A Driving Instructor's Blog

General

This story on the BBC website is hilarious. Apparently, they’ve held a party to celebrate the “reopening” of Chilwell Road, which was closed in March 2013 for construction of the tram line.Tram works still incomplete in spite of party

It was due to reopen in January 2014, but repeated delays and incompetence meant that this was put back again and again. The funny part is that – in spite of the party – tram works are still not complete there. The road is not scheduled to open properly until the end of November, and given the track record here that might easily go further back still.

The contractor, Taylor Woodrow Alstom, is quoted:

We understand the works have caused significant disruption, and apologise for any inconvenience,

However, most of the construction in Chilwell Road will soon be complete and we would like to assure local residents and businesses that every effort is being made to ensure that the remaining works do not take any longer than necessary.

What has happened to our society when sheer incompetence can be glossed over like this? The original deadline has been missed by almost a full year. They missed it by 210% of the original target – it should have taken nine months, but it has taken eleven months longer than that. It is at nineteen months and counting!

It is also disappointing to see the local shop owners supporting the “party”, which seems to be a council publicity stunt. Have they so soon forgotten how much money the council has cost them with this idiotic waste of space of a tram system?

Share

I’ve noticed a few sources in the last few days rattling on about how the maximum speed limit for HGVs is to be increased. Sources (some of which are forums) seem to have some of the details wrapped around their necks.HGV crash

A previous consultation has recommended that the speed for HGVs on single-carriageways be increased from 40mph to 50mph. This will go before Parliament during the summer, as it will require changes to the Law. Personally, I am not convinced it is a good idea, and the best argument Baroness Kramer seems to be able to come up with is:

The current speed limit just does not work – it is broken by about three quarters of HGV drivers at any particular time when they are not constrained by other traffic or the road layout. It is implausible that it could readily be made to work without a disproportionate effort.

I wonder if she thinks they’ll stick to 50mph any better than they do 40mph? And I wonder if she has seriously considered – or is capable of understanding – the additional risks associated with drivers attempting to control a vehicle weighing up to nearly 40 tonnes on narrow, twisting roads, or the effects of an accident involving one which is therefore moving 25% or more faster than it would have been legally (or illegally) moving previously? I hardly think that criminal behaviour should be decriminalised just because it means you don’t have to police it.

I mean, the council round my way is cutting limits to 20mph all over the place. But hardly anyone does 20mph (I do – I have to), so shouldn’t these limits be increased, too?

Anyway, if all that wasn’t bad enough, they’re now consulting on whether to increase the HGV speed limit on dual-carriageways from 50mph to 60mph. I’m counting the minutes before some prat argues that its a good idea because “dual-carriageways are the same as motorways”. No, they’re not. Dual-carriageways have lots of stopping points – traffic lights, roundabouts, and so on – and motorways don’t.

I guess the outcome is foregone conclusion – these “consultations” are just a small hoop that has to be jumped through before this crap government does whatever the hell it wants and then tells us it’s best for us.

Increasing speed limits for HGVs won’t get them from A to B any quicker than before. What it will do is get them from one set of lights, one roundabout, or one queue of traffic to another faster, on the assumption that they’ll be able to stop when they get there. And as we all know, HGVs don’t like slowing down unless they have to (they rarely let people merge if it means easing off the gas).

I’ve got an idea for a new videogame nasty, where cyclists with attitude take on HGV drivers with extra momentum.

Share

I’ve used Mazuma Mobile several times now. They never fail to impress – and this time is no exception.Mazuma Mobile

I have upgraded my HTC One to the latest HTC One M8 model, and once I was running on the new phone I hopped on over to Mazuma and ordered a return pack last Wednesday night. It arrived Friday morning, and I packed up the phone and sent it by Special Delivery on Saturday morning.

Today (Monday), I got an email from Mazuma timed at 08.30 telling me they’d received it and it was going to be checked and processed. Another email timed at 17.40 told me the phone had been accepted and payment would be made shortly. A third email at 18.20 told me payment had been made and that it would appear in my account before midnight. It was actually in there as soon as I read the email (at about 21.30 when I got in)!

If you have a phone to sell, you’d be mad not to use Mazuma. They pay the full price every time (in my experience – and the HTC One is quite high-value), unlike some other companies who’ve come in for some stick over that, with their reneging on original offers over minor (and debatable) cosmetic issues. Mazuma doesn’t do that.

Share

I could have killed one of my pupils yesterday. He booked a last minute lesson in the only space available in my diary – at 9pm on Sunday evening. I could have said no, but he has his test coming up. But I did lay it on thick about how I was missing the World Cup final because of him.German keyboard

I got home in time for extra time, and saw Mario Götze’s brilliant goal for Germany. I’m glad Germany won – they were the best team in the tournament, and any other result would have just been unfair. But something about the BBC’s coverage rankles me.

Götze’s name is spelt with an ‘o’ with an umlaut (or diaeresis in linguistic jargon). Thomas Müller’s name also has an umlaut, as does Mesut Özil’s, André Schürrle’s, Benedikt Höwedes’s, and manager Jogi Löws’s. The, for good measure, you have Kevin Großkreutz. And yet the BBC incorrectly reports these names as Gotze, Muller, Ozil, Schurrle, Howedes, and Lows (and misses out other diacritics). The German newspaper, Die Welt, obviously uses the proper spellings.

I’ve always been better at speaking German than any other language – I can’t actually speak fluently, but I can get by whenever I go to a German-speaking country (you know, order food and beer, get a taxi to take me where they serve food and beer. That sort of thing). But it was bad enough that they tried to replace umlauts with letters at one time. I used to do business with a company called Bausch and Ströbel, and in the English-speaking world they printed their name a “Stroebel”, because in the English-speaking world people are either too stupid or too arrogant to understand the umlaut.

In a similar vein, I’ve seen Löws written as Loews, and Götze written as Goetze. And it’s bloody wrong.

I find that the same thing happens with pupils who have non-British origins. Chinese pupils especially seem to often adopt English names instead of their Chinese ones to make it easier for the Brits. I’ve got a clutch of learners at the moment from India, Latvia, Lithuania, Senegal, and so on, and I make a point of learning their names and finding out how to pronounce and spell them correctly. I will go so far as to find out if they have a shorter nickname that they use themselves sometimes, but I insist on using their correct names if they are happy with that.

So I’d expect the BBC to at least spell the names of German footballers correctly instead of just missing out critical symbols which govern the pronunciation.

It was still a great goal, though.

Share

I saw a handful of palaeontology stories on the BBC website this week that made me smile. The first one informed us that Archeopteryx “wore feather trousers for display”.Archaeopteryx

I love the way that they can confidently deduce the entire colour scheme on the right from the fossil on the left. And I’m also amazed that anyone could make a living out of mocking up these creatures (if you look closely in the link, the feathered one on the right is a collection of bits of modern birds glued on to a model).

The second story concerned the “largest flying bird” ever.The largest flying bird ever

This time, we get an artist’s impression rather than an actual model – look closely at the beak region and marvel at what appears to be an Albatross with teeth added.

The third story – and this link is not on the BBC, though that’s where I first saw it – provides a video showing how a 440 million year old spider would have walked.

The amusing thing about this is that the video gives the impression of a creature the size of a small dog, when in actual fact the spider in question was only a few millimetres long. I can’t imagine an arachnid that small moving in a similar manner to an elephant!

Anyway, I’ve come to the conclusion that the steps involved in creating a mock-up of anything that’s extinct are as follows:

  • select a modern animal to compare against
  • change the environmental context as necessary
  • pick the most bizarre colour palette you can find in Photoshop
  • add some teeth

You will note how I have demonstrated this using a cuddly Toucan. In its normal setting, it looks just like a Toucan should.A Toucan

However, by applying the above steps, you can see how a prehistoric version – toucanosaurus – would have looked if it had walked into New York (it couldn’t have flown, as it would obviously have been flightless back then). This is a definite likeness of such a prehistoric Toucan if one ever existed, by the way.Toucanosaurus

I mean, who can prove otherwise?

Share

This story on the BBC website comes at the same time I have noticed a “for sale” sign covering 10 acres of farmland just to the south of Ruddington on the A60. Now, farmland being up for sale when it is advertised as “arable land” isn’t too worrying. But when the sign has got names like FHP Living on it, and no mention of arable land, you have to start wondering what the hell they are going to build on it.Ruddington green belt and farmland

Actually, with a name like FHP Living involved you don’t have to think too hard – it’s only a matter of time before a sign appears which declares “Coming Soon – A development of affordable 3- and 4-bedroom homes”. That will then be followed by months of road works on the A60 as the services are installed in the most incompetent and lazy way possible, and then a dense cluster of ugly shoeboxes will appear and the countryside will have taken another kicking from Nottingham City Council.

I’m fairly certain that when this land was first put up for sale over a year ago it was advertised as farmland – but that is conspicuously absent from the hoardings now. My best estimate of the area involved is shown in red on the aerial photo above. You have Ruddington to the north, and Bradmore to the south of it. Everywhere else is fields and woodlands.

You see, Nottingham – certainly on the south side – ends very abruptly. For example, as you leave Clifton and head towards Gotham you immediately hit undisturbed countryside and farmland. Except Nottingham City Council has decided that it is going to build on this. This article in the Nottingham Post has a very telling comment:

Michael Sheppard, chairman of Gotham Parish Council, said: …“You just can’t pin anyone down on it and I think the only reason they are even having this consultation is because it is a legal requirement.”

Yep. That would be Nottingham City Council down to a tee. They’re going to screw up that land no matter what, and they will use every dirty trick they can to avoid anyone spoiling it for them.Fairham Pastures greenbelt and farmland

They’ve already screwed up land near the proposed site for these new homes with their other pet project – The Tram. The same article also quotes a local farmer:

I am not looking at it just from my point of view but for the country. They may want houses but in 20 or 30 years time, those people will need feeding too.

On this land alone, there is the potential for growing 1,000 tons of grain. They will ruin this and are doing so across the country with little land grabs here and there.

Piece by piece we are losing essential farmland and what are people going to eat in 20 years time?

He’s dead right. Mind you, in many cases it is the farmers who are to blame – once the £ signs start rolling in front of their faces, they quickly realise they can make more money in 5 minutes selling off 10 acres of land for building houses on than they ever could growing crops.

The trouble is, building on greenbelt is the easy option. All it needs is one greedy farmer close to retirement age, and one incompetent council which is staffed by people who couldn’t get a real job so ended up in local government, and all the problems are solved,Sharphill Woods, West Bridgford

Nottingham has dozens of places which are an eyesore, and which should be bulldozed – yet they have stood empty for decades. Yet documents like this show clearly that Nottingham City Council is selling them off instead of using them to build their bloody housing developments. Then, to make matters worse, you have Rushcliffe Borough Council trying to move the barriers which define greenbelt land so that it can build on the Sharphill Woods nature reserve.Typical Nottingham wasteland (The Island, near the city centre)

I could be wrong about that Ruddington site – but I bet I’m not. It’s no wonder we’re going to end up short of home-grown food, though, with Nottingham City Council involved.

Share

People may not have noticed, but I am not a tram person. This is especially true when I am anywhere near the utter chaos that is the result of the current tram extension work. Clifton is a nightmare no matter where you go. But it is made worse by people like this:Idiot pared at traffic lights in Clifton - reg. no. SJI 5262

This is Rivergreen in Clifton, where it joins Southchurch Drive near to the swimming baths, The tram is going down Southchurch, and at the moment it is down to a single lane controlled by three-way lights. Buses turn into Rivergreen, which is a narrow road made worse by parking at the best of times. However, they have had problems with morons like this (registration number SJI 5262) parking outside the Methodist Church. Recently there have been “no parking” cones put there, but this being Clifton someone has stolen them (they might even be in the boot of this prat’s car).

I came down here this morning with a pupil. What you can’t see is that there are two more cars parked just behind us – spaced apart slightly. The sign on the left says “wait here”, and the lights have a sensor on the top to detect when traffic approaches. There was no way we could get to the stop line without blocking the road, and even where I stopped the pupil we were still actually in the way, especially if a bus had turned in. Shortly after this, several cars did turn in, and I had to edge us forward to give them space. This imbecile was about two car lengths from the stop line.

I often wonder why it is that people with private plates behave like the biggest tossers. This particular one could have parked a few metres down the road, but that would have been too simple. It was probably some old fart who thought they had some sort of special rights. Anyone with any sense – and believe me, there are quite a few people who park here who obviously have no sense at all – would have deliberately kept away from the lights.

As it is, you can’t help but think that all Methodists are idiots. They certainly seem to be in Clifton.

Share

I’ve always been a fan of the Dilbert comic strip. I think it’s because Scott Adams bases every strip on his own experiences in the rat race, and supplements it with examples submitted by readers who are still suffering. In other words, it’s pretty much true to life.

I updated my book collection recently with some new Dilberts. As a result, I had a few nasty nightmares at the reminder of what I had to put up with. This one deserves some comment:Dilbert strip - technology

I have forgotten now the number of times that the idiot managers at the idiot company I worked for behaved exactly like this. Most of them had read about computers somewhere, but that was about as far as their knowledge went. In the latter days I was trying to get them to accept electronic signatures, but this was opposed by the Quality Control department (who effectively bottlenecked everything we did) in favour of antiquated pen and paper.

Most of the senior QC people couldn’t use email properly, and they therefore refused to answer any question via that method. Their messages – if you ever got one – were restricted to short one liners, or entire cut-and-pasted documents from their secretaries. The other problem was that these people lived for meetings and you could rarely catch any of them in their offices. Getting quick answers was impossible, and scheduling a meeting with them was equally frustrating since you were after an answer today – often, for a job that was sitting half-finished in the factory – but couldn’t get on their calendars for a week or more. All the QC people authorised to sign off paperwork only ever attended meetings – they had no other obvious function, and it was often years since they had held a test tube or carried out any sort of chemical analysis. Then, when you finally did get hold of someone (and I have one particular guy in mind here), instead of an answer he would give you “something to think about”, which was bloody useless.

In fact, this guy was virtually (but not quite) the only approved QC signatory for all of the production paperwork we had to write, primarily as a result of the general ignorance of the rest of them outside their rigid empires. You’d write a production process document for a new job, run it past everyone and his dog, get them all to sign it (a total of at least six signatures were required, sometimes including several from the customer), then submit it to this guy in QC. It would inevitably come back with a load of major “think about this” comments scribbled all over it. He did this even on documents which were merely copies of ones he’d approved previously (i.e. when we were doing a repeat job). Customers were doing their nuts over it, never mind about me.

These QC people were the same ones who had argued that all pocket calculators had to be properly validated – every single one of the thousands that were in use, and the tens of thousands that would have been used in the next few years. It would have required validation protocols in huge numbers. It never happened – and there was no way it ever would have. But it provided the opportunity for hundreds of meetings on the subject.

It was these technophobes in QC who called the shots over electronic signatures. The most technophobic were also the most senior, and arguing with them was heresy in itself. Let’s just say that I was definitely a heretic. The irony is that you can be certain that they are now accepting electronic signatures. The company that took them over will almost certainly have insisted on it.

Share

In-car cameras are in the news at the moment. Personally, I have been experimenting with them since 2009. My favoured device at the time was not designed as an in-car camera, but it worked perfectly for what I wanted to do back then. My biggest gripe with the purpose-designed cameras in the intervening period has been that the field of vision is too wide and everything is distorted. I wanted HD-quality, but that’s no good if everything looks like it’s wrapped around a fishbowl.

Things have come a long way in five years, though. At the moment I have my eyes on the Hero Go Pro. It is a professional-quality HD camera. Here’s a sample of the kind of footage it captures:The only drawback is the lack of GPS logging. Maybe that will come on a future model.

Anyway, this isn’t a run-of-the-mill dashcam. It’s intended for people who get out and about – much like the Contour unit I was using previously. It isn’t cheap, and one of the accessories – which is also not cheap – is a suction cup mount which allows you to mount the camera on boats, cars, and so on. Most of the reviews for the mount are positive, but one of them isn’t. Look at this:

A first trial of my brand new GoPro hero 3 cam ended in a huge disappointment. I used the suction cup as specified in the description. During a flight it was mounted on the wingtip of a single engined aircraft which is a flat and smooth surface. I cleaned and dried the spot where I mounted the suction cup carefully before placing it, just to make sure that the suction cup was fastened correctly as recommended. After a 20 minutes flight with a speed of 110 Mph I looked on my IPhone to set the camera in the photo mode instead of the video mode. I was very enthusiast of what I saw at the display of my IPhone. Suddenly the contact with the camera was lost and I looked at the wing and saw that I lost my camera………unfortunately above the water. :-( I wonder if GoPro has a solution for this as the suction cup does not meet the specification as mentioned and I was not able to see one single picture or video of my new cam.

I couldn’t stop laughing when I read it. This character had spent several hundred quid on a professional quality video camera and suction mount, and then gone and stuck it on the end of the wing of an aeroplane! Over water!

It’s a bit like buying a Ferrari and then driving it on a stock car track. Or a white silk shirt, then creosoting the fence while you’re wearing it.

Share

This story appeared in the Mail Online a few days ago. Someone has set up a left-hand driving school on the strength of the “revelation” that…

…more than a quarter of holidaymakers are afraid to drive abroad.

Unless their entire client base consists of authentic Chelsea tractor drivers, I’ll give it 6 months before it goes under (although it is a free course which is being funded from somewhere, so it might survive just a little longer). The article also identifies the “Top 5 Fears When Driving Abroad”:

  1. Not recognising road signs
  2. Getting lost
  3. Going around roundabouts
  4. Trying to navigate
  5. Driving on the other side of road

Errm, well actually, with the possible exception of #5 (and not even then in some cases), that’s exactly the same list most would give if asked about driving on British roads. So it’s hardly the basis for a business plan. If people are too stupid to look up the necessary details about road signs and procedures for the country they intend to visit before they go, it’s going to take a little more than a free course to sort them out.

Of course, it helps if you realise that the company behind it – SkyScanner – describes itself as follows in its “About us” section:

…a leading global travel search site, providing instant online comparisons for millions of flights, as well as car hire and hotels.

It’s not quite as altruistic as it first appears, is it? It’s not even a “school” – it’s a course (with an unspecified number of classes), which is apparently being delivered by driving instructors who have “teamed up with” (i.e. they must be getting paid) SkyScanner to deliver the “free” course. That’s a convoluted way of saying that it is a novel advertising exercise. I mean, there’s no problem with it, but you shouldn’t turn it into something it isn’t.

I can’t imagine there’d be much opportunity for practical sessions, either.

Share