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Orienteering Events UK iOS app in prototype

Yay! After several months of development, my Orienteering Events UK app is in what I would term a prototype stage. Which is to say: it all works, and well enough for me to use without worrying about bugs or missing features, although it will need some tidying up in the code if it’s to go public.

Whether that happens really depends on the reaction of other orienteers. After all, there are other sources of fixture information out there: to start with, there are lots of web sites (BOF, clubs, associations, and the wonderful events.info, from which I drew inspiration for my own filtering system).

Then more recently, Neil Bricknell has released his Event-O iOS app.

So the obvious question is: why? Why would I go to the trouble of making another fixture list source, and specifically another iOS app?

You can see more about the app’s features in a separate article, but to answer the “why?” questions briefly:

I was accustomed to using oevents.info, but wanted a few things it couldn’t (directly) provide:

  • simple filter editing, so that I could modify an existing search (more easily than editing a URL);
  • direct addition of an event to my calendar (I use Google calendar a lot, via the Apple Calendar app on my iPad);
  • direct access to travel time/route information (via a maps app);
  • a nicer printed list for the fridge magnet 😉

Then Event-O came along, so why not use that? Well…

  • it’s iPhone only (for iOS). On iPad (which I use for most of my armchair planning) it runs in a phone sized part of the screen. By contrast, my app is currently iPad only (though followers of Apple tech may already be thinking, as I am, “maybe macOS soon too…?”);
  • I prefer a list-based view, rather than a calendar, which although nicely visual, doesn’t provide as much space for detail;
  • I wanted the very granular filtering that events.info provides;
  • I wanted to be able to save a list of the events that I’m planning to attend, or at least thinking about, in a “favourites” list, and print that out.

So all in all, I think it’s sufficiently distinctive and different to merit its place. I’ve put a lot of effort into making it, so naturally I’m hoping others agree, and may have some constructive suggestions for future development. (And yes, I’ll continue to use Event-O on my phone for when I’m out and about!)

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Bikes and the march of technology

I recently saw a report that Bosch are planning to release an ABS (anti-lock braking) system for bikes – specifically for e-bikes, presumably because they need power. Yup, that’s right: ABS for bikes.

Of course, bikes have always been affected by technological progress: we have carbon fibre frames as well as a whole variety of metal alloys; we have puncture resistant tyres; in recent years we’ve seen the introduction of electronic gear shifting, and now that can even be wireless.

That’s leaving aside the technology related to tracking rides, measuring the rider’s power output, and so on.

Now, I love my tech gadgets, but here’s the thing: one of the most appealing aspect of bikes is that they are simple. Pretty much all the parts are exposed (bar a few bearings that need to be kept enclosed!), and there’s hardly a job that an intelligent person can’t do to fix them, given a few not-wildly-expensive tools. They’re not like modern cars, where you need to hook them up to a computer to find out what’s going on in the engine. And don’t get me started on the impossibility of changing a headlamp bulb…

Presently I own two bikes. One of them (ironically the one that is slightly newer) is entirely traditional in its mechanics; the other has hydraulic disc brakes, which I’ve always been nervous of touching. It’s ten years old, so the creep of not-so-user-serviceable bits is not new.

The difference now, it seems to me, is that we’re starting to see electrical or electronic systems being applied to core functions of the bike. I mean, you can ride a bike quite happily without a GPS or a power meter, but as for your brakes or gears: you don’t want to lose those, they are “core functions”.

So, should we welcome these developments or push back? For me, I welcome technology that enhances my ride in some way; whether just by logging where I went and how quickly, or by warning me of vehicles approaching from behind. But I think I’ll always resist having electronics in the core functions, simply because it frees the bike from any worries about batteries or electronic faults. I don’t want to be saying “No, I can’t go out for a ride just now; my gear shifters are flat”.

Of course, for e-bikes, you need a dirty great battery anyway, so things are different, and I think they may end up being quite different in nature from the “normal” pedal cycle – whatever that is. And one of the differences may be that we have to be more accepting of taking them in to a bike shop for regular servicing, or to deal with faults we can’t fix without specialist diagnostic equipment.

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Things that caught my eye this week

I never knew…

There were once pink and white terraces on the hillside above Lake Rotomahana in New Zealand, which drew visitors from around the world (quite a journey in the mid-1800s!). Apart from the pink colour, they perhaps looked a bit like the ones pictured (which are in Yosemite National Park, in the USA). But they were lost in a volcanic eruption in 1886, and have never been seen since. The area had never been properly mapped, so no-one was quite sure where they were. Now two researchers think they may have pinpointed where they are buried.

More on the Guardian web site.

The U2 spy plane

No, I didn’t see one, but in the course of a talk by Sir David Pepper I learned a couple of things that made me admire the courage of the pilots of these secretive aircraft.

First, they flew so high, and in such rarefied air, that their speed had to be very precise to keep the aircraft stable – within only a few miles per hour either way.

Second, the wings were so long that they had extra wheels to support the ends on take-off, but these were then jettisoned to save weight. That meant that there was no such support on landing, and the plane was landing only on a pair of wheels directly below the (very narrow) fuselage, which has been likened to “landing on a unicycle”. To make matters worse, the pilot had extremely limited downward visibility, so a chase car would drive along behind and count the pilot down. You can see it all happen in this video:

Makes any commercial airliner landing look like a stroll in the park…

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When is an earthquake…

…not an earthquake?

A long time ago, I spent several years working in the field of earthquake seismology. It’s perhaps strange then, that I never really gave much thought to what might properly be called a earthquake, and what not. (My defence is that the earthquakes I was studying were, well, obviously earthquakes – nowhere near any grey area).

I actually came to think about this after a visit to the Darby Houses in Coalbrookdale (these are the houses where the famous Darby family iron masters lived). One of the exhibits there referred to the Buildwas “earthquake” of 27 May 1773.

What actually happened?

The effects of the Buildwas earthquake are probably best defined by the plan drawn up by George Young (see picture – note that north on his plan is not oriented to the top of the page as we would conventionally expect on modern maps). He shows how great gashes up to 30 feet (9m) deep have opened up in the hillside on the north bank of the river, with about 300 yards along the hillside affected; how field boundaries and the road have been pushed southwards towards the river; and how even the river itself has been forced onto a more southerly course.

It seems that, for a time, the river was effectively dammed, preventing navigation through the affected area and leaving boats below stranded on the river bed. The river, remember, was a primary route for transporting goods from the industrial areas around the Severn Gorge in the days before the railways.

But was it an earthquake?

Here’s what my dictionary says about the word: “A shaking of the ground; usually spec. a convulsion of the earth’s surface produced by volcanic or similar forces within the crust”. As an aside, given our modern understanding of plate tectonics, this definition seems a bit dated, but leave that aside for the moment.

Was there a “shaking of the ground”, a “convulsion of the earth’s surface”? From the information in Young’s plan, I should say so.

Was it “produced by volcanic or similar forces within the earth’s crust”? The nearest active volcanoes are in Italy and Iceland, so not that, although England does experience a few genuine earthquakes arising from long standing stresses on geological faults, but contemporary records say that there had been heavy rain for several days prior to the “earthquake”, and that the river had been running high. We also know that the whole of the Severn Gorge is subject to instability, with many small landslips recorded. Indeed, as I write, a huge project to prevent further landslips in the Jackfield  area has recently been completed.

So it would seem most likely that what happened was a slippage of relatively superficial earth and rock, not related to deeper or more wide-scale geological processes and I think, now, we would rather use the term “landslip” to describe this event. But that does seem to lose a little romance, and I for one will probably put aside scientific rigour and continue to refer to the Buildwas earthquake.

As a postscript, the map snippet below shows the area as it is today; you’ll see that the site is still marked as “Landslip” on the modern map!

Note: I am indebted to the University of Nottingham’s Weather Extremes blog article for much of the historical information contained in this piece.

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Bikes, bikes, bikes…

It’s been a fair few years since I bought a bike. Things seemed so much simpler then: there were essentially mountain bikes and road bikes. OK, there were different sorts of each, and there were BMX bikes, but really, the choices were relatively simple. Going back even further, to when I was growing up, it was simpler still – there were “racers” (with drop handlebars), and there was the “sit-up-and-beg” sort of bike – the sort your mum might have ridden to the shops with a wicker basket on the front. Actually, this is almost certainly a view through the filter of youth and nostalgia – even then there would have been a distinction between racing and touring bikes. But still, not a lot more than that. And then there was the Chopper, of course, that one-off marmite bike.

Having recently started cycling again after a bit of a break (there shall be more joy in heaven…), I’m gobsmacked at the number of niches that have apparently opened up in the intervening years. We now have trail bikes, downhill bikes, fat bikes, plus bikes, cyclocross bikes, endurance bikes, aero bikes and apparently dozens of other categories within categories.

It’s not just me saying this: after I wrote the first draft of this piece (honest!), I saw a piece on BikeRadar in which the term “hyper-niche-ification” was applied to what had occurred. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but it seems about right.

There’s an old joke about bikes (which, by the way, applies equally to cameras and guitars), that essentially says, the answer to the question – which will probably be asked by your other half on seeing you eyeing up a bike shop, or web site – “how many bikes does a person need?”, is “one more than you already have”. These days, it seems, the answer is actually several more.

Except… there’s now a reaction to this so-called “n+1” problem, with a new breed of “all road” or “gravel” bikes being touted as the “one bike to rule them all”: quick enough on the tarmac, yet capable of riding out the bumps on the trackways and bridleways, and usually fitted with lugs so you can carry a bit of luggage if you need to, or fit mudguards. Lovely idea; I really fancy one. Of course, I’d still want another bike for… oh, wait…

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