Thursday, 18 March 2010

Motorbike accidents in the media - Part the flat four

The last piece I commented on, from the Courier Mail, came with a list of "related stories", pulled not just from their own website, but from News Ltd sites around Australia.
So, I'm going to do a quick analysis of motorbike accident reports from those sites.
First up:
The Herald Sun (Melbourne) gives us Motorcyclist killed in head-on collision with car on the Maroondah Hwy in Mansfield. What is with these clunky headlines?
Anyway, this is a five-paragraph story, saying that a motorcyclist in his 60s had a head-on north-east of Melbourne, on a major highway, 8am (plus four minutes). Forensics are investing, police will prepare a report for the coroner.
Also, interestingly: The female driver was airlifted to hospital with major injuries, which just goes to show: Sitting inside your metal cage, you are behind several sheets of potentially dangerous glass, through which large, heavy, high-speed objects may come.
Question: How do you have a head-on collision on "a major highway"? Isn't there a dividing line?
A clue may lie in the "in Mansfield" bit in the headline, but don't assume that headlines are word-perfect-exact.
Overall, the article is extremely puzzling in its unanswered questions, but is otherwise well and cleanly written.
Next up:
Perth Now (urgh) gives us Motorcyclist injured in collision with van. Ah, a nice, short, pithy headline.
This article is a more chatty, casual style, but still useful. The interesting part is this:
South East Metropolitan Police Sergeant Mark Ryan said it “appeared one of the vehicles hadn’t given way”.
Well, there aren't many other ways for an accident to happen, are there?
Let's examine this:
The driver of a white van, also in his twenties, was turning right from Church St onto Albany Hwy citybound, and collided with the motorcyclist heading southbound along the highway just before midnight.
So the van was turning right, and the motorcyclist was going straight. Ergo, the van failed to give way. Unless the motorcyclist ran a Stop or Give Way sign, and we know that didn't happen because the bike was on the highway and the van wasn't.
A quick trip to Google Maps confirms that Church St is north of Albany, south of Perth. The writing suggests that "citybound" means Perth, opposite to South. In other words, the van was turning across the path of the motorbike. This supposition is strengthened by the fact that the photo accompanying the story, along the fact that the driver was taken to hospital and the passenger wasn't, suggests a pretty serious collision on the driver's side door which would, in this case, have been facing north, directly at the bike.
So: The van comes out of a street, across a highway, and gets hit by a bike who may have had moderate/little/no warning, and hits it.
No conclusion can be drawn about the speed or actions of the bike.
Now: at or about midnight means the bike had headlights on and the "high visibility vests" so beloved of clueless non-riders would have been useless.
Ergo: Although I do not in any way wish to jump ahead of the Major Crash Investigation unit, or the coroner: The van driver didn't give way, and needs to be charged with whatever can be thrown at him.
One final point: As an editor, I would not have let that story hit the Internet in that state. But, that's just me, my colleagues and my employer's professionalism.
Third one is: Rider dies after bike, car crash from Adelaide Now (does a comma really save so much space over "and" that it's worth while? Come on, now).
Basically, an 18yo rider collided with a car driven by a 22yo driver, and the rider died, the driver sustained minor injuries. Please try not to judge based upon age!
A lot of the story, considering its length, is taken up with mentioning that South Australia has a worse road toll than the same time last year. Ignore that, it's irrelevant.
The crash happened on a certain road, after dark, last year, on what works out to be a Tuesday night.
The only interesting, or particularly informative, part of this story is the fact that the four commenters clearly knew the rider.
Come on: There is not enough information here to be satisfying. No circumstances? No "who was going where"?
This is probably the most frustrating story I have covered so far. So little information, for a death. So sad.
The final story linked off the original Courier Mail article is a little different, and will be the subject of a separate post.

Please sir, Godot asked if you could wait a little longer

Excuse me while I waffle for a moment.
Samuel Beckett was a genius.
No, I won't hear anything else.
There was a period many years ago - it was while I was still living in Tasmania, so at least 7 years ago - when Sam had an anniversary, or something, and a project was begun to film all of his plays, using Irish actors. I saw as many of those as I could, and may even have some of them on tape lying about.
He was a genius. I didn't know any of the actors, I had never seen any of the plays before, although I had read some of Waiting for Godot in a drama class, as an exercise.
But I sat, spellbound at times, as two or three or even one actors, in minimalist sets with nothing happening except perhaps the weather, transformed dialogue or monologue about nothing into the most potent, powerful drama I had ever seen.
Krapp's last tape confused me, but I simply didn't care. All I could see was that old man, bitter, listening to diary tapes he had recorded years ago, eating bananas while rain hammered on the roof, swearing at his younger, smoother voice and abusing his older self. It was a master-stroke of writing and, in that moment, a master-stroke of acting - one actor, alone, with no special effects, nobody else on set, just him and the camera, maintained some of the finest characterisation I had ever seen.
Endgame remains, of all those I saw, the one I would most like to see live. Four characters - a blind master, his servant, and his parents living in rubbish bins in the corner - created all the world that necessary.
I sat and I listened to blind Hamm abuse and berate and proclaim, and I thought it the most compelling monologue I had ever heard. At the time, as I was still doing some theatre myself, I decided that I would track down one piece of his monologue and use it for auditions. I still think it would be a powerful piece to use.
Hamm's roar of "You're on Earth, there's no cure for that!" remains with me still.
And then there is the one piece that people who know not of Becket may have yet heard of - Waiting for Godot.
Only his second play, it has famously been described as being "about nothing" but has also been voted the most important English-language play of the 20th Century.
I had considerable doubts going into it but, also, I was spellbound throughout it. I thought then, and I only think more so now, that Beckett wrote plays which not only made enormous demands of the actor, but which provided enormous opportunities, as well.
A truly great actor, in Godot or any other Beckett piece, would turn in a performance not to be exceeded. And an actor who could not manage those demands, well - we know the truth now, don't we?
So: Ian McKellen, Matthew Kelly and Roger Rees are touring in a production of Waiting for Godot, and will be in Melbourne for two weeks in May. We know people in Melbourne we need to catch up with.
To say we are excited about this would be a colossal understatement.
If I don't see any other live theatre this year, I may not care provided I get to see that.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Motorbike accidents in the media - Part the inline triple

I have been unconscionably late with this. The news report I will be discussing is dated 11 days ago, as I start typing. Blame real life assaulting me in a dark alley.
Fairly unambiguous headline, no?
Also, the editor in me says, too bloody long by half. You can cut out "rider", you can cut out the suburb, and lose nothing important. If someone isn't going to read past the headline, they don't care about the suburb anyway. If they're from Toowoomba, they might be intrigued enough to read on and find out.
The passive voice "hit by" can be removed, giving us "Car backing out of driveway hits motorcyclist in Toowoomba." No, still too long. Also, the important point - the accident - is too far along.
"Motorcyclist hit by reversing car in Toowoomba" would do, if they really wanted to give a location.
Except it's wrong - as we're about to read, the bike hit the car, which drove in front of it. Unfortunately, "Motorcyclist hits reversing car in Toowoomba" introduces a suggestion of ambiguity over where blame lies. Hmmm...
Moving right along:
A MOTORCYCLIST is fighting for his life after colliding with a car backing out of a driveway in Toowoomba on the Darling Downs.
The crash occurred just before 9.30pm Thursday in Tor Street, Newtown.
Police said the bike rider was heading north when a car pulled out into his path and he crashed into the driver's side door.
The impact caused major damage to both vehicles and left the motorcyclist seriously injured.
The 22-year-old female driver was taken to hospital suffering cuts to her face and eyes from shattered glass.
The 35-year-old motorcyclist is in a serious condition in Toowoomba Hospital.
That's it, at present point in time.
First points: It's well and concisely written. It also opens up many questions.
Take, for example, the impact - driver's door. Think about the geometry for a moment.
If the car was reversing, but the motorbike struck the driver's side door, then either it was a one-way street, or the bike was on the wrong side of the road, or the car was reversing really quickly.
But then, in the comments, unverified, we have this:
i was passenger in the car and they want to get the story right we did drive straight out...
Copied verbatim. Would have been interesting for there to be something else, but there we are. So, a basic mistake in reporting. It may have been a mistake in police reporting, or the commenter may not be kosher.
There's no indication of speed of impact beyond "major damage to both vehicles", but if he wasn't paying complete attention he may not have had time to brake at all and even at 60, that's enough.
He also seems to have been riding towards the footpath, not the safer right hand side of the lane. Remember, kids - if you ride near the line, in the wheel tracks of those four-wheeled vehicles, then drivers behind you and approaching you are more likely to see you, you get a clean bit of road, and you get more warning when people try and pull out of side streets and driveways.
Leaving aside the debate over whether the motorcyclist could have positioned himself better for visibility, I can not conceive of any way in which this was not entirely, completely, the driver's fault. The rider could have been more defensive and minimised injuries, or even avoided the crash entirely if there was nothing coming the other way - a big if - but the driver must have pulled out, into traffic, without paying due care and attention.
Case closed.
Except for the comments, which are quite amusing.
Several talking about the safety benefits of driving out of driveways instead of backing out, which is gratifying to see.
There is the guaranteed comment about hi-vis vests, and this beautiful response, from BikerTips of Brisbane:
A high-vis covering won't help if you aren't going to look. It's very easy to "see" bikes - take that extra second to look, not glance, and then another to take note of a bike's velocity before deciding to pull out and change or cross lanes. Also, if you cannot see clearly due to conditions and surounds, go slowly!
I haven't said it better myself.
On the same vein, from housedadextrordinaire:
Hope the rider recovers. Making excuses for the car's design doesn't excuse not seeing a motor-cyclist or cyclist. Have a good look and turn the radio/cd or I-pod off until you have driven off safely. Yep, I will agree, all our cars have poor rear vision. Adjust your driving to suit the conditions or WALK!!
And on that note, I will leave you.

How to replace a photocopier with a good camera phone and your own printer.

There is a problem with photocopiers in libraries - University or public. You need money, for a start. Then you need time, you need a photocopier not being used by anyone else, it can be highly wasteful of paper, and of time.
You can get a much more flexible and useful result by using a digital camera and a few minutes of image processing when back at your PC.
Photographing pages and then printing the photos can work at least as well, if not better, and can be done anywhere, any time.
So let's look at doing so.
You need, first of all, a digital camera. A decent high-quality camera on a decent mobile phone is perfect. I've been using a Nokia N95, which is possibly even overkill.
For best results you will need to modify the camera settings slightly. I find that setting it Black & White makes life easier. There may also be settings to adjust light balance based upon flourescent, incandescent or sunlight, settings for image sharpness (more is better, in this respect, because you want nice, clear text) and image size. Go for the highest quality photo your camera can take - you can always discard pixels later, but no matter what the TV shows will have you believe, there is no way to put them back in.
You may be able to do all this as a customised setting so you don't have to repeat yourself next time you want to copy anything else.
You need two things: You need a consistent light level across the entire page, with no obvious areas of shadow or light, and you need a good contrast between text and background. Basically, you need a good background level of light. A flash is particularly poor in this situation, because you are so close to the page that you will probably get a bright spot and a gradient outside that. Your mileage may vary if you have a particularly good xenon flash (those of you who still have N82s can stop feeling smug, you bastards).
I suggest you try and get each page flat, photograph it from directly above to minimise any text distortion, and try and get it to fill as much of the frame as possible. Tip - try and keep the page numbers, you will need them for referencing properly.
Oh, and of course you want them as sharply in focus as possible - practice breathing exercises, if you have a shaky hand.
Once you have the images, you need a computer and good image editing software. If you have access to Photoshop - sure, use it. I use the GIMP, which is free and just as powerful.
To make life easier, you want each photo orientated the right way, and you then want them as legible as possible.
It's also a good idea, financially, to cut down on the amount of ink you print.
You will notice that the image is in greyscale, with a not-entirely white background and not-entirely black text. To correct this, look for a neat little tool called, in GIMP, "Threshold". It sits under the Colours menu, and what it does is take the greyscale image and turn it into strict black and white by picking a degree of grey and making everything below it white, and everything above it black. Very neat, deceptively simple, and if your photos are any good, very, very effective.
I don't usually need to adjust the defaults - you may find it beneficial.
This process should give you pictures with no visually messy and ink-wasting grey smudges, and with the most readable text.
If you want to print, print as you like - I prefer two-up printing. Digikam can print an entire set of photos quite nicely. Picasa can, as well. Experiment with your preferred software.

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