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The life and times of james Hart: his family, his music, life in Luton and his occasional escapes onto the internet.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Re-using an old Android phone as a DIY cycle computer

As first phones, the Samsung Galaxy Young gave the offspring a first opportunity to use a smartphone but without too much stress about losing / breaking it. It's a very basic Android phone (running 2.3.6 - Gingerbread) with a small screen and not much onboard memory, so it wasn't long into their teenage years before they saved up for slightly more sophisticated devices.

Consequently, these old phones, in their fold-over cases, have been sitting idle for a while. In the meantime, I've been looking into the latest generation of cycle computers - mainly the GPS enabled ones that can sync with fitness apps (such as MapMyRide, Strava) and wondered if it might be possible to make use of the GPS on a basic Android smartphone to give an idea of how fast and far I'm going. It doesn't make sense to spend upwards of £100 on a Garmin Edge if I can re-use some old technology with a screen, a GPS and a bit of processing power.


Since these phones don't have much memory, and run a rather old version of Android and have a tiny (compared to modern devices!) screen, I was a little concerned that there wouldn't be an app available for it. However, Endomondo downloaded without any problems, and seems to run very well. It's simple to set-up and use; I created an account on the main website, and used that to log in to the app. It can create workouts and routes for various different sports, and some had already been uploaded for the area I live, so I might try them! The only downside is that, to display the map, it requires an internet connection; although I downloaded the map tiles in Google Maps, Endomondo doesn't seem to be able to be able to gain access to them, so I couldn't view the map as I was cycling. However, this app definitely shows promise - the next challenge is to get it onto a bike!

Attaching it to the bike

I've always recommended a case to give a mobile phone that extra bit of protection; even more so, I tend to use one that folds over the screen so it doesn't get scratched. These aren't too expensive - we had already bought one for a couple of pounds from Amazon and it was this that I used as a basis for the bicycle mount. I removed the leather case part, leaving only the plastic enclosure, into which the phone clips nice and securely. Marking holes along a 2 to 2.5cm square in the middle of the enclosure, I cut, then filed, a pair of slots for a hook and eye strap to loop through, and applied a small piece of rubber padding (actually a self-adhesive tyre patch!) to the back of the phone to stop it slipping. This seemed to work very nicely - all I needed to do was trim the tie wrap down to the right length to encircle the handlebars and it was ready to go.

WP_20160903_16_31_43_Pro (2).jpg

Going for a ride

Fortunately the rain held off for long enough to allow me to go for a brief ride into town and along the cycle track to Dunstable. It seemed to work very well indeed - and didn't fall off, which was my main worry! When I arrived home and back into wifi coverage, it synchronised both trips with the site, and there it is! If I have one concern, it's that it seems to be measuring the speed a little high - the total journey time, distance and average speed work out at the end, but I wonder if it might be displaying the speed in km/h. Otherwise, though, I feel like I've saved a bit of money, and I think it's working very effectively. Battery life certainly seems sufficient to keep it going on an afternoon's cycle ride, even with the screen display set to wait 30 minutes before turning off. All-in-all a pretty good use for an old mobile phone, I think!


Posted by james at 6:29 PM

Monday, 2 May 2016

Upgrading Linux.. the slow and painful way

It may not look any different, but I'm now hosting my blog on a different server than the one I was using before. Why? Because my current (virtual) Linux server is running on a version of VMware that doesn't work properly in Windows 10 (long story short, I can't reach it from the internet!) so I've built a new one, running a newer version of Ubuntu, and installed it on VirtualBox (I was using VMware Player before), so I can take advantage of the free upgrade while it still exists.!

The next step, then, is to replicate on the new server everything I have running on the old one. Unfortunately, it's not been simple, because since December 2010, when I installed my previous server, newer versions of Apache (my web server of course), MovableType (this blogging platform - which isn't even free any more, so I had to search for the last free version) and all kinds of under-the-bonnet software have been made available, which are causing compatibility issues with what I used to have.

Add to that the additional tweaks and library installations I had to do to make some of my scripts work (what do you mean "I should have documented them"?!) and it's been quite a longwinded process. 

But this blog entry is - hopefully - going to confirm that at least my blog is still working... fingers crossed! If all is well, I might write another post to list the Completely Unnecessary Things I run on my Linux box... but not today - I have a migration to finish!

Posted by james at 1:37 PM

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Birdcam - the YouTube generation

It's fair to say that Twitter and Facebook have somewhat subsumed this blog in terms of where my day-to-day updates appear; that friends and families can see my words, sounds and pictures among others, as opposed to a standalone location.

There's something to be said for keeping the content 'local' - not trusting it to other service provides, but we'll see how that turns out!

In the meantime, though, I was visiting my younger sister a few days back and was delighted to see a service called Earthcam, which shows live images and video from cameras across the world.

It put me in mind of the camera that I set up to keep track of the visitors to our bird feeders at the back of our house. In the last year I upgraded it to a higher resolution camera, but it became very difficult to stream the video, since it's using a completely different system to transmit it through the network, and it's very difficult to convert that into a medium that can easily be seen on a browser.

In fact, I spent many a weekend trying to use tools like VLC and FFMPEG, which kind-of worked, but ended up using far too much of my computer's CPU to be able to stream for any length of time - I don't like it running too hot.

However, a brief bit of research in a quiet hour this morning brought me to Open Broadcaster Software and its ability to stream to the new Youtube Live - after just half an hour of installing and playing with the settings, I was able to create a stream of the birdcam running with just 8% CPU.. perfect!

So if you'd like to see the camera (and if it's working!) please click here:

Happy Christmas (it's a bit damp here!)

Posted by james at 2:20 PM

Monday, 5 May 2014

British Touring Car Championship - May 2014

Beth was kind enough to give me a most wonderful Christmas present - tickets to the qualification and race days of the British Touring Car Championship at Thruxton. It's just north-east of Salisbury, and less than 100 miles from home.

Map of Thruxton Race CircuitThe weather was glorious, and it was a really family friendly atmosphere. I arrived late in the morning on the Saturday, in time for some of the support races and the second free practice; there weren't too many people around on the first of the two days, and it was really great to be able to wander through the 'paddock' - the inner section of the track where all the teams gather to work on their cars.

I had tickets for the public grandstand, and I took a seat there on a couple of occasions over the weekend (not least to get out of the sun!) It's worth noting that there's allocated seating on the Sunday, and it was extremely full, which made for a very good atmosphere. The grandstand is opposite the back of the (extensive) grid, with a view along the final straight and the chicane to the right.

For much of the rest of the racing time, though, I found a position just by the start of the 'complex' - the second of the set of tighter bends on the fastest track in the UK. There is a bank leading from the start/finish line from which, certainly on race day, thousands of spectators watched the race. Where I was gave a great view of the straight coming out of 'Allard' (the first right-hander), into the Cob/Cambpell curves, where there was often a great deal of action, and then out into the distance into the outfield part of the track.

There were all kinds of races - Formula Ford (which are 'proper' racing cars, like Formula 1, but with a specific Ford engine), Renault Clio, Porsche Carrera and Ginetta Junior & Supercup - each event followed quite quickly after the other, so there was always something to watch on track.

The Sunday was a lot busier, both in the car park and in the circuit. Tickets are required for a 'paddock transfer' - access to the inner area - on the Sunday, but it's worthwhile because that's where all the TV interviews take place - I even made it (uniwttingly) into the back of the shot when the balls were being drawn for the last BTCC race of the day!

I would definitely recommend the atmosphere of the banking around the track - there was a big screen up as well, so that the TV action could be watched while the cars were out of sight (there was one at the grandstand as well). It's a fair walk to the 'Complex' but worth it, I think.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the last (informal!) race of the day: getting out of the car park! Be prepared to wait up to an hour to get to the main road. I guess this is par for the course for most big outdoor events, but - once I found the car (always worth making a note!) - at least it was somewhere comfortable to sit down.

My only other recommendations would be a fold-out chair (although they're a little precarious on the angled bank!) and, if possible, a pair of binoculars.

I really do hope to be able to go again - it was definitely an all-action weekend, especially with the trees at the back of Church keeping on eating vehicles... three touring cars went off at about the same place!

There's an audio journal of my experience here:

Bits I forgot to mention:
- coming up to where the cars were recorded, they slow down from about 120mph to less than 60mph.. in the last recording you can hear the screech of tyres. That happened a few times when the wheels locked up
- the trees ate the cars because they approached 'church' bend too quickly and just... well, kept going.

Below there are some pictures of the action - there are more in the gallery!

Gordon Sheddon on two wheels at the chicanePlato and Morgan at the chicane
Close-up Clio actionCollard and Neal have a 'moment' at Cambpell

Posted by james at 12:20 PM

Monday, 14 April 2014

Shortform happenings...

It's amazing that I've not updated this blog since last August; much of what goes on these days tends to get logged in my Twitter account, and it's still a bit of a faff to sit down and write a longer form account of the trips we go on and the experiences we have.

That said, it's amazing to look back over ten years and see what I was doing and when. Maybe I ought to set aside some time on a Sunday evening to write an account of the week gone by... I'm forever taking photos (the Nokia Lumia 1520 I bought in December is as good as any compact digital camera I've ever owned) and I'm sure there's at least something I can report on as the children get older and the world gets smaller.

Time to set a reminder... I also have blog posts to write about my Windows Phone 8 experience (although I still have a Nexus 7 Android tablet that I use regularly), my radio show 'The Weekendery' and the recent trip to London, when Beth and Lenni went to see The Lion King, and Chris and I did the Science and V&A museums...

Posted by james at 1:44 PM


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