Saturday, May 31, 2008

An end

Calm! An end - to exams. For a while. This is undoubtedly a good thing, and i am pleased, but unlike in previous years it didn't sink in immediately. Last Saturday, I walked out of Ewert House exam schools, to meet nice people wishing me well (and bringing garlands and iced cream), but could do not much more than stare straight ahead, bright colours catching my attention. It's taken a week to become functional again. Most of the data in my head has been poured out onto paper, which is a relief.

Recovering I have walked places, cycled, seen my family (and MD's), and seen the steady trickle of people becoming free of Oxford finals. This is great; it's perhaps even better to be present when someone else finishes, than when you do. One is in a state to appreciate the thing, anyhow.

And have had time for all the things that fall to the side during finals; cooking real meals (a different one every time! Not the same thing for 5 days!), staring into space doing nothing, crosswords, human company (plus visitors with news from out of town, always welcome), and even some gaming.

Have been playing Darwinia; it's a really very captivating god game, simple at first and complex as you progress. Today I revelled in finding how to protect the frail little 'Darwinians' of the title; they can be directed in a chosen direction, like lemmings, but once there they mill around, and some get into trouble and die. By setting up directions that loop back on themselves, you can set up an endlessly repeating ring of marching creatures, to keep them safe. Like an airport holding pattern.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


This was my view for a few seconds, out of the window here on Rectory Road. Fireworks! I like these.

They must also be a sign of prosperity - if people are 'feeling the credit crunch', as the papers have it, why are they letting these off? Generous people, anyway - the rest of us benefit from their... um, profligacy?
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Thursday, May 15, 2008

View from my window...

The rain is back. This is wonderful; being cooped up inside doesn't feel so bad. In fact, there's something very reassuring, being warm at a desk inside, looking out at the sky.

Maybe i find this weather familiar. Where I come from it's like this most of the year; the South of England and its months-long summers are something different, something I wasn't born to. Of course, they are comfortable - soon I'll have lived here as long as I did in the North. They're becoming more comfortable every year.

But light rain is still very special, especially with a warm mug / jumper. It makes one more aware of how privileged this time, in this place, really is.

Now playing: Ilkae - Rusty Mittens (Talve Remix)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Queer cycling, or why i like my women's bike...

I'm about 177cm - just short of 5 foot 10, and I ride a girl's bike. Or, as the serious bikey people encourage me to call it, a "stepthrough" frame. My height is exactly average for the population, androgyne, so why do i like this frame?

Turns out, the big difference in a "female-specific" frame (another carefully-worded phrase) is geometry. They're made for "relatively longer legs and shorter torsos". Which describes me!

Hooray for queer bicycling.

And before it's mentioned - no, i don't like it for the wide, squishy "female-specific" saddle. I swapped that for a narrow firm one almost at once. This seems to be a "male-specific" preference, but like many people I can't understand why.

(source -,,2167976,00.html)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Cyclists helping cyclists...

I met a kid on his way to school. It was about 10.30 (the community school starts late), and I was just passing him on Magdalen bridge. As I was on the pavement (US) and he was on the pavement (UK), i expected to pass without incident. However just as I came level, he tipped over suddenly and fell off. Not into my path, but I had to check he was ok.

So I pull over, ask him if he's hurt and what happened. He'd caught his trouser-leg in the rear wheel, then tried to brake and stop to free himself. His front brake hadn't worked, and he'd gone down sideways. I offer to take a look - he was only about eleven, in need of help - and he was so surprised! Even more so when i pulled my (very basic) toolkit out and fixed the problem.

The problem - just a worn-down brake pad. It had finally torn open, and wouldn't work at all. The quick fix was to swap it for one of the intact rear ones. The rear brake on most bikes (including my own) is so stiff it's not worth having; my fix should keep him relatively safe until he gets home.

And it made me think, about why he was so surprised at the help. Seems a stupid question at first; in any city, we expect passers-by to pay us as little attention as we pay them. Even when we're in need of help, we expect to have to ask for it, and often a few times before we find someone who will.

Except for when cycling. Because how can you ask people, when they're passing you at 10-12mph or more? When what you need is so specific - a cyclist with tools, and time to share them - that you can hardly hope to find one at random? So the arrangement is, you don't have to.

I learned this when I stopped on the Oxford ring-road cycle path over a year ago, to check a strange noise from the bike. I can't remember what it was, but i know i was looking the bike over. I had tools, but hadn't taken them out as i'd not yet found the issue. A cyclist with no luggage passed by without stopping, just looking to see i wasn't injured. The next one had panniers - and they stopped! He offered help, and his toolkit. I explained i was fine, had everything i needed, and had just found the (non-)problem. And I was as surprised as the kid i helped today.

Since that day it's happened again - the first cyclist with tools to pass me, stops. And now i do it, too. Usually nothing comes of these exchanges, but sometimes people help other people. And that can only be a good thing.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

38 miles a year...

Turns out that's how much the average British adult cycles. 61 km if that's more familiar. Data comes from Friday's Guardian - -
and it gets me thinking.

How out of touch have the self-defined cyclists become? How can they, or we, advocate cycling when they / we have forgotten what it was like when we started? To better understand, I measured my most recent shopping trip. The results surprised me.

Cowley Road, Botley Road, Summertown, then back to Cowley Road via Marston Ferry road. Stopped in 3 shops on route. A trip I'd think nothing of, now. Clocks in at - just under 9 miles!

"Jesus, 9 miles? That's like a quarter my annual distance, right there. And I did it without thinking. Maybe I'm not so odd, maybe urban people average higher? [checks regional data] No! Even Londoners average only 53 miles a year! Jesus, I'm an outlier!"

Outlier - that's not good. Falling into the 'cyclist' stereotype would be all too easy from here. I'm white, young, male, healthy - already sounds closer to lycra-clad hedge-stops than relevant cycling advocacy.

Perhaps I should explain how i got onto the bike, and why. I was not a sporty child. My family taught me to ride a bike, but I lived too far from any of my friends to use it. They drove me to primary school, and I took the bus to secondary - again, too far to walk or cycle. Again, too far from friends. I had a steel mountain bike - uncomfortable, with steel rims, bad brakes, heavy, wrong dimensions. I came off it once. I didn't like the thing. It sat in the garage, I sat in the house - I was a gaming and reading teenager. And no way could I ride a bike on the roads.

Then I went to university. I insisted the bike was coming with me; my family indulged me, though i think they doubted i'd use the thing. They were right, at first. I'd insisted it came with me, because that's what Oxford students did - they had a bike, they rode it to lectures, etc etc. I didn't - i walked. I couldn't ride a bike.

I walked at first. 9AM lectures, five days a week. Eventually, when the weather was good, and I knew my way, I cycled. I was slow, unsure, wobbly, and it tired me out. But i knew where i was going. I didn't cycle anywhere i couldn't have walked. I'd start pedalling and be tired almost immediately. But it was definitely getting me there quicker!

Thanks to the bike, i could leave college 5 minutes later. Which meant getting up 5 minutes later. Even unlocking and locking the bike, it still made sense. So i kept going. I rode the same short route hundreds of times, and learned to cope with roads. From college to lectures, i had to:

- turn right from a side road onto a bigger one
- turn right at a crossroads
- and turn right from a side road again

(There were other bits, but these were the hard ones). I learned to cycle doing that, over and over. I'd learned to drive at 17, which helped; i knew how cars behaved, the Highway Code... but it took a long time before i didn't wobble, didn't swerve towards the kerb when traffic passed.

Eventually i realized I was cycling more. I was making journeys i wouldn't have, if I'd had to walk. In the same time, i could go further; I went places i didn't have time to before. I could carry shopping, or go buy stationery, outside the center of town. Cycling gave me the freedom to do that.

Freedom - by cheap, independent transport. It's that simple, and that's why i like to cycle. I shouldn't forget that it wasn't always easy, when I started. Cycling as second nature took a full year, at least, to learn. All too often cyclists forget this, forgetting that dusting off a bike and getting back on it, learning to ride on roads and in traffic, takes time and effort.

So perhaps we need to say not "it's easy, and fun" but "it's worth the effort". For many people, at first, the former just isn't true. But hopefully, the latter will be.

Now playing: Ott - From Trunch to Stromness

Monday, May 5, 2008

Adsense - not on the same, restrictive linear space-time continuum as the rest of us...

So, the sponsored links at the top of my inbox tell me - yes, me, a person who's never lived in London, nor written or received even one email about their election - about this site:

Mayoral Elections 2008 - - Wondering Who To Vote For In The Next Elections? Your Answer Is Here

Today, they tell me. Perhaps, if i'm a Londoner, I should just drop in on last Thursday?

If so, Ken's site is very encouraging; it seems time is permanently stuck at 21.29, May 1st 2008. Half an hour's voting left! Better get there soon - or not, seeing as time's no longer our problem.

Nice to see Adsense is getting paid, anyway.

Things which help in finals

For sanity, for calm, for comfort, during this time:

- Get out! Walk, cycle, run, swim, whatever you can
- Eat properly
- End the day with something, anything, which isn't work

These are helping me, so why not list them?