Craig Gibbons' Lifeblog lifeblog://tri.eat.net

25Oct/12Off

Getting Started with the Raspberry Pi

Raspberry PiA long time ago, in a land far away, I had a friend who helped install my first Linux operating system. At the time I had one of the latest machines on the market, sporting a 233Mhz processor, 32Mb RAM and a 2.3Gb HDD. It was my first and I was keen to see what it could do, so when said friend offered to install Linux for me I jumped at the opportunity, not knowing anything about what I was getting into. Surely, I thought, I could just click around and find my way. Later, when I was presented with a blank looking command line it wasn't feeling like such a good idea. I once even rebooted the machine because I couldn't figure out how to exit the vi editor. After reading an O'Reilly book and a lot of tinkering, I felt like I finally got it, sort of.

Fast forward>> 15 or so years and I feel like I've come full circle with the acquisition of the Raspberry Pi, the coolest piece of kit I've ever owned, or if it isn't it'll do until the coolest piece gets here. The Raspberry Pi is at the forefront of a trend towards smaller computers which are accessible to almost anybody. The unit its self costs a mere £29 (incl. postage) and you can buy one from either of the two vendors chosen by the Raspberry Pi foundation, Element 14 or RS Components. If you've found this way onto this page, you have most likely come looking for information on the RPi (see what I did there) so I'll just get onto the details.

First, while the RPi is cheap by its self, you will need some extras before it's actually usable:

  • A 5V 700mA mini USB charger. My Samsung Galaxy S2 charger worked perfectly
  • Powered USB hub (£15)
  • Mouse and keyboard
  • Monitor or TV
  • HDMI cable (£4)
  • Wi-Fi USB dongle (£10)
  • Minimum 4Gb SD card (£5)
  • Case (£10 - £15 optional)

Now, this is important; not everything will work with the RPi so make sure you check out the approved hardware page at: http://elinux.org/RPi_VerifiedPeripherals

For readers in the UK, some free advice I can give you is not to buy the USB hub included as part of the Maplin RPi starter kit, it produced some weird behaviour with the mouse on my system and it doesn't come with a mains charger. The separate charger recommended on the Maplin site goes for abut £30 in addition to the £14 for the hub. You would do better to buy all the bits you need off The Pi Hut.

A number of excellent cases are available, but I chose the Pibow, which is super easy to fit and nice and colourful. Also, I like to see the Pi board and the Pibow case exposes that nicely.

The Raspberry Pi website explains in detail how to get up and running so I won't cover that here, but in general you can either buy a pre-installed 4Gb SD card loaded with a beginner version of Linux or you need to download an 'image' (approx. 440Mb) and write it to the SD card. The RPi then boots from the SD card. I had everything up and running in about 10 minutes from unpacking the RPi and the beginner version is great. It boots right into its window mode, LXDE. Windows users will feel immediately at home. I then went about installing some software to see what the Pi could actually do. As it turns out, quite a lot! Among many others, the following are available:

  • Chromium - identical to the Google Chrome browser (sudo apt-get install chromium-browser)
  • OpenOffice - a replacement for Microsoft Office (sudo apt-get install openoffice.org)
  • GIMP - a graphics application similar to Adobe Photoshop (sudo apt-get install gimp)
  • IceDove - identical to the Mozilla Thunderbird email client (sudo apt-get install icedove)
  • FileZilla - a FTP client (sudo apt-get install filezilla)
  • The LAMP stack - Linux, Apache, MySql, PHP (sudo apt-get install apache2 php5 php5-mysql mysql-server)
  • ... and I'm working on Git or SVN and node.js

Edit Oct 26th, 2012: Since installing Chromium and Icedove, the performance of the RPi has been very poor. The CPU runs at 100% constantly and it's almost impossible to get anything done. I've reverted back to the default browser Midori which is doing the job admirably and instead of Icedove I've installed Claws Mail (sudo apt-get install claws-mail), which appears to be a lot lighter with no loss of functionality, indeed I may prefer it.

I hope this brief post has provided some helpful information for newcomers and whet the appetite of those not yet signed-up. And in case you were wondering, yes, this post was created using the Chromium browser and GIMP for the picture on a Raspberry Pi Model B.

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15Feb/11Off

Tri703.com

Recently most of my posts have had something or other to do with triathlon or running. Coincidentally, I was browsing godaddy.com the other day, as you do, and I came across a domain which was too good not to register, enter tri703.com. For those not in the know, 70.3 miles is the distance covered in a half Ironman race. It seemed appropriate to go ahead and start up a second blog to record all my efforts in this area, so if you have any interest in hearing about one man's journey to balance work, life and training in the pursuit of, what I consider to be, the ultimate race, head on over.

29May/100

iPad: I caved, I totally caved

I'm writing this post using the WordPress app on my 2 hour old iPad. For months I've been deliberating whether or not to purchase one of these devices. The idea is massively appealing, a device with 10 hours of battery life, the thickness of an iPhone and support for all the usual apps. The iPad was launched in the UK yesterday so today I went down to the Apple store at Westfield mall for a play to see what all the fuss was about. I've had an iPhone for a couple of years so I wasn't expecting very much but I was thoroughly overwhelmed by the experience and found myself queuing not long after. I'll update this post over the next few days but so far, I'm loving the iPad!

Update 22:26: Showed it to some friends, they're sold.
Tip 1 Jun 2010: Use the Amazon Kindle reader and store. The catalog is bigger, the books are much cheaper and the reader is free and great.

Update 8 Mar 2011: I've sold my iPad to make way for an iPad 2. So long on old friend, it's been special. Amazon Marketplace ensured a sale within 90 minutes.

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3Sep/090

Buell XB9SX, the start of something beautiful

Three and a half years ago, when shopping around for a bike to buy, two machines with very different pedigree’s, from very different stables, emerged as strong contenders; the BMW R1200GS and the Buell XB9SX. The decision was a difficult one. On the one hand, I had always owned BMW’s and knew the bike and the brand well, on the other; I had loved the Buell ever since I had first seen it (over 10 years ago) and it continued to impress and inspire. In the end, I went with the BMW, for mostly practical reasons.

Fast forward a couple of years and the BMW is reluctantly up for sale, to make way for a house purchase and 18 long months later I’m back at the same juncture; lusting after another bike while enduring the indignity of a crowded bus journey during the 2 days of (illegal) strikes called by the RMT which brought the City of London to a standstill.

That same Saturday I found myself at Warrs Harley Davidson in Chelsea looking at the 2009 Buell XB9SX, which is now even better looking thanks to a new all-black option which was lacking from the translucent blue and cherry line-up offered in previous years. Miraculously, the price had also come down by 10%. The deal was sealed, I called and placed the order that Monday and collected my shiny, brand new Buell that Friday after work, just in time for the weekend. All credit to Warrs for pulling it together on such short notice.

Having had the bike now for a few months and really having the chance to really know it, I can comprehensively say, I love it. It is a riding experience unlike any other.

Upon first starting the bike, the 984cc Thunderstorm engine rumbles into life almost the same instant the starter button is pressed. For the first few minutes, the engine feels a little rough and the rear view mirrors are ablur, but as it warms up, it becomes remarkably smooth for an engine of its type and size. Selecting first gear might feel a little strange for sports bike riders. There can be no doubt the gear has been selected, much like the 1200GS, the gear thunks into position like the closing of a luxury German car door and you’re ready to go. The power delivery is constant through the entire rev-range and at no time does the bike feel distressed. There is no ‘power band’ like you get on many other bikes, the engine spins up and pulls hard, all the way. The Buell is light and agile, it feels and handles like a scooter, but has all the brute-force of a superbike. This, along with the low-down torque, makes this bike ideal for city riding, but it’s also at home on winding roads or the motorway, as I recently discovered on a round-trip from London to Manchester, although the lack of a front fairing means you take a bit of a buffeting. Riding 2-up is the biggest surprise, and pleasantly so. Even on the mighty 1200GS, one can really feel a passenger, but on the Buell, it’s almost not noticeable. The front remains solid and deliberate, instead of light and twitchy. The back remains taught and responsive, instead of sunken and lethargic. Best of all, the engine just doesn’t care, it happily purrs along oblivious to the extra weight.

There are however a few negatives and it would be remiss to neglect to mention these. First, the controls and instrumentation are generally quite poor. The indicator switch looks like a throwback to the 80’s and the clocks yield little more information than speed and revs per minute. Attempts to operate with winter gloves yields butterfingeritis. Second, occasionally when pulling off from an idle, the engine will skip a beat and splutter. According to the guys at Warrs, it’s peculiar to this type of engine and in fairness, it happens infrequently and is easily controlled. Third, there is very little space for luggage. Perhaps this is not a legitimate complaint as the XB9SX is, after all, a streetfighter with an exceptionally short wheel base, but I like a bit of luggage for those days in the country (I know, I know… “cake and eat it”).

I look forward to many more days out with the Buell and future offerings from the Buell stable. Yup, this could very well be the start of something beautiful.

Update 18/05/2010: It is with great regret I note Buell will no longer be producing motorcycles. More from the founder of Buell here: http://www.buell.com/en_us/company/news/detail.asp?news_id=1497

Tip 24/05/2010: Somehow I punctured my back tyre this past Friday. I recall from the days of my R1200GS that a puncture on a bike is not a fun experience. Back then I just got the bike recovered to the dealership for a replacement. This happened twice, at £250 a time. So when it happened to my Buell I could see all kinds of expense coming my way. The first thing to remember is, don't use TyreWeld or any kind of in-tyre sealant, doing so renders the tyre irreparable and you are then required to purchase a replacement. Having said that, nobody will actually recommend repairing a tyre, but several people I have spoken to say they've never had a problem. Suffice to say, I used TyreWeld and was therefore in for a new tyre. I called up the dealership I bought the bike from, Warrs Harley Davidson and was horrified to be quoted £235 for a new tyre (including fitting). I was convinced it could be done far cheaper but after calling around I discovered almost nobody would touch a Buell, what with the belt drive and the fuel in the frame and the oil in the swing-arm, it proved too much for your average grease shop. That is, until I found HGB Motorcycles who not only had the tyre I wanted in stock, for the best price I found, but also replaced the tyre while I waited, with no apparent difficulty, for half the price of Warrs, with some free number plate bolts I was missing, and a smile :)

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10Aug/070

Specialized Langster ’08 London

Last week I bought myself a new bicycle. This, in and of its self, is enough to excite me, but I am especially excited because of the nature of this purchase. Pictured below is the Specialized Langster 2008 London, number 26 of only 300 made. Specialized must have realised they were on to a good thing when they came up with the idea of designing a single speed bike customised for several of the world’s major cities. To my mind, the London is far and away the best of the lot, outshining the predictably yellow New York and decidedly dull Chicago Langster’s. The bike comes with a reversible back wheel so you can ride it in freewheel or fixed gear (no coasting) mode and sports several shamelessly cheesy cool retro features like shiny all-metal handlebars and a stylised tube map on the bottom bar, enough to make those city couriers positively cringe with envy. Mwhuahuahua.

The Specialized Langster '08 London is available from Sigma Sport, 15 High Street, Hampton Wick, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey KT1 4DA.

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16May/070

Objects of desire

Every now and then I come across something so inspired, so cool and just so darn stylish that I can’t help but gaze blankly at it, pupils slightly dilated, sort of blushing, a bit shy… you know what I mean. Of course I have my old favourites like the Dualit Toaster, the SMEG fridge, Global knives, the Buell XB9SX and of course my egg cubes, but the following objects of desire have recently become known to me and I feel a responsibility to laud them shamelessly here as achievements of design and perfection of form. In no particular order…

Dedon Obelisk
This red dot design award winning company has created some impressively innovative pieces typical of the Scandinavian school of design, though Dedon is actually a German company. The Obelisk is a 5-part stackable table and chairs set which is a sort of Asterix and Obelix cumulative Lego-Jenga type design. I want one.
Confederate F131 Hellcat Combat
Not since the likes of Buell has a motorcycle manufacturer, heck any manufacturer, created designs so at once nostalgic and cutting edge. The Hellcat is a triumph even over it’s predecessor, the Wraith. For those able to stand it, see the website for images of their next concept, the Renovatio.
Anglepoise Giant 1227 Lamp
This is genius and simplicity in one. Take an everyday desk lamp (simple) and scale it up 3 times in size (genius, or simple, or err, nevermind). The result is an imposing lamp resembling what the PIXAR logo lamp would look like if the 3D designers were allowed to smoke pot at work. This is a must for the new house.
Eames Lounge Chair
This is really an old favourite, but a new love. The reputation of the Eames chair precedes its self. I can see myself reclined in its leathern embrace while a giant Anglepoise peers overhead.
Perfex Salt & Pepper Mills
Some things can’t be improved upon. I first came across the Perfex mill while browsing the shelves at Divertimenti, a cooking school and shop on Marylebone High Street. It was one of many, err, milling about on the shelf but for me it immediately stood out. Perfex, a family owned business, has been making this mill for over half a century in the town of Saint-Étienne, France and they've had it just right all along.
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22Mar/070

My new toy – the Cannondale Sprint CAAD9 105

Last week I took another step on the road to Ironman, admittedly it was an easy one, even a pleasant one, but a step nonetheless! I have purchased for myself a Cannondale Sprint CAAD9 105 bicycle (push-bike for those in the UK).

Things sure have changed some since I had my last bicycle, almost 15 years ago as a determined teenage cyclist. I recall vividly my father shaking me vigorously at 5:00am, in the dead of winter, heck the birds weren't even tweeting yet, to get my sleepy head off the pillow and get ready for whatever race we were doing that fine Sunday morning. How I ever managed to find the motivation to cycle 80km before most of the world had even considered breakfast I'm not exactly sure, but I better find it again because as my training triathlons, Blenheim and London, draw nearer and Ironman with them, I'll need evey bit of motivation I can muster to achieve this most extreme of goals, covering 140.6 miles of water and land, an Ironman.

The Cannondale Sprint CAAD9 105 is available from On Your Bike:
52 - 54 Tooley St,
London Bridge
SE1 2SZ

Update: Yay! I collected my bike on April 17th... and she is a beauty.

27Feb/070

Dualit 3 Slice Combi Polished Stainless Steel Toaster

As a thank you for all my hard efforts finding and procuring a house, my wonderful Gemma has purchased me us the finest of toasters and a long time thing of obsession, the Dualit 3 Slice Combi Polished Stainless Steel Toaster. My friend Brian purchased a toaster of the same a few years back. At the time, I couldn't quite understand why anybody would spend quite so much money to toast bread, a task which, afterall, can be accomplished by just about anything, including a candle stick lighter, but of course the Dualit toaster is iconic, I would go so far as to say important, in the way the SMEG fridge and Arne Jacobsen Egg Chair are iconic and important. It will make a perfect addition and a great start to the appliancing of our new house. Thanks Gem.

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24May/060

The perfect egg-cup, err, cube

One of my fondest childhood memories is of eating ‘soldiers and boiled eggs’ for breakfast. We had these red plastic egg-cups, which upon reflection were really quite cool and retro. Course, back then retro didn’t exist, or not for me at that age anyway. Over the years all those soldiers must have gone into battle and never returned because I can’t recall the last time I had that for breakfast.

So, it was with great excitement that I jumped at the opportunity to make ‘soldiers and eggs’ for breakfast at Gemma’s request this past weekend. Just as I was doing a bit of Googling to ensure I was doing exactly the right thing to get the egg just the right combination of solid white with runny yellow it occurred to me, I have no egg-cups, problem! Nah, not really, Google knows all and so I set about trying to find the perfect egg-cup. Nowhere could I find a red plastic one, preferably one that holds two eggs, so another plan had to be made. After not much luck online and surprisingly, an equally unsuccessful land based search at Selfridges, I eventually plied myself to the task more fully and discovered in the end what I am certain is the perfect egg-cup, err, cube. The “egg-cube” is a minimalistic masterpiece of design from British designer Kathleen Hills, a rising star in the world of design and owner and operator of Mul+i-Design. For me, it is the perfect synthesis of form and function. Go Kathleen!

The Egg-Cube may be purchased from Thorsten Van Elten, a very funky store, found at 22 Warren Street, London W1T 5LU or from BODIE and FOU.

For more information on Mul+i-Design, Kathleen Hills and the Egg-Cube, go to http://www.multidesign.info/

21Dec/050

Biking through the years

Over the years, I’ve had many bikes. When I was nine years old, my father bought me an 80cc Kawasaki motocross bike, ostensibly so my cousin and I could get into motocross together. In reality, he probably wanted the toys just as much as I did... but who can blame him really, those bikes were awesome, even back then. Despite a very shaky beginning and several subsequent visits to the hospital, most notably for a broken shoulder blade, I was hooked on 2-wheels from the very start.

Growing up, I was forbidden from getting a 50cc upon turning 16, a decision I absolutely loathed at the time and my father for making it, but it didn't take long for my friends with the very same bikes I wanted to find themselves in hospital also, some of them still scarred today by violent impact with cars and the road surface, at least falling off a motocross bike onto dirt meant a solid bruising, but hardly ever much more than that.

Much later on, in year 2000, I was living in London and quickly realised I'd rather be riding a scooter in the freezing cold of winter than riding cattle class on the tube or crammed in with the freaks on a red bus. I took the plunge and bought my first bike since those early days, an Aprilia Habana 125cc scooter, which served me well until I sold it some 10 months later and returned to South Africa.

Having started my biking career off-road, I was always biased towards that kind of bike and it didn't take long before I decided upon a shiny new BMW F650GS Dakar, a bike I was at once afraid and in awe of. I was barely able to reach the ground with flat shoes and managed to drop it on more than one occasion. My mother once had to help me pick it up, a moment of embarrassment I'll not soon forget.

The guy at the BMW dealership promised me at the time I bought that bike I'd be back soon enough. I figured an extra 525cc's over my last bike was a big enough jump and went with the Dakar anyways. Turned out the dealer was right, 6 months later, bored stiff and tired of experiencing short-man syndrome despite being 6 feet in height, I happily sold that bike and upgraded to a BMW R1150GS in the most beautiful of colour schemes, graphite metallic. It was positively exhilarating to ride, performed brilliantly with one or two up and got looks from adoring middle-age onlookers just about everyplace it went.

A sad morning five months later, I awoke to find the lock on my driveway gate gone and my bike along with it, but after some tearful commiseration, I quickly remedied the situation by purchasing the king of all bikes, the BMW R1150GS Adventure. Nothing on the road commands respect like the Adventure. Even cars would scuttle from its path. We were very happy together. Some time later, I decided it was time to return to London. I couldn't however bring myself to part with that great bike and I stored it in a friends garage for several months until I could no longer justify the expense for a bike I would ride a maximum of two weeks out of the year. Fortunately, the Adventure went to a good home when a friend later purchased it from me. He too was gravely sad to part ways with it when moving to London less than a year later.

By the time I had gotten back to Britain, my UK license had expired and I had to do the full license from the very beginning. After two unsuccessful attempts at passing the full license, I eventually capitulated and purchased a black Vespa GT 125cc, a bike which I still rate highly to this day. It was very smooth, very reliable and very cheap to run. Pound for pound, or perhaps more like ounce for ounce, it is singularly the best commuter vehicle for the city, but doesn’t have much range beyond that.

I wanted something I could take to Scotland one weekend and the Savanna the next. I knew pretty much from the start what bike that was, but decided not to be too hasty about the decision, as I had been in the past, and did a lot of looking around before eventually settling on the BMW R1200GS, the natural successor to the 1150GS and an all round superb piece of engineering. This is the bike I currently own and adore.

Biking is for me a way of life, an essential element of joy and a tool of freedom. I have no doubt that there are several chapters yet to be written.

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