August 2009 in the Life of Ben (Blog)
Faster Driving Practice (31st August 2009)
Much like my previous driving practice. This time I did 30mph several times and used 2nd gear quite a lot. We also did 2 emergency stops and drove around some really wiggly areas. Driving is starting to feel like a lot of fun!
I bought my car insurance on Sunday from Swift Cover. Their website has a ghastly visual design with some terribly repetitive workflows. Their adverts claim the common case is getting a car insurance quote in 60 seconds. O rly?
Anyway, their price was about £450 and everyone else’s was was between £500 and £1,500. Also, I quite like that an all-online service really does produce a big competitive advantage.
Junctions are fiddly. Parking seems difficult when you think about it. I kept going too far into the space. Eventually got a good one though, just as Dad arrived.
He brought Mum and I an ice lolly each, a Callipo to be precise. I remember getting those from the ice cream van years and years ago. Mum and Dad would have ice creams, Zoe would usually have a Feast and I’d have a Callipo.
Since starting my new job, getting home and absorbing the events of the day has reminded me of many past events. It feels like my mind is re-assessing which memories are important enough to hold onto. It’s a moving experience.
2 Rootkits on Downstairs PC (28th August 2009)
This morning, Mum reported the PC would not connect to the Internet. There was not time for me to troubleshoot it before leaving, though.
During the day it got no better. Eventually she called a local PC repairer. He identified some infected files and suggested he take the machine away to fix it.
Apparently it had a pair of rootkits, which are a particularly nasty type of virus. Their names seemed to be:
Anyway, he cloned the drive and reformatted it, then re-installed the operating system. He then copied over some of the important data we had, such our parents’ documents and settings. He brought it back and it seemed OK. But after a while the infection came back, probably residing in one of my archived applications.
I disconnected the machine from the Internet, reformatted the drive and re-installed the OS. He brought the cloned drive over and the cables to connect it up. So I’ve been very carefully copying over uninfectable stuff which we want to keep.
Just now, at about 9pm on Bank Holiday Monday, I tried putting AVG on it. I downloaded the latest version using the upstairs machine. It was just a shell which downloads the rest of the application files; about 100MB in total! So I got all of these and put them on a USB stick. Took this downstairs and copied it all to the HDD, usin the folder where it downloads to.
Running the installer, I expected it to see the files where already downloaded and therefore install it without needing the Internet. After all, how else can you install this on an isolated machine? Connecting an unprotected PC to the Internet whilst 100MB of files are downloaded would be ridiculous. Right?
But, lo and behold, the installer insists it needs an Internet connection to proceed. The files are right where it will be downloading them to! (I am Ben’s puzzled frustration.)
This was far from the only crazy technical barrier I’ve come across. Simple issues, like finding where an application stores its data, are a labyrinth of manuals and versioning and configuration nuances.
Thankfully I did get a long sleep in on Monday morning. But I’d been awake until 1am (or was it 2am?) doing the OS re-installation.
So tomorrow I’ll have to call the PC repair guy to find out how to get around this. He thought the way I described would work. Maybe there’s a Download AVG in one big lump link hidden away somewhere on their website. Sigh.
Fastest Lap on my Bicycle! (23rd August 2009)
Did a 2:40 around the nearby woodland route. That’s my fastest ever time! I could feel it was going well as I rode it.
Lap Time Commentary
My line through the fast, sweeping section at the start was perfect. Moving the bike from side to side, cutting each apex and shifting my bodyweight to make the wheels avoid the worst roots felt so natural and precise.
My topmost gear was slipping a bit, so I dropped down to the penultimate ratio. Although it’s a fast section there are a lot of bumps and some undulations. Maybe this is better suited to that terrain?
(I later found out the slipping was due to a bit of pine cone which had gotten crushed into the rear gearwheel. Found a tiny but sturdy twig and worked it loose. Ran fine after that. Will need to oil it up next time I ride it.)
I was leant right down, my head nearly touching the handlebars. It’s amazing how much of a difference this makes! I could feel the air running smoothly and almost silently down my back.
The ditches were dry and I was riding through them really smoothly. The rythmn and flexibility I had were the best I can remember. Maybe it’s all the strolling and moving from my commute, loosening me up a bit?
Still had lots of energy after the ditch section and could run quite comfortably in High 2 towards the gnarly rooted section. Used my bodyweight to pick a great line through here (even if I do say so myself) which let me accelerate smoothly out of it.
Nearly lost the front end through the very narrow and tricky chicane between two trees. The shape of the terrain creates a slight berm there, which helped me catch the slide.
Honking out of the chicane, still with lots of energy, felt like it gained me a bit of time. Swept through the downhill-and-uphill right-hander and attacked the rise towards the access road.
Accelerated gently but constantly down this, arriving with rather more speed than I anticipated into the final hairpin! Felt the rear wheel lock and unlock as I squirmed towards the apex. Actually ended up on a nice line, getting a smooth exit for the final few metres towards the finish.
Stopped my watch, noticed the time and did a celebrator warm-down lap around the route. Wewt!
- Went through Basingbourne Park, along the roads then through the woods to Pontail.
- Wiggled down onto the towpath and followed Basingstoke Canal to the overflow.
- Sprinted up the hill and heard a lot of racket from behind me. Realised my rear mudguard had rattled half loose, so I reattached it.
- Continued along swooping tracks towards Pyestock.
- Took the high, technical pass which ends with a long, steep dip leading immediately into an almost equal rise.
- Coasted towards the stream and splashed through it a couple of times.
- Practised some low-speed manoeuvres.
- Rode through the woods to King’s Road, down to Pontail and turned right.
- Took it fairly easy as this is a long road.
- Rode no-handed while drinking from my water bottle for the long, slightly downhill section. Feels like ages since I did this!
- Sprinted from a long way back to reach the traffic lights at Crookham Wharf, just before they changed.
- Coasted along Glen Road and merged onto the towpath of Basingstoke Canal.
- Drifted gently back home, doing a slow warm-down lap around the block.
Set off around 4:45pm and got back around 6:15pm. Had a shower then treated myself to a meal I’ve been planning for some time:
- 1 jacket potato.
- 6 slices of corned beef.
- 9 cocktail sausages.
- ½ can of baked beans.
Dad had cut and shared out a fresh pineapple. I am going to eat my portion of it now.
Aside from this ride, I spent all of this weekend relaxing. A very welcome rest it was, too!
Commuter Times from FLE to WAT (22nd August 2009)
How much time is commuting to my (still quite new) job taking out of my life? Time for a big data table!
|Thursday 30th July 2009|
|Outward||0745||0800||0910||0935||1:50||Walked from WAT.|
|Return||1740||1820||1915||1930||1:50||Walked to WAT.|
|Tuesday 4th August 2009|
|Outward||0715||0740||0830||0900||1:45||Walked from WAT to Tottenham Court Road.|
|Return||1805||1840||1930||1945||1:30||Walked to WAT to Tottenham Court Road.|
|Wednesday 5th August 2009|
|Outward||0715||0740||0830||0904||1:49||Bus 1 from WAT.|
|Return||1800||1841||1924||1950||1:50||Bus 1 to WAT. Kebab after FLE.|
|Thursday 6th August 2009|
|Outward||0738||0752||0838||0902||1:24||Forgot ticket. Bus from WAT to Russel Square.|
|Return||1745||1812||1930||1945||2:00||Bus 68 from Russel Square to WAT.|
|Monday 10th August 2009|
|Outward||0720||0752||0838||0920||2:00||Bus stopped in gridlock due to RTA. Began walking at 9am.|
|Return||1845||1939||2020||2029||1:44||Bus to WAT.|
|Tuesday 11th August 2009|
|Outward||0715||0739||0832||0954||1:29||Underground to WAT.|
|Return||1730||1740||1835||1850||1:20||Underground to WAT.|
|Wednesday 12th August 2009|
|Thursday 13th August 2009|
|Friday 14th August 2009|
|Outward||0732||0752||0915||0930||1:58||Power issues at WAT required change of trains at CLJ.|
|Return||0745||1812||1855||1920||1:35||Kebab after FLE.|
|Monday 17th August 2009|
|Tuesday 18th August 2009|
|Wednesday 19th August 2009|
|Return||1800||0841||2027||Long delay getting pizza due to schoolkids before us.|
|Thursday 20th August 2009|
|Friday 21st August 2009|
|Outward||0745||0809||0900||0920||1:35||No trains near 0750 today.|
|Return||1840||2112||2208||2215||1:35||Walked to end of road.|
|Monday 24th August 2009|
|Return||1845||1912||2000||Kebab after FLE.|
|Tuesday 25th August 2009|
|Wednesday 26th August 2009|
|Return||1800||0841||Missed ~18:10 from WAT.|
|Thursday 27th August 2009|
|Return||1830||1909||1957||Missed ~1840 from WAT.|
|Friday 28th August 2009|
|Return||1838||1909||2000||2030||1:52||Heavy rain briefly became hail! Kebab after FLE.|
For the record, I bought a new drinks bottle during lunch on Friday 28th August 2009 from the newsagents behind my workplace. I bought a pair of strawberry lip balms from Boots at WAT on my way home.
Method for Collecting the Data
Each day I have tried to log the key times of my outward journey and the return. Gaps are in the data are from immediate events taking precence over note-taking. Events such as:
- Jostling up endless stairs and escalators to Exit 3 from Tottenham Court Road Station.
- Putting on a coat to reduce the pace at which heavy London rain soaks me.
- Eating a kebab.
Anyway, I chose pen and paper for data collection due to the balance of:
- and free-form layout.
Analysis of my Commute
Largely derived from less than a month of personal experience but seemingly confirmed by the data above:
- Good journey times are nearly twice as fast as bad journey times.
- Using the London Underground is faster than walking or using busses.
- Overground trains with fewer stops can overtake earlier trains with more stops.
- Arriving very early at railways stations is an anti-pattern.
- Arriving a couple of minutes early at railway stations is the optimal balance of speed and comfort.
- Trains stop in stations for longer than you might think, so it is always worth running.
- Timed services deliberately avoid being early to ensure their availability for just-in-time commuters.
- Buses in Central London are generally not timed services; they operate continuously.
- It is reasonable for commuters to accomodate slight delays outside of their control.
- It is unreasonable for commuters to accomodate arbitrarily large delays outside of their control.
- My large and rugged coat is inadequate in strong rain. I have not tested an umbrella.
- Cardboard train tickets are inadequate in hands wet from even one instance of strong rain.
Technical Review of the Table
Rationalising the data so it can fit into the data models available in HTML meant some compromises. The careful prioritisation and clever optimisation to maximise the quality of the table was quite an interesting exercise, for me.
The above was my best effort and has these drawbacks:
- Started by only filling in a few days case I changed the format. (I did.)
- Right-aligned all the digits.
- Left-aligned the notes.
- Can only capture checkpoints for the various modes of transport I tried by adding several more columns, which would consist mostly of empty cells.
- Can only name the stations if I maked the Return rows read right-to-left.
- Spreading the data entry over several evenings has still left me goin to bed later than I wanted.
As such, quite a lot of useful data is absent or a bit weird.
On the other hand:
- Start and end times are present for each journey.
- Total time for each journey is present.
- All of the most most useful data and notes are present.
- Journeys can be compared directly.
- Notes ended up pleasantly compact.
- Notes provide interesting qualitive insights into the quantitive data.
- It is a regular and conventional data table.
- All header cells are identified.
- The markup is about as lightweight as HTML tables can be.
So, all things considered, I am satisified with this table.
Driving Practice (16th August 2009)
Got to drive my mum’s Nissan Almera and my dad’s Ford Ranger Wildtrack today.
We went to some private land which has various access roads and car parks. It felt quite natural right away, even though the last time I drove was in 2001 or 2002. That’s when I passed my test (first time) aged 17.
That was so long ago it predates my blog!
Spent quite some time practicing my parking into many empty spaces. Seemed pretty easy but I dare say would feel very different if there were more cars around and people queuing up behind me.
Stalled a couple of times and slightly grinded reverse gear once. Pretty good going, all things considered.
The 1st and reverse gears feel very tall. Have to ride the clutch for ages before the revs are high enough to avoid stalling. But it does put 1st and 2nd quite neatly together, making that gearchanges easier to manage.
Got up to 20mph which felt really quite rapid! Somehow feels much faster when I’m in the driving seat than when I am a passenger!
This is a much longer vehicle with a much wider turning circle. This meant my first attempt to enter a junction failed. But I backed up (without hitting a nearby fence) and made it on my next try.
Similar number of turns on the steering wheel to get from lock to lock. However, the wheels don’t turn to such an angle because it is four wheel drive.
My first gearchange was rather slow and flustered, since 1st is a lot shorter than 2nd. After I got used to revving a bit further in 1st they became much smoother.
The extra torque of the big diesel engine and the smoother movement of the clutch make that aspect easier to operate. The reduced turning circle means you need quite a lot of room to enter a parking space. I got into one, albeit a bit crooked.
Reached 25mph on a straight part! Was surprised how much later I could have slowed down. I was barely crawling along by the time I reached the end of the junction. Seems to have a lot of engine braking; I guess that’s due to the higher compression rates diesels use.
Anyway, it’s favourable to be too early than too late with the slowing down aspect of driving.
When my mum gets her new car in September, I’ll probably get the Almera. This will mean I can drive to and from Fleet Station for my London commuter trains.
Family Lunch (9th August 2009)
Went to the Hatchgate for a family get-together over Sunday lunch. Here’s what I had:
- A pint of orange juice, no ice.
- Lamb in minted gravy with:
- roast potatoes;
- chunky carrots;
- and broccoli.
- Treacle Syrup Sponge with ice-cream.
The support and stability of my family is a great comfort.
8-hour Guinea Pig Vacation (8rd August 2009)
We left the guinea pigs out on the law for about 8 hours today. I guess it felt like a vacation for them because they had stopped eating and started snoozing.
My parents were out having a meal, I think. So when it got around to 8pm I decided to gather them up and put them back in the summerhouse. We nickname this building The Piggy Palace, incidentally.
Took the opportunity to cuddle each of them and sit them on my lap. It’s quite theraputic, apparently. They enjoy the attention and the stroking helps with their fur. Also gets me outside, which is refreshing.
Sunny 2-Part Cycle Ride (3rd August 2009)
Sauntered to the nearby woods. Met a young neighbour there who was testing whether their puncture repair had worked. They were heading back so I carried on.
Was going to ride around my route like last time but there were people walking near the ditch crossings. Those can be pretty sketchy so I coasted past them.
Went on the roads to the hill behind Crookham Village. Rode around the woods there and came back on the roads.
I left at around 3:30pm and arrived home before 5pm.
WHATWG Blog uses my Theme (2nd August 2009)
The theme’s colours come from the WHATWG formatted version of HTML5. The typography, spacing and sizing are based on a user stylesheet I made ages ago to make the spec more legible and compact for me.
No HTML Changes
The theme does not require changes to the standard Wordpress markup; it was just a stylesheet change. Anne cleaned up the HTML while he was applying this theme, “mostly making it simpler”. He also enabled the sidebar when viewing entries, an enhancement I had requested.
Using the browser default text size clearly makes it too big when compared to other websites. Fantasy fonts, headings and logotype make sense at big sizes but not the main content. Indeed, the whole point of Verdana is that it has excellent legibility at small sizes. Indeed, readability and compactness were the primary reasons for my creating the user stylesheet I later based this theme on.
Pressing Ctrl++ twice in Firefox 2 reduces the text size from
16px to precisely
12px. That’s a common size across the web and is rather generous for Verdana. It retains a big text feel (like Anne wanted) whilst being a more conventional size, imho.
I notice some of the code samples are using plain
<pre> instead of
<pre><code>. This makes the samples inconsistent with inline-level code samples. The most visible effect is these samples lack the monospace orange font. Also, their pretty-printing looks less than a character width per level due to a proportional font being used.
(The theme uses a poportional font for
<pre>. This is so free-form poetry and plain text formats are rendered like main content but with their use of whitespace displayed. Other preformatted texts usually have a suitable element to go inside the
<pre>, such as
<pre><samp> for terminal output or
<pre><kbd> for command-line input. This approach also avoids
<pre class>, which is kinda neat.)
Still, it’s very cool to see my “undesign” skills are appreciated by those weirdos at WHATWG.
IRC Logging Tangent
Maybe Krijn will have a second look at the IRC logging demos I made? He added several features when I first suggested them.
The most visible influence is on his IRC logging homepage uses a compact 8-day listing format very similar to what I proposed. Very handy for Mr & Mrs Last Week, no doubt, although my primary motivation was to help weekly telecons review their previous meeting’s minutes.