John C. Kirk

May. 31st, 2015

05:22 pm - CRU duties

As I've mentioned before, I do volunteer work for St John Ambulance, including the Cycle Response Unit. We have a Twitter account; unlike this blog (where I'm only speaking for myself), that account gives official announcements, so you might like to follow it if you're curious about what we get up to. Here are a few highlights from the past month or so, covering the events which I've personally been involved in.

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May. 13th, 2015

01:05 am - General election 2015

Last week was the general election in the UK, so I voted. I didn't actually expect this to make a difference, because my constituency is a safe seat for the Conservatives; according to the Voter Power Index, it's rated 523rd out of 650. ("In Croydon South, one person does not really have one vote, they have the equivalent of 0.069 votes.") However, I see it as my democratic duty to at least make the attempt.

A couple of months ago (back before Easter), someone rang my doorbell to canvas on behalf of the Labour party. He asked which party I was going to vote for, and I said that I hadn't decided yet: I wanted to do some research, e.g. reading the manifestos. He seemed to be quite baffled by that, and asked me who I'd vote for if the election was the following day. I said that I'd probably vote Green, and he accused me of wasting my vote. The upshot of that conversation was that I went from "undecided" to "definitely not voting Labour". So, here's my advice to political parties: try not to piss off your potential voters!

I assume his logic was that Labour were the only credible threat to the Conservatives, and if I voted Green then I'd be splitting the opposition. However, the Conservatives had an outright majority in my constituency, and that's not a new thing:

YearProportion of votes
201554.5%
201050.9%
200551.8%


So, even if everyone who voted against them had voted Labour, the Conservatives still would have won. However, let's suppose that the Labour guy was correct, and that it could have made a difference. This is exactly the situation that AV (Alternative Vote) was intended to help with! I wrote about that in 2011 (before and after the referendum); unfortunately we didn't get the electoral reform that we needed. Mind you, I'd have more sympathy for Labour if they'd made some effort to change the system while they were in power.

As for my vote, I didn't get around to doing the thorough research that I'd intended. The thing is, I'm not an economist, so I don't have any kind of informed opinion on whether austerity (for example) is a good or bad policy; at best, I can say that lots of my friends disagree with it, and they seem like intelligent people. I suspect that the same thing may apply to other people and parties, e.g. if all your friends are voting Conservative, it may seem like the natural choice for a "floating voter". However, The Guardian reviewed each party's manifesto for cycling policies and the Green party came out top (as you'd expect).

Anyway, I resolved not to vote Conservative after the AV referendum, and I wasn't going to vote Labour after the idiot canvasser. I used to vote LibDem regularly, but they lost my support after they broke their pledge on university tuition fees. So, I did the same thing as the London elections in 2012 and voted Green. It didn't make any practical difference, but at least I showed willing.

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Apr. 20th, 2015

07:28 pm - Computer exams

I think this xkcd strip is quite true:
xkcd #557

Some people have questioned whether Randall Munroe can really claim that with authority, since he's too young to have any personal experience about what happens "decades" after you leave school. However, I'm now 40, and I still have anxiety dreams where I'm back at school doing my A levels. Each dream normally follows the same pattern: I'm aware that the final exams are getting closer, and I'm getting good results in Maths. However, I've been skiving off my Greek/Latin classes; nobody's come after me (e.g. giving me detention) and I don't want to turn up for the class again until I've caught up on the work I've missed, but I'm conscious that as more time goes past, the backlog keeps growing while I have less time to fit it all in before the actual exam.

In my case, I think it's partly because I still take exams. These are vocational rather than academic, e.g. Microsoft exams: I'm partly hoping that the qualification will help my career, but I also want to keep my skills up to date and learn new things. Up until now, there hasn't been much time pressure on these; I don't have to take them at all, so I can just wait until I'm ready. However, some qualifications now require you to re-certify at regular intervals (typically every 3 years). That means that even if I'm being diligent and studying something, I'm still conscious that there are other subjects which also need my attention.

Back in 2007, I passed the CompTIA A+ exam. In 2012, I enrolled in their CE program, which gave me 3 years to meet the requirements for the new A+ce qualification. I passed a Microsoft exam later in 2012, which gave me enough CEU points to qualify; I also passed the CWTS (Certified Wireless Technology Specialist) exam last month. However, I've also booked myself in for the Network+ exam this Friday; if I pass that, it will be the best way to convert/renew my A+ qualification, because I won't have to pay the annual fees. (All those links go to my tech blog, which talks about these exams in more detail.)

I've been meaning to get round to the Network+ exam for quite a while, so I've now got 3 different editions of the study guide, covering each new version of the exam objectives. Honestly, I'm a bit behind schedule on actually reading them, so I'm now moving into the last minute cramming stage. (Well, once I've finished procrastinating with blog posts, that is!) However, I did a practice exam last night and passed that, so I'm quietly confident: I have several years of relevant experience, so I'm not starting from scratch here.

Anyway, I'll close with a quote from a Red Dwarf novel ("Better than Life"), referring to Arnold Rimmer:
"He's got an exam in the morning. He's thirty years old and he's got an exam in the morning. All his life, he's always seemed to have an exam in the morning."

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Apr. 13th, 2015

08:37 pm - Birthday puzzle

The Guardian posted a story in their science section today: Can you solve the maths question for Singapore schoolkids that went viral? The article generated thousands of comments; glancing at a few of them, people have suggested several different answers. So, I'll post my answer below, along with my explanation. If you want to figure it out on your own first, I suggest that you spend some time on that before you read the rest of this post.

The puzzle features Albert, Bernard, and Cheryl. I suppose this offers an alternative to Alice, Bob, and Carol who pop up in all the cryptography scenarios. However, I think that Cheryl is going out of her way to be awkward; that's not the best way to get birthday cards from your friends! I'm also not quite sure why this puzzle is treated as a Maths problem, because it seems to be more about general logic.

As a clue to the answer, this puzzle reminded me of an old joke:

3 logicians walk into a bar.
The bartender asks: "Do you all want a beer?"
The first person says: "I don't know."
The second person says: "I don't know."
The third person says: "Yes."


To understand that, you need to realise that each of the logicians is answering the question on behalf of the group. So, the first person says "I don't know" because they want a beer but they don't know what the other two want. The second person also says "I don't know"; they want a beer, and they can deduce that the first person does too, but they don't know about the third person. The third person says "Yes" because they can deduce that the first two people want beers and they also want one.

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However, I've been discussing this on Facebook and one of my friends disagreed with me. So, a poll!

Poll #2007713 Cynthia's birthday

When was Cynthia born?

15th May
0(0.0%)
16th May
0(0.0%)
19th May
0(0.0%)
17th June
0(0.0%)
18th June
0(0.0%)
14th July
0(0.0%)
16th July
2(100.0%)
14th August
0(0.0%)
15th August
0(0.0%)
17th August
0(0.0%)

Would you send her a birthday greeting?

Yes
0(0.0%)
No
2(100.0%)

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Apr. 11th, 2015

05:12 am - Life drawing 3

At the end of February, I went along to my third life drawing session. Once again, I'm only getting around to writing it up the night before the following session!

As I mentioned before, there's a different model at each session; this time, we had a young woman called Penny. (I don't know whether that's her real name or just her "stage name". Also, I wouldn't post her surname here even if I did know it.) Compared to the previous models, this is the first time I drew someone with long hair and glasses: that's an extra challenge, but I think it will be a useful skill if I can get the hang of it. Anyway, I think she did a really good job, and I'd like to draw her again if I get the opportunity.

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There was only one session in March, which I missed because I was off LARPing. However, there are two sessions in April, and I hope to attend both.

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Mar. 10th, 2015

05:23 am - Transformers comics

Back in 2012 I started reading IDW's new Transformers comics. 3½ years later, both series are still going and I think that Transformers: More than Meets the Eye is actually my favourite comic each month. Not just my favourite Transformers comic, my favourite comic period.

I've been meaning to write a follow-up post for a while, but my catalyst is the current Humble Bundle: this includes all the issues from both of the current series, up to #37 (published in February). #38 of each series came out last week, so you'll be pretty much up to date with the bundle. More precisely, which issues you get depends on how much you spend; you can "unlock" extra purchases if you pay above average. However, you can get 33 issues of MtMtE as long as you just pay something; the minimum purchase price is literally $0.01. So, if you trust my judgment at all, please go and do that!

This bundle ends at 18:00 GMT on Wed 12th March. So, if you're not sure about this, start with the cheap option and then read through the first collection to see whether you like it. If you do, you can go back to the website and pay a bit more to complete the set. Right now, you will need to pay at least $16.55 to get all 74 issues, although that price may go up a bit before the bundle ends. According to StackExchange, you can "top up" your original payment later (a bit like Kickstarter), e.g. if you paid $7 for the first set then you could pay another $10 to get the rest. The website says that this is "$155 worth of comics", which sounds about right. I subscribe to both series via Comixology, and I pay £2.49 per issue (i.e. about £5/month). Back issues are cheaper, currently going for £1.45 each. You then have to do the exchange rate between dollars and pounds, but however you work it out this is an amazingly cheap way to pick up the series. You can also choose to give some of the money to charity, so you're doing a good deed at the same time.

So, why am I pushing this so hard? Read on for details; I've tried to keep spoilers to a minimum.

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Feb. 27th, 2015

04:42 am - Life drawing 2

Last month I tried out life drawing for the first time. I enjoyed it, so a couple of weeks ago (14th Feb) I went back for another go. Read on for more of my scribblings... I've made an effort to draw some of the musculature this time, rather than just the outer edge of each body part.

We had a different model this time: an older man rather than a younger woman. (I'm being deliberately vague, partly because I don't want to insult either of them by guessing their age incorrectly!) The model used a few props to assist with his poses; I'm not sure whether they were his own or available to all models. I also noticed that he was a lot more assertive than the previous model, e.g. he said "Go!" at the start of each pose (telling us to start drawing) rather than the organiser. Apparently they've been working together for 10-15 years, so that would probably explain it.

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The next session is tomorrow (Sat 28th). They don't announce models in advance, so I'll be interested to see who we get this time.

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Feb. 15th, 2015

11:14 pm - Full moon swims

As I've mentioned before, I like outdoor swimming when the sun's out: the water looks very inviting when I can see the sunlight reflecting off it. However, at the opposite end of the scale, there's a certain appeal to night swimming. (The Guardian published an article about that a few years ago.)

Technically, I've swum after dark several times, e.g. in the indoor pool underneath Croydon Grants. However, I don't think that really counts: that pool is below ground level, and there aren't any windows, so you can't actually tell the difference between day and night!

Back in June 2013, I went along to a skinny dip at the Pells Pool (in Lewes); this was a fundraiser for the Brighton WNBR, which started in the afternoon and continued after sunset. I enjoyed it, but they had floodlights up so that the lifeguards could see everything and it didn't feel particularly different to swimming in daylight.

Last year I tried to arrange a full moon swim at Tooting Bec Lido. The lido is available for private hire, so my basic plan was to organise (and pay for) the event myself, then ask anyone who turned up to chuck some money into a bucket. If it went well, I hoped that the lido and/or SLSC might be willing to organise future swims. However, this turned out to be easier said than done.

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Instead, I went down to Eastbourne on 9th September with a couple of other people from the SLSC, to meet up with the Eastbourne Sea Swimmers. I must emphasise that this is a completely separate group to the Eastbourne Swimming Club, even though there are some people who belong to both groups. The idea here is to get around the legal issues by having an informal gathering in the sea. It's public property (open to all), so there's no need to hire it, and since it's not an official event there's no need to hire lifeguards: everyone participates at their own risk. However, they did encourage people to bring along glow sticks, so that we could be seen. I didn't get around to sorting that out in advance, but someone else was able to give me a spare, and I tied that around the strap of my goggles.

We left all our bags on the beach, then went into the water, and most people set off for the pier in the distance. I wasn't fast enough to keep up with them, so I just pootled along at my own pace in the same general direction, then I turned back when I saw them returning so that we'd all get back to shore at about the same time. Since I'd been swimming regularly at the lido, I didn't have any trouble with the water temperature, but I wasn't quite so used to dealing with waves and I had to adapt my stroke accordingly. When we finished, there was someone on the beach (who hadn't swum) holding up a light. That was quite useful: I would still have made it back to land ok without that, but I might have ended up on the wrong side of the groyne (the fence thing that sticks out into the water to break up waves). After that, we all went to a local hotel for a drink and a chat, then I came back to London.

Meanwhile, I've also made a few trips to Brighton, where I've met up with the Hove Sea Swimmers. (Again, this is an informal group of people who choose to swim together rather than a legal entity.) I was there in June 2014 for a summer solstice swim, then I went back in early October to make the most of the warm weather.

At the start of January, someone suggested swimming under every full moon this year. That sounded like a good idea to me, so I joined them on 4th January. Read more...Collapse )

If anyone would like to join us on a future full moon dip, you'd be very welcome. The OSS have a full schedule, and the next full moon is on Thursday 5th March, although we may shift some of our swims to a different day depending on the weather forecast. If you're based in London, you could also take a look at Secret Adventures. They're organising a swim at every full moon, although their February swim (at a heated pool in Covent Garden) sold out within 3 hours and their March swim (at a lake near Richmond) is already sold out too.

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Feb. 14th, 2015

10:10 pm - UK CWSC 2015

A few weeks ago (Sat 24th January), I took part in the UK Cold Water Swimming Championships at Tooting Bec Lido. This runs every 2 years (alternating with the world championships), and I previously took part in 2013; that blog post has some info about how I got involved with swimming at the lido, so I won't repeat it all here. However, it's significant that nobody else from the SLSC recognised me, even though I'd been a member for 3 years.

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Jan. 18th, 2015

11:40 pm - 2013/2014 in review

I didn't get round to doing a review post last year, so here's a bumper double-edition. (Hey, if it's good enough for TV guides then it's good enough for me.)

Starting with a few stats (and using 2012 as a baseline for comparison):

201220132014
SJA hours655342235
Distance swum (m)66294611025
Distance cycled (km)367835603209
Eddington number293232
BCQ checkpoints800
Books reviewed954035
Cinema trips834
Theatre trips235
LARP events056


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