On Your Bike

I have finally got rid of my car, after having one for about 10 years and considering doing without one for at least the past couple of years.  The car I have just relinquished, a 20-year old Peugeot 205, was beginning to get a little too flaky for my liking and was not really getting enough use to justify the cost of keeping it.  For the past several months I have been conducting an experiment to see how well I could manage without a car and since I’ve only used it about 3 times since mid-October (none of them absolutely necessary) I’ve decided that in fact I can do quite well indeed without it.  As the road tax was due to expire at the end of this month, this seemed like a good time to put the plan into action.

My preferred mode of transport is a bike (the pedal variety – I never did get round to getting a motorbike, much as I always quite liked the idea).  There are several reasons  I prefer using a bike to a car.  The main ones, conveniently for the purposes of exposition, all begin with the letter ‘E’.  They are:

  • Economic – running a bike is a lot cheaper than running a car, thus saving me plenty of money that I can spend on other things (including, but not limited to, public transport or even hiring a car on the rare occasions I may need one).
  • Engineering (well, mechanics) – I’m quite happy doing pretty much all the maintenance on my own bike and can generally keep it in good working order.  Cars are mechanically a lot more complex than bikes and I’ve always felt a lot less confident about working on my car.
  • Enjoyment – I’ve never been a great fan of driving but I generally quite enjoy cycling (except, perhaps, when it’s very windy and wet; I don’t like driving in those conditions either).
  • Environmental – the environmental impact of running a bike is obviously considerably lower than that of running a car; one less car on the road may not make a huge difference but every little helps.
  • Exercise – my commute to work and back each day is a total of about 5 miles, including a couple of fairly serious hills.  Doing this on the bike (or on foot) rather than in the car is good for my general physical health and fitness.   Given how stressful I tend to find driving, it’s probably quite beneficial for my mental health too.

Obviously there are some drawbacks of a bike compared to a car.  It’s a somewhat slower mode of transport (except during heavy rush hour traffic – I think I would probably take almost as long driving to work as cycling some days, as my bike can get past the long queues of traffic I often meet) and not so good for going very long distances, it leaves you somewhat more exposed to the elements, and has much lower carrying capacity.

Regarding the first of these drawbacks, I find that with a bit of careful timekeeping the slower pace of travel isn’t a problem (and I don’t have to spend lots of time searching for a parking space) and on the fairly rare occasions I’m going further than I could feasibly do on the bike and can’t get a lift, there’s always the aforementioned public transport or car hire options. Getting rained on isn’t so much fun, but I can usually take a change of clothes with me if I need them and in any case, as a friend of mine once remarked, “real men get wet!”.  A pair of panniers (obtained via my local Freegle initiative) give me enough carrying capacity for bringing home shopping or stuff like that; I can walk if I’m not going too far with a bigger item such as a guitar; if I’ve got more to carry or further to go, that’s the time to smile sweetly at one of my friends. 🙂


A Brief History of M-Space #2: The Websites

This is the second part in a series of two (unless I think of any more to add later).  Really, this one should have come before part 1 (about my blogs) since I was running websites almost 10 years before I started blogging.  However, it is a somewhat more problematic history to research and write than that of my blogs since all but one of the latter are still extant while all my websites apart from the current (as in, last updated only about 2 years ago 🙂 ) one seem to have vanished without a trace and I therefore have to rely solely on memory.

I  started my first website, hosted on a free ISP, while I was an undergraduate student of mathematics.  That would put its genesis sometime between the tail end of 1995 and the middle of 1999.  I can’t remember whether I went immediately for the name M-Space or came up with the name sometime later.  In any case, the name was partly inspired by the fact that I was studying quite a lot about various abstract mathematical spaces at the time and partly, I think, as a kind of homage to Doctor Who (as a conscious echoing of E-Space, the parallel universe from whence came his companion Adric, himself a mathematician).  The website was (and has always remained) principally an exercise for me to hone my HTML (and later CSS, Javascript, PHP etc.) skills rather than something intended as a particularly useful resource for anyone else.

I can’t remember much about the contents of that first website, although I do recall putting drafts of the chapters of my MMath dissertation up there as I was writing it in 1999.  The other main thing that was certainly on my website by the end of my undergrad days (and hence probably on the original website, though most likely not from the very beginning) was a database of toasted sandwich filling ideas.  A version of the toasty database remains on my current website, although I’m sure there used to be more fillings in the old one.  One of my student friends (who for some reason asked to remain anonymous) made me a wonderful little gif animation of a sandwich toaster to use on the original website; sadly I no longer have a copy of the file.

At some point, and for reasons I can’t entirely remember though I think it may have been due to dissatisfaction with the web interface I was required to use for editing the original website, I switched to a different host.  As I recall, I used this move as an opportunity to redesign the website using CSS, which would place the transition sometime after my move to North Wales in September 1999, as that was just after I finished a summer job which involved working on a company’s website and gave me my first exposure to CSS (back in the dark days of the Netscape/IE browser wars, when it was a constant struggle to get pages to display sensibly, let alone consistently, in different browsers).

A few years later I got a Plusnet broadband connection, which came with some webspace and an email address, so I moved my website to there and this is where M-Space currently resides. Apart from making greater use of the services I was paying for, this move enabled me to script the site using PHP and do away altogether with the clunky web interfaces I had previously been forced to use.   The earliest copyright date on the current site is 2006, but I think I probably had the site a year or two before that and this date refers to a ground-up reworking of the site.

In more recent years (in fact, from about 2006 or possibly even 2005) I have had other websites to work on professionally, principally the Penrallt Baptist Church website (which I still maintain).  This has given me plenty of scope for keeping up and extending my website crafting skills, so poor old M-Space tends to get rather neglected (evidenced by the fact that the most recent listed change on there was in March 2010).  I may get round to updating it at some point but, as with old blog posts or photographs, it’s actually quite interesting to be able to look back at a snapshot of myself in the past.  As an example, the Art page lists Gimp as my favourite graphics software and refers to the rare occasions that I use Inkscape for vector graphics; these days I would say that I use Inkscape quite a bit more than Gimp  – although the latter remains my tool of choice for photo manipulation.  Incidentally, the candle picture on that page remains my most viewed on Flickr, but has overtaken the tin whistles as the most favourited too.

Bang the Trumpets!

I have recently begun a new musical venture, joining the Rhos-on-Sea Savoyards for their forthcoming performance of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Iolanthe. I was roped in a couple of weeks ago by my friend Jane, who is the assistant director of the show, as they were rather short of men to sing in the chorus. I’m going to be one of the 2nd basses (i.e. the ones who get the proper low notes), playing the part of a brainless peer.

I went along to watch their performance of Ruddigore last year and was very impressed. Although I had previously heard recordings of various Gilbert & Sullivan pieces, that was the first time I’d seen a whole one of their operas performed live. It did somewhat kindle my interest in their work, although I didn’t expect that I’d actually be taking part in a performance quite so soon.

So far I have been to two rehearsals (they are weekly) and have been listening hard to recordings of the various pieces I’ll be singing in. I’m getting to grips fairly well with the first, and I think most difficult, of the songs for the male chorus, the Entrance of the Peers (AKA “Loudly let the trumpet bray”), which includes such fun lines as “bow, bow, ye lower middle classes, bow ye tradesmen, bow ye masses”. The main problem I’ve been having with it is mixing up the words in a couple of lines so that, instead of singing “blow the trumpets, bang the brasses” as I should, I am tending to sing “bang the trumpets”.

The performances, of which there will be four, will be taking place in the last week of March, so I’ve got plenty of time to get the words straightened out.

A Brief History of M-Space #1: The Blogs

I first began blogging 7 years ago, in January 2005, with a small blog hosted on Blogger.  Originally entitled Magnus’ Homebrew Blog, this was intended as a convenient way for me to keep track of my home brewing experiments and to share the results (the information, rather than the actual liquid content)  with anyone else who may be interested. The first post explained briefly what the blog was intended for.

Fairly soon, I realised that having such a specialised blog would not give me very many opportunities to post, given the relatively small amount of brewing I was doing, so I decided to expand the scope of the blog to cover a wider range of topics. Anyone who has followed my blogs, or looks back at the frequency of posting, will doubtless note a certain irony in this reason for generalising the blog content, but there you have it.  At some point, when I was getting quite heavily into knitting and that was reflected in my blogging, I renamed this blog to Magnus’ Homebrew Knitblog.

I also set up two other blogs to enable me to blog in other languages, mostly for writing practice, while keeping my main blog in English for the benefit of my largely monoglot family and friends.  The first of these blogs, which is no longer extant, was in Welsh and was called Cymraeg am Byth (Welsh for ever). I can’t remember quite when I started or finished it, but I don’t recall posting very much to it (and I don’t know why it no longer works, since both my other Blogger blogs have survived). The second one started out as an Esperanto blog (I forget what it was called then) in June 2005 and morphed into a Spanish blog, called No Hablo Español (I Don’t Speak Spanish), in January 2006 when my language learning interests shifted.  I only posted about half a dozen items to that blog in total.

My first round of blogging activities gradually drifted to a complete halt by May 2006.  By the end of December, probably thanks to being nagged about blogging by my brother Wulf (himself a keen blogger for many years now), I decided to restart blogging using the blosxom software that he was using at the time.  After a failed attempt to get this set up on my own website, I transferred it to some webspace that Wulf kindly offered me on his site.  Due to the initial intention of integrating it more closely with my website, M-Space, than the previous blog I called this one M-Space: The Blog.  Unfortunately, in my first post on this blog I seem not have gone into details about why I decided to make the switch, and I can’t now remember clearly.  I think it was largely just the chance to play with some new technology and also to get the blog running (in theory) as part of my own website.

I continued using that blog fairly sporadically from 31st December 2006 (almost exactly two years after my original blog started) until the final post in February 2010.  After that, for some reason, I didn’t get round to blogging again although I never made a conscious decision to stop.  In all those years, I never quite got round to setting up the full range of navigational tools and handy sidebars that I had intended.

Once again succumbing to fraternal pressure the other day, I decided to restart my blog.  Rather than just pick up the old blog where it left off, this seemed to be a good opportunity to explore WordPress (which I don’t think was in existence, or  at least I didn’t know about it, when I last rebooted my blog).  So here is the result.  Doubtless in a few years’ time I’ll start yet another new blog on a different platform and be able to add the next chapter in my blogging history.

I intend to follow this post fairly soon with another one looking at the history of my various websites (at least two of which have been called M-Space).

Toasting the Lassies

The rebirth of this blog came just too late for this year’s Burns Night.

As it happens, I didn’t do anything special on the day itself (25th January) to mark the occasion but I did go to a Burns Night dinner last week.  In fact, as the chairman of the Caernarfonshire and Anglesey Caledonian Society, I was effectively the MC for the evening (as a fringe benefit, I got a seat of honour at the top table and was liberally supplied with whisky for the toasts).

This was my third Burns Supper as the chair of the Caledonian Society and I think the fifth that I’ve been to.  This year, in addition to introducing the toasts, I got the chance to deliver one of them myself – the Toast to the Lassies.  This is described in one of the online sources I turned to for help on writing the speech, greatspeech.co.uk, as “one of the essential speeches at any Burns’ Supper” and is supposed to “poke fun … at the foibles and idiosyncrasies (real and imagined) of the fairer sex” as well as to make some references to Robert Burns and his relationship with the lassies.

I finished my speech with one of the best tributes I could find to the fairer sex, which was a couple of stanzas quoted from one of Burns’ own poems:

“Green grow the rashes, O,
Green grow the rashes, O;
The sweetest hours that e’er I spend,
Are spent amang the lasses O!”

“Auld nature swears, the lovely dears
Her noblest work she classes O;
Her prentice han’ she tried on man
An’ then she made the lasses O.”

Hello (again) world!

The M-Space blog is back… well, nearly!

After a couple of years of inactivity on my previous blog, I’ve decided that the time has come to get things going again.  This time, I’m trying out wordpress, and so far it seems to be going quite well.  Initially, at least I’m going for the convenience of a free blog hosted by wordpress.com, although I may eventually get round to setting up a blog elsewhere using the wordpress software, as that should give me greater creative control over the layout.

Watch this space for more content soon.