Saturday, 3 October 2015

almost time to reboot the kitchen

Now we are on the last leg of the kitchen refit, it's time to take a peep at the manuals. There seems to be more than, say, with an Aga. The user guide for the oven came with a huge set of software licences, similar to the kind of things you get when installing Windows.

It seems to include software from Texas Instruments, jpeg, The Wide Project, Kronos EGL, Open GL ES, Freetype, ucdn, GIF Workspace, Harfbuzz and Imagination Technology GPU drivers. The copyrights include references to Codethink, Google, Red Hat, MIT, World Wide Web Consortium and even SGI.

What could possibly go wrong?

Thursday, 1 October 2015

taking the biscuit

A slight diversion today, into the world of biscuits.

We've had a few tradespeople around over the last couple of weeks, and as well as coffee and tea, there's been a need for an ample biscuit supply.

That includes the currently half price choccy selection from Marks, which is an easy crowd pleaser. They are mainly traditional biscuit types and disappear at a great rate.

Co-incidentally, this week Time Out has just done a survey of the top 27 retro biscuits, ranked worst to best and I couldn't help but take a Peak Freans at the result.

No great surprise or spoiler that the fig roll was bottom at 27.

Shockers further up the chart though, with one of my favourites languishing at around number 19.

That's the Chocolate Bourbon, which should, by rights be in at least the top 10 and probably the top 5. Even the Hobnob proved controversial and garnered a surprise ranking.

I won't spoil the rest by describing Time-Out's so-called winner, but let's just say that anything that needs an animated furry padger or banda or whatever it is to advertise should automatically be disqualified.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

white engine or black engine TDi?

Driving along the motorway today I noticed several commonplace situations. High powered sports cars with one occupant. Outside lane speeders. Tailgaters using their brakes to keep a minimum distance. Cars parked in jams in the cone sections with the engine left running. Plenty of easy ways to create higher emissions.

Later I found the definition for the UK emissions test, devised in 1970 and last updated in 1997. It uses the Urban, Extra-Urban and Combined tests. The Urban is self explanatory, simulating stop-start driving from cold in a built-up area. Extra Urban is actually about driving at speeds averaging 39mph and up to 75mph in a non-urban environment. The Combined is simply the addition of the two tests. I was interested to see how many miles of variation were covered.

Any guesses? 10 miles urban and 30 miles non-urban? Maybe a combined varied total of, say, 40-50 miles?

Oh no.

Urban is 2.5 miles. Non-Urban is 4.3 miles. Combined is therefore 6.8 miles.

They do repeat the tests multiple times, but it is still a very simple and predictable formula.

I decided to have a pry into the world of car testing. There seem to be several basic ploys:

1) Thin, low rolling resistance over-inflated tyres.
2) Changing the wheel geometry to optimise it for the test conditions.
3) Changing the car lubricants to low resistance variants that don't need to be warmed.
4) Adjusting the engine management software to optimise the test *cough*
5) Disconnecting the alternator, which otherwise sucks power.
6) Switching off all the ancillary systems like air-conditioning, heating and similar.
7) Removing passenger wing mirror and taping over car body gaps to reduce drag.
8) Using the agreed ability to reduce the findings by 4% to cover experimental inaccuracies.

There's more, but this is enough to get an idea of how the test results will start to veer 20%-30% away from the figures stated in advertisements and brochures.

The above situation isn't the basis of the current emission testing claims, but is possibly another example of how a whole industry routinely deploys ruses to achieve the best results in their marketing outputs. No-one has cared that much about the exaggerated claims.

A quick example is the popular Ford Fiesta, which I arbitrarily selected to check the numbers. Autocar's review said "all 1.0-litre Fiestas apparently do 65.7mpg...expect something in the mid 40s from the turbos and early 50s for the non turbo." Parkers review of the 1.0L Fiesta said "...claimed to average 65.7mpg. Driven normally it'll probably return between 40mpg and 50mpg." Okay, these are respectably high figures, but still less than the 'apparently/claimed' figures.

So now we get the outrage about Volkswagen leaving a test detection mode enabled in the Bosch supplied engine management systems. I love that the press talk about a special defeat device as if it is another piece of hardware.

My simple view is it depends whether it's a white engine or a black engine.

The 'white' 2.0L TDI was an older design without a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system. An SCR squirts atomised urea into the exhaust to cause the nitrous oxide to break down, creating lower emissions. The white engine was about to be replaced with the black engine which one includes an AdBlue system to do the NOX reduction.

Maybe the naughty engine management software was originally intended for the bridging period between the older white engine and the newer black one?

It's fascinating now that cars are more or less computers on wheels or X-by-wire as the trade calls it. One of my prior cars had the then new technology of brake by wire, also supplied by Bosch. It self-reported an error at a certain point and I took it to the man at the service department.

"Ahah," he said. "That'll be the Sensotronic brake system, one thousand guineas please, sir..." He winked.

It turns out that the software counted braking actuations and was designed to report itself after a certain number. Fortunately it also transpired that the car manufacturer abandoned the system and recalled all the vehicles that used it. The service guy's wink indicated that I could have the whole system replaced under warranty (just before I sold the car). I shall watch for the re-emergence of this type of system (iBooster anybody?) in electric and hybrid cars over the coming years.

So in the current situation Volkswagen did something wrong. The lawyers and 'traders' will make sure that they take a huge dive. I suppose there will be class actions as more lawyers sniff the polluted air. But there's also a kind of hypocrisy as many folk still aspire to gas guzzlers.

The immensely popular Ford F150 truck in the USA only manages around 16-17mpg and splutters out 407g per mile of CO2. That's about 4 times the CO2 of the aforementioned Fiesta, or more than double the emission of a Ford Transit van. Curiously the NOX emissions don't feature on the general marketing blurb, while the 0-60mph, mpg and CO2 do.

I still wonder how many people even know their car's CO2 level?

Yet we are now all hearing about the NOX emissions in the VW saga, which will presumably kill the tiny US market for all types of diesel car for the foreseeable future.

To my surprise, that F-150 monster is still petrol (gasoline) only. With a rumoured first ever diesel version perhaps slated for 2018.

But that was before the scandal.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Blood supermoon eclipse

I took a mid-evening snap of the moon on Sunday, thinking I might have a peep at the blood moon eclipse at around 3.15am on Monday morning.

I somehow woke at 2.45am and decided to take a look at what was happening. Would there be a clear sky? Would I be able to see anything?

Although the moon had moved to a completely different part of the sky, I could see the unfolding of the supermoon eclipse. First the arc created from the shadow of the earth, creating the white to black curve across the bottom of the moon which gradually decreased in size.

Then, as the shadow completely covered the moon, the white light gave way to the red light creeping around the edges of the earth and showing that -oh yes- the complete moon was really still there and highly visible.

My drowsy snapshots were taken on the weird camera I constructed the other day from the Nikon lens on the little OM-D EM-10 body with 8 second exposures.

Friday, 25 September 2015

restoring power to the kitchen

Next job will be prepping the walls.

And restarting the electricity.

The ethernet cable in the cupboard could be handy to connect the backup server.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

quick video test of a Nikon 300mm zoom on an Olympus OM-D EM10

I've had to suspend the video camera rig experiment for a few days whilst the kitchen work proceeds. I did get my hands on a new lens converter though and I've taken it for a very short spin.

It's a simple converter from Nikon format lenses to micro 4/3 and cost the princely sum of £10.99.

It's amazing.
I've only had a few minutes to try it, but I can already tell it shows great promise. The knurled silver ring can be twisted to adjust the aperture, even on Nikon 'G' lenses.

I took my most modest Olympus EM10 (which has the least sophisticated stabilisation) and added the biggest Nikon lens I could find (a 70-300mm zoom). On a micro 4/3 format this is the equivalent of 600mm at the zoomed out end.

Then I tried a few hand held zoom and focus tests through a window. There were plenty of little glitches, like focusing manually in an impromptu situation and keeping the whole camera steady and framed. Of course I failed on most of these points (!), but I'll regard this as a 'before' test which I'll aim to recreate with the adapter and lens stabilised on the camera rig.

It might be another week or more before I have time to do that however. Today it's all about reconnecting the rest of the household electricity. I may have to power down the wi-fi for a while.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

this time it is a surfeit of cardboard and polystyrene

All that empty kitchen space has been refilled with boxes and packaging, until we can get the new kitchen unpacked and installed. There's a few bits missing, notably the washing machine and the ovens.

Meanwhile, it's time to get the other items arranges in a tidy line around the walls.

There's a new hole to cut in the floor too, to add another pipe to connect the water softener, which will need to go in a cupboard instead of under the sink.

My black bobble hat has acquired a new white spotty colour scheme from putting the mist coat onto the ceiling. That's the preliminary coat of watered down paint which gets sucked into the fresh ceiling plaster.
I know, it's all looking a bit messy still, but will start to come together when I dab some undercoat onto the walls to hide the multiple archaeological layers of paint-schemes.
Then for the fun part as we start unpacking everything.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

a simplified algorithm for car test emission reduction (YMMV)

Since the days of this lovely VW Karmann Ghia, there's been set of statistics produced by car manufacturers about the expected performance from their cars.

The car featured above could accelerate from 0-60 in around 27 seconds, which was at least 3 seconds faster than the regular Volkswagen Beetle and it could get around 30 miles per gallon, although in those days the adverts didn't include performance small print.

Based on my own current car's live readouts, I get about 45 mpg average, yet the description in recent magazine advert small-print shows 53.3 for the combined mpg and up to 67 mpg for the extra-urban. Parker's car guide shows 46 mpg as their estimate, which is very close to my own.

No-one really believes the bigger numbers in the car adverts, and I usually look for the smallest number as the one most likely to be true. In the case of my car its 'urban' which shows 44.8 mpg - close enough to my own estimated 45 mpg - which rises to 50-53mpg on a really long motorway run. I've never seen 60, let alone 67 mpg.

And I don't think I'm a heavy footed driver, I hardly ever engage the 'Sport' mode and will often use the triple radar-assisted intelligent driving mode "Distronic Plus" where the car makes its own decisions about speed.

So there's a general situation which I will refer to as "Your mileage may vary" which is so commonplace it even has its own short form as YMMV.

For example, the American EPA/DOT has a whole screed of small print about YMMV on its printouts.

The 'Golden Vehicles' used for the tests are probably put on thin tyres to lower rolling resistance and presumably tweaked for ideal conditions in what amounts to a wind-resistance free environment.

I notice that a few cars such as some Mini Coopers, the Ford C Max Energi, Lincoln MKZ as well as some Hyundai and Kia cars have all reduced their mpg claims after being randomly tested in the USA.

That brings us to the recent kerfuffle over the diesel emissions logic algorithm. I decided to invent one myself as an experiment because no one in the press seems to have provided one yet.

1) Check if only the powered wheels are turning. (i.e. it's on a test rig)
2) Increase the turbo pressure
3) Allow the temperature to rise beyond the normal upper bound.

That should do it.

The car knows its on a test bed and allows the two factors most likely to burn off emissions to increase beyond their normal upper limit. It wouldn't be wise to leave them at the higher level for too long because of engine wear, but for a 20 minute test, who cares?

It's almost a surprise that more car manufacturers don't do this...Or do they?

Monday, 21 September 2015

pig in a poke?

Derek Jarman made that Edward II movie based around Marlowe's play featuring his relationship with the Earl of Cornwall.

That's Piers Gaveston, whose name has popped up in connection with that new book about Dave Cameron. The debate about Gaveston also included the negative effect his influence had on Edward II's reign.

Hidden influences and a corruption of power amongst posh toffs? Then or now? And scant supporting evidence so it's difficult to know who is telling porkies.

A later Jarman movie dramatised 'The Last of England', about loss of culture and values during the 1980s. Whether Cameron is doing something similar with the 2010s can also be a matter for reflection.

Take the latest example: Cameron's best friend is in China offering nuclear reactor, stock exchange and currency deals.

The headline grabber has been the £2bn loan guarantee for the Pressurised Water Reactor from the UK government, although the current projected cost of the new Hinckley Point C has moved from £13bn in 2013 to currently £24.5bn.

Not quite doubling in 2 years but well on the way. The current EPR design is also based on one that has slipped into problems in a couple of other locations.

The completion date has already been moved back from 2023. However it is looked at, the Chinese and EDF get a great deal on the power produced (£92.50/MWh, index-linked), being at around twice the prevailing Jan 2015 £50/MWh price.

Cozy also for Osborne and Cameron when President Xi Jinping pops over to London in October.

3000 bike miles this year and nine million steps since Santa Barbara

I've just gone over the 3,000 mile mark this year with my cycling. That is roughly on track towards a total of 4,000 by year end.

Nowadays I set targets as Bronze = 2,000 miles, Silver = 3,000 miles and Gold = 4,000 miles.

I guess that means I've reached Silver for this year so far.

I also had a quick look at my other rather neglected statistics and discovered that I'm around 9 million steps since I started using a fitbit.

That's 9 million steps since I first walked along the beach at Santa Barbara with it. Cue a gratuitous Santa Barbara picture, showing the waters edge where it all started.
The timestamp on the picture says I took it on 18th August 2013, so by that reckoning I'm clocking around 4,500,000 steps per year.

Not too bad, although I still get those sub 10,000 step days most weeks, although I guess my average is around 12,000 which admittedly includes my cycling "steps" as well (I use one pedal revolution to equate to one step as a reasonable approximation).

That's why I still prefer the fitbit one to all of the wrist-type devices. It can be hidden, isn't fidgety on the wrist and can easily adapt for cycling.