Thursday, July 31, 2014

Day 01: Destination England

On our Way!

For the next week  I'll be detailing our fantastic English holiday that we (Marcus and Agata) have had, primarily in Cornwall England.  We have been planning this for some time and it was principally a test of the practicalities of living in a mobile motorhome.

We have plans later in life to buy and tour in such a vehicle so we want to know, what it might really be like?

Oh yes, and we will also attempt a 100Km Ultra Marathon in a  running race called /Race to the Stones/.

So welcome to DAY 01 (Thursday July 17th 2014)

Delayed Flight
Our Easyjet flight from Geneva to Luton was delayed by over an hour which was just annoying, but considering we were on holiday we just kept smiling.

Arrival at Just Go

The staff at JustGo were very helpful and picked us up from Luton airport.   Next followed a lot of paperwork to read and sign.  This took the best part of an hour.

Ann from Justgo then took us on a tour of the motorhome with explanations and also checking that all aspects of the home worked e.g. fridge, cooker etc.   The walkthru took over 30 minutes but we listened patiently, resisting the temptation to say /yes we know all about this/ since although we have done extensive research we are let's face it newbies at this.

We hired the Scout motorhome which is described here

One important point is that there is no insurance for any damage to the home above the 2metre height level and this vehicle is 3 metres high.  So any collisions would work out very expensive.

M25 Relief
From the heart stoppingly small country roads around Justgo in Luton the large wide roads of the M25 motorway were somewhat of a relief.   There was the usual evening congestion resulting in start stop motoring and this manual transmission vehicle was a little awkward to drive for me because the handbrake is on the right hand side, unusual for a right hand drive vehicle (it is placed there so there is a clear space between the front seats which swivel around 180% when parked)

Arrival at Waitrose
We used a tip from another motorhome owner .. use Google maps to make sure that your destination does not have any height restrictions in the car park.

And so we arrived at a local Waitrose near our destination. WOW!  We had forgotten about the great selection, quality and low prices that set British Supermarkets apart from their Swiss counterparts. 

Wellington Country Park
I had booked this campsite the day before whilst in Switzerland.   Our cunning plan was to book campsites on the day that we needed them by surfing for availability and specification on the Internet.

The idea then for real motorhome ownership would be to do this i.e. stay put in a campsite until you felt like moving on then on the day choose the next destination.  Would this be possible .. we will see.

As such, both Agata and Marcus had 2 British, pay as you go SIM cards with 4G and 3G Internet packages. We also took a Laptop and a tablet to surf more effectively  (connected to the phone's Internet connection via Tethering).

We made use of this UK campsite finder site to search for sites of our specification near our destination postcode and then determine availability and book.  We noted that some sites can be booked online; but for many you need to telephone.

Late Checkin
It seems that the norm is a days campsite rental is usually from about 12 noon on the day of arrival to about (say) 11.00 on the next day.

We would be arriving to Wellington at about 19.00 and so we noted that there is a late arrivals procedure since the office would be shut by then.  In our case we booked the Electric Pitch   (ground including power socket) by Credit Card and with a code we opened the box containing an envelope with key for gate, map of site, our pitch number and other instructions.  Fantastic!

Day01 summary

Overall, today was an exercise free; but not stress free day! Driving a 2.3 metre wide,  7 metre long vehicle with a significant rear wheel overhang on narrow British roads made Marcus's heart race.  Still, we found an excellent Campsite with great facilities and so all is good so far.

Thursday Steps Statistics
[Pathetic: must do better!]

JustGO Motorhome Rental
Wellington Country Park
Scout Motorhome
Scout Specification
UK campsite finder

Day Links
Day02 Arrival Avebury - coming tomorrow

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Camelbak Ultra LR Vest Review

Camelbak Ultra LR Video Review

This is a review of the Camelbak Ultra LR rucksack.  The main features are shown in the video above so I urge you to watch.

Essentially for Ultra Marathons or perhaps any running race exceeding 2 hours or training run where fluids and food are not provided you would be wise to carry these items with you.

Actually for a typical Ultra Marathon, say lasting 10 hours this is what I have crammed into this rucksack

6, 50gram Carbohydrate powder sachets
6, 55 gram Energy Bars
1, Petzyl Nao headtorch
Emergency pack: Duck tape, muscle relaxant, Ibuprofen
Withings Pulse Step Counter
Apple ipad Nano player and headphones
Apple ipad shuffle backup player
Credit card and currency note
1.5Kg of fluid in the 2L bladder
Moderate size jacket with hood 
50 grams of Glucose tablets

What did I find great about this product?

Last week this Camelbak was a good companion on an Ultra Marathon.  I appreciated:

 - Dry weight of 420 grams inclusive of Bladder.  This is just a n unbelievably low weight

 - Front pockets on left and right for food/ phone etc
- 2 tiny velcro covered pockets for small items like nano player

 - Very minimalist straps that are length adjustable and comfortable

 - Horizontal Bladder of 2L
- 1 tiny zippable pocket on back

- 2 chest and 1 waist straps

What to look for in any product
Horizontal bladder to place the weight lower, or Salmon soft puches / Raidlight style water bottles on the front upper carrying straps

Zippable pocket for valuables

Actually a <2L bladder.  To me 1.5L is the largest you should need on a race, 2L assumes you will be trekking without any support  (test out your water consumption first!)

Comfortable straps that don't cut into your neck

Weight where you want it: Some modern product are very short placing any weight higher up your body.  Do you want that?

31K run with Camelbak

Note:Testing Fluid Levels
I can get away with 500ml per 25Km in 25 degrees C, you might need more.  Actually on a longer race my fluid consumption steadily rises to over 1litre per 25Km.  Bear all of this into consideration to choose a sufficiently large bladdered product.

In summary: This was a very good buy and I will use it on future mountain training runs or on ultra races where I don't need to carry vast quantities of equipment.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

My current phone is more powerful than I need

David Pogue: iPhone

Full title:
My current phone is more powerful than I [will ever] need but I still want a better one?

If this syndrome is familiar to anybody, read on. I know it is something that both Marcus and Agata have faced continually ...

First it is not all bad news.

If you understand the irritating logical and emotional conundrum that is behind the above statement it at least show that you have thought about the issue and are planning to address it.

Agata Real Reasons to Upgrade
+ I have had this phone for 3 years now and I bloody deserve a new one husband! My iPhone doesn't even have Bluetooth Low Energy and is glacially slow.

Marcus Real Reasons to Upgrade
+ I take a lot of photographs.  I sold my Android Smart Camera (Samsung Galaxy).  I just want a smartphone with an expectational Camera to avoid constantly carrying a separate dedicated device.

Don't Upgrade
- If I upgrade to Apple phone x or Android phone y  just before their respective technical conferences or projected product refreshes, I really am a freaky MF

- The new phone is simply faster than the current one, although the current one is plenty fast enough already

- My friend X has this new phone Y and X told me it is just what I need

- The new phone is almost 0.3mm thinner than the old one

- My friend X needs a new phone.  If I give X my current phone for free then I can buy a new phone

iphone 6 walkthru

iphone6 dummy body

Since Apple makes a habit of not disclosing product refresh dates even unofficially; the above dummy body video is as close as you will get to physicals of new iphone product.

everything is amazing but
Are things really so bad?

To summarise
  Both Marcus and Agata do actually have genuine reasons for wanting a Smartphone upgrade.  But we are pretty stoic about it and we'll wait it out until product launch.

Conversely, if your current Apple or Android phone does what you need it to do, then my recommendation is to smile and not pine after new product that will not really make your life any better.

Bizzarely timed UPDATE
Since the upgrade to Android 444 my Nexus 5 has been difficult to charge.  And in last days /impossible to charge/.  I see from google product forums that I am not alone!msg/nexus/j6iYNE4I-ME/rTIlbPTGF4gJ

And now I've tried everything and nothing is able to charge my phone.  (4 different chargers, 4 different cables, soft and cache wipe, mains or USB sources, all failed.  I measured USB voltages and currents in posts see my multiple posts in above link)

It's down to 0% and dead as a dodo.  I just took it to Swiss service.  They tell me at least 14 days before it returns. Hmmm.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Goodbye to Paper

A financial Guru friend was trying to convince me that investing in Blue Chip stocks i.e. big famous Companies was still a smart move for the future.

These companies have been around and prospered for decades

he confidently chirped.

Lehman Brothers? I chirped back!

Well to me though many financial, social and moral values and principals stay firmly rooted and in some cases still far from the logical world or reality, some things do change.

For me one of the biggest changes (which people told me could never happen) is  


30 years ago, sans Internet, or high density Hard Disk drives you had to read and then keep paper.

Our UK company had a set of procedures to yearly file all paperwork, transactions, sales etcetera into Box files and then secure them.  As per UK law they were then kept for 7 years and then destroyed.   We did not keep copies!   There was no such thing as electronic storage.

I thought of this as one of the plastic storage wallets  (now at least 15 years old!) slipped into view. I used it to keep a map dry when I made a small run locally.  A fitting end to a wallet used before for much more important things.

Today the Marcus and Agata household has very little need for paper

  • We actively refuse the paper Supermarket magazines from the big Swis Coop and Migros Supermarkets
  • We don't accept paper advertising mail into our letterbox  (you put a don't dump paper crap notice on the box in Switzerland)
  • All paper documents received that need not be legally kept are scanned, push into our quadrupliate+ documentation storage system (local, copy, offsite, cloud1 cloud2)
  • All originals are then shredded and the paper recycled
  • All magazines are now read electronically  (save for some UK magazines where paper is the sole option)
  • All paper newspapers are detested and only read online

We do plan for the future and we estimate that a lifetime's documents for both Marcus and Agata will easily fit on a single 4TB hard disk, which is the size of 2 Penguin Paperbacks  (so with at most 5 copies, that is 5 disks, for 2 people, for 1 lifetime).

Goodbye paper, we like your feel, but you are not ecological or portable or efficient.  Your time has come, and now gone.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sunday Sermon: Religous Safety

Why, of course I read multiple Christian journals, and even a few Islamic ones.   It is nice to see what the competition  (well that is my kind word) is thinking.

And so it came to pass that I read this charming article

The first Kiss

In essence about how a Christian couple had waited until their marriage for their first kiss.

I suppose in any religion or social grouping there are mainstream opinions and outlying viewpoints to which the majority might more or less violently disagree with.

To us,  monogamous marriage between 2 loving people is indeed something to be celebrated.

But as most people who have had their heart broken or at least moved at their first relationship would attest,  some aspects of a relationship are better investigated before rather than after a marriage.

If from the outset we go into the marriage hoping, expecting and planning that it will be the only one, the one that will last a lifetime, it might be best and prudent to check mutual aspects of compatibility.

BEFORE and not after a lifelong union

Love who you love

Saturday, July 26, 2014

More American Vernacular

Further to my previous grumpy post my increasing reliance on YouTube is exposing me to an overload of American Dialog

Please oh please save me from:

A bunch of
Let's jump right into it
I'm stoked
In a world

Friday, July 25, 2014

Honey I deleted the Website

It has been two months now, two months since I took an axe to our Website.

For almost 10 years Marcus and Agata maintained a website of Vintage Computer information from the 1980's, well that is how it started.

One day at work someone noticed that I had a repository of Computer information primarily on AIX, SAN, Storage and Backup/ Recovery on my USB key.

They asked me to share.

It had taken me over 5 years to get this information together but as a favour I placed this information on my employers corporate Microsoft Windows Server team shared drive.

Shortly thereafter other work colleges overseas wanted to access it via the Intranet web.  So I installed and configured a Microsoft IIS server to serve out all of these documents.

A few years later my contract at this company ended.  I diligently deleted all my files including this computer repository and left.  (Note the repository did not contain any information about my employer, just computer information that was freely available on the Internet, just not very well sorted, index, or to the point).

I got a call from technicians in my old company .... Where has our Computer Database of information gone?

So  I enlarged my home Webserver (then just serving out Vintage compurer documents from the 1980's) to include an extra 100GB of quality, sorted, technical information.

At my next customer  (an American computer company with turnover greater than 1B USD) I was surprised to find many references in their internal Problem Solving databases to our website.

I was surprised but happy that even this large Manufacturer of computers was using my website.

And then the Takedown
So all was going well until I was the subject of some harassment and take-down requests.

Companies would occasionally write to me (IBM would be the biggest example) and in some way ask me to remove documentation

  1. Sometimes politely
  2. Sometimes impolitely
  3. Sometimes threatening legal action
All for documents that were freely available elsewhere.

And so in 2014, I have given up.  It was a lot of work to keep a huge database of AIX, UNIX, SAN, Storage, Backup/ Recovery current with the latest documents

Not just downloading everything.   But the /good stuff/, documents useful to people.  And (just one example) since our website was up almost continuously it was much more available than say the IBM Redbooks site, or other parts of the IBM Web empire with which I'm familiar.

So for me,  a few threats made it clear that all the hundreds of hours of unpaid work, downloading, organising, converting (to searchable PDF), updating were not appreciated.  

Well then, yes: you scared me off.  Your bully tactics worked, I hope you feel proud of yourselves.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Low Expectations and Testing

What are the essentials of a Marcus and Agata's Purchasing mentality?  In four words

Low Expectations and Testing !

  • We do extensive Internet Research on the product
  • We research where we can buy it from a reputable supplier
  • We understand that discounts are rarely free and often hide something, for example: product obsolescence or poor design.

In particular:

  1. Never assume it is going to work, just because it is from manufacturer X
  2. Never assume the setup will be easy
  3. Never assume I can return the item

Of course in some countries there is another way:  Sue!

In this methodology your stupidity, ignorance, lack of gile is never questioned.  The culprit is the supplier for selling you something that is substandard.

Now of course /fitness for purpose/ is an important legal entity and products and services should be so, however in the Technology Space we would argue

  • Products claims are often exaggerated
  • Ease of use depends almost entirely on the user

Note: Disclaimer Culture
The rush to take legal action against suppliers based on bad faith, a certainty that's one own incompetence or laziness is not in question has led manufacturers to fight back with all encompassing disclaimers

(I was to textually include the terms here at this font pitch but they are literally hundreds of lines long, check the link)

Consideration CounterPoint
When I studied UK law at University you will be taught about the principle of Consideration.

For me [however] consideration should be morally adequate.  I know it is not legally so.  In other words, I would argue that if you pay almost nothing for a service or product you can only expect a similar value in return.

Trivial Example: I bought a race belt from China for less than 3GBP including postage!  It has performed well over 20 times already.  But should it fail within the next month I am not going to angrily write to the supplier for a refund.  Especially when the UK supplied, branded equivalent is over 20GBP  (almost 700% of the price)

Testing Now
When you buy something, test that it works!  The classic example is the computer backup product.  After years of backing up you find that after a computer crash the restore is inadequate or flawed. Did you actually ever test a restore?

In Summary
When you buy goods or service bear in mind how much you are paying for the item(s).  An almost zero cost gives you less right to complain and moan should the item have minor imperfections.

Items should however be fit for purpose and if there is a major disconnect between an product/ service claim and reality then of course make a stand.

But before you do, you did read the manual?,  did you ask a friend to also check it out?

And test: Don't assume a complex or even simple product or service actually works.  Test it out.  Test and Test and Test.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Withings Pulse Wrist Band

So finally it has arrived!   

The Withings Pulse is a fitness step and running tracker.  I reviewed it here  and since October 2013 it is my primary tools for measuring daily steps walked or run.

It is also pretty unique in that it contains a Heart Rate Monitor and Blood Oxygen analyser.

Shown here next to my Mio heart rate monitor

On the controlling smartphone app  (to which the pulse sends data via Bluetooth periodically) you can ask to have the time rotated by 90 degrees as shown here so that when you first press the button the time is displayed the right way around.

The unit simply slides into the strap and stays there by friction. Not a chance for it to fall out.

Overall then:  The band costs about 15GBP / 20 CHF so was relatively cheap.  After a week of usage I actually prefer wearing the Pulse on my waist using a clip, so I'll only use it on my wrist on lesser occasions.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Living in America

The above graphic is one of those annoying examples that we in Europe face on a steadily decreasing basis.  Some years back the newest items came to be sold in America and only America first.

Today, well it is just some of the time.

Likewise, years ago living in America was the dream of the many, today... not so many.  In Marcus and Agata's ticklist of pluses and minuses it looks a little like this:

Cars of all brands are cheaper in America.  Actually it is almost insufferable that quality European brands like Porsche and BMW sell the same product in America at sometimes a 30% or greater discount than the identical home product.  Quite shameful, but good if you live in the USA.

Housing Costs
Housing even in trendy areas is a fraction of the cost of Europe.  In fact if your needs are modest, say less than 3 bedrooms and 2 garage spaces; it is sometimes difficult to find a place small enough in a rural mid west USA location.

In 2014 the USA experienced a property bubble based on the cheap money supply provided by the US government.  Even allowing for this, property / housing is very cheap.

Opening Hours
America still leads the way in a 24x7 shopping culture paradyn.   You can step into stores like Wall-mart at virtually any time for those missing items, or for a complete family shop.   The UK is not far behind in terms of Supermarket opening hours but only America has stores of every description open at the customers and not retailers convenience.

Service Culture
At least on the Surface, a strong service culture is present throughout American retail; and in general for the whole country.  Retail service culture is engrained and whilst it is certainly on the wane in modern times it is streaks ahead of any other country in the world.  Period.

Conferences/Trade Shows
If you like Electronics/ Computer or Cars then recall that large shows like CES, Apple Developer Conference or numerous Product launches are made in the USA.

Even something simple like the Pebble Beach concours is in the US.

Positive People Vibe
Positivity grounds America, like the Service culture; it is one of the hallmark features that I love about the USA.  Of course, this very possibly comes from and is re-enforced by the idea that America is the worlds best superpower, country, economic power-house, as told to Americans by Americans.  In the future should America be demonstrably become number 2 (behind China) in many of the important business metrics that define a country it will be interesting to see if this Positivity holds up.  But for now, it is there.

Stuff here First
More American companies [than you think] have a myopic vision that product launch starts in America, and maybe sometime later we'll ship internationally.

So whilst I detest this attitude, it's pretty handy should you live in the US

About the Same
Consumer Electronics Cost


No Go Areas
Areas where you/family by virtue of your Ethnicity/ Culture/ Wealth can enter and have the expectation to be assaulted/ attacked/ murdered.  Of course these exist in many countries, but are regrettably more proportionately present in America than one might expect for a leading first world democracy.

A country where waste is everywhere and deemed socially acceptable by a large proportion of the population.

Currency Collapse
The dollar is the World's reserve currency.  Meaning many commodities (principally oil!)  are traded in USD.  This allows the US to be a borrower of last retort [did you see what I did there :-]

Still it won't last forever, meaning if you convert your equity into USD whilst moving/living there, when the big collapse happens, well you will suddenly be poor

So long as America holds its status at World Reserve currency, the whole world and absolutely including the American Public are steadily increasing their Debt to others in order to continue to live above their means.  This is not just regrettable, but morally indefensible, placing a greater and greater burden on American youth who will need to pick up the bill.

Hot Weather
Many states have either an uncomfortably constantly hot climate or climate extremes that are uncomfortable for European folk.

The desire to show one's wealth, or possessions is something practised throught America.  In England we have a word for this: Chav, and this is not a compliment

My July 4th post refers

Overall then, whilst in previous times we would have traded in our European citizenship for an American one,today  in 2014 we feel that just living in, our touring America for say one to two years [at our own cost] is all that we can summon enthusiasm for.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Synology DS411+II Network Attached Storage End of Term Report

At the Marcus and Agata household we are involved in some Digital Consolidation.

And so we have come to say goodbye (for Production use) to our 100% faithful

Synology DS411+II

Network Attached Storage

Note: Not all NAS Operating systems are created equal. IMHO there are only 2 high functional choices Synology or QNAP.   I don't care what fancy hardware other vendors have, their OS is abysmal!

Note2: In principle you could rig up an old Intel Server and install FreeNAS onto it or even Windows 2012 storage server.  BUT, you'd probably have a big, noisy and energy hungry solution, one that didn't power on and off automatically on a schedule and was generally high maintenance.

For these reasons I'd choose Synology any day...

4 disk bays, and an alerts screen on the right showing any out of line events etc.

Access to low level SMART information of course

Able to set HDD spin down as well as whole device power on and off, silent or with beep power schedule.

I upgraded the memory to 4GB.  (the maximum possible)

Always provided at least 50MB/sec transfer rate  (sometimes 80MB/sec +) for windows transfers

Raw disks are added into a resizable (upward only) Disk storage pool

This is what is actually puts onto the disk.  I presume the OS and other low level information onto first 2 small partitions.

What would a Nextgen Product Have?

  • SSD Caching (say a M.2/ NGFF long slot)
  • Large Memory Caching (say upto 16GB RAM memory)
  • At least 4, 1Gbit Ethernets
  • For a high end product 10Gb Ethernet (and not at ridiculous cost!)
  • Excellent Software

I'm still waiting for a worthy Synology nextgen (or even Qnap) product at not hysterical cost.  In particular Synology has a current habit of using slow=ish processors and small memory footprint, they don't have SSD caching on almost anything, and are pretty mean with 4 Ethernet units.  

10Gb Newby
(Multi part and the best practical article for home 10Gb I have seen so far)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sunday Sermon: Human Nature

(Human Nature tribute - John Meyer)

Although the world of July 2014 seems to be torn apart with religious conflict and hostility I do have to hope that the positive aspects of human nature will in my own lifetime win through.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Start Fitness - Sock Report

Both Agata and Marcus really enjoy are running.  However we realise that we need to constantly care for the health and well-being of our legs and in particular feet.

Aside from the right shoes for the right surface, terrain, distance and climate we would also recommend that you look carefully at what socks you are wearing.

The Parameters that we care about

  • Cushioning.  Should it be a thick or thin sock.  Cushoned in certain places only such as heal and toe?
  • Ventilation:  Mesh parts to improve ventilation, but then at these areas less or no cushoning
  • Durability: The sock should last at least a couple of months of use.  Let's say at least 500Km of running.
  • Specificity:  Special socks for Cycling as Opposed to running.  For Marcus, more padding for trail socks at toes is helpful on descents, as is a sock which slips less
  • Length: Low cut sock exposing ankles, slightly longer just to cover, or longer still to make for complete skin coverage when teamed with long trousers

These are just some of the factors we consider.  After much research we would recommend the vendors:

a_n_manufacturer original e.g. Nike, Asics etc.

Here are some of Marcus's top choices

London running sock.

Best overall running sock.  Marcus choice for Marathons and general training.

Fell and Trail Sock

Thin sock overall but padding at the ends.  Excellent ventilation.  Marcus choice for Ultra Marathon.

Oregon Trail
Quite a padded sock.  Good for plodding trail training runs

Cycling Tour Sock:
The defacto sock for cycling

Decathlon Kanergy
A must for post race wear.  No matter how sore by feet, ankles or calves are after a race, with these on, I can walk normally and smile as if to say /yes, that was easy/.

The most important rule we live by is to make sure the socks are in good condition and to change them when you notice the slightest bit of detoriation.

These More Mile socks shown above are only about 4GBP  (6CHF, 7USD) per pair.  This is a fraction of the price of a branded /Acics or Nike sock/.

Really recommended!