Fun on Two Wheels

At the beginning of the year I took the motorcycle CBT course with my friend Mark. I thought of it as an experience day, like flying in a microlight. Though I had ridden a scooter in Taiwan, I wasn’t sure how I would cope with riding a geared motorcycle, having to coordinate clutch and gear changes along with balancing and cornering. It turned out to be great fun and a new way to enjoy the road. After the course I started looking at motorbikes and bought a second-hand Honda CB125F with only 800 miles on the clock.

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Posted in biking, Brighton & Hove

90 Year Calendar In Weeks

It is with a wry smile that I remember the number of times that I have avoided an important task by reading blog posts and articles explaining how to avoid procrastinating. While it may not have been the most appropriate use of my time, sometimes these searches have dug up some useful websites and methods to counter a tendency to procrastinate. Wait But Why is one such website and Your Life in Weeks the post I am going to talk about today.

The panic of a looming deadline can be a strong motivator when procrastination has set in. That is a relief for the things in life that come with a due-date such as coursework and exams, but it isn’t perfect. Firstly, the panic never sets in until the last possible moment, so the quality of the finished work is never of the best quality. Secondly, the most important things in life don’t come with a built-in deadline: calling family and friends, making long term business/life decisions, exercising, etc.

Sometimes we need a reminder that time is passing whether we use it wisely or not. That is where something like the 90 Year Calendar in Weeks can be useful. Starting with the week of your birth it shows each week of your life as a block for a lifetime of 90 years: 52 columns, 90 rows. Each row starts on your birth-week.

Used wisely, the calendar can lend some focus to the stages in our lives and what we want to achieve in the long term. Of course, it is a very unforgiving way of looking at a lifespan. Even with a generous span of 90 years I am roughly halfway through. I look on the calendar in the same way as a budget. For years I didn’t budget properly. When I tried to stick to a budget I would give up within the first month or two after overspending and feeling like I had failed. It was only much later in life that I changed my approach and accepted that whether I budgeted or not I would have the same amount of money to play with, but by tracking my overspend and adjusting my targets I would have a better idea of what was possible. The 90 year calendar is similar – time passes regardless, but keeping track of it can bring in to focus my priorities and help with planning my next steps.


Wait But Why sell large posters of the calendar, but an A4 spreadsheet can be useful for sketching out events and plans. I have created a macro script for OpenOffice/LibreOffice that I use to give an overview of where I am and what I have done.  You are welcome to use and change it.

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Posted in computing & technology, random

UK Election – Part 2

Just a little something to lighten things up after my last post:

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UK Election

There is only one more sleep until the general election on 8 June now. As if I needed another reason to vote against the Conservatives tomorrow, Theresa May has said today that if human rights laws “get in the way” of tackling terror suspects, “we will change the law so we can do it”. In support of this I received an election email from the Conservative party boasting that they will quite happily chip away at our human rights in order to win the fight against terrorism. Nick Clegg among others has pointed out that there are much more effective things the government could do [BBC News].

Why is there so often a rush from authority to take away our freedoms when a crisis comes knocking? After the Manchester bombing Amber Rudd called for a stop to end-to-end encryption in messenger apps like WhatsApp, something that is still very much on the table. This article explains why that is a bad idea. When you place a back-door in a system so that government agencies can monitor what is going on, you break it wide open for hackers and criminal gangs to also gain access. Sabotaging encryption is bad for businesses that need secure methods of communication, it is bad for personal privacy and in the long run it will only temporarily hamper efforts by those who wish to terrorize us.

Please go out and vote tomorrow and please vote tactically to oust your Conservative MP. Message me if you need someone to swap votes with.


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Posted in computing & technology, tuppence

First Past the Post Doesn’t Work

There are now only 21 days until the UK general election and all the political talk going on has reminded me of a few videos on CGP Grey’s fantastic YouTube channel about voting systems.

In the UK we have a First Past the Post voting system that has a number of inherent problems. One such problem is that an MP can be voted into parliament by a minority of voters, leaving the majority of voters in a constituency unrepresented. CGP Grey’s video on the 2015 election explains this well:

To re-iterate what is said in the video, there are clearly issues with the way we vote. Look at the table below of the 2015 election results.

Votes Seats Vote Share (%) Vote Share as Seats Difference
Conservative 11,334,576 331 36.9 240 91
Labour 9,347,304 232 30.4 198 34
UKIP 3,881,099 1 12.6 82 -81
Liberal Democrat 2,415,862 8 7.9 51 -43
Scottish National Party 1,454,436 56 4.7 31 25
Green Party 1,157,613 1 3.8 25 -24

The table shows the 2015 results for the top six parties ordered by percentage vote share. The first three columns of figures show the actual votes, seats and vote share for each party. The fourth column gives the vote share as a number of the 650 parliamentary seats. So, if instead of voting for an MP to represent us we were voting purely for a party, the share of seats would be very different and our votes would be better reflected in the make-up of parliament.  As you can see this benefits greatly parties like UKIP, the Lib Dems and the Greens and reduces the power of the main parties, the Conservatives and Labour.

A downside to apportioning seats in this way is that you don’t get to vote for a local candidate. CGP Grey has a play list of videos discussing the different voting systems and how this could be addressed: Voting Systems Playlist.

Tactical Voting

The reason I mention the above is that with the coming election, some parties have called for tactical voting arrangements where they won’t put forward a candidate or actively canvas in a constituency where another candidate has a better chance of beating a Conservative candidate.  Critics of these tactics accuse the parties of denying voters a choice and subverting democracy.  They say it turns voting into a grubby vote-swapping game and doesn’t allow voters to choose the candidate they really support.  However, I would say these tactics are necessary to counteract a clear bias towards the main two parties in our voting system.  Yes, it means that we don’t have the satisfaction of voting for our natural first choice, but we need to be realistic.  Tactical voting will, in the end, give us a greater voice than faithful adherence to voting for ‘our party’ will in this current system.

Better Representation

In the long term parliament needs to re-examine the voting system and give us a better choice than we were given in the 2011 referendum on alternative voting.  As CGP Grey points out, AV is riddled with many of the same problems that FPTP has, but it isn’t the only way to provide voters with better representation.


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Posted in Brighton & Hove, tuppence

On yer bike!

I have always enjoyed driving, ever since my dad paid for my driving lessons when I turned eighteen. The feelings of movement and independence combined with the excitement of exploration. It helped that I had an innate aptitude for driving along with a patient and relaxed instructor. It was a couple of years before I bought my first car, a frugal and unassuming Skoda Favorit GLX, that I used to travel to my industrial placement. Since then I have clocked up many miles in the UK and overseas.

This March I wanted to try something new, so I signed up to do the motorcycle Compulsory Basic Training day with a friend. CBT is a one day course that goes through the essentials for riding a motorcycle and needs to be completed before you are allowed on UK roads as an unsupervised learner. Leading up to the day, I looked on it as an “experience day” similar to the ones where you can go up in a microlight, or drive a car on a skid-pan or racetrack. I wasn’t sure what to expect and whether I would enjoy the day, but on the drive over I was excited and for the first time in ages had butterflies in my stomach.

My friend Mark was interested in doing the CBT as well, so we booked with an instructor he knows through musical connections – AJH Motorcycle Training. Andy of AJH met us at the training site, a school playground in Reigate. Along with Mark and I was another student, an older woman, who was there for a refresher to allow her to continue to ride her scooter. The day was a combination of absorbing information and a good amount of practice. There are five parts to the CBT detailed here. After Andy had spoken to us about choosing the right equipment for riding we walked over to the bikes we would be using for the day and there was more talk, this time about the controls on a motorcycle and what maintenance and checks are needed before riding. After an information dense introduction we got to sit on the bikes.

2017-03-19 16.35.01

On the Honda MSX

Mark and I were each given a Honda MSX 125 to practise on as we wanted to learn on a geared motorcycle. We began by simply riding in first gear for about twenty metres and coming to a controlled stop in a box of cones. Next Andy showed us how to ride in a wide turn and come back to the starting point, all in first gear. The exercises continued to increase in complexity, introducing how to change gear, checking our blind-spot and more until we had practised many of the skills we would need out on the road. I was finding it tricky to change gear correctly and was over-thinking things (as is typical for me) but I did quite well at low speed control doing corners and figure-of-eights. Mark was the opposite, finding the figure-of-eights tricky but having no problem with changing gears. Eventually we both managed to improve to a level where Andy was happy to continue.

After a snack break there was some more talk to prepare us for the on-road riding – advice on speed, attitude, anticipation and much more. After this we had a wait while Andy took the third student out on the scooter. On their return we had the final part of the training – on-road riding. It was like my first driving lessons all over again. Our little convoy filed out from the playground where we had safely been practising, out to the car park, past the gates and on to the roads of Reigate. It was great! Andy kept in communication with us through a walkie-talkie and earpiece that we each had, and Andy having a microphone. One in front of him and one behind, we rode around practising everything we’d been taught and getting pointers as we progressed. Lots of junctions, positioning ourselves correctly and checking for hazards as well as the obligatory emergency stop and turn in the road. After a good amount of time on the road we headed back to the practice area and Andy presented us with our all-important CBT certificates.

It was a fun day and definitely worth the money with the added bonus that I now have two years where I can ride unsupervised with L plates. I would like to say a big thanks to Andy for his clear and comprehensive instruction. Also thanks to Mark for accompanying me on the day. It was much more fun doing the day with a friend.

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Posted in biking

Brighton Soup

Back in December I attended Brighton Soup at the suggestion of a friend. It is a bit like Dragon’s Den but for local projects. This post has been sitting as a draft for two months, but with the next Brighton Soup event coming up on 24th February it becomes timely again.

The format is simple. You buy a ticket for the evening, currently £4. Doors open early so you can get comfortable and get chatting to other attendees if you so wish.

At the start time it launches straight into the four pitches. Each speaker gets four minutes to give their pitch on what they do and the project that they would use the money for, followed be a brief Q&A where the audience can ask about the project and the plans for the money.

After the four pitches, everyone tucks into a choice of tasty home-made soups and the bread and cake that people bring along as pot-luck. I do very little cooking, so I was a bit nervous about buying my pot-luck bread and cake from the local Co-op. Thankfully others had the same idea, so I was in good company. There’s plenty of time to eat and chat with those on your table, plus an extra opportunity for the pitchers to go round the tables to answer any more questions, and give a last push to convince people to vote for them.

Next is a raffle, the proceeds of which go towards Brighton Soup itself to keep it running. There were a good selection of prizes sponsored by local and national firms.

Each evening has some entertainment. This evening had a woman playing acoustic guitar and singing with accompaniment.

Last come the results. This evenings winner was the Learning Disability Voices Network film project, supported by Dawn Thorpe of Brighton & Hove Speak Out who took away a pot of around £380.

It was a fun evening, the soup was tasty and all of the projects deserved to win. Though only one pitch takes away the money, guests can give feedback or offers to volunteer or donate to any of the projects on the night by putting a sticky note on the project’s display board. I would recommend anyone to go.

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Posted in Brighton & Hove
February 2018
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