Archive for the 'YamYamBlogs' Category

A Frosty Reception

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

Having fixed my bike on Christmas Eve, I thought I’d take advantage of the daylight and fully functioning gears and go to Chasewater for the first time in months. The canal was frozen, and the towpaths covered in frost, but the only time I had a slip was climbing Ogley Junction bridge, making it neccesary to walk over it. Other than that, the frost hissed away under the tyres harmlessly, though I took it very carefully over the railway aqueduct, with it’s exposed brick path covered in frost.

I’ve biked a bit in the recent cold and since the fix, but only short hops on main roads, and it was nice to get back on the canal: few people were about, the sun was bright, and while it was cold, the sharpness of it felt good.

The local swan family were about, but split by the icy canal between Clayhanger and Anchor bridges the cygnets now pretty much fully grown but still grey in places, and hoping for food from me:

A fully-grown cygnet at Anchor Bridge

A fully-grown cygnet at Anchor Bridge

The neighbourhood cats around Ogley Hay were making use of the ice to cross the canal and extend their territory, but didn’t stay still long enough to get my gloves off and photograph them.

Chasewater itself was almost deserted: a couple of joggers and dog walkers- and the seats were all covered in frost or water, so I didn’t hang about. I didn’t even attempt to ride up Ogley Junction bridge this time, but it was still a bit of a game: evidently my cheap and nasty “whatever it came with” bike tyres, while a conmpromise most of the time, are better than one would expect on ice: perhaps bike and car tyres have some similarities at the budget end of the market.

I ended up home by 9:30- with cold hands and face, but feeling better than when I left out.

Off The Rails

Friday, December 26th, 2014

I’ve been frustrated by my bike of late: gear changes were getting sluggish, and at times it was plain refusing to shift gear. I replaced the obviously tired chain, and got an improvement for a while, but then things got markedly worse. I misguidedly tried fiddling with the adjusters (some of it in desperation while riding and needing a higher gear), which resulted in me buggering up the thread of the adjuster at the shift lever. The levers are SIS combined brake and gear levers, and come as a pair, so it was off to Halfords website (as the usual suspects like CRC didn’t stock them) for replacements.

Fitting them was mostly fine, though delayed by one pingpuckit (the cable clamp on the front deraileur) making a bid for freedom under the cooker (the kitchen being the only practical place for bike maintenance in December), but adjustment took a while. If you ever have need to adjust bike gears, this is the place to go, but read the rest of this post first.

Deraileur (or derailer) gears are a pretty crude device, just pushing the chain sideways to change gear, and they’re also prone to damage, and in the line of all the mud, grit, and water from the road or canal towpath. I don’t do hundreds and hundreds of miles, but this year has seen me increase my mileage by a lot, and I’ve been out in the mud and had to hose down the bike a fair bit.

Long story short, is that I hadn’t noticed how stiff the control cables had become. As the new levers came with brake and gear cales, all have been replaced, and the smoothness and ease of both braking (my bike has cable-operated discs) and gearchanges is amazing. I suppose I should realise that increased miles on gritty towpaths means increased maintenance, and also learn that generally, adjustments are sometimes better left alone- look at the basics. This also shows why hydraulic brakes, hub gears, and even electronic shifters (yes, bikes now can have CANBus and ECUs) are popular with more serious cyclists- in fact, BrownhillsBob’s quote that (IIRC) “If deraileurs were invented today they’d get laughed at” seems even more sensible for a mountain bike or hybrid. On an outgoing road bike, their efficiency over a hub gear might make more sense.

Merry Christmas

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

Just a short note to say merry Christmas to all. As is customary, I won’t mention all the people in the online community of Walsall (and nearby), but just point you the way of the YamYam, still aggregating the local blogs. I do, however, have to mention both BrownhillsBob and The Plastic Hippo, both of whom shame me both with quantity and quality, and also to those of you I’ve actually met and imbibed beer with: you know who you are.

There’s a few Christmas errands left, but shopping is done, and the turkey is chillin’, and I even think I fixed my bike…

Pub Closures

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

I’ve been (again) thinking of pub closures lately; this has mostly been prompted by the reports from Andy that the Pyle Cock is to close next year (as reported here) and picked up by WV11 here. The Pyle Cock has long been one of my favourite pubs, one that I don’t visit enough, because it’s 2 bus rides away.

There’s an interesting post here (and the comments are worth a read too) from The Pub Curmudgeon. My view don’t entirely align with his (or the linked report) (he’s of the view that the smoking ban has had a large effect, and the linked article dismisses PubCo behaviour to some degree), but it does make the point that pub closures are a complex matter: it is not just beer pricing (via taxation), competition (from supermarkets) or the smoking ban: all of these factors have a role to play, as does social change- as the comments point out, increased car commuting (and greater distances to commute), and a change in working patterns also play a part. It’s noticeable in large cities with more people travelling by public transport, pubs continue to thrive, but again, it’s not that simple.

Good pubs thrive, and taking the Pyle Cock as an example, it’s difficult to see why it is closing: it was for sale for a time, and has now been sold to a developer. That suggests a PubCo taking the option to cash in on real estate, but anecdotal reports suggest the pub was not busy in general, though the current landlord has been given notice, rather than quitting himself, it would seem, so perhaps it was making *enough* money: the beer was always good and the atmosphere was fantastic, old traditional pub.

Oddly, just up the road, the ever lovely Vine
is thriving and busy, with a new, young landlord and fantastic beer, and I’m told the nearby Dog and Partridge is fine too. It’s hard to see, though, what is so very different that makes the Pyle Cock unsustainable. It remains a fact that good pubs, even those not serving food can do well, and I’ve recently been in a very traditional backstreet pub with no real ale or food that seemed to be very busy (including with smokers, outside on a cold day), which makes me wonder exactly what the factors are that close pubs?

Speed Kills: Use your head

Monday, 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.

Flock Me

Sunday, 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.

Surface Treatment

Saturday, 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:


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.


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…

Dirty Boy

Tuesday, 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

Saturday, 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

Sunday, 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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