All entries for February 2007

February 19, 2007

A treat

If you happen to like Rainbow (as in the Zippy/George/Bungle version) or Abba (or, as in my case, both), here’s a little something I found on Youtube recently that you might find entertaining.

February 15, 2007

Something which made me laugh this evening

I was going to write a long blog having a good whinge about environmental pressure groups and the total crap they spout on a daily basis. I’m fed up of all this mass hysteria they’re trying to whip up about climate change. It’s boring, repetitive and all it does is give the government all the incentives it needs to increase “green” taxes on transport (be it air, road or whatever), claiming it’s for the good of the environment when actually all it’s going to do is buy a few more cruise missiles and fund MPs’ next BMWs and Jags.

As it happens, however, I’m flying tomorrow so I can’t stay up late, I need to get to bed. Instead, I thought I’d leave you with a picture I found on an anti-aviation website called “Plane Stupid” (“bringing the aviation industry down to earth”). This bunch of idiots proudly boast they’ve held protests at East Midlands Airport (highly illegally), BAA and easyJet head offices among others. They can’t really be doing much good; they claim to have made national press regularly, but aside from a 2-minute piece on local news once when they blocked a taxiway at EMA I can’t ever remember hearing of them before. (When you consider that they take most of their quotes and statistics from other eco-nutter pressure groups like “Third Gear, not Top Gear” Transport 2000, rather than unbiased sources, it’s hard to give them much credibility.) Terminal 5 at Heathrow is still going ahead, the 3rd runway is still going ahead and Easyjet have just introduced a load of new routes and are continuing to expand relentlessly so it’s obvious what Joe Public in general thinks of their campaigns.

Plane Stupid have put a picture library on their website, I assume for publicity purposes. The first one I came to was of their protest at BAA offices at Heathrow. This is what made me laugh, and made me put this entry up in the first place. It made me realise why nobody’s really heard of them and they don’t get quite as much media coverage as they like to make out. Have a look at this photograph:

Note the turnout. What an astoundingly massive following they’ve got themselves. No wonder BAA and the airlines aren’t really all that worried. If I was a campaign group leader and that was the best photo I could get of one of my “protests”, I’d be embarrassed to put it on my website. Congratulations to the four people who turned up – you made absolutely bugger all difference to people’s air travel habits, but you brightened up my evening slightly.

I also felt that I had to add this quote which I found on the same website, this really did make me laugh out loud.

“Prompted by Plane Stupid’s national day of action against short haul flights on November 6th, Marketing Weekly quotes one PR guru as saying that short-haul budget airlines are about to face the same problem coal did in the 1980s because they are “unnecessary and outdated and therefore facing decline”.”

I’d love to know who this un-named “PR Guru” is. That’s a pretty ludicrously false claim to make, and I’d love to know what evidence he/she bases it on (other than his/her own personal feelings and the propaganda of greenie groups.) I’d quite happily point whoever it is in the direction of Easyjet’s website, specifically the Investor Relations news page . Perhaps this PR guru would like to hurry over to Easyjet’s head offices and advise them of their terrible mistakes before they become too costly. What on earth are they going to do with the 104 Airbus A319s they have on order, to say nothing of the additional 123 options? Easyjet must be quaking in their boots at the thought. Clearly this PR guru knows something that the Easyjet board don’t.

Seriously, that quote was just so utterly stupid it’s unbelievable. It has absolutely no factual basis whatsoever. The truth is that whether they like it or not, low-cost air travel is expanding and no enviro-loony hippie pressure group who think it’s a good idea to break into airports and sit in the middle of operational taxiways and runways is going to change that. End of. Unnecessary, outdated and facing decline? Ummm, I don’t think so. Open your eyes – you’ll find it’s quite the opposite.

Did anyone hear anything about a “National day of action against short-haul flights”? I didn’t and I read the news three or four times a day, every day. BBC News Online seem to love posting stories relating to climate change, there seems to be a new one almost every day, so I’d be very surprised if this one passed them by un-noticed. It must have been brilliantly publicised. Just like their BAA Heathrow demonstration.

February 09, 2007

Opinion on election policies – part 3

Erm… yeah. I sort of forgot last night. And since the voting is all over now, it’d be rather pointless me rambling on any more. Too much work to do for me to do it now, so I’ll cancel this one and just look forward to seeing the results tomorrow morning.

February 08, 2007

Opinion on election policies – part 2

Where was I when I gave up last night? Just finished writing about “The Mammoth” I believe, so therefore still on the Presidential candidates. Next up, then, is Ms Anna Bogdanova.

Ah yes – now I remember why I packed up and went to bed. Not because the manifesto is boring, but just because there’s so much of it and my brain really wasn’t coping with taking it all in. Anna appears to have taken the opposite approach to the Robin Hood guy – where the latter has put his into short and sweet bullet points for the lazy among us to scan through and say “yep, yep, yep…”, Anna has written loooaads of stuff, carefully explaining everything and highlighting the parts that are the most important. It’ll be interesting to see which approach works better. I like the way this one is written. It is detailed yet concise and it also flows a lot more eloquently than some of the other more waffly ones.

I notice from Anna’s Facebook profile that she’s involved with WASS (read Warwick Feminist Society for that – sorry, but since that debate on Blogs not so long ago my views on that particular organisation haven’t changed, whether people disagree with them or not) and gives her political views as “very liberal”. My personal belief is that after a year of Kat Stark’s presidency and given that the problems of apathy still don’t seem to have been addressed (judging by current manifestos), the Union could do with someone a touch more moderate as which, according to his manifesto, Ed Sanderson (despite being a “Liberal Democrat” candidate) seems to present himself. I don’t know much about how Brian Duggan’s got on because I haven’t been there, but having suffered a year of Kat’s presidency I think – although a liberal president would fit better with the Union’s membership than a more conservative-thinking president – someone a little more moderate would be better. I would be sceptical about voting for someone who proclaims herself to be “very liberal”.

That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of good in Anna’s manifesto – there really is, it’s hard to pick out any policies which are flawed or that I disagree with. I’d say it’s probably up there with Ed’s as being one of the best. Ed’s still shades it for me, however; nowhere in Anna’s does she make any commitment to cut down on the unnecessary and pointless policies and stances that the Union takes. I think what she says about inclusiveness and celebrating diversity is to be commended, but it’s because the Union has such a diverse membership that some vocal minorites are able to get these pointless policies passed and, if such diversity is to be embraced, I would like to see this tempered with a promise to cut down unnecessary time-wasting debate on subjects which have no bearing on the lives of the vast majority.

Next, on to Mr. Ollie Hambrey

I’ve had it on good authority that Mr Hambrey is running probably the most visible campaign round campus at the moment. I also have been told that I should commend him on the way he reacted last night (Wednesday 7th) to an incident in which a naughty little friend of mine – who shall remain nameless – rather damaged a big piece of campaign material. As I’ve said, I very much dislike having stuff shoved in my face left, right and centre during elections; however, if I’d put a large amount of time and effort into a big piece of artwork only to watch someone charge through it Gladiators-style, I don’t think I’d take it particularly well. I’m informed that Ollie did, so well done (although Campus Security were, I gather, rather less impressed.)

On the other hand, there is one thing I DON’T like. That is when you open up Mr Hambrey’s manifesto and the first thing you see is “OLLIE HAMBREY 4 PRESIDENT” in massive letters. Note my intentional emphasis on the number 4. I find it extremely irritating when people use that. I don’t know exactly how it’s meant to help, or what it’s supposed to achieve. The word “for” isn’t long, so writing “4” instead doesn’t save a great amount of time or space. It doesn’t appear to serve any other purpose either; replacing “for” with “4” is what you do in a text message when you’re running out of characters and you want to cram it all into one, and it’s also what 14 year old girls write in the condensation on the windows of buses when they’re announcing to the world who their best mate fancies. It just looks tacky and not very clever. It swings me away from voting for that person. Also, the “Best 4 sU” slogan hardly rolls of the tongue. It seems to be a half-hearted play on words that’s been slapped on in the absence of anything better.

I find that annoying, because the rest of Ollie’s manifesto is actually very good. It’s all very well organised and there’s loads of good policies which others haven’t picked up on – two which jump out at me straight away are the improvement to Laundrette services, which is something often overlooked (particularly on the Westwood campus) and doing something about overcrowded lecture theatres.

I strongly disagree, however, with this:
“Finally put a stop to students being evicted from Halls of Residence for smoking cannabis in the privacy of their own rooms.”
I think the zero-tolerance policy the University has on this issue is totally correct and I would not support anyone who wants to see it changed. People are well aware of the consequences of smoking cannabis when they sign their accommodation contracts and if they choose to do it, they should be punished in the way specified. I do not think this punishment is harsh. Someone pointed out on another blog (comment 6 of that entry) that you don’t get chucked out for file-sharing or fighting in halls. True, but file-sharing doesn’t affect your health or the health of those around you, and a fight is often the result of a heat-of-the-moment conflict which can be easily sorted out while cannabis use is often indicative of a longer term problem and general lack of respect for regulations – the user has made a conscious decision to flount them. The problem with smoking cannabis in halls is two-fold; doing it around others, which would inevitably happen, might mean people who wouldn’t normally indulge in such a habit would be tempted to do so because they see others doing it, leading them to all sorts of problems further down the line such as addiction. Even more seriously, if the University softens its touch towards cannabis, where do you then draw the distinction between cannabis and other illegal drugs? Do you start saying “well, we’ll let you off with a warning if you’re caught with cannabis, but we’ll chuck you out if it’s heroin”? Doing so would then set a precedent for the Union to start campaigning for those caught using harder drugs to be let off in the future. Where does it stop? Simply, if I knew someone in a room on my corridor was using any illegal drug, I’d want them out straight away, no questions asked. It’s not my problem to have to deal with – they made the choice to do it against the rules set out when they signed, so they should have to deal with the specified consequences. I REALLY hope the University stands firm on this issue and doesn’t give in to the Union’s pleadings. By all means the Union should be there to offer support in helping those kicked out to find alternative accommodation but just don’t blame the University for it. It’s not their problem. I am of the firm opinion that it should remain, and on this point alone I wouldn’t vote for Mr Hambrey.

Finally, we come to Mr. Ty Hayes.

I just find this whole manifesto a bit wishy-washy. When you compare it to Anna Bogdanova’s, for example, it’s nowhere near as eloquent and articulate. There are a fair few grammatical and spelling errors in the document which suggest to me a lack of attention to detail; this is excarbated by the fact that it’s all a bit vague. I want to see a President that shows attention to detail and isn’t satisfied with a “that’ll do” approach.

The first bit, under “policy”, states:
“It’s a very exciting year for the Union with Union South undergoing a complete remodel. Due to this we need a President who will focus on the needs of Warwick Students.”
I have a bit of a problem with that statement. The President of the Students’ Union should focus on the needs of its membership regardless of whether Union South is undergoing a big rebuild or not. I find that sentence a bit strange. Also, on the following statement:
“I am in a good position to work closely with the rest of the Officer Team both Sabbatical and Part-time as I know a great deal of the candidates for many of the positions.”
That doesn’t really mean much. I knew a fair few people on my course when I did my maths degree and worked with them doing my assignments; despite this, I still came away knowing and understanding two-thirds of sod all. Knowing people is a good basis for forming a working relationship but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re best suited to the job. It appears that most of the Presidential candidates have held some position in the Union before and I’d expect that they know many of the candidates from working with them in the past – you normally expect a candidate for President to have held one or two other respected positions previously. In this respect, therefore, Ty doesn’t really set himself apart from any of the others and doesn’t say anything that grabs my attention. I read that whole first couple of paragraphs, having read all of the other manifestos, and think “big deal.” On the next sub-heading of “Union Rebuild”, I do appreciate and support the policy of making sure Warwick Hospitality don’t exploit the monopoly and raise their drinks prices but there is just something about the rest of it to me that says “vague”. A strong president should have strong ideas and impressions of what he/she would like to do – what exactly is going to be done to make the temporary structure inviting? What fresh ideas do you have to contribute to the new Union South? That whole bit seems to lack direction and drive.

It’s true to say that the President is responsible for organising campaigns on a national level but then to say ”...I want these to directly relate to the Warwick student demographic” is again a bit weak. I want to know exactly what national campaigns our potential President is interested in and wants to throw his support behind, and also how he feels these would reflect the student demographic. I shouldn’t have to navigate through the NUS website to try and work all this out for myself; I personally think that Mr. Hayes should be putting some of these issues forward in his manifesto so we know exactly what we’re voting for. Saying “I’ll organise campaigns”, whcih is effectively all it is saying, isn’t helpful – this should be a given for an incoming President.

I do, however, support the idea of incentives to get more members involved in democracy. I believe Mr. Hambrey also suggested this but as I’ve said, there is a clear reason why I wouldn’t vote for him so in this respect Mr. Hayes’ suggestions would be the next I look at. I like the idea of using the Union website for this purpose. Informal Sabb surgeries are a good idea, but they must be VERY well publicised for them to be useful and maybe incentives could be offered for people turning up and putting ideas and thoughts across. This would go some way to altering the level of apathy among voters. I also like the idea of more £1/pint offers; I actually think this is more beneficial to students than straight “across the board” cuts. They’re more noticeable, attract more people and improve the Union atmosphere. It’s always better when it’s full. Overall, therefore, I’d say this manifesto gets better as it goes along but it’s still lacking in substance and clear direction compared to some of the others. I don’t think it does enough to win votes from indecisive voters.

I was going to move on to the other positions as well, but that’ll have to wait for tomorrow night and it’ll become a three-parter instead! The time difference means I’ll still be able to ramble through it before elections close – not that it really matters or anyone cares. Got to get my head down and prepare to crack on with some serious work in the daytime tomorrow; part 3 will follow!

EDIT: Just before I go, there’s one bit of this whole week that’s confusing me a little bit. As expected, Facebook groups are popping up like never before, pretty much one each for candidates running for various positions. What I don’t understand is why all these candidates join each others’ groups – nost notably the people they’re standing against! I thought joining a group on Facebook generally meant you were in support of what that group had been created for; if I was standing to win an election, I wouldn’t be publicly displaying support for all my rivals! What’s going on? Is there some sort of big “ooh no, I insist, YOU win” goodwill cameraderie going on between all the people standing or does all this mutual arse-kissing mean the whole Union election system really is as daft as some of us like to believe? I bet if, say, John Reid and Gordon Brown run for leadership of the Labour party, you won’t find John Reid joining a “Gordon Brown for Prime Minister” Facebook group; the same principle applies in elections here. Why does it happen?

'React' flight 1

This afternoon I did my first React/UPSET training flight (it’s given both names but I don’t know what either of them stand for.) It’s a bit different to your average general handling or navigation flight – the purpose is to teach you the entry conditions, symptoms and safe recovery from extreme unusual attitudes which, in extremely rare circumstances, you might find yourself.

Naturally, for such an exercise the heavy lumbering Cessna 172 isn’t what you really want to use and it isn’t rated for some of the more extreme manouvers. For these, therefore, us Cessna and Katana pilots are introduced briefly to the Robin R2160 (or Alpha 160A as the new New Zealand-built ones are known.) Most of the Robin pilots (cough chris cough) forever go on about how their aircraft is so much better than ours; personally I prefer the Cessna on the basis that you can actually fit in it without nearly being in the other person’s lap; when I’ve flown in the R2160 as a passenger I’ve found it small, cramped, a bit rattly (probably because it’s French) and too much like a greenhouse – unlike the Cessna where you’ve got the wings over your head and providing shade from the sun, the Robin cockpit has a raised canopy and almost 360 degrees of vision so you WILL get burnt if you go flying for any length of time and don’t slap on your sunblock. In fact, here’s a picture of the one I flew today, TZD, which is actually a Robin-built aircraft but shown on the Alpha Aviation website.

Anyway, I actually found the Robin to be great to fly. It’s very stable, as easy as the Cessna to trim and the controls are extremely responsive. It has a stick rather than a control column which doesn’t make it ideal for navigation flights when you’ve got numerous maps and kneeboards to contend with, but forgetting all that it’s definitely fun to fly. Once we’d got out past Mangatautri and were able to climb to some higher uncontrolled airspace, my instructor demonstrated a few high- and low-nose attitudes and how to recover from them. These weren’t too much of a problem; I was a bit slow with the recoveries to start with but got the hang of it quickly enough. Then we tried a few inverted ones, where the aircraft is pretty much upside-down and pointing diagonally downwards; these were fine, the recovery was fairly straightforward – throttle closed, stop the nose pitching down and roll the aircraft over so it’s the right way up, then ease out of the dive. We also practised a few nose-vertically-upwards ones, where the aircraft is pointed straight up at the sky. I found these a bit uncomfortable at first because the aircraft flips down nose first and you end up pointing vertically downwards at the ground, but the recovery from then on is again fairly simple. Sometimes from the nose-vertical attitude you’ll get a bit of a tail-slide as well, where the aircraft falls backwards and then flips forward which is a bit of a weird sensation when you haven’t done it before.

It was only a short flight and that was all we really needed to cover, but we still had a bit of time so we used it by practising a few basic aerobatic manouevers. I was given a demonstration of a basic loop and I was surprised at how easy it was; I was then given the chance to do two myself and it was great fun! We also did a “Half-Cuban” which is about two-thirds of a loop then with the nose pointing about 30 degrees down and with the aircraft inverted, checking the loop and rolling the aircraft over so it’s the right way up again. There’s a better description of it here . I was expecting to be feeling a bit sick by this point but I was absolutely fine, which was a bonus! We then came back in and I was talked through the landing because it was the first time I’d flown the Robin and the landing attitude is a little bit different – you don’t flare it like you do the Cessna because doing so would scrape the tail along the ground. The touchdown is much flatter. I didn’t make a bad job of it but I wasn’t exactly what you’d call on the centreline!

I’ve got another one tomorrow where I’ll be starting to learn spin recovery. Really looking forward to it after today!

February 07, 2007

Opinion on election policies – part 1

Although I’m not eligible to vote (and as I’ve said elsewhere, wouldn’t anyway even if I could) I couldn’t help but read through all the manifestos of those putting themselves forward for election to see what plans they have for the Union and the student body. Here, for what little it’s worth, is my personal reaction to a few of the better and worse points I’ve found during my scanning through them.

Beginning with Mr. Alastair Wood:

“I will also ensure that the Union carries out its democratic responsibilities, especially when responding to referenda, and restore faith in the Union of its members.”
Glad to hear it. I suspect this is a reference to the smoking “ban” farce of last year which alienated a lot of people, myself included. Anything that could restore the faith of Union members is to be welcomed; people promise this kind of thing every year, however, and it’ll be interesting to see what actually does happen.

” As President I will continue the mission to make Warwick a greener, low carbon, campus; with better provision of recycling bins, more care taken to build green buildings and less traffic congestion on the roads in and around campus.”
One of my pet hates with the world at the moment is how, in the last year, practically the whole country has jumped on this “Climate Change” bandwagon. Fair enough if that’s what’s going to win you votes – I’m still pretty sceptical about the whole climate change issue and the government’s response to it, but if policies are going to be proposed then decent explanation of what exactly is going to be done is required. What, for example, is a “green building”? Are we proposing making the diggers that help build it run on biodiesel? I’m pretty sure that whatever new buildings are built are not going to be solar or wind powered – they’ll probably just be hooked up to the boiler house or whatever else provides the energy for campus. There are plenty of ideas that could be implemented – shutting down workstations in computer rooms at night and switching off unnecessary air conditioning are two examples I’d put forward, but nowhere does this manifesto give any ideas of what exactly can be done building-wise.

“On campus facilities will also be improved, I will look into getting the Residents’ Network in halls improved so that users can get higher connection speeds and less downtime.”
So I assume, then, that you’ll be doing a bit more than the last spineless administration who pretty much refused to challenge the University on its appalling Resnet service despite being implored to do so by students who were thoroughly sick of it? I also take it you won’t be settling for 8 quid compensation per person? This is a great policy and one which I’d wholeheartedly support, apart from two key words… “look into”. Promising to “look into” something suggests to me “well, it’s a good idea and might win votes but doesn’t commit me to doing anything about it.” On the face of it it’s a vote winner, but promising to “look into” doing something isn’t good enough. To win my vote, it’d have to promise to “do” something – like actually achieve decent compensation for shoddy service and not run off scared as soon as the University say “no”.

Moving on… Mr. Ed Sanderson

First things first. Mr Sanderson claims himself to be the “Liberal Democrat candidate”. Many people will probably disagree with me here, but I’ve never seen the point of aligning one’s self with an external political party when running for a Union position. Issues affecting the Union and the student body are predominantly local. People are interested, first and foremost, in how their lives as students at the University of Warwick are going to be affected by any decisions that are made. Claiming to be a political party representative suggests to me that the respective candidate is too concerned with allowing external influence to control his/her policies and decisions. The Union is not a constituency and I doubt anyone significant in the Lib Dems would give a shining shite whether the Warwick Students’ Union was in “Lib Dem control” or not. It doesn’t win them any more seats in Parliament and the net effect on their membership and overall standing would be virtually nil. Sure, certain aspects of student life are affected by government policy and those should be addressed as and when necessary. My opinion is, however, that a candidate should be elected on what their personal views and values and motives are – not on those of an external body. If the two match and the candidate happens to personally support that external party then good for them, that I don’t have a problem with – but campaigning for a Presidency of the Union under the banner of that external party is, I think, a bit wrong.

Like I said, I’m sure plenty will disagree – that’s just my 2p worth on the subject. It’s not just this year, last year I thought Bill Rees (the Conservative candidate) had a few pretty good policies that I saw eye to eye with but at the same time I realised that if I voted that way I’d be technically aligning my views with those of David Cameron who I find smarmy, smug, happy to jump on any bandwagon that might win him the odd vote here and there and generally extremely dislikeable. So on that basis I wouldn’t have voted for Bill. Same with Damian King… he might well have had some excellent policies in his manifesto, but I read no further than the top line because he decided to put himself forward as a candidate of the Respect party. The thought of him winning and the despicable George Galloway having any representation in our Union, indirect or otherwise, was enough for me to simply close the manifesto there and then. In fact it doesn’t matter who the party is, the simple fact is that while a candidate’s policies might be good and relevant, proclaiming him/herself to be a candidate for X party will mean he/she loses potential votes from Union members who normally support Y or Z party. If he/she hadn’t proclaimed their support for X party, they might have got those votes.

Having said all that, Ed Sanderson does make some very interesting and appealing points in his manifesto and having read a few of them through I did think this was one of the ones I’d most likely go for. It’s extremely refreshing to hear someone say:
“I’m interested in the issues that matter to ALL students, rather than a narrow bunch who feels obligated and enfranchised to act.”
Excellent, it’s about time someone came forward with this point. Too many times in the past, Union policy has been adversely affected by a very vocal minority and the fact that the majority is apathetic. It’s nice to hear someone recognise this and commit to doing something about it. Even better, he then goes on to say:

“The Union, whilst sizeable, has no practical effect over issues such as the Israel-Palestine conflict, and whilst adopting stances can be admirable, they disenfranchise the minority view. Where the Union should and can act, over relevant topics such as local issues and university spending, it appears slow and surprisingly timid. I believe in a Union for ALL, and any Union obsessed with creating general stances can only polarise opinion.”
Hurrah! This is one of the best manifesto points I’ve read. Finally, someone who understands that having a bunch of wannabe-MPs sitting round a table in Union North debating pointless, nonsensical motions that will make sod-all difference to the world is a complete waste of time and resources. It’s exactly that sort of time-wasting garbage that’s driven people to apathy over the past couple of years. The way I see it is this:

*Union takes stance on major international issue, e.g. Middle East crisis
*Stance taken makes absolutely piss all difference to the issue at hand
*Issue is extremely sensitive
*Students react in one of three ways – extremely for, extremely against or “what’s the bleeding point”.
*Vast majority of students get pissed off at the Union wasting more valuable time and resources trying to look important by taking a stance on something over which they can have no control or effect
*Those extremely against the stance are angry at the Union wasting time and resources on something they absolutely disagree with; result = alienation and consequently apathy to many other things the Union does.
*Those extremely for it think “great!” – and then realise, when they think about it a bit, that the University of Warwick Students’ Union, however important they think they are, is never going to be a major player in world politics.

Simple solution to all this – exactly as Mr. Sanderson suggests. Stop taking stances on issues over which the Union can have no practical effect and instead redirect the resources and energy this would have used into local issues. It’s hard to take the Union seriously when it tries to get involved on the world stage with pointless political debate and then has to tiptoe around asking the University to do something about Resnet before scuttling away with its tail between its legs for fear of upsetting the University. If Ed can do something about this and get the Union sorting out relevant issues again, then brilliant. I’m also delighted to see his position on upholding Union referenda and his implication that the vote on the smoking ban should have been upheld; also, I’m very pleased to see he thinks that the Union shouldn’t have bent over backwards (or forwards, either euphemism will do) so easily and pandered to the bleatings of the lecturers during the industrial action.

In fact, in my opinion Ed has probably the strongest of all the Presidential mainfestos on there. I find it hard to pick out anything which I strongly disagree with and indeed, much of it is very appealing and engaging. I personally hope he does well.

Next up… Mr. Robin Hood himself, James Markham.

One phrase springs to mind – “short but sweet”. I actually find this pretty good – the main bullet points are summed up with a link to the more detailed campaign website. This is far better than writing reams and reams of waffle which some candidates have done (in some cases without a lot of substance.)

I also like the “tough stance” he intends to take with the University over funding. It’s a very fair point he makes about the University using the success of the Union to attract students. I would say that it has to be viewed with slight caution, however; yes, a tougher stance is needed over the University’s attitude to spending on its students rather than just solely focussing on increasing profitability, but too tough a stance could end up alienating them and creating a situation where they cut spending further, or penny-pinch from other areas to meet demand. I’d generally support a tough stance but it would be very interesting to see how it panned out.

I also think his stance on tuition fees is sensible. Those who campaign for free higher education and the removal of any tuition fees altogether need their heads seeing to, in my opinion. It’s just not going to happen – never ever. Education IS expensive and it has to be paid for somehow. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to expect students to contribute, although the new £3000/year level is the absolute maximum I would say is fair. £12k/year, as is being suggested, is absurd. Taking a stance of opposing further rises, rather than reversing past decisions, is a sensible move and one that the NUS would do well to adopt. Marching through London opposing any kind of fees whatsoever is pointless and will always be fruitless.
[EDIT: Having reviewed the NUS website and the NUS “Admission:Impossible” campaign, it appears that the £3k cap is now generally accepted.]

Regarding his point about appealing for a student discount from the campus bookshop… I can never see this happening and I think this is probably intended as a vote-winning idea rather than a promise with substance. The bookshop has pretty much got a monopoly and can charge whatever it likes. The vast majority of its customers are students, so introducing a student discount would mean effectively discounting everything it sells, resulting in a drop in profit which to them would most likely be unacceptable. A much better idea, in my opinion, would be to encourage everyone to order their books from Amazon instead. I’ve never had a problem with that, and I got a couple of course books last year for less than half the outrageous prices the campus bookshop wanted to charge. If people did that, the campus bookshop might then be forced to lower its prices to compete.

Overall, it’s not a bad manifesto and makes some good points… I just get the feeling it doesn’t really go far enough. It doesn’t really touch on Union participation except at the end, almost as an afterthought where as Ed Sanderson makes it one of his key points. Pretty much all of them have a bit saying they want to increase Union participation. In James’ manifesto, given that it appears right at the end and doesn’t give any suggestions as to how it might be achieved, I suspect it might be a case of “I’d better stick it on because I know everyone else will and actually it’s quite important.” I find it lacks conviction.

Next, on to Mr. Laurence “Fergus” Griffiths.

Straight away, I have a problem here. Mr Griffiths is heavily involved with the University Men’s rugby club. The main contact I had with this group during my time at Warwick was seeing them at Score every week, usually pissed out of their faces and chundering Purple everywhere, mostly thinking they were “it” and generally being rowdy, noisy and loutish – far more so than many of the other regular attendees. I might be being a bit unfair, but that was the impression I got and that was over the course of three years, not just one or two attendances. Bearing in mind that Mr Griffiths was the president of this bunch for a year and has been involved with them for a while, that’s a black mark in my book straight away. Still, casting aside my prejudices, I’d better move on to the actual policy points.

To be fair, the first five bullet points listed are pretty good. In the same way as Ed, it’s nice to see someone addressing the fact that it’s issues relevant to the majority of students that need to be given priority rather than just letting the minority dictate proceedings. How this is to be achieved in practice remains to be seen but anybody actually recognising this fact to start with should be commended. Just saying words to the effect of “I want to get more people involved” isn’t enough – my view is that whoever becomes president MUST make removing the massive amount of apathy towards Union politics an absolute priority. It sounds as if Fergus wants to do this, so fair play.

Aside from that, though, there isn’t a great deal that really makes it stand out from many of the other candidates. – I find it all a bit bland, there isn’t really anything that jumps out at me and makes me think “yeah, I really should vote for him”. I find it touch waffly. Fees and environmental issues are going to be the prominent issues in any president’s time in office. I find the “Fighting the good fight” bullet point extremely vague. He doesn’t even say what his views are on the subject; he merely says that he will keep working towards progress and change. That means absolutely nothing to me.

On to Mr. Joe Kirby.

First impressions count very much. My first impression from looking at this manifesto is that if Mr. Kirby spends as much time devoted to his presidency and implementing his (mainly very good) ideas as he does on arranging his hairdo, he could be a very good president. I personally find the “I have a proven record of bringing people together” a tad pretentious – Jesus brought people together and while I’m sure the guy’s very good, I’m also sure he’s not Jesus.

I like the idea of bringing back Cholo food, I was surprised to find it had gone. I always thought it was very popular, it was often hard to get a seat round there at lunch time. And none of the others so far have really committed to this, so good on Joe for picking up on it. I’m not so sure about this one, however:

“Lobby supermarkets for free delivery to campus.”
Two things wrong with this. For a start, Tesco, where most of Warwick’s campus-dwelling students do their shopping, is easily within walking distance. I lived in Hurst last year and while it was a bit of a struggle with heavy bags from time to time, I managed quite easily to get over a week’s worth of shopping back without too much trouble. Tesco know they’re going to get custom whatever happens – if people need something, they’re just going to to and get it, I don’t think they’ll want to sit around waiting for a delivery van to turn up. For that reason, there would be no benefit to them offering free delivery – they’d just lose revenue. Other supermarkets could try and steal custom from Tesco by offering free delivery but remember that students are busy and often have lectures spaced out at various times of the day. Many people have better things to do than wait for a delivery van to turn up, and often they can’t specify exact times.

The other thing that’s wrong with it – and this is more prominent – is that while pretty much all the other candidates (and even Joe himself, to an extent) are focussing on “going green” and “making campus a greener place”, lobbying for free home delivery from supermarkets is going to lower the number of people walking to get their shopping and increase the amount of traffic on campus. All those extra vans making shopping deliveries will be belching out exhaust fumes and causing more pollution. Also, space on campus for vehicles is tight and there’s a potential for obstructions to be caused while vans are unloading shopping. Given the current concern for the environment, I don’t think this is a very good policy at all.

I do, however, like the idea of a Union “Eat” card. If this could be used at Union events to pay for drinks, and consequently reduce queue lengths, I’d be all for it. Cashless catering systems, with machines elsewhere to credit your card (or doing it via the internet) are a great idea. I would suggest, however, that another good way of helping to cut queue lengths would be to train bar staff to serve drinks properly before they’re put on the job. Too many times last year I was queueing at Cholo for a pint and there was a guy ordering 4 pints of purple and had to explain to the newly-starting foreign bar staff three times how to pour a pint of purple. That is one area where there’s definite room for improvement. Overall, though, it’s good to see someone prepared to do something about the issue of queue lengths. 30+ minutes to get 2 pints, which is often what it took at Top B on its busiest nights, is crap.

I’d also be interested in this “Investigate setting up links with other university libraries.” As a WGA member, and therefore with use of the library, this one is actually relevant to me. It’s well documented that as University libraries go, Warwick’s is substandard. What links might these be? If it means being able to use other universities’ libraries, then that’d be brilliant. There must be something in it for them as well though, so what would that be? Financial recompense? I doubt their students would be that interested in using ours. I find “investigating links” very vague, although it does sound like a good idea in principle.

Moving on from Joe, we come to Mr Phillip Woolley.

Erm. “Short and not very sweet” springs to mind. For anyone that was at Warwick in the year 2003-04 and remembers “Andy Dance”, this one reminds me a bit of him. Very entertaining but no substance. Humourous propaganda but let’s face it, a vote for “the mammoth” would be sticking two fingers up at the whole election process – a vote on behalf of the apathetic. There are no serious policies whatsoever; I was looking for a link to a website for his real manifesto but it appears that this is actually it. I’m not going to devote any more time to blogging about it because I’m going to assume it’s a piss-take and by going on about it I’ll just make myself look like I’ve got no sense of humour.

This has gone on long enough and far longer than I intended so I’m having to split it into two parts… it’s got to 2am again here and I’m flying tomorrow so I’d better get off to bed. Aerobatics tomorrow as well, awesome! Tune in tomorrow for part two of the the commentary inane and pointless waffle.

A bit of good news

The New Zealand CAA have kindly given us a temporary exemption and allowed those of us who’ve recently passed our PPL tests to apply for our licences and send the criminal record disclosure form retrospectively. This is definitely welcome news, as it means we’ll be able to continue with the flying programme as planned rather that waiting around for the forms to arrive. It also means I’ll be able to take passengers up; I was assuming we wouldn’t get such an exemption and therefore, not having my licence, I wouldn’t be legally allowed to carry passengers. It’ll be nice to have someone along to operate a camera!

February 06, 2007

American versions – why?

Two entries in one day… I really must be stuck for stuff to do. Actually it’s 2am here and I should be going to bed, but on the basis that getting up off my chair is more effort than sitting here typing, here’s something non-flying related for a change that’s annoying me.

I hear they’re to make an American version of The Vicar Of Dibley to be shown in the States. This is the latest in a series of notable US remakes of popular British comedies; The Office was remade in recent times for Americans to watch and further back, Men Behaving Badly was reincarnated with two American sofa-bound beer-swilling louts. Even Fawlty Towers apparently had a Yank spin-off called “Payne”. The list goes on.

Why, then, do we not demand a British re-make of Friends? The Simpsons? Family Guy? There is an endless list of American imports that are broadcast over the waves in our country and we just watch them. We understand the humour, we get the punchlines, we find them funny and we laugh at them. Why does it not work the other way round? Why do Americans require watered-down versions of Gary and Tony sitting drinking lager on the settee or a Yankee reincarnation of Geraldine Granger?

I just don’t understand it. I can only assume that it’s because most Americans are brought up believing that the world starts at the Canadian border and stops at the Mexican one and just do not understand anything – particularly humour – that comes out of anywhere else in the world. Obviously this isn’t meant as a slant against ALL Americans, I’m sure there are plenty of well-balanced and open-minded ones who do have a sense of humour that extends beyond throw-away one-liners and canned laughter. But why is it that everywhere else in the world accepts American programmes as they are, yet the Yanks demand everything to be remade for their audience? Somebody please explain. Otherwise I’ll have to stick with my assumption that the majority of them have a simple, one-dimensional sense of humour and are culturally a bit thick.

PPL passed!

I’m a few days late in writing this – no particular reason, apart from being a bit tired in the evenings – but since I last posted, I have finally reached and passed my NZ PPL test. Yep, almost six months to the day since I left for NZ (it was meant to take no more than four, but various unforseen circumstances have seen to that) I managed to get it done. I wasn’t expecting to pass first time, there were still a few parts I felt a bit iffy with, specifically stalling, precautionary landing with power and crosswind circuits, but I thought at least if I can have a go, I’ll be able to get on with the remedial training for the bits I’m not as good at.

I’m still not sure how I passed on the day – I was disappointed with the flight overall and I was convinced I’d failed pretty early on but had to carry on with it anyway, and I was extremely surprised when the examiner said I’d passed. Most of the ground work was OK – I don’t think I fell down on much of the knowledge of weather reports, NOTAMS, the AIP or any of the technical questions about the aircraft; there were one or two sticky bits but generally it was fine. There was a bit of an incident just before the test; it was already a bit late getting back from its previous flight, then after I’d done the pre-flight inspection (observed by the examiner) I discovered the guy who flew it before me (who I won’t name to save undue embarrassment) had sodded off back to Clearways with the keys in his pocket. I don’t think the examiner was overly impressed and I certainly wasn’t because I was feeling nervous enough already but we were lucky that we were able to swap to a different one rather than having to wait for the keys to be returned. I must add that I saw the gentleman in question later on and he was extremely apologetic!

Anyway, the flight itself… the short-field take-off and departure to Scotsman’s Valley was fine and the first thing I was given was a compass turn, which wasn’t a problem. I then did a couple of steep turns which weren’t bad – I maintained my altitude but didn’t roll in fast enough on the first one, but corrected it on the second. Then we moved on to stalling, which I generally don’t like an am not very good at. Erm, yes… it was at this point where I thought I’d failed. After getting pre-occupied with finding a clear area to do it (because I knew we were somewhere near Hinuera airfield and didn’t want to do it near there, but couldn’t actually spot where it was) I went ahead and did the basic full and approach configuration incipient stalls and had to be reminded after them that climbing into them was unacceptable – I was meant to hold my altitude. Fair enough, I thought, started demonstrating the entry into the wing-drop stall… and promptly gained 150ft. Not clever. I also didn’t manage to induce as great a wing-drop as normal. Some of the Cessnas positively plummet downwards if they’re set up right, but even with a decent amount of approach power on the aircraft (ZK-OUI today) wasn’t too keen. It eventually dropped a bit, but it was a bit pathetic – almost Katana-esque!

After that we started heading back in towards Hamilton over the hills between Scotsman’s Valley and Karapiro. I then had to pick a field and simulate the forced landing without power. It was more difficult than normal because of the lack of fields, but I spotted one and attempted to get into it. It nearly went wrong because I turned from base to finals too early and ended up high but I managed to pass because I took early actions to correct it (full flap early + nose down). We “went around” quite low and getting out of there was interesting because of the big hill that was suddenly filling my windscreen, but a quick turn to the left and it was OK. After climbing out of there, we went over to the area of flat ground between Karapiro and Cambridge, descended to 500ft AGL and did the low flying part of the test. This didn’t go too badly really although the precautionary landing field I picked was too short we would still have made it down OK in an emergency. The only other thing I had to do was a reversal turn round a road tracking it at low level, which was pretty straightforward.

We then headed back into Hamilton to do some circuits. We were given a straight-in for 25R and the first one was just a normal circuit; on the next one I was asked to do a short-field touch-and-go; because it wasn’t a full stop landing I had to talk through what I’d do after touchdown (brakes, flaps identified and up, control column back.) I never got to do that, however, because the examiner told me to go around just as we were crossing the threshold. I then was given an engine failure after takeoff simulation; I very nearly messed this up too because rather than pulling the throttle to idle as I’ve always practiced, he pulled it to about 1/3 power (which was fair enough, because in a failure situation the engine might not actually fully stop.) I wasn’t expecting it at all and had to think for a few seconds “am I supposed to pull it to idle myself?” which I then did after a delay. Very fortunately we were still using 25 which meant there were plenty of fields to choose from and to get down into; had we been on 18 I probably would have failed. After that we turned right and set up for a flapless crosswind landing on 18. My first approach was pretty rubbish – I was too high then too low then too high again, the speed was all over the place and it was just generally poor. Ironically it was this that saved the day; I decided to do a go-around off this one rather than try and land because it was unstable and I found out later it was my decision to do that which swayed the examiner into passing me. We did one more circuit for another approach on to 18 and got the seal runway this time and, in the words of the examiner afterwards, my crosswind landing was “about as weak as it could have been and still been a pass.” So there’s something I’ll be needing to practice then…

So yep, after all that – stalling being rubbish, being a bit high on the PFL (and forgetting to do engine warms), rubbish crosswind landing and a couple of other bits – I was quite surprised to find that I’d passed. No, make that very surprised. It was a great feeling though, to finally be a qualified pilot! It’s a long way off from what I should be doing eventually, but it’s nice to have passed a flight test (even if it was marginal), it’s a definite confidence booster. I should have moved on to do more Wings Course flights by now, but a number of things are getting in the way again – specifically, pointless NZ CAA-created bureaucracy which means I now have to get a criminal record disclosure certificate to obtain my licence where in the past this wasn’t necessary (how utterly typical that the new forms were introduced on the day I passed my test!) and also aircraft unservicability. In the case of the paperwork I say pointless because if I had a record in Britain I wouldn’t have got on to the course in the first place and if I’d done anything silly in New Zealand I probably wouldn’t still be here. It seems daft to my mind that it’s legal for you to be signed out by an instructor to go and fly solo without this before you get your PPL, but then you need the certificate for after you get it. What’s the difference? You’re still pilot in command of the same aircraft – if they’re going to faff around with extra paperwork at all, it should be necessary to do it to go out flying solo whatever stage of training you’re at. Why wait until you get your PPL and have accrued about 30+ hours solo (in my case) before they bother to check?

Anyway, last night I did get to do my first proper Wings Course flight – Introduction to Night Flying. There aren’t many night flights that we do, only one introductory one then a dual-to-solo night circuits flight. I did REALLY enjoy last night though, it was great fun. Obviously it’s much harder to judge speed and distance when you can’t see the ground, and you have to be aware of what visual illusions can occur. We flew down to Te Awamutu at the southern end of the control zone then across to Cambridge then back to Hamilton, did an overhead rejoin then flew four or five circuits on 36 (with a moderate crosswind.) It’s hard to explain why, but it just is really enjoyable flying approaches using the runway and PAPI lights as a guide. I wish I could get a backseat flight with someone else and get some pictures of how it looks, but I won’t be able to use the flash so it might be a bit of a pointless exercise. Just take my word for it, it’s great! Also, I was on the apron when the Freedom Air A320 came in at just after 11:30pm which is always a great sight. It’s intriguing that at any busy airport in the world you wouldn’t bat an eyelid at an A320 because they’re so common, but since it’s the biggest aircraft that comes into the relatively small Hamilton (apart from the RNZAF Hercules doing circuits occasionally) it always turns heads when it arrives. (Although my pet hate is on Friday and Saturday nights when two of them are meant to arrive within half an hour of each other; sometimes one gets delayed, I’ve known it come in as late as 3:15am and wake half of Clearways up. Fortunately it doesn’t happen very often.)

Also just a quick few “well dones” to stick on the end… congrats to Craig, Shaun and Jamie for their PPL passes, and Howzer and Brambley for completing their Single Engine phases. Also a general good luck to CP39 at Bristol and Silsoe. Lucky buggers for being back in England! Counting down the days myself now… bring on 1st March!


For anyone still remotely interested, it’s back online. I’ll start updating it again soon-ish. For those of you who haven’t visited before and have found your way here via Google – and I know there will be some, because of the e-mails I’ve received in the past – I hope the entries about my flight training course are useful and informative. Over the next few weeks I will bring it up to date with what’s actually happened since I gained my CPL/IR in January 2008 and qualified on the Airbus the following May.

Enjoy reading.


Any views expressed anywhere in this blog are those of mine, and mine alone.

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