The Cycling Network - Convenient?

Here are a couple of examples of why I find the provision of local cycle tracks to be inconvenient and unattractive to use.
On the map below there are three marked points, A, B and C. The most direct route is a gently sloping road which has a good surface and this route runs from A to B. Section A to C is a potholed track which does not have a proper surface at all, section B to C is a very steep hill on a narrow lane.
Arriving by bike at either point B or point A the marked "cycle route" is shown to be along route B->C->A or A->C->B depending upon your direction of approach.
No doubt someone thinks this is "safer" - I think it's just directing cyclists along a far longer route, all of which is either very steep or completely unsurfaced and terribly potholed.

If I wish to use the cycle route between Hipsburn and Warkworth when cycling from Alnwick I will arrive at point A on this map. If I ride along the road from point A to point D I will almost certainly be abused by or hooted at by motorists who will normally yell something like "get off the ****ing road" or "use the ****ing cycle track".
The problem is that to join the cycle track I have to cycle from A to B, B to C and then C to D where it then follows the line of the A1068, there is no cycle track between A and D.
Am I being ungrateful in thinking that having to ride along three sides of a square, including going down a hill and then back up it, isn't a very attractive proposition?

York and The National Railway Museum

Today’s plan was to visit the National railway Museum in York, visited it many many years ago and have been meaning to make another visit for a good while. Up and about in good time and then our host Ron again very kindly dropped us off at the Grimston Bar Park & Ride which worked out really well. Didn’t realise until we got there that there are designated spaces for motorhomes to park in (free), according to Ron York is the best place in the country in terms of provision for motorhome drivers!

The service into York runs every ten minutes which is great, two return tickets came to £5.80p and given the potential hassle that this avoided this seems to me to be a great option, certainly the service was well used. just goes to show that if public transport is reasonably priced and reliable people will use it.

Soon arrived in York (Piccadilly) and was immediately surprised by the degree of pedestrianisation there now is in comparison with when I was last here. Makes for a very pleasant experience and the place was really busy, there looked to be some sort of university graduation ceremonies going on, nice atmosphere all round.

About a 15 minute walk to the National Railway Museum and we were soon in amongst the exhibits. Sent a very enjoyable 3 hours in there taking photos and generally enjoying the experience, it has definitely improved a lot since my last visit and it was well worth returning.

What were our highlights? Both really enjoyed the world record breaking steam engine “Mallard" which was just big, blue and very beautiful, a real slice of history there. We enjoyed the exhibit covering “Hospital Trains" which really brought home the horrors of war, we had no real idea of the tremendous role that the railways played during both wars. Great to see Stephenson’s Rocket (albeit a replica of the original) which was the true start of the railway. The engineering skill that went into designing and building all these trains is simply staggering, also fascinating to see the Royal Carriages and to compare what at the time was absolute luxury with the present day, in many ways we now live as well as the royals did.

Online photo album of our visit to The National Railway Museum available here.

Rounded off a nice day by walking down to York Minster (£10 to go in so didn’t bother, £20 seems a bit steep to get into a place of worship) and down The Shambles then back onto the Park & Ride bus. Collected by our pal Ron and we were soon back at the One Hundred Oaks campsite for tea by the lake and a relaxing time before heading back up north tomorrow. Been lucky with the weather as it’s been good again today, in the end you just have to go with it and take your chances and this time we won hands down on the weather front.

Sitting around the lake peering through the binoculars we saw again the small flock of visiting greylag geese, the oystercatcher and our friend the brown hare going about his business. Nice way to spend time this, never switched the TV on at all and haven’t missed it one little bit.

The Exide Gel leisure batteries I installed in the motorhome before we came away seem to be doing their job nicely with no more of the problems I had with the old batteries that I inherited from the previous owner which were swollen and knackered. All in all we have been very pleased with this vehicle and we hope it will serve us well for a good number of years.

Yorkshire Air Museum

Lovely morning to wake up to the view of the small lake, ideal weather for our visit to the Allied Air Forces Memorial & Yorkshire Air Museum. Ron, our host, had kindly agreed to drop us off at the museum which is just a couple of miles away from the Hundred Oaks Caravan Site in Elvington. He was ready bang on time and we were soon on our way in his Range Rover, how lucky we are! Ron’s a really nice bloke, very friendly, has obviously worked very hard all his life and is now reaping his well deserved rewards.

The air museum was excellent, lovely atmosphere and you could really get a feel for what it was like in these places during WW2 when Elvington was a very active heavy bomber base. The main reason I had wanted to visit this place was because I knew from previous research that it housed one of only two Handley Page Halifax heavy bombers, the other one being in Canada I believe.

My stepfather, Eric Dunton, had been in the RAF during WW2 and had been a rear gunner (Tail End Charlie) in a Halifax, quite how he survived I cannot really imagine. At that time the average life expectancy for a rear gunner was two weeks but somehow he did survive many missions over enemy territory, a miracle really.

Unfortunately as luck would have it the Air Gunner section of the museum was closed for renovations but several other exhibits showed me the things I really wanted to see. I was frankly shocked and quite emotional when I saw for real a rear gun turret from a heavy bomber. The conditions, the exposure and the sheer terror these men must have experienced really shook me. They were alone in the turret, surrounded really by just a glass bubble in freezing temperatures with four machine guns for company which were fed ammunition by belts further forward in the tail. I honestly cannot imagine how these men managed to do what they did, truly humbling.

The Halifax Heavy Bomber was everything I had hoped it would be. It was staggering to learn that on the production lines where they were built at the peak of production there was one plane PER HOUR coming off the production line, such was the attrition rate of planes and air crew. This rate of loss really puts modern day warfare into perspective, again I was shocked.

There were many fascinating aspects to the exhibits, we particularly enjoyed the control tower and seeing the living conditions of the air crew. It’s extraordinary to realise that these men might be being shot at and killed over enemy territory at one moment and then several hours later, if they had been lucky, they might be back in an English village in the village pub, mentally how do you live like that?

A really unexpected bonus towards the end of our visit was a wooden contraption in a corner of one of the huts, I thought I knew what it was and I was right. It was the original wooden “catapult" that Barnes Wallace had used for his tests with ball bearings in a water tank when he was inventing and designing the “bouncing bomb" used during the famous WW2 Dambusters raid. Just brilliant to see an artefact like that survive with all the history that it essentially created.

This place really has been well worth the visit, it was excellent. Ron picked us up and we were soon back at the site for a leisurely late afternoon and evening. Nice walk up into the village of Newton Upon Derwent. Made a few new discoveries about the motorhome, a couple of features I didn’t even know existed but all good!

Now That's Service!

Back in January we bought a very nice and very expensive kettle which we were delighted with. We bought the item from Lakeland where we often shop because they offer such excellent customer service.

Sadly the kettle developed a fault recently so we decided to return it and obtain a replacement under the Lakeland "no quibble" guarantee.

Today we took the item into the store where we were immediately offered a replacement or a refund, as we had expected. What we had not expected was to be told that the item was now significantly cheaper and we were not only given a replacement kettle but the price difference was fully refunded, which was a significant sum.

Now THAT is service and that is exactly why we keep buying items from Lakeland when we can.

Turbo Tyre Temperatures

Did a little experiment just out of interest and I was quite surprised at the findings. I use CompuTrainers quite a lot when I’m training and for these units to be accurate the calibration procedure needs to be followed meticulously. This is not an onerous procedure and if done properly the power data from these units is very consistent and accurate. A while back I produced a short video detailing the correct calibration procedure to follow, see below:

The main reasons for this calibration being necessary are that the temperatures of the tyre and resistance unit increase as they are used and therefore a proper system warmup is required before use and prior to calibration. I decided to measure the tyre temperatures before warming up, after warming up and after a short ride at around 200W just to see how much things really did change, here are the results:

Tyre temperature before warmup: 19.2 degrees centigrade.

Tyre temperature after warmup: 32.2 degrees centigrade.

Tyre temperature after 30 minutes at around 200W: 34.5 degrees centigrade.

I was surprised just how much the temperature rose, I was also surprised how quickly it came back down again after the session, the tyre returned to around 20 degrees centigrade within 2-3 minutes.

The tyre Crr reduces by about 0.6% for every 1 degree centigrade rise in tyre temperature, it can be seen therefore that the tyre Crr will change by a very substantial figure with a temperature change of +15.5 degrees centigrade.

The moral of this story is that if you use one of these devices it is vital that the system is properly warmed up and that it is properly calibrated before each use, this will apply to any trainer where the trainer and it’s software are the power data sources, if there is a tyre-roller interface.

I guess taken to it’s logical extreme a rider wanting to have the fastest possible tyres should arrive at the start of a short TT as close to his or her start time as possible, with hot tyres, electric tyre warmers anyone? :-)

Litter Strewn Northumberland - What Have We Become?

For months if not years now I have become increasingly horrified about the state of what used to be beautiful countryside as it slowly but surely becomes little more than a public rubbish dump. At one time to take a drive or bicycle ride in Northumberland was a real pleasure but now such trips are frequently spoiled or at least degraded by the almost constant presence of discarded litter.

This litter takes may forms but for the most part it is made up of plastic bottles, cans, glass bottles, fast food cartons, disposable coffee cups, cigarette packets and a surprisingly high number of empty tablet packages ranging from painkillers to anti-depressants. We can only wonder at what passes through the minds of those who toss this junk out of their vehicles rather than disposing of it properly, maybe they think it's clever, maybe they just don't think at all.

In order to give some sort of quantification to this litter sampling exercise I measured the length of the section of verge I collected the rubbish from, I did this using a wrist mounted GPS. I only collected litter from one side of the road because of time constraints and the distance was 0.23 miles, or pretty much exactly 400 yards. I took me just under four minutes to walk the length of the segment at my normal walking pace, this was NOT a long segment of road by any stretch of the imagination. Here is a link to a map which shows in red the exact stretch of road where this litter collection took place.

At the end of the collection period I had collected eight bags of rubbish, I was staggered, it was truly shocking. This means that with the road segment being 400 yards in length I was collecting TWO bags of rubbish from the verge per 100 metres! When I got home I took some short video clips of the bags and then emptied them out to properly illustrate the volume of rubbish that I had collected, the video is shown below.

Surely it cannot be right for us as a society to accept this sort of filth as "normal"? Surely if we are completely powerless to stop people depositing their rubbish in this way, which we seem to be, then at the very least something needs to be done to clear at least the worst of it up before the problem becomes simply too large to tackle, if it isn't already.

This whole experience left me very saddened as I realised that the problem was in fact far worse than I thought it was, I foolishly thought I might just need one bag to pick the area clean, there was just so much more there that I thought there was. It seems to me that it is only a matter of time before our once lovely countryside is completely ruined by the plagues of littering and fly-tipping. It's noteworthy that we never seem to see a scrap of litter in Downing Street on the TV or around the Palace of Westminster, for many reasons our elected representatives seem to occupy a completely different world.

I guess the best we can hope for now is for willing (daft) volunteers to keep doing what they can and for their local councils to at least help and support them. My job would have been made a lot easier and safer if I had the correct equipment for the job. I had to provide my own black bags and now I have the job of taking those full bags to the local tip, how ironic would it be if under the new charging regime at the tip I was told that I had to pay to dispose of them!

It will be interesting to see whether I hear back from anyone in local government, if I do I will post an update.

No Facebook - One Month On

One month ago I decided to do a little experiment upon myself and give up the social media giant, Facebook, for a month to see if it made any difference to my life. That month is now complete and what follows is a short summary of my personal experience of largely abandoning social media and my plans for the future now that the experiment is over.

When I say I have not used Facebook at all, that is not entirely true. It is certainly true that I have not actually logged into the web version of Facebook and I have not used the mobile application at all, what I have done is allowed a couple of applications to update my Facebook status but that has been more out of laziness than anything else as I did not want to be bothered to disconnect everything before I'd make the final decision about how to move forward with all this.

When I initially stopped using Facebook, if I am honest, it did seem rather strange and I had this feeling of being disconnected from what was going on but this passed very quickly, probably within about 48 hours. Almost immediately I felt relieved and more relaxed, I was not really consciously aware of how intrusive all the notifications about other peoples activities had become and what a habit it had become to regularly check Facebook to see what was going on.

I have not yet logged into my account now that my one-month trial is up so I do not actually know what, if anything, I have missed but I do know that by simply looking at the mainstream news I have easily kept up-to-date with the important things that are going on in the world. What I do know is that if I have missed anything I don't know what it is and I also know that nothing has come tumbling down as a result of my not being permanently"connected" by Facebook.

I have definitely found that as a result of not using Facebook I have had more time to simply let my mind wander, to read, to think and also I have got around to writing quite a few things that I probably otherwise wouldn't have bothered getting around to. These things might seem quite small but they are important to me. Simultaneously I have definitely managed to keep a much more regular exercise regime going with all the benefits that that will surely bring both now and into the future. It is without doubt far better to spend time doing things yourself than checking applications to see what other people are doing!

One of the "problems" that I felt that the use of Facebook probably caused was that I felt that it had the potential to bring about considerable anxiety as it does generate the tendency to constantly compare what you yourself are doing with what other people are apparently doing. It is quite easy to forget that many of the postings of others are simply highly edited highlights and do not really reflect the reality of a lot of people's lives. I have found that not using Facebook has made it far easier to concentrate and focus on the things that matter to me without the distraction of what can in some cases appear to be others trying to impress. Based on some of the reading that I have done over the last month the use of social media can lead to quite profound personal dissatisfaction with one's own life and this is certainly something to be avoided.

Another concern that I had about the use of Facebook was that I had come to dislike the feeling that I was being constantly tracked by "the system". It was easy to get sucked into the habit of "checking in" when one arrived somewhere even though I knew perfectly well where I was. The other thing is who the hell cares where I am or what I am doing? It is arrogant to think that people do! Facebook generates a wholly bizarre desire to let people, many of whom you hardly know, know what you were doing and where you are and I had come to resent this. After a very short period of time I came to realise that I much prefer doing what I want where I want and I very quickly lost the desire to let anybody know about my activities, in the end I am doing things for me and not to trying to entertain or impress others.

One of the major things that I was delighted to be away from having abandoned Facebook was the apparently endless arguments and bickering about politics etc and all the nastiness that can go with it. I am a great believer in democracy and I believe that everyone is fully entitled to their views and to express them. What I intensely dislike is having other people's views forced upon me or presented in such a way that it is almost impossible to avoid them and leaving Facebook has been a considerable relief in terms of removing these irritations from my life.

At the back of my mind as a Facebook user it also became apparent to me that the Facebook community is by and large split into two sub-communities. One of those sub-communities is made up of active contributors who are posting their thoughts, photographs, comments, likes, dislikes, locations etc. etc. The second sub-community is made up of people who are not active contributors, this group keep themselves pretty much to themselves but at the same time absorb and digest all the information posted by those in the first community. After quite a bit of thought I eventually came to rather resent the fact that I seemed to be posting quite a bit of information about myself but in many cases this was not reciprocated and this led to a feeling of "why bother?".

So, that's a general summary of how my month has gone. It has without doubt been an entirely positive experience and I have absolutely no regrets about the decision I made to try a month without Facebook, I would recommend it to anybody. I have decided, based on my experiment, not to give up social media entirely but to take complete control of my use of social media and not to allow it to control me.

I have deleted the Facebook application from my mobile telephone and my iPad and this essentially means that my whereabouts can no longer be tracked, from here on my use of Facebook will be limited to the web interface only. My plan is to log in to my Facebook account perhaps once a week or once a fortnight and this will enable me to use the events and calendar systems where events that I'm interested in are being arranged solely using Facebook, This is a convenient feature that I would not wish to abandon. I may allow a couple of other applications I use to post to my Facebook news feed just to keep it alive but I do not plan to post regularly. I may post occasionally but I will definitely be far less "engaged" than I have been, I won't be checking in, liking, following or anything else.

I think the bottom line for me with Facebook is that I felt that it was becoming an increasingly toxic environment which was riddled with untruths and aggression and I felt that it was an environment that I didn't really belong in. I feel that I have taken back a chunk of my life, my mind and my privacy and in a world where these things are in short supply that has to be a good thing, for me. I believe the filtering of "news" feeds to ensure that we see "content" aligned with our own thoughts is probably dangerous and if I can avoid being controlled in this way I wish to do so for as long as I can.

A Facebook Holiday

Facebook, the social media giant, currently has approximately 1.79 BILLION active users worldwide and I’ve been one of them for a number of years now. I joined several years ago pretty much to see what it was all about along with many others and I slowly got drawn into it’s web.

Once I’d got the hang of how it all worked I managed to convince myself that it was “useful" and quite quickly it became the means by which I most frequently communicated with people. Publicly this took place in the usual way through reading and writing posts and privately Facebook Messenger became a quick and easy way to communicate with people.

Over time I found that I used the site more and more and generally enjoyed it but the point came where I found that I was using it every day and I started to find the stream of notifications to be irritating intrusions. The problem I initially found with Facebook was that as human beings we are naturally intensely curious animals and looking at what people were doing and reading what they were saying has a strangely addictive side to it, even though these were things that one would previously have been completely unaware of.

It soon became apparent to me that some of what I was seeing actually became a kind of competition in terms of what people were doing, buying, seeing or in some cases even eating - it all started to feel a bit uncomfortable. I then watched as it became a vehicle for people to expound all their political views and in some cases to vehemently disagree with the views of others, sometimes to the point of outright hostility and rudeness, I was having very serious thoughts about whether there was actually any value in this for me.

On top of the above I began to see more and more political and other annotated images which purported to portray facts/information/news when in fact frequently their contents were nothing more than fabrications or at best exaggerations of half truths, Facebook had become more than social media, it had almost become THE media and it was influencing people’s beliefs and opinions on very serious matters. On top of this I also became more aware of the targeted advertising which seemed to me to be more and more spookily related to things I had searched for, places I had been or things I had read.

One is left with a choice when one realises what is going on, to go with the flow or to change something. I decided that for a time at least and to see what difference it made to my life I would leave Facebook behind, completely. It has been about 10 days now since I logged into my Facebook account and the applications on my iPhone and iPad have remained logged out.

During those ten days many things have happened, not least the American People have elected Donald Trump as their next President. Even without Facebook I have remained informed about developments, primarily by the BBC News, and I do not feel that I have missed out on things that actually matter. What I have missed out on will be the inevitable bile spewed by both sides of the presidential debate who feel they have “lost" and indeed I’m happy to have missed out. I will also have missed out on a lot of news from people I “know" (virtually or actually) but the fact is that because I do not know what I have missed, have I really missed anything?

What I do know is that I no longer hear the regular pings of status update notifications, likes, messages etc. I also know that I no longer see what could be pretty hostile updates on all kinds of matters and these are all things which I can well live without. When I wake in the morning, during the day and in the evening I never think of “checking Facebook" to see what is going on and to be honest I find that my days are more peaceful because of it. I can live without it and I am confident that I will know soon enough when really important things happen through the likes of the BBC. I may know things a bit later than those 1.78 billion people but I can live with that.

I guess what I’ve learned so far is that I think Facebook can actually cause stress and irritation which many people can do without and that much of what we get from it is probably not that important to most people. I think something else I’ve realised is that social media is incredibly powerful these days, probably too powerful. I actually believe that without Mark Zuckerberg the next President of the United States would probably not have been Donald Trump.

I may return to Facebook at some point in the future but I know enough already to know that if I do it will be on maybe a “quick look weekly" basis with all notifications disabled. For the time being at least I am thoroughly enjoying not being “connected".

ANKER PowerCore 5000

Love the ANKER PowerCore 5000. Perfect USB battery pack for short trips. It's 5000mAh capacity is, for me, just about perfect as it will allow me to fully recharge from flat an iPhone 6S Plus and a Garmin 1000, all in one convenient little unit.
The PowerCore 5000 also utilises two different fast-charging technologies. PowerIQ provides the fastest charge to any device up to 2A. VoltageBoost increases output to overcome cable resistance and ensure a consistent top-speed charge.
The PowerCore weighs 135g, is 107mm long and 32mm in diameter which makes a it a very convenient size indeed and it's enough power to keep you going over a weekend, or a short cycle trip.
I reckon starting fully charged this little unit would provide enough power for say a three day bike trip. Coupled with the ability to charge it up during the day from a hub dynamo you could keep going for pretty much as long as your energy and imagination allows.

Is Three Feet Enough?

The yellow line is about three feet from the platform edge, which is about the space that a passing car will give a cyclist, if the cyclist is lucky and the passing motorist is feeling generous.

This clip just gives an idea what it's like for a cyclist when a vehicle passes about three feet away at speed.