Thursday, November 30, 2017

Get London cycling...

It is becoming a very popular and repetitive message right now, especially from the Mayor of London's office, and to a degree, a very understandable one too. I have been commuting to and from work by bike for almost a year now, and have to say I really enjoy it. A bit of exercise, limited frustrations with traffic, and no messing about finding parking when I arrive at work. What's not to love?

Well, hopefully, if I can stay on topic, and not get too caught up in my pet hates, I can address that a bit.

Let's start with the obvious and most popular reason not to (other than can't be bothered, or it's too far), it's too dangerous! There are a growing number of bicycle accidents on London's roads, that is a fact. But it goes hand in hand with the fact that the number of cyclists on London's road it booming too. Statistically, accidents per number of journeys has probably not changed much at all. However, thanks to social media, and the mainstream media reporting more, we are far more aware of these accidents. The issue is less with the number of them, and more with the causes for me. And that is one of the points I wanted to touch on, so let's do that.

As I said, the number of cyclists on the roads is increasing. Even I have seen that in the year I have been cycle commuting. Now I would like to say that is a good thing, but sadly, the rise in numbers, seems to have come at a price. A rise in the number of idiots cycling. Let's get this bit straight from the start. Cyclists are ROAD users, not where ever the hell I want to ride users. They are bound by similar rules to other road users, obeying traffic signals, using lights, riding with consideration for others. Or at least that is the idea. Sadly, it is far from the case.

Instead, the the roads have seen an increase in carefree, ignorant, law breaking idiots. And there is no way to just look and identify them, they come from all walks of life. From broken down old rusty bikes, being ridden by scruffy people, to high end carbon fibre road bikes, ridden by budding Wiggo's, wearing all the gear. The attitudes are the same. Red lights are for cars, other peoples space is their own problem, pedestrians (I will come back to them) are fair game, and other cyclists are the enemy. Not forgetting, every journey is a TDF stage! The list of stupid behaviour is endless.

Most evenings, more for fun than necessity, I will use Jamaica Road as part of my journey home. The reason for this is a simple one, idiot watching. The same can be done on Old Kent Road too, and many other spots on London's road network. Seeing large groups of cyclists, on a whole range of bikes, wearing a whole range of sensible to stupid riding gear, and with wide variations in personal protection equipment, varying on their concerns for their own lives. Bright lights, hidden lights, dull lights, non functioning lights, flashing, static.... And that is just the ones WITH lights. Then of course you have the dark clothes wearing, " I don't need lights" champs of the road. The mix really is quite spectacular.

All that said, having a good bike, and wearing the right gear is no the the end of it. People very well dressed and prepared for their ride, lit up well, will then decide traffic lights are not for them, and throw themselves out into a busy crossroads, as their time is too important to wait another 30 seconds. 30 seconds wait, or 3 weeks in hospital (if you are lucky enough to survive) Hmmm tough one that eh ! Let's pause there for a moment and look at light jumpers. There are a few kinds.

Light jumpers.
There are various kinds of people who jump lights, from all walks of the cycling community.
Flying pass, no point slowing down, it's do or die.... And through they go without touching the brakes.
Give way, no intention on coming to a complete halt, but will slow enough to check for oncoming traffic, before deciding whether or not to ride out in front of them. Either way, they will get across the junction before the light goes green again.
Creepers, they will stop, for a short moment. But then as the second tick away, the bike begins to roll, the crossing phase is over, and off they go. I'm not affecting anyone, seems to be the attitude.
RASL, we have the ASL (advanced stop line) on a lot of junctions for cyclists to be seen and get away first. But for some, that is not enough, so they ride forward of that, to the very cusp of the junction. On some junctions, now totally unable to see the signals anymore. This kind usually turn into creepers when they realise they can't see the light change.

There are of course more kinds of light jumpers, but let's stick with the basics.
For other cyclists, as I have almost learned the hard way a couple of times now, the fly passers are a real danger. I will stop for lights, sometimes rolling up quite fast. Sadly this means people behind with no intention of stopping will assume that you are like them, and try and follow you closely. Unfortunately, as I am stopping, this puts me, and many other fellow cyclists at the risk be being rear ended at speed by another cyclist!

The others jumping red lights run the risk of course of being in collision with a vehicle or a pedestrian. All of which we know can result in catastrophic injuries for all parties. Not to mention haunting memories for anyone who bears witness to the events.

I want to go out on a limb here, and say that I believe a large percentage of cycle vs something accidents involve a cyclist doing something stupid. That is not to say it is always the case, but I would hazard a guess that it is a trend that is on the rise. The sheer number of cyclists I see jumping red lights every journey (10-15 miles) is truly stunning. Each one obviously of the mindset that it won't be them. Sadly, every day it seems, one of them is wrong, with a varying degree of severity for the outcome.

There are other dangers out there too, not just red lights. Being visible this time of year is important, as it is in the dark all year round. So lights which are bright, and obvious enough to be both seen, and picked out from the flood of lights on a busy London street in the evening, is important. Clothing helps too of course. But equally importantly, is road positioning. Not putting yourself up the inside of large vehicles, not squeezing through stupid gaps, while the traffic is moving and you are in a blind spot for the drivers of the vehicles.

As much as it pains some people to do so, sometimes it is better to pull over for a moment, let a large vehicle pass you, and continue when it is safe. It is actually quite heartwarming seeing the vehicle flash its lights to say thank you. It keeps you safe, and keeps the traffic moving. Rather than taking the moral high ground and refusing to let them pass safely. I find myself doing this more and more these days,

Again, I would love to know the percentage of accidents which involve a cyclist putting themselves in danger moments before the accident. Being stationary beside a big vehicle is never a good thing, and we are encouraged not to. However, you can't control the situation when a lorry decides to pull up close to you are lights or in traffic. Common sense is a two way thing, sadly only one party is vulnerable. It is another of the most scary and common things to see when cycling, the situations some get themselves in, all for the sake of being just a few seconds quicker to their destination. I don't think the "I'm in a race" mentality helps there.

I think now is a fair time to say this. I don't consider myself perfect. I have made mistakes, I have apologised to road users when I have done something stupid, and am still learning how to navigate the roads of London at peak times. It is fair to say that the majority, although a very slim one on some days, of cyclists are considerate, law abiding, and try their best to be seen and be safe during their journeys. This is not bashing cyclists, just the idiots.

Which brings me back around to the start. Get London cycling. I am sure more would, if the statistics didn't make it such a scary thing to do. But taking the above points into account, and my own experiences, it is cyclists themselves who make cycling dangerous. Riding dangerously, causing other road users, including other cyclists to swerve, stop suddenly etc, then putting them in danger. I lost track of the number of times I have had near misses with cyclists. And of course pedestrians who refuse to accept that cyclists exist, and just walk out in front of you. That's is for another day!

The other issue, (sorry this isn't over with yet) is infrastructure. One of my biggest gripes, and something I keep saying I am going to start taking pictures of and moaning about it more, is infrastructure. Each borough plans its own cycle paths and facilities for bicycles, some doing it quite well, others doing it just to abide by the rules and expectations, with no interest in making any form of sensible path or route. Then add to the mix the roads managed by TfL, and you have a complete mishmash of solutions, with varying degrees of success.
Pinch points in roads squeezing cyclists and motorists together, caused by over sized traffic islands.
Cycle lanes which suddenly stop mid road, and just leave you to your own devices.
Cycle paths on the INSIDE of pavements, leaving you on the wrong side of the path for when you rejoin the road.
Cycle paths which run through the entrance to side turnings.
I even came across one the other day on the Old Kent Road, by the flyover, which has road markings directing you onto and along a raised island, then suddenly ends, with a high kerb to just fall off the end of.

The planning phase of some of these projects is simply mindless and appalling. Not to mention thoroughly unappealing for cyclists.
Which gives us the answer to a common frustration of motorists who scream "get on the cycle path".... Well, cyclists would, if it was safe and sensible to do so, but in some cases, it's just not.
This is especially the case with places like the roundabout on Queenstown Rd at the end of Chelsea Bridge. A staggered phase of traffic lights allowing "safe passage" for cyclists. Great idea, shame the phase seems to take about 5 minutes, so most cyclists end up using the main carriageway instead. Just more proof that some of these solutions are really not thought out at all.

I would love the Mayor of London and TfL to take notice of this planning issue, and put together some minimum requirement for ALL borough councils. Some guidelines on how cycle paths should be considered and constructed. Rather than each group dreaming up their own solutions, leaving cyclists to contend with different ideas as they ride borough to borough, have the same principals as the actual roads, and all follow the same rules. It can't be that hard to do, surely? Minimum widths, considerations for marking the end of lanes clearly, signs to advise traffic cyclists will merge, cycle paths rejoining the road at sensible places, not in the middle of bus stops as on Southwark Park Road.

There are so many people on both sides of the fence. Motorists sick of seeing huge chunks of roads eaten up by large and sometimes excessive cycle path plans. Watching the roads shrink, the queues build, all the while being "blamed" for the state of the congestion and pollution, while the road network shrinks in various ways. As the frustrations grow, the environment for cyclists becomes more threatening, and in the midst of it all, the Mayor bleats on about cars bad, bikes good, get riding.

We live in an old city, with limited capacity for transport, housing etc. But instead of making the best of it all, it seems some are hell bend on making it worse, for the sake of introducing legislation to "make things better". Egos are at work here, both behind the scenes, and on the roads, and it is those egos which lead to mistakes, accidents, and monumental issues which are reaching the point of being beyond rectification.

On the other hand, we have some militant cyclists, who not content with sharing the roads, want to own them. Demanding all these priority cycleways, and other strange changes to the road infrastructure. It is human nature to want your own way, but there has to be compromise. Maybe if we start with the basics we can get it a little more bearable for all.

Sensible, well considered and consulted (with actual cyclists) infrastructure changes. Usable cycle paths and lanes, rather than greedy, obnoxious ones, or ones that are no use to man nor machine.
More manpower to enforce light jumpers, and rule breakers. I know there is a small and effective team from the Met who do their best. But the problem is bigger than they can cope with , and is becoming seriously out of control now. Something else maybe the Mayor would like to look at. Surely it is in the best interest of the favoured form of transport? Make it safer, make it more appealing. And reduce the negativity towards cyclists by others. It is always sad when a pedestrian or motorist thanks you for being considerate, and stopping or giving way to them. It should not be like that!

So dear Mayor of London....
I totally appreciate the drive to get more people cycling. Personally I am glad I made the change, and even in the snow today, over the 8-9 miles I will do each way, it has been a nicer way to travel (even at 1c).
But the setting is wrong. Some of the cycling solutions out there are poor, badly maintained, or just unusable. No one is on the same page, resulting in lots of confusion about how the lanes and paths work. Too many cooks so to speak. and no one following the same recipe.
I would happily endorse the message to get more people cycling, if some of the issues out there could be addressed, especially the bad cyclists. It is not right that they get away with their stupidity, and be allowed to carry on endangering other people.

I am sure I have missed off lots that I meant to say, so will no doubt revisit this topic soon. But in the meantime, stay safe cyclists, and for those who can't behave on their bikes. Please, get a bus!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Muson Bluetooth transmitter and receiver.

I was recently asked to review the Muson Bluetooth transmitter and receiver, so as usual I gave it the most thorough test I could. Taking it into as many of my daily places and routines as possible to see how it performed.

So what is this device.
Well, inside the pack, as you can see in the picture, there is the unit itself, along with a number of leads, to allow you to both charge it and use it in the various ways it allows.

The main unit is about the same size as a large watch body, similar in thickness too, but very light due to its construction. As you can hopefully see from the pictures, there are a number of ports, switches and buttons along the edges. These allow it to be charged, connected and controlled but the user.
In the middle of the body is the led, and main control button. Power and pairing is taken care of from here.

On top there are volume buttons, the left houses the transmit and receive switch, and the bottom is a micro USB and a standard jack plug.

Connecting could not be easier. Depending on the function you require will determine the set up used.
My main use has been connecting Bluetooth wireless headphones to the various PC's and laptop's I use. At work, being plugged in allows me the freedom of movement around the office and desk, while being able to hear the audio from the PC.
As home, on the turbo trainer, I am able to plug into the PC running my training software, so I can hear audio cues from it while at the same time streaming music from Spotify on my phone or laptop. The performance has been superb in all arenas, allowing a stream of good quality audio through headphones, from devices which are not Bluetooth enabled.

The set up also allows being a receiver too. Using it in an older car, I am able to plug the receiver into the aux in socket on the head unit, and stream music from Spotify on my phone, straight into the car speakers. Allowing me to hear navigation instructions, and turning my head unit into a hands free system connected via Bluetooth.

For such a little and simple device, it has so many real world applications. When I was first asked to review it I wondered what I would possibly use one for, but as the weeks have passed, I have found myself lending it to people for them to use also.

Cheap in price, rich in functionality, this little device brings older hardware back into modern day use.

Friday, November 17, 2017


A very common word to hear these days, seemingly becoming a generic term for any situation where the gender card can be played. Much like racism. That is not to say that both issues are not genuine and serious. But more that the frequency at which it is used, and the situations it is applied to, somewhat waters down the seriousness of the term, and makes it seem like an epidemic and common place.

So what does it actually mean?


attitudes or behavior based on traditional stereotypes of gender roles.
discrimination or devaluation based on a person's sex or gender, as inrestricted job opportunities, especially such discrimination directedagainst women.
ingrained and institutionalized prejudice against or hatred of women;misogyny.

As we can see there are a number of meanings, some of which somewhat conflict, or at least cause confusion. Stereotyping is the most commonly used example in current times, certainly in an issue which I will come to later, employment! However the second two are the more serious definitions, and ones that get my attention.

See, the issue I have here is, to combat discrimination, we discriminate. We have employment drives for more ethnic minorities,  or more females in certain roles. This is open discrimination, simply telling British white males they many NOT apply for the positions as they are the wrong colour, gender or religion. What would happen if there was a MEN ONLY employment drive, or whites only etc.
Do you see what I am getting at here.

Fighting discrimination, in itself causes discrimination. Legally backed discrimination at that, and sanctioned from the highest levels.

Whatever happened to "may the best person win" (see how I avoided "man" there!)
When it comes to jobs, there are some that can be done by a trained monkey ( like my job) and there are others which require a certain set of skills. Common sense says that you employ the best character suited for the job, with the best skill sets possible.
So what happens when three men an a woman are shortlisted for a role. Ranked in suitability in this scenario, the woman is ranked #3. So does the recruiter overlook positions #1 and #2 as the gender is more important in the recruitment drive, or do they go with the best person for the job?
Genuine question.

When I see big public services having drives to recruit more workers from a certain demographic, I often wonder how many people don't apply for a position, because they are aware that there is emphasis on another demographic, and they feel they would not be considered seriously.
Again, we are back to discrimination, but it's OK, because it is sanctioned! Ludicrous surely?

Now, before anyone starts flapping their arms in anger, or breathing deeply and huffing, let me explain something. I am all for equality, fairness, and overlooking gender for the best candidate for a job. However, there are certain roles which are predominantly one sex or the other for a reason. Be it physical ability, not really a male or female thing to do (this is a strange one, but accepted in a lot of roles for what it is), or indeed, due to dithering old sexist fools, choosing to hire "sexy secretaries" , or refusing to hire woman as they are the "weaker sex".
There is probably an argument somewhere that says some of these sexist fools only hired women into the boardroom, above the glass ceiling, for a peep up their skirt!

My main issue with this whole situation has come from a series of Tweets from areas of the LFB. They are having a #FireFightingSexism campaign at the moment, which I can appreciate, to a degree at least. More women firefighters, can't be a bad thing at all. Equality in the work place is a serious thing, and should be addressed in many roles. In many sectors we are seeing more and more balance of the sexes. Although the same can't be said for my own industry, comparisons drawn to similar roles but serving other trades would show the complete opposite. Different horses, for different courses and all that!

My problem comes when it comes to how people address a certain job role.
I have grown up with Policeman, Fireman , Postman, Milkman etc. It was a title for someone who carried out a role, and one I grew familiar with as I grew up. To me, the title is the same as Doctor, Manager, Actor etc. Actor being a strange one actually, as I grew up using actor and actress, but the gender was removed from that and it became actor. However many still use actress in day to day life.

Seeing a woman in a hospital, it was, and probably still is easy to use gender to identify a role, and a lot of people will still say "nurse" to a woman, and the same people will usually be surprised to see a man identify himself as a "nurse. It is an ongoing thing, but something I get the impression most are unbothered by, unless they are having a bit of a bad day, we all have them, right!
The main thing here is, these job titles are usually only used to address someone in a formal manner, or to get someones attention in a hurry. Not so much a term used all day, everyday.

And this is where my issue really starts to come into effect with firefighters. It comes across from the campaign, and many of the supporters of it, that it is the title (which many people will never use to address a firefighter) is the biggest concern. This came to a head yesterday for me when LFB Greenwich called out the wonderful Mr Nick Knowles of DIY SOS  for using the term "firemen" in a tweet, thanking the Fire Service for their assistance.
When it comes to quickly hammering out a Tweet or other social media post, we revert to our basics, and quickly write what we feel while it is fresh in our minds. He didn't say "the men of the fire service" not even "the guys" but "firemen". This apparently is offensive and disrespectful to the firefighters, and was worth calling him out publicly on social media.

The post read :

You had the fire service in to help you pump out the water tonight. Clearly both male and female firefighters helping out, yet you referred to them as firemen. Did the woman not deserve recognition for her hard work too?

This was followed by this one :

If you see us as brave, please call us by our names. Surely that's not too much to ask? None of us want to be called firemen, we are firefighters.You're right, children do still call us firemen and most girls still think they can't become firefighters as a direct result of that.

Now, I am all for freedom of speech, and I am all for fairness and respect, but I start to lose patience when such things are put in writing, especially things like this.
Externally, the public perception of firefighters is fantastic. Sometimes we don't understand the realities of what they do. But the public rally behind them when cuts are made, wage increases are unfair, and safety is questionable. Events like Grenfell Tower really drove home to the people of London just how brave, amazing and worthy all these people are. Huge respect was shown, people lined the streets to thank them. But it seems after all that love and respect was shown, the real issue was the use of the word "man" !

When I was at school, I called the teachers sir and ma'am. Identifying them by gender, rather than by occupation. I get that that is different, there is no generic term for teacher, other than "teacher", which would be a little disrespectful. However, it is a term I was raised to use. As was fireman.
Forgive me for being a child of such a generation. I am told that the term "firefighter" has been the correct term for 30 years now, so maybe I should sue the education system for failing to teach me correctly. Maybe it is a form of child abuse to have been misinformed for so long. I am sure if I look for long enough, I can find someone to blame, but lets be realistic, it is too trivial to pursue.

I get that firefighters are not all men. I get that fireman is unrepresentative of the workforce. But that is what it is, a misrepresentation, nothing more. Not an intentional disrespect of the female firefighters, not a sexist attack on women, not discriminatory. It is just an old fashioned generalisation which has not yet died out. With time it will, just like other terms have been corrected over the generations.
The argument that the correct term has been "firefighter" for 30 years now, so people should be using it is invalid. The simple fact is, it has NOT been commonly known. People have not refused to use the term, they have simply not been educated. Society didn't rebel, or choose to be sexist, they simply never changed. Postman.... Still common a very common term, but very little said about that.

The rise of Dany Cotton to commissioner of the LFB is fantastic. great for workplace equality,  great for moral, and a clear indication that sexism is no longer in place where it matters. I'm all for this sort of progress, and am pleased to see it continue into other sectors. Such as the Met, with Cresida Dick as the commissioner also. I wonder if the next push will be to demand that we use the term police officer religiously, rather than slipping up and saying Policeman. I do hope not. We are better than that, right?

My issue here, is not so much the message of the campaign, but the tone and ferocity of it. Being TOLD that firefighters will not have their job title dictated to them, and DEMAND that others call them by firefighter. Citing the term fireman as sexist and disrespectful.

I am going round and round in circles here now, I can tell, so I will summarise.

Some situations require a loud voice and stomping of feet to get the message across. Bully it through, and make people understand.
But sometimes, just a constant stream of information, repetition of a phrase, making it the norm, and more commonly used, is the way to go.
The media have trained us with many words over the years, more recently using immigrant instead of refugee, blurring the lines and changing the language of the masses, the same can be done here too.

People do listen, language does change, but not over night, and certainly not under duress. The message is fair, the method quite frankly sucks, and if there is anyone demonstrating disrespect, it is from the other side. Disrespecting the members of the public who dare to use a common adage, rather than carefully selecting the most PC term possible.

I love all members of our emergency services, and respect every single one of you. Just because I don't tell you every day, doesn't mean I have changed my views. Please, carry on with your campaign, but maybe stop being so precious about it, and making a huge issue of something which has not been addressed for 29 of the last 30 years.