Thursday, December 27, 2012

Bad Driver Hit List

It's that brief period between Christmas and New Year when I feel it's acceptable to be a moaning old grouch (like normal) without being accused of either ruining Christmas or lacking optimism for the New Year. So here goes.

When I am king, and I can decree that it is perfectly acceptable to have a bloomin' great laser gun fitted to the bonnet of your car with which to evaporate the bad drivers holding you up... then this is a list of people who had better not get in my way.


  • Forty-mile-an-hour-ers. Usually driving a small hatchback, these idiots maintain a steady 40 in all conditions and locations. You come up behind them on glorious 60mph a-roads pootling along at their fixed speed, and of course there's another one coming the other way that prevents an overtake. But then you get to a town - 30mph limit, and they rocket off into the distance, mowing down small children and mothers with prams as they speed through the busiest of traffic. You lose them in the distance. You clear the town, and quickly catch up with them again. Doing 40mph natch, but now with the odd dead pedestrian impaled over their bonnet, unnoticed by the driver. Repeat until frustration level reaches 11.
  • The Blind. Now I'm no spring chicken myself. And I won't be telling you anything you don't know when I say that there are a hell of a lot of elderly drivers out there who can't bloomin' well see where they're bloomin' well going. Oldies... step up to the plate, take one for the team... for God's sake stop driving when you can't see the road any more. Please. I know it'll be hard. But think of what you could potentially do to others by your actions. Use the Tesco home delivery service and buses. Come on.
  • Can't-be-bothered-to-indicate-ers. What is it about moving your arm about a foot to use the indicators that some folk find so onerous? There's a roundabout near where I live where 90% of people turn left... so about 90% of these 90% can't get themselves motivated enough to indicate their intentions, I mean they always turn left there, I guess everyone else will know that... The number of times I've sat waiting to get on this roundabout, just in case one of the 10% are actually going straight across it... my life is ebbing away, and all because these peeps can't be bothered. There's another category of roundabout abusers who do the opposite, they indicate left an exit before they're actually going to take... this is actually worse, as you assume that they really are awake enough to indicate... but no, they're just very bad at timing. Come on everyone, indicating is not hard. It's considerate. It's good manners. It's being nice. In my new world order, indicate or die!
  • Motorhomes & Caravaners. I don't need to go on, do I? You know that you're being totally selfish. You want a cheap holiday, the rest of us have to lose part of our lives so you can. I don't know how you sleep at night frankly.
  • Farmers. Now... there seems to be two sets of rules for governing what you can and can't do on the roads. One set of rules applies to the majority of us, and the other set applies to farmers. Our set of rules is comprehensive, covers most eventualities and is vigorously enforced by the old bill. And the other set of rules for farmers appears to contain one rule, namely "Do whatever the hell you like". This allows them to drive untaxed, uninsured, clearly unroadworthy huge lumps of old tat at ridiculously slow speeds, spewing slippery excrement all over wet roads at any time of the day or night, but most probably during the rush hour. And if you ever see one pull over to allow traffic passed, you know that actually he's reached where he wanted to be. He'll open a gate into a field, drive around the field for a bit picking up as much mud on his tyres as he can, and then try to spread the majority of it over the nearby road, usually on a bend. Farmers live in a world where only what THEY are doing is of any importance, so all this makes sense to them. One day when all our food arrives on ships from China, the tables will turn. 'Fresh' is vastly overrated, give me 'Fast' instead. Vengeance will be ours as farmers slowly expire in the poo of their own making.
  • Tail-gaters. Oh that's me. Oh dear. Okay... well, fair enough, I will make a New Year's resolution here and now to stop being a pain and stop tail-gating people. I've got to admit that my erstwhile theory that driving really close behind slow people will (a) cause them to pull over and get out of my way or (b) speed up, or (c) make them feel so guilty for holding me up that they swerve off the road into the nearest wall and die a fiery death - doesn't seem to work. I'll try, I really will. I mean, I'm an older chap in a diesel... it's not like a I really rocket around these days. But I do want to get home before the battery in pace-maker expires, so hopefully all the above guilty folk will try too. Yeah? Happy New Year then! 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Ford Focus Fusebox Fury!

There have been a couple of posts on this blog about the long term ownership of a Vauxhall Astra and a Ford Focus, both diesels, very similar specs, used in a similar way. See here and here.

The Focus is four years younger than the Astra, and has done half the mileage. But recently it let itself down, it let me down, it let my local Ford dealer down, and it let down Ford UK.

See this picture to the left? See the small amount of corrosion on the terminals?
That cost me £639. Yes. £639!

(Technically, it's a Ford 1712211 "Gem Module/Fuse Box", "Panel Assy - Fuse")
One wet morning recently (are there any other sorts of morning recently?) I set off in the Focus on the school run only to find the wipers were not working.
My local Ford Dealer (understandably) took a day to track down the fault. In the passenger side foot-well, behind the glove box, resides a fusebox. It is a big lump of plastic with fuse holders and some sockets into which plugs the wiring loom. As you can see above, somehow the terminals for the wiper connection had corroded and failed. The dealer didn't give us the choice to just clean up this corrosion, but ploughed on and replaced the fuse box at a cost of £380 odd (or over 2 Xbox360's worth as I like to think of it). They found no evidence of a leak on the foot-well, so how it happened is a mystery.
I have subsequently approached Ford about the resulting alarming bill of £639, but to no avail. The car is obviously out of warranty. They are unashamed of the ridiculous cost of this lump of plastic. The dealership sticks to it's idea that no repair could have been attempted. So I've got to take it on the chin.
No explanation has been put forward as to how this happened, so there's no reason think it won't happen again. I doubt it, as I think the fault must have originated in the manufacturing process. I'd love to hear from anyone else who has experienced a similar problem. I keep thinking that if this fault had manifested itself on the motorway at 70mph in the fast lane on a very wet day, then I would have had a much harder time of it. At least only my wallet got hurt this time.

"Epic fail", Ford... yet another round in the fight to my reliable Astra!

Update 2015 - a few people have contacted me recently having suffered the same fate as myself on this topic. One unfortunate lady actually has had it happen twice! This has got to be a design fault, and Ford are profiting to the tune of £600-£700 each time they get to fix the fault for us. Outrage. Please get in touch with me if you've had this too.

I wrote this article a few years ago now, and I must say it was a cathartic exercise to try and make myself feel a little better about this, um, misfortune. However, in recent times I have been contacted by several people in exactly the same position - I was not alone!

It seems extremely probable that the fault is caused in fact by condensation produced by the car's air-con dripping from the glove box onto the unprotected fuse box. In other words a serious design fault. For this, Ford are regularly charging somewhere between £700 to £1000 to put it right - this does not seem fair, now does it?

A recent victim has decided to set up a Facebook page on this subject, you'll find it here : Facebook

Could I urge you if you are a fellow sufferer to visit the page, or to contact me.

Time has passed, I've sold my Focus, but time is not healing the scars. I have heard from many people who have suffered from the same defect and all have been forced to spend large amounts of cash putting it right.

I think Ford should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for taking advantage of its customers - they made a design error, their dealers get to make hundreds fixing it, complaining does no good.

Plus, due to the random nature of which part of the fusebox corrodes, this is a safety issue too. It's a bloomin' outrage is what it is!

Suffice to say that despite my favourite car of all time being a Ford, and the fact that I've owned more Fords than any other make - I will NEVER buy another. Never ever.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Alanis, Elbow, Darkness and Nickelback

Here's a review of 4 CDs all in one go. This is because I bought these CDs just a few days apart, but using two different methods.

The first two were impulse purchases, pure and simple. I'd gone down town with the firm intention of treating myself to a Samsung Galaxy SIII mobile phone, on contract. But suddenly it all fell apart when I did the maths of just exactly how much a £99 purchase price, plus £27 plus £6 insurance per month for two years actually added up to. So, no phone - I know... I'll buy some music, cheer myself up.

I chose the latest by Nickelback - "Here and Now" and The Darkness -"Hot Cakes". This seemed like a good bet, as I absolutely love both bands. I've got all the albums by Nickelback since their breakthrough single and they're great, and ditto the Darkness, their first album is excellent, their second almost as good. So... safe choices then.

Oh dear. I mean, they're not exactly rubbish, but they are both very disappointing. On both albums there is the odd good track, but really it's the same old same old... especially for Nickelback. I think when he was younger, Chad got get away with this salacious lyrical style, but now it just sounds a bit desperate somehow. I think he needs to mature a little, and get a grip of the music too, no killer rifs here. As for the Darkness, well the lyrics are amusing in some case, though again maybe deliberate bad language doesn't reflect so well now they're a bit older. I'd like to be able to share this music with my young son, it's just annoying to have unnecessarily explicit lyrics stop that. I like a good swear as much as the next chap, but this just seems juvenile. Oh I dunno, maybe I'm getting old... well I am getting old... but neither of these albums stir anything in me at all. Sad really.

Okay, so the other albums. More consideration taken, no spontaneity. These were bought after having listened to both using the excellent Spotify first, so no element of surprise here. Therefore, happy as Larry. Lesson learned.

The first is "Dead in the Boot" by Elbow. It took me a while to cotton on to Elbow. Specifically it took Peter Gabriel to cover one of their songs, a man for who I have infinite respect - the penny dropped, they are fantastic. This is a collection of 'B' sides and rarities, a concept due to die a death in this digital age I'm sure. I suppose to be fair you'd have to admit that they do maybe over-do the plonk plonk plonk single note thing a bit, but the lyrics are always interesting, singing great, playing excellent.

And the second is "Havoc and Bright Lights" by Alanis Morissette, the 'deluxe' version that has a second CD of live performances. Now I would admit that you really do have to be an Alanis fan to find this stuff enjoyable, but I am - so I do. Well up to recent form, and in fact the live CD is if anything more enjoyable, containing as it does some old songs reinterpreted. Again, to be fair to Nickelback and the Darkness, it might be said that she's dragging out her younger shtick into middle age, there's talk of girlfriends and so on, but I forgive her. The tunes are good, the lyrics thoughtful, she is class.

From Amazon : Alanis, Elbow, Darkness and Nickelback

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Dangers of SQL Injection

If you're not participating in the world of web sites development then you will probably find this post of no interest - though if you own a web site that somebody else has made for you, you might want to ask them about this phenomenon.

Somewhere in my memory there lay the briefest of mentions of 'SQL Injection', something that I had stored away into the category of 'it won't happen to me'. But then it did. This post is just to stir the memory of folk like me, and remind them that actually it could very easily happen to them, and when it does, you won't like it...
My site, DriveArchive, has been running quite happily for ten years now, which is half a lifetime when it comes to the Internet. I check it most days, just to see if it's actually still there. One day it was indeed there, but it was a mess. The site itself is based on a complicated SQL Server database, very nearly every page has content that exists not in HTML, the underlying code of web pages, but as records in the database which are used to generate the HTML as the page loads.

The site was all over the place, and so I looked at my database. It had become corrupted, in a very odd way. Some of it was fine, some of it was not. The bits that were not had had text data replaced with the name of a web site which it turned out was a dangerous, malware-infested place to go to.

How the heck had that happened? My research began. Well... first job was to fix it. I found to my horror that the last time I had backed up the database was months ago. What a plonker. Though in my defense I have to say that the only method provided by Fasthosts, my hosting company, was so lengthy, difficult and unsatisfactory that it does not encourage frequent backups, quite the opposite.

And, just while I've mentioned them, and I have no reason to believe other hosting companies are better or worse at this, my pleas to them to restore my database fell on deaf ears. It was pointed out to me that they expressly do NOT ever restore your data for you. Nice. Maybe I really should have read the fine print. Thanks, Fasthosts. If I looked in my control panel the database was flagged as being backed up the day before. I'm not entirely sure why they bother if they won't restore it for you!

It took me 10 solid hours of work to fix the database to something near its former glory. I looked into how it had happened, and the likely way was 'SQL Injection'. If you Google that, you'll find out all about it, I won't duplicate all that on-line knowledge here. I sat and coded a defense to the attack, and went to bed.

Next morning, what did I find : it had happened again! What a pain... This time I looked through the logs to my site, reams of relatively meaningless drivel, but there, in the middle of it all was the answer, I found the way in. I fixed it. The hacker is still trying the same trick, but to no avail now.

So... I know all this is a massive IT cliche, but listen to one who now knows... firstly, no matter how awkward, DO YOUR BACKUPS. And secondly, if you have a web site that depends on an SQL based database, find out about SQL Injection and how to stop it - before it's too late.

If you'd like to discuss anything more about this topic, feel free to contact me

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sharp Compet 364P-III Calculator

I was rooting around in the loft the other day and came across this item:
Sharp Compet 364P-III CalculatorI'm hoping someone out there is interested in this thing, having looked on t'internet for information about it, I think it might be quite a rarity.

It's a Sharp Compet 364P-III programmable calculator. I'm not sure how old it is, but I think I acquired it in the mid 80's, and it had been unused for a few years prior to that, so I'm guessing mid to late 70's, maybe.

When I got it, it worked, I think. Now, it looks like it might work, but just starts counting upwards from 0 whenever you press the keys. Somewhere I have the instruction booklet. I'm assuming it shouldn't do that, but who knows!?
It is a very heavy bit of kit, solidly built, and in pretty good condition. The display is made up of 16 valves with the numbers arranged inside them, quite a piece of work on their own. And they all light up. I'm guessing these are the most important and hardest to replace components, so whatever it is that's wrong with it may be easily fixed by someone in the know.

When I first got my hands on it I did program it a little bit, but at the same time I got my hands on my first ever PC (then known as a 'micro') so this thing didn't get much of a look-in after that. You compose the program, save it on a magnetic card fed into the machine through a slot on the left. Above the slot is a printer, not sure if that works or not, it appears to use a special roll of silvered paper, no sign of ink or a ribbon.

If you do know anything about this old thing please let me know, and if anybody is interested in acquiring it from me, maybe drop me an email. I don't think it would be a good idea either physically or financially to think about posting it though!

For more pictures of the machine, click here to go to Flickr.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Porsches on the Prom, Llandudno

Well, it was a grand day out to Llandudno on Sunday the 22nd of April 2012, to see all the lovely Porsches gathered there.

This annual event was blessed with fine weather, though rain threatened most of the day. The sun shone, giving excellent photographic opportunities, or just a nice environment in which to enjoy the cars on show.

The majority of the car were 911s, however there were many Boxters, Caymans, 924s, 944s and some terrific 928s, even a 968 and an old 356.

I had to leave early, but I believe they were all off for a tootle around the Marine Drive at the end of the day, which must have been a spectacular sight!

Many thanks to whoever organised the event (I think the Porsche Club of Great Britain), not often you get so much enjoyment for absolutely nothing.

To see some of my pictures of the event, click here to go to Flickr.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Peter Gabriel - New Blood

You might have read my review of Peter's previous album, if not find it here.
This is much the same, but this time he's orchestra'd up his own work, not someone else's.

I think the album Scratch My Back was a triumph. I was a little worried about this new effort. But then I saw Peter perform extracts on Jools and I was won around.

As usual with Gabriel's work, repeated playing just makes the thing get better and better. There's a quality here that is rare these days.

I guess in an ideal world I would prefer the guy to come up with something new, but this album is not a bad substitute as he significantly reworks some of his best tunes, transforming them into a whole new level.

Aside from the lengthy atmospheric introduction to Solsbury Hill, which gets old pretty quickly, the whole album is spot on. How someone unfamiliar with his oeuvre would take to this is hard for me to say. But it just oozes quality from start to finish.

Very highly recommended, 10/10, you could buy it here.