Jun 022019
 

There’s a couple of truths in life:

  • You don’t get to choose your biological family
  • You don’t get to choose your place of birth

Now, as it happens I ordinarily do not have any real issues with my family or my place of birth, except on one matter: I have never possessed a driver’s license, and really don’t wish to obtain one.

I can get around just fine on my bicycle when I need to. That mode of transport is not nearly as limiting as people think it is. Sure, it’ll take me longer to get places, and I need to perhaps do more planning than most, but I can get where I’m needed.

Yet, time and time again, I run up against the same problem: people assume that people my age, drive cars. People then make the leap to suggest that you’re a useless person if you don’t drive.

I did try to obtain a learner’s permit some time ago. I tried the written test twice: at $20 a pop, at a time when I was unemployed. I wasn’t sure how I was going to fund obtaining a vehicle and paying the necessary fees, but I figured I’d try the first step.

I failed both attempts on one question.

I decided that an identity card was more important: I researched what documentation was required, paid my dues, handed over said documentation, wandered out with a new 18+ card. I figured if I needed to try the driver’s license again, I’d be back.

That was in December 2007. The requirements for obtaining a license have since become more onerous, and let’s face it, there are too many cars on the road today. I’d be looking at taking about 200 hours off from work in order to get the necessary log-book time up and spending tens of thousands of dollars on driving lessons. It isn’t financially worth it.

I re-discovered cycling about 6 months later. I bought a folding bicycle, and started using that to get around, and realised that this was a viable mode of transport for me. Over time, I did longer and longer trips.

The longest I’ve gone unsupported was about 82km. A ride from my home at The Gap to the park at Logan Central takes about 3 hours each way with a couple of rest stops en route. I get going early, take my time, and get there without any trouble.

My work is at Milton, a run of about 10km: I can get there in an hour: faster than public transport. In the early mornings, my times tend to be closer to 45 minutes.

In short, there is just no useful purpose for me to have a car. More to the point, I’d have nowhere to park it. What limited space is available at the front of our property is occupied by a caravan and the neighbours’ numerous cars. If it weren’t for the caravan in fact, it would be all cars belonging to the neighbours.

Moreover, my body actually needs the physical exercise. It’s a fact that moving around is required to keep bodily functions working. You don’t move around enough: bowel movements slow down. I already had one bowel-related health scare this year.

I have not been riding much lately due to scheduling — and I feel my health is suffering greatly because of it.

In spite of this, I still get people, family included, shaking their metaphorical car keys in my face suggesting I should be driving too.

It’s as if, as a non-driver, you’re not welcome in this society. You’re seen as a waste of space — you don’t belong here. We’re seen as “shits” that are there wasting other peoples’ money.

I’ve had a lifetime of that sort of treatment for numerous reasons.

Back in the late 80s, the argument was that I had an Autism diagnosis, therefore I should be going into institutionalised care. Then the same condition was used to argue that I belonged in a special school. At high school, the same reasoning was probably used to put me in the lowest-grade maths and English classes.

I am generally able to focus on a task and do it well. This is probably the reason why I wound up doing double Bachelor-level IT/electronics degrees at uni, and passing both.

I could have instead just been institutionalised. Occupying a tax-payer funded bed. I’d be a record in the NDIS system today. Completely un-employable, generally useless. Definitely not earning >$60000/year doing full-stack software development. There is income tax being paid amongst that — whether my day job is actually worth what I get paid is a debate I’ll leave for others.

The fact remains that I work for a living, and pay my own way.

However, there is a difference to laying out a PCB or writing a code module; and manoeuvring ~600kg of metal travelling at 50+km/hr through suburban roads. One requires focus and patience, the other requires millisecond-level decision-making and reaction times.

I am not someone who thinks well at speed, and I would make no friends driving a car along Waterworks Road at 30km/hr in the morning peak-hour traffic. At 30-40km/hr, I can just manage on the bicycle. I can do up to 60km/hr, but I’m not comfortable at all going that speed!

In a car, you are expected to do the speed limit (50-60km/hr in the case of Waterworks Road). Brisbane’s drivers are not forgiving of anyone who can’t “keep up”.

There are people who have no place driving a car, and I would count myself as being a member of that group. I avoid being on the roads much of the time for that very reason — as a courtesy to drivers who would likely prefer to not be stuck behind a slow cyclist like myself.

Coupled with the health problems: me taking up driving would be an early death sentence. If this is really what is expected, I might as well stop now and get the dying bit over and done with, it’ll be one less person on this planet consuming ever dwindling resources.

It’ll be more humane for me to just quietly go, then to be constantly in and out of medical care for “this” medical condition, or “that” medical condition, costing my employer sick-leave, costing my health fund, occupying resources in our health system, simply because I didn’t get enough exercise.

If a non-driver like me is as useless as people make out, then I guess it won’t hurt anyone that I’m gone. … or maybe we can re-think the “non-drivers are useless” concept. One of the ideas in this paragraph is wrong. I’ve given up trying to decide which!

May 012016
 

Well, looks like this project is very much thrust into the spotlight having been covered in Hacklet 105 . Mine’s probably the least technical of the lot, it’s definitely worth having a look at what the others are doing, as there’s some really innovative ideas there. Many thanks to @Mike Szczys and @Adam Fabio for the shout-out. 🙂

One thing I haven’t done with this project yet, is to actually post the background of why I’ve started this. A big part of this was I wanted to get permission from the family of a work colleague of mine so that I could mention him by name, but at this stage, permission has not been given, so I have to keep things anonymous.

On the 12th of February, a colleague of mine was cycling to work over the Go Between Bridge here in Brisbane when he lost control on a bend as the bridge joins the Bicentennial Bikeway. This is an off-road, dedicated cycleway, so no cars, and supposedly no pedestrians, however many seem to not understand what a sign with a bicycle symbol and the letters O, N, L, Y mean. (I usually ride past and comment: “Funny bike you’re riding!”. Since this accident though, I intend to be a lot more assertive.)

(Above: the crash scene. That blood smear is still visible on the path today.)

I’m no crash investigator, but I did study physics, and I cycle as my sole means of transport myself, having no driver’s license. (And no interest in getting one either.) I’m familiar with what that bridge is like to cycle over, having done it many times shortly after it opened when I worked at West End.

Looking at the scene though, it was apparent to me that my colleague was going much faster than was sensible for that stretch of road, and something caused him to lose control just prior to the bend.

The resulting impact with the railing was devastating: in addition to a few broken bones elsewhere in the body, he suffered skull fractures, and what I understand now to be a Coup-Contrecoup injury to the brain.

I remember that morning arriving at work early (we both were early birds, and had he not crashed, he would have beaten me that morning), sitting down at my desk and preparing to do battle with U-Boot and an industrial PC, when at 6:34AM, the office phone rings. It was then I learned that my colleague was in a serious condition in hospital, and I then found myself frantically looking for contact details for his wife. (Which were nowhere to be found.)

We later learned he’d never regain consciousness, having lost all executive function in the brain. The only bits that worked, were the bits responsible for low-level muscle control. From bright mind, to persistent vegetative state. He passed away about a fortnight after his accident.

During his brief time in ICU, we were told by one of the people there that these sorts of injuries were common in bicycle and motorcycle accidents. That worried me.

That tells me that perhaps, something is wrong with these blocks of foam we insist on strapping to our heads, and that we’ve missed something. This is one of the first goals I’d like to pinpoint, but so far, has been the most difficult: trying to get hold of data that would statistically prove or disprove how “common” these injuries are.

There’s no point in protecting the skull itself if the brain is to get shaken around to the point that the person winds up with total mental incapacitation.

Research seems to suggest that helmets have had a big hand in reducing the incidents of these injuries, but the fact that it’s still “common”, seems to suggest there’s lots more work to be done.

The standards are focussed on linear acceleration, and single impacts at no more than about 20km/hr. Is that sufficient? I regularly find myself doing 40, and I’m no speed demon. (Hell, I’ve accidentally found myself doing 71km/hr once!) I think it’s time the standards were revised. The question is: how?

My colleague was a key member of our team, and one of the brighter minds I know. While he shouldn’t have taken that bend at such speed and expect to get away with it, he did not deserve to die. I can’t save him, but perhaps I can help save someone else. That’s what this project is about.

Apr 022016
 

Doing a bit more searching, previously I had stumbled across one article by Bike Magazine Australia entitled “Lifting The Lid”.

I did try to get in touch with the author via the email link on the website, but heard nothing. However, it appears, that article is a reprint of this article , which was published by Bicycling magazine in June 2013. I thought it might’ve been older than that.

There’s also a furious rebuttal by the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute. Well lets face it, being provocative helps magazines sell sometimes, although it pays to not be too provocative.

However, I feel the author has a point, even if he gets some details wrong.

It appears that the AIM system mentioned in the article is still in its prototype stage. I doubt this one is royalty free, but for sure it’ll be one to watch, owing to its safety features, and the fact that it’s a very different construction, should make for a cooler helmet to wear in summer.

Mar 062016
 

I was doing some thinking last night, then it occurred to me. We are trying to do simulations of crashes using linear motion. Dropping a helmet vertically. That’s linear.

For sure, it’s a good-enough approximation when you hit something head-on… or is it? If you come off and fly through the air, then maybe, you’ll strike something dead-level.

More probable though, is you’ll follow an arc, under projectile motion. The most likely scenario is that as the bicycle/motorcycle tilts over, you follow it. It’s not going to be a direct-to-the-ground vertical drop of your head, but rather, a circular arc.

So how do we test for it? I suppose like this:

Feb 252016
 

One of the stated goals is to try and determine how statistically significant TBI is in motorcycle and bicycle accidents.

Null hypothesis here will be that motorcycle accidents will have a much higher prevalence of TBI than in bicycle accidents, down to the typical routes and speeds alone.

Nick Rushworth, executive officer of Brain Injury Australia has been most helpful in pointing me to some statistics on New South Wales road crashes as well as some more general statistics from 2004-05 on TBI cases in general . His assistance in this has been a big help.

The Queensland Department of Main Roads also produces a number of reports, as well as a request form. Transport for NSW also provide statistics. I think the data is there, we’ve just got to figure out a means to drill into it.

Jun 142015
 

What is it? Well, the term “quaxing” originated from Auckland’s councillor, Dick Quax who stated:

@lukechristensen @BenRoss_AKL @Brycepearce no one in the entire western world uses the train for their shopping trips

@Brycepearce @lukechristensen @BenRoss_AKL the very idea that people lug home their weekly supermarket shopping on the train is fanciful

@Brycepearce @lukechristensen @BenRoss_AKL sounds like that would make great Tui ad. “I ride my bike to get my weekly shopping – yeah right”

While I’ve never described it as “quaxing”, and likely will not describe it that way, this is how I’ve been shopping for the past 5 years.

This, is my shopping trolley, literally… it gets unhitched and taken into the shop with me.

Shopping on the bike, "quaxing" to the twitter-croud.

Shopping on the bike, “quaxing” to the twitter-croud.

Now true, strictly speaking, Australia is not the “western world” geographically speaking. Neither is NZ; any further east and you hit the International Date Line. However this is a “westernised” country, as is NZ. Isn’t it funny how people assume cycling is merely a third-world phenomenon?