I had thought all my early childhood books were gone — sadly, at some point when I was a teenager I culled them as too childish, leaving only the "young adult" ones — but my sister saved our copy of Gerald Durrell's The Talking Parcel and has given it to Helen, who loves it. Reading that brought back memories, and I think this must have been one of the books I read many times as a child. more
The details are unclear and the story may be legendary, but the great mathematician Alexander Grothendieck apparently once picked 57 as an example of a prime number. So a Grothendieck prime is a number that looks like it's prime but isn't. more
We've had five days of remote learning so far, and everything seems to be running pretty smoothly. Helen's teachers and school have put in an impressive performance, especially given how little notice there was of whether schools would fully open. (The government delayed announcing a lockdown till the night before we were scheduled to reopen — and after many other schools had opened for a day.) more
The default speed limit in built-up areas should be lowered to 20mph. There's plenty of evidence that this does change actual speeds, even without increased enforcement, and does reduce injuries and fatalities.
This limit can be raised to 30mph on stretches of road where that is appropriate, after a safety audit. This should require good visibility, sufficiently frequent crossing places for pedestrians, adequate (LTN 1/20 compliant) cycling infrastructure, and the absence of schools, parks, care homes or other destinations with large numbers of vulnerable users. more
Neither "open" nor "shut" are actually possible options for schools now. more
Software bloat strikes again. I managed to get my old iphone SE upgraded to iOS 14 (from 12). That means it's getting security updates — always good! — and has stopped crashing semi-regularly. But the operating system in total (along with "other") is now using over 10GB of storage, leaving too little for me to run the apps I actually want to run (since I have a model with only 16GB). more
Decarbonisation requires fewer cars and can't be achieved just by electrifying current numbers of vehicles. So we need to electrify public transport, freight, services, car club vehicles and taxis, and provide for individual car ownership where alternatives are impossible, but otherwise we need to drastically reduce the number of private motor vehicles.
A 2019 Parliamentary report "Technologies for meeting the UK's emissions reduction targets"
"In the long-term, widespread personal vehicle ownership does not appear to be compatible with significant decarbonisation. The Government should not aim to achieve emissions reductions simply by replacing existing vehicles with lower-emissions versions."
One way to see how little consideration walking and cycling are given in Oxford is to look at the main road junctions. So stealthily and incrementally, over decades, have time and space at these been reallocated to motor traffic, at the expense of other modes, that people have become habituated to it and are mostly oblivious to how bad they are.
The three examples I use here are chosen because I know them, but a similar analysis would hold for most of the major junctions in Oxford. more
I finally made it to Summertown to visit Daunt Books, Oxford's latest bookshop. I figured I should take the opportunity before another lockdown happened, and it was also a chance for a pleasant cycle while the weather was still good. more
Helen's been back at school for three weeks now and I've started going in to work two days a week, and that's all gone very smoothly. Old routines have come back quickly, and the most remarkable thing is just how normal everything seems. more
One common objection to low traffic neighbourhoods is that reducing motor traffic isn't necessary, and that all we need is traffic calming to stop speeding. But even if traffic calming measures worked perfectly in reducing speeds — which they don't — high volumes of traffic are still a huge deterrent to walking and cycling, especially for children and slower or frailer adults. Traffic calming measures such as chicanes also tend to induce stop-start movements, with rapid speed changes that are dangerous, and can force people cycling to merge with motor traffic.
As an East Oxford example, consider Cricket Rd and Rymers Lane, which together run 1.3km from Howard St to Between Towns Rd. There are fourteen sets of traffic calming measures here, mostly speed humps combined with chicanes but in a few places just one or the other. more
Oxford for Cars is a new organisation set up to further the use of cars and other motor vehicles in Oxford. Oxford for Cars opposes any attempts to restrict or control the use of cars, and demands the removal of the barriers to them that exist across Oxford.
People like to drive. The existence of obstacles to driving wherever people want to is unacceptable, and cars should be prioritised instead of having space taken away from them for clunky buses and wobbly cyclists and trundling pedestrians. more
Oxford already has a lot of low traffic neighbourhoods, without through routes for motor traffic (which is restricted to access). Some of these are "natural", in that they were effectively created by the geography, but new areas of housing are built as low traffic neighbourhoods — no one designs residential streets that will attract through traffic — and others have been retrospectively implemented by modal filters, usually bollards or gates. Here I document some of the latter. more
I went to take a look at the changes to Abingdon Rd, and cycled and walked the stretch from the Weirs Lane (Donnington Bridge) junction to St Aldates, in both directions. I'm not sure cycling here is any worse than before — it was always pretty bad — but I can't see how it's the least bit better in any way. So to be honest it seems a waste of £20,000, or whatever the changes cost. more
Parcelforce tried to deliver something to me at work and left a card. Rather than paying for redelivery I decided to get some exercise cycling up to their depot in Langford Locks, on the NW outskirts of Kidlington. Rather than braving the Banbury/Oxford Rd and the A4260, which looked a bit hairy on Google Streetview, I cycled up the canal instead. more
Getting Helen started on new books can be difficult, so it's a lot easier when she reads longer ones. She read Carole Satyamurti's retelling of the Mahabharata, which is 900 pages long and took her three weeks, and then launched straight into Stephen Fry's Mythos, which kept her out of mischief for six days. And now she's started on Gustav Schwab's Gods and Heroes of Ancient Greece. more
As part of the emergency active travel funding, the cycle tracks on Magdalen Bridge have been widened. On Wednesday evening (August 5) I went and had a look at the changes for myself. There I ran into Chris (Pedal&Post) and we watched the interactions between motor traffic and people cycling for maybe half an hour, from 5.30 to 6pm. more
There is nothing at all complicated about low traffic neighbourhoods, even if urban planners turn them into acronyms ("LTNs") and introduce jargon such as "modal filter". more
Helen is rarely an avid reader. If she gets stuck into something she'll go through it eagerly, and she can reread books or entire series she loves, but otherwise she'll pretty much never sit down and start reading if there's playing to be done instead. Most of her reading is done in bed, before going to sleep or (in these days without school) on waking up.
The major constraint on her reading is scariness, which includes broader emotional stress - Hugh and Jonathan parting in Brother Dusty-Feet (which I had to read the last chapters of to her) was almost as bad as Pheasant being shot in The Animals of Farthing Wood (which she abandoned). Once she knows a book she's usually ok to read it again (though she's stalled at "Riddles in the Dark" in The Hobbit, which I've read to her). more
Yesterday I made my first visit to Blackwells bookshop, one of the shops that has reopened with the easing of lockdown. I bought Marcia Williams' Tales From Shakespeare for Helen and (an impromptu find) Ross MacPhee's End of the Megafauna.
Before that, I think I had visited just four shops in the four months or so of lockdown: more