When I was 19, I was once asked as I proffered my fare if was half fare. At that age I was obviously offended by my looking so immature but move on exactly 40 years and I’m now having the same problem at the other end of the scale. On buying tickets to see High Force, a rather splendid waterfall in County Durham we were greeted with “Seniors, is it?” !! In actual fact its been going on for years, but perhaps this time it’s because we are looking old and more haggard than usual. Anyway, we are at last on our holidays, so I thought I’d do a little blog this year.

Thought I’d make myself a list

Its looking like I only post to this blog once a year, although we seem to be having an explosion this year, so I’ll try and be more imaginative. The trouble is we only seem to do the things we really want to do. I seem to spend all my life starting things but never finishing them. So here’s my list of jobs started but not finished.

Why can’t we toss?

Listening to the news at lunchtime today, I heard that England are playing Cricket at Trent Bridge and the first thing we did was to LOSE the toss. I don’t need to state the obvious but we then went on to lose 2 quick wickets. Now these are professional cricketers here, and I can pretty well guarantee that they will not have practiced tossing in any of the training. Now when England play International football, they often lose at the end of the game in a penalty shootout, so, I hear, they have started to practice, as a team, at shooting penalties. Now they clearly must spend several minutes each year on this based on their performance in International matches, but at least its a start and they are showing willing.
In International cricket however, they clearly just don’t put any effort into this extremely important part of the game. There’s a simple rule that if the sun’s shining you want to go in to bat, if its overcast, you want the other team to bat first as the ball spins better in overcast weather. As as India showed today, they went on to a great start by putting us into bat first. Clearly, tossing can make the difference to whether we win or not and we aren’t practicing this critical part of the game.
Now I can hear what you are saying, there’s no point because it’s a 50:50 chance of it coming down either heads or tails. However, I can assure you that this is not the case. While a prisoner of war during World War II, J. Kerrich conducted an experiment in which he flipped a coin 10,000 times and kept a record of the outcomes. A portion of the results is given in the table below.

Number of Tosses Number of Heads
10 4
50 25
100 44
500 255
1,000 502
5,000 2,533
10,000 5,067

So, I think we need to focus on this 0.67 deviation from the straight 50:50 probability to hone our toss predicting skills. If we got really good at it we could apply for it to become an Olympic sport in its own right. Just imagine, maybe we could produce some world-class tossers.

UPDATE 1st August 2011 England won the match by 319 runs. Maybe losing the toss is cool!

Discrete traffic sensor

We have a traffic safety problem where we live, which is simply that the exit from our house emerges onto an ‘A’ road where the traffic rushes past at around 50mph if they keep to the speed limit. What makes it really dangerous is that we live on a bend in the road and its impossible to see around the bend to see if any traffic is coming. If we emerge into the road at the wrong time, we have less than a second to get across the road and out of the way prior to any impact. Or alternatively we travel in the same direction as the traffic and risk a rear end collision.

So I decided to try and make a traffic sensor to warn us of oncoming traffic and today I finished it and I have to say I’m rather pleased with it!

Having had this problem for some years, and having had some dangerous near misses, we originally decided to buy one of those convex traffic mirrors you see around. Unfortunately, however we positioned the thing, we didn’t see traffic in the mirror until we saw it for real! Things came to a head when we got a letter from the council asking if we still had a lorry business on our property. (It used to be a lorry repair business and the council had put up signs saying “Lorries turning 100 yds”) They wanted to remove the signs “to reduce the roadside clutter”. I wrote back saying that there was no longer a lorry business but we urgently needed to have a meeting to discuss ways of making the road joining less dangerous. I requested they change the ‘Lorry turning’ sign with a ‘Concealed Entrance ahead’ sign. In fact the road has now moved up to second place in the league table of most dangerous roads in the UK.  It is the A5012 between Pikehall and Cromford and has jumped 4 places in 1 year! Anyway, so worried and concerned was the council that they didn’t even bother to reply to my letter! I started researching some kind of discrete warning device, as clearly the council were not going to dig up the road to insert one one of their “under the road” inductive loops.  I started by looking at radar but found it a bit on the  expensive side (£300+ just for the module). After doing some research,  I thought I’d see if an ultrasound sensor would work for recognising passing traffic (a bit cheaper at £15!). To cut a long story short, it does work, I’m pleased to say. You can read how its made in detail here. So what now happens is that the traffic passes the ultrasound sensor which I’ve cobbled together in an mdf housing (see top picture) and this detects the vehicle(s) passing and switches on a light 175 yds further down the road, which is where our drive emerges. The light is made of several high intensity LEDs and stays on for around 6 seconds which is about how long it takes for the traffic to reach the ‘collision’ point!

Same old Microsoft

Microsoft have recently announced a tie up with Yahoo to try to penetrate the Search engine market. On the BBC news website,  Steve Balmer is quoted as saying “Through this agreement with Yahoo, we will create more innovation in search, better value for advertisers, and real consumer choice in a market currently dominated by a single company”.  How I agree with Mr Balmer. I’d also like to see real consumer choice in a market currently dominated by a single company, I’m referring of course to the computer desktop operating system market that Microsoft holds a 90% stranglehold. They achieved this through unlawful monopolistic practices and were successfully prosecuted by several governments over the years.

Every Little Helps

Went to Tescos in Hemel Hempstead on Saturday for breakfast, and arrived at the cafe at 7:30am to see no-one in the queue and dishes full of sausages, bacon, fried bread etc all ready to serve. We were then told that they didn’t open until 8:00am. Now, the food was all prepared, I don’t know how long it had been sitting there, on a hot surface. In order to keep it hot, they have some pathetic pigmy lamps above the food, presumably so it doesn’t get too hot.

We obediently arrived in the queue 25 minutes later and were still kept waiting until the stroke of 8:00 and were served what I’d describe as a tepid breakfast. Everything had managed to reach the equilibrium of room temperature, presumably so as to not burn us. The lady asked if we’d like a fried egg or toast becasue they cook those to order. Fantastic I thought, at least something would be hot. She duly placed 2 slices of bread onto a tray and they slowly decended into a machine and disappeaed from sight, only to emerge a few minutes later completely black! They were then placed on the plate so they could quickly cool off as well before you managed to get any butter on them. The temperature of the plate didn’t help. The plates were also placed on this hotplate, but because there were about 50 plates between the hotplate and my plate it was unlikely that much heat would actually make it through to the top.

The power of insanity

Alan Johnston bannerIts St Georges day today. I notice Google hasn’t bothered to mention it again this year. Unlike St Patrick’s day of course. I’m afraid I hardly noticed. More seriously, its now exactly 6 weeks since Alan Johnston was forced at gunpoint into a car in Gaza. He is the BBC’s Gaza correspondent, the only western journalist to be permanently based in Gaza in Palestine. He has been reporting about the suffering of the Palestinians for 3 years now and was due to finish his stint at the end of March.

I wonder about the intelligence of the people who abducted him. Here was a man who was keeping the situation that the Palestinians were in, permanently in the public eye. And what to these intellectually challenged people do? – they remove him so he can no longer report on the situation. Very bright. They also alienate those who are sympathetic to their cause. – Like me.

There was a report a few days ago that the Palestinian Security people now know where he is being held and who’s holding him. If this is true its about time they did something about it. They also say Alan Johnston is still alive. Everybody certainly hopes so. What a mess the world is in.

St George died as a Christian martyr, I hope Alan Johnston doesn’t die holding the flame of truth and free speech in such a troubled part of the world.

Update Alan Johnston was released in the Gaza Strip after 114 days in captivity. See the BBC News item

Worse than Murder

Something really sad happened today. Gary McKinnon, the alleged Pentagon hacker, has lost his appeal against extradition to the US on hacking charges. Now this is a prime example of how the technology divide can cause unbelievable injustice. Basically the British establishment don’t understand technology, or any science for that matter. Its full of lawyers and economists and arts graduates who haven’t got a clue. Now the US military say Gary McKinnon is a cyber terrorist and they want to try him for breaking into the Pentagon computers and causing millions of dollars of damage to their computers. So the pathetic British establishment is kowtowing to the US like it always does and extraditing him to the us where he will serve 60 years for frankly having done absolutely nothing. And the disgusting thing is, its the UK government that is handing him over.

Here in the UK, some yob can murder someone in the street and end up getting 6 years for ‘manslaughter’ and and actually serve only 3 years. I’ve heard of even more lenient sentences. Yes, this same profession of legal people can’t overturn the most stupid extradition request to sentance a UK citizen to 60 years for doing basically nothing – “But the US military said it was terrible therefore it must have been”.

So what did he do? He clearly broke the law. He’s not denying this. Basically “he visited” 100’s of computers owned by the US military (Just like you are visiting this one) and when faced by a request for a username and password, he ran a program that tried lots of different passwords until he gained access. He then looked around at many files to see if he could find any information on UFOs. He didn’t actually cause any physical damage, he didn’t delete any files, he left everything as he found it.

However the Americans are so embarrassed by the ease with which he broke in, showing up their pathetic lack of security that they want to exact revenge. Basically he did them a favour – he showed how easy it was to gain access and caused a huge shake up in their computer security and caused them to make it half decent for a change. The UK authorities seem to have no-one who is prepared to take on the Americans. We have a weak Prime Minister who does everything they want and that seems to filter down to the rest of the establishment.

The media runs the country

Patrick Mercer was the Tory shadow defence secretary until today, when he was sacked by David Cameron. He was sacked for being racist when he was interviewed in the Times:

When he was in the army, he had met “a lot” of “idle and useless” ethnic minority soldiers who used racism as a “cover”… that being called a “black bastard” was a normal part of Army life. In his interview with the Times, Mr Mercer said of the
black men he had known in the Army: “They prospered inside my regiment, but if you’d said to them ‘Have you ever been called a nigger,’ they would have said ‘Yes.’
“But equally, a chap with red hair, for example, would also get a hard time – a far harder time than a black man, in fact.”

Patrick Mercer used to be an officer in the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters regiment was just describing what life was like in the Army. He was telling it as it is. He was not being racist, just describing the actual situation. So why was he sacked. Basically Cameron had to sack him otherwise the media would accuse Cameron of condoning racism. Even though Patrick Mercer was very fair with everybody, and since this incident has been backed by many black soldiers who served under him, the media and also some labour MPs have twisted it round so it looks like racism.

I hate this sort of thing. I’ve been reported about a couple of times in the local newspapers and they all got the facts wrong. Jack Straw’s comments were: “The comments are breathtaking and dreadful and Mr Mercer’s resignation is appropriate.

So here again, we have people in authority who ‘don’t get it’, pontificating about something, and because they are ‘important‘ what they say goes.

Congestion Charging is all the rage

One of the main debates at the moment is how to solve the problem of traffic congestion. There has been a petition on the Downing Street website demanding that the Government scraps the idea of taxing cars per mile of travel. 1.7 million people have signed the petition supporting this. I didn’t sign it, because I disagree. I didn’t realise I could sign to say ‘no, go ahead Government!’. Anyway, I think there’s a lot of selfishness creeping in here.

For a start, we are gradually destroying the planet through our use of carbon fuels. Now, I’m as guilty as anybody. But despite this, there are too many cars on the roads. The normal answer of building more roads is not solving the problem.

Now I know this is an old chestnut, but we used to have a brilliant transport infrastructure. It was called the railway. Then some idiot politician decided to appoint an economist to run the railways. His name was Dr Richard Beeching and he bascially shut down more than 8000 miles (12,875 km) of track and 2000 statins on the railway, and it continued even further after that. This frankly wrecked the system and forced people to use cars and lorries instead of the railway. It was considered uneconomic at the time but, boy, I wish he could have seen the real cost of shutting down so much of the railway.

So lets be big boys and admit that running down the railways was a bad idea and put a big proportion of the green taxes into expanding the railways again. we should be aiming to get everything off the roads and on to the railways, so that the only motor transport is to get from your home/office/factory to the railway station and back. And while wer’re at it, the rest of the green taxes can go into free bus/coach transport!