Tag Archives: Tech Stuff

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.


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.

There’s an app for that

My wife and I work from home. We have done for several years since we gained Canadian citizenship. In all that time we’ve paid our dues and taxes, got on with life and generally been no bother to anyone.

Until this afternoon. Mrs S received an email about a new wheeze whereby ‘WorkSafe BC’ say that because neither of us has a current WorkSafe BC certificate for ‘elf ‘n safetee at work, even though I am trained in first aid and CPR, she now has to have an ‘app’ on her cellphone to check in and check out with a designated monitoring company, which I believe is a privacy violation under the Federal 1983 Privacy Act as the monitoring agency are not part of the BC official government. This is because she is officially ‘home alone’ and therefore ‘vulnerable’. Despite the fact that I am there most of the time. Furthermore, she has been informed that she will not be paid this month unless she signs up to this summary imposition. Which has been instituted by the organisation she works for as a contractor without any consultation of the workforce.

The BC lone worker program is being extended as part of a shitty little tax grab, an attempt to force all home workers to pay full WorkBC premiums when they really don’t need to be covered by the service. In short, bureaucratic mission creep, dreamed up by people who make the Addams Family look positively normal.

As a freelancer, I have not been notified of any such requirement and having heard the above, will not be alerting WorkSafe BC to my existence. Both of us are at home, working. We are safe. We work on keyboards, not with any dangerous tools. We pay our taxes on incomes from a variety of sources. Sometimes we work elsewhere. In another country. Out of cellphone coverage. Sometimes travelling by air where cellphones are supposed to be switched off. I do not see why either of us should have to ‘check in’ and ‘check out’ just because some arseheaded bureaucrat thinks it will vindicate their pointless existence. They can fuck right off and go Salami slice some other poor buggers privacy as far as I’m concerned. We’re not employees to be monitored and managed, we’re independent contractors and therefore not covered by the legislation. Even if these over-reaching bureaucrats say we are. Fuck ’em. And we’ve got private professional health and accident insurance. So there.

We do not work regular hours, and sometimes take a shower in the middle of the day, or cook, or go for a walk, or do any of a thousand other things where we do not care to be ‘monitored’. We are grown ups, not some feeble ‘senior’ or vulnerable child who needs to be watched unless our arses need wiping. We have walked our way since the dawn of our lives, and so long as we harm no-one else are accountable to no-one.

However, there’s a rather large loophole in the proposed compulsory monitoring procedure which is wide open to exploitation by any vaguely tech savvy type. As they say, “there’s an app for that”. In fact there are a number; for Android at least. All you need to do is check out the Apps market for your specific cellphone. If a ‘check in’ call is required, this can be done by automating a text or automated call to the monitoring number concerned and setting up a schedule at slightly different times each weekday. The ‘check out’ can be either done the same way, and any enquiry calls from a monitoring company’s outgoing number forwarded to some form of SMS or phone answering app with a recorded message. Something like; “Yeah, I’m fine. At my desk in my home office, okay? Gotta go, I’ve got an urgent work call coming in. Have a great day. Byee.“. Or maybe “Hi, I’m a little busy right now, can’t talk but I’m fine.” Just set up your cellphone to block all ‘anonymous’ numbers just in case the call monitors try to get tricksy, which is a snap, and Robert is one’s parents sibling. Failing that, all Apps are just code, and will only do what they are told. They can be hacked or automated. No biggie.

Also if you’re like Mrs S and I, we switch off our Canadian cells when out of country because of the massive roaming charges. Say when we leave Canada for the US or Europe and take our old Nokia 6310i’s, we simply simply leave our Canadian cellphones at home on charge and forward all wanted calls from business, friends and family to our out of country cell phone numbers or use Skype.

The same works for email or SMS. There may be scope to forward all messages from the monitoring company to email. From there it’s not difficult to set up a rule or filter to auto answer any enquiry with a stock answer, or even a range of stock answers or SMS depending upon the time of day and one need never be bothered by these bureaucratic busybodies again. Which is an old tech support wheeze for all their most annoying clients. A kind of Silicon Hell if you will. Which is exactly where all these ‘monitoring’ calls are going to go.

I suppose we could simply just quit, but that’s giving up too easily. One does not have to butt heads with authority to rebel against a suffocating system. But it’s also not that hard to make fools of them, because the people hired to run these systems are firstly not that bright, and secondly are easily tangled in the web of bureaucratic procedures, rules and regulations they inhabit like kittens playing with a ball of wool.

This could get interesting…

Overpriced junk

In the Mall the other day, waiting for Mrs S to come out of one of the stores, I found myself looking across at one of those vehicles powered by electrickery. A few folks were wandering around, giving it the once over, and the charging cable was plugged in. So I relieved the boredom by doing an ad hoc cost benefit analysis of such a vehicle by asking myself certain pertinent questions.

My basic thought process went like this:
Thought 1. Only 200km maximum range? That wouldn’t get me up to Nanaimo (A bi-monthly trip to the next majorish town see elderly friend) and back.
Thought 2. What happens to that 200km ‘maximum’ range on a cold wet day or evening when you have the heaters full blast and all the lights on?
Thought 3. How long does it take to get maximum charge, and how long do the battery packs last at full efficiency? What are the replacement costs?
Thought 4. Who pays for all those public charge points that don’t seem to have a means of payment for the charge?
Thought 5. How much public subsidy is used to pay for these vehicles? In purchase discounts, infrastructure provision and running costs?
Thought 6. What happens to the running costs of such a vehicle when all the public subsidies dry up?

Which are simple, very reasonable concerns when you come to choose a vehicle to cope with our northern, but relatively mild maritime climes. A neighbour has one, but their commute is only downtown and back. For any more serious travelling, I think they have a 2015 Subaru Crosstrek.

Hmm. I think the old conundrum of battery recharge times is going to mitigate against Thought 1. A basic charge takes around two hours to get any measurable benefit. Unless you are lucky enough to find one of the ‘Superfast’ charging stations which can do the job in around 20 minutes.

Thought 2 is a no-brainer. Heating and Aircon push your fuel usage up significantly in an Internal Combustion Engined vehicle. Put on the stereo, the heated seats and lights on a cold rainy day or evening and your fuel use goes way up. So too with electric vehicles. If for example we were to do what we normally do like run up to Nanaimo, one way point to point distance being a shade over 120 kilometres, plus, let’s say, 15 buzzing around town, running errands for elderly friend and taking her to lunch, that makes a grand total for an average round trip of 255km (Usually around 270 if my odometer is any guide), 55km over the maximum range of the vehicle I found myself looking at. Which doesn’t make sense for anyone living outside of 30km from their destination. Even a 60km round commute on a cold wet day will drain the batteries very quickly and costs will vary depending upon whether you can find a free charging station close to your destination, and even if a ‘Superfast’ charger is available, you’re still hanging around for twenty minutes while your batteries top up. Providing your electric vehicle has the ability to accept a fast charge. So you have to plan your journeys around charging stations, and be very mindful of journey’s taken during the hours of low light or darkness.

Thought 3 is an interesting one. The guaranteed life of a battery pack is five years, with a weighty CAD$7,400 (USD$5,633) non-warranty replacement cost (Parts only. Price quoted is without labour, which is currently around CAD$150 an hour by a main dealer) Budget will probably be around four hours per vehicle, so bang on around CAD$600 before adding around 12% tax and environmental to the total. Which ends up being around CAD$9,000 or more. In one bite? Ouch. That’s without the possible cost of having to replace the entire battery management subsystem as with some of the Nissan Leaf models, if you go for the battery pack upgrade option.

Then there’s consumables like tyres, windscreen (oh if you must, windshield) wipers and regular servicing costs. Just like any other vehicle.

Thoughts 4 and 5. Okay, there are ‘free’ public charging points, the installation costs for which were, up to 2013 mostly (75%) paid for out of Federal, Provincial and property taxpayer revenue. So on the surface you might get a free or low cost charge to get you home, but actually you’re paying for your ‘fuel’ via the general tax fund, and depending upon your municipality for everyone else’s electrickery to run their over-hyped golf carts. Even the ‘rates at the pump’ are heavily subsidised. Because BC Hydro, as we are reminded every time our electricity bill comes in, is not a registered charity.

Thought 6. This is the kicker. What does happen when the taxpayer funded subsidies for electric vehicles cease? Because just like what’s beginning to happen with Wind Turbines in Europe and what will happen under a Trump Presidency in the USA (Which is as decent a reason to vote for him as I can think of), public taxpayer funding will at some stage dry up like spit on a hot stove. See the last sentence in my previous paragraph. This is not a sustainable technology unless the purchaser funds the entire life cycle cost of the vehicle. Electrically driven vehicles, while they still rely on battery technology, will always remain little better than a curiosity, an uneconomic technological dead end, just like they were back in the early 1900’s.

Never mind the pollution and other issues associated with Lithium production for the batteries. Whilst a Lithium-Ion battery is fine for your cell phone, tablet or laptop, it’s not a brilliant idea as far as vehicular transport is concerned.

Compared to a vehicle which are their equivalent in performance and utility, even with all the most up to date developments, Electric cars just don’t make economic sense for the average North American, or anyone else for that matter.

Hence the title of this post.

I have been reminded that I forgot to mention depreciation. Silly me. After a quick search through the motoring press, I was astonished to see depreciation rates of between 39-42% on ‘Plug-in’ vehicles. The only versions to buck this trend are the Tesla and Prius, but neither are really a ‘proper’ electric vehicle, and even then there’s the cost of battery replacement every five years of USD$12,000. You heard me, twelve thousand dollars as of today. Which unless there’s a significant reduction in cost via economies of scale, is going to put a lot of people off. That’s without even touching on the reliability issues known to plague models like the Tesla S.

Just found this story from the UK’s Northern Echo, where a man recently lost Fifteen thousand Quid in eighteen months on a Nissan Leaf. Having read the article I’m inclined to observe that if he’d paid the full price of GBP30,000 without the GBP5,000 Government ‘cashback’ incentive, he’d have lost twenty thousand pounds. Double ouch!

How to eat an Elephant

Vaudeville comic. “I say, I say, I say! Have you seen my Elephant?”
Straight man. “I didn’t know you had one. Why do you have an Elephant? Is it a pet? Or are you just bragging?”
Vaudeville comic. “No, my dear chap, it’s for my lunch.”
Straight man. “Good god man, you must be hungry.”
Vaudeville comic. “I am. I am. Have you seen it?”
Straight man. “No good sir, but you’ve piqued my curiosity. How on Earth do you go about eating an Elephant?”
Vaudeville comic. “One slice at a time!” Ba-Boom!
Catch and eat elephant
Yerss… wellll. I’ve done it again. The realisation has sunk in that I’ve let my wife talk me into another mammoth (Groan. I know, I’ll get me coat) undertaking (Groan again) The Elephant in question is this three month European motorcycle tour for 2017. Mrs S as usual is dropping a good deal of the research in my lap and then when I’m just about to hit ‘Book’ on the accommodation booking site wants to take an entirely different route altogether. Also known as the “Oh Bill.” Manoeuvre. Which always leaves me with the sensation I’m following the Mrs Beaton recipe for Elephant a la Tanganyika (Serves 500), which not only requires half a tonne of star fruit and oranges for the sauce, but begins ‘first catch your elephant’.

Now the maps have arrived I’m reminded of the first round Europe tour we did on two wheels, which was a titch by comparison yet still took up slightly over three thousand miles in three weeks on my old 900ST. This version will be taking us almost three times as far in three months. Which is a much different ball game.

However, today I just saved myself well over three thousand dollars which is a little less Heffalump to scarf down. Let me explain. Touring motorcycles, even big ones like a 1215 Trophy, BMW KL1200T, Honda Gold Wing or ST1300 Pan European have a finite luggage carrying capacity. One of the solutions to improve the carrying capacity is to fit a tow bar and tow a small trailer. But these things, while popular in Germany and over here in North America, are expensive and leave rider and pillion vulnerable to people who are not particularly switched on. Here in North America, where on some roads you can go an hour without seeing another vehicle this isn’t a problem. In crowded old Europe it’s just more bike to be hit.

The saving comes from digging out my old water resistant ripstop nylon thirty inch duffel bag which will bungee and cargo strap neatly onto the rear top box platform of the Trophy whilst giving us at least thirty kilo’s of extra luggage capacity. It also gets us round several logistical concerns, like whether Air Canada will treat such a trailer as a separate vehicle and charge me another three thousand dollars on top of what I’ll already be coughing up for the air fares. Then there’s parking, overnight storage and security in the less secure environments we may find ourselves passing through. Better a single bag I can sling over my shoulder, Mrs S can take the electronics in my old weatherproof Belstaff backpack and I still have a bolt cutter resistant wheel lock and cable. I’ll spend some of the money I’ve saved by purchasing a proper tank bag and cover.

Overall this little epiphany may end up cutting at least five thousand dollars off my original trip budget, possibly even as much as seven. Which is money that can be put to other uses like upscale accommodation, and nicer country restaurants who don’t bat an eyelid at people who amble in from the car park wearing full motorcycle gear. Any of you who were alive and riding in the 1970’s and 80’s will recall the many ‘No Biker’ signs around every pub in the UK. Contrariwise, I have found continental Europe blessedly free of such blind prejudice.

The one dark spot on the horizon is a household disagreement over the current state of US politics. Mrs S thinks Hilary Clinton should be the next president of the USA, mainly because she’s female and a veteran politician. My view is that if I had a vote it would be for anyone but Hilary Clinton, precisely because she is a ‘veteran politician’, and thus part of the problem not the solution. She may have a ‘track record’ but so has a horse that’s run a lot of races and consistently come last. As an observation; during our road trip around the US, and latterly when we spent our last long weekend north of Seattle we saw lots of Bernie Sanders bumper stickers and lawn signs and quite a number for Donald Trump, even a few for Barack Obama, but absolutely no visible support for Hilary Clinton anywhere. From Washington State down through California and across to South Carolina. We saw no bumper stickers, lawn signs, billboards or anything. Well, perhaps her campaign has been pacing itself, or they were hiding off the main Interstates, but I’m not convinced.

Anyway, that’s someone else’s Elephant to eat. Hope they brought plenty of mustard and a bakery load of bread.

Chromium malware

Chromium malwareThose accursed eHippies at Google have done it again (may they be consigned to eternal hell fire). Today they have wasted my time (On Victoria Day!) whilst I got rid of a browser I never consciously installed that did not show up in my Windows 7 machines Control Panel. Furthermore, it had no Uninstall option and kept on trying to set itself up in my default programs settings, as well as plugging into my machines microphone. I had to spend two and a half working hours digging through the registry on my machine to get rid of this insidious tentacular pest known as Chromium.

Let me explain; two days ago I found a Google browser called ‘Chromium‘ appearing every time I rebooted my machine. “Funny.” I thought. “I didn’t install that.” I looked for it in my startup folder. Not there. I hunted through my programs list to uninstall and couldn’t find it, yet this piece of zombie malware kept popping up every time I booted my machine. Even stealing program settings from other browsers, which I hadn’t asked it to do. Even if I’d installed the crappy thing in the first place. Diving once more into the tech forums for a couple of hours, I came across a whole host of others so afflicted over the last twelve months. Each with their own cure. Each equally annoyed. So it wasn’t just me then?

In the end I had to edit my machines registry key by key, which I don’t like having to do, deleting a total of over twenty six (I lost count after that) specific keys before I got rid of the wretched thing. It’s bad enough that you have to defend against hackers, crackers and every kind of demented 13 year old who thinks it’s funny to fuck other people around by spreading viruses and malware into their machines without so-called ‘reputable’ companies putting in their own sneakware that changes your machines settings without permission, as well as activating functions you deactivated for very good reason.

After trawling through my laptops various log files I eventually found out where this egregious pile-of-shit code had come from, piggybacking in on a shareware application that I downloaded and then uninstalled after finding it wasn’t up to snuff. Got the shareware via a reputable source as well, which kind of blindsided me.

But I’m damned sure I never asked for it.