Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Keeping your bike safe at night.

This morning I spotted this Twitter post from The Met Police in Merton:

Last night we mentioned bikes stolen from sheds. Have a look at the security that was protecting them ! #getabetterlock


I've had my bike shed broken into twice, with them going in two different ways.  I've toughened up my security each time, and thought that it might be useful if I shared my experiences.

When I first got the shed, I was concious that as it would have my bikes in it, it would be a target.  I looked at the parts that came with it, and realised that the hinges were a huge weak point.  They looked like they would fall apart with one tap.  I therefore invested in in a pair of new hinges from Screwfix. 

These ones:

Recognising that normal screws would be far too easy to undo, I also bought some 'security' screws, these ones:

I also made sure that I had a good padlock on it, one like this:

The thieves that took my bike didn't even look at either of these things.  They identified that the weak point on my shed was the hasp.  The shed had come with an even flimsier version of one of these:

The thieves cut through the hoop that the padlock goes through, allowing them to remove the padlock (which they took) and open the shed with ease.  Bang, one bike gone.

I then decided that I should replace the hasp with something tougher.  Looking through the screwfix catalogue, one of these seemed best:

I also bought a new padlock the same as the last one.

When the thieves came back, the new hasp did it's job.  The thieves didn't even look at it.  What they did look at where the screws that held the hinges in.  Those came out in a scond.  Security through obscurity (i.e. relying on odd shaped screwheads) isn't a challange for any thief.  The tools to take the screws out are really cheap to buy from the very place that I got them from, Screwfix. 

Bang. Second bike gone.

So, I looked into what could be done to prevent this method of entry.  I discovered clutch screws.  These can be done up, but not undone.  so I got some of these:

I've not gone through all the security now on my bike shed for obvious reasons, but take a look at yours, and see which of my pitfalls you've followed, and can take care of to make your shed safer.

Quick links to those products:

Monday, 12 November 2012

Sharing videos with Roadsafe

On the 14/07/2011, I posted a video on youtube of the driver of a black BMW, registration number YE54 0KV (YE540KV) overtaking me, at a point that was far too close to a central road island, and being forced to go the wrong side of it.  At the same time, I reported him via the Met's roadsafe website.

The video is available here:

You'll note that in my intro to the video, I labelled the driver a Numpty.  This is because I think it's quite clear that he is one.  The officer at the met who reviewed my video got back to me to let me know that they were unable to take any action against the driver as "Unfortunately, due to the mildly insulting comments you have added to the title and content of the video, I am unable to take any further action with regards to this matter. The Metropolitan Police cannot be seen to be endorsing such comments in any way.".  They also warned me that I "leave yourself open to being sued by the driver through the civil courts for slander / defamation by posting such comments about him in the public domain."

I've looked up the definition of "numpty" in the OED, it gives us two possibilities:
  • Noun - A stupid or foolish person; an idiot.
  • Adjective - Esp. of a person: stupid, foolish, idiotic.
I think that the driving in the video is all three, stupid, foolish and idiotic, and stand by my use of the word as such, but I'll let you decide if I'm right or not.

I did however, want to ensure that any further footage I sent to them would be usable, so I asked for some guidance I could share.  I've held onto this myself for far too long, so here it is:

"Thanks for your interest, I have compiled a short list of points that would help both the RoadSafe unit and yourselves :-
First of all, don't engage with the driver / rider who's caused you the problem. It's far better just to record the video and post it. There is always the chance of a violent reaction and we would rather you avoided this where possible. If you should get into an argument with someone, remember that everything you say is being recorded by your camera. We have had cyclists submit videos where their language is unacceptable and they themselves have received a warning from us. 
Try to say the registration number for the camera audio to record. This helps you where the camera hasn't recorded a good enough image to read the plate later.
If you submit a video to us, it would be helpful if you could hold on to the original footage until you hear from us. If you get our standard reply, then you can delete the footage (or whatever you want to do with it). However, it may be that we decide to prosecute the driver and will require the original, unedited footage. You will be asked if you are willing to attend court before we proceed.
When posting the video to YouTube, Vimeo etc. Please don't post insulting comments about the driver. Try to keep it neutral, e.g." This driver overtook me on a blind bend, leaving two inches of space and scared the life out of me," not "this ***** idiot, ****ing nearly killed me, the ****" (I'll leave you to guess the blanks). Keeping it neutral presents you in a better light, gives nothing for a possible defence solicitor to work on and lastly, doesn't leave you open to a libel suit.
Please tag the video with the registration number, without spaces, e.g. AB12CDE. We can't click the links you provide as we have to move to a standalone computer - but please add the full link in case the registration is wrong.
If you post the video publicly, we will add the link to any letter we send out to the drivers. Therefore, you may wish to post the video in such a way that it isn't available to anyone and everyone. YouTube allows this and Vimeo can password protect a video. Or you could use your own web space if you have it. If you do this, please mention this on the RoadSafe submission and we won't include the link.
You will see lots of drivers committing lots of offences every day. We would really like to concentrate on the worst - those that draw your attention or cause you a problem and you really feel need some advice re their driving. The video you submitted is a superb example of this.
I hope this all helps,
PC Stuart Carey"
I'd like to thank PC Carey for this advice, and am just sorry I too so long to share it with people.  I hope you too find it useful!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

A reply to Giles Corran

I'm posting this here as I don't want to lose it.  It's a response by me to a blog by Giles Corran on Skyfall (here -  I agree with a lot of the post, but had a couple of issues with it.  I don't know if this will get through moderation there, but I hope that it does, if not, its here for everyone to enjoy.

I like this article, and enjoyed the questions that it brings to me regarding the film.  I don't have answers to all of your points, but I do have points regarding two of them.  This means my reply contains slightly more spoilers than your article, so some people may not want to read it.  Just a (I hope) helpful warning to those that haven't yet seen it.

"1) Judi Dench’s ‘M’ dies, and is replaced by a man;"

'M' dying is interesting, as part of the film, I don't think that this is a problem.  I really liked Judi Dench as 'M', and am sad that she has left.  However nor do I have a huge problem with the new 'M' being male.  What sort of a mess would we be in if we could couldn't change the sex of someone in a job?  It might have been more interesting to see more candidates for the role, but I'm not sure that this is realistic in terms of the amount that the film can show.  
As such I'm not certain that a charge of sexism can be leveled here, but I do appreciate having to consider it, which I wouldn't have done so much otherwise.

"3) The pretty girl who manages to remain chaste despite Bond’s ‘charms’ is rewarded at the end with a job as his secretary."

I also have to take this one up.  Sadly Giles, you've made a fundamental factual error.  Moneypenny is not Bond's secretary.  This is an important point.  She never has been in any of the films.  She is the private personal secretary to the head of MI6, which is hardly a lowly post.  
Sadly secretaries are now often underrated. Proper secretarial trained people are extremely highly skilled and trained, and the post of personal private secretary of MI6 is not just going to be given to just anyone.  
Moneypenny is shown throughout the film as being highly capable, Bond's attitude to her might not be great (the constant ribbing starts to grate a little after a while) but that's Bond, and doesn't make the whole film sexist.  I'd also like to point out that I don't feel that the job was given as a 'reward' for her actions during the film.  In fact, it's explicitly stated that she's been seconded to cover the transition period between the service heads changing, during her suspension from field service having shot Bond (a shot that she was unhappy about taking and was pushed into by 'M').  This implies to me that she has a wide ranging knowledge of the organisation as a whole, a skill that would by highly valued be someone such as the new 'M' who has just started with the service.
Once again, I'm not sure that the (factually incorrect) point you've made is so much a sexist point, as a failing to appreciate the skills of properly trained secretarial staff.

I'm not going to disagree that the film is in some ways sexist. To an extent I expect it in a Bond film, and would be far more surprised if it wasn't.  I was however fairly pleasantly surprised by how little there was.  I find it interesting that other far more mainstream writers have agreed with me (see for one).

Over the last few weeks, I've been watching the stories coming out of the Everyday Sexism project (see for more details on that).  Many of these fill me with horror, some of them make me question things that I see day to day, and some of them make me question where boundaries are and where they should be.  I'm flagging it here as I hope that both of you find it as interesting and challenging as I have.

Thank you for putting this article into the public domain, and allowing us to comment on it, and thank you to Esther, for letting Giles post this here.  I would like to say once again how much I enjoyed it (and the comments after it too).

Monday, 10 September 2012

Petronella Wyatt's mother

I have to say, that if the Daily Mail articles are correct, I feel really sorry for Petronella Wyatt's mother.

If we compare with we discover that Petronella Wyatt's poor mother has in fact been knocked down 3 times in two and a half years...

Once within 2 months of the 19th of Febuary 2010, by a cyclist "who did not have his lights on."  This caused her mother to fall on her back and hit her head, causing bleeding. When the cyclist didn't bother to stop, a kind passer-by took my mother to hospital, where was told she was lucky to have escaped concussion or a broken back, but had broken her arm.  Sadly, we're not told where or exactly what date this collision occoured, or which A&E she went to, so that one can't be verified.  (taken from - incidently note that the only comment that is left is the one about how she's wrong on what strict liability would mean).

The second pair of accidents are a bit more verifiable, and I'm tempted to pop a freedom of info request in to see what it blows up.  The first of the second incidents took place on the 16th of August, as her mother was crossing the road whilst shopping in London's Regent Street, presumbely at a pedestrian crossing, when a youth on a bicycle shot a red light, knocked her to the ground and left her with a broken arm. Now, we're told that kindly passers-by dragged her seemingly inert body on to the pavement and called an ambulance.  This should be traceable, be asking hospitals that she may have been taken to how many callouts to Regent Street they had on the 16th of August, and asking for a breakdown of the reasons for the callouts, and the times of them.  I'd suspect that even a busy street like Regent Street doesn't have that many ambulance callouts a day.

We're then told that 3 days earlier than the date of the article (8 September 2012) her mother was once again knocked down by a cyclist, this time on a North London street.  This would put the collision as occouring on the 5th of September.  She states that her mother nearly lost the sight in her left eye, and that her broken arm sustained such serious damage that she may have to undergo a lengthy operation on it.  I have to assume that this again means that she would have had to go to hospital, so there should be some record of this admission, although as in the first incident, I don't think that there is enough data to pick it up in the stats.

She also goes on to claim in both articles that "If my mother had been hit twice by a car in a similar space of time, the general reaction would have been one of horror and outrage".  Sadly I think that she's wrong.  The Killed and Seriously Injured stats for those hit by cars are horrific, and still they are reported as actions taken by cars, rather than drivers, and are punished in a very light way.  Currently you are more likely to be sent to prison for damaging a car (a charge of criminal damge, which carries a potential jail term of 6 months if the damage is under £5000 in value, or up to 10 years is the damage is over £5000), compared to the charges for killing or injuring a cyclist or pedestrian in your car (a likely charge of causing death by either careless [a punishment of Up to 5 years in prison, and disqualified for a minimum of one year] or dangerous driving [a punishment of 1 to 14 years in prison, and disqualified for a minimum of two years]).  As far as I know, conviction rates on criminal damage charges are much higher than those for causing death by careless or dangerous driving.

I might just throw in those FoI requests, and see what comes back...

Monday, 4 June 2012

More on Vehicle Excise Duty

Sometimes I hate twitter.  It makes me do stupid things.  Like get out of bed to write a blog post on Vehicle Excise Duty at 1:30am

I've been having a discussion on Twitter with Lee Massey (@threeamp1) over VED, and how it could be made fairer.

We both seem to agree on the idea that charging for the amount of wear that your choice of transport does to the road is the best way forward.  Where we disagree is on how to measure that damage.

He suggests that the only two things that are important are the mass of the vehicle, and the distance that it travels. He also suggests that it needs to be based on the actual wear that has taken place.

I would suggest that a better proxy for the wear on the roads is the force that could be exerted on them by the vehicle, combined with the distance traveled.

All taxation schemes have to have a simplification in them somewhere, mine in this would be to use maximum potential wear, rather than absolute wear.  The use of absolute wear would require constant tracking of every one of us, for every minute that we were travelling.  This not only has huge technology cost implications, but also massive privacy ones too.

Physics tells us that force is equal to mass times acceleration.

Car manufacturers are really good at telling us a number of things about their cars.  Their weight, and their 0 to 60 mph time.

Whilst Mass is not Weight, since everything that we are measuring is under the Earth's gravity, we can just use the posted weight as a mass.

I've thrown together a quick table of transport modes, and what their VED ratios per 10,000 miles would be under my proposed system.

I've only thrown a few cars into there, and I'm quite liking the results.  There is no method of taking into account how good or bad a vehicle is in terms of fuel usage, but on the basis that a less polluting car will use less fuel, I'm inclined to suggest that taxing fuel is a better choice for this.

Part of the point of this exercise was to try and find a relative amount of VED for a bike.  I'm going to dig into this a bit more, but since most cyclists don't ever reach 62mph (100kph), it's going to be tricky.  I'll look into it more later on today, but on the basis that a bike ways 8kg, and a cyclist could get to 62mph in a minute, a cyclist does over 600 times less damage to the road than the best car that I've stuck in so far.

I'll update this post later, and increase the table with other vehicles as they are suggested to me.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Why I'd love to pay Vehicle Excise Duty

I shall start this blog with a statement that may seem rather odd to many people out there.

"As a cyclist, I would love to be able to pay Vehicle Excise Duty for my bicycle."

I can hear the outcry from cyclists now, and the cheers from many drivers.  If either of these is your reaction, I'm sorry, but you've got it the wrong way round.  Cyclists should be begging the government to let us 'pay road tax'(1), and car drivers should be pleading for cyclists current exemption to stay.

Why should cyclists be begging for a tax disc? Simple, once we have one, the argument of 'but I pay road tax' is gone.  Having a tax disc would cost cyclists nothing.  The VED on a vehicle that emits up to 100 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre is £0 per year(2).  Since this is based on the vehicles emissions, and not those of any drivers or passengers, all bicycles would be in this group.  Since all modern bikes already effectively have a registration number in their unique frame number(3) this could be used on the disc instead of a number plate.  The tax disc could even help to serve as a theft deterrent, I would suggest that they should be in the form of a tough to remove sticker with an identifying code that is easily scanned by the police to check that it is in date, and that the rider is either the owner of the bicycle, or has permission from the owner.

Maybe the state should even hold a list of frame numbers, which are held against a registered owners name, much like the V5 for a car.  The fact that this list is held by the state for cars is part of the reason that relatively few cars are stolen.  It is easy for the police to check if a car is stolen, using it's registration number or its chassis number, this can't happen with bikes, as there are about 6 different places that a police officer would have to check to find out if a bike is stolen.

So far I think that I've built a fairly basic case for having a state controlled database of all cycles, based on the frame number, and for why cyclists would want to pay Vehicle Excise Duty.

I can see all the car drivers nodding along, this is what they've been telling us all along, cyclists need registration plates, and to pay our road tax, and to have insurance...

Sadly, they are fighting the wrong battle, they've just not been told yet.

Why are they fighting the wrong battle? It's because they haven't thought it through fully yet.  Let's run some numbers about shall we?

In 2010 (the year I can find best figures for at the moment) 3.5 million bikes were sold(4).  That's 3,500,000 bikes, or around 9600 bikes sold per day, every day of the year.  The cost to issue a tax disc in 2012 is £1.65 per disc(5).  Therefore just for the 3.5 million bikes that were sold in 2012, their first tax disc would cost the tax paying public £5.7 million.

That's before we've added them to the big database of bikes frame numbers that would need to be created and maintained, and the large number of bikes that would need a renewal disc.  In 2009 3.4 million bikes were sold in the UK(6).  Reissuing those bikes with a tax disk in 2010 would add an extra £5.6 million to the cost of issuing tax discs.  Assuming that the growth in cycle sales stayed steady into 2011, we would expect that 3.6 million bikes would have been sold in the UK in 2011, and a further 3.7 million will be sold in 2012.  If all of these remained taxable (and let us not forget, that bikes are far less likely to go wrong mechanically than cars are), that would give a cost of £23.4 million just to produce tax discs for every bike sold in the last 4 years.

Given that the current cost of issuing tax discs just to cars is estimated at £90.7 million per year(5), it is hard to see the justification of adding an increase of over 25% to the cost of this, for no gain in revenue coming in to the government.

Where would the cost of that increase in the cost of issuing tax discs go?  Either it would have to be paid through general taxation, and so everyone would pay for a scheme that if implemented correctly, would be of benefit to very few people, OR it could be paid for by increasing the cost of Vehicle Excise Duty to take into account the extra overheads.  This would mean an increase of over 25% for most drivers, just so that the demands of a few who think that 'road tax' still exits can be met.

Drivers therefore should be demanding that the status quo of cyclists not paying Vehicle Excise Duty is not changed, as it it likely that they will end up paying for my tax disc

  1. Yes, I am fully aware that road tax no longer exists (see

Monday, 13 February 2012

Armchair Auditing - Slight Disappointment

So, today was the first day that I could expect any information back from any of the Councils that I've contacted so far.  I'll be honest, I wasn't expecting anything back yet at all.

I've had a number of acknowledgement letters, and one refusal.  It's the refusal that disappoints me.  Any Housing Benefits system is going to be based on a database.  That database, if its up tot he job, should be searchable.  Ashford Council have told me that their system cannot provide the information that I have requested.  The have said that this is because a "new program" would need to be written to get the information, and the cost of this would exceed the £450 limit.  I very much doubt that this is the case.  It should be a fairly simple database query, See for my request, and their response.  Before I request an internal review of this decision, I've asked them who their Benefits assessment software is provided by.  There are only a handful of firms that provide this software, and I know of most of them.  I would be hugely surprised if any of them can't provide this data.

I shall be watching this request quite closely.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Armchair Auditing - 1st letters sent, and I hit a snag...

So, today I sent out the first requests for data.  I decided that using WhatDoTheyKnow would give me the best method of tracking the requests.  I started going through the big list of councils that administer Housing Benefits (taken from a DWP document giving their average times to deal with claims).

Pretty soon I hit a minor snag.  WhatDoTheyKnow only lets you send 10 Freedom of Information Requests per day.  You can ask them to increase this number if you feel that you have a good case to do so, and I'm considering doing this.  I don't feel that my requests are vexatious, and as far as I know, this information isn't gathered centrally.  Even if it is, I may well get data that goes further back by requesting it from the council directly.  I think that I'll hold off asking them until I've got the information back from the first responses, to see if anything in my letter needs tweaking.  I don't think that it does, but then again, I would think that, wouldn't I!

I've created a google docs spreadsheet to keep track of the requests that I make, and when I get responses to them.  I'll keep updating this as I go along.  I'm still pondering how to deal with the data that I get back.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Armchair Auditing

Having been getting more and more fed up with the Government lines that the Private Sector is far more efficient than the Public sector, and that Benefit Claimants (and in particular Housing Benefit Claimants) are the reason that the government is in the mess that it is in, I started to wonder how much the State is subsidizing big business.  Well, in fact, business of any kind really.

The main method in which business is subsidised by us, the tax payers, it by topping up workers wages to a fair amount.  What's that I hear you cry, that can't be true! It is. Housing Benefit is paid to employed people too, as is Council Tax benefit.  Why do those people need to claim Housing and Council Tax benefit? Because those uber-efficient businesses have twigged that if they can pay below the amount that people need to live on (as determined, let us not forget, buy the government) their profits will be higher.  Since they have a legal obligation to maximise shareholder value, businesses have little interest in actually paying their staff enough to live on, especially when the State will cover it for them, and its not them that get condemned for it, its their greedy scrounging benefit claiming staff!

How can the Government claim that business is more efficient than the state, if the state is paying half of the costs of employing people?

I decided to do a bit of digging around the Housing Benefit Stats.  I wanted to find out to what extent is the state supporting business by paying for the housing costs of their staff.  Fortunately for me, previous governments have seen fit to let me get at some of the data that I need to get at least an outline picture of how big the issue might be. I'm sending the letter below to each of the local authorities that assess Housing Benefit.

To: $Council
Subject: Freedom of Information request - Information regarding Housing Benefit claim numbers and amounts
Dear $Council,

I would like to recieve the following information:

1. Number of active Housing Benefit Claims on the first Monday of
April each year for as far back as your records allow.
2. Number of active Housing Benefit Claims on the first Monday of
April each year where either (or both of) the Claimant or their
Partner is recorded as having had "Earned Income" on that date, for
as far back as your records allow.
3. The Total amount of Housing Benefit paid for the week starting
on the first Monday of April each year for as far back as your
records allow.
4. The Total amount of Housing Benefit paid for the week starting
on the first Monday of April each year where either (or both of)
the Claimant or their Partner is recorded as having had "Earned
Income" on the first Monday of April, for as far back as your
records allow.

I would like to make it clear that I would consider income from
Self Employment to be "Earned Income"

For your convenience, the dates of the first Monday of April for
the last 15 years are below:

Many thanks for your help.

Yours faithfully,
Mr J Chandler

Now, one of the problems with this approach is that I cannot tell how many hours the people that are Earned Income Claimants (or partners) that I get told about are working.  This means that I catch all part time people who are also entitled to claim Benefits.  I have no problem with that at all, but I doubt that any Local Authority keeps that data, and in fact I would be more worried if they did.

I'll try to keep updating this as I get along, I'm hoping to get all of the letters sent out tomorrow.