The BMW Myth… Busted?

It was a long day at work, delivering two flight training sessions. I was in no real hurry, as the weather was a bit miserable, with wet roads, and poor visibility. It was just as well, as the A3 southbound was moving at a sedate 40 mph up the hill through the fifty limit at Guildford.

I spotted the headlights first, weaving crazily in and out of the traffic, and then rapidly accelerating up the nearside lane as I was overtaking a slower van. The white car swerved out in front of me, cutting into my lane with scant inches to spare.

I was ready for this and was already braking, my sixth sense warning me of the potential accident heading my way.

As the car rocketed past me, I sighed as I glimpsed the badge on the boot lid.

Yes, just as I thought, it was another appallingly driven BMW.

I watched the car continue to weave in and out of the traffic, crossing lanes with no apparent understanding of risk. The frequent illumination of brake lights was not accompanied by any appearance of functioning indicators.

Par for the course?

I drove home without further incident, wondering if there was any statistical evidence to support the urban legend that all BMW drivers were aggressive and inconsiderate.

So, I sat down and started researching this to see what I could find.

It didn’t take long to discover that GoCompare, the insurance comparison website had conducted an analysis of their customer database, and had some interesting results.

Un-surprisingly, the urban legend was true!

It appears that more than 17.1% of BMW 4 series drivers have at least one conviction, which is about twice the average rate for all other BMW models!  A staggering 21% of 4 series drivers have also made an at-fault claim on their insurance.

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Further checking revealed that Audi A5 drivers are also up there in the top ten for convictions and at-fault claims, along with Mercedes C220 and E220 pilots, closely followed by Jaguar and Landrover owners.

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This all seems to tie in with my own un-scientific perceptions, honed as they are with a 450 mile  weekly commute.

Interestingly, Admiral Insurance has also analysed the data returned from their telematics systems – the Little Black Box fitted into the boot that monitors driving behaviour. It seems that drivers of Audis, Mercedes and Landrovers are again flagging up as the worst drivers in the UK.

But there is good news. Drivers of smaller, lower-powered cars such as Vauxhall Agilas, Hyundai i10s, and Nissan Micras are least likely to have been convicted of an offence, but they are also less likely to have made at-fault claims.

Maybe the lack of a big, tough metal box to sit in, a less commanding road position, and dare I say it, a low performance engine makes them less attractive to those with a more competitive and thrusting driving style?

These are facts released by insurance companies, and whilst they do seem to reinforce the image that motorists owning German-built cars are bad drivers, they don’t explain why drivers with poorer driving records seem to be attracted to such vehicles.

I guess I will have to dig for some more facts…

Until then – drive safely!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let Your Body do the Talking?

The morning outside is gloomy and damp, and I am enjoying my morning cuppa.

I have just finished setting up my new bank account.

Having been with my previous bank for 36 years, I thought that it was time for a change, especially as my old bank had consistently ripped me off over decades. Some of my money has been returned with a successful PPI claim, and now I am £175.00 better off, having switched my personal current account (Thanks Martin Lewis’s Money Saving Expert!) and have kicked the holder of the sign of the black horse out of my life. Now I just have one more account to move…

Happy Days.

So, there I was, on the phone setting up my new account, when the automated system requested whether I would like to set up voice recognition to ease access to my account.

I accepted, as I know that my voiceprint is as unique to me as my fingerprints, or my facial biometric data.

It then struck me how much of my unique personal data is in the hands and care of a commercial organisation.

This got me thinking.

I have an E-Passport, which contains all of my facial biometric data. I access some of my personal electronic devices with my thumb print, or, in the case of my new phone, through facial recognition and a pin number.

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This in itself is a little spooky, but at least the choice is mine to make.

I accept that Her Majesty’s Government will assume a full duty of care if they release my data, but with commercial organisations, maybe based overseas that may be more difficult to assume.

Since the development of Facial Recognition in the mid 1969s, it has become much more prevalent, and is found all over the world, including Great Britain.

China is now using facial recognition to constantly monitor its citizens, and the collected and identifiable data is being used to prosecute individuals for even minor misdemeanours such as Jay walking[1]. This allows “behavioural scoring” and may be used to grade and rank citizens on their perceived support of the government.

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Luckily, or not, depending on your persuasion, facial recognition does have a weakness. It requires capturing a clear image of a face before the system’s algorithms can plot the data, and compare it with images held in its database.

This weakness is being exploited. In Japan, a university has designed a pair of anti-facial-recognition glasses[2], which, when worn, emit a sea of Infra-Red light over the wearer’s face. This disrupts image capture, and results in the camera only “seeing” a blurred image.

There is also a mask available which is designed with multi-faceted angles and patterns that disrupt the received image, again, leading to blurred images.

If you thought that the potential for a dystopian disaster ended with facial recognition technology, there is more over the horizon.

As artificial intelligence develops, we may see an integration of facial recognition with emotion recognition technology, laying wide open an interpretation of our deepest innermost workings.

Currently Emotional Recognition technology is in its infancy, and there is as yet little evidence that shows a reliable and consistent interpretation of the emotional state of an individual, but this will change as AI develops further.

So – if we cover our faces, or wear IR spectacles, we will be able to fool the cameras, and go about our daily business without the state, or, other more sinister organisations tracking our every move and emotion.

Sadly, the answer is no.

Please welcome Gait Recognition Technology!

Gait recognition is another unique human characteristic. The way we walk, hold our body, and our profile and posture are as individual as a fingerprint – and it doesn’t need to capture a facial image.

Anyone like to guess where this technology is being developed?

Whoever muttered “China”, take an extra 10 points.

Yes, a Chinese start-up called Watrix has already developed a system that can identify an individual from up to 50m (165 feet) away, regardless of whether they are facing the camera.

According to the company, the system can’t even be fooled by an individual adopting a limp, walking with splayed feet, or deliberately hunching or distorting their body as they walk.

This is made possible because the system analyses multiple features from all over an individual’s body.

Currently, due to system limitations, real-time gait analysis and confirmation of an individual’s identity is not possible.

Gait analysis requires video footage of the target, which allows the analytical software to process and store the individual’s way of walking.

Currently, video footage has to be uploaded into the system, and then analysed, a process that takes about 10 minutes to assess 60 minutes of video.

In due course, the processing requirements will improve to the point that real-time identification is possible.

According to Watrix, the system has a 94.1% accuracy rating, which is quite acceptable for commercial use.

No doubt this will also improve.

Meanwhile, governments in many societies are realising the dangers of uncontrolled use of personal data.

The EU has recently banned the use of facial recognition for three to five years to enable an assessment of the impacts of this technology and possible risk management measures that could be identified and developed[3]

In the USA, larger cities, and even states are banning the use of Facial Recognition.

San Francisco banned it in May 2019, and later in 2019, Oakland followed suit, as did Somerville in Massachusetts, with Portland Oregon likely to follow suit.

But despite the EU-wide moratorium on the use of this technology, (and the fact that we are still, until 31st January a member of the EU) the Metropolitan Police have gone ahead with a project to use Facial Recognition.

It appears that under the EU/UK’s data protection law, GDPR, it forbids facial recognition by private companies “in a surveillance context without member states actively legislating an exemption into the law using their powers to derogate.”

It’s interesting to see that the system being used by London’s Met Police is subcontracted out to NEC, which, as far as I am aware is not only a private company, but also a foreign one.

Obviously, there are pros and cons to having some form of surveillance, and some sacrifices have to be made to ensure the safety and security of the public, but is this a bridge to far?

Only you can decide…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.met.police.uk/live-facial-recognition-trial/

https://sciencebusiness.net/news/eu-makes-move-ban-use-facial-recognition-systems

 

[1] The Atlantic – Editorial Article

[2] The Daily Mail – Anti Facial Recognition Glasses Article

[3] Science Business – EU to ban Facial Recognition

Are You Sitting Comfortably?

Recently, a good friend, and one of my regular readers, made the observation that many of my articles are conceived whilst I am loafing about in coffee shops – commenting “Do I ever do any work?”

Whilst said as a jokey comment between friends, it was indeed a good observation, and was unerringly accurate.  Thanks NH.

I decided that this would have to stop.

So, early one morning, I was sitting on my lavatory, ruminating about what to write next. Not such a strange place to really. I’m sure that the peaceful tranquility of the latrine is a place where, no doubt, many people take some quiet thinking time.

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My subject matter today, therefore, is related to bowel health.

“Deep Joy”  I hear you say…

Bowel health affects all of us, and is fundamental to staying in overall good health.

Everyone is taught from an early age of the importance of staying regular, and of eating the correct types of food in the correct proportions to keep us running smoothly.

Despite this, I was amazed to discover that constipation cost the English National Health Service £162 million in the fiscal year 2017/18!

Delving further, into what is a very touchy subject, I learnt that the statistics show nearly 15% of all adults suffer from constipation, and a third of all children are bunged up as well.

It seems that there is a social taboo about discussing such issues, and many people feel too embarrassed to even talk about it.

According to a YouGov[1] survey of almost 2,500 adults in 2016, 35% of those experiencing constipation would rather do nothing, and wait and see if their condition improved before consulting with their GP. An alarming 50% thought it was not worth bothering with seeing their doctor.

Ignoring longer term constipation potentially leads to more serious situations, hence the large number of hospital admissions – 71,430 in 2017/18. Of that number, almost 53,000 were unplanned emergency admissions.

Constipation has more than a financial cost. Constipated patients spent a total of 163,128 days in hospital beds. That’s about 447 years of lost productivity, and extra strain on an under-resourced health service.

Those that do visit their GPs are sometimes prescribed laxatives to resolve their problem, and prescriptions cost in the region of £91 million.

UK GPs see on average about 6 people a week who have screwed their courage up and discussed their constipation. This is about 218,000 consultations per week[2], and this costs the NHS a further £487 million per year[3]

So, what can we do about it?

The basics are now widely understood, if not acted upon. Healthy varied diet, with an intake of fibre, vegetables and fruit. A good level of hydration, and some regular exercise. All of these factors will reduce the risks of becoming backed up internally.

We also need to adopt better habits when going to the loo.

According to Bladder and Bowel, we need sit correctly on the toilet, in order to place the hips and lower abdomen into the optimal position for clearing the bowels.

The correct position?  What??  There is a correct position for taking a poo????

Why was I never told this?

This is what Bladder and Bowel say about adopting correct posture.

Note: For my aviation, aerospace and airline professional followers, this is NOT the same as the BRACE position.

  • Lean forward when you are sitting on the toilet with your hands resting on your thighs
  • Make sure that your knees are bent and are higher than your hips (it may help to use a footstool if your toilet is high or you are not very tall)
  • Make sure your feet are resting on the ground – (or on a footstool)

ARE YOU SITTING COMFORTABLYFigure 1 – The correct Sitting Position

It may not always be possible to do this, as not many public toilets, or those at work have small footstools, and let’s be honest, platform shoes went out in the 1970s, so until they come back into fashion, you may only be able to sit correctly at home.

It is recommended to try and establish a regular routine so as to avoid having a sudden need to use the toilet. However, if a sudden need is felt this should not be put off, and wherever possible we should go. Ignoring the urge could impair the bodies defecation reflex, which may then make it harder to know when you do actually need to go.

Now, as I alluded to earlier, the average UK bog is the place where we are all assured of a certain level of peace and tranquility. Many men will retire to the smallest room with the daily paper, a good book, or nowadays, with a smart phone or iPad.

As far as I know, this habit is mainly restricted to men…

Now the bad news. It’s really not a good idea to sit for prolonged periods of time in the “position” as this partially opens the bowel, which weakens it and this may lead to complications in advancing age – such as incontinence.

So, dump the books and papers fellers…

Lastly – we are a nation of ever-expanding people. I know that I am an incipient chocaholic, and love food of all types. I struggle with balancing my love for sweet desserts with my need to shed weight, and prior to Christmas I managed to slim down to 86Kg.

Post-Christmas, I have put 4 of those kilos back on.

To enhance not only overall fitness, but to prevent constipation, more exercise is needed more regularly. Exercise and hydration really will help to keep the body in better shape – as well as sitting correctly on the throne.

Bet you wish I’d gone to Costa’s now…

Mark

[1] YouGov Online Survey conducted 1/2/16 sample sized 2352, weighted to represent all UK Adults 18yrs +

[2] The Lancet – Cost of Constipation Report

[3] Appointment costs and times

Tyres – The Invisible Ecological Menace

We have all heard almost to the point of frustration about climate change, pollution and how bad cars powered by fossil fuels are.

We are all exhorted to consider using an electric vehicle, or a hybrid so as to cut our carbon footprint, and stop climate change.

Obviously, all of this is deserving of support, and climate change is a very real threat, as is the increase in health problems as a result of the toxic gases in vehicle exhausts.

However, there is a sinister, yet little-publicised threat which may prove to be even more injurious to health and the marine environment, even if it has little impact on greenhouse gases and climate change.

Tyres.

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Yes, you did read correctly. Tyres are in the top ten of nasty pollutants that contaminate the world with micro-particles.

Tyres. Those innocuous black things attached to the wheel rims of your car, van, motorcycle, truck or bus.

We all know that tyres wear out – as we all have to buy them now and again, if we are to stay safe and legal.

So, what happens to the worn bits of tyre?  Well, they are eroded by the road surface and are released as micro-fibres, particulates that are fine enough to form as a dust on the road surface.

Subsequently, rain water washes these microfibres into the drains and sewage systems, where they ultimately make their way into the maritime environment – yes, rivers, lakes, reservoirs and oceans.

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Much publicity is generated around single use plastics in the oceans, but little publicity is around related to this almost invisible pollution.

Some of the particles are small enough and light enough to be dragged up off the road surface by the aerodynamic wake of passing vehicles, and may be suspended for periods of time, allowing them to be blown by the wind over quite large distances.

It is estimated that annually 68,000 tonnes of microplastics are generated by tyre tread erosion in the UK alone, with 7,000 to 19,000 tonnes entering the surface water system[1]. Research is currently being undertaken in the UK to deepen our understanding of the migration of tyre generated microparticles into the maritime environment.[2]

It may not be common knowledge but tyres are not constructed from pure natural rubber, but consist of 60-70% synthetic rubber – made with our old friends, the hydrocarbons, so the emitted micro-particles are not readily biodegradable.

Unfortunately, the qualities that makes tyres suitable, such as good grip, good braking qualities, and good car handling qualities rely on the tyre gripping the road surface through friction.

Friction between the road surface and the tyre tread actually causes the erosion of the rubber, and leads to the problem. The interaction also erodes the road surface, and any road marking paint on it too – but that’s another story!

Tyre particles vary in size and composition, so it would challenge even Agatha Christie’s Poirot to identify and track how these particles behave, and where they go once they have been shed.

Such particles will be dispersed widely around roads and byways, drifted by winds and the effects of vehicle aerodynamics, washed into various drains, culverts and waterways by rain.

Once in the water system the particles will exhibit different levels of buoyancy, and some will float onwards into estuaries and ultimately into oceans, and others will sink to the bottom and become part of the estuary sediment.

It is estimated that up to 10% of tyre wear particulate matter is released as airborne particles, which will settle over land masses, thus polluting them too.

What can we, the driving public do to minimise the effects of this?

Firstly, we can modify our driving behaviour to reduce the loads that our tyres are under.

We can make efforts to accelerate and decelerate gently and progressively, we can make sure the tyres are correctly inflated and remove un-necessary loads from the vehicle. This would help.

We could operate a smaller vehicle with a smaller engine and a lower mass.

This is a pipe dream, and we all know it. Unless governments intervene to legally force the use of smaller vehicles, we won’t trade our “Executive Urban Assault Vehicles” to sit in a minicar capable of reaching only 60 miles an hour with a following wind!

On my daily commute to work, I pass Farnborough Airport. This is the home to many ecologically-unfriendly executive private jet aircraft. The main A road that passes adjacent to it has recently had a new 50 mph speed limit imposed upon it, reduced from its previous 70 mph limit.

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It seems that the local council are keen to reduce emissions in the local area!

Regardless of this, vehicles still charge past me doing well excess of the new limit, and the police don’t seem to be enforcing the new limit.

Maybe we should drive less distances?  Maybe we should alter our fundamental mind set to become more locally focused, and adopty a new philosophy of not commuting longer distances?

I don’t think human nature is going to fix this particular problem.

It appears that the main thrust of the ecological argument is to initiate a societal shift from driving hydro-carbon powered vehicles to electrically powered cars.

However, this only addresses a part of the problem. Even if there is a global adoption of battery driven vehicles, the problems associated with the pneumatic tyre remain.

Until we have mastered an alternative to the conventional tyre we are still in trouble.

The auto industry faces a parallel challenge. What do we use as an alternative to the conventional vehicle tyre?

Answers on a postcard please…

 

[1] Friends of the Earth Report “Reducing Household Contributions to Marine Plastic Pollution 11/2018

[2] UK Government Funding for Research into Tyre Tread Erosion and Pollution

 

THE CHINESE CONNECTION

As a sixty-year-old, I am very privileged to live in an age where I have been able to maintain contact with old schoolfriends, college buddies and university alumni, in a way that my parents could never do.

I was chatting with my Mum the other day, who was wistfully talking about growing up in the 1930s, the disruptive and irretrievable loss of her youth to the war and the education that she subsequently lost.

She sadly referred to good friends – friends that she had when she left school at just fourteen, to go to work. Friends that she lost contact with over the years, and has never been able to find.

I recall sitting down with the old dear with my Facebook account (When I still had one!) searching, as she went through a litany of names. As would be expected I was unable to find any of her peers. Many were girlfriends, so probably would have married and changed names.

My Mum is reasonably fit and healthy, and is approaching ninety. She is highly unusual as she has a laptop computer, and happily uses email to stay in touch with her grandchildren. She shops on line, and is pretty savvy for a lady of her years.

I couldn’t say the same for many of her contemporaries, so even if they were still alive and kicking, there is no assumption that they would have an on-line presence.

I connected with one of my old friends some years back.

Some of you may remember Friends Reunited, which closed down in 2016 after sixteen years of operation.

Screenshot 2020-01-19 at 10.20.04I was sitting in my back room in about 2003, typing the names of old friends into the search bar, when I finally got a hit. I immediately emailed the lad whom I had last seen in about 1986 when we all went to see Queen supported by the mighty Status Quo at Wembley.

After about six weeks without hearing anything, I accepted, a little down-heartedly, that times move on, and maybe he no longer wanted to catch up with a life that was seventeen years previously.

I was somewhat surprised when some eight months later I received an email out of the blue from my old mate. Yes, he was keen to meet up, and was still in contact with the rest of the blokes.

It seems it was me that fell through the cracks, moved away and followed a different path.

Happily, we all met up at a pub in East Grinstead, and we picked up conversations as if it were yesterday, rather than almost two decades.

Subsequently, we have remained firm friends, and meet regularly every couple of months. We chat on WhatsApp or Messenger, or just plain text messaging.

So it was last Friday. We all met up in East Grinstead – initially in a little independent brew-house called the Engine Room,

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THE ENGINE ROOM, EAST GRINSTEAD

from where we all trooped down through the town centre to the Wing Wah Chinese restaurant.

Every member of our group of 8 has a fond memory of this particular restaurant. For me, it was the place that I took my very first girlfriend to on a date, way back in 1977.

The crazy thing is, that the waiter at the time, a young Chinese chap called Alan is now the owner of the restaurant.

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So – how the wheel turns!

Forty-three years later and I am being served in the same restaurant, in the same building, by the same man and sitting with the same bunch of blokes, discussing motorcycles, politics, and music and putting the world to rights.

 

 

Life’s Good!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elderly Drivers – Good or Bad – I Hope To End Up As One! (Or – Are They Safe?)

I parked the car, nonchalantly locking it with the keyfob, as I do every evening when I return from work.

It was a blustery, rainy late afternoon, and my journey home a relative nightmare. All of the major routes west of Heathrow Airport were in chaos. It seems that the average Brit is breathtakingly incompetent in wet conditions, despite bemoaning that its always raining here.

Either driving lunatically fast, or crawling along far too slowly, the result is multiple accidents, and long holdups. The delays were only made marginally tolerable by listening to the radio.

I decided that the solution to my grumpy mood was to pull my bicycle out of the. garage, and cycle the mile and a half to my alternate refuge, the Passfield Club.

It was only five past five when I arrived, and the place was almost deserted.

I ordered a pint of Fossil Fuel, and went at sat at a table at the far end of the room.

I was thinking about driving. Despite my journey, I knew that I was fortunate to be in a position to drive.

I have held a full licence since February 1977, almost 43 years. The car and motorcycle have become an intrinsic part of my life, and as a relatively fit man, I rarely think of the time when I too will have to hang up my car keys for the final time.

Before that time, I may have to downgrade my vehicle from the small SUV that I drive to a smaller vehicle. Maybe electric?  Who knows.

I recall hearing somewhere that many older people bought an automatic car after maybe decades of driving a manual gearbox car, and subsequently had an accident as a result of confusion over the foot pedals and their location.

 

Also, that older drivers were as dangerous as the young due to their worsening driving abilities.

I wondered if this really was an issue, so I decided to do some research, and here is what I discovered.

According to AXA Insurance’s Technical Director David Williams[1] drivers may face rises in insurance premiums as a result higher compensation claims being awarded following vehicle collisions and accidents.

The two age groups that will be affected most by this will be younger drivers in the 17-24 age group, and those over 75.

That surprised me a little.

Further digging revealed that there are an estimated 2.7 million drivers under the age of 25. Of that figure, 1.3 million are under 22. Combined, these groups make up about 7% of all UK drivers.

Drivers aged 17 -19 represent 1.5% of the driver population, yet they are involved in 9% of all fatal accidents in which they are the driver! Altogether, the under 25 age group are responsible for 85% of all serious injury accidents.

So where does this leave the older driver.

Bizarrely, a quick check of the stats[2] instantly confirms that drivers in the 17-24 category have a very high accident rate comparatively speaking, with 1,912 collisions per billion vehicle miles (CPBVM) travelled. The accident rate then progressively reduces as age increases, reaching its lowest point between the ages of 66 – 70 dropping to just 367 accidents CPBVM.

So, I am, in theory, becoming statistically less likely to have an accident, due to my relentless march into decrepitude.

The accident rate rises slightly thereafter, but peaks to its highest for the 81 – 85 age group – at a massive 2,168 CPBVM.

So, in overall terms, from age 60 to 70, not a bad record.

Some of the reduction may well be inked to the fact that older drivers travel less than other adults, with about half the average mileage covered.

 

Demographically, the older population is forecast to expand and the number of people aged over 65 in the EU is predicted to double between 2010 and 2050.

Now a quick look at the science.

Aging brings with it several inescapable changes, including sensory, psychomotor and cognitive reductions – failing eyesight and hearing, slowing reactions, and slower and impaired judgement.

The higher reported fatality rate for older drivers is due to increasing frailty leading to death in a collision that would have potentially only injured a much younger driver.

Current UK legislation requires that driving licences are renewed when an individual reaches 70, and are valid for three years before requiring to be renewed again. This is a sensible approach.

When combined with requirements placed on medical practitioners to advise the UK Driver Vehicle Licencing Agency of any medical condition which would require the revocation of a driver’s licence.

But us oldies are fighting back!

It would appear from several studies that there is an almost compensatory mechanism at work, and older drivers are good at making sensible adjustments to their driving, and adapt their driving to reduce their exposure to higher risk driving conditions.

Many will stop driving at night, or will adjust the times of day or the days of week on which they travel.

Now – back to my original thoughts.

As an individual with no formalised forensic vehicle accident training, I accepted at face value the statement that elderly drivers should not drive cars with an automatic gearbox.

road-safety-character-elderly-driver

Surprisingly, my research seems to indicate the opposite, and a number of reports actually suggest that older drivers should use an automatic car.

In fact, a Dutch study was conducted by the University of Groningen using a professional driving simulator. The research placed young and older drivers in both an automatic transmission car and a car with a manual gearbox. The subjects were then required to drive several routes, including rural roads, rural roads with random varied intersections and finally a route that necessitated joining a busy motorway, overtaking vehicles and then exiting safely at a junction.

The results were interesting, in that the older drivers performed better in an automatic gearbox car than a manual.

This is possibly because the time lag induced by the age-diminished psycho-motor skills to both brake and shift down the gearbox simultaneously impaired driver performance. This was discussed as far back as 2002[3], where research suggested that older drivers should, in fact switch to driving an automatic car.

Interestingly, even the younger drivers in the sample also performed better when driving an automatic.

I accept that there needs to be a safe transition period, so maybe when drivers get to 65, when they are statistically at their safest, they should change to an automatic car, so that they have a few years to adapt to the differences, so that they may benefit from the additional levels of safety that a car with an automatic gearbox provides.

Manual-Transmissions  0009e2bb5fd7-3095-4bef-8

So, in six years, I will get my electric car, which will not only be cleaner in terms of emissions, but may even help me to stay alive a bit longer!

Mark Charlwood© January 2020

[1] Article Click4Reg April 2017

[2] Older Car Drivers Road Safety Factsheet (2016 data) Published May 2018

 

[3] Warshawsky-Livine & Shinar (2002)

Is the Spirit of Flower Power still alive?

Lounging on the sagging brown leather sofa in the Petersfield branch of Costa Coffee, I take a swig of my coffee.  Not my normal velvety creamy latte, but a black coffee. Dark and with no sweetener. Not anywhere near as satisfying, but under my new weight loss regime, essential.

A middle-aged woman walked briskly past the window, a stark contrast to the overcast day; bright floral trousers, baby-pink quilted jacket, a lurid multi coloured beanie hat, and electric blue plastic clogs.

Her flamboyant outfit sent my mind rocketing back 4 decades, to the mid 1960s.

The summer of 1967 was sunny and warm. I was eight years old, and loving my school holidays. To my boyish eyes, all of the local women were fabulously gorgeous, and there was an excitable buzz everywhere.

In the USA, the Summer of Love was happening, with over 100,000 young hippies assembling in Haight-Ashbury, a San Francisco suburb, preaching peace, happiness, self-determination, and rebellion against repression and materialism.

These flower children were hopeful and idealistic, as we all are when we are young, and want to see change.

I started to ponder things. The hippie dream was one of love and peace, with multi-ethnic communes striving to live with minimum impact on the environment – an ethos that was strong in 1967. I wondered how much of that dream has survived the intervening 52 years?

The hippie motto of “turn on, tune in and drop out” was a rallying call to disengage from contemporary middle-class values and materialism, and concentrate on expanding the mind – albeit propped up with the use of Psychedelic drugs and living in harmony – not just with each other but with the environment.

Pop culture drove some of this, with icons such as the Beatles promoting eastern religious teachings, and whilst vegetarianism had always been an option, it never had the wide promotion and uptake that it enjoyed with the hippie generation.

Hippies were generally aligned to “Make Love not War” and many thousands protested at the US’s involvement in the Vietnam war, including two demonstrations in London, leading to a number of injuries caused during confrontations with the Police.

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The Hippie counter-culture was influenced by a number of global events. In January of 1968, Alexander Dubček, the First Secretary of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party introduced a series of reforms intended to give more democratic freedom and civil rights to its citizens. By August of 1968, the Soviet Union aided by other Warsaw Pact countries invaded and ruthlessly supressed the “Prague Spring.”

At about the same time, in Vietnam, the Tet Offensive began, leading to the US military commander General Westmoreland announcing that the Viet Cong could only be defeated by drafting another 200,000 men, and activating the reserves.

This not only unsettled middle-class America, but also further affected the Hippie psyche. Draft-dodging became recognised as acceptable conduct amongst the disaffected young; In my part of the globe, England, I well remember the protests in London, and seeing in later years the student riots in France, as the idealist young rebelled against the old world order.

The increasing public awareness that there could be a better way led to the normalisation of the emergent ecologic movement, and that man should go back to living in harmony with the planet.

Music of the time reflected the changing values. Donovan sang “Universal Soldier” as a protest about the Vietnam War. Barry McGuire released “Eve of Destruction” as a protest against the broken civil rights system, war, the worsening situation in the Middle East and the assassination of John F Kennedy.

At the time, this angry protest was deemed so inflammatory that several radio stations in the USA banned it, as did Radio Scotland. Even dear old Auntie Beeb placed it on a restricted playlist, meaning that it couldn’t be broadcast on general entertainment shows.

So, what of the Hippie dream now?

Well, it may not exist in quite the same form, but be under no illusions, there are still plenty of idealistic people out there.

Greenpeace still upholds ecological ideals and frequently protests robustly.  More recently in the UK we have seen Extinction Rebellion protesting against the lack of state action on the climate emergency.

Highly organised and connected via social media they advocate peaceful protest against inaction by the government.

Their website suggests that protests should be occupying relevant and significant buildings, chanting at meetings, and gluing themselves to doors and infrastructure. Not quite so radical as French students setting cars ablaze, but still quite effective.

I think that pretty much everyone has heard of Greta Thunberg, the schoolgirl who protested climate change outside the Swedish parliament every Friday. Now an internationally recognised figure, and a speaker at global climate change conferences, she has captured the younger generation’s consciousness and has catalysed a global movement.

In the UK in 2019, School and University students called a strike to highlight climate change, as did youth from across the globe, from Australia to India, and the USA to Sweden. The events were co-ordinated using social media under the banner of Fridays for Future.

However, there are other equally able and motivated young people here in the UK, who don’t appear to be as well known.

Take, for example, Bella Lack. She is now 17 and has been an activist against climate change. She has over 150,000 followers on social media, and as a result of her activities, she is Youth Ambassador for the Born Free Foundation, The RSPCA, The Save the Asian Elephant and The Ivory Alliance.

Amy and Ella Meek, sisters who formed Kids Against Plastic, an organisation that is dedicated to reducing single use plastics, and educating young people in the environmental issues facing us, and highlighting the fact that young people have a voice, and can make a difference.

I believe that the Hippie Dream is still alive and kicking. Its face may have changed, but its spirit lives on in the likes of Greta, Amy, Ella and Bella.

These are the new Hippies – caring, thoughtful, and motivated to make the world a better place for all of us.

Maybe their music isn’t as good as that churned out in the 60s Summer of Love, and maybe we don’t have Woodstock or Flower Power…

 

Perhaps we should…

 

Mark Charlwood© 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ARE YOUR CLOTHES RESPONSIBLE FOR CLIMATE CHANGE?

The gloomy sky overhead Haslemere made it seem darker and colder than it was. A depressing midweek afternoon, with both Christmas and the New year landmarks disappearing over the rear horizon.

Costa Coffee was almost empty, and I shared the place with one Barista and the branch manager, both of whom were courteously ignoring me, and conducting a desultory, spasmodic conversation related to their respective family Christmases.

Christmas, as always, these days, was a mixed bag of news, but one item did catch my attention. A lot of media coverage was being dedicated to criticising the time-honoured Christmas jumper.

It seems that such jumpers are environmental disasters, and the bombardment of negativity made it almost feel as if the green lobby were deliberately greenwashing Christmas. In some cases, this leads to “green fatigue”, and I heard a lot of comments that bemoaned the continual media attention focused on environmental issues. I must admit, that I too “switched off”.

The net result is that, as usual, my interest was piqued, and I immediately fired up the laptop, and started researching the environmental impact of the garment industry.

What I discovered is interesting, yet shocking.

The fashion and garment industry is simply huge. It is worth US$ 1.3 trillion, and employs about 300 million people. It greedily consumes 60% of all textiles produced.

Approximately 5% of all EU household expenditure is for clothing and footwear, (80% clothing, 20% footwear) about 12.6kg per person.

EU research also revealed that more than 30% of the clothes hiding in European wardrobes had not been used for at least a year.

According to a report published by Worldbank[1] the garment industry is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions!  That is more than the combined annual Global Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) for Aviation and International Shipping[2], yet the media focus is nearly always focused on the transport sector.

Consider this; annually the garment industry uses 93 billion cubic metres of water – that is enough to satisfy the annual consumption needs of about five million people!

This is not just the water used for manufacturing garments, but also includes the irrigation requirements of the cotton and fibre crops.

Dyeing material and treatments during manufacturing contributes to 20% of worldwide wastewater generation.

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Polyester, one of the most popular fibres for clothing is made from fossil fuels, and is totally non-biodegradable. It does have the benefits of being tolerant of washing at lower temperatures, has a low water footprint, dries quickly, needs virtually no ironing, and it can be recycled into new fibres.

Now the downside. Recent studies have shown that just one domestic washing load of polyester clothing can discharge in the region of 700,000 microplastic fibres in the waste water, which subsequently release toxins into the marine environment, which eventually contaminate the human food chain.

This in itself is an appalling situation!

To put this into perspective, it takes about 3800 litres of water to make a pair of jeans. This equates to an equivalent CO2 emissions equivalent of about 34kg!

a machine sewing a jean

Photo Credit to © Jrstock

Garment production is resource-greedy, and materials used all have an impact on our world. For example, we are exhorted to wear natural products rather than synthetic, but perversely, natural products are the most un-eco-friendly – cotton contributes to excessive water consumption. The production of wool also adds significantly to methane emissions[3].

So, manufacturing clothing currently has a high environmental cost.

You may buy that pretty dress, or that cool shirt, or yet another pair of denim jeans. Do you think of the hidden environmental costs when you buy it?

Globally, clothing is massively under-utilised – and usage of clothing has slumped by about 36% compared with just fifteen years ago. Some items are discarded after just seven to ten wears. This is appalling!

An article in the Daily Mail reported that many women had adopted a throw away “wear it once” mentality related to clothing. The report suggested that much of this was due to the peer pressure exerted through social media in not wanting to be photographed or “tagged” wearing the same item more than once.

Model walk the runway at Fashion Show. Legs of model on catwalk runway show event.

Photo Credit to © Zoran Kompar 1 –

The associated costs are high and that’s not just from an ecological perspective. Globally, customers are wasting an estimated US$ 460 billion per year on waste and un-needed replacement.

Less that 1% of textile materials recovered from clothing is reused for clothing. Most of what is recovered is simply shredded and then used for lower purposes such as furniture stuffing, insulation, and cleaning cloths.

Unused clothing is often just dumped into landfill as refuse. There are high costs associated with the disposal of clothing, and to put this into perspective, the UK spends approximately £86 million per year to process and dispose of it.

This is also driven by the relatively new fast fashion culture. In the past, most clothing designers would launch their collections on a seasonal basis, but now many lower cost clothing stores offer new designs far more frequently, sometimes as often as weekly!

The fashion chain Zara offers 24 new clothing collections each year, and H&M between 12 and 16.[4]

Very often fast fashion is made from very cheap materials – almost planned obsolescence and often fails quite quickly.

The consumer is almost led to believe that clothing is virtually perishable goods and are seen as disposable in the same way as a cigarette lighter.

The pressure on consumers, both from social media and commercial retailers to refresh their wardrobes has led to a state where the average person buys 60% more clothing today than they did in 2000.

In 2000, 50 billion new garments were made globally. In just twenty years, this has doubled, according to research conducted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Significant environmental impact occurs during consumer use. Throughout the lifecycle of the clothes, they will be laundered many times, using water, chemicals and energy. Each time they will shed microplastics into the water system. They will then, in many cases, be tumble dried, and then ironed and pressed, using yet more energy.

So, what can be done?

Firstly, the old linear manufacturing system has to change. Linear systems simply take raw products, and through subsequent processes, manufacture a garment. The garment is sold, used, washed, used and then discarded.

A new circular economy needs to be created, where the discarded garment is collected, processed, recycled and remanufactured.

Clothing designers need to embrace a new concept of reducing waste at every stage of production. Products should be designed to have multiple life cycles using materials that are tailored to their intended subsequent uses.

Manufacturers should be considering materials such as bio-based polyesters (which use starches and lipids sourced from corn, sugar beet and plant oils) and man-made Cellulosic (MMCs) made from dissolved wood pulp. New products such as Lyocell (Tencel) made of cellulose from Eucalyptus which grow quickly and require no irrigation or pesticides must be rapidly incorporated into the manufacturing chain.

Retailers should also introduce much more effective labelling with tags clearly stating the item’s sustainability and emissions information, and better and more intuitive washing and care instructions.

Secondly, consumers need to make a significant change in mindset.

They need to be encouraged to make small behavioural changes such as reducing the temperatures at which they wash clothing, always washing a full load wherever possible, avoiding tumble drying wherever possible. and buying clothes made from ecologically friendly fibres.

Unwanted clothes should always be donated to charities rather than discarding them into landfill.

Dare I also say that clothes should be washed less frequently, airing them instead, and avoid any unnecessary ironing.

Instead of fast fashion, “Slow Fashion” should be adopted – buy fewer clothes of better quality, and keep those for longer.

New Ideas such as a clothes sharing economy. Why buy clothes, when you could lease them, or rent them for a pre-determined time?

High Tech solutions may be just around the corner – with Artificial Intelligence working with advanced three-dimensional printers that would simply produce a custom item of clothing instantly and on the spot. No overproduction or distribution and warehousing costs there eh?

So – maybe you should make a cup of coffee, and go and check your wardrobe.

I just checked mine, and I seem to have quite a lot of clothes cluttering up my life which haven’t been used for a year.

I only own 8 items of footwear – and that includes 2 pairs of hiking boots, a pair of motorcycle boots and a pair of dress cowboy boots. Two pairs of deck shoes, and two pairs of work Chelsea boots. All of them are regularly cleaned and maintained, so replacement is rare.

I now have to fill a number of bin bags to take a trip to the charity shop.

So – Buy cheap, buy twice!

Together all of us making a small difference, makes a big difference.

 

Mark Charlwood© 2020

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Worldbank

[2] 2.5% International Shipping; 2% Aviation

[3] European Parliament Briefing “Environmental Impact of the Textile and Clothing Industry©2019

[4] European Parliamentary Research Service

Modern Office?

I looked expectantly at the middle-aged woman sitting across the desk from me. I could feel my pulse thumping in my wrist, and my mouth was dry with anticipation. Would she, or wouldn’t she?

She smiled, breaking the tension. “Yes, I think we’ll go ahead with your electronic typewriter.  We’ll start off with one machine, which I will place with the typing pool supervisor, and if she likes it, we will order a further twenty machines”.

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I swallowed hard. I was thinking of the commission.  My old maths master would have been proud, as during his classes of modern maths, I would stare hopelessly out of the window, whilst wrestling with the problems of tessellations, matrices and other modern maths nonsense.

However, I had become quite adept at knocking percentage discounts off, and then working out my commission to a reasonable level of accuracy.  In this case, I estimated that even after the discount I would have to give to land such a sizeable order I would scoop a little over two and a half grand!

Back then the average wage was about £5000 per year, so a cool six months’ salary.

A few weeks later, I got the go ahead, and delivered twenty further machines into the offices of a medium sized factory. More precisely into the typing pool.

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How times have changed.

In order to keep their orders rolling in, that factory needed 21 college-trained typists, whose sole job was to type out letters, quotes, orders, specifications and manuals. The noise generated by 21 typewriters was phenomenal, and the output continued without remission from nine in the morning until five in the afternoon. A whole room in the bowels of the building.

Office clerks would walk down to the typing pool with memos, and other draft copy and would place these into a basket where the supervisor would allocate the work out to the typists.

A junior manager would normally share a personal assistant with two or three others managers, and this individual would usually be trained to take dictation in shorthand, which nowadays is a virtually dead art.

Generating correspondence was a labour-intensive task back then!

Other subtle and sinister advances in office technology, such as dictation equipment removed the need for a secretary skilled in Shorthand. Managers were now evolving to sit alone in their office, dictating their letters and memos into an electronic recorder, using magnetic tape, normally contained in a small cassette.

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The skilled secretary could now be replaced by an audio typist, who would transcribe the audio tape, whilst wearing a headphone and using a foot control to start and stop the recording.

Brave new world.

Further “evolution” has meant that current managers and executives, even those at the highest levels of seniority generate their own correspondence, and from pretty much anywhere on the globe.

Modern offices are relatively quiet, except for the muted clatter of fingers pecking away at keyboards.

Egalitarian too, with male employees openly accepting a task that thirty years ago would be seen as “woman’s work”.

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Gone, then are the days of fingers blackened with carbon paper, the thwack of typewriter hammers thumping text onto a page, and a whole room filled with young women; the admin clerk who opened the incoming mail, the intimacy of sitting in the office with a trusted secretary, dictating mail, safe in the knowledge that despite the ramblings, the completed work would be correctly spelled, accurately punctuated, and grammatically perfect. The signed document would be whisked away to the post room, leaving only the smell of delicate perfume.

Forgotten, then, the adolescent thrill of sitting in the office, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the ladies of the typing pool – a fashion catwalk, and the start of many teenage fantasies, and in some cases dates. The smell of hot electronics mixed with a faint aroma of methylated spirits, completed letters left on the desk in a folder for signature.

Replaced by what?  Efficiency. Sterile, drab and devoid of human interaction. Individual managers, efficiently bunkered in their electronic silos, creating and typing their own correspondence, often by email – signatures inserted digitally – even the humble ballpoint pen being slowly replaced by biometric data.

Auto correct and spellcheckers unerringly ensure that documents are almost perfect, and it may be days before anyone receives a hard copy document.

Thirty years ago, I would have either drafted this article in pen, or dictated it.

However, I have created it all. Consulted nobody. Flirted with no one.

I may be old fashioned, but I kind of miss those days.

Welcome to brave new world.

Mark Charlwood 2019 ©️