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Is your new car watching over you?

14 Feb

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In the 1980’s, if Britain or the United States governments had declared that every citizen must report their personal whereabouts and also to whom they spoke, there would have been an understandable mass revolt and rioting in the streets.

Instead, we citizens were sold the mobile or ‘cell’ phone.

Lured by the promise of entertainment, technology and kudos, we rushed out and bought phones for ourselves and our children.

We bought the phones willingly. The needs of government were met.

It was all about information – being connected and being in communication. Being the first to know, the first to hear.

Twenty years later, we now understand how our cellphones pinpoint our position and our conversations and texts are widely and routinely intercepted and analysed ‘in the interests of National Security’.

Our billing information has been sold and resold a hundred times. British Police forces have sold personal details of car crash victims to ambulance-chasing insurance firms. Apparently, that is okay by us. Absolutely fine.

Since we are anxious to be seen as law-abiding citizens, we trade in our privacy in a way that was utterly unthinkable, even as recently as 1990. We ignore the outrageous  invasion of our privacy by Google, Microsoft and a million life insurance and healthcare agents who now own copies of all our private details.

Some of us actually help out by uploading our private life and photo album details to Facebook.

Next on the agenda of big business and world government: our car.

“…all citizens shall declare their car  journeys, itineraries, speeds attained and addresses visited…”

We are sold ‘infotainment’ and connectivity packages for our new car. We buy them, using our own money.

Intel put it perfectly in their press release:

“…Cars are gradually transitioning from an information isolated island to a mobile information processing platform…”

The statement is almost benign in its apparent casualness.

However, be not fooled. The parking camera package that you bought because you are too stupid to park your own car can now record the license plate of the car behind and in front.

One click of a switch at “Headquarters” and every driving citizen becomes an unmarked Police cruiser, fitted with Automated Number Plate Recognition.

Your three year old car already tells tales on you to its manufacturer. When you send it in to the dealer to have it serviced, you naively believe that the big red box it gets plugged into tells the mechanic what is wrong.

It doesn’t. It uploads data to the manufacturer, who then tells the mechanic what is wrong. The manufacturer now knows if you hit the rev limiter…while in sixth gear. How often the ABS has been activated today.

028rwtrafficYou naughty thing, you! Let us hope that the manufacturer doesn’t tell the Police, or you’d be in deep trouble. Or your insurance company. Or your leasing company. Or your boss, who is considering you for promotion.

Perhaps, having read this far into my post, you are inclined to believe that I am being a little paranoid? Well, it only takes one click and your car uploads its data. The only question that remains is: to whom? 

Your car is already programmed to transmit your speed. Your sat-nav already does so.

Governments around the world are waiting for your opinion. They like opinions. It saves them having to ask.

When will the switch be ‘clicked’?

Well, that really depends on how we citizens feel about it. This is the ‘Big One’. All our other information is already accessed by the State in most Western countries but our car is the last frontier. It has always given us the feeling of freedom.

If we citizens realise that our car is now no longer a source of freedom but instead just expensive transportation, we may decide to take a taxi instead. We may rebel and refuse to buy our next car.

So the trick is to make us want to buy our next car.

It won’t be hard. Governments have progressively increased taxation on older cars and manufacturers have raised the prices of key spares to the point where it becomes uneconomical to keep them working.

As consumers, we take the hint. We buy a new car. Besides, the new one comes with an ‘Infotainment Package’…

Slam dunk.002bankrobber

The bank robber of the future will strip you, tie you up in the trunk of your car, drive to the bank and rob it in your name.

They will walk back to the car and plug in a second-hand ECU under the hood. They will dial a police crime line with your phone, drop it in the gutter and then drive you out to the woods.

There, you will be reunited with your clothes and shoes and given your keys back and told to drive off. As you gratefully sit behind the wheel, the robber will shoot you in the head, put the gun in your hand, close the door and then walk away.

According to the medical records that your doctor sold to your insurance company without your knowledge, you were taking anti-depressants.

According to the Police, always anxious to solve crime, there is an awful lot of even stronger evidence.

CCTV footage shows a person of your height and wearing your clothes and shoes, with a mask. Your phone and your car were tracked across town to the bank. Your phone is found, soaking wet – so no fingerprints there – but its call records are examined. Later that day, you are found behind the wheel of your car by a kid walking his dog.

Why you did it and where you hid the money will remain a mystery. Your life insurance company refuses to pay out to your family.

Isn’t technology wonderful?

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Millions of new cars remain unsold. Join the dots…

8 Feb

DSC00283roadwax

As more than 10 MILLION brand new cars join the ever increasing backlog of unsold stock across the World – four million cars in Europe alone – factory closures are now to become a reality.

Well-hidden and secure compounds across Europe, Asia and America are the usual first home for newly-born cars awaiting shipping to dealers. But these are now so full that dealers themselves are having to store cars in their already-packed yards.

The backlog of stored new cars in Europe now runs to four million. US sources point to a similar figure for America and things are so bad in China that Mercedes Benz are offering as much as 30% discount on some new models (S-Class, anyone?) as an attempt to shift stock.

No matter how politicians of all persuasions in all car-making countries try to dress it up, the fact is that production lines and whole factories now stand to be closed as a means of reducing output to match the drop in demand.

As Jorn Madslien’s BBC article here points out, the 7 – 10% annual drop in European demand since the Banking crisis of 2008 is set to continue through 2013 according to industry analysts.

There is no evidence to suggest that this trending reduction in demand will halt. Unemployment, static wages and financial insecurity continue to keep potential customers away from showrooms.021roadwax

What many ordinary people have overlooked in the last three years is the part that national politicians have played in this unfolding catastrophe.

Anxious to deflect criticism of themselves from voters already outraged at the corruption within the financial industry that has wrecked economic prospects, many political leaders have persuaded car giants to keep production at a steady level to avoid redundancies.

In the last three years, American car-making states have seen the quite shocking sight of trains loaded with brand new cars leaving the factories bound for the deserts – where the cars are simply off-loaded and parked up – as an alternative to laying off workers or reducing pay-packets.

Now, this temporary vote-buying strategy has resulted in such high levels of surplus vehicles that the need to close whole factories has replaced the idea of cutting the odd work shift. There is now no other option left.

Discounting of new car prices at dealership level is now rising into thousands of dollars. Some makes and models are almost dead in the water, effectively having so few interested potential buyers that they may as well not be offered.

Chrysler, for example, has more than six months worth of 2013 Dodge Darts parked up right now, as the Wall Street Journal’s article here reveals.

Six months worth of Dodge Darts. At what point does a ‘new’ car technically become an ‘old’ new car? Can a car that has sat out in the open for most of a year still be described as ‘new’? One can easily imagine the challenges that car manufacturers now face.

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But showroom price discounting – especially up to amounts like 30% – can wreak havoc with the residual value of that car’s marque. The prices of ‘nearly-new’ second-hand versions plummet at auction and fleet clients and Hire Purchase customers can become saddled with a kind of negative equity on their own vehicles. Fleet News made this point six months ago in their article here.

Some commercial vehicle manufacturers have been hit really hard as savvy fleet operators have held onto their trucks for an extra year or two to avoid this depreciation risk. One major truck maker sold zero units of its product in the UK in 2011 as regular clients simply sat tight.

General Motors has only now struggled back into profit in the US after years in the red with an unloved product range. Desperate for small cars it didn’t have, it hastily re-badged Asian Daewoo products, slapping a ‘Chevrolet’ badge on them and shipping them into America.

Now, it is watching as its twin European badges – Vauxhall and Opel – fight a desperate war to survive. It is abundantly clear that 7-10% over-capacity plus some ageing and inefficiently designed production facilities cannot be propped up at all cost.

roadwaxJeep 101

In this situation, the cost will be production line workers. There are no deserts in Europe to hide millions of unwanted cars.

The emerging giant economy of China fueled the revival of hopes in 2009 for top marques like BMW, Cadillac and Rolls Royce. Dying on their feet as Europe and America struggled with a banking collapse, these big names spearheaded a rush to satisfy Chinese auto sales volume growth of 46% in that year.

But by 2010 that figure had dropped to 32% and in early 2011 it slumped to 2.5%.

We are not supposed to use the word ‘problem’. The fashionable and politically correct word today is ‘challenge’.

The ‘problem’ is over-production of depreciating consumer goods.

The ‘challenge’ for today’s politicians is to find unemployed workers jobs that can generate their family a surplus income. Enough to buy yet more depreciating consumer goods and certainly more than enough to live on.

If today’s politicians actually have a solution to this challenge, then they are keeping very quiet about it.

 

Dorset road deaths are 7 times UK average, 17 times US.

26 Jan
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picture courtesy of Schneebremse

As Dorset Police have reduced the number of traffic officers patrolling the roads, deaths have increased in the UK county.

The Police cuts – applied in 2012 – have coincided with the number of road deaths increasing, reversing the previous trend. The BBC have uploaded an interesting article covering the story here.

Closer examination of the available data on the subject reveals that Dorset may have a far more serious road safety issue than has been reported or realised.

Using a selection of UK and  US government statistics, it can be shown that the county of Dorset actually has a road death toll that is seven times higher per mile than the UK average and is a stunning seventeen times higher than the rate for the United States.

And all this from a mostly rural county that has zero miles of motorway within it.

Roadwax recorded the rate of road deaths per day in comparison to the total miles of road in the county of Dorset. Then, this figure was compared with similar statistics for the whole of the UK and the whole of the US, using the most recent and accurate statistics available for comparison.

The results are shown in the table below.

2012.Dorset road death statsdocx

One issue that is raised by this research is how statistics and data can be shown in different ways to highlight particular arguments.

In this case, the simplest figures have been used and the mathematics is also straightforward. By dividing the number of road deaths into the number of miles of road across the area of Dorset, we get a factor – 1: 2,548.

That is: one road death for each 2,548 miles of road, per day.

If we then divide the miles of road available across the UK and also the US by this figure of 2,548 – we obtain the answers shown in the graph. We then compare the daily deaths recorded in the UK and US with Dorset.

If the answers in the graph are to be believed, then the county of Dorset has a serious road safety issue that needs to be examined urgently.

There is currently a lively and valuable debate being conducted over how road safety campaigns should be translated into actual positive results. You can read a range of localised views here and here. The debate extends nationally and is discussed in recognised road safety forums, such as this one.

But what data is being used to form opinions? Which figures should be used to make up arguments? Twice the fatality rate per mile might be seen as a high figure but seven times the national comparison is alarming.

And to be seventeen times more likely to be killed on a Dorset road than on an American road may provide an interesting starting point for the examination of exactly which road safety data figures are being given the most attention within the media today.

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First UK motorist is taught to drive on snow and ice.

12 Jan
A typically devastating scene showing what can happen when snow falls on an English pub.

A typically devastating scene showing what can happen when snow falls on an English pub.

The BBC have released footage of a British driver secretly being taught how to drive on snow and ice. The footage lasts just a few seconds and is hidden within a normal news article.

This news has been greeted with horror by Britain’s biggest safety quango, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA). Although its own website proudly claims to advise drivers on how to drive on snow, it is actually designed to discourage drivers from venturing out by simply re-posting the same dubious information that was printed in 1955.

RoSPA’s approach to the topic is simple. Load the driver down with so much cautionary advice on planning and multiple check-lists that they simply give up and stay indoors.

Even under the specific section ‘Driving on snow and ice’ – it doesn’t reveal any actual advice on how to drive on snow and ice beyond what is stated in the Police Driver’s Handbook. There is not a single mention of winter tyres, traction control, accelerator technique or gearbox control over-ride.

It instead assumes that you are immediately going to get stuck. Their finest advice is reproduced below:

“…move your vehicle slowly backwards and forwards out of the rut using the highest gear you can. If this doesn’t work, you may have to ask a friendly passerby for a push or get your shovel out…”

and the all-time classic:

“…slow down in plenty of time before bends and corners…”

What can easily happen if you don't "reduce your speed in plenty of time" as RoSPA advise...

What can easily happen if you don’t “reduce your speed in plenty of time” as RoSPA advise…

Roadwax sent special reporter Elena Handcart to ask RoSPA why they are fifty years out of touch with modern techniques for driving on snow and ice. Brian Loadsworth, head of Driver Thinking explained:

“The average British chappie is a little bit of a nuisance when it comes to driving a motor car on snow. We find it is far safer to try and keep him at home, checking his battery charge level and walking around trying to find a shop that will sell him a cavalry tweed car blanket.

The more ordinary people we can leave completely in the dark about snow driving techniques, the more space there is on the roads for bus drivers to pull over and cancel their journey. One really shouldn’t encourage this sort of foolhardy attitude among the workers”.

Thomas Schneebinder from the Stockholm Institute for Common Sense disagrees:

“When I was just six years old, my parents gave me my first Volvo. Like all other normal Swedish drivers, I learned to race old Saabs over packed ice by the time I was twelve. I am surprised that this knowledge is forbidden in Britain. Well done to the BBC for leaking it.”

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A post box completely cut off by more than four inches of snow – typical of what Britain may have to endure for up to several days

RoSPA shocked by how ordinary people actually live their lives.

24 Oct

I’ve got nine lives. You ain’t. Deal with it.

RoSPA has expressed shock and dismay that people drive while holding mobile phones.

The ninety year old veteran survivor of countless accidents and a couple of world wars was startled to discover that  people who drive cars through necessity often ignore common-sense advice on the use of mobile phones.

“It beggars belief!” said RoSPA, looking up from his newspaper while eating his breakfast and stroking the cat. “You’d think these people were quite unaware of the risks they were taking. I shall write an article about all this – you see if I don’t!”

Responding to Roadwax’s undercover reporter, RoSPA’s housekeeper and assistant, Verity Crash-Bangwallop, explained that RoSPA doesn’t get out much these days and is quite unaware that the practise has been going on for over twenty-five years.

“He normally gets upset when it comes up in the newspapers every now and then but he’s usually better by the time I bring him his lunch. Last Thursday, he became incandescent when I explained to him that bears are reluctant to use toilet facilities in woodland areas. I just locked myself in the Safety Room until he calmed down. He’s really very nice.”

The matter first came to light when RoSPA was informed by the local Community Support Officer that a youth had been spotted driving in the village while holding a mobile phone. RoSPA immediately wrote a letter to his local MP to highlight the shocking issue and asked the PCSO to keep him informed of any developments.

Local Independent MP Brian Loadsworth explained that RoSPA was quite unaware of the pressures upon normal members of society to receive and transmit data while driving.

“RoSPA is a nice old chap but his idea of driving is to gently ease into his old Mercedes 300TD and potter the half mile to the village shop to buy some matches for his Aga. He is quite unaware that some people spend many hours of the day driving while being pressurised by bosses and clients to provide them with time-sensitive information.”

“When I recently explained that some mothers need to contact child-minders to say that they were stuck in stationary traffic and would be late to pick up their child as a consequence, he was most resolute. He felt certain that this could be easily done while pulling over into a lay-by, switching the engine off and making the call whilst wearing a high visibility jacket at the side of the road. Fortunately, Verity brought us some lunch and the matter was dropped.”

With UK drivers currently being four times more likely to be involved in an accident when using a mobile phone while driving, pressure is on for the Police and also safety experts to find a solution.

A week long initiative by East Scrains Traffic Police to intercept drivers who were holding phones provided valuable results.

“We got our message across. You can’t drive with a mobile phone clamped to your ear. Not when one of our lads has just broken both your legs,” said Det. Insp Darren Shaft. “We usually get caught up in this nonsense debate about once a year. If we come down too hard then we lose the trust of the public. But we have to be seen to do something. We refer to it as “culling”. It ticks all the boxes and lets us get on with our real jobs.”

Dame Elizabeth Jobs-Agoodun from the road safety charity MENACE was more scathing.

“The threat of being sidelined by your boss for demanding that your car be supplied with the latest telecommunications equipment is no excuse. Working people should live within their means and ensure that they are perfectly educated in all aspects of the instruction manual provided with their leased vehicle. It really isn’t good enough.”

A simple and inexpensive campaign suggested by Roadwax to provide cheap Bluetooth hands-free kits to all motorists for the same price as a Cornish Pasty was launched today.

Det Insp Darren Shaft was not convinced.

“So, where did you get hold of all these then? Let’s ‘ave a look in the back of your van. Hands where I can see them…”

UK Traffic Police to declare war on Hipsters. Time to sell the VW.

15 Jul

In an attempt to deflect the rising public hostility towards bankers and politicians and traffic wardens, the UK government has announced a firm  strategy to eradicate Hipsters.

Recent research has revealed that, whereas it is almost impossible to punish those responsible for the economic collapse of western nations, it is a comparatively cheap fix to divert anger towards the relatively unprotected Hipster.

In Britain, it is still illegal to assault or abuse anyone who quotes Morrissey lyrics while wearing Vans trainers that are ironically untied or missing laces.

France plans to bring in a law soon to ban the resting of copies of ‘Brave New World’ on the table of any Starbucks cafe between 05:00hrs and 01:00hrs. However, British Hipsters are generally understood to be too incapable of understanding double-irony and a local solution has been sought.

Professor Brian Loadsworth, Senior Research Fellow at the Falmouth Research Institute into Ridiculous Posturing has worked with the Police and Civil Service to create a strategic response. In his research paper, he reveals the secret behind the planned campaign.

      “…In experiment P/51834, we discovered that Hipsters only have superficial knowledge of the subjects they espouse. We conditioned 6 male  and 6 female Hipsters to quote early Smiths lyrics in return for a reward of food being pushed through the bars of their cage. Sadly, the experiment had to be abandoned when they all died of starvation.

In experiment P/51835, we conditioned 12 more Hipsters to expect an electric shock if they dressed in both leather jackets and coloured leggings at the same time. The resultant electricity bill was exorbitant and the morgue had no room for further bodies. We realised we needed a change of approach.

We contacted the Driver Vehicle Licensing Authority and discovered that 98.73% of post – 1972 Volkswagen Beetles are owned by Hipsters. Hipsters are so desperate to be seen in one that they overlook the fact that these vehicles are neither Tax-Exempt (like the pre-1972 cars) nor economical to run. 

Further consultation with the Association of Chief Police Officers revealed that the necessary law was already in place. Indeed, ACPO made it clear that many Officers would be willing to work for free to implement what they referred to as ‘Operation Savage Dawn’….”

Below is the actual excerpt from the UK Government website. It explains how the Police deal with traffic crimes:

How the police deal with traffic crimes

The police have the right to stop a vehicle for any reason. Find out what your rights are if you are stopped by the police for a road traffic offence and what will happen next.

The photograph chosen by the government website makes it quite clear. A 1970’s Beetle with some fashionable cosmetic rust patches is depicted. The driver of this studiously hip VW is reminded that the police have the right to stop this vehicle for any reason.

Professor Brian Loadsworth has calculated that the Hipster will be consigned to history within 246 consecutive working days, or roughly a fortnight if both Strathclyde and Surrey Police chip in some overtime.

Cyber-casing: Did you just Geo-tag your car keys to a criminal?

10 Jul

She ‘likes’ Audi on Facebook. She uploaded the name of the cafe she is currently in to Twitter. The keys are in her bag, by her feet. Her phone is visible on Bluetooth.

Criminals are increasingly focusing their efforts upon those people who upload valuable data to social networking sites.

“Cybercasing”  is the term used to describe the process by which a criminal can anonymously monitor a potential victim by watching as they sequentially upload valuable data about their possessions and their current geographical location.

A Simple Example:

Facebook Status Update: “A picture of me and my new Audi at the dealer franchise in Dallas!”

then, two days later…

Twitter Update: ” In Rocky’s Bar, Dallas with Kim. Come and join us!” – sent via iPhone App

The criminal already knows what you look like (you posted your beautiful face on Facebook, didn’t you?) and you told them what you drive. They now know your precise location (you just uploaded a helpful map to Twitter using your iPhone, didn’t you?) and that you are relaxing in a cafe bar.

Just as the Darwin Awards were invented in the 1990’s to honor those who killed themselves through their own stupidity, so time may be running out for those who openly advertise their valuable possessions and their geographical whereabouts to 900 million complete strangers.

Insurance companies already refuse to pay out on theft claims from people who have left their keys in their car’s ignition…only to find that some absolute cad has slipped behind the wheel and selected “Drive” while they were chatting to the postman or getting something from the house.

It makes sense to assume that it will not be long before the insurance industry takes a dim view of those who sequentially reveal information to strangers about their identity, location, their valuables and where to find the keys.

Most police forces, just like professional criminals, make full use of un- encrypted cell phone messages and social networking sites to hunt down their prey. In the case of the Police, they are usually trying to intercept a particular person but criminals are interested in knowing where someone is  for the opposite reason: if the person is at the beach, then they aren’t at home. If they drove into town then their keys are certainly with them. If they are out celebrating with friends then they may not be on their guard.

Professional athletes have known for some years that their houses are most likely to suffer a break-in while they are away competing or playing their sport. Everybody who follows sport knows where they are going to be at a certain time on a certain day.

But it seems to be a lesson not yet learned by the average person that Social Media reveals their own movements and plans just as clearly if they openly publicize their social interests, hobbies, friend network and current location.

Love motorbikes? Of course you do. Particularly Harleys. You have a profile of yourself on the Harley-Lovers Site. You post on the forum. You uploaded a picture of your pride and joy. It is one of the rare ones, very desirable. There’s you, in the picture, next to it. You even got three “likes” for the picture. Fantastic bike. Way to go!

Then, you  bought some rare enamel Harley badges on e-Bay. Real bargain! The guy posted them to you sameday. Top seller. Great guy.

That’s right.

You just gave your full address to a complete stranger who now knows exactly where you live.

What’s that you say on Facebook? You and your partner have got tickets to see Radiohead play and you’re in ecstacy ‘cos its her turn to drive?

Excellent.

You will be away from home for at least six hours.

The wireless alarm box will act dumb once I climb my ladder, unscrew the cover and remove the back-up battery. A suction-pad glass cutter on the back door will stop the neighbors hearing anything. Your fuse box is exactly where I expect it to be.

The Harley is in the garage and the keys will be in the drawer in the kitchen.  You have a dog? Nope. You used to.

You can keep the ladder. It wasn’t mine, anyway.

It is becoming ever more crucial that people understand that it is not cool to upload information to websites that can identify and link you like the cross-hairs in a sniper’s gun.

If you value your folk and your possessions, keep it private. Think carefully about whether it is a good idea to keep the same  username across different websites.

Be sociable but always be smart.

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