Saturday, 28 November 2009

How to count two seconds...

In good weather, on dry roads, two seconds is a safe gap. It's actually quite a sensible way of doing things really, as the faster you're travelling, the further you go in two seconds, so the gap increases with velocity.

But the last thing you want to do is take your eyes off the road to look at a stopwatch when you're doing 71.3 miles per hour down the M62.

So us instructors have a little phrase.

"only a fool breaks the two second rule". Find a bridge or an orange roadside telephone, and say it.

It should take two seconds to pronounce.

But does it?

No. It took 2.594 seconds. It's good to include a safety margin, but is there a more accurate way of doing this?

The other way I've encountered is to count elephants.

So, "one elephant, two elephant..." is a safe gap, according to this method.

Clicking on any of these pictures, by the way, will open them up full size. So if you can't see, try clicking on them for a better view. You should find that the light blue boxes at the top of the picture contain a number. This is the length of the sound wave, in milliseconds.

1729 milliseconds is just over 1.7 seconds. That's 15% less than a safe gap. At 70 miles per hours, that 0.3 second difference translates to about an extra 30 feet travelled before you've come to a halt, and that, you tailgating fool, puts you right into the boot of that Volvo you were following.

Not good. It doesn't matter that he slammed on, because a dickhead in a BMW suddenly changed lanes and then immediately braked. Hitting someone from behind is pretty much always considered to be your fault (you must have been either too close, or going too fast, or you weren't paying attention) you wouldn't have a leg to stand on. Especially if it had been amputated because it had been badly mangled in the collision.

So we need something a bit longer than an elephant.

An anaconda should do it.

Nope. At 2.319 seconds, it's a third of a second too long.

So I'm looking for something longer than an elephant, but shorter than an anaconda.

. . .

This went on for quite a while but then I found that my willy was exactly the right length. It's just slightly longer than an elephant, but a bit shorter than an anaconda.

See! Exactly 2000 milliseconds!

So next time you're wondering if you'll be able to stop in time as you travel down some dry road, just recite, "one my willy, two my willy", or "one Paul's willy, two Paul's willy" if you prefer.

Remember though, on wet roads, you need twice the distance.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

the incomparable privilege of existence

From Bill Bryson, "I'm a stranger here myself"...

Take a moment from time to time to remember that you are alive. I know this sounds a trifle obvious, but it is amazing how little time we take to remark upon this singular and gratifying fact. By the most astounding stroke of luck an infinitesimal portion of all the matter in the universe came together to create you and for the tiniest moment in the great span of eternity you have the incomparable privilege to exist.

For endless eons there was no you. Before you know it, you will cease to be again. And in between you have this wonderful opportunity to see and feel and think and do. Whatever else you do with your life, nothing will remotely compare with the incredible accomplishment of having been born. Congratulations. Well done. You really are special.

But not that special. There are five billion other people on this planet, everyone of them just as important, just as central to the great scheme of things, as you are. Don't ever make the horrible, unworthy mistake of thinking yourself more vital and significant than anyone else. Nearly all the people you will encounter in life merit your consideration. Many of them will be there to help you--to deliver your pizza, bag your groceries, clean up the motel room you have made such a lavish mess of. If you are not in the habit of being extremely nice to these people, then get in the habit now.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Snooping around!

A picture was posted on a blog. Perfectly innocently. Just a picture of a rainbow taken from a window.

But I wondered if there was enough information there to identify where the picture was taken from using Google Earth.

The text accomanying the picture tells me that this was taken in a place called Rathcoole, which is somewhere near Dublin.

Most of the ROI is only covered by low quality satellite imagery, indeed much of Ireland appears to be covered in lava. But I'd imagine that Dublin at least would merit some higher resolution aerial photography.

And there it is. Rathcoole. Just a bit South West of Dublin, on the N7 towards Naas (I hitch-hiked from Dublin to Waterford once, and one leg of my journey took me from South Dublin to Naas, so I probably got driven along it once, I think by a middle aged lady in a flowery dress). The airport at the top of the picture is called Casement Aerodrome, and is presumably named after Roger Casement, the famous revolutionary bloke from 1921 and all that.

Some of Google Earth at this point is hi-res, and some of it is low-res.

Now, what clues do I have to guide me closer?

The most obvious one is a road sign in the bottom right hand corner of the picture. There's a main road with another road bearing off to the left, just out of shot. The roadsign is in full sunlight, so the picture could not have been taken from the North, facing south. The text of the sign is too small to be legible, but the words appear to be quite long. Are Irish roadsigns written in English?, or Gaelic? Or both, as happens in Wales?

Well here's one I lifted from wikipedia...

So the signs are bilingual, with the gaelic first, but in lower case, and the English second but in upper case.

Some politics there, methinks, but the text is too small for me to identify anything useful.

Non-motorway national primary routes use white text on a green background, with the specific route number in yellow bold text.

So that puts my man next to a major road. The N7 or the N81 or the N82. There are lamp posts pretty much in the foreground, so the place this picture was taken from is close to a road. they're fairly far apart, so that also suggests quite a major road.

Although the time the photograph was taken is not stated, the sun never goes that far north, especially not at this time of year. It looks like it's pretty low in the sky, too, judging by the quality of the light, and the way the clouds are lit, almost horizontally.

Rainbows always appear beyond the viewpoint, directly in a line from the light source. See HERE for more information. The site linked contains loads of beautiful images and interesting information about all sorts of atmospheric phenomena. Not just rainbows.

Anyway, the higher the bow, the lower the sun, so this was definately taken either shortly after dawn or shortly before sunset. I suspect the latter. The man that took this picture can regularly be found posting stuff on discussion boards in the wee small hours, and he's known to enjoy the occasional recreational relaxant, so my guess is that he was safely tucked up under his duvet shortly after dawn on the day this picture was taken.

So the sun was in the west or south west, therefore the sunlight went from there to the east or north east, and therefore the camera must also have been facing either east or north east.

Here's Rathcoole rotated in Google Earth so that East(ish) is at the top...

So I'm looking for a place where an eastbound road has a road branching off towards the left/north.

In the background are low white buildings. They appear to be industrial units. It's certainly a more built up area than the fields in the near and middle distance. There are some buildings slightly in front of them that look like farm cottages or similar. The horizon is fairly flat, at least the bit of the horizon that isn't hidden by the raincloud is fairly flat.

The fields themselves form an identifiable pattern, as do the combination of ditches, fences and trees that form the field boundaries.

So, looking for a point just south of a major road, and just west of a point where that road contains a left fork, probably into another fairly major road, roughly a mile or so away from some white industrial looking units, with a rural landscape of fields filling the intermediate space.

so here's where I reckon it is...

Drumroll, please!

You can almost see his beard.


The photographer himself was kind enough to contact me and tell me almost exactly where the picture was taken from. Certainly got to within a mile or less, but more pertinantly, most of my logic was correct. It is a place just south of the N7. The camera was facing east, and the shot was taken in the late afternoon. If Google Earth had been using aerial photography in this location, rather than satellite imagary, I reckon I could probably have pinned down the street in which he lived, if not the precise house.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Gran Turismo 4: A moment of triumph!

This may rate as my saddest ever blog. Sad in the sense of "You saddo!" But Gran Turismo has been a part of my life for a long time.

Back in the dark days, the original Gran Turismo came out for the playstation. My sister had a playstation. It came with three games. One was Gran Turismo. The others I couldn't name if my life depended on it. , and I fell head over heels for the game. I'd regularly stay up all night playing. A few years later, I bought a playstation second hand for about £60 just so that I could play it. I didn't even have a memory card, so Icouldn't save my progress, and so had to keep sitting and re-sitting the license tests.

Several things set this particular driving game light years ahead of anything else out there at the time. One was the graphics. Another was the physics. And a third was the gameplay.

Graphics-wise, most driving games at that time were top-down cartoon style affairs. They were really 2D games, but Gran Turismo did things very differently. Right from when you switched on, the graphics from the intro looked like real life. I'd assumed that the gameplay wouldn't match the intro, but it did. Indeed the intro was just snatches of gameplay stitched together and fitted to a soundtrack.

Since it was proper 3D with polygons and a track with gradients and what-have-you, it was always going to "feel" good. You have to remember that the playstation itself was a huge leap forward in games consoles. It was pretty much the first 32bit system, and it was fast enough to give players a real sense of motion. The first game I played was Wipeout, and that had me and my stoned friends swaying in our seats as we played. And so it was with Gran Turismo. To get around the track, you had to actually go round properly. The weight of the car would move forward and backward and outward in accordance with the laws of momentum. The grip of the tyres was finite. So you couldn't just go buy a big powerful car and win all the races.

And so there was a real challenge here. The techniques had to be learned. And to facilitate this, before you could participate in certain types of races, you had to obtain licenses. These were obtained by completing sets of increasingly difficult tasks; These included starting and stopping within a set area within a set time, doing a slalom between cones or tyrewalls, doing a very tight course that could only be done within the time by using the handbrake and accelerator to spin the back end out, and completing full laps of some of the tracks, within strict time limits.

There are always cheats available in the actual races. Knowing where you can cut across a verge or smack into the back of another car to push it off the track and simultaneously slow yourself down. Or just getting a powerful car with really sticky tyres so that the opposition could never hope to keep up. But none of this was possible in the license tests. The cars were chosen for you, and were not modifiable in any way. Coming off the track or hitting walls/cars/etc would result in an instant fail.

For me, these tests really added something to the game.

The original Gran Turismo looks very dated these days. It's been superceded by GT2, then by an entirely new console in the PS2, and then by GT's 3 and 4. I've played them all, although I don't have a PS3, and have no interest in getting one just yet. Give it a couple of years and I will be able to pick one up in Cash Converters or ebay for£50, but for now, I'm more than happy with my old PS2.

It sits under the telly for months on end, gathering dust, and then the whim will take me and I'll play on it for a few days or a week or whatever.

This is what I've been doing for the last few days, and surprise surprise! I've been playing my most up to date incarnation of Gran Turismo - GT4...

I'd left it at a point where I'd completed most of the licenses, but I'd only completed about half of the time trials that comprise the final, special, license. I had left myself the most difficult and challenging courses. Driving on snow in Chamonix, the Le Mans course, Suzuka, etc. The final challenge - the boss track of them all on GT4 is the Nurburgring. It's about 12 miles long, and requires a huge degree of skill and concentration to get around at all, never mind within the set time of just under 8 minutes.

Yesterday, I finally managed it. I Got around in 7 minutes and 57 seconds - a whole half second within the allotted time. And just to prove it (See? I said this was my saddest ever post) I've taken a photograph of the telly screen at the moment where I passed the finishing line.

Ta daaaaa!

Sentimental Bollocks follow-up

Tomorrow at 11:09 AM somebody will address you and tell you some thing you have been waiting to hear.

At 11:00 this morning, my wife's alarm went off. Being a light day workwise (just one lesson at half three in the afternoon), I'd left my alarm switched off, and had a lie-in.

When her alarm went off, we snuggled. We nestled like spoons. My groin pressed into her buttocks and we squirmed in a most agreeable fashion.

If she said anything at all at 11:09, it would have been something like "Don't squeeze them so hard" or "A bit higher up" or "Scratch my back". Certainly nobody else came into our room around that time.

So perhaps, without even being aware of it, I've been waiting all this time for someone to say to me "Oh don't. That hurts my back".

Ho hum.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Sentimental Bollocks

There are some lovely people around. A few of them in particular like to send me heartwarming e-mails about guardian angels and how friendship is forever. I should pass these on to at least ten other people, so as not to break the chain apparently.

So I've set up a special folder in my almost infinitely large gmail mailbox.

It's a bit like my spam folder, but the contents are much more sugary.

Just in case you're unfortunate enough not to have any such mail yourself, I enclose one below...

Date: Thu, 12 Nov 2009 07:31:24 -0500
Subject: Fwd: FW: Read ASAP-Let me know tomorrow


--Forwarded Message Attachment--
Date: Thu, 12 Nov 2009 09:07:50 +0000
Subject: FW: Read ASAP-Let me know tomorrow

-------Original Message-------
From: Joan
Date: 11/11/2009 22:06:33
To: Val Gail gwen joan
Subject: FW: Read ASAP-Let me know tomorrow

Fingers crossed for you all

Let me know what happens to you the morning after you open this e-mail.
This is an unusual one.

It actually gives you a time tomorrow..

Let's see if it works.

Forward this message the same day you received it. It may sound ridiculous, but it is right on time. We believe that something is about to happen. Angels exist, only sometimes they haven't got wings and we call them friends; you are one of them. Something wonderful is about to happen to you and your friends. Tomorrow at
11:09 AM somebody will address you and tell you some thing you have been waiting to hear.

Please do not break this. Send it to at least 7 of your friends!

So, there you go. I've forwarded this to my blog, which gets several readers each day, from places as diverse as Ethiopia and Guernsey. I will let the world know, through this very blog, if anything happened.

Monday, 9 November 2009

A whole lotta allotment!

Well we've been on the waiting list for a while. We even got a close relative to put their name down. And in the end it was their name that got drawn out of the hat first. We have a long skinny piece of land to call our own, sort of, and upon which we can grow tomatoes and asparagus and thyme and gherkins and apple trees and dandelions and flax and aubergines and kale. It needs a bit of work as the photos below show, but that's kind of the point isn't it? To take something that is nothing and turn it into something that is something that will feed us and give us something to do with our hands and minds that is productive and that connects us to the Earth.

So here's how it looks on Google Earth... A whole load of allotments. Some tidy. Some wild.

And here's how ours looks in the flesh.

From the far end looking back towards the entrance...

And from the entrance looking in...

Ah, the joy of it. There's so much to do! The sheds need sorting out because they're not properly secure right now. The greenhouse has no glass. The top, or far end, is a sea of grass and, particularly near the fence, nettles. I'm afraid Brenda is going to have to deal with them. I could legitimately be on an episode of The Panic Room when it comes to Urtica dioica

Friday, 6 November 2009

The Whole Damn alphabet?

.oH":HH$' "' ' -*R&o,
dMMM*""'`' .oM"HM?.
,MMM' "HLbd< ?&H\ .:MH ."\ ` MM MM&b . "*H - &MMMMMMMMMH: . dboo MMMMMMMMMMMM. . dMMMMMMb *MMMMMMMMMP. . MMMMMMMP *MMMMMP . `#MMMMM MM6P , ' `MMMP" HM*`, ' :MM .- , '. `#?.. . ..' -. . .- ''-.oo,oo.-'' Well there you go... ascii art doesn't work on this blog... It should have looked like this

Just a thought though... What if I do it with underline?

.oH":HH$' "' ' -*R&o,
dMMM*""'`' .oM"HM?.
,MMM' "HLbd< ?&H\
.:MH ."\ ` MM MM&b
' `MMMP" HM*`,
' :MM .- ,
'. `#?.. . ..'
-. . .-

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Three weeks pass like nothing in the life of yours truly...

So much to write about and mainly I can't be bothered getting down to the nitty-gritty of actually writing about it properly.

Here's some:

Givvies! Lots of them, including one right at the top of my own street! Why had I never noticed it before? I must have walked past it a thousand times!

Existentialism! I seem to be spending a lot of my time banging my head against infinity and eternity right now. Not comfortable thoughts. I fear I may go insane as I get older. Seriously.

Patterns of behaviour on discussion boards! Just had a typical experience while arguing my case. I'm a toady apparently. Because I pointed something out in someone elses defense. I was called this by someone who jumped in on behalf of another person.

Oh the irony... They succeeded in stopping the person I'd asked from having to bother thinking though, so we can all go on as if nothing matters.

Driving instruction! Liz is a poo! And so is Emma! And Kev!

Really, You don't want to know. Or maybe you do.

Clocks! From Thailand no less! I want a clock with Thai numerals. I have a mate over there who is looking for one for me.

Here are the Thai numerals from 0 to 9...

๐ ๑ ๒ ๓ ๔ ๕ ๖ ๗ ๘ ๙