Weeknote 7: Traffic, snow and an awesome party (Week 49, 2017)

Another week means another weeknote and this one finished on a high because last night was the risual Christmas Party!

risual does Christmas parties rather well and I won’t go into the details here but suffice to say, a good time was had. I knew the weather forecast though and needed to be sober today (Mrs W wasn’t too happy about the idea of driving home in the snow) so I can bask in the delight of not-having-a-hangover.

Anyway, it was a joy to wake up in a Country House hotel this morning and see how the landscape was transformed. I took quite a lot of photos on my iPhone but Dropbox is currently refusing to upload them for me, complaining that one is corrupt (but not telling me which one!). I’ll edit them next week and post them then…

Then I drove home in the snow and ice. England can’t cope when it snows (or indeed with any other extremes of weather: too wet; too sunny; too windy). We do mild-grey really well though.

The week

My week was the usual mix of consulting (paid work), training and pre-sales. I was fortunate to spend a day at Microsoft in Reading on Tuesday, topping up my Microsoft 365 (Office 365, plus Windows 10, plus Enterprise Mobility + Security) knowledge. I’m hoping that, time permitting, some blog posts will come out of that.

I’ve been driving around the UK almost 30 years, and driving for work for most of them. This week drove home to me (excuse the pun) just how overloaded the UK’s road infrastructure is, when it took me more than 5 hours to drive to Reading and back (about 75 miles each way), then around 4.5 hours the next day to drive 190 miles on nothing but motorways and trunk A roads (180 miles of which were dual carriageway). It seems likely that the first place autonomous vehicles can take a hold is on major routes like this and I for one can’t wait. Maybe one day we’ll have segregated autonomous driving lanes on the motorways, where the cars can drive closer together (in constant communication and not constrained by human reaction speeds) and maybe even faster (if the law is changed).

This week also saw the quarterly Milton Keynes Geek Night, which I’m proud to have attended every one of! I’ve made a lot of contacts over the 5½ years it’s been running – some of whom I can now count as friends and this event had one of the best set of talks in a long while including:

  • Simon Collison (@colly) on “The Internet of Natural Things”
  • Laura Sutton (@L_Coull)’s “Non-geek’s guide to the Galaxy”
  • Dr Neil Smith (@neilnjae) showing us “Beatles vs. Rolling Stones: using data science to prove which band is best”!
  • Joe Leech (@MrJoe) wrapping up with “UX, Psychology and the Power of 100”

The next one clashes with my wedding anniversary, and Mrs W has even agreed to come along with me as an honourary geek!

At home

We’re hoping to convert our loft next year and the initial notice has been submitted for planning purposes. It seems that, now that councils are better at sharing information, marketers are scraping it to bombard us with offers of storage, home improvements, etc. Apparently, our neighbours will be getting mailshots from lawyers too… all very irksome…

Around town

I missed this event which was part of Milton Keynes’ 50th birthday celebrations – a floating carnival of decorated boats looks like quite a spectacle on the canal!

It’s really noticeable how many people are now sleeping rough on the streets of Milton Keynes. The Bus Shelter are trying to do something about that – but they need to raise funds to convert a double-decker coach to provide emergency shelter. To quote from their website:

“Homelessness can hit anyone – most of us are just three pay packets away from losing our home. With your help we can provide over 5800 safe, warm nights for people forced to sleep on the streets and help them find a positive future.”

Look out for the bus in the Intu part of the Shopping Centre (Midsummer Place) and please donate, if you can:

At the other end of the scale… I passed a man on the mean streets of MK proudly proclaiming that the best place to get a car parking space is the electric charging bays… it may not be illegal to park a petrol/diesel car in an electric space but it is selfish (especially as there are normal spaces free)…

Other stuff

Barclaycard sent me a new credit card “for security reasons”. It was nice to find that my Apple Wallet updated automatically on my phone and my watch. Sadly the many websites where I had the details stored for recurring payments (Apple iTunes, Microsoft, Amazon, M6 Toll, Transport for London, etc.) didn’t.

That reminds me… I wonder when my Curve card will show up… It seems I’ve been stuck with about 1500 people ahead of me in the queue for weeks now… in fact, the number seems to be going up (but if you use my referral link above, I can move back up the queue…)!

On the topic of referrals, my energy switch to Bulb completed this week. It was painless (though I will have to wait to get my credit from First Utility, my previous provider – who seem more interested in selling broadband to me now than reducing my energy bills…). Unfortunately, neither I nor my friend have received our promised referral credits from Bulb. Enquiries are ongoing…

My son and I needed to force-quit an app on my Amazon Fire TV Stick but weren’t sure how. This blog post helped by pointing us to Menu, Settings, Manage All Installed Applications where Force Stop is one of the options.

Sadly, Amazon and Google’s inability to play together nicely means my Fire TV Stick won’t play YouTube videos from 1 Jan 2018. One is not amused:

I’ve been watching Channel 4’s series about Donald Trump’s rise (An American Dream). I’ll leave the politics aside but it’s fascinating to see how the wealthy can grow to take such a position of power…

I noticed that my Nextbase Dashcam was showing the wrong time (1 hour ahead) and every time I changed it, it reverted after the next power cycle… then I realised there was a timezone setting and it was still on GMT+1 (BST). After changing to GMT, all was good. It seems that it picks up the time from the GPS, so the timezone is the important setting…

I’m torn about the use of the new HEIC image format on my iPhone. On the one hand, I want to store the best quality images I can, on the other, I need them to be readable on all my devices

Whilst I was at MK Geek Night this week, I spotted that War Horse is coming to Milton Keynes Theatre next autumn. I enjoyed the film and I’ve heard good things about the National Theatre production too, so tickets are booked for a family cultural treat:

My phone has decided that, when I get in the car, I’m headed for the local Tesco Express… that’s a little worrying (I wonder how does Siri determine my travel patterns?):


I’ve mentioned before that I listen to a lot of podcasts. One of these is the Microsoft Cloud Show. Sometimes, it can be a bit too developer-focused for my tastes but I enjoyed Episode 223, which pretty much encapsulates the conversations I have with customers as an Architect working with the Microsoft cloud!

I also got the chance to catch up with Matt Ballantine this week (one half of the WB-40 Podcast). It’s been a while since Matt and I had a chat but I really enjoyed bouncing around our thoughts on modern collaboration and team working. and team-working. Like Matt, I’m finding myself drawing/writing on screen more (at least when working, using a Surface Pro – my MacBook lacks any sort of touch capability) though it’s also showing how unpracticed I’ve become at writing!


Anyway, before I get too far into Sunday evening I need to sign-off and check my children haven’t continued building their snow-wall across the neighbours’ drives…

Next week looks like it should feature a lot less travel (at least by road) and a return to cyclocross with my son. I might even be home a few evenings and maybe, just maybe, I’ll write a blog post that’s not one of these weeknotes! I live in hope…

A little consideration please…

Over the summer, in common with a lot of Britain, I’ve got more and more interested in cycling. Maybe it’s the Olympics, maybe it was Bradley Wiggins’ success in the Tour de France, or maybe it’s just that a lot of my friends from the running club are also cyclists.  Regardless, that’s meant that I’ve started reading more cycling magazines, listening to cycling podcasts, etc. and it strikes me that there’s a very “them and us” view with cyclists against the world.

I tend to walk rather than take the tube in London and, as a pedestrian, I regularly have skirmishes with cyclists who don’t feel the need to stop at zebra crossings.  I know the argument about lost momentum but I’m afraid that’s no excuse. Imagine if a car driver used the same excuse (considering the environmental impacts of stop/start in urban areas)… it’s no reason to ignore crossings, stop lights, etc. and the argument just doesn’t stack up.

Then, last Thursday, in Guildford, I was driving at night and I (only just) spotted a cyclist coming towards me a hundred metres or so away on a road I was just about to pull out onto.  I stopped and waited but, as he passed me, the cyclist abuse me with a four letter word. Perhaps I would have seen him sooner if he had proper lights – instead, he had a flashing green light on the front of his bike (and no white light)! As it happens, I probably had time to pull out anyway, but flashing lights make it difficult to judge distance and speed so I played it safe, avoiding a potential collision between 2.2 tonnes of car and 100 kilos of vulnerable cyclist, yet resulting in abuse because I was a metre over the give way line…

Today, I was a cyclist, on an organised ride in Epping Forest. I slowed down on a number of occasions to be considerate to horse riders, families with small children, and dog walkers but it was amazing how many people seem to think it’s fine to wonder aimlessly across a wide track or to stop in the middle of a path.  On one occasion I was riding along a track and met a dog walker coming the other way, with two dogs, a small one dashing around and a large one, lumbering along. I slowed to a walking pace but he did nothing to call his dogs to safety. Then, as I passed the large dog, it moved suddenly, I slammed on my brakes, and my pedals left a nasty gash on the back of my leg. The result: in order to avoid inflicting injury on a dog, I injured myself instead… great.

Pedestrian, equestrian, cyclist or motorist, it really shouldn’t matter. We all need to share roads, paths, etc. and co-exist, so how about a little consideration for others? Is that really too much to ask, or are we all just too caught up in our own worlds?

The future of personal transportation?

I’ve just got back from a long weekend in Barcelona and have to admit that one of the highlights (apart from sunshine, tapas and stunning Gaudi architecture) was riding the Heathrow Pod.

Really, I hear you say? You flew half way across Europe and the best part was the vehicle that took you to the airport terminal? Well yes, sort of. Even non-geek Mrs W. was impressed as we sped from business parking towards Terminal 5 in our own personal vehicle, with almost no waiting time but still in complete privacy (like a car, not like a bus or a train). Meanwhile I was acting pretty much as one of my young sons would be when faced with a new and exciting means of transport (I may be 40 in a couple of weeks’ time, but there’s still a part of me that’s more like a 7 year-old boy…).

For those who haven’t seen the pod (officially known as ULTra), it’s basically a personal transportation system, running on a dedicated “road” system where computer-controlled vehicles run on one of a number of pre-set routes.  I saw something similar last year on a Channel 4 programme called Brave New World, looking at a sub-surface system in Abu Dhabi’s smart city, Masdar and I think systems like this have a lot of potential.

Our roads are clogged with cars – and yet we still like to use them because they are convenient; they take us from where we like, to where we like, when we like (i.e.not on a schedule). That’s not the whole picture though: some of us like to express individuality through our choice of cars; some of us just like driving; and sometimes there really is no alternative (if I want to get from home, to the station and into London before 9am, there is no public transport option – and I’m only about 60 miles from London – imagine what it’s like for people in really rural areas). But why couldn’t personal transportation devices on special lanes replace buses, taxis, and private cars in metropolitan areas?

Yesterday’s news is all about how private companies will be allowed to build new road infrastructure in the UK (nothing new – we’ve had the M6 Toll for years now) but how about if a company were to invest in a system that would remove  cars and buses from the road within a metropolitan area – a pod-style system on a town-level, for example?  It can’t scale outside urban areas, but we already have decent motorways (or we would have if more long-distance freight went by rail) and a personal rapid transit system could be used from certain transport hubs (integrating with major transport routes, regional and long distance coach and rail travel) to take us the “last mile” (or 3 or 4). That way we don’t have to give up our flexibility, people can still choose to drive for longer distances (or when they are outside major urban conurbations) but we can do something about our congested city centre streets…

…or maybe it’s the Gaudi influence and I’m just thinking a little too far outside the box?

[Updated 21 March 2012: Added video]

With hindsight, it’s probably not a good idea to stand in front of a lorry…

Imagine the situation: you’re just stepping out onto a Zebra crossing (you have right of way) and you see a seven-and-a-half-ton truck, 10 or 20 metres away, still moving at around 30mph with the driver looking down as if he is reading a newspaper, a text message on his phone, or something similar; you shout a warning (“Oy!”) and step back, slapping your hand on the side of the truck as it drives past but it continues its journey, as if nothing had happened.

That’s what happened to me this morning and it made me angry. I’ve spent enough years driving cars (and developing a sixth sense when I was a motorcyclist) to watch out for things like this, but imagine if I had been an elderly person crossing the road, or a child. I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale.

A few seconds later, the truck stopped at a set of traffic lights so I ran down the road and challenged the driver. I may have used a few choice words (I almost certainly did) but he denied that I was on the crossing as he approached (how would he know – he wasn’t even looking ahead!). Standing in front of the truck, I got my phone out to take a picture of the registration plate and the driver actually drove the truck at me as if to push me out of the way! There was no way he would deliberately run me over but he jumped out of his cab and grabbed my phone, telling me he would give it back (throw it under the truck more like) when I moved. For the next few minutes he refused to give it back to me, driving the truck at me once more as I protested to get my phone back. At one point he got out of the cab again and grabbed me by my jacket collar to move me out of the way (I’m seventeen and a half stone – but he was taller than me, stronger than me, and bloody annoyed with me). Eventually, after calming down and noticing I was shaking (showing some humility at least) the truck driver returned my mobile phone and we agreed that we would go our separate ways. I was still shaking, and I didn’t manage to record the registration number of the truck but it belongs to Biffa, a waste management and recycling company, and I’m sure they will be able to track it, should they so desire…

Throughout the incident, which probably lasted at least five minutes and was right outside a busy London railway station, during the rush hour, people stood and watched. Some took pictures with their mobile phones but no-one called the police when I called out and asked them to, on at least two occasions. I may have been stupid to pick an argument with someone who was prepared to drive a lorry at me but really, London commuters, are you really that self-absorbed that you won’t help someone out after seeing them being subjected to threatening behaviour bordering on physical assault?  Even if you didn’t want to “get involved”, you could have asked me if I was alright after the truck was driven away.

After travelling a couple of stops on the tube, I saw some British Transport Police officers and I asked for advice. The officer I spoke to was very helpful, including giving me the number for the Metropolitan Police but, I honestly think that reporting the incident will be a waste of my time and theirs. I have no evidence (only a blurred, shaky camera phone picture of the truck driving away, in which there are no identifiable markings) and, despite the city being littered with CCTV, the police have much bigger priorities.

Looking back, with slightly less adrenalin being pumped around my system, I can see it was not wise to put myself in a dangerous position but there is no excuse for deliberately driving a lorry at me. I’m sure the driver is a decent guy, just as pumped up by the situation as I was but, more to the point, if Biffa’s operatives are driving without due care and attention, the next person to cross the road in front of them might not be so lucky. As one of my (female – i.e. not testosterone-fuelled) colleagues observed, hopefully the incident will make this truck driver think more carefully about his actions, even if he won’t openly admit that he made a mistake. And I should be grateful that the worst thing to come out of this for me, was needing to replace my damaged iPhone headphones.

The effects of sunscreen on Volkswagen/Audi paintwork

A couple of years ago, my wife and I bought a brand new Volkswagen Golf.  We’d been happy with our previous VWs (a Mk2 and two Mk4 Golfs, a 2004 Polo and a 2005 Passat) so were more than happy to purchase a Mk5 Golf 1.9TDI Match (in Blue Graphite Metallic) as a family runaround.  Fast forward around a year and we were slightly less pleased with our purchase…

…The car had started to develop white marks on the paintwork.  Each time they were polished out, they came back.  Strangely, some of them looked like little handprints and, when I asked the dealer about them, they instantly recognised the problem.  “That’s sunscreen”, they said, “and it’s not covered by the warranty”.

Sunscreen?! Yep. It seems that the modern (water-based) paints are not as hard as the nitro-cellulose or isocyanate paints used on older cars and that they are susceptible to damage from titanium dioxide – an ingredient found in many sun protection products, including the sunscreen we had applied regularly to our young children.

With just a few thousand miles on the clock, I wasn’t taking no for an answer, but we decided to use a little of the motor industry’s sexism to our advantage too as, from this point on, the negotiations weren’t with me but with Mrs W. instead!  After escalating the issue to an appropriate level within the dealership, it was agreed that the car would go into the bodyshop and the offending panels would be machine polished, as a gesture of goodwill.  Even though the job took much longer than it should (most of the panels on the rear and sides of the car were affected – have you ever tried keeping toddlers from plastering their hands on a car?) they dealer was true to their word and the car was returned to us in as new condition.

Damage caused by sunscreen coming into contact with car paintworkWhen I asked if this was a regular issue, Volkswagen told me that it wasn’t (although, later, an Audi dealer was a little more truthful, admitting that it happens a lot with modern VW-Audi paints and that the resolution is usually a machine polish – we also have friends with similar marks on their silver Bora).  Had it been necessary, I would have kept on pushing until the car was completely resprayed (I might have settled with a compromise agreement to pay for the materials but not the labour) but, as it happens, the problem seems to have been resolved, with just one small area of damage still visible.

We were lucky.  With just a few thousand miles on the clock, it was difficult for Volkswagen to suggest this was “normal”.  If the car had been used a little more, we might have been seeking legal advice to see if we were entitled to a return under the Sale of Goods Act (it is a family car after all, and blemishes as a result of contact with sunscreen might question its fitness for purpose) but I frankly wouldn’t fancy our chances at suing Nivea et al. for damages because their products don’t carry a warning that they may damage car paintwork!

Needless to say, these days we’re ultra-careful to wipe our childrens’ hands with wet wipes after applying sunscreen…

[I waited a while before publishing this because a) I wanted to be sure we had resolved the issue and b) it’s not the normal sort of content for this blog. As a result, the events in this post are written as I remember them; however it’s entirely possible that there may be some minor errors as part of the effect of time on my memory]

[Update – 5 September 2012: Two years after writing this post and I’m sorry to say that fingermarks are back again. It seems that the long term damage of the sunscreen goes deeper than a polish can deal with and our choice is either to accept the damage (on our now four-year-old car), or respray.]

So, where exactly is Silverstone?

As I carried out the school run this morning (on foot), I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of extra traffic in town today.  Then I realised it was due to the British Grand Prix, which is taking place in Silverstone this weekend.  The A43 is closed for non-event traffic, which puts pressure on the M1, which in turn pushes traffic onto other roads in the area, including the main road through our town.

It’s not really a problem – The A43 is only closed for 3 days a year and the knock-on effect of having the home of British Motor Racing on our doorstep is increased engineering jobs in the local area (it’s a shame that Aston Martin moved out of Newport Pagnell in favour of their new HQ at Gaydon) – indeed I’m pretty pleased that Donington Park couldn’t get it’s act together so the British Grand Prix has stayed at Silverstone!

What was interesting though was a local BBC news story last night… BBC East was covering a (non-) story about whether Silverstone is in Northamptonshire, or in Buckinghamshire.  It’s simple – Silverstone village is in Northamptonshire, but the circuit spans the county boundary.  Why that’s the cause of such controversy is, frankly, a mystery but, then again, I know what a big deal crossing the county boundary is to some locals (for reference, I was born in Northamptonshire and now live within the Milton Keynes unitary authority, in what was once Buckinghamshire… and it will take 3 generations to be accepted as a true local in the town where I now live!).

What amused me was one of the people that the BBC interviewed for its package on last night’s news – when asked which county Silverstone is in, one guy responded that it’s in Buckinghamshire because, when he googled for the weather, Buckingham was the nearest town!  I found it quite amusing that people today are happy to judge geographic boundaries by Google search results, rather than by a map…

So, if you’re at the British Grand Prix this weekend (I’d love to be there but will be watching on a television instead) it seems that the Grand Prix circuit from Becketts Corner to somewhere near Village Corner is in Buckinghamshire, otherwise you’re in Northamptonshire (Rose of the Shires).

Ordnance Survey Map showing Silverstone circuit spanning the county boundary between Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire

Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ordnance Survey and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland.

More on integrating an Apple iPhone 3G with Audi’s telephony and audio systems

A few days ago, it was my birthday. Whilst 37 is not a particularly significant age to celebrate (I prefer to think of it as the 16th anniversary of my 21st birthday), I did get a little present at the start of the month (hopefully it wasn’t an April fool’s joke) when my new company car was delivered. Bye bye Saab (I liked you at first but you soon showed yourself to be a Vauxhall Vectra in disguise… with aftersales service to match…) – this time I’ve gone down the German route and plumped for an Audi A4 Avant S-Line. I have to say that, even though it’s still early days, this could shape up to be one of the best cars I’ve ever driven (especially with the extra toys I’ve added to the spec) – mind you, I’ve always liked German cars and have bought a few Volkswagens over the years.

Don’t worry – I’m not going to start writing car reviews – but I did write something a few months ago about integrating an Apple iPhone 3G with Audi’s telephony and audio systems and I wanted to write a follow-up, now that I’ve had some opportunity to spend a bit more time with a suitably equipped car.

First up, telephony integration. This is simple, as long as the car has the Mobile Telephone Preparation Low option. No cradle is required as the mobile phone preparation provides Bluetooth connectivity. As I wrote in my earlier post, just pair the iPhone with the car using the code 1234 within 30 seconds of opening the car and inserting the key (i.e. activating the car’s systems). The handsfree device will be something like Audi UHV 0000, although the number will vary and, once paired, calls will ring the iPhone and the car simultaneously. The Bluetooth logo and signal strength are displayed on the Audi Multi Media Interface (MMI) display:

Audi telephone connection (MMI)Audi telephone connection (Driver Display)

My iPhone 3G is running software version 2.2.1 and I seem to have no difficulties accessing the phone’s number lists and directory (although voice activation/control is not availablethe phonebook that this refers to is the voice tag system, not the directory accessed on the phone over Bluetooth):

Audi accessing iPhone phonebook (Driver Display)

One thing to note – the car can only act as a handsfree for one phone at a time (although it can pair with up to 4 devices). When I’m “on the clock”, I turn off the Bluetooth on my iPhone so that the Nokia 6021 I use for work can access the car systems.

If you’re still having trouble, Audi provides a Bluetooth FAQ as well as a PDF with details of supported handsets (which is now over a year old and so does not include the iPhone 3G, although it appears to work).

Because Apple has not provided Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) functionality on the current iPhone 3G or the first-generation iPhone, to integrate my iPhone with the music system so that I can access the phone’s playlists, etc., I needed to specify the Audi Music Interface option and buy an AMI iPod cable for £29. I think there is a minimum requirement on the sound system for this too (mine is the Audi Concert system).

The AMI is in the glovebox (close enough for a Bluetooth signal for the phone to carry on working) and the cable will charge my phone at the same time. The only problem is that the iPhone complains that the AMI is not a supported accessory and wants to go into airplane mode. If I tell it not to, the AMI will usually find the iPhone and let me navigate the playlists, etc. but I have found it seems to work better if I put start the iPod application on the iPhone before connecting:

This accessory is not made to work with iPhoneAccessory connected
Audi AMI access to iPhone playlists (MMI)Audi AMI access to iPhone playlists (Driver Display)

The good news is that the forthcoming iPhone 3.0 software is expected to include A2DP (and it should work with the iPhone 3G – but not the original iPhone), after which I should be able to stop using the cable (although I may just leave an old iPod semi-permanently connected to the car at that point).

[Update 12 December 2011: Even though iOS is now at v5.0.1, I’ve been unable to use A2DP. This worked in another Audi I drove recently so I assume the car needs a software update too.  This information from an AudiForums thread might be useful too:

“First, the difference between AMI and MMI, which threw me off, so hopefully someone else will find this helpful. This is for my 2011 A4… I don’t know what other years/models it may apply to.

  • MMI (Multi-Media Interface) is just the screen/knob system that controls the radio/sat/cd/settings/etc.
  • AMI (Audi Music Interface) is the link between the MMI system and your iPod or other MP3 device. It is a port in the glove box that you can attach different cables to for different music devices.”]

Bluetooth communications between Apple iPhone 3G and an Audi mobile telephone preparation system

A few weeks back I had the use of a 2008 Ford Mondeo for a week and I wrote about my experiences of pairing my Apple iPhone 3G with the Ford Audio system. This morning, I got to play with a new Audi A4 Avant (2.0 TDI 170PS) for a few hours (it was fun – I will be ordering one soon) and I repeated the experiment with the iPhone 3G.

I didn’t have time to collect screenshots/photos but this is a quick summary of what I was told by the dealer/verified to be true (this car was an S line model and was fitted with the Audi Mobile Telephone Preparation Low and Audi Music Interface options):

  • The iPhone 3G will happily pair with the Audi’s audio system via the Mobile Telephone Preparation Low option but it is useful to know that: the pairing needs to occur within 30 seconds of opening the car and inserting the key (i.e. activating the car’s systems); the car identifies itself with a device name of handsfree; and the PIN for pairing is 1234.
  • Once paired, calls will ring the iPhone and the car simultaneously. The Bluetooth logo and signal strength are displayed on the Audi Multi Media Interface (MMI) display.
  • The car can access the iPhone 3G’s list for recently dialled numbers, missed calls, etc. but full directory integration does not appear to be available. Numbers can be dialled from the car’s systems (and the call placed on the iPhone). I did not have access to a vehicle with voice control system so this was not tested.
  • To use the iPhone as an iPod with the Audi Music Interface (AMI), a special cable is required (which I did not have access to).

Bluetooth communications between an Apple iPhone 3G and a Ford Audio system

My company car is due for replacement and the lease company has arranged a demonstration car of my choice for a week – so last Wednesday a shiny Ford Mondeo 2.2TDCi Titanium X Sport Estate was delivered to my house. (For readers outside Europe who don’t know what a Mondeo is, here’s an American review of the range-topping Titanium X Sport model – it might also be useful to note that “car” and “estate” are English words for what’s known as “automobile” and “wagon” in some parts of the world.)

Whilst I’m not a great fan of the fake aluminium that car manufacturers seem to plaster all over the interior of cars these days, this car represents a reasonable balance between performance, economy and the need to transport a family complete with all their associated paraphernalia (or garden rubbish for the tip…) – and it’s pretty well-specced too. One of the features that I was particularly interested in was the Bluetooth and Voice Control system.

(The Ford website features a longer version of this video but I couldn’t easily embed it here – and, for the benefit of those with no sense of irony, this is not serious – it is a parody of a fantastic programme that the BBC used to run called Tomorrow’s World.)

My current car has a fully-fitted carphone kit for use with my work phone (a Nokia 6021) but if anyone calls me on my iPhone 3G I have to use another solution. Not so with the Mondeo. In fact, I couldn’t get the Nokia to recognise the Ford Audio system (even though it’s one of the handsets that Ford has tested) but the iPhone was quite happy to pair following the instructions in the owner’s handbook:

  1. The Bluetooth feature must be activated on the phone and on the audio unit. For additional information, refer to your phone user guide.
  2. The private mode must not be activated on the Bluetooth phone.
  3. Search for audio device.
  4. Select Ford Audio.
  5. The Bluetooth PIN number 0000 must be entered on the phone keypad.

[Ford Mondeo Owners Handbook (2008)]

Sony/Ford Audio System paired with iPhoneOnce paired, I could use the car’s controls to make calls and incoming calls on the iPhone were picked up by the car too.

Ford are not the only manufacturer to have such as system, but it is the first time I’ve had it fitted as standard on a car (on my Saab 9-3 I would have needed to specify an expensive stereo with built in satellite navigation to get the Bluetooth functionality) – and Ford do claim to be the only manufacturer to offer the system on small cars too:

Ford is the only manufacturer to offer a Bluetooth with Voice Control System on our smaller cars as well as our larger ones. It’s available on the Fiesta, Fusion, new Focus, new Focus CC, C-MAX, Mondeo, S-MAX, Galaxy, Fiesta Van, Transit Van, Transit Minibus, Transit Connect and Transit Chassis Cab.

(There are some light commercials on that list too.)

The downsides are that my phone has to have Bluetooth activated (and to be discoverable – leaving me subject to potential bluejacking). There’s also a bit of an echo (on both ends of the call) – something I haven’t experienced with the fitted car kit I use with the Nokia in my normal car – but it’s not bad enough to be a problem and, most importantly, the road noise at 70mph didn’t seem to cause too big a problem whilst making a call.

Sony/Ford Audio System picking up contacts from somewhere - not sure where though!So, what doesn’t work with the iPhone? Despite the audio system somehow managing to detect a couple of my contacts (which I can then select by pressing a button to dial), the Bluetooth Voice Control doesn’t seem to be able to read the phone directory – but it does work if dial by number, as shown in the pictures below:

Ford Converse+ System and Bluetooth Voice Control

Call on iPhone placed using Ford Bluetooth Voice ControlCall on iPhone placed using Ford Bluetooth Voice Control

Also, it would be nice to make the car’s audio system play the music on my iPhone over Bluetooth – except that Apple hasn’t given us A2DP (stereo Bluetooth Audio), so to connect the iPhone to the stereo requires use of a standard 3.5mm headset cable to the Aux socket on the car’s audio system (unavailable on the car I tested because that has a DVD system installed in the front seat headrests instead).

As for whether I will lease this car… well, the jury’s still out on that one. It drives well and I get a lot of toys for my money but the VW Passat Estate, Audi A4 Avant (or possibly A6) and BMW 3 series touring are all on my shortlist. Does anyone know if the iPhone works with the built-in systems in these cars?

Probably the most embarrassing device that I’ve ever been told to fit to a car

Last night, as is normal on a Sunday evening in my house, I had a relaxing evening watching BBC Top Gear. During the news section, Jeremy Clarkson smashed up an extremely annoying device with a light-sensor to detect when a car’s fuel filler cap is opened and warn you to use only diesel fuel.

I thought it was funny and that no-one would actually buy one, until this morning I received one in the post from the lease company that owns my company car along with a letter mandating that I fit it to the car and warning that I will be personally liable for any damage caused by any future misfuelling (I have, of course, told them that I will install the thing but have refused to comply with the liability part).

I understand why they are doing this – the AA motoring trust has produced a report which details the problem along with some interesting statistics about misfuelling call-outs. I also admit that I did previously (many years ago) accidentally put half a tank of petrol into a diesel car as well as nearly filling the tank of this car with petrol when it was new (on both occasions, I had been using a petrol car for the previous few weeks), but the lease company waited 6 weeks to send this to me and I definitely know to use diesel now!

Misfuelling may be expensive and embarrassing, but this thing is a) loud b) American c) tacky d) noise-polluting e) extremely embarrassing! If you don’t believe me, then listen to how it sounds yourself.

Add to that, I’ve had to fit this horrible thing to a car about which Clarkson wrote:

    “You’ve deliberately gone your own way, deliberately bought something that isn’t a BMW or a Merc or an Audi. And in the process you’ve ended up with something that’s not only a little bit different, but also rather good.”

[Jeremy Clarkson, Sunday Times, 13 November 2005]

I’m dreading my next visit to a filling station forecourt. As my wife said, at least it will be a talking point – let’s see if she still thinks that as she cowers down in the passenger seat pretending she’s not there.