Category Archives: work/life

Cooking up a beautiful website without a techie in sight

Back in 2014 I wrote about the revolution in website building. A few years later, and it is now even easier and cheaper to build your own website.

A great example is the website for my neice’s recently launched baking business Olivia Infield Cakes.

oliviainfieldcakes

As you can see, Olivia is a very talented cake artist, but she is not a techie. I suggested she try using Squarespace to build her website. And after a few hours of work she produced this simple, but very professional looking site. It was a bit of a challenge for her, but because she knew what she wanted the pages to look like, she was able to work towards that goal using the built-in tools.

To get an up to date review of the 10 best website builders go here: Best Website Builders
I signed up with them, here’s my review..

According to the author Robert Mening, the top three are SiteBuilder, Wix and Squarespace.

Best website builders 2017

 

 

 

SpedDial

Speeding up my Brompton folding with SpedDial

Brompton from aboveI have been commuting to work on my Brompton for over three years now. Farewell Boris Bikes – hello to the Brompton folding-bike experience. I have written a few blog posts about my experience (15 learnings from a year of Brompton cycle commuting in London), and little ways I have tried to improve the bike (The safest thing on my bicycle is my Mirrycle).

This time I am experimenting with an improved Hinge Clamp Kit from SpedDial. I had already created something of a bodge solution using springs and plastic metal.

I came across the invention after recently joining the Brompton Hacks Group on Facebook. A post from SpedDial creator Stephan Bianchi piqued my interest. The link to his website included a video demonstrating a much improved version of the Brompton clamp.

SpēdDial Folds Fast from Stephan Bianchi on Vimeo.

The key is the dimpled handle which allows you spin it around really quickly.

SpedDial

I expressed my interest to Stephan and he explained he had sent a batch to Brilliant Bikes in Chobham. I rang them to order a set, but they hadn’t arrived. Soon after I received an email asking if I would like to test out SpedDial for them. I jumped at the chance, and a couple of days later received the little package below in the post.

Below is my amateur attempt at improving the clamp.

And here is the shiny new SpedDial replacement

So now for the big question… is it any good? And the answer is an emphatic yes. Actually it is brilliant.

It solves several problems:

  • It stops the metal bracket from twisting and blocking the fold
  • Using the finger dimple makes turning the knob much less fiddly
  • It saves time. I have set mine to just four turns from closed to open.
  • It prevents the bolt from falling out
  • The same lock nut gives you a predictable fold, so the handlebars no-longer fall on my leg.

Walking back to health one step at a time with my EvenUp

Evenup LogoRuptured Achilles tendon is a phrase redolent with pain and anguish. In my case it occurred at the end of my regular Sunday evening friendly football match.

As I stepped forward to engage with an opponent, I heard an ominous tearing sound, much like when ripping up old tshirts for rags. I looked round to see where the sound was coming from, and discovered there was no one there. At the same moment my brain registered pain in my lower leg and I hit the deck. After struggling to my feet  and limping towards the touch line, my fellow team mates asked if I could cover the goal until the end of the match. I ruefully shook my head and slumped down at the side of the pitch.

hospital bootNearly a week later (thanks my local hospital losing my phone number) I was looking at an ultrasound scan of my leg. When I pointed my foot down, all looked well. But when I lifted it up, a gap was clearly visible. Fortunately the rupture was at the point where the tendon joins onto the leg muscle. So an operation was not deemed necessary. Just eight weeks of my leg being strapped into an orthopedic walking boot, night and day.

This was not good timing as we had a camping and walking holiday to the Scottish island of Mull planned for the following week. I soon discovered that I could not drive my car. My left foot was hitting the brake and the clutch at the same time with this clunking great boot on. I also found walking with my hospital loaned crutch difficult. The main problem was caused by the two inch difference in height between my two legs.

After some internet research I found out that although the ‘boot’ would fix my tendon, it could also result in long term problems with knees, hips and backs caused by limping. Further exploring uncovered a solution in the form of the EvenUp shoe lift. I immediately ordered one to arrive in time for my holiday.

evenup-shoe-balancer_2

As you can see above, the EvenUp is not a thing of great beauty, but it has transformed my ability to get around during the long recovery period.

I would definitely recommend it for anyone unlucky enough to be forced to wear hospital boot for any length of time.

Saving the planet one coffee at a time with my Keep Cup

Keep Cup logoSeven years ago I bought my first re-usable coffee cup for work. I was full of optimism and enthusiasm at the time Looking forward to a greener New Year with my Keep Cup December 2010. But sadly the reality did not live up to the expectation.

The main problem was the plastic which became increasingly tainted by coffee. I cleaned it rigorously and regularly, but to no avail. So after a few months I returned to using wasteful paper cups.

I diligently put the empty cups into our office recycling bin. But was shocked to discover that hardly any of them were actually being recycled. In fact out of the astonishing 2.5 billion paper coffee cups thrown away every year in the UK, a tiny proportion – just one in 400 cups is recycled. Apparently it is too difficult to separate the plastic coating from the rest of the cup.

Recently an Origin Coffee branch opened in the entrance hall of The British Library. In addition to their wonderful coffee and friendly staff, I noticed they also sell Keep Cups. But as well as the plastic version,  they also had the rather attractive glass and cork model below. After a few weeks of seeing it while  on the shelf my resistance crumbled and I handed over the £15 required to purchase.

Origin Coffee British Library

Origin Coffee British Library

I was glad to hear that many organisations are now working hard to find a solution to this wasteful situation. The race for coffee cup recycling solutions. But until they become widely available, a reusable cup remains the best approach.

I’m now a month into my Keep Cup, and it is remains crystal clear with no tainted coffee taste. So now I can enjoy my daily coffee, and feel good about it too.

KeepCup_Espresso_Small

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Touring

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle MaintenanceThe recent death of Robert M. Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance reminded me of my epic motorcycle trip around the USA and Canada in the summer of 1980. I was travelling light, so it was my only reading matter, read in instalments along the way.

I still remember the parts of the book about motorcycle maintenance reflecting my own limited mechanical experience. Particularly the advice about not rushing any work on the bike. The philosophical sections were a more challenging read, and I really struggled with them.

So this is the perfect excuse for a rather self-indulgent blog post consisting of a selection of slides from my trip across USA and Canada. I have also added a few photos from a family trip to the southern states 37 years later.

Neil - USA and Canada by bike - 1980 (7)

A slightly blurry 1980 version of me, grinning from ear to ear, just before setting off around the USA and Canada on my newly acquired second hand Suzuki GS750

Neil - USA and Canada by bike - 1980 (16)

My first camp site with my trusty one-man tent near Kitty Hawk (the home of powered flight)

Camping in the sultry heat of Charleston South Carolina

Neil - USA and Canada by bike - 1980 (75)

Heading towards the Pacific coast, over the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

Neil - USA and Canada by bike - 1980 (88c)

In parts of the USA you really need to watch your gas. I think this is somewhere near Durango

Neil - USA and Canada by bike - 1980 (121)

I had no problem getting my big bike through Chandelier Tree in northern California

USA trip Aug 2016 (210)

Looking older, but just as enthusiastic about our Minnie Winnie, which turned out to be quite a handful to drive compared to the Suzuki of 1980

USA trip Aug 2016 (255)

This time we camped in comfort with a shower, two double beds, an oven, a hob, a microwave and widescreen TV. But I still hankered after a tent, which we bought along the way

USA trip Aug 2016 (286b)

The open road circa summer of 2016, heading west towards Las Vegas on route 66. Actually not very different from how it looked in 1980.

USA trip Aug 2016 (102)

I literally rode around Las Vegas to avoid it on my 1980 trip. This time we went twice! And revelled in the absurdity of the place. Especially Old Las Vegas, known as the Fremont Street Experience

Thanks to a frustrating limit in Google My Maps, I have had to create four separate maps to plot my 1980 route.




The shoelace knot that never comes undone

Today there was an item on the BBC news about a scientific breakthrough in understanding why shoelaces come undone – Mystery of why shoelaces come undone unravelled by science.

FinishedSecureKnotHa! I thought. My shoelaces never come undone, thanks to a discovery I made about 15 years ago. The knot is called Ian’s Secure Shoelace Knot after the inventor Ian Fieggen, now known as Professor Shoelace.

As you will discover from his website, Ian is obsessed with shoelace knots. But it is the Secure Shoelace Knot (also known as the Seaman’s Shoelace Knot) that stands out for me, as it simply never come undone. It also prevents wear on the laces giving much longer life. So it saves annoying undone laces and having to buy regular replacements.

I strongly suggest you try this wonderful life-hack, and let me know how you get on. Here is a video with Professor Ian demonstrating how to tie it.

monkey-light-pro

How to be seen on the dark streets of London town

winter sun

Source LibreStock.com

The shortest day of the year is rapidly approaching. Winter Solstice is on 21 December to be precise. That means both my morning and evening cycle rides are in darkness or gloom.

I have taken several measures to improve my visibility to other road users, particularly car and lorry drivers, and of course those suicidal pedestrians with eyes glued to their smartphone screens.

altura-night-vision-safety-vest-cycling-giletI have recently replaced my Altura Night Vision Safety Vest Cycling Gilet, after leaving one behind on a cancelled train. And I’m confident it takes less time to be noticed than to say it’s name. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have seen people about to cross in front of me, stop, and do a double-take as the bright orange and yellow of my Gilet sears into their consciousness.

I have upgraded my rear visibility by adding a Blaze Burner light to the standard Brompton one. I’m still really happy with it despite some initial production problems. In fact I’m still running on my first battery charge after three months, which is pretty impressive.

 

fwe-20-lumen-front-tlight-black-ev244783-8500-2More recently I have added an additional front light which is designed for being seen, and not for showing the way ahead. In fact Evans describe the FWE 20 Lumen front light as the “definitive bright back-up safety light, taking up very little space on your bars but making sure you’re seen at night”. The 20 lumens is surprisingly bright, but the small form factor means it has run out of puff after just one week.

A couple of weeks ago I also replaced my reflective spoke clips, as the old ones were starting to lose their shine.

brompton-spokes-at-night

I think they look pretty good on my Brompton, and help when crossing T junctions.

Should I be doing more?

When I am out on the mean and dark streets of London, I wonder if I am doing enough to draw attention to myself. I have seen quite a few fellow cyclists who are outdoing my humble effort by a quite a margin.

Here are four examples:
The Lumos helmet means you carry all your lights on your head, instead of scattered around your bike. So you don’t have to worry about them being stolen or the hassle of taking them off to charge or the change the batteries. It also includes left and right indicators with a handlebar controller. Yours for just 179 US dollars.

Lumos helmet

And if you just want to let people where you are going next the the Cyndicate system is for you.

cyndicate

 

But by far the most impressive sight I have seen are Revolights.

revolights

They look pretty spectacular in the photo above, and even more so in the video below.

But when you actually see them on the road they are truly stunning. Sadly they don’t currently make a size to fit my bike, and they cost 199 US dollars. A tad more than my admittedly less awe inspiring reflector spokes above, but maybe I should start saving.

Monkey Light Pro Wheels

I haven’t actually seen any Monkey Light Pro wheels from Monkeylectric on my rides, but they do take attention seeking to the next level.

monkey-light-pro

Have you seen anything brighter on your travels?

On National Biscuit Day – to dunk or not to dunk – that is the question

Source Paul Bailey Flickr

Source Paul Bailey Flickr

I’m not generally a fan of National Days, for instance Trivia Day and National Dress Up Your Pet Day. But I am prepared to make an exception for National Biscuit Day which occurs this Sunday 29 May.

For me, biscuits will always be associated with drinking tea. Because, as that memorable slogan from 1978 for Rich Tea biscuits put it, “A drink’s too wet without one”.

And some might say that biscuits are too dry without tea. Although that didn’t stop my brother munching his way through whole packets at a time as a teenager.

If you want to explore tea, biscuits and cake in more detail, have a look at the quintessential British blog nicecupofteaandasitdown. Their mission statement reads; “Well I think we should all sit down and have a nice cup of tea, and some biscuits, nice ones mind you. Oh and some cake would be nice as well. Lovely.”

cup-339864_640Thanks to last year’s Daily Mirror quiz, we know that the UK’s favourite biscuit is the Chocolate digestive.

According to Amy Lloyd, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel, “The ritualistic nature of eating biscuits with a hot drink appeals to consumers, demonstrating how ingrained this occasion is within British culture but emphasising the need for the biscuit category to expand beyond the tea-drinking audience.” Biscuit sales soar as recession drives people to ‘comfort food’. And this is certainly true for my regular visits to my elderly parents.

So that leads me nicely into the whole topic of dunking biscuits. To dunk or not to dunk, that is the question (to badly misquote Shakespeare).

This is a controversial topic that has seen many articles on either side of the the debate. One was triggered by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal announcing that scientifically, biscuits taste better dunked in tea.

food-1338148_640

Who can resist a chocolate finger?

For the pro-dunkers, expert advice can be found at biscuit.org. Key advice includes avoiding dunking embarrassment by ensuring your biscuit will fit inside the diameter of your tea cup.

There are even more articles on the search of the perfect dunking biscuit. According to teadunking, the plain digestive biscuit is the favourite. Whereas TV chef Jamie Oliver’s top three are Hobnobs (plain and chocolate) and Ginger Nuts. But according to scientific research reported in the Daily Mirror, Rich Tea is the King of the dunkers.

Then again, a survey of 3,000 dunkers in the Daily Telegraph ‘proved’ that Chocolate digestive is nation’s favourite dunking biscuit.

As with so many things in life, you have to make up your own mind. And I’m going with the Ginger Nut for the perfect combination flavour and firmness after being dunked.

cookies-1264263_640

Chocolate cookies run Ginger Nuts a close second in my book

Photos from Flickr and Pixabay

Kutsuwa

In search of the perfect pencil sharpener

Pixabay.comThe pencils only rule at the British Library means I have become closely acquainted with the ancient art of pencil sharpening.

Having tried many different types over the years and found them all wanting, I finally splashed out on a Kutsuwa RS015BK.

The previous designs were either too blunt or too flimsy to produce a properly sharp nib. Or they broke off the end of the pencil lead just as it was on the point of being ready to use.

Kutsuwa Co., Ltd. was founded in 1910 as a stationery wholesaler in Osaka, Japan. In 1965, they started to design and manufacturer its own branded products. The model I chose came in a range of vibrant colours as one might expect from a Japanese manufacturer, but I went for the boring black model.

Kutsuwa

It is still early days, but so far I am very happy with the way this machine produces wonderfully sharp pencils, easily and quickly, as well as collecting the messy cuttings in a waste box.

So the lesson learnt here, once again, is if you want a good pencil sharpener you need to pay that bit extra.

Perhaps I should have researched this topic more thoroughly before spending my money. The Pencil Revolution contains many reviews of sharpeners. Or I could have read The art of sharpening pencils on Mathew James Taylor’s blog. Where I would learnt about the standard point, the chisel point, the needle point, or the bullet point. Although I definitely wouldn’t have chosen his favourite rather disturbing sharpener below.

living-dead-dolls-sadie-pencil-sharpener

I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover the ultimate sharpeners on the Manufactum website, as they specialise in goods made with traditional manufacturing methods and materials. They include the beautifully simple Dux Dual Pencil Sharpener Aluminium and the outrageously expensive but indestructible Caran d’Ache Steel Pencil Sharpening Machine.

Dux Dual Pencil Sharpener Aluminium

Dux Dual Pencil Sharpener Aluminium

Caran d’Ache Steel Pencil Sharpening Machine

Caran d’Ache Steel

trollybags

TrollyBag – the shopping bag of the future with a patent

Logo_packingsortedMy dad has always been something of an early adopter, keen to try out new ideas and inventions. He bought a Sharp EL-801 one of the first pocket calculators, a Sinclair ZX 80 computer, and VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet. So I shouldn’t have been surprised to find a shiny new set of Trolley Bags in his cupboard the other day.

A little research shows the colourful product was invented in Ireland by Paul Doyle in 2010 and is protected by a patent for A Re-usable Bag System.

With the imminent charge for plastic bags in England, the time is right for Trolley Bags to clean up. The Single Use Carrier Bags Charges (England) Order 2015 comes into force on 5 October. And the order requires sellers who employ more than 250 people to charge 5p for a “single use carrier bag” which is less than 70 microns (0.07mm) thick.

trollybags

Espacenet screenshot

trollybag patent drawing