Thursday, October 23, 2014

Don't Stand So Close To Us

Police:Don't Stand so close

So it is official.  Both Marcus and Agata are sick as dogs. Don't stand so close to us is the advice we gave to people trying to get into a lift with us this afternoon.

What are our Symptoms?

  • Fever
  • Severe headache
  • Weakness
  • Diarrhoea
  • Feeling Sick
  • Stomach Pain
  • Restriction of Airways
  • Unable to lie down because we can't breathe in that position

Now I know what you are thinking.   You too have visited the CDC webpage and checked out Ebola Signs and Symtoms

All we can say is that we both feel awful but that this will not stop us trying to attempt a marathon run in a day or so. 

Any Advantages?

Agata is too sick to goto work so she is working from Home. It is wonderful for her to be here, that at least is a benefit.

An Indulgence Recovery Plan

Sick as we were we stumbled to the Supermarkets.  Whilst the shopping was pretty healthy can you see the indulgent chocolate bar in the bottom right hand corner as well as the wine hiding underneath the hummus and pomegranates oranges and greens. [As you recall we have nominally changed our diets to exclude chocolate]

This week Aldi also had a promotion on Axes and Chainsaws.   Perhaps they know something about the Zombie Ebola apocalypse that we do not?


All we can say is that our favourite Malbec wine  is back in stock and we deserve some extra bottles to anaesthetise our pains.

As a final xtravagance we bought some Coop chicken breasts.  Note the astonishing price of 25 CHF per Kg.  (UK Asda price is 12CHF per Kg, 25CHF is 26 USD)

So despite the pains we try to keep smiling.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Apple loves Solder

iFixit investigates the 2014 Mac Mini

Whilst many technology journalists practically fell asleep during the recent October 16 Announcement  Marcus and Agata were moderately excited.

Our collection of Apple Mac Minis are still being used around the house but they are old now, and one already failed and was sold for parts.

You may recall the several tricky upgrades that we previously performed:

Apple torture part 2
Mac Mini 2nd Disk Upgrade

I had hoped that we might have it easier with the 2014 model.

Oh dear.   We are terribly disappointed.   I heard on the Grapevine that memory was no longer socketed but Soldered and that they have removed 2nd SATA disk connectors to the motherboard.

Come on!   And if you check the above video from iFixit this bears out this story.  OK, well the announcement said they had reduced the prices so maybe I'd just order my ideal configuration ...

999CHF ... I feel faint

1539 CHF for the one I really want  (I7 + 256GB PCie flash) Now I'm almost passing out.

I am happy to state for the record that barring a lottery win I will just never spend 1539 CHF  (that is 1621 USD) on a almost totally non-expandable Apple Mac Mini.

I see other people are of the same opinion

What could Apple have so easily done?

- Keep the socketed memory options
- Go socketed with CPU too
- Enlarge the Mac Mini case slightly for ease of servicing
- More rigid, metal internal frame that components are mounted to and one that slides out easily with all components on it
- Stop using those ridiculous Torx security screws
- Kensington lock for security
- Change the entry door to allow access for Memory and Disk
- Change the disk interface to M2 NGFF only, and 2 slots, with PCIe interface
- Base of 2, 1Gb Ethernets not 1  (I know use can use a Thunderbolt adapter instead) or even a 10Gb Ethernet.
- Allow ordering with 0 disk and 0 memory

Had they incorporated my changes then:
This computer would be quite literally the choice for LAN parties, space conscious geeks, and anybody wanting a fast, stylish small computer which can run OSX, Linux and Windows.

Instead I may have to wait until Mac Mini 2016 is released :-(

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Winter Cycling Clothing

Readers will be familiar with the praise I have for the European sports equipment store Decathlon.  

Since they are barred from Switzerland since I believe they would pose to great a threat to the Swiss un-competitively priced shops   (IMHO, other opinions are available),  you can be sure that whilst recently visiting England we popped into a local branch.

What is the Strategy?

At the minimum you would have a set of Summer and Winter cycling clothes.  Just enough of each so that you have at least one available set for your Cycling lifestyle whilst the others are washing and drying.

For best effect you could also have a set of Autumn/Spring clothes.  This brings me to the lightly fleece insulated

Decathlon BTwin 500 Long Sleeve Cycling Jersey

What is so great about it again?

+ An absence of logos
Two small logos on the back.  One near left collar. Nothing else.  For the final touch make sure you cut off all the internal tags.  Ah, plain and simple.    

+ Plain / Dark Colours
Without logos you can arrive to a social engagement, like a restaurant without looking like you are desperately seeking a sponsorship deal.

Dark colours mean that when the inevitable oil marks arrive they will be almost invisible.

+ Long Sleeves
It is winter time.  Come on.

+ Fleeced Inside
This version has a moderate internal fleecy lining.  Suitable for Autumn.  For winter I'd recommend a larger size and wearing a thin additional inside layer.

+Two Deep Pockets
Just right to hold all your cycling essentials and stop you carrying a dedicated rucksack.

+Stong elasticated bottom
The bottom contains a tight and reinforced band that will keep this jacket close to your body.

+Short-ish length
For Marcus, essential otherwise the bottom of the Jersey dangles down too much.  Try before you buy.

= Other Alternatives
You can also buy from Decathlon and elsewhere more substantial tops which may also include wind protection.  In my experience they also keep the sweat in!  I'd prefer multiple breathable layers whatever the wind. For super windy conditions simply wear that ultra thin rain jacket (the one you should always carry for rain) over the top.  

- No Windproof Zip
There is no additional material strip behind the zip, so front facing winds you might think would become chilly.  But the zip is tight weave so although I'd prefer a layer it is not really an issue

+Multi Purpose
I actually use this Cycling Top on Autumn running races.   You can put multiple Gels and a Smartphone in the back pockets and keep them from bouncing with a small waist belt.

It's a bargain at 20 GBP.  If price however would be no object then I'd recommend Condor or similar

Overall a brilliant, low cost, multi-purpose, autumn suitable top.


Decathlon Cycling Jersey

Monday, October 20, 2014

Renault Captur

Renault Captur

We just spent a great few days driving a Renault Captur in the UK.   We really like this car especially because

  • Hertz UK were renting it for less than 20 GBP daily
  • It was small and rather fast

 A sort of Renault Clio but larger and styled like an SUV

 Seat covers come off and can be washed.  Fantastic.

 Nothing special alloys, but functional

 Boot has storage in many places.  Besides folding seats, there is storage below the floor shown.

Media centre is a large touchscreen unit controlling the GPS and radio and media input (USB)

The Good Points
Inside was a bit glam, perfect for a hire car, hopefully if you bought one you could tone it down a little!

Full Air Conditioning, and a Comprehensive Media Centre including GPS

The hire was an economical diesel, but the performance really surprised us!   It really zoomed along

Handling was absolutely fine.

For the hire price, and considering its economy and nippy performance we'd recommend this as a Hire car next time you pop into Hertz UK.

Hertz UK Car Rentals

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Truly Scrumptious

Management Summary: Truly Scrumptious

iPhone 6 end user report  @ Day 7
You will no doubt be aware that Agata ventured further into  the dark side but one week ago and bought a regular Apple iPhone 6

This then is a report from Marcus  (the annoyed husband perspective)

My reviewing credentials
Given Marcus's continued suspicion towards Apple I can tell you that if this posting contains any compliments towards Apple then they are hard won.  Marcus is not a fanboy.

On my iPhone !
I head feared a torrent of annoying comments from Agata of the format

/But if you had an iPhone 6/ ......

whenever I became frustrated with my current,  stopgap Windows phone.    (Not a fair comparison  since Marcus's phone was bargain basement, and bought in a rush since my Nexus 5 phone died unexpectedly)

Actually Agata has not had chance to voice said comments which either could in fact mean that the iPhone 6 is not so special after all.   So how is it after 7 days, from Marcus's 3rd party,  distanced perspective?

How is it then?

Spectacularly Beautiful - I can't deny that the major attraction is the slim and curvy physical size, shape and feel.  it is truly world class.  I spent this weekend in many UK phone shops and nothing seems in any way as good to hold in the hand as the iPhone 6

A bit slippy - Pretty easy to drop and if you do I'd guarantee damage to that soft aluminium frame.  A case would help, but that would mask the beauty. Hmm.

Good Camera - Despite being down on pixels the camera does a great job especially in low light conditions.  Focusing is very fast, in line with the Nexus 5, i.e. it's playing catchup

2 day Battery Life - So far in moderately heavy use it easily lasts more than a day between charges

Some Catchups - Bluetooth LTE and a larger screen are welcome additions to the Apple Community.  Also its a lot faster than the outgoing iPhone4  (that's lucky!)

Fingerprint Recognition - Really useful.  For example whilst running an unlock is possible without a complex unlock code, just using a finger.

Too Big for Rucksack - Too large for side hipbelt pockets on small (15Litre) rucksacks.  Quite an issue!  Will need to select a new range of running attire

Overall then:  Yes, Truly Scrumptious  indeed.  

Agata thinks it is worth the money.  And even cynical Marcus is [reluctantly] quite impressed.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Agata's Bicycle Upgrade

Marcus would say there is something very satisfying about performing a hand crafted upgrade.   You take a system, in this case a mechanical one, tweak it, tune it, and transform it into something; just better.

I am referring to Agata's beloved bicycle in fact.

She has already had a selected Shimano Dura Ace upgrade in August 2014.    Now I am continuing with some remaining components that have beeen trundling along from 2008 when this Ribble bicycle was delivered.

The old Shimano Ultegra levers are alloy handlebars are removed

I don't believe it!  The Carbon Fibre handlebar does not fit the old stem.

Luckily I had a last Deda 100 stem that nobody bought from my recent parts sale.  Phew!

New Shimano Dura Ace brake cables on first.  Agata had specified Red and whom am I to argue.

I've also fitted the Speedplay Zero Titanium pedals over the old Crank brothers.   Speedplay offer adjustable float  (degree of freedom) and also angle, and via shoe cleat foot position.  Very flexible.

After a month of searching I gave up on finding new Shimano Dura Ace 7900 levers.  I had to settle for Shimano Ultegra 6700, 10 speed levers. 

If you scroll up you will see the old Ultegra levers , 6600 I think had the gear changer cables coming out horizontally from the hoods.  The Ultegra 6700 that I am fitting instead has all cables in the more modern arrangement travelling under the handlebars themselves  

Despite reading the manual, using a head torch, magnifying glass one of the gear change cables just refused to go in, well until it did.

 Looking good so far

I ordered this smooth bar tape on a whim.  It's supposed to be more regular once laid.  Let us see!

Ah, so beautiful now.  Time for Marcus to make a test drive.

Costs and Final thoughts

I spent about 700 GBP or say about 1000 CHF on the upgrades since August including the above.   I mention the money to give readers an inkling as to the normal prices for equisite (but not ridiculously expensive) cycling components. And also to say that in Switzerland the retail cost of these [Japanese] components might be 100% more expensive.

Performing the upgrade yourself allows us to exactly choose precisely what components we change further customising and personalising our Cycling experience.

There is something almost spiritual when the components come together to form a machine that responds so precisely to your cycling inputs and effort.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Day 07: Alpe du Grande Serre, Grenoble

An Early Start

Despite arriving at Alpe du Grande Serre about 23.00 last night we were determined to get up early to experience the last day of holiday to the full.

At this altitude early in the morning it was both foggy and cold!

The Last Holiday Run

Friday October 3rd Morning Diary

There are actually multiple marked trails here.  We were spoilt for choice.

 My super hot wife  (quite literally) is still wearing shorts!

 Snow machines so here in winter it is a Ski resort.

Our last holiday run.  So Sad!

Time For Breakfast!

Paying Our Way
Whilst we could have just driven away, but (of course)  we did the decent thing and find the nearby tourist office and pay the 8 Euros for one nights stay.

We spent a long while drive thru, into and then out the other side of Grenoble looking for the Raidlight factory and shop.  Raidlight is a sports clothing and equipment manufacturer known worldwide for their light equipment.  Sadly we had to turn back due to scary small roads combined with lack of time.   Next year perhaps :-(

Last Minute Drama
Shortly before leaving France for Switzerland.  Drama!   The bicycle cover on the back of the Motorhome is falling off.  Agata is driving and Marcus is urging her to stop immediately, but we are on a motorway crossing with no Hard Shoulder.

Eventually we stop on a Motorway sliproad and reattach cover with duct tape.  Phew.

Back Home
No stoppages and we were back to Lausanne by Midnight

Learning Points

  • The Bantam Van proved itself to be a reliable and most importantly very maneouerable vehicle even on the tightest mountain passes and even in the night.
  • The availability, facilities and bonkers cheap pricing of French Aires for motorhome nightime stays continue to amaze us

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Day 06: Bedoin to L'Eglise to Les Alpe du Grande Serre

We are now recounting the events of Day 06 of French Motorhome adventure.   Today the events of Thursday October 02, 2014.

Leaving Bedoin
The plan was to leave the Campsite early and head towards Grenoble.  On the way Agata was to Internet surf and try and find us an Aire (for accommodation) which might also have a nearby mountain trail run that we could attempt.

Before leaving there was time for a healthy Porridge breakfast

We had to ditch the local wine we bought that was found to be corked. Of course we had a backup wine last night, hot tip:always carry spare wine.

Before leaving, we made time for a deliciously long hot, self indulgent shower.  If you re-calibrate to Motorhome showers as the norm, then a campsite shower becomes a luxury!

Last but certainly not least; Marcus sat by the uber fast free Internet point and downloaded his latest Podcasts via iTunes onto the iPod Nano so there was some delightful BBC Radio4 programming to listen to on the drive to come.

We were tipped off that the passing town of Nyons was worth a look.  We arrived to find an orgy of other Motorhomes.

Sadly, all we could find was a street market of, well, bits of /crap/, things that we don't find in any way useful or attractive.  Certainly beautiful and touristy here, but not for us! After a grossly overpriced cafe coffee we left!

Topping Up
Next was a drive through a series of exceptionally pretty French towns on our way to L'Eglise.

 Sheep on the Road

Pausing at an Air to fill up with fresh water.

L'Eglise Mountain Run
We identified an accommodation Aire in a town called L'Eglise   (26460 Truinas) and, after an increasingly sets of shrinking and narrow roads later we arrived.

To our dismay the /Aire/ as such was just a carpark with none of the promised Electricity points (mentioned on the Internet) that we have come to value.    Mains Electricity is useful to power the fridge and also keep our Gadgets charged.  Marcus's laptop needs mains AC and although we had bought a 12V to AC inverter, it did not seem to work.  [All other Gadgets i.e. watches, music player, phones, Tablet can be charged thru USB]

We resolved to anyway stay for the run

Extended Run & Getting Lost
As you can see it is picture book pretty here.

Yes we are going as far up that mountain as time allows!

A lot of signs!   We had previously loaded a tracklog of the mountain trail onto Agata's Garmin Fenix2 watch.  But the trail start was 2Km away and no idea how to get there.

Almost an hour was spent trying to find the trail start and we trekked in the wrong direction and had to backtrack.

Finally we navigated to the start of the trail-head marked on our route.  Let us begin!

 Weather conditions not ideal in some places

We met 2 trail walkers who had apparently lost their companion and gave us their mobile phone number in case we found Yorg!  Luckily he turned up later so we did not have to /carry him down a mountain/.

A long forest section had Marcus worrying about darkness which was to come shortly as the sun would set soon.  I had insisted that neither of us pack the 200 gram head torches to save weight.  Some that felt like a stupid decision now :-(

 At times it looked rather inhospitable.

Okay we made our target plateau.  Now time to get down asap before it gets dark.

Yes, of course we were gathering statistics ...

The trial run was quite nerve racking since we decided to run without the customary rucksack full of emergency supplies (including headtorch). Consequently the first long forest section had us realising that if we did not start the descent in the light getting caught in the forest in the dark would be potentially dangerous.

We finally made it back and decided not to stay the night here but drive onward ....

Dinner on the Road
We passed many towns close to Grenoble including Vif and even managed to locate a Michelin star restaurant ... closed! After much more internet surfing and driving we found a nice simple Italian Restaurant and we stopped off for Lasagne and Salad. Delicious and cheap food.

Mountain Pass Darling?
After the great dinner Marcus was somewhat lured into driving a 30Km detour to an Aire in a nearby mountainous region.  Lured because 15Km was up a tiny mountain pass in complete darkness.

The only benefit or driving in darkness is that oncoming traffic would be visible by headlight.  Disadvantage, if traffic arrived would we be able to pass it!  Major flaw#2 is that in pitch black darkness you can't see the edge of the road, important when it is either a rock face or sheer mountain drop.   

(picture from next morning, since we arrived in the dark!)

After what seemed like eternity we arrived to the Aire and there were toilets and showers and Electricity.  So we had hit the jackpot!  Time for Bed.

Video Diary 20141002
Diary for October 02, 2014

Learning Points for today

  • Driving up a mountain pass in pitch black darkness on thin roads is not a good idea, even in a moderately thin and manoeuvrable motorhome!
  • Yet another Aire was found with fantastic facilities.  France makes motorhomes so welcome.   We are so impressed!
  • Yet again the value of a portable cannot be understated. The fast Internet connection allowed us both to navigate, find a decent trail run, and download maps to our GPS watch.  France (and most countries in Europe excluding Switzerland) enable you to buy a tourist SIM with a Internet Data subscription for almost nothing.   We paid 15 Euros for 5GB! 

Aire Alpe du Grande Serre   Longitude 45.05223000, Latitude 5.83639000