incidentally, I use a similar system to scroll across photos that have been zoomed into (by rolling your mouse-wheel to enlarge details).
- Ben Crossley