Why so negative, forecast.io?

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Something that’s been puzzling me for a while is the way some of the weather apps I use  – as well as my default weather web site (and web app) — tend to give a negative outlook, even when the weather is going to be pretty good.

I stopped using Weather Line, which I thought was great at first, because it kept misleading me about the weather, and I was making decisions and plans based on overly pessimistic assessment of the outlook. The final straw was when I left my bike at home last half-term holiday, because my weather app convinced me that it would be raining all the time. In fact, it wasn’t. In actual fact, it only rained all day on one of the days of that whole week.

Just recently, the bright summer and sunny days we’ve been having have been described as mostly cloudy throughout the day. Sure, there were clouds in the sky, there were very few days of unbroken blue sky, but on the whole the weather was great.

Forecast.io is often the source of the weather data. It’s a pretty accurate site, but you have to dig into it to know what’s really happening. Take, for example, the screen grab above. It shows the weather at our place in France for next week. Hmm. The little icons on the left indicate rain, rain, and more rain. So much is expected in that part of France. Such forecasts are why I left my bike at home that time.

Expand the view of one of the days, however, and you will discover this.

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Thursday. Cloud/rain icon. “Drizzle starting in the evening.” Min temperature 15°C, Max 25°C. Oh, and CLEAR THROUGHOUT THE DAY UNTIL ABOUT 7 IN THE EVENING, AT WHICH POINT YOU MIGHT GET A LITTLE BIT OF RAIN.

Now, I don’t know about you, but if I was told that Thursday was going to be sunny all day, until evening, and a balmy 25°, I’d be pretty happy. But if I just glanced at the unexpanded view? Well, I’d certainly not be planning a bike ride, a hike, or a barbecue, or a yard sale, would I?

If a day is going to be 80% clear, I would like to know that, please, and not be misled by a pessimistic icon. Weather apps need to lighten up!

Why do I still blog?

empty_chairs_audience1Just read this slightly depressing article about blogging in the Graun and some of the (equally depressing) comments beneath it, and it made me wonder, why do I still blog?

You can place the emphasis on a number of different words in the question: placing it on do, for example, is to assert that you are in fact continuing to blog, in spite of all the evidence of it being pointless, and you’re explaining why. Placing it on I might indicate a me-too response to the original Graun post, which is from a blogger who has come to accept that the single-digit page views simply mean that a blog now is a more private means of communication than Twitter or Facebook. With the emphasis on the why, it becomes more existential: perhaps this is pointless, and maybe I’ll just stop.

In the end, economics might dictate the end of blogging, rather than people. Once WordPress can’t support itself, they’ll shut up shop. As soon as Google decides that Blogger isn’t a profitable part of its business, they’ll abandon it like they do all their other failed experiments. Running a blogging platforms costs money.

I’ve posted before how blogging has taught me humility. That’s one of the reasons I continue. I decided to self-publish my novels because I accepted it was the only way I’d ever see anything I’d written on sale.

Some people’s idea of blogging is that “it’s a bunch of thoughts that don’t fit anywhere else”, but for me there never really was an anywhere else, and blogging has given me the outlet I’ve always needed for my head full of thoughts. From the age of 16 into my mid-20s, I kept a diary, and then I stored things on floppy disks and hard drives for a few years.

Every now and then, I would destroy my diaries, commit diary suicide, and every now and then I commit blog suicide. Frequently Arsed is just the latest in a long line of blogs that I’ve kept since 2003. I’ll have no sentimentality about culling it when the time comes. I’m boring, my blog is boring, and when it becomes so boring that I want to destroy it, I will.

I recently killed two of my semi-professional blogs, and made the last surviving one (the Media one) private. This particular cull was in response to work-related bullshit. I’ve also got a secret blog which gets zero views, and which allows me to express thoughts I cannot display here, with all the filters off.

There’s a paradox, isn’t there, in the idea of a secret but nevertheless public blog? I think a non-writer would find it puzzling. A private blog would allow me to write anything I want without any fear of discovery. But the anonymity of a secret blog allows me the edge of a potential, if imaginary audience. My Media blog is private (except to subscribers) only because I wanted the years of content to remain there against the day when the bullshit régime at my place of employment passes, as all things must. Keeping the secret blog public makes a difference, I think, to the way I write. If I really thought I was the only person who would ever read it, I might not ever get around to writing it down. And writing it down helps me to come to terms with thoughts, ideas, and emotions that would otherwise be ricocheting around my head, driving me crazy with their repetitious and broken patterns.

I put the repetitious and broken patterns out there, and then when I can see them clearly and become bored by them, I can safely delete them. You can’t delete thoughts from your head without somehow coming to terms.

In terms of the secret blog this is of paramount importance. My internet motto is, nobody cares what you think. Writing stuff down that nobody ever reads is confirmation of this motto. When you can come to terms with the idea that nobody cares what you think, you can proceed with caution. I am probably the biggest reader of my own blog, and I do in fact quite enjoy reading back over what I was doing a year or two ago. While I do still enjoy doing that, I won’t delete this particular slice of internet boredom.

So, in answer to the question: I blog because blogging keeps teaching me lessons in humility. People who can write as well as you are common. Nobody cares what you think. There is no audience. There are no comments. Sometimes this is depressing, sometimes it is curiously liberating.

Super Flykly

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I’ve been trying to persuade my wife for a while that she wants an electric bicycle. In my mind, this is the only way that she and I could ever go on a bike ride together. Most e-bikes are limited to 15 mph, which just happens to be my top (average) speed on a good day. I figure she could pace me up the hills and freewheel down the other side.

There are three problems with electric bikes, though.

  1. They’re ugly
  2. They’re heavy
  3. They’re expensive

The ugliness is very hard to get past.

dimanche_28_silver

Take the Dimanche, there from Moustache bikes, one of the trendier brands. I don’t like the bike design to start with, nor the tyres, but my opinion matters not. I know my wife wouldn’t like the looks of this. Leaving that aside, the elephant in the room is the great big chunk of motor attached to the bottom, with a big battery glommed onto the down tube (and no room for a drink?). And even if you can get past all that, the Moustache would set you back (sit down for this) £3250. Yikes! What you’re paying for is quality: Shimano 105 gearing (what you get on a £1000 road bike, basically), a 350w motor that can manage up to (an illegal) 25 mph, and an extended range (up to 80 miles, if you dial down the assistance) for longer rides.

It weighs 18.1 kg, though, about twice the weight of a half-decent bike.

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At the low end of the market, you get something like the B’Twin (Decathlon) 7E, which is just €1000, but weighs even more (26.5 kg) and with a 250w motor is less powerful, with a reduced range (30 miles, maybe?) and can only manage 300 or so charge-discharge battery cycles.

It turns out, of course, that both these high-end and low-end machines are dinosaurs, because the future of electric bikes is surely going to be in the form of something like the Copenhagen Wheel or the Flykly (pictured at the top of the post).

The FlyKly comes as a trendy hipster bike ($1800 is the US price, all in), or a replacement wheel ($800) that you can put on just about any bike. It comes in a range of colours, and adds just 3kg of weight. It’ll give you a push up to 15 mph, and recharge itself as you go downhill. It works with a smartphone app which allows you to customise how it works, lock it, and trace it should it be stolen.

Flykly is on its way to Europe. It means that bike you’ve got in the garage that nobody rides can be given a new lease of life. Or it means you can pick a bike you like the look of and just replace one of the wheels. It means being able to ride to work without breaking a sweat, and it means being able to join your family on a pleasant ride in the countryside without it becoming an ordeal.

This tech can only get better, and lighter, which means you’re always going to be in the position of wondering whether you should wait before spending your money. I’d say we’re no more than a year away from the technology being good enough.

Le Groupthink du Cyclisme

Because I work in education, I know all about the groupthink. The desire for harmony or conformity results in irrational or dysfunctional decision-making: to the maximum extent. As a lifelong contrarian, I always resist the groupthink, which has, natch, made me unpopular among the kind of people for whom the hobgoblin of consistency is an obsession.

Groupthinkers need someone like me heckling from the sidelines, outside the tent pissing in, but they don’t seem to appreciate it.

I’ve spotted a minor (and non-dysfunctional) example of groupthink among the Tour de France cyclists.Richie+Porte+La+Fleche+Wallonne+Cycle+Road+6P7niGIMHrbl

There’s a phenomenon in business, where people of different nationalities get together and the only language they share in common is a kind of simplified English. International Business English. And should an actual English person be present at one of these meetings, the person who understands the least is the English person, because he/she doesn’t speak the lingo.

In cycling, many of the peloton speak or understand a little of the English. Some, like Contador or Nibali, will listen to a question in English, then answer it in Spanish or Italian. Good for them. Others, like Peter Sagan, Andre Greipel or Thomas Voeckler, will answer the question in International Cycling English. A typical answer might go like this:

“It was a good stage, and, er, we worked really hard… and, er, yeah. It was a good stage… yeah. Yeah. And… yeah.”

Or, “It was a hard day today, and, yeah, there were many accidents, and, er, yeah, and I managed to stay out of trouble… yeah. Yeah.”

The yeah acts as a kind of punctuation, a signal to the interviewer that we have reached the end of the English for that particular question.

So the phenomenon I have noted is that, unlike the businessperson who hasn’t bothered to learn International Business English, all of the cyclists, including the English-speaking ones (British, Australian, American, Irish) speak the International Cycling English.

Ask Richie Port a question:

“Yeah… it was a tough stage, really glad it’s over, and… yeah. Yeah.”

Hilarious.

 

The Tour of Franks – so far (#TdF)

Tour_de_France_map_2014_fullIn hindsight, it really seems as if Team Sky might have been better off taking both Wiggo and Froom and assuming that one or both of them might have fallen off in the first week.

This year’s Tour de France course seems to have been designed to make it difficult for either Wiggins or Froom to win. With just one time trial, there are few other opportunities to take time away from the less powerful bird-like mountain specialists such as Contador and Nibali, the king of descending. Nibali has got some form at time trials, but has also lost up to two minutes in the past.

stick-figure-cycling-boy-mounted-bike-sport-leisure-concept-35357676Looking at the stick-like Froom (pictured right), it seems inevitable, in hindsight, that something would snap. Stage 4, the one with the cobbles, was just waiting to break him. It’s ironic, of course, that he was out of the race before even reaching the cobbles, but then steering round corners in the wet is hard enough with two hands, let alone one. It was the day before, when he injured his left wrist, that did for him. No way was he going to survive the cobbles with one hand only loosely holding the bars. If I’d been him I might have thrown myself off before reaching them, too.

Stage 4 had the same effect as a time trial: creating time gaps that might last till the end of the race, or which will encourage exciting attacks in the mountains. Better than a second time trial, it benefited a different type of rider, making this years TdF course fairer overall than one with two time trials and a team time trial, as races in the past have had.

This year there seem already to have been a good number of flat stages, and the cobbles, and three mountain ranges to come. It’s a good mix.

I thought the opening two days in Yorkshire looked great, whereas London, like all big conurbations, just doesn’t really suit cycling because of all the street furniture, tall buildings etc.. But the crowds were impressive, and good on them for being willing to stand at the side of the road for such a long time. Cycling is a sport that takes some getting into, not as easy to understand as a sport involving just two teams and a couple of goals/baskets. To get that it’s both a team and an individual sport, and that winning a stage is Quite a Big Thing, even if you don’t win the overall race, is one thing. To get that there are different types of specialist rider and that teams work to help their leader or their sprinter at different times is another. Because of the shocking neglect of road racing in Britain over the years (basically, cycling clubs were never allowed to run proper road races and had to confine themselves to time trials and hill climbs), it has taken quite a long time (since the 2008 Olympics) for the British public to start getting road racing.

Anyway, the Nibbler (not his actual nickname, just a gift from me) had a good first week, but no eventual winner wants to be in yellow so soon. Who knows, though? His rivals are literally falling by the wayside, and very few people are left to challenge him.

Pure Jongo T2

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 10.43.28In my never-ending quest for a reasonable iPhone speaker at a reasonable price, I wandered in the John Lewis the other day to see what was available in Clearance. I noticed they had a JBL OnBeat Rumble, for example, but the thing looks HUGE.

It’s quite surprising how much stuff John Lewis seems to sell that comes back. A lot of the items had been marked as pre-owned, with no mention of the reason for their return.

There were a couple of Pure Jongo T2 speakers, for example. The Clearance price was £85. That there were two made me think that someone had maybe bought them thinking to have a multi-room setup, or a linked stereo pair. Maybe it was all a bit of a pain to set up and they brought them back. Stranger things have happened.

I went over to the ones on display and (easily) connected my iPhone to the T2 using Bluetooth and auditioned it with three or four songs from my phone. I was in a shop and it wasn’t an ideal environment, but it sounded OK. My ears officially give out at 16kHz, so I’m hardly the most discerning listener. What I look for is a decent amount of volume without distortion and without a flubby or boomy bottom end. I like the bass to sound nicely rounded and in harmony with the mid-high frequencies.

Looking at the price, I noticed that the new ones were going for £79.95, about £5 cheaper than the pre-owned ones in Clearance. John Lewis must be on a price promise, I thought. I wonder how much they’ll knock off the sale items? So I asked. They said they’d do them for £70. Well, for an extra ten quid, I decided to get a new one. I had some vouchers.

I’ve already got a JBL Airplay speaker, and a cheap ‘n’ nasty Bluetooth thing I keep in France. It was this latter I was thinking to replace. I like to use it in the bathroom or kitchen to listen to podcasts, but it’s pretty hopeless for music. The good news, straight out of the box, is that the Jongo T2 comes with a Euro adapter as well as a British one. That makes life simpler in France, where we have a limited number of plug adapters and hate buying more.

Bluetooth connection is what I wanted, because in France we have no WiFi, and are unlikely to get it any time soon. Now that the Three network is letting me use up to 25GB of data without extra charge, I’ll be happy (as long as I get some kind of coverage on our mountain).

But in the UK, I thought I’d try the wifi connectivity of the Jongo.

Oh dear. In a bid to be multi-platform, Pure don’t support AirPlay. Fair enough. They have their own Pure Connect app, which you have to download. And that’s where your problems begin. First thing it asks you to do is log in. They have some kind of music streaming service. Hmm. I’m never impressed with these. In the UK there is insufficient Country music available, so I’d rather stick with my own stuff. But 90% of the app seems dedicated to this online content. Well, dismiss that. Let’s connect the Jongo to wifi.

Like the JBL speaker I have plugged into the wall, it starts off with its own wifi network, which you have to connect to in order to configure it and enter the password for your own. Having done that, and with your phone back on your own wifi, the Jongo tries to connect to your wifi. Having succeeded in that, it immediately wants to download a software update to itself. This takes quite a long time, and the power button flashes different colours to let you know it’s still happening. I can see how even this part of the process might lead some people to just pack the thing back into its box and take it straight back to the shop. Too fucking hard.

This better be worth it, you’re thinking.

With the update installed, you then launch the app and it looks for compatible speakers. After one fail, it discovers the Jongo. Now starts the fun, as you try to figure out how to  get your fucking music playing over the air. The manual isn’t much help here. Click the mysterious symbol. You see some sort of progress thing spinning as it tries to connect. Meanwhile, the app is unresponsive. Where is your music? You have to hunt for it, ignoring all the online crap. If you go into Offline Mode, the app becomes even more unresponsive, and you have to go back into the Online Mode you weren’t using for your music to display. But the phone, even though it knows the Jongo is there and is supposedly connected to it, still can’t play music to the speaker. You get the Pure equivalent of the SBoD (or SPoD). You get a largely white screen with a play-stop button that does nothing, and volume sliders (two!) that do nothing.

Eventually you give up on the phone and try on your iPad. For some reason, this works better. Huh. Trying again on the phone this morning, still no action. Furthermore, Bluetooth wouldn’t work either. So I delete the app, unplug and restart the speaker, tell my phone to “forget” the previous Bluetooth pairing, and try again. Success. We’re on Bluetooth. We won’t bother with the shit app.

And now we know why there were a couple of pre-owned ones on sale in the John Lewis Clearance.

It doesn’t look good for Pure because it looks like these things are flaky and have problems. And it’s not because the hardware is bad, it’s because the Pure software is bad. And that’s why Apple trounces everybody in this area. Apple control the whole experience with good software.

My advice to Pure: swallow your pride, and support AirPlay.

You changed, M&S? I hadn’t noticed

Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 20.34.29Apparently I’m supposed to have noticed that Marks and Spencer has a new web site. The shareholders are up in arms, it says here, about the underperformance of the company. Well, christ. The screenshot above shows, not the home page, but the page you get to when you click on Men in the top menu and then “Formal Shirts”.

The problem for me is that this splash doesn’t show me anything or tell me anything useful. Who reads the blurb about formal shirts? If someone has clicked the link, it’s not because they need to be told, “Our smart formal shirts cater for everything from the boardroom to black tie. Versatile colours, stripes and checks are the perfect partners to smart tailoring, while our dinner and dress shirts are formal essentials.”

(Someone was paid to write that, presumably. M&S could have saved the five pence and just shown some, you know, product.) You have to scroll down to the product, but now that I do so I’m already a bit annoyed because it feels like they’re trying to force me to admire their web site design. When I do scroll down, I can see no more than three shirts at a time. This doesn’t feel like enough. The left-hand menu allows me to filter down by size, and (roughly) by colour and by various other categories. But to do that successfully, you need to sort of know what you’re looking for.

Let’s say I’m looking for a plain, non-patterned shirt. I hate stripes and I hate check. I can’t be alone in this. I like colour but if I’m wearing a stripy tie, and I have a lot of stripy ties, I want a plain backdrop to it. To find “plain”, I have to scroll down and guess that it’s going to be under the category of “Design”, and to explode that I have to click on its little black arrow. This reduces the number of shirts to 161. Let’s say I’m in the market for a green shirt. So I now select the green colour swatch, and I’m left with this:

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The one on the left is Aqua. Doesn’t look green to me. The one on the right is checked (and short sleeved), which doesn’t look very plain. Which leaves the one in the middle, which is a light green colour and “tailored fit” whatever the fuck that means when you’re buying ready-to-wear. A close up of the fabric reveals this:

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Which is a bit, um, textured and patterny for my taste. Okay. Maybe green was too hard. Lets try orange. Similar story. This time I’m reduced to one shirt, similar to the green one, and it’s, um, coral (pink) not orange.

Well, shit.

So now I give up and go on the Banana Republic web site.

In all of this, I should say that the experience of hunting for a decent shirt that doesn’t make you look like a Tory cunt  is exactly the same as it was before they spent £150 million on a revamp. What did they change? The mobile site scales okay. Three taps to Formal Shirts, once it has loaded, but then you have the fiddly problem of searching for a plain shirt.

As for the stores, the experience is terrible. Entering the men’s department feels like entering the aftermath of an explosion in a sweatshop warehouse. You feel you ought to be wearing breathing apparatus and carrying an axe. There are too many products, too many ranges, too many collections. What’s the difference between Autograph and Collezione, or between both of those and Savile Row Inspired, or M & S Collection? What’s the difference between Blue Harbour and North Coast? Nobody knows, and, here’s a news flash for Marks and Spencer: nobody cares. Those Collezione clothes do not look particularly Italian or stylish.

Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 20.55.38Anyway, this is before you get to the main reason any man would enter Marks and Spencer in the first place: socks and underwear. They lost the plot on socks years ago, and I can date it precisely: the problem is Lycra™. The socks in the 80s were quite good. They had a good range of colours, they were cotton, they washed well, they lasted ages, and they were comfortable to wear. As soon as they started adding 1% elastane and moved their manufacturing overseas, they became too stretchy, uncomfortable on the feet after a day’s wear, and the sizing deteriorated. I’m angry with M&S for not understanding something as basic as how they fucked up their socks. They don’t need and never did need Lycra. There are also too many, far too many, different ranges of similar socks. This is the illusion of choice. A real choice would be with Lycra and without. And the same goes for underwear. You go into the underwear section, and six  months later a search party comes in, attached to ropes, and finds you standing, bewildered, in front of the array of trunks briefs and shorts, unable to choose and unable to find that thing you had before that was okay, yeah, I’ll just have that, but where is it?

They need one leisure range, one smart/business range, and one stylish/fashion range. Why do they have so many? And what the fuck’s up with all the fucking jumpers? And all the trousers??? Fucking hell, why do they ever include red trousers in their collection? They always end up in the sale, which is the only time anyone ever buys them.

Plot. Lost. The above advice, free of charge. Marks and Spencer: you know you need me.

 

David Harmer

Author, Poet, Lecturer and Consultant in Drama, Writing and Oracy

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