Sunday, 25 February 2018

Francis Road Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) appeal

I received a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) from Waltham Forest Council for passing through a conditional no entry sign on Francis Road in Leyton (at the Albert Road junction). The sign has been recently put up and I totally missed it. Like me I'm certain others have missed it and are being bullied by the council into paying the fine. The council truly does run an extortion racket. No two ways about it. I will be appealing the PCN and as a starting point I've just sent the following representation:
First of all, I had no intention to pass this conditional no entry sign. It was a Sunday afternoon. The roads were empty. I was on my way to Sainsbury's Local just up the road coming from Leytonstone. There were many roads available to me to get there and no incentive for me to skip this sign. I simply missed it.
Secondly, about the sign itself, the conditional no entry sign is ridiculously easy to miss. It is obscured by the white arrow on blue background "carry on straight" sign right above it. There is no marking on the road on the ground ahead of it indicating to the driver that they should stop. There is no indication leading up to the sign that the layout of the road has changed and that there is no straight through access. This area has plenty of bold red unconditional no entry signs which are super clear to spot but there's no reason to assume that there will be a conditional no entry right in the middle of Francis Road. Given that this sign is a such an anomaly in the area there should be a white and red marking on the base of the pole to make it super clear to oncoming drivers that there is something here worthy of taking note. Add to that the conditional no entry sign should be slightly lower than it is so that it comes naturally and clearly into the view of oncoming drivers. And add to that the sign should be coupled with a camera sign to get the attention of oncoming drivers – especially local drivers – who have no reason to assume that the road which they are used to driving through is now conditionally inaccessible.
Thirdly, it is clear to me that I am not the only person who has missed this sign. I went today to the site to make sense of the contravention I had committed and within 10 seconds of getting there a driver of a small van was on the verge of driving straight through before I jumped at his car waving to save him from a fine. I spoke to him and like me he totally missed the sign for the above-mentioned reason. I have also seen from doing a quick internet search that others have been caught out by this unclear road marking (e.g.
Unless the council has deliberately put up this obscure sign to catch drivers out and generate extra income for itself I believe it has a right to revisit this site and make it much more apparent that this part of Francis Road is no entry area between the said times. It baffles me why this isn't just a simple unconditional no entry area sign but that's a whole separate discussion. I will be making a Freedom Of Information request to get a better understanding of how many drivers have been caught out by this poor signage. Numbers don't lie. If I am just one of a handful of drivers who have made this mistake then I will happily pay the fine. If, on the other hand, the number of drivers caught out by this sign is in the hundreds then I believe the council has a duty to overturn the PCNs issued here and readdress the signage.
The Freedom Of Information request which I sent to Waltham Forest Council can be found here.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Book Review: The Mechanical Turk, by Tom Standage

This was an alright read. The book tells the story of the chess-playing automaton built in the late 18th century and its journeys across Europe and America from the late 18th century to the early 19th century. The automaton itself I didn't find too interesting but the characters it meets in its lifetime – from the analysts trying to crack its mystery to the engineers it would inspire – I found captivating. The author doesn't divulge the secret of how the automaton works until the penultimate chapter but I'll confess I jumped straight to the back after reading a few chapters because the suspense was killing me!

Here are some quotes from the book:
"... Babbage soon came to the conclusion that there was no reason why a mechanical device made of simple parts could not perform complex calculations. He was so excited at the prospect that it made him ill; his doctor advised him to take a holiday and not think about such things, so he went to stay with Herschel near Windsor for a few days. He subsequently drew up a scientific paper in which he announced that he was designing a machine capable of calculating any mathematical tables, including astronomical ones, automatically. This was the genesis of Babbage's first mechanical computer, the Difference Engine..."
"... Babbage struggled in vain for many years and spent the fortune he inherited from his father, along with a vast quantity of government funds, in an unsuccessful attempt to build this machine (the Difference Engine). Part of the reason why he failed was that halfway through construction, Babbage conceived an even more ambitious machine, the Analytical Engine, which would be capable of far more complex calculations..."
"... Such was the complexity of this new machine (the Analytical Engine) that it was inarguably the earliest ancestor of the modern digital computer: it had direct mechanical equivalents of a modern computer's processor and memory. Babbage even devised a symbolic notation with which to write down programs for it. But following the failure of the Difference Engine, he was unable to raise the funds to build it. Even so, his analysis of the Analytical Engine's theoretical capabilities prefigured many elements of modern computer science..."
"... 'You Americans are a very singular people,' Maelzel later recalled to one of this friends. 'I went with my automaton all over my own country – the Germans wondered and said nothing. In France, they exclaimed, 'Magnifique! Merveilleux! Superbe!' The English set themselves to prove – one that it could be, and another that it could not be, a mere mechanism acting without a man inside. But I had not been long in your country, before a Yankee came to me and said, 'Mr Maelzel, would you like another like that? I can make you one for five hundred dollars.' I laughed at his proposition. A few months afterwards, the same Yankee came to see me again, and this time he said 'Mr Maelzel, would you like to buy another thing like that? I have one ready for you.'..."
"... the illusion of intelligence is as good as the real thing..."
"... in 1769 Kempelen had conjectured that playing chess and holding conversations were the two activities that most readily indicated intelligence. Nearly 200 years later, the computer scientists of the twentieth century came to exactly the same conclusion..."

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Book Review: Human Universe, by Brian Cox

This is a decent run-through of various topics/questions related to human existence: our place in the universe (in a cosmological sense), our place on the earth (in an evolutionary sense), the possibility of other intelligent life forms in the universe, and so on and so forth. Some of the scientific concepts I thought were well explained and I was able to follow and understand. Others just went over my head and I guess I'll have to try watching the TV series in the hope of finding better explanations there. Overall though this book left me with a good appreciation of the natural world and an appreciation of the human mind in how we've progressively (slowly but surely) advanced our understanding of it all. Below are some quotes from the book that stood out for me:
"The trick as an educated citizen of the twenty-first century is to realise that nature is far stranger and more wonderful than human imagination and the only appropriate response to new discoveries is to enjoy one's inevitable discomfort, take delight in being shown to be wrong and learn something as a result." 
"Just have a look at something – the smallest, most trivial little thing – and enjoy trying to figure out how it works. That is science." 
"... the natural world is orderly and simple, and can be described with great economy by a small set of laws." 
"Scientific predictions are not perfect. Scientific theories are never correct. Scientific results are always preliminary. Whole fields of study can be rendered obsolete by new discoveries." 
"It is surely true that there is no absolute meaning or value to our existence when set against the limitless stars. We are allowed to exist by the laws of nature and in that sense we have no more value that the stars themselves. And yet there is self-evidently meaning in the universe because my own existence, the existence of those I love, and the existence of the entire human race means something to me."

Monday, 10 July 2017

Book Review: Carlo Ancelotti: Quiet Leadership – Winning hearts, minds and matches

A light, enjoyable read. This is not your typical football biography book but more so leadership and management lessons from the footballing life of Carlo Ancelotti. In terms of leadership, there's a focus on "soft" leadership and that's what gives this book its novel touch. Some of the key repeated themes to be found throughout the book are how a calm, empathetic, patient mindset can be advantageous (and sometimes disadvantageous) and how language development, relationship building and trust are critical to team success. Below is a small selection of quotes from the book that stood out for me.
"There is power and authority in being calm and measured, in building trust and making decisions cooly..." 
"When you watch Vito Corleone in The Godfather, do you see a weak, quiet man or do you see a calm, powerful man  in charge of his situation?" 
"Nothing is as important as being loved and valued." 
"... it is important to learn the language as a way into the culture." 
"Bothering to learn the language is a reliable indicator of the commitment of the player not just to playing the game, but to flourishing in the new environment. This is possibly why English players underperform in foreign leagues." 
"My opinion is that players do their best when they are comfortable, not when they are uncomfortable." 
"When I talk of players being comfortable, I do not mean in their playing – I mean in their minds." 
"The players remember the occasions when I get angry because it happens rarely. If was to get angry every single day, they would not remember and it would not be effective on them." 
"We need both analytics and instinct because eventually those who do not understand the data will be eaten by it."

Book Review: Hegarty on Creativity – There are no rules

Decent little book full of short reflections on what it means to create and what it means to adopt a creative mindset. I've picked off the quotes that stood out for me and typed them below. Anyone reading and liking this book will also enjoy listening to some of John Hegarty's public talks which can be found on YouTube (e.g. here and here).
"You have to be supremely confident in your ability to achieve something outstanding."
"Start small, start compact, and suddenly you'll have begun to create."
"... often the right idea will come to you when you're not even thinking."
"... if you don't believe in what you're doing, why should anyone else."
"When I'm asked, When do you do your best thinking? My answer is always, When I'm not thinking."
"Too much thinking jeopardises the creative process..."
"A cynic might sound smart, sometimes even witty, but rarely are they productive. So surround yourself with positivity and possibility. With people who challenge and question. And as soon as anyone resorts to cynicism, move on."
"In the end, everything is connected and the more connections you make the more interesting your work will become."
"As important as practice is, there's no point constantly practicing unless you're perfecting whatever it is that you're working on."
"Practice only makes perfect if you make progress."
"Whatever you're doing, whatever difficulties you're encountering, remember how lucky you are and be sure to have fun."

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Book Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain

I really enjoyed reading this book the last couple of months and I can easily see it being in the top-10 favourite non-fiction books list of every "quiet" person that comes across it. It is for me. Definitely one of the best popular psychology books that I've read and will probably ever read. The author does a good job discussing concepts like assertiveness, certainty, charisma, charm, confidence, introversion, sensitivity, seriousness, shyness, sociability and verbal fluency in an understandable, relatable and not overly academic manner. If you haven't already, it's worth listening to the one of the author's talks at TED (20 minutes) or Google (40 minutes) before getting the book.

In closing, below are some of my favourite quotes from the book:
"As with other complimentary pairings – masculinity and femininity, East and West, liberal and conservative – humanity would be unrecognisable, and vastly diminished, without both personality styles [introversion/extroversion]."
"Introversion – along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness and shyness – is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man's world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we've turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform."
"Nor are introverts necessarily shy. Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating."
"The pressure to entertain, to sell ourselves, and never to be visibly anxious keeps ratcheting up."
"We fail to realise that participating in an online working group is a form of solitude all its own. Instead we assume that the success of online collaborations will be replicated in the face-to-face world."
"So stay true to your own nature. If you like to do things in a slow and steady way, don't let others make you feel as if you have to race. If you enjoy depth, don't force yourself to seek breadth." 
"Probably the most common – and damaging – misunderstanding about personality type is that introverts are antisocial and extroverts are pro-social. But as we've seen, neither formulation is correct; introverts and extroverts are differently social."

Friday, 9 June 2017

Trip to Makkah and Madinah in the first ten days of Ramadhan

Went with the wife to Makkah and Madinah for the first 10 days of Ramadhan. We stayed in Makkah for the first 4.5 days (5 nights) at the Elaf Al Mashaer Hotel and then in Madinah for the second 4.5 days (4 nights) at the Rove Al Madinah Hotel. Both hotels we booked ourselves via the website. We flew via Saudi Airlines which we also booked ourselves direct from the website. Car transfers we arranged with a Pakistani (not Arab thank God!) company called Al-Falah Transport Services (contact details in the comments) which was on point: good prices, good communication and good service overall. The visas we arranged with a London based company called Hassan Hajj Tours. Overall the total cost of the trip for two persons not incluing clothes and dates shopping was £3300 (accommodation [£1500], flights [£1100], visas [£300], transfers [£200], food [£200]).


In Makkah because of the heat and the crowds it's not so easy going back and forth between the Mosque and the hotel for each Salah. Thus the routine that we gravitated towards over the course of our stay was as follows:
  • Fajr (4am) – we would go to the Mosque half an hour before the Adhan, pray and then make our way back to the hotel half an hour after Salah.
  • Between Fajr and Dhuhr – this is when we would get our longest stretch of sleep.
  • Dhuhr (12:30pm) and Asr (3:30pm) – we would make our way to the Mosque half an hour before Dhuhr, pray Dhuhr, hang around until Asr, pray Asr and then make our way back to the hotel half an hour after Salah.
  • Between Asr and Maghrib – we would get some rest at the hotel, freshen up and pack our Iftaar snacks.
  • Maghrib (7pm) – we would get to the Mosque (sometimes inside and sometimes outside) a few minutes before the Adhan and break our fast with dates, yoghurt drink and whatever other little goodies we had with us (croissants, Loacker wafers etc).
  • Between Maghrib and Eisha – we would get in a Tawaf on the first floor. Sometimes we would do the first few circuits on the ground floor and then head up to the first floor when it got too busy and congested.
  • Eisha (9pm) and Tarawih (9:30pm) – we would finish Tawaf before the Adhan, continue half a circuit more to the opposite side of the Mosque and then find a good spot to pray on the mats.
  • Between Tarawih and Fajr – we would go to the third and fourth floors of the Clock Tower building to get some dinner and to purchase some snacks from Abraaj Hypermarket for the next day's Iftaar, then proceed to our hotel to do our social media browsing for the day and then on to the hotel's dining area for some pre-Fajr breakfast.


In Madinah it wasn't as strenuous as it was in Makkah to go back and forth between the hotel and the Mosque and so we tended to come and go between each Salah. Restaurants and takeaways close to the Mosque are in very short supply so we highly recommend arranging breakfast and dinner at your hotel if this is an option. Lastly, for clothes (Jubbas, Jilbabs etc) and dates shopping, Taibah Commercial Center outside the Mosque has plenty of options. You don't need to go anywhere else. There's a Bin Dawood supermarket in here also for you to stock up on snacks and fruits.