Could we see a cyclist-friendly Taxi firm in Manchester?

I’m a cyclist.

My Pointer 5 Jubilarium
My Bike

But that doesn’t mean I cycle everywhere, all the time, I take the train, I take buses, I take trams and quite frequently I take taxis.

Taxis and cyclists don’t always get on, this doesn’t have to be: I take taxis a lot more often than if I owned a car.

The boss of London Minicab firm Addison Lee, sadly unaware of this clear relationship when he laid into cyclists in the capital last year, with a raft of stupid comments, which made me uncomfortable giving my money to his company, given the choice.

I’m no militant cyclist. I ride a 3 speed ladies bike. I stop at traffic lights. My dynamo lights work. I use arm signal when changing my position in the road. I acknowledge and thank careful drivers and drivers who let me out.

Cyclists and Taxis will always co-exist. Indeed, Cyclists will often be a taxi-drivers best customer.

So the question is this:

Is there a business opportunity for a taxi company to declare itself to be a special cyclist friendly taxi company? Clearly, Greater London is not a very competitive market, but Manchester on the other hand, has a large number of firms, all vying for position.

Could 2013 see one of them positioning themselves as the go-to firm for cyclists?

 

Travel, Manchester and Football

Everywhere I go, people ask me, who I am, and where I come from, and I tell them:

I’m Tim and I’m from Manchester.

And if I’m not in the UK, the next thing they say is guaranteed to be related to football.

Sometimes the question is:

“So which is it? City or United?”

or more commonly where English is less well spoken:

“Manchester United!”

What’s interesting is that really, Manchester has a worldwide reputation football, that no-other clearly Mancunian thing does.

Sure, various famous brands and things happened in Manchester, but no one has ever said

“You’re from Manchester – ah Umbro!”

or

“Manchester! Which do you prefer: Morrisey’s solo stuff or The Smiths!?”

etc.

The thing is, I’m not really a football fan. It’s just not my thing. I don’t really care about it, and even national competitions which we do well in get a good deal of disinterest. That’s not to say I’ve not been to Matches – I’ve even blogged about football games – but I just don’t really care.

What’s more, I’d struggle to name 5 members of the current United and City squads combined.

The difficult thing, is knowing how to react when I’m asked about football whilst travelling – obviously The Premier League is, to some degree, also a tourist export, just like the Royal Family is a tourist attraction amongst other things. Generally, I’m straight up and honest if we can communicate fluently, or will arbitrarily choose a side to support for that day otherwise, and smile and nod.

It does feel strange however that the first thing that people mention, whenever I mention where I’m from, is a sport that I am clueless about and very ambivalent of.

What being a victim of crime was like for me.

Since reading my friend Dan’s travel blog of his exciting day in South Africa where he talked/sneaked himself out of two muggings in a day, I’ve given some thought to how I’d try to handle these kind of situations.

What happened

A few months ago, as I was cycling into town after work, I was stopped at the top of an isolated pedestrian bridge by 4 induviduals on bikes and was told in no uncertain terms that I was being mugged. As one of them tried to reach into one of my pockets contains a phone, I held onto it, which brought a few punches flying in the direction of my head. Deciding at this point, that I didn’t really fancy parting company with the contents of my pockets (phone and wallet), I pushed my bike towards them (step-through frames allow for easy dismounting!) and sprinted back in the direction I’d come. After hearing someone say “after him”, I decided that now might be a really good time to start loudly and choosing the most appropriate word I could think of, I started shouting “help” and by the time I reached the original end of the bridge, I was met by a member of the public who called the police.

Since then, I’ve spent at least 6 hours of my life giving statements and doing identifits etc. for an incident that, at most, lasted 30 seconds.

Reflections

Considering that:

  1. I wasn’t seriously hurt (there were two minor and inconspicuous bruises)
  2. I wasn’t seriously missing anything (though I lost my glasses in the affray)

I think it’s fair to say that it went “about as well as an attempted mugging could go”. I didn’t lose anything to the robber and I wasn’t seriously hurt.

I’ve thought long about this. Could I have avoided any issues with them simply by dressing and acting differently? Could I have avoided any physical confrontation if I’d handed stuff over straight away? Could I have done things differently?

Ultimately, these questions will drive you crazy – the answer is “yes, probably”, but the fact is ‘shit happened’ and thankfully I came out of it pretty well this time, so that’s what I should focus on.

Immediately after the incident I was quite nervous, however, I’m very eager to avoid is demonising groups of people – young people growing up in the inner city are generally great people, and, in my opinion, more work needs to be done to help organisations like RECLAIM help empower young people in these areas.

Reactions

The most interesting thing about the incident now, is actually observations of how people’s reactions to the incident subsequently affected me and the impact that had.

The most prominent reaction has been a statement or something like “hope you’re ok”, which whilst being the easiest, and probably least likely to upset, response, is quite passive.

Interestingly, for me, the worst thing that happened was being asked “What happened?”, and forcing me to recount the details of the incident in detail. It’s not that it was particularly traumatising, but reliving the incident each time I was asked doesn’t really help put the incident into the larger perspective, both for me and the person I was telling it to.

Perhaps one of the less helpful responses was suggestions that I could have been stabbed and being told that I should have just handed over my phone. Whilst there’s certainly truth in that, it’s a really unhelpful perspective to suggest to the victim at that point. Clearly there were worse possible outcomes, however, with the bigger picture, the given response resulted in about as good as one could hope, with an actual guarantee that the suggested response would result in am objectively worse outcome (with still no guarantee it wouldn’t involve stabbing) than what actually happened.

One possibly interesting reaction was being told that they know how I felt, and that anger that comes afterwards is worse than the event – probably an incredibly clear indicator of how clearly personal people’s reactions to events like this are – I suspect they did not know how I felt, as the anger wasn’t forthcoming…

One reaction was to simply label the perpetrators as “manchester dickheads” – possibly objectively true – but still unhelpful, rather pointless name-calling – “Ahah, you almost mugged me. You’re a dickhead! Oooh. I said a naughty word!”.

I’ve had people say that they hope this won’t change my approach to the world – and for me this was the most well-received response – mainly I suspect – because I’d already decided that this had to be the case, within 10 minutes of the incident.

In my opinion, perhaps, the most empathetic response is to ask how the victim is feeling, then be quiet and let them do the talking.

Final Thoughts

In many ways, however, I suspect that despite people meaning well, I might actually have been happier to not publicise it so much. This may be partly related to my distaste for verbally repeating anecdotes a number of times, but I suspect is also to do with coming to terms with things actually being quite a personal thing, and whilst other people’s perspectives are obviously helpful to themselves, I can find them, at best, hard to relate to, and at worst, somewhat unhelpful.

I was a bit shaken for a while (aka an evening) after the incident, and there’s still the odd flashback or moment where I feel irrationally unsafe, but I’d had enough of talking about it within hours of it happening.

I’m “over” the incident – shit’s gonna happen, in the past and the future, it’s not surprising really, and I’m happy it went as best it could this time.

I’d really like to look forward in life for a while now.

I’m walking 55 miles around Manchester | Can you help?

Update: I’m unfortunately having to pull out of this.

I try to push myself to new heights, distances and places – and in March, I’m going to take it to the next level.

I’m doing 55 mile walk around Manchester – The Bogle – an onroad event which consists of a ~30mile south loop round Cheadle and the airport, and a ~26 mile northern loop taking in much of northern Manchester.

I would walk 56 miles just to fall down at your door.
I would walk 56 miles just to fall down at your door.

The route is intensely challenging – the impact of 56 miles of continuous road travel will take it’s toll ony my body and the psychological challenges after 18+ hours of walking will be intense and raw.

This will be quite there are various places people in which people can help:

  • Training walks

I’m planning to do some training for the event by walking some of the route beforehand so I know what works and what doesn’t – could you help keep me company on some?

  • On the day, remote support team

On the day, I’ll start at midnight on a Friday night and walk through the night and following day. Could you form part of a remote support team, providing moral support, news, and a friendly voice (via telecommunication magic) whilst I’m on the move?

Can you help me? Please do get in touch either by email – td(AT)tdobson.net or phone – 0800 112 6000

  • Sponsorship

I’m fund-raising for mySociety – they are the people behind TheyWorkForYou, WriteToThem, WhatDoTheyKnow – and other projects that make British democracy more user-friendly and accessible! I’m hoping to do some creative fundraising things – if you had any ideas here – I’d be very happy to hear them, or equally happy if you just wanted to throw a few pennies in their direction

Sponsor Me, Maybe?

The danger your children escaped! Technology!

At school, I was largely a goodie-two-shoes – however, that is to say – I was was aware of the line, and however close I was to it, I did my best to ensure I wasn’t caught crossing it. I’m dubiously proud to say that I never got a detention.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t always successful, and after a particularly creative, episode of circumventing content filtering systems so I could access my webmail (which for some reason was blocked), my parents and I were called into the headmasters office.

Tut. Bad Tim.

After I explained how I simply wanted a way to check my webmail account every day at school during my breaks, the headmaster suggested I might be “addicted” to technology.

Me, being a being a hot blooded young man, retorted:

I’m not sure comparing an interest in technology to illegal substance abuse is appropriate to this conversation.

Symbolism?
Symbolism?

In hindsight, whilst that clearly wasn’t the way in which they intended the word, I feel this speaks volumes.

During those years of school, I spent many waking hours playing with technology. I certainly spent more time playing with technology than any other single activity, but I wasn’t “addicted” – I was interested, and thirsty to learn.

For inexplicable reasons, there were absolutely no academic opportunities for me to develop these skills, and so using Portable Firefox and Tor to bypass content filtering and access Gmail in my spare time, seemed a relatively productive.

Suggesting I was “addicted” to computers, was just as shortsighted as it would have been to suggest that my more academically studious classmates were “addicted” to revision.

Whilst my punishment (downgraded from suspension to effectively being banned from using any computer in the school), let them keep the perception that content filters work, and stopped me breaking their AUP on a daily basis, they failed to recognise the problem – that they were just years away from being asked why they did not teach “app development”, or indeed any technology subject.

Essentially they were sealing the middle fingered handshake goodbye from me as just a year later, I moved schools, and 18 months later was working in industry.

I hope that in the future, my grandchildren won’t be accused of “being addicted” to their “Raspberry Pi 3000″ – simply because they’re fascinated by how it all works. Please help us make that future.

The Bogle Ramble :: 26 miles across Manchester on foot

You can sponsor my efforts here on mydonate and let mySociety know how much you appreciate them!

The Bogle Ramble was an interesting challenge: throughout the day I made a video blog, capturing my thoughts, messages of thanks to my sponsors and other notable moments.

The Eighty Three Bus,
Overtakes me once again,
please let me ride you!

After we started, there was this guy who seemed intent on running it, but didn’t know his way to Oldham Road through the centre, so I jogged with him across the city centre to Oldham Road where I let him move onwards at an incredible pace, whilst I resumed walking to catch my breath. From there until Failsworth (Checkpoint 6), I only encountered one other Bogler – a lady who had also been jogging a fair bit.

Walking and jogging…
Staple bogle essentials.
Checkpoint seven soon!

On the stint between Checkpoint 6 and Checkpoint 7 I overtook a good number of clearly exhausted Bogle Strollers. One lot seemed to be limping so badly I jogged across the road and gave them a bunch of chocolate bars from my bag; their eyes showed their appreciation which they didn’t seem to be able to find words to express.

Crossing the River Irwell in Kearsley
Crossing the River Irwell in Kearsley

After Checkpoint 7, I noticed a lot more Bogle Strollers, many sitting on walls, comforting friends… or just plodding along. I’d been told that between Checkpoint 7 and 8 there were some hiking club strollers which I really wanted to catch up with. Once I reached “checkpoint” 7.5, I met up with them and found they’d dropped out. After stopping for a brief chat, my first snack and a friendly face, I headed on for Checkpoint 8 at Kearsley.

Shortly before Checkpoint 8, it started raining, which, given I hadn’t brought waterproof trousers with me, was unwanted, and quite depressing. Ultimately though, the rain broke away to sun and there was a DOUBLE RAINBOW.

Sunshine through the rain,
an inspiring sight to see,
a rainbow of hope.

Double Rainbow!
Double Rainbow!

From there on, I started to really notice that I was no longer up to short periods of jogging downhill and was it was beginning to lose it’s edge. I was largely walking following the signs the Bogle team had put up on lampposts and occasionally falling back to my map/route instructions for the bigger picture. Somehow however, I managed to completely walk past Checkpoint 9. From then onwards, then on, I suspect my average speed dropped quite a bit. I started to find people overtaking me, rather than the other way round. As I walked through Salford, I started to notice bunches of youths apparently eyeing me up and so I pressed on to checkpoint 10, just 2.5 miles from the finish line, and then onwards towards the finish.

The Bogle tired me in ways I hadn’t previously anticipated. I knew it would be a physically tiring time. I knew I’d have to tell myself just to keep going and that I was going to finish it. I didn’t expect the fatigue and stress of the previous few weeks to be brought close to the surface due to Bogle fatigue and for me to feel like I inexplicably was going to burst into tears. This, I was completely unprepared for.

I finished The Bogle at 17:57. About 8 hours, 37 minutes, 26 miles after I started – an average speed of about 3mph. There were no blisters or other injuries.

You can still sponsor me here!

DnB + Ceilidh = Doubly Awesome :: Monster Ceilidh Band

One thing that I don’t talk about that much is my tendency to fall in love with fusions of traditional and contemporary.

Take something awesome and traditional. Mix it with something awesome and contemporary. The result will be doubly awesome!

This post is about a band who certainly seem to be taking the “let’s just double that awesomeness” recipe to heart, but lets start from the beginning!

Last week I went to Manchester Ceilidhsoc – the university affiliated Ceilidh society who run regular events. Playing was a band I didn’t think I’d heard of, The Monster Ceilidh Band, but from the moment I walked in and heard the bassist going out of his way to lay down funky grooves, I could tell I was going to enjoy it. For unspecified reasons, I had about 70 glowsticks on me (as you do), and the hall was coincidently a bit darker that usual so I decided now was a good a time as any and handed out free glowsticks to anyone who’d take them… most people I danced with… the band… and the caller. From then on in, I didn’t stop the dancing and they didn’t stop dropping super-funky beats over killer tunes. :D

Afterwards I bought an album off them and, as they offered to sign it for me, I was very pleased to learn that disk two of their double album “Mechanical Monster” is “Monsters vs The Touch” – a collaboration with Tyneside DnB DJ “The Touch“.

If you thought Drum’n’Bass and Ceilidh could never meet, prepare your ears!

A breath of fresh air amongst other Ceilidh bands, The Monsters have an incredibly smooth web presence. I say this a technologist and social-media-ite.

Website, Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Youtube? It’s all there.

Can you buy reasonably priced, DRM-free MP3’s of their work without tears?

Oh yes you can!

A few days after the gig, I was listening to Disc 2, whilst browsing their Youtube channel and realised I was already subscribed to it. Hmm, how could that be? Well it turns out that actually I’d crossed threads with them before.

Their mandocello-player appears to be a semi-active redditor and so actually I’d come across them, way before the gig on reddit and even went as far to suggest that they come and play in Manchester. This is the same fiddle player who doesn’t seem to have a personal website worth linking to from the bands about page.

Instead their name has been linked to the Urban Dictionary definition of “awesome” and for this band, I think that’s about as fitting as one can get. :D

Please help kill ACTA on Saturday

You may remember that a few weeks ago there a big outcry because Wikipedia blacked out for the day because of a proposed American law called SOPA which, due to the US’s federal influence on the internet, would have had a chilling effect on websites you use everyday – Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube would have had to close down, move operations abroad or effectively remove most of their functionality. After the worldwide protests against the proposed act, it was withdrawn.

SOPA was billed as an anti-piracy law and yet did nothing to address the negative aspects of commercial copyright infringement whilst curbing free speech and killing the space that many technology companies (think Facebook, Google), are allowed to operate in.

Some non-techie friends on facebook
Some non-techie friends on facebook

ACTA – The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement – is another similar piece of legislation except that, as this is a trade agreement, it applies to a group of countries. Like SOPA it has been developed on behalf of rights holders collectives such as the MPAA with no thought for the best interests of the citizens of the countries concerned.

One of the most deplorable thing about ACTA has been the secrecy around the agreement right from the get go. It wasn’t until drafts of the agreement started to be leaked onto the internet (ironically, this being one of the kinds of things the agreement will be used to tackle), that we started to get an idea of the scope of the proposed agreement.

ACTA will have sweeping and wide ranging effects, Wired UK Magazine explains things in great detail in a FAQ style article.

Given the secretive manner in which the agreement has been conducted and the completely disproportionate aspects of it regarding the internet and new technology, there has been a good deal of controversy surrounding it.

The European parliament’s rapporteur for ACTA, resigned on 26 January 2012 denouncing the treaty

“in the strongest possible manner”

for having

“no inclusion of civil society organizations, a lack of transparency from the start of the negotiations, repeated postponing of the signature of the text without an explanation being ever given, [and] exclusion of the EU Parliament’s demands that were expressed on several occasions in [the] assembly,”

concluding with his intent to

“send a strong signal and alert the public opinion about this unacceptable situation” and refusal to “take part in this masquerade.”

In Poland there have been mass protests and in Parliament, a group of politicians held up Guy Fawkes masks in support of the protests against the act and as a result, ratification of ACTA has been suspended.

The Slovenian ambassador to Japan, Helena Drnovšek-Zorko, said in a statement issued on 31 January 2012:

I signed ACTA out of civic carelessness, because I did not pay enough attention. Quite simply, I did not clearly connect the agreement I had been instructed to sign with the agreement that, according to my own civic conviction, limits and withholds the freedom of engagement on the largest and most significant network in human history, and thus limits particularly the future of our children.

What can I do to stop it?

There are protests around the Britain this Saturday  11th February – the BBC even has an article about them.

If you’ve never been to anything like this, go!

It’ll be fun and you’ll make a difference.

It was protests that finished SOPA and it will be protests from people like you that kill ACTA.

You can also write to your MEP about ACTA and tell them why you don’t like it. Even better, invite them along to a protest! as well as signing a petition.

UK man jailed for possessing publicly available US Army field manual on terrorism charges.

I strongly suggest being aware of legal issues in your jurisdiction before attempting to obtain any of the publications mentioned in this blog post.

Someone once asked me why I’ve never read the Anarchist’s Cookbook.

I said:

  1. I’m not interested
  2. I can’t be bothered
  3. I don’t want to go to prison in the UK

Today it came to light that the Terrorism Act has been used in a particularly ironic way.

A local 25 year old man from Bolton, Greater Manchester area suffered a break in and handed some CCTV images to police on a memory stick. Whilst investigating they found some other information on the device which

contained details about the toxin ricin, assassination and torture techniques and instructions for making improvised explosive devices.

There is also some other evidence a letter, a photo of him holding a gun in Pakistan, an alleged “shopping list” which I accept may be deciding factors in the case, however a large amount of the press surrounding the case are focusing on the information he had.

Handily, the press has named the information as some documents known as “Improvised Munitions Handbook and Unconventional Warfare Devices and Techniques”.

So I dropped that into Google and guess what? Amazon stocks the book. And similar books and even encourages you to “look inside”.

I didn’t feel any need to “look inside” said book or buy it. I’m confident in Amazon enough to believe that both are possible and confident enough in the operational parts of the UK justice system that looking at it could cause me considerably more trouble than it’s worth.

Who in their right might would publish such books you might ask? It must be some anarchist terror group right?

Actually, it’s “Pentagon Publishing” – aka the US Army/The Department of Defence.

So let’s be clear here: a UK citizen has been jailed for two years for downloading a pirated version of a publicly available allied armed force’s US Army field manual.

Should people expect to get charged for reading the Wikileaks Afgan War Logs on the basis they may come across some descriptions that could be useful for nefarious purposes?

When I was a child my parents gave me a copy of “The SAS Survival Guide” (published by Collins GEM). This contains lots of animal trap designs and deadfalls that could easily take out humans I guess (and it states this in big warning letters).  Perhaps

Frankly, from a personal point of view, I’m not interested interested in reading or acquiring military manuals etc. In fact I’m largely pacifistic, however it’s not that I feel there should be a second amendment style right to bear firearms in the UK; quite the opposite. It’s ridiculously hypocritical to jail someone on the basis of publicly available information obtained from an allied military force.