Odds and Ends #20: Happy Foxing Day
Plus car park numbering news, a Novichok road trip and more mind-blowing AI
Hello! I hope everyone had a relaxing Christmas. I certainly did. But because content never sleeps, it’s time for Odds and Ends, your mini newsletter-within-a-newsletter, rounding up interesting links and other stray observations.
And in tribute to the other big festival, Foxing Day, I’m writing this while wearing my partner’s kimono and sending almost unimaginably pompous tweets. (If you’re baffled by the image above then you're in for a very, very funny treat.)
Anyway, this week we’ve got something of a festive special, in the sense that some of the items below have a slightly unnerving resemblance to a Christmas “round robin” letter given the mentions of my family. But I’ve done my best to make it not completely unbearable.
So let’s get into it.
Important parking categorisation update
At the end of November, I issued a challenge to readers of this newsletter to wade in on an important piece of digital infrastructure that is currently in development.
Simply put, the Department for Transport is currently working on building a “National Parking Platform” that once it has launched will make finding and paying for parking spaces much easier (you can read more here). But to make it work, every single car park in the country will need to be allocated a unique ID number.
It’s with this dilemma that a friend of mine who works in the parking industry got in touch, to ask if my readers – an elite group of general-purpose nerds – can figure out the best way to allocate the numbers.
Brilliantly, you all very much stepped up. Check out the comments page, which is packed with detailed ideas and careful debate about the best way to do it. And it turns out when readers of Odds and Ends of History speak, those in power listen.
Here’s an update that my ‘Parking Friend’ sent me on how it was received by some of the actual people involved in making the decision.
Parking Friend wanted to say thank you to everyone who gave their thoughts about the new national system of parking codes. For those that didn’t read the full run of comments, there was a highly educated debate between the benefits of having longer codes that could tell you useful things about a parking lot (e.g. whether it offered EV charging) and those that wanted rigorous purity of the key identifier (to ensure the system was robust and didn’t need to change).
This not-a-consultation started a lot of conversation amongst the people making the decision. On the one side, there were those who wanted something with a treasure-trove of hidden information and easter eggs; on the other, people who felt this was all a bit of a 1960s question. It ended with the team realising that you could have both: short, unique codes; but also provide useful information about the site through linked information or on-site notices/icons/signs. And something like that should be hitting the roads next year.
Other points that were particularly appreciated:
The idea that neighbouring locations definitely should not have consecutive numbers
The possibility of a checksum digit
Suggestions about other systems of ID (especially international ones) that you could link up with behind the scenes
Parking Friend admitted he didn't quite know what might come back from the substack on this. His assessment now is "a lot more use than a team of consultants, and a damned sight quicker."
So thank you for helping to make a tiny piece of the country slightly less frustrating!
So that’s incredible work, readers! If you commented, then your words may have directly helped design the new system. And if anyone out there reading has a similar, ultra-niche problem in this sort of vein they’d like to share, I’d love to write about it and set my readers on it. So get in touch!
A road trip to Salisbury (and a little Keir Starmer tourism)
When my partner and I go on holiday, we don’t tend to go to the beach. Instead, we like to visit places with a little – but not too much – geopolitical intrigue1.