John C. Kirk

Aug. 17th, 2014

11:58 pm - Nine Worlds 2014

Last year I went to the Nine Worlds Geekfest, and I was back there again last weekend. I enjoyed it, and I've already bought my ticket for 2015, so I'd recommend it to anyone with similar interests.

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Jul. 20th, 2014

11:02 pm - Integrated transport

LARP season continues, and I get to each event by bike/train. Arguably this is absurd, but it has advantages over driving (I avoid traffic jams on motorways) or getting a lift to/from the station (more independence). I wrote about the logistics last year but I've made some changes this year for the June/July events.

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For instance, consider this signpost:
Cyclists dismount

They're saying that it's part of NCN 5 (the number on a red background), and that it's a shared use path for cyclists and pedestrians, but then they're also telling cyclists to dismount. What's going on there? Well, it turns out that the "Cyclists Dismount" sign is advisory, i.e. it's just a suggestion and anyone can ignore it without getting into trouble.

It's defined in The Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002 (about 3/4 of the way down that page). Note that underneath the picture it says:
"Regulations: None
Directions: None"

Should you heed the suggestion anyway? It depends why it's there. For instance, I've sometimes seen these signs on roads when there are roadworks blocking the cycle lane. In that situation, I'll just ride in the main part of the lane, which is the same thing I'd do if there wasn't a cycle lane at all. (YACF has an example of this.) In this case, I considered the empty pavement and the dropped kerb and concluded that there was no need for me to dismount.

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Jul. 3rd, 2014

02:32 am - Cashless buses

This coming Sunday (2014-07-06), London buses will stop accepting cash. So, be aware of that if you live outside London but you're planning to visit.

Some people are unhappy about this; I can understand the objections, but overall I think this is a good move. For instance, a few months ago I visited Sweden (on my way to/from the WSWC). Their buses don't accept cash, so they have SL Access cards instead: these are blue plastic cards, very similar to Oyster cards. Unfortunately, these weren't on sale at the ferry port, so I had a half-hour walk to the local town carrying all my luggage.

So, what happens if people don't have Oyster cards and they can't pay with cash? The simplest option is to use a "contactless" credit/debit card. These have a special symbol on them, which looks a bit like the symbol for a wireless network. I have 2 debit cards and 1 credit card from Lloyds, and they all have that symbol; I think that all the UK banks are now issuing them, and if your card doesn't have that symbol then you could ask your bank to replace it. I tested this last weekend, and it works exactly the same as an Oyster card: you just hold it against the card reader and wait for the machine to go "bleep".

The only snag is that bank cards don't have price capping (yet). If I use an Oyster card then it costs £1.45 for each bus journey, with a maximum of £4.40 per day, i.e. the 4th bus journey costs 5p and all subsequent bus journeys are free. If I use a bank card then it costs £1.45 for every bus journey, however many you take. (In my case, 5 journeys cost me £7.25.) I've heard some people suggest that TfL would like to abandon Oyster cards, on the basis that their job isn't to act as a bank, so they'd rather delegate that job to other people. However, I don't see that happening any time soon.

So, what happens if your Oyster card runs out of money (or you don't have one) and you don't have any bank cards with you? Or what if someone would prefer to make journeys without being tracked, e.g. if they have an abusive spouse? In that case, you could pay cash for a 1 day travelcard, i.e. you would get a little piece of cardboard rather than plastic.

But what happens if you don't have an Oyster card or a bank card or any cash? This actually happened to me a couple of months ago: my Oyster card ran low on credit, and I left my wallet at home by mistake so I couldn't top it up at a machine. That meant that I couldn't get on the bus, so I had to walk to the nearest station. (Normally I cycle to the station, so I just buy season tickets rather than travelcards, but this was the day after I'd been knocked off my bike and I had my left arm in a sling.)

If you have internet access (e.g. on a smartphone) then you could also top up your Oyster card online. However, there's a catch: you then have to swipe it at a station or tram stop to get the new balance; for some reason, you can't do that on a bus. Starting next Tuesday (2014-07-08), TfL will allow you to make 1 more journey with an Oyster card after your credit runs low. Also, if the bus driver considers that the passenger is "vulnerable" (e.g. a child travelling alone), they can issue an Unpaid Fare Notice; that means that the passenger writes down their name and address and then pays the money later.

So, what's the benefit of all this? As a passenger, Oyster journeys are cheaper than paying cash. I also think that the queue to board the bus moves a lot more quickly when people can just bleep their card and move on, rather than counting out coins. From the bus driver's point of view, it will make life easier for them if they don't get several people wanting to get change from £20 notes. Also, if they don't carry change, it may make them safer (i.e. nobody will try to mug them).

Anyway, we'll see what happens, but I think it will be ok.

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Jun. 22nd, 2014

11:29 pm - Cycling/swimming in London/Brighton

Over the past couple of months, I've been back and forth between London and Brighton. These trips have involved varying amounts of clothing, e.g. for the World Naked Bike Ride. I've included a few photos below, so you may not want to click through if you're reading this at work. (I'm deliberately blurring a few details, e.g. the names of the other people involved; if you follow me on Facebook then you may be able to join the dots, but please be discreet about it.)

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Jun. 4th, 2014

06:23 am - Go west, young man!

It's LARP season again: Curious Pastimes have 4 big events in May, June, July, and August, and I went to the May event ("Into the West") a few weeks ago. It went well, and I think I'm starting to get the hang of combat now, as well as settling into my new character.

By the way, there's now a Lions Faction trailer on YouTube, filmed at Renewal last year. I think that did a good job of making everyone look cool, particularly our knights; I appear about 20 seconds in (with my back to the camera), kneeling down to present a crown to Queen Esme.

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In a couple of days, I'm off to the June event. So, will my long term plans come to fruition? Or will I get killed 5 minutes after Time In and have to start from scratch with a different character? Stay tuned to find out!

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May. 21st, 2014

03:12 am - Political propaganda

Here's a bar chart that's been going around on social media today:

UKIP 1

I can see why people like this; it looks like a neat rebuttal to UKIP's racism. Unfortunately, the chart is fundamentally flawed.

Just to be clear, I'm not a UKIP supporter: I've never voted for them, and I have no intention of voting for them in the future. However, I think it's important to be honest, rather than sinking to their level. It's also important to understand why this chart is misleading, so that you can recognise similar problems in other charts.

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So, a plea to my friends: please don't share charts like this, however tempting they may look.

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May. 11th, 2014

09:56 pm - What is LARP? (Prithee don't hurt me...)

When I've mentioned LARP to some friends (eg in my swimming club), I've got blank looks, so here's a quick overview. This isn't a tutorial for new players, and I'm sure I've missed a lot of stuff out, it's just intended to give people a vague idea of what I'm talking about.

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Apr. 22nd, 2014

01:42 am - WSWC (3/3): The voyage home

Previously in my blog...
In part 1, I travelled to Lapland for the Winter Swimming World Championships.
In part 2, I competed in races and survived exposure to sub-zero water.

Now it was time to go home. I basically did my original journey in reverse, but it took a bit longer in this direction and I looked for different activities at each stop rather than repeating myself.

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All in all, I had a good trip, and I'm very glad I went. Based on this, I certainly want to attend the Polish Ice Swimming Championships in December.

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Apr. 21st, 2014

06:45 pm - WSWC (2/3): The races

Previously in my blog...
In part 1, I travelled to Lapland for the Winter Swimming World Championships. Now it was time for the races to begin!

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To be concluded in part 3...

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01:09 am - WSWC (1/3): Travel to Lapland

Last month I took part in the Winter Swimming World Championships, held in Finnish Lapland. Most of the team flew out there from London; however, as I mentioned in January, I used trains and ferries to get there and back. This took a bit longer, but there were a few interesting things along the way.

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To be continued in part 2...

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