Wednesday, 18 February 2009

It's another "HOLD UP!" moment...

OK, so, there I am, driving my bus the other day, and I glimpsed the sign shown in the photo on the left...

Not believing my eyes, I was (luckily) stuck in horrendous traffic on the way back, and made a point of looking a little more closely this time.


"Free Poo Today".

"Eeeeeew!" thinks I. Then I see where the sign is propped up outside, and get a one of those "one add one equals two" moments...


When you see a sign that initially makes you wanna hold your nose, give it a second glance.

Chances are you'll walk or drive away laughing :)

Monday, 16 February 2009

Project Gutenberg and free e-books...

Well, the digital revolution is definitely with us...

One of the forums that I'm a member of, discusses various aspects of Science Fiction (you'll recall that I'm a bit of a SciFi nut). Recently, in a thread discussing slow-rotation worlds, someone popped up with a reference to H. Beam Piper's "Four Day Planet".

Piper's works could well be described as seminal; in many ways, he helped define the latter stages of the "Golden Age of Science Fiction" with his works such as "Little Fuzzy" and others, laid benchmarks in how such tales might be told and were, frankly, stonking good reads as well.

Sadly, Piper never learned of this. Believing himself to be a failure and in financial crisis, he committed suicide in 1964, only a few months following his 60th birthday.

It now appears that the copyrights to his works were never renewed, and that, as lapsed works, they could be re-printed at will. The Gutenberg Project, a project devoted to republishing expired works of all genres, has added Pipers available works to it's database. You can read them right off the database in a choice of formats, the main ones being HTML, Text, and something called "Plucker", which allows you to read e-books on your PDA, Palmtop, or Pocket PC.

So, grab a few books, and stick 'em onto your PPC for the next time you get stuck somewhere in the middle of no-where - you'll be glad you did, and may even find a book you like!

Wednesday, 11 February 2009


This is blowing my own trumpet somewhat, but you remember that, nearly a year ago, I mentioned that we, bus drivers that is, occasionally get covertly monitored on how we drive? Well, seems I had one on my bus the other day. Only found out today, when I reported for work, though.

First I knew of it was from the Depot Inspector - "Ah, Roger, Dave wants a word, can you go down and see him before you sign on?"

So, fearing the worst (like "what the hell have I done now"), I grabbed a coffee, and, feeling like the kid that nicked the apples being called in front of the headmaster, ambled... no, slinked is more accurate... down to the bosses' office.

"Ah, Roger, shut the door and have a seat" was the greeting... normally, this means that somewhere along the line, I've screwed up. All manner of things were going through my mind, so I asked "What've I done now - run over an Inspectors foot or something?"

"No, no, nothing like that, nothing bad at all, mate!" He was smiling, normally a good sign.

Then he pointed out that the DSA (Driving Standards Agency) had had their monitors out and about for a few weeks on all our routes, and that I'd had one on my bus on Monday... and that I'd scored the maximum possible in every category they monitor - 1 (out of 5, with 5 being the worst score you can achieve)!


I almost missed what he said next, but he thanked me for the good work, told me to keep it up (silly, of COURSE I'll keep it up, it's how I normally drive!), and gave me a copy of the report (slightly redacted scan above).

Naturally, I was grinning like a maniac for the rest of my shift :)

I should, I suppose, point out that the section of the route that I was monitored on is a cast-iron pig to get right, goes all round the houses, through a couple of really narrow old-style GLC-style council estate roads with parking on the kerbs right on the road junctions, and some really nasty road humps on one of the roads where they've normally got a couple of scaffolding lorries parked, where they're renovating the low-rise council flats and that, for once, the route was actually a nice drive, with everything going right, so the monitor got me on a good day ;) Never the less, I'm exceedingly well pleased with that report, as you can imagine!

Remember yesterday that I hoped that today would be better?

Well, it was!


Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Yup. Definately a Full Moon kinda day...

Today was not, it has to be said, much fun at all.

Naturally, it being a Full Moon, every kind of lunatic was on the road today, while I was driving my bus.

The "I'm overtaking when kids are getting off the bus on a narrow road, as I want a new hood ornament" types...

The "Stuff you, I'm first, and I'm undertaking you in heavy traffic to prove it" types...

The "£$%&*^& you, I hate buses and I'm carving you up like a roast right now" types...

There were loads more, of course, and this does not include the suicidally motivated pedestrians on their iPods and phones, blithely (and deafly) meandering into the road as I was coming down the hight street. God Lord, it's a wonder the Human Race has survived so long, given that the world appears to be populated with lunatics, the way they carry on...

Anyhow, you get the idea...

oh... and the icing on the cake?

Luckily not really something that affected me, but the traffic was burgered in all directions because of it. Seems a motorcyclist decided to try to go between two cars to get past them in very heavy traffic on the south circular in the Clapham area today, mid afternoon. He failed, and went down between them.

I don't know if he survived the mess, but given the traffic police were done with their investigation in under an hour, the chances are that he did survive, which is all the better for the two poor blighters he tried to squeeze past, since they won't have to live with the knowledge that they helped someone kill himself.

I came to the conclusion a few years back that, while it'd be nice to have a motorbike, having one in London was going to be like putting a revolver with one chamber loaded, the rest empty, to my head, and pulling the trigger a few times. Eventually, there'd be a very loud bang and a hell of a mess for someone else to clean up. Not very nice, rather selfish, and pretty foul all round, all things considered.

Bit like riding a bike in London these days.

As one motorcyclist will now be able to tell you.

As I said: Today was not, it has to be said, much fun at all.

Let's hope tomorrow's better.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Keeping one's iPAQ gps files up to date...

OK, some of you who have been reading this Blant will know that my phone is an iPaq HW6915, and an excellent phone it is too, kind of a combination PDA, Phone, and GPS receiver (with the right software, of course).

I'll not go into the rights and wrongs (mostly wrongs) of TomTom at this time; this is instead a bit of advice regarding updating the Quick GPS files on your phone, to allow you to increase the time between updates. This is a semi-firmware issue, as opposed to a software provider issue, which are not the same, or even related, for a change on this Blant!

The GPS chipset on the iPaq HW6915, like all GPS receiver equipment, is geared to utilising location fixes from satellites in orbit.

From your starting up a GPS Receiver, if you've not used it in a few hours, it'll have to find all the available satellites, read their data as they transmit it in turn, and then decide from this information where you are. It's a process called TTFF, or "Time To First Fix", and can take up to fifteen minutes or longer in less than optimal conditions, in order to establish your position on the ground (in conjunction with your choice of satellite navigation software, of course)...

In the case of the iPaq, unless it's plugged into an external power source (your car power adaptor, for example), the TTFF uses a LOT of battery power - did I mention that the GPS receiver in the phone EATS batteries for breakfast? No? Watch that battery power meter drop, then, hooo boy, does it drop fast!

So as to speed up the fix process, the iPaq uses "Quick GPS". This is a set of data files, which help speed the fixing process by giving the GPS receiver a kind of electronic "heads up" as to where the satellites should be at any given time. Using Quick GPS decreases the TTFF time by many magnitudes - I got a fix within two minutes yesterday; I often get a fix in less than a minute. There are four of these files, "svstatus.txt", "lto.dat", "downloadtime.txt", and "ntplist.txt".

As standard, there are only two ways to update these files: Manually, or automatically. Automatically means that you leave it all to the HW6915: It's set up to download the files:

  • By GPRS (depending on your cellular phone providers' data charges, this can be expensive),

  • by WiFi when you're in range of a WiFi connection, or

  • via the internet by ActiveSync connection at home.

The second method is by manually downloading the files from a website, and copying them to the phone via ActiveSync.

Method two is conducted as follows (I found this at the Pocket PC Singapore Group (PPCSG)):

  1. Dock your HW6915 to it's ActiveSynch cradle, and allow it to synch up normally.

  2. Navigate in your home PC to

  3. Scroll all the way down and choose "latest"

  4. Right click and download and save both files ("lto.dat" & "svstatus.txt") - those are the only files you need, actually.

  5. Copy the 2 files (lto.that) & (svstatus.txt) to the clipboard (find where you put them, highlight them, and right click "copy").

  6. Go to My Computer

  7. Open up My Mobile Device

  8. Open up My Windows Mobile-Based Device

  9. Open up Application Data

  10. Open up Global Locate

  11. Open up Gpsct

  12. Paste the 2 files (lto.dat) & (svstatus.txt)

  13. On your HW6915, Check your Quick GPS expiry date. Should now read a tad under seven days :)

  14. Done.....

There is, of course, a problem (naturally, there's a problem. It's blindingly obvious there'll be a problem, lol).

As previously mentioned, The phone is set to download these files automatically on expiration. This, in the case of the HW6915, means it'll do that every two days, and as near as I can determine, uses the "downloadtime.txt" file to determine when this should be done. Two days is not a great deal of time for the lifetime of these files, to be frank. If you're away from home for any length of time therefore, this can be annoying as heck is you don't have access to a WiFi connection, or simply don't want to use GPRS, to update the files.

The problem is that the second, manual update, method is wiped out by the auto settings on the phone, which is, it has to be said, a tad annoying (cue very rude words that make most teddy bears wince and plug their ears!), as it looks at the files, determines that they weren't downloaded by the firmware, and covers itself in misplaced glory and at the same time wiping out your work, by then downloading the shorter-life files.

Cue Ambassador Kosh from "Babylon 5" burbling "And so it begins"...!

Now... tell the truth... Right about now, you're expecting me to wibble on about how I turned the air electric blue due to some inanimate object messing me about and rolling back all the changes I wanted to see, threw my dummy into low earth orbit, and generally rolled around the floor a fair amount, impersonating a two-year-old... right?

Surprisingly, wrong (ptptptptptptpt!).

Dunno how I managed it, but I held onto my temper :)

Probably because I half expected the system to do that to me, I guess :)

Anyhow, to get back on track, the easiest and most straightforward way of preventing the system from overwriting your efforts is to disable automatic updates in the Quick GPS settings screen on the iPaq. On the HW6915, go Start -> Settings -> Quick GPS Connection -> Settings, and uncheck "Enable Updates" and "Initiate GPRS Connection for updates". I'd check "Show expiration reminders and warnings, just to remind you to download the fresh files every week, just in case ;)

There is another method to curing this problem. That's to go in and hack the registry of your HW6915. This is NOT say again NOT for the faint hearted.

First, you need a Registry Editor. CeRegEditor is a freeware choice, and not at all bad, either.

It can be found at

Next, you need to go into the HW6915 registry, and hack (change) the QuickGPS update settings.

This is the key block you need to find, and looks roughly like the picture on the left...
hkey_local_machine\software\global locate\Lto Manager\Files

"RemotePath_0" should be amended to read: "7day/latest/lto.dat"
"RemotePath_1" should be amended to read: "7day/latest/svstatus.txt"

Once you've made the two changes, save the registry, and exit your editor. You shouldn't need to restart your HW6915 - these changes should take place immediately - they certainly did on my 6915, anyhow :)

You can now go back into the Quick GPS Connection settings, and re-check "Enable Updates". It'll work fine :)

For once (in a blue moon), Problem Easily Solved :-D

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Snowpocolypse 2009

The confusion, congestion, disruption, et al, due to the snow in England, now has a name: "Snowpocolypse 2009"

Thanks to "Madarin Dude" for that one

I was thinking along the lines of "SNOFU'09", but "Snowpocolypse 2009" is miles better

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Snow and sarcasm

Well... this was the view from my flats yesterday (Monday morning, at about 2am), while it was still snowing hard. I was off over the weekend (something didn't agree with me, I was a very sick bus driver), so this didn't help.

Anyhow, I made sure that I could get to work today (or so I thought) by making sure that the car has good tracks to get to the road (did that in the afternoon, after the majority of the snow had fallen). Put the car right up to the road, neatly reversed in self same tracks to enable me to get the car out at 04:30. Damn near coughed my stomach lining up in the process, of course, but made the effort none the less.

I then, seeing the forecast, went to be early, as I'd decided to get out earlier this morning, due to ice warnings. Normally, I get up a couple of hours before my shift starts, get in half an hour or so before the shift, and relaxingly sort out my life before getting behind the bus driving wheel. Not this time: I got up a full three and a half hours before my shift, and was down at my car a full two and a half hours early for a shift start at 06:10.

I needn't've bothered. Couldn't get the )&£%)*&")($&£_*%*$&% car out of the blasted bay, let alone the car park. Damn thing kept sliding of the tracks and spinning the wheels, despite the traction control system kicking in. I managed a whole fifteen feet from where I'd parked (just off camera to the left, landing up stalled and stranded in front and blocking off the two cars on the left that you can see).

So, phoned work (from the car) to give them the bad news, and got a load of sarcasm back. "Didn't you dig your car out yesterday? Put salt down?".


Of course I had (sarcastic twit) and told him what I'd done the previous afternoon, what had happened this morning, and on the verge of telling him exactly what I thought of his sarcasm, bit my tongue, bid him goodbye, and hung up.

Blow me down if he doesn't call me right back and give me verbage for hanging up.

I told him that I'd speak to him later, as I'd already spent 45 minutes trying to get the car out AGAIN, and was about ready to start swearing stupidly, and bid him goodbye again.

I don't need that kind of rubbish from a Depot Inspector who SHOULD know better (and to give him his due, normally does know better, even if the chances are better than even that I'm well and truly off his Christmas Card List now), so the hell with it. I'm staying home today, full service from my depot or not.

I'm apparently on a day off tomorrow, according to the rota, and on the first day's training of this new-fangled CPC (Certificate of Professional Competence) on Thursday, so hopefully this damn stupid muck will have melted away by then.

Give me mud and rain any day, or even snow on it's own. THOSE I can handle.

Snow AND Ice? At the SAME time?!

Leave it in bleedin' Siberia, where it truly belongs.