All posts by Stephen

I'm an IT admin with experience across Windows and Linux. For work stuff, take a look at my Linkedin profile [//www.linkedin.com/in/stephenryanireland]. I do webhosting and web development / integration with vade.ie. In my spare time (what little I have) I take photographs and cycle although not always at the same time.

Why I(we) wear headphones while working

I’m not ignorant and I do like talking to you, honest. But getting into the flow takes time and noise interrupts in. Music in the background has always seemed to help block out the annoying thing. Its why in the early morning or late evening, so much more work is done. Sure you know yourself, you may be in work from 9-6, but you really only get about 2 hours of good work done. And now here is why.

//softwarenation.blogspot.com/2009/01/importance-of.html provided a pretty good but basic enough explanation of the brain and how it works in sections. Combine this with what I knew previously, and it makes a lot of sense.

While programming part A, the voice in your head part,  is running away with itself, swapping variables and the like, part B, the thinking part, is looking ahead and coming up with that creative code block you are about to write. Part C, the hearing part, is being kept nice and busy by the music coming in stopping other noise coming in and ending up in the thinking part. Because when it gets to the thinking part, it is like a big freight train hitting a mountain, it derails and looses all its cargo. You start down the hill on another track, what it was you heard and the further you go, the more you’ve left behind. And just like that big freight train, it takes a long time to get back up to speed on the hill, and you have to pick up all those information bits that you lost before.

Subscribe to your own blog. Really!

So today while working through some of the normal morning tasks, I started checking on the latests news. If you aren’t using it already, Google Reader is quite invaluable. I wish I could keep all the articles in it forever as you never know when you will need to find something older. It is why some of the tech newsletters still come through via email, but I’ll probably switch some of them soon.

Anyway, I decided I’d subscribe to my own blogs, both this one and the web hosting company one I write for. Low and behold, I noticed that one of them was only displaying a summary of the articles, a big no no if you ever want anyone to actually subscribe to your blog.

Even more shamefully, I had to Google to find the option to fix this.

For reference, it is in Settings -> Reading. “For each article in a feed, show”.

Google clicks on their own adwords links?

Through a few of the sites I have interactions with, there are a number of adwords campaigns that are running. Strangely, why tracking some of the incoming clicks, we noticed that at last one of the clicks came from within Google itself. And what is more, it appears to be legit going on the browser type of “Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; SV1)”.

Perhaps Google tests these things manually, who knows. Guess I’ll just have to continue digging through the logs and see what shows up.

For reference, IP in question came from

OrgName:    Google Inc.
OrgID:      GOGL
Address:    1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
City:       Mountain View
StateProv:  CA
PostalCode: 94043
Country:    US

NetRange:   74.125.0.0 - 74.125.255.255
CIDR:       74.125.0.0/16
NetName:    GOOGLE
NetHandle:  NET-74-125-0-0-1
Parent:     NET-74-0-0-0-0
NetType:    Direct Allocation
NameServer: NS1.GOOGLE.COM
NameServer: NS2.GOOGLE.COM
NameServer: NS3.GOOGLE.COM
NameServer: NS4.GOOGLE.COM
Comment:
RegDate:    2007-03-13
Updated:    2007-05-22

OrgTechHandle: ZG39-ARIN
OrgTechName:   Google Inc.
OrgTechPhone:  +1-650-318-0200
OrgTechEmail:  arin-contact@google.com

Tacx T1940 Fortius Review

I picked up one of these from Starbike recently. Firstly, Tacx really need to get some better instructions. The ones that come with the unit are crap, and that is putting it lightly. There is no mention of how much to tighten the clamp on the wheel and it took some google time to figure it out. (In my case, pretty much as tight as possible to stop things slipping, then do the calibration).

Trainer VS. Cycling

The difference between using the trainer and normal cycling is astounding. I suppose seeing constant references to sweat bands, sweat mats, sweat catchers etc should have come as a bit of a hint but nothing could have prepared me for the experience. For my last run on the trainer I did a 20.4km virtual course taking around 40 minutes. For this I went through 1 full bottle of water and then downed a further two pints of juice inside of 5 minutes off the bike. Compare that to yesterday when a 120km trip on the bike only required 2 bottles with another half afterwards.

It isn’t like the trainer is physically harder either. Ok so the (virtual) hills can be bigger than those in real life, but the big thing comes from the fact that you don’t coast along at any point. Even the downhill requires you to continue to pedal or it pauses. And because you are pedalling, you are pushing out effort unlike in reallife where down hills tend to be a bit of a relaxing time / recovery time. The huge difference is airflow however. It makes a gigantic difference when on the bike compared to cycling indoors. On days where you warm up in five minutes outside and stop feeling some of the cold, you’ll warm up in about 10-20 seconds on the bike. In my case, I was already visibly sweating inside of a minute.

A Bright Orange

If you are questioning if the trainer tyre might be a good purchase or not, then stop right now. The trainer will eat even the toughest of road tyres. The trainer tyres are made of some different kind of rubber that doesn’t heat up and is slightly slippy. But even the trainer tyre still gets shredded a bike while on the trainer. I can only imagine what would happen with a proper grippy tyre and that is without thinking about those tiny bits of glass that get embedded in the rubber for cycling on the road. Even now after a few weeks, each run still leaves specs of rubber spread around the floor.

Edit: So the tyre wore out within 12 rides I think. Something can’t be right. Some pictures.

Software

This is actually one area where I’ve a bone to pick witht Tacx.  My unit being a Fortius, it obviously came with the Fortius software. However it is quite hard to understand the different software versions online. There is another Tacx Trainer software which is supports the Google Maps setup and some extra Catalyst functions but it requires an extra purchase. For those on lower trainers, there is little notice on if they need to purchase the Fortius software and then the additional trainer software.

I’ve yet to use too much of the features on the Fortius software mainly sticking with the Real Life Videos so far, so maybe after I get through the Alpine course of the Marmotte run I’ll look into getting the other software. It still is a bit rich of Tacx to have so many paid extras like this. But then everything after the initial purchase seems to be extra.

Annoyingly however, the software was one of the reasons I choose the Fortius over the new Bushido wireless trainer. The motor to simulate downhills in the Fortius isn’t really any use if we are being honest. Since you always need to push somewhat, the Bushido could just reduce the resistance right down to whatever it needs to stay active. The lack of wireless would also be quite a good thing. Right now a Bushido with the computer link and the additional software would set you back a bit more than the Fortius although since Tacx are pushing the Bushido, that may change.

There have been a few reports of the video not going to full screen too. Luckily I have only seen this once when I launched the VR terrain the very first time. The next two times it went full screen. Never had any issues with the RLV except that they are standard aspect where as my laptop is Widescreen. Minor really. The Tacx VR Game Crazy Cycles is another story though. It sits in a small window with a black border. Attempts to do anything on screen to full screen it cause it to minimise.

A Wheel Stand as a Prop

“Should I buy the wheel stand?” was one of the most asked questions I got after talking about the trainer to other who wanted to get one too. My initial answer of yes, you need to level the bike, and no you can easily use cardboard or similar has changed somewhat now. I know one of the guys who bought around the same time as me has had no problems while using an Argos Catalogue, while I have been using some cardboard piled under the front wheel. I’ve yet to manage to have the bike still be level at the end of a long ride, probably because the cardboard compresses somewhat under my weight.

I’ll leave the decision up to the reader on this one.

Some little bitty gotchas

These most likely apply to other trainers in the Tacx range too.

  • For your profile weight, enter your fully clothed weight *AND* the weight of your bike.
    In my case (using current rounded figures), I weight 90kg and my bike weights 13kg fully loaded. Profile weight goes in as 113kg. The extra KG from the bike do affect the resistance that the unit puts out of the hills.
  • Do the calibration, but only after about 30 minutes of cycling the first time.
    Again in my case, I got a different of -3.1% which was noticeable enough on the 12% hills that were in the RLV.
  • Tighten the wheel clamp and ensure the tyre is pumped fully. A vertically true wheel will also make a huge difference.
    Because the whole system works with resistance against the tyre, any let up in pressure is going to feel like slipping. Not something you might notice at 110RPM on a fast flat part, but slow that down to 70RPM on a steep uphill, and well it’ll be damn near unusable.
  • Towels, towels and more towels.
    You will sweat. A lot. A whole hell of a lot. I’m sure a fan will help and I plan on getting one soon.

Heart Rate Monitoring

The Fortius is *NOT* ANT+ compatible. I’m nearly sure a software upgrade would fix this too. The Bushido is compatible so it shouldn’t require extra work on the part of Tacx either. Because of the cost of changing the units, it is highly unlikely that anyone would actually switch units to get a missing feature like this. So Tacx, add the feature.

Online reports list than a standard non-coded strap will work. All the Garmin ones are ANT+ so the one I have doesn’t work. The cheap Aldi one I bought recently doesn’t work either. Don’t fancy buying a third one just to see if it works.

Real Life Videos

These are the reason I choose a Tacx trainer and not some other brand. They rock. Makes training so much better. I know well that I’d not be able sit for an hour and a half grinding up a hill like the other night without being able to look forward and see the views of the Alps.

There is some minor issues with the videos. For one, they aren’t recorded in a constant fashion. Tacx did do some work to try smooth over things. One example is where the van had to stop at traffic lights in one of the villages. The video blends in the slowing down and starting back up again so you aren’t pedalling while the video isn’t moving. They also blend where it pulled in on the way up one of the larger hills.

I have heard people saying the video gets a bit jumpy if you go too slow. I’ve yet to see this although the video did start shooting forwarding much faster than reality on one of the downhill sections. Throws you off balance somewhat.

Last bit is that the shadow of the camera is visible in quite a while of the videos. Does drop the appearance that you are actually cycling the route some what but I guess it is just a video and not a VR setup.

Summary Round Up

Would I buy one? Well I do so yes. Would I recommend you buy one? Well maybe. It depends on what you are after. The Bushido does look like a better, but somewhat more expensive option due to the extras you need to get it to do certain things. However since the prices vary hugely on these (Got my Fortius for €660 while initially seeing if for close to 1000 in a local shop) I’d guess you may be able to get a deal on the Bushido. Reports so far say the Bushido can produce the same amount of resistance as the Fortius, it may not be an issue. A 10% grade for me uses less than half the resistance the Fortius can push out so unless your much heavier and planning on harder hills, you’ll be fine.

Since I’ve seeing the Bushido for €560 on eBay, if I was to buy today (only a month later) I’d go for the Bushido and the upgrade PC kit. I do blame Tacx for this as the Bushido was out when I purchased. I didn’t think I’d need to but extra software for the Fortius which is quite annoying.

Edit: Tacx have released yet another version of software. Trainer software Version 2. They did offer an upgrade from V1 to V2, but they stopped on December 15th. Huge pain but I’m quite glad I didn’t fork out for V1 when I was planning to. Make sure if you are buying that you are getting the Trainer software Version 2 with the unit, not just the Fortius software which is long since obsolete.

//www.starbike.com/php/product_info.php?lang=en&pid=6272

La Marmotte 2010

Today marked the point of no return for the Matmotte 2010. I booked my place with Tour d’Oisans for a 8 night trip to do event. Last week we confirmed our training week down in Malga with Vamos Cycling and I’ve already begun the training on the Turbo trainer for it. I’ve yet to read a “happy” review of this event and it does seem like a bit of a challenge. Bring it on I say, bring it on!

//www.tourdoisans.com/marmotte.asp//www.tourdoisans.com/marmotte.asp

IrishFit BikeFit review

So last month so me finally go and get a proper bike fitting from the guys over at IrishFit. They are calling it a “Video Based Bike Setup Analysis” but people who had been talking about it on boards were always calling it a bike fitting so maybe that is where I got a little confused. The simple fact was that it was way way more than a simple bike fit.

The beginning

I was expecting to arrive over, throw the bike onto the trainer, get filmed, then talk about how the position can be improved. Maybe do the changes and re-film to show how great everything is now. Oh how wrong I was. Appointment began with discussing problems with the bike, in my case some hand pain after the Tour of Meath and then some recent problems with my knees. This led on to some tests of muscle flexibility and movement strength. All the main muscles from lower leg up to the lower back were looked at and also rated in the report I got earlier this week.

Straight away, this pointed to some possible problems with my cycling/peddling technique, and I hadn’t even been on the bike yet. Suggestions of Sports Massage and Pilates were given and are something I’m looking into along with some yoga. The one I already knew was that I need to start stretching after cycling. So many long cycles and I’ve ignored this. After stretching when I came home on Tuesday night, I don’t think I’ll be cycling again and then not stretching. Legs felt like I hadn’t cycled after the stretching was complete.

Lights, Camera, Action

The bike gets put up on the trainer and away we go. You end up pedalling for about 2-3 minutes each time. Got shorter on each attempt as only a short period is needed by the software to pick up the tracks made my the leg movements and also to draw out the angles between things. I’m by no means a biomechanical engineer but when you see a picture of yourself with the angles drawn out, it can be quite clear where some things are wrong. Muscles work better within certain restricted ranges, have the leg extend too much looses lots of energy. Saw goes for angle of leg at the top between the chest. Too shallow and it restricts your breathing.

It really was very effective to do the first run through, show the angles, make the small change, in my case we moved the saddle height a small amount, then redo the video and see the changes. On the one hand, it does let you know that you aren’t paying for nothing, but on the other the voice in your head can be silenced as it knows it is a positive change.

The results

So what does a bike fitting do for you? Well in my case, and bare in mind that it only really was a small change of saddle height, it has made a huge difference. Firstly I do now stretch after cycling. Well mostly. Its something that I need to improve. I am doing core exercises so its a big plus there.

Secondly, I was recomended to get some LeMann Wedges. Basically small bits of tilted place that go between the cleat and the shoe. My left leg is shorter than my right leg so I’ve off set some of that.

After all of that, the Tour of Kildare was the first big test. 100km of cycling with an avg of 31km/h. That there is way above any previous averages I’ve had. Ok so its the first time I’ve done a long distance in a group like that, other sportives I’ve been spat out the back. But I know well I’d not have been able to do that with the hand pain or knee problems I’ve been having. Both are gone while on the bike although my knee still hasn’t fully recovered. Still the fact that I can cycle without any problems anymore is a big step back to where I want to be. And now the speeds are higher and I can spend more time in the drops and lots more on the hoods.

Recommendations

Do it, do it now. Email them, call them, whatever. Just book it. It is worth it. So much so I already know I’ll be going back when I build my new bike next year. The whole process is on another level to that of a bike fitting in a shop. You won’t regret it.

Tour of Kildare 2009

Another day, another sportive. This time in Kildare. Again with the long commute down at 46.84km before the 100km run around.

This was another event that was really well run. IVCA really need to take note on the food front although I can think of some difficulties in having a BBQ run for 6-8 hours for finishing riders on the W200. Marshalling wasn’t as good as the Tour of Meath but then they did have a bit of overkill. Most junctions on this has marshals but a few left us stopping wondering with one when I had to trust my gps for direction. Some people though left, GPS though right, some others agreed, we all went right. Road markings were probably there but the cars in traffic covered them.

Overall the pace was very high. Coming in at 3h13m for a 100km route is mighty impressive for me. Nothing close to this in previous times. I did spend lots of time in groups and didn’t pull at the front having learnt the huge painful lesson in the Tour of Meath. The pace car for the first 30km or so was a little slow but necessary to keep things together as much as they did. The only negative thing was that the event didn’t start on time and the gap in the food stop was too long. The food stop gap being so long was the worst espec since getting started we missed the split in the groups, although I think things split the second it hit the road with the front group really hammering it. My heart rate was near max for the next 10+km while I tried to bridge up through some of the groups.

A big shout of to the idiot owner of the black BMW who tried to overtake the group at the start near Clane I think. He kept overtaking on a solid white line and then pulling back into the group forcing cyclists in and slowing down. Very surprised there wasn’t a crash. How anyone could possibly think of overtaking a group of cyclists that spanned 9 minutes of passing time apparently is beyond me. There is no way he could have see a clean gap to go to so was just basically being stupid.

The Wall” really wasn’t a wall at all. Its short and over in a minute or two if I remember rightly. Powered up what felt like half of it but didn’t look up (as I normally don’t) and decided to drop down some gears instead of risking wearing myself out. Made up a most of the time on the downhill afterwards.

Route Stats
Total distance: 101.26km
Total time: 3:35:42
Ride time: 3:13:27
Calories Burnt: 4771
Avg Speed: 31.4km/h

Day Stats
Total distance: 194.32km
Ride time: 7:12:45
Calories Burnt: 8795
Avg Speed: 26.9km/h

An Post – Meath Heritage Cycle Tour

So Sunday the 5th of June so mew take part in the Tour of Meath and was it a surprise from the W200 event. Firstly a big thanks to the organisers. Other than the food stops, my food only went down twice (once when I stopped to take off my jacket). Marshalls everywhere including the traffic core. I’m sure that if I was faster, the whole way around would have been with traffic stopped everywhere.

The only downside to the event, and shared by others I spoke to who did the 160km route, was the distance between the second and third waterstops. It was longer than the other gaps and also was about 8km after the point it was meant to be at. Gave a distance of 78km between the two I think. Where most days I’d have managed this, due to it starting to rain coming out of the second stop and my jacket going on, I burnt through half of my two bottles within 10km until I stopped and took off my jacket.

Either way, overall the day was amazing. Food was plentiful as were the muffins! Yes, you read that right, they had muffins. Only cake would be better but I can’t for the life of me figure out how they’d manage that one. Contrast this to the W200 where they were more concerned with stopping the occasional person who didn’t pay from getting food, to feeding those who did. OK so the numbers are a different scale, 250 vs 1800, but there is always ways to sort these things.

Stats for the day below but this was one for the records. Even with losing additional weight since the W200, even Calories burnt was higher.

Route Stats
Total distance:  162.61km
Total time: 7:22:59
Ride time: 6:20:02
Calories Burnt: 7,189
Avg Speed: 22km/h

Day Stats
Total distance: 252.89km
Total time: 11:34:08
Calories Burnt: 10843
Avg Speed: 21.9km/h

Wiggle – ChainReactionCycles Delivery Times

So this cycling thing has gotten a bit expensive is so far as there is a near constant want need to buy new stuff and upgrade existing parts. Luckily currently I can stop myself buying a new bike/wheels by standing on the scales or having the need to get through the front door of the apartment.

Anyway, all this ordering means I’ve gotten 8+ deliveries between CRC and Wiggle since December. I’m continually impressed by the delivery times by CRC. Last order was placed on Tuesday at 13:08. I get an email on Wednesday afternoon stating that it had been shipping. Thursday morning at 10:42 and the stuff is sitting in reception waiting for me.

Compared this with Wiggle. An order is placed at 23:00 on a Sunday night. Monday at 7am an email arrives saying it has been picked and dispatched. All good since I paid for priority dispatch. Wednesday of the following week (yes 10 days later), the box arrives. It was shipping using ParcelForce Euro 48 meaning the shipper gets credits back for late shipping. Wiggle are contacted to let them know and their response is along the lines of priority dispatch is not shipping. You get what you pay for with free shipping.

Now a number of clarifications.

  • Wiggle don’t have any other options than free shipping to Ireland.
  • Wiggle were contacted so that Wiggle could reclaim the money owed to Wiggle. A percentage of 0 is still 0 so nothing was been asked for.
  • Wiggle did ship it really fast so the issue is with the shipper. This kind of thing has happened to quite a few people I know too and resulted in long delays.

Oh and to further inforce things, from Wiggle a tyre was order along with a Jersey and some bottles I believe. The tyre I needed for the W200 as well as the brake pad. Jersey and bottles weren’t mine. Ended up buying pads from the LBS and got a puncture on the W200. Tyre is also scrap now with the clincher section of the wheel being striped. When nothing arrived by Tuesday, I went and order a tyre and some tools from CRC.

Personally I’ll be ordering everything from CRC unless I can wait a month for delivery and Wiggle are lots cheaper. Few of the others I talk to have already made the switch and as long as CRC keep their shipping the way it is, that is the way it’ll stay.

2009 – Wicklow 200

A quick update on having completed the Wicklow 200 event.

Stats for the actually route are as follows:

Distance: 192.81KM
Time: 9:45:29 (Timer didn’t stop while I went in to checkin so is actually 9:30)
Avg Speed: 19.8
Calories: 9192
Climbing: 2228.2M

The whole day consisted of starting at 04:44 (yes am) and getting home at 18:26. Total saddle time of 11hours 50 minutes. Saddle time doesn’t include the puncture stop about 50km in. Around this time, a spoke nipple popped on my front wheel. Since I know the affects of this, I rode on. Everything was fine except for the brakes pulling somewhat, oh and a pretty bad shake in the bike on the down hills at speed.

Over all a really great day. Highly recommend it for anyone who is into cycling. It is hard work. The first 144km were fine. The next 45km were by far the hardest bit of cycling I have ever done in my entire life. However the last 5-6km where great and cycling into UCD and having people clap as I finished with some other people really was great. Amazing pick up feeling.

Also a great big thank you to the organisers. I know some people did have trouble but for me everything went smooth. Check in was fine and the stops were nicely done. I did start off at 6am so maybe I missed the main rush as each one. We did pass through Kilbride before it has actually opened.

Edit: It turns out that I managed to kill the clincer part of a section of my tyre. Explains the bumping I had on the day but means the bike it out of action until a new tyre arrives.