Peak Campervanning

At the end of November, I popped up to the Derbyshire Peak District for a weekend, and posted some photos here. At the time, I mentioned that I had taken some video footage too, and I finally got around to editing it into something watchable, at least by those who enjoy amateur travelogues. ūüôā

(Direct YouTube link)

A few interesting Open Source-based projects

Spotted these recently and thought they looked good:

  • AirGradient – “We design professional, accurate and long-lasting air quality monitors that are open-source and open-hardware so that you have full control on how you want to use the monitor.”

  • Meshtastic – long-range, low-power, low-bandwidth, off-grid, decentralised mesh networks, based on LoRa radios.

  • Plausible – an alternative to Google Analytics – “Plausible is intuitive, lightweight and open source web analytics. No cookies and fully compliant with GDPR, CCPA and PECR. Made and hosted in the EU, powered by European-owned cloud infrastructure”

Beyond the pale?

Today, online, I saw one unsavoury character described as “so bad that even Meta blocked him”.

In the past, one might have said something similar of Twitter, but it doesn’t really work now… and not because Twitter has started being responsible about blocking people!

Electric car fire risks

The idea that electric cars are a serious fire risk is one that has established itself in people’s minds, chiefly because such headlines increase advertising revenue for newspaper editors. ¬† If you can’t get a scare story with ‘Elon Musk’ in the title, at least try to include some reference to ‘Tesla’! When a big fire occurred in the car park at Luton airport recently, there were immediate reports suggesting it might have been started by an EV. This was pure speculation, and later, of course, when it turned out to have been a diesel, this wasn’t worthy of any headlines.

Yes, it is the case that EV batteries can catch fire due to thermal runaway, but this is also so rare that there has been very little data on the actual details.  So the Australia-based organisation EV FireSafe has been working to put together some proper statistics, by gathering as much information about EV fires around the world as they can, and their website is a great reference. They also train firefighters on how to deal with such incidents.

First a few basics:

  • All cars can catch fire, for a variety of reasons. ¬†EVs are much less likely to do so than other vehicles, though to some degree this is because they are generally newer.
  • The difference between EVs and ICE vehicles is that, if the main traction battery is involved in the fire — which is certainly not always the case — the fire will be of a different sort, and generally much harder to extinguish, especially by fire crews who don’t yet have much experience of them.
  • It’s very rare that the battery or charging system is the independent cause of a vehicle fire.
  • EV batteries tend to burn very hot and for a long time. ¬†They don’t tend to explode.
  • You can’t put out such fires with foam, and what you really want to do is just to cool everything down with lots and lots and lots of water. Some fire crews have been nervous about dangers of electrocution from pouring water onto high-voltage batteries, but the risks of this turn out to be exceedingly small and there have been no known incidents with any such problems.
  • A few past reports have been dramatically skewed by including e-bikes and e-scooters in a general report on ‘EVs’. ¬†Bikes and scooters have a much higher risk: they are not subject to the same kinds of regulation, there are third-party and counterfeit batteries on the market, batteries are often used after they are dropped or damaged, and so on. ¬†
  • Here we are only concerned with cars and other large EVs, and in fires involving the traction battery, which is the thing that distinguishes them from vehicles which carry, say, a tank of highly-flammable liquid instead.

So how common are these fires involving the battery itself?

Well, after gathering as much data as they can about such fires since 2010, they have identified about 400 incidents, from something like 40 million EVs on the road. ¬† They acknowledge that the data is far from complete — they gather what they can from academic surveys, reports by firefighting organisations, and so on — but it’s also better than most other analyses. And it’s worth remembering that a lot of fires involving the battery are not¬†caused by the battery – they’re caused by things like arson, or the car being in a building which caught fire and burned down around it, and so on.

In other words, the risk is tiny.  If you have an e-scooter charging in your garage, you should be more worried about that than the EV sitting on your drive.

If you’d like to know more about the subject, I recommend the Fully Charged podcast episode 244, which has an interview with Emma Sutcliffe of EV Firesafe – available from all good podcast apps, or on the Fully Charged website.

A greener buzz?

When I was young, electric toothbrushes were something we laughed at.  Imagine being too lazy even to wiggle a toothbrush up and down without powered assistance! But as an adult, I discovered that most dentists now thought they were rather good, and recommended them.  

Electric toothbrushes did a better job of cleaning in general, they said, and the smaller head would get into places that manual toothbrushes wouldn’t reach. ¬†Perhaps, I thought, gadget enthusiasts like me shouldn’t feel embarrassed about actually trying one. ¬†I wouldn’t have to admit it to anyone..

“There’s a huge range”, I remember my dentist telling me. “Don’t go for the ones with silly prices and dozens of bells and whistles. ¬†40 quid or so is probably about right.”

So, for a while, that’s the kind of thing I used. ¬†They’re probably about 50 or 60 quid now. ¬†They have a rechargeable battery, sit on a base that charges it inductively, and have a simple timer to help you spend the right amount of time brushing. ¬†You know the kind of thing.

But one thing about them always bugged me: the batteries were rubbish.

Long before the motor or the casing gave up the ghost, the built-in, non-replaceable battery would die, or stop holding enough charge even for one brush, and the whole thing would have to go in the bin. ¬†Then I’d buy a new one, which came with its own charging base, so the previous base, and cable, and plug – they all went in the bin too.

This was not very good for my wallet, and a great deal worse for the environment.

So I expect you will laugh, gentle reader, when I tell you that what changed my purchasing habits was brushing my¬†dog’s teeth. ¬†Yes, our spaniel gets her teeth brushed every night, and she enjoys her chicken-flavoured toothpaste, but won’t tolerate brushing for very long, so we got her an electric brush, too, to make maximum use of the time available!

We weren’t going to buy her any big 60-quid devices, though, so we looked online for ones designed for children, and Tilly now has a children’s Oral-B toothbrush. ¬†It’s pink and blue and I think it has fairies or princesses or unicorns on it, but she doesn’t seem to mind. ¬†

And as we used this, a few things struck me:

  • The motor mechanism looked as if it was just the same as my own expensive one.
  • It took the same brush heads.
  • It used replaceable AA batteries. ¬†I had plenty of rechargeable Eneloop AAs. ¬†(Take a look at my post from about 10 years ago to see why I like those. I’m still using much the same system now, and most of the batteries I had back then are still in use.)
  • This also meant I didn’t need to have charging bases and cables in the bathroom.
  • It didn’t have a timer. ¬†But I could count elephants.
  • It cost about¬†one quarter of the price.

And so I now have, and can recommend, a very basic Oral-B battery-powered toothbrush. Currently ¬£14.99 on Amazon. ¬†It has lasted longer than my previous expensive ones, and the two AA batteries hold their charge way longer than the built-in ones ever did. ¬†Occasionally, I take them out to charge and swap in some fully-charged ones from my drawer — that’s why I love Eneloops and similar rechargables: they stay fully-charged in the drawer — and freshly-charged batteries seem to last for weeks.

Since I got this, some years back, nothing has gone in the bin except the occasional elderly brush head, and when it does eventually die, it’ll be far less wasteful than something that takes its batteries and charging base to the grave with it.

Oh, and best of all? Mine doesn’t have any princesses or unicorns on it. ¬†Tilly is still bitter about that.


A busy sanderling on Holkham beach

This little sanderling was a very busy chap on Saturday, at Holkham Beach. He darted about, running up and down the waterline, and showing no interest in stopping to pose for a photo…

Disquieting fact of the day?

Taylor Swift sells more music than the entire categories of jazz or classical.

FT – 5/2/24


John Naughton quoted this on his blog, but it’s so good I had to repeat it here.

Two Donald Trump supporters die and go to heaven. God meets them at the Pearly Gates.

“Tell us,” they say, “what were the real results of the 2020 election, and who was behind the fraud?”

God answers: “My children, there was no fraud.‚ÄĚ

After a few seconds of stunned silence, one turns to the other, whispering: “this goes higher up than we thought.”

What makes them do it?

The problem of large numbers of asylum seekers trying to cross the Channel in small boats is one, I confess, that I have avoided thinking about too much — and I therefore understand few of the subtleties involved.

So I was particularly taken by this BBC piece, which follows one 14-year-old boy, Obada, who died a couple of weeks ago on the Normandy coastline.

How did he get there? Why was he trying to get to the UK, rather than some other country?

The authors have done a lot of research to make it a personal story, rather than another abstract statistic.

Well worth a read.

All the world’s a garden centre

All the world’s a garden centre
  And all the men and women merely customers.
They have their checkouts and their entrances,
  And one man in his time plays many parts,
His visits being seven ages.

                                        First, the infant,
  Yelling and crying in his all-terrain stroller.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his gameboy
  And scowling morning face, bored by all he sees,
  Until the animatronic reindeer arrive in mid-September.
And then the lover, sighing like a furnace,
  With a woeful text to his girlfriend about
  How his mother had to stop on the way.
Next, the influencer, seeking a sausage roll
¬† And a power tool for his next ‘unboxing’.
Then the PR consultant, now behind the stroller,
¬† Feigning an interest in his wife’s roses;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
To the retiree, whose rose garden is his pride and joy,
  His wife mostly absent at the golf course. Last scene of all
  That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness, and such oblivion
  That you take the bus to the garden centre to shop for clothes.

Tips for Fastmail (and perhaps other email) users

Do you use one of those ‘free’ email services, which make money by reading your emails so they can sell things to you, and sell you to others? ¬†Or do you get it from your ISP, which makes it hard for you to change supplier and possibly quite complicated when you move house? ¬†Or do you pay for a proper email account?

I’ve been doing the latter — using Fastmail for all my personal, family and business email — for a dozen years now, and have always been very happy with the service, accessing it through standard email programs on each of my various platforms. They’ve also always had a very nice webmail interface, but in general I prefer to use native apps rather than websites where I can. ¬†

This week, though, I’ve been experimenting with some features that turned out not to be quite so easy using my particular favourite apps, but were available through the site. ¬†One example is ‘Snooze’, which takes an item out of your inbox now but brings it back at a time you specify — this evening, for example, or next weekend. ¬†Things like this are nice to have, but there was another feature that was becoming a bit more essential to me.

I have a pretty large array of email addresses, which I use for various purposes. ¬†Some of them are just aliases on my main account, and some are separate email services provided by the university and other organisations. ¬†But I arrange that everything ends up at Fastmail, where it’s under my control and can be centrally searched, managed and archived. ¬† I either forward mail from each other remote service, or configure Fastmail to go and fetch it periodically. ¬†¬†

Aside: I was bitten once in the past by having an email account at one of my previous companies, to which I still had access through being on the board for a while after I left, but when the company was closed down rather suddenly, the GSuite account was deleted almost instantaneously before I knew about it, and quite a bit of my email from that period simply vanished into the ether.  I have the majority of my email stretching back as far as 1991, and I value that archive, so this was a bit of a blow.  If you also value your data, make sure you look after it yourself!

Anyway, it’s becoming ever more important, in the battle against spam, that when you send mail, you send it using a server that is properly configured to be officially associated with the ‘From’ address you’re using. ¬†Some servers, especially GMail, are pretty fierce now about rejecting email purporting to come from, say, but are actually sent using my account at the university. ¬†(There’s a range of technical standards such as SPF and DKIM which help a receiving email server assess the claimed provenance of an email message.)

And I often do need to send using different From addresses, so I normally have my email apps set up to talk to all of my email accounts (currently whittled down to just Fastmail, iCloud, Gmail and University, though I used to have rather more), and once all of these are set up on all of my many devices, in general they’re pretty good about sending the right message through the right service. ¬†But it’s a little untidy, and I end up with a lot of mail folders even if most of them are empty. And when I want to set up a new alias, I need to make sure it sends from the right place on every one of my devices…

This week, though, I hit one more issue.

There’s a service I’ve been using even longer than Fastmail, and that’s Pobox. This is one of those email-address-for-life services, and ‘quentin @’ has been the email address I’ve given out to people since roughly the turn of the millennium, ever since I realised how important it was to have an email address that would outlive any particular employer or ISP, but before it was easy to do so using your own domain (which is, of course, the best option now). ¬†There’s also a great deal to be said for having an address that is easy to dictate to people: they’re always grateful not to have to copy down something like, as I am whenever I have to type or write it down myself! ¬†(Even with my nice pobox address, I have keyboard shortcuts on all of my devices so that ‘qpo’ automatically expands to my email address.¬†Highly recommended, if you don’t do something similar already.)

Anyway, Pobox now offers various services, but the basic one I’ve been using for 23 years simply forwards my mail to wherever I ask them, after having filtered out the most obvious spam. ¬†I don’t actually store any email there, and I don’t have an IMAP account with them.

And this is where I was starting to come unstuck, because I do now need to send email using their SMTP service, whenever I want it to appear to come from, but my normal favourite Mac email app, for example, though amazingly powerful in other ways, only really understands the concept of email servers which have both incoming and outgoing services. ¬†Perhaps understandably, it, like many other apps, doesn’t cater for a complete email server that’s only used for sending, can’t receive, and for which any incoming emails appear in another account! ¬†Not yet, anyway!

All of which is a long explanation about why I’ve been using the Fastmail web interface again, because Fastmail¬†does allow you to select a different SMTP/Outlook/Gmail/whatever server for sending depending on your outgoing From address. ¬†And it does allow you to retrieve email from multiple accounts without having to set them up on each of your devices. ¬†And it offers a range of features that should satisfy the requirements of most power users, all without having to sell your soul to, say, Google, or use nasty proprietary systems like Outlook/Exchange. ¬†Yet your email is still completely accessible using standards-compliant IMAP etc when you want it. ¬†And my Pobox emails do get sent using Pobox. And my university mails get sent using Exchange without me having to touch Exchange for anything else. Perfect.

But what about the fact that I prefer to use native apps instead of web sites for this kind of thing?

Well, there are official Fastmail apps for iOS and Android which work pretty well, and on the Mac I’ve been rather pleased to discover FMail2: a thin wrapper around the web interface but implemented as a local app, meaning it can be your default mail program, handle `mailto:` URLs, see an icon in the menu bar, etc.

All of which helps ensure that if I send you an email from my favourite email address, you’re less likely to have it filtered out as spam.

Lucky you.


Favourite Christmas card

A pleasingly ‘Cambridge’ card, purchased in Heffers a couple of days ago. This year, we weren’t organised enough to buy any cards before Christmas, let alone post them. Apologies to anyone who might have been expecting one!

The card, by the way, comes from Cambridge Imprint, who produce a range of pleasing products.

(And if you like this post, you might enjoy this one from 14 years ago.)

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser