HST cab ride treat

A few weeks ago my friend John, who’s been a train driver since he left school, took me for a ride in the cab of an HST (InterCity 125 type trains). I’ve always wanted a ride in the cab of a train and John’s been promising to take me for years, so this was a real treat. We drove down from Manchester to Birmingham in a class 220 “Voyager” DMU, which was exciting enough, but those trains are cheap and nasty and really not a patch on the classic HST, which have been going for 30 years or so now. Nothing they make new these days even comes close to them, in my opinion. We drove back to Manchester in an HST set on loan from National Express East Coast (John works for CrossCountry).

Riding in the cab, as opposed to riding as a passenger, gives you a completely different perspective on rail travel. Obviously there’s the unusual visual aspect of riding in the front, but you also get a very sincere understanding of how train driving works. John explained everything he was doing to me as he drove the trains, and you get to understand exactly why the train has to travel slowly sometimes, or why it has to stop; things that seem random, arbitrary and annoying when you’re a passenger.

Indeed, John was so busy explaining the intricacies of train driving to me that he forgot to open the train doors when he pulled into a station on one occasion. A shout and a bang on the door from the staff soon jolted his memory though!

National Express HST power car

National Express HST power car

Inside the cab of the power car

Inside the cab of the power car


Getting what you pay for

Here’s a very insightful post from a Slashdotter on the subject of the recent and seemingly unstoppable trend of hiring cheap labour in the IT market. As you know it’s not often that I recycle stuff straight out of Slashdot so when I do you know that it’s special:

I entirely agree that individually you need to be as valuable as possible. That’s why all the CCNPs I know are working to finish their CCIEs and the CCIEs are working on their Juniper/Avaya certs. All of this is on top of their technical degrees.

The problem is that you and your “invaluable” skills really aren’t being taken into account. It doesn’t matter if firing you would cripple the company because we’re typically thinking 90 days at a time. If you replace a $150K CCIE with a $20K wanna-be, then you as a manager can claim a $130K dollar “savings.” Hooray for you, here’s your bonus.

When that $20K wonder takes all of your customers down — and here’s the beauty part — you aren’t blamed for it. No one is currently drawing the line between your $130K savings and the customers that walked with their millions of dollars.

The really scary part? I frequently work on municipal, hospital and 911 systems. Infrastructure disasters here can cost lives. I’ve watched the cheap guys take down emergency systems, and I tried not to think about the calls that were getting dropped as I fought to get them back online. I push the frantic calls for help out of my mind, because if I let my imagination run with what an unanswered 911 call could mean…

The cheap guy’s response as I berated him for putting lives at risk? Basically, what do I care? It’s not my country.

Every one of the guys I know are putting in 60-hours weeks routinely. Hours like that mean divorces. They mean early heart attacks. They mean neglected children left to raise themselves. They mean broken homes with the societal carnage that goes with it.

It’s the classic tragedy of the commons. The people who lead our country are insulated from the carnage associated with gutting our workforce. In the meantime, my country is falling apart. I’ve got a CS degree from a prestigious college, a CCIE, and a decade of international experience and even I am feeling the heat. I weep for those not as lucky as I.

We’re gutting our middle class. We just are, and if you don’t see it, it’s probably because you’re young. I hear your “Well, it’s not a problem if you’re the best of the best” bravado, and I wonder what you propose to do with the other 99% percent of the population, because they’re not just going to just disappear.

I was downtown during the LA Riots of ’92. Rodney King and Daryl Gates might have been the spark that set it off, but that riot burned on the fuel of unemployed people. Last time I was in LA, more than a decade later, the damage still hadn’t been repaired.

I’d really prefer not to see that happen on a country-wide scale. But me and the other gray-hairs are worried, especially the people I know out in LA. We’re getting that “vibe” again.

Things are stretched beyond breaking. Our teachers have flat-out given up. Our cops are showing the sort of violent and unstable behavior you would expect from PTSD. The wave of earnest enlistees that flooded the military after 9/11 have become the sort of weary jaded bastards that could put the most burned-out Vietnam Vet to shame.

We are, for the first time in history, routinely using mercenaries in almost every level of our military and law enforcement. I’m seeing military families, families with generations of service, hang up their uniforms and forbid their children from serving.

Our hospitals are literally allowing people to die from neglect in the ER. Our bridges are falling down. Our electrical grid is one snapped breaker from going dark.

Katrina should have been our moment of clarity. The fact that it so clearly wasn’t scares me to death.

But you go ahead, and keep humming that “I’m the best, I’m the best, I’m the best” mantra. Keep closing your eyes as tight as you can and shut your ears tighter. Find a good teddy bear, because the old man, the old man has seen all this before.

I’m terrified of where this train is going.

OneIfByLan (1341287)


Manchester Pride 2008

The long awaited and long time coming event of the year that is Manchester Pride kicks off tomorrow evening. I’m off work from this evening and for ten days until Monday 1st September, so Pride and the week that follows it represents a very welcome break for both myself and H, as we’re both absolutely knackered after the events and work of the past three months. That said, we’re both working over the Pride “big weekend“; H is DJing on Friday night, Sunday afternoon and Sunday night, while I am doing a shift at a health club that’s run by one of our friends on Friday night (because he’s short staffed) and then helping to run a club night on Sunday night, run by some other of our friends. It’s for these reasons why we’ve taken some time off afterwards because we’re unlikely to get the rest that we need during the weekend itself!

We will be enjoying ourselves too though, of course. The village is closed at about 6.00pm on Friday (cordoned off), at which point only Big Weekend ticketholders are allowed in, heralding the start of the weekend. The Friday evening in the village always has a good atmosphere so we’ll go and join in with that and have a few drinks before we go to our respective jobs. Then on Saturday afternoon is the main parade through the city, which we’re both taking part in, after which we’ll go home and get some sleep before the really massive Pride club party on Saturday evening, Uni Challenge, which is this giant event held at the students’ union complex, incorporating five different nightclubs (including Federation and Trade) and a funfair all in one place. Various afterparties will no doubt follow that, either public or private.

On Monday afternoon, after some more sleep, Heather Small is headlining on the main stage in the car park and then in the evening it’s the annual HIV Candlelit Vigil, which is always a touching and emotional affair and a nice way to finish off the Big Weekend, that is, before the closing party at Essential, which we may or may not go to because, despite promises of a refit, Essential is a fucking awful, awful venue and the whole community is very, very tired of it. Really the sensible thing to do would have been to refit it in time for Pride, not afterwards, but hey, what do I know?

Next week we plan to take it easy. There is a chance that H may have to go in to work on the Friday and possibly the Thursday too, however. This is because he started at new job at the soon to be opened Crowne Plaza hotel this week, and he’s supposed to be a member of a team of three, and the other two team members never showed up for their first day and still haven’t shown up, so it’s up to H to do most of the required maintenance in the 220 room hotel before they open on 1st September. Although this’ll certainly make him the golden boy amongst the hotel’s management it does rather have the potential to throw a spanner in the works with regards to our week “off”. Never mind, needs must.


Beijing 2008

The 2008 Summer Olympics start at 8.00pm today, 08/08/2008, in Beijing in the “People’s Republic” of China, the number eight being a lucky number in Chinese culture of course. I don’t usually follow the Olympics as I find most sporting events incredibly boring, but I probably will follow this one more closely in terms of the organisation and politics of it, rather than the sporting events themselves. These games have been controversial from the very start due to the IOC‘s decision to hold them in such a politically controversial country with a very questionable record on human rights.

China is an awfully strange place. It’s still, technically, communist, a political system that has proven to be unworkable for the most part. China has opened itself up to some western ways, most notably those that benefit it economically, so it’s not quite like it was in the old Soviet Union, but is still a long way off from democracy and all the trappings that democracy brings, things that we in the west very much take for granted every day. When it suits the Chinese government they hold scant regard for their citizens and this has been illustrated with some alarming blatency with the organisation of the games with the government forcibly evicting some 1.5 million people from their homes so that they can be bullsdozed to make way for the spectacular Olympic venues, including the “Bird’s Nest” and the “Water Cube“.

The Chinese authorities have also been accused of not honouring agreements regarding censorship and Internet access and their methods of complying with pledges to cut pollution in time for the games are also very questionable since they have achieved this by ordering polluting businesses to simply stop operating in the run up to and during the games themselves. That could never and would never happen anywhere else, you can’t just order businesses to arbitrarily shut down temporarily so that it makes you look better for an international event, only to return to the same environmental problems with no real long-term plan or intention to deal with them afterwards.

There have been numerous recent documentaries on the telly about China, most with some very alarming footage shot by British journalists highlighting the quite frankly sinister attitude held by the Chinese authorities to foreign journalists, especially when confronted with questions that they would rather not talk about. Freedom of information is a distant dream for that country and there are few signs that it’s going to change any time soon. It’s easy to forget about it because China is so far away and so far removed from our daily lives in the west, so when you see such material on the television it shocks you and makes you ask “blimey, does that sort of thing still go on, in 2008?”. It went on all the time in the 20th Century of course, it was almost normal, but not these days, the world has, for the most part, moved on.

Even the more technical documentaries, such as those on National Geographic Channel concerned with the construction of the Olympic venues, carry subtle references to the strict controls on information that the Chinese authorities maintain. During a documentary about the Bird’s Nest, the commentator remarked that “at least two” construction workers lost their lives during the construction of the stadium. They didn’t make a big thing about it, as it wasn’t a programme that concerned itself with anything other than an engineering project, and indeed the remark was very subtle and easy to miss, but it was very telling. In any other country in the world we would know exactly how many people were hurt during the construction of any building, but all they were able to report was that “at least” two were, thereby suggesting that they had probably received reports that more people than that lost their lives, but that the figure of two was the official figure released by the authorities.

The Chinese are famous for misreporting such figures. Industrial accidents are almost almost misreported, with the authorities claiming that far fewer people were killed and/or hurt than there actually were. The same is true for other statistics, such as the displacement enacted in order to make way for the Olympic venues. Although 1.5 million people were displaced, the Chinese authorities claim that only 6,037 were. It’s blatant lying, for the purpose of presenting their citizens and the rest of the world with the impression that life in China is a lot better than it actually is, but of course there’s nothing that anyone can do about it. They’re stuck in a culture of information control, it’s second nature to them now, and neither authority nor citizen can probably imagine a world without it.

I personally am very concerned that something awful is going to happen during the games. We’ve already had a terrorist attack and numerous protests and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there was some nasty atrocity, perhaps like what happened at the Munich games, where Israeli athletes were kidnapped and killed, or some sort of other significantly disruptive event that will marr the whole thing. I hope I’m wrong of course, but the whole world’s eyes are on China now and so it would be a perfect opportunity for someone to bring our attention to one or more of the various wrongs in China while we’re looking and before we go back to our normal lives after the games have finished.

Finally, I’d like to quote from a 2DTV sketch, which I think is very apt: