Geoff Tennant - Promoting access to mathematics for all
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16/4/17: do I drive my car or does my car drive me?

A very happy Easter to all my readers as we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Bwana Yesu Kristu kafufuka, kafufuka kweli kweli, alleluia!  The Lord Jesus Christ is risen, He is risen indeed allelulia!
So, I've now been back in the UK for just over a week, very pleased to meet with old friends and new at the conference of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics, really good to give my paper, "Is good mathematics teaching a branch of geography?" and go to many others, picking up bits and pieces about such current topics as the pupil premium (ie. giving more money to schools for pupils from disadvantaged circumstances) and the changes to the curriculum, largely geared towards making things more challenging which is debatably a good thing to do.  Lots more still to uncover!
But one thing I've one is take delivery of my new car. New, that is, to me, actually second hand purchased with the help of my father (thanks, Dad!) and an excellent second hand car dealer, Mick Partlett, thoroughly recommend his services if you live in Witney or not too far away.

So, all very carefully set up in advance. A list of things I wanted - the Peugeot 208 / Ford Fiesta size, 5 door, manual, petrol, economy over performance, built in sat nav, preferably but not necessarily metallic dark gray.  Through the UK wide network of second hand dealers these requirements were exactly matched, including the dark gray which looks very smart (albeit after a week, some of which has been under a tree, it could do with a wash, and I don't now have the services of the keeper of the informal car park near the Cathedral in Dar es Salaam who would wash my car for me whilst the service was going on).

When I first arrived in Dar es Salaam I said that I would like a manual car, that being what I was used to, but in the end was very pleased to have an automatic.  Leaving aside the need for an automatic for reasons of disability, the key question to my mind is: how much time do you expect to spend in stop-start, urban traffic?  The greater that is, the stronger the logic for an automatic which greatly reduces the stresses and strains of that type of driving - and also gives one less thing to think about when trying to avoid cyclists, motorcyclists, bijajis and random pedestrians.  From the opposite point of view, I do like the additional control a manual gives when manoeuvring and on the open road, on balance, that is what I decided I wanted.  So when I went out in the car before completing the purchase with Mick in the passenger seat, what was supposed to be a try out for the car actually became an impromptu lesson in the mysteries of driving a manual.  I was able to remember to change from 1st to 2nd, but a whole number of times Mick said very gently, "You can go into 3rd now."  Quick check - yes, the engine is racing, the rev meter is in the red zone, I guess he's probably right.

What I hadn't realised until later is that there is a little indicator next to the speedometer which tries to tell me when to change gear.  Now, this makes no sense to me at all.  I could have bought an automatic, but instead chose to buy a manual so I decide when to change gear.  If I had wanted the car to tell me, I might as well have gone the full distance and got the automatic. Also, it seems to indicate a change before the engine to me sounds ready.  So, I get annoyed when I don't do what the car tells me and annoyed when I do.  Need to stop myself looking in that direction!

And I would say I really like the built in sat nav.  Some years ago, when working in Reading, I went with a colleague to a school near Birmingham, he drove and I took my stand alone sat nav, and it was my colleague who called my sat nav 'Margaret Thatcher' which seemed to fit - a stentorian humourless voice with clear diction barking out instructions.  Technology has since moved on, it is clearer, ,less obtrusive and adapts very quickly if I don't do exactly what I'm told, no, "Re-calculating" or, "Turn around when safe to do so" - at least not yet!

Meanwhile, it is in the nature of asking for some features, and buying a car for the first time in 17 years, that it has a whole load of features I didn't specifically ask for.  Perhaps the most useful one so far is the proximity detector when reversing, jolly good to get into small spaces without crashing into things.  But there are other things I am less convinced about.  'Hill start support' is one, which holds the car without the brake down for a couple of seconds.  I suppose I should be grateful for this, but I'm not I'm afraid.  Aren't hill starts an essential part of learning to drive?  If I went through this why shouldn't the next generation of drivers? (Actually a very bad argument that can be used to justify the continuation of anything that happened in a previous generation, eg. to name a particular hobby horse, the use of logarithms as a calculation tool in the days of calculators).   And isn't this yet another thing to go wrong?

Two things I've not yet tried out are the speed limiter and cruise control.  Maybe if you're going to spend a lot of time at the same speed limit a limiter can be useful, but aren't there situations where a little bit of acceleration is a good thing?  I know in principle how to over--ride it, but will I remember when having to think quickly?  And isn't there the danger with cruise control that I forget that I am, in fact, supposed to be driving?

We live at a time, of course, when driverless cars are already here and may well be appearing outside of controlled situations soon.  How do I explain to my 208 that it is not, in fact, a self-drive car, it does actually need me behind the steering wheel?  I mean, between the sat nav telling me where to go, being told when to change gear, when to stop reversing, cruise control and speed limiters and goodness knows what else, I'm wondering what it is that I'm left to do.  Meanwhile, I would say that the manual - and the on-board computer - are constantly throwing up warnings that these devices are there to help and support and that responsibility rests with me, the driver.

The trouble is, that's not how it feels - which is exactly why the warnings are necessary.  If we're not careful, what are supposed to be safety features end up being exactly the opposite, with responsibility for our actions being, apparently, taken away from us. What am I arguing for here exactly?  Not entirely sure.  It was good to hear yesterday in the news that sat navs and other features are to be allowed in driving tests, being tested according to what actually happens when we are driving does seem to make sense.  But it is up to all motorists to ensure that they are in charge of their vehicles, that the aids now available help and support and do not dictate.

Meanwhile, very pleased with my new car, enjoying it so far and look forward to keeping it for a good few years.  Moving back into my house this coming week, so may well be telling you about that soon!

4 Comments to 16/4/17: do I drive my car or does my car drive me?:

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Waruguru on 16 April 2017 08:01
Geoff, A fun read. Enjoy the car. Waruguru
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Geoff on 18 April 2017 03:27
Thank you, Waruguru, gear changes getting smoother - mostly! Trust you're well and very best wishes, Geoff

Mel Rowley on 19 April 2017 14:56
I can just hear you going through all of this little rant... especially over crispy duck and white wine!
Reply to comment
Geoff on 21 April 2017 02:20
Thank you, Mel, yes, some things don't change. Haven't done the duck for a while, and haven't made the chocolate mousse for ages, largely in deference to my need to keep the arteries that I have. Hope to see you soon, Geoff

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