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Voxcaster Posts

One Bike

One Bike

Cycling to work today on my touring bike, it occurred to me that whilst I have three bikes, I would probably be happy with just the one.

This was in my mind because yesterday I was thinking that when the time comes around for the Cycle to Work vouchers at work to be issued, I could consider getting myself a Pashley Sovereign to commute to work on (that’s besides the fact that I commute to work on my Dawes currently!)

Cycling in to work today though I experienced a change of heart.

If I had to reduce my collection down to a single bike, I know exactly what bike that would be – my Brompton.

My Brompton

To date, it’s done over 4,510 Km (that’s what Strava says and I’ve not tracked every ride I’ve done on it). That’s fairly impressive in my eyes. The last bike that comes close to that was my Raleigh road bike that I used to own which managed 2,768Km before I retired it and sold it.

I’ve done a mix of long and short distance rides on the Brompton and it handles them all. Ok, so my road bikes average speed on Strava is apparently 24.1Km/h compared to the Bromptons 19.7 Km/h but I think what I’ve done on the Brompton has been more fun. I’ve not done some of the hiller rides that I used to do on the road bike but those hills I have ridden it on have been good.

So, if I had to sell all my bikes, except one, tomorrow – I know what one I’d be keeping.

Footpath App

The iPad is a great device – sitting on the sofa, on the train or just where ever, the iPad (Mini in my case) is a fantastic tool. I can happily write a blog post, browse the Internet or generally do pretty much anything I can do on the Mac on the go using the iPad.

One exception has been to plan my biking or running routes. For this, I’ve used Ride with GPS on the Mac to create my routes. This has easily let me create a route to follow as the planning route snaps to roads and tracks of the area I’m looking at travelling in. However, this doesn’t work to well on the iPad as RwGPS relies on being able to browse the map and using left click to drop a pin for the route. This means that trying to plan the route on the iPad means that you start dropping pins all over the place whilst you try and browse around the map! Not ideal and makes life extremely difficult.

However, this all seems to have changed when I discovered Footpath.

Footpath App

Footpath is an app that allows you to easily create running and cycling routes on an iPad by tracing the route.

Route created in Footpath + Google Maps

The created route gives you the distance that you’ll travel and can also give you the information on the elevation of the route, allowing you to see how hilly it is. Once complete, you can save the route and export it to your computer for use with a GPS device, though it can also sync via iCloud to Footpath on your iPhone.

Planning

You can use a number of different maps as the basis of the route

To draw a map in Footpath, you move around using touch, like any other map on the iPad. When you want you draw the route you want to run, you press the draw button at the bottom and the map stays in place. You then draw on the screen along the route you want to take (it doesn’t have to be accurately on the route) and the app will create the first section of the run on the route and drops you back into browsing mode. You can then find the next bit of the run you want to do on the map and then press the button to draw from where you left off. If that sounds complicated, it’s far easier than it sounds as it’s fairly intuitive.

Footpath lets you use different maps

In general, the routing algorithm is pretty good – you don’t have to follow the roads exactly for it to plan the route as it snaps to roads and paths and you also don’t have to start each section of route from the point that the first one ended – it’ll link each “swipe” together into a route.

You can have a range of maps in the background to act as the route planner and you can set up whether you want Footpath to plan the route for running, cycling or driving. I’ve not used the driving part, but I assume this means that the snap to route only sticks to roads. I’ve only changed it whilst planning, purely so the section at the top of the screen reflected what I was actually planning and I’ve haven’t seen much difference in the routing mechanism. Perhaps this is because I haven’t tried to plan any routes yet that involve footpaths or cycle ways yet.

One downside is that the Google Maps view cannot display the cycle paths option. For example, on the iPad app (and website), Google Maps can display cycles paths as shown below.

Google Maps showing cycle paths

This could help in plotting a route but the Footpath app doesn’t display this and it cant be enabled. It means that if you want to use cycle paths and footpaths, you’re probably best off upgrading to use the Open Street Maps versions as these include these routes as default.

Exporting

Part of the reason for creating a route would be so that you can ride or run the route.

Footpaths export options - the image reflects the map you have as the background

In it’s basic form, Footpath allows only the export as a photo or as a web URL – neither of which are very handy for importing into a GPS device if you want to follow the route at a later date (though, it would be fine if you’re just trying to map out different routes and different distances in an area around your house).

At this point, you might want to upgrade to the full package with the in app purchase as this then allows the export of the routes as a GPX file. I was able to import this GPX file into both Strava (using the Strava labs GPX importer) and Ride With GPS to allow me to run or ride it at a later date.

Upgrade or not?

Footpath can be initially downloaded for £0.79, though this is pretty much a demo option as it has a number of restrictions, though the £0.79 app does provide a pretty good indication of the app before you pay the £3.99 to upgrade to the full option.

The basic app limits you to 5 saved routes

The app places restrictions by limiting you to a small number of maps as the background (Google Maps), it restricts you to only saving five routes, you can’t edit the route once created without creating the route again and lastly, the big issue for me, is that you can’t export the route as a GPX or KML file (which is what you would need for using on a GPS device) without upgrading.

However, after some playing with the app, I happily paid the in app upgrade fee as the app allows me to easily create a route (in fact, it’s potentially easier than using RwGPS). Upgrading gives you a greater number of options in terms of mapping, so if road cycling isn’t your thing, you can use the Open Street Maps which gives a much better routing set that doesn’t involve roads.

Conclusion

Footpath allows for easy creation of routes using a map – be that for walking, running, cycling or driving. These can then be exported for use in other devices or software, allowing you to use your iPad for planning these routes.

It’s simple and easy to use and with the in app purchase, a fully rounded app. It’s better than using any of the current web interfaces (on your iPad) for sites such as Ride With GPS that allow you to create a route to ride, but as you can export the ride, you can later upload it to a website like this and make some final adjustments or share it with friends.

One thing I would like to see is GPX import so that I can make some changes to a route that has already been created. This would need to be a “pro” feature as well I think for the developer to consider it. It might also be nice to change the start and finish point on a route, though I can see how this could be a challenge considering the drag and drop style of creating the route.

In my mind, the £4.78 the app costs for the in app and initial purchase is totally worth it. It lets me quickly plan out routes for whatever activity I want to do and get an estimate of the distance (and therefore time as well).

New Bell

I picked up a new toy for my bike this past week. My Dawes bike hasn’t had a bell on it, probably since I bought the bike. It came with one, but it’s pretty poor bell that the bike came with (something cheap and nasty that the bike has to be sold with in the UK). It just about works. Nothing special.

Anyhow, I’ve been using the bike for a while now but I’ve not had a bell on it and this can get annoying – riding to work, the majority of the route is along a shared path and it means that I can’t warn people that I’m coming up behind them.

So I decided that I needed to get a new bell and so I had a look around. I eventually settled on a Crane Sakura bell.

I’d considered getting the one of the Lion Works bells but it seemed that they might be a little large for what I was thinking and the alternative one I was looking at, the Spurcycle bell was just a bit to pricey.

I decided that the brass Crane bell would do the job and I ordered from Velo Vitality. It wasn’t a shop I’d ordered from in the past, but I was very impressed with the service. The bell was sent on the same day I ordered and was shipped via Second Class Recorded (which did mean a few days delay whilst I had to go to the post office to get it but rather this than go to a courier location!) I’d happily recommend them again and I’ll keep an eye on their website (they’re based in Brighton with a store just near the station apparently).

Anyhow, I fitted it this weekend to Odin finally.

Crane bell fitted to Odin

I had no trouble installing it, even though the standard bars that Dawes installed on the bike have quite a slope. Ideally, I’ll get an old inner tube and create an inner for the attachment because at the minute, the bell is metal against metal which isn’t ideal but does work.

All I need to do now is to get out on the bike again!

LBC London to Gravesend

It’s been a month since I attended a London Brompton Club ride, so I’d been looking forward to the one on the 20th Feb – London to Gravesend. It would take the Pilgrims Way for some of the route and having done this as part of the Whitstable ride last year, I was looking forward to it as I recalled that the scenery (once out of South London) was fantastic.

Crash

Well, my plans were almost scuppered with my crash on the Monday before hand as it meant that my Brompton is in the shop and getting fixed and that I wasn’t sure that a 90Km ride would be good news for my knee. I decided that I’d still risk it with my knee and that I’d turn up my Dawes – I’m not sure anyone could complain to much about me attending on a big wheel bike when my Brompton was in for repairs!

As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one using a big wheel bike on the day so I didn’t feel to bad!

Ride

An early start at Charing Cross station awaited, so I had to ensure that I got to Welwyn station early enough to get into town. Luckily, trains were running fine (though, later in the day when my girlfriend tried to get into London, the trains were getting cancelled and all sorts!) and I was able to get to Kings Cross with plenty of time to meander down to Charing Cross.

Waiting for the others

I had an amusing few minutes – I’d posted on Facebook that I was the first on at the station when I watched Zoomzoom rock up, look around and post that he was in fact the first before he finally saw me. I suppose I could have gone over and said hi, but I thought it was amusing to see how long it would take for him to see me!

We waited for the rest of the team to catch up. A few nipped to the loo – it’s always slightly annoying actually having to pay to use the facilities in stations such as these. Especially when you only have a £20 note in your bag for lunch and the current “going rate” is 30p! Anyhow, trick of the trade is to use St Pancras (if you’re traveling to or from Kings Cross) as it’s free in there!

When Mr Orange arrived, we departed London and I was able to have a good chat with some of the members I hadn’t met before. It’s a great sign that those on big bikes are still welcome on these rides – with the occasional light hearted fun ribbing! A sign of the inclusiveness of the club.

Heading out of London, things got interesting once we passed beyond the main city and the scenery gave way to open countryside. Heading pass the Metropolitan Police dog training school, we managed to hit a fairly large hill. A nice descent leads up to it but has a corner at the bottom – I’m a nervous descender anyhow (having disc brakes on my bike helps somewhat though as I know I can stop if needed) but the crash on Monday as well had also left some extra nerves there. However, when I can see where I’m going, I don’t mind letting loose a bit! Well, needless to say, in this instance as I started up the hill the other side, John came up alongside me and a car came downwards! So a slower start up the hill than I might have liked! However, I needn’t have worried, as it was a long drag up the hill! It did feel like cheating doing it on the Dawes, what with my 21 gears, compared to the Bromptons six but it was still challenging.

This took us up to the highest point of the ride and we were able to look back towards London and see where we’d come from.

Highest point of the ride

Unfortunately, the no tipping sign displayed at the end of this road didn’t seem to have been understood or followed based on the hill we’d just cycled up, which was disappointingly littered with rubbish – I’d seen a mattress amongst other items strewn alongside the road. And cyclists hadn’t been as considerate as other road users either – I saw a discarded inner tube alongside gel and energy bar wrappers. It’s a disappointing trend I’ve seen more recently. I know roadies don’t tend to carry bags to store items in, but leaving rubbish at the side of the road is inexcusable. It somehow managed to get that far in your pockets, the empty wrappers should therefore have more room to go back into the pocket again.

From the highest point, we had a nice incline down the road towards Otford, with a nice downhill section and then some rolling sections along the Pilgrims Way that showed some of the nice scenery around the area.

We got to Otford and have a nice pub lunch at the The Bull pub. We all had to sit outside in the back along with the bikes, though it wasn’t a particularly cold day. At this point, the rain arrived, though we were under cover and had a pleasant lunch.

At this point, I received some good news from my brother with the news that I now have a nephew. Whilst trying to answer my phone (whilst I’d been trying to take a picture of my lunch), Uncle Chris managed to snap his knife and fork – it seems that Android still has a few bugs here and there as I wasn’t able to close the camera with the onscreen button to answer the phone!

Artfully taken whilst trying to answer my phone!

After lunch, there were a few riders catching the train back to London as they had other engagements. I decided that I would call it a day as well, not wanting to push my knee to much as I want to cycle this coming week to work.

Getting to the station, we purchased tickets in time to get the train back into London, with this being the last day I could use my annual travel card from my old job to claim discount!

Overall, it was a nice ride and I’d have liked to carry on, but I didn’t want to push the knee to hard and it was raining, so I fancied getting home without getting to damp and sitting on a train damp and cold. It was a good ride and I hope it’s run again in the future. It was good to hear that Zommzoom managed to lead the ride successfully from Otford to Gravesend as Mark had forgotten to collect his charging cable for his phone that morning and so it would have been route-less from Otford if Zoomzoom hadn’t had it on his Garmin! I had a copy as well, but leaving early meant that I wouldn’t have been any help! (I’d also only got the longer of the routes that Mark had planned on the Garmin, so I’d have been doing the extra distance at the end!)

Route Ridden

Road Traffic Collision

Heading to work on Monday morning, I had my first Road Traffic Collision (RTC). It’s not really an experience I want to go through again!

I’d left for work just before 7am as I normally do when I’m riding – this gives me plenty of time to get to work and then grab a shower before I start. I’d taken the Brompton as it had been a while since I’d ridden it.

I left the house and headed off to work. I hadn’t gone to far (in fact, I’d gone only two roundabouts, probably less than 5 minutes cycling) before I was knocked off my bike by a taxi!

I was travelling straight across the roundabout to get cross the rounadabout so that I could join the cycle path on the other side of the road and head out of Welwyn. However, as I was travelling across, the taxi entered on to the roundabout from my left and hit me, knocking me off the bike.

As I was travelling across his path, I could see that he wasn’t going to stop in time and for a split second I knew what was coming and I think I managed to get a cry out before he hit me. I went down and I recall being on my back and then turning over onto my front.

At this point, the driver had stopped and got out and helped me up. I think he was shook up as well as me. I seem to recall that we hugged at the road whilst I got over some of the shock. I do recall that whilst we were there, some cars had built up in terms of traffic but no one else got out to see what happened or if I was ok. Maybe no one bothered because I got up? But I do know in the short time, some prick at the back of the traffic jam thought his horn would magically clear traffic in front of him (why do people do this? Beeping your horn isn’t going to clear a long traffic jam like that!)

The driver did give me his details and asked if we could sort it without the insurance company. I agreed at the time but I’ll do some follow up posts on how that goes! He offered me a lift home but as it was so close, I decided to walk.

Getting home I was able to look at my injuries.

Holed Cycling Gear

I’ve got a hole in my tights – so that would be a cost to replace those. I wasn’t sure if I hit my head so I’ve decided to replace my helmet in case. The Brompton also needs some work, so I’ve had to take this to St Albans Bicycles in St Albans to get it checked as they’re my nearest Brompton dealer and were recommended.

I called the police on the 101 number whilst at home and was able to give a statement later in the day to the officer. Based on the description and details I’d got, the police would be able to get a statement from the driver (as I had his mobile number, registration details etc). However, it might just go down as an accident and nothing further might happen (which, I imagine is likely to be the case).

I then went to the Minor Injuries Unit and got checked out by a nurse and then a doctor to ensure that I had no other injuries that weren’t visible.

Luckily, minor injury to my knee

Turns out, a grazed knee was about the extent of my injuries, which I guess is extremely lucky.

I also spoke to the CTC Accident Helpline, as a CTC member. However, having spoken to the lawyer, this is unlikely to go anywhere as it would be a personal injury claim, and if I’m better within 2-3 weeks, they wouldn’t proceed with a claim (I guess it wouldn’t pay them enough).

I do, however, have the insurance details (including the policy numbers) of the driver – not that he gave them to me, as I’m hoping we can resolve the issue without calling them, but I was able to get this from the Motor Insurance Bureau, though the askMID website. If I need to, I’ll go down this route!

Overall, at the minute, I’m slightly out of pocket, but short of a scraped knee, I’m actually feeling ok and I was extremely lucky – it could have been much worse than it was. I’ll update in the future as to how things go with getting some cash back! My concern is when he figures out how much a Brompton is to repair, I’ll be forced to go down the insurance route.

Goodbye Dropbox!

I’ve done something this week that I don’t think I’ve done for almost five years – I’ve removed Dropbox from my Mac.

*gasp*

I know, how could I?

Well, I think it’s slowly been a long time coming. Since I bought my Synology1, I’ve been using that more and more for various items. Up until recently however, it hadn’t come close enough to replacing Dropbox fully. However, I think the time now has come. Here’s some of the reasons why I can move away.

Onedrive

I guess the big step change has been the addition of Onedrive. My new job has an Office 365 subscription and this includes Onedrive for Business. It’s installed by default on my work laptop and we are encouraged to save all of our personal (work) files to that so that if we ever lose (or break) the laptop, we just get a new one, connect to Onedrive and carry on where we left off. Slowly, our server will be replaced with shared folders in Onedrive as well I believe.

This has played a large part in getting rid of Dropbox. I used to use Dropbox to sync my Zotero library between my MacBook and my work laptop – now that I can download and install the Onedrive app for Mac and access my business account (following these instructions which involves some Terminal jiggery pokery), I’m able to sync my these files between the two devices with no issues whatsoever.

I have the client installed on my work laptop, my home Windows laptop and my MacBook, so everything is within reach, including all my text notes. For a while, I had issues accessing the Onedrive folder on iOS for some reason – I managed to connect to it whilst outside of work, so I can upload and download documents as I need. It’s not quite the same as the auto sync feature built into many of the notes applications on iOS but I’ll to live without that unfortunately.

Day One

I’ve been a Day One user for many years now (based on my journal, five years!) I now journal everyday – sometimes multiple times a day, but a max of Day One and notebook (the notebook normally whilst at work). Up until recently, everything I wrote in Day One was synced to Dropbox – I could use iCloud and I could have used Day One Sync when they released it, but only Dropbox filled me with confidence. With Dropbox, I could also backup my own files using whatever backup tool I wanted to use as the files were stored in a folder in Dropbox on my computer (this is in addition to the Dropbox “backup” ability to restore deleted files from within 30 days).

However, Day One version 2 was released at the start of February. This brought in a range of features such as the ability to save more than one picture, the ability to have multiple journals and other features. However, the trade off was that you would have to move to the Day One sync service over that of Dropbox or iCloud. However, it’s a “price” I’m willing to pay for the new features (as both the iPhone and Mac apps backup my journals daily, which will be included in my Time Machine backups on the Mac).

So that removed that app from needing Dropbox.

1Password

Since I’ve been using 1Password, it’s been able to sync with Dropbox, iCloud or via wi-fi directly with a Mac. I’d always used Dropbox, as I already had it installed and I was syncing my passwords to my work computer (1Password for Windows). However, I can’t install 1Password at work now, so I don’t need 1Password files to sync with anything other than Apple devices and therefore I’ve moved my vault into iCloud instead.

I’ve an Android phone and I use Windows at work, so how do I access my passwords? At the minute, I’m using Lastpass on the PC as this is installed via a Chrome plugin and doesn’t require me to run anything on the computer that I can’t install. I’m not the biggest fan of Lastpass on Chrome though – it’s not a nicely tied in as it is on Firefox. This isn’t to much of an issue as I’m slowly leaving Chrome behind – it’s bookmark and syncing is great but there’s been a number of issues I’ve had on different websites with it. It’s also rare that I need to access passwords on my phone and if I do, I usually have my iPad or work iPhone nearby that has 1Password installed and working on.

If iCloud didn’t work out, there is an option for wi-fi sync with a computer and I can also use another cloud service to sync between desktop computers (and perhaps Android) using folder sync. But as I can’t install the 1Password app on my work machine, I’ll stick with Lastpass (or, I could go down the route of Keepass Portable).

You Need A Budget

This ones a tricky one – all my budgeting and money management is done in YNAB. Whilst they’ve announced version 5 of the software and this is a subscription based model with a web service for sync, I’m not keen on the idea as yet. It seems that the version 5 apps for iOS and Android don’t support offline access and version 5 doesn’t yet currently have all the same features as the existing version 4. So I’m sticking with version 4 – which uses Dropbox as it’s syncing backend.

I’ve tried some alternatives – I’ve gone back and tested budgeting in Moneywiz! (but it’s not as intuitive, straight forward or simple as YNAB’s budgeting) and a number of other alternatives, none of which seemed to meet my criteria, one of which is having different budgets for myself and a shared budget between me and my girlfriend. I was stuck with using Dropbox sync.

On the mobile apps, Dropbox is accessed via the API so it doesn’t need the Dropbox app installed. However, on the computer, this is required – you need to download the files into your Dropbox folder to access. I looked stuck at keeping Dropbox, purely for YNAB. I did consider setting up Cloud Sync on my Synology and having it download all the YNAB files and then I could access the files over a network share. In the end, I removed Dropbox and YNAB from my Mac completely – I’ve a work around 2.

YNAB Report - Only on Windows and OSX

The desktop application does more than the standard Android and iPhone apps – for a start it lets you create budgets and lets you move money around and assign it to each item you want to budget for. It also provides reports and balance reconciliation. This doesn’t happen in the iPhone or Android app. However, the iPad app does allow you to move money into each budget. So in general day to day use, I can use the iPad to do the management that I need to,

Here’s where I cheat a bit – I’m keeping Dropbox installed on my Windows (home) laptop. I have a Lenovo Thinkpad at home that runs Windows 10. My girlfriend uses it for working from home and I’ve got it as an extra laptop if needed. And in this case, it’ll still have Dropbox running on it and this will let me use it for performing tasks on YNAB that I can no longer do on the Mac, such as if I need the reports or to reconcile the accounts. I’ll see how I get on in this fashion – it may end up that I start using Expandrive to access the files directly on Dropbox, or I may use the Cloud Sync function on my Synology if I feel I need to, but I think this will be perfectly fine.

BitTorrent Sync

BitTorrent Sync was released a while ago and I’ve been using it on and off for periods during that time. However, late last year, I ended up buying a Pro licence. With the release of BTSync 2.3, the purchase of the Pro licence really pays off as I now have selective sync on Mac, Windows and Linux devices but I also have the ability to create an encrypted offsite folder. I’ve been using my Synology NAS as an always on node in my sync network. BTSync on the NAS has one issue – it runs as the admin user, but this hasn’t stopped me editing and changing files as a user – I can upload via SFTP without any issues.

Sync has been working fine in syncing my files from my MacBook to my NAS. It falls down where firewalls block access (i.e. work). I need to see if this is because access to the BitTorrent relay servers is being blocked or the traffic protocol – I imagine as it’s Bittorrent traffic, it’s not allowed. However, I can try setting the MacBook up with a specific server (as the NAS will have one thanks to Synology’s DDNS service) and I’ll have to open a port on the router. Outside of that, it works perfectly fine.

I’ve just set it up to backup the photos from my devices via the apps. That took some getting used to. It’s a special implementation of the sync protocol – BitTorrent try and explain it here. I’ve found so far that it’ll send the images to the node and then if it’s deleted on either of the devices, it wont be removed from the other node. So currently, I have my iPad, Work iPhone and personal Android phone to send my images to the NAS and MacBook Pro. Images I delete on the phone will only be deleted on the phone and not on the other devices. I can also set up Hazel to move and rename images from the folders into my pictures folder on my MacBook, where as, on the NAS I’ll just keep it as an image backup. This seems to be working nicely, and deleting something doesn’t delete from all the nodes. On Android, I can use this to backup any folder, not just the camera roll, so I could backup camera exports or whatever I wanted to keep a copy of – I’ve an app that automatically backs up APK files of the apps I install and everytime they update. The latest update also allows folders on the SD card to be included (useful in this case, where my camera app saves my photos to the microSD of the phone).

Free File Sync

It supports SFTP uploads so I’m able to sync my work laptop (I keep all my files on an encrypted USB on my work laptop so I’m able to access them from work regardless). SFTP access is allowed at work, so my data is able to sync with the NAS. Why have Dropbox when I can use my own server with 3TB of space for an initial outlay of two years worth of Dropbox data? The Synology DDNS service is pretty robust and Virgin have rarely had hiccups with my connection and I’ve got a decent upload speed – it’s not as fast as Dropbox but once I’ve done the initial sync, it’s not an issue.

Conclusion

A potentially misleading title, as I’m not getting rid of Dropbox completely, I’m just really relegating it to a cloud based disk for my YNAB data.

Synology makes it easy to run a NAS. On occasion, I’ve felt that a standard PC would perhaps be a better option for a server – perhaps in the future I will replace it with a Mac Mini or similar that’ll act as a file server as I’ll be able to do what I want with it then (such as install all my backup software directly on that, rather than on the laptop). However, that’s for later consideration (the Mac Mini draws 6W at idle!), as the Synology is currently able to meet all my needs. Posts such as Coding Horror’s ones about low powered x86 computers convince me that this might be the future way to go (though a Raspberry Pi 2 is relatively OK for home use). I’d be able to run almost anything I want (Windows included if I was that way inclined) – however, it would be a bit more intensive to maintain. Sometimes running a server from the command line does get tiring and I wish I could use a GUI.

But in the meantime, I think I can pretty much wave goodbye to Dropbox for the time being.


  1. A Synology DS115j, which was the lowest in the range – next time, I might get a better model, though this has been perfectly adequate so far.
    [return]
  2. If you can call it that…
    [return]

Plain Text Blogging

For the past two years, I’ve been writing my blog in Markdown and plain text – in fact, almost everything I write at home is in plain text format – using nValt, Byword and Marked2 I’m able to write everything I need (blog posts, emails and magazine articles) 1 2. With these three apps, I’ve been happily able to work on my MacBook, Windows laptop, work laptop, iPad, Amazon Fire tablet, Android phone and iPhone 3 – plain text documents synced to the cloud via Dropbox and accessible anywhere from pretty much any device I happen to be using.

This has worked nicely – I’ve no real complaints about the system (other than nValt is Mac only, so I have to resort to workarounds to search my notes in whatever text editor I’m using). The only thing that I would like is to edit my blog in Markdown. Which, I kind of already do as I use MarsEdit to post my blog posts to WordPress and that allows me to write in Markdown and then post to WordPress where it is converted into HTML. Whilst this works, I also want to be able to keep the data I write myself – putting it into WordPress is actually a bit of a pain. Moving hosts means I have to download databases and files and back them up regularly – considering I backup my local files easily, trying to remember to backup the website or even rely on the fairly problematic WordPress automatic backup plugins is a bit of a pain.

On this basis, I’d been looking at moving my site to a static site, using only a flat file system and no database. I’d have to be able to write in Markdown and ideally, I’d be able to self host the images and the HTML files. It would mean that I could host my site easily on whatever device or host I wanted. For example, I’d be able to use my Fastmail account to host the files as they have static site hosting (for low ish traffic websites) included as part of the annual fee. Otherwise, Github allow you to host a website with them and many other locations have static hosting. I could even use my Synology NAS to host them as well if I wanted – whilst the Synology will also take PHP and MySQL compatible files, I went for one of the lower models and therefore, I’d probably be taxing the CPU a lot if it wasn’t just a static site and I don’t want it interfering with my own use of it whilst at home!

So the quest for a static blogging site started – MarsEdit was something that I liked the idea of, writing in a program but this then pushes posts to websites. It wouldn’t have been to much of a problem, but MarsEdit doesn’t keep a copy of all the posts, only the most recent. Whilst I’m not the most prolific writer, I still wanted to be able to have a local copy that I could post elsewhere or move if I wanted to at a later date.

Jekyll / Octopress

So I looked at moving to Jekyll and Octopress and these seemed to be ideal – initially on first glance. They both generated static sites and would have allowed me to continue writing in Markdown. But they require installing Ruby (whilst it is installed on my Mac, the version isn’t new enough to run Octopress) and this was far more technical than I was wanting to do. I followed the guidance to try and install it, but it proved problematic and I decided that it was to much hassle. I wanted to be able to concentrate on writing and publishing, rather than messing around with code. I am a geek, but I don’t code day to day and therefore this seemed to be perhaps a bit of a step to far for me. To much time maintaining and trying to get the blog online and in a decent format before I could actually write anything!

Ghost

Ghost appealed to my nature of publish and write rather than concentrate on looks so I signed up to the website to give it a go. Whilst I was able to use it fairly well, it seemed that all the interaction was within the web editor and most of my writing is as far away from the web editor as I can get! This obviously wouldn’t stop me writing my articles within my text editor of choice and then copying and pasting into Ghost. However, I couldn’t quite get on with it – not entirely sure why.

And then, as it’s a premium software, there’s a monthly payment. In fairness, this goes towards the development and hosting costs, so it’s not like it’s unwarranted, but for the amount of blogging I actually do, I thought that perhaps it was a little steep. Of course, I could host it myself. But it’s node.js based again and it seems a complete PITA to actually setup, not knowing anything about node. It’s cheaper to get a Digital Ocean “droplet” and use their one click install Ghost to get up and running, rather than use the Ghost lowest package (but then, there are other perks that the Ghost platform does that Digital Ocean don’t do, like auto updates etc). Either way, I don’t think I can quite justify paying the Ghost fees and I don’t want to have to run my own server and maintain the system – whilst I could do it, it’s not something that I want to spend ages updating and trying to sort out. And there is the issue of backing it all up again!

Voodoopad

Voodoopad isn’t really a static blog publishing software, it just happens that as a by product of its design, it can act as a static blog publishing engine. It’s primary role is a wiki type software for the Mac that allows you create your own wiki space – linking different notes together, inserting pictures etc. It can export to a large number of formats, a webpage being one of them. This standard web export is good, but will export the document as a wiki type site – that is, no order to the chaos you’ve introduced into the document by adding articles! However, it does have a static site publishing feature – in fairness, I think this should be renamed into static blog generating as this is what it does – it creates an index page with your last x (selectable by the user) number of notes presented as articles and then generates an archive page with all the previous notes linked to as individual pages and the archive is sorted via date created. It also creates an RSS XML file for RSS readers to connect to.

In this fashion, it acts as a static blog generator with a number of limitations:

  • The date of the post is the creation date of the note within the software
  • The date of the note is not editable

With those two issues in mind, it makes it difficult to insert previous blog posts (so it would be ideal for new posts going forwards, but a bit of an issue otherwise).

To get around the issue above, I managed to set my computer time and date to the specific date that I wanted and then created the note for the post. This worked but was a bit long winded. The next issue I ran into – not all of my posts were published when I wanted to. You have to select which posts to publish and I’d made sure that all the ones I wanted were selected. However, it would only export five or so articles which made it problematic for publishing!

In the end, I tried to resolve the issues but I just couldn’t find a way of getting it sorted and therefore I decided to move on (with some regret, as it looked exactly what I was after).

Tumblr

Tumblr is synonymous with the sharing of GIF’s and short articles, however, I’ve used it in the past for writing and publishing. My personal blog and then my cycling blog were both published on Tumblr before I moved off to WordPress. There were a number of issues I ran into using Tumblr as my blog software – namely the uploading and displaying of images for a long text post. I had been using MarsEdit to write my post and then upload all my photos/pictures to Flickr as there is a good integration between MarsEdit and Flickr. However, I was finding that occasionally Flickr would throw a hissy fit and not display the images how I wanted or would error out completely.

MarsEdit seemed to be ideal – I thought it was keeping a copy of all my posts but it was only keeping the most recent ones. Whilst all my posts were started in nValt, it would have been nice to have a copy in MarsEdit that I could then move to a new blog if I wanted to. In regards to backup, I ended up linking Tumblr to Evernote with IFTTT and using that to automatically send my Tumblr posts to Evernote!

Overall, Tumblr was probably the best blogging software that I’d used. Simple and easy with little to no hassle. It was even easy adding my own DNS records to have it point to my own Tumblr blog, though I could only seem to have a single domain point to a single blog, regardless of how many Tumblr blogs I could edit/write. In fairness, as a free service, this seems reasonable enough to limit it.

Hugo

Hugo could have appeared further up the list as I tried this after Jekyll and Octopress to be honest – but I gave up. After some more playing around with it though, I think I finally cracked it and have been able to get it working quite nicely.

It initially appealed to me – I just have to download the pre-compiled binary from Github and away you go. Well, initially. I was able to get a site up and running in seconds (as promised) but then I wasn’t able to get it uploaded to a website. I wasn’t even (at the time), able to generate a website – I could only use the Hugo server to display the pages! Whilst they state that this is perfectly fine for various sites, I wanted to export my items as HTML files and then I can use whatever web service I want.

Well, second time round and some editing of files and reading of data, I’ve managed to sort Hugo out to the point where I can produce a site and produce some output (as that’s what you’re reading now!)

It took some figuring out, but I think I managed to get there in the end. Finding out where and how to add images was an issue – even now, I’m having to use absolute paths to reference them within documents to get them showing up nicely in both the Hugo local server and the web server (it might be ok if I used the Hugo webserver to display my blog, but I’m using a hosting account, not a VPS where I have access to the processes on the server). And even with some figuring out, I’ve still got some issues to iron out – for example, my current theme is opening all links within new pages when viewed on my webserver, but this isn’t the case when viewed locally on the Hugo server. I’m not currently sure if this is due to my webserver setup or the theme itself.

If I want to change the theme in the future, I just build the blog using the new theme and all the content is create afresh using the new layout! Pretty simple!

As it gives each page its own folder (by default), I was able to replicate the WordPress content layout for the backend so I should be able to link to all the old pages from WordPress without any issues. this layout happens to be quite a nice layout (each post is in a folder for the year, then month) so I’m pretty happy with that. There are some edits I have to do to get previous images displaying correctly though but in general it works.

I’m just hoping that Google is now able to hit the webpages and start scraping it as a couple of my pages come fairly high up in Google search for specific items. The current theme allows me to use Google Analytics, but I’m not currently using it. It seems to be working nicely in both mobile and desktop browsers so that’s good to know.

Overall, it seems to be working pretty well, but I just have to change how I write some posts now – with having to give an absolute path for my images, I have to make sure I get the URL correct, as I’ve had a number of images fail to show where I’ve missed typed the URL! I’m sure Keyboard Maestro or Alfred can help with that!

Conclusion

So in the end, I’ve switched over to using Hugo – it suits my workflow quite nicely, though it does mean I do have some duplicate content on my Mac – namely images and posts. The post content I’m not to concerned with as the files are only a few Kb and I don’t post sufficiently for that to build up to unreasonable levels really. However, images could be an issue, but I’ve dropped them all down to 640×480 for display on the website (partly to cut down on the bandwidth and partly because this seems to be a reasonable size!) and I’ve run them through ImageOptim which drops the size of them (in terms of my PNG’s, quite considerably in terms of percentage though it does take some time to do so as ZOPFLI and PNGOUT aren’t the quickest tools to run – though they can be de-selected). If this begun to cause issues, I could always install Expandrive and have Hugo write directly to the host server via a virtual FTP drive – that would also save me uploading the information to the server after I’ve built the website at least!

With a few small niggles to resolve (adding a search bar to the website and wondering why it opens each page in its own tab), Hugo seems to be working quite nicely.


  1. In fact, the only thing I’ve been unable to write in Markdown is a letter. Perhaps with some conversion into LaTeX, it would work, but then I could just use LaTeX to write the letter itself – I’ve a few already written that I could use as a template.
    [return]
  2. Actually, I haven’t converted my invoices from Pages format into Markdown either, but these can remain as they are for the time being I think.
    [return]
  3. Not all at once! Over the course of two years, I’ve owned a lot of tech…
    [return]

Strava Route Change

Looking at one of my PR’s on Strava today in regards to my ride in at the start of the week and I noticed some odd sections. It seems that Strava was pushing me down roads that I hadn’t actually been down.

Strava app, showing my route not on the cycle path

I first thought that this was my GPS being silly and placing me in the wrong location. However, I compared the same GPS track in Ride With GPS as it is in Strava.

Strava (left) compared to Ride With GPS (right)

This clearly shows that Strava is sending me off on routes I didn’t actually take! It’s not a case of the GPS confusing my location and being off course, but it seems that Strava is pushing my course off onto where it think I went.

I thought I’d seen something like this before – a note on the Strava site saying that they attempted to smooth data, based on the statistics of people traveling that route and averaging the route to get the best fit. I did of bit of digging again and managed to find it – Strava Slide.

This basically states that Strava will run your GPS tracks through an algorithm that will “drag” your ridden route to match the Strava global heat map. Now, there doesn’t seem to be a section to highlight errors to Strava for reporting in the data or an option to display your raw GPS data. It also begs the question what are people doing on the global heatmap for my route to be pulled off by quite so much? Perhaps the algorithm is getting confused with some routes that are next to my route and perhaps (as the slide tool suggests), my route is getting dragged down into a larger valley (more ridden route). However, it doesn’t seem to be looking at the global heat map so I’m not entirely sure what Strava is doing here – maybe more people ride that route with poor GPS signal and it gets distorted enough to break Strava’s smoothing?

I also wonder if it’ll effect the personal records? I’m not to concerned with how I measure up against others, but I always like checking my own efforts against my previous efforts but I’m not that concerned that I’ll see how it effects my PR. At the end of the day, the PR’s are just an amusing thing to get whilst out riding (much like Zombies Run is amusing whilst out running).

Garmin Vivoactive Continued

So another article on the Garmin Vivoactive!

As you know, I’ve done a few other articles on the Garmin Vivoactive (here and here). However, I can add a bit more to the continued “series” now! I’ve tested the device on Android (a Wileyfox Swift, a British mobile phone brand) and can now compare this to iOS, which I had been running it on.

The Wileyfox is running Cyanogen OS, so results might be slightly different on other Android phones with different brands.

There are some differences between how the device is seen on Android and on iOS.

Settings

Settings is where the first difference is spotted.

iOS and Android Settings

The iOS menu doesn’t have an option for default music player and it doesn’t have the option for smart notifications.

The default music player setting is as you might expect – you can change what app the controls on the watch will adjust – as Android lets you change the default music player, this allows you to control Spotify or any other audio program.

The smart notifications section is a bit different.

Smart notifications

On Android, you can change the settings of the watch to only allow notifications from specific apps, whereas on iOS, it sends everything and the only way to prevent certain apps is to prevent certain apps from showing notifications. This gives far more control over the content that you want to see on your watch and perhaps be disturbed for. There are a number of default options built in but depending on the Android ROM you’re using, you might have to add in some apps you might consider as important – on my Cyanogen phone, it didn’t have the Cyanogen default email client or text message app included by default so I had to add these. However, be aware, you can suddenly swamp yourself with messages as well. I turned on Google Music so I could set it to download music and notify me when done or similar, yet it would inform me whenever Google Music changed track which was a bit to much, vibrating every couple of minutes whilst I was driving home from work!

Syncing

The Vivoactive syncs to the phone via bluetooth (or low energy bluetooth to be exact). This works on both iOS and Android.

However, the implementation of bluetooth between Android and iOS is different. On both, you have to pair the phone via the Garmin Connect app, which makes sense as you’re associating the app with bluetooth device. On iOS, this is then seen via the phone bluetooth devices list – iOS forces everything to be seen via the main bluetooth menu and can be shared between apps. It makes adding my Wahoo heart rate sensor fairly easy.

Yet, on Android, it seems that bluetooth devices can be linked to a specific app and don’t necessarily show up on the Android main bluetooth devices list. In the image below, the Vivoactive is paired to each device but in the Android one, it doesn’t show up as being attached or paired, whilst iOS is displaying it within the settings.

Bluetooth Devices

Perhaps this isn’t an issue in general, with the exception that one of the perks of using a smart watch with Android is that you can disable the lock screen if connected to specific bluetooth device. For example, my car is connected to my phone (when I’m in it) and therefore I can set the lock screen to be disabled whilst I’m in the car. Likewise, my smart watch, as a bluetooth device, could also be setup to disable my lock screen – a perk that’s worthwhile as the Android device I’m using doesn’t have the equivalent of the Touch ID sensor allowing access with my fingerprint.

That is the theory anyhow – as the device doesn’t show up in the standard Android menu, it cant be set to unlock the phone! It means that you’d have to use an Android Wear device (or maybe a Pebble?) – either way, the Vivoactive isn’t able to act as a trusted device to unlock the phone. This can be set for locations if you want, but I’m testing a third party app (Delayed Lock) that does it based on wifi connections, as well as other items, such as bluetooth devices.

One of the issues I had with the Vivoactive was that you could pull down to refresh on the iOS app but this wouldn’t actually force a sync – in fact, there was no way to force a manual sync on iOS. This meant that I would be limited to the standard iOS refresh rate, which seemed to be as and when it feels like it. On Android, pull to refresh works as it should and even opening the app starts a sync with the watch.

GPS

One comment I had was that at times, the GPS could be slow to acquire – once it’s connected, it seems to work perfectly fine (compare last weeks walk recorded on the Vivoactive and todays’ walk, using the Wileyfox Strava app). Zooming in you can see that the GPS tracks on the Vivoactive are a lot more accurate than the phone. Both were in similar positions (the watch on my wrist and the phone in my pocket).

It doesn’t seem that communicating with the phone helps the watch acquire GPS signal any quicker. It’s a shame as perhaps the Garmin app could help determine the initial location and then the watch could get a more accurate fix from the GPS satellites. After all, the phone is able to use mobile mast triangulation and wifi databases to help get a location before the GPS kicks in. I’d like to see Garmin bring the speed of the initial start down if possible. It is quicker if you enable GLONASS as well, but I think this drains the battery fairly rapidly – I’d look into testing this in the future.

Overall

It seems that either Android allows for better compatibility with a smart watch (which wouldn’t surprise me) or the Android app is better coded and doesn’t suffer some of the same issues as the iOS app. Either way, it seems that unfortunately, the Android phone I’ve got is just better suited to being used with a smart phone – I’ll just have to determine if I can leave my iPhone behind and go back to Android again!

In the week I’ve been testing the phone and watch, Android has been consistently better with the watch than iOS which is disappointing. It’s hard to pin down exactly where the issue is as well – iOS limitations or poor coding on Garmin’s behalf. Considering the Android app works perfectly, I’m almost tempted to say this is an iOS issue. Which is a shame, as I’ve begun to find a smart watch is a useful tool.

LBC: London to Brighton Again

This weekend I headed down to Brighton with some of the London Brompton Club.

I’d offered this ride to some of my work colleagues as we did this ride last year and it was a great ride, thanks to David’s excellent navigating skills, and a couple decided to come along this weekend. I also offered it to the LBC as well, though I was aware that this would clash with the Dunwhich Dynamo that was being ridden that evening. In the end, there were three from the Brompton Club that turned up – Anne and David and Tom, who I hadn’t met before but it was nice to meet. From work, my mate Dan ended up coming along – slightly nervous as he hadn’t done a long distance ride for quite some time. I did feel that perhaps I was the odd one out – I was the only one riding a Brompton, everyone else was on full size bikes!

We met up at Richmond Costa where the weather was pretty good – sunny and not quite as warm as it had been at the start of the week. However, it was reasonably windy with the wind coming from the South that would make life difficult for the ride down. Yet, we left in good spirits.

Quick stop for food and drink

Loki having a rest

We carried on and got to Headley where we stopped at the village hall and stores for a quick ice cream and drink.

Headley Village Hall

Once we got past Dorking, we ran in to trouble. Dan had been struggling with a bit with some of the hills prior to this point and unfortunately we left him behind slightly as we climbed the hill. As we got to the top and started down the otherside, I got a text that he’d punctured. I rode back to meet him as he’d spoken to me the day before and said he’d left his pump in Scotland. I managed to fix the puncture and inflate the wheel – it seems my purchase of a Topeak Mini Morph at the end of last year was a good one. But after it was fixed, Dan decided to leave us and head back to Dorking station.

At that point, I rushed to catch up with the others, who had carried on to Newdigate where we would be eating lunch. It turns out I wasn’t that far behind the others and I got to the pub about ten minutes after them.

After lunch, we carried on. The road continued towards the big finale at the end of the road, Devils Dyke. The hill appeared on the horizon and slowly grew in size…

I been perhaps struggling a bit up until now – the final stretch before Devils Dyke was a killer last year and was a drag this time around as well – perhaps the heat had been getting to me both times at this point. However, with Devils Dyke coming up rapidly, I found my second wind – I didn’t want to be beaten by it. Last year, I had to put a foot down about halfway up where you have to turn right off the main road and up towards the golf course. This time, there were no cars coming and so I was able to make the turn and carry on up the hill. And finally reached the summit with no foot down.

And with that, we headed down into Brighton. The ride down as ever was pretty quick and before we knew it, we were at the seafront. We didn’t wait around and we headed directly to the station, as all of us (with the exception of me) had booked tickets. I made the mistake of trusting to my annual Gold card for travel discount and ended up paying over double what both Anne and David had paid for both tickets! Perhaps I should consider pre-purchasing next time!

Managing to secure a bike spot on the train, we headed back to Clapham where we parted ways. I considered cycling to Wimbledon but I’d had enough for the day, so I got the train back to Wimbledon. And with that, another London to Brighton had been completed.