Driving Assistance

During the last three months of 2019 I ended up hiring a few cars for longer rides and so on.  There was no particularly good reason for it – the primary motivation was that some of the drives were likely to involve heavy traffic, so having an automatic seemed like a decent plan. Outside of that, cutting down some of the mileage on my own car, and also well, it was just fun to play with some different cars.

Out of it all, it was interesting to me to see how much driving has changed, and primarily the plethora of driving assistance things that’ve been added in the last few years. Things like auto start/stop, lane-change warnings, automatic lights, automatic windscreen wipes, intelligent cruise control (the one that automatically adjusts speed based on vehicles around you, rather than just ‘70 mph and that’s it) , road-sign recognition, and speed limiters.

In general, I’m really not a fan of these aids and “helpers” – as has been noted before, I’m a bit of a control-freak, and I don’t like ceding driving decisions to them. My main reasoning on this though isn’t actually about my own driving, it’s about the driving of others.  It seems like a lot of these things help to make drivers feel that they don’t need to be so aware of what’s going on, and so they become less conscious of their surroundings, which makes for things being more dangerous, rather than less.

In the end, there were only two that I found to be useful, and even then there’s only one that I’ve “missed” having at all.

I used the speed limiter more than I thought I would – mainly on trips where I’d been an idiot and done big day-trips (three or more hours each way) or where I was coming back after a long and active day. On those occasions, knowing that I couldn’t take the car over whatever I’d set meant it was something I didn’t have to concentrate on, and that meant I could give more awareness and concentration to the actual drive.  I wouldn’t use it on a day-to-day basis, but it was definitely useful on the times when I did activate it.

The only thing I’ve actually missed though is the automatic windscreen wipers. It’s more about reducing my own annoyance than actually being useful as such, but I’ve noticed its lack. Particularly on motorways (which is still the great majority of my driving) I find rain is too changeable, too random for regular windscreen wipers to be effective without occasionally squeaking when there’s not been enough rain, or not clearing rapidly enough when a sudden dollop lands (or there’s more as one passes a truck or whatever)  So you end up changing the intervals, or only triggering a manual sweep when it’s needed, or whatever.  Anyway, it annoys me whatever happens.

The automatic wipers took all of that away. Leave them on auto, and they’d handle it all without hassle.  Yes, it’s odd (in some ways) to see them go from nothing to a sudden three wipes, or increasing the cadence in response to that truck chucking up a load of water or whatever. But it still meant it was something that wasn’t annoying me, which tends to be a positive…


Kindling Discontent

Last weekend, while down in Devon, I lost my Kindle. Entirely my own fault, and primarily due to being a dickhead – but still, bloody annoying.

I ordered a replacement pretty much immediately, and hoped that Amazon had improved the method for restoring all the books I’ve got onto the device. It’s been a bloody awful experience the last couple of times, but the last time was three years ago. So, knowing how swiftly they release new stuff on AWS/Cloud, it’s got to have been worked on, surely?

Welllllll, yes and no.

The experience is a bit better – at least now it keeps a record of what books have been put into Collections (think of each Collection as a bookshelf) which sort of makes things easier. But not much – because you can’t actually select, for example, a set of Collections and say “Deliver these”.

Instead, it’s still horrifically manual, and dirt-slow. You have to go to the Amazon site, and then “Manage Content and Devices”. If you only have a few books, then great, that’s fine. I haven’t – I’ve got about 600.  So even selecting the maximum of 200 books at a time – which is sort-of easy, although still involves scrolling the page down until it’s got that full 200 listed, and then “select all” – then takes forever to actually push them to the Kindle.

With the Collections, once the books have been pushed to the Kindle, it should then put them into the right places – so that’s at least a small improvement. Last time, I had to re-add books to the Collections as well, which made the entire thing a massive pain in the arse.

The thing is, none of this should be difficult. So long as one does backups of the device (and the Sync process is actively encouraged by Amazon, so one can read a book on one device and then continue it on another) then it should be a simple matter of going “Copy the stuff from this backup onto that machine”, in the same way it does for my iPhones.

All told, even with the improvements, it’s a rotten first experience with a new device. It surprises me just how bad it actually is – the entire thing seems to be something that Amazon doesn’t expect to happen, or that’s only been tested with five or ten books. I wonder if it’s something Amazon will ever get round to fixing…


Small Wins – Backup

Way, way back in the day – Nov 2006, to be precise – I bought a backup drive for all my music, photos and work. It wasn’t anything hugely special – a now laughable 320Gb drive – but it did what I wanted, and made sure I’d got everything preserved.  (Amusingly, I just took a look, and the roughly-similar drives now done by WD start at 3Tb!)

And then I moved a few times, and the drive got separated from its power brick, and I sort of gave up on it a bit.  Over the last few years I’ve mainly been using online backups instead (which mean that as soon as I save a file, it’s backed up, and synchronises to my other machines) and the drive became even less of an issue.

I always knew where the drive itself was, even though I was fairly sure I’d lost (or thrown away) the power lead/brick.  The drive has been on one of my bookcases, doing nothing except attracting dust.

Last weekend, though, I found a random power cable that looked like it might fit the drive.  So I took them both into my office this week, and gave it a go.

At the end of the day, I’d pretty much given up on it – it’s been sat there doing sod-all for a number of years, and has been carelessly moved, shoved in boxes and so on. So I expected nothing.

And yet, when I plugged the cables in and connected it to the laptop, it all worked. Straight away, with no issues, clanks, grinds, or other Warning Noises Of Doom.  Needless to say, I’m actually pretty impressed.

Of course, I’ll also now be working to ensure that a lot of it is backed up somewhere else as well, as that drive is distinctly venerable, but all the same, it’s a bit of a win for it all to have come back in the way it has.

 


The Joy of Tech

Yesterday, while doing a quick shop on the way to work, I suddenly realised I’d left my wallet at home. Bugger.

I was just about prepared to take everything back to its shelves/locations, when it occurred to me that actually I was still OK – I had my phone with me still. That meant I’d got the ability to make a contactless payment – and because I’d also added the details of my Monzo card/account to the phone, it meant I had everything I needed.

It’s pretty amazing, the way these things have now become so much more mainstream than they were ten years ago, or even five.  Since I got the Monzo card eighteen months ago (it’s the only one I have that also connects into my ApplePay account on the phone) I’ve stopped carrying cash except for specific occasions – for example, the car wash I use still only takes cash.

I still prefer to carry physical cards (hence usually having a wallet) but it was still interesting to realise that forgetting it is no longer the “Oh shit!” moment it used to be. (So long as I remember my phone, and that I can use it, anyway)

Ain’t progress grand?


Upgraded

Last week, I upgraded my internet connection to an “Ultrafast” one – known by BT / Openreach as G.Fast.  Apparently they’re slowing down the roll-out of this in favour of full FTTP (Fibre To The Premises) roll-out, but for now it’s the best speed I can get.

G.Fast offers a guaranteed 100Mbps download – and I’ll get compensation if it dips below that – which is amusingly ridiculous. When I moved here six-and-a-bit years ago, I was only just able to get ADSL and a 2Mbps connection. It was painfully slow, although it did enough for the necessary at the time.  When FTTC (Fibre To The Cabinet) came here, I got it, and went from 2Mbps to 75 overnight.  At that point I could do streaming TV and so on with no problem at all.  And now I’ve doubled even that. Truly insane.

I wasn’t actually aware that this tech had been installed in my area, but BT sent me a promotional mail about it at the start of November, and I’d dragged my feet on it a bit.  But then I got a “Black Friday” promotional letter about it as well, where I could also get it installed for free, for an extra £1 a month on what I pay already.  Well OK then.

(As an aside, it’s the only “Black Friday” deal I bothered with at all – and only because it saved me money on a product I was actually interested in)

The engineer came round on Friday to do the installation – it needs some changes at the cabinet, and as it’s still new stuff, they’re doing it with engineers rather than self-install.  This had a happy side-effect, in that he also appears to have finally fixed the line problem that’s been plaguing me for more years than I care to mention.  (And has cost me the price of an engineer visit on one visit out of the five, because they worded the ‘fix’ badly, but that’s a dead issue now)

Ever since I moved in, the line has been dodgy on occasion, and it’s just got worse over time. The broadband connection has been fine in general – unless I have to make or receive a phone call. At that point the crackles on the line were enough to knock out the broadband connection. BT insisted this wasn’t possible, and that all the options I suggested were Just Wrong. (Because obviously I don’t work for them, so what could I possibly know?)  In that time, I’ve had five master sockets, and swapped from ADSL to FTTC for broadband, so I knew it was nothing in the house. It was always either going to be a fault in the line (“Oh no, sir, that’s not possible, more people would be complaining if that were the case”) or in the cabinet itself (also apparently “impossible”)

Anyway, this time the engineer could hear the problem, and tested to find where the problem was. Surprise surprise, it was in the cabinet.  So while he was redoing connections for my new broadband, he had a look round the cab, and the terminators on my line (I dunno) in the cab were “worryingly loose, I could just pull them off, didn’t even need pliers“. When he came back to the house, oooh look, what a surprise, no crackle on the line.

So, I’m now working with a 150Mbps download connection, and a lovely crackle-free phone line. All told, bit of a win.


Reducing Caller Spam

When I moved to the current place, I got a new phone number – not surprising, as I was in a new area, and a new (to me) house.  As always, I registered that number with TPS and so on, and made sure it was ex-directory.  I usually only use landline phones for broadband purposes – although it turns out I also use it here for some calls, as the mobile coverage inside the house is shockingly bad.  So I have a phone landline, and a phone connected to it.

Unbeknownst to me, the number I got had obviously been owned by someone else before me, and that person was the type of fucking moron who’d sign up for all kinds of promotions, and ran up all kinds of debts.  So right from Day One I was getting a couple of calls a week looking for the previous occupant. (Well, the previous owner of that phone number – it wasn’t a name connected to the house at all)  And because they were for a previous person, it turns out that TPS doesn’t really apply.  (Which is an interesting, and fucking annoying, loophole)

Even so, I re-registered with TPS, and put a spam-calls block on the line. (Which was absolutely useless, and so came off again) It was only a couple of calls a week, and usually while I was out at work. *shrug*

Over the last two years though, it got worse.  The phone’s call log would get filled up in the course of a week, all with “Number Withheld” and “International” numbers, along with the ones who didn’t conceal their numbers, who left messages and blocked up everything else.  I used a couple of other number-blocking services, none of which did much good.  Hell, if I were cynical I’d say they were the ones who sold the number on and spread it ever further. Not that I’ll ever know for sure, one way or the other.

Late last year, the situation was ridiculous. We’d gone from a couple of calls a week right up to filling the phone’s call log every day.  Nothing was working to prevent the calls, and it was just getting stupid.

So I bit the bullet, and changed my phone number. I explained to BT why I was doing it – in the hope that they now blacklist that number completely (although I doubt it, they’ll just have farmed it off on some other unsuspecting sap) – and got a new number allocated to me. Same set-up, it’s ex-d, and registered with TPS.

The big difference though, is that in the three months since I got it changed, I haven’t received a single solitary spam call. My phone call log stays blank (as I said, I don’t use it that often) and it’s lovely.

Sometimes these extreme measures are the ones we need to take. I wish I’d done this one two years ago…


Technical Dipshittery

Yesterday, I got a text message from O2, telling me that they were going to be closing their TuGo app (an app that allows phone calls to be made/received through my wifi connection, when the mobile phone signal is bobbins) at the end of November.  It gave some options for enabling better alternatives, including their ‘4G & WiFi Calling’ through a range of phones, so it will no longer need a separate app.

That’s all well and good – and TuGo has always been a bag of shite anyway.  So I started to go through the process, as ‘detailed’ by O2 of how to get it all set up on my phone.

Except that once I’d enabled it on my phone (or tried to) it told me I needed to do it via the O2 website, to activate it on my account. Bit of a pain in the arse, but OK, let’s get it done.

Oh.

The page detailed in the message doesn’t actually contain the information necessary. I can see a link explaining how great the 4G and Wifi Calling is, but nothing to activate it.

So, I start up a LiveChat with one of their Tech Gurus, who tell me that it’s still showing I’ve got Tu connected to my account, and that needs to be removed before I can do anything. No worries though, they’ll sort it out.  Give it about half an hour, reboot the phone, it’ll be done.

Except it wasn’t.

So I got back in touch with O2, this time by phone instead of LiveChat. Oh dear, oh dear.

I (eventually) got through to another of their Tech Gurus, who again says that Tu is still connected to my account, and that I have to uninstall the TuGo app on my phone in order to get rid of the connection. No idea why the previous tech person said they could do it, that’s not possible, it can only be done from your phone, sir.

So I uninstall the app, in the usual way.  Oh no, sir, you haven’t uninstalled it. You’ll need to go back to the app store, reinstall the app so you can uninstall it. (Eh? What?)  Yes, you’ll need to reinstall the app – you didn’t uninstall it, “you just deleted the little picture on your phone”.  That’s a direct quote. From a Tech “Guru”. Who doesn’t appear to even know the word “icon”.

So. Let’s see how this goes.  Phone call goes to speakerphone, so I can go through the process while the “Guru” is still on the call, and telling me what I need to do.  I reinstall the app – and in order to get in to it, I have to rebuild the connection and association with my number – because uninstalling the app has got rid of all that information . Which is exactly as it should be.

I rebuild the connection, then go into the app’s Settings and Delete the Account.  The Guru says “Oh there we go, I can see you’ve now uninstalled the app”. No, I haven’t, I’ve deleted the account. The app is still installed, I can see it.  “No, it’s uninstalled”

All the way through the call, that “Guru” couldn’t tell the difference between “Delete the Account/Connection” and “Uninstall the App”.

It’s resulted in two further interactions with layers of O2 management, telling them the problems, fixing the issues, and generally getting it more sorted.

And all the way through this, all it would have taken was for that “My Device” webpage saying “You’ve still got an active connection to TuGo – you need to remove that before we can progress. Here’s how.”  That would’ve fixed everything, and I wouldn’t have needed to speak to O2 at all, let alone a total of four times.

Sometimes I just despair of people, and companies.