Category Archives: gadgets

Vacuum Cleaner Suction Power

Our “hoover” is rubbish. It’s an Electrolux Vitesse Pet Lover which I bought for £70 from Tesco about 18 months ago when we moved house, but as the old saying goes if you buy cheap, you buy twice. The main problem is that it overheats after 5 minutes of use, and needs to take a half an hour break before it will run again.

So, today, I’m going to buy a new one. As with most things I buy, I do quite a bit of research before hand (sadly) and so this time I thought I would put the results of my research on-line to save someone else the bother!

Normally, I would assess a new product on various metrics, but in the case of a new vacuum cleaner, I’m interested in just two things: suction power (measured in air watts) and reliability. Reliability is hard to assess without having owned the product, so I will rely on 3rd party review scores from revoo.com.

Vacuum Cleaner Comparison

  • Suction Power measurements, displayed in air watts, are taken from the Manufacturer
  • Revoo scores are taken from their vacuum cleaner section.
  • Prices are taken from various shopbot services such as Google Product Search, Kelkoo and Pricerunner
Make & Model Suction Power Revoo Score Price
Dyson DC14 280 airwatts 8.7 (552 reviews) £179.99
Vax V-060 Turbo 170 airwatts? 9.4 (1 review) £75.94

Notes

After starting this blog I realised not all manufacturers publish the suction power in air watts, so the task of comparing them was harder than I thought. Also, I was only really interested in an upright bagless cleaner which ruled out some strong contenders from the likes of Miele and Numatic’s Henry / Hetty range.

Water Conditioner Road Test

Background

Magnetic water conditioners are used to treat the effects of hard water. They work by creating a magnetic field that causes the calcium carbonate (limescale) that is naturally found in water to remain in solution, thus preventing it from furring up as scale inside water pipes.

Science

This method of water treatment is a controversial subject. Although they have long been used in industry, the science is not yet fully understood and so there is no authoritative word on how effective they are.

There is however, plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest they work, and one UK based supplier, Water Improvements Limited, has even commissioned a laboratory trial by the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Bath to verify their effectiveness.

The trial was conducted over 30 days with two systems of copper pipes. One system was attached to a Waterimp water conditioner, the other was a control system with no conditioner. At the end of the trail there is a clear difference in the amount of deposition of scale on the two pipes.

Figure 1 shows the pipe system after 30 days with a waterimp attached.

Figure 2 shows the control pipe system after 30 days (no waterimp).

The trial found 3 main conclusions:

  • The device was shown to reduce the deposition of scale under the conditions tested. This was confirmed by analysis of both total dissolved solids (TDS) and conductivity in parallel trials using a simulated domestic hot water / radiator heating system.
  • The device prevented the deposition of approximately 10 mg of scale/day for 30cm length of 1 inch pipe under the conditions tested.
  • The device was shown not to effect the pH of water passing through piping where it has been installed.

Road Test

So, armed with this information and the wealth of positive testimonials that WaterImp have on their website, I decided to give their basic unit, the Elf, a road test. I live in a 3 bedroom property, so according to their site, this should be sufficient.

Southern England is mostly a hard water area and as a consequence our shower doors are constantly covered in a thin film of limescale:

I have now installed the Elf, coiled around my mains inlet pipe underneath my kitchen sink, and I plan to see over the coming months how well it does. Unfortunately for me, the mains riser in my house is located in a bit of an awkward position, with little access space. However, once I managed to get to the plug socket behind my washing machine, installing the unit itself was incredibly easy. Once it powered up, the LEDs flash happily in a variety of sequences to indicate the circuitry is functioning.

I will post the results of my road test later in the year. I’m aware that it doesn’t work for everyone, but hopefully I will be able to join the army of enthusiasts that swear by theirs, and banish limescale for good. Of course, the Elf comes with a generous 190 day guarantee so if it doesn’t work I can always send it back.

Army use Xbox-like controller to fly Desert Hawk 3 UAV

In November last year, I saw an advert in which the British Army appeared to use an Xbox controller to fly a miniature UAV. A few people commented on my blog on whether they thought this was real or not, so I decided to find out for certain by sending a Freedom of Information Act request to the Army.

Today I received a reply from the Army Recruiting and Training Division. You can see my original post for the full response, but in summary it confirmed the following points:

  • The UAV shown in the advert is a Desert Hawk 3, which is currently deployed in Iraq
  • The plane uses an XBOX-like controller, but it is not exactly the same. Specifically, it does not have any Microsoft branding nor a wired headset port.
  • The advert was specifically designed to show people that (gaming?) skills developed prior to joining the Army can come in useful during current operations.

I’m actually pretty satisfied with their response. To be honest, after receiving a somewhat negative answer from the press office when I first enquired I was expecting more of a fight before they gave anything away.

Desert Hawk 3 Facts

Length: 36 in./91 cm.
Wingspan: 54 in./137 cm.
Wing area: 504 sq. in./1283 cm.
Empty weight: 6.5 lbs./3 kg.
Payload growth: Up to 2.0 lbs./ 1 kg. or 288 cu. in./ 732 cu. m. 
Endurance: 90+ min.
Portability: Backpack or small suitcase 
Operational range: Up to 15 km./9.3 mi. depending onfrequency and configuration

Keeping Fit = More accurate maps

My fiancée, Aimi, recently persuaded me to run the Bupa London 10K with her and as it’s only about 7 weeks away we are now having to train every other night. I’ve never been a particularly good runner and, if I’m honest, I find running pretty boring. However, using a GPS device I have found a way to motivate myself and give each run a greater sense of purpose.

The Open Street Map is a project that aims to create a free and editable map of the entire planet. They rely on volunteers, such as me, to create GPS tracks, and then for us to add and edit details on the map.

Now when we go for a run, I take the GPS with me and record the track we take. When we get back home I can then upload the track to my computer and using the JOSM map editor I can literally draw the roads straight on to the map.

OSM currently has good coverage of the main roads and motorways, but it lacks data for a lot of residential areas. So now, through my running, I am gradually mapping the residential roads of Farnborough.

Before

After

The estate I live on was only built a year or two ago and because of this it doesn’t yet show up correctly on any of the major map providers (which is a pain when getting some delivered!). This means that, thanks to my recent contributions, Open Street Map now has the most accurate map for our particular area.

If you extrapolate this trend a few years in to the future (when all existing roads have been covered) it is easy to conceive a time when OSM will be the most accurate map around. Think about it: residents of a new estate are a lot more motivated to ensure that it appears correctly on the map than the traditional map suppliers, and with OSM this process is easy.

Once this happens, delivery companies will start using it, and possibly even contribute to the project as well (a little investment of time by UPS / Tesco uploading their delivery tracks, could save their drivers a lot of time). So simply put, I think Open Street Map is the future of mapping.

Incidentally, if you would like to sponsor me on my run then you can do so here.

Macbook Air brings iPhone’s multitouch to a laptop

Steve Jobs announced a new Macbook for their laptop line up during his keynote speech at the Macworld Expo today. The Macbook Air will be the world’s thinnest notebook, but even though it’s small in size, it’s not short on features:

  • Aluminium case
  • Illuminated keyboard with ambient light sensor to auto detect darkness
  • 5 hour battery life (with wireless enabled)
  • Multi-touch (iphone style) Touch pad
  • Wireless 802.11N networking (up to 250mbps)
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR (up to 3mbps)
  • Just 1.94 cm thick and 1.3 kg total weight (just over half the weight of current macbooks)
  • Fits in an A4 envelope? (or the US equivalent)
  • LED backlit screen for lower power consumption
  • Optional 64Gb solid-state drive.

Macbook Air
You can buy the new Macbook Air for £1199 from Apple’s online store or pay a whopping £829 more for the SSD version!.

T Mobile lock in = no iPhone for me….. yet

I’m pretty jealous… Brendan picked up his new iPhone yesterday and has been flashing around the office all day.

iPhone

I have been telling myself since the iPhone launched that I would wait until the 3G version (hopefully) comes out next year, but after seeing Brendan effortlessly read his e-mails, speedily tap out text messages, listen to his iTunes library and read his visual voicemails on a beautifully huge touch-sensitive screen…. I just couldn’t wait.

So I phoned T-Mobile:

“I want to cancel my account to get an iPhone with O2… how long is left on my contract?”

“You’ve still got 8 months I’m afraid sir….”

“Really, that long? How much to buy myself out of the contract?”

“It will be 322 pounds sir.”

“Oh, can I downgrade to a lower tarrif?”

“Not until month 11 sir”.

So T-mobile have decided for me. If I could have bought out my contract for say, £100 then I might have done it but £300 (plus £269 for the phone itself) is just too much. Looks like I’ll be waiting for the 3G iPhone 2 after all.

Army fly UAV Spy Plane with Xbox 360 Controller

I was just watching an Army Jobs advert on Channel 4, and it showed them piloting an unmanned aerial vehicle with an Xbox 360 controller.

Army UAV Xbox Controller

I wondered whether this was just for TV, but it seems that US marines have also been spotted controlling an SUGVs (small unmanned ground vehicle) with an XBox controller.

It would make a lot of sense as the XBox 360 controller:

  • Uses a common USB interface
  • Has drivers available for Windows, OS X and Linux
  • Has been extensively tested by millions of gamers
  • Is perhaps one of the greatest game controllers ever built

So why reinvent the wheel? You can see the full advert below…

Update 29th April 2008

I wrote to Army under the Freedom of Information act to find out if it really was an XBOX controller, and here is their reply.

Headquarters 
Army Recruiting and Training Division
Trenchard Lines
Upavon
Pewsey
Wiltshire SN9 6BE
Telephone:    01980 615065
Facsimile:      01980 615078



D/ARTD/1/3/12/1 75017 

29 April 2008

Mr P Manders 

Dear Mr Manders,

Thank you for your email of 8 April to the Ministry of Defence regarding an Army 
Recruitment Video.  I have been asked to reply.

The highly sophisticated mini Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) shown in the advert 
is the Desert Hawk 3 which is currently deployed on operations in Iraq.  Desert 
Hawk 3 is a portable UAV surveillance system which provides aerial video 
reconnaissance.  The equipment can be used for a variety of tasks, such as force 
protection for convoys and patrols, route clearance, base security, reconnaissance 
or target tracking.

The system used to control the planes has been adapted by Lockheed Martin and 
although the controller used by the soldiers to fly the plane is very similar to a 
Microsoft Xbox 360 controller, it is not the same.  You will see that there is no 
Microsoft wording on the controller nor a wired headset port. 

The advert demonstrates that the skills and abilities that an individual develops in 
their life prior to joining the Army may have a critical application within the British 
Army on operations today. 

I hope this is helpful.

Yours Sincerely 

Jodie C Spreadbury