We’re Jammin’

Traffic Jam

Image by torstensimon from Pixabay

Or not, perhaps.

I’ve just been reading an old Aircraft Annual from 1962 I picked up for a couple of quid in a charity shop a couple of years ago – I have quite a backlog of such books – and in it was an article about the latest developments in traffic monitoring from the UK’s Automobile Association (today’s AA). They were using light aircraft to fly over various main roads, the approaches to special events and so on to then help patrols and local government organise the traffic and provide warnings of delays.

Since then of course we’ve had, the world over, aerial traffic reports, most famously in US cities where the “eye in the sky” reporter is part of news programmes, often as an aside filming crimes and car chases. There are also police and highways agency cameras monitoring certain stretches of motorways, feeding reports to local and national radio stations, which became even more useful with the advent of RDS (Radio Data System) radios which could not only tell you what you were listening to but automatically re-tune to another station giving traffic reports while you were driving. This was fine if you needed it but annoying if you were part way through a favourite song or perhaps a drama like The Archers and suddenly find yourself redirected… “So what happened to Matt’s cows then, was it aliens? Well, you see.. There’s heavy tailbacks leading onto the A45…”

Now of course we’re streaming our favourite music and the often derided “snooping” of Google and Apple’s servers, beaming back our phones’ GPS and mobile signal based locations to HQ allows their Maps software to determine if the phones are on a road, moving, likely to be in a car and how many of them are within, say, twenty feet of each other. Once it sees a big group of slow moving hardware going the same way it can determine that there’s a bit of a hold up and plots it on the maps it sends back to you as a red line on the road. This seamless collection and analysis of crowdsourced data is another one of the wonders of our connected times.

Who’d have though back in 1962 that fifty years later you could have a small box in your pocket that could tell you where to go, how long it’ll take and if there’s a big queue in your way. I wonder if they could, one day, do the same for supermarkets.

The Cycle Path Test

 

Cycle Path

Image by Pam Patterson from Pixabay

Near where I live runs a path along the former trackbed of the closed railway line from Newark to Nottingham. There are many old lines like this across the country – I’ve also walked on the path at Threlkeld in the Lake District and part of the Monsal Trail in Derbyshire. They are wonderful places to visit to experience the outdoors – mostly surfaced, level and easy to walk on for everyone, many like ours here are designated cycle paths as part of the Sustrans network that since the seventies has made at least something good from the Beeching annihilation of the railway network of the sixties.

I am quite happy to use cycle paths whether they’re in the countryside or in the town, though it seems many people don’t seem to agree with cyclists using them. I have seen on so many occasions cars parked on cycle lanes and on the railway path I encounter people walking dogs or otherwise exercising who rather than returning my friendly “morning” and smile just scowl at me, I know what they’re thinking – I’m one of these annoying cyclists who rides on their footpath and integral dog toilet.

Even the ones who don’t think the place belongs solely to them seem oblivious to the fact that there might just be the odd bike rider around at some point.

One day I saw a man who had walked down one of the entrance ramps to the path, he hesitated at the edge of the path with his back to me and then just as I reached where he was he took two steps to his right, without looking behind him, straight into my way – I swerved round him while shouting “whoa”… and only narrowly missed ending up amongst the nettles.

Last Sunday I approached a group of four women taking up the whole width of the path, I rang my bell a number of times until one of them looked round and said “oh, sorry we didn’t see you there” or hear me, presumably. Then, as I passed between them she said “you’ll have to negotiate them now” – the ‘them’ in question being six big dogs, running free on the path ahead, without leads and quite a way away. As they tend to do the women called their respective pets’ names and I then suddenly had a group of dogs running in my direction and one heading straight for me, I had to stop completely, expecting it to actually collide with me. “You’d never think this was a CYCLE PATH” I muttered, audibly, as I set off again.

Ruined my Strava time on that segment too.

Further along at regular intervals were a number of small tied-up blue bags left on either side of the path, no doubt waiting for the dog-mess fairy to pick up later, as someone else will always clear things up won’t they… But that’s a whole other blog post right there.

[I’m all for recycling, hence the title’s unmistakable similarity to today’s other, related, post]

 

But Cyclists Don’t Pay Road Tax…

Bicycle

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

I enjoy driving yet I am currently on bike number five but car number four, I did, however start on bikes when I was at school – a Raleigh Striker, then an orange Grifter, then an Emmelle Alpine in white and green which I had with me until I moved to the centre of Newark, left it chained up outside and some nice person decided they’d prefer to relieve me of it and sell it for scrap for a few quid, after all why would I miss it, it’ll be insured, I could replace it, etc, the usual thieves excuses. I was gutted, angry. I replaced it for practical reasons with a folding mountain bike that I had to carry up three flights of stairs to store outside my apartment. When I moved again to where I had a nice secondary section of garden where my dad built me a bike shed to store it securely I took the opportunity for a change, to replace the folder which was too small and caused my back problems just from riding it with a suitable replacement for the Alpine.

I now have a really nice mountain bike having traded in my old one and being the right size is a pleasure to ride, I recently even realised that my new Orange bike is perhaps a subconscious homage to my earlier bike.  I’ve recaptured the enjoyment of cycling I had years ago.

Mostly.

Here are a couple of myths some people seem to believe: Cyclists don’t pay road tax, and cyclists are obliged to stop and get out of the way of cars when the car is on the cyclist’s side of the road because the car always has right of way.

I pay road tax on the car I can’t use during the week even if I wanted to because the fuel isn’t cheap and there’s nowhere to park at work, mainly because of people parking in the work car park who shouldn’t be there but assume that because it’s next to their houses without off-street parking they’re entitled to use it.

The other myth is something I encounter every day – on a street where along one side is residents’ parking that leaves the rest as a two-way single carriageway road. According to the highway code I have right of way when I’m passing the line of parked cars, especially when I’m on the correct side of the road for my direction of travel yet whenever a car comes the other way on what would be the wrong side of the road from their perspective they just come barrelling towards me and expect me to get out of the way, one idiot in a BMW was actually grinning and drove deliberately at me.

Which brings me to the other point – people seemingly finding it amusing to drive too close to cyclists and cutting us up at junctions – this happened where a car passed me and immediately swerved at speed across in front of me into a junction on my left I was approaching, just as I was thinking that was close the Transit van which was following the car did the same, I had to brake sharply, thanking Halfords that the bike had great disc brakes, I’d only had the bike four days. The thing is that it seems fashionable to hate cyclists and this fashion has become like a game to some drivers, like it’s expected to do your part in driving cyclists off the road by intimidation. As I mentioned earlier such drivers find it funny and so many drivers just seem to think that cyclists don’t belong on roads, hence the Road Tax reference.

I admit that many cyclists annoy me, the weekend tour-de-Nottinghamshire peleton wannabes riding in a three or four-wide pack on high-speed roads rather than single-file as instructed in the Highway Code for example, or the lads I saw once who ignored any traffic signals and shot across a busy four-way junction in front of two lanes of moving traffic, almost causing a pile-up. Then there are the ones who, perhaps on principle, won’t use cycle lanes where provided.

As a car driver and cyclist I see both sides and try to be considerate in both situations, for example while taking my government sanctioned daily coronavirus lockdown exercise I was aware of firstly a lorry behind me on a narrow road in the town and another time a car behind me on a country road. Both times I quickly found a safe place to pull off the road briefly and let them go past and both drivers waved thank you too.

There are some cyclists who ride stupidly, there are some motorbikers who do the same, there are some drivers who drive stupidly too. It’s not fair to tar everyone with the same brush.

Keeping Track

Parcel

Image by Harry Strauss from Pixabay

I wrote a number of posts a few years back about parcel deliveries in this country, but I’m pleased to see that now things have improved immensely.

One area that is impressive is how parcels can now be tracked more precisely than ever. I recently bought some sunglasses that fit over my normal glasses and the only ones that suited were located in the United States. I ordered them and the cost in total including shipping was just under £12, for that this item would travel part way across the US, then the Atlantic and finally up the UK to me. Monitoring the tracking the item moved around the postal network until it popped up in Illinois, finally arriving at Chicago before being loaded onto a plane for an overnight flight to London where it met our postal system.

Even more precise is the system used by Amazon for example that allows, via their phone app, notifications of how near the driver is away from you on a map, so you know that they’re five stops away, on a nearby street so you know not to go out or go in the bath, or to dash back to your house when you’ve just nipped out to the corner shop – maybe the app should have a button that says “just tell the driver to hang on two minutes…”

All this of course is made possible by GPS location tracking and handheld scanners that can communicate with the company so they know in real time where the vans are, and on what van your parcel is sitting. One strange aspect to this is another courier whose drivers are not allowed to deliver a parcel too early, though I’m sure there’s a good reason for this, something to do with them giving customers time slots for delivery. In business knowing when a parcel is going to arrive to within a specific one-hour time slot can help schedule work.

I do find myself occasionally saying, when I get a message from the same tracking system to inform me that the parcel’s been delivered, “I know, I received it, it’s in my hand.”  Still useful to know if you’re not home though.

All this tracking and technology has been helpful in these days of social distancing and contactless delivery where the courier doesn’t take a signature but uses the handset’s camera to show it where they left it on the doorstep instead, usually with your feet in the background – “we know you received the parcel, are those or are those not your socks?”

I’m rarely in a hurry for items, I remember the days of “please allow 28 days for delivery” so next day is a luxury, but it’s still interesting to see the data, to see where it’s been and I suppose it’s still exciting when it’s something nice or frivolous rather than functional to see when it’s close to being delivered.

All Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

I’ve noticed recently that the noisiest motorbikes and cars sound, as their riders or drivers accelerate them, like a baby crying for attention – -wahhhh, wahhhhh, wahhhhh, with each noise increasing as they go along, not a coincidence I think…

As I write this it’s a sunny weekend in May so inevitably all day while trying to enjoy the sunshine we’ve heard pratts revving their cars or bikes outside their houses, tuning them – so they seem to think – and idiots tearing out of town into the countryside at well over the speed limit and excessively noisily. At this time it’s all the more annoying as they’re supposed to be staying at home and pushing your right foot onto a pedal doesn’t count as daily exercise.

I don’t hate all motorbikes or sports cars, or all of those who ride and drive them, there is someone on this street who has a modern bike and you barely hear his arriving or leaving on it, he occasionally rides either a true classic bike or a modern replica and it’s the same with them, his friends are the same, the engines emit a not-unpleasant burble and they don’t set off at full revs. Yet the two younger riders round here have Japanese “sports bikes” with all the plastic cowlings and deliberately loud exhausts and they have to sit there making a racket before even going anywhere and arrive similarly loudly so everyone notices them and so everyone thinks they’re the next Valentino Rossi.

They would no doubt say that rather than sounding like they’ve got a dodgy exhaust their car sounds “mint”, “like a Frarri”, “badass” or “sick” – which it does, as in “broken”.  They think everyone will be impressed by the driver’s “mad skillz”, but most people who have to listen to it won’t be impressed, they’ll describe the driver with a word that beings with ass…

One reason they all rev their engines at home is so everyone can see that they have a powerful car or bike and how amazing they are that they can handle it. Whereas some of them even just seem to have the loud cars and bikes for the soul purpose of annoying people, wearing the fact that they’re so bad that they’re despised as a badge of honour, because the bad are glorified, for example the “bad lads” are supposedly the real men in society, so say Hollywood and the much of the media. One car near where I live had a decal glued to the tailgate that said “Hated Locally” on it. Whether the driver implied that he was hated because he’s so much faster and better than other drivers or because he was loud and annoying is irrelevant as the latter will have been true anyway.

Unplugged: How To Power a Car in 2025

action asphalt automobile automotive

Photo by Taras Makarenko on Pexels.com

Would you buy this used car: it’s in good condition, it’s reasonably priced, good so far, it only takes two hours to refill with fuel, eh, what? Oh, and you’ll need to buy a new fuel tank which costs more than the car, and if you use it regularly and keep it then you’ll need another one in a few years time and it’ll not be any cheaper than the last one because you can’t use a second hand one, they either work or don’t. Tempted? No, me neither but that’s the issue with plug-in electric cars. No matter how much the makers claim that soon they’ll be able to be charged more quickly it’ll still take much longer than refilling with a liquid fuel such as petrol, diesel or… hydrogen. And the batteries usable life is still poor like the one in your phone, Lithium Ion batteries can only be recharged so many times – as witnessed by the fact I’ve just had to buy a new battery for my laptop.

An advert at the moment says that because more people are buying electric cars it means that “The Electric Car is now just The Car”, and the government is looking to invest millions in charging points, someone even recently suggested that in the future petrol stations could become recharging stations instead. Ok, let’s have a look at that for a moment: there’s an electric car advertised at the moment that states the “rapid charging” takes 75 minutes to reach 80% charge. How many cars visit an average petrol station in that time? The last time I filled up my car at least four of the six pumps were occupied for the two minutes or so it took to fill up and pay, imagine the queues on motorways leading to the recharging stations.

Still though electric car sales have gone through the roof, driven by hype and fashion. Many countries are proposing banning sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2040, or 2035 in the UK now, saying “woo, look how eco-friendly we are” but again think about the practicalities of this – what about people who have no garage to park their car in, people who live in apartment blocks with communal parking, or parking on the street – are sales of very long extension leads going to soar, are we looking at a future of pavements covered in cabling or are landlords and councils expected to dig up the road and install charging points? Who will pay for the electricity? Already some places that put in charging points for customers to charge for free are pulling them out again because someone will park there and leave the car all day.

Battery electric cars are always being described as clean but this is only in terms of direct emissions, indirectly the electricity has to come from some form of generation and unless its solar, hydroelectric or geothermal it won’t be as clean as the ads imply.   Add to that the environmental costs of making the batteries.  Vauxhall have an advert for a new electric car that shows a gravestone with “Petroleum, back in the ground where it belongs” on it. The gas and coal used to generate the electricity to charge the car, taken out of the same ground. This country isn’t really suitable for most renewable forms of energy, even if we surrounded our coastlines with wind turbines and even using solar power to directly charge a car isn’t really feasible – neither will solar powered aircraft, the best ones at the moment can only generate enough power to carry one person.

Hydrogen gas is the only option in my opinion.

Hydrogen fuel cell cars can be refuelled quickly, they only produce water as a by-product and don’t require batteries which have a huge environmental impact and short lifespan. Petrol and diesel persisted because of convenience of refuelling and energy density – you get a heck of a lot of energy (and hence mileage) from a small volume, compressed Hydrogen has this same advantage.
Because producing Hydrogen requires either a chemical process or electricity to separate it from the oxygen in water that’s the argument that many people use – that you’re using fossil fuels to do the job, the counter argument being “where do you think the electricity to charge your ‘green’ electric car comes from eh?”
In hot, dry countries there are solar power plants which focus the sun’s rays to create steam to drive turbines and generate electricity, if dedicated plants were built which used the energy they produce to create hydrogen (and oxygen) then that could then be transported to nations like ours to use in fuel cells. This would reduce the environmental cost to only the transportation – which is the case at the moment for petrol. But you don’t even need the electricity, Hydrogen can be produced using chemistry from other substances where it is bonded with elements other than Oxygen.
In nature plants take in carbon dioxide, water, sunlight and nutrients and use them to grow, releasing oxygen in the process, hydrogen fuel-cell cars can be part of the natural water cycle too – split seawater into its components, use the hydrogen – recombining it with oxygen to release usable energy and produce water that returns to rivers and seas to then evaporate or be split into hydrogen and oxygen again.

When Honda’s FCX Clarity fuel cell car came out it was heralded as the car of the future yet many years later there’s still nowhere to fill up a fuel cell car so that creates the paradox – nobody will buy a car with nowhere to fill it up but no-one will build the infrastructure because they say “where are the cars to use it?”
Essentially the barrier to Hydrogen use is the infrastructure – it would cost millions to put in place equipment at filling stations for hydrogen they say. Oh, lets not bother then, let’s spend millions on charging stations instead. Huh?

The fuel cell car is cleaner to make as it has no lithium-ion batteries which also means the ongoing costs of replacing worn out ones are eliminated. Maintenance is simplified as the only moving parts are the motors, or even just one motor and some driveshafts depending on the drivetrain. It’s more practical as you can refill it quickly, park it anywhere and still get decent range from it. It has the same benefits of power and torque as any other electric car. Depending on how the hydrogen is made it can be near to zero emissions both directly and indirectly.
The irony is that both the electric motor powered car and the Hydrogen fuel cell both pre-date the internal combustion engine – if only they’d been brought together sooner.

Get a Dashcam for Only £4*

Light Trails

Light Trails

(* plus one old Android smartphone, not included)

I only drive my car once a week, generally, when I visit my folks, twenty-something miles up the A1.  However, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said “I wish I could have recorded that” after some idiot has done something daft and/or dangerous.

Dashcams have gained in popularity over the last few years, overcoming fears that people might take exception to being filmed while driving (ok, maybe that’s just my fear), due in part to the videos posted from russia of often spectacular footage of crashes and meteorites.  Of course, apart from the draw of gaining YouTube views the footage is handy for insurance or police evidence reasons in case of an accident.

I’ve looked at various options over the years and decided that I couldn’t justify the more expensive (better reviewed, supposedly better quality) ones and yet the cheaper ones seemed to get mixed reviews and needed to be powered from the car to work properly.  The problem with a wired cam for me is that my convoluted smartphone charging and combined Bluetooth receiver/FM Transmitter combo setup takes up all the USB charging ports I’ve got in the car.

Then a couple of weeks ago I had a revelation, via a Gizmodo UK article on reusing supposedly outmoded gadgets.

I have two smartphones, the older of the two Xperias being semi-retired after becoming brain-addled a few years back, lacking storage and running very slowly suddenly, for eighteen months it’s been a receive-only connection to my old phone number for texts from the network pleading with my to top up my credit.  But as mentioned in the article it could serve as a dashcam with one free app.

So off I went.  Firstly I turned sync off on  most of the Google services as I don’t want it downloading historical emails.  Next I deleted any apps that were never going to be used again (including, it seemed, the one that had caused its memory and speed issues – it’s like having my old phone back).  Finally I installed the CamOnRoad dashcam app and after a few settings tweaks to save the videos onto the SD card it was up and running.  Two advantages to this Xperia dashcam is a great camera and long battery life – it’s cordless!

The last part of the solution was mounting it on the windscreen.  The next day at the supermarket I found a £4 smartphone holder.  The first test showed this wobbled too much on the road but a simple block of rubber jammed between the dashboard top and the phone holder kept everything stable and free of seasickness-inducing motion.

The only other issue was finding the videos on the phone to copy to the computer but putting the phone in “pretend I’m a USB disk” mode (Mass Storage Mode to be precise) sorted that out – after much head-scratching and cries of “where the blazes are you hiding them?”  Or words to that effect.

I can also still use the old phone for one of the other tips in the article too – as a Google Play Music streaming device with either headphones or one of my many Bluetooth speakers.

Technology becomes seemingly outdated quickly today, the hardware can’t cope with new software, they run out of space, but if you can’t or don’t want to throw devices away or sell them then there are people coming up with creative and useful ways to give this tech a second life.

 

Big Fish, Little Fish

Temporary Cycle Lane Shift Back To Controflow

Temporary Cycle Lane Shift Back To Controflow (Photo credit: samsaundersleeds)

Just a quick thought on various road users and annoyance.  Yesterday a lorry pulled out in front of me on a roundabout while I was in a small works van, by his gesticulating he clearly felt that I shouldn’t have been there.  Some car drivers get annoyed with cyclists because they think they’re getting in the way and shouldn’t be on the road and then this morning whilst on an early morning bike ride in the sunshine I was a bit miffed at having to slow down and wait for a guy (who had been running) wandering along a narrow cycle path with headphones on so he was completely unaware that I was wanting to get past and get home for a cool drink.

Seems we’re just all getting in each others’ way.  C’est la vie.

Edit:  On a serious note I’ve just seen this article which demonstrates the dangers and I’m amazed the cyclist walks away at the end of the video.

The World is a Playground… Unfortunately

Wing mirror VW Fox

I’d already had a bad day when I arrived home to see the driver’s side wing mirror hanging forlornly from the door of my car.  I’ve had it nearly ten years, I still enjoy driving it, it’s distinctive, it’s a lovely car if a tad rough (rusty) around the edges.  It’s mine and for someone to physically assault it like this enraged me.

It’s not the first time either, last time though the mirror was saved by its spring-loaded safety mechanism that absorbs the impact and lets you just clip it back.  This time though there was no clipping back and no spring because whoever had hit it this time had done so with enough force to snap the bracket that held the spring.  This time the mirror was dead.

I removed panels, removed the dangling mirror so that the vandals couldn’t have a further kick at it and potentially smash the window with it, unthreaded its control cables so I could fit the parts that attached to the door back, to weather seal the door if nothing else.  Legally I can’t drive it until it has another mirror.  Searches on-line initially showed replacements in the region of £150 (requiring a £300 outlay as they were a newer design) and I thought of again trampling round scrapyards for parts, not relishing that I again turned to Ebay and Amazon and found replacement units for about £30.

So I can fix her, sorry, it.  But I shouldn’t have to, why have I got to spend £30 to repair the results of someone (adult or youth) thinking it’s a good game, clever, fun, big or macho to smash the wing mirror of an old car.  Or kick a wall down, smash a window, pull over a lamp-post…

I can’t begin to imagine how impressed this person’s friends must have been at his (or her) skill at beating up a purple Rover 200.  The next Chuck Norris must live in Newark, clearly.

Diggin’ The Scene…ry

English: Roadworks

English: Roadworks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the last four weeks the county council has been tearing up and relaying the pavements on the street which is home to the glassworks that keeps me busy during the day.  We’ve got used to the workers now, we’ve given them hot water for tea when their cabin generator wouldn’t work, they’ve patched some potholes on the edge of our car park to make up for the inconvenience of their work.

On Thursday last week they put the top layer of tarmac on a section of path and were rightfully miffed the next morning to see workers belonging to a utility company attacking their less than 20-hour old pavement with a circular saw.  And so it is now, a perfect stretch of path with a cut out bulge of dissimilar tarmac halfway along it like some kind of scab on the landscape.

It’s a long-standing joke in this country that as soon as a road is resurfaced a utility will come along and dig it up again but in my experience this is a record.

It’s also ridiculous in these days, just a few days earlier they wouldn’t even have had to dig up any tarmac.  Surely with that mysterious thing called the Internet some kind of magical central database of roadworks could be maintained so that the likes of Gas and Electricity companies can tweak their schedules to drop pipes and cables into already bare roads.  Going even further, as my dad suggested when I mentioned this to him, when major works are carried out – replacing main drains etc, why not include conduits for current and future services in the same hole?

The answer is probably because creating such resources would cost far more than necessary and be outdated by the time it arrives – designed to run on that latest Microsoft OS, Windows XP I think it is, that’s the future.  Erm, wait, what?

 

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