War on Cyclists

It was this time last year that I wrote about how cyclists got on my nerves (sometimes), but that it wasn’t really their fault. So this BBC headline naturally grabbed my attention: Why the war between motorists and cyclists?

Whether you cycle or not, this quote should raise your temper:

Toby Hockley was on the 100-mile Boudicca Sportive ride in Norfolk when he says he was struck by a car and flung into a hedge. The driver didn’t stop. Hockley emerged from the hedge, sore but intact.

It sounds like a run-of-the-mill depressing incident from the UK’s roads. But the shocking part came later.

A young woman tweeted: “Definitely knocked a cyclist off his bike earlier. I have right of way – he doesn’t even pay road tax! #Bloodycyclists.”

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Increasing Your Functional Size

The BBC posted a great article about how Estonia has embraced technology to overcome its relatively small size, this extract about/from President Toomas Hendrik sums it up nicely:

There’s a story from his time in the US that he is fond of telling. He read a book whose “Luddite, neo-Marxist” thesis, he says, was that computerisation would be the death of work.

The book cited a Kentucky steel mill where several thousands of workers had been made redundant, because after automatisation, the new owners could produce the same amount of steel with only 100 employees.

“This may be bad if you are an American,” he says. “But from an Estonian point of view, where you have this existential angst about your small size – we were at that time only 1.4 million people – I said this is exactly what we need.

“We need to really computerise, in every possible way, to massively increase our functional size.”

I’ve been thinking along similar lines about the future of the UK. We’re much bigger than Estonia, but a relatively small global player, and due to get smaller as numerically larger countries become more developed. Continue reading

Robotics: The Saviour of UK Manufacturing

I recently finished Civlization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson (you can read my review here) and one of the things that struck me in the discussion of why the Industrial Revolution happened in the UK rather than any of the other nations at that time struck me.

You see, Ferguson rules out many of the reasons, such as better innovators or innovation, instead seeming to conclude that a big factor was the cost of labour in the UK.  In London, as the time, labour cost roughly twice as much as in Paris and nearly four times higher than Madrid.

We had cheap coal, which helped, but labour costs meant that ‘it made better sense in Britain than anywhere else to replace expensive men with machines fueled by cheap coal.’

That sounds rather like the situation now, where manufacturing is all done in Asia because it’s too expensive to do it in the UK.  Other developed countries manage it though, such as Germany and Japan.  True, they tend to sell higher profit goods, but in the UK we seem to have stopped manufacturing a lot of things.

We seem to have given up on it, but there is another way: use the high costs to spur on technological development.  If our labour costs are too high, then we need to find a cheaper source of labour and I believe that means, as in the Industrial Revolution, turning to machines. Continue reading

Why I (sometimes) Hate Cyclists

To be fair, it’s not their fault, but when I’m driving around I regularly encounter cyclists on the road and it generally drives me nuts (no pun intended). The reason is simple, British roads are often narrow little things, claustrophobic at times, in fact some of the roads I use feel like you need to breath in when you meet oncoming traffic.

So what you do not want to meet is a cyclist, because the road isn’t wide enough to go around them if there’s anything coming the other way.  If you do meet one you end up sat behind them travelling at ten miles an hour, or, usually, much less (meet one going up hill and it feels more like you’ve stopped). When there’s a lot of traffic coming the other way it can be hugely frustrating, especially when you add the pressure of traffic behind you.

What’s worse is that there are plenty of cycle paths around where I live and the cyclists are often pedalling along, blocking my smooth transition, right beside a path dedicated to them. It has caused me to utter more than a few obscenities at the offender.

Generally I can sympathise though. I’ve been out on a bike in the not-too-distant past and there’s a frustration when using cycle paths because they’re an afterthought, built by people who don’t cycle. Taking a pavement, widening it a bit (if at all) and slapping a sign on it does not make a cycle path. Continue reading

Is Technology the Answer for Roads?

A few days after reading an article on the future being about driverless cars I was met by the headline that the government plans to reform the road network by privatising some of it.  Do I think privatising it is a good thing?  No.  I don’t think anyone in this country can honestly point to any of the previous schemes and say we, the taxpayer, got value for money out of it, or better service.

You only have to look at the few toll schemes already in Britain to see that while some may deliver on service, they don’t on value for money (just look at the complaints about rising prices, in January of this year) and, in the case of the M6 toll road, it delivers neither and largely seems to have been a waste of time and space.

Technology could provide a solution and drive (no pun intended) a whole new business sector.  I’m not talking about telecommuting either, which everyone seems to vaunt as a great saviour, but has never appeared (and won’t). Continue reading

The Recycling Fiasco

I’m a big fan of recycling, I try and do my part, at least when it doesn’t involve too much effort.  A recent Dispatches programme made me realise I should probably be recycling more.  Typically I hadn’t been recycling plastic food trays, for example, or the plastic trays I buy some of my sliced meat in.  So I started giving them a rinse and putting them in.  It’s had a marked difference on my general waste, reducing it drastically.

Recently I was met with a question though, I had a piece of packaging with a recycle logo and the letters PPE.  I wasn’t sure if my council took this so decided to look it up.  It turns out PPE stands for Polyphenylene Ether, which didn’t mean much to me either.  Not that it really made any difference, as my council, Test Valley, don’t really go into much detail as to what can be recycled.  Under plastics in their A to Z Recycling Guide, for example, there is no information about the different types of plastic.  The breakdown on the What You Can and Cannot Recycle with Test Valley page is equally high level.  It does state that mixed plastics (stating some examples, like yoghurt pots and meat trays) are not recyclable and on the recycling guide it also says the same thing, apparently because the recycling technologies and markets do not exist in the UK.

Reading a BBC article from 2003 I found this quote though:

“All this food packaging of yours is recoverable but there’s no effective subsidised collection system in the UK to make it worth the effort.

“If there was, we could turn it into car parts, video cassettes, shampoo bottles – we have 1,100 product applications. Anything that can be made from virgin plastic can be made from recycled plastic. The quality is the same.”

Even the RecycleNow website it states that yoghurt pots can be recycled and that you should check with your local authority as there are limited facilities, which should improve “over the next year or so.”  But this article by The Daily Green on plastics symbols, suggests PET/PETE (a triangle with a 1 in it) is also used for ‘ovenable food trays’ which means they’re just as recyclable as plastic bottles.  So are some recyclable?  How do you tell?  The tray my ham comes in states on the back that neither the film plastic (the clear sheet on the front I assume) or the label paper are currently recycled, but says nothing about the tray itself. Continue reading

The Government Needs to Spend More Wisely

I caught Your Money and How They Spend It on Wednesday last week.  The series is simple, it’s looking at how the UK government collects and spends public money.  We all know the government collects revenue from taxes and uses that money to provide public services.  Everything from welfare and pensions, to the NHS to defence comes from the revenue it raises.

I think we’re all well aware the nation is in a hole because we’ve been spending more than we’ve been earning for some time.  As such we’re all equally aware of the austerity measures and cuts we’re having to impose and I’m behind them.  We do need to reign in spending and get our house in order.  Cuts are obviously one way to do this and something that must be done, but one question the programme raised was about how the government spends our money, and do they do it well?

I’ve long held the belief that there is massive scope for efficiency improvements in government spending and that we don’t get anywhere near good value as taxpayers.  We’ve all seen the headlines about projects that were late or overran, or were not fit for purpose.  There was one on the programme I had never heard of. Continue reading