Pier Pressure

October 22nd, 2014

We’ve been off to North Wales- precisely LLandudno, for a few days. This was mostly a weekend away just to get away, but there was an ulterior motive; more piers.

The first, a visit on the way, was Colwyn Bay Victoria. It’s been totally shut since 2008, with a chequered history, and is now , frankly, in an awful state. There’s been the traditional fires in 1922 and 1933, with rebuilding, some highly dubious modifications while owned by THF, and a 1976 threat of demolition that was thwarted with a petition, followed by a further one in 1987. The full history can be found here at the NPS site, and also here at the site victoriapier.com, a site owned by Steve Hunt, with whom the story gets odd, rather than just the normal sad decline and abuse.
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Speed Kills: Use your head

October 20th, 2014

West Midlands Police’s WMPTraffic cused a bit of a stir last week on twatter and in the blog world, with this piece on helmets, speeding, and cake. Quite a good piece , in many ways, and a bit lacking in others. First of all, I have no argument with the cake bit.

Moving on to the others:

The helmet discussion. Should cyclists wear helmets, and should they be required to wear helmets?

I’ll come right out and say it: If you want to wear one, do so. I don’t. I suppose, should it become law, that I will, because I follow the rules of the road when cycling.

The article predictably, comes from the viewpoint that you should, and it may save your life, but then relies on anecdote to back it up. I won’t go into detail on this, as others have done it better in the comments, but it has been shown driver behaviour near a helmeted cyclist can be worse, and helmet legislation discourages cycling- there’s real data to show this.

I’d suggest anyone who wants to wear a helmet should, having assessed the risks and benefits themselves.

When we got to the speed bit, I commented, and got a good answer. What does concern me is the simplistic approach; it’s almost as iif we’ve given up on hazard perception and avoidance, and just moved to reducing the impact. Speed kills. Take that to it’s logical conclusion we end up back in 1865.

At this point, I need to stop, as I’m repeating myself, but I’d just like to reinforce the idea that we should seek to avoid collisions, not merely reduce the speed they happen at. We should target people on the phone, messing with their satnav, or just plain not paying attention. Target the tailgaters, the lane-hoggers, and the 40mph everywhere brigade.

Digital Audio in a FLAC

October 15th, 2014

Reading The Register earlier this week, this story popped up.

I thought it was interesting that the article talks about various encoding methods, master tape quality, speaker and amplifier quality, and the problems of re-encoding into Apple lossless (full marks, incidentally, to Fruitco for implementing a lossless codec, though why not use FLAC?), but manages to skip over a critical point of digital audio: the DAC.

There is of course, a lot of bollocks spoken and written about audio: this leads to crap like what this article is handily debunking, *edit* LOL */edit* but one thing is for certain: if you’ve picked a god encoding scheme and a decent bitrate, the digital path is less important than the analogue one (digital signals do not degrade gradually, analogue ones do) and the quality of the conversion is critical.

The analogue stages in most phones and computers is simply not designed for high quality, and the article doesn’t mention this: if you’re using a PC or a phone to play music, if you’re fussy, you really need to do the conversion externally to the PC itself- so either amplifier with a digital input and a PC with digital out, or a USB DAC, or maybe good bluetooth headphones, though there’s a caveat on compression and limited bandwidth with bluetooth audio, which may mean you lose what you gain, but having said that, given that bluetooth headphones are likely to be used on the move with a lot of background noise, it’s probably not important.

Flock Me

September 21st, 2014

The other day, while in a taxi with my better half, we were reminded (by the Indian music the driver was playing) of what used to be the standard Indian meal experience: the flock wallpaper, red carpet, Indian music, After Eight mints and rose-for-the lady experience.

We kind of miss it: there’s lots of great Indian restaurants- several very near home- but the walls are un-flocked, the music is usually modern pop (or worse, R&B), the flooring laminate, and the rose missing. The After Eight is usually still there though.

So, what happened? Am I hankering after a lost time, with mere nostalgia? Will we ever see a resurgence of the “traditional” curry experience? Does anyone know of a local curry house that still has flock wallpaper? I’m not the only one to wonder about this, while some are eager to discount it as the bad old days, and welcome in the modern standard look, but I feel we’re losing out on something.

Flat

September 20th, 2014

We’ve been away on holiday: Sutton-on-Sea, Lincolnshire- another part of the country we’d not been to together and not since childhood: I’m unable to remember when, and my better half visited sometime in the early 80s. I didn’t fancy the long drive to Scotland, as we’d been there once this year, so it was time to go east again, but a bit further north this time.

The drive is short in miles- around 130- but even in good conditions, it’s 3 hours, as a good proportion is single carriageway, you have to skirt several towns, and, at the far end, Lincolnshire’s minor roads become narrow and twisty, with plenty of hazards (horses, cyclists, pedestrians, big fuck-off tractors and caravans- of these, the last two seemingly regarding both sides of the road as usable), so pushing on is not an option.

Sutton itself is a small town, and fairly sleepy, but with a nice beach, wide prom that’s also a cycleway:

Sutton Beachfront

Sutton Beachfront

Just north lies Mabelthorpe, a bit larger, and further south the bright lights and caravan parks of Skegness, with it’s (sadly truncated, but still pleasant) pier.

While Skeggy’s pier is short at 118m:

Skegness Pier: previously around 4 times as long

Skegness Pier: previously around 4 times as long

Cleethorpes’ pier is even more so at 102m.

Cleethorpes Pier- also a quarter of original length.

Cleethorpes Pier- also a quarter of original length.

Both were once much longer, but WW2 and storms saw to that. While they look a bit sad as they were once very long (to accommodate the large tidal range), it was nice to get a couple more piers seen, particularly ones still open and in good nick.

We also managed a visit to Gumby Hall, and met Craig the Norwegian Forest Cat:

Craig

Craig

as well as some good food and drink.

Surface Treatment

September 6th, 2014

A few days ago, we got a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 at work. It’s not a bad machine: it’s a Laplet: a hybrid laptop/tablet, and it works well, if we excuse it for Windows 8- the hardware is nice, thin, light, and i7 versions are quick, so it’s a good fit for the very mobile staff that
will be using it.

I remain convinced that Win 8 is a bastardisation of touch-screen tablet OS and a desktop OS that feels like an unholy marriage, though I’m hating it less as I get used to it.

What really creates a whinge is this little stroke of genius, which caused a support call and much fannying around testing chargers this week.

You can see the product launch meeting now:

Dilbert

Yes, Microsoft launched a device, launched a dock for it at the same time (we got the dock a day or two after the device itself), and managed to make the two not work together at launch. Cue a large loss of faith in what should be a good product.

*facepalm*.

You see this a lot with technology, and come to that, with poorly managed processes outside of tech:

1. Decide on arbitary launch date and fix everything to that.
2. Skimp on the preparation/testing, or ignore the problems.
3. Wonder why it’s all gone wrong.

The result is pretty much as you’d expect; you look inept…

Blackpool

August 18th, 2014

Our ongoing pier to pier network continues, and we were considering Worthing or Penarth, but I didn’t fancy the drive round the M25 for Worthing, and I’m likely to take a business trip to Cardiff early next year, which hopefully I’ll be able to sideline a trip to Penarth into, so where to go?

Llandudno’s pier is nice, but we’ve been there a few times, although not for a while. Colwyn Bay? The town was seriously grim last time I visited, and the pier is both in a shocking state, under dispute of ownership, and under threat of demolition, and therefore closed. A real shame, it could be beautiful, but even if the town was nicer, the pier is nicely cut off from town by the North Wales Expressway.

We decided on a combination of high pier count, and not too long a drive (so I thought, see later), and a bit of seaside trashiness: Blackpool.
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Dirty Boy

July 29th, 2014

I’ve gone on here before about how web filtering is wrong and doesn’t work properly, and how the bigger the scale, the harder it is.

We’ve also seen that, according to an Ofcom report (PDF, 1.1MB) customers have greeted the filters with rejection.

That’s quite gratifying, I think. People are being actively prompted to allow censorship, and are rejecting it. Of course, that the tech required is now in place will make it easier to do more packet inspection should law (or other means) request it…

Here’s the Open Rights Group‘s take on it, the approach is humourous, but the message is serious.

If you think this won’t happen, try the Scunthorpe Problem for size.

I’m personally of the opinion that an ISP should do one thing: provide the infrastructure to route packets to the internet, and maybe a few basic services (like DNS, SMTP etc). You might note that the sponsors of that video refuse to offer a filtered connection, something they’re to be congratulated on.

If, like me, you want to defend an open, uncensored Internet with reasonably privacy, then consider joining the Open Rights Group or the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Note that ORG is a UK organisation, EFF is US-based.

Loosely Comnnected

July 26th, 2014

This is quite a wierd one: some time ago at a company I work for sometimes, a colleague tried to replace some old 15″ LCD monitors with shiny new 19″ ones, to be confronted by extereme flickering. I had a look, tried the monitors with my laptop, and got a flicker-free picture. I made sure the leads weren’t too close to mains cable, but no change.

We assumed some incompatibility with the (elderly) PCs, and another colleague changed the PCs recently. In the course of doing so, he discovered the real cause. A power lead- just a normal BS1363-IEC C13 (colloquially known as a kettle lead), but, tellingly, with a rewireable BS1363 plug, not a moulded one. Remove the lead, problem stops. This lead was connecting one of the PCs that was working perfectly well, and flicker-free with the 15″ monitor.

I looked at the lead the next day:

The culprit: a badly fitted plug.

The culprit: a badly fitted plug.

and it seemed kind of OK at a glance, though that neutral lead should have been cut shorter.

What did turn out to be wrong was every terminal was loose: loose enough to turn by hand, so I presume that the intermittent connection caused enough noise to upset the new monitor, but not the old one. Disturbingly, this lead had passed a current PAT test, when potentially it’s a fire hazard: loose connections can overheat.

I don’t know if the connections had worked loose (which is one reason why connections in screw terminals should not be tinned with solder) or just sloppily fitted in the first case. The plug did rattle when shaken, but it would do that even with tight terminals, as the pins have a bit of play in the housing. Full marks to my colleague for spotting an obscure fault.

Another Brick in the Wall

July 20th, 2014

One for the Walsall history types.

One of Walsall’s better buildings, 41 Bridge St. You can see a picture, and read details here, on Walsall Council’s local listing page. or here on Flickr. Yes, amazingly, this building is not listed, just locally listed, and we all know what protection that gives.

Anyway, this is a great building, and is in use, so unlikely to get the attention of the civic arsonist. It’s rather beautiful, what with all the ironwork on the roof and such, but sitting outside the St Matthews Hall pub the other night, something struck us:

41 Bridge St, from where it approached Lichfield St. There's something odd about the 2nd floor,

41 Bridge St, from where it approached Lichfield St. There’s something odd about the 2nd floor.

a section of wall has been entirely rebuilt in modern brick: the roof and either end look original, and the new work is clearly intended to facsimile the original, but doesn’t quite manage it. I know this building has been the subject of renovation (I think I recall the ironwork being replaced/refurbished), but what happened here, anyone? It’s quite an odd thing- did the bulding suffer damage?

I remember the building as the Heart of England Building Society myself- formerly Walsall Mutual Building Society, apparently.


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