Thursday, 30 March 2017

A New Venture...

After working for 14 years for the same employer and having had some fantastic experiences and opportunities it is all coming to an end. Our site is being closed down and everyone will be going their separate ways. It has been great to work with many talented and genuinely lovely people over this time and I have many fond and lasting memories. I shall especially miss working closely with my manager Stewart who has been a mentor and a friend for the last 16 years.

Framing what has happened in my personal life during my time at work makes me realise how much has happened in that time. I learned to drive, got married, had kids, got divorced, moved house four times and got married again, crashed a car, learned to climb, learned to love, learned more and more about me and my place in the world.

So what next? I'm starting my own business.

I don't think anyone enjoys working for the corporate machine. The inevitable bureaucracy and inflexibility that permeates some larger organisations places barriers in the way of enjoying the work that as engineers we trained for and work hard to achieve proficiency at - finding solutions to technical problems. Investigating, testing, trying, and eventually solving that problem that has had you stumped for the last week is one of the best feelings I know. That ideal has to be worth pursuing.

The goals are to do interesting work, to help companies get their products to market and achieve their goals, and to have fun in the process. As such I'm setting up Unit 3 Compliance, an EMC consultancy and test lab, in Bradford. This will help organisations that don't have Electro-Magnetic Compatibility experience or facilities get access to high quality pre-compliance testing and advice.

Electronics friends: If you know of anyone with an EMC test requirement or that is having EMC problems then send them my way - there's a beer in it for you next time I see you ;-)

I'm really excited and can't wait to get started on this massive new project!

Friday, 3 March 2017

Fitness Is Relative

Ironically this was mostly written when I was Reasonably Fit. Currently I'm Reasonably Fat but attempting to reverse the tide!


These are meant to be very un-specific questions

How do you consider yourself to be compared to your friends?
How fit do you consider yourself to be compared to the general population?

Self Deprecating Fitness

I'm not Very Fit. Reasonably Fit perhaps, but not Very Fit. Really Fit is another country and getting a passport involves a lot of hard work. Mr/Mrs Really Fit does an Ironman triathlon in under 12 hours.

Some of this is typical British self-deprecation where blowing ones own trumpet is considered crass and generally bad manners. Any American style self promotion is generally viewed to be in "poor taste" and may be subject to a raised eyebrow or eye roll.

Exhibit A: Excerpt from a chat with a colleague who is a Cat 2 cyclist and races cyclocross, regularly placing well in the Three Peaks CX race. He is Very Fit.
him: "You'll be getting good at the cycling then?"
me: "Well I'm getting better but I'm not as fit as you."
him: "Me? I'm not that fit."
me: "Yes you are."
him: "Yeah but there are lots of people fitter than me."
[This is all part of the deal. I know him to be fitter than me and through this exchange we establish this order informally, using the playing down of our own abilities as acknowledgement of each others skills as an exchange of friendship. Anthropologists and psychologists have probably written many papers on such things. I'm neither so we'll leave it there.]

The last line is key, "...there are lots of people fitter than me." Fitness is relative.

It's everyone else's fault I'm so unfit

At the risk of violating the above principle of self-deprecation, taking the population of the UK as a reference, I'm most likely of above average fitness. I average about 5 hours of exercise a week with the cycle commute, general bike riding and a spot of fell jogging (not really running - self deprecation again). I've completed the Fellsman, a couple of 45 mile walks, a 6h 30m on the Yorkshire 3 peaks, occasional adventure racing, a triathlon, mountain marathons, etc. But I still don't think of myself as being Very Fit.

A big part of this is the company we keep. I have a lot of friends and acquaintances through running and climbing and cycling. If I was to judge my own fitness against theirs, I'd have to say I was average. Maybe I should start hanging out down at the local McDonalds to feel fitter?

There's more to it than just running up hills

What about the mental side of fitness? The part that keeps us pushing on when we'd much rather call it a day and sit down next to the fire with a slice of cake and a pint of tea?

Endurance events seem to have more than their fair share of people in the V40 and above category. There could be a number of explanations to this, but it still remains that you can still cut it, indeed get better, as you get older. I'm certainly hoping that this is the case as it means I haven't hit my prime yet!

I've certainly found myself to be more determined of mindset as I've got older. Some things that used to be important aren't as much and I am much more confident in myself and self reliant. I have a better appreciation of the signals that my body sends me and what they mean, where my limits are and the experience to know that a short bad spell will be over in a bit and then it will be business as usual.

Life toughens you up?

As we get older we are more aware of the finite time we have and, hopefully, we are encouraged more to enjoy it to the full. Are our forties the magic decade? Our children are less reliant on us, our careers are generally more settled, do we have less pressure than before?

I'm not there yet but I'll let you know what it's like when I do. I'd be interested to hear from my friends who are there about what they think.

My physio has, stencilled on the wall in their reception area, the motto "Pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever". Set against the scale of our lives, a little suffering during a fell race is a mere blip.

This is helped by the human brain's incapacity for remembering time. We can remember discrete events in a run for example, a rock, sweat, a view, out of breath, a good bit of trail but we can't relive the whole thing in real time when we remember it. It's a safety mechanism to enable us to actually function and not be stuck in loops of memories and remembering memories ad inifnitum in real time.

Similarly we can't remember pain. We can remember being in pain but we can't bring back that specific sensation. Bloody good job! Add some rose tinted spectacles and even the most horrific, Type 3 suffer fest has good memories associated with it. We can fool ourselves that it was actually fun!

Mapping and Navigation "Stuff Wot I Like"

I keep getting asked about mapping and navigation tools I use on both my phone and computer. None are a total substitute for a map and compass and knowing how to navigate but they certainly make life easier sometimes!


** Star Pick**: Maverick

OS mapping with offline cache, GPS, compass, route planning, GPX upload and download. If you have an Android phone and like being outdoors... GET IT.

Where's The Path

This is my go-to route planning tool. Side by side maps for which you can select different map bases like OS 50k, OSM, Google Earth etc. Route planning, elevation, GPX import and export. Really good.

Bing Maps

Freely available OS maps down to 25k. Limited exporting and no route planning but a good starting point for a browse.


Good for road cycle route planning.

Google Maps

Now that some of the 3D Google Earth functionality has been integrated into Google Maps it makes for a great experience. Look at any high rise city in 3D mode and it's like flying over it like a bird. Fantastic.

Grid Reference

For Android. Gives you a grid reference. and a compass reading. Simple and effective!

Make Panorama

Good for answering the question "what hills can you see from the top of Rum Doodle". See also this site.

Weather aside - global weather and forecasting, wind speed, temperature, cloud base, wave height, ocean currents with an intuitive interface. Fascinating and you can lose hours to watching typhoons rolling around the Pacific.

Review: Alpkit Tau Rear Bike Light

I got fed up of swapping my Cateye TL-LD1100 between bikes as I only had one bracket. For the price of a new seatpost bracket it wasn't much more to buy another new light. I'd seen the Alpkit Tau rear lights available so thought I'd give one a go.

Tau Rear Light (image from Alpkit website)

Construction and Mounting

The light unit seems very well put together. No creaking or flexing when pressure is applied. You certainly feel like it could be dropped from a great height and survive.

It's smaller width is good, as the large width is my only complaint about my Cateye light; sometimes my thigh nudges it or presses the button depending on where it's mounted on my seatpost. The Tau has no such problems, tucking in nicely underneath the saddle. It is very unobtrusive.

The soft rubber back is grippy, reducing the risk of the light bouncing around meaning a lighter elastic band weight can be used. The rubber bands go on easily enough with their big pull tags. The quality of the rubber will be the determining factor in how long this light lasts I think. I'm tempted to take a needle file to the points on the side clips that the rubber band engages with to prevent any sharp edges from fretting the rubber bands.

Charging is achieved via a Micro USB port hidden behind a rubber flap. This seems to engage OK and would be held in place and partly shielded by the bike frame or seatpost it is mounted to so I'm not too concerned about water ingress. I'd take it off the bike if I was washing it but I'd do that for any of my lights.

As the owner of a Koala seat pack, I would have preferred a method of mounting the Tau to a webbing strap, maybe a clip or some slots in the body of the light, to enable easy mounting to bike packing luggage. The small elastic band doesn't seem to hold the light steadily on a strap and I worry a bit about it falling a bit small for it. More thought required, perhaps there is a way and I just haven't come across it yet. In the meantime I'll keep the Tau mounted to my seat stay, even though the angle isn't perfect.


I think its a good job it is so light given that the length of the charging cable supplied means that it invariably dangles in mid air from whatever charging port you are using on your PC or adaptor. However, Micro USB adaptors are now the standard for charging phones so everyone is bound to have a lead already plugged into a charger lying spare.

Light Output and Modes

Performance of the Chip On Board (COB) LED module is good with very little observable change in brightness over a 90ยบ arc. One complaint I have with some rear lights is the focusing of the beam with a lens results in a high peak brightness but out of angle it isn't so good. The Tau overcomes this well. The spread of light is such that I can easily check that the light is still on just with a brief glance down at where it is mounted. No more holding my hand in front of the light to see the reflected glow! I think this would be an excellent light for urban commutes with traffic coming from all angles being able to see you.

Brightness is OK on low but on high it is really very bright. The stated 3 hour runtime in this mode would put me off using it unless conditions were bad or traffic particularly heavy. The "pulse flashing" mode is more of a steady throb and doesn't immediately catch the eye. Unlike the 6Hz flashing mode which is really eye catching and is my preference for the road. Especially good considering the quoted 18 hour runtime - that's enough for a couple of weeks of commuting and a long ride.


It has a micro USB, charges from my phone charger in hardly any time at all (note I haven't timed it). That's it!

Out and About

As mentioned above it is very bright and with a good arc of light and seems to last a long time which will be good as the Li-Ion battery capacity decays with time as they always do. I've recommended the Tau to a couple friends looking for bike lights.


Brightness, viewing angle and build quality are good.
At £12 including postage I think it represents a very good value rear bike light.


I bought a couple of the front lights which are excellent as "see me!" lights and have now fitted a front and a rear to all the bikes in the fleet.