Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

iZettle logoI’ve mentioned elsewhere that when I first started taking card payments from my pupils, I chose iZettle. Everything was fine (without anything to compare with) until the time they updated their app and it wouldn’t run on my smartphone. They basically told me to get stuffed – effectively almost killing my business overnight – which prompted me to switch to PayPal. By the time they came back and admitted they had made a mistake, it was too late.

Ironically, I would have chosen PayPal in the first place if their staff hadn’t been so incompetent at the time, but the bad information I was given had ironed itself out by the time iZettle screwed up, and the switch was easy.

PayPal is much better than iZettle ever was. The main plus point being that any money you take can be in your account within minutes, as opposed to the “several working days” (aka a week, if you have bank holidays and a system fault to deal with at Easter or Christmas). PayPal is 24/7, whereas iZettle was 24/3 if you were lucky, and 0/7 if you weren’t.

So it was with interest that I read this article reporting that PayPal has purchased iZettle.

The language is suitably business-like, and it isn’t possible yet to say why this has happened, given that iZettle was apparently ready to list itself on the Swedish stock exchange. Surprisingly, it had targeted being “in profit” for 2020 (compare that to PayPal, which has been “in profit” since the Age of the Dinosaurs). However, I get a number of hits from people who are having problems with iZettle judging by the search terms used, so I have my own opinion.

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The Keystone KopsWikipedia tells us that The Keystone Kops were…

…fictional, humorously incompetent policemen, featured in several silent film slapstick comedies produced by Mack Sennett for his Keystone Film Company between 1912 and 1917.

A local news item tells how a lunatic waving a machete around was reported to the Police on 4 May. The man who reported him is quoted:

He was screaming and coming down the road with the machete shouting ‘I’m going to chop you up’.

If I hadn’t moved he would have caught me with it.”

The Police came and confiscated the weapon – but they didn’t arrest the man because:

…the force said they “couldn’t find any sign of a disturbance”.

They didn’t take a statement from the witness immediately, and the lunatic with the machete (who is clearly a mental case) was finally arrested a week later, on 11 May. The BBC video of what “no disturbance” looks like to Nottingham Police is therefore quite revealing. As is the apparent change in the Law, which it now seems allows you to have a machete in public in the first place and not be arrested.

Then there was this story from Worcester. Police there have put up a sign at the station telling criminals when the best (and most convenient) time to hand themselves in is.

Police message to criminals - West Mercia PoliceIt has since been removed, and officials are hopefully in the process of making sure those responsible are on their way back to stacking shelves at Tesco again.

And all this reminds me of a situation about four years ago. I stopped in a field gateway on a country lane near Bunny and observed three or four large bales of what I suddenly realised were Cannabis plants. I phoned the Police, and was told it wasn’t their problem and that I should contact the Council to have them removed. I did that, and after listening through a message that went roughly like this:

So that we can help you best, please choose from one of the following options. For roof repairs press 1, for door painting press 2… [a lot more removed so I don’t bore you to death]… for water discolouration press 27…

I pressed something I’d heard earlier and which sounded closest to what might be needed. The person who answered was like computer AI, but without the “I”, so I just said “oh, f**k it” and hung up.

The bales gradually rotted over the next few months.

Oh, yes. And then a couple of years ago. I was driving along Coventry Lane near Bramcote with a pupil, and a wanker in a pratmobile overtook us at high speed on the opposite side of those pedestrian central refuges – an absolutely illegal action – and almost had a head-on with another car. I reported it to the Police, pointing out I had him on dashcam, with his registration number clearly visible, and that I knew where he probably lived because of where he turned off a little further on. The Police weren’t interested, and basically told me that the dashcam footage wasn’t enough.

The legacy of The Keystone Kops lives on in Britain.

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Trump's Iran announcement2016 saw two of the biggest catastrophes the world has seen in a long time. Brexit, and the election of Donald Trump as POTUS.

There has been a collective movement of denial over Trump. To some of us, he was a f—ing w–nker in 2016, he has remained a f—ing w–nker all the time since 2016, and he has just shown how much of a f—ing w–nker he really is by pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal.

Within minutes of his announcement, Iran said it is going to start enriching uranium again, and Israel has begun bigging itself up ready to go to war with Syria because it reckons Iran is supplying it with arms with which to attack Jerusalem. Russia reckons the action will jeopardise the Korean pact, which means the North will restart its nuclear trials. If Israel attacks any Muslim country, other Muslim countries are likely to join in. Every f—ing lunatic hardcore Islamist who isn’t in Syria will start trying to get at Trump by blowing up whatever country they are currently residing in. And the price of oil is likely to skyrocket. Every civilised country has condemned Trump’s decision.

Britain is in a bit of a cleft stick, because we’re in the middle of trying to spit on Europe, whilst simultaneously being in the middle of shaping up to have Trump’s babies (along with lots of chlorinated chicken) to make up for what we’re about to lose. And thanks to the Brexit effect on the pound – which, in spite of the Brexiter rhetoric a few weeks ago, is now back down the what it was the day after the Referendum versus the dollar – everything is costing more. Fuel prices are already creeping up again (5p in the last three weeks) even before the effects of Trump’s latest folly kick in. In other words, we’re trying to go it alone at what has become the worst imaginable time in which to do so.

I pointed out in 2016 that by leaving the EU we could not foresee what was around the corner, and that a war with someone was possible. Trump has made that even more possible – almost likely.

The problem is that the Iran deal was actually working. It wasn’t perfect, but it was better than what Trump has now condemned the world to. He has pretty much proved what the less civilised countries already believed: that America can’t be trusted.

Ironically, America can be trusted. Just not with Trump as POTUS.

The thought occurs to me that I hope I wake up tomorrow (ambiguity in that comment deliberate).

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ADI Green Badge montageThis article was originally written in 2010, and things have changed a bit since then. This article now refers to the current (2018) procedure.

My ADI badge is due for renewal in October 2018. I got my initial alert that my DBS check (formerly the CRB check) needed to be renewed in early April – 6 months before my badge needs to be renewed. This alert came from DVSA via email.

I applied immediately online. DVSA supplies you with a PIN number and a secret word. You apply via an online form.

Once you have completed your DBS application, you take a printout of the completed form along with the necessary documents to a Post Office branch that does identity/document checks (you can find a local branch at GOV.UK). Note that your local Post Office probably can’t do it – it will be one situated in the middle of a large city with no easy parking, and with queues of people doing what people who use Post Office branches usually do (i.e. be prepared for a long wait).

Be careful with your initial application. As I discovered, being paperless – and so having to get a bank statement printed out specially by my bank – you have to specify the precise date on that statement. You cannot use a date that is either in the past or current when you fill out the DBS form, so if you have a statement printed out today, you cannot apply until tomorrow. The online system won’t let you use today’s date, and if you put another date – yesterday, as I did initially, when I realised I couldn’t be proactive and put tomorrow’s date in anticipation of going to my bank – the Post Office will reject your identity check immediately.

Let me just simplify that: get a bank statement first (if you’re using one), and complete the DBS form at least one day after the date on that statement. You can’t complete the DBS form otherwise, and if the date on the form doesn’t match the one on the statement the Post Office won’t complete the document check. Believe me: it was easier the last time I did it.

And your driving licence. If you are using that as a check document (you probably will be), the date you have to enter on the form is the date you passed your test. NOT the “valid from” date on the front of your licence (i.e. when you last did your photo update). It’s f—ing stupid, but that’s how it is, and it isn’t explained anywhere obvious that I could find (nor was it an issue last time I had a CRB/DBS check). The woman at the Post Office explained this, and told me it catches a lot of other people out , too. You have to infer the date from the back of your licence from the entitlements shown there.

I used my passport, my driving licence, and a bank statement as my check documents. Actually, I had to apply for a new passport (it was due anyway) because my birth certificate isn’t the one issued at birth, and a copy issued several years later isn’t a valid check document.

My DBS certificate came through about seven days after the document check was completed (the check at the Post Office triggers your application process). It costs £6.00 for the document check.

I’ll update this article in October with the latest process when I have to renew my badge. You can’t do it until the month your badge expires. Quite how that works if someone’s expires on 1st of the month is anyone’s guess.

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Ford Focus oil change messageThis article was originally written a few years ago, but it has become extremely popular, and gets hundreds of hits a week.

It all began when, back in 2016, I got a message on my Ford Focus TDCi Titanium centre console telling me that it was due for an oil change. I wouldn’t have minded, except that it was only on 5,500 miles and my official service points (set by my lease agent) are every 12,500 miles.

I spoke with the local dealer and they said just to bring it in so they could reset it. I wasn’t too pleased with that since visits to the dealer inevitably mean at least half a day in lost lesson time. Since 2016, and across at least three other vehicles, I’ve had it come on at as low as around 1,000 miles, and at other points shortly after a service.

At this point, let me make it absolutely clear that I did not for a moment think it was anything other than an error. There is an oil warning lamp on the dash which I would never ignore, but centre console messages are a different matter entirely. I mean, how many of us have been driving up a 40% slope only to be advised to change the gear to 4th, 5th, or even 6th? The car just won’t do it. Therefore, my first action was to buy an OBD II monitor tool so I could check/reset it myself. However, no faults were found, so there was nothing to reset – and the oil change warning remained stubbornly visible.

Then I did what I should have done in the first place and Googled it. It turns out Ford has a system which can be set to give an oil change warning at various points. No fault is logged, since the trigger is software-based and is “calculated” based on how the car is being driven. Apparently, you used to be able to set different trigger points manually (in America, at least), but there is no such option in the UK that I can see.

How to reset the oil change warning

Resetting it turned out to be incredibly simple – though completely undocumented by Ford. All you do is:

  1. Turn on the ignition (or push the start button with the clutch up)
  2. Press the brake and accelerator fully down for about 20-25 seconds

The display tells you when reset is complete, and the warning goes away. From what I understand, this applies to all Focus models from MkII onwards.

Does this work on other Ford models?

You’ll have to try it and see. Logic would dictate that Ford has implemented the same procedure on all its current models. However, taking Ford’s index in the handbook as just one example, it is clear that logic isn’t something they waste much time on, and there’s every possibility that the reset procedure is totally different on other models.

How soon should I get my oil changed when the warning message comes on?

For a Focus, if your car is under the manufacturer’s warranty then I think they allow 1,000 miles on top of the normal service points. My lease agent therefore allows me the range of 11,500-13,500 to book it in for a service. Outside that, your warranty might be affected.

Of course, if the oil change warning message appears before 12,500 miles (or whatever your service points are) then you can safely ignore it (or reset it, as explained above). It isn’t a sensor warning, just a software-based calculated value. If the oil warning dashboard light comes on, though, you mustn’t ignore it.

You shouldn’t ignore the message because you could damage your car

Someone wrote to me, making this point. As I have explained above, the alert (it isn’t a warning, as such) is calculated based on how the in-car computer thinks you’re driving. Frankly, when it comes on at around 1,000 miles when you’ve only had the car a few weeks, or several days after it has had a service, and the oil definitely isn’t old, yes you can ignore it.

My lease agent sets the service points at every 12,500 miles. They will not allow me to have it serviced any earlier. I know that Ford talks of 7,500 miles (I’ve never had it come on at that figure), and that’s fine. If you have a private vehicle then follow their advice. But if the warning comes on at any other time you can safely reset it – if nothing else, until you can get it in for its service.

 

Disclaimer: I take no responsibility if an oil change really is due and you ignore it.

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Tektronix Oscilloscope - CRT typeMany moons ago, I got hold of an oscilloscope from an army surplus depot. It was a pretty decent machine – a Tektronix – albeit very basic and dated. I haven’t used it in donkey’s years, and although it is still in the garage I wouldn’t dare turn it on now. It was one of the old CRT jobs, and they had high voltages inside, so with the damp and all that… too risky. It only cost me about £50, but a new one would have been several hundred, so it was a good deal at the time. Like the old TV sets, it weighed an absolute ton, mainly due to the massive transformer and valve chassis inside.

I’ve got a project on the go at the moment which involves an audio circuit – basically, a microphone input and a line-level output. I need to check the frequency characteristics of the circuit to make sure there’s no signal dropout (and to be able to quote this for the final product), so I was suddenly looking for an oscilloscope and a signal generator.

Over the last few years I’ve bought quite a bit of stuff from AliExpress. Consider this: if you wanted to buy, for example, a strip of 5050 LEDs (60 LEDs per metre, IP20), you’d be looking at paying at least £12 for a 5m reel in the UK – probably with shipping on top of that. You can buy the same from sellers on AliExpress for about £3.50 with free shipping. This price differential applies to virtually everything on there. You usually don’t pay any import duty, and even if you do it isn’t much. The only negative is how long things can take to arrive. Sometimes they come in less than a fortnight, other times (though rarely) it can take two months. Most shipments are tracked, and suppliers bend over backwards to help, and will replace lost or faulty items without quibble.

With that in mind, I hopped on over to the AliExpress website to see if they had any handheld oscilloscopes. I almost drowned in my own drool when I saw what they had. You can get “pocket” oscilloscopes the size a smartphone for not much more than $100, and many include a signal generator built-in. I’d earmarked one of these, but then I discovered the Instrustar ISDS205X Virtual PC USB oscilloscope. It has a signal generator and logic analyser, and seemed too good to be true. I asked the supplier if it was Windows 10-compatible – it was – and duly placed an order.

It took about two weeks to arrive (nearly one of those weeks stuck at Heathrow customs judging from the tracking data, and the fact I did have to pay import duty of about £12 on its £70 selling price).

Instrustar virtual PC oscilloscope - main moduleThe oscilloscope consists of the main module, housed in a 160 x 110 x 28mm metal case with rubber end-caps, and a collection of probes and cables – plus the all-important software on a mini-DVD. The instructions on the DVD are typical Chinese-English material, but since I am not a Brexiter I can work around that and see things for what they are rather than demanding an immediate bonfire to burn things I don’t like. So I installed the drivers and plugged the oscilloscope into my PC. It is powered by the USB port, so no separate PSU is needed.

I wasn’t expecting much from the software, and all I wanted was for it to work. To say that I was pleasantly surprised is a huge understatement. The software is very smart-looking.

instrustar_sw_thumbWhenever you run it you have a choice between “professional” and “simplified” and various other displays. The snapshot, above, is of the simplified one showing a 2kHz square wave produced by the internal signal generator being monitored on Channel 1. If you click the image, you can see the display in more detail.

I’m running it on a Windows 10 machine with a 4k display, and it works perfectly. I haven’t got to grips with all the functions yet, but you can save data – so it is also a logger. A further huge bonus is that the signal generator has a “sweep” mode, so I can set it to start at 20Hz and go up in increments of maybe 100Hz (or whatever I choose) to 20kHz, and save the data. This means I can connect the signal generator output to my circuit input, attach the oscilloscope to the output (one channel per stereo channel), set it to “sweep”, and record the results. A feature I think it might also have is that I can mathematically compare the input and outputs and get a difference (even if it doesn’t, a spreadsheet will do that for me).

I doubt that I will ever use the full range of features, but at least I have everything I need for my latest project.

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Doing the theory testI must admit that wasn’t aware this was being looked into, but from today the Theory Test is changing slightly to make it “more accessible”.

Apparently, words like “increased” and “decreased” are considered to be “long and complicated”, so they have been replaced with “bigger” and “smaller” instead. I’ll take their word for it that this solution has addressed an actual problem, and look forward to future changes where “bigger” and “smaller” are replaced with “↑” and “↓” on the grounds that written words are too complicated.

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Arsene WengerI got up this morning and received a text from a pupil about booking his test, and he added the footnote “Wenger’s going”. I immediately flipped to the BBC website and discovered the full horror contained in those two words.

Arsene Wenger is leaving Arsenal at the end of the season. This is truly the absolute worst day in the whole of the last 22 years of my life.

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StairsLast December (2017), the driving test was changed to include use of a satnav, and two of the harder manoeuvres were replaced with two that my cat could do. From June 2018, learners will – at long last – be allowed to take lessons on motorways (with an instructor, and not with mum, dad, or best mate Kyle/Kylie).

A couple of weeks ago, I asked a new pupil if they knew about the changes, and they came out with something about “graduated licences”. I pointed out that graduated licences (GLs) have been talked about for almost as long as learners being allowed on motorways has (30 years at least), and although they are a good idea, their introduction is not going to happen in the near future.

I picked up this month’s copy of Intelligent Instructor and saw that Northern Ireland is to introduce such a scheme, and DfT is going to monitor the success of this with a view to introducing a scheme for the rest of the UK. It is worth pointing out that the scheme in NI is set for launch “in 2019/20”. Allowing for a suitable monitoring period, followed by consultation, then the likely changes in the Law, any similar scheme in the UK is unlikely to be seen before 2025. And even that is if there’s a highly favourable following wind (i.e. the same government and no other unrelated problems rearing their heads).

For a start off, IAM is involved, and it is already opposed to night-time curfews – which would be one of the most obvious things to include in any GL system). Then there is some nonsense about post-test training involving parents, when the parents are some of the worst offenders out there. And Theresa May’s hold on power is tenuous at best, so she’s unlikely to risk bringing in anything that loses votes.

The learners-on-motorways saga picked up steam almost ten years ago, but it’s taken until now – with several government changes and other delays along the way – to come to anything. Now, we have Brexit hanging over us like a skip load of manure ready to fall.

Don’t hold your breath.

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