July 2012 in the Life of Ben (Blog)

  1. January
  2. February
  3. March
  4. April
  5. May
  6. June
  7. July
  8. August
  9. September
  10. October
  11. November
  12. December

6th London Scalextric Club (31st July 2012)

No regulations this evening, so everyone tried out some of their more experimental cars. We raced 3 lanes for 2.5 minutes, then you stay on for a race just moving over by 1 lane. I got my first race win, had a faultless 2-race run and scored my first time under 9 seconds!

1st Pair of Races

My first race was dreadful, just had terrible throttle timing and very abrupt with it. It was a tricky Lancia prototype with magnet effect from the motor. You’re either inside the limit or over it and I struggle to find a rhythmn with cars like that.

2st Pair of Races

A red GT40 lent to me by Steve, the club chairman, was my safe choice. It’s a fast car but no magnet effect from the motor which actually suits my style really well. I did 2 races with no crashes using that car and took it to my first win!

Unused Racer Excuses

My win was mainly due to Steve (club chairman) using a pretty slow car and the way the other racer crashed twisted the guide. That caused the marshal several seconds of difficulty before the car got going again. Nobody used this to discredit my lucky victory, though.

Marshalling gives an authentic consequence to crashes, I think. The risk of a twisted guide is a bit like stalling the engine in a real racing car (or motorbike) and it taking a couple of attempts to fire up again.

Way back at Calthorpe there were no marhsalls. If you crashed your race over. We only did 8-lap sprint races most of the time, barely lasting a minute.


Lots of chat about motorsport, slot car tuning and life in general. We had coffees and little cupcakes at the half-time tea break. Some banter throughout the evening, Olympic Games predictions and old rock music nostalgia.

Peace of Mind

Oh, in my last pair of races I used the tricky Lancia again. Decided to drive it carefully and really focus on being smooth. Gave me great peace of mind to achieve that, just one crash in the two races. My last race was on the brown lane and posted my fastest time, just 8.97 seconds! No crashes and narrowly completed 16 laps.

Would like to see what this car can achieve with a better driver.

House-Sitting for Mum & Dad (30th July 2012)

While they were up North on a business trip, I returned to Fleet and looked after the house. Went for a ride and took some pictures:

This scenery was a much-needed antidote to the stress I’d caused myself! Letting myself relax and take a casual approach to things meant I broke a mirror, nearly forget to pay for my 15th professional haircut and probably left the new screen protector Fiona gave me for my phone.

It also took me hours to adjust the brakes on my mountain bicycle and road bicycle. They do work much better as a result. The absence of ear-splitting screeches from my racer is one useful thing I got right, at least!

All the animals were well tended for and I started to enjoy the fish, which I never expected to.

There were some motorsport series I’d recorded on the Virgin Media box. Being able to disengage brain whilst watching those was another welcome relief.

Haircut 15 (28th July 2012)

Looking after the family home means I can get a haircut. What haircut did I get this time? The same haircut I get every time, Pinky. Although a bit thinner than haircut 14 in April this year!

Olympic Torch Near Alexandra Palace (25th July 2012)

Took some photos and shot this video with my Nokia Lumia 800. Uploaded from the phone to Skydrive and downloaded it from there. The video is MPEG-4 so I’m not putting that in my pages.

You can view the video here if your browser supports HTML5 <video> to deliver MPEG-4 directly:

Technical Issues

If your browser doesn’t support that, you can download the video (MPEG-4, 12.7MB) and play it using some other program.

Sadly the SkyDrive system doesn’t provide a plugin-free method to embed the video. The Embed link then has a link to Generate HTML. “Great,” I thought, “that will save me a lot of hassle.” Alas, it inexplicably requires Silverlight in order to play! So that’s was a non-starter.

IE9 displays the poster frame with really really washed-out colours. What a weird bug. The image is fine when viewed directly (JPEG, 33kB).

Laptop Performance (24th July 2012)

Opening the Start menu, then right-clicking Computer and clicking Properties always stated 3.3 Windows Experience Index as a measure of system performance. Today I closed all other programs, clicked the score to open the Performance and Information Tools and then clicked Re-run the assessment.

Having updated the graphics drivers recently, the 3.3 it used to score for Graphics has now jumped up to 4.9! That’s the lowest score the machine has; everything else is between 5.8 and 6.2 which is a lot of power for the £530 I paid.

Well done, laptop. And well done to AMD/ATi for making their newer drivers better.

Search Indexing

At the moment the Indexing Options window tells me 163,408 items indexed. Ouch! I only ever search for programs from the Start menu or e-mails within Windows Live Mail.

Index these locations tells me the entire Users folder is currently indexed. As well as Microsoft Office Outlook and the Internet Explorer History for both user accounts. I don’t use any of that.

So tonight I unticked both of those locations. You do this by selecting the location, clicking the Modify button and then unticking the item. I had to expand the Local Disk (C:) item so that I could untick the Users folder.

Will this makes any difference? Only time will tell. Windows Live Mail seems to be the biggest HDD hog when starting up but I do search within it a few times each month.

After a short time I noticed the number in Indexing Options was falling, with the HDD making half-second bursts each second. It was politely removing items from the index. Nice! I dozed off for a while and it settled on 58,383 items index – about half the number at the start.

5th London Scalextric Club (24th July 2012)

This evening a new family arrived all the way from Dagenham. The mum drove round at the same speed and managed more laps than her kid. The dad had a go as well and was faster than them both but missed one braking point each lap, which lost him quite a bit of time.

I really struggled with the cars this evening, they seemed to have a very narrow power band. Towards the end I just drove them slowly and posted my fastest lap of the evening! Watching the other drivers, everyone looked slow through the middle of most corners. I was simply being impatient with the throttle before that.

It was a fun evening, quite a few jokes and some close racing by the best drivers.

2nd Anniversary with Fiona (21st July 2012)

Fiona found a stylish upstairs restaurant in Camden and she’d bought a voucher which gave us a great deal. We got lots of extras while we were there so the bill was still noticable. Wouldn’t want to pay their full prices! The food was yummy and interesting with helpful staff and a friendly atmosphere.

We raced each other back and I won by just a couple of minutes. Had to stop sharply at a couple of lights which changed as I approached. 10 seconds earlier and I would have been through comfortably, easily gaining another minute or two overall.

The next day we sat in Finsbury Park watching an amateur dog training class. They had a course with several obstacles:

We also played a bit of frisbee but the wind started getting up. It took a long time to find a spot big, flat and dry enough to play. Was very busy in there compared to how it’s been for most of this year.

Lumia 800: Received Monster Headphones (17th June 2012)

Unboxed headphones with the oversized UPS delivery box, various inner boxes with cyan cables and headphones.

During May 2012, UK readers may have seen Nokia adverts saying you’d get free Monster headphones worth £200 with any Lumia you buy during May 2012. Well, I had just bought my phone and so claimed the offer.

As you’d expect, everything about this campaign is designed to cause a high drop-out rate so they earn more from increased phone sales than they lose from giving away lush headphones.

After running the guantlet of dozen-digit numbers, a long phone call and much scanning of documents I successfully received my headphones. And they are good!

The photo is from my phone. I used the options to apply the Auto-fix setting. This helped the light levels a lot. Saved the adjusted image, e-mailed it to my laptop, then scaled and cropped in Fireworks.

4th London Scalextric Club (17th July 2012)

This evening was a favourite category of mine, GT racing cars! Also proved to be my best evening for results. We raced 4 cars at a time for 4 minute races and I didn’t finish last for the first time!

In fact, during the evening, I got 3rd, 2nd and 3rd along with a couple of 4th places. Steve (the club Chairman) lent me a particularly good car for the evening, which certainly helped.

Derrek (the club Treasurer) showed me how to sand the tyres before a race. The fresh rubber provides more grip. Only did it once that evening but it made a big difference.

40 Miles Cycled in a Day (17th July 2012)

It was 17 miles to reach my friend for lunch in Wimbledon. I rode much of it along the A3 which has a shared use footpath along most of the length. Some very slow shared use crossings at junctions and being diverted onto residential footpaths at a large junction to avoid sliproads was disorienting.

I just took it slowly, rode a pace which was well within my abilities and sustained it all the way there, rode around the area and came all the way back.

Got the distance from the Google Maps website. You can right-click a point and then click “Add Destination” so it adds it all in one go. Dragged a couple of the routes so they snapped to the way I actually went. Simplest navigation is my priority when cycling, with shortest route being a close second.

After we had lunch I rode on to Hampton Court Palace but it was all fenced off for Olympic events. I browsed their site from my phone but nothing seemed free. Plotted a route home using gMaps on my Lumia 800. It took me through the outskirts of Richmond Park, so I rode in slightly further and found a very neat climb and descent.

A few geared-up riders were also doing the route, including a mixed pair who seemed to be training together. They were so fast, professional speed I reckon. They overtook and rode away from me like I was standing still!

The ride back along the A3 had some more mystery cycling directions. One junction in particuarly was a navigation challenge in its own right! Involved turning left and riding down it for 30 metres, then taking a turn onto a footpath and following that back to a subway beneath the junction. In the centre of the junction was a 3-way cycle path junction, with the correct route being off to the left. Easy to get turned around and disoriented in those diversions.

Certainly prefer wiggling around cycle lanes than contending with busy traffic in a 40mph limit!

Bicycle History (16th July 2012)

Looks like my £50 racer is related to a range of Marlboro-Holdsworth bicycles from 1986. Xtina, a friend of Fiona, thinks Holdsworth were a good make. Judging by this digitised Holdsworth catalogue page the Challenger is the model most like mine (view larger image) but my one has extended brake levers.

Looking on eBay, I found a 1980’s Marlboro Baleno with an oval front logo. Mine seems to have the marks from once having an oval logo, too.

The relationship between Marlboro and Holdsworth is explained near the bottom of this page, 1986: Marlboro-Holdsworths.

The main gearwheel, the long looping brake cables, the shaped lugs for the front forks, all seem distinctive to my bike. The lugs are really visible in the eBay pictures. Finding one machine with all these hallmarks proves elusive, though.

If it ever stops raining I’ll crawl around the frame looking for numbers! Bottom bracket seems like being the best bet. It was advertised as a Marlboro Mirage but I’ve found no history for that model online, so far.

Gzip Enabled in Apache 2.2.x (1st July 2012)

After the series of unexpected server moves I fixed the things which were visibly broken first. More recently I discovered HTTP compression of HTML and CSS had stopped. My local server also had this problem after I upgraded it to match the live site!

The fix for the live site was simply to change the .htaccess directives from the Apache 1.3.x era into the new ones for Apache 2.x era. Local WAMP install also needed me to enable deflate_module from the system tray menu.

Here’s what this site and Site Surgeon are now running:

# HTTP Compression for text-based formats:
# http://www.techiepark.com/tutorials/how-to-enable-gzip-compression-in-apache-server-to-speed-up-website/
# Local server didn't have deflate_module enabled by default!
# http://httpd.apache.org/docs/2.2/mod/mod_deflate.html
<IfModule mod_deflate.c>
 AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/html text/css text/plain
 AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/rss+xml application/javascript

Still pondering the best universal syntax highlighting when it comes to Apache directives.