James Thinks http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk ...I'm not sure yet... Tue, 05 Nov 2019 22:07:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.4 Protected: Bees under threat – why you should be worried http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/bees-under-threat-why-you-should-be-worried/ http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/bees-under-threat-why-you-should-be-worried/#respond Tue, 05 Nov 2019 22:03:10 +0000 http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/?p=1834

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Technology as a climate saviour http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/technology-as-a-climate-saviour/ http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/technology-as-a-climate-saviour/#respond Sat, 28 Sep 2019 13:05:30 +0000 http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/?p=1805 It shouldn’t be news to anyone reading this that human-caused climate change is an issue of great concern for many people. Like most of my…

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It shouldn’t be news to anyone reading this that human-caused climate change is an issue of great concern for many people. Like most of my generation I’ve been aware of this problem for a long time. I remember it being taught in school back in the late 80s. Until recently it hasn’t been much in the front of my mind. But now that I’m more aware of the serious and urgent climate and ecological crisis we’re all facing, I’ve been asking myself why I wasn’t so concerned before.

Partly I thought that governments had the problem in hand or would do shortly. Perhaps I assumed that the small gestures of lifestyle change myself and many of those around me made would help and make enough of a difference or that it would be a long time before there were serious consequences.

But I think I knew that current strategies were not going to be enough. Even once I’d seen graphs like those on the climatelevels.org dashboard I still wasn’t seriously concerned. There are probably a lot of reasons for this including the fact that the people around me weren’t panicking.

https://www.climatelevels.org

A big part of what I’ve found comforting, has been thinking that technology would solve the problem of climate change. I enjoy thinking about technology and science, so it’s easy for me to get enthusiastic about such things. That enthusiasm can sometimes distract me from the bigger picture and the hard questions about how much a piece of technology helps.

It seems like there is always some amazing technology just around the corner to solve climate change. For example, a lot of carbon dioxide is produced by electricity generation, so replacing this with cleaner alternatives is obviously part of the solution. Any day now a renewable form of energy would make burning fossil fuels unnecessary. If it’s not renewable energy it’s geoengineering – for example putting reflective particles in the upper atmosphere to cool the planet. If we only wait a few years it’ll be fixed.

The trouble is I’ve been thinking that for 30 years.

We’ve been told for a long time that nuclear fusion will become a practical source of energy in about ten years, but it doesn’t seem to be getting any closer. One day we might be able to extract electricity from waste water, enough to make processing the water energy positive, but that’s still theoretical. Geothermal power has huge potential, even in parts of the world you might not expect, but requires huge investment and isn’t entirely clean. Reactors based on thorium sound clean, safe and though not renewable, the small quantities of thorium they need are abundant, but at the time of writing these reactors are not available yet.

What about wind and solar? They’re already working and don’t cause any pollution.

By 林 慕尧 / Chris Lim from East Coast (东海岸), Singapore (新加坡) – Windmills in China?{D70 series}, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2909338

Wind power seems like a safe and clean way to get electricity until you realise that the turbine blades take a lot of energy to build, which means there’s a time before the net energy and CO2 invested is paid back. They have a limited lifespan and are difficult to recycle. Also the switches needed to operate them are insulated with SF6 gas which is far more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. Inevitably some of it leaks.

Similarly, making a solar panel requires some rare earth metals and a lot of energy, and therefore CO2, for the mining, running and production. Again recycling at the end of life is problematic. Both those sources of power are intermittent – the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow, so you need huge over capacity and battery storage or something else to fill the gaps, assuming you want no interruption of electricity supply. Currently, that something else is usually oil or gas, being easily turn off and on-able. In terms of land-use alone wind and solar are not reasonable solutions on their own. We’d need to destroy huge amounts of the natural world to meet our existing power use.

Each time we learn more about the technology we find problems.

How much longer can I keep believing in a technological fix? Doing so is increasingly looking like a kind of faith and I don’t think faith is rational. I’m not saying that these technologies are all bad, many of them might be useful as part of a bigger solution, but delaying action on ecological problems in the hope that they’ll soon be solved by some promising-sounding technology is rash. It’s almost like another form of climate denialism. Not denying that the planet is warming because of human activity, but denying that we need to take action about it now. Half of all emissions have been released since 1988. If we had taken radical action thirty years ago the problem would have been much easier to solve. The longer we put off emissions reductions, the harder it gets and the more people who’ll suffer.

Even if the problem of emitting CO2 leading to a warming planet can be solved, there are issues of soil erosion and desertification, water pollution leading to ocean “dead zones”, mass extinction of vertebrates and insects. Many of these things have knock-on effects on food security. In modern life it’s easy to forget that we don’t exist separately from nature, we’re part of it. We all eat food, drink water and breathe air and depend on a variety of natural systems to survive. When those systems break down, our survival is at stake.

Governments tend to be short-sighted and concerned with preserving business-as-usual. Current political drama may seem important, but it won’t matter in ten years time. Climate change and ecological collapse are only going to get more urgent. We need governments to tell the truth about climate change. We need collective action because individual action is ineffective and only serves to move the focus away from corporations and governments who could make the biggest difference.

I don’t have the answers, but waiting around for a technological saviour is not working.

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Paris Brest Paris 2019 Photos http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/paris-brest-paris-2019-photos/ http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/paris-brest-paris-2019-photos/#respond Sun, 15 Sep 2019 16:44:25 +0000 http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/?p=1785 For those with the stamina, see also my length report of Paris Brest Paris 2019.

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For those with the stamina, see also my length report of Paris Brest Paris 2019.

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Paris Brest Paris 2019 http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/paris-brest-paris-2019/ http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/paris-brest-paris-2019/#comments Thu, 05 Sep 2019 07:52:46 +0000 http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/?p=1779 It wasn’t the first time I’d gone to Paris with the intention of riding the world’s oldest and most famous randonee. I set off in…

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It wasn’t the first time I’d gone to Paris with the intention of riding the world’s oldest and most famous randonee. I set off in 2015 only to “pack”, as in pack it in, at Loudeac after less than 450km. When people ask why I tend to say, “I forgot to eat”. That was indeed the biggest mistake I made, but I also managed to faff around beforehand, spending three hours at the first feed station. By the time I found myself so hungry that I couldn’t eat until I’d rested, it was too late to recover the time.

My preparation for 2019 focused on avoiding those mistakes.

I drew up a spreadsheet and worked out how fast I expected to go on each section. Plenty of people told me that no one ever sticks to their plan, which I’ve no doubt is true, but at least I’d have some idea of how fast I needed to go. Others told me that obsessive planning would take all the pleasure out of the ride. For me, having a small sheet I can quickly refer to and know how far ahead or behind I am, makes things simpler and calmer. It also helped me to arrange meeting my father who was driving a support vehicle for me, providing fresh clothing, more interesting food options and moral support. Oddly, having a support car made packing more complicated, because the variety of things is possible to take is much greater. Things that may get me out of trouble or make me more comfortable, but that require more thought than a single saddle bag. Secondly I packed two top-tube bags with chewy bars for when other food was unavailable. There are many friendly locals offering food and drink along the route, but not necessarily at the right moment.

All this meticulous planning was almost for nothing when, with five days to go, I couldn’t find my passport. I turned the house upside down, checked the bags and clothing I used last time I travelled. I phoned the passport office to learn that the express replacement service could get me a new one in seven days if I went to Peterborough or Glasgow. Maybe it would arrive sooner, but no guarantees. Four years of waiting, planning, qualifying and training. I was upset and angry with no one to blame but myself. Slowly I began to accept that I wouldn’t be going. Then I checked one of the bags I’d looked in earlier and found it! Relief!

So after all this, when I finally reached the start line I felt relaxed. OK, maybe a little excited, but calm and ready to ride steadily. I was in an earlier group than last time. H has only two 90 hr groups ahead of it so I guessed there would be a lot of competitive riders going much faster than me. As long as I didn’t exhaust myself by trying to keep up with them I was confident I’d be able to stick with my plan to ride through the first night.

James in foreground wearing Mille Cymru jersey with many cyclists getting ready in the park
A small corner of the chaos before the start. Some 6000 riders were milling around trying to get ready.

The location of the start and finish at Rambouillet was in a large park in the edge of a forest. My group set off into the early evening sun. I waved as I passed my family and the crowds receded. We pedalled through the partial shade of the forest on quiet, smooth roads with only occasional words of encouragement from marshals. I remember 2015 being very sociable, but apart from some Finnish and Brazilian groups talking amongst themselves, no one spoke. Maybe I was in a more serious starting group and everyone was focused on getting a good start or perhaps some of the foreign riders weren’t confident about speaking English. I’d learnt to say “hello” in a few languages, but didn’t get much response until later in the ride.
After an hour I started to notice riders from the starting groups ahead and behind – G and I. I thought I’d been going fairly fast, but the I group riders must have done the same distance as me but fifteen minutes faster! I thought that was a good reason not to try to follow them and wondered how long they’d keep that pace up. I had made an optimistic “fast” plan as well as a more realistic “slow” plan. The average speeds and times I had to leave each control were on a small sheet on my handlebars.

Handlebar mount with GPS and event plan sheet
My GPS with French maps and blue line to follow. Also the minimal event plan sheet which helped me stay on track.

It was 118km to Mortagne Au Perche so, although it is not a control on the way out, it is a useful place to get food. However I decided that if there were long queues I would get back in the bike and eat something from my well stocked bags. Luckily there was no need to wait and within minutes I had a good sized meal. There were certainly advantages to being ahead of the “bulge”. In about half an hour I was back in the bike and taking it a little slower as planned. I was cheered and delighted by the support from the French public and the displays in the villages we passed through. Most had old bicycles painted in bright colours, some even had full glowing bicycles attached high up on lamp posts. Simple enough things, but they made me smile. I went through Villaines La Juhel fairly quickly and onto Tinteniac for a longer rest where I was meeting with my father. It was good to have someone to chat with and relate my experiences so far. He also provided little luxuries like fresh socks and a full phone charge. Though it’s fair to say the main reason to use my phone was to keep in touch with him for the next rendezvous.

By the time I reached Loudeac I knew I was doing much better than my last attempt. Not only was it much earlier in the day, but I felt capable of eating, not that terrible bonked feeling that should be avoided at all costs. I changed to a fresh and apparently identical pair of shorts and soon suffered from chafing on my thigh. I still don’t know why this happened, but the little sachets of chamois cream my wife had given me were a life saver!

I rode on to unfamiliar roads. Although I was tending to slip behind the fast plan, I still dared to believe I might make Brest that night to reward myself with as much sleep as I could afford. I chatted briefly with a few people along the way. Somehow I ended up discussing power generation with a Swiss guy. He told me that the Swiss were more intelligent about it than the French because they used hydro electric dams to manage demand. I suggested it wasn’t so much intelligence but geography that allowed this. Sometime that afternoon I passed the house of a French family who were standing outside and called “Gateaux de Maison!” – Home-made cake. The cake I discovered was made with yoghurt and quite refreshing. I stopped for a few minutes to chat as I’d started to remember how to speak French – at least with a fair bit of gesticulation and lengthy explanations to get around the vocabulary I was lacking. They wanted no payment, but I contributed a few coins, partly to make myself lighter, if I’m completely honest. I was handed a slip of paper with their address on it, so that I could write a postcard to them when I returned home. A promise I still have to fulfil.

French camily with spread of cakes and drinks outside their house

Several hours later, on reaching Carhaix I had a full meal. I was surprised to see the control canteen selling bottles of wine and beer. Each to their own, but that was the last thing I wanted at that moment. I tried to be friendly and show off my language skills when an older German chap sat down next to me. I asked “Wie gehts?” to which he responded with a dour monologue. Unfortunately German is not as good as my French and I couldn’t understand a word. When he paused for breath I admitted this and we had a laugh and a nice chat in English.

The next stage to Brest was long, dark and lonely. It got colder than I had expected and I stopped a few times to add more layers of clothing. My gears started playing up. This wasn’t an entirely new problem. I’ve had the electronic SRAM eTap since January and on my 600km qualifier the rear dérailleur had twice refused to shift for a period of about twenty seconds. Rather than attempt an uncertain warranty return at short notice before PBP I had decided to put up with the very occasional annoyance. Now it seemed to be happening more often. Equally unnerving, my GPS twice switched itself off without warning, despite having relatively fresh batteries. It came back on, but made me wary. Much of the ride seemed to be in a deeply wooded valley, though I could hardly tell in the dark. All this and tiredness added to a growing sense of unease. When someone called “Bravo!” out of the darkness I nearly jumped with fright as I’d thought there was no one nearby. Eventually, after a very long very gentle climb, I reached the top of Le Roc, after which I knew I’d have a long descent. It was great to get free speed for so long, but it was also rather cold. I kept pedalling in a high gear more to keep warm than to go faster. It was encouraging to see the lights of Brest, but the GPS told me I still had a fair way to go before bed. As I entered the town navigation suddenly got harder and the wonderful reflective arrows that had guided me so far also disappeared. Perhaps they are more likely to be tampered with in urban areas like Brest. I was grateful to have a GPS track to follow as a backup or I may have been wandering around for a while.

Both my plans had me stopping at Brest for six hours, but I’d arrived about three hours later than the fast plan which I wanted to stick with in the hope of finishing on Wednesday evening. Either way I was very glad to have made it so far before sleep – a record for me that took its toll physically, but put me in a good place the next day. After three hours in a proper bed I felt a lot better. Sure, I could’ve easily slept for another seven hours, but I couldn’t have made that time up on the road.

James in bike park with baselayer over jersey sunblock on nose and buff over hair
The morning after the night before. Ready to leave Brest after 3 hours sleep

The day was bright and cold as I set off into the rising sun with a few others. The long gentle climb was a pleasant way to warm up. The town of Sizun was full of fun as promised and I paused for an apple pastry and a moment to take in the atmosphere. Clearly the effects of tiredness were starting to catch up with people. I saw riders napping beside the road wrapped in space blankets. I know those things are hard to repack, especially when tired, but I was appalled by how many of them had been abandoned, littering the countryside. At some point in the rolling hills I caught up with a couple from the USA on a tandem. I found out that like my wife and I, they had done their honeymoon on a tandem. In their case when they completed PBP in 2011. This seemed like a funny coincidence as it was my wife and my anniversary that day. My wife Erica is very understanding about my cycling – I had texted her first thing and our daughter had given her my card. I asked if the tandem couple minded me drafting and they said they didn’t mind but appreciated me asking. This worked well for me on the flat, but when the road dipped down I had to pedal quite hard to keep up. Once they both tucked in and stopped pedalling I was spinning out in my highest gear and still couldn’t keep up. This was fast and good fun but I soon realised a very silly idea during such a long ride. The effort soon made my legs ache and I felt sluggish for some time. I should know better, but sometimes it’s tempting after plodding for so long!

Lively town with church spire and apple tart held in foreground
Sizun was nice and full of life. I stopped for an apple tart and to enjoy the atmosphere a moment.

Even before this excessive effort I found myself unable keep up with the average speeds I’d set myself. I knew that simply trying harder wouldn’t be sustainable, so I tried taking shorter breaks at each control. I ate my own food instead of getting some at Carhaix and bounced through the secret control in the attractive town of St Nicholas. At Loudeac I was meeting my father again, so I messaged him with some food requests. In general food had been much easier to find this time, so I left the second top-tube bag with him as I had plenty of cereal bars spare. Oddly it had been impossible to get a cheese sandwich at any of the controls but Dad went out and bought a nice piece of fromage. He also found me a great falafel salad which was a welcome change from pastries and bread. The troublesome shorts were swapped to a third pair which seemed a bit better, but I still needed to apply the chamois cream at regular intervals. I continued through Tinteniac with the strategy of short stops. Although I felt OK I was getting further behind the fast plan.

Rider sleeping on bench under a space blanket in front of maize field
A rather typical scene at certain points in the ride.

I arrived at Fougeres in the small hours nearly three hours behind. At this point I probably should’ve found a bed and got a good sleep, but instead I took a couple of twenty minute naps in the canteen with my head resting on the table. I think this decision is what made the next 70km to Villaines-La-Juhel the toughest of the whole ride for me. I had eaten plenty, but not had much chance to recover. Setting off into the dark is hard mentally, especially with so far still to go. I’m lucky not to suffer from falling asleep when riding, but I do find myself getting slower as tiredness accumulated. As I rode the temperature dropped and soon I was wearing every bit of clothing I’d brought including a thin balaclava, leg and arm-warmers, a base layer and waterproof jacket. My hands were painfully cold despite full-fingered gloves. I hadn’t brought my winter gloves because well, it’s August in France. I’m only guessing, but it felt like less than five degrees centigrade. I think I had sun or wind-burnt my lips at some point because they were now rather painful and as my nose was running in the cold, breathing was uncomfortable. To make matters worse my electronic gears deteriorated further. The rear dérailleur would refuse to shift for minutes at a time, causing me much frustration. At some point I realised that going over a bump seemed to temporarily wake it up, so I would aim for whatever tiny pothole I could find in the otherwise smooth French roads. It was probably just as well that I rode this section in solitary as I would’ve moaned at whoever would listen. Once the sun came up the temperature finally rose a little and I found a patisserie to further cheer myself up.

By the time I reached Villaines I had realised that a Wednesday evening finish was no longer realistic. I had hoped my family would be able to greet me at the arrivee, which would be difficult if I arrived after dark. Now that my ETA was looking rather late there was no point rushing. I could get some sleep on the way back and finish on Thursday morning. With this decision made I relaxed and took a long rest in a town square at Villaines, while my father and a friendly Dutch cyclist puzzled over what to do about my malfunctioning gears. We managed to shift into the third largest sprocket after which I removed the battery from the rear dérailleur to prevent any accidental shifts. I could still use the front dérailleur, giving me two gears. A low one good for most climbs with occasional standing and a higher one good for the flats. That was fine as long as I didn’t mind spinning the pedals really fast as my speed increased. I was no longer frustrated by this, but accepted it philosophically remembering that plenty of riders were on fixed gear bikes. Like a few others the Dutch chap disliked my heavy Schwalbe Greenguard tyres. They are a bit chunky and in theory roll more slowly, giving a harsher ride than typical randonneur tyres. The advantage is far fewer punctures, which on a long ride can be utterly demoralising as well as time-consuming. I had discussed the pros and cons at length with my cycling buddy Nick and we both eventually settled on the reliable option. I may have had some disapproving looks, but I’m happy to report no visitations from the puncture fairy!

Colourful bikes arranged in a pyramid up a post with a sign giving the distance to the finish
One of the many colourful displays found in many villages along the route

Now with about 200km back to Paris and 160km until I planned to sleep, the ride seemed more manageable, but another worry surfaced. My right Achilles tendon started twanging. It was only occasionally painful, mostly uncomfortable. I normally point my toes down a bit as I pedal but I found that keeping my foot more level seemed to help. I crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t get any worse. Somewhere along the road I met a cyclist called Antonia who’s a police officer from South West England. We chatted for a few hours about jobs and kids and a bit about cycling. It was great to have some company and the distance seemed to go quickly. After a while I struggled to keep up. I’d like to claim it was my limited gear range, but I suspect the lack of sleep and sprinting after a tandem the day before was more to blame. As she was planning to finish late that night, we said goodbye and I plodded on alone. As I approached Mortagne the road became hillier. This gave some nice views, but also meant I had to stand up on the pedals for the steeper parts. I had mixed feelings about this. It’s tiring for the legs, but gives a bit of relief for the bottom.

At Mortagne I met my Dad again. He congratulated me on how well I was doing. He was right, it was a whole lot better than four years ago! I may have had to give up the fast plan, but I always knew that would be ambitious for me. I never like to think that a ride is in the bag until I’m within walking distance. There are so many small things that could go wrong. It did feel like the end was finally in sight and I had plenty of time. The control was busy and I guessed a lot of people there were aiming to finish that night. After stamping my card, I took the time to brush my teeth, something I’d tried to keep doing regularly, just to feel a bit more comfortable. I found a quiet patch of grass and lay down for a short nap. Someone told me that the next twenty kilometres were hilly but after that it was flat. This turned out to be right. Some of the climbs went on a long time but none were as steep as those I’m used to in Wales and South West England. PBP is certainly tandem, fixed-gear and broken gear-friendly! The surface was variable on the way to the final control. I’d become rather bump-averse by this stage and while the flat gradient allowed consistent progress it meant fewer chances to get out of the saddle and the associated relief. This was a minor gripe however; I was feeling fine. I passed through woodland and fields with the sun setting slowly behind me. It wasn’t far to Dreux, but I was so looking forward to food and sleep that it seemed to drag on forever. Some company would have been good, but there was no one nearby. When I paused for a moment a group shot past, but too fast for me.

On reaching Dreux I was once again tired and a bit cold. Perhaps after some food I could have pushed on to Paris that night, but my mind was made up. I knew I’d enjoy finishing much more in the daylight and after sleep. I didn’t want a heavy meat dish, so settled for a pasta salad and one of the famous Paris Brest pastries. I thought maybe it was premature to have one, but I had at least been to Brest this time. To be honest the pastry was a little disappointing. More soggy sponge with a faint coffee flavour. I had been concerned that I might struggle to find space to sleep, but when I headed for the vast gymnasium only a handful of beds had been taken. It was cold, so I slept in my clothes and used a travel towel as a blanket. I hadn’t had time for a shower so it was at least dry. I shivered through the night, waking several times. When I got up just before 7am the hall was full of snoring cyclists. Seemed I’d timed it right.

Flat stubble fields with small church in the distance
In the interests of honesty, I should point out… A fair bit of the scenery was like this. Flat, but not very interesting to look at.

I could tell it was going to be a hot day, but heading out it was still really cold, so once again I wrapped up well and gradually peeled off layers over the next hour. The roads were busy now with many small groups of cyclists making a final effort to get to the finish. It was my last chance to say hello to strangers, so I tried my best. I was pleased to get some “Konichiwa’s” in return. I didn’t think my restless six hours in the hall would’ve helped me recover much, but I found myself overtaking others more than usual, so maybe I was fresher than I thought.

Hall crowded with cyclists eating breakfast at Dreux
Breakfast at Dreux on the last day. A strange combination of weariness and excitement.

The last section was a gentle ride through the forest of Rambouillet. I thought how much nicer it was in dappled sunlight than pitch black darkness. I caught a fairly large group and chatted briefly with a couple of people from the North of England. Time passed quickly again and suddenly we were back in the park which cruelly included cobbles at the gate. We’d had very little roadside support that morning, but now we passed plenty of people who had already finished, along with their supporters, so the atmosphere became more lively. Shortly before I got to the finish line I met my wife, daughter and father and stopped for a wonderful hug and photo. Only a few pedal strokes more and it was over.

Erica James and Sasha together, James still astride the bike. Campervans in the background.
A lovely reunion (almost) at the finish.

I was delighted to have finished on time. Not everything had gone right, but it seldom does on such a long ride. There are a few things I would do differently, such as deciding when to sleep. I’ve realised long distance riding is not like other holidays. How well it goes is down to each individual along with a fair bit of luck. If you don’t enjoy it or feel you got what you wanted you can’t complain or ask for your money back. I don’t know yet whether I’ll ride Paris Brest Paris again. I’m going to take some time off the bike to think about the next adventure as well as whether I really want to use electronic gears. For now I’m grateful to have had the chance to experience both failure and success.

My full set of Paris Brest Paris photos are here.

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Software Engineering Remote Working – the pros and cons http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/software-engineering-remote-working-the-pros-and-cons/ http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/software-engineering-remote-working-the-pros-and-cons/#respond Tue, 19 Mar 2019 18:52:36 +0000 https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/?p=1632 It seems remote working is an option in an increasing number of jobs. Perhaps this is because technology had made it easier to collaborate when…

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It seems remote working is an option in an increasing number of jobs. Perhaps this is because technology had made it easier to collaborate when not in the same room. Video conferencing, Slack and cloud – based web apps are all but ubiquitous in modern workplaces.

I worked remotely as a software engineer for a year, going in to the office only two consecutive days a month. My experience may not be typical as I wasn’t part of a software team in a software company, but rather one of only two engineers in a diverse team within a university. The other engineer had other projects and moved on after a few months so for much of the time I was very much on my own.

Advantages

No time and money spent on commuting

I used this time to do a short bike ride or “circular commute” every morning and take my daughter to her evening sports clubs at least once a week. Neither of these things fit in well with a one-hour commute each way.

Flexibility to receive parcels or repair people at home

Arranging redelivery or relying on a neighbour is inconvenient.

Simpler food options

Leftovers or a quick snack is easy to arrange without the temptation or expense of eating out.

Potentially fewer interruptions

Even if there are others in the house, it was usually possible to close the door during work times and get some peace and quiet. Programming work often requires consistent concentration that can be hard to maintain in a busy office during the middle of the day. The easier tasks seemed to go much more quickly when working remotely.

Emergency childcare

When my daughter has been ill it’s reassuring to be at home and close to school rather than at the other end of an unreliable train journey. In a pinch she can nap or watch TV while I work and I can make up for missed time in the evening.

Working elsewhere

I stayed entirely at home when working remotely, but people enjoy the possibility of working in another city or country so that the evenings and weekends are like a real holiday. I like having two large screens and a proper desktop machine, but I did run my work “machine” from an encrypted USB-stick with an Ubuntu install. This worked well apart from when using very high disk-access applications such as Docker. That tends to corrupt the disk somehow and make the system unreliable, so I’d stick with an SSD if using Docker or similar.

Disadvantages

Home heating or air-conditioning

Normally our heating is off in the day, so unless you have a small heater for the space you’re working in, then you may need to run it for the whole house which will add to costs.

Limited social interaction

For me this is the biggest disadvantage to working remotely. Not only is it fun to chat with colleagues, but it often leads to a better understanding of the work or opportunities to help out in unexpected ways. Knowing what things other people are working on and their particular set of skills is an essential but often overlooked benefit to working in the same room or building as teammates. Much of this knowledge is transferred in a casual over-heard conversation kind of way, which doesn’t always happen on Slack, Skype or email. I was lucky to have a generous holiday allowance, some of which I used to catch up with friends outside work.

Learning the job

For similar reasons to the last point this can be difficult to do remotely. This is why many remote jobs require new starters to work in an office with existing staff for the first few months. If the job is really straightforward or all the documentation is perfect (is it ever?) then in theory you can learn the job from anywhere. For most, however, learning by discussing it with others is often the best way. Getting stuck when working remotely can be a frustrating experience and I often found myself taking a break to empty the dishwasher, partly to experience a feeling of progress that I couldn’t achieve with professional work. When working remotely it’s also hard to know when it’s OK to ask for help. How busy is the other person? Are they irritated by my request? These things are hard to judge when not face to face. On the other hand there is something to be said for not interrupting people when they’re deeply involved in a problem, so asynchronous communication like Slack (with No Hello) or Email can help.

Pair programming

I’m sure pair programming can be done remotely, but I can’t see it being anything like as easy as sitting next to someone scribbling on bits of paper, waving your hands around and collectively scratching your heads.

When does work start or end?

If you work remotely from home, then it’s not always obvious where work starts and ends. This can make it difficult to achieve a healthy work-life balance.

In such flexible workplaces colleagues may work different hours and might expect you to be available at the same time or ask questions after you’ve finished for the day. I had my work Slack on my phone, so I liked to be readily available whenever my colleagues needed me. Sometimes this was good as I could be instantly helpful even if I’m taking a break. On the other hand, if I’d finished work and was having dinner with my family, the interruption was annoying, yet I’d still be tempted to respond.

Some people will prefer to have strict working times in order to maintain focus and feel fully justified in relaxing at the end of the day. I preferred to start as early as I could and work a rather long day, but take regular breaks for chores or exercise, especially when stuck. Sometimes this approach seems to allow my mind to work on the problem in the background, although I was consciously thinking about something else. That’s great when the solution can be found through slow thinking and coming up with creative solutions, but it doesn’t work when collaboration is what’s needed.

Conclusions

I’m currently enjoying working in an office with my colleagues and plenty of friends in nearby offices. I probably wouldn’t do a fully-remote job again unless I already understood the work very well. However, I do appreciate the opportunity to work from home on the occasions that trains let me down, slight illness makes me unwilling to go in or life admin requires that I’m in the house. I’m sure others will disagree and find better ways to collaborate and learn than I did. I’d be interested to hear how other people addressed the issues I described above.

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Paris-Brest-Paris pace plan http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/paris-brest-paris-pace-plan/ http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/paris-brest-paris-pace-plan/#respond Wed, 13 Mar 2019 20:30:55 +0000 https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/?p=1751 In order to be more organised and hopefully more successful in my upcoming PBP attempt, I’ve created a planning spreadsheet giving me a better idea…

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Sample of my PBP planning spreadsheet

In order to be more organised and hopefully more successful in my upcoming PBP attempt, I’ve created a planning spreadsheet giving me a better idea of where I should be, when.

Not everyone wants or needs a plan. Some like to keep it as simple as ride, eat, sleep, repeat and that keeps them on track. However, I find it can help to quickly answer questions like: Have I got time to stop and chat for five minutes and take some photos? Can I afford an extra hour’s sleep at the next control? If I look for a nice bakery off-route, will I have time for a nap later? Without some idea of where you are against the plan, tiredness can make these simple questions taxing! This is especially true on PBP when the riders around you are often riding on difference schedules with different start times.

At the very least I think every rider should know how far it is to the next control and what time they need to leave that control to make it to the next one in time. Last time I failed even that basic check so I didn’t realise how far behind I was getting.

I found the spreadsheet helpful when preparing for Mille Cymru in 2018. To make following it simple I scribbled my expected average speed and ETAs on the route sheet. Inevitably the reality doesn’t match the plan very well, but having made a plan, it easy to see when the time is slipping. When I started to drift from the plan, I knew what I had to do to regain time – in my case that meant skipping the shower and having a shorter sleep. For PBP I won’t have a route sheet, but will probably still keep these targets to hand, maybe taped onto the bike somewhere.

For anyone who’d like to do the same, I’m sharing the link here

How to use the spreadsheet for PBP2019 (90hr group*)

  • Start by making your own private copy of the spreadsheet either in Google Docs or locally, so that you can edit it as you like.
  • There are two plans to compare, blue and orange. I use them for my optimistic “fast” plan and the “slow” plan.
  • You should only need to edit the coloured cells, starting with your start time and date in C2 and L2.
  • Go down the coloured columns for each plan and fill in your expected average speed for each section and how long you intend to rest at the next control. It doesn’t matter whether you include your en-route rests in the resting time or average speed as long as you are consistent and measure it correctly on the road. If your GPS shows only “Moving average”, be sure to include extra “resting” time for adjusting clothes, calls of nature, etc. Whereas, if you use “Overall average” when riding, any small stops will naturally reduce your average speed. When deciding how fast you think you can go, it’s worth looking at each section of the route to assess the climb/descending, time of day, fatigue, likely conditions, etc. As the sections are not circular, some involve a lot more climbing than descending, so expect them to be slower than average.
Line-area graph with two rising and falling plots with control towns on the X-axis
Time-in-hand graph produced automatically by the spreadsheet

How to use the spreadsheet for other events

To use the spreadsheet for other events you’ll need to make another copy and edit the control names and distances in columns A and B.

Apart from that the instructions above should still work.

* I’ve worked out the minimum average speed that makes the finish time work for the 90hr starts and put it in B19 – if you’re in the 84hr or 80hr starts, you’ll need to increase that number accordingly and make sure the finish time in C17 is correct.

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Paris-Brest-Paris training plan http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/paris-brest-paris-training-plan/ http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/paris-brest-paris-training-plan/#respond Fri, 21 Dec 2018 17:48:52 +0000 https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/?p=1684 For my planned PBP ride next year, one thing that I need to get right is making sure I’m fit enough. None of what follows…

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For my planned PBP ride next year, one thing that I need to get right is making sure I’m fit enough. None of what follows is scientific, but based on my experience. I think it’s better to have a plan and some targets to keep you motivated. This approach got me through my 1000km ride through Wales last summer, so I’m hoping it’ll work again.

The minimum training anyone has to do for PBP is the qualifying rides – 200, 300, 400 and 600km, which will be good training and practice for reducing faff, but I’d also like to improve my average speed so that I can go fast enough to get a bit more rest or perhaps make the ride more enjoyable by keeping a comfortable time buffer. Secondly, my last qualifier will be finished at the start of June, leaving nearly two months to lose fitness if I do nothing.

My guess is that while experiencing at least one 600km ride is good experience, the training benefit of a 200km ride is probably similar. This is just a guess though, maybe there’s something about the much longer distances which changes your metabolism or something. I haven’t noticed it, though. The downside is that taking a weekend out for a really big ride is disruptive to family life and quickly burns through goodwill. So best not to overdo it.

PBP is a varied course of average hilliness, never quite flat, but not mountainous. Group riding is often possible, so I’ll need aerobic endurance as well as enough leg strength to cope with the hills when very tired.

So from June I’m planning to concentrate on rides of 200km or less. I’ll try to make some of them challenging. Some will be gratuitously hilly, others will be flat and I’ll be aiming to maintain a better average speed. As my spare time is limited, often I’ll be simply getting out on my bike for a bit, commuting to work or trying some intervals. What I’m not going to do is make a strict day-by-day plan that I’ll never stick to and end up getting annoyed at myself.

Jan – Feb

  • Calculate Lactate Threshold with turbo trainer
  • 1 x tempo session 30-60 mins per month.
  • 1 x 50km+ ride per week (tempo)
  • 1 x 200km+ ride with 1000m+ climbing per month (could count as one of the 50km)
  • 400km and 5000m total per month

Mar – Apr

  • 1 x threshold sessions 30-60 mins each, per month.
  • 3 x tempo sessions 60-90 mins each, per month.
  • 1 x 50km+ ride per week (threshold/tempo)
  • 2 x 100km+ ride (could count as one of the 50km)
  • 1 x 300km+ ride with 2500m+ climbing per month (could count as one of the 50km)
  • 600km and 7500m total per month

May – Aug

  • 2 x threshold sessions 60-90 mins each, per month.
  • 3 x tempo sessions 60-90 mins each, per month.
  • 1 x 100km+ ride per week (threshold/tempo)
  • 1 x 200km+ rides with 2500m+ climbing per month (could count as the 100km)
  • 700km and 11000m total per month.

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Paris-Brest-Paris planning http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/paris-brest-paris-planning/ http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/paris-brest-paris-planning/#respond Fri, 21 Dec 2018 17:47:07 +0000 https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/?p=1699 I’m hoping to enter PBP shortly and, having failed to complete it in 2015, I’m keen to do everything to ensure I get to Brest…

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I’m hoping to enter PBP shortly and, having failed to complete it in 2015, I’m keen to do everything to ensure I get to Brest and back within the 90 hour “tourist” time limit.

I’ve already made an audax anti-blunder checklist, which is a good start, but obviously wasn’t enough last time. So for PBP I’ve listed some specific things that I need to do better next time. Maybe this will be helpful to someone else.

  • Be as fit as I reasonably can be – More speed at the same level of effort is going to give me more time for recovery during the ride. So I’ve made a loose PBP training plan.
  • Know where the controls are – As PBP is sign-posted, I wasn’t so conscious of the route. I didn’t get lost, but had no idea how it would be before I could rest/eat. Being able to pace myself to the next control would have helped. I need to have these noted down.
  • Have a pace plan – This really helped on the Mille Cymru and for the most part I stayed close to my estimates. During PBP2015 I lost time through a number of small incidents – a puncture, big queues at a feed stop, writing a postcard, stopping to help another rider and then needing recovery time after a big bonk. Knowing how far behind or ahead of my plan I was would’ve helped me stay on track sooner.
  • Always carry food – Probably the biggest factor last time was not having food easily available. It was never a problem on UK audaxes due to the smaller numbers, but on PBP, despite the well-stocked controls and generous French public, you can’t rely on getting food when you need it. In 2015 I think a banana in my back pocket would’ve made all the difference. My bag was packed full of clothing for a variety of conditions, with no room for food. Next time I’ll make room. I’d like to carry at least a cereal bar at all times. Also packets of energy powder that I could put into my water bottles could stave off a bonk. If possible I’ll grab a banana when leaving controls and keep it as a backup.
Back of blue cycling jersey with 4 bananas in the pockets
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Infinity L2 Bike Seat trial http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/infinity-l2-bike-seat-trial/ http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/infinity-l2-bike-seat-trial/#respond Wed, 14 Nov 2018 22:09:46 +0000 https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/?p=1643 I’ve tried a number of different saddles some with cut outs, some without. I’m now pretty happy with my usual seat, a Charge Spoon. Happy…

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I’ve tried a number of different saddles some with cut outs, some without. I’m now pretty happy with my usual seat, a Charge Spoon. Happy enough that I’ve got them on three different bikes. It’s simple, cheap and as comfortable as anything I’ve tried. That’s not to say it’s perfect. On a long ride I still find myself a little sore from the constant pressure. I notice that I stand up on the pedals as much for relief of my backside as for a different pedalling motion.

If you’re not so comfortable, I should point out that there are a lot of things to adjust before changing the saddle. Huge improvements can be made in most cases by tilting the saddle a little or adjusting the bike to balance weight between hands, hips and feet. I’ve done all the bike fit tweaks and still suspect there’s room for improvement on my longer rides.

So I thought I’d try something different. Really different in fact. The Infinity L2 Bike Seat is a very unusual shape. At £295 it’s also more than ten times the price of the Spoon. So I found a UK supplier willing to hire them out. Even that is £55 including postage. However, if I’d paid the full price I’d probably be convincing myself it was a great saddle so as not to feel I’d wasted my money!

Black leather saddle with large Y-shaped cut-outI won’t give a long description of L2, but direct you to the seat’s science page. The idea is to remove the two main points of pressure, your sit bones. Instead they’re cradled in the space within the outer frame. The official set up video, like all US instructional videos includes the phrase “go ahead and…” about six times per minute. It rushes through some vague measurements and suggests moving the seat post down when fitting the saddle. Oddly, I had to move mine up about 20mm as did other reviewers. I suspect the video is more about promoting the saddle than helping people to adjust it correctly.

Trying it out

I tried the saddle for a week, at first on my turbo trainer, only for about ten minutes. My legs ached. This is probably because I needed to move the seat post up.

That seemed to help and over the next two rides I moved it up a little more and felt more powerful again. I guess a proper bike fit would be needed to get this spot on.

Black infinity saddle on road bike in country laneThe first good thing I noticed was that bumps and rough ground hurt less. Normally I’d wince or lift myself off the saddle. At first I thought my rear tyre had gone soft, but it was fine. The Infinity bike seat seems to provide more suspension, or maybe it’s simply that I’d feel these bumps threatening to bruise my sit bones and the Infinity’s large cut-out meant my sit bones weren’t in contact with the saddle. I did feel a bit of extra pressure where the inside of my upper thighs rubbed the outer edge of the saddle. I can’t say for sure if this would turn into a painful bruise on longer rides nor whether tweaking the angle would improve things.

I don’t have any power measurements, but I’d say I rode about as fast as usual for similar effort.

Conclusion

For the two relatively short rides I used this saddle for, I’d say the Infinity L2 was the most comfortable saddle I’ve tried. Though for reference I’m not a professional reviewer and I’ve probably only tried about ten different saddles, six of them recently. Secondly, while the Infinity claims to be suitable for a wide range of body shapes, saddles tend to be a matter of personal preference, so your experience is likely to be different to mine. I thought the seat gave comfort where it was needed most, more like being in a hammock than on a seat.

On the downside, the price. Including postage it’s over £300 from UK supplier Ten Point. You can buy a basic bike for that. There’s nothing obvious in the construction of this seat that would justify that. There are no carbon nanotubes woven with unobtainium. It probably wasn’t made in zero-gravity out of unicorn tears. The plastic and leather materials seem similar to those of saddles less than a quarter of the price, that are themselves considered to be premium saddles. What you’re paying for, no doubt is the research that allowed this unique design, which was presumably extensive.

A more salient question for the consumer is simply whether the extra comfort is worth it. When riding LEL a cyclist might say they’d pay anything not to have saddle sores and perhaps this saddle would help. But there are many cheaper saddles to try, especially if you take the approach of buying an old one on eBay to see if it works for you and reselling it if it doesn’t.

If the Infinity L2 cost £60 I’d already have bought one. As it is I’m still thinking about it.

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Cold-call messages from recruiters http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/cold-call-messages-from-recruiters/ http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/cold-call-messages-from-recruiters/#respond Wed, 26 Sep 2018 18:55:21 +0000 https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/?p=1525 I direct recruitment agents to this page when they fail to read my profile specifying my job location requirements or perhaps they read it but…

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I direct recruitment agents to this page when they fail to read my profile specifying my job location requirements or perhaps they read it but thought it didn’t matter.

Maybe it would be nicer if I took the time to respond to each agent personally explaining my job requirements. The reason I don’t is because I get a large number of messages from people suggesting jobs in locations which are unsuitable for me. The agents suggesting these jobs would know where I am willing to work if they’d spent about a minute reviewing my LinkedIn profile or “message to recruiters”.

So why don’t they?

My guess is that they want to save themselves time.

Perhaps it is easier to grab a list of names of “open” “Python” candidates from LinkedIn and send them all the same personal-sounding message,

“Hi [Name],
I was really impressed with your career experience and thought you’d be a great match for this job”, etc.

Presumably, no reading of career experience has been done by the agent and the only matching which happened was done by LinkedIn’s search tools. If the agent had done any of this, they’d also have seen that the job they’ve suggested is unworkable for the candidate.

They’ve spent barely a few seconds per candidate. How much of my time do they deserve in return?

So recruitment agents let the candidates do the filtering of which jobs are relevant. This scattergun approach makes work for candidates. Often a lot of work. It’s not a single recruitment agent doing this, but hundreds. So perhaps they can understand us getting fed up with it.

The whole point of having all that detail on a LinkedIn profile is so that you don’t have to explain it to every person who might contact you. If a recruiter ignores it, they are not networking or “reaching out”, they are spamming you.

Like all forms of spam, it continues because the cost of doing it is low and the payout from the few times it works is high enough. If candidates ignore an irrelevant message the recruiter loses nothing, but the time of countless candidates is wasted, their concentration broken for nothing.

So I think it’s not enough to ignore recruiter spam. I now mute/block recruiters who do this either on LinkedIn or via email.

Sure, I may miss out on later, more relevant opportunities the agent might send out. But remember this is an agent who’s already let me know that they don’t value my time and can’t or won’t do simple research for themselves. It’s a red flag. Even if they did find me a great-sounding opportunity, they’re probably going to waste my time in other ways, for example, by sending me to interviews for jobs I don’t have much hope of getting.

In short, they’re not the kind of person I’d want to work with.

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