Renewals

As it turns out, this year it’s time to do a couple of renewals – both my Passport and Driving Licence will need replacing in the next couple of months.

The passport renewal was first, and came back earlier this week (and the old passport arrived today).  It’s been fairly painless, all things considered  (I’d rather have had a nice red EU one, but there we go)

Doing it all online, I also used my own phone to provide the photo, which was the only bit that was a hassle.  It took several goes, including a rejected one, basically because of wearing glasses. Any reflection in them causes the processing to fail – and even the one that finally got accepted was rated as “Poor” in the upload tool.  (Impressive, for a 12MP camera)

So it’s been a faff, but it’s also been painless, and generally quite efficient. I also set it up for text-message updates as it went through the process, which kept things informed.

Amusingly (and just to prove that they’re not really all that efficient) having received everything back, I also got a text message telling me that I could renew my passport easily by doing it all online…


Smart Motorways, Dumb Drivers

I see today that the UK has decided to stop any new “Smart Motorway” projects, insisting that they need extra safety precautions.  This is primarily the aftermath of coroner’s reports into certain fatal accidents on these Smart Motorways.

From the article…

  • In 2019, 15 people were killed on “all lane running” and “dynamic hard shoulder” motorways. This is four more deaths than in 2018.
  • The number of people being killed on motorways without hard shoulders increased each year from 2015 to 2019, and totalled 39 deaths.
  • By contrast, on so-called “controlled motorways” – a type of smart motorway which have variable speed limits and a hard shoulder – there were 24 deaths in that period.
  • On conventional motorways, which cover more of the UK than smart motorways, there were 368 fatalities from 2015 to 2019.

The M1 around where I live was one of the first Smart Motorways, and I’ve written a lot about how stupid people can be on those motorways – particularly about the availability of lanes, and a lack of general driving standards (Middle-lane cunts and the like)

From my experience, a lot of drivers seem to be incapable of reading road signs saying whether a lane is open or closed (although also even whether the approaching junction is the one they want or not, until the absolute last minute)  This also seems to be borne out by the latest rash of road-safety adverts telling people that they should ‘go left’ in case of problems on motorways (and fucking hell, in my opinion anyone who needs to be told this shouldn’t be in possession of a driving licence!)

As an example of this, one of the cases the coroners were looking at was one local to me where the person’s vehicle had a problem, showed the ‘engine problem’ warning light, and they pulled in to one of the emergency refuge areas.  Now, when that happened to me, I got out of the car (in a snowy January) and called recovery to get me off the road safely.  But not this twerd, oh no.  They gave it a few minutes, started the car, no light came on, so they pulled out to continue their journey.  (The ‘engine problem’ light doesn’t necessarily immediately light up on starting – for example, if the issue is to do with the turbo, the EGR valve, air filter etc., it’ll only come on when you accelerate over a certain rpm limit, at which point you’re shafted)  And that’s what happened to Twonktacular – the light came back on, the engine performance disappeared, and they got hit by another vehicle.   Yet somehow that’s the fault of the smart motorway, not the dumbass driver.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a huge fan of motorways without hard-shoulders. And I’m sure there are considerations and gambles that have been taken about how people get to emergency refuge areas, how the road monitoring is managed/staffed and so on. But I also understand how impractical it is, with current traffic levels and so on, to have a quarter of each road surface only available to vehicles in emergencies.

All told, I don’t believe that Smart Motorways are inherently dangerous. I think drivers (and their decisions, or lack thereof) are far more dangerous than roads. You just can’t blame an inanimate road for human stupidity.


Excessive Renewal

This time last year, I was planning on going to a friend’s wedding over in Madeira, and bought some travel insurance along the way.

Obviously it didn’t work out, because of Covid and the like, and the insurance didn’t get used for any other trips, for similar reasons. Thankfully, I’d had a good deal on it, so wasn’t too upset. Them’s the breaks, and all that.

This week, I got the renewal letter from the company, telling me what I’d pay this year.

Now OK, there’s been a lot going on in the world this year, and I assume insurance has taken a kicking (although I wouldn’t have thought it was a huge one, in comparison to travel companies, credit cards and the like) but still, the increase from last year to this is a 50% rise.  And bear in mind, there’s no way I’d be using it ’til at least May/June, so it would cost me more to able to use it for less time.

Needless to say, they’ve been told to fuck off. I’ll buy travel insurance again as and when I need it – but that’s still not going to be any time soon.


Bow 2

Having got back into my archery this year, the winter season brings its own interesting issues and problems.

Basically, everyone shoots at shorter distances – twenty to thirty metres, rather than fifty to eighty – and ideally indoors, for the wimps. And if possible, that means dialling down the power in the bow. Heavier/bigger arrows also help, as they’re slower than the usual ones.

Unfortunately, my bow is already dialled down to pretty much the lowest weight it can manage, which is around a 45lb pull. That meant at the short ranges my club uses, I was going to end up putting the arrows through the targets and into the concrete wall behind (indoors) and losing all the fletchings (feathers) as well.  Which becomes very expensive, very quickly.

Having looked around a bit, I went back to my normal archery store in Newark (it’s a bit of a slog to get to, but worth it for their customer service, knowledge, and prices) and bought a second bow, specifically for winter/indoor archery.  It’s a good little bow, from a Chinese company called Sanlida, and cost me £175 including the sight, arrow rest, and small stabiliser.  That’s incredibly good value!   Additionally, if I decide to use it all the time, I can also dial it up from its current setting (about 25lb pull) all the way up to 70 lb, which is pretty epic.

I bought it a couple of weeks ago, and have only used it a couple of times so far, but on that limited experience, I’m really pleased with it. It’s doing what I want, and the current power means it’s accurate enough, without damaging things.

But it does also mean I now own two bows – although that’s OK too, as I’m using both.  If they’d gone back to sitting doing sod all, that would be a bad thing. But as it is, I’m OK with it.


A Flaw In The Safety

Following on from the post a while back about driver assistance things, I had another interesting one a few days ago.

I’d hired a Vauxhall Insignia in order to ferry people around a bit, and the weather was disgusting – heavy rain, lots of spray, and lots of idiots with no lights on.

Anyway, on the section of the M4 I was driving on, there were roadworks, and the lanes had been narrowed as a result. And that was where the problem came in.

The Insignia had the Lane Change Warning thing, which detects when the driver is drifting across lanes without indicating – and in the case of the Insignia, it also tries to push you back into the lane you’re departing. Not my favourite thing at the best of times, but in this case it was actually picking up on the wrong lane markings (because they were glossy and shiny in the rain) and so actually kept on pushing me “back” towards the crash barriers, and would have left me scraping along them if I’d not been paying attention.

I can understand why it happened, and how. It was also easy enough for me to sort things out (eventually by turning off the Lane Change completely) but I can also easily see how things could’ve gone wrong, if I were the sort of driver who relied on these aids, who didn’t pay attention, or left those aids to do things because they’re there to help.

And what would’ve happened in that situation if it were a fully autonomous (“self-driving”) vehicle with no controls, or potentially people who didn’t drive, or couldn’t understand the danger signs?

There’s still a way to go on these things, I think…


Environmental

On my post about mileage and so on, BW commented “No environmental conscience chez toi, then, eh? 😉”   And I can’t deny, that annoyed me a fair bit.

So…

    • That weekend, I hired a car that was supposed to have a better Eco-profile than my current car. Sadly, that turned out to not be the case – it got a lot less MpG than mine, and generally wasn’t very good.  But the intentions were there, at least.  Even though I should’ve stuck to my usual car.
    • Where possible – in this case, the run to and from Oxford – I carried friends, rather than everyone driving individually
    • Taking public transport was simply not a realistic option, for a range of reasons, including
      • I’d still have to drive to my nearest station, and (as I understand it) shorter journeys like that are the worst environmentally, as most of the nastys happen on start-up/warm-up, rather than on longer runs
      • The runs to Oxford and Chichester would both have been over three hours each way, and cost more than the fuel for the entire weekend
      • The journey to Kent wouldn’t have been possible at all
    • Also, knowing the mileage etc., I make use of a carbon offset programme – it’s not perfect, but (I hope) it helps
    • The Big Cat Experience in Kent use most of the money from the experience days and so on to go towards ecological and animal protection/preservation projects overseas.

Outside of those things, there’s also the following other little bits

  • I’m still using a car that’s now ten years old (and passes the MoT emissions test with flying colours) rather than using up a load of resources with a new vehicle
  • My domestic waste/rubbish is absolutely minimal – indeed, if I didn’t have cats, I’d be easily able to get away with one domestic waste collection per month – and I recycle far more than most people.
  • I rarely fly anywhere – the last time was two years ago
  • Most of my electric/electronic devices are recharged via a battery bank that charges off a solar panel, rather than via the mains.

There’s probably other stuff as well, but anyway, it’s a pretty good start.

I fully accept that my environmental profile isn’t perfect – my main downsides are electricity and driving. And I balance as much of that as possible. However, I’m also pretty sure that it’s a lot better than that of most people.

Even more importantly, no matter what I do to improve my profile, it’s utterly irrelevant in comparison to other environmental things. For example, if the new phase of advertising on video screens (particularly the stand-alone street-furniture versions) were deactivated/turned off overnight it would save more in a week than I could contribute in a lifetime.

So – do I have an environmental conscience?  I’ll let you decide – although I think the answer is generally yes.


Mileage

This weekend has been one with a fair bit of travelling. It’s just the way things worked out, but it made for a busy one.

On Friday I was over in Oxford, seeing XKCD‘s Randall Munroe at the Sheldonian Theatre doing a talk about his new book.  That was enjoyable – and I’d never been in the Sheldonian before, so that was an additional bonus.

On Saturday I was down in Chichester to see a staging of Macbeth, starring John Simm and Dervla Kerwan.

And then on Sunday I was in Kent, at the Big Cat Experience, as they were doing a “meet the big cats” experience. I’d decided that I wanted to go, and classed it as a birthday present to myself. It was a lot of miles/driving for a two-hour-ish thing, but it was also worth going, and I’d certainly consider going again.

All told, I’ve covered nearly 800 miles over three days.  I’m a daft, daft, daft sode.