Brian’s Blog

Mostly Harmless...

I got a bike…

Turns out the Scott was not for me after all, the suggested bike was a bit of a cross between hybrid and mountain and a fair bit heavier than I wanted.

In the end I chose a machine I saw quite early in my musings –  a Giant Roam 1 and I ended up buying it from Cycle World in Southampton. They were very helpful on my first visit and very keen to help on my second, particularly concerning getting a bike frame that fitted my size and weight.
Giant Roam 1

Anyhow, the Giant had its first outing today and I’m pleased to report that both bike and rider arrived back in “set off condition”!

I don’t have any way of measuring distance at the moment, apart from a quick measure on Google Earth, and that revealed a first trip of 9 miles, or thereabouts. Not bad for a first ride in about 10 yrs, and i never stood up once!

I probably don’t look that good/fit in shorts and a hi-viz jacket, but who cares about that, I can’t see myself!

i thoroughly enjoyed the first ride and am looking forward to a lot more miles….

Oh, and I just ordered a cycle helmet to complete the mamil look.

Looking to buy a new bike…

Ages ago, when we left Swindon, I gave my bike away on Freecyle. I’ve regretted that for a while now and recently decided to buy a replacement.

After a fair amount of investigation, I’d pretty much decided on a Boardman MX sport 2014 as it gets good reviews, looks good and wasn’t too expensive. Unfortunately of me, I discovered, they don’t make that model in a frame size large enough for my legs to keep pedalling whilst turning corners! My knees hit the turned handlebars..

To be honest I really wanted to buy a bike from an independent bike shop and not from Halfords, now it seems I have to.

I’m now looking forward to next week and having a proper look at the 2015 range from Scott at a shop here in on the Island in Newport.

Updates to follow…

Katy Curd is World Champion!

Congratulations to Katy Curd (my niece) on becoming the 2014 Elite Women’s 4x World Champion! 2014 4X World Champs Well done Katy! We are all very proud. Links:

All Change!

I thought that after about 5 years with one theme, I’d better drag this blog kicking and screaming into the 21st century ;)

Quadruple Blue served me well (although I did make quite a few tweaks to it) and in some ways I am reluctant to change but this new one (Hemmingway) looks promising. The theme author, Anders Norén has made this and three other themes free at his website.

Anyhow, I’ll no doubt be tweeking this a little over the next few months but if you see anything strange happening, please don’t be shy in telling me about it.

15Gb of free on-line storage?

There are lots of companies offering on-line storage these days and a lot offer some free space.

I’ve had a Dropbox (4Gb or so) account for a long time and use it every day, but recently I needed more space for some automatically collected data files. To avoid overloading that account, I decided to give a try.

They offer 15Gb of free space and that is more than enough for the new project, so I signed up. After 2 months of continued use, the service has never been unavailable and is fast and easy to use.

Like Dropbox, allows me to access the stored data from any device I have, in fact it provides apps for a couple I don’t use: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, iOS, Android, Raspberry Pi, and Windows Phone. 

Adverts and Popups

The internet is filled with webpages which are in turn filled with adverts – and a bit like spam, they seem to breed!

Most of my spam problems have now been controlled by setting filters as “tight” as possible on my normal email accounts and forwarding all the junk collected to a gmail account. I then collect my normal email and gmail normally as part of Outlook’s normal mail cycle so that all mail is collected centrally on my main PC and deleted from the mailservers. Any spam getting through after this is neatly mopped up by my old favourite, SpamBayes

When I’m out and about I still collect mail on the iPhone or iPad, but this time the POP collection process is set to leave mail on the server. It seems to work for me!

Anyhow, back to annoying popups and adverts; I’ve tried a lot of ad-blocking software (usually configured as a browser add-on or extension). They work but require updating from time to time and, of course, add-ons slow down the browser. While searching for solutions the other day I saw mention of an open-source solution called Privoxy and decided to give it a try. It’s still early days, but things are looking good!

This might get a little techy but I’ll do my best to keep it simple; Privoxy works at network level outside the browser and therefore doesn’t care which one (or 6!) you choose to use. Essentially, your browser now send requests  to Privoxy, it gets the page, filters out all the stuff you don’t need then forwards the nice clean, ad-free website to your browser.

OK, this does require a couple of small changes to your internet settings, but they are very easy to make. I won’t go into the detail here as the software authors have done a great job in producing all the info you need in a nice understandable manual – in fact everything apart from the small setting change mentioned just works straight “out of the box”.

Privoxy is available for Windows, Linux, Mac OSX, and quite a few other operating systems and once installed it allows you to route all your website requests through it.

For the moment I am using Privoxy on OSX, Windows and Mint Linux machines and all work perfectly – the next step is to “donate” a Raspberry Pi to this little project and put the software on that, which would allow me to remove the individual installations on each machine and route browser requests from any of them through Privoxy on the Pi.

There’s more for me to learn but things are looking good.

Whoops, I should have mentioned that Privoxy is free although, of course, donations are welcome.

Mending Stuff is Good!

Meade 884 Delux Tripod

A friend recently found that her telescope tripod was damaged even though it was properly stored in the supplied case. The tripod in question is a Meade #884 deluxe field tripod (cost about £180 new) but suffers a few design problems which no doubt caused the problem:

  1. The supplied case is too small to easily pack the tripod
  2. The locking wheels/knobs which hold the tripod in the correct position are on the inside of the legs which means they all bash against each other when the tripod is folded for storage, and
  3. The locking wheels/knobs are made of brittle plastic.

The problem here was a broken plastic knob on one of these locking knobs.

Easy to solve eh? Well not quite, a search for Meade tripod spares gave no real results so I had to find out what these things are really called and then find a supplier. It turns out that they are usually called “Star Knobs” or “Handwheels” in the world outside of astronomy and tripods.


I found a supplier in Portsmouth who arranged to get three for me, and I collected them earlier today. Fantastic service from Cromwell Tools who even called me to let me know they had arrived. I fitted all three just make the tripod look the part and she now has two spares should the problem happen again.

Anyhow, anyone with a similar problem may be interested to know, the thread is M8 and about 15mm long, the Cromwell part number is GAN4255987H (direct product link) and they cost a paltry £1.50 each inc VAT.

IW Planning Applications

Suburban Milky Way

The Milky Way On My Doorstep – Copyright Chad Powell

A lot of you will know that I have been pretty busy lately with the IW Dark Skies project.

You can follow what we are up to at

Well, I need some help – if you care about this Island, please take a look at our latest post and read about two plans which, if implemented as they stand, will seriously affect our skies.

Feel free to comment on the post there or perhaps you’d like to make your feelings known to the IW Planning Department or the companies concerned.

Whatever you choose, we need your help.

Isle of Wight Dark Skies Initiative

A group of us from Vectis Astronomical Society (VAS) has been preparing to submit an application for Dark Sky Status here on the Isle of Wight.

Well the time has now come to make this initiative public so we have arranged a meeting as detailed here, here, here and, for those who can’t be bothered to click on the links(!), just below here.

Vectis Astronomical Society (VAS) is pleased to invite you to:

The Public Launch of

The Isle of Wight Dark Sky Initiative

Newport Parish Church Centre, Town Lane, Newport, Isle of Wight, PO30 1JU

7.15 pm on Friday 24th May 2013

Bob Mizon – a senior member of the British Astronomical Association and Campaign for Dark Skies, and Martin Morgan-Taylor – board member of the International Dark Skies Association will give a presentation entitled

“Dark Skies – Dark Future?”

This will be followed by a short presentation outlining details of the VAS application for International Dark Sky Status for the Isle of Wight

Our Island is already well known for its dark skies, as celebrated each March by the “Isle of Wight Star Party” attended by around 100 observational astronomy enthusiasts and professionals. This event has featured in recent editions of Sky at Night and Astronomy Now magazines.

Professor Bill Martin of the University of Hertfordshire Centre for Astrophysics and Atmospheric Instrumentation Research has operated a dark sky monitoring station on the Island for several years, and has stated:

“with the data we have from the Isle of Wight you potentially have the best combination of dark skies and clear weather in the UK.”

Most types of pollution are being tackled but, so far, light pollution seems to have had little attention even though it can affect all our health and well-being.

VAS is committed to reduce light pollution on the Isle of Wight and believes that achieving International Dark Sky status for the island through the International Dark Sky Association will:

Strengthen the island’s tourism industry Improve the well-being of the population Reduce environmental impact Enable further education and scientific research projects Recognize our Island as one of the most environmentally friendly and enjoyable places to be on earth.

Please send letters of support to:

Isle of Wight Dark Skies Initiative, 35 Forest Road, Winford, Isle of Wight, PO36 0JY

Is it all down to chance?

Is everything we do governed by or down to chance?
After this week, I think so…

You know what it’s like, your working day is dictated by events which may have been arranged or planned by others, and they seem to assume that because those things are written down or added to their diaries, that they will happen whatever.

Well this week, I know better! Things don’t happen in the way we assume and that’s mainly because we think things will always happen in the way they were planned. In fact these “things” are much more likely to happen in the same way experienced by a gambler. Let me give an example:

Assume I order something from the internet, I see the item is in stock and happily accept the suppliers delivery date… Mistake! – How on earth can the supplier know that their delivery company will have all their staff on hand to deliver my goods? How do they know the ferries to the Island will be running? etc etc….

The situation is far more like a gambler throwing a die/dice – sometimes it’ll be a 6 but much more likely is a number 1-5. OK, so my delivery is predicted on Monday, but that assumes we threw a 6, mostly we don’t; perhaps we threw a 4 as it snowed near the courier’s depot, that means we won’t see our purchase until, at best Tuesday and probably Wednesday or perhaps even Friday!

At every stage in the supply chain everyone “throws the die”, the end result is difficult to predict but as a rule of thumb, it’s safe enough to assume that not everyone will throw that elusive 6 and that your delivery will be late…

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