rashbre central: September 2015

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.

Saturday 19 September 2015

rescuing an ancient video tape

I've been steadily working through some old video cassettes, rescuing the footage stored.

Eventually it had to happen where I found one that wouldn't play. The tape was all tangled inside the cassette.

"USA-Naples" it said on the case.

I decided to try to attempt a rescue.

There's five long, slender screws on the back of the cassette, which I carefully removed. The tape inside was a complete mess.
Nothing for it but to use some scissors. I cut out the tangled part of the tape and then re-spliced the remaining tape with some sellotape. It only needed to work once. Refit everything back into the cassette shell and hold breath whilst attempting to play.

Yes, it worked.

Although an outdated format nowadays, I can admire the simple engineering of this video tape format. No complicated pulleys and wheels. It's actually simpler inside than a music cassette tape (and yes they used to regularly get mangled too).

I used the outstretched arms method to estimate the number of minutes I'd lost. About seven stretched arms lengths of tape, which I'd say was about seven minutes if the tape was Video8 or about three and a half minutes if I'd recorded it digitally.

I'm already up to 42 minutes on the recovered tape, so it was worth the effort.

Friday 18 September 2015

there I was, a-digging this hole...

There I was, a-digging this hole, when along, comes this bloke in a bowler, which he lifted and scratched his head. Well we looked at the hole, and he said

"Do you mind if I make a suggestion?

"You're digging it round and it ought to be square, the shape of it's wrong, it's much too long, and you can't put hole where a hole don't belong."

That's not exactly how it happened (even for Bernard Cribbins), but it gives a sense of the arrival of the official today to check the square hole bashed in the wall.

It needs council sign-off before the work can continue, basically checking that the house won't fall down.

Fortunately, the steel box lintel thing in the top of the hole is rated to keep things up and the man said we are okay.

So, now we've got the underfloor tacked to the floorboards the plumbing and the main wiring done. Next will be making good all of the plaster, so that we can start on the furniture and appliances.

Tomorrow may be Saturday but it will certainly include some bish-bosh. And maybe some paint selection.

Matchpots. And dust sheets.

Thursday 17 September 2015

I am too easily distracted from the TV show about Gamechangers

I've just suffered my way through that tv show about the making of GTA3, thr hoodlum car chase video game.

Daniel Radcliffe played Sam Houser, one of the two brothers running Rockstar, which made the game that courted controversy and sold by the truckload.

The generally limp script squeezed in two jokes by Radcliffe's character about "not another game with hairy goblins on a quest", but the whole screenplay smacked of a hurried botch-job.

It was one of those situations where I suspect most multi-screen viewers would also be doing something else. Tardy exposition as the forces of respectable god-fearing middle-aged middle-America battled with the devilish reprobates of Brit-yoof.

The rich-thirty something Rockstars could easily trounce the do-gooder in court, and sent in their legal heavies in a couple of black quasi-government looking SUVs. The plot-line ran on rails, with possibly greater predictability than the scenes in the computer game.

And we had slacker-dude looking people churning code and explaining things in sub-Ladybird book language to the lawyers. In fairness, the original Ladybird Book of Computers was quite good at explaining computers to the lay-person, although the genre did get somewhat subverted.

Who can disagree with this version which includes favorite examples such as "Blue is a popular colour" and "Office Romances Displease Computers"?

And that became the first problem viewing the TV programme. I've seen the one about The Facebook, and this seemed to be a derivative copy, where there was still a nerdy guy, followers who reacted badly to his demands and a court conflict situation.

Apparently Rockstar tweeted their own displeasure during its screening, and it had me ironically thinking not of a speeding sports car, but instead of a poorly parked car blocking more spaces than it should.

Hardly gangster, grand theft, but I'm sure Ladybird would have an angle on it.

The second problem was that I started to find the alternative Ladybird covers more interesting than the TV show.

The tv show had the Americans criticising the British for their bad taste as I stumbled onto this one.

An ideal complement to an evening with Breaking Bad?

And then it all started to get a bit silly...

Wednesday 16 September 2015

digitising a cache of old video tapes

Whilst looking for space linked to the current kitchen upheaval, I found a box of old video tapes.

They are 8mm and Hi8 tapes, which use the same form factor and were compact formats used before DV came along.

I think the Hi8 actually recorded digitally onto the backwards-compatible 8mm tape format. There was a trick where punching out a hole in the tape cassette converted (cheap) 8mm to (expensive) Hi8 format. Fortunately I still have a Sony Hi8 camera, which I can use to liberate the videos.

It's an interesting example of where something inherently complex back in the days of use of the video format is now relatively easy. I can remember needing a special Matrox Card or a special box to plug into the then state-of-the-art PC to be able to ingest the tapes so that they could be shakily edited on Premiere Pro. Needless to say, it didn't happen very often.

This time I've used a basic Elgato video capture connection to process the analogue tapes into H.264 as they are uploaded into my Mac.

Nowadays its a very simple process.

Download the Elgato capture software, connect the camera via the special wire, hit play, and then hit record on the software. The video plays in little window on the screen, so I can see the progress, which is at real-time playback speed. It's the old 640 x 480 format, but this is all about the content.

It'll be interesting to see what I unearth from the video vaults.

As I type this, I can see some ancient video of a space shuttle being prepped for a launch...and now a Luau!

Here's the ancient, wobbly hand-held VHS NASA extract as a short video.

Tuesday 15 September 2015

you say you want a demolition?

The kitchen project is now underway. We've demolished and cleared out the old one and have a skip piled high with rubble parked on the drive.

Another task has been the removal of an arched wall and there's another piece to go too, but the last piece needs a new lintel before it can be demolished.
The plumbing and gas has been stopped off, except for the water main. This means no water in the kitchen at present. Well, there's no sink so its all a bit like camping.
Okay, not quite like camping. The old fitted fridge has been temporarily repurposed as a stand-alone unit, but even making a cup of coffee is now complex, what with obtaining water from one part of the house and making the actual drink in another.

I suppose it is good for the step-count.

Saturday 12 September 2015

unbolted rather than unhinged

I decided to rerun (recycle?) my turbo test again. My grand plan was to add the iPad to the setup using that plastic frame thing that I'd found.

Big mistake.

I managed to get the middle generation iPad to work with the bike, communicating via ANT+. Not great because it didn't pick up my heart rate monitor and couldn't link to the virtual power readouts from Trainerroad.

It also said it wanted to recalibrate the turbo trainer. I let it run the diagnostic and it advised me to adjust the screw setting where the turbo connects to the tyre of the bike. Yes, I did this with the result that the screw/bolt thingy fully unscrewed and fell off.


I tried refitting it in-situ, but realised I'd have to take the bike off the turbo first and turn the turbo upside down to re-secure it. Normally not a big deal, except I'd now got a rather fragile iPad attached to the handlebars.

Undo the iPad, then undo the turbo unit and refit the screw.

I decided the functionally less flexible iPad wasn't such a good idea after all and have reverted to the PC which works with everything. It was worth trying, but this is an example where an apparent simplification didn't really work.

Using the PC I can still, for example, run a Sufferfest video with Trainerroad. I can also watch a TV show, movie or listen to iTunes with Trainerroad still running. This are my two preferred modes because they are more or less immediate start. I can dial in Netflix and Amazon too, so I've a pretty wide choice of viewing.

If I really wanted to fiddle around I could let the TACX PC program control the bike and simulate gradients and terrain, with a video of the course, a Virtual Reality simulation or even a google maps display of a route. I've used these latter options in the past, but they take longer to set up, which kind of steals time from the turbo session.

As to the day's turbo cycle.

It's supposed to be the same as the one from a couple of days ago, but there's a lot more 'noise' at the start because I left the Garmin running whilst I experimented to get the turbo functional again. I noticed I'd somehow clocked up around seven miles before the start of the proper turbo session. There's a good 16 minutes of faffing around before the main session starts and then there's some spikes when I deliberately sped up across the hump back bridges in the warm up section.

Put this session down as 'mechanical difficulties'. At least I started getting the turbo working whilst there's still enough daylight to fix things outdoors.

Friday 11 September 2015

repurposing drawer-ware


Most people including reviewers don't yet have the new iPhone, so their commentary about it has to be on safe ground. All about things like memory size starting at a 'low' 16Gb. 'ring.

I have a different problem.

It's more to do with the residual devices. The ones with flat batteries that live in a drawer.

I've still got at least two older generation iPhones which strike me as perfectly good display devices.

What I'd really like to do is use one as a secondary monitor for the video camera kit that I've been building. There's so much circuitry and logic in any iPhone, that you'd think it could be repurposed. And the bike turbo could use an old iPad as its dedicated display device too.

The thing is, the older devices don't get capabilities needed to make it all work.

Yesterday I decided to put an old style ANT+ connector into my oldest iPad. It mechanically fits, but the software won't recognise it and can't be updated to a high enough version of IOS to fix it.

Instead, I'm continuing to use the oldest iPad as a media controller, plus a clapperboard/slate for the video antics. Although a 32Gb clapperboard does seem excessive.

Say cheese.

*The caption above is the IBM JCL for a once state-of-the-art 30Mb IBM Winchester disk drive used to run whole banking systems on big mainframe computers. That 30Mb equates to around 10 jpeg photos on the new iPhone.

Thursday 10 September 2015

getting the turbo ready for Sufferlandria again

I decided I'd better check that the bike turbo was still functional decided to use Trainerroad with a Sufferfest video.

Fortunately it only took a few seconds to set up and get going and the bicycle, computer, turbo, Garmin and tacx controller all talk to one another wirelessly using ANT+.

I anticipated that this resumption of use would be bit tough and took the precaution to dial the turbo down before I started.

I reduced its setting by 1.8%. It may not sound a lot, but it's a huge reduction based on the way it works.

I'd selected a one hour session with an accompanying video (it was Hell Hath No Fury). The first ten minutes were fine. I was thinkingthat maybe I could change the setting to something like minus 0.8%.

But no.

After about 20 minutes I was aware that the sweat was dripping off the end of my nose and that my arms were slippery wet. I was still keeping up with the required pace though, using some cadence and gears to handle the peaks in the hybrid Swedish/Spanish/French course.

I finished the first block and then there's a gentle 10 minute cool-down through some French countryside before the second wave started. I decided I'd just get to the end, without worrying about any super heroics along the sealed off dual carriageways of somewhere big in Spain.

Today was more about keeping a cadence and not stressing too much.

I'm planning to progressively remove the minus 1.8 setting and then it'll start to get rather tougher.

My metrics from today show a fairly consistent pedal speed and unchallenged heart rate. It'll be interesting for me to look at this again in a month or so to see what has changed.

The videos come from Sufferfest based in the country of Sufferlandria (oh, yes) and they do have a twisted sense of humour. I haven't ridden one since last winter, but I can tell they'll keep me amused later in the year.

Wednesday 9 September 2015

more tsundoku with the tacx bracket

More of that tsundoku feeling when I re-discovered this iPad rack.

It's for mounting on a bike. Not to be used on the road, but suitable for use with a turbo set-up. I acquired it sometime last year but at a time when the bike was better suited to going on roads rather than being placed on a turbo.

I'll get it working this year, probably with the Tacx and Trainerroad software although I doubt whether an iPad will allow simultaneous playing of a TV show and the use of the trainer metrics. First job is to find an iPad capable of working with the ANT+ protocol so I can link it to the Bushido.

Hmm. Bushido, tsunduko, ant+, tacx - it's like I'm talking in 積ん読 code.