Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Blinkin' winkers

Hey, if I had indicators like this
I'd use them as much as possible!
Dubai Police have recently announced a week-long campaign to encourage indicator use. According to the front page of last Monday’s 7DAYS newspaper, the majority of motorists do not use indicators when changing lanes, which resulted in one in four of the deaths on Dubai’s roads last year. According to the head of Dubai Traffic Police, indicators are perceived by the yoof as only for old people. Western drivers, however, do use their indicators; this is part of their culture. 

Er, no. Culture is related to art, music, dance, literature. How people behave when they get behind the wheel isn’t cultural. It’s all down to education and enforcement. Although, as the roads resemble a battle zone at times, it seems only appropriate that so many motorists appear to be cultured enough to have read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War:
  •  “All warfare is based on deception.”
  •  “Mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy.”
  •  “The whole secret lies in confusing the enemy, so that he cannot fathom our real intent.”
And the idea that we are at war on the highway seems to be the prevailing attitude. Just try to indicate before changing lanes, and inevitably that gap you were planning to move into will vanish. We give away our tactical advantage if we show anyone else what we’re planning to do.

For crying out loud, people, this is not Death Race 2000.

However, getting everyone to indicate isn’t going to solve the original road safety problem. “He changed lanes without signalling” becomes “He signalled and then changed lanes, heedless of the fact that someone was in the way.” Wednesday’s 7DAYS ran a story of a fatal crash, in which the victim was hit “by a driver who changed lanes without looking or indicating.” How would the outcome have changed if the driver had indicated, yet moved anyway? Not by very much, I suspect.

Indicators, the current road safety panacea du jour, actually do not provide a divine right to change lanes or turn. Irrespective of flashing lights or any other signals, we can only move into an empty space.

Sun Tzu again: “Be where your enemy is not.”


Friday, January 24, 2014

High Dynamic Range

I've been experimenting. In truth,what happened is that I discovered a way to get my camera to take a burst of three, or five, or seven, or even nine photographs at different exposures, all in extremely rapid succession.

This is one of the fundamentals of HDR photography.

The basic idea is that the human, and presumably the caprine, eye captures images that are processed by the brain in a way that allows us to see detail in dark shadows and also in bright highlights. A photograph simply cannot do this, and a camera set to show detail in the shadows tends to blow out all highlights in great areas of featureless white. Similarly, taking a picture where the highlights still retain some detail will plunge dark areas into a black, featureless morass. Digital photography, unlike ye olde silver halide, loses all image detail for ever once the brightness of any particular pixel rises to 255 or drops to zero.

It is possible to dredge additional detail out of a digital photograph by messing with the histograms in Adobe Photoshop, or whatever other photomanipulation software is to hand. Provided there's some digital information, it can be increased or decreased to make a visible difference to the photograph.

So we find digital photographers cropping areas of their pictures, enhancing the subject and pasting it back into the background that's been tweaked in a different way, and thus producing improved images at the expense of masses of work in the virtual darkroom. This isn't dishonest, by the way. Photographers have always adjusted images by enlarging, cropping, dodging, burning, and messing with colour, brightness, and contrast, even in the darkroom with actual chemicals. Who never sent their negatives off to TruPrint for enlargements to be done, and got them back a different colour from the original enprint? Anyone younger than about fifty, I guess.

Enter High Dynamic Range. The basic idea is to take a blast of identical images at different exposures, and then use computer software to combine them into a single image. It'll even align the pictures in case you've not been using a tripod and they're all framed slightly differently. The program picks the highlight detail from the underexposed images and the shadow detail from the overexposed. What you get is supposed to represent more accurately what the brain perceives. I've been using EasyHDR, but there are plenty of others out there.

In the picture of Dubai's skyline above, the buildings are all in shadow against a sunlit sky. Single photographs either cast the buildings into silhouette, or else blow out the sky to a featureless overexposed white.

Halo around the motorbike caused by
amateurish overuse of HDR.
Word of warning, though. It's easy to overdo it with HDR. Imagine a dark subject against a light-coloured background. The computer program correctly overexposes the dark subject, but this tends to spill into the background, and you get a characteristic halo around the subject. In my book, that's heavy-handed overdoing it, and is a reason why I avoided any contact with HDR photography for several years.


Monday, January 13, 2014


"There comes a time," the Walrus said...

As far as motorcycle tyres are concerned, the time for replacing these hoops of expensive rubber comes with alarming frequency. Expect perhaps 8000km from the rear tyre of a large and powerful motorcycle: something to do with pushing  100 horses through an area of around eight square inches.

The best tyres for my Kawasaki 1400GTR are, according to motorcycle forums, Michelin Pilot Road. Alas, the local UAE Michelin importer doesn't bring in motorbike tyres. The Continental Tyres shop didn't have any suitable tyres in my size, nor did the salesman fulfill his promise to phone me when he found out if my tyres would ever be available. Short of personal mail order via Aramex Shop 'n' Schlepp, which is likely to be horribly expensive and subject to 5% import tax, I'm left with the option of scouring the local tyre shops.

Over at Liberty Automobiles, where the Kawasaki workshop lives, I was advised that it would be cheaper to obtain Pirelli tyres from the importer rather than through Kawasaki. I found a pair of Angel ST in my size.

Well, actually, the rear tyre isn't the correct size. It's a 190/55 rather than Kawasaki's recommended 190/50. But the forums (again) report that some riders prefer the taller profile. Anyway, in December I bought the last pair in the shop and took them home. I then proceeded to wear out the old Metzelers.

Almost as bald as Yul Brynner's
glabrous twin brother
By the time January came around, the old front tyre was pretty much shot. Even though there was still some life in the rear, I changed both because messing with different brands on the same high performance machine may be asking for all manner of unpleasant handling surprises.

In my GTR, all previous tyre sets have made the bike corner in the same characteristic way. When leaning into a bend, the bike wants to stand up, and it requires a gentle push on the inside handlebar to keep it leaning at the correct angle. As the front tyre wears, its profile gets more pointed, and the rear profile gets flatter. The profile mismatch makes this standing up progressively more pronounced.

Angel on the front
Angel on the rear
The first thing I noticed with the new Pirelli Angels is that the bike was much easier to tip into a curve than the previous set. I accept that I'd gradually got used to how the bike behaved on the previous tyres, and this was the shock of the new, but the way that the bike now holds a constant lean angle in corners with no steering input from me was new, and a very pleasant surprise. Steering is now totally neutral. My guess, and it is a guess because I don't have a PhD in motorcycle chassis design, is that the taller rear tyre more closely matches the profile of the front.

A useful side-effect of the larger diameter rear tyre is that the speedometer no longer over-reads, and an unexpected bonus is that the bike's easier to put on to the centrestand.

Pic from Fast Bikes magazine.
Obviously not me. 
And it still fits under the rear hugger mudguard. All in all, a success. I'm hoping for long tyre life as well as the promised super grip, but I fear that these features are mutually exclusive.


Monday, January 06, 2014

Bait and switch

“And of course, insurance is extra. Additional drivers are extra. Satellite radio is extra. GPS is extra. If you don’t pay for fuel in advance and you bring it back less than brim full, we’ll charge you the GDP of Latvia to gas it up. And all quoted prices are plus tax, so that we appear 6% less villainous.”

Such are the delights of car rental in the United States, where most domestic customers have their own motor insurance that covers rental cars when they’re away from home.

Way back, I used to trot along to Hertz in Dubai to book and pay for car rental up front, in advance, and in full. Then, arriving at Hertz at Washington Dulles airport, I was handed a car and everything was paid for. Sadly, this arrangement has now gone away. When I tried recently, Hertz in Dubai could only book a car; I’d have to pay when I picked it up, and I wouldn’t be told how much the insurance would cost until I got there.

Result? Not fancying spending any time over a barrel, Beloved Wife got on line and booked and paid for everything, including a second driver and fully comprehensive insurance.

At Hertz at Dulles, the first thing we learned is that ticking the ‘Additional Driver’ box didn’t add His Goatness to the insurance, and to do so would be an additional $91 for the week. Plus tax. Secondly, the motor insurance paid for covered only the vehicle, and would we like additional cover at a mere $12 per day, plus tax? Nope. Would we like to pay for a full tank of ‘energy’ at below pump price and return the car empty? Yes, we’ll have that, and we’ll bring the car back on the last traces of hydrocarbon fumes.

Finally, because Beloved Wife had picked a sub-compact car, because it was cheapest, would we like to upgrade to something more sensible than a Fiat Cinquecento for two grown adults and their luggage?

“Nah… we rented one of those last year and it was just fine. They can ford 15 inches of water, you know…”

“But a more realistic car is a mere $10 a day extra. Plus tax.”

“Fiat 500, please. No additional costs, thank you. We’ll be just fine. We’ll drop the back seat to get our luggage in.”

Ms Hertz finally relented, and told us to collect our car from Bay #1. The car turned out not to be a Cinquecento, nor a Yaris, but a Chevrolet Sonic. This vehicle is still technically a sub-compact, and compared to a Toyota Tundra it’s minuscule, but the Sonic has an enormous boot and four doors, along with satellite radio and a cruise control, all of which are optional extras at additional cost at the Hertz desk. And we had our own GPS too, saving a further $5 a day. Plus tax.

Here, then, is the Bait and Switch: offer a ludicrously tiny car, then attempt to get the customer to pay to upgrade it. As they didn’t have any Cinquecentos, Hertz had to upgrade us for nuppence.

Incidentally, after we returned the car, coasting down the ramp on the last teaspoon of fuel, a fellow customer shared his experience with us. He was offered a bigger car because of his luggage, and only later discovered the additional cost.


Thursday, January 02, 2014

Shhh! It's Sharjah

Sharjah’s new year resolution is to prevent public disturbance after 10pm. Huzzah! Residents will be able to sleep at night and not be kept awake by traffic noise. And how, exactly, is Sharjah Police going to achieve this laudable aim? By banning all motorcycles and bicycles from main roads after 10pm. This is, apparently, part of a Sharjah Police initiative for a safe winter in the emirate. The news article in Khaleej Times headlines with the two-wheeler curfew and then rambles on about safe places to go camping, and to ensure that people “…wear decent dresses that will ensure their security,” whatever that’s supposed to mean.

It seems that the new law is a sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut over-reaction to Da Boyz impressing young ladies over at Khalid Lagoon. There’s nothing quite as effective as a 130dB exhaust and some smoking tyres to make yourself Attractive To Ladies. Hence the Sharjah-wide ban on such immorality. Cars are evidently morally upstanding, or else less attractive to the fine ladies of Sharjah.

The ban on bicycles seems to be the resurrection of a previous edict from Sharjah government back in 2006. The novelty of enforcing this ban wore off after a couple of weeks, so there’s little reason for believing that things will be significantly different this time.

Why noise abatement should affect pedal cycles in any way, and how any of this business is related to camping and wearing decent dresses is a mystery. I guess the paper chose to throw all the “and while we’re on the subject of Sharjah…” stories into the same article.

While researching material for this post, I did discover that banning motorcycles is not without precedent. In August 2013, Brent Council in North London introduced a similar scheme to address problems of motorcycle hooliganism near the Ace Café.

From the comments: ‘Motorcycle Action Group Chairman John Mitchell added: “This traffic order is a blunt instrument that flies in the face of natural justice and represents the kind of social profiling that would not be tolerated in other contexts.” ’ Such as, for example, banning football fans from Wembley Stadium (also in the London Borough of Brent) in case hooliganism might otherwise break out.

Back to Sharjah, has anyone actually considered the practical effects of an emirate-wide ban on motorbikes? Evidently not Amira Agarib over at Khaleej Times who seem to have regurgitated press releases without so much as asking, “But, Brigadier, what if…?”

A biker who lives in Sharjah has got to be home before 10pm, presumably. When is he allowed out again? Midnight? 4am? 6am?

Does the curfew seriously apply only to main roads? Perhaps after a riotous night out on Buhairah Corniche smoking shisha and eating shawarmas, we can sneak back to other emirates on the back streets. Yes, those back streets that weave between residential tower blocks in Al Khan and Abu Shagara.

Actually, the emirate of Sharjah is a big place. According to Khaleej Times, his bike ban applies to all main roads throughout the emirate, so expect to be nicked as you head along the Emirates Road from Dubai to Ras Al Khaimah. Don’t plan on returning from Fujairah after an evening of drinking coffee next to the Gulf of Oman. Will there be huge traffic signs on the Emirates Road, warning bikers not to enter Sharjah at night?

Meanwhile, what about four-wheeled hooligans revving their V8s in the middle of the night until the valves bounce? There have been tales of vehicles being confiscated for precisely this offence, but I wonder why only two wheelers have now been singled out for pre-emptive action. No, we do not all have stupidly loud exhausts, and most of us have enough common decency to keep the noise and speed down in urban areas.

Here’s a thought: How about the police pulling over and ticketing everyone who’s making an antisocial racket, and leave the law-abiding majority alone?

Finally, spare a thought for those residents who will now not receive timely delivery of their take-away food. If the delivery boys can’t operate after 10pm, which the new law says they can’t, late night snacks won’t be possible, the general health of Sharjah’s population will improve, and everyone except KFC and Pizza Hut will be happy.


The opinions expressed in this weblog are the works of the Grumpy Goat, and are not necessarily the opinions shared by any person or organisation who may be referenced. Come to that, the opinions may not even be those of the Grumpy Goat, who could just be playing Devil's Advocate. Some posts may be of parody or satyrical [sic] nature. Nothing herein should be taken too seriously. The Grumpy Goat would prefer that offensive language or opinions not be posted in the comments. Offensive comments may be subject to deletion at the Grumpy Goat's sole discretion. The Grumpy Goat is not responsible for the content of other blogs or websites that are linked from this weblog. No goats were harmed in the making of this blog. Any resemblance to individuals or organisations mentioned herein and those that actually exist may or may not be intentional. May contain nuts.