The following is a modified extract from my forthcoming hitherto unpublished autobiographical novel “Making Connections”
Over the next few weeks, I was to work closely with Ben, learning how to fit everything from direct line phones, small private exchanges, and office extensions.
However, in line with the requirements of apprentice training, I was to move to a new duty within a few days, and would be working with another section of installing engineers.
It was a bright, sunny morning in early January, as I cycled into the yard, whistling cheerily. I had enjoyed a very drunken and debauched Christmas, culminating in me ingloriously puking my guts up in the toilet at one o’clock on Christmas morning. Needless to say, my parents were somewhat unimpressed with the conduct of their sixteen year old son.
I had risen very late on that day in order to make a very feeble and half-hearted attempt to eat some Christmas lunch. Unlike my parents, my younger brother found my delicate state very amusing, but I rose above it in a very dignified manner, and retired to my chambers as soon as I could excuse myself from the table.
I think Mum and Dad forgave my transgressions by New Year’s Day, and I subsequently launched myself enthusiastically into 1976.
The morning of the first of January dawned, and I woke to find myself in a strange room, laying on a strange sofa. Next to me was a strange woman, and by our nakedness, and the way she was draped across me, I can only assume that we had shared the New Year’s celebrations in a very favourable fashion.
I gently disengaged myself from her sleepy clutches, and pulled my jeans and sweatshirt on. After a good deal of silent searching, I finally found my beaten up old trainers in the oven. This was somewhat bemusing, as I could have sworn I left them in the fridge.
I spotted my mate, in whose parent’s home we had been partying. He was still unconscious, clutching a bucket and was semi-naked.
The lounge looked like a scene from a B-Grade zombie movie, and in the gloom, I could make out several bodies, laying in the debris of our partying. I had never seen so many empty beer cans and wine bottles. The ashtrays were overflowing, and the place would take forever to clear up.
I eased the front door open, and recoiled from the bright, crisp, sunlight of the day. Squinting, I unsteadily tottered up the garden path, trying to remember how I got here.
More importantly, where was here?
I was in a strange part of the town that I was unfamiliar with. I finally remembered that I had ridden here on my bike, and that I had dumped it in the garden shed.
I pulled the shed door open, and disentangled my bike from the couple asleep on the floor. It looked like they had both passed out whilst on the job, and I grinned, regretting to hell that I didn’t have a camera.
I did have a paintbrush though, as it was laying on the shelf, so I quietly opened a tin of paint at random, and proceeded to decorate the chap’s buttocks. He didn’t even stir. I wondered how long it would take to remove.
With a chuckle, I swung my leg over the bike, and pedaled precariously up the road, hoping to find a familiar landmark from which I could navigate back home.
Getting to a junction, I spotted a house that I recognised from my paper round many years ago. Having gained a mental fix of my position, it took me a further twenty minutes to pedal my way groggily home.
All in all, my start to 1976 had been great fun. I had enjoyed a great party, had a very good time with a not unattractive woman, and managed to cycle home without either falling off, spewing up, or being killed.
Still thinking these thoughts, I strolled into the yard office, to see Ben talking with Nick Nixon. Nick was to be my new mentor, as Ben was attending a training course at Bletchley Park. Nick was plump, tousle-haired and very loud. In my opinion, he was also a certifiable lunatic.
“What Ho!” He said, noticing me, “Grab a tea, and meet me by my van….it’s the Bedford HA parked by the bike shed”
I made a quick cup of tea, and stood by the window, idly watching the traffic meandering up and down. I smiled. I could see my old school across the road, and I smugly imagined the glum faces on the kids as they filed into their classrooms for registration. A few short months ago, that was me.
I swilled my cup out, dumping it on the draining board, and strode out to the car park, collecting my toolkit from my locker en-route.
When I got to the van, Nick was leaning against it, rolling a cigarette. “Help yourself lad” he said, throwing me a battered tobacco tin, and some green Rizla papers.
I caught them adroitly, and opened the tin, relishing the rich smell of the moist tobacco. I pulled a paper from the case, and rolled a fairly inexpert tube, and ran it across my tongue.
I was a recent newcomer to smoking, and had smoked a few Players No 6 with friends at school, but was always short of money, so was not a smoker in the true sense of the word.
Now I was earning money. £18.35 per week to be precise. After tax, this was about £14.00 a week. I gave my Mum £7.00 a week for keep, leaving me £7.00. From this, I was able to buy my lunches, and clothes, and still have enough to buy a book, or a music cassette. Beer was only 32p a pint, so I could afford to go out on a Friday night with my friends and have a very good evening.
I was also able to afford to smoke. I started off buying tailor-made cigarettes, mainly Guards or Embassy as they were cheap. However, most of the blokes at work rolled their own.
I soon came to see the logic of this. Ready-made cigarettes are treated with chemicals, and once lit, they continue to burn all the way to the filter.
As engineers, we are frequently using both hands – wiring up equipment, and building up systems. Tailor-mades tend to be wasted. Roll ups on the other hand, go out if they are not being actively smoked. So, you can Stoke up, have a couple of drags, put it in the ashtray, and continue working. Ten minutes later, you would have finished a task, and could relight the Rollie
So, now I had my own ‘baccy tin, and could roll a cigarette. Not a pretty one, but I had finally learnt the correct amount of tobacco to roll, and how tightly to roll it. Too much tobacco, and it won’t draw. Too little and it burns like a forest fire, and is done in 2 minutes. Just enough, and it’s ideal.
However, I had yet to perfect the neat cylindrical tubes that my workmates could roll, some using just one hand to do it. – whilst driving I might add!
Having rolled a ciggy each, we jumped in the van, and Nick fired up the engine, and hurtled in reverse out of the parking space. Flinging the wheel on full opposite lock, he gunned the engine, and we screamed out of the yard, accompanied by the sound of skidding wheels. I could hear equipment being thrown around in the back.
I was soon to discover that this was Nick’s normal driving style. Everything was full acceleration, and full braking.
The Bedford HA was truly gutless, and he had to really work at it to get it to 50. Ben’s Ford Escort van could run rings round it.
At this point in time, I was about to start learning to drive. I would be 17 in May, so I was observing all I could about how a car was operated. So, as Nick was driving, I was trying to anticipate his gear changes, mimicking his use of the accelerator and clutch pedals, moving my feet around in the footwell.
I had been doing this for a few days, and thought I was being discrete, until Nick yelled “Not yet, lad, I’m still accelerating”. He laughed as I squirmed with embarrassment. “When do you start learning?” “May” I responded. “Ok…….when we get on farm tracks, dirt roads and lanes and such like, you can have a go” He glanced across at me, still smiling.
We chatted amiably as he drove us to Copthorne. We were due to fit a House Exchange System 4 into some of the buildings at the Copthorne School. The job was big enough for us to be there two days in a row.
We pulled up outside the main school building, and the caretaker wandered out from the gloom to meet us.
The self contained exchange equipment was to be fitted in the cellar, with the main switchboard phone to be located in the school secretary’s office. Further extensions were to be fitted in the staff room, the kitchen, the maintenance workshop, and the caretaker’s office.
As I hadn’t attended the course for wiring up the exchange yet, Nick suggested that I run the cables to the various rooms, so I spent the next few hours running cream cabling around the building. It was undemanding work, and I had two of the runs neatly pinned to the walls by lunchtime.
Once we had wolfed down lunch, kindly provided by the school, Nick and I settled down to a post prandial cigarette. Eventually, we could avoid it no longer, so we went back to work.
I had the time-consuming job of bringing a cable to the caretakers house. This was a long run, and I needed to suspend a span of cable across the playground. I’m afraid that this took the rest of the afternoon.
Well, until half past two anyway.
We had to be back at the yard for 1500, as we both needed to do a bit of shopping. So we threw the tools into the back of the van, and went back to East Grinstead. We were coming back tomorrow anyway.
The next day, we completed the job, and were back in the yard by ten o clock. After a cup of tea, and a cigarette, Nick phoned control for our next job.
In the mid nineteen seventies, Post Office Telecommunications operated a simple work allocation system. Faults and job control was located in HQ in Tunbridge Wells, and every morning, the engineers would call in and would be given a job number and details of the nature of the work, and the tests that had been carried out. Each job was allocated a number of units.
Each unit was one man hour. So, a simple job, say, fitting a single exchange line into a suburban terraced house would probably carry 1.5 units.
Naturally, larger jobs would carry more units, so a big installation at an office could carry maybe 16 units. One man for two days, or two men for one day.
It was a simple and effective system.
On this occasion, Nick came off the phone looking glum. “It’s a biggie lad” he said, “Empty offices in Church Road. Recover a private exchange system and 18 extensions. It’s 8 units. That’s all day. You don’t count” he said.
That was true. As an unqualified apprentice, although I could assist, my labour wasn’t included in the calculations.
“Let’s go and check the job out then” he said. He dug around in his pocket, looking for his lighter. I proffered mine, a shiny new Zippo – we all used them, as they were better in outside windy conditions.
Stoking up, he wandered to the van, with me following on. We drove up through the High Street, and cruised slowly past the war memorial.
I have always loved the “top of the town” as it has a feeling of permanence, and is steeped in history, with many of the buildings going back to the Middle Ages. The old jail goes back to the early 1400s. We turned left into Church Road, and screeched to a stop outside the empty office.
We were on double yellows lines, and I mentioned it to Nick. He laughed, and said that “Happy Jack” would be ok with it, but to be on the safe side, he asked me to switch on the bar.
I looked at him blankly. “Bar?” I repeated…….
“Yes. – Bee Ay Ar. Beacon, Amber, Rotating”. Ahhh. Now I understood.
I reached back into the cab, and switched on the beacon, and could hear it’s motor grinding away on the roof.
We opened the dull red door to the old four storey building, and wandered around, looking at the wiring we would have to recover. The exchange system was downstairs in a grimy cold and damp cellar, and the last two extension phones were located in tiny offices up in the eaves.
Nick sucked his teeth, and sat down on an old box, fishing his cigarette kit out of his jacket pocket. Swiftly rolling a cigarette, he tossed it at me, and rolled another. We lit up, and after snorting twin plumes of smoke, he said
“We’ll go back to the yard, have lunch, and then come back and make a start…..if we work quickly we can get most of it completed by close of play, and just finish off tomorrow.”
So saying, we ambled back to the van, and drove back to the yard, quite slowly, as Nick was obviously preoccupied with his thoughts.
When we arrived at the yard, it was empty. We were obviously first back.
The phone was ringing as we wandered into the office. “Bet that’s control” said Nick, picking up the phone.
I lit another cigarette, and put the kettle on, knowing that a brew is by far the most important activity that a good apprentice should master.
“Well I’ll be fu*$ed!” Exclaimed Nick, putting the phone down.
“What” I asked.
He shot me a look, and waved the pink flimsy that he had jotted the next job upon under my nose.
I read it out “Supply fit and install private exchange with 18 extensions, Church Road, East Grinstead………..isn’t that where we’ve just been…..” Nick clamped his hand over my mouth “SHHHHHSH!”
He leaned towards me, quietly explaining that we had both flimsies. That means we had the decommissioning and the re installing. A total of 16 units. Two days.
Two days when we can account for our time. Yet need do nothing.
The penny dropped. I grinned. “so, what will we do tomorrow?”
“Pick you up from the end of your road at 0830. I reckon a day or two in Brighton would do us the world of good”
Let me know what you think… Is it worth me bashing out more chapters? Let me know by leaving a comment.
The sky outside is an impossibly brilliant blue, with just the occasional cloud to add texture and remind me that nature is hard at work, even if I am not.
This is an absolutely perfect day for flying. Definitely VMC (For my non-aviation friends and readers, that is Visual Meteorological Conditions, meaning that navigating and staying in control of the aircraft is performed by looking out of the windscreen – rather than flying in cloud or above the cloud, thereby having to fly by using the aircraft instruments, known as Instrument Meteorological Conditions).
The perfect day for a fifteen minute trundle over to the airstrip, to pull my aircraft from the hangar. A quick but thorough pre-flight inspection, and then away up into the sky, to meander through the air, with no particular place to go.
Maybe a leisurely buzz south to the coast, then east to Beachy Head, and then back over the sunlit rolling chalk and downlands that make up large swathes of Sussex and Hampshire.
So, why then, am I sitting here in my den, hammering an article into my keyboard.
Well, for one thing, my aeroplane is currently being reassembled after a major rebuild. It’s sitting forlornly in the gloom of the hangar, its wings rigged, and its engine and systems all fitted. However, with no flight control surfaces rigged, she might as well be a boat.
Secondly, I am awaiting the arrival of the technician from Autoglass to change the windscreen on my car.
Travelling back home from work one afternoon, I thought that I had come under machine-gun attack, and the volley of stones that hit the screen might as well have been real bullets, as they plunged deep into the laminated glass, and with a noise like a pistol shot, three long cracks propagated across the screen.
A short phone call to my insurers and £75.00 lighter, and the windscreen would be fixed. It appeared that as I had previously had two chips repaired, this would be a brand new screen.
Well, I was expecting to have to make an appointment to drop the car off at a repair station, but no, it would be changed on my drive, and all in about an hour.
So, staying with the vehicle theme, some of you may have read my previous article on the levels of pollution that is caused by the interaction of car tyres on roads?
Vehicle tyres degrade with use, and the erosion of the tread causes the release of micro-particles that wash into waterways, and ultimately into the seas and oceans.
So, a new piece of space-age technology caught my eye.
My first exposure to NASA was as a barely-ten-year-old boy watching the launch of Apollo 11 on the 16th of July 1969, and subsequently watching recorded footage of the lunar landing on school TV on Monday 21st July.
To say that I was awestruck was an understatement. Subsequently I couldn’t read enough about space, and became an avid reader of the science fiction pulp magazines such as Astounding Science Fiction and Amazing Stories that my dear old Dad used to buy from the secondhand bookstall not far from the tube station.
I think that by the time I was 13, I had the complete works of the mighty Isaac Asimov on my bookshelves, and was familiar with all of the Sci-Fi greats; Arthur C Clarke, Robert Heinlein and Philip K Dick.
A few days before the launch of Apollo 11, the BBC aired it’s first episode of Star Trek, and I had become a fan almost instantly.
And I have been a real fan of quality science fiction (not to be confused with science fantasy such as the Marvel Superheroes) ever since.
There has always been, however, a blurring of the lines between science fiction, and science fact. Which drives which?
In Star Trek, (the original series) we saw Captain Kirk being presented with what looks like an iPad tablet for him to sign. Uhura, the Comms Officer wears what looks like an ancestor to a Bluetooth earpiece, and Motorola designed a flip phone that looked suspiciously like a Star Trek communicator.
I have to admit, that I am REALLY looking forward to using a dematerialisation transporter. Imagine just setting the co-ordinates of a friend’s house in California, and hitting the button and arriving microseconds later.
A universal replicator that ends poverty, and makes the use of money totally redundant…?
So, it seems that Science Fact is now about to follow what was Science Fiction up until a few decades ago.
The continuing exploration of Mars has been conducted to a great extent by the Mars Rover vehicles, which have been sedately pottering over the Martian landscape since 1997. Kitted out with sensors, cameras and communications equipment these vehicles have been surveying our nearest planetary neighbour.
In order to traverse the hostile terrain, the current rover, Perseverance, is equipped with six 52.5cm (20.7 inch) wheels made from aluminium and springy titanium spokes. The wheels are fitted with cleats for additional traction.
It seems that the NASA-developed tyre technology may be coming to a vehicle near you – well, initially, a bicycle near you!
These highly advanced tyres are designed by the SMART (Shape Memory Alloy Radial Technology) Tire company, and manufactured by NASA using a highly elastic material called NiTinol+.
Virtually all elastic materials will stretch, and then they may almost revert back to their previous shape and strength. Most will lose their resilience and potency – think of a well-used bungee strap.
The clever thing about the metal alloy used in the construction of Perseverance’s wheels is that it actually changes its molecular composition when it is flexed or distorted. Once no longer subjected to any loads, the material simply returns to its prior profile, and the molecules are rearranged to their previous composition.
Tyres constructed from this material would no longer need to have inner tubes, or be inflated with air – no more punctures, less weight, and the added strength of Titanium.
The outer surface of the “tyre” may be coated with a highly resilient synthetic rubber called Polyurethanium.
The robust nature of the tyre combination means that a SMART tyre will probably exceed the life of the vehicle to which it is fitted! There will be no risks of punctures, and deflations, no need to use sealants or carry a spare wheel.
In comparison to conventional steel, this new alloy, known as METL, is thirty times quicker to recover to its original profile. This made it ideal for use in the hostile environment and rugged terrain of Mars.
Now the good news!
These revolutionary tyres are about to be launched – initially for bicycles, which will enable further development to be carried out for heavier vehicles.
SMART Tires has already collaborated with the Micro-mobility scooter provider, Spin (owned by the Ford Motor Company) to develop tyres for electric scooters.
Currently, this is a small-scale project, but in due course, it will become a primary challenge for the $250 billion global tyre industry to adapt to and deliver. This will be driven, in part, by the ever more urgent need to reduce emissions of any kind.
SMART Tires aims to launch their range of tyres to the cycling community by 2022, and once in full production, will no doubt start developing wheel/tyre units for the automobile and motorcycle industries.
I imagine that the launch range of bike tyres will be expensive initially, and will appeal to only the upper echelons of competition cyclists, but the economy of scale will undoubtedly reduce prices to the level where they may be bought in your local high street bicycle shop.
Following on from my most recent publication, one of my most loyal and long-standing readers (and good friend) commented that it was “A particularly (expletive deleted) gloomy blog today, Mr. Charlwood. Glass half empty is it?!!”
OK, I admit that it was unlike most of my articles and was a little doom-laden, but I was, indeed, trying to make a point – and that is we really don’t take our personal data security that seriously.
During the text-based conversation that followed, we got around to talking about social media, and how much time it absorbs without our awareness.
When I used Facebook regularly, I could easily spend an hour and a half scrolling through my news feed, and commenting on friends’ activities and responding to posts mentioning me.
It shocked me when I analysed my Screen Time app on my Apple iPhone to see just how much time I was investing in what is, to all intents and purposes, a solo activity.
It seemed that I was spending 5 hours a day staring into my screen. To be fair, 2 hours of that was using the satnav function of the ‘phone in the car.
I hasten to add, that it’s not that I forget how to drive the 44 miles to work, but for updates on traffic, and route optimisation, but the Screen Time system still includes it in the tracking. I must remember to re-configure the Screen Time app so that it ignores screen use when I am using Waze.
So, 3 hours!
3 hours is a lot. Over 95% of that time was using Facebook. 2% was using LinkedIn. Luckily, Facebook was the only social media I really used – I could have been spending far more time if I also used Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat.
I stopped using Facebook three weeks ago. This was as a direct result of Facebook’s “bully-boy” tactics of denying both local and international news from being shared on its’ Australian service. This was pretty much the straw that broke the camels’ back. I had been getting increasingly uncomfortable with the way that the platform harvests my personal data.
Since then, the time I spend locked into my ironically isolated world, whilst I “engage” socially with my friends has reduced enormously.
My Screen Time has plummeted by 70% – and my daily average screen time is 2h 41m which includes 1h 54m of travel.
I note that my most used apps are WhatsApp (soon to be deleted and replaced with Signal), Messages, Safari, LinkedIn, and Mail. Not surprising really, as without the need to be locked into social media, I am spending time on the phone actively communicating.
It seems that I am not alone. My friend was also shocked that he was spending over four hours daily looking at his ‘phone screen. Like me, it seemed that he imagined his usage was “maybe an hour a day”
What was more shocking, according to him, was that he doesn’t use social media!
Having looked into this, my research suggests that 4 hours a day is about the average amount of time for adult individuals to spend on their smartphones. I’m pretty sure that all of these people would also be surprised to discover how much time they were spending locked in cyberspace, rather than existing in reality.
Since I discovered the true value of the Apple Screen Time function, I am much more aware of my device usage. The system is self-managing, and it’s simple to configure using the settings menu.
I also use an iPad, and a MacBook Pro computer, so I have set the system up to combine my usage across the devices, so that I get a true picture of how I am spending my time.
For those of you who use Apple products for the whole family, the app will even be able to show individual family members times, which would be useful to monitor the time that children spend on their phones or iPads.
There is an important factor to this, as there is well-documented and respected research that clearly shows that excessive use of computer screens may be injurious to health.
There are several aspects to this.
Firstly, the display screens of modern computers, smartphones, tablets and e-book readers are backlit by LEDs. This gives a crisper, brighter image, but at the same time emits powerful light in the blue colour spectrum.
Fluorescent lighting and the newer LED bulbs being used for environmental reasons also emit light in the blue spectrum, as does the sun.
In our natural environment, the amount of light that we receive regulates our circadian rhythm – our sleep to awake cycle.
As the sun begins to set, the reduction in solar light eventually triggers the pineal gland, seated deep in our brains to produce melatonin, a hormone that controls the sleep-wake cycle.
In most cases, the release of melatonin will cause the individual to fall asleep. As light levels increase at dawn, we wake up.
Melatonin not only regulates our sleep to wake cycle, but in vertebrates, it also synchronises seasonal rhythmicity, and triggers such biological factors such as the time to reproduce, and hibernate. Clever stuff from Mother Nature.
However, using our screens late at night (who hasn’t laid in bed watching a Netflix movie on their tablet?) interferes with our brain chemistry and makes it more difficult to fall asleep and may cause disrupted sleep patterns.
Blue light is also injurious to the retina, and a recent Harvard study concluded that the output of high energy blue light from modern screens may cause eye health problems.
The retina is located at the rear of the eyeball, and is made up of multiple layers of very thin tissue. The retina also contains photo-receptor cells which capture the images of what a person is looking at.
A small proportion of cells, known as Retinal Ganglion Cells are not used directly by our vision systems, but they do monitor ambient light levels, and feed this information into the brain to assist in controlling our circadian patterns (sleep/awake) and for controlling the light response of the eye pupil – dilating it in lower light, and constricts the pupil in brighter conditions.
However, High Energy Visible (HEV) Blue light may harm the retina. Some of the potential damage may be prevented by a group of cells known as the macula. The macula is a tiny yellow area in the eye which absorbs excess blue and ultraviolet light.
Should the yellow pigment become too thin, then blue light can bombard the retina.
The Harvard medical study suggests that after chronic exposure to HEV blue light, (overusing our tablets, phones, laptops etc) there will be a predicted rise in the number of age-related macular degeneration conditions, Glaucoma, and retinal degenerative diseases.
Maybe we should schedule a sterile period each day, during which we have no interaction with our technology. Maybe dump Facebook? Instead of sitting slumped on our sofa, living our lives vicariously through the activities of others, we should go for a walk, or ride a bike.
Maybe use our phone to, dare I say it, make a voice call?
Anyhow, just in case anyone finds this article too gloomy, here are pictures of a rabbit riding a motor-scooter, and a dear little fawn.
Who likes history? If you do, then I invite you to take a little journey with me…
Cast your mind back to the early 1990s.
If you were one of the 10% of the UK population that possessed a cell-phone at that time, then you may well have owned one of these – a Nokia 1610.
It was a simple device – able to make and receive telephone calls, and send and receive text (SMS) messages. I was using this model of phone back then, and at the time it was regarded as one of the top phones available.
It had a tiny screen by today’s standards, and was quite bulky. The antenna, whilst small, was still an intrusion, and would often malevolently jam the phone into my pocket.
In 1996, 27% of the UK population owned a PC (In 2017, 88% of us had a computer at home). Mine was a Packard Bell desktop system that I bought from the now-vanished Dixons.
I can’t remember how much the system cost me, but I do remember that I was entitled to a Freeserve email account, which I used for a good few years before moving over to web-based systems such as Outlook, Google or more recently Imail.
My home set-up was ludicrously simple. No passwords, or hunting for that elusive Wi-Fi router.
Just plug the Modem into the network port on the PC, plug the other end into the phone line using an adapter, and the system was ready for use.
Getting onto the internet though, was a whole different matter. This was the heady days of Dial-Up Internet.
Simply open the web browser, and hit the connect button. The auto-dialler inside the PC would dial the number for the Internet Service Provider, and once connected, you would have been treated to the squeals and squawks of the computers setting up the connection.
Once connected, the upload and download speeds were truly awful. I well remember downloading a detailed photograph. It appeared line by line, and eventually, after five minutes or so, I got bored with waiting and went downstairs to make a cup of tea. I came back twenty minutes later – and it was still not finished.
Today, with fibre broadband, images appear almost instantaneously!
The internet was pretty simple too. Basic browsers that contained a multitude of adverts, and rather unsophisticated email. Shopping online was in its infancy – eBay had only been started in 1995.
So, the interconnected world really consisted of a computer, hard wired to a modem, and the embryonic world wide web.
The only real risk attached to surfing the web, was that of unwittingly downloading malicious software (malware) or computer virus.
The first computer virus was designed in the early 1970s. It was created as part of a research programme conducted by BBN Technologies in the USA.
Researcher Bob Thomas designed the programme to be self-replicating and was targeted at DEC computers that shared the ARPANET network. This virus was called Creeper.
Bob and his team then designed a programme called Reaper which, once released into the ARPANET, hunted out the infected machines, and then killed the virus by deleting it.
Obviously, breaking into computers was seen as a target of opportunity to the less honest members of society, and viruses started appearing more frequently.
Some were just mischievous, such as the Elk Cloner virus (written by a ninth grader in a Pittsburgh High School in 1981) which upon its 50th opening would display a poem, the first line of which was “Elk Cloner: The program with a personality.”
Others were more malevolent, and were designed to either destroy records and data from the infected computer, steal personal data, record website access passwords and log keystrokes. Ransomware enables the attacker to hijack a computer, and then demand payment to unlock the machine.
The resulting loss of public confidence saw the arrival of cyber-security, specialist organisations that analysed the emerging viruses, worms, trojans and malware and wrote anti-virus software, which could be loaded onto a computer and which could then subsequently scan it for infection and quarantine any suspect viruses into a part of the disc not readily accessible by the user, or by the system.
Fast-forward to 2021.
The internet has evolved – and BOY has it developed! If you are privileged enough to live in a developed country, you may already be using fibre-optic broadband, offering speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second.
According to recent UK survey Hyperoptic offer a 1GB service for an introductory offer of £45.00 per month!
This is jaw-droppingly fast. To put it into perspective, it would have taken about 3.5 days to download a 4K film (about 2GB) using a 56kbit dial up service.
My previous broadband was copper-wire based, and the fastest speed I ever achieved for a download was 8Mb/sec – and that same 4K film would have been delivered to me in 35 minutes.
My latest broadband is totally optical and is Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) and my download speed is a minimum of 71Mb/sec – that 4K movie is now mine in about 4 minutes.
One of the major advantages of broadband, is that unlike a dial up service, the system is “always on”. The old modem has been replaced with a router, which essentially does the same job, but additionally acts as a network hub, through which multiple devices may be connected simultaneously.
Whilst is it possible to connect equipment to the router using a network cable, most routers offer Wi-Fi connection, and this allows several Wi-Fi/internet-enabled devices to connect to the internet simultaneously.
With a sufficiently fast connection, it is possible for SWMBO to watch a movie on Netflix, whilst I catch up with a friend on a video call, or listen to the internet radio.
Why am I rambling on about this?
Well, technological advances never stop, and there is much publicity about the new 5G (5th generation communications network) which will increase the speed and capacity of the internet even further.
In my previous article, “Who is Driving YOUR Car?” I explored the embryonic Intelligent Transport System, which relies on internet-enabled vehicles and sensors in the fixed transport network, communicating with each other to provide optimised traffic flows and traffic safety management.
This is only made possible with 5G communications and ultra-fast internet systems, and the Internet of Things (IoT)
The Internet of Things is the medium through which our emerging “Smart Society” will operate.
In essence, the IoT consists of items that have the capability to connect to the internet, and communicate and exchange data with other similarly enabled things. These “things” may have sensors, software and other systems to support their intended purposes.
It could be a device as simple as a smart lightbulb that is able to be activated by a smart assistant such as Alexa or Siri, or from a suitably equipped smartphone – located perhaps many miles away.
Such items are already used in intelligent Building Management and Control systems, which employ an array of interconnected sensors to monitor heat and humidity, occupancy levels, lighting, lifts (Elevators for my US readers 😁) and security within a building.
Intelligent Healthcare uses the IoT to monitor medical data such as cardiac performance and blood pressure, or blood glucose levels. This enables improved management of an individual’s medical conditions. Significant research is being conducted in this area, and there are already several emerging disciplines and specialities.
The Internet of Things is also used in industry and manufacturing, to monitor and control processes – making use of internet-enabled sensors.
We are now seeing “Smart Homes” being built, which use the same type of Wi-Fi-connected IoT devices to control home environmental systems.
I imagine that a fair percentage of you may well be protecting your property with Closed Circuit TV Cameras. It’s probable that most of these cameras will be Wi-Fi-connected to your home broadband – and from there out onto the web.
Maybe some of you will have an App on your smartphone or tablet that enables you to remotely view the camera feeds.
Smart speakers such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Homepod and Google’s Home are wirelessly connected to home networks, and are continuously monitoring their environment for their wake-up command (such as “Alexa”)
Smart doorbells enable us to see who is at the front door using integral video cameras and transmitting the footage over the internet via the home router and to an app on a smart phone.
Smart appliances, such as Samsung’s Smart Refrigerator now offer us the ability to manage our food.
An internal camera within the fridge compartment enables the user to view the contents by using a smart phone. The system will also monitor food expiry dates, without the door being opened, thus saving power.
Some models also enable groceries to be ordered via the fridge – a rather redundant feature in my opinion, as you can order your groceries online from your phone, tablet, laptop or PC.
Or, for the truly bold and adventurous – take a risk, and actually go into a shop and buy your groceries.
A large LCD screen is provided in order to display a family calendar, and if you really haven’t got enough tech in your home, it’s also fitted with a 5W Stereo sound system to play your favourite music tracks.
Poor Alexa… She may feel quite outranked by the domestic white goods!
Smart Washing machines are able to connect to the home network, and may be controlled remotely using an app, and are able to automatically sense loads, apply the correct dose of detergent, and add the optimal amount of water.
On some models, the best programme for the laundry load may be selected by filling in a few pieces of information on the app.
I’m sure it won’t be long before your garments will be fitted with a passive RFID tag, or a label barcode, and the machine will scan the items as they are loaded, and then set the correct wash programme.
Should an item that is not compatible with other items in the load be added inadvertently then the machine will inhibit the washing cycle from starting until the guilty culprit is removed.
No more business shirts stained girlie pink then!
As a society, we are all used to smart watches, and fitness trackers, (which all fall within the scope of wearable technology) and have become very complacent about the interconnectivity with our other tech.
And this is where the real problem lies…
Security MUST be one of your top priorities these days. I have removed my profile permanently from Facebook, as the platform discretely harvests everything I “like” and every comment I make. My preferences and personal data are then sold to other organisations, without my permission and regardless of the ethics involved.
Think about why Google and Facebook are free! There really isnosuch thing as a free lunch.
Most of you will already be protecting your data and PC behind an encrypted firewall, with passwords, multi-factor authentication, and PIN codes. In all probability, you will be paying for some kind of anti-virus protection which will (hopefully) prevent your data from being compromised.
The IoT makes this a lot more difficult.
The processing power inside some of the connected devices, and to an extent, their size may well prevent them from having all but the most basic of security protection – if any.
The CCTV you bought to protect your home may well be being used by the manufacturer, or a malicious hacker to access a backdoor into your router, from where it can monitor data passing up and down your comms link.
So, all of these innocent devices are hooked to the web via your router.
Lots of individuals I know never both changing the default password supplied with their devices, and will happily discuss bank details, finances, and other personal details within “earshot” of their smart speaker.
So, nasty hacker chap decides to wage an attack on his ex-employer. By harnessing the combined IoT devices of many households, and requiring all of them to connect simultaneously to the target company’s website will cause it to crash.
This is an extreme example of a Distributed Denial of Service Attack (DDoS), where innocent PCs and devices are hijacked to overload the target’s website.
Many large and respected companies have been attacked in this manner, despite having the financial clout and technical expertise to surround themselves with multiple layers of digital security.
In 2017, Google came under a sustained DDoS attack, originating from China, which, according to Google, lasted for up to six months.
In 2020, Amazon Web Services (AWB) was taken down for three days following a similar, yet more sophisticated attack.
Internet security expert Brian Krebs was attacked in 2016, when his website was assaulted by the Mirai botnet, executed by about 600,000 compromised and suborned Internet of Things – such as Internet CCTV cameras, home routers, and other simple IoT devices.
This may be the tip of the iceberg.
Cisco, the internet systems company predicted in its annual report (2018-2023) that sophisticated DDoS attacks will double from the 7.9 million in 2018 to 14.5 million in 2022.
Now the truly chilling bit…
In our increasingly technological world, we rely on the internet in so many ways – from grocery shopping to building control, from home banking to healthcare. Connected vehicles – not just cars, but ships, aircraft, tankers, trains.
As I have said, many of these devices are so simple and un-assuming, that we don’t regard them as a potential threat.
That simple fitness tracker that you wear all the time. The silly old fridge, just sitting there in your kitchen, keeping your food safe and edible. The CCTV that you use to monitor your car in the drive.
The ease and convenience with which you access your bank to pay a bill. The ability to have a video call with your dear old Mum from miles away.
And yet, in the stygian, gloomy murk of the deep, dark web, there lurk hackers, thieves, and criminals. Hackers who are willing to mount cyber-attacks from as little as 7.00 US$ per hour.
Foreign states, and terrorist organisations that are willing – and able – to hijack your IoT devices to wage an attack on society.
Imagine, if you dare – a world where the bad guys can hack into your car, and disable the brakes.
A world in which someone can access your pacemaker, and shut it down…unless you pay a ransom.
A world in which a hacker can eavesdrop on your home, and record everything that you say and do, and record everything about you?
It’s not as far-fetched and dystopian a reality as you think!
A few years ago, I had to attend a meeting in the London offices of the CAA, and rather than pay the congestion charge, and then fight it out with the city traffic, I decided to catch the train to Waterloo, and then use a Boris Bike to cycle the last mile to the office.
It was a lovely sunny morning as I stood on the platform waiting for the 09:09 Liphook to Waterloo service.
The carriage that I boarded was almost empty, and I chose a table seat, and sat by the window, and took a sip of my coffee.
I smiled. I had bought my coffee from the young, attractive blonde woman who operated the coffee van outside the station.
I had flirted outrageously with her, and she had charmingly flirted back, despite the fact that I am probably double her age (at least!). No wonder she always has a queue for coffees. She is always cheerful and happy regardless of the weather. And the coffee is great too, so a win-win for everyone.
The Liphook train is never in much of a hurry to get to Waterloo. It meanders through Haslemere, Guildford and Woking, stopping at the many small towns and villages that constitute commuter-land.
By the time it clatters into Godalming, my carriage is starting to fill up. In compliance with the average Brits’ reluctance to engage with any strangers, many people passed through the carriage, despite the fact that there were three empty seats at my table.
Eventually, three young women shyly sat with me. I budged over to make room and reassure them, and fished my battered paperback book out of my bag.
They all pulled files and folders out of their bags, and set them on the table, and busied themselves with their textbooks. Obviously, University of Surrey kids on their way to a lecture.
I returned to my book, and attempted to read, but something was not quite right.
It took me five minutes or so to realise that they were not making much noise, and I surreptitiously glanced over at them.
It suddenly struck me that these young women were all deaf, and were enthusiastically signing to each other – their hands moving constantly; some gestures as soft as butterflies, some more direct chopping movements.
One of them caught me looking at her, and she fired a smile at me that was as bright as the sunshine pouring into the carriage, and I found myself disadvantaged in not knowing how to respond, and all I could do was offer a grin back. Embarrassing or what?
They departed the train at Guildford, still signing happily. I watched them wandering off up the platform as the train finally decided to recommence it’s groan towards Woking.
This did get me thinking. I had felt quite disconnected from three fellow human beings. If they had required my help, they would have had to write their request down, as I couldn’t sign, and I never heard one of them utter a single word.
I promised myself that I would learn British Sign Language one day.
Well, like most people, one day has still never come, and I still don’t know how to sign.
Good news is now on the horizon, that will enable those who are unable to hear, to communicate with those that can’t “speak” in sign language.
It’s the white knight of wearable technology to the rescue!
There is now hope for easy communications between those that sign, and those that can’t. The communications barrier has finally been breached!
Recent research published in Nature Electronics shows that wearable technology is able to offer a highly accurate real-time translation of sign language into speech, and delivers translations that are about 99% accurate and with a translation time of less than a second on average.
To put it simply, Yarn-based stretchable sensor arrays (YSSA) are used to track the movements of the hand, and will monitor the position of fingers, thumbs, and the movement of hands through the air.
These clever sensors are lightweight, cheap and highly sensitive. They offer stretchability and are durable and hard wearing, so they are ideal for incorporation into a wearable tech system.
Using artificial intelligence, and a specifically targeted algorithm it is possible to calculate the underlying meaning of the hand gestures and movements.
To put it simply, the sensor array is woven into a lightweight simplified glove, which flexes with the movement of the hand, fingers and thumbs. The movements of the glove generate electronic signals that are processed by the receiver and then translated into the speech equivalent.
To add even more accuracy, it was possible during the tests to stick a YSSA sensor to the side of the mouth, or near the eye of the wearer to monitor facial expressions, all of which are essential subconscious enhancements to language.
All of the data is then transmitted to a very small wirelessly-connected receiver which is worn on the body in an inconspicuous location. Once the data is received, it may be transmitted to a software application on a smart phone, and the “app” will convert the data to human speech and synthesise the words as audible and recognisable speech.
According to the report, the system is 99% accurate, and has a gesture-to-word processing time of less than one second.
At the moment, the system is in its infancy, and is a bit agricultural to look at, but in time, it is possible that the components will be small enough and discrete enough to be worn confidently by a person with a serious hearing impairment.
It will also ensure that people like me won’t miss out on having our lives enriched by being able to converse easily with someone who signs.
How fantastic is that?
The photo that I have chosen as the cover image, is of a sculture on a wall outside a school for the deaf in Prague.
It translates as “Life is beautiful, be happy and love each other”
The sculture was created by Czech Zuzana Čížkové. Photo by ŠJù under CCA-SA 3.0
I was mentally kicking myself. Just over a month previously, I had traded in my 4×4 SUV, replacing it with a 2WD Skoda Yeti. I had been pleased with the Kia Sportage, but despite my care in driving it, the fuel economy was not as good as I had been led to believe.
It was the 1st March 2018. At 1530, I left my office at Aviation House, heading for home. My route from Gatwick Airport was cross country. I could easily have driven home more quickly up the M23, M25 and A3, but at a cost of an extra eleven miles motoring.
Hardly fuel efficient!
My normal route was a delight. Out through the village that shares my name, and then through Ifield and Rusper, to join the main A264 just east of Horsham.
I would then cut through the back lanes of Broadbridge Heath, and then head south west through Loxwood, and on through Haselemere and from there via Liphook to home.
Storm Emma decided to put paid to that little plan. The snow began to fall; small pellets that danced and pirouetted slowly through the sky until they smacked wetly on the car windscreen.
By the time I got to Loxwood, I was seriously considering the wisdom of my decision to trade the 4×4 in. It was now hurtling down heavily, a swirling white vortex pouring out of a grey and ominous looking cloud.
Traffic speed was decreasing to almost pedestrian speeds, and I was now having to concentrate hard to anticipate the erratic behaviour of other vehicles.
Haslemere was, by this time, totally gridlocked. The snow was now very deep, and it was almost dark.
I looked at my watch. 1830! I would normally have been home by 1700.
I was beginning to get worried. There were several routes that I could take to get out of Haslemere, but all required me to drive up steep hills, and looking at the developing chaos I had little confidence that I would make it up any of them.
Cars were slaloming down the slightest of inclines, and I witnessed many crashes, and the roadsides were now becoming strewn with crumpled cars,
At 2030, I had managed to travel about 2 miles, so I ended up making the decision to abort my journey, and park up and weather the storm. I knew the decision was correct when I witnessed a Police 4×4 pick-up truck struggling to climb the slight incline. Despite the four wheel drive, its wheels were still slipping.
I now didn’t feel quite so bad. If a well-equipped emergency services 4×4 couldn’t make it out of the town, then even in my previous 4×4, I wouldn’t have either.
I found a grass verge sufficiently away from the kerb, and drove up and parked, backing up in such a way that a mature tree would offer some protection should someone lose control of their vehicle and depart the carriage way.
I gingerly opened the door into the maelstrom, and crunched my way to the tailgate. Opening it, I dragged out my thick government issue wet weather high viz jacket, and opened my car winter crate.
I decided when I first began commuting long distances across empty countryside to prepare for all eventualities, and so I had previously invested in a large plastic crate, into which I packed my emergency kit. Next to the crate were half a dozen blankets of the type that removal companies use to protect furniture.
A fold-up shovel, a set of jump leads, a pair of work gloves, half a dozen bottles of water, a pair of wellingtons, a torch, and some dried food in the form of energy bars, packs of nuts and chocolate.
Yes…. Lots of chocolate. You can never have too much chocolate in an emergency box.
I selected a handful of bars of chocolate, and a couple of bottles of water. Slamming the tailgate shut, I got back into the drivers seat, and started the engine.
I dialled up maximum heat from the climate control, and switched on the electrically heated seats. Reclining the seat back as far as it would go, I snugged up under the blankets and dozed off.
The temperature outside continued to drop. and I eventually had to start the car every fifteen minutes and run the engine for a while to stay warm.
I slept very fitfully and was wide awake by 0530.
The storm had passed through, and I decided that I would attempt to get home.
I knew that as long as I could get the car moving and maintain a constant speed, I could probably get up the hill, from where I could make my way to the A3, which, I hoped would be open. I knew that once other cars started moving, my chances of a successful escape from Haslemere would revert back to zero.
Even genteel Haslemere loses it’s appeal to a cold and hungry driver.
Starting the car, I eased it into gear, and slowly, ever so slowly accelerated up to about twenty miles per hour. Every so often the wheels would spin, but the plucky little car continued up the hill which I crested without seeing another vehicle on the road.
I did see quite a lot in ditches though, inclding a single decker bus and a police car.
The A3 was closed northbound, but – joy of joys, it was still clear southbound.
Half an hour later I was at home. The first thing I did after having a hot shower and a cup of tea was to start researching for winter tyres.
I have to admit – I had never really considered using winter tyres. I had always thought that they were a hyped up fashion in the UK, as we don’t expereience the extremes of weather that are enjoyed by our continental neighbours.
If you are fortunate enough to live in the United Kingdom, then according to figures I dug out of the Meteorology Office, we only get to “enjoy” snow for 23.7 days per year, and it only lays around for an average of 15.6 days each year.
On this basis, I was started wondering if it would be worth it.
It seems that during the winter in the south east of England (The counties of Kent, Sussex, Surrey Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Hampshire, Dorset and Wiltshire, and London) the winter temperatures sit at around 3℃ in London, down to -0.5℃ on the coast.
There is little difference between snow tyres and winter tyres. Winter tyres are optimised to perform at their best during all types of winter weather, including rain, sleet, snow, and slippery surfaces. Snow tyres may well have studs moulded into the tread to enable better grip in very hostile weather conditions.
Winter tyres are designed to offer their best performance when outside air temperatures are less than 7℃ (45℉) and have a tread design that includes deeper grooves or “sipes”
This makes them ideally suited for a typical British winter. Take November 2019, for example. According to Met Office figures, the average temperature this time last year was 5.3ºC – prime conditions for winter tyres.
Firstly, how can you recognise a winter tyre?
Winter tyres carry a mark on the sidewall which consists of three mountains with a snowflake. This “Three Peak Mountain Snowflake” symbol indicates that the tyre has undergone and passed a specific winter traction performance test.
In order to perform well under the low temperature, wet and slippery conditions, winter tyres are constructed from carefully blended rubber compounds that are hydrophilic in nature.
These compounds contain more natural rubber, which stays softer at lower temperatures, and helps the tyre to become more “grippy” in wet conditions.
Winter tyres are also narrower than standard tyres; the width of the tread is narrower for the wheel diameter. This reduces the resistance of the tyre as it is driving through snow.
The tyre will also have a deep groove pattern, with many additional smaller grooves known as Sipes that are designed to cut through snow, and improve traction.
Tests conducted by the British Tyre Manufacturers Association found that a car braking at 60mph on a wet road at 5 degrees Celsius stopped five metres shorter, equivalent to more than one car length, when fitted with winter weather tyres.
I could see the immediate and obvious benefits of fitting winter tyres.
I started by ringing round the local tyre dealers, to get costs. Most of the dealers were able to supply, at reasonable prices.
What I hadn’t bargained for was the extra costs involved. My normal “Summer” tyres were not worn out. I would need the tyres removed from my rims, and the winter tyres put on. Then, when I needed to change back to the summer tyres, I would need the dealer to remove the winter tyres, and refit them.
As they wouldn’t be fitting a new tyre, they would charge £20.00 +VAT per wheel to switch them. £80, twice a year! And I would have to store the tyres as well.
It was beginning to look costly.
Then I had a brainwave.
What if I bought some steel wheels and had the winter tyres fitted to them?
It would mean my nice Alloys wouldn’t be subjected to the rough conditions (salt, mud, and the risks of hitting potholes, or the verges) and I could change the wheels myself without incurring costs.
Now I hit a potential problem that had me scratching my head.
My car was originally fitted with 17 inch rims. All of the winter tyres quoted for my model of car were 16 inch rims, and a lot narrower.
Whilst Skoda Yetis may be bought new with 16 inch wheels, I was worried that the smaller size would mean the the tyre pressure monitoring system, stability control and anti skid systems would be compromised if I put smaller narrower tyres on.
A quick conversation with the service manager at the local Skoda dealer and I was happy. He explained that whilst the wheel rim was of a smaller diameter, the extra height of the tyre sidewall would ensure the onboard systems wouldn’t have any problems.
I eventually sourced a company on eBay that supplied me with four Continental winter tyres, ready-fitted onto steel rims. They arrived direct from Germany, and it took me about an hour to remove and refit all four wheels.
My experience is good. There is a definite improvement in the handling of the car during braking and cornering in slippery and wet conditions.
Some folk complain of the tyres being noisier than summer tyres, but I haven’t noticed this. The only thing that I do notice, is that the speedometer over reads by about 10% now compared with the GPS (An indicated 77 mph equates to 70 mph GPS true speed) and as a result, my sat nav system calculates my drive to work as 44 miles, but the car trip recorder shows 47 miles.
Not too much of an issue, but I have to remember to deduct 10% of the fuel computer’s range-to-empty figures!
It must be remembered that winter tyres should really only be fitted in about October, and removed in March. Winter tyre rubber compounds do not work well at average spring and summer temperatures, and in many cases, braking will be considerably poorer than those achieved using the original tyres.
Yes, they cost me about £500 to buy, but I am only wearing both sets of tyres out at half the rate, so it was a good investment.
Exactly 44 years ago today, I passed my driving test.
I was seventeen, and was being taught to drive by my Father. This was for two reasons. Firstly, in order to wean me off motorcycles, he offered to do it for free, and secondly, I had bought a car in which to learn.
My first car was a twelve-year-old Morris 1100 saloon. It was, in many respects, a great car to learn to drive in.
It was a simple machine, with no clever safety systems – apart from old fashioned lift latch buckle seat belts.
It didn’t even have any real “comfort” systems if you exclude the two-speed fan assisted heater.
Its front wheel drive made it easy to drive round the country lanes of Sussex where I grew up.
The Morris 1100 was quite revolutionary when it rolled off the production line in 1965. It used the new space-saving BMC-designed Hydrolastic suspension system.
To put it simply, this system replaced the springs and shock absorbers used in conventional cars with rubber bladders known as displacer units at each wheel.
The front and rear bladders on each side of the car were connected together with pipes and valves. When the front wheel encountered a bump in the road, it would force fluid from the front bladder to the rear bladder, which minimised the pitching of the car over bumpy roads.
It also had a brilliant side effect for a learner. It made hill starts really simple.
On a hill, with the parking brake applied, all one had to do was engage first gear, cover the brake pedal, and let the clutch up slowly. The vehicle would then gently rise up on the rear suspension. As soon as this happened, the handbrake could be removed without the car rolling backwards.
I must say it helped me considerably!
So, back to the point.
I had applied for my provisional driving licence and got it back in time for my 17th birthday. I had to buy my very first driving insurance policy out of my meagre apprentice pay, so it was a third party only policy.
I guess this was a bit of a calculated risk. I assumed that it was a little unlikely to spontaneously combust, and any self-respecting car thief would be horrified to steal such a shabby looking car – especially one that had a slightly Miss Marple image.
For my first lesson, it was decided that we would leave the house very early to avoid traffic as much as possible. We agreed that we would use quiet country roads to start with and then progress to busier streets and towns.
I jumped in the passenger seat, and we drove sedately to the south west edge of the town, heading for the village of Turners Hill.
Dad pulled over onto a layby at the right, and we swapped seats.
Crunching the gears, I kangarooed off on the start of my driving adventures – and all without the aid of dual controls!
An hour of driving up to the village, turning around, and driving back to the layby resulted in me being able to change up and down the gearbox, and smoothly pull away.
So, it continued. Practicing reversing into a parking bay on the Imberhorne industrial estate, reversing around a corner, and three-point turns. Hill starts without the car rolling backwards and crushing the matchbox that my father had placed behind the rear wheel.
Eventually, after a few months, Dad pronounced me ready for test, and so I applied. Crawley was the closest test centre, so in preparation I regularly drove the family over to Crawley for Saturday shopping, and was reasonably familiar with the place.
I eventually got my test date, which was the 2nd of February 1977. This was a Wednesday, and Dad couldn’t get leave to get me to the test centre.
Luckily, one of my Air Cadet friends who had passed his test the previous summer offered to take me.
My test was as simple as my car.
Upon arrival, I reported to the receptionist, and she asked me to take a seat. In due course, I met my examiner; he looked a little like Sherlock Holmes, complete with a deerstalker hat.
Having checked my provisional driving licence and my insurance documents, he asked me to read a nearby car number plate, which I did with ease. Not sure I could do it today without my varifocals!
Without further conversation, we got into my car, and I drove around Crawley, following his directions.
The emergency stop was for real, rather than him banging on the dashboard in accordance with his briefing. I was “making good progress” and driving at just under the posted 30 MPH limit, when a car suddenly pulled out of a side junction.
I slammed the brakes on, and the car rapidly came to a stop, without me locking any of the wheels up and skidding on the cold damp tarmac.
The deceleration forces were impressive. His clipboard shot into the footwell, and he pitched forwards. “Oh god” I thought, please don’t let the examiner break his nose on my car”
Luckily, he didn’t. Leaning back into his seat, he turned and smiled at me. “That was very good. I shan’t be asking you to do a further emergency stop.”
Having completed all the required test items, we drove back to the test centre, and he fished a folder out of his battered briefcase.
Flipping through the folder, he randomly selected road signs and marking and asked me what they represented.
I obviously answered correctly, as he ponderously got out of the car and trudged back to the warmth of the test centre.
He gravely started filling out a document. Was it a failure or pass certificate?
“Well done Mr. Charlwood. You have passed. Congratulations!”
So – I was one of the 40% of test applicants that passed their test first time!
I thanked him, and went to see Andy who was waiting patiently. “Well?” he enquired. “Am I driving back, or are you?”
“I am” I said proudly. We went to the car park, and ceremoniously ripped the L plates from my car, and I nonchalantly tossed them onto the back seat for disposal later.
We then drove to Brighton and back on the busy A23.
Just because we could!
However, things are very different now.
The driving test has metamorphosed into something much more complex. Hill starts and reversing round corners have been removed from the test, and navigating whilst driving using a GPS Satellite Navigation system has been included.
The almost casual theory questions used by my examiner in his ring binder are gone – replaced by a formal theory test, which is computer based.
The theory test also includes a hazard perception test, using 14 short video clips to establish whether the candidate has good recognition of developing hazards and risk assessment skills.
Bizarrely, (in my opinion) candidates may use vehicles that have hill start assistance systems.
In my world of professional aviation, skills tests are conducted using the equipment fitted to the aircraft, but candidates still have to demonstrate navigating or performing the required manoeuvres with the enhanced systems shut down, thus demonstrating that they can control their aircraft in all situations.
Having said that, my car is fitted with a hill start assist system and there is no means of disconnecting it. I guess thats the same in most current cars. Unless you know better?
I must add, somewhat smugly, that it never activates, because I was taught how to do a hill start using blended clutch and brake control.
The driving syllabus and the test upon which it is based unfortunately lags considerably behind the rapid development of Autonomous Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS).
To illustrate this, new drivers are not currently required to be taught the use of cruise control, or to recognise its limitations, and how to use it safely.
So, where do YOU place your feet when the cruise control is active and engaged?
I keep my foot over the accelerator. Some people I have driven with place both feet onto the floor.
I find this a little startling.
Simple risk assessment shows that it is possible to lose spatial awareness of where the pedals are in relation to the drivers’ feet. In an emergency, do you really, instinctively, know where the brake pedal is?
New vehicles are loaded with ADAS, and whilst many younger drivers may not be able to afford new cars, they should still be aware of the types of systems available. New drivers may be renting cars to which these devices are fitted, or be given a company car which has many safety systems fitted as standard.
Statistics show clearly that the highest risk groups for accidents are very young drivers (17-21), and the elderly (80+) both of whom may not have sufficiently developed judgement to ensure their safety.
Both groups are unlikely to be driving the latest cars which have the additional safety systems.
So maybe those that need a good understanding of ADAS and would benefit from the additional safety, are the drivers most unlikely to have a car fitted with it.
At some point the driving syllabus and the test will address these issues.
Until that time, all I can say is…
Drive defensively and learn as much as you can about the systems that YOUR car is fitted with.
If you drive a fairly recent car, it will, in all probability, have a number of added features to make driving not only a more enjoyable experience, but also a safer one.
When I started driving in the mid-1970s, driver safety systems – apart from the most basic, were virtually non-existent.
I started my driving career at the age of 16 with a 1965 Austin 1100.
Minimal controls, no radio to distract, and hydrolastic suspension, which for those of you that are not familiar with it, made performing hill starts a simple manoeuvre.
A four-speed gearbox, and a disproportionately large steering wheel by todays standards. (This was to compensate for the lack of any sort of power assisted steering).
My parents believed this to be an ideal car for a learner.
But was it?
It had absolutely no safety features. Not even a collapsible steering column! In vehicles without such a device, in a frontal crash, the impact and subsequent deformation of the body shell and chassis could drive the steering column backward, in many cases impaling the driver to the seat.
Interestingly, a patent was filed for a collapsible steering column way back in 1934, but it wasn’t until 1959 that Mercedes Benz fitted them to its MB W111 Fintail. We had to wait until 1968 before Ford fitted them as a standard item to all new cars.
My car did have one quite advanced feature – it was fitted with disc brakes on the front wheels, and drum brakes on the rear wheels, making it almost unique for a small, mass-produced car in the early sixties.
Let’s move on to crumple zones. My little car was built quite simply, and any energy created in a crash impact would be transmitted throughout the whole car until it dissipated. Modern cars are now designed with front and rear panels that deform in a controlled manner, spreading the loads and therefore dissipating the energy to survivable levels before it reaches the occupants.
Volvo introduced longitudinal steel bars to protect the occupants from side impacts, a system that Volvo imaginatively called SIPS, Side Impact Protection System. That was back in the early 1990s, and now all modern cars are built with a rigid passenger safety cell which, amongst other things, prevents the engine from being forced into the passenger compartment.
Losing control of a vehicle causes many accidents. The moment that wheels lock up under heavy braking, is the moment that the driver effectively becomes a passenger, and the skidding car has an uncontrollable trajectory, potentially leading to an impact.
The aviation industry has been using anti-lock brakes since the 1950s when Dunlop invented the Maxaret system, which was fitted to various aircraft types. By preventing the wheels locking up, aircraft landing distances could be reduced by up to 30%, and the use of the system extended the life of tyres considerably.
Vehicle engineers weren’t slow to recognise the opportunity to enhance car safety, and in 1966, the Jensen FF Interceptor became the first production car to be fitted with mechanical anti-lock brakes.
Modern systems are fully electronic, and are so sophisticated that they can work in conjunction with electronic stability systems to reduce brake pressure on one wheel, or even redistribute the brake effort from front to rear, or even side to side to ensure that the driver remains in control.
Other safety features are less glitzy, including the humble padded dashboard and flexible sun visors, to head restraints and laminated windscreens, but I am sure they have all made a positive contribution to reducing post-impact injuries.
Air Bags and Air Curtains, Seat belt pre-tensioners (to tighten the lap-strap within milliseconds of an impact being detected) and tyre pressure monitoring systems play a more active role in saving lives.
Safety device development continues at high rate.
Due to the ever-increasing sophistication of vehicle on-board computer systems, and better understanding of accident causal factors, there are a now a complete suite of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) that are being fitted into new cars.
Lane Departure Systems that monitor the vehicles distance from lane markings warn the driver (and in some models will intervene to bring the car back into its own lane) of a deviation from the chosen lane.
Blind Spot Monitoring uses a system of sensors and cameras to detect vehicles in adjacent lanes and activates a warning – either in the external door mirrors or within the driver’s area of vision. Some of these monitors will also activate when the car is placed into reverse gear, and will warn of approaching vehicles or pedestrians. This enables cars to be safely reversed out of car parking spaces.
Active Cruise Control (ACC) may be set up to automatically maintain a certain speed and distance from vehicles in front. and will automatically decelerate the car if the car in front slows down. If the spacing limit is breached, then the system will communicate with the braking system to apply the brakes. Drivers will also be warned by an audible alarm and a visual prompt to intervene and apply the brakes.
Driver Monitoring Systems can measure the level of arousal and alertness of the driver, using eye tracking technology, and driver steering inputs. If the driver begins to exhibit symptoms of drowsiness or incapacitation, the system will activate, generating a loud audible warning, and in some cases the seat or steering wheel may vibrate.
Should the driver not react to an obstacle under these circumstances, the car systems will intervene and take avoiding action.
Many accidents occur due to breaches of the speed limit, so ADAS provides another system – Intelligent Speed Adaption to assist in preventing a driver from exceeding speed limits.
These systems may either be active or passive in nature; passive ISA will simply warn of an exceedance, whilst active ISA will either exert a deceleration force against the accelerator pedal, or will reduce engine power and apply the brakes.
My current car was manufactured in 2017. It has standard cruise control, electronic stability control, ABS and is littered with airbags.
My only additional Driver Safety Systems are manually optimised…
I use the mark one eyeball and good driving practices that were ingrained in me during my driver training. Mirror Signal Manoeuvre when changing lanes or joining a motorway. A good habit picked up from being a motorcyclist – I actually turn my head and look over my shoulder when lane changing.
Despite all of these advanced safety systems being available, many people are ignorant of the systems fitted to their cars.
In part, this is due to sales staff at dealerships being either unwilling, or unable to explain satisfactorily how the systems work, the advantages and practical use of the systems, and the limitations of the systems when in everyday use.
Secondly, having checked the Driver Standards and Vehicle Agency website, and reviewed the UK Driving Test Syllabus, there appears to be nothing in the course to ensure that drivers have an understanding of integrated safety systems.
Unless Approved Driving Instructors teach the practicalities of Advanced Driving Assistance Systems, and their limitations, drivers will remain in ignorance of the benefits that these devices offer.
According to a recent survey conducted by Autoglass, 41% of drivers with ADAS equipped vehicles intentionally disabled safety devices such as Autonomous Emergency Braking and Lane Departure devices!
The survey further revealed that 24% of those drivers responded that they were not provided with any information about the importance of these features and how they work when they had the vehicle handed over to them.
55% were unaware that these safety-critical systems need to be re-claibrated following a replacement of windscreens of repair of panel damage.
67% stated that they believed that more education and training is needed before driving ADAS-equipped cars.
The best safety device in every vehicle is a well trained driver. A well trained driver would not disable safety systems designed to save lives.
Well, it is Sunday 3rd January 2021. I woke early, (as usual) and after looking out of the window at the pouring rain, decided that my scheduled Sunday walk with my good friend, John was likely to be cancelled. A quick text message exchange confirmed that yomping across the saturated heathland around the Oakhanger satellite ground station was not high on our list of priorities.
So, I decided to make today a very productive one, so I launched myself into the task of clearing all the old papers from the home office.
I spent most of the morning going through old documents, and had to stop, as the shredder was showing signs of iminent meltdown.
Opening another dusty box that appeared to have been packed in 1999 (judging by the papers, letters and bank statements) I came across a hand written poem, written by none other than SWMBO.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
I think it’s very good, so I have reproduced it below. Well done Sue, it seems that you and I are both wordsmiths…
So here it is!
How to look Great!
A look in the mirror can shatter a dream,
Lotions and potions, a bottle of creme,
A wrinkle, a spot, a tragedy great,
Will I be ready for dinner at eight?
A crater, a canyon, a ravine very deep,
So into a bath full of bubbles I leap,
The hair, and the nails, and the make-up all done,
“Darling, how on earth do you always look so young?”