20 October, 2014

a dangerous arrangement

Management of the rivers in the northern New Territories is the responsibility of the Drainage Services Department (DSD), which has overseen the canalization of these waterways to reduce the possibility of flooding. In order to maintain such an elaborate flood defence system, the DSD built access roads along the banks of the rivers, but the way these roads are used now varies from river system to river system.

The access road running alongside our local river is very popular with organized cycling groups.

For example, the access road along our local river is blocked by locked gates, so only authorized motor vehicles can gain access. In theory, cyclists and pedestrians are not allowed on these roads either—there are lots of warning signs—but in a classic case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, the Home Affairs Department decided to build a number of sheltered seating areas along the access road soon after we came to live in Fanling in 2008, presumably for use by the cyclists and pedestrians who are not supposed to be there. The local district board then installed solar-powered street lighting (Owt Fresh?) in the summer of 2011. This informal arrangement works.

The access road that runs alongside Beas River has speed bumps that are close enough together to deter reckless speeding.

However, when you cross the main railway line, you will find that the DSD access roads around the Shum Chun River catchment are accessible to motor vehicles and are widely used by locals. Nevertheless, these roads are safe to cycle on, provided that cyclists ride sensibly, which isn’t always the case. The main reason for this is the provision of speed bumps every couple of hundred metres, so dangerous driving is a rarity.

Contrast these arrangements with those in operation in the Kam Tin River catchment. All the access roads are accessible to anyone, the only restriction being that some roads are designated one-way only. There are no speed limits, other than the territory-wide limit of 50km/hr on such roads, which is widely ignored here.

I’ve chosen to highlight four main problem areas. All four of the roads in question are single-track roads, and three are one-way.

Although it isn’t marked on this map, Yau Pok Road is one-way from B, the entrance to Fairview Park, to A. When I first came this way, I noted the ‘no entry’ signs at A, so I decided that I should follow Kam Pok Road, on the opposite side of the river. However, the constant stream of trucks and coaches roaring past at ridiculous speeds has meant that, on safety grounds, I now follow Yau Pok Road in both directions.

Yau Pok Road, looking northwest.

Earlier this year, I was cycling from B to A when I noticed a policeman on a motorcycle crossing one of the two bridges across the river and continuing down Yau Pok Road. He stopped to reprimand two groups of pedestrians who were walking on the road rather than the footpath before stopping a teenage boy who was cycling the ‘wrong’ way. I don’t know what happened, but my guess is that the boy was handed a fixed penalty notice for his indiscretion. Should someone try to give me a ticket on this section, then I will refuse to pay, whatever the consequences. It seems completely unreasonable to me that anyone be penalized for putting personal safety before what they are legally required to do.

In any case, there are no houses or business premises along this road, so the only motor vehicles that need to use it are DSD vehicles trying to access the gates that lead down to the river. I therefore recommend that locked gates be installed across the two bridges and that Yau Pok Road be designated for use by pedestrians and cyclists only, in both directions. There is already a removable barrier at B.

Shortly after passing the entrance to Fairview Park, the route reaches Pok Wai South Road, which for part of its length runs alongside the Kam Tin River. It is the only road I’m highlighting here where traffic is permitted in both directions.

The main problem on this road is the roadside barriers, which are clearly shown in the following photograph:

Pok Wai South Road, looking north from B.

The tubular steel rails are obviously there to protect pedestrians, but their positioning, coupled with the broken line of kerbstones, make this a dangerous road for cyclists. The traffic on this road is fairly light, but there are similar roads in the area, such as the one on the opposite side of the river in the photo, that pose a significant risk to cyclists. The danger comes from cars travelling in the opposite direction. Most drivers keep well to the left, but a significant minority leave huge gaps—up to 150cm—on the left of their vehicles, which means that, inevitably, the clearance offered to an approaching cyclist is 15cm, or even less. And that doesn’t include protruding wing mirrors!

Having experienced this blatant lack of consideration on a couple of occasions where the approaching vehicle was travelling well in excess of the speed limit, and having noted the singular lack of an escape route should the driver of the oncoming vehicle misjudge his line, I now avoid all other such roads in the area, but there is no viable alternative to following Pok Wai South Road in both directions. Naturally, I favour the removal of all these roadside barriers, but traffic enforcement by the police to curb speeding and other forms of dangerous driving is also essential.

The final two dangerous sections present broadly similar problems. In each case, the road in question is used as a ‘rat run’, a convenient way of avoiding the traffic on Kam Tin Road (most clearly seen in the case of Kam Tai Road). The problem is the speed at which such vehicles travel—up to 100km/hr is far too common, and few drivers give cyclists a reasonable amount of room when overtaking. Far too many appear to regard cyclists as fixed rather than moving hazards.

An added difficulty on Kam Tai Road is the cyclists riding in the wrong direction, which appears to be a common habit here (the majority of offenders seem to be locals rather than recreational cyclists from outside the area). It may seem perverse to complain about people cycling the wrong way down a one-way road, having advocated just such behaviour in the case of Yau Pok Road (above). However, Yau Pok Road carries almost no traffic, so the one-way designation is entirely arbitrary, while Kam Tai Road carries quite a lot of traffic, much of which travels at insane speeds. Given how narrow this road is, anything coming the wrong way presents a serious hazard to other vehicles of both the two-wheeled and four-wheeled varieties.

Chi Ho Road between A and B is even more dangerous (east of A, the road is much wider and therefore safer), largely because drivers show little respect for cyclists. I therefore suggest that speed bumps be installed on both Kam Tai Road and Chi Ho Road, and more enforcement by the police on these roads would also be welcome.

In case anyone has gained the impression that I’m thinking only of my own convenience by highlighting the dangers of cycling around the Kam Tin River catchment, I should point out that this area is extremely popular with recreational cyclists, especially at weekends. I have no idea how often there are serious accidents involving cyclists here, but I would expect such incidents to be far too common given the way that some people drive on these roads. Something does need to be done.

15 October, 2014

odd one out

I’ll be setting off back to Hong Kong early tomorrow morning, which means that I’ll be offline for a couple of days. As usual, here is one of my convoluted little puzzles to amuse (or frustrate) you while I’m incommunicado.
What connects the following?
• A TV hospital drama.
• A literary detective.
• Fluff.
• A type of comic verse.
• A nineteenth-century English poet.
Having established the connection, you then have to determine which is the odd one out, and why. This is probably the easier part of the question.

If you haven’t seen this kind of puzzle before, you need to turn what are general clues into specific answers. For example, is the English poet Wordsworth? Coleridge? Keats? Tennyson? Or someone else? The right overall answer can only be found by comparing lists of answers for the individual clues, but once you have a match between two clues, the rest should fall into place quite easily.

As usual, I will acknowledge all correct answers, but I won’t actually publish an answer for a few weeks, to give other readers a chance to work it out for themselves. Can anyone come up with the answer before I get back online?

similar puzzles
A Hard Question
What’s the Connection?

01 October, 2014

photographic abstraction #12

There is a cosmic theme to this latest instalment in my photographic abstraction series, although that could simply be my imagination, and you might well see different things in these images. The source of these pictures should be obvious, except for Pisces, the origin of which I defy anyone to guess.


exploding galaxy


event horizon

worm hole

other posts in this series
Photographic Abstraction
Photographic Abstraction #2
Photographic Abstraction #3
Photographic Abstraction #4
Photographic Abstraction #5
Photographic Abstraction #6
Photographic Abstraction #7
Photographic Abstraction #8
Photographic Abstraction #9
Photographic Abstraction #10
Photographic Abstraction #11

26 September, 2014

headline news

With the advent of online editions of national newspapers, the art of writing succinct headlines appears to be in decline. Thirty years ago, Britain’s Sun newspaper employed subeditors whose only function was to write the headlines for which the paper became famous, but it may be that a different allocation of labour brought about by the online revolution now makes this a less efficient use of resources.

The rules for writing headlines are simple: never use a long word if a shorter word is available; and if a word can be cut out without affecting the meaning, then it should be cut. Obviously, any ill-judged application of the second rule has the potential to create ambiguity, but it is the first rule, and what it tells us about the lexicon available to the headline writers, that is the more interesting, particularly given that the shorter word that is used may not match the meaning of the longer word precisely.

In the language of headlines, any type of constraint, embargo, exclusion, injunction, interdiction, prevention, prohibition or proscription becomes a ban; any constraint, containment, demarcation, limitation or restriction becomes a cap; any abatement, contraction, curtailment, decrement, devaluation, downgrade, diminution, discount or shrinkage becomes a cut; any kind of accommodation, accord, agreement, bargain, compromise, concession, settlement, transaction or understanding becomes a deal; any kind of disparity, distinction, divergence, inconsistency or incongruity becomes a gap; any type of appointment, assignment, calling, career, employment, enterprise, occupation, profession, undertaking or vocation becomes a job; and any altercation, antagonism, argument, controversy, difference of opinion, disagreement, squabble or vendetta becomes a row. It will be seen at once that the short word isn’t always quite the right word, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the headline writers, whose aim is to have their creations set in the largest possible type.

Adjectives are not favoured by headline writers, although something that might be described as colossal, enormous, gargantuan, gigantic, humongous, immense or massive in other circumstances will be described as merely big, or possibly huge, in a newspaper headline. At the same time, anything that is abominable, defective, deleterious, dreadful, horrendous, horrible, imperfect, substandard, terrible, unacceptable or unsatisfactory would simply be bad.

There is another aspect to the writing of headlines, much favoured by Britain’s redtops, and that is the use of word play, including puns, rhymes, alliteration and assonance. Cultural references are also common—even the BBC, on its website, isn’t immune to this kind of headline. Although many such headlines are teeth-grindingly awful, I’ll conclude with two famous headlines from the Sun’s sports pages.

In 2000, Inverness Caledonian Thistle (affectionately known as ‘Cally’ by the team’s supporters) defeated Celtic, one of the powerhouses of Scottish football, 3–1 in a Scottish FA Cup match. Celtic were playing on their home ground, and Inverness were two leagues below Celtic in the Scottish football hierarchy. The Sun’s report on the match carried the following headline:
I’d always remembered this headline as ‘…CELTIC WERE ATROCIOUS’, but it seems to have been plagiarized from a Liverpool Echo headline from the 1970s, when Liverpool forward Ian Callaghan produced a man-of-the-match performance to defeat Queen’s Park Rangers. The headline in that case read ‘SUPER CALLY GOES BALLISTIC QPR ATROCIOUS’. Although I’ve suggested plagiarism, the use of ‘are’ instead of ‘were’ to report on something that happened in the past points to another possible explanation: that it was a kind of homage to the earlier headline.

While I would expect most Sun readers to pick up on the Mary Poppins reference, I’m not sure that those same readers would be sufficiently familiar with pre-imperial Roman history to understand the following headline, which appeared above the report on an FA Cup match between Leicester City and Wycombe Wanderers in 2001. Leicester were the home team, but Wycombe, a team that played its league football three divisions below Leicester, won 2–1.
Whether the historical reference was understood or not, it seems that Wycombe’s fans have since appropriated the phrase to describe every victory away from home.