Saturday, 29 November 2008

Ascot and beyond

I'm not doing too badly in my efforts to reach 3,000 miles on the bike before the end of the year. By this morning I had covered almost 2,750 miles, which is a little bit ahead of plan. 

I wanted to cover a decent distance today, and this morning the weather was dry, but cold and grey. So I decided to head for Ascot.

I don't really warm to Ascot - it's not my kind of place. However, it is a decent distance away, the countryside on the way there and back is OK, and Ascot is not well covered on Open Street Map, so there is always the excuse of needing to fill in some gaps. 

The plan was a round trip of about thirty miles: to Ascot, then plotting some roads, then making my way back. If I felt like it, and the weather held out, I planned to divert through Windsor Park on the way back, for a slightly longer outing of about 40 miles.

On the way out, I clearly should have been concentrating harder, because I headed south-west instead of south-east, which made for an outward journey about six miles longer than I had planned. 

However, once I reached the right area, I managed to trace some more roads in Winkfield Row and North Ascot. For the benefit of visitors who have not contributed to OSM, the picture above shows how the GPS traces look in the editor, before I added the new roads. Open Street Map aficionados  will realise that I am using the Potlatch editor, rather than JOSM. Apparently it is more cool to use JOSM, but I've never really got to grips with it. Potlatch is easy to pick up, and does the job, so it works fine for me. 

Eventually, I decided to make my way back via Windsor, but somehow managed to lose concentration again. I had a detailed Ordnance Survey map with me, and a decent GPS system. I was on roads that are well signed, and that I am fairly familiar with. So goodness knows how I ended up in Egham. "What..." as a second-rate stand-up comedian might say, "... was all that about?"

In any case, I eventually made my way home, after covering my age in miles for the fifth time this year: well over the 30-40 miles I had planned, but taking me a little bit closer to that vital total of 3,000 miles.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Another plug for the legacy media

"One minute he was cycling home with his shopping, the next Steve Gough was in his own scene from ER..."

A sobering tale from today's Guardian.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Muslim Ladies' Cycling Club

According to this article in today's Times, increasing numbers of Muslim women in East London are "riding into new cultural territory" with their cycling club. They sound like a great bunch of people, and the article is charming. It also  raises all sorts of interesting questions about the way people react to this sort of thing, and about how we react to those reactions.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Welcoming new visitors

The number of visitors to Tlatet has shot up over the last couple of days. Most land on a post from back in March about Arthur Eddington, and they generally arrive from a Wikipedia article which links here. 

Presumably all this is happening because the BBC broadcast a programme called "Einstein and Eddington" a couple of days ago, starring Doctor Who (or David Tennant, as he sometimes claims to be called).

To the new vistors, I just want to say "welcome". I hope you like what you find here. 

By the by, my Eddington number has now reached 30, which looks a bit more respectable than 11, which is where it stood in March. That's still a long way behind Arthur's achievement of 87, but then I haven't quite got round to proving Einstein's theory of relativity yet either.


Here's another link from my brother (who clearly has too much time on his hands). Genderanalyser assesses the content of a blog, to decide whether it is written by a man or a woman. Apparently this one is written by a 74% man. Which I suppose is reassuring, sort of.

However, looking at the statistics, Genderanalyser only seems to be marginally more accurate than a random guess would be. Perhaps it will improve over time.

(FWIW, Genderanalyser reckons that it is produced by an 85% man)

Sunday, 23 November 2008


My brother has sent me a link to this interesting "Boundaries" site, which plots the different neighbourhoods that Flickr recognises in a local area. The picture shows the different shapes around where I live, but you can search for your own neighbourhood if you follow the link.
There is a bit of an explanation about how it all works. I get the idea, without understanding the detail, and this has the potential to waste many more hours than I can afford. For example, it shifts the level of detail, depending on whether you ask for a town, village, county, or even country. Pretty cunning.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Winged Wheels

According to the latest figures released by the Department for Transport there are about 4,100 km of road in Berkshire (including Bracknell, Reading, Slough, Windsor, Maidenhead and Wokingham).

I have been playing around with the OSM database, and I reckon that about 4,300 km of Berkshire roads have been mapped on OSM. At first sight, that looks pretty good. However, in areas that have been intensively mapped on OSM (like Edinburgh and Brighton) the length of roads on OSM is more than 50% higher than the figures that the DfT publishes.

All of this is a bit rough and ready, but I'm guessing that the detailed geometry needed for the OSM map includes squiggles that the DfT doesn't count, which results in a higher figure for the length of a road. I can see no reason why the extra squiggles round here should be different from anywhere else, so as a rough guesstimate, perhaps a third of the roads in Berkshire are still waiting to be added to the map.

That's about the same as Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, and Hampshire. It's slightly better than average for all areas of the UK that I have been able to extract.

If I am going to help improve the coverage of Berkshire, the trick is to find the remaining gaps. And from a selfish point of view, to find holes in the map that I can comfortably reach on the bike, and that promise a reasonably interesting outing.

Today I went hunting round Hurst, near Twyford, which was looking a bit thin, and I found quite a few gaps which I have now traced and added.

There are lots of quiet little lanes round there, and although it is close to the motorway, the area is pleasant enough. The landscape is a bit flat and uninteresting, but at least the lack of hills meant that I could keep up a decent pace. I needed to keep on the move today, because despite the sun, the wind was pretty cold. I hadn't been able to find my gloves when I was collecting all my stuff together, so by mid-afternoon I was getting uncomfortably cold, and I started to head back . About 5 miles from home, I realised that the reason I couldn't find my gloves was that they were in the pannier bag, on the back of the bike. So at least the last five miles was more comfortable.

In the end I had covered 35 miles, filled a bit of a hole in OSM, explored an area that I had never visited before, and discovered this old Cyclist Touring Club plaque on the pub in Hurst.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Simple pleasures

Nothing much happened on my ride last night, and nothing much happened the night before, but today I set out a bit earlier. So although today's ride also ended in the dark, it began in the dusk - on quiet country roads. 

In the first five miles I passed a large bonfire in the corner of a field, and felt the warmth as I went by, along with the wonderful smell of burning wood. Earlier I could hear a shed full of turkeys gobbling away on the other side of the valley. Later a fox ran across the road a few yards in front of me.

Yesterday, on another planet, the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee grilled the Chairman and Director General of the BBC on the return of Jonathan Ross to the airwaves, and today John Sergeant quit Strictly come Dancing

I imagine some future historian trawling the archives, and wondering why I have said little about such turning points in European history. Perhaps I am odd, but on my planet, a bonfire, a fox, and some turkeys are more interesting.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Occupational hazards

There is a Samsung advertisement in this week's Economist that exposes my flawed perspective on the world. 

It shows a young woman bandaging the leg of a small deer, while a young man reads advice on first aid from a little gizmo with a flexible colour screen.

One of them appears to have arrived on a bicycle, which is parked just behind the woman.  According to the caption...

Flexible display technology allows compact mobile phones to have expandable displays as large as laptops. So getting real-time interactive first-aid instructions for a wild animal at a moment's notice beomes a real possibility. 

I can't help feeling that my reaction ought to be: "Ah...., look at the sweet little deer, having its leg bandaged, thanks to those nice caring people at Samsung". Or perhaps, "Wow, I really want one of those cool gizmos with a flexible screen from those clever people at Samsung (that will encourage blondes that care for small animals to take an interest in me)".

But what I actuallly thought was "I wonder how big the potential global market is for providing cyclists with interactive real-time veterinary first-aid advice on flexible screens attached to mobile phones?

Scary reaction, but I'm afraid that it's a bit too late for a career change now.

Counting down

At the end of last week I had done 2,562 miles since the beginning of the year (or to be more precise, since the end of January, when I got the new bike). I would like to reach 3,000 miles by the end of the year. 

From today to the end of the year I have six full weeks to close the 438 mile gap plus a few extra days to make up any shortfall. So I am reckoning on trying to cover at least 73 miles a week from now to Boxing Day. That leaves a few days contingency at the end of December in case I fall short. 

Since the end of January I have been averaging 61 miles a week, so I need to up the pace slightly if I am going to make it. With unpredictable weather, and shorter days, not to mention Christmas, it is going to be a bit of a challenge.

Today I set out with the aim of covering at least 40 miles by looping round through Marlow and Lane End to Stokenchurch, then back to Marlow through Hambleden and Fingest. I reckon that the section through Fingest and Hambleden is some of the nicest countryside around here for a ride. By going via Lane End and Stokenchurch I touched some of the areas that haven't yet been thoroughly covered on Open Street Map. I managed to collect some GPS traces so I can add a few missing roads.

The weather was pretty good: it stayed dry, and although it was windy, I was blessed with sun on the way out, and for the last part of the return journey, with grey skies in between.

There were quite a few cyclists out. I saw one big club run, and several people riding on their own, like me. One man was transporting long planks on his shoulder, while riding, which looked a bit precarious. Apart from the club (who were all pedalling furiously with their heads down), everyone was very friendly. As usual we were calling out "good morning" to each other, well into the afternoon. 

A year ago it was rare for me to overtake anyone else on a bike, but over the last year either I have speeded up, or the rest of the world has slowed down, because normally these days I overtake a proportion - though more overtake me. Today, either I was going slowly again,  or the general pace was higher than normal, since I was overtaken repeatedly, without overtaking anyone myself.

By the time I got home I had covered 41 miles. If I manage to fit in three more local rides in the next six days I will be keeping on track to reach 3,000 miles. So at least this week is off to a good start. More importantly, it was a fun outing, and I enjoyed myself.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008


For one reason and another it has been a few days since I've managed to get out on the bike, but I grabbed an hour this afternoon, in a gap between teleconferences, and I rattled round my favourite route: across Winter Hill, down into Cookham, then back along the river bank and home through the outskirts of Maidenhead.

Away from parents collecting their children from school there was very little traffic on the roads, and apart from quite a strong wind, I couldn't have asked for better weather. The view from Winter Hill in the afternoon sun was particularly lovely.

Unfortunately I didn't have a camera with me, so instead, as compensation, here is Stanley Spencer's boisterous painting of Cows on Cookham Moor, which is in the Ashmolean museum in Oxford. Spencer was  born and lived in Cookham. The local gallery re-opened recently, and I really ought to try and fit in another visit. But for today an hour in the fresh air, the sight of hawks circling over Winter Hill, and real cows grazing on Widbrook Common will do me very well.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

The most powerful cyclist in the world?

It seems there has been an election in the U.S.A. recently and the most powerful cyclist in the world will be leaving the White House.  Which leaves me wondering, who will assume the title after January 20th?

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

2,500 miles

Back in January, when I got the new bike, I set myself the goal of covering 2,500 miles on it by the end of the year, and yesterday I reached 2,504. Fittingly, I passed the 2,500 mark on my favourite circuit,  somewhere near Winter Hill.

As with any decent goal, it was nice to reach the number, and good to do it ahead of plan. But in the final reckoning, it's only a number. All I really get out of it is a benchmark for the next test. So the question now is whether I will reach 3,000 miles.

The silly great spreadsheet where I record all this is predicting that, at the current rate, I will fall just short of 3,000 miles by the end of December. I must try to prove it wrong. 

All together now, and no havering...

But I would ride 2,500 miles, 
and I would ride 500 more,
 just to be the man who rode 3,000 miles...."

Sunday, 2 November 2008


After miserable weather yesterday, things looked a bit better today. I wanted to clock up a few miles, without getting too far from home. So I decided to explore the back roads between Maidenhead and Bracknell.

It turned out to be a good plan.

Usually I don't do too badly finding my way around, but for some reason, I seem to have a bit of a mental block about this part of Berkshire. I have got myself lost a few times and followed some unneccessarily convoluted routes. I regularly come to junctions where I expect to turn in one direction, but the road signs point in the other.

Today, a bit of confusion worked to my advantage. I discovered some lovely little lanes, where horses were the only other traffic. With the GPS I managed to trace a few of them (lanes, not horses) and add them to Open Street Map.

What's more, I kept surprising myself by coming across stretches of road that were familiar from previous outings, including the one to the church in Warfield. So now I should be able to piece together the jigsaw in my mind a bit better, and I ought to feel more confident about finding my way around. Time, and future trips will tell whether I am kidding myself.

In total, I covered 37 miles, at a fairly brisk pace (to keep warm on a cold day).

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Sturmey Archer

A wonderful clip from Bicycle Diaries.

De-gapping the map

I haven't added much to the Open Street Map lately, because I seemed to be running out of local streets that needed adding. That was until yesterday evening, when I went exploring a part of town that is a couple of miles from home. 

I had worked out that a small trading estate was missing from the map, and I planned to have a quick five-mile ride on the bike: out to the trading estate, backwards and forwards across the service roads, then back home in time for a coffee before the weekly shop. It's hardly the most imaginative way to spend halloween, but it was a good enough excuse for a bit of exercise.

When I got there, I discovered a couple of residential roads that were also missing, so I followed those, and discovered a row of little Victorian artisan cottages tucked behind a road that I use regularly. Nearby I found a back lane that connects two of my regular routes. So I ended up covering almost twice the distance that I had planned, and learned a bit more about  the town I live in, as well as getting the satisfaction of plugging a bigger gap in the map than I had expected.

I already know of a few gaps further afield, but they will involve rides of about 20 miles to get out there, and ride the roads. There isn't really time to fit in a twenty miles outing during the week, so plugging those gaps is going to take a while. However, it looks as though there could be more gaps than I thought close to home.