quantitative easing

I don’t pretend to understand this stuff (hence the total lack of a seven-figure bonus this year)  but I do know that the Bank of England cannot simply ‘print money’.  It’s all done electronically these days.

I’m imagining Sir Mervyn King sitting in front of a leather-bound keyboard, surrounded by advisors, and taking immense care to tap out the right number of zeros for 75000000000 pounds.  Maybe he’d also have to enter a PIN, conscientiously obscuring it as his advisors take a momentary interest in the chandelier.

This done, they’d all head to the pub for a well-deserved pint.  No-one would would be surprised if Merv doesn’t offer to get the first round in.


ghost of sixball past

Finding myself with a bit of time before work this morning, I got stuck into decluttering a box of old notebooks, print-outs and the like. In doing so, I inadvertently roused the ghost of sixball past (even before he became sixball).

He was an engaging chap, creative but chaotic. What he lacked in self-awareness he made up for in curiosity. Much of what he came out with was crap but embedded in that were shiny nuggets. His secret was to not let the crap get in the way of the nuggets. There can be none of the latter without the former.

Thus admonished, I promise to post much more crap here and hope for the best.

Future bike

I love the Tube.  I love the fact that it’s always warm, dry and, if there’s not one waiting to leave right now, another will be along in just a couple of minutes.  It’s both futuristic in its automation and quirkily old-fashioned in decor.  Teleportation implemented by victorians.

But… I’ve been a cycle-commuter all my life, from the relentless hills of Brighton to the flatness of Cambridge.  I’ve relied on my bike as much as I’ve abused it – although the relationship has been improving the last couple of years.  It’s probably my only consistent form of exercise (I tried running but the scenery changes too slowly and is horribly jerky in any case).  Boris bikes are great for smoothly slicing minutes off a hop across central London but I have to go at least 3km north before I could pick one up in the morning and they favour comfort and stability over speed and agility.

So, having brought my bike down, I did feel I ought to try it sometime and yesterday morning — on a whim — I did.  Egging me on was the cycle superhighway CS7 and the hardcore CycleStreets app which claimed I could beat the less whimsical sliding doors version of me in the parallel universe who was minding the gap and trying not to stare.

For bonus geek points, I recorded the routes with the excellent My Tracks app, uploaded to Google Maps so you can check out out my derisory stats.  In my defense, I did get caught up with various landmarks on the way in and a torrential downpour on the way back.  I’m still looking for a reliable mobile weather app.

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Expanding maps

Google Maps is awesome but it’s not always the most detailed source and it’s not always possible to fix errors. That’s why I sometimes turn to Open Street Map. It can be described as the Wikipedia of Maps: it’s not guaranteed to give you what you need but is totally open to being fixed. Last time I tried it I found it horribly clunky. Since then, a few things have improved:

Google Mapmaker would like users to fill in the blanks on their maps but they don’t cover the UK and — to be honest — I’m not going to get that warm, wiki, fizzy feeling spending time improving proprietorial data.

That’s why I headed out today with the geeky intention of fixing OSM’s woeful representation of the village I grew up in.  I anticipated getting a leg stretch whilst I attempted to not look like I was casing the entire village.  Very quickly, to my surprise, my Hamiltonian wander was dosing me on novelty and nostalgia instead.  I ambled up lanes I’d never had a reason to see before for some reason.  Other corners recalled fun times when exploration was the name of the game and we would adopt the spaces where adults hardly ventured.

Tragically, hiding in the trees down the brook with my swiss army knife and walkman, doesn’t seem appropriate anymore.  I should probably get into video games.

Circular logic

It’s possible than living in the vicinity of some of London’s architectural landmarks, the London Eye, the Gherkin, City Hall, the dome of St Paul’s. Buildings are definitely getting more curvaceous (I’m ignoring the Shard). This, combined with my own extensive experience of inhabiting confined space has led me to be convinced of the inevitability of round rooms – or circular spaces.

Here’s my reasoning.

A big problem with optimising small is fitting everything in and it only takes a little reflection to track the root of the issue literally into the corner. A corner stops you putting the desk alongside the bookcase and, for the sake of a couple of inches, you are forced to waste a couple of feet. This is why kitchens often wind up as elongated galleys: they postpone the dreaded right-angle. The shorter the walls relative to the furniture the stricter the constraints and the greater the resultant waste.

Not only that, but corners are easily blocked, difficult to reach and generally gather crap. This is why I look forward to a glorious future where corners have been aptly banished to the corner themselves and rooms with only one wall become the norm.

Of course, there are minor considerations to be resolved first. Not least among these is the question of curvature. A fixed range is implied.

For the straightforward office cubicle, one metre radius may be the new A4. Office chairs could comfortably give you 300 degrees of nearly 22m of reachable desk area. Arranging these cubicles for easy access has interesting creative possibilities which you might have fun sketch out yourself.

Geeky London Beers

A nice routine I’ve adopted in the last month or so is to hook up with a couple of like-minded souls every week or two and sample a pub where the history has stained the timbers and talk a particular dialect of computing nerdish.

In Ye Old Cheshire Cheese where Dickens found inspiration, we recall our own childhood influences: Bertha, Button Moon and Chock-A-Block, GOTO statements and the sound of tape loading that was as familiar as bird song.

From the pub where Pepys watched London burn in 1666 we leapfrog impatiently into the present to hook up on Last.fm and Latitude. The Shard emerges like a crystalline volcano behind us meanwhile.

The historical scribblers above could not have begun to imagine. They may have fitted into each other’s world – a mere couple of centuries apart – with some adjustment but history has since compressed. The future is not evenly distributed, even amongst the tightest generation. This is why this time and place crackles with possibliites.

London room

It’s been over a month since I headed down to the big smoke. Now I’ve actually sorted accommodation for the next month or two I have time to pull some random nuggets out the experience bank while they are still fresh.

The plan, as you may recall, was to use the excellent Airbnb.com service (basically, premium couch-surfing) to buy some time to find a nice room in a nice part of London at a nice price. Whilst Airbnb proved useful for trying different areas, finding a place that matched all criteria was getting hard — particularly as I only wanted a place for 3 months. One week rolled into two and then three. I even contemplated going south of the river before the lovely landlady of my most recent stay made me a special long-term offer.

So, for the next couple of months I’m in the Blenheim Lodge on the Great North Road at East Finchley. It sounds posher than it is. I’m in the London Room, so-called because of the heavy theming for tourists: union jacks, London buses, telephone boxes and local landmarks all over. East Finchley itself is notable for being the constituency of Margaret Thatcher, the home of The Kinks and the birthplace of Jerry Springer (East Finchley Tube station during the war). This is such a random mix it must be true. Round the corner, on the way to Hampstead Heath, is Bishops Avenue – also known as millionaire’s row. This might be billionaire’s row these days. Huge LA-style houses, some of which are rumoured to be protected by ex-gurkhas.

I commute in on the propelled human sausage that is the Northern Line. Aside from this localised overcrowding, transport in London is pretty good. Everything is on Oyster cards which avoids faffing around with change. The tube is always fast, dry and warm. The Boris bikes are genius. Grab one from wherever and park it within 30 mins and it’s no charge. You can get a 24 hour window of use for £1, £5 for a week or £45 for a yearly membership. I’ve a widget on my Android phone that points the way to the nearest bike rows (with stats) and can whisper directions in my ear via Google Navigator to get me there. This feels reassuring like the future.

Enough for now: I just wanted to shift some backlog. Next instalment is likely to feature people and conversations.