The Razors Edge

In my previous post, I suggested cycling as a faster, cheaper and healthier alternative to driving as a means of commuting. At the time I was being a bit of a hypocrite, I didn’t actually cycle my daily commute. Rather, I was what many peasantphobia sufferers call a “bus wanker” (nope, I honestly had nothing better to do on the bus :D). The time came when Boris Johnson’s gift of free bus travel came to an end as my card expired and there would be a week  before its replacement came. Instead of trudging for 50minutes through the finest areas of North Dagenham, I decided to spend a week cycling as a sort of trial run. I have to say that I don’t want to go back to the bus days, it’s just so much better by bike!

For a start the 50minute walk, or 30minute walk and bus ride has been reduced to just 15minutes to travel the 5km or so. This is even better because of the reliability of the bike ride. With my journey time varying by just seconds each day, I can leave at 8:30 and arrive at 8:45 on the dot. With the bus I would have to leave at 7:30 in order to stand a chance of getting on the bus, with 4000 students using the bus to get to the 4 schools along the way every morning it was a regular occurence to wait for 5-6 buses before you were able to get on. The advantage of being able to leave an hour later is you can sleep in for another hour, and that is never a bad thing!

The cycle ride takes in mostly small tree-lined side roads, a short section through the park and a little bit at the end on a busy main road. As daunting as the last section sounds, it’s actually so busy the traffic is crawling along, which means you can jump onto the centreline and filter all the way to the front of the queue for the lights. On the other side of the lights you’re pretty much there, just making a left turn into the quietest road around.

You will all be able to see a recording of this route in the next week or so, as Monday 10th October is Cycle Video Day, the day where all cycle commuters are encouraged to strap on their helmet cameras and make a 10-minute video showing the best/most exciting part of their daily commute. This was created in part by YouTube’s most watched camera cyclist, Gaz545 . He has his own blog over at CroydonCyclist. Make sure to check out Cycle Video Day if you want to take part. I mention this because Gaz has kindly included my YouTube channel in his list of camera cyclists. Head over to my channel to see some videos I’ve taken riding around in Central London, including some good examples of how not to drive, if you’re learning. The occasions we catch bad drivers are unfortunately the primary reason behind the popularity of camera cycling. As the slowest road user for the most part, cyclists aren’t very popular among motorists. Many a road rage incident has been captured on film, and it really shows who has the last laugh when the police get involved and convictions come flying at the smug, condescending motorist.

Dangerous drivers aside, cycling is as safe as walking statistically, so you’re really only getting a benefit out of it! Check back on my YouTube channel or here in the next week or so to see the video.
Safe Riding.

The System Has Failed…

Today’s Objective: Hypothetically become a 17 year old who passed their driving test two months ago, looking for a small car and some reasonably priced insurance.
(I am a 17 year old, so no issue there. But I can’t drive don’t hold a driving license and I don’t own a car. I was simply rambling around the internet having a look at what’s available in the motoring world.)

Not a particularly difficult endeavour, right? Sure it’s not – it’s just really, really expensive – as you’re about to see.

Step 1: Find a car. This was by far the easiest part of my research. I selected two cars which would be suitable for a new driver (that is; small, economical, cheap) which were found on a particular auction website which has a motoring auction sub-site. The cars were as follows:

The Classic

A very small car, no? It’s a 1984 Austin Mini. As you can see from the image, it’s very cheap. It has a 998cc engine, so not very big. Other than that there’s nothing special about it, it’s a cheap car ideal for someone who wants to get driving cheaply and may or may not be a fan of the original (and best, of course) Italian Job.

The Alternative

Another small car. This is a 1988 Ford Fiesta 1.1L(But you can read that in the picture, right?). It’s also a very cheap, economical car, with a 1,117cc engine. Despite not having quite the style value of the classic mini, it’s still a worthy contender for good first car.

Step 2: Insure the car. This involves trawling price comparison websites where I got quotes for these cars. Most price comparison sites have a function to say that you haven’t bought the car yet, so you can speculatively search for insurance. Nice and simple.

I acquired two quotes for each car: one for how the car would actually be kept (on the street in an East London suburb), and one as an interesting contrast (garaged in a leafy North Somerset town that I know is one of the safest places you’ll ever visit). In all of the cases I was the same person, a 17 year old who has held their standard UK driving license for two months, in full-time education living at home with parents. I was the only driver named on the policy (At a later date I will provide an update with quotes if you employ the popular tactic of fronting, which is putting your parent as the policy holder and you as a named driver. A word of warning though, it is illegal!)

One very interesting thing I noticed is that there are never more than 8 insurance companies willing to insure a 17 year old Londoner, but many more (and well-known) insurers who would insure a 17 year old Somerset resident. The results are below.

For the 1984 mini, in East London, these were my quotes:

Were you startled at these? I was.

Yep, you’re seeing that right. Third Party Only insurance at £8,500 minmum. Very close to 40x the value of the car. If anything I find it depressing.
And here’s the quotes (for the same car and same driver!) if it were kept in a North Somerset garage:

Differences

That’s far more reasonable and is the price I would expect to pay given the risk factor of teenagers. Still, it is quite expensive and certainly not a price I’d want to pay, especially since it’s bordering on 10x the value of the car.

Unfortunately the Fiesta has a similar problem.
In East London;

Only one choice? Competition isn't a strongpoint here

Over 1000cc and most insurers are too scared to even go near you. To be fair though, the one quote I was given does include a fair amount of good extras. Not quite worth nearly nine and a half grand though.

For the North Somerset resident, they have another respectable list of choices;

Once again, it’s slightly more than the mini but still quite reasonable and there’s a good choice of respectable insurers on the list. But also, would you really want to pay £2000 for a car worth a quarter of that?

The moral of this post: Unless you’re stupidly rich/don’t live in London, it’s really not worth trying to buy a car at 17 if you’re buying a straight-up single policy. I have yet to explore ways to make it cheaper, so stay tuned.

The Alternative: Buy a bicycle. No, really. For short commutes (<10-15miles) it really does pay off. No Insurance to pay. No Tax to pay. No fuel to pay for (except water and sports drinks). No MOT to worry about. With a decent bike (and a little bit of ever-improving fitness which will naturally come from cycling every day) you can average up to 20mph which is easily faster than the bus and most traffic in London at rush hour anyway. You can filter through all of the traffic so there’s less time waiting in queues. It’s even rather enjoyable.

This is a picture of a bike almost identical to mine which costs the same as the austin mini and is good to go for that price. It’s easily capable of averaging 20-25mph if you’ve got the legs for it. And, because it only weighs 10kg you can easily take it on the train and carry it down stairs. Not something I’d recommend trying in the Mini.

Two wheels are taking over, it’s a wise investment.

 

Globalise Resistance

To many people, globalisation spells the end of freedom. These people don’t exist in the eyes of governments, corporations, huge companies or bankers. These people don’t even reside solely in the countries used by aforementioned controllers as slave labour. Some live in developed countries, feeling choked by the constant consumerism and the endless struggle to dress the best, own the best stuff or in general be the best. They obviously haven’t ever joined the army – I doubt it’s ever crossed their mind. Then there are the Others. The Others that are forced to work making clothes for Primark, Nike and Topshop for 18 hours a day (on a short shift) earning 10p every 2 hours. These people clearly get the lesser end of the deal, and they certainly can’t understand what makes their lives so much less important than those half the world away willing to turn a blind eye to all of this. There are some of these “more important” people, however, who open their eyes to how their fellow human beings are treated in the name of fashion and trends. These people realise what’s gone wrong, and think in what is described as a “leftist” way when they try to do something about it. These people, in my opinion at least, simply think in an empathetic way, and actually try to take into account all sides of the story before judging. That’s not to say they’re not biased, of course they are, but the bias with them exists in a way which can only be productive.

In a nutshell, that’s the alternative. The people who choose to or have no choice but to think differently to how you are taught/expected to think. Myself, I’m not quite there, I like to think of myself as somwhere in the grey zone between, an area that is all but inevitable to appear. I don’t support capitalism entirely, but I do like the relative freedom it provides. I would expect others think of me as swayed towards the alternative, but that opens up the whole can of worms about opinions and what the “normal” really is. That, however, is a part of life that no-one can ever fully understand, least of all explain. So I’ll metaphorically drop it and leave it alone, never to touch it again. Probably.

You may be wondering why I’ve gone to all of the trouble to attempt to explain this. Or what benefit it has to you reading this. Well, think of it as an introduction to what I’m about to do. (This post was originally written many moons ago, and was left gathering virtual dust in my drafts box. Seeing as my last published post is on roughly the same topic, I figured now is a good a time as any to share this) I’m going to offer you some digital alternatives to the mainstream, that you may or may not find helpful/useful. The reason for all of this? They’re alternatives that I support/use, and if I convince/convert at least one of you I’ll consider myself a success.

iTunes: You’ve heard of it if you own an iPod, iPhone or iPad. That program that syncs all of your music/videos/games for your mobile benefit. Have you ever noticed though, how restrictive it is? No support for high quality FLAC or open source OGG files, it’s overly simple to use that means it misses out on important customisation features. It doesn’t even like Windows that much, and if you have more than 40GB of music in your collection you’ll really notice how slow it gets when you try and start it up. So much so that I don’t even have it on my PC any more. But I can still sync my iPod. Why is that? Well, I use a program called;
foobar2000 (f2K): Already at a bonus because of it’s interesting name, this program really is the dog’s bollocks of music librarians. Super support for almost any type of music file, super low system resource usage, unbeliveably customisable (to the point where you can rebuild its layout from scratch), and not bad sound quality too, it has to be the best library organiser I’ve ever used. It also has some handy mp3 maintenance tools to let you fix broken files that won’t play or be recognised by another media player. And, it supports iPod. Yes, it will let you sync music (even in non-iPod formats) to the iPod/iPhone in just as simple a fashion as iTunes. Just plug in your iPod, select music to sync, and press Add. It really is just that simple.

My F2K layout. Yours won't look anything like this because it's so customisable

Music: On the topic of your music library, what’s in it? Is it reminiscent of the UK top 40 charts of weeks gone by? I’m not going to ridicule that. It’s not my personal taste as you may have gathered from knowing me or from perusing my previous posts, and I try not to be as elitist as other metalheads. However, if you’re looking for broader sonic horizons, consider some of the albums you can see in the various desktop screenshots scattered around my blog page, and also as the titles of quite a few of my blog posts. (I’ll add that the above screenshot is current as of now, when I’m editing this for publish. This post was also created before I started the metal album title thing, so googling “Globalise Resistance” won’t provide you with a new metal album to listen to, rather links to the homepage of the anti-capitalist organisation of the same name.) I don’t need to tell you that there is a huge Smörgåsbord of metal albums to sample – puns aside, I used that term because Sweden is a rather good place to start in your quest for metal, if you’re interested in looking. Sweden is also where my (and I use this word sparingly) favourite band come from. If there is one band I’ll ever implore you to listen to, it’s the Diablo Swing Orchestra. The band are an acquired taste for sure, but I can only marvel at the compositional genius that goes on in their music, seamlessly blending countless different styles of music together into small pieces of musical brilliance. YouTube has many of their works uploaded for your convenience, so try it out!

I’ve already realised that this has become more of an essay than a blog post, the first one so far to exceed one thousand words, so I might return with more alternative music/videos/programs in another edition at a later date. I might not, the next one may also end up in the drafts bin for a couple of months.
People not profit.

Rust in Peace

This afternoon has been spent doing maintenance on the computer systems the cavern comes from, for a fair amount of the day. It’s changed so much from the boring generic Windows 7 layout into something shiny, faster and more sleek. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the initiative to take a screenshot before, so you’ll have to take my word for it that it didn’t look like this a couple of hours earlier. My computer is rather unorthodox (in that it is an actual desktop computer, for those who’ve only seen them in school and have never used anything other than a laptop at home) and that it has two screens which the mouse cursor can happily float between at will. The two screens are different sizes and so require separate wallpapers and are subsequently split into two screenshots, found below.

the right, larger screen

The right, larger screen

The left, smaller screen

Perhaps the first thing you’ll notice is the seemingly large amount of non-wallpaper clutter and a lack of desktop icons. (By the way, the pictures do “click to enlarge” if you’d like to inspect them in greater detail) I like to call the layout Windows 7.5, as it is trying to mimic what Microsoft have said Windows 8 is going to look like when released.

Starting off with the top image, you’ll see it’s filled with loads of orange squares. All of them do something when you roll the mouse over and do something else when you click on them – except the binary clock, which is just a clock. That’s an extremely geeky way of telling the time, but I can tell you that it says the time is 20:51, which should (hopefully) be the time shown in the taskbar on the second image. Nearly all of the tiles contain a description and an icon, and these simply launch the program or folder they describe when clicked on. Rolling over the office icon turns it into a list of Microsoft Office programs to launch with a click. There’s a handy quote at the bottom of the interactive part of the screen, and the multi-function part on the right. This is found below the huge letters saying the day and date, but leaves you guessing at the rest. In the screenshot my chosen RSS feeds are shown. RSS is basically a condensed blog directory for sites you want to stay updated with. (It’s available at the top of this page, if you’re interested 😀 ) The small white squares underneath the text are options to switch to other (sometimes) useful things like a world clock, the weather, system information and the time for those who can’t read binary clocks (I’ll explain them at the end). And that’s pretty much it, a dashboard for all things useful on my PC. The Pirate Bay’s ship is in there casually too.

On the second image, you’ll see the screen is mostly dominated by the melancholic box robot trudging in the rain. But also notice the little black worm in the lower right corner which adds a month to the date with a friendly salutation, and also serves as a time keeper. On the left is a music widget which plugs into my media player of choice, foobar2000 (or F2K for short). I use F2K because it supports iPod which means I don’t have to have iTunes installed (which is a piece of software designed by Satan himself). The widget includes the generic pause/play/skip buttons too for added convenience.

So there you have it: a summary of a couple of hours work this afternoon. If you’d like links to the wallpapers used or Rainmeter (the program used to generate these widgets) then I find Google helps a great deal. I may be willing to help direct you if asked though, I try.

NERDFACTZ2 – Binary Clocks: The aforementioned alternative timepiece is quite an interesting way of telling the time once you know how to use it, and it keeps your brain ticking over too, which is always a plus. Binary clocks are essentially a 4×4  grid (most simply, but they can get more complicated), where the 4 columns represent HH:MM and the 4 rows represent binary numbers 1 (the bottom row), 2, 4 and 8(the top row). See this picture below shamelessly stolen from wikipedia.

Numbers? What numbers!

This picture includes seconds too (for a 6×4 grid), but the idea doesn’t change. For every illuminated light in a column, you add it’s corresponding number to the total for that column’s digit. In this picture, for example, only the light at 1 is lit up in the first column, so 1 is thevalue for HH:MM. In the second column, no lights are lit up so the value for HH:MM is 0. For the third column, the lights at 1 and 2 are lit up, so the value for HH:MM is 3 (2+1). And finally for the fourth column, the lights at 4,2 and 1 are lit up so the value for HH:Mis 7 (4+2+1). Hence, 10:37. I’ll admit, it’s alot more work than necessary to tell the time, but I did find it quite interesting to learn about earlier today.

A Matter of Life and Death

Few words can describe the untold awesomeness of the 5th August 2011. I will, however, try my best to convey the experience.

The O2 Arena. 6pm. 20,000 metalheads are converging as part of what can only be described as a pilgrimage. Tonight is the penultimate show on Iron Maiden’s Final Frontier 2010/11 tour . Yeah, it’s that long. Having travelled around the globe stopping at literally every inhabited continent playing hundreds of shows in hundreds of cities, Iron Maiden are playing their final two shows in their home town. Less than 10 miles away is (no longer) the Leytonstone pub where the band originally met back in the mid-70’s. Brief history aside, the support begins with the venue only half full. Despite all of the empty seats, Dragonforce put up an impressive show with plenty of leaping, diving and exactly the sort of guitar solos you expect from the power metal heroes. They’re keen to assert this title, playing theatrical orchestra music before and after their set for the added hint of epic. Epic music is not in short supply throughout their set, with one particular solo through Operation Ground and Pound leaving many (including myself) sat in awe. Unfortunately the sound isn’t the best, with plenty of bass but lacking somewhat in the treble. This seems to have little effect on everyone’s opinion, with the band recieving a rapturous reception after every song in the relatively short set. At the end there is a short break for beer and food before the main show begins.

With the stage in complete darkness the familiar opening of Satellite 15…The Final Frontier plays accompanied with a video featuring Iron Maiden mascots and artwork reminiscent of The Final Frontier’s cover art. Breaking into the main section of the eight minute song, the band burst onto the stage met with an eruption of cheering, applause and horns raised high. This continues throughout the song and well into El Dorado, the track which follows on the album also. With every solo the crowd take the time to absorb the musical genius being blasted at them. Bruce Dickinson (the lead singer, of course) takes the time halfway through the set to have a chat with the fans, the only response being thunderous cheering and general metalhead madness.

There is, however something deeper in what he has to say and this is thought-provoking at the very least. He notes many of the tour locations, including how they were unable to play in Japan because of the Earthquake/Tsunami and takes the opportunity to wish the japanese well. He mentions his gig in Jakarta, Indonesia where he played to 30,000 islamic metalheads in a country where Metal music was banned until very recently. Elaborating on this, the show in Belfast was talked about in which the whole Protestant/Catholic divide is still apparent. Bruce responds to this by saying “This is a safe house. This is a our house. This is Maiden’s house”. Perhaps the most poignant quote of the night, reminding everyone that Iron Maiden is not simply an awesome Heavy Metal band, it is a religion unto its own to so many, uniting people of all nationalities and religions. Two people from the opposite ends of the earth may meet having never known eachother, but if they are wearing Iron Maiden shirts they will become almost instant friends.  Maiden fans have a reputation for being the friendliest but also the most vaired of any band, and this is clearly evident this evening. When introducing a hit from 1979, he asks “How many of you weren’t born in 1979?” to which at least half of the arena respond with the now standard gutteral roar accompanied by horns thrust to the roof. Fans of all ages are here, sporting Maiden shirts from all over the world and also from many of the tours the band have embarked upon over the years. These days, the youngest member of the band is 52 and the oldest is 58, but they still have a surprising amount of energy, being able to leap over the various set pieces on stage in much the same way someone half their age would be able to. Perhaps the most impressive feat comes from Nicko McBrain (the fifty-eight year old drummer) at the end of the show who flings his drum covers into the standing crowd but also frisbees one way up into the fourth floor seating area, a distance of well over 50ft.

As you’d expect, the band get a hero’s departure at the end of the show, with fans showing their appreciation for the six people who have done more for international relations than any diplomat will ever hope to achieve. As the pilgrims leave to the sound of Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life many are still left dazed in awe at what they have just witnessed. This is metal. This is the single most important musical genre to ever sound on the planet. Why do I say that? Well, it’s the only genre that has devoted followers in every country in the world, no exceptions. Walk up to someone in the most remote corner of the planet and you’d be surprised how many have heard of a metal band. Whether it’s the thirteen year old boy sitting on the roof of an Indian train with Seventh Son of a Seventh Son in his backpack, or the man in Botswana who goes to the only electricity source in the village with his friends and a CD player just to listen to Master of Puppets once a week, you’ll find metal everywhere. The music’s pretty unbeatable too, if I don’t mind saying.

Up the Irons! Join the Metalhood!

Sounds of a Playground Fading

I’m going to see how long I can keep up using album titles relevant to my writing theme as post headings. Obviously, as long as I’m doing this, the titles aren’t my own creative work and I’ll take no credit for them. Just a little disclaimer there for copyright reasons. Whoever thought up of the title for their album gets a cookie for being so creative. As of this post, only the post preceding uses an album title.

School’s out for Summer! For me anyway. To be honest, the last two sentences are as far as the title of this post fits the theme of my writing, but it only gets better. As you’d have read in my previous post, a week has passed which means I now have seven more in which to do as little or as much as I want. In that spirit, I decided to use some unspent energy to become a philanthropist for a day. This involved joining the school cycling team on the London to Southend Bike Ride all in aid of the British Heart Foundation. I’ll begin by saying the day started well; the relatively slow progress made to the first checkpoint was put down to the mile and a half long incline which tested our bikes (and our legs) to the absolute limit. The second section (each section being about 13miles) was so much easier, and we completed it in half the time it took to do the first quarter of the route. With 26miles down and 26 to go, it was decided that we stop for lunch, where the first torrential downpour of the day began. I say this because it was certainly not the last to add to the experience. Now being mildly soaked, we headed on to the third checkpoint, where there were yet more hills on the way but thankfully some long downhill stretches too. Just after drying out, the second torrential downpour began, making a 30mph descent become more dangerous with every passing yard.

After the third section and the end of the rain, the fourth and final leg began. By now our energy supplies and water bottles were running low, meaning it was simply down to squeezing every last drop of energy out of our bodies and pushing for the finish line. Coming into the outskirts of Southend, the car traffic really began to build. This meant, despite being physically exhausted, we were now being required to divert energy into planning our cycling mentally to avoid collisions with traffic. Unfortunately, in a traffic jam on the 51st mile I made the mistake of not concentrating on the car infront and bumping into it. The driver, luckily, was rather sympathetic. No damage was done to the car, and, after he was satisfied inspecting his rear bumper accepted my humble apologies and got on his way. Continuing on towards the ever-closer finish line I couldn’t help but feel annoyed with myself for making such a mistake, which could have been quite costly on my part if I had been travelling with any form of speed. It was then I saw the flash of lightning and the almost immediate growling response. Little more than five seconds stood between the spectacular introduction and the main performance of monsoon rain that carried on until the finishing straight, by which time I was quite literally dripping from head to toe. I had become separated from the group after the incident with the car, but I wasn’t the last to finish. After four hours and twenty minutes of gruelling cycling through Britain’s finest weather, I had beaten the 52mile course, suffering only a minor dent to one of my brake handles, a waterlogged phone and some soggy banknotes. I can only describe my emotions with the following picture.

Success.

That was just the first Sunday of my summer holiday. Needless to say, I don’t think I’ll be doing anything on that scale again for the time being. Hopefully this means you’ll see more of my writings appearing over the summer. There will naturally be a two week holiday break, because even the Dreamforge needs two weeks a year for the eye to pass in the revolutionary storm.

Maybe this time the weather will be nice.

Lullabies for the Dormant Mind

All is calm here at the dreamforge, you’ll have noticed that there’s been very little in the way of updating going on. What was once a noisy, busy and generally insane world has sunk into what is very much like a library atmosphere. Absolutely silent, calm and peaceful.

A quick google search will tell you that the title of this post is ripped off of a certain band’s 2009 album, but I chose it because it perfectly describes this site at the moment. Asleep, if you will. A combination of my lack of revolutionary thinking and being pushed back into a montonous everyday routine has left my creative side starved and the blog has suffered. You needn’t fear though, this post means there’s one more week until I am free for summer and that should mean more writing inspriation will come my way.

The aforementioned monotonous routine affects everyone in the same way, it turns us into robots repeating tasks until such a time is reached that freedom is achieved. This wouldn’t be possible unless we also have lots of sugar and coffee to keep us going. Hence, I’ve added a picture below which gives a background on coffee and caffeine; all you’ll ever need/want to know about the black liquids and white powders that keep the working world going.

In the meantime, keep checking back: I promise you will find some new, interesting and exciting things to read/watch/look at/listen to in the next few weeks.

Stay tuned…