Longest Cycle Ride

Yesterday saw me complete my longest cycle ride to date, 222.2km (138.1 miles). I’m trying to do Randonneur Round the Year (RRtY) which is an achievement in audaxing for completing a 200km event every month for twelve consecutive months. I did start in November and then couldn’t do one in December, so I’ve started again in January. I find 200km rides tough, mentally and physically. It’s a long time to be on a bike (around 9-10hrs cycling) and most of it on your own so your mind starts thinking thoughts you don’t need, like ‘why am I doing this?’ and ‘am I enjoying this?’.

This was a normal and pretty easy 100km Audax I’ve done several times before but I made it into an Extended Calendar Event (ECE) by cycling to and from the start (57km each way). This is one way of making recognised 200km routes and rides that count towards the RRtY achievement. I was right on my limit, physically and mentally for the last hour back home. Knowing exactly how much further I needed to go on very familiar roads made the distance seem to stretch out forever!

Next up will be a London-Oxford-London (LOL) ride in March. Wonder if I’ll be LOL at the end of it!

Supernova 2014J

M82 - Supernova 2014J by jochta
M82 – Supernova 2014J, a photo by jochta on Flickr.

A bright supernova in M82 was discovered on January 21st, the closest Type 1a supernova for 40 years. Here’s my image of it on January 25th when it was about magnitude 11.0. I have the collimation of my new 12″ telescope sorted now and this is a stack of 15x60s images captured in Nebulosity using an Atik 16IC-S camera. The supernova is below-right of the centre of the galaxy in the centre of the image.

(844) Leontina

(844) Leontina a video by jochta on Flickr.

The first asteroid occultation observation from my observatory and it was +ve! Asteroid (844) Leontina occults magnitude 12.0 TYC 1196-00710-1 for 1.28s. Full story.

NGC 1662

NGC 1662 by jochta
NGC 1662, a photo by jochta on Flickr.

First image from my observatory. A fairly random, non-descript open cluster in Orion which was small enough and well-positioned to test the new mount and EQMod settings.This is a stack of 12 unguided 60s exposures through my smaller 200mm Newtonian telescope. No filters, flats or darks.

Some say this cluster looks like a little boat and it kind of does. The bottom of the boat is the line of stars running diagonally down to the bottom left of the image, it has a prow and a stern. The cluster of multiple stars in the centre is the mast.

2013 Cycling Summary

With the start of 2014, it’s time to look back on the previous year’s cycling. I’ve been keeping accurate records since September 2008.

Last year was my best ever in terms of distance with 4,516 miles cycled (7,267km). Easily beating my previous record of 3,432 miles in 2011. Despite a poor spring (especially March) we had an excellent summer and I beat my previous mileage records in Apr, Jun, Aug, Sep, Oct and Nov. The graph below shows the cumulative mileage for the last five complete years.

cumulative mileage
Cumulative Cycling Mileage

In 2009 I cycled from Land’s End to John O’Groats and you can see that in the abrupt rise in May of that year. However, a consistent mileage through the late spring and summer in 2013 saw me overtake that line in July. Monthly mileage fell in the autumn with fewer opportunities to get out cycling, but I was pleased to beat my previous best November and had my second best December. I also completed my personal goal of completing at least one 100km or longer audax each calendar month in 2013 although I’m still waiting for my December one to be validated.

A heat map of my UK cycling shows where I cycled in 2013.

Heat Map of UK cycling 2013
Heat Map of UK cycling 2013

Yellows show where I cycled repeatedly. Dull purple is where I only cycled once. Clearly the ‘hottest’ part of the map centers around my commute from home to work in South Oxfordshire. The heat bump to the west of this is club rides with CTC Wantage which usually start from Grove. You can see some away rides, e.g. a 160km audax in the Midlands and rides in the New Forest, Isle of Wight and Mendips. The cluster towards Cambridge was during the family summer holiday. The other obvious route was May’s cycle tour with my brother-in-law along the Welsh Border from Chester to Chepstow.

In addition to the UK miles, I joined the CTC Wantage club trip to Uzes in France. Here we did several rides out from the town. We also did an away day to climb Mont Ventoux.

France Cycling Heat Map 2013
France Cycling Heat Map 2013

In numbers my stats for 2013 were as follows.

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It’s going to be a tough mileage record to beat especially if we have bad weather in the spring and summer when most of the cycling gets done!

Table Tennis – Mid-season Review

Most people know I play league table tennis. I’ve been playing the sport since I was about 8-years old. My father played in the Oxford league for many years and my siblings and I were all encouraged to play and we all played league table tennis at some point. I’m the only one still playing and I’ve played in the league since the mid 80s. Originally in the Oxford league for Kidlington Forum and since the early 90s I’ve played in the Didcot league without missing a season. I also played in the Newbury league for several seasons (most recently in Division 1).

As a player I would be classed as a “defender”, i.e. I very rarely attack first in a rally and rely on blocking and chopping my opponents until I force them to make a mistake or lift the ball for me to smash. A match between two defenders can be a very long and tactical affair and might appear “boring” for a spectator but there’s a lot of spin and counter-play involved! I’m often referred to as frustrating to play as I will often get everything my opponent can throw at me back, if you’re an attacking player that can be quite annoying!

Just to explain some of the nomenclature you will see below. A fixture (or tie) of table tennis is played by two teams of three players, there are a total of ten matches per tie. Every player plays each other in singles, i.e. nine matches, and there is one match of doubles. Each match is the best of five games (or sets) to 11pts. In the Oxford league teams play for a share of 4pts depending upon the scoreline. In the Didcot league teams play for a share of 6pts per tie. Promotion and relegation in local league table tennis is not automatic but it is normally expected that the top two teams in each division will get promoted and the bottom two teams relegated. It is fairly unusual for players to play in more than one league, but not uncommon.

The sport is played in the winter between September and April, we’re currently halfway through the 2013/14 season and we now take a break for a few weeks for Christmas. Below is a summary of how it’s going so far.

Oxford League

This is my second season playing for the Viking Sports Club in Headington. After a long hiatus of not playing in the Oxford league I was asked to join by a colleague and ex-Didcot team mate. The clubs are rather spread out geographically and involve quite a bit of travelling to away matches, e.g. to Haddenham, Bicester and Begbroke. We are Vikings B this season and play in Division 2 of 4. We have four regular players so we rotate the squad, by the end of the season we will all have played roughly the same number of matches. Co-incidentally my father played for Vikings B in the late 60s and early 70s and the Viking Club is where I first remember playing as a child.

Last season we finished 3rd and I had a rather tough introduction midway through the season as Division 2 is a strong division. This season I have settled in much better and am currently meeting my personal goal of winning at least 50% of my matches. I’ve won 11 of 21 (52%) and not scored a duck yet which I’m very pleased with. I’ve scored one maximum (winning all three matches in a tie).

The team is top of the division at the midway stage, 7pts clear of 2nd but having played one more tie. Our greatest rivals are probably Forum D who are 8pts behind us but have three ties in hand. We have an excellent chance of finishing in the top two positions and getting promoted to Division 1. The playing standard jumps enormously between the divisions in local league table tennis so although it would be great to go up we will struggle to stay up!

Oxford League Division 2
Oxford League Division 2

Didcot League

Didcot is my “first league”, i.e. if I have fixture clashes Didcot matches always take precedence. After many years playing for Howbery Park in Crowmarsh Gifford, and being secretary for the club, we had to fold when we lost our playing premises and couldn’t find an alternative. I played one season for Moreton but it didn’t work out so when I was asked to join Upton Village Table Tennis Club before the start of last season I jumped at the chance. So this is my second season playing for Upton and I play for Upton A in Division 2 of 5. Last year we had four playing members and rotated the squad. I much prefer playing every tie in Didcot and I sometimes found it hard when I was “dropped” from the team. We finished 5th which was a highest ever league position for the Upton club. We had a rather dodgy home venue last season so it was kind of good news when we were forced to move to better premises this season due to the closure of our old venue. This season we have only three players so we have a regular team and we have built an excellent team spirit and I’m enjoying playing more than ever. I hope it’s a threesome that we can keep together for many years.

Last season I finished with a 64% average (won 25 from 39) which was my best ever season and I set myself a personal goal of 66% for this season. That’s not been going well as so far I’ve won 11 from 24 (46%) including one maximum but I have scored two ducks which I hate doing. I’ve been playing with more confidence recently and I should improve that average before the end of the season but I might have to revise my personal goal down a bit.

Despite my lowly average as a team we have been performing excellently and we had a brilliant start to the season. We currently lie in 2nd place and have played one fewer fixture than the teams in 1st and 3rd. It’s an extremely tight division though, everyone is capable of beating everyone else and it’s far too early to tell whether we’ll hold onto a top two position. We have lost a couple of ties we shouldn’t have so hopefully we can reverse them in the second half of the season. The team currently top will be very hard to overtake, they are clearly the strongest team in the division. We’ve all played more than 20 seasons in the Didcot league and none of us have ever played in Division 1, it would be great to get promoted on merit at least once even if we get hammered every week next season!

Didcot League Division 2
Didcot League Division 2

Observatory Build – Part 7

I think this will be the last post entitled “Observatory Build” as it is now built! I had three friends around at the weekend and we just about managed to get the roof on between us. I borrowed a hefty trolley from work which made getting down the side of the house and to the end of the garden doable. I think it would have been impossible without. The roof went around the corner easily, I had been very worried that it wouldn’t make it.

So here it is with the roof on, guttering fitted etc. The previous owner had a water butt on the other side hence the truncated downpipe. I’m going to deck the area under the runoff in the spring and I will have a water butt too. I will also replace the vertical posts with longer ones and brace them more attractively.

Observatory built
Observatory built

Since the weekend I’ve finished off the walls inside, temporarily set up the cupboards and started wiring up the electrics. I’m going to order the new telescope and mount soon so I can buy the right height pier and get that installed.

Observatory Build – Part 6

Big day today as Matthew and I spent all day erecting the observatory ready for the roof to be lifted on. First job was fitting the new fence panels, they’re not especially heavy but cumbersome to handle so it took three of us to slot them in. It was then all hands to the pump to manoeuvre the base into position.

Observatory base
Base in position

The base is very heavy so it was more of a drag than a lift and a gentle drop (after a less gentle drop!) into position. I decided to line the walls with insulation, I was in two minds whether to do this or not but in the end thought I might as well. This took a couple of hours of cutting and banging to get into place before we could screw the first two walls together.

Insulating walls
Matthew playing Tetris with the insulation

We made a slight faux pas putting the last wall into place as we managed to lock ourselves into the building! We had to remove the wall to retrieve the keys! Doh! We put the beams into position for the track which carries the roof. A temporary fix for the verticals on a pile of blocks, I will build proper plinths for these in due course.

Observatory sans roof
Ready for the roof

The last job was to cover everything with a tarpaulin until next week when I hope to have several helpers available to get the roof on. I’m slightly nervous about getting it around the corner down the side of the house. It would be ideal to get it on in one piece. Breaking it into two pieces would be difficult and it might never be the same again. It’s starting to take shape now!

Observatory Build – Part 5

Just a short update to show the brickwork all completed ready for the wooden part of the observatory. The brickwork supports the base of the observatory and keeps it above the concrete base to prevent water seeping underneath and rotting it. The three bricks rear right will support the edge of the hole in the base for the pier. A layer of damp proofing between the bricks and the base should keep it all nice and dry.

The new fence panels have arrived and are ready to slot into the concrete posts to tidy up the rear boundary of the garden.

Brickwork for observatory base

Observatory Build – Part 4

The concrete base for the observatory was laid yesterday. What my builder has done in two days would have taken me a month (or three) of Sundays! Next job is for him to lay a single course of bricks to set the wooden base of the observatory on. This will prevent water seepage under the edges of the base and prevent the base from rotting. That’s being done next week and he’s also replacing the rotten and broken fence panels you can see in the photo. There will be a 300mm gap around the observatory for maintenance access. After that’s all finished I can erect the walls and roof supports and then get the boys around to get the roof on!

Concrete base
Concrete base for observatory

Once the observatory is erected it’ll be time to kit it out. I’m planning to run a caravan power cable from the external socket on the house to a socket on the outside wall of the observatory. This will be a simple job to connect up each time when I want to observe. I have some old kitchen units and surface to use for storage and a work bench.

A new telescope and mount is going to go in there and once that is purchased I’ll need to work out what height steel pier to get/have made. The commercial ones tend to be in the 800-1100mm height range, I have no idea if that will be adequate yet. It needs to be high enough so that I get as low a horizon as possible but it also needs to be low enough so that the telescope can be parked horizontally without the roof hitting it. I won’t know the ideal height until I have the new telescope set up on a tripod for starters.