Cars, DIY, Fashion, Psychology, Society, Transport

Less is More & More is Less Authentic

Car

Image by strikers from Pixabay

Why do so many people not want others to know what they drive?  So often it’s bloody obvious.  A common practice is de-badging which removes everything including the makers marks, the Vauxhall, Ford or Peugeot badges etc.  I’ve often wondered if some of them have watched TV police shows where they say “you’re looking for a dark blue Ford Fiesta” and they’ve thought, I can get one over on them, I’ll take all the badges off so they won’t know what kind of car it is at all.  Generally though car customisers say it’s about individuality, about not caring about such superficial frippery as brands and badges.  Okay.  It’s definitely not about not wanting people to know they actually drive an everyday branded car, of course, which brings me onto the additions…

Image does matter to some people though to the extent that they add badges that weren’t there when the car left the factory.  I’ve seen many old BMWs in particular which are clearly not M3s or M5s (the details are all wrong, I’m a car geek and make no apologies) and yet the badge on the back says 325i (petrol) when the car’s clearly a Diesel and there are M3 badges on the side, usually applied in the wrong place and at some kind of jaunty angle too – if you’re going to make out that you’ve got a higher spec car than you actually have then at least settle on one model rather than mixing two together and then find out where they’re meant to go and use some masking tape to mark out their location first – there’s this magical thing called the internet that has lots of instructions and even pictures, Google Image Search is your friend.  A quick search on Ebay reveals thousands of badges that can magically transform a humble hatchback into Type R – not even just a Civic Type R but a Fiesta Type R, a Polo Type R, a C3 Type R…  (glances outside at the silver car in the car park).

The best fakery I’ve seen (by which I mean the most unbelievable) was a brand-swap.  It is common for people who own Smart cars to apply the badges of Smart’s parent Mercedes Benz to their cars but the association on this one was, as far as I know, non-existent.  I saw a Ssangyong SUV parked and I noticed after a few moments that the badges looked odd, the owner had glued AMG badges over the Ssangyong ones, not replacing but stuck on top of the originals.  I looked at the back as he drove away and the same was true at the back but then the piece de resistance…  “Turbo” badges which were clearly from a Porsche, I could tell by the distinctive style of the lettering.  There was another equally preposterous badge on the rear but it escapes me what it was – something like AMG’s Black Edition or something similar.  Lastly I did see a 2004 Volvo V50 sporting Ferrari badges.

Finally there are the attempts to make an older car look newer – now this can have merit, it’s been done on Wheeler Dealers on TV many times including a Land Rover, a Range Rover and a Merc G-Wagen and it can even add to the resale value but another example that takes the biscuit was an Audi A3 which had the split-grille that preceded the current single, large trapezoidal one they use across the range now.  In an attempt to look newer the owner had painted the silver bit of the bumper between the two grilles black, painted or removed the top chrome trim of the bottom grille and the bottom of the top grille and added stick-on silver trim at the edge of the bit he’d painted.  Five stars for the idea, one star for the execution.

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Society, Transport

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.

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Business, Cars, Fashion

When is a Mini not a Mini?

Mini Cooper

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

When it’s a Maxi and the Maxi was not a nice car.

I am not a person suited to the original Austin Mini, I have travelled in one, in the passenger seat and my knees were up round my ears. The car that is still referred to as the “New” Mini is a bit more my, er, size. I can’t stand the thing though, it’s not a Mini and I’m not the only person who has said this over the years.

Born of the trend for cool and “authentic” retro cars it is a product of fashion as opposed to the original which influenced fashion; a small, low cost, simple car, accessible to everyone (unless you’re as tall as me) yet something so essentially cool (in it’s original, sixties sense of not trying too hard to just be) that it was popular with celebrities too. Like the Fiat 500 it was small, cheeky and fun to drive, so I’m told. The new car is bigger, more expensive – a product aimed at, rather than adopted by, the fashionistas, the hipsters, hence the price tag. The size increase of course was due to car makers obsession with the idea that “people want more space” for stuff, more cup-holders, more cubbyholes, more drawers and more speakers, as such it is a pastiche as is the “New” Beetle. The coupe version looks ridiculous but the biggest travesty is the Mini Countryman which is comparatively huge, probably bigger than a Morris Minor Traveller, on the outside at least, less Countryman more Country Estate.  Even the headlights, angled backwards make it look like a mini that’s been in a very stiff gale.

Fiat fared better with the 500, it at least looks like it’s as small as the original though it still can’t really be called a “people’s car” any more and certainly can’t be fixed with parts from a local corner shop. My own car is half-way to a retro design, Citroen took the general shape of a 2CV for their retro effort but left out the pod headlights and the suspension suitable for ploughed fields – though that might have been useful, with the state of our potholed roads today…

There have been other such cars over the years but many of them, in my opinion, show that some things just can’t be improved on and the past is often best left where it belongs.

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Psychology, Society, Transport

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.

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Cars, Society

Free Parking? Of Course, Don’t Even Ask…

English: Car Park £ 200 Presumably a decimal s...

English: Car Park £ 200 Presumably a decimal separator has gone amiss and the fee for using this car park beside the Coast Road is £ 2.00. At this time of the year plenty of free parking is available and the car park is closed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Outside our shop we have a forecourt which is intended for the use of our vans, delivery lorries and of course our customers – for the ease of getting glass into their vehicles without too far to walk.  The road beyond that has parking restrictions enforced with a zero-tolerance approach, and beyond that road is the Royal Mail sorting office which has no customer parking of its own which all leads to people collecting parcels to use our forecourt.

I wouldn’t mind if they’d just ask but despite the big signs saying that it’s for customer parking only these people either assume it’s for customers of Royal Mail too or they just don’t care – I’d say it’s the latter.  Maybe one in fifty will actually ask if it’s ok to park there for five minutes and to be honest as long as they’ve not parked in the way I’ll let them.  The rest though just ignorantly, arrogantly abandon their cars on our land, often actually blocking the entrance completely.  I have even witnessed two visitors to the Royal Mail park side-by-side in the sorting office entrance driveway, blocking it completely so that the delivery vans couldn’t get in or out.

As for our own forecourt invaders, they do it even when some of us are outside at lunch time, often looking at us with an expression of “what?  I can do what I like” on their faces.  We’ve even faced torrents of abuse from people who have blocked the entrance or access to our side gate and been asked to move, politely.  “Oh, for f***’s sake, I’m only collecting a parcel, where the f*** am I supposed to park” they shout.  Anywhere but where you have, without asking permission, would be the appropriate reply but by that time they’ve driven off loudly.

They could park in the nearby supermarket car park, or in the bays down the road but no, they might have to spend two minutes walking and that’d be tragic.  Just today one old BMW driver took the biscuit – he parked up, again avoiding eye contact as if he hasn’t seen me he hasn’t had to ask permission.   He then went and picked up his parcel, returned to his car and then sat, as many do, opening the parcel and inspecting the contents.  What he did next though was unbelievable – he opened the bonnet (hood) of his car and proceeded to fit the items from his parcel into the engine bay of his car – so now we provide not just free parking but free garage space too.  Finally tonight we were parking up the vans and a driver pulled up in our car park right where we were about to put a pickup truck “where can you park?” was again the plea.  Ten minutes later she could have used our land as we’d have gone home but at that moment I directed her along the road.  Edit:  even better than those, a few days after publishing this a couple parked in our car park, didn’t ask permission, visited the post office, came back and dumped the parcel in the car and then walked off down the road and into the town centre, coming back over an hour later.  It’s getting worse.

It’s the same at home.  Our building has eleven allocated spaces for eleven apartments and most evenings and at weekends a number of the spaces will be occupied by cars belonging to people who own houses on the adjacent street.  They buy a house with no off-street parking, on a street with clearly signed parking restrictions and then think “oh, where can I park my car?  I know, in that free parking next door.”  The free parking that everybody in this building pays a premium on the rent for.  These same neighbours are also the ones who think that our building’s communal rubbish skips are available for the overflow from their bins and garden waste too, oh and as with the work car park we provide free workshop space too as one neighbour used our car park, in fact the very space where my Citroen now resides, to replace the cooling pipes of his mid-engined MG-F.  All without asking one person if it was ok to get coolant and other fluids all over our tarmac.

The sheer volume of people who exhibit this lack of basic manners, this sense of entitlement to park where they like is troubling.  I was brought up with the maxim that manners cost nothing, yet today it appears that people seem to think that being polite costs them their very soul.

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Society, Transport, Uncategorized

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.

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Society, Transport, Uncategorized

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.

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Tech

Don’t Take My Buttons Away

English: The Nikon D7000 is a 16.2 megapixel d...

English: The Nikon D7000 is a 16.2 megapixel digital single-lens reflex camera. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not alluding to the fact that my trousers would fall down or even that I’m addicted to little discs of chocolate, I’m becoming concerned at the proliferation of touchscreens and the like.

In computers, smartphones, cars and cameras it seems that push buttons and switches are seen as old-fashioned, not versatile enough, not eager to change colour or function at the drop of a hat, they’re so last century but wait a second, they still have value.

Some devices like a digital SLR camera have functions that you need to change quickly attached to a button, you instinctively reach for it with a finger tip, press it, twiddle the input dial and viola you’ve dialed in some exposure compensation.  The process of just knowing where the control is is called muscle memory and it’s very useful, so much so we often don’t realise we’re using it.  I’m using it now, I’m typing this without looking at the keyboard.  Now it’s true that’s possible with a touchscreen but only if you have a physical reference to start from and the display doesn’t change – with an actual button you only need to know it’s near your index finger, you just fish around for a second and know what the right one feels like, on a screen there’s, at the moment, no tactile cues.

The other problem with touchscreens is also that they tend to group all the controls on the back or front of the device so for example on the Samsung Galaxy NX camera, and other touchy-feely controlled cameras you have to take your eye from the viewfinder in order to fit your fingers between the screen and your nose.

So speed and practicality are on the single-minded, independent buttons’ side but what about safety?

Huh? you ask.  I’ve mentioned before how the same principle reduces the amount of time you’re looking away from the road when driving a car with physical controls rather than touchscreens or joystick-driven menus.  Until voice control gets to the KITT-level conversation style I’m not happy giving up my in-car knobs and dials.

As for voice control of phones and cameras, it’s fine until you find yourself trying to adjust a setting on your camera while not wanting to look away from the viewfinder but also being aware that asking your camera nicely if it wouldn’t mind changing the aperture to f/8 might be inappropriate to the setting.

Fashion seems to be pushing tech companies and car makers towards more minimalist devices, their faces just a screen of morphing, interactive controls, often for the sake of it, but good design shouldn’t compromise usability and sometimes the most usable control is the humble physical button.

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Cars, Psychology, Science, Society

Watch The Road

Person using cell phone while driving.

Person using cell phone while driving. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you’re sat in a comfy seat, warm and dry, listening to a great album, singing along, thinking about dinner, or perhaps chatting to your friend, spouse or chinese takeaway it’s easy to forget you’re in over a tonne of metal travelling at speed.

When you’re learning you’re always paying attention to the road, checking your mirrors and being aware of the dangers around you.  Someone might walk into the road, some idiot might pull out in front of you (no particular brand owners mentioned, but you know who they are).  When you’ve passed your test though you might not be quite so vigilant.

Modern cars have only made the problem worse.  Even though California recently allowed texting and emailing via voice only whilst driving research has again shown that distracted driving is still dangerous.  Talking to someone places far higher mental demands on drivers, reducing their concentration on the really important task – staying between the white lines and not hitting anything.  A few years ago David Strayer and colleagues from the University of Utah compared mobile phone users to drunks in a driving simulator.  The talkie drivers showed significant impairment and slower braking reaction, roughly similar to participants who registered a .08 percent blood-alcohol content.

In tests of texters handheld typers naturally took their eyes off the road for longer periods than normal but even those using a handsfree to dictate to the phone took their eyes off the road for long periods too.  When you’re trying to concentrate on what you want to say you’re brain will focus on that rather than the outside world so your eyes will wander.  A counter-argument that drivers talk to passengers all the time is counter-countered by the facts that the conversation is often about the traffic, other drivers and so on and also that many accidents are caused when the driver is having an absorbing discussion or blazing row with the passenger alongside them and/or the kids in the back.  It is why so many accidents involve a car full of friends, loud music, and often but not exclusively young, inexperienced drivers.

Car makers haven’t helped though.  I like a car where I can alter the temperature, open a window, change the track or the volume on the MP3 player or switch on the hazard lights by reaching out to a familiar location and flicking a switch.  While it still takes some attention away from the road at least you’re still watching the road, using muscle-memory to find the control, knowing by tactile feedback if it’s set right, and then a very quick glance can confirm this.  Many cars though have just about everything set by some kind of menu, operated by a joystick so you have to watch a screen in order to set the aircon and so on.  On a recent Ferrari tested on Top Gear you even had the choice of seeing either the speedometer or satnav display – that shouldn’t have been even considered.

Voice control has been around for a while but generally only for basics like phone dialing and satnav but some manufacturers are now starting to consider advanced controls, for example the eye-tracking and Kinect-like gesture controls as seen in Hyundai’s recent HCD14 Genesis concept.

Driverless cars promise much but still have a long way to go and the technology that has made its way into cars so far such as automatic braking could easily encourage drivers to pay less attention to the road, lulled into a false sense of security that the car will save them from an accident.

I know personally that you can easily even be distracted while driving by feeling anxious or upset about something – the realisation that you’ve driven a mile down a road but can’t remember doing it is a sign of this distraction and is disturbing – but we need to remember the importance of making sure that tonne of metal doesn’t hit anything and the less things that get in the way of that the better.

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