Thursday, 29 March 2018

The mainstream news media is usually wrong. But it's the best we have.

The mainstream news media is usually wrong. We know this. Well, I do, anyway - because every single time I've read or heard an article that I had insider knowledge of (like I witnessed the event myself, for instance), the coverage has been woefully inaccurate or downright wrong. Every. Single. Time.

Not a scientific study, I realise, but the consistency of my experience leads me to believe that I cannot (or should not) treat any news report as gospel truth. It's just too unlikely to be right.

Enter the "new" news. Social media has spawned myriad dotcom news pages that the cynical and the conspiracy theorists love to share, because they appear to be the antidote to the dry, old and reputedly biased media. These pages, according to popular belief, are a breath of fresh air, telling us the truth behind the lies and blowing away the smoke and mirrors of the bastard political elite.

Bollocks.

I'm not talking about stupid memes that people share because they reflect their own political agenda. Those are all bollocks, but no. I mean serious sounding websites, usually with "art", "science" or "health" in the title, which purport to educate and inform. I have bad news for you...

Many, if not all of those articles are written by pillocks like me. For next to no money. With little or no regard for fact-checking or in fact anything except hitting the word count in the shortest possible time.

Back in the day when  was a bit desperate for cash, I would take any writing gig I could get, so I stumbled across these "agencies" that provide writing work to freelancers. You have to pass an infantile writing test and then, boom! The editor emailed me a list of subjects:

Deodorant - 800wds
Space Exploration - 700wds
Is the taxpayer footing the bill for the Royal Wedding? - 1000wds
The Large Hadron Collider turns up another new particle - 500wds
The world's banks are really run by the Rothschilds - 700wds
I made these up, but you get the picture...

You have about two days to write ten to twenty articles and you get paid a set amount for the lot, if and only if they all conform to a set of guidelines, which was a bigger document than the contracts for any of the books I've written! The point is that I know nothing about these subjects and just Google quickly and write them quicker still; I worked out that if I wrote as fast as I can I could earn about £3 per hour. The editor pastes the words in and the content goes out as informative material. But, with the best will in the world, it's crap.

The purpose of these articles is only to get you to the site and expose you to advertising. That is almost exactly the same business model as a newspaper, but the perpetrators do not care at all about accuracy when it comes to social media. If a few people rubbish the claims and start an argument that just means more exposure and more ad clicks.

If I was writing for The Independent or something, they'd only use me for work that I knew something about. Like kayaking. Or snow. These "agencies" would just send a list of seemingly random subjects to me and say "Do it."

I realised pretty quickly that I didn't want to do this work, but there are a lot of unemployed, stay-at-home parents, wannabe writers, or just desperate people who are still doing it. I suppose that by not sharing this nonsense on social media, we are potentially depriving people of their income, but for the greater good I suspect that perhaps we shouldn't.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Winter is, ahem... winter.

If one more person tells me that "Winter tyres make no difference on ice" or that "It's not worth buying winter tyres for three days a year!" I swear to you, I'll... well, I won't do anything, really. I'm already writing this strongly worded article on the subject, and that's about as aggressive as I get, frankly. But I do pride myself on smiling sweetly (most of the time), and saying 'Riggggghhhhttt..." when I feel like yelling "Are you a f*cking moron? Shut up!"

Still, people need to be disabused of their delusions sometimes, so here we go.

Winter tyres are for winter. They aren't special magic tyres for Arctic conditions. They are for winter - anytime the temperature is 7ºC or less, even on a dry road, you'll be much better off on winters. The tyres most Brits have on their cars are called "summer tyres". They aren't "normal tyres" or "road tyres", they are for summer, to maximise grip on warm road surfaces. And that means warm like Europe. I looked at the average max/min temperatures for Birmingham and conclude that we are better off on winter tyres October through May (inc) so if I could only afford one set of tyres, I'd be on winters year round.

Now, that ice thing. Here's a video:
If you get up to go to work or drive your kids, and it's slippy, or just damp, or it's 7ºC, your car will steer and stop a lot better on winter tyres. If you crash your insurance excess will be probably be more than those tyres would have been. But it's not about you. It's about not crashing into an innocent pedestrian, or damaging other peoples property. Or clogging up the roads so that the trucks (that might otherwise have managed just fine in the snow) can't get to the shops with MY food. Selfish, is what it is.

By the way, by winters I mean, actual winter tyres. As per the video, all-season tyres don't even come close. Neither do M+S (mud and snow) tyres, or the big chunky tyres that came with your 4x4. The latter two are strong in some conditions, but do not have the  general cold-weather stopping and steering performance of winter compounds.

So, four wheel drive. We need to talk about this. Four wheel drive can be a massive advantage in slippery conditions, or it can be a f*cking liability. If you're driving a Land Rover or 4x4 jeep or pickup truck like a Hilux then you are probably going to be doing better than most, even on shonky tyres. Same goes for a 4x4 car designed for rallying like the original Audi Quattro, the Mitzi Evo or Subaru Impreza, Lancia Delta Integrale, Sierra/Escort Cosworth, etc. Other 4x4's, not so much. Most of the other luxury 4x4's, the 4x4 SUV's and other random things, they don't have the right kind of technology for really slippy conditions. Basically if your 4x4 doesn't have the ability to lock (or seriously lim-slip) its diffs, including front to back, you're just going to get stuck the moment one wheel loses traction. Which is kind of worse than a two-wheel drive car.
A soft-roader, faux-by-four, or as a friend put it, "Four by f*uck-all"
We did an experiment with a highly rated 4x4 SUV on full winter tyres and it still couldn't make it up the road as far as my old Ford Transit could with RWD and no limited slip diff!

If you don't understand what the hell I'm talking about above then you probably don't have the right kind of 4x4 for the snow and ice.

Having said all that, here's a disclaimer: winter tyres mean more grip in cold dry weather, in cool damp conditions and in the snow, and on ice. They are not a brain transplant or a cloak of invincibility. Do not drive like a tw*t.

To recap, here's a short list of things that don't seem to work terribly well in the winter:

Summer tyres
All-season tyres
M+S tyres
4x4 SUV's
Driving fast
and the brains of non-snow-dwellers, apparently.