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w/e 2023-02-12

Hello. This is quite long.

§ The past couple of weeks I’ve done my first small amount of client work of the year, which included solving a strange bug: submitting one form, for a specific model, on a Django Admin page resulted in a 403 Forbidden error. Strange, because I, and the other user, were definitely logged in with all permissions. It also only happened on the live server.

To cut out some dead ends and debugging errors: Narrowing the problem down showed the error happened as a result of the long contents of a <textarea> field. More poking showed it was a single line of that text, which started with the words “Get the fools…”

Experimentation showed that the problem also occurred – as nerds among you might have guessed – if the line started with “POST” or “put” or any other variation of HTTP request methods.

The site is hosted on cPanel (not my call, and never again) using something called Passenger, plus Apache. Some anonymous online people suggested that it might be down to a rule in Apache’s Mod Security and we should look at the logs. We didn’t have access to the logs but a tech support person looked at them and disabled whatever the offending rule was and the form worked again. We were never told what the rule was, or why it did that. Computers.

§ Whenever I pass through London I feel a bit bad that I have a tendency to stop for lunch or coffee in familiar places. I should go to new places, not live in the past, re-living a sort-of-former life! And I do, occasionally, go to new cafés etc. But I also know that if any of my favourite long-standing spots closed down then I’d regret not going more often, given the limited opportunities I have to do so these days.

And lo, it came to pass that Look Mum No Hands! closed a week ago. If I had to pick a single favourite coffee shop stroke cafe, that would probably have been it. Spacious, light, friendly, bike-focused but fine for non-cyclists, nice food. I loved it from when it opened 13 years ago, only a few minutes walk from our flat. So I’m super-sad that it’s shut up.

This has confirmed my “go to places you like in case they disappear” strategy because I’m glad that my last visit there, in December, included both a fun breakfast with friends and some time sat in the window with a coffee, staring out through the wheels of an expensive bike at the world passing by on Old Street. London is a little bit worse for its demise.

§ A black-and-white photo of an oak tree with no leaves. The sun is behind it, making it a silhouette, and casting its shadow on the crops of a field between us and it.
An oak tree near here

§ Some non-work web things I did this week:

§ After seeing a friend’s bike training set-up on Instagram I did some idle googling and in my ignorance discovered inexpensive smart trainers. I hadn’t given indoor cycling much thought but had assumed you either chose a thing that your back wheel sat on and dumbly spun, or something you attached your back-wheel-less bike to, which could then connect somehow to these clever cycling apps they have now. Or you get a big, heavy, expensive stationary exercise bike.

But no, you can get smart trainers you plop your whole bike on, and they’re not that expensive.

I was interested because I feel I should do some cardio exercise, other than the most heartbeat-raising bits of Apple Fitness Plus strength workouts. I stopped running when my knees weren’t happy and I’m not in a rush to get back to it. I don’t want to actually cycle because I find the local narrow, hilly, pot-holed roads, with their blind corners and large farm machinery more intimidating than cycling in London (which I rarely had a problem with). Plus, I don’t know where I’d cycle to and, given the above, I don’t fancy cycling just for the sake of it.

So, maybe a smart trainer! The Tacx Flow is a universally positively-reviewed thing which is “only” £230 at Decathlon or £150ish on eBay. It seemed so easy: get one of these, put it in the spare room with my old bike on it, connect up an iPad, and cycle away! Simple!

Let’s see how that went.

  • I bought one on eBay, with a mat and iPad mount, which arrived in the strangest-shaped box, re-sealed by DPD. But it was in one piece.
  • It didn’t come with the skewer that replaces the one in your rear wheel so that the bike fits on the trainer better, so I ordered one of those from Wiggle.
  • I cleaned up the old bike which had been sitting in the garage waiting for me to give it away to someone who might actually use it.
  • It turned out that this 1980s bike doesn’t have a replaceable rear skewer so I needn’t have bought one.
  • I’d read that ideally you should use a special trainer tire, designed for the heat generated by these things, but this bike is so old it has 27-inch wheels and I can’t find any special tires in this size. We’ll see how it goes.
  • I set it all up in the spare room. The nuts on the skewer-less rear axle seemed to clamp OK into the trainer. Fingers crossed.
  • I downloaded the Tacx app to my phone, connected the trainer to it, and calibrated the pressure of the device on the tire.
  • I got on and pedaled… but the weight of the device and bike and me meant that everything sunk into the carpet and the back wheel was rubbing on the ground. Hmm.
  • Also one of the bike’s old leather pedal toe straps broke. I later bought replacements at a very nice Local Bike Shop.
  • So I carted the trainer and the bike back downstairs to the kitchen’s hard floor and set everything up again – better.
  • Zwift is the most popular app so I downloaded that to my iPad. And then downloaded the Zwift Companion app to my phone which you apparently also need, especially in order to use the Apple Watch as a heart sensor. Then I spent a long time trying to connect three Apple devices and the trainer together via Bluetooth. Turning things off and on over and over again eventually seemed to work. The worst of all protocols.
  • Zwift looks terrible, like an app from just after the iPad launched which hasn’t had a facelift since. It manages to look big and clunky while also having some text that’s almost too small to read. It is also baffling and I’m amazed this is the most popular cycling app.
  • I started up a cycling “thing”. Didn’t seem like a race or anything but I could pedal and the little cycling man moved forward through an adequately-rendered 3D world. Success!
  • After a few minutes I was thinking that was enough of a test, then my chain came off, so that was that.
  • I couldn’t see any way to have that little workout register as such in Apple Fitness. Lots of googling suggested that if this had ever worked, even using Strava or some other app as a conduit, it no longer worked. That’s annoying. What’s even the point of exercising if my phone and watch don’t give me credit?
  • But how could I run this thing on the spare room’s carpet? It turned out we had an old solid wood door in the garden, which used to hold up some logs in the log shed. I dragged it to the house and spent some time scrubbing garden off it, and then we lugged it up the stairs, followed by the trainer and bike again.
  • A few days later, this morning, I had a go at my first race-type-thing. First I had to spend fifteen minutes attempting to get all the devices to speak to each other again. There should be an Apple Fitness award for that.
  • I still wasn’t entirely clear what all the events were but three laps of something in Innsbruck sounded do-able. It had my avatar waiting in a queue of little cycling men (all men) representing what I assume are real people until it was my turn to start pedaling.
  • There’s a lot of info on the screen, as well as the adequate 3D world, a lot of it slightly confusing. Given these events are, I assume, supposed to be competitive it’s odd that the data that’s most motivating to me – the time between me and the people immediately ahead and behind – is in type so tiny I have to lean in a few inches from the iPad to read it.
  • There was also no indication of how far I had left to cycle. I had no idea how long this was supposed to take, how long a lap was, or what lap I was on.
  • The background music is terrible.
  • It does seem quite clever having the trainer add resistance to mimic uphill gradients. Technology, eh.
  • Changing gears on this old bike, with its gear levers on the downtube rather than handlebars, is easier than when cycling in the real world – less chance of dying – but still quite grindingly clunky.
  • After twenty-something minutes I had definitely had a better cardio workout than I’ve had in some time. There were some occasionally strange noises from behind me but I couldn’t tell if it was my bike or the trainer.
  • A thing came up on the screen telling me I had 10km to go. No. I’d already cycled about 11 virtual km and that was enough, so I quit the race-type-thing.
  • It turns out that one of the Zwift things – the iPad app? the iPhone Companion app? The Watch app? – did generate an Apple Fitness workout after all.
  • Some time later I realised the Companion’s Watch app was still running, measuring my heartbeat, and clocking up more and more Exercise Minutes in Apple Fitness. Force quitting the app on the phone didn’t stop it so I had to force quit the Watch app, something I’ve never had to do to any app before.
A photo of the rear wheel of a red bike clamped into the white and blue Tacx Flow smart trainer

Obviously, it wasn’t quite as simple as I had hoped.

I’ll definitely have a few more goes before I decide whether to stick with it because it is a good cardio workout. Maybe I’ll try different apps (suggestions welcome!) because Zwift seems uninspiringly bad despite its popularity.

But it did feel a bit wrong, pedaling away indoors on this pair of creaking machines clamped together, four different devices Bluetoothing data around… and I look out the window and there are rolling hills and mild weather. I don’t know. I could also, I guess, drive the eight mile round-trip to the gym which would be more sociable.

§ We went to Hereford’s Courtyard Theatre to the cinema, for the first time in nearly three years this week. Three years. Still, Covid’s gone away now hasn’t it, so it’s all fine, fine, fine.

We saw Tár (Todd Field, 2022) which was very good. I found the main character’s way of talking very odd at first. It felt like every sentence was, “and now I’ll deliver this line like this…” while everyone else seemed much more natural. I’m unclear if that was the character – everything they said was calculated and a front – or odd acting, or something else.

§ The past few weeks we’ve watched the first two seasons of Narcos on Netflix, about the attempts to reign in and capture, or kill, Pablo Escobar. Leaving aside any ethical questions about making entertainment from the lives of murderous drug dealers, it was, er, entertaining! We started season three but not sure we’ll continue, one main story having wrapped up now.

Happy Valley season three finished after I wrote last week, and that was very good. A satisfying and not entirely expected ending. A very good character and lead actor. One thing the show does better than some Very Serious thrillers is that people in it have a sense of humour.

We’ve also now watched both seasons of The White Lotus which was extremely enjoyable. An episode or two into the second season I was feeling a bit that it didn’t really “touch the sides”. Like, it brings up various Big Issues related to the characters and the modern world as if it’s doing Important Work, but I didn’t feel much sticking, making a lasting impression on me, whether that was fleeting thoughts about said issues, or the characters themselves.

But season two was better than the first. It felt a bit less preachy about the characters and the wider setting – not solely set in a resort – worked better than I expected; it’s the kind of change that could ruin the claustrophobia of a group of people on holiday. It also felt less predictable, hard to guess exactly who would do what with or to who.

I particuarly enjoyed the interactions between Portia and Jack (who stood out brilliantly as a very Essex Man) – they seemed wonderfully real.

§ That’s a lot. Thank you for your time.

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