Tag Archives: Annoyances

Stupid Questions on Driving Tests

For various reasons, I’m preparing for a category D (that’s buses) driving test. Actually it’ll be D1 without the ‘not for hire’ exemption, currently I have D1 with that exemption.

To get my category D1 classification, I have to undergo a theory test, a hazard perception test and a practical.

I’m starting with the theory test, and unfortunately some of the test questions seem to confuse understanding with knowledge.

For example:

Q. A crossing where a cyclist may go across the road with a pedestrian is called
A. A Pelican Crossing, B. A Puffin Crossing, C. A Toucan Crossing or D. A Pegasus Crossing.

The answer is C, a Toucan crossing (two can cross, get it?)

For the record, a Puffin crossing is one which checks that the pedestrians have crossed, a Pegasus crossing is for horses and a Pelican Crossing is the regular push button to cross type of thing.

Now, from the driver’s point of view, do they have to be treated differently? No.

The lights are against you, you stop.

The lights are green, you proceed if it is safe to do so.

It doesn’t matter of the crossing is for cycles, pedestrians, horses or goldfish – how does knowing the name for the set of lights affect how I drive? As long as I know what the signs to the driver mean, all is good.

In the same way, I’ve always had a problem with the concept of knowing stopping distances:

Knowing, for example, that 50mph yields 53m as a stopping distance in good conditions is fine – but unless you can recognise that on the ground, it’s not worth squat. It’s just a number. (I know I’m mixing imperial and metric there, that’s as I think in SI units, but all the speedometers and roadsigns in the UK are in miles, thanks for the lack of backbone in this regard of Heath and Wilson).

The theory tests are generally a good thing, much better than what happened when I passed my driving test which was the examiner saying, ‘Now, could you tell me what *this* sign means’ – it had the advantage of being able to gauge hesitancy, but wasn’t a broad range of knowledge – however, there are some really daft questions.

Then there are the really obvious ones:

Q. An old person is crossing the road. Do you:
A. Rev your engine so they know you’re there, B. Honk your horn so they hurry up, C. Wait patiently, D. Get out of the car and hit them with a shovel.

I’m paraphrasing the questions somewhat, but not much! (The answer is C, by the way)

Having said that, most of the questions are good and sensible; but there remain some that have slipped through which are blindingly obvious and hence not testing at all, or which confuse a theoretical knowledge with an actual ‘on the ground’ knowledge.

Now, watch and cackle as I go ahead and fail the thing.

Mustard

I found myself in Tesco the other day, doing a shop. I also found myself getting really annoyed.

Why?

It was the pricing policy. With a range of items, it can be hard to compare prices, so they ‘helpfully’ put on the shelf label something like 57p/100g.

Some may object to the SI system being used there. I don’t, in fact, I think it’s a crying shame that we’re stuck halfway between the imperial system with its funny numbers of subunits and the SI system…. but that isn’t an argument I want to get into here, it’s a distraction from the main point.

Tesco Mustard Pricing

What I objected to was the lack of consistency of which units were chosen for the shelf label – not between different types of item, but between different types of the same class of item. I won’t always go for the cheapest item – but if I am paying more it’s helpful to be able to fairly compare how much more I’m paying!

Mustard, for example, had prices per kg, prices per 100g (okay, annoying but not too tricky) and prices per 100 millilitre… what? To make a direct conversion I would have to carry around the density of that brand of mustard in my head. I could make an educated guess of about 1gram/millilitre (i.e. asume it’s mostly water) – but that could easily be 10% out, making the final price per 100g roughly 10% out – rendering it pointless.

I didn’t really care what the basic unit was for price comparison, only that it was the same unit. By mixing units like this the labels are obscuring the information that they’re trying to make clear.

I thought that what’s happened is they’ve got some bit of software doing this which says ‘If it’s over X pence per 100g, give the price as pound sterling per kg’ and the same bit of software chooses whether volume of mass is the appropriate unit (kg is a unit of mass, not weight, there is a difference – imperial doesn’t make the distinction). Why on earth can’t they make their pricing software say ‘It’s mustard. Look at the results of the other mustard calculations, and if the majority are prices per 100g, then we’ll force that for all mustard and flag up any lines where the mass is unknown for referral to the supplier’.

Actually, it’s not even that – as some of the pricier mustards are per kg. What is going on?

It is not an excuse to say ‘some jars are labelled in millilitres, and some in grams therefore it’s all we can do’. Tesco have enough clout to be able to say to their suppliers ‘give us this data if you want us to stock your product’ – and this certainly wouldn’t explain the 100g vs kg inconsistency (which is annoying but not insurmountable by the customer).

The only reasons I can think of for the status quo and for this bit of logic being missing are:

  1. Genuine oversight.
  2. Deliberate obfuscation, whilst trying to appear helpful (i.e. making more expensive products as price per 100g or price per 10g, whilst making cheaper products price per kg)
  3. Incompetence.

Whichever is the truth, the lack of consistency within product lines got really annoying, and I decided to fill out a comment form. At the front of the store was the ‘customer feedback’ display board, which contained the usual selected quotes asking for things they’d implemented years ago, with the smug ‘reply’ underneath. No forms were to be seen…

I went to ‘customer service’ for a form, waited to be served, and then had to wait for them to hunt for a form for me. I didn’t get the impression that they got asked for these often. Hint to Tesco: If you really want customer feedback, make the forms really obvious – don’t hide them away.

I’ve requested a reply. Let’s see what they say. I hope they sort it out; every little improvement would help…!

As an aside: Interestingly, the kilogram is the only base unit with ‘kilo’ in front of its name. I wonder how that happened?

US ‘Gas’ Prices

I’m sick and tired of reading sites in the US complaining about how expensive ‘Gas’ is. Just over 3.50USD per US gallon is cheap by the standards of basically everyone else in the non-OPEC world. Crikey, even their pumps are wearing out! I wonder what will happen when the petrol price approaches that which I’m used to, maybe they won’t be able to afford the bun for their burger?

Update: As if to make my point about the zeitgeist in the US at the moment, in sweeps the excellent Yehuda.

In the UK, the price is about 1.20UKP per litre (it’s changing right now), that’s 9.7 USD per US gallon. When I started driving (mid nineties), the price then was 4.50USD per US Gallon (at today’s currency rate).

Granted, much of that is tax – which (alledgedly) is a green tax designed to try and shift people onto public transport. I might believe it if public transport was more ubiquitous and less expensive (if you’re in London, fine… but otherwise…)

If people in the US didn’t seem to put such a premium on driving cars that do 12miles per gallon, then they might have a point. I get about 40 miles per imperial gallon (about 35 miles per US gallon), and there are several cars out there that do better. We do see vehicles with such SUV-like poor fuel economy this side of the atlantic, but they tend to either be the exception (people with more money than sense). Alternatively they are used in particular circumstances – e.g. for driving around a farm, not nipping to the shops.

Stop whinging, yanks – your prices may look high to you, but they’re still cheaper than I’ve ever had to pay (except when I visited the US in 2002). Your country is the biggest producer of CO2 per capita in the world (both per capita and in total) – from the point of view of everyone else, something which improves your fuel economy could well be a good thing.

The oil may look pricey, but oil is a finite resource – you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. That’s even if you decide to take the short term fix of drilling in new areas, like Alaska (or using the increased price to make it economical to extract that ‘hard to reach’ last drop from an existing field).

What we really need is serious research and serious funding for technologies which are oil free. If we wait until we need these, it’s too late, and that’s world war three right there. (I remember saying this back in the 1980s, when I was a teenager – that’s twenty years of research down the pan right there).

In the meantime: ‘High’ petrol prices? Drive less. Swap to a motorbike. Use public transport. Ride a bicycle. Walk. Don’t take pride that your car does 12miles per gallon – that’s just moronic.

For Governments, we need public transport that’s cheaper than cars, and certainly trains that are cheaper than planes (especially when travelling as a couple or as a small family). In the UK, we need a more connected system – e.g. train routes that bypass London (an M25 for trains), if you will.

At least some folks over the pond ‘get it‘.

In short. Higher oil prices are something we will all have to get used to – it’s a fact of life. In the UK we’ve recently had protests on the matter – and I can understand this, livelihoods are at stake. The French fisherman have been protesting too. Whilst accepting that, do realise, USA, that your prices are not high by the standards of everybody else.

The sad thing is that the electorate over there (and to be fair, in most places) respond to short term thinking. A recent example was people talking about ‘tax holidays’ on fuel, this is one area where Obama gained lots of credibility with me, and Clinton (in particular) lost all credibility by totally ignoring all expert opinion.

What we really need is the new President to ‘do a Kennedy’. JFK stood up and said that by the end of the decade Man would be on the Moon. They went all out, and they did it. Admittedly, they then dropped the ball (where is my space elevator?) – but they did it.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the new president, be it McCain, Clinton or Obama, said ‘By the end of the next decade we will have developed technology to remove our dependence on oil.’?

They could cite reasons including energy security (‘The Arabs have the Oil’), the environment (‘Save the Planet’), and sheer economics (rising prices). As long as the first reason didn’t become ‘The Arabs have OUR Oil’….

Halloween

I hate Halloween, with its imported US custom of ‘Trick or Treat’ (otherwise known as extortion).

In essence, I come home in the evening, wanting to relax. The doorbell goes. If I answer it I’ll find some oiks mumbling ‘trick or treat’.

At this point, I am supposed to give them something which will increase childhood obesity and make their teeth fall out. I will also have had to go out and buy this stuff – there is no way to have the right amount. Either I’d run out and feel guilty for latecomers, or have tonnes left over and have to eat it myself – I have no willpower in this regard.

If I refuse, then I’m liable to get eggs thrown at my house which I have to clean up.

Either way, I’m out of pocket.

It’s a ghastly idea, really horrible – and one that is relatively recent in my experience. It certainly wasn’t commonplace in the 70s and early 80s.

It’ll be Carol Singers next month. Don’t get me started on ruddy Carol Singers and their two lines of ‘We Wish you a Merry Christmas’….