All posts by admin

More on scams

A small token of appreciation from the Windows team
A clever scam

I got an email from the address ‘engage dot windows dot com’ offering me some nice screensaver photos and various other ‘useful’ links.  This is the first time I’ve ever had anything like this, and knowing that images can contain hidden pixels that try to instal malicious code, I was highly suspicious.  Oddly, I had just updated my screensaver photo with one of my own that I particularly liked, so I wasn’t interested in theirs.  I have Googled the link and whilst I haven’t had a ‘red alert’, I think this is a very clever scam.

Probably not a scam

I had reason to make a small insurance claim just before Christmas. Yesterday I got a phone call purporting to be from my insurance company regarding ‘my recent claim’.  Almost everyone has had such a call – usually a random attempt at ‘ambulance chasing’ – they hope to get a reimbursement of their expenses when they find a susceptible person.

I’d already confirmed some of my details when an alarm bell rang – they were calling me on my mobile number but had not even attempted to confirm their bona fides.  I said to them, ‘Hang on, what is the claim number you are calling about?’  ‘We can’t tell you that , Sir, it’s data protection, you know.’  Then they said, ‘You gave us a “memorable word”.  Can you tell us what it is?’  Well, I couldn’t remember it off the top of my head, and I asked them to call me back in ten minutes.  Her reply was ‘Don’t worry, Sir, we’ll send you a letter.’

The more I think about it, the more this smells.  They had phoned me on my mobile number and asked me for personal details but had told me absolutely nothing.  Luckily I had given them nothing that wasn’t in the public domain, but it would have been so easy to let something slip.

If they were genuine, it would have been easy for them to say that it was about a claim submitted on a certain date and give me part of the claim reference number, or part of the memorable word, before asking me for personal information.  Was it, or was it not a scam?  Even if I do get a letter (and so far I haven’t), I will never be sure.

Update on Hardware & Software for making demo videos

I said I would update my previous post when I’d made a couple of videos.  Well, I have made four short videos, so here is a follow-up.

I have found OBS studio to be fantastic! I hardly need to say more.  It’s true that it doesn’t come with instructions, but there is plenty of help available on the web and anyone with some familiarity with Windows will soon find the best way of using it.  I set up OBS studio to record mp4 videos as these are quick to edit and easy to upload to YouTube.

I don’t pre-script my videos, although I do think about what I want to show and how I’m going to present the demo – I do a lot of live demos.  However, I’m often a bit hesitant in my speech, having to think how to do something whilst talking about it.  So I cut out the mistakes and dead space using Adobe Premiere Elements, which is very quick with mp4 videos.  I also shorten them all to about 12 minutes, which is probably enough for anyone to absorb in one sitting.

Regarding the microphone, I have decided that I like the £24 KLIM better than the £85 Blue Yeti.  Whilst the Blue Yeti probably has a better frequency response, the KLIM has a power on-off switch which means I can leave it plugged into the computer.  Also it is better at rejecting the fan noise of the computer (I use a powerful tower machine as I do a lot of CAD work and because my present work space is cramped, I can’t escape from the fan noise). It doesn’t pick up too many breathing sounds or desk bumps. And it is smaller and lighter, again important on my cramped desk.  I think the sound is excellent – I don’t have to be too close and I think my voice sounds quite good.

I can recommend this as an excellent and productive combination that will encourage me to make more demo videos.

Hardware and software for making demo videos

A new venture for me.  I need to make some videos to show how to use my professional software. This means that I need to be able to capture my computer screen and for me to do voice-overs.

You would think that Adobe Premiere Elements could do this, but no, you have to buy an expensive add-on (called, I think, ‘Captivate’) designed for people who are producing professional on-line teaching aids and courses. But it incorporates all sorts of features that I really don’t need, at least for now.

Screen capture software. I searched around for screen capture software and after quite a bit of research,  came across OBS Studio, which is a free screen capture and streaming program.  I’ve never thought that I would be into streaming, as I didn’t think it would ever be practicable for me, but perhaps that will change in the near future.

OBS Studio. I managed to download and install OBS Studio without any problems, and to record a test demonstration of my software, but I have had trouble in the past with decent audio, even with good microphones.

Microphones. In my professional work, an accurate microphone costs £1000 and that doesn’t include pre-amplifiers and other accessories, although the microphone will come with a calibration certificate and a flat frequency response of 6 to 20,000 Hz.  Of course this is completely over the top for voice work, where a range of 340 to 3400 Hz would be OK for clarity.

So I searched for ‘streaming’ microphones and of course there is a vast range.  In the old days, cheap microphones used a quartz piezo-electric crystal.  These have the advantage that they generate a high output voltage without needing a pre-amplifier, but they have an irregular frequency response.  Dynamic microphones are basically like loudspeakers in reverse – a diaphragm vibrates a coil between magnets, generating a voltage in the same way as a dynamo. They also produce a high* output voltage, but they are delicate – the voice-coil suspension can be damaged if they are dropped or knocked.  So condenser microphones have become popular.  Here the diaphragm is a thin sheet of metal or metallised plastic stretched over a frame and place very close to a metal back-plate.  An electric charge (a voltage) is put across the two and this is connected to a ‘charge’ amplifier which has a very high input impedance.  The two plates of the microphone act as a capacitor, or condenser in old terminology, and as the diaphragm vibrates, the capacitance changes accordingly, so that the voltage on the amplifier changes.  This is amplified to a value suitable for the recorder input.  At one time, the electronics were difficult and expensive. Ideally the amplifier needs to be close to the microphone, within the same housing.  I still see references to a ‘tube’ (i.e. a thermionic valve), used due to their high input impedances, but MOSFET transistors can have equally high input impedances, and I don’t see why anyone would use a ‘tube’ now.

*all things are relative – we are talking about millivolts!

To cut this long story short, I researched a suitable microphone.  I want something of adequate quality, and was totally disappointed by a lack of technical details on most of the products. Hardly any of the specs discuss the microphone technology, the frequency response or output level.  They all say silly things like ‘professional’, ‘high-definition audio’ (I still have no idea what that could mean).

USB Microphones. So I found two USB microphones that seemed possible candidates.  USB microphones are usually of the ‘MEMS’ (micro-electro-mechanical systems) type commonly used in mobile telephones.  Essentially, this is a condenser microphone fabricated on a silicon chip and directly connected to a special chip containing amplifiers and an analogue to digital converter.  These process the output into a digitised signal,   These can have excellent quality because the A/D converter can be optimised to the characteristics of the microphone cartridge and the required frequency response, and because the connecting cable carries a digital signal, it is fairly impervious to noise pickup. It doesn’t need to be impedance or voltage-matched to your sound card.  Only a few years ago, this would have made the microphone expensive, but nowadays specialised integrated circuits can be remarkably cheap.  They do require a power supply, but the USB connector can provide this.

My choice. The two I have bought – yes, I have ordered them and awaiting delivery – are KLIMTM Talk, which claims it is ideal for Skype, VOIP and other audio calls, and cost £24; and Blue Yeti, which claims it is for recording and streaming.  This is a condenser microphone with three capsules and an adjustable directivity pattern and gain control. It cost £85.  This does seem like a good specification – we will see.

My initial testing shows that both give excellent sound quality. The more expensive Blue Yeti gives a more ‘spacious’ sound but is more sensitive to ‘mouth’ sounds, whilst the KLIMTM has a more ‘dry’ (less spacious) sound and seems less affected by ‘mouth’ sounds.  It’s not possible to say at this stage which one I like best – they are both suitable for doing my voice-overs. I will make a more detailed review in my next post.

 

What ringing books should I buy?

This post is for those who are new(ish) to ringing. I’m assuming that you have got as far as at least attempting Plain Hunt and you are wishing to move on from there. In a music analogy, you have learnt to play a scale, and you want to learn a tune.

In many towers, you aren’t really told about the progression through the stages.  You are loyal to your tower and are grateful for the opportunities that the tower captain and band can offer you.  This dutiful approach no longer fits in with modern expectations.  Most ringers want and need to make rapid progression: this will mean that you must study away from the tower so that you can make the most of the limited opportunities that present themselves (or that you can make for yourself).

Fortunately there are many good books on the subject and here I will discuss the books that I personally find most useful.  I would start by recommending Steve Coleman’s ‘Ringing Companion’ series of books.  These are written in very modest, human language, recognising the worries that confront all ringers.  Some people might find the style a bit too chatty, but make no mistake, he understands, confronts and advises on overcoming the difficulties that all ringers face.  He is clearly a wise and clever man.  The only downside is that his books are meant for learning, and are not so handy as a quick reference guide.

You will need that when in the tower, and a lot of people find the ‘Ringing Circles’ book useful for that.  It has the blue line for many methods that are regarded as the bread-and-butter of ringing, and which offer a stepping-stone to more advanced methods.  But it only has a minimum of explanation and no real advice on how to overcome difficulties.  In other words, you need someone to explain it to you first.

‘The Ringers Handbook’ explains in considerable detail how to ring the ‘standard methods’ of Plain Bob, Grandsire, Stedman and Kent Treble Bob.  I learnt these methods from this book and I would still recommend it, even though its language seemed old-fashioned to me fifty years ago.  The main problem is that it doesn’t deal with the difficulties that learners encounter, especially developing ‘ropesight’.

Ropesight is the ability to see (a) the order in which the ropes are falling; and (b) your own position within this order.  You can ring the very basic methods of plain hunt and perhaps Plain Bob Doubles or maybe Grandsire Doubles without ropesight, but once you get into touches with Bobs or Singles, you will be completely lost at sea.

‘Ringing Circles’ does contain simple methods useful for developing ropesight, but doesn’t explain what they are for: your tutor has to do that.

The ‘Ringing World Diary’ is a diary with well over 100 pages of methods, touches and helpful advice.  Every year, they try to add something new – such as more methods or new ideas for learning progression.  However, it contains very little explanation and I, as a long-established ringer, find some of it rather inaccessible.  Nevertheless, it is very handy for reminding yourself of the blue line of a method that you haven’t rung for a long time or indeed to suggest new methods to try.  However, I find it almost useless for looking up touches to call immediately as they are set out  in such a compressed notation that it takes time to unravel them into something callable – unless of course you are a very experienced conductor who wants a quick reminder.

If it is just the ‘blue line’ that you want, then there are a number of smartphone apps which have a huge library of methods.  Two of them are ‘Methodology’ and ‘Iagrams’.  For myself, I find these hard to read and cumbersome to learn from, although that may be down to my less than youthful brain.  Certainly they do not have any explanation and I would not recommend them to new ringers.

There are dozens of other good books, but armed with the first few mentioned and a good tutor, you will be off to an excellent start.  You will need to read, re-read, practice and practice again.  Anyone who things that ringing is easy is either Einstein or deluding themselves!

Fixing Windows Update – manual installation

Updates repeatedly failing

For some months I have been struggling with Windows 10 Updates repeatedly downloading, installing, failing and reverting to the previous version.  This was infuriating, as Windows was slow and would often restart when my back was turned for a few minutes, meaning that I had to wait an hour or more before I could use the computer again.

There is no indication why it was failing. I’d been running Windows 10 since it first came out, upgrading from Windows 7.  Stupidly, when I first installed Windows 10, I decided to install the ‘N’ version, which excludes the media feature pack.  I had to add this later in order to get USB connections to cameras and other image-related functions to work correctly.  Of course after years of installing various software, hardware and peripherals, it is possible that a library somewhere had been corrupted.

Google came up with many suggestions, but either they didn’t work (like running various checking programs) or they seemed either too obvious and trivial or too complex and risky. The most sensible suggestion seemed to be to go for a complete reinstall of Windows, but I was wary in case I would then need to spend days restoring my setup and apps.  But fortunately it is very simple to reinstall Windows  without losing your current files and apps, so I am putting this here to help others in the same position.

The solution

Firstly, download and install Microsoft’s Media Creation Tool from the following link:

http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-10/media-creation-tool-install

When it has downloaded, choose
Upgrade Now.

You can choose to keep all your files and apps.  It is probably no slower than a Windows Update, but it certainly seems to have fixed my update problem  I’m now running the November 2019 version 1909 of Windows 10 and so far it is looking good.  My PC seems to have all the files and apps (although I had backed everything up first, of course).

You can use the same tool to download the ISO (i.e. a disk image) or create bootable media so you only need to do it once, and have the bootable media for repairs or possible Clean Install.

Note that this is a full and complete new copy, rather than the patched-up version created by Windows update.  Given the repeated update failure, I felt that I should keep an eye out for problems with device drivers.  Windows proudly installs device drivers for almost every conceivable peripheral.  This is an amazing achievement, but sometimes the drivers are not optimal for certain devices, for example failing to initialise special features of a scanner, and you may have to use the manufacturer’s device installation tool to restore their own device drivers.

Have I had any problems?

One thing I have noticed is that some of the Outlook folders have become unindexed and a couple of sub-folders in my inbox seem empty, so perhaps Windows has moved these to a new location.  It’s not a massive problem but I will need to deal with it.

Window Media Pack

Videos not playing

I noticed that videos on the BBC website would no longer play.  I’m not entirely surprised as it’s likely that media feature pack (which is excluded from the N versions of Windows that I have installed) would be updated at some point, and it seems quite possible that this was causing my problems with the Windows update.

Note that if you look up ‘media feature pack’ on the Microsoft Website, you will be told how to download the media feature pack for each new version of Windows 10N except the latest release, 1909 (November 2019).  What gives?

A new feature in Windows Settings
Further probing revealed that there is an important new feature available under the Windows 10 Settings menu, but it is hardly in an obvious place.  This allows you to add many features to Windows, including the Media Pack.

Open Settings, and go to Apps.
Under Apps and Features, select Optional Features

Click Add a feature, and from the drop-down select Windows Media Player

This will now download and install, but to complete the installation, you have to restart your computer.  It will then churn for a while and after that, the new Media feature will be installed.  Very neat!  Website videos now play again.

There are quite a few other useful-looking features for those who want to dabble.

 

They’re tracking you!

A year ago I mentioned how the ‘General Data Protection Regulation’ had somewhat backfired – now every website want you to agree to its ‘Privacy Policy’, which is of course ‘Newspeak’ (see George Orwell’s prophetic book ‘1984’, where Newspeak is a language designed to control the way we are allowed to think) for permitting them to intrude into our most private moments.

No-one ever reads privacy policies – they are designed to be impenetrable.  But if a privacy policy doesn’t fit onto a single page, you can be pretty sure that it is giving them all sorts of rights over your private information.

What should you do about it?  One of the most intrusive elements is the ‘tracking cookie’.  This can record pretty much anything that you have done on a website, even when you’re not specifically logged in.  If you put in health questions, this can be recorded.  Then other website, such as one selling health products, can look at this and target you with advertising.

There are various apps that let you delete tracking cookies, and I consider that this is an essential housekeeping operation that everyone should do frequently.

I’m rather annoyed with eBay right now.  Although I always buy from a local shop if I can, I needed something that I couldn’t find in after trawling round the local shops.  I do sometimes use eBay and there was a product already in my list that I’d eventually got somewhere else.  So when I selected the product that I actually wanted, to my despair I saw that instead it had placed an order for the earlier product instead!  I realised that eBay had automatically logged me in and when I went to the order screen, it whacked out that order.  OK so I was not careful enough, but I am pretty careful, and if it happened to me, it happened to lots of others.  Clearly a trick to catch people who are hesitating about placing an order!

To be fair, I was able to cancel the order quite easily, but it was still rather annoying, and clearly a deliberate design ‘feature’ by eBay.

I’ve noticed that ‘Google’ is particularly bad at offering a ‘connected’ experience, which is a Newspeak word for ensnaring you in their net.

Broadband connections

Getting temporary broadband
BT cocks up my order

I needed to temporarily relocate my office for a few months.  I need fast broadband and a ‘landline’ telephone.  I already have this in my present office, provided by BT.  My clients must not be affected by this move in any way, shape or form.  The obvious thing is to ask if BT would transfer my contract to my temporary location, and move it back when my office has been refurbished.

‘Yes’, they say, ‘No problem, and we won’t charge you.’  That’s fantastic.  The new location is only a short distance away.  ‘Sorry, Sir, that is on a different exchange.  We will have to give you a new phone number’.  ‘OK, no problem, it’s only for a couple of months.’ ‘Sorry, Sir, but when you move back, we will have to give you another new number, because we only hold them for 60 days!’

‘Oh, sugar! I exclaim, ‘So to keep my number, I need to take out a new contract and redirect my old number to the new one?’

‘Yes, that’s right.  And the minimum term for the new contract is only 12 months!’

I can’t waste time on this, so through gritted teeth, I say, ‘OK, sign me up to the new contract’.  The firm will pay and it’s one of the costs of refurbishment.

After a few days, I haven’t heard anything from them, so I ring up again.

‘Sorry Sir, but we have no record of any order from you! However, if it is only for a few months, have you considered mobile broadband?  Go into an EE shop and ask them!’

EE Mobile broadband

Well, I know that EE was bought by BT, but even so this was quite unexpected.  Off I went to the EE shop and bought a 4G Broadband Router with 100 GB of data per month for £35 per month.  Minimum term 2 months, plus £100 up front for the router.  This is very competitive with fixed-line broadband and I have to say that I’m entirely delighted with it.  I’m getting about 10 MB/s download and about 3 MB/s upload, but my router is located on a window-sill in a weak-signal part of the building.  Even so, it is fast enough to stream TV and to do normal office work.  I can get a strong signal in another location, and the data rate is faster, but it isn’t convenient for me to use that location.  I could have an external aerial, but it isn’t necessary.

Update on EE mobile connection quality

I have found that at certain times, the 4G signal can drop out. This is very irritating when streaming a film, as it seems to upset my streaming device. I’ve relocated my EE box but it hasn’t eliminated the problem entirely.  Although the authorities can find out which mast you are connected to, the public can’t do this, presumably for security reasons. I presumably the data signal drops when the network is saturated, and this  happens when everyone wants to use it!

Keeping your landline number

EE even said that if I hadn’t been in contract with BT, I could have transferred my landline number to EE and then it would have been portable.  I’m not 100 % sure about this, but I have kept my landline number for mainly sentimental reasons, as I use VOIP for business calls, which is working well with the router.

One thing I particularly dislike about BT is that they keep changing the name of the package, but this isn’t shown on the bill, nor is the contract termination date.  Indeed, whilst I got sales calls from them at the contract termination date, none of them said that my contract was coming to an end.  They simply tried (and succeeded) to inveigle me into a new contract.

Just as I moved to my new location, I got an email on my mobile from ryml.me saying that Royal Mail had a parcel for me from BT.  Obviously a scam email coming from an address like that.  Then in the entrance lobby, I saw a package addressed to me from BT.  It was clearly a home hub.  They had spelt my name wrongly, though.  Yes, the twerps had actually placed an order from me, but owing to the incorrect spelling, I never received the confirmatory email (and I never will)  which also explains why they couldn’t find my order.  Needless to say, I have cancelled it.  I asked whether the email to my incorrect address had bounced, but they said they don’t check! Shriek! Scream!! What a way to run a business!!!

BT’s new website

When writing this post, I thought I’d check the BT website and I saw that everything has changed without warning. They have replaced their ‘connected world’ logo with a boring BT in a circle and they have changed the names of everything again.   For new contracts, landline UK phone calls are now at a flat rate of 20 p a minute on top of the line rental charge of £20 a month, but you can now buy a package of calls – 500 minutes is £5 a month extra (the cost of 25 minutes ‘pay as you go’.)  This is not cheap, but I think much more sensible than all the pesky ‘add-ons’ which put the prices up too much.

However, if you want unlimited everything, including landline and mobile calls and fast broadband, this will set you back an eye-watering £85 a month on a 24-month contract!!  That is expensive, although maybe I could have got an unlimited data sim and an unlocked 4G router.

Anyway, I absolutely HATE their new website.  They haven’t fixed all the links, so unless you go into it from a particular direction, it’s entirely sales orientated and you inevitably end up on the ordering page, even though you are trying to find information.  All these daft names, yet I can’t find basic information about my contract.

Bottom line – 4G mobile broadband seems to be the way to go, especially as an upgrade to 5G is already coming down the street.

Bell Ropes

There isn’t much written about bell ropes, even though they are an essential part of every bell installation.

A good bell-rope needs to be thick enough to grip comfortably, flexible yet not floppy, soft but not springy. However, ropes should not be too thick, which is sometimes the case for moderately heavy bells.  Whilst the bell may be rather heavy, ringers come in standard sizes which means that their hands aren’t any bigger and they can’t pull any more strongly, so the rope doesn’t need to be any stronger either.   The thick rope just makes the handling even more difficult. Even quite a thin rope is enough to withstand the strongest pull and so the thickness should be related to a getting the necessary grip.

Ropes have traditionally been made of hemp, which has these properties.  Unfortunately, its association with illegal drugs made hemp unobtainable from the 1980s onwards, although legal varieties of hemp are now available again.

Fibre such as sisal is far too rough for bell-ropes, resulting in ropes that are too stiff and cause blisters.  [Ringers do not wear gloves, which are both too sweaty and cause blisters between the fingers.]

The usual substitute for hemp has been Flax (from which linen is made). It is softer than hemp, which is very often quite stiff when the ropes are new.  The main problem with flax is that it is not as durable as hemp, especially when exposed to flexing and rubbing as it passes over the wheels and pulleys, and when hitting the floor of the ringing room. It also gradually denatures (rots) and can become powdery and friable in towers that get warmed from the church.  Moisture from the warmed air condenses in the cold bell-chamber which accelerates the problem.

A flax bell rope is likely to need some splicing and repairs to worn parts within six to ten years of regular use.    Hemp bell-rope is likely to last upwards of 12 years before splicing is required.

It is possible to buy artificial fibre that is claimed to have better properties than either hemp or flax, but it is often too soft – the tail ends can become floppy, which makes for difficult handling.  And moreover, they are not as absorbent, so can become quite sweaty, damp and unpleasant. I can’t recommend these ropes.

Nowadays a good compromise seems to be to use a terylene (polyester) rope for the ‘top end’, ie above the sally, and hemp for the section through the sally and to the tail.  Terylene is said to be less springy than natural fibre, but even ‘pre-stretched’ terylene is springy in long lengths, and can be as bad as hemp for this. The main advantage is that it is much more resistant to rubbing over pulleys and wheels, or rotting in the damp conditions of most towers.  Moreover, the lengthening and shrinkage caused by humidity changes is much less noticeable with Terylene.  [Bell-ropes are often 60 to 100 feet long and can shrink or lengthen by some inches due to changes in humidity.]

Terylene is completely unsuitable for the tail as it would blister and cut your hands.  Also, being quite slippery, it could come untucked very easily.    This makes it much more difficult to splice than natural rope.  It is better to get your rope-maker to ‘machine-splice’ the terylene top end into the hemp lower end.  On no account use polypropylene or nylon – this is incredibly stretchy and will test your bell-control to the very limit.

Sallies

My favourite rope-maker tells me that sallies must be made of 100 % natural wool, which is becoming hard to get.  Most yarn is now combined with other fibres.  And you need to make sure that the wool is densely packed in the sally.  My rope-maker says they have to buy the wool and get it dyed to the colours required before being spun into yarn.  This makes it expensive and of course the sally is the most expensive part of the rope. But a well-made sally won’t shed much fibre and can be expected to last fifteen years before it starts to look rather thin.

Looking after your bell-ropes

Try to keep the ropes dry, but not bone-dry.  I’ve seen some towers use rope-heaters but I’m not really a fan of these –  as long as the tower maintains normal humidity, the ropes should be fine.

If the flooring is rough, such as using those hard-wearing carpet tiles, then it is best to position a soft wool mat for the rope to fall onto, as the rope can wear at that point.  It is also advisable to reposition the tucks from time to time, as the lone strand can fray, thus needing a splice.

Terylene top-ends don’t seem to need repositioning on the wheel, but keep an eye on this – they are difficult to splice and you will probably need to put on a whole new top-end if they start to fray.  Indeed, it might well be time to get a new rope.

Tail ends can get horribly greasy.  Most ringers come to expect this, although in today’s health-conscious times, some may object.  It is probably best to tell them to use some hand-sanitiser if this is a concern.  There is some controversy over the use of hand-cream.  I know of a few people who complain that ringing makes their hands sore.  In fact, it probably makes everyone’s hands sore, but after a few quarter peals and peals, they do harden up.  Of course, some don’t want hard hands!  So they surreptitiously put ‘glycerine rose water’ or similar on their hands, saying this isn’t grease.  Perhaps not, but it is just dilute glycerine.  This holds moisture and still makes the ropes sticky and the tails stiff.  Should you wash the tails?  Generally, I would say not, but I have heard of those who have used ‘delicate’ clothes detergent on the tail ends and claimed a great improvement.  The only time I did this (on some extremely stiff ropes) the water was utterly disgusting!

However, on no account try to wash the sally.  Do not get it even the slightest bit wet.  I know of someone who ruined a set of bell-ropes by washing the sallies.  This can have the effect of loosening the twists of the rope strands, causing the wool to fall out.  If you want to research with an old sally, do let me know what happens.

Rope length

The length of the tail end when stretched at backstroke is critical to good ringing.  The ringer needs to feel that the bell has reached its balance point (or perhaps a little below that) when at full stretch.  Whilst experienced ringers can cope with ropes of different lengths, this can be uncomfortable when ringing for a long time, such as a 3-hour peal. In a peal, you need to be able to entirely forget the bell (just as you don’t think about putting one foot in front of the other when walking) so that you can concentrate on the method.  Peal ringers spend some time adjusting their ropes, putting knots in or standing on a ‘box’ to achieve a comfortable length.

Observations for non-ringers

Why are ringers so obsessive about a bit of string that disappears through a little hole in the ceiling?  Well, it is the only contact they have with a tonne of metal swinging around in the darkness of the bell-chamber.  The tension in the rope is all you have to tell you where the bell is in its swing, whether it is rising to the balance or falling off the balance, or exactly on the balance.  Remember that the bell does not ring when you pull the rope! [A small amusement for ringers is to ask a non-ringer to pull the rope (when the bell is down) and nothing happens whatsoever!]

However, it extremely dangerous to pull the rope of a bell that is up, and since a non-ringer will be unable to tell whether a bell is up or down, never touch a bell rope unless you have been trained.  You could get anything from nasty rope-burn to a broken ankle or cracked skull as you plummet to a stone floor. 

The rope moves unexpectedly fast and with considerable force as the bell falls under its own weight as it turns.

Obviously all learners are taught the do’s and don’ts before anything else, so serious accidents are rare. Indeed all learners will have an experienced tutor standing close by ready to take control, probably for the first several months or maybe even a year.

So if the bell doesn’t ring when you pull the rope, when does it ring? The bell rings after it has turned full circle, i.e. abut 2 seconds later, at around the time the rope stops moving.  It takes quite a time to get used to this, since the bell must strike (ring) to an accuracy of about one-twentieth of a second if the ringing is to sound good.  Depending on your aptitude it will probably take around another year to become good at hearing when your bell strikes.

I’m often asked whether I ring by looking for the bell I am following, or whether I do it by listening.  My answer – that I do both – clearly doesn’t satisfy learners.  They only see a jumble of ropes flying around.  But with effort and experience, you can see the order in which the bells fall.  I don’t have a good musical ear, so I can’t tell you the order of the bells just by listening, although I can usually pick out the position of the treble as well as my own bell.

 

The Energy Deal Scam

I’ve been getting calls on my business line saying that my ‘energy deal’ has expired and that I need to set up a new one.

I know full well that I have recently taken out a new energy deal with Octopus Energy which I am very pleased with, so when someone phones me and immediately starts lying, the ‘Scam Alert’ sirens start up.

Then an article in ‘Private Eye’ caught my own eye.  It seems that these firms (called ‘Third Party Intermediaries’ or TPIs) say they will act as your agent to get a good deal.  To authorise them to negotiate on your behalf, you sign a Letter of Authority (LOA) which lets them set up a deal on your behalf but not to your benefit.  This is because selling to business is not regulated like selling to householders.  They set up a rigged ‘tendering process’ and take unacknowledged fees from both parties.

The next time I get a call about my energy account, I won’t be so polite.

Why people give up ringing

There has been a lot written about why people give up ringing.

Apart from the obvious reasons – job or family commitments – a recent RW survey shows that some people have experienced unsociality,  poor learning experience and even ‘bullying’.

These are shameful findings, but are, I am sure, confined to individual cases rather than being endemic.  Unsociality occurs in many forms, but ringers are rather inclined to ‘rate’ other people according to their ringing ability. This inevitably puts learners at the bottom of the pile.  Ringers so rarely enquire about newbies’ background, even though many have seriously important occupations.  They are rather inclined to ‘show off’ their own abilities by lecturing learners in often unhelpful ways.

In some towers, learners are not given priority – they have to wait until the tower captain condescends to give them a go.   I am more surprised to hear of ‘bullying’, although old school tower captains sometimes treat newbies like army recruits, perhaps because that is the way they were treated when learning.

Sadly, tower captains often inherit the position, get there through ‘Gubbin’s turn’, or simply because there is no-one else prepared to do it.  I would suggest that learners need to ask the advice of ordinary ringers about which tower is best: perhaps ask to see a local association report and find a tower with a lot of members.  Go to the pub after the practice, find a friendly face and ask for advice.

Don’t feel obliged to stay out of loyalty if you feel uncomfortable in a tower. Once you can ring safely, try out a few practices and find somewhere where they have a structured approach.  Remember though, that ringing is much harder than it looks.  It just isn’t possible to see the subtlety by watching: only time on the end of the rope will give you the finesse that is needed.

What towers can do.
Towers should not say to beginners, ‘Oh yes, we will be happy to teach you. Anyone can learn. Just come next practice night.’ They should explain in more detail the time, effort and dedication needed.
Most people can learn the basics of bell-handling fairly quickly.  It is much more difficult to progress into change-ringing.  Apart from anything else, you have to practice with a group of ringers who are better than you are.  And in a structured way, with appropriate theory, and with appropriate exercises to help you through the particular difficulties that you experience.  This needs someone who can identify what help you need, which is a skill in itself.  Few ordinary practices – often 90 minutes in length – have the scope both to provide the exercises that beginners require and the interest that experienced ringers require.  If you dedicate the first 45 minutes to the learners, the experienced people may not bother to turn up.  Once the experienced ringers arrive, the learners no longer get a go.

There are a few clever teachers who can achieve a good experience for both groups.  This means starting earlier and involving everyone throughout.  The experienced ringers can be asked to make short theory presentations.  Any learner who can safely handle a bell can call ‘stand’ after 20 whole pulls.  They can call very simple call-changes.  Exercises like whole pull and stand or Mexican wave are fun for everyone.

The amount of sitting out can be kept to a minimum.  Just as you expect the learners to show commitment, encourage the more experienced ringers to commit – they can be asked to look after short touches or other exercises.

Also, ensure that the leaners value the contribution of the experienced ringers – thank the experienced ringers for their work in the hearing of the learners.  But also make it clear that the practice will switch to something for the experienced people: the learners can stay to hear good ringing if they wish, but their session has ended.  This often works well when the learners are still at school.  The band should then retire to the pub for socialising (this no longer means drinking yourself under the table as most pubs expect to sell lots of soft drinks and coffee these days).