Waving to my colleagues in the London office

Was working out how far away the London office is from the desk in Caversham where I sit – obviously a busy day – and it’s a 45 mile walk to 10 Upper Bank street. This was to help explain why I couldn’t just pop round to person X’s desk to tell them how to do their job properly.

Then I noticed that Google Maps shows me a cross section through the terrain.


So Canary Wharf is 7 feet above sea level and Caversham is 177 feet above that.

I wonder how many stories 177 feet would equate to?

Let’s see – the London building has 32 floors and is 495 feet high, according to Wikipedia (which I’ve edited as it didn’t show the Mastercard rebrand) – maybe 15 feet per floor?

So my colleagues on the 19th floor are nearly 300 feet above the pavement, effectively 8 floors above my head.

Ah, but that’s if the offices are adjacent – what about taking into account the curvature of the Earth?

If I looked out of my office window (ignoring the inspiring car park and surrounding semi-detached houses), the waters of Canary Wharf would be below the horizon.

The 44.9 miles between the buildings is 0.65° of longitude so, with a bit of trig, 10 Upper Bank Street would have to be over 1,500 feet high for the top to be visible at eye level in the far distance.

Maybe I’ll wave over Skype, then.

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Coining it

Clearing through some old coins from Sue’s parents and found some that were interesting.

[[The halfpenny is just for size comparison.]]

The coin on the left was issued during WW2 under the British Mandate to govern Palestine (from 1927 to 1947). Not often you see a coin with three languages on it – in this case English, Hebrew and Arabic. One Mil represented a thousandth of a Palestine Pound (equivalent to one British Pound Sterling), so the same as a farthing (of which there were 960 to the Pound). I think the image is an olive sprig. I assume the coin came into my in-laws’ hands by luck as it’s very similar to a modern penny in size.

Image (4)

The coin on the right is a thrupnee bit from before WW1. It’s from 1912 so is made from sterling silver (92.5% silver, alloyed with (usually) copper); from 1920 the silver content in these coins was reduced to 50%. Completely different to the 12-sided coin I’m more familiar with that replaced it. I didn’t realise that the Royal Mint produced both types of the coins from 1937-1945 and each was still legal tender until decimalisation. The silver coins were being illegally melted down in the years approaching decimalisation due to their value as a metal exceeding their face value. In today’s prices, a Sterling silver three penny bit is worth about £0.60 as scrap metal.

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There’s vitamins in my drink?

Was listening to the latest podcast from the “Skeptics Guide to the Universe” where they were discussing the recent study associating excessive vitamin B consumption with increased chance of lung cancer. After chatting about about how people taking vitamin supplements can easily overdose, they commented how highly fortified Monster energy drinks were.

Wait a sec – I drink Monster energy drinks. There’s vitamin B in them? Who knew? (Clue : not me).

A quick search for “Monster Ultra White Energy Drink” found typical values per 500ml can were:

  • Niacin (Vitamin B3) – 43mg (266% daily reference intake)
  • Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5) – 21mg (350%)
  • Vitamin B6 – 4mg (286%)
  • Vitamin B12 – 13μg (500%)

In contrast, the (large) 75g portion of vitamin-fortified cornflakes that I have every morning contains ‘just’:

  • Niacin (Vitamin B3) – 12mg (75%)
  • Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5) – 4.5mg (75%)
  • Vitamin B6 – 1mg (75%)
  • Vitamin B12 – 2μg (75%)

And once you’ve added in all the other sources of these vitamins I eat each day, there’s little chance of me being deficient in any of them (which is nice).

Of course, the down-side is that too much of something can be just as bad as too little.

I did manage to find one table that gave some rough numbers for overdosing – at OverDoseInfo.com, coincidentally.

  Vitamin B3 Vitamin B6 Vitamin B12
Over dosage Level or Tolerable Limit 10 mg to 35 mg 30 mg to 100 mg Above 10,000 μg

Other sources give other numbers.

Niacin (B3)

One can alone seems to be enough to exceed the tolerable level.

High doses (50 mg or more) of niacin can cause side effects. The most common side effect is called ‘niacin flush,’ which is a burning, tingling sensation in the face and chest, and red or flushed skin.“UMM. 

Serious risk of damage, though, requires vastly more than I would encounter – in the region of 2,000mg, for example. That’s 50 cans of Monster a day. Death by hyperhydration would be more of a concern.

Pantothenic Acid (B5)

This would seem to be a pointless additive as vitamin B5 is obtained from a wide variety of food sources.

A high dose – over 10g (or 10,000mg) – may cause diarrhoea, fluid retention and swelling in the tissues, and calcification in the arteries and blood vessels. 150kg of cornflakes or 250 litres of Monster would contain such a high dose of pantothenic acid.

Vitamin B6

300mg would be dangerously excessive and lead to nerve toxicity.

Vitamin B12

Regarded as safe, even in very high doses. – Stichting Tekort (NL)

Interestingly, a significant number of people over 50 years old don’t absorb Vitamin B12 as efficiently as younger people so a can a day may keep the doctor away.

So, if I stick to my one can a day, I should be OK. Or maybe I could change to something else…

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10 useful things…

I had just tidied up the lawn mower after a strenuous 2,000 square foot workout.

[[Had to use satellite photos to work out how much grass there is in our garden. Seems to be (very roughly) 1,500 out the front and 500 at the back. I think it’s important that I can help you visualise that by matching the area of our garden with some commonly used reference. There’s a handy website that is able do that for me. My garden is half the size of an IMAX screen.]] 

I always wrap the cable like so:


A figure-of-eight rather than a simple loop so you get more length of cable on each circuit; less loops means the cables will stay on the hooks better.

I’m sure my dad showed me this trick (or “life hack” in the new parlance) years ago. And then I thought this would be good for one of those shared list meme thingies – “10 useful things my dad taught me“. I started to try and recall what other sort of things that my dad would have helped me with. Little tricks to make life easier.

Another thought popped into my head. “But what about mum? Shouldn’t it be a ‘parents’ thing?” And then I realised that a “10 useful things my mum taught me” would look very different – how to eat; how to get dressed; how to wash…


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Compilation tapes from the 80s – #1

Going through boxes of 30+ year old tapes that are cluttering up the bedroom. Thought I’d share the sort of music I was recording off the radio whilst I at University. This one is from 1983.

  • Jasper Carrot – “Magic Roundabout”
  • Monty Python – “Eric the Half a Bee”
  • The Doll – “Desire Me”
  • Lindisfarne – “Fog on the Tyne (live)”
  • Lindisfarne – “Clear White Light (live)”
  • Status Quo – “Caroline”
  • Tears For Fears – “Change”
  • Echo and the Bunnymen – “The Cutter”
  • Jimi Hendrix – “The Wind Cries Mary”
  • Juluka – “Scatterlings of Africa”
  • Set The Tone – “Dance Sucker”
  • Police – “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”

And here’s a Spotify playlist so you can relive the music of yesteryear with me.

John comp tape 1

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It’s No Longer the Same

My feelings for my phone have changed. It’s back from the dead but doesn’t quite feel the same.

It’s a sort of abusive relationship as I’d signed my Lumia 950 up to the Windows Insider Programme. Every now and then a new Operating System build comes along which I always fully expect the phone to accept without complaint. Which is does, when someone is doing their job properly.

On my birthday, Microsoft had a surprise for me:

A note about the unintentional release of builds today

Hello Windows Insiders!

Many of you discovered that earlier this afternoon, builds from some of our internal branches were accidentally released for PC and Mobile. This happened because an inadvertent deployment to the engineering system that controls which builds/which rings to push out to insiders. The team was quick to revert the deployment and put blocks in place to stop these builds from going out to more people. Our analysis shows only a small portion of folks got these builds.

If you received this build on Mobile: This build will *not* install on your device. If you installed this build, your device will be stuck in a reboot loop and the only way to recover is to use the Windows Device Recovery Tool and re-flash.

So overnight my phone turned from the key tool to make life at the UK Games Expo in Birmingham much easier to a slab of useless junk.

Before dashing off for the train, I grabbed my old HTC Radar (WP 7.8) so I could keep in contact with home while I was away. No texting or calling, though, as the phone SIM was now too small to put back in the Radar without a little frame which I couldn’t find. And a lot of web pages don’t like trying to display properly on the Radar’s IE9 browser. And the camera is rubbish. But a least it works, as does my faithful Zune.

The weekend passed and I came home. The Lumia remained as I’d left it. Days past as I avoided having to work out what data I could salvage. I hadn’t yet found the blog post above so didn’t know all was hopeless. Luckily, I had configured the phone to store files on a 128GB removal chip so I wouldn’t have to repopulate that when the device was flashed.

Eventually, nearly two weeks later, I cranked up the Windows Device Recovery Tool to turn junk back into high tech. Was pleasantly surprised to be prompted to restore a backup from before the broken update was released. Unfortunately, it didn’t work 100% although I don’t know what was not restored. Data definitely not lost was five months of text messages – initially it looked like it only backed up the last month’s worth but this was because the default was just to restore that much to the phone and I soon had it all back.

In the Store, all the 120+ applications I’d previously installed were queued up to download again. What I am missing, though, is the home screen tile layout that I was happy with. I’ve tried to recreate the tile arrangement but it’s just not right yet.

I’m confident we can patch things up together.

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Game Design – A Crash Course

Having a clear calendar, I made a last-minute (ish) decision to spend £35 on a 3-hour workshop on game design. James Wallis is always entertaining and engaging, and Eclectic Games (Reading’s premier games emporium) is a friendly place to be, if a trifle warm in the summer.

James is off to Gen Con soon to run the workshop there so, like a comedian warming up for Edinburgh Fringe, was using us as testers for v3 of the content. ((What’s that you say? The Gen Con workshop is only $20?))

After 40+ minutes of history, anecdotes, and advice, we were divided into four groups and let loose on James’ supply of blank cards and arts & crafts materials. We couldn’t get the design theme to be politics but instead had to go with something British.

My group eventually agreed on a weather-themed game – “The Great British Summer” – where players play activity cards that are most appropriate for that day’s forecast (e.g. sunny for weddings, windy for kite-flying, wet or cold for staying indoors for a movie.) A lot of time went in preparing the few dozen cards and writing the rules, neither of which looked particularly flashy due to time constraints, rather than thinking how the game would be played or be fun.

After 30+ minutes, the first versions of our games were ready and we moved tables to try out the efforts of neighbouring groups.

The first game we tried – “The Sitting On The Bus Game” – was surprisingly enjoyable. Simple game mechanic of rolling a dice and placing that many of your passengers (tiddlywinks) onto seats; when a block of seats was filled, it was scored with progressively more points depending on how many passengers each player had in the block; the dice also had ‘move’ and ‘swap’ instead of the 5 and 6 to add some variety. Some questions arose around the end game as it was quite easy for one player to use up their counters a few rounds before the others, leaving them with not much to do but problems like that are perfectly acceptable in a game that didn’t exist much earlier, let alone having gone through any playtesting.

Afterwards, feedback was passed. Honesty was important and our weather game fared poorly. We could now try to rework the game but time somehow whizzed by and it felt like version 2 was almost identical to version 1. More bad reviews were bound to be on their way after the next playtest session.

This time we played ‘Shagaluf’ where you collect sets of cards to represent the sun, sex and booze you’ve enjoyed in Majorca with added stitch cards in the shape of sun-strokes, hangovers and STDs. Again, another hastily designed game that was easy to pick up and play. You could easily see how the development would proceed towards a more complete experience, especially with some decent themed artwork.

And then it was wrap-up time before James sent us off on our way. My group allowed me to take the game home and I’ll definitely give it some attention to see if there’s something I can use for family games at Christmas. Hopefully my co-designers will keep in touch and maybe share ideas on keeping the concept alive.


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