tisdag 31 oktober 2006

Beside the Sea Side

Brighton promenade
Originally uploaded by Tibi08.
An article in The Observer on 22 October by their architectural correspondent, Steven Bayley, perpetuates the myth that Brighton first came to prominence on the strength of Dr Russell's promotion of the Sea Cure.

The real story is more interesting. The development of a sea front at Brighton, based on sea bathing, begins with Londoners buying properties for the purpose over twenty years before Russell set up his establishment in the late 1750s.

This first generation of Brighton sea bathers take up the practice as a means of engaging with the unconstrained forces of the ocean in order to replicate the habits of enquiring thought developed by the pioneering members of the Royal Society in the second half of the seventeenth century.

Russell enters the picture later on, trading on pre-scientific beliefs about intellectual efforts being powered by the production of "animal spirits". The Russell Sea Cure was based on the notion that a shock to the system would restore the "balance of humours within the body".

The idea that Russell was the first to popularise Brighton is a nineteenth century myth created when sea bathing was reduced to the status of recreational pastime, coincident with swimming becoming a mere sport.

The myth continues to do much harm to the city because nothing can
improve on the sea front whilst its true origins remain unacknowledged. Brighton sea front is one of the handful of iconic places in the world, and the model for all seaside resorts everywhere.

The greatest service that architectural writers could do for Brighton
would be to acknowledge the international significance of the sea
front and press for it to be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage

torsdag 26 oktober 2006

Thalys - a horrible train

Thalys train interior shambles
Originally uploaded by seadipper.

The Thalys is a train based on the French TGV, it runs between Paris, Brussels, Köln and Amsterdam.

It is an appalling train. The seats are cramped and a lot of "window" seats just give you a view of the curtains. There is not enough space for luggage and it gets left in the doorways. At the next stop the platform was this side and all the stuff had to be moved.

Trouble is nearly all the seats are face-to-back, airline style, only the difference betweens trains and aircraft is that planes have a baggage hold but trains don't.

Compare the Danish IC3 train
Danish train

onsdag 25 oktober 2006

How to do a pedestrian crossing on a bus lane

Tramway/bus lane crossing
Originally uploaded by seadipper.
Pedestrian facilities in British towns are often poor but in Brighton they are truIy atrocious.

In many parts of the city centre, there are no pedestrian crossings where they are most needed, forcing people into long and time-consuming detours if they are not prepared to take risks. If you try walking from St James's Street to North Street, you will see what the problem is.

People have to wait too long before they can get across the road, and because the lights show danger when it is apparently safe to cross, ignore the lights and are then liable to be hit by vehicles, especially buses, coming from an unexpected direction.

Particularly bad locations include St Peter's Church, Castle Square,
and North Street, outside Boots. There are a lot of serious accidents, including fatalities.

The layout of the bus lanes in the city needs to be re-thought, as
well as the design of the traffic lights.

The photograph shows pedestrian crossing lights in a bus/tram lane on the continent. They are set so that pedestrians can normally cross without waiting, and when the bus or tram approaches, the lights flash alternately and there is an audible warning. So pedestrians are not held up unecessarily and get a proper warning when they should not cross.

Easy, isn't it? But jaywalking is being used as an excuse to do nothing.

tisdag 24 oktober 2006

Common sense about recycling.

Recycling centre
Originally uploaded by seadipper.
The principle is to reward desirable behaviour.

You put your used bottles and empty cans in and the machine reads a bar code and you get your deposit back. So bottles and cans are not left lying around and some people make a bit of pocket money by collecting them. Better than charging to have the council take your rubbish away, that just encourages dumping.

söndag 22 oktober 2006

Horrid railings

Originally uploaded by Robert Brook.
In other countries they manage perfectly will without putting up miles and miles of this expensive and hideous hardware so why do we have to have it in Britain?

Royal Mail Corporate Identity - 1980s

This is from the days when corporate identities spelled out "Quality Public Service". Nowadays corporate identity is about marketing. Once Margaret Thatcher had asserted that there was no such thing as society, the notion of public service disappeared and we just have lip service paid to "customers" or "clients" who are treated like punters.

A travelling post office was a mobile sorting office - the mailbags were put on the train and sorted as it went along. Mail could be picked up and dropped on the way without the train having to stop, using a system of nets on the trains and by the track.

fredag 20 oktober 2006

How to do pedestrian crossings

Helsingborg street crossing
Originally uploaded by seadipper.
This road is just as busy as Brighton sea front. But there is no pig-pen in the middle, and when the lights change you can cross in one go. The safety-conscious Swedes seem to manage without putting up miles of railings in their streets so why do we need them?

How not to do pedestrian crossings

Originally uploaded by Elsie esq..
This crossing is on Brighton sea front by East Street. It is a perfect example of how Brighton's traffic engineers make life hard for pedestrians.

* The waiting time is too long.
* You have to cross the road in two stages, and are made to wait in the pig pen in the middle.
* When you have crossed the road you also have to cross the cycle lane, but this is not controlled by the traffic lights so you step right into the path of fast-moving cyclists.


tisdag 17 oktober 2006

Rat in my street this morning

Rat in my street this morning
Originally uploaded by seadipper.
There are a lot of dirty people live round here and restaurants who put their food waste out. Good for foxes as well as rats. Brighton and Hove Council are curiously slack about enforcement, which is odd because they could make quite a lot in fines until people got the idea that they should not leave their muck about everywhere.

Internet problem in hotel - solved fast

The hotel I stayed at in Helsingborg had just opened and the internet access was dodgy - there was an American journalist who had not been able to email to his office using his Apple laptop. They let me speak to their ISP who told me what the settings should be but they didn't work. As I was using Linux I could get some information, I was getting a faulty IP number.

I made several telephone calls to the UK and Germany and enquired in the local Apple shop, then the hotel people let me speak to the ISP again - this time they gave me a fixed IP number which didn't sound right but it worked.

Next thing was the computer at the reception desk had lost its internet connection, which was obviously because I had taken the IP number, so I disconnected and their computer regained its connection. I asked about router and they said they couldn't get to it, I asked where ethernet cables came from room and they showed me a box in a cupboard.

I noted make and model number and looked it up on the internet, it turned out to be a network switching box, not a router.

The hotel promptly called an IT person who found there was no router, he got one from a late-opening shop, fitted it and everything was quickly up and running.

When I left, the hotel thanked me for the help and didn't charge me for the international calls I had made.

Somehow, I can't see things happening like that in Britain. It would have been, more likely, 'nothing wrong with our system, must be your computer, Guv', so things don't get sorted out.

What a mess round Palmeira Square, Hove actually.

What a mess
Originally uploaded by seadipper.
They are renewing the paving in this Conservation Area and they are making a complete mess of it as the blocks are too widely spaced. They had to fill in the gaps with wet cement which is wrong and it looks as if they did the pointing with their fingers. Either there wasn't a proper specification or it is bad workmanship and supervision. And all in a Conservation Area and costing a fortune. There is someone, somewhere, very incompetent.

söndag 15 oktober 2006

Integrated transport

Originally uploaded by Johannes Martinsson.
The green box is where you validate your ticket which costs SEK100 (about £7.50) and does for six trips then you have some money left over which goes towards payment for the next one. It would be better if the fares were an exact fraction of 100. The clever thing is that they last for 90 minutes which takes you on the ferry all the way to Vrångö and you can use the for local train journeys too.

You put your ticket in the slot at the top and press one of the buttons depending on your journey. The starting time and cost of the journey is printed on the back. The top button is marked BYTE which confusing at first as it is nothing to do with computers but means "change". It is the one to press if you change eg from tram to ferry or from one tram to another.

onsdag 11 oktober 2006

Why am I still using film?

Me taking pictures
Originally uploaded by seadipper.
Most of my pics are taken with a Canon Ixus but it has serious limitatations.

(1) The lens can't draw straight lines and there is bad barrel distortion. This could be corrected digitally if they built in the software.

(2) It is difficult to see the image on the LCD display at the back of the camera except in subdued light.

(3) I have to hold the camera at arm's length to see the display and it is not steady in this position so it tends not to be sharp except in very bright light.

(4) The optical viewfinder is not accurate and you can't see what is not in the picture.

(5) It does not cope well with a wide range of light and dark in the subject. Light areas bleach out or dark areas do not show shadow detail.

(6) It does not do will with subjects like dark twigs viewed against the sky as they come out grey and blurred.

So I am still using my worn, shabby, Leica M2 made in 1961 and will be for quite a while.

Obstacle course outside Brighton station

I have written repeatedly to Cityclean, the people supposedly responsible for keeping the streets of Brighton in good order but they don't do anything.

Having just returned from Sweden where this sort of thing just doesn't happen, I am not that bothered by it right now as it is just part of living in lovely Britain, but after a few months living in a permanent tip will get on my nerves and then I will want to go away again.

tisdag 10 oktober 2006

Robin Hood in reverse

Writing in the Catholic Herald on 6 October, an article by Ed West voiced what I have long thought about the tax system - it enshrines major injustices that the Church should, but does not, speak out against.

Matters are far worse even than he claims in his article. The system is complex and understood only by qualified professionals. It has, indeed, evolved to the point that it has become a structure of loopholes, such that the whole tax-gathering operation is like trying to collect puffs of smoke in a string bag. This means that those who can afford to pay for the best advice can reduce their contributions substantially. The title of the article, "Robin Hood in reverse" is exactly right. The tax system is a major component of the "poverty trap", and when people are little better off when they work than when they are living on benefits, moral corrosion sets in.

And the running cost, about £25 billion a year, is about 6% of the total, and several times more than what a better and more efficient system would be.

The whole exercise is based on illusion. Employees are led to believe that they pay "their" Income Tax through the PAYE system. In reality, it is a tax on labour; taken together with "employees' " and "employers' " National Insurance contributions plus VAT, the overall
result is that it costs employers almost £2 to leave employees with £1 worth of purchasing power, measured in the real goods and services they can actually buy. This gives us the seemingly impossible - the high labour-cost/low wage economy. Employers are under continual pressure to reduce their labour forces, whilst in the public sector, we get "churning" - over 40% of the cost of running the NHS, for instance, is actually money that is promptly reclaimed by the government, those who work for the organisation never seeing a penny of it except as a notional "gross pay" figure on their pay slips.

The the system hits hardest on those with few skills or in disadvantaged locations, such as the former industrial areas in the northern half of the country, producing overcrowding and housing shortages in London and the South-East as people drift to that part of the country in search of jobs. Matters are much worse than the article argues, and the problem is not confined to the UK, being more severe in other EU countries such as France and Germany where it is the main cause of their persistent high levels of unemployment and regional imbalance.

And what is the money spent on? The bulk goes on either the relief of poverty ("redistribution") or on services which, in the right circumstances, most people could be sufficiently affluent to buy for themselves. Yet the need for wholesale redistribution is assumed to be a natural and unavoidable condition. Rarely is it suggested that there is something fundamentally wrong with an economic structure in which poverty is inevitable and so much has to be provided through government intervention paid for by high taxation. And those who question this state of affairs generally have little to offer other than cuts in taxes accompanied by cuts in public services, which drive large numbers of people back into poverty and leave the public realm in a state of squalor.

What is needed is not so much tax cuts as a tax shift: people should keep what they earn and the state should collect that which is not earned, thereby raising the revenue to pay for what individuals genuinely can not provide for themselves but which has to be supplied by government.

Using the social teaching of the Catholic Church as a starting point, we need to work out how that can be achieved.

lördag 7 oktober 2006

Brazil Nuts - European Union Nuttiness

Brazil Nuts
Originally uploaded by coveman.
I used to like to eat Brazil nuts, but these days I have to take three packets out of four back to the shop as they are not fit to eat. They never look nice and white like the one in the picture, but are off-white and translucent - the first sign that they are going bad.

Yet again today I have purchased a packet of Brazil nuts from my localhealth food store, Infinity Foods, only to find them rancid on opening them this evening. I had hoped to eat a few to finish my evening meal and am disappointed that I can't, and now have the nuisance of making a trip back to the shop - they are quite happy to give me my money back but this just shouldn't be happening. The previous bag I bought was mouldy through and through.

The sale of rancid or mouldy Brazil nuts is a new phenomenon. It has apparently followed the introduction of Directive 1525-98 which has effectively put an end to the sale of Brazil nuts in their shells.

The Brazil nut is the product of millions of years of evolution. The kernel has multiple wrapping, including the woody shell in which the nuts used to be sold, and the papery inner husk. This provides the best possible protection, and means that the kernel will normally remain in perfect condition for a considerable period, and remains fresh when the nut is finally cracked open to be eaten. If it was off or mouldy, this would be perfectly evident.

Occasionally, the nuts can be infected with a dangerous mould known as aflatoxin, and to reduce the hazard, the EC introduced Directive 1525-98, which in practice has meant that Brazil nuts are shelled and de-husked and then exported from their country of origin in sealed plastic sacks.

Unfortunately, once the shell and husk have been removed, the nut starts to deteriorate and go rancid. Worse still, if one nut in the sack is infected with mould, this will spread through the entire contents.

Thus the effect of the Directive is that the Brazil nuts on sale in the shops are rarely fresh and often rancid (they taste soapy) or mouldy, so that more people are put to more risk than if the nuts were left in their shells and the people who finally ate them did the checking for themselves, and even then, just the odd nut would be affected instead of a whole sackful.

In the light of this problem, the regulation needs to be reviewed and probably abolished.

fredag 6 oktober 2006

Back in Britain

Back to dirty, littered streets, having to step into the flow of traffic to get round holes dug in the pavement. And rubbish comments in most of the papers. Southern is at least keeping its new trains clean even if you have to put your luggage in the doorway.

What makes it worth coming back for? Friends and the sea. I always get a good buzz out of going in the sea, no matter what. Getting the sea buzz again this morning makes up for nearly everything, it would be a lot to give up not being near the sea where you can get to it in just a few minutes.

That's what happens when you become a sea addict. Would be hard to live without.

The sea at Brighton

run nicklaus run #3
Originally uploaded by lomokev.
Brighton must have one of the best sea bathing beaches in Europe. What makes it the best?

The water is never so cold you can't go in for at least five minutes if you stay acclimatised.

The water is not so warm you get dangerous animals like sharks. You rarely get stinging jellyfish.

There are big tides which help keep the beach clean and give you a current you can swim with, but it is predictable and not dangerous.

The water is clean, and nice and salty.

You get a variety of sea conditions but can almost always go in and enjoy them in one way or another. It isn't always calm, nor is it constant surf. Usually you can go for a nice long swim if you want, and if you can't, you can play in the waves.

The beach is shingle. This is a bit hard on the feet but it stays on the beach and does not attach itself to you and accompany you home. When there is a sandy beach it gets between your toes, in your clothes, and then in your bed or camera.

The water is usually deep enough to swim in without wading a long way out.

The beach has an attractive sea front setting with a lot of nice buildings and there are plenty of places to go and eat after you have been in the water.

You can get to it easily as it is only 15 minutes walk from the station.

There are lots of nice beaches in different places but there must be hardly any that give you all these things. You would think that Brighton and Hove Council would promote these benefits, which make the town so special, but you would be wrong. The Council treats the sea front as a place to make money by putting things there which could perfectly well be in Brixton, like games pitches and places for heavy boozing.

onsdag 4 oktober 2006

1946 London Bus

RT 1702
Originally uploaded by Boxley.
People admire the Routemaster as a good-looking and effective people mover but the immediate precessor of the Routemaster is something else again. Unfortunately, it is a bit heavier then the Routemaster and was not as well-built, which did not matter too much in the days when they were routinely overhauled on the production line at Aldenham.

But has there ever been a better-looking public transport vehicle? Indeed, has there ever been a better-looking road vehicle? The overall shape cannot be faulted, nor is there even an awkward detail anywhere to be found. As an automotive classic, this has to be up there with the greatest such is the Bugattis and the early Jaguars.

Ricardo’s Law in brief