do you really want to take that carribean cruise?

Many of us believe that we are intelligent, caring beings, and as such, we make decisions to consciously avoid damaging our environment. Many of us have tried to change our lifestyles, and now frequently walk or cycle around our local district. We try to buy organic Fairtrade[1] products, and attempt to live in a sustainable manner.

It’s not always that simple though, is it?  Despite a seismic shift in our thinking we are still guilty of inadvertently creating damage to our home.

It’s easy to bandy about statements about our carbon footprint and boast about our hybrid cars, and our quest for low airmiles vegetables and fruit, but is that enough?

We all look forward to taking a vacation. A two-week respite from our daily labours. An annual opportunity to travel to some exotic and idyllic destination to unwind, decompress and relax.

Significant adverse publicity has demonised road transport and air travel, to the point that those of us that are sensitive to our ecological impact are reluctant to use our cars or air transport for anything other than necessity travel.

So, what of our alternatives?

Many of us are now fortunate and wealthy enough to be able to book a cruise and float around azure blue waters for a fortnight of self-indulgent luxury.

But how many of us think about the environmental impact of cruise ships? It’s a natural tendency to assume that due to the high passenger occupancy of cruise ships they are eco-friendly.

Sadly, that’s not the case.

Let’s look at a few facts about the cruise ship industry.

The world’s largest cruise company is the Anglo-American company The Carnival Corporation and Public Limited Company.

This monolithic organisation is the largest global cruise company, in terms of annual passenger carrying, revenue and the overall size of its fleet.

Started in 1975 with one ship, (The Mardi Gras) it now owns 10 cruise lines, operating over a hundred vessels and has a 49.2% share of the global cruise market[2].

In 1996, they launched the world’s largest ship, the 101,000 tonne Carnival Destiny.

Ever increasing demand led to the commissioning of the Carnival Dream in 2009 with a gross tonnage of 128,000 tonnes.

By 2012 the Carnival Vista launched at 133,500 tonnes.

If you thought that was large – then think again. Currently, the world’s largest cruise ship is now the Symphony of the Seas, Royal Caribbean’s flagship. This monster weighs in at 228,000 tonnes, and at maximum occupancy can accommodate 8,800 people. (6,880 passengers, 2,200 crew).

However, by 2012, the reputation of the cruise industry was already being tarnished. At the same time as the Vista was being launched, the UK Guardian Newspaper reported that an investigation had revealed that P and O (A subsidiary of Carnival) paid their ship-borne staff a basic salary of just 75p per hour[3] when the UK National Average wage was £15.25 per hour!

According to its own website, the organisation now employs 37,400 staff with 33,500 of those being ship based.

Whilst the cruise industry has a sparkling shop window, its underbelly reveals some profoundly ecologically damaging practices. In 2017, Princess Cruise lines were fined $40M US for illegally dumping oil into the oceans, and the intentionally covering it up.

It’s easy to assume that the economy of scale makes cruising environmentally friendly.

However, cruise ships are very poor advocates of low impact travel.

To put this into perspective, The Oasis of the Seas, weighing 225,282 tonnes, will burn just over 11,000 gallons of low quality high-sulphur fuel oil at its cruising speed of 22.6 knots.[4] This is an eye watering gallon for every twelve feet travelled!

A smaller ship (138,000 tonnes) using the same type of diesel engines that only operate at about 30% efficiency, (rated at 75,600Kw[5]) will burn about 6,640 gallons of low-grade oil per hour.

Maritime low-grade heavy oil fuels are incredibly damaging, with a very high sulphur content – far higher than the amount of sulphur and particulates found in car exhausts.

Bearing in mind that cruise liners take passengers to many world heritage sites, the inadvertent collateral damage could be huge, with many implications for the historic cities visited.

Cruise line marketing often focuses on the beautiful destination to which passengers may be taken – unspoilt beaches, remote island chains and ancient port cities. with fresh sea breezes and clean air.

The reality is somewhat different, with the cruise industry complacently burning the dirtiest fuel in some of the world’s most fragile environments such as the arctic.

Shipping currently accounts for almost three percent of global CO2 emissions.

It has been one of the slowest transport sectors to accept that it has a problem, and it was only in April 2018 that its first sector-specific emissions reduction target was set – to reduce emissions from 3.5% to 0.5% by 2020.

To place this into context, shipping has been linked to 400,000 premature deaths attributed to cardio-vascular disease and lung cancer each year.[6] The shipping industry is also a regular contributor to marine pollution, and that’s not just limited to oil and debris discharged at sea.

The industry also sends many of its old ships to be broken for scrap – many to under-developed Asian nations such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and India[7]

The ship breaking yard at Alang (located in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat off the Gulf of Cambay) was set up in 1983 on a small scale along a 10-km (6 miles) stretch of sandy beach. The tidal, geographical, and climatic features make Alang an ideal ship breaking location.

ship-breaking-2017-mts-1000x640

These types of location, whilst excellent for the convenience of breaking up old hulls, are highly inappropriate sites for the delicate marine eco-systems, bringing the risks of routinely leaking hazardous and toxic materials into the sea during the process of breaking.

Furthermore, according to data from the Gujarat Maritime Board, there have been over two hundred deaths over the years caused by fires and other accidents.

A research paper written by Dr. Maruf Hossain and Mohammad Islam of the Institute of Marine Sciences, University of Chittagong[8] details the extent to which highly dangerous materials are leaked into coastal waters, and the impact it has on marine life, and on human health via the food chain.
It makes for sombre reading.

According to the Friends of the Earth, during 2014, cruise ships dumped more than a billion gallons of human sewage into the seas.

The US EPA stated at the time, that an average cruise ship with 3,000 passengers and crew produces about 21,000 gallons of sewage a day — enough to fill 10 domestic swimming pools in a week. That adds up to more than 1 billion gallons a year for the industry — a conservative estimate, since some new ships carry as many as 8,000 passengers and crew. In addition, each ship generates and dumps about eight times that much “greywater” from sinks, showers and baths, which can contain many of the same pollutants as sewage and significantly affects water quality.

That’s a bit of an eye opener isn’t it?

Now consider on top of that, every cruise ship passenger generates 3.5 kg of rubbish every day, some of which will find its way into the azure blue waters that you went there to see in the first place.

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Since then the industry has made some progress, and new cruise ships of the future may well be powered by Liquified Natural Gas (LNG), which offers much lower sulphur emissions, and is therefore an improvement in this respect to the heavy oil currently used.

However, LNG isn’t the panacea to the problems of emissions. A recent report by Transport and Environment (T and E) states that LNG-powered cruise ships will not deliver sustainable tourism, as its potential widespread use will lock the industry into using fossil-based fuels for decades.

Recently, the port city of Barcelona announced that it would encourage the handling of cruise ships powered by LNG. The first LNG ship arrived in Barcelona earlier this year and was refuelled with LNG from a special barge. Barcelona hailed this as a big step forward in sustainable tourism.

This is not the case according to research conducted by T and E, which demonstrates that LNG used in shipping may generate 9% more greenhouse gases than the use of Heavy Fuel Oil.

So, even if all cruise ships were to be powered by LNG, the ecological implications are still serious.

So, maybe it’s about time that we re-considered our holidays.

Maybe it’s time to holiday locally, without creating a massive carbon footprint by flying and cruising?

[1] The Fairtrade Foundation

[2] Wikipedia

[3] UK Office of National Statistics Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings 2011

[4] 26 miles per hour

[5] 101,382 Horsepower

[6] Transport & Environment Annual Report, 2018

[7] See Data from Shipbreaking Bangladesh

[8] Ship Breaking Activities and its Impact on the Marine Environment.

Jungle Reset – Dateline Malaysia and Borneo

The Fourth Parallel North, or Four North, runs round the globe just above the equator. Tracking it from the Greenwich Meridian, it heads East into Africa, passing through the Gulf of Guinea, Cameroon , the Congo, South Sudan, Uganda, and through Lake Turkana in Kenya, from where it routes through Ethiopia, and Somalia, crossing the Indian Ocean, passing through the Maldives and through the island of Sumatra. Crossing the Straits of Malacca and bisecting the Malaysian peninsular, it then streaks off over the South China Sea, over the third largest island in the world, Borneo, from where it crosses the Pacific, over Micronesia, eventually making landfall at Malpelo Island in Colombia. It then sneaks through Venezuela, the town of Roraima in Brazil, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, then crosses the Atlantic making the west coast of Africa just south of Cape Palmas in Liberia.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, if you are a regular reader of my not too regular posts, you will know that I am partial to a good cup of coffee, and instead of writing in my usual haunt of a local branch of Costa Coffee, I am sitting pretty much on the fourth parallel, on Mabul Island.

To be precise, and for those that really want to know, my position is 4°14’48”N 118°37’52”E. This is the Scuba Junkie Diving Resort, and I am slurping absolutely delicious coffee from a plastic mug, whilst contemplating life.

Since coming to Malaysia for a long break, I have taken in the sights in Kuala Lumpur, visiting Chinese Temples, and Muslim Mosques; I have eaten in fabulous street restaurants in Penang, (Try the Kapitan Indian Restaurant in George Town for a real treat) and from Hawker Stalls in Jalan Alor. I have stared out over the multifaceted city of Kuala Lumpur from the observation deck of the KL Tower, watching it disappear into the mist shrouded Malaysian Peninsular.

I have seen the struggling species of orang-utans, and seen the excellent work being done by the folk at the Sepilok sanctuary. I have been close to the wonderful yet so endangered Sun Bears too.

I have stayed in the Bornean Jungle, been privileged to see elephants, orang-utans, proboscis monkeys, macaques, giant kingfishers, silver leaf monkeys, herons, egrets, huge butterflies.

I have visited remote caves inhabited by swiftletts and horseshoe bats, and watched in wonder in the darkness, at the life that crawls through the inches deep carpet of droppings; Cockroaches, beetles, venomous millipedes, centipedes, spiders, crabs and even small flying lizards.

I have witnessed tropical sunsets, and towering thunderheads, illuminated from within by lightening spikes that compete with the dying orange globe of the sun, as it dips slowly into the South China Seas.

I have observed first hand, the abject poverty of the sea gypsies, and the living conditions that are their lot.

So now I sit here contemplating.

Looking around me at the slender Malay people, emphasises my decreasing height to weight ratio, I am definitely under tall for my 94 kilos. Back calculating, I see that I should be a shade over 2.08 metres tall, or about six feet ten in real money. Well, that’s never gonna happen.

So. I have to shed some of my blubber. I have to stop the regular uptake of alcohol, and get a bit more active – more riding my bicycle, and more walks. I have to also modify my work life balance. I have been sitting in possibly one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and I have been worrying about work for two weeks and wondering how I will cope on my return to the office.

Clearly this is not acceptable. Something has to be done. But what?

I need to address the work/life balance. Coming to 4 North has initiated a reset, Clear Alt Delete at a personal level. So, work less, laugh more, maybe earn less, but be time rich.

I may never own my own jet, but I have a sweet little microlight, on a rural farm strip, so I need to readjust my aspirations and expectations, and spend less time focused on working, and more on regaining my fitness, and enjoying doing not a lot.

Its going to take some careful planning, but the journey is beginning.

I wrote this about two years ago. Since then, I am pleased to say that I now weigh a trifling 89 kilos, so I only need to grow by another 2 cm and I am good to go! I also decided to retire from my previous role, and do something more enjoyable. Now I just have to shed a further 9 kilos. Well. Everyone needs a challenge, right?

Rolling Back The Years

The sun was smiling warmly as I walked out of the relative gloom of the Chequers Inn, in the tiny rural Hampshire hamlet of Well. I carefully cradled my pint as I walked to one of the somewhat rickety tables overlooking the small car park.

Sitting down at a secluded corner table, I wrestled with my packet of cheese and onion crisps, childishly relieved when the deceptively tough bag finally submitted and dutifully opened, spilling the yellow discs onto the aged wood.

In direct contravention of my dear old Mum’s advice, I gathered them up from the slightly damp, green stained table top, munching them in indecent haste.

Leaning back against the mellow bricks, I could see my motorcycle. It too appeared to be resting, leaning against its side-stand. I smiled. Metaphorically, all she needed was a cigarette…

She was a bit of a beast. Conceived in Milwaukee, she was a diva, and a total extrovert. Dripping in chrome, she was loud, brassy and turned heads wherever she went.

I smiled to myself. 103 cubic inches of American muscle. Deep iridescent metal flake crimson. Acres of chrome. Slash cut muffler and tyres that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Range Rover 4×4.

I took a pull on my pint. Here I was, aged sixty, blatting round the backroads of leafy Hampshire on a hooligan’s machine.

Idly reminiscing, I thought back…

How did I get to be biking?

In a heartbeat it was 1977 again and I was 18, free and single. I was earning a decent wage as an apprentice communications technician, and was enjoying combining working on the tools, and attending West Kent College of Further Education.

It was there that I met my good friend DC, (you know who you are!) who lived in one of the villages south of East Grinstead, where I lived.

Every Friday evening, I would drive the seven miles to Chelwood Gate in my careworn 1969 Vauxhall Viva, and pick up DC, Chip, and our ever-faithful wingman, Elvis.

From there, we would hurtle through the byways and farm lanes at stupid-crazy speeds, playing 50s rock n roll at maximum volume on the eight track. Back then we were all into rock’n’roll, and Chip and Elvis even wore the obligatory drapes and crepes, and both had great haircuts – the Tony Curtis look. I swear that Elvis got through an entire man-sized aerosol of Cossack spray every Friday. His quiff would probably have stopped a round from a Kalashnikov assault rifle at fifty feet!

DC was more of a greaser type, with leather biker jacket and jeans, and although I had a Tony Curtis, I went for the American college-boy look, with drainpipe Levis and baseball boots.

And so it was that fateful Friday…The old country manor house set deep in the West Sussex woods reverberated to the sounds of classic rock and roll – just a normal Friday evening really.

The resident band, The Whispering Sands, were ripping it up, with a rendition of Wipeout, and the dance floor was a mass of gyrating figures, some bopping, some jiving, and others just swaying.

The crowd parted for a moment – just long enough for me to spot her. Tall, willowy, and with a mane of copper auburn curls. Sensing my stare, she grinned, and waved me to come over and join her.

I swallowed the lump in my throat. I was not renowned as a dancer of any kind. More of a self-propelled clothes horse – that was my style. Still, it was too good an offer to decline, so I made my way over.

Thankfully, the band ran out of steam at that point, so I avoided having to dance, and we found a quieter table and sat down.

After an awkward introduction, we settled down to chat amiably, and all too soon it was time to leave. I did however, manage to get her phone number, which I hastily scrawled onto a damp beer mat.

In a blink she disappeared into the night, leaving me wanting to see her again.

Two days later, I called her, and she seemed pleased to hear from me. I asked if she wanted to go for a drink. She immediately agreed, and suggested a small pub in one of the nearby villages.

“When should I pick you up?” I asked, hoping to find her address.

“Meet you there at seven o’clock. Public Bar”

I was about to respond, when I realised that she had hung up.

Later that evening, I parked up in the small car park at the Punchbowl Inn in Turners Hill. I checked out the public bar, but she wasn’t there, so I ordered a pint of Harveys and went out to sit in the beer garden, which sat adjacent to the car park.

The mid-May sun was low in the clear cloudless sky, and was painting the local roofs gold.

I could hear my car clicking softly as it cooled down. The outside of my beer glass soon had a sheen of condensation.

I was checking my watch for the fiftieth time since arriving, when a light blue motorcycle swooped into the car park, it exhausts crackling and popping. The rider got off, and pulled the bike onto its stand, and then removed the blue crash helmet – revealing a shock of copper curls.

Turning, she saw me, waved, and walked over.

“Nice bike” I ventured.

“Its new. I only got it three weeks ago.” She grinned. “It’s already run in!”

I walked over to get a better look at it. Iridescent blue, with gold pinstripes, gleaming chromework, and a gloss black frame.

Suzuki GT185 proclaimed the badge on the side panel.

I then realised that there was an open face helmet with WW2 Fighter pilot goggles strapped to the small rack behind the seat.

“Drink up” she said. “Leave your car here. We can go to the White Hart at Ardingly”

“On that?” I asked.

Looking at me levelly, she said “Call it a rite of passage.” “That’s assuming you would like to see me again.”

I hastily pulled the helmet on, feeling my stomach start to knot. I eventually managed to fasten the strap, and pulled the goggles down over my eyes.

She was already rigged, with helmet scarf and gloves on. Leaning over, she popped the small pillion footpegs down, and got astride. I awkwardly climbed aboard, and held onto the chrome rack with a vice like grip.

The bike suddenly started, and she yelled at me to lean with her, and relax. With that she swung the bike back onto the main road, and we sped off, with fantastic acceleration.

It was a truly visceral experience, the joy of speed, the sensory overload of seeing hedgerows and houses pass in a blur of colour. The smell of two stroke exhaust, and the smooth roller coaster swings of the bike as we rounded bends. The weird feeling of the footpegs dancing up and down as they followed the wheels trajectory – I could not only see the road, I could feel every ripple, every bump.

All too soon, we stopped at the White Hart, where we stayed for the rest of the evening.

Driving my car back home was very much an anti-climax, and at that point I decided to get a motorcycle.

Within three weeks, I was the proud owner of a second-hand Suzuki GT250, in iridescent blue, with gold pinstripes, gleaming chrome and glossy black paintwork.

I then owned a variety of bikes of differing sizes, including a TS250, RD 200, TD175, RD250, XS250, KH250, and then, having passed my test, Suzuki T350, GT380, GT550, GT750, Triumph Bonneville, Yamaha XS550, XS750, Kawasaki Z900, and then more latterly, after a gap of some twenty years, Suzuki GS550, Triumph Bonneville, Suzuki V-Strom, Harley Davidson Switchback, and now my Triumph Trophy 1215 SE.

And not to forget a Honda Silverwing 400cc scooter, which is very different and was a good commuter for an 80-mile daily round trip.

I’m now sixty. Still riding. And all because of a girlfriend in 1977 who owned a bright blue Suzuki GT185.

A Smooth Skin Can Save Serious Money

Non-Stick Vehicles
A good way to save money

Every woman knows that unblemished skin is essential to looking good.

In modern vehicle aerodynamics, not only does a smooth skin look good, but it can also save large amounts of money for the owner or operator.

The aviation industry has been aware of the importance of a smooth finish for many years, and has developed many ways of reducing skin friction. Flush rivets and streamlined fairings go a long way to increasing achievable airspeed and reducing drag (and therefore fuel burn).

The latest generation of transport aircraft now increasingly use composite materials such as carbon fibre to construct airframe components. Such materials offer two main advantages – a high strength to weight ratio, combined with the ability to be joined using high technology adhesives rather than rivets.

However, an aircraft in line service becomes dirty over time, and the dirt particles accumulate to cause a breakdown in the airflow over the wing surface, thus increasing drag. Paint finishes also start to blemish and break down, causing further erosion of the erstwhile smooth finish.

This is where the relatively new science of Nanotechnology offers significant improvements to aerodynamic performance.

Nanotechnology is defined as “The manipulation of matter at an atomic or molecular level.” The standard unit of measurement is the nanometre, which is defined as being one billionth of a metre. To put this into context, an atom of Helium measures about 0.1 nanometres!

Developments in this field have enabled the production of commercially available coatings designed to bond to a vehicle structure, forming a perfectly smooth coating which prevents the accumulation of dirt and debris and helps to shed water, and protect paintwork.

The process for applying the nano-emulsion is simple.

Firstly, the airframe is thoroughly cleaned, and then treated with an acidic solution which has the effect of positively polarising the surface. This enables the nano-emulsion to completely bond with the structure.

The final stage is applying the coating itself. Once cured, the coating is fully bonded to the surface.

The fully cured coating is extremely thin – 100 times thinner than a human hair, and the total weight of the treatment adds just four ounces (113g) to the weight of the aircraft.

It is estimated that a treated aircraft will return a fuel saving of somewhere between 1% and 2%!

A number of airlines have been quick to evaluate these products. In 2011, EasyJet, grasped the opportunity to run trials, and had eight of their aircraft treated with the nano coating.

A carrier such as EasyJet’s fuel bill will represent about 40% of its total costs, and be in the region of £750,000,000 ($1,185,000,000) per year. A 1.5% saving on this figure is a massive £11.25 Million per year. As fuel prices only ever go up, these figures are just a start.

There are also additional hidden savings, as treated aircraft will need washing and repainting less frequently.

Another significant saving may be made on the amount of green taxes incurred by the operator. In Europe, these taxes are quite high, and a drop in fuel burn results in a proportional reduction in greenhouse gases.

Recently, British Airways announced that they are conducting a trial on a Boeing B777-200, and is hoping to see cost saving in excess of £100,000 in the year long evaluation.

This technology is not just limited to aircraft operators. The coating is equally effective in a marine environment, and coating ship hulls will improve hydrodynamic qualities.

Road vehicles can also benefit from improvements to their aerodynamics and haulage operators with a large fleet may well be able to enjoy cost savings as well.

So our womenfolk were right all along. Smooth is essential!

California Dreamin’ – Cycling the Golden Gate Bridge

California Dreamin’

When The Flowerpot Men were urging us to go to San Francisco back in 1967, I very much doubt that cycling was uppermost in their thoughts.

I expect that the only peddler that many of the Hippie generation were interested in was the one who dropped them their daily fix of psychedelic drugs.

Flower Power and the Hippie dream was all 50 years ago, and a lot can happen in half a century.

Having said that – the 60s ethos appears to be alive and well (if in a slightly diluted form) and living happily in California.

As crew for a major UK airline, I frequently fly to the USA, and decided some time back, that when I was next on a San Francisco layover, I would rent a bicycle, and enjoy some California Dreamin’

I had done a little research into bike rentals before my trip, and had decided that a company called Blazing Saddles (www.blazingsaddles.com) offered a good range of bicycles at a very reasonable rates, with a well appointed Mountain bike starting at just $9.00 per hour ($36.00 per 24 hours), and a range that includes Hardtail MTBs, Full Suspension MTBs, Comfort Tandems, High Performance Tandems, and High Performance Carbon/Alloy Roadies.

An Electrically assisted Bike is also available at $69.00 per day. Trailers and Tag-alongs are also an option if required.

In the highly unlikely event that they can’t help, then Bay City Bikes also offer a good range of cycles for similar prices. They are also located on Fishermans Wharf and may be contacted at http://www.baycitybike.com

Included within the rental package are a Helmet, a Handlebar Bag, and a lock. Cycles are all fitted with sturdy rear racks, bells, and bungee cords.

So it was, that on a pleasant June Sunday morning, four of us decided that we would cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge, and then ride into the little town of Sausalito.

The plan was to enjoy a relaxed lunch at a waterfront restaurant, and then ride back on the ferry to Fisherman’s Wharf. All in all a total mileage of about 9 miles.

This would ideally suit our party, as some of the riders were quite inexperienced, and there were some quite steep hills to negotiate on the way to the bridge.

We decided that as we were in no hurry, we would catch a cable car from Market Street at 1000, and enjoy a scenic trip through the City on the way to Fisherman’s Wharf, where Blazing Saddles are located.

Riding the Cable Cars is a highly recommended part of the trip, especially for movie buffs, as the route crosses California Street made famous by Steve McQueen in the film Bullit . Other films made around the City include Mrs Doubtfire, and of course, the hit 1970s cop drama The Streets of San Francisco.

The Cable Car also passes Crookedest Street. This little street gets its name because the road is a series of very tight hairpin bends compressed into about half a city block, all of which clings precariously to a very steep hill. Walking down it is “interesting”, but I imagine the bin men, and emergency services have a nightmare accessing any of the houses there!

Blazing Saddles have a number of locations spread throughout San Francisco, but we would be renting from their Hyde Street branch, which is located about two blocks from the beginning of the cycle path leading to the Bridge.

The cable car route terminates about 100 yards from the shop, which is immediately identifiable by the selection of cycles outside.

Blazing Saddles is a very efficient operation. We were greeted at the reception desk by a team of friendly and knowledgeable staff, and we were rapidly talked through the options, and the required paperwork.

We opted to take the additional insurance that covered the bikes against all damage, and all decided on “Comfort” Mountain Bikes. These differ from the standard models in that they are fitted with a gel saddle disc brakes and front suspension. A good decision, as the difference in price is only a dollar an hour!

We also decided to take advantage of Blazing Saddle’s offer of ferry tickets, which meant no queuing up to buy them at Sausalito. These tickets are offered on a sale or return basis, so it would have been foolish not to have taken advantage of the offer.

We were also given a voucher for a free appetiser at the Paradise Bay Restaurant in Sausalito, and reduced rate secure bike parking adjacent to the restaurant.

We had to leave a credit card number as a security deposit, and we where then whisked to the cavernous area behind reception where we were swiftly fitted up with bicycles.

The staff in bike despatch give a rapid fire briefing on the cycle controls; it is important to listen to this, as the brakes are set up in a different way from in the United Kingdom. In Britain, the right hand brake lever operates the front brake, and the rear brake is activated by the left brake lever. In the USA that convention is reversed.

Missing this piece of vital information could mean an interesting emergency stop scenario, and a subsequent in depth look at the inside of an American Emergency Room.

Having been given our bikes, and had saddles adjusted, we were instructed to ride towards the exit, and come to a complete stop so as to ensure the brakes were working satisfactorily.

We were then free to depart for the Bridge.
The route heads west past aquatic park on a dedicated cycle path, running adjacent to the waterfront, and is well maintained and free from potholes, and is mainly of tarmac or concrete surface. Within half a mile or so, there is a fairly steep (but luckily short) hill leading into Fort Mason Park. At the top of the hill is a vista point, giving a view over the bay.

Disappointingly, the weather in June is characteristically foggy in the morning, and only the first tower of the bridge could be seen, and the fog horn sounded moodily melancholy.

We decided not to let this dampen our spirits, so we continued on, with a gentle descent through the pleasant grounds of the park, at the bottom of which our sign-posted route took us through a car park, and out again onto a wide, well maintained path. This is shared space, with a pedestrian footpath of about ten feet in width, and two cycle lanes clearly marked for two way bike traffic.

As this was a Sunday morning, every cyclist in the San Francisco area had decided to get their bikes out, and the air was filled with shouts of “On ya left dude” and “Comin’ though” On the whole, other riders were courteous, and polite.

The route remains fairly flat in the main, and passes a tidal marshland nature reserve, and a variety of birds and fowl may be seen here if you bother to stop and look. The route then passes Crissy Field, an old army airfield, but which is now a part of the Golden Gate Nature Reserve Area.

Eventually, the path sweeps left, culminating in a short, steep uphill climb on Long Avenue.
This intersects with Lincoln Boulevard, but this is probably the only stretch of the route which uses roads. Within a hundred yards or so, the route forks right and heads to the base of the bridge.

As the vehicular traffic across the bridge is very busy, there are segregated paths for pedestrians and cyclists, but quite sensibly, the Bridge authority has ensured that cyclists and pedestrians do not conflict with each other. This is done by the simple expedient of splitting the walkers and bikers onto either the east or west side of the bridge.

So, as it was a weekend day, cyclists were obliged to use the West path and walkers the East. This system is excellent, and makes for a good flow in both directions.

So with the last climb of the ride, we wound our way under the bridge, and up onto the bridge itself, where we stopped for the obligatory photo by the Golden Gate Bridge sign.

The ride across the bridge is a little chilly, mainly due to the coastal breeze, and in our case, the mist. However, the road surface is well maintained, and clearly signed.

Once over the bridge, a steeply descending curving path leads down into the town of Sausalito.

The town is obviously a prosperous area, and the houses and streets are beautifully maintained, and spotlessly clean.
The cycle path disappears here, and the ride into town is conducted on public roads, but the car drivers in this idyllic spot are courteous, and generous in their encounters with bicycles – of which there are literally thousands!

We cycled to the western edge of the town, where we found our restaurant, and duly handed our cycles to the valet, who ensured that they were parked and locked in a secure area – and all this for just one dollar per bike.

The restaurant, The Paradise Bay, is in a nice location overlooking the waterfront, and we chose to sit outside to enjoy some top quality fish, and sample some of the local ales – in my case Steam Bitter, which is a refreshing way to end a fabulous ride.

Having eaten and drunk to our capacity, we cycled the half mile to the ferry terminal, and were soon boarded, along with about a hundred and fifty other cycles for our half hour crossing of the bay, back to Fishermans Wharf.

A short ride along the sea front took us back to Blazing saddles, where we returned the bicycles, and settled our bill – which came to just $40.00 each for a whole days use of the bikes, and the ferry tickets which normally retailed at $10.00 each one way.

Lastly, We all purchased a tee shirt proclaiming the we had “Biked the Bridge”

So – if you are looking for a fun day of leisure riding then I would thoroughly recommend Biking the Bridge, and Blazing Saddles are there to help you do it.

Mark Charlwood©
17/06/2014

Night Departure

Tail lights vanishing into a darkening sky,

A symbol of your leaving,

An intermittent spark of fading cherry red,

Dwarfed, and made miniscule by the vastness of night,

The lonely silver disc of the moon, bathes the landscape with surreal intensity,

In it’s unfeeling spotlight, for an unknown reason, I feel desolate,

You, speeding across the roof of the world, chasing the eastern mystic dawn,

I gaze at the last seductive blink of light, yet distance and darkness conspire,

The universe wins, and defeated, I stand alone,

I trudge to the car park, wearing shoes of lead,

Having nowhere to go, yet no reason to stay,

Out! Out! onto the highway, My reality here,

Yet My spirit soars east, chasing, never catching,

Radio taunts, me, romantic songs,

I turn south, and briefly look up,

I see another, red, winking, vanishing into a darkening sky

Mark Charlwood© 1989

I Feel The Need….. The Need for Speed!

The sun streamed through the slightly dusty windows of the Alton branch of Costa Coffee, as I sat enjoying my coffee, catching up with the news, both digital and conventional.

 

An article caught my eye about road safety, so, having had my curiosity piqued, I conducted some research which I found very interesting, and in the spirit of friendship and understanding, I offer my thought to you, gentle reader.

 

Speed Cameras. Love them or loathe them, they do serve their purpose, which is reducing speed, and increasing safety. However, adherence to the speed limit isn’t the sole factor that a driver is monitoring, particularly when driving in heavy traffic, or demanding road conditions. Distraction management is not a skill that is taught during driving lessons, and maybe it should be.

 

It would appear that most Police Authorities are aware of this weakness, and allow for a tolerance in speed keeping, to ensure that motorists are not penalised unfairly for a momentary breach of the speed limit.

 

Most police forces in the UK have confirmed that they allow for a 10% error plus a 2 mph additional tolerance to account for minor lapses in driver speed control. This is an agreed standard set by the National Police Chief’s Council.

 

As far as I am aware, this margin was originally put in place to account for the inaccuracies of early speedometers, which were cable driven from either a gearbox on a road wheel, or from the vehicle transmission gearbox. I have also heard anecdotally, that the additional 2 mph was to account for what we could call distraction error.

 

A recent Freedom of Information request made by Auto Express© (www.autoexpress.co.uk) to UK police forces confirmed that 22 constabularies adhere to the guidelines, and cameras are calibrated to trigger at the posted speed limit plus 10% + 2 mph (i.e. in a 30 mph limit, a camera will trigger at 35 mph, in a 40 zone at 46 mph etc)

 

The remaining eight constabularies declined to offer full details of the trigger tolerances, which is a shame, but understandable.

 

According to a study conducted by the London School of Economics and Political Science, [1] speed enforcement cameras reduced accidents by between 17 to 39 per cent, and reduced fatalities by between 58 to 68 per cent[2], so they are definitely an effective measure in improving safety.

 

Interestingly, speeding accounted for 60 per cent of all fatal accidents in the UK in 2015.

 

However, whilst the cameras reduced accidents within 500 metres of the site, accidents outside the camera zone increased, as drivers either braked suddenly to ensure they were in compliance with the limit, or accelerated heavily once outside the camera’s operational range.

 

As a result of this behaviour, more and more speed limits are now enforced with average speed cameras, which ensure compliance over a greater distance, and without the related dangers of braking and accelerating in the locality of the speed camera site. This works very well, as I can testify to.

 

One of my regular routes takes me up the A3 towards London. Just south of Guildford, the national 70 mph limit drops to 50 mph, in the area known locally as Wooden Bridge. Up until recently, it was almost impossible to maintain 50 mph in safety due to aggressive tailgaters, dangerous filtering and regular high speed lane changes and sudden lane changes.

 

A few weeks ago, Average Speed Enforcement was activated, and as a result, most drivers now comply with the 50 mph limit, and aggressive tailgating is negated by the need to maintain 50 mph.

 

Human behaviour, being what it is, means that wherever it appears safe to breach the rules, then a driver will consciously break the limit. I admit that on an empty motorway, I often take a calculated risk and drive at 80 or 90. I have done so on a number of occasions, when my experience and perception indicates to me that it is safe to do so. I say that with the benefit of 42 years of driving experience, both on motorcycles and in cars.

 

It often appears that the authorities are willing to reduce speeds when appropriate, but not to increase speeds when the conditions warrant it.

 

Across the EU, they take a sensible and pragmatic approach. In France for example, I have seen a limit of 130 kph (81mph) with a further sign reducing the limit to 110 kph (68 mph) in rain.  Across the Netherlands, the Autoroute limit is 130 kph as well, so 10 mph faster than the maximum speed limit in the UK. So much for EU unity!

 

As it appears that drivers are incapable or unwilling to abide by speed limits, which to be fair, are generally there for the safety of all road users, the EU is now is now mandating that all vehicles manufactured after 2022 will be fitted with Intelligent Speed Adaption (ISA).

 

There is currently a lot of mis-information about what is perceived as external speed control. ISA is designed to complement the driver’s speed keeping discipline, and will intervene should the speed limit be exceeded.

 

ISA is an onboard system that tracks the vehicle’s position by GPS, and compares the co-ordinates with a speed limit database. The system then continuously monitors the vehicles speed.

 

ISA will be designed to offer three modes of operation.

 

At the most basic level, should ISA detect a breach of the posted limit, an audio/visual warning will be generated to alert the driver. This is referred to as an “Open” system. This is an advisory system only, and the driver may choose to ignore the system-generated warnings.

 

Should the authorities decide that the system should be more robust in its levels of intervention, then either a “Half Open” or “Closed” system will be mandated.

 

The Half Open system will be designed to provide force-feedback through the accelerator pedal should the posted limit be exceeded, thus giving the driver not only an audio/visual warning, but a sensory input that actively resists the foot pressure delivered to the accelerator. The driver would then have to consciously make an effort to overcome the feedback pressure. This enables a driver to breach a posted limit in the event that an emergency condition dictates it.

 

Lastly, is the “Closed” system, which actively prevents the speed limit being exceeded, and gives the driver no means of intervention

 

There are obviously drawbacks to the ISA as a system.

 

Firstly, there is a risk that further automation of the driver’s interactive functions will reduce the level of awareness and involvement, potentially leading to a reduction in attention to road and traffic conditions. Loss of awareness is highly dangerous, and could in itself lead to further accidents.

 

Secondly, once a driver has accepted the use of such a system, there may be a tendency to become over confident, with a perception of invulnerability as the system effectively manages maximum speed. However, as the system only monitors compliance with the maximum speed, the driver needs to remain involved and “in the loop” as conditions may dictate a much lower speed for safety.

 

Some drivers may also become frustrated at the system holding them at what they consider to be a speed that is too low for safety, especially where speed limits have been set arbitrarily rather than as a result of evidence based decisions. This may result in risk based behaviour.

 

 

 

So, vehicles are becoming much more automated, and much work needs to be done on developing that man-machine interface.

 

I am so glad that I enjoyed driving as a young man during the years when there were no speed cameras. As a country teenager, I took my chances with getting caught by the police whilst rocketing around the lanes of Sussex at lunatic speeds. I was lucky that I enjoyed this without sustaining a crash, injuring or killing anyone else, and without receiving any driving bans.

 

This is a privilege that is denied younger drivers now.

 

Brave new world?

 

 

You decide.

 

 

Mark Charlwood© May 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Figures from 1992 – 2016 Cheng Keat Tang PhD

[2] Within 500 metres from the camera site

ID Cards? What’s that all about?

The wind softly moaned around the Haslemere Costa Coffee, hurling fine raindrops at the window where I sat considering how life had changed, and sipping at a large Cappuccino coffee, watching the baristas preparing coffees.

Work culture has certainly changed. Especially security and access control. When I started work in 1975 as a communications engineering apprentice, I am reasonably sure that I was not subjected to any in depth security checks, other than me making a declaration that I had not been to prison. The fact that I was a sixteen year old schoolboy made it somewhat unlikely. However, I was not issued with any kind identity card or pass. That would not happen until I had completed my three year training.

Most of the office buildings that I needed to visit back then had a security desk rather than a reception, normally staffed by an ex-military retiree, who would control access to the building. There was no access control at all all of the local engineering centres where stock and equipment was held, vehicles parked and records kept. Some engineers were on call out, so would keep their yellow vans at home, but most other vehicles were left in the yard overnight and at weekends. Only a chain and padlock on the gate prevented their theft.

Pretty much every workplace transaction from requesting a replacement tool, to booking out equipment was done using a simple signature in a book, and the fact that the stores clerk knew your face. Need to get a copy? Wander over to the copier and fire off what you wanted. Need a pen or pencil? Open the stationery cabinet and take what you required.

Time control back then was a little informal. A sign-in book was provided. All duties officially started at 0800, and most of the technicians and engineers would arrive about a quarter of an hour early, to enjoy a tea or coffee before the day started.

At 0800 the supervisor would simply draw a red line under the last name signed. Anyone signing in after the line would be declared officially late.

Walls of the workshops and stores would be adorned with calendars displaying scantily clad, or naked women, and talk between colleagues was robust and at times profane – all without anyone taking offence. Even senior staff from the Telephone Manager’s Office accepted and indeed, appreciated those girlie calendars and posters.

When I made the transition to office working, access to the large engineering company where I was employed was controlled only by a middle aged lady who sat at the reception desk. Should anyone have entered the reception whilst she was distracted, or on the phone, they could have breezed past and through the doors to the ground floor offices, or made it quickly up the stairs to the executive offices without further challenge.

The threat of terrorism, and the development of digital technology changed all that virtually overnight.

Gone were the good old-school security officers. In many cases, receptionists also became a thing of the past.

Since leaving field sales in the mid nineteen eighties, with company procedures being little changed during the intervening decade, I started working for American Airlines. As my job involved working the other side of security and immigration, I was vetted and issued with an airside pass. This was in the wake of Pan Am 103 being destroyed and crashing at Lockerbie in Scotland in December 1988.

Since that time, I have spent my entire working life wearing an identity pass of type or another. Over the years, it has developed from being a simple card bearing my photograph, airline and job title, to a smart card that enables me to gain access to the car park, approved areas of the company, and access my computer terminal. It also enables me to send documents to the printer, which will only release them once I have offered my card to the sensor on the printer, and input my Personal Identification Number.

The card may also be used as a tracker, and could be used to oversee and enforce working times, break times, and internet access. Simply by interrogating the card’s history a company may be able to extract a huge amount of personal data about an individual, more than could ever be done forty years ago.

Brave new world?

Mark Charlwood©️ 2019

Snowy Saturday Update

Regular readers of my literary meanderings will know that I am partial to a good cup of coffee whilst sharing my happy, yet jaundiced view of life. Hopefully, you will have noticed that I always try and put a comedic spin on everything I write. I have enjoyed humour and comedy since I was an infant.

I recall sitting on my Dad’s lap in the mid 1960s, listening to the radio on Sunday lunchtimes with him.

In most matters my father was quite a serious man. A highly skilled engineer, in both communications and electro-mechanical disciplines, but his sense of humour was, to put it mildly, weird and wonderful.

And so the development of my comedy muscle was exercised by listening to the Goons, Hancock’s Halfhour, The Navy Lark, The Clithero Kid and many more.

My sense of humour was further nourished by watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus, The Goodies, The Kenny Everett Radio Show, Kenny Everett on TV, –  and then the fantastic Young Ones, Bottom, Blackadder, The Fast Show.

So my sense of humour is by necessity somewhat offbeat, and sometimes is quite dark and black – as I believe in the old adage that its always good to laugh at misfortune, even if it’s someone elses.

Anyway, I thought you would enjoy my account below.

Whilst I don’t have much hair left, I do like to go to an old-fashioned gents barber shop, rather than an androgynous “salon” where a haircut can evaporate a sum equivalent to the National Debt in a matter of seconds.

However, whilst my tonsurial consultant is a traditional gents barber, it doesnt prevent him from engaging in conversations and freely sharing his opinions with me whilst he’s buzz cutting my head.

So, there I  was a couple of months ago, getting a haircut prior to departing on a short holiday trip to Rome. When I mentioned the trip to the barber he responded:

“Rome? Why would anyone want to go there? It’s crowded & dirty and full of insane drivers. You’re crazy to go to Rome. So, how are you getting there?”

“We’re taking Alitalia”  I replied. “We got a great rate!”

“Alitalia?”  he exclaimed. “That’s a terrible airline. Their planes are tired, their flight attendants are even older, and they’re always late. So, where are you staying in Rome?”

Sighing, I explained “We’ll be at the downtown International Marriott.”

“That dump! That’s the worst hotel in the city” He replied. “The rooms are small, the service is surly and they’re overpriced. So, whatcha doing when you get there?”

“Well, I am planning on going to the Vatican and  hope to see the Pope.” I replied.

“That’s rich,” he laughed. “You and a million other people trying to see him. He’ll look the size of an ant. Jeez I wish you  good luck on this lousy trip of yours. You’re going to need it.”

A month later, I went into his small shop to have my regular haircut. The barber asked me about my trip to Rome.

“It was wonderful,” I explained, “not only were we on time in one of Alitalia’s brand new aircraft, but it was overbooked and they bumped me up to first class. The food and wine were wonderful, and I had a beautiful 28 year old stewardess who waited on me hand and foot. And the hotel – – it was great! They’d just finished a $25 million remodeling job and now it’s the finest hotel in the city. They, too, were overbooked, so they apologized and gave me the presidential suite at no extra charge!”

“Well,” he muttered, sullenly buzz cutting my scalp……

“I know you didn’t get to see the Pope.”

“Actually, I was quite lucky, for as I toured the Vatican, a Swiss Guard tapped me on the shoulder and explained that the Pope likes to personally meet some of the visitors, and if I’d be so kind as to step into his private room and wait, the Pope would personally greet me. Sure enough, five minutes later the Pope walked through the door and shook my hand! I knelt down as he spoke a few words to me.”

“Really?” asked my Barber. “What’d he say?”

He said, “Where’d you get that SHITTY haircut?”

THANKS DAD!

Vehicle Security – Brave New World?

Forty-two years ago, I learnt to drive a car, a spotty-faced 17-year-old, lurching along the leafy lanes of West Sussex, my Father patiently instructing me, his face impassive as he hid his grimaces as I crashed the gears. He did relax a little once I had mastered the co-ordination of gear lever and clutch pedal, and he seemed to enjoy getting me through my driving test.  He must have been reasonably good, (or maybe I was) because I passed my test first time.

My first car was an Austin 1100, built at the BMC Longbridge plant in 1965, so by the time I bought it in 1977 it was 12 years old, and had about 55,000 miles on the clock. Fantastically easy to drive, I enjoyed owning it for a year or so after my test, finally replacing it with a 1969 Vauxhall Viva SL90 – which to be fair wasn’t nearly as good mechanically, but looked flashier to my 19-year-old eyes.

These two vehicles did have something in common – and that was their complete lack of anything except the most rudimentary security. There were only two barriers to stop a would-be thief from stealing my cars – the simple key locks on the doors, and the simple ignition key.

This was state of the art at the time the cars were built. A thief could quite easily force the door lock, and by reaching under the unsealed dashboard and bypass the ignition switch, thus activating the car systems and enabling the vehicle to be started. The car could then be driven away.

Statistics show that from 1968 thefts of vehicles soared, primarily as a result of “Joy Riding” (also known as Twocking, – Taking Without Owners Consent), and theft to obtain parts for resale.

To combat this, UK legislation was introduced in January 1971 to compel manufacturers to fit steering column locks to all new vehicles. Most manufacturers incorporated these into ignition switches making it much more difficult to steal a car. Once this requirement filtered into the market, thefts of vehicles began to slow a little, but thefts from vehicles continued.

During the early years of my car ownership, alloy wheels were extremely popular, and as such, opportunistic thieves would simply jack a car up, remove the wheel nuts, and steal the wheel, leaving the car propped up on bricks.

Industry quickly countered this with locking wheel nuts, so the criminal community moved on to stealing car audio systems. Again, industry reacted by building the radios into the car dashboard in such a way as to make them virtually permanent.

Modern cars are extensively fitted with high technology systems, many of which are controlled by buttons built into the steering wheel. Additionally, the steering wheel also contains an airbag, and is an expensive item – a quick check on E-Bay will show second hand steering wheels, complete with airbags and column fetching in the region of £600!

So, have we come through a complete circle? In the 1970s the introduction of Steering locks, and later immobiliser chips built into ignition keys cut theft. This was reinforced by central door locking, and on-board security alarms.

As vehicles developed, we saw the introduction of remote locking, remote starting, and GPS tracking systems for cars.

The downside is that as we have become more reliant on high technology, the bad guys have become equally adept at hacking into systems.

We are just starting to hear about cloning devices that capture the digital signature of your remote key fob. Once this digital code has been hijacked, it may be used to unlock and then drive your pride and joy away.

So – what’s next?

My car has an integrated radio, locking wheel nuts, an immobiliser, a steering lock, and an alarm. But the bad guys can still target my car.

Thinking about this, there are a few simple precautions that may be taken.

If locking or unlocking your car in a public place, you may be better off by using the mechanical lock fitted into the door handle to unlock the car, thus denying any opportunistic thief the ability to skim your codes.

Secondly, Maybe invest in a steering wheel lock immobiliser such as the Disklok® which will prevent the theft of your steering wheel, and coincidentally makes the electronic capture of your unlock codes meaningless.

So, there are some areas where the current levels of electronic and computer aided vehicle security fail, and then it’s back to good old-fashioned mechanical protection.

Welcome to Brave New World.

 

 

Mark Charlwood© 2019

Note: I am not sponsored by Disklok topromote their product(s). Other Steering Wheel Immobiliser Locks are available:

Stoplock

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