Singularity

Rant

Feminism means equality. IN SPACE

by on Jul.14, 2013, under Planet Sam, Rant

avatarI hadn’t heard about the Lynx Apollo mission. Now that I have, I can feel a full-on rage attack coming on.

…press representatives of the Axe-Apollo project in the UK were genuinely surprised that the campaign might be perceived as sexist and reassured that women are more than welcome to join.

Because of course, the tagline “LEAVE A MAN, COME BACK A HERO” isn’t sexist at all. Neither, clearly, is the poster.

Lynx Apollo Jacuzzi poster

Or the ad.

So I’m now rooting for Kate Arkless Gray, @spacekate, who’s not only passionate about getting into space, but also about keeping sexism out of space. Thanks to her efforts, Unilever was obliged to revise competition rules in countries such as Russia, Mexico and the Ukraine, which previously had explicitly banned women from entering.

She’s competing against 249 people for one of 4 spots this weekend. Unfortunately, it looks like the competition is rigged to favour men after all. With the best will in the world, as a competing athlete myself, I know that in a strictly physical competition that isn’t ultra-endurance, the best men will always beat the best women.

There are ways around this, of course, the simplest of which is to take 2 men and 2 women and take the best 2 of each. But will they do that?

Take another look at the poster, at the ad campaign, at the fact they had to be shamed into not excluding women from the competition in some countries. What do you think?

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Put up or shut up? As if.

by on Apr.09, 2011, under Cycling, Rant

avatarMy first ever internet forum was…

OK. Almost my first.

Almost my first ever internet forum was the sadly-defunct UC-UK (that’s Urbancyclist-UK), which I joined when I was still living in Oxford. It was an email list — what back then were called bulletin boards weren’t terribly popular as we preferred discussions delivered direct to our email boxes. It’s a whole other discussion as to why fora became more popular, although I would venture the suggestion that it’s a matter of numbers. Email groups are good for one or two threads in which tens of the most vocal members are involved. Fora are good for hundreds of active threads from which thousands of members can pick and choose.

I’ve been a member of one internet cycling community or the other ever since; a rare example of a female who cycles on the road and who is an assertive participant in internet discussions about cycling.

OK. We’re not that rare. But we do comprise a remarkably small proportion of the virtual cycling population.

One of the things I’ve noticed throughout my long experience of cycling fora is the inevitable tendency of male posters to respond to female discussion threads with blatant, unapologetic lechery. While a man could post about choice of saddle to avoid prostate problems without worrying too much about other posters joining in just to make comments about his tackle, it’s impossible for women to have a discussion on a forum about female-specific issues without men posting innuendo. In the last such thread in which I participated one male member thought it would be appropriate to post a suggestion that he sexually molest any female cyclists on his next club run.

I’ve had enough of that sort of nonsense. And I said so. Repeatedly. I suspect the laddish atmosphere that can prevail in cycling communities is what puts a lot of women off taking part.

It’s something I’ve taken to doing relatively recently. A lot of the time I feel like a killjoy, like I’m taking it too seriously. I’ve certainly been accused of taking things too seriously and over-reacting — of having a hair trigger — on numerous occasions. But it’s simply that I’m pissed off with having to tolerate comments from the lads, as one forummer once put it. I’ve even been told that if women want to discuss female-specific cycling problems we should get our own private forum, and if we don’t get our own private forum then we should put up and shut up about it.

Boys, as they say, will be boys.

Given the paucity of women taking up cycling, anything that is likely to make them feel unwelcome, in my opinion, should be stamped on and stamped out. Those of us who have the inclination and confidence to take a stand on these things should do so. It’s appalling that any woman should be made to feel she’s over-reacting or being a spoilsport for demanding a similar degree of respect and consideration to that given to the men.

I’m delighted to end this by saying that the thread in question generated some very useful discussion and led one member to express pleasure in the number of ladies present. Don’t feel bad about demanding respect, girls. No matter how foolish, out of order or hypersensitive you may feel expressing your desire to have a perfectly ordinary conversation without being interrupted by the sort of comments that would familiar to Benny Hill, I can guarantee there are other women there who will be grateful to you for making the effort.

Nip it in the bud and maybe the message will start to sink in.

And guys? If you wouldn’t go up to a bunch of women discussing something in a tea shop and interrupt them with whatever you are about to post to a forum thread, because you’d look like an idiot and a creep and a pervert, don’t post it (although if you would then it’s your call). Also, if a woman objects to something you’ve posted, don’t immediately assume she’s over-reacting but check your language. All we’ve got to go on is what you’ve written.

Remember, too, that “it’s just a bit of fun” is really, really lame if not everyone agrees with you.

I don’t want anything too ambitious, just the opportunity to share my experiences as a female cyclist with other cyclists without wondering whether the next post in the thread is going to ignore the cycling element in favour of sex.

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I bet River Song would prefer Campag

by on Nov.30, 2010, under Cycling, Rant

avatarI’ve been watching Doctor Who on DVD lately, and at the weekend I saw the Forest of the Dead. I expect I’m the only one who felt the episode utterly failed right at the end because the amazing River Song — adventuress, criminal, Mrs Doctor — finishes her existence as mum to three children who will never grow up: the eternal mother.

It is possible to have a career and have kids, although by no means easy, but not every woman wants that, and River Song never struck me as the sort of person who, with an entire virtual reality at her fingertips, would settle for a life of taking the kids to the park and reading them bedtime stories; and it bothers me even more that this was in a programme ostensibly for children. I hate the idea that little girls are being told that you can have your career as an archaeologist and run around adventuring, but at the end of the day what will keep you happy is looking after children, even though they can’t possibly have been made with the man you love (what with him still being alive and out in the real world).

Kids aren’t stupid. They absorb these messages.

There seems to be an idea, somewhere in cultural consciousness, that what women really want to do is stay at home and make babies; not get all oily and discuss gear ratios or whether Batman is more of a psycho than Rorschach. We want to have babies and ultimately we’re only interested in and good for things that are in some way related to the making of and caring for babies. And that hopelessly outdated idea is being perpetuated by happy endings that involve a bedtime story and a goodnight kiss.

I suppose this is also what bothers me about the way those who want to encourage girls onto bikes go about it. There appears to be a de facto assumption that girls aren’t interested in bikes. It is related, I think, to the de facto assumption that women can’t write horror or science-fiction, or don’t like playing games like Bioshock.

I wrote the following piece about the love of bicycles back in 2004 — 6 years ago, FFS. I think it bears saying again, because I still feel the same way.

It was when I caught myself talking to it that I thought things had gone too far. This was not a case of a friendly word of encouragement when trying to break top speed on the long descent on the way to work, or a muttered epithet on the steep climb up past three-fingered Pete, the lollipop man. I was sitting on the toilet at the time – we have a toilet downstairs, in a cubby hole attached to what was once a utility room before we moved in. Now it’s where they live: four of them now. There are more in the shed and another one has even claimed a space in our marital bedroom.

I’m not entirely sure how this happened, how these things came to be such a huge part of our lives. They all have names, even the ones that don’t belong to me (in case you thought it was just me being anthropomorphic), and they all have character. Ivanhoe is my spouse’s indefatigable Dawes Galaxy. Then there is Andy’s Cannondale Bad Boy: a long-suffering, Marvin the Paranoid Android type that resolutely goes by the name of Dave. Fingal is my Orbit Harrier, with a tone reminiscent of Noel Coward and a jealous streak. Max is the Specialized Hard Rock I bought for dismal winter commuting and towing the Bob Yak. He’s a real trooper and has a penchant for fast, slippy descents on the tracks and lanes they laughingly call ‘roads’ round here. Peregrine is the relatively new Pinarello Galileo I bought for no other reason than to cheer myself up, currently only 3 months old and still as excitable as a puppy. The other half has recently bought a Giant Terrago, second hand, and they haven’t developed enough of a relationship yet for us to find out what it’s called.

Out in the shed are the relegations, including Percival the Raleigh Dynatech XC80 – my first proper bike – and Vercingetorix the generic mountain bike never really designed for off-road. All the bikes in the shed are somewhat sad and slightly reproving and we keep meaning to find good homes for them.

It’s a bit mad, really. Even so, we know that if Andy tries to do any maintenance on Fingal it will go badly because Fingal is a one-woman bike, a bit like a border collie, and doesn’t like to be touched by anyone other than me unless it’s a paid professional and I have a good excuse. Max, on the other hand, enjoys being fussed over by just about anybody, Ivanhoe is apparently above such things and Dave is stoic in his sense of being neglected. They have an entire room in our small house dedicated to them.

I spend a large part of my time campaigning for my and other people’s rights to take them and their kin on the road. I can now tell what size allen key I need at a glance and I can overhaul a set of Ergopowers. It wasn’t like this four years ago. Four years ago I couldn’t even spell Campagnolo, never mind be in a position to admit to taking their side in the pseudo-religious Shimano vs Campag debate. Four years ago I had trouble getting a front mech to shift properly. Now I can build my own wheels.

We seem not to be the only ones to have been sucked into a love affair with these human-powered works of art. Go to any internet-based cycling forum and you will find people waxing lyrical about their ‘babies’ and spending what might seem like a ridiculous amount of money on something that is, to the outsider, really no more than some metal tubes, wheels, cogs and levers. They share photographs of them with each other as if they were snapshots of their children. It is usual for them to refer to their machines by, if not a name, then at least by make and model.

Frankly I think it’s bloody marvellous. More of it, I say. More people should have Pinarellos in the bedroom or Mercians sitting in the hall. It should be perfectly normal to possess a Giant that practically wags its tail when its owner is within view. These things aren’t toys: they are noble steeds, carrying us through no matter the weather. They are beloved companions, accompanying us to far off places made all the more memorable by the true appreciation of the tea and cake that help weary muscles recover for the next leg. This isn’t about having shaved legs and wearing lycra, or being able to relate tales of broken bones gained falling on a technical single track. The famous Mr Armstrong said “It’s not about the bike,” and I suppose he was right, in some ways for some people. In many ways he was very wrong.

The humble bicycle and its cousins are not just for the racing elite. They bring freedom and joy to a great many. While a shiny new car may cruise at seventy miles an hour, if it breaks down it can cause a considerable hole in the bank account. A bicycle can be maintained by almost anyone for little cost. The fuel that propels a combustion-engined vehicle has a price greater than a dent in the wallet: the human powered vehicle is an excuse to eat cake. A car may eat up the miles but the bicycle provides a direct experience of the landscape. Those aren’t just pretty postcards seen behind a pane of glass. They are ascents, descents, swooping curves and pock-marked tarmac. Mountains are not defined by a crawler lane but by the sense of achievement on reaching the summit. A bicycle doesn’t take you to motorway service stations and multi-storey car parks. A bicycle doesn’t trap you in a traffic jam, listening to endless traffic reports and slowly cooking in your own juices. A bicycle isn’t something that carries you around: it’s one half of a team, and you are the other half.

So maybe it’s not surprising that so many have such a fond attachment to their bicycles. Maybe it’s not so surprising that all of ours have names, and characters that reflect the experience of the human half of the team. Having shared with him the moment of metabolic crash at 2am and the exquisite joy of the sunrise 2 hours later on a 125 mile night ride that was just one of our many adventures, perhaps it’s allowable for me to feel attached enough to my Harrier to talk to him while sitting in their en suite.

Fingal’s indexing is playing up again. It’s just jealousy over the Pinarello. I’m sure he’ll get over it soon.

We’ve moved, of course. We no longer live in a small house somewhere between Exeter and Dartmoor, where the downstairs toilet had a Park Tools TP2 toilet paper holder (I still have it, but there’s nowhere to put it at present). This piece is four machines out of date. Ivanhoe has gone to a new home — Frood rides a Revolution Cross called Spartacus these days — and I have acquired some additional steeds. I don’t campaign so much, having become disillusioned with the general acceptance that bike paths are the way to go, but how I feel about bikes hasn’t changed. We even had one in the marital bedroom to make space for the guests over the weekend.

Women ride bikes for exactly the same reasons as men. There are men who treat bikes as training tools and those who treat them as a means to get to work without having to worry about parking charges; there are men who worry about climate change and doing their bit by leaving the car at home; and there are men who just love bikes.

I’m a woman. I don’t worry about helmet hair or what the latest fashion is. I don’t worry about which lipstick will complement my skin tone and prevent the wind chapping my lips. I don’t worry about these things because my default mode of being is not one that worries about attracting a man in order to make babies.

I ride my bike because I love bikes. I love the freedom, the sense of exertion, the feeling of raw power. I like the sense of accomplishment and independence that comes from the knowledge that no matter what breaks I can fix it. I drool over a Campag chainset as much as the next person and I had to resist the urge to lick my Planet X Stealth when I got her home.

If River Song was a cyclist I suspect she could build her own wheels and would know to expect trouble from one machine on bringing a new one home. She’d be traffic-jamming with the best and she’d have an opinion about the best gear ratios and tyres for fixed gear riding in the snow.

I don’t think that women need anything special to encourage them onto bikes, or to write horror, or to play the sorts of computer games that are traditionally thought of as being for boys. They just need people to stop telling them that the one thing in life that will ultimately make them feel fulfilled and happy, no matter what else is available, is caring for babies.

Get told something often enough and it’s damn hard not to start believing it.

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It’s not the road, idiot

by on Nov.09, 2010, under Planet Sam, Rant

avatarHere’s another advert that is aimed at a market to which I definitely do not belong. It’s the Michelin Sad Road commerical:

“Once there was a sad stretch of road where drivers just couldn’t stop in time. But along came the Michelin Man, who reminded them that the right tyre changes everything. With the right tyres in place that sad stretch of road wasn’t so sad any more. Michelin Hydroedge tyres stop up to 14 feet shorter.

Michelin, a better way forward.”

This makes me so angry that I honestly have to step away from the keyboard for a couple of seconds to compose myself before launching into what is wrong with this. I mean, to me it’s so bloody OBVIOUS what’s wrong with this that blogging about it is pointless. It’s worse than pointless. It’s bringing additional attention to a manufacturer that should be ashamed of itself for spouting forth complete nonsense.

A good driver will always control the speed of his vehicle such that he can stop in the distance he can see to be clear. It’s not the road’s fault the driver can’t stop in time to avoid running over the cute fluffy animals, it’s the DRIVER’S fault.

British wildlife suffers severe casualties every year. The Mammal Society estimates British annual road casualties account for 100,000 foxes, 100,000 hedgehogs, 50,000 badgers and 30,000-50,000 deer. That’s bad enough. Stick the 3500-odd human KSIs on top of that and you realise that there is carnage going on out there on the roads. Telling drivers they have 14′ more leeway isn’t going to prevent any of those deaths or serious injuries. Michelin isn’t contributing to road safety by saying it’s the fault of the infrastructure and drivers just need to buy their tyres: that’s not merely disingenuous, it’s immoral.

Do I even need to point out that the 14 feet claim is entirely dependent on what speed the car is travelling in the first place? Plus, they tested versus a Goodyear and we have to take Michelin’s word on that being the leading competitor.

Roads aren’t dangerous. Or sad. They are just roads. Take the cars away and there’s nothing dangerous about a road unless it has a live volcano underneath or a tendency to subside randomly and drop the unsuspecting traveller into a pit full of angry piranha. The answer to not being able to stop in time is to drive appropriately for the conditions, not buy different tyres.

Take the cute animated animals away and replace them with live children. How appropriate does that driving seem now?

What this advert is actually telling drivers is the following:

Once there was a stretch of road that all the Clarkson-worshippers thought was ideal for driving along pretending to be that German burd who is so great round the Nürburgring. It had some blind corners and S-bends and the surface wasn’t so great but there weren’t any speed cameras and the police didn’t go there much. There were lots of cute fluffy animals and they had a tendency to wind up flat, squidgy, stinky, entraily pancakes on the tarmac, but who cares about squirrels and bunny rabbits when there’s 500bhp under the bonnet and Golden Earring on the stereo? Then one day the Michelin Man came along and whispered that maybe the next time someone was doing 60mph around a corner with the traction control off it wouldn’t be a rabbit but a stonking great deer with a pair of antlers the size of that rocket car that nearly killed Hamster Hammond, or even a BEAR. But it would be okay if they fitted these special tyres because they’d take a whole 14′ less to stop. That’s a bit more than two Michael Schumachers! No danger of totalling their precious Audi then!

Michelin, giving drivers even more of an excuse to behave like inconsiderate morons.

What drivers SHOULD be told is:

IF YOU CAN’T STOP IN TIME THEN STOP DRIVING LIKE A TOTAL TWUNTSPUD, ARSEHOLE!

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Planet Sam

by on Oct.30, 2010, under Miscellany, Planet Sam, Rant

avatarI’m known to friends for my somewhat literal approach to advertisements. The commercial breaks in TV shows are more likely to provoke a furious reaction than the programme they interrupt. Here on Planet Sam, advertisements are a confusing brantub of mixed messages, inappropriate metaphor and plotlines that evidently haven’t been thought through properly.

I mean, really. Would you buy a stop smoking product that causes you to hallucinate giant cigarettes to the point of attacking them with a frozen chicken? Would you really want to buy a pair of running shoes that came with live scorpions inside?

So here’s my new project. TV ads as seen from Planet Sam, or Why I’m not the target market.

I’m going to start with one that is straightforward rant fodder. The Dulux Paintpod Compact Let’s Colour Campaign.

I shouldn’t have to point out how stupid this is as a piece of 21st century advertising. Mattel has a Barbie campaign that is admirable in telling little girls they can be whatever the hell they want to be, and I actually like the fact that this includes a ballerina. Because the freedom to be a fighter pilot or a policewoman or a surgeon or a bomb disposal expert should never get in the way of those girls who wish to dance.

So what if the baby turned out to be a girl? Is Dulux seriously telling us that their company is so stuck in sexist stereotyping that a failure to predict the sex of an unborn child correctly is a good reason for buying one of their products? A girl can become a footballer. A boy can become a dancer.

Frankly I think both pink and blue are horrible colours for a room, and that’s not just the synaesthesia talking. Blue is too cold a colour, and shading everything like that makes the room smaller and less inviting. The pink room is like being shoved into a vat of rendered animal protein before it’s turned into twizzlers.

What this advert says, on Planet Sam, is that the Dulux Compact Paintpod is the ideal product for those trapped in sexist stereotyping who have the aesthetic taste of an inebriated chicken.

That’s a market to which I can happily claim not to belong.

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Butthurt is as butthurt does

by on Aug.05, 2010, under Cycling, Rant, transport

avatarI feel it would be an opportune time to clear up some confusion evidently being experienced by a significant portion of road users. With my foot injury restricting me to cycle commuting for the past couple of months, I’ve had ample opportunity to observe the unfortunate fact that not a lot has changed since the last time I made these comments. There are a few more cyclists running red lights in a manner I consider to be reckless and inconsiderate, but that might be a result of the urban environment, as their numbers are at least matched by those of drivers doing the same.

The thing is, it’s really not that hard.

  • Advanced Stop Lanes are for cyclists. That’s why they have a picture of a bike painted inside them. You can tell it’s a bicycle because it has two wheels and pedals. The red background is there to make them more visible. The solid white line around them is not there to give a clear outline for the man with the red paint to colour in: it is equivalent to any other solid white line at a traffic light. In other words, drivers are not permitted to cross while the light is red. This applies whether you are on a motorbike or in a car, bus or taxi. It also applies even if you are driving a shiny red BMW.
  • Nice work, hotshot

    Shiny silver isn't exempt either, funnily enough

    The presence of a garish criss-cross pattern of yellow on the road indicates what is technically known as a box junction. These are not difficult to use. All that is required is that you do not enter unless your exit is clear. This doesn’t mean sitting inside one because the car in front is half in and half out so it must be okay then. This applies even if you’re in a shiny black BMW.
  • A speed limit is the upper boundary of the permitted speed at which you are allowed to drive your car on the section of road to which that speed limit applies. The speed limit applies at all times of day and night and doesn’t have qualifying exceptions for vehicle type such as “unless you are in a white van, silver Saab, an Alfa Romeo or a BMW.” There is also no exception that says “the limit does not apply if you are overtaking a cyclist who is travelling at or more than the speed limit.” Nor does it cease to apply if you are late for work/picking up the kids/getting home in time for your favourite TV show. The only time the speed limit does not apply is if you are on a bicycle. If you want to travel faster than the speed limit, ride a bike. If you have good reason for exceeding the speed limit in your car, such as you are racing home because your children are being menaced by an angry lion, whilst on fire, you should probably have asked the police to attend on your behalf.
  • You would not overtake a car that was signalling right 5m before the junction and was in the process of pulling out: don’t overtake a cyclist doing the same thing. We’re not pigeons. We’re not street furniture. We’re not mere obstacles to be dodged at the last possible instant with the minimum amount of clearance. There’s a person on that bike, with a family and a life and an adrenaline gland that gets far more use than it really should because a significant portion of drivers out there can’t see past the edges of their own peer group. Don’t be one of those myopic elbow-polishers. It’s not big and it’s not clever and it’s not going to get you where you’re going any faster.
    Every time you overtake another vehicle you are increasing the risk for both of you. When it’s a bike the rider is not protected by three quarters of a metric tonne of steel and plastic and you don’t get to make that sort of risk alteration without due consideration. Squeezing past anywhere is A Very Bad Thing: doing it while the cyclist is attempting to turn right is an indication that you are a turd who deserves to have unpleasant things happen to your procreation equipment.
  • I do understand that some of you drivers out there have a queue fetish. I mean, it’s obvious. You can always tell: they’re the ones who go racing past at high revs when there’s a traffic jam about 50m ahead, where they’ll sit, marinating in their own impatient juices while the cyclist they’ve just cut up merrily cruises to the front of the line. Because you can do that on a bike. Bikes rock and they so rule.
    Still. Each to his own. Rule 34 and all that. If you get a kick out of being frustrated in a jam then that’s what floats your boat. I suppose it might be a form of masochism, like being tied up by a person you really fancy and teased for three hours before being sent home without so much as a lick. Just, if you’re going to jump in front so you can spend that bit of extra time in the jam, please try to be considerate about it and give the cyclist you’re overtaking plenty of room.
  • Cyclists are allowed to filter through traffic and they are allowed on the road. If this bothers you, please fill out the following butthurt report form and submit it by folding it into a paper aeroplane and throwing it from your nearest tall building. Santa Claus will intercept it and make sure it is delivered to the appropriate authority: i.e. your mum.
  • Inspired by http://spubba.com/extras/butthurt.pdf

    Inspired by http://spubba.com/extras/butthurt.pdf

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Safebooze

by on Jun.16, 2010, under Cycling, Rant, transport

avatarThe BBC Magazine today has a piece on Sir Peter North’s report calling for a reduction in the legal alcohol limit from 80mg/l to 50mg/l.

Now to most of us who are aware that alcohol and driving don’t mix, this call is, well, meh. I never drink anything before driving. There’s not much difference between 80 and 50 for those who feel alcohol and cars don’t mix. The advantage of 50 over, say, zero, is that a serving of sherry-laced trifle, use of an alcohol-based mouthwash, or anything lingering the morning after a moderately sensible night before shouldn’t result in a 12 month ban.

Yet, surprise surprise, the Association of British Drivers — also known as the Top Gear Fan Club — objects to any proposal to cut the blood alcohol limit.

Conversely, Nigel Humphries of the Association of British Drivers opposes any reduction, arguing that this would remove any incentive to stay within the law for the small number of drivers who try to drink within the limit.
“We think this would harden attitudes – people don’t take notice of daft laws,” he says. “You’ve got to have legislation that is sensible.”

I am reminded of the first episode of Volume 8 of the Chronicles. When I wrote about ‘SafeBooze’ it wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. It was satire.

  • Safe Booze believes absolutely in enhanced road safety. We do not campaign against blood alcohol limits or alcohol limit enforcement. We are not anti-police. We are not “pro-drinking”.
  • We believe that too much blood alcohol limit enforcement by unthinking automatons makes the roads very much more dangerous.
  • We believe that publicising incorrect safety mantras to motorists is hazardous. “Alcohol kills” lacks any useful meaning and is perilously deceptive.
  • We believe that inappropriate alcohol for the conditions is an essential road safety issue that is made worse by too much emphasis on blood alcohol limit compliance.
  • We do not recommend or condone breaking road traffic laws unless it is obvious to the trained eye that it is perfectly safe to do so, in which case any judge will agree with you because you are, of course, an experienced expert.

From the ABD’s own website:

  • The Association of British Drivers (ABD), as a body representing drivers’ interests, is as eager as anyone to ensure that all road users can go about their legitimate business without their lives being put at risk by those who drive whilst impaired by alcohol.
  • Central to the proposed strategy for further reducing alcohol related deaths is the reduction of the permitted blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level from the current 80mg/100ml to 50mg. The ABD believes that this measure will achieve nothing but the pointless criminalisation of millions of responsible people who are not causing any danger to others. This will lead to a serious danger of public respect for the limit, and consequently the entire anti drink drive strategy, being undermined.
  • The biggest time for drink drive accidents is summer, not Christmas. This is the time when people are dehydrated and the same drink has much more effect. The government should warn people of this, and give advice about factors which can extend the’life’ of alcohol in the blood.
  • It would… be quite reckless for the Government to push ahead with a BAC limit reduction which would certainly result in gross injustice for many thousands of responsible motorists and probably undermine public support for the anti drink drive message, whilst delivering, at best, highly uncertain, unproved and marginal direct road safety improvements.
  • The ABD reserves the right to refuse membership to those with serious motoring convictions, but it recognises that these can arise unjustly.

It would be tragically, gob-smackingly infuriating if it were not so damn funny.

I wish the ABD would just put a big banner across their site saying “DRIVERS SHOULD BE EXEMPT FROM LEGAL CONTROL BECAUSE HAVING TO OBEY THE LAW IN MY ZOOM-MOBILE MAKES MY BUTT HURT. VROOM VROOM!”

It would be more honest. Those of us who have, shall we say, a history of dealing with the ABD and its various stalwarts no longer pay any attention to them. We know they leik mudkipz. The worry only comes when organisations such as the BBC start paying attention to these Clarkson-apologists. It’s like inviting the BNP to the Queen’s Garden Party.

Oh. Right. That’s happening too. *facepalm*

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Shopping online

by on May.21, 2010, under Miscellany, rambling, Rant

It's really not that hardI don’t review shops, online or otherwise, except in extreme circumstances. My disposable income, as discussed already, is swallowed by sport. Oh. And food. Food and sports kit. I don’t buy clothes, or a lot of music, or go out socialising very much… I’m pretty much a hermit with a carbon fibre and lycra habit.

This means that reviews of online shops aren’t very helpful unless you too are looking for a shop that will sell you esoteric sports kit and bike bits. If you are looking for a shop to sell you esoteric sports kit and bike bits, because you’re a habitual purchaser of such things, then you’ll already have your favourites and don’t need me to tell you where to go. Your favourites are probably the same as mine, because that’s the nature of the beast.

I, and other people like me who buy from these shops, are looking for an easily defined set of qualities. If you run one of these shops, here is what you should know about what the average recreationally competitive cyclist/triathlete wants from you (other than what you are selling):

  1. Fast turnaroundHacked offWhen we discover or decide that we want that Continental GP4000 in blue in 700x25c we tend to want it now. If not yesterday. And while we comprehend that there’s this thing called ‘the post’ we will be exceedingly happy if it turns up the next day and will definitely come back to your shop and deal with you again. We are competitive. We like things fast. We also like our toys. Ordering something is like setting the calendar to Christmas Eve. Imagine waking up on Christmas Day and being told Santa hadn’t got around to you yet. You would be disappointed.
  2. Shipping costs — Some shops sell the items really cheap and make up the money by charging an inordinate fee for postage. Things don’t cost that much to ship. I can and have sent a fully padded bike bag the size of a small horse by next-day special delivery and it costs about twelve quid. Do not charge me six quid to send me a carbon fibre stem cap, two caffeinated energy gels and a puncture repair kit. Especially if I won’t get them for a week. It will make me angry. I will not come back to your shop. If you charge me anything more than £2 postage and I’m not buying a bike (and if I am, shipping should be free because I’m spending so much already) that thing had better turn up the next morning or, at a pinch, the day after. This is even more especially the case if you have a free delivery option and a priority delivery option. There are shops out there who can get things to me the next day for free, FFS. This is particularly galling if your shop is one of those that charges my credit card upon receiving the order. That means you’ve got my money for far longer than I have my toy. This will also make me angry. I will not come back to your shop.
  3. The ever-awesome XKCD does it againOrder tracking — We order tracking. I love getting the email that says “your order has been dispatched”. Then it’s definitely Christmas Eve. If you offer me order tracking I will make use of it. My shopping experience is made so much better by being able to watch my package, in a virtual sense, as it wings its way to my excited little paws. If you offer me order tracking and a fast turnaround then I will forgive you charging me for postage when there are shops who will send things to me for free because you have just made the entire transaction an order of magnitude more engaging. Order tracking should be thought of as an extra layer of wrapping, and even if you already know what you’re getting, unwrapping packages is so much fun.Order tracking means I am much more likely to come back to your shop.
  4. Range of stock — I know this should probably go without saying, but anyone who is serious about a sport that involves serious kit, such as cycling or triathlon or kiteboarding or whatever, is impressed by a shop that sells things no one else does. I am likely to forgive you many failings if you happen to sell something I want and can’t get anywhere else. Mine!And here’s something else of which to be aware: we know what we want. We will consider all the options carefully and in many instances we will come to your shop because you have turned up in an internet search as having that one thing. You may make an additional sale on the back of that one thing. If you sell that one thing and meet all the above criteria, then you are likely to get a repeat customer. When you consider how much money people like us are prepared to spend, it’s worthwhile giving us a good experience. The corollary to this is: if you claim to have a particular thing and list it on your website and we find your shop because we want that one thing, and order it from you, it had better be there. If it isn’t there, make sure you contact us immediately and explain as much. Which brings me to…
  5. SwapsI'm not sure this is what I ordered As I’ve already said, we know what we want. Do not make a decision for us if what we want isn’t there. Pick up the phone. Email us. Tell us what’s going on and let us decide what to do about it. We gave you our contact details for a reason and thought that was why you wanted them. The only exception to this is if you have a specific section on your order form that asks us what to do in case of the item not being in stock (there is one shop I use that does this).
  6. Customer service — We want to give you our money. We want to give you our money and have you send us objects of delight that will make us happy/go faster/feel lighter/dance up hills/give us shiny bicycles. Just be niceIn other words, what we are doing here is exchanging cash for pleasure. This isn’t life or death. We’re not paying for something that we need and can’t live without. You do not have us over a barrel. Good customer service is therefore part of what you should offer if you want us to come back, because there are plenty of places that offer excellent customer service and we will give them our money instead if you don’t. We like to reward good service. Bad customer service is, more than any other factor, likely to make customers turn away. Not only will they turn away but they will tell all their friends about you, and not in a good way.

And this is why I’m posting today.

When I went across to Ireland to do the Galway Triathlon last year I had to drop into Nigel’s Cycles to pick up some CO2 canisters because I wasn’t allowed to take mine on the plane. While there I had a nose around, as one does in a bike shop, and he had the Hydrapak Gel-Bot bike bottle in stock, something I had not seen before. I came very close to buying it because it’s exactly the sort of utterly superflous, but dammit so intrinsically useful-looking thing that I find irresistable. At the time I was already over-budget for the trip by some way and couldn’t justify the expenditure.

Then I read a review of one of these things last month and was reminded of how cool it had been, and decided that I’d like one. I hunted on the internet for this item (see point 4) and found a range of places, including Ebay. Most of them had the running version, which I didn’t want. I wanted the bike version (see point 4, again). The three places I looked at initially were good enough to state that it was out of stock (see points 4 and 5). Then I found Pure-Sports, who said they had it in stock. It was a good price, too, notwithstanding the £3.99 postage cost, which set my hackles on end (see point 2).

I duly put in my order. They had order tracking. Excellent (see point 3). By that afternoon my payment had been processed and stock had been allocated, according to the order tracking. The countdown to Christmas had begun.

A week later my bike bottle had not turned up (see point 1). Santa was spurning me. I was disappointed. I called.

My item was not in stock. Not only was it not in stock it had been discontinued. Someone had ordered the replacement model on my behalf and they were waiting for it to turn up (see point 5). Ah, but did the replacement have the gel flask, which is why I wanted it? They couldn’t tell me. Someone would get back to me.

Nobody did. I emailed them. No response (see point 6). A further week later I called again. Apparently the replacement model did not have the gel flask and I was being refunded. Fair enough, but with this level of communication failure the shop had already lost any future custom. At this stage, however, I would merely have crossed them off my list of potential retailers.

Cut to a month later. I still haven’t had my refund. This is why I am moved to post about it. This particular shop has demonstrated complete failure at every one of the things I ask for in a shop. The turnaround was shocking. The shipping costs were excessive. The order tracking was there but it lied. (How can non-existent stock be allocated?) The one item I wanted from them wasn’t there and they did not contact me within seven days, which the website claims they will if there is a problem with an order. They made a decision about what to send me instead of asking me what I wanted and, finally, their customer service has been shockingly poor.

In contrast, I called All Terrain Cycles yesterday because they also had the Hydrapak Gel-Bot bike bottle on their website. They had three in stock. The nice man checked to make sure it was the bike bottle not the running version and was evidently appreciative that I knew the difference although he didn’t. I placed my order at just past 4pm and did not feel any need to quibble over the postage. This morning I received an email saying that it has been despatched by 24-hour courier, complete with tracking number (>click<). Now, even though I know I won’t get it until Monday because I had it shipped to my work address, I am already in a state of excited anticipation.

Pure-Sports: you’re doing it wrong and I’m telling all my friends.

All Terrain Cycles: you’re doing it exactly right and I’m telling all my friends about that, too.

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Invisible Gorillas

by on May.14, 2010, under Cycling, Rant

avatarI sometimes wonder why we are so fixated on the provision of cycle facilities in this country. The Beauty and the Bike project is only the latest in a number of initiatives to try to tackle the issue of increasing the popularity of cycling by installing infrastructure. They come right out with it and say: It’s the infrastructure, stupid!

Regular readers will already be aware of my feelings about this, and the organisation that started it all, Sustrans , which is not, and never has been, a cycling organisation.

Here’s why it’s not the infrastructure:

Selective attention blindness is probably the main cause of SMIDSY incidents on the road, as discussed by the author of the original study, Daniel Simons, in this Seed magazine article. The phenomenon is one in which an observer is so focused on looking for one thing that he fails to see something else that is right in front of him. Hence, in the above video, people who haven’t heard about it will be so absorbed in counting the passes between the white shirts that they completely fail to spot the gorilla. Seriously. It may be impossible to believe but it’s true.

Did you spot the gorilla?

It’s also why no amount of fluorescent material or bright lighting will help a cyclist be seen —apparently you’d be better off wearing the same colours as road signs, because drivers are expecting those— and why segregated facilities are not only unhelpful, they make the problem worse.

Drivers are looking for other cars. This is a peer group phenomenon. The other members of their peer group are more important to them and have higher priority, and there are so many more of their peer group that road users who are not members of that peer group are involuntarily ignored. Frequent cyclists who are also drivers tend to be more aware of cyclists sharing the road for the same reason. Other cyclists are members of their peer group. The more frequently a person cycles the more he is likely he is to spot other cyclists from behind the wheel of his car.

I’m basing this on personal experience, incidentally. I’m not sure if any formal studies have been done into the correlation between cycling frequency and likelihood of spotting cyclists on the road.

If we combine selective attention blindness with peer-group attention selection and segregated facilities, we’re creating a situation in which cyclists won’t be able to use the road even if they want to. Drivers will become less used to seeing cyclists and if cyclists become more unexpected than they are at present, then they’re even more likely to end up in physical conflict with motorised road users.

Cyclists on the road in a world dominated by car culture are the invisible gorilla beating his chest in the middle of the screen. It’s bad enough right now. The more cyclists who choose to give up their right to the road and let drivers get away with not having to look for them, the more imperative it will become to have a fully integrated, segregated network of routes for bikes. The more segregated routes we have, the more dangerous the roads will become.

I don’t know about you but that strikes me as a move in completely the wrong direction.

I shouldn’t look at websites like Bike Belles and their ilk any more. They’re sexist, they’re insulting and they’re trying to make my cycling experience even worse than it is already.

When will people accept that getting more people cycling shouldn’t be done at the cost of those who are already out there doing it? It’s not the infrastructure: it’s evolutionary biology. We can’t tackle this problem by treating the symptoms because there isn’t enough space in this country for building yet more paths. We need to tackle the source of the problem, and the only thing that will do that is getting more cyclists on the roads.

Every single person who chooses to ride on a segregated path is part of the problem. Every single person who chooses to ride on the road is part of the solution.

Which one are you?

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It’s a primal thing

by on May.09, 2010, under Planet Sam, Rant

avatarReally, Mattessons? Is it really?

If by “primal” you mean “pandering to sexist stereotypes” then by gods then I think I might just agree with you.

Let’s just take a look at this homage to the Hanna Barbera caveman era, shall we?

What we have is an advert that starts with a man who has a tupperware lunchbox that is empty apart from an apple. Evidently angered by the lack of man-food, he beats upon said box to demonstrate that he desires to be fed. Rather than, for instance, asking his partner if there is anything else to eat or, gods forbid, actually going and getting something for himself.

We cut to a young woman who has either only just noticed she is hungry or is experiencing period pain. It’s hard to tell from her expression. Either way, she too has lost the power of speech and registers her discontent with the state of her belly by slapping it around a bit.

A pair of male hands thumps a shiny green metal table. Splice in shots of several women coming to attention like meerkats seeing an eagle. The shiny green table turns out to be a car, and the hands to belong to a man engaged in that most manly of pursuits: working on the car. Surrounded by sparks and shit, just in case you needed further explanation that being a man is important, hard, dangerous work that only men can do.

A woman trots past, pushing a shopping trolley, looking for something and in a hurry to find it because a man is hungry, is far too busy being a man to find something to eat himself, and it’s her duty as a woman to appease his hunger. She is watched in bafflement by the only character in this advert who shows any sign of having a foot in the real world: the shop assistant. He’s presumably more used to seeing people shopping in their pyjamas, not dressed up like a model for the latest range at Marks & Sparks.

We see teenage girl again. She’s still beating her own abdomen, only now there’s something a bit scary about her expression. Determined. Perhaps she has decided that self-abuse is the only appropriate response to hunger, in case eating makes her fat and thus no longer conventionally beautiful. Because that, obviously, would be a disaster.

Cut to children. Children! Children who have been taught that the correct way to request food is to roar and beat their chests like an enraged silverback. That will stand them in good stead when they reach the age of taking a prospective partner to a restaurant to woo him or her. Rather than picking an item from the menu they will smack themselves and throw a tantrum until someone puts some food in front of them. Charming.

Finally the sausages are acquired. The drums pause, a moment of relief, followed by several shots of food magically appearing in front of the hungry. The women who were responsible for preparing it have been reduced to a single hand, or a sliver of cloth. After all, their only importance is in the fetching of the food. Once food has been acquired they are no longer worthy of attention.

Look at him. The lazy bastard.Note, if you will, that there is not a single man hunting the refrigerated section of the supermarket for cheap processed pork products. No. What we have are some women who, despite doing nothing more than taking a trip down to the shop, have taken the time to apply cosmetics and carefully coif their hair so they will conform suitably to accepted beauty conventions while in a situation where other people might see them.

We have men, doing man-things, and teaching their children that the correct way to express a wish to be fed is not, for instance, asking whoever is the chef of the day what might possibly be for dinner and is there anything they can do to help, but instead to act like an enraged toddler who wants a sweetie. We see that the correct response from the busy woman who not only has a house to run but has her own career (nobody dresses like that for doing the housework) is not to tell them to bloody well get it themselves but to leap up immediately and go all the way to the supermarket for sausages. We learn that a man does not consider an apple to be proper food: only heavily-salted, fatty, processed meat products are satisfactory.

I find it hard to stomach that in the 21st century we are seeing adverts that demonstrate such blatant sexism. The gender stereotyping on display is offensive to both sexes. Anyone who doubts that sexism is an ongoing problem should take a long, hard look at the way men and women are portrayed in the media, particularly in the flash-shorts of commercial advertising.

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