Internet software for the arachnoid cow? Below are the 10 most recent journal entries recorded in the "Ben Harris" journal:

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March 12th, 2012
12:29 am


The 0158 from Stevenage

All my magic diary-posting scripts are broken, so I'm using LiveJournal's posting interface for what may be the first time. I could fix the scripts, but I've been playing with train timetables instead, which is what I'm here to write about.

On 25th March this year, the clocks in the UK go forward. This means that they jump straight from 01:00 to 02:00, skipping all the times in between. I've mostly worked out how this is represented in ATOC's public timetable data, but there's one rail-replacement bus I can't understand, since it's timetabled to start its journey at Stevenage at 01:58, a time that doesn't exist. This causes perl's DateTime to throw an exception when I try to instantiate the departure time.

My usual approach to understanding a timetable oddity is to see what National Rail Enquiries makes of it. Unfortunately, they show the bus as leaving at 02:58 and arriving at 02:33, taking -25 minutes. There's a helpful warning that it's a bus, but no warning that it will go backwards in time.

Maybe First Capital Connect know. It's their service, after all. They have it leaving at 01:58, arriving at 01:33, and taking -1h 35m. So backwards in time, in an hour that doesn't exist, and taking longer about it than can really be justified.

East Coast try harder than most to make sense of the data. They show the bus leaving Stevenage at 02:58 and arriving in Letchworth in 02:33, but do manage to time it at 35 minutes. When asked about intermediate stops they permute the journey, showing it starting at Hitchin, before calling at Letchworth and then Stevenage, albeit with a note claiming that it terminates at Letchworth.

Given all that, I think my approach of catching the exception, printing a warning, and otherwise ignoring the service is probably about as good as I can hope for.

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November 20th, 2011
06:45 pm


The Norfolk Nips 1 and home again

Last Sunday, I caught an early train out to Norwich in order to ride the first of three monthly 100km rides. I managed to get somewhat lost in Norwich, but I made it to the church hall in Hellesdon with time to spare. The weather was perfect and the ride took us pleasantly out to the coast and back, visiting a cafe with nice cake along the way. After refuelluing with soup back at Hellesdon, I set off for an additional 100km ride home.

Cycling from Norwich to Cambridge is slightly annoying because the obvious route is along the A11, which is not the nicest road, espectially between Thetford and Mildenhall where there aren't any parallel roads. To avoid this, I diverted to the north along the B1108, A1065 and B1102. When I'd planned the route, I failed to notice that Google suggested going via Stanford, a Norfolk village that's well known on Geograph for being at the centre of an area that's been closed to the public since 1942.

Still, I got myself some fishcakes and chips (a new standard Audax meal) in Brandon and got home just after 9pm. Next month the second of the Nips.

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November 1st, 2011
10:58 pm


Emitremmus Desrever Dednetxe

Every year, Stevenage and North Hertfordshire CTC organises a 100km ride on the last Sunday in October. I've ridden it for the last several years, but this year I wanted a 200k in October, so rather than getting the train to and from Stevenage, I rode there and back instead. This worked pretty well, especially since the steady southwesterly meant I had a tailwind for the homeward 50k. Usually on Emitremmus, I'd have lunch at Mocha's cafe in Saffron Walden, but the queue there was long and slow-moving enough that I decided to press on to Therfield where the W.I. were serving tea, cake and sandwiches. That worked much better.

As usual, the organisation was amazingly efficient. With over 300 riders, it really had to be.

The weekend after next, it's off to Norwich for the first of the Norfolk Nips.

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October 8th, 2011
08:21 pm


To try to clarify my thoughts, I went to Suffolk.

There, I visited Flo-Ridaz (<>) to see what it was like to drive a Hovercraft, and took Owen and Ian along as well. The experience was an entertaining one, and while I'm still not entirely convinced of the practicality of a hovercraft, I do know that they're a lot of fun.

Hovercraft, having no wheels or keel, can only change their direction of travel by thrusting. Thus, I had expected driving one to resemble playing something like Xpilot or Asteroids. I was wrong, because it a hovercraft you can only turn the craft (and hence change the direction of thrust) by thrusting as well.

I got to drive two Flying Fish hovercraft, a Snapper and a Marlin II. The Snapper was easy to drive and felt very much at home zooming around a small field. The Marlin, despite being only slightly heavier and more powerful, was much more of a handful, and I managed to make enough of a mess of one corner in it to fall off the edge of the track into a ploughed field. On the other hand, it felt like a much more capable craft, one which wouldn't let one down in the middle of, say, the Wash.

Ian and I took quite a lot of pictures. Even after vigorous editing, there are still far to many of them here:


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October 5th, 2011
01:02 am



For the last few years, autumn new moons have seen me heading off to Hunstanton to go walking in the Wash taking photographs. This has been a surprisingly enjoyable activity and means that Geograph now has pretty good coverage of the eastern Wash down to Wolferton Creek. But I'm running out of squares. I think there might be one more square that I can reach from Hunstanton on foot, and then I'll have to find something else to do.

The obvious and sensible alternative (insofar as any of this is sensible) would be to try setting out from a different shore of the Wash, maybe between the Ouse and Nene, or all the way around near Gibraltar Point. This would involve quite a lot more travelling, though, and in the former case quite a lot more mud too.

A more technological solution would be to accept that the sea is a silly place to go walking, and that maybe a boat would be a better way to get around. Except that if I'm visiting sandbanks a boat is likely to get stuck, so clearly what I need is a hovercraft. Hovercraft aren't cheap, costing much the same as a family car, but I can afford that, not least because I'm not supporting a family, or a car. A low-end cruising hovercraft will do maybe 30 mph, and has an endurance of several hours, so it's quite a practical vehicle. There's a boat park in Hunstanton it could be stored in, and I could even bring it up the rivers as far as Bottisham Lock (the Conservators won't let hovercraft on their bit of the Cam).

On the one hand, it's clearly utterly ludicrous that I should go out and buy a hovercraft. On the other hand, hovercraft!

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12:09 am



As a result of Clare, I've recently found myself helping with the Ramblers' Association's Mystery Walker program, in which they send me a grid reference and I go for a short walk starting there and tell them how it went. A few weeks ago, this took me to Quy Fen, and I noticed some waymarks that were not just inadequate but actually wrong (giving the wrong status for several paths). I reported this to the County Council and got a friendly reply explaining that they'd love to correct the problem but had no money. In the meantime, I'd looked up the council's policy on waymarking on their Web site and noticed that they would provide markers to parishes and volunteers on request. So I volunteered.

Thus, I found myself visiting the council offices on the way to work so that a slightly counfused rights-of-way officer could try to work our whether this strange person from the Internet could be trusted with a pile of waymark disks and a bag of County Council nails. After a generally useful conversation, it turned out I could.

Thus, the next weekend I was back on the paths near Horningsea with the council's signs and nails and my own hammer, along with the knowledge that I was authorised under section 27(5) of the Countryside Act 1968 to erect signposts along those paths. A little while and quite a lot of nettle-stings later, and the waymarks were corrected. I returned the spare disks and nails to the council the next week in the knowledge of a job done, possibly even well.

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August 31st, 2011
10:25 pm




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August 11th, 2011
03:21 pm


What I did on my holidays

I took last week off work because I have far too much leave to use up, and because the tide tables looked good. Before I could take advantage of the latter, though, my parents turned up on Saturday morning. They'd just cycled down from Little Thetford, and having left much of their luggage at my house suggested we go out for a ride somewhere. Happily, I'd been expecting this and was ready to take them on the rather lovely section of LEL 2013 between Haslingfield and Thaxted, and then back to Elsenham for the train home.


On Sunday, we all went down to London to meet Georgina and family at the Hackney Wicked festival. This felt a bit like a urban kind of Strawberry Fair, but with more artists. On Monday, parents were sent off in the general direction of Luton and I got some time to myself again to plan Tuesday.

Tuesday was one of the lowest tides of the year, so my plan was to go and find more grid squares in the Wash. I was somewhat underprepared, and while I got to Hunstanton on time, I managed to leave both my camera bag and the rucksack adaptor for my pannier at home. This meant carrying the pannier in my hand across the sands, and putting it down in the water every time I wanted to take a photo. Being Ortlieb, of course, it at least didn't let any of the water in.

Despite these handicaps, I managed to get to two new grid squares, and to get back home again without drowning. I did end up with a rather painful blister though, so I didn't go out there again on Wednesday as previously planned. I also accidentally left my GPS receiver running on the bus back to King's Lynn, so if you ever need to know what route the number 11 takes, it's here.

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While waiting for my foot to stop complaining, I did some more work on the slightly mad Haskell program that generates maps of connections for Owen's station collection. It now works quite a lot better than it did and is better integrated with the rest of the site maintenance scripts. Adding connection data for all stations will take a little while, but at last West Yorkshire is complete (and the map for Leeds now takes less than a minute to optimise).


Now, back to work.

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July 7th, 2011
12:11 am


Castles, Coast and Cornfields (and an extra 50km)

When my alarm clock went off at half past five on Saturday morning, it was very tempting to just go back to sleep. However, that would have meant another "DNS" in my list of Audax results, and one seemed like enough, so I got up, had breakfast, and trundled off to catch the first train to Bury St Edmunds. I got to the start at Bildeston a couple of minutes late, and that was enough to ensure that I didn't see any of the other riders all day. This didn't really matter, since the weather was fine, the terrain gentle, and the winds seemingly always at my back. I'm not sure Orford really counts as "coast" by my standards, but it's the nearest an East Anglian Audax has given me yet.

The calendar ride was only 160km, but I'd arranged to do the rides between Bury St Edmunds station and the start as an extended calendar event, so the whole day was officially a 200k. Of course, I managed to arrive back at Bury just after a train to Cambridge had left, but after 200km, sitting around at the station for an hour somehow didn;t seem all that onerous.

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June 22nd, 2011
11:58 pm


Breaking silences

It's far too long since I've written here, so it seems fitting for me to write about something else I've done for the first time in ages. Until about a week ago, I hadn't bought any recorded music for over a decade. Various things came together to change that. First credit must go the marvellous duranorak and her occasional practice of posting cheering pieces of synthpop that I could listen to at work. Then Clare started posting mini-reviews of bands she might like to see at WGT, and I found that listening to the better of them was a good way to get less permanently distracted from work. Finally, I found the Amazon MP3 store and its slight integration into Ubuntu's standard media player. The result is that I seem to have about nine hours of MP3s on my netbook now.

I used to say that I didn't have any musical taste of my own, but just accepted whatever was played around me. I'm not sure I've actually developed any taste, but now I have a little more influence over what I hear.

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