Arrival

April 23rd, 2018

Saturday involved, after sorting a couple of household things, a beer trip to meet Andy & JC. We’d arranged to meet at around 2pm in The Crystal Fountain in Cannock, so as that’s in the wilds of Staffordshire that means the horrors of Arriva. Andy, of course, has little choice but to use Arriva or walk, but that serves him right for living in a backwater.

So, the given meeting time means we need lunch. And the Arriva 1 or 2 connects Walsall, Cannock, and Bloxwich. The Bell is in Bloxwich. The Bell is known to serve good cobs and beer, and has a nice beer garden. It’s a sunny day. So, The Bell it is. A short hop on a NXWM 10A, a ride in the 89 through Pelsall, and we’re there. a swift couple, some lunch, and off to get the Arriva 2: it goes round the houses a bit, but stops very close to the Crystal Fountain.

It also stops, according to TfWM data as used by bus apps and, seemingly google, here:

It doesn’t. The 2E stops there, but the 2 goes around here:

So we got to watch it go round the corner.

The positive side of this is that the 1 is actually quicker, using the A34 more, and with a short walk from here (confusingly named “St Johns Road” on the bus and “Forrest Avenue” in the TfWM Data):

we were at the pub. Which sadly, didn’t give a good impression: lots of noise, blokes stood in doorways, limited beer selection, terrible music being played loud in the beer garden, and some of the decor from that lovely refurb damaged. We moved on.

Now, one thing that I’ve got very used to with NXWM is that they have very accurate, responsive GPS transponders in the vehicles. A smartphone app can , therefore, give you a countdown (or indeed a count up if a bus is very delayed) of an ETA that can be frighteningly accurate- when it goes to “DUE” the bus will literally appear with a minute.

We’ve been caught out by this before in Selkirk: other companies evidently use less accurate transponders or update the feed slower, and you can wait around longer than expected, or indeed, give up, and leave the stop, and miss it as it sails past you 2 min later. This time we waited. In the rain, as like Andy said, “Arriva can never keep to a timetable”. Eventually, the 2 arrived.

We then thought a visit to The Colliers Arms might be nice as the 2 passed through that way. We knew it did, we’d been past. On the outward journey last year, on the other half of the one-way system. Worse still, we missed out on The Star too.

This left us with The Masons (whatpub link). You can see what I thoought of that. Thankfully, The Ivy House, and a finish back at The Bell saved the day, but then NXWM must have been channeling Arriva, by seemingly not running any 89 buses for a couple of hours in the early evening, so the route back was via Walsall. Our bus mojo was not strong this day.

Bearing up under the strain

March 13th, 2018

So, I decided to go and take a look at the nicely refurbished Ogley Junction Bridge, and hopefully cross it and get to Chasewater, extending my recent short rides.

I got to the bridge, avoiding the ditches in the towpath, and continued on, marveling at the fact that my knees seemed to be coping, but there was an unpleasant grinding, and for once, it wasn’t me. Then the gears started to complain, and change chainwheels without asking.

A look down showed the chainwheels to be wobbling alarmingly. That’ll be a broken bottom bracket bearing then. I changed down the gears to reduce load a bit, and nursed the bike home, having made it to Anglesey Wharf.

With a borrow of some suitable tools, and the application of a good amount of force, the bearing came out, not as the intended cartridge, but as a collection of mucky parts; the ball bearings got lost, but the remains of the races tell all:

A destroyed bearing shaft and remains of the races.

At time of writing, the new one is installed, but I still have to fit the new chain that seemed like a good idea while the bike was in bits. I don’t suppose the bearing had done too bad, shifting my 18st body about for five years in the filth and mud of the towpath, and a Shimano replacement was comfortably under 15 quid. Slowly, the bike gets more and more upgraded bits….

There Is No Cloud

March 7th, 2018

..there is just someone else’s computer.

I’ve touched on this before, here. Devices and software we buy can give us great things: we can stream films or music rather than shipping physical media (move bits, not atoms), and deliver amazing connectivity, but when these services depend on someone else’s computer (and if you can’t touch it, it isn’t yours), you can’t rely on them being there.

A very small illustration. I have a bus time app. It is was great. I’d look at a bus stop on the map it grabbed from Google Maps, and it shows me destinations, routes, and more. The data is publicly available, and indeed, Google Maps itself uses the data built into maps- essentially, all the app does is glue together some bits of data, and present it nicely.

Suddenly it stopped working, with a typical error message for phone apps, saying it couldn’t connect and to check my data connection- which was fine. I assumed a temporary problem.

A month or so later, it’ still not working. I email support, and remove the app, re-install it. Clear the data and cache, then eventually wipe the phone. Still no good, so I install on a different phone. Still no good, and still no answer from support.

At this point I can only assume the company is no longer maintaining it, and whatever server it calls home to on the Internet is no longer operational.

For 3-4 quid of app, this is not a problem, but it might piss you off a little if you’ve bought some IoT hardware (Hive, or Ring, for example) and they decide to pull the plug. If you’ve just migrated a huge datacentre into cloud, it could be a disaster.

Remember: if you can’t touch it, you don’t own it, and even if you can touch it and do own it, unless you control every service it needs, it can be taken away from you.

Anyway, not all bad, I ended up with a better app 🙂

[Edit 14/03/2018]

I’ve now had a reply from the app’s author:

Fixed about half an hour ago.
Sorry for the outage and not replying sooner. I have moved suppliers and the problem should not recur.

Which is kind of a shame, as I’ve given up and moved to something else now.

No More Beyond the Northern Wastes

February 22nd, 2018

With the reduction of subsidies from Staffordshire Council, our relatively recent discovery of Chasetown and Burntwood as places to drink and eat looks like it will end in April, when the NXWM 10 bus route stops going further than Brownhills at off-peak times.

This is a bit tedious; that’s exactly the sort of times I’d be wanting to use it, but it’s just an inconvenience: I don’t rely on that route for work. There’s changes to Arriva services too, which means a Saturday evening trip to The Crystal Fountain is out, too- and even a daytime visit would mean some clock-watching in early evening.

As I said, this is just inconvenience for me, limiting my drinking choices. I’ll live. It could be more serious for working people (let’s not forget that not everyone works 9-5, and not everyone has access to a car).

It is, of course, a direct result of council cuts, caused by government austerity measures, once again most seriously affecting the poorer people the most: those that can’t afford taxis or a car.

The other factor here, of course, is our old friend bus deregulation. The bus companies are private enterprises, with obligations to shareholders. They want t make money, so if a route isn’t profitable, and they’re not being subsidised by a council, they’ll stop running it- and who can blame them?

Why is it a surprise our roads are choked by private cars?

Good old free enterprise, working for the good of all, again. Thank $deity we’re free of the inefficient shackles of public transport run by non-profit organisations.

Spam Spam Spam

February 15th, 2018

Comments are registered users only for a while, thanks to spammers. I’ll get a better filter installed…..

[edit]

I’ve chucked a few quid to Akismet and installed that. Spam Karma did me very well, considering it’s not been updated for years now. I’ve also updated WordPress to the latest.

A Slightly Longer Spin

January 30th, 2018

I’d finished work early to get a broken coil spring fixed on my car (the bodyshop visit having prevented me being organised and getting the MOT done with more time to spare) and the MOT retest done. The current horrors of the M5 make the journey unpredictable, so leaving plenty of time I ended up 45 minutes early, but Midland VW sorted the car early too, so I had time to visit my Mom, and still be home at around 4:30. What better way to use an unexpected bit of time than a short ride, down on the towpath, while rush hour goes on above and around?

I’m still not doing my normal, regular route (Chasewater and back) as I need to look at my bike setup and see how the knee bears up, but I was curious about Ogley Junction Footbridge, which as BrownhillsBob has observed, is undergoing serious work (and not before time; it’s a lovely structure and one of only 3 listed structures in Brownhills, all of them bridges).

I got warned by a chap coming the other way that it was covered in plastic, though he’d clearly passed over it as there was nowhere else he could have come from, but it looked tricky:

Sheeted up.

I wasn’t going any further anyway. Back home, with a few aches but nothing serious. A much better way to spend that time than sat in traffic.

The Automatic Choice

January 29th, 2018

I had a mishap in a car park with my car; so a bodyshop visit was required. This meant a courtesy car. This is rarely a good experience, courtesy cars usually fall into 2 camps: old and knackered or new and bargain-basement, with one exception when a loss-recovery company hired me something flasher.

So, then, this was the bargain-basement end. A nearly new Toyota Aygo, and as I need an autobox these days, one with the MMT transmission. A car so thoroughly vile, I chose to leave it at work when I could, and get a lift from a colleague.

I need, at this point, to be fair. The Aygo is a 1-litre city car, and it’s actually not built badly; it feels light and flimsy because it is light: the engine develops a fair amount of power (about 67BHP) for a non-blown 1 litre, but you need light weight. You also need minimal transmission losses, which is where MMT comes in.

MMT isn’t a traditional autobox, and, by that, I mean a torque converter-and-epicyclic auto, which was the way to do an auto in bygone times. It’s essentially the normal, manual box with a few actuators bolted on and some electronic control. This is done for efficiency and cost- both in terms of production and fuel economy/emissions: the conventional auto is expensive, heavy, and inefficient. MMT, and it’s work-a-likes from other manufacturers is cheaper, lighter, and has low parasitic losses. That’s where the good news ends: even VWs offering, ASG, seems to suffer from inherent “features”.

I can’t vouch for ASG, but forums are full of opinions that mirror my experiences with MMT and the technology is pretty much identical. MMT vibrates at standstill as the ECU slips the clutch at low revs to provide “creep”. The creep itself is lumpy as the 3 cylinder engine struggles, and the change from 1st to second could be timed on a calendar as the car loses momentum and then bogs down when the lack of torque fails to make up for the delay. In traffic, surely the ideal place for an automatic city car, the smooth, easy progress of a decent auto becomes lumpy, jerky and learnerish. In an odd thing for a city car, there’s paddle shifters, for when you inevitably need to override the ECU’s choice. As if that weren’t enough, rumours of poor reliability are common.

Higher speeds are obviously noisy, and kickdown is merely a volume control.

I’ve driven automatics on and off for 30 years: conventional ones (including this rather revolutionary British interpretation, German and Japanese implmentations), CVTs with a torque converter, dual-clutch things like DSG or Powershift, and I can say that if automated, single-clutch manual gearboxes are the future for small cars, then either take us back to the past, or pray for the death of internal combustion engine (or buy a manual, if you can). If you can’t, then for $deity’s sake, get a DCT or conventional auto, you’ll not regret the expense or the economy trade-off.

LMGTFY

January 24th, 2018

A minor intertubes annoyance of mine.

I use Google Maps quite a bit. Not massively for sat-nav, as I’m a terrible luddite for navigation, and don’t have a suitable car holder, but for finding pubs, bars, restaurants, stations, shops etc if walking. I’ll use the reviews as a guide, and I contribute back to it as well: I’ll edit places I know are wrong, I’ve added photos of opening times that Google can scan and publish automagically.

Overall, it’s pretty cool. Yes, you’re dealing with a big evil tech firm, and they’re getting a lot of data for free, but it’s useful for me, and the contributions may be useful (they’d be even better if it would let me add The Jigger’s Whistle, but meh).

One thing, though, is troubling me. Nagging away at me like an untraceable rattle in the dashboard.

Questions. Questions asked by people too damn lazy and/or stupid to do even the most basic research on the computer they are in front of or holding in their hand. The maps app on my phone will occasionally prompt me about a place it knows I have been and say

Someone has a question about [place], can you help?

and like a twat, I’ll view the question, because it’s good to help.

Here’s a typical example, with a fairly succinct answer from another contributor.

FFS. Let me Google that for you.

Really? Not even a full sentence, and the answer should be pretty fucking easy with the fucking Internet in front of you, shouldn’t it?

Looks pretty easy to me. Fuckwits.

A Short Spin

January 7th, 2018

I’d had to knock cycling on the head for a short while, due to a uncomfortable swelling in my trousers. My knee, to be precise.

So, it’s been a while. I got the bike out, wiped the worst of the crud off the chain, re-inflated the tyres, and got out. I managed to mount Black Cock without too much discomfort, and it was back on the towpath for the first time in a few months.

I was taking it easy; a physio recommended a turbo trainer, but I didn’t fancy it; I might not cycle that much, relatively, but I don’t think there’s an alternative for being outside. Plus, I already have more than enough clutter.

So, a very short ride. No further than Catshill Junction for a first spin. I was hoping to see Eyebrow Cat, because, frankly, he’s lovely and reminds me of my own QT, but he was presumably sleeping inside on what was, to be fair, a very cold day.

A short stop at Catshill:

Catshill Junction, and a muddy bike. No Eyebrow Cat, though.

And briefly thinking how sunshine can even make the tower blocks look attractive:

Hope that cladding isn’t flammable…

and a ride home.It’s good the be back on two wheels, however briefly.

Ubuntu 17.10 and an abcde ripping failure

January 4th, 2018

Recorded here as I couldn’t find any mention online: abcde is a fantastic command-line CD ripper for Linux that does something very clever- it glues together lots of individual tools to automate ripping, encoding, and tagging music files. Handily it can rip to FLAC and MP3 (for the car stereo) in one hit, like this:

I recently had a bit of a mishap involving a laptop, so had to fresh-install Ubuntu, and copied over the config file for abcde. It sort-of worked, but at the point where it has ripped tracks, and is meant to tag them and move them from the working folder to $HOME/Music/mp3 and $HOME/Music/flac it bombed with

tagtrack-mp3-03: returned code 1: nice -n 10 eyeD3 [arguments sent to eyeD3]

Running eyeD3 with the same arguments manually gave

Traceback (most recent call last):
File "/usr/bin/eyeD3", line 6, in
from pkg_resources import load_entry_point
ImportError: No module named pkg_resources

The simple answer is

sudo apt-get install python-pkg-resources

and away it goes. I’m not sure if that package is suggested for eyeD3 or abcde, but it’s clearly not set as a dependency, or apt would install it- apt is usually extremely good at this kind of stuff.