Thursday, January 09, 2014

'Twas The Night Before The Night Before Christmas...

... and all through Godalming, the lights were all out!


I had gone out for a Christmas meal at a pub in Chillworth. Having had my fill and washed it down with a pint or three I swayed over to the station to find that the trains had long delays and the level crossing gate was stuck closed. I decided to walk home.

The rain came down, the water level came up.
Walking down the appropriately named Christmas Hill the road was entirely flooded, my dress shoes didn't do much to keep out the water that was half way up my shins.
I stopped at The Sea Horse in Shalford, putting my feet up in the open fire place.
Walking back to Guildford I'd had about enough of the rain and headed for the bus station. The bus that was due at 20 past the hour still hadn't turned up and it was half past, the queue of people were already complaining.
Walking to the taxi rank by  the Friary Centre and there were no taxis and again a long queue of Christmas shoppers all waiting to go home.
The taxi rank at the train station was equally empty with a queue of people waiting.
Walking up Walnut Tree Close, the warmth of the pub fire a distant memory I walked past about half a mile of queued traffic.
When I got home my Blackberry and mobile phone had a collection of missed calls and urgent emails.
The power had gone out in several areas around Surrey just as I'd left the first pub. Apparently the host had problems trying to pay the bill by candle light when the till and card machines were not working.
With help from Steve and Andy, Clive was able to close down many of the servers as they were running on the battery power. By 5:30pm the battery ran out and the Godalming office was dark and silent.
On Christmas eve at 4am I drove into the office. I'd woken up early and once the thoughts of "what do we need to do" started going through my head and I thought that it would be better me trying to get into the office.
The picture above is what the car park entrance looked like once the sun had come up.
The local radio station had tried to reach the local electricity board to find out how long repairs where going to take but with such a large area not having power it was impossible for them to even give an estimate.
I made my way home to where there was power and Internet connection.
It was about 2:30 when the power in Godalming came back on.
It was also at about 2:30 that we got a phone call from the pub that we were supposed to be having Christmas dinner at. The Old Mill in Gomshall had been flooded and we'd be getting a full refund. We had to brave Christmas Eve shopping in Sainsburys!
Clive gave me a call to say that he'd made it into Godalming but road into the car park was now impassable. He helped a few of the local residents with sand bags but it was possibly too little too late for some of the residents with places down by the river.
Unbelievably the shopping in Sainsburys was probably quieter than any normal weekend and we were in and out in 20 minutes, the traffic was the bigger issue. Fallen trees had taken out the control for the traffic lights. Now I got the phone call about the power being back on in the office.
Restoring all but a few of the servers was reasonably painless and simple and I was keeping notes on everything I did.
By about  5:30pm on Christmas Eve I'd got as much up and running as I was going to. I sent an email out to the office and went home.
About 12 hours later the power in Godalming dropped again. It being Christmas day, with nobody waiting on getting the systems running. I had a day off.
On Boxing day, after the power had been up for a little over 12 hours I once again headed in to the office at just after 5am.
Now with the notes from Christmas Eve it was even quicker to restore the systems.

Hopefully the power will be stable now but the news is warning of more storms to come so maybe this post isn't finished quite yet...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Brecon Beacons Training Walk

On Sunday 20th October 15 of us went up to the Brecon Beacons for a little walk.


The above video is more than just a video, you can pause the player then use the controls on the right to zoom in and out, rotate and drag the map around to see the various parts of the route.

According to the various online sources the weather was going to be awful. Certainly the drive to Wales on Saturday was fraught with shiny wet roads and a bright sun low on the horizon.
Since we can be pretty sure that at least one of the three peaks in the challenge is going to be wet a little rain wasn't going to stop us from training, however we didn't especially want to get washed down the valley as we went to walk by the river and behind the waterfall.
For the tracking I used the "Map My Walk" app and other than a little data loss at the start due to human error it's recorded the track pretty well. The app claims that the walk was a little over 9 miles but if you watch the tracking above you'll see one specific part where we suddenly head in a very straight line, cutting possibly an additional half mile off.
The pace was good, a little too fast for comfort but then you need to be pushed to get the benefit out of training, this wasn't a site seeing ramble.
Walking behind the waterfall was great. I'd overheard other walkers saying that the water level for the river was quite high and that some of the caves along an alternate route were flooded, this did however may a very powerful, quite beautiful waterfall. Looking at the picture above it appears that I'm walking away from the water when actually both myself and the person taking the picture are behind the waterfall, it's a difficult picture to capture.

We didn't stop often, one 20 minute stop for lunch and a handful of stops at junctions to let the tail enders catch up and not get lost.
The pack mixed up a little, most people got their chance to lead or to follow. At one point we even had a brief climb up a rock face, maybe 12 feet high, if that but my first experience in climbing none the less. Perhaps I'll see about a visit to our local climbing wall, it may be a bit more fun without waterproof clothing and a backpack to worry about.
Come the end of the nine mile walk I was glad to see the car park!
It's an interesting mix of emotions, I had a beaming smile on my face throughout the walk but I was certainly being pushed at come points when trying to clamber up loose rock paths.
Hopefully there will be another walk over the Surrey Downs this coming Sunday.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Tech On Order

I've made a contribution to a Kickstarter project to produce a new smart watch. The Kreyos uses a low power screen to enable you to see messages, information and of course the time.
I'm hoping that the watch will help provide information on my training and on the challenge itself, perhaps by not using the screen on the phone so much it will save on battery power.
I don't intend to go on the walks overladen with technology but I do hope to use sufficient tools to measure and improve my training.

Timings 2

Currently using "Map My Walk" which is more accurate than looking back at the Google Location History.
My walk to the office on Monday was 1hr 42min. While that appears to be slower than the first walk it's only by a minute and I believe that the first measurement may have been short.
I like the look of the "Map My Walk" site and suspect I'll be using this from now on. With a consistent form of measurement it will be easier to compare the times.

Today I walked from home to the station in 32min 58sec, that's from the front door to the entrance of the station.

I'll be mixing full walks from home to work with station walks still. I'll probably not use the bike for a while as it's a walk that I'm preparing for.

Bringing The Bits Together

It's looking more and more likely that I will be taking part in the National Three Peaks Challenge.
I attended a meeting of a group that had done the challenge a couple of years ago and we're looking to follow the same training routine that worked for them then.
Following the meeting I've been on a 4 mile walk with the group over the Surrey Downs on Sunday. This coming weekend we're heading to the Brecon Beacons.
For my own training I walked all the way from home to the office on Monday and then back again after work. I'm trying out various apps to see how well they record my progress and whether they are likely to be able to track me for the full challenge and whether I'll need a backup power supply.
I've bought a new waterproof coat, proper walking socks and borrowed wicking shirts, hopefully walking poles will be delivered today.
I intend to go into a little more detail on the aspects of the training and kit in future posts but it most certainly looks like this is happening.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Google Chromcast Do We Need It?

In my geeky way I was looking forward to getting a Google ChromeCast. For those that don't know, this is a cheap, small device that plugs into your TV and lets you send YouTube and certain other content from your mobile device to the TV.
Points I like about this device are...

1) it's cheap. At time of writing the ChromeCast isn't yet available in the UK but when it is it's likely to be less than £50. The low price headline will generally catch my eye.
2) it's low power. You don't need a computer or game console sat running all the time, typically with a fan and multitude of lights.
3) it takes the content from your phone. TVs with YouTube function built in and games consoles which play YouTube content are good but often rely on using your TV remote or games controller to navigate through a clunky interface. With the ChromeCast you use your phone or tablet to do all the work then simply select the ChromeCast to display that content.
4) it's not actually streaming from your mobile device. All that your device actually does is tell the ChromeCast where on the Internet to go get the content. This means you can start something playing then shut your mobile off or do something else with it and not impact the video.

So as I started, I was looking forward to getting a ChromeCast, until...

My current means for watching YouTube on the TV is to use the Wii. Still having a TV from the 20th Century it's not HD so the Wii is good enough. I suffer the clunky interface and generally use YouTube on a computer to make up play lists.

Turning on the Wii yesterday (this is hot off the press) I found an option to pair the YouTube app with a mobile device, of course I had to try. It appears that Google have given all the sharing features of the ChromeCast to consoles!

For me this is great, I can now use my Android devices to find content and simply choose to send it to the TV via the Wii.

This is the great thing about Google, they're trying to get customers to watch adverts on YouTube, buy and rent  films through YouTube and care less about forcing you to buy their hardware so they will make apps to allow you to use systems you've already got.

There are still benefits to having a ChromeCast if your TV doesn't already have the ability to view YouTube but for those of us still on old TV and a Wii, this makes things a lot easier.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Timings

As much as I didn't want to start obsessing it seems that even my journey to work now is going to become an opportunity for training.

I begrudge driving to work, taking 1200kg of vehicle to transport one person over 6 miles. I like to try alternatives.

The drive to work takes about 30 minutes on days when I drop my partner off at the station or 25 minutes on days when I'm on my own. Coming home can be a complete nightmare and traffic problems have led to the journey taking over an hour and a half.

Until now the most common alternative has been a two mile walk from home to Guildford Station then the train in to the office. The walk from the station to the office is very short as I can see the station from my desk, well I could if it weren't for one building in the way. The two mile walk took about 40 minutes, the train journey about 8 minutes, walk from the station to work, 3 minutes. Total time 51 minutes but that's only if I get to the station at exactly the right time to catch the train. If I miss a train it can add half an hour to the journey time as I sit on the platform waiting for the next train. When the inclement weather draws in and trains start getting delayed and cancelled, the door to door time can be completely blown out.

Option two, cycle from home to the office. This I've now done four times and I enjoy it immensely. Door to door takes about 40 minutes. The main roads between Guildford and Godalming have recently been re-surfaced so the ride is smooth and reasonably comfortable. There are showers in the office so I can get clean and changed ready for work. The cycle home can be harder but each time I do it the ride is becoming easier. I don't ride at a blistering pace, often passed by other cyclists but I leave in plenty of time to allow me to take it easy.

Option three I had tried before but not with quiet the enthusiasm of this morning. I walked the entire journey in to the office. I left at 7:02 and got in to the office at 8:45 giving a rough speed of 3 1/2 Mph. Carrying a light backpack and listening to music the walk certainly showed me how much better it is to cycle but still was fun.

If I'm going to use the days that I can walk in to work as exercise/training then I will be making note of times and so setting 1hr 43Min as my start time. Lets see if/how this improves.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Blowing Off The Dust

*Tap* *Tap* *Tap* is this thing on?

Seems I've not posted here in over two years and even then it wasn't much of a personal revelation.

The site needs a re-design, may even move from here to another blogging site that I need to learn more about, maybe I'll create yet another blog altogether but one thing's for sure, the regular streams for the social medias are just not up to the task.

Can you keep a secret?

This isn't really such a secret but a project in early, early stages.

I'm looking to do the "National Three Peaks Challenge" with some of the parents from the school.

Last night I attended the presentation about the walk that the school completed in 2010 and then talked about the proposed walk for 2014.

The school runs a weekly fitness class, some local walks and has planned some weekends away for training on two of the three mountains as well as some other preparation walks.

Next week is my first opportunity to try out the fitness class. I have the application form and have to get that filled in and submitted before October 4th. Once my name is on the email list then the training can start proper.

I'm really not sure of my current fitness level beyond the fact that I'm comfortably able to cycle 6 miles to work and then 6 miles home twice a week with little stress and no pain. I do want to jump on a scale with body fat and height measurement before the training gets started and then repeat the test perhaps every couple of weeks.

This may all come to an abrupt halt if I fail at the fitness training or the initial training walks, however if I get past this hurdle then it will be out with the sponsorship forms and you'll almost certainly see more frequent updates here, or where ever I choose to host the blog.

As I've said before and will no doubt say again... watch this space.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sent With Good Intention But!!!!

Computer viruses spread quickly. The most effective ones, very quickly. Sending out an email to everyone on your list warning about a virus is of no use and in some cases can cause more harm than good.

I'll put the conclusion near the top of this message as not everyone will want to read the details.

Conclusion,
Rather than sending messages about a specific virus to everyone on your mail list, take time to ensure your own system is secure. Make sure you have the latest fixes for your operating system, ensure that you have virus software running and that it too is up to date.

If you are sending any message out to large groups of people use the "BCC" or "blind copy" option rather than putting all the names in the "to" box.

Now here's the technical bit...

Viruses tend to follow new trends. As we are moving away from using email viruses now tend to use fake web sites to distribute themselves. The trick is, how to get you to go to that fake web site? Fraudsters will make false claims, use popular subjects and many different streams to try and make you click links.

Email is becoming a more difficult way to send a computer virus. Common mail systems like Hotmail and Gmail now have systems on their servers which block a large amount of junk before it even gets to your computer. Even once a virus gets to your computer some services will scan it for you before letting you download it, if they even let you at all.

The systems that are most at risk are the older ones.

Windows XP is still very popular even though it's been replaced by Windows Vista and subsequently Windows 7.

If your machine is still running Windows XP ensure that it is running service pack 3.

Early versions of Windows XP are susceptible to viruses due to well known problems with the operating system.

It is impossible to know if the next email you open, or the next link you click is going to take you to a virus. Updated operating system and virus checking will help greatly and alert you when something doesn't seem right.

If you are using Internet Explorer version 6, upgrade to 8 or change to one of the many other browsers. Again, Microsoft had acknowledged that IE6 has flaws which can be exploited. Updating to 8 will give you other benefits as well as increased security.

If your computer is old and will not run Windows 7 you may want to consider switching to UBUNTU. This really depends on what you're using the computer for. If it's an old computer then it's more likely you're using it just for browsing the web and email in which case UBUNTU may be a better option for you than Windows.

UBUNTU is not immune to computer viruses, however, as it is not as popular as Windows there has not yet been a single wide spread virus on this OS.

If you have any questions about computer viruses, updating your system or any other general computer related questions please do not hesitate to contact me.