Get a Dashcam for Only £4*

Light Trails

Light Trails

(* plus one old Android smartphone, not included)

I only drive my car once a week, generally, when I visit my folks, twenty-something miles up the A1.  However, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said “I wish I could have recorded that” after some idiot has done something daft and/or dangerous.

Dashcams have gained in popularity over the last few years, overcoming fears that people might take exception to being filmed while driving (ok, maybe that’s just my fear), due in part to the videos posted from russia of often spectacular footage of crashes and meteorites.  Of course, apart from the draw of gaining YouTube views the footage is handy for insurance or police evidence reasons in case of an accident.

I’ve looked at various options over the years and decided that I couldn’t justify the more expensive (better reviewed, supposedly better quality) ones and yet the cheaper ones seemed to get mixed reviews and needed to be powered from the car to work properly.  The problem with a wired cam for me is that my convoluted smartphone charging and combined Bluetooth receiver/FM Transmitter combo setup takes up all the USB charging ports I’ve got in the car.

Then a couple of weeks ago I had a revelation, via a Gizmodo UK article on reusing supposedly outmoded gadgets.

I have two smartphones, the older of the two Xperias being semi-retired after becoming brain-addled a few years back, lacking storage and running very slowly suddenly, for eighteen months it’s been a receive-only connection to my old phone number for texts from the network pleading with my to top up my credit.  But as mentioned in the article it could serve as a dashcam with one free app.

So off I went.  Firstly I turned sync off on  most of the Google services as I don’t want it downloading historical emails.  Next I deleted any apps that were never going to be used again (including, it seemed, the one that had caused its memory and speed issues – it’s like having my old phone back).  Finally I installed the CamOnRoad dashcam app and after a few settings tweaks to save the videos onto the SD card it was up and running.  Two advantages to this Xperia dashcam is a great camera and long battery life – it’s cordless!

The last part of the solution was mounting it on the windscreen.  The next day at the supermarket I found a £4 smartphone holder.  The first test showed this wobbled too much on the road but a simple block of rubber jammed between the dashboard top and the phone holder kept everything stable and free of seasickness-inducing motion.

The only other issue was finding the videos on the phone to copy to the computer but putting the phone in “pretend I’m a USB disk” mode (Mass Storage Mode to be precise) sorted that out – after much head-scratching and cries of “where the blazes are you hiding them?”  Or words to that effect.

I can also still use the old phone for one of the other tips in the article too – as a Google Play Music streaming device with either headphones or one of my many Bluetooth speakers.

Technology becomes seemingly outdated quickly today, the hardware can’t cope with new software, they run out of space, but if you can’t or don’t want to throw devices away or sell them then there are people coming up with creative and useful ways to give this tech a second life.

 

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Big Fish, Little Fish

Temporary Cycle Lane Shift Back To Controflow

Temporary Cycle Lane Shift Back To Controflow (Photo credit: samsaundersleeds)

Just a quick thought on various road users and annoyance.  Yesterday a lorry pulled out in front of me on a roundabout while I was in a small works van, by his gesticulating he clearly felt that I shouldn’t have been there.  Some car drivers get annoyed with cyclists because they think they’re getting in the way and shouldn’t be on the road and then this morning whilst on an early morning bike ride in the sunshine I was a bit miffed at having to slow down and wait for a guy (who had been running) wandering along a narrow cycle path with headphones on so he was completely unaware that I was wanting to get past and get home for a cool drink.

Seems we’re just all getting in each others’ way.  C’est la vie.

Edit:  On a serious note I’ve just seen this article which demonstrates the dangers and I’m amazed the cyclist walks away at the end of the video.

The World is a Playground… Unfortunately

Wing mirror VW Fox

I’d already had a bad day when I arrived home to see the driver’s side wing mirror hanging forlornly from the door of my car.  I’ve had it nearly ten years, I still enjoy driving it, it’s distinctive, it’s a lovely car if a tad rough (rusty) around the edges.  It’s mine and for someone to physically assault it like this enraged me.

It’s not the first time either, last time though the mirror was saved by its spring-loaded safety mechanism that absorbs the impact and lets you just clip it back.  This time though there was no clipping back and no spring because whoever had hit it this time had done so with enough force to snap the bracket that held the spring.  This time the mirror was dead.

I removed panels, removed the dangling mirror so that the vandals couldn’t have a further kick at it and potentially smash the window with it, unthreaded its control cables so I could fit the parts that attached to the door back, to weather seal the door if nothing else.  Legally I can’t drive it until it has another mirror.  Searches on-line initially showed replacements in the region of £150 (requiring a £300 outlay as they were a newer design) and I thought of again trampling round scrapyards for parts, not relishing that I again turned to Ebay and Amazon and found replacement units for about £30.

So I can fix her, sorry, it.  But I shouldn’t have to, why have I got to spend £30 to repair the results of someone (adult or youth) thinking it’s a good game, clever, fun, big or macho to smash the wing mirror of an old car.  Or kick a wall down, smash a window, pull over a lamp-post…

I can’t begin to imagine how impressed this person’s friends must have been at his (or her) skill at beating up a purple Rover 200.  The next Chuck Norris must live in Newark, clearly.

Diggin’ The Scene…ry

English: Roadworks

English: Roadworks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the last four weeks the county council has been tearing up and relaying the pavements on the street which is home to the glassworks that keeps me busy during the day.  We’ve got used to the workers now, we’ve given them hot water for tea when their cabin generator wouldn’t work, they’ve patched some potholes on the edge of our car park to make up for the inconvenience of their work.

On Thursday last week they put the top layer of tarmac on a section of path and were rightfully miffed the next morning to see workers belonging to a utility company attacking their less than 20-hour old pavement with a circular saw.  And so it is now, a perfect stretch of path with a cut out bulge of dissimilar tarmac halfway along it like some kind of scab on the landscape.

It’s a long-standing joke in this country that as soon as a road is resurfaced a utility will come along and dig it up again but in my experience this is a record.

It’s also ridiculous in these days, just a few days earlier they wouldn’t even have had to dig up any tarmac.  Surely with that mysterious thing called the Internet some kind of magical central database of roadworks could be maintained so that the likes of Gas and Electricity companies can tweak their schedules to drop pipes and cables into already bare roads.  Going even further, as my dad suggested when I mentioned this to him, when major works are carried out – replacing main drains etc, why not include conduits for current and future services in the same hole?

The answer is probably because creating such resources would cost far more than necessary and be outdated by the time it arrives – designed to run on that latest Microsoft OS, Windows XP I think it is, that’s the future.  Erm, wait, what?

 

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What Do You Mean By Real Criminals?

Day 175 - West Midlands Police - Traffic Officer

Day 175 – West Midlands Police – Traffic Officer (Photo credit: West Midlands Police)

What do the drivers of any of hundreds of cars that pass me on the motorway every year and a man parked on single-yellow lines outside our shop yesterday muttering and throwing his parcel into his car have in common.  They all compalin that motorists are being victimized and targeted (as easy prey) when they’re caught by the fuzz.

For my non-British readership who may not be aware, single-yellow lines on the road are restricted parking, though many people think that parking across the yellow line, half on the road, half on the pavement counteracts these restrictions.  As does putting your hazard lights on.

So many people given speeding fines and parking fines will come out with the old classic saying “I ain’t doing nuffing wrong, officer, why aren’t you out catching real criminals” to the traffic officer whose specific job is catching traffic offenders, many of whom turn out to be real criminals as well, strangely – people who regularly break the law breaking the law, who’d have thought it.  The non-criminal types will usually accuse the police authority of using speeding, parking and crap driving in general as ways of generating easy revenue, without realising that that isn’t quite how police funding works.  Of course they forget that it’s the same traffic officers they’d turn to if they have an accident and need someone to pick up the pieces.

The thing is, if you believe that it’s all about the money then there’s a simple answer: don’t speed, don’t park on yellow lines, drive properly (you can still enjoy yourself) and look after your car.  Simple, no?

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Running on Sunshine

Solúcar PS10 es una planta solar termoeléctric...

Solúcar PS10 es una planta solar termoeléctrica por tecnología de torre, la primera en el mundo explotada comercialmente. Solucar PS10 is the first solar thermal power plant based on tower in the world that generate electricity in a commercial way. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am interested in cars, nice cars.  I’d particularly like a new Jaguar F-Type, an orange one, if anyone’s feeling generous.  I’m telling you this in case you think this post is in some way biased.

I’ve just read yet another article about another designer with “eco” credentials planning a zero-emission or in this case emission-free car.  This one was a hydrogen powered car but others have been fully electric.  I have a little issue with the idea that these cars have zero-emissions.  It’s a case of semantics.  Petrol, diesel and hybrid cars have a pipe at the back that makes you cough like you have a forty-a-day habit if you wrap your lips around it, electric and hydrogen cars don’t, hydrogen cars even put water back into the environment, combining the hydrogen with oxygen in the power production process.

All good yes?  Well, apart from indirect emissions.  Electric cars are charged from the mains which at the moment requires mostly fossil-fuel powered generation.  Hydrogen, although common in the universe has to be extracted here on Earth and that takes…  electricity, fossil-fuel, etc.

I’m discounting the environmental impacts of building the cars in the first place as even the advocates of these technologies don’t deny that.

The thing is that cars won’t be truly zero-emission until we can generate power widely without emissions.  Some nations are fortunate to have abundant geothermal or hydroelectric power resources but for the rest of us we need to look elsewhere.  Nuclear power is still controversial, though the technology is still being refined to be safer in the long-term and new thorium reactors can even use previously created waste plutonium.  Personally, for cars at least, I think hydrogen is the way forward and another emerging technology is the way to make it.  In hotter countries such as Spain large solar power stations (see above) have been built that focus the sun’s immense power onto arrays of receivers which can be used to heat water to drive generators and generate electricity.  If you use that electricity to power a plant that creates hydrogen then the power created from the Sun’s energy is portable beyond the locality of the power station.

To places like this where we’re enjoying our couple of weeks of sunshine.

Out of The Loop?

Call Centre

Call Centre (Photo credit: The Poss)

The term “Jobsworth” was coined long ago and people who are inflexible in their decision-making at work when they really could be are everywhere but today’s nationwide and worldwide companies are making it worse by making it institutionalised.  The problem with centralised customer services and computerised operations and logistics systems is that a person cannot make an on-the-spot decision to make things easier.

This is true of many things including transport, the prices of goods – where once staff have to jump through hoops to give a bit of a discount for a slightly damaged item for example, or loans where decisions are mostly made by computers based on credit scores.

There can’t be a grey area, decisions are yes, or often as the Little Britain sketch goes “computer says nooo”.  I have another parcel on a courier (Yodel) and they tried to deliver it while I was at work twice and then according to their website the only option then was to collect it from their depot, twenty miles away, that’s only open when I’m at work.  I rang them and the customer service person gave me the option to have it redelivered – when I’m at work.  I had to ring Amazon to change the delivery address to my work one – Catherine at Amazon was very nice and helpful.  What happened next was that I looked at Yodel’s site on the Saturday and the parcel was out for delivery – on a day that, according to their site and the customer service man, wasn’t  even an option; he was only able to look at the same data I had access to.  I was at home, I didn’t know whether Amazon’s request had gone though, whether they were delivering to my home or the work address I wasn’t at.  My parcel was in danger of travelling around more than January’s camera.

This inconvenienced me but it shouldn’t have; if I were able to call the local depot, talk to a person who has the parcel in front of them, someone who could say “we do actually deliver on Saturday, will you be at home then?”  I’d say yes and they’d schedule one more delivery attempt, I wouldn’t have had to ring Amazon.  I had stuff to do but I couldn’t because now I’ve got to wait in, if I’d known I could have done these things the day before as, being Good Friday I was off work – as were Yodel.

This reliance on computer systems is fine if the person accessing them has all the relevant data they need but often they don’t and these systems don’t often allow any flexibility whatsoever in the decision-making process.  “The computer says Tuesday so Tuesday it is, except it could be Saturday but because I’m two hundred miles away from the depot I don’t know that they have a van going out on Saturday and I wouldn’t have the authority to ask them to deliver on Saturday if I did anyway, and they might even just try again on Saturday even though the computer says you’ve got to fetch it yourself.”

Our company, and other small firms we work with have that flexibility, we can slot extra jobs in dynamically because not everything is set in stone.  Admittedly that can work the other way and things have to be rearranged.  It’s not just computers though that cause the problems, so many companies have inflexible rules that don’t allow people to give a little to provide good service.

If you can say to a customer who’s not got quite enough money with them “it’s only 20p difference, I’ll take what you’ve got there” or give them a little something for free whether it’s a bookmark, a pen, a handful of tacks or whatever it makes them feel that you’re doing something to help them, it gives them a warm feeling inside and makes them more likely to come back.  Not being able to bypass a rigid system, or not having the right information because of rules or “yes and no” computers makes the customer feel like they’re fighting a battle to get what they want.

Sometimes there’s no choice, as I’ve said before about warranties and the time it takes to make things but where a little flexibility is possible it shouldn’t be held back but allowed to make everyone’s life a bit more pleasant.

Small World, Big Planet

Antarctica - Gerlache strait

Antarctica – Gerlache strait (Photo credit: Rita Willaert)

This site’s tagline refers to the old saying that keeps getting reused that ships, then aircraft and now the internet are “shrinking the world” but although Humans have visited every continent there’s still vast areas of emptiness, much unexplored, and as for the oceans, well we’ve barely dipped a toe in the water and shivered at how cold it is so far.

To show this Gizmodo recently showcased some of the most remote research stations on the planet and even a couple of homes for those who really want to get away from it all.

Par Avion

Marion Smykowski, Loading airmail, late 1930s,...

Marion Smykowski, Loading airmail, late 1930s, in Detroit. Marion’s father, Leo, can be seen at his store in a photo in the History of Detroit article.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It sometimes astounds me how the likes of Amazon and marketplace sellers who trade via the sell-anything leviathan make money.  It is of course economies of scale, selling cheap but selling many still works but there are times when the numbers just seem impossible to add up.

Take for example a headphone adaptor I bought.  When I ordered it it said it would take up to five weeks to be delivered, the next day it said it had been dispatched but would take a fortnight to get to me.  Even my favorite couriers couldn’t take that long, where was it coming from, I laughed, China?  It was Singapore to be precise, by Air Mail.

The two week travel time still had be envisioning old DC3s full of mailbags but in reality it was no doubt transported along with thousands of other bits and pieces in a cargo 747.  Again it’s that sharing of the cost of the flight amongst all the other items that meant I still only paid £1.99 postage (it cost me nearly as much to post a package a hundred miles across Britain last month) but still it’s another example of our modern global commerce and I wonder how many tiny adaptors are flying around above our heads, enroute to exotic locations.

The New Age of Sail

"Tres Hombres"

“Tres Hombres” (Photo credit: Nolleos)

If you had visited Copenhagen recently you could have seen a 32-metre long twin-masted sailing ship, a brigantine, called the Tres Hombres arriving at the dock but this wasn’t some romantic recreation of a bygone age the ship carries up to 35 tonnes of cargo, and has been doing since 2009.

As reported by the BBC this week the business is one of many new projects underway to again use sail power to transport goods.  Most freight carriers only travel at about 15 knots today, to save fuel and reduce emissions whereas ships such as the Tres Hombres travels at 10 knots which is not really much slower.  Many companies who are concerned about their energy usage and the effects of their logistics on the environment welcome the low impact nature of sail – current cargo shipping equates to being the sixth largest emitter of greenhouse gasses on the planet.

The only problem however is the unpredictability of the wind but even this can be solved today by the use of engines when the wind isn’t cooperating.  One company, B9, is designing a large cargo ship which combines carbon-fibre high-efficiency sails with an engine that runs on bio-gas from food waste.  Modern technology even allows for the weather to be predicted so as to make the best use of the wind and engine throughout a voyage.  Models have already been tested at Southampton University and the results used to optimise routes.

Lastly Skysails, a German company, is looking at marketing systems of giant kites to provide assistance to large conventional cargo ships and in Japan the University of Tokyo is also looking at sails on cargo ships.

It is still a niche idea at the moment but as the BBCs report shows as fuel costs increase and world trade continues to increase the modernised technology may once more have its day.

[BBC News]