Old Vintage Eddie Merckx Racer Bottom Bracket Replacement

Eddie Merckx Racer
Eddie Merckx Racer

There’s not much info about these old bikes, so I thought this was worth a quick post.

The bike in question is an Eddie Merckx “Tour De France. ” Not sure how old, but it has friction shifters, 10 gears and is made of solid old steel.

After suffering with a wobbly bottom bracket (ooh er…), my mate John decided to replace the BB and solve the problem for good. We had heard that you can swap out the old bearings and races with a modern sealed unit and enjoy years of maintenance free cycling.

After a bit of searching, we found a Shimano BB with 68mm diameter, 127mm spindle length that we thought could do the job. It worked a treat, but there were a few things worth noting.

  • One side is reverse threaded so you turn it clockwise to undo it.
  • Be really careful with the threads as they could easily be trashed if you don’t line things up and screw carefully.
  • You will probably need a Shimano tool to tighten the new BB into place. It looks like a normal socket, but with deep ridges on the outside.
  • You may also need a “hub puller” tool to get the pedals off the spindles.

I will follow up soon with some photos of the hub puller and Shimano tool. Also maybe some links and model numbers. ūüôā

Twenty Fourteen Single Post Page Secondary Menu Disappears

After ironing out some issues with my Twenty Fourteen Child Theme, I found another one. This one is not really a bug, as it is quite deliberate, but it was still a problem for my needs. When viewing a single post page, the secondary menu in the left sidebar is not visible. The menu is visible on other pages, and on the overall blog page. Again, I’m not sure why this was chosen behaviour, but there is a float left and negative margin that pushes the menu off the edge of the screen.

On line 3596 I changed the following:

#secondary {
 background-color: transparent;
 border: 0;
 clear: none;
 float: left;
 margin: 0 0 0 -100%;
 min-height: 100vh;
 width: 122px;


#secondary {
 background-color: transparent;
 border: 0;
 clear: none;
 min-height: 100vh;
 width: 122px;

So far, this seems to have reinstated the menu, but I’ve yet to test this much yet. There is a chance it may cause trouble under certain conditions. I will see if it causes issues on a full-width page, and check the other media queries for knock-on issues.

Twentyfourteen Sidebar Bug

After updating to WordPress 3.8 I was keen to give the new Twenty Fourteen theme a try. I’ve been using a modified twenty eleven theme forever so thought a change would do me good! Within an hour I had changed the default green accent colour to match our company blue, made sure our contact-form plugins still worked, and got everything looking perfect on my testing site. My pointer hovered over the Publish button, but I decided to give it a quick check on the iPad. Just in case.

It looked great. The responsive layout was beautifully readable, and everything looked fresh and new. There was a slight, but game-stopping problem though.

The Content Sidebar Became Unclickable!

Some of the media queries that control the responsive layout had clashed and caused widgets within the content-sidebar to become unclickable at certain viewport sizes. In my case this was the contact form we have on every page, so losing the ability to fill the form is pretty bad news! I checked on the desktop version of Safari and found the same problem if I reduced the window to approximate iPad size. I couldn’t replicate the problem in Firefox at all.

For reference I was able to find the culprit. Two lines of CSS.

On line 3186 I changed width:100%; to width:66.66666666%;

On line 3192 I changed margin-right: 33.33333333%; to width:100%;

This fixed the unclickable problem, but caused a bit of overlap elsewhere with another media query so:

On line 3578 I changed:

margin-left: -29.04761904%;
width: 29.04761904%;


margin-left: -25%;
width: 25%;

Remember that changing the live-version of the theme is a bad idea, as the changes can get overwritten by theme updates. I changed it in my child-theme instead.

I’m pretty sure this breaks a bunch of conventions that were used in the development of the theme (I hated changing the specific¬†-29.04761904% to a generic -25%)¬†, but it works for now, and that’s what matters. I couldn’t find the correct place to post theme-related bugs to WordPress, so have posted it here for posterity. I will probably have a look at fixing this more cleanly soon, as I suspect there is a quicker fix that I’m not seeing. Especially as this doesn’t seem a problem on Firefox. z-index maybe?

Dropbox Time Machine

It just occurred to me that working from a dropbox sync’d folder has a couple of hidden benefits that I’d not really considered before. When I’m working on something between work and home, I often stick it on my dropbox and work from there. This means I have the newest files waiting for me when I get home. What I hadn’t considered is how this whole thing gets backed up. (Don’t trust the cloud to keep backups for you!)

Enter Time Machine

At work I have a Time Capsule which is always backing up my laptop. By default this means it is making backups of my dropbox folder. I can do all the fancy document revision stuff exactly like I can with any other folder on my Mac, and this is where the fun begins. At home, I run another Time Machine drive to backup my iMac. By default this is also making backups of my dropbox folder. Do you see where this is going?

Multiple offsite backups. ¬†That’s where!¬†All the files in my dropbox end up in five places: Dropbox, MacBook Pro at work, iMac at home, Time Machine at home, and Time Capsule at work. Now that’s a cool way to backup. (See the graphic)

Dropbox Time Machine
Dropbox Time Machine

There is something important that needs to be noted here. I’m not storing anything crucial like customer data on dropbox, just design files and draft blog posts etc. If I was, I would secure and encrypt my home iMac and backups too. (I do anyway. Paranoid much!) This is fine, but it’s important to make sure you know of any potential holes that could leak company data.

It’s probably worth mentioning that I work for a small company. You’re unlikely to be allowed to dropbox your corporate company data around the globe for obvious reasons.

Although I’m using a Mac here, this could be tweaked a bit to work in Windows too. You just need a scheduled backup service at each end.

Platonic Male Handholding: It’s Your Right

Platonic Male Handholding
Platonic Male Handholding

In other parts of the world, it is not unusual to see two friends taking a stroll, hand in hand. In Vietnam for example, two young guys could be walking around a lake, holding hands, and talking about Manchester United. Nobody bats an eye. Nobody cares. And why should they.

When I was at primary school, it would be perfectly normal to walk down the long corridor to the library holding the hand of my best mate. It was nice. It didn’t hurt anyone.

But now if I decided to walk through town holding hands with my best mate, I don’t think I could get very far before jeers and jibes started flying my way. I’m not talking about snogging a guy in public. Just holding hands.

It’s got out of hand (pun intended). That’s why I’m starting a campaign to bring back platonic male handholding. Share the poster around, and spread the word.

Jack of All Trades

Jack Of All TradesThere is an old saying, “Jack of all trades. Master of none.” It is often said in a derogatory way, but I actually see it as a necessary and positive part of working in a small team. Everyone has to get stuck in and pull their weight. This can mean branching out into unfamiliar territory, but you retain control, and get to learn something new along the way. Variation keeps things interesting and as a result you feel less like a cog in a machine and can directly see the fruits of your labour.

One of the best parts of my job is when I can speak to a client at an initial phone call, and then see the job right through to the end from start to finish, instead of passing it from department to department. This would be impossible in a large organisation so we should celebrate being the multi skilled workers we are. Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to service.

It does mean there’s little chance to sit back and relax, because there is always some office admin to do, or a PC to fix, but it really makes the day go faster.

iPhone Passcode Weakness

iPhone slide to unlock
iPhone slide to unlock

Whilst researching for a new iPhone data recovery service I found some surprising weaknesses in the default iPhone passcode system. Although nothing new, I’d never really considered the implications in much detail before.

It is common knowledge that iPhones are a valuable target for thieves. The phones are worth hundreds on the black market, but have you considered how much more valuable your data could be to criminals?

There are e-mail accounts, social media accounts and phone numbers, all of which add up to your online identity. If somebody had access to it all then at the very least they could work their way through your address book attempting to rip off your friends and family. Other more elaborate scams would also be possible.

Lots of people use a passcode to prevent unauthorised use of their iPhone. The problem is that the simple 4 digit passcode which Apple offers by default is really only worthwhile to stop friends and family using your phone. Anyone more determined to access your data can download software which can figure out the iPhone passcode within minutes.

I had heard about this, but didn’t expect it to be quite so easy. I tested it out on my own iPhone and within 2-3 minutes my passcode was displayed on the screen.

I won’t go into any great detail about how to do it. It’s all there online, but fortunately there are a few things you can do to protect yourself from this sort of attack.

The first thing is to turn off the “Simple Passcode” option under Settings > General.

Then you should use a longer passcode. Every extra digit adds thousands or millions more potential codes that would need to be tried, similar to the Exponential Wheat and Chessboard Problem.

  • 4 digits (0-9) – 0000 = 10,000 possibilities
  • 6 digits (0-9) – 000000 = 1,000,000 possibilities (9,900% Increase)
  • 8 digits (0-9) – 00000000 = 100,000,000 possibilities (999,900% Increase)

To really make things difficult for a would-be hacker you should use an alphanumeric code, mixing numbers and letters.

  • 4 character (A-Z, a-z, 0-9) – AAAA – 14,776,336 possibilities (147,663% Increase)
  • 6 character (A-Z, a-z, 0-9) – AAAAAA – 56,800,235,584 possibilities (568,000,000% Increase)
  • 8 character (A-Z, a-z, 0-9) – AAAAAAAA – 218,340,105,584,896 possibilities* (2,183,000,000,000% Increase)
    *11 times the number of red blood cells in the human body apparently

There is no way somebody could reasonably attempt all 218 trillion possible passwords, so they would use what’s known as a dictionary attack. A dictionary attack uses a modified dictionary of known words, so instead of trying all potential codes, they only try likely passcodes. Make sure your password is not a dictionary word to get the most benefit from your passcode. Add in some punctuation and then you’ve really got a decent code.

Who carved the Paulsgrove Skull?

Paulsgrove Skull Sign
Paulsgrove Skull Sign

There’s a skull in Portsdown Hill. I don’t know how long it’s been there, but carved on the wall of an old cave there is a spooky face. It is mentioned and pictured by the great local resource Portsdown Tunnels. There is also a sign outside which shows a painting of the skull along with a falling rocks sign.

Does anyone know anything about this strange thing?

*** Update 24-1-2013
I just got this tweet with a bit more info:

@PortsdownHill: #paulsgrove_skull update Рapparently carved by pupils from King Richards school after the Paulsgrove estate was built (1940s)

I’d love it if anyone involved could contact me either here or via twitter (@straywasp)

5:2 Diet Experiment

I started to hear about the 5:2 diet and other variants toward the end of 2012. A Horizon program explored the subject of intermittent fasting (IF), which I heard about by word of mouth. The program is no longer available on iPlayer so I’ve yet to see it.

Disclaimer: This is not dietary advice. Speak to a doctor before trying crazy diets you read about on the internet.

Anyway, I approach this from a strange position. I’ve never dieted before, and I’ve always been able to eat whatever junk I want without any fear of putting on weight. Assuming I was just one of the lucky ones, I just ate anything I fancied.

Then I hit my mid-twenties and things started to change. I didn’t suddenly pile on the pounds but sure enough, as every year passed I was getting slightly heavier. Maybe this was natural, maybe my sloppy eating habits were catching up on me. I don’t know. All I know is that I decided to do something about it. I didn’t fancy ignoring it into my forties and then struggling to shift a huge load of weight.

Enter the 5:2 Diet

In its simplest form, the 5:2 diet involves two fasting days and 5 normal (non-fasting) days. I chose Monday and Wednesday as fast days as they fit in well with work. I think you’re meant to leave a gap of at least a day between fasts to recover.

On fasting days I get a measly 600 calories to keep me going (500 for girls). I’m sure there are a million different ways of arranging that but I can’t skip a meal without feeling ill so I arrange my fast day like so:

Breakfast – Banana. (100 Cals)
Lunch – Soup. (Cuppa soup is fine and helps keep the portion small. (100 cals))
Dinner – Small meal of Rice, Chicken, and Veg or something similar. (400 cals)

Now that sounds like a savage diet and I would guess that if you ate like that every day you wouldn’t last very long. The best thing for me is that however hard this diet seems on fasting days, you can eat a normal amount of food on the other days. This suits me fine. It means I can still go out and eat, still have takeaways & chocolate (in moderation of course), and still lose some weight.


Many religions involve some sort of fasting, so this is nothing new. Even going back to hunter-gatherer days, if you didn’t catch an animal then you’d have to make do with some low calorie roots, berries or plants for dinner.

Side Effects

There are apparently some interesting (but not bad) side effects to this type of diet. Reduced cholesterol and other dangerous markers are the main benefit aside from the actual weight loss.

I found that on the day after a fast, I usually get extra hungry about an hour before lunch, but would not actually eat any more than usual. Overall I find that I seem to eat slightly less on the day after a fast than I usually would. On normal (non-fasting) days I don’t count calories at all.


After a four week trial of the 5:2 diet I lost half a stone (~3 Kilos / 7 Pounds). That doesn’t seem dangerously fast to me, and I don’t feel like I suffered any ill effects from doing so.

I hope there is some proper research published about this type of diet, as it actually sounds too good to be true. It sounds exactly like the kind of trash you get in glossy magazines, but so far my experiment has proven to me that it works.

Kindle 4 Review Non-Touch

I’ve finally got on the ebook bandwagon, and as usual I’m wondering why I resisted for so long. I have just been e-mailed by Argos to write a product review for the Kindle, but decided to write it here rather than give them rights to use my words:

…For any content that you submit, you grant Home Retail Group a perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, transferable right and license to use, copy, modify, delete in its entirety, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from and/or sell and/or distribute such content and/or incorporate such content into any form, medium or technology throughout the world without compensation to you. – Argos T&Cs


What I Think

The Kindle has totally revolutionised the way I read. I find I’m reading far more than I used to, and finally getting round to reading some of the many books which are freely available and out of copyright.

The Kindle is extremely small and light, and feels surprisingly well made. There are physical buttons on both sides to allow page turning for either left or right handers.

Looking up words, highlighting and marking sections is simple and intuitive. I no longer skim over words I don’t know.


A minor gripe is the choice of on-screen keyboard, which is A-Z rather than QWERTY. Some non-technical users will struggle to type on any keyboard arrangement, however most people are familiar with the standard keyboard layout. In practice I find I hardly ever have to use it anyway, so it’s hardly a deal breaker. I would still recommend the Kindle to anyone.

Some free eBooks have some strange formatting issues, but the excellent Calibre software handles conversion from almost any format into something I can read on the Kindle. I see no logic in complaining about free books!