articles tagged with london

Hyperlapse'd cycling commute (work to home)

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My commute home from work last Tuesday. From Tottenham Court Road, heading west towards Notting Hill, via Mayfair, MarbleArch, Bayswater Road, Holland Park Road and then south towards Brook Green. Recorded with Hyperlapse at 6x regular speed for some added drama.

September 04, 2014 15:21 by

iPhone 'bulbs' wallpaper

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Created from my photo of the dark basement ceiling in The Book Club, London, covered with hundreds of lightbulbs

(this works well as a dark backdrop against your iPhone icons)

A Series of Unfortunate Events


count-olaf.jpg So it was this last weekend past, that I had planned to relocate from London to Dublin. After searching around for a decent carrier to ship stuff for me (the cheapest (with insurance) being around 1000£ !) I found the best and safest option was to do it myself. The plan was carefully laid out like so;

  • Hire a medium sized van – pack my stuff in on Thursday night
  • Drive to Dublin (via Holyhead, Wales) on Friday, un-pack Friday night, and then,
  • on Saturday, drive back to London (via Holyhead, Wales),
  • with a final flight back over to Dublin on Sunday, ready to start work Monday morning

Here’s the original plan on Google Maps

Ambitious you might say? I though not, I had set plenty of extra time in the plan for making the journey, even with problems. Only doing one major thing each day. Or so I thought … what I’m about to tell you, you could not dream up. I am still recovering from tiredness even today… (warning, long story below)

Off to a bad start

It all started before I even got the Van. To be picked up at Sixt car rental in Vauxhall Station at 7 PM, Thursday night. On arrival 15 minutes early, I decided to grab a coffee and wait until 7 PM before going in to collect it. On doing so, I was told that I needed the paper-part of my driving license, because i’m from N. Ireland. Y’see if you’re anything other than DVLNI, there have a 24 hour hot-line that can be used to question the paper part, but for N. Ireland the phone line is always busy and goes to an answering machine after 3 PM. Of course this is mentioned nowhere.

Now, the van place shuts at 8pm, so I have exactly one hour to go back to my house, collect the paper part and get back before it closes. Given that it took me 45 mins to get there via walk/tube, this was going to be tight. I jumped in a cab, explained the situation and we tore around London. I arrived at my house at 7:30 PM, with exactly 30mins to get back. The knock on effect of not getting the van tonight would mean trying for a later boat tomorrow. Researching this in the cab, I found there were no other places available on any other boats at short notice. Stuck in unusually heavy traffic, my sister and her boyfriend (both also in the cab and helping me with the packing) decided to phone ahead to explain the Van was urgently needed for ‘a wedding’ the next day and could they stay open a ittle bit later. We were told, 8:05 PM.


I sprinted in the door of the Van place at 8:05 PM exactly and got the Van, some late night packing and we were all set. Drama over, you’d think …


Saturday morning then, getting up at 7 AM to pack more stuff and leave London at 8:30 AM. This would give me the recommended 5 hours travel time to Holyhead (Wales) plus an extra 2 hours on top; for breaks, petrol stops and any bad traffic. Plenty of time you’d think. My boat from Wales left at 3:30 PM, and I knew from yesterdays adventure, there were no other boats with space available for a van.

Getting out of London took half an hour more than expected, with rush hour traffic etc. But I still had 1 hr 30 mins overspill so I wasn’t worried. Until hitting the M1 north-bound. A combined roadworks section between two junctions and a large car pile up accident left me sitting in the van for almost two hours not moving. Engine-off. Watching time slip away, I realised that I now had to make up time to have a chance of catching the boat in Wales. Calculating that I needed to hit junction numbers x at a certain times on the M6, I was cutting it fine. Very fine.

The Decision

After some phoning I found that I could transfer onto a later Scottish boat from Stranraer to Belfast. But choosing this option I would need to make a decision at junction 20, going any further trying for Holyhead would mean I’d risk missing both boats altogether. I hit junction 20 at exactly 1:30 PM, the cut-off point for heading onto Wales (via A roads) and I decided to go for it. But 30 miles into the Welsh countryside, after stopping for petrol I looked at the stats, now 200 miles to cover in 2 hours on A roads. Meaning averaging 100mph for the journey. Rain and bad weather hit and traffic was down to 40mph.

So turning back out of Wales and heading north, I was facing another 4 hours of driving, a boat to Belfast and 2 hours more driving down to Dublin. Which is what I did. I made the 7 PM boat in Scotland with half an hour to spare, and eventually arrived in Dublin at midnight. After an 8:30 AM start and 621 miles later (!)

The T-Junction

At this point on Friday night arriving late into Dublin, I had to unpack, three flights of stairs and some heavy lifting got most of the stuff out. I had to unpack then, since I had a 10:30 AM boat to catch back the next day.

Getting up at 6am with around 4 hours sleep, I unpacked the rest of the stuff on Saturday morning and left with plenty of time to catch the boat. Following sign posts for the docks around Dublin was easy and I could almost see the sea, when I came across a T-junction, left or right and neither showing a sign for the boat. A little stressing and some ‘direction asking’ and I was back on track, making the boat with time to spare and finally thinking I could chill out bit.

Now all I had to do, was drive the van back to London today, return it to Sixt tomorrow (Sunday), and fly back on a mid afternoon flight. Simple, easy, no problem … you’d think …

The Tour de’ Crap

Making good time down the M6/M40 route I arrived into west London at 7:30 PM. With no deadlines to meet tonight, all I had to do was park the van up at my brother’s flat (south, east London) and get some rest. Which would have been super easy if it hadn’t of been for the Tour de France. Why this event is in London, I don’t know. Possibly just to screw with me.

So this amazing sporting event had closed every single bridge over the Thames river, yip, all of them. Traffic in north London was insane. I have never seen anything like it. Crawling for hours in one direction to find it blocked and then crawling back in another. I was watching the temp gauage of the van go up and up. Seeing many other drivers braking down, I opted to turn the engine off at every chance. It soon became clear, I wasn’t getting out of this anytime soon. On my third circle around Piccadilly circus, I decided to go way, way east and then south. Hoping to avoid any more closures.

By the time I had done this, it was 11:30 AM and the bridges were finally opening. Crossing Tower Bridge, I arrived at my brother’s flat at midnight. Exhausted.

Early Start

Arriving in the flat that night, some googling told us that the Tour de France spectacle, would be south of the river tomorrow, actually cutting right through where I was now parked, starting at 6 AM. A number of crossing points would be open for traffic to pass through in half hour periods and for me, that meant leaving the house at 6:30 AM.

Fueled with some take-out food I was tempted to head out again that night, parking the van somewhere over the crossing point. Instead I opted for some sleep and 6am start the next day.

Nail in the coffin

Getting up on Sunday was tough, but I dragged myself out, hitting the road at 6:30 AM and getting over the crossing point. Yay! etc. But Sixt car rental doesn’t open till 10am on a Sunday. Sitting in a parked van for 3 hours drifting in and out of consciousness, I realised I was becoming strangely attached to the van.

Anyway, ignoring that and getting a Starbucks breakfast, I left it back at 10:00 AM exactly. I was ready to go when Sixt said something was wrong with my booking/return. .. After waiting an hour in Sixt’s car rental offices for a manager to sort out their own booking problem, I finally left the place.

Adopting new approaches to travel

With a good 4 hours to spare before my final flight back, I thought i’d take it easy, leave my luggage in at Paddington Station and wander around Bond Street. But after all that had happened I realised I did not want to take any more risks. Anything and everything could go wrong and probably would; left luggage screwing up, tube delays, heathrow express problems. So I opted to head out to Heathrow straight away, giving me 3 hours semi-conscious time in the terminal before my flight.

Here’s a Google Map of the Journey It appears I have chalked up 999 miles in two days with 8 hours rough sleep. I’ll put it all down as experience and character building.

such unpleasantries as a giant pincher machine, a bad casserole, a man with a cloud of smoke where his head should be, a hypnotist, a terrible accident resulting in injury, and coupons.Lemony Snicket

Scrounging for 10ps

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Space Invaders

I took a visit to the Game:On Exhibition at London’s Science Musuem – £8 for 2hrs and all the Arcades and consoles are set on ‘free play’. Everything from the orginal Asteroids and Space Invaders machines, to Amiga classics and the current consoles. I took a few photos, but the Flickr group has loads more. Its well worth a visit if you are into this sort of thing, all the old cabinets took me years back to scrounging for 10ps at the Portrush arcades

November 28, 2006 01:00 by

Rails Conf Europe - Day 2

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So its all over, if I learnt one thing from this conference, its how popular Rails is. Its has been spreading like wildfire for a while now and is not letting up. At least 3 other Rails/Ruby conferences in Europe were confirmed for next year, with rumours of many more events this side of the pond.

The official conference site promises to post video’s of the main presentations and a podcast featuring most of the other talks.

All this talking about Rails/Ruby at the conference, on blogs, irc and forums has lead me to realise i’m not proportionally spending enough time doing Rails compared to hearing about it. So less talk more action from now on – Anyway, to go against just that, I’ll sum up some notes I made from day 2;

Jim Weirich – Playing it safe with Ruby

Jim started off showing this excellent video from World of Warcraft, and proved that even if one person doesn’t ‘work well in a team’ then the whole thing can fall apart. Much like developers working on Ruby and extending existing Classes and Methods in their plugins or applications. A lot of tips on how to code defensively when using the power behind Ruby;

  • if modifying existsing classes, if possible choose to ‘add behaviour’ – not take away or modify
  • avoid top level constants and functions
  • use namespaces – (hoping selector namespaces (with priority) come out soon in Ruby)
  • overwrite const_missing to catch deprecated methods, but remember to hook
  • take care to keep the hook chain in overwritten methods (grab aliases at the start)
  • make use of method contracts, overwritten pre-conditions should be less forceful, and post-conditions more forceful

Why the lucky stiff

This talk was the best of the day and fetaured comedy, cartoons and a guy who hints at having a bit of a passion for Ruby. There’s no way I can sum this up so you’ll have to wait for the video, I do vaugely remember him talking about sandboxing Rails – and his love for ‘the splat’.

Rany – Turning your enterprise job into a Rails playground

A great insight into how a developer (Rany) working for a large German bank, managed to sneak Rails development in the door, impressing his boss and getting the application deployed past the uber Swedish Architect and DB Admin. Techniques involved;

  • Lull management into a false sense of security
  • Steal (or convince some developers to join you)
  • Cheat (avoid some problems by not tackling them at all)

And since he is no longer at the Bank, he’s hiring Rails folk for his new startup company.

Jan Kneschke – Optimizing MySQL for Rails

Jan couldn’t make, but the talk went ahead with someone else from the MySQL team presenting. Confessing he didn’t know much about Rails or Ruby, he laid down some basic points for performance boosting in MySQL;

  • avoid queries if possible (caching, coding around them)
  • instead of Rails generated joins, code th MySQL for the joins manually
  • always only select back the coloumns you want from a query (no select star)
  • use smaller more selective indexes (e..g. index index_name (long_text_field(12))
  • for max. performance, optimise for only one type of database (e.g. MySQL)
  • myISAM preferred for Rails Session storage using ActiveRecord, use InnoDb for transaction based storage (useful in tests)
  • make use of the MySQL slow query log

Dominic Mitchell – Unicode for Rails

What you can do to ‘improve’ Unicode support in your Rails app. Its still not 100% there yet, but there are some steps you can take with plugins. Proves effective enough for English and most European langauges.

  • DB should be all in UTF-8 – just easier
  • in database.yml just use encoding: UTF8
  • serve HTTP with correct UTF8 header
  • form should use correct encoding
  • use Unicode wrapper methods from plugins around all string manipulation in code
  • test using Rails, throw in strange chars and see what comes out

(the remaining talks of the day I didnt bother with notes, not that they were’nt deserved – they’ll be better covered in the vidcasts anyway)

Rails Conf Europe - Day 1

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With the first day of RailsConf Europe over, I have to say I was very impressed. The line-up was great, plenty of quality talks to choose from, and even a good wifi connection. I made some notes from each of the talks I attended (see full post below) – and I’ve also started a flickr group for the event and posted some pictures (with descriptions) myself.

David’s Keynote Address

DHH set the ball rolling from the start describing what we can expect to see from simply RESTful and ActiveResource in Rails 1.2 – using the convention of file extensions to offer a RESTful API. He also demonstrated simply Helpful, a new approach to convention over configuration in the view. Running out of time, he stopped short and promised to finish off the presentation at the end of the day.

Kathy Sierra – Creating Passionate Users

This was one of the best talks of the day (I thought) All about getting users into the ‘Flow’ – cutting out distractions and helping them feel always one ‘compile’ away from achieving their goals. Users need something to strive for, and motivation (shown through steps, or what others have done) to get there. Don’t spend time explaining only how the tools work, spend time demonstrating what the user can do with the tools. (recommended reading)

Dan Webb, Unobtrusive Ajax with Rails

A run through demonstration of using the UJS plugin for Rails, which (among other things) extracts all your AJAX/javascript out to a single file and decouples extra calls to similiar AJAX actions (e.g. on a products page listing) – A strong emphasis was mentioned on getting the application working first with semantic HTML (non-javascript) – then ‘hi-jacking’ the page with UJS behaviors. All very good stuff indeed

Jamis Buck, Capistrano

Introduced Capistrano 1.2 – including the new capistrano shell, a stateless ssh prompt that allows you to interact with all of your servers in the cluster. He warned that this could be dangerous in the wrong hands. The cap shell makes use of environment variables you can set to apply capistrano commands to just a select few servers (or all). A couple of extensions were also shown, namely ‘uptime’ and ‘watch_load’ – both very useful.

Alex Payne, Securing Rails: A Whole-Stack Approach

This guy knows his stuff, Alex Payne has been competing at DefCon and currently works as a security consultant to some ‘firms’ in Washington DC. He’s also a web developer so he concentrated on the Rails part of the full stack, explaining that there really is no silver bullet here, and that SQL injection, cross-site scripting, cross-site request forgery and web service API’s all need to be secured. He recommended using Mongrel (since it has a ‘fuzzer’, rfuzz) and suggested writing attack scripts in your Rails functional tests.

Gavin Bell, Everything is interconnected

An overview on the powerful nature of a tagging community – the example being the Boston Science community site. Using Rails and acts_as_taggable, most of the site navigation is presented to the user as tag’d links. One thing they didn’t mention was GeoTagging – giving things a ‘physical place’ as it were – using a pin on Google Maps for example. The site is still in development and is due to get busier later this year.

Thomas Fuchs, Adventures in JavaScript Testing

Not much to say on this one, was a tough topic to cover and it was by no means an ‘adventure’ – but Thomas did a good job covering the bases. He mentioned that there is still no integration for auto-testing RJS generated Javascript.

Rails Core Team, Panel Discussion

Half of the full Rails Core team sat down to take questions gathered throughout the day, and a number from the floor. A couple of stickler’s were defended – including ‘when should I not use Rails?’ and ’couldn’t this/that be in the core?’ — DHH was also faced with the ’isn’t ruby/rails too slow?’ – which was (and has been) easily defended.

DHH, ‘we don’t owe you shit’ finale

Finally David rounded off the day with the most entertaining talk. His own personal suggestions and opinions (which many shared) with the Rails community including the reaction to the most recent security issue (resolved in 1.1.6) Using slide with comedy pseudo Ruby code (he forgot to bring Keynote with him on the plane over) – David’s main point was don’t expect anything from the Rails community by just downloading the framework. Summarizing, you start with zero credits here, and earn them from the community by contributing to it, getting involved, writing patches, tutorials, plugins, applications, documentation etc. Constructive criticism from non-contributing members in the community is very welcome (and necessary) – but ‘be nice’ – put together an argument, complaint, suggestion in a constructive manner and them expect a response, everything else will get a ‘f**k you!’ — a more detailed summary at the Copenhagen Ruby Brigade

So with that fresh in our minds, heres looking forward to tomorrow.

Coming soon...

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After deciding to take a break from freelance work for the next couple of months, Ive had some time to sort a few things out here on this blog (and in doing so, learnt a thing or to).

Very soon I’ll be moving this site to my shiny new VPS server at Rimuhost, now armed with root access – all manner of crazy things can happen. Ive spent some free time over the last couple of weeks doing the following;

  • Tidied up all the CSS here
  • Moved all my Rails development from Windows to OSX
  • Setup a new VPS Debian server with Rimuhosting
  • Upgraded to Typo 4.0 and migrated this site’s theme into it
  • Switched my photos back to a Flickr Pro account from 23HQ
  • Moved this site to using SVN / Capistrano for deployment
  • Changed from using Apache FCGI, to a full Lighttpd, Pound and Mongrel stack.
  • Survived the London heat

So be prepared for all sorts of nerd like ‘how-to’ posts – as I attempt to share the knowledge and gotchas I experienced during all this (including the London heat) None of the changes to this site have been rolled out yet, its still sitting on Dreamhost running under Apache/FCGI.

Why bother? – The whole process has been a bit of learning exercise for myself and it means I can now quickly develop, deploy and host rails applications, faster and more reliably – which is good -you see.

Superman Returns (without Zod)

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I can still taste the excess popcorn after last nights visit to the largest screen in Britain, the London IMAX Cinema – What better place to see the most expensive film ever made on the biggest screen ive ever seen, with the Super-est Man in comic book history !

Depsite neck injuries from sitting one row from the front – the film was very enjoyable. And even without General Zod making an appearance, it was much better than expected.

@media2006 - day two


The final day of @media was a little more packed with talks, having slightly re-arranged the schedule the previous day to account for the World Cup match.

Highlights included the panel debate during the JavaScript Libraries: Friend or Foe? talk, and Tantek Çelik’s bit on Microformats – Not really knowing what to expect from an event like this, I think managed to get something new out of most of the talks and it was great to see so many people enthusiastic about where web design and development is headed (for the next year at least).

Along with better wifi, something I thought was lacking – was some kind of online chatroom for attendees to communicate with – during the 2 days of the conference. Campfire or even just a formal IRC room would have been great.

I have uploaded the rest of my photos from the event, but unfortunately audio recording the talks myself, just wasn’t happening. Apparently a podcast for the entire event (and possibly videos) will be made available, most likely on the @media2006 website

Edit: All presentations are now available via this official Audio/Video feed

@media2006 - day one



Today I was attending the first day of the @media2006 conference in Westiminster, London. Stephen (from Front) was also over for the 2-day event – and he has already posted a decent round-up of the today’s talks.

It’s been thoroughly enjoyable so far, the highlights for me being – Eric Meyer’s keynote address and Jeffrey Veen’s talk on ‘Designing the Next Generation of Web Apps’. After much messing around with finding a decent audio tool, and working with a very poor wifi connection, I managed to record all of Mr. Veen’s talk – which you should be able to get here;

Veerle Pieters, who does some outstanding work, was also present talking on ‘Good Design vs. Great Design’. I managed to snap some shots of the event with my camera phone – and I may add some more to this pool tomorrow.

The day rounded off with a trip to Picadilly Circus – where the England vs. Trinidad and Tobago match was available for everyone to watch at a bar booked for exclusively for @media attendees.

Im looking forward to tomorrow, and hopefully I’ll have mastered podcasting enough to offer a feed with more than just one presentation.

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