Aug 27 2013

Brmm Part III

Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 11:52 pm

A couple of weeks ago I did half a day’s post-CBT bike training on a small 125cc bike. At the end they recommended seeing if I could trade in the scooter and get a geared bike of my own. I had some spare cash that I was planning on spending on an old banger of a bike after I’d passed my test so I thought I’d investigate. I went back to the dealer I got the scooter from and got a pretty good trade-in on another Chinese bike. 2 weeks after the training, last weekend, I swapped this:

On The Scooter

for this:

New Bike

Same power as the scooter but physically a lot bigger. Definitely a lot more my style as well:

On the bike

So what’s it like to ride? Getting it home was a bit of a baptism of fire because I’d arranged to have a lift back. However that didn’t happen and I had to ride back instead. Through central Leeds on a Saturday afternoon during match day. Fun. The day after I did a few circuits round some quiet streets to get a bit of practice. Gear changing was a bit fiddly and I stalled a couple of times, as well as making the engine scream when I accidentally changed down gear instead of up. On the Monday I practiced a few hill starts and on the Tuesday was my first longish ride (c. 11 miles each way) from Horsforth over to the MAG meeting at a pub in Morley, including the 70 mph Stanningley bypass. After a few more practice rides I rode over to CCL Computers on Saturday (dying hard disk to replace; that was fun). I’ve definitely still got a lot of room for improvement, especially knowing when and how to change down gears, but I’m certainly getting there. There’s an art to sorting out the gears with your left hand and foot while simultaneously dealing with the brakes and throttle with the right, which it feels like I’m getting the hang of. Even though it’s the same power and engine capacity as the scooter, having gears gives more control. It also feels good to be getting the hang of slow clutch control and knowing that you won’t stall when you pull out at lights or a junction. I’m afraid to say I’ve also bought a one piece leather bike suit that I’ve even worn in public, but no one batted an eyelid when I walked round the supermarket with it on.

For Bank Holiday Monday I was going to pop over to Seacroft Tesco to see how busy it was after the Leeds Festival, but ended up continuing over to Squires Cafe Bar via the scenic route of missing a turning and turning right instead of left. A bikers’ cafe on a sunny bank holiday was as busy as it sounds, with almost every possible type of bike there, including a couple of trikes, but only about 4 cars. I also wasn’t the only person there with L plates. I know there’s a bike subculture with things like the motorcycle clubs (MCC style rather than the outlaw MC groups like the Hells Angels or the Outlaws) and which I can see myself getting involved in. I joined the Motorcycle Action Group about a month ago because I wanted to get to know other people into bikes and I can imagine joining one of the local MCCs once I’ve got to know people a bit better.

Next steps will probably be booking another half day’s training to iron out a few things on my 125 cc bike, and then preparing for module 1 on a 600 cc+ one. The test classes changed in January, so now there’s no automatic moving up to a bigger bike class after 2 years like there used to be, and if you want to ride a 600 cc+ bike, you have to take your test on one.

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Jul 20 2013

Taking a HAIR Cut

Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 9:06 pm

Like most people who have been online for a while I get a fair amount of spam. I’ve been using since 2000 and (I think) since 2010. Not as long as some but quite a while nonetheless. Most of the spam is the usual fake pills (would there be such a demand if the US had UK-style prescription charges rather than having to pay the full commercial rate for medicines?), virus-infected attachments, phishing attempts, dodgy pr0n sites, and so on. Then we have the pump and dump/boiler room stuff. What happens with these is that some ne’er do wells pick some stock worth less than US$1 (penny stocks) a share that hasn’t seen a lot of action, buy a load of shares at a very low price, and then send out loads of emails telling people to buy it with the prospect of massive gains on a certain date. A tiny number of people do buy these shares, causing the price to rise sharply, then the scammers sell their shares, making a large profit and causing the price to plummet. The marks who were taken in are then stuck with loads of worthless shares they can’t get rid of.

Normally a pump & dump campaign lasts for a couple of weeks before going quiet. However I noticed one campaign kept coming back over several months. This was for a company called Biostem US Corp, symbol HAIR. The idea of the company was to use stem cell research as a means of treating hair loss, presumably explaining their stock symbol. I’m not qualified to say if it sounds a plausible anti-baldness technique, but that’s neither here nor there. Because HAIR spam keeps coming and going I decided to look into it and found out its roots, so to speak. The earliest share price I could find was 3rd Feb 2010 when they went for $341 a share. There’s a few gaps in the share data but by the end of 2011 it was only $30. In 2012 they started to do things so the share price started to rise. There were also a couple of spikes, one on 5th Jan 2012 when it went up to $333 and immediately dropped to $100 on the 9th, and from 26th April when it rose from $67 to $470, and then fell to $111 on 10th May, which are characteristic of pump & dumps.

After another spike in June 2012 the price stayed flat for a while and then collapsed down to $3.05 in November. Very interesting in Feb 2013 when some scammers were arrested and charged with fraud for inflating the price. One of those scammers was the company’s CEO. Ouch. At about the same time the share price also had a slight rise, from $0.51 to a peak of $1.01 and then down to $0.10. That’s a pump & dump. There were a few more these over summer, but there won’t be any more. On 16th July the share price closed at $0.21. Then on the 17th Biostem announced that they were suspending all operations, firing all staff, and closing everything down. On the 19th their share price was $0.045, and from that there’s no going back. Various spams reckon it will hit as much as $1.40. Sure they will. In their final financial statements they mention:

  • $148 in cash, $4 thousand in total assets
  • $760 thousand in current liabilities
  • $4 thousand in quarterly revenue
  • $579 thousand in quarterly net loss

They were also late with mandatory SEC filings. Ouch again.

Presumably people wouldn’t send out spam like this if they didn’t work, but why would people be so greedy or gullible to buy shares without bothering to carry out basic research?

Some links about HAIR/Biostem:

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Jul 01 2013

Brrrmm Part II

Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 11:04 pm

Last week I did my motorbike CBT renewal. Good to have it out of the way. Before I did it I was a bit nervous of some of the slow speed manoeuvres, specifically the figure 8 and U-turn, so I practised them on the scooter on the flattish bit of road just by where I live. On the day itself I started off on a Honda CG 125:Honda CG 125

Surprisingly I didn’t get on too badly compared to my first CBT 2 years ago. I didn’t quite have the hang of the clutch but I managed to get through the morning’s training OK, including those manoeuvres. Then came the afternoon, with 2 one-hour sessions of on-road training. Unfortunately the first hour didn’t quite go as smoothly: I had a tendency to let the clutch go a bit too quickly and kept stalling. It also got a bit confusing trying to make head or tail of bus lanes and partly hidden turn-offs on Dewsbury Rd in Hunslet. We agreed that it would be better if I spent the 2nd hour on my own scooter so I could get signed off and then decide what to do about further training. Apart from a couple of bits, which I blame on being tired at the end of a very long day, that went a lot better.

Afterwards I had a chat with the chief instructor about what to do next. What I want to do is a week or so of intense training which ends with me taking the full A class bike test on a 600+ cc bike. However, as he suggested, I need to spend a day or so getting the hang of a less powerful bike so I don’t end up in a hedge when I first get on it. Around Hunslet where the bike school is can be pretty busy so I might also see about doing the training at a school in a quieter part of town. Looking around there’s even a bike school based at an airstrip near York, so that might be worth considering. First step though is passing the bike theory test which is booked for a week on Friday.

Something else I noticed is that the combat boots I wore for the CBT were a bit too chunky to feel what I was doing. They weren’t steel toe-capped but I still had to work hard to feel when I was changing gears. Of course I needed some proper motorbike boots, so I ended up getting these understated things:

Motorbike Boots

I also decided to get a leather jacket that matches my leather trousers, so all this is getting pretty serious. I must get a photo of me in the full kit.

After all that it was quite entertaining travelling back home. There’s a lot of roadworks in South Leeds at the moment while Northern Gas Networks installs a new pipe under one of the busiest non-motorway roads in town, which means all kinds of strange diversions. At one junction I had to pull out into two lanes of traffic. Unfortunately there was a broken down car with a police car next to it (presumably shielding it from oncoming traffic) roughly where the red box is:

Blocked junction

As Google Streetview shows, visibility there isn’t brilliant at the best of times so I had to be extra careful. Plus it was rush hour. Meanwhile White Van Man is beeping away behind me because I’ve been sat there for more than 10 seconds. Unfortunately for him, the second time he beeped, the traffic cop noticed and walked over to have A Word. By then the traffic had cleared so I pulled out, trying not to fall off the scooter for laughing. Result!

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Jun 10 2013


Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 6:31 pm

So last year I bought a scooter:
On The Scooter

After having to rely on public transport for so long it was good to finally have an alternative. One thing that stands out on the photo is the big L plates. UK motorbike rules are complex and designed to make sure young riders don’t ride powerful bikes immediately. It used to be that anyone over 17 could ride up to a certain power on a provisional licence with no training. Then they brought in a rule that you must complete a CBT course and hold a DL196 certificate before you’re allowed on the roads on your own. It lasts for 2 years and restricts you to a 125 cc bike or scooter with a maximum power of 11 kW. No passengers or motorway riding allowed. However I don’t think a small bike would really be powerful enough for either. There are exceptions but they don’t really concern us here. Interestingly, if you take your CBT on an automatic scooter, you can still ride a geared bike. I phoned DVLA and asked them to confirm this.

Anyway, my certificate expires in July but I want to renew it slightly earlier so I’ve got a bit of time to try and get a full A class licence that will allow me to ride anything before my insurance is up for renewal at the end of August. The bike training place suggested I do my CBT on a geared bike so they can see how I get on and then decide how much training I need to take the full test. This is in 2 parts: off-road manoeuvres and then on-road technique including a certain amount of independent riding where you get told where to go and then decide how to get there. The motorbike theory test isn’t very different from the car one, apart from a few extra questions on things like bike handling and pillion passengers. It also includes the hazard perception element, where you have to work out which fuzzy mass of pixels on a low resolution video might cause some sort of danger.

I’ve already done quite a bit of independent riding, including a few long ride outs to places like Sheffield, York, Manchester and the Yorkshire Dales. The tricky bit is when you end up somewhere unfamiliar and get stuck in the one way system. When I rode over to Mcr I was going to ride down Oldham Road and Oldham Street and round to a bike parking spot on Fountain St, near Pizza Hut. Unfortunately Oldham St was closed because of an unsafe building so I got stuck on Great Ancoats Street and somehow ended up going past Victoria Baths, up Oxford Road past the university and up Sackville St. After that I had to get across a partly-gridlocked bus lane to get to the bike parking. All good fun. Even if I’d been riding in on motorways I’d just have come in from a different direction and probably still got lost. It’s difficult (although not impossible) to have a Satnav on a bike, but road works and road closures make it very easy for them to get out of kilter and it is impossible to have a roadmap on the seat next to you,  unless you’re a London cabbie revising the knowledge and have a map on a clipboard on the handlebars.

So, 2 weeks until I renew my CBT and then hopefully get my full licence within the next 2 months. Wish me luck…

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May 28 2013

Testing 2

Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 11:49 pm

Trying to get Twitter image cards to work

Test Card

May 28 2013


Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 10:23 pm

The news is pretty depressing at the moment, so here’s a nice photo of a frog in my mum’s pond.


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May 04 2013


Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 11:39 pm

In September last year I bought a scooter. I had some spare cash and I’d decided I’d had enough of relying on public transport so it was time to get my own wheels. Only two, but the minimum training requirements are a lot lower than that needed for a car. I like exploring and there’s a limit to what you can do on a mountain bike, especially as hilly as somewhere as Leeds. A couple of weeks ago I rode over to Manchester, out over New Hey Road and back along the A62.By the route I took (and the inadvertent detour via Victoria Rd and the university) it was about 100 miles. Today I rode out to Sheffield and Meadowhall along the A61. I’m on a provisional licence so I’m not allowed on motorways, otherwise it would be a lot faster, both because they have a higher average speed and also because of a lack of traffic lights, speed humps and such like. Part of me is interested in the historical network of roads that were there before the motorways were built. The A62 is the old route from Leeds to Manchester before the M62 was built, and the A61 from Leeds to Sheffield never gets very far from the M1.

One thing about using the non-trunk roads is that you get to see how good (or not) various local authorities are at maintaining them. Greater Manchester, West and South Yorkshire ceased to have county councils in 1986 so they are maintained by smaller metropolitan borough councils. Different places have different approaches to traffic calming and road safety. Wakefield seems to be on another planet when it comes to road markings, with some areas having faded “new” markings next to burnt off “old” ones so it’s difficult to see which is current, and another section having a fairly recently resurfaced road with no markings at all. The road signs are still there (including “get in lane”) so it’s confusing trying to work out what you’re supposed be doing. South Yorkshire also has a lot of “Biker Beware” signs that don’t explain whether bikers should beware of something, or other people should beware of bikers. Helpful. And don’t get me started on utility companies digging trenches along the road, putting pipes in, and then filling them not quite level with the rest of the road so there’s a groove you need to avoid, or face wobbling at up to 50 mph. Being unenclosed and on two wheels really makes you appreciate how the quality of the road surface matters.

Apart from the ride out, I found Meadowhall seems to be mostly women’s clothing shops these days. I went there for a school trip in the early 90s when it had just opened and I don’t remember a lot of how it was back then, but these days it feels pretty tired. Most shopping centres and large town centres are generally just the same shops in a slightly different order. It would make things more interesting if commercial districts were a bit more mixed. Independent shops are OK up to a point, but it would be good to have something else as well. How about shops on the lower floors and offices on the upper floors? Not just the kind of “servicing office worker” type places like sandwich shops, but big high street stores. Maybe have the odd art gallery or live music venue in the middle of the main shopping street as well. If you want to put a real spanner in the works, how about Amazon opening a range of high street shops where you can order and collect, and where they have the most popular items in stock to buy there and then?

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Apr 26 2013


Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 9:25 pm

So I finally get round to setting up a blog on my website (over at for LJers) but then I hardly ever get round to posting anything because when I do try it turns out to be a very long and discursive essay that I never finish. I suppose what I really need to do is something halfway between that and the extremely short updates that Twitter allows.

Quick summary of where things are then. For work I’m doing something pretty complicated that involves ASP.Net, C#, SQL Server, Active Directory and a few other bits and pieces. Away from work, I have a scooter:

Not the biggest thing around but it’ll do for now until I get my full licence. I like to explore, and after working from home it’s nice to get some fresh air, so over the last week I’ve done a circuit from Horsforth to Otley and back via Guisley, a 100 mile ride out to Manchester and back on A roads, and another 30 mile circuit along the top of the ring road to Garforth and via the centre of Leeds. Gotta renew my CBT before mid July so the more practice I can get the better.

I definitely need to do more quick updates rather than long and complicated tracts to keep things moving. Because this is my site rather than something hosted on a shared service like I can do what I want with it.

Apr 24 2013

Quick test…

Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 10:32 pm

Testing asides in WordPress

Apr 17 2013


Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 12:19 am

No, not that one. There was an article in the Telegraph last July which said that the number of public health/”pauper’s” funerals had increased substantially because of cuts to the social security budget and the Government Funeral Payment Scheme. The article mentions some study by an insurance company which just happens to sell funeral insurance, but I think it is an issue worth discussing anyway. When my dad died we got a grant from the social fund to pay for it because none of had that sort of money at that short notice. The funeral directors offered us an “affordable” funeral for about £1600, which thankfully was taken care of for us. It sounds like a lot, but it included:

  • Collection from the hospice
  • Storage and preparation for the funeral
  • Transport to the crematorium
  • A coffin
  • Various fees such as “ash cash” (a fee paid to the doctor who signs off the certificate authorising cremation) and use of the crematorium chapel
  • A newspaper obituary

More expensive funerals include things like transport for friends & family, catering and other odds and ends. Dealing with the body is pretty expensive: cremating someone over 16 in Leeds costs £633. Burying an adult costs from £842 upwards. A green burial costs £2,248. The cost of a funeral is the first thing to be paid out of the deceased’s estate. Everything else has a lower priority. If there isn’t enough money, the executor has to pay, which is where the funeral payment scheme should come it.

A funeral has to take place because dealing with the remains of the deceased is a public health issue. Bodies have to buried in certain places to avoid polluting groundwater and deep enough to make sure they don’t smell or attract vermin. Cremation requires the body to be prepared so it burns safely (no exploding pacemakers for example) and the fumes don’t cause any problems. Burials and green burials also require a fair amount of land. All this has to be paid for somehow. Local authorities are required to make sure a body is buried or cremated, but that’s as far as it goes in theory. In practice even public health funerals usually have some sort of arrangement to allow people the chance to say goodbye to the deceased in a dignified way, even if it’s just a minister conducting a short service to an empty chapel.

On that cheery note, it’s worth at least thinking about what might happen when your time runs out. Making even a basic will helps people left behind know your final wishes and helps to avoid some of the arguments. It’s also good to keep in touch with people before it’s too late. There are far too many people I just wish I’d had one last chance to speak to while I’d had the chance.

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