Monthly Archives: March, 2016

The new bicycle

The New Bicycle

The lifeline?


From Tim Urban’s wonderful site, Wait But Why, comes a discussion of Why Cryonics Makes Sense, in which he explains — in his usual light-hearted, cartoon-illustrated, occasionally-profane fashion — how he moved from thinking:

Cryonics is the morbid process of freezing rich, dead people who can’t accept the concept of death, in the hopes that people from the future will be able to bring them back to life, and the community of hard-core cryonics people might also be a Scientology-like cult.

to actually signing up for an appointment with one of the big cryonics companies.

If you are of a religious persuasion and believe that your deity of choice is likely to provide a better chance of long-term survival than Alcor, Inc., then you’ll probably have dismissed cryonics out of hand, but the article may at least persuade you that cryonicists (your new word for today) are not complete nutters. They completely understand all the possible hiccups that might not allow you to be revived in the future, but think that the experiment — which is less costly than you might think — is worth undertaking. They view cryonics in much the same way that people in the past might have viewed organ transplants. An interesting read.

Wait But Why adopts an unusual format for these longer pieces, going into some depth on a subject to explain it for normal readers, yet doing so in an amusing way.

There are shorter, amusing posts on the site too — see How I handle long email delays, for example — but for the longer ones, if, like me, you seldom sit there twiddling your thumbs and thinking, “Where can I go to read 14,000 words on some random topic this morning?”, then I recommend signing up to get them in your inbox.

Patron of the arts

Rose and I enjoy visiting art galleries, and occasionally making some modest purchases. Actually, we’d like to make a lot more, but on the occasions when we aren’t limited by budget, we’re limited by the available space in our little house.

So if I told you that we had recently ventured into life-size bronze sculptures, you might think we’d finally abandoned reason for madness.

But then, you’d need to see a picture of our latest purchase.

Let there be light


Playing with my Canon flashguns using PocketWizard FlexTT5 triggers and an AC3 on my Fuji X-Pro 1 and X-Pro 2. They work fine as long as you don’t need TTL metering. (I don’t.)


For those interested in the details…

20160320-11534604-600First, I set the flash mode on the camera to ‘Forced flash’ to make sure flash is always triggered even if the camera thinks there’s enough ambient light.

Next, even though the camera just sees this as a simple on/off flash trigger, I want the AC3 to be able to control the flash levels on the Speedlites, so all of the communications between those bits need to be in TTL mode to get that level of control. So the Speedlites are in TTL mode, and all the PocketWizards are also configured to use TTL communications.

Finally, I want to adjust the levels manually, so the switches on the AC3 are set to the ‘M’ position, and I can use the dials to turn the individual flash levels up and down from the camera, even if they’re buried inside a softbox, or somewhere similarly inaccessible.

It’s possible you may see one other glitch if you try this, but it’s easy to fix. The central connector pin on the bottom of a flashgun does the basic triggering. The other ones are for the surrounding control communication, and manufacturers handle this differently, so Fuji equipment will be expecting different things on these pins from Canon kit, or from PocketWizards designed to work with Canon kit. This can cause confusion – in fact, when I first tried this, I got strange messages on the X-Pro 2 screen about internal temperature warnings – others have seen this too, and it’s presumed to be a bug in the early firmware, since it happens instantly when the camera is switched on from cold. This morning, I had no problem, but it may be a good idea anyway to stop the different parts from trying to communicate when they don’t speak the same language.

20160320-12214801-600Some people just put tape over the extra pins. Perhaps somebody sells a hotshoe adapter that only connects the single pin. I had a really dumb PC-sync-to-hotshoe adapter in the bottom of my bag, so I put this between the PocketWizard and the camera, and plugged it into the PC-sync socket on the Fuji… and it all worked beautifully, as well as giving me a bit of extra space for reaching controls and things. (See the top picture above.) Who would have thought that this old connector from the 50s would be a good way to connect to sophisticated high-speed bi-directional radio communication systems?!

All in all, I’m very happy with this setup, and it gives me one less reason to carry my heavy Canon kit around.

A celebratory introduction

One of our favourite furniture shops in the area, Angela Reed in Saffron Walden, now has a cafe. And it’s very good.

I have a new camera. It’s also rather good. Time to celebrate by bringing the two together, I thought.


We then went to see a different catering establishment: the old kitchens at Audley End.


Oh, for the curious, my new toy is a Fuji X-Pro 2… a nice update to my much-loved X-Pro 1. These were quick test shots with my 18-55 zoom.

Always look on the dark side of life


Lovely cartoon from Brevity.

Spotted on Facebook a while back. Shared in the free world.

The Grapes of Wrath

From ‘Art Roflmao‘. Lovely.

Fog on the Barrow-downs


A slightly surreal dog-walk this morning.

Daylight savings

My mother, in her younger days, used to be a midwife. She once delivered a pair of twins, just as the clocks were going back.

The younger one ended up with a birth certificate stating that he was born before the older one…

Not very sheepish


This handsome lass posed nicely for me in the sunlight.

She seemed remarkably unfazed by the fact I had Tilly beside me on a lead.


Tilly was much less composed about it. She didn’t quite know whether to protect me from this beast, or run away…

Ansible – the absolute basic overview

Ansible is a system for setting up, managing and configuring machines – one at a time, or in vast numbers simultaneously. We’re using it more and more at Telemarq.

There are several tutorials out there that go into some detail about how to use it. This isn’t one of those (though it’ll teach you the basics). This is just intended to give you an idea of what’s going on if you find yourself sitting in front of a directory full of Ansible files, looking at unfamiliar file formats.

Also available on YouTube.

I had these slides in a directory from when I was bringing some friends up to speed in the past, so I added a soundtrack in case they were useful to others.

The end of an era? Or the start of one?

IMG_2439Early yesterday morning, Richard and I set off to drive from Cambridge to Sheffield for a business meeting — my first such trip in my electric car. It’s 260 miles there and back, and I’ve done longer journeys, but this was the first where professional courtesy was contingent on the state of the UK charging network.

Fortunately, we had a perfect run, charging six times without delay, problem or queueing. And if you’re thinking that six is rather a large number for that length of trip, you’d be right, and we could have done it in fewer stops. But there are different approaches to recharging your car. I decided to go for lots of quick partial charges (each typically a 15-20 min stop) because the rate at which the batteries charge slows down noticeably as they fill up: on these ‘rapid’ chargers at motorway service stations, it’s quicker to charge from 0%-80% than it is from 80%-100%, but you still get the same miles-per-percent. Also, I hadn’t visited any of these locations before, so I was curious to see more of them, and also didn’t know what to expect in terms of congestion. Sub-zero temperatures also reduce your range significantly if you want to keep your toes warm!

The upshot is that a journey like this, even when things are going perfectly, took about an hour longer in each direction than it would have done if we were burning dinosaurs. Richard was a trooper and raised no objection to getting up for a six o’clock departure. For some people, that would be unacceptable. Personally, I find I rather like it – I would normally stop at least once en route anyway and I suspect that getting out and stretching my legs every 40 mins or so is very beneficial from a safety point of view. I certainly arrive feeling more relaxed than in the old days. The extra time you spend on occasional long journeys is offset by the fact that I never have to visit petrol stations during the week. And it’s still much quicker than using public transport.

It’s also much cheaper. Many non EV-owners don’t realise that a significant proportion of public chargers are free to use, including the Ecotricity ones found at many service stations. This means that the ‘fuel’ cost to get the two of us from Cambridge to Sheffield and back yesterday was around £2.50, since we only paid for the charge I did at home before we set off.

But that’s about to change. In a podcast this week the founder of Ecotricity announced that they would start charging for charging in ‘a couple of months’. This comes as no surprise: we knew the free ride couldn’t last forever. Some welcome it, because the reliability of the network should improve when out-of-action chargers mean a loss of revenue. Hopefully the numbers of charging stations will also increase, and it’s less likely that the ‘pumps’ will be blocked by casual chargers, or those with plug-in hybrids, who don’t really need it, leaving more of them free for those with pure electric vehicles, who do.

But we’re all wondering what Ecotricity’s pricing will be. They are an honourable company with good motives, and are unlikely to resort to excessive profiteering from their effective monopoly on much of the UK’s motorway network. On the other hand, there are large chunks of the country that they don’t cover — try going south of Gatwick, for example — and the rapid chargers available in those areas from other companies are often selling their electricity with a 5x markup, such that petrol is a cheaper alternative. Even at those rates, it would take a long time to recoup the tens of thousands of pounds needed for a 50kW rapid charger installation. In due course, as EV ownership and awareness increases, and competition starts to become more real, the financials will change. After all – installing a petrol station is outrageously more expensive, but you can be sure of a flow of regular customers throughout the day. Even if electricity at the service station proves more expensive than petrol, most people do 90-95% of their charging at home or work, so the benefits of going electric are still substantial.

I’m in the fortunate position of having an electric car with a ‘range extender’: a small 650cc generator in the back that allows me to double my electric range using a couple of gallons of fuel. So Richard and I could have gone from Cambridge to Sheffield using 50% electricity from home and 50% petrol. We were able to charge at our destination, so we could have done the same on the way home. This would have been faster, though we wouldn’t have felt quite so smug about our lack of CO2 emissions, or the fact that the whole trip cost us less than one of the lattes we consumed on the way, though it might still have cost us less than the sum total of all our lattes!

My somewhat pricey BMW is, however, the only car on sale in the UK at the moment which falls into this mostly-electric-with-a-little-bit-of-petrol category. Part of the reason I bought it was because it was so perfect for riding out this transition that we’re going through. Those who own, or sell, pure-electric vehicles will be watching the Ecotricity prices with rather more skin in the game.

I think it’s vital that the other key part of our successful trip yesterday: the fact that there was a space available immediately at every charge point we visited, continues to be the norm, until they are much less of a scarcity or the range of affordable electric vehicles increases substantially. That means that companies will probably continue to need substantial government incentives to keep installing them ahead of the growth in electric vehicle sales, because it’s going to be hard to pay for them simply by charging for electricity in the short term. In the long term, however, such an investment will definitely be worth it for the nation.

We drive in interesting times.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser