Wednesday, 27 November 2013


Hi there, dear Masturbators.

The most visited page of my blog is still my geographic alphabet, as far as I'm aware, but the second most viewed is the three breasted woman.

Recently I blogged a Google Earth image of a penis shaped housing estate, and I noticed that it's rapidly got twice as many views as anything else I posted recently.

People are encountering my site because they are searching for triple breasted women, and massive penises.

Fine by me, but this is not a porn based blog.

Sorry to disappoint you, if you're in any way disappointed.

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The Campaign for Orange Skies

The inevitable and protracted limits to our so far seemingly unstoppable growth are making their presence felt through the abstract of economics. Or if you prefer, the evil Tory cutbacks are having a tangible effect on our local night time environment.

Put simply, our local council have stopped lighting some of our roads, as a means of saving money.

Local Councillor, Leah Fraser (Con) has been inundated with outraged emails decrying the policy. For some of the roads, this policy makes sense. What, after all, is the point of illuminating a deserted industrial estate throughout the hours of darkness? But many of these roads, especially when the evening rush hour occurs in darkness, have become more difficult to negotiate. They're busy. They're pitch black. Drivers are encountering them after driving on well lit urban streets, just as the speed limit goes from 30 to 40, 50, 60, 70. Presumably the Council should close a library or old people's home instead. Or Councillor Leah Fraser should suggest to her parliamentary colleagues that they change their priorities.

Bill Bryson, in his book, "Home" recounts the tale of a Victorian Celebrity having sex on Westminster Bridge in the centre of London, and points out just how dark the pre-industrial world was once the sun had gone down. During the early phase of world war two, no lights were permitted, and crashes caused far more casualties than the Luftwaffe.

Welcome to the future.

Light is a two edged sabre. Without it, crime increases, accidents increase, personal happiness decreases. But light is also a part of the pressure of modern life. Blackbirds sing in the dead of night. Amateur astronomers whinge incessantly. And of course, the likelihood of a zombie apocalypse is brought that much closer.

A reduction in light level is a pain in the arse. Whether driving a car, or reading a book, or darning a sock. It limits our access to visual information. It forces us to slow down. Small wonder that we write irate emails to our politicians and local press.

Necessity being the mother of invention, we've seen big advances in lighting technology over the last decade of so, first with CFC's then with LEDs. My own car has snazzy lights that make us more visible in daylight (when you can see us anyway) I don't know the equations that govern the number of photons reaching the street, and the different methods of producing them. Are LEDs more efficient than sodium vapour? If so, is the capital cost of switching prohibitive? As economies of scale follow the growth in LEDs, would such an equation change over time?

Because of my particular circumstances, between a third and a half of my life is spent travelling along the roads of (mainly) Wirral. On a typical day I work from perhaps 8 in the morning to 7 at night. My hours of work mean I'm making the most of the daytime light at this time of year. My job becomes harder because it it more difficult to see what people are doing (checking mirrors, pressing pedals, etc) This is mitigated by the technology in my car. It has lights that dimly light the footwells. Most cars don't have this. Currently, the light is going by 3.30-4pm, which means a quarter of my working day is done in darkness. If you work in the bowels of an office building from 8-5, you get no daylight apart from what you can snatch at lunch hour. I count my blessings yet again. As far as actually driving on dark roads is concerned, I'm pretty neutral. I teach people how to drive in any situation. If light is needed, I will try to schedule a daytime lesson, or stick to well lit roads where possible. If we have to do dark stuff, there are methods of dealing with it that I need to teach anyway.

This time last year, I lived in a large town. It lay across a mile of open water from a major city. When I went outside it was well lit. The sky was orange. Now I go outside, and when the sky is free of cloud, I see Orion.

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Sunday, 24 November 2013


I made a batch of home brew about 9 months ago I think. Three demijohns.

One of them came with me when we moved to the caravan. The others stayed back in the attic in Wallasey. Today I went and got one of them, and I'm having a couple of glasses tonight.

It's gone sort of thick. Not so much that you could stand a spoon up in it, but it is to my first demijohn as carnation is to milk. Not the easiest thing to drink, but far nicer than, for example, strong cider, and probably up at about 15% alcohol. After one glass I'm already feeling it.

I also bought a load of grapes, and I've started another demijohn, using mashed up grapes, sugar and yeast. Unfortunately, the water from the kettle was too hot, and had turned the plastic demijohn from a rectangular bottle to something else. The bottom, where the cold grape must was is still rectangular, but the top half has shrunk and become somehow cylindrical. It's probably reduced it's capacity from 5 litres to about 4, and I'm hoping it doesn't cause horrible things to leach from the plastic into what I hope will become wine.

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Saturday, 23 November 2013

A virtual 3d person on a virtual 3d lighthouse in a virtual 3d ocean on a virtual 3d planet.

One thing you get on Google Earth is 3d models of various structures.

I'd taken off from a small airport on a French island in the flight simulator, and saw a lighthouse in the distance. I headed for it, and thought it looked familiar. As I got close, I realised why, and I exited the flight sim to take a closer look.

The lighthouse in question is the subject of probably the most famous lighthouse photograph in the history of lighthouse photography.

 I zoomed in on the 3d model, and there, in the doorway, was a little modelled person, complete with blue jacket and red shirt.

 Nice of the model maker to reference the lighthouse keeper in this way, and something I've never seen elsewhere on any other model.

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Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Ikea or Middle Earth

You can just imagine Ikea doing a product line called "Balrog" (Aisle 13) or "Frodo" (available from marketplace) can't you?

I did think about making some sort of quiz, but thankfully, someone saved me the bother.

I got 38 out of 40 with several minutes to spare.

Tolkien Anorak.

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Sunday, 17 November 2013

driving instructor stuff

Some bulletpoints:

  • I've had 8 pupils on test so far this month.
  • The work continues to come in
  • More PIE!
  • Moving off and stopping
8 pupils on test...

"If I'd known what killed him sooner, I could have cured him..."

8 tests in 15 days. That's slightly more than one every two days. Intense! And one of the reasons I've been so busy. People tend to ramp up the lessons in the last few days/weeks before their driving test.

6 of those 8 passed. The national average is just the low side of 50%. This month at least, I'm twice as good as average!

I made a decision a few months ago to start publishing my passrates online.  Rather than hide behind coy phrases about "Very high pasrate" (which I do too) I give a detailed breakdown month by month. This has been immensely useful. I think it comes across as open and honest to anyone who visits my site. It's made me focus on my work, to be able to present, honestly, a good report.

There are finesses. After having announced a mediocre month, I added other posts to push it down the page. It's all archived, and easily accessible, but it would have taken a click of the "older posts" button to find it. At the end of the year, I will be publishing half yearly results to consolidate the monthly posts.

As far as passrates are concerned, I want to continue to improve. Passrates are a useful way of tabulating your effectiveness as an instructor. The examiners have a sort of dual mandate. In some circumstances, they have to mark a particular bit of driving as a serious fault, and therefore a fail. Some examples are not completely stopping at a stop junction, or attempting to turn right from the left hand lane of a T junction, if you're emerging from a one way street. In other circumstances, the examiners have to weigh up not just the fault, but the effect the fault has had on other road users. So for example, a test candidate who stalls and rolls back for a couple of feet at a junction might get a minor fault if there was nobody behind them, and they managed to regain control effectively, but if there happened to be another car behind, that had to stop very suddenly, the same bit of driving would be marked as a serious fault.

And isn't that the point? The reason you passed is because you drove for 40 minutes without being a pain in the arse to anyone.

But that's only part of the story. Most people fail because of nerves. More on all that just a bit later.

Why did the two fail?

The first one gave a couple of clues on the lesson or two before his test. He kerbed the car while turning a few times. This is not a steering fault. It's an observational fault. He was spending too much time looking to see what was coming, and not enough time looking where he was going. Stuff like this takes time to fathom out.  From an instructors point of view, instinct says, "He got the steering wrong. Work on the steering." It takes a while to get beneath the immediate, and we were an hour or so short of the insight and solution. The second was due to a misinterpreted concept. My second could already drive an automatic. It took a while to make the physical transition, which meant we had less time to deal with the intellectual aspects. Again, given a few extra hours, this person would probably have passed.


The day I had those two tests, I also had two new starters. I could go through my records and work out pretty precisely what the proportions are, but my work comes almost exclusively from two sources. Website and word of mouth. Yesterday's new pair were one of each. I'd taught the older sister of one, while the other got in touch through the website. I think overall, it's about 80% website to 20% recommendation. I'd imagine that as time goes by, the ratio will shift more to recommendation. Typically, from this time of year until January, things go a bit flat, but I expect to be busy for the next few weeks at least.

More Pie!

Driving instructor is a role I inhabit. A mask I wear. My pupils are often surprised, when they meet me in a different context, such as in the bread aisle of the supermarket, to find that I'm shy and at a loss for words. Somewhere, in real life, there's a barrier between me and the rest of the world. Yet in my role, I am confident, funny, knowledgeable, empathic, in control. I have fantastic people skills! I relate to people on both an intellectual and an emotional level.

A few months ago, I wrote about the PIE triangle. Really just reinventing the wheel, but it's not something many instructors consider.

I've been exploring the idea and came up with a few further ideas.

First of all, one way of visualising and analysing an error is to consider the Physical, Intellectual and Emotional aspects, and to try to ascribe a value to each. The best way I've found, appropriately enough, is to use a pie chart. What is striking is the almost unvarying response. A very small physical/control element, a rather larger intellectual/understanding that together make up perhaps a third of the pie. The rest is emotional/panic/nerves.

If you ask someone who's driving for the very first time, they tend to give the three elements more or less equal values. They don't have the psycho-motor skills. They don't know what they're supposed to be doing, and they're nervous.

The first of the three to get something like sorted out is always the physical. Driving involves the use of 6 main controls, and getting people to be able to use those controls properly tends to happen fairly quickly, within the first few lessons.

The intellectual side of things is far more complex, and it takes time for the judgement and knowledge to mature.

Finally, people become confident (emotional) because they feel like they know what they are doing (intellectual), and because they have the skill to use the controls to make the car do what they want it to do (physical)

Moving off and stopping

Finally, just a few thoughts on this most basic of procedures...

In their minds eye, when you speak to a learner about moving off and stopping, they picture parking next to the kerb, or moving away from the kerb. This is of course a perfectly valid way of thinking about it, but it plays a far bigger part than even most drivers realise.

I can get someone driving down a road at 30 miles an hour on their first lesson, no problem.  Moving away and stopping effectively takes structure and control. It's what you do at junctions, roundabouts, traffic lights, when encountering an oncoming vehicle when the road is narrowed by parked cars, etc.

So my guideline for whether someone drives on kindergarten roads, or whether they're ready to make the transition to more complex situations is primarily whether they can move away and stop.

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