Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Don't do the crime

..... if you can't do the time.

So, I guess it's in some way inevitable with modern cars, no training for 20-25 years and a certain complacency that we all seem to acquire with driving.  I've been caught speeding.  The social acceptability of this crime is clearly changing.  Depending on context and era, certain crimes are deemed acceptable one moment and then completely unacceptable the next.  At some point in this nation's history, killing a Scotsman would have won me many accolades right now - unless he was in downing street, I'm guessing there would be a public outcry.  During my lifetime, I remember chuckling with Pop (my grandfather) about how he seemed to drive better when he'd had a couple of beers!  This would be unconscionable in today's society only 25 years later.  Thus I hang my head in shame, I'm not proud, yes I was clocked speeding.

Before I go on, there is a brief anecdote about the actual incident that, should your opinion of me not be on the floor already, will make it fall further.  For fear of turning into Ronnie Corbett I'll be brief.

I was heading to Basingstoke one morning, not far from my home, entering the village of Moulsford.  This village has two schools directly on the main road, one of which Will went to for many years.  Quite rightly the speed is 30mph, as I approached the village, as ever, I slowed to 30mph.  When I rounded the slight bend I saw a mobile speed van parked in the lay-by.  I checked my speedo, c. 30mph good, so I piously drove by with a self-satisfied grin on my face.  I then proceeded to text as many contacts in my mobile phone as I could find who I knew would be driving through Moulsford.  I have left this purposely ambiguous as to whether I was driving or not as the law on mobile phone usage has changed recently.  Plausible deniability and self incrimination are not so comfortable bed fellows.

So it was with much swearing and protestation as to my innocence that I read the notice that I had been clocked doing 34mph on that very day!!  After my ranting affirmation that I would take this to the European Courts for a ruling had subsided, eventually I was calm enough to discuss the document with Anne.  There was an opportunity to opt for paying £60 to go on a "Speed Awareness Course".  No need to tell the insurance company, no need to get 3 [more] points on my licence.  It sounded too good to be true, just the catch of course - it was a 4 hour session.  Still it had to be better than the points, right?

Actually, it was much better.  Clearly, there have been many punters through the doors of this "voluntary" course.  The course presenter was very good, he had heard it all, he knew what people were going to say before they said it, and he had all the answers.   Interestingly I can honestly say the 4 hours flew past and I feel much better informed about all the nonsense that we carry around with us about speeding, speed cameras and road signage.  I only hope that the shift in attitude that I have felt myself over the last few years has just taken a jump to a level that will help decrease road deaths.  What was quite worrying was that many of the attendees when asked to select answers from a multiple choice quiz about the highway code, failed.  If they were to take their driving test today, they would not pass.

Some thoughts:
In 2007 There were 247,780 road casualties in the UK.  There were 27,774 serious (life changing) injuries and critically there were 2,946 fatalities.  That is around 9 people every day die on our roads.
OK that's still better than the 70's proportionately.  Today 3k deaths out of 34M drivers and in the 70's it was 9k deaths out of 12M drivers.  We have improved from 9 deaths per 10,000 drivers to 1 death per 10,000 drivers but I don't think we should get complacent, that is still 9 people dying per day with the highest proportion of child deaths in Europe.

When the police attend an accident they have to choose from 54 categories as to what they think the cause of the accident is.  25% have excessive speed as the primary choice.  Over 75% have it as one of the top 3 reasons.  Speed is a major cause of accident and therefore death on the roads.

Roads are classified as Urban, Rural or Motorway there are some counterintuitive accident and death rates associated with this.  Where do accidents occur? Motorway 4%, Rural 25% and Urban 71%. Where do people die? Motorway 6%, Rural 54% and Urban 40%  The high rates of accident are simply related to the times that you are required to make a decision, on a motorway its rare in the town its common.  When we make decisions we are prone to errors.  The high rates of death in the town are the pedestrians, children and cyclist we kill.  On the rural roads it's just the myriad inanimate and animate objects that we are able to hit at high speed.

Attitudes to speeding are changing - mine most definitely has, your tax payers contribution to my course has paid off.  Education and training surrounding driving is woefully inadequate - we should all be electing to do this type of course.  The driving test and maintaining your knowledge of the highway code should be tested much more stringently and regularly.

Friday, 26 March 2010

War of the Ring

I thought I'd honour the first outing of my new game by a little game review.  I have played WotR for a number of years now, ever since Simon got it in the "secret Santa" over on BGG.  

When I first heard about a collectors edition I  - cue "Gollum like" precious comment - I thought I'd have to get it.  Actually, the prestige and desirability of the game were not my biggest draws.  The game developers had fixed many of the little niggles I had with the original version, oh and yeah they had crafted a beautiful case and hand painted all the pieces, to a good standard for volume production.  They had increased the already monstrous board to one that now if you look closely you can detect the curvature of "middle" earth! Plus the cards are big enough for the failing eyesight of many of my aged friends to read.

So who to play?  Simon, Eric or Graeme? I contacted all three to see who could be the "enemy" to experience this new game with me for the first time.  Simon had unfortunately been sent to India by his employer to - er - drink beer, eat curry and watch cricket it would seem, so was unavailable.  I took the opportunity to call him and discuss the missed opportunity and plan tactics for my eventual enemy.  Graeme "Grima" answered the call first but was unfortunately delayed in London and so passed unwillingly.  Thankfully Eric, who had played for the first time the day before against Grima with the old version, was up for the challenge.  I'll take this opportunity to mention the Eric had beaten Grima in Eric's first game, primarily to pitch his credentials as a worthy combatant but also to rub Grima's nose in it ;-) nice win Eric.  So, as ever with WotR, there was a brief discussion as to who would play the Free peoples.

As a balanced two-player game you are required to apply a different approach to playing each of the two warring factions.  The mechanic for the shadow forces allows an infinite number of replacement units in reserve, additionally the primary win criterion for the shadow forces is 10 victory point based on the capture of free-peoples strongholds.  There are myriad strategic options within this major option, such as divert effort to finding the fellowship and destroying them, or to harrying the Free-Peoples until they collapse, amongst others but in the main it is military might that wins the day for the shadow forces.  Conversely, there are many more subtleties to playing the Free-Peoples, not that it is any more difficult, its just slightly more unwieldy until to rules are clearer.  The finite reserves, the reluctance of the many races to join the war, and the significantly reduced actions along with the intricacies of the moving the fellowship makes the Free-Peoples awkward for the new-comer.  It was decided then, Eric would wield the mighty sword of Sauron and I would guide the Free-Peoples of middle earth out of the third age. 

By now it was around 9pm and this game takes an optimistic 3 hours under perfect conditions.  It was going to be a long evening.  

My preference for a guiding principal for the Free-Peoples is to focus on sneaking the hobbitses into Mordor and winning by destroying the one ring - The primary victory condition.  The military victory for the Free-Peoples is to achieve just 4VPs but with finite resources and a game mechanic that mimics a reluctance to move to war, this is only really possible with an unobservant novice at the helm of Sauron's forces.  Not being one to underestimate an enemy I avoided this obvious folly.  My military stance is best described as proactively defensive - I looked at where Eric seemed to be gathering and I bolstered the defences at this point.  Unfortunately, Eric had taken the "Might is right" mantra to heart and used the strategic element of his cards to devastating effect and poured out of Orthanc tower through the Fords of Isen and within a few turns had so devastated Rohan that this whole faction had been largely annihilated and what I have left is incapable of being mustered (past tense of recruiting military forces, not a misspelt condiment).

Meanwhile, I succumbed to deploying many of my cards in their less beneficial tactical capability in a desperate bid to aid my harassed troops - rather than reserving them for their more powerful but longer term strategic option.  Accordingly having failed to stop the crimson tide in Rohan I now had very little support to stop it swarming though Gondor.  I continued to try and progress the fellowship but took increasing risk, losing Legolas just outside Rivendell on the High Pass and Gimili took a bullet on the way into the relative safe haven of Lorien.  If things weren't bad enough, The Southrons and Easterlings, massed on the southern boarders of Gondor waiting to pick the bones after the Mordor hordes had swarmed over Minas Tirith.  Thankfully, Eric had an uncharacteristic poor play here and played Denethor's Folly, a card that significantly damages any Gondorian's besieged in Minas Tirith but allowed me an extra turn and I managed to ride Gandalf into the besieged city and destroy the cards effect.  By now several hours had passed and we decided to pause.  Competitus-interuptus.  Eric has gained 4VPs and is currently besieging 2 strongholds in Gondor (a possible 4 more VPs).  I have managed to get the fellowship to 1 space beyond Lorien with very little corruption (damage).  Both of us are approximately halfway to victory and its anyones game still.  The game is set to continue on Monday evening, watch twitter for updates on the score.

What always fascinates me about playing this game is the rich depth, the choices that are presented and the broad scale implications of the apparently simplest decision.  Each card having bot a longterm strategic component and a shorter tactical usage presents the most fascinating game dilemmas.  I feel I am really beginning to understand the rules of engagement and to explore various strategic options to beneficial effect - whilst developing my ability to engage tactically with elements of the game.  The collectors edition has added some much appreciated gild but underneath this game is a pristine white lilly.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Just completed this walk 6.9k

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Self Awareness

I find self awareness aids in marital bliss….. 

This one’s for you darling.

Cartoon by Brian Barling - "Detect"

Tuesday, 9 March 2010


Not a communication you understand, but communication in general.  Which is a case in point.  A written exchange of information can be very literal, expert writers are able to craft their prose to gently convey a subtext or to imply a broader and often less direct meaning.  However, in the main we are pretty poor at this, especially if you compare our ability with the spoken word.  Here we have a replete armoury of weapons to aid the communication, conscious or subconscious.  Paralanguage has evolved over aeons to provide us with tools to inform and be informed by each member of our social group - a vital skill in survival.  It is thought that modern humans developed language around 200,000 years ago.  By contrast, the written language has arguably only been in existence since 3300BC.

This is a Mesopotamian cuneiform tablet from circa 5000 years ago and is one of the earliest known records of the written word.  It contains a schedule of payments to workers made in beer.  This is one of the podcast episodes in A History of the World.  It has triggered some of the thoughts I am currently sharing.

It is not surprising then that in our rapidly accelerating evolutionary environment as we approach the singularity; we are experiencing some difficulty in the transition from traditional methods of engaging in social discourse.  In my last blog I provoked an engaging discourse that suffered a little from not being face to face and also was diminished as it clearly wasn't a peer reviewed journal.  Its really worth reading the dialogue in the comments between Eric and myself if you get time.  I can't help thinking though that as we blunder and err our way through this proto-social-communication tool we are in some way chipping the cool wet Tigris and Euphrates clay.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Cultural Diversity

Qu: Has the environment that promotes cultural and thus genetic diversity subsided? And what will be the impact on society and human evolution?

Genetic similarity of breading partners has long been associated with deformity and poor mental health, from the decline of the Pharaohs to jokes about Norfolk, this appears to be a truism.  In order to ensure genetic diversity humanity has had to rely on a range of surrogate markers of "difference". You look different, or more specifically you come from a different migratory tribe or ever since civilizations have settled in particular location, you come from a different land. Often this desire for cultural distinctiveness, that I suggest is primarily to nurture the health of our species globally, has been misinterpreted as "apartheid" and we end up with the likes of Nick Griffin both socially and genetically. I believe the "Nick Griffin" effect is more to do with competition over resources. See previous blog about the tragedy of the commons and enlightened self interest.  This type of person sees the immediate self interest of cultural identity, usually based around resources such as jobs, land, power, valuables or food — as the primary motivator for remaining culturally distinct.  They do not see that identifying who you are is a way of advertising yourself to somone who is genetically different.  Trade and social interaction with the tribe next door is apparently important for short term tactical reasons such as politics or resources, but has been vital for the diversity needed for the evolution of humanity.  Professor Winston has produced some interesting documentaries looking at the reasons why humans subconsciously select a mate.

Living, as we do now, in the global village — where travel is cheap (albeit environmentally expensive), telecommunications are accessible and new media social interconnectedness is vast and growing, we have no need (or derive no competitive edge) to align ourselves to a tribe or locate ourselves permanently in a specific region.  Will this create homogeneity of heterogeneity?  So if competitive advantage is not a sufficient draw to keep us in culturally and genetically distinct groups, and technology is allowing as to interact socially over vast distances will we become more similar or more different?  I can see a utopian humanity where we are one pan global race, the human race, with significant genetic diversity distributed evenly, not clustered, across the population.  If this is our destiny, if cultural diversity will diminish and genetic diversity will become homogeneous what of society?  Will politics and social governance structures become more global?  I'll think I'll save that for the next post.

Sent from my iPhone