All posts by Richard

LGBT films on the Watford Big Screen

An open letter sent to the Major of Watford:

In past years Watford Borough Council have ran a big screen on the parade. This is a really nice initiative to bring together the community.

I am writing to ask that if the Big Screen is to return to Watford this summer that the showing of an LGBT film is considered. I realise that the majority of films shown are popular and family friendly, although an LGBT film might not be as popular there are many family friendly LGBT films ( ).

The reason I feel it would be good to include such a film is because being LGBT is not a persons choice; they might be with family or friends who don’t really understand it or be accepting of it, as such an LGBT person can feel very isolated. Studies have shown that between 30 and 40% of LGBT people have attempted suicide which is vastly higher than from the non-LGBT population ( ). As such I feel that it is important for us, as a community, to visually show our open, accepting and supportive side and small acts, such as showing an LGBT film, would be one such step in this direction.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this and if I can be of any help then please just let me know.



Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey trains are over priced

From Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey there are six stops (St Albans Abbey, Park Street, How Wood, Bricket Wood, Garston, Watford North & Watford Junction).  The sum of the distances between these stations totals 10.1 km.  I looked at all of the London Midland network and identified the following routes with the same number of stops and a similar distance and compared their price of a single off peak ticket.

  • Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey, six stops 10.1 km 18 min £5.10 = £0.50/km
  • Lidlington to Bletchley, six stops 13.4 km 23 min £4.50 = £0.34/km
  • Birmingham Moor Street to Solihull, six stops 10.5 km 11 min £3.50 = £0.33/km
  • Birmingham New Street to Northfield, six stops 10.5 km 18 min £3.30 = £0.31/km
  • Birmingham New Street to Coseley, six stops 14.9 km 13 min £4.30 = £0.29/km
  • Shenstone to Chester Road, six stops 11.8km 15 min £3.40 = £0.29/km
  • Danzey to Shirley, six stops 10.3 km 17 min £2.80 = £0.27/km
  • Birmingham New Street to Bloxwich, six stops 19.3 km 31 min £4.00 = £0.21/km

As you can see Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey is the most expensive base on price and price per km.  In fact the price per km nearly 50% more than the second most costly journey per km. Based on the other routes the price for Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey should be in the range £2.10 to £3.41 with an average of £2.91, not the £5.10 which it currently is.

One thing to note is that Lidlington to Bletchley is on the Bletchley to Bedford branch line which makes it very similar to the Abbey line – so why is it so much cheaper even though the distance is further?

One final note is that Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey is about the same distance as Wembley Central Rail Station to London Euston Rail Station (which is 11.6 km) and on Oyster this journey costs £2.80 off peak.

Living medical donations while working – Organ Donors (Leave) Ten Minute Rule Motion

Back in July 2016 I was proud to highlight the issue of living medical donations from people while working, see the previous post.

Living medical donations while working

The result from this was 2,292 signatures on the government petition
“Living medical donors (e.g. kidney) should be eligible for statutory sick pay” and in addition to this Louise Haigh MP for Sheffield, Heeley raised a Ten Minute Rule Motion for Organ Donors (Leave) which today was read in the House of Commons.


The speech highlighted the amazing work which is going in to promoting donations after death but with donor levels so low we should do everything we can to support living donors.

We are already chronically short of donors and we should be breaking down every conceivable barrier put in the way of these potential life savers.  Recovery time can often be long for living organ donors and they should be able to concentrate on getting back to normal, not rush back to work because they are unable to afford the time off or fearful that their job may be at risk.

Young people, in particular, will be fearful that if they take as much as the recommended 12 weeks off work, they may be disadvantaged and this will put off many of the most healthy from becoming a living organ donor. My Bill will send a clear signal that if you are prepared to give an organ to save a life, the law will back you up every step of the way.

You can find the full text here.  Following unanimous support the bill will go to a second reading on 20th January.


Increasing the frequency of the Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey train

There has been talk about increasing the frequency of the Watford and St Albans Abbey trains from their current frequency of every 43 to 60 minutes to every half an hour.  Hertfordshire County Council did an investigation into the costs of installing the frequency to every 30 minutes however the proposal estimates the cost to be around £15-35m.  However there is a way that we could get close to the same performance without any expenditure on a passing loop.

It would be possible to increase the frequency of the trains from Watford to St Albans, and back again, to ever 30 minutes with no infrastructure investment if we make one assumption – that people are happy to get off the train and back on another train – bare with me….

St Albans Abbey Line

Using the existing train timetable to use for the time between each station.  The vast majority of these times are the same all day – the only exceptions being that sometimes trains wait for 5 or 6 minutes at St Albans Abbey before returning and the trains at Watford Junction wait between 6 and 23 minutes before leaving.  To make the math simple I will assume that we wait 6 minutes at both St Albans and Watford Junction stations.

The Hertfordshire County Council proposal was to put a passing loop at Bricket Wood which is 8 minutes from both Watford Junction and from St Albans Abbey.  In this example instead of their being a passing loop one of the trains, we will call Train A, will arrive at Bricket Wood before the other train, Train B – Train A it will terminate at Bricket Wood station after everyone has disembarked.  It will then pull out of the station before Train B arrives, Train B will also terminate at Bricket Wood but will immediately pick up passengers to take them in the reverse direction.  Once Train B has departed Train A will return to collect the passengers looking to complete the remainder of the journey.

The following diagram shows an example with Train A being shown in red and Train B being shown in green.  It should be noted that Train A and Train B will alternate each time because of the train leaving from Bricket Wood earlier the previous time.

St Albans Abbey get of proposal

To be able to turn around a train at Bricket Wood, get it out of the station so the other train can come in then turn the train around again to turn it around a third time there are two variables.  Firstly how long it takes for the train crew to swap over and secondly how long it takes the train to move away from the platform.  To keep things simple we will assume that we can move the train out of the station in 1 minute and back in in 1 minute as well.

The second time, the time it takes the train to turn around (i.e. the train crew to swap ends of the train), this is unknown.  We know that they can do this at St Albans in 5 minutes – but is this 5 minutes also used as a buffer in case the train is delayed?  As such we will look at how the turn around time impacts the average journey duration from Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey where the journey duration is the average time to wait for a train (aka half of the waiting duration) plus the train journey duration.


(you can see the spreadsheet with the details here in case I’ve made a mistake)

Here we can see if the train turn around time exceeds two minutes then the average journey duration is no better than it is currently of 37 minutes.  If it were possible for the train driver to turn the train around instantly (perhaps because he can drive the train backwards) then the average journey time drops to 28 minutes – which is not far from the 26 minutes which would be achievable if there was a passing loop all without the required £15-35m just with an extra train and passengers happy to briefly get off the train at Bricket Wood – perhaps someone selling coffee on the platform would make them suitably happy for the minor inconvenience.

To highlight, I don’t think this is an end solution to the problem but it might be a good next step so we can increase the frequency of the trains with no major costs and then at a later stage a passing loop could be installed to allow the trains to run directly through and thus removing the swapping over half way.

Save money by not using an Oyster Card, a paper ticket with a Railcard is cheaper

We have always been told that traveling with Oyster is cheaper, but the key words in their adverts are “single journey”.


If you need a Zone 1-6, 1-9 1-9+ Watford Junction, Broxbourne, Hertford East or Shenfield then traveling by Oyster is not cheaper if you make (generally) make more than a journey from the end of the line to Zone 1 and back again Off Peak.


A journey from Watford Junction to a station in Zone 1 is £6.50, so a return (£13.00) would already exceed the reduced Travelcard fare (£11.50) with the Railcard discount but would not hit the cap without it.  A journey from Zone 9 to Zone 1 is £4.10 so you would start saving after your second journey.


You can load 16-25, Senior, HM Forces or Disabled Persons Railcard onto your Oyster but not Two Together Railcard, Family & Friends Railcard or Network Railcard.  It is easy to understand why Two Together Railcard and Family & Friends Railcard can not be easily applied to Oyster automatically because this covers more than one person but I find it impossible to fathom why they don’t allow Network Railcards to be used.

The London Airport

With the government procrastinating to make any decision after the publication of the Airports Commission: Final Report it seems that there is no apatite for airport expansion by the government.  This is an important issue as highlighted in the report.

At the end of this extensive work programme our conclusions are clear and unanimous. While London remains a well-connected city its airports are showing unambiguous signs of strain. Heathrow is operating at capacity, and Gatwick is quickly approaching the same point. There is still spare capacity elsewhere in the South East for point-to-point and especially low-cost flights, but with no availability at its main hub airport London is beginning to find that new routes to important long-haul destinations are set up elsewhere in Europe rather than in the UK. Other UK airports are increasingly squeezed out of Heathrow, with passengers from the nations and regions obliged to transfer through other European airports, or Middle Eastern hubs. That costs them time and money, and is offputting to inward investors. Without action soon the position will continue to deteriorate, and the entire London system will be full by 2040.

There is, however, an option which the report did not consider – instead of building a new runway why don’t we better connect the ones we have?

A high speed train line linking Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton, Stansted and Southend such that passengers could land at Gatwick and catch a connecting flight from Stansted.  This sounds expensive, but in reality an elevated train line could run most of the route above the M23 and M25 and costs could be further reduces by utilising existing train services from Redhill (to get to Gatwick), St Albans (to get to Luton), Cheshunt (to get to Stansted) and Brentwood (to get to Southend Airport) – though there are some benefits of an airport express service connecting all (or some) of the airports.

The advantage of the airports being connected is that baggage could be transported between airports as well meaning that people would not need to collect their baggage for a connecting flight from a different airport – similar to the Hong Kong system where you can check in in the center of Hong Kong or at Kowloon Station and your baggage is then transported for you to the airport.  In the utopian version of this idea you could go to your closest airport and check in for your flight then take the train round to your actual departing airport, as such each airport now becomes like a terminal to each other – though the take up of this would be airline dependent.  This also has the possibility to transport freight between terminals as well, so that cargo arriving at one airport could easily leave through another.

There are two additional connections which add a very small detour which each add an extra airport.  Woking and Watford.  From Woking you can get to Southampton Airport and from Watford to Birmingham Airport, both Woking to Southampton Airport and Watford Junction to Birmingham International are less than an hours journey.  As well as allowing quick connections for people traveling to Manchester arriving into a London airport via Watford.

M25 Train

A high speed train in the UK can travel at 186mph, if we have the line follow the M23 and M5 it would be, theoretically possible, to get from Gatwick to Heathrow in about 13 minutes, to Luton in about 25 minutes, to Stansted in about 35 minutes and to Southend Airport in about 37 minutes.  So this would link together 7 runways within 40 min and 9 within 1 hour and 20 minutes.  These numbers are overly optimistic, since they do not allow time for people to change trains but with clever scheduling of services that would not add too much time to the journey.

By running the line above the existing motorways it means that we don’t need to buy any more land, we already occupy it.  The technology of elevated trains is nothing new. though based on other elevated trains it might be wise to employ some created architects to make it look amazing!! And much more like…

Nice Elevated Train

and less like…

Elevated Train

Sorry Seattle.

The advantages are:

  • No need to build any extra runway capacity
  • Increased runway utilisation of existing runways
  • Better for the environment (I’ll come back to this one)
  • No need to relocate anyone, the land is already used for public roads

Finally the environmental impact – if we assume that people have to fly the way we can reduce the impact of these people on the environment are by reducing the number of flights either by increasing the size of the plane or by reducing the number of flights to a given destination so that the remaining flights are fuller.  By having better connected airports the number of flights which people can access increases.

As an example there are 45 flights from London airports to Edinburgh on a Monday (randomly chosen day as an example).  12 of these fly from Heathrow and 8 from Gatwick.  If Heathrow and Gatwick were both better connected would all of these flights be needed?  I doubt it.  (The sad fact that flying to Edinburgh is usually cheaper than taking the train I will not dwell on, on this occasion).

BA Flights to Edinburugh

Another environmental improvement would be that if you could check in and drop your bags at your closest airport.  For those people who drive they will not have to drive so far and hopefully not at all by using other public transport.

It might seem a bit odd to be concerned about the environment when talking about air travel, surely this is a juxtaposition.  If a journey has to take place flying in a modern plane is as efficient as taking a very small car for the same journey – but things are moving fast in this area with airplane manufacturers  currently working towards fully electric flight.  As such in the future flying could be powered from renewable energy.

Anyway, lets go back to the train line… If we take this idea one step further and instead of just a single high speed line in each direction we also run a slower stopping line we would be able to provide a way for people to use this on a regular commuting basis – many people already commute using the M25 but they need to have a car as there is no viable train alternative.

Additionally another advantage would be to reduce the number of people who have to travel through the crowded central London network.  This will ease pressure on existing terminus stations and the connecting underground links which are already under strain.

As an example, people traveling from Oxford to Cambridge currently have to change from Paddington to Kings Cross via the underground.

Oxford to Cambridge train

If we include Gerrards Cross and Potters Bar then this line would connect the vast amount of train lines which leave London.

Train Connections

The elephant in the room is that expanding an airport is using private money and building railways is using public money.  Although the costs of an elevated train on already owned land will be cheaper than tunneling a train the costs of which are still likely to be substantial.  Additionally for the service to be as short as possible some of the selected stations do not have sufficient capacity so they will either need to be expanded or new stations build elsewhere allowing customers to transfer between lines.

This post is just to get people thinking, it might be viable or it might not but I do feel that the number of advantages show that this is an idea which should be discussed further.

Responsibilities of a team

The product owner, development team and scrum master have distinctly different roles.  The product owner is clearly the person responsible for building the right thing but sometimes the development team just think they are there to build what they are told – this is not the case at all, the development team has many more responsibilities such ensuring reliability, scalability, alerting, monitoring, and many more.  The scrum masters role is to remove impediments and to make sure the development team is able to work as fast as they can.  All three roles are responsible for the product being functionally appropriate, technically competent and delivered without delay.

Scrum responsibilities
Product Owner – Build the right thing; Development team – Build the thing right; Scrum Master – Build it fast. Everyone is responsible for the product.

AWS Lambdas Action Routing

I have been playing with AWS lambdas for a few weeks trying to create a project.  One of the complications which the standard approach to lambdas is that each handler is its own lambda.  This mean that for any shared models meed to go into a separate but for DAOs this is a little problem as you need to import AWS SDK into the separate project then exclude it before using it in your different lambda functions and it all gets a bit messy.

I have just come across a talk (included at the end).  Here he uses the AWS API gateway to append an action parameter to the JSON.  Using a little code within the app (here on GitHub) these requests are routed within the application to the relevant action to be performed.  This approach might not be best practice, as he highlights, but for a small prototype application this will allow applications to be developed much quicker and at a future stage it would be quite straight forward to split off the different Lambdas if the prototype is successful.

A poppy of remembrance for London

A letter to the Mayor of London

In 2014 the people of London were very moved by the “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” (aka the poppies at the Tower of London). These poppies represented the number of deaths between the start of the war and those up to 11 November 1914. This was an immensely powerful and though provoking installation and it was a shame when it went – though I can understand it would not have been possible to keep expanding it to cover all of the deaths which occurred until the end of the war in 1918 due to its size.

What I would like to propose is that to mark the centenary of the end of the 1st World War in 2018 that we install a series of red bricks within the pavement to draw out the extent with which the poppies from the Tower of London would have reached, had the installation continued to represent the people who died during the entire first world war. These red bricks would form the broad shape of a poppy when seen on a map. To me they would be something that would remind people about the huge number of people who were killed during the war in a way which is very accessible – since many people per day would walk over them.

I would be very interested to hear your thoughts.


Tower of London poppies to 1918

Bulgaria Web Summit 2016 : Managing for Happiness

This was actually the motivation for me to attend this conference, I am currently reading “Management 3.0” by Jurgen Appelo and so it was quite a surprise when I heard he was coming to Sofia.

With only 45 minutes he tried to cover a lot in a short time.

His executive summary:

  • Run experiments
  • Manage systems not people
  • Focus on progress not happiness

Where does management come from

manage (v.)
1560s, probably from Italian maneggiare “to handle,” especially “to control a horse,” ultimately from Latin noun manus “hand”. Influenced by French manège “horsemanship” (earliest English sense was of handling horses), which also was from Italian. Extended to other objects or business from 1570s.

The way we might have managed in the past might have worked well for people during the industrial revolution.  Now however people are increasingly working in a career with creativity at its core.  As such we need to rethink the way we do things and that is where Management 3.0 comes into play.

He then went on to give some fun example of when he invited some of his team to come round to his house and cook for him – I might try this one in the future when I have a few more people in the Sofia office.  The funny thing for me is it appears that everyone has heard of Jamie Oliver.

Learn about people, getting people to create a personal map of themselves.  This shows what a person is interested in.  But never get the person to speak about themselves, instead get others to ask questions.

He then quickly jumped on to delegation boards and poker.  Where for different things people have different levels of authority.

  1. Tell
  2. Sell
  3. Consult
  4. Agree
  5. Advise
  6. Inquire
  7. Delegate

One example of this would be that for expenses less than €500 an employee might be able to spend the money, but a manager might inquire what they spent it on.  For amount over that the employee must agree the spending with the manager first.  Not everyone might have the same level of authority, e.g. for a new starter they might have to agree on all purchases.

Happy people are more productive people.

12 Steps to Happiness v1.00 - Poster (color)

When your experimenting you are learning – you might fail and you might succeed but either way you will learn something.  As such not only should success be celebrated but so should learning.