Tag Archives: Tech Stuff

Social death

Facebook is hurt. Badly hurt. 30 points down and falling as of 28th March.
See my screenshot taken on the 23rd, a mere five days ago.

Yes I know one is for over the last twelve months, the other for the last three, but neither paint a pretty picture. I have a feeling that the Cambridge Analytica scandal is just the tip of a very big problem-berg. Over the next few months I can see a larger loss en-route, as in shit, fan, incoming! Perhaps a complete collapse. Who knows? It’s like watching a run on a poorly funded bank.

While this is all very entertaining in the median term, it may blow over, it may not. Facebook may survive, but it is what I’d describe as a ‘Castle in the Air’ stock. Looks pretty, but has no real fiscal security, as like one of the fairy fortresses, the only thing that keeps Facebook going is the power of belief.

Elon Musk (To name but one) has pulled his companies out of Facebook and there’s a class action in the offing. As far as some of the other tech giants go, Alphabet, parent company of YouTube and Google is also suffering with a less drastic 4% fall after accusations of bias, which they strenuously deny, but a number of their users who have had their content demonetised and even deleted aren’t convinced. Amazon may be worth a punt though, as their share value has taken a hit. But they actually sell real things, so I’d view them as a fairly safe bet and treat the current downturn as a buying opportunity for their stock.

Facebook on the other hand, what do they have to sell, apart from their users data? Twitter likewise. Which begs another question. Where will all the Twatter outrage mobs go if the platform collapses? Will they suddenly find themselves suffering a form of electronic social death? Mmm. Couldn’t happen to a nastier bunch of people.

Talking of social death, the institutional antisemitism endemic within the UK Labour party has surfaced once again. This is no surprise to me, as every extreme left winger I’ve ever met has been a racist anti-Semite. Never understood it myself. I think the only half way sane reason must be that extreme left (and right) wingers are avidly pro big government and the Zionists are big on family. The family (A very human, grass roots institution) and big government (Big state, top down driven) are philosophically opposed. The big government people see the family as the biggest obstacle to their authoritarian utopian fantasies, so to their mind anyone who has a strong family as the basis of of their culture must be undermined and if need be, eliminated.

Well it makes sense to me.

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Snow drama

We’ve just had a dump of snow that has come and gone. Probably at least twice what the UK has had during it’s latest ‘Snowpocalypse’. For example, on Sunday Mrs S and I were driving across to the south west of the Island and big white flakes were coming down like nobody’s business, hitting the ground then disappearing. But then we’re geared up for it over here, all weather tyres and every other car is an AWD or a 4×4. Some AWD’s being more equal than others. The Winter tyre change is just something you do every year. Those with only traction on one axle tend to have a spare set of Winter wheels ready for driving. There’s none of this nonsense with ‘The wrong kind of snow’ either. We get the same kind of cold wet and heavy type of stuff as the UK, and the occasional six inch fall is treated with insouciance. Anything more, well, road clearing is mostly done by local contractors who have their own chainsaws for clearing fallen trees. On rural roads they don’t wait for the Council workers to get out of bed, the problem’s in front of you buddy, you fix it. Likewise, airports and suchlike keep running no matter what. It takes a fall of over a six inches (All right, fifteen point two four centimetres) within twenty four hours to come anywhere close to shutting those down.

Today there’s no snow left except for the odd north facing slope or compacted pile of dirty ice shunted over into a sheltered corner, slowly melting in the rain. Business as usual. No drama. Only a month or so away from Spring. Even then we’ve had serious snow in April, over two feet on one occasion, which was my first encounter with the term ‘snow day’. There’s even been the odd strinkling in June around the 49th parallel. But that’s weather in the northwestern Pacific rim for you. And we’re about the same latitude as Bordeaux, France.

Not that it matters, it’s all Milankovich cycles, Solar irradiance and changes in albedo anyway.

Apart from the cold outside, Windows 10 is screwing with my wireless keyboard and mouse setup. Both started playing up out of the blue two days ago. Tried fixing with the Logitech receiving package, but no improvement. Windows 10 is truly shite. Every update brings new fuckups. I haven’t had this much messing around with an operating system since MS-DOS, which at least had the benefit of being a stable platform. Windows 10 with the latest upgrade is a buggy, unreliable pile of crap. Mostly because I’ve had to go digging through Device Manager to reconfigure the power management settings after this last fucking update. Not just in one, but all devices, from USB hubs to Mice and Keyboards.

From an ex-support technicians perspective, there were only two versions of Windows that were any good. Windows 2000 because with service pack 4 it was almost bulletproof and Windows 7, because it was the last Windows package to do what the bloody hell it was told, and not allow some Microserf to remotely mess around with your well-configured systems. It’s why I used to switch off the latest update until the tech forums reported all clear. XP was barely tolerable, Vista was utter crap and 8.1, well, best avoided if you want my advice. 10 is a complete abortion. The ‘Home’ edition worst of all.

What scrolls my knurd is the constant basic system changes every time a new bell and whistle becomes available. I spend time and energy setting up my laptop to do exactly what I want, when I want it to. I don’t want the fucking thing to keep second guessing me. Firstly it’s annoying, secondly it’s time wasting, and thirdly it’s completely patronising. It’s got to the point that if old Spoonbanger petulantly did drop a nuke on the good old US of A, I’d bloody cheer if ground zero was Microsoft.

Update: on the topic of driving in adverse conditions, I’ve always wondered why, given Northwestern Europes propensity for cold wet weather, that most vehicle retailers don’t simply spend a couple of extra hundred bucks on all weather rubber for their vehicles. The Ice / Mud ‘All Season’ rating would seem to be the most sensible choice, rather than trust to less grippy compounds which are only really effective above 7 Celsius. Not that there’s much advantage because Summer rubber doesn’t add to the grip if you spend half your time (Like the majority of UK drivers) in heavy traffic commutes.

For a personal anecdote, our Geolander G95’s hold the tarmac nicely in all conditions (Tried and tested) from temperatures in the high 30’s Celsius, heavy snow to intense downpours and packed ice. The rear tyres are due to be replaced with a new pair at 130,000KM (80,000 miles) this September. Still with 1mm remaining on the ‘safe’ tread. Wondering which make is best for your shiny tin box? Start here with a 2017 survey.

All of the above is rather academic really, if as JuliaM puts it so succinctly in the comments, “No machine is worth much if the meatsack behind the wheel hasn’t bothered to RTFM!”

Earwigo again

“It was the worst of times, the best of times. the age of tech, was the age of feelz, the epoch of meme and trolling. It was the era of Pepe, the rise of Kek, the season of Autism, a spring of hope, the winter of lies.”

Which Dickens misquote (From the opening lines of a ‘Tale of Two Cities’) rather sums up how I feel about the online world at the moment. Either that or it’s the last vestiges of jet lag. It’s all academic anyway. All my ‘social media’ accounts are either deleted, dead, or weed strewn and abandoned.

Now we’re back in BC, in the not so frozen north the Trudeau government looks ever more like becoming a kind of soft fascist regime with it’s focus on Justin’s cult of popularity and the Liberals determination to control everything, including thought and speech. Which certainly ticks at least three boxes on the ‘Are you a fascist regime’ checklist. After hearing Justin’s performance at Davos, I’m thinking it might even be time to think about bailing out while the getting is good. I’ve also overheard people in the streets bitching about price increases and my eyes tell me they’re not far wrong. As for Trudeau, his sockpuppet popularity is slipping and no-one outside of Canada really takes him that seriously.

The trouble is with Canadian politics that there’s no statesman with enough balls to stand up to all the wishy washy PC crap which is driving a lot of really bad legislation. There’s no one who seems to want to stand up to all the vested protectionist interests and touchy feely bollocks prevalent in Canadian Society.

Anyway, non existent Tsunamis notwithstanding, I’m back flying a desk again and Mrs S has delegated a few tasks to me while my line of work is slack, of logging on and off this Worksafe BC malarkey for her. Despite me being less than thirty feet away, she is classed as a ‘lone worker’ and must be ‘protected’ by phoning in every four hours to an automated service that takes a monthly fee. According to the operational terms, if she misses a call, she’s supposed to get a callback by a human operator to see if she’s okay. Which doesn’t happen by the way, it’s a completely automated system which just calls back repeatedly, as we found out yesterday when I missed a check in. Some ‘protection’ eh? Mandated by a BC Government agency that won’t check out less safe work environments like up island logging operations. At least this is what Mrs S’s contacts tell her. Yet because she works from home, she must be ‘monitored’. Yeah, right. Because she’s ‘at risk’ of getting a paper cut or stubbing her toe at home within ten metres of a husband (Me) who has had proper medical training and real life experience of assisting in real emergencies and almost half a dozen means of calling for some form of assistance. Voice, cell phone, home phone, skype, email, as well as yours truly popping by every hour or two to make tea or coffee. So an automated callback system which doesn’t really do anything apart from ring off if there’s no response is, as I am wont to say, “the next best thing to useless.” But we have to have it by law. Or else we get fined. Is that ‘fair’? You tell me.

Another annoyance since I returned from the fabled land of Oz, is Google and my cell phone company being a pain. I’m not receiving calls or text messages despite my phone bill being paid up to date. Then Google wants to do stuff ‘to improve my security’ and every time it does, and every time I get on a plane, it fucks with my email. Which I resent. I have good security. I run VPNs, a full range of anti-virus, anti-spyware and change my email password intermittently. Yet still I have to put up with all their ‘security’ crap when I won’t let them know if I’m taking a figurative shit or not or which bathroom I’m using in which country. So Gmail has to go. All my accounts. Sorry guys, it’s been fun but it’s time for me to move on with all the other grown ups.

Given the aggravation with my cell phone, I’m also shopping for a new one as it looks like Canada will be shutting down the GSM network in 2018, leaving my old Nokia 6310 useless for anywhere within North America, but I’m also looking for a multi-Sim phone which isn’t Google dominated. Or at least lets me use non-Google services and apps. If my last remaining reader has any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

Restrictive practices

The longer I’m a global citizen, travelling the globe and finding what differences there are between countries, the more amazed I become. Today’s object lesson came from those jape-a-minute practical jokers, the main Canadian cell (Mobile, whatever) phone companies. Let me enlighten my one remaining reader. I have a GSM phone. One that works in just about every country on Earth. Tri-band, three frequencies, great range. Yet GSM phones are only supported by one Canadian company, Rogers. Bell, Telus, and all the sub variants of these companies, including Virgin Koodoo and Fido don’t support GSM-only phones. They have gone straight to LTE, 3G and 4G networks. So if you need a SIM card for a retro GSM phone, don’t waste your time with at least three of the ‘big four’.

There’s also the bit of news that GSM phones are being phased out in Australia. Vodaphone is the last supplier of GSM pre-paid SIM cards down under and will be shutting down their last GSM network in March 2018. So there’s just enough of a window for me to have a working phone while I’m there. In the new year I’ll be in the market for a new phone because otherwise I’ll have no means of emergency contact. Not that I’m that bothered, but Mrs S does fret when she can’t get hold of me in ten seconds flat. Besides, I like to talk to people rather than text at them.

One of the issues up here in the not so frozen north is that Canada is so mired in protectionism it acts as a direct hit on the bank accounts of the general populace. Calling long distance is a credit killer, and you would be amazed how short a distance that can be. Every cell phone ‘plan’ I’ve come across is designed to get at least CAD$50 out of a users pocket every month as a bargain basement figure. Then there are all the other little charges that hungrily suckle on your financial teat that were abandoned in Europe back in the early 00’s. I’m loathe to say ‘rip off’ but it’s funny how the layers of costs mount up.

As for those who trot out “Well, Canada is a big country…” to justify the cell phone companies glaring omissions and excesses; that’s a very poor excuse. My considered opinion is that Canadian monopolies and their subsidiaries just can’t be bothered to cater to the market sector that neither wants nor needs to upgrade their cell phone every three years. Indeed, they could be missing out because at present there is a very strong ‘retro’ movement. Even if the planned shut down of 2G networks goes ahead. A lot of people only want their phones to make calls and texts. To them, Data is just a character from Star Trek- the next generation played by Brent Spiner in heavy makeup. Besides, who wants to ruin their eyes staring at tiny screens all the time? Do your eyeballs ache a lot? That could be a clue you spend waaay too much time checking the mindless garbage on Twatter.

By way of a personal observation, two of the people served before me at the four cell phone stores I visited today bought old style flip phones. That’s two out of seven people in total without me going after a GSM compatible prepaid SIM card. With my input that’s just over a third of the total customer base in a random Sunday sample. Now there’s a message in there for those who would but see.

This sort of thing is true for many other services and goods this side of the border. Especially when every attempt to import has certain folk raising their arms in horror and shouting about ‘protecting Canadian Jobs’, which probably don’t really exist because Canada has huge manpower overheads and a relatively high minimum wage, which means many goods are simply too expensive to manufacture this side of the 49th parallel. Then the Government gets lobbied into leaving economic power with a few large companies who have had what some might call a stranglehold on the Canadian economy since the early days of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Take for example cheese. A recently successful motion to allow specialist French imports raised a loud outcry because, claimed the protectionists, it would ‘cost Canadian jobs’. Even when Canadian dairy manufacturers can only just managed a very average Brie or Camembert. Although they can manage a halfway decent Aged Cheddar, but not much more. But don’t ask about the near tasteless ersatz yellow rubber substance called ‘Monterey Jack’.

Now when it comes to cheese, the French rather bake the quiche, with the Italians and Germans coming in a close second and third and the British finishing a very creditable 4th, having clawed their back way up from the bottom of the cheese producing pile where they had languished for far too long. Well, that’s my estimation, having spent quite some time around British, French and German street markets and the local fare on offer. Same for beer. It’s only since the mid 00’s that we’ve seen a proper resurgence of what are called ‘craft’ beers over here.

Talking about markets, that’s another thing Canadians don’t really understand. Street markets, which are found throughout the rest of the civilised world, are almost unknown up here. The last time I went into a Vancouver Christmas street market, it wasn’t really a market at all as I understand them. It was a theme park designers idea of a street market. It was fenced off, you had to pay fifteen bucks each to get in to get in and it was full of tourist trap garbage. Nothing like the open access, noise, bustle and sheer doggoned fun of a proper street market. Far too twee. Far too restrictive, and there lies the crux of the matter. Something will have to give.

Anyway. I now have what I need, my tomato plants are beginning to develop fruit and the deadline for stepping onto that plane for a sunshine filled festive season in the fabled land of Oz draws ever closer. Yeah.

Back to the future

Well, we’re all set for our first odyssey to the fabled land of Oz, where according to some men who work, Where beers flow and men chunder. Flights are booked and paid for, visitor visa’s obtained, hotels booked and confirmed and cars hired. Eldest is taking care of SIM cards for our cell phones, so we’ll be in full comms less than two hours after clearing immigration and customs. So short of some unforeseen disaster or a direct nuclear strike we’ll be down under over Christmas and the New Year. In the case of cancellation we’re insured three ways to breakfast, so any financial losses by cancellation or delay will be minimised. Sometimes all you can do is try to stack the odds in your favour and let the cards fall as they may.

On the topic of cell phones, I sometimes look at all these handy little things that have so many Darwin Award contestants wandering across the road without looking, or getting killed driving while texting and wonder why they’re so fixated. What is it that’s so important they’re willing to court an untimely demise? It’s worth noting that some 16,000 of cell phone related road deaths were recorded in the USA alone between 2001 & 09 (I think – studies differ). In the UK drivers distracted by cell phone (Calls and texting) overtook the kill rate of all other forms of road death back in 2014. Allegedly (It was in the Daily Express). But even if it’s not completely true, that’s a hell of a lot of dead bodies just because dimwits can’t focus on what they should be doing. Specifically, keep their eyes on where the hell they’re going. If it was down to me, I’d set up a law that says if you were using a mobile phone at the time of a fatality causing crash, that should automatically upgrade to a manslaughter charge. But that’s just me. I’ve almost been run off the road many times because some tit behind the wheel simply can’t leave the phone alone. So colour me prejudiced. I don’t want my death certificate to read ‘Death by social media’.

Aslant to that topic, recently I’ve been suffering a bout of nostalgia for my old UK mobile, which even fifteen years after I bought it still does sterling service. As you can see from the picture below, I also have one of those rinky-dinky smartphones. The problem is that one of these devices is not really that much use to me any more. Guess which one it is, go on, have a wild stab. (Although not at me, I’m allergic to the sight of my own blood) Correct! it’s the Samsung Smartphone on the left. Yes it still does wi-fi and bluetooth, but so does my tablet. The main problem appears to be my version of Android. Now according to Samsung’s web site their devices will still support stuff like Whatsapp on Android version 2.3 up to 2020AD. The Samsung on the left has version Android 2.3.3 (and will update no further). Which might lead one to think; “Supported to 2020? Oh, that should be fine.” Only it isn’t. Unfortunately my network (Thanks a bunch Virgin) will not allow any of the new App upgrades like Google Maps and Whattsapp to update any more. So this all singing all dancing mobile phone, once a fully functional piece of kit, barely limps along. Not to mention the battery life being pretty crap. It no longer fulfils the purpose I bought it for and I’m still shelling out CAD$XX every month just for the privilege of connecting to my carriers cell phone network. Without the ability to make international calls, which is one of my chief beefs against Canadian cell phone companies. It’s not that phoning overseas costs, it’s just that my Canadian network block me from calling them altogether. Surely they can make more money if I’m allowed to call one of my overseas contacts like at 50+ cents a minute. Don’t they see that? Although perhaps they can, as an international ‘roaming’ charge is CAD$10 a day. Then they add your metered call costs on top of that. Sounds like a licence to print money.

“Well that’s okay Bill.” you might advise. “Go out and get a new phone contract. There. Fixed it for you. Off you go.” But honestly, as far as I’m concerned, a smart phone’s utility is limited. Especially if you’re prohibited from upgrading the operating system so that certain Apps can run. Yes, there are workarounds, but honestly, it’s a lot of faff for far too little return.

Frankly I’m buggered if I’m going to shell out for a sparkly new mobile phone every three years just so I have a functional means of communication. So the Samsung is going to be replaced by the phone on the right, my basic call and text only Nokia 6310i which plays no music or games yet after 15 years still has a battery standby life of over twelve days and three hours talk time and connects to any GSM network. For email, games, writing notes and general Interwebbery I’ll still have my Android tablet.

As for my new Windows 10 laptop. It’s not that wonderful. For onboard applications the ‘upgrade’ really doesn’t do a lot more than Windows 7, which was a worthy successor to the only other decent Windows platform, Windows 2000. The bundled application software like Windows Movie Maker are still better with Windows 7 than 10. Not sure what Microsoft are up to, but if Windows 10 is their best effort, then I’m distinctly underwhelmed.

Yes, yes, I could have bought a MacBook or iPad, I’ve got the funds, but I’ve never had the urge to be an Apple Fanboy. On the various occasions I’ve walked into an Apple store the customer service has been worse than useless. The only time I got decent service at an Apple store was because a mate was working as Tech Support Manager at that particular franchise. Every other time I’ve tried to attract the attention of an Apple store employee, all I got was a vaguely contemptuous look that said “What’s an old fart like you doing in here?” So I walked right out again. Which makes me wonder if there’s a part of the Apple store interview process that goes; “Are you a narcissistic fuckwit who loves Apple and won’t sell one of our darling devices to an over forty?”
If the answer is “Yes.” Trust me, you’ll be hired. At least if my previous encounters with Apple Store staff are any guide.

Anyway. My old Nokia 6310i. Is it unlocked for any network full size SIM card? Oh yeah. Does it work as a phone? Yep. Bluetooth compatible with my new stereo headphones and relatively new HK250 earpiece? You betcha. Does it pair with my cars satnav / radio / handsfree? Perfectly. Connects to any GSM Network? Dee-fine-ately. I’ve got a tablet, so why on earth would I need one of those new tiny screens to do my emails, notes and other general Interwebbery?

Answers on the back of a plain brown envelope please.

Taking a fence

My lady wife has been complaining at me. Not because I did something wrong, but because I did it absolutely right. In discussion about a new part of her job we identified a business need for extra screens. Now setting these up off a desktop is relatively easy, buy an Nvidia multiport video card and install in the right slot. Load drivers and configure display. Plug in Monitors.   Easy peasy. Not so easy off a laptop, which is what we use because we travel for up to four months out of any given year. However, not a problem. Well, not for the tech-enlightened. We saw that particular techno-fence and took it in a single bold leap. Seem to do a lot of that.

For this tech recipe, all you will need, as well as a new monitor, is a multi-port USB hub if you don’t have enough USB spare ports on your slaptop plus one of these handy-dandy little USB to VGA (Or HDVI or DVD) converter widgets for each extra screen. Once the drivers for said widget are installed, plug in extra screen via widget and arrange on desk. As soon as the extra screen is active, go into settings and select the ‘extended’ video option. Alter toolbar views and other options as required. Rinse, repeat for as many screens as you have accessible spare ports. Robert then becomes one’s Father’s brother. This is not dragon magic. Anyone even mildly tech-savvy can do it with ease.

The reason for Mrs S’s complaint is that apparently now I’ve made it “Too easy” for her to surf the web, manage big spreadsheets, write emails and take video calls between watching her favourite Netflix series and delving into the ‘murkier waters’ of the jolly old Interweb, which to those in the know is more of an adventure playground than an ‘unsafe space’ requiring the intervention of some brain dead bureaucratic bungler. Just in case someone’s feelings get hurt, the poor ickle bunnies. So, a more comfy office chair has been provided so she’s able to relax a lot more without so much eyestrain. Yes I’m catching some good-natured flak about her not getting up often enough, but seeing as I’ve just made her job easier by a factor of ten, which she now acknowledges, her stress levels, and therefore mine, have just taken a nosedive. Cool beans. She now has time to pro-actively manage her work and is currently reading up on Byzantium in our kitchens sunny corner. Just waiting for the notifications to go ‘bleep’ at her so she can put in a bookmark and saunter off to her desk for half an hour to deal with the issue.

Apropos ‘safe spaces’, they’re fit for nothing but overindulged brats whose EQ is sub-zero. ‘Safe’ is dull. ‘Safe’ is no fun. ‘Safe’ is unchallenging. ‘Safe’ means stunted intellectual and emotional growth. Ditchwater is positively coruscating by comparison. This blog, as my last regular visitor will attest, is not ‘safe’. Toxic thoughts abound. This is my equivalent of the mildly dangerous part of a landfill where all the really icky stuff like mid-to-low level radioactive waste is buried. The ‘biohazard’ marker in the header picture is only partially meant in jest.

Anyway, sorry about the pun title, but it does seem to me there are far too many people in this world setting themselves up as moral arbiters on behalf of others. Aside from remarking on the sheer arrogance of their claim on the right to do so, to whom I would address the age old maxim; “Who rattled your cage, dimwit?” especially whenever someone ‘takes offence’ on behalf of someone else that they’ve never met, and probably didn’t even care existed. Right up until the opportunity arose for some pointless self-aggrandising virtue signalling on social media. Then it’s everyone to the barricades, comrade! While the rest of the world goes WTF are these people on? Don’t they have real lives? Well, the loudest complainers seem to be lefty politicians, students and academics, so perhaps not. If only we could persuade them to stay away from the rest of us.

Frankly I find the whole concept of taking offence on behalf of people I don’t know and have never met somewhat eccentric. Abhorrent even. If this makes me a Dinosaur I am happy to wear that badge because that class of life thrived on the earth for 145 Million years until they were blatted out of existence by a stray space rock. Even so, their relatives are still with us today as birds and various saurians, so fine, ‘Dinosaur’ may mean ancient, but it doesn’t mean rubbish. Mammals have only really had the run of planet Earth for a relatively short period, as bipeds far less. So we’ll have less of the derogatory remarks from you jumped up excuses for primates front bottoms. This Dinosaur says come back when you’ve been around for another million years or so. Or at least twenty. If you last that long. Because Evolution can be a right bi-atch. Rogue asteroids, supervolcanoes like the Siberian and Deccan traps and subsequent crustal shifting notwithstanding.

And there are social factors which can have the same effect on social justice warrior types, like would-be employers researching archived Twatter and Farcebook feeds (Not dragon magic or even rocket science) and going “Nah, too much trouble. – Next.” consigning their CV’s to the eternal darkness of file 13. Destroying careers before they’ve even begun. Which would be justice indeed for all the damage SJW Twatter hate mobs have done to people.

Agree, disagree? Even take a fence if you like. Just so long as it’s not mine or there will be tears before bedtime, and they won’t be mine.

Hi-ho. At least my tomato plants (See below) are doing very nicely ta muchly. I’ve even found that my used coffee grounds make a nice mulch / fertiliser.

Update: I liked my wife’s dual screen setup that I went out and bought myself an extra monitor and VGA converter this afternoon.  Half an hour after opening the box I had two 24″ screens to work off.  Bloody brilliant.

 

 

The future of transport

There’s a lot of political motion about transport at the present moment. First there’s the ban on sales of Internal Combustion Engine powered vehicles from 2040, which California looks like replicating in order to ‘save the planet’. These impending bans to reduce air pollution due to ICE powered vehicles are all well intentioned but one is tempted to ask, what will said proscriptions actually achieve?

For practical purposes not much, because the nature of logistics within cities is already changing. But the future does not lie with self driving electric cars. Nor electric cars or any variant thereof. Except on an extremely limited scale. For reasons as discussed here. The changes that are coming are more far reaching than a simple change in how tin boxes are powered and controlled. For a given value of ‘simple’. Which has already turned into a whole different, and over-subsidised bunch of complicated.

For example; both Mrs S and I ‘telecommute’ every day using video and other online messaging services, rarely needing to physically visit clients or sites more than once a year. Up until ten years ago our jobs didn’t, couldn’t exist. But thanks to the dear old Interweb, we earn a reasonable crust and pay our way in the world without too much drama. Yes, we have a car, and in the next five years this will have to be replaced and a motorcycle added to our means of getting about two or three times a week. But we don’t need to commute every day. Which adds hours to our productive working days. Which means we can pick our time of day to go out to enjoy a bit of a drive. As well as keep things up to snuff at home without losing precious ‘us’ time. And there’s a growing number like us who don’t have to turn up at the office to put in a (very) full day’s work. We’re also contractors, so we don’t show up in public employment stats. Like the people who run small businesses off a laptop over a coffee shops wi-fi link and cell phone. There’s part of the future, and it’s already here.

The coming changes will be as radical as the migration of methods between travel by horse and the first steam powered railways and they are right on our doorstep. Indeed, delivery companies and start-ups are already experimenting with what was up until recently merely a toy. Especially in heavily congested areas. Particularly for small, highly specialised manufacturers and distributors. Amazon have been running trials and there are a bunch of other startups which recognise that where drones will really come into their own is in the short run courier business, at first as an adjunct to, then as a replacement for, inner city bicycle and motorcycle couriers. Point to point small packages, high speed and high security with the capability to home in on a mobile phone or tablet so that no matter where the recipient is within a given radius, they will be able to receive a physical document or critical replacement part at exactly the time the text or component are required. Or medical supplies on a Just in time basis.

As for personal transport, no matter how it is powered, as the ability to deliver to a precise location at an exact time improves, the need for someone to physically get in a car and drive across town to an appointment or to hire an expensive courier will slowly decrease, therefore so will the road congestion of the inner cities. In short, we’ll stop needing to drive everywhere quite so much. That’s where the future lies. Not Electric Self driving cars. Batteries will never be that good, but they will be good enough to transport small packages a hundred miles or so. Like John Hopkins Medicine managed with this trial, beating Team Roadrunners previous 97 mile record, set in May 2017. In the UK, Centrica have run trials for remote inspection of production sites out in Morecambe bay. And that’s only three examples.

This is the way real change for the better begins. Not with governments, but with people utilising an idea in new ways.

Now there is a major impediment. Legislation. Whether lawmakers fail or succeed to address the benefits of point to point lightweight deliveries. From a purely safety perspective, Drones with semi-autonomous Artificial Intelligence packages can be made to navigate crowded airspace to and from sensitive locations, but this must be mandated by clear laws that lay down a simple legal framework for the new technology to operate within. Simply banning their use does nothing but stave off the inevitable.

Of course, early adopters will (and probably do) already include your friendly local illicit substance provider and smuggler. A drone that can fly more than twenty plus kilometres carrying a kilo or two of whatever substance the market demands is no more detectable than a bird. The only real risks to drones being the territorial instincts of large birds, such as with Wedge Tailed Eagles in Australia, or the French and Dutch Police training Bald Eagles to take down unauthorised UAV’s.

On the topic of drone interdiction, Mr Trumps much vaunted border wall is no more use than the proverbial chocolate teapot at preventing cross border drug trafficking by drone. Short of shooting at everything that crosses a certain line, and that would be simply impractical. For example, two people with backpack sized controls and half a dozen drones could run rings around any number of border guards, eliminating the risks and expense of human ‘mules’ and couriers across say, the US-Mexican or US-Canadian borders. Who is to say this is not already happening. Because it already is.

Thus far, even prison walls have proved little use against drones, like with this smuggling operation into a prison. Although contrariwise, Enforcement monitoring Drones will be, (are and have been) used to remotely monitor and detect illegal activity so that flying squads of border agents can home in and make arrests. However, so far these drones are of the larger, military types and have so far proven uneconomic, but as quadcopter technology improves, the cost per enforcement unit will decrease. For example; Los Angeles Police Department is even experimenting with smaller drones.

What overall effect this technology may have on cities is covered in this interesting little TED talk by Julio Gil (See below). And he’s right. The technology is almost with us. In fact it’s so close early adopters are already using much of it. The rest is trying methodologies until we find one that really works.

I particularly like his idea of the mobile drone delivery platform. Post office or delivery van pootles down suburban or rural road while a squadron of drones busily drop mail and small packages off on doorsteps leaving the driver (and maybe a helper for the heavier stuff) free to concentrate on dropping off the bigger packages. Maybe even some form of pickup device could be provided to save on postal delivery people having to traipse around emptying mailboxes. Drone picks up your mail, reads a printed address bar code or number and pre-sorts it before the delivery van even arrives back at the distribution hub.

While much of the above may be conjecture one thing is certain; the future is almost here, and that future contains Drones.

Update:  You know that naughty man (Well, most of the lamestream pundits say he is) who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC?  Well, kiddies, he’s just signed an executive order enabling the testing of Drone Technology for deliveries and the FAA has just given CNN a waiver for camera drone flights to take place over crowds.  So yes, the future is closer than we think.  Cool.

Ouch

Our Interweb access has been playing up. Despite an upgrade to our service it was still running like a heavily sedated slug. The modem worked, the Router was fine but Internet searches and suchlike were just slow and running at least 35-40Mbps slower than the service we’re paying for. Any old road up, we made a call and the cable guy brought us a new and faster modem. We had a little informed chat since we speak the same language about signal and network interference, the upshot being that a new Router was required. And one of the local stores was having a Router and wi-fi sale. Aaaaand what’s that Sooty? Allo, Bill’s got a new Router? Channelling Alexi Sayle in his manic heyday. (See below)

We didn’t put on the optional go faster stripes as they would have clashed with the decor, but it’s still bloody quick. What we now have is a dual band Gigabit which is blisteringly fast compared with what we had. As an adjunct, I upped our security as well to prevent anyone logging on and piggybacking our service. No guest accounts for one. Might add two later on the 2.4Ghz band, but otherwise not.

Oh yes, and I also went out and bought a motorcycle, a 2002 BMW R1150RT, delivery next week. Hey, it’s a little old and cheap, but then so am I. Posting may become even more sparse as I spend more time on the road and less at my desk. A little rearrangement of the garage may be in order. Next years travel plans also include a biking road trip down the coast to Califor-ni-a and back. Just because.

On the topic of vehicles, one of the problems I hadn’t thought about pertaining to Vehicles part or wholly powered by electrickery was the weight of their battery packs and the various problems this induces. Tesla’s for example seem to be particularly prone to suspension failures because the weight of their battery packs adds inertia to the vehicle, so that when the ball joints are subject to the additional stresses of hard (Some reports indicate merely gentle) cornering or braking, or even in one case a (reported) minor kerb bump, the risk of losing a wheel or suspension due to mechanical failure is magnified many times.

In comparatively small production runs the number of fires and failures reported for this class of vehicle seem disproportionate to say the least when compared to the more mature technology of the Internal Combustion Engine. Yes, yes, we know about development cycles, but over a hundred years to get this far? Especially with the government subsidies thrown at them since the 1970’s.

We should also not need reminding that GM recalled all its Electric Vehicles back in 2003 and had them all crushed. That was over ten years ago. Also that the most recalled Electric Vehicle is the Ford Focus EV (Also for suspension and transmission related issues) with the Fiat 500 currently a close second. Not sure what the figures are for the Toyota Prius.

While the recorded high rate of suspension failures can be tied to the extra weight of an electric vehicle’s battery pack and insufficiently robust suspension design, the fire problem mainly boils down to Lithium-Ion batteries. It’s well known that high capacity Lithium-Ion can be a fire risk, even when not in use if a manufacturing fault or wear has, like with the notorious Galaxy Tab 7, left the batteries prone to overheating, and like we have seen in many instances, can catch fire and burn spectacularly. The reason behind this is found in a peculiarity of Lithium-Ion batteries when they are charged.

Normally the rate at which Lithium-Ion batteries charge is carefully limited so that the Lithium within each cell doesn’t move too quickly – which, incidentally, is why batteries take time to charge. If charging is too fast, lithium ‘plates’ the anode, creating a potential short circuit which can generate heat. That heat, if allowed to build up, will go into thermal runaway and ignite the flammable electrolyte, and hey presto! – a very hard to extinguish fire and headache for the local fire department. Also if the battery pack gets too hot for any other reason, the Lithium cobalt oxide releases oxygen at high temperatures and the resulting highly-exothermic reaction with organic compounds in the cell proceeds at high speed and can result in thermal run-away, and yes, the local fire department have to be called. Now amplify that with the many high capacity battery cells in an Electric Vehicles battery pack. Any collision that ruptures a cell or cells in the battery pack can also do this in very short order. The casing of the battery does not even have to be breached.

Then factor in the known degradation of Lithium-Ion and Lithium-Manganese (Which aren’t so prone to catching fire but have lower capacity and limited range) batteries over multiple fast recharge / discharge cycles. We’re all used to laptop, phone and tablet batteries ‘wearing out’ in 2-5 years of even moderate use. Now factor that known degradation rate into the hundreds of cells making up the battery pack of an Electric Vehicle. The cost of replacement still hovering around USD$15,000 for the Tesla, a little less for Lithium-Manganese (Currently over GBP£11,500 or CAD$19,000 for L-Ion). Every five years. Eight maybe, for a very lightly used vehicle. Maybe.

For an honest comparison, I’ve just totted up the service costs on our little 6 year old mid range SUV over the first 5 years of its life which came to a gnats under CAD$5,600 (About USD$4,400 or GBP£3,400 at the time of writing). Total mileage slightly under 110,000km or about 68,3500. This cost includes two replacement tyres and two brake discs, pads and piston assemblies. Two tyres because of a blowout deep in the heart of Texas and the brakes discs the year before because we left it too long between services and dust seized the braking pistons in the calipers. Virtuously we are now ahead of the maintenance schedule – just. Add in the replacement cost of one OEM windscreen at CAD$700 (All right, GBP£420 or USD$550) which our insurance company paid over a half of and we still haven’t come anywhere close to half the predicted on-cost of an Electric Vehicle. Never mind that an EV won’t make even a third of the mileage we’ve put on our little SUV within the same time frame.

Incidentally, Tesla’s are known to go through a set of tyres in as little as 12,000 miles (A shade under 20km) while we have two that are still in good order at 110,000km or 68,000 miles. As are other Electric Vehicles and Hybrids. So being kind, let the average life of an EV’s tyres be 30,000km (Around 19,000 miles). Now look at the tyre life 110,000km plus of a mid range SUV like ours and the replacement cost for two full sets of around CAD$1350 (inc tax) each. That’s another CAD$2700 on top of any other maintenance costs like routine brake inspections etc. The like for like expenses just don’t stack up.

No matter how often I look at them, Electric vehicles appear a fine idea with all the subsidies (All that taxpayer dollar to discount the purchase price – yummy) the problem lies within the execution of the concept. Batteries as a primary power supply create more problems than they solve because of the volatility issues, recharge times, lifespan and overall weight so there has to be an alternative power source before any arbitrary ban on ICE vehicles is imposed. Even when you’re only dealing with UK distances.

As for EV on-costs, ouch, that’s gonna hurt.

A Sunday Post

I love Tech, both old and new. Particularly tech that has stayed the course and proved worthy beyond any predicted life. See below two pictures of Catalina’s or Canso versions of the PBY flying boat, designed in the 1930’s and still flying today. The one on the left can be found slap bang in the middle of St Anthony’s Newfoundland. Not near any airstrip, just parked on a vacant lot as a museum type exhibit. The second we sighted from the northern perimeter road at Victoria International Airport 21st July.
These two venerable airframes have been around since the late 1930’s / early 40’s and still have that look of, how should I phrase it, worthiness. Solidity. Yes, they’re an old design, but in their heyday were known for staying in the air on long range patrols of up to 24hours. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another manned production aircraft that can match that.

Don’t ask me what it is but there is a strange kind of beauty about these grande dames of the air.

Oh yes. Have a look at the map below with the locations marked, then take a look to the extreme right at a small group of islands off the coast of Europe. We drove all the way between these points (Apart from two ferry trips) A shade over 17,000Km or well over 10,000 miles. I still don’t think I’m fully recovered.

Over the moon

Just heard the news. SpaceX is going to the moon late 2018. Two paying passengers will be doing an Apollo 8 type mission which won’t actually land, but will take a Dragon Capsule for a couple of Lunar orbits before doing a slingshot back to Earth orbit.

My inner child has just popped his tousled head up from his ‘Space Heroes of 1971’ annual and is currently punching the air and painting imaginary pictures.spacex-moon-mission-artistic-impression like this one. Which is essentially a collage of three public domain images. As for a landing, well, that may have to wait a couple of years if Musk and his merry men are involved. He’s hired some talented people and they’ve fixed the tail first landing issues. So a Lunar landing may follow. And space tourism. Or more likely a ‘space bus’ service which can get people from orbit to the moon with a weather eye on a manned Mars mission.

Another part of me is going; “Some good news at last!” because I don’t want to know about all the bullshit about ‘fixing the problems down here before we send some rich dudes around the moon on a joyride’. I hated those kind of anti-space exploration arguments when I first heard them at school almost forty five years ago and I think anyone who voices them knows next to nothing about humanity. Earth will always have the same problems of poverty, war, disease, hatred and inconvenient migraines.

Stopping a space programme until we all live in some impossible utopia where everyone is happy will mean we’ll be waiting to get off this third rock from the sun a long, long time. Probably never. Did the Wright Brothers wait until the problems of the world were fixed before hoiking their ungainly machine to Kittyhawk and launching it along some rickety wooden rails? No. Did any Victorian era explorer stop as they were about to pull out of home harbour and say; “Sorry lads. Trips off. Someone’s poor old Aunt Gertie has a sick kitten.” Of course not.

Every argument I’ve ever heard about space exploration being a ‘waste of money’ has turned out to be complete bollocks. If humanity hadn’t sent satellites and manned missions into space we’d know next to nothing about the Van Allen Radiation belts and the Earth’s magnetic shield. There would be no GPS, no pictures of the Earth from the moon that gave fuel to the Environmental movement. Never mind about all the innovations and indirect spin offs in materials technology. Space exploration does one thing which we could never have done without it. It gives us a greater awareness of ourselves in the cosmos, and even if we are only An invisible dot on an invisible dot.” At least because of our faltering steps into the night, we will come to know what we are and can get a better perspective on some of the worse ideas down here.

If Elon Musk and his team can pull it off, good for him. I think they can.