Friday, 10 July 2015

See you in showbusiness

Two things of note happened at work this week.

On Wednesday I marked 13 years working at Eldon > Echostar > SmarDTV. This is cause for reflection as a hell of a lot of things have happened in this time. Just mentally listing them is almost overwhelming. Suffice to say I'm very happy with where I am right now.

However, things change. Buddhism observes that change is the only constant in the universe. It is how we deal with that change that defines us. We can fight it or embrace it but acceptance of change itself is an important step, rather like an addict admitting they have a problem. Not that accepting change is easy, quite the opposite.

Lord Vetinari once said "If it continues long enough, even a reign of terror may become a fondly remembered period. People believe they want justice and wise government but, in fact, what they really want is an assurance that tomorrow will be very much like today."

Today (Friday) was the last day for several colleagues. There was a decent turnout at the pub next to work, monopolising the sunshine, the beer garden and the Boltmaker. Much shaking of hands, wishing well and that awkward silence where no one is entirely sure what to say.

I shall miss Keith's war stories from back in the day, even if I'd heard some of them once or twice before. I shall miss discussions with Peter in the tea room on everything from philosophy to fungii, from classical music to perfumery, from books to cycling. I shall miss last week's edition of Cycling Weekly from Pauline. I shall miss chatting to Mark about esoteric viewpoints, quantum physics, 3D modelling and caving. I shall miss David's upbeat attitude and technology updates. I shall miss Martin's laughter which is audible through a closed fire door.

We spend more time through the week with our colleagues than we do with our families, working together and trying not to rub each other up the wrong way. Losing that regular interaction, for those departing and those remaining, is a significant hole. My dad, when he retired after 47 years working in the same hospital lab, stated that "I won't miss the work but I will miss the people."

Most people I've talked to are very pretty phlegmatic about things. Some are taking the opportunity to retire. Others are going to take a few months off to enjoy the summer. Others already have interviews lined up. There is a mixture of acceptance, resignation, optimism,.

However our industry is a small one, so I shouldn't wonder if we will all bump into one other in the future.

As the veteran DJ Marc Riley would say, "I'll see you in showbusiness."

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Getting Better

Reprising my first ever "proper" mountain bike ride we (Karl, Mark, self) set out to have a spin around the Bingley Bash MTB route on one of the hottest days of the year. Plenty of other bikes out, must have seen another 15 or so MTBs around the way and the canal was thronging with walkers, joggers, doggers (walking variety) and bikes.

Even an old road sign gives the right warning once a year.

The first time I did this route was August last year and it was only my second or third ride on the mountain bike. I wasn't very good. Not much power, no handling skills, feet down all the time, scared by drop offs... You get the idea.

Fast forward nearly a year and what a difference. Only 800 miles clocked up on the MTB (and they are mostly towpath miles) but a lot more experience on rocky bridleway, peaty moorland and a bit of trail centre.

The view up to Hewenden Viaduct below Denholme

Going up Wilsden steps last time was good exercise for my pushing muscles. This time I rode up 2/3 of them. There is still work to do getting up steps. This is the one thing I really struggled with last time I did a MTB skills course. Getting the front wheel up on Herman is tricky because he's quite heavy and long and I didn't have my saddle low enough to properly shift my weight backwards. However a burst of full power and pull back on bars does the trick even if it does push my heartrate slightly into the red when done repeatedly 8-| Also I need to work on shifting my weight forward to lift the back wheel up as it did stick a couple of times. I might have to search out a decent sized step locally and practice lots.

It was a cracking day for it though, sun and a bit of breeze. Not a day for uphill heroics otherwise we'd have been drenched.

Karl got a pinch flat descending to Crossroads so we attempted to dry out our sweaty backs whilst he was fettling a replacement tube in. He never pumps his tire up enough that lad ;)

Seat height is another thing I never seem to get right. Set it high and the uphill are more efficient but moving your weight around effectively is more difficult. Set low and the technical stuff becomes much easier but climbing hills is a slog. Not helped by the fact I have to really ratchet the seatpost QR up tight to stop the saddle slipping down when I hit a bump.

I can see why people fit dropper posts; in fact that might be the next upgrade to consider after a new air fork. Goodbye money.

Overall today the downs were less scary and the technical uphill sections less awkward.

We had all run out of water so we decided an isotonic recovery sports ale was required. Two pints of Timmy Taylors Boltmaker did the trick!

Nice to bump into our old boss Bob in the pub. He's doing well running his own company and is looking fit and well. Good times and a ride off into the sunset.

Tip the hat to Punk Rock Bike Club who uses song titles as blog post titles. Set the dial for 1995...

"Getting Better", Shed Seven

Friday, 3 July 2015

Mega Storm

The amazingly warm and humid weather the other day culminated in the biggest thunderstorm I have ever witnessed. Normally one has to wait several minutes between lightning flashes. This one was constant flashes of cloud to cloud lightning and a steady continuous rumble of thunder.

Lightning Clouds. Courtesy of Louise Miller @ Fox Tail Photography

When you consider that a lightning strike is in the order of a billion (1e10+9) Joules and there was approximately one flash per second for the half hour we watched it then that's an amazing amount of power. Even conservatively, 2 seconds per strike at 500e+6J per strike gives 0.9GW of power. Drax power station produces 4GW. That's one storm producing 1.5% of the UK's electricity supply. This is nowhere near as good as one of xkcd's "What If" analyses but it proves the point)

It was incredibly localised too; a friend who lives a couple of miles down the valley reported a bit of horizontal rain but no hail and only very distant thunder.

The most amazing bit were the hailstones that came firing out of the sky, hitting the patio and bouncing a metre into the air from the impact. Louise went out to gather some for a photo, the biggest one measuring around 40mm across. I've never seen hail that big before and I certainly didn't expect it in this country.

Hailstones. Courtesy of Louise Miller @ Fox Tail Photography 

I'm interested how it appears to be comprised of different layers; an opaque inner core with a clear outer layer. This is similar to the different types of ice that form in the mountains with different temperatures and freeze/thaw cycles.

When you consider the processes involved in making a hailstone, that it must have been round and round inside the cumulonimbus several times to build up that much ice it makes it all the more impressive. What sort of vertical wind speed must be required to drive these upwards through the cloud? All of this driven by temperature differences in a fundamentally chaotic climate system caused by an unbridled nuclear reactor millions of miles away.

I'm reminded about the story in The Cloudspotter's Guide about William Rankin, a jet fighter pilot who ejected from his aircraft above a thunderstorm and survived a 40 minute fall through the centre of the thundercloud. He must have felt like he was falling into another dimension.

This and the dents on the roofs of all the cars is a reminder of how amazing and powerful nature is!