Sunday, 6 April 2014

Space Debris - a risk to NASA but there may be solutions

We as a civilisation have put a lot of rubbish into space - from discarded rocket shells, broken satellites and things lost from space missions it all ends up whizzing around in the near Earth orbit. Some of it is potentially very dangerous and the more its up there and the more of it we leave the bigger the risk to our satellite communications, the people on the ISS and future manned missions in space.

Previously I have seen on BBC2s Horizon program experiments with liquid metals where spheres filled with the material are used to generate electromagnetic fields. Typically material used has been softer metals like mercury, lithium and sodium, they are hazardous to handle, heavy to operate but do seem to produce remarkable simulations of the Earths own magnetic field.

Earths own magnetic field propels bodies and particles away from us. It propels certain radiation away from us too - cosmic rays in space are a massive risk to human life in space, if we could propel that away it could mean longer space missions meaning travel to Mars and further would be more livable for astronauts.

There is another application for a magnetic field generator often overlooked. It could be used to send the crap in space back down into freefall towards Earth, reducing the risk of space damage. Imagine the ball, if you will, being directed around the near Earth orbit generating the field just above particles and pinging it back into the atmosphere. Imagine it also travelling ahead of the ISS and generating a bow wave that protects the space stations orbit. Imagine it travelling ahead of a manned mission to Mars and leaving "clean space" in its wake for the astronauts to travel into reducing the risk of cancer from radiation. This could be as part of a dual space craft system (like the spitfire in front of the hurricane), or it could be like an antenna projecting out from the top of a manned space craft.

Universities and scientists are taking this idea seriously enough to play around with it and see what it does, I envisage that it wont be long before we see such an experiment happen out in space.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Weirdness of the week...

This week has been tough. I've had issues with my ventolin inhaler malfunctioning on me and have booked an appointment with my GPs asthma nurse due to something triggering me into attacks. As yet minor they've not been alleviated due to the inhaler deciding to spew its guts for no reason.

This week has also been tough due to work pressure - short staffed, a pay day week, plus many equipment failures have meant people like myself being run off our feet. A lot of effort for not much comeback. I leave work every day this week feeling like I've just run a marathon. Bruised, back pain and stressed.

So at the beginning of the week when I rode home through Southampton Common I noted a small group of people running towards myself and what I think was a lady runner. They came from the play park area of the green by the Cow Herders pub and on to the path as I attempted to pass said lady jogger. At first I thought it was just a gang of kids having heard one of them shout out to the young girl who appeared to have stormed away. Then I saw the TV cameras and the boom holding the mic.

No idea what was going on. I found myself commenting: "This aint Hollyoaks, is it?!"

Friday was also a tough day. To be honest I'd had "Friday Legs" since Wednesday and so the ride home was slow and tougher than usual. For 6 miles it shouldn't be that tough but it was. I passed a primary school and saw a ball bounce into the road. I even attempted to throw the ball back to the kids, merely hitting a tree and having it bounce back under a car.

The kids faces said a thousand words: "Can't you even throw a ball?!" Though they never said it allowed. I retrieved the ball and managed to throw it back over the fence and they played on as if I had never been there as I did the ride of shame away, "can't you even throw a ball" echoing in my head.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Average speed - 20mph on the Kinesis... and that's with Asthma problems

This weekend I have mostly been knackered from wheezing. I've said before that I'm pretty sure this is pollution related. If I go somewhere where there is no traffic, in fact a good example is in an indoor environment where the air is filtered (quite common in the industry I work in) my breathing eases.

I used the Cateye Strada and noted the general speeds I got up to.

Average for total 10 mile trip: 13.4mph
Maximum: 29.8mph
Average up the Itchen Bridge: 14.5mph
Average on the flat: 20mph

I'm quite impressed I managed these speeds given my asthma had been giving me minor problems this morning, plus the fact the camo shorts I sometimes wear tend to inflate around my thighs like mini parachutes.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

How fast I go I do not know

If you're into racing bikes you tend to have a special love for speed. Its not like speed in a car, there is a biological relationship. A symbiosis between bicycle and human.

Any fool can press hard on the accelerator in a car, after all.

I've been riding the Kinesis TK2 for a couple of years now. I first saw an ad for the factory bike in CTCs Cycle magazine. The factory bike wasn't quite what I wanted - it had great spec with Tiagra kit and (I think) Shimano wheels, but I always liked Mavic Aksiums. I rode for 2 years on Aksiums and then switched back to Mavic Open Pros with Hope Pro 3 hubs. The dogs danglies of custom wheel imo, made up for me by Cycleworld in Thornhill.

A few times I have chatted to workmates about how they'd seen me out riding. They being either on foot or in car, both situations saying they'd seen me "flying along". I've never particularly thought of myself as a fast rider, I do appreciate that the right kit does improve speed however. Bladed spokes, bladed forks, drop bars, narrow tyres and hubs with quality bearings; add to that clothing that doesn't flap in the wind like lycra and your average speed increases compared to a bloke in normal clothes on an upright bike.

I'm not saying "wear lycra" here, I enjoy riding in normal clothes too.

I've tried several times to fit my old Cateye Strada to the Kinesis but several problems have presented themselves. Cable ties tend to be too short to fit in the small holes and around the fork itself. I did try today to fit the sensor on the rear stay but the distance to the bars tends to mean no signal gets through. I could mount the display elsewhere - but this kind of devalues to object of a display.

I suppose I could get a GPS system. I've craved for one of these for several years now, but £300 for a Garmin is well out of my range. Strava does now and again tempt me, I often wonder how I compare to others my age on similar hills ...but GPS is a lot of money for someone on my income.

I suppose thats one of the joys of racing bikes - they can be had for not much money. Its all the other bits and bobs that cost the earth.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

The "You broke my wing mirror" defence

I keep a tab on an awful lot of youtube videos relating to cycling, especially cycle "cammers" (people like myself who ride regularly with a camera attached to the bike or body). These camera systems have been a wonderful tool in documenting everything from the benefit of a bike in heavy traffic, the oddities of daily life, they have even been used to target bad road users and make a difference (as Cycling Mikey documents in his extensive playlist).

Something I have noted within the scope of these commuting videos is how many drivers when caught doing something naughty (in fact criminal) or dangerous in turn claim "you broke my mirror!" I also note how many cabbies seem to be involved in making these false claims. It is something Peter Walker found himself on the receiving end of today:

It is almost a "you sunk my battleship" moment as they realise their own behaviour is so untoward that they fumble for their own answers when a simple "I am sorry" should have exited their brain and down towards their mouth.

As I so often say - if a cyclist feels the need to say something that often means the driving has been substandard. Its not a threat, often its not even angry, and it is certainly not the rider emasculating the driver in any manner. The balance of power is very much in the drivers hands.

As the video above shows - when these false claims are made the driver in question has no idea that a camera is rolling. The more they do and say, the deeper the hole they dig themselves, and in reality does any other driver really want to share the road with this kind of arrogant and selfish person, let alone a cyclist?

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Another ride, another broken spoke - when will Southampton fix the roads?

The damage to my wheel today, thanks to rough roads!
I've never been to the moon, but I can imagine walking on it would be much like crossing any road here in Southampton. Potholes, rough surfacing, poor refills after contractors have laid broadband links and bad weather are all leading to roads that are a pain in the arse to use or cross.

I can imagine an elderly person, with limited mobility, tripping over and breaking a hip. Or a motorcyclist hitting a 5 inch deep hole and being sent over the bars. These things can kill, at the very least they can damage your property.

So today when I awoke early knowing that the weather would be probably the first warm day of the year, I donned my Castelli cycling shorts and got on the saddle for an hour. I had intended to ride further but heading into my 12th mile I heard that resounding "pop!" every cyclist knows and dreads - a spoke had broken. I limped home the 2 further miles, pissed off at yet further expense.

The last two times road surfacing has caused damage to my bikes I wrote to Southampton City Council to ask that they a) fix the roads and b) pay the bloody costs of my repairs. I never even got a "fuck off" in reply. Something is seriously going wrong at the transport department if they even fail to give a response. I did however manage to get Jacqui Rayment the Transport cabinet member for the council to give a response on the recent "CYCLISTS DISMOUNT" signs. They were duly removed. I've repeated my complaint via twitter to the same lady - perhaps this is a way to get the Council's attention?

I may not be a lightweight (a hard physical job and a love of food mean I currently top out just over 15 stone, if I could box I'd be a heavyweight punchbag) but I choose my bikes and wheels accordingly. A bicycle is a remarkably strong device, far stronger than a lot of people realise. 32 and 36 spoked wheels with good rims and thicker spokes will take some reasonable punishment - the trouble is this area is fast becoming mountain biking territory as the undulations and holes are now quite unreasonable.

Christ knows how much money I've lost to this in the past couple of years alone.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

The Myth of Free Time

The following is based upon mine and others experiences of travel throughout Southampton. The names are an amalgamation of several people and changed so as not to single out anyone.

January. Its cold outside at 5 degrees Celsius but the wind is a moderate 15mph. It's blowing towards work rather than from it and the distance ahead is just 6 miles. Its a Tuesday.

The sky is clear and bright with a full moon and there is ice on the cars. The road is dry and grippy.

Jamie often complains about a lack of time: "It's all very well people riding bikes, but ordinary people just don't have the time.We have lives!"

Getting up, always bleary eyed at 7am, Jamie pulls back the curtains and notices the ice on their windscreen. "Shit! I should have covered it last night! Wish the forecast had said 'ice', it might have helped." Putting on the jeans and shirt Jamie stumbles down stairs, eats some breakfast puts their shoes and coat on and says goodbye to loved ones. The crisp air stings Jamie's face a little, hands are rubbed together and the usual 30 minute drive is cursed as the scraper is retrieved from the side pocket of the car.

Turn the ignition. Run the heater. Shut the doors for a moment and walk around the car with a can of deicer and slowly remove the frost. This takes Jamie about 10 minutes, but as soon as the drivers door is opened to exit the cold and enter the warm the inside of the windows all mist up. A quick Mr Miyagi of "wipe off" later, quite why this 80s film comes to mind during the exercise is anyone's guess, and we're off.

Jamie gets stuck in traffic for about 5 minutes in total. As they arrive they meet Kayden who has arrived by bike. A couple of small friendly conversations start and they go into work.

Kayden gets up at 7am. The warm allure of the duvet and the bodily warmth of another is hard to resist, as is another 10 minutes sleep. Work, or rather the contract of duty, calls, and a shirt and jeans are thrown on, some shoes slipped on and breakfast shoveled down the gullet.

Ice is expected by a winter cyclist. It is winter after all, so the "winter bike" has been well prepared and used well in advance. A quick wander outside into the road and the road surface is gently checked with the shoes. Ice all over the cars but the road itself is fine. Kayden's bike is a standard "hybrid" affair, slightly more upright and with 10 speeds they've fitted some semi-knobbly tyres that are wider than racing tyres.

The lock and work kit needed it slung into a small pannier bag, fitted to the bike, the lights lit and Kayden rides off. As they cycle they notice the drivers scraping their windscreens, but they're soon in the distance and Kayden is climbing the first hill of the day. Soon a second. Its starting to get lighter. Now at work a quick look at the watch: "That took 32 minutes to do 6 miles today! Bloody headwinds," they mentally joke.

Jamie sees Kayden as they walk from their car, the two friends say hello. "I wish I had the time to ride a bike like you, I just don't get the time," they comment.

"It took me 32 minutes to get here this morning. That's with all the traffic, too," Kayden replies.

Jamie: "45 minutes to get here for me!" The penny hasn't dropped yet. "The other half wants me to pick up milk and bread on the way home too! Petrol is costing me a fortune this week."

The working day ends, everyone is relieved to be able to leave. 5.30pm and a slight chill of 7 degrees outside everybody heads their separate ways. 25 minutes later after navigating the local traffic Jamie pulls into the supermarket, presses the button on the car keys to lock up and heads towards the entrance.

"Kayden...? Did you get out of work early?"

Kayden is unlocking the bike and setting off again having just bought milk and bread. "No. Left at 5.30 same as everyone else..."

The penny hasn't dropped yet...