Watch out there is an Eco-Menace about!

Nowadays we are constantly being bombarded by environmental concerns.  Our oceans are full of plastic and global warming is running out of control.  Some would argue that unless we make significant changes to arrest these rising temperatures, the world will reach an unrecoverable tipping point in the next decade or so.

On the positive side things are changing, even if slowly.  Renewables are becoming more and more available all the time and cheaper to produce.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear that one third of Britain’s energy now comes from renewables (BBC Look North, East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, broadcast on 15th August 2019) and indeed recent years have seen a massive increase in the numbers of electricity producing wind turbines, both on land and out at sea.  Image of Lincs Windfarm near Skegness on the Lincolnshire coast.

However in the midst of all this good news a new menace is lurking.

Yet it was hailed as the future of urban transport.  It is electric, which is generally understood to mean clean and efficient, although this depends on how the electricity that powers it was originally produced.  It will replace the car as the item of choice for commuting around the city, even if it won’t replace it completely on shopping trips or journeys that cover greater distances.  In the city streets it is faster than a conventional bicycle and they are becoming more readily available all the time.

So what is this amazing new means of getting around?

It is of course the electric scooter!

Forget the hype and forget the glowing endorsement in the paragraph above.  These are a menace, a danger and a threat to life itself.  It is like a great white shark swimming offshore.  It doesn’t mean it will attack you, but if you get into the environment with it then there is a good chance that you are likely to be bitten!

I know I may be coming across as a bit of a dinosaur, doomed to extinction, because I seem unable to change.  Just give me a chance to explain my reasoning.

  1. No training or certification is required before using one so riders are often inexperienced or lack understanding of how to control them properly.
  2. With small wheels and a high centre of gravity they are inherently unstable and are capable of speeds of up to 30 mph (almost 50 kph), although most are limited to 10-18 mph (16-29 kph). They are unstable at low speeds but also high speeds amplify this instability.
  3. They are quite rightly banned in Britain, other than on private roads, but this legislation is largely unknown or ignored. ‘Scooterists’ therefore ride in cycle lanes on the roads or even on pavements.  Prominent UK YouTuber, Emily Hartridge was killed in July 2019 in a collision when she was on a scooter and while I am sympathetic and feel for her family’s loss and am not attaching any blame to her (I am unaware of the exact circumstances and it would be judgmental anyway) if they simply were banned this tragedy would never have occurred.
  4. In Poland the law is confused and downright dangerous.  Scooters are legally banned from cycle lanes and roads, but no such law bans them from the pavements. Consequently they fly by at high speed and pedestrians have to take their lives into their own hands.  There has even been a case in Warsaw when a pedestrian was fined after a collision with a ‘scooterist’ as the pedestrian was deemed as being at fault for moving in the way while unaware of the scooter which was approaching from behind (see for example Polsat News Report [in Polish]).  It isn’t normal or expected to be charged down by a scooter on a pavement and I wouldn’t have been looking out for it either.
  5. It would seem logical that such scooters belong in the cycle lanes or on the cycle paths, but their instability too makes this a dangerous proposition. There is no existing scooter infra-structure.

So there you go, the electric scooter needs a complete rethink, or alternatively to be banned altogether.

Let’s consider another example.  In early August 2019 French inventor Franky Zapata made a powered flight across the English Channel on a jet powered platform; so he proved it possible.  So maybe we should all go out and buy one.  Can you imagine the chaos?  Just because something can be done it doesn’t mean it should be made available to the masses.

As a final thought, why not invest in electric bicycles?  They are more stable and safer (who thought anyone would ever write that about a bicycle!) and there is already infra-structure – which is getting better all the time – in place.

It is time to ban the electric scooter before more tragedies follow.

© Richard Horton, Omega Support Services 2019

Populism- the New Truth

Over the last several decades there has been a move away from what could be called facts (although these weren’t always right in the past either – and I can think of some horrific examples) to this kind of ‘if it feels right it is right’ and while I agree perception is as powerful as reality we should always look for truth in our dealings with each other and the world around us.  Another way this manifests itself is that if the majority believe it then it must be true.

The majority opinion is not always the right opinion.  Most Germans supported Hitler until the last year or two of the war and he was clearly wrong!  Most people will just blindly accept this fact, but if you were prudent you would check it out yourselves and not just accept it at face value.  Go ahead… I dare you.

Fake news surrounds us and the discerning person needs to look behind the headlines.

A personal favourite of mine – because it is so bad – is the so called European refugee ship that was accepted by North Africa during the World War II.  I have reproduced it on the right.

It may seem logical that many Europeans attempted to escape Europe during the horrors of World War II and the message of our common humanity and reciprocation is indeed a moral one and thus rests easily on our consciences – so we accept it as true.

However closer examination reveals the truth.  It may not be obvious but the picture has been de-coloured which makes it look older.  The people are so small that they become featureless but if you were too zoom in it would be obvious they are not dressed in the style of the 1940s.  However, the biggest clues are the name of the ship and its home port.  It is the Vlora, registered in Durres.  Both of these are Albanian ports cities and what we are actually looking at is an attempted mass exodus from Albania after the fall of communism.  The ship crossed the Adriatic and ended up in the Italian port of Bari.

This meme became very popular and was viewed by millions though their social media accounts, but shouldn’t a moral message be rooted in the truth?

Wikipedia has become the most popular encyclopedia in the world and is often the first point of reference for many.  The intentions of the creators was honourable and while there is undoubtedly a lot of accuracy in their articles and they have taken steps to ensure authenticity it is inevitably flawed because of the populist rather than academic nature of its authorship.  I recall coming across degree level study materials that in one chapter stated that Wikipedia should never be used in serious academic research, but then a few chapters later quoted a Wikipedia article to support a claim the author was making.

However neither of these are the real target of my article today.  Rating sites are very useful, but also deeply flawed.  Typically they provide a forum for clients to express their views on the service they received from any given company.  Probably the most famous of these is Trip Adviser who can make or break a business.

In the past hotels used to display their star rating, but now it is also all too frequently accompanied by its Trip Adviser rating, such has the influence of the website become.

It is important that I point out at this point that to my knowledge there is no ill intent on the part of Trip Adviser the issue is the populist approach to the reviews.  I am sure most opinions are valid and a real reflection on the consumer’s experience of a hotel, hostel or restaurant.  However, some are not.

I know first-hand of a restaurant that was effectively destroyed by the views expressed on Trip Adviser.  I can state with absolute confidence that the views expressed were completely wrong as I was there myself for the New Year’s celebration on the evening in question and while the service wasn’t perfect it was nowhere near as bad as the reviewers claimed it to have been on Trip Adviser.

Of course people are entitled to their own views; however the issue is that these views were expressed with no accountability and this is dangerous.  If a view is expressed on a public forum it is only fair that the reviewer should be held accountable on the same public domain.  Sadly this is where most ratings sites are.  What is more it is easy to create a false email account and use this as your reviewing medium and thus hide your real identity.

Social media gave rise to trolling and writing unsubstantiated opinions with no accountability is fundamentally the same thing.  Please understand I am not saying we should never write bad reviews.  If a place genuinely deserves a bad review then it is fair, so long as accountability is built in.

After all it is a person’s livelihood that we are playing with and the consequences are life changing.  How would you like it if you were put under the spotlight and reviewed unfairly in your line of work.

It’s not nice – so play nice!

© 2018 by Richard Horton (Omega Support Services)


Shopping – The Revolution is Coming!

Technology is changing the way we do everything and next on the change list is the way we do our shopping.  Shopping has been a familiar weekly chore for decades.  The ubiquitous supermarket has provided us with almost everything we needed and smaller local shops filled any gaps.  Over the last 20 years supermarkets have diversified as they have added clothing and electronics to their range.  Prices have remained reasonable and in many cases gone down in real terms, especially with the arrival of low cost supermarkets such as Lidl and Aldi.  Sainsbury’s Basics range is about as cheap as anything else available, and this is from a supermarket that traditionally targeted the middle classes.

But we still had to go to the shop.

The revolution is already underway.  Online shopping has been around for a few years.  We simply place an order online through a dedicated app or through the supermarket’s online store and wait for delivery.  Simple!

But this is only the beginning!

Smart tech and the Internet of Things (IoT) is making more possibilities available all the time.

Smart fridges can monitor stock levels (and if fridges can do this there is no reason why other food storage areas such as cupboards can’t).  On the simplest level an app is now available that uses cameras placed in such areas.  The latest photo (which is taken based on opening the fridge door) is sent to your mobile phone so if you are in a shop you can check at a glance what you have in.

If a fridge can monitor what you have, it is not much of a step for it to monitor your consumption habits and create a smart shopping list that again will be available through an app on your smart phone.  As items are consumed your fridge can communicate with your smart phone and add items as they are used up.  Not only this, but the app can get smart by monitoring your usage and through a set of algorithms and variances (that are used in retail all the time to manage reordering of stock) get your shopping list pretty accurate.  This would include items that are bought rarely.  Of course the app would need to have a function in which you can add or remove items manually.

It wouldn’t be too difficult to develop a fridge with dedicated areas for certain products that could even weigh your products to help monitor how much you use.  For example milk levels could easily be monitored, by the actual quantity of milk you have left, rather than the number of bottles / cartons that remain.

Fridges are not the only technical items that can do this.  There are now even food processors on the market that can add to the shopping list by simply selecting the recipe you want to make (see for example the Thermomix).  The tech will then automatically add any missing ingredients.  Of course this may require some pre-planning.

The smart shopping list can then order your shopping online if you choose to and voila!

And there is more!

Assuming you still want to actually go to the supermarket an app is being tested in the UK that not only compiles your shopping list, but then, in coordination with the supermarket, plans the most efficient route through the supermarket so you can get through as quickly as possible.  In other words it acts as a kind of Sat-Nav for the supermarket.  Not only this but it also scans the items as you go round and then you can go to a self-service till and pay without having to scan everything again.  This seems contrary to the business model most supermarkets use, as they want customers to loiter and explore, so it can only be assumed that cost savings are made in other ways to make it worthwhile, presumably this means reducing staff costs.

However the previous example aside the overall direction seems to be to encourage online shopping.  If the shopping list app is tied in to the supermarkets’ stock databases there is no reason why it couldn’t divide your shopping list between 2 – 3 supermarkets to maximise your savings.  It is a false economy to save a few pence on an item to drive across town to get it from another supermarket, but if they are doing the deliveries it is no longer your concern.

In fact if you have created a link between your home storage, smart device and the supermarket databases, there is absolutely no reason why your shopping couldn’t be totally automated and operate using similar stock control logistics as commercial warehousing, including concepts such as FIFO (First in First Out) and LIFO (Last In First Out).  We can, with the exception of unpacking, leave the shopping to sort itself out.

Finally, if delivery scheduling is difficult the supermarket could offer a pick up service in which they put the customer’s shopping together and the customer then simply comes at their own convenience, for example on the way home from work.

It seems that the future of the supermarket it is as a distribution centre.

It sounds almost Utopian, in terms of time saving and economy, but it would mean relinquishing control and trusting Artificial Intelligence.  Are there any downsides?  Only time will tell.

The revolution has begun!

© Richard Horton, Omega Support Services 2018