Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Grumpy Old Men

We had a Burns Supper on Saturday night – I know a little later that January 25th but it was date that most people could make. In the end there were 12 of us in total. it seems that calendars aren’t quite so packed in January as they might be at other times of the year. The Haggis (from Waitrose) was delicious and of course we had bashed neeps and tatties.

Now in my family (half Scottish and half English) we have always eaten mashed swede as the neeps, although often people talk about turnip. Well I can’t personally enlighten you. However there does seem to be enough of a controversy that the Guardian newspaper has this blog – “Are ‘neeps’ swedes or turnips?”. If you follow the link we had the vegetable on the right, well two of them actually. The article does actually say that neeps are swedes, as I know them but what  the Scots and the English don’t always agree on what is a swede and what is a turnip.  Anyway for me neeps are yellow, quite large and globular vegetables and taste delicious mashed with butter and pepper.

Seattle Market: – no swedes?

We also had Cranachan, which is a traditional Scottish desert, that I have ever only eaten on high days and holidays, well actually probably not that frequently. It is basically whipped cream, toasted oats, whisky, honey and raspberries. If truth be told I usually find it a bit sweet, but it went down a treat at our Burns' Supper. In fact apart from a small number of dissenters even those who hadn’t eaten Haggis before said how delicious it was. Mind you my wife’s excellent beef and gravy probably helped.

Why am I blethering on about this you might well ask – well I noticed that men of a certain age do deserve the term grumpy old men – we did spend quite a lot of time grumping. Which brings me onto this headline – “Award-winning postman ‘forced out of his job’ after being made to swap his bicycle for a trolley”. I despair of these sorts of decisions – the roads are congested, petrol is going up in price and will probably keep on going up. So what do we do – to stop people from stopping people using bicycles for work.  The CTC had a campaign – which rumbles on.  The new CEO is quoted as saying that “We have seen an increase in accidents linked to the use of cycles on busy road networks and in a number of cases these accidents result in major injury to our staff.”

A Letter box on the Church Wall - Risby

In one of strange coincidences (not) I have just posted around 40 leaflets through my neighbours door – democracy in action. naturally I used my bike to get around. Clearly I am not a trained Postie – but IMHO the biggest danger was the flipping letter boxes, my posting hand has gotten quite scratched. If we switched to a more friendly method of dropping off post – the American way? I reckon it would speed up things no end. I did it in shorts and no coat – the freezing weather was an incentive to jog around when not cycling.

It turns out that Nasa scientists weren't terribly sure where all the heat was going – well it is warming up the sea at half a watt per 10 sq feet. Of course there are some that feel that this is a form of greenwash to explain why there isn’t global warming. In my view there are enough humans on the Earth - it is bound to have an effect and we imperil future generations by not recognising that fact.

The Sea – Scarborough – soaking up all the heat!

Whilst grumping another thing caught my eye – it turns out that one skirmish in the Police war against the cyclist – wasn’t right – “Police cancel fines given to London cyclists for riding bikes in area where cycling isn't banned”.  To be fair I am not the greatest fan of fines as the method used to control errant behaviour in any case. As a citizen I want there to be better behaviour whether it is on the road or street or home for that matter. However a fine is a punishment and we tend to assume that fines put people off. Although there are many cynics who see fines as a way for public coffers to be filled.

Police Declare War on the Speeders

In the “war on the motorist” it turns out that “speeding fines are to go up to £100 to bear the brunt of Ken Clarke’s new victim, surcharge”. I have several concerns here, the first is that fines hit people with different levels of income very differently. The punishment effect is huge if you are barely scraping along as it it and it is inconsequential to the very rich.

Can’t delay – must get to Oakington as fast as possible

The second is that I am not concerned with revenge, I just want safer roads for cyclists please. I want behaviour to change – I am not convinced that speeding fines do that. Although I do not have any evidence to support my thinking I am a fan of “awareness courses”. They cost time – a more equitable “currency”, but also are an attempt to change behaviour rather than “just” punish it. Speed again and you go on the extended two day course?

Although there are some road problems that perhaps can’t be dealt with quite so readily. There is a “Call for harsher sentences as drink drive figures soar” (well here in Cambs anyway overall figures rose by 10% in a year). I wonder if we need to be more explicit about distinguishing between criminal behaviour and naughty behaviour. The data suggests that the number of “morning-after” drink-drivers has risen by 40%. Is this because binge-drinking is more prevalent and the option to use public transport is being eroded.

Perhaps we need to be more inventive with modern technology. Should any drink driver, on returning to driving have to fit a device to measure his or her alcohol level before the car will start. Perhaps persistent bad drivers should fit GPS monitoring devices.

In this instance a “Father and son (were) hurt as van ploughs into back of car” and then the van drove away. This is just appalling – but whilst the focus has been on the increased safety of car occupants maybe there also needs to be be more monitoring of the roads to protect the occupants from the poor driving of others. In fact I wonder it the increased safety of cars is a factor in more people drinking and driving – they are actually taking less risk now.  If we can afford air bags perhaps we should also have to have cameras and GPS.

After all if we had black boxes in our cars then it would be easier to prove or disprove whether whiplash had occurred.  Here is an example of a spurious claim being made against a driver – apparently the driver claiming the whiplash injury had claimed four times before. A similar problem happened to a friend who drove into a bus in America – the driver claimed whiplash – the hire car company got a physics involved who proved that the forces involved couldn’t have caused the injuries.

We also have a motorist who is a “flasher” here in Cambridge, he targeted a female cyclist in Grange Road and has a square-face and weathered complexion. 

It also turns out that Cambridge is going high-rise – the as the skyline shoots skywards. It was really the picture of Botanic House as it reaches completion that caught my eye. Apparently tall buildings have caused some controversy and guidelines will require significant for applications for buildings taller than six storeys.  If you like tall buildings then here are some interesting “Rooftopper” pictures. I like heights, but I don’t think I will be taking roof-topping up as a hobby.

Botanic House – Cambridge

And finally – Pink and baby Willow on their bike. Which leads onto the question posed by this blogger - blogged “Who is cycling for?. It makes the point that currently it is mainly hard-core cyclists and if you want more of the general population to switch to cycling then you have to make cycling appeal to them (and not the inadvertent elitists.) I don’t like that term – I have never felt that cycling is an elitist activity – and certainly not when I get sprayed by a car driving through a puddle at high speed next to me. 

I do agree that  we should “spend less energy telling other people how to cycle and more striving harder to transform conditions” though. Mind you we shouldn’t act like the Association of British Drivers who seem to get way too much air time. Have a chuckle on their views on speed limits – ‘cos if you didn’t chuckle you’d have to cry.

And really finally – I have found the ideal chrome App to manage my multitude of open windows – Session Manager – so far it has been doing what it says on the tin.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Macro Experiments with my camera

One of the dangers of the modern age is the Internet – it is just too easy to find out about stuff and then spend money. As a result of my son’s interest in Macro photography for his work, I have been spending time checking out what is possible. Which resulted in me spending money

Sad smile

There is loads of information on the web, but as usual nothing quite answers the questions in my mind. In general, like most things quality of the reproduction in photography is related to how much you are prepared to spend. Of course the aesthetic quality of the actual picture is about much more than just the cash involved.  I didn’t want to spend too much money either.

My camera uses a Micro Four Thirds standard, which is used by both Panasonic and Olympus.  A 45mm F2.8 Macro lens would cost  around £560 (today’s Amazon price) and is capable of 1x magnification. For me that is too much to try out a branch of photography and for my son in his first job way too much.

An alternative is to use extension tubes, cheap, but lots of uncertainties about what you do about aperture and focus. Some tubes just physically move the lens away from the camera body, others might allow the camera and lens to “communicate”. Another alternative is to use a close-up lens which goes on the end of the lens but none fitted my Panasonic lens, as far as I could tell.

I’d given up, but it turns out that various filter manufacturers make them – from £10.00 to these Hama ones for £40.78 (Currently half price). In the end I succumbed and went for the Hama ones. The great thing is that I order them yesterday afternoon and they arrived in the post mid-morning today.

We have friend coming around for dinner tonight so I don’t have much play time. So here are a few cheeky pictures.

Using my 14-140mm lens this is the result.

Using the N4 lens – quite an increase in magnification – but either the focus point is wrong or I shook or the quality is compromised – it is a little blurry.

This time I used the N2 to take two pictures at different zooms. In the second case I allowed the camera to rest on the table and set the aperture to the max – f22.

When using the close-up lens I can see I will have to learn about the focus issues. Depending upon the zoom factor and distance from the subject I found there were times I couldn’t focus.

This is pretty good though, reasonable sharpness and flexibility.

A similar picture, but this time at f22 to get a greater depth of field. This was taken resting on the table with a speed of around 0.4s

I can see that, for me these close-up lenses will do the trick, without spending inordinate amounts on a new lens. As for my son I can see that will probably work for him – providing he can get the right filter size. As these were quick experiments I left the sky-light filter on the lens which probably compromises things a bit.

And finally (well a few finallys) – a driver takes a wrong turn and drives 50 yards along a main line railway track. I wonder if there were some lens issues?

Apparently we are no longer so keen on being green. For what it is worth I think that there are three issues, being green can be unclear – we sort our rubbish, but can they take batteries, what about compact fluorescent bulbs, where do they go. The second issue is we don’t see any real payback. I don’t mean that we don’t get paid – just that we don’t see any noticeable advantage. The last issue is that we are all guilty and frankly don’t want to acknowledge change is necessary – ‘cos we’d have to change things significantly. Let’s face it cars are pretty bad – but very few of us want to give them up (me included.)

Then when we do try we get let down – apparently some smart meters don’t work

This is related to photographing small things – a Lego man in space. The art of disguise – against wallpaper – although she needs to sort out her hair! and fireworks and lightening in Perth. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Stuck in the Office–and its Sunny!!!

Now I am not really looking for sympathy. After all I do work from home and that has a lot of advantages compared with a life of commuting. I have stuff to do and I am also in the process of tidying up my workspace and diary, submitting gas and electricity meter readings and lots of other jobs that don’t take that long but added together seem to use of lots of time.

Mind you I have been out on my bike and I am popping out again shortly – to post some letters. If that sounds like an excuse – well it is. But it is sunny and the temperature is rising so it would be rude not to, I just I don’t get lost on the way back

Winking smile

After commenting upon the issues of the amount of traffic that builds up around schools an item appears in the Newmarket section of the Cambridge News – “Mothers campaign for safer road after girl is hit by car”.  Remember that motorists have to drive with the safety of children in mind at a speed suitable for the conditions.

School Warning – Fen Drayton

I Interpret this to mean that when there are lots of children around –say at the start or end of the school day then you have to drive much more slowly. Children do run out into the road and you can’t drive as you might do on a clear road. I am not sure that is how motorists really see it though.

This morning as I cycled back from picking up a newspaper I was following a car that stopped at a T-junction, with no indication. It had stopped about a quarter of a mile from the school to let school kids out. When it did stop it left me unsure whether the car driver was being super-cautious before pulling onto the main road or which way it was turning. It wasn’t until I saw the kids open the car door did I realise it had wasn’t just waiting at the junction.

I’ve also commented on Transport Grants – well three community groups in Huntingdonshire are sharing £27,400 – lets hope it makes a sustainable difference. Whilst in the Ely area “Buses may escape axe” if  they are “socially necessary”. Does all this to-and-for bureaucracy create value for money I wonder. Hopefully at least those in needs of such services might actually get them.

The Orchard Park development to the north of Cambridge city might finally be set to get a shopping centre. This is despite a previous scheme being approved in 2009.  According to the comments there aren’t any cycle space planned. Apparently this pushes the development past the 900 homes which implies there are already 750plus people who end up driving whenever they need to go shopping.  Joined-up planning?

CGB Near Orchard Park

Is is all sustainable?  A timely chart from xkcd. (Which operates under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.).

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Wish Lists

What caught my eye this morning was this “£5m bus travel ‘wish list’ includes day traffic bans”. Apparently Cambridgeshire County Council (CCC) has bid for some money from the Government’s Better Bus Areas Fund. This is apparently aimed at increasing passenger numbers in urban areas. Which implies reducing the number of cars within those same urban areas. If you read the article it seems to be a bunch of bits and pieces. Although perhaps I am just being a bit cynical.

Cambridge Guided Busway run trials for interested locals (April 2009)

The article also mentions another fund – The Local Sustainable Transport Fund which is another Government initiative aimed at economic growth and reducing carbon emissions – worth £560 million in total. CCC put a bid in but weren’t successful. If you believe the politics it was because the CCC planned to cut the bus services.  Although apparently the “Council has reinstated £1.5m of those cuts”.

Several thoughts spring to mind here – would you believe a Council was keen on public transport when it starts cutting their budgets?  It also makes me think that the Government has created some “slush funds” through which it can reward those councils that do its bidding. Now of course I am sure it is really all above board and not managed like that at all.

Also looking at both the Bus ideas and the bid we put in the last time there seems to be a whole load of bits and pieces – whereas I would have thought that this money would be better suited to catalysing bigger changes. If all that is needed is a bit of fiddling then those Funds are better spent elsewhere. The bid seems to include calls for substantial amounts of money for planning and publicity – and not enough of bolder moves that might actually create a modal shift. For instance the Chisholm Trail – joining the dots between the Southern and Northern sections of the CGB has a bid for only £41K and yet cycle counters require £30K.

Parking is tight in Cambridgeshire!

One area of spending I am at best ambivalent about is on “More road signs to warn motorists of traffic conditions”, at £18,000 they are not cheap and at best might slightly improve a car journey, I’d prefer to see the money spent on reducing the need to drive into Cambridge.

Cycle Ride Signs – Isleham

I was pleased to see that “Crossing the road brought up to speed” might reduce the waiting time at pedestrian crossings. Some crossings in Cambridge do seem to overly favour the road users – there is even a suggestion that “if people do see pedestrians given priority, hopefully they will think about not using the car for relatively short journeys and will walk instead”. Unfortunately it will take more than that in terms of joined up thinking – but it is a start.

Crossing the CGB – mind the step

In my view they should focus the spending on the critical items that might actually create change – then the publicity is easy. The trouble is many of us really don’t comprehend the importance of public transport – we either drive or can walk or cycle – yet it can be critical. As you might expect “How will we get to Tesco when our buses disappear?” is about Elderly residents in Cambridge who will be disadvantaged when buses are re-routed because of the Station improvements. We ought to remember that we will all get older one day.

Talking of which a “Tandem bicycle hearse is up for sale”. Apparently the owner, Reverend Paul Sinclair, 46 is not fit enough to operate it – he is  “a biker not a cyclist”. Mind you Outspoken Deliveries have taken delivery of three trikes capable of carrying cargos of up to 1/4 tonne – they must be fit enough – perhaps they could buy the Tandem Hearse?

A Tandem – somewhere between Hull and Cambridge

Here is an interesting hobby – creating GPS track pictures. I am not sure I’ll be taking it up though.

And finally: I never thought I would have anything in common with Peter Hitchens who writes for the Daily Mail. His views don’t really accord with mine. However it turns out we have both been knocked of our bicycles by cars in SMIDSYs. He suggests that through the creation of safer cars (Seatbelts, anti-lock brakes, airbags etc.) it has created a subconscious carelessness leading to roads becoming “statistically safer because the soft targets have entirely retreated from them”.

I can’t disagree with that – you only have to look at how cars and buses whizzing around schools at the beginning and end of the day make cycling much more hazardous. (I cycle in such an area most weekday mornings). Some schools seem to actively discourage cycling – “Your daughter can’t cycle to school because it’s not school policy”. So much so that Sustrans has a page on “Can Schools ban cycling” – no but they can ban bikes on school property! The CTC has a “Right to Ride to School campaign”. It is changing though.

Cycling home from School – Long Road Cambridge

My wish list? Well I have some minor lurgy-thingy at the moment and my old wound (SMISDY – broken collar bone) aches a bit as well.) Roll on longer, warmer days!


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Windy cycling–no problem when you don’t have to get anywhere fast

Sunday, 22nd January 2012: Wind is a funny thing – and just to be clear I am talking about the weather here.  A lot of the time we tend not to think about it. We (well I) associate it with early Spring and Autumn.  I also think of the Flatlands of east Anglia as a windy place but it turns out we live in one of the more sheltered parts of the UK and we do get our stronger winds around the winter months (Check out the wind section near the bottom). Surprisingly the average wind speed doesn’t vary that much – from 8 Knots to just under 12 Knots, whilst the Gust speed varies from 40 Knots up to 80 Knots.

Interestingly we also still measure wind speed in Knots – which is a unit of speed equating to one nautical mile per hour (or 1.852 Km per hour or 1.151 mph). So a wind speed of 80 Knots is a wind speed of 148Km/ hour or 92 mph. Perhaps we use Knots to make it seem less threatening.

We also have the Beaufort Wind Force Scale which quantises or lumps the wind speeds into buckets of increasing intensity.  So a Beaufort number of 0 is calm and is used for wind speeds of 0 – 1 mph. Whereas further up the scale a Beaufort number of 5 is a fresh breeze and indicates a wind speed of between 18 and 24 mph. It was originally a qualitative scale relating to the effects on the sails of a man-of-war.

When riding a bicycle the wind always seems to be against you, although it isn’t really. Depending upon the strength of the wind I find that cross-winds can be far more unsettling that a wind blowing directly from the front, especially when passing gaps in the hedgerow.

The other factor that I dislike about wind is something I first noticed when riding a motorbike. When there is a moderate cross-wind everything is fine but whenever a large lorry passes in the other direction you get a significant buffeting as the lorry cuts across the wind and creates its own turbulence.

I have been riding a bicycle for quite a few decades and yet it is only recently that the effect of  wind and large lorries/buses has really impinged upon my cycling.  The buffeting effect is highly dependent upon how close you are to the lorry and whether you are travelling in the same direction or not as the lorry.

With the increase in shared-use paths – pavements you can cycle along – cyclists can find themselves quite close to oncoming lorries – which when windy can give you quite a buffeting.  I have never seen much written about this though. It is particularly noticeable on roads where there is no speed limit restriction and a shared-use path. Like this stretch of road between Lode and Swaffham Bulbeck. At the  Swaffham Bulbeck end there is less gap between the road and the path.

Swaffham Bulbeck – Lode Shared-use path

Of course the solution is to avoid that stretch of path – which I do most of the time – whether it is windy or not it is always very noisy. As I hadn’t been out to Wicken Fen for a while I cycled along High Ditch Road and around Low Fen Drove Way, then up to Horningsea and over to Lode. The round to Upware, and back through Wicken along Lodes Way. It was windy though with gusts up to 40 knots.

View Larger Map

Although it wasn’t that late when I set out the sun was still fairly low in the sky, being winter.  So I didn’t hang around too much taking pictures as I wanted to be coming back along Lodes Way and able to take advantage of the sunset.

As you might expect there were walkers and dog walkers out and about. Not far passed Allicky Farm I tinged my bell to let a couple with a yellow Labrador know I was passing. Just past them I had the slightly panicked shouts that tend to cause my heart to leap into my mouth. Their dog was chasing me. Generally Labradors are more playful than aggressive. This one was playful and ran around me and in front of me – requiring an emergency stop – I was glad when I cleared the dog though.

Although Labradors are generally playful my younger brother was attacked by one when he was around 14 and had to go to A&E to get the wound sorted. It was as we were walking along a pavement and an old chap had the dog on a metal chain – it looked like a choker chain – he lost control and the dog went for the nearest limb to bite. Fortunately for me it was my brother’s arm.  He has been wary of dogs ever since.

People often moan about digital photography and the ability to manipulate the pictures and how it is not real photography. The reality is that cameras don’t record what the human sees and lots of manipulation was possible in the film days of photography. The issue is that perhaps some don’t like that fact that manipulation has become easier.

My first SLR camera was a Canon AT-1, you had to focus and set the aperture and speed  before taking a picture. You also had to load 35mm film into it. More than once I failed to load the film in properly and found that the pictures I thought I’d taken, hadn’t. My son used it a few years ago with black and white film to experiment with.

So this isn’t quite what it looked like when I was out – but taking a picture into the sun causes everything else to look darker and quite dramatic.  My Panasonic camera is not technically an SLR camera – when you look through the viewfinder you are actually looking at a small LCD screen at what is coming through the lens. Whereas with an SLR camera, normally when you look through a viewfinder you actually see the picture through a mirror and prism system. This makes my camera a little safer when taking such pictures. Normally you would never look at the sun through a camera as it can be dangerous.

This was taken along Fen Road just out of Lode.

As you can see in this picture taken with my back to the sun along Great Drove towards Upware it wasn’t really that dark. It did look bleak though.

Once again shooting into the sun at the Washes near Upware – as you can see they tend to flood during the winter months. I didn’t see many birds – probably because of the blustery wind.

Wicken Fen wasn’t as busy as I feared – probably because by now it was getting darker. So I didn’t have to contend with path-blockers on the cycle route through.  The sun was getting quite low in the sky by now.

After hauling my bike over the footbridge  over  Burwell lode and passing a few bird watchers I met MikeC on shanks’ pony – he’d decided against cycling in the face of 40 knot gusts. As we walked (well I cycled) along Lodes Way through Adventurers Fen we met and chatted with another cyclist coming the other way. (Mike seems to know many of the cyclists on Lodes Way).

He had visited Pout Hall Corner to see how the water abstraction to fill Burwell Fen was going.

After saying goodbye at Hightown Drove I put my lights on and carried along Lodes Way.  I passed what looked like old computer monitor casings and then these bags. I have often wondered what really happens when you donate old clothes to charity by filling the bags that appear at you door from time to time. Well sometimes they seem to end up by the side of the road – and I have seen this more than once.

As usual the Council had been here first and checked and then labelled the bags in the hope of catching whoever dumped them here. They are probably one of the unsung parts of the council – but keep up the good work.

At the crossroads with Great Drove I stopped to take my last picture. As the sun sets it is less bright and so the picture ends up with less contrast. So although it is darker overall it looks lighter than the pictures taken earlier in the afternoon.

Despite the wind it was a very pleasant cycle ride. Partly because I wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry and partly because the route twists and turns, sometimes between hedgerows the wind was rarely against me for too long. Mind you if it had been raining as well then it would have been a different story.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

1,562 whiplash claims per day–make neck braces compulsory in cars!

I can’t actually track down the source of  the widely reported1,562 whiplash claims per day in the UK, but have found an Association of British Insurers (ABI) Press release indicating it is nearly 1,200 per day (news release on the ABI website). Given this horrific news then surely we must demand that neck braces are compulsory for all car occupants. After all that implies that there are over 400,000 whiplash claims per year.

Apparently we are in the middle of a “whiplash epidemic”. In this video Malcolm Tarling from the Association of British Insurers suggests that “every minute of every day someone in this country claims for whiplash”. Which implies 525,600 claims per year (and 1,440 claims per day).

Despite the wind on Sunday, here in the flatlands, with gusts up to 40 Knots (46mph). I had a very pleasant ride – but as my browser fills up with interesting cycling-related bits and pieces it seems to slow down. So the time has come to either comment on them or close the window – so I’ll post about my Sunday ride later.

I am a Chrome user (currently Beta – 17.0.963.38), mainly because it is fast, I still have Internet Explorer (IE 9.9.4) on my machine but almost never use it, except when I come across some minor problem with compatibility – which are quite rare nowadays. Having said that I also use Flashblock to stop unnecessary displays appearing on webpages, all in order to cut down on the parasitic load on my computer.

The trouble is that Flash does crash from time to time although Chrome is quite resilient and quite a lot of the blocked bits around a page adverts.  You can create whitelists, but in the main I don’t as blocked bits can easily be clicked to allow the Flash content to be displayed.

Mind you McAfee will also occasionally flag an advert as coming from a questionable source – the adverts don’t come from the same place as most of a page’s content. So I do wonder if there are too many programs getting in the way before finally showing me what is going on.  I know that adverts probably pay for a lot of what I see – however whilst I accept that they might take up a bit if display space on a webpage I don’t really want them using up loads of CPU cycles and I really am not happy about them taking up loads of physical memory.

Currently with 30 web pages in two groups and Windows Live writer and Task Manager as my only programs it is using 94% of physical memory. When I close all the web pages it falls to 24% of physical memory. Re-loading most of the web pages again only takes it up to  76% – which implies a memory leak?

So where to start. Some of the webpages have been around for a while and I have forgotten where they came from – Twitter and the Blogs I read tend to be the main sources. Also my guilty secret is that despite the politics of the Daily Mail not being aligned with my own – they do have a free website with lots of pictures and some extravagant headlines.

Having said that the first link is a very measured response to a bunch of letters criticising a Cycling Initiative – “Pedal Power” for showing helmetless cycling. As you might imagine there an almost hysteric criticism – yet the letter in a well-measured way reminds us that “A bike is an ordinary and totally accessible means of getting about and needs to remain as such.” (My emphasis.)

What no helmets – cycling through Wicken Fen

Given the cost of other forms of private and public transport not to mention the health benefits you would think that society might want to encourage cycling and a belief in its safety.  Talking about costs here is a Daily Mail piece on “Car insurance doubled?” Apparently the average cost of car insurance was £333 eighteen years ago, it is now £1,510. It highlights the issues of ambulance-chasers and the increase in whiplash claims. The article suggests that an Association of British Insurers estimates is that there are 1,562 whiplash claims per day in the UK. If that is really the case then there is a strong argument to say we should all wear neck braces when in cars. Cycling neck braces are not cheap though.

I have tried to track down the actual number of whiplash injuries made by the ABI – here is a news release on the ABI website, dated 19th May 2011, that suggests that nearly 1200 whiplash claims are made per day. They estimate the costs as £8 million` to the NHS in treatment and nearly £2 billion in insurance payouts.

I also wonder if the drive to make modern cars much safer has also led to an increase in the costs of repair. For instance when I started driving we did not have air-bags, now we do – they definitely make a car safer for the occupants certain types of crashes.  However they will then require replacement, not to mention the need for renewal after 10 years! According to this link, just the driver’s side replacement and fit will cost $700 (£450) for a Honda Accord.

Of course for many cyclists why does this all matter – well because it makes car drivers feel even more hard done by. When they feel hard done by then it makes them feel that cyclists deserve all they get.

You often see cars parked on pavements and cycleways, lots of cyclists complain, rarely do things get done. Although I have seen a ticket on a car parked on a pavement once. Here is the cyclist blog in the Cambridge News – justifiably complaining – “Blog 29: Is it a car park or a cycleway”.

Cars on the Shared-use Pavement – Fordham – room to squeeze a wheelchair?

Of course in that age-old territorial battle for the road between cyclists and cars, well that’s the way the motorists see it I think we have a celebrity entry. In an altercation between machine and bike we have Shane Warne as the driver. Here a small selection of links; “Shane Warne vs. cyclists: registration and number plates”, “Warnie puts bad spin on cycling” and “Warniegate! The Cyclist’s Side”.

I don’t know the truth about what happened but to paraphrase the way in which Judge’s sometimes seem to explain their decisions – I find the cyclist’s version of events far more credible than the cricketer’s. The trouble is such ignorance of the issues is the real problem.

Part of the problem is that Shane Warne turned to Twitter as if to get his retaliation first – perhaps not really the best way to resolve the issue. In another Aussie media-personality road rage case the motorist was found guilty of intentionally causing injury. Although that news report only really quotes the car driver.  An earlier report of the court case tells the cyclist’s story – his finger was broken and there were six fragments.

The trouble is car drivers are not vulnerable road users and cyclists are – as a cyclist I do know how having a near miss with a car is a shocking experience.

We know that cars cause pollution and lower polluting cars pay less vehicle excise duty or car tax as an incentive to us all to drive lower polluting cars. Well we have a CO2 measuring sculpture in Cambridge to show the levels – it is positioned at the Hills Road entrance to the Botanic Gardens, I must look out for it. Although I better make sure I don’t leave it until we get some snow at a “Shortage of grit could leave Cambridge City Centre cut off”. Apparently they will grit the town centres of Wisbech and Whittlesey – mind you this only applies as an emergency measure if there is a shortage of grit.

Deck the halls and grit the roads, but not the shared-use pavements
Lode – Swaffham Bulbeck)

Just to rub salt into the problem – apparently the man-made carbon emissions means that the “oceans have acidified more in the last 200 years ‘than they did in the previous 21,000 years’” – rather a sobering thought.

I believe that those in power should lead by example – so was horrified to see that one “seaside town bans wardens from issuing councillors with parking fines”. It is Southend and they have programmed their new ticketing system to block the issuance of tickets. The good news is that nine councillors from the Independent Group have refused to take part. Then in Wandsworth a “driver was given a £110 parking fine as he helped give first aid to a motorbike crash victim”. So good Samaritans are  not to be trusted, whilst Councillors are considered too upright to possibly flout the rules. That’s cockeye if you ask me.

In what appears to be a none story “is this the worst road in Britain? Residents count 134 potholes in just 350yards”. The Daily Mail actually shows a road with patched potholes, not that well I agree, but I wouldn’t report them as being hazards to a cyclist – yet. I do wonder why they don’t measure the distance in metre – perhaps because we still use miles to measure distance on the roads.

Almost finally – some cyclists items. Regent Street in Cambridge was closed after a crash involving a female cyclist and a car. I am not sure quite where it happened and she suffered serious but not life-threatening injuries. I hope she makes a full recovery. This bit of Regent Street can be tricky with the Bollards to block non-bus traffic and a right turn to avoid the bollards.

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A rather unpleasant cycling incident was also reported – “Cyclist snatches wallet from ride in Cambridge”. Although apparently crime is down 10% in the county (Cambs). It does highlight that cycling is the norm in Cambridge with perpetrators and victims on their bikes.

My son is interested in taking pictures of plant diseases (for his job) and has been asking me about Macro photography. I hadn’t realised just how complex a subject it is. You can get special lenses (macro lens), or lens that go on the front of an existing lens (close-up lens), or tubes that go in between the existing lens and the camera (extension tubes) or even attach you lens the other way around.

For his purposes I think he can get away with a close-up lens since he only needs a small increase in magnification and can’t afford an expensive purpose built lens. He has an Olympus Pen camera and by luck rather than judgement can use my Panasonic lenses as well. (As you might expect different manufacturers have different ways of fitting their lens onto the camera bodies). But I don’t have a Macro lens. This is about what my 14-140mm lens can achieve.

As I was sitting I though I’d take a quick test picture. This is Custard, my cycling mascot. He has been around the world and cycled in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and India as well as in the UK and was a gift from my daughter. He is about 9cm in height, although a little fore-shortened. So you can see that if the leaf had splotches around the size of the button – 10mm then doesn’t occupy a lot of the frame. Mind you even with 12mega pixies you could blow up the image

Which is what I have done here – the brown dots are 10mm apart in real life and yet appear on my screen as 40mm apart – and are at an acceptable resolution (IMHO).

Here are some proper macro pictures – some quite stunning insect close-ups. And I must check out the sky at night – with the solar activity we are getting Northern lights down above Yorkshire apparently.

And finally – “Denise van Outen’s bum is killing her” – she is doing a 289 mile charity ride across India for Great Ormond Street Hospital.  Mind you technically the temperatures aren’t above boiling in India – it is hot and you do need to drink lots. In the last picture she seems to be practising cycling with her eyes shut!.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A bit of CGB News

It has been a while since the CGB (Cambridgeshire Guided Busway) legal battles have been mentioned in the press.  Well they have appeared in the Hunts Post – “Cambs Busway: £52m court battle still two years away”. That is a fair bit of money and the article indicates that the Council's budget for legal costs is £5m which is probably a good guess for the amount that the contractors, their parent company and their insurers will also be budgeting. (BAM Nuttal Limited.)

It is a good job that the Busway seems to be carrying plenty of passengers,  that at least means that there is some value for money. I’ve often wondered quite why there seemed to be so much political pressure to pursue the guided busway rather than reinstate the railway line. Mind you as a cyclist I have benefitted from the conversion as it has led to the creation of an excellent cycleway between the north of Cambridge and St Ives.

CGB Cycleway near Swavesey

My guess is that although we think of the railways as being a privately owned and controlled system they aren’t really that free. In fact they seem to combine the worst aspects of capitalism and governmental bureaucracy.  The office of Rail Regulation employs 320 people. According to Wikipedia the UK has the 18th largest railway network and is the fifth busiest. However a study released last year – “McNulty’s ‘Rail value for Money study’” indicated that UK’s rail costs should be 20-30% lower when compared with countries such as France. (Here is the full report – which does have increasing the revenue from car – parking  as one of its Terms of Reference.– Annex A.)

So I have coined the term BureauCaptic – for the situation and I think this was the reason we got the Guided Busway – because it reduces the layers of bureaucracy. Mind you it also serves to reduce the power of the unions.  Which might or might not be deliberate. Although with deals done to pay Tube staff more the bus drivers are also asking for more so perhaps it doesn’t?

It would also appear that the A14 £20million improvements fund might also be used to pay for doubling the St Ives Park and Ride capacity. So the CGB does seem to be flavour of the month.

St Ives CGB Park and Ride

Speed limits have also been in the local press. The A1301 north of Sawston is to become a 50mph stretch with a hoped for a 40mph limit where the cycleway crosses the road.

A1301 – with NCN 11 Cycle route crossing (blue dots)
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Pressure for an A10 speed limit has been scrapped though with the argument that it would be dangerous.  There will be a 50mph limit between the Milton and Waterbeach – which might make crossing from Waterbeach to Landbeach slightly easier though. Some strange logic there – speed limits are dangerous – if that’s the case then why do we have them at all! There is of course no recognition of the quality of life issues associated with noisy roads nor the problem of crossing fast roads.

20mph Speed Limit – Cambridge City

Whilst talking about Fen Roads “Thirty vehicles stopped during multi-agency crackdown on key Fen roads” reports on checking for illegal use of red diesel, heating oil or stolen scrapped metal on roads such as the A10.  I wonder if they knew how dangerous the road was if motor vehicles were slowed down.

A nicer place to live or faster roads–I know which I want

Friday, 20th January 2012: At the moment the weather seems to be changeable. It varies from freezing to around 10C almost on a daily basis. Some days it is calm, some days it can suddenly get blustery and although this part of the world (the Flatlands of East Anglia) is pretty dry we do seem to be getting a bit of rain. The weather graphs for Friday show persistent rain from about 9.30am through to 6pm and the graphs for the month of January show temperatures bouncing, the wind blowing and rain along with some sunshine as well.

Now I had a lunchtime meeting that was going to make an excellent excuse to get out for a ride and a bit of fresh air. Although I do have some cycling gear, including Lycra I am also in cycling being an every day thing that you can and should do in normal clothes. The trouble is the more cycling is marked out as a specialist activity requiring special clothing the easier it is to marginalise – think Lycra Louts or MAMILs.

The result is that cycling becomes marginalised and gives our politicians the excuse not to spend money on decent facilities, it allows motorists the excuse to transfer blame onto cyclists whether it is for not wearing a helmet or lights or bright gear. All of which really just allow motorists to drive faster and with less attention on the road. (IMHO).

One of the blame points appears to be on cyclists who jump red lights. Well look at this You tube video  “Cyclists don’t stop at RED” to see just how well behaved motorists aren’t.  When I saw it I couldn’t believe how wild-west the roads have become.

Mind you that was only a “few” motorists jumping red lights, the “majority of cyclists jump red lights.” Well no that is not true – a study in London by the Road Network Performance & Research Team looked at the “Proportion of Cyclists Who Violate Red Lights in London” showed that it was a small minority. It was still too large, but nowhere near a majority. (See Section 7, Summary on page 28. On average 16% of cyclists jumped red lights on a selection of traffic-light controlled crossings in London and yes I think it is mad too.)

Temporary Traffic Lights – Coton, a roof being re-thatched

One of the consequences is “Cotton wool children”. According to the article only one in five children play out every day, one in ten has never ridden a bike and a third have never built a den or climbed a tree. In our safety obsessed culture why would you let children do any of those dangerous things!

Despite have quite a few cycle accidents when I was a young lad and also falling out of trees a few times I didn’t actually break any bones until a couple of years ago (and well beyond being a young lad) when I was in a SMISDY and got knocked off my bike by a car driver who didn’t see me. (I got the classic, for cyclists, broken collar bone for his troubles.)

Anyone for tree-climbing? A Misty tree somewhere in Cambs

Although the guidance for motorists in this country is to pay special attention to  road users requiring extra care (rules 204  - 225) as a society I worry that we are over optimising the way we live for  motorists and their throughput. I reckon that many roads have gotten nosier, whether it is more traffic or nosier tyres I don’t know. The consequence is that many of us use mp3 players to drown out the unpleasantness.  Well apparently “Serious accidents triple for pedestrians wearing headphones”. This results from “inattentional blindness”.

If you read the article, look at the quote from the AA man at the bottom. It is funny how only “Pedestrians and cyclists seem to get lost in a private cocoon when  they’re on a mobile in the street, or wearing headphones”. If you take this to a logical conclusion then shouldn’t we also ban car stereos, SatNavs, hands-free mobile phones and talking amongst car occupants. After all driving a lump of metal around and suffering from inattention seems to be far more serious than bone, flesh and water.

I wonder if this was inattentional blindness? “Oops, I didn’t see the signs and flashing lights: Woman ‘lucky to be alive’ after driving into path of oncoming train”. Fortunately there were no serious consequences.

A Low Tech Level Crossing near Westley Bottom

In case you are wondering – although I got a cycle cape for Christmas the combination of wind and rain stopped me from trying it out – I ended up driving to my meeting instead.

Sad smile

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Tales of two cities–no cycling, but bicycle pictures

Tuesday, 18th January 2012:It was a day of meetings in London and foolishly I decided that it was so cold that that the sorts of clothing I required to keep me warm whilst cycling were not compatible with sorts of clothing I would need in London.  More fool me. In hindsight I was stupid not to have just set off to the Railway Station on my bicycle since I know that I will warm up pretty quickly and that when it is really cold I modify my speed (work rate) to balance the heat I generate with the heat I lose to maintain a pretty comfortable temperature. (Perhaps I should get one of these – a suitpack, although I would have to change in the Railway Station toilets – not a pleasant though.

What’s more we had blue skies and sunshine which would have made it a very pleasant ride to the Railway Station. Regular readers will know how much I hate the Station facilities – whether I cycle and park my bike there, or drive there and park my car or take my Brompton folding bike and take it to London.  The principle problems are if you are not a commuter then very often the available spaces have been taken  - whether car or bicycle.

The weird thing is that they have built and additional platform to increase the Stations passenger capacity. The new platform means longer trains and so more customers. Cambridge is increasing in size, which is bound to increase the number of commuters –especially if they can now catch the train and not have to stand all the way there and all the way back.

So in this era of joined-up thinking you might imagine that they would have thought about getting to and from the station. Despite us living in capitalist times even the trains run faster than the solutions to the access problems. For me the problem might have been resolved if the CGB (Cambridgeshire Guided Busway) have been able to work its way through the town centre. For others I would imagine that if the CGB route between the Trumpington Park and Ride site had been a more frequent service. 

Mind you it is only open from 7am to 8pm during the week – which if that means you can’t access the car park then it is a bit of a problem. it bills the time from the Park and Ride to the station as 13 minutes. The current charging system is non to clear to me though. Buses appear to run every 20 minutes from 6.39am to 19.39pm. The pricing is not set up for acting as a shuttle between the P&R and the Railway station but appears to be £3.50 for a dayrider. Whilst the current car park chares at the Railway Station are £7.70 (peak).

Of course regular users would presumably go for season tickets – annual car-parking at the railway station is £1300.50 (very important that 50p). Whilst a seven day ticket for the CGB is £12. So Assuming you go to work 48 weeks of the then using the Trumpington P&R would cost £576 , a saving of £724.50 and a wasting of 288 hours. I have assumed 13 minutes on the CGB and an average wait of 10 minutes for the bus. I can see that if you are commuting into London then that is too much time to “waste” for that level of return.

Of course, you say for a capitalist country like the UK surely the price is set by supply and demand, well maybe it is, but frequently when I drive to the station the car park is full. As for the cycle parking – you’d think that there would be some appetite for paying for decent cycle parking. Well maybe, but land space is also at a premium. If the car park is full every week day with say an 80% occupancy and everyone pays for season tickets that represents 435 * 0.8 * £1300 per annum. (£450,000).

It would appear that the P&R sites are being opened up to encourage competition though, so a bit of thought about making them even more useful might be worthwhile.

Enough moaning. We had another serious cycle accident in Cambridge. As is the way accidents that result in court proceedings take some time. One has recently been reported where a Driver struck a cyclist after losing control when overtaking. The comments make for perplexing reading as the injured cyclist has commented on the circumstances.

I am an advocate of further driver training as one of the ways in which such offences can be dealt with. I think such driver training makes sense in addition to the other penalties. I also wonder whether another penalty would be to restrict the maximum power of car that could be driven for some reasonable period. It sounds as if this Overtaking driver who hit a cyclist might benefit from further training.

One aspect that confuses me is that the serious of the accident is measured by the level of casualty. Yet the seriousness can sometimes be rather random.  Here is a case of a lorry driver who was jailed for six years for killing two people changing a tyre by the side of a motorway. I presume that driving a lorry requires a higher duty of care (I would like to presume that). However it does seem that we punish the result and not the actual transgression itself.

Enough – I actually had a pleasant day once I was on my way to the station, walking through the new apartment blocks being built around the area.  It is interesting how popular apartments around the Railway Station are – there is clearly a demand for  convenient London commuting with minimal hassle getting to the station. Here is one such apartment block a few hundred metres from the ration.

There is a lot of construction still taking pace in the area – that crane is on the other side of Station Road.

The same picture but with a bit of manipulation to correct the distortion – there wasn’t enough correction by the looks of things though. You also lose bits of the picture when you crop it back to a rectangular shape.

The old Spiller’s building which was hit by a fire in March 2010. Here is a picture, pre-fire in 2000 and here is a painting.

As I walked along Station Road the usual sight. Now most people probably think flipping cyclists, what do they think they are doing leaving their bicycles where they shouldn’t. Me, I think why on earth can’t this problems be sorted out – if this Station is carrying loads of passengers then it ought to be making enough money to improve its provision for those using its services.

The challenge is that if you cycle to the station then what do you do if you can’t find a space to park – not go to work, miss the train? Given the work pressures on many people the thing that gets compromised first is the security of the bicycle. Let’s face it given the problems of bike theft here in Cambridge you wouldn’t choose to park your bike like this.

And this isn’t just the odd bike, any place a bike can be locked up to is used. After all that is what cyclists are advised to do to help prevent bike theft.

There are bikes on the roundabout at the top of Station Road as well. Although in this picture (as I’ve just viewed it – 18th January, 2012.) there aren’t any bicycles. So things must be getting worse.

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As you can see down the route of the CGB towards Trumpington P&R every spare lamp post seems to have bicycles locked to them.  This is clearly not because the cyclists prefer their own personal lamp post rather than park in the bike parks. This is because of the crap provision for all travellers using the railway station. It surprises me how such a state of affairs exists in a place like Cambridge.

The other reason I took this picture is that, as you can see there is bollard control to prevent the wrong vehicles getting down the CGB – although more for show as it looks as if it would be quite easy to circumvent them.

I am pleased to report that the journey into London was fine and on time and there were seats, although the train was busy. There is still a load of work taking place at King’s Cross Station, but it must be getting close as they were handing out leaflets about it. I resist the temptation to accept  stuff as you then struggle to find places to throw it away.

It does surprise me just how far the the tube platforms are – they can’t have moved, but seemed a lot closer before all of the works took places. As it happens the tube also ran smoothly and I had a bit of time to spare before my first meeting. When I travel by car/bike, train and tube I tend to allow at least 30minutes extra and this time around because of timings it turned into 45 minutes. So it gave me time to wander along the Thames a little bit. (I used the Embankment tube station.)

I walked up onto the Golden Jubilee Bridge (there are workarounds to the Wikipedia protest).

View Larger Map

And from that bridge I took a picture down the Thames of the Waterloo Bridge and beyond. large rivers do help to open out cities and I am thinking wider than the River Cam, not that it is too bad. Mind you the London skyline is iconic.

This is the pedestrian bridge – aka The Golden Jubilee Bridge – or at least one half of it as the map shows another on the other side of the rail bridge (Hungerford Bridge). it did bounce a little as I was taking pictures and people walked by.

On the other side is the Royal Festival Hall.

And on my side Cleopatra’s Needle and the building with the clock seems to be Shell Mex House.

A close-up of Waterloo Bridge with St Paul’s Cathedral behind.

What is it they say about buses – well here are four on the bridge at the same time.

I also had a stroll through the Victoria Embankment Gardens, stopping to take this picture of some spiky leaves.

There was also this pond with the aforementioned needle behind. It is in memory of Major General Lord Cheylesmore.  According to the management plan he was Sir Hubert Francis Heaton and a Mayor of London.

A bit further along in front the Institution of Engineering and Technology was a statue of Faraday, well known to students of Physics.

As this point I had to nip along and start work, which I did. The second of my meetings finished around 6.30pm and on my way out of the building I thought I would take some twilight pictures. At this point I remembered that my camera was in my coat pocket and that I had left my coat and scarf behind. I nipped back in although I had handed in my pass – but no-one seemed to mind.

On the way back to the tube station here is the London Eye with a grey-blue sky behind.

And as I promised bikes, here are some bike – “Boris bikes”. What a fine array, ready and waiting for some willing cyclists. It made me think that I ought to join up and then use them to get around London. The main problems are that I don’t know my way around London very well and I certainly don’t know where the Boris Bike parks are. Actually they are the Barclays Cycle Hire bikes.  Using the planning facility on the website the route is almost directly north and only 4.0Km. As I sit here I wonder why I didn’t ride.

And to finish, here are some rivers, taken when I used to have a job involving travelling around..

A frozen river in Seoul, but not the main one

The River Cam – and some punters

A River in Tokyo

A River through the middle of Bangkok

And that’s it for rivers.