Archive | February, 2012

Buns of glass, legs of jelly

26 Feb

So, time for a different adventure – having had my bike released from captivity, having been kidnapped by builders who said they would store it safely and bring it back the next day… three weeks ago… it’s time to get some exercise – and what better way to do that than by cycling over to see little brother (who is, by some genetic mismatch, bigger than his big brother). I’ve got his birthday presents to deliver – although it won’t actually be his birthday for four months. The last time I set out on this epic journey, my pedal fell off after two miles, so it’s with a bit of trepidation that I saddle off and ride off into the sunset. Perhaps a bit early for sunset, but I have a sneaky feeling that the ride back might be in the dark…

The first six or seven miles pass uneventfully enough, although I am convinced it’s mostly uphill – a sensation supported by the simple fact that I am climbing out of the Nene Valley. I’ve cycled this way before, and pass the familiar landmarks until I enter uncharted territory at Aldwincle.. and the gentle rolling slopes of the Nene Valley turn into the savagery that is Islip Hill – and the peace of the Northamptonshire countryside is punctuated by main road traffic. But this is half way, and piling on the pace I emerge triumphant at the top of the hill, ready for the drop down into Barton Seagrave. The road is pretty familiar, apart from one minor complication – the A14 has carved its way across the landscape, slicing across minor roads with gay abandon. The shortest distance between two points is the old railway line, but sanity takes me down the old roads and suddenly I am completely confused… convinced I’ve taken the wrong turning, I backtrack only to decide that I was right first time (regular readers will see a pattern emerging here – check back to a post from Thailand HERE).

Following the wind turbines proves a sensible navigational aid, and finally I sail, rather later than expected, into little brother’s driveway, with a sore rump and jelly legs, to find him spitting feathers at Liverpool’s performance against Cardiff in the Carling Cup (1-0 down at this point). Sustenance is on hand in the form of coffee with far more sugar than usual, and a Muller Corner yoghurt. 17.49 miles in 1h53 is a bit off my top score.. but I made it. A pity I have to get back as well.

Nr Atherstone (1)

So, leaving Liverpool 1-1 and in extra time, it’s back onto the bike, pulling on my London Marathon sweatshirt for warmth against the evening chill. The light is fading fast as I weave my way through the short cuts around Barton (got them right this time) and out into the Northamptonshire twilight. Over my shoulder, the thin sickle of a crescent moon looks over my shoulder from a hazy wintry setting, with Jupiter and Venus in attendance to add extra glamour to the scene. Rather than the detour, and with my heart in my mouth, I decide to brave the shortcut down the A14. I’ve had scarier rides on my bike, but it’s with relief that I pull off the A14 and head into the countryside. From the other direction, Islip hill is a whoop whoop exhilarating ride downhill, and the corresponding slow grind up the other side takes me steadily into the darkness. The moon and its acolytes still hovers over my shoulder, while around me the stars are coming out to play. I’m grateful for the extra layer of warmth against the chill – and for the reminder that I’ve overcome this kind of challenge before.

In the darkness, the landscape is eerily different. Skeletal trees loom large against a pale sky, and hedgerows form fantastical silhouettes against the skyline. Here and there small communities gather together against the darkness, while churches and the local stately home form way-points on the journey. All the cues to distance have changed – hills seem interminable with no indication of when the summit will appear, while sudden inclines spring up unexpectedly forcing a rapid gear change lest I fall off the bike.

A startled bunny ducks for cover. I apologise profusely, realising that I’ve missed my turn and driven into Aldwincle Playboy club. But the night is spookily dark and quiet, just the sound of the gear chain and the soft roar of rubber on tarmac to disturb the silence as mile after mile of country road falls beneath my wheels.

Landmarks come and go until the welcome sign for Stoke Doyle appears… the final village before home. Across the valley, the welcoming lights of the Oundle School houses beckon from the centre of town. After the challenges of the Northamptonshire contour map, Stoke Hill is of little consequence and I sail triumphantly into Oundle.

So, a total of 32.77 miles and 3 hours 31 minutes of cycling later… it’s time for a hot bath, and a very late breakfast….although whether I will be able to move very far tomorrow remains to be seen….


What’s in a PC?

18 Feb

While posting on Facebook the other day one of my friends asked me about a piece of technology that I use every day on my PC – and I thought, since it had been a while since I posted anything, that I would warm up with a quick post about my PC.

I’ve been working in IT since before the PC was invented – in fact, I did the first demos of the IBM PC-XT to Unilever Research in the UK. I’ve run IT systems across the world, and was responsible for the entire PC development process in Unilever (around 200,000 PCs) – so I know what I am talking about….and of course, it’s my belief that a PC should do what I want, not what Microsoft want (by the way, I have nothing against Microsoft or Bill Gates – I think Microsoft have produced some amazing software, and do some great things).

When I got my last PC, I decided to do as much as possible using Open Source or Free software. And I have done remarkably well! Just to let you know – Open Source software is software that’s publicly developed – all the source code (the original programming) is freely available so that people can extend and develop the software themselves. The results are made freely available for download. Freeware software is software that people have created and made available for free – sometimes they ask for donations, other times there is an advertising component to the product – or it is a limited edition version of a paid product (perhaps an older version, or one with fewer features). It’s surprising what’s available for free. Some licences are for private use only, by the way – or for small companies with few employees.

So, what’s in my PC


Well, first off, you have to admit that that’s probably the tidiest PC desktop EVER!

Office software – the wonderful and only occasionally idiosyncratic Open Office has my word processor, spreadsheet and presentation tools. It also has a PDF creator so that’s ideal for ebooks that I create. I’ve spent a bit of time customising the toolbar for the most frequent functions.

Mind mapping – I use mind maps for marshalling my thoughts (otherwise they look like birds nests) – Freemind is a perfectly good version that allows me to get my ideas down in a structured way.

Note taking and To Do listsEvernote is the best that’s out there in my mind.. I use it to clip interesting stuff from the internet, to store my thoughts, inspiration that I get, quotes and more. It allows for a fairly basic ToDo list, and while there are better To Do tools, I would rather have a simpler life with fewer things to manage. Evernote automatically synchronises with the web and then to my Android phone – meaning all my notes go everywhere with me!

email and calendar – here I use Thunderbird (email) and Lightning (calendar). While I could just read email on line, I find it’s faster to download it all into one place and use it from there. That allows me to grab all my email from multiple accounts into one place, sort it with some clever rules to categorise it and throw away the junk (an prioritise some things from those very important people in my life). I’ve extended Thunderbird (and Lightning) to make my life even easier, adding more formatting, easier access to email accounts and more. I use K9 to do spam filtering for me.

Web browsing – I use Firefox. I know Internet Explorer is equally free, and I could use Chrome – but I have grown used to FF and use quite a few add ons to improve it (for example to manage the tabs, close all tabs, fill out forms automagically, block Flash adverts, block adverts and more….

Picture managementGIMP is an alternative to Photoshop. It does what I need, although perhaps not quite as easy to use as PS. I’m not a heavy user of this stuff, so that’s OK for me.

Audio editingAudacity is great for all the wonderful little teaching and hypnosis audios that I create. (You read it here first – expect to see some great new products from me coming soon)

Blog editing – all done off line with Windows Live Writer and then uploaded to my various blogs

ebook editing – using MobiPocket and the Amazon on line tools

Diagrams – flowcharts and other diagrams are created using Dia and the Dia shapes add ins.

A real find was Auto Hot Key – using this I have created all sorts of little bits of automation that save me time for repetitive tasks and allow me to get my PC working for me rather than the other way round!

And then there’s loads of stuff on there that does little bits for me:

WinDirStat produces a graphical picture of what’s on my disk so I can clear up where necessary

Recuva is used to recover files that I accidentally deleted (and FileShredder is used to destroy files I definitely don’t want)

SyncBack SE (for backup to a hard disk) is the only paid program I have on my PC – and that because I already had it paid for. Otherwise I would just go with the tools in Windows 7.

Kompozer is used for editing HTML documents for the web – and FileZilla is the FTP client I use to put them on line.

Virus checking using Microsoft Security Essentials – although I used avast until recently

WinAudit is used to store my configuration so that I can rebuild a PC quickly

Pixclip is to grab screenshots from my screen to use in manuals or as reminders

iPrint saves me paper by printing two sheets on one A4 page

Juice for downloading podcasts

7-Zip for managing zip files along with rarzilla for RAR archives

And of course the usual suspects – RealPlayer, Quicktime, Silverlight, Acrobat, Windows Media Player and so on. I’ve also tweaked the interface quite a bit to stop it annoying me (although the fact that I put the Windows Taskbar at the TOP of the screen annoys everyone else that uses my PC)

I’ve also spent a lot of time organising my desktop, file system and email system to make my life faster and more efficient – and so I can find things effectively. But more of that another day, maybe….

Do you miss it?

5 Feb


A friend of mine asked me whether I miss the adventure… and I realised that wasn’t quite as easy an answer as I thought. So here are some thoughts on what I miss… and what I don’t!




Missing this

Meeting so many different people from so many different cultures – whether they were travellers like myself, or locals that I met on the way.

Seeing so many beautiful sights – especially some of the amazing natural wonders of the world, but also some of the truly gorgeous beauty that man has created too.

Not knowing what was going to happen one day to the next – where every day is different with new opportunities and new challenges.

Not missing this

Moving from place to place with no sense of stability and ‘home’.

Living in cramped noisy dorm rooms.

Living on noodles and a budget of $30 a day.

Worrying about my passport.

Glad to be back

Experiencing snow and cold again.

Spending time with David & Jonny – the most amazing men in the world.

Spending time with my wonderful friends.

Dance – didn’t do as much of that as I wanted to.

And still doing this

Meeting so many different people from so many different cultures – whether they were travellers like myself, or locals that I meet on the way. There are some wonderful people that I missed desperately, and people that I am meeting for the first time as I get back into dancing.

Seeing so many beautiful sights – especially some of the amazing natural wonders of the world, but also some of the truly gorgeous beauty that man has created too. This is a beautiful, wonderful, gorgeous country full of incredible sights, especially when we simply open our eyes to what’s right in front of our eyes. Sometimes we get used to it and become blasé.. but it really is a wonderful place to live.

Not knowing what was going to happen one day to the next – where every day is different with new opportunities and new challenges. And it still is, as I start to get my head round the new business I am creating – and how ever day there are new ideas and new thoughts coming out on what I am doing…

Life is the great adventure… some of us get the chance to travel the world whereas others will find different ways to fulfil their dreams.. but every one of us can live a life full of joy, promise, adventure, excitement and happiness. Sure, there are going to be tough days. Some days are hard, sad, despairing. But the rest can be wonderful… as long as we look for the joy in all things.

Another friend asked me if I’d travel again. The answer is ‘sure’ – I am creating the kind of business that will allow me to take two or three months off and go and do something exciting and amazing. Who knows where that might be!

Speak to you soon….


%d bloggers like this: