Saturday, 12 May 2018

Walk: Dorking West station to Betchworth station via Box Hill


Went for a walk along the North Downs Way with my wife, brother-in-law, nephew and trusty Ordnance Survey (OS) Explorer map last (Bank Holiday) Monday. We walked from Dorking West station (OS coordinates: 160498) north along the Mole Gap Trail for 1.5km, then joined the North Downs Way (OS coordinates: 164515) and walked east for around 1.5km to Box Hill (OS coordinates: 179513) where we had lunch and enjoyed the view before proceeding east along the North Downs Way for another 3km to Betchworth station (OS coordinates: 211514) where we completed our walk.

Summary of the walk


The total length of the walk was 6km (3.7 miles). There was an incline at Box Hill (from 50 metres elevation to 170 metres elevation) but other than that it was a steady, easy walk.

Getting there


Outgoing we caught the Southern train from London Victoria to Redhill (35 minutes) and then caught the Great Western Railway train from Redhill to Dorking West (15 minutes). Incoming we caught the Great Western Railway train from Betchworth to Redhill (10 minutes) and then the Southern train from Redhill to London Victoria. We booked the train ride as an off peak day return from London Victoria to Dorking West for £29.50 for all four of us (3 adults and 1 child).

Essentials


As well as the Dorking, Box Hill & Reigate Ordnance Survey Explorer 146 map we also found the Maps.ME app super handy. Unlike the Google Maps app the Maps.ME app shows walking paths. Also, on a hot day like we experienced it's worth having at least two 50cl (500ml) bottles of water per person.

I've uploaded some pictures from the walk to my Flickr account here.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Racist police at German airports

I was flying back from Muscat (Oman) to London (England) this week via Munich (Germany) and had a horrible time being subjected to intimidation and threats by the German police officers at Munich airport. I contacted Lufthansa Air and Munich Airport about it in the hope of finding a channel through which I could make a complaint. Thankfully Munich Airport got back to me and provided with an email address (bpol.muc@polizei.bund.de) to which I've just addressed my complaint and described my experience, as follows:
Dear Munich Police, 
I was flying from Muscat to London via Munich on Monday 16 April 2018. (Flight number LH 2482 from Munich to London Heathrow.) After going through our gate (Gate H40) and having been checked by Lufthansa staff my wife and I were stopped by a couple of police officers. 
We can forgive that these police officers were only stopping and profiling non-white passengers. Fine. And whilst it's distasteful we can also understand and forgive that these male police officers wanted my wife to life her face veil to show her face (even though she had just done so a second earlier to a Lufthansa staff member). Fine. She obliged. Not a huge deal. 
However, what is unforgivable is that the one officer we were dealing with was getting in our faces, getting super aggressive and threatening to detain us. And to top if off he was laughing out loud about it with his colleague as my wife and I were walking away afterwards. It was a horrible experience, totally unnecessary and has left us really disturbed. Is this normal behaviour to be expected when flying through Munich airport? If so, that's fine, we'll accept it and refuse to fly via this airport in future. If not, we would appreciate a response and for this officer to be brought to account. 
I am sorry that we did not get the officer's name and identification number. We wanted to but with the aggression and intimidation we were facing we were afraid to request it. We honestly felt like we were dealing with a thug rather than a person of the law. 
Regards,
Adil Hussain
I was curious to search online to see whether I was alone in my experience but doing a quick search of "Munich airport racist police" and "Frankfurt airport racist police" just turned up a number of results as follows:
So in summary it seems there's racism top to bottom in the police force at German airports and you're best avoiding Germany if you're non-white. And if you really do have to travel to or via Germany, brace yourself for a run-in with "the law"!

Update (05 May 2018): After contacting Munich airport, Lufthansa Air and Munich police about my experience the responses were as follows: Munich airport got back to me straight away and were super helpful in providing me with the Munich police contact details. Lufthansa Air got back to me around a couple of weeks after my complaint and were apologetic and said they had forwarded my complaint to the station manager at Munich Airport. And, lastly, Munich police got back to me a week after I contacted them with a generic letter saying they would investigate the allegations.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

12-day trip to Oman: Muscat, Sur, Nizwa


Below is a write-up of my 12-day trip to Oman with my wife. I'll start with a summary and some essentials and then proceed on to our trip itinerary.

Summary

12 days,7 hotels ,6 destinations, clear open roads and a good mix of land, sea, sun, mountains and deserts in the north of Oman. A highly recommended trip for the adventurous and nature lovers. Pictures of our trip here, here, here and here.

Essentials
  1. Rent a car for the duration of your trip. The best way to get around is by car and finding parking in Oman is never a problem. A four wheel drive vehicle is a must if you're going to head for the mountains or the desert.
  2. Have a cooler bag in your car to keep your snacks and drinks cool because it gets very hot in the car.
  3. Keep your sunglasses and sun lotion with you at all times.
  4. Purchase a mobile data plan on arrival at the airport.
  5. Download at least two offline mapping apps on your mobile device. We found no one app was good enough to rely on entirely. The two we tended to use the most were Google Maps and MAPS.ME.
Itinerary

Day 1 (Thursday 5 April)
Arrived in Muscat from London Heathrow flying via Munich. (We booked with Lufthansa Air for £440 per person.) We bought a couple of Omantel Hayyak 2GB mobile data packages for 7 OMR each on arrival, set them up and then picked up our SUV (Hyundai Tucson) from the Europcar/Interrent desk at the airport. (We booked our car with arguscarhire.com for £467 including insurance.) Once our phones and car were all set up we drove to and checked into Lana Villa in Muscat.

Day 2 (Friday 6 April)
Stayed in and explored Muscat. We caught the Friday prayer at Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and then drove on to Qurum Natural Park and Qurum Beach.

Day 3 (Saturday 7 April)
Drove to Sur from Muscat and stopped by at Bimmah Sinkhole and Wadi Shab along the way. After that we proceeded to and checked into Sur Grand Hotel.

Day 4 (Sunday 8 April)
Stayed in and explored Sur. We stopped by Bilad Sur Castle, Sunaysilah Fort, the fishing harbour for the sunset and then Al Ayjah Lighthouse where we sat and enjoyed a multitude of Adhans being called for Eisha in every direction.

Day 5 (Monday 9 April)
Drove from Sur to the southern part of Wadi Bani Khalid near the villages of Sabt and Sayq but we didn't find any water so we turned back and proceeded on to Wahiba Sands and checked in to Golden Palm Oasis for an overnight desert experience.

Day 6 (Tuesday 10 April)
Drove to the northern part of Wadi Bani Khalid near Muqal where we got some good swimming in. Proceeded on to Nizwah where we checked in to Al Diyar Hotel.

Day 7 (Wednesday 11 April)
Visited Nizwa Souq and Al Hoota Cave and then proceeded up Jebel Shams and checked in to Sama Heights Resort.

Day 8 (Thursday 12 April)
Drove around the top of Jebel Shams near our accommodation, caught site of some good deep canyons and went for a nicely paved walk from Al Khitaym.

Day 9 (Friday 13 April)
Drove to Musannah and checked in to Millennium Resort Mussanah. The initial plan was to pass through Wadi Al Hawqain and Al Rustaq on the way to Musannah but we got caught in some tough mountain roads so we bailed on Wadi Al Hawqain and simply passed Al Rustaq on the way to Musannah. The resort was a little too much on the luxurious side and we only stayed here because there were no other accommodation options in the area. In hindsight we should have just gone straight from Jebel Shams to Muscat.

Day 10 (Saturday 14 April)
Drove to Muscat. Checked in to Behlys Boutique. We visited Muscat Grand Mall in the evening but it's nothing to write home about. Just another fancy mall.

Day 11 (Sunday 15 April)
Hung around and did some activities in Muscat. We caught the dolphin watching boat ride from Marina Bandar Al Rowdha (we didn't enjoy the dolphin watching experience), some jet skiing in Azaiba Beach and then some gift shopping in Mutrah Souq.

Day 12 (Monday 16 April)
Dropped off our rental car and caught our return flight from Muscat airport.

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 leading up to 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. http://forums.pepipoo.com/index.php?showtopic=118167).
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.

Update (22 March 2018): I was driving up Leyton High Road this week and I noticed a new blue information sign on the Francis Road, Jesse Road and Dawlish Road junctions which reads: "NO ACCESS TO GROVE GREEN ROAD VIA FRANCIS ROAD". A little late but this is good to see.

Update (23 March 2018): My Freedom of Information request has been responded to by Waltham Forest's Information Officer and here is a link to the document that contains the results. In summary, the conditional no entry signage was put up in mid-December 2017, PCNs have been issued here since mid-December 2017 and the number of PCNs that have been issued here in each of January and March 2018 is around the 600 mark. That's a lot of PCNs!

Update (05 May 2018): My initial appeal was rejected by Waltham Forest (no surprises there) and I just gave in and paid the £65 rather than continuing with the appeal and taking my case to the independent adjudicator. I am disappointed in myself and I can now only hope others are more bold in their pursuit of standing up to the council's scare tactics and getting better signs put up around Francis Road.

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."