Love for the Commute

Rush Hour Winter Darkness In Leeds, Pretty but No Fun On a Bike

Sometimes I hate my commute to work, it’s 14 miles from my house to where I work in Otley, West Yorkshire and anyway you put it, without a car (depending on the time of day and traffic) it is over an hour’s journey. When I got back on the bike after a long winter hiatus for snow, the Christmas holidays and perpetual darkness I was surprised at how unfit I had gotten. The memories of the 135 mile Kidz Klub Bike Ride just 8 months ago seemed so very, very feint as I struggled up the Chevin and Belle Isle hill.

However the in the last few weeks my fitness is returning and the weather is getting dramatically better. We haven’t had significant rain on a weekday night in a few weeks now so the roads have been dry and most importantly the skies have been clear. As Spring approaches at the rate of 4 minutes of extra sunlight a day I’ve been able to use the lights and thermals less whilst being treated to the most wonderful sunsets as I cycle home.

Otley From The Chevin

The Chevin Ridge, along Leeds Road out of Otley is a 2 mile climb. In poor weather this is an evil trudge which seems to never end. I’ve been stuck here in darkness and freezing fog trying to repair a puncture on side of the 70mph road. However in clear skies, like today, there is a point where you can see for miles and miles. Worth the effort every time.

You might be able to tell I am full of the joys of Spring this evening. I feel very privileged to live in a city suburb but be able to travel through what is essentially the Yorkshire Dales as the sun goes down. That lovely red glow from the setting sun over the green hill sides. While I would prefer to live closer to work because getting home at 5.30 would make a massive difference to my personal life but at the moment I am here in South Leeds and I’ve got to make the most of it.

Red Sky At Night...

Yes some drivers in Leeds are crazy and going into the city at 5.50pm is never the quietest of times but when you can put yourself to the test along open roads in the countryside it becomes absolutely worth it. Today I made the trip in 1 hour and 6 minutes, beating my personal best by a full 10 minutes.

Bring on the Summer!

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A Rugby Double Header

Last weekend was a busy (and expensive one) for me, I was already long booked and sorted to head off to Glasgow on Saturday morning for the Six Nations Rugby Union clash between Scotland and Ireland at Murrayfield but I was given a call suggesting a cross code weekend might be in order. Friday night was the first home game for the Leeds Rhinos Rugby League team. They were taking on Harlequins Rugby League who are many decades younger than their stable mates at The Stoop who play Rugby Union and have just about found their stride in Super League since their transformation from the long-standing London Broncos side I was used to hearing about as a child.

The usual pre-match routine of a couple of drinks in the Original Oak followed by a plod down to the stadium took place and a very healthy 14,300 crowd took their places, this would have been a sell out but due to some renovations of the exposed western terrace we were reduced to 3 sides for the game.

Leeds vs Harlequins on Friday Night

We have been used to Leeds being somewhat invincible in the 13-man form of the game. Since I arrived in Leeds in 2004 they have won the title 4 times, 3 of them consecutively. Over the last 6 years I’ve seen them win many, many times from my perch in the South Stand somewhere between the half way and 40 metre lines. Friday night was not one of them! A bit of early season rustiness from both the crowd and the team lead to some ambitious but ultimately stupid mistakes. A 26-36 loss flattered a Rhinos side that really didn’t look at the races. A plethora of injuries doesn’t help this, particularly powerhouses such as Danny McGuire and Jamie Peacock. It might be only have the 3rd game of the season but on such fine margins places are lost.

The Spectacular Pennine Hills

Saturday morning arrives and a 8.50 train out of Leeds bound for Carlisle, rated the 2nd most beautiful train journey in the world (well from Settle to Carlisle at least). I admit it is a gorgeous ride through West Yorkshire along the Leeds-Liverpool canal that I had cycled 8 months ago, into the North Yorkshire pennines, past the 3 highest peaks in the county and on to North Lancashire. However it does take a seriously long time, 2 hours 45 minutes to be exact which can be frustrating with no power sockets for laptop based entertainment! I shared a table with some good-natured Sheffield Wednesday football fans on their way to Carlisle for a league game, I left it until just before the end of the journey to announce my alliances to Rochdale who had played Wednesday off the park just a few weeks ago much to their annoyance. From there it was a hop on to the 140mph pendolino train straight up to Glasgow Central.

I like Glasgow a lot, it is the industrial and cultural heartland of Scotland, it is the capital city in all but name and is substantially larger than the actual capital city, Edinburgh. I wrote a detailed post about the city some years ago and like most large cities in the UK a lot of money during the property boom has been pumped into it. Of course now we are in a time of budget cuts and deficit repayment things have slowed if not stopped in most places.

The Heat Is On As The Teams Walk Out

Sunday, game day, having gone through a six nations pre-game ritual a year earlier with the Scotland-England fixture I was looking forward to being a home fan this year rather than having to be a touch concerned about what the locals might do to me! A lot was the same as last year, and this was a good thing, same pre match bar, same walk from Haymarket to Murrayfield, a lot of the same people as well. The biggest difference (other than it being Irish fans mingling with the Scots rather than English fans) was the warmth! A lovely, mild early spring day greeted us and a good match was in order. Last year we were up in the top tier away from the action, this year we were much closer, in the corner just 8 or 9 rows from the pitch. As kick off approached the teams emerged into a cauldron of noise which then fell silent as the rugby community, famously “a world in union” fell silent in remembrance of those in New Zealand and particularly Christchurch, a rugby union hot bed, which has been struck by a devastating earthquake killing hundreds.

The wonderful thing about Rugby is that there is no segregation, there were some Irish fans behind me and we can all sit, chat and have a good laugh. Banter is the technical term I think. If you can’t take it, or you are out to cause trouble you are not welcome and you will be told as much. I was sat next to an older Scottish gentleman, dressed in a kilt and with a hearing aid, he was quiet but knew everything that was going on. He seemed to be that kind of person that has been to every game for several decades, loved his country and his team deeply which made his criticism, whilst intelligent and based on experience all the more scathing when he vented his frustration at the problems the game has around the scrum in particular.

Line Out Action Deep In Scottish Territory

The game itself was absorbing from our point of view. Ireland, who had Ronan O’Gara on top, top form seemed content to concede penalties to break up Scotland’s momentum and then would go and score tries of their own to rub it in. Scotland’s defense was not fantastic and their offense never got the chance to get going. However, somehow, Scotland could and possibly should have won if it was not for some missed kicks at goal. Final score: Scotland 18-21 Ireland.

The half hour walk to Edinburgh was not as hap hazard as last year, the kick off was 3pm, 2 hours earlier than the prime time Saturday night Calcutta Cup clash against England a year earlier which ended 15-15 in what was not a pretty match. Less of a police presence and those heading to the Capital city were not shepherded away from those heading for Haymarket. Sunday finished with a busy train ride back to Glasgow and a surprisingly early night.

A fantastic weekend was had, another wonderful trip to Scotland and I look forward to a leisurely visit in May to do some more of the touristy bits and pieces. Many thanks to my hosts and dear friends Andy and Emma who made me very welcome and fed me pancakes and many other tasty things, much love to you both.

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I’m Still Here, Honest

Hi all,

Just dropping by to let you know I am still here, Somewhere! It’s been a very busy time lately and my time spent at home has mainly been recovering from the busy work schedule I have at the moment. There have been many many things happening in the last few weeks since I last posted on here, some of which I will tell you about, others not so much. Work has stepped up a gear in 2011, I suppose this comes with me being fully integrated into my project and right to in the implementation stage rather than research or planning. It’s results time now guys! So the pressure is on there.

Outside of work things have been busy as well. Kidz Klub is trucking along at a rapid pace and I was so very grateful for a lie in last Saturday thanks to the wonders of the half-term holidays. The bus has picked up and stabilised in number last half term much to my joy. We also had a lovely visit from Bus 4’s old bus captain (the person who trained me up) the week before half term. As I said to the kids, if you have any complaints about how I bus captain, blame Sarah, C/O Kidz Klub Coventry, she taught me all I know! I’ll have much more on Kidz Klub Leeds in the following weeks as our 11th Birthday approaches next month and a big fundraising effort begins as Spring approaches.

I’m now back cycling 20 miles a day in an effort to shift some of this bulk I have put on over Christmas/January and it is going pretty well. I am probably back at the stage I was fitness wise in May last year, which while not peak, was certainly not too shabby. I am enjoying the longer days, most of my journey to work and half of my journey home is now in daylight and tomorrow looks like being the first day since October that I can leave the thermal base layers at home with highs of 12 Celcius and blue skies predicted for merry old Leeds. I am really enjoying being back on the bike and I am flying along the 14 miles back from Otley each night, though less of the rain and fog would be nice sometimes!

I’m making a return to Glasgow and Edinburgh this weekend to go and see some friends and take in a rather important Six Nations Rugby Union game at Murrayfield. It’s been a full year since I was last north of the border so I am looking forward to it very much. Expect a full report on that next week sometime.

I must add a big name drop to Rochdale AFC who are currently unbeaten in 2011, not bad for a team who were supposed to finish 24th and last in the league. We are currently 10th just a few points off the play offs with up to 4 games in hand on those around us. Up The Dale!

I’ve not forgotten about the blog at all, I have a number of articles planned out that need tweaking and typing up fully. I promise to post a little more regularly than I have done this last month!

Until then, take care!


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The Curious Case of Leeds United

Elland Road

Design isn’t always about products, you have to be aware of the world around you and social design is a key concern at the moment. Leeds is a rapidly expanding city and has the largest financial sector outside of London. It is also one of the poorest cities in Leeds with an alarmingly large amount of it’s citizens below “the breadline,” the boundary set out as a guide to what is a sustainable living income. This article is about one aspect of Social design that shapes a large amount of this city, football.

As much as I have stated before than the impact of football on a city is overrated in the 21st Century, the more I think about the relationship Leeds has with it’s football team the more I realise it is a fairly unique situation to be in. One of the oddest things for a city the size of Leeds is that it only has one professional football team.

Cities of a smaller or of a similar size than this have multiple, very good football teams. Sheffield has Wednesday and United, Bristol has City and Rovers, Liverpool has Everton and Liverpool, Nottingham has Forest and County and the Manchester area has a myriad of teams as well as City and United. These teams obviously have fantastic rivalries between their nearest neighbours, many are famous across the world. Leeds has United and a smattering of amateur and semi pro clubs from towns on the outskirts that include Guiseley AFC and Garforth Town. The 100 odd year old Farlsey Celtic, who were a Conference National side and therefore the best of the rest in the area, folded last year into the dust of the footballing annuals.

This means the focus is all on Elland Road, the city rejoices in United’s success and morns in its failures. People travel from across the city to the game and pubs are full for big games such as the FA Cup 3rd Round Replay against Arsenal the other week. Even when in the comparative (for them) doldrums of League One they were still achieving attendance figures most of their competitors in that league could only dream of. Certainly as new boys to league One, my club Rochdale would love to regularly get a quarter of the 20,000 average attendance they had last season.

The fortunes of the city’s local economy is tied incredibly closely into the football team. If United do well the city is a happy place and people spend lots of money. If they do poorly, not so much. 40,000 people can fit into Elland Road, that is a huge boost when they come back through the city to the pubs and clubs full of the joys of a big win.

Headingley on a Play-off Night

Leeds isn’t quite a one team town, the Leeds Rhinos pull in 18,000 spectators week in week out for Rugby League at Headingley Stadium but no matter how well they do (they won the Super League three times in a row, with last of the unprecedented treble being two seasons ago), they will never have the quite the same impact as United do. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Rhinos, I go there far more than I do the football and they are a model example of a community sports team. They have set up fantastic schemes that many of the Kidz Klub kids I work with benefit from across North West and Central Leeds. I should also add there is also the Leeds Carnigie Rugby Union side who, while in their top flight are very much the junior partner at Headingley Stadium.

I suppose you can relate a lot of this to Newcastle as well. It is another large city with just one football team, Newcastle United, so a similar “one team town” philosophy has developed. Infact, this is potentially more prominent than in Leeds as the next largest sports team is the Newcastle Falcons Rugby Union team who, along with much of domestic English Rugby Union it is in a bit of a down turn as the French league commands the bulk of the European talent.

However, in the case of Leeds, its residents and its football team, Leeds United couldn’t be a more appropriate name.

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Changing the Rules

Rules, simple, Right?

Changing the rules has been a subject on my mind for a few weeks now. I suppose this has to be because my job is to question and change existing rules and methods. However, the aim is to change the existing rules and methods for the better. To try and achieve this you need to win over the support of the people involved and convince them that this is best for them, their jobs and all the other people that it may impact upon.

The British Government is currently under heavy criticism for changing the rules on a number of election promises. They cite that the damage they inherited from the previous government has forced these changes. Frankly, this has now gotten to the point where I am sick of hearing from the majority of politicians. Blaming someone else is a useful political tactic but the chosen reaction from the current government in my opinion doesn’t do enough to protect and support the average person. I am not convinced, and I don’t think much of working class Britain is either.

But enough politics… onto something more general.

Continuous improvement is a core part of what we have to do in a British 2011. If we stand still the ever tighter margins we work to will come and overwhelm us. It is vital, it keeps things fresh and will often ensure survival in troubled times. Of course sometimes change has to happen at the expense of comforts, even livelihoods.  The recent economic chaos has seen companies and other set ups be forced to change to try to cut costs and survive. I was a casualty of the downturn in work in late 2008 and was made redundant. Hardly a promising start to my professional career but we live and learn.

Recently, however, there have been times when it is my responsibility to try to see what the bigger picture is and act accordingly. This has meant being constructively critical against changing what was a very effective system already. I don’t see the point in changing for changes’ sake. As much as I have to convince people to buy in to a new idea, I have to be convinced by it as well. I don’t like to flat turn down suggestions, that is counter-productive but a conversation needs to be had to try and work together to come up with a solution to benefit everybody.

Most of the time there is that simple solution out there somewhere, we just need to talk to find it!

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Reviving the Mac

The ole girl is still going strong

My workhorse home computer is a 13 inch Macbook, one of the “ipod white” ones. I took advantage of the favourable exchange rate when in Canada to buy one when I lived and studied there. That makes the computer approaching 4 years old, fairly impressive for any piece of technological equipment let alone a laptop computer which have become ever more disposable as technology improves.

I do love my Macbook, it does everything I need with the minimal of fuss. I’m not a laptop computer games person so it doesn’t matter one bit that the catalogue is not as big on a Mac as it is on Windows. In its lifetime I have only had one major drama with it and that was when an update went horribly wrong and froze the computer up solid. Fortunately the system is designed well enough to allow me to firewire it to another Mac and use it like a giant white hard drive and rescue all my data, wipe the machine and put the OS and all my data back on safe and sound.

The battery has lasted far longer than the original machine specifications stated, they suggested that it would last only 18 months and around 500 charge cycles, mine has now done three times that many cycles and reports that it is at 94% health! Take that planned obsolescence!

Of course 4 years is a long time in a technological sense and the Macbook has started to get a little tatty and is lagging a touch. About 2 years ago I doubled the RAM up to 2GB which had a dramatic improvement. But the biggest drawback has been the hard drive. I still have the hard drive that was shipped with the computer which is a measly 80GB.

Until recently this swap would have cost hundreds of pounds

Until recently buying a larger hard drive has been an expensive proposition and I thought a difficult thing to achieve. Fortunately as the price of memory continues to drop to unheard of levels I can now pick up an appropriate 500gb hard drive for just £50! What is also fortunate is that my Macbook was one the last of the that Apple let you disassemble yourself. No unibody sealed compartments to worry about, just some neatly designed slots that you access through the battery compartment. Through the wonders of Time Machine, Apple’s back up and restore service it has been a relatively simple swap over and re-install process.

The last remaining issue is the processor, at 1.66GHz it is not too shabby and enough for most operations but when Photoshop, Illustrator or a 3D CAD program start doing some intensive operations it does struggle a bit. Thankfully my freelancing days seem to be over and I don’t need to worry too much about that now.

Apple have gone down in my views lately, part of the wonderful things about the Mac was that you could develop open source, free programs that were useful.  Macs were for the little guys, the start up professionals that just wanted things that worked without the horrible clunky faffing of Windows, An operating system that they could tinker with, and have access to all they needed without going down the horrible Microsoft route. Most importantly Apple Mac did things better than the other guys. They also used to last forever, I used to work at a packaging and print house and we had an incredibly old iMac running one of the early versions of OS7 which was still chugging along as a print server and scanner station among other tasks.

Features from IOS, the mobile operating system for the ipad and iphone have started to make their way into OSX and in my opinion I am not sure they are for the best. The controlling approach of the new age of Apple is not why I bought the computer and of course, rule number 1 of effective industrial design: form should follow function, not the other way round. I hope Apple, and software developers for them will continue to keep to the traditions that Mac has always been about.

With a revived Macbook I should hopefully be able to make it last another couple of years through to when a desktop computer may become more appropriate. Until then, it’s the same old tried and tested workhorse that has been just about everywhere I have for nearly 4 years.

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Cricket and Insomnia

The first week of a new year is always a hard one, things come thick and fast with a heavy bump after the pleasant nature of the holidays. Tuesday I was back to work and straight back into the thick of things with assignments needing to be written, presentations to complete and an big away day to organise.

In amongst all this I’ve not been sleeping well. Whether it is ‘holiday jetlag’ as they say where you get used to going to bed and getting up when you want (for me, that is very late on both counts). Usually I need some background noise to send me to sleep quickly, before Christmas BBC Radio 4’s Test Match Special coverage of the cricket did the trick quite nicely. This side of Christmas it did anything but.

It would be foolish of me to rule out the possibility that the thrilling conclusion to the series had an effect on my sleeping pattern. It was spectacular. The Ashes themselves are famously the burnt remains of the bails from the match in 1882 which declared “the death of English cricket” in a full page advert the Austrailains took out in an English sporting newspaper. (talk about being bad winners!) After years of being humiliated, England have slowly become more competitive, taking the ’05 series 2-1 but then being green and gold washed 5-0 in Australia 18 months later. Another 2-1 series victory for England on home soil in ’09 and a capitulation of the Australian team gave us our best shot in 24 years to win the Ashes on Aussie soil this winter.

It wasn’t even close. 24 years of hurt were ended emphatically in Sydney on Thursday with 11 Englishmen dancing on the wicket that 4 years ago brought them so much misery. The Barmy Army (the crazy English cricket supporters group) mercilessly taunted the Australian team and the Aussie press turned on them in a way reminiscent of the English press on the national football team. It was a complete dismantling of the aura of invincibility the Aussies had, records tumbled, reputations shattered. Other than Mitchell Johnson finding his line and length for more than 3 consecutive balls in Perth it was a resoundingly one-sided series.

I have a habit of getting insomnia for a good few weeks when jet lagged, fortunately I don’t currently jet set enough for it to be a huge problem. People find all sorts of ways, gadgets or rituals to try to send themselves to sleep. I’ve found quite simply sticking a dvd of something I have watched hundreds of times, something relatively mindless yet amusing just sends my head to sleep and then the rest of me follows. So now the Test Matches have finished Futurama is my weapon of choice, it is incredibly effective. Less than 20 minutes after putting an episode on I am out for the count.

Hopefully now all the excitement is done I can get some proper sleep and crack on with the working week!

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