Archive for the Rantings Category

Didn’t the BBC Used to Do Research?

Posted in And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, Mining, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Rantings with tags , , , on May 28, 2014 by awickerman

Someone at the BBC has managed to read the ONS report on jobs and is surprised that Westminster has the highest number of mining workers in the country.

Alas clearly that reading left them too knacked to fire up Google as that would have very rapidly revealed that BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Anglo-American all have major offices and/or their headquarters in Westminster. But then that would have taken literally seconds of work, and those companies are only the first, second and fifth biggest mining companies in the world, so perhaps I’m just expecting too much.

In fairness on Spelthorne being the biggest by % mining community in the UK it was indeed the gravel pits. But as the writer then goes on to doubt the statistics, despite them being correct and him having quite clearly put bugger all effort in, he must then lose any credit he has gained.

Is it unreasonable to ask people to put just a little bit of work into this sort of thing, particularly when your calling it “Small data, curious numbers in the news”? Surely explaining it would help meet the BBC ‘Inform, Educate and Entertain’ mission. But then inform and educate are such hard work compared to just making a half arsed effort at entertain, so perhaps I am just being unrealistic.

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Undoing their own bad work

Posted in Almost Beyond Words, Engineering, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Rantings with tags , , , , on September 9, 2012 by awickerman

Hidden amongst the government’s planning changes was a small section on how this would help making digging holes in the ground cheaper;

Internet providers have also been told that they will “face less cost and bureaucracy in laying cables in streets”

Leaving aside whether or not such simplification will ever happen (hint: it never has before) one of the main sources of cost and bureaucracy for new street works is a new government scheme launched in London this very July. Under the scheme people digging up roads can be charged up to £2,500 a day in ‘lane rental’ to dig up the road, indeed even if you ignore that ‘up to’ number the DfT’s own Q&A section on the subject freely boasts that this scheme will increase the cost of streetworks;

Q36: How would it help?

A well-designed charging system would also include exemptions or discounts from the daily charge when works are completed at less busy times. So by spending a bit more say on overtime to get the job done at evenings or weekends – utilities and others carrying out works could avoid having to pay the charges.

So it’s pretty clear this scheme was quite explicitly designed to make work happen at more expensive times and, as with all such schemes, will almost certainly involve lots of paperwork proving why each job is allowed to avoid the charge.

Thus barely three months after increasing the costs and bureaucracy of installing cables in the road, the government is pledging to reduce those costs “once officials have found a way to simplify current permit schemes.”

Maybe they should of thought of that before introducing further complications into a system that the previous government had already made stupidly over-complicated and expensive. But then that would be joined up government by competent people, so no chance of that then.

A self contained mystery

Posted in And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, Engineering, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Rantings, The Railways, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , on October 11, 2011 by awickerman

Rick Haythornthwaite, the chairman of Network Rail, has decided not to seek re-election (i.e. as a well known Labour placeman he probably correctly thinks a Conservative-Liberal government wont ‘elect’ him). As he was leaving he decided to share this wisdom with the public;

“We know that many of the public view the leadership of the industry with confusion, suspicion or disdain. They don’t trust us and therefore are resistant to changes we want to make.”

But why? Why on earth would the public distrust a leadership that includes men like Rick? I mean yes he was picked solely due to being close to New Labour, his last real private sector job went badly, his previous government job was on cutting Health and Safety rules (he didn’t)  and he had absolutely zero experience of the railways, but is that any reason not to trust his wise leadership? Or men like chief executive David Higgins, a man who was Chief Executive of the ODA and was in charge while the final bill for London 2012 skyrocketed and then took his zero rail experience (but his vast knowledge of spiralling budgets) to Network Rail.  And the disdain surely can’t be because of the huge sums they earn for incompetence, so how on earth can we explain Ricks’s problem? Luckily Rick gives us the answer in the same article;

“I believe we have the chance to leverage a newfound appetite for change among the public, born of crisis, to galvanise a shift from a fragmented to a connected Britain.”

Breaking that down ‘leverage an appetite’ means pushing through expensive schemes that would normally be rejected as a waste of time and money, ‘born of a crisis’ means doing expensive schemes quickly so no-one has a chance to stop them, ‘galvanise a shift’ means push through expensive schemes in the face of entirely accurate opposition and ‘connected Britain’ means High Speed 2 and dozens of other very expensive schemes. To those who are spotting a common theme – well done.

In summary anyone who speaks such utter tripe will be untrusted and disdained and damned if I know why he’s surprised at that.

Ohh and “resistant to changes we want to make” is not only referring to High Speed 2, it’s also code for ‘we want bring back the massive bonuses that we got regardless of how bad things went’, something most people are quite rightly resistant of.

Car Park of Death!

Posted in Engineering, Even Stevie Wonder Saw That Coming, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Rantings with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2011 by awickerman

Via Tim I discovered the Observer’s architect critic has joined the chorus demanding the horror of Preston Bus Station be saved. The main argument appears to be that it ” it embodies the spirit of its 1960s age”, you can argue if that is a good or bad thing visually but in the world of civil engineering, particularly those parts related to large concrete car park type structures, that is reason enough to flatten it. Indeed the man himself admits the reason before attempting to dismiss it;

“The bus station is not alone. It is part of a company of buildings from the 1960s and 70s that fall victim to a vicious compound of circumstances. They are tough, not obviously charming and carry a label no PR expert would have chosen, of “brutalism”. Some have serious technical problems, albeit often exaggerated. Some have serious technical problems, albeit often exaggerated

I will now demonstrate why those serious technical problems have not been exaggerated. We begin in the 1960s when reinforced concrete was a new idea and building huge civic structures in the brutalist style was all the rage. After the architect had produced his swooping lines and grand gestures for the new Preston depot he handed it over to the designers to do the actual hard part of making it work and not fall down, and here is were things went a bit wrong. To be blunt the concrete specifications of the time allowed fairly weak, porous concrete and didn’t require much cover to the reinforcing steel, for those interested in water/cement ratios and porosity of concrete I commend you to this handy government guidance. To add to the fun the design codes of the time were also a bit ‘optimistic’ on concrete strength in shear so most designs weren’t really strong enough and didn’t have the safety margins the designers assumed.

So fast forward a few decades to the 1990s and these chickens begin to roost, car parks start rotting far faster than planned and a few demolition contractors get nasty surprises when the buildings fall apart faster than expected. The big change is probably Pipers Row car park, the top floors of which quite dramatically collapse overnight;

Pipers Row Car Park, pride of Wolverhampton. It got it's own HSE report you know, where do you think I nicked the photo from?

After the HSE investigation a whole generation of material engineers relax knowing their careers will be safe for life, looking after corroding 1960s/70s car parks will be a job for life for anyone who cares to do so. While the collapses generally get avoided these days that doesn’t mean the buildings are OK, it just means they get demolished earlier than expected leaving the owners to try and explain the problem to confused punters looking to park. A good one was Heathrow Terminal 3 car park;

Once a car park stood here, not anymore obviously.

You may be forgiven for thinking this was just part of the ongoing 'permanent rebuild' strategy for Heathrow Airport. However this is the old T3 car park, the one that was conveniently opposite the terminal till it was condemned by a mate of mine due to massive corrosion. So this car park was demolished and a new one built further away. If you've ever been at T3 and wondered why the car park is so far away and why the pick-up/drop off area is so huge, that's why.

This is still a live problem, a quick google throws up a car park in Nottingham that got the old ’emergency closure’ treatment a couple of years back and only last month a Southend car park collapsed during demolition, the top five stories letting go as they had corroded far worse than previously thought. It should now be obvious why Preston Bus Depot has to go, it’s not going to last long in any event so better to take it out while it’s safe before it decides to do the job itself.

I will leave the final word for today to another article in the Guardian, quoting a former Secretary of State for culture when the first listing of the depot was rejected;

“It therefore appears to the secretary of state that the main attractive feature of the design was the result of a miscalculation which led to a poor quality of construction.”

A lack of trust in politics? I wonder why.

Posted in Almost Beyond Words, Irregular Features, Rantings, Tenuous Link of the Day with tags , , , , on April 8, 2011 by awickerman

Ignoring quite how I came across this story I give you this;

MPs excluded from tax avoidance legislation

Having badly written the current finance bill MPs decide the best solution is not to correct it so it does what it is supposed to, but instead just give themselves a specific exemption so they’re OK and leave everyone else to suffer.

To be fair it hasn’t actually passed yet but there seems little doubt it will get past the House of Commons, it has so far. There is still the matter of the House of Lords, and if any of them have any sense they will jump on this and shout about it from the roof tops. If there is any point having a second chamber then surely this it is to stop MPs getting away with blatant hypocrisy and arrogance like this?

However as the Lords is now stuffed with political appointees from all sides, most of whom appear to be ex-MPs, failed MPs or wished-they-had-been-MPs I’d be surprised if this doesn’t just get waved through with little more than a ‘I wish I’d thought of that’ from most peers.

Still, it will remove one of the last arguments in favour of the House of Lords so we’ll be one step close to closing it down,  sacking the buggers and stripping John Prescott of his title and hurling him into a rat filled sewer. Which is something I suppose.

Anti-NIMBYism?

Posted in Alas the Mystery Remains Holmes, Almost Beyond Words, Engineering, Even Stevie Wonder Saw That Coming, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Rantings, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2011 by awickerman

Those of you with long memories, and a deep held fascination with ugly concrete buildings, may remember the grippingly exciting story of Preston Bus Station, the one that looks like this;

That someone even thought about listing this makes me weep. And then hope in all these budget cuts that most of them have been sacked. Alas I fear such cockroaches tend to survive.

With the monstrosity finally declared ‘Not listed’ (hopefully due to the fact that someone on the panel had a working set of eyes) the structure was promptly marked for demolition as part of a large shopping centre scheme by Lend Lease, the people who gifted the world Bluewater and so on. After a great deal of faffing about that took most of the year (the original application went in back in 2008, which prompted all those efforts to get the concrete horror bus station listed in the first place) the planning inspector finally produced a tome which said ‘It’ll all be fine, apart from local traffic in Preston which may go up a bit.’

This was a bitter disappointment to Blackburn with Darwen Council, who had claimed because of all the shoppers going to Preston there would be social unrest, extremism, death and terrorism and said as such to the planning inspector. Sadly I’m only making up the last two, the local council genuinely said that shoppers going to Preston not Blackburn would cause unrest and extremism. In case you couldn’t guess the Blackburn and Darwen council leader at the time was Labour. I know, I was shocked too, a Labour politician using an unconvincing threat of terrorism to justify their own agenda? Whatever next?

However back to the point, as planning law says government shouldn’t approve a scheme that increases traffic in town centres the scheme should have been cancelled by Eric Pickles, he however didn’t. Perhaps he thought £700 million of investment in a historically depressed region during a recession was worth some traffic, or perhaps he just wants the people of Preston to choke on exhaust fumes, who knows? Either way it had happened and Blackburn council, complete with new Conservative leader,  said it was ‘extremely unlikely’ to appeal and piss yet more money up the wall for no good reason.

However to the great surprise of no-one, least of all anyone who’s lived in the UK for the last decade or so, the politicians have proven to be untrustworthy bastards. Yes Blackburn council will be appealing against Eric Pickles decision on the grounds of the traffic impact on Preston (well after the inspector called Labour’s claims about lack of shopping causing terrorism ‘tenuous’ the Blackburn Conservatives had to find something else to whine about). That Preston council is happy with the traffic impact is, surprisingly, irrelevant.

Thus I commend this to you as an example of anti-NIMBYism, or IIMBYism as it may soon be called, the complaint from Blackburn basically being that the shopping centre Isn’t In My Back Yard.

The wrong opportunity

Posted in Engineering, Irregular Features, Rantings, Tunnels with tags , , , , , , on February 27, 2011 by awickerman

You know you said “Yes” to the wrong overtime opportunity when you spend the early hours of Saturday night/Sunday morning huddling in the exhaust fumes of a diesel generator because, though the fumes are unpleasant and it’s noisy, it is at least warm and out of the wind.

A good time was had by almost no-one down that railway tunnel.

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