Weird Cloud

sunset cloud
sunset cloud

Took this photograph last week of very large cloud over my village at sunset. I only had my phone camera, hence the poor quality but an interesting sight nevertheless.

Synchronising Google Calendar with Thunderbird Calendar

For some time now I have been running exclusively in Ubuntu on my corporate LAN with very few problems. Initially I used Evolution as my mail client as it could directly link up to MS-Exchange server so I got all my mail, global address book and calendar. But when my company updated to MS-Exchange server 2007 Evolution was no longer able to do this so I went over to Thunderbird. This was fine as far as mail and contacts were concerned but I could not get the Lightening calendar addon to synchronise with Outlook. I tried the method suggested by Ryan Hadley but I just couldn’t get it, so I gave up on Outlook altogether and just used Thunderbird/Lightening. Then I read over at Lifehacker about synchronising any desktop calendar with Google Calendar. I followed the very clear instructions and in seconds I had my desktop calendar sychronising with my Google Calendar. This was great as I could now access all my events etc. from any PC, but it got me thinking of synchronising with Outlook again so I had another crack at it, but with no luck. It then it dawned on me after looking at the image above from the Lifehacker article If I synchronised Thunderbird with Google and Outlook with Google then in effect all three would be the synchronised, obvious really.

Timeline of Internet Memes

internet memes
internet memes

This site has a rather interesting interactive time line of internet memes, those sometime weird, baffling or just down right silly items that spread throughout the internet and somehow get far more attention than they deserve. This is however a really nice way to display such time lines.

Eye Candy in Ubuntu 8.04 – Hardy Heron

I’ve been using Ubuntu since version 5.04 the second ever release and love it. The version numbering is based on the year and the month so 8.04 is 2008/April (see table)


I use it primarily to recycle older PCs usually Pentium III so eye candy and effects provided by Compiz Fusion are not really an option on these systems. But since moving all the computers on my home network to Ubuntu I have been playing around with a few things. I particularly like the Avant-Window-Navigator (AWN) which is a dock app-launcher similar to that in Mac OSX. First you’ll need to find out if your system can handle the effects, Compiz Fusion is already installed in Ubuntu 8.04. Go to System>Preferences>Appearance>Visual Effects. There are three settings try them, if you can’t get normal or extra to work then your system and video card can’t handle the effects so I’d stop here. If you can get normal at least to work great.

Visual Effects

To install AWN open Synaptic  (System>Administration>Synaptic Package Manager) and search for Avant then mark it for installation and install. You will also need to update your Sources List, you can do this by opening a terminal window and typing sudo gedit /etc/apt/sources.list this will bring up your sources list in a text editor. Then add these lines

deb hardy main
deb-src hardy main

or in Hardy just go System>Administration>Software Sources click Third Party Sources and add these two to the list, then reload the list. You will find AWN under Applications>Accessories but if you want AWN to run at start up you’ll need to add it to your session. Go to System>Preferences>Sessions click the Start up tab and then +Add, type Avant in the name field and avant-window-navigator in the command


field, AWN should now start automatically the next time you reboot. You can find out about AWN settings etc. in System>Preferences>Awn Manager. There are other dock app-launchers such as Cairo-dock and Kiba-dock, full details of how to install Cairo-dock in Ubuntu can be found here.

Now if the basic Compiz Fusion functions are not enough for you you can install the Simple Compizconfig settings manager (simple-ccsm) via Synaptic as before. This will give you and added choice of Custom on the Appearance-Visual Effects window where you can modify things the way you want. If this is still not enough then you can install the full blown Compiz configuration settings manager via Synaptic, this will give you access to all the possibilities available in Compiz Fusion in Settings>Preferences>Advanced Desktop Effects Settings.

The window manager or theme manager in Gnome is called Metacity and there are lots of themes available for it. If you are playing around with Compiz Fusion then you might also want to have a go with another theme manager or window decorator called Emerald. You can once again install this through Synaptic and have it run at startup by adding it to your session as before with the command emerald –replace, which will ensure the next time you log on Emerald will replace Metacity. The Emerald Theme Manager can be found in System>Preferences. Again there are a huge number of themes available here for Emerald.

I made a couple of screen casts using Compiz Fusion but quite frankly they were rubbish. There are loads of demonstrations on You Tube, here’s a particularly nice one.


Another thing you might want to try is using other Window Managers. Ubuntu ships with Gnome as the window manager and there are other flavours of Ubuntu such as Kubuntu which uses KDE. There are a few others such as Enlightenment, Open Box, Icewm and Fluxbox, do a search in Synaptic for Window Managers. If you install any of these it’s fairly easy to switch between them, just log out of Ubuntu as normal then log in again. Before you type your username and password click on the Options button on the bottom left of the screen. Here you’ll see a number of options, one of which is Select a Session, click this and select the Window Manager you want to try and that’s it…have fun.

Cycling Tour of Ireland – 1978

Eire tour 1978
Eire tour 1978

After being at University for a year money was really tight so in 1978 we could only afford a short tour of Ireland. The original plan was to cycle to the ferry at Stranraer but this was going to take too long so we jumped on a train at Perth. We caught the ferry to Larne then a train to Belfast and then another train to Dundalk where we really started our tour.

We headed West through some very rural areas and beautiful countryside. I remember at one point cycle down a country road to see one of the biggest bulls ever coming towards us followed quickly by a little old lady, who looked about 90 waiving a stick at the bull and screaming at it. We quickly dismounted as the bull and it’s pursuer passed.

The most eventful episode of this trip has to be our time in Westport, a small village on the West coast. We found a really nice campsite then headed on into the town for something to eat and, more importantly something to drink. We spent most of that day and night in and out of bars and got very..very drunk. It seemed like a good idea to ride our bike back to the campsite but there was one small problem, we couldn’t actually get on them. I remember falling and trying to pick up my bike which for some reason was really difficult and Magnus racing past me standing on hips pedal and running straight into a wall. We got back to the campsite and I spent some time, in the dark, drunk trying to get my bike chain back on…with no luck. I woke the next morning with my hands covered in oil and slowly the events of the night before started to come back to us. I rushed outside the tent to find my bike upside down and the rear wheel buckled, well almost bent at a right angle really. It slowly dawned on me that the reason my bike was so difficult to pick up the night before was because I was standing on the rear wheel whilst trying to lift it. I needed a new wheel but this was Sunday and no shops were open so we wandered around and somehow found an open air music festival at Westport House with the headline act of Colm C.T. Wilkinson, who it turns out was Ireland’s entry into the Eurovision Song Contest that year coming in 5th place, (I only just found this out). 

We also met a young lad who seemed to know us and as we struggled with his accent in our still fragile hung over state it became apparent that he’d helped us with our bikes the other night commenting that we were a bit the worse for wear and he had a great laugh at the state we were in. The next day I had to borrow money from Magnus to buy a new wheel, then we were on our way again heading eventually to Dublin.

We parted company there with Magnus heading South towards Cork and me heading North for the long trip home. I caught the train to Belfast and had to change stations to get the train to Larne for the ferry. I managed to get horribly lost in Belfast at one point queuing up at the cordoned off central part of the city and being ordered to empty my panniers on the pavement by a British soldier. The army presence was still high at that time and there was a great feeling of edginess in the air, certainly after I’d been told to unpack my bags I felt a little uneasy. These delays meant I missed my train to Larne and had to hang around the station for a good two hours or so. This made me feel much more uneasy with every passer-by watching me. I needed the toilet but couldn’t find one in the station so I went to the bar round the corner, it had a steel door with a sliding hatch. I knocked on the door and a guy with a very broad Belfast accent asked what I wanted, I told him I was looking for a toilet, he took one look at me with my denim cut-off jeans and plastic bag in hand and told me “we used to have a toilet but they blew it up” then slammed closed the hatch. I eventually found a quite alley to relieve myself but by now I was really feeling very jumpy.

Finally the train arrived and whisked me off back to reality, the ferry and the long ride home.

Cycling Tour of Europe – 1977

Europe tour 1977
Europe tour 1977

In 1977 Magnus and I decided to tour Europe. We had left school and needed to find work to finance the trip. We both got jobs at a local meat processing factory (Lawsons of Dyce). It wasn’t the worst job I’ve ever had but it came close. We initially applied for jobs as cleaners, which were full time posts not summer jobs and we put down all our exam results from school. The manager called us into his office and asked why, with all these qualifications we were applying for jobs as cleaners, we really didn’t expect this. He decided the post of cleaner was not for us and gave us jobs in other areas, I was put on supplying the bacon for the packing lines and I think Magnus worked in the sausage section. We worked all the overtime we could to save as much money for the trip which was the only reason I think I could stand working there, I knew I would leave soon.

When we’d saved enough we bought a small two man ridge tent and we were all set. Magnus’ father gave us a lift to the ferry terminal in Hull where we caught the overnight ferry to Zeebrugge in Belgium. We had no beds, just what they called couchetes (a large reclining chair) but we spent so long in the bar that night we didn’t even get one of then and ended up sleeping on the floor, after we’d eventually found where the blankets were stored. The North sea was pretty rough that night and all I can remember is hearing the engines as the ship rose and fell, needless to say I don’t think either of us got much sleep that night.

We arrived in Belgium the next morning a little worse for wear with no real plan other than cycle as far from the port as possible. We cycled through Brugge, on through Gent towards Brussels finally coming to a stop in a farming area with field of maize somewhere near Geraardsbergen. I seem to remember just camping at the side of the road, we we simply knackered and needed to get some sleep.

Our plan, such as it was was just to cycle all day and stop at a camp site towards the end of the day. This was sometimes problematic as we had as we had only one road map and didn’t know where the sites were. So occasionally we come to a site at around 15:00 and have to decide whether we’d find another site further on before night fall or stay there, some days we cycled till very late, too late. We had a couple more stops in Belgium near Namur and Rochefort before heading into Luxembourg staying for a couple of nights just outside the city.

Our stops were just over the German border near Saarlouis then over into France near Phalsburg then back into Germany near Freiburg then over the mountains to Lake Konstanz. We stayed in Lonstanz for a couple of nights then headed off towards Luzern via Zurich. For most of the trip we’d managed to stay off the main highways but for some reason not in Zurich and before we knew it we were riding straight through the centre on what was in effect a motorway. Just before entering a long, very log tunnel I saw a sign saying ‘no cycling’ but it was too late, we were committed and spent the next 10mins riding through a 6 lane tunnel with cars travelling at over 60mph. Quite frankly I was shitting myself and got off the road as soon as we could on the other side.

We spent five days in total in Luzern, not that we liked it that much but the weather was really bad and each morning we awoke to rain and decided to stay. Whilst we wre there we visited a local attraction, a cable car up a mountain called

Pilatus, it wasn’t like this when I was there.

Pilatus. Although the weather was pretty bad we took a chance that the top of the mountain was above the clouds…it wasn’t. In fact it was a total grey-out up there you could hardly see 10 feet in front of you but some tourist still took photographs though !! There was ‘traditional’ Swiss music at the top with guys in lederhossen playing alpine horns, the whole show, it was straight off a chocolate wrapper. On the way down we caught the cable car with one of the alpine horn players who it turned out was in the middle of his national service in the Swiss Army, (I didn’t ask if he had a knife!) I didn’t even realise Switzerland had an Army, let alone a Navy, yes a Navy.

After Switzerland we headed back into France on our way to Paris with a few stops along the way.  We didn’t want to cycle all the way into Paris and found a really nice camp site at Neuilly-sur-Marne a short want from the Metro station into the centre. We spend 4 night in Paris and did all the usual stuff, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Monmarte, Pigalle. My biggest regret of this trip is that I have no photographs at all, neither of us had brought a camera.

After Paris we headed North to the coast and stayed at what I can only describe as the camp site from Hell. Magnus got food poisoning from a can of ravioli and the toilets ! well they remain to this day the worst I have ever seen. I felt sorry for Magnus having to use them so much, I felt OK and I could barely bring myself to use them. We spent two nights there and left before Magnus was better, I think I forced him to leave, poor guy. He did however get his revenge as a day or so later I got the food poisoning…not nice I can tell you, having to go to the toilet so often and forcing ourselves onto our bike.

The next few days were spent just riding up the coast towards Rotterdam where we intended to catch the ferry back to Hull. We spent five nights outside Rotterdam near Rockanje. In retrospect I can think of a few places that would have been nicer to spend that much time at. The only thing I remember about Rotterdam is the fast, clean and efficient rail link into the city. It’s pretty boring place as it was totally rebuilt after the war.

On our ride along the coast Magnus had been having trouble with his gears and by the time we landed in Hull I think he only had about three left that worked. The plan was to ride home from Hull to Aberdeen. We spent the first night back in a field somewhere near Scotch Corner, but the next day Magnus had had enough of his bike problems and was down to only one working gear. He decided to ditch his bike in a lay-bye and hitch-hike home. Years later we found out his bike was actually worth quite a bit of money and toyed with the idea of going back to look for it, but never did.

Magnus headed off carrying his panniers and handlebars (which he quite liked) and stuck out his thumb, I wouldn’t see him again till Aberdeen. I set off in the wrong frame of mind, I felt as if the holiday was over and all that was left was to get home as quickly as possible. I don’t think I fully appreciated the splendid countryside in the Yorkshire Dales, the hills were both magnificent and a real pain at the same time. I just kept cycling only stopping once or twice to eat. That night I got as far as Jedburgh. In fact I went past Jedburgh but decided to go back as it was getting late and I knew there was a youth hostel there so I’d get a bed for the night. Ferniehirst Castle is no longer used as a hostel but it was a really nice place to stay.

The next day I headed off with the sole intent of getting home that day and just kept going as long as I could, stopping briefly in Arbroath for fish and chips and finally calling it a day just outside Montrose as I couldn’t see the road. The battery in my light was almost dead and it was getting rather dangerous. Exhausted I pitched the tent (stupidly) at the side of the road which in those days was the main N-S road from Aberdeen. I awoke, very early with the tent being blown about by the trucks as they thundered by, as I said a stupid place to pitch a tent. After breakfast of a tin of baked beans I set off and eventually reached Aberdeen I think around 15:00. I rode past Magnus’ house and popped in to see if he’d arrived, turned out he’d only beaten me by about three hours. I went up to my mum’s and spent the next two hours soaking in a warm bath….what a trip around 1740 miles in total.

Second Cycling Tour of Scotland – 1976

tour route 1976
Cycle tour 1976

Following our successful tour in 1975 Magnus and I decided to do the same the following year only following a different route. We again planned to stay at SYHA youth hostels which as before we had to pre-book. The route took us from Aberdeen to Braemar, Perth, Edinburgh, Wanlockhead (Scotlands highest village), Ayr, Glasgow, Stirling, Glen Nevis, Inverness, Aviemore and finally back to Aberdeen. A total of around 591 miles (google maps).

The year before had been pretty exciting and we had no accidents or any mishaps, except for one puncture on the first day. 1976 however was very different, on route from Glasgow to Crianlarach (I think) we had a very nasty accident. We came speeding round a corner, Magnus in front and me with my front wheel only inches from his bike, when suddenly this woman jumped right out in front of him waving her arms. Magnus swerved and braked but I didn’t have enough time to react and my front wheel wedged between his pannier rack and wheel. The next few seconds seemed to go in slow motion as I remember my front wheel getting jammed and veering off to the right whilst I carried straight on and the rest of the bike followed me. I flew forward and started to tumble and hoping like hell there wasn’t any on coming traffic as I was heading for the middle of the road. I saw Magnus come to a stop as I landed heavily on my left shoulder with my bike following behind me. I thought at the time, “this is going to hurt because I don’t have a shirt on” . When we all finally came to a stop all I could think about was my bike lying in a tangled mess in the middle of the road. I had a few cuts an grazes but nothing broken.

The woman had been driving an old mini van which had broken down, after we had assessed the damage to my bike (a badly buckled rear wheel) we agreed to  try and jump start it. She agreed if we got it going she’d give us a lift to the nearest town to to get my wheel repaired. Well, we got her car going all right after pushing it for about 50 yards but then off she drove leaving us behind.We were left totally amazed that anyone could do that. We got ourselves together and walked a couple of miles and found a garage but they couldn’t help, but they did tell us the nearest bike shop was in Stirling.

I tried to adjust my wheel and tried to cycle but this was impossible so after walking a few miles more we left our bikes at a farm and hitch-hiked to Stirling, getting to the bike shop half an hour after it closed. This was turning out to be a very bad day. We headed up to the hostel near the castle in Stirling checked in and called the Crianlarach hostel to say we couldn’t make it. I those days you had to do chores when you booked out of the hostel so we asked if we could do ours the night before so we could leave early in the morning. We then made a bee line for the nearest pub because today of all days we needed a drink.

I don’t remember the name of the pub but it was not exactly a high class establishment, Magnus got involved in a game of cards and won quite a bit of money. Just when we thought our luck had changed and tried to leave with the winnings it was made very clear by the locals that we couldn’t leave until they’d won their money back, which they did…fairly quickly. We returned to the hostel and in a very drunk state tried to brush the hallway and stairs, in the dark whilst trying to be quite.

Next day, bright and early we headed to the repair shop and the guy kindly straightened my wheel for free. We then hitch-hiked all the way back to the farm where we left our bikes, which was somewhere near Thornhill I think. It was now nearly 13:00 and we had to get to Fort William. That was a very hard days ride sustained by mars bars and crisps we made it to Glen Nevis hostel at about 21:00 just in time to claim our beds, the place was really busy that night with people even sleeping in the hallway.

First Cycling Tour of Scotland – 1975

my first 2 wheeled bike
my first two wheeler

I have been cycling almost as long as I can remember, my first bike was a three wheeler at the age of three or four, I can still picture it. At the age of five I had an accident falling off a neighbours bike whilst messing about and badly grazed my face. As a sort of get well present my mother bought me my first ‘real’ two wheeler from Halfords in Aberdeen, they only did bikes in those days. I had this bike for years in fact it was handed down to both my sisters then brother and it was still around being used at my mother’s when I was in my late twenties. The next bike I got was second hand and had no gears and was nothing special. I spent a lot of time trying to make it look better but nothing worked and my mother wouldn’t even let me put drop handlebars on it.

At secondary school I met Magnus, still a close friend who shared my interest in cycling. We got talking about going for a tour of Scotland which I showed great enthusiasm for even though I didn’t own a bike at that point. We agreed to do a few training runs from Aberdeen to Braemar (about 60 miles), but first I had to get a bike. I scoured the local paper and picked up a Raleigh with five gears for £20 and that weekend we set off for Braemar. By the time we got to the youth hostel it was evident, in many ways that this bike was far too small for me, I was in a lot of pain and had blisters where you should never get blisters. It was clear that I could not tour Scotland on this bike so I had to get another but with less than two weeks till the school holidays time was running out. I sold the Raleigh and bought another (proper sized) bike which I had for a couple of days before I rode into the back of a parked car and bent the frame.

carlton corsa
Carlton Corsa

We were due to head off on our first tour of Scotland in less than a week and I couldn’t use the damaged bike. My mother, once again bought me a bike form Halfords, this time a full sized Carlton Corsa. This image is from an old catalogue but my Corsa was exactly the same as this, even the colour. I found out years later that my mother had to take out a loan to pay for this bike which was £65 but she realised how important this trip was to me.

cycle tour 1
cycle tour 1975

So Magnus and I headed off on Thursday 3rd July 1975 on our first cycling tour of  Scotland which would follow a route through Inverness, Carbisdale Castle, Ullapool, Torridon, Ratagan, Glen Nevis, Oban, Aberfeldy, Perth, Aviemore then back to Aberdeen. The total distance (according to Google maps) is 697 miles, although we never measured it at the time. We Stayed at Youth Hostels all the way which in those days had very limited opening times and some were very basic indeed. I remember Torridon (Glen Cottage)

Glen Cottage Torridon
Glen Cottage Torridon

in particular which was a temporary hostel whilst they were building the new grade 1 hostel. We basically slept in a shed with a canoe slung in the rafters and a chemical toilet out the back. The most impressive hostel by far was Carbisdale Castle which was, and still is a magnificently impressive building. I remember the warden used to waken you at around 06:30 by playing bagpipe music on an old record player in the great hall. The Inverness hostel we stayed in which was near the Castle is no more and there doesn’t appear to be an SYHA hostel in Perth any more.

This was a fantastic trip for a sixteen year old I think it was our first real taste of freedom, no parents, no school and it was up to us what we did. The first day however, didn’t go that well if I remember I had a puncture outside of Elgin and although I had a repair kit I couldn’t find the leak, I even tried using a nearby burn. In the end Magnus remembered a friend of his fathers lived in Elgin so we went there and begged the use of a basin of water and had a welcome cup of tea.

I remember that summer being extremely hot in fact there were forest fires up around Aviemore and the tar on the road melted and stuck to our tyres. In those days I hadn’t even heard of sun screen except for the old zinc past our mothers used on us as kids, so consequently we both got very sunburned, me in particular. I remember stopping at almost every burn and using the water to cool us down we even tried cycling with no shoes, but this was too painful. Somewhere along the line I bought some calamine lotion to soothe the sunburn and at Ratagan hostel I covered my arms in the stuff. This proved to be even more unbearable then the sunburn itself so I spent the next hour or so trying to get the stuff off (very gingerly) using water from the loch, a sight which Magnus found highly amusing.

Cycling in Scotland: Links to on-line information

I have been gathering information relating to cycling in Scotland for some time now and I thought it was about time I compiled a list of some of the sites and what they offer.


I may add to this as sites come and go.