Every cheap "Serial to USB" adapter I can find uses a PL2303 chip with active low signaling, which isn't the same as a real PC serial port. Fortunately FTDI sell real adapters. The US232B has 9V high, -9V low outputs and its inputs are open low at 0V.

Energy Supplier Customer Retention


The Scottish Power tariff I was on ended a week ago, so I tried to change to their currently available cheapest tariff. Unfortunately they won't let me do that: Please be informed that ScottishPower is not offering Online Energy Reward to its existing customers. This service package is only available for the new customers.

This is ridiculous. In order to get their cheapest deal I would need to change supplier twice. They don't even advertise that this isn't available to existing customers. The website just hides it from the list of tariffs if you're viewing the "existing customer" version. (It's also difficult to get from the marketing summary to an actual price list for each tariff; there's no direct link).

Their other options all strangely have £50 penalties for changing tariff or supplier early... perhaps they want to stop people leaving for those suppliers like themselves offering new customers the best prices.

I can find the cheapest suppliers using online comparison websites, but the cheapest option means separating Electricity and Gas so I'd have to deal with two companies who will most likely both give good deals only to new customers and both make arbitrary guesses at future usage so that I end up paying for it all in advance.

Either I repeatedly change supplier every time one or more of them have "new customer only" deals or cease caring about how much it costs and stay with one of them just because it's easier. I've been doing this with Scottish Power for several years now (on whichever tariff appears to be cheapest - this is deceptive because you end up stuck on one while they bring out a cheaper option).

Another option which I've wanted to do for a while is switch to a "Green" Energy tariff. This is easier because the best tariff isn't necessarily the one that has the lowest price. Ecotricity have recently started doing a Green Gas package too, which means I don't end up negating any benefit from sustainable electricity with my gas usage. They're also making good progress towards generating 100% of the energy they sell themselves from renewable sources.

Why does it take several weeks to change energy supplier? I can understand that the first 2 weeks are caused by vulnerable people being sold tariffs on commission by rogues, but why is the additional time required?

GPS Tracking

I took my handheld GPS receiver with me in London, where it and OpenStreetMap data were invaluable at navigating to wherever I wanted to visit. I left the track logs enabled so I have a crude map of where I went in London:
[Clusters of GPS tracks around London]
Parts of the Thames are visible.

I also attached it to the buggy of an unsuspecting victim kite flier at Wallop which produced this track:
[Buggy GPS track at Middle Wallop]
Red parts are slow, green (turning to blue) parts are faster. The maximum speed was 36 MPH.

Map data ©2004-2010 OpenStreetMap contributors.
OpenStreetMap data can be used freely under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Wallop 2010

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Instead of returning home from London on Friday, by coincidence the Middle Wallop Kite Festival was on that weekend so I took a train to Hampshire and met up with Kevin & Leah who moved there recently.

After a short drive to Wallop we were left waiting until after 1am for our accommodation (a motor home) to arrive from Scotland because it was stuck in a really bad traffic jam north of Oxford... fortunately we had some late night entertainment watching an AA man get into a car with the keys locked in the boot. He survived people tripping over him and the jack that was holding the car up too.

It rained on Saturday morning but the sun came out later and the weather on Sunday was much better. Plenty of sun to burn me while I took a few hundred photos. I'll have to try and remember to actually use sunscreen next time. I left early on Monday morning for the 8½ hour train journey back home.

I was going to buy a new camera soon... but for the first time in 5 years I've finally found a use for the viewfinder and some of the newer compact cameras lack one. It's impossible to take burst shots of someone moving past you in sunlight using only the display. The Canon IXUS 300 HS can take 240 FPS video but without being able to aim it quickly that might not be very useful.

London Photos

The photos from my trip to London are on Flickr in the May 2010: London collection. There's a separate set of Elephant Parade London 2010 photos.

Wandering around London Part 2

I got some breakfast from Pret a Manger (there are definitely some French accents missing from that name...) and then visited the Bank of England Museum, which is only open on banking days and is as boring as it sounds.

A long trip on the DLR later and I arrived at the Prime Meridian Line in Greenwich, which has moved since they decided where to put it.

I had another late lunch at Tate Britain before looking at the art on display there. Much better than Tate Modern but I didn't get many photos because taking photos indoors without the flash on is almost impossible with my camera.

Spent a couple of hours in Selfridges looking for something interesting before leaving with two Elephant Parade elephants.

Wandering around London Part 1

After getting some breakfast from Gail's I walked past BBC Television Centre then went down Charing Cross Road stopping at Soho Square and Leicester Square (which happened to be closed this week for filming) before heading to Hampstead Heath. Eventually I reached the top of Parliament Hill before heading south for Tate Modern.

I had a late lunch of haddock and chips before wandering around wondering why almost anything qualifies as "art". There was a massive traffic jam of taxis outside when I left. A quick wander around the maze that is Harrods looking at things over-priced in the thousands of pounds, before heading home for dinner.

Visit to London

Over two years since I last visited London, I boarded two trains with minutes to spare each time (after trying to get onto the wrong platform at Waverley) and arrived mid afternoon. I'm staying with a couple of friends who have space for me to sleep on a very large bean bag.

Walking to Work

A year ago, Stagecoach changed all the bus routes around so that there was no longer a service that went past where I work, so I returned my bus pass and started walking instead. Over 600 miles and a large umbrella that I keep trying to lose in supermarkets later and I'm still walking both ways every day. The time passes quickly with music playing.

Cheap plastic bags

Both ASDA and Tesco prompt people to reuse carrier bags and have sold thick plastic carrier bags for a while now but their free bags have simply gotten thinner and less reusable. They start falling apart after a few uses... like this Tesco bag, which didn't like holding items from ASDA so the bottom split open and it threw them all over the car park:
Tesco carrier bag wrapped around a broken shampoo bottle
(Yes, that's one of the shampoo bottles from yesterday missing its lid, they're not just PVC, they're unable to handle being dropped too).

I put everything into the remaining ASDA bag which managed to survive the walk home (except for a handle) although it looks like the bottom was ready to give way too:
Repaired ASDA carrier bag handle ASDA carrier bag ready to break

ASDA's bags normally split down the side very quickly:
ASDA bag with split down the side

I used one of Tesco's basic non-free bags for over a year before the handle eventually gave way (but the various holes in the bottom are ready to go too) and I still need to get it replaced...
Tesco carrier bag with broken handle

So... the message is: reuse your carrier bags, as long as you paid extra for them first. I used to have a bright green Marks & Spencer carrier bag that intended to survive forever, but it got covered in sticky Irn-Bru so I had to throw it away.

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