Tag Archives: Paranoia & Mad World

Bedtime? Says Who?

Last week seemed to revolve around cars and driving, starting the week with long distance trips (to Canterbury and Salisbury), then fixing broken cars, a damaged engine undertray and nixed horns from an unwarranted attack by a particularly vicious piece of traffic calming, plus a petrol leak, culminating in thrashing my old M5 around Cadwell Park on a track day on Friday (a good way to end the week!).

Cadwell Park is mostly associated with bikers, but is also quite entertaining in a car, especially a tail-happy BMW – when I first enquired about track day insurance a while ago, the bod on the phone gave me a quote, and then when I said it was Cadwell, they said, ah, and added another 50%!

Here is the old girl in her war paint…


…none the worse for our trip into the bushes in the snow a few weeks ago.

In a mad moment of preparation before one of the long drives, we threw out the rubbish bag from the back of the car.  I later got a text from home saying that we had just managed to recycle 28 empty Red Bull cans: something of a record even for me.

Quite coincidentally, I was idly running my eye over two piles of books on the table in my study, all in the process of being read or passing through to the bookshelves…


On the right is a workaday pile of business books that show some current industry themes (Semantic Web, Information Security, Agile IT Organisations..).  The left-hand pile, however, reveals my recent predeliction for texts de-bunking mumbo-jumbo in all its irrational varieties, and I wonder if, maybe, this signals the start of the slippery slope to becoming Grumpy?

OK, Step forward, one and all, to tell me I’m already there…

Anyway, connecting Red Bull with grumpiness in any form, whether caused by lack of sleep, or too much blood in my caffeine stream, I was particularly exercised last week by an article in the paper – so, much so that I tore it out and carried it in my wallet, waving it at people, and saying “Says Who?”.

I have it here now and I am waving it at the screen in an agitated way.  It is entitled “Night-owl children ruin body clocks” from the Sunday Times, and the first sentence reads “Children who are allowed to stay up past their bedtime watching television or playing on a computer are at risk of late-night sleeplessness for the rest of their lives”.  To me this is grade A bunkum, as despite the strictest bed-times enforced by my parents, a thin gruel of educational TV and definitely no computer games (not invented), today I inhabit a nether-world of late nights, living in a time zone that is somewhere about GMT – 2 (“Mid-Atlantic” according to Windows clock) or GMT – 3  (“Montevideo/Buenos Aires/Georgetown/Greenland”).

I recall a moment during an interview many years ago with PWC Management Consulting, walking around the offices taking in the atmosphere. My escort said “We have hot-desking here, and starting time is 9-30am” (how civilised, I thought), “but if you don’t get in by 7am then you don’t get a desk” (ho ho, st&ff that for a game of soldiers, I thought)

Who are these mysterious people, “they” who dictate when we should sleep and wake? Who says what bedtime is and should be?  In a world of the Internet, Digital TV and 24hour opening at Tesco who needs to have a set bedtime?  Says Who?  Nanny? Granny? the NHS?

Alvin Toffler put his finger on this point in “Future Shock” many years ago, when he commented on the transition from cock-crow, to factory whistle and school bell – training us all to live, work and sleep to a rhythm of coordinated factory production.  Be a good little robot, and Thank Ford for the Brave New World. (OK, mixed literary allusions there, I know)

Well, ranting aside, I was pleased to see later in the week, another article in the same domain, but this one said  Teenagers improve grades with a lie-in…..    Unlike Matter and anti-Matter which annihilate themselves in a E=MC2 sort of way when they get mixed together, News and anti-News stories just sort of disappear with a slight “moo” and a whiff of fish.

And so to bed…
the worrying aspect is that the article quotes the sort of statistics about insomnia, sleep-walking and sleep-related breathing problems that some intellectually challenged politician might seize on to force us all to go to bed at 8pm…for our own good>

GPS-enabled Road Pricing. Hah!

I recently had  to to go to Kent at short notice, and since I was heading into relatively unknown territory on a long journey, I zero’d my satnav trip details, a rare event.

When I got home, I flipped to the trip detail screen and was tickled to see this trip record shown below…

was_it_a_veyron (works)

The distance looks right,  but behold,  my Max Speed was apparently 242 mph – was I driving a Bugatti Veyron (top speed 258 mph)?  – I think not!

This makes you think about how useful is GPS data as the foundation of a national road pricing system  – the answer is probably in chocolate teapot territory!

Many people think that a satellite based road pricing system would work roughly like this…

Road pricing - how people think it works

…with the satellites somehow detecting the position of your car and then transmitting the data to the Big Computer that adds up the price of the  the roads you have been sitting on, and then issuing a bill.

But of course the satellites don’t detect the position of the car at all, it is the Black Box in the car that does all the work, and so a GPS-satellite based road pricing system would really work something like this….


…with the car working out where it thinks it is, and then (somehow, by mobile phone, maybe) sending the data to the Big Computer that…well, you get the picture, don’t you…

If such a system were built, then once people twig the way things work, the little Black Boxes will be wearing tin-foil hats – to block the incoming satellite signal, and then to stop the mobile phone signal going out; result: No road travel data = no payment.

So the Power-That-Be would have design some sort of method of enforcement.  What better way than using the Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras that are sprouting all over the place.

All you need to do is cross-relate the journey data received from the in-car black boxes with the location of sightings according to the cameras.   The system would look something like this…


Thinking a bit harder than maybe my satnav did, then you can imagine many points of error:

  • confused satnav systems
  • lost distances travelled in tunnels, city canyons, and inside little tin foil hats
  • black box failures, including maybe “failures” induced by sharp, stabbling screwdrivers
  • failed/partial uploads of trip records
  • misrecognised number plates
  • cars and drivers missing from the database
  • and more…

Aaaaaaaaaagh, a merry feast of error compounding upon error, a veritable panoply of tainted data, a concatenation of absurdity!

Multiplying up the error probabilities in this ordure-filled pipeline, and you will get a success probability in the mid-seventies percent.   Not good…

I have previously mentioned the risk profile of Government IT projects so I won’t bang that particular drum again here, but you can always look here to remind yourself…

My trip would have earned me about 18-points on my licence, a big fine, a 5-year ban, and probably 6 months in chokey for apparently travelling at 182 mph faster than the National Speed limit.

So if/when we end up with a GPS-powered road pricing system, expect the worst!

Footnote:  the charming and naively executed diagrams in this post where brought to you courtesy of a DigiScribble pen.  It calls itself ” The Mobile Digital Note-Taker”, but using it underlined for me the fatal flaw of all write-only devices…you can’t see what it thinks you wrote until you upload – too late, way too late

SNIS – YAMFLA (Yet Another Meaningless Four-Letter Acronym)


The world of Information Technology overflows with its arcane jargon and acronyms, but it is by no means, the sole offender of creating inpenetrable and mysterious language.

I was recently driving along and saw this displayed on the dot-matrix on the back of a bus…

what does SNIS mean

…and whilst admiring the rendition of the letters on the display and pondering dot densities and the like, I then spent precious minutes attempting to work out what it was actually trying to say, and where was the bus going?

There is a lot of talk about reducing street clutter at one moment, and then, again, increasing confusion within the driver’s mind to make them slow down

coincidentally, Hans Monderman , the proponent of “Shared Space”, died earlier this year, but that is another tangent

but this new FLA certainly did the latter, and none of the former for me!

As I overtook and looked in my mirror, Eureka, the bus was heading for the depot, and proudly displaying “Sorry, Not In Service” on the long display at the front.

Yes, the transport types have invented a new word-thing and foisted on us unsuspecting general public who really didn’t need it and shouldn’t be spending our time working out what it means. This particular word-thing should really only be used amongst consenting transport types and anoraks, and I don’t really mind if the bus people use it as a verb,

“OK, guys, we’ll SNIS this bus and bring on the relief”

just as long as they don’t do it in front of the children.

In my humble opinion, this display below would have worked better, and would probably have meant more to a large part of the world that uses the Roman alphabet…

a better graphic

Stupid PIN machine design

According to statistical studies, being taller than average is supposed to bring some advantages in love and money. However, being 6’4″ tall, my experience is certainly different when it comes to being a taller person in an average sized physical world, and I have for many years harboured a paranoid suspicion that there are some chippy design Napoleons out there (you know who you are) deliberately trying to make life miserable for people of greater than average stature.

Air travel is probably the worst: I cannot achieve the “brace” position, instead just bite the seat cushion in front and hope for the best. Also, much touted flat beds are just flying coffins to me, packed like a sardine as I am into a space just wide enough but 4″ too short. Sleep, huh!

Over the last couple of years, various pieces of technology have got closer to the ground to accommodate the needs of wheelchair users and other such. Whilst it would certainly be churlish and ungallant to complain about that in our post-modern world, I will however strongly criticise the engineers who come up with the appalling ergonomics of equipment requiring a CHIP & PIN machine, which they embed three inches into the metalwork at knee level. In the picture shown below, you can see the view I get of a supremely bad example at a local car park…

stupid pin machine

Come on, guys, get a grip and design something that works for everybody!