Sobremunt, the essentials

I have put together more of my GoPro video of Sobremunt, exploring the summit area in more detail, which can be quite hard to find amongst the various private estates up there, one of which IS Sobremunt. This was part of the wider circuit I did, reported previously.

The turn to Sobremunt from the Palma to Puigponent road, the Ma 1041. The side turning here is Cami de Casa Calixtro

Duplicate ride issues on Strava

I have recently seen three examples of duplicate rides on Strava, owing to the rider recording the ride both on s conventional Garmin, and also on a wristwatch device.

Usually, Strava normally doesn’t allow duplicate rides. I thin, however, there is a logical gap in their thinking – each ride has a unique serial number, and if Strava sees the same serial number it won’t accept it again.

But the same ride on two DIFFERENT devices will have, I’m sure, two different serial numbers so Strava accepts it. It doesn’t make its judgement, it seems, on the CONTENT of the ride (time and location coordinates) which would be harder to program – so i guess they haven’t bothered.

Strava used to have a restriction on when pictures could be uploaded to a ride, on the basis of some misplaced strategy to make sure people didn’t forge ride pictures!!

But it seems they haven’t even got the basics right!! They obviously need some consultancy on this…see my previous article at on merging rides for a bit (lot) more in this kind of area.

Suffice to say that when merging two rides (recorded in two successive parts on two different devices owing to battery life issues) you have to randomise the serial number of the merged ride. Otherwise it inherits the serial number of one of the component part rides, and won’t upload because Strava spots the duplicate serial number.


Bicycle helmets – again!

I own up to having a hobby horse. My cycling friends will be surprised to know I don’t wear a helmet when riding it (!).

The hobby horse, of course, is my insistence on the advisability of wearing a helmet when cycling – always.

But I have today been assailed by several articles that I can’t let go without comment. I’ll be as brief as I can, and not repeat my previous comments on this safety topic. I’ll restrict myself to brief commentary on subject matter of the articles themselves.

My notice was drawn to the issue today by this potentially self-serving Facebook post by Velosure Legal and Cycle Insurance. Why “self-serving”? Well, I can only imagine that if riders take the advice that helmet use is of no help, it makes medical claims bigger and ambulance chasing fees higher!

As for the Guardian article to which they refer:

both they and Velosure should realise that a helmet’s primary purpose is for head protection (not for persuading motorists to take care, although it would be good if they did) – the head that contains a human being’s most important asset, the brain; the organ that seems to be missing in those that argue that it’s OK to ride without a helmet.

I’m certainly not going to be brainless enough to leave my helmet at home on the off-chance that somehow public road safety policy will change as a result. I’m not convinced by those that argue that personal safety measures and road infrastructure improvements are an either-or, or equivalently that somehow that tails will start wagging dogs; those that believe that will no doubt also expect that pigs might one day fly. F1 racing drivers (I think David Coulthard once said this) used to talk of leaving their brain in a box in the pits before going out to race, a metaphor for refusing to focus on the high risks of the sport (even higher back in the day) to reduce inhibition and enhance performance. For most of us this isn’t an option – or shouldn’t be.

Talking of brainlessness, in the cycling policy area I am in particular appalled that British Cycling (BC, the “organisation” that doesn’t have a system to record medication given to the professional cyclists they support; BC, that employs a doctor who apparently can’t keep his laptop safe; BC – and/or their favoured Sky team that hand carries an undocumented jiffy bag to their world-leading racer at a major event; BC, that can’t make a doctor available to present clear, honest and informed evidence to a Select Committee; and BC, that is alleged to be institutionally misogynous) continue to keep Chris Boardman as Technical Adviser despite his misplaced views on helmet wear, well documented and demonstrated in cycling advisory videos where he appears consistently riding a bike without one. With all their other failings, it isn’t surprising that BC’s HR policy in this area is also a mess.

Get thee to a doctor?

The neurosurgeon quoted in the article above might, as a by-product, also increase his caseload by persuading people to make themselves more likely to suffer a brain injury. He’s also generously spirited enough to try to get a Darwin award himself by being quoted as riding through red traffic lights, apparently OK in his opinion because it’s only his life he’s putting at risk. Really?! Ignoring the risk of secondary accidents caused by any necessary avoiding action by other road users? It beggars belief! What credibility does he have to pronounce on the choice of wearing a helmet or not? And do we really think that a research project on road-user attitudes and driving style* can distinguish a three-inch difference in road positioning when the driver sees a rider wearing a helmet. I don’t believe it. Especially as it’s quoted by our potential Darwin award winner. – Dr Tim Gamble and Dr Ian Walker, from the University of Bath’s department of psychology

More Grauniad excellence

Here go the Guardian again, with what seems to be a concerted campaign to allow bike riders to kill themselves (by giving people excuses to ignore the benefits of a helmet), which, I suppose, might be seen as a good outcome by some of their other road-using readers. Despite their insistence here that they aren’t advising people to stop wearing helmets, they miss the simple point that reducing blunt trauma and severe abrasions are the primary purposes of a helmet – anything else is theoretical puff. No-one who has suffered or seen a head-impact fall from a bike would say otherwise, surely!

The Guardian must have spiked this article on Risk Compensation!

A very good point is made in the article – the logic of NOT wearing a helmet, so as to make yourself and others be more careful, might lead you to do exactly what is suggested in the title of the web page article!


Zwift off-piste course choices

In case this helps anyone who gets bored after a day or two with any of the Zwift courses, you can change your preferences to force Zwift to give you London, Watopia or Richmond on any day of the week, not just the allotted ones on the monthly schedule. Take care, and be aware of the advice that there are no hidden courses (allegedly). So don’t, as a computer scientist might, try other changes to see what happens and where you might be taken! Your rides might be a little more lonely than usual when making an alternate choice, of course…and I presume there might not be any races or group rides organised “off-piste” so to speak…

Important: Do not insert bogus values into your preferences file!

There are no “hidden” courses, secret maps or back doors which can be found by inserting the wrong values into your prefs.xml file. If it’s invalid, Zwift will just behave unpredictably or even crash. Follow these instructions carefully and you’ll be safe!

PS I would recommend iMazing as a Mac based IOS file manager rather then the one suggested in the zwiftblog link. See the reasons here



Monday, Monday…

Various connotations for an alliterative Monday morning come to mind! One is that great song “Monday, Monday” by The Mamas and Papas ( or I remember driving to back in the 60s, sometimes from my home in Tottenham into central London in the days when you could park free in the old Covent Garden, near King’s College in the Strand.

But today must be Morbid Monday as I scan the Obituary column in today’s Telegraph. I read with a little sadness but some amusement the coverage of Peter Skellern. It states that for a few years in the 80s he had a creative partnership with Richard Stilgoe, and one of their songs was “Joyce the Librarian”, who had never been kissed but had a liaison with a regular reader, and ended up like one of his library books – two weeks overdue.

Further down the page is the (appropriately enough, late) news of the February 6th death of Raymond Smullyan, a mathematician, logician, and sometime magician and pianist whom I remember from one or two of his mystifying (mathematical) publications from my time as a research student in the late 60s. I still have his arcane book “Theory of Formal Systems” which I think I acquired from attending a summer school at Prof Chris Zeeman’s Maths department in Warwick, where my bestie Maths pal, David Fallows was an MSc student, after our first degrees at King’s.

Smullyan’s obituary (pictured here) mentions one of many logic problems he published over the years, including in several high-end puzzle books. It presents you with three gods A, B and C, who, in no particular order, are called Truth, False and Random. True always tells the truth, False always speaks falsely and whether Random speaks truly or falsely is a random matter.

Your task is to determine the identities of A, B and C by asking three yes-no questions, each one of which is addressed to only one God, although you may ask the same God more than one question.

The Gods understand English, but their answers are given in their own language; their words for “yes” and “no” are “da” and “ja” although you don’t know which is which.

There are online solutions for this, but give it a try first, before looking. (This is my return shot, Tom, for the polynomial question you set me!)

There is a simpler problem of this kind: you are at a fork in the road, and there is a person there from the local community, which comprises people who either always tell the truth or always lie. You may ask just one question to the person there to establish which way to go to your desired destination, but you don’t know if you are speaking to a truth teller or an inveterate liar. What would you ask?

Well, today’s obituaries have inculcated more than just the usual regret! Mostly, in reading obituaries (as I have tended to do for many years) I have been inspired by the many achievements of those who have been their subject. Over their lifespans, so many people have achieved so much!

I hope my interlocutor, when the time comes, can be creative in this respect!

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Relativity matters (!)

But my friends wouldn’t expect me to stop there!

John Wheeler had a great way of explaining both special and general relativity, and any of his books is worth the time spent to read them. Find this quote in his “Geons, Black Holes, and Quantum Foam”. He also came up with the terms “Black Hole” and “Wormhole”.

Depending on your grasp of the mathematics, a good book to start with might be his book written with Edwin Taylor, first edition in 1965, Spacetime Physics.

A much more demanding book from 1973 is “Gravitation”, a classic written with Charles Misner and Kip Thorne, which as its title implies covers General Relativity (i.e. relativity WITH gravity).

Of course, we hardly see space-time curvature in our day-to-day lives, just as we hardly see the direct effects of special relativity (although our lives depend on it in many ways at the subatomic level). Newtonian mechanics is a very good approximation for our everyday purposes.

But in high field strength gravitational fields, light will follow a curved path because in effect mass and space-time curvature go hand in hand. And at the special relativistic level (no gravity), at speeds near to the speed of light, physical effects are measurable such as time dilatation and length contraction.

These effects sound very odd, but given that a major axiom of relativity theory is that light always passes us at the same speed, no matter the velocity of the light source, any consequences are bound to be counter-intuitive. Our everyday experience is that, for example, a cricket ball bowled or thrown at us by someone running towards us is endowed with their running speed plus the speed of their arm. A ball thrown from a standing position with the same throwing or bowling action will be slower.

At speeds near to the speed of light (“relativistic” speeds), however, this additive “cricket ball” effect breaks down, and for light itself there is NO added speed if the source is moving towards us, even if the source is travelling at nearly the speed of light. (On a related point, light from distant sources in the Universe, travelling away from us very quickly, passes us at that same light speed, but is red-shifted. An interesting debate is to read Fred Hoyle on why there is so little blue-shifting, but that is a whole other discussion!)

Similarly for gravitation fields – it is only when the field strength is very high can we detect the predicted effects. The “lensing” or convergence of light from behind a massive star (like the sun) or the recent ground-breaking detection of gravitational waves thought to be issued by a pair of rotating black holes (the LIGO experiment) depend on very high gravitation fields we simply don’t encounter here on Earth.

General Relativity was used to calculated a predicted precession of the orbit of Mercury distinct from the Newtonian calculated precession – and it was found to agree with observation. But even that closely to the sun, the effect is tiny and would hardly have been noticed but for the intense scrutiny that was made as a test of Einstein’s theories.

Einstein’s creativity in postulating the constancy of the speed of light, and then his doggedness, using the mathematical tools then at his disposal (i.e. not our modern more evocative nomenclature and terminology that is more revealing of patterns in the required algebraic geometry) in solving the general Relativistic field equations show both his abundant inspiration, and lots of perspiration.

After all, to return to Wheeler’s duality of mass and spacetime geometry (curvature), for Einstein to solve equations that are reflexive in that the “independent” variables are also “dependent” is much harder than when you can assume that one set of variables is fixed and the others’ movement or variation doesn’t affect the first.

(Physics and mathematics are rich with examples of simplifying assumptions to help solve problems (often “linearizing” non-linear differential equations). For example, the general “three body problem” in Newtonian gravity is intractable, but the “reduced” three body problem (RTBP) IS tractable, the simplifying assumption being that one of the three bodies is postulated to be so small (e.g. a satellite in the presence of the earth and moon) that although it is affected by the gravitational field of the earth and moon, it has no effect itself on the sun and moon. In this way the problem is sufficiently decoupled (or linearized”) to be solvable).

100 years later Einstein’s theory still stands up. Probably quantum theory, and the union of it with General Relativity to create a GUT – a Grand Universal Theory – whether through string theory (maybe not) or loop quantum gravity (maybe) or some other yet to be fully formulated process will turn General Relativity into a “good approximation” just as Newtonian theory is a good approximation to relativity. Again Wheeler’s “Geons, Black Holes, and Quantum Foam” provides some food for thought.

But just as Newton loses none of his reputation as a giant of physics of his time, following Einstein’s work, neither will Einstein lose his as a result of any new all-embracing theory. They both had broad enough shoulders for others to use to develop our scientific understanding.

Is space-time real?

Einstein’s space-time is a mathematical construct to allow him (and us) to understand how space and time have to be inter-dependent. Look up the definition of “simultaneity” in the special relativity context, and you will see that simply modelling space and time separately with no interaction between them fails to allow for the fact that different observers moving at different speeds will disagree about whether events that happen that are spatially separated are simultaneous, or whether one event happens before the other. All three outcomes are possible depending on the speed and direction of motion of the observer, and this can only be postulated and resolved with a space-time model, NOT in a model with a fixed time axis. All this tells us that space-time IS physically real, in that the effects we would see if velocities were high enough are genuinely predicted and correctly calculated in the space-time model. Our lives are played out in such a definition of the interdependency of space and time, not in a fixed three dimensions with a fixed and separate time dimension shared by everyone. In the language of the theory, we all have our own “world-line” that is a combination of where AND WHEN we “are”, and these world lines have their own individual pace of time (not one shared by all), and at high speed differentials mean that we, and others, might observe events, as discussed above, happening in a different order from each other. There are limitations on how much and if these differences occur, depending whether the separation of space-time location of the events we are observing are “space-like” or “time-like” but Quora isn’t a great medium for illustrating that. But I can elsewhere is needed!


Avalanche matters

Now that my son Tom will be ski-leading for the Ski Club of Great Britain in Verbier later this month, including some off-piste days, or at least with a greater proportion of off-piste than our usual family skiing, my mind turns towards avalanche safety and the recent sad news of the fatal avalanche in a familiar resort we have skied in many times, Tignes (and Val d’Isère).

The first news of this was on the BBC and Sky News websites. The BBC coverage at has been updated to reflect the later news that the group, which included a 48-year-old man, his 15-year-old son and the son’s 19-year-old half-brother, as well as the experienced and well-known instructor, 59, were only a few dozen metres from the ski lift. It would seem they had been walking, carrying their snowboards, possibly towards a nearby lift. Since they were swept 400m down the slope, this must have been higher up, perhaps the Combe Folle draglift up to just below the top of the Lavachet Wall.


The Sky report, that hasn’t been updated,  said the avalanche had been in the Tovière area. I well remember the run Mur de Paquerettes ( (PS not me skiing in this video) underneath the Tovière mountain restaurant, where there is live music and where the hang gliders take off. Mur de Paquerettes is a pretty steep mogul run we have skied a lot, but it isn’t in the pictures here; we don’t see the Tovière Gondola bubble lift which provides a spectator view of the mogul antics from right over the run. It is further to the right as we look here; the off-piste run in this avalanche area is down from the Lavachet Wall, and we see part of  Tignes le Lavachet in the foreground.

These screenshots from the excellent ski navigation app FatMap ( show the area concerned. In the lower centre of the right hand picture, we can clearly see the large ridge that protects the Tignes village of Le Lavachet, with a smaller similar feature protecting Val Claret pictured at the centre of the wider shot on the left.

Tovière ski area in Tignes
Tovière ski area in Tignes, showing Val Claret where run Mur de Paquerettes and Henri end, both away from the affected area

Tovière ski area in Tignes 2
Tovière ski area at Tignes Lac and Le Lavachet, where the affected off-piste runs and the avalanche end. Note the avalanche barriers









This extract from the Tigne piste map shows the specific area concerned and the ridge clearly visible to the left of Le Lavachet. Note that the red piste Combe Folle, and the black runs Crocus and Trolles finish at the Tignes Lac and Le Lavachet side.


Tignes piste map showing the local lifts and pistes
Tignes piste map showing the local lifts and pistes above Val Claret, and near the affected area above Lac and Le Lavachet


Henry “Avalanche Talk” Schniewind was interviewed this morning about yesterday’s avalanche in Tignes down from the Lavachet wall. This is clearly an historically avalanche-prone slope, so much so that the man-made ridge and trough seen above had been constructed to protect houses in Tignes Le Lavachet from avalanches, and the party were thus caught in even deeper snow in the trough or gully between the slope itself and the ridge. Estimates of the accumulated avalanche depth there range from Henry’s 2-3 metres to 8 metres in the BBC report. Not a great place to be skiing (or even walking, as this party were thought to have been, carrying their snowboards towards a nearby lift) between a steep slope above and a snow trap below. It is to be remembered that once the avalanche snow stops moving, it has the consistency of concrete, rendering it vital to somehow stay on top of – or float on – the avalanche as it is moving down the slope, before it comes to a stop.

Here is the weblink for this morning’s ITV interview with Henry Schniewind:

Henry talks about the vital, minimum equipment necessary when skiing off-piste – an avalanche transceiver, a probe and a shovel. To this many would nowadays add a flotation air-bag rucksack, although opinions are divided on this. Opinion is also divided on which type to choose – a mechanically triggered RAS system (e.g. Mammut), an electronically triggered ABS system (e.g. Ortovox) or an electric fan-based inflation system (such as the Black Diamond Jetforce system), which obviates any (compressed air cylinder) issues for air travel with such rucksacks, but which might not be so quick or effective for inflation. All types are triggered by the wearer using a T-handle, stored in the rucksack shoulder strap when not required.

Update from

There was a lot of confusion on the scene of the Lavachet Wall avalanche yesterday but clear details have finally emerged.
The group taken by the slide was a group of 4, and not of 9 as previously reported. It is currently not clear why authorities were looking for 9 victims – it sounds as if the family party of four were all double booked.
The instructor was a very high-level ESF snowboard instructor, aged 59, with years of experience. His clients were a family from the South of France: a father, 48; his son, 15; and his step-son, 19 – all strong snowboarders, all wearing avalanche kit. One member of the family escaped having descended earlier with an equipment issue.
The slide took them while they were boot-packing across the face which cut in to the snowpack, weakening it, and causing the slide to release. 40m wide at its release point, the avalanche took the victims over 400m down the slope burying them underneath 7m of snow in a man-made gully built for the express purpose of protecting the houses behind it from avalanche debris.
With Météo France’s avalanche bulletin warning of windslabs and instability on slopes of this aspect an investigation will follow. Jean-Christophe Vitale, the mayor of Tignes, has gone on record to say: “He was a very experienced professional who knew the area well. I’m sure he took every precaution while taking his clients to this place, but off-piste zero risk does not exist.”
One bright-side to the incident is that one 16-year-old who was with the group when they did the same run earlier in the morning wasn’t with them on the second run. Either experiencing problems with his equipment or after a fall the instructor sent him down the pistes for the day. It wasn’t until the afternoon that he learnt the group he was with were caught in the slide.

Hero image: Radio Val d'sere Graphic: LP/INFOGRAPHIE
Hero image: Radio Val d’sere, Graphic: LP/INFOGRAPHIE


The risk of avalanche at the time of the avalanche was 3 on the scale of 5 and this incident, on a North-West facing slope, came on a relatively warm morning after several days of strong winds. Météo France’s official avalanche report noted the risk of rising temperatures and the presence of wind slabs on North, West, and Southerly aspects.


An avalanche risk rating of 3 is hardly unusual through the season; it highlights the need to be very aware of the weather reports and resort assessments, noting that there is always some risk. Here is that morning’s Metéo France report:

Météo France’s official avalanche report
Météo France’s official avalanche report


The following article by Henry Schniewind and Hugh Morris has some useful hints and tips on what to keep in mind when skiing off-piste:


and see more from Henry’s website at





Recovering from lost turbo rides in Zwift

Recently I have lost or partially lost Tacx rides using their trainer software on my iPad, and also had one lost Zwift ride.

For Zwift there is a way to recover partial rides if the software freezes, by peering into the iPhone or iPad with a laptop program called iMazing. It’s a chargeable program, but has a set of free functions which are enough to bring up the Zwift/activities folder in the iPad, from where stored .fit files  – and also image files if you have taken screenshots – can be copied to upload manually to Strava.

Zwift have the following advice on their support pages at

Finding your local .fit file

If for any reason you experience an issue, such as a game crash or Internet loss, your fit file is automatically saved every 10 minutes in the \Documents\Zwift\Activities folder on your computer.

If you’re riding on iOS, you can reach your .fit file through iTunes.

  1. Plug your device into your computer and open up iTunes.
  2. Click on your device in iTunes, then click “Apps” and scroll down to the “File Sharing” section.
  3. You should see Zwift listed, and it should have a “Zwift” folder. Click that, and then click “Save To” and save it to a location of your choice.
  4. Find the saved Zwift folder, and copy the fit file out of the Zwift/Activities folder.”

but I couldn’t find a way of saving the folder from iTunes to my laptop, although it is visible in iTunes where they say it is.

In any case, with iMazing you can pick off just the file you want, not necessarily the whole folder, so it’s a better way of doing it. Here are a couple of screenshots of what iMazing presents:

Apps in my iPhone as viewed from iMazing
Apps in my iPhone as viewed from iMazing

The Zwift rides and pictures within the Zwift/activities folder
The Zwift rides and pictures within the Zwift/activities folder



Using an ANT+ dongle for turbo training

The Tacx Flow, and other smart turbo trainers transmit and receive on Bluetooth as well as ANT+. So for a handheld or laptop with Bluetooth you should be OK with a smart turbo (although there does seem to be a Tacx limitation on the number of ANT+ channels available such that if using a Garmin GPS AND a laptop, one must be on Bluetooth if the other is on ANT+ dongle connection, or two dongles are required).

A heart strap would also need to transmit Bluetooth, though, if there is no ANT capability on the training software device, so for example if it’s a Garmin HRM that only sends ANT+ you’d need the dongle. I bought a dual HRM (sends both ANT+ AND Bluetooth) on Amazon called Coolspro, but I’m sure there are others.

I think a watch that measures and sends HR might work as well. Only issues with an ANT+ dongle for a handheld Apple device are a)  that mine (the Wahoo dongle) is designed for the older, larger lightning socket, so I also had to buy an adapter to connect into the current small lightning socket in the Apple handheld; b) the size of the older lightning plug means I have to take the cover off my iPhone or iPad to get it fully in; and c) the device’s power socket is also the lightning socket, so if using the dongle you have to make sure the handheld is well charged before the turbo session. All in all, it’s better to use Bluetooth, which I have found has less dropouts, that are REALLY annoying as all ride data gets lost.

I now use a piece of MacBook s/w called iMazing that lets you find files inside an attached iPad or iPhone, and even incomplete Zwift .fit ride files are stored in the Zwift/activities folder that you can find in iMazing, copy over to the MacBook and then upload to Strava as a manual entry. Any screenshots you take during a Zwift ride are there too. I haven’t found a way of doing that for incomplete Tacx rides. Btw Tacx have a cloud site where all your completed rides CAN be uploaded by default so you never lose a ride even if you lose your handheld!


The Brachistochrone problem


I was struck by this GiF recently, at:


This little video shows three possible paths – the straight line (the shortest), a path that descends quickly and then becomes flat as it gets to the destination, and one in between, looking more elliptical* in shape.

Ever wondered what downhill profile of road will get you most quickly to the bottom of the hill freewheeling from a given point T (the top) to a given point P (the pub)? Now you know – it’s a cycloid, appropriately enough. Now I just need to think about the best shape of road from the pub to the top for the fastest ascent for a given a) wattage, and b) for a given pedal pressure…

…The classical problem is well-known as the difficult to solve Brachistochrone problem. See…/m231f08/m231f08brachistochrone.pdf for a solution – minimising a quantity over a famiły of functions, or…/nishiyama/math2010/cycloid.pdf which is perhaps a little more accessible and talks a little more about the cycloid (the resolution of the problem).

Even more arcanely (I was going to say more interestingly, but I’m realistic about reading endurance!) the cycloid, as the second article says, is isochronous. It means that even if you start freewheeling from a rest position R half way down the hill, it still takes the same time to get to the pub. Why? Briefly, because starting higher up, at the intermediate point R you are moving, whereas starting from R you are at rest. Weird, huh? It’s the same for any point R, no matter how close to the pub.

*the elliptical path is nearly as fast as the cycloid – but not quite!!