Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

MeowTalk from AkvelonMankind has this never-ending belief that animals have their own languages. There’s maybe a possibility with apes and monkeys, but when you start moving to different branches of the evolutionary tree, I think you’re stretching it a bit.

The latest story is to do with a cat translator app – called MeowTalk – which aims to translate your cat’s meows into meanings.

The article on the BBC website says:

Research suggests that, unlike their human servants, cats do not share a language.

Each cat’s miaow is unique and tailored to its owner, with some more vocal than others.

Apparently, this isn’t seen as any sort of problem to the engineers who developed the app. But let’s be honest. It is. A big problem.

We had a cat once where visual clues were far more important in knowing what she felt. If she hissed and drew up to 20mls of blood from you, she was happy – but now fed up with being stroked (she could become fed up anywhere from 5 seconds to 20 minutes after commencement of stroking, but there was no obvious way of knowing which one it was going to be on any given occasion). If she hissed and drew 40-50mls of blood, it meant that she didn’t want to take the tablet you were trying to give her, but which she’d swallowed voluntarily when the vet had demonstrated how to do it only yesterday. If she hissed and drew more than 50mls of blood, she didn’t want to be flea-treated. Sometimes, as you walked past her on a chair, and if she was in a playful mood, she’d lunge at your leg and draw varying amounts of blood depending on whether she hit a vein or an artery without making any sound at all.

I don’t think they have an app for that, though if they did let me just say that ‘PsychoMeow’ is copyrighted.

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I just had to get me one of these!

I’ve been fascinated by drones for years, and always had plans to get one. They’re a tad expensive, I admit, but I saw that DJI were just about to release the Mini 2, and I thought it would be an ideal opportunity to get in on the ground floor. So I ordered the Fly More Combo pack through Amazon, and it came next day.

The Mini 2 weighs just under 250g. When you fold out the four propeller arms and remove the gimbal (camera) cover, you’re ready to take off. Well, you are once you’ve set everything else up – which isn’t difficult at all.

The kit comes with a remote control unit, and you need a smartphone to use it. You have to download the DJI Fly app and run through the setup process, which only takes a few minutes, but then you’re good to go.

I wanted to be within the Law, so I went to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) website and passed the necessary test to become an approved drone pilot (it’s free). That gave me my pilot/flyer number, which I’ve stuck on the side of my drone. It’s valid for three years. Technically, I didn’t need to do this for the Mini 2 as it weighs less than 250g – but only just, so I thought I may as well in case I upgrade at any point (in any case, the sticker I put on it with my flyer ID has probably taken it to 250-251g).  It only took about 15 minutes of revision to pick up some of the numbers about how close to people and buildings you should be, and that was that.

The Mini 2 records at up to 4K video, so it is broadcast quality. You can alter the video quality down to HD, and change the frame rate, but 4K can record at up to 30fps. In HD, it goes up to 60fps. It doesn’t record automatically the moment you turn it on, and you select the function through the app as you’re controlling the drone. This is a sample of what I recorded recently, showing the three levels of zoom available at 4K.

And this is an example of a slow pan at around 80m altitude.

Incidentally, I was terrified of how well I’d be able to control it, so I made sure I was in a big field with nothing I might hit anywhere near me.

The Fly Combo kit comes with three batteries, and each will give about 30 minutes of flying time. You also get a spare set of propellers (4 x 2) and screwdriver to replace them with. A spare set of propellers (if you needed one) currently costs £11 from DJI, so no big problem. The thing is, they are very fragile, and if you were to let them hit anything then they could easily shatter. I think they’re made from carbon fibre, but they are very light.

Control is smooth and easy. You’re not going to fly into things unless you’re a total klutz. You can buy propeller protectors if you’re worried, anyway. When hovering, it is rock-steady up to Beaufort Scale 5 (fresh breeze). You can also get a 1-2 year accidental damage warranty, which is offered when you sign up to the app during registration – and I recommend doing it, just in case. It isn’t expensive.

The Mini 2 has a range of 4km (4,000m), but you should never let a drone out of your sight, and in the UK you’re limited to 120m (400 feet) altitude and how close you can get to people.

If you’re buying someone a Christmas present – and if you’re going to splurge, as opposed to buying them socks or deodorant – this is the way to go! It is brilliant fun, with the bonus of superb quality video.

As I say, these samples were taken in a field not too close to buildings when I was out testing it just after I got it. It’s a great experience flying it around, seeing it ascend and descend, and race around a large open space. But it is also good for stable stuff – checking the pointing on chimney stacks, for example. Once we’re out of COVID, I’ve got lots of plans for where I want to fly it.

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I should point out that DJI drones are probably the best you can get (certainly one of the best), but there is a plethora of cheaper drones that are ideal for kids or those on a smaller budget. This is just a sample.

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USA Election graphicAt last, Joe Biden has made it to the White House. It’s still disturbing that it was so close, but it’s the result America – and the civilised world – needed.

The Americans are lucky. They were able to rectify the crass mistake which occurred in their country in 2016.

Here in the UK, the one we made just before Trump was elected remains.

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Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you get the Flippity Fish cat toy from JML. I just saw it advertised on TV, and I laughed out loud.

Actually, it looks like great fun, and I bet cats will love it, too.

Incidentally, it looks like JML have got into something which has been available for a while – you can buy these fish on Amazon, and some of them look very similar. There’s also a lot of other cat toys which have movement.

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Mind you, we had a cat once, called Mitzi. The vet could make her swallow a tablet voluntarily when she was on his treatment table. Whenever I tried it I needed a blood transfusion after. She’d have torn this apart in five seconds flat if it annoyed her.

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David Lewis and familyTo all those tosspots on Facebook driving instructor (and anywhere else) pages who keep saying COVID-19 is all a con and overplayed just to try and keep working, try engaging your only brain cell and wake up.

I saw this story on the news tonight. David Lewis, from Pentre, Wales, lost his wife Gladys to COVID on Thursday. Then, the following day, he lost two sons, Dean and Darren, also to COVID. Other family members have also subsequently tested positive.

In future, and once we’re through all this, if anyone ever tells me they were part of this group of deniers and other assorted halfwits, I swear I’m going to punch them square in the face wherever they are.

You can donate to the GofundMe page here. It’s to help this poor bloke who now has three funerals to pay for, thanks to COVID-19

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COVID virus graphicOriginally published 22 October, Last updated 5 November 2020

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the SEISS has been extended to April 2021. It will be paid in two instalments – the first, covering November-January, and the second covering February-April. It was initially targeted at people who were working fewer hours than they normally would be as a result of the ongoing situation, and who were eligible for SEISS in the first place (i.e. received the first two grants), but with the latest development of a new lockdown with all lessons and tests being stopped then it is back to where it was earlier this year.

As I understand it, those who couldn’t claim previously still won’t be able to. I do feel for them.

The pandemic is a developing situation, but it would appear that many instructors’ minds don’t work in the same way, and remain fixed in the past – and they were usually wrong even then.

When the SEISS extension was first announced it was during different restrictions, and was going to be 20% of earnings. This compared with 80% of earnings for the first grant, and 70% for the second earlier this year. However, it was still better than nothing. Then things changed, restrictions were increased, and the amount of the extension payment was raised to 40% of earnings. This was even better than still better than nothing.

On 2 November, this was changed to 80% for the duration of the lockdown, and 40% thereafter. However, it has now changed yet again, and will now be paid at 80% for the entire period November-January. The amount of the February-April grant has not yet been set.

You would have thought that instructors would have worked out by now that the situation can change overnight. But they don’t, and treat every change as somehow being carved in stone. No one knows what the next few months will bring, but at least those of us eligible for the grant will be covered.

Claims will open from 30 November 2020, and HMRC will notify people accordingly.

But if they’re paying it in instalments, how do they know we won’t still be locked down?

Oh, Christ! That was my response to this question before the latest change. Look, it doesn’t matter now, because it has already changed to 80% across the whole of November-January. You won’t have to worry about doing your sums anymore trying to work out the (absolutely meaningless) average overall figure. It’s 80%, period.

You’ve still got to pay tax on it

Yes. Yes, yes, yes. You are being given a percentage of your pre-tax earnings without actually having to earn it, so you’ve got to pay tax on it. Anyone who expects otherwise shouldn’t be running a business.

 

Reminder: Use the proper GOV.UK link to find out the latest situation with the grant. Don’t just guess.

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US Election graphicI’m watching the drawn out process that constitutes ‘democracy’ in America. I shouldn’t complain – ours has its own quirks.

But looking at a BBC page where they ask a panel of typical US voters how they feel waking up this morning with the count ongoing, I just thought I’d add my own view.

The overriding question I have is this: why in God’s name is it so f***ing close?

Are there really that many people in the USA who want Trump in again? I mean, it was a mind-bogglingly catastrophic result that got him in back in 2016. But again? What kind of people actually want him as President after the last four years?

People are nuts.

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I rarely book theory tests for my pupils. However, one of my current lot had a practical test booked at the end of March and it was cancelled. We all know how the year panned out after that, and his theory certificate subsequently expired in June.

He doesn’t have internet access at home, and to cut a long story short as to why he hadn’t booked it himself, two weeks ago I booked his new theory test for him. The original date was 8 November – and you can probably see where this is heading.

Anyway, I got an email from Pearson VUE today, which says:

The Government has announced that England will be put under national restrictions from Thursday 5 November until Wednesday 2 December to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

Due to this, your theory test cannot go ahead.

You now need to reschedule your theory test at:

[link to booking]

When you sign in, you’ll see that there is a date and time for your test. This is not the actual date of your new test, this is just a placeholder, and you must change this to be able to take your theory test. You will need your driving licence number to do this.

Yours sincerely,
Chief Executive

When you click the link you have to log in with the candidate name, licence number, and date of birth,

As the email says, you will see a date given – it is not valid, so do not just leave it thinking you have a new date and time. You don’t. What you have to do is change the test centre, because that isn’t valid either. If you don’t, it will look like there are no available dates, but once you select the appropriate test centre available times and dates appear.

When I logged in, the dummy date given was 11 December and the test centre was identified as ‘NOTTINGHAM GBR’ with no actual address. The calendar widget showed no available test slots for the entire three month window. I selected the appropriate Nottingham test centre, and the address information was then given and available dates/times appeared on the calendar widget. The earliest was 23 December – there were available slots on only three days in December, then it was January.

Why is there no test centre mentioned on the rearranged date?

Groan! Something else to kick up a stink about. Look, the email tells you the date is a ‘placeholder’. If you log in and it says some time in December, it doesn’t mean you have a test in December – it states that clearly. What you have to do is select the appropriate test centre, then choose from whatever dates are available. And what dates are available will depend on who got there before you.

And you still need to be ready to go through all this again if the lockdown gets extended. If it does, it isn’t DVSA’s or Pearson VUE’s fault, anymore than having to cancel this time, or all the times before, have been. It is what it is.

No dates are available when I log in

Change the test centre. Then you should have dates to choose from.

The available dates are in January

Then book one and stop moaning. It is what it is, and complaining isn’t going to claw back lost time.

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DVSA LogoAs if it wasn’t already obvious – and it wasn’t to many ADIs out there – DVSA has issued a statement that theory tests are cancelled between 5 November and 2 December. They’ve clarified that with:

These measures mean all theory tests in England will be suspended from 5 November and restart on Wednesday 2 December.

An update on 13 November indicates that these dates are inclusive now, so tests restart on 3rd.

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DVSA LogoAn email alert from DVSA following the announcement of the 2nd lockdown.

Update on lockdown measures in England

Following the announcement on Saturday 31 October 2020 around further lockdown measures being introduced in England, we are working closely with the Government to agree the impact these will have on DVSA services.

All driver and rider training and tests will be suspended in England from 5 November until 2 December 2020. We will be contacting affected test candidates soon.

We’ll keep you updated on the situation and provide further guidance when we’re able too.

It’s funny, but given the fact we’re going into lockdown again, and DVSA has cancelled all tests again, and that infection rates and deaths are rising again (see how many ‘agains’ I used there?), the burning issue out there in the jungle amounts to:

It doesn’t say we can’t teach though

We need a vaccine before these idiots kill us all. Read the email, morons. It says ‘all driver and rider training and tests’. See that word ‘training’?

I now await the ‘well, it isn’t very clear is it?’ comments, followed by the ‘they can’t tell us what to do’ indignation once it finally sinks in.

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