Monthly Archives: September, 2023

Charging your car without draining your house

If you have an electric car, and a home battery as well, you may have the problem that charging your car drains your house battery.

I’ve had a few queries after some of my other videos about how I avoid this, so here you go:

(Direct link)

Hippy fruit

“Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is!”

Most of my readers, I’m sure, will be familiar with this question, but if you happen to live far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the galaxy, you may have trouble with the vernacular and so appreciate the helpful notes provided in The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.

And if you don’t know why the towel is significant… well, there’s probably no hope for you. Better stick to your own planet.

Everyone else, though, will appreciate the importance of that most remarkable book ever to come out of the great publishing houses of Ursa Minor, so why, I ask myself, did my iOS spellchecker have so much trouble today with the simple phrase ‘sass that hoopy frood’?  It offered me hippy fruit and hoppy food and generally had as much trouble as a Nutrimatic machine trying to make a decent cup of tea.

Surely, all computers should incorporate the works of Douglas Adams in their basic training?  Come on Apple, you’re missing a trick here, especially since Douglas was one of your biggest fans.  What did you use? The Encyclopedia Galactica, for heaven’s sake?

I’m pleased to say, however, that ChatGPT is an improvement, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian Siri in having some idea of what’s going on in the universe.

Result of asking ChatGPT "Hey, you sass any hoopy froods?"

With great power…

Back in the early days of USB, my friend Andy Fisher and I were bemoaning some of its design flaws as a communication system.  “But”, he pointed out, “USB is the first universal power standard”.   I laughed, and agreed. People didn’t really think of USB as a power source very much then, so this was an interesting observation.  

Andy and I were doing a lot of flying to places with different mains power standards, and we had phones from people like Nokia and Motorola, so we had to carry lots of chargers with a wide range of connectors and adaptors everywhere we went.  The idea of a predictable socket giving you predictable power was very appealing, even if it was only 5V at 1A. (Though I later realised there was perhaps one earlier holder of the ‘universal power standard’ title: the car cigarette-lighter socket.)

Screenshot 2023 09 21 at 09 38 18This week the news is full of the fact that Apple are switching the iPhone to use USB-C.  This is assumed to be largely the result of EU directives compelling them to do so, but my latest iPad and laptop from them are already USB-C, so it was probably inevitable anyway.  Personally, the ‘Lightning’ cable has always worked very well for me; I’ve never had one fail and on the rare occasions when I plug it in my phone and it doesn’t charge, the solution is invariably to remove the pocket-fluff in the socket (which, by the way, is best done with a wooden cocktail stick).  So for many people, whether you approve of the change probably depends on whether you have bought lots of Lightning-based accessories in the past, and how that balances for you against not having to do so in the future!

USB-C, on the higher-end phones, will give much faster transfer rates, which is important for those copying substantial video clips to their laptops, but probably irrelevant for most other people.  And USB cables can be highly confusing, because you can run other protocols over them alongside the USB communications; DisplayPort being a key example, but also including things like Thunderbolt and PCI Express.  When you plug a cable between two USB-C sockets, therefore, it can be hard to know what you’ll actually achieve: the projector in this meeting room has a USB-C socket, but will that allow me to display my presentation or just charge the remote control?  Might it even recharge my laptop for me?  Make sure you try it in advance, because you can’t tell from the sockets, and it may also depend on the quality of cable you use to connect them.  Plugging things together will almost certainly be a safe operation, but it may be a disappointing one.

Sometimes, though, you can get a pleasant surprise.  I remember when I wanted to connect a small stick-type computer to my monitor, and plugged in a USB-C cable to provide the DisplayPort video connection, only to find the computer booting up because the monitor was also able to power it, through that same single cable.

And while I still regularly complain about USB in general — I have two or three hubs on my desk to connect all my peripherals, from reputable manufacturers, yet I regularly get messages about some external drive being improperly disconnected, or find some camera needs unplugging and replugging before it appears in Zoom —  I do have to admit that USB-C, at least from the ‘universal power standard’ viewpoint, does seem to work rather well, so I’m in favour of this change for technical reasons, as well as environmental ones.

If you want to know more about USB-C power, what it can do and how it does it, I recommend this Hackaday article by Arya Voronova.  He points out that there are still some issues — if you plug your battery power pack into your laptop, for example, do you expect the laptop to charge the battery, or the other way around? — but overall, it does seem like progress.

The shelf behind me in my study has three large boxes labelled ‘Power Supplies < 12V’, ‘Power Supplies 12V’ and ‘Power Supplies >12v’, because I always hated throwing them away.  In the past, power supplies generally died more regularly than the things they were powering, and it was very satisfying to be able to reach into one of these boxes and give a computer, drive enclosure or ethernet switch a new lease of life.

But I think it may be time for a clear-out.

PSU boxes

I now have a reasonable number of adaptors to connect USB-A to USB-C sockets and vice versa, and this should work in most simple cases. But you’ll get the lowest common denominator of the two standards, which may not be enough. Just last week, I was installing a new phone mount in my campervan; one that would hold my phone in place magnetically and charge it wirelessly. The Magsafe wireless charger came with a USB-C cable and I just plugged it, via an adaptor into to the USB socket on my dashboard. But… Nada. It turns out that the wireless charger needs more power than a standard USB-A socket can provide. I did actually need to plug it into USB-C.

Fortunately, that was easy to solve. Because my dashboard is also fitted with the original universal power standard. A cigarette lighter socket.

Car usb c adapter for 12v lighter socket

I before E, except after C

Spotted online:

I before E. Except when your foreign neighbour Keith receives eight counterfeit beige sleighs from feisty caffeinated weightlifters.  Weird.

Drug-inspired Lyrics

I know that many popular lyrics have been inspired by the use of drugs, so I thought I’d try my hand at it.  This was written recently while packing for a journey.  Or, perhaps, a trip.  My brother, a highly-qualified medic, was on hand to help. With the lyrics, at least.

John and Yoko are busy composing the melody, but in the meantime you can sing it to the tune of It’s a long way to Tipperary.

I need one more Atorvastatin
  I’ve got one more to go.
I need one more Atorvastatin
  It’s the neatest pill I know.
Goodbye to cholesterol
  Farewell, LDL!
I need just one more Atorvastatin
  And all will be well!

I expect it to become a hit amongst other middle-aged music afficionados.

Boom or bust

When I was writing recently about ‘generations’ and ‘Baby-boomers’, I came across an interesting article talking about why the Baby Boom happened. It wasn’t just those soldiers coming back from the Second World War and making up for lost time, because it started in the 1930s. Interesting reading. Part of the motivation for the article, though, is that if we could understand why sudden changes in fertility rates happened, it might help reverse the current decline in birth rates.

This is something I have never understood.

Surely, the best thing we can do for the planet, and for the generations who will follow us, is to encourage declining birth rates wherever possible. Nobody likes to talk about it — it’s certainly not a vote-winner for politicians — but the single best way for a couple to reduce their carbon footprint is to have fewer children. If they can instil that tendency in any children they do have, too, their decision could have an exponential long-term impact through time. Forget installing solar panels or buying an EV! Spend the money on contraceptives if you really care about climate change. A world with less congestion, less competition for resources, less overcrowding, less pollution, less demand for housing, less intensive farming… can only be a better world, it seems to me?

We should institute tax benefits right now for people with fewer children, rather than continuing child-support for those who breed excessively. Those who install solar panels, drive Teslas and, most of all, are voluntarily childless, should of course be publicly honoured and cheered in the streets. (I may have a slight personal agenda here!)

Seriously, though… I know there are issues with an ageing population. Declining birth rates mean more old people hanging around for younger people to support. (Though in a country with a good social security scheme, that larger elderly population should at least have paid for most of their care up front during their working lives.) A declining birth rate also tends to lead to reduced economic growth and a few other challenges.

But it’s always seemed to me that these are short term problems, and somewhat selfish arguments. Yes, our modest numbers of children, grandchildren and perhaps great-grandchildren may not appreciate the demographic change until we’re well out of the way. But for those with a longer-term view, won’t the denizens of the 23rd Century be exceedingly grateful for anything we can do now to encourage population decline? And isn’t that the best way to ensure there will actually still be people around to enjoy the 24th Century?

Posting for Posterity

I’ve written before (e.g. in May) about the importance of the Internet Archive, which I was fortunate enough to visit in its early days. It’s a hugely valuable resource for many reasons, not least in giving some protection against link rot through its ‘Wayback Machine‘.

What I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know until recently, or had forgotten, is that there is also a UK Web Archive at . It’s a very nicely-done collaborative project of the UK Legal Deposit Libraries, and performs a similar task for UK-based websites.

It’s been going for 10 years now, which is a good span but not nearly as long as the Internet Archive, so if, say, you were feeling gloomy about the situation in the UK and needed to be cheered up, you could go and look at the old News of The World site and be grateful that it ceased to exist 12 years ago.  For that, though, you would need to go to the Internet Archive.

The UKWA is a great initiative,and worth supporting. If you have a UK-based site which isn’t already indexed, let them know. It’s another good way to try and ensure it outlives you, and they try to update their copy at least annually.

And if you want to know more about the UK’s Legal Deposit Libraries which are behind the project, Tom Scott (of course) has a nice new video.  


Generation game

I hear these phrases like ‘Millennials’ and ‘Generation Y’ in the media and realise I have no idea what they mean. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have kids, and so don’t know which pigeonhole the tabloids and marketing agencies want them to occupy!

I know roughly when ‘baby-boomers’ were born, but that was a phrase invented in the seventies to describe a genuine phenomenon visible in historical data. And I presume ‘millennials’ are people born around the turn of the millennium. But when did it become trendy to label other generations? And who decides on the boundaries and the letters? (I suspect the culprits are the same people who tell us that this is “International Year of the Aubergine“ and things like that.)

I have no more idea of which ‘generation’ I fall into than I do about my supposed star sign, and I suspect they are almost equally fictitious constructs. I’m guessing someone invented ‘Generation X’ because, while it was easy to say ‘grew up in the fifties’, it’s just too silly to say ‘born in the noughties’ (or whatever Generation X actually means). We really don’t have very good words for the last couple of decades. It’ll be easier in a little while when we can talk about a ‘twenties kid’. And if (as I assume), Gen X and Y (and I think there’s even a Z now) all came after Millennials, then they can’t really be generations, can they? There’s not enough time for them to have 20-30 years each… At least they’ve run out of alphabet now, so perhaps they’ll need to start using some meaningful names again soon.

Still, I was distressed to see the single-letter-generation-labelling game going on even in reputable newspapers recently, so I’d better go and find out what they’re supposed to mean, and what unicode character they’re going to adopt for my great-nephews/nieces expected in the spring. Perhaps it’ll be an emoji. I like to think they’ll be part of ‘Generation 😁’.

Yes, I’d better go and look it up. Otherwise I risk being relegated to that no-man’s land of the ‘post-boomer-pre-wikipedias’…

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser