Seeing and hearing the unseeable and unhearable

BLDBLG wrote recently about a project called Satellite Lamps which aims to visualise the inherent inaccuracies and variations in GPS data. The project uses a network of lamps which dim and brighten with the accuracy of the GPS data they receive, compared to their fixed, known positions.

You’re basically watching the indirect effects of signal drift, transformed here into ambient mood lighting that acts secondarily as a graph of celestial geography.

I love to think about GPS from time to time. It’s one of those things that I use, consciously or not, almost every day. The computer in my pocket uses it to record the locations of the photographs I take, or to automatically append the current weather conditions to each diary entry I write. Or, obviously, I’ll use it to navigate to a new place, or to record the route of a run or bike ride.

Sometimes the signal is a few metres off and I’ll think, “Huh, that’s annoying.” But then I’ll briefly consider exactly what’s happening to make this data, accurate or not, appear on my pocket computer. And then I’ll think, “That’s fine. You can be a few metres off, little computer. It’s bananas that you’re even capable of this.”

Other times I’ll just get lost in a wiki-hole reading about exactly how GPS works (even though it’s fundamentally pretty simple). Incidentally, there’s a nicely presented guide to GPS associated with the above project available here.


Meanwhile, a friend wrote about another project with similar aims, this time allowing WiFi signals to be ‘heard’ as you meander through the streets of Brighton.

Wes Goatley’s WIRELESS-FIDELITY at Dorset Place in Brighton [is] a device which allows you to listen to the WiFi signals emitted around a city by giving each specific provider (BT, Virgin Media) a sonic signature. As you encounter that signal, a sound is played, and the result is a symphony of drones, voices and tones, which is not quite music, but almost.

Natalie Kane explains more in her blog post, but the simple idea of pairing known signals to specific recordings is a really neat way of making the intangible slightly more tangible.

Anyone who’s ever mucked around with radios – particularly shortwave – will know this weirdly physical sensation of moving a radio receiver around, noticing the subtle variations in signal strength. This process allows you to almost ‘see’ where the waves are.

Speaking of shortwave radio, this gets me thinking all about the peculiar way signals propagate over long distances thanks to variations in the ionosphere, and those long nights I’d stay up carefully tuning in to receive broadcasts from stations further and further away…


But that’s another wiki-hole for another day.

Golden hour ride

Hey, I went for a bike ride and —

“Jesus, Paul.”


“You have a dedicated cycling blog, and yet you persist in posting cycling-related posts on your main blog!”

I know, I just… I don’t know. I’m sorry.


It’s just, you see, whenever I try and write a blog post about anything else, one of two things happens. I either get a hundred words in and think, ‘What?’ Or I get two thousand words in and think, ‘Oh, God.’ Plus, those lengthy posts are hard to illustrate, so I tend to need to think really hard about how it’s written.

And, well, I have trouble with that.

You should see the drafts section of this blog. Whole swathes of posts just abandoned. It’s enough to make me feel some kind of vertigo or nausea.

So basically I find it easier to just say, ‘Hey, I went for a bike ride and took some photographs.’

With that in mind: Hey, I went for a bike ride and took some photographs.

It was a perfectly-timed golden hour ride, and about two thirds of the way round, I noticed a large moon rising. I also noticed I had a slow rear puncture. But it was such a lovely evening, I didn’t mind. So the last third of the ride was slow, due to the puncture, and due to stopping to gawp at the pretty.

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Sunday morning ride: better late than never

I was something like an hour into this morning's edition of Channel 4's Sunday Brunch when the horrible realisation that there was another two hours still to go suddenly took hold.

How could this be? Turns out, the show runs for three hours!

I immediately turned off the TV – not before hitting record: they were promising to do a special shepherd's pie later on – and hunted for my cycling gear.

I'd already scoffed a hearty breakfast of egg and bacon sandwiches that would ordinarily serve as a reward for an early morning stretch of the legs, so I decided to reverse the situation and head out on the road bike to work the sarnies off, instead.

Staring down the barrel of a washout of a bank holiday Monday, I was also spurred on by glimpses of sunshine and relatively low wind.


My route took me along my usual 25km circuit through Whaddon, Nash and Thornborough, but this morning I decided to break through the psychological barrier of the A422 and begin exploring the villages on the westward side of this usually busy road. Sunday morning traffic made this a breeze, and I was soon whizzing through Leckhampstead, Akeley, and on towards Lillingstone Lovell.


The secluded Chapel Lane which winds its way towards this quaintly-named hamlet was free of cars – which pleased me, as I'd spotted a pair of unexpected national speed limit signs either side of a road not wide enough for a single car to overtake me if it had needed to.

From there, a vast network of roads and lanes is available which wind through Wicken, Deanshanger, and many more surrounding villages. This is the kind of environment I've loved ever since getting comfortable riding on roads. It allows you to treat the country lanes as you would footpaths when out walking: picking and choosing routes based on the landmarks along the way. I often navigate with just a short list of village names, looking for the signposts at each junction. Other times, the trusty Ordnance Survey map comes out.


From the attractive little centres of Wicken and Deanshanger, modern roads slice up the lay of the land, but fortunately there's a neat little suspended, shared use pathway that goes right up and over the busy roundabout and drops you back into the lovely surroundings of Passenham, a tiny scattering of buildings including a pretty church, just the other side of Stony Stratford.

From there, I'm very much on the home straight. I could've gone in the opposite direction, doing another lap of my regular circuit, but I was just the right combination of satisfied and warmed up that I just fancied heading home, ending up with a decent 40km under my wheels.

Now, if only I'd done all this several hours earlier…!


Some recent snapshots

Rural scenes in central Milton Keynes
Rural scenes in central Milton Keynes

The weather this past week has suddenly taken a turn for the autumnal…

I think my brain is still convinced we have weeks or months of summer left, but the distinct chill in the air each morning the past few days is quickly showing me otherwise.

Whilst I still have a glimmer of hope left, I’ve been trying my best to take advantage of dry spells and continuing to get out for bike rides and runs. But it’s getting harder…

Accidental bike/shoe colour coordination 1
Accidental bike/shoe colour coordination 1
Accidental bike/shoe colour coordination 2
Accidental bike/shoe colour coordination 2
Not a bad little path for a run
Not a bad little path for a run
Approaching the Quadrant:MK by bike
Approaching the Quadrant:MK by bike
Even road junctions around Milton Keynes can look good in a decent sunset
Even road junctions around Milton Keynes can look good in a decent sunset
A recent stretch of the legs
A recent stretch of the legs