Monthly Archives: June 2012

June 2012 Round-up

Well, June turned out to be a wee bit wet. And when I say “a wee bit wet”, I mean please stop raining, please, aaarrrggggh.

But as I write this, it’s currently not actually raining, so maybe July will turn out drier[1]. Anyway, it’s the end of the month, and time for the usual report.


June 1: 220.4 pounds (15 stone 10.4 pounds, 100 kg)
June 25[2]: 224.8 pounds (16 stone 0.8 pounds, 102 kg)

Oh dear. That’s a rise of 4.4 pounds (2 kg), which I’ll blame on the rain, and it not being an actual end of month measurement, so there.


Bit of a mixture here – I have cut back on the excess stuff at lunchtime a bit. Though as I’m on holiday, extra eating may be happening.


Once again, I managed a total lack of walking to or from work. Some of the blame belongs to the rain, but mostly it’s me not being motivated. Except on the wet days, where I’m quite sure I would have walked if it hadn’t been so damn wet.  :yes:  I did manage a few lunchtime walks, which my Garmin logs tell me came to a not particularly impressive 12 miles or so. Some walking has been going on in Wales, though.


I seem to be in posting mode again – this report brings June’s total to 63, the highest since October last year.


Holiday! Woo! Hoo!

[1] Yeah, right….
[2] Last day I weighed myself this month

Stuff Report – 30 June 2012: North Wales Day 4

Today’s activity started with a trip to the Welsh Mountain Zoo at Colwyn Bay. This was well worth a visit, especially as the rain managed to restrict itself to the odd, and generally light shower. A full report will follow when I’ve got a chance to sort out all the pictures on a full-sized screen, but for now, here are a couple of highlights.

The Humboldt Penguins can be seen from an underwater window, which let me get this shot:

Humboldt Penguin

Humboldt Penguin

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Aperture: ƒ/7.1
Shutter speed: 1/320s
Focal length: 75mm
ISO: 200
Taken: 30 June, 2012
Location: 53° 17.6917′ 0″ N 3° 44.9591′ 0″ W

I think I might be sorting out a print of that one.

I was also pleased to the the Sumatran Tigger Tiger, who seemed to be in sleepy cat mode, complete with tail twitching:

Sleepy kitty

Sleepy kitty

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Aperture: ƒ/5.6
Shutter speed: 1/500s
Focal length: 105mm
ISO: 200
Taken: 30 June, 2012
Location: 53° 17.6917′ 0″ N 3° 44.9591′ 0″ W

From the zoo, we headed to Conwy for lunch and a wander round the castle and part of the town. Then we had a scenic drive partly along the coast, passing Penmaenmawr, which is one of my favourite Welsh place names.

More pictures to come!

The Baghdad Railway Club – Andrew Martin

After beating my brains about with the Cryptonomicon, I was happy to read something which required a little less effort, and the latest in Andrew Martin’s Jim Stringer series was just the thing.

After being wounded in the leg during the events of The Somme Stations, Jim’s been promoted to Captain, and after a bit of officer training, finds himself summoned to London, where he’s given a special mission. Yes, Jim is now working for military intelligence, and he has to find out what, apart from heat and flies, is going on in Baghdad.

It all starts to unravel when he finds his contact has been murdered. Much of the usual fun and games follows, with trains into the desert, a quite impressively egotistical film maker, and the usual levels of misdirection and confusion.

This time round, when the final confrontation happens, Jim’s even more confused than normal, thanks to a slight case of malaria, but somehow survives to make it back to York. And it’s back at York that he finally learns what’s really been going on.

As always, Jim is aided by his wife Lydia, and a nice collection of guest characters. Good fun, like the rest of the series – and if you haven’t read the rest, you won’t be too confused if you start here.

This is an ex-MiFi – or is it?

After providing sterling service on a few trips, not to mention emergency internet access when my broadband has been down, it looks like my MiFi has developed a problem. It started last night, when my MacBook suddenly lost the ability to connect to anything. Google Chrome suggested it was a DNS problem, but I’n not convinced it was that specific. It was more the phenomenon of having a live WiFi connection to a router (in this case the MiFii), with the router claiming it’s connected to the internet, but no actual data passes through it.

I’ve seen this once or twice before with these devices, and the usual trick of pulling to battery out, calling it a few rude names and replacing the battery normally fixes it. Well, the first time, it did. For a short time, that is. After that it went off again, and no amount of restarting devices would persuade it to return to life.

Now ordinarily, that would be a Very Bad Thing. Les with no internet is about as bad as Les without coffee.

But my iPhone 4S can be used “tethered” – that is, it can share its 3G connection over WiFi (or cable, or bluetooth, if that’s what you prefer). But wait, I hear you say – isn’t that expensive? Well, that depends. On some contracts, tethering is forbidden. On others, you have to pay extra. But on mine, it’s included. Aha! I hear you say – isn’t there some arbitrary cap on that? Don’t you start getting charged after reading a few emails? Well, as it happens, I’d checked that not long ago. And here’s what those nice Three people say about their “all you can eat” internet component of their One Plan, which as I’ve mentioned, does apply to tethered use:

Even if you used your phone for every minute of every day you could only possibly use, subject to traffic management requirements and policy, up to 1000GB each month.  So in a sense, there is a data limit of up to 1000GB, which is based on what you can physically use.

Yes, that’s right – the only limit is the limit of how much data you can actually squeeze through a mobile connection.

So, I hear you ask, this tethering thing is probably slower than the MiFi, right? Errr, well, no. Well, maybe not slower than the latest model of MiFi (not the one I have). If anything, it’s a wee bit quicker using the iPhone 4S than my second-generation MiFi.

So, that leaves one question: why the photon have I continued using the MiFi, and paying moderate amounts of money for data, instead of carrying one less device, once less cable and not spending more money. Hmm. Now that’s a good question. Habit, I guess.

The only downside is that using the iPhone as a router totally hammers the battery – after being connected for a couple of hours this evening, the battery had dropped to 9% and it had stopped doing much in the way of transferring data. So, make sure you have a USB cable or a charger  handy.

As it’s eighteen months old, I think I’ll just retire the MifFi now. Should have done it earlier, and saved a bit of money…

Update: 30 June 2012 – Ah. Maybe it’s some weird 3 network thing. This morning, I’m getting the non-connection thing with the iPhone, and the MiFi is letting me connect.  I’m officially confused. If the devices were using different networks, it might make sense..

Stuff Report – 29 June 2012: North Wales Day 3

Today’s fun started at Porthmadog, where we took a trin on the Ffestiniog Railway to Blaneau Ffestiniog. The plan was to catch a friendly bus to a nearby slate mine for a tour. But the bus was either hiding or altogether elsewhere, so we decided to get back on the train and return to Porthmadog. It was a nice ride through some lovely (and generally quite visible!) scenery, so that was fine. Once of the most scenic aspects of the trip was the engine:

Iarll Meirionnydd

Iarll Meirionnydd

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Aperture: ƒ/8
Shutter speed: 1/80s
Focal length: 32mm
ISO: 200
Taken: 29 June, 2012
Location: 52° 59.6767′ 0″ N 3° 56.2427′ 0″ W

This is one of the railway’s distinctive double Fairlie engines. I’d seen one in the National Railway Museum in York, but it was much better to see this one in steam and working well.

After a good lunch in the Harbour Restaurant, we went on a bit of a tour of the Llyn Peninsua, stopping off in a few locations, the details of which will appear, with the pictures, when I’m on a fixed connection.

More tomorrow…

I seem to have missed some rain…

ShowersIt’s been a bit wet here in North Wales, and it was more than a little bit wet in Newcastle and Gateshead of late, but it seems today was something exceptional – massive thunderstorms, flooding in places you wouldn’t believe could flood, Roads closed, Metro not running, and from the reports I’ve seen, more chaos than there’s been in a very long time.

So to all my local readers – hope you’re OK, guys. And err, I hope my house hasn’t washed away. Should be OK, it’s on highish ground, but you never know….

Stuff Report – 28 June 2012: North Wales Day 2

Having suffered a bit of a weather problem when we took the train to the top of Snowdon last year, we agreed that we should give it another try. Today was the day we booked. and it started a bit dull and damp. We got to the train, and found it was a lot less crowded this time.

It started to rain once we were on board. And as the train rose up the mountain, visibility went from poor to an almost total white-out. On arrival at the summit, the rain was lashing down, so we once again declined to step outside the cafe. On the way back down, the sky began to clear, of course. I think Snowdon’s got it in for us….

After that, we went to Electric Mountain. This is a vistor centre which offers guided tours of the Dinorwig Pumped Storage power station. We took the tour, which was impressive – I’d love to show you some pictures, but cameras, phones, bags, and indeed many other things were not allowed for the usual security reasons. Good tour – well worth a visit if you’re in the vicinity. And it’s much drier than the top of Snowdon, despite working with enormous volumes of water every day.

We then had a quick visit to Penrhyn Castle. It was too late in the day to go into the castle itself, but we had a good wander around it, and enjoyed the railway collection there. Geoff was impressed by the first sign of actual sunshine:

The sun!!!

The sun!!!

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Aperture: ƒ/4
Shutter speed: 1/2000s
Focal length: 28mm
ISO: 200
Taken: 28 June, 2012
Location: 53° 13.5019′ 0″ N 4° 5.5555′ 0″ W

From there, we went back to the B&B, and after a short rest, walked down to the Lemon Tree on Penhryndeudraeth High Street for some excellent Indian food.

More pictures when I’m back on my full-speed broadband connection.

Stuff Report – 27 June 2012: North Wales Day 1

Woo hoo! My brother[1] and I are once again on our annual tour. Having had such a good time in North Wales last year, and having realised that we needed to spend more time in some of the places that we’d visited briefly, we’ve returned to the same B&B we stayed in last time. But let’s not get too far ahead – we took a scenic route to get here, first going to the Gwili Steam Railway near Carmarthen. We took a scenic ride through some lovely scenery, with a stop for coffee on the way back.

From there, we headed up through more scenery, passing through Devil’s Bridge to Bwlch Nant yr Arian, a Foresty Commission centre which offers a cafe, activities for the energetic and stunning views, including the opportunity to observe red kites. Even though it was an overcast day, we could make out Aberystwyth in the distance, with Cardigan Bay beyond. As the kites weren’t flying very low, the best shots I could get of those were silhouettes against the overcast sky.

After lunch at the cafe, we carried on, with a few pauses to photograph particularly nice scenery. This included a brief stop at Barmouth, where I might have caught a good view of the famous bridge, and finally a visit to Harlech to look at the castle. Last time, the rain drove us away, but today was much better, and I was able to get some pictures of the castle from a variety of angles.

We then went on to Porthmadog before ending up in Penrhyndeudraeth.

Lots of pictures will follow when I’m not on a 3G connection, but here’s one for now. This quite lovely dragon seems to be guarding a caravan site, and is beautifully positioned so Harlech Castle can be seen behind it.

Harlech Dragon

Harlech Dragon

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Aperture: ƒ/16
Shutter speed: 1/50s
Focal length: 67mm
ISO: 200
Taken: 27 June, 2012
Location: 52° 51.7665′ 0″ N 4° 6.895′ 0″ W

[1] Hi Geoff!  :wave:

Cryptonomicon – Neal Stephenson

This is one of those books that’s been on my mental list of things I really need to read for, err, well, must be quite a few years. Everything I’d heard about it made me think it would be exactly the kind of thing I’d like, but somehow I never got round to getting hold of it. I’m not sure if it was general tuitness, or the size of the thing – over 900 pages in paperback, though that’s never put me off Peter F Hamilton’s doorstep-sized novels.

After a while, I decided that I’d hold out for the Kindle edition, as holding large books for long periods seems like a strange thing to do these days. But was it available? Was it heck as like. But at some point, I came across a digital copy, which I started to read, telling myself that I’d buy a real version (in dead tree if I had to) later.

Now there are long books where the pages fly by, and even though there may be multiple plot threads to follow, you don’t have to put in too much effort. Cryptonomicon is not one of those books. I’m usually a pretty quick reader, and even with limited reading time most days, I can get through most books in a matter of days, or maybe a week or two for something unusually long. This took me almost a month to finish, and it’s already on my mental list of things I’ll have to read again because I probably missed some stuff the first time. It took me so long to read it that while I wasn’t paying attention, the Kindle version came out, which I’ve just bought, so my informal copy can now be disposed of, and my book-buying conscience is clear. I’m just glad I didn’t have to salve my conscience by buying a printed version…

Anyway, what’s it about? Well, fundamentally, it’s about cryptography, cryptanalysis, war, greed, human nature, love and extreme geekiness. There are multiple threads, which can be split into two sections:

  1. An assortment of viewpoint characters interacting before and during World War II. Includes a guest appearance or two from your actual Alan Turing.
  2. A contemporary operation to set up a data haven in the far east, which involves some characters related to or descended from some of the characters in the wartime parts

Of course, it’s not that simple. The action switches back and forward in time within these threads, and only very gradually does the connection between the separate threads become apparent. And in both threads, people make use of, and even add to, the Cryptonomicon itself – not so much a book as a collection of writings on codes, cypers and the mathematics of cryptography.

There are digressions into more detail of cryptography than some people might like, but it’s worth sticking with it.

And there are signs that this story is not set in our version of history at all. Subtle ones like the place English speakers usually call “Japan” is always referred to as “Nippon”, and less subtle ones like the islands of Inner and Outer Qwghlm, set somewhere of the northwest of Britain.

Working out what’s going on is a huge part of the fun, and finding the critical link between the two historical periods is a moment of glorious revelation, until the other link, which has been hidden in plain sight comes out into the open.

I’m not going into a plot summary, as it would take far too long, and either my fingers or your eyes would wear out before I finished it, and I’m not going into details of the characters either. What I will give you is a couple of quotes, which give some flavour of the writing:

Waterhouse did not know until now that his head was damaged, which stands to reason, in that your head is where you know things, and if it’s damaged, how can you know it?

Good point, that, and well worth remembering. Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse (frequently referred to by his full name, for reasons that may or may not make sense) is one of the key characters in the World War II sections of the story. His grandson Randall Lawrence Waterhouse (usually referred to as Randy, but sometimes given his full name) is the focal character in the contemporary sections.

Waterhouse is thinking about cycles within cycles. He’s already made up his mind that human society is one of those cycles-within-cycles things and now he’s trying to figure out whether it is like Turing’s bicycle (works for a while, then suddenly the chain falls off, hence the occasional world war) or like an Enigma machine (grinds away incomprehensibly for along time then suddenly the wheels line up like a slot machine and everything is made plain in some sort of global epiphany, or if you prefer, apocalypse) or just like a rotary airplane engine (runs and runs and runs; nothing special happens; it just makes a lot of noise.

I love that. The bit about Turing’s bicycle refers to an interesting mathematical diversion that isn’t a long away away from Enigma.

I loved this book. Should have read it years ago. The only trouble is that now I’m going to have to tackle Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle – three books of similar size to this one which form an extended prequel, featuring ancestors of at least some of the principal characters.  Though I think I’ll give my brain a rest and read some less demanding books first. Having finished the Cryptonomicon early this morning, I’m already about a third through the next one on my list – admittedly it’s a much shorter book, but it’s taking less concentration…