Thursday, December 07, 2006

Faith restored....

After the post about Howies the other day I have been doing some thinking about the big business ethic and how it might change the idealism that gives Howies its charm. I was a little worried about them...but after reading the piece below on their blog my faith has been restored. David definitely has his head screwed on...

for the last 5 years at least, i have had this idea and as yet have not made it happen.

and ideas only work if you make them happen. (and even then, some don't work)

the idea is that everyone at howies has ideas. and the guy packing our parcels downstairs might have an idea for a product that will become the product that will come to define us and what we do.

so as a company, we need to allow those ideas to come to the surface.

we have to make more mistakes. we have to understand failure is going to happen.

we can learn from failure. but 'not doing' will teach us nothing and give us nothing in return.

in the spring, we will turn a room that currently stores boxes and our junk into a creative room.

and then 1 day a month each person will have an ideas day. that person will team up with someone else from the company and think. drink tea. stare out of the window (if we had one) and doodle. go to shops, go to museums, read books, see films. and apply some of what they learn to what we do here at howies. We want to change things. And it is crazy, mad, dumb, odd, wonky thinking that will give us Ideas that will change things.

it is an experiment. it might not work. but that is the thing with ideas, you just gotta try stuff.

there will be people here who will say ' I don't have ideas' and in my experience the best ideas usually come from them.

i have no idea if it will work or how it will work.

but if you jump off the cliff, you just have to make your wings on the way down

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Narrowing down the options...

Over the weekend I had some time to do some more research into the Digital SLR question. After much trawling on the internet and multiple visits to camera shops (some more useful than others) I seem to have narrowed down the options to two.

If money was no object I would definitely add a third to the list, the Leica M8 Rangefinder. It is a stunning bit of kit, but extremely expensive. However, when the Canon S70 is up for replacement I will think very hard about the Leica DLux 3. It is an awesome little camera...

So, as usual the debate quickly centred around Canon vs. Nikon. This perennial debate feels a bit like the PC vs. Mac debate...people become very brand loyal and never switch. Given that I will need to replace the lenses that I have with my 35mm SLR to account for the difference in focal length all the options were back on the table. However, the debate rapidly narrowed down. Much of the research on the net pointed towards Nikon as the leader in the battle.

Effectively one can compare the Nikon D80 and the Canon 400D and they are much of a muchness. However, for me the canon felt all wrong in the hand, the ergonomics seem better suited to a small hand and would become irritating to the index finger. And as such, one of the contenders became the D80.

At the next stage up, the comparison is a bit more difficult. In the Nikon range the next step up is the D200. However, if one compares it to the Canon 30D the Nikon wins hands down. One really need to compare it to the 5D. However, although the 5D is a great camera it comes in at almost twice the price (and the Nikon isn't exactly cheap). So, we have the second contender.

So the final pair are the D80 and the D200. There is a fair gulf between the two in style and substance but unfortunately in price as well. The D80 is more user friendly and around two thirds of the price...including a basic lense. However it is made from a poly carbonate body rather than a magnesium body (not so great when travelling) and the holy trinity of manual controls are harder to manage (White Balance, Quality and ISO). I think that the D200 will be the one but need to reflect on the pros and cons a little more before parting with the cash...

And then there is the lense question...

Monday, December 04, 2006

Howies are growing

I was interested to see on the Howies blog that the owners have finally decided to partner with Timberland to help manage the next phase of their growth. The blog entry talks a lot about their selection criteria for a partner and how strong their ethical credentials are.

I guess this was inevitable at some stage, but it does feel a little sad that they are having to team up with a large multinational, given all the things that they have said so publicly about large corporations. I wish them the best of luck going forwar but I suspect that they may get run through the corporate mill. I'll certainly be digging into Timberland in a bit more detail now...

Shame they couldn't have teamed up with Patagonia...I guess they may have been a better fit in the long term.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

29er envy...

I am definitely starting to feel bit of 29er envy. Two things have spiked my envy recently. The first and most recent was seeing Cass's On-one Inbred in action. Cass had switched out his new carbon On-one fork and put the Reba back in, however, it was eating up the trail at Cwm Carn.
The second was a post on the Singletrack website that showed a picture of the Jeff Jones titanium 29er. As they say in the article, this bike will polarise opinion (the marmite of the cycling world). If you ask me he is the kind of maverick that framebuilding needs...what I'd do to get a titanium 29er from the crazy man of woods!
Photos courtesy of Singletrack and Cass Gilbert

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Lynskeys are back in business...

I saw a post on the Singletrack website saying that the Lynskey family (the founding family behind Litespeed) are back in action as a frame building unit under their own name. The frames are definitely in the high end of the market (as you'd expect given their heritage) and they are sticking to titanium (although it is suggested that they will be exploring other materials - 953?). Their pricing structure is interesting but what makes them stick out from the rest (other than their incredible pedigree at Litespeed) are the paint jobs. They seem to have some sort of deal with the high end motor cycle spray shops (think Orange County Choppers) and are producing a phenomenal catelogue of designs.

One for the future maybe...I'm sure I can find a little space somewhere...

Camera armor (I's an American product)

Now this may seem a little premature as I don't have a digital SLR, but, I came across what looks like a very cool product for cycle touring, mountain biking or general adventurous travel photography. Bikemagic had a short intro to this product that protects Digital SLRs from general mishaps. Given how much is invested in this type of kit (I now know because I have been thinking about making the investment) it seems like a relatively small investment to help keep your equipment working.

The product currently only covers a couple of Nikon and Canon products but it looks like they are going to expand the range. All I need to do now is make a decision...

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Visit to the Little Theatre

Sarah and I were hoping to go and see Casino Royale this afternoon but couldn't get tickets. Nothing else really took our fancy at the Odeon so we decided to look around and remembered that we hadn't been to the Little Theatre for a while. in fact the last movie were saw there was Touching the Void.

As it happened they were showing Little Children with Kate Winslet. Now, on the face of it, that sounds like a very dull kids movie (something like Ann of Green Gables); but it couldn't be more different. The movie isn't the easiest watching (no Casino Royale), you need to engage the brain a bit. But the way the narrative develops is great and I certainly feel better for watching it. The movies message is overwhelmingly positive but , when watching it and afterwards I felt very uneasy. I guess the goal of good art is to make you emote...if that is the case then I guess this must be a good movie.

Casino Royale will have to wait until Friday...

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Where haven't I been yet?

I saw this tool on Alastair Humphrey's website...very cool site and very cool tool. It just goes to show how much of the world there is still to see...

Where next?

create your own visited country map

Friday, November 10, 2006

Couteaux Ceccaldi...

I was tidying away some things on the side in the spare room this morning and came across some things that we picked up whilst cycle touring in Corsica in the summer. Every time we go on tour we try and pick up a few things that have been created by local artisans to help remind us of our travels.

Given Corsica's traditions of hunting and epicerie one of the obvious momentos would be a small berger's knife. These knives can be picked up in just about any tourist knick-knack emporium, but those that are available are mass produced in Asia. However, there are a still a few artisan coutelliers that make a living
by hand forging and carving these knives.

One of the best is the Ceccaldi clan. The knives they make are true works of art and can run into thousands of euros. The Genoan knifemaking legacy still runs through the lifeblood of the Ceccaldi family and they are keeping t
he art alive and make beatiful works art.I remember reading once that the art of the samurai swordmakers was in the folding of the steel and carbon in the blade. This folding process results in a patina on the blade that is reminiscent of a violent seascape...this is exactly what I see in the work of the Ceccaldi's. I am sure that this is not the last Ceccaldi I will own...

New winter catalogue from Howies

I saw an email in account this afternoon from Howies announcing their Winter collection...attached to the email was this beautiful picture...thanks Howies!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Are we any different?

Having missed my flight back home this afternoon I ended up having longer than I had imagined to catch up on my reading in the BA lounge. As usual they had copies of the New Statesman at hand. The one article that stood out was an editorial piece by Kira Cochrane. The piece compares comments made by Sheikh Taj el-Din al-Hilali about rape to attitudes in the UK. A couple of terrible statistics and comments stood out:

Firstly, it stated the comments of the Sheik: "If I came across a rape crime - kidnap and violation of honour - I would discipline the man and order that the women be arrested and jailed for life". He continued with an even more provocative statement that: "If you take uncovered meat and put it on the street...and the cat eats it, is it the fault of the cat of the uncovered meat? The uncovered meat is the problem".

The second thing to stick in the mind were the statistics about rape in the UK. It is estimated that there were 50,000 rapes a year in the UK in 2003, against 11,867 reported cases, resulting in just 629 convictions. Worst of all, when these cases were contested, the womans' testimony was only believed 3-4% of the time. Shameful.

Ms. Cochrane finished her article: "The way a culture deals with rape is one of the best possible indications of how highly it treats its women. As long as British attitudes remain so viciously pre-historic, we need to fight them all the way".

Food for thought...

it quoted a set of statistics about rape cases in the UK

Universalists or Specialists?

I was reflecting on a comment made in the discussion on the Poincaré Conjecture in the In Our Time podcast. To paraphrase, the panel member said that Poincaré was the last in a long line of Universalist mathematicians before the trend towards specialisation. Poincaré's problem solving method relied on his having a multi-disciplinary aproach to mathematics as it allowed him to apply seemingly disconnected methods to problems, thereby finding the key to unlock the problem. I believe that the same was true in the application of topological theory to Fermat's Last Theorum.

The trend to specialisation has continued on it's inexorable course ever since, as scientific endeavour demands ever increasing focus. It seems that this sets science on an evolutionary course of incremental improvements when much of the evidence suggests that the great steps forward or 'paradigm shifts' in Kuhnian terms ocur when there is a discontinuity in the evolutionary process caused by some form of externality.

I guess the point of this 'random ride' is: "Should we be actively encouraging a more multi-disciplinary approach to scientific method, by encouraging researchers and graduates to explore other disciplines, thereby harvesting a fresh crop of ideas to be stored in the sub-conscious".

Intellectual cross-training if you will?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The new iMac

I mentioned in the earlier post that the Giles family have recently purchased an iMac. We are not completely new to the world, hqving owned an iBook in the past. I remember really liking the OSX interface on the iBook but it was a fairly new innovation at the time.

As usual the iMac purchase was somewhat random. Having ventured into the new Mac reseller in Walcot Street to buy a new iPod Nano we were very taken by the 20 and 24 inch iMacs just inside the door. Through idle curiosity we were given a demo by one of the staff and were reminded of how much more user friendly the interface is. Given the we use the home desktop mostly for Sarah's lesson planning, sorting out photos and posting blogs we were much taken by the prospect of using iPhoto and iWeb to start blogging. We managed to exit the shop with just a Nano...

However, after a trip to Cass and Cara's new house we saw there iMac in action and the decision was made. The next weekend we made the purchase. We have only been using the iMac for a week or two but first impressions are great. I am toying with the idea of switching over to an mac based blog rather than using blogger but I suspect I will keep them both going dealing with different topics. I'm sure that over the next few weeks I'll have more to say on how the Apple experience develops...but first im pressions are great

Back in the land of the living...

Sorry for the hiatus in posts but a combination of work and health (or rather - lack off health) have conspired to keep me quiet. After a little encouragement from Cass I will endeavour to get back on the horse.

One of the problems with being busy at work is that you have very little time to do extra-curricular activities. Aside from a fantastic ride with Cass and Cara and a great weekend with Fin and Vanessa things have been focused on work and recovery. My usual spring of cultural stimuli has begun to dry up and I am only now in the process of drilling a well to find a more sustainable source. The purchase of a new iMac has spurred me on to search high and low for interesting catalysts for my musings and I have recently stumbled upon Podcasts. Now, I know that I am late to the game but it has definitely opened up a new front in the battle for stimuli. I will post later on the iMac and how it is changing life in the Giles household, but in the meantime I have some podcasts to catch.

The current crop of podcasts that I have dowloaded (and listen to whilst on the commute to Brussels include: In our time (explorations of a diverse set of topics from The Diet of Worms - which has nothing to do with worms but was an eclesiastical seminar of sorts with Martin Luther, to the mathematics of Poincaré); From our Correspondant (mini-documentary pieces from foreign correspondants); Start the Week - a discussion of books, exhibitions and TV/film with Andrew Marr; Mark Kermode's Radio 5 film review; and, Front Row (a weekly review of books, films, TV and exhibitions).

I am hoping that this will provide a little diversity to my mix of stimuli and trigger some interesting ramblings. On the basis of the Poincaré programme this should be the case. Aside from all the discussions on multi-dimensional topology (most of which washe dover me like a silent creeping mist) there was an interesting insight into his problem solving approach. His view centred around the need to shift the mode of problem solving from the conscious to the sub-conscious. His approach was to exhaust the supply of available inputs and then, when stumped, abandon the problem and move on. He felt that by doing so he could engage his sub-conscious on the problem and solve it by waiting for an unconnected issue to come along that although, on the face of it may not be connected, actually turns out to be the catalyst or key to the issue.

With Poincaré's posthumus advice...I will abandon my thoughts on the issue and listen to the next's to a renaissance of the random ride...

Friday, September 08, 2006

JG Ballard & Ziauddn Sardar articles...

Two articles in this weeks new Statesman really piqued my interest. The first is the diary article written by JG Ballard. The article delivers two fantastic observations: The first, that suicide bombing is in itself an admission of defeat (no reports of Hizbollah resorting to suicide bombing because they knew they were winning); the second, that Gordon Brown is 'high in intelligence and self-control, but scores zero for acting skills and emotional martyrdom' and therefore will be deemed to fail as PM.

The second article by Ziauddin Sardar looks at the evolution of the Tablighi Jamaat movement from being a peaceful religious pressure group (think Jehovah's witnesses) to being a Jihadist organisation that is said to be a recruiting ground for terror organisations. The author recounts an interesting story of evolution, however, it begs the question: what drove the transition and is there a possibility to reverse that evolution with engagement rather than reinforcing it with persecution?

Both articles worth a read though...

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Halfway home...

After a longish day in the car we are now waiting for a Gourmet meal reservation in Dijon. This is a totally impromptu affair as as it happens due the existance of a Michelin starred restaurant next to the hotel. We are really looking forward to it...that is if we are let in. I only have a pair of linen trousers, a Howies T-Shirt and a pair of lime green Crocs to wear. I look like a total disaster...just make out that I am meant to be there and they'll be none the wiser.

We had a great random journey today. After a fantastic night's stay in a great little hotel in Grignan (more on that in a later post) and a little light souvenier shopping we took the slow road to Dijon. We had a brief look at the map and saw a national park that we had never heard of...Vercurs (or something like that). The road through the park was amazing climb to the top of a col at 1500m and then a road through an impossibly small gorge. We ended up coming through a sub-alpine landscape to Grenoble. It will definitely be worth a return trip sometime in the future.

In a later post I will provide some more info on the hotel in Grignan (Le Claire de la Plume)...I will also post on the trip to Mont Ventoux. Again, a serendipitous affair, but quite awe inspiring. I was not expecting to see the Tom Simpson memorial on this trip...but what an amazing place!

Tomorrow to Calais...via the hypermarket for Booze (Simon), Food (Simon and Sarah) and Stationary (Sarah)... Back home on Saturday...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Cycling over...

Once again, a lot to catch up on and not much time to do so...

The cycling part of the journey is now officially over and we are lording it up in the Best Western in Bastia. This morning we took the train over the central mountains from Ajaccio to Bastia via Corte. It was very strange to retrace the route up the valley to the Col de Vizzavona on the train having cycled it a couple of days before. Today the weather has been stunning and the view from the tiny train was stunning. We arrived in Bastia around noon and headed into town to pick up a few bits and pieces. I have tried to hold out on any souvenier buying until the riding is out of the the pottery that I had to have in the paniers for the monster climb to Vizzavona!

We will have a final Corsican meal in the port later before heading back to Nice on the ferry in the morning. The trip through France will be significantly more leisurely than the trip down with a stop in Grignan, Dijon and Calais.

Back in Blighty for the weekend...

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Arrived in Corte...

It's been a while since the last post due to access issues...but we have finally arrived in Corte. I have been making entries by hqnd in my journal and will update the posts when I get a little more time.

In the meantime it is good to have arrived in Corte. Last night was spent in a ski lodge at one of Corsica's few ski resorts...if you can call it that. The three or four drag lifts were probably here in the 1930s when Grandad toured the island. The lodge had been built in the 1960s and the owner (now in his 80s I'd guess) sat in the bar chatting to the local forrestry workers and drinking eau de vie.

Yesterday was a very tough day climbing to the highest motorable pass on the island from sea level. The climb was a total of 36km and the col was at 1477m. We were both pretty much beat by the time we reached the summit and decided to call it a day rather than make the 34km descent to Calacuccia. In retrospect, it was exactly the right decision...

We had a very restful afternoon in the bar of the ski lodge and a great dinner in the restaurant. It was the Chef's choice and was a purely Corsican affair...Corsican noodle soup...Brocciu and mint ravioli in a wild boar sauce...and a pear dessert. We also had the benefit of fantastic sunshine for the descent this morning through the forest...even if it was a little chilly. After Calacuccia we went down through the Scala de Santa Maria gorge. The view reminded me of India last year. At the bottom of the gorge we had a final 7.5km climb to the pass into Corte. It was incredibly hot and humid but thankfully fairly short.

We are now installed in the HR Hotel (more of a hostel really) but nice and clean. We are going to take the day off tomorrow so I may have a chance to make some updates...

Saturday, August 12, 2006

and I thought yesterday was tough!

Well...we were a bit shell shocked by yesterday's ride and thought we should have an easy day of it today. Just a short ride across the Desert des Agriates to Ile Rousse...only 47k...

It was about 20k into the ride when things started to go pear shaped. Around 5k from the Col at the top of the climb the wind picked up. By the time we got to within a couple of km of the Col the headwind was so strong we had to walk the bikes to avoid being blown down the precipitous drop. At the top we stayed for the best part of a minute before deciding to descend...hoping that the further down we got the lesser the wind. By the time we reached the coast...after a truly frightening descent...the wind was so strong that we had to push again.

In the last 10k we managed to cycle most of the route, but to give you some idea of how strong the headwind was we had to cycle downhill in fourth gear to make 10 km/h. We are now installed in a campsite in Ile Rousse and are trying to find out the forecast. Today the wind averaged 45 km/h gusting 75. I so hope we wake to a better day...

Galeria permitting...

Friday, August 11, 2006

More than we could chew?

I am writing this messsage from a public access terminal in a camp site in Saint-Florent. After a relatively painless day yesterday we thought that the short trip down the west side of the Cap Corse would be relatively painless. It looked like about 50k to Saint-Florent but that was where the trouble started. Without an accurate topographic map we miscalculated both the distance and elevation. In the end it turned out to be a bit of an epic...78k and around 1500m of climbing. The road was absolutely stunning...crossing the mountains first and then following the coast through fantastic villages perched high on the mountain sides.

Apart from two small incidents...a sugar low on my side and shoe troubless in the last few kilometres for Sarah the journey went well. On to Ile Rousse or there abouts tomorrow...will write up more when it's easier...

Monday, July 31, 2006

An engineered solution to global warming?

I read an interesting article today about some research by a German Nobel prize winning climatologist. His thesis was that it would be possible to reverse the effect of global warming by increasing the volume of sulpher in the stratosphere. The sulpher would reflect solar energy in much the same way that large pyroclastic eruptions cause sulpher to become trapped in the troposphere to similar effect. In fact they say that the eruption of Mount Pinatubo led to a 0.5 degree reduction in average global temperatures in the following year. Professor Crutzen estimate the annual cost of an engineered solution to be $12.5bn and $25bn per annum.

This thesis in itself is interesting. However, what seems more interesting to me is the moral dilemma: Are we now reaching a point where global consensus towards CO2 emissions reduction is beyond redemption and therefore a reactive solution should be encouraged? Or, by so doing, are we appeasing the industrial realpolitikers and therby ringing the death knell of multilateral emissions reduction? Can geo-engineering research co-exist with a global emissions control agenda?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Cutting it usual

Spoke today to Robin (Mather) about progress on the bike build. The logistics of the build are getting tight for our trip to Corsica. It looks like the bike will go to Argos in Bristol for spraying on Monday or Tuesday and should be ready for collection on Saturday next week. We have been busy ordering all the parts for the build and hopefully we won't be caught short next weekend. All being well, we'll be leaving for Corsica on Monday...hope there won't be too many mechanicals!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Hot weather must be creating Fawlty Towers service

Ended up having dinner on the Veranda at the Chateau de Limelette this hot still at 10pm. I think this must be driving the waiting staff to new Fawlyt Towers style service...come to think of it one of the waiters did look a little like Manuel.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Kicking-off the blog

Having reviewed a fantastic blog this evening I've decided to take the first steps of the journey. The next few days will be busy at work and planning the summer tour but I'll do my best to keep up-to-date...