Friday, August 24, 2007

Image resizing using seam carving

It's very rare that I see something in Image Processing that makes me go 'wow'. The fact is that a lot of the current state-of-the-art in the field is becoming increasingly limited in its scope, and many good research groups are either wallowing in their own success or pursuing ideas that are more and more mathematically complex yet lack any real purpose.

This video on youtube though is brilliant. From a technical point of view, the work is quite basic. But from a 'bugger me that's such a cool idea' point of view, it is superb. It just goes to show that the best ideas are not necessarily the most complex or technical ones.

And I can't help asking myself why I didn't think of that for my PhD?! I'd have made millions!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Bollock-steep, bollock-rocky and bollock-hard

(not in this photo, though, obviously)
At about 3pm on saturday, Raoul and I sat down for a beer and some lunch, having had a morning's riding at the Grand Valira Bike Park in Andorra. I decided to rub things in a little bit for the boys back home, so texted Mr Paul my whereabouts and current situation. To immense joy and delight, his swift reply was thus: Currently pushing up Aston Hill (a mountain bike spot near London) with Muir and Rhys. Rhys says you're a ****. I agree. I laughed like a tit for a full minute.

The Grand Valira is the name given to the largest ski-lift network in the Pyrannees. For years it was split into two halves, as the two biggest resorts, Soldeu and Pas de la Casa, argued over which was the biggest and best. Fortunately, they have settled any differences they had and have now joined their lift systems. They have also invested in a bike park for the summer and created 11 downhill mountain bike trails and a myriad of cross-country trails, so they can draw tourists into the area in the 'off'-season, in an attempt to copy the success of other areas such as the Portes du Soleil in the French/Swiss alps. This of course means that bikers can take chairlifts and gondolas to the top of the mountain, and ride all the way down. It goes without saying that this is GOOD.

To be honest, though, I was left a little underwhelmed. To put it bluntly the trails just aren't as good as those in the Portes du Soleil. With a few notable exceptions, the construction feels a little lazy; many trails are just taped off sections of hill that have no flow and betray a lack of thought. I had a great day but left the tiniest bit disappointed - although I should also point out that I didn't get the time to ride all of the trails, so a repeat visit is certainly warranted.

So, after a night in Soldeu, we headed back across the hills to La Molina, to the second of Catalunya's three bike parks, and completely different to the Grand Valira. There is only one gondola here open in the summer, but the place could not be a bigger contrast to its Andorran cousin. The lift takes you up 800m and dumps you right at the top of a 2,500m mountain, so all the trails are very, very long - twice the length of those in Andorra. The biggest difference though, is the quality of the trails. The blue run is, without a shadow of a doubt, THE best trail I have ever ridden. Perhaps it is slightly more 'enduro' than a proper balls-out DH trail, but it is simply awesome. It weaves it's way down the hill along seemingly endless narrow technical singletrack, never too steep but never too slow. About halfway down it dawned on me that this was the best experience I'd ever had on a mountain bike, and it just kept coming and getting better and better. After who-know-how-long it dumps you out at the bottom, where a kilometre of easy fireroad takes you back to the lift station, but not before you hit a north-shore section, with a variety of drops and wall-rides. The whole place has obviously been designed by somebody who really knows what they are on about, and I simply can't wait to go there again. In fact, on my way down I had ridden the first third of the red run and then switched to the blue. The red was bollock-steep, bollock-rocky and bollock-hard. I don't know whether to be happy or scared at the prospect of the black!

The only shame was that we only had one ride up on the gondola, and then only just. Thunderstorms were around and by the time we'd reached the bottom again the lift was shut. Bollocks. Still, we had a time for a piss-about on the shore and it means there is more to come back to.

The best news, of course, is that less than two hours after leaving I was unpacking the car outside my flat. You lot (and you know who you are), you really do need to get out here...
A video, taken by some friendly Catalan chap, and the rest of the pics.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Junior is complete!

And here he is! Today I finally got round to visiting a bike shop that was actually open, to get the necessary bits to finish assembling Junior. Looking good, eh? The build is mostly what I was running on my old Specialized: Marzocchi Z150 forks, old (but effective) Hope 4-pots and full XT gearing, with the exception of the cranks, which are old Deores and will be the first target for an upgrade, though probably not until next year now.

A quick spin down to the beach confirmed that all was working but the first real opportunity to put him through his paces will be this weekend. The plan is to have a day at Vallnord, which is about a 3hr drive away, come back home for a few beers and then head out a little later on Sunday to La Molina, which is a the closest ski resort to Barcelona (only takes 90 minutes to get there), and which conveniently also has a bike park - only one lift and three proper trails, but apparently they are all very good. And it's reachable for an afternoon's riding from here, so I can't complain!

In other news the sun is shining after some refreshing rain this morning, and there was even a lovely little clean wave being enjoyed by about 10-15 surfers this evening down at my nearest beach. Djanira is back in London and has had great time in Madagascar, and is arriving back here in Barcelona on Monday. I'd better start cleaning the flat soon!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Street riding around Porto Olimpico

Today I went out on the Charge, with the main goal of going to the bike shop to buy a new cassette and seatpost for Junior. Unfortunately, I had forgotten that today is a public holiday (the Spanish take their public holidays on the exact date, rather than the nearest Monday, which is what we usually do in Britain), and so everything everywhere is shut. Rats.

The best thing about the Charge though, is its flexibility. I have taped him up to make him look less attractive to thieves (see pic - although it still looks quite badass unfortunately), and so use him for commuting and getting to and from places all the time. But today I took the the long way home from the bike shop through the Olympic Port, and ended up putting the saddle down for a good two hour's worth of street riding. The Olympic port was redeveloped and renamed for the 1992 Olympic games, held here in Barcelona, and this was where the Olympic village was, with all the accommodation for the athletes. It has now been converted into a modern housing estate which, while very safe (and actually quite upmarket) is actually quite soulless, in the way that all thrown-up-overnight sort of places tend to be. Fortunately for some, such places also tend to be very good for interesting street furniture, and the Olympic port is no exception! There are "lines and lines and lines and lines" (to quote a character from the League of Gentlemen TV series); pretty much everywhere you look, every corner you turn, you stumble across another possibility. From easy gentle wall rides to big-ass gaps that will brook no error, there is just so much to do. After an hour I was knackered (the heat is particularly draining, it's 30° today), but I kept getting diverted on the ride home by more cool stuff. In the end I had to stop as my tiredness was forcing mistakes, which eventually and inevitably result in a face-pavement meeting if left unnoticed, so I stopped before having any nasty crashes and headed home.

I'm getting used to the Charge now. The rigid forks in particular took me some time to adapt to, but I'm actually quite happy with them now and it makes me a more careful rider. I'm also finally getting better at manuals and a couple of lines today involved some pretty long manuals (for me that is, not Aaron Chase) across various bits and bobs. I even managed a decent "Manualeeeeeeeeeeeeeroooooooo" under my breath at one point!

The only disappointment of the day was that I didn't get my parts for Junior. Not to worry, it is only Wednesday, so plenty of time for me to sort it out before Saturday when my mate Raoul and I are heading up to the Vallnord Bike Park in Andorra. Oh yeah! Here is a shot of Junior 'work-in-progress' build:

Thursday, August 09, 2007


Here he is. Some of you may recall my old green Kona Stinky Dee-Lux, an original 1998 model, complete with curved seattube and a whole 5.5" of travel. He was called Konrad (the Kona) and died three years ago in the alps. Well, here's his younger cousin, who I shall name Konrad Junior, or just just Junior, for short.

It's hard not to compare the two frames because superficially they are quite similar. Both are from Kona's 'freeride' lineage, both employ a 'faux' four-bar suspension linkage with the rearmost pivot directly above the axle on the seatstay (as opposed to a truly active fourbar linkage where the Specialized-patented 'Horst'-linkage is in front of the rear axle on the chainstay), and both appear (or appeared) reliably big and burly. But seven year's of evolution is obvious to the trained eye. The curved seat-tube, where Konrad orginal snapped, was dropped from the range several years ago. One of the chainstays is dropped lower than the other, to counter the strong forces that go through that point that snapped many a previous Stinky frame. The downtube and seattube become increasingly box-sectioned as they rise to the junction with the headtube, to improve strength and increase weld area (I'd be surprised if this frame failed in the same way as my old Specialized. Crucially, the main pivot point has been raised and a longer stroke shock used, so travel is a smooth 7" without the need for an extra long pivot arm to create large stresses. All in all it the product of the best part of a decade of product development, and looks very smooth for it.

I bought it second hand from some bloke I met through, the buy-sell section of which is very similar to that on or It was a very good deal and, as you can see, it is absolutely mint, and has obviously been barely ridden at all.

My sister Tracey is out visiting at the moment so this weekend we will head off up to the Costa Brava for some snorkelling and sunbathing. But next weekend I think a trip to the chairlifts of Andorra is called for...

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Bodge of the day

This is a picture of the solution employed by, er, a friend of mine, who was so pissed off with waiting for ADSL to get installed in his flat that he has resorted to using the suite of tools to gain access to other wireless networks in the area (only temporarily, mind you, and he has assured me that he is using them very sensibly, not downloading GB of movies). But to get a decent enough signal he resorted to some interesting bodges, as you can see here.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A day of ups and downs

Yesterday was a day of ups and downs, in more ways than one. In the physical sense, I went up the Tibidabo funicular (twice), and down a really quite good mountain bike trail (twice). Needless to say, the knowledge that I can pay €2 for a train to to take me to the top of the biggest hill in the area is A Very Good Thing. This, then, represents the metaphorical 'up' to today's post. My world this afternoon took a turn for the better.

It also, inevitably, took a turn for the worse. Well, in fact, two turns for the worse, and these represent the metaphorical 'down' that completes the allegory. You see, upon driving (the 20 minutes(!)) to and from the foot of Tibidabo funicular, my worst fears were confirmed. Pleb the Passat, my erstwhile companion of the last few years, is ill. In fairness, he doesn't appear to be dead, and still pootles around town perfectly happily. Only when we reach the motorway though, does something appear amiss, vis., he doesn't change to top gear. Refuses. No matter how fast we're going or how high the revs are, his automatic gearbox will not shift into its fourth and highest gear. This means, when driving along the motorway, I am stuck with having the engine screaming at me - I dare not take it above 60mph in case it blows up. It is very sad, because the problem is terminal. Automatic gearboxes like Pleb's keep going until the stop, at which point the cost of fixing/replacing one becomes several times more than the value of the car. So, while Pleb is still alive, he's very much on this last legs.

Unfortunately, the same could not be said for my bicycle frame, which is well and truly DEAD. For some time (in fact, since I got it second hand) it has creaked quite a lot, but it did me proud for a week in the alps a couple of years ago - in fact had it only lasted that week it would have been worth the £80 I paid for it! Recently, though, I've noticed the creaking getting worse, and after two 10 minute runs (down exceedingly rocky trails - with a few north shore drops put in for good measure) I had noticed a significant increase in creak-noise. Only a quick glance was necessary to confirm my worst fears - there is a now monstrous long crack at the point where the headtube joins the main part of the monocoque frame (see pic above). Proper 'terminal'; so this afternoon I shall strip the frame of everything of worth and chuck in in the skip. I remember first seeing the frame when Oli pulled up out side Mat's parents' house in Clent about, ooooh, I'd say 7 years ago. I was impressed with it then and have been impressed with it ever since. Given that neither I nor Oli are reknowned for our 'delicate' riding styles, such an ending was to be expected, but it doesn't make me any happier.

So, to summarise, my day of ups and downs ends with me with me sitting here, facing an iminent bill of several thousand euros to replace today's physical losses, but offset by the gain in knowledge that there is some awesome mountain biking around the corner. Given that the biking was always there (I just hadn't discovered it yet) I think I am probably worse off out of the deal. Still, 'push on through', as Fatus* would say. Barcelona is still awesome place to live, money can be earned and material things replaced. Eventually. Anybody know any good car/bike shops in Barcelona?

* (Muir)

PS Check out some photos of a new DWS venue at Rhossili!