Monthly Archives: May 2007

We won!

Just over a week ago, I blogged a call for my fellow Brits to sign a petition.

Today, with a little over 20000 signatures on the petition, the news is that the government has indeed listened and revised the offending clauses in the highway code. The CTC reports on it here.

My thoughts on what may really have happened, as posted to uk.rec.cycling in a thread on the good news:

Scenario. Powers that be are discussing the Highway Code.

They’ve had objections to some of the points in it, like the “use psychlepaths where practical” one, so they take evidence about how it could change. But it was never a big issue, nor very clear what the issue was, and they’re not paying very much attention. They give someone an Action to reword it.

By the time that person reaches this action item, he/she has no recollection of what was wrong with the wording and why it has to change. After all, it was never a big issue. So we end up with a minimal but random change.

Then they publish the changes as a draft, and it blows up in their faces. But that in itself isn’t really enough: they’re well used to criticism. They need some positive criticism: a better wording, together with an explanation of why. Maybe that was the CTC’s role, in which case it was indeed a crucial one.

The rest is, with a bit of luck, history.

Congratulations to Daniel Dignam, Ming Campbell, and others who made an issue of it. And to whoever came up with the new wording.

[UPDATE] The government has now issued an official response to the petition.

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Meanwhile at home

It’s over five months since the scaffolding came down across the road, and over 18 months since they started building work. The roofs are now more like a small meadow than a lawn, with long grass and a range of wildflowers (and litter). But still it’s a building site: there is no public access, and the small area of garden at the back is full of junk.

And this week, the b***** water board have been digging up the road, with tremendous noise and clouds of nasty substances, right outside my windows. Of course it had to coincide with the hottest weather we’ve had yet this year, so (like last year) I had to close the window just when I most need it open. I’m not sure if it’s in connection with the new flats, but I suspect it is. At least it wasn’t persistent torture like last year’s ghetto blaster, so I only had to close the window intermittently.

And the current neighbours are a blessed relief: it’s much quieter than before, and it’s now exceptional rather than normal for the whole building to shake as they go about their everyday (and night) activities. Tonight someone is having a party, but even so the noise level is civilised.

I still want to get out of here, and still lack time (and round tuits) for the depressing business of house-hunting.

Calling my fellow Brits

Whether or not you’re a cyclist, you should be concerned about this one. The new updates to the Highway Code threatens to reduce our right to use the roads. That is, of course, those of us who are Good Citizens and obey the highway code; those who ignore the law, the code, and common courtesy now are unlikely to be affected much!

The basic problem is one of pushing us on to cyclepaths. That’s fine when there’s a decent path that goes where we want without undue delay. But the vast majority of designated cyclepaths in the UK are substandard, ranging from slow and hazardous to totally unusable. And they can be a problem for other road users, bringing cyclists into conflict with both pedestrians and motorists. A typical 6-mile urban commute could be a leisurely 20-minute journey by road, but over an hour of conflict and stress on designated paths, where for example every concealed driveway presents its own fresh hazard. See the Warrington Cycle Campaign’s “facility of the month” for examples.

What’s needed right now is to sign the petition at the no.10 website. Please do so now, if you haven’t already!

Some places that explain the problem in more detail include the CTC and the Cambridge Cycling Campaign. If you have the time and energy to do more than just sign the petition, they have further suggestions.

Brighton Festival

Apart from seeing the parents and visiting the US embassy, I got three nights out last week at Brighton Festival events.

First up was Dido and Aeneas at the Dome, performed by a group called (IIRC) the New London Consort. They were musically proficient and featured 17th-century instruments, and in part authentic style. But in this work for mostly-female cast (it was originally written for a girls school where Purcell was music master), they took the unusual step of recasting a lot of it for male voices. And not just countertenors, either! Call me old-fashioned, but I find a baritone sorceress mildly disconcerting. The production was billed as semi-staged, but the action was very weak, and they’d have done better to abandon any pretence at staging and just give an honest concert performance. Fortunately it was musically much stronger.

Second was King Arthur (yea, more Purcell) at the Theatre Royal, this time by a group called Armonico Consort. Actually, calling it King Arthur was taking rather a liberty: they’d created their own show, just using Purcell’s music (which was much cut, and rearranged). But the show was good in its own right, and I enjoyed it much better than the previous show, despite the musical standard being a little more uneven.

Third was The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte, in translation), also by Armonico at the Theatre Royal. This was an interesting and enjoyable production despite the horribly banal translation and a musically very uneven performance. On the good side, Tamino, Pamina, Papageno, and most of the minor parts were well on top of their parts and much enjoyed. Unfortunately I couldn’t say the same for the Queen of the Night (decent top Fs, but with a faint hint at a flo-jo in the high coloratura, and an intrusive vibrato) or Sarastro (inadequate lower range, and got hopelessly behind the orchestra in “Isis und Osiris”).

The production was (as it must be) very funny. The character of Papageno was noteworthy: in place of the fairytale birdman, we got the kind of rough fellow who you might think twice before daring to ask to put out a fag (in a nonsmoking area of course), or who might be found on a building site wolf-whistling passing girls. It worked. It might’ve worked even better if they’d cast a professional comedian in the role. Also noteworthy were the three boys, who were (unusually) cast as trebles rather than adult sopranos (unfortunately they didn’t blend, and in consequence sounded rather painful).

In addition to some cuts (which avoided the cut feel of the King Arthur), they’d made efforts to politically correct it. The misogeny was there but much toned-down, and the racism was altogether gone (which pretty much loses the Papageno-Monostatos scene altogether).

Bloody sunday trains:-(

In the recent past, the information online has accurately reflected any disruption to Sunday services.  So I set out today expecting to make a normal journey.  The station staff also reassured me there was no disruption to my route (only Portsmouth had works near it).

I went for the 11:14 from Hove, only to find it was the truly ghastly 2-carriage “alphaline” train (now rebranded “first great western”, so it’s harder to spot in the timetable).  So I went back to the parents, and took the 13:26 instead.  It was a slightly unusual route going via Fratton (Portsmouth), but otherwise the usual route.

Now normally I have to change train somewhere between Fareham and Southampton onto the South Coast -> South Wales Line.  I leave the change as late as possible, because the trains along the south coast are far more comfortable than the south wales ones.  This time it stopped a long time at Eastleigh, where I heard the train onwards was cancelled, and joined a lot of other travellers in search of an alternative.  To make things worse, the electronic information boards were out of order.

Station staff at Eastleigh were good, and got us information about getting there.  I was one of several people wanting Plymouth (the greater number was for Bristol), and they routed us via Reading on a later train.  From that point on all went as expected.  The train from Reading was overcrowded (comfortable after Exeter) but fast, and I arrived in Plymouth only 45 minutes later than expected, leaving me to catch the 20:50 bus to Tavistock.

A minor inconvenience in the global scheme of things (at least for me, if not for the unfortunate young lady who mislaid her wallet whilst being diverted).  But what annoys me is that I knew nothing about the cancelled train until Eastleigh, and then only by chance.  Can’t they announce these things when you get on to a connecting train?  Or better, when you look up the timetable online?

Solar power?

Dear Lazyweb, just wondering if there’s anyone flogging solar generators for a laptop? Specifically a small macbook, but better would be something more generic.

And if so, what does the bulk and weight look like these days, and will it be more delicate and at-risk than the laptop itself?

Ranting about the semweb

My latest article is up on El Reg. It’s another potentially-provocative rant, this time about the semantic web. And for the first time at the Reg, it’s had some not-entirely-trivial editorial attention between my submission and publication. Expanding many of the acronyms and adding links is probably a Good Thing, but I’m less convinced by splitting some paragraphs. One or two clauses or sentences have got lost or changed. But on the whole, it says what I meant to say.

I also thought of busking it as a lightning talk for ApacheCon, after being inspired to have a rant in the first place by some of the talks there. But I chickened out. The subject is one that could’ve been quite offensive if (or rather when) I fluffed the delivery, and I don’t have the performance skills to make it positive and entertaining.

The ITIN saga continues …

Well, since my application for an ITIN seems to have gone AWOL, I’ve tried again. On Wednesday, I made it to London and the US embassy in person.

Access to the embassy wasn’t as painful as it might have been. When I told the uniformed security guard outside I wanted IRS, she directed me to the shortest and fastest-moving of three queues to go through security. The security itself was indeed paranoid: for example, they made members of the american family in front of me go through separately, and made me take my belt off (yes, that’s a perfectly normal belt, whose purpose is to hold my trousers up). But noone got shot or otherwise attacked while I was there.

I started explaining the saga to the IRS man, who was deeply suspicious and hostile. But when I pointed out that I was actually presenting him an entirely new application form together with the required supporting documents, he became friendly and helpful. Evidently he’s much happier accepting a routine form than chasing stray paperwork. He happily accepted the form, but told me I now have to wait another twelve weeks for the ITIN itself. Strewth!

I left London from Victoria station, heading for Brighton (blog entry coming), passing Buckingham Palace on the way. They were doing something touristy involving clearing the road of both people and traffic, so I had to wade through hordes of gawping tourists crowded into a stretch of pavement altogether too narrow for the purpose. Bah, Humbug.

Bravo BBC!

The BBC puts out a great deal of deeply unfunny crap in the name of comedy. And the occasional comedy that’s worth listening to (mostly the News Quiz).

I’ve just finished listening to Mark Thomas on Radio 4 (“my life in serious organised crime”). He’s not a name I’m familiar with, and in the 11pm slot I come to it with low expectations. And I was splitting my sides with laughter. This man is brilliant!

I’ve no idea if he’s got enough material in him to make more than a one-off show, or if he’ll tend to repeat the same joke and deteriorate. But on today’s evidence, I hope we’ll get to hear more of him!

Bubblewrapped generation

They’ve called off the Ten Tors this year, due to bad weather.

Well, I was out (briefly) on Dartmoor yesterday, am looking out on it now, and expect to be there again this afternoon. Yes, we’ve had some significant rain over the past week, and over the weekend. Yes, the rivers have reached a wet-weather size. But it’s warm, the winds are light, and the rain is mixed with sunny intervals. The ground is not saturated as it was in March when we had far more rain, neither are the rivers in spate as they were then. It’s not tourist-weather, but neither is it severe. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

The Ten Tors is explicitly for teenagers. Not for small children. Not for frail pensioners. Not even fat middle-aged slobs like me. And these are self-selecting teenagers: they choose to do it. In other words, people who are at the prime of life, physically robust, have lots of excess energy, and should have absolutely no difficulty with a bit of rain.

A reporter on the radio just interviewed two or three being taken down off the moor (good grief!), and they were disappointed. Well, naturally. I wonder how many are rebelling against that organisation by completing the walk on their own, unofficially?

This is of course a stupid overreaction to the training run they had for it a couple of months ago, when one girl got swept away by a river and died. That weekend was altogether different, with a lot more ground and surface water out there, and a great deal more rain. And of course a seasonal difference in evaporation rate! To have called that weekend off would have made sense. But of course that would have been an organisational nightmare: they need a lot of adults involved, each of those adults needs to be security-cleared, etc, all in the name of protecting the teenagers from possible child-molesters.

The bubblewrap culture must bear the principal burden of guilt for that girl’s death. And now it’s deprived a far greater number of teenagers of a great weekend out. Some of them may have lost their only chance of a real walk for a long time.