Why that’s the worst illustration of cycling infrastructure ever

I’ve seen this image pop up on Twitter a couple of times today and each time it’s had a tweet something along the lines of “best illustration of cycling infrastructure ever” attached to it, but I don’t really think it is.

In the image we have to assume that the drawing translates into real life to make its point about the awful infrastructure we’ve got. So, logic kind of suggests that the grey car on the train tracks is ‘the bicycle’ and the train is ‘the car’, while the train tracks are ‘the road’ and the road is ‘the bike lane’. Which is fine. Nothing wrong there. Or is there? Because actually, physical logistics of driving a rubber-tired vehicle along a train track aside, there’s no reason why when the road ran out cars couldn’t join the railway.

If this situation ever were to exist then it would be perfectly safe, provided the driver of ‘the bike’ were to stick to the rules.

In fact, if this situation were ever to happen it would probably be the safest way to drive your car, because, excepting Luxembourg, we’ve got the safest railway in Europe.

That’s possible because rules matter a lot on the railway, with safety systems like fail-safe interlocking signalling doing some of the work and automatic warning systems and vigilance alarms making sure the driver is alive, awake and doing what they should be and that trains stay away from one another doing the rest. On the railway, the rules mean you’ll never get a ‘car’ that has pulled out in front of you shouting, wearing silly shoes and some kind of modern-day gas mask and who thinks talking about ‘cleets’ all the time in places like the queue for the bank is acceptable.

What the image is actually showing is ‘the car’ (which represents a cyclist in this perfect world, remember) having pulled out onto the railway tracks at an unsafe distance from the train. Now that’s not the best illustration about cycling infrastructure ever, is it? (And nor, I’d guess, is it the image most well-behaved, normal cyclists would want to be given either.)

The DPA industry of shiteware

Since I left University the growth of the cloud has been unstoppable and while mostly it’s been a world of accessing anything anywhere and tracking my friends as they travel it’s also meant I’ve spent a lot of time using awful software.

I’ve had the fortune to work for companies that look after people’s data: first it was banking info and now it’s health information, but as the world gets increasingly knowing more and more of us in the UK (and, I assume, Europe) are being forced to use awfully designed software to get what we need to get done done and stick within the law.

Why?

The problem is that most of ‘the cloud’ floats above America, or more commonly, nowhere specific. Terms and conditions say things are kept in the UK, in the EU, perhaps and that’s a problem because it means that we can’t use what everyone else around the world does.

The law, well intentioned and very good at protecting our data, has created an industry that doesn’t seem to realise why it’s making money – or, in fact, that realises exactly why it doesn’t need to make software any better.

They chose the right bit of The Internet

We can’t use SurveyMonkey, MailChimp and countless other ‘best in class’ services because they store their data ‘somewhere’ – and that’s not good enough for our Data Protection Act.

So instead we’re forced to use SurveyWizard2000 and E-Email SenderPRO.

Randomly named semi-clone services, winning business from UK businesses not because they’re good or because they do anything particularly well but because they’re using the right bit of the Internet to store their stuff.

And until companies like MailChimp realise they’re losing out on business (if they haven’t already), or something complicated happens with the law here, we’re stuck with what we’ve got: acceptable clones that just get the job done.

So if you fancy a quick buck without an original idea, why not join the DPA industry of shiteware?

No bells, no whistles. Just a chance to invest little in development, a tiny bit in sales and the ability to charge 3 times what your nearest’cloudy’ competitor does.

Photograph by David Bleasdale.

Please note: this phrase is unnecessary

I’m definitely one who gets a ‘thing’ about things. They usually pass, but this one has stuck – and I’ve had enough.

I am sick of seeing ‘please note’ written everywhere, as if it’s some kind of call to action or highlighter of something important, and not just a lazy man’s way of saying THIS IS IMPORTANT without any pomp.

Take the car park payment machine in Basingstoke I saw the other day. It’s printed with plenty of information on the rules of the car park, how to pay and other information that is doubtless important for someone who has never used a car park before.

Below? Oh yes. “Please note: payment must be made before leaving the car park.”

As far as I know that has been the case in every single fucking car park I’ve ever been in. I wasn’t expecting someone to send on the bill, or to wait for the executor of my will to pay you what you’re owed.

If you’re telling me to note something then clearly that is because you expect me to ASSUME SOMETHING ELSE. I should only need to ‘note’ things that are unusual or odd.

So, henceforth, please note can be used but only where:

  • The thing you are telling me is not something any rational human being should be able to tell anyway from general experience of life
  • The piece of information does not just mean you don’t have to do your job properly. If you’re sick of saying it, perhaps the policy is wrong or illogical. Change it or tell people they should. Fight.
  • At least three independent people have agreed that the piece of information is something that people might reasonably need to know
  • You are not simply trying to draw attention to something in an otherwise informative piece of information. Adding ‘please note’ does not make me read it more.

And let that be the end of it.

header pic from: Austin Kleon

Don’t moan so much

I know that it’s commonly believed that train fares in this county are confusing, but it is really necessary for us to be subjected to ‘interns’ moaning about the fact they can’t afford hundred-quid plus train fares when they’ve not done their research AND refuse to travel on a cheaper route?

I’m a commuter too. I know train travel is expensive and I know that having about £400 out of my wages each month feels insulting when I think hard enough about it. Even still, I get upset when I see people moaning in the media or wherever about the amount they pay for train travel because it’s just not that expensive.

Buying a ticket for £4,760 might seem a rip off but when you consider that for that money I’ll have travelled in excess of 17,700 miles (and most of them asleep, listening to a Radio 4 download or reading) it’s not actually that bad.

In fact, it’ll have cost about 27p per mile – far less when you consider I’ve not included the tube travel that’s included in the price nor any of the ‘leisure’ journeys I’ve made and the 3rd off other rail fares that I get too.

The railway is a cruel mistress, but she can’t be claimed of not rewarding you for commitment.

So I think I was rightly enraged when I read a blog by Georgia May on HuffPost UK last week. She’s an intern in London apparently, and she wrote that she and other young commuters like her would face losing their jobs because a discount offered by a Train Operator was being discontinued.

Georgia says she travels from Rugby to London for work. It was costing her £27 per day to travel and now, she says, it’ll cost £86 after the discount was removed. She also adds that she can’t afford to move to London because of expensive rents, so I’ll give her that at least: the girl needs to commute for the job she’s worked hard to get.

But all is not as it seems, because in fact she could cut her costs down to just £24 per day with a one-operator ticket or face an increase to just £32 per day with the ‘any permitted’ option. Both on 12-month tickets, granted, but they’re available to many more than they were (even Interns on zero hour contracts) with schemes like Commuter Club. I’ll admit to anyone that I’m not the best at maths, but neither of those figures sounds anything like £86 per day to me.

In fact, even going for ‘Advance’ tickets for specific trains up to 12 weeks in advance gets the costs down to about £64 a day. Still not close to the £86 walk-on fare being quoted, even if it still seems expensive.

Georgia is by no means alone in her feeling under attack by the removal of discounts and getting media attention for it, though.

South West Trains were under fire for not extending their summer ‘travel anywhere for £15’ offer to allow veterans to travel into London for VJ Day celebrations for cheap earlier in the month too.

South West Trains rightly said they’d not offered the promotion on that day as it’d lead to overcrowding, but still got accused of trying to profit at the expense of the vulnerable who needed to travel.

I’d like to have seen the press they’d have got for offering the promotion and running overcrowded trains all day long. I don’t think it would’ve been any better, and it might even have been worse.

For some reason when an offer or promotion starts, it seems to have become ‘nasty’ to remove it again and when someone says they can’t afford something it seems to be obligatory that it comes with undertones that they should be able to.

Running a railway isn’t cheap, and running one that didn’t get the investment it needed in the past is even worse.

Given that the railways cost us all so much to run (Network Rail has £38bn of debt alone), we should be pleased that the companies we’ve trusted to run them are doing their best to fill seats up by offering attractive deals and not getting upset that when they do, it works.

Banging on about… student grants becoming loans, again.

Sorry to bang on about this, but it’s student maintenance grants becoming loans again.

The Indie have reported that the Government didn’t do any research on whether increasing the burden on students would do anything to the number of people applying for Uni.

Labour have said the admission means that it’s clear Osborne has “abandoned evidence-based policy” in his most recent budget and that that’s definitely a bad thing.

That seems a sensible argument, for once, because it is reasonable to assume that someone will have looked into the effects of these kinds of changes before they do them.

There’s two sides to every coin, though, and as with any research the question at the start is going to make a difference to whether the research fidings help a particular cause.

So if, as I suspect, Mr Osborne was simply concerned with cutting costs and not about keeping students wanting to go to Uni then it’s safe to say that the research would’ve given him the answer he wanted.

But actually, hold on. Wasn’t it only a week or so since Labour were on the Today programme arguing that Mr Osborne was wrong to be taking advice from experts on what he chose to do?

Barbara Keeley, the shadow treasury minister, said when it was put to her that an early sale of RBS shares would ‘stoke the market’ and that was advice from the industry and the independent Bank of England that the sale was “a decision for the chancellor” and agreed when asked if the BoE should keep its nose out.

In other words, the narrative at the moment seems to be that Mr Osborne should do research and then ignore it and take the decision – and then presumably the criticism – anyway.

What bollocks.