If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Thursday, 31 December 2009

Oh, and ...

Just one last positive thought for 2009.

A few days ago, I renewed the bike insurance, and got a cracking deal from eBike (both bikes, fully comp, £175). They wanted details of previous convictions, and when I finally dug out my licence and checked on the Directgov website, I realised that I now have a clean licence. My 'offence' was in 2005, and the points stay on your licence for four years, so I am now officially rehabilitated and inoffensive.

There is something deep inside me that likes this, and I am very keen to preserve my newly-pristine status. Not by conforming mindlessly to the unintelligent blunt instrument that is our speeding legislation, but by not getting caught again. There are ways ...

Happy New Year

I am working tonight, so this will probably be my last post for 2009. My employer thinks fireworks at midnight for our customers is a good idea, and someone needs to be there to make it all go off without a hitch. That'll be me, then.

To be honest, it's been a lousy year. Anna has borne the brunt of the nasty things that have intruded on our lives, but it has been hard to stand by and watch it happen. The reduction in working hours in June has caused a lot of money problems, which I am only now coming to grips with. The house continues to fall down around our ears, and can only be put right by the expenditure of large amounts of money that we don't have. However, I have been sustained by many things: two daughters who, even if we don't speak as often as we should, always make my life seem less pointless than it otherwise might; by some friends who, through various internetular connections, have stimulated my 'brain' and made me laugh in equal measure; and - unsurprisingly - by the two bikes that are sitting on the drive at this moment. If I didn't have that little bit of 'bike time' every day, I think I would have died of cabin fever. Keeping the XT going has been a bit of a challenge, but worth the headaches, and the trip to Denmark on the Honda was a thoroughly life-enhancing experience.

Above all, the trials of the past 11 months have brought Anna and me closer than ever before, and for that I am very thankful. When you reach moments where there is a serious prospect of losing someone for ever, the time together becomes more precious. She's a tough old trout, and I'm very lucky to have her. It's a shame that I won't be at home tonight to see in the New Year, as I wanted very much to be with Anna to say 'up yours' to 2009, and to raise a glass together to a better 2010. There may be more work in the pipeline, and Anna seems to be making slow but steady progress in her health, so maybe a bit of optimism is not misplaced.

A Happy New Year to all of you, and may 2010 bring you everything you wish for.

How did I miss this?

This has been on Youtube since January 2008, and yet I seem to have missed it. A view, in cartoons, of the last decade, which I found rather moving. It hits a mood which resonates very strongly with me.

I don't know who/what/where Monkey Dust is/are, but I think I need to find out more.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

A bit of common sense

I wrote recently about a priest who had been telling his flock that "My advice, as a Christian priest, is to shoplift." I was pretty surprised at that - I think appalled was the word I used. After all, if a priest can't tell right from wrong, what hope is there for the rest of us sinners?

It seems that Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, agrees:

Lord Carey said: "His concern for the least well-off is admirable, but his remedy is both misguided and foolish." He added: "We aren't in a Dickensian era when people were driven to picking a pocket or two in order to survive. There is now a safety net provided by the state with many charities offering advice, food and shelter. Nobody is dying of hunger even though the inequalities of our society are still greater than they should be."

Which is pretty much what I said at the time.

Try to keep up, Lord Carey.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Just to show ...

... what a sad old bugger I am, logging in on Christmas Day ..

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Yet more ammunition for the Daily Mail

I was appalled to read this today:

An asylum seeker who fatally struck a girl with his car then fled the scene has won the right to stay in the UK. Aso Mohammed Ibrahim, 31, of Blackburn, hit Amy Houston, 12, in 2003. He was later jailed for four months. He faced deportation but successfully invoked human rights legislation granting him the right to a "family life" in the UK.

I don't want this to turn into a rant about asylum seekers, but this story does no good whatsoever for those who wish Britain to be kind and helpful to those fleeing tyranny elsewhere in the world. Let's look at the facts.

Ibrahim had either never held a driving licence, or had been disqualified from driving, depending on which story you read. He hit a young girl while driving illegally, and ran her over, leaving her underneath the car. He then ran away from the scene, and the girl died later in hospital. He was caught and convicted of both offences - driving without a licence, and leaving the scene of an accident.

I'll gloss over the 'driving without a licence' part, as that seems to quite OK these days, earning the offender little more than a slap on the wrist. But to leave a girl under the wheels of your car, and run away from the scene? That is less 'leaving the scene of an accident' and more like manslaughter to me. If he had been a little more courageous, or honest, and called for an ambulance instead of legging it, the girl may have survived, so her death is at least partly his fault (as opposed to her injuries, which were entirely his fault). And what did he get for this act of callousness? Four months in prison. Four lousy months in prison. And that, as we all know, means two months, less time spent on remand. I'd be surprised if he even needed to take his toothbrush in with him.

Now, if I were Mr Ibrahim, and I had caused the death of a young person in a country where I had fled for safe haven, I think I would serve my sentence and then quietly go somewhere else. I would feel guilty and embarrassed, knowing that I had done such a terrible thing in a country which had taken me in, and fed and housed me. The law (or at least part of it) takes the same view, and orders that people who commit serious crimes should be deported after serving their sentence. But there's another part of the law that says that can't happen:

He faced deportation but successfully invoked human rights legislation granting him the right to a "family life" in the UK. The father-of-two was due to be deported after he was taken into the custody of the UK Border Agency. But the Iraqi Kurd claimed it was too dangerous to return to his homeland and won the right to stay in Britain after a lengthy series of appeals at the Manchester Asylum and Immigration Tribunal.

Bear in mind that the accident happened, and the child died, in 2003. So this appeal process has been going on for six years. Mr Ibrahim is from Kurdistan. The Border Agency clearly believes that it is safe for him to return there. But Mr Ibrahim claims that under Human Rights legislation he has a "right to a family life" and should be allowed to stay. The court agreed with him. You have to wonder under what legislation the family of the dead girl can claim a right to a family life.

The Border Agency are considering an appeal, and Jack Straw says he is going to contact the Home Secretary to see if there is any way to overturn the decision. This is pointless. The Human Rights Act, which appears to grant rights to some people and not to others, is European law, and it over-rides UK law in every respect. Mr Ibrahim, and any like him, can stay as long as they wish, whatever crimes they commit, because they know they have the law on their side. Or, rather, their lawyers do. And who paid for six years of legal counsel for Mr Ibrahim? Oh yes, we did.

(As an additional point, I wonder what sentence I would have got if I, as a UK citizen with a blameless past and a clean licence, had been disqualified from driving, then decided to drive anyway, killed someone, and ran away? I suspect it would run to several years, and rightly so, although a life sentence would seem to me to be more appropriate. You know, 'life' as in 'until you die'.)

Just for the record:

Mr Ibrahim is now 37. Amy Houston would have been 18.

UPDATE: The Border Agency appealed, and lost. Ibrahim can stay, because he met and impregnated an English woman (twice) and now has a family in the UK. Shame about the family he tore apart. More info here.

3 Birds, 1 Mountain

One of my younger relatives is doing an amazing thing for charity. She and two friends (the 3 birds) are planning to climb Mont Blanc next August in aid of three charities:

Breast Cancer Campaign (does what is says on the label)
The White Ribbon Alliance (safe pregnancy and childbirth in developing and developed countries)
Action For Children (formerly the National Children's Home, helping vulnerable young people in the UK)

Three very worthy causes, and three amazing young people trying to do their bit. None of them have previous mountaineering experience (but they are going with a good guide, so I hear), so they will be undergoing a huge amount of physical and mountain training in time for next year. Having done a very modest amount of winter climbing myself, I know that they will be facing a hell of a challenge, and I take my hat off to them. Should any readers wish to make a donation and help them reach their target of £15,000, you can do so on their website:


(Katie is the one I know.)

I wish them success.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Turbulent Priest

And continuing with our seasonal religious theme ...

I was completely astonished by this story from the BBC.

A priest who advised needy people to shoplift in certain circumstances has been criticised by a retailers' group. Father Tim Jones, parish priest of St Lawrence and St Hilda in York, said stealing was a "better moral thing to do" than robbery or prostitution.

Well, as far as I am concerned, stealing is robbery, so I don't quite follow that. And I think he will find that there is something in his job specification about that - the briefing document from Head Office, paragraph 8.

What I think he is saying is that there are degrees of wrong, and that stealing is not necessarily the worst wrong of the many wrongs on offer. I might go along with that. It's a long time since we hanged men for stealing a loaf of bread, and a good thing too. But when he starts to justify his advice, I start to disagree.

The priest's comments were made in a sermon to his congregation on Sunday where he said stealing from large national chains was sometimes the best option for many vulnerable people.

Best option? Best option?? This isn't a bloody game show, you know.

"I would ask that they do not steal from small, family businesses, but from national businesses, knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices."

So stealing from a neighbour or from a small family business is wrong, but when you steal from a larger company is OK, because the cost of the theft is passed on to everyone through higher prices. In other words, when the effect of the theft is felt by one person, it is a bad thing, but when it is felt by everyone, that's somehow OK. I would ask the priest to explain exactly how that fits in with his moral code. Presumably by inserting a clause that says "stealing from individuals is wrong, but society as a whole should expect to support the cost of the dishonesty of a few." And what about the higher prices? Will they not mean that some other 'vulnerable people' further down the line, who have chosen not to steal, will be unable to pay for the things they need? As always, those who play the game by the rules end up supporting those who will not.

It's the same argument used by people who cheat on their insurance claims: "It's only the company wot pays, and they can afford it, can't they?"

Speaking on BBC Breakfast earlier, Father Jones said: "When we, as a society, let our most vulnerable people down so terribly badly, I would rather that people take an 80p can of ravioli rather than turn to some of the most appalling things. "That's not to say that shoplifting is good. Shoplifting is a dreadful thing but sometimes that's all we leave people with."

Well, of course I would rather that a vulnerable young woman stole a tin of ravioli than turn to prostitution - that's so obvious as to go without saying. But it's the last sentence that I find offensive.

Shoplifting is a dreadful thing but sometimes that's all we leave people with.

Well, with respect, no. We have an extensive benefits system that ensures that all people in genuine need have enough to live on. This is already paid for through general taxation - precisely the burden on the majority that the priest thinks is such a good idea. If someone is so poor that they are 'forced' into shoplifting, surely the compassionate thing is to direct them to the benefits to which they are entitled - and there are many - rather than excuse criminality.

But no. This confused cleric is of the mindset that all the poor are downtrodden victims, and turning a blind eye to crime when it is perpetrated by victims (as long as it is the right sort of crime) is a kind and compassionate thing to do. It's not. It tells the vulnerable that crime is OK if you have an excuse, and once you have broached that particular taboo, who knows what comes next?

"I took the drugs because I was depressed and rejected by society" - then

"I stole to buy the drugs because I needed them" - then

"I'm not a thief, I'm a victim, and I need a Government scheme, not prison."

Ultimately, Father Tim Jones believes that society should pick up all the costs of people's fecklessness, while still maintaining that stealing is wrong. Despite their protestations that they are apolitical, the Church remains a cheerleader for socialism.

If I remember Matthew correctly, when confronted with the paralysed man, Jesus said "Rise, take up thy bed, and walk." He did not say "Oh dear, you are paralysed. Get your mates to nick some stuff. Just make sure it's a big shop."

Monday, 21 December 2009

Sunday, 20 December 2009

The "Climategate" Affair

Since the news broke about the release into the wild of hundreds of emails and a ton of data from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at UEA, I haven't said much about it all. Firstly, this was simple self-preservation, as with a rapidly-developing story there is the risk of being behind the curve and merely stating what is already common knowledge. And secondly, the story was already being covered excellently by many other bloggers, and anything I could add would be superfluous. So I have waited until the dust has settled a bit, and Copenhagen is over, and the process of incorporating the new information into the public consciousness has started. At this point, I may be able to add something of value, even if it only a personal perspective.

I would first wish to state that I am not a climatologist, nor even a scientist, and I am not in any way qualified to judge the issue from a technical viewpoint. But I was lucky enough to be educated in the 1960s and early 1970s, when even Arts students like me had to do three science subjects to O-level, and when an understanding of scientific principles, even at a basic level, was considered to be an essential part of Secondary education. And one of the concepts that most pleased me, because of its logicality and essential reasonableness, was the scientific method. My understanding, and I am sure that it is correct, having spoken to many scientists in the intervening 40 years, is that the scientific method is something which scientists hold almost sacred. They approach their work with humility and openness, because it is the science which is important, not the individual scientists. And it is this humility that enables us to trust what scientists do, because we have this belief that they are conscientious seekers after truth, not grubby seekers after profit or fame.

Whether the emails and data were 'hacked' (and this is now apparently the fault of the Russians, which muddies the waters further) or were released by a UEA employee (which seems to me the more likely), is completely irrelevant. When the dust has settled, there will be plenty of time to investigate how the information was obtained, and if necessary to punish those guilty of any offence. But the implications of the information are so huge that following this aspect of the affair right now is a complete red herring.

I have read the emails, and I have followed the Harry_Read_Me text file until I started to lose the will to live, and some things appear to me to be catastrophically bad. I will publish a list of sources at the end of this, and anyone interested can follow this as far as they wish - where they will find the information dissected and discussed far better than I can. But there are several things that really trouble me:
  • There appears to be a mindset of 'us and them', at times almost hostile, which is surely inimical to any serious and fair-minded scientific enquiry;
  • There is clear evidence of an intention to destroy data that has been the subject of an FoI request, and of requesting others to do the same - as far as I am aware, this is actually a crime in UK law;
  • There is evidence that periodicals were 'leaned on' to dismiss papers from scientists who were not in the magic circle, and even to sack people who were not part of the 'tribe';
  • The Harry_Read_Me file is enormously troubling, as it suggests that scientists were trying to reconstruct missing data - important data that the whole AGW theory rests on - and failing, because of sloppy work, with casual manipulation of the data, lack of version control, and poor record-keeping.
So, from the CRU data I am able to see a lot of evidence that the science was not being pursued as it should have been, and the possibility that these people were effectively working backwards - find the conclusion, and then manipulate the data to give the evidence. If that is the case, then the whole thing is a scandal, and people deserve to be in prison. And of course there is the missing data. The data showing climate change was based on proxy data (such as tree rings) for the thousands of years when we didn't have satellites and reliable thermometers. I can understand that. The proxy data had to be adjusted so that it fitted in with the known records and made sense as a data series. I can understand that too. But then the original data was erased, deliberately - apparently because they didn't have enough storage. Whaaaat? To expect people not to be suspicious when you say, in effect, 'we had the data, we manipulated it, and then we lost the originals, and you'll have to trust that we manipulated it honestly, even though we can't even reproduce the algorithms we used because they weren't properly documented', well, pull the other one. It's got bells on. No scientist should expect that to be taken seriously.

Lke many people of my age, I was made aware of the 'Environmental' movement back in the early 70s, and I like to think that I have maintained that mindset in the years since. I am not in the pay of Big Oil, I don't like pollution, I try to waste as little as possible and recycle when I can. I believe that we should make as little impact on the planet as possible, not for religious reasons, but because the Earth got along quite well before we arrived, and interfering as little as possible means fewer chances to mess things up. All in all, I would say that I was at least light green.

But because I don't swallow the whole AGW concept, suddenly I am a 'climate-denier'. I object most strongly to this term, echoing as it does Holocaust denial. Every talking head from the IPCC to Gordon Brown is now on record as saying that people who don't accept the full AGW argument are flat-earthers, silly, uninformed, wilfully ignorant. Well, sorry, guys, but I am none of those things. But I have long suspected, and now have reason to do so, that the AGW thing is a scare story, and driven far more by political ideas than by cold, hard, unequivocal science.

One thing that made me dubious a long time ago was hearing an interviewee on Radio 4 say that "the science is settled". No it isn't, I screamed at my radio. Science is never settled. That's the whole point with science. You find a theory that seems to fit the facts, and survives the test of your experiments, and you accept that as the best theory going, until you are proved wrong and have to go back to the drawing board. That's how it works. The people who told Columbus that his voyages were dangerous because he might find the edge of the world and fall off - they thought the science was settled too. The scientists at the end of the 19C who believed that Newton had explained it all, and that there was little else for science to do, thought that too - until Einstein upset it all with his weird theories. If anyone tells you that 'the science is settled' or that 'there is no debate about this', then they are lying, and demonstrating that they know nothing about how science works. (Incidentally, there was another scientist on the programme, whose name escapes me, and he was arguing that man-made climate change was a myth - the first time I had ever heard anyone in the mainstream media putting forward that viewpoint. The presenter treated him and his views with open derision, and it was that programme that made me think that perhaps there was more to climate change than just the temperatures.)

And then, of course, there is the infamous 'hockey-stick' graph. Two things about this: one is that, so I understand, the algorithm is such that any data - literally any data - fed into it will produce a hockey-stick shape. And the other is that it is so impressive because of the careful exclusion of certain time-periods. Set against the last 100 or so years, it certainly shows that the Earth is heating up, and quickly. But then include the temperature data going back a thousand years and you see the there was the Mediaeval Warm Period (no nasty 4x4s then), where temperatures were warmer than today, and in between the 'Mini Ice Age' of the 16-17C, when fairs were held on the frozen River Thames. And before that, the warmth of the Roman period, when vines were grown in Northern England. As always with statistics, it is possible to prove anything if you are allowed to set your own parameters.

The temperature sensing sites appear to have been manipulated too. Far too many of them were originally sited in rural areas, and as populations have grown are now close to urban heat sources: of course they show that temperatures are rising. Some of the tree-ring proxy data seems to have been cherry-picked too. In all, it doesn't pass the nose test.

For what it's worth, my view is that the Earth's climate has always changed. Currently, the Earth is warming up. As we are still technically at the end of the Quaternary Ice Age, this is not a surprise. Man may be having an effect on the speed of the change, but I believe that any effect is trivial. When volcanoes supply over 90% of the atmospheric CO2, an increase of a couple of percent in the rest is hardly significant.

Then, of course, there is the old legal question of cui bono? Who benefits?

We have a situation where politicians seem to believe in AGW, and therefore will give grants to scientists to study that. But, as far as I am aware, there is no record of a scientist getting a grant by saying "hey, I need a couple of million to further my research which shows that AGW is a hoax". All the research money has gone to the pro-AGW researchers. And of course, with all that grant money and respectable careers riding on the AGW bandwagon, they are hardly likely to kill the goose that lays the golden egg, are they?

And then there are the financial interests of those involved with AGW at a higher level - the Al Gores and the Dr Pachauris. The complex web of involvement between the leaders of the AGW movement and the companies making billions out of cap and trade policies is something that beggars belief. In any other area of life, to have people arguing for policies, when they personally benefit financially from the outcomes of those policies, would lead to charges of corruption. But apparently, these people are beyond all that - their motives are pure, and therefore any money they make out of it is their just reward for being Good. I haven't had time to go into this in any detail, but what I have seen is very disturbing.

In summary, here are a few observations from a non-scientist who walks around with his eyes open:
  • Climate change is happening. It always has. It is an entirely natural process.
  • If man has any effect on climate change at all, it is tiny, and the economic catastrophe that will follow from major changes to try to alter that is wholly disproportionate.
  • The AGW argument is seriously flawed, and the balance of the evidence is so far that the data has been manipulated to give a political answer, not a scientific one.
  • Unless and until I see clear evidence (where the 'corrections' to proxy data are publicly available and the data management is open), I reserve the right to believe that we are being scammed by possibly the biggest and nastiest hoax ever to be perpetrated on the human race.
I attach a list of sources and references below. I am sorry if they are a bit general. I have been following this for several weeks now, and didn't think to keep records of what I saw and where I saw it (but then, I am not a government-funded scientist, so I can admit that). You may have to dig a bit within the sources to find the AGW stuff, but it is there. Later, I will do a bit of a trawl and post the links in better and more helpful detail.


That'll start you off. More later, but I have work tomorrow and need my rest.

Keep On Truckin', Or Else

Hehe. I have just received a Christmas card from a very good friend, which said, inter alia, "keep up with the blogging, it's great!" Well, thangyow, thangyow veramuch. I will endeavour to do so. I haven't written much recently, mainly due to work pressure, but now I have a few days off and I will apply myself to the keyboard once again.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all who read this.

Oh, and Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda a chi, as they say in the Classics.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Headlights (update)

Having observed over several days, and determined that the problem of missing or maladjusted headlights is not a figment of my imagination (the percentages I noted in a previous post seem to be broadly accurate), I think I have found a possible reason for the problem.

It lies in the essential reliability of modern cars.

I first learned about mechanical things (an interest that has lasted through my life) from my Dad when I was quite young - probably about 6 or 7, in the last 1950s. I used to go outside with him at the weekends and we would 'do' the car. In those days, cars didn't just run themselves - they needed constant care and attention, and that mysterious thing called 'mechanical sympathy'. Engines needed regular decarbonising, clutches lasted two or three years, tyres only 12 months, and carrying spare bulbs, a fan belt, fuel, some oil and water, a jack, a starting handle or jump leads, a couple of pieces of old sacking (in the winter - we had snow then) and a few tools was considered a common sense precaution rather than the sign of an anal-obsessive that it is today. Dad had to know all this. His job took him round the Yorshire Dales at all times of day and night, winter and summer, and if he didn't know how to fix a simple problem, he could have been sleeping in the car for the night.

Cars were not expected to be perfect. They broke down, and you coped with it. You learned how to deal with the obvious stuff, and you joined the RAC or AA for the rest. Being a 'motorist' was regarded as a kind of skill, and people would do strange things like weekly checks for oil level, tyre pressures and so on. People knew how to do it, or there were Car Maintenance classes as the local Evening Institute if you didn't. If a bulb blew, someone would tell you, or you would find out for yourself very soon, and you could fix it. And you would fix it, because you felt it was your duty to everyone else on the road to be safe and with everything in good condition.

Nowadays, a car is a machine, like a television or a fridge. You buy it, it works, that's all. Quality and engineering have progressed beyond measure since the days I was talking about, and a good thing too. Cars are now very reliable, hardly ever go wrong, and the need for any mechanical knowledge is almost nil. Service intervals have been extended to 12,000 miles in many cases, which for many people represents a year's driving. So you buy the car, fill it with fuel as necessary, and once a year go back to the dealer for a service. That's it.

(Changing a headlight bulb on my Ford, by the way, is far from simple. You must take off a lot of the front trim and then remove the entire headlight unit before you can get access to the bulb. No wonder people don't do it. In the old days, it could usually be done from inside the engine compartment in twenty seconds with no tools. So it's not all the driver's fault.)

That's great. It means that you can spend more time doing the things you want, and it means that more people are able to own a car and use it than could before - the non-mechanical (trying not to be sexist here) have just as much access to the utility and freedom of a car as the guy with the dirty fingernails and the torque wrench in his hand. But it does have a downside. If something does go wrong (and bulbs still blow, no matter how good they are), then the owner:

a) may not realise, as the need for regular checks of the vehicle's health are no longer necessary, and

b) may not care, as long as the car still goes forward in the usual manner - after all, repairs are the garage's responsibility, aren't they? It will have to wait until the next service in a few months.

I can understand this. I own a car, but it doesn't really interest me. It goes, it's reasonably efficient, it carries the shopping and it tows the caravan. It does everything I ask it to, and in return I show no interest at all in its welfare. It's serviced and it's inspected, but it's not cherished or cossetted. It's a car - you don't take your fridge apart every week to do maintenance checks, do you?

Bikies are going the same way, but they are - crucially - lagging behind in many significant ways. Most bikes now have electronic ignition, so the days of adjusting points are long gone. Fuel injection is now also commonplace, so there is no need to clean the carbs or set the idle speed. But they do need servicing, and many owners love to do it for themselves. There isn't the 'sealed unit - no user maintenance' attitude that cars now have. Most motorcyclists love to be able to fiddle with something, even if it's only checking the oil. It's part of the involvement of ownership that makes bikes far more rewarding than cars.

(Aside: bikes are now remarkably reliable in the same way that cars are - they rarely go wrong, and when they do it is usually the result of neglect or faulty maintenance rather than poor design or materials. This is all the more amazing when you consider that the specific power output of many bikes is double that of most cars. It is not uncommon for bike engines to develop 150bhp/litre, whereas the average family car struggles to make 80bhp/litre, and even the latest hot-hatchery from Ford, the Focus RS, can only manage 120bhp/litre. But I digress.)

Ultimately, we will have cars that are sealed at the factory and do not require - and will not permit - any servicing or maintenance for 200,000 miles. This will be great from a utility point of view, but it will mean that yet more idiots are barreling along the A40 with only half the lights they should have, and wondering what is wrong.

Three Amigos Toy Run

For the first time, I participated in this run yesterday. It was started about ten years ago by three bikers, and was a charity run in aid of the local Children's Unit at Withybush General Hospital in Pembrokeshire. The three have increased to many, but the run still takes place every December.

It started from a large car park in Pembroke, just beneath the magnificent castle. I overheard an organiser telling the police that he had counted 450 bikes, so there were plenty of people there. By 1 pm, rumour had gone round that things were kicking off, and people started lining up for the car park exit. The roar was incredible - two-strokes, fours, twins, singles, trikes, all revving up like mad and waiting for the path to clear so that they could get moving. As we pulled away, a trike ran over my foot. Thanks, mate.

We went once round the Pembroke one-way system, and then set off into the Pembrokeshire countryside. We crossed the Cleddau Bridge (free! normally 35p for bikes) and then did circuits of Neyland and Milford Haven before arriving in Haverfordwest and parking up in the Bro Cerwyn car park. A large hall was ours for the day, and tea/coffee and mince pies were available. I stayed a while and chatted to a few people, and then made my way home.

It was a brilliant day out. Although speeds were low (very low, my clutch hand was aching when I got home, from the sheer volume of traffic), everyone had a great time. It was quite pleasant to ride through towns and villages and have people come out to wave at you - not because of your dress, or speed, or fruity exhaust, but because they wanted to wave. There was a general good feeling about the whole thing, and the patch clubs kept a low profile (in fact, a lot of them were wearing Santa suits) so there was no hassle at all.

Lots of people brought toys for the Children's Unit, and those who didn't (like me; I don't have a spare teddy bear) could make a cash donation. I don't know how much was raised, but that's almost beside the point. Toys were brought, and funds were raised, and a lot of people (probably about 600) had a great time.

Two complaints from me, both related to other bikers.

One was a Harley that I was forced to ride alongside for several miles. He was on virtually open pipes, and the noise was excruciating. The blam-blam when he opened it up was fine, if a little repetitive, but the clattering when he shut off made it sound like a washing machine full of sockets. Truly awful - and I speak as one who quite likes a good noisy pipe.

The other was a full-dress GoldWing, one of the 1500 ones, i.e. quite old. He had a stereo on full blast, with some ghastly ballad music going. Every time he pulled alongside, I was treated to some distorted balladeer crooning away like it was Christmas. Truly awful again. Mate, if I wanted to listen to the radio, I could have stayed at home. Whatever makes you think I want to listen to your choice of music? What was worse was that he had a child on the pillion - a girl of about 8 years old. She was wearing, get this, an anorak, jeans, pink flowery wellies, a Bieffe motocross lid, and no gloves. Who in his right mind would take a small child on a motorcycle in December and not give her some gloves? I noticed that his outfit probably cost him a grand at least. But to insist that his daughter wore gloves was just too much bother, apparently.

There were a large number of sportsbikes, as you would expect, and a surprising number of trikes, some in better shape than others. There was a Morgan-style three-wheeler powered by a Moto Guzzi V-twin that didn't complete the first circuit of Pembroke, a lot of learnerbikes, a few classics, and even a contingent of kids on twist'n'go scoots. All (biking) human life was there.

Well worth going, and this is now going to be a firm fixture for me from now on.

The XT behaved itself, needless to say.


There has been a distinct dearth of posting hereabouts lately, for which I apologise. Things have been busy, and demands have been great, but the main reason is that I just haven't felt like writing anything. The main topic in the news (well, my news at any rate) has been the developments in the climate change debate. I intend to write something on this some time soon, but for now so many other people have dealt with it so well, that any comment from me would have seemed superfluous.

And the bike has been behaving itself too, so no news on that score.

More soon.

Friday, 4 December 2009

New Bike Forum

Please accept my apologies for the blatant self-promotion.

I have started a new bike forum called Wheels Within Wheels here.

There is a story behind it, which you can read on the forum, but it is briefly this:

I joined a forum on a website called UKBike.com a few years ago. The company I worked for had bought the site from what sounded like a back-bedroom operation, and wanted to develop it. They had retained a guy who had worked a long time in the business and was a biker to the tips of his toes. He asked other employees for contributions - bike reviews, stories, opinion pieces and so on - and being a helpful sort of chap I wrote a few bits for the site.

(Interlude: at this time I hadn't ridden a bike for about ten years, after a period of illness that shot my sense of balance to blazes and forced me to sell my bike and retire from the game. Writing these pieces for the website rekindled my interest and soon I was casually going past the local dealership, whistling and trying not to seem as if I was looking. My balance had improved considerably over the years, and as they say, once a biker, always a biker. I ended up with a delightful Yamaha XT660R and the rest doesn't need telling.

But I digress.)

I joined the website discusion forum and made some great acquaintances there. However, over time the company showed a complete lack of interest in the bike side of things, only interested in the bottom line, and the guy who was looking after it was moved on. A succession of bright young things, keen and curious, followed him, but none were bikers and their interest soon waned. The forum was neglected by the owners, and started to dwindle. Few new members were attracted, and the old ones gradually fell away until there a hard core of about five. Posting to the forum became a bit like shouting in an empty house. All you could hear was your own echo.

The hard core were a good bunch, and I felt that with a better forum (less glitchy software and more management interest) we could keep going. So I baled out of the forum there - I had baled out of the company two years previously - and set up one of my own. I invited the existing posters to come and have a look, and a few did and stayed.

The forum is still in its formative stages, and has yet to reach the kind of critical mass that will allow it an independent existence. I need posters, contributions, and a lot of traffic to make it worthwhile. If anyone reading this fancies a look, please feel free to visit. There isn't much to read there yet, but if everyone who visits posts a few words, it will be worth coming back to and even bookmarking. It's not specific to any make or style of bike; just a few committed lunatics who like to meet and chat about bikes and the world in general.

Pop along if you have a minute and say Hi.


Is it me, or are car drivers less concerned than they used to be about having two working headlights? On my evening commutes recently, I seem to have noticed more than the usual number of cars with missing headlights, so a couple of nights ago I decided to do a completely unscientific survey.

I counted 100 cars travelling in the opposite direction, in a space of about 2 miles. Of these:

4 had one headlight not working
1 had no headlights working (he was driving in the dark, and heavy rain, on sidelights, and I assume that was not from choice; in a long line of vehicles, you can probably get away with it, although heaven help him if he had to finish his journey up a country lane).

So that is 5 in 100, or 1 in 20, whose cars would instantly fail an MoT test as unroadworthy.

You can add to that 2 out of the 100 who had those 'fog' lights mounted below the bumper which point up and therefore dazzle everyone, and 6 where the lights were adjusted to be pointing straight ahead and into everyone's eyes. That makes a total of 13 in 100, or almost 1 in 7, whose lights were causing discomfort or danger to everyone else.

I wonder if some people just let their cars deteriorate over the year, and then take them for the MoT and say "if it's wrong, fix it". Once a year.

I can't remember seeing as many as this before. Is it the recession?

Or just typical car driver stupidity?

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

It's Grand ...

Well, I have just been told by SiteMeter that the number of visitors to this blog has just passed the one thousand mark - 1,023, to be exact. In a way that is disappointing, as many of the blogs I read count that number of visitors per day, whereas I have been posting here for about 5 months. And yet, it is also utterly amazing. To someone who was raised in an era when newspapers and television were the only source of news and opinion, the advent of personal blogging is revolutionary. And I haven't been trailing my skirts round the internet whoring for visitors, either. I have told one or two people (literally, one or two) and have included the blog in my sig line for the half-dozen or so forums that I contribute to. So the fact that people have clicked on me and read what I have to say over a thousand times is quite incredible.

Thank you all for visiting this blog, and I hope you found something to amuse or annoy you while you were here. Either is fine by me.

And apologies for the paucity of posts in the last few days. Sometimes, I get the bit between my teeth and post a torrent of stuff in the space of a few hours. At other times, I just don't feel the urge. Once or twice I have posted something 'because I haven't posted in a while', but they have never been memorable. So now, if I have nothing to say, I keep quiet.

It's not that there hasn't been anything to comment on; far from it. I intend to post something about the climate change email scandal before long. But recently, I don't feel that I have had anything worthwhile to say beyond what I have already read on others' blogs, and so I have kept my thoughts to myself.

So, to close, a small item that the unenlightened amongst you may find amusing:

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Bike Report

Well, the good old XT got me to work and back this week without drama. It started when I asked it to; it ran properly; and it didn't break down. The engine is also noticeably smoother (which I put down to cleaning the camchain adjuster) and perhaps slightly more powerful (which may well be the result of cleaning the valves and piston, and lapping the valves in properly, as there was evidence that one of the inlets was not seating).

One small concern is the behaviour of the bike when you shut off the throttle. Normally (on all XTs I have ridden, and on this one up to now), shutting off the throttle causes a massive amount of engine braking - so much so that, in normal riding, use of the brakes is quite a rare event. This engine braking seems to be severely reduced, to the point where I am using the brakes far more than usual. Since the brakes are fairly crap since I fitted the new pads (off eBay, never again), this is a cause for concern.

Also, the idling is not the steady and reliable thing it used to be. Whether it had been ridden ten yards down the drive, or fifty miles at top speed, stopping and idling just meant an immediate and steady thump-thump from the engine, and a crisp response when the throttle was twisted. I've had so many bikes in the past that didn't do this, that I really valued the reliability of it. Now, it is stalling occasionally when I release the throttle, and the idle speed is a bit variable, both with choke and without.

I did take the float bowls off to check the float heights when the carbs were off, but I don't think it is that. The only significant thing I did when I had the engine apart was to dismantle the rather complex throttle cable arrangement, which uses two cables, one to open and one to close. They are adjusted by a rather crude arrangement of locknuts and screw barrels. I suspect that I have not adjusted this back to how it was.

It is unlikely to be tackled today, as it is pouring with rain outside and blowing a hooley, but I now have some clear tubing to rig up a temporary fuel tank, so that I can make all the adjustments in real time, and not have to put the fuel tank back on after each twist, turn and nudge.

If tomorrow's clear, that's where I'll be.


I've just visited Halford's (being the only emporium that approaches the description of 'Motor Factor' round here these days, after the closure of three other outlets, one a complete treasure for the mechanically-minded, and sadly missed) this morning, to get some cable-ties and a couple of bits and bobs.

And there, before my very eyes, was a whole rack of 'Wipes'. Wipes, you know, as in 'Baby Wipes', or those delicately-labelled 'Moist Wipes' (arse, emergency, for the use of). There were:
  • Leather Wipes
  • Carpet and Seat Wipes
  • Dashboard Wipes
  • Glass Wipes.
All identically-packaged, distinguished only by the colour, and I would guess containing exactly the same product, perhaps with a slightly different formulation in the moist bit and a different aroma. And there, at the end of the row, in a display of its own:
  • Sat Nav Wipes.
Takes niche marketing to a whole new level.

Harriet's Forward Planning

Following on from the previous post, I see Our Harriet has been planning this for a while:

From June 2008 - "Ahead of a Commons Debate this week, Minister for Women Harriet Harman will today visit HMP Holloway, the UK’s largest all woman prison, as she takes part in Government’s new drive for fewer women to be sent to prison."

It's OK, love. They don't put people in prison for using a mobile whilst driving. Yet.


Thursday, 19 November 2009

Harriet, a criminal? Say it ain't so!

The Times is now reporting that Harriet Harman, Minister for Being Nasty to Blokes, is to face charges for motoring offences.

Harriet Harman’s political future was in the balance tonight after she became the first Cabinet minister in living memory to face criminal charges. The Crown Prosecution Service said Labour’s deputy leader would be prosecuted for allegedly driving without due care and attention and driving while using a mobile phone.

Now, as we have recently seen many of these greedy hypocrites have got away with fiddling tens of thousands of pounds from the public purse, by simply having to give an apology to their friends (the apology was due to us, you theiving bastards, not your partners in crime). So Harriet would appear to be fairly unlucky here. But apparently there is enough evidence to support a charge, and the CPS think that a prosecution would be in the public interest, so it's handcuffs and a scarf over the head for our Harriet on her next court appearance.

To be honest, I can't wait. Not for her to get the punishment she deserves, as that will never happen, but to hear her whinges and wheedles as she defends her conduct. Think of that vile Scotland woman, with her 'technical breaches' of the law, and her 'unintentional' actions. She is reported to be denying the charges, so she'll have to come up with something. Since there were apparently several wintesses, she will have to either a) come up with a really good excuse, like Gord phoned her up and offered her the Chancellorship, and she crashed the car from shock, or b) - my bet - discredit the witnesses as Tory stooges and Daily Mail readers. That would be New Labour's style. She'll get off, but it will be fun to see how she does it; and I can imagine it will drive another nail into the coffin of Labour's chances at the election.

But before the case comes to court (if it ever does - there's many things a former Minister of Justice can do and strings they can pull), I just want you to think of what might have happened if you or I had committed the same offences that she is alleged to have committed.

You are driving along a busy street, talking on your mobile. You are distracted by the conversation (as the Government has always argued that you must be), and you drive your car into a car parked by the side of the road. You attempt to drive away, but a crowd gathers. You wind down the window and shout "I am Fred Bloggs, you know where to find me!" and drive away without leaving your name, address and insurance details with anyone, as the law demands that you must.

Now, call me an old cynic, but I think you or I would be treated quite harshly. Minimum £60 and three points for the mobile; perhaps £500 and another three points for the Driving Without Due Care. However, I would be the most worried about the third charge. Leaving the scene of an accident is, quite rightly, a serious offence, and I would expect a large fine and a ban at the very least, and possibly a prison sentence somewhere in the background.

What's that? They are not charging her with leaving the scene? Oh, that's all right, then. Perhaps she didn't. Perhaps she's still there.

She'll either get off on a technicality, or she'll have a light rap across the knuckles for being careless. And in either case she will carry on as before, utterly without any shame. There won't even be an apology, much less a resignation. After all, laws are for the little people, aren't they? (And her a socialist and a believer in equality. Tchah.)

And, of course, there is the traditional Labour mistreatment of words.

Ms Harman strongly refutes the allegations.

If she wins in court, she will have refuted them. What you mean is she has denied them. Very different things.

The first cabinet minister in living memory to face criminal charges. An immediate resignation and a quite retirement from public life for a while might have earned her some respect. But on past form, she will bluster on, and it will all be a misunderstanding, a foregiveable lapse, or a Tory plot.

I despise these people.

Monday, 16 November 2009

RIP Edward Woodward

Great actor, and I'm sad to see him go, but ...

How are future generations going to describe a fart in the bath?

Welcome, visitors

This blog is now approaching its 1000th visitor, which is somewhat amazing. I know some of those will be me, before I learned how to set the site meter to 'ignore owner'. But that's an awful lot of people who have stumbled (some deliberately, mostly accidentally) on my ramblings.

Geographically, they range from Gatton, in Queensland, Australia to Mountain View in California, and in between they represent Hong Kong, Madrid, Hamburg, Lerwick in the Shetland Islands, Dublin, Virginia, Nashville, Ontario and a lot of other places in between. And a special mention to East Sussex and Cambridge. You know who you are.


The funniest thing is to look at the search terms in Google that brought some visitors here.

The bizarre:
The Golf Ball Potaote [sic] Crisp
Flymo Vision 380 Test
Gloria Smudd

And the more reasonable:
Motorcycling quotes
Lyrics Flowchart
Do people have a right to strike
Going fast and getting nowhere (well, yes).

So, if you are here from Google on a wild-goose chase for Piedmontese after-dinner mints or biodiesel lawnmowers, or if you just stumbled upon this little corner of instability by complete accident, or even if you came here on purpose ...


The Brylcreem Bounce

Ok, I'm certifiably bonkers, but ... bear with me.

I was driving home this morning after doing my lecturing gig at the New University, and a jingle came into my head. Don't ask me why, for I know not. But in the 70s, there was an advert for a men's grooming product called Brylcreem, I'd say 'ask your grandad', but I understand that Brylcreem has undergone a bit of a revival recently, so maybe the cultural reference isn't so obscure. The ad showed lots of men with greasy quiffs, and was accompanied by a jingle:

A little dab of Brylcreem on your hair
Gives you the Brylcreem ... bou-ounce!

The word 'bounce' was sung as two syllables, with the first glissanding from a minor to a major third, and the second back on the tonic. I can hear now the rather strained mid-Atlantic accent of the singer, and the tune and tempo, note for note. And I can also remember the version we, as skoolboys, used to sing:

A little dab of Brylcreem on your stairs
Makes your Granny ... bou-ounce!

Now, I know that this is only humorous in the 'you had to be there' sense. But what puzzled me for the next twenty miles was -

Where the hell was all this information stored? Which part of what I laughingly call my 'brain' was host to the chemicals and charges and switches and zaps that went together to recreate this resoundingly stupid jingle? I don't believe in homeopathy, and I won't accept that bits of my 'brain' had this memory in their - er - memory, without there being some physical manifestation. If I think of it as an audio file on a computer, then I suppose we are dealing with something around 200Kb, or the size of a meduim-sized photo. Oh, and another 200Kb for the skoolboy version. And this is real data: if you were unlucky enough to have me in your living room at this moment, I could sing it to you, with a fairly faithful rendition of tune and tone of voice. In other words, it isn't virtual data - it is realisable in the real world.

I suppose, in computer terms, it is a small file somewhere in an archive folder, which can be retrieved and replayed by the right combination of search terms and commands.

So - where was it? Where?

And also, while we are on the subject, where are all the other stupid, inconsequential, trivial, nugatory, negligible (except that they aren't, in the strict sense of the word) and irrelevant memories that I can recall if the circumstances are right? The rather fatty taste of a cheap ice-cream when I was on holiday with my parents in Cornwall in - let's say - 1960? The sound of the crowd at a firework display on the same trip (oooh on the way up, ahhh on the way down, since you ask - something which has proved useful in all sorts of situations)? The feel of the front doorstep (Cardinal Red) on the backs of my legs when I used to sit there talking to the girl next door at the age of nine?

It's all there.

(And why is it that I can remember the precise details of the transmission arrangements of Emilio Largo's yacht Disco Volante in Fleming's 1961 novel Thunderball (the Shertel-Sachsenberg system, if you must know), when more recent and significant information, such as the date of the Health and Safety At Work Act, is always just beyond reach, and I need to look it up? Again.)

It strikes me that the human brain is impossibly complex and labrynthine - especially when it can be used to question and examine its own workings, as it is now.

Testing, testing ...

After a few tweaks and adjustments, the XT has now passed its informal roadworthiness test - can it get me to the A40 and back without a) breaking down, and b) backfiring?

The answer is yes.

So it is back to commuting duties for the doughty trailbike. If a friend came home from hospital, you would surely feed him or her on some nice easily-digestible food and not expect the coal brought in or the lounge decorating for at least a week. But I'm afraid for the poor old trailie, it's back to work.

I'm glad about that.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

It lives again!

The XT, bless it, is finally back on the road. Or, at least, running again with some nice new shiny bits.

To recap - when I bought the bike, the exhaust pipes were tidily finished in matt black. I knew what had happened: all mild steel exhausts rust, and painting them only improves matters for a few weeks. I knew this is what the seller had done, but it's what I would have done too - make the bike look its best for sale. I therefore had a new set of headers in my mind as a future purchase from the word go. Motad do some nice stainless steel ones for a bit over a hundred quid, and I had planned to get some of these as a Final Solution.

So when the bike started backfiring a few weeks ago, I strongly suspected rust holes in the exhausts. Sure enough, there were parts of the headers you could almost poke a finger through. So I ordered the Motads, and the next weekend planned to do the swap. It should have been simple - unbolt rusty ones, remove, put new ones on, bolt up, off you go.


Nothing in life is ever as simple as you think it's going to be, from marriage to choosing a pair of shoes. And so it was with the XT. The first stud (out of 4) sheared off in my hand when I tried to take the bolt off. I should point out that trailbike exhausts work in the most inhospitable environments. They are alternately heated to several hundred degrees and cooled back to room temperature; they are immediately behind the front wheel and get all the road crud and (in winter) salt sprayed on them directly at high speed (trailbike mudguards are more to protect the rider than the machine); and no-one ever looks at them until they go wrong. So corrosion here is pretty much the order of the day.

So I ordered four new studs, and some nice stainless nuts to go on them, rather than Yamaha's patent 'special nuts' that are priced as if they were solid titanium, and go rusty faster than the eye can see. And the next weekend (you can see why this takes so long), I took all the studs out and tried to remove the headers. Nothing. They were as firmly stuck into the cylinder head as if they had been welded there. Nothing for it - the cylinder head would have to come off, and the job would be done on the bench, where mighty tools can be wielded and room to manoeuvre can be had. But I was totally without success. Normal tools, then big tools, then a hammer and chisel, then an angle grinder, then all of the above plus heat from a propane torch. Nothing. I couldn't even shift either of them a millimetre. It was getting to the point where I feared I would cause some damage, and alloy cylinder heads of discontinued Japanese bikes are not particularly cheap.

In the end, I had to take the cylinder head to a man. He used an oxy-acetylene torch to basically burn them out, which I would not have had the equipment, skill or courage to do. Now, while the head was off, it made sense to reseat the valves, as an inspection and a test with a thimbleful of petrol showed that they were ever so slightly leaky. So, valves were reground and cylinder heads and pistons were decarbonised. But when it came to putting it all back together, I realised that the rubber and metal bits that mounted the carbs were not, in fact, supposed to be in two pieces but in one piece. I had taken them off a bit clumsily, and I had parted the rubbery bits from the metal bits. Not clever. A bit of research in the parts catalogue revealed what they should look like, and ten minutes on eBay got me some replacements. (Apparently, this is a common occurrence, which made me feel a bit better.) The head was duly refurbished and put back where it should be - on top of the engine, tightly bolted down.

So today, after the rains of yesterday, I was out on the back drive, tool kit in hand, ready to mount the final assault on the North Face of Yamaha. The carbs went back on without a murmur (after I had dismantled the airbox to make room - ah, so that's why the mounting rubbers broke) and everything else just slipped into place. Engine back together, petrol tank temporarily mounted, ignition on, and ...

Brmmm. Or, rather, ka-bang, ka-bang, ka-bang, as I had not put the new exhaust on yet.

I am now 56, and I have been tinkering with engines and mechanical things since I used to help my Dad 'do the car' on a Sunday morning when I was about six. So that's 50 years of fettling, fossicking and furgling where a sensible person would say 'take it to the garage, pay them some money, and stop worrying about it'. And yet I have never got over the thrill of putting something back together and hearing it start again.

New exhausts on, all the panels back in place, and final adjustments made, and I started it again. I let it idle (quietly, now) for ten minutes or so to let all the gasket compounds cure and the smelly smoke to burn off.

And then it started to rain. Brilliant, brilliant timing.

Here's what the new bits look like:

A quick test run tomorrow (I have the afternoon off) and then if all is well the XT will be back to commuting duties. I have been using the Pan to get to work while the XT has been indisposed, but it's not been much fun. Faster, yes; more comfy, yes; better weather protection, yes. But it's not fun in the way the XT is. It has no character and no soul. It's impressive, even awesome (I still can't get over how quick it goes, and how well it handles), but the XT is fun, homely and begs you to love it.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Friday 13th survived once again

Wow, what a ride home last night! To start with, torrential rain, which had wet the inside of my visor when I was walking to the bike from my office. Not in itself a problem, I might add, but then there were gusty winds up to, acording to the BBC, 85 mph. The Honda is the worst bike I have ever had for reacting to side-winds (it's all that weather-cheating plastic), so that made the ride a little more entertaining. Then, of course, it was dark, and so visibility was a real problem. I ride home along the A40, which is busy at that time of night with commuters and ferry traffic, and I was facing a constant stream of headlights. Normally, the visor will clear of raindrops if you can get up to a decent speed. Self-cleaning seems to happen at about 55-60 mph, but there was no hope of achieving that last night. So I was wiping the visor constantly, but to no avail, because the worst of the water drops were on the inside. Every approaching light was refracted into a hundred small points of light across my area of vision, which gave me no chance to adapt my eyes to see the detail of the darker bits. And, of course, the dark bits are where the hazards lie.

After all the rain of the afternoon, the road was covered in water, and in places the puddles spread from the verges to meet in the middle - and this is the A40, remember, the main road into West Wales. I tried to travel in the centre of the road to avoid plunging into deep water, but that put me directly in line with the bow-waves thrown up by vehicles travelling the other way. It was almost comic, like having buckets of water thrown over you. There was so much spray being thrown up by the car tyres that all cars were invisible below the window-line.

It was, you might say, conducive to concentration. In fact, I would say that it was the worst conditions I have ever ridden in. Colleagues can't believe that a sane human being (or even me) would want to ride a bike in weather like this. I was constantly fending off comments all day:

Bet you're not on the bike today, har har.
But of course.

OK, it was a bit of a challenge, but then physical challenges are quite rare these days, what will all the safety rules and the we-must-eliminate-all-risk lobby. I admit it, I enjoyed it.

And, of course, if I had gone to work in the Mundaneo, I wouldn't be writing this.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Remembrance Day

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae, May 1915

Remember that:

If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Poem of the Day

I couldn't resist nicking this:

On Bonfire Night, On Bonfire Night
It’s time to set the land alight:
So load the faggots, pile the wood,
Stack the logs and stack them good!
Pile on effigies and guys
Of MPs who we all despise:
Put Mandelson and Brown up there,
With smarmy grin, put Tony Blair;
And heap the brushwood, build the pyre,
Strike the match and light that fire.

Upon each hilltop, fell, scarp, peak ‘n’
Tor we’ll light a cheery beacon
Where hated Parliamentarianism
Is met by stark incendiarism;
(Remember, Member, your offences -
We know you fiddled your expenses…)
And we’ll line up to light the torch,
To make the MPs singe and scorch,
Who’ll be first to strike the tinder
And burn each MP to a cinder?

Their tricks sent each and every peasant
Into rages incandescent;
Let’s stuff those dummies! Pile ‘em high,
Then launch them up into the sky
And laugh as all their stupid masks
Explode among the firework-sparks;
But can such jolly conflagration
Appease our bitter consternation
As we stand shoulder next to shoulder,
To watch those ‘Honorable’ Members smoulder?

The voters’ mood is clearly fervent
And keen to torch a ‘Public Servant’!
Once lit, among the fiery lumber,
Will MP Dumb and MP Dumber
Seem slightly less detestible
When proved to be combustible?
We loathe them all, across the board;
Each Member, unelected Lord,
And Baroness, all need a rocket
For stealing from the public pocket.

Shall we look on with gleeful gaze
As Ministers are set ablaze
And the tiny guy of Hazel Blears
Explodes to rounds of raucous cheers?
Shall Jacquie’s guy, stuffed all with porn,
Be left to smoulder on the lawn?
Shall Harman’s, wearing dungarees,
Stay smoking gently in the breeze?
And Jack’s, for it is stuffed with Straw,
Remain a-blazing upon the floor?

Or shall someone run to douse the flames
And shout a list of Members’ names
Who haven’t picked the public purse?
(Or anything remotely worse
Than scoffing freebie food all day
To supplement their meagre pay)
Would this list water down the spite
T’wards those who have been set alight?
Would Prescott seem less of a bag
If he had just the single Jag?

Take that clown Brown, who couldn’t risk it
And dared not name his favourite biscuit,
Is he OK because he paid
Back money used to hire a maid?
Shall we forgive those flipping gnomes
Who swapped their first and second homes?
Shall we say “Yes, we’ll pay for you
And pay much higher taxes too
As long as you can keep your moat
Weed-free so that your ducks still float.”?

Perhaps we’d better light that fire
And blue touch-paper, then retire
To somewhere safe to watch the glows
Build up until the whole thing blows
Those sorry bonfire-guys sky high
And if the real guys wonder why
We cheered as our guys blew away,
Remember, Member, Guy Fawkes’ Day,
When we commemorate a plot
To get rid of you shameful lot.

On Bonfire Night, On Bonfire Night
It’s time to set the land alight:
So load the faggots, pile the wood,
Stack the logs and stack them good!
Pile on effigies and guys
Of MPs who we all despise:
Put Mandelson and Brown up there,
With smarmy grin, put Tony Blair;
And heap the brushwood, build the pyre,
Strike the match and light that fire!

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

E-petition response

Long ago, I signed the No. 10 petition "Resign". The wording of the petition was:

“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to resign.”

I got my response today. It said:

The Prime Minister is completely focussed on restoring the economy, getting people back to work and improving standards in public services. As the Prime Minister has consistently said, he is determined to build a stronger, fairer, better Britain for all.

Perfect New Labour. Doesn't address the issue, full of platitudes we have heard before, empty cadences that ultimately remind one of a Labour Random Phrase Generator. And, at the bottom of it all, hogwash. It simply isn't true. They know it; we know it.

What about this:

The Prime Minister is completely focussed on creating enough misinformation and confusion so that Britain might sleepwalk into a fourth Labour term, to pursuing a scorched-earth economic policy in case the Tories do get in, spending taxpayer's money on lunatic feel-good schemes that have a take-up in single figures, and pissing our money up the wall on his clients in the public services and the benefits office. As the Prime Minister has consistently said, he is determined to leave a weaker, more divided, more unhappy Britain for all.

And it's 'focused', by the way.

The heroism of New Labour

It's been doing the rounds in the blogosphere, but I thought this deserved as much exposure as possible. From returning Iraq soldier Chris Finney:

“I have found the return to civilian life humbling. My George Cross counted for little when I tried to find a job in the middle of a recession. The usual grumbling by soldiers at the politicians who determine their fate has for me hardened into real anger. When I left the Army, I qualified for a resettlement allowance of just £500. In contrast, MPs who leave the Commons receive between 50% and 100% of their annual salary to help them ‘adjust’ to live outside Parliament. Where is the fairness in that?

What makes me even more furious is the lack of respect shown by the Government to those who have paid the highest price and made the ultimate sacrifice: the war dead. Why is there no Minister in attendance when our fallen heroes from Afghanistan are brought home to repatriation ceremonies at Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire? I couldn’t believe it when I read that Gordon Brown had phoned Simon Cowell to ask how Britain’s Got Talent contestant Susan Boyle was when she had a breakdown. He doesn’t phone any of the bereaved families. I thought that was absolutely disgusting, a real slap in the face for the parents of the hundreds of soldiers killed.”


Labour just don't like the military, that's all. They are either officers (Sandhurst, plum in the mouth, elitist) or other ranks (unreconstructed macho males who probably support the BNP) - neither group fits in well with NuLabour's dream of a touchy-feely socialist paradise where All Shall Have Prizes. It goes a bit against the internationalist grain, too - we're supposed to be comrades with the Iraqi people, not shooting them. The only use the military have as far as NuLab are concerned is in carrying out the wishes of their poodle-masters in the US, and then at the least cost and with the minimum of equipment or support.

This kind of thing makes me ashamed to be British.

A bit like the thing with the Gurkhas. Truly shameful. Roll on 2010 and let's get these despicable turds out of government.

H/t to Guido.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

XT progress

The new exhaust headers arrived this week, despite the postal strikes (thank you, Porcel Farce). They are very shiny.

I have now been trying to get the old, rusty headers out of the cylinder head for nearly two weeks, on and off. I took the head off and had a go doing it on the workbench. First molegrips, then a hammer and chisel, then an angle grinder, then all of the above in combination. Finally, all of the above, plus a lot of heat from a propane torch.


It had got to the point where I was afraid of doing some expensive damage, so I took it at a man who can, who got them out (with some difficulty, it must be admitted) and charged me £40. Having seen what he had to do (use of welding gear, slide hammer and heavy-duty extractors), it was worth it. I now have the cylinder head home (and in one piece), and the new headers have been test-fitted. Yes!!!

Thank you, Lamo's Motorcycles of Llandissilio.

Now, all I have to do (famous last words) is to put it all back together. Watch this space ...

Lyrics flowchart

Apologies for lack of posts over the last few days. There's been work, and there's been stuff, and I've had a bad back and sitting at the computer has been painful. But it's Saturday, the shopping is done, and the weekend has started.

I love this (click for bigger):

H/t Obnoxio.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

We're counting on you, President Klaus

Prsident Klaus of the Czech Republic is still standing firm against signing the Lisbon Treaty. Once he signs, it's law, and the chances of the British people ever getting a say in how they are governed ever again are slim indeed.

The Taxpayers' Alliance are hosting an online petition to urge President Klaus to stand firm.

Here it is.

If you don't like the sound of President Blair, you know what to do.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

The Golfball Potato Crisp

Clive James on man-made global warning. Nail, head.

Whether or not you believe that the earth might have been getting warmer lately, if you are sceptical about whether mankind is the cause of it, the scepticism can be enough to get you called a denialist.

It's a nasty word to be called, denialist, because it calls up the spectacle of a fanatic denying the Holocaust. In my homeland, Australia, there are some prominent intellectuals who are quite ready to say that any sceptic about man-made global warming is doing even worse than denying the Holocaust, because this time the whole of the human race stands to be obliterated.

Really they should know better, because the two events are not remotely comparable. The Holocaust actually happened. The destruction of the earth by man-made global warming hasn't happened yet, and there are plenty of highly qualified scientists ready to say that the whole idea is a case of too many of their colleagues relying on models provided by the same computers that can't even predict what will happen to the weather next week.

In fact the number of scientists who voice scepticism has lately been increasing. But there were always some, and that's the only thing I know about the subject. I know next to nothing about climate science. All I know is that many of the commentators in newspapers who are busy predicting catastrophe don't know much about it either, because they keep saying that the science is settled and it isn't.

BBC iPlayer here, or a transcript of the whole thing here.

Good stuff.

H/t to Counting Cats in Zanzibar.

Engine Pr0n

Just thought I would include a couple of photos of the work-in-progress that is the XT and its rusty appendages ...

First, with the cam cover removed ...

And second with the head off, revealing a nice dirty piston.

Golly, that is a big one, as it were. It's bigger than the last piston I looked in the face, which was on my 2.25 petrol Land Rover. And I thought they were big. The engine I fettled before that was a Rover 3.5 V8 in my trialler, and they were tiny in comparison.

On the advice of a complete stranger (and Internet acquaintance, this time), I will need a lot of heat to shift the rusty bits, so I have taken out the valves and set the workshop out ready for a session of heat'n'hammer later this week. I will also lap the valves in, as there is evidence that they aren't sealing too well, and therefore harming the compression. I haven't lapped valves for a long time. Should be fun.

Thank you, Mr Pirsig

Fresh from a night's sleep, I approached the recalcitrant bolt again. In three seconds, I had the answer. The bolt was set down in a well, which prevented me getting the Allen key into the socket far enough. The only (very limited) angle where I could get the key in fully was blocked by the frame. So, looking at the situation from a different angle, it was the frame that was the problem, not the well. And when I looked at the frame to see what, exactly, was stopping the Allen key swinging, I found it was a thin metal strip with formed a guide to the horn wires. I bent it out of the way, and undid the bolt.

Obvious when you think about it. Not obvious at all when you are feeling 'stuck'. Although daylight and fresh head might have helped, I suppose.

The cylinder head is held on by six bolts. Yes, it is six - I checked with the manual. Five are easy to get at, but the sixth isn't. It's tucked away, underneath the front of the engine, and again the frame is stopping any kind of tool access. I may have to lift the engine a couple of inches to get at it.

One step forward, two steps back. So what's new?


Six, no, seven bolts [1]. There was a useless little Allen bolt tucked away and apparently serving no purpose, but this time I spotted it immediately and gave it what for. The sixth bolt came out without a problem, strangely.

The cylinder head is now off. It all needs a good decoke, but it all seems OK in there. I am now abandoning the subtle tools in favour of a hammer and cold chisel to get the rusty exhaust headers out. Wish me luck.

[1] Nobody expects, ect.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Great cartoon

Picked up from another blog, and I can't remember which - sorry! Worth sharing, though.


Writing the previous post reminded me of a passage in ZAMM (link below) on 'stuckness'. It's one that stuck (heh) in my mind for a long time after I first read the book. I've found the whole passage and I'm going to copy it here. If you don't like philosophy, or mechanical things, or non-traditional approaches to problems, look away now. Your loss.

The passage starts with a hypothetical situation - you are trying to get a screw out of a side-cover and it won't turn. In your haste, you have applied too much force and have torn out the slot, so that your screwdriver will no longer work. (Anyone who has worked on Japanese bikes up to about 1990 will remember the engine screws made of pressed milk-bottle tops that they used to use.) So now you are stuck. In Pirsig's words:

Normally screws are so cheap and small and simple you think of them as unimportant. But now, as your Quality awareness becomes stronger, you realize that this one, individual, particular screw is neither cheap nor small nor unimportant. Right now this screw is worth exactly the selling price of the whole motorcycle, because the motorcycle is actually valueless until you get the screw out. With this reevaluation of the screw comes a willingness to expand your knowledge of it.

He continues:

You're stuck. Stopped. Terminated. It's absolutely stopped you from fixing the motorcycle.

This isn't a rare scene in science or technology. This is the commonest scene of all. Just plain stuck ...

This book is no good to you now. Neither is scientific reason. You don't need any scientific experiments to find out what's wrong. It's obvious what's wrong. What you need is a hypothesis for how you are going to get that slotless screw out of there and scientific method doesn't provide any of these hypotheses. It operates only after they're around.

This is the zero moment of consciousness. Stuck. No answer. Honked. Kaput. It's a miserable experience emotionally. You're losing time. You're incompetent. You don't know what you are doing. You should be ashamed of yourself. You should take the machine to a real mechanic who knows how to figure these things out.

It's normal at this point for the fear-anger syndrome to take over and make you want to hammer on that side plate with a chisel, to pound it off with a sledge if necessary. You think about it, and the more you think about it the more you're inclined to take the whole machine to a high bridge and drop it off. It's just outrageous that a tiny little slot of a screw can defeat you so totally.

What you're up against is the great unknown, the void of all Western thought. You need some ideas, some hypotheses. Traditional scientific method, unfortunately, has never quite gotten around to say exactly where to pick up more of these hypotheses. Traditional scientific method has always been, at the very best, 20-20 hindsight. It's what you think you know, but it can't tell you where you ought to go, unless where you ought to go is a continuation of where you were going in the past. Creativity, originality, inventiveness, intuition, imagination - "unstuckness" in other words - are completely outside its domain ...

Let's consider a reevaluation of the situation in which we assume that the stuckness now occurring, the zero of consciousness, isn't the worst of all possible situations, but the best possible situation you could be in. After all, it's exactly this stuckness that Zen Buddhists go to so much trouble to induce; through koans, deep breathing, sitting still and the like. Your mind is empty, you have a "hollow-flexible" attitude of "beginner's mind." You're right at the front end of the train of knowledge, at the track of reality itself. Consider, for a change, that this is a moment to be not feared but cultivated. If your mind is truly, profoundly stuck, then you may be much better off than when it was loaded full of ideas.

The solution to the problem often at first seems unimportant or undesirable, but the state of stuckness allows it, in time, to assume its true importance. It seemed small because your previous rigid evaluation which led to the stuckness made it small. But now consider the fact that no matter how hard you try to hang on to it, this stuckness is bound to disappear. Your mind will naturally and freely move toward a solution. Unless you are a real master at staying stuck you can't prevent this. The fear of stuckness is needless because the longer you stay stuck the more you see the Quality-reality that gets you unstuck every time. What's really been getting you stuck is the running from the stuckness through the cars of your train of knowledge looking for a solution that is out in front of the train.

Stuckness shouldn't be avoided. It's the psychic predecessor of all real understanding. An egoless acceptance of stuckness is a key to an understanding of Quality, in mechanical work as in other endeavors. It's this understanding of Quality as revealed by stuckness which so often makes self-taught mechanics so superior to institute-trained men who have learned how to handle everything except a new situation.

Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Chapter 24

XT progress, of sorts

I am very thankful for the kind CWU and their convenient postal strikes. After all, if the post was working, I would have my new exhausts by now, and I would be fretting that I didn't have time to fit them. But I can relax, safe in the knowledge that they ain't coming any time soon, and I can get on with all the other stuff in my own time.

I posted earlier that I needed to take off the cylinder head to get the remains of the old headers out. After my shopping expedition this morning, I needed to do something positive, so I set to it. The airbox and the carbs came off with a bit of a struggle, but they came off. And then I set to taking off the bit that covers the top of the cylinder head - what, on a car, you would call the rocker cover. Well, that bit is held on by a number of long bolts. I found and took out 13 of them, and the damn thing wouldn't shift. I got to the point of gently trying to lift it away with a crowbar, which is very risky, but no deal. Just a fraction of a millimetre of movement. Robert M Pirsig (in ZAMM) refers to the state of 'stuckness', where a mechanical issue stops you dead and won't let you continue. How you get around the feeling of rage and impotence is a philospohical issue, not a mechanical one. I recognised in myself the feeling of 'stuckness' and went and had a cup of tea.

When I went back outside, I realised that maybe I hadn't located all the bolts. I visualised the shape of the cover, and the stresses of holding it down, and thought about where the bolts ought to be. Then I looked under a cover and there, hiding in a little pool of dark oil, was another bolt. Aha! Pirsig was right - my new, calmer mental state had allowed me to see the solution more clearly. So I took that out, too. 14 bolts, not 13. Try again.

No deal. Zilch. Nada.

OK, I said to the bike, you want to play rough? I went for the biggest weapon in the armoury of the backyard bodger. The workshop manual. And then I saw that there were 15 bolts shown in the diagram that I should have looked at much earlier. This bolt had by now a mythical status, as it appeared to be completely invisible. I found it located in a well right at the top of the engine, completely hidden by the bike's upper frame. I tried to undo it, but failed. Because it is in a well, my ordinary Allen key isn't long enough to reach fully into the socket in the bolt-head, and therefore I risk rounding out the hole if I try too hard. On the other hand, the frame rail means there isn't enough room to deploy the obvious alternative, a ratchet handle with an Allen bit in the end.

By now it was getting dark, so I cleared everything away and retired to the house, where a curry was being made and wonderful smells were developing. If I had carried on, I am sure I would have done more harm than good, such as damage the last bolt enough so that the whole engine would have to come out. No thanks.

Tomorrow, it will be daylight again, and I will have had a whole evening and night for Mr Pirsig's calm rationality to pervade my heated brain.

It's only a sodding bolt, after all. It can't be that difficult, can it?
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