Tuesday, 26 August 2014
I loved being part of the Greenbelt team in Cheltenham. But this year I've loved even more being a normal punter at the first festival of the millennium to be held in a green-field site.
It was really rather wonderful. Long may Greenbelt be green.
Saturday, 23 August 2014
It's time to present the questions for last week's answers.
Last week Martin persuaded me to do a short talk at Greenbelt. It's not a topic I would've thought presenting in public, but here goes. This is the text of what I'd intended to say. The full seven minutes were recorded for posterity so later in the year we'll find out what I actually said.
"You look incredible!"
People are friendly at Greenbelt but I wasn't expecting this.
I've many friends here that I only see once a year and I'd forgotten: this time last year there was 50% more of me. I've changed.
Mostly people ask the same questions:
"Are you well?" Yes, Very healthy thanks.
"Are you trying to lose weight?" I guess so.
"What's your secret?"
One of those friends suggested I take a few minutes to answer the last question publicly.
So here goes: "How technology can help you lose weight faster than you might imagine."
BMI is a scary concept isn't it? In December last year I was obese. To join the minority of people in this country who are a healthy weight (only 1 in 3 of us!) I had to shed four stone. One stone seemed an insurmountable challenge. Was change possible? Could it fit with my life?
It started with a hunch. I've never been particularly inactive (I walked 500 miles recreationally last year) but I felt I just needed to get out a bit more.
The latest mobile phones can track motion, so perhaps an app could help. The first I tried was Nike+ Move. It awards you Fuel for your activity, and you can compare one day with the next to see how you're getting on. I got hooked on trying to improve my weekly average and soon topped the UK leaderboard. It was amazing what an extra half an hour's walking in the morning did.
The problem is, I didn't always have my phone in my pocket.
Various companies have fixed this: they've taken the motion detection electronics and squeezed them into wristbands, clip-on gadgets or little widgets that nestle in your pocket. One birthday later I ended up with this: a FitBit One tracker.
It's really quite a simple device. It's a pedometer. It counts steps. So far I've taken 7,410 steps today. Since I've also told it my height, it can estimate how far I've walked: 3.06 miles. It's also got an altimeter, and it reckons I've climbed the equivalent of 15 flights of stairs.
The gadget synchronises with an app on the phone so I can see these figures there too, and I can compare one day with the next. Each day I try to walk at least five miles and climb ten flights of stairs.
It's got another trick up its electronic sleeve too. And it's and age old one. Having told FitBit my age and weight, it can convert my day's activity into an estimate of the number of calories I've burned: 1,385 and counting.
I use the app to keep track of the calories I've eaten, and the theory goes that so long as I burn more than I eat I'll lose weight.
If you tell FitBit what your goal weight is, and how hard-core you want to be, it'll give you a budget so you can see how many calories you've got left each day. Too few? Go for a quick walk found the block. Too many spare? Eat cake.
You can even hook it up to digital bathroom scales that record your weight automatically so you don't even have to track your progress. (Side note: don't weigh yourself in my house, although I'm surprised at just how many visitors do.)
Is it really that easy? I tried it for two weeks in January. It seemed to work.
Eat less. Exercise more. Who knew? Why did no one tell us?
Of course we all know the secret. The trick that FitBit and others pull off is that they bring all the critical information together in one place. Information is power.
After four months I'd lost four stone. I'd changed. I'd joined the healthy minority.
I'm reluctant to say FitBit is the secret. It's not a panacea This device did not make me lose weight. I did it myself. But at times it's been hard work.
It's hard counting calories when eating out, though many restaurants publish nutrition information online.
Trying to track calories consumed at a festival is futile. This weekend I'll be queuing at Cambrian Organics with everyone else.
But come Tuesday I know what I need to do to get back on track.
So if you - like I did last year - feel you could spare a pound or two, there's three things I'd ask you to remember.
Information is power.
Change is possible.
You are incredible.
Thursday, 21 August 2014
Over the next few days I'm likely to meet a good few people who I haven't seen in a year.
If those encounters are anything like others I've had recently, there are a set of questions that are bound to come up. Here are the answers.
- No, I'm quite healthy thanks.
- Yes, deliberate.
- Twenty-six kilograms.
- Eight inches.
- Eat a bit less, walk a bit more.
If you get to The Treehouse at the right time this weekend you might catch me explaining what the questions are.
Saturday, 2 August 2014
Preventing password expiry on Windows 7 Home
I provide occasional IT support to neighbours. This week's request was harder to resolve than it should've been, so here's a quick summary for anyone who
Problem: Windows prompts me to change my login password every 42 days.
Desired outcome: I don't local users' passwords to ever expire.
- Click the Start button
- Type cmd then press Ctrl+Shift+Enter
- Select "Run as Administrator" (you'll need to enter your password here)
- In the command-line window, type net accounts /maxpwage:unlimited then press Enter
- Type exit to quit the command-line window
Notes: Absurdly, Microsoft don't provide a graphical user interface for adjusting this setting on "Home" versions of Windows 7, hence the need to dive into the command-line. Running net accounts without further options will show the current settings.
Saturday, 12 July 2014
Wolf Hall / Bring Up the Bodies
I tend to avoid popular things, and don't read much fiction. So I was probably in the minority in the audience today, having read neither Wolf Hall nor Bring Up the Bodies, Hillary Mantel's blockbuster books on which these two plays are based.
I'm also not exactly a big fan of history. I'd much rather live in the present.
But today's Emma's birthday, and I knew taking her to a double-bill in the West End would be the perfect gift.
It turned out to be the perfect day all round. It's been years since I've been to a West End theatre, and from the moment we entered the auditorium I felt a tingle of expectation and excitement that caught me off guard.
The plays were fantastic! Against a minimal set the actors let props and costume define the boundaries of the many scenes. Sometimes two "camera angles" on one scene are present on stage simultaneously. At other times, a scene in flashback flows around the reminiscing characters. In fact "flow" is probably the best way to describe the motion of the entire experience. The plays felt lyrical, echoing each other and weaving around the storyline effortlessly.
I thoroughly recommend both, but if you've only the stamina for one three-hour play, make it the first. I suspect you'll be back for the second anyway.
It's almost enough to make me want to read the books.
Wednesday, 2 July 2014
A good "leg-up" ★★★☆☆
There's a fundamental change occurring on the Internet: the venerable Internet Protocol by which all nodes communicate is being replaced with a new version, IPv6. Silvia Hagen's IPv6 Essentials provides engineers with a good leg-up to understanding the wide-ranging impacts of the new protocol.
That said, there's still a lot of legwork for the reader to do. This is not a gentle tutorial. By necessity it covers many technical areas in significant depth, sometimes bordering on being just a little bit too dry in its presentation. With so much material to cover, I'm sure the author faced a chicken-and-egg dilemma about what to present first. I imagine reading it a second time will be a much easier prospect.
The shining gem is chapter eight, which describes Mobile IPv6. The ability for a device to migrate seamlessly from one network to another without breaking sessions might not seem to be an "essential" part of the core protocol suite, but by reading the details I developed a genuine admiration for how the individual elements of IPv6 work together.
There's a wealth of information in this book. Sometimes the structure irked me, and I would have liked more tabular presentation that can be used for reference. However, it's bang up-to-date — a good thing since many technologies recommended over the past twenty years to aid the transition from IPv4 to IPv6 are no longer recommended, as the author points out.
It's undoubtedly be a book I come back to regularly as the transition gathers momentum.
[Note: I received a free electronic copy of this book through the O'Reilly Reader Review Program.]
Sunday, 22 June 2014
Solas 2014: Common Ground
There's no doubt about it: Solas is currently my favourite festival.
This year's highlights:
- Film: Bridge Rising, a documentary that on the surface is about the Skye bridge tolls, but underneath is a searing critique of PFI
- Music: Jo Mango, Marit and Rona, Stanley Odd, Genesee
- Ideas: Andy Wightman and Lesley Riddoch
- Comedy: Josie Long
- Food: Aye Coffee's ridiculously delicious "luxury muffins"
- Encounters: a long chat with Alastair McIntosh who we'd last seen on Iona
- Friends: too many to enumerate, old and new
Above all that though was the feel of the place. This was a wonderful weekend, and well worth the rather long journey from the far south of England. Roll on next year.
Tuesday, 10 June 2014
Getting Started with Bluetooth Low Energy
An Inspiring Introduction ★★★☆
I've worked a little with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) before, getting the bulk of my information from programming guides.
This book presented an opportunity to go back to basics: to review the protocol stack from top to bottom and patch in the gaps in my knowledge. On that account it succeeded very well.
There are many components to BLE, and a seemingly unending vocabulary to learn (care to distinguish profiles, procedures, protocols, or ATT versus GATT?). "Getting Started with Bluetooth Low Energy" does a tremendous job at guiding the reader through the scenery, pointing out subtleties and traps along the way.
In particular, the tour of the protocol stack presented in Chapter 2 is wonderful, describing everything from the application down to the low-level radio components (and how those lower levels necessarily impact the behaviour of frameworks and apps).
In places I would've liked a little more detail (I'm a sucker for packet traces, and there's scant information about specific profiles built on top of GATT), but the book has inspired me to dig deeper and continue learning about BLE elsewhere. And that's the key point: I was expecting to learn, but in addition to that I was energised. While I previously had in mind one application for which I could use BLE, I now have dozens of ideas.
[Note: I received a free copy of this book through the O'Reilly Reader Review Program.]
Saturday, 31 May 2014
Java 8 Pocket Guide
More "Java" than "Java 8" ★★☆☆☆
A "pocket guide" for something like Java is always going to be a difficult book. It's got to be succinct enough to allow easy access to salient points while simultaneously proving the depth that this complex platform deserves. A book that is perfect for experts is unlikely to appeal to beginners too, and therein lies the problem with the Java 8 Pocket Guide.
I was hoping for a speedy "leg-up" on new features in Java SE 8, having been a long-term Java developer. Sadly this book doesn't quite meet that need. There is Java 8 material here: a tour of the new Date and Time API and a good overview of Lambdas (although only a passing reference to method references, and pretty much nothing about the new collections streams).
But I'd like to see further detail on the library: a list of package names isn't enough! The Concurrency chapter was interesting, but would've been so much more informative with more detailed examples. (And those examples that are present need reviewing further: I'm sure the author meant to invoke thread.start() instead of thread.run() to spawn a new thread.)
If you're coming back to Java from a long time away and need a reminder about the syntax and style of the language, or if you're new to Java and need an aide memoir to keep beside your IDE, the Pocket Guide might be perfect. Experts looking for a reference to what's new in Java SE 8 should look elsewhere.
[Note: I received a free copy of this book through the O'Reilly Reader Review Program.]
Another day, another island; another island with a special place in my heart.
Without Kerrera there would be no Oban. Separating the town from the Sound of Mull, the island acts as a huge natural breakwater, providing this "Gateway to the Isles" with its own ready-made harbour.
I first visited back in 1999. I was a hopeless romantic. I took the ferry from the mainland and embarked on a walk around the island's perimeter. Three quarters of the way round I sat on a rock to eat my sandwiches, the water gently lapping away at my feet.
Here I came up with the idea for the Model Boat Club. Imagine a young couple, hopelessly in love. On a warm summer's day they walk round a small island and stop off for a picnic in the bay. As the food is finished, a model boat comes into view. It rounds the rocks and heads straight towards the couple. Attached to its mast is a neatly wrapped box. Attached to the box is a label bearing the girl's name. She unwraps it to find a jewellery box. Her heart beats faster. Seeing that she's too nervous to look inside, the boy takes it from her, tilts open the lid and asks "the question". Of course she says "yes". The boat slips silently away.
It occurred to me that if you're going to spend a significant sum on an engagement ring, you may as well propose in style. You can draw a direct line between that time moment on the island of Kerrera and an evening on at Tan-y-Bwlch seven years later.
We saw plenty more on Kerrera today including parrots, a peacock and a turkey; Gylen Castle and one of the world's best tea-rooms. But the highlight for me was taking Emma to an unnamed bay on the island's southern tip to tell her the beginnings of the story that ended with me sketching a lych gate on a boulder on a beach south of Aberystwyth.