Friday, July 29, 2005

I dreamt about doing this!!!!

Hats off to Hacan for doing something I wanted to see for a long time:

BA boss gets early morning plane blasts (Richmond & Twickenham Times, 22/07/05)
THE boss of British Airways was woken up by blasting aircraft noise at 5am at his quiet Berkshire village home this week. The protesters rigged up a sound system outside the chief executives home and blasted out aircraft noise for 15 minutes. "The majority of night flights using Heathrow are operated by British Airways or one of its subsidiary companies. And BA is amongst the strongest supporters of night flights." As you have guessed, we live under the flight path, just like another MILLION of people in London (one of the few cities in London where flight paths go OVER down-town). This means we can get 747's cargos at 3 am or 4am, and then early morning traffic from 6 am. We have experienced it: it really affects kids sleeping patterns....

Monday, July 18, 2005

Cycling in London: it's about time to do something!

With the congestion charge now at £8, Transport for London clearly signalled that only rich people can afford commuting by car to London. Shame if you happen to be working in a profession with night shifts, like for instance hospital nurses... (the charge operates from 0700 till 1830).

So, if you want to avoid both this new hidden tax and overcrowded and unreliable AND expensive public transport, cycling to work seems a good idea. Other options include buying a minibus (or a Land Rover Defender LWB) or an eletric car (I wonder what Sir Clive Sinclair has to say about this?).

The snag is that a cycling culture doesn't seem to be part of the British personality: "proficiency" levels are low and the network is terrible:

  • The network is small and presents a lot of discontinuities (the paths stops and starts again after each bus stop, etc...)
  • The segregation with motor vehicules and pedestrians is either poor (cycling path being just a terracotta-coloured path onto the street with no delimiters) or non-existent (shared tow paths with pedestrians for instance)
  • Road surface is often bumpy and abrasive/high-friction (meaning increased effort from the biker and more damage in case of fall), quite often the cycle path is on the pavement and snakes around lamp posts and other obstacles. I'd like to speak to some borough planning officers...
  • The cycle paths rarely have their own traffic lights for junctions, roundabouts are often just ignored
  • Schools do not have secure bike sheds (surely cycling to school reduces congestion and helps kids excercising, but for instance at Darrell, our local school, there's no option for leaving bikes while kids are in class).
  • Train stations do not either have secure locations where to store bikes, and taking bikes onto trains is restricted and badly signed (we came across one idiotic train SouthWest Trains conductor from Windsor to Richmond that forced us to move up the train into the so-called bike carriage where there was no space as two families with buggies were there). In contrast, every major train station in The Netherlands offers secure storage, bike rental and even a repair shop.
  • Little use is made of the vast expanse of green real estate that the Royal Parks offer us: again, paths are shared and the parks are not linked into a network.
  • There are little contraflows


Friday, July 15, 2005

Speed cameras: all for the money, litte for safety

Here are a few important facts about speed cameras:

  1. Accidents on the motorways account for less than 10% of the total. So why diverting resources to putting speed cameras on motorways, like in France? One could say it's idiotic, but in fact speed cameras have little to do with safety, in particular on motorways. They can actually cause accidents (French news article, Le Nouvel Obs, 18/07/05, explaining that before speed cameras were installed on the A12 between Montigny-le-Bretonneux et Rocquencourt, 30 accidents were registered and 60 after!!!)
  2. In fact, Less than 4% of accidents are caused by exceeding the speed limit
  3. Again according to, £120 million was generated in speeding fines in 2003. That's in the IUK. In France, they plan no less than EUR 375 revenue in 2006!!!



Thursday, July 14, 2005

International dates and times

It's sometimes challenging to work internationally, especially given we all use different paper sizes: letter, A4, etc...

We haven't yet found a solution for paper size, but since European countries and most of the commonwealth use the DIN (A4, A3, etc...) we're suggesting that the de facto standard is the one use by over 490m people vs. 290m in the USA...

On the times, here's a useful reference for people working with international colleagues: the International standard date and time notation

This page suggests to use the ISO 8601 (International Standards Organisaion) formats:

* for the dates YYYY-MM-DD
* and for tims hh:mm

The ISO 24h time format is commonly accepted. See this interesting note from the above referenced page:

A remark for readers from the U.S.:

The 24h time notation specified here has already been the de-facto standard all over the world in written language for decades. The only exception are a few English speaking countries, where still notations with hours between 1 and 12 and additions like “a.m.” and “p.m.” are in wide use. The common 24h international standard notation is widely used now even in England (e.g. at airports, cinemas, bus/train timetables, etc.). Most other languages do not even have abbreviations like “a.m.” and “p.m.” and the 12h notation is certainly hardly ever used on Continental Europe to write or display a time. Even in the U.S., the military and computer programmers have been using the 24h notation for a long time.

The old English 12h notation has many disadvantages like:

* It is longer than the normal 24h notation.
* It takes somewhat more time for humans to compare two times in 12h notation.
* It is not clear, how 00:00, 12:00 and 24:00 are represented. Even encyclopedias and style manuals contain contradicting descriptions and a common quick fix seems to be to avoid “12:00 a.m./p.m.” altogether and write “noon”, “midnight”, or “12:01 a.m./p.m.” instead, although the word “midnight” still does not distinguish between 00:00 and 24:00 (midnight at the start or end of a given day).
* It makes people often believe that the next day starts at the overflow from “12:59 a.m.” to “1:00 a.m.”, which is a common problem not only when people try to program the timer of VCRs shortly after midnight.
* It is not easily comparable with a string compare operation.
* It is not immediately clear for the unaware, whether the time between “12:00 a.m./p.m.” and “1:00 a.m./p.m.” starts at 00:00 or at 12:00, i.e. the English 12h notation is more difficult to understand.

Please consider the 12h time to be a relic from the dark ages when Roman numerals were used, the number zero had not yet been invented and analog clocks were the only known form of displaying a time. Please avoid using it today, especially in technical applications! Even in the U.S., the widely respected Chicago Manual of Style now recommends using the international standard time notation in publications.

Most of the world still use now an adapted version of the old German date format, as follows:


(In any case, the US format is both ambiguous and illogical...)