London mayor 2016

I haven't given much thought to the Brexit referendum yet, because the election for London Mayor is coming up first (on Thursday 5th May). As I mentioned before the 2012 election, I think it's important to distinguish between national and local policies, and it doesn't necessarily make sense to vote for the same party at different levels of government.

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Eddie the Eagle

Tonight I went off to the cinema to watch Eddie the Eagle. This has a similar premise to Cool Runnings: both films are based on true stories, and both are set during the 1988 Winter Olympics. (In fact, there's a brief reference to the Jamaican bobsled team during this film.) I think both films also involved quite a bit of embellishment: you can watch Lindsay Ellis' review of Cool Runnings for more info on that film, and according to the BBC, Edwards said that only 5% of this film is true. Still, it makes a good story, and it's a satisfying film to watch.

I was 13 when the actual events took place; I didn't watch the Winter Olympics, but I'd still heard of Eddie the Eagle. A few months later, The Sun printed an article on April Fool's Day: they claimed that he was attaching rockets (jet engines) to his skis, because there was nothing in the rules that specifically forbade that. They had a photo, and I actually believed the story for a few weeks. Nowadays I'd be more sceptical, both about the date and the source! The point is that it fitted in with my general impression of who he was: someone who took part, had a laugh, and always came last because he wasn't actually any good at the sport.

The basic concept of the film (and reality?) is that Britain wasn't entering anyone in the ski-jumping category, so he got in by being the only person to apply. I've also taken part in a few world championships which had similarly loose entry requirements:

  • In 2008, I did the World Custard Pie Championships; our team got through to the quarter finals.

  • In 2011, 2012, and 2013, I did the Brompton World Championship. My results were a bit more respectable here, but I never made it into the top 100; my best result was when I came 196th overall (out of 600-700 people).

  • In 2014, I did the Winter Swimming World Championship; I finished last (35th) in my age/sex category.

Going into those events, I never expected to win anything: I was happy just to take part. However, I was also never in any real danger. Admittedly, one person died at the WSWC, but he was doing the endurance swim (450m) and my longest swim was 50m. What struck me during the film is that ski jumping really is a risky business. Even if someone finishes last, it still takes quite a bit of skill just to walk away from the landing.

I enjoyed the first half of the film, but then I heard a ringing noise in the background. It was muffled and intermittent, so I thought that it was someone's mobile phone ringing inside their bag. Then the film stopped, the lights came up, and an automated message told us that there was an emergency and we had to evacuate the building. This wasn't anything too dramatic, but I think there are lessons to learn from this.

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2015 in review

Time for another yearly round-up. Here are some stats:

SJA hours655342235233
Distance swum (km)0.02.911.04.2
Distance cycled (km)3678356032093059
Eddington number29323234
BCQ checkpoints8004
Books reviewed95403531
Cinema trips8342
Theatre trips2352
LARP events0566

I took up a new hobby in January: life drawing. I didn't make it to all the sessions in Croydon, but I think I have improved over the course of the year. I've posted my pictures from a few sessions (with more to come) and all of my finished pieces are on DeviantArt. Now I just need to use that practice to actually draw some new comics!

I also went down to Brighton to swim under each full moon, starting in January. Actually, I couldn't make it to one of them, but the quirks of the calendar meant that there were 13 full moons in 2015 and I went into the water during 12, so that's near enough. In July, I went off on a short cycle touring holiday around the Isle of Wight with a couple of my swimming friends: we visited each of the BCQ checkpoints (and a few beaches) and the daily distances were long enough to increase my Eddington number.

My theatre trips were fairly small scale, watching a couple of friends perform on stage in January (a panto and "The Three Musketeers"). At the opposite end of the scale, I only went to the cinema to watch the new "Avengers" and "Star Wars" films, since they'll benefit from the big screen; the rest of the time I'll wait to watch a film at home.

On the IT front, I passed a couple of new exams: CWTS and Network+. Those links both go to my tech blog; this time last year I'd "seeded" the blog by copying over relevant posts from LJ, and I put new content there in 2015. My most popular post by far was Installing dd-wrt on a Linksys WRT320N wireless router; I think that says something about how non-intuitive the installation process is! That fits into one of my other goals: I finally got IPv6 internet access at home, which is something I've been working towards for several years.

My plans went a bit awry in August, when I fell ill with acute sarcoidosis. Basically, my feet swelled up so much that I could barely walk. I spent 9 days in hospital, and I was off work for about a month. The good news is that I've now made a complete recovery.

That hospital trip unfortunately meant that I had to miss out on the biggest LARP event of the year (Renewal). However, I still attended the other 3 big events, as well as 3 faction events and a mini-meet (pub night) for my group in Bristol.

I'm surprised that my number of books is so low, but that's partly because it only counts books which are new to me (or at least the ones which I haven't reviewed on Goodreads before). For instance, after Terry Pratchett died, I started to re-read all his Discworld novels; I'm only about halfway through the series so far, but some of those books don't count towards my total. Also, I don't review individual issues of comics, only collections. 2000AD have been making a lot of their back issues available digitally, with each year available as a bundle; last year I read through all the weekly issues from 2006-2012, which kept me entertained while I was stuck in bed.

Meanwhile, I've continued to do volunteer work for St John Ambulance, and I think I've struck the right balance: I do enough to make myself useful, while still leaving time for my other hobbies and interests. This was my 11th year, so after next year I'll be eligible for a service medal.

My main goal for 2016 is the traditional one: do more exercise and lose weight. Specifically, I want to cycle (and swim) longer distances, so that I can get back to my pre-illness level of fitness. Aside from that, I'm aiming to draw at least 1 new comic and pass at least 1 more computer exam; hopefully I'll do more than that, but that seems like an attainable goal.

WNBR 2015

I've been involved with the World Naked Bike Ride since 2009. This year, I took part in three rides: London, Brighton, and Bristol. I also did a few interviews to help publicise the ride and explain what we're trying to achieve.

Content warning: as you might expect, this post contains photos with nudity, so view it at your own discretion.

I wrote a WNBR FAQ in 2013 which covers the most common questions I get, e.g. "Is it legal?" and "Doesn't it hurt?" Just to restate our goals, we are:

  • Protesting against car culture and oil dependency

  • Promoting cycling as an alternative to driving

  • Drawing attention to the vulnerability of cyclists

  • Celebrating body freedom

This year was the 12th London ride, and it still continues to be relevant. For instance, here's an article from the Evening Standard: 'Oxford Street pollution levels breached EU annual limit just four days into 2015'. More recently, Volkswagen have been in trouble for faking the results of emissions tests on their diesel cars (as reported by the BBC, among others). I think it's fair to say that none of this air pollution is coming from bicycles!

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Secret Cinema: Back to the Future

Last year (August 2014), I went off to a Secret Cinema performance of "Back to the Future". The basic concept of Secret Cinema is immersion: they try to recreate the world of the film (e.g. a prison environment for "The Shawshank Redemption"), and visitors have time to wander around and appreciate everything before they actually sit down to watch the film. Originally the actual film would be a secret; when you bought a ticket, you'd be given instructions on what to wear and where to go, but you didn't know what you'd actually be watching. However, the company broadened into Future Cinema, where they'd show the same film every night for several weeks (rather than a single performance), and you knew in advance what you'd be watching.

(Spoilers follow, although I'd be surprised if anyone's reading this who hasn't seen the film yet!)

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2000AD: Trifecta

I've been reading comics for a long time. I started out with the Beano when I was very young (maybe 5 years old?) then I moved onto the Eagle when I was about 10, and I moved to American comics when I went off to university at 18. I never really got into 2000AD when I was a kid; I read the odd issue here and there, but I didn't follow it regularly. However, I started buying digital issues a few years ago, and that's worked well. (I'll talk more about the iPad app in a separate post.)

I was particularly impressed by a story 2000AD did a few years ago: they managed to do something that I've never seen before in comics. I'm going to go into spoilers below; if you're willing to trust me, and you want to get the same surprise yourself, you can buy a copy of Trifecta (either paper or digital), and I'd advise you not to read the blurb.

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Free stuff

I'm having another clear-out, to get rid of some of my accumulated clutter. If anyone would like any of these items (free of charge), just let me know; ideally I'm looking for people to collect from my flat in Croydon, but if I'll be seeing you elsewhere then I may be able to bring some bits along with me. I'll put this list on Freegle tomorrow evening (Sun 13th), so I'm giving my friends first dibs.

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Edit: All the comics have now been taken.

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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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

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.

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."