Thursday, May 16, 2013

Poor Driving Takes Its Toll

So ran yesterday's headline in the UAE's 7DAYS newspaper. I don't suppose anyone is in the least bit surprised by this revelation, nor by the fact revealed in the sub-headline: "Motorists not leaving space and drivers darting out into traffic among the two million offences recorded in 2013"

Maybe the magnitude of the problem comes as a surprise. Two million in four months? That's six million a year, and says nothing of the additional legions of drivers who, according to anecdotal evidence, do it with impunity. I wonder how many of the quoted two million involved a camera?

But there are some interesting comparisons to be made. I have a published dead tree edition of Dubai Road and Transport Authority's Traffic Accident Facts in Dubai 2005.

As the 2013 figures are incomplete, I've assumed in my assessment that the number of crashes may be trebled to represent a full year. I've also considered only four types of crash, and only those that resulted in death or injury, because that's all that were reported in 7DAYS.

  • Total number of crashes has increased by around 30%. This stands to reason. Since 2005 there has been an increase in UAE population, car ownership, and traffic congestion despite new roads having been constructed and opened. I guess most crashes actually occur in town where the number of new roads is minimal.
  • Crashes involving red light violations decreased from 19% to 15%. I suspect that this is within the bounds of statistical error. If it isn't, perhaps the increased use of red light cameras has had a small effect, reducing the number of amber gamblers and drivers who run red lights.
  • There's been a huge drop in speed-related crashes from 35% to 13%. I would attribute this to the widespread use of enforcement cameras; there's one every 1000m along the main Dubai to Abu Dhabi highway between Jebel Ali and Ghantoot, for example. But a more congested traffic network will also tend to keep vehicle speeds down. I don't like speed cameras (what motorist does?) but I concede their effectiveness.
  • Crashes involving 'not leaving space' increased from 21% to 29%. I assume that this is the term used to describe tailgating and the crash that inevitably results when a vehicle ahead unexpectedly slows down. Given the combination of increased congestion and speed cameras, what's likely to happen? I reckon some impatient late-for-work will drive extra close to the car in front in a futile attempt to travel faster than everyone in all five lanes. And as all drivers lack Jedi reflexes, when something does go wrong up ahead - road works, puncture, breakdown - there is a coming together. Someone did it to me outside Arabian Ranches, and it's frightening.
  • Sudden joining of roads without waiting for oncoming traffic to pass has risen from 25% to 43%. I thing this is a way to describe not stopping at Stop or Give Way lines. Happens to me all the time when I'm on my invisible motorbike. But I suspect the rise is related again to increased congestion and tailgating. Given an absence of sensible gaps in the traffic, you can either wait at the Give Way line until the end of time or shove into an inappropriately small gap. 
The last two items above may be direct consequences of the third item. Effective speed enforcement along with congestion drags speeds down to below the posted limit, but these factors increase incidences of tailgating and merging collisions.

What's to be done about it? Education and enforcement, that's what. Speed cameras are a quick (and lucrative) fix for the speed problem, even though the majority of crashes are not attributable to inappropriate speed, and even fewer involve exceeding posted limits, but do nothing to address their undesirable side-effects. 

Compare with that other tool of law enforcement: the Policeman. Motorists generally don't speed past the Plod, but neither do they tailgate, ignore red lights and Stop signs, or hoon all over the road. Especially if he's Judge Dredd.


Thursday, May 09, 2013

Recorder tune

Image: Jakegothicsnake
 on deviantART
I’ve been fond of music since my second (Chamber of Secrets) year at secondary school. I joined the school choir and discovered to my delight that I could be a part of polyphonic singing. Chords. Harmonies. Fugues. Clever stuff. I’ve been a member of various choirs, choral societies and barber-shop quartets on and off ever since. It’s helped me to learn to read music. I have never been much good at this, but I can – blob by blob if it isn't too complicated – figure out which note to sing, and for how long.

But as for playing a musical instrument, that skill eluded me. Perhaps I should have gone to recorder classes when I was ten, but I honestly thought the school meant tape recorders, and nobody told me otherwise. By the time I found out that a recorder was a musical instrument, it was too late as I’d been signed up by my parents to play foopball and rounders. We all know how much I love athletic sports.

My kid sister was given an electric chord organ a couple of years later, which I was Not Allowed To Play. She also started on the recorder, but never played it and I eventually ended up with the instrument and The School Recorder Book One.

Almost all of my schoolfriends played the piano; one or two also played guitar and other instruments. I managed to talk the school’s music professor into lending me an ancient clarinet for private practice. I tried and tried, but as the house where I lived was a Wimpey hutch with paper-thin walls, I never got past the tooting and parping stage. 

“Either play a proper tune, or not at all” was my father’s ultimatum, so the clarinet went back to school. There was, basically, no music at home unless you count Terry Wogan’s breakfast radio show and my mother Nanny Goat’s early morning singing (which is just fine unless you’re not a morning person). Hence my almost total ignorance of sixties and seventies music.

I tried and failed to learn to play the guitar. I’ve always been hopelessly flummoxed by any form of stringed instrument, I seem to lack the co-ordination required to play keyboards, I can’t get any sensible sound out of a brass instrument, and although I’ve dabbled with percussion, a drumkit isn’t something you can carry around in your pocket. 

So for about thirty years, on and off, I’ve been messing with recorders, ocarinas, and penny whistles. A former girlfriend gave me a magnificent wooden tenor recorder in 1989 (the fingering is identical to that of the traditional school descant recorder, but it plays an octave lower), and someone in the English Civil War Society (ECWS) gave me a Bakelite treble recorder that was broken, but if I could repair it I could have it. I replaced the missing piece of Bakelite with Milliput and it’s been fine ever since. I still have the original wooden descant, and that instrument’s got to be over forty years old and still going strong  despite much abuse.

I’m sure that I saw someone playing in a live band in an ECWS beer tent on an electric, amplified recorder, but it took about twenty years to do something about it. More of this anon…

For the past couple of years, Beloved Wife and I have attended a pre-Christmas party with some musical friends. The basic idea is to bring a dish, and to sing and/or play Christmas carols in the small music room. The usual suspects play guitars, saxophone, flute, and piano. I showed up with my voice and my recorders.

I was, and continue to be, horribly outclassed musically. I can sing OK, or at least hold a tune in a bucket, but my playing leaves much to be desired in the Department of Correct Notes. Most of this is a requirement to practise, but there’s another issue: competing against a host of concert instruments, the unamplified recorder is virtually inaudible. This is why the recorder dropped out of fashion centuries ago. Orchestras got bigger and louder, and the poor recorder simply couldn’t compete with the volume. You can’t blow harder without making ghastly squeaking noises. Obviously, I need some form of electric pickup. If Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson has one, which I know he has because I’ve seen it attached to his flute, I should be able to buy one somewhere.

At this point, the shop assistant in Thomsun Music, Wafi City, Dubai, showed me Akai’s EWI, or Electric Wind Instrument. It was stupidly expensive, so I bought mine from in London. Actually, it was a Christmas present from Beloved Wife. The EWI (“Eewee”) is a MIDI breath controller. It translates breath force and keys pressed into a musical note. Output is through a thick coaxial cable to an amplifier, or directly into headphones. This is win/win. I can now make plenty of volume when playing live, but can practise using headphones so that the rest of the universe is kept in blissful ignorance of my many, many mistakes.

I configured my EWI to play with more-or-less flute fingerings because those are very similar to those of a recorder. Other musicians might prefer to select ‘Oboe’ or ‘Saxophone’. With dozens of different voices to choose from, I can have the instrument sound like a clarinet, bassoon, saxophone, flute, or any of a host of other instruments and occasionally very wacky sounds. I was piping the sound through the stereo until I bought a guitar amplifier than comes with dozens of presets so I can now, if I wish, sound like Hendrix. Yeah, in my dreams.

I’ve been practising. I like to pick up either a recorder or EWI every day, and I’ve been downloading sheet music (most of which is too difficult to play) off the interwebs, and trying to build a repertoire. Most of my stuff is dimly remembered seventeenth and eighteenth century stuff and simple folk tunes, but I’ve also been working on other pieces including Christmas carols, some Bach, Sousa, and Abe Holzmann’s Blaze Away:

I love to go swimmin’ with bow-legged women
And swim between their legs…etc.

Seems a lot of popular music and big-band stuff comes pitched in keys that are awkward for flute fingering. It’s not exactly ‘too many black notes,’ but fingering that’s difficult for a novice. There’s a remark here possibly involving Old Goat and New Trick.

I don’t suppose I’ll ever be a particularly good musician, but I amuse myself. If I can actually amuse anyone else without too much embarrassment, that’ll be a bonus.


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