A couple of weeks ago myself, Mark, Christine and Dolina set of from Lemreway to try and paddle to The Shiants. Alas, the weather didn't quite match the forecast so we turned back at the mouth of Loch Shell. We're still keeping an eye on the forecast, and then Mike said he was planning a camping trip there this weekend just past. Neither myself nor Mark could do an overnight trip, so we were working out how to make it into a day trip for us. In the end, the forecast changed, and so we decided to meet up at Traigh Mhor on Sunday morning and go for a paddle there - possibly surfing, possibly a trip along the coast.
In the end there were 6 of us - me, Mark, Mike, Robert, Alice and Allan. After a cuppa and some discussion, we decided to set off for Traigh Ghioradail, just south of Tolsta Head, and paddle back round the headland along Traigh Mhor, which is part of route 7 in the Outer Hebrides sea kayak guide book. With a northerly wind, Traigh Ghioradail and the sea on the southern side of Tolsta Head were nice and calm, giving plenty of opportunities to explore the caves, channels, rock gardens and arches. However, on reaching the end of the headland, everything changed. The wind, a large swell and clapotis made conditions rather more interesting, and for the most part, that meant too interesting to explore anything too closely - not unless you were absolutely certain of timing anyway.
On reaching the southern end of Traigh Mhor, there was a brief suggestion of stopping for a cuppa and lunch, but with the surf it was going to make landing (and departing again) challening, so we pushed on to the north end. With some great coaching from Mike, everyone landed safely, and most of us were probably as surprised as me how much smaller the surf was once you were in it than when you were looking over it from behind.
After the long awaited lunch stop, we headed back out to play in the surf. Alas my playboat was in Mark's van at the start of the trip, so I had to put up with surfing in the sea kayak. Definitely an interesting experience - once it's decided to turn, there's not much you can do about it. Despite a few swims, everyone came away with a big grin on their face!
Lemreway to Gravir Kayak Trip
A busy week's kayaking last week, as I managed to squeeze a trip from Lemreway to Gravir in with Mark as well as the Taransay trip with the Skye club. The original plan was to meet up with the Skye crowd again, but I had time constraints (helping out with the Hebridean Celtic Festival in the evening) and a lack of mobile coverage at Horgabost meant I met up with Mark in Ballalan to try and work out a plan. Once again the forecast (wet and windy) and the actual weather (warm, sunny and still) didn't seem to match, so we decided to head out to Gravir, drop off my car, and then take the boats to Lemreway and have a gentle paddle north, exploring some of the east coast of South Lochs that neither of us had seen before.
The weather decided to try and catch up with the forecast as we got the boats ready and set off from the slip at Lemreway, with increasing wind and swell greeting us as we headed past Eilean Luibhaird and out to the mouth of Loch Shell (Sealg). Taking stock of the situation, we decided we were both happy to carry on and headed off round the headland onto the exposed coast. The weather was now looking much more like the forecast, blowing about F5 from the south west. One the one hand, this meant we had the wind behind us, but equally, we also had the swell behind us, with the odd breaking wave to keep us on our toes. Aside from looking out for somewhere to stop for lunch (there wasn't anywhere), there wasn't a lot of exploring to do, but I did spot a puffin bobbing around just out of paddle reach keeping a wary eye on my, and another flew past, presumably heading to the Shiants. I also spotted a seal sleeping in a little cove past one of the headlands.
On rounding the last headland and moving into Loch Odhairn, the sea calmed down significantly, although we did have to put up with a strong westerly headwind until we pulled in to a rocky beach on the south side of the loch for a well earned coffee and caramel shortbread. Moving on, the wind calmed down and the sun even came out, and we had fun exploring the southern shore of the loch, including finding a sea kayak sized rock pool which you could just squeeze into on wave surges (Rockpool Hopping video on YouTube).
Overall, an interesting afternoon's paddle. No photos from me this time; the above is one of Mark's - he was desperate to try out his new waterproof camera despite the conditions! The long stretch from Loch Shell to Loch Odhairn was quite easy paddling (we were blown most of the way) whilst being nicely exposed, but otherwise rather dull to explore in those conditions. I think Mark's Facebook status summed it up nicely: "Mark Stokes is becoming a down-wind junkie... another excellent paddle today."
Last week saw the South Skye & Lochalsh Kayak Club staying at Horgabost in Harris for a week of kayaking. A few of us in the Stornoway Canoe Club decided we should be sociable and popped down to join them for a day's paddling. This ended up being a trip round Taransay, which I haven't done before (and is handily trip number 18 in the Outer Hebrides Sea Kayak Guide Book).
A lovely day greeted us at Horgabost, and (apparently, I wasn't counting) 19 kayaks set out from the beach across the Sound of Taransay. On arrival at Taransay, the grou split up, and one or two of us decided we were overdressed and had to make a quick stop to adjust layers (thermal top + heavy drysuit + hot sunny day = bad idea). Heading round clockwise, the group was rather strung out at times, but that gave everyone a chance to explore, try and squeeze kayaks through every smaller gaps and even play on the odd breaking wave we came. Eventually we came to Traigh a Siar, the beach round the back of Taransay, where we stopped for lunch and were rejoined by some of those who split from us earlier (some lucky people got to drag their boats across from the beach on the opposite side of the island).
A leisurely post lunch paddle saw a chance to explore an arch, and then we found an rock and reef with an interesting break on it. Much fun ensued, until unfortunately a small coming together between two boats saw a rapid tow and retreat to the nearest beach to raid everyone's emergency supplies of duct tape. A passable looking repair followed, although at this point, somewhat late already (large groups never travel quickly), I decided to bail out and sprint for Horgabost as I was due back in Stornoway for the evening.
Despite an earlier look at the map, I needed a quick stop on the sand spit (SE corner of Taransay) just to check bearings and make sure I was headed back for the right beach. Back at Horgabost, someone had let the tide out since we left, and it seemed like a long carry up to the car park until one of the SSLKC group offered me a hand (thank you!).
My photos are here as well as having a couple on Flickr here and here. I certainly had a great trip, spoilt only slightly by my need to rush off home at the end. I also learned one lesson - I need some summer paddling gear: Mike's old drysuit is great for cold, wet and windy weather, but it's like a sauna when the sun's out!
The Outer Hebrides Sea Kayaking Guide Book Launch
Tonight saw Mike Sullivan, Robert Emmott and Tim Pickering launch their new guide book "The Outer Hebrides - Sea Kayaking around the Isles & St Kilda" at An Lanntair in Stornoway. Amusing tales and some fantastic photos made for a great evening - plus of course the chance to get your hand on a freshly printed (and signed) copy of the book itself - made for a great evening. I'm afraid I haven't had a detailed look through the book yet, but at first glance it looks great, and even if you don't kayak, it's worth it for the photos alone!
The book is available from the publishers (Pesda Press), all good online retailers (that's Amazon then), and I'm pretty sure there will be a few copies for sale in retailers in the Outer Hebrides too. And I'm sure everyone was joking about putting their signed copies up on eBay...
I suppose I've got no real excuse for getting out and doing some paddling now then. Oh, apart from not having a sea kayak... Anyone know when the Outer Hebrides river guide is going to be written?
Climbing at Dalbeg - Small West Wall
After lots of time spent at the climbing wall over winter and spring, it was finally time to get outside on some real rock yesterday. I took a trip over to Dalbeg sea cliffs, as according to the guide (Scottish Rock Volume 2 - North), Small West Wall had a selection of short Diff and Severe routes I figures I could self-belay on. Alas, the guidebook didn't have any photos of Small West Wall, and I struggled to find it at first. Hopefully, this photo might be of use to anyone wanting to climb there.
After finding it, and enjoying a quick picnic, I managed to do Original Route (VD) and the variation given in Original Route's description (break right onto the wall half way up - HS 4b). Both were very enjoyable (including a nice chimney section), if not too strenuous (and hence scary on a self-belay).
All I really need now is a nice crag near Stornoway where we can head for an hour or two on an evening. Anyone fancy transporting one of Yorkshire Gritstone crags up here for me!?!
Web Host Migration
Well, I've been debating about doing it for a while (well, plucking up courage more like) as my old web host was probably good when I first signed up with them, but doesn't appear to have updated anything since then and the site was running on old version of PHP, amongst other things. I could have moved on to another server running a more recent version of PHP, but that was still going to be a full migration, so I figured I might as well look around to see what else is on offer. The end result is I'm now with a new host, and if you're reading this, then the migration has been successful (although not painless).
Acer Aspire One won't boot - BIOS recovery
As part of some upconming training, I was trying to install Fedora 11 on a USB stick to run on my Acer Aspire One. All was going (reasonably) well until I rebooted it, at which point the power light came on, the USB stick access light came on and went off again and nothing happened. No bios screen, nothing. Worried that I was going to have to disassemble the AA1 and fix some dodgy connection, or worse, that it was completely dead, I figured a quick Google couln't hurt. Fortunately, I found a couple of really helpful articles describing my exact problem, and better still, a working solution. It's just taken me 10 mins to fix my AA1, so a big thank you to:
- Peve's blog: Acer Aspire One Won't Boot (BIOS corrupted)
- QRP & CW - Radio Shack: Acer Aspire One BIOS Recovery
- kioskea.net forums: Aspire one wont boot, even the bios dont show
Fortunately, the AA1 has an emergency bios recovery mode. The following instructions are unashamedly copied from Peve's blog and worked a treat on my AOA150:
- Format a USB memory key with the FAT mode.
- Download the latest version of the BIOS from Acer support website - make sure you get the right version for your model of AA1!
- Extract the files from the zip and put both the FLASHIT.EXE and the BIOS file in the root directory of the memory key.
- Rename the BIOS file to ZG5IA32.FD and then remove the disk.
- Turn the AA1 off, insert the battery and connect the AC adapter.
- Insert the USB Memory Key into one of the USB port of the Aspire One.
- Press Fn+Esc, keep it pressed and press the power button to turn the AA1 on.
- Release Fn+Esc after a few seconds, the power button will be blinking.
- Press the power button once. The AA1 will start the BIOS flash, do not interrupt for any reason. After some minutes the power button will stop blinking, and then the AA1 will reboot. Wait till the AA1 has completed all this operations.
- If everything has gone right, the BIOS is flashed and all settings are reset to default.
So, now my machine's booting up again, guess I'd better get back to trying to get Fedora up and running. Fingers crossed I don't have the same problem again!
Anti-virus/malware/spyware apps - are they any use?
After being away working for a couple of months, I'm finally back. However, it's taken me the best part of a week to get my main desktop PC up to date. Every application seems to want to install an update or security patch, and then reboot. Plus it seems a number of updates from Microsoft couldn't be installed first time round, so it took several goes with Windows Update to get that up to date.
What's more, my usual anti-virus program fired off a warning about a couple of files being potential trojans. Now, the two files in question have been on my PC for about 4 years, so I'm not clear why they are suddenly a risk. Perhaps if there was some other evidence of infection, I could understand that these files had been altered, but there wasn't. So, I fired up an anti-malware tool (which was installed after getting infected about 6 months ago - so clearly my AV/AM tools weren't doing their job), which of course needed updating and another reboot. This identified several different threats - one appeared to be the remains of an earlier malware infection, and again, a couple of files (not the same at the anti virus app) were identified as being trojans. I've also run an anti spyware app, which, you guessed it, picked up some other stuff, but not what the anti-virus or anti-malware apps identified.
Now, I know I've got some files on my machine which are packaged using technologies which these programs can't decompress and look inside, so they tend to flag them as warnings, but what's suddenly changed to make files I've used before (many years before) harmful now, but OK last week? And why do they all produce different results? And finally, why is it nearly impossible to find any information about the identified threats? (One app links to a generic virus search page, and the names of the viruses/trojans/etc seem to be unique to each vendor.)
I'm beginning to wonder whether these programs are actually any use, or whether they randomly pick some things to flag up as threats just to make you think they're doing their job and scare you into persisting with them or even shelling out cash on the next upgrade or wizz-bang feature. Right now, I don't trust them, and that's bad for both me and them.
PS OK, I wouldn't actually run my Windows machine without some kind of AV software running, and I don't recommend you do either. And don't give me the usual line about Linux - I run Linux too, but need to run Windows for some stuff. And as/when Linux develops the same market share as Windows, we'll suddenly find the malware creators start targetting Linux, regardless of how fancy and secure the Linux architecture is.
Unfortunately, there's been a lot of comment spam recently, so as a temporary measure, I'm moderating comments on all older posts. It's not an ideal solution, but the best I can do quickly. Once Sail Hebrides' Hebridean Maritime Festival (more to follow...) is out of the way, I'll find a more permanent, user friendly solution.
Update: I've changed the moderation plugin (from NP_CommentControl to NP_Moderate, in case you were interested) so now you should be notified that any comments submitted will be queued for moderation, rather than just appearing to vanish into the nothingness.
Stornoway Broadband Problem
I thought it was just me, but I've discovered there are a number of people and businesses having problems with their BT-based broadband service in Stornoway. The symptoms are slow IP throughput, as measure via "speed tests" such as BT's (http://www.speedtester.bt.com/) and Think Broadband's (http://www.thinkbroadband.com/speedtest.html).
Most common speed-related broadband issues are due the broadband connection itself being slow, caused by interference or a fault in either the copper line between the house and the BT exchange, or within the internal house wiring. However, the symptoms experienced by those suffering the problem are that the broadband connection speed (DSL sync rate) is good, but they simply aren't able to use that speed. In my own case, my line is synchronizing at roughly 5000 kbps, but I'm only able to download at between 5 and 250 kbps - with about 20 kbps being the average. Whilst it is unrealistic to expect to achieve the full 5000 kbps download rate (due to various overheads in the network protocols used), at quiet times of day I would expect to get at least 3500 kbps - not 20 kbps (which is slower than dial-up)! Strangely enough, upstream speeds seem to be unaffected.
The problem affects users of different ISPs, and given my background in broadband DSL networking (I used to work for Freeserve, Wanadoo and Orange with overall responsibility for the design and strategy of their broadband service), this clearly points to the problem being with BT, rather than with the ISPs or affected users. Whilst a number of us have escalated the problem to our ISPs, getting further information can be difficult, as the flow of information from customer to ISP to BT and back again doesn't always work well, especially with multiple department involved in BT and probably the ISPs too. However, I have seen one report that BT claim a capacity issue in the Stornoway exchange and/or BT backhaul network (which connects the exchange to the rest of the BT network), although I'm skeptical as a capacity issue would more likely have come on progressively, rather than abruptly two weeks ago. My suspicions are that it's a fault, either in the exchange, the backhaul network, or the BRAS (large router which is key to the DSL service), but I guess we'll just have to wait and see if BT can identify, and hopefully fix, the fault. It also appears that BT haven't logged this in their systems which would notify any ISPs trying to log the similar faults that it's a known issue - which suggests to me that BT haven't really identified the issue and/or aren't taking it seriously.
The issue has been ongoing for two weeks now, which is disgusting. Broadband is a key service to many people and businesses on the islands, and this continued poor service is making me feel like BT are treating us islanders are 3rd class citizens. (Not to mention the poor availability of BT's service in some outlying areas up here.)
Feel free to post comments if you're experiencing the same problem in Stornoway, or even elsewhere on the Western Isles. The more people we know with the problem, the more chance of applying pressure to get the problem resolved and the service restored. I'd also suggest you get on to your ISP and get them to run the various diagnostic tests they have available and then log the fault with BT for further investigation.
Update (10/07/2009 18:00): After chasing up Orange Customer Services for an update with the call I logged on Wednesday, BT came back with "no fault found" (no surprise there then). Orange CS insisted on doing a factory reset to the Livebox and then asked me to run another BT speed test. This time downstream IP throughput was at 3500 kbps, which is what it should be. Orange CS were happy, as they think they fixed the problem, but there is no way on earth factory resetting the Livebox helped - for a start, it was brand new and never used before Wednesday as it was a spare I had an used to ensure my original Livebox wasn't the problem. I've also heard from Alex at ReefNet that his line looks like it's behaving again, so it appears BT might have fixed the issue sometime earlier today. Fingers crossed!