30 June 2007

Birthday - Binary, Bikes and Beer

Friday 29th June 2007 was my 32nd birthday. (When bored the previous evening, it occurred to me that if you were into binary, this would actually be my 100000th. Luckily, I'm not into binary...)

A dreary rainy day at work was followed by a beautiful evening. The clouds parted, the sun broke through and the South Downs beckoned Si, Jim and me up towards Devil's Dyke, along to Truleigh Hill, down to Southwick and back to Brighton with roaring tailwind.

I've been playing with Google Maps a little - Here's the route we took

Ended up at the Robin Hood pub by Brighton's Norfolk Square. I've only recently discovered this place. A friendly kind of pub with decent beer, excellent post-ride pizza and some fantastic photography on the walls. Apparently, all the pub's profits go to charity. The three of us sat among Friday night revellers in our sweaty biking gear and were joined by Nic for a few happy pints.

A great birthday evening - a few miles on the hills followed by beers with some of my favourite people.

26 June 2007

Exif Strategy

If you're a bit of a geek, one of the wonders of digital photography isn't just held within the image itself, but in the hidden information which attaches itself to the file and makes its way onto your hard drive along with your photos.

The Exif data held within each file can tell you loads - The type of camera, the date, the shutter speed, aperture and ISO setting are only the beginning.

And this can be useful stuff. Users on sites like Flickr often show the Exif data alongside their photos. Which aperture setting got that amazing depth-of-field? What time of day gave that terrific light? Is that a new camera? EXIF data will tell you.

But is all this information enough? It's already a tempting option, on Flickr and elsewhere, to plot a photo's location on a map, adding further to the wealth of available data. But this must be done manually and can be a laborious process - too much so for many Flickr users.

And even with the addition of geographical data I'm still not sure this is quite enough to reconcile some photos with the unique moments they capture.

So I propose three new data fields to be populated by our cameras. I would ask major camera manufacturers to take heed and consider these suggestions:

1. Location - I can't remember where I was when I took that biking photo. Don't ask me to remember several days later - do it for me. Add the geographical co-ordinates to each of my photos as I take them by using a GPS within my camera.
Nic and Mark

2. Music - What a night! What a nightclub! What dancing! What on earth were we listening to?
I have no idea. But build an extra gizmo into my camera which listens to the tune being played as I press my shutter release, looks it up on the internet, and then embeds this information as EXIF data. Dexy's Midnight Runners? Oh dear...

3. Alcohol - Why is that photo so blurred? Why is the subject's head truncated? Why have I taken 34 photos of the same thing? Am I an adventurous artist or just a drunken buffoon? An in-built breathalyser just beneath the viewfinder will easily allow me to look back at an image with a greater understanding of why I appear to be lying in the floor. "1/60 shutter, f4.5 aperture, 400 ISO and 5 pints of lager: I'm evidently a creative genius!"

If You Love Your Language Set it Free...

In the face of the ever-increasing global dominance of English, the French are known for their determined loyalty to their language.

But despite what some would have you believe, they are able to have a laugh with it too.

These adverts for the french railways' travel website voyages-sncf.com should be read with your best french accent. Which international locations are being advertised with slogan "Luckily, we don't just do trains"?

Yste-en-Boule, not Constantinople

Nouillorc Nouillorc

18 June 2007

National Bike Week Comes to Brighton

National Bike Week began for me this morning at around 4.45am, in the English Channel.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, we will shortly be arriving in Newhaven. Enjoy your stay in England."

On our way back from a two day road jolly in Normandy, Tom, Kieron, Saul and I clattered down to the car deck of the ferry to retrieve our bikes and cover the final 17km of our 200km journey - the short ride from Newhaven back to Brighton.

All weekend, we had been contentedly sharing immaculately surfaced roads with French motorists, appreciating their wide, careful overtaking, their patience at junctions and the sensation of being able to stop at traffic lights without the feeling that the car behind you is attempting to climb into your back pocket.

After two days of blissful French cycling and fitful night's waterborne sleep, we rolled off the ferry back onto rainy British roads, resigned to the fact that, back on home turf, we could no longer expect motorists to notice us or respect us as equal road users. We span home along the coast in the rain with cars and trucks passing us at speed.

I returned to Brighton, snatched an hour's sleep, and then packed my stuff for work, swapped my road bike bike for the usual commuter and set off on my 15 minute ride to work, the sun now shining. Within a minute of leaving the house I was flagged down by a cheerful lady in colourfully branded T-shirt.

She reminded me that, as the first day of National Bike Week, today was the day that Brighton & Hove Council were laying on free breakfasts for cyclists. I was ushered towards a nearby café. Not only was I given a flapjack, some fruit and a cup of tea, but a spare bike light and, bizarrely, some Body Shop foot lotion also made it into my courier bag, courtesy of the council. A lively jazz band was playing while free of charge bike maintenance checks were carried out.

I met Dean Spears, Brighton council's cycling mastermind, who told me about the new Journey On website and assured me that our local authority is doing all it can to encourage and enable cycling, as the best mode of transport for our crowded city. Facilities for cyclists in Brighton are relatively good, but they could surely be much much better, so I hope his mission is succesful.

Some of the best documenters of the inconsistencies of British cycle facilities is Brightonian Fred Pipes, whose superb Weird Cycle Lanes blog today points out a straightforward Guardian piece by Emily Thornberry MP, picking apart some of the oft-quoted objections to cycle commuting.

As a cyclist, particularly a commuter, it is easy, so easy, to focus on the negative. Inconsiderate driving, poor roads and the commonly-held perception that cycling is solely for eccentrics can make a British cyclist defensive, perhaps too much so. Events like Critical Mass do wonders for awareness of the power imbalance on British roads, but a lot of their energy lies in the implied confrontation between the needs of the cyclist and the needs of the motorist.

The great thing about this morning's breakfast event, with its music, good food and warm welcome was that it focussed on the positive and it made me smile. It made other cyclists smile, passers by smile and, I hope, motorists smile. Cycling shouldn't be about making a stand and being different. It should be about feeling able to choose a mode of transport which, for most people, offers so many benefits; not least of which is the valuable chance to arrive at work on a Monday morning with a smile on your face.