London Overground's biggest problem

Nearly every working day I take the London Overground to work. I am quite lucky: my working hours are flexible so I can avoid rush hour. The stations I get on and off are near the first stop and the very last stop on the line, so I am pretty much guaranteed a seat every time. The trains are airconditioned in summer and nicely heated in winter, which is a fantastic improvement on the Bakerloo line, whose trains may be the draftiest place in the UK. There's just one thing that bothers me a lot about the overground, and it's not even the delays. But I can't talk about my gripe with the overground without talking about the delays.

There's always been delays on the overground, ever since I came here 3-4 years ago. Sometimes there's this sign in the carriage telling you that x% of the overground trains ran on time in the last quarter. I've occasionally snapped pictures of those signs because I never once got the impression that things were getting better. TFL is pretty good in providing statistics on their website about their service, and I've done the math once to check if it actually was getting worse. Turns out I was wrong on that one. But things aren't getting much better either, and I can see those numbers just as easily go down again in the near future. There's nothing that inspired confidence in me to believe that there's an ever-decreasing amount of delays.

This leads me to the reason I hate the overground: the utter lack of accurate real-time reporting. The most common occurrence is a delay of under ten minutes. TFL's strategy of dealing with this is by not dealing with this. Every TFL employee just stays absolutely silent and hopes nobody notices. They certainly won't be updating the arrival times on the signs until well after it's too late. This is not a hard problem! Unless the staff are utterly and disastrously incompetent they would be immediately aware of the delay. They've got a website that everyone in London uses to check the delays which they could update immediately, but TFL deliberately chooses to take no action whatsoever whenever this happens, I guess in the hopes that the problem will magically go away?

Small delays don't always stay small delays, though. Sometimes a train needs to be taken out of service, or is delayed even further to even out gaps in the service, or any other reason really. That's perfectly fine. Once something's bad happened it of course make sense to return to normal service by whatever means necessary. But you need to report that to your customers, dammit! If I'm standing there at the bloody station for a train that's already ten minutes delayed without receiving any information at all about the state of the service, of course I am going to be even more annoyed if I suddenly hear that the next train is cancelled and I have to wait the better part of an hour for my next service. Whereas if TFL had reported immediately on the initial delay I would have stayed home just a little longer, checked the situation from their website and would have been much better off in the end. I wouldn't even have thought worse on TFL in that case, but if they make me walk to the station and make me wait in the winter cold when they could have told me already that there were delays, that's what really pisses me off. The problem is not the delays, it's TFL's lack of reporting on it which causes annoyance.

I realize that this is not a world-ending issue. No one will die from this problem, nor does it seriously affect the days of anyone involved. I can work from home, others may take taxis or busses, and in the end everything ends up just fine. But what really bothers me about this is that it's completely preventable. There is absolutely zero need for me or any other passengers to get annoyed at TFL for the delays if they just improved their reporting. There's staff at every station on my overground line, which is great, but they're all doing fuck-all whenever there's a delay when in fact they could be reporting the delay immediately so the TFL site can update. Not reporting on a delay until X minutes have passed is a terrible idea because it's not at all uncommon for smaller delays to snowball and become something worse.

Rant over. I am working from home today.

Posted in Daily Life , Rant , UK | Tagged , , ,

Why Interstellar is bad

  • They pretend it's actual science.
  • Gaping plotholes.
Posted in Rant

Real estate around London

If you ever wanted to be in hell, try finding a good rental apartment near London. I'm trying to be tolerant, but the quality of life I would even take for granted living in a tiny apartment in the outskirts of Tokyo is impossible to find for even double the price anywhere near London. Prices have gone so far past common sense that they've even passed the limits of  my "if you want something good, be prepared to pay for it" attitude. It's just not worth it. Living in a room in someone else's flat is half the price of owning your own studio or one-bedroom apartment, at least if you want something decent. Trying to find an apartment means weeding out at least half of the ads because they're made by filthy profiteering assholes trying to get a shitload of money for their shithole of a place, while the other half of the ads will be placed by estate agents who will subtly forget to mention some fatal flaw that will cause you to not want it, which you'll only realize after viewing the actual apartment. This is so poorly done in the UK, yet everyone gets away with it because everybody's just that desperate to live in London. Shameful. Fucking shameful.

I'm still looking for a place. I've visited three places now: one got taken away right from under my nose by another guy viewing it with me at the same time, the other two were cheap-ish but just not enough of a step up compared to what I have now. If there's anything I've learned after months of searching, it's that there are no deals, no bargains to be had. Every property is priced at its 'right' value in the market. If the property hasn't sold after a few days, there's something wrong with it. Good properties, even at batshit insane prices, sell within days or even hours. Quickness is of the essence if you want a good place. Even paying more won't help you that much; if you've got a reasonably tight set of search criteria, prices for apartments will be fixed with a 50GBP/month difference at most. Or you can take a spin at the big wheel of apartment roulette and go for a private let, which I still believe is the only way to get a better-than-average deal around London, although it requires a lot more people knowledge, reading between the lines and may take a while until you find a suitable landlord.

Or, you could do us all a favor and get the fuck out of London.

Posted in Rant , UK | Tagged

A rainy day

Today was my last day in Atsugi. I wonder if I should feel melancholic but there's nothing to feel melancholic about. I've been back many times already, and have moved on and become a different person. Sufficient time has passed to make Atsugi just a pleasant stop along the way. But ultimately not my home. Or perhaps I was just annoyed by the rain and preoccupied with PADI.

I delayed my departure for as long as I could, mostly because it was raining quite heavily and it was expected to clear up later in the day, but also because I couldn't sleep last night and felt rather sleep-deprived. Eventually I had to bite the bullet though, and saddled up my bike for rain cycling. I managed without rainwear for about half of the trip. Since the rain was quite light my cycle shirt had a chance to wind-dry itself during the short periods of not-rain. It wasn't entirely without trouble, though. Somehow the handlebar tape on the left side has come off quite badly, the cadence sensor got wet and slippery from the rain and misplaced itself and the speed sensor thingie managed to get itself stuck in my rear wheel twice. To top it all off the many traffic lights along the way all seemed to turn red just before I arrived, and actually caused me to feel cold from the lack of activity.

Later in the day the rain actually got worse instead of better and I had to wear a raincoat, which implied slowing my speed down to prevent oversweating. Still, with the raincoat on it somehow became more manageable. I never went fast, but I was never in a hurry since Tokyo wasn't that far away.

The roads that I chose happened to follow the Odakyu line near-perfectly. I wanted to avoid the major roads (246 in particular) because I thought there'd be too much fast-moving traffic. The smaller roads were still quite large and full of traffic, but nothing too distressing. As I neared Tokyo I found a road that went straight up to my destination, diagonally crossing all the other major roads. To make things ever better, the road was often one-way and was specifically narrowed to prevent trucks and other large vehicles from entering, making it the perfect cycling road. As I approached Shinjuku I ended up on one of the major roads which I had been attempting to avoid, but it turned out to be brilliant as there were 3 lanes each way, and with the many cars parked in the left lane I had it pretty much to myself. Cycling: surprisingly practical.

After a quick visit to the government buildings I headed to my overpriced hotel. Upon arriving at the reception I found that the hotel had no bicycle parking, a car park which was a tower where they wouldn't let in bicycles and they wouldn't put my bicycle somewhere inside in the reception and/or luggage area either. Tokyo being Tokyo, there is absolutely zero space to park a bike outside the hotel (at least without it getting stolen by the police for illegal parking), so I had to cycle to the nearest train station which had a bicycle parking area. It's not that big a deal really; the parking area is quite close and only costs 100 yen per day, but what kind of pissed me off is how the hotel staff were complete dicks about it. In every single place I've stayed at during this trip, hotel staff were always extremely helpful and nice to me, especially when it came to giving my bicycle a good home. But these Tokyo-ites just flat-out refused to do anything. They're certainly not obligated to help me in any way, as they also made very clear by pointing out the exact rules and terms, but it certainly doesn't make me feel any better about staying here. I'm already overpaying for an average-at-best hotel purely for the location, the least they could do is act a little nicer. Anyway, I'll leave the complaints for the review.

PADI pool dive tomorrow! I'm still quite skeptical about PADI. The book does three things in about equal amount: try to get you to buy expensive diving equipment, try to get you to spend more money on additional PADI courses, and actually teaching you how to dive. It also comes with two DVDs that are quite useless. I tried to watch the first one in real-time but just couldn't stand the cheesiness and shitty slapstick humour. There's only a few bits that are useful, and those are the visual bits where they show you how to work your BCD/regulator/etc. The rest is just repetition of what the book teaches you, performed by extremely bad actors. All I want to do is dive! Leave all the other crap until later... or never.

Wow, I managed to rant about many things in this post, kind of unexpectedly. Anyway, all the bad things are merely preparation so I can experience more good things. It's all going according to plan.

Posted in Rant , Spirit of Japan 2

Star Trek goes into darkness

I rarely get offended by a bad movie. When I see one I can usually shrug it off and forget about it. After all, for most movies there's no history attached, no baseline with a similar settings, similar characters, that you can compare it to. But sometimes a director takes a theme that I like, even love, and completely motherfuckingly fucks it up. That's Star Trek Into Darkness. Honestly, I've not been this pissed off since Transformers, and I fear for Star Wars, which is likely to get ruined as well by JJ Abrams, who now joins Michael Bay in the lowest layer of hell.

I loved Star Wars when I was a child. I still do. Star Wars is awesome: it's fantasy, it's fairy tales. It's about amazing possibility. But it's a fiction that's about something else. Some other species in some other galaxy. Star Trek is different. Star Trek has always been about showing how much humanity can accomplish if we could all just get along. Sure, there's been plenty of conflict in every Star Trek series, and it only got worse over the years, but the core concept always remained: do not interfere with other people, or if you have to interfere, try to make peace with them. It was The Next Generation which took this concept to extremes, properly showing a believable Utopian future. Even during conflict TNG had the right undertone: the undertone of peace.

This was a common theme not just between species, but also between characters. If there was tension between characters it was contained and handled in a mature way, with talking and subtlety. You'll notice this is the complete opposite of how the little unlikable fuckhead Kirk of the reboot franchise deals with people. Starfleet is supposed to be this massive organization that has the power to go out into space and make alliances with a vast variety of species, yet they allow this fucking retard to command a starship? That's just... fucked. "Human emotion", my ass. Into Darkness might manage to fully saturate the emotional spectrum of a 12-year-old, but not that of everyone who grew up with the old Star Trek.

I could go into detail about how the movie fails. I could mention how it corresponds perfectly to the template of a standard action movie script, how there's not really any science fiction in the movie as everything that's supposed to look awesome is either already possible with modern technology or was already thought of by the original Star Trek 40 years ago.I could mention how Khan is actually quite a cool villain, but the overblown lines he has to say just had me bursting out laughing and I couldn't take him seriously. But there's no point.

This new movie is not Star Trek. I reject Abrams' view of the Star Trek universe and I can't wait for this reboot universe to be forgotten. It does not deserve to exist, or if it must exist, it should not be called Star Trek. If you want to make a teenage war movie in space then there's really no need to be using the environment of something that other people actually care about. That's just raping their childhood.

Fans don't always get what they want. For Transformers I really wanted to see something dark and gritty that followed the Marvel and IDW comics. instead we got Bumblebee peeing on people and Devastator's scrotum. For Star Trek I really, really wanted to just see a movie about exploration and diplomacy; something with high-level drama that actually requires a brain in order to enjoy it. Instead, what we got was modern-day teenage action movie that happened to be set in space, with otherwise no relation to Star Trek. I am very disappointed.

Posted in Rant | Tagged ,

The Canon Powershot A2400IS is utter crap

Seriously, do not buy this camera. It is a total waste of money, even if it is dirt cheap. You will be very disappointed by the photos. The colors are terrible, the exposure is always wrong, the level of detail even at low ISO values is terrible, and when it gets darker it just becomes unusable. This camera is not any better than the kind of camera I had in 2005 and is just Canon cashing in on stupid consumers. I seriously suspect Canon of limiting progress in the field of photography so that they can make more profit by doing small incremental 'updates' that aren't actually making things better.


Posted in Photography , Rant

Region locks on phone apps

Seriously, WHY? Why does my phone need to be locked down to only load apps from the UK? What the fuck happened to this global phenomenon called the internet? But no, now I can't even install a fucking maps app just because it's not available in the region I live in. "Android is an open platform" - yeah, right. Only if you take the risk to root your device and install dodgy region changer apps.

The internet is becoming fragmented. This is a bad thing. I am ashamed of the time I live in. We used to have shit technology and great technological freedom. Now we have great technology and no freedom.

Posted in Rant , Tech

Barclays employs idiots

Some random Barclays guy called me up in the afternoon and said he wanted to talk to me about my "Day to day banking". When I asked him what it was about he completely ignored me and proceeded to ask me for the last two letters of my mother's maiden name. When I asked why I should tell him that he only said it was to verify my account, so I asked him again if there was some important message related to my account or if this was a marketing email. He repeated that it was about day to day banking and that he would like to give me some 'information'. Since he refused to get into more specifics I told him I was busy and to call back later, after which he aggressively pressed me about exactly when he should call me back.

After telling some friends about this they were sure it was some kind of phishing act, and I almost believed them too, until I got my call back in the evening. This time it was a very nice woman who was polite and friendly and explained to me that the call was about checking if my accounts were up to date and whether there was a way I could save more money with them. Still an unsolicited marketing attempts, but at least she was polite about it and didn't press me when I said I wasn't interested. I hope she becomes the Barclays CEO, then it will surely be a better bank.

I've blogged before about my bad experiences with Barclays, and it's not getting any better. They are by far the worst bank I've ever used (among Dutch, English and Japanese banks). I would not recommend them to anyone, and I will actively discourage my friends from using them.

Perhaps I should start my own bank.

Posted in Rant | Tagged ,

NFS Shift 2 is the worst racing game ever

I thought I'd try a new racing game, hoping I could play on my keyboard somewhat casually while I wait for my racing wheel to arrive. Need for Speed Shift 2 was the worst possible choice. It's full of bullshit and I just got so frustrated and pissed off with it that I uninstalled after 10 minutes of trying to play it. HATE.

The default view is the 'helmet' cam, which automatically looks into the corner for you as you approach it. This is hugely disorienting as it makes you think you've already turned in when in fact you haven't. You can try to correct, but the keyboard controls have a massive lag in them, making the game pretty much unplayable with the keyboard. You might say that this is to improve realism as I'm sure it works fine with a steering wheel, but if I had a steering wheel I'd be playing a proper racing sim and not this piece of drizzle.

But the thing that turned me off the most is the disgusting American (MURCN) sauce on everything. Fifty fucking disclaimers about how you can't race on the road, stupid intro sequences that are semi-unskippable (you can skip but it still takes a few seconds before the game allows you to skip), and the very worst thing is the idiot redneck voice that keeps shouting in my helmet to "Respect your opponents, man!", "You're doing good, man!", "You gotta go faster, man!". If I wanted to hear idiot comments about driving I'd watch nascar.

Disgusting. Rubbish. Uninstalled. Never again.

For some proper racing sims, check out netKar pro, C.A.R.S. and Assetto Corsa. LFS and rFactor aren't half-bad either and both a lot more fun than shitty NFS.

Posted in Rant | Tagged , ,

You can let your guard down in Japan

Today I met a friend, way later than I was originally supposed to. As such, it ended in a beer place in Meguro, and I had a rather good taste of beer that I actually liked and could actually distinguish from other beers. I also had the best yakiniku ever before coming to the beer place, but that as an aside. In the beer place my party met an interesting Irish gentleman who appears to be running an acne cream company in Japan. We ended up talking about good and bad things about Japan, as foreigners do when they're here or have been here in the past. There's the usual complaining about other countries, then the complaining about weird things in Japanese society, but if there's one thing I could take away from the conversation, it's this: you can let your guard down in Japan.

It's not the first time this thought has popped in my mind. I've talked about this with a lot of my friends who used to live here and have also had the experience of living in another country, and they tend to agree. But hearing it from a complete stranger feels slightly different. Satisfying, I might add. I haven't been delusional at all, this is actually a thing!

Think about it. What if you didn't have to worry about your bag when you have to go to the toilet in a restaurant? What if you don't have to worry about getting wasted on the streets because no one will steal your wallet? What if you don't have to be mindful of sleeping in the train because no one will ever try to steal your shit? Last one: what if you don't have to worry about walking down the streets because no one will ever approach you and ask you for money in an infuriating way?

The answer to all those questions is: then you go out, you live carefree and you end up with a happy nightlife city like Tokyo. Sure, there's seedy neighbourhoods, but even those are only dangerous if you happen to offend the local crime lord (which is a hard thing to do by accident).

But to which population groups does this apply? What do you have to be to qualify for the privilege of letting your guard down? Well, native Japanese seem to disqualify immediately. Japanese people have been raised in this culture so have no basis for comparison. They think Kabikucho in Shinjuku is the worst place they can imagine, yet to any foreigner it will seem amazingly tame (at least it did to me, and I'm a countryside farmboy). I've thought a lot about this, and I was going to write down a detailed version here of how your race and gender help decide whether you can let your guard down or not. But that's not the point. The point is what the consequences are.

In London, if you leave your bag out of sight, it gets stolen. It's that simple. Same goes for your bicycle: it better be locked damn well if you're planning on leaving it in a public place. If you let your guard down and forget to look after your things, you will immediately be punished for it. Not so in Japan. You've got a safety margin. Here's an example. I often left my bicycle at the train station in Japan when I went out late at night. Sometimes I wouldn't return for several days. I always locked my bike, but sometimes I would leave my raincoat in the basket if I didn't think I would need it. I know, it's a weird thing to do, but I was testing Japan, to see if someone would steal it or not. Someone did, eventually, but that was only after leaving my bike there over the entire weekend. But on the occasions that I left it for one night and came back the next morning, nobody ever tried to take things from my basket.

There's a similar safety margin with beggars. I've never been approached by one in Japan until yesterday, but even then I feel confident that I can say anything to a begger without having to worry that he'll want to get physical or draw a knife on me. I used a beggar in this example, but I could have used any other person. My point is: if you don't have to worry about these kind of situations happening you'll walk down the street differently, and you'll feel more free. Perhaps that's just my risk-averse nature speaking, but it seriously affects me. You would never even imagine strolling through central London late at night to take photos; it just doesn't even occur to you because society has pummelled you into believing that you shouldn't go out late at night, especially not with expensive equipment. In Tokyo it's something that just springs to mind naturally. I'll spark the controversial thought here that  London is like a wilderness full of lions, tigers and other deadly predators, whereas Tokyo is filled with deer, sheep and koalas.

I filed this under rant because I don't think this is particularly thought-provoking or objective. It's just my subjective thoughts about Tokyo. And it's a rant because I really felt like I had to get this off my chest. All the time I keep feeling this way but fail to articulate it the way I want to, and the thought gets lost in my brain somewhere. The Irishman finally gave me the kick to write down this imperfect version so I can at least read it back and try to write a better version at some later point in time.

Posted in Japan , Rant