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Banburyshire Rambles Photo-Journal,
Thursday 13th June 2019:

‘For the rain it raineth every day’

Exploring the route of a guided walk I must lead… in the floods

This Sunday I’m leading a walk to Adderbury Meeting House; across two brooks that are likely to be flooded. I set out to assess which route it will be possible to use – finding mud, floods, dramatic cloudscapes, and, inevitably, rain showers. However, I've also got a few things to do in my head along the way, the results of which, if all goes right, you should be looking at right now.

Route: Adderbury Meeting House, Milton, ‘The Groves’, Bodicote, Banbury.

Metrics: Distance, 11.5km/7⅙ miles; ascension, 135m/450ft; duration, 2¼ hours.

Go to: Banburyshire Rambles Photo-Journal Spring 2019 Index (April-June)

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It had been a busy work day when the call came. Someone needs to go and accept the portable toilet at Adderbury a day early. You get these responsibilities fall on you when you agree to help to look after your local Quaker meeting. Of course, if I went I'd have to walk back, if only to check that I wouldn't be leading people into a mire on Sunday’s walk to the quarterly Adderbury Gathering. I can't possibly take the time off work though… I'll just have to work in my head as I walk home again.

Other than trying to stay upright in the extremely liquid conditions underfoot, I can’t say that I’m really concentrating on the walk, or looking at the world around me. I’ve a problem to solve today. That, rather than the walk, is what’s at the front of my mind.

Do you know how the World Wide Web works?

It’s an interesting point to ponder. People use this ‘thing’, and yet do they really know what that entails, and what effect that has on the world around them?

Try this now: press the ‘Ctrl’ and the ‘U’ key together, and you will see the code that makes seeing this page possible. Note: You'll have to close the new tab that opens when you've done to come back to this page again.

When I ‘think’ of how I put information on-line, that's the language I have to think in: ‘Hypertext Markup Language’, or simply, ‘HTML’. More than that though there's an entire digital ecosystem of database languages, scripting languages, style-sheets and structured information encodings which work around that protocol to make everything work, hopefully, seamlessly.

Arthur C. Clark’s ‘Third Law’ states: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. I sometimes wonder if that isn’t the case with the Internet. People simply put the fact it exists down to unfathomable geeks and techno-pixies, rather than thinking of how its use might affect their lives in other ways.

As I approach the small footbridge on the path to Bloxham Grove I see there's a problem. It’s flooded. Not just the ground either side of the bridge itself, but the causeway across the field beyond is underwater in places. Even with my gaiters on, if I were to quickly splosh through the foot deep water as I would normally do, my boot still wouldn’t emerge from the water in the field beyond for eight or ten steps – they would fill with water.

I ponder for a moment. I know the path on the eastern side of of Sor Brook will be dry and passable. It always is. Rather than prove what I already know, instead I decide to take the path via Milton and cross the old packhorse bridge upstream.

The Internet is consuming more and more energy globally; to the point where comparatively it is emitting more carbon than air travel.

Recently I took the ominous, if overdue, decision to rebuild my entire web site. I want to tackle the energy issue head-on, and make a statement about it through how my site works.

As a result of the last rebuild of the site eight years ago it is, comparatively, already one of the lowest energy/efficient web sites around. It uses a very simple design strategy, and it’s static – which means rather than having to have a powerful database server slicing-and-dicing the page content with every request, the web server just sends out the files directly from its hard drive, using server-side includes to replicate the commonly used parts of the web pages.

To save even more energy I’m going to have to rethink how my site works all over again, and find new ways to deal with the technical difficulties using more imaginative means.

Arriving in Milton I take a right by the railway bridge, then head over the ridge and down to the stream. The bridge is passable, just. It starts to rain again so I stop and don my waterproofs. I could fork right, but I know that goes through a wheat-field, which will only add to the amount of water sploshing down my legs.

As I press on up the hill, it rains harder-still; there's a rumble of thunder in the distance.

Every time you ask to view a web page you are sent a block of data. If you do that over a ‘secure’ HTTPS-protocol connection – such as you use for on-line banking – when you download ordinary data, it uses more energy than ordinary HTTP-protocol connection because multiple connections have to be made to the server to download the data. More importantly, when you download the data from a server it can cleverly keep copies of the things it sends out most often in memory, reducing the energy and time used to send out that data. With HTTPS connections it can't do that as easily because each one is different.

That’s why my site doesn’t use HTTPS. If people want to be secure/anonymous using my site, they're far better off using some form of encrypted proxy.

I arrive at the top of the hill and look down to Upper Grove. If that crossing is flooded I'll haver to double-back on myself. It would be far more efficient to go via Middle Grove, up the hill into Bodicote, and then approach the crossing from the other side. If it’s then flooded I can just walk straight back into town.

It occurs to me that planning the route of a walk is rather like engineering efficiency into a system. It’s all a just network topology.

Into Bodicote is the track is surfaced all the way. Taking the left on the edge of the village I’m back on saturated fields again – where even the cattle are gingerly moving around so as not to slip on the wet slope. Arriving back at Upper Grove I find that the trackway has an inch-or-so of water flowing over it. Looking at the pattern, it’s still rising; it may be higher by Sunday. When that happens the water from Sor Brook, next to Upper Grove Mill, bursts its banks and surges down the path and into the flood plain beyond.

I could walk back into town. Instead I splash on to the Mill, in the rain. Someone at the Mill says, “lovely weather”, as I pass. “Yes”, I reply. “For ducks”.

Today just about every web site uses JavaScript. It’s a programming language that works inside of the web browser to control the functions of the web page and make things happen. When your browser unexpectedly crashes, chances are it was the JavaScript program doing something it shouldn't. When you catch malware from visiting an infected web site, it’s JavaScript that makes that possible.

Recently cryptocurrency miners have even been stealing people’s computers to run mathematical problems to mine Bitcoins (yet another example of hard-up website operators trying to earn cash from the site’s users); sometimes even after you've left the web site.

When you look at the Rambles Journal there's a little program running in the background. It displays each photo from the walk, and sets the title and the map reference link, then waits a pre-set number of seconds and then displays the next in the sequence. If you then click a button or a thumbnail, it also changes the display.

Could I do without that? It’s a negligible amount of energy, but it would save the browser having to download the script file with the other parts of the web page.

Wait a minute! Static metadata header refresh directives!

Rather than displaying each image, if I display a page containing the image as a frame, it can refresh itself after a certain interval of time. All the thumbnails and ‘next’/‘previous’ buttons can then just be static links! I power up the steep slope feeling rather jolly after working that out.

At the top of the hill from Upper Grove I arrive back to where I’ve already been today. I’ve an aversion to re-tracing my steps; probably something I got from my Granddad who would drive huge circuits out of his way to avoid going down the same route. Somthimes though it just can’t reasonable be avoided.

Information is a form of energy. Practically it’s all thermodynamics.

The more detail you want, the more data it requires to represent that information, and so the more energy/resources you need to record that data. An efficient page doesn’t just try to minimise the number of connections to the server, to reduce the energy connecting to the network. How much detail is encoded in that information has a far greater influence on how much data, and thus energy is consumed in displaying the page.

Right now each page of the walks journal selects a random graphical background from one of forty or so images, each about three-quarters of a megabyte in size. I think they'll have to go. Instead I could take those images, render them in grey, and then reduce the number of colours. Each colour requires a value to represent it. Less colours, less information.

Grey is of course very boring. I’m thinking this as I pass the Bloxham Grove windmill for the second time, with the sky even darker and the rain heavier than the last time I went by. If I convert to a grey palette, then back into a colour palette, I can colourise the image to a particular tone – and each area of the site could have its own colour tone to differentiate different parts of the site.

Down into Lower Grove the track is slippery. Out the other side the farm track is dry, and well above the water level in the Brook – which is why this route is always passable no matter what the weather. I check the path to Adderbury; it’s dry too at the lowest point.

The rain eases as I walk up the hill into Bodicote and back into town. I have a route to lead people on Sunday. I think I also have a template for a new web site that will consume even less energy than the already ‘efficient’ site I currently run. Satisfied with my afternoon’s efforts, and feeling better for having had a walk, I speed back down the hill into town to sit in front of the square-eyed monster once more. Off-loading the pictures from the walk, I set-to using the pictures and the words in my head to create a new template for the Rambles Journal.