Notes from the saddle

Yep. I have updated to Squarespace 6 and changed the name of the blog. As I hardly ever write about technology these days, I decided to take my writing in a new direction. ​

I will still rant about whatever’s on my mind — whether that be tech, culture, politics or whatever — but I wanted to formally point this site towards my first love: cycling.

​I also hope to start writing much more often. Possibly daily.

​Laters.

We can share the road

If you read this blog or follow me on twitter, you’re probably aware that I’m a cyclist. Like most cyclists I own and drive a car, but my preferred mode of transport is the humble bicycle.

“But why?” You don’t ask.

Mostly because I’m insufferable and self-righteous. But also because it keeps me fit and gets me out of the house (where the kids also live). The freedom enjoyed by the cyclist is what drives us on.

What also drives us on is the attitudes of drivers. Drivers who honk and shout obscenities because we have the temerity to attempt to share the road with them.

Like I said, I’m also a motorist. Every day I do the commute and every night I’m ferrying the kids around to swimming, tennis or some other activity. Yet whenever I come across a cyclist, I slow down, wait, and make sure I give them plenty of space when I pass. And you know what? I seem to get around and do what I need to do pretty much okay.

I don’t need to hurl a load of abuse at other road users. I don’t need to buzz cyclists to scare the living bejesus out them. Because I am sane enough to realise that these cyclists are wives, husbands, fathers, brothers, mothers, sisters, and children. They’re not just obstructions — they’re people. They have a place to go, and people to go home to.

When you buzz a cyclist, you risk ripping the heart out of a family. Denying a little girl her daddy, or stealing a son or daughter from a loving parent. Is it worth it?

Is sharing the road really that much of an inconvenience?

It’s because of this animosity that cyclists are so uppity. Cyclists don’t want to be at war with motorists. We just want to ride without the BS and grief that’s handed out to us daily.

There are of course douchebag cyclists. But there are also many many douchebag motorists that treat every interaction on the road as some sort of contest. For every cyclist you saw jump a light, think about all the drivers who cut you up at a junction, or rear up behind you on the outside lane when you’re overtaking a lorry at 70mph — aggressively looking to push you out of the way, or pressuring you to match their law-breaking speed. People are dicks… it’s not a matter of dick-cyclists or dick-drivers.

What exact privileges do you think being a driver gives you?

You sat a couple of short tests that “prove” that you have some basic control of a vehicle and a passing familiarity with the highway code. Then you’re allowed to operate a tonne of steal at speeds where if you hit another human being, he or she is near vaporised. Bicycle on pedestrian fatalities are rare. Bicycle on driver fatalities are near impossible.

So after sitting a ridiculously easy driving test, do you really expect a cyclist to sit a similar test? Tell you what… I will happily support compulsory cycling proficiency testing, if drivers are subject to the sort of testing that weeds out bad drivers, and ensures only the most “proficient” drivers are allowed to use the roads.

Let’s be generous and say that the driving exams are only once every 3-years. I mean, you’re operating a potential killing machine… we need to be super careful, no? We all want safe and efficient roads, yes?

Exactly.

Samsung’s Galaxy S2 ICS mess

bought a SIM-free Galaxy S2 from Samsung. I was kicking around the idea of waiting on the Galaxy Nexus, but at the last minute I went with Samsung’s highly rated S2. I assumed at the time, with the Galaxy S2 being the most kick-ass phone on the market and Ice Cream Sandwich (the latest and greatest version of Android) being around the corner, it would only be a matter of a month or two before I received the update.

Christmas came and went before finally Samsung anounced that the Galaxy S2 would get ICS in Q1 of this year. Today is April 1st — and I have synced my G2 with the its Kies software and still no update.

I am pissed.Last month Samsung released its Galaxy S2 ICS update in certain territories in Europe and promised imminent roll out to its UK customers. The code was passed to UK carriers, some of which have already released the update to their users. I understand some SIM-free S2’s in the UK have received the update, suggesting a staggered roll-out, but I and many more hacked-off users haven’t.

How can Samsung be in a position where contract carrier-based users get a much anticipated firmware update before people who bought the device unlocked at full price?

I buy my Android phones unlocked. I like the freedom of having no carrier limitations. This is because I like to tinker and run the very latest software. I am still shocked that I haven’t installed an insecure kernel and loaded a custom ROM. It was only a matter of weeks before I had dumped HTC Sense on my Desire handset for the Oxygen ROM. I liked Oxygen, but the lack of an ICS build for the G2 meant that I sat and waited for Samsung to send me an official update. I was a good boy.I am a good boy no longer. I will be rooting the phone today. And this will be the last time I buy a handset from Samsung. I have always disliked the iPhone fanboys criticism of Android’s many forks and slow updates, but they have a point. Less than 2% of Android users have ICS and it’s been out for half a year. Half a fucking year.

Gruber, Brooks, Speirs, Blanc and the rest of the Apple blogging royalty are damn-right, the Android user-experience is a mess. Apple’s universal annual roll-out, with generation specific builds, is lightyears ahead of the god-awful mess that is the Android ecosystem.

I have a dual-core phone that was the best in its class 6 or 7 months ago, and I can’t even run Chrome because my OS isn’t up to date. Not good enough, Samsung. Not good enough at all.

Naturally this has been a PR disaster for Samsung UK. The twitter feed, @samsunguk, has had its ass handed to it over the past 3-weeks, and I sort of feel sorry for the guys handling the account. But it’s the nerds like me who buy unlocked phones — we want the best tech and we don’t want to be locked into a 2-year contract. You piss these nerds off at your peril. We all have twitter accounts and busy keyboards.

Anyway, as I said, me and Samsung are done. The phone gets rooted today.

Back on the bike

Recently I have begun cycling again. In my early-to-mid 20’s I was an avid and passionate mountain biker. I rode most evenings, and I would be out on the trails almost all of the weekend. I stopped cycling when working shifts and having kids meant time had become a premium commodity.

When I was about 24 I was fit — I mean really fit. I regularly went away to the Lake District for a long-weekend and rode up and down hills for 8-10 hours a day. I loved it. But then I stopped. I stopped and I got fat. I even gave up football.

I am now several stones over my ideal weight (if several can be stretched to about 5?). I’m unfit and I drink too much. My weight has meant that I have a bad back and I get out of breath if I try moderate exercise.

I started cycling again before Christmas. I took on a local trail that before would have been a quick week-night blast in my heyday. I was fucked. I could barely do it. If it hadn’t have been for a puncture half-way around, I think my riding buddies would have just shot me.

Obviously, with long winter nights and working through the day, riding opportunities are rare. But I have made sure I get in at least one ride each weekend — even when the ground is covered in snow and ice. And yes, I’ve started to build up my stamina and general fitness. The impressive leg muscles I used to display have woken from their decade long slumber, and while still yawning and getting used to the bright light of routine exercise, awake they certainly are.

Cycling isn’t cheap. Well it could be if I wasn’t such an insufferable geek. Anyway, since December I have bought a £1,000 slick-tyre hybrid, and my beloved Orange mountain bike has been booked in for a serious overhaul (well-worn late 90’s kit is no good on the fashionable trails). A full new 2012 Deore XT transmission, Race Face finishing kit and set of fancy new Rock Shox forks are sitting in a Merlin Cycles checkout basket, waiting for me to find the funds to pay for them.

To finance my rekindled interest in cycling I have started selling my hi-fi and other gear on eBay. I have never sold anything on eBay before so it’s a new experience for me, and I have to say it, I’ve been bitten by the eBay bug… C’mon everybody, let’s party like it’s 1997!!

Every ping of my phone gives me the shivers. Is it a bid on my loudspeakers or my CD player? Or maybe it’s another 50p placed on the XBOX X-Factor game the kids never even opened? Anyway it’s all coming along beautifully, and my Paypal account is beginning to swell, ready for the day when I click buy on that bumper Merlin shopping cart.

To make the most of this cycle-based spending, I need to continue to work hard on my fitness, and that includes making time in the evening to do some exercise every day — either on my hybrid, my fixed bike, or getting out for those runs I’ve been threatening for weeks. So that’s why I have written this post. I want to document (and shame myself into) getting down to the twelve-and-a-half stone target I have set myself. I have 18-months from today. You with me? Great.

UPDATE: While I’ve just posted this, I actually wrote this on Tuesday. Since then I have got two of those runs in and a decent bike ride today.