Prudential Ride London 2019 Statistics

On Sunday 4th August 2019 I (along with quite a few other people) took part in the annual Ride London event.  I’ve been looking online for statistics relating to it but all that’s currently available is individual rider data.  After a bit of gratuitous hackery, I managed to pull every riders stats and consolidate the data into the following key points.

  • Total number of finishers: 24137
  • Male finishers: 18387
  • Female finishers: 5750
  • Total who completed 100 miles: 18693
  • Total who completed 94 miles (No Box Hill): 1817
  • Total who completed 92 miles (No Leith Hill): 2207
  • Total who completed 86 miles (No Leith or Box Hills): 1420

I’m not going to put the raw data on here in case there are GDPR issues!

Posted in Cycling | Leave a comment

Raspberry Pi – GPS

I recently wanted to set up a Stratum 1 time source using a Raspberry Pi (running Arch Linux).  I bought the excellent Adafruit Ultimate GPS Hat and dutifully soldered on the connector.  So far so good.  Unfortunately, from that point on, I found lots of conflicting information.  Not, I hasten to add, because the sources were wrong, but rather that evolving kernels and NTP versions rapidly obsolete instructions.  Here is my version of requirements, as of October 2016.

Remove console from ttyAMA0.  The GPS wants this serial port for talking to the Pi.

root=/dev/mmcblk0p2 rw rootwait console=tty1 selinux=0 plymouth.enable=0 smsc95xx.turbo_mode=N dwc_otg.lpm_enable=0 elevator=noop

Add Pulse Per Second modules to the kernel.
/boot/config.txt – Add new line:


Note: gpiopin=4 represents the pin number on the module that PPS is on.
Load the PPS module on boot.


At this point, it’s useful to be able to test PPS is working. There’s an excellent tool for this here.  Just run make and then run the tool from whatever directory you extracted it into. If all is well, you’ll see something like this:

root@ticktock:pps-tools# ./ppstest /dev/pps0
trying PPS source "/dev/pps0"
found PPS source "/dev/pps0"
ok, found 1 source(s), now start fetching data...
source 0 - assert 1477494632.000003379, sequence: 1210414 - clear  0.000000000, sequence: 0
source 0 - assert 1477494633.000001527, sequence: 1210415 - clear  0.000000000, sequence: 0

Now install the gpsd package:

pacman -S gpsd

And configure it in /etc/gpsd:


At this point, everything is there and working. Unfortunately, the packaged version of NTP isn’t configured to use a PPS time source so it’s necessary to download and compile a local version:

./configure --enable-all-clocks --enable-parse-clocks --enable-SHM \
            --disable-debugging --without-ntpsnmpd --disable-local-libopts \

I’ve no idea if all these switches need to be enabled and I have no plans to perform a process of elimination. As of ntp-4.2.8, these work for me.

Finally, configure NTP to use the GPS and PPS time sources:

server prefer
fudge time1 +0.520 flag1 1 refid GPS stratum 1
server minpoll 4 maxpoll 4
fudge time1 +0.0 flag2 0 refid PPS

# Associate to Arch's NTP pool

restrict default kod limited nomodify nopeer noquery notrap
restrict ::1

# Location of drift file
driftfile /var/lib/ntp/ntp.drift

This retains the default NTP pool which provides some sanity that the local clock is accurate. A query of the NTP should produce something like this:

root@ticktock:~# ntpq -pn
     remote           refid      st t when poll reach   delay   offset  jitter
*    .GPS.            1 l   59   64  377    0.000   53.155  21.298
o127.127.22.0    .PPS.            0 l    9   16  377    0.000    0.002   0.004
+    3 u   33   64  377   30.713   -3.681   0.170
+   3 u   42   64  377   20.914   -3.539   0.348
+2001:418:3ff::5   2 u   52   64  377   20.722   -3.742   0.090
+      2 u   63   64  377   21.381   -3.664   0.346

The GPS clock is pretty inaccurate, thanks to serial connectivity, but it doesn’t matter as the PPS provides very accurate pulses per second to provide the fine granularity. It’s only important that GPS is accurate to within 500ms to ensure NTP can ascertain which second the pulses relate to. Enjoy!

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systemd Cheat Sheet


List units

systemctl start/stop/restart/reload unit

systemctl status unit

systemctl is-enabled unit

systemctl mask unit – Prevent a unit from starting

systemctl unmask unit – Allow a unit to start

systemctl reboot/poweroff

Copy the unit file and create a custom version (overriding the original)
systemctl edit –full unit

Show units that failed to start
systemctl –failed

Target Runlevels Single user mode Multi-user, non-graphical Multi-user, graphical

Switching targets
systemctl isolate


List entire log (in a less style interface)

Real-time log display
journalctl -f

Show log messages relating to a specific PID
journalctl _PID=1234

Show log messages relating to a specific unit
journalctl -u unit

Posted in Debian | Leave a comment

Elite Dangerous – Is this love?

The announcement that Frontier Developments were going to produce a new version of Elite caused a stirring in my, long inactive, game-related synapses.  Since original Elite I’ve been a dormant gamer, other than brief interests in long-ago versions of Doom and Quake.  The stirring was sufficient to justify a crowd-sourcing contribution and some researching of GPU’s and a subsequent purchase (along with inevitable PSU and Cooling upgrades).  Now I’ve been playing the game for several months and it feels like time to share my experiences.

On my first loading of the Beta, I was instantly struck with a sense of panic.  So many keys to remember! So much coordination to learn!  As it turned out, this proved impossible for me and I forked out on a game controller.  Despite my hopes, this also proved completely useless to me.  Maybe the modern-day gamer, brought up on hours per day of Xbox can work one of those things but they can also type on a phone with both thumbs.  I am simply not that evolved.  What I needed was a joystick of sufficient proportion that the flight-control aspects of the game could all be performed on it.  My salvation came from the Thrustmaster.  I read about this beast and Googled it with some trepidation as I’m sure that name has been applied to a completely unrelated type of toy!  Despite my concerns, the Thrustmaster proved the answer to my needs and I was ready for launch.

Elite Dangerous looks a light-year more evolved than original Elite but, somewhat surprisingly, it quickly felt familiar.  Docking procedure was the same and the flight-control concept of rotate, up/down and speed was nothing new.  Pitch and rotate may be original but ED has the added concept of yaw.  Somehow though this just fell into place and I grasped movement in a 3D space with consummate ease.  I experienced a sense of delight at being able to do these things with relative competence at my, rapidly advancing, age.  With basic ship-control mastered, it was time to venture out into the galaxy and, umm, do stuff…..

This is perhaps my biggest issue with ED at the moment: I lack a cause.  Trading is an absolute necessity to begin with; it’s the only way to make money, and money makes the Elite world go around.  You need it to outfit your Sidewinder, to buy more profitable commodities and upgrade to ships better suited to specific roles; such as the gorgeous Viper for a spot of bounty hunting.  This was my chosen path and for a while my life was fulfilled but the limitations of the Viper soon become apparent: Very limited range and terrible cargo capacity.  Next upgrade was to the Cobra and, my love was refuelled.  It had sufficient cargo capacity for trading and sufficient bite in a dogfight that I survived all interdictions with cargo intact.  I made a lot of money with my Cobra but the endless backwards and forwards between two profitable trading points soon becomes horribly tedious.  I eventually solved this by buying another Viper and retaining my Cobra.  One worked for profit, the other for the thrill of combat.  Then I discovered the Lakon Type 6 and trading took on a new dimension.  This beast could carry almost three times the Cobra’s capacity making trade hugely profitable.  This came at the cost of terrible weaponry and manoeuvrability.  Cargo runs became a dangerous business, especially with almost a million Credits worth of commodities on board.  Turret-mounted weapons and missile launchers became my weapons of choice as there was little chance of getting the enemy in my sights with the turning speed of this lumbering behemoth!  Despite some hair-raising encounters, the Type 6 survived to the time when I, once again, grew bored with my pilot’s life.  Enter the Asp.

The Asp is the ship I’m currently flying and purchasing plus outfitting cost me my entire stack of Credits, including the sale of my beloved Viper.  In fact I set off to explore the galaxy with a far less than perfect ship, partly because I lacked exploration experience, but mostly because I couldn’t afford the best modules for the Asp.  Now I’m several hundred light-years away from any populated systems and relying on a fuel scoop to keep me mobile.  As yet I’m undecided about the concept of exploration.  It’s still quite new to me and it’s kind of fun but I suspect the interest will fade in time and I’ll, once again, need to find a new role in the game.  Despite my love of Elite Dangerous, I fear this will eventually condemn it to my gaming history alongside Doom and Quake.  The roles one can undertake are finite and my driving passion in playing the game is to progress from one ship or role to the next.  Maybe some players really care about the ranks they achieve and that will be sufficient motivation to keep them going.  Others may love the concept of exploration and will, forever wander the billions of star systems.  Me, I’ll probably just dust off my bicycle or discover a new fad to spend unproductive time (and money) on.  I love you Elite Dangerous but I fear you’re destined to be a passionate affair, not a lifelong partner.

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Facebook for Android – Video Autoplay

The answer to Facebook Android and Video Autoplay is, downgrade your Facebook app to an earlier version that doesn’t support Autoplay.  Here’s how to do it.

You can’t get old versions of the Facebook app through Play Store so the first step is to disable the security feature that prevents getting apps from anywhere else.

Settings > Security > Unknown Sources

Next, find a source for an older version of the Facebook app.  I downloaded and installed three old versions before finding that v3.6.1 doesn’t support Autoplay.  There might be a slightly newer version without it but it’s certainly in v4.  Googling for “Facebook apk 3.6.1” worked for me.

Before doing anything with the above link, uninstall the current Facebook app.

Settings > Apps > Facebook > Uninstall

The reason for not doing this step before is to make sure the older version is still available for download.  It would be annoying to delete the new version, only to find there is no old one!  Now go back to the v3.6.1 URL you found and download the apk file.  It should be about 15MB in size.  Once the download completes, click on the apk file and it will install the Facebook app for you.

Now you have an old version, you need to change the auto-update setting to prevent Play Store from upgrading it again.

Settings > Apps > Facebook > untick Show Notifications

Apps > Play Store > Play Store > My Apps > Facebook > Settings (3 dots) > untick Auto-Update.

Lastly, remember to undo the first step by toggling the Unknown Sources option back so that only Play Store will be trusted.

If all has gone well, Facebook will now startup and warn that you’re running an old version and should upgrade.  Take delight in ignoring it.

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Parish Council Co-Option Process

With an advertised vacancy on St Mellion Parish Council, I’ve been reading up this morning on how the co-option process works.  If ten parishioners formally request an election there will be no co-option but for the purposes of understanding the process, I’m assuming this won’t happen.

The co-option procedure is well documented at various places on the Internet, largely due to other Parishes advertising the process as and when they’ve had need to apply it.  Fortunately every instance I’ve read states the same procedure so I think it’s fairly safe to assume St Mellion will be no different.  The interesting part is that St Mellion is represented by a smaller number of councillors than any other Parish I’ve read about.

The first step of the co-option process is for councillors to make nominations.  A councillor must be present at the meeting to make a nomination and they are free to nominate anyone they like regardless of whether that person has expressed an interest in the vacancy.  Each councillor can make up to one nomination per vacancy.  St Mellion has five councillors and just a single vacancy so that’s a maximum of five nominations.  So far so good.  However, each nomination must also be seconded by another councillor, with each councillor only allowed to nominate or second, not both!  With only five councillors, this means that a maximum of only two candidates can be both nominated and seconded.  Suffice to say, there are going to be a few unhappy people if more than two have expressed an interest.

When a nomination is made, a second is immediately sought.  If one is not forthcoming, the nominee is excluded and the nominator is unable to nominate or second anyone else for the duration of the round.  (In St Mellion’s case, with so few councillors, it’s unlikely there would be more than one round of voting.)  If the nomination is seconded, the nominee is through to the voting stage and the nomination process beings again.  If two candidates are nominated and seconded, a simple, show of hands vote is performed.  It’s a reasonable assumption that two councillors will side with the each person (the one they nominated or seconded), leaving the fifth, effectively with the casting vote.

According to the procedure: Should no single candidate receive a majority on the first vote, the person with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and the voting process repeats.  For this to happen in St Mellion, one councillor would have to abstain, leaving a 2-2 vote.  Presumably the whole process then begins again with the council aware they must try to resolve the previous deadlock.  It’s unclear what happens if only a single nomination is seconded.  Perhaps that nominee is an uncontested winner?

I look forward to seeing how this works in practice.

Posted in St Mellion | Leave a comment

No Solar, No Access

Yesterday saw the first regular Parish Council meeting since 9th July.  Although meetings happen on a monthly basis, August is the annual exception and no public meeting takes place.  In the intervening period, the council have clearly been anything but idle.

First of all, we got the excellent news that the planning application for the Solar Farm at Dunstan Lodge had been refused. There were a small number of parishioners in favour of it but the overwhelming majority, including all those living nearby, were strongly opposed. I think the objectors owe a huge thanks to Christine and members of the Parish Council who worked hard to achieve a unanimous planning refusal: Something almost unheard of for a Solar application in sunny Cornwall!

The other major talking point was the recent agreement from Devon and Cornwall Police to actively monitor a “No Access” traffic order on Church Lane. I believe this took both Cormac and the Parish Council by surprise as previous communications had suggested that a No Access ruling would be difficult, if not impossible to enforce. Inevitably this wasn’t a welcome announcement for all parties present. Despite it potentially delivering the best possible solution for Church Lane residents, it negates the need to reopen the old St Mellion International Resort entrance. There was a lot of discussion on this point as the Parish Council had previously voted to pursue its reopening; a very favourable option with St Mellion Park residents as it provides a faster (all be it only seconds faster) means of access to their residencies from the A388. In the end, Christine succinctly explained the situation.

  • St Mellion International submitted planning application E2/06/01399/OUT
  • Cornwall Council approved the application with conditions. One condition being that a new entrance must be implemented from the A388. Another, that money be provided for traffic measures in Church Lane to address the inevitable traffic increase due to rat-running as a result of closing the old entrance.
  • St Mellion International accepted the conditions and constructed a new entrance, at significant cost and provided money for (amongst other things) Church Lane traffic improvements.
  • Arguing that the money provided by St Mellion International be used to reopen the entrance is cyclic; the money having been granted as a condition of the old entrance closure. This could lead to potential litigation from St Mellion International, especially as the money was granted for specific, documented purposes; reopening the old entrance, not being one of them.

Despite the lucidity of Christine’s explanation, I get the sense that this issue has not been laid to rest. The residents of St Mellion Park were very hopeful that the money would be spent in a manner that would benefit them by way of quicker access to their properties.  Their representative at the meeting argued long and and hard that they comprise a significant percentage of the Parish population and should benefit from the Section 106 agreement.  Personally I don’t live on Church Lane or on St Mellion Park and don’t stand to benefit from either solution.  The Access Only restriction though appears to be the perfect solution to traffic volume in Church Lane and at a fraction of the cost of reopening the old entrance.  This leaves some money in the pot for the other items stipulated on the 106.

Last but not least, Geoffrey Postles!  The man continues to hugely impress me.  He seems genuinely concerned with delivering benefits to the Parish and works really hard to achieve them.  I’m not aware of his background but he appears to have more than just a working knowledge of how councils operate and how to interact with them to achieve his goals.  Crack on Geoffrey and the very best of luck to you.  A couple more like you and the Parish Council would be truly formidable!

Posted in St Mellion | Leave a comment

Section 106 – Two weeks today

Two weeks ago today, I blogged about my concerns on how St Mellion was considering spending the Section 106 money provided by St Mellion International Resort.  That Blog entry contained a letter that I’d sent to Christine, The Parish Clerk.  Despite Christine forwarding it to the Parish Councillors, I’ve not had a reply from them yet.  I suspect there are a couple of reasons for this.

  • The Parish Council only meet once per month (and not at all in August)
  • Nobody knows quite what to say

I would speculate that there is a significant difference of opinion within the council as to what recommendations should be made on the 106 spending. As a result, nobody is going to reply to me directly as, quite reasonably, each individual cannot speak for the council as a whole. Consequently, without a meeting, they are unable to agree a unified response. Even with a meeting, I suspect there would be sufficient discord as to make a comprehensive response quite difficult.

On reflection, perhaps I should have asked a more fundamental question that wasn’t subject to individual opinion.  That question being:

By what process did opening the old Golf Club entrance get added to the scope of the Section 106 agreement?

If there is any documentary evidence of that happening, prior to Cormac‘s presentation to the community, I would be quite surprised.  That begs the question, “What gives Cormac permission to unilaterally propose amendments to the Section 106 agreement?”.  Cornwall Council have also stated a modification to it by refusing to provide a pedestrian crossing on the A388, despite that being documented in black and white on the section 106, signed and agreed by themselves!

So are Cornwall Council and Cormac at liberty to modify the terms of the Section 106 agreement in whatever manner they see fit?  It certainly seems that way.  They have demonstrated they can reject elements of it that were in the original scope and also demonstrated they can expand the scope to incorporate other schemes.  Add to this that Cornwall Council hold the 106 pot of money and have already unilaterally spent approximately £20k of it to pay Cormac for a presentation of their 106 amendments!  What an incredible relationship for a Council and a Limited company to share.

Posted in St Mellion | Leave a comment

Problems with me carrots!

Yesterday saw the planned, informal meeting in St Mellion to discuss the need for allotments.  Allan Cavill from the National Allotment Society came all the way from Taunton to talk about allotments in general and specifically about St Mellion’s wish to establish allotments within (or near to) the village.

Prior to the meeting I was a bit sceptical about how much value it would being to the ongoing allotment debate in St Mellion but am pleased to say my scepticism was misplaced. Allan was a wealth of knowledge on the subject and instilled a great deal of optimism in me that we really could get some allotments up and running in the, not too distant, future.

The next hurdle is for Mike Mann (who leases the proposed site from Pentillie Estate) to check with the landowners if they have any objections. He also needs verification that using the land for allotments wouldn’t jeopardise its current organic status. If that goes well, the National Allotment Society can assist with grant applications for fencing and any other requirements for getting the site up and running. Meanwhile, St Mellion needs to form an allotments committee to oversee the day-to-day running of the site. Names such as St Mellion Allotments Society (SMALLS) and St Mellion Allotments Group (SMAG) are under consideration. I think we should ask for suggestions in the bi-monthly Mellanus News!

The meeting was attended by Geoffrey, Ken and Ian from St Mellion Parish Council and it was refreshing to have the opportunity to talk to them in a less formal setting than the monthly Parish Council Meetings. After the meeting Geoffrey, Ken and a group of others from the meeting walked over to look at the proposed allotment site and again, their comments and suggestions made me feel like we really are part of a single, cohesive community.  Great that little things like that can provide such a sense of productivity!

Well done to Christine (the Parish Clerk) for organizing events and transporting Allen to and from the railway station.  She continues to be the jewel in the Parish crown!

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Not Smiling

I recently received a letter from Smile, the Internet bank advising that my credit card is due to expire. They’re quite right, it expires at the end of August 2013. The next part of the letter came as a complete surprise to me.  It says:

We regret we are unable to issue a new card to you at the moment.

If there is a balance on the account you should continue to make payments each month until the balance is paid in full. You will not be able to use the account for any more purposes. If there are any companies that claim regular payments from your account, you will need to contact them direct to cancel the authority they hold.

So Smile are unable to issue a new card! Have they gone bust, or lost a contract with Visa? More likely they mean they are refusing to issue me a new card. If that’s the case, why the heck don’t they just say so? Next they say, “If there is a balance on the account”. Don’t they know if there’s a balance on the account? They are, after all, the provider of it.

I’m being facetious I know, but what is it with banks that they feel the need to use language that is frequently ambiguous and lacking in any information?  I’ve had a credit card with them for about 15 years and never missed a payment.  I’ve not received any correspondence to explain that I’m using the card in a manner they don’t like or any kind of warning that they’re going to pull the rug from under me if I don’t change my ways.  Just a letter that effectively states they don’t want my business any more.  Cretins!

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Recent Bomb Threats via Social Media

As a provider (and author) of anonymity systems on the Internet, I’m pretty depressed to read about the recent spate of bomb threats being posted on Social Media sites, such as this one that was posted to the Twitter account of Mary Beard this week.

By their very nature, an anonymity system is unable to determine the purpose for which it’s used and is equally unable to selectively identify the source of some users while maintaining the privacy of others. Inevitably this leads to abuse, simply because some people cannot resist the lure of acting illegally, from, what they consider, the safe haven of anonymity.  They don’t stop to consider the damage they do to the reputation of these systems nor the anguish they may cause the recipient.

I’ve always supported the famous quotation of Evelyn Beatrice Hall:

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Evelyn never intended that her quote should provide justification for the mindless abuse of innocent people. That’s repression not freedom of expression. These idiots on Twitter aren’t interested in their freedom of speech and probably don’t even understand what it means. They are simply antagonists with no particular cause or motivation other than causing distress to others. I hope they get caught and hung out to dry. I also hope they get caught out by their own stupidity and not because of a flaw in an anonymity system that grants people living under repressive regimes the courage to tell the world what’s going on in their countries. Governments don’t like their people having such freedom, it undermines their thirst for control. If it turns out these people are using an anonymity system, the spin doctors will have no trouble using it as a lever to justify further curbs on Internet freedom. Next we’ll have opt-in anonymity.

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Parish Council Extraordinary Meeting

On the 13th September 2007, a Section 106 agreement was signed by four parties:

  • Caradon District Council
  • Bennelong Golf (St Mellion) Ltd
  • Nat West Bank
  • Cornwall County Council

The agreement relates to planning application E2/06/01399/OUT that grants St Mellion International Resort permission for a number of enhancements, including the construction of 265 houses. Although a number of conditions are defined in the agreement, I’m focusing on the “Sustainable Transport Contribution” section that grants £117,000 for various transport improvements in St Mellion village. The documented improvements are:

  • The provision of two “flash up” signs, one at either end of the village
  • A scheme of works within Church Lane
  • The provision of a pedestrian crossing across the A388
  • Footway improvements
  • The provision of two bus shelters
  • Associated Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs)

To date, only the first of these items has been completed and that was done, outside of the 106 agreement and funded from other sources.  There was some discussion in 2012 about the provision of Speed Bumps in Church Lane but no conclusions were reached. All was then quiet until late 2012 when enquiries from various sources led to Cormac conducting a presentation of options and a subsequent period of consultation.

Once again, things went quiet until July 2013 when the new Parish Council called an Extraordinary Meeting to discuss the 106, with Cormac and Cornwall Council representatives in attendance.  Subsequent to that meeting, I’ve sent the following email to Christine, the Parish Council Clerk.

Hi Christine,

Hope you don’t mind me expressing some points following the Extraordinary Meeting? I’d have liked to do this sooner but I’ve been away, coast path walking since Tuesday.  Now I have sore feet and time to rant a bit!

Regarding the original presentation and survey conducted by Cormac, I think the results would have been quite different if the content of the original 106 had been known at the time.  An understanding of the cost of each option would also, potentially, have shifted opinion.

With Option F, opening the old entrance, costing virtually all the remaining 106 money, it would no longer get my vote.  I don’t even understand why that option is on the table: Cormac and CC explained why some of the schemes on the original 106 could not be provided but there was no clarification of why an £80k scheme could be added to the original scope.  Steven Towers, representing one of the four signatories on the 106, was also clearly against it.

I was shocked to hear statements from the St Mellion Park residents present at the meeting, including Parish Council members, that they currently use Church Lane as a rat run and will continue to do so unless the old entrance is reinstated.  I get the impression they are seeking £80k be spent on providing them better access to their own homes.  The subsequent reduced traffic in Church Lane would be a possible by-product of their new access route.

I do appreciate that each proposal for Church Lane comes with an issue: Closing the lane completely would cause chaos at peek school times.  Making the lane one-way would probably cause similar issues.  Proposals like “Access Only” and “No left turn” though are currently being rejected on the basis they are difficult to police.  We live in a relatively law-abiding community and I simply don’t buy this as justification: Tell me it’s a crime to turn left out of Church Lane and I won’t do it.  Place signs saying the lane is “Access Only” and I won’t use it.  I strongly believe this holds true for the large majority of road users.

I welcome improvements to the Crocadon entrance and have absolutely no objection to the old resort entrance being reopened.  I do strongly object though to the proposed source of funding to accomplish these objectives.  The fact that four of the Parish Councillors and St Mellion Park residents would greatly benefit from improved access does not justify siphoning a pot of money that was specifically allocated to sustainable transport improvements in St Mellion village.

Please can the council give strong consideration to the proposals of:
* Improved pedestrian access through Church Lane
* Access Only signage at both ends of Church Lane
* No left turn at the resort end of Church Lane
The combination of these three items would serve to achieve all the goals of the 106 and at a reduced cost.  They are also all clearly within scope of the original 106 scheme of Church Lane works.

Best wishes,

Posted in St Mellion | 2 Comments

Callington to Saltash on a bicycle

The A388 runs from Bideford in Devon to Saltash in Cornwall.  It forms the main commuter route from Launceston to Plymouth and passes through Callington on the way.  It’s an extremely busy road, thanks in part to its linking the A38 and A30; the two major arterial routes in Cornwall.  It’s also home to a number of companies that operate fleets of articulated lorries, such as Ginsters, Tamar Foods, Samworth Brothers Distrubution and Jaspers Meats.  These lorries plough their way, 24 hours a day, up and down the A388.

Living in St Mellion I’m constantly made aware of just how busy this road is.  My house is one side and the field where I walk my dogs is the other.  During busy periods, it’s quite common to wait a few minutes for a gap in the traffic and then there’s a calculated gamble as to whether the gap is big enough.  The dogs seem to feel my sense of urgency and run over as enthusiastically as I do!  My driveway also connects directly with the road and it’s a honed skill to edge out into the road in such as manner as to see what’s coming without being broadside to 40 tons of oncoming lorry.  Yes, I chose to live here and the road pre-dates my occupation so I can only hope that one day a bypass comes along.  I’m sure the commuters share my hope as the 30 MPH bottleneck of St Mellion reduces their daily commute to a trudge as the volume of traffic piles up at each end of the village where it abruptly slows down (in theory) from the national speed limit.

Having been born and raised in Tavistock, I’m well acquainted with the frustrations of commuting.  The A386 from Tavistock to Plymouth was, if anything, worse than the A388 I now live on.  The saving grace of the Tavistock to Plymouth commute is that cycling it has become a very real option.  And by that I mean, a real option of performing it daily, at rush hour times, with a long-term chance of survival!  This is thanks to the fantastic Drake’s Trail cycle path that goes off-road all the way into the heart of Plymouth.  I don’t know how many cyclists use it to commute each day but I strongly suspect it’s a significant number.  Heck, it’s probably quicker than sitting in the stacked up procession of cars!

That brings me nicely on to the point of this rant.  Why hasn’t the A388 got a cycle lane?  I used to frequently cycle the route but the volume of lorries and cars eventually drove me to admit it was simply too dangerous.  One of the cars even made contact with me.  The 50 MPH slap on the arse its wing-mirror dealt me was the cause of much hilarity in the local pub.  Funny perhaps, but sufficient warning that eventually a car or lorry would come an inch closer with potentially life-changing results.

For most of the road from Callington to Saltash, the A388 has enormous verges.  I’m told by reliable sources that these were originally left so that the road could be expanded to dual-carriageway.  If it’s wide enough for that option, surely it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that it could accommodate a cycle lane?  The two obvious exceptions are around St Mellion and Carkeel where the road passes through the centre of each village with barely room for a pavement.  Even in these places though, the villages are bordered with fields and putting a narrow cycle path through them hardly seems rocket science.  I’m sure the cyclists and drivers alike would be delighted as the two forms of transport have little in the way of compatibility on busy, narrow roads.

No doubt Cornwall Council have statistics out there somewhere that will state that only eight bicycles a day use the route so it’s not worth the expenditure.  Well, I wonder how many cyclists commuted from Tavistock to Plymouth before and after the opening of Drake’s Trail?  It’s meaningless to base usage statistics on a road that’s too dangerous to use.  Come on Cornwall Council, how about it?  We have some great cycle routes for tourists to the county but something to benefit the working residents would be most welcomed!

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The need to be quorate

To extend my recent blatherings about St Mellion Parish Council, I thought I’d do a short post on the recent issue the council had to address in order to remain quorate.  First though, what exactly does “quorate” mean?

In order for an organization or government body to conduct business, there must be sufficient eligible voters present.  The exact terms of how many, or what ratio of overall voters depends on the constitution of the organization.  Once that number or ratio of voters is present, business can be conducted.  The meeting is deemed to be quorate.

In the specific instance of St Mellion Parish Council, three councillors of the overall six must be present and eligible to vote in order for the meeting to be quorate.  This led to an interesting situation at the last public meeting when, without Christine’s knowledge of the law, the council would have found itself unable to form a quorum on what was a hugely important issue to many of the parishioners.  So how did this come about and how was it resolved?

At the last meeting, five of the six councillors were present; Ian Waite having expressed apologies as he was on holiday.  Unfortunately the biggest item on the agenda was the Dunstan Quoin Solar Farm and four of those present had already declared a pecuniary interest in that project.  An interest in this context is a legal term to mean a person has a potential conflict between expressing their personal opinion and expressing the opinion of the electorate.  Hence the term, “A conflict of interest”.  With only five councillors present and four of them excluded by declared pecuniary interests, the council found itself with only a single eligible voter, Ken Henley, and hence, totally inquorate!  This was a ridiculous situation for the council to be placed in and serves to demonstrate the demographic imbalance on the council when four of the six members share almost identical pecuniary interests.  So what was the solution?

The solution was for two of the councillors to request dispensations, thus enabling them to participate in a vote regarding a subject thay had previously declared a pecuniary interest in.  In order for this to work, the logistics had to be carefully planned, such that a quorum could be formed to vote on the dispensations and subsequently, following approval of those dispensations, a quorum could be formed to vote on the Solar Farm planning.  I assume there was a closed meeting, prior to the public meeting to grant the councillors time to work out exactly who would apply for dispensations and who would consequently approve them.  The decision reached was:

Geoffrey Postles and Anita Brocklesby applied for dispensations, leaving Jean Dransfield, Steve Todd and Ken Henley to form the quorum that approved them.  This left Geoffrey, Anita and Ken eligible and quorate to vote regarding the Solar Farm.

If Steve Todd or Jean Dransfield had also applied for dispensation, the council would have been inquorate to approve the dispensations.  If Geoffrey Postles or Anita Broklesby had exclusively applied for dispensation, the council would have been inquorate to vote on the Solar Farm.  It was that close to the council being inquorate on potentially the biggest issue of the year!  I’m actually surprised the dispensations process worked.  Jean and Steve voted on the dispensations of Geoffrey and Anita, despite them having declared pecuniary interests in the subject that were granting dispensation on!  This is a farcical legal loophole in a process designed to prevent expression of personal interest.

The conclusion of business was that Geoffrey, Anita and Ken formed a quorum and voted to deny planning for the Solar Farm.  This was the best outcome as it clearly represented the majority view of the electorate.  It served though to very effectively demonstrate that we now have a Parish Council that is unable to vote on matters relating to St Mellion Park, simply because four of the six all have declared interests in it.  The dispensations worked on this occasion but it’s far from clear if that loophole can be employed every time without objections being raised.

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A month on in the parish

It’s been just over a month since I first expressed my opinions on the St Mellion Parish Council elections. There have subsequently been two monthly public meetings of the council and I’m pleased to say that I found them energetic and constructive. The new clerk, Christine, is bursting with enthusiasm and seems to already have a strong grasp on her role, despite only being involved for a short period of time. I’m also impressed with Ken in his role as chairman: He’s handled both the meetings in a constructive, convivial manner and interfaces well with the attendees. He also allows a lot more public interaction than is customary in Parish Council meetings where the public role is traditionally to observe proceedings. He also demonstrates considerable patience in handling the more trivial matters that the public raise whilst I squirm in my chair with impatience.

Of the other council members, Ian, my cycling buddy, has the same desire to achieve results as he does with everything else he takes on. I have high hopes that he’ll do a lot for the parish. He is also the type who won’t let a subject drop until he’s got a satisfactory answer. The other major contributor at meetings is Geoff Postles:  I’ve never met Geoff but he’s obviously a very intelligent guy and has an opinion on many of the council matters discussed. Previously I’d been concerned that the St Mellion Park council members might only serve their own local interests but Geoff has done a lot to dispel my pessimism. The other three councillors are still completely unknown to me and haven’t taken such an active role in the first two public meetings: I’ll hold off from expressing an opinion on them until I have an opinion to express.

I still feel slightly sore at the manner in which five of the elected candidates presented themselves on a single flier, with common objectives. The demographics of the Parish placed them in an unassailable position which the results served to demonstrate. Now though, I’m feeling a lot more confident that they will serve the Parish well. There are interesting times ahead; we have three potential applications for Solar Farms in the parish from three different energy suppliers. These are likely to dominate parish affairs over the coming months and divide public opinion, especially if the suppliers offer sweetening incentives to the parish. We may be living in interesting times and I’m looking forward to them.

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Cycle Navigation by GPS

When you use a SatNav in a car, the objective is usually to get from Point A to Point B in the most efficient manner.  When you cycle, it’s more frequently a requirement to get from Point A to Point B via a specific route.  It might be a scenic route, a flat route or a route that avoids busy roads.  Whatever the reason, the car SatNav is probably going to be useless for the job.

Dedicated Cycle GPS systems are produced by companies such as Garmin but they’re usually hideously expensive and frequently still not ideal for the purpose.  Anyway, what’s the point of spending all that money?  Most of us have a Smartphone with built-in GPS and some really great software that’s tailor made for getting around by the routes of our choosing.  The purpose of this post is to explain the hoops I jumped through to turn my phone into an effective navigation aid.

The first, and by far the biggest issue is that of data downloading.  Smartphones cache a small area of map and then download more data as you move around.  This presents two issues: First, you need a data signal at all times and that’s not very likely in the remoter parts of the UK that are best for cycling.  Second, data downloading costs money!  Your contract might say ‘unlimited data’ but there will be a fair-use clause.  Having a phone constantly downloading map data, hour after hour, day after day will soon blow that clause and the huge bill will inevitably follow.  To overcome this, you need a means to download a map that encompasses the entire route on to a phone.  Before we get on to the means of doing that, you need a tool to create the route.  Here it is:

I’m not going to explain Google Earth.  It’s been explained in infinite detail by infinitely more literate and intelligent people than me.  Suffice to say, it has all the functionality required to create and edit a route (known as a Path in Google Earth) and to then export that route as a kml type file.
Convert Google KML format files to GPX-XML format.  This is required for MOBAC to load the track and calculate a map selection polygon around it.

  • Atlas – New Atlas – RMaps SQLite
  • Mobile Atlas Creator – Select “Load GPX” (Bottom right of screen)
  • Select Zoom Level – 18 is most detailed, 15 is a good choice for cycle maps.
  • Maps – Selection Mode – Polygon
  • Maps – Add selection by GPX Track
  • Atlas – Create Atlas

Plug phone into computer and transfer Map file and also Google Earth KML file.

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WordPress Brute-Force Attacks

A post on Twitter today alerted me to the fact that my WordPress application was probably under brute-force attack.  A growing series of links told me reasons why it was happening, methods for understanding the degree of the problem and what to do about it.  Some of the answers were good but the majority were downright silly or didn’t apply to my situation: a Blog hosted on my own server that I have full control over.  So here’s my attempt to answer the above questions:

Why is my Blog under Brute-Force attack?
It’s on the Internet, the login page is exposed and there is no limit on the number of login attempts.  Simple as that.  This is the Internet and anything that exposed is going to get probed.

How bad is it?
Running the following command against an Apache access log gives a pretty good idea on how much your login page is being accessed (Brute-Forced).
awk '/wp-login\.php/ {print $1}' access.log | sort | uniq -c| sort -n

How should I prevent it?
A strong password is one obvious solution.  Although this doesn’t prevent the server load of thousands of bots trying millions of passphrases, it’s better than getting your site hacked to hell and back.

In my scenario, I’m rarely going to access the login from anywhere but my own home so I can lock it down to only allowing access to the login program from that IP address/subnet.  If I happen to be somewhere else then I can SSH to the server and briefly change the config.  Below is the subsection I added to my Apache 2.2 config file:
<Files "wp-login.php">
Order Deny,Allow
Deny from all
Allow from
ErrorDocument 403 "Not acceptable"

Where is my IP address (no it’s not really mine).

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St Mellion Parish Election 2013 – Response to Alan Twist

Following my previous post regarding the Parish Council elections, I’d like to proffer my thanks to Alan Twist for his concise comments.  Alan, please accept my apologies for the false supposition that the Solar Farm was the driving force behind the collaborative efforts of St Mellion Park.  I did hear rumours of the precept issue but discarded it because I didn’t feel the facts supported it.  I’ll try to set out my reasons for arriving at that conclusion.

Firstly, you state that St Mellion Park houses are rated at Band H.  This is partially correct but for the sake of completeness, here are the actual bandings for St Mellion Park.

Street A F G H Total
Dunstan Lane 1 15 16
Keason Hill 15 1 16
Lake View 7 2 9
Oak Avenue 1 3 4
Oliver Court 1 1 2
Orchard Close 4 9 13
The Rowans 6 6
Wood Drive 5 2 7
Total 1 5 61 6 73

Unfortunately I did this exercise after obtaining precept details from the council for only Band H properties in the parish.  Suffice to say, the Band G properties pay less than Band H.  The following table shows the current St Mellion Band H precept and the Cornwall county average for Band H.

St Mellion Band H Annual Precept £29.00
Average Cornwall County Band H Precept £139.44

St Mellion’s precept is approximately 21% of the county average for Band H property owners.  To put it another way, the six highest banded properties in St Mellion Park contribute less than £0.56 each per week to the parish.  This seems unworthy of the term “lion’s share”.

In your comment you expressed concern that St Mellion Park residents were paying for projects that mainly benefited the village.  Do you have any examples of these projects?  I do my best to follow parish matters but I’m not aware of a single parish project, current or proposed.  I presume that if such plans existed, the incumbent parish council would have raised the precept last year to accommodate them.  They did not.  I’d also like to point out that despite its unique characteristics; St Mellion Park is part of the very village you express distaste at contributing towards.  St Mellion village (and indeed parish) lacks many of the facilities available to other parishes.  In fact the only parish asset I’m aware of is a granite seat located across the A388 from the Coryton Arms and the small patch of grass it occupies.

Prior to the election, the five candidates representing St Mellion Park distributed a flier around the parish, it included the following manifesto statement:-

“Our objective during the coming electoral period is to reflect the interests of the parish and to utilize any resources for the benefit of all the residents of St Mellion.”

This statement seems completely at odds with the objective stated in your comment of preventing Band H precepts from rising in St Mellion Park.  I appreciate though that your views are your own and might not be those of the candidates representing you.

Despite my points above, I fully understand your desire to have representation on the parish council.  St Mellion Park is a significant component of the parish and has every right to representation.  In your comment you express surprise at four candidates responding to a request to represent St Mellion Park.  Four would have given them, not only representation, but majority control over the parish council.  This begs the question as to why St Mellion Park then co-opted a fifth candidate and was declined by a sixth.  This suggests that mere representation was never the objective.  St Mellion Park sought, and indeed achieved, complete control.

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St Mellion NIMBYs (Ltd)

Sat here today licking my wounds after being defeated in yesterday’s Parish Council Elections.  As a rule, voter apathy surrounds these elections and even a 30% turnout is considered respectable.  That’s assuming voters are even required to turn out.  More often than not there are an insufficient number of candidates to mandate an election!  St Mellion Parish is no exception to this rule; there hasn’t been an election for 14 years.  So how did it come to be that this election for six seats was contested by ten candidates?  The answer, strange as it may seem, is solar energy.

In October 2012 a planning application (PA12/03001/PREAPP) was submitted that related to a proposed Solar Farm in the Parish.  I say “related” because it wasn’t a request to construct such a farm, rather to find out if an actual planning request would require EIA Screening (Environmental Impact Assessment).  As a fine example of parish apathy, nobody commented on it until two months after the submission.  When they finally did comment it was to expostulate that they didn’t even know about the application, despite it being on the publicly accessible planning website all that time.

Normally planning applications are treated with similar degrees of apathy as other parish matters but this one was different.  It happened to be planned for a group of fields close to the largest housing estate in the parish.  Most inhabitants of housing estates probably wouldn’t be greatly energised by an application for solar panels but this is no average housing estate.  To understand why, you need to know a little of St Mellion history.

In 1976 two brothers, Herman and Martin Bond opened a golf course in St Mellion constructed on their potato farm.  The course grew to be a major success, attracting international competitions and major names in golf, like Seve Ballesteros and Bernhart Langer.  This led to the construction of a second course, the Jack Nicklaus Signature Course in 1988.  This beautiful course quickly became known as one of the most challenging in Europe and consequently attracted more major events.  Having a home next to such a golf course is highly desirable and such houses demand high prices.  Building a large estate next to their golf course was a source of considerable revenue to the Bond brothers and aided them in expanding their club into a international standard resort.  Eventually they sold the resort to American Golf in 1998 and it subsequently became part of Crown Golf in 2004 following a take-over.  To put the size of this estate into perspective, in a parish of 351 electors (at the time of this election) 152 of them live on this one estate.

In parish elections, each elector may vote for up to the number of seats the parish commands.  In the case of St Mellion, this is six seats.  In the end, 190 people in the parish actually voted and, on average, they each voted for 4.44 candidates; an amazingly high average compared with a normal parish election.  This high figure is easily explained: Five of the ten candidates stood as representatives of that one housing estate and had a common, unified goal;  to object to the proposed solar farm.

The election result is shown below:-

Name Votes Affiliation
Brocklesby 92 Golf Estate
Butler 51 Independent
Crook 81 Independent (Me)
Dransfield 92 Golf Estate
Henley 108 See Below
Malsom 85 Incumbent (Parish Chair)
Postles 107 Golf Estate
Teale 47 Independent
Todd 91 Golf Estate
Waite 87 Independent
Total Votes 841

Without going into heavy maths, suffice to say it was almost impossible for them not to be elected.  Commanding 43% of the electorate and being able to instruct those people to vote for the same five candidates rendered all the other voters in the parish powerless to affect the outcome without collaboration on a similar scale.  As the other candidates had independent views and the other voters independent thoughts, that couldn’t happen.  It’s an incredible achievement by Ian Waite to obtain 87 votes from the approx 100 voters who did not collaborate.  Well done Ian!

When I talk about colloboration on this housing estate, perhaps I should offer some explanation.  St Mellion Park Residents Association is a Limited Company, complete with a board of Directors.  The four candidates standing from St Mellion Park are all members of that association (as are most of the other residents).  Whether these four make the future decisions on parish matters or simply pass on the instructions of their Directors is a moot point.

So there we have it. St Mellion faces four years under a council whose driving priority is the representation of the housing estate they live on.  The odd exception to this is Ken Henley, a member of the previous parish council.  Ken lives in St Mellion village and has no obvious affiliation with the Golf estate.  Despite that, he represented them and even shared a common election flier with them.  Perhaps there was concern in “Golf Estate Ltd” that their four may be forced to declare personal interests in matters relating directly to the estate they live on.  Having a stooge who has to declare no such interest ensures unanimity in any vote they care about.  I think Ken also had a point to prove in getting re-elected and was sufficiently driven not to care about the ethics of how he got there.  I understand that prior to the election Vivienne Malsom, the incumbent parish chair, was approached to join the collaborating five but she declined on moral grounds.  Respect to you Vivienne!

I say four years under the control of these collaborating candidates but the reality is, they will retain control until they no longer want it or until the population of St Mellion Parish swells to the point they cannot sufficiently bias the voting.  Next election they could register six collaborating candidates and instruct their residents to place six votes each.  This pretty much ensures the parish will remain in the hands of, what is in a effect, a dictatorship.

Since word of the collaboration came out, there has been an impending sense of doom amongst the independent candidates that the five would prevail, leaving one poor independent in the impossible position of trying to represent the views of the parish.  That one turned out to be Ian Waite, a man of sufficient principles that he will almost certainly resign his post rather then face four unethical years of futility, casting his one vote against five.

So much for democracy!

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WordPress security vulnerability

According to the BBC News today, WordPress is under a huge Botnet attack that targets the ‘admin’ account.  In accordance with advice from WordPress, I’ve just deleted that account.  Upgraded to v3.5.1 at the same time, just for good measure.

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