Archive for Musings

Lost Keys

Last night while crossing Tower Bridge on my way home, a cyclist went past Southbound and there was a soft clatter in the roadway as he did so. His keys had fallen out of his pocket. As he was going at quite a pace, by the time I had managed to dart into the road, pick them up and run after him, he was long gone.

Arriving home with the keys, I resolved to try and trace the owner with the information on the keys and then hand them in with as much info as I could to the police station I pass every morning on the way to work. Finding little on the keys to indicate who they belonged to, I settled for e-mailing the company who had cut one of the security keys on the bunch in the hope they maintained an owners registry.

Taking the keys with me the next morning in order that I could act on anything the locksmith company told me or indeed hand them in if they failed to turn up anything, I set off for work.

As I was crossing Tower Bridge I saw a cyclist who had parked on the pavement in order to take a photo of the beautiful hazy sunrise to the East. Passing him I noticed a striking familiarity in the motif and colour of the back of his jacket. “It can’t be!?” I exclaimed to myself! Walking up to the chap I just came out with it, “Sorry to bother you, but you wouldn’t happen to have lost a set of keys cycling over Tower Bridge last night would you?” and lo and behold, it was the same man! To say that incredulity and gratitude all rolled into one was writ upon his countenance would be an understatement – neither of us could quite believe the chance encounter that had so swiftly re-united him with his lost property!

It just goes to show, no matter how hopeless a situation feels or improbable a solution to it may be, never give up hope!

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Welcome 2017

In the past I have written round ups of what has happened throughout the previous year before wishing the compliments of the season to readers, hopes for the future etc. I’ve also gone so far as to neglect to do anything at all with regards the blog in recent years, sporadically posting when the fancy takes me, having very little regard for direction or purpose. But that’s life.

I felt it best to offer category based round-ups this year; this way I can engage in some retrospective commentary about the years events, without feeling the need to go into too much detail, but allowing myself the license to do so for those topics of particular note.

Family – With the tragic death of Shweta’s Mother in late May and the passing of my Grandfather in December, it’s been a rough road at times, particularly for Shweta and her Father. While it’s not something that’s either easy to write about, nor really articulate in terms of emotions or feelings, there is only one way, and that is forward and we’ve never felt alone on this difficult journey either in body or spirit and that has been a great comfort.

Home – So let’s move on with something that has made a very firm positive mark on the year. Shweta and I bought a flat together, managing too, by the end of the year, just, to finish renovating it. It’s located in Shad Thames, a small corner of London that we’ve lived in together for the past few years and have come to love very much. We look forward to many more happy walks along the river, nights out we can walk home from, quiet nights in and perhaps the odd party or two.

Travel – What we’ve lacked in distance flown, we’ve made up for in engagement with our surroundings. We’ve spent a number of holidays and made numerous excursions to different part of the UK. We’ve stayed with friends on Angelsey, hiked in Snowdonia, toured Cornwall, explored Gloucestershire and had many nights out in our fine capital city, taking in music, theatre and art. We’re still behind with the photo log, but I’m working on getting albums up and there’ll be a kind of retrospective written later in the year to point in the direction of these.

Politics – One really couldn’t leave this post without referring to the political events of this past year.

The Brexit vote in June was quite possibly the most politically upsetting event that I’ve ever had the misfortune to experience. While I’ve not always agreed with EU policy and direction, I’ve always felt an affinity with Europe and her peoples. The shame of being a citizen of a country turning it’s back on this great bond of friendship and having to face friends and colleagues in work the following day who are citizens of other European countries, was a most singularly unpleasant experience. We can only look forward now, but I can’t deny that I do so with trepidation about what our future might hold.

As if this wasn’t enough, the election of Donald Trump was another body blow for progressive Western politics. Again, I was not always a fan of some of Obama’s more left wing policies, but his handling of world issues and his general tolerance towards those who might oppose him was a positive beacon for many and one that we will all feel the worse for losing. One cannot predict the future, but isolationist policies perpetrated by a modern world power cannot do anything to help it be a positive one.

Direction – Shweta and I have come to appreciate what, I think, we’ve always known and that is, whatever life serves you, you get the most out of it if you give it your all and expect nothing in return. What you get back will then, almost certainly, not only surprise you, but surpass any and all expectations. To this end we have resolved, perhaps more than ever, to focus on our presence; that is to say, be aware of what is around you, retreat less, engage more. We plan on reducing our engagement with ubiquitous communications, spend more time with friends and family, make more adventurous travel plans and throw plenty of energy into social and cultural engagements around town. We’ll also be starting a scrap book; we’ve already collected some material for it and will continue to do so into the new year. It’s not for public consumption and is very much a slow-burn type task, but I feel sure this will provide much fun and inspiration for us both.

So yes, it really is a warm welcome for 2017 – we have much cause for hope in the future and there really has been far too much despair in 2016, in spite of all the immensely positive things that we and our friends and family have achieved.

Wishing you all then, a very happy, prosperous new year.

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Calendar 1.3.7 Released

I suppose it should be called the “Ho, ho, ho!” release given the proximity to Christmas, but no, just another little bug fix release for loyal Calendar users. Tested with the latest version of WordPress and with a couple of annoying niggles fixed, it’s well worth hitting the update button. As usual, any problems in the forums please.

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Calendar 1.3.6 Released

While 1.3.5 didn’t really merit a posting on account of it being a very small patch type release, 1.3.6 has a bit more meat on the bones.

Translations have made a bold debut into the WordPress plugin repository with a nice GUI for any code-shy translators to assist with their language skills. As such I’m now bundling all translations for Calendar that I have access to with every release. This makes internationalisation easier for users and ensures the plugin is fully compliant with all the repository features.

Other bug fixes were bundled into the release, most notably some performance improvements regarding the checking of the calendar database tables to ensure they were up to date with the code.

In a the next release we’ll be looking at a substantial tidy-up of the code, an attempt to move closer to some of the newer (and nicer) features of the latest WordPress version and some serious performance improvements regards the loading of events from the database.

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Blackberry Haul

It’ll be a delicious blackberry and apple crumble for pudding make no mistake! 

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Narita Express

On a recent trip to Japan we were very nearly caught out by a timetabling anomaly for the Narita Express airport train service from Shinjuku so I thought I’d share it on the blog to save others some of the anxiety of arriving so close to check in closure time!

Basically the frequency of the service depends on the time of day. Up to and including 8am, the service runs almost every 20 minutes (great). After 10am it’s roughly every hour until nearly 8pm (not so great but manageable with planning). However from 8am there is nearly a 2 hour gap until the next service at 9:40am! This means that if your flight is at 11am or earlier, you must catch the 8am train or resort to other means of getting to the airport (including taking the Yamanote line to Tokyo and picking up the express from there where services are more frequent).

In short, either check the timetable carefully for your chosen boarding point taking into account your flight time or elect to always travel from Tokyo station rather than any of the other possible starting points as there are always regular services from this station.

A cursory search on Hyperdia would also seem to indicate that taking the Skyliner service from Nippori, accessed from Shinjuku via the Yamanote line, is quicker than the Narita Express anyway, and more frequent, providing an almost consistent 20 minute interval departure time throughout the day with an end to end journey time of just over an hour, compared with the express which is over an hour and a half door to door.

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Joy of full width

Screens are getting bigger, but specifically they are getting wider. This realisation has, over time, been nagging at me and got me thinking about the idea of a serious overhaul for this site. Despite trying a number of different options over the past month I decided that perhaps it wasn’t the radical that was required, but the more practical.

Behold then, the same fundamental design but sporting wider pages, more flowing text, larger images and more tweaks to come. Those with wide screens or even just plain old rectangular ones should be rather pleased – do let me know your thoughts in comments.

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Slow Web

While combing through my WordPress dashboard this morning I was pointed by Matt in the direction of Jack Cheng’s article on The Slow Web.

The concept really captured my imagination; struggling in the present day and age to keep up with the ever increasing demand both to consume and generate online content I regularly find myself simply desiring escape rather than engagement as the agony of deciding often seems worse then the effort of doing.

By adopting a “batch, refine and consume at leisure” approach it genuinely seems that not only will the pressure to keep up dwindle but that quality and enjoyment will rise at the same time.

Take blogging. I’ve posted in the past about getting my blogging back on track but evidently this hasn’t happened. It’s not for lack of material, or indeed motivation, but the simply overwhelming number of possibilities and equivalent perceived value attached to each prevent suitable desire being channelled into the generation of even one finished item.

Speaking at WordCamp in Manchester three years ago I proposed a solution to this which, in retrospect, I believe was wrong. I stated that as the web sped up, our time available to each task was smaller and thus we should leverage the fast tools available to us (phones, cameras, GPS tracking) and push or pull all of this content automatically into a location (such as a blog) that used to require time, labour and love to maintain, thereby bolstering our web presence and preventing personal burn out.

The sad thing is, this approach is a fraud, a cheap imitation. After all, the nature lover desires not to merely see the sunset and the fact I was there but to catch a glimpse of the poetic thoughts that may have passed through my mind as I gazed upon the vista and compare them to his or her own.

I’m not sure these thoughts and ideas translate easily into a course of action but perhaps that’s the point; given the time and space to merely think, positive and decisive action will surely follow.

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Akismet for Zenphoto Fixed

As a user of Zenphoto for my gallery of photographs I’m pleased to report that I’ve corrected an issue with the long standing Akismet plugin for the platform allowing it to work with the latest version of the application, thus restoring anti-spam functionality to comment forms on both my sites and any others that care to use the plugin.

Rather than re-post all the details here you can follow the discussion and download the fix from the Zenphoto forums.

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On London Driving

These days I’m often in London and despite the generally held opinion that London is the last place in the world you’d want a car, I’m usually behind the wheel on my visits. While my motivations for picking up the car keys are largely financial as well as a dash of convenience – why spend twice the cost of the fuel on a train when doing so would result in a massive hike to the tube as well as a change at Baker Street which is never an enjoyable experience – I’ve found my driving time has allowed me to make some rather amusing and somewhat tongue in cheek observations on what it is to be a London driver.

Firstly, space between cars. In conventional driving it is considered to be rather bad form to be up another drivers boot lid however in London the opposite is true. This is because a driver who leaves too much space is making the queue longer and has, de-facto, prevented a person further behind getting out at the lights, usually resulting in much honking of horns.

Traffic lights, while most certainly to be obeyed at all times (many have cameras to prevent red light jumping) are an opportunity for position posturing. In an effort to reduce traffic jams at junctions, London roads widen from one lane to anywhere between two and four lanes. While this sounds like a good idea, what you don’t realise until being right up at a set is that the road narrows once again almost immediately on the other side of the junction, resulting in a massive bun fight for “head of the queue” in the single file line of traffic that is to follow. Drivers at the white line by the lights (affectionately known as the starting line by initiated city motorists) vehicle occupants glare at each other in defiance through the quarter-light and twiddle with their hi-fi, not for a second however taking their eyes from that red glow up above. Cars are always to be left in gear, clutch point a mere millimetre away from taking the bite, in readiness at a chance to take the leading position in the head of the queue. Even if you’re not at the front, there’s no reason why glory can’t still be yours – you may have a Subaru in front of you and someone with a dodgy clutch to his left – second place is surely in reach. The fact that this whole exercise will release more CO2 than a 20 mile motorway journey and is to be repeated in another 100 yards at the next set of lights is immaterial. Participation became mandatory the moment your car crossed the M25.

Multiple carriageways are surprisingly common and present plenty of opportunity for vehicular shenanigans. Filters to join and exit may be left or right which presents ample opportunity for sat-nav engrossed motorists to swerve violently across 3 lanes to their goal. Speed is also an important factor. While heavily populated with fixed cameras, the road regular will know that average speeds are usually below the legal limit and so seek to maximise their speed by switching lanes (ignoring all pretence of the rule concerning not overtaking on the inside) to increase their average on each 100yd stretch by 1mph or perhaps even more. The switching of lanes in this way is an art, with success usually being measured by how many car lengths you gain on vehicles in your general vicinity. No distance between your own rear bumper and the front of the car behind and to the side is too small to prevent pulling out and zipping past the vehicle in front on either side. Indicating is usually considered only as an after thought and thus is rarely used by regular London drivers. While some motorists may let others get away with such daring over/undertaking manoeuvres this is frowned upon and a good thumping of the horn, a glare and full beam on the headlamps for the next half mile is usually practised, even if many attempts are made at apology.

Traffic jams are a common occurrence and a driver has few options, with the ones that are available being varied in success rate. Simplest is to sit tight, roll the windows down, blare out some music in an anti-social way and pretend like a central London traffic jam is *the* place to be and that you really wouldn’t rather be anywhere else. While not helping your forward progress, this increases your public visibility for those you’ll never see again and there is always the chance that any alternative route will be more snarled than yours. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that if one bridge is clogged, heading up/down river and crossing at another will get you through. In the time it has taken you to think that, over 1000 other motorists have thought the same and the other crossing option is now snarled also. This is not to say that taking an alternative route doesn’t have some appeal. There’s the option of the crazy u-turn in front of a bus followed by a rapid darting down residential streets, snaking your way left and right in an easterly or westerly direction until you hit the next main road and hope that you can somehow bypass the jam you were previously in. Most people have a great time for the first five minutes until they realise they are lost. In fact when parking, the car you’ve just seen drive past for the fifth time is probably just such a motorist. Take no time for pity for you would never do such a thing, at least that’s what you should tell yourself when you next wind up an hour late and on the wrong side of the city because you were “avoiding traffic”.

Cyclists own all roads inside of the M25. This is regularly demonstrated by their passing through red lights, cutting across your path when you have the right of way and damaging your vehicle when you are stationary in traffic without stopping or making any effort at an apology.

Parking, compared with all that moving about, should be easier but that’s rarely the case, especially in areas of free parking. The motorist in search of free parking is akin to a gannet, circling, waiting for the opportunity to get their share. If you’ve been driving round for five minutes looking for a spot, don’t kid yourself that the car in front is just using the road as a means to an end. They’ll surely take the parking space that you’ve just seen free up ahead. Parking space search fatigue is common. This is where you spot something that looks like a space, but actually you’d have to be really rather lucky to park a wheelie bin in the gap. You attempt to park anyway, denting your own bumper and cracking someone else’s number plate in the process. Circling resumes. Serious fatigue is when you try the same “only fit for a wheelie bin” space again later, this time cracking your headlamp and inflicting further damage to the other individual’s vehicle. When you finally do park and walk off on your business, don’t congratulate yourself too much. Even if you’ve parked perfectly you’ll almost certainly have a parking ticket for poor parking or have had someone else dent your car while trying to get into the space in front or behind.

When all is said and done, far be it from me to discourage the budding London driver. Remember all this excitement pales into insignificance when you consider some other cities such as Milan where any attempt to articulate rules is simply replaced by carrying out the desired action anyway and uttering the words Mi Scusi!

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