Saturday, 26 July 2014

A manifestly unfair and draconian new procedure...


Police to seize mobiles in EVERY car crash http://dailym.ai/1rjoCzY via @MailOnline

Don't get me wrong: I understand why they will now be doing this, but it's also a dangerous move. My phone is literally my lifeline - I'm a former heart patient, and not having my mobile phone to hand could be the difference between receiving life-saving medical help, and dying. Further, it's more often than not the only way my relatives can get hold of me. It's the way I can access the internet. It holds immensely personal data on myself, my partner, and the contact details of all manner of people, businesses, and organisations that I know, work with, or do business with.

In short, it would be not only a personal disaster for my phone to be seized, but a professional one as well - all because some damn fool shunts me up the khyber because he wasn't bloody looking.

I appreciate that it's difficult for the Police and prosecuting authorities to gain successful convictions for certain offences, but this is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

I drive practically every day. I use my phone to navigate, warn me of traffic delays and congestion (satnav applications), and yes, to receive calls via my bluetooth headset (thus ensuring that I don't handle the phone when I'm driving), which IS legal.

Moreover, being a bus driver, I'm not permitted, BY LAW, to even use a hands-free headset or headphones, while I'm in control of a bus, let alone driving one (PSV regulations are much more draconian in this regard than for mere car and van drivers).

Yet, the old bill will seize the phone if some other bugger smacks me while I'm driving.

Patently, this is manifestly and grossly unfair.

Equally as obvious, it's treating everyone as being guilty before being proved so in a court.

So much for a cornerstone of English Justice, that of the presumption of innocence.

I wonder what it'll take for Liberty to get involved in this mile-wide paintbrush of draconian practice?

Monday, 21 July 2014

An Oxymoron for Fundamental extremists...


BBC News - Iraqi Christians flee after Isis issue Mosul ultimatum http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-28397528

Let's be clear: I am NOT singling out any one particular faith: ALL faiths and beliefs have fundamental extremists. The above news article demonstrates why I have a major issue with such extremist fundamentalism of whatever faith you care to name: "If you don't do what we, the (insert name/type/brand of Fundamental Extremism here) tell you to do, we'll lop off your bodily parts wholesale". The language tends to vary, but the overall theme is there.

Fundamental extremists do not give a tinkers cuss about tolerance.

Fundamental extremists do not give a tinkers cuss about freedom of expression or faith.

Fundamental extremists twist and utterly abuse the words of the faith they claim to follow to meet their own, frequently harsh, often horribly cruel, certainly irrational, excessively demanding, and narrow world view, and condemn those who do not agree with them to death, in usually a quite barbarous and inhumane manner.

Many years ago, I was told a very apropos oxymoron: "Kill all extremists".

I am not suggesting for one moment that this be done, but one can't help but think that there's some rather pointed irony in there, somehow.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Speed cameras & SatNav systems (part two)...


This is a follow-up post to the one below regarding Waze.

OK, as I got no response on the original posting on the forums, I posted a brand new thread in another section of the forums, and this time, got a response within about a day of posting, which was nice :-)

The bad news is that there is no way to suppress the pop-ups.

This leaves a massive problem, as while I like Waze, and find it incredibly useful, I cannot use it during the dark hours, as the pop-ups are a massive distraction - imagine a bright light coming on as you look down a dark lane, in the rain. NOT good, NOT safe, and, in fact, blooody dangerous. Someone at Waze would not appear to have thought this through fully.

The problem of the bright pop-ups in Waze is not that they're bright enough to dazzle - they aren't that bright. No, the problem is a distraction issue. The human eye instinctively moves to view bright light. As a result, your eyes move off the road, and you could miss that car pulling out in front of you, and BANG. T-Bone time. Not good, by any stretch of the imagination. The lack of the facility to stop or suppress those pop-ups is regrettable, to say the least.

So, it's back to using my paid-for application, Sygic. Don't get me wrong: There's absolutely nothing wrong with Sygic, or their business model: They produce a truly excellent SatNav package for Android, but I LIKE the concept of some of the features of Waze, such as the ETA notification, or even the progress tracking, that you can sent to others via text or email as you set out on a journey - it provides real-time reassurance that you're (1) on the way, and (2) of your progress along the route.Those are both very handy features that simply don't appear to exist in other SatNav applications that I have. But, without the ability to suppress the appearance of the pop-up warnings that waze gives, I personally find the application hazardous to safe driving at night, simply because it can distract you from looking at what's on the road to your front, which is potentially disasterous.

So, with regret, I'll not be using Waze at night; likely as not, I may wind up not using it at all, as it's far simpler to regularly use one navigation application on longer drives, especially if ypu're gping to drive past dusk into the dark hours. Which is when I prefer to do my longer distance driving, as there's generally less traffic.

So, if Waze introduces pop-up suppression, then I'll go back to using it at night. But not until then.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Speed cameras & SatNav systems...


In addition to a paid-for SatNav application (Sygic for Android), I also use other SatNav applications on my Android phone, including Google Navigation (part of Google Maps), and Waze. I also use the Pocket GPS World CamerAlert service, which I've found to be a hugely useful package;

Why do I use so many packages? OK, for a start, I don't use all of them at the same time - that'd be a little silly, really; likewise, I don't use them when I'm at work driving a bus - that'd be using my phone in the bus, and that's illegal for a PSV driver. I can, though, use the phone and apps in my car.

The paid-for app, Sygic, works using off-line mapping (the maps are stored on the phone, not downloaded from the internet on demand, so where there is no reliable 3G or 4G service, I can still navigate effectively.

Using Waze (which uses on-line on-demand mapping), I can navigate safely in the knowledge that fellow Waze users will update areas that I travel through, with traffic and hazard warnings. Interestingly it's also rather good at planning routes to my satisfaction as well - sometimes better than Sygic, which is a bit irritating!

The CamerAlert system I have running all the time I'm using SatNav apps; it sits in the background, and warnings me when I'm nearing "safety" cameras, and the database is generally updated on a weekly basis. It's never let me down, which is nice.

I've been using Waze for a month or so now; I've found it to be an incredibly handy free SatNav and social media application, but there is a major issue with it that is really becoming a potential 'dump it' issue: Its handling of Speed Camera alerts.

I've been a subscriber to the PGPSW speed camera service for a number of years (which I find very effective), and I see no point in discontinuing that subscription. I therefore tried to disable the camera alerts in Waze, with no luck what so ever.

The problem is that whether in navigation or merely roaming about, the alerts still keep on coming; at night, it's a HUGE distraction to suddenly have a bright (even using the night-time display) pop-up appear - especially as it consumes a quarter of the available display area (and I use a Samsung Note 3, so you can imagine how big that pop-up is). In the Android application there appears to be no way at all of disabling these warnings; more to the point, if I travel to parts of the EU, I may well be breaking some of the laws over there if I continue to use Waze over there. I can turn off my other camera alert package; I cannot disable the Waze in-app camera warnings.

These countries, at the time I last checked, prohibited point of interest (GPS) based camera warnings: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Germany, France, Ireland, Macedonia, and Switzerland; This means that if I drive in those countries, and use Waze, I may be breaking the laws of those countries, which could land me a hefty fine, possibly the confiscation of the equipment running the application (my phone), or worse. So, that stops me using Waze in those countries, which somewhat defeats the point of installing Waze in the first place.

So, I need to disable both the audio and visual components of the camera alerts within Waze. I've looked at every available setting, and the only one I can find is on the settings - display settings - show on map - speed cameras (on/off).

So, I've posted this problem on the Waze forums, with the following questions:


  • Have I missed a setting, or is there actually no way to prevent this otherwise excellent application from displaying these incredibly annoying and distracting pop-ups?
  • If there is currently no way of preventing such alerts, is a 'switch' planned to be added sooner than later? If so, when?

I'll update this post once I hear one way or the other from the other Waze users on the forum.

UPDATED in next post, 28th June 2014

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Kindle on Android - new permissions? Why? (Updated)

The following is an email that I just sent to Amazon Kindle support. It's self explanatory.

Dear Sir or Madam,
I have been a customer of Amazon for some time; I have also been a Kindle app user on my mobile phone for a while as well.

However, your recent update to the software is putting both of these in jeopardy of losing me as a customer, as they appear to be purely aimed at dredging out data and personal information to which you have no legitimate right.
Therefore, please specify why you need all the following application permissions for me to read e-books that I have paid for?

  • Device & app history - why do you need to know what applications are running on the phone in addition to the Kindle App?
  • Wi-Fi connection information - why do you need to view Wi-Fi connections? The phone can handle those quite effectively already.
  • Device ID & call information - Why do you need to see this personal information that has nothing to do with you? (read phone status and identity)
Thanks you for your time in this matter.

Here's the thing: It's a massive privacy invasion. Why? Because they're trawling for information that they appear not to have any legitimate need to know. The number of anyone you're talking to, for example "read phone status and identity").

They surely don't need to know the details of any wifi network you're on - suppose it belongs to someone else, and you're using it with the owners permission - does Amazon need to know this? Of course not.

Likewise, they don't need to know if you've been playing Angry Birds, or using a satnav, or whatnot.

Frankly, it's a symptom of several app producers over the last couple of years; those that haven't responded have found me no longer using their apps - I delete them. Those that reply, or state why they need addition app permissions on their Android Play pages generally keep my patronage.

The key here is openness. And Amazon have, to date, been remarkably closed about why they want these new permissions.

The only explanation that jumps to mind, is that they want to know everything about you, and as they haven't got a legitimate reason for asking for it, just add new permissions to the app, in the hope that you'll let them see your inside leg measurement without a second to review the new permissions.

I'll keep you updated on this once I receive an answer.

UPDATE

Well, Amazon replied while I was at work, so here's their reply. I've underlined the important bits, and my comments are below it.

Hello,

We sincerely apologize about, first about these requirements when updating your Kindle app for Android, and second for all the inconvenience this may cause you. I fully understand your displeasure and I hope your satisfaction is our highest concern.

I know that this very disappointing to you but please be assured that we will not store any personal information from you nor get this information by agreeing to these requirements. The Kindle app just need to get access on these (Device and app history, Identity, Photo's/Media/Files, WiFi connection and information and Device ID and Call Information) so it will function well. These are the settings that mostly affect the app and we would like to ensure that the app will work best by requesting access to these.

As we've introduced this update, we are currently working on this Kindle app for easy access and better improvement of functions, thanks for bringing this to our notice. Please be assured that we will keep your account private and we will never get information from your phone----we value privacy highly above all else.

We are grateful to hear about this feedback that would help us improve the Kindle experience. Please be assured that we're continuously working hard to improve the Kindle apps.

Now your feedback about this was forwarded to the Kindle Development Team with the hope that their action on this concern will elicit a change in Kindle app update--I know they'll want to hear about your experience regarding this.

As with all of our products, we continue to make Kindle apps better for customers with regular software updates. As we've introduced a new software update recently, we are currently working on this update for easy access and better improvement of functions, as soon as this feature becomes available on the next software update, we will definitely let you know about this by emailing you or through our website.

Customer feedback like yours helps us in our endeavor to improve the service we provide, and we're glad you took time to write to us.

Thanks again for giving us the opportunity to improve. We look forward to see you again soon.

Please let us know if there is anything further we can do for you in the meanwhile.

Thanks for using Kindle.

Best regards,


OK. So as you can see, the meat of their reply is in the second paragraph, where they undertake not to access or store personal information and/or data.


The interesting upshot of this is that the Android Operating System appears to have some stability issues, if they need permissions like this to make a simple e-book application run with more reliably.

It'll be interesting to see how the yet-to-be-announced successor to Android KitKat fares.

In the mean time, I'm satisfied by both the speed of the Customer Services response, and the content of it, so I'll be updating my copy of the Kindle Android application.

It would have been MUCH better had they said this in the blurb for the app on the Google Play website, and hopefully, they're going about doing this as I write this, but at least the point has been made.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The party's now private: Three UK ends all-you-can-eat uncapped data for new contracts.


Well, I suppose the party had to end sometime. Three UK are not offering unlimited - excuse me, all-inclusive  - uncapped mobile data any more.

I went to their service for two reasons: Better overall coverage in the places I generally frequent, and All-You-Can-eat data, which was not capped in any way shape or form, so as to cut my comms costs in half, as per this blant entry.

Well, it's too late for you if you haven't jumped on that band wagon. They've quietly changed the bundles they offer. Now, if you want to tether your machine to your phone, there will be a 2Gb cap on the monthly amount of data that it consumes. As they say in their brochure on the topic:

Your data allowance can be used as a personal hotspot (we used to call this tethering) – if  you choose a plan with all-you-can-eat data, you can use up to 2GB of this allowance each month as a personal hotspot.

Note that they make no difference between the types of Wi-Fi or hard-wired tethering - excuse me, personal hotspot - or how they will determine this is occurring; presumably some form of monitoring software that you can't remove will be installed before you receive your new phone, as I cannot figure out, without some form of packet sniffing (where the content of what you are viewing is monitored in real time) occurring. As for sim-only contracts, who knows how they'll determine if you're tethered to a PC or not.

So, the party just turned private. If you're in, you've got it. If not, you missed out: You cannot get the One Plan-style uncapped contracts any more.

But here's the thing. If you're on one of the new sim-only contracts, and instead of putting the SIM card in a phone, you opt to leave it in a 3G or 4G-capable tablet or notebook, how the heck will they know it's not a phone? And will they cap you at 2Gigs?

I sure hope they got this thought all the way through, because somewhere down the road, they may well pee off someone with a law degree and a Bar certification, and as a result could easily wind up defending themselves for breach of contract.

It'll be interesting to see how this progresses.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

A replacement for the Land Rover Defender...


As some may know, the Land Rover that a lot of us all know and love will be no more, come next year; in its infinite wisdom, the EU has decided that it's not pedestrian-friendly enough (it's too square, apparently) for when certain idiots on two plates of meat decide to walk into the road without looking.


A Land Rover, not a Freelander, Discovery, or Range Rover, is a square utilitarian box on four wheels, meant to be a powerful, rugged, heavy-hauling, four-wheel-drive go-almost-anywhere small truck. It is not intended to be pretty (although there is a certain bulldog-like elegance to it), nor is it intended to be all that environmentally friendly either. It must be able to withstand all manner of hard terrain, hard driving, and punishment that would put a similar class of vehicle out of play in five seconds flat. And that's where it's strengths, and the loyalty of its owners, lie.

But reality is, as one wag put it, a bitch. The EU has declared, and that's that. So the basic Land Rover, in it's fourth major version, the Defender, is soon to be no more. A replacement must be found.

So, Jaguar Land Rover (JRL) came along with the Defender Concept 100, or DC100 (Wikipedia entry here). They unveiled it at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2011, and quite horrid it is too. Rightly, it attracted much commentary, mostly apparently rather negative. I tend to agree. The basic offering is, I suppose, fair enough, but the "sport" version is a complete abomination, in my view.

Here are the strengths of the current civilian Land Rover Defender:

  • Simple aluminium bodywork
  • Relatively easy to work on / repair
  • Strong - you CAN walk on the bodywork at a push, to get to the roof.
  • Easily customisable both internally and externally.
  • Takes a massive load in the back in the cargo configuration.
  • Comes in two main body lengths: Short and Long (90 & 110)

You can also add for the military versions of the Defender that it can be converted between a soft top and hard top with ease, very quickly with only basic hand tools.

So, any replacement should, indeed MUST, have these features.

The Wikipedia article references an Australian press article from 2012, in "Go Auto" (article here), where "Land Rover design director Gerry McGovern has revealed the next-generation Defender will bear little resemblance to the DC100 concept that emerged at the Frankfurt motor show (in 2011)".

That's something of a relief, but one must hope that the end result will be as attractive to current owners seeking an upgrade, as it may be to prospective new owners seeking a Defender-like machine.

In addition, the markets that JRL are seeking to placate and serve must also be addressed, not least of which includes the Americans, whose automotive import control regulations border on the insane, in terms of the requirements that they set, both mechanically and environmentally (not least in regard to recyclable parts percentages and emission controls); Then there's the EU mania about pedestrians trying to commit suicide by not looking where they're going, which was the start of this particular problem, to consider.

Well, here are a couple of thoughts, not that I'm likely to be the first to have thought of them... If the car must be more pedestrian friendly, consider plastics or polycarbonates in the bodywork. How about an extended crush-capable wrap-around front bumper in the visual style of the existing bodywork? There are a vast number of other possible solutions that can be thought of, I'm sure.

But at the end of the day, the final result MUST look visually appealing to existing and prospective owners alike, and MUST meet or even exceed all the hallmarks of strength, ruggedness, utility, and ability, that the current Defender possesses.

It's not going to be an easy task, and I don't envy them the challenge, but in order to maintain their reputation and brand loyalty, they must meet this challenge, run with it, and succeed, or a major lynch-pin of Land Rover will forever die.

And that is simply not palatable, nor acceptable.