Monthly archives: January 2014

E-readers: A new chapter in the history of the novella – Telegraph

Almost everything I write comes out at novella length. It’s just the word count that most often works for my stories. I have the same optimism about the saleability of shorter, cheaper, ebooks as the author of this article.

E-readers: A new chapter in the history of the novella – Telegraph.

Cycle helmets don’t make cyclists safer

Every so often, some well meaning politician decides that cyclists need to be protected by making it mandatory for them to wear helmets. This week, it’s the turn of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth. It’s good that he cares, but he’s calling for the wrong thing. In fact, in his article explaining his reasoning, he somehow manages to suggest and then ignore several ways to make cycling safer.

Part of the solution, of course, is the matter of education. Cyclists can go on a bike ability course. This used to be the cyclist proficiency test. Other road users need to be aware of cyclists too.

So close. Money should be put into making bike ability available to every child, and there have been calls to make cycle awareness a mandatory part of the driving test. In fact “Other road users need to be aware of cyclists too” manages to skip over possibly the biggest cause of problems for cyclists. Too many drivers don’t know how to behave around people on bikes. They don’t know how much room to give them, when they’re not supposed to enter cycle lanes or what an Advance Stop Lane is for. And that’s all before we get on to them using their mobiles, running red lights, parking on the pavement etc., etc.. Put some money into telling drivers how to behave- and enforcing the rules- and you’ll see an improvement in road safety.

Cyclists’ safety is a particular problem in our cities and above all in London. Cycle lanes provide some assistance, as do lower speed limits. It is likely that banning heavy goods vehicles from certain routes in our cities at peak times would also help as it has in Paris.

Good cycle lanes can make a difference. Bad cycle lanes can make things worse. Reports on the London Cycle Superhighway suggest that it’s been appallingly designed and badly implemented, putting the cyclists who use it in danger. If this can be borne in mind, then these suggestions are all superior to compulsory helmets. The good Lord should push for them.

The Highway Code sensibly sets out tips on safety. Wearing high visibility clothing is clearly a help, as is wearing the recommended cycling helmet.

It’s always good to be seen, which is why my bike can look like a Christmas tree during Winter. And I always wear a helmet. But, and this is the bit that none of these politicians with their good intentions never seem to understand- a crash helmet is not a safety device.

A cycling helmet does not prevent accidents. It doesn’t magically fill in the potholes that can throw cyclists off or seriously damage their bikes. It doesn’t throw up a forcefield which pushes away drivers who don’t understand lane discipline or safe distances. It doesn’t keep pedestrians from stepping off the pavement without looking around.

A helmet is not a safety device. A helmet is a damage limitation device. Like those equally misnamed safety devices in cars- like safety belts, airbags, side impact protection and reinforced A pillars- if it’s needed, then something very unsafe has just happened. Safety devices are things like efficient brakes and properly inflated, grippy tyres, surprisingly similar in cars and on bikes. Indeed, the most powerful safety device in any wheeled vehicle is the same thing- the brain of the person in control of it. Which brings me back to the subject of education….

If Lord Bourne wants to make the roads safer for cyclists, and more pleasant for everyone, then he needs to shelve his call for compulsory cycle helmets and look more closely at some of the other ideas he so quickly skipped past.

Threepence piece cufflinks


I like cufflinks. In fact, now that I no longer work in an office, I only own nice shirts that need cufflinks. So I’ve started making cufflinks.

These links are made from 1967 vintage threepenny pieces attached to blank cufflinks with Araldite. Each pair has a head and a tail coin.

You can buy them from the Spinneyhead shop at Zibbet.

Oh dear, I agree with David Blunkett

There are worse people than David Blunkett to agree with, and the scope of the agreement is very narrow.

Blunkett has taken issue with Russell Brand’s anti-voting stance, pointing out that the demographics who avoid ballots are the ones who most need to be heard. He’s right and Brand’s wrong- the young and the disaffected need to vote. However, I’d go a few steps further. It’s the three main parties who are the cynics. It’s the narrowness of the difference between them, their hypocrisy and their pandering to headlines and bigots that has put so many people off. It’s absolutely the right thing to do to protest the state of British politics by not voting for them. But don’t waste your vote by binning it, use it in one of the few ways they’ll pay attention to.

Don’t vote for one of the three main parties (or UKIP or the BNP). Vote Green*, vote Pirate, vote for the person standing on a platform that only has relevance to your constituency, whatever you do, vote. No, it won’t immediately sweep the scum out of Parliament and into the sludge of the Thames where they belong- not at the next General Election, anyway- but a surge in votes for ‘Other’ will get their attention. And then we can keep their attention with single issue campaigns and efforts to build a better society without them.

Apathy and cynicism won’t change the attitude of the political class. They almost rely on them to keep their cosy jobs. Well aimed and constructive anger, and the threat of making them irrelevant, will get their attention. Then, when they’re listening to us, we can force them to change or get out of our way.

BBC News – David Blunkett attacks 'cynicism' of Russell Brand and Will Self.

*I’ve joined the Green Party, I’m duty bound to put that suggestion first. Plus, they have better policies than the big three.

Conspiracy Theorists want to kill your children!!!!

Just framing this as a conspiracy theory nut might.

Exposure to conspiracy theories about vaccinations causing autism can sway parents’ decisions about vaccinating their children- putting their kids, and all their friends/schoolmates, at risk from diseases which had been all but eradicated.

The development of vaccines is one of the most important advances in the history of medicine. Indeed, a recent Parliament Postnote discussed how governments should further stimulate vaccine research (Post, 2008). However, even with increased efforts of policy makers, in recent year’s vaccination rates have declined. In many regions of the UK rates lie well below the recommended 95% uptake (Health Protection Service, 2013). One obstacle may be the influence of anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. Rather, current psychological research has shown exposure to anti-vaccine conspiracy information reduces pro-vaccination intentions (Jolley & Douglas, accepted*). Thus, whilst the decrease uptake of vaccines could be for several reasons, it highlights the contributing potential detrimental effect of conspiracy theories.

Maybe the conspiracy theorists are in the pay of Big Measles. Or perhaps they’re so wrapped up in their fantasy worlds that they’re blind not just to reality but to the potential harm of the lies they’re propagating.

Should conspiracy theory research inform public policy? | The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories.

Object of Desire- a brand new 1932 Ford

I love hot rods. It’s unlikely I’m ever going to own, let alone build, one, but here’s something that would make it easier. Ford’s own component sales division offers brand new reproduction parts for some of their most iconic vehicles, including a full 1932 Model B five window body. This is the little deuce coupe the beach Boys sang about, only straight from the factory.

It’s not clear from the article whether this is just a body or if the chassis is included, but it is fresh sheet metal to begin working on. And, as the article suggests, it could be the basis for builds that would be considered sacrilegious if done to an original. Hybrid hot rod anyone?

via One Of Ford's Most Exciting New Products Is An 82-Year-Old Design.

Nigel Farage has no clothes on

Apparently, UKIP are scrapping their last manifesto completely and aren’t going to announce any of their new policies until after the European elections. You’ll just have to vote for them* and hope you get what you expected if they get in.

Why does this shower of idiots keep getting air time to spout nonsense?

Nigel Farage disowns Ukip's entire 2010 election manifesto | Politics | The Guardian.

*don’t vote for them

The Ghost Ship

This sounds like the pitch for a horror movie. A crewless ship, adrift with only rats which will have started each other on board. It needs a stash of gold bars and maybe a few ghosts, just to take it to the next level.

Mystery of the Lyubov Orlova: Ghost ship full of cannibal rats ‘could be heading for Britain’ – Home News – UK – The Independent.

Live by bullshit, die by bullshit

UKIP is, and always has been, built upon an empty foundation of fluff and fact free rhetoric. Nigel Farage has gained himself a high media profile by saying stupid things that he knows will get him attention. Never mind the facts, lets have some mild racism, Little England short-sightedness and a pint.

So, now that he’s got where he is through talking crap (and not being called on it by most of the media), he doesn’t have any right to bleat about being hard done by when one of his councillors gives the world the comedy gold of gay weather. Even less so when his defence includes the claim that said councillor had form for stupid and bigoted remarks before his defection to UKIP from the Tories. Obviously the Cream Tea Party were too desperate to score points poaching Mr Silvester to see if he was liable to say the sort of thing that would embarrass them.

BBC News – UKIP leader Nigel Farage attacks 'gay floods' coverage.

Does Evolution Evolve Under Pressure? – Wired Science

Rather than targeting specific traits, as Lamarck’s theory would have predicted, the mutations struck random genes, with some good outcomes and some bad. However, the process wasn’t completely random. Rosenberg’s findings suggested that bacteria were capable of increasing their mutation rates, which might in turn produce strains capable of surviving new conditions.

“Cells are able to adapt to stress not by knowing exactly what they need to do, but by throwing the dice as a population and making random changes to the genome,” said James Broach, a biologist at Pennsylvania State University’s College of Medicine in Hershey who studies a similar phenomenon in yeast. “That will allow stressed progeny to find an escape route.”

Does Evolution Evolve Under Pressure? – Wired Science.

Vertical farms sprouting all over the world – tech – 16 January 2014 – New Scientist

URBAN warehouses, derelict buildings and high-rises are the last places you’d expect to find the seeds of a green revolution. But from Singapore to Scranton, Pennsylvania, “vertical farms” are promising a new, environmentally friendly way to feed the rapidly swelling populations of cities worldwide.

In March, the world’s largest vertical farm is set to open up shop in Scranton. Built by Green Spirit Farms (GSF) of New Buffalo, Michigan, it will only be a single storey covering 3.25 hectares, but with racks stacked six high it will house 17 million plants. And it is just one of a growing number.

The Biospheric project is Salford’s very own vertical farm and the talks there were a fascinating part of last year’s Manchester International Festival.

Vertical farms sprouting all over the world – tech – 16 January 2014 – New Scientist.

Devastating El Niño events to double this century – New Scientist

Extreme El Niño events, that can kill tens of thousands of people, will be twice as common this century because of climate change. The finding adds to the evidence that global warming will cause ever more extreme weather.

via Devastating El Niño events to double this century – environment – 19 January 2014 – New Scientist.

Support the Coffee Cranks Coop’s trading licence application

The Coffee Cranks built their own cargo bike, from which they serve ethically sourced coffee and tea. I’ve met them a couple of times and they’re lovely chaps, the sort of slightly off-kilter, resourceful types Manchester creates and is supposed to celebrate. The University of Manchester and Corridor Manchester have objected to the Cranks’ application for a trading licence for an area off Oxford Road. This petition supports the Cranks and asks the two organisations to reconsider. Please sign it to support a cool local business.

Petition | University of Manchester (@SocialResponUoM) and Corridor Manchester (@corridormcr): withdraw objections to Coffee Cranks Coop's trading licence application. |

The United Kingdom Idiots Party?

A UKIP councillor for Henley-on-Thames has claimed the recent floods are due to Prime Minister David Cameron ignoring his warnings on legalising same-sex marriage.

David Silvester, who defected to UKIP from the Conservatives in 2012 over the issue, made the comments to his local newspaper the Henley Standard.

“The scriptures make it abundantly clear that a Christian nation that abandons its faith and acts contrary to the Gospel (and in naked breach of a coronation oath) will be beset by natural disasters such as storms, disease, pestilence and war,” he said.

Blaming the gays for natural disasters used to be the province of a certain kind of mind-searingly ignorant American politician. Now it looks like Britain’s own Cream Tea Party is taking them in on this side of the Atlantic. The media (and other politicians) in this country needs to stop fawning over Farage and co. and start properly questioning the weak bases of all their policies and pronouncements.

Next time someone at the BBC opts for the lazy option of booking a member of UKIP for Question Time I’d like to be able to slap them until they give a Green or proper independent the time and exposure that the Clown Party are stealing from them.