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 March 2011

Must-Have Rugby Shirt

I want one of these.

Devine Justice 2

Well, he could hardly have expected to get off after virtually confessing live on Channel 4, now could he? From the BBC:
Ex-Labour MP Jim Devine has been jailed for 16 months for fraudulently claiming £8,385 in expenses.

Devine was last month found guilty of using false invoices for cleaning and printing work.
He's not as nice as he looks, you know. He made up stories about his former office manager, Marion Kinley, to justify firing her, and she was awarded £35,000 damages by a tribunal for unfair dismissal. He couldn't pay, and was declared bankrupt last month, so she never received a penny. Even during his trial (and presumably under oath) he claimed that she forged his signature to pay herself more than £5000, although his legal team now admit that this was false.

Sixteen months sounds about right - until you read this:
Devine's lawyer said he would probably serve eight months - but could get out in four with good behaviour.
I know I've said this before, but why was he sentenced to 16 months if he will automatically get out in 8? And why do the defence team think that it will be halved again? Sentencing in this case, as in all the other cases I read about, is a nonsense. Of course, there's the sympathy whinge:
In mitigation, Devine's lawyer said the fraud had been "entirely out of character" and prison would "bear heavily on him" as he suffers high blood pressure and has lost his reputation as well as his 30-year political career.

He's been sentenced to prison, which is the least we could hope for. And good riddance to a nasty, dishonest bully.

Rally Against Debt

It started as a Facebook spoof (I think), but it's growing. There's a Facebook page and a website.

A well mannered, polite rally for civilised people who don’t wish to see their hard earned money being spent on pointless government initiatives and instead would like government spending to actually fall and our national debt to be cut.

We don’t think that it’s fair for us to continue borrowing money to live a lifestyle that we simply can’t afford – burdening our children with unnecessary debt that they will have to pay back.

Any visits to Fortnum and Mason’s by protestors will only be to marvel at their selection of quality goods and perhaps make the occasional purchase.

Bonfires will be strictly forbidden: it’s out of season anyway

Trips to see Vodafone and other high street chains will result in congratulations to the company for providing jobs and growth in the UK.

Spread the word!

(It's the weekend of the International XT Rally, otherwise I'd be there.)

Wednesday 30 March 2011

China Syndrome

I was alerted to this alarming compilation by Joe Public. It's a video put out by the authorities in China in an attempt to increase people's awareness of traffic hazards. In China, it went viral, and I can see why. It is utterly amazing. I mean, you watch it and ask yourself: what the hell are they doing? The driving is suicidal, and I don't mean that in the usual sense of 'reckless' - I mean they genuinely look as if they are trying to get themselves killed in the nastiest way possible. Hmm, there's a truck - I'll see if I can ride under it flat out - hah, he's steering out of the way, but if I go left ... yep, got 'im. Hey, there's a car approaching me head on - I'll see if I can turn in front of him and die - yep, here we go ...

It's like the Place de la Concorde without the discipline and courtesy. And the crazy thing is that the most vulnerable people - the riders of small bikes and trishaws - seem to be the most reckless.

Watch and be terrified.

Tip of the full-face to Joe.

TT Memories 3

Last instalment of Microdave's memories of the TT races (previous instalments here and here): IOM TT 1979 (continued). The last instalment - A few more from that trip: My father and Stanley Woods with one of his bikes was taken at Jurby airfield on the 7th June 1979.

Another shot of one of his Velocettes at Jurby.

An unknown Matchless seen at Jurby.

Mike Hailwood (no8) taken on the Cronk y Voddy straight doing (we think) about 180mph. This was taken on the 4th June 1979.

The Silk 700s is a rare beast, and was pictured at the Vintage Rally at Castletown on the 7th. This was a hand built derivative of the pre war Scott Squirell, which my father and grandfather both owned.

I hope these have been of some interest to you, and any comments are welcome. MD

Thanks to Microdave for sharing some interesting and personal material. Hope you all enjoyed it. R

TT Memories 2

Second instalment of Microdave's IoM history lesson. For the first part, see here.

IOM TT 1979 (continued).

Further pictures from Signpost corner:

Percy Tait (no7) on a Trident & Phil Read (no1) on a MV 500/3?

Ralph Bryans (no5) on a Honda 125/5?

Stuart Graham (6) on a MV Augusta 1000

Unknown # 1

Unknown # 2

Unknown # 3

If anyone can identify the last three please do so - I am having to rely on what was written on the back of these photo's, and don't have any information on them.

More to follow later.

TT Memories 1

Big welcome to Microdave, and the first of three posts on his visits to the Isle of Man in the 1970s/80s. Click any picture for a bigger version.

Dear readers, Richard seemed very interested in my picture of the late Stanley Woods from back in 1979, so I suggested that I could scan some more, and make them the subject of a post or two. I'm going to divide it into 3 parts, or else it would get rather long, so here goes.

I made 3 visits to the IOM TT with my father - in 1978, '79 & '80, followed by a trip to the Manx Grand Prix the next year. On the first 3 occasions we went on 2 motorbikes, firstly my Moto Morini 3½ Strada and his Kawasaki Z 400. In '79 it was a pair of BMW's - my R65 and his R100S. In 1980 I confounded all my friends by taking my newly re-built CZ175, and had the most enjoyable time of the 3 trips. There was a sense of achievment in doing a 280 mile cross country ride to get to Heysham, and being on one of a handful (and by far the best) of Czech machines there! For the Manx we took mother along and used a car and dad's BeeEm, sharing the riding / driving.

Anyway back to the subject - on Saturday 7th June we rode up to Jurby airfield in the North of the island, which was being used for practice and testing of the old bikes which were going to be ridden in the first "Millenium Lap Of Honour" the following day. It was here that we met Stanley and his helpers. He was the perfect "gent" and willingly gave us his time. He was then 75 and admitted to having both hips replaced, and wasn't able to get on the old Velocette without assistance. However once he had been push started he was in his element. Apparently all the riders had been advised they only had 40 minutes (I think) on the circuit, after that they would be flagged off at the next junction. So although it was meant to be a fairly sedate demonstration lap, it soon became anything but. Stanley completed a lap in 33 minutes, averaging 68mph! The leaders on newer faster machines were really having a ding dong, and I think I'm right in saying that some lapped faster than the last time they had raced, such had been the improvement in the roads.

On Sunday 7th June we found a suitable spot to watch at Signpost Corner, and most of the following shots are from there. I have no idea what camera we had back then, but it did use 35mm film. I probably have the negatives somewhere in the loft, but trying to find them would be a nightmare, so these are all scanned and cropped from the prints.

Stanley Woods (no28) on a Velocette

Geoff Duke (no3) on a 500 Gilera Four.

Georg Meier (no9) on a 1939 BMW

John Surtees (no2) on an MV 500/4

Luigi Taveri (no4) on a Honda 250/4

Paul Smart? on a Suzuki & John Surtees (no2) on a MV 500/4

More to follow later.

I'll be posting the second and third instalments over the next couple of days. Great to see the giants of road racing making 'good progress'.

Good eBay experience

I mentioned in an earlier post that I fitted a Powerlet-type power outlet to the Bonnie.

The first thing to say is that this type of connector is way better than the usual cigar-lighter type. It's much more robust, with proper brass contacts, and it fits positively with a nice meaty 'click'. It can handle a lot more power than a cigar-lighter type, and is unlikely to be dislodged by vibration or a clumsy knock. So I set about getting an adapter to allow me to use my devices with the new power socket. The idea is that the only connector exposed to the weather will be this one. I wanted a lead which will go up into the tank bag, where I can make the other connections in a dry and protected area.

The connectors from Powerlet themselves are hugely expensive - probably brilliant quality, but unaffordable for me at the moment. But the beauty of this connector is that it is made to an international standard, so there should be many suppliers who can deliver the goods. I went to eBay and located what I wanted - a Powerlet plug with a split lead to two cigar-lighter sockets. That should take care of the satnav and the phone. The adapter was described as being 37 cm in length, and this sounded ideal for reaching into the tank bag without a lot of wasted cable, so I Bought It Now for the princely sum of £8.95.

It was delivered in a couple of days, looked good and well-made, and both sockets worked - always as well to check, in my experience. I gave the seller some positive feedback. But when I mounted it on the bike ...

... I realised that the leads weren't long enough. The leads were more like 12 cm than 37, and while this wouldn't stop me using them, it was not what I had ordered. More in hope than expectation, I emailed the seller to explain the mistake and asking for the 37 cm leads that I had paid for. To be honest, I wasn't expecting much of a response. These are hardly expensive items, and at this end of the scale, eBay sellers are rarely too concerned about customer satisfaction.

I was pleased to get a very polite email by return, apologising for the error and explaining the mix-up. The seller promised me a new set with the proper 37 cm leads, and said that I could keep the others in case they came in useful. This morning, they arrived - postage free and of the correct length. They work fine, and are the ideal length for what I need.

So, a very satisfactory outcome. Reasonable prices, quick delivery, good communications and a desire to keep customers happy - what more could you wish for? I wrote to thank him and mentioned the blog, and in reply he wrote
We try to cater to the biking community, so if there is anything you, or you fellow readers need, please let me know.
So a big thank-you and highest recommendation to James at qualityparts09. He's got 99.9% positive feedback over nearly 6000 transactions, so others must feel the same way. I've had a poke around his eBay store, and it's a boy's paradise, really. I'd certainly deal with the guy again on the basis of my experience.

The Wooden Enemies Are Out

Or that's what I thought Anna said today as we were walking the dog.

Triumph Auxiliary Power Socket

I really like having a aux power socket on a bike. It lets you use a satnav (robbed from the car and suitably encased and mounted) for one thing, and on a longer trip it is nice to be able to charge the phone (iPhone app Ride Logger eats the battery in a few hours) and even run a small compressor for blowing up the air bed if you are camping.

And lazy.

Until now, I have relied on a jury-rigged arrangement consisting of a double fag-lighter socket from Halford's wired direct to the battery via an inline fuse. Together with the connector for the battery charger and associated wiring, this made a bit of a mess of the underseat space, and I was keen to tidy it all up.

Last week, I bit the bullet and bought the 'official' Triumph accessory outlet. It was about £22 from Jack Lilley, and I am delighted with it. Fitting it took less than half an hour, including removing and remounting the tank, and checking and weatherproofing all the electrics while I was in there. There is a redundant connector underneath the tank, taped to the main wiring loom and leading back to the official fuse-box, and all you have to do it slit the tape, pull out the cable, and plug it into the back of the socket. The socket fits with one bolt to the rear engine steady. In place, it all looks very tidy and proper.

Slight problem: the outlet is of the Powerlet type. This is the universal DIN standard for power outlets on bikes (BMWs have been fitting them for years), snowmobiles, and so on, as it is unaffected by vibration and can handle high power loads. However, it is not compatible with the standard cigarette-lighter plug found on most car accessories.

Two choices, then: one, I alter every single accessory I own to mate with the Powerlet socket (expensive and tedious, and furthermore I won't be able to use them in the car) or two, I get an adapter lead so that I can use all my accessories with the Powerlet socket.

Option Two it is, then. Story continues in another post.

On a different note, the Ride of Respect stickers are showing signs of getting damp, despite being under a bike cover.

I hope they last until the end of Sunday, at least.

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Why Bikes Rock

I'm sending you over to Oscar India's place, where he has an excellent post on why bikes are so great. It's just a ride between shops, but it shows how much better a bike is than a car at dealing with traffic, and how a mundane utility trip can be turned into something life-enhancing.

Watching the clip, and especially the way that the BMW dismisses lines of slower traffic, makes me miss the arrogant power of the Honda (Pan European 1300, sold a year ago) and the way it could chew off and spit out whole lines of trucks and Sunday gawpers. The Bonnie is a great bike, but the performance is much closer to a fast car than a fast bike, and to ride like Oscar does in the clip would mean wringing its neck and taking a few risks on the way. I suppose this is why people end up with whole sheds full of bikes: none is perfect for every occasion or mood, so why not have several?

Go for a ride ...

Saturday 26 March 2011

This Blog Is Not For Sale

Paul wants to buy my blog. Paul wants to give me lots of money.
Hi, I am interested in purchasing your blog . I represent a firm that purchases entire blogs, that is, the URL as well as the content of the blog. We use these blogs to Improve the search engine rankings of our clients.
I must admit that, for a nanosecond I had a dream of retiring somewhere hot, and swimming in a sea of fivers while smoking a big cigar and entertaining several underage Moroccan belly-dancers named after precious stones. But then I read the conditions:
Our firm requires that the blog has correct English and grammar. It must have original content (not duplicate content from other blogs or websites) as well as having no pornography or other distasteful content. In addition, the blog must be able to be found on Google.

I can do the original content. Everything here is my own work, except the stuff that is other people's. The spelling, punctuation and grammar as as good as I can make them. I'm not aware of hosting pornography, and whether the blog is distasteful I will have to leave to others to judge. It can be found in Google, witness the bizarre search terms that bring many overseas readers to the blog.

And then I read the prices they are offering:
Below is the typical pricing (in US dollars) based on the PageRank of your blog: PageRank 1 - from $200. to $300. PageRank 2 - from $250. to $400. PageRank 3 - from $340. to $575. PageRank 4 - from $475. to $700. PageRank 5 - from $625. to $1,000.

The cigar turned to a soggy Woodbine, the fivers turned to old bus tickets, and the Moroccan ladies became a party of pensioners from Batley. How can they be so cruel?
You can contact me at paul@evolvedmanagement.com.
I did. Two words.

Ride of Respect getting closer

I wrote recently about the Ride of Respect 2011 that will be taking place the weekend after next, 3 April. After a slightly anxious wait, I now have my bike tag and wristband to make sure that I am not turned away after a 5 am start and a 3-hour ride on a Sunday morning.

I also have a couple of stickers on the bike (design as above) and a t-shirt to wear hidden under a million layers of warm clothing. I am currently investigating a large Union flag to mount on the bike for the ride itself. There's a big discussion on this over on Facebook, and it would appear that some kind of flag is a popular accessory. I bought three large (3ft by 2ft) flags - Denmark, Wales and Yorkshire - for when the Danes came to visit last year, but I didn't get a Union flag, and perhaps I should. It's not that I want to be associated with the BNP, but waving a Union flag around seems to annoy the hell of of a certain type of right-on greeny-lefty cocktard, so it would seem to be essential equipment for a ride like this.

The phrase du jour is Let The Thunder Roll, so let it.

Bad Product Names 2

Because some readers are as infantile as I am.

Thanks to Derf, via email. Silly Boy.

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Bad Product Names

Stuff you may prefer NOT to buy ...

Thanks (I think) to Smosh.com.

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Monbiot changes his mind on nuclear energy

Crikey, now I've seen everything.
You will not be surprised to hear that the events in Japan have changed my view of nuclear power. You will be surprised to hear how they have changed it. As a result of the disaster at Fukushima, I am no longer nuclear-neutral. I now support the technology.
I banged my head on the table falling over at that. He has seen the total lack of an environmental disater at Fukushima, and has concluded that nuclear energy isn't so bad after all. He's not entirely accurate with his facts, mind you:
A crappy old plant with inadequate safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami. The electricity supply failed, knocking out the cooling system. The reactors began to explode and melt down. The disaster exposed a familiar legacy of poor design and corner-cutting.
Nope, an old plant was exposed to an earthquake of many times the power it was designed to withstand, followed an hour later by a tsunami that was greater than anyone could have planned for. The containment for the spent fuel rods was breached for some of the reactors, and the supply of cooling water for those areas failed. Getting electricity to power the water pumps for these areas has been the main focus of activity over the last few days. At no point did the reactors explode or go into meltdown. All that was released was some radioactive steam, which remained radioactive for about half an hour. The disaster exposed, not a 'familiar legacy of poor design and corner-cutting', but an incredibly robust design which has withstood forces way outside its design parameters and is still more or less intact. Look at those air shots of Fukushima: acres of flattened buildings and debris, and in the middle of it all those reactor units, the only things standing for miles around. That should tell you something. However ...
Some greens have wildly exaggerated the dangers of radioactive pollution. For a clearer view, look at the graphic published by xkcd.com.* It shows that the average total dose from the Three Mile Island disaster for someone living within 10 miles of the plant was one 625th of the maximum yearly amount permitted for US radiation workers. This, in turn, is half of the lowest one-year dose clearly linked to an increased cancer risk, which, in its turn, is one 80th of an invariably fatal exposure. I'm not proposing complacency here. I am proposing perspective.
Spot on, Mr Monbiot. He goes on to talk a lot of sense about how renewables will never be able to supply our energy needs as long as our society remains as advanced as it is, and concludes with:
Yes, I still loathe the liars who run the nuclear industry. Yes, I would prefer to see the entire sector shut down, if there were harmless alternatives. But there are no ideal solutions. Every energy technology carries a cost; so does the absence of energy technologies. Atomic energy has just been subjected to one of the harshest of possible tests, and the impact on people and the planet has been small. The crisis at Fukushima has converted me to the cause of nuclear power.
I'm going to be fair to the guy. He has changed his mind on consideration of events and facts, and for that he must be given credit. It must have been difficult, given that he has become almost a guru for the hard-of-thinking leftie, to abandon one of the main tenets of the religion of which he is such a well-known and trenchant priest.

A closed mind is the most dangerous thing of all.

* Graphic (which repays close analysis) reproduced below, but follow the link above for the original, in case Blogger renders it unreadable. Click for full size.

Monday 21 March 2011

An Ode to Woad

The existence of the internet, and Wikipedia in particular, have made a significant change to my life and the way I think. What I like, in the absence of any term more accurate, to call my 'brain' has a habit of randomly recalling tiny scraps of memory - a few words from a book or a poem, a few notes from a song - and then moving on to more important matters, like lunch. Before the interwebs, I would give a half-smile and then forget it. Nowadays, I rush to Google or whatever, and look it up. I then find - if I am lucky - every single detail of the memory, and more besides, and I feel that life isn't quite so transitory as I thought. Or that I wasn't imagining things, which is just as important.

When I was doing a year of teacher training, I shared a house with (amongst others) a very interesting chap. He was small, bespectacled and impressively-bearded, and had studied Music at Edinburgh. He was prodigiously talented and had (memory tells me) conducted choirs at the Three Choirs Festival, working with Donald Hunt OBE. He was also good company, in an undemanding and faintly academic way. He had a repertory of songs with which he used to accompany himself while performing routine tasks like washing up - mainly things like Flanders and Swann, but occasionally more recondite material. He had one, a parody set to the tune of Men of Harlech, which had me in fits every time he sang it, but I could only remember one line. That line, of course, barged unannounced into my forebrain this afternoon and I had to look it up.

It was written (thank you, Wikipedia) by an Etonian schoolmaster called William Hope-Jones in about 1914, and was later published in the 1921 Hackney Scout Songbook (if you want to check your copy, feel free; I'll wait). I think it's a minor masterpiece.

What's the use of wearing braces?
Spats and hats and boots with laces?
Vests and pants you buy in places
Down on Brompton Road?

What's the use of shirts of cotton?
Studs that always get forgotten?
These affairs are simply rotten,
Better far is woad.

Woad's the stuff to show men.
Woad to scare your foemen.
Boil it to a brilliant hue
And rub it on your back and your abdomen.

Ancient Briton ne'er did hit on
Anything as good as woad to fit on
Neck or knees or where you sit on.
Tailors you be blowed!!


Romans came across the channel
All dressed up in tin and flannel
Half a pint of woad per man'll
Clothe us more than these.

Saxons you can waste your stitches
Building beds for bugs in britches
We have woad to clothe us which is
Not a nest for fleas

Romans keep your armours.
Saxons your pyjamas.
Hairy coats were made for goats,
Gorillas, yaks, retriever dogs and llamas.

March on Snowdon with your woad on,
Never mind if you get rained or snowed on
Never want a button sewed on
If you stick to woad.
Normal service, etc.

Electric cars - the sinister truth

I have no urgent desire to own an electric car. Heavy, with a range of about 100 miles, and taking anything up to a day to recharge, one would be no use to me. For short local runs, I use the bike 95% of the time, and I like the fact that my car (a Ford Mondeo estate) has a range of nearly 600 miles with a full tank. If I need to be at the other end of the country urgently, no problem. I turn the key and go. And, more importantly, if I run out before I get home, it takes less than five minutes to replenish my car with another 600 miles' worth - and that includes getting a sarnie and a bar of chocolate for the driver. Can you imagine driving from Bristol to Newcastle to see someone who is seriously ill, and having to wait for six hours in Birmingham to get the car charged up? (There are ways round this, like an exchange system similar to what we do with gas bottles, but nothing is easier than a splash'n'dash.) An electric car would fit into my life in a space where there are already two motorbikes, and I would still need a proper car for long, boring journeys or where I need to haul a load.

No other fuel comes close to the energy-density, portability and easy storage of petrol and diesel. Battery technology will have to come a long way before the electric car has anything like the utility of a conventional combustion-engined car. That's before you consider the cost of replacing the batteries. Some experts give the battery life as two to three years, and the replacement cost at somewhere upwards of £600 to £1000. Look out for a lot of very cheap 3-year-old cars that the owners can't afford to maintain, and a lot of very unhappy motorists who bought into the 'saving the planet' stuff. The cars are not cheap, either: the Mitsubishi i-MiEV comes with a price tag of around £30,000, and that's for something as big as a Smart car with a piddling range of 75 miles. Free road tax and an exemption from the Congestion Charge is small recompense.

Not for me just yet, thanks. I am not against the principle of electric power (although the argument that they are 'pollution-free' is risible). We have a fleet of golf buggies where I work, and for short-distance pick-up-and-forget journeys they are ideal. They are even quite good fun to drive, for limited values of 'fun' - I got one sideways on ice in December, and I was reasonably entertained for a few seconds. And the recent ZeroTT race in 2010 on the Isle of Man showed that electric bikes needn't be slow and worthy, lapping at almost 100 mph. I guess my feelings about electric vehicles are fairly neutral, if that isn't the worst pun you are going to read today.

Until I read this on Subrosa's blog.

The Government is pushing electric cars with a £5000 grant (of my money, I will have you know), and it seems a lot of Scottish local authorities are buying into the idea with electric cars for staff (didn't you know it?) and pledges of millions of charging points. But it's Friends of the Earth's response that has got me worried. Here's Beth Stratford, FoE Scotland's Energy Campaigner:
"A less obvious benefit is that electric vehicles can help smooth out the peaks and troughs in demand for electricity.

If demand is high then the charging process could be deferred for several hours, and with expected improvements in battery technology, it will be possible for energy to be drawn from the batteries to help cope with temporary shortages of generation.”

Yes, you read that right. They want to be able to 'defer' the charging process if there is high demand for electricity. So you come in from work, and plug the car in ready for tomorrow. But that evening the weather is cold and there is a big football match. Demand for electricity is unusually high, so your charging is 'deferred'. And when you try to go to work in the morning ... nothing. I wonder if they will pay you the wages you lost by not being at work that day?

The energy companies (those charming people who will 'give' you light-bulbs paid for out of your increased bills to meet 'green' targets) will have the right to decide if and when you will be able to travel in your own car.

And worse. Did you see that about "it will be possible for energy to be drawn from the batteries to help cope with temporary shortages of generation"? So you plug it in, hoping to top up a half-discharged vehicle, and instead you find that your batteries have been flattened because there were 'temporary shortages of generation'. Everybody else has had your electricity. You want to get to work, or go shopping, or visit Granny? Tough. The community's needs are more important than yours. Of course, the rational thing to do would be to keep an eye on the charge/discharge state, and disconnect if they try to take it back. So what's the betting that, in time, it will become compulsory to leave your car connected to the grid so that the 'community' can have the benefit of your nasty, privately-hoarded electricity? Disconnecting your car from the People's Communal Shared Energy Resource? Six months, and an ASBO.

Ironically, it is only if we followed the Green plans for renewable, sustainable, intermittent and unreliable energy that such a thing would even be necessary. They really do want to take us back to the Dark Ages.

Free Satnav

The iPhone has a built-in GPS receiver which seems to be slow in comparison with my TomTom 720, but nevertheless functional and reliable. It's quite handy to have, but it is principally for telling you where you are and letting you browse maps. It won't give you route directions; for that, you need a dedicated navigation program. I have been wondering for a while whether to get the TomTom app for the iPhone, and perhaps use this on the bike in preference to my (relatively) bulky car unit. Yesterday, a friend pointed me to a free iPhone app called navfree. I downloaded it today, and I have been playing with it ever since.

On first sight, it seems very good. Bear in mind I haven't used it on the move yet, but the interface is clean and clear, and it seems to have most of the features that are standard on the TomTom. There's a crisp map display, which automatically goes to night mode, and is switchable between 2D and 3D and zoomable. It has turn-by-turn voice navigation, automatic re-routing, and the ability to play music while you are using it. It seems to have the same kinds of POI that the TomTom has (including 'safety' cameras), and uses the OpenStreetMap system, which is a collection of user-editable maps available under the Creative Commons licence and which are therefore free to use. You can edit the maps yourself (although I haven't yet found out how to do this) and share with other users, so it's a bit like a map version of Wikipedia. I guess that means it has the same drawbacks ("this information is worth exactly what you paid for it"), but with common sense this shouldn't be a problem.

Best of all, the maps are downloaded and stored on the device, so you don't need a 3G connection to use it. It seems as if the postcode and address lookup needs 3G access, but other than that you are free of any network.

I'll post a proper review when I have had a chance to use it in anger, but for now I am pretty impressed. If it's as good as it looks, then the TomTom UK & Ireland software for iPhone at £39.99 (launched in 2009 at £79.99) looks pretty expensive. The TomTom software is fairly intelligent and has things like lane guidance, and I am very confident in it, but even if the Navfree software lacks some of the more sophisticated features it is still remarkably good for - er - the price. A Western Europe option for Navfree is in the pipeline, apparently. TomTom are going to have to do some quick footwork if they are to maintain any kind of market in the face of a decent free alternative.

More in due course.

Blast from The Past 2

Last month, I wrote a little piece about some things I saw in a copy of Bike magazine from August 1985. I mentioned a test of the Yamaha XT350 (great bike - I had two) and my remembered quote from the last paragraph:
It's probably one of the most versatile bikes yet made. It's also practical, sensible, economical and if you can't have fun on it then you must be dead.
Today, lo and behold, the writer of those very words left a comment on the post:
..Of all the gin jointsh in all the townsh...

I wrote those words about the XT350 in Bike in the 80s. Had just broken me leg on it on the Salter Fell trail in Bowland, Lancs and had to ride it home (after kickstarting it - ow!), so must have been feeling remarkably indulgent...

Doing that test for them got me fired from Trials and Motocross News, my then employer.


Mike Sweeney, guest-writing for Bike and getting the sack for his pains. It was good to hear from him.

Good Post ...

... this morning from Woman On A Raft. She's been to Haworth in Yorkshire, my part of the world, and has something to say about it. Affectionate, amusing and well-written, it has started my day well. I liked:
Haworth is a place which hums with Gothick presentments, where the everyday objects are caught in slanting light and for a moment look suspicious, as if they have been caught out having secret conversations with each other just beyond the range of human hearing.

A large hat with flowers will suddenly seem to have faces nestling in the petals, a cat walking along a wall seems stripey, then when you look again, it is plain.
It's Haworth, dammit, where a lady changes her sheepskin mittens for crochet fingerless gloves indoors. The one place where going about in a burkha is considered foolhardy exposure to the weather, unless you can get it on over a hat and coat.

Sunday 20 March 2011

Paypal security

I've just made a couple of purchases off the web (an aux power socket for the Bonnie from Jack Lilley and a splitter from eBay so that I can charge the phone and use the satnav without the yards of wiring and dodgy connectors that I have to use at the moment). I paid for both with Paypal. You have to log in to Paypal in order to pay. In each case, I completed the purchase and logged out of the site before closing the page. In each case, I then went to the main Paypal page to find that, as far as Paypal was concerned, I was still logged in. I had to log out of the Paypal site from there.

As far as I can see, this means that if you use Paypal for a purchase and close the merchant's page, Paypal still thinks you are logged in, as there is no mechanism for logging out of Paypal when you do so.

I don't know enough about the system to know whether this is a concern or not, but I'm not very happy with it. It feels like leaving a door open somewhere. In future I will always check on the main Paypal page after I have purchased something, and log out if necessary. Unless anyone who knows more than I do can tell me that I am wasting my time.

Biker Heaven

Something good for Sunday afternoon:

Richard Thompson, 1952 Vincent Black Lightning.

Said Red Molly to James that's a fine motorbike
A girl could feel special on any such like
Said James to Red Molly, well my hat's off to you
It's a Vincent Black Lightning, 1952
And I've seen you at the corners and cafes it seems
Red hair and black leather, my favorite colour scheme
And he pulled her on behind
And down to Box Hill they did ride

Said James to Red Molly, here's a ring for your right hand
But I'll tell you in earnest I'm a dangerous man
I've fought with the law since I was seventeen
I robbed many a man to get my Vincent machine
Now I'm 21 years, I might make 22
And I don't mind dying, but for the love of you
And if fate should break my stride
Then I'll give you my Vincent to ride

Come down, come down, Red Molly, called Sergeant McRae
For they've taken young James Adie for armed robbery
Shotgun blast hit his chest, left nothing inside
Oh, come down, Red Molly to his dying bedside
When she came to the hospital, there wasn't much left
He was running out of road, he was running out of breath
But he smiled to see her cry
And said I'll give you my Vincent to ride

Says James, in my opinion, there's nothing in this world
Beats a 52 Vincent and a red headed girl
Now Doulases and Rudges and Nortons won't do
They don't have a soul like a Vincent 52
He reached for her hand and he slipped her the keys
He said I've got no further use for these
I see angels on Ariels in leather and chrome
Swooping down from heaven to carry me home
And he gave her one last kiss and died
And he gave her his Vincent to ride.

Saturday 19 March 2011

Secret Justice?

Of all the safeguards to your freedom, there is one that stands above all the others: the right to speak to your MP. When the Police won't listen to you; when the court system seems stacked against you, when the authorities say you are guilty and there's nothing you can do to defend yourself (and these things happen, even in a 'civilised' society like ours), you can always speak to your MP. He or she may not do what you want, but you will be heard.

One of the beauties of a representative democracy is that every citizen has access to the highest court in the land - Parliament. Whoever you are, no matter whether poor or rich, upstanding or criminal, male, female, gay, straight, Christian, Muslim, whatever, you have a direct relationship with a real human being who sits in Parliament and can plead your case at the highest level. (The observation that many MPs are venal troughers who are in it for what they can get may be true, but the principle stands.) It's what makes our democracy what it is, and what, in theory, keeps all British citizens safe from the abuses of power we have seen throughout history, and still see daily in the news, in countries that we call dictatorships.

Well, it's not true. Go over to Anna Raccoon right now. You will read of many cases involving hyper-injunctions (an injunction stops you doing something; a super-injunction stops you mentioning that there is an injunction at all; and a hyper-injunction means you are not allowed even to tell your MP about it). One case concerns a man accused of rape. The social services want to take his children from him, and obtain a hyper-injunction that says if he involves his MP they will remove his kids. He is accused of a crime (accused, not convicted) and yet he is utterly powerless to act in any way to defend himself. It's scandalous. Every single avenue of action has been removed, and he hasn't even been found guilty by a jury of his peers. It's about as democratic as Stalinist Russia.

Anna is, of course, risking it by publicising the issue at all even though it has been discussed openly in Parliament. She reckons the more people know, the safer everyone involved will be, and has asked readers to spread the word as widely as possible. This is my contribution.

Cycle Helmets

Mandatory semi-relevant babe picture

Moving away from motorbikes for a moment (don't worry, we'll be back before long): what do you think about the wearing of cycle helmets?

There was an interesting debate a few years ago over at Treehugger (visit for research purposes only), with all points of view if you follow the links therein. My view was formed by a reading of the excellent Richard's Bicycle Book, when I was a regular cycle commuter back in the late 70s/early 80s. Accidents involving head injury on bicycles occur mainly in urban areas, and mainly to children, so if you are an adult riding in the country, you probably don't need to wear one. I didn't.

Recent research (links in the Treehugger site) suggests that the wearing of helmets makes a big difference to child injury rates, and very little difference to adults. This makes a kind of sense. The protection that the helmet provides for an adult is counterbalanced by the increase in the likelihood of having an accident if you are wearing one, and overall rates stay unchanged. I assume this is due either to risk compensation (you feel safer and therefore take more risks) or a change in the behaviour of the car drivers around you. This piece of research suggests that drivers will see a rider wearing a helmet and assume an increased level of competence, and will therefore drive closer to the bike when overtaking.

Some countries make the wearing of a helmet compulsory, either for all cyclists or just children (for example, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and some US states), and I have just picked up a hint that this may well be on the cards for the UK. The IAM are holding another poll, this time on the wearing of cycle helmets. Why would they be doing that, I wonder? As usual, you don't have to be a member to participate, and they want as many views as possible.

Go and make your views known. And ponder a curious fact: the countries with the best cycle safety records (Denmark and the Netherlands) have among the lowest levels of helmet use. It's a complex issue involving infrastructure and attitude, but it's interesting.

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Health going backwards

When I was growing up in Leeds, it was common to see working-class elderly people with a common set of physical characteristics: usually small in stature, with legs that bowed out at the knee, giving a strange rolling gait. I can remember asking my mother why these people were like that, and her reply was that they were probably from a poor family, and were undernourished as a child. Of course, what I was seeing were the effects of rickets: a poor diet, and one deficient in vitamin D.

It is said that rickets was eliminated from the UK by the end of the 19th Century, as a result of better education, reduced poverty and better diet. As the people I am talking about were probably born in the period 1880 to 1900, that sounds about right. I certainly never saw middle-aged or young people with the condition. And now, via JuliaM, I read this:
CHILDHOOD rickets - the "bandy-leg" disease that was eradicated last century - is making a comeback in Scotland's cities, experts warned yesterday.

Computer-game obsessed children and cautious parents are contributing to a sharp increase in the cases of the illness.
Just like with the abandonment of the space programme and the decommissioning of Concorde, it seems we are going backwards. Rickets, in the UK, in 2011? Words fail me.

Put simply, Vitamin D allows the absorbtion of calcium in the gut, and calcium is essential for the development of strong bones in children. A lack of dietary calcium leads to soft bones, and the deformities described above, which are life-long. Sunlight is necessary to turn Vitamin D from an inactive to an active state. So a diet poor in calcium (milk and cheese), or in Vitamin D (butter, eggs, oily fish), and/or a childhood spent out of direct sunlight, can lead to this distressing condition.

So what is going wrong? For all our wealth, many people's diets are good in quantity but poor in quality. Perhaps this is a major factor; I am not qualified to say. But I do know that children have never played outside less and seen less natural sunshine than they do today. Over-cautious parents (made fearful by the constant scaremongering of the media) keep their children indoors for fear of paedophiles - a massively exaggerated risk - or a traffic accident. Those that are allowed outside are slathered in so much Factor 50, or covered up with hats and baggy clothing, that their skins never see the sun. Add the huge pull of computer games and the value of the TV as babyminder, and we are bringing up a generation of children who don't go outside, and are afraid of a purely natural phenomenon, sunshine.

Funny, that. We spend tens of thousands of years standing out in the buff without a stitch to call our own, and yet just a few years later, taking your t-shirt off on a warm day in April will give you cancer.

And, for 'health reasons', children are starting fall victim to a disease of malnutrition which we thought we had eradicated.

Sunshine is a natural product, like vegetables and fruit. We evolved with it, and it is necessary for our health. Obviously, too much of anything is bad, and the consequences of too much sunshine are unpleasant. But then eating 20 kg of lettuce a day wouldn't do you much good either, and no-one is saying that lettuce is a health hazard.

Looks like your Gran was right: eat proper food, get plenty of fresh air and exercise, enjoy the sunshine and get enough sleep.

Then you'll be fine.

1923 And All That

In 1923:
  • The President of the largest steel maker in the US was Charles Schwab. He later died a pauper, living on borrowed money for the last 5 years of his life.

  • The President of the largest gas company was Edward Hopson. He went insane and died in a sanatarium.

  • The President of the New York Stock Exchange was Richard Whitney. He served a term in Sing Sing prison for embezzlement and was released to die at home.

  • The greatest speculator in wheat, Arthur Cutten, died penniless.

  • The President of the Bank of International Settlements shot himself in a fit of melancholy

  • The 'Great Bear' of Wall Street, Jesse Livermore, also shot himself.

In the same year, the winner of the world's most important motorcycle road race, the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy, was a man called Stanley Woods. What became of him?

  • Between 1923 and 1939, he won 10 TT races

  • He lived on the Isle of Man and rode motorcycles all his life

  • He returned to the TT for its Golden Jubilee in 1957 at the age of 54 and, riding a 350cc Moto Guzzi, lapped the circuit at an average speed of 82 mph.

  • He died in 1993 aged 90, a wealthy man.

The moral:

Fuck work: ride motorbikes.

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Census - the answer

Via Captain Ranty (to whom a big tip of the crash-hat), I got to this summary of the legal basis of the 2011 Census, and what should be done about it. I do urge you to go and have a read of it (too much to post here). And I have come to a decision.

Despite the shaky legal basis of the Census Act 1920, and despite the fact that:
  • after the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007, section 39, the absolute confidentiality of personal information is no longer guaranteed (thank you, Labour)
  • census data will be classified as 'restricted', not 'confidential'
  • forms will be processed by 1300 temporary workers, about whom the Government cannot give assurances regarding vetting or security, either before, during or after the census is completed
  • data handling has been sub-contracted to an American company, Lockheed-Martin, who are subject to the US Patriot Act, which allows the US Government to have access to any data in their possession
  • the UK Government and civil service have an appalling record of losing personal data on laptops and memory sticks, such as the 2007 loss of discs containing the personal details of 25 million Child Benefit claimants by HMRC
  • our personal data will be available to 'approved' people, such as the police, intelligence agencies, immigration authorities, foreign governments, the private sector and approved academic researchers, which makes any claim to confidentiality 'for 100 years' highly questionable; none of those august bodies have ever had leaks of information, have they? The statement that "Census records are sealed for a hundred years" is a complete joke.
  • the EU's Census Regulation is now law in the UK, and requires that personal information gathered in the UK is passed to Eurostat, an organisation with a history of corruption and fraud
  • the Census is required so that "local services are properly planned", and of course the evidence of the success of the 2001 Census in providing that is all around us
  • the questions on ethnic origin are far more detailed than in the previous Census, and may well be used to target resources at minority populations more than at present; the Census homepage says it is so that "the needs of all communities are identified", which confirms that the purpose of the question is allocation of resources along ethnic lines, which to my mind is divisive rather than inclusive
  • the Census forms are being provided in more than 50 languages, and the cost of this is borne by me, the taxpayer, not the people involved, who might be expected to learn the language of their adopted country as a condition of living there
  • the Census is an example of the people being answerable to the state, not the state answering to the people, which is fundamentally wrong
  • it is an arbitrary intrusion in breach of my right to privacy, which is enshrined in the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • the 2011 Census was set in motion by the outgoing Labour government, and is only being carried through on the grounds that too much money had already been spent on it; the incoming Government should have simply scrapped it
  • it will be the last Census of its kind, as the Government says that in future alternative methods of data gathering will be used; why not use those methods now?
In the light of all of this, and as an upright and law-abiding citizen, I am going to fill in my Census form to the minimum required by law. I am then going to post it off.

I just hope, after all that effort, that it gets there. The Royal Mail lose millions of items each year, and I am sure that handling tens of millions of census envelopes won't make their job any easier. I will have proof of posting, or course.

Monday 14 March 2011

Beastly stuff

I was browsing through an old copy of Classic Bike Guide (Nov 2007), specifically an article by Jim Reynolds on a Royal Enfield bitsa which had been reworked with new engine internals to give a bore and stroke which resulted in a cylinder capacity of 666 cc. The bike was inevitably christened "The Beast" and, equally inevitably, there was a sidebar to the article that gave a few 'facts' about the fearsome reputation of the number. There was the famous verse from Revelation:
Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred, threescore and six. (13:18)
and a few references to heavy metal bands and various 'Devil's Highways'. This got me thinking, and 666 is indeed a strange number. I am no mathematician, but Wikipedia gives enough information for me to be impressed with its unusual properties.
  • 666 is the sum of all the numbers from 1 to 36, and is therefore a triangular number
  • The number of prime numbers up to 36 is 11, and the number of prime numbers up to 666 is 121, the square of 11
  • 666 is the sum of the squares of the first seven prime numbers
  • 666 is a repdigit (same digit repeated), a palindrome (reads the same forwards and backwards) and a Smith Number (don't ask)
  • The sum of all the numbers on a roulette wheel is 666
and so on. There's a lot I don't understand here (no surprises there), but it does seem that the number 666 has some remarkable properties. The ancient Hebrews were very keen on numerology, ascribing meaning to all kinds of apparently random numerical observations, so perhaps it is inevitable that a number like 666 should be accorded major significance. But who, or what, is the 'beast'? The Bible is ambiguous, but later scholars seem to have settled on its being a reference to Satan or the Anti-Christ. But is it? Is it perhaps a reference to another symbolic monster altogether? Who or what is the
beast rising out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy (13:1)?
One statement in the magazine which made me prick my ears up was this:
The significance of the number 666 can be traced back to pre-Biblical times
Can it? I have a had a quick look round the interwebs, and I can't find any reference to 666 before the mention in Revelations. But if the Hebrews knew about it, they must have got it from somewhere. And there are so many common threads running through the ancient religions, from prehistoric animism and polytheism to Sumerian and Babylonian, and through to Judaism and the religions of ancient Egypt and Greece. It would be interesting to know if the significance of 666 can be found any earlier than the Hebrews, and if so where and in what context. If Jim Reynolds wasn't making it up, then he must have got the idea from somewhere.

I'll keep looking, but I know that the readers of this blog have an astonishingly wide range of interests and expertise, and I am hoping that someone will come along and offer some words of wisdom.


Small bike magazines

A regular commenter, Furor Teutonicus, asks about small-size (A5) bike magazines that used to be available in the UK. I can remember one, the Used Bike Guide, which I used to read in the 1970s and is still available today. I'm sure there were more, but I can't remember their names.

And there is the more recent publication, the Rider's Digest (like the name!), which has gone from being a freebie to a paid-for magazine in its own right. I've bought a few copies on a whim, and I have enjoyed it. But I think that's too recent for Furor's query.

I know there are a lot of several readers of this blog who are bike nuts of the - er - right sort of age. Can anyone help?

(Note: I wrote an article for UBG on two XT350s that I owned, back in about 1991.
They promised me £25 for it, but it never came. If you're reading this, UBG, I'm still waiting.)

Sunday 13 March 2011

Vintage meet

Today I went to the Vintage Motorcycle Club's "Pendine Get-together", an informal meeting on the sea front at Pendine, Carmarthenshire. The forecast was good and, sure enough, the day was clear and sunny, and the roads were almost dry. I felt that the XT had had a bit of a hard time of it recently, taking me to work and back, and standing about in the rain while I got on with things, and it deserved a bit of a treat. So I packed a fleece and camera in the top box and off we went.

Pendine sands

Pendine, with its 7 mile stretch of flat, firm sand was the scene of numerous car and motorcycle races and the first speed record attempts in the UK. Malcolm Campbell set the world land speed record here in 1924, covering a measured mile at an average speed of over 146 mph in the first 'Blue Bird'. Three years later, in a new Blue Bird with a 500 hp aero engine, he broke his own record with an average of 175 mph. A month later, a Welshman, J. G Parry-Thomas, in a car called Babs, attempted to beat Campbell's record. On the final run, a drive chain broke and partially decapitated him. The car went out of control, rolled, and was destroyed. Parry-Thomas was the first person to be killed attempting a land speed record. The remains of the car were buried in the sand dunes but recently (1969) the car was excavated and, after 15 years of restoration, now lives in the Museum of Speed in Pendine village. These attempts, and others, are commemorated on a plaque on the outside of the Beach Hotel, who also sell a decent pint of Felinfoel (otherwise known as "Feelin' Foul").

Click for bigger

As the 'Get-together' title implies, this wasn't a formal bike show, just a chance for a rideout on a decent Spring day, and an opportunity to ogle some nice old bikes. Some of the Triumph Owners' Club were there, and it was good to meet, and have a pint and a chat together. There were perhaps a hundred bikes on view, although many were modern and merely 'transport' to get there (I would include the XT in that category). There were one or two immaculately-restored examples, with better-then-factory detailing and paintwork like a freshly-sucked toffee, but my eyes were drawn to bikes which were obviously used and cherished, rather than mounted behind plate glass with artistic uplighting. These ranged from a tidy 1970s Suzuki T500:

to an immaculate but understated black BSA Bantam:

a very tidy Norton Commando:

and a well-used but cared-for Norton 16H:

Not forgetting my own little post-vintage relic, which had a great time blatting round the lanes of South Pembs and Carmarthen, and delivered me home in time for a cup of tea. After the last little hiccup and consequent input of cash and fettling time, it's running very strongly and I'd trust it to take me to Cape Town and back. The feeling will be temporary, I am sure.

Note to self: no matter how sunny and warm it looks, March is no time to be setting off in leathers with only a T-shirt underneath. That fleece earned its keep on the way home.
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