Archive for the 'YamYamBlogs' Category

Not So Swift

Monday, October 19th, 2015

I bought a Swiftcard, because it seemed like a great idea. I’ve been waiting for it to be valid on National Express West Midlands, simply because those are the buses I use the most, and finally, it is, so I bought two cards (one for my better half), and off we trotted (well, I hobbled) to get a bus.

The Pay As You Go card is simple; it replaces cash. You top it up with credit, allow auto top-up if you want, and then buy a ticket, but instead of hunting for change, you slap the car on the reader, and tell the driver what you want. They press the right keys, a ticket is issued, and the cost comes off your Swiftcard. Not before time, as most buses in our area do not give change, and the price of two all-day tickets means notes get involved unless you have close to 10 quid in coins, and notes get jammed in the coin chute.

So, the theory is Swiftcard fixes this.

I’ve now used the card three times. The first time, the driver just didn’t know what to do, so just let us on. The second time, attempting to buy 2 tickets, we were charged for one, and the driver thought the top-up receipt (top-ups happen automaticatally on buses, or you can use a terminal at bus stations, or an Android device with NFC and the app) was a second ticket. On the third occaision, the bus was quiet, so I explained how it is supposed to work to the driver, and he worked it out :-)

Clearly, at least at National Express, no one has told the drivers, and I’m not alone.



The system’s great, and in my experience, the tech all works, but they really need to train the drivers, who I’m sure will be just as frustrated. It’s also interesting that just as we get our electronic cash-replacing card, London’s Oystercard gets phased out, replaced by contactless debit cards.

Diesel & Whine

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

I was feeling like I’d missed out on the requisite quantity of dieselboners this year, so I was pleased to note that Aston Manor Road Transport Museum had their final running day of the year today, even if I did have to befoul my computer with their Facebook page to confirm it.

Sssh. Don’t tell anyone, but I originally learned of it from here. Obviously, I have this sent in a plain wrapper, rather than purchase in a shop and have to wrap a copy of Razzle (link is work-safe!) around it.

Anyway, off I went. My usual bike-parking place was a bit trickier than normal, as the easy spots to lock a bike were occupied (it’s a old-style bike shed, as the museum is in an old industrial unit, but only the extreme ends have anywhere to lock on to), but I overcame that with a bit of juggling about, and soon enough was on a Daimler CLG5, with the oddly off-beat sound of a 5LW powering it. Back at the museum, I grabbed a botulism burger, had a quick wander around, and a look at this Volvo Ailsa (odd in being front-engined), of which there were a couple running in the West Midlands in the 80s, though I don’t recall them.

Volvo Ailsa V1, ex London Transport, at AMRTM October 2015

Volvo Ailsa V1, ex London Transport, at AMRTM October 2015

Much more familiar, and a step back to the 70s, is the Bristol VR. Common enough, even if the Fleetline was the usual choice for WMPTE. Another Gardner, but an extra cylinder this time and a semi-auto box whining away, being driven with more care than I remember back in the day, when the in-service drivers seemed to take pleasure in a huge lurch at every gearchange. The semi-auto box doesn’t have a clutch, but also has no logic or interlocks to control changes, so a fair bit of skill is still needed to drive one well: matching of revs to road speed and a blip of the throttle on a downchange, but it’s notable that this 1976 bus keeps up with modern traffic well, where the old Daimler notably can become a rather nice rolling roadblock.

So then, another sad note of the time of year: no more old buses, along with the dark nights and cold :-(

Near Beer

Thursday, October 8th, 2015

We’ve been away, to Seaton, as I didn’t fancy a long drive to Scotland just yet, so the M5 beckoned.

We’d been here before, around 20 years ago, and fancied staying in Beer (because Beer) then, but lack of parking drove us out to Seaton. This time we chose Seaton for it’s size, flat terrain, and public transport: I’m much less of a keen driver than 20 years ago.

It’s a nice town, Seaton. A wide promenade, with a good view,

Seaton Promenade

Seaton Promenade

lots of benches (useful when you’re trying to regain walking distance), and independent pubs, cafes, and restaurants- remarkably chain-free, if you can ignore the Tesco behemoth with attached Costa coffee. We had a seafront property, which was great, and a short walk to town.

I’d mentioned public transport: we actually managed to not use the car all week, between walking around town, the tramway, and buses, we got about. The buses were the X53 Jurassic Coaster, and the 899 local service run by AVMT. Both weave their way through small roads, but the 899 at times goes down roads where the greenery hits both sides simultaneously in places, and in others the space each side was measured in inches, and you get to see some nice small Devon villages. Like Beer.

Sadly Beer wasn’t the best place to drink, which made our choice of Seaton to stop in all the better, even if the best meal of the week was in a hybrid Italian/Thai in Beer.

We were interested that Sidmouth, which 20 years ago, in our 20s, we’d discounted as God’s waiting room, and dull, was lovely, with at least one great pub, a nice hotel where we had drinks brought to us by a very smartly dressed waiter (and for less than a tenner), and a bit of a slightly upmarket, but lively feel. I think both us and the resort have changed…

School of Hard NOx

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

Oh dear, VAG seem to have cocked up, huh?

The fact that the EPA in the US caught them gaming the system with emission testing is interesting, and given that they face a huge fine, and the CEO Martin Winterkorn, having recently ousted Ferdinand Piech from his role, has now resigned.

I’m more interested in the tech. Simplified, it all hinges on EGR. It’s a common trick to disable EGR in a tuned diesel- in many ways it’s a huge pain in the arse, reducing efficiency, and therefore power and economy, and being prone to clogging up intakes, so with an EGR delete, your diesel will do better MPG, perform better, and not get so claggy. Also, as a diesel runs with excess air, if you don’t run EGR, you produce less particulates (soot), which is good.

The disadvantage comes with NOx production. No EGR means more NOx, which is one form of pollution generated by internal combustion engines, with health and environmental impact. This, and other pollutants, are regulated by EU Directives in Europe, and the EPA in the states, and cars that do not meet the standards cannot be sold new.

So, there’s a balancing act: try to keep particulates down, power and MPG up, but don’t create too much NOx.

Some diesels do this with AdBlue, but VAG have claimed to be able to meet the latest standards without the extra complication, cost, and space of the kit needed to inject it, managing with just a DPF. Nice trick.

Trick would seem to be the operative word, and you have to admire it. We’ve seen how networked cars are now, and that meant a clever algorithm was able to detect when the car was on a rolling-road being emmission-tested, and crank up the EGR, lovering the NOx output. On the road, EGR is reduced, so up goes the power and MPG. WIN!

How the conversation at Wolfsburg may have gone. From CommitStrip, click for original.

How the conversation at Wolfsburg may have gone. From CommitStrip, click for original.

Trouble is, that’s specifically not allowed by the EPA (PDF, 2.35MB), leaving VAG with a big headache stateside.

This does set me thinking if the diesel car boom could be ending: in particular, the UK’s CO-based taxation favours diesels, but as the amount of emissions gear required to meet the regulatory standards increases, the performance of the engines comes down and the complexity increases, and so therefore does cost. In one way, VAG’s (rather elegant) trick was actually good for the consumer, reducing costs and increasing performance, while seeming to meet all required standards. In another, it’s a cynical attempt to evade emissions law, risk public health, and increase profit. For sure, the fix is going to be painful for both VAG and its customers in the US: it remains to be seen if they have a problem in Europe too.

Let’s Rock

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

Or not.

I’m back trying to find something listenable in the car. It’s not been long enough for a repeat of HHGTTG, and I’d settled on Planet Rock: music I liked, and less obnoxious DJs than mormal.
Bauer Media have gone and spoiled it all, by giving the FM frequency to Absolute Radio, with its focus on 90s, slightly rockish pop (so that means fucking Oasis and U2 when they got shit, for a start, FFS). What a shitfest.

I could spend a hundred or so quid on a DAB radio, another hundred and fifty on the bits to fit it (new fascia panel, fixings, antenna, CANBus harness, ISO cable), and take lots of trim out and have DAB, to enjoy Planet Rock in a 80Kbit/sec mono stream, of course, but why in the name of $deity would I do that? My car also lacks bluetooth, aux-in, or a CD autochanger, and the other choices are as grim as ever, so remembering 2 CDs a day it is, or the sound of tyres/wind/diesel engine.

Horny Cock

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

Now I’ve got your attention, you’ll be disappointed.

The current roadworks on the A4124 have pushed a good bit more traffic over the amusingly-named Black Cock Bridge. Anyone that knows the bridge knows that it’s fearsomely steep- slightly less so than the pre-1994 Clayhanger Bridge, but still steep and narrow, and blind at the summit (this side is slightly less steep than the other):

This means that, except at night, it’s an appropriate place to use a car horn.

My recovery from surgery dictates that I should try to walk a reasonable distance each day, and a walk to the bridge and down the towpath is both not too inconvenient and fairly pleasant, but with the extra traffic it has revealed to me just how many people are both incapable of using the horn correctly, and indeed of realising why others might do so, and it is, as one might say, boiling my piss too a disproportionate degree.

For the record, as there’s not room for two cars to pass, the idea is to approach at a speed you could stop in, sound your own horn once, maybe twice, and listen for the same from the other side, so that only one of you passes the narrow bit, and causes the minimum of noise nuisance. This might mean, for example, muting the stereo.

The idea isn’t to approach fast, sounding the horn repeatedly, with a mobile phone held to your ear, just for one (twattish) example.

A few years ago, residents near the bridge wanted the bridge closed when a long-lost consultation took place, citing danger and noise. I had little sympathy, given that the bridge has been there longer than them, but really, with the number of idiots I’ve heard of late, I can hardly blame them.

CAN do?

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

I’ve written before about CANbus, and electronics in cars. My own car, despite being only a mid-size, mid-range hatch a few years old, has a good few electronic modules, and CANbus to connect them. Cars have 3 flavours of CAN- one for the drivetrain and chassis- so this episode would use that, as would this one, and one for the interior stuff (for both instrumentation, and stuff like the radio shifting it’s volume up and down with speed, or automatic closing of windows when locking), and then one more for connecting diagnostic gear like VCDS or Torque.

These individual networks are gatewayed together as they run at different speeds, and there’s no real control over what can talk over these networks, which isn’t really a problem, you’d think: the car is a closed system, so unless you connect diagnostic equipment or get very interested and attach a Raspberry Pi to the CANbus (great article there), it hardly matters. There have been scare stories in the press of clever people hacking cars before, but these have involved a direct, cable connection to the diagnostic port, so no big deal, and the networks *have* to be gatewayed for the instruments to display your speed, and for the diagnostic kit to work.


It is now becoming commonplace to include connected entertainment systems into cars. These will have an internet connection, either via a tethered mobile phone, or with a SIM card fitted. There’s various names for this, according to manufacturer.

There’s Audi Connect, GM OnStar, Ford Sync, for example, and then there is Fiat Chrysler UConnect.

The scary bit here is that potentially, you’re now exposing the CAN to the Internet. Depending on how well secured things are (or aren’t), you might possibly allow anyone on the Internet to, say, disable the brakes or transmission, as detailed here by The Register. As we get more and more fancy devices (like, say, auto-parking) then the exposure of safety-critical things like steering and braking, which used to be simple, mechanical, systems to attack becomes greater.

It’s certainly the case that some cars (VAG ones, for sure, in my experience) only allow full access to some critical modules with a login- but these logins are quite well publicised, which means you’d better be pretty sure about your car’s fancy entertainment system being secure, and staying secure when it is 15 years old and the manufacturer no longer supports it. Maybe the further research of these guys, with intrusion detection for CAN has merit?

Sticking it to The Man

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015

I’m now, around 2 months after surgery, finally starting to feel a bit recovered- but still having to take things very, very carefully. At point of coming out of hospital, I could just about hobble a few yards on 2 sticks, or rather elbow crutches. I’ve built that up, very gradually, to the dizzy heights of half a mile with one, wandering around the house with none, and managing a trip around the supermarket with the trolley to lean on, and I can drive short distances. Soon, I’ll hopefully be better (but fatter, see below) than beforehand.

Being temporarily disabled opened my eyes to a few things.

1) People, overall, are very kind and helpful, from pub and restaurant customers to bus drivers and passengers, and taxi drivers- but people *stare*. It’s good-natured- they want to be sure you’re OK- but still uncomfortable.

2) Having to use taxis a lot gets expensive quickly. Getting to my GP surgery if someone couldn’t drive me in a car was a ridiculous journey: it is all of 2 or 3 miles, and can be done on one bus *if* you can walk about half a mile to a bus stop, which I couldn’t at that point- so taxi it was. Anyone on a low income would struggle, and even for a simpler trip to Walsall, that walk to the bus stop (only a few hundred yards) can seem a long way, and getting to a walk-in NHS centre to get staples removed would have been next to impossible except by car or taxi.

3) Room to move becomes important, and people parking on pavements, self-closing doors, and narrow doorways in buildings become really difficult.

4) Sitting on one’s increasingly capacious arse (a result of boredom eating, and going from cycling 4-5 evenings a week and walking to local shops to doing almost *nothing*) sounds like fun, but rapidly isn’t. The garden is overgrown, the cars are unwashed, and I have the time to do them, but can’t do so. Friends have helped, but I cannot rely on that all the time, and don’t want to either. By the time I *can* do it, I’ll have to go back to work :-(

5) I spent a few weeks being almost totally dependent on others- I could get to the toilet, I could get showered, and dressed (even if it took 15 minutes and a dazzling amount of expletives to put a sock on…), and it wasn’t a good experience, despite my better half being very supportive. I could get to the kitchen, but could only carry stuff I could get in a pocket. What would I do if I lived alone?

6) While Internet shopping handily solves some difficulties, being unable to lift/carry items within the house makes getting the shopping from the front door hard. I’m not suggesting they should come and put it away for me; merely that on the face of it, it seems like a fix, but I still needed assistance.

7) One’s drinking social life becomes impaired. Pubblog has had few updates, and #100pubs is looking very, very sick.

Basically, it’s stunning how many everyday things get harder, more expensive, or both, and at the risk of repeating myself, people would do well to remember this.

PS: when you start watching On The Buses repeats, and being genuinely aggrieved if you miss it, you’ve probably been at home too long ;-).

Simple Productivity

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

There’s been an article on the BBC website that’s caught a bit of Twatter attention, with a few people saying “right on”, notably homeworkers and people working for themselves.

I can see their point, and some of the article’s point, but really, given the author’s credentials, I’d expect a bit better: as per usual for BBC Magazine articles, it’s an over-simplification, and a lot of puff, and air, and light on facts, analysis, or thought. Maybe that’s the problem; articles here are generally low on content, high on bollocks, and perhaps his recent book would make a better read, though a recent Guardian article is, IMO, similarly flawed, and making assumptions.

If I’m interpreting the articles correctly, one of the things they’re saying is that if you’re detached from the direct production environment, your job has become worthless: i.e: If you’re making something or directly providing a service, you’re valuable, if you’re backroom staff, you’re not: so a postman is valuable, the person that administrates his salary isn’t. This is both (a) wrong, and (b) a rather odd thing for an academic (who surely is a long way from a direct production process) to say.

Perhaps I have that wrong, but one very clear message from the article is that:

The average British worker spends 36 days a year answering work emails. London workers in particular receive close to 9,000 emails each year.

and the inference seems to be that that time is wasted.

Politics and Pain

Saturday, May 9th, 2015

I’m writing this in the aftermath of the 2015 General Election. So, while a stay in hospital is not pleasant at least I avoided much of the discussion and speculation. I don’t, as a rule, make too many political comments here: this blog is about me, and my interests, and politics both bores and frustrates me: the results and consequences don’t but the political game is too tedious, arcane, and obfuscated for me.

I will, however, express my fear of another Conservative government. I’ve spent the last couple of days in the care of the NHS: part of the package of care that Conservatives wish to either kill off or privatise. I’m lucky, in that I don’t need some aspects of care and welfare: I am usually healthy and fit, and in employment, but that could so easily be different. I’ve had a operation that would be incredibly expensive in a private healthcare system- and as I’ve had prior problems health insurance would probably run a mile- but as I have friends and family, the NHS, and a proper job with a reasonable employer, I don’t have to worry about care for myself, or who pays for it. It really doesn’t bear to think how that could be so, so different, and the electorate in their wisdom have chosen a party that are continually heading in that direction. As one of the “hardworking taxpayers” we keep hearing about, I’d like to remind everyone that most of us will use the NHS and many of us may have to use the welfare state. Ask yourself this question: If you found yourself unable to work for an extended time, how far are you from financial difficulty? If you need medical assistance, can you afford anything other than the NHS? Syill feeling nice and secure?

In the post I’ve linked, I refer to wasters. We all know wasters exist: there are people who don’t work through choice and contribute nothing: but these are fewer than some would have you believe. There are many people unable to work for a wide range of reasons and it could so easily be you.

The care I received was excellent, by the way. Part of the systematic disassembly of the NHS is to say that it is failing and inefficient (because, obviously, the private sector is always efficient and works 100%) but all I saw were hardworking, professional staff looking after patients, and I’m hugely disappointed and more than a little worried that we’ll see this situation further damaged by the new government. My pain will fade over the coming weeks and can be dulled with painkillers; the country’s pain will last for 5 years at least.

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