Monday, December 04, 2006

Delaying gridlock on our road networks.

The government seems to think the latest answer to the problem is to force people to stop using cars.

In my opinion there are 4 ways we can delay the on-set of this gridlock:

  1. Build more roads.
  2. Build more lanes on existing roads.
  3. Increase throughput on existing road-space.
  4. Invent a new mode of transport (a Tardis or Disposable Private Space Ships).

Building more roads and/or widening existing roads is expensive and will take time. It is important and needs to be part of a strategic plan.

I wish to discuss throughput on existing road space, because this is where government policy has gone wrong.

I understand the government focused on reducing harmful emissions, and improving road safety which is measured by number of casualties.So for reasons of safety, they lowered some speed limits and increased enforcement in all areas (a current government initiative).

For arguments sake, let's change the law so no car can legally travel over 40mph at any time of day? Brilliant. We now have complete gridlock. So gridlock means less car miles, which means less emissions, cos everyone is parked on the M6 with the engine off and the radio on. Gridlock also means pedestrians, rabbits and foxes can stroll across the M6 in complete safety. Everyone's happy at Greenpeace.

These policies ARE significantly decreasing throughput on the roads and increasing congestion. If traffic is permitted to travel at twice the speed down a stretch of road, this will enable far more cars to pass along that stretch. This won't be exactly twice as many because on a full road the extra stopping distance for each car would become a factor.

Additionally, a car's emissions are at their worst when accelerating. When at a steady speed, 40 or 80 emissions are similar. Except if I'm doing 80 I'm covering twice the distance for the same emissions. Speed cameras and speed bumps are being built everywhere. These make people brake and accelerate - more noise pollution and emissions than travelling at a steady speed. (As an aside what are these mini speed bumps called traffic islands for? Most cars can travel straight over them at 60 no problems - one wheel either side and the bottom of the car clears the island. Sports car get damaged travelling over them at 5mph. They clearly do not work, so why are they being installed everywhere?)

There is a really tough decision to be made here. Obviously reducing speed gives drivers longer to react in an emergency. Anyone can see this will reduce the risk to all road users. But is it worth the cost of increased congestion and delayed journeys for all motorists? While I'm not saying road safety isn't a big issue, we have to accept a certain level of casualties are unavoidable. With the current blame culture I can understand those who are responsible for speed limits taking the safe option to avoid being prosecuted over a single death that is deemed to be caused by increasing a speed limit.

I have dug out the Transport Statistic of Great Britain 2006, page 138, section 8.1 "Road accidents and casualties 1950-2005'. I have chosen to look at 3 points in time. 1993 was when comparable figures started. I am taking 1998 to be about when policy was examined, speed limits were more strictly enforced, reducing road casualties became a priority and all road building was halted. The third time point is the newest possible, 2005. This is heavily biased in favour of the current figures because the first change colum covers the 5 years of 1993-1998. The other change colum covers 7 years of 1998-2005. Click on the table below to zoom in.

For further information, you may wish to see this article of January 1998 when John Prescott promises to tackle the issue of congestion :) . There is also a very good timeline of Labour's transport policy 1997-2002 in The Guardian

On the positive side, this shows that the trend of the casualty rate, number of accidents and total casualties has significantly changed for the better. Interestingly the growth in total kms travelled has slowed considerably. But, examining the trend in number of fatal casualties - though the figures have reduced in real terms - the rate of this reduction is worse in the last 7 years than it was in the preceding 5 years. It is clear the trend in the reduction of deaths on the road has not improved in the last 7 years.

I have to question whether the actual reductions seen, and the positive trends are due to central government transport policy, or due to advances in car design and safety.

Where I am going with all this is that I support an increase in speed limits. Cars are now faster. They have better brakes with ABS as standard. There are numerous modern driver aids like traction control. They all have countless safety features, airbags, crumplezones etc. But speed limits have not increased to take these advances into account. In actual terms speed limits have decreased due to the advent of speed cameras everywhere making people more careful about rigidly observing speed limits. I recall back in 1990 when I learnt to drive no police patrol unit would bat an eyelid at anyone travelling at 85mph on the motorway. If you were doing 70mph on the motorway you were causing an obstruction. On a dry clear day it is seldom unsafe to travel 90 in the middle lane of a motorway.

To finally relate this back to the issue of road congestion, higher speed limits means more throughput.

You may have noticed I do not include forcing people to stop travelling by car in my list of options at the top of the article? I did seriously consider this, but decided it is not viable because there really is no alternative. Whenever you want to go somewhere, you can walk out the house, get into the car on your drive and travel immediately and directly to your destination with security and comfort.

The final point I will make is about variable road charging. I strongly disagree with this concept, which is already used on all train services. Do we really want to get to a point where our lives are ruled by charging time zones? "I won't go and see Mum now, I will wait until after midnight to travel because it is cheaper/free".

The reason this is proposed for cars is to re-enforce the argument for doing it on the train system. The train service is in demand at specific times of day. What do the train operators do? Put on more trains with more seats to serve the demand? Don't be daft, let's ramp up the ticket price to reduce demand to match the available service. I mean £202 standard peak-time fare from Manchester to London by train is taking the piss. I can fly RyanAir from Blackpool to London for £58.64 return including all taxes. By car its a 400 miles return journey, about 14 gallons of petrol, £5 a gallon, £70 plus parking to travel by car. I don't need to say anything more about that! Stephen Ladyman, Minister of Roads replied that charging more on peak times was necessary to reduce the subsidy of the rail network!!! How can you not make a profit with a monopoly and a starting £200 ticket rate for a 400 mile journey??????

My fourth tongue-in-cheek option may not be completely unrealistic! Maybe the answer to this is to switch the railway off, and give everyone a Tardis! How about stealing the idea of the start sequence for Futurama when everyone travels round town in a private space ship. This is about as realistic a plan for transport in 2015 as a recent report that concludes 'motorist should pay for roads'. Of course, we get them free now - the 75% tax on Petrol and road duty is just to pay for Prescott's mansion.

Readers: Please click Comments under any of my posts and leave me your input/support/criticism.

I need to try harder at keeping these things short! Signing off - Chris

Update: Above train journey is now £219 return thanks to new year ticket price rises. Also the government is slagging off Ryanair.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Apparently Manchester needs more skyscrapers.

Well at least according to the man who earns a living designing them!

I am posting this in response to an article in the Manchester Evening News on 1st December, Beetham Architect wants more skyscrapers.

In the article, Ian Simpson is addressing the critics of his run-of-the-mill glass tower blocks that are appearing on numerous sites in the city centre. He is quoted saying "Manchester must shake-off its Victorian heritage and embrace the skyscraper" and "critics are too concerned about maintaining the city's Victorian appearance at the expense of distinctive architecture".

At least the views and opinions of most visitors and residents have been acknowledged! One comment, the 'Victorian appearance' is distinctive architecture!

My main issue with this article is there seems to be a deliberate blur between "distinctive architechture" and "skyscrapers".

There can be hideous skyscrapers and there can be skyscrapers that are distinctive works of architechture. To state the obvious, there can be distinctive architecture without being tall with many stories. To use the Beetham Tower as an example, I can appreciate the enormous challenge that was met in building it. We've all been there, done that with our Lego as kids. Then we dismantled it and put it away because our Mum wasn't prepared to live with it permanently. Please somebody tell him to take it down now he has completed the challenge. It is a huge, square, all-glass and completely featureless tower. Am I alone in thinking to be distinctive, architecture needs some appreciable unique features?

Simpson seems to be arguing that the only way to achieve modern distinctive architecture is in the form of skyscrapers. Why? The only justification behind this is that property developers are more motivated to invest if they can create more units on a given area of land.

Is that a good reason to embark on a fundamental redesign of the city's appearance as Simpson is arguing?

Maybe if Simpson cut his rates the buildings wouldn't need to be skyscrapers to make the developer a profit!

Chris G

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Sony PSP is NOT a game console.

Oh all right, PSP does stand for PlayStation Portable - and it does play games extremely well, but my point is it is wrongly marketed.

Let me talk about the latest trend in MP3 players. Yes I have already sung Apple's praises in another article, but their iPod really has created a market for high capacity music players. As competition increases where is the iPod progressing to keep ahead of the competition? A nice colour screen and photo and video capability are where it has moved.

Enter the PSP.

I am aiming this article at PSP virgins. The main menu on the PSP, assuming you have never seen one in the flesh, contains submenus for Photos, Music, Videos, Game and Network in that order.

The first time I saw a PSP in HMV the quality of the screen and graphics took my breath away. Everytime I pick my PSP up and switch it on I still smile as it comes to life and shows the title screen.

To cut to my point, the PSP is too good to be classed as a games machine. Buy a reasonable size memory card (1Gb Memory Stick Duos are now about £17) and install a few movies on it and this is the perfect machine for watching videos 'on-the-go'. It is designed to be held with two hands, the screen is 16:9 ratio and the size, contrast, brightness and quality are all perfect.

If you havn't held and seen one yet, and you have an MP3 player and would use movies on the go, don't buy anything until you've seen the PSP. In case you need any more evidence to support my argument, most chart movies are available on the native PSP media, the UMD!

Update: Location-Free player is now for sale in the UK. Plug this into the back of your tele then connect your PSP to it anywhere you can access wireless broadband. Viola live TV on a PSP. Sky have also told me personally, but unofficially, they are looking to embrace the PSP and bring Sky to more people in more places.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What are BSkyB doing with their money?

Remember British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB) launching the squarial? That was 1989!

Late 1990 BSB and Sky were both struggling to make a profitable satellite TV system. They 'merged' on Sky's terms to form BSkyB, now commonly known as Sky.

Sky has no satellite, and rents use of the Astra system for a quoted £50m in 1990.
They established offices at a run down West London industrial estate, now also home to Harrods distribution centre.
They gave everyone free satellite dishes and set-top boxes and started charging subscribers a monthly fee for access to more TV channels than the 4 terrestrial ones. (Channel 5 launched in 1997 by a Spice Girls cover of a 1960s hit 5-4-3-2-1 :) ).

In the past 16/17 years what have Sky had to pay for?

New programmes? No
Producing new channels? No, someone else does this and _pays_ Sky to transmit it (The cost of which is now being investigated by Ofcom). Sky's few channels all carry tons of adverts.
Infra-structure? No, still renting an Astra satellite. Sky Digital has been running since 1998.
Lining shareholders pockets? No. 5 year share price chart shows price change from over £9 to approximately £5.50p today.
Exclusive content? No. Football and new movies are only available at extra cost!

Ok, this is great. So the subscription charge for their service must be dropping nicely??
No. It was £15 a month in 2002, now it is £21 a month.

Hmmm, must be some good extra features??
No. You want to record what you've got? £10 a month extra!
Improved picture quality? Ah HD your thinking? £10 a month extra for about 10 channels you've already got in HD! I'm not paying for HD when the standard service is not even providing the specified 576 lines!

Hell they must have fabulous customer service, sending everyone Christmas hampers, loads of free special offers. That's the only other place the money can be going? No.

Customer Service is non-existant. I called technical support the other _night_ - ie off peak. This was an 0870 number (read 10p a minute). After 1 hours 15 minutes on the phone the picture technical experts couldn't tell me if I could connect my standard box with S-Video or Component. They said use SCART. My HD projector hasn't got a SCART. They couldn't help.

This doesn't add up. As the title of the post says, What are BSkyB doing with the money? Reading today's telegraph even Murdoch senior and Murdoch junior don't know! Their take on the next 6 months figures differed by about £100m.

Update: 3 days after my article they spent nearly £1bn buying a controlling 17.9% stake in ITV to stop NTL and ITV merging. They don't care if their customers are happy, they are squandering all their cash fighting to keep their monopoly so customers have no choice but to stay with Sky.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Windows Vista Security

Following on from my previous post supporting Microsoft in locking down the Vista kernel to keep other companies out and all the noise from anti-virus vendors there is a bigger issue underlying all this.

If software vendors cannot get inside windows, that in principle means that virus writers can't either. So if viruses and security software are successfully locked out of Vista what is the problem? Surely anti-virus companies only want to be saviours and protect our critical computers from damage. They couldn't possibly be wanting the system to be opened up so viruses can infect a system so they can sell a product to remove the viruses?? Nah - Im being silly now :)

Monday, October 02, 2006

Microsoft and security

I have just seen this article on BBC News: Microsoft 'taking security risks'

It is from one of the many anti-virus vendors that are all whinging about Microsoft locking them (and dodgy device driver writers) out of the core of Windows Vista.

I am not a fan of Microsoft products to say the least, but if anyone has tried to uninstall Norton Anti-Virus in the past I agree with Microsoft. These security products really do screw things up if you decide to remove them and not pay to renew them each year.

Just speak to any Mac fan (for reference, I don't own an Apple computer. The reasons why are a whole other post). The thing they like most about their nice looking toys is that they never get an operating system crash. Why? Because everything on Macs is made by Apple. They keep their cards close to their chest. They supply all the hardware and the operating system which all work seamlessly together.

So why is Windows so unstable? Mainly because companies that make hardware and low-level software/device drivers don't have the expertise or testing facilities needed to alter the windows operating system. They make hardware that has been designed and tested with a final cheap price tag in mind when it hits the shops. I wonder why it is unreliable?

With everyone locked out and an Apple type situation the buck stops with Microsoft. If anyone asks the question 'Why is Windows Vista so unstable' there is only one place to point the finger. Microsoft have to get this right and make Vista secure and stable. Looking at the stupid number of Windows security updates they produce their track record is, how can I put this, crap!

So if third-party vendors cannot try and save the day, and if Microsoft screws up where will this leave everyone? People will need an alternative operating system to Vista on their PCs. What are the options? At the moment, its Linux. But, one second don't Macs now run on the same instruction set as Windows - ie Intel? Yes. Mr Steve Jobs, can we please have Mac OS for our PCs?

Knowing this guy if he wants to, he will make it happen and make it work well. Just expect the PC version of Mac OS to be a bit cut down so there is still a reason to buy your hardware from Apple as well.

If Jobs doesn't rise to the challenge we will be left with a very large vacuum. Someone has to because I think there is a 25% chance Microsoft get this right. And Im praying they do!

Saturday, September 30, 2006


I went out clubbin last week, and I'm just tidying round and have found a flyer that they must have put in my hand as I was leaving the club - not that I was too drunk to remember! This was a promo for the Halloween ball. I love goin to the Halloween ball - its the only time of year ugly people can get laid!!! Someone came up to me and said cor that's a frighteningly ugly disguise your wearing! Should I hit them, or try to get them into bed?? Difficult choice but I went for the latter!!