Red lights distract

Recently Boris decided that it might be an idea to investigate whether cyclists should be allowed to (conditionally) turn left through red lights.

While it certainly is not the answer, it’s not really even part of the question.

There are innumerable reasons why cycling is dangerous, but the fundamental one is that cyclists are not considered first class citizens when the road system is being planned, amended, dug up, redesigned or rephased.

My commute is around 7 miles each way. On my morning route in the other morning, just for fun, I counted the number of sets of traffic lights that I had to cycle over. 32. Thirty-two. That’s more than one every quarter mile. There are just four zebra crossings.

I divided the lights into 3 categories: those which were fair enough, e.g. major junctions etc. (12), those that were pure pedestrian crossings that could be easily replaced with zebra crossings (12) and those which I couldn’t quickly decide on (8). It’s these pedestrian request lights that are the most irksome – people pressing the button, then walking across on green, only for the lights to kick in anyway. How about a cancel request button?

It’s no wonder that cyclists run red lights (I don’t, but I’m in a minority) when so many of them are blatantly surplus to requirement. Surely zebra crossings must be cheaper to install, cheaper to maintain, greener (given the average wait times) and less likely to provoke irritation at others’ behaviour? After all, I’m convinced more car drivers would run reds if they could – but they’re constrained by the guy in front.

So rather than the red herring of turning left (which could be often useful, but more often than not, not) – let’s have TfL justify every set of lights with a pedestrian request phase and ponder if that crossing could be better served by a zebra crossing.

That would be a real win in the battle to wrestle control of our roads back from the car.

Update: Someone’s on my wavelength. Ealing is putting a bag over many after realising that the wisdom of crowds works well. Hoorah for them.


Banking Hypocrisy

No, not anything about the merchant banks and the mess they’re making of the world.

My phone rang over the weekend: a number I didn’t recognise. I answered it … nothing. A few minutes later the same number called again and an automated voice introduced themselves as being from my credit card company and, with a reasonable voice emulator, said my name. Apparently they were seeking verification that I’d been responsible for some recent transactions. I was asked to press 1.

Then I was asked to identify myself by tapping in my birthday. At which point I hung up.

I don’t have a problem with fraud prevention and the bank trying to recognise unusual usage patterns and asking me to verify them. Far from it, I’m more than happy to make sure my balance is no higher than I make it.

Banks – all banks – are on at us to keep our PINs secret, to not fall for phishing scams and to be careful with our discarded paperwork, yet here was my bank being blatantly dumb. My postman knows my name and has a reasonable guess as to a lot about my life. Every shop assistant or waiter who takes a plastic payment from me knows precisely what credit card I hold and a decent guess as to my name, quite possibly my address and other data too.

Yet when they ring me, I was asked to identify myself. They rang me. They can identify themselves first. Otherwise, no dice.

I searched for the area code and then searched for the credit card name and the town – and I got some hits. So it is possible that this was genuine. (Or maybe an enterprising call centre worker.)

Either way, they can ring me back. But unless they can prove their identity, I’m not going to talk to them or tell them anything.

Update: I did ring them back and, eventually, got through to a human who was friendly enough and we verified the transactions but, more importantly, I was removed from their automated call list. Any fraud questions they might have, they’re perfectly at liberty to contact me for verification, but I’ll ring them. I’ll go to their website, find their number and call them.

Email disclaimers

I own a number of domains. Recently one of these has started to receive a number of email messages to apparently genuinely real people who definitely don’t have an email address on that domain but who, for some reason, are receiving email. (My favourite theory is a badly configured mail server appending an incorrect domain to outgoing messages.)

Several of the messages I’ve received have had disclaimers appended to the end, you know the form,

This email is only intended for the recipient, if you are not the recipient, please douse your computer in moonshine and howl at the moon.

(Due credit to MetaFilter)

I have taken to responding in a slightly disdainful tone (haughty? moi?) that if the sender can’t be bothered to verify that they’re sending email to real addresses then I can’t be held to their grip on the law.

Google searches suggest I’m on reasonably solid ground:

Even though their effectiveness in court is doubtful, they may provide a useful argument in negotiations to resolve a dispute.

The central conceit here is that while I’m not the target for the email I’m being given something. I’m not picking it up in the street, looking over someone’s shoulder or poking my nose into someone else’s private space. This is my email account and someone is, mistakenly, putting something of theirs into my inbox. I refuse to accept conditions – if they can’t send it to addresses they have validated to be correct, why should I obey their wishes?

I’m interested in why I might have got this wrong. I’m also interested in the real reasons why other people have so little regard for their businesses that they could configure their systems to get it wrong.