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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Why We’ll Never See a Hypersonic Passenger Jet

So the latest launch of the US Air Force’s hypersonic Waverider jet failed when a faulty control fin caused it to break apart.  It was a test for a missile to travel at Mach 6 (4,566 mph at sea level) and it wasn’t the first failure.  What was interesting was all the discussion about how the technology could one day lead to hypersonic planes.

Hypersonic speeds are defined as Mach 5 (3,805 mph at sea level) and above.  Only a few specialised craft have ever achieved them, and those rarely for any duration.  Outside of military aircraft, the only commercial planes to ever exceed Mach 1 were Concorde and its Russian brethren, the Tupolev Tu-144.  Most aircraft stay well below Mach 1 for a number of good reasons, fuel efficiency among them.

So why will there never be a hypersonic passenger jet?  Well, for a number of reasons, both technical and practical:

  • Heat
  • Fuel
  • Engines
  • Cost
  • Demand
  • Flying Limitations

Let’s have a quick run through them.  Heat is an issue both for materials and design.  We think of the air around us as empty and light, but it’s actually fairly dense and at speed it causes a lot of friction, which generates heat.  Part of the reason planes fly so high is because the atmosphere is thinner, meaning less friction (Concorde flew at 55,000+ feet, most commercial planes fly at 30-35,000 feet).  This puts the materials used under a heavy cycle of freezing and thawing as the plane speeds up and slows down (the outside temperature at altitude can be as low as -55°C).  It also means you have to cope with expansion, Concorde grew by nearly a foot in length over the course of a flight.  Due to the materials of the nose, Concorde was limited to Mach 2.02 as it couldn’t cope with the higher temperatures faster speeds would generate and the whole plane had to be painted white to help reflect heat. 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

Visiting Iceland

I’m recently back from a trip to Iceland (not the reason my posts have been so infrequent of late), so thought I would share some of my thoughts and experiences in case anyone else finds them useful.

Arrival and General Information

To start with, you’ll probably fly into Keflavik as it’s the international airport.  It’s about an hour away from Reykjavik by coach, so it’s well worth pre-booking a transfer (we were on the Flybus) or car hire from there.

In terms of language, obviously the population speak Icelandic, but everyone (or most everyone) speaks English, at least to some degree.  This filters out to most of the mediums you’ll interact with too.  For example, a lot of the TV programmes are in English with Icelandic subtitles, for example.  You can buy English-language books, magazines and even DVDs.  Most of the tourist information is in English, most of the tours are conducted in English (other languages are available, but sometimes only on certain days) and most of the information boards are in Icelandic and English.

Local currency is the Icelandic Krona (Isk).  If you want to take some with you it’s probably wise not to leave it to the last minute as few places seem to stock it and it’ll take a few days to order in.

The Climate

We were there in late March and while most of the thermometers and my weather app were saying it was around 8 or 9 degrees most days the wind chill made it feel much lower (I had three layers, hat, scarf and gloves on when outside).  So I would recommend wrapping up warm.  Even in the summer months (June/July/August) they only reach low- or mid-teens, so it’s never really warm (not that the native Icelanders seem to notice).

It was also very windy while we were there, everywhere we visited in fact and very changeable (apparently there’s an Icelandic saying that if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes and some more will be along) so be prepared, especially if you venture out into the wilderness. 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

Travel Guides

This article about the old and new Baedekers travel guides has some great quotes, ranging from the ludicrous:

Readers were often advised to take full evening dress, a pith helmet and a medicine chest as well as a large number of suits and dresses.

To the insulting:

Travellers a century ago were also advised how to keep out of trouble. Don’t be rude in Spain, they were advised in 1913, because it serves only to “excite the inflammable passions of the uneducated Spaniard”.

Similarly stern were the judgements on whole populations. The Italians cared little about dirt, Americans spat too much, while ordinary people were judged on a scale from docile (Egyptians) to uppity (the Spanish).

To the very old fashioned:

In a Baedeker phrase book from the 1890s, potential servants were greeted with the words: “You must be exact in the execution of my orders, and if you happen to get drunk, I shall dismiss you at once.”

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