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Australian politician breastfeedingThis story on the MSN newsfeed (in The Telegraph) falls over itself in its gleeful demonstration of pro-feminism.

Some berk who has a real problem separating home life from work breastfed a baby whilst putting forward a motion to the Australian Parliament. If that wasn’t bad enough, the baby also took a dump in its nappy. No one seems to see any wrong in this (not officially, anyway).

Look at the stupid smiles on the faces of those looking on. It’s in Parliament, for God’s sake, and they’re all sitting around going “aaaaaah!”

I’ve told this story before, but years ago I was on a skiing holiday in France (or it might have been Switzerland). We had gone into a fairly smart restaurant one night for a meal, and at the table next to us was a family who were having a raclette (a big block of cheese that is melted and into which you dip chunks of bread or meat). They had a baby with them in a high chair.

We’d just had our main course delivered when I sniffed and said to one of my companions “I think that baby has crapped itself”. And it had. The woman took it to the lavatory and the stench of baby crap remained in the restaurant while we ate our meal. At the time, a small beer cost about three times more than a pint did in the UK, and that meal was similarly priced. If I remember correctly, the proprietor of the restaurant was feeding us free schnapps after our meal – and it didn’t occur to me until now that it might have been his way of apologising. To be honest, even if he’d have given us the meal for free, it still ballsed up an entire evening, the purpose of which was to eat after a hard day’s skiing, not to experience in this way.

I can state – as an absolute fact, with no worries whatsoever about being wrong – I should not have been subjected to that, and the family who’d taken the bloody baby in was a prime example of irresponsible parenting.

People with babies should not be allowed to take them to work, unless work is at Mothercare or some other place where hormone-addled people work. Breastfeeding in public is gross – the only people who like it are the same hormone-addled specimens, or (if they’re male) perverts trying to pretend they’re not. Anyone normal who says they’re cool with it is just lying, because a part of the body which is overtly sexual for about 95-99% of the time does not become OK to flash about in a restaurant (or in Parliament) just because it means its owner is “making a statement”.

If you have kids, you’re supposed to change what you do to help them grow up properly. You don’t carry on normally, force everyone around you to change, and have your kids grow up in spite of you. Which is what this Australian woman is doing.

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A Big MacThis is an Australian story, but it reports that McDonald’s over there is about to take “one of the biggest risks in the company’s history” by introducing fresh beef patties to its menu. Apparently, ordering one adds about a minute to your waiting time, since the fresh beef patties are prepared to order, whereas the normal type are made ahead of time and kept warm until required.

I had to do a bit of a double-take when I read that, because in the UK it seems to be standard practice for McDonald’s restaurants not to prepare anything ahead of time, and to cook everything to order. At the drive-thru, a simple order of a cheeseburger can get you a ten-minute wait in one of the bays. I have gone inside to demand my money back on more than one occasion, and I’ve complained to head office at least twice. To be fair, most branches have improved, but I absolutely refuse to say anything positive about motorway branches, because late at night they have to cook everything. There is nothing ready. But I digress: a whole minute is nothing in the UK compared to what is “normal” over here.

They already do these fresh beef patties in America:

A customer in Dallas named Tracy Moore told Reuters that she’s going to stop patronizing the fast-food chain, which she currently visits every day, if the wait time doesn’t improve.

“If it’s going to be that long every time, I won’t order it. I’d go elsewhere,” she said, after ordering the new fresh-beef Quarter Pounder at a McDonald’s drive thru and being told to pull into a parking spot to wait several minutes until it was ready.

She doesn’t know she’s born! Oh, what I wouldn’t give to only have to wait “several minutes”. Sorry, digressing again.

The article adds:

Improving service has been a primary goal of McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook over the last couple years. He has cut dozens of items from the fast-food chain’s menu to try and simplify and speed up kitchen operations.

I think he’s barking up the wrong tree, though he may be doing it deliberately, and attacking a secondary issue to protect the primary one.

In the UK, absolutely the only reason there is a delay to service is that there is nothing ready and they have to prepare it. They might have a few bits ready, but the days when the rack behind the counter would be stacked with carton after carton of Big Macs and other burgers are long gone. If it’s busy, they run out and you have to wait, and if it’s quiet there’s nothing ready anyway and you have to wait. The franchise holder – McDonald’s restaurants are all franchised – does it to reduce waste. No wait, let me rephrase that – he does it to save money.

Three key words in McDonald’s business are: SERVICE, WASTE, COST.

Once upon a time, service was far and away the most important aspect at McDonalds. As time has gone by it has passed through waste, and now sits firmly entrenched in cost. But what Steve Easterbrook seems to have forgotten (I know he hasn’t, really, even  if it looks like he has) is that fast food is low margin. You make money by shifting tonnes of the stuff, not by glamming it up, and you can’t shift any of it if there isn’t any to shift.

It’s funny when you consider that for each Big Mac costing £2.99, about £0.75 of that is gross profit to the restaurant, about £0.80 covers the materials, and the rest is down to labour costs. It’s even funnier when you consider that if a McDonald’s branch pisses me off, I won’t go in again for months (in the case of Clifton, years) just on principle. The manager’s decision not to risk having to throw away just over £2 guarantees he will lose £2.99 from me, and that woman in Dallas suggests I may not be the only one.

On a slightly different topic, a couple of the Facebook posts below the article made me smile.

Drewy Alf Phillips - a veganThis character is a vegan and he makes the assertion that eating meat and dairy gives you cancer. Someone challenges him, and he then goes on to declare that vegans do not need to take supplements as a result of not eating meat and dairy.

Actually, Mr Phillips, most vegan-friendly nutritionists and doctors – many of whom are vegans themselves – point out that Vitamin B12 supplements are pretty much essential for vegans, since this cannot be obtained reliably outside meat and dairy.

Organisations like The Vegan Society don’t make such a big deal out of things if they’re not important or significant.

This dietitian at Vegan R.D. goes further and suggests that as well as B12 supplements being important for all vegans, most should also take Vitamin D and Iodine supplements, and some should also consider Calcium and Iron.

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Interconnecting cogs and gearsThe only people likely to not realise the significance of technology in the world today – other than a few isolated tribes in the Amazonian rain forests – are Brexiters. Even if they’re technically capable of understanding, they won’t, because they’re blinded by their obsession to leave the EU no matter what the ultimate cost.

My view on Brexit should be well known by now. It was the stupidest decision this country has ever made, and it was largely made by the stupidest people this country has ever thrown into the gene pool. They should never have been given a direct vote on something they did not understand. And make no bones about it, in spite of what some may claim, the majority of Brexiters haven’t a clue about what they’ve done. All that mattered to most of them was the idea that Britannia would Rule The Waves again without any help from those damned foreigners, and that we would kick out anyone whose skin was not alabaster white by the afternoon of 24 June 2016. It was those two things, coupled with the lie emblazoned across that big red bus about spending £350,000,000 a week on the NHS, that carried the vote.

Since last June, having more or less resigned themselves to not seeing convoys of people being kicked out of the UK (yet – they still live in hope), they’ve spent much of the time accusing the media of “bias” every time it reports simple economic facts. The pound falls in value, reporting it is left-wing bias. Someone mentions the risk of losing access to the single market, it’s “remoaner bias”. Interest rates stay fixed, the BoE is anti-Brexit. There’s talk of interest rates going up, the BoE is anti-Brexit.

They are just too thick to understand that the economy isn’t controlled by a single light switch, but is more akin to a supercomputer, full of logic gates and conditional switches. A better analogy for what I’m going to say next is that it is like some huge steampunk device, composed of myriad interconnecting gears and cogs.

Brexit has been like someone ramming a huge spanner into it.

Most Brexiters will have been completely unaware of Galileo, a global navigation satellite system (GNSS) being developed by the EU. The fact that many Brexiters are probably also unaware (or certainly wary) even of GPS in the first place means that they will have also been unaware of its limitations. Civilian GPS resolution is limited to 4 metres at best, though the military can resolve to less than 10cm. Since it is controlled by the US, the service could be switched off at any time in any significant conflict scenario. Galileo GNSS, on the other hand, would offer the same resolution to all users, and this could be down to a few centimetres once it is operational. The USA has not been happy about this.

Galileo is a combined effort by the ESA and the European GNSS Agency. As a member of the EU, the UK has equal rights to work on EU projects, and SSTL (Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd) in the UK has so far built navigation payloads for 22 of the estimated 30 satellites needed to form the Galileo system in space. SSTL will retain those equal rights right up until the day the UK officially leaves the EU.

And that’s where the potential shit hits the fan.

On Thursday this week, the contract for a further 8 satellites is to be signed at the Paris Air Show. However, SSTL is unlikely to have delivered all 8 of those by the time Brexit happens on 29 March 2019. At that point, it will become “illegal” for the UK – as a “third country” – to work on certain aspects of the Galileo system. Only a Brexiter could also fail to appreciate that it would kibosh any future involvement, or that the UK’s use of Galileo once it becomes operational would also become questionable.

Each Galileo satellite costs about €30 million (£26.5 million), and SSTL will be earning a significant chunk out of that right now. After Brexit, they probably won’t – not unless this issue is added to the growing list of Things The UK Must Demand From The EU during Brexit talks, and is resolved in our favour.

On a related note, another jingoistic outburst yesterday involving The Queen’s Speech reports that Britain will “shoot for the moon”.

One will focus on growing the space sector and would allow satellites to be launched from the UK for the first time, as well as develop scientific missions and manned vertical rockets.

I can see it now. Once the mandatory “democratic vote” involving school children has taken place to name the new launch system, the Rocky McRocketface Two-stage Payload Deployment System Mk I will eventually have the opportunity to do one of three things:

  • make it into space
  • explode over the North Sea
  • explode over somewhere else. Like Hull

I noticed some Brexiter commenting on Facebook yesterday:

Facebook post - Leslie Chiazzari DuckworthAt the moment, all Brexit supporters can do is try to make silk purses out of sows’ ears. Notice how, after informing everyone that the government wouldn’t be launching the satellites directly (no, really?) he skims over the massive logistical issues, which should be quite clear to any sensible person.

Satellite launching in Australia and the USA (and Russia, for that matter) is successful for one main reason, which can be demonstrated easily using ruler and a map of the world.World Map

Australia is over 30x bigger than the UK, and it’s population density is over 140x less. Woomera launch site is 4 miles from the nearest road (and there are only two of those in a radius of at least 150 miles), and 8 miles from the nearest town not including Woomera itself (and 35 miles from the only other one after that). The USA is over 40x bigger than the UK, and its population density is just a tenth of the UK’s. Cape Canaveral is at least 4 miles away from the nearest non-military town, and over 12 miles away from the nearest large town. Both of these launch sites have convenient oceans nearby, with nothing for thousands of miles.

In the UK, even in the middle of one of the national parks, you’re lucky if you’re further than a couple of miles away from any place where people are likely to be, even if they’re just passing through on bikes or having a cream tea in a cafe. And that’s especially true near the only coast line with enough sea to minimise the risk of pissing off the neighbours if a launch went titsup. Of course, there’s Scotland – and if we could persuade them to let us screw up some heathland, then there’d only be the matter of the weather, with rain, snow, and gale force winds for 360 days of the year.

Before we gloss over these risks, it’s worth remembering that the last mission we had any significant involvement with (the only one I can think of, actually, where we tried to land something ourselves) created a new crater on the surface of Mars. And we we weren’t even involved with the initial flashy, explodey bit. Launching rockets in the UK carries immense risks, and these never go away, since even with successful launch systems there is a risk of catastrophic failure every single launch. It happens even to people who are quite good at it, and who have a proven track record. We don’t.

If anything goes wrong in Woomera, the sand just gets a bit of browner. In the US, there’s a big splash. Over here, you could lose Cardiff.

And finally, there is the timescale and cost. Considering that the current government will be lucky if it lasts another 6 months with the way things are now, identifying a location, building the facility, developing rockets, testing them, then finally using them will take a decade or more. Assuming everything is a complete success at each stage – which would buck the trend for everyone else who has ever gone into this industry – the entire development sequence will only cost money. It cannot make money until it is successfully launching stuff into space. And even then, the implication is that it’s our stuff.

Each launch of the Ariane system costs about £150m. It cost billions to develop – and it took decades to develop.

Ironically, there’s already a bloody system in place. And it is called Ariane. And we’re walking away from it, to build our own as a result of our suicidal decision to leave the EU.

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Another story from the newsfeeds a few weeks ago now. Apparently, DVSA is “threatening” to publish ADI pass rates because the national pass rate is “so low”, and they blame this on sub-standard tuition. Note that throughout this article, when I say “DVSA”, I mean the top end nearest to government, and not the examiners.

In 2015, I wrote about the “shake up” that was planned for the driving test that year (there’s one approximately every year, and they never get further than being reported in the tabloids). DVSA was coming out with the same crap back then, and I explained why it was a load of bollocks. This graph shows the trend in national pass rates between 2002 and 2015.Historical pass rates It’s currently at around 47%.

Test pass data from before 2002 aren’t easily available. However, you can build up a picture if you know where to look. Sketchy information taken from disparate sources reveals that even among the 246,000 people who took the very first test back in 1935 the pass rate then was only  63%. In 1935, the test was 30 minutes long, the Highway Code was no thicker than the instruction manual for a pencil, it included hand signals used by horse-drawn carriage riders, there were about six different road signs in use, and just under 2 million cars on the roads.

In 1950, the national pass rate was reported as 50%. It appears to have been also around 50% in the 1960s according to the BBC. As I said above, it’s about 47% now (with around 40 million cars on the road). So what’s the freaking problem? It’s been as low as 43%, peaked at 63%, and has wobbled around 50% most of the time in between.

What DVSA fails completely to understand is this. If you had a parallel universe, and selected a country of the same size and population as Britain, but which didn’t yet have a driving test system in place, the moment you introduced one you would have a pass rate somewhere around 50%. Even if you had a million perfect ADIs, then unless the population was also perfect, around half of them would still fail the driving test. It’s the natural balance, and the only way you could get a significantly higher figure would be to make the test easier.

The root of the issue is similar to the one involved in the annual school exam results fiasco. People are getting dumber as a result of declining educational standards, and yet pass rates are going up because the exams are being made easier. Well, as we now know, unless it sees sense before December, DVSA is currently in the middle of doing exactly the same thing to the driving test, by removing tricky manoeuvres and replacing them with ones my cat could do.

Now, I have no problem with my pass rate being published in principle. However, reality is a different matter.

I do not think for a moment that DVSA’s pass rate figures are accurate. Even if the ones they have pertaining to me are, I’m absolutely certain that those for some other ADIs won’t be. Quite apart from the inevitable errors in the DVSA’s own logging and reporting, there is the far more unsavoury matter of ADIs influencing results by not displaying their badges when submitting pupils to test, and therefore avoiding negative rep.

My badge is always (and always has been) displayed during the pre-test and when I have provided any tuition to a candidate going to their test, but this is not true of some other ADIs. Pass rates are so important to them that when they submit someone they think might fail, they take their badge out, but when a more able candidate is going, they leave it in. It means that higher pass rates may be recorded for weaker ADIs who have been hiding their badges, whereas honest ones who haven’t, and who are actually decent instructors, may well have lower recorded pass rates.

Then there’s the issue of “intensive courses”. These are big money-spinners, and their aim is to get someone to pass the test in as short a time as possible, usually for a premium price. For most drivers, there is no way they can learn to drive properly in a very short period of time – all they can do is learn to pass the test. Most of them will not be safe drivers if they pass. And yet intensives given to the right sort of person can have a higher rate of success than normal lessons given to typical learner. If you measure success in terms of “pass rate”.

It’s somewhat ironic, therefore, that DVSA’s clever plan to steer learners away from “sub-standard” instructors is likely to steer them straight towards them instead, and result in less-able drivers out there on the roads. Such irony is lost on DVSA, and you start having nightmares when you think of the likely effect on someone’s career if DVSA publishes erroneous figures. Getting hold of your own pass rate as held by DVSA is a task requiring the same sort of effort that’d be needed to, say, climb Everest wearing just your underpants. If you found an error in the data, getting it corrected would be like that again, but with the added problem of frostbite on your dangly bits, since DVSA typically takes 10 days to respond to any email – if they respond at all.

Most ADIs keep a log of their own pass rates. I can absolutely guarantee that DVSA will have more than a few “official” rates which are grossly different. By the time they fixed them – if they ever did, since they’d need proof first – false numbers could easily have damaged someone’s reputation and business irretrievably.

My favourite pupil is one who learns quickly and who is confident and capable. My least favourite is one who is nervous, spatially challenged, and who has the attention span of a goldfish. I will teach them all, but that is definitely not true of other instructors out there. Difficult pupils will be dropped, and I often pick up those who tell me their previous instructor stopped answering their calls and texts, or couldn’t fit them into his diary. Others jump ship themselves, saying that they didn’t feel as if they were getting anywhere. This has a double-whammy effect on people like me – firstly, the number of “difficult” pupils on the market is disproportionately high, and that increases the chances of test failures for natural reasons; secondly, the other instructor has cherry-picked the more able pupils, meaning there is a higher chance of test success for him.

One look at some of the people on our roads and the reason that the pass rate isn’t 100% becomes clear. Many drivers don’t know what day of the week it is, and just getting the car moving is like advanced calculus to them. They don’t understand road signs (but they passed their theory test), they don’t understand roundabouts (but they passed their practical test), and they shit themselves every time they get behind the wheel. No matter how many times they have driven the identical school run or Tesco shop, the next time is like their first time. They make the same mistakes at the same junctions every time they encounter them, and they will happily approach a four-lane roundabout in the left lane when wanting to turn right every single time they go to work. They never learn, because they aren’t aware that they’re wrong. It is nigh on impossible for them to ever learn, because it’s just the way they are. They quite possibly see nothing wrong with doing it their way, because they feel safer in the left-hand lane and that is justification enough for the ensuing chaos as they signal to move across three other lanes at the last moment. Every. Bloody. Morning. They come to a standstill when negotiating speed bumps, signal when they shouldn’t, and don’t signal when they should. They stop for random reasons. They can’t park properly, and they don’t understand road markings, so yellow lines and school gates are fair game. They drive at a steady 40-50mph no matter what the speed limit is at the time, and they can be seen leaning forward, noses pressed to the windscreen, staring straight ahead, and hanging on to the steering wheel for dear life. If they’re female, they seem to attach more importance to flicking cigarette ash out of a tiny crack in the window than they do to driving in a straight line, and their rear view mirror is frequently angled down so that they can see themselves (you can tell when you can see their neck and chest instead of their eyes). When they stop at traffic lights the first thing they do is reach up and tousle their hair or flip the sun visor down to rub their faces using the vanity mirror. These types of people represent a significant proportion of all drivers on the roads today, and you have to wonder how the bloody hell they ever passed their tests.

DVSA needs to try to understand why the natural pass rate is “only” around 50%, and to stop keep meddling to try and increase it.

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WannaCry RansomwareEveryone must have heard about the problems this week with an unprecedented attack on Windows computer systems around the world. I understand that there are already reports of further cases as we head into the new week.

I’m not going to do an in-depth report, since you can find them all over the internet, and they’re written by people  much more knowledgeable on the subject than me. However, the one thing you MUST do is install any updates or patches as soon as possible.

Windows 10, Windows 8.1, Windows 7, and Windows Vista systems should already have been patched (back in March). If you haven’t done the patch, do it soon. Microsoft no longer officially supports Windows 8 or Windows XP (except by custom arrangements), though the NHS still uses it from what I have read. However, they have released an emergency patch for both Windows 8 and Windows XP that regular users can apply.

Just do it.

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Urban foxTheresa May originally backed remaining in the EU. Now, she is the über-mouthpiece for Brexit. This blatant about-turn alone should tell you all you ever need to know about both her and the Tories.

The Tories are – and always have been – the party for the elite. They have never represented the working class. However, Brexit has given a lot of working-class people all manner of delusions, and May’s master stroke has been to simply change her outward-looking spots to appeal to these idiots.

So anyway, in related news, I see that May will allow a free vote among her party on the repeal of the Hunting Act – an Act which banned hunting with dogs.

I’m not going to go into the issue of fox hunting in any detail. All I will say is that anyone who hunts and kills foxes or any other mammal for sport using dogs is scum. Theresa May is quoted:

As it happens, personally, I’ve always been in favour of fox hunting…

As I say. Scum. Not content with pushing us back to the 70s, May wants to make it the 1870s.

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Seized school car (West Midlands Police)Here’s a demonstration of how you have to be careful when you choose an instructor. The BBC reports that a learner in Birmingham was on-course to pass her driving test (no faults had been recorded) when the police pulled the car over because it had no insurance and no MOT. It happened in Tile Cross on Saturday (6 May).

The instructor, a 46-year old woman, and the pupil were taken back to the test centre where the police questioned the instructor. They seized her Green Badge and reported her to DVSA.

Evidence of damage to rear bumperLooking at the photos, there is evidence that the car had been rear-ended at some point in its recent past.

I’m not going to speculate (I’m sure some people will do that on the forums), but I bet the pupil isn’t happy. Having a clean sheet up to the point the test was terminated is no guarantee of having the same next time around.

And as for the instructor, it’s a perfect display of how to throw a career away. In monetary terms alone it would have been cheaper to have MOTd and insured the car rather than pay the inevitable fine this is going to result in. Factor in lost Green Badge, lost income, and increased insurance premiums – and probably extra travel costs as a result of a likely ban – and the full cost is almost incalculable.

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Bill and Ben - Flower Pot MenThis came in via the Google newsfeeds. It seems that Bill Plant driving school went into administration on 27 April 2017. It has since been bought out by Ecodot, which is:

…a specialist in car vehicle preparation and dual control vehicle hire. Our main services are, Dual control vehicle hire, Alloy refurbishment, Porfessional (sic) Valeting services and Body Repairs

I would have used an image above which related directly to Bill Plant, but from past experience I know that they’re a bunch of prima donnas who threaten court action unless you’re saying anything good about them. Of course, such behaviour makes it even more difficult to say anything good about them.

The reason for the titsup is given as being due to:

…exceptional costs associated with a change in operating model.

Or, in other words, they were a bunch of incompetent prima donnas. Most of the other belly-ups in the driver training industry went bust during the economic downturn during the last decade and the early part of this one. Bill Plant has managed it during a period of economic growth, and that doesn’t bode well for their future.

This industry is not high-margin. Driving lessons can only cost so much before learners won’t pay for them, and at the moment almost everyone is charging the same (in the region of £25 an hour, give or take a few quid). Similarly, instructors who work on a franchise will only pay so much before they walk away, too. The amount they pay for the franchise lines the pockets of the franchiser, who is at the top of the pile, and that franchiser will not be happy unless he or she is pocketing enough to keep a new X5 on the driveway. A kind of status quo is established, whereby the only loser is the instructor – lesson prices can’t go up by much, and the franchiser will still want to increase profits year on year, so the franchise fee goes up. It’s a simple Law of Nature.

It makes you wonder what the numpties did to their “operating model” to screw things so badly. I wonder if it had anything to do with introducing BMW X1s as tuition cars – the prices of which range from £23,000 to £35,000, which is at least double (and up to five times) the price new of most instructors’ tuition vehicles? If it did, I can’t see Ecodot – which is apparently now trading as Bill Plant Driving School Ltd – keeping them. Someone somewhere in the chain has to pay for the overheads.

As I say, this industry is not high-margin, and anyone who buys a top marque as an overhead and then delivers lessons costing the same as they would in a vehicle costing a quarter of that is not going to stay in business long without someone on the outside pumping them money intravenously. Having hubby (or wifey) supply the financial drip feed to their other half is one thing, but for a limited company it’s a different matter altogether.

Ecodot isn’t big enough to pump money in indefinitely, and I can see big changes coming.

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A meteorThe Mirror has some handy advice for people who might want to watch the Lyrid meteor shower this weekend.

Apparently, you need to look up at the sky to see if it’s clear, because if it’s not you won’t see anything. Having established the clarity of the sky, you then need to keep looking up because that’s where the meteors will be.

I’m glad they told me that. I’d never have figured it out by myself.

Somewhat more relevant, other than the fact that it is the “second brightest star in the sky”, is that Vega is in the North East (the two stars on the handle side of the pan of The Plough point roughly towards it). The Mirror doesn’t mention that – which is odd, since most of its readers would probably need help finding the sky, let alone a specific star given only by name.

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