2020 weeknote 12 – the week that everything changed

Well this was the week that things really changed, for me and those around me. It’s been interesting keeping abreast of how the spread of the virus and the reactions by different countries has rolled onward, in waves. Interesting and kind of horrifying, when you spend more than half a minute considering what it all means.

It has, in many ways, been good that the upheaval has kept us all so busy. Heaven forbid what will happen when we are all set up with our new routines and we stop for a second to get bogged down in the sheer existential woe of it all – and that’s before even considering the actual health crisis worsening any further, which each day it threatens to on a hitherto-unseen scale.

We have found ourselves unexpectedly buoyed by taping occasional news updates from Chinese state broadcasters in which they describe the recovery process. Life, while not returning to normal, per se, is returning to something approaching it. Or at least a healthy, post-virus world.

At work I have been extremely busy helping as far as I can to get the office set up for home working. A few months ago, working from home on the scale that we soon will be would have been completely unthinkable. But, as with so much of this escalating crisis, unthinkable things are now having to be thunk, and it’s funny what you can achieve when you have to.

In fact, the extent to which we’ve established a working-from-home policy means that it’s only really a few little issues and niggles we’ve found, rather than any flat-out business critical failure points.

We’re lucky in that a lot of what we do isn’t business critical. And where it is, the timelines and deadlines are those we set for ourselves and we are fortunate enough not to be beholden to many authorities or external/market forces. We have a job to do, and we do it however we can. This will not change, but the methods and timescales may.

Meanwhile, anything that isn’t related to work, or keeping ourselves constantly updated on news has, by necessity, been for the purposes of distraction, amusement or entertainment. The rest of this week’s note is simply some of that stuff that has kept me from losing my mind the past few days.


We had the first day of spring, and the weather this week has been cool but increasingly wonderful and bright. There is blossom everywhere, and the spring weather looks set to continue. This does mean that people who ought to be self-isolating are popping out more than they might if it had been tipping down all week, and I am concerned about that. But at the same time, the sight of spring springing is a huge boost.

As well as a brief trip to a nearby park (where I saw the woodpecker above), I also popped to Hampstead Heath on Saturday to get some fresh air. Unfortunately, so did a lot of other people, and I really should have known better. I was able to keep my distance from most people, and I found myself a secluded perch where I spent a happy hour or so playing with radios, and eating cold pizza.

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On FM, my elevated position near one of London’s highest points meant stations came booming in loud and clear, and I found a good number of pirate stations giving shout-outs to the shut-ins.

I found that the signal on my little POP Nano radio was decent, but both my Tecsun PL-380 and my Motorola G7 Power logged 58 stations each on the FM band, with the Moto serving doubly useful as not only does it have an RDS decoder built-in, but it also neatly displays all logged stations in one big list, acting as a very useful results page for active stations complete with station IDs, where available.

I’ve written before about the pretty excellent FM radio software on an older Moto G device, and it’s just as good on my current G7 Power. It serves as an effective stopgap between idly tuning around with a normal radio and setting up some sort of portable SDR that will automatically log station IDs in a neat spreadsheet for me.

(A rainy day project I daydream of is a Raspberry Pi Zero-powered unit that I can just switch on, run an autoscan, and log all active stations in a spreadsheet. Might have a little screen and possibly audio out.)

The subsequent list generated by the Moto is displayed as you can see to the right: it’s a neat list of station IDs and frequencies and I only wish I could quickly and easily export this data into a spreadsheet. I suspect there’s an OCR capture that could do a half decent job. But even in its present form, the FM radio software gives me a decent overview of what’s around in a given session.

One surprise, beyond the ever-present London pirates, was decent reception of a station apparently broadcasting to Greenwich on 96.5fm. A later dig around uncovered this as Maritime Radio, with the always-helpful mb21 giving more information about where this station broadcasts from. Not a bad catch at a distance of approximately 20km.

It’s hard to tell where the pirate stations themselves broadcast from – obviously – so it’s never easy to known whether you’re getting fabulous reception across a vast distance, or merely being blasted from the nearest rooftop. I suspect it’s usually the latter, though there is usually a good range of signals when tuning in from a high point in north west London, with some sounding stronger and others weaker.

The variability in the tech used by each pirate could give rise to this, of course, but it all makes it feel as though you’re picking up signals from all over London.

On DAB, my position near London’s highest point meant great reception of a huge range of stations. The POP Nano picked up 148 stations without issue, and I noted down that I was getting reception of the following multiplexes on top of those I’d expect to get in London: Kent, Herts Beds Bucks, Surrey NSussex, and Essex. On the one hand, these extra muxes simply bring in local stations or local variants of commercial stations. But it’s still pretty cool to pick these all up along with the ones which are meant to cover my area.

Of note, the Kent multiplex coverage map [PDF] does show parts of Hampstead as able to pick up occasional offshoots of the signal over high ground:

So it’s perhaps not that unexpected, but still vaguely interesting to me.

I also had a scan around on shortwave and aside from the usual national broadcasters who have mastered dominating the waves, I was pleased to pick up two pirate(?) stations on 5780kHz and 6205kHz – possibly Laser Hot Hits and Euro Radio. (This was at approximately 1445 UTC on Saturday 21 March.)

Nothing else really of any note on the radio, although I did spot this new addition to the London Trial multiplex – Health Info Radio, which launched a week ago on various other local muxes, and whose sole purpose is to play a looped recording of coronavirus-related public information.

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On the YouTube front, beyond the usual tech videos I tend to gorge myself on, the algorithms threw me a wonderful bone in a series of aviation videos by a chap named Matt Guthmiller. I’m not sure what YouTube thought it was doing, but I was absolutely enthralled by this four-part series on flying a 1930s DC-3 from the US to Duxford.

Spoiler alert: it’s not quite as simple as hopping across the Atlantic. In fact, it involves hopping to Canada, Greenland, Iceland, and Scotland, before hopping down to Duxford.

At times, the serenity and majesty of early to mid 20th century flight is intoxicating, and at others you are hit with the nauseating concept of hurtling through the air in nothing much more than a 1930s bus with temperamental moving parts and a hell of a lot to understand about how to get it airborne and keep it there.

The four parts are available in this playlist, or just watch the first one below:

Pro-tip: use the ‘Watch later’ button to save these kinds of YouTube clips to a… Watch later playlist.


And finally, I’ve recently seen a few good links to online collections of stuff and wanted to share some and add one of my own.

The first, shared by Robin Sloan recently, was a directory of images by Eugene Delacroix. Delacroix is an artist I don’t know a huge amount about, but I stumbled across him years ago doing my degree as it turned out he kept diaries, and really enjoyable ones too. Sloan peppered a recent newsletter with images by Delacroix, all pilfered from this great online collection of his work from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.DP816310

The second collection was posted by the excellent SWLing Post, a great resource for all things radio – with a focus on shortwave and ham radio. They recently pointed to a subset of the Smithsonian’s open access collection of objects which is, quite simply, a bunch of radios you can look at. Wonderful.

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And finally, the National Trust’s ‘Collections’ image database is staggering in its scale – they have photographed countless objects held within their collections at the various properties they look after. You could find yourself lost for weeks on this website, whether searching across the entire collection by keyword, exploring the contents of one particular property, or paging through the works of one artist.

For the purposes of this post, I will simply point you to a collection illustrations and artworks by my man Charles Paget Wade. I have searched and filtered and refined this set so it may be a bit rough around the edges and not sorted in any particular way, but you get the gist.

By the collection’s very nature, this is not a greatest hits, but a snapshot of all that is contained within it: from sketches on the backs of letters, to glorious watercoloured ink sketches like that shown below, of the Great Wall at Hampstead Garden Suburb.

by Charles Paget Wade (Shortlands, Bromley, Kent 1883 - Evesham, Worcestershire 1956)

2020 weeknote 9 – Amazon Prime use ’em up soup, POP Nano DAB+ thoughts, and a long bike ride

We’re quite good at ’empty the freezer soup’ and ’empty the cupboard’ type meals in general. When the time comes, it’s good to have a clear out, and the results can be surprising.

I say all this because we’re letting our Amazon Prime subscription end – it’s the sort of thing that’s nice to have over Christmas for deliveries, and for a month or two at a time to catch up on film and TV that’s currently available.

And with only a few days left of Prime, I’ve found myself scanning around for unwatched stuff to check out before the subscription runs out. Mostly I’ve been chowing down on Bob’s Burgers most recently, which I’ve sort of dipped in and out of before. It’s very fast and colourful and fun. It feels like a 21st-century Family Guy, I guess.

From Amazon Prime to YouTube – and this, from Tom Stuart‘s recent weeknote:

I watch a lot of YouTube which means I sit through a lot of terrible mistargeted ads. I briefly considered a YouTube Premium subscription to make the ads go away, but it turns out that it costs £12 per month — double the cost of a basic Netflix plan. What.

Indeed! For some time last year I had a three month free trial to YouTube Premium. I tried out YouTube Music very briefly, which was a confusing mishmash and not at all as straightforward as Spotify (which has its own usability issues, and introduces new ones every few months).

But I watch… probably a few hours of YouTube content a week. I’d like to see some stats, but I suspect approximately half my ‘slumped in front of the telly’ time is spent on YouTube with the other half split between stuff recorded on Freesat and streams or Blu-rays.

When I had that free trial, watching YouTube without ads felt wonderful. Firstly, there are no ads, which is of course nice. But you also don’t get ads inserted mid-video, which so often just get placed arbitrarily rather than (as is my understanding) at a convenient point selected by the creator.

So it was overall a nicer way to experience YouTube, and it was a shame to lose it once the trial ran out. But the cost of £11.99 a month was just too high for the ‘nice-to-have’ of no ads.


This week I noticed the day length, the sky being a certain colour, and the interesting light and silhouettes you get at walking-home time in these parts. Stark building silhouettes against icy blue skies; golden rays highlighting trees and buildings just before the sun dips below the horizon.

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It’s lovely. A good time of year, even despite the changeable weather: we’ve had a winter storm rolling over every weekend for the past three weeks, and this week it tried to snow for an hour or so in north London.

I also like that at this time of year it is nice to be aware of the sunrise and sunset times – sunrise recently shifted before 7am and sunset moved later than 5.30pm. These are good boundaries to have crossed, and spring rolls ever closer.


Since November I’ve been using a delightful little digital radio called a POP Nano. It seems to have been originally produced for the Norwegian market and is now being sold off cheap from a re-seller on Amazon. It’s a tiny portable FM/DAB+ radio and it has been a joy to use.

The Norwegian connection is clear from the wording on the packaging, and from the information helpfully included by the re-seller which tells you how to reset the device from the default Norwegian language to English.

I’ve had mixed successes with portable DAB/DAB+ radios in the past, but this thing is lovely. It’s tiny, and feels nice in the hand. About the size of a fat pack of gum. There are just three buttons and an on-off switch.

Reception is solid, with the earphone cable acting as an aerial. A scan in north London pulls in 100-150 stations, and it doesn’t struggle to hold onto a station if it is found on a scan. It charges via USB, and battery life is decent – 4-5 hours or so, which isn’t bad for the size of the device.

It’s got a decent and responsive menu/interface, which is also something I’ve learned not to take for granted with cheap portable radios. And this one is ridiculously cheap – the POP Nano can currently be purchased from Amazon for either £9.99 or £14.99, depending on whether Amazon has included some sort of e-voucher.

Alas, the other day I noticed the menu/select button was no long clicking, rendering it unusable aside from the station it was tuned to at the time. Unfortunately for me that was something called CDNX which seems to be some sort of Camden Market-related ex-NME jukebox station which I was briefly checking out after I learned of its existence on the London Trial multiplex.

I say unfortunately mostly because the bitrate of CDNX (48kbps – albeit via DAB+, so stereo AAC) is pretty awful, especially for a music station.

Anyway, the re-seller has been responsive and I’ve sent it back for (hopefully) exchange with a new unit. I don’t hesitate to recommend it – in the hope that my fault is a one-off. But who knows? And I hope I will soon have a new one and it won’t face a similar fate in three months’ time! I will try to update this if I get another and it proves to be a common fault.


I’ve recently been reading A Golden Age of Cycling, a lovely (if slightly under-done) collection of diaries from a British cyclist in the 1920s and 1930s. The author breaks down his cycling holidays day-by-day, telling the reader all the little places he visits, where he stops for bread, cheese and ale, and what mileage he clocks up.

It’s a lovely thing to read at bedtime, as he writes with a jolly demeanour, and it makes for easy daydreaming, putting together little routes through the Cotswolds to get from village to village.

And so for a while I’ve been wanting to remind myself that it is still possible to cycle through the countryside, village to village, and for cycling to be so much more than just a slightly anxious, functional and frantic pedal from home to work on busy London roads.

So on Sunday, after hatching a plan for a while, I took my bike out on the Thameslink train north into the countryside for a spin.

I had previously identified Harlington as a decent candidate hitting the sweet spot between ‘decently served station’  and ‘small place surrounded by countryside’. I then used Komoot to find a route someone had uploaded that started not far from Harlington – before using one or two other apps/websites to convert the GPX file into an app I could actually use for navigation.

There are many thousands of words I could write about this weird, broken, paywalled landscape of ‘apps that allow you to find cycling routes’, ‘apps that allow you to create and/or share routes’, ‘apps that allow you to navigate routes’, ‘apps for converting one such app’s route into another format for another app’ and so on and so on. But I digress.

I struck very lucky with the weather, it being bright and dry, if a little chilly. The wind was a bit much in places – with the usual weird sensation of wind blowing from nearly 270 degrees in all directions rather than one single direction. Whenever I had a brief respite from the wind, it really hit me when I got buffeted again.

I had aimed for 50-55km as a decent distance to test myself out. This loop saw me head out east from Harlington, kissing the edge of Hitchin, then heading south a bit, before heading almost straight back north west towards Harlington, via Emily’s Tea Shop – a nice little cycle-friendly cafe – at Whitwell.

I ended up doing just over 60km, and this was perhaps a stretch. It was my first big ride in a while – save for a couple of rides in the meantime, I hadn’t ridden this sort of distance since France last August.

And thank goodness it wasn’t a particularly hilly route, as I found the last few hills a real struggle. It is heartening to note that the final phase of the ride really did see me climbing and climbing and climbing – albeit not very high. But still. The creaking in my knees in the days following this ride have at least something to blame.

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You can bet I enjoyed that last downhill. Weeeee!

Anyway, wind and ‘hills’ aside, this was a mostly very enjoyable route. I passed a great number of riders – some individuals and a fair few groups. In fact I may have even seen more bikes than cars, which is always nice to see.

There’s something quite reassuring about following a route created and shared by someone else – a hope that it must be reasonably pleasant and doable. If I sat down and programmed my own route, I’d inevitably misjudge a busy junction or completely fail to check the contours and gradients.

I did use Google Maps to navigate the last few KMs back to the station as the Komoot loop would take me instead to a random car park. Ironically, Google led me down some field track bridleways rather than roads, which was a pleasant diversion, but not as easy riding.

I was pretty exhausted by the end of it, but really pleased with my efforts. I may have slightly underestimated how hard a ride of that distance would be, but it’s nice to have that done so that my thoughts can turn to the next route and I am a little more confident of my own potential.

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Weeknote? Late November 2019 edition

I sat down to watch something on YouTube the other day, and instead of a brief ad for Squarespace, I was shown a 5-minute music video. At no point did it present itself like an ad – apart from the little thing that told me it was an ad (and it was a skippable ad, thankfully).

But after about twenty seconds, I didn’t want to skip this ad/music video. I was transfixed. I kept watching. I had no idea what I was watching. And I ended up watching the whole thing.

I think initially it was the striking opening shots that left me wondering what it was going to be about. And then once it became apparent it was, essentially, a music video (or live performance video), I kind of kept watching just to see where it was going. Would it turn into an ad for something? The track itself was kind of downbeat compared to the gravity of the images alongside it. And then of course the barriers presented by the cultural and language differences meant that I hadn’t got the foggiest idea what was going on.

It was a riot. Almost literally, at points.

I guess I’ve not watched any live performance videos filmed at stadiums lately – especially in this age of tiny high definition cameras and drones (Christ, I feel old) – so maybe they all look this good and dramatic. But particularly the aerial shots of the circle pits were just so dramatic. It was just… fascinating.

Anyway the video itself is viewable on YouTube so you don’t need to play, ahem, Russian roulette with YT’s ad algorithms to see it for yourself.

Anyway, I think it’s basically just a live performance video by a Belarusian musician called Макс Корж. Why I was shown it on YouTube as an ad I’ll never quite understand. There was a little note that explained that I’ve turned off targeted ads in YouTube, which goes some way to explaining why it was so random. Maybe not quite this random… But if turning off suggested ads occasionally presents me with something quite as unusual and compelling as this, then it was clearly a worthwhile change.

Bring on the crazy stuff from outside my YouTube echo chamber, please…

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Speaking of YouTube algorithms that are rather more in my wheelhouse, I was shown a lovely film recently of a chap called Beau Miles running the 46km length of a disused railway line in rural Australia. It was an unexpected delight, and I look forward to seeing more of Beau’s films.

It should be no surprise to me that YouTube algorithmically showed me a beautifully-shot film (with added drones) about an eccentric runner with a strong connection to railways and beautiful countryside – my YouTube is basically either that, or videogames and tech.

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On a not unrelated note, there’s something weird about our broadband at home. Having done some googling it appears to be a common issue related to our ISP, and not one that causes any actual problems, so I’m happy to let it slide. But basically, when we use the web at home, some websites think we’re based in India.

Fortunately, we haven’t come across any sites for which this would be a problem – stuff like iPlayer and Netflix is all fine. It’s just that some ad networks get confused, so when I’m at home, Twitter serves me ads meant for audiences based in India. Curious. I get a lot of stuff about Bollywood movie stars and I recently saw trending topics relating to whether the ‘real’ Indian man should be bearded or clean-shaven.

(Interestingly, our service provider claims it’s not them at fault for routing traffic via India; rather it’s that they’re using IPs that have had an association with India previously, and it’s down to the third parties to update the fact that these IPs are now UK-based. Or something. I think I understand.)

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Over the weekend I had a bash at making a crystal radio using whatever parts I could salvage around the house. Not having any spare wire, I ended up dismantling a pair of disused power bricks from old laptops to strip the wire from the transformers which was… fiddly. But very satisfying.

Anyway, the radio was a total failure. I identified at least three areas for improvement and I will try again with better components. I’ve never made a crystal radio and the prospect still charms me.

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I recently restarted my Flickr subscription having lost interest around the time SmugMug took over.

I’ve been using Flickr since August 2005 which seems like a really long time now. Definitely in internet years. And I was a paid-up member of Flickr for probably 10+ years of that. I just found myself using it less and less, and then when the subscriptions increased in price (and then something to do with the amount of ‘free’ space users were given), I just lost interest.

But in recent months I’ve found myself browsing Flickr as much as ever, and I miss posting to it. I’ll stop short of saying I’ve missed contributing to it, but I suppose that’s what it feels like.

And I find that the stuff I see on Flickr is just so damn inspiring that it inevitably makes me want to do a better job of editing my own images, and uploading things to Flickr still feels inherently very different to putting things on Instagram.

I’m going to keep my Flickr subscription as a rolling monthly thing for a while to see if I enjoy being back using it properly.

Are you still using Flickr? Hopefully we’re already friends. If not, why not add me, or let me know where to find you. Here’s me: https://www.flickr.com/photos/paulcapewell/

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Finally, this newfound active use of Flickr has led to me revisit hundreds (or even thousands) of photographs I took in the fallow period where I stopped uploading things there. And that meant that pictures I’ve taken have just sat in Lightroom without even being given a second look. Which is madness. I just needed a reason to return to them, and using Flickr again has offered me such a reason.

I don’t mind editing in Lightroom on the desktop, but I thought it was time I revisited Lightroom on iOS and Android, and I’m glad I did as the applications have improved massively.

And it’s meant that I’ve really had fun editing old photographs, and been reasonably pleased at what I’ve found. It has breathed new life into photos taken on trips that would otherwise just be forgotten. So I feel like it’s time well spent. It’s also nice to spend these dark winter days editing photos taken on interesting trips.

It’s been especially nice revisiting the pictures I took in Rothenburg – but that’s hardly fair, as it’s probably quite difficult to take a bad photograph of that place.

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That’s all for now.