26 March 2007

Spring Forward

Spring Forward

The clocks have gone forward an hour.
British Summer Time is upon us.

Simon was very excited about this, so he, Frazer and I rode on the first of 2007's 'extended' evenings.

The following morning, as I washed my bike outside my house, carefully removing two layers of South Downs filth and one of south Wales, a small boy and his mother made their way along the pavement where a pool of mud was forming around me.

The lady ushered her young son past me, avoiding the mess.

"He's been playing in the mud!" said the little boy.

"Yes" replied Mum.

"Can I play in the mud?"

Am I leading the next generation astray? I do hope so.

25 March 2007

A Plea to my Cycling Friends


I like riding bikes.
I like taking photos.
And above all, I love spending time with my friends.

When all three come together, and I find myself photographing friends on bikes, I'm rarely happier.

But, I need to issue a plea to all my bicycle-riding chums:

I'm glad that the reflective details on your bikes and clothing make you safer at night, but it buggers up any photograph I try and take with a flash.

So please, next time I'm riding with you in the evening or at night, and you see me reach for my camera, do the decent thing, get out your screwdrivers and scissors and remove all the reflectors, armbands, stickers and clothing from you and your bicycle. Or get out of shot so I can get a picture without blinding white sparks burning out of the picture.

It will keep my Trash folder much emptier and will increase the odds of seeing yourself scooting along on Flickr.

24 March 2007

Newspaper Snobbery

My name is Clive and I am a newspaper snob. There you go - I've said it.

Anyone who knows me knows my thoughts on the tabloid press. I can't help but feel that the views espoused in titles like the Daily Mail and the Express have a harmful impact on public attitudes. That may sound incredibly condescending (I suppose it is), but the moral posturing and conservative panic of these rags leave a nasty taste in the mouth.

If you bump into me in the newsagent, I'm likely to have The Guardian or The Independent tucked under my arm. If you sneak a look at my RSS reader, you'll see a similar picture. I find the politics and attitudes of these two news sources broadly reflect my own (isn't that the main reason anyone chooses the news provider they do?).

But the front page Wednesday's Independent made me think. To celebrate the 50th birthday of the European Union, the entire front page had been given over to '50 Reasons to Love the EU'. The 'in-your-face' single issue front page has become a trademark of The Independent over recent years, and this was a bold example.

While there were some good points ("Once-poor countries, such as Ireland, Greece and Portugal, are prospering"; "Free medical help for tourists"), many of the 'reasons' were rather tenuous and the facts behind some of their claims a little vague ("Britons now feel a lot less insular"; "British restaurants now much more cosmopolitan").

Some were even contradictory: "Europe is helping to save the planet with regulatory cuts in CO2"; "Europe's single market has brought cheap flights to the masses". No secret had been made of the Independent's enthusiatically pro-european stance. The Indy do as much as admit this with their final point: "Lists like this drive the Eurosceptics mad".

Though I agreed with the majority of the points being made on the front page, I found the approach a bit too close to the opinionated pieces I find myself sneering at in other papers. I wasn't reading anything that challenged me - just my existing views simplified into a tabloid approach.

So I suppose what I like and dislike in a newspaper (or news website) is a combination of two questions: Do I sympathise which the political outlook? And do I appreciate the manner and subtlety with which those views are put across?

Looking at both questions, the likes of the Sun, Mail and Express go straight in the bin, failing instantly on both counts. Papers like the Telegraph and the Times, while seeing some issues from a slightly different perspective to me, are undeniably readable, while the Independent, as we've seen here, manages to take views I share and present them in an increasingly irritating style.

So where does that leave me? With the Guardian, I suppose.

17 March 2007

Stow Me The Money!

howies are a Wales-based clothing company making some very nice stuff aimed at bikers/skaters/paddlers/dreamers who have a few quid in their back pockets. Their approach is very much about having fun and doing the right thing. Their website and catalogues are thought-provoking, entertaining and well worth a read, even if you can't afford their pricey clothes.

They're planning to produce a wallet. If it's anything like their clothes it will be made by hand from sustainable, organic something-or-other, extremely high quality, with a correspondingly significant price tag.

Seems like they want to make this new product right, so they're canvassing public opinion, through their blog.

So here, through my blog, are my replies to their questions:

howies: Who are you?
me: I'm Clive

howies: How old are you?
me: I'm 31 and three quarters

howies: What sports are you into?
me: Mountain biking. I try other stuff now and then, but never very convincingly. In fact, my mountain biking can be pretty unconvincing...

howies: Why do you like howies clothing?
me: Because I just managed to pick up a couple of very nice items in the Brighton sample sale. Plus I like reading the catalogue and the blog. They make me smile.

howies: What kind of wallet do you have or what do you use as a wallet?
me: It's a worn-out, knackered, broken RNLI promotional wallet made from neoprene and a kind of metallic mesh fabric.

howies: Why did you choose that one?
me: It was gift from my parents - big RNLI fans.

howies: What do you love about it?
me: It contains the means to buy beer for me and my friends.. And it's been moulded to the shape of my right buttock by its constant presence in my right back pocket.

howies: What would you change?
me: I would prefer it without the broken zip or the threadbare holes which dispense the contents into my pockets and/or the floor. It has to be tough if it's going to survive. Especially the zipped pocket for change. Zips always break.

howies: What do you keep in your wallet?
me: Not enough money. Too much other crap. Have a look here.

howies: Do you always take it with you?
me: Mostly, yes. I feel naked without it. Sometimes, I try to be clever and just go biking with a credit card wrapped in a tenner, but after the ride it's invariably a week or so before I reunite the card with the wallet, so I'm buggered at the supermarket checkout.

howies: What other stuff do you want to get off your chest?
me: It would be nice if there was no leather in the new wallet. Some of us don't like to buy the stuff, so would be good to see a 100% animal-free solution.

15 March 2007

Bring on the Spring

The arrival of spring, and then summer, has always meant a lot to me, but I've been thinking about it lots recently. Living by the sea it's somehow easier to appreciate the passing of the seasons. Harsh winters of crashing waves and icy cold have to give way, sooner or later, to warm sunshine and long summer evenings.

And so, here we are. At that exciting time of year when summer is easing its way back into our lives. The last five months, mild as this winter has been, have held a routine of chilly mornings, constantly charging bike lights and warm evenings huddled in smoky pubs. (I do notice that the winter doesn't fill me with the same gloom it used to - maybe I'm becoming fonder of the cosy pubs as I grow older...). Next we must re-learn our summer lifestyles; five months of winter is just long enough to forget the simple pleasures of evening beach barbecues and strolling around in shorts and t-shirts. Spring provides us with a chance to remind ourselves how we like to live when the sun shines.

Of course, the passing of the seasons has always been important to us as a society, especially in the days when the production of our food was dependent on it. That's why festivals and celebrations have always marked their passage. From the elaborate festivities of the major religions to the simpler observances of druids and the like, we have always cared about the seasons, however we choose to explain them.

Personally, I like join a group of friends around the time of each equinox (spring and autumn) for our own little tradition:
- our Low Tide Bike Ride.

So when does spring really start? Depends who you ask. The vernal equinox (when the Earth is literally mid-way between its summer and winter positions) is reckoned by astronomers to be the real start of spring. Other folks will wait until our clocks go forward before they recognise the arrival of the new season. Other, more old-fashioned, souls are apparently intent on listening for cuckoos...

But I feel able to announce my own list of signs that winter has passed and spring is ushering in the new summer:
  • The first time I am woken in the morning by the persuasive light from my window, rather than the nagging bleep of an alarm
  • The first time I realise, having woken, that going for a quick ride/run/swim might be a really nice thing to to, rather than an eccentric act of winter bravery
  • The first time I can leave work without having to switch on the bike lights
  • The first time I notice myself sat on Brighton beach in the early evening, with groups of beer-supping friends scattered around the stony beach and the occasional hint of cannabis smoke carried by the sea breeze
  • The first time I find myself getting cross with the amount of rubbish left on the beach each night
  • The first time I notice with admiration how quickly Brighton's litter pickers restore the beach each morning
  • The first weekend evening I ride home past enormous traffic jams clogging every road out of Brighton, as Londoners return from their sunny day by the sea

Solstice Cartwheel
Seeing as I have ticked off all seven of the above, I am utterly convinced that spring is now upon us. Next stop summer.

Now, where did I put that barbecue?

12 March 2007

Keep It Simple, Stupid!

I've just spent the last few weeks trying to re-establish a wireless connection in the flat in which I live. We recently changed broadband providers and the migration from our old set-up to our new one has been less than smooth. Much less.


My competence with computers falls into the category of "enough knowledge to be dangerous". Like weekend fettlers who disassemble the carburettor of their Ford Sierra only to call in the AA on a Monday morning. Or DIY plumbers who proudly finish their new bathroom before receiving agitated reports of leakage from the downstairs neighbours.

If you ask me to fiddle with my network settings, I'll naƮvely wade into my Mac's System Preferences and start fiddling with IP addresses, DNS servers, TCP/IP, PPPoE, MTUs and the like. I just wish I understood it all. Or do I? This is no fun. This is not what computers are for.

For a non-techie like me, it's like entering a bizarre world. It looks like OSX, but gone is the logical simplicity of files, folders, buttons and sliders which usually makes using a Mac so idiot-proof. (On a Windows machine, of course, I'd be patronised beyond belief. "Do you want a 'WizardTM' to help you set up 'My ComputerTM' with one of 'My Special Network PlacesTM'?")

It seems that Apple, smart as ever, already know that things should be easier, so I read with interest that they are working on a cunning plan. I don't fully understand the technical details, but the story on the MacRumors site suggests that plans are afoot to use RFID technology to help networking products exchange basic information with each other, enabling them to then automate the rest of the process. RFID is the whole business of little tags whose embedded information can be simply read by a nearby device. The kind of thing that's currently used to automate regular payments on toll bridges, or to identify stray pets and bicycles to police and thereby reunite them with their owners.

I don't understand the technical intricacies of this RFID idea any further. But that's the whole point - I don't want to!

Imagine if your computer, partner's computer, router, printer and everything else just introduced themselves, Bluetooth style, to each other so you didn't have to worry about IP addresses, manual, DHCP or otherwise. I want setting up my computer and that of my housemate to be as simple as downloading pictures from my camera, deleting some music, or adding to this blog.

Let Apple handle the questions of how that stuff actually works. That's their job - I have better things to do.