Jul 152020
 

At the last federal election, we started seeing this meme floating about the Internet…

“Quexit” meme, (source: ABC)

Of course, we in Queensland can do memes too…

“Vexit” anyone?

That said, one hopes Victoria can get over their COVID-19 issues and come join the rest of us. This isn’t the (Dis)United States of America, this is Australia, we’re one country, and it’s our problem collectively to sort out, so let’s just put our differences aside and get on with it!

May 222020
 

For the past 2 years now, there’s been quite a bit in the press about the next evolution of mobile telephony standards.

The 5G standard is supposed to bring with it higher speeds and greater user density handling. As with a lot of systems, “5G” itself, describes a family of standards… some concern the use of millimetre-wave communications for tower-to-handset communications, some cover the communications channels for more modest frequencies in the high UHF bands.

One thing that I really can’t get my head around is the so-called claims of health effects.

Now, these are as old as radio communications itself. And for sure, danger to radio transmissions does increase with frequency, proximity and transmit power. There is a reason why radio transmitter sites such as those that broadcast medium wave radio or television are fenced off: electrocution is a real risk at high power.

0G: glorified two-way radios

Mobile phones originally were little more than up-market cordless phones. They often were a luggable device if they were portable at all. Many were not, they were installed into a vehicle (hence “mobile”). No such thing as cell hand-over, and often incoming calls had to be manually switched.

Often the sets were half-duplex, and despite using a hand-set, would have a very distinctive “radio” feel to them, requiring the user use a call-sign when initiating a call, and pressing a push-to-talk button to switch between listening and talking modes.

These did not see much deployment outside the US or maybe Europe.

1G: cellular communications

Back in the late 80s, when AMPS mobile phones (1G) were little more than executive toys, there might not have been much press about, but I’m sure there’d be anecdotal evidence of people being concerned about “radiation”.

If any standard was going to cause problems, it’d have been 1G, since the sets generally used much higher transmit power to compensate for the lack of coverage. They were little more than glorified FM transceivers with a little digital control channel on the side which implemented the selective calling and cell hand-off.

This was the first standard we saw here in Australia, and was the first to be actually practical. Analogue services didn’t last that long, and because of the expense of running AMPS services, they were mostly an expensive luxury. So that did limit its up-take.

2G: voice goes digital

The next big change was 2G, which replaced the analogue FM voice channel and used digital modulation techniques. GSM (which used Gaussian Minimum Shift Keying) and CDMA (which used phase shift keying) encoded everything in a single digital transmission.

This meant audio could be compressed (with some loss in fidelity), and have forward error correction added to make the signal more robust to noise. The cells could handle more users than the 1G services could. Transmit power could be reduced, improving battery life and the sets became cheaper to make and services became more economical.

Then came all the claims that 2G was going to cause us to develop brain cancer.

Now, many of those 2G services started popping up in the mid 90s… has there been a mass pandemic of cancer cases? Nope! About the only thing GSM was bad for, was its ability to leak into any audio frequency circuit.

2G went through a few sub-revisions, but it basically was AMPS done digitally, so fundamentally worked much the same. A sore point was how data was handled. 2G and its predecessors all tried to emulate what the wired network was doing: establishing a dedicated circuit between callers.

The Internet was really starting to get popular, and people wanted a way to access it on the move. GPRS did allow for some of that, but it really didn’t work that well due to the way 2G saw the world, so things moved on.

3G: packet switching

The big change here was the move from “circuits” to sending data around in packets. This is more like how the Internet operates, and so it meant the services could better support an Internet connection.

Voice still went the old-fashioned way, dedicated circuits, since the QoS (quality of service) could be better maintained that way.

The cells could support more users than 2G could, and the packet mode meant mobile Internet finally became a “thing” for most people.

I don’t recall there being the same concern about health as there was for 2G… it was probably still simmering below the surface. Services were deployed further afield and of course, the uptake continued.

4G: bye bye circuit switching

4G or LTE is the current standard that most of us are using. The biggest change is it ditches the circuit switching used in 1G, 2G and 3G. Voice is done using VoLTE… basically the voice call is sent the same way calls are routed over the Internet.

The cell towers are no longer trying to keep a “circuit” connected to your phone as you move around, instead it’s just directing packets. It’s your handset’s problem to sort out whether it heard a given packet already, or re-arrange incoming packets if they arrive out-of-order.

To make this work, obviously the latency inherent in 3G had to be addressed. As a sweetener, the speeds were bumped up, and the voice CODEC could be updated, so we gained wide-band voice calls. (Pity Bluetooth hasn’t kept up!)

5G: new frequencies, higher speed, smaller cells

So far, the cellular standards have largely co-existed in the same frequency bands. 4G actually varies quite a bit in frequency, but basically there are bands from the low UHF around 410MHz right up to microwave at 2600MHz.

Higher frequencies

5G has been contentious because some implementations of it reach even higher. Frequency Range 1 used in the 5G NR standard is basically much the same as 4G, but frequency range 2 soars as high as 40GHz.

Now, in terms of the electromagnetic spectrum, compared to other forms of radiation that we rely on for survival (and have done ever since life first began on this planet), this might as well be DC!

Infrared radiation, which is the very bottom of the “light” spectrum, starts at 300GHz. At these frequencies, we typically forget about frequencies, and instead consider wavelengths (1mm in this case). Visible light is even higher, 430THz (yes, that’s T for tera!).

Now, where do we start to worry about radiation? The nasty stuff begins with ultraviolet radiation, specifically UVC which is at a dizzying 1.1PHz (yes, that’s peta-hertz). It’s worth noting that UVB, which is a little lower in frequency can cause problems when exposure is excessive… however none is dangerous too, you actually need UVB exposure on your body to produce vitamin D for survival!

Dielectric heating

So that’s where the danger is in terms of frequency. I did mention that danger also increases with power… this is why microwave ovens, which typically operate at a fairly modest 2.4GHz frequency, pose a risk.

No, they won’t make you develop cancer, but the danger there is when there’s a lot of power, it can cause dielectric heating. That is, it causes molecules to move around, and in doing so, collide transferring energy which is then given off as heat. It happens at all frequencies in the EM spectrum, but it starts to become more practical at microwave frequencies.

To do something like cook dinner, a microwave oven bombards your food with hundreds of watts of RF energy at it. The microwave has a thick RF shield around it for a reason! If that shield is doing what it should, you might be exposed to no more than a watt of energy escaping the shield. Not enough to cause any significant heating.

I hear that if you put a 4W power amp on a 2.4GHz WiFi access point and put your hand in front of the antenna, you can “feel” framing packets. (Never tried this myself.) That’s pretty high power for most microwave links, and would be many orders of magnitude more than what any cell phone would be capable of.

Verdict: not a health risk

In my view, there’s practically no risk in terms of health effects from 5G. I expect my reasoning above will be thoroughly rubbished by those who are protesting against the roll-out.

However, that does not mean I am in favour of 5G.

The case against 5G

So I seem to be sticking up for 5G above, but let me make one thing abundantly clear, for us here in Australia, I do not think 5G is the “right” thing for us to use. It’s perfectly safe in terms of health effects, but simply the wrong tool for the job.

Small cells

Did I mention before the cells were smaller? Compared to its predecessors, 5G cells are tiny! The whole point of 5G was to serve a large number of users in a small area. Think of 10s of thousands of people crammed into a single stadium (okay, once COVID-19 is put to bed). That’s the use case for 5G.

5G’s range when deployed on the lower bands, is about on par with 4G. Maybe a little better in certain ideal conditions with higher speeds. This is likely the variant we’re most likely to see outside of major city CBDs. How reliable it is at that higher speed remains to be seen, as there’s a crazy amount of DSP going on to make stuff work at those data rates.

5G when deployed with mmWave bands, barely makes 500 metres. This will make deployment in the suburbs prohibitively expensive. Outdoor Wi-Fi or WiMAX might not be as fast, but would be more cost-effective!

Processor load

Did I mention about the crazy amount of DSP going on? To process data streams that exceed 1Gbps, you’re doing a lot of processing to extract the data out of the radio signal. 5G leans heavily on MIMO for its higher speeds, basically dividing the high-rate stream into parts which are directed to separate antennas. This reduces the bandwidth needed to achieve a high data rate, but it does make processing the signal at the far end more complex.

Consequently, the current crop of 5G handsets run hot. How hot? Well, subject them to 29.5°C, and they shut down! Now, think about the weather we get in this country? How many days have we experienced lately where 29°C has been a daily minimum, not a maximum?

5G isn’t the future for Australia

We need a wireless standard that goes the distance, and can take the heat! 5G is not looking so great in this marathon race. Personally, I’d like to see more investment into the 4G services and getting those rolled out to more locations. There’s plenty of locations that are less than a day’s drive from most capital cities, where mobile coverage is next to useless.

Plenty of modern 4GX handsets also suffer technical elitism… they see 3G services, but then refuse to talk to them, instead dropping to -1G: brick emulation. There’s a reason I stick by my rather ancient ZTE T83 and why I had high hopes for the Kite.

I think for the most part, many of the wireless standards we see have been driven by Europe and Asia, both areas with high population densities and relatively cool annual temperatures.

It saddens me when I hear Telstra tell everybody that they “aspire” to be a technology company, when back in the early 90s, Telecom Australia very much was a technology company, and a well respected trail-blazing one at that! It’s time they pulled their finger out and returned to those days.

May 122020
 

So, the other day I pondered about whether BlueTrace could be ported to an older device, or somehow re-implemented so it would be compatible with older phones.

The Australian Government has released their version of TraceTogether, COVIDSafe, which is available for newer devices on the Google and Apple application repositories. It suffers a number of technical issues, one glaring one being that even on devices it theoretically supports, it doesn’t work properly unless you have it running in the foreground and your phone unlocked!

Well, there’s a fail right there! Lots of people, actually need to be able to lock their phones. (e.g. a condition of their employment, preventing pocket dials, saving battery life, etc…)

My phone, will never run COVIDSafe, as provided. Even compiling it for Android 4.1 won’t be enough, it uses Bluetooth Low Energy, which is a Bluetooth 4.0 feature. However, the government did one thing right, they have published the source code. A quick fish-eye over the diff against TraceTogether, suggests the changes are largely superficial.

Interestingly, although the original code is GPLv3, our government has decided to supply their own license. I’m not sure how legal that is. Others have questioned this too.

So, maybe I can run it after all? All I need is a device that can do BLE. That then “phones home” somehow, to retrieve tokens or upload data. Newer phones (almost anything Android-based) usually can do WiFi hotspot, which would work fine with a ESP32.

Older phones don’t have WiFi at all, but many can still provide an Internet connection over a Bluetooth link, likely via the LAN Access Profile. I think this would mean my “token” would need to negotiate HTTPS itself. Not fun on a MCU, but I suspect someone has possibly done it already on ESP32.

Nordic platforms are another option if we go the pure Bluetooth route. I have two nRF52840-DK boards kicking around here, bought for OpenThread development, but not yet in use. A nicety is these do have a holder for a CR2032 cell, so can operate battery-powered.

Either way, I think it important that the chosen platform be:

  1. easily available through usual channels
  2. cheap
  3. hackable, so the devices can be re-purposed after this COVID-19 nonsense blows over

A first step might be to see if COVIDSafe can be cleaved in two… with the BLE part running on a ESP32 or nRF52840, and the HTTPS part running on my Android phone. Also useful, would be some sort of staging server so I can test my code without exposing things. Not sure if there is such a beast publicly available that we can all make use of.

Guess that’ll be the next bit to look at.

May 042020
 

Sure, one moment, let’s try your link…

Errm “No such app found”… I think your link is broken guys, please fix! Bear in mind, my phone is one of these. It still makes calls, still sends and receives text messages, still does what I need it to do.

If it doesn’t do what you need it to do, that is not my problem, take that up with Telstra/ZTE.

Apr 242020
 

So today, the US’s head of state suggested this little gem for handling COVID-19…

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-24/trump-questions-whether-disinfectant-could-be-injected/12180630

My suggestion for Trump: you first. You try it… then report back to us!

Disinfectant might work well on hard surfaces, but injecting it into one’s bloodstream is an utterly reckless and stupid thing to do. Yes, it may kill the virus, but it’ll likely kill a lot of other things, including the patient!

Updated: I realise the comment was made “sarcastically“… however I cannot get this image out of my head now!

A US COVID-19 treatment clinic? I think not!
Feb 272020
 

Gotta love advertisers, they don’t bother to read or do any form of minimal research, make crass assumptions, then promptly shoot themselves in the foot:

Hello

My name is XXXXXXXX,…

Really, given it’s in your From header and your email signature, I’d have never guessed!

…and I’m a content manager at XXXXXXX XXXXXX. I’m reaching out because I came across your site and as I see you take on advertisers.

Where do you see that?

So I’m interested in purchasing some space for a sponsored article on your site.

Seriously honey, if you need to ask for a price, you can’t afford it. I bill by the nanosecond of page view time for each pixel occupied by your content.

I’m always looking for high-quality sites, like yours, so I will be glad to discuss prices and guidelines with you.

Mmm, hmm, you seriously haven’t had a very close look have you?

The content we write is always unique, relevant and informative.

As unique and informative of the load-of copy-pasta deja-moo you’ve just emailed me (in duplicate I might add)?

Moreover, we want to promote article we publish on your site. We have more than 10k subs in our email newsletter and 7k on Facebook, as you can see, we can offer not just money.

Harvesting 10000 email addresses randomly off the internet does not constitute subscriptions. Buying 7000 Facebook accounts and making them “like” your page does not constitute approval.

Ohh, and you might want to have a look at this, or this, or maybe this. Life’s too short to stuff around with a glorified BBS.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Best regards

XXXXXXXX XXXXX

Well, you won’t hear from me directly, but you may hear from Google as you violated their terms of service in sending that spam. So yeah, I guess I do take on advertisers. I take them on and take them down.

Honest advertisers have no reason to come here, because they already have a good idea of how to build up reliable clientele without breaking laws like the Spam Act 2003 or making invalid assumptions. They do their homework. You, on the other hand, dear wannabe advertiser, are the reason such laws exist!

Updated 1 March 2020:

So, having not received a direct reply… they try again:

Just making sure you receive our last email below.

On Wednesday, February 26, 2020 at 7:30 PM, XXXXXXXX XXXXX <spammer@example.com> wrote:

${quote of original email in full}

You clearly don’t read the websites of those whom you pester do you? Actually, don’t answer that, because we know that from your original email.

Dec 222019
 

No doubt many will have heard about the “bushfire crisis” that has basically been wreaking havoc for the past month. Here in Brisbane things haven’t been too bad, but we’ve had our fair share of smoke haze and things of course are exceptionally dry.

From where I sit, this is a situation we have let ourselves get into. Some argue that this is all because of the lack of back-burning, and to a certain extent this is true.

Back-burning doesn’t make it rain however. The lack of back-burning is a casualty of a few things, partly a lack of firefighting resources, and also significantly, a hotter, dryer climate.

Climate change has been known about for a long time. When I was growing up in the early 90s, the name used was the “greenhouse effect”. The idea being that all the “greenhouse gasses” we were generating, was causing heat to be trapped in the atmosphere like a greenhouse, and thus heating up the planet.

Back then, there didn’t seem to be any urgency to combat the problem.

So, we’ve just continued the way we always have since the start of the industrial revolution. Some things have improved, for instance electric vehicles just weren’t practical then, they are slowly gaining traction.

Large-scale PV generation in the 90s would have been seen as a joke, now we have entire paddocks dedicated to such activities. Renewable power generation is big business now. Whilst it won’t displace all traditional methods, it has an important place going forward.

Yet, in spite of all this progress, we’ve still got people in government, and in big corporate organisations who cling to the “business as usual” principle.

When South Australia announced they were going to install a big battery to help back-up their power supply, the idea was poo poohed, with many saying it wouldn’t be big enough to make a difference. What it doesn’t have in running-time, it makes up for in very fast responsiveness to load changes.

A coal-fired power station operates by using thermal energy produced by burning coal, to boil water to produce steam which drives turbines that in turn, drive electric generators. A nuclear station isn’t much different — the thermal source is the only bit that changes. Geothermal is basically using a nuclear station that mother nature has provided.

The thing all these systems have in common is rotating mass. It takes significant energy to cause a step-change in rotational speed of the turbine. If the turbine is still, you’re going to have to pump a lot of energy in, somehow, to get it spinning. If it’s spinning, it’ll take a lot of energy to stop it. Consequently, they are not known for reaction times. Cold starts for these things in the realm of a day is not unknown. They also don’t take kindly to sudden changes of load. It is during these times the emissions from such generators are at their worst.

Solar is great during the day when it’s fine, but on a cloudy day like today the output is likely to be greatly diminished, and it’ll be utterly useless at night. If we had big enough battery storage, then yes, we could theoretically capture enough during the sunny days to carry us over the nights and cloudy days. That’s a big if.

So I still see the traditional methods being a necessary evil. The combination of all three options though (renewables, traditional generation and battery storage) could be a winner. Let the older stations carry the evening base-load and keep the battery topped up, ramp them down a bit when we’re getting good renewable output, use the batteries to cover the load spikes.

Nuclear could be an option, however to my mind they have two big problems:

  1. Public perception
  2. Commissioning time

Without a doubt, the modern designs for these things has greatly improved on what graced the sites of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima. They generate waste still, but in many cases the half-life and quantity of this waste is greatly reduced. The biggest problem though is public perception, as there are many who will not differentiate between the designs, and will immediately respond: “not in my back yard!”

Even if you could win peoples’ trust, you’ve got a second problem, getting them built and commissioned in time. If we had started in the 90s, then maybe they’d be doing useful things for us now. That boat has long set sail and is dipping over the horizon now.

Transportation is another area where we’re, as a nation, addicted to fossil fuels. It’s not hard to see why though. Go outside a major capital city, and infrastructure for a purely electric vehicle disappears.

Moreover, the manufacturers, stuck in their echo-chamber, don’t see larger electric vehicles as worth the investment.

Back in 2007, my father was lucky enough to win the Multicap Art Union, and so replaced the Subaru stationwagon he’s owned since 1982 with a Holden Rodeo ute (we had the choice between that or Toyota).

This vehicle was chosen with the intent of towing a caravan with it — something he later purchased. The caravan weighs about two tonnes. Yes, an electric vehicle could theoretically tow it, and could even do a better job, but at the time, no such vehicle was available from any of the available suppliers.

To my knowledge, this is still the case. Few, if any of the electric vehicles on the market here in Australia, have the necessary facilities to tow a caravan even if the motor is capable of it.

Then there’s infrastructure to consider. A pure electric vehicle would probably be impractical outside of major regional centres and capital cities. Once you got away from the network of high-power chargers, you better plan for staying a few days in each town where you charge, because it will take that long to charge that battery from a 240V 10A socket!

Diesel-electric though, could be a winner since diesel engines similarly operate most efficiently at constant speed and could drive a generator to charge battery storage.

A return of the gas turbine engine could also be a good option. This was tried before, but suffered from the typical characteristic of turbines, they don’t like changing speed quickly. Poor throttle response is a deal-breaker when the engine is providing the traction, but it is a non-issue in a generator. They run on a wide variety of fuel types, including petroleum and diesel, so could utilise existing infrastructure, and the engines are generally simpler designs.

Is there research going into this? Not from what I’ve seen. Instead, they trot out the same old style vehicles. Many people buy them because that’s all that’s on offer that fulfils their requirements. Consequently this inflates the apparent desire for these vehicles, so the vehicle makers carry on as usual.

The lack of cycle infrastructure also pushes people into vehicles. When I do ride to work (which I’ve been trying to do more of), I find myself getting up early and getting on the road before 4:30AM to avoid being a nuisance to other road users.

In particular road users who believe: “I paid vehicle registration, therefore this road is MINE!” I needn’t waste space on that assertion, the Queensland government raised about $557M in revenue (page 14) from vehicle registration in 2018-19, whilst the DTMR’s expenditure at that time was over $6bn (page 15).

The simple truth is that a lot of these initiatives are seen as nothing but a “cost”. Some simple-minded people even say that the very concept of climate change is invented simply to slug the developed world. We need to get past this mentality.

The thing is, business as usual is costing us more. We’re paying for it big time with the impact on the climate that these emissions are having. Yes, climate does go in cycles, but what we’re experiencing now is not a cycle.

I can remember winters that got down to the low signal digits here in Brisbane. I have not experienced those sorts of conditions here for a good 15 years now. Yes, this is a land of drought and flooding rain, however, we seem to be breaking climate records that have stood longer than any of us have been alive by big margins.

The “fire season”, which is used to determine when back-burning should take place has also been lengthening. It will get to a point where there just isn’t a safe time to conduct back-burning as theoretically every day of the year will be “fire season” conditions.

This is costing us.

  • It will cost us with property being destroyed.
  • It will cost us with work being disrupted.
  • It will cost us with food production being threatened.
  • It will cost us with health issues due to increasing ambient temperatures and air pollution issues.

Lately I’ve been suffering as a result of the smoke haze that has been blowing through the Brisbane area. I recognise that it is nowhere near as bad as what Sydney has to put up with. Whilst not severely asthmatic, I have had episodes in the past and can be susceptible to bronchitis.

On one occasion, this did lead to a case of pneumonia.

About a fortnight ago I started to go down with a bout of bronchitis. I’ve had two visits to the doctor already, prescribed antibiotics and a puffer, normally by now my symptoms would be subsiding by now. This time around, that has not been the case. Whilst the previous bouts have been stress-related, I think this time it is smoke-induced.

I think once the smoke clears, I’ll recover. I am not used to this level of air pollution however, and I think if it becomes the new “normal”, it will eventually kill me. If I lived in Sydney, no question, that level probably would kill me.

This is a wake-up call. Whilst I don’t plan to join the Extinction Rebellion — as I don’t think blocking up traffic is doing anyone any favours, I do think we need to change direction on our emissions. If we carry on the way we are now, things are only going to get worse.

Oct 122019
 

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of work with 6LoWPAN on the 2.4GHz band. I didn’t have anything that would receive arbitrary signals on this frequency, so I decided to splurge. I got myself my first bit of tax-deductible amateur radio equipment: a HackRF One.

It’s been handy, fire up CubicSDR, and immediately you get a picture of what’s happening on the frequency. In the future I hope to get the WIME framework working so I can decode the 802.15.4 frames and pipe them to Wireshark, but so far, this has been handy.

Since I’m not using it every day, I also put it to a second use, DAB+ reception. I used to listen to various stations a lot, and whilst FM stereo is built into my phone, I’ve got nothing that will do medium-wave AM. The HackRF stops short at 1MHz (officially 10MHz), and needs a suitable antenna to do so. However, it occurred to me that it was more than capable of doing DAB+, so after some experimentation, I managed to get qt-dab working.

Since getting that working, I bought a second SDR, a RTL-SDR v3. The idea is I’d be setting this up on the bicycle with a Raspberry Pi 3 which also has a DRAWS board fitted (the successor to the UDRC). I figured I could use this as a second receiver for amateur radio stuff, or use it for FM stereo/DAB+, maybe short wave.

So today, I was testing this: using the RTL-SDR with a Pi 3, seeing whether it would perform acceptably for that task. Interestingly, CubicSDR will de-modulate FM stereo quite happily when you’re running it via a X11 session forwarded over SSH, but it stutters its way though if you try to run it natively. I think the waterfall displays are too much for the machine to cope with: it can render them, but painting them on the screen causes too much CPU load.

qt-dab however works quite well. It occupies about 60% CPU, which means you don’t want to be doing much else. Whether I can do AX.25 packet simultaneously as planned or not is a valid question. Audio quality through the PWM output on the Pi3 is good too — I did try this with an original Pi and got an aural assault courtesy of the noisy 3.3V power rail, but it seems this problem is largely fixed on the Pi3.

In truth, I’ll probably be using the GNURadio framework directly when I get to implementing this on the bicycle. That makes a custom tailored UI a little easier to implement.

The WTF moment though was whilst putting this rig through its paces… I noticed a new station:

ELF Radio, a station dedicated to Christmas Carols

A new station, “ELF Radio” had appeared in multiplex 9A (202.928MHz)… this is exactly what it sounds like, a station dedicated to Christmas carols. We’re not even half-way though October, and they’re already out to flog the genre to death.

Now, Christmas rage was not a thing when I was younger, it seems the marketing world is intent on ruining this tradition by making excuses for starting the sales earlier and earlier… and it seems the “ambience” is part of the package deal that they insist must start long before that Celtic tradition, Halloween! As a result, most of us are thoroughly fed up by the time December rolls around.

Here’s a hint advertisers: playing this crap so soon in the year will not result in higher sales. It’s a sales repellent!

Jun 022019
 

There’s a couple of truths in life:

  • You don’t get to choose your biological family
  • You don’t get to choose your place of birth

Now, as it happens I ordinarily do not have any real issues with my family or my place of birth, except on one matter: I have never possessed a driver’s license, and really don’t wish to obtain one.

I can get around just fine on my bicycle when I need to. That mode of transport is not nearly as limiting as people think it is. Sure, it’ll take me longer to get places, and I need to perhaps do more planning than most, but I can get where I’m needed.

Yet, time and time again, I run up against the same problem: people assume that people my age, drive cars. People then make the leap to suggest that you’re a useless person if you don’t drive.

I did try to obtain a learner’s permit some time ago. I tried the written test twice: at $20 a pop, at a time when I was unemployed. I wasn’t sure how I was going to fund obtaining a vehicle and paying the necessary fees, but I figured I’d try the first step.

I failed both attempts on one question.

I decided that an identity card was more important: I researched what documentation was required, paid my dues, handed over said documentation, wandered out with a new 18+ card. I figured if I needed to try the driver’s license again, I’d be back.

That was in December 2007. The requirements for obtaining a license have since become more onerous, and let’s face it, there are too many cars on the road today. I’d be looking at taking about 200 hours off from work in order to get the necessary log-book time up and spending tens of thousands of dollars on driving lessons. It isn’t financially worth it.

I re-discovered cycling about 6 months later. I bought a folding bicycle, and started using that to get around, and realised that this was a viable mode of transport for me. Over time, I did longer and longer trips.

The longest I’ve gone unsupported was about 82km. A ride from my home at The Gap to the park at Logan Central takes about 3 hours each way with a couple of rest stops en route. I get going early, take my time, and get there without any trouble.

My work is at Milton, a run of about 10km: I can get there in an hour: faster than public transport. In the early mornings, my times tend to be closer to 45 minutes.

In short, there is just no useful purpose for me to have a car. More to the point, I’d have nowhere to park it. What limited space is available at the front of our property is occupied by a caravan and the neighbours’ numerous cars. If it weren’t for the caravan in fact, it would be all cars belonging to the neighbours.

Moreover, my body actually needs the physical exercise. It’s a fact that moving around is required to keep bodily functions working. You don’t move around enough: bowel movements slow down. I already had one bowel-related health scare this year.

I have not been riding much lately due to scheduling — and I feel my health is suffering greatly because of it.

In spite of this, I still get people, family included, shaking their metaphorical car keys in my face suggesting I should be driving too.

It’s as if, as a non-driver, you’re not welcome in this society. You’re seen as a waste of space — you don’t belong here. We’re seen as “shits” that are there wasting other peoples’ money.

I’ve had a lifetime of that sort of treatment for numerous reasons.

Back in the late 80s, the argument was that I had an Autism diagnosis, therefore I should be going into institutionalised care. Then the same condition was used to argue that I belonged in a special school. At high school, the same reasoning was probably used to put me in the lowest-grade maths and English classes.

I am generally able to focus on a task and do it well. This is probably the reason why I wound up doing double Bachelor-level IT/electronics degrees at uni, and passing both.

I could have instead just been institutionalised. Occupying a tax-payer funded bed. I’d be a record in the NDIS system today. Completely un-employable, generally useless. Definitely not earning >$60000/year doing full-stack software development. There is income tax being paid amongst that — whether my day job is actually worth what I get paid is a debate I’ll leave for others.

The fact remains that I work for a living, and pay my own way.

However, there is a difference to laying out a PCB or writing a code module; and manoeuvring ~600kg of metal travelling at 50+km/hr through suburban roads. One requires focus and patience, the other requires millisecond-level decision-making and reaction times.

I am not someone who thinks well at speed, and I would make no friends driving a car along Waterworks Road at 30km/hr in the morning peak-hour traffic. At 30-40km/hr, I can just manage on the bicycle. I can do up to 60km/hr, but I’m not comfortable at all going that speed!

In a car, you are expected to do the speed limit (50-60km/hr in the case of Waterworks Road). Brisbane’s drivers are not forgiving of anyone who can’t “keep up”.

There are people who have no place driving a car, and I would count myself as being a member of that group. I avoid being on the roads much of the time for that very reason — as a courtesy to drivers who would likely prefer to not be stuck behind a slow cyclist like myself.

Coupled with the health problems: me taking up driving would be an early death sentence. If this is really what is expected, I might as well stop now and get the dying bit over and done with, it’ll be one less person on this planet consuming ever dwindling resources.

It’ll be more humane for me to just quietly go, then to be constantly in and out of medical care for “this” medical condition, or “that” medical condition, costing my employer sick-leave, costing my health fund, occupying resources in our health system, simply because I didn’t get enough exercise.

If a non-driver like me is as useless as people make out, then I guess it won’t hurt anyone that I’m gone. … or maybe we can re-think the “non-drivers are useless” concept. One of the ideas in this paragraph is wrong. I’ve given up trying to decide which!

May 182019
 

Seriously, if you think this is a good way to earn some yuan, think again. I just got this email this afternoon:


Dear CEO,
(It’s very urgent, please transfer this email to your CEO. If this email affects you, we are very sorry, please ignore this email. Thanks)
We are a Network Service Company which is the domain name registration center in China.
We received an application from Hua Hai Ltd on May 14
, 2019. They want to register ” stuartl.longlandclan ” as their Internet Keyword and ” stuartl.longlandclan .cn “、” stuartl.longlandclan .com.cn ” 、” stuartl.longlandclan .net.cn “、” stuartl.longlandclan .org.cn ” 、” stuartl.longlandclan .asia “、domain names, they are in China and Asia domain names. But after checking it, we find ” stuartl.longlandclan ” conflicts with your company. In order to deal with this matter better, so we send you email and confirm whether this company is your distributor or business partner in China or not?
 


Best Regards
**************************************
Mike Zhang | Service Manager
Cn YG Domain (Head Office)
Contact details censored as I do not wish to promote their business
*************************************

The wording is identical to that seen in this article on squelchdesign. Knowing this to be a scam, I did two things:

  1. As per my standard policy, I forwarded it to SpamCop. The source of the email was Baidu’s own network.
  2. I figured since it’s obviously a scam and since these people seemingly do not learn from the skirmishes with others, I’d have some fun with them:

On 18/5/19 11:46 am, Mike Zhang wrote:

Dear CEO, (It’s very urgent, please transfer this email to your CEO. If this email affects you, we are very sorry, please ignore this email. Thanks)

You want this to go to my CEO? Does every individual person in China have their own personal CEO? Is that why they have such a big population? Please keep in mind what the .id.au domain suffix is for: INDIVIDUALS.

We are a Network Service Company which is the domain name registration center in China.

Ahh, so you must know the rules around domain registrations, like the .id.au domain suffix being non-commercial.

We received an application from Hua Hai Ltd on May 14, 2019. They want to register ” stuartl.longlandclan ” as their Internet Keyword and ” stuartl.longlandclan .cn “、” stuartl.longlandclan .com.cn ” 、” stuartl.longlandclan .net.cn “、” stuartl.longlandclan .org.cn ” 、” stuartl.longlandclan .asia “、domain names, they are in China and Asia domain names.

They must be rich. They also wanted bellavitosi .cn, bellavitosi.com.cn, bellavitosi.net.cn, bellavitosi.org.cn, bellavitosi.asia, formula1-dictionary.cn, formula1-dictionary.com.cn, formula1-dictionary.net.cn, formula1-dictionary.org.cn and formula1-dictionary.asia.

What does this group do? Are they a subsiduary of BaoYuan Ltd? I hear pan xiaohong has wealth that rivals Jack Ma.

But after checking it, we find ” stuartl.longlandclan ” conflicts with your company. In order to deal with this matter better, so we send you email and confirm whether this company is your distributor or business partner in China or not?

Well, this “company” does not exist, so can’t possibly have a partner in China. I say to them, go ahead and register those domain names, I dare you, it’ll cost you a lot more than it will cost me.

Errm, yeah… the SEO spammers are slowly learning not to mess with me as I’ll just report the email as spam and will tweak mail server settings to ensure you stay blocked. Or I may choose to publicly ridicule you like I have done here.

The worst they can do is actually follow through and register all those domains, which will cost them an absolute bloody fortune (.asia domains are not cheap!) and my content is already well known with the search engines — it’s not like I rely on my online presence for an income anyway as I have a day job. Anything I do here is for self-education and training.

All this mob is doing, is destroying the image of some innocent company in Hong Kong, which are likely nothing to do with this scam. Seriously guys, get a real job!