Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Driverless cars, and the squishy meatbags who love them.

I’m a car fan. I love driving. And I’m all for driverless cars. Yet whenever I read about them, or talk to people about them I keep seeing and hearing the same “Argh! Robot! Pitchforks!” arguments against them, so I thought I’d chip in my 2c here.

#1 It's not "Skynet", stupid.

Driverless cars are not artificially intelligent machines. They’re smart, but they’re not sentient. They don’t need to be. They just see better than we can, react faster and make fewer mistakes than we do. Google’s self driving pod is only about as smart as a terrier, not the Terminator.

Many cite the “Runaway Trolley” ethical scenario, where the car has to decide whether to save one person, or ten people, at the cost of the first person’s life. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem

The goal of driverless cars is to build a safe, smart system to avoid the trolley running away in the first place, not to make an ethical call on who lives or who dies. You can build safer cars, AND driverless cars. They’re not mutually exclusive.

More and more safety systems are bridging the gap between driver's aid and driver's replacement. Volvo's automated braking system, or any of the current lane departure warning systems.

#2 It's not "I, Robot" either

It’s interesting that the movie “I, Robot” is used over and over again as an example of AI gone wrong. Sure, it features shiny self driving Audis that get hacked and try to kill the protagonist. But that's where the useful comparison ends.

The film is (loosely) based on a collection of 1950s short stories by Isaac Asimov, and yet misses the point of them completely.

In nearly all his stories, wherever there’s a problem between humans and their robots, the root cause of the problem is down to the squishy meatbags, rather than their creations. Asimov's aim was to tell a different kind of story, where the robots were not the usual clanking monsters chanting "Death to Humans!" that had become popular in SciFi media of the day. Current driverless technology faces nearly the same fears and preconceptions as the robots in Asimov's work, where we create something then fear it because we don't understand it.

#3 It is a little bit "Total Recall"

Yes, I know, another Arnie movie reference, but I'm a child of the 90s. Remember Johnny Cab?

Who needs to buy their own car when they can hail an automated cab from their phone, relax on the journey, and not worry about parking when they arrive? Just don't try to skip the fare…

#4 It's a little bit "Minority Report" too.

Remember the broad automated motorways that took the Cruiser out of the city?

Will the availability of driverless cars affect whether we live rurally or in cities? Given the option of living in an urban area, and having a short automated commute, or enduring a longer commute from the countryside, which would you choose? Motoring for pleasure will be separated from commuting,

With our dispersed, one-off, road-frontage worshipping rural spread in Ireland, whether or not the car drives itself will be far less significant than say, whether I can decent broadband, or whether or not the fast food delivery can get here before it goes cold.

What next for human taxi drivers, delivery drivers and postal staff? Will they be consigned to history, with only a few left for nostalgia an tourism, like the jarveys in Killarney, or Tuk-tuk drivers in Thailand? One final note. My autocorrect doesn't recognise "driverless" as a word. I think it has a point. Hopefully in a few years (or less) the phrase "driverless car" will be as anachronistic as "horseless carraige".

Monday, 20 May 2013

Winter work Part 4 - Roof Revival

Like all of these things, the small jobs end up taking longer than planned and the list of small jobs is growing. I got another little job out of the way over the weekend, reviving the soft top.

Over the few years I've had the Elise I've used Autoglym Cabriolet Cleaning and Proofing kit which has worked well at keeping the roof clean and most importantly water proof. (ish, it is a Lotus after all!!)

Two years of being parked outside year round and often near/under trees has started to take it's toll on the roof's finish however with some deep staining, fading of the black colour and even the odd spec of moss in the gutters. The fabric itself was in good condition with no tears or loose stitching, so a good thorough clean and dye was the order of the day.

After some internet research, I decided to give the Renovo line of products a turn. They make a three part treatment system of a Cleaner, Reviver and Proofer. The other things that are needed are some new paint brushes and old take away dishes. (Crispy chicken in pineapple sauce being a particular weakness of mine, meaning I'm rarely short of trays)

To clean, dampen the roof material and then brush in the cleaner. Leave to sit, then agitate with a sponge and rinse. Repeat until the roof is clean. Two goes of this and the roof was cleaner than I'd ever seen it. This was then left to dry overnight.

Next was the Reviver. Speaking from experience, I can advise NOT using the reviver on the kitchen table and definitely do not rush into the job still wearing your Sunday best, that'd be very silly!

The Reviver is a liquid dye really and is very runny, and messy. The only good thing is it is very easy to clean up drips with a damp cloth once it is still wet.

So far I have got two coats of Reviver on the outside, and I've put a coat on the inside of the roof also as this was never coloured on my roof and was reasonably tatty looking from being exposed to all sorts of stuff from oil to exhaust parts whilst folded up in the boot on sunny days :)


Revived on left of seal, old colour on right of seal. Not sure if the phone camera picked this up well, I'll try to get better pics:

Inside, huge improvement here. This used to be light grey with a mix of rust, oil and exhaust paste stains. Thankfully passengers rarely look up:

Again, this dye is recommended to be left for 24hrs to dry before Proofing. I'll probably leave it an extra day or two as I have time. The Proofer just gets painted on and left to dry in, restoring the roofs water proof layer and providing UV protection to the roof material.

Overall, I'm delighted with the results so far, the only problem possibly being the roof looks too bloody good now compared to the rest of the car. I'd recommend the Renovo stuff to anyone thinking of doing something similar, but be careful with the Reviver, it's messy stuff and I'd say it's a nightmare to use when working on a roof that cannot be removed completely from the car.

...and yes, the grass does need cutting, another small job on the list :)

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Winter work Part 3 - Errr...it's Spring now, best get a move on!

Well, it's been six months since it was tucked away, but I took a peek yesterday and it's still there :)

I had intended to just take down the Carcoon for a look and get the roof off so I could start to clean that up, re-dye it and weatherproof. Then the clouds cleared and the sun came out, so I got out the tools and set about making a start into the trickier bits. Two drilled out bolts later I had the wheel arch liner out and "access" to the timing belt end of the engine. 

A few more bolts later and the alternator belt was off, the timing belt covers were off and I'd discovered I had a manual belt tensioner so had ordered the right one *phew*. I need a 22mm socket to cut down to size for the crank bolt, and a breaker bar, and some brave pills, and a flywheel lock out tool before I go any further at this end. So I left it alone and reminded myself to read up some more on Dave Andrews' excellent DVA power site, the Seloc TechWiki and the Elise S1 workshop manuals before getting stuck into the outstanding spannering bits that could mean a lunched engine if I do them wrong  :)

Moving to the far side of the engine, I whipped off the leads and distributor and then took off the cam cover to have a look-see. Everything looks to be very clean, but again I couldn't go further until I had the engine locked out and had done way more than planned so left it as is for now.

Cam cover off:

Everything is very clean with no scoring on any of the lobes, but I guess it should be as it's only done 25,000 miles since this was last off when the head was getting fettled:

With that much done I placed the cam cover back on loosely just to keep the engine internals clean and moved on to the interior. I gave the floor a hoover and started to wash the section of the floor that would normally be under the seats to get it ready for the POR15 treatment. Then put the Carcoon up again for another few weeks. 

Next step is to get the sump baffles welded, I'd like to get that on, get the engine locked out and the timing belt off and then de-grease and wash the block because it's messy as it's been weeping oil from the camshaft seals for the past while. With the block clean then I can move onto the more involved jobs on the engine.

Plans for the next few weeks are to get the roof cleaned and treated, sump baffles welded in and my exhaust cleaned, painted, wrapped and source all gaskets/joiners for it so it'll be ready to bolt in place when the time comes.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Rental Review - Nissan Qashqai 1.5dCi (110) Acenta (Sat Nav)

  photo 284de317282bcaff9aac85c378f14f76_zpse9c1c176.jpg

For me, 2013 is the year of doing things and with a few spare monies in the bank around mid-January a plan was hatched with a friend of mine to head to Bonnie Scotland and scale Ben Nevis. This ticked more than one box for me as I always fancied a look at the Highlands and it would complete the set of having climbed the highest mountains not only in each Irish province but also in the four countries in 'These Islands'.

I may have mentioned this before but I have a fondness for using Hertz as a purveyor of rentals so in January, and in spite of a complete aversion to Clubcards and Loyalty Points and all that shite I joined their "#1 Gold Club" figuring that as I was going to be using them 5-10 times this year it would 1. make collecting a car faster, 2. maybe get a bit of leverage at the desk occasionally when trying to get my greasy mitts on something taschty and 3. accrue some kudos towards a freebie later on.

They happened to surpass expectations by dropping a 'free upgrade' voucher through the letterbox and so, having booked a Class C - "Vauxhall Astra or Similar" car I found myself being offered a Nissan Qashqai, and although I had sweet, sweet lustings after something like a 1-Series when this did happen I instantly thought that this might be a good opportunity to figure out why these things sold by the cartload in Ireland, and I can see why.

After almost 600 miles of hurtin' (at 50mpg!) you could say that d'oul Qashqai drove pretty well, all things considered.

I would say a few things in its favour, best of all the King of the Road driving position (a novelty for me, and fairly great on a holiday that took in a bit of gawking at the countryside). The cabin is well finished, but not luxurious. It feels reasonably refined, with a clunky appeal that echoes the quasi-macho design of this particular soft-roader/cross-over. There's quite a bit of boot space. Inputs are good, weighty steering, a reasonable progression when braking which makes a change from the usual over-servoed stuff, and the gearchange is not bad at all. The rear seats are big enough for teenagers.

Viewed with an open mind, it's probably all things to all fathers of two children who feel a Golf is a bit too understated and an estate isn't quite their thing.

What goes against it? Some small things (rear visibility, can't read the satnav/radio screen in any kind of daylight, some buttons strangely placed), some bigger things (the design looks fine from the front and front 3/4 but seems to taper off unresolved towards the rear, the 1400kg bulk can raise its head under braking and occasionally on acceleration).
The handling is good 80-90% of the time. Struts in the front and multilink at the back. Turns in well, grips pleasantly but can get out of sorts off mid-corner bumps, gully lids and really doesn't take to abrupt tarmac changes well at all. There is roll however, but it is well disguised due to superb damping. So the car is softly sprung and soaks up bad surfaces well but the body movement is well contained. All in all quite the achievement, if I may say so meself.
So in summary, it drove 'good' - I would even approach saying 'rewarding' but that's all because it's brand new and on OEM tyres. I'd reckon a baggy 80,000 miler on half shot dampers, wear in the bushes and on budget rubber could well be a handful.
In summary, being one of those chaps who figures that a handheld GPS and a brick phone is a better solution than a smartphone with a map app I would always prefer to own a more functional car estate or something like a Touran/C-Max if I had a couple of kids rather than plump for a one-size-fits-all solution like this one which keeps the wife happy and the neighbours in check.
There is an infurating aspect to all of this. One - a sage-like gentleman in the trade recently said to me that there is no such thing as a bad modern car and having had the relative privilege of sampling quite a few recently, it's hard to not agree. 
Leaving aside the relative complexity of fixing some of the more expensive issues modern diesels can bring, there is no arguing that the ability to now jump into a hatchback of any sort which drives well, comes well equipped, can cover ground quickly (and usually quite well), is always loaded with ABS and usually with a stability system of some kind, does not rust overnight, stands up very well indeed in a crash and still returns 50mpg+ is an incredibly positive thing for the common man. In fact, compared to relative incomes it also appears that it has never been cheaper to purchase a new car. 
By rights we should be hopping up and down with joy. 
And yet, the notion of a car as an appliance leaves me stone cold.

... to be continued.

Monday, 11 March 2013

The War Against The Casino

In County Hurt, everybody's gotta watch everybody else.
Since the drivers are looking to beat de form, the traffic wardens are watching the tax discs.
The ANPR drones are watching the number plates.
The cops are watching de schtamp.
The Revenue is watching the cops.
The Dept. of Finance is watching the Revenue.
The Government is watching the Dept. of Finance.
The EU is watching the Government.
And the IMF is watching us all

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Any Given Hoonage

I don't know what to say really.

Three minutes
to the biggest battle of our working lives
all comes down to today.

we get this form schtamped

and get out on the road
as a team
or we are going to crumble.

Mile by mile
Roundabout by roundabout
till we're finished.

We are in hell right now, gentlemen
believe me
we can stay here
and get the shit taxed out of us
we can fight our way
back into the light.

We can climb out of hell.
One inch, at a time.

Now I can't do it for you.
I'm too old.
I look around and I see these young faces
and I think
I mean
I made every wrong choice a middle-aged man could make.
I uh....


I bought a red-D, red-I Passat, believe it or not.
I kept it taxed
and paid that in full for 12 months

And I went and told everyone on t’interweb it was faster than a Scooby
And lately,
I can't even stand the clatter of the thing when it starts

You know when you get old in life
things get taken from you.
That's, that's part of life.
you only learn that when you start losing stuff.
You find out that life is just a game of inches.

So is hooning
Because in either game
life or hoonage
the margin for error is so small.
I mean
one half dab of oppo too late or to early
you don't quite make it.
One little lift too slow or fast
and you don't quite catch it.
The inches we need are everywhere around us.
They are on every inch of the road
every minute, every second.

In this car, we fight for that precision
In this car, we tear our threadblocks, and our brake pads
to pieces for that precision
We CLAW with our slip angles for that precision
Cause we know
when we add up all those inches
that's going to make the fucking difference
between being FAST and being SLOW
between LIVING and HOONING

I'll tell you this
on any hoon
it is the guy who has the biggest PLUUUUUMS
who is going to be the fastest
And I know
if I am going to have any life anymore
it is because, I am still willing to put the pluuums up on the dashboard


because that is what HOONAGE is.

The limit-point analysis right in front of your face.

Now I can't make you do it.
You gotta look at the Penpal next to you
Look into his eyes.
Now I think you are going to see a guy who will go hooning with you.
You are going to see a guy
who will sacrifice himself and his pluums for a hoon
because he knows when it comes down to it,
you are gonna buy a goon of t’Village for him.

That's a hoon, gentlemen
and either we hoon now, as a team,
or we will die as individuals.