Monday, 21 May 2018

Friday Quiz: turning or parking?

Is this car GK06AUN, pictured one morning in Clifton
(1) turning on the wrong side of the road
(2) parked?

The correct answer is: it makes no difference. Oncoming traffic has to assume they are are turning vehicle, so slow down for a junction in a way that the painted give-way signs would never achieve.

This shows how Bristol's drivers do think of the safety of others, not just when driving, but when parking.

(this was published in 2009; updating the tags has had it relabelled as new. There's probably some yellow lines here now, forever deriving somebody important from parking on the closest corner to their home)

Thursday, 17 May 2018

fuckwit RLJ at race speed

People ask us: why no coverage of RLJ-ing cyclists? Well, we generally leave that to grumpy Havana Coffe Hamid, on account of his soundtrack choices and spelling skills. But when the opportunity arises, well, we do

Today then, this fuckwit

This is filmed from St Pauls Road, leading from the dull part of town, Clifton, to the more interesting bits, albeit after a final bit of climbing and a university area inevitably full of texting students.

Approaching the lights, they're red, time to hang around for a while waiting for green. And then slowly off, in case the BMW driver is in an hurry. No problems there, except carving out from the left is someone on a road bike, looking like they are near that 20 mph limit, blowing straight through the red light to make a high speed turn into St Pauls Road.

On the shout of "fuckwit" you can see some surprise and a bit of a wobble, though delayed. Leaning into the corner like that, he was fully committed to the bend: the only two options were: carry on or come off sliding sideways exploring the concept "road rash" more fully. It'd have been interesting to see if a scream of "no brakes" would make him choose the latter,

What were the risks this fuckwit exposed themselves to?

  • If the car he had cut up on the inside had gone through the light themselves: crash
  • If the BMW turning right from Tyndall's Park Road had been in a hurry: crash
  • If a vehicle coming out of St Pauls road had been in a hurry, he'd have cycled into it.

And of course, if our tax-dodging reporter hadn't been so slow setting off: they'd have been in the crash too. Which is why we think this fuckwit deserves coverage.

Monday, 23 April 2018

BRI Helicopter Takeoff

This happens fairly regularly these days: a helicopter landing and then taking off from the BRI helipad. This is just the first time we've got a video of it from nearby Dove Street

It's never a good sign, but apparently it doesn't always mean that its a critical emergency: apparently the helicopter works well as a way of getting patients from places like Plymouth or Taunton to the BRI without having to worry about an ambulance getting stuck on the M5.

This though, April 21 2018, the Great Wiltshire Air Ambulance bringing someone in from Pewsey, Wilts, "Medical emergency, helicopter conveyed to hospital". Hope they are well and enjoying the quality rice pudding which the BRI serves up.

The next day the team was involved in "Diving incident, helicopter conveyed to Decompression Chamber", taking someone from Chepstow to Plymouth. Busy weekend.

It's good to be in a country which has free, functional health care and a helicopter to take people which need that care to a hospital which doesn't ask for money. And, hopefully, doesn't ask for your immigration status to see if you are on Theresa May's "approved list".

Thursday, 22 March 2018

The Uber Dev Team just Killed Someone

A software development team at Uber just killed someone.

The Uber AV killing is going to go down in software development as one of the "things you must never do" examples up there with Therac-25 and various Flight Control System failures. The datasets and traces of the collision, will, along with all analysis, be reviewed, torn apart and rebuilt into some fairly brutal dissection of the entire software development process by the Association of Computing Machinery Risks Group, which is basically a documentation of fuckups of one form or another.

Without waiting for any analysis, police and others are already saying "it wasn't uber's fault". That's the wrong way to view it.

Better to try and categorise it

  1. Uber's system made a mistake —one that can be fixed and so never repeated. Other AV manufacturers can also use the data from the collision to avoid it in their systems too. 
  2. The collision was unavoidable given the action of the user and the general category of LIDAR-enabled Autonomous Vehicle.
Option 2 means we would now have make a choice. Do we consider the death-rate of AVs "Acceptable", or push for more to separate vulnerable road users from AVs. That could be banning AVs from cities "it's just too hard right now", or trying to do something banning pedestrians from walking around, requiring cyclists to have some beacon implanted in the bike and charged up on a regular basis to announce its presence, etc. That's the category of "admitting your tech can't do what was originally promised"

It is a lot better politically if it does turn out to be the uber team at fault. Or a least blame the driver for inadequate supervision.

How society and industry reacts to this, the first fully self-driving car killing will reflect on the decisions and priorities which society makes. It should be the duty of the software developers to be honest about the incident and open about whether it and similar events can be prevented in future.

Unlike all "human at the wheel" collisions, the actions of the uber car can be fully replicated: with the recorded sensor data from the car and the same version of the software, exactly the same set of actions can be expected. Therefore we can see where it failed.

Here is the list of places

  1. Sensing: failure to detect the victim with the sensors available.
  2. Interpretation: failure to recognise the victim
  3. Anticipation: failure to anticipate their movements (and/or the vehicle's) and/or failure to conclude from the anticipated trajectories of pedestrian & vehicle that a collision is likely
  4. Planning: failure to come up with a plan to avoid a collision
  5. Execution: failure to execute a valid plan.
What do we think?

Sensing: Uber, like the Google/Waymo vehicle has LIDAR: light-frequency radar Works perfectly well at night, wider angle of view than a set of headlamps. Range? Unknown. These are the state-of-the-art in sensing, very expensive, and why Tesla are claiming "you can get by without them". LIDAR is what engineers believe is needed. Yet here it has failed. Does it have known failure conditions? Rain, snow, hail, probably fog and smoke too. Doesn't recognise glass. Presumably doesn't work into low-sun either. "It was dark and they had dark clothes on" is not an excuse. 

Intepretation: First realistic way things could have failed. 

Anticipation: Not a fast moving vehicle, a person crossing the road. No obvious unexpected movements. This should not have been hard. If it is: give up AVs now.

Planning: Fun one. After concluding that a collision is likely, the car has to come up with a set of actions (brake, swerve, brake+swerve, accelerate, sound horn, ...). None of these actions seem to have been attempted.

Execution: Car skids on rain/snow/oil; swerving to avoid one crash triggers a second, etc. No actions appear to have been executed, so unless the car computer couldn't communicate with the steering/engine/brakes. not a failure point.

We suspect then: interpretation and anticipation. Or the sensors got an echo but discarded it amongst all the other inputs it had to deal with in a limited time. That is "prioritisation". 

We humans make exactly the same mistakes all the time. mostly you get away with it. When you don't, well, it could be skid and a dent, or you can be sliding down the crash barrier in a motorway, passenger and driver both trying to keep that steering wheel straight, everyone in the car screaming thinking  they are all going to die. Such events happen with all too much regularity across the country. and generally, unless fatal, nobody gives a fuck. Now its done by software, it gets a lot of press. We shall have to see what the outcome is.

If it was a software/system error, then it can be fixed. Uber can add a new scenario to test their software on, even before running it in a real car, and the limited set of AV manufacturers (Waymo, GM, Ford, ...) can use the same data in qualifying their software. Everyone can learn from it and repeats can be avoided. 

That's if we want that, and it is avoidable. The alternative is blame the victim, exonerate the software, carry on promising a safe utopia, now qualified with "some people may still die". 

That's a major change, as it is accepting that death is inevitable in driving the way we don't accept it for trains and planes. We do make that distinction in cars today, but that's because we all believe that "we" don't make mistakes, or that personal freedom "right to drive across town" is better than safety for all.

This death is going to have to make us spell out our priorities.

For now though, let's add Elaine Herzberg to the list of people killed by cars. She is one of the few to get a mention beyond the local press. That doesn't make her death any better.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Bristol: Snow Day == Smug Day

It was pretty chaotic night out there. On the one hand: almost no traffic. On the other, an Audi A3  trying to get up a slight gradient and stuck wheelspinning. After about 15 minutes people start looking out the window thinking "maybe should help", after another five minutes they open their doors, get out and start pushing. Who says there is no camaraderie between passengers in Audi and the driver?

As the residents are all staring out the window "will they fucking get a move on", the passengers help turn the car round so its weights on the front axle, and it manages to get another 15 metres up the hill before being abandoned. Hopefully BCC have suspended overflights of RPZ enforcement drones for the next few days.

One of the wierdest things was the fact that everyone was driving well below the 20 mph limit. This completely throws off your decision making as you think "I'll wait until they get past before pulling out", and yet they take so long you think "I'll just pull out in front of them". It's the Audi/BMW driving experience on a push-bike.

All mini-roundabouts, give way signs and zebra crossings are suspended, and you can stop in the middle of the road to talk to people. Not different from normal, except now you have a better excuse when challenged than "fuck off"

We considered setting out to a nearby pub on the off-chance of getting snowed in and trapped for 2-3 days. But which one?
  1. Duke of York: good pub, risk of being stuck with David Wilcox. Which is fine, except after 24h of cider drinking he becomes a barge evangelist. We don't care for barges and think the remaining waterways of the city would be best built over the way they did with the River Frome to give us the M32. Sooner they do this for the harbour, the better. In fact, we are surprised the WoEP haven't suggested that to Marvin, as it'll be more popular and easier to deliver than a metro.
  2. Miners Arms: Thursday is Pub Night. Risk of a three day lock-in with pub quiz enthusiasts keeping on with the quizzes as something to do. Challenge of explaining to A&S Police how aforementioned pub quiz enthusiasts all ended up being killed messily with the kind of small nail clippers airport security love to confiscate.
  3. Farm Pub: highest chance of becoming stranded, Doom Bar on draft, easiest to acquire locally curated ganja (we are told). 
Tough choice

Anyway, that was friday, what about today?

Rejoice! Today is a day is a great to be smug!

Because yes, those of us who have the equipment to get round can go round, offering smug advice to everyone trapped.

Drivers of 4x4s and SUVs

Landrover Defender drivers have it easy today: that rickety thing they've kept alive through trading bits on ebay can now be used to cruise round the city. Wearing wooly hats, fingerless gloves and warm clothes obviously, given that class of vehicles' heating system.

Urban SUV drivers have a similar option, but need to be careful. Today may be the day that you can finally justifying spending £15K on top of a practical car..

Do: drive round, nodding knowingly at other SUV drivers.

Don't: discover when you get to a hill that you only paid a £12K premium and so have the 2WD model.

Do: use engine braking on the descents. If your car is an automatic, time to work out how to put it into manual mode, or try the cruise control.

Don't: discover while driving down one of the steep hills in Totterdown or Cliftonwood that it doesn't make a difference between 2WD and 4WD when it comes to using the brakes. No winter tyres, sliding into parked cars screaming.

Owners of cars parked on hills

It's too late to move them unless you pay your neighbour with a landrover to tow them somewhere.

Do: sit by the window, looking at your car, camera in hand, ready to jump out and take pics of whichever 2WD SUV drives into the side.

Don't: own a car of any net value.

Mountain Bikers: 

Do: cycle round offering smug advice to people trying to drive up and down hills.

Don't: get off and help, admit that it doesn't work and then, while pedalling of shamefully, wipe out on a patch of ice.


Do: walk down the middle of the road. Its the only bit which will get gritted after all.

Don't: look at your phone while walking round. Not today.

Don't: walk round with your hands in your pockets, in case you need to put them down when you slide out.

Do: get out the skis you've kept under the bed for a decade, carry them to some hill and ski down.
Don't: go on about it for years in any of the pubs our team members frequent We don't care, really.

Mid-life crisis mountaineers

We want to have a special call-out to mid-life-crisis mountaineers, the ones you see out in Gloucester Road or Southville of a weekend, wearing a down jacket branded with North Face, Patagonia or Mountain Equipment,

This is your chance to get out all the stuff you've bought from Taunton Leisure of Bedminster over the years and stomp round the city

Do: get out the most excessive bits of equipment you have in an arms race with all the other mid-life crisis mountaineers.

Do: walk around being smug, especially on the deepest snow parts of the pavement, rather than the middle of the road where it's clear.

Do: remember that if you wear crampons, walk with  your legs wide apart so you don't step on your own toes.

Do: talk to random strangers, casually dropping phrases like "hut-to-hut through the Haute Savoie Alps" and "New Zealand South Island trekking", or even better, "Everest Base Camp"

Don't: get out your stuff to discover that since you last went near any of those places the plastic boots have gone brittle and failed.


Well, with an equipment failure like that, its trapped in the Farm Pub. We just wish that skier would STFU or we'll have to start looking for those nail clippers

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Dear Redland-based driver of Audi YS12ZPX

We've discussed before the concept of a "Redland Mum": a parent who is prepared to injure other road users in order to make sure that they get to school at pickup and dropoff time. It's why the ten minutes before the school gate close and open events are one of the hazardous times.

This video of a driver endangering a cyclist was taken at 15:00, in Redland, so meets many of the checklist items. You'd have to know their final destination to know if this was a genuine "Redland Mum school run", or just a "Redland Audi Driver in a hurry". We've included the letter the owner shall receive.

Dear Redland-based driver of Audi YS12ZPX

As promised, here's the video of you going by at a distance I didn't consider acceptable. And, as there was nobody oncoming to squeeze past, no justification at all other than selfish indifference.

Just because you are in a hurry does not justify endangering other Bristolians.
  • All it would have taken would have been a small wobble on the bike for a collision. Which if it had occurred would have had adequate video recordings for any prosecution.
  • The police are now cycling round the city, enforcing the 1.5m distance from the cyclist which they consider safe. "Careless Driving" is what they prosecute on, ~3 points and its impact on insurance premiums.
  • Your actions reinforce the reputation that Audi drivers have for being selfish and dangerous.
You didn't even get anywhere, did you? You ended up at the traffic queue at the top of Redland hill. That's the one which is there every afternoon, so you should have been able to predict it.
Not only was I able to catch up, I had to wait at the zebra crossing for you to pull out.

Which comes round to the final point. Your actions were actually counterproductive, weren't they? An extra 50cm of clearance and you wouldn't have been held up at the crossing. Instead you were delayed when you clearly didn't want to be, and now have the video of your driving up online for all to see.

Please, give a little bit more clearance when you pass, maybe even be a bit more patient when trying to drive across the city. Dangerously passing someone just to get to the next traffic queue achieves nothing.

Friday, 23 February 2018

School runs, UK vs US

This is a 2003 photo of a 14 month child about to be towed four miles to kindergarten.

This is Corvallis, Oregon, a small US town where apart from a university there is ~fuck all. As a way of getting the child to school, the roads are quiet enough that it's much less stressful than in Bristol. Herel, you can never be sure someone has seen that trailer before they cut you up at a roundabout. Corvallis? It only has one roundabout and you can avoid it with ease.

You do not need to worry about the safety of your child when getting them to school by bike in a town like this.

Indeed, once they are a teenager you don't need to worry much about them on the back roads, unlike near Bristol, where outside town, "quiet" roads like Beggar's Bush Lane are viewed as opportunities of drivers to sprint. In Oregon, you can send your child ahead and not worry.

In contrast, in Bristol, you do worry about that school run.

You want to be in front of the child, to get the cars to stop at the roundabout. But also at the back, in case the threat comes from that direction. It's worse when they decide to cycle to school on their own, as worry about their journeys. It's a relief when they decide to start walking with their mates instead.

But journey to school and back is the only bit of their day you need to worry about.

In contrast, in the US, you worry about the safety of your child in the school. That town where nothing happened was 50 miles from Springfield, OR, where in 1998 one of the high school shootings now considered "small" took place. And its 110 miles north of Umpqua Community College where in 2015 someone killed ten staff and students.

In those sleepy middle-class US surburbs and towns, you cannot trust your children to be safe, because all it takes is one unstable person and a gun and their school ends up in the list of "US school killings"

Britain: we've had that tragedy in Dunblane: fix: no more handguns. Indeed, we have even allowed automatic rifles until an afternoon in Hungerford, thirty-one years ago.

Yet too many people in the US are unable to accept that such solutions "no guns" work, and all they are left with is trying to escalate it. Would you feel safer at school knowing all the teachers were armed? Not really.

Maybe, just maybe, this time, with the anger and voice of the children themselves, things may change.


Monday, 12 February 2018

I say we dust off and nuke them from orbit

The Alien series have gone from groundbreaking space-horror to a repetitive collection of cliches. They always start with the protagonist, Ripley —or a Ripley-substitute actress— innocently asleep in cryosleep, dreaming while the ships cross between the stars. A small blinking light by the frosted face is the sole sign of life.

And then something changes. A computer starts beeping. the light blinks a bit more, shadows cross the peaceful face of Ripley as she and her colleagues are awoken, once again, to defeat the Alien.

And it will be defeated: that much is a given.

The real variables are: what form does the final battle take? Whether technology, as represented by the android, is on the side of good or bad? Whether they've finally got around to redesigning space craft so as to have air vents too small for aliens to fit? And who will be the idiot who takes too close a look at "that funny egg thing".

With such a limited set of variables, the last few films in the series have been really, undeniably, repetitive. Everyone must wish that they put the series to bed, put Ripley in the cryochamber, shut down the android and walk away —because everyone is getting bored of it.

Which brings us to the council's latest plans for a metro line on the Bristol to Bath railway path.

Some people may be shocked by this, but others, we go "Again?" "Not again!". Not in fear, but in the tired despair of people who went through all of this a decade ago. Last time: thousands of people out celebrating victory over a council that had concluded that it was a stupid idea. This time, again, the council pays some consultants for some ideas on transport, and again, they say "oh look, there's a former railway line here", pointing to the BBRP, and again, it all kicks off.

Well, so be it. Right now the has been in its cryosleep, costing $13/year to keep alive —much less than a sustrans membership.

And now, the console is beeping, the light flashing a little faster, and it's time to turn things on again.

What next? The monster will die, that much is a given. What is unknown is what order do the victims die —which councillor ends with the facehugger and who goes looking for the missing cat and ends up never being seen again?

We shall see. For now, we are just at the opening scene

beep. beep. beep. beep.

tip for the wise: motion detectors need a warning sticker "aliens may be in the air-vents"

Friday, 19 January 2018

Fixie Riders: don't Slipstream Mountain Bikes

It's January, and you can see who is out and about on their new fixie bike. This rear view video show our (expendable, tax-dodging) reporter turning off St Pauls Road, Clifton, onto Pembroke Road,
at a double-mini-roundabout put in to break Satnav. And coming up from the triangle, along Queen's Road, here comes someone in a shiny clean fixie, who decides to slipstream our reporter (expendable, tax-dodging).

This is where they a number of mistakes
  1. Cycling behind someone on a bike without letting them know you are there. Risk: the rider in front might perform some manoeuvre without warning.
  2. Cycling directly behind the bike, rather than off to one side, generally further from the pavement. Risk: you have to be able to stop as fast as the bike in front.
  3. Cycling behind a mountain bike while you have a fixed wheel bike,
    albeit with a front brake.
We'll assume they were a bit drubbed from the climb and so didn't feel like passing, but they should have hung off to one side. At the very least, when they got behind our reporter (tax-dodging, expendable) they should have looked at the bike, and realised that it was a mountain bike.

In the video, you can see that the fixie rider (tax dodging, expendable, not so good at braking fast), gets to cycle behind the mountain bike until 00:30, when, in front of our reporter, someone on a phone steps out onto the zebra crossing. This puts our reporter into an aggressive-but-non-emergency brake. All well, until someone one a bike shoots up their left, almost into the aforementioned pedestrian. Which was a bit of a surprise.

It was only later, when the question "where did that rider come from", went through our reporters idle mind, that they went for the rear camera and had a look to see what happened. As you can see, they had their hands on the bars, drifted in right behind our camera, and, when the bike in front has to do that stop, nearly ride straight into the back of them, only avoiding it by swerving to the side.

Mountain bikers don't do chain gangs. They don't go along taking turns at the front, slipstreaming each other for performance, before hanging at the back to cycle no handed while you rummage in your back pocket for a gel with the same texture and flavour as baby food. Nor do they try and communicate with each other with little twitches of the hand, or pointing down and waving to say "there's something on the tarmac to avoid".

Instead they cycle along with enough of a gap between the rider in front so that they can see, enjoy and then learn from the mistakes the rider in front makes, rather than join in the crash. Food? Maybe, but they'll stop for that as they are generally lazy and view "cycling no hands" is one of the precursors to a trip to A&E. As for pointing out gravel, potholes or other surface hazards, those are not things to swerve around, they are there to jump over.

And, unlike fixie bikes with one front caliper brake, a modern MTB has hydraulic disk brakes, which, if the bubbles have been squeezed out of the cables, lets the rider bring the bike sliding to a halt with only the light touch of one finger on the brakes.

Because of that one-finger braking, mountain bikers are generally split into the "index finger faction": cycle with their index fingers on the brakes and the "middle finger faction", who use their middle finger. Whatever the choice, except on uphills, they're going to be cycling with their chosen finger on the brakes at all times. And when needed, they'll know to put that on, push their butt backwards to keep maximum weight on that rear wheel, with its 2.2+ inch surface on the ground, and so rather than skid, bring their bike to a halt faster than you could stop a British Leyland era Austin Mini (*).

When you come up behind a bike, see that its got wide tyres and disk brakes on the back, instead of cycling close enough to see whether the brakes are Shimano, SRAM or Hope, you need to think "this is a bike which can stop fast ridden by someone who may know how to use them", and not cycle right up their arse without even saying hello.

Do you know this rider? Are you that rider? Whoever it is: either hang off the side or stay back, especially to mountain bikes. Thanks

(*) MkI Minis had non-servo assisted drum brakes and to stop rear-wheel skid depended on that battery in the boot along with the WD-40, the hammer and the tow rope. As a safety feature, it was designed not to go very fast.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

A Death on Brook Road

There's almost no coverage of Brook Road on this site, not because its out of our normal coverage area, but because nothing ever happens there. Apart from one incident where a manic van driver on a phone forced our reporter to jump off their bike and onto the pavement, nothing.

Which is why its so awful to hear that someone died here: Nick Graydon, age 27, died December 9 2017, after injuries sustained from a collision with a cyclist on Brook Rood who had apparently turned into Brook Road from Lower Cheltenham Road.

It happened at 8pm, which is of course dark.

Articles say "he stepped out from behind a van". Which is something we want to highlight, "stepping out from behind a van" is not exactly uncommon in Montpelier: it is also known as "walking around Montpelier". Because key feaatures of the area are vans, people walking, and pavements narrow to nonexistent. As an example, here's a continuation of the previous video, crossing Monty during the primary school run: count how many times somebody steps out from behind a van.

Like we said, we don't know the details. but "stepped out from behind a van" is one of those statements which pushes the blame onto the deceased, like "the cyclist swerved to avoid..."

Anyway, let's see what happens next after this, a tragic death which shocked everyone nearby.