Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Trials, Toasted arms, Trumpton, and Tattoos...

Well, Jury Service was... Long. Not that much I can add to it, really, mostly due to the restriction on what Jurors can say in public both before, during, and after, a trial. We spent the first week sitting around waiting to be called to form a Jury (being "Jurified" would seem to be a good word for that, wouldn't it?), and eventually got sent home early on the Friday - like most days that week, in fact.

The reason? Seems H.M. Court Service summonsed a few too many of us for that week - go figure. Well, I suppose that's better than not enough Jurors, on balance, but believe me, sitting on your backside doing stuff all is a right royal pain in the (appropriately) rear!

So, into week two, and it begins to look as if we're never going to see the inside of a Jury Box, when lo and behold, we're called to form a Jury Panel. A Jury Panel is fifteen people, of which twelve are selected at random by the Clerk of the Court, to serve as a Jury. I was number twelve - whoopee! I actually got to do something!

Regrettably, I can't do much more than that, due to the rules governing Jurors and what goes on in the Jury Room. Which is a hell of a shame, as it'd make for very interesting reading - the whole Judicial process appears to be covered in a fog-like substance, and while we may know, from the television (from things like "Cops With Cameras" and suchlike), how crooks are caught, it's the process of bringing them to court, and the trial process itself, that exists in a murky world of rumour, confusion, and not a little fear and ignorance, to the general public.

Maybe it's time the lid was lifted, at least a little, to provide a little more reassurance to Joe Public on the whole and complete Criminal Justice System?

Toasted Arms...

Well, following on from my fortnight in and around court, I managed to attend one of my Living History Groups' main events :-)

The "Military Mayhem" event is held in Faversham, Kent, around the middle of August. Now in its' second year, we've attended it for both years now, walking away with Best Static Display 2008, and now Best Living History Display 2009 - you may indeed colour us well and truly chuffed to the max :-)

However, to temper my chuffedness, I picked up the worst case of sunburn to my neck and arms that it's been my misfortune to suffer in many a year.

In the next week, I fully expect to look like the incredible snake man, shedding his skin, as my sunburn peels off

Trumpton playing with hoses again...!

There I was, thinking "Ah, a nice quiet Tuesday"...


From the moment I got to work, I realised that "quiet" wasn't going to describe this night...!

On getting to work, I found that the Fire Brigade (known reasonably affectionately to many as 'Trumpton' (see "Camberwick Green")), were in attendance over the road from our bus depot, at a landfill fire... Um... Uh-oh... Anyhow, to help them make a new urban swimming pool - I mean put the fire out - they'd draped their big bore fire hoses from the hydrant, across the road, to the landfill...

Which made getting on and out of the depot an exercise in care and attention, let me tell you - those hoses are BIG bumps in the road, and when you run over them with a twelve ton bus (even with the greatest of care), it makes for interesting facial expressions from the assembled players from Trumpton!

Chest Tattoos...

And then, to cap the start of a truly long shift, we had someone running around in the road, literally playing with the traffic. Now, I'm NOT one to make fun of the afflicted, but this poor sod definitely should not be out in the community: He was obviously not all there upstairs, and that he was running from vehicle to vehicle, in the middle of the road, trying to say God knows what to the various drivers, was not only sad, it was bloody dangerous.

Add to this that he was visibly physically disabled (serious limping due to a gammy right leg, and a visibly disabled right wrist), means that Social Services somewhere were (again) falling down on the job again - that lad needed constant supervisory care, not freedom to potentially commit suicide by car, for Gods' sake.

I'm just glad that I did not hear that Brixton got gridlocked by a pedestrian incident. His being found with "Pirelli" impact tattooed to his chest would have been a truly criminally preventable incident, to say the least.

Thank the stars the rest of the shift was quiet (if bloody long).

Oh, and Trumpton? Yup. They were still there when I logged off duty at 08:22 - they had a long night of it too, by the look of things!

Friday, 21 August 2009

Freeware Windows Mobile Satnav? Ummmmmmmmm... not quite, unfortunately :(

Well, it's a nice idea, but it's not *quite* here yet, unfortunately.

Recently, I became aware of something called the "OpenStreetMap" project, or "OSM". It's ambitious, and exceedingly well-intentioned. Using open source data, and a veritable army of volunteers across the globe, it aims to provide free GIS (Geographical Information System) data to all who want it. The look is a little like "google maps" in appearance, but that's pretty much, as I understand it, where the resemblance ends. Unlike Telemaps or other commercial mapping data providers, the data is not updated quarterly, but almost daily. The data is updated by the users themselves, and is thus based on first-hand knowledge of a given place.

To stop the nay-sayers in their tracks before they even hit that "comment" button below, I am well aware that such a system is well open to abuse, but as far as I know, this has not happened (yet). I would imagine that before that happens, there will be a few checks and balances instituted. We shall see, anyhow.

So, to get back to the SatNav theme... who's making use of this data?

By the look of it, a fair amount of folks.

And how about freeware turn-by-turn GPS-based satellite navigation applications for Windows-based mobile devices? Well, no, not yet - but that's not for want of trying by some, though.

NavIt utilises OSM data for off-line usage. The map for the UK and Northern Ireland, for example, downloaded from an extractor using OSM data, is around a hundred megabytes (100 Mb) - that's almost the same as the size of map that Navigon MN7 uses (yes, I checked!).

There are a few problems, though.

NavIt is not yet able to perform to any level of navigational capability on Windows Mobile platforms - the location search is not working yet, all roads are treated the same, as far as I can tell, in that there are no database annotation as to whether they're urban streets, motorways, or whatever, no speed limits, and configuration to specific phones means a fair amount of head scratching and brain overheating (if not burning) for those of us who are not exactly not technically- or programming- inclinedand so on. Now, you might think that I'm having a dig at the idea.

Not so.

The idea of a freeware product, utilising publicly-available data, is a blindingly outstanding one, that I'm all in favour of (especially so when you remember the rumour that every time my wallet opens, a new crop of moths emerges!).

However, as you can see from the above, there's a fair amount of work to be done - not surprising, given that it's a project done for free, and typically in these projects, while the end results may be blindingly good, they take a LOT of time to come to fruition - to say the very least!

Instead, the development team appears to be concentrating on the iPhone and Symbian platforms first. Hardly a surprise there, to be honest, most of the teams' developers appear to be more at home with Linux-based operating systems, and that's something of an antithesis of ideology for Windows-based proponents

Still, that they're working in semi-slow-time on the WinMob platform is promising, anyhow

So. Nice idea, not yet mature enough in the Windows Mobile environment for use in turn-by-turn satellite navigation...

But they're working on it

Watch this space

Monday, 17 August 2009

VERDICT: Navigon MN7 trial on HTC Touch Pro 2 WinMob 6.1 - FAIL.

So, there I am, on the way back from spending the weekend at my better half's place, and using the Navigon MN7 trial package to navigate back before I bin it to try NavMii... Yeah, I actually do know the way, but I *was* giving it the full trial period to give it it's fair crack of the whip...

Everything was going reasonably well, it'd actually taken my preferred route - M4 east to the A329M, the A322, M3, and M25, and then I noticed that I never refuelled after I got to my better half's place - and the car was close to empty! OOPS!

So, knowing there are a few fuelling stops near the various junctions of the M25, I came off the motorway at the very next junction (junction 8 (Reigate & Epsom), cancelled the route guidance, and consulted the petrol station POI in MN7. And found, luckily, that BP have a petrol station not a mile up the A217 at Lower Kingswood.

So, I dropped in there, stuck a much-needed twenty quid of unleaded in the car, and disappeared inside to pay for it - their coffee machine was broken, dammit - and reset the MN7 to get me home again from there.

And that's when the problems started again with MN7. It pointed me towards Banstead, and then petulantly locked up - and not knowing the area, I was carefully paying my fullest attention to the roads, listening for the audio prompts from the satnav - which I realised after one roundabout and a junction, weren't forthcoming. So, I found a safe place to stop, and checked the PDA.

Yep, The routing was locked up solid again - it did this twice on the way over to my better half's on Friday, but I'd attributed this to a mid-route pause while I got a take-away at the Bracknell KFC (this time they HAD chicken!) to get a bargain bucket, as requested (it's a veritable standing order for my Better Half - "You coming over tonight?" "Yup" "Bring us a bucket, willya?!"), and then it locked up again under a rather thick canopy of trees at a junction, which I attributed to a process fart as it tried to find satellites again.

This time the map was stuck a hundred yards past the petrol station I'd just left, and I didn't know why - still don't, as a matter of fact. Completely random, that lock-up, by the look of it. There was no interruption of route, and hardly any tree coverage over the road (dual carriageway). And would it shut down?

No chance. Believe me, I tried almost every method short of a soft reset.

So, one soft reset later, I had the damn thing running properly again.

And it bloody went and locked up twice more AGAIN within two miles of each lock-up.

By this time, as one might imagine, I was practically fit to be tied.

Luckily, I had found my way to Sutton, and knew my way home without the need for satnav, which is probably just as well, as I'd probably have launched it and my phone into orbit, I was that hacked off. I HATE being lost (my better half will attest to this!). I find it grossly embarrassing, annoying, and a waste of expensive petrol to boot. This is why I like having a working turn-by-turn satellite navigation package on my PDA/phone.

So, now that I've learned that I cannot trust this package when the chips are down, I've deleted Navigon MN7 from my PDA, and the control program (Navigon Fresh) from my PC as well. No more trials from them - I just cannot trust their software anymore, even in a free trial. You would expect them to have the thing stable, and ready for Windows mobile 6.1, but apparently not, which is a shame, as there ARE things to like about this otherwise excellent package.

"Excellent"? I hear you ask. Yep. Excellent. Its' routing - when it isn't locked up - is spot-on. The TTS (Text-to-Speech) function is damn good. Its' verbal guidance is spot-on, and lane guidance excellent. In all those respects, it gets full marks.

But then it goes and loses those points and more besides almost immediately, because it can't accept 3rd party POI files, it doesn't like mid-trip interruptions, pauses, or petrol stations, locking up each time because of those and other unexplainable reasons, and frankly, the mapping, while up to date, is - even on the WVGA screen on my Touch Pro 2 - too damn small to read in a glance. So there's a whole brace of reasons not to buy this otherwise excellent package.

Hell of a shame, that lot.

Navigon, you've got a shedload of work ahead of you to make this package reliable.

Oh well... NavMii should be interesting, when I get around to it...

Friday, 14 August 2009

Hmm... now the yanks are taking shots at the NHS...

This is a very long and involved Blant with rather heavy political overtones, so bear with me, please.

Check this BBC News article first...

So, some yanks don't like the idea of free healthcare for all, eh? Can't say I'm surprised. It is, after all, a socialist idea - and for any yanks reading this socialist does NOT mean communist, which while having some core ideas of a similar vein, are not, and never will be, the same - socialism accepts that there is a need for a free market - communism does not, and that's just for starters before you get your shorts in a knot!

Anyhow... chances are that I wouldn't be here but for the NHS. Without an NHS emergency paramedic and Ambulance response system, my heart attack a year and a half ago would probably have killed me. It was a sobering thought for me, and having bitched and barked about failings in the NHS for years before, made me sit up and think.

Yes, there are failings in the NHS. Decades of mismanagement, "market driven thinking" (what the hell?! what bloody market - the NHS is not a fee-driven system, it's a Public Service available to all!), and so on, have added layer upon layer of administrative and managerial levels on top of on another - and side by side to one another - that no-one truly knew who did what, how they did whatever it was they did, for whom, and for how much.

Even after some token restoration and reorganisations over the years, it still is in several areas, a bit of a mess, to say the least. And now we have "NHS Trusts", merging of responsibilities, closure of local A&E (yank translation: ER) facilities to super A&Es covering larger areas, that results in longer travel time, eating into the "Golder Hour" of treatment time, and other "initiatives" designed, at the end of the day, to cut costs.

I'm all for efficiency savings, but NOT at the cost of cutting the time it takes to get a patient from incident to A&E - the so-called "Golden Hour" is exactly that, and the patient who gets to A&E inside the golden hour is more likely to survive than one who doesn't. By the same token, the quicker you see specialist help inside that golden hour, the better your percentage of making a full and complete recovery.

This is why the NHS is funded, in large part, by National Insurance. Everyone is required to pay it, that's UK law, and very right and proper this is, too - everyone benefits from it. Over the years, I've paid National Insurance, which while theoretically paying for the NHS, only pays a portion of the monies required to keep it going. But it doesn't pay for it all. For that, there are annual funding additions in the Budget - what yanks would call "appropriations", which are needed to maintain the NHS as an effective healthcare provider.

Indeed, the NHS has been used to form other national healthcare systems, such as the French system - and you lot don't bleat on about the French being communists, do you?

Of course not. What decent self-respecting Red eats snails, for God sake?

But this is all getting away from the core issue: Money.

What some folks have missed is that the USA already has a form of national heathcare system. It's called the The Health Maintenance Organization system, or HMO system. This is an insurance-premium-funded healthcare system, that originated in the need for a national system of healthcare funded in the private sector in the USA. As a result, it's turned into a multi-billion dollar industry, and has fingers in pretty much every pie from genetic research into pharmacology, medical instrumentation, and so on. It's a damned powerful lobby in the USA.

But it's got a major failing built-in. Bean-counters ultimately control what level of care you receive, when you need that healthcare. If you don't have insurance, you don't get healthcare. If your insurance has a certain limit to it's financial value, and your required healthcare would go over this value, you won't get that needed healthcare.

What the yanks need is a form of NHS - and that's where the doctrinal and financial arguments have collided over there.

For a land with political masters that quote the Bible so frequently, and which bleats on about free trade all the time, I think it's quite ironic that we're seeing a country that's trying to serve two masters: God, and Mammon. Here's a reminder to all you yanks out there: There's a lesson in the Good Book that says that you cannot serve two masters. Go ahead, look it up (It's Matthew 6:24, by the way).

Personally, I think the Yanks have lost the plot somewhat when it comes to nationwide healthcare.

Do they want to Bible-thump, or Billfold-thump? They cannot have it both ways, after all: They have to choose one or the other, not both.

So, when it comes to a national healthcare system, their choices are initially simple: Either they adopt a mandatory tax-funded NHS-style system modelled somewhat on ours, and put thousands in the insurance industry out of work (in a recession, no less), or they leave the system as-is, and condemn thousands of their own citizens to a continuing lack of decent and affordable healthcare.

Of course, they could merge the two ideas into one, but good Lord, what a mess that would be - and it's make the NHS's admin/management mess look like a storm in a teacup, but at least everyone'd get a chance at having a healthcare system that was actually worthy of a great nation...

However you look at it, frankly there is no easy solution: you pays yer money and takes yer choice.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Juries, GPS, and General Updates...

It's gonna be a fairly quiet fortnight on the Blant... I'm in court for a fortnight.

No, I've not tattooed the word "Dunlop" on someone's midriff or anything like that (though one does get sorely tempted from time to time what with all the muppits one sees on the roads these days)... no, instead, I'm doing penance - I mean Jury Service - for a fortnight.

Now, I'm not allowed to give or discuss details regarding any case(s) I might sit on as a juror, so I'm sorry to say that it's gonna be a fairly quiet fortnight on the Blant.

However, if I do spot anything worth sticking up on here, be assured: It'll go on fairly quickly :)

GPS issues...

The GPS on my phone went a little skew-whiff the other day. Dunno why, it just would not lock onto the satellites. Result? No SatNav worth a damn.

So, I went hunting for a diagnostic tool that I could use to try to figure out what the hell was happening. Found one, too - GPS Test, which, strangely, appears to have solved the problem, though God alone knows how - all I did was load the software onto the phone, and presto, all of a sudden I was getting proper GPS performance again.

Go figure!

General Updates...

On a related note, HTC recently (in the last week or so) issued updates to the Touch Pro 2's ROM - the firmware on the phone - for SMS numbers to use the mobile international direct dialling prefix of "+" in IDD numbers (e.g. landlines use "0044" for the UKs' IDD, Mobiles/Cellphones use "+44" instead). In addition they also released a "radios" update to allow better GPS performance. Then they released a full ROM update as well.

Apparently, none of these work altogether as intended for a fair number of TP2 users. I certainly couldn't get the GPS update to work - and found out that one needs to use a specific piece of third-party software to generate what's called a "Gold Card" specific to my phone, before I could update the firmware.

Interestingly, my phone is quite happy with Mobile format IDDs, and aside from the hiccup last week, the GPS on my phone seems to be working alright too.

I've not even tried to upload the full ROM update yet - apparently that results in erratic performance issues for some users, according to what I've seen over on the XDA-Developers forums...

And now, it appears that HTC have withdrawn the Radios/GPS ROM update...

As the saying goes, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it...!"

Friday, 7 August 2009

First impressions of Navigon MN7 trial...

OK, initial impressions now that I've got it installed and working on my TP2 PPC/Phone...

The maps, both 2D and 3D, do not zoom into what I call a nice large size- this is not good for at-a-glance usage.

Routing is patchy, but then from what I've seen, most satnav routing has good and bad days. The better packages have less bad days than good ones, of course.

Navigation, both visual (map based) and verbal (spoken routing instructions) is damned good. Best I've seen so far. I'm particularly impressed with the "text-to-speech" or "TTS" feature, although is does tend to bite off the beginnings of road names more often than not. Still, the turn indications are spot on - and it not only coped with the previously spotted failures of CoPilot, but added lane guidance as well for the same stretch of road - VERY impressive!


I'm not sure it'll be able to handle the speed camera database I subscribe to over at PGPSW - there seems to be some confusion over that, and I'm awaiting clarification from a number of sources on this issue.

So the deal breaker is this: If it cannot handle the PGPSW speed camera files, then I won't be carrying on the trial of MN7, as excellent features and performance thus far or not, it'll be no use to me.

More when I know it.


Looks like my trial of MN7 is due to come to nothing, as I'm unlikely to buy it, even if it's a favourable trial. From what I've been able to piece together, MN7 can see speed camera files, but only if you subscribe to Navigon's own service. Since I already subscribe to Pocket GPS World's more effective and informative service, that's not only an expense I won't take, it's an added expense I don't need from Navigon. In addition, while yes, you can fudge it to take the PGPSW files, you apparently need a third party add-on called (confusingly) POI-Warner marketed by in order to do this.

Now, remember that the specs I set for the replacement SatNav package included the ability to accept the PGPSW files, this inability to accept the PGPSW cam files off the shelf is a BIG deal-breaker as far as I'm concerned. Pity, as (aside from the map zoom issue mentioned earlier) the rest of that package is the dogs' smelly bits, as far as I can see.

Oh well.

Looks like an email to NavMii for a trial activation key is on the cards. Would happen over the blasted weekend, wouldn't it?

That's Sods' Law, I suppose *sigh*

Arrrrrr, matey!

Welcome to aquabus, rivers forded, oceans sailed, scourge of the Seven Sisters and Whitehall Main! Aaaaaaar, matey, shiver me timbers an' splice me mainbrace, I'll have kippers for breakfast!

Ahem. Getting a tad carried away there, but ye gods, it was a trifle damp tonight. Damp? Scratch that... I wasn't driving a bus, I was sailing a bloody submarine most of the first round!

The photo is of the southern bus stand on the route. Note the reflections on the ground of the turning circle - yep, it's completely submerged! Heck, the water only just failed to come over the edge of the platform as I floated over it!

Glub, glub, where's me aqualungs?!

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

There's gotta be a better way of doing this...

Navigon's the next package I'm testing...

But there's naturally a hiccup. The file you download from their website is a zip style archive, which contains the package files and executables. You then transfer these directly into a storage card. However, as there isn't a CAB (installation) file, there's no automatic installation of the software into your pocket PC. So, here's the burning question of the moment... and I can't see it in the FAQs over on the Navigon site either...

How the heck do you run Navigon Navigator 7 once you've copied all the runtime files onto your storage card - it doesn't have a dedicated CAB file, and thus doesn't get assimilated into the WinMob device registry, and thus doesn't appear in the program listings?!

Are they seriously telling me that I have to run File Explorer, go to the Navigon folder on my storage card, and find and run the main program executable file in there, EVERY time I want to run the software package on my TP2?

Either they're having a laugh, or this is gonna be one of the shortest trial runs in history...

On problems, here's another...

I would be looking at Nav N Go iGO 8 Europe, but there's a problem... of course.

The problem with iGo8 is the limitation on the card used to run the package - 2 gig non-transferable. In these days of increased storage capacity, that's a pretty feeble attempt at Corporate Humour.

OK, so limiting the card size helps them prevent software piracy, I can follow the logic - they issue the card themselves, and can thus make sure that the package looks to particular places on the card for particular run-time files, libraries, and maps, for example... Common sense there. Copying the card will change the address on the card of those files, and thus render the software useless. No arguments there, but hells bells, surely they could figure out a safe way to allow users to migrate the package onto a larger size storage card for ease of use with other data as well?

That's the ONE sticking point I have with iGo8 - the card. Not the package - the reviews I've seen look excellent. It's the storage limitation. Without a satnav package on it, the 16 gig card I currently use is already pushing 4 gigs of saved data, from MP3s to video files, documents of one form or another, imagery (photos and diagrams) and so on. Adding a satnav package to THAT card makes sense - I don't wanna be forever changing out cards willy-nilly.

THAT'S the limiting factor, and thus the deal breaker as far as iGo8 and my hard-earned cash is concerned.

This leaves NavMii... and this is possibly the best option, to be frank. It's brand new on the market, although it's backed by a firm that's been working (subcontracting, in effect) in the satnav solutions field for many moons for other companies. It's still teething, ironing out the bugs, and so on, but it's integrated with the best safety camera file set out there - pocket GPS World's weekly-updated subscription service - and it works. There is, though, no trial version, darn it...

So I'm back to Navigon's laughably farcicle method of running the software.

There HAS to be a better way to do things, surely?!

Six Hours later...

AHA! Navigon does, it appears, have a CAB file... just took forever for my TP2 to "see" it, which it only just did, some six hours after I installed the software