Sunday, 4 December 2016

Trainee Observer update 04.12.16

So today marked run number 6 for me as Trainee Observer. With Geoff James as Senior Observer on overwatch, Associate Mark Ball as our willing subject, we gathered at Thames on a lovely sunny early summer day.

The intent for the day was to walk thru the basics of IPSGA, with the focus being to check that positioning practice has paid off, then lead this into correct selection of gears. In essence a building blocks type of approach, brought on by Mark being a little cautious on the bendy stuff, which he quite freely admitted during the information gathering phase. So what better place to work on gear selection and bendy stuff than the lower section of the Coromandel Loop?

Rather pleasing to both Geoff and myself, watching Mark make progress validates our relaxed approach as it matches the current ability of the Associate. In this case it's also working to the advantage of the Associate as we can help him make improvements without overloading him, thus potentially turning him off the process. In all fairness yes it'll take a few more rides to take Mark to the Advanced Test level, but so what?

The only downside on this loop was encountering a freshly watered lime section on a road works doubt I'll be ribbed for this in due course as it's a bit of a bugger to clean off.

At the Observer training course in July this year, I can remember feeling a little overwhelmed at the task ahead, yet to be fair it's been relatively straightforward in practice. Now I would never call it simple, for there's a good deal of stuff to finesse, yet being deemed ready for the Observer Test at the conclusion of todays ride had a lovely sense of satisfaction about it. I reckon I've been lucky to have had Geoff James as my Observer from day one in IAM, for his style of coaching very much gels with me. Or put it this way, it's very similar to how I've been coaching new tanker drivers in my day job. Yes I'll freely admit that having done a few years of coaching existing drivers into improving their skills gives me a leg up, for doing the same thing on two wheels has loads of similarities. Now I've had a couple of other Observers acting as Training Observers along the way, and whilst this works ok as well, the overall continuity I've enjoyed with Geoff has definitely been to my benefit.

Looking back, at the Observer course many things seemed somewhat difficult, yet in reality the interpersonal stuff, putting someone at ease, getting a result without being too harsh on the negative aspects, all those elements more or less come along with a degree of ease. Maybe if I come across an Associate who rubs me the wrong way I'll feel different about it?

So now the joyous task of preparing for the Observer practical terms I'm not daunted by this, but I'm rather keen to do well of course! For me what follows after that is giving my time and energy back to IAM, for in reality this is why I've gone thru the process. I enjoy coaching those of lesser skills than myself, as much as I enjoy sponging up good info and knowledge from those who are better than me. To use a cliché, I wanted my two wheeled skills to be weighed and measured to an accepted standard, before embarking on passing on my knowledge to others. So in that sense, going thru to Observer with IAM seems like the ideal process.

Let's be honest though, the process of being involved in IAM is one of continuous improvement. I know this may sound funny, but I firmly believe we become a product of our environment, so my choosing to be involved with a group who rides to a high standard is infinitely preferable to joining a bunch of pseudo road-racers who view the law as a nuisance. Take a few like minded IAM members for a social ride and at least it's predictable and quite safe.

One aspect of getting to this stage, is one that I hadn't really thought much about, even though it seems obvious enough! It marks the end of being coached on an ongoing basis by Geoff, who has been in some ways a father figure to me. And no that's not a dig at his maturity! The enjoyment of learning from Geoff, as well as how he embodies the "no ego" ethos of IAM has allowed me to grow into my new role with ease. Best I work on making some social rides happen with Geoff, you know, just to keep us both sharp...

When I look back to the start of my IAM journey, I could ride safely and all that, but what's been added to my skillset has been quite significant in my view. Weird thing to admit, but at the outset I never thought that going thru the IAM process could have brought back so much enjoyment to my riding. If there is a downside to going thru the IAM process it's that one becomes ever more critical of other folks' poor behavior on our roads, but at least I'm now armed with enough skills to keep myself as safe as practicable I suppose.

Now the small but not insignificant matter of the Observer Test...

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Trainee Observer update 04.11.16

So despite the rather wet and miserable winter, progress has been made on the Trainee Observer front. I'm not going to get overly specific with names and dates this time, for it's the learning and growth process that I'm on that has a weird sense of satisfaction about it.

Digressing from the topic immediately, have used my learnings in some interesting discussions with both my dad and brother. Both riders with varying levels of experience, sharing the positioning concept was interesting. It led to some discussion on counter steering, touched briefly on the IPSGA approach, and whilst there was some initial scepticism on my brothers' part especially, both went away to review some suggested You Tube footage that showed correct techniques. Funnily enough, my dad quietly admitted that having the right fundamentals makes biking more enjoyable. Maybe I can convince him to partake in the Ride Forever scheme yet?

But back to the Trainee Observer path. There have been only a small number of training runs, mostly due to the weather not playing ball. The overall impression is that the initially daunting prospect of performing the Observer task, shrinks to a more manageable but still challenging one, with more exposure. Being located south of the Bombay hill places me on the boundary as it were between the Auckland crew and the newly formed Central North Island group for IAM, so there's been some crossover activity happening for me. This can be described as both beneficial but also adding to the challenge of the T Obs learning curve. For example, I've partaken in some Westgate month end rides, which has seen me paired up with Associates I've not known, and on occasion with Training Observers that are not familiar to me. Never mind the fact that developing a good route in that part of town adds another challenge. The upside of course is that if I can make a reasonable fist of this set of circumstances then doing the Observer task in my home territory will seem that much easier. Another positive is that I get to see various Training Observers in action, so I can pick the elements of their personal style that appeal or work for me. To make a connection to my work, my approach there is to show a new driver more than one way to perform a task (where applicable) and suggest he uses the one that gels with himself.

Some elements of the Observer training course have come to the fore. Personal style is one, it was mentioned that as you grow into the Observer task, you'll develop your own style. Of course one still needs to comply with the requirements, but this can be achieved by polar opposite approaches. Routing is one example, where one favours the GPS approach, another may just work on local knowledge. Both of these approaches can be deemed valid. The use of the prompt card for info gathering and laying the ground rules in the pre-ride brief has been another. One Training Observer will firmly suggest to use the prompt card until you know your stuff, yet another will prefer you more or less hide the card. Some of these preferences will have nuances down to the context on the day, hence I'm not hung up on the personality variances, it's the end result that matters.

The initial info gathering stage can become quite efficient with practise as well. The prompt card has some open ended questions on it, which could lead to long winded answers. One Training Observer is quite efficient in asking the same thing in a closed answer style which achieves the answer I want/need in a quick fire style. I like it! In cases where a new potential Associate is being taken for an initial assessment, one might favour the long answer version for the purpose of relaxing him/her . Then again an Associate who has done some rides already and I'm riding with him/her for the first time I'd favour the short version.

Matching the ride to where the Associate is at on the learning curve is a most interesting element. So I had the pleasure of riding with a fairly new Associate, he'd had quite some time between rides so we'd need to almost start afresh in a way. Assess current performance then tailor the learning component to allow him to grow. That was satisfying in a way, for the ride reports I'd read on him suggested a somewhat perfunctory way of riding when the reality was not as bad as the reports suggested. The benefit of time spent on the pre-ride brief certainly showed thru, and in some ways it's fair to say I'd had the benefit of calling on some years of work experience to tailor the ride on the day to achieve a win-win. So what if it's going to take a few more rides overall for us to get him to the Advanced Test level?

The benefit of spending some time on demo rides. So a comment was made by one the Associates I'd ridden with ex Westgate that he'd only ever had his Observer following him?! The day I went out with him, I'd explained the demo ride approach, and whilst I only used a brief demo to do commentary it was his comment about this being novel to him that threw me a bit. In the training course I remember the point being made repeatedly about doing enough demo riding out front, for various reasons. Geoff had me doing a brief demo ride to start a run with one of the CNI Associates who I'd not ridden with before, and to me this seems like a gentle way of easing an Associate into the rhythm of the ride. Let's face it, no matter how many miles we've clocked, when we were an Associate ourselves there was an element of nervous energy present at the start of the first few rides. So if this can be managed or minimised using an approach like this, why not? It's all about the end result.

One of the amusing and mildly frustrating topics of the Trainee Observer phase is the 3-way comms. Now I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a techno geek in any way, and whilst I can read and follow instructions, some manuals are obviously written for amusement to the writer rather than easy functionality for the reader! In due course we'll no doubt settle on one brand of comms, the Sena being most common amongst IAM members at present, and with more experience with them it'll all get easier of course...but some days are funny. On that note, with my T Obs role, have been contemplating whether to obtain another Sena 20s just like my current one, or whether to get a Sena 10C which has a camera, and then use my current Sena 20s for new Associates. Or dare I say it, install it in the wifes' helmet when she goes along as pillion? I can hear the comments rumbling in the background on that one already...

All in all, must just mention my admiration for those who have done the Observer role on an ongoing basis, it takes a fair bit of time yet it also yields nice rewards.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Observer course 23-24.07.16 (plus first training run 21.08.16)

Fortuitous timing is what springs to mind. Having been fortunate enough to work thru to an Advanced Test pass at the beginning of July, barely 3 weeks later into the classroom to begin the next part of the IAM journey. Many thanks to Geoff James for his time and effort to help me get to this point in swift order!

Having adopted the riding standard has brought new enjoyment to my riding, most of you who have gone down this route will no doubt have similar experiences. What the Observer course is now doing for me personally, is making that step which was for me the motivation for joining IAM in the first place; helping others improve their riding. Quite an eye opener for me how much "fine-tuning" my own riding needed first though (insert face palm emoticon here).

As I'm finishing off this dear diary entry a few weeks after the classroom work, I'll admit I've been pondering how to encompass the past few weeks. The transition from being merely a pupil of the IAM approach to now being both pupil and proponent of same seems daunting. As I do some coaching of truck drivers in my line of work, lots of similarities come to the fore, yet initially I found myself getting hung up on the differences between mentoring in my work life and the IAM. This was after the first day in the classroom, when I thought about it some more that night, loads of similarities in reality. If anything, the IAM approach to mentoring can be applied to my work environment with ease, and would likely be received better than some of our present training methods.

So what is the role of an Observer within the IAM? This was one of the questions posed by Philip McDaid, our esteemed Chief Examiner. The simple answer is to take an Associate to Advanced Test level of course. The long version, well known to those of us who have passed our Advanced Test, is not always that simple. It varies from person to person naturally, yet I can see how applying the riding standard to an individual, then building him/her up in steps by improving the areas that need it...and before long an Associate should be heading in the right direction.

Plenty of amusing ways to recall the basic process of getting to know a new Associate and gathering the requisite info to form a plan, or as Barry Holland put it, a casual interrogation while putting him/her at ease. On paper this can seem daunting, but it doesn't have to be. Start with a common interest, motorcycles we've owned for example, ask some questions and let the Associate do most of the talking.

Accentuate and praise the good stuff and view the negative stuff as improvement opportunities. Sounds fluffy at first doesn't it? This was the teaching element on the course that had me grinning the most, for it just once again reminded me of the flow of positivity that I'd received from my Observer along the way. Yes there were things I could do better, but that drill sergeant style that some of us may be accustomed to from our boy scout days, it just wasn't there. Does it matter though? Well that would vary from person to person, and I'd agree with the sentiment expressed by Richard Turnbull (Akld Observer) in that I'd just want the stuff I need to do better on. Others will obviously need a more delicate approach, but I can't argue that as a starting point leaving a very positive focus on the good stuff and putting a positive spin on the improvement opportunities, can only serve to build up an Associate.

The observed ride report. Well it seems daunting at first. Looking at it in the classroom I was more or less slapped in the face with the realisation that I'd been focused on the stuff I needed to do better on. So when doing the dummy exercise with Sheldon (aka Alan Denness) after a brief ride, offering praise and criticism, trying to fill in the ride report and keeping a positive approach to it all...guess what? Oh so hard!! The prank Alan pulled on me both amused and unsettled me briefly. The joys of being a newbie I suppose. So looking at the ride report and trying to touch on every single aspect during a debrief, not gonna happen. At least not while trying to stay positive. An approach for remembering the main positives and negatives for a debrief was shared by Peter Hookham (Wgtn Observer) in the 3 L approach (Life/Licence/Learning) and that gels with me. Can be applied in many different ways as well, during a pre-departure brief as well as mid or post ride chat. In reality, if an Associate did nothing to harm life or licence the whole outing just got a lot easier I reckon.

So while the Trainee Observer learning process can seem daunting at first, and reading then re-reading the manual put together, doesn't always help with quelling the do I feel after my first run as Trainee Observer? Take into account this was a nice easy entry, with Geoff James doing the baby sitting and taking the lead still, with me doing some parts with an Associate (Paul Quilter) who in all fairness is an accomplished rider already. Much more settled and relaxed about the process sums it up.

Chatting with Paul Quilter at Ardmore Airport Café

One glaringly obvious aspect is my own positioning, the mildly overwhelming multi tasking aspect is back, new stuff going on and now staying close enough to observe yet back enough to stay safe...staggered formation at times and single file elsewhere. Remembering how we only really need to be up close a few times during a ride, settling into this routine of staggered formation in urban/motorway sections, mostly single file in country riding...practice is the key obviously. The role reversal aspect was mentioned in the course, having now experienced it first hand in an observed ride, this is the first thing I feel like I need to firm up into a nice easy routine.

In wrapping up this entry, let me just share a renewed admiration for Geoff and the many other Observers who have mastered this set of skills and make observing look easy.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Speedohealer v4 review/comments

So most of you bikers will have heard about Speedohealer? Well in case you haven't, it's one of several useful gadgets made by Healtech Electronics. The item I fitted to my bike is Speedohealer v4, which is a true plug and play item, with the v4 denoting it's version 4 I believe.

With most bikes having optimistic speedos, and with my ongoing IAM involvement, I was looking for a simple way to alleviate trundling around too slow. To give an example, my 2013 Busa in stock trim would achieve a true 100 km/h (GPS verified) with a speedo reading of 109/110. The previous bike, Suzuki GSX750F was even worse, a true 100 km/h would show 114/115 on the speedo although this was partly due to a change in rear tyre size.

So for a number of years I was using a GPS speedo, which worked quite nicely. Yes I know in some ways GPS will only give you a true reading when travelling straight and level, but if you use it to give you an indication of speedo error, the guessing is removed. What does remain a downside, and here my Dutch blood shows through, speedo error directly translates to odometer error, so an optimistic speedo will also mean an optimistic odometer. Shock horror! So the odometer would reach 100,000 when in fact I may have only done a little over 90,000 in the case of my Busa?!? Can't have that sort of thing eating into the resale value of my bike huh?

But serious for just a minute or two. So the Speedohealer allows me to correct both speedo and odo readings to bring them as close to true as possible, sounds like a win/win in my book.

Ordered the Speedohealer from the nearest distributor I could easily find, in my case which is in Australia.

The Speedohealer v4 is a standard item, you just have to order the bike specific wiring loom to go with it. So how does it work? Well, on your front sprocket cover is a speed sensor, this sends the number of rotations your front sprocket is doing, to the speedo. The Speedohealer allows you to manipulate the signal to correct the speedo error, with the online calculator on the Healtech website making this a breeze. A speedo error is typically linear, as in if it's 4% optimistic this shows across the range, ie 50 reads as 52, and 100 reads as 104.

In my case, using the GPS speedo I worked out that actual 100 showed on the speedo as 104. Different than stock trim due to a rear tyre change, stock is 50 section, now running a 55 section. Plugged these numbers into the online calculator and it gives a calibration value of -3.8% which I reduced by 1% to leave me with a true 100 being indicated as 101. My reason for this is to allow for a half worn rear tyre, and knowing a tyre will "grow" a little when hot.

The fitting itself is straightforward, follow the wire from the front sprocket cover speed sensor to find the connector into the wiring loom. Unplug, plug in the wiring loom supplied for your bike, connect to Speedohealer, tuck the unit in an easily accessible place, such as under rear seat. Program and job is done. On a faired bike, the hardest part is removing panels to get access.

In all fairness I followed up by several trial runs, comparing the speedo readings after setting the Speedohealer, with my GPS unit. Having gone thru this process now, felt like kicking myself for not going down this path earlier...

No wires need to be cut on your bike, so you can easily remove the unit when you sell/trade-in and use it on your next one. Just have to get the right wiring loom to suit the next bike.

Top bag is unit, bottom bag the bike specific wiring loom. Pen is to give idea of scale/size.

Pointing out the location of speed sensor on front sprocket cover.

Location under pillion seat, accessible for programming.

The website link for your own research/reading:

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Advanced Test 05.07.16

On a bleak and damp Tuesday it was my turn for the advanced test...

Yeah ok, I'll keep it serious. Met up with Philip at his Westgate base for my big day. It's weird how one can look forward to something like this with anticipation, and yet also want it to be over with already?!

Having had the benefit of spending a few hours riding with Philip thru his Riderskills school, I already knew his relaxed approach. Theory part first, 1 out of 20 questions incorrect. Room for improvement in other words!

The ride in itself had similarities to the cross-check, bit of dry stuff but damp conditions for the most part. The variety of roads Philip took me on covered the spectrum obviously, and with a good mixture of unfamiliar and somewhat familiar at least this reduced the pressure a little. The silence over the comms, apart from giving directions, was a little odd at first. With Geoff we'd near constantly be delving into how to improve here, another angle on that, consider this etc. Now it was like show time, you've done the homework so just lay it on.

Accepting the fact the IAM experience is an ongoing learning curve, I'm almost ok with my performance on this day, for in reality it represented my best under the circumstances. Will I be better in another year of exposure to the IAM system? I'm sure I will, for more practice and mentoring will bring more accurate and consistent results.

So yes I passed, but let me be fair and focus on the important aspects for me, the areas that could do with improvement. Funnily enough Philip laid out three areas, the number seeming curious as it's been this way all thru the observed rides, three areas to focus on...a hint of things to come?

Observational links were commented on, as in there should have been more. Yes, no argument at all. More practice and focus will improve this I reckon.

Overtaking position held for too long. Absolutely. On the run from Helensville back towards Waimauku, the opportunity to overtake arose. Two cars were dawdling (to my way of thinking at least) at around the 80-85 mark, far too ginger (to use Richard T terminology) for the conditions in my book so in short order snuck around them in a decisive fashion. Further along though, caught up to a car that was for a good spell hovering around the legal limit, so sitting back seemed like the done thing. Then this car for no apparent reason slowed down a bit, so I got myself into an overtaking position, yet with the overtake not being on in short order...I failed to then drop back to a safe following distance in a timely fashion. Funny how indecision creeps in, wanting to "make progress" without getting carried away with speed, all because one is in a test situation. With the benefit of hindsight, a beautiful thing, the decisive thing would have been to overtake at first opportunity with a bit of gusto or just drop back. Had I been on my own, the likely approach for me would have been to sit back. By nature and profession I tend to be risk averse, a funny thing for a Busa rider to admit to perhaps? Just a case of finding the right balance.

Smoothing out the setup for right handers. A valid point of course, and this will lead me into expanding a little on another topic shortly. I found myself on occasion setting up for a right hander by leaving the getting into position a little late, thus almost swerving left to then crank into a right hander. Not intentionally, but it was fair for Philip to comment on it of course. Part of this action I put down to some nerves creeping in, and part to my observation skills needing further honing. One could thus ask when I'm late getting into position, is it due to me not looking far enough ahead or going too swift for the conditions? Again using the benefit of hindsight, bit of both. So again, not stressed about it, but practice and focus will iron this out in due course.

This got me into sharing with Philip something which has come to the fore in both my work environment and also when travelling privately. I found myself having to work quite hard when traversing unfamiliar roads, something that perhaps sounds obvious, but as a career trucker I cover loads of kilometres. The downside is that by the time one has travelled to a certain destination often enough, the road in itself brings few surprises, so we're left with just the variations in traffic or surface conditions on any given day. Take me onto unfamiliar roads though, and all of a sudden it's like hard work, and it shows up how "blunt" the observation skills can become. Partaking in IAM training and the most recent SAFED course we did at work, all made me think about this topic. So I'll be working on venturing onto unfamiliar roads on purpose to hone my skills.

Now I'm just looking forward to taking the observer course to take the next step as trainee observer.

Cross-check 26.06.16

So with Geoff James having deemed me ready for the cross-check, had another (weekday) outing with both Geoff and Mike Watson, who is trainee observer at this point. For me this was a first, a three way comms outing. Nothing untoward to report really, the main point of note being the obvious difference between an experienced observer in Geoff and a trainee observer as in Mike. Seeing as I'm embarking on the same path, trainee observer, this was actually a relaxing point to note. So much to learn, yet if it's done in building blocks it's not as daunting a task.

In a way this ride with Mike and Geoff served a dual purpose, in that both Mike and myself got the benefit of each other for the stage of IAM learning we're both at. Some of the route was familiar to me, and some wasn't. When he turned off onto the Coatesville/Riverhead Hway the guess was Ridge Rd...and Mike sounded almost disappointed when I asked the obvious. We also came back via Ridge Rd, and it just highlighted to me how technical this bit of road is, with a multitude of challenges all jammed together in a fairly short stretch.

This ride was treated as a warmup for the cross-check that was on the horizon, and as such it worked quite well. No big changes needed, and a nice validation that Geoff had imparted sufficient knowledge to bring me up to par.

Then on to the actual cross-check with Richard Turnbull. This took place on the Sunday social ride day, for which we meet at Westgate. With the weather looking bleak, we set off on a circuitous route, with lots of variety to cover the spectrum obviously.

At our tea/coffee stop in Helensville Richard explained how I could make improvements.

1. In the damp conditions I was tending to be a little cautious in cranking into corners with gusto, the word Richard used for this was a typical English expression in "ginger" which bemused me slightly. He was spot on though, for in hindsight I was backing off a little more than I probably needed to, then making up for that with a bit too much throttle once I'd had the limit point moving away from me again. In a sense, going out with different observers is helpful in this regard, for it points out the varying nuances that one can improve on. Thinking of it another way, ride properly and don't simply use the grunt of the big bike to "mask" what in effect develops into an incorrect technique.

2. Speed and speed creep was another topic we briefly discussed. I won't make any excuses here, but I found myself at times running 5-10 clicks over the limit. This was partly complicated by the variation in speedo error we each thought we had. In the end, I just treated my speedo reading as absolute. As the conditions went from damp to ever heavier rain this became irrelevant anyway.

The departure from the Helensville stop was delayed slightly by torrential rain, after which Richard led me on a route that was at first unfamiliar to me. So here I am on unfamiliar roads, with the weather getting worse, being cross checked for my test and it was putting me a little on edge. In the end I fared ok once I got a rhythm going and the various elements that I'd practiced repeatedly flowed nicely.

But you know how this goes though huh? Get into the swing of it and then you have a wake-up call. On the approach to Scenic Drive around the back of the Waitakere township there was this one gnarly corner that I misread. Focusing on the limit point, taking in the shiny tar and the rain, the fact it was far more off camber than I'd initially assessed had me heading for the centreline like a bit of a novice. I must remember how to get to this corner for it's a great leveller for learners like me.

Once we joined Scenic Drive and made our way to the Titirangi debrief point, the rain went from drizzle to solid rain, at times near torrential. This in itself, apart from being uncomfortable, doesn't worry me so it was pleasing to hear Richard being complimentary about me still making good progress in the deteriorating conditions.

The end result of the cross-check was positive thankfully, ready for the test!

I do however really appreciate the pointers Richard gave me to continue to "tidy-up" my riding. The speed and speed creep, the cornering approach mentioned above and even seemingly minor stuff such as being decisive in stopping short of instead of on or just beyond stop lines, or give way lines in cases where a full stop is required. Far from being annoyed by this, it's the fact this stuff is pointed out in a neutral manner, that I see as being part of the ongoing improvement in skills.

As for speed, I used to have a GPS speedo fitted to my Busa, but when making some changes I removed it to have a more or less "gadget free" work space so to speak. Following on from the cross-check I pondered how to deal with the speed problem, so ordered a Speedohealer, which Stephen McCormick mentioned in one of the IAM Facebook topics. Now I've been aware of Speedohealer, but since I'd used GPS speedos for a number of years never looked closely at the Healtech solution. Yes the error will still be there once the rear tyre wears, but at least I'm going to be much closer to the mark than in OEM trim.

Monday, 6 June 2016

8th observed ride 07.06.16 - ready for the cross check, yippee!!

So yeah, I'm outwardly quite relaxed, but inwardly quite chuffed to have reached the point where Geoff has deemed me ready for cross check. Hopefully onto the advanced test in short order...

Between the weather in recent weeks, work and family commitments, only snuck in two brief rides to practice my skill set. One of these rides ended up in rather wet conditions, unintended I might add, but all in all no drama. Using the Roadcraft system under trying conditions underlines the value of participating in IAM training. As much as we might want to give a thumbs up to Mr Michelin for his Pilot Road 4s, the bikes we ride do much better when ridden correctly with suitable restraint and training.

The run today was a little different to the norm, starting from a different meeting point, traversing some country roads Geoff hadn't ventured on before. All in all no big deal, variety of conditions, some overtakes, some commentary and still some room to improve on my part. In fairness though, Geoff found it hard to be critical about much overall. Given the score for today also being an A+ (as was run 7) it feels pleasing to have reached a consistency in how I perform.

We talked a bit about how riding according to the system makes one look not just smooth, but quite fast, compared to a rider with no roadcraft training. In fairness, I find it difficult to assess my own progress in isolation, for it's only really apparent when riding with others who haven't chosen to work on improving their own skill set. For those who've been thru the Roadcraft system, this will sound familiar I'd guess.

Also made me think some more about the vexing question that's been on my mind recently: "What's the best way to encourage someone to partake in training?" At the risk of rambling, I will admit that I had some reservations about partaking in IAM training, for it would lay bare the inadequacies of my two wheeled skill set... Let that sink in, and then picture the variety of two wheeled near misses that we've either had ourselves or those that we've witnessed over the years? I'd venture that the vast majority of these near misses were preventable, in the sense that neither the road nor the bike itself could be to blame. Mostly down to rider skill/training/attitude...

So I looked at my own hesitation at joining IAM, then imagined if I was blessed (or cursed?) with an ego that couldn't take constructive criticism, then joining IAM would likely seem more daunting than it should be? Let's face it, go for a ride with Philip McDaid and you can't help but feel like a novice, at first anyway.

The way Geoff James has observed/mentored me has been to never shy away from pointing out my failings (opportunities to do better) whilst also being complimentary about the things I'm either doing right, or have improved on since the last outing. So overall it's a very positive experience! Any nervousness or hesitation I may have had prior to my first outing soon evaporated. I'm certainly pleased I pressed ahead with kicking off my IAM journey, and would happily encourage others to take the plunge as well.

The next part of that is to pass the Advanced Test of course, and then in order to give back, on to Observer training. Which brings me full circle, back to the start if you wish, for my original outlook some years back was to be weighed and measured on my two wheeled skill set prior to imparting my experience onto others. Also a connection to my work in there, for coaching drivers new to my industry and turning them into confident and competent operators has a very pleasing aspect about it. The word passion comes to the fore, and anyone involved in teaching/coaching will no doubt understand what I mean.

7th observed ride 11.05.16

The rendezvous at the BP on top of the Bombay is now almost routine, and now I'm living mere minutes away from this location there's no doubt Geoff is doing the hard yards in enabling me to improve my two wheeled habits. Yes I know it's all about the right roads and riding environments.

Making progress, as in improving ones' own set of skills, is an enlightening experience. Yes this is obvious, but it was this thought that was at the forefront when I returned from this ride.

The overall ride in itself was unremarkable, covering mostly semi-familiar territory. What was telling for me was how much more at ease I felt when "performing" to a higher standard than what was the norm for me 6-12 months ago.

Our route on this occasion was the usual variety of motorway, urban and rural routes. Had a wee giggle at the sharp left hander on Great South Rd when dropping off the Bombay. No brake application needed here for I knew this corner, Geoff commented positively, but I freely admitted this section of road is routine for me. One thing which stood out on this run was how little traffic we're encountering, near free flow on the motorway from Drury to Mt Wellington is damn near unheard of mid morning on a Wednesday.

Out thru Botany to Whitford, on to Maraetai to end up in Clevedon at the café opposite the monument. The variety of roads was not a problem, but it certainly allowed Geoff to observe how I dealt with them all in a timely fashion. White van driver texting while driving? Road works with stop/go crew? Loose chip with no signs out? Restraint whilst on open road section with short sightlines and multiple driveways? Holding back to make sure rural postie has spotted us? Check on all counts.

It felt like a good, relaxed ride. The A+ rating Geoff gave this was a nice result. Did it feel like hard work? Not as such. My challenge is still with delivering commentary in a concise manner, the tendency to slip into a monologue is still there. In itself not an issue, but like Geoff points out rightfully, when the workload goes up in a more challenging situation this will create an issue.

Part of my ongoing revision includes poring over various videos, must make mention of JK's blog here once more, as the phrase "observational links" keeps popping back into my head. On the whole it still doesn't feel like my performance has the right polish to it, but I accept it's not a finished product as such. This whole IAM experience to me is one of evolving, and thus continuing to improve.

A couple of short practice runs, one in rather damp conditions (unintended) brought home the value of continuing to polish my skill set on two wheels.

We had an interesting discussion about reasons why folks look at IAM and then choose not to participate. More on this next chapter.

Monday, 2 May 2016

6th observed ride - 06.04.16

Absolute cracker of a day for a run around the top end of the Coromandel Loop! Met up with Geoff at Kopu, had a catch up about recent events. I'd spent a night in hospital and a week off work with a bout of orchitis, won't go into full details here, suffice to say it left me rather tender...

To start off with we ducked over to Tairua, and I just felt rusty, bit slow as well which is just my normal response to not being in the groove. A stop at Tairua, with a café treat by Geoff saw us getting back into it with a much better flow. In all fairness, with the benefit of being able to look back from a few weeks later, that bout of orchitis knocked me about much more than I'd realised at the time of this ride.

The benefit of being on the Coro loop on a Wednesday is traffic of course. A couple of other groups of riders, but no sense of that weekend crowd that is common during the summer months. The open road is always a good tonic, and along with my own sense of improvement, I really enjoyed this outing. The commentary had a better flow to it, still needs a lot of work I'll admit, but it felt much less of a chore than previous outings. The way Geoff commented at some point, my riding standard was high whilst delivering commentary, so in a sense the commentary was now less of a distraction on my riding.

We did encounter some slower traffic, so this became an opportunity for restrained overtaking. The trundle thru Whitianga in this respect seemed oh so tedious, albeit providing a brief urban environment, so just allowing for that on-going polishing of skills. Talking about on-going, that's very much how I've seen this IAM journey from the start, not as a singular target but as a continual improvement challenge/opportunity.

The journey to date has been taken in small steps. It's obvious Geoff takes great delight in riding as well as coaching/mentoring guys like myself. For me to see the improvement in my riding is bewildering, the mental approach has been polished and the physical action of extreme positioning makes bend swinging more fun than ever, just to touch on one aspect.

Anyway, Geoff led the way over the last half hour or so, taking us over the saddle before Coromandel itself. Needless to say, the obligatory stop at the lookout over the town itself resulted in a photo opportunity.

How we managed not to rib the IAM fraternity with yet another weekday ride posts just shows our restraint huh?

The hospitality shown by Geoff and Jenny to invite this rogue biker to lunch at their abode was delightful. Awesome retirement spot they've got, with an outlook that would cost a fortune in many European countries. I get the sense that Geoff and I could talk for hours about many different topics, but get us going on bikes and anything engineering related...hope I left before my welcome wore out!

My run home along the coast reminded me yet again of the effort Geoff puts into his role with IAM, that run along the coast is not exactly easy. I've done it plenty of times with a fuel truck in the early 2000's to fill the BP (now a GAS) servo at Coromandel, but on a bike it's obviously a lot more fun.

Encountered one of the groups of riders we'd seen at the Tairua café stop, and here I'll share an interesting observation. Now bear in mind I've not been along that particular bit of road for years on a bike, and here this group of riders used power/speed on the straights to catch up, only for me to walk away from them whenever we had more than one corner. I wasn't doing anything different to normal, just riding my own ride, and the fact I was cornering using correct positioning made my pace seem high. They didn't like obeying 50-70 speed limits though, so I kept left to allow them to scoot past at ticket inducing speeds. Their progress did seem to slow around bends further up ahead though... I remember thinking to myself something along the lines of: "That's how I used to ride as well."
Make of this what you wish. I see it as IAM exposure being a positive influence.

Now I've got some homework to do following this ride, some test examples to complete before the next ride and to practice my list of things to improve on.

PS. One thing I'll add, work related as well as IAM related, is at my last assessment drive had a wee chat with our driver trainer about my IAM activities. This kind of came about at a comment he made about me seeming more fluent and relaxed than normal, bearing in mind I thought of myself as fluent and relaxed behind the wheel of a truck anyway. The word "situational awareness" and how it looked to him that mine had improved, led to us having a chat about what IAM is all about. Have followed up and provided him with some links to have a closer look at IAM, he's an English fella anyway so the advanced driving approach is not foreign to him. Be interesting to see what comes of this...

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

5th observed ride - 08.03.16

So between my session with Philip McDaid and ride #5 with Geoff James, a few events took place. Have had a full programme at work, what with finishing off the training of a new driver and some new equipment intro. We'd also bought a house and moved south of the Bombay hill, and to top it off my dad had a heart attack. So apart from a busy start to the year, the past few weeks have been rather full on, and since I no longer commute by motorcycle, very little riding was done. What I had been working on, was reading the IAM book in short bursts, along with continuing to work on commentary. It's annoying me that giving commentary, in a succinct fashion whilst riding to a high standard, is proving to be such a hurdle for me. Not beating myself up here, just expecting myself to progress faster than I have to date.

But let's get to ride #5 shall we? Meeting point as per usual, BP at Bombay. Had quite a chat with Geoff about various goings on, spent some time revering the experience of riding with Philip. It's one of those things that's hard to quantify/describe in words, the most apt way to put it would be awe-inspiring. Good to hear from Geoff it's quite a common occurrence. Striking as well is how humble Philip actually is, combine this with his abilities and it's easy to see how he's such an asset to IAM as a whole.

So from BP Bombay Geoff and myself headed off, mixture of country roads, bit of motorway work, some busy urban/industrial roads and finishing up at one of Geoffs' favoured debrief locations, a little café in Clevedon. No missed life savers this time, still one or two dabs of the brake which could have been avoided with more finesse. Main hurdle is still the delivery of commentary. Philip made mention of focusing on observational links, which JK also delved into in his blog, and whilst this is supremely easy in theory I'm sorely lacking in the practise thereof. As I indicated in my first paragraph, no commuting by bike along with a full on start to the year...and my calendar has been a bit devoid of serious bike time. And therein lies a bit of my problem, just not getting out and about often enough.

One thing I'll touch on once more is how my mental approach to riding/driving is evolving. The exposure to various safe/defensive/advanced training courses I've done has been good and bad. The different focus along with varying terminology for the same thing, has (and still is at times) been confusing for me. So I can see myself casting aside my past training to adopt the IAM system, but suit it to the vehicle I'm operating at the time.

Let's use one example. In the SAFED training system, which is sponsored or run by NZTA, one aspect is called "lane of least resistance" and applied in a rigid fashion would see me duck and dive across motorway lanes to suit the ebb and flow of traffic. On a bike that would work for sure, but when I share that most of my time is spent trucking along with a 23 metre long 50 tonne fuel rig, this lane of least resistance thought becomes ludicrous to say the least. It also goes patently against what we were taught in the Smiths driving system, which encouraged early lane selection and minimising lane changes as each lane change in itself is a hazard. I know I sound like a dinosaur when I suggest experience is also a good teacher, and using the above example of trucking along I'd prefer to take the minimal lane change approach thank you very much!

The surprising thing was that Geoff rated ride #5 as an A, which isn't what I was expecting. Then again, Philip commented about how when one is getting frustrated with oneself about not making progress that one is approaching the point where it all "clicks" so to speak. Mmmm, must be getting there then...

One wry observation I made a while back to Geoff, about my fuel consumption getting a little worse now that I'm doing the IAM thing. He just grinned and said it's a common observation, more use of revs equals more fuel burn. In all fairness though, riding my bike the way I'm doing now just feels more relaxed and enjoyable, not to mention I feel more in control...

Not much left to add, lots of sorting out of "stuff" to do at the new house still of course. But must make more time to practice and polish my two wheeled skills!!

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Half a day with Philip McDaid 23.02.16

Hard work!

Not in a negative sense though. Just watching Philip in action, then listening to the effortless delivery of commentary, is something to aspire to. Yes I fully realise it's his occupation, and he's likely done the same bit of road umpteen times, but still it's pretty to watch. At the outset of my IAM journey, I'd read about encounters with Philip, now I got to see it first hand.

Kicking off with Geoff James there were often references to how Philip would do something/view something, and it didn't take me long to ponder a session with Riderskills doing a Roadcraft course, just working out at which point it would be of most benefit to my improvement was the key. Left it to Geoff to suggest this, after floating the idea with him.

Having met Philip the first time at a social IAM ride in January 2016, the first impression was of a quiet and humble man. The title of Chief Examiner might conjure up an entirely different image...

So met up with Philip, and after a brief chat about what my intentions were for the day, proceeded to an assessment ride. Well my intent was simple, take a step towards the advanced test. So on to the assessment, only about 90 minutes or so, but it seemed like hard work. The ride itself was at a fairly relaxed pace, mixture of familiar and unfamiliar roads. Funny how when fatigue combines with unfamiliar roads, the performance loses a fair bit of fluency.

This last bit is what Philip commented on in an impartial manner. Now ok, I'm not sensitive to being assessed fairly and I certainly didn't disagree that towards the end of the assessment ride my fluency started to fade significantly.

Plenty of positive stuff in how Philip viewed my riding, so at least Geoff James can rest easy haha! So after a coffee and some more chat on what's next, we headed off once more, now with Philip in the lead and giving me bursts of commentary. Well not so much bursts, more like a near non-stop verbal version of what I was seeing. For me this was a master class display, not surprising of course, but a reminder for me of when someone is really good at something, they make it look supremely easy. Mmmm, so I could be either despondent about watching Philip in action or I could see it as a performance to aspire to. So exactly how many years will it take?

For the moment I'm still at a stage where I'm adapting to the IAM approach, as much as it makes sense to me, the variations of defensive driving methods I've been exposed to at work have had a similar focus overall with slightly different methods. In all fairness a good part of my challenge is to deliver a brief commentary in a swift enough fashion so I'm not getting too close to the point I'm commenting on. Another aspect is to touch on all actual and potential hazards and use observational links. Rubbish bins being out could mean a rubbish truck around the next bend. Proximity to a school at start or end time, maybe we drop the speed back a little?

Practice is the key obviously, just need more of it. Next month at work we'll be doing our next SAFED (Safe And Fuel Efficient Driving) refresher course, which has similarities to the IAM approach. Be interesting to see the fresh version of SAFED and do a thorough comparison.

Traipsing around the back of Waimauku, so near yet so far from roads I'm a regular on, was a revelation. Perfect for practising limit points though! Yes, an ST1300 and a Busa can get around backroads at a fair clip. We even managed to practice an overtake or two in these conditions, despite my bikes' lack of power haha... Now limit points or vanishing points aren't new to me, but commenting on limit point getting closer or further away, then using acceleration sense to traverse unfamiliar roads certainly cranks up the sweat glands, nothing to do with 30 degree ambient temps.

The good part was that cranking up the pace a little seemed to keep me crisper and the fluency seemed to improve. Along the way we had multiple stops for debriefs and/or reviews on the last half hour of riding, along with what's next. Good way to break up the half day into manageable chunks of learning.

So to cap off, I'm gonna have to work at elevating my standard and keeping it consistent. Simple in theory and achievable of course. Practice practice practice...

Anyone who gets the chance to ride with Philip will learn a few things!

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

4th observed ride 15.02.16

This ride was squeezed in at relatively short notice, what with a half day coming up with Philip McDaid the following week. We're all busy so it's about making the most of whatever opportunity presents itself.

The basic focus going into this ride, on the basis of run 3 assessment, was to maintain riding standard whilst giving commentary. Key comment was use observational links.

So this sounds simple of course, the multi tasking aspect of stuff that isn't second nature to me as yet...yikes this feels like hard work at times! But looking back at how I've made progress to date I'm not put off by this, just realistic about needing more practice.

Commentary overall seems easy, yet it's getting into the groove of providing the right amount of detail, whilst maintaining my riding standard...aarrgghh I'm needing to practice this lots more. The confusing aspect of how we were expected to do this in a work setting, combined with the faster pace of a bike, I'm finding myself running out of time. You know you're taking in the info in front of you, yet it's coming at you faster than you can provide an overview about it? Yes it's just about practice, and I just know I'll get better and more concise at it. I guess this is how frustration feels...

The irony is that in my work setting, by virtue of time on the job and extensive training, I feel in my element. Here on the bike, not so much. No this isn't a negative outlook, just a sense of not making sufficient improvement in my performance. Oh well, I've always been my own worst critic, and as long as it keeps me improving I can live with that.

By nature I've long been a chilled out rider, with my mantra being "nothing to prove" and this has to some degree come about by my work environment. The concept of "making good progress" in the IAM sense, at first anyway, seems at odds with that. On reflection though, it makes perfect sense. The sense of getting on with it, without undue risk taking, reflects the advanced riding/driving concept nicely.

Herein also lies a funny aspect I suppose. Riding a Busa one could never be accused of being short of power, yet it's perhaps my reluctance to let those horses loose whenever the opportunity to overtake comes up, that shows my learning curve still has a way to go? I'm not sure, but having covered a fair few miles on two/four/or more wheels has me quite relaxed about not rushing into an overtake. In the IAM sense, this long standing habit of mine needs to change, at least on two wheels.

Geoff also added a valuable insight, which should be obvious I guess. Whenever I'm doing (or not doing) something, it's worth sharing it verbally so the observer or examiner is aware of my thought process. An example being staying in the right hand lane whenever making progress is best there, or it suits an upcoming turn.

One final comment. I wonder if it'll resonate with others. My hobby of biking had become kind of stagnant, as in lacking purpose, other than to be an escape from day to day activity. To this end, a degree of law breaking had snuck in there, not all of it intentional. Looking at it now, even though I've only been part of the IAM realm for five minutes, the enjoyment of riding and more of a sense of back. Feels rather neat. Now to progress thru and make it to observer in due course!

Saturday, 13 February 2016

3rd observed ride 31.01.16

So on the last Sunday each month the Auckland IAM crew gather at Westgate. For the January month end social ride my observer Geoff James and myself joined this gathering of the troops. After the briefing, which served as a good opportunity to meet a few more members, Geoff and I trundled off for an observed ride. Commentary whilst maintaining the riding standard was the key element. Ridge Road was an interesting bit of road, short sightlines and constantly varying corner radii. Still, apply the system and all should be well huh? Almost, had to use a bit of brake at the beginning of Ridge Rd when I misjudged a corner...tut tut!

Down the hill into Albany the next small error, not getting enough engine braking going into the 50 km zone, so slightly over the limit. Missed a couple of head checks and while the ride overall got a good review, it's niggling to me that the multitasking elements take more practice than anticipated.

One very important thing Geoff pointed out early on this ride is to use shorter decisive phrases during commentary. My habit is to use "looks like" when approaching a corner, together with "tightening" or "opening" which suggests I'm guessing when it's merely a habit in how I talk or jabber to myself. Fair point though, and one I've been working on.

Another valid point Geoff brought up was to call out the speed zone changes well in advance, together with the requisite mirror check for aggro drivers as well as situational awareness all around. On main thoroughfare type routes, by nature of my trucking background, my familiarity with the roads and also speed zones I was being cautious with calling out speed zone changes coming up. Last thing I wanted to be doing was calling a speed change out before the sign is actually in sight... On the back roads this isn't an issue of course, but come onto the motorways etc and it's like my own sandbox.

The debrief took part in Clevedon, all very positive stuff, but as always aspects to work on. Joined Geoff for a trundle down past Kaiaua, before turning for home thru the Hunua Gorge. We both copped some rain but that's just part of being out on two wheels isn't it?

A couple of short practice runs in the meantime to build a rhythm or routine, but self assessment is not one of my specialties I'll admit.

Sunday 14.02 saw me join the Auckland IAM crew for a social ride. Quite a mixed bunch of bikes and ages of riders. Cool to see a few women riders amongst this bunch as well. What was most pleasing though was the general discipline of the riders, no squids or heroes here. For quite some years I've shied away from riding with groups, preferring to ride with a small number of guys whose riding is sensible. The system of ride leader, tail-end-Charlie and using the tagging system to guide riders in the pack in the right direction was new to me. Makes perfect sense doing it this way though.

Observing the variation of skill levels was an eye opener, seeing one of the newer associates have a moment and then let a bunch of us past, this showed maturity. Rather than exceeding his comfort zone, let the faster runners thru and it's no sweat. In some ways it also shows more experienced riders how far we've come over the years of riding we've done.

So todays' route took us from Westgate around the back roads to Woodcocks Rd, onto SH1 at Warkworth and gather at the Puhoi pub. For my liking this was merely a warm-up to a real ride, so I came home more or less this way as well. And avoiding the motorway as much as I can, why not turn off at Kumeu and head home across Scenic Drive? Yep, I prefer the back roads on my bike, especially seeing I cover plenty of clicks on main routes while trucking along...can you blame me?

Now Geoff has commented my riding standard has improved to the point where I should start thinking about a date for the advanced test. On the surface this is daunting as well as challenging. Off for another observed ride with Geoff come Monday 15.01 and the following week a day with Philip McDaid as part of my prep for the inevitable advanced test. We all go thru this in order to gain full membership of IAM of course, and whilst I want to do well, I keep telling myself to keep calm. No snipers on the ridges and no incoming mortar fire and all that...

In reality the testing of my habits/skills etc is part and parcel of my job, what with being assessed at least once every six months. The joys of driving fuel tankers I guess. But hey, I get days off during the week so I can trundle along my favourite back roads while they're deserted.

Monday, 18 January 2016

2nd observed ride 10.01.16 (and subsequent practice runs)

The festive season and working a full roster put the kybosh on any serious practice leading up to my 2nd observed run. Not an excuse, as I'd been doing commentary to myself while trucking along. At times the Drivecam would go off whilst I was doing commentary, oh well, the reviewer of the footage must've just thought I was yapping to myself... The odd short ride (1 to 2 hours) I managed to sneak in, but no solid half day or more stuff, which in all honesty is how I prefer to do it.

But about my observed run. I got the basics of commentary more or less right, but the objective is more about what's of potential harm to me, almost as in a case of less is more. I was thinking too much still in terms of what was expected of us when I was doing the Smiths' driving system at work. Or maybe the trainer who taught the Smiths' system to us had an odd idea about it, for we were expected to pretty much briefly touch on damn near everything. Geoff once again referred me to JK's blog, which in itself is a tomb of info for a new associate like myself.

What slipped a little was head checks and keeping a good eye on my mirrors, then incorporating that mirror info. Again, JK's blog offers useful advice for building a routine that incorporates the various aspects. Simple stuff at times. Speed change coming up? Mirror check for the impatient or distracted driver behind and call out the new speed zone we're entering. Turning off up ahead? Head check, signal and turn. In basic terms, the more I ride, the more of this stuff should become part of my routine and thus the multitasking sense of at times having "too much stuff to do" will fade.

So the main objective for me from the observed run on 10.01.16 was to practice commentary (in a succinct fashion) to myself whilst maintaining my riding standard. Given that in due course I'll end up doing a roadcraft training day with Philip McDaid (Chief Examiner and of Riderskills fame) as well as the actual IAM advanced test, it made sense to venture out west this time.

Having gone out before the advancing storm may seem like an odd thing to do, well on purpose anyway. Meh, only did an hour or so in the start of the rain. Heading for home anyway, so not a biggie. Next day though, the sky started off blue and clear, so with the fabric gear still damp I climbed into my leather one piece and ventured out looking like a racer, yet going out to practice at legal speeds. The irony...

Here's another funny aside, well funny to me at least. When I learned to ride, on the trusty GN250 many moons ago, it was deemed a challenge to run the length of Scenic Drive without any "oh shit!!" moments. Three decades later, running along Scenic Drive on a Busa, it's damn near like driving a V8 touring car on a go-cart track. Lots of fun, but also filled with the potential for an off. The road was still littered in places with debris from the storm that passed thru the night before, and to top it off also copped a few showers. Just to keep those PR4s earning their keep I suppose... Strangely enough there was a brief oh shit moment when a car ducked out of a side road without even slowing down. Not sure whether the driver had a stop or a give way sign on their road...or in this case it might have read please yourself?

Anyway, purposely seeking out winding roads which I knew back at the start of my riding career sums it up. So here I am, practising IPSGA and SSV whilst doing commentary in brief 10-15 minute bursts. Stopping for the occasional photo opportunity, as you do, and after being out for about 6 hours I'd barely covered 300 clicks. Plus, in all honesty I was getting kind of fatigued. The previous weeks had been hectic, all full on at work, the family stuff over Xmas & New Years, Mums' birthday and the heat/humidity, all adding up to make me feel older than my age. Thoroughly enjoyable all the same, trundling around the back of Auckland Airport, over to Scenic Drive, Kumeu, Helensville, Kaukapakapa, up to Wellsford then return more or less via same route.

Did I accomplish improvements though? Well, I reckon progress was made. Self assessment is a tricky thing though, so I'll let Geoff decide.

To cap this off, learning is always best done in small steps. Yes it's been said before, and if nothing else I'm saying it to myself again here. Learn one thing properly before adding the next step. Oh, and keep re-reading JK's blog!