why is the wind always against you? part 2 – side wind

In the first part of this two-part post, we saw that cycling into the wind takes far more additional effort than a tail wind saves.

However, Will Wright‘s original question, “why does it feel as if the wind is always against you?” was not just about head winds, but the feeling that when cycling around Tiree, while the angle of the wind is likely to be in all sorts of directions, it feels as though it is against you more than with you.

Is he right?

So in this post I’ll look at side winds, and in particular start with wind dead to the side, at 90 degrees to the road.

Clearly, a strong side wind will need some compensation, perhaps leaning slightly into the wind to balance, and on Tiree with gusty winds this may well cause the odd wobble.  However, I’ll take best case scenario and assume completely constant wind with no gusts.

There is a joke about the engineer, who, when asked a question about giraffes, begins, “let’s first assume a spherical giraffe”.  I’m not gong to make Will + bike spherical, but will assume that the air drag is similar in all directions.

Now my guess is that given the way Will is bent low over his handle-bars, he may well actually have a larger side-area to the wind than from in front.  Also I have no idea about the complex ways the moving spokes behave as the wind blows through them, although I am aware that a well-designed turbine absorbs a fair proportion of the wind, so would not be surprised if the wheels added a lot of side-drag too.

If the drag for a side wind is indeed bigger than to the front, then the following calculations will be worse; so effectively working with a perfectly cylindrical Will is going to be a best case!

To make calculations easy I’ll have the cyclist going at 20 miles an hour, with a 20 mph side wind also.

When you have two speeds at right angles, you can essentially ‘add them up’ as if they were sides of a triangle.  The resultant wind feels as if it is at 45 degrees, and approximately 30 mph (to be exact it is 20 x √2, so just over 28mph).

Recalling the squaring rule, the force is proportional to 30 squared, that is 900 units of force acting at 45 degrees.

In the same way as we add up the wind and bike speeds to get the apparent wind at 45 degrees, we can break this 900 unit force at 45 degree into a side force and a forward drag. Using the sides of the triangle rule, we get a side force and forward drag of around 600 units each.

For the side force I’ll just assume you lean into (and hope that you don’t fall off if the wind gusts!); so let’s just focus on the forward force against you.

If there were no side wind the force from the air drag would be due to the 20 mph bike speed alone, so would be (squaring rule again) 400 units.  The side wind has increased the force against you by 50%.  Remembering that more than three quarters of the energy you put into cycling is overcoming air drag, that is around 30% additional effort overall.

Turned into head speed, this is equivalent to the additional drag of cycling into a direct head wind of about 4 mph (I made a few approximations, the exact figure is 3.78 mph).

This feels utterly counterintuitive, that a pure side wind causes additional forward drag!  It perhaps feels even more counterintuitive if I tell you that in fact the wind needs to be about 10 degrees behind you, before it actually helps.

There are two ways to understand this.

The first is plain physics/maths.

For very small objects (around a 100th of a millimetre) the air drag is directly proportional to the speed (linear).  At this scale, when you redivide the force into its components ahead and to the side, they are exactly the same as if you look at the force for the side-wind and cycle speed independently.  So if you are a cyclist the size of an amoeba, side winds don’t feel like head winds … but then that is probably the least of your worries.

For ordinary sized objects, the squaring rule (quadratic drag) means that after you have combined the forces, squared them and then separated them out again, you get more than you started with!

The second way to look at it, which is not the full story, but not so far from what happens, is to consider the air just in front of you as you cycle.

You’ll know that cyclists often try to ride in each other’s slipstream to reduce drag, sometimes called ‘drafting’.

The lead cyclist is effectively dragging the air behind, and this helps the next cyclist, and that cyclist helps the one after.  In a race formation, this reduces the energy needed by the following riders by around a third.

In addition you also create a small area in front where the air is moving faster, almost like a little bubble of speed.  This is one of the reasons why even the lead cyclist gains from the followers, albeit much less (one site estimates 5%).  Now imagine adding the side wind; that lovely bubble of air is forever being blown away meaning you constantly have to speed up a new bubble of air in front.

I did the above calculations for an exact side wind at 90 degrees to make the sums easier. However, you can work out precisely how much additional force the wind causes for any wind direction, and hence how much additional power you need when cycling.

Here is a graph showing that additional power needed, ranging for a pure head wind on the right, to a pure tail wind on the left (all for 20 mph wind).  For the latter the additional force is negative – the wind is helping you. However, you can see that the breakeven point is abut 10 degrees behind a pure side wind (the green dashed line).  Also evident (depressingly) is that the area to the left – where the wind is making things worse, is a lot more than the area to the right, where it is helping.

… and if you aren’t depressed enough already, most of my assumptions were ‘best case’.  The bike almost certainly has more side drag than head drag; you will need to cycle slightly into a wind to avoid being blown across the road; and, as noted in the previous post, you will cycle more slowly into a head wind so spend more time with it.

So in answer to the question …

why does it feel as if the wind is always against you?

… because most of the time it is!

why is the wind always against you? part 1 – head and tail winds

Sometimes it feels like the wind is always against you.

Is it really?

I’ve just been out for a run.  It is not terribly windy today by Tiree standards, the Met Office reports the speed at 18mph from the north west, but it was enough to feel as I ran and certainly the gritted teeth of cyclists going past the window suggests is plenty windy for them.

As I was running I remembered a question that Will Wright once asked me, “why does it feel as if the wind is always against you?

Now Will competes in Iron Man events, and is behind Tiree Fitness, which organises island keep fit activities, and the annual Tiree 10k & half marathon and Ultra-Marathon (that I’m training for now).  In other words Will is in a different league to me … but still he feels the wind!

Will was asking about cycling rather than running, and I suspect that the main effect of a head wind for a runner is simply the way it knocks the breath out of you, rather than actual wind resistance.  That is, as most things in exercise, the full story is a mixture of physiology, psychology and physics.

For this post I’ll stick to the ‘easy’ cases when the wind is dead in front or behind you.  I’ll leave sidewinds to a second post as the physics for this is a little more complicated, and the answer somewhat more surprising.

In fact today I ran to and fro along the same road, although its angle to the wind varied.  For the purposes of this post I’ll imagine straightening it more, and having it face directly along the direction of the wind, so that running or cycling one way the wind is directly behind you and in the other the wind is directly in front.

running with the wind

To make the sums easier I’ll make the wind speed 15 mph and have me run at 5mph.

On the outward leg the wind is behind me.  I am running at 5mph, the wind is coming at 15mp, so if I had a little wind gauge as I ran it would register a 10mph tail wind.

When I turn into the wind I am now running at 5mph into a 15mph head wind, so the apparent wind speed for me is 20mph.

So half the time the wind is helping me to the tune of 10mph, half the time resisting me by 20mph, so surely that averages out as 5mph resistance for the whole journey, the same as if I was just running at 5mph on a  still day?

average apparent wind (?) = (  –10 * 4 miles  +  +20 * 4 miles ) / 8 miles = 5

Unfortunately wind resistance does not average quite like that!

Wind resistance increases with the square of your speed.  So a 10mph tail wind creates 100 units of force to help you, whereas a 20mph head wind resists you with 400 units of force, four times as much.  That is, it is like one person pushing you from behind for half the course, but four people holding you back on the other half.

It is this force, the squared speed, that it makes more sense to average

average resistance (wind) = (  –100 * 4 miles  +  +400 * 4 miles ) / 8 miles = 150

Compare this to the effects of running on a still day at 5mph.

average resistance (no wind) = 25  (5 squared)

The average wind resistance over the course is six times as much even though half the distance is into the wind and half the distance is away from it.

It really is harder!

In fact, for a runner, wind resistance (physics) is probably not the major effect on speed, and despite the wind my overall time was not significantly slower than on a still day.  The main effects of the wind are probably the ‘knocking the breath out of you’ feeling and the way the head wind affects your stride (physiology).  Of course both of these make you more aware of the times the wind is in your face and hence your perception of how long this is (psychology).

cycling hard

For a cyclist wind resistance is a far more significant issue1.  Think about Olympic sprinters who run upright compared with cyclists who bend low and even wear those Alien-like cycling helmets to reduce drag.

This is partly due to the different physical processes, for example, on bike on a still day, the bike will keep on going forward even if you don’t pedal, whereas if you don’t keep moving your legs while running you get nowhere.

It is also partly due to the different speeds.  Even Usain Bolt only manages a bit over 20mph and that for just 100 metres, and for long-distance runners this drops to around 12 mph.  Equivalent cycling events are twice as fast and even a moderately fit cyclist could compete with Usain Bolt.

So let’s imagine our Tiree cyclist, grimacing as they head into the wind.

I’m going to assume they are cycling at 15mph.

If it were a still day the air resistance would be entirely due to their own forward speed of 15mph, hence (squared remember) 225 units of force against them.

However, with a 15mph wind, when they are cycling with the wind there is no net air flow, the only effort needed to cycle is the internal resistance of chain and gears, and the rubber on the road.  In contrast, when cycling against the wind, total air resistance is equivalent to 30mph. Recalling the squaring rule, that is 900 units of resistance, 4 times as high as on a still day.

Even averaging with the easy leg, you have twice as much effort needed to overcome the air resistance.  No wonder it feels tough!

However, that is all assuming you keep a constant speed irrespective of the wind.  In practice you are likely to slow down against a head wind and speed up with a tail wind.  Let’s assume you slow down to 10mph in the head wind and manage a respectable 20mph with the wind behind you.

I’ll not do the force calculations as the numbers get a little less tidy, but crucially this means you spend twice as long doing the head wind leg as the tail wind leg.  Although you cycle the same distance with head and tail winds, you spend twice as long battling that head wind.  And I’ll bet with it feeling so tough, it seems like even longer!



  1. The Wikipedia page on Bicycle performance includes estimates suggesting over 75% of effort is overcoming drag … even with no wind[back]

level of detail – scale matters

We get used to being able to zoom into every document picture and map, but part of the cartographer’s skill is putting the right information at the right level of detail.  If you took area maps and then scaled them down, they would not make a good road atlas, the main motorways would hardly be visible, and the rest would look like a spider had walked all over it.  Similarly if you zoom into a road atlas you would discover the narrow blue line of each motorway is in fact half a mile wide on the ground.

Nowadays we all use online maps that try to do this automatically.  Sometimes this works … and sometimes it doesn’t.

Here are three successive views of Google maps focused on Bournemouth on the south coast of England.

On the first view we see Bournemouth clearly marked, and on the next, zooming in a little Poole, Christchurch and some smaller places also appear.  So far, so good, as we zoom in more local names are shown as well as the larger place.

bournemouth-1  bournemouth-2

However, zoom in one more level and something weird happens, Bournemouth disappears.  Poole and Christchurch are there, but no  Bournemouth.


However, looking at the same level scale on another browser, Bournemouth is there still:


The difference between the two is the Hotel Miramar.  On the first browser I am logged into Google mail, and so Google ‘knows’ I am booked to stay in the Hotel Miramar (presumably by scanning my email), and decides to display this also.   The labels for Bournemouth and the hotel label overlap, so Google simply omitted the Bournemouth one as less important than the hotel I am due to stay in.

A human map maker would undoubtedly have simply shifted the name ‘Bournemouth’ up a bit, knowing that it refers to the whole town.  In principle, Google maps could do the same, but typically geocoding (e.g. Geonames) simply gives a point for each location rather than an area, so it is not easy for the software to make adjustments … except Google clearly knows it is ‘big’ as it is displayed on the first, zoomed out, view; so maybe it could have done better.

This problem of overlapping legends will be familiar to anyone involved in visualisation whether map based or more abstract.


The image above is the original Cone Tree hierarchy browser developed by Xerox PARC in the early 1990s1.  This was the early days of interactive 3D visualisation, and the Cone Tree exploited many of the advantages such as a larger effective ‘space’ to place objects, and shadows giving both depth perception, but also a level of overview.  However, there was no room for text labels without them all running over each other.

Enter the Cam Tree:


The Cam Tree is identical to the cone tree, except because it is on its side it is easier to place labels without them overlapping 🙂

Of course, with the Cam Tree the regularity of the layout makes it easy to have a single solution.  The problem with maps is that labels can appear anywhere.

This is an image of a particularly cluttered part of the Frasan mobile heritage app developed for the An Iodhlann archive on Tiree.  Multiple labels overlap making them unreadable.  I should note that the large number of names only appear when the map is zoomed in, but when they do appear, there are clearly too many.


It is far from clear how to deal with this best.  The Google solution was simply to not show some things, but as we’ve seen that can be confusing.

Another option would be to make the level of detail that appears depend not just on the zoom, but also the local density.  In the Frasan map the locations of artefacts are not shown when zoomed out and only appear when zoomed in; it would be possible for them to appear, at first, only in the less cluttered areas, and appear in more busy areas only when the map is zoomed in sufficiently for them to space out.   This would trade clutter for inconsistency, but might be worthwhile.  The bigger problem would be knowing whether there were more things to see.

Another solution is to group things in busy areas.  The two maps below are from house listing sites.  The first is Rightmove which uses a Google map in its map view.  Note how the house icons all overlap one another.  Of course, the nature of houses means that if you zoom in sufficiently they start to separate, but the initial view is very cluttered.  The second is daft.ie; note how some houses are shown individually, but when they get too close they are grouped together and just the number of houses in the group shown.

rightmove-houses  daft-ie-house-site

A few years ago, Geoff Ellis and I reviewed a number of clutter reduction techniques2, each with advantages and disadvantages, there is no single ‘best’ answer. The daft.ie grouping solution is for icons, which are fixed size and small, the text label layout problem is far harder!

Maybe someday these automatic tools will be able to cope with the full variety of layout problems that arise, but for the time being this is one area where human cartographers still know best.

  1. Robertson, G. G. ; Mackinlay, J. D. ; Card, S. K. Cone Trees: animated 3D visualizations of hierarchical informationProceedings of the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’91); 1991 April 27 – May 2; New Orleans; LA. NY: ACM; 1991; 189-194.[back]
  2. Geoffrey Ellis and Alan Dix. 2007. A Taxonomy of Clutter Reduction for Information VisualisationIEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics 13, 6 (November 2007), 1216-1223. DOI=10.1109/TVCG.2007.70535[back]

WebSci 2015 – WebSci and IoT panel

Sunshine on Keble quad, brings back memories of undergraduate days at Trinity, looking out toward the Wren Library.

Yesterday was first day of WebSci 2015.  I’m here largely as I’m giving my work on comparing REF outcomes with citation measures, “Citations and Sub-Area Bias in the UK Research Assessment Process”, at the workshop on “Quantifying and Analysing Scholarly Communication on the Web” on Tuesday.

However, yesterday I was also on a panel on “Web Science & the Internet of Things”.

These are some of the points I made in my initial positioning remarks.  I talked partly about a few things sorting round the edge of Internet of Things (IoT) and then some concerts examples of IoT related rings I;ve been involved with personally and use these to mention  few themes that emerge.

Not quite IoT


Many at WebSci will remember Talis from its SemWeb work.  The SemWeb side of the business has now closed, but the education side, particularly Reading List software with relationships between who read what and how they are related definitely still clear WebSci.  However, the URIs (still RDF) of reading items are often books, items in libraries each marked with bar codes.

Years ago I wrote about barcodes as one of the earliest and most pervasive CSCW technologies (“CSCW — a framework“), the same could be said for IoT.  It is interesting to look at the continuities and discontinuities between current IoT and these older computer-connected things.

The Walk

In 2013 I walked all around Wales, over 1000 miles.  I would *love* to talk about the IoT aspects of this, especially as I was wired up with biosensors the whole way.  I would love to do this, but can’t , because the idea of the Internet in West Wales and many rural areas is a bad joke.  I could not even Tweet.  When we talk about the IoT currently, and indeed anything with ‘Web’ or ‘Internet’ in its name, we have just excluded a substantial part of the UK population, let alone the world.


Last year I was on the UK REF Computer Science and Informatics Sub-Panel.  This is part of the UK process for assessing university research.  According to the results it appears that web research in the UK is pretty poor.   In the case of the computing sub-panel, the final result was the outcome of a mixed human and automated process, certainly interesting HCI case study of socio-technical systems and not far from WeSci concerns.

This has very real effects on departmental funding and on hiring and investment decisions within universities. From the first printed cheque, computer systems have affected the real world, while there are differences in granularity and scale, some aspects of IoT are not new.

Later in the conference I will talk about citation-based analysis of the results, so you can see if web science really is weak science 😉

Clearly IoT

Three concrete IoT things I’ve been involved with:


While at Lancaster Jo Finney and I developed tiny intelligent lights. After more than ten years these are coming into commercial production.

Imagine a Christmas tree, and put a computer behind each and every light – that is Firefly.  Each light becomes a single-pixel network computer, which seems like technological overkill, but because the digital technology is commoditised, suddenly the physical structures of wires and switches is simplified – saving money and time and allowing flexible and integrated lighting.

Even early prototypes had thousands of computers in a few square metres.  Crucially too the higher level networking is all IP.  This is solid IoT territory.  However, like a lot of smart-dust, and sensing technology based around homogeneous devices and still, despite computational autonomy, largely centrally controlled.

While it may be another 10 years before it makes the transition from large-scale display lighting to domestic scale; we always imagined domestic scenarios.  Picture the road, each house with a Christmas tree in its window, all Firefly and all connected to the internet, light patterns more form house to hose in waves, coordinate twinkling from window to window glistening in the snow.  Even in tis technology issues of social interaction and trust begin to emerge.


My wife has a FitBit.  Clearly both and IoT technology and WebSci phenomena with millions of people connecting their devices into FitBit’s data sharing and social connection platform.

The week before WebSci we were on holiday, and we were struggling to get her iPad’s mobile data working.  The Vodafone website is designed around phones, and still (how many iPads!) misses crucial information essential for data-only devices.

The FitBit’s alarm had been set for an early hour to wake us ready to catch the ferry.  However, while the FitBit app on the iPad and the FitBit talk to one another via Bluetooth, the app will not control the alarm unless it is Internet connected.  For the first few mornings of our holiday at 6am each morning …

Like my experience on the Wales walk the software assumes constant access to the web and fails when this is not present.

Tiree Tech Wave

I run a twice a year making, talking and thinking event, Tiree Tech Wave, on the Isle of Tiree.  A wide range of things happen, but some are connected with the island itself and a number of island/rural based projects have emerged.

One of these projects, OnSupply looked at awareness of renewable power as the island has a community wind turbine, Tilly, and the emergence of SmartGrid technology.  A large proportion of the houses on the island are not on modern SmartGrid technology, but do have storage heating controlled remotely, for power demand balancing.  However, this is controlled using radio signals, and switched as large areas.  So at 4am each morning all the storage heating goes on and there is a peak.  When, as happens occasionally, there are problems with the cable between the island and the mainland, the Island’s backup generator has to deal with this surge, it cannot be controlled locally.  Again issuss of connectivity deeply embedded in the system design.

We also have a small but growing infrastructure of displays and sensing.

We have, I believe, the worlds first internet-enabled shop open sign.  When the café is open, the sign is on, this is broadcast to a web service, which can then be displayed in various ways.  It is very important in a rural area to know what is open, as you might have to drive many miles to get to a café or shop.

We also use various data feeds from the ferry company, weather station, etc., to feed into public and web displays (e.g. TireeDashboard).  That is we have heterogeneous networks of devices and displays communicating through web apis and services – good Iot and WebSCi!

This is part of a broader vision of Open Data Islands and Communities, exploring how open data can be of value to small communities.  On their own open environments tend to be most easily used by the knowledgeable, wealthy and powerful, reinforcing rather than challenging existing power structures.  We have to work explicitly to create structures and methods that make both IoT and the potential of the web truly of benefit to all.


It started with a run … from a conversation at Tiree Tech Wave to an award-winning project

Spring has definitely come to Tiree and in the sunshine I took my second run of the year. On Soroby beach I met someone else out running and we chatted as we ran. It reminded me of another run two years ago …

It was spring of 2013 and a busy Tiree Tech Wave with the launch of Frasan on the Saturday evening. A group had come from the Catalyst project in Lancaster, including Maria Ferrario and she had mentioned running when she arrived, so I said I’d do a run with her. Only later did I discover that her level of running was somewhat daunting, competing in marathons with times that made me wonder if I’d survive the outing.

Happily, Maria modified her pace to reflect my abilities, and we took a short run from the Rural Centre to Chocolates and Charms (good to have a destination), indirectly via Soroby Beach, where I ran today.

Running across the sand we talked about smart grids, and the need to synchronise energy use with renewable supply, and from the conversation the seeds of an idea grew.


I started my walk round Wales almost immediately after (with the small matter of my daughter’s wedding in between), but Maria went back to Lancaster and talked to Adrian Friday, who put together a project proposal (with the occasional, very slow email interchange when I could get Internet connections). Towards the end of the summer we heard we had been short-listed and I joined Adrian via Skype for an interview in July.

… and we were successful 🙂

The OnSupply project was born.

OnSupply was a sub-project of the Lancaster Catalyst project. The wider Catalyst project’s aims were to understand better the processes by which advanced technology could be used by communities. OnSupply was the main activity for nine-months of the last year of Catalyst.

OnSupply itself was focused on how people can better understand the availability of renewable energy. Our current model of energy production assumes electricity is always available ‘on demand’ and the power generation companies’ job is to provide it when wanted. However, renewable energy does not come when we want it, but when the wind blows, the tides run and the sun shines. That is in the future we need to shift to a model where energy is used when it is available, ‘on supply’ rather than ‘on demand’.

The Lancaster team, led by Adrian consisted of four full time researchers, Will, Steve, Peter, and of course, Maria, and the other project partners were Tiree Tech Wave, the Tiree Development Trust, Goldsmiths University, and Rory Gianni, an independent developer based in Scotland specialising in environmental issues.

The choice of Tiree was of course partly because of Tiree Tech Wave and my presence here, but also because of Tilly, the Tiree community wind turbine, and the slightly parlous state of the electricity cable between Tiree and the mainland. In many ways the island is just like being on the mainland, you flick the switch and electricity is there. While Tilly can provide nearly a megawatt at full capacity, this simply feeds into the grid, just like the wind farms you see over many hillsides.

However, there is also an extent to which we, as an island population, are more sensitised to issues of electricity and renewable energy.


First is the presence of Tilly, which can be seen from much of the island; while the power goes into the grid, when she turns this generates income, which funds various island projects and groups.

But, the same wind that drives Tilly (incidentally the most productive land-based turbine in the UK), shakes power lines, and at its wildest causes shorts and breakages. The fragile power reduces the lifetime of the sophisticated wireless routers, which provide broadband to half the island, and damages fridge compressors.

Furthermore, the aging sea-cable (now happily replaced) frequently broke so that island power was provided for months at a time from backup diesel generator. As well as filling the ferry with oil tankers, the generator cannot cope with the fluctuating power from Tilly, and so for months she is braked, meaning no electricity and so no money.

So, in some ways, a community perfect for investigating issues of awareness of energy production, sensitised enough that it will be easier to see impact, but similar enough to those on the mainland that lessons learnt can be transferred.

wirlygigThe project itself proceeded through a number of workshops and iterative stages, with prototypes designed to provoke discussions and engagement. My favourites were machines that delivered brightly coloured ping-pong balls as part of a game to explore energy uses, and wonderful self-assembly kits for the children, incorporating a wind and solar energy gauge.

The project culminated in a display at the Tiree Agricultural Show.

While OnSupply finished last summer, the reporting continues and a few weeks ago a paper about the project, to be presented at the CHI’2015 conference in South Korea in April, was given a best paper award at the CHI’2015 conference.

… and all this from a run on the beach.


the year that was 2014

While 2013 was full of momentous events (Miriam getting married, online HCI course and walking 1000 years around Wales), 2014 seems to have relatively little to report.

A major reason for that is the REF panel and the time taken, inter alia, to read and assess 1000 papers.  I am not at all convinced by the entire research assessment process – however, if it is to happen it is needs to be done as well as possible, hence while still reeling from the walk (indeed asked whilst on the walk) I agreed to be on the panel at a relatively late stage late in 2013.

At the end of the year with the results out I guess the other members of the REF panels and I are either loved hated deepening on how different institutions fared … maybe it is good that I live on an island so far from anyone :-/

I guess I am no more convinced at the end of the process than I was at the beginning.  It was good to read so much over such a wide range of topics, I feel I have an overview of UK computing that I have never had before.  This was often depressing (so many niche areas that clearly will never affect anything else in computer science, let alone the world), but also lifted by the occasional piece of work that was theoretically deep, well reported and practically useful.

Beyond the many many hours of reading for REF, the world has moved on:

  • Fiona has begun to sell more textile art online and at events, including a stall at Fasanta where the Tiree Tapestry was also exhibited.
  • Miriam passed her driving test and has a car.
  • Esther has had a number of performances including a short film (although sadly I’ve not managed to attend any this year :-()

Personally and work-wise (the boundary is always hard to draw):

  • I eventually managed to fill in the remaining day blogs for Alan Walks Wales in time for 1st anniversary!
  • I’m gradually managing to spread the word about the unique data I collected at various talks including at events in Bangelore and Athens.
  • The OnSupply project about awareness of renewable energy production was wonderfully successful with several workshops in Tiree, a best paper nomination at ICT4S and an accepted CHI paper.
  • Work with Rachel on Musicology data, which has been slowly ticking along informally, has now been funded as the InConcert project and we ran an exciting symposium on concert-related data in November.
  • At Talis I am looking at the benefits of learning analytics and published my first journal paper in the area, as well as using it practically in teaching.
  • Tiree Tech Wave has gone from strength to strength with capacity attendance and digital fabrication workshops for the Tiree community in the autumn.
  • … and not least competed in the 35 mile round Tiree Ultra-marathon in September 🙂

… and in 2015

who knows, but I’ve already entered for next year’s ultra – why not join me 🙂


Tech Wave is coming

The eighth Tiree Tech Wave is just over two weeks away.  We have some participants coming from GRAND NCE Canada’s Digital Media Research Network as well as those closer to home including the Code for Europe Fellows working in Nesta’s Open Data Scotland project.

There will be the normal open agenda, and also a few special activities.  Jacqui Bennet has  a little friendly competition planned and Steve Foreshaw from Lancaster will run a workshop on using low-cost 3D scanners, which we hope to then use to scan some of the lug boats around the island in collaboration with the Tiree Maritime Trust.

FabLab Cardiff are bringing a sort of mini-FabLab-in-a-van.  During the Tech Wave they will be making things themselves, including re-installing the Tiree touchable in a glorious new enclosure. They will also run some short tutorial/workshops on using some of the equipment for TTW attendees and Tiree locals.

FabLab Cardiff Cubify Sense 3D scanner Tiree Maritime Trust - lug boat in action

Although time is getting tight, I am hoping we might also have a couple of MicroViews, a miniature Arduino with built in OLED display.  I ordered a Learning Kit through their Kickstarter campaign with two MicroViews (Blinking Eyes), so looking forward to some winking teddy bears 🙂   After being ahead of schedule, they had a slight production problem with their second batch, and TTW is in the third batch, so keeping fingers crossed, but, if not this time, certainly at the spring 2015 TTW.



running and talking

September saw two events on Tiree; both exciting but each very different: at the beginning of the month the first Tiree Ultramarathon organised by Will Wright our very own Tiree superhero and towards the end ‘Re-Thinking Architecturally‘, a workshop of the European Network of Excellence on Internet Science organised by Clare Hooper from Southampton University.    I was lucky enough to take part in both.

In addition, in a few weeks time (23-27 Oct) there will be the eighth Tiree Tech Wave, which will include participants from Canada, Scotland, Wales and England (but no-one from Ireland yet).  As well as the usual unstructured serendipity, we will have some tutorial workshops of 3D scanning, 3D printing and laser cutting … but more about that in another post.

The Tiree Ultra

photo Rhoda Meek

I should first emphasise that I did not run all of the 35 mile ultra-marathon course around the coast of Tiree, but did about 50:50, walk/run.  I’d never done anything remotely like this before.  The longest I’d run was the Tiree half marathon back in May and the longest I’d walked during the Wales walk was a 29 mile day (although I did that over more than 12 hours).  I had as a schoolboy once done a 34 mile day hike up into the coal valleys above Cardiff, and one of the spurs to sign up for the Ultra was to beat my 17 year old self!

With my usual level of preparation it came to the beginning of August and I realised I’d not run at all, nor even taken a walk longer than to the beach and back, since the half-marathon in May.  Just before the event I found a couple of sites with training schedules for marathons, all of them were several months long and the ‘beginner’ level was “runs 15-25 miles  a week regularly” … what about zero miles a week?  Anyway my lengthy one month training schedule consisted mainly of short (2.5 mile) beach runs with the occasional 7.5 mile run to Hynish and towards the end a run of 8.5 miles along part of the route of the Ultra round the base of Ben Hynish.  I was aware I’d not done any really substantial runs and so, rather foolishly, on the Wednesday 4 days before the event I ran (and walked!) 21 miles around part of the route on the east end of the island and down to Hynish and back.  A good last run before the event, but one I should have done a week earlier.

Somehow or other, despite my foolish training schedule, I managed to get round without any serious injury.  My main problem was eating, or rather failing to eat. I found I could only mange food during walking stages, and then just a small amount of Kendal Mint Cake and few bananas, I guess overall I managed to burn around 4000 calories, but ate less than 1000, which really made the legs start to tire as I got to the latter parts of the course.  I’ve already entered for the 2015 Tiree Ultra next September (half the places are already gone and entries have only been open a week), but I will have to work out how to eat better before then.  Crucially I got round the course … and not even last.  The serious contenders managed times not much more than 4 1/2 hours whilst I got round in just over 8:20, but I was simply happy to get to the end.

Although it was further and faster than any day walking last year, it was in many ways a lot easier than the Wales walk.  About 2/3 of the way round the Tiree course my right ankle and calf started to stiffen, which was where I’d had Achilles ankle problems a couple of years ago.  Although I did try to ease a little I was not terribly worried; the worst would be that I’d be hobbling for a month or so after the run.  In contrast, last year I knew that I would be walking again the next day, and the next,and the one after that; with each ache I worried whether it would be the injury that did not get better, and stopped the walk. And, despite the worry of this, I had also learnt quite how resilient the body is, that most pains and strains did get better, albeit slowly, despite unrelenting exercise.

I was also reminded very much of the walk when I finished.  I took off my running shoes and socks, the latter sodden from beach and bog, and filled with fine layer of sand.  The soles of my feet, which had been subjected to 35 miles of damp sandpaper, felt like I was walking on coals and I hobbled about between van and Ceadhar where they laid on a post-walk pizza and party.  It was just like that so many days last year, I would get to where I was staying, ease off my boots, put on sandals, and then hobble out in search of food, wondering if I would get as far as the closest pub or cafe, let alone walk again the next day.

Re-thinking Architecturally

The Internet Science workshop was equally enjoyable, but a little less physically challenging!  It brought together economists, architects, lawyers, policy advisors, and some with more technical background from as far afield as Umea in northern Sweden. It was lovely being able to attend a technology workshop on Tiree that I hadn’t organised 🙂

Clare had been to one of the Tiree Tech Waves, and then, when she was organising a workshop for the European Network of Excellence on Internet Science, she thought of Tiree.  The logistics were not without problems, but after the event I’ve been getting together with the Tiree Trust to make an information pack for future organisers to make the process easier.  So if if you would like to organise an event on Tiree, get in touch!

The participants all seemed utterly taken with the venue, several brave souls even swimming in the mornings off the Hynish pier, in the words of one of the participants on the way back after the event “I’d rather be in Tiree!”.  Another said:

one great consequence of the week in Tiree was a kind of intellectual regeneration that let me set aside the stresses of the coming academic year and…think openly a bit.”
Alison Powell (London School of Economics)

In fact this is precisely the feedback I get from many who have been to Tiree Tech Wave.  It is hard to capture in words the way the open horizon and being at the wild-edge opens up the mind, especially when meeting with others equally committed to exploring new ideas freely and openly.

One of the memorable moments from the week was a debate of internet freedom and regulation.  We started off half on one side half the other and then part way through we all had to swop sides.  I can’t believe how passionate I got about both sides of the argument … and I managed to wheel in my school English teacher as authority on benevolent dictatorship1.

photo Parag Deshpande

photo Rory at Balevullin


While two very different events, a common story was the wonderful welcome of the people of Tiree.  During the Ulta-marathon, at every way-station there was a glorious array of tray bakes, chocolates, pre-sliced fruit, and above all smiling faces.  This was great for me seeing faces I knew, but clearly very special for the participants who came from afar being greeted as if they too were friends.  For the Re-thinking Architecturally workshop many people made it a success: the wonderful team at the Hynish Centre, especially Lesley who kept on smiling despite a seven hour wait for participants whose travel was disrupted, everyone at Ceadhar, Ring n Ride, and at the airport re-arranging travel across Europe when the Thursday plane was cancelled.

  1. I wrote what I thought to be a masterful mock O’level essay that asserted that Macbeth was actually a good king taking a ‘he made the trains run on time’ argument — my English teacher, Miss Griffiths, was not impressed.[back]

get fit on Tiree

Today is the winter 10K run on Tiree.  It has been organised by Craig Watson, one of the airport firefighters on Tiree, in aid of the “Michelle Henderson Cervical Cancer Trust”.  It is looking a lovely day for it, although there will be a chill in the air under the clear blue winter skies.  I saw the plane land earlier and I know there are folks coming over both on the plane and the ferry to take part.  Personally I have trained with my usual level of foresight doing my first run for 6 months last Tuesday :-/

Of course this is not the only event of its kind on Tiree there is the annual 10k, which I sadly missed this year as I pulled my Achilles tendon :-(, a round island sponsored cycle in March this year, and ‘Team Tiree‘ get off island for various events through the year.

Although this winter 10K is organised by Craig, many of the island fitness activities are due to Will, runner of ironman races and organiser of the Costa del Muscle training week I took part in in August and other regular island fitness activities (from 9 to 90s!).

Next year Will is branching out and organising residential training camps, one in Majorca (for the warm weather wimps) and one in Tiree next March. The latter starts the week after the next Tiree Tech Wave, so you could come for a weekend of sitting around hacking technology followed by another of shedding flab and toning muscle!

The war in the west

Just got back from the book launch for “Tiree: War among the Barley and Brine“.  Organised by An Iodhlann and the Islands Book Trust.

Mike Hughes, one of the authors, gave a talk and there were ex-service men connected with Tiree and their families present.  One man was the son of the pilot of one of the two Halifaxes which crashed into each other over the airfield on a cloudy day – a father he had never met as his mother was only 4 months pregnant at the time.

I hadn’t realised that it was from Tiree that the weather reports came in that set the timetable for D-Day.  The meteorological squadrons are unsung heroes of the war, flying far out into the Atlantic, in conditions where all other planes were grounded, to get the long-range weather data that is so easy to gather now-a-days from satellites.  Sadly the airman who had made the crucial weather observations for D-Day did not survive the war dying in that same Halifax accident over Tiree.

Neither had I known that Tiree was to be the staging post for the withdrawal of Winston Churchill and the Royal Family had the worst happened and the the German’s invaded Britain.  So, before it withdrew to a government in exile in Saskatchewan, the last outpost of British sovereignty would have been … Tiree.