Monday, 15 September 2014

At Last. Reclaim that Illegal Road Tax.

Yes. We're sick to death of the endless phone calls reminding us we can claim for mis-sold PPI we bought years ago*.

Yes. We're sick of the texts telling us we can claim for that accident that wasn't our fault.

Yes. We're sick of being promised a new kitten if we watch the internet for long enough.

But most of all we're sick of the WAR ON THE MOTORIST!

So thank goodness it's now possible to use a new website to reclaim overpaid taxes, entirely legitimately. All Road Tax ever paid since since 1937 can be reclaimed here:

and Road Tax Expert will help you through a full refund of any Road Tax paid since 1937.

You could be eligible for up to 77 years of repayments!!! That's probably thousands and thousands of pounds.**

*We didn't.

**non-hypothicated tax payers are ineligible. Apparently.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Scandal: Britain's rulers, judiciary and media are a clique of art and law graduates

There's been lots of press this week, rightfully noting that Britain's rulers are an elite clique of a few schools and two universities.

What was not picked up on was

  1. All of them have arts and law degrees. Usually the arts degree is "PPE: politics, philosophy and economics", which is an oxbridge-only degree with no real-world relevance outside local and national government. 
  2. A whole six percent of the current MPs have science degrees.
  3. It applies to the media too, where again schooling, networking and the willingness to work £0 interns get you a job.
This utter ignorance of the scientific method "let the data guide you, not your ill-informed opinions" shows up throughout much of government policy.
  • Badger culling. The scientists said it wouldn't work. They were right
  • The East Coast Mainline returning more money to the treasury than any private rail company, yet the government opening up the franchise again. What is it about spreadsheets that they don't believe?
  • The price guaranteed per MWh for nuclear power generated at Hinkley Point C, despite the way the price curves for solar and other renewables saying "massively over the odds"
  • Global warming. It may be bad news, but that doesn't stop you pretending it doesn't exist.
  • etc. etc. We have politicians on all sides of the house who have agendas and beliefs and who are not prepared to consider how many of those beliefs are defensible
And as noted, the media are as bad. Which means when the politicians say things that are blatantly wrong, this doesn't get picked up on. The classic example is when politicians say that cycling in the UK is safer than the NL as annual fatalities/head of population are less. They can quote the numbers because they are dividing the death rate by the wrong value ... it is as defensible as saying "the uk is safer as annual cycling fatalities per sheep in the country" is less. It's completely bogus, either said knowingly to defend a position —confident that it won't be challenged by a media without the understanding— or uttered because they are clueless and don't recognise its flaws themselves.

This whole "25% of London Guide dog owners" story is the ignorant abuse of statistics:
"A survey by the charity found one in four blind and partially-sighted people were involved in a crash"
As has eventually reached the press, this came from 14 people who may or may not have had guide dogs, and therefore is pretty much meaningless

In contrast, we are data driven organisation.

Admittedly all our content is self-selected, hence utterly prone to selection bias and observer bias —but we are aware of this fact and happy to admit it.
  1. we back up our assertions with photos and videos, not anecdotes about cyclists hitting wing mirrors and cycling off. 
  2. by surveying the same streets repeatedly, we build up a defensible dataset. For example, we have no evidence that the fabled "stokes croft bike lane" actually exists other than as a short-stay parking area for the post-office and the mercedes owner who lives next door to it. 
  3. When our assumptions are proven incorrect, we are happy to admit it. For example, when we had evidence that the infamous YA55VDY delivery van could park legally when there was a space for it.
we also know what a survey is. 

For the reference of others
  1. Census: you measure the entire population (i.e. set of things you care about).
  2. Survey: you measure a proper subset of the entire population in the hope that this data can be used to reach conclusions about the entire population. 

The critical thing is that for a survey to substitute for a census, it needs to be a representative sample of the entire population.  If it is not, then it can only be expanded to the non-representative portion of the population.

In the case of the guide dogs, it could be expanded to say "25% of the kind of people who follow our twitter feed and can be bothered to fill in surveys claim to both have guide dogs and to have been hit by a cyclist"

That's a very different statement. But it is all that can be made.

Which brings us round to the point. It's bollocks, but it is a bollocks that will be repeated blindly by much of the press then believed by its readers —and it will also be believed by politicians who don't have a clue about how numbers work.

Maybe we should just make up random facts too.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Clifton: riot of the self-entitled

The Economist has discovered the Clifton Popular Front in their article Four wheel Fever.

This shows what press a tank in a city can have.

The paper did fail to note what bad press a tank in a city can have, such as when the driver of the tank feels that a protest against an RPZ in Clifton is more important than a protest against bombing of UN refugee centres in Gaza

As the paper nodes, "CLIFTON, in Bristol, is an unlikely hotbed of political activism. ". It is however, a hotbed of self-entitlement, be it the right to park your 4x4 on a double-yellow-lined corner near your fee-paying school, the right to double-park near your house -and the right for commuters to park on pavements.

Which is the problem: a clash between a mayor trying address the traffic problems for the city with a part of the city that believes in the inalienable right to drive the kids to school even if there is no parking, to drive to the local shops even if there is no parking, and to drive to work even if there is no parking.

A lot of the city believes that, but Clifton is one part of the city that has come out in protest against it. There's also the Aberystwyth Faction of Gloucester Road, but they have gone quiet. And in Clifton, its the traders who believe in the right to drive to work that are being most vocal.

The article is interesting, we just have a few points to add

"Bristol is one of the most congested cities in Britain. Traffic during the evening rush hour moves more slowly than anywhere except Belfast, Edinburgh and London. "

That's something we've looked at before. "Congestion" is an odd concept; for Bristol it is often defined as "the city with the highest variance between peak hour and non-peak hour traffic". Bristol becomes easy to drive around between 09:10 and 16:30, whereas outer london is always near-stationary. Another metric "average traffic speed" fails to consider that journey time is defined as distance/velocity, so if the distances are short, so is the time. In London, people travel further to work.

"Locals will pay £48 ($81) for the first permit to park near their homes."

Locals in some of the city already do, Kingsdown (KN) and Cotham South (CM) being examples. Nobody protested there, showing that it's not the residents in the inner ring that have the issues. It's those people who have adopted a lifestyle that assumes that free parking will be available near their place of work, and consider congestion to be something imposed on them, rather than a consequence of their own decisions.

"In Clifton, a suspension bridge links Bristol with North Somerset. “Everybody and his daughter will park there and walk across,” predicts one resident. Rather than solving a city’s traffic problem, Mr Ferguson might just end up pushing it elsewhere."

If you ever visit Abbot's Leigh on a weekday you will see that it is already full of park+walk commuters. Why? You save on the £1 bridge toll, adding up to £10/week for commuters. There's also more chance of finding a parking space there. Claiming that the RPZ will force commuters to park elsewhere really means "the expanded RPZs will force commuters to walk further". Oh, and as the Downs is out of the zone, park+bus and park+pedal from there will continue to be as popular as it is today.

What the paper does pick up on is the fact that South Gloucestershire council has a big chunk of the Bristol metropole —and a very different transport policy. S Gloucs has the "Leeds Strategy": wider roads. They've had the space for this, but all it does is amplify congestion in the North Fringe. That conflict between strategies is going to place Bristol and South Gloucestershire in head-on conflict between long.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

What are the cyclists building? Surveillance State 2.0

Out in Twitter Land, one of those paranoid characters accused the cyclists of "building a police state". They are, but not the toy one he imagines from helmet cameras and ANPR recognition. No, those are surface dressing, something to get irate about while the real mass surveillance state gets "deployed" -as the developers call it, "for the duration of the emergency"

Because this new police state is special.
  1. The cost of storing the data is offloaded to to private companies, its a privatised police state.
  2. It's designed to scale: it is now affordable to store a "record" about every SMS message, or HTTP connection opened up. 
  3. We, the population, are paying for the privilege of having the companies record everything we do, and the state being able to ask for it when we get it back.
  4. We've moved on from Irish nationalists and communists to "paedos" and "jihadists" as the enemies. There's something dubious about the paedo one, what with the BBC of the 1970s being worked out, and the attention moving towards the houses of parliament. As for the Jihadist rising, yes, we do have idiots who are getting politicised by watching online videos. But the number of people killed by these naive fools is still a fraction of those killed in the troubles: a we didn't have a mass surveillance state then.
So what's changed since the 1970s? The back infrastructure for mass surveillance states now has O(1) scalability; the front end consumer electronics

In computational complexity theory, there's a notation, Big O Notation, used to describe the scalability of system. It doesn't describe how hard things are, but how much harder things get as the problem gets bigger.

The Deutschland Demokratic Republik, the DDR, is notorious for having the worlds most comprehensive mass surveillance society. But they did it by hand. 

For every citizen to watch, they needed a watcher, so the scalability of their state was linear, written down as O(n) scalability. Double the population, double the watchers, double the costs. That's if you trust the watchers. If you want to keep an eye on them, well, if we assume one monitor per 8 stasi members -and that those monitors need watching too, the scale becomes O(n)+O(n/8)+O(n/64)+... You get the point: it doesn't scale. The DDR tried, but it placed too much overhead on their economy, and even being the most efficient of the communist states wasn't enough. Eventually the population chose they wanted those consumer toys rather than the police state, the army felt the same way, and because the russians chose not to send their tanks in, down came the wall.

Nowadays though, we can build a police state with O(1) scalability, where the 1 has a name: Google.

Yes, everyone views them as a search engine, or an email service, but behind the scenes they've been developing that infrastructure for storing a snapshot of the web, indexing it's cross page links ("metadata", as they call it). The Google File System, GFS, and its computation layers on top: MapReduce, Pregel and Caffeine,as well as most recently, Spanner. As the abstract there says, "it is the first system to distribute data at a global scale".

What else have google done? Android: a smart phone OS, that they give away, indeed, they even sell their nexus phones at a loss. Why? Because it is profitable for them to give away the OS and sell phones at a discount, in exchange for you to carry a little device wherever you go. One that checks in with Google regularly, giving Spanner data to replicate, Google FS something to store, Pregel something to join together.

We are all paying every month for the right to carry a bit of electronics that continually reports to your mobile phone company where you are, who you call, who you text, when you connect to facebook, twitter, whatever. Even everything you look up in the map. Google want that data because the more they record about you, the better they can get about predicting you (remember those Markov Chains?), the better they can target advertising at you.

And government? They want that same data. If they said "every adult has to carry a machine that tells us where you go, what you look up in maps and who you talk to", even the Daily Mail commenters would be up in arms, the UKIP protesting about it being european, and not even the Lib Dem apologists could think of any way to pretend it was good.

Yet we are already carrying those machines that tell google all this stuff -all the government want to do is get that same information. Which they do by pretending it's minor, "metadata", "call records", "web connection information", phrases that aren't obvious to people the same way "where you are", "who you speak to" and "what you do on your computer".

That's what they are after though -they are just hiding the fact so you don't wake up screaming, realising that you are already living in a mass surveillance state that even the DDR would be jealous of -jealous because of its scale, the information it collects, and best of all, the subtlety.

That's the police state the cyclists have built -those bay area pedal pushers- and anyone complaining about CCTV surveillance is simply so woefully innocent it's actually quaint.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Is is a good text?

Now that summer is here, the car windows are down and people can engage in spontaneous conversation.

Here, we can see a tax dodger having the rudeness to walk over a zebra crossing and lights, then, as they set off, decide to talk to one of their superiors -here the driver of Audi WR11FGG.

It's always hard to think of an opening for an impromptu conversation, but here the driver has left a way open by virtue of the fact she appears to be reading email on her smart phone as she drives down the road.

Admittedly, she does seem a bit surprised by the way the cyclist tries to strike up a friendly banter -but then as she was looking at the phone while driving down Whiteladies Road, she was unaware that were any tax-dodgers in the area.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Get your tanks off my lawn!

As d-day for the Clifton RPZ rollout approaches, already tempers are getting hot. What will happen? Will it be tanks up Whiteladies road a-la Soviet Liberation of Berlin, or will be house-to-house battling like Stalingrad?

We know this: it'll be noisy.

Clifton Resident James Gadd sends us this video of one of the pre-RPZ skirmishes -one where the Clifton Popular Front and their tank are nowhere to be seen. Here it's commuter vs resident, soon escalating to the police and then finally the builders. As anyone who has spent time in the city will know, builder's trucks are some of the most damaged out there, and so have little qualms about banging up against someone's car while they get their scaffolding out. Which is why that's the time even the police should consider their exit strategy.

Part one: opening skirmish

Part two: the residents come out with their pitchforks

Part 3: here come the Polis

Part 4: I see your police car and raise you a Builder's Lorry

Part 5: call it a draw

James -thank you for these, and we look forward to more as rollout day arrives!

Sunday, 29 June 2014

First Self-Driving car seen in Bristol!

There's lots of hype about "Autonomous Cars", the UAVs of the tarmac, but who in the UK has seen one? Bristol-Resident RedVee has, here in Stokes Croft

As you can see, the driver of W845PDS can safely text on their commute, safe in the knowledge that the car itself will make decisions as to when it can and cannot go.

Sadly, a small firmware error in this model means that it is "red/green colour blind", so has been known to unintentionally drive through a red light.

Google have reassured us that this will be fixed in a later software update -all the owner will to do is hook up the car's USB port to a laptop, download the 17GB firmware patch, wait for the four hour update to take place and then accept the dialogs about changes in privacy policy for the car.