CAN do?

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

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 ;-).

Turning the wheels

July 2nd, 2015

As I’ve been recovering from surgery, I’ve not been using my car, so to preserve the battery (now around 9 years old), I connected (well actually, my other half connected) my excellent CTEK battery charger, at first using the croc clips, then, when I was able to, using the comfort connector- a socket that is connected to the car permanently.

Doing this upset things: when I went to try and start the car, I got a load of warning lights, and plugging in the diagnostics revealed a fault code for the steering angle sensor:

00778 - Steering Angle Sensor (G85)

Clearly dicking about with the battery terminals had lost the basic setting.

The sensor simply tells the ECU how far the steering wheel has been turned, and is needed, and calibrated, so that the Stability Control knows which way the wheels are pointing, and also so the Steering Assist ECU can adjust the steering weighting according to speed and how much steering lock is applied. As such, you have to tell the Stability Control (part of the ABS controller) where straight ahead is, with this procedure, and then allow the car to calibrate where the two ends of travel of the steering rack are by following this procedure, which is why it’s remained undone until now, now I’m able to drive short distances and manage the steering with little power assistance.

In the event, it took several attempts at the second procedure, which is why today found me sitting in an quiet industrial estate, with the car running and a laptop on the passenger seat, and even then, it took a short drive and several lock-to-lock moves to clear. The steering was both very heavy and devoid of feel until all of a sudden, the fault lamp cleared, the steering got lighter, all started working correctly, and a scan produced this:

A happy steering assistance ECU

A happy steering assistance ECU

All a bit complicated, really, but that’s the price we pay for all the fancy active safety gear, and another sign of how car systems interact: the steering angle sensor will report an error in the steering assist ECU, but the basic settings are set in the ABS/Stability controller, and both controllers get upset if this setting is lost.

Digital Motor: Marketing bollocks?

May 28th, 2015

I’m bored evidently.

The Dyson adverts on TV got me thinking: they go on about a Dyson Digital Motor. It sounded like bollocks; marketing fluff, so I asked them, and to their credit they answered:

Our digital motors different from regular motors in that they do not contain carbon bristles that create motion within the motor. Regular motors function by way of these carbon bristles allowing certain parts of the motor to rotate, but the use of this equipment can be noisy, heavy and produce fumes. Dyson opt for a digital motor that employs electronics and magnetic equipment to create power and motion within their machines with digital equipment inside the motor than controls the levels of power being produced by the machine. This more advanced design allows for a more powerful motor that is not only lighter, but more efficient in the long term and quieter when functioning.

So, it’s a brushless motor, with some control electronics. Maybe not marketing fluff after all. A quick google reveals this article in electronics weekly– so there really is some clever engineering- the digital bit is a microproccessor switching the supply quickly in order to make the brushless motor work on DC at very high speed. I take it back- not marketing fluff, and full marks to Dyson for answering tedious little queries.

A bit more googling reveals this press release (.doc, 35k) from 2003 with some details of an earlier version. Love the diagnostics…

Simple Productivity

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.
Read the rest of this entry »

Politics and Pain

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.

At a Crossroads

April 30th, 2015

I was greeted by the sad news yesterday that the Four Crosses in Shelfield has been boarded up, and, if rumour is to be believed, the landlord kicked out at short notice.

As my review linked above is quite old, I need to point out this was the only pub in Shelfield, the Spring Cottage now being a Co-op store, so now there’s no pubs in the area, the nearest now being The Horse & Jockey in Walsall Wood.

Also worth noting is that the pub is listed as an Asset of Community Value, but also that is has a long-standing planning application in force. Perhaps the ACV has the same clout as local listing?

Apparently local councillors are going to enquire:


but I have a bad feeling about this, and it’s going to be another sad loss. The pub was multi-roomed, quiet in one, louder in the bar, and always serverd good (and varied) beer, plus made a very handy stop off from the 89 bus route…


April 28th, 2015

Having learnt my lesson about staying up to date so as to not get stuck with a hard-to-upgrade install, I set about upgrading my Debian “server” to Jessie. How about that for ease?

Add a few lines to a config file (etc/apt/sources.list, to tell it where the updates are), apt-get update, apt-get upgrade (a cautious intermediate upgrade), apt-get dist-upgrade, answer a few questions, and off it goes, with 1 reboot (for a kernel change), and all services working with short interruptions only, and remotely over ssh, and only a couple of hundred MB download to have the latest release- running on antique hardware.

That’s how an upgrade should work.


April 22nd, 2015

The 80s Tears for Fears song Shout contains the line

These are the things I can do without

and that came true last Friday. Warning: middle-aged whinge content approaching.

I’d already arranged to meet a friend in a local pub, when my neighbours suggested a meal out. I’d got plenty of time, so we trotted (well, walked) off to a local pub. The food and beer was fine, but one thing *really* grated: the volume.

The music wasn’t the problem. What was the problem was a group of people, clustered around the bar (Grrr!) seemingly unable to conduct a conversation at normal volume: even the act of moving out of my way so I could get to the PDQ machine was accompanied by a needless cacophony of shouts (to which I muttered “for fucks sake” under my breath (hopefully)), and something about the acoustics of the room made it impossible to hold a conversation ourselves (though, as we’re all distinctly middle-aged, it could be the start of our hearing deteriorating in a noisy environment).

This was repeated later when I met my friend in another pub, but also with a band playing. Loud.

I really don’t mind music in pubs; or indeed bands in pubs. In fact, I love music in pubs, if it’s decent, but why always so loud? The loud music, of course, then creates the shouting if it wasn’t there already.

This thing really feeds into my perfect pub post: and it’s worth noting that the pubs I really like often have no music, like this one, this one or this one, or music you can converse over, like this one and this one and, again referring to my critera, the old model of multi-room pubs (before they all got knocked into one space) really helps here: it may have been an answer to the smoking issue too (as many pubs had a smoke room back in the day).

This is starting to sound like a grumpy old man’s desire for quiet pubs with no life to them (last Sunday, I visibly winced when one heavily refreshed customer suggested my local needed loud music on the jukebox to “liven it up” (on a Sunday evening, FFS)), but I’ll address that in two ways. First of all, I know I’m not alone, and secondly, having been in this place at work-chucking-out on a Friday, with it rammed to the point of standing room only, and felt the buzz in the place, which, frankly, was infectious, but still been able to talk to my companion, because people were talking, I can honestly say that at times I crave a bit of life to a pub.

So then: am I just getting old (though, in truth, I’ve hated over-loud pubs since my teens), or getting (even more) boring? I know Andy will agree here, but he’s older than me (and possibly, if the two of us are present, this post may become hypocritical…), and others may not, and I suppose here there’s a point to be made that pubs are, well, public spaces, so have to accommodate different tastes.

Break the Cycle

April 7th, 2015

I’ve noticed that subtly, people are starting to label me as a cyclist: family bought me cycling based gifts, for example. I’m not actually that much of a cyclist- I cycle short distances around 5 times a week, depending on weather- and that probably makes me “not a proper cyclist” amongst certain members of the community.

Of course, the whole labelling thing is dangerous, it makes me uncomfortable. I’m a driver, a cyclist, a pedestrian, and a public transport user, and all of these groups can be (and are) labelled:

1) All car drivers use their mobiles when driving
2) All cyclists jump red lights
3) All pedestrians walk out without looking
4) All Public transport users cannot afford a car, or they’d have one.

just for example, to pick four statements I know to be untrue.

I’ve seen something while in Cardiff that did, however, awaken the millitant cyclist in me, and also make me think about the ineptitude of road planners, indulging in a bit of box-ticking.

Cyclists will campaign for seperate infrastructure. A cycle path physically seperated from the road. This seems like a good idea. Let’s see that in action.

This is LLoyd George Avenue, linking the city to the bay. I walked down it several times, noting the totally unused cycle path to my left, and a few cyclists coming past on the main carriageway.

Bloody cyclists, eh? Provide that lane, and they don’t use it.

Let’s look at it from the ground.



In the pic, the road is to my right. I’m on the footpath, and the cycle path is to my left. In front of me is a side road, with a set of traffic lights to stop traffic on the main road, and a pelican crossing I can operate to cross (though in practice, the side road is so quiet, you don’t need to, and the delay on the lights changing is ridiculous, so you won’t bother).

You’ll notice that the cycle lane comes to an abrupt halt at a barrier.

So, yes, the designers thought that it was a good idea to make cyclists stop every few hundred yards, dismount, push a button, wait for a crossing to change, walk over, get back on the bike, and rinse and repeat.

What the very fuck?

That’s why all the cyclists are on the A470, and the cycle lane is unused.

Why on earth the cycle lane wasn’t built alongside the road, sharing priority over the side roads, is beyond me. It could still be seperate- in fact, just swapping position of the footpath & cycle way and reconfiguring the junctions a little would seem to have achieved that to me: The cyclists would get space, and have equal priority to cars, the pedestrians would be isolated from the cylists.

People are *paid* to do this.

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