Monthly Archives: September, 2015

Full of the joys of autumn

It was beautiful at Holkham Beach today. Everyone was having fun…


Really wish I’d been the one in front of, instead of behind, the camera in some of these. I’ve never ridden in a place like this.



Those having fun included, of course, Tilly…



Click for larger versions.

Ergonomics vs etiquette

How can we make our road network more efficient? Be less polite, says this article by Guy Walker at Heriot-Watt.

Imagine you’re driving along the motorway, with three lanes of emptiness ahead of you. Then you see signs warning of roadworks and lane closures. As the traffic thickens and the point arrives where the closed lanes have to merge, what happens? Does everyone make maximum use of the available road space and allow others to merge at the head of the line with a friendly wave and a spirit of mutual cooperation?

Their models suggest that this and other social pressures have a dramatic influence on how efficiently we use the roads.

We call this phenomenon conformity and there is a lot of it about. Research shows that drivers approach junctions faster and brake later when being followed compared to when they are on their own. Other research describes the pressure we all feel to keep up with others, sometimes even when it is not safe to do so. People the driver knows, such as passengers, tend to inhibit speed. In other situations, with anonymous other drivers, it has the reverse effect, as we can see in the early merging in response to upcoming roadworks. None of us wants to experience the aversive stimuli of being hooted at or blocked from merging, nor being regarded as a ‘typical white van/BMW/Audi/Volvo driver’. These factors all sound rather trivial, but they are clearly a more powerful determinant of behaviour than the rational optimisation we, and engineers, would like to assume. And it gets worse. Through social learning these behaviours feed back into the wider driving culture to themselves become local and national norms of behaviour, continually reinforcing what people will keep conforming to.

The case of merging lanes could easily be solved by a sign saying ‘Please use both lanes as far as possible’. But the more important question for you to ponder today is this:

Isn’t politeness always at the expense of efficiency? And isn’t that, really, part of the point?

Send not to know for whom the bell tolls

Richard pointed me at this wonderful life-expectancy simulation. Very sobering – a bit like visiting an ossuary – and fascinating, too.

It reminds me that I haven’t yet ported my Time’s Wingèd Chariot watchface to my Apple Watch. I’d better get working on it while I still can…


I picture a ne’er-do-well hobbit, probably an associate of Ted Sandyman’s, who is seldom seen, but is believed to be the source of much unexplained mischief at St Catharine’s College. He goes by the name of ‘Slippery’ Underfoot…

Slippery Underfoot

People who live in glass houses…

…may want to install their lavatories elsewhere?


Modern mammon

Universal_Contactless_Card_Symbol.svgYesterday, I used my watch to buy entrance tickets at the Botanic Garden, and coffee at its café. This morning I paid for petrol using Paypal on my phone, and then used my watch to buy lunch at a local cafe and groceries at a local store.

I only had to get my wallet out today at the market, but that was to buy an old-fashioned apple pie, so I didn’t mind using an antique payment method.

I am looking forward to the day when wallets are things you see in costume dramas, though…

My vegetable love should grow…


It’s an embarrassingly long time since I last visited Cambridge Botanic Gardens. Probably measurable in decades.


And that’s a pity, because it’s walking distance from my house and, as I discovered again today, it’s really a very pleasant spot.


A ham sandwich is better than heaven

From this interview with Tom Maudlin

It’ s easy to prove that a ham sandwich is better than heaven, because:

  • Nothing is better than heaven
  • A ham sandwich is better than nothing

It’s that tree again


I know, I keep taking photos of it, but, hey…

Mr Blue Sky


Pretty clouds today, stretching as far away across East Anglia as I could see.

You should have seen the one that got away

They’re filming the new season of Grantchester in, well, Grantchester, at the moment. I wrote last year about spotting a favourite tree in one of the episodes. Well, it must have been a good location, because they were setting up for filming there again this morning as Tilly & I walked past.


Were I a true paperazzo, of course, I would have had something better than a zoomed iPhone camera with which to take the picture.

More importantly, it would not have been back in my pocket when, a few minutes later, the stars (James Norton and Morven Christie), in full costume and beautifully lit by the early morning sun, smiled their thanks at me as I stepped aside to let their LandRover cross the cattle grid. 🙂

Arboreal Exuberance


Bird Hills, Ann Arbor, Michigan. This unusually-shaped tree changed its appearance completely as I walked around it, but this was my favourite angle. Click for larger image.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser