Friday, 24 December 2010

Happy Christmas to you all

...and sincere thanks for visiting, and for commenting.  I've enjoyed the debates, and the arguments, and the banter.  I hope you all have a good Christmas, and that you all remember why.

No music on offer this year, as some of you get a little over-excited ;-)  You can have some recommended reading, though.

Please help me on this one



As Dizzy notes, the.... delivery.... is... quite.... awkward.  I kind of find it hard to believe that this is a real, natural human delivery.

However, if it is not, that would suggest that someone has trained him to do this, which is equally laughable.

Clearly, there must be a third explanation.  But what??

Spot the difference

Tommy Sheridan, socialist, found guilty of lying.

Phil Woollas, socialist, found guilty of lying.

Tony Blair, socialist, still at large.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Arrrghh Snow Panic Nightmare Arctic Chaos

Travel chaos caused by the UK's freezing weather continues as anger grows over major disruption at Heathrow airport.
Thousands of people face further disruption to their Christmas travel plans as cold weather continues to grip much of the country.
Southern England and south Wales were among those in the "firing line" for Monday, said BBC weather forecaster Helen Willetts, with 5-10cm of snowfall that could coincide with both the morning and evening rush hours.
No, sorry.  This is rubbish.

The UK does not have a problem with snow.

I'll say that again.

The UK does not have a problem with snow.  

What it has a problem with, is idiots.  People who were given a driving licence despite their IQ being less than their shoe size.  People who cannot realise that if you set off in an unsuitable car then you may well get stuck.  Therefore, either be prepared to get stuck, or don't go.  It's really not that hard.

Equally, airlines often have problems when the weather is difficult.  This is not news.  It has been known widely since, err, airlines started operating.  So, if the weather is iffy, be prepared to spend a long time in the departure lounge.  Or don't go, if your journey is not important enough.

I speak as someone who, a year ago this week, managed to get his car thoroughly stuck in snow. Someone who, a month ago, spent a considerable time in departure lounges trying to get on a flight for a Hearing that, yes, was important enough (despite the fact that I lost).  Did I demand an apology from the Minister for Transport?  No.  I made my own way home and prepared myself better next time.

So wake up, people.  Just because we can make the pretty moving pictures appear on the magic box in the corner, just because we can let you talk to Aunty Hilda in Australia even though you're in the checkout queue in Tesco, doesn't mean we can actually do magic.  It doesn't mean that your little life can be totally divorced from physical reality.  It doesn't mean that you have an absolute unfettered right to get anywhere you want, on time, without additional effort, whatever the conditions.  Grow up, and learn how to drive in snow.

(Yes, the Land Rover worked well today, thanks...)

Update 21/12/10: In support of my argument that the drivers of this land are idiots, I give you this photo.  Spot the problem... no prizes on offer, sadly.  (Or... is it just BMW drivers?)  

Thursday, 16 December 2010

A Social Media Christmas

@measured linked to this in a comment earlier today. It *really* does deserve a wider adience.

Enjoy.

Is that it?

So, The Great Wikileaks Scandal has told us that:

  • Politicians say one thing in public and another in private
  • Their civil servants do essentially the same
  • Prince Andrew is a bit of a twat
  • err, that's it.
Was it really worth the hassle, Julian?

Friday, 10 December 2010

Tory Scum and Proud of It

Simon Cooke, reminiscing the 80s Militant Tendency and noting aspects of it once again in yesterday's riots:
For me, yelling “Tory Scum, Here We Come” is an admission once again of socialism’s defeat. There is no rational, intelligent argument in this dystopic, dehumanising creed’s favour so its advocates must resort to insult – to hurling abuse, to fear, aggression and destruction as a substitute for debate and discussion.
Absolutely. You always know when a socialist's arguments have failed; they resort to personal attacks of a quite surprising vehemence.  We capitalists are, to them, worthy of nothing but hate; we are evil, greedy, selfish.

We're not; we just want people to be free to support themselves, where and when they can.

Tuition fees - a simple lesson

Blue Eyes has written the post that I (shamefully) haven't got round to writing yet.  It is on the subject of how to fund University courses without ruining the official budget and without requiring Nanny to tell all students what they can and cannot study:
Instead of raising the cost of everyone’s degree, why don’t we concentrate on subsidising degrees which actually have some sort of relevance and use? The reason the budget is so ****** is because the taxpayer basically wrote a blank cheque to young people and promised that whatever nonsense they wanted to study would be paid for. No, my solution is much more subtle. The taxpayer should concentrate on paying for those degrees which disproportionately benefit “society”. Anything else would be down to individual decisions.
So simple.  It recognises that there is a benefit to us all from the study of the proper academic subjects - physics, medicine, english, languages, history, chemistry.  These graduates go out into the world and either enrich our lives artistically or help our economy move forward, generating jobs, income for all, and tax revenue.

Nevertheless, if someone wants to study Golf Course Management, then they would be free to do so if they thought that the cost was worthwhile.

This is exactly what I have been thinking for the last week or so, wondering why the Coalition cannot do this. It works, it is sensible, and it would save Nick Clegg's postbox from all sorts of abuse.  Clegg even said in an interview (apologies, can't remember where) "We could of course just cut down the nuber of courses that are funded" in a way that suggested a "but that would mean..." was following, but no disastrous scenario followed.  I was left thinking "Yes, you could.  Why not?".

I especially like this idea:
Anything with the word “science” in the name would be out

Thursday, 9 December 2010

These people are deciding our future?

From the Watts Up With That blog, an interesting pointer as to the quality of scientific knowledge amongst the COP16 delegates at Cancun.

Asked to sign the infamous petition to ban the chemical known as dihydrogen monoxide, also known as DHMO, "almost every delegate" agreed.  As is usefully set out at the campaigning site http://www.dhmo.org, DHMO is a potentially risky substance:
Each year, Dihydrogen Monoxide is a known causative component in many thousands of deaths and is a major contributor to millions upon millions of dollars in damage to property and the environment. Some of the known perils of Dihydrogen Monoxide are:
  • Death due to accidental inhalation of DHMO, even in small quantities.
  • Prolonged exposure to solid DHMO causes severe tissue damage.
  • Excessive ingestion produces a number of unpleasant though not typically life-threatening side-effects.
  • DHMO is a major component of acid rain.
  • Gaseous DHMO can cause severe burns.
  • Contributes to soil erosion.
  • Leads to corrosion and oxidation of many metals.
  • Contamination of electrical systems often causes short-circuits.
  • Exposure decreases effectiveness of automobile brakes.
  • Found in biopsies of pre-cancerous tumors and lesions.
  • Given to vicious dogs involved in recent deadly attacks.
  • Often associated with killer cyclones in the U.S. Midwest and elsewhere, and in hurricanes including deadly storms in Florida, New Orleans and other areas of the southeastern U.S.
  • Thermal variations in DHMO are a suspected contributor to the El Nino weather effect.
Except, of course, that dihydrogen monoxide is, err, H2O.  Water.  Yes, COP16 attendees have happily signed a petition to ban water.  These people, tasked with considering a theory that relies for its authority on an alleged scientific basis, do not even know the chemical formula for water.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

And Finally...

Also in the news tonight, evidence has been found of Albert's early modelling career...

(Boney M jokes? Feeble...)

Spectacularly Missing the Point

So Assange is remanded in custody without bail, and teh Interweb is up in arms.

Why?

The decision to deny him bail is so blindingly obvious that even the wonderfully-named Judge Riddle had no real choice but to do so.  To summarise, from what I have been able to extract from the noise, Assange is not a UK citizen, has no permanent base here, has no family or property ties to the UK, has a history of moving from country to country, and arrived here in a manner that is vague and unclear. He is currently running a web service that is doing its utmost to avoid any form of legal jurisdiction.  To say that he is a flight risk is to somewhat understate the matter.

What is potentially scandalous is the fact that the rape allegations are suddenly being revived, coincidentally just after he embarrasses a major government.  Or, if the rape allegations are serious and substantial, that they were not pursued originally.  Or, in either case, that he is being held at all under a warrant for questioning when he has (according to his lawyer) repeatedly offered to meet the Swedish prosecutor to discuss the case.

The fact that he has been denied bail is utterly trivial and entirely unremarkable.  So all those whinging about it should grow up and try that "thinking" thing that people keep talking about.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Wikidribbles

I've been struggling to reach an opinion on the Wikileaks issue since it erupted.

On the one hand, I am firmly in favour of openness in government, and firmly against many of the abuses that Wikileaks and others have uncovered.  If secrecy allows governments to engage in such abuses away from the watchful (?) eye of the voters, then disclosure is good, surely?  It has also amused me to see the governments who assured us that if we had nothing to hide, then we had nothing to fear from disclosure, suddenly demonstrating that they seem to have something to hide.

On the other hand, I do accept that some information does need to be kept secret, and that doing so is in all our interests.  Who is this Assange person to assess this, I wonder?  I also worry that the whole affair is developing into a personality cult around Assange, and wonder whether the ultimate aim is to knock down the unnecessary curtains around abuse or build up the podium under Assange?

But David Allen Green has clarified it a little for me.  He has the same dilemma.  On the one hand:
Transparency in diplomatic and governmental matters is important, for behind the cloak of secrecy and plausible deniability can lie malice, selfishness and incompetence. Open access to reliable information enables us to participate effectively in a democratic society: in particular, voters can get beyond the self-serving spin of politicians and media outlets. In the wise words of Louis Brandeis, one of the greatest jurists in American history, sunlight is the best disinfectant.
...but nevertheless:
But transparency is not the only liberal value. There are others, and these are important, too.
For example, there is the value of legitimacy: those who wield power in the public interest should normally have some democratic mandate or accountability.
However, no one has voted for WikiLeaks, nor does it have any form of democratic supervision. Indeed, it is accountable to no one at all. One may think that this is a good thing: that with such absolute autonomy WikiLeaks can do things that it otherwise might not be able to do. One could even take comfort that WikiLeaks represents the "good guys" and is "doing the right thing".
There it is; there is the source of my unease.  It is an unease that flows form the process, not the disclosures themselves.  It is that Wikileaks has set itself up and is trying very hard to operate in a way that cannot be overseen by law.

This is wrong.  This is an issue in which a fine balance needs to be struck, between the benefits of disclosure and its cleansing effect on the activities of governments, and the harm that could flow from uninhibited disclosure.  We have institutions, independent of government, which are set up with the express remit of reaching such decisions; they are called Courts.

That is where this matter should be taken; there should be an immunity law allowing any official or their proxy in possession of information to take it, anonymously, to a Court and apply for it to be disclosed.  If the information is above a threshold of triviality, then the administration should be invited to explain why the information should be withheld.  The Court should then be tasked with looking critically at the administration response, rejecting it unless clearly justified, and be given the power to grant immunity to the official allowing him to publish (perhaps in a redacted form).

(Yes, yes, none of us can use the Courts because it is too scary and expensive.  But that is another argument, one for reforming our Court system.)

In this way, Wikileaks could operate within the law, and be subject to an oversight that would give it legitemacy.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Leslie Nielson RIP

The 80/20 rule is much abused, but (in short) it says that 20% of some input is usually responsible for 80% of some output. For example, 80% of your profit comes from 20% of your customers.

The same applies to comedy, I think. A small number of performers are responsible for the majority of the laughs. Leslie Nielson was one of those small number of performers. A steady stream of simply hilarious performances kept me laughing through the 80s and beyond.



Thank you, Leslie. Thank you.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Lateral Thinking

Yesterday, I went on a Caterham Experience Day.  How did I feel once I'd finished?


Well, my arms hurt. My neck hurt.   My back ached.  I was utterly knackered.  It was horrendously cold all day. 

In summary? I'd had an utterly brilliant time.  We spent all day driving around in exactly the way that you're not meant to, in one of these:




The cars were unregistered 1.6 Roadsports, specially set up for the drift days. The front suspension was made as hard and low as possible, with the anti-roll bar completely removed and good sticky tyres fitted. The rear suspension and ARB were set as soft and high as possible, and rubbish tyres were fitted. 16 of us shared 3 cars. They had 5 cars in total, two were for spares (we used one of those up...)

The venue was the huge flat(ish) car park just on your left as you go into the main entrance at Silverstone. We had to get there for 8:30, flash our driving licences, deal with the witty comments about the quality of our mugshots, get some coffee & biscuits (prudence said not too many...), and then we were outside for the briefing at 9am.

Initially, the cones were set up to define an in & out hammerhead plus a mini-roundabout on the way back. The instructions were to go into the hammerhead, drift around both ends of the head before coming out, do a rolling donut around the mini-roundabout and then back into the "pit" (which was actually just more cones!). A special yellow cone was provided at the pit entrance where we had to stop and touch the cone. This was for health & safety reasons - first, it made you actually stop rather than sort of stop (safety), and second it reminded you to breathe out again (health).

The course was demonstrated very ably by Sam, the petite long-haired blonde daughter of one of the organisers. After watching her, we all looked to see if there was somewhere we could go to surrender our Man Card.

And off we went. Each of us went round once, then back to the pits while the other two cars went, then one more lap before getting out for someone else. The typical routine was to head slowly and jerkily towards the hammerhead, go into the first turn, stay entirely stable with no drift, try the second turn, spin, stall, restart the engine, and head for the mini-roundabout. Here, the quick learners really shone - they managed not to stall while spinning it. Then back to the pit for a second try.

By the second try, we had mastered the art of understeering wildly away from the cones. This is a huge improvement, because there is no need to restart the engine.

(A note on re-starting; this is done by pressing the red button on the left of the steering wheel. Not, and this is very important, by pressing the black button on the right of the steering wheel. That button is the horn, and will reduce all the watchers in the pit lane into fits of laughter.)

By halfway through the morning, we were getting the hang of it. With the car set up as it was, on cold damp tarmac, getting it loose was not really a challenge so we were able to try to look for some connection between what the car did, and what we did with our wildly flailing arms and madly stabbing feet. It seems that there is, which was a welcome discovery.

As we had got the hang of that track and were beginning to enjoy it a bit, they changed it to a figure-of-8. Sam demonstrated. We drooled (at her driving abilities...). The instructions were "Keep going round until you see the flag. Then come back." The instructions were not "Keep going round until you are in the zone and completely unable to see the flag that we have been manically waving for the last few few laps and we have to start running towards you to get your attention." However, I think a few people misunderstood. Easily done.

Then lunch. Lunch had one aspect which was hugely welcome. It was warm. Soup, baked potato, rice, garlic bread, korma, chilli, tea, coffee and biscuits were all there to choose from. By now we were quite cold, having been outside and mainly standing around waiting. So the chance to warm up was very welcome.

Then we went back out into the cold, to find that a fiendishly difficult track had been set up. We were meant to go out of the pits, then through a right/left/right/left/right slalom away from the pits, across to a mini-roundabout, back toward the pits via a right/left/right slalom, then onto a final mini-roundabout then back in. Sam demonstrated. Some asked if the Caterhams had satnav.

And off we went. Some proved that they did indeed need the satnav that was unfortunately not present, which was almost as funny to watch as someone trying to restart an engine by use of the horn. We carried on until about 3:15pm, and then stopped to be told we had one more practice then we were being assessed on our second laps. Ulp.

Scoring was that we started with 100, lost 25 for each spin, 10 for each cone we collected, and 10 if we didn't touch the yellow cone at the end. There was also a finer grading based on Sam's subjective assessment of drift quality. Oh, and you lost 30 points if you weren't aggressive enough.

After that was done, back into the warm for tea and prizes. Yours truly scored 82, which I'm quite pleased with as that put me about 4th or 5th, the winner scoring 85. First prize was a bag of Autoglym make-up, second a Caterham hat, and third a Caterham mug.

Then off home. I figured that it was actually medically impossible for me to get any colder, so I left with the roof down. After all, why not... (I managed that for about 20 mins before realising that it was medically possible to get colder, it is called being dead)

The trip home was via the M40.  It was its usual Sunday evening state, which led me to wonder - when filling out an application form for a firearms licence, when you get to the question which asks why you need a gun, would an acceptable answer be "Have you seen the lane discipline on the M40"?

All in all, a fantastic and well-organised day that I thoroughly recommend to you all.





I'm now kind of thinking, a Caterham is so small... surely I could hide one somewhere without anyone noticing?

Friday, 19 November 2010

Policing the Police

Inspector Gadget is pleased that Mark Andrews has been let off.  I'm not.

Now, Gadget makes the valid point that most of us have not been privy to the whole CCTV tape, or to the defence argument.  That is a relevant point.  We do not know the whole story.  However, that does not get Mark Andrews off the hook in my eyes.  Let us look at the whole picture.  Let us look at each of the interactions that I have had with the Police over the years.

 - a call to report a loud, drug-fuelled party that continued until 6am; the Police told me that they would not be attending as I was the only complainant.  The following morning, it transpired that they had told my neighbour that, too.

 - after the theft of my mother's handbag and car keys from her house, the Police declined her suggestion that they should mention to their night shift that her car was vulnerable, on the grounds that they did not expect the thieves to return.  The bag was never recovered.

 - the following morning, the Police disagreed with my mother's suggestion that the overnight theft of her car was related to the previous day's theft of the car keys. The car was not recovered in a usable state.

 - the Police attended when my Dad died, and called me to say that she was very upset and asking for me.  Before showing me into the room with my distraught mother, they felt the need to stop and ask me how far I had come and how I had managed the journey so quickly.  Priorities, priorities...

 - following a burglary from her house, my mother's neighbour reported to the Police the registration number of the van that had been left, engine running, doors open, outside the house during the burglary.  No action was taken.

 - the report of vandalism to vehicles on my drive, prompted by alcohol (as shown by the broken bottles) and leaving me with repair bills of circa £400, led to me being given a crime number but no action being taken.  

 - a break-in to our neighbour's house led to an impressively fast attendance by a number of officers.  Sadly, they did not think to arrive by both possible approaches to our road, and missed the offenders who left via the other approach.  Neither was ever caught.

 - I was pulled over for pulling out in front of an unmarked police car in what he felt was a dangerous manner.  If it was so dangerous, I am left wondering why he invited me out?

 - After a van driver rammed Mrs P's car and knowingly failed to stop, the Police decided to take no action.  This left us holding the £350 repair bill.  Mrs P was given a producer and warned that failure to comply would lead to prosecution.

 - A less than wholly polite gesture (on my part) to a scamera van led to a like gesture in return.  His sergeant threatened me with action under the Public Order Act, but specifically denied that the camera operator had made any gesture.

This is, of course, an entirely one-sided picture.  I have missed out all the occasions on which Police action has been taken and a penalty has been extracted from the wrongdoer.  So, in the interests of openness, I shall list those, too.

 - a speeding fine for my mother, caught on camera at 35 in a 30 limit.  On, it should be pointed out, a trunk road whose limit varies repeatedly between 30 and 40.  At 3am, while the road was completely empty (apart from her...).  £60 and three points.

 - a further similar speeding fine, for my mother again.  £60 and three points.

Then, there is the celebrated case of a businessman local to my area, whose house was broken into and he and his family tied up and threatened.  His brother-in-law happened to disturb the burglars, released him, and they both gave chase.  He and his brother were prosecuted, and the burglars merely cautioned - both of which would have been decisions within the power of the Police.

Meanwhile, it is well-known that we need to observe a curfew in our town centre, avoiding it late on Friday and Saturday.  So we can conclude that the Police are not doing a great job in that regard, either.

Now, I know that Police work is hard.  I know it is a challenge.  I know that I (personally) would not have the skills to do it at all  well.  And I understand and accept the concept of being generous toward those who are doing a difficult job well, under difficult circumstances.  But there is the important caveat there - that they are doing the job well.  So I am no longer instinctively sympathetic to the Police, because they are not doing that job well.

Sometime, indeed, I wonder if we would be better off without them.  I wonder if it would be cheaper to employ a bodyguard to follow my wife and children, and to have a solid bar and handgun for myself.  I wonder if that might start to communicate to our criminals what "restorative justice" really means.

Returning to PC Mark Andrews, I remain of the view that the woman was in his care.  He was responsible for her.  The corollary of having the power of arrest, having the power to force us to come back to the station with them, is that once they do, the Police are responsible for us and our wellbeing.  If we suffer an accident that is not clearly self-inflicted, then responsibility for that lies with the Officer concerned.  Mark Andrews has given another significant boost to my now instinctive distrust of the Police.  

Gadget concludes that one of the reasons for being pleased is that
"the handwringers will go absolutely orbital, which will be fun to see"
This is not a swear blog, so you will not be treated to my reaction to being called a handwringer, or to hearing that my outrage at the police inflicting avoidable injuries to the public in their care is "fun".

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

An open letter to Paul Lawton

Paul Lawton is the MD of Opal Telecom Limited, my current Internet Service Provider.  This is the letter that I have just sent to him, detailing the less than satisfactory service that I have received from his company.  The only editing has been to remove my personal details such as telephone numbers, logins etc.

If I receive a reply, I will publish it here.  If I do not, Opal will cease to be my ISP.

 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Dear Mr Lawton,

Broadband Service - Telephone Number *******

I am contacting you directly because I am not happy with the manner in which your company have dealt with my account, and because I assume that you would like to hear directly from me so that you can take the necessary steps to improve your company's service; I doubt that I am alone.  I would also like to improve the Internet service that I receive, but that is only a secondary reason as I can achieve this by contracting with a different ISP.

I am writing to you at the address for Opal Telecom Limited, because this is the only address that you have elected to give to Companies House, and I therefore infer that you are able to receive personal letters via this address.  I expect this letter to be conveyed to you, as I am writing to you personally in your capacity as a director of Opal Telecom Limited at the address given by you for such correspondence.  

I should first point out that this letter is being published on my blog at http://thepatentlyblog.blogspot.com/2010/11/open-letter-to-paul-lawton.html, and a link has been placed via my Twitter feed at http://twitter.com/patently/status/4953493437681664.  I will of course publish your response, unless you raise a valid objection to this.

I am a former Pipex customer, whose custom you acquired when the Pipex business was merged into yours.  I am, indeed, a longstanding Pipex customer; my first contract with them was for a dialup service sometime around 1997 or so.  In about 2000 or 2001 I moved to a 500k broadband service from Pipex, and re-appointed them when I moved house in 2004.  Later, Pipex unilaterally upgraded my 500k service to a 1Mb service, and subsequently upgraded this further to a 2Mb service.

So, as you can see, I am more than willing to remain with a supplier when I feel that their service is of a high quality at a reasonable price.  Nevertheless, I am currently considering moving away from Opal, for reasons that I will explain.

The Transfer from Pipex


I have the original flyer that was posted to me with your letter of 19 February 2010 after you had acquired Pipex.  It stated that "everything stays the same" and, indeed, that I would "receive a more resilient service offering faster broadband speeds".  I took this to mean that neither the level of service that I would receive nor the price that I was paying would change as a result of the transfer of my account (unless I opted for a new Opal package).  Your letter also stated that Opal would be looking at the accounts of all the ex-Pipex customers to see if a different Opal package would suit them better.

I was very pleased to see this.  I had been aware for some time that my 2Mb Pipex service was becoming uncompetitive, and was beginning to think that I ought to look at alternatives.  The news that you would, in effect, be doing this for me was re-assuring.  I decided to put this issue onto my mental back-burner and wait to hear from you.

That was a mistake.  I have not yet been contacted by your company with a suggestion of a better Opal package.  Instead, you have left me on the old Pipex package, which is (as I can prove, see later) overpriced and under-performing.

Worse, you have not kept me on the same level of service.  Pipex had been providing me with a 2Mb service, but you downgraded this to 1Mb without mentioning this to me.  I appreciate that my formal contract with Pipex referred to a 1Mb service, but Pipex had for some time been providing 2Mb as a concession - in the apparent knowledge that their 1Mb service was overpriced.  Now, you may say in your defence that you maintained for me the level of service that Pipex were contractually bound to provide me, and on that specific point you would be correct.  However, that was not the tone of the promise made to me, and as your customer I was disappointed when I noticed this.

So, in my opinion, you did not meet either of the promises that you made when you took me on as a customer.

Fault Handling


About six weeks ago, a fault started to develop in our broadband service.  The fault has now been diagnosed - it appears to have stemmed from incorrect wiring of the telephone cables within our house when BT originally installed the line for the previous owners.  So, therefore, no blame whatsoever for the fault lies at the door of your company.  Your company did, however, delay the resolution of the fault and, in fact, made our service worse during and for some time after it was rectified.

Initially, the fault was a very intermittent one - the broadband signal would be lost for maybe 20 minutes, before returning for the next few days.  This was merely tiresome.

Over time, the seriousness of the problem grew; eventually the signal would spend more time down than up.  So I had to call your technical support line.  Typically, by the time I had run the gauntlet of the "Is your router plugged in?" questions that I accept you need to ask, one or other of the various tweaks tried by the technical support assistant would coincide with the signal returning.  At that point, the problem would be declared solved.

Sadly, it was not and would return later.  I eventually insisted to your technical support staff that the problem needed proper investigation.  They agreed to send an engineer, and a visit was booked for a few days later.  When he arrived, his reaction was to drop us from a 1Mb to a 500k service as the line was clearly having difficulty sustaining a 1Mb connection.  This despite the fact that the line had previously sustained 2Mb.  After doing so, a connection was (as usual) obtained, and the engineer made to leave.  My wife stopped him leaving and, as she expected, the connection promptly dropped after a few minutes use.  Eventually, he had to admit that a BT engineer was needed.

I shall not detail my dissatisfaction with BT.  We do not have time.  However, within an hour or so of work by the BT engineer, he had identified a fault in the wiring, corrected this, and our signal had returned.

The signal that returned was of course a 500k signal, not the 2Mb signal that I have been paying for, because your engineer's limitation was still present.  It took a further 4 days and three separate requests to your technical support staff to remove this, leaving me once again with half the level of service that Pipex had been providing.  Please forgive me if I am not exactly overwhelmed with this result.

It is my opinion that your staff were overly keen to declare the problem solved, and left us unassisted for several weeks while the problem actually grew worse.  The reluctance of your company to accept that an intermittent fault required more thorough investigation left us without an effective Internet service for several weeks, causing us severe disruption.

Your Customer Service Staff


During the extensive fault-finding process, I spoke to your Customer Service staff in order to try and deal with the overpriced and underperforming nature of the service that you have been providing.  The results were not exactly encouraging.  The member of staff to whom I spoke was helpful and polite, but he did not have the necessary authority and had been provided with a script that was not helpful.

I asked why my service was so unreliable and whether a better service could be provided.  His opinion was that the unreliability was due to my service being hosted via older Pipex servers and that a move to new Opal servers would help immeasurably, This would also allow me to move to the 3.5Mb service that (in his opinion) my line could sustain, at a price some 25% cheaper that I am currently paying.  This does of course prove that my current service is overpriced and underperforming.  

I asked whether this move would solve my reliability problems.  In his opinion, it would.  I asked whether it could be done quickly.  He told me that if I agreed there and then, the transfer could be made within days.  I was very tempted.

However, with (I admit) a degree of suspicion, I asked whether any other terms of my agreement with you would change.  At this point, he admitted that a new contract would be required.  I asked that this would mean.

He explained that it would have mean a minimum 24 month agreement.  Two years.

At this point, I became a little annoyed.  I pointed out that tying myself to a company that had been providing an overpriced, under-performing service that had also been extremely unreliable for some time was not exactly a tempting prospect.  I pointed out that I had been a Pipex customer for over ten years, that you had promised to look at my account several months ago but had not, and that I expected better.  I pointed out that with BT Infinity due to arrive in my area within months, there was simply no way that I would accept a two year tie and that you would therefore lose the account.   I pointed out that if Opal could provide a reliable, fast, and economically priced service, then I would have no need to leave you, even for BT Infinity.  Therefore, if he could remove that tie or at least reduce it dramatically, Opal stood a chance of keeping my custom. That remains the case.

He said that he did no have the authority to do so, but would speak to someone who did, and that I would hear further from Opal.  That was a few weeks ago.  I have not heard from your staff.

Now, I know that much more reasonable terms are available.  BE Unlimited, for example, can offer exactly the same for a mere one year tie, or the same speed at a slightly higher cost for only a 3 month tie.

Interestingly, better terms that I was offered are available from ... Opal itself.  Your website offers the same terms, for £2.50 per month less than your customer services team offered me.  Are these terms, in the immortal phrase, for "Brand new customers only"?

So, as you can see, I feel that I have been let down badly by your firm.  I await your comments.  If you would like to retain my custom, then I also await your proposal.

Yours, etc...

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Update 18th Nov:

An interesting email received today:


...together with a request for my account details.  Progress?  Maybe.  Will keep you up to date.

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Update 19th Nov:

The Head of Customer Services from Opal has just called.

With regard to the technical side of my line, arrangements are now in place to gradually up the speed of my line in 0.5Mb steps until we find the best speed it can cope with.  To avoid having to go through the call centre every time, I will also be getting a direct contact at Opal's technical centre.

In relation to the customer services issue, she is investigating.  In the meantime, my bill is dropping commensurate with the speed that I am getting.

So far, so good...


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Update 29th Nov:

Opal have been investigating the best speed that my line can cope with.  To their credit, they seem to have been pretty through about this.  They have however concluded that 1M is the fastest that it can currently cope with :-(

Opal have however suggested that we try my other line into the house.  Now, that is a little complex in that it has extensions that are dotted around in places that are inconvenient for the PCs.  However, we could ask BT to use the cabling for the second line as an extension to that line ... but that would cut off the only line that is currently giving me broadband.  Opal have therefore agreed to put broadband onto the other line, temporarily, to see if it is any better.  If it is, then we will switch.  If not, I'll just have to settle for 1M (until BT Infinity arrives...).

This is very co-operative indeed of Opal, it should be said.


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Update 2 Feb 2011:

Well, the alternative phone line was no better.  So we are back to 1M on the original line, but at least it is stable.  Opal have also agreed a refund in respect of the period when I was effectively without any form of reliable service, and a fair rate for the slowish speed that I am now getting.  BT Infinity will be here (allegedly) in two months, at which point I will be off like a shot.  

My opinion now that it is finished?  Once I got in touch with their head of customer care, things went very well and were done very efficiently.  The handling of my account from that point on reflected on Opal with credit.  It is just a shame that it took a minor internet campaign to get me there.  Given the amount I was paying, I'd expect that kind of service to be available to al their customers, not just those that kick up an almighty fuss in public.  Prior to then, I was subject on the one hand to aggressive sales staff who were quite happy to spin me a line and avoid difficult questions to get me to sign up, and on the other to support call handlers whose script was designed to fob me off at minimum cost and make me think the problem was with my equipment.  

Which is a shame.  They are clearly capable of better.  There are skilled, able and helpful people working there.  But there is also a layer of call centre staff seemingly designed to keep you away from them.  My advice to Opal customers with a problem?  Get yourself a blog and a twitter feed (if you can get online, that is).

Sunday, 14 November 2010

A one-tracked (Socialist) mind?

There's a program on BBC2 now, describing Scotland's landscape.  The presenter spent the first half describing the appalling mismanagement of Scots forests by private landowners, bemoaning the lack of any government control.  Apparently, we would have won the first world war much more quickly had the State controlled Scotland's forests.

Now, he's describing the incompetence of the Forestry Commission during the post-WW2 period...

Friday, 12 November 2010

Let's blow them all sky high

Dungeekin, on the subject of the Twitter Joke Trial:
I believe, in fact, that the people I'd like to blow sky-high the most right now are in the Crown Prosecution Service. I'd also like to set fire to the humourless fuckwits in Greater Manchester Police who even put a file forward to the CPS, and I have special plans involving boiling oil and a half-dozen rabid weasels for the moron so-called Judge who upheld the 'conviction' today.
Damn right. I am so angry.  So this is the result of Labour's anti-terror laws, put in place to protect us?  Dangerous terrorists have to be let out of jail, Abu Hamza has to stay here and cannot be deported, but Paul Chambers is guilty?

Monday, 8 November 2010

Customer Service means Servicing the Customer

We're trying to get BT in to sort out the line that provides our broadband. They allow you to book "am" or "pm".

The "am" slot is defined as anywhere between 8 and 1. The "pm" slot is anywhere between 1 and 6.

Now, one of the benefits of having a wife at home is meant to be that here is someone around to deal with this kind of thing, so I do not need to book a day off for it.

What I want to know is, have any of the BT management (a) ever had to care for a child of school age or (b) ever been to school?

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Surely they could have done better?

Great excitement regarding the printer cartridge bombs:
One of the two parcel bombs intercepted last week after being sent from Yemen was defused 17 minutes before it was due to go off, France's Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux has said.
17 minutes??

Seventeen whole minutes?

Oh really. We all know you're not meant to defuse it until the timer clicks to 00:00:01.

(pointed out by a colleague who sits nearby...and who reads this blog...)

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Human Wrongs

I've said before now that there is an important element missing in Human Rights law; that of fairness.  All that is needed is a simple rule that no-one may rely on a human right to defend themselves from something which necessarily flows from their denial of a human right to another.

Thus, the killer of Philip Lawrence relied on his right to a family life to demand that he stay in the UK and not be deported.  Yet he was facing deportation precisely because he had killed a father and husband, because he had denied a family life to that wife and those children.

The same applies to prisoners who think they should be able to vote.  They claim that voting is an essential part of their life in society, yet they chose to exclude themselves from that very same society by their actions.  It is part and parcel of their punishment that we exclude them from society, and that includes loss of their vote.  If they wish to retain a vote, all they need to do is stop committing crimes.

This applies despite arguments such as the possibility of miscarriage of justice, or the ever-expanding range of criminal offences.  Both result in possible hardships, but the solution is to solve those separate issues - not to assume that most criminals are innocent of a non-crime and recoil from punishing any.

It is not just me that is of this view, either.  I find, in amazement, that I am able to cite with approval a comment by a Labour MP.  Relish the moment; it is rare indeed.  Here is Tom Harris's quite excellent comment:
Shocking, isn't it, that prisoners' human right to spend time with their families is compromised by having to spend time in jail?
Quite.

I'll end with some context. Also from Tom Harris:
The latest appeal on behalf of prisoners' right to vote was by a man who raped and murdered his niece.
That's the kind of person we are trying to help, here.  Don't forget that.  When we have our endless debates about crime and punishment, we often note just how hard it is to get a prison sentence in this country.  These are the people whose actions met even this high threshold.

So, if the EU demands that we enact a law that is so obviously wrong, it is time to leave.

The wages of Sin?

Just a quick thought.  I may have raised this before now.

We are used to the concept of "sin taxes" - duties on beer, wine, tobacco, petrol and so on, justified by the argument that they dissuade people from doing things that The State In Its Infinite Wisdom knows are not good for us.  Things that the State says are bad.  Things that we should not do.

So where does that leave the 40% and 50% tax bands?

Is this not a message to the populace that The State does not want you to be a high earner?

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Hypothetical Question

If you looked like this, would you call an opponent a "ginger rodent"?



No, I wouldn't either. Harriet would, though.

Harriet, the former equalities minister.  Harriet, who wanted to criminalise people who discriminated on any basis, such as, err, being ginger for example.

Hypocrites.  Utter hypocrites.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Too much fun

This is more fun that should be allowed, surely? The AnalyzeWords site will look at your (or anyone's) Twitter feed and comment on your personality, based on the words you use.


Apparently, emotionally I'm Upbeat, Worried and Angry. Socially, I'm Plugged In, Personable, Arrogant/Distant and Spacy, and my thinking style is Analytic. That is somewhat uncanny...

Right, I'm off to look at the rest of you lot!

How does this happen?

Mrs P and I have created a son of whom I am immensely proud.  He is intelligent, witty, and able.  His recent school report was straight 'A's.  His debating skills are (frustratingly) sharp.  His eye/hand co-ordination on various Playstation tests is truly impressive.

So how come he is unable to cope with concepts like "shutting the door after you" or "turning the lights off"?

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Listening now to...

"Shine On You Crazy Diamond (I-V)"

Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Now there's a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
You were caught on the crossfire of childhood and stardom,
blown on the steel breeze.
Come on you target for faraway laughter,
come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!
You reached for the secret too soon, you cried for the moon.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Threatened by shadows at night, and exposed in the light.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Well you wore out your welcome with random precision,
rode on the steel breeze.
Come on you raver, you seer of visions,
come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine!

The two Johns beat everyone else to it...

Amazingly prescient....



(Hat tip to Guido)

Friday, 22 October 2010

Classic...

I'm posting the clip below purely because a snatch of its music was used incidentally in something that someone else was watching, and I have spent the last hour working out exactly what it was and where I could get it.

It is classic, and beautiful. It is the rendition of the Overture from Verdi's "La Forza del Destino" for harmonica, created for the film "Jean de Florette", and known to me because it was used in a beer advert.

Put like that, I feel like a philistine. Ah well. Enjoy.



(If beer adverts are a bit lowbrow for you - even if they are for reassuringly expensive beers), then try here or here instead)

Monday, 18 October 2010

Tax - not so simple?

It was Adam Hart-Davis who kept telling us that "Tax doesn't have to be taxing". He's realised that he was wrong, but there are some simpletons who think that tax is simple, you raise the rate and more comes in.

Simpletons like, for example, Vince Cable.

Having had the reality of a graduate tax explained to him by the more intelligent* members of the Coalition, that idea has gone away.  So now we just need to deal with his plans for CGT.

CGT is already silly enough.  In the past, I have had to pay CGT on the "profit" from a sale whose terms provide that I will be paid at a variable rate in the future. To pay the correct amount, I have had to tell HMRC what the future price would be, under pain of a fine if I underestimate.  What am I meant to do?  Get a crystal ball??

But that is by the by.  Cable would like to compound the silliness by raising the rate of CGT.  So here are some excellent posters which put the message across in terms even Vince would understand.




*OK, less daft

(Hat tip to the Angry Teen)

Friday, 15 October 2010

Truth will out

I've just watched the 10:10 video (at last, yes, I know...).

I am truly shocked. Genuinely shocked, and stunned. Partly by the graphic content, but mainly that they allowed this to be published. What were they thinking of? Who could possibly think it acceptable?

I am not at all surprised by the message, though. That was old news. People support the climate change movement because they are told to, because they do not understand the technicalities of it, and because anyone who questions it is pilloried. Blowing them up is merely exaggeration for effect.

I started asking scientific questions years ago, initially because I was confused and wanted clarification. No-one has yet answered any of them. Generally, the reply is instead to ask some variant of "why do you want to kill babies?". This is not science; it is brainwashing and coercion.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Science Unsettled

I've been saying for a long time that the methods and approaches of the Climate Change movement are not scientific, yet are presented as such in order to lend them credibility and (ironically) to prevent them being debated.

It has felt quite lonely, I have to admit. People understand an attack on the experimental methods, for example. Even if they dismiss it on the grounds that I am just a patent attorney with a first degree, not a climate "expert", they still understand how (for example) putting a tarmac car park next to a climate observation station might distort the data. But most people have real difficulty appreciating the fundamental difference between a scientific approach to a question and a non-scientific approach.

Not Hal Lewis, it seems. Now, I've not heard of him before, but that's not surprising as he's not really in my field. He seems, however, to have resigned from the American Physical Society, and to have done so with style. The full text of his resignation letter is pasted below, but I want to highlight three short excerpts:
[The global warming scam] ... is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist
[The ClimateGate scandal] ... was a fraud on a scale I have never seen, and I lack the words to describe its enormity.
Since I am no philosopher, I’m not going to explore at just which point enlightened self-interest crosses the line into corruption, but a careful reading of the ClimateGate releases makes it clear that this is not an academic question.
Do read the lot, though.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sent: Friday, 08 October 2010 17:19 Hal Lewis

From: Hal Lewis, University of California, Santa Barbara
To: Curtis G. Callan, Jr., Princeton University, President of the American Physical Society

6 October 2010

Dear Curt:

When I first joined the American Physical Society sixty-seven years ago it was much smaller, much gentler, and as yet uncorrupted by the money flood (a threat against which Dwight Eisenhower warned a half-century ago).

Indeed, the choice of physics as a profession was then a guarantor of a life of poverty and abstinence—it was World War II that changed all that. The prospect of worldly gain drove few physicists. As recently as thirty-five years ago, when I chaired the first APS study of a contentious social/scientific issue, The Reactor Safety Study, though there were zealots aplenty on the outside there was no hint of inordinate pressure on us as physicists. We were therefore able to produce what I believe was and is an honest appraisal of the situation at that time. We were further enabled by the presence of an oversight committee consisting of Pief Panofsky, Vicki Weisskopf, and Hans Bethe, all towering physicists beyond reproach. I was proud of what we did in a charged atmosphere. In the end the oversight committee, in its report to the APS President, noted the complete independence in which we did the job, and predicted that the report would be attacked from both sides. What greater tribute could there be?

How different it is now. The giants no longer walk the earth, and the money flood has become the raison d’être of much physics research, the vital sustenance of much more, and it provides the support for untold numbers of professional jobs. For reasons that will soon become clear my former pride at being an APS Fellow all these years has been turned into shame, and I am forced, with no pleasure at all, to offer you my resignation from the Society.

It is of course, the global warming scam, with the (literally) trillions of dollars driving it, that has corrupted so many scientists, and has carried APS before it like a rogue wave. It is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist. Anyone who has the faintest doubt that this is so should force himself to read the ClimateGate documents, which lay it bare. (Montford’s book organizes the facts very well.) I don’t believe that any real physicist, nay scientist, can read that stuff without revulsion. I would almost make that revulsion a definition of the word scientist.

So what has the APS, as an organization, done in the face of this challenge? It has accepted the corruption as the norm, and gone along with it. For example:

1. About a year ago a few of us sent an e-mail on the subject to a fraction of the membership. APS ignored the issues, but the then President immediately launched a hostile investigation of where we got the e-mail addresses. In its better days, APS used to encourage discussion of important issues, and indeed the Constitution cites that as its principal purpose. No more. Everything that has been done in the last year has been designed to silence debate

2. The appallingly tendentious APS statement on Climate Change was apparently written in a hurry by a few people over lunch, and is certainly not representative of the talents of APS members as I have long known them. So a few of us petitioned the Council to reconsider it. One of the outstanding marks of (in)distinction in the Statement was the poison word incontrovertible, which describes few items in physics, certainly not this one. In response APS appointed a secret committee that never met, never troubled to speak to any skeptics, yet endorsed the Statement in its entirety. (They did admit that the tone was a bit strong, but amazingly kept the poison word incontrovertible to describe the evidence, a position supported by no one.) In the end, the Council kept the original statement, word for word, but approved a far longer “explanatory” screed, admitting that there were uncertainties, but brushing them aside to give blanket approval to the original. The original Statement, which still stands as the APS position, also contains what I consider pompous and asinine advice to all world governments, as if the APS were master of the universe. It is not, and I am embarrassed that our leaders seem to think it is. This is not fun and games, these are serious matters involving vast fractions of our national substance, and the reputation of the Society as a scientific society is at stake.

3. In the interim the ClimateGate scandal broke into the news, and the machinations of the principal alarmists were revealed to the world. It was a fraud on a scale I have never seen, and I lack the words to describe its enormity. Effect on the APS position: none. None at all. This is not science; other forces are at work.

4. So a few of us tried to bring science into the act (that is, after all, the alleged and historic purpose of APS), and collected the necessary 200+ signatures to bring to the Council a proposal for a Topical Group on Climate Science, thinking that open discussion of the scientific issues, in the best tradition of physics, would be beneficial to all, and also a contribution to the nation. I might note that it was not easy to collect the signatures, since you denied us the use of the APS membership list. We conformed in every way with the requirements of the APS Constitution, and described in great detail what we had in mind—simply to bring the subject into the open.

5. To our amazement, Constitution be damned, you declined to accept our petition, but instead used your own control of the mailing list to run a poll on the members’ interest in a TG on Climate and the Environment. You did ask the members if they would sign a petition to form a TG on your yet-to-be-defined subject, but provided no petition, and got lots of affirmative responses. (If you had asked about sex you would have gotten more expressions of interest.) There was of course no such petition or proposal, and you have now dropped the Environment part, so the whole matter is moot. (Any lawyer will tell you that you cannot collect signatures on a vague petition, and then fill in whatever you like.) The entire purpose of this exercise was to avoid your constitutional responsibility to take our petition to the Council.

6. As of now you have formed still another secret and stacked committee to organize your own TG, simply ignoring our lawful petition.

APS management has gamed the problem from the beginning, to suppress serious conversation about the merits of the climate change claims. Do you wonder that I have lost confidence in the organization?

I do feel the need to add one note, and this is conjecture, since it is always risky to discuss other people’s motives. This scheming at APS HQ is so bizarre that there cannot be a simple explanation for it. Some have held that the physicists of today are not as smart as they used to be, but I don’t think that is an issue. I think it is the money, exactly what Eisenhower warned about a half-century ago. There are indeed trillions of dollars involved, to say nothing of the fame and glory (and frequent trips to exotic islands) that go with being a member of the club. Your own Physics Department (of which you are chairman) would lose millions a year if the global warming bubble burst. When Penn State absolved Mike Mann of wrongdoing, and the University of East Anglia did the same for Phil Jones, they cannot have been unaware of the financial penalty for doing otherwise. As the old saying goes, you don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing. Since I am no philosopher, I’m not going to explore at just which point enlightened self-interest crosses the line into corruption, but a careful reading of the ClimateGate releases makes it clear that this is not an academic question.

I want no part of it, so please accept my resignation. APS no longer represents me, but I hope we are still friends.

Hal

==========================================================


Harold Lewis is Emeritus Professor of Physics, University of California, Santa Barbara, former Chairman; Former member Defense Science Board, chmn of Technology panel; Chairman DSB study on Nuclear Winter; Former member Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards; Former member, President’s Nuclear Safety Oversight Committee; Chairman APS study on Nuclear Reactor Safety Chairman Risk Assessment Review Group; Co-founder and former Chairman of JASON; Former member USAF Scientific Advisory Board; Served in US Navy in WW II; books: Technological Risk (about, surprise, technological risk) and Why Flip a Coin (about decision making)

(Hat Tip to Going Fast, Getting Nowhere, with thanks)

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Jointly Benefiting?

Let's start by saying that I am in favour of the withdrawal of Child Benefit from my family. We don't need it, and there is no money left with which to pay it.

I have a slight concern that the additional administrative effort in screening for those not entitled to it will take up much (or all) of the saving, and that it is a move away from my preferred system of a Citizens' Basic Income. But these are peripheral concerns.

What does concern me is the inconsistency that this reveals. As I understand it, Mrs P will lose her entitlement to Child Benefit because I am earning above the higher tax rate threshold. Fair enough, we are married. We operate legally, ethically, financially and practically as a single unit. We share everything.

So why can we not share her tax-free and lower-rate allowances? The income that we treat as our joint income is, for taxation purposes, mine and mine alone. Yet for the purpose of Child Benefit, it is suddenly joint again.

Hmmm.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

My Big Adventure at the Nurburgring, Part 2

Day 2 (day 1 was here)

I leave the hotel at 8:15 ish, a little later than I planned as the Ring has already been open for 15 minutes and my plan was to get there while everyone else was in bed. This would have worked, had I not been in bed as well.

At least the weather seems nice:

I get to the Ring within about 10 minutes, and to my relief it is quiet. After a few minutes to look over the car and make sure all is well, I take a deep breath and head out on my own. I forget to look at the time, of course.

I get back at just before 8:45, so I was distinctly slower than yesterday, but on the other hand there was no-one there to encourage me to speed up today. The track was very empty, and very lovely. Plenty of people passed, although I noticed that some cars appeared briefly in the mirrors but didn't catch up! Standing in the car park against the car, my legs are warmed by the abundant heat radiating from the brakes ... which might suggest that I took a cautious approach.

Looking around, the car park is beginning to fill up with people arriving. They're not going out yet though - they're still chatting, looking at their cars, and generally checking things over. So time for lap 3, I think - before they get their act together.

This time, I see 4 separate crashes on the way round. This is not surprising; the track is damp with morning dew, the tarmac and tyres are all cold, and the drivers have just got out of bed. All are being flagged & marshalled by the Ring staff, so I wave my thanks to them and carry on past. For what seems like ages, no-one overtakes me, which is an odd sensation and one that is new to me here. I assume that this is because the track has been closed due to the crashes, but then 2 cars catch up with me at Karussel. When I get back to the car park, the track is open.

I go for a quick walk to re-orient myself, and then come back and dry off the roof. I want the next lap to be with the roof down, so the dew will have to come off:

Lap 4 is just tremendous. I still don't know the track, obviously, but my guesses as to which way it will go are getting, well, less inaccurate. While going round, I realise that I am now spending most of the lap roughly one gear lower than I was at first, and that am getting more confident about putting the power down - both on the straights and on the way out of bends.

Putting the roof down was 100% right. The noise of the flat six is unmuffled... bliss. There were spectators at Brünnchen, so I made sure I powered out of the bend in second. Maybe that will make them laugh a little less loudly at my choice of line?

And, to my amazement, I overtake two others on this lap! An old British P-plate Jap coupe is hogging the line from Flugplatz onwards. Maybe it is so old that it has lost all its mirrors. I want to tell him that yes, the big white M5 that has just passed me and is now on your tail with its left indicator flashing is indeed the Ring Taxi, he probably knows the line quite well, and it seems on the evidence so far that he is distinctly quicker than you. Totally oblivious, he is quite happy to veer left in front of it and a line of M3s, just as they start to turn in for Adenauer Forst. Amazing, and it is to the credit of the Ring Taxi that he manages not to shunt him onto the grass. They all get past him on the exit, while I wait for a moment to make absolutely sure that he is staying on the right and then in one move overtake both him and the Volvo that he is now tailing. I don't see him again.

I notice that there are fewer people overtaking me, too, although from the state of the car park and the barrier it should be much busier. This time, there is just one every few minutes, rather than a steady stream. Ho hum.

The time for this lap? 12 minutes! (very approximately: I am not formally timing). But that does not reflect the (self-assessed) quality of the lap. Compared to my 12 minute lap yesterday, this is smoother, more flowing, more confident. I accelerate because I know I can, rather than because someone else is telling me I can despite my trepidation. This was my lap, not his.

After parking, I reflect that I absolutely must be in Munich tonight, that it is now 10am, that I only have one car, and that I know what comes after the first confident lap. My 4-lap ticket is exhausted, and I decide not to buy any more. I have done what I set out to achieve, and more. Yesterday, I feared this place. Today I do not; I respect it instead.

I will come back here, if at all possible. If I do not, then that will be sad, but the sadness will be tempered by the memories.

I drive away listening to this:



Don't be like everybody else. Don't. If there is something you want to do, make it happen.

Postscript

My Stuttgart mistress has been treated to a special present, as a reward for her devoted service during the week:

She's very worried - does her bum look big in this?

My Big Adventure at the Nurburgring, Part 1

Day 1 – Saturday 2nd October 2010

Dear Diary. Today I had to get up at the crack of dawn. Now, this is not something I generally like, and especially not on Saturdays. Therefore, it was timed as the latest wake-up possible to let me get up and out, and drive round the M25 to the Channel Tunnel to catch the 9:50 train. That, in turn, was chosen to give me time to get to the Nurburgring by late-afternoon and still have the chance to catch a lap before it closes. Therefore, what I needed was decent driving conditions to make sure that I catch that train.

What I saw out of the window was fog. Thick fog. Oh good. Despite that, I managed to get to Folkestone just in time to refresh and catch the train.

Ready & Waiting

Always an encouraging sight

Silly French water-bottling people are stupid and have no idea what size bottles should be

And so, onto the train. The nice people at Eurotunnel waved me onto the lower deck, so no front splitter worries for me. Time at last for a rest while the train makes the effort. A chance to program the satnav for the new locations:

These have been hidden at the back of the glovebox for nearly 7 years…

Oddly, Porsche navigation systems don’t seem to know where Nurburg is? They do know where Adenau is, though, and a search for nearby hotels hits the jackpot:

It knows about my guesthouse – phew!

Then to set the car up for the new environment in which it will be driving:

Kph calibration … useful, unless you happen to be able to multiply by 62/100 in your head

And set up some tunes while we’re at it.

Genius Mixes … just what I need?

That turned out to be the least successful bit of the trip in fact. The iPhone seems to be programmed to recognise a shake as some form of command while playing a genius mix – shuffle, maybe? Anyway, the utterly atrocious state of Belgium’s motorways meant that it was shuffled quite often. Oddly, it seemed to find Dido very frequently. Maybe she’s big in Belgium?

Speaking of Belgium, I have long been intrigued by the hate campaign waged by Ben Lovejoy against this poor country. Last summer, we took a family holiday near the Franco-Belgium border, and enjoyed several trips into Belgium, Ypres particularly. It seems a pleasant place, albeit spoilt by being home to the most hateful and wasteful bureaucracy known to man. Yet Ben complains each time that he has to drive across it, and lauds any opportunity to bypass it (at 30,000 feet if he can).

Let’s just say that I understand, now. A small country it may be, but the route from the UK to the Nurburgring manages to stretch along its entire length so you are able to “enjoy” it to the full. And what a driving experience it is – long, straight, dull motorways with nothing to look at, filled with caravans and lorries. Obviously, the EU and the Belgian government are concerned that we may become bored and fall asleep at the wheel, so they have kindly surfaced their motorways with the noisiest, bumpiest, rumbliest material they could find, interspersed with the odd pothole, just to keep you on your toes. This evil material is of course that light-coloured concrete stuff that can only be cast in sections, with a join between each section, so every now and then there is a sudden thump and, oh, it’s Dido again. Sleep? I should wish.

The interruption to this torment is the Brussels ring road. Don’t ask me about the Brussels ring road. Let’s just say that it’s like the M25, but without the comforting familiarity. Or any sense of which lane I should be in or which way I should be heading.

Eventually, I am granted mercy in the sight of a sign proclaiming that I am entering the Bundesrepublic Deutschland, and that the speed limit is 130kph. That’s not what I’ve heard … nor is it what all the other drivers have heard. Clearly this is one of the speed-limited parts of the Autobahn network, but that doesn’t seem to affect anyone. Soon, there is a Renault Espace on my rear bumper, asking to come past. Now, as a 911 driver, you’ll understand that I’m not used to this. Nevertheless, politeness comes first and I move over. Self-interest comes immediately afterwards, of course, and I pull out behind him to follow. When in Rome,…

I suppose I’d better deal with the obligatory questions about the Autobahn. Yes, I went really quickly. Rather more quickly that I would dare to do on a British motorway. Yet I maintained the same level of perceived safety as I maintain in the UK; the much better network of autobahns reduces the traffic levels, and this combined with (crucially) proper lane discipline and observation by the other drivers means that ::[COUGH]:: mph on a German autobahn feels as safe as ::[cough]:: mph or so on a British motorway. We really do need to learn that speed is not a per se bad thing on our roads. Danger is, yes, but Germany proves that there is not a straight-line relationship between the two.

I saw one other 911 on the autobahn. I didn’t see it for long, though.

Eventually, I arrive at Mecca.

I can hardly believe it. This place actually exists. It is real. It is not a huge con trick played on unsuspecting British petrolheads. It really is here. And it’s tiny.

That is the first impression – this place is incredibly cramped! I park next to a Ferrari, open the door (carefully!) and step out for a wander around. The noise is just fantastic – chatter, overlaid with V8s, V6s, straight sixes, flat sixes, the lot. And the smell – my notoriously insensitive nose can pick up an undertone of Mobil 1 with top note of Shell V-Power, plus distinct hints of hot rubber. Girls, you really have to lobby for that to be made into a perfume; boys will fall into your lap in an instant.

Anyway, there seems to be a crowd about 50 yards away, so that must be the place to head for. I'm right; it’s the head office:


Next to it is the hallowed entrance:

There is a steady stream of noisy, smelly, revving high performance cars driving up to the barrier and setting off. This is just incredible – some are driving in, off the main road, heading for the barrier, and off they go! No petty rules, no health & safety briefing, no clipboards in sight. There is no need – they know the risks, and have made their own decision how and to what extent they wish to mitigate them. So some have helmets, some have harnesses, some have roll cages. Others do not, arriving in plain road cars and T-shirts.

This is, truly, a different world. I have been whinging for two years on my blog about the relentless intrusion of socialist prodnoses into our lives, and all this time the Ring has been here, sticking two fingers up to them and blowing a raspberry. I decide that I love it. And I haven’t even left the car park.

Now, next you all want to hear about how I jumped back into my 911 and roared off to do an 8 minute lap. Of course I didn’t. Don’t be silly, I haven’t bought a ticket yet.

Seriously, I had given this a little thought. I’ve watched the videos, I’ve played with a few video games. All that I’ve learnt from that it that the Ring is very long and that after the 8th bend (or so) I’ve completely lost track of which way it goes. So I had no intention of just plunging in. I had made contact with a few others who planned to be there, and started looking for them. All had promised to give me a passenger ride first, so I just needed to spot one of them before he went out.

Needless to say, I only spotted one. Just as he was going through the barriers. Ah well, I thought, I’ll give it 10 minutes and wait for him to get out. Rather more than 10 minutes later, he emerged so I went over to chat. He was not pleased; his brake discs had given up the ghost (cracks were visible) and he needed to get them fixed (in Germany, at 4pm on a Saturday…). So no rides available there, then. Very kindly, however, he introduced me to a group of other drivers, one of whom volunteered to ride as a passenger with me to guide me round.

Ulp.

Crunch time.

I say that I’ll go and get a ticket, and he says he’ll wait there for me (it does strike me - I could just run for it, he doesn’t know me…). But I buy a four-lap ticket and come back. He jumps into my car, and off we go.

He doesn’t speak a lot of English, so apart from “left” and “right” (which he gets confused frighteningly often) his instructions are generally one of three phrases that he does know:

“Faster car coming behind!”

“You can go flat out here”, and

“Brake here”

So how was my first lap? Let’s just say that I have put his phrases in decreasing order of use. There are a lot of people who are a lot faster than me. But we reach the gantry 12 minutes later – he seems impressed with that as a first lap time (though perhaps he is being kind), and I am frankly amazed. I was expecting 15 or 20 minutes (no, seriously), but it felt like 6 or 8 such was the level of excitement.

So much happens so quickly that I can hardly pick out many of the famous sections that I have read about so often. Some parts do stand out, though. Fuchsrore and Karusell (in particular) are just incredible. I expected Karusell to be special, but Fuchsrore took me by surprise with its simply joyful combination of dips, bends, and climbs. A challenge, but one that is within reach. No, I didn’t take it flat, though. One day, maybe.

I drop him off back at the car park, and go for a walk to relax and calm down. By the time I am done, the Ring has closed. Fog is the likely culprit; I hope it was nothing worse. So I go for a drive, and after spotting some of the spectating positions I pull in at one just to take a look. These photos give a hint, I hope, of the nature of the circuit.


They are of the section at and just before Brünnchen; look especially at the changes in elevation. The only comparable part of a UK track that I know of is Craner Curves at Donington, which used to be my favourite bit of tarmac (now relegated to second place…)

There is an opening through the fence here:

Can you imagine this in the UK? First, anyone can just drive up and park by the track, without a ticket or a pass. Try that at Silverstone, and see what happens. Then, they can walk out onto the track itself. The only thing that is there to stop them is a sign pointing out that to do so would be quite incredibly stupid and that the consequences will be their problem, not the circuit’s.

I really love this place.

Eventually, the rain gets worse, so it’s time to go. I need some petrol, so call in at the Ed Tankstelle and collect my prize:

To be applied to a 911 near you, soon

Then back to the guesthouse for some food and some of this:

Cheers!