Saturday, May 16, 2009

Jaunty versus Intrepid

I installed the latest version of Ubuntu on my Lenovo Thinkpad T61 recently. It's codename is "Jaunty Jackalope" but it's normally known as just "Jaunty".

I had changed from using Windows XP as my primary operating system to the previous Ubuntu version, Intrepid Ibex, last November.

For me, the main differences between Windows and Ubuntu were:
+ Boots much faster
+ The command line environment is far superior
+ Installing software using apt-get and Synaptic is wonderful
+ Updates and patches are offered and applied without requiring a reboot
+ Wireless works first time at home (WinXP requires multiple retries - no doubt a driver bug but one I still haven't fixed)
+ An extra clipboard - the middle mouse button pastes a copy of what is selected, without first requiring a Control-C operation to copy it to the "copy" clipboard.
+ CompizFusion - graphical whizziness builtin
+ Multiple desktop support built-in
- USB under VirtualBox doesn't work for iTunes/iPhone, although I have now got it working for my Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS watch
- Multi-monitor management is not quite as good
- Sound works pefectly under WinXP, sometimes distorts in Ubuntu
- Lotus Notes works slightly better under Windows, particularly around window focus

I've kept my Windows partition as is, other than using Ubuntu's Partion Editor to shrink the NTFS partition to free up space for the Ubuntu partitions.

So what's the difference between Jaunty and Intrepid? There is a good page that describes what's new but I've only used 3 of these features: a new notifications mechanism, a new file system technology and an even faster startup.


I'm really liking notifications. When an application detects an event, eg. an email or instant message or Tweet arrives, a simple pop box appears in the corner of the screen. 90%+ of the time I just read it in place before it fades. Unless I need to respond I don't need to switch to the relevant application to read it.

There is more that can be done of course - placement, colour, font, duration are not currently configurable but even without that it's still great.

Faster Startup

My aging Windows XP installation takes the best part of 5 minutes before it's started and even then it's still doing things in the background meaning that it feels sluggish.

I did some measurements this evening and my Intrepid installation gets to the logon screen in about 45 seconds, and having logged in I can run a command in a terminal window within about 80 seconds.

My Jaunty installation gets to the logon screen in about 30 seconds, and having logged in I can run a command in a terminal window within about 47 seconds.

Impressively, Jaunty boots in just 59% of the time which makes it about 70% faster.

ext4 file system

This file system can't be ready by my old Intrepid installation, but that's not a problem. The wikipedia page lists the improvements over ext3, including support for exabyte sizes, more sub-directories, checksums in the journal to improve reliability, faster file system integrity checking and nano-second timestamps.

A benchmark comparison concludes that ext4 is faster in most benchmarks but not so much that your average user will notice. They note "What perhaps is more important is that with the addition of the new features, the performance hasn't regressed. Also, when testing the EXT4 file-system, we hadn't run into any problems with stability, file corruption, or any other issues."

A comparison of Jaunty boot times using ext3 versus ext4 on the same hardware showed that ext4 was 11% faster. I'm sure that I won't be seeing that size performance gain in my every day operations but ext4 may well have contributed a few seconds to my improved boot time.

So overall I'm loving Jaunty. Why not burn a CD and try it out? The CD will boot to a working Ubuntu system to let you try it out on your hardware without using your hard disk. Then you can run the installer from there.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

New found fitness level

Today Andy Perry and I did our longest run so far: 9.4 miles in 1:20 (8:33 min/mile). It included hills and single-track bridleway sections and it was drizzling, so not ideal conditions.

The pleasing thing is that we did part of this route 3 weeks ago when we ran 7.8 miles at 8:35 min/mile pace so today we were ever so slightly faster and went 1.6 miles further, but my average heart rate on the first run was 156bpm but on today's run it was only 146bpm.

So further, faster, and more easily.  

I'm putting this down to an increase in my cycling volume: the Isle of Wight 82 mile day and I've been commuting for the last 2 weeks.  Commuting means doing 5.2 miles as quickly as possible so I've had a good mix of short high-effort cycling, medium-duration medium-effort runs and long low-effort cycling.

I am feeling a bit stiff now though :)

PS The drizzle was enough to dampen our clothing and when we finished I had slightly chafed nipples.   I asked Andy if his were sore and he said no.  But a minute later I noticed that he had blood on the front of his shirt.  Turns out his nipples were completely numb and he'd rubbed one raw.  Ouch.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Isle of Wight Randonnee 2009

Went to: The Isle of Wight
Distance: 67 miles (plus 15.5 commute to the ferry)
Total time on bike: 4:44 (plus 1 hour commute to the ferry)
Average speed: 14.2 mph
Fastest speed: 38.3 mph (according to my Forerunner 305 GPS)
Total climb height: 966m

On Sunday we cycled around the Isle of Wight. A tiring but thoroughly enjoyable day was by all: Alan Chatt, Mark Halliday, Jim McDonnell and me.

I'd never been there before except for a quick trip to a single pub up-river in Cowes on Janet Willmott's yacht a few years ago. It's a really pleasant place around which to cycle - lots of sea views, coastline, chalk cliffs, beaches, cute villages and rolling hills.

The day started at 8:00 as Mark arrived at my house and he, Jim and I set off to Southampton port. After 7.7 miles and 28 minutes of formation cycling along boring main roads we arrived. Despite having pre-booked and printed our tickets we still had to check in and get a boarding pass (although on the way back just showing the printed ticket was enough). We joined the queue of gaudily attired cyclists and Alan arrived after 10 minutes.

We boarded the ferry after most of the motorized vehicles and were instructed to lay our bikes down on the floor. There was plenty of space so we weren't overly worried about laying down our collective £8000 worth of carbon fibre and titanium.

We went up on deck and enjoyed the sun breaking through the early clouds as the ferry steamed towards Cowes at 16mph (according to Jim's Edge 705). When we docked they let the cyclists off first and Mark lead us to the Randonnee stall. We collected our cards which we would get stamped at 6 points around the island to prove that we had done the whole 100k distance.

We set off at about 10:00 and 100 metres later ran in to the back of the queue for the Cowes chain ferry. There were already about 100 cyclists waiting. Foot passengers and cyclists travel for free; cars are £1.50. The first time the ferry reached our side the cars were let off and then the waiting cars were let on, followed by as many cyclists as could be squeezed in between the cars.

The second time the ferry came back the cars were let off but the mass of cyclists refused to part to let the cars board first. The cyclists had been there longer and there seemed to be a whole boatload of us. A brief stand-off ensued as the ferry staff refused to let us on unless the vehicles boarded first. After shouts of "What do you want, £1.50?" and a minutes procrastination common sense prevailed and all the cyclists were allowed to board.   When we got to the other side we all mounted and headed off amidst a sea of colour.

The density of cyclists was amazing - for the first few miles we seemed to be surrounded by bikes, some passing us but most being overtaken by us. The density caused problems at one switchback corner as the road steepened to perhaps 13% gradient for 20 metres. Weaker riders wobbled to a stop causing those directly behind to stop too. You don't want unexpected stops when you're clipped in to your pedals but all of us powered past and up the hill unscathed. The event had 2156 cyclists registered including 1851 doing the full 100k route. It was virtually impossible to get lost as you could almost always see a stream of cyclists ahead and behind.  The route-marking blue signs were easy to find and we'd also been given a leaflet with the route marked on it.  All in all, pretty well organized.

We then had a nice flat mile-long section with a view of the Solent and the mainland before the road turned inland and we entered the kind of terrain that we'd spend most of the ride doing; quiet country lanes with views of fields and hills, but not so much of the sea.

After about 5 miles we were passed by a 16-year old boy on a mountain bike. After Mark drafted him for half a mile I decided that it wasn't the done thing to be pulled along by a knobbly-tired bike and we passed him, leaving it up to him if he wanted to draft us in return. He didn't, and we didn't see him again. Given that our bikes are at least 30% easier to ride on the roads than his, he would have had a much more demanding day than us.

After 16 miles and 1:03 of riding without stopping we reached our first checkpoint at Yarmouth. After a quick bit of packed lunch and a comfort break we remounted and were disconcerted to find that our next 2 miles were to be along a stony bridleway. Skinny-tired road bikes and trails aren't the best of bedfellows so we were pretty apprehensive but we made it down the 2 mile section without picking up any punctures. The boy on the mountain bike would have been going faster along here than we were as we were going pretty slow. I'm not sure there's any evidence that riding at two-thirds pace will reduce your chances of getting a puncture but that's what we did.

From Freshwater Bay we climbed from an elevation of -2 to 81 metres in a 1300-metre long climb - about a 6% gradient.   This was the second hardest climb of the day but we were still quite fresh and the views of the cliffs and beach were spectacular.

Once over the top we were treated to a 38mph descent. This began the pattern of climb/descent which repeated itself for the rest of the ride. When your legs are tired the joys of the descents are somewhat dulled by the knowledge that what-goes-down-must-go-up.

Mark snapped his rear gear cable coming down the hill so we stopped and tried to affect a roadside repair. He had a spare cable with him but we couldn't work out how to get it in to the shifter so instead we adjusted the hi-low screws on his rear derailleur to give him the 3rd smallest (and hardest) cog at the bike and the 2 rings at the front. He thought that part of the old cable might be stuck in the mechanism so we'd try to get it fixed at a shop in Ventnor. This left him without any easy gears and the longest climb of the day to broach.  But this is the crazy guy who's soon to be doing London to Edinburgh and back in 4 days so we had no worries about him.

Shortly after Jim nearly "clothes-lined" another cyclist. We were approaching a right hand turn on a narrow country road and Jim vigourously thrust out his hand to indicate his intentions. I'm not sure whether his intentions included punching the woman in to the hedge but he nearly succeeded.

We stopped a mile before the biggest climb to have the rest of our packed lunch and to try to regain some freshness in our legs before the ascent. As we ate we were passed by a team of about 10 guys in team formation all in matching red lycra, prompting some discussion about getting matching outfits for the Hursley cyclists. Watch this space... (with fear).

The ascent wasn't too bad. It was quite long but it wasn't very steep. Over 1.8 miles we gained 124 metres of elevation in a long drag that took our slowest team member 12 minutes of continuous slog.

After another couple of miles we reached the second checkpoint, ending a 19 mile stage with the 2 biggest climbs of the day.  I treated us all to a chilled Kit Kat, and Mark found that during the stage he had freed up his gear lever which enabled him to fit the replacement gear cable; better late then never.

I remember less about the second half of the ride - partly because it was familiar-feeling country lanes but probably more because we were getting tired.  Alan in particular didn't relish the last 10 miles which felt like a procession of semi-steep climbs and descents.  The ride was also over twice as long as any he'd done before so he did particularly well to make it without stopping on any hills and without complaining.

Towards the end I attacked one longish hill in a big gear to try and blast up it and found I was suprisingly fresh.  So for the rest of the ride I would attack the hills until I ran out of steam, grind on in discomfort for a while, then turn round and coast back to join the tail of our group.  I was quite pleased with how quickly I recovered though - I found that the coasting back phase was enough to give me the energy for another sprint.  After a few of these my legs were burning and and I think I had an idea of how Alan must have been feeling for the last 10 miles.

The was one corner somewhen near the end when the Spinnaker tower suddenly appeared and seemed to be really close, but then we turned back inland and didn't see it again for ages.

We arrived back at Cowes just before 5:00, collected out final stamp and received a certifcate.  We joined the ferry queue in the sunshine and were on board after 15 minutes.  A tasty pint of 1664 each, some evening sunshine and a ferry trip home was a great end to a great day.

I half-jokingly said to Mark that we should do it again soon but do 2 laps.  I've just received an email where he's called my bluff and proposed two weekends when we could do it.  The less crazy in our gang could join us at lunchtime for the second lap when we'd have burned off our excess enthusiasm and would appreciate a more relaxed pace.  Sounds like fun.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Quickish run with Andy

Andy Perry and I ran 6 miles today quicker than we've done before - 8:05 min/mile. Andy felt a bit under par on Tuesday when we ran but today he said that he had no excuses (other than age, weight, slippery conditions, fitness etc etc).

This route is quite a good one as it starts off downhill for the first 1.6 miles, over which we averaged 7:40 min/mile pace. Now thoroughly warmed up we spent the next 2 miles climbing nearly 80 metres. Then the rest of the route is downhill apart from a couple of relatively insignificant slopes.

My heart rate trace shows that I wasn't pushing very hard. Andy was getting a much better workout today than I was. Lucky him. The drop in heartrate after 3.2 miles was due to the track getting quite muddy and slippery and we slowed to ensure no embarrassing falls.

You may have spotted that we finished in Hursley village rather than where we started. This cunningly avoids running up a steepish hill at the end of a long run. I initially felt quite guilty about this cheating but when I mentioned it to Jon Tilt (a seriously fit guy at work) he gave it his approval as it was a guaranteed way to make sure we get a cooling down period as we walk back up the hill - something lots of long distance runners don't bother with.

Next week our goal is to run 9 miles, in preparation for a circular 10.5 mile run up to Farley Mount returning via Ampfields woods.

50 quid Sainsburys vouchers win

You may not have noticed but the Sainsburys Active Kids vouchers have a 15 digit code printed on the bottom of the front face that you can enter in to a draw on their website.

Every five minutes between 8am - 10pm until 3 June 2009 they are giving away £50 of vouchers to someone who entered a code in that time window.

And the other night I won! Sweet!

So how lucky was I? According to Wikipedia their annual revenue is around £20 billion.

Daily that's around 20 billion/363 = 55 million. Vouchers are given out for every £10 spend. Assume half of the revenue results in a voucher being given out so the number of vouchers issued per day is around 2.75 million.

I've no data on which to base the fraction of vouchers that get entered in their Draw. Assume only 1 in 10 as most people I've spoken to hadn't noticed this feature and lots of people won't be bothered.

If the codes are entered evenly over the period, which I'm treating as being the same thing as saying that those issued on a day will be entered on a day, then the number entered every 5 mins is 2.75 million / 10 / (14*60/5) = 1640.

So my odds of winning a draw were approximately 10/1640 = 1 in 164. Lucky me.