Suunto….You Muppets!

October 7, 2015 § Leave a comment

I may be an old hardrock miner, but that doesn’t mean I don’t try to keep up with a bit of technology.

suunto

It’s not like we wander around with candles on our heads pulling donkeys and carts in mines these days, our tunnels are filled with wireless networks, enough optic fibre to run a small city, and everything is run by computer. Even your average exploration driller is running around with a toughbook and can diagnose a network connection (most of them will walk off the job if they can’t access their portfolio to do a bit of day trading while the rods are spinning).

I recently had the opportunity to visit Finland to see a bloke about some mine trucks (don’t get me started on Finnair!). I’m a bit of an outdoorsy kind of person and was very excited to see the full range of Suunto GPS watches….they’re made in Finland..and bought one of their top models.

I read the instructions and was able to connect, calibrate, go for a paddle around a lake in Tampere and upload the excersise to my laptop.

Anyway, I went out to dinner that night to a charming restaurant which served a quaint little South American Pinot Noir and a wonderful Atlantic Samon with a cheeky pesto sauce. I returned to my hotel room at around 11:00pm set the alarm on my watch, plugged it into my computer to charge and went to bed.

I was a little groggy when the alarm went off and was a little suprised to find that I had slept until 1:00pm in the afternoon. I had planned to do some work and had now lost most of the day. Putting it all down to Jetlag, I thought a run would do me the world of good and clear my head. So, off I went jogging around said lake in Tampere.

Perhaps I should have realised that there was something wrong when I noticed that there was no one about. I did think that it was a little strange that the streets were deserted at 2pm in the afternoon.

I was now desperate for a coffee, but all of the coffee shops were closed. The day was overcast, but the sun up high and it wasn’t that cold, so there should have been hundreds of people in the streets and the cafes should have been busy.

I got back to my hotel room, showered and started some work. A short time later I realised it was 4:30pm. I was due to meet for dinner drinks at 4pm. When I rang my collegue and appologised for being late, he thought I must have been on drugs. The conversation went something like this;

Ring, Ring. ring, Ring.

Him: Mate, what’s up?

Me: Sorry mate, I’m running late for dinner. I’ll be down soon.

Silence

Him: Are you OK?

Me: Yeah, just running late, drinks were at 4, weren’t they.

Him: Are you on drugs?

Me: What do you mean?

Him: It’s 5:30 in the morning you idiot?

WHAT MUPPET THOUGHT IT WAS A GOOD IDEA TO SYNC THE WATCH’S TIME TO THAT OF THE COMPUTER BY DEFAULT???

The watch HAS A GPS BUILT INTO IT. It already knows what timezone it is in.

Tell me it didn’t occur to the 20 year old boffin that wrote the software that changing the time on a watch without telling anyone might carry an element of risk. Think about it….the only way you know the time is by the position of the sun and by your watch. Finland….. Summer.

If someone has set an alarm on a watch and you decide to change the time automatically and by default, you might flash up a big red screen that says;

“Warning – your day is about to be ruined. Press OK to continue”

It’s a GPS watch you goat herders! If you must have a default sync, it should ask you whether you want to sync to your PC or to GPS.

No one has ever crossed a timezone with one of your watches?

The worst thing is that even after changing the setting, it still occasionally syncs to my PC.

No, this is not the case where the user is technically challenged, I have a PhD in Computer Science FFS, so don’t even think of going down that path. This is a classic example of ill-conceived, poorly contrived, ludicrously delivered functionality that someone thought was a good idea at the time.

Well, IT WASN’T A GOOD IDEA. IT WAS STUPID IDEA!

I would appreciate it if someone could track down the boffin who decided this would be a good idea and read him this email. Then, wake him up at 3am in the morning with no coffee and slap him around the head with a large pickled herring.

Gen Z. Bloody Hell

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VW…..Whoops!

September 24, 2015 § Leave a comment

Remember the days when you took your car to a “Mechanic” instead of an “Automotive Technician” ?

Those were the days when you could just go to the garage, buy a 20 cent light bulb and replace the blown one in your internal light. These days…..you have to take your vehicle to the dealership where some bloke with a bit of factory training plugs it into the “diagnostic unit” and tells you that the Pulse Width Modulation module that allows your internal light to dim (instead of just turn off) has blown. It will take a week to get a new module from Melbourne and half a day to fit and will cost $585. “Would you like to book a detail for when you bring your car in?”

They call this progress.

So…how the hell did Volkswagen end up in this mess? How did it all go so horribly wrong?

Quite easily.

Having had a bit of software and technology development experience (yes, we even have computers underground), I can tell you how it happens. See…when you start introducing computers and software to stuff, you have an enormous amount of flexibility. Things aren’t so black and white anymore. I would doubt that anyone actually set out to defraud the public.

The reliability and power of microprocessors has increased exponentially over the last couple of decades. As we all know, the little buggers have found their way into our cars and are used for everything from saving your life to dimming the internal light. Microprocessors greatly reduce the amount of wiring in cars as you can have little ones distributed everywhere through the vehicle rather than having all of the wires going back to one point.

The very second that you put software into anything is the point in time that you can change things quickly, easily and cheaply. And… because you can…..you do.

So why do the VWs have a “Dyno Mode” ? Because on a dyno, you may only have your front or back wheels driving. The others are completely stationary and often strapped down. This is a completely alien situation for a stability control computer that is sitting there trying to detect abnormalities in the driving dynamics of the vehicles. This is a real pain when you are doing something a little different.

Honda Hairpin at Phillip Island is the classic example….when you are cruising in there at a couple of hundred K and there is a car braking in front of you, the computer in my Merc assumes that I am about to have a massive prang and wrenches the crap out of the seatbelt to try to save my life. It hurts!. The car doesn’t know you are racing and that it is perfectly normal to have another car just in front of you at that speed. I’d love to have that function turned off in “Race Mode”, but the boys at AMG won’t let that happen.

Given that you have to have a “Dyno Mode”, you suddenly know when the vehicle is on the test stand. There is nothing wrong, unethical or illegal about this. It’s just a fact of life for modern cars. So, because you are already changing a few settings for “Dyno Mode” , it doesn’t take much to change a few other settings……like the engine mapping.

This idea could have started with just a programmer or two and gradually ballooned thinking they weren’t doing anything wrong. Change a parameter from .57 to .58 here, .78 to .79 there….not much.  What they had discovered was an ability to meet the emissions standards while also increasing economy and power a bit. At some stage (and this is pure speculation) someone higher up found out about this ability and went completely overboard. At that stage, they had crossed the line between a “tweak” and fraud….a  system that is so far from the original mapping that it produces vastly different emissions between the “Dyno Modes” and normal modes…..and you know it’s happening.  It is entirely possible that only a group of three or four people ever knew about this. The fact that there were so many vehicles out there with this software mod would indicate that it was almost impossible to pick up without sensitive instruments and a stringent test regime.

Here’s where things get interesting…..

An organisation know as “The international Council on Clean Transportation” funded some Uni students to measure the highway emissions of a BMW and a couple of VWs and gave them the sensitive instrumentation required to catch VW out. Why did they choose these cars??? Who knows. They had some pretty hi-tech gear to do the testing…

VW

They found that the VWs were emitting higher than stated emissions…..and the world fell apart for VW.

Who is The international Council on Clean Transportation ? They are group principally funded by Climate Works who are a climate change mob who themselves are funded by a bunch of foundations including those of Mr Hewlett and Mr Packard.

Did they know what they were going to find? I don’t know, but I have a feeling they did. No doubt, there are a bunch of European car manufacturers checking their software tonight.

Whoops.

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