Category Archives: Environmental Issues

Several Reasons to Like (the Idea of) the Driverless Car

When I first read about driverless cars I dismissed the idea as just another gimmick from the hard-up, planet-wrecking, machismo-fueled, turbo-charged turd-makers we call the motor industry.

A driverless car, not hopelessly lost

A driverless car, not hopelessly lost

Another hunk of metal sold to us as a lifestyle choice and an extension of our personalities, I thought. Another way to crush the humans. An exciting new range of grey, blue and black people containers that force everyone to cede power to a computer, which then couriers you along the rush hour motorway at 6 mph, saving you the bother raising your weary head.

They don’t even want you to hold on to the wheel and pretend. They want to remove what small vestiges of joy are left to someone travelling on four wheels.

And anyway, we already have driverless cars. They are called trains.

So I thought.

Later, however, I was persuaded by one or two people who’d thought quite deeply about this technology to not be so glib.

If your instant reaction to this whole concept was but I rather like driving, well that was mine too. Except I don’t.

Driving is a joyless, anxious chore. When I drive I don’t feel like James Bond, I feel like an idiot participating in a terrible conspiracy, often at very low speed.

My dream car, the machine I admired from childhood, I now look at as a sort of abomination. Driving is a 70s dream. We have to let it go.

My motoring dream from childhood.

My motoring dream from childhood.

Driving can be a joy, but so can a playing computer game. A year or two from now you might get to decide which you would rather be doing as you commute down the M11.

-O—O-~

Think about how our mostly rubbish towns and cities became so utterly tiresome and rubbish. It’s almost entirely because we gave cars top priority.

Cars need access, cars need options, cars need car parks and ring roads and one-way systems and traffic lights and signage and more lanes and more barriers.

The Cones of Despair welcome you to Crap Town Anywhere

Behold the Orange Cones of Despair / welcome to Crap Town Anywhere

Knock this down and modernise was the mantra, build another bypass. Inner and outer ring roads became like fortress walls and moats, blocking people from their public spaces.

What happened to our beautiful river front? Mr 70s decided it should be a dual carriageway.

Crap Signage

Crap Signage

Petrol Heads everywhere seem to hate the idea of Driverless Cars. And I think it’s because the average suburban Clarksonoid is so incensed that I decided to listen a little closer to this argument.

About 2000 people a year are killed on our (UK) roads. It used to be a lot higher. Those deaths are almost never due to mechanical failure. It’s almost always human error.

I imagine if that dropped to say 20 a year because there was no human error.

Imagine ‘the city’ being able to talk to every car and every car being able to talk to the city. Imagine how the city could guide the flow of traffic to maximum effect, avoiding the local annual silly hat parade or the route of a charity three-fifths marathon (they have those, right?).

The city and your car would know exactly where the nearest available parking space was, then let someone else know the minute you had vacated it. (How much of your life have you spent prowling for a space?)

Imagine all the electric vans making silent deliveries while the city sleeps, so that they are not part of the rush-hour dash.

Imagine the white-van-man has nothing to do on his way to work but stare out of the cab window…well no, don’t imagine that.

White van man

‘Show us your traffic cones, gorgeous!’ – the White Van Man

Imagine the city knows you and your car, where you commonly go, what time, and how long you tend to stay there before returning. Tap into that info and it sounds like you have the perfect basis for a car-pooling app, or a hitch-hiking revival.

But perhaps hitch-hiking with an eBay-style ratings system…

Megadeath1998 is 100% a nice passenger and needs a lift to Ashby de la Zouch… …You go there now and then. Can you take him along? He will chip in £5 for petrol via paypal. Don’t forget to leave positive feedback.

Imagine children allowed to play in the street again.

Imagine approaching the multi-storey car park, except now you get to climb out at the entrance to the cinema while your car goes up those 11 tedious floors.

Imagine driving to the pub but being driven home.

Imagine all the signage and clutter they could remove from your town or city because driverless cars obey the rules and know where they are going.

This might all seem a long way off right now and a little far fetched, but technologies like this have a habit of starting life as impractical, too costly and inferior to the current system. But as we’ve seen so often they can quickly overtaking everything.

Digital Cameras were once too expensive and not good enough. So were mobile phones. Then suddenly they overtook, like some angry silicon-based Clarkson on his way to sale at Halfords.

Things that might be consigned to history? Electronic motorway signage.

Things that might be consigned to history?

Technologies like this also have a habit of dismantling  a lot of old familiar infrastructure, and permanently. Look at this picture and image what that might mean. And the Government is already preparing the way.

Video

Jan Gehl – What happens when an architect marries a psychologist?

Jan Gerl thinks about urban living quite a lot. He has transformed Copenhagen into one of the most livable cities in the world.

No British city ever gets placed on one of those ‘livable’ lists. Seems like it’s not in the British psyche to believe in anything better than adequate.

(side factoid: Denmark is about as densely populated as the UK, yet a house in Denmark has about 2/3 more floor space than an average house in the UK.)

Other bits of the world are catching up with Jan Gehl’s ideas.

If you’ve seen a congested,cluttered junction transformed into a tranquil, bike-and-pedestrian-friendly meeting place, with all signposts and barriers removed, then some of Jan’s ideas were probably being adopted.

His big idea is this: cities should work for everyone, not just those behind the wheel of a car.

Another idea is that the success of an urban centre isn’t purely about how good the shopping is. That’s how we tend to judge a town centre in the UK,  but Jan thinks it should be judged on how appealing it is to people who have no intention of spending money.

Imagine if the success of UK towns and cities was measured in happiness, or the number of outdoor chess games going on, the number of people sat reading, and not purely the number of profitable retail units.

Think on Mary Portas.

Things That Just Aren’t All That Convincing – Published: 29 Feb 2008

Press photographers in movies.
They tend to have rubbish prop cameras that don’t click right (have you ever seen a real Pap with his massive mile long lenses??).

Also they just snap away at anything, in all directions. They take pictures of the sky or the tip of a man’s chin. I’m not claiming to know the newspaper industry but I’m guessing you flop those onto the editors desk and s/he is going hand you your P45.

“Did you get the JFK assassination?”
“No, but I got a really nice cloud.”

Ditto for the above re musicians.
Witness the great actor Gerard Depardieu in Jean De Florette playing a gentle melody on his harmonica, literary swinging it left and right across his gob, like he was sawing wood. And look at Sam’s hands in Casablanca; they just go up and down like he was a Thunderbird puppet having a stroke.

Those Why Not Become a Writer? Ads in the national press.
I seriously suspect it’s not as simple as they claim. Though, come to think of it, maybe it is. You send off a cheque for £20 and the next thing you know you’re doing rather well in the top 20 Best Sellers list. It would certainly explain the success of Dan Brown and Tom Clancy.

Santa Claus.
Kids might believe in him for longer if his beard wasn’t obviously just a foot and a half of cotton wool. Kids know what a beard is. They must also look at Barney the dinosaur and get confused by such an abstract concept of teeth.

Pre-packed Sandwiches.
They promise so little, and deliver even less. Thousands of us queue up at Pret or M&S everyday for them, yet these sandwiches begin dieing a soggy death the moment they are sealed in those packets. You can’t spit without hitting a place that will make you a fresh one.

The only ‘fresh’ tasting pre-packed sarnie I ever had was from The Bread Shop and they had hit on the genius idea of packaging that breathes, having 1000s of little teabag-like holes.

The Great British toilet seat
What could go wrong? It’s basic hinge technology, right? That’s all the science that’s involved. Yet somehow the British make the worst toilet seats in the world. You sit, they slide sideways. You fix ‘em, they break.

Vladimir Putin
Come on. He’s not happy being President of Russia. You just know he’d be a lot more at peace with himself if he was a work-a-day henchman, killing people in dark alley ways with his bare hands.

Recycled Toilet Roll
Punctured through more times than a porcupine’s pyjamas, this stuff just isn’t fit for purpose. I persevere with it simply because I object to Andrex mercilessly hacking down the rainforest. So, reluctantly, I type to you with brown fingers, imagining it will somehow help what’s left of the planet’s lungs.

Aerial Boosters
Can’t get Channel Five? Freeview box only picking up The Hitler Channel? Then buy an aeriel booster, a small plastic box that sits between your aerial connection and the TV, and which is full of dried peas and sawdust. In reality the only thing it will boost is the economy of some highly productive Pacific Rim country.

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Comments

A visitor‘ left this comment on 13 Mar 08
WICKED!!!!!!
A visitor‘ left this comment on 6 Mar 08
Undoubtedly the funniest thing I have read in a while. And I quote… “like he was a Thunderbird puppet having a stroke”!! Hah!! Just the thought of a Thunderbird character wanking has me rolling around in hysterics. Brings new meaning to the phrase “I’ve got wood”. I guess when they cum their strings get tangled up.

Modern Life is Rubbish #2989022 – Published: 24 Feb 2007

Congestion Charge Cameras run by Capita

Modern life is rubbish. It makes no sense and costs a lot.

Latest update on Ken Livingstone’s Extended London Congested Zone…

The C-Charge website, where you must go to pay, is:

a) crashed
b) utterly awful
c) so badly designed that, after a while, you realise you must deliberately click on the wrong thing to find what you are after.
d) run by Capita

So this is what I now know about the Congestion Charge (after talking to a C-Charge Capita employee on the phone… 

If you are rich enough to live inside the C-Charge Zone and own a car, you are entitled to a residents discount. And the discount is amazing. For just £4 you get a full 7 days in the zone.

You can’t pay for less than seven days though, so if you only use your car once a fortnight, you have no option but to pay for a full seven days. My immediate thought was ‘well I’ve paid for seven days, I’m going to use it every day to get my money’s worth.’   

Bear in mind the charge is designed to deter people using their cars.

Would you rather pay £4 per week and use your car or £5.40 per day and use the overcrowded and mostly stationery public transport? That’s the choice now for London’s richest residents.

The rich of Kensington etc. save money and get richer! Yay. The poor of Shepherds Bush and beyond get poorer (It’s £8 a day for them).

Let’s Talk About Capita

Let’s take a minute to get to know Capita, the world famous piss-poor outsourcing company who believe it’s not important to get it right the first time and who make profits of £200million a year.

The Boss of Capita is one of these people who gave secret loans to the Labour Party (in exchange for lucrative contracts) and, some say, honours.

Google for news on Capita and what you get back is a cascade of failure and semi-criminal activity. Yet time and again they bid for that contract and, by jove, they get it. Here’s just a quick sample:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4836024.stm

Capita subsidiary fined by the FSA after some of its staff helped to defraud customers.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/4813748.stm

Capita school registration system (paid for by Red Ken!) leaves hundreds of children without a school.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/4320041.stm

Capita, after a catalogue of failures running London’s congestion charge is been fined £1m

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/3180492.stm

Capita’s systems used by The Criminal Records Bureau criticised after it fails to check staff working with children.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/3480777.stm

Tens of millions of pounds of government money defrauded from an adult education scheme run by company Capita.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/2356705.stm

It goes on and on.

And one final thought – since we registered for the congestion charge, we’ve mysteriously started receiving daily telesales calls, almost as if our details were sold on to third parties.

Comments

Dogs Must Be Carried‘ left this comment on 4 Mar 07
You forgot Capita’s continual fucking up of local government benefits departments.

10 Ways the Rich Can Drive Environmentally in London – and Still Look Rich! – Published: 20 Feb 2007

Despite the narrow streets, terrible fuel consumption, poor safety records, higher tax-brackets and every right-thinking person in the world banging on about how awful they are, the Chelsea Tractor remains a London must-have.

The Chelsea Tractor

The Chelsea Tractor

And the latest big discovery is that your big Discovery is actually the most unreliable car on the road. These monsters are now officially moronic on every level. But people won’t part with them yet and this is why: you can’t show the world how rich and important you are in small, sensible car.

People need a Symbol of Urban Vanity (you see what I did there?) I’ll get to the point…

These Tractor owners know they look dim and unethical but they are paralysed by the lack of alternatives. There is no car on the market that say’s ‘Hey, I’m very rich and important but I also care about the environment’.

If these people were to buy a small, economical car, and take their one child (usually called Hermione) to school in it, other rich parents would gaze down from their four-tonne Range Rovers and assume some hardship, some stock price collapse was to blame.

Until manufacturers fix the all to apparent gap in the market – namely very expensive small cars –

..here are ten ideas aimed at helping the unfortunate rich
:

1. Have a Suzuki Swift plated with gold leaf and the steering wheel studded with diamonds (making sure they are fair-trade diamonds, obviously).

2. Swap your GL Class Mercedes for a Citroen Xsara Picasso but, get this, have one with a real Picasso, laminated and stuck on bonnet.

3. Can’t part with your big Mercedes? (Hitler felt the same way.) Well here’s an idea… Four people riding two welded-together tandems is effectively a 4×4. Combine that with a fibreglass shell, designed to look like your GL Class and hey-presto! You’re 100% green and 100% still the King of South Kensington.

4. Run a Toyota Yaris but tow a luxury yacht behind – all the time. (As an extra little touch of class you could also leave a box of Ferrero Rochers on the dashboard.)

the Reva Classe - it has no clutch5. The Green Motorcade. Look incredibly important by running a Reva G-Wiz (pictured) but have two uniformed security men on electric mopeds, with whilstles, riding one in front and one behind.

6. Instead of taking little Tarquin and Jocasta to school in your giant Ford Explorer, why not have the Explorer converted into a school? Leave it on the drive. Think of all the time you’d save and, what’s more, you’d avoid the school postcode lottery!

7. Have a Reva G-Wiz fitted with a rhino-bar and knobbly off-road tyres. The laws of perspective (and some carefully daubed mud?) might fool anyone seeing it in their peripheral vision that it’s a mammoth 4×4 parked quite a long way off.

8. Take the bus, only when you get on, pay for everyone. People will be in no doubt you’re a high-roller. You could also sit upstairs and continue to enjoy that all important ‘sitting-high-up’ feeling.

9. Do you enjoy that feeling of burning five times as much petrol as you really need to because you’re rich and, heck,  you can? Try this instead: buy leaky champagne glasses and eat caviar off a record player set to 45r.p.m. You’ll get that same surging feeling of decadent waste but you won’t have to sit in traffic.

10. Range Rovers break down a lot, so buy a small economical car and have your local Range Rover dealership logo painted on the side. Everyone will assume you’ve been given a loaner while your ‘real’ car is being fixed (again).

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Comments

Dogs Must Be Carried‘ left this comment on 9 May 07
Further to the above, there’s a review of the G-Wiz in the new edition of Top Gear magazine, out this week. Apparently, it fails crash tests at 40mph. That is, it would if it had actually taken part in some – it’s classed as a quadricycle and is therefore exempt from such pre-sale safety procedures. Happy motoring, everyone!
Dogs Must Be Carried‘ left this comment on 5 Mar 07
I was going to…but all of a sudden there was this gust of wind and…well, the last I saw, it was floating over Petty France.
Tim‘ left this comment on 4 Mar 07
Ha! See this is what I’m talking about. You can’t stop certain people from feeling more important than everyone else. But if we could just get them to do it in a sensible car…(I hope you politely picked the car up and moved it in line with the kerb.)
Dogs Must Be Carried‘ left this comment on 4 Mar 07
I walked past the Channel Four building a couple of days ago and there was a G-Wiz parked outside, yet – despite its piddly size – the owner had still managed to park it in the generously-sized space at a 37-degree angle.

London and Londoff – Published 9 Jan 2007

Londoners are Britain’s cash cow. They pay for everything. Twice. If you told them they had to pay £5 to flush the toilet, they’d uncomplainingly do the online credit card payment via their wifi laptops – whilst sitting on the bog.

They never question, they never lobby, they just pay – and promptly.

“Would you like a ride on this bus, sir?”

“Yes, how much is it?”

“Twice as much as everywhere else, sir.”

“And where do I pay?”

“Through the nose.”

“Great. Wait a minute, this bus isn’t moving?”

“That’s right. Our buses don’t move. They sit stationery in traffic for your convenience and safety.”

“Well I don’t like to complain…”

“We know, sir.”

And so on.


congestion charge carLondon Mayor Ken Livingstone asks us all to pay more for the congestion charge. We all sigh knowingly and reach for our wallets. The price will keep increasing.

The congestion zone expands vastly next February.

Or will it? Silly Ken forgot to get planning permission for all the thousands of ugly cameras on poles he’s put up round London and now some councils, the one or two still with some aesthetic values, have complained.

Will he have to take them down? No, he’s going to fight! Right now there’s probably a legal battle going with both sides hiring lawyers that I don’t know who is going to pay for. Wait a minute, yes I do.

And for all those who thought this blog wasn’t going anywhere, read this: Tonight I saw a car driving through Notting Hill. It had a pole coming out of the roof with a camera on top (I’ve done a little artist’s impression for you, above, left).

I read up on it and apparently Mayor Ken bought a fleet of these cars to fight congestion! He’s putting these camera-cars on the road …to fight congestion. That’s not mad. Seemingly there aren’t enough cameras on poles to see all the grid-locked traffic, so now he’s got his (presumably stationery) camera-cars filming us…

I need to lie down. I need to talk to a professional. I’ve become unhinged. 

P.S.

I’m not against the C-Charge, by the way. It’s just that I seriously doubt that it will have any effect on congestion. I do however believe it will make a lot of private businessmen operating the outsourced cameras very rich.

On the subject of the cameras…

For those who have read this far, a little factoid: Ken’s ugly, illegal cameras are there for the congestion charge, which operates 7am to 6.30pm, yet they stay switched on 24 hours a day. Wonder why. Thought we were all meant to switch our electrical stuff off at night.

everywhere cameras

Comments

Dogs Must Be Carried‘ left this comment on 4 Feb 07
I suppose the small cars with cameras are an improvement on the bloody great Transit vans he’s been using thus far, parked in inconvenient spots across the West End. And it looks as though he’ll have to hire people of limited stature to drive them around, so at least those of us over six feet tall will be able to have a bit of a laugh whilst waiting for our bendy bus to get stuck at a box junction.

 

Ideas to Help the Rich – Published: 9 Nov 2006

An interesting problem I think a lot of rich people face these days is how to show-off their wealth whilst still appearing ethical and environmentally sound.

Take cars. Rich people around town tend drive those extremely unethical luxury SUVs. At least some of them must know that makes them look dim, but what can they do? What is there on the market that say’s ‘I’m very rich, but not stupid; I care about the planet but more about my appearance‘?

If they buy a small, economical car, and take their one child to school in it, other rich parents will look down from their four-tonne Range Rovers and assume some hardship, some stock price collapse is to blame.

What car manufacturers need to do is wake up to this obvious new market: very expensive small cars.

electric three wheeled carSmall cars, perhaps plated with gold leaf, that are economical on fuel, low on emissions, but out of the price range of most people.

You could have diamond-studded bumpers but then you have to ask would they be fair-trade diamonds? This is no joke, most of our diamonds come from extremely unethical companies.

You could, for example, have a Citroen Xsara Picasso with a real Picasso stuck on bonnet. You could have a simple Toyota Yaris but with a luxury yacht being towed behind – all the time.

Or you could even just leave a box of Ferrero rochers on the dashboard.

The important thing is not that the car is any good (if that was important why would so many rich people buy Range Rovers?) No, the important thing is it needs to be obvious it cost a lot. And that’s all.

Peace Tax Seven

A small ad in the back of Private Eye, for an outfit called The Peace Tax Seven, caught my attention the other day. I looked them up on the web.

Apparently they are trying to raise money to mount a legal challenge against the government for using their taxes to pay for war. They reckon they can set a legal precedent using the new European Convention on Human Rights.

They are happy to pay tax, they claim, they just don’t want it used to build bombs and make bullets. UK law, apparently, recognises ‘freedom of conscience’ as a human right, meaning they could refuse to part with the money simply because they feel it is wrong to buy weapons.

UK tax law, however, does not recognise ‘freedom of conscience’. What a surprise.

So these guys want to put it to the test… is tax law a higher law than laws to do with human rights.

I do hope they get their day in court but my guess is tax law trumps all other laws in the world. Even Boyles law (pV=k).

Quatermass

This week Nigel Kneale, the guy who created the Quatermass TV serials, died aged of 84. I was just thinking Children of Men, a rather good, eerie  British Sci-fi flick, felt like something he might have written.