New Kitten!!

I posted on my Facebook thingy (no, I’m not really that old) about ‘applying’ to re-home a kitten, well we got approved after a visit to the neighborhood by the charity, visited the foster home and the next day this week formerly feral kitten was delivered to us:

Her name is Yogi (the daughter of the foster home lady named her)

and she’s a lovely little energetic ball of fuzz

I could only get pictures of when she was sleeping (mostly because I was too busy playing with her)

She’s integrated with people really well, the foster/charity lady did a really good job, and she loves to lie between us as we watch TV or read or whatever.

I want to train her to be more of a lap cat, but right now she’ll lay in my lap for a while, then wake up and move back to her pillow

We might think about taking in one of her sisters (might be half-sisters) but they have a little way to go yet, they are still very shy and wary around people. But so cute!

She seems to be adapting really well, although after 4 days she still hasn’t been in the kitchen She can play football (with ping pong balls) really well, though! They definitely tire her out, plus anything on a bungee string with feathers.

(trying out the artsy option on my phone camera)

Yogi was re-homed through Leeds Cat Rescue, they were on a nationwide directory of cats that need homes, then we clicked through and there were pictures of the available cats and kittens. The shots are paid for, she’s been ‘chipped and the spaying is already arranged. The feral mother was trapped (along with all the kittens), spayed, then released – she’ll never be anyone’s cat but the kittens are making their way to new homes, instead of under the corner shop where they lived.

Getting all the ‘cat tat’ was half the fun (and I forgot to include the carrier and some toys in this pic!)

Had a run on Saturday, then mountain biking last night

I started up mountain biking last night after a winter layover (my poor bike…the last time it was ridden was when I put it away before November sometime, and I didn’t even wash it!). Notice how it was cold and wet? Yeah…that was how it was on the trail – then toss in ankle-deep mud in inky blackness and it was VERY difficult to stay upright most of the time.

Surprisingly my legs aren’t as tired as they were on Sunday (I ran a few miles Saturday morning) so I guess I’m sorta used to it already, which is cool.

I’m going to use the biking as training for the marathon, so I’m counting it as my Monday run, then I’ll run Wednesday mornings or Thursday nights (I’m busy most Wednesday nights) and then run again on Saturdays.

Going to do a marathon

Yeah. A freakin’ marathon.

This is part of my Day Zero Project, which for me officially started last Thursday, January 13th.

I posted about this a couple of posts back, then didn’t make time to make a post on the ‘official’ start date, which is 1001 days before my 40th birthday. By then, I plan to have completed 101 goals that will hopefully have made me more confident, fun, outgoing, blah blah blah – basically it’s just a list of things I want to do, and 2.7 or so years is a reasonable enough time to do this kind of thing. So there it is.

The marathon is just one thing on the list. I should probably get going with some of the things that are, like, ‘do this thing for a week’ or whatever. I’d hoped to have finished The Count of Monte Cristo (the book, I’ve seen the movie a few times) so I could start ‘fresh’ with the 101 books I want to read in the next 994 days, but since I was less than halfway through it a week ago I think I can count that as one of the books I’ve read during this time. Next I’ll read some other, shorter, faster books to get on track because there’s still a way to go just on the book-reading list.

One of the things I was conscious of when making this list of 101 things to do is to not list too many things that will cost a lot of money. I’d love to have a track day in a Porsche, for example, but that would cost a few hundred quid, so I left things like that off. Same thing with jet boating across the Atlantic or learning to fly a real helicopter. Some things will cost money, like hiking across England on the Coast to Coast trail – that’s 2 weeks of walking and at least £600 in total just for food and B&B accomodation, but most of the things are simple and free. The marathon entry fees will be £37 and maybe the cost of a new pair of running shoes (£70-90), and that’s it – I’ve got running shorts, shirts and socks, plus GPS apps and music on my phone.

So here’s hoping I finish! I’ve got a £5 bet riding on this.

Happy New Year

Hi!…random blog-reader or person I know!

I’m a bit lax about posting stuff on my blog, since I’ll usually share stuff on Twitter and let those updates feed over to my Facebook status updates. I usually save the bigger topics and things for the blog, but because it takes more time to update I’m usually pretty lazy about it.

Anyway, I’m going to try to update at least once a week this year and see how that goes. Short or long updates, whatever, but I just want to put something here, so whether it’s links to some of my photos or other projects, or just commenting about stupid shit I’ve been noticing lately, it’ll go here at some point.

So. What’s been happening with me.

I suppose the main thing I’ve been wanting to tout on here is the podcast I do with a friend at work. It’s called Digital Porridge and we’ve just done our 11th episode and it’s gone up today.

If you’re not familiar with podcasts, basically they’re like radio shows that you can download and listen to on your phone, MP3 player, computer, etc. Our is just over half an hour long and we try to do one each week. Mostly it’s myself and my friend Mat telling stories, comparing cultures (he’s British) and goofing off, and hopefully entertaining whoever listens.

The link to the main web page/blog is here, and we’re even officially on iTunes, and if you have an RSS reader like Google Reader you can use this RSS link to subscribe.

We’ve been getting some nice feedback, even from people who I don’t know personally – I think the next step is to really push our listeners to get their friends to subscribe. We have nearly 30 subscribers via Feedburner RSS links, and who knows how many on iTunes because they don’t provide any info at all, but I’d say it’s less than 15-20. Because we’re pretty small fry in the podcast universe I’ve been trying to get all of the people I know with iTunes to subscribe, even if they don’t listen, and give us a rating (maybe listen to a show or two if you feel weird about rating us without giving us a try). This requires almost no effort on anyone’s part to subscribe, and a good rating gives us a nice bump and with enough good ratings we might get featured on a blog or even on iTunes. So please subscribe to us in iTunes!

Day Zero Project

So here is something I thought would be cool to take part in: the Day Zero Project.

The idea is to skip short-term, easily done things or New Year’s resolutions and complete 101 goals in 1001 days. That’s roughly 10 days to complete every task, whether it’s climbing a mountain or sharpening all the knives in your kitchen.

So here’s the gist

The Challenge: Complete 101 preset tasks in a period of 1001 days.

The Criteria: Tasks must be specific (ie. no ambiguity in the wording) with a result that is either measurable or clearly defined. Tasks must also be realistic and stretching (ie. represent some amount of work on your part).

Why 1001 Days? Many people have created lists in the past – frequently simple challenges such as New Year’s resolutions or a ‘Bucket List’. The key to beating procrastination is to set a deadline that is realistic. 1001 Days (about 2.75 years) is a better period of time than a year, because it allows you several seasons to complete the tasks, which is better for organising and timing some tasks such as overseas trips, study semesters, or outdoor activities.

The official web site for the Day Zero Project isn’t working as I type this, but their Tumbler blog is working OK and has a lot of great ideas to start with.

I added a new page to my website that will compile all the goals I have added, so they’re easier to find than spread out on a bunch of blog posts.

McLaren Technology Centre trip report

One of the ‘perks’ of my job is we’ll occasionally get to go out of the office for a filming shoot, and sometimes this involves actual television shows (like The Gadget Show where one of the cars we sell set a Guinness World Record, or a Fifth Gear show where one of our cars raced a supercharged Mini Cooper on a karting track). Last week we got a call to ask if we wanted to go to the McLaren Technology Centre to supply cars and technical know-how for a race with Lewis Hamilton, 2008 Formula 1 World Champion and McLaren-Mercedes F1 driver.

The production company that called up is the one that does the Vodafone viral videos like Lewis and Jenson building an F1 car, visiting Senna’s MP4-4 the McLaren car warehouse, racing on a slot car version of Silverstone and other videos. They’re clearly an advert but they’re not super cheesy – the guys are shown being themselves for the most part, I think.

What follows is a longer version of what I posted on the SomethingAwful.com forums for the other Formula 1 fans on there. I’ve added a couple of links and cleaned up what I type out on my phone for the initial post about my visit. So here’s the full trip report!

Basically, it’s badass.

You can’t even approach the building without going past security and giving a contact name, who you’re seeing, car plate number, etc. The security guys give you a map with instructions on the back that vary depending on the company you’re visiting – every department in a normal company (manufacturing, marketing, etc.) is a separate company and has their own reception desk.

We were filming at the end of the ‘boulevard’ where all of the heritage (ex-Senna, Prost, etc. cars are). We didn’t get time to look at them until after we were done filming. More on that later.

We got there a little after 3 and started setting up the track with the film crew. Lewis was expected at about 5:30 and we were told we’d have 20 minutes and no more with him. Most of the time before Lewis arrived was taken up driving the cars around while the camera guys got various shots, including on-board and cutaway shots.

We set up the track using ex-demo tires, car axles, wheel guns, fitted seats (made into a tunnel) and some car aero parts. One of the seats had a ‘JB’ on the back of it, so it was definitely Jenson Button’s. Both seats had the buckles and straps attached. The car aero parts were the small fins that sit vertically next to the sidepods, and we also had a couple of the radiator ‘bungs’ that stop up the air intakes at the front of the sidepods. The tires were the old grooved style (used recently up to 2008) fitted on the Enkei racing wheels, and were surprisingly light – I chuckled at the ‘Not For Road Use’ notification on the sidewalls.

In between filming setups we were able to look around a little, but we had to stay close.

Facing the boulevard and all the entrance corridors are workshops and stations where the gearboxes are built, carbon weave is laid (they’ve already started on next year’s car), parts are designed, CNC machines are working, etc. The next floor up (2nd floor if you’re American, 1st floor if you’re not) is where the offices for marketing, strategy, etc., are – you can’t look into those if you’re on tour. There were tour grips going around the whole time, you could see guys in dark blazers leading groups of about 5-7 through the engineering sections, and in the heritage car bay nearest us was an ex-Prost F1 car that belongs to one of the shareholders. It was being rebuilt so it would stay in good condition, but I was told that it’s probably not run very much by the owner. The car bays are the same ones where Lewis and Jenson did their other videos, all the tool drawers, floors, worktops and walls are a bright white in the engineering sections.

I didn’t actually race Lewis like we originally thought (I even put stuff in my hair and shaved!), that was going to be his strategist, one of the guys who stays behind in the factory and communicates with the race engineer st the track. I had to give him a crash course in driving an rc car, and if he was sucking too bad in the race I was going to be called in. When Lewis came out we had 20 minutes and that was it, so the cameras were rolling the whole time and we had to get right to racing, after showing him how the track was laid out. He’s used to more organized racing and the random look of the tires and parts made it hard to figure out at first. Anyway, Lewis was way faster than Carl the strategist but I wasn’t called in to replace Carl. Lewis easily won but the had a bit of banter going, the same thing you’d heat if two guys were paying a video game side by side, and then a bit of an interview with Lewis and Carl, then Lewis was pulled away for a sit down interview so I chatted with Carl. The engineers have a karting league, do bowling, etc. (i was asking if they ever have team bonding things with the drivers), and he said out can get a bit frantic in the strategy room at the factory during a race, and taking out refueling made the job much more think on your feet than before. He seemed to have a mathematical background instead of engineering, so maybe that gives an idea of the kind of job they have.

After that Lewis was led to the marketing department for a couple of meetings, and we were given a tour of the ground floor while we waited for him to come out – I was trying to get a couple of things signed.

Starting at one end of the building, the first thing on the tour is the wind tunnel, or rather a window where you can look at a big white metal box. It provides all the heating for the building – there no heating system at all in the centre. Massive airshafts take in air and the generators take in water from the lake and hot water comes out over a cascade of bricks to cool it before it’s drawn in again at the opposite side of the lake. Around the corner from the one window where you can see the wind tunnel are ex-Mika Hakkinen cars lined up against a window.

Next were the huge trophy cases with race-winning trophies from all the F1 races they’ve done, including a replica of Lewis’s WDC trophy, loss of other trophies including this year’s winning constructor and the LeMans trophy for the F1GTR, the super intricate painted pottery trophies from Hungary, and many more. I told the guy giving us the tour ‘I know they’re your sponsor but the Santander trophies don’t look as…intricate as some of these other ones’

Then we were shown all the ‘heritage’ cars on what they call ‘the boulevard’, which faces the lake. Cars driven by Bruce McLaren, Senna, Prost and others were all there, including Lewis’s 2008 car right near the VIP entrance. The Honda cars can’t be started without engineers coming over from Japan, so they aren’t often run, and apparently the Senna car that Lewis drove on Top Gear had to be almost completely rebuilt, even though he only drove it for a few laps around Silverstone, he drove it that hard. (See the first part of the Top Gear Ayrton Senna tribute here, it’s fantastic – the image is flipped because of copyright issues.)

Across from the VIP entrance there is a turntable display of the new McLaren road car, stripped down to the chassis and carbon tub (the same car that was at Goodwood), and we were told that that area used to be a showroom for the SLR car where customers could special order all the details.

Other bits:

  • All of the car bays had grey countertops, white tool drawers, white walls and white floors, just like in this video. The spiral staircase that we incorporated as part of the RC car track can be seen in that video at the 13 second mark. A huge elevator with sliding glass doors takes the cars from ground level down to the car bays.
  • You can also see in the video the McLaren restaurant, where the workers can eat – everyone is given an ID card they can top up with money from the ATM in the building (yes, there’s a cash machine in McLaren) and they can use the card to get food at the employee restaurant.
  • The carbon parts build/fabrication room had two copies of the chassis for next year’s car. One guy was putting the finishing touches on one that had 3 laser measurement machines angled over it on sliding tracks. The green lasers were constantly measuring everything and he was checking the measurements as he went along on a screen nearby.
  • The fabrication people had really cool-looking shirts on, all black with bright red accents around the shoulders. You can see the shirt on the big guy at the right at 1:44 of this video. I asked why those shirts weren’t sold to fans and didn’t really get a good answer, just that Hugo Boss (one of the sponsors) likes to have everyone wearing Boss gear when the tour groups go by.
  • Most of the office guys work there wore clothes in standard British office standards: almost pointy-toed or straight-toe shoes (I hate these shoes!), black trousers/slacks and a longsleeve dress shirt, no tie. I’m not sure if they have to wear ties every other day of the week or not, maybe it was ‘no-tie Friday’.
  • Ron runs a super-tight ship – everything was utterly spotless and basically perfect (whether you like the taste or style of the building is up to you, but everything was clean). I imagine it’s similar at the other F1 factories, but Ron is famous as a perfectionist. Employees aren’t allowed to bring tea or coffee to their desks, and have to use alternate routes to get from one place to the next when VVIPs are in the building. I still left more than a few burnouts on the floor though! We were given a strict area where we could run the cars and we had a senior marketing guy watching over us the whole time. When Lewis came up, about 1.5 minutes of his 20 minutes was spent in discussion with a guy on an overhead walkway/bridge about whether his cap was the right cap to be wearing.
  • Lewis  wasn’t super friendly with us (no hugs, no time for a handshake for everyone, he didn’t give me his watch), but he was professional and able to smile and honestly laugh and have a little fun while he was driving. When the cameraman was repeatedly in his way and blocking his view of the track, he just said, ‘Cameraman, I really can’t see, can you stand back further,’ etc. I did ask for a couple of things to be signed, the F1 LM bodyshell I mentioned earlier and my rocket red ‘victory’ shirt, and the senior guy popped his head into a marketing meeting Lewis was in after the shoot, and we waited, and he went into another marketing meeting, so we left and I left the stuff behind to get signed, and McLaren will send it to me if/when he’s able to sign it.
  • The old cars on the boulevard have the tires filled with foam so they don’t have to keep pumping them with air.
  • Had a super up-close look at Lewis’s 2008 WDC car, that thing is the pinnacle of aero development and it’s just crazy finding fins and strakes and whirly aero bits where you simply wouldn’t expect to find them unless you’re Adrian Newey.
  • Dotted around the offices and the flying walkways are glass sculptures from a local artist, Ron took a fancy to them and the artist needed somewhere to store them, so he was told that if he insured them they could be stored at McLaren.
  • Cool cars spotted (every car/racing fan has their eye out in parking lots/car parks for any cool cars): The McLaren road car drove past us in the loading area, a fleet of of silver Mercedes, a matte black Mercedes wagon (think the V12 F1 medical car), and that was all I could spot in the loading area.

That’s it, we should see the finished video in 3-4 weeks.

We weren’t allowed to take pictures or video at all, but some journalists and websites have been:

 

Fat loss check-in

I’ve been at just under 90kg (~197 lbs) for a few days now. Even though my SIX PACK ABS aren’t popping through yet (ha!) I don’t *feel* any lighter, but I guess I’ve been doing something right, because even though I have one or two (or three) cheat meals nearly every weekend I’m maintaining my weight, which is fantastic. A couple of years ago I thought I’d never break through the 210 lb mark, and after I started Atkins I was quickly down to 205, then eventually 200.

My goal for this year was to lose 30 lbs and I’m halfway there. At the rate I’m going I probably won’t lose all 30 lbs, realistically, but if I can lose another 5 or 10 lbs in the next few months I’ll be very, very happy. I’ve taken up mountain biking again this summer and hopefully I can keep up cycling in the evenings when I get home, or if I can’t be bothered do indoor exercises with the kettlebells and stuff I have already.

I can do it, I know I can, it’ll just take a bit more work and time.

A walk through the Netherlands (well, a couple of cities)

I just came back from a weekend in the Netherlands (not biking around, I took the train and walked mostly), and I got a bunch of bike-related pictures that may be especially relevant for bike commuters:

These are the only bike pictures that weren’t ruined by a faulty CMOS sensor, but the rest of the photos are here: http://picasaweb.google.co.uk/frank…rkTripToHolland

The Dutch guys I hung around with told me that the laws in Holland are such that if a car hits a bike rider, the driver is at fault 90% of the time. Harsh (this applies even if the cyclist has no lights, is riding drunk, in the middle of the street, etc.), but it makes the drivers very careful around cyclists. And I saw a lot of riding that would seem really risky (not looking both ways before merging, etc.).

Possibly the coolest thing I saw was a little kid sitting on the back of his mom’s bike, having an in-depth conversation with his slightly older brother, who was riding his own small BMX-style bike. That, and lots of very young kids sitting in seats behind the handlebar and a windscreen.

The bikes are mostly single-speed I guess, so you could see folks really pushing to get over the crest of a bridge or hill. I walked a few miles from the hotel to the train station before I left and walked past at least 3 or 4 bikes that were totally unlocked, anyone could have taken them – then I hit the suburbs and there were just dozens of bikes at bike racks on every corner, and half of them were unlocked. One or two that were locked at each rack had some sort of sticker tag on them, I’m assuming it was something like ‘this bike has been here for years, remove it or we’ll take it away’.

The bikes that I saw locked up were mostly leaned against a house or against a lamp post, even just on their kickstand, and a simple chain went through the front wheel and frame. I guess there are SO MANY bikes they figure if someone wanted to go through the trouble to pick up your locked bike and carry it off, it’s just easier to find a bike that isn’t locked and actually ride off on it. Granted, all the unlocked bikes and the bikes in the public racks that I saw were rusted either slightly or totally (I saw one guy riding a bike with just a light housing on the front – no lens or bulb at all) – all the ‘good’ bikes the freds rode are kept inside, I guess.

I really want to do a summer bike tour through there though – Holland, Belgium, etc. It’s just so relaxed, nearly everyone speaks English, and they’re all so nice.

I did see several freds there, some in full TdF style gear, but the vast majority were on these relaxed Dutch style bikes.

Tiger Woods divorces his wife…so what?

I’m glad I don’t watch sports news, because I really don’t care about the private life of pretty much any sports person or politician or celebrity. I know people are interested in things like this, but I’ve never seen the point. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear about any blowback about this sort of thing until ‘nice guy Tiger’ was the subject of all this media scrutiny and when it was Kobe or other people there was no one saying ‘OK, enough’s enough’.

I guess when it’s idiots like the Jersey Shore or The Hills cast that want to have the media crawling all over them because that’s the only way they can get publicity, the media and the public get confused and think that all people in the public eye want that level of media coverage.

I understand that some people just seem to want to see popular people in trouble, but then you have daytime TV and afternoon ‘entertainment news’ shows and supermarket magazines that do nothing but repeat the same stories as each other, and bored housewives and tie-wearing sports fan share a common ground by getting engrossed in someone else’s misfortune.

Is it really as simple as that?