Friday, 10 December 2010

Of motorbikes and weighty matters

I have noticed certain trends in motorcycle design.

One is that three quarters of all bikes from mid to massive have a fuel consumption of 5.something L/100km. The bigger ones are up over 5.6, but even 660 singles are at 5.07 or thereabouts. Bikes like BMW's F800 or (don't laugh, it's true) Ducati's 1000DS and 1100DS air-cooled twins, with consumption figures around or even below 4, are exceptions.

Another trend is that sports tourers have settled into having weights of above 260 kg wet. 'Wet' in this case means all operating fluids and a full tank.

On the other hand, my K100RS came from BMW with a claimed fully-fueled road-ready weight of 249kg, and the its bigger-fairinged and touring-focused RT brother came in at a positively gossamer 253kg. I take those numbers from my increasingly-fragile copy of the owner's handbook - interestingly, disagrees on the RT's weight. By contrast, Kawasaki's attempt at a cheap RT, the original and still loved 1000GTR, came in at 307kg (

But let's see where we're at with modern bikes (all weights from, and links to, company's websites, we may as well grant them conditional trust and let them trade creative accountancy).

BMW's closest current equivalent to the RS is the K1300S, which claims to be a sports bike but, like all Beemers (with the exception of the S1000RR superbike), makes an admirable tourer (at launch, the K1200 came in an 'S Sport' version with a sexy and RS-esque half-fairing, but sadly no longer), which claims a respectable 254kg wet. A bigger engine, more plastic  and fancier suspension for only 5kg above the original sounds pretty good. The all-the-toys-but-not-a-leadwing K1300GT claims 288kg. The twin-cylinder beloved-by-police R1200RT claims a frankly surprisingly svelte 259kg (or 400kg with police gear in the panniers, I suspect). NB: BMW have built their Australian website so direct links are difficult, so sod them: They don't get any.

On the other hand, Honda's brand new and highly hyped (and ugly - my opinion) VFR1200F has a "kerb weight" claim of 267kg and the established, more GT-esque ST1300 sits at 289kg (frankly, I'll have the Beemer). Triumph's new Sprint GT, a closer comparison to these shaft-drive sports tourers than the slightly smaller Sprint ST despite its chain, claims 268kg.

Suzuki haven't quite got the hang of tourers, but the Bandit-with-a-full-fairing GSX1200FA, which isn't really sophisticated enough to play in this company, still claims a "kerb mass" of 257kg.

Yamaha's famously potent FJR1300 claims 291kg "with 25.0 litres of fuel", which happens to be the tank capacity, putting it in GT company. Kawasaki's current, king-of-the-engine-hill-and-we're-going-after-BMW-levels-of-technology-too GTR, the 1400GTR (interestingly, they don't have a "touring" section on their website and put it in Sport) claims a whopping and all too believable 304kg with a full tank and no panniers.

Most of the Italians no longer do this sort of sports-tourer, preferring to pursue the adventure-tourer style (Ducati Multistrada, Benelli TreK) but the Moto Guzzi Norge GT (PDF link, for the stats) lists a dry weight of 257kg, which puts it up near 290kg wet.

Even Honda's baby tourer NT700V Deauville (Doughville, Dulls-ville ...) with its built-in panniers comes in at a decidedly non-middleweight 257kg.

The cynic may point at all these similar-ballpark figures and suggest they're keeping more of an eye on other people than on possibilities, and an engineer may say there are only so many techniques you can use when you want to build a bike with that capacity and that level of ride comfort and weather protection without going totally overboard on costs.

But: Why? When the first K100RT came in under anything comparable today, and the RS ditto, where has it all come from? One answer is bigger engines, one answer is more plastic in the fairings, and the becoming-standard ABS hardware weighs a little, as well. On the other hand: 20 years of development.

Now, the original flying brick Ks had an aluminium engine that did most of the structural work, and an aluminium tank. Were BMW cleverer then than they are now? Did they decide the effort put into an aluminium engine block wasn't financially viable, worth it or the best engineering solution as power outputs climbed?

Or is there a "good enough" guide that even the famously individualistic engineers at BMW follow?

Which would be a great pity. My partner wants to stay with shaft drive motorbikes because she's sick of oiling, checking and adjusting chains, but wants something lighter than the RS without sacrificing power. Clearly, that's going to be difficult if not impossible and the best option seems to be a BMW F800ST, which has a low-maintenance belt drive and the same claimed power output as the K but 40kg less mass. And much more sex appeal.

And unlike cars, which have bloated with airbags, crumple zones, side-impact anti-intrusion beams, heavier laminated windscreens and a general increase in size of car and wheels, bikes haven't really added that much except cubic inches and ABS. So, clearly, experience and improved technology have not translated into net weight savings.

What I want is a shaft-drive, 1Litre semi-faired sports tourer for about 200kg. Clearly, I'm not going to get it. My best bet will probably be either an it-can't-be-can-it? 229kg R1200GS or sticking a windscreen on a 223kg naked R1200R, and no naked bike has ever looked good with a windscreen bolted on.

Motorcycle accidents in the media: Part 22

I really thought I had cleared my November backlog, but it appears not: Somehow, the chronological order of items in my Reader starred list had become messed up.

Le Sigh.

Okay, here goes:

Motorcyclist dies after collision with 'speeding' ute (ABC News Online, November 16).

There are many reasons in journalism to use quotes, including in headlines, but I'm not sure what the reason here was.

The ute was being followed by police, who hadn't got to the point of putting on lights and therefore making it a 'pursuit', and had a reported speed (which is probably accurate, from the police and all) of 140km/h. Which is 'speeding' anywhere but a couple of roads in the NT.

Quotes all too often make headlines look messy.

My other problem with this headline is that, as reported by the police and as demonstrated by the photo accompanying the article, the ute struck the bike. So why phrase the headline so a logical reading suggests the rider struck the ute? Yes, the ute is identified as being in the wrong in one sense, but 'bike -  collides - ute' implicitly puts blame for the collision upon the rider. 'Collides with' is a much cleaner construct than 'being struck by', and it can be argued that 'ute - strikes and kills - biker' is too close to an attribution of blame prior to a judicial judgement, but this headline feels like an unsatisfactory compromise.

It's a well written article, though, and provides much scope for discussion on whether the "technically it was not a police pursuit" is sarcasm from the writer - particularly given the last paragraph, where we are told the police investigation will be overseen by the ethical standards department.

What interests me here is that there is no quote from the police concerning the state of the driver. 140 is not actually all that fast, even at dark, with full-beam headlights on. I don't know what the state of lighting on that section of road was, but either the driver really wasn't (in a state to be) paying attention until the last minute, or the rider wasn't and merged at a fatally stupid wrong moment.

The lesson for all road users is: pay attention!

(As a side-note: I noticed when doing a final read-through that I had Freudianly written "full-beam headlines on".)

Now, from November 19, the Courier Mail went past over-long headline territory and into just plain actually wrong (language-wise, not fact-wise): Woman motorcycle rider killed crash at Withcott, east of Toowoomba.

Also: Why "Woman motorcyclist" in the headline, but "A female motorcyclist" in the opening par?

Interestingly, the RSS headline was "Warrego delays after fatal crash" which is slightly ambiguous (Who is Warrego, and what are they delaying?) but much cleaner.

Withcott is right at the bottom of the ranges, and marks a sort of gateway to Toowoomba. Murphy's Creek Rd is east of Withcott, and fairly major. The Warrego Highway is littered with uncontrolled intersections like that and there have already been speed limit reductions and serious signage put elsewhere at major blackspots. There needs to be a lot more flyovers. Oh, and better drivers.

10am means the sun shouldn't have been too low and in the eyes, a 50yo driver shouldn't have been so young they're getting eyesight or judgement problems, and there's no information given about who was doing what. As a motorcyclist, it's far too easy to put all blame on a driver who wasn't paying attention.

Apart from that, an okay article.

The ABC also covered it, same day - Motorcyclist killed on Warrego Highway.

Less information, nothing to complain about. Except the usual "her motorbike collided with" humanising of machines.

So, that's November out of the way. Again.

Leaping straight into December 1 with Crash survivor faces jail from the QT.

Apart from a confusing opening par, this one confuses me in general.

There's no mention of how the speed of "about 100kmh" (shouldn't that be km/h?) was judged, and I'm always confused when I see that someone who was unlicensed has had their licence suspended.

I would also dearly love to know how magistrates react when they hear someone has "struggled for many years with alcohol issues but was now getting counselling." My instinct would be to give them a harder penalty for not having sought help sooner for something that encourages illegal behaviours.

There is a whole other, highly entertaining, argument around whether psychiatric disorders, mental health conditions or substance use/addictive behaviour problems are "explanations", "mitigating factors" or "excuses", in decreasing order of personal responsibility. From my experience after nearly a decade working with people with various behaviour-modifying conditions, the professional viewpoint is: "You know you have {condition}, you know what it does, you have a responsibility to get help. If you can't control yourself in this service, get out."

Getting back to the article - there's some clunky sentence structures, but it reads less like a list of facts than most court reports do, and I only have one other quibble: Was it really necessary to write "Shaking her head, Magistrate Donna  MacCallum sentenced ... "?

At this point, I'd like to point out that there was a rash of reporting: Reader still has six items with a date stamp of December 1. Now, some of those may have been starred on December 1 but have been published earlier, still in November.

There are some double-ups and some running stories and I'd like to keep those together, so I'll do one more in this entry and it's from December 5, from the ABC: Motorbike rider dies on sand dunes.

It's a simple and straightforward report, and the only quibble I have is punctuation: In the second paragraph there should probably either be a second comma after Perth to close a subordinate clause, or no comma at all and run the sentence on. I would go with an Oxford double comma bracketing the clause, myself, but ABC style is to minimise commas where possible.

Today's lesson is: There are some really dangerous road users out there.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

No, that memory card slot is not optional

The more we demand our smartphones do, the more on-board storage they need.

As cameras get bigger and better quality, image files increase. Music playback is now standard, so we need somewhere to put the music files. Many devices still remember when "smartphone" meant being able to edit documents, and we still need somewhere to put them. Podcasts. Ebook readers. High quality video playback. Extra applications (more of a problem on platforms that don't have any to begin with). The list goes on.

And then there's the simple fact of operating systems getting bigger and bigger, and needing somewhere to put all the system files.

Once upon a time, "extra space" meant having a memory card slot. Then someone had the bright idea of soldering a memory card to the motherboard, and hey presto, on-board storage.

Most devices have both for added flexibility, although some of them make it a painful business getting at the removable card - under the battery cover or, in some particularly stupid cases, under the battery. Some only have the on-board storage.

And then there's Windows Phone 7 which, apparently, won't have a card in any device.

I don't care about Windows - there are many other and much better reasons why I won't have anything to do with it - but it doesn't make me very happy when other people decide to save themselves a buck by cutting that off the feature list.

Here are the reasons I will never, if I can at all help it, own a device without:

Easy portability

Let's face it, nobody's encouraging you to buy a phone and keep it for two years, even though that's how long plans generally last. Some devices aren't even supported properly past one year. So being able to take all of the files you want with you from one device to the next easily is nice, even if you're not a reviewer who has to do it several times a week (I'm not, sadly, I just manage to sound like it). Some people, of course, may be tempted to point out that nowadays we can do that easily with desktop software and syncing, which brings me to my next point:

Software agnosticism

Having removable storage means I'm not tied to someone else's - frequently quite bad - idea of how I should manage my own files. I use Linux on my desktop computer, so I can't run most desktop "companion" software anyway, making it specially important for me to not have to care. Microsoft have announced that Windows Phone 7 will only talk to their Zune desktop software, which is one of the very good reasons they can take their software and shove it. Apple devices only want to talk to iTunes, although there are workarounds. That sort of arse-hattery is one reason I still haven't considered buying an iPhone or iPod, even if I wanted to pay their exorbitantly inflated prices. I was bitten by buying a digital audio recorder that relied upon companion software which, surprise surprise, doesn't run on Linux. And even if you are happy using Ovi suite, or iTunes, or Zune, what if you buy a different platform? Ovi Suite will only talk to Symbian, I'm not sure about iTunes but I'm pretty sure Zune won't be happy talking to iOS or Android or Symbian or Bada or... Nokia have gone down a fairly sane route - their on-board memory is generally accessible via USB Mass Storage, the same way USB memory sticks and cards plugged into card readers are - but even then you are relying upon the phone working.

What if the device breaks? 

I managed to kill my N97 mini by leaving it on the roof of a car. My anguished scream is still echoing around the multiverse. Considering the interesting shape the phone was in after it was run over, I was amazed to find the SIM card and memory card unharmed. I could simply plug them back into my ancient N95, resync my calendar and contacts with Google, and away we go - images and ebooks and podcast downloads all intact. My alternative would have been to go to a repair centre, wait an indeterminate length of time and pay someone for the privilege. No thanks.

Upgradeable storage

With 32GB of on-board storage appearing routinely now, this is almost a non-issue. But, what the hell, why not say it: If the on-board disk dies or fills up, having a replaceable, upgradeable extra is not to be sneezed at.

Software installation

You may not have noticed, but some software demands memory cards, or comes on memory cards. Some GPS software companies will send you a card containing available maps. If you install a mapping program that can store maps locally (and if you don't, you're relying far too much upon network coverage), they will often warn against storing maps on a built-in drive.

As a final, bonus point: I don't trust the bastards.

You can make up your own minds, but I know which way my wallet will be voting.

Motorbike accidents in the media - part 21

Feast your eyes on this one: From November 24 from the Queensland Times, Man caught doing 300 metre wheelie.

That's: Caught on a public road, doing two wheelies, on an unregistered trail bike. It would only have been better if the cop in the unmarked car had been in a marked car.

Seriously, how selfish/stupid (delete by personal preference) do you have to be?

He said he felt he was in control and yes, pulling a stunt like that does demonstrate a considerable level of control, but it also demonstrates a considerable lack of judgement and considerable self-centredness.

I rather like the magistrate's remark: “You’ll be geting a letter from Transport near Christmas – it won’t be a Christmas card.” That spelling mistake was from the original copy, by the way.

Apart from that, a well-written and well-edited article. Also, entertaining for all the wrong reasons.

Same paper, November 27, actual accident: Teen dies after motorbike crash.

Only two things spoil this article, which is concise, clear and fairly complete: "The the" at the beginning of the second paragraph and "he from died from internal injuries" at the end of the third.

The Courier Mail had the story the day before, and ruined it with another classic CM headline: Young man, 18, in a critical condition after his motorbike strikes tree in Blackstone, Ipswich.

In Blackstone? At Blackstone?

Just as I'm beginning to think this was a well-structured, cleanly-written and good article before that headline was put on it, we have "his machine struck a tree". Give me strength.

And then, the QT did a full write up on November 29: Trail bike rider dies

This article says "bushland near Blackstone". The CM article named a street. I'm guessing the CM, as first cab off the rank, was given incorrect, preliminary information.

We have extensive quotes from a police officer, and for once they don't come across as patronising or just plain bloody stupid - they are, in fact, fair, reasonable, sensible and intelligent. Makes a nice change.

But then, having mentioned safety equipment in quotes - it is not known whether safety equipment played a factor in the crash at the weekend.

I'm inclined to think that when reporting a specific accident you should make your quotes relevant to that accident. Don't confuse the readers and risk giving them a false impression.

Other than that, it's a good article.

From the Courier Mail, November 27: Man dies as motorcycle hits power pole at Bowen.

The RSS headline for this was (at least initially) "Motorcyclist dies in crash", which is about as news-worthy and informative as "Advocates criticise spending".

So... the rider died? An onlooker died? Somebody completely unrelated to the event died?

"Smashed into" a pole, which is unnecessary use of language, then "passerby stumbled upon the scene", which always sounds as though he tripped over it before noticing it was there.

A lovely use of quotes for "failed to negotiate", and then another unnecessary verb - slammed - rounds out an overwritten article.

Okay, one more and that's November out of the way:

Courier Mail, November 29: Motorcyclist loses control, killed on Gympie Road Arterial.

At least they didn't say "Motorcycle loses control, kills rider". On the other hand: The correct form seems to be Gympie Arterial Road (incidentally, a quick googling lead me to Snarl, which seems very handy for Brisbanites).

Other than that, there's not really enough here to analyse, although the fourth paragraph, listing the two most recent accidents (both mentioned above) was too long and messed up its punctuation as a result.

Today's theme was: Quirks and failures of final editing (and yes, I'm sure I've made mistakes here. On the other hand - I don't have a second pair of eyes paid to correct them).

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

You can take your guilt trip and shove it

Our electricity bill landed the other day.

There's nothing particularly special about that fact - it happens with depressing regularity, four times a year.

What is interesting, however, is this little snippet:

"You generated 1.9176 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions during this period. To reduce your environmental impact, switch to Government accredited GreenPower, and offset the the carbon emissions generated by your travel."

Let's play a little game: How many mistakes can you spot in those two sentences?

There should probably be a hyphen in "Government accredited" because it's playing the role of a compound adjective, it's not clear whether GreenPower relates to travel or to household usage and oh yes: I generated 1.9176 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

I'm sorry, who did?

Over the period covered by that bill, I emitted various greenhouse gases by normal biological processes. My transport patterns, dictated first by the fact I don't live within cooee of public transport, has released many more greenhouse gases but since I use a motorbike mostly, not a car, that puts me slightly ahead of most people but behind those who are able to afford an electric vehicle. I also chose to use household electricity in various ways which, ultimately, determined the size of this bill.

I did not, however, contact the electricity provider and insist upon all of that electricity being generated by fossil fuels.

If I were still living in Tasmania most of it would have come from hydroelectricity, which only generates greenhouse gases through maintenance work. If I was in Denmark, 20% would come from wind power. If I lived in various parts of various countries around the world, I would be getting a lot of it, without making any decision, from various forms of solar, wind, geothermal, wave or hydro.

Because I moved to Queensland, I am getting it almost exclusively from coal.

The electricity providers in Queensland are blessed with high levels of sunlight and large amounts of unused land and even though our water supply is questionable, there are actually generators built into the dams which supply our water.

Yet we get our electricity from a finite, non-reusable resource which is dirty before it's burned and dirty after it's burnt.

I do have an option of ticking a box and getting charged more for electricity generated partially by renewable resources. Because my partner and I are both in casual employment and have debts to pay off, this is not a sane option for us.

On the other hand, the government is complicit by providing subsidies to the fossil fuel industry (PDF).

Subsidies. So stop saying "But coal is cheaper!" or "solar is too expensive!" Let's move all of those subsidies from fossil to renewable resources and see what happens. Of course, that might mean we charge China slightly more for the coal we export, but since there's so much of it I'm almost sure it wouldn't take much to make up the costs.

The reason "I" generated greenhouse gases is because this state is inherently conservative and technologically anachronistic.

I'll make you a deal: I'll keep an eye on my own usage, making savings where I can, and you do your job and plan for the future, whether it involves a carbon tax or trading scheme or not, and stop trying to make me feel guilty by blaming me for your lack of foresight, planning and courage.

The only thing you're doing now is hastening me moving to an alternate provider.

Motorbike accidents in the media - part 20

Here we go again and I'm now a month behind thanks to a massive surge in reporting and the complete inability of my free time to return to normal levels.

Excuses, excuses.

Five pieces here. Because.

There are two longer pieces I want to take a brief look at first. Not too surprisingly, they're both court reports. Court appearances are scheduled, predictable and full of quotable quotes as well as juicy details.

They're both from the Courier Mail:

From November 5: Man accused on hit-run death of pedestrian at Coorparoo granted bail

Yes, you could guess there was going to be an over-long headline, couldn't you?

The article is mildly detailed on events and fairly free with its commas. It does not, to put it plainly, paint a sympathetic view of the accused. String of offences - extensive history - false licence plates. That's even before getting to the actual charges relating to this event.

Plus, I would be very interested to hear what the opinion of the court is when a "letter from a drug rehabilitation counsellor at Cleveland who has been helping" is handed up as supporting evidence.

A problem I see in many longer articles, and particularly court reports, is the endless stream of "he said, she said" comments and this particular example is not immune. That may be due to deadline pressures, it may be due to legal concerns. It's tedious, whichever it is.

This article is also lacking any details on how the alleged accident occurred or what is alleged to have happened. It was a hit-and-run, and that's all the detail we're given.


The second article is also November 5, and deals with the speeding-and-collision event previously covered in this series, the infamous "like an F-111" highway incident: Jail for speeding motorcyclist who struck man severing his leg at Woolloongabba

Right in the opening paragraph we have "abhorrent history of speeding" and "at the speed of an "F1-11",".

The first one should not have been there unless it's a quote - and in that case, mark it as such - and the second one is phonetic but nonetheless inaccurate.

So a good start, then.

The copy-editing on this piece could have been tighter, as well.

Reading it, I get the feeling I should be grateful they don't try a poorly-informed description of the bikes, like "powerful one-litre motorcycles" or "large-capacity motorcycles." It's been done, you know.

However: "Sparrow, a martial artist with a criminal history for violence". Um, what? Cue up another stereotype. It is not, in this context, relevant. If some of that history was directly related to his school, or if he had used his training as a threat, even then it wouldn't be relevant to this story. Even stating he has a criminal history of violence is barely relevant in this context - the history of speeding fines and the fact he struck someone at excessive speed, severing their leg - those facts are relevant. The rest, not so much.

The actual incident is one of those cases that make the rest of us want to thump the riders responsible while screaming "YOU'RE NOT HELPING!"

Mind you, I haven't been keeping an eye on media reports of four-wheel idiocy so I don't know what the comparison is.

Interestingly, defendant Sparrow was disqualified from driving absolutely. So it can be done, then.

It is hard to avoid the feeling, reading this article, that the paper judged as well as reported. And that wasn't necessary or good journalism. A bald reporting of the facts of this case needed no emotive additions from the writer or editor to get the point across.

By comparison, from November 7 from the same paper we have Motorcyclist dead after falling from bike at Noosaville.

Headline still too long but the article is crisply written, contains just the essentials and, although it could have done with some brief rearrangement of facts between paragraphs, is perfectly good brief news writing.

From November 8 the CM gives us Motorbike rider hurt in crash with car in Red Hill, Brisbane.

I've been to the Broncos NRL club for a work function and I don't particularly like the road outside it. Of course, we're given no information on whether the location of the accident was relevant or just a coincidence - somebody been drinking, perhaps?

This could be have been a little more tightly edited, but the main problem I have is: "motorbike rider" comes across as a clumsy construction. What's wrong with "motorcyclist"?

I'll finish up with a longer piece, from ABC News Online this time. From November 12, Moto-cross rider badly hurt in fall.

See that headline? Perfectly good and only six words, if you count a hyphenated construct once. I'm actually surprised it is hyphenated. I was expecting motocross to be one word by now.

Personally, I would have rewritten some of the paragraphs during editing. For example, third paragraph: "He's recovering today" is a bit redundant. Leave it out, say he had an eight-hour operation, and we can assume he's recovering unless told otherwise. There are only three choices: Worse, worrying or improving. Only one of those is really newsworthy.

Also, those quotes:

The mother said "He has a couple of small bleeds in his brain but they're not worried about that at all that's a bit of head trauma and that's just affecting his short-term memory, that's normal, they've said so."

Ummm... head trauma can be a huge concern, an affect on short-term memory might be permanent and small bleeds can be serious if pressure continues to build. With all due respect for the fact I Am Not A Doctor, I suspect either he's not getting most appropriate supervision or she misunderstood what they said. "That's normal" could be misinterpreted as "that's normal, so it's fine" instead of "that's normal, unfortunately." This is pure conjecture, of course.

Also: "We all just pray for broken bones and they all heal." Unfortunate choice of words? I think she meant "We all pray for just broken bones, which heal."

It's nice to see an inline link in the article, however, something the ABC does less than some other news outlets.

I wish him a speedy and complete recovery, or at least a recovery indistinguishable from complete, which is usually the best we can hope for when any nerves are damaged.

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