Centripetal Force

1 10 2016

Today we went to get some more dog food for the Devil Dog. She’s been looking a bit suspiciously at us all day. Might have something to do with the vet shoving a finger or three up her arse this morning, but who am I to say what a dog finds undignified?

Naturally we perused the pet shop prior to lugging the massive bag of dried food out to the car, and went for some “ah” therapy in the fluffy animal section. Anyway, it’s been a good few years since we owned hamsters, and back then they were expected to exercise in the traditional treadmill. I see now though that there’s a new toy on the block. It’s like a shallow dish at an angle to allow easy access for short legged beasties. Unfortunately though, physics still applies, and if you can’t keep up the pace, you get thrown off the island dish…





Still Grousing

18 09 2016

Well – after 4 years it seems I finally climbed the equivalent of Everest! Not just Everest, you understand. There are package tours to do THAT – meh.

No – I hike up Grouse Mountain whenever the urge (or guilt) takes me, and for the princely fee of $20 a year, they offer to keep track of how many times I’ve done it. Really it’s for the drones who run up the Grouse Grind and try and beat their personal bests. Many do it multiple times a day (16 is the record I believe). The fastest is a mere 20 minutes or so. Incredible feats of fitness, to be sure, but woop-di-do.

I do it just to prove to myself I still CAN! The recorded times vary depending on which route up I take (I hardly EVER do the Grind these days, preferring the BCMC trail and occasionally the Skyline). After you’ve done it three times, they encourage you by letting you know you’ve ascended the cumulative equivalent of climbing Mt Kosciusko in Australia.

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VancouverTrails.com: BCMC route up Grouse Mountain

If you keep at it and are still adding to the total, you eventually get told you’ve ascended the equivalent (in addition) to the Vinson Massif in Antarctica… but without needing all the cold weather gear.

Here’s the whole list:

  1. Mt. Kosciusko, Australia – 7300 feet, 2228 metres – 3 grinds
  2. Vinson Massif, Antactica – 16050 feet, 4892 metres – 6 grinds but need 9 total ( 3 from No.1 above plus the 6 for Vinson)
  3. Mt. Elbrus, Europe – 18510 feet, 5642 metres – 7 grinds, 16 total
  4. Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa – 19341 feet, 5895 metres – 7 grinds, 23 total
  5. Mt. McKinley, North America – 20320 feet, 6194 metres – 8 grinds, 31 total
  6. Mt. Aconcogua, South America – 22841 feet, 6961 metres – 9 grinds, 40 total
  7. Mt. Everest, Asia – 29029 feet, 8848 metres – 11 grinds, 51 total

For some reason, I needed to accumulated 52 ascents before it acknowledged I’d done the equivalent of all 7 peaks rather than the expected 51… with Everest being the final one. That’s 52 x 853m (ascent) or a cumulative ascent of 44km!!

The weather has really changed recently and it was cooler and even drizzled a bit on Friday. All of which suit me. As well as the preferably cooler conditions it reduced the numbers of the fair weather Lululemon crowd.

In the top half I encountered a couple of signs I’d not noticed before. There is only one fork in this entire route, almost at the very top. These signs were nowhere near there and seemed to be merely a check that you weren’t climbing the BCMC by walking on your hands, upside down. There seemed no other purpose to them, given that the route itself is clearly marked with a series of small orange diamonds the whole way up and most people can surely tell the difference between up and down!

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The only way is up – Yazz

Anyway, after an unusually satisfying hike (it’s always the decision to do it that’s the hard part), I finally got to see the coveted “Everest” next to my name on the finisher’s board. So what’s next? Well… I’ve only done 9 ascents this season, so an obvious “next” is to make it at least 10 before the Grind is officially closed for the season. Then – we’ll see. Snowshoe Grind was a bit of a let-down last couple of years, but never say never.

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Name in Lights





Not FitBit For Use

13 09 2016

There follows, dear reader, a tale of consumer woe. A story so imbued with terror and despair that I strongly suggest you find a settee to hide behind… just in case it becomes too much. This story will make childhood memories of Dr. Who battling giant maggots and even the daleks seem like a pleasant stroll in the park. In short – think carefully before continuing to read this blog entry.

Too much? Too hyperbolic?

Perhaps. But you’re here now, so you might as well keep going, no?

As regular visitors will know, I like to go hiking, take the occasional (these days, very occasional) run, and generally try and keep as active as my boredom threshold will permit. To encourage this rare glimpse of common sense, by long suffering wife Mrs E. bought me a FitBit for Christmas a year or so ago. It was only the basic model – a Flex – but it suited my inner geek perfectly. Essentially just an electronic pedometer, it fits into a silicone wristband and counts how many rapid changes of direction it is subjected to, via an accelerometer. It makes a reasonable assumption that this is due to your arm swinging as you walk and counts (approximately) how many steps you’ve taken as a consequence.

Being electronic, and this being the glorious age of the post-necessary computer, it can connect via BlueTooth and has an online application to run software that allows you to configure whether you’ve put the strap on your dominant or non-dominant arm. I’m guessing it uses some weird algorithm to try and assess whether the accelerometer reading is from a legitimate walk-induced arm swing, or because you’re taking an unhealthy interest in the glossy adverts in this month’s Vogue.

Assuming the user is actually earnest about measuring performance, it even allows you to calibrate it so it more accurately infers kilometres covered based on average step length. I went to the trouble of walking a few laps of the local racetrack to make sure I properly calibrated mine.

It comes with a non-accessible rechargeable battery that is refreshed by placing the device in a special “pigtail” USB cable. The battery lasts about a week, and by and large I loved the thing. I set a goal of 8km a day, and the little gizmo dutifully told me how well I was doing for several weeks with little issue. At this point though, the weekly removal and reinsertion of the device into the silicone wrist strap caused the latter to split. It wasn’t a very good design and it was entirely predictable this would occur. After discovering that a replacement strap was $30 for three (they obviously expected one to be insufficient!), I did what any sensible person would do and bought 10 for $10 off Amazon. This should have been an early warning, but I pressed on, assuming that the technology would be much better than the wrist band in which it was housed. By the way, my $1 replacement wristband lasted over a year and is still going strong.

Now, there’s a phrase in product management: “fit for use”. I’m no lawyer, but the general principle is that if you’re selling a product to perform some function, it should fundamentally be able to do that under reasonable circumstances. This gives rise to such witticisms as “it was as much use as a chocolate fireguard/teapot”. It’s not unreasonable you might think for a fitness device costing over $100 to last more than 18 months – especially when subjected to nothing more strenuous than typing a few emails, a daily lunchtime walk and a weekly 90 minute hike.

But no – after just 18 months, my FitBit refused to hold a charge. One day it was fine, the next it decided the internal battery was exhausted and it would not recharge. Again, I turned to the internet and discovered that the device was prone to problems related to charging. Mostly these revolved around dirty (sweaty?) electrical contacts and the advice was to use a cocktail stick, a Q-tip and a drop of solvent to clean up the contacts. Again, I should have smelt a problem when FitBit’s own FAQs referred to a customer’s video and suggestions of how to do this. The procedure even included a device reset just to make sure. They seemed to be in denial themselves and relied on self-help from customers rather than an official procedure for what was plainly a weak spot in the design. Not hard to realise people buying fitness trackers might get sweaty and grimy…

I’d had cause to reset the device before, and as I experimented this time I discovered that the device would indeed charge fully… just not hold the charge once removed from the power source. I even learnt that the mysterious LED light pattern it showed when first put into the power port meant “cold boot” inferring it had indeed been starved of power as soon as it was disconnected. The battery was undoubtedly buggered.

The internet – untrustworthy source that it is – suggested that FitBit had great customer service and a few people with similar sounding problems were effusive about how well treated FitBit had made them feel, and how readily they had replaced their faulty devices.

I was of course aware that my device was out of its 12 month warranty, though arguably not out of its “reasonable lifespan”. Nothing ventured nothing gained, so I dropped them an email. I explained the situation, how long I’d had the device and all the things I’d tried that had led me to the conclusion it was parrot-like, and had shuffled off its mortal coil. It’s was dead Jim, as proven and previously documented.

After a couple of days, I got a friendly reply asking me to try the things on their customer’s “how to clean the contacts” video – despite me having pointedly said I’d already done that in an apparently fruitless attempt to avoid this predictable unthinking reply.

So – I repeated that I’d already done the procedure prior to interrupting their slumber, added some more details about the LED diagnostic pattern to prove I knew what I was about, and asked them to agree that they had designed the device to last more than 18 months. (i.e. I asked them to choose between “faulty manufacture” and “faulty design”).

Again a friendly reply thanking me for self-diagnosing and agreeing that something seemed wrong with the device. Now they asked how long I’d had the thing. For the third time I told them EIGHTEEN MONTHS… see? Like all the other times I told you!

“Ah,” came back the next polite reply. “That would be outside the 12 month warranty then.”

No shit, Sherlock! So you can count at least? I had never denied it was out of warranty, merely that an 18 month battery life on a non-replaceable part seemed to imply it wasn’t fit for use. If it had been $30, or the battery could be replaced I might have just shrugged at 18 months, but this was over $100 and I was feeling slighted.

The coup de grace though was when they assured me I was a valued member of “the family” and they then made me an offer I found trivial to refuse… they offered me 25% off a purchase of a new FitBit – but only from their online store. A quick check showed that this 25% brought the price back down to the local street price a new purchase would be anywhere else. Woo-hoo, great bargain!! Thanks for nothing.

After some rewrites, I managed to send a reasonably polite email thanking them for a great concept poorly implemented, and told them I’d no longer be using their products. Especially when it turned out that my iPhone (always in my pocket) has a link to the FitBit app, and FOR FREE keeps my steps updated anyway. In fact it also measures height gained (translated into “steps ascended”) that my FitBit did not. Did I mention it was free?

To add insult to injury FitBit then sent me another email to ask if I’d made up my mind as the 25% offer was time-limited!

So – if you’re thinking of buying wearable technology… consider carefully whether FitBit is the one for you. Check out what your phone offers. Depending on the sophistication of your needs, you may find it already does what you need… for free. Don’t get me wrong – I love the concept of wearable technology, and applaud FitBit for being one of its pioneers. Their physical design has undeniably improved over the last couple of years, but their attitude of dropping you like a hot brick once their manufacturing choices (crappy battery supplier) let you down leaves a lot to be desired. That plus the fact that the strap can fail and fling your expensive device to the four winds at any time means I’ll likely look to other manufacturers if I ever decide my phone’s not providing me with enough spurious data on my daily activity.

Rant over – you can come out from behind the settee now. I’m off to yoga…





The DNA Journey

3 07 2016

Would you dare to question who you really are? #LetsOpenOurWorld

Source: The DNA Journey

 

 

Who are you? No really – deep inside, who are you really?

I came across some random bit of flotsam (or is it jetsam? I always get the two confused) beached on the edges of the Internet. It was a video of a group of folks in the UK adamantly stating what they believed their heritage to be. After a simple spit sample to test their DNA they were shocked and surprised by the results. The “100%” English, anti-German guy discovered he was 5% German himself, and only 30% “British” (whatever that means these days!). Two people discovered they were actually cousins!

So much of who we think we are is learnt, and not actually real. That’s a good thing, because we can always learn new things, and even occasionally from our past mistakes. We can become something better than what we think we already are.

A guy I once worked with used to rub me up the wrong way almost daily. At a management retreat he mentioned a book he had enjoyed – The Seven Daughters of Eve. It covers much of this ground of common heritage, and I learnt to be more tolerant of him after accepting that we were likely even distantly related. As ultimately, we all are.

Sure this was all a clever marketing stunt for a travel site, but hey – accepting that we are ALL connected can only be a good thing in this age of fracturing states.

Now go and smile at a stranger – the more superficially different from you the better.





Mike Scott and Wings

19 06 2016

Yeah, yeah, I know Wings was Paul McCartney’s band and you’ve likely no idea who Mike Scott is, but bear with me.

So last night I went to see Lloyd Cole play live in Vancouver with First Born and Mrs. E.

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Now there’s a bit of a story to this. Back in the early 80’s I was at university in Durham and foolishly forewent the opportunity to go and see the upstart Lloyd Cole and the Commotions when they played nearby. Likely Newcastle. I don’t recall… it was after all 30+ years ago! Many years later, in the late 90’s he was still pumping out some great – if somewhat melancholy – music. His style suits my own perfectly, and I’ve always appreciated his deep insightful lyrics… and easily recognise his slight pretensions within myself (not everyone can fit “Simone de Beauvoir” into a song lyric).

I was delighted to learn he was to do a show in Northampton which was an easy drive from Milton Keynes where I lived at the time. I was totally gutted when it was cancelled at the last moment. Years later I even had a brief Twitter exchange with the great man who was kind enough to explain the circumstances.

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Anyway, this time, it all went smoothly. First Born had to collect her ticket at the venue (thanks Ticketmaster… another example of your stellar service that you charge unreasonable amounts to not provide!) so we got there early. The venue didn’t have a separate “Will Call” window so we ended up in the normal queue for entrance and therefore happily close to the front.

The venue is normally a cinema so we ended up with primo comfy seats in the centre and only a couple of rows back from the stage. We had to wait an hour or so for Mr Cole to make an appearance but that was fine. When he first briefly appeared, it was to set up his own gear (plainly a low budget affair… as hinted at by the venue itself). He does not portray “rock star” at all. More “bored dad”, I’d say. He’d definitely benefit from a stylist though… denim jackets went out with Cool Hand Luke. He’s a few years older than me, but looked fit and well… and in possession of a full head of greying hair. Pretty much the same style as back in the 80’s – kudos.

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Lloyd Cole does his own tuning and sound check

The show was in support of a retrospective boxed set of his music covering 1983-1996 so I was anticipating singing along to every song – highly familiar as I am with his entire catalogue. I was slightly perplexed when he came on to perform, picked up one of his two guitars (freshly tuned) and launched into a song I’d never heard. He has a dour face at the best of times, and had not spoken a word. This did not bode well…

Thankfully he then identified the tune as a Prince song. He’d been listening to much of his music of late (no pun intended) and had realised the chord progression was similar to one of his own songs (Loveless) from the setlist. He said it was not originally on the setlist, but I see he played it at the previous gig in Portland, so I think that was a white lie. I’m not familiar with much of Prince’s work, but I identified the song as “Sometimes It Snows In April” and not “Tracy” as listed for Portland.

Decide for yourself with the help of Youtube:

He soon got into his stride and verged almost on the chatty between songs. After playing Butterfly he told a story of playing at a concert with Mike Scott (lead singer of The Waterboys) and finding his music dark and moody. Darker and moodier than anyone else’s. He claimed he’d re-examined his own material and not played Butterfly for a decade after the concert! I’m not sure many in the audience knew who Mike Scott even was, but the point was well made.

He joked about his age and needing to wear reading glasses over his contact lenses for fine work (like tuning his guitar), and admitted to maintaining some small portion of vanity. He laughed and said when he removed his specs, he was sometimes left with “wings” due to his still ample hair, and asked the audience to let him know if this was the case.

Naturally – being an audience full of ageing hipsters – “Wings!” was called out at various times for the rest of the evening. Lloyd seemed to genuinely enjoy his reception and smiled when he got a Canadian “you’re welcome” to his rock star “thank-you” at the end of each song.

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Lloyd Cole getting all emotional… honest

His guitar work was excellent, and I was impressed that he re-tuned his guitars occasionally, “because I care” as he explained. At one point a member of the audience ambled up to the stage and delivered a pint of beer. Something I myself have done to support particularly good pub bands… but I’ve never seen it at a “proper concert”! Oh Canada… you’re so, er, Canadian!

He politely accepted the pint (perhaps in fear of opening the door to a steady stream of further offerings) but said he’d save it until later, explaining he’d once tried Karaoke when drunk in Japan, and realised too late that “We will rock you” actually had verses! Assuring us of his relative success with the chorus, he launched quickly into the next song.

He actually fluffed the words in one song, stopped with an annoyed “dammit”, apologised for the tongue-twister words (hey – come on Lloyd, YOU wrote them!) and continued to a note-perfect ending. It was very human and didn’t detract one iota from the performance. During the intro to another song, he hit a bum note and explained his little finger now had a groove in it due to all the concerts and he sometimes found it hard to hold the string down properly. He restarted and played note perfect for the entire thing. So very dad-like.

After Charlotte Street, he explained he’d written it while living in London. He claimed it actually related to events he’d experienced on Upper Street (the A1), but figured Charlotte Street (off the famous Oxford Street) sounded better. He then poked fun at Big Audio Dynamite, saying someone should have told them Upping St. was a bad name for a record. As far as I can tell, Upping St. doesn’t actually exist.

The night seemed to be over in a blink, but I thoroughly enjoyed every minute. Apart from the unexpected Prince homage, I knew all the songs and heartily sang along to most. Thankfully it was dark. Just sayin’.

He saved Perfect Skin and Forest Fire until the encore and was rewarded with stand up ovations – well deserved! I certainly hope he includes Vancouver in the tour for the next boxed set.

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Eliza’s young sister Tay is all grown up… and racist

24 03 2016

Yesterday, Microsoft’s launched an AI experiment on Twitter, called Tay. The bot would instantly respond to your questions, pictures and chatter, no matter how inane and learn to converse on the fly using “public data that’s been anonymised”.

Source: Tay, Microsoft’s social AI for millennials, turns racist within 24 hours | Alphr

Back when I was a student we learnt about Turing’s Test for AIs – basically whether or not a human could tell they were conversing with a real human or a machine. Ex Machina is a neat film based on the premise – as well as a keen allegory about the way men (still) treat women. Eliza was a relatively simple programme written back in 1966 to respond to key words in the offered conversation and gave a pretty realistic response. It (pre-Gleick) demonstrated how chaotic “realistic” language is and that we can be fooled by pretty simplistic patterns that APPEAR real.

The Microsfot experiment is a whole new level of sophistication and attempted to learn from the input what “normal” looks like. Inevitably, in a week where Boaty McBoatface is the Internet’s suggestion for the name of a new research vessel, Tay learnt that “being an arsehole” is the new normal on the Internet! Within 24 hours it allegedly spouted pro-Hitler twaddle and Microsoft took their new toy home to give it a good spanking and teach it some proper manners. We await it’s return…





What Lithuanian Police Officers Do On International Women’s Day

9 03 2016

My son declared a few years ago that he wanted to be a member of the RCMP. He’s preparing himself well, physically training and applying for opportunities to help build up his résumé for when he leaves school. Though he’s not spent a lot of time with him since we emigrated from the UK, his granddad was a policeman there too.

When I asked him what was motivating him, he said he wanted to help his community and keep people safe. I smiled when I saw this article in Bored Panda about the Lithuanian Police on International Women’s Day. Some think it’s a nice gesture, others that it merely underlines the patriarchy.

Isn’t the fact that we even have an International Women’s Day an indication that we’ve still got a long way to go? Personally, I think it’s a lovely thing – it underlines to women that the police have a positive, protective role (no matter what their gender), and that at the end of the day… hey, it’s a free flower!

For the last couple of years, Lithuanian officers have been pulling women over for the most beautiful reason during International Women’s Day. Instead of giving ladies a ticket, they hand them flowers to celebrate the occasion.

Source: What Lithuanian Police Officers Do On International Women’s Day | Bored Panda