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

- George Washington

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Comment policy

Regular readers, both of you, may remember that a while ago I turned on word verification for comments to this blog.  I was getting so much spam it was 'doin my ed in like', and turning WV on stopped it instantly.  However, I know from my own experience that the Blogger WV thing is very irritating and clumsy.  More than once I have written a fairly thoughtful and considered response on another blog, only to give up after six attempts to decipher some random squiggles in a box.  My time has been wasted, the world will miss that particular pearl of wisdom, and the whole thing is unsatisfactory.  I was very reluctant to turn on WV for my own blog, as I know how big a pain it is, and I have had some feedback from readers that it was putting them off commenting.

But when you are writing and managing a blog in your spare time, spam is a real hassle and takes a lot of your attention away from where it should be, so I don't apologise for turning on WV until the tsunami of rubbish abated.  I'm a bit of an innocent when it comes to these things, but the spam was increasing over time, and my guess was that the blog was getting on more and more spam lists as the spam comments were visible for a while until I got round to deleting them, and therefore appeared in some Greatest Hits in a database somewhere.  My hope is that, now the blog has been silent for a few months, whoever does these things will have assumed the blog is no more and will have moved onto more fertile soil.

So, WV is OFF for the time being.  Comment all you like, magnifying glasses not necessary.  If the spam returns, I will have another think.  It has been suggested that I allow comments from registered users only, which would solve the problem, but might bring others in its wake.  We shall see.

If anyone has any bright ideas, let me know - in the comments :)

Here's a poster to make you laugh.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Fleet update

For those who are interested ...

I had to move everything about yesterday to clear leaves and stuff from my usual storage locations, and I ended up with all three bikes on the driveway, and I thought it would be an ideal photo opportunity.  There's one new addition to the fleet since the last bike-related post here.

Here's the chorus line:

From left to right:

Yamaha XT660R, 2006, fully functional, road legal, the commuter and everyday reliable workhorse.  Previous owner rode it to Romania and back (from his name on the V5, I think he was visiting relatives) and I intend to give it a similar workout before too long.  Not to Romania, but further than the Severn Bridge, for sure.

Triumph Trident 750, 1994 (but an early VIN, probably made in 1992), one of the early Hinckley revival Triumphs.  Bought because I could no longer credibly be the Chairman of my branch of the Owners' Club without owning a Triumph, and this was a very cheap eBay purchase in May.  Bought (more or less) to say I had one in the shed, and perhaps to keep with a view to long-term restoration.  In fact, it is a superb bit of kit, and I am hooked.  It had 52k on the clock when I got it (53k now) and it is not without its faults, but it is rideable and goes pretty well for an old girl.  I'm now focusing on a gradual improvement schedule.  The immediate stuff has all been done, and I am now onto the refinements (hollow laugh).

Yamaha XT600E, 1995 (but made in 1994), SORNed, no tax, no insurance, no battery as of yesterday. A triumph (heh) of mid-90s tasteless colour vandalism - pale green, lilac and white. The puppy I cannot abandon.  Long-term, it's going to get money spent on it and made fantastic, but short-term it's under a cover behind the shed.  I found an interesting nest of spiders in the air intake yesterday.  Not at the top of my priority list, but when time and funds allow, it's getting the treatment.  I have a lot of lurve for this bike.

Ah, choices.

Night visitors

A little while ago, I gave in to a long-held wish and bought myself a trail camera.  If you haven't seen one of these, it's a camera which straps to a tree or mounts on a post, and works off a PIR sensor, with IR illumination so it can take shots in the dark.  It can take either stills or video, or a combination of the two, and is fully weatherproof.  It's made in woodland camouflage colours and runs off AA batteries.  With an extra battery pack, it can be left for up to six months and will capture any object that is warmer than the background.  This is the one I got - an American LTL Acorn Scouting Camera Ltl-5210A:

Padlock? It would prevent theft of the SD card, but not the camera, which is held by a nylon strap

So far, I have had some mildly interesting results, although I have to say that the camera's performance is slightly disappointing.  Picture quality is modest (about as good as a cheap smartphone) and the range at night is only about 5m - that is, an object needs to be within 5m to trigger the camera, although it will capture an image up to about 15m, with the outer limits quite faint.

I have set it up at various places round the garden over several nights, and results have been getting better, so I imagine that with practice I can get some interesting images.  So far, I have discovered that Rescue Cat is an early bird as well as a midnight rambler:

Monarch of all she surveys
and that the cat that the people in the cottage next door swear they know nothing about is a regular visitor:

We call him 'Pink Cat' and he really is pink, well, pinky-beige. Not in this photo, though
But the best of all is an answer to the question: Who has been leaving the small black turds in the middle of the lawn?  When Bonkers Dog was alive, he would regularly come home with lovely doggy aftershave in the form of stinking black streaks on his neck.  Now we know why:

Don't mind me, I'm just off for a quick dump

Need to find the exact spot for maximum impact

Got it.  Exactly on a line between kitchen door and compost bin, hur hur
I know of several places where badgers run, and the next step (after satisfying the fox curiosity) will be to put the camera deep in the woods for a few nights and see what transpires.

The 'Storm' that wasn't

Here's a thought.

There were dire predictions over the past few days of a Great Storm coming to the South of the UK, a great storm to rival the humdinger we had in 1987.  Ground already soaked, trees still almost in full leaf, therefore massive flooding and trees torn up and flung about like matchsticks.  Or something.  Over the days, the predictions of the route the low would take started with Pembrokeshire and Cornwall taking the brunt of the storm when it made landfall, but the predicted route was later thought to be a little further South. Nevertheless, winds of 95 mph were predicted, damage to trees and property, flooding and mayhem.

I'm not one to over-react to scare stories, having over my life found most of them to be unfounded.  But yesterday I got the bikes under cover, the garden furniture in the shed, the bins indoors and everything moveable lashed down.  The forecasts were serious enough to overcome my basic laziness and Pollyanna optimism.

There was some rain in the night, and it was a bit windy.  I haven't read around the news sites yet, and I imagine some places had it much worse, but for Pembrokeshire it was all a bit of a let-down.

This isn't a Daily Mail-type "why can't these fools get it right?" rant.  I accept that most people act in good faith and sometimes people get it wrong.  I don't blame Michael Fish for the hurricane, and I don't blame the surgeon who missed seeing my Father's cancer at a stage where it might have been treatable.  I don't blame the forecasters who predicted murder and mayhem for my neck of the woods last night, either.  They simply got it wrong.  I kept an eye on things with the BBC weather service, the Met Office and a couple of weather apps on the phone, plus a Facebook feed from someone called Winter Weather 2013-14, and they all told the same story.  As the people concerned are experienced meteorologists, and the computers are presumable the best you can buy, this leads me to believe that the models are faulty - or at least much less accurate than the meteorologists think they are.

And that's the point.  I'm told on Sunday afternoon that it's Armageddon by Sunday night, and it isn't.  How can I believe that these same people and models can predict what the weather is going to be like in 2050?

(And yes, I am not an infant and I know that weather is not the same as climate.  But weather is how climate manifests itself in the same way that woodland manifests itself in individual trees.  If you are predicting climate, you are also predicting the specific weather conditions associated with that climate.)

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Beast That Will Not Die

I'm sitting here, chuckling in disbelief.

I was working last night (remember, when most people got an extra hour in bed, night workers got an extra hour on their shift, chiz) and got a few hours' sleep this morning.  This afternoon, I had promised Anna that I would get everything outside the house tidied away in preparation for the coming storm.  I got the wooden garden furniture in the shed, lashed down various bins, tables and barbecues, and performed the 3D jigsaw of getting both 'proper' bikes into the garage.  It was a very tight fit, and I had to tunnel out, but they are in there.

Which left the old XT.  To remind anyone who is remotely interested, I got a newer version in January and took the XT off the road with the vague intention of restoring it, or perhaps rebuilding it as a 'special' after a thorough overhaul.  January was the last time it went on the road.  It was wrapped in a waterproof cover and left.  Around April time, I took the covers off to check it was OK and tried to fire it up.  It started first time.  Back went the covers, after I had patted it and made soothing noises.  Anna is a bit pertickuler about important lifestyle artefacts (she refers to them as 'junk'), so the XT went under a waterproof cover and was hidden behind the shed.  Before I did this, I drained out as much fuel as I could and then ran the engine until it died.  The idea is to leave the carbs empty of fuel so that it doesn't evaporate and clog everything up with varnish.

As the bike is parked under some trees, I went to move it to a safer place for tonight. The waterproof cover had ripped to shreds, although the bike underneath looked fine.  Just for a laugh, I thought I would try to start it.  I knew there was no fuel in there, and I was pretty certain that after six months of inactivity (and almost a year without any significant charging) the battery would be dead as a dead thing.  It was new when I bought the bike in 2008,and 3-5 years is considered to be a reasonable life expectancy.  With regular use.

Ignition on, fuel on, try to start it.  The starter churned away but nothing happened.  Then I remembered I had drained the fuel, so I switched it to reserve in the hope that a few drops might have been retained in the bottom of the tank.

Rur-rur-rur ... doff doff doff doff ...

I laughed out loud.  I rode it round the garden and twice round the house.  Everything worked perfectly.

I have put it somewhere safe, away from falling branches.  It's no longer insured, and any serious damage would realistically make it not worth repairing.  It has convinced me (I was wavering, I admit) that it deserves some lurve, when I get the time and funds.

It reminds me of that marvellous Top Gear stunt with the Toyota Hilux.  The bike seems to be indestructable.

Happy days.

Good luck if you are in the path of this nasty weather.  My advice: go to bed with a pint of Scotch and pull the covers over your head.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Here we are again, happy as can be ...

I haven't posted anything here since May, almost exactly five months ago.  As with all relationships, the longer you leave it, the harder it is to get in touch again, and I was on the verge of writing a single, elegaic post and closing for good.  I can see three reasons for my lack of output, one technical, one organisational, and one psychological.

Firstly, I bought myself an iPad.  Anna and I had been talking on and off about getting one for a while, and one day we just slapped ourselves in the face, stopped pretending we were rational adults with a active sense of deferred gratification, and went to Curry's, where two iPad 3 devices were duly purchased.  Now I am far from being an Apple fanboi, but for a limited set of functions, the iPad is a brilliant bit of kit.  Youtube, reading mail and forums, playing simple games, basic websurfing - all very quick and convenient.  Stuff that needs a proper keyboard, image handling, cut and paste, maybe not so good.  Blogging really needs the functionality of a 'proper' computer, but when the proper computer is in another draughty room, away from the hearth and the kitchen, it's easy to stick with the simple stuff.

Secondly, I used to get a lot of blogging done during the quiet periods during my night shifts.  Earlier this year we underwent a massive organisational change, mainly the removal of an entire layer of the department, and I found myself no longer managing a team from the warmth of the office (and enough quiet time to get quite a lot done, as it were) but out on patrol or doing security-type things.  I have no problem with this, as I rather enjoy the work and being outdoors, but it does mean that computer time in an office without someone looking over my shoulder all the time is virtually nil.

Psychologically, I think that blogger's ennui has caught up with me too.  While Labour were in power, every read of the daily papers supplied enough rage material for a couple of good posts.  In common with most people I speak to, or read on the web, I have been massively disappointed in Cameron and his chums.  But the old anger isn't there; it's been replaced by a shrug and a massive yawn.

So things tailed off a bit.  But the other day I got a shock.  My reading list hasn't changed much, and I still check in daily with my favourites.  And there I was reading Julia's offering one day last week and what should I see but a link to mine. I haven't checked my blog stats for a while, and I had rather assumed that interest would have withered somewhat, so I was surprised and gratified that someone had actually remembered this small and inconsequential blog.  I think that was the kick I needed.  Thank you, Julia.

All's well here, in fact remarkably so.  Anna's health is still poor, but seems to be improving slowly.  Rescue Cat continues to be both needy and passive-aggressive at the same time.  There have been some big changes in the bike fleet, some news on tyre choices for the Mundaneo (winter tyres are the way to go, apparently), and there's still plenty to get enraged about.  And I have purchased a trail camera - of which more later.  Thanks to everyone who wrote to ask if I were still alive, and offer condolences, whisky or links to amusing websites.  I am flattered that anyone remembered, and I can assure you that I am in reasonable health and still gainfully employed.

Posting will resume forthwith.

Meanwhile, here's a Nice picture to keep you going.  Snarf.

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