Thursday, February 24, 2011

Random bits of news - some cycling related - some not

Wednesday, 23 February: There seem to be times when I find there are a lot of bits and pieces to keep moving along, but often unrelated. The trouble is they keep me from cycling. So after a few decent trips out on my bike I find myself desk-locked. So not many pictures today, although it was raining so it would have been a drizzly cycle ride in any case.

We have some some minor plumbing issues, a radiator wasn't getting hot, which in the end led to us having the system flushed, cleaning stuff added and left overnight and then re-flushed and sorted. The radiator that wasn't working was fine, but there was some gunge in the pipe leading to it that had caused problems. It has meant that someone has had to be around as this all got worked through. There have been times when the house has been pretty cold though, because the heating has been off, you can't run it when it is being emptied and various doors have been open so that the flushing pipes could be led outside. Not that we can complain, the Plumbers were very good and took their boots off when indoors and went around checking all the radiators at each stage to ensure that the whole system was up and running. It also turned out that some pins in the Thermostatic-static valves (TSV) needed wiggling. Although we were warned that if you wiggle too hard and the pin comes out the radiator will start leaking.

The other problem was my Broadband connection wasn't working, which makes working from home a bit tricky. I do have a 3G data dongle for my laptop as a backup, but it is a bit slow and needs some work to get it to act as a gateway for my desktop computer (and costs more money to use). The problem turned out to be that I'd gone over my limit of bandwidth for the month and the system they have in place to throttle you back until you purchase more bandwidth and the purchase mechanism had stopped working. My ISP responded pretty quickly though and have temporarily increased my limit to the next step up whilst they sort things out.

Whilst all this was going on I also seem to have spent a lot of time on the phone as well. I have to report that my Femtocell (a mobile base station for the home) has been doing what it says on the tin plastic. Where I live the phone signal in my house is very poor and required me to stand near a front window to make or receive phones call. When working from home I find it to be better if you don't give people your home phone number as a business contact number. My wife doesn't like being woken up in the night by someone in another time-zone leaving a voice-mail (message) and yes is has happened to me. When I bought mine, a Vodafone Sure Signal it was £20 but I see that the price has gone up to £50. They must be selling well.

The femtocell works by connecting with my phone and then using my Broadband connection to connect my call to Vodafone's system. When I first got the Sure Signal it took a bit of fettling of my Router to get it all working and even then it seemed to require resetting - however there must have been a software update somewhere because it seems to work without much fuss at all. The voice quality is great, I can sit in my office away from the window and still be on the phone and as it allows the phone to transmit at lower power levels it also means the standby and usage times have improved. I can also watch my Router flash merrily away as I talk.

It was a relief then to read in the Daily Mail that yet another study suggests mobile phones do not lead to brain tumours. It was less of a relief to read that "Cycling to work is one of the biggest causes of heart attacks". It is a good job I work from home then. Apparently the study looked at 36 studies and ranked a list of activities/situations and it seems that by adding up the factors involved in cycling to work (stress, exposure to pollution, exercise, traffic exposure) then it comes out near the top. They did seek a comment from Professor David Spiegelhalter, Winston Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk, who probably gave a small groan before commenting "it was difficult to 'disentangle' the risk factors in the study for certain situations, such as driving or cycling to work in heavy traffic. The study was published in the Lancet - I thought they taught doctors about risk and probability. They do if Dr Ben Goldacre is the yardstick. Who I shall be going to see at the Cambridge Corn Exchange in May (One of the Uncaged Monkeys!).

Whilst on the subject of "odd" news reports - I mentioned the cyclist carrying a fridge in his bicycle - it also appeared in the Daily Mail "Freezy rider: Barmy cyclist pedals along busy A-road with huge FRIDGE on the back of his bike". Barmy and cyclist - that must be a tautology, the opposite of an oxymoron! Well in the Daily Mail's eyes perhaps, although the comments I read indicated that most people thought it was a good idea.


The good news is that we cyclists have a champion - Cambridge MP Julian Huppert. Whilst cyclist deaths have decreased in 2009 serious injuries rose by 6% from 2008. There was certainly one piece of news that he could act as a champion for cyclists (and taxpayers). Apparently some cycle lanes built in Hove at a cost of £800,000 are to be removed at a cost of £1.4m or £1.1m BBC, to "improve the visual impact and traffic flow". Apparently bike-related accidents have fallen by 20% since the cycle lane was installed. How can a Council be thinking of wasting so much money - no-one would do it if it was their own money surely.

Whilst reading about cycle lanes I came across various for and against arguments, here is one write up of a gentlemen who was against them and argued that it was better to cycle on the road, tragically he was killed by a drunk driver whilst cycling on a road. Personally I am in favour of proper, fit for purpose cycle lanes (think Netherlands) and yes I have cycled in the Netherlands.

Talking of roads there has been a whole slew of news here in the Flatlands, apparently when emergency vehicles try to make there way to accidents drivers don't always pay attention and block the progress. Now that is a surprise - drivers not paying attention. Apparently a study has also warned that Cambridge should also expect to see travel times increase by 46% by 2021 and the routes around the sub-region would see increases of 23%. As you might expect there are the usual platitudes about working together, public transport etc. I wonder why we seem fixated on moving lots of people around all the time which isn't consistent with all of us having cars, look at Tokyo - perhaps we should create more virtual offices. (Easy for me to say as I do work from home though.) There are also a whole bunch of amusing comments. Funds are not available for the A14 for at least another four years though.


Given the issues with using a non-renewable source of energy to drive our personal kingdoms cars around (petrol) and the trouble in various oil-producing parts of the world it is no real surprise that petrol prices are rising. Apparently the cheapest petrol must have been stolen as "Police ordered to track down cheapest petrol". Hum the article does say that the Chief Constable has led the budget cutting - he has dispensed with a Chauffeur driven car and now drives himself. Hinchinbrooke Hospital has been rewarded for encouraging staff to use public transport and bicycles to get to work. I hope there is leadership from the top there.


Talking about theft - Cambridgeshire County Council has had its "wobbly bike" stolen, so that drunk person you saw cycling the other day might not have been drunk after all.

Not to give up on the issue of cars, the trouble is better roads mean more cars, more cars mean more people wanting to park which leads to residents in streets where there is on-street parking complaining when they can't park their cars. We also complain about the problems of parking fees going up - but more cars... Oh and by the way all those roads that need gritting in the winter so we can drive on them - well apparently the gritting salt kills the trees.


I won't end on another Cambridge Guided Bus (CGB) story - but here is one anyway - "Builders of busway 'may be obstructing progress'", apparently some of the Certificates that guarantee major structures (like bridges) are overdue and the late delivery penalty has also now reached £9.5million. So near yet so far. My concern is that this sort of situation puts more political pressure on the Council to follow a "more roads" policy as they do not have the same level of uncertainty as the Guided Bus project.


And finally the world's hottest chilli - the Infinity chilli has reached a level of 1,176,182 scovilles. My wife grows chillis and pickles them - they are delicious, one year she pickled Bird's eye chillis (50,000 - 100,000) and more recently Scotch bonnet chillis (100,000 - 350,000). They are delicious but a small amount of Scotch bonnet goes a long way, I can't imagine eating an Infinity chilli. (And es I know the plants in the picture are not chillis - but they were to hand and it is almost spring.


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