Dec 31

How to add elevation to gpx files

“How do I add elevation data to my gpx file?” you ask.

Just go to http://www.gpsvisualizer.com/elevation and it will do it for you. Slick and easy.

I’m posting this link because many online route-building tools, such as the route-builder on strava.com, for some reason strip out the elevation data when exporting the file as a gpx or tcx file. In the past, I used bikeroutetoaster.com to create my routes which didn’t do this, but it’s been broken for weeks now so i was forced to find this workaround.

I thought I’d put it up here because with these types of things, I tend to lose track of them over time.

Dec 12

The Immortal Lobster

I learned something Quite Interesting from the TV show QI this evening. Lobsters are, in theory, immortal. I won’t go too deeply into the scientific details. This isn’t because I’m worried that you, my dear reader, are too thick to understand them. I’m sure you are absolutely brilliant. It’s because I’m too lazy to look them up, and because I’m worried it might shake my newfound belief in 1000 year old lobsters.

Basically, lobsters have a special enzyme that repairs their DNA when their cells divide. This means their DNA doesn’t degrade over time which, apparently, is what the boffins think causes us all to get a bit wrinkly and obsessed with knitting and golf as we get older.

The programme also informed me that when lobsters shed their exoskeleton they can grow by as much as 50%. This is something they do quite often throughout their life (which, as we’ve established, can be very very long).

These two facts have led me to a stunning revelation about how the universe came to be, how it will end, and how it will eventually be reborn.

It’s simple, really. If a lobster is biologically immortal and it keeps growing forever, it’s absolutely inevitable you’ll get a lobster so huge that no other being is a threat to it. Even now, in the darkest depths of the ocean, there must be lobsters bigger than the biggest submarine. And the thing is, no one has yet figured out how to attach giant claws to a submarine.

Of course, you’re thinking, “but how would a lobster that big keep itself fed? And if it did manage to feed itself, wouldn’t it eventually get so big that it wouldn’t fit in the ocean any more?”

These are excellent questions, but we need to remind ourselves that with great age comes great wisdom. Admittedly, by all reports, lobsters don’t start out with a huge amount of wisdom, but give them time. By the time a lobster is too big to fit in even the comparatively small Atlantic Ocean, it would have to be pretty darn smart. Based on my calculations, a lobster that size would have figured out interstellar space travel long before this, never mind solving the fairly trivial problem of being able to consume any matter it came across. The latter is, fundamentally, just a question of advanced cookery. If Heston Blumenthal can get us to eat leather, surely a millennial old lobster can figure out what sauce goes best with granite or plutonium.

So now we’ve got a space travelling lobster as big as a planet that can consume any matter it comes across. I can sense more skepticism. You’re thinking, “but wouldn’t it just collapse into a black hole?”

Oh, my silly, silly reader… Maybe you’re not as bright as I thought. You have forgotten about the exoskeleton. Black holes don’t have exoskeletons. That’s why they get all introspective and collapse in on themselves. The exoskeleton keeps the lobster viable even when it becomes as big as a galaxy.

Now this is where it gets really interesting and where I put all living and dead physicists to shame. The universe quite likely began with some kind of Big Bang, and many physicists believe that it is still expanding, but the problem that really keeps them up at night is entropy. If everything has a tendency to just drift apart and break down into component quantum mechanicky dust, then how could it all get gathered back together to kick off another Big Bang.

And that’s where the giant, immortal, space-travelling lobster saves us all. The lobster eventually becomes so huge it gets to the point where it has consumed all the matter in the universe. It effectively becomes the universe. At this point, being not only the biggest thing in the universe as well as the oldest thing in the universe, it is also the wisest thing in the universe. It can see the writing on the wall. It knows that if anything is ever to exist ever again, it must sacrifice itself. Over the millennia, it has been saving thousands of tins of baked beans just for this moment. Using one of its claws (again, how perfect is nature?!?) it opens up each of the tins, slurps them down, and waits for the inevitable explosion.

And life begins anew.

Nov 20

The Shooting of Dan McGrew

This year for Children in Need I did my old schtick of getting people to sponsor me to dress like a Mountie at work. To add a bit of incentive I promised if I raised £500, I would post a video of myself reciting the epic poem, “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” by Robert W. Service.

Apologies for the quality. I left it a bit late and so only had time for one take before I had to rush out of the house to return the uniform in time.

If you like it, you can still donate at http://www.justgiving.com/Yanda-of-the-North if you are so inclined.

Aug 21

A slightly longer commute

I have taken a new position in the BBC. It’s a great job working with some brilliant people on some very cool stuff. I’m not really supposed to talk about what we’re working on, but if the BBC ever builds a gadget that you can carry in your pocket and, with one drop of a newt’s cerebral fluid, turn it into a fully functioning inter-stellar space-ship, well, I’ll be proud to take the credit for that baby.

The one small wrinkle is that the job is based in Manchester and I live on the edges of London. Some have suggested this is too far to commute by bicycle. I say this is nonsense! If Boris Johnson can commute every day to the Mayor’s building from where he lives in Cloud Cuckoo-land, I can surely cycle from Watford Junction to Salford. So to prove everyone wrong, I’m going to give it a go.

This won’t be easy. It will be an accomplishment akin to a quadriplegic ferret climbing Mount Everest without oxygen. It would be utter madness not to leverage this effort and create some goodness out of it, so I’ve joined up with a bunch of like-minded souls to turn the first exploratory commute into a charity ride. I am asking you, my dear dear friends, to stump up some cash to demonstrate your support for this grand adventure and, indeed, the very concept of commuting by bicycle. If you fail to do so, you demonstrate to all mankind that you are an Earth-hating petrol-head who is doomed to suffer eternity in the fiery hell of Jeremy Clarkson’s personal library.

As a bonus, the funds you donate will go to the BBC’s charity Children in Need which helps disadvantaged children across the United Kingdom. Surely, that’s a better use of your money than that second gold-plated bidet you’re thinking about getting for your motor home.

Pleas go to http://www.justgiving.com/PedalForPudsey2011 and donate now. Your soul will thank you for it.

 

Jul 03

How to Fly a Virgin

I have made an important travel discovery. Whenever you travel Virgin Atlantic you should try to get an economy seat on the upper deck. I did this a few days ago when I flew from London to New York and all the Gods in Creation smiled on me like I was their favourite kitten playing with a ball of string.

Half of the upper deck is first class and half is economy. Neither section is very big. Economy consists of six rows of seats in two columns of three seats each. I’d booked an aisle seat. However I gave this up to allow two little old Jewish ladies to sit together. This meant I ended up in a middle seat. At first I felt slightly hard-done-by. I had done a good and noble thing by giving up my seat to a pair of ancient and oddly dressed women who might very well have been desperately in love and forbidden by societal norms to express that love. It would have been unthinkable for them to be separated for seven hours and robbed of that innocent-on-the-outside, burning-with-passion-on-the-inside elbow sex that two consenting adults can enjoy when seated in adjoining airline seats.

In return, I was stuck with neither a window nor easy access to the toilet. The injustice did, briefly, rankle.

The rankling stopped as soon as I my seatmates joined me — two lovely women also travelling alone and desperate to be charmed by an ex-lumberjack with a keen understanding of HTML5 APIs. Bring on the elbow sex!

One was athletic and gluten-free, and the other talkative and pregnant. Athletic-and-gluten-free was having some kind of crisis on the phone when I sat down. We didn’t say anything to each other the entire flight. Unless you count the time she shrieked and buried her head in my shoulder during a stressful moment in the horror film she was watching. This happened much later in the story though. She tried to laugh it off afterwards, but it was plain to me that this behaviour hinted at a desperate need to be loved and revealed her astute appraisal of me as a strong alpha-male protector type.

I got on much better with Talkative-and-pregnant. In front of the economy section, between it and first class, there is enough space for a small choir to perform Carmina Burana. Virgin Atlantic doesn’t provide a choir for the economy passengers, so Talkative-and-pregnant and I put the space to good use by milling around up there while we waited for Althetic-and-gluten-free to perform her ablutions in the toilet. We chatted and spied on the folks in first class. There was a guy seated in first class talking to another guy who I thought looked a lot like Gary Barlow. Talkative-and-pregnant laughed when I mentioned this to her and intimated I was a crazy person.

“Gary Barlow is much better looking than that guy,” she said. “And his face is squarer and his eyes are brighter.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “His face looks pretty square to me. And the only reason his eyes don’t look as bright as you remember is because they don’t have a spotlight shining in them right now. Shout ‘Gary’ at him and then flash him with your camera and his eyes will sparkle like diamonds in a Mr. Clean commercial.”

“Whether he’s Gary Barlow or not, there is no way I’m going to flash him.”

“I meant with the flash on your camera.”

A while later, Looks-like-Gary-Barlow and his friend walked past us. For a moment I wondered where they were going. I was pretty sure they had their own toilets in first class. But then I remembered we’d passed a bar at the bottom of the stairs, an actual live sit-on-a-stool bar!

I probably would have stayed in my seat and not ventured down to check it out if Talkative-and-pregnant hadn’t picked that moment to get up and go to the toilet. But she did, so I got up as well. As I reached the bottom of the stairs, one of the hostesses asked if I would like a drink at the bar. I said, “Oh yes! Please!” and took a seat next to Looks-like-Gary-Barlow and his friend.

“What would you like?” the hostess asked.

“A whiskey, please.”

“Any preference? The Aberfeldy seems to be quite popular today,” she said, indicating a 12 year old single malt.

“That will do nicely,” I said.

She then proceeded to glug about half a pint of whiskey into my glass. I should stress that up to this point I was still unsure of whether, as an economy passenger, I was really supposed to be there. This was a pretty solid hint that I wasn’t. And, in fact, a short while later, a hostess from my section came by and casually informed me of this fact. She was very gracious about it though and said I was welcome to finish my drink before going back to my seat.

Fortunately, as I said, it was a huge drink, which meant I managed to spend about an hour at the bar chatting with the bartender hostess and Looks-like-Gary-Barlow and his friend. Looks-like-Gary-Barlow turned out not to be a pop star at all, but a banker. I forgave him this as he offered me an olive.

Later, back at my seat, myself and my seat companions all sat watching different films. Talkative-and-pregnant was watching Tron: Legacy. I was watching a rom-com. Athletic-and-gluten-free was watching a horror film. I found it difficult to concentrate on my film, so pleased was I by how the flight had turned out. I’d always wanted to sit a bar on an intercontinental flight and have a drink. And it had finally happened. And, in a way, I had almost befriended a major pop star as well! All thanks to the unspoken lust between two frustrated Jewish matrons.

Suddenly, Athletic-and-gluten-free shrieked out loud, grabbed my arm, and buried her face in my shoulder. It was at that moment I realised that I was God’s own kitten.

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