Bus Times

It started when I was a graduand. Needing something to fill the gaps between dark nights of the soul and job applications, I did what anyone would do and made something with open data.

Great Britain publishes some impressively comprehensive public transport data. It’s not perfect – the TransXChange format is the last word in steaming architectural astronautery – but it’s vastly better than nothing.1 So I made what I called bustimes.org.uk2, although for some months there were no actual times – an oversight for which I deservedly received short shrift.

https://t.co/57xy4EThUM is a profound act of trolling. Immense detail on many bus services, street view, maps… but no times.

— David H 🐚 Rezzed 🔜 A Maze (@nachimir) 6 December 2015

Gradually, emails calling me a worthless, time-wasting prick encouraged me to develop new features, and I must say abusive email–driven development is as fine a methodology as any.

People kept finding and using the thing. In a time of brittle single-page web apps (like the one whose address is printed on every bus stop in the land), building an old-fashioned progressively enhanced website – everything having its own cool URL, accessible to search engine crawlers and mobile telephones – is a revolutionary act. And horrible programmatic advertising3 can actually be lucrative – well, it’s much more money than I deserve.

At some point, I added a contact form. And oh, in came the emails: I was no longer a worthless, time-wasting prick, but apparently I was the person to ask about lost property and to answer complaints about bus services. I’ve since added some words explaining that I’m not, and contact details for most bus operating companies, but nobody reads anything on the web.

And so here I am. Almost three years later, it’s a fine specimen of what insufferable jerks call a “lifestyle business”, a “passive income”, ugh, although I inexplicably maintain a time-zombie full-time corporate stooge job as well. March was the most successful month ever, as a cold wave disrupted transport and I found myself complicit in “disaster capitalism”.

What next? Development will continue. The entire history of everything is needlessly preseved on GitHub (here’s a link to the first commits).


  1. Here’s a good explanation of why it matters, and how impressive it is.

  2. I bought bustimes.org – which used to house a similar cool independent website – at the end of last year, from some sort of domain name squatter. I had international expansion on my greedy mind. There was a sobering dip in traffic when I moved from .org.uk to .org – it’s a modern parable – but things have picked back up now.

  3. I fear that a lot of the money comes from advertising contemptible adware, “potentially unwanted programs”. Rome2rio piously blocked MyTransitGuide – an eminent PUP, bizarrely published by a company with Chelsea Clinton on its board – but there must be dozens of different ones, and Google’s tools for blocking them are inadequate. So I spinelessly take the money.

Index of /

“Open Directories Are the Only Interesting Places Left on the Internet”, writes Jason Koebler at Motherboard. That’s a needlessly provocative headline, but it’s a fair point. Searching with your favourite search engine for “index of” “parent directory” and something apposite is often a good way to surface lists of interesting files.

But it reminds me: perhaps the clearest sign of something being good is when unpleasant people start to exploit it for selfish reasons. So it is with directory listings.

I could speak from personal experience, but instead here’s a Boards of Canada fan posting on a forum about coming across what appeared to be an Aladdin’s cave of rare tracks, but was in fact a fake listing generated using the MusicBrainz database to trick people into completing “offers” (enter a thoroughly dubious competition or survey – give your details to some spammers).

Who’s behind these sites? Is it like the Macedonian fake news complex? Do they make much money? A key question for them must be “how do you sleep at night?” Yet I can’t help but admire their plucky entrepreneurialism.

The doyen of the fake “index of MP3” game was surely wallywashis.name, which no longer appears to exist – but there are others left, like unknownsecret.info. They’re all a bit different, but share these rather brilliant terms and conditions:

You must brush your teeth and floss at least twice daily.

You agree to reject critical thought by condemning it as the realm of conspiracy theorists and cranks.

You must not harbor expectations of downloading mp3 content from this site.

(I can’t really do it justice just by quoting excerpts. Seek out the whole thing yourself.)

The webmaster may ask for collateral in the form of your first born child as a sign of good faith before permitting you to use this website.

Ye gods, the “Herod clause” is real.

I think all of the writing is a beautiful work of art, subtly hinting that the thing is a scam.

Our most successful users gladly enter their personal details into our advertiser’s surveys. They enjoy our advertisements on their own terms.

Successful users of this site will experience the unexpected.

sirens.rocks:

DO NOT CONTACT US

We are minerals. You will be ignored.

We can not help you reach the sirens. This site only pertains to their rocky perch.

11 responses to the New York Times headline ‘Bulletproof, Slow and Full of Wine: Kim Jong-un’s Mystery Train’

"Bulletproof, Slow and Full of Wine” is also the title of my autobiography https://t.co/JthIHU4sY5

— Amy Fiscus (@amyfiscus) 27 March 2018

Bulletproof, slow, and full of wine sounds like my superhero alter-ego https://t.co/MOjuGzZxqx

— Jennifer Ko (@JnestorKo) 27 March 2018

Based on this headline, I have more things in common with Kim Jong-Un’s train than I realizedhttps://t.co/RzEjq4PJez

— Amy 🐳n (@AmyKWhalen) 27 March 2018

Good morning I go by the name Mystery Train now because I too am bulletproof, slow, and full of wine. Thank you Kim pic.twitter.com/45vc0bOePF

— maitane romagosa (@muhtawnee) 27 March 2018

Same, tbh. (Well, two out of three.) | Bulletproof, Slow and Full of Wine: Kim Jong-un’s Mystery Train https://t.co/tTWvewQB3Z

— S (@vidiot_) 27 March 2018

Incidentally I check off two out of these three boxes:
Bulletproof, Slow and Full of Wine: Kim Jong-un’s Mystery Train https://t.co/Q3j3PSEAwi

— Matt (@TVnewsMatt) 27 March 2018

‘Bulletproof, Slow and Full of Wine’ also describes Kim Jong-Un himself fairly well. https://t.co/4ivEgVuPZ1

— 𝕏𝕖𝕟𝕚 𝕁𝕒𝕣𝕕𝕚𝕟 (@xeni) 27 March 2018

Incidentally, "bulletproof, slow, and full of wine" is the subtitle of my upcoming autobiography.

— 90's Tote Bag Richardson Vape Foodie Pour Over (@johnnycrich) 27 March 2018

“Bulletproof, Slow and Full of Wine” has long been my favorite outtake from the Let It Bleed sessions. https://t.co/WHpL3pUDzS

— William Gibson (@GreatDismal) 27 March 2018

Me. After enough wine, that is.

— Carl James (@carldjames) 27 March 2018

Also one of Cole Porter's lesser known, and liked, works.

— Nick Childs (@npchilds) 27 March 2018

If you’d like to join in, I think there’s room for an “I like my … how I like my …” in there somewhere.

Trousers II

After I last mentioned trousers, who knew I’d return to the subject so quickly? Certainly not I.

But then, who knew there’d be so many goings-on in such a short space of time?

First, an upsetting development regarding my Hiut jeans. A sort of hole has opened up around what might be called the “seat of the pants” area. This could be used as evidence for some cojones-based flattery, but the more pedestrian story is that I ride a bicycle quite a lot.

There is this on the Hiut Denim Co website:

We stand by what we make. And keep standing by it even when things go wrong. That’s why we offer a free repairs policy for life on our jeans.

Brilliant! But:

We can’t offer this service on the Tech Jean as it can’t be darned liked a pair of jeans can.

My jeans are a Tech Jean. Oh well, fair enough I suppose. Now, some bloggers would probably try to argue about semantics – what is a pair of jeans? – there’s the word “jean” in “Tech Jean”, right? – but that wouldn’t really befit my brand. If it can’t be darned, it can’t be darned. (Maybe the word “tech” is an allusion to contemporary consumer electronic products, which are difficult to repair. Ooh.)

The other thing: Harpers BAZAAR reports:

Meghan Markle’s influence is being felt in full force by one Welsh company, who have skyrocketed to fame thanks to the Suits star.

Markle wore a pair of Hiut denim jeans during her official visit to Cardiff and, according to the company’s co-founder, the brand has not been the same ever since.

The only possible explanation is that this blog has an acolyte embedded deep within the palace. Hello, acolyte! What’s more, I think it adds to the growing body of evidence that the royal family is irrelevant, and blogging is much more relevant. The famous actor’s with-fiancée trip to Cardiff was back in January, months before I wrote anything, but I don’t really understand what difference that makes.

🚽

What I learned on the web this week:

  1. Pissing Match: Is the World Ready for the Waterless Urinal? (2011):

    [James] Krug is an unusual entrepreneur. Twenty years ago, he was a rising star in the film and television business. […] But 11 years ago, Krug became convinced that the world did not need another TV show. What it needed was a better urinal.

  2. :

    Major [Seattle] City Hall Scoop: The flushless urinals are corroding the pipes and must be replaced with old fashion[ed] flushing urinals. Dudes: You need to hydrate more so your pee isn’t so destructive.

    Apparently this isn’t a new problem. Non-flushing urinals are fine if the pipes are made from materials other than copper, which resist corrosion better. But sometimes building regulations stipulate copper pipes. I’m not curious enough to find out what Seattle City Hall’s pipes are made of.

  3. China’s New Frontiers in Dystopian Tech:

    Dystopia starts with 23.6 inches [60 centimetres] of toilet paper. That’s how much the dispensers at the entrance of the public restrooms at Beijing’s Temple of Heaven dole out in a program involving facial-recognition scanners—part of the president’s “Toilet Revolution,” which seeks to modernize public toilets. Want more? Forget it. If you go back to the scanner before nine minutes are up, it will recognize you and issue this terse refusal: “Please try again later.”

Cook Suck

“Internet food police” Cook Suck is good fun. I’ll keenly defend people’s right to eat whatever sub-diarrhoea terrible food they like, and even to publish photographic evidence inexplicably on Facebook – but Cook Suck writes very well about it when they do.

A quirk – well, apparently, a long-standing feature – of Unix graphical environments is being able to copy and paste text by some surprising combination of selecting text and clicking the middle mouse button. If you ever mindlessly select text while reading, are a fan of scrolling with a scroll wheel (who isn’t?), and are generally some kind of neophyte, this makes it all to easy to do accidentally. And so it was that I accidentally pasted one of Cook Suck’s profane outbursts into a collaborative Google Doc a few years ago.

Cool story.

Loyd Grossman follows me on Instagram, which is my one interesting fact about Instagram. (“Loyd Grossman” here means the actual former Masterchef and Jet Bronx & The Forbidden frontman, and not the brand of cooking sauces named in his honour.) More to the point, I follow him, and the steady mixture of art and gastronomy is excellent value. When the subject is edible, the captions inevitably contain adjectives like exemplary, superb, outstanding, and sensational. There’s an opportunity, there, for some data science (well, maybe just a Wordle) and/or some machine learning (well, maybe just a Markov chain).

The adjectives are well-warranted, as Grossman goes to some nice restaurants, and the pictures – like frankly everything I’m shown by Instagram’s algorithmic timeline – look delicious. Curiously, there’s never any sauce from a jar – and that’s OK! I can actually look at a picture of some sorrel dressing without my own life seeming bland by comparison. Even though it is.

For maximal self-esteem, it’s definitely good to laugh at people – presumably privileged people – who do silly things. American Exchange Students in Italy Start Fire by Cooking Pasta Without Water:

Due to an error in translation, a previous version of this article erroneously stated that the firefighters comforted the students by claiming that they didn’t know how to make pasta, either. This was not the case and we regret the error.

Aspirational trousers

So, this is how it works in the era of influencer marketing in the engagement economy. Some elder bloggers – who I trust aren’t in the pocket of Big Trouser – blat about Hiut Denim, which is a nice brand of trousers made in Wales. Later, I, in possession of some money and in want of something to conceal my legs, remembered this and bought some.

The most echt artisanal trousers are surely made of selvedge denim. Whereas many mass-market trouser merchants sell stonewashed jeans in various states of distress1, Hiut and others revolutionarily offer actual brand new clothes and invite you to distress them yourself. The most committed disgusting raw denim users will forego washing their jeans for months at a time, in favour of putting them in the freezer, to make the distress as personalised as possible. Perhaps this is a case of the IKEA effect, “a cognitive bias in which consumers place a disproportionately high value on products they partially created”.2

I didn’t buy that sort of trouser – too predictable. Instead, a high-tech blend of stretchy fabric. Slightly tight – a style once favoured by Tony Blair – but no one has the courage to tell me to my face that my kecks make me look like a war criminal, so it’s OK. “Great to ride your bike into work, it’s quick drying, but in the office they just look like a great black jean,” blethers the marketing copy, which is quite right.

Months later, it seemed time to expand the trouser collection with something different: cheap, flappy and made of cotton. Summertime trousers. But disaster struck: on practically their first outing, I trousered my mobile phone, before nonchalantly sitting down near some aphsalt … you can guess what happened next. The trousers had seemed cheap, but the shallow pockets quickly made it a false economy. It’s a modern parable.

I kept a lookout for aspirational garb. Of course, I’m abreast of the exciting New York “underground fashion label for nerds” Outlierthere’s a long Wired article that probably isn’t worth reading – but, the last time I considered it, shipping a military-inspired poncho across the pond just didn’t seem worth it.3 Instead, doesn’t someone make something similar in this country, I thought.

Someone suggested Finisterre, whose products are slightly targeted at people who surf. I’ve never surfed, but I can speak favourably about the slightly itchy short-sleeved woollen base layer, and nice socks, that I bought. Also, some trousers, which were the wrong size (my fault) but the return process was wonderfully hassle-free. Their commitment to sustainability isn’t bullshit, which is nice.

The last trousers I bought were from the venture capital–backed corporate stooges Spoke. Again with the technical fabric aimed at bicyclists – less stretchy and a bit more water-repellent than the stuff of the Hiut jeans, but – let me be clear – still not so water-repellent that actual waterproof trousers aren’t needed on top in the rain. They’re innovative trousers, with a fold-out reflective bit, and an extra zipped pocket inside the right-hand side pockets. The one snag is literally snagging one’s hand on that pocket’s zip (after leaving the zip unzipped and forgetting about it) – but such is the agony and ecstasy of high-quality trousers.


  1. Adding a message to your trousers: in the 2011 BBC Three documentary Secrets of the Superbrands: Fashion – which contains lines like “That says ‘crankshafts’ in Japanese. That’s amazing isn’t it?” – children’s presenter Alex Riley went to India to meet a “philosopher of denim” whose vocation is using power tools, bleach etc to fuck up trousers.

  2. See also: the (disproven) theory that instant cake mixes “sold poorly until one food company decided to require the addition of a fresh egg to their product”.

  3. Maybe I will change my mind. Cotton Bureau’s “Blank” T-shirts are the best T-shirts I’ve worn in all my years of wearing T-shirts – well worth the hassle of international shipping.

‘Can someone explain why BBC One is covered in CSS?’

The BBC has a pair of new bespoke typefaces, Reith Sans and Reith Serif. They’re quite nice.

I’m surprised that no private media organisations have “slammed” the “feckless corporation” for “staggering waste” over this. Or even just taken the piss out of some of the language in the Global Experience Language guidelines, which can be an open goal sometimes. Of course, some say they could have made do with something free from Google. The BBC behemoth must be cut down to size! Actually, the BBC expects to save money compared to licensing off-the-peg typefaces like Gill Sans – so there.

So far, only BBC Sport is using the new fonts. BBC Weather isn’t, despite having been mucked around with1 more recently. We’ll just have to wait.


Searching Twitter for stuff about that, I found something completely different:

Anyone know what causes this? Only on @BBCOne and @BBCTwo. Can't seem to get it to go away. Looks like code of some type. pic.twitter.com/QVODzsJ7cD

— David Jones (@schnuckster) 19 February 2018

What.

CSS is love, CSS is life.

On a more serious note, can someone explain why BBC 1 is covered in CSS? pic.twitter.com/Nv3wQPKFmA

— Adam Brown (@ouchadam) 26 February 2018

The fuck.

The pictures show some minified cascading style sheets, obscuring an FA Cup match, Only Connect, and some other programme a week later. Let me be clear: this is not one of the quite interesting usual examples of source code in TV and films. This isn’t supposed to relate to the plot of the fifth round of the FA Cup. This is, surely, a bug.

Some of the styles in there mention Reith Sans, so we can assume the CSS was written by the BBC. The big flat screen in the bottom image has a Panasonic logo on it, and the other user says he has a Panasonic Blu-ray player which seems to be implicated. It’s known that these modern smart TVs all use bastardised web browsers so cross-platform experiences can be more easily shovelled across platforms. I guess there’s a missing </style> tag somewhere. Apart from that, I have no idea.

It’s an accurate observation that incident reports can be well-written and useful. I would be fascinated to read an incident report about whatever’s happened here.

Update: I missed this other tweet:

Some very unusual HTML / CSS style code appearing across the screen on @BBC channels on @FreeviewTV on @panasonic TV. pic.twitter.com/w2aPlCsbEJ

— Jonny McGuigan (@jonnymcguigan) 26 January 2018

To which a reply suggests the issue is fixed by a downloadable software update … which is thin gruel to anyone without an internet connection, or who hasn’t bothered to connect their television set to the internet.

Somehow I also missed the coverage in the Grimsby Telegraph: The strange Matrix-style coding suddenly appearing on TV sets - and how to fix it. Here’s a forum thread about the phenomenon. a516digital says the problem lies with the BBC’s new HbbTV service – HbbTV being a European standard for “hybrid digital TV”.


  1. “People aren’t happy with the BBC’s big weather redesign” is the most predictable headline. Oh dear. But one crumb of compensation: the northern bit of the landmass now looks proportionately bigger, to the delight of people who live there.

Is a robot DJ working for Morrisons the person with the best music taste in the country?

The beleaguered supermarket Morrisons has attracted attention – well, my attention – by actually playing bearable music in its shops.1 It’s not even just Van Morrison, Morrissey, and, uh, Maurice Gibb.

I don’t know why this re-occurred to be the other day, but it did. I remember one particular occasion when I even used my mobile telephone to, well, I believe the verb is “to Shazam”.

It was in the Acomb branch, I remember. My Google Play Sound Search history suggests that it was A Long Time by Mayer Hawthorne, and it was in June 2015. I can’t find a record of a card transaction in my bank account, but it’s a safe bet that I bought some potato fardels.

Cool story, bro.

Well, serendipitiously, the Co-op’s must-read newsletter just linked to this, from 2015, by Ava Szajna-Hopgood at Gizmodo UK: The Person With the Best Music Taste in the Country is a Robot DJ Working for Morrisons. So now we know.


  1. I should also single out Norwich Bus Station for praise in this regard. Well done, Norwich Bus Station.

CHEAPER to fly to SPAIN?

The Daily Mail reports:

Two friends living in Newcastle and Birmingham met up in Malaga because it was cheaper to fly to SPAIN than getting the train to see each other

The Sun:

Two pals living in Newcastle and Birmingham flew to Malaga for a catch up because it was £25 CHEAPER than a UK train

I could list all the other august publications that have picked up the story: the Daily Star, Metro, indy100, Stuff.co.nz, the Mirror and the Telegraph. Oh, I have done now. Well done to the sort of PR agency responsible – excellent work! (I think the Mail’s piece might be the best, because they’ve gone to the effort of making an annotated map.)

From all that journalism, you’d think it were cheaper to fly to Spain than to get a train from Newcastle to Birmingham. But is it?

Certainly, you can fly to Malaga from Birmingham and Newcastle as cheaply as the press releases suggest: £75.27 for the two return journeys, apparently. Airlines’ crazy yield management pricing means you do have to be cunning and flexible about when you travel – if you need to go somewhere at a peak time, you’ll have to pay a lot more – and you have to studiously avoid accidentally reserving a seat or buying travel insurance on the Ryanair website – but maybe that’s OK.

But is going by train really that expensive? I cynically assumed the £105 price quoted must apply to a stupid walk-up “anytime” ticket. If you book in advance – which is a bit fiddly, but no harder than jumping through hoops to get a cheap flight – it’s much cheaper, right? Actually, no: the cheapest return fare I could find from Newcastle to Birmingham was indeed £105.80 for two inflexible advance singles.

If you have a railcard, the cost drops to £69.80. But that’s no help if you’re travelling alone and are neither “senior”, nor disabled, nor in the armed forces, nor aged 16–25. Even if the conventionally attractive 27-year-old Newcastle resident had bought a three-year 16–25 railcard on the day before her 24th birthday, she’d now be too old to use it.

So here I am with egg on my face. I’d hoped to expose some lazy and inaccurate journalism, but actually Viscount Rothermere was telling the truth.

But, but, but – what about buses?

You can go on a Megabus coach between Newcastle and Birmingham for about £7 each way. If you’re offended by the garish colours and the mascot who looks like Dara Ó Briain, there are National Express coaches, too (but they’re more expensive). The journey takes a long time, but because only one person needs to do it – in contrast to two people flying to Spain – it works out at the same number of person-hours. And I’ve charitably not considered the time spent waiting around in airports.

There’s also the small matter of carbon dioxide. I’ve included some back-of-a-fag-packet numbers in this table. They’re a bit less dramatic than the person on Twitter’s – I think the distances he used are based on trains going as the crow flies, which they don’t – but the differences are still clear.

 Flights to MalagaTrain to BirminghamCoach to B’ham
Price£75£105£14
Travel time6 hours × 2 people6½ hours × 1 person12 hours × 1 person
CO₂670kg30kg20kg?

So it’s complicated. Megabus is definitely a competitive option, but doesn’t make for a very glamorous newspaper article. It is a bit nuts and surprising that flying to Spain isn’t such a bad idea.

Of course, the Brexit effect means flying to Spain will probably become more costly and difficult – and the bus will become relatively more attractive. Thanks in part to some lies written on the side of a bus.