Bus observations

Of late, I’ve noticed how reluctant bus drivers are to accept the very passengers that pay their wages.

Three days a week, I catch the bus from its terminus.  (I’m uncomfortable with this word in this context.  I want a word to indicate the place at which buses start, rather than that at which they terminate.  Startimus?  Beginnimus?  I digress.)  Several bus routes start here, and often my route of choice has two, possibly three, buses waiting to depart, all lined up in and amongst the other buses in a style that Evel Knievel would have been happy to jump over.

But the buses are lined up in a random order, the routes interleaved with one another and no indicator as to which of the buses might pull out next.  In some of the buses the driver is waiting, drinking his or her coffee and/or reading the news of the day.  Others are empty.

The prospective passengers generally stand in front of the buses in an effort to catch the eye of their chosen driver, or to force the driver to make the decision over whether to run them over or to allow them on board.

The other day, though, a bus sporting my route number of choice was hiding behind one of its brethren.  It was parked slightly shy of the other buses, giving the prospective passengers no knowledge as to its existence.  And suddenly, without a murmur of warning, it zoomed out and up the street, bereft of passengers but no doubt guided by a driver grinning from ear to ear over his achievement.  Cock.

In other news, I have a slight insecurity on buses.  My bus generally fills up before a whole heap of people alight at Stockwell to continue their respective journeys to work sub-terrain.  Having boarded at the terminus, I always opt for and secure an window seat upstairs.  After a few stops and once each double-seat is occupied by a single arse (bodily part, not a slight), the aisle seats start to be filled, and usually, someone sits next to me.  But when we hit Stockwell, lots of people alight, and some double-seats become available.

Here’s my issue: if the person sat next to me is staying on the bus, does their moving to a double seat indicate that (a) I smell, (b) I creep them out or (c) they want the extra room afforded by the double-seat.

The first e-orchestra?

I’ve wondered recently whether a group of musicians could perform together live online.

The problem with playing music is that you need the feedback of the other players in order to understand where you are in the piece, and to react meaningfully to the circumstances of the piece.  With an orchestra, each member works in harmony with the others (often literally), compensating for balance changes and working with the imperfections that are inherent with human-created music.  If the tempo is slightly faster than you’d expected, you don’t resolutely stick to the tempo you know to be correct.  If your instrument is tuned slightly flat, you can compensate (with stringed instruments, at least) by playing sharp.  And if your fellow members are drowning you out, you can play slightly louder to ensure your section can be heard.

If you set the 50 members of an audience off on the same piece of music at exactly the same time without any feedback along the way, they’d all end at different times and the result would be a cacophony.  Hence the need for a conductor.

So what if we had an online orchestra, each member playing in physical isolation from their fellow members, connected only by the internet.

Here lies the problem.  Your fellow members need your audio feed to be played to them to allow them to play their own piece in an informed way; and you need your fellow members’ respective feeds to be played to you to allow you to play in an informed way.

Even in an orchestra that is collocated of course, the finite speed of sound means that there isn’t the immediate feedback.  Assuming an orchestra pit 14 metres in diameter, the harps (stage left) won’t hear what the double basses (stage right) were up to for a whopping 0.04 seconds.  (At sea-level, at least.)  With the internet, we’re dealing with the speed of light (880,991 times faster than sound), but with a physical distribution greater than 14 metres, and processing steps in between.

So here’s my question: if everyone had a pretty decent broadband connection and a musical feed piped directly into something internet-enabled, how long would it take for the feeds from the c. 50 members that make it up to be amalgamated and piped back to the people?  If it’s a small fraction of a second, then we’re in business.

If so, then I propose getting out my dusty old violin (not a euphemism) and arranging what might be the first orchestra never to meet.  Maybe on Twitter.  To inform whether or not to do this, I’ve constructed a detailed decision-tree.

Techies, is this doable?

If yes, then: Musicians, are you interested?

Else: sorry to have wasted your time.  Carry on.

Check your no claims discount

I received a letter from my good friends at Aviva recently, asking me to call them to confirm some details of my home insurance policy.  (Why they couldn’t call me, I have no idea.)

After spending nine minutes on hold on my mobile using their 0845 number, I eventually got to speak to someone.  And during our conversation, I decided to question why my premiums were so high.

They explained to me that we’d lost our no claims discount in 2007 having made a claim.  I racked my brains (no mean feat) but couldn’t think of a claim I’d made.  So I was asked to call their underwriting department when they opened the following day.  Which I did.

They told me that it was a claim for rising damp.  I replied: “But that attempted claim was rejected.  You told me you don’t cover rising damp.”  They thought for a moment, before transferring me back to customer services having explained to them the error.

The net effect was a refund a smidgen over £1,000, which will be delivered into our account in the next 14 days.  Which is nice.  But they couldn’t explain why it had happened.

My dad, an insurance man, told me that companies generally stop the no claims discount on receiving a claim, a discount that should be re-instated for claims that come to nothing.  Aviva were more than competent in undertaking the first of these tasks.  But failed royally in the latter.

So: call your insurance company, and ask them what your no claims discount is standing at.  You may be in for a surprise.

Post strike

My mood’s been a bit off lately.  This explains why my posts have been few and far between.

I’ve posted only twice in October thus far (three times if you count this post about the lack of posts), putting to shame what was a very quiet September, which saw a mere 14 posts.

I occasionally do this.  Various factors conspire to make my mood one not conducive to blogging, and my mind one not conducive to decent blog ideas.  Service will resume shortly.  Or at least I hope it will.

Bog standard

I recently read a Facebook update from a female friend complaining that after six years of nagging, why was it that her other half continued to leave the toilet seat up.  A comment on the update from one of her friends explaining the ridiculousness of the request prompted this post.

First of all, terminology.  The topmost leaf of the seat will hereafter be called the lid; the one leaf with the necessary hole will be called the seat.

Generally, when women request that the toilet seat is left down, they mean just that.  They want the toilet seat left down, and the lid left up.  This is perfect for a lady, as both of her functions are performed with the leaves in this position.  No touching necessary.

For men, one of our functions is performed with the seat in that position; the other is performed with both leaves up.  So the ladies’ requests mean effort on the part of the man.

The request cannot be justified on hygienic grounds, because leaving the seat down (and the lid up) leaves any germs as free to escape into the ether (if indeed that’s what germs do) as if both leaves were up.  And it cannot be based on aesthetic grounds, as surely the most aesthetically-pleasing toilet arrangement is to have both leaves down.

So the only basis for the request must be one of convenience, which suggests that convenience for a lady is deemed more important than convenience for a man.

As for me, I have a relatively good track-record on this front (I can imagine my wife hovering over the Comment button as we speak), but tend to leave the toilet with both leaves down, thereby necessitating effort on both of our parts when visiting.

Interestingly, our cleaner always leaves both leaves up.

TfL’s failings

I recently signed-up for automatic top-up of my Oyster card. If my balance dips below £5, it will now automatically top-up with £40 of credit meaning that I no longer have to bother going into newsagents for the privilege.

To complete my registration, I had to visit an Underground station of my choosing within five days and commence a journey from there.

Now I’m a bus man. I do buses. I rarely do Tubes. During the week, I spend the majority of my time in offices that are a convenient bus-ride from home; and at weekends, I’m more often than not with my daughter and her accompanying pushchair, for which most Tube stations aren’t best suited. The station that I reluctantly chose—Clapham Common has an estimated 20 steps to get you into the concourse and a further 15 or so after you reach the bottom of the escalator. Not ideal.

Anyhow, I engineered a journey to Canary Wharf last Sunday influenced in part by my need to complete my registration. But they screwed up the registration. And charged me £10.40 more than I should have been charged.

So I get an email apologising for the error and asking me to begin yet another journey at Clapham to pick up the credit. After complaining to TfL over the phone, I popped in to the station en route to my bus on Thursday morning to figure out whether I did indeed need to make a journey. I did, so I instead intended to wait until the seven day collection period had expired before getting them to reimburse my card, something that the guy on the phone indicated they could do.

Alas, in a semi-drunken stupor on Thursday evening, I ended a journey at Clapham Common, and this act apparently had the same effect. So the credit has been honoured, which is nice.

But TfL, you shouldn’t force people to make specific journeys to activate a service. And you shouldn’t ever inconvenience people to accommodate your own screw-up.

Rant over.