Adventures in Hire Cars - Technology

After driving in the past few months more cars that I had in the past few years, and buying a new car last year, it has become quite clear that there has been a massive step change in the technology that a car has on the inside, some of which is quite impressive, but other less so. I thought it interesting to discuss the ones that have made an impression.

Autonomous Driving
We are quite a bit away from the autonomous driving future that the big car companies are look at, but I can see a few steps here and there on the way to that destination. Connie and I are ddivided ivived over this = she doesn't think a car will ever be able to safely drive itself. I'm more positive that it'll happen at somepoint and almost believe that Joni and Etta may live in a world where buses and trucks drive themselves, but the humble private car might be a while away.

I was thinking about this when drving two cars - the Infiniti Q30 and my most recent hire, the Kia Sportage (the 308 died, but that's a different story). These cars had bits of technology in them that appeared to be beta tests for some features that an autonomous car needs. The first in sign recognition - both cars "read" road signs, pulling speed limits out off signs and putting them onto the dashboard. It's not like the old way of doing it - taking it from the classicification of the road, but they "see" the signs - noted by the fact that they picked up the temporary speed limits on the roadworks on the M6, and the 10 mph in the office car park.

The second is the impressive feature of the Kia to do "Active Lane Keep Assist", which basically means it'll keep the car between the two white lines of the road on it's own. I tried this out along with the cruise control and the car basically was, for a few seconds, "driving" it's self. I mean, it'd lose the lane every so often, and it would also not see any other cars (other bits of kit do that, that being said) but it was impressive just how well it worked.

Auto-stop/start and Gliding mode
The recent raft of emissions rules that the EU have put out has challenged car makers to make changes to their eingines, and these two features are designed to help with that. The car stopping it's engine when stationary is not new - in fact, I vivildy remember a demonstration of this technology on Blue Peter on a Nissan Micra back in the early 1990s before it has become the staple of today. I do wonder if sparking the engine up after one second of being off whilst at a giveway makes any sense, but the engine does it fine in most cars.

The other is a Mercedes Benz feature I liked - when driving, if you took your foot off the accelerator it'd enter Gliding Mode, which would slip the car out of drive and into the nuetral coasting feature. it was really impressive when it engaged it, and the slip back into drive was perfectly seamless, but it did feel weird on hills when the lack of engine braking (the turn over of the engine actually slows the car down when there is no power) and you had to pay attention that you weren't speeding up too much.

Keyless Entry
The dogshit 500X has this, but as soon as I got used to it, I missed it from my normal life. It was fun just walking away from the car knowing it'd lock and open when I approached it. The best moment was when I realised that I'd left the keys in the office, but the car was parked under my window, so I could open it even without the keys being on me. That was quickly replaced by the horror that anyone could enter my car and start it and maytbe drive it away just because I was sitting in my office close enough to it. Wierd.

Touchscreens
Our Yeti has a resistive touchscreen - one that recognises the input from the pressure, not like your smartphone. That's not amazing for a car, as it requires your eyes to leave the road. In fact, almost all touchscreens do, which is why the Peugeot 308's buttonless dash was fancy, but it just meant to change anything I was looking away from the road. The biggest issue with the touchscreens is a slow response. The Insignia's touchscreen was fast, but the 500X's was like treacle. It is very noticable when driving when there's a delay in switching on the radio.

Auto... everything else
Automatic lights, windscreen wipers, parking cameras, automatic full beams (I really like this), automatic beeps when you leave lanes without signalling... cars are mountains of tech. These are all pretty neat features, but all feel like the small baby steps towards cars becoming random pointless things we don't need to own.

That's righlt; I'm of the school of thought that Joni and Etta will not own cars, but own memberships to car clubs that means when they need to drive you tap your smart[whatever they invent] and a car appears, takes you there, and then disappears. The idea of ownership is going to change.

And no one will die in a car. That's the key; Connie feels like cars driven by people are safer than auto-driving cars, but that's not only not ture, it's demonstrably not true. Hundreds of people die around the world on roads every single day, if not every hour, and the next generation will look back as say "Dad, you actually drove your cars... yourself? At 70mph!? That's insane! And, wait, they didn't automatically link up and avoid each other? That's just mental!" in the same way we laugh today about those people who walked out in front of the first cars with red flags, or when our parents used to drive around in cars without seatbelts, or when I was a kid and cars didn't have crumple zones, air bags, or ABS.

It's a matter of time.

2014 (Again)

In 2016 the Scottish elections were held with a raft of manifesto pledges within them, one key one in the SNP's being the following:

"We believe that the Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum if there is clear and sustained evidence that independence has become the preferred option of a majority of the Scottish people – or if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will."

There has been plenty written about the possibility of a Scottish IndyRef2 in the wake of the Brexit vote, not just from me (Politics Next - Politics Next: After the Storm - The Death of the United KingdomA Plan - The Independence of Scotland). However, the biggest argument against a second IndyRef was the phrase "that's it settled" - simply that the 2014 vote still stands because we've already had our say.

That's not true. Everything has changed.

In my three post series in 2014 about my voting intentions, I wrote If It Is a No in which I stated a simple fact: "...and then things will start all over again. Those who wanted better control for Scotland will still want better control. Those who wanted better powers will still want better powers. Those who wanted a fairer government will still want a fairer government. So it won't stop - the framing will have just changed slightly" and "The question might have been answered, but the topic is still up for discussion".

That attitude rightly pissed a lot of people off. There had been a narrow escape for those who supported the Union and they were relieved, only to find out that those who were arguing against them were still as angry and ready to put their case forward. Why? The question had been asswered! It was a No, come on everyone, let's knuckle down. The thing is that it is a belief. I believe that Scotland will serve itself better outside of the UK and on it's own, and with a slight majority of folk disagreeing with me isn't going to change that. Is that a blind bit of faith? I don't know - I am sure that I could have been convinced if the actions of the UK government had been more "equal" than dismissive following almost everything that happened from 19th of September 2014 to... the 17th February 2017.

Now, however, the question is quite different. We know that the question asked in 2014 isn't valid anymore and the contextual basis for the question was entirely wiped out when the UK government lost the EU Referendum vote. Now, I respect that vote. I live in the England, don't forget, so my fellow country-persons voted against me and went to leave. In fact, the area I live in voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU. That feeling of having lost against was hard to take, but that's not what I'm aruguing - Brexit is happening to England no matter what, it is the terms of the arrangement that is up for debate there.

Scotland, on the other hand, has no say. They voted to Remain and they're getting taken out of the EU without their consent. That's a disaster scenario for those who voted No but also voted Remain. It's the hard choice of British nationalism versus outward global reach. No longer is the Scottish Independence vote the rejection of collaboration that many painted it as in 2014. In fact, it is the exact opposite scenario now, a Yes vote being for a EU membership, not the other way round.

So no matter who says it, when they say it, or when they believe it, this is not a re-run of 2014. It isn't for a lot of reasons.

  1. Scotland voted to Remain, and is being taken out without it's consent.
  2. That's actually true, even if you say it's a UK decision - the Scottish Parliament says no overwhelmingly, yet it being disregarded. That's not a partnership of equals.
  3. The previous IndyRef was on the basis that a No guaranteedEU membership. Now, it's guaranteeing an EU exit.
  4. The powers promised have been watered down.
  5. Scotland is being ignored in a magnitude that hasn't happened in decades.

So the next step - convincing those who voted Yes but are now a No, or those who voted No but might change to a Yes.

Adventures in Hire Cars

Quite a few years ago now I wrote about the hire cars that I had used during my time in North America. It felt like a fun thing to do, seeing as I'd managed to squeeze in a raft of models in a short space of time. Long time reader Jonathan (and precursor to this very blog) noted that he was glad I hadn't reviewed his car.

I have a new role within work, and it's meaning a lot more travel than any other time in my working life. This is a good thing - the new role, the subject of which is coming up in a coming post, is interesting, but the travel can be tiresome. I'm trying to get it all out of the way at the start, so I can move to a more remote role.

Because of the location of my house and the office transport links are woeful. Last year I took the train to the head office and it was a long and difficult journey with three trains on the way down (of which I missed them all due to a late first train of the morning) and then on the way back it was busy and didn't get a seat. Then there's problem that the train station it's self is a 25 minute drive away. Instead, hiring a car is quicker, more cost efficient, and is far more felexible.

There have been a lot of cars since. Recently, loads of them. Let's try and begin with the last ones I remember. I'm excluding all of the Canada hires - the VW Passat, Kia Optima, Ford Escape, Buick Verano, VW Jetta.  Actually, let's indulge one Canada hire.

Heh.  

Heh.  

Dodge RAM 1500
As usual with weddings Connie and I's went a little pear shaped a few times along the way to a successful series of nuptials. One was the day that everyone was getting into town for the wedding our hire car wasn't returned to the place it was supposed to, in time for us to obtain it. We were due to do some running, meeting friends and later family. Dan, the manager of the branch of Enterprise, who has become a close friend with all the coin we drop anytime we go home, has always done me solids - giving me a choice of car, upgrading almost everytime - this time, he gave us a loan of the Ram 1500 truck for the day until our car arrived, for free, free of gas usage too. It was fun having my friends rocking up in a big truck.

Seat Exeo estate
This one car was nice enough, and I used it to go across the country on a camping weekend, but it really made us want a large estate car, which lead us to getting the Passat. In turn, this meant that my UK hiring days were over until 2016. It was a nice car if a bit dated, but the loading space was impressive.

Vauxhall Astra
Back in July 2015, whilst the world around me was blowing up, someone crashed into the Passat. In order, I had a telephone interview on the Tuesday, was offered a face to face interview on the Wednesday, was made redundant on the Thursday, was crashed into on the Friday, had a hire car on the Saturday and drove to the office I now work in on the Monday, with a job offer that afternoon, and we had selected a new house by the Thursday. The insurers, who knew it was a no fault claim, told me not to drive and got me an Astra estate. It was a massive boon - we put around 1500 miles on that guy between the trips up and down to Cumbria over the two weeks our car was away, and it gave me a nice story to tell the team once I started.

Hyundai Santa Fe
When hiring a car for work they offer you an Astra as standard, but I prefer automatics so I've yet to have an Astra. The first car I got was this massive SUV and it was simply insane - one of the biggest cars I've driven but was very nice inside and was quite easy to park thanks to all the cameras. I don't know if it was a nice car, as it was pretty unwieldly despite all the assistance, but it looked smart.

Infiniti Q30
I didn't know that you could get Infiniti's in the UK and when this car was dropped off I was surprised. It was until very recently the worst car I'd driven as a hire since the Chevy Spark, as it was heavy, low, dark, difficult to see out of, and generally just underpowered. It was a dark car to drive down south in, and I was happy to give it back.

Mercedes Benz C200
When this showed up I was amazed - it was the smartest car I'd ever driven. I had this for two weeks to so it wasn't a quick hire. It was amazing on the motorway and went like the clappers when you put your foot down, but as a saloon model it had a terribly unuseful boot, and there just wasn't that much space in the rear due to the bucket seats. Additionally, the infotainment system (all the media and stanav stuff) was pretty useless, controlled by a big dial and touch pad area, that even after two weeks I still didn't know how to use fully. Still, I was sad to give it back.

Vauxhall Insignia
My dad owned an Insignia for a few years and even loaned it to us when the Passat had it's Great Brakes Failure of 2013. We also had hired an estate version at one point too. Anyway, the car was low and big and pretty boring bar two very impressive features - one, was the tank. I had it filled up before I left and travelled around 270 miles in it with barely denting a quarter of the tank. When I filled it back up the trip computer said I had 800 miles in the tank ready to go, making it perfect for pulling on the motorway. Secondly, it was the first time I'd came across Android Auto. I plugged my phone into the car to charge and it offered me an amazing series of interfaces for using Spotify, Google Play Music, Tunein Radio, Google Maps, and even read my WhatsApp messages back to me. Very impressive.

Fiat 500X
Holy shit. I thought the Spark was bad, but this was just terrible. It had a tiny touchscreen, an even worse set of controls for the heating, sounded like a van under the hood, rattled on the motorway, and had no space in the front for me to find a good position to sit. And to top it all off, this was meant to be my semi-permanent car! I drove it down south and an enginer management light came on, which meant I had to trade it in. Thank christ.

Peugeot 308
My sister bought a new 208 last year and I remember thinking I liked the look but it was just too small for my tastes, which means the similar but larger 308 should do the trick - and it does! It has a nice ride, great fuel economy, nice driving position, good technology built in, and has a pretty enourmous boot. There are three major draw backs though - the dash controls are non-existent, and replaced with a touch screen for everything. That's fine, but only if the screen was fast, well designed, and easy to use, all of which it isn't. There are afew neat tricks, but not enough to make up for the fact that I have to take my eyes off the road to change the temperature of the AC. The second is that it is blooming tiny in the back, with barely space for car seats never mind an adult. And thirdly, since I've got it the additive management system light has been on, something that has yet to be sorted out by the hire company.

 

Ten: The Single Posts Worth Your Attention

Blocked
My one hit wonder. This still gets 400 hits a month even now, and has had a totaly of 250'000 unique readers since it was posted back in late 2013. Seriously; what they absolute hell. Well, at least going viral once has been checked off my to-do list, but in the end it still stands as one of my most informed and actually well structured posts.

Locked Out
Of all the stories posted on here about Frank and my own personal idioacy, this one, where I tell the tale of being locked out of my car with Frank locked in the back, and having to break into my own car, still stands out as one of the best I've ever written. I still laugh about it now with Connie. A few years later I attempted a sequel, but it just didn't quite have the same level of jeopardy.

Connie Says Yes
Pretty obvious this one.

Internet Identity
I still cite this as an important policy and one that I preach to anyone who listens - no judging anyone who doesn't do it, but it's quite important and I think that it will be come far more important in the future.

The Pholly of My Phones
For the longest time this post was the most visited place on the site. Not sure why, but I think it is an SEO orgasm of data, with pictures and stuff. I have started writing a new one, an update, but there is a fraction of the phones since that post so we will see.

Peter Devenney Shields
Writing this post about my grandfather was a difficult thing to do. It stands as one of the best posts I've ever written, and it also stands as a testament to the man himself. There is one line that I absolutely love and I can't believe I wrote it.

But that's not the most important thing; not by a long shot.  The man, from a large family, met a woman, Marion Kavanagh, from a similarly big family, and they fell in love.  They married, in 1958 and gave birth to my father in 1959.  He raised my father in the way that he knew, and my father later fell in love with a woman, my mother, and later, in 1985, I appeared, his first grandson.  In 2010, his two eldest grandchildren would move away to America and Germany after one of them graduating from University, the other in the middle of her studies, and he would remark to my father that he couldn't believe that was possible.

 

Ten: The Series of Posts Worth Your Attention

"Surely, someone, somewhere will read this and realise, wow, what a sack."
Mark Shields, 4th February 2008.

Back in 2008 I wrote what was probably my first post that was strictly about the blog. I had been writing for a year when I posted My Internet Miscapades, which was an adaptation of a post I'd made on the forebearer to this site, JustAnotherSheeldz.co.uk.

I capped that post about the blog back then with the above phrase, which when I read it back to myself this week, made my laugh with tears. It is sad to say that my past self made my self giggle so much I almost peed a little, but one of the joys about reading my old posts back is the chronicling of things and the writing of opinions that I'd totally forgot about. Perfect examples of these lie in the Holiday posts, including ones about holidays with my ex-girlfriend, to #LadsHolidays with the #boys including stories that I'd totally forgotten about.

It is amazing to think that what was really started on a bit of a whim has lasted this long, becoming the longest single thing I’ve had in my life for years and years, charting so many ups and downs in my life, like a diary, like a time capsule, like a self-built reflection of my younger self. Of course, now at ten, there is no way that I will stop writing, but there have been good times and bad times for the blog, times where posts have came and gone. But I have posted once a month at the very least for every month that the blog has been in existence.

There are a few series of posts that stand out in my mind as ones that any reader of my history should pay attention to, so here they are.

The Tale of Chemical Engineering (Part n of 1)
I started writing these posts, of which there are nine, back in 2007. It was a moment in my life where I suddenly realised that I didn't have to what I'd been aiming for for years. Did I want to be an engineer? The tales since have chronicled my ups and downs, including the change of career, chartership, disillusionment with managers, and many other things. Best place to go is to Part XI of I, and work your way back.

Uncle Frank and...
Getting Frank was a big deal. A huge deal. And over the first year of his life I posted eight posts about his life. They're awesome snapshots of our life with him, before we had kids.

Say Hello to Uncle Frank
Uncle Frank's First Four Weeks
Uncle Frank's First Family Holiday
Uncle Frank and His Harness
Uncle Frank's New Tricks
Uncle Frank's Procedure
Uncle Frank and His Names
Uncle Frank's Life Through a Lens (Part One)

Life Through a Lens series
I started posting photos that I'd taken that also chronicled my life for the first time in 2010 and it grew into three sub-series of posts - the "main" ones, the Pretentious series, and a single Frank instalment that is linked to above. There are five main instalments and three pretentious installments, all worthwhile looking at for a visual element to the blog that has been recently totally absent.

Life Through a Lens Part One
Life Through a Lens Part Two
Life Through a Lens Part Three
Life Through a Lens Part Four
Life Through a Lens Part Five
Life Through a Pretentious Lens Volume I
Life Through a Pretentious Lens Volume II
Life Through a Pretentious Lens Volume III

April 30 Day Music Challenge
When I lived in Texas I took a solid few weeks off and did a huge road trip. That never ended up on the blog, oddly, but what did was a huge planned series of posts - 30 in 30 days, each about music. It was a Facebook thing that people were doing, so I adapted it for the blog. It's an impressive read. Find them all here.

Lyrics That Seem to Make Sense
I have posted lyrics on the blog for years. Ones that I love, and ones that I adore, and ones I identify with. There is too many to list, so here they all are.

In the Middle of the North Sea
When I first started working in Aberdeen I never really thought about going offshore, then in 2008 I found myself there a lot. In the end, I gave me some great material, but also lead me to hate the offshore life, despite it single handedly paying for my student loans.

In the Middle of the North Sea Pt. 1 "The Tower and Mr Ocean"
In the Middle of the North Sea Pt. 2 "What Kind of Isolation?"
In the Middle of the North Sea Pt. 3 "The Reprobate Level"
In the Middle of the North Sea Pt. 4 "Virgin Radio/Sleep Becomes Me/Highs and Lows"
In the Middle of the North Sea Pt. 5 "Predictions"
In the Middle of the North Sea Pt. 6 "The Offshore Shuffle"
In the Middle of the North Sea Pt. 7 "The Return"
In the Middle of the North Sea Pt. 8 "Tourism, Would You?"
In the Middle of the North Sea Pt. 9 "A Real, A Fake"

Other notable series:
Statistics on My Music
My Portable Music Devices
My Favourite Computer Games

A Note About Write in for Writing's Sake: I wrote a lot of short stories for Write in for Writing's Sake, firstly for Aaron, and then for Laura, and they were mostly linked to on this site. Since Laura gave up the site, the place has vanished from the internet. One of the 2017 goals is to post every single one of them on this site (for I still have them) under a new main heading called "Writing". It's a big deal, a huge project, and one I'm going to start in March. I hope to have it sorted by the middle of the year. Then, following that, I'm going to post all my old reviews for God is in the TV Zine, and Scottish Fiction, under the same heading.

Ten

Today, the 12th February 2017, this blog turns ten years old.

 

I have been blogging for a decade of my life. That means that I have been writing to you, the anonymous reader, for almost a third of my life. 

I can't not post today. But I have posts planned all week - some celebrating the milestone, others ignoring it.

Later this week I'll hit 800 posts, so there's another milestone.

Mark