Sunday, July 05, 2015

Sunday Sermon: Listening to Westboro

This is a short post to ask you to listen to the audio interview of Megan Phelps-Roper by neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris.

Please Listen

A technological aside

I come across interesting articles like this because I make use of some technologies that I hope you might also consider

a) Podcasts
Sam Harris Podcast on iTunes

Your favourite Radio programs are often also available as Podcasts enabling you to download them and listen to them at your own convenience.  Further, Podcasts enable anybody to produce and audio stream and have it downloadable to anybody who can find it (usually via iTunes for most people).

b) RSS Reading
Sam Harris Blog

I use feedly to pull in articles from literally hundreds of websites and blogs daily.  I rely on this rather than traditional newspapers or websites of the same.

c) Soundcloud and Spotify
Spotify is a free (with adverts) or 10 GBP per month Internet Music streaming service.  

Soundcloud is a free music streaming service which allows new musical artists or even philosophers like Sam Harris  to broadcast their music and even audio.

So, even if you think this Podcast is crap, then I'd urge you to consider the 3 above technologies so that you can become better informed. 

Back to the Podcast
Back in the day I knew of several very personal cases of kids my own age who were unable to follow freely into the religious footsteps of their parents when it came to world view, sexuality and behaviour.  They simply thought otherwise.

For example, my friend who 'had to' enter an arranged marriage with somebody they did not know, because if not their family would be 'shamed' and they personally would be cut off from all contact with their parents, and would quite literally thrown out onto the street.

In this respect Megan Phelps-Roper is similar having now left the Westboro Baptist Church and I can see that her decision which has produced a consequent isolation,  must have been truly agonising.

And I'd comment, that today if you show this dissent in non European or liberal societies you may be subject to more than dissent, namely violence and even death.

So, Listen to the podcast, it's quite mild mannered but gently revealing.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

The cost of eating Swiss

We are often told to eat local fresh produce.

And right now it is Apricot season here in Switzerland and presumably all over Europe.

Marcus and Agata try to eat healthily wherever possible, but our latest trip to the Coop supermarket had us asking the question:

Why do Swiss Apricots grown and picked about 100Km away cost so much more than the ones from Spain, a country a 1000Km away ...

11.3 CHF per kilogram

 2.78 CHF per Kilogram, all the way from spain

 8.12 CHF per Kilogram from nearby Valais Switzerland

9CHF per kilogram for Bio Apricots

So, which one would you pick?

With budget pressures on us, are we really bad people for selecting the cheaper Spanish Apricots?

Friday, July 03, 2015

Razor A5 Lux Scooter Upgrade

I knew those old screws would come in handy one day, Marcus gloated to darling Agata.

Yes indeed, we have just had good opportunity to make use of the /bits salvaged from buggered technology/ jar.

Upgrading our Razor A5 Lux Scooter

You may recall that from knowing nothing about push scooters we went thru a learning curve and bought a Razor A5

But then it finally turned out that this scooter was so cheap and that full upgrading of the scooter (to solid handlebars and different headset etc. ) was not economic

The Middle Way

We wanted to see if there was any modest change that could be made to transform the Razor into the ultimate road push scooter, and we think we have it!

Race Bearings
Back in Marcus' skating days Abec5 bearings were top notch, now I see that you can goto Abec11 precision or even Ceramic bearings.

Given that the weight savings on Ceramic bearings seem to be ridiculous, surely a gram or two (!!), and that Marcus as an old git would say "not sure about these new ceramic fangled stuff" I put in an order for Abec 11

Obviously these are not available in Switzerland for anything less than preposterous prices  (almost the cost of my entire mail order Razor scooter at local shop) so it was back to eBay research and then a 2 week wait for delivery

Actually I need only 4 bearings, 2 at the front and 2 at the back.

So I've got some good old Engineering spares.  Marvellous!

The front wheel was easy to remove, but getting the Abec5 standard bearings out was not, nor putting back the wheel.

Similar hassles for the back wheel, but eventually it was done!

Fixing the Handlebars

On the plus side the Handlebars of the Razor as supplied are short.  On the negative side they are detachable but the locking mechanism leaves a lot to be desired.

- It is basically horribly lose
- It rattles whilst scootering
- I never collapse the handlebars in anyway

So, you can guess what is coming.  Yes, we raided the spare parts jar for some screws and lock washers.

- We dismantled the handlebar ends folding mechanism
- We used the holes from the old spring loaded popups to thread thru and tighten in these screws.

And here is the result


Our Swim coach commented that for scootering on the pavements at night, one should have lights.  So as good Swissies we have fitted them.  We can now flash furiously as we speed towards you.

The Results?

With the Abec 11's installed I can now outroll my darling wife Agata who has the hand me down Micro Scooter to which I recently fitted some new Abec 7 bearings too.  I think that the outrolling is probably due to my larger wheel size, but hey, the Abec 11's are surely helping a little bit right?

And the fixed handlbar ends are just superb.  They totally transform the ride-ability of the scooter.  Plus reduced rattling.

The only real design compromise now is that the low deck of the scooter means that to operate the rear brake there is quite a pronounced foot movement.  So when descending you need to have your non deck foot firmly placed on brake before descent,  an emergency brake would just take too long.

And so: With these two mods I am pretty confident that Agata will soon demand her own Razor with these mods presently as she will get rightly jealous. I think the Razor A5 Lux with these modest changes make for a winning combination.


Razor A5 Lux initial impressions
What I finally learnt about scooters
Abec 11 Bearings ebay

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Thursday Finance: A lesson in Debt

Mr Micawber's [from David Copperfield by Charles Dickens] recipe for happiness:

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. 

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

Today I'm presenting a small insight into Marcus and Agata finances. It's been an expensive week for us so far.

Last Sunday Marcus had a cycling accident at the Romandie Classic.   The entrance fee was already uncomfortably expensive and the repair for the accident will be even more so.   It's another 4 digit number in Swiss Francs.  Ouch.

This week also marked our yearly Audi Car service.  We still goto the official dealer but in order to mitigate the costs

- We try to check the price of the service beforehand   (almost impossible in Switzerland)
- We have tried not to drive the car ever if we can make the journey on our bicycles or if public transport could serve and the environment better
- We even asked the dealer not to wash the car to make the service bill smaller.

It's both a depressing and sombre thing to say, but we have looked at the finances and we think this will be the last car we ever buy, we want to make it last a really long time.

To save even more money this morning Agata and Marcus ran to get to the dealer.  It was actually over 25 degrees Centigrade when we arrived exhausted at the dealer.   But we did make it, just before they shut for their Audi, Swiss 1.5 hour lunch break.

Since the service was booked 30 days ago we have had plenty of time to downwardly adjust our already frugual food shopping and we've covered some of the service cost that way.

So all in all, we are trying to live within our means, noting our earnings, and reacting to known and unexpected expenditures.

So now, perhaps this lesson could help some people and even a government or two.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Greek Numbers

This is a minimalist post about numbers.  Greek numbers.

But spoiler alert, there is no good news other that the Soft Cell video above which I rather like.

Greece has a total population of just over 11 million people. We'll call it 12 millions

1 billion Euros = 1,000 million euros

Greece, the country owes about 320 billion Euro = 26667 euros per person!

This is what it looks like:

In 1 week Greek people withdrew 9 billion Euro  from cashpoints = 750 Euros for every man, woman and child.
(This only worked because it was backed by the EC ELA Emergency Liquid assistance)

By July 1 Greece needed to repay a 1.6 billion euro loan. That is 133 Euros per person

The EC is willing to give Greece another 7 billion Euros if it meet some further conditions.  That is about 580 Euros per person.  But the Greek government said it would not meet those conditions and stated on June 30th that it would not repay the 1.6 billion Euro loan.

At 20.00, June 30th, just 4 hours before July 1st, Alex Tsipras amazingly asked for an additional 29.1 billion Euro loan . Now really, you couldn't make this stuff up could you?

And from my Perspective

In 1998 Long Term Capital Management lost over 4 billion USD leading to a behind the scenes financial crisis that was bailed out by neighbouring financial institutions. 

LTCM staff famously included Myron Scholes a Nobel prize winning economist whose Black-Scholes model provided a breakthrough for Options pricing. 


Lehman brothers a 100 year old plus and respected American financial institution declared bankruptcy in September 2008 because nobody stepped up to bail them out.

Lehmans woes were variously linked to the Subprime Mortgage Crisis  where money was fraudulently lent to those individuals.

Ironically from 2009+ many European Governments worldwide including America, UK, Switzerland but excluding Germany have been /printing money/ effectively devaluing the savings of Private individuals, whilst at the same time keeping interest rates low.

The result is that this time it's not Individuals but whole countries that have borrowed beyond their means.  And hence we arrive to Greece.

I would comment that the availability of a seemingly almost infinite supply of almost 0 percent  money is attractive to anybody and any country, however this does not make it right to take it.  Greece should not blame the lender for offering this bargain finance and then also blame them (ECB and others) when this financing is withdrawn.


At 00.00 On July 1, 2015 Greece joined a very disreputable club

Greece defaulted on its IMF loan.

Statista shows it graphically this way, and note that 6.2 Billion Euros are due between today and the close of 2015.  A sum that Greece can simply not repay.

Greece has talked about debt restructuring.  This means bluntly that it was not to repay the money that it has borrowed and requests that debtors /let it off/ the majority of the repayment capital.

IMHO it's a total disgrace.

Soft Cell: Numbers 12"
Gerry Rice IMF makes a statement

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tiny Bluetooth Earphone

This is a review of the YE-106S tiny tiny tiny Bluetooth Earphone/ ear-bud.

An Historical Perspective

Today in 2015 a small rechargeable Bluetooth ear-bud might appear at best,  interesting and ingenious.   I would point out that if you would to arrive to company with this device going back in time from decades, to centuries to 0AD you might be regarded as


A Secret Agent
A Curiosity
A Devil
A God

What came in the almost impossible to open sealed packaging was the Earbud, and at the time mysterious white cable.  No instructions. Oh, and a clear plastic bit that is supposed to fit over the ear

The worst fitting

I removed the over the ear plastic guide as it did not fit.

Then I continued to struggle to get the earbud into the ear.   The main issue is that the end and plastic wing don't go deep enough into the ear.

After a lot of wiggling  it sort of fits. Barely. 

A few hours later I realised that you can plug the other wire into the micro USB port and then have a stereo signal. Duh!

Well, the reason it took me so long?  Because with the ear-bud awkwardly installed the micro-USB connector cannot be plugged in!  If you plug it first then it's impossible [for me] to get the powered ear-bud in at all.


So my list so far is

- No instructions

- Wired earbud is totally unusable
- These are by a decisive margin, the worst fitting and most uncomfortable earphone I have ever tried
- I tried to jog with it.  It felt loose, so I can't recommend it for running.
- Would not pair with my iPod Nano but would pair with my Android Smartphone

On the Positive Side
- It does actually work
- It cost under 10 GBP including postage.  Yes, quite staggering
- It lasts over an hour in testing
- Sound is okay, i.e. not awful, quite okay for speech
- There is a microphone too!

Win Some Lose Some
Due to the discomfort I was initially tempted to offer them for free on the local Swiss Anibis sales website.

But then I had a running race to attend and I thought for the ride home I could perhaps carry the single ear-bud to keep me company.   Yes it worked.  I ran with the earbud in a plastic bag in a pocket, and post race I extract it and tuned into BBC Radio 4, The Archers on my Android Smartphone. 

So it's not totally useless then, just almost useless!


This was an eBay impulse buy.  It is not a great use of my 8 GBP, but in a week with a cycle crash costing more than 80 times that (!!), who is counting.

I can keep it in the top pocket of my rucksack for emergencies, safe in the knowledge that I always have a spare headphone (singular) to listen with.

Miniature Bluetooth Earphone

Monday, June 29, 2015

When Infrastructure Counts

BBC: Pee Buddy helps women in India

To Marcus, Infrastructure in life is one of the key enablers to society, and perhaps the foundation for a decent life in general.  Infrastructure in your personal life is the thing your Government, your Local Government, your Canton, maybe your Apartment block, et al. provides so that you can live your life more easily.

At work, your Employer provides the infrastructure.  It could be

- A decent canteen
- An employee car park
- An employee bicycle rack, and a shower room, somewhere to store your bicycle clothes
- A stocked stationary Cupboard
- Your work PC's files automatically backed up,  and secured locally in case of theft.

There are literally thousands of examples.  Too many to count.

Here in Switzerland Agata and Marcus have grown used to  ...

- I can walk down the street and find a public toilet
- There are sidewalks (i.e. pavements) that are smooth and well maintained to walk or scooter on
- There are clean streets and bicycle lanes
- There are working traffic lights
- Numerous civic Festivals and events in Lausanne. And all meticulously cleared up just hours or sometime within the hour of finishing
- That if you call the Police they will arrive
- There are street lights
- Garbage is not allowed to be littered or left on streets.
- All legitimate garbage (rubbish) is regularly removed
- There is a decheterie for you to take large rubbish items
- There are no power cuts
- There is a 1Gigabit/second Lausanne wide wired Internet Infrastructure
- There is a 100Mbit/second 4G LTE Lausanne wide mobile Internet Infrastructure
- There are Buses and a Metro and a Local and Intercity Railway service.  It runs on time.  The toilets on the train are clean and don't have cockroaches visibly running around in them.
- Lausanne has numerous drinkable water fountains
- The cold water from a tap at home is drinkable
- In winter roads are cleared from snow if it falls, 24x7
- There is city sewage.  It works, all of the time
- Roads have Potholes by exception, not by rule

And So back to India
Marcus and Agata have it on the todo list to perhaps spend several (more) months in India.   But we know what to expect.

Of course we can talk about democracy, the Indian F1 team, the Indian Space programme, the brilliant and talented and now mostly ex-pat Indians working abroad, the numerous Hypercar dealerships like Porsche.

However I know that if I speak to Middle Class IT professionals or even managers, managing hundreds of people.   They live in sometime squalid accommodation.  Or perhaps a modern gated block.  With a driver who personally takes them, and maybe a bus for their staff,  though potholed streets to their private Generator powered IT workplace.

There are Power Cuts, and the Internet may be similarly patchy.

In many streets of some major cities rotting food garbage can stand for weeks

And whilst City infrastructure is patchy, it is at a whole higher level than that of the countryside.

Pee Buddy
The Pee buddy   as reported by the BBC simply gives the Indian woman the equal opportunity to pee over a dirty toilet, or in the street, the latter is something that the Indian man is very capable of.

The General level of Indian Infrastructure is simply bloody unacceptable.

But please, don't take my word for it.  Book a holiday in India yourself, not via an all planned travel company.  Just a flight and an initial hotel.  And by all means send us the results.

Pee Buddy helps Indian Women
Indian monsoons cause havoc
Artist Pothole Protest
Pee Buddy official
Pee Buddy YouTube

Sunday, June 28, 2015

La Romandie Classic 2015

subtitle: Marcus crashes the Romandie Classic

Last minute booking
We were fleetingly told about this race but forgot about it until 2 days before.   We learnt that for an extra exorbitant fee we could sign up on the day.  And so ... Marcus and Agata trundle off to Aigle in Switzerland.

We actually parked just outside UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale)   Here Agata is to be see brewing up Chai Tea from Twinings.

Just before Romandie Classic

 Time to go!

Marcus Crashes

The first part of this race is an untimed 40Km cycle behind a pace car. That was fine. And then, about 200 metres from the start of the timed 14Km hill ascent,  Marcus fell over.

In retrospect my bicycle front is covered in some translucent gooey liquid.   It's probable that this was on the road and I slid on it, down into the tram line, that I had already spotted and was cycling I thought carefully to avoid. After falling and sliding I was promptly run over by the cyclist behind me.  Ouch.

I did eventually get some antiseptic would dressing.  As you can see I took it like the sensitive youth that friends would say "Yes, that is Marcus"


Remarkably the Velo assistance car was just behind us at crash and a nice man stopped and tried to adjust my rear wheel.

It was however hopeless.  The rail track had warped the wheel and the best we could do was open the rear brakes so they did not rub against what is now a wheel that will shortly be put in the Dura Ace scrap pile.

Yes it was flippin here.

Instead of calling it a day, Marcus convinced Agata that he would instead cycle on the wobbly wheel, and that we'd worry about the steep descent with only one front brake later!

We finish

Report from Leysin finish

 Prizes and All of that

We were not quite last   (well the accident meant we started about 15 minutes late, and I am proud to say that we caught a few people up and overtook them!)

We clapped the last finishers.

 And then a real treat.  We waited for the Tombola prize draw!  Our uber high priced entry tickets qualified us and the prizes ranged from a tour of UCI to a new bicycle.  Pretty good.  We didn't win but Marcus commented that it was at least 30 years ago when he last entered his local village tombola in England.  Took me right back.   How quaint Switzerland really is.

Coming out on top?
After climbing the last 14Km on the timed stage from Aigle to Leysin Marcus was surprised to find that his right side body pains, currently believed to be spine and disc related seems to have abated.

Now it could just be the adrenalin, or maybe the fall has magically reset some part of the spine and Marcus has unwittingly done a self Osteopathic reset.  Time will tell.  To be continued!

Learning Points
I've been selling numerous /sub optimal/ items on the Swiss sales site Anibis recently.  This crash reminds me in a less than perfect world, maybe I should keep these spare parts around, just in case.  After all, I'm selling them for peanuts.

Wearing long cycle clothing turned out trumps again for Marcus.  Cuts and abrasions would have been so much worse in shorts or short sleeved gear.   I'll continue by long wearing.

Accidents aside,  Marcus and Agata had a wonderful time.  We shared the weekend with Carsten and Kathy who are most knowledgeable in all things sporting and fitness so this was an added pleasure.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Centenary Course Run Lausanne

IOC CIO Centenary Run

Subtitle:  Another healthy day in Lausanne

We were tipped off at the last minute that there was a Centenary Run to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 

IOC  (International Olympic Committee)

which of course is located in our home town of Lausanne.

We are about to start.  It is 19.45 and the temperature is over 25 degrees C.  Marcus waits until the last moment to put his second layer and mandatory run course T shirt on.  It is going to be hot, hot & hot.

Warm up exercises lasted forever.  Since we were already boiling and had run about 3Km down from home we just stood by looking on.

19.45 ... run starts ...

So Agata and Marcus had a fantastic (though super hot) time.  Thanks are due to Kathy Zimmerman for getting us the last minute tickets.

The points to note are

- The run was let by a motorcycle man doing just under 10 Km/h

- So there was no need to rush, but some people still kept bounding past only to come to a complete halt with the rest of us on parts of the course where there was a restricted route

- In other words, the course weaved thru Lausanne and at some points came literally to a walking pace and even a stop when the route was too narrow.

- There was only 1 water stop at 5Km.  Now I know the run is free and also we got a T shirt, but I was hoping for something more tasty than water!  Call me grumpy

- We finished the 11Km in just over an 70 minutes as planned.

But there is more
Agata and Marcus believe in daily exercise.

So we scootered to Agata's work meeting in Central Lausanne late in the morning.

We then thought for lunch that swimming would be appropriate so we scootered a few more Km 

to the beautiful Pully pool, which is just by the lake.

We swam a few Km.  Pully pool is 50 metres and never full. We had a lane with at most 3 other swimmers. Luxury!

Now, time to go car and bike spotting (by the pool)

We had time to get back home after swimming, where let's say it's a little more countrified.  Then we put in some good work, administration and planning until the above IOC night-time run.

So, to summarise

Another beautiful and busy day in Lausanne, a place we regard as almost paradise.

Higher Res Picasa Album