Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Well trained

"Hello" smiled the conductor, stepping off the "down" train. "The sleeper train is running two hours late."

We had just spent 30 minutes driving at high speed along narrow country lanes on the edge of Loch Rannoch to Rannoch Station, ten miles down a dead end road.

Oh, dear, the four of us thought. Some of us may have thought stronger words than that.  Rannoch Station consists, in round numbers, of three buildings. It's not so much a hamlet as a hamlet's baby brother. There's a tea room and a visitors' centre, which is very interesting for ten minutes. If you are a slow reader.

"What you should do", said the lady conductor, "is get on the down train with me. We'll go down three stops to Crian Larich, get off the train and then catch the up train thirty minutes later."

We looked at her doubtfully.  Did we want to spent 90 unnecessary minutes sitting on a train? On the other hand, did we want to spend two hours at the remotest train station in the Civilised World?

"Come on", she said persuasively, with a charming smile. "I won't charge you." 

All this time the train was waiting patiently on the platform, so we got on.

My word, what a treat! The journey took us across vast moors. At times, the railway line clung to the edge of a mountain, before descending - almost always descending - into forests and across bridges spanning rivers, streams and brooks.  It was sheer delight, and our conductor gave us a smile as she went past checking tickets.

The cheerful trolley lady, Tina, came by and served us tea and coffee.  Properly, including giving Colleen a spare cup for her tea bag.  The little touches matter, don't they?  We mentioned how kind Suzie had been and Tina said "Well, we couldn't just leave you waiting on the platform for two hours, could we?"  I thought that pretty much any conductor in the South of the UK would have done so.

Too soon we were at Crian Larich and dismounted.

We toured the village in twenty minutes and returned to join the "up" train.

There was Suzie, the current holder of the Guinness Book of Records title for friendliest train conductor.  There was the train. Shortly thereafter, there was the magnificent view again. Forty minutes later, as we pulled into the station from which we had started, she came around and sold us tickets for the remaining leg to Carour. We'd had two hours' viewing of the Western Highlands for free.

Thereafter we walked eleven miles across moor and mountain and, of fountains, not a few until we arrived for the third time that day at Rannoch Station.

A quick drive back to our lodge, a quick shower, a quick meal and then a two hour talk on effective and painful ways of killing your enemy, interleaved with a "How to tie your kilt" session.

A memorable day, well-spent. Or perhaps I should write "well-conducted."

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Electric cars - Not Yet

I feel virtuous, at least environmentally.

I have solar panels on my home.  I walk on any short trip (a couple of miles or less).  I recycle assiduously.  I have a car that does outstanding mpg.  I have a compost heap.  Yet I don't expect to buy an electric car for some time, despite the excitement in the area and my eco-worthiness.

Here's why.


There's currently no denying that, compared to a petrol engined car, electric cars are expensive.

Take the Renault Zoe.  The entry-level model starts at £14,425, about £2,000 more than the Renault Clio which it resembles.  But - and it's a big but - you also have to pay £60 a month in battery hire or buy a battery that adds £6,000 or more to the price.  So that's really comparing a price of £12,500 for the petrol car against almost £20,000 for the electric one.

VW haven't yet announced their new electric Golf, but the new Golf SE starts at about £19,000 whereas the hybrid starts at over £30,000.

The BMW i3 which is, to put it politely, small starts at £33,000, whereas the BMW 1 series starts at £21,000.  The i3 claims to be an electric car but has a "range extender", also known as a petrol engine.  It's also ugly by which I mean seriously challenged in the visual attractiveness stakes.

A Tesla Model S or X (which evokes immense techno-lust in me) will cost over £100,000 once you add in the features you want, such as decent paint and automation.

And all these prices are after applying the government of 35% of price (with a maximum of £4,500).

Range Anxiety

There's also the problem that electric cars don't have anywhere near the range of petrol and especially diesel cars.  I regularly do 600 miles / 1,000 km between fill-ups in my diesel Golf.  Most electric cars do about 100 miles.  So when going on any kind of journey, I'm going to be anxiously watching how much range I have left and calculating whether I can make the next charging point.

Those charging points are still quite scattered, so on your journey you may need to make a dog-leg diversions to "fill up".

Finally, while charging at home is easy for me in my detached house, it's not so easy for those millions of people who live in terraced homes.

Now, I know there are a few electric cars that can claim over 200 miles between charges, mainly Tesla models.  But while the "entry level" Tesla Model 3 can theoretically do 215 miles between charges, that's more likely to be 150 in real motoring conditions and the entry price is $35,000, which will probably translate to around £35,000 in the UK.


They will certainly allow you to feel good about yourself but for the moment electric cars are short-ranged and expensive.  Who will buy them?  Mainly the virtue signallers and the moderately wealthy, at least for another five years.

So don't believe the hype.  Longer range and less expensive electric cars will come but you'll be paying a stiff premium to go electric if you do so in the next few years.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Is FaceBook anti-Semitic?

This may seem an extraordinary question to ask.  Indeed, the CEO, Mark Zuckerburg, comes from a Jewish background.  But ...

A few days ago, I saw a post on Facebook that I thought belonged to the lunatic fringe.  A screen capture is reproduced below:

(In the interests of full disclosure, let me say I have made two minor edits to this picture.  I deleted the name of the blog that contains the original claim and I have edited out the name of a friend to whom the FaceBook post was addressed.)

This kind of view - "It's True: International Jew Bankers Were Behind WWII" - is both lunatic fringe and clearly intended to spur up hatred against Jewish people.  It's a view that has been debunked thoroughly.  The named authors, Stephen Goodson and David Irving, have promoted Holocaust denial.

So I complained about the post to FaceBook, expecting it to be taken down.

I was therefore staggered today to receive the following reply from Facebook today.

Apparently anti-Semitic speech does not contravene FaceBook community standards.  This is not a question of "balance" or "free speech".  This is condoning the views that, 80 years ago, led to the Holocaust in the first place.

Is this really what FaceBook intends with its Community Standards?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Unofficial Rules of FaceBook

  1. Too Good to be True

    WOW! Because it's their 55th birthday, [fill in name of grocery chain here] is giving away vouchers with £60!  It even includes a bar code so it must be legitimate!

    Really?  This retail chain has seriously decided to commit financial suicide by giving one billion people a voucher for tens of pounds of stuff?  More likely a scammer is using this as a way to con you out of your personal details, bank account info and more.

    If something seems to be too good to be true, it's worth checking out on Snopes or Hoax Slayer before doing anything, especially something like posting it on Facebook.

  2. Just Wow - I never knew that!

    Probably because it isn't true.  See the photo below - just goes to show climate change is b/s, right?

    This comes squarely into the area of confirmation bias.  You have strong views in one area and someone tells you something that just "proves" to all those doubters that you're right.  Once again, Snopes is your friend.

  3. The Sky is Falling

    This is typically a doomsday post.  This is also typically a hoax.  If something seems to be too bad to be true, it probably isn't.  Here is an example: there is, apparently, an Oriental conspiracy to kill you with vaccines.  S-u-r-e ...

  4. Moral Blackmail / Controlling Behaviour

    A friend's mother, who was a beautiful person, has just recovered from (or, worse, not recovered from) a dreadful disease.

    That's sad.

    What follows is sadder: a bit of moral blackmail and quite extraordinary controlling behaviour. You are expected to copy and paste (not just repost) your friend's post.  This may be accompanied by a threat along the following lines "My true friends will do this.  I know who they are and I'll be watching."

    People, there are a million good causes out there.  Feel free to share yours but don't expect all your friends to adopt them.  And don't, ever, threaten someone who is your friend, or they won't be.

  5. Press 9 and see what happens

    This is a "curiosity killed the cat" post.  You're the cat.

    What's happening here is that someone wants to hoover up lots of FaceBook userids, perhaps to target ads at you (or worse).  So they rely on you to put yourself on their list: by clicking "Like" or typing something.

    Needless to say, nothing happens to the picture when you do this.  You just set yourself up to get more junk or scamming.
Have any others that are your favourites?  Let me know and I'll post them here!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Pretty City on the Hills

In the 1970s, Air Rhodesia included venerable  Dakota DC-3 aircraft in its fleet. Due to the way they flew in tropical heat, they were often called Vomit Comets.  This memory surfaced as we crossed the Bay of Biscay on Wednesday and Thursday. I wondered whether the ship was coming apart.  I tried to estimate the quickest way to the outside, while wearing my life belt and then did variations assuming the ship was on its side or upside down.

It was not a Pleasant Experience.

However, it was finite and today we pulled into Lisbon.

Thanks to a friend who is a BP, we had recommendations on where to go and shortly after breakfast off we went.  The hills are quite steep, so I was pleased when we got to a church.  I like photographing churches, especially when the alternative is climbing steep hills. However, this church was filled with self importance and had banned photography, so I had to walk again.

In due course we came across the Castle. The entry fee was a urorisingly modest €8.50 each so we coughed up and toddled in.  This place is well worth a visit, if only to give you an idea of the vertigo that people in the Medieval Ages must have had to endure.  Apparently it goes back even further than that, to 700 BC. A very pretty and interesting castle indeed.

Thereafter, the Dearly Beloved said she fancied a stroll to the Botanical Gardens so off we wandered. About two miles - let's say three kilometres - there we were.  Almost.  They were "closed for renovations".

It didn't matter. Lisbon is such a pretty city we had thoroughly enjoyed the walk, although it is a touch hilly. Little alleyways, parks and beautiful views everywhere.  I wish we were staying another day or two but time and the cruise ship wait for no man.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Life on the Ocean - wave!

Well, I thought, for a holiday why not get on a cruise ship around the Canary Islands?

Mrs H agreed with alacrity, which is always a warning sign.  I should have pulled back at that point but in my naive enthusiasm I went ahead and booked a tour which included flights to and from the Canaries and a couple of weeks cruising around the islands.  In February, that would make for bliss, getting away from soggy England and relatively warm climes.

What could go wrong?

Well, for one thing, the cruise company could go under.  No only could, but did.  Fortunately, in the UK we have this wonderful thing where if you've paid for something on credit card and it doesn't get delivered the credit card company gives you a full refund, which they promptly did.

So we had two weeks of Colleen's leave which had to be taken by the end of March or lost.

At that moment, another cruise company popped up and offered a 25% discount to people who had been let down by the first company.  We have signed up, and tomorrow we board a ship called the Balmoral at Southampton for a cruise to Lisbon, Agadir (Morocco), Casablanca (still Morocco), Gibraltar (UK), Cadiz, Malaga and other sundry ports.

All will be well.

Except, three weeks ago, a friend mentioned that getting there involves crossing in notorious Bay of Biscay.  A low pressure system is due there on Thursday, as we arrive.  I can't see us playing shuffleboard in that.  Or deck quoits.  Or happily sipping afternoon tea.  Playing bridge. Swimming in the pool.

If we survive this, I will engage in further correspondence.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Step away from the f-word ...

I was minding my own business this morning, grazing peacefully on a piece of toast and between bites sipping the one caffeinated coffee that I have every morning, when my wife Declared War.

"I was watching the news earlier", she said "and they were talking about how there are similarities between Donald Trump and Idi Amin."

Now I am far from being a fan of Donald Trump, but this utter hyperbole made me see red.

"What a load of bullshit!" I replied heatedly.  "Did he come to power in a military coup?"

I was about to list a dozen other major points of difference when my younger son (who was also present) felt he should butt in.

"The problem with these kinds of conversations is that they are toxic", he replied.  "One person calls Trump a fascist [today's f-word] and Trump's opponents start gleefully listing in their minds the similarities to Hitler while people who support Trump start making mental lists of why the claim is obviously wrong.  As a result, nothing that's actually worthwhile gets discussed."

Hm.  You know what?  Despite the fact that my younger son was lecturing his parents (especially the one male parent), he was right.  Civilised political discussion is fast disappearing from the world's democracies.  In the UK, Brexit has caused immense rifts between old friends and sometimes even within families; in the USA it seems to be the same with the 2016 elections.  In 2017, elections across Europe might do the same thing.

Looking ahead over the next few years and decades it's clear that western democracies will face enough challenges anyway, from government finances to global warming to ageing populations.  Do you think that for a while we could back off from the hyperbole, step away from the f-word and discuss the real issues?