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My Inspired Life of Cycling

My life has pretty much always included cycling. I think I was pedalling before I was able to walk, and apparently before I was even born! Perhaps it’s genetics, perhaps it’s aspirational – my dad being the other cyclist in my life, he died when I was very young, but knowing that riding a bike was a part of his life meant I was to ride a bike too (just like playing guitar).

Many people see me riding my bike, I go out ‘just for the hell of it’ and I also cycle to and for work. Because I don’t drive so often, quite a few people assume I don’t have a car, whis is incorrect. People make comments about how fit I must be, or just drop their jaw when I casually answer their question about how far I’ve come (which usually isn’t that far in my books), or because of my ‘lack of fear’ of traffic or weather.

When people pass me in their car, especially if there is only the driver, I wonder if they think “I could be doing that”. When I’m driving and I see a cyclist I think I usually give them an analytical glance, not a judgmental one, but one of admiration if they’re going at a fair pace, or a happy thought of “I do that too”. I remember a good few years ago I was driving through Snowdonia in North Wales and I saw a cyclist tourer, towing a trailer along the mountain road. That image stayed with me and it gave me thoughts of admiration and I suppose one of “I want to do that”. Last year, without consciously thinking about that image, I did do that, not with a trailer, but panniers that were probably loaded with the same gear.

bike

I always wonder, and I think hope, that I give other people some of that aspiration. While I like to think how I might be similar to my dad, I hope it’s not all down to genetics, I hope it’s just a state of mind that anyone can get into. I am sure it’s accurate to say that children are most easily inspired compared to us adults – the neural pathways that make up their imagination not yet lacking the inflexibility of their later years to come. I like that look on their face as I pedal past – I see them as my young self looking out at the world and deciding what I want to grow up being like.

Have I always been too easily aspired or inspired by I wonder.

aspiring
    directing one’s hopes or ambitions towards becoming a specified type of person.

inspiring
    having the effect of inspiring someone.

I feel like there have been many people in my life that have influenced me, either briefly, or for a greater period of my life (potentially indefinitely). These people are probably less often real people, and instead fictitious, such as characters in films. My inspiration isn’t only a mental flash that I sit and enjoy until it fades away, but it has often been something I act upon – I have made changes in my life to make me more like them, or make my environment more like there’s. This behaviour of course dates back to my childhood, and when it was more pronounced, and it perhaps reflects some sort of freedom I was permitted by my parents way back then, but to this day I still let things influence me and guide my life, even if I’m not quite so carefree.

When we see something in someone else that we want too, are we not perhaps just seeing something that already exists in ourselves, I wonder? A potential, at least. Seeing that person doing it, and feeling that aspiring energy, just guides us onto our right path – like seeing a tasty cake and realising “I just fancy that!” (perhaps you fancied something like a cake before you saw the cake, you just didn’t realise it was the cake you wanted until you saw it). And it is a right path is it produces something positive.

I have met some people that have felt a strong inspirational draw from one particular person (sometimes fictitious), or a particular theme, and then their own life becomes that. I will admit that I once dressed, during my childhood, for a day, as closely as I could to that of Marty McFly in Back to the Future, I also tried to perfect the art of skateboarding, I took up guitar playing, I had a radio alarm clock, I tried sleeping in my clothes, and I also thought the high school I was choosing to go to was a little bit like Hill Valley High. This is an extreme that I now find uncomfortable (although funny to recall), especially if after all these years I was still living in my imagined world of Back to the Future IV which probably wouldn’t have developed beyond the realms of 1985/2015 as they were portrayed in the films (I could never actually decide if I wanted to be the cool Marty, or the time-machine-inventing Doc, but Marty had the better/viable look). Now I don’t think there is any one person or theme in my life that anyone could pinpoint as blatantly obvious, but I still find that energy and vibe from some characters and try and let it manifest inside me. I still play guitar and ponder the possibilities of time travel, even if I gave up skateboarding a good while ago.

marty_mcfly

Perhaps I should now invest in a white lab coat.

doc_e_brown

As I write this I’m also also thinking of the world of ‘cosplay’ where people dress up as a fictitious character – the best cosplayers are probably the ones that best embody that character, while at the same time making a great achievement with the accuracy of the costume and overall look. But I’m sure there are some cosplayers that struggle, beyond that first key character they became, to dress up like someone else quite so well – they’ll always be that first character. This could be a shame if they then fail to live their ‘own life’. Indeed some actors are only ever known for one key role – it can become a little bit cringe-worthy after a while. No, we must avoid that.

In returning to the topic of cycling, I suppose my point is that I believe there are lots of motorists that could be (when there is no significant physical limitation) on a bike instead of in their car, I think a lot of non-cyclists fail to realise that we’re all human and it’s more a mental state that lures someone into their car rather than onto a bike (getting into my car used to be routine for me too, but riding my bike now is my routine instead). I also think, sadly, some people have grown out of being guided by things that might have once inspired them, or were never encouraged as children to follow the inspirations that are all around us. I hope I continue to be inspired, and if I inspire people and be a positive role model along the way, then that’s good too.

 
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Posted by on 20 October, 2014 in Cycling, Films, Psychology, Time_Travel

 

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Reset the Net

Bamford, Snowdon and the NSA

Back in June I finished reading a book called The Shadow Factory by James Bamford. I’ve read a few of his books now (The Puzzle Palace and Body of Secrets), all about the world of spying, and the NSA. This book, his most recent of the three, was published back in 2008, and what it reveals is actually a lot of familiar stuff related to the topic of NSA “whistleblower” Edward Snowden, which I have to admit, I’ve neglected to follow.

This book covers so much, and just like the other books, I’ve found it all very fascinating, but then a challenge to decide “where to begin?” if I’m to write something about what I’ve read. It was while I was looking through my notes on the final chapter about the future of the NSA, where Bamford looks at the latest developments within the organisation and where technology is leading us, that I casually googled “Google NSA” to see what links it would throw up. That was when I first heard about the “Reset the Net” campaign.

Reset the net

The event marked the first anniversary of Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Administration’s extensive and illegal dragnet surveillance apparatus.

The official website explains that:

A year after the first NSA revelation, the US Congress has failed to protect our rights. Starting today, June 5th, we’re taking steps to directly block government surveillance on the Internet…

The history of phone and web tapping

The thing is, what Snowdon revealed wasn’t unknown – it just wasn’t in the public’s face. As Bamford reveals in The Shadow Factory, the NSA has been tapping phone lines for decades, and as the internet developed the NSA tapped into that too. The chances are that what you do online, the data that transfers to and from your computer as you browse, check e-mails, or do online banking, passes through NSA systems.

Resetting the net, or resetting our attitudes?

With this in mind, the idea of ‘simply’ resetting the net, and having an internet without this multi-billion dollar ‘thing’ tacked on seems, well, unlikely.

It’s not just the physical act of switching off those unwanted systems, but it’s everything that goes with it. I’m not suggesting the internet wouldn’t work without them, but rather, when there is such a vast government or corporate program in operation, there is a whole underlying community too – that’s people and jobs.

Therefore, requesting that the net be reset is not what is required, it’s attitudes, it’s the whole system that needs to be reset, and by ‘whole’ I mean right from government, politics and corporations, right down to how we all live as individuals, how we all earn our daily bread and keep a roof over our heads and clothes on our backs. “We’ve” developed this whole system whereby there are systems, like the NSA, that exist “simply” to support the system.

Am I being vague? What is this system I speak of? Well, it’s the system that provides its people with more and more money and “stuff” – stuff that most of us to aspire to – material things, a certain lifestyle – nothing is simple any more and so the system isn’t either. As human beings we can actually survive on very little – only a few basic things: food, air and water, and the right environment. It is the system that is dictating what is the “right” environment. If we don’t want that part of the system any more, a part that seems to needlessly spy on us (while claiming to be keeping us safe), the whole system needs to change. We need to change. We need to feel safe and secure with only simple things. But the opposite seems to be true – we’re made to feel unsafe and unsecure – governments will claim we’re at war, a war against people who threaten our so-called freedoms. Sure some attacks are hard to ignore, but is the extent of such a threat exaggerated, just to maintain the system?

Living without

We could survive without the internet, just as we did, as a species, for hundreds of thousands of years, and many of us have done in our younger years, but right now, in this phase of our existence (I won’t use the terms ‘evolution’ or ‘development’) few of us want that, so it’s a case of ensuring we’re on the right track as a species, in fact, as a planet of species.

Are systems that listen in on our communications, monitor our browsing habits, analyse and predict our search terms and what we’re going to do next, healthy ones? Could all this gathering and processing lead us from being as free as we think we are, to being less free – living as a dictatorship, as Bamford and others fear? I think it is a possibility, but while the resetthenet campaign is against “mass government surveillance” it is supported by the likes of Google.

Supporting a system you don’t condone

Product’s of Google are laced throughout the web, from being the most popular search engine (a system which can surely be used in a similar way to that of government mass surveillance), down to the Operating System on our phones (Google’s Android OS being a close second behind Apple’s iOS on both mobile and tablet devices). Increasingly, popular devices can monitor a lot of what we do online, it’s a facility many boast, second guessing our browsing habits, when we wake up, when we go to work, what we eat, how much exercise we do, what route we take to get there, what music we like to listen to and what books we read – all these facilities (and more) are provided through apps, and many people use them without a second thought of what gathering all this data up could mean, and how it could be used, or abused.

As the resetthenet.org website helps to show, there are steps we can take as individuals to make it more difficult for people to listen in on what we do online. One of these things was actually revealed to me a earlier this year on the BBC Click technology program, when the presenter talked about the Edward Snowden case. This is the use of TAILS and TOR.

But that isn’t the way things are going. More things are becoming more complicated, and more online. Just recently in the UK it was announced that certain public services would no longer have telephone facility – everyone would have to go online. This is usually done, it is claimed, to save money because things are seen as being more simple when everything can be done this way – like call centres are expensive to operate. Personally I don’t think it adds up this way – if fewer people have such jobs, but expensive computer systems need to be set up and maintained, something has to give financially.

 
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Posted by on 19 October, 2014 in Computers, Internet, News, Politics, Psychology, Technology

 

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Second Life’s Rift in the Cloud

I was supposed to post this back in June, but it ended up in my Drafts folder, incomplete, so please forgive the belatedness.

Ok, so the title is lame but there have been a couple of new things I’ve seen when visiting the Second Lite website this week [back in June]. Can you guess what they are yet?… The clues are there in the title… No? Ok, then let me explain.

The first thing I saw was that Linden, the makers of Second Life, are selling cloud computing.

https://slgo.onlive.com/faq_setup

The underlying concept of cloud computing actually dates back to the 1950s, but the term has become a buzzword during the past ten years. With an increasing number of SLists using mobile computing devices from smart phones to tablets (plus all the existing underpowered laptops and desktops struggling to provide their users with a smooth, lag-free SLexperience), the ‘Cloud Gaming’ concept is being used to its best effect.

The second thing I saw was that Linden are promoting the us of Oculus Rift in SL – http://community.secondlife.com/t5/Featured-News/Using-the-Oculus-Rift-with-Second-Life/ba-p/2728824

It all kind of reminds me of the Lawnmower Man films (and later the Matrix aboard the Nebuchadnezzar, and Avatar in the pods, this idea that we can hook ourselves up to a ‘virtual’ world.

lawnmowerman

matrix_pod

avatar_pod

I think I prefer the cobbled together image presented is Lawnmower Man and the Matrix, over something sleek and in it’s polished form suitable for the masses as the Rift headsets appear to be and certainly will be when they finally go on sale. All of my computers are very much cobbled together because I used them for different things and I like to tinker. I did cobble a few screens together a year or so ago and dived into SL to see what it would look like, or even if it would work. I remember it was impressive: having such a wide field of view, in fact a strange effect I discovered was that I could effectively see round corners.

The Rift headset for use in SL does intrigue me, not enough to consider buying one, but I am intrigued none the less. Such as the point about the avatar’s view reflecting what the user’s head is doing and where the user is actually looking… it will take strategic camming to a whole new level. I wonder if those whe like their avis to look like their real life selves will put a Rift headset on their avi… perhaps such an accessory is already available on Marketplace….

For the time being, I will continue to chuckle at the advert for ‘E4’s Virtual Headbucket':

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qdmzMUAXBys

 
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Posted by on 19 October, 2014 in Computers, Films, Internet, Second_Life

 

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What’s Hot DeviantART?

…Women apparently.

deviantart_whats_hot

With the latest changes to DeviantART I have found myself on the What’s Hot page, the first line of which is occupied by pictures of female characters. I’m not complaining as such but it seems a little biased.

When the changes rolled out I didn’t find the new page I was presented with to be my sort of thing, but clicking the Browse link gets be back to where I’m familiar with, and now I’m presented with that by default again.

[EDIT] I’ve just discovered my profile page on DeviantART has changed also – it now includes by default an Activity Feed, so in addition to the box on the left with my latest Deviations, it puts larger versions down the right, above the deviantID box and comments. Annoying I think. I tried to edit it, but it doesn’t allow you to move it below the list of comments… so I shall remove that instead.

deviantart_activity_feed

 
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Posted by on 18 October, 2014 in Art, Blogging, Internet, Photography

 

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PayPal – we’re all children?

paypal_children_rule

Back in May I wrote of my mild annoyance of PayPal’s annoying (and distracting) login page (the flash animation/video playing in the background – you can prevent this by using the Flashblock addon in Firefox).

I don’t think it serves any purpose – for me PayPal is an online banking service and banks, in my opinion, should present themselves in a mature fashion, the seriousness shouldn’t be overbearing but is dumbing things down what we need? I don’t think so.

PayPal’s login screen isn’t the only annoyance in this regard. Once logged in I am currently having the above banner splashed across my screen, as seen above. It’s in the style of a doodle, as a youngster might make in their school text book, and it ends with the statement “People Rule”. To me it reads: “Children Rule” and I find it patronising. Perhaps the design team’s intention (and I assume a team was involved, even if it doesn’t look like it on first galnce), is to present PayPal in a friendly manner. A balance is important here – friendly, but serious.

Once logged in proper it doesn’t get much better. PayPal have dumbed down their website, I assume this is to cater for all the people now using tablets to access their website, users who need everything simple and hidden behind big buttons to aid thier naviation. This is frustrating for the rest of us sitting at a proper computer trying to get serious work done.

Please grow up PayPal.

P.S. The reason I was logging into my PayPal account on this occasion was to check my balance and transfer in funds from a bank account. This failed and I am being presented with the unhelpful message: “Sorry, we’re unable to process your request. You can still move money from your bank account to your PayPal account.” I will have to try again tomorrow.

 
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Posted by on 6 October, 2014 in Internet, Technology

 

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Pointless Technology – DVLA

tax_disc

The news today is that the DVLA’s new website can’t cope with the web traffic.

The government here in the UK has a “digital-first policy” – whereby it wants to cut out paperwork and the human aspect of its services. They may well claim (and have calculated to back up that claim) that it will save the tax-payer money, but I’m not convinced – there is always a hefty price tax on such systems, they come in over budget, and they always have teething problems (the NHS’s new computer system debacle is a case in point). It seems we’re talked into buying into such technology and this talking begins with the people who want jobs (or want to milk the system where they can) – my logic is that if the computer system works as technology does, it will cut the number of jobs within the DVLA system and less jobs means less money all round, and thus less people being able to afford car tax. Really we need systems that provide jobs, perhaps for the sake of providing jobs because we all need a means of putting food on our table and keeping a roof over our head, but that’s perhaps fuel for a future post.

For all the people struggling to renew their vehicle’s tax today, because the new system can’t cope, I’m laughing because it was only yesterday that I cycled to my nearest Post Office (that will still handle such things) and I renewed my car tax over the counter and paid by cheque (I don’t actually like cheques but I paid it through my business accounts). It was a simple process and one I insist of carrying out in this manner, rather than renewing online – I want to support my local Post Offices in this way (because we also complain when they close) and I want the human aspect to remain. Now there are people being told to “keep trying” if the DVLA system isn’t working for them – I am sure (like the queues of traffic I experienced the other weekend in Southport) that people will do this blindly, instead of getting off their backsides and actively renewing their vehicle tax in person at their local Post Office.

Another selling-point for such online systems is that they save us time. Time for what? Living? Is this living?

I had actually left my car tax renewal to the last minute – something I haven’t done before as I’m usually well organised, and I had forgotten about the new system whereby we no longer have a paper tax disc. I was first confused when I realised I didn’t have a certificate of insurance to accompany my MOT certificate – I checked the tax renewal letter and it confirmed that I only now needed the insurance one – I failed to glance at the mention about no longer having a paper tax disc and it was only when the lady at the Post Office didn’t hand one over that I remembered. She actually didn’t need my MOT certificate and just pushed it back at me.

I will actually miss not having a tax disc in my car’s window for some reason – it was like a yearly ritual dating back to when I bought my first car.

The human aspect is lacking in other areas, outside the government too – shops (for many years in places like the USA) have had self-service checkouts which I refuse to use, out of principal, and I pity the checkout staff when they have been instructed to point queuing customers in that direction. One time I was herded in that direction by a member of staff but they carried out the transaction for me because they seemed to recognise that I wasn’t o-fey with it (I’m a computer technician by trade so if anyone could figure it out it should be me) – so it really seemed ridiculous that a member of staff was manning the self-service checkout. I’m actually quite happy spending a quiet moment in a queue to ponder the world and people around me, and rarely find queues stressful – I consider there to be something wrong with my life when I feel like I’m in that much of a hurry to get frustrated by such trivial things.

 
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Posted by on 1 October, 2014 in Computers, Technology

 

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Today I love ebay/Paypal… they made me LOL

webcam

I bought a webcam for someone off ebay a month ago, it was supposed to be brand new but it arrived in what appeared to be an ex-display box with torn security tags – pretty tatty really. The webcam looked unused and since I had the same webcam myself and the box was still pristine I simply passed the webcam on in that box instead, while I dealt with the ebay seller.

It might sound pretty petty, to kick up too much of a fuss over the state of packaging, but packaging affects a product’s value (it can be a substantial part of the cost in some cases) – if I had bought the item unboxed then I would have expected to have paid less. In fact, when opening the dispute I looked at such items on ebay as fuel for my case.

The seller dragged his heels – he asked me to send the item back, but that was going to cost similar to what I was asking for by way of a partial refund. I pointed this out and he reluctantly agreed: “The refund will be in your Paypal account soon.”

Soon didn’t happen, so I sent a polite reminder. I had had to do this when one of my earlier messages went un-replied.

Still nothing.

Two weeks passed, so I escalated the claim. I stated the fact that the seller had agreed to a partial refund and that this hadn’t materialised.

I think there was a notice saying that the case would be dealt with within 24 hours. The ebay/paypal team must have been having a quiet morning… my claim was processed within about 30 minutes. But I didn’t receive a partial refund, no, instead I received a full refund. I LOL’d.

I can only imagine the seller was trying to fob me off – maybe I’d drop the case, he thought. I’m too patient for that. He lost more than he should have really, but perhaps he has dealt with other buyers in a similar fashion and the ebay/paypal team could see this. Who knows.

I think the key thing when dealing with these situations is to be calm and clear – clear in your own mind about your rights, and clear in your messages about how you would like things to be handled (being able to white in proper English as you are taught to do in school will surely help here). This doesn’t mean pushy or demanding – no one likes to be backed into a corner or told what to do (we’re all adults here). I have heard about arguments erupting between buyers and sellers on ebay – sometimes with pretty foul language being thrown about. I have read some pretty silly feedback which really show both sides in a poor light, it also looks very unprofessional, and is very surprising to see among some of the big e-tailers – when they resort to this kind of behaviour it just highlights to me how tight their margins are on their sales (really you’d expect them to just take some not-so-good customer dealings quietly on the chin).

One thing that I have noticed, that often seems to be missing from transactions that haven’t worked out well, on ebay or dealing with retailers direct through their website (compared to face-to-face), is a lack of apology. And perhaps this case was no different – Paypal’s e-mail informing me of my refund was clear and courteous, I agree, it stated the facts as I had done, but there was no “We’re sorry you felt the need to open a claim and in you having to escalate that claim… we’re continually trying to make ebay and Paypal better so this happens less…” blah blah blah. Perhaps I’m asking too much. Sometimes I think that in this big corporate world we live in, there is a fear of a further claim if anyone admits guilt – which is what can be read between the lines of an apology. In our less human world, what are we really guilty of? Of being human?

 
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Posted by on 30 September, 2014 in Internet

 

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