Pages

My ten best (free) apps for your new Smartphone

Did you have a new Smartphone for Christmas? Well congratulations. You were among almost seven million new Smartphone users who activated their new phones on Christmas Day and Boxing day in 2011.  I was lucky enough to get a new phone at Christmas to replace the HTC Desire that I drowned earlier in the year. My new smartphone also runs Android (the mobile operating system that was introduced by Google) and I thought I would share the applications I use to make my phone useful and provide links to the Android market and to each of the companys that supply the apps themselves.

App 1 - Lookout (Android Market | Web Site )
There is a high chance that your phone will become central to your life, so there is an equally high chance you will be storing all sorts of very personal information on it - such as your calendar, passwords, bank details, contacts and more.  The first application in my list is therefore an app to protect your phone against mobile threats such as phishing, theft and malware.  Lookout provides the following features to help protect your phone and the information it holds:
  • Security and Privacy - Lookout checks every app you download for threats and malware.  This helps keep your personal data private
  • Backup - Lookout makes a backup of your contacts in the free version and offers more advanced features if you subscribe to their premium service.  If you lose your phone, your contacts are safely backed up.
  • Missing Device - If you lose your phone, just access the Lookout web site to search for it on a map or, on the Premium version, lock the phone and even wipe it remotely.
All this protection and the app is free!  Just make sure that the free service provides you with all the cover you need -if not, just sign up to the Premium version.

App 2 - Dropbox ( Android Market | Web Site )
Dropbox is a free service that lets you bring all your photos, documents, and videos anywhere. After you install Dropbox on your computer or phone, any file you save to your Dropbox will automatically save to all your computers, your Android device, and even the Dropbox website! With the Dropbox app, you can take everything that matters to you on the go.  Share and collaborate with friends and family using Dropbox's powerful sharing capabilities.  We use this extensively in the family and it is so useful.  You get a generous 2GB of free, cloud storage when you sign up and you can either purchase extra storage at a later date or build up your storage by referrals.  For example, if you sign up to Dropbox using my referral link, you'll get an extra 250M of storage right from the start - and I get an extra 250M too for referring you.  Simple, quick and effective.  There are options for businesses too.

App 3 - Catch ( Android Market | Web Site )
There are plenty of notes and simple text editors for Android phones.  I chose Catch as the most useful simply because it has the features I like.  You can record voice notes, photo notes and text notes.  You can use Catch to set reminders for tasks and, with their tagging system, categorising and searching your thoughts is a breeze.  Catch lets you have full access to your notes on your mobile device even when you don't have access to the Internet - this was especially useful to me as I wanted to keep information with me when on holiday and not able to access my home network.  What's also good is that your entire Catch notes collection is available from any web browser, making it especially easy to add more and larger notes from your desktop PC or laptop.  Best of all - it's freely available from the market!

App 4 - Silent Time ( Android Market | Web Site )
How many of you keep your phone by your bed?  How often does an email or notification come in just as you're dropping off to sleep ... ?  How annoying is that 'beep-beep'?  Not any longer!  Silent Time Lite is a simple app that just silences your phone automatically based on a weekly schedule that you set up.  Use it for classes, work, meetings and whatever else you might need.  My main use is for when I sleep.  What makes this app stand out from the crowd is that you can also add exceptions to the quiet periods to let important calls through.  And the app is free!  How good is that?

App 5 - Tweetdeck ( Android Market | Web Site )
OK - I know you can use the default Twitter and Facebook clients, but this app is simply a social browser for your Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and Buzz accounts.  TweetDeck makes it easy to stay in touch and is often quicker to scan than the separate, dedicated apps.  It's also simple to cross-post too.  See something on Twitter that your Facebook contacts would enjoy?  Simply re-post it to them.  Taken a photo you want the world to see?  Simply post it simultaneously with the samr comments and location attached.  Simple, quick and free.  A fully-featured Desktop version is available too (go to the web site link above.).

App 6 - SMS Backup+ ( Android Market | Web Site )
This is a simple app that, as the name suggests, just backs your SMS and MMS messages to the Internet.  I know most people just delete texts, but there are times when a text has useful information in it (like flight arrival times, or a phone number) and you really need to keep a copy!  It works by automatically backing up your SMS, MMS and call log entries using a separate label in your Gmail / Google Calendar. It can also restore SMS and call log entries back to the phone, although MMS is not supported yet.  It was developed from the original Google app by the author and, as he puts it ... "SMS Backup+ is available for free in the market, there will never be a pro / paid version."

App 7 - Taptu ( Android Market | Web Site )
Taptu claims to be "the Best News ReaderApp for 2011.  Taptu is certainly a flexible and easy way to sort and share streams from your favorite web sites, blogs, news feeds and social networks (it includes Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn). You can build your own favorite sources and topics, sort them into the order that bests suits you and finally share and comment on the ones you like the most.  it's very flexible, easy to use and really lets you get to the news stories without getting in the way.  Oh yeah.  Did I tell you this was free?  Very easy app to use - especially on a tablet!

App 8 - Sky+ ( Android Market | Web Site )
If you have Sky HD or Sky Plus then this is a must. Caught at work?  Evening takes longer than expected?  Delayed on your journey?  Just use this free app to program your Sky+ or HD box and you'll never need to miss your programmes again.  You can check the schedules as the app presents a full seven day TV Listing Guide and you can select all your favourite channels.  There is also a "Series Link" button for mobile. This lets you record entire series of shows to your Sky+ box with just a few finger taps.  Easy to set up and use, but obviously requires you to have an active Sky account and your Sky+ or HD boxes must be connected to the phone line.

App 9 - Adobe Photoshop Express ( Android Market | Web Site )
One of my hobbies is photography and for me, having the ability to easily edit and share photos directly from my mobile device is fantastic.  This free app lets you literally touch up your photos to crop, rotate, adjust color, and add artistic effects. You can then readily share your photos directly with family and friends on, for example, Facebook, Photoshop or Twitter (via TwitPic).

App 10 - Tiny Flashlight ( Android Market | Web Site )
You never know when you might need this.  It's a simple 'Torch' or Flashlight app that lights up the LED used in many Android smartphones as the camera's electronic flash. It's very simple and yet quite handy.  It claims to support the widest range of devices with camera leds.  You can select and control the brightness of the LED and use it for morse code or as a flashing light in case of emergencies.  You can even use it to turn on the screen light (which is bright enough for daily use) if your device doesn't have a camera light.

There you are.  Ten free apps to make your phone really useful in day-to-day life.  If you have any favourites you think I should look at, or if you disagree with my assessments then please let me know by leaving a comment.

Above all, enjoy your phone!

A little orange wire..

The quality of Internet in our house has been dubious to say the least for some time and we've long associated it with poor street cabling and distance from the exchange.  It is also made worse by bad weather (rain, usually) so we were putting up with the poor performance as being beyond our control. Recently, however, the service had become very frustrating prompting me to investigate further. The symptoms vary, but the usual ones are:
  • Long delays waiting for the browser to start downloading a page
  • Pauses when clicking on a link for the new link to start
  • Page loads taking a long time
What was (slightly) odd was that these delays did not seem to be restricted to the evening (the traditional Internet 'slow time' in the UK). They were occuring throughout the day - even in the quiet times in the early morning.

Brief Investigation
The first thing I did was to look at our ADSL router, a third-generation NetGear DG834G.  There seemed to be no errors on the set up of the router - I even rebooted it to see if it had got itself confused - but it was when I looked at the router statistics that I saw the seriousness of the problem:


The figure that set my alarm bells ringing was the Downstream Noise Margin, showing here as 2dB but regularly this figure was flitting between 0dB, 1dB and 2dB.  That's bad!  Noise Margin is a measure of how much headroom the router has to maintain a good quality ADSL connection and according to these statistics my router doesn't have any!!
 
Noise Margins and Signal to Noise Ratios
Let me try to explain this.  Your broadband ADSL service is delivered from the exchange by a piece of equipment called a DSLAM which works by putting a signal onto the phone line to your house.  Your router needs to reliably decode this signal so that it can link you to the Internet.  If there is noise on the phone line this signal will be degraded and your router will have difficulty decoding it.  The impact of this is that the quality and speed of your broadband ADSL will suffer.  The more noise; the more your service will suffer.  You can probably see then that the ratio of your ADSL signal level to the phone line noise level can be used to measure the quality of your ADSL service.  This ratio is well-known in communication systems engineering and is referred to as the signal-to-noise ratio or SNR.  The higher the SNR is; the better your signal is and therefore the better your service will be.  As a good analogy, think of yourself trying to listen to your friend talk to you at a football match or in a loud pub.  It's very difficult to hear every word he says unless you listen very hard or if your friend shouts.  This is a situation where there is a very poor SNR.  Now imagine your friend talking to you in a coffee shop or a restaurant.  You would expect to have no problems hearing everything that your friend says.  This is a situation where there is a reasonably good SNR.

Signal to Noise ratio or SNR is a term used to describe the ratio of wanted signal strength to that of unwanted noise levels and is measured in units called dB (decibels).  This is a logarithmic scale where each 3dB of SNR doubles the ratio of signal to noise.  For example, if the noise level was about 1/100th of the level of the signal then the SNR would be 20dB.  If we double the level of noise, the SNR would decrease to 17dB.  However, if we increase the signal to 1000x the level of the noise the SNR would increase to 30dB.  More info can be found here

Having established what SNR is, we can now introduce the Noise Margin.  This is a sort of buffer zone on top of the SNR that allows the router to cope with all the variations in noise levels that occur through the day.  On a 'good' ADSL line this figure is usually around 6dB. So, with our Noise Margin being measured as 0dB to 2dB, our Broadband router had no headroom and that from time to time the level of noise would increase to a level that affected our service.  Indeed, it is perhaps a wonder that our ADSL was working at all - never mind with the poor performance we were experiencing.  Just goes to show that the NetGear hangs on to that signal in the noisiest of environments!


Further Investigation
So now we know what the poor performance is caused by - it's too much noise or interference - the next steps are to try to understand what's causing the noise and then to attempt to correct it.  As usual, you begin with a couple of searches on a search engine and I was fortunate to quickly find the excellent kitz.co.uk that in their own words ... "contains a wealth of adsl information such as how adsl broadband works".  On that site I found a section devoted to poor noise and the likely causes. On this site was a page dedicated to 'Low SNR problems' and this page has a wealth of details I could step through.  I worked through the steps that are listed and came upon "~ One last trick - remove the ringwire." The 'ringwire' is a left over from days gone by when it was used to supply the ringing current to older phones.  Most modern phones don't need this wire and in modern installations it can actually be removed as all it does is act as an antenna for electrical noise.


Here you can see our incoming NTE5 faceplate with the front cover unscrewed and the orange/white wire disconnected from the faceplate connector pin 3.  The blue/white (pin 2) and white/blue (pin 5) wires are NOT touched.  (Note that in some installations you may have a white/orange wire on pin 4.  This can be removed also.)


Result!
Having done this and re-assembled the faceplate the internet router was rebooted and immediately the following router statistics were recorded:

Note how much better the noise margin is.  Note also how much greater the connection speed is.  Just disconnecting this single orange wire has improved our download speed by 14%  And the problems we've had since then have largely disappeared.

Now to tune the MTU - but that's a subject for another time.

Happy Surfing!

Seeing clearly to drive.

This time of year is very difficult for drivers with humid air, changing temperatures, mist, fog and low sun.  All of these work together to make driving both hazardous and stressful.  2011 is different, because on top of all this we now have overbright DRLs adding a further element of distraction and danger (you can learn more about these on Lightmare's site or on my previous post).  If roads are damp and covered with leaves you are further increasing the risk of a coming together as your braking distance is greatly increased and you are more likely to skid when braking.  Indeed, statistics show that there are 15 per cent more accidents in October compared to the monthly average for the previous six months, with 21 per cent more accidents that in August alone.  (see this Telegraph link).

While you cannot get rid of all of these distractions and dangers you can at least minimise their impact on yourself and others and significantly reduce the risk of an accident by making sure you can see clearly through the windscreen and by checking that your vehicle is serviced and roadworthy before the autumn (at least check your tyres, lights, brakes and battery).

Before you set off on any journey you should make sure you can see clearly to drive.  If your windscreen is at all greasy or just damp with condensation, your vision will be distorted and glare will be increased, either of which will greatly reduce your ability to differentiate between that parked car, that oncoming car with all its lights on and that pedestrian behind the car crossing the road.  How many times do you enter such scenarios effectively blind to what's in front?  It doesn't bear thinking about, does it?

Cleaning your windscreen
So how do you clean your windscreen effectvely?  Believe it or not, newspaper and vinegar are your friends here.  Simply use white vinegar and water in a 1 to 10 mix, applied and polished with newspaper (carefully avoiding surrounding paint and brightwork) and your windscreen should become grease-free in a few minutes.  Use a cloth soaked in the same mixture and do the wiper blades at the same time, as these get greasy too.  You should be able to polish the screen afterwards with a clean dry piece of newspaper to finish off.  Don't use wasing up liquid - this will leave a residue on the screen that will very quickly gather up more road grime and will reduce your vision again.  Don't forget the inside of the screen too as this can also get as greasy (the moisture in your breath, your hands wiping the screen and - worst of all - tar from cigarettes if you smoke).  Don't forget to check the screenwash and make sure it is full (use proper screenwash - not washing up liquid!) and the nozzles adjusted. Finally, make sure you have a kit for the inside of the car. A clean microfibre cloth, a window wiper/scraper and a means of de-icing)

Driving in poor conditions
While driving when it is humid, drizzly and foggy or when the temperature starts to drop, remember to set the heater controls to recycle the air, rather than to bring colder, damp air into the car and letting it condense on the windows for you.  If your car has air conditioning, use that - even if the temperature is set higher, as the air conditioner also acts as a dehumidifier, effectively drying the air in the vehicle.  All of this helps keep the windscreen clear and your visibility as good as it can be for your journey.  The less glare on yourscreen, the clearer your vision and the less impact oncoming lights will have on your driving. Finally, don't forget your glasses.  Keeping these clean will reduce the glare too.

Drive safe, drive considerately. Don't use lights inappropriately. Be courteous to other road users.

Happy motoring!

Eight tips to watch for if you water-damage your Smartphone

The Tale of woe

So I went swimming in the sea while I was on holiday.  We've all done it, many times.  What was different this time was that my Smartphone went swimming too.  Not by design and not through choice.  A moment's distraction, a splash and it was all over.  Thing is: I didn't realise it was in my pocket until about 15 minutes later, by which time I'd been snorkelling and the phone had completely drowned.
As soon as I realised the phone was in my pocket, I got out, took the phone apart and took the battery out.  Then I rinsed it with the fresh water from my water bottle and dried it in the sun.  I went to town later on and even bought a set of small screwdrivers so I could dismantle the phone and rinse and dry it out properly.  As it was the first time I had dismantled my phone I looked on the Internet for instructions and soon the phone was in bits in a shallow dish being gently rinsed and cleaned with a toothbrush then dried carefully leaving the phone overnight to dry completely.

After re-assembling the phone I popped the battery in, not expecting much, and sure enough the phone remained as dead as a dodo. Not even a flicker of life. Not looking good.  I was fortunate in that my good lady wife has the same phone, so I tested my battery in her phone - it was fine - and testing her battery in my phone confirmed that my phone was still dead.  (Apple users can't easily do this as Apple have made their phones without a battery cover).  So that was that. With the phone looking dead I carefully put it to one side and got on with the holiday resolving to have another look when I got home.

The Long Wait
Holiday over, all safely home and taking stock of the situation:
  • Can I get the phone working now I'm home with all my kit around me? Answer: No.  Phone still inoperative despite further cleaning and probing with alcohol and swabs
  • Have I another phone I can use in the meantime? Answer: Yes.  My old 2006 vintage Sony Ericsson K800i
  • Can I live without a Smartphone? Answer Looks like I'm about to find out... :o(
  • What are the arrangements with the Travel Insurance - am I covered and with which policy?

First things first. I transferred my SIM to the K800i, charged it and turned it on.  Success! Welcome to Orange.  I'm back on the air.  Next, insurance.  We had ceased the phone-specific insurance within the first month of owning the phone, so we now had two avenues for cover here - our Travel insurance and our Household Contents insurance.    After ringing both firms and discussing the matter with them, we found that the Household Policy covered the phone but with a £200 excess and I lose a 10% NCB.  I was assured this was a Good Deal.  I disagreed.

I then spoke with Nationwide, as one benefit of our bank account is that it comes with free Travel Insurance.  They were a lot more helpful, and sent me the forms I needed to complete so they could assess my claim.  Quite rightly they wanted to know:
  • Did I really own the phone?
  • Was I really on holiday at the time?
  • Was it really damaged and beyond economical repair?
  • Was there any other insurance for the phone?
  • What was the likely cost of replacement?
The Damaged Repair
All of these were easy to answer - except that for the 'damaged beyond economical repair' I needed a report from a recognised repair company that confirmed the status of the phone. Easy, I thought.  Just take the phone to an Orange Shop. Nope.  "We don't do repairs, sir, we'd have to send it to HTC"  This seemed to be the consistent story for all the high-street shops regarding repairs.  So, using the Power of the Internet, I located a M Blue Ltd in Essex who "are highly experienced in water damage repairs". The cost? £34.99 including return delivery.  This looked fine.  The process would take three days and I would get a repaired phone or a report back that confirms the phone is irreperable.  So I sent the phone off to them, wrapped and protected - and complete - and then I waited for the report.  Their service was quick and their communication excellent.  It's just a shame that they did not take proper care of the phone while it was with them.  It was returned with two parts of the case broken, two screws missing and not properly assembled.  I sent them photographs of the phone as it arrived back to complain about their lack of care and these are included below:
Their reply?
"It is clear from your order submission that the device has been opened before sending it to us and on arrival we have found it to be in a rough state. Our technicians are trained to repair to a high standard and not to damage devices in the way you claim."

Now I know this is not true, but it's my word against theirs.  The phone was sent to them water damaged but physically complete and sound.  It was returned with further damage to the case showing a lack of care on the part of their engineers. My worry - which was expressed to them - was that their poor quality of care and workmanship would be reflected in all their repairs, so on that basis I cannot recommend this company at all for your phone repairs.  Instead, I do recommend that if you have to return your phone for repair, you take a photo of your phone alongside the box you use to send off the phone and include a print of the photo in with the parcel as you send it off.  This way, you stand a better chance of arguing your case if they do not take care of the device.

Back to the insurance claim.  This took a long time to settle, partially because the insurance company were "just starting to use a new system" and were "busier than normal" (these do seem to be stock excuses!!) but if you've not heard anything from them, ring them weekly, note the details of the call (because they will do the same) and try to see if you can hurry things along.

One thing to watch for is if the insurance company need to check something with another company.  The odds are that if Insurance Company A need to check something with Company B, Company B will not be able to give information about you to Insurance Company A because of the Data Protection Act.  If this is the case, find out what the Insurance Company want, agree that you'll ask for it and how you'll supply it, and get it yourself.  However, realise that even with all the chasing in the world, it still takes too long to process a claim.  I started my claim for the water-damaged phone in September, when I returned from holiday and finally got a settlement in November.

Top Tips:
  1. Make sure you make a point of putting your phone safely in your belongings when you go swimming - or better still don't take it to the beach at all
  2. If your phone gets soaked like this, turn it off. Take out the battery as soon as you can. Disconnecting the battery stops any electrical currents going where they shouldn't and protects the phone from further damage.
  3. Cleaning. Dismantle the phone - carefully - and then clean out all the salt from the sea as gently as you can.  Ideally you should use iso-propyl alcohol as this is the cleanest cleaner you can get, but this is not always possible.  Equally important is to dry the phone thoroughly but gently so that all traces of moisture are removed.  Drying involves three stages.  Stage 1 is blotting all parts with a paper towel or tissue, stage 2 is gentle heat from a hair dryer or similar and finally (if necessary) stage 3 is to store the phone components overnight in a sealed container with a desiccant such as silica gel or uncooked rice.
  4. Always have a spare working phone somewhere available - just in case.
  5. Always be sure what your insurance polices provide in the way of cover for your smartphone - you may not need to take out insurance when you buy a new phone, but you should satisfy yourself that the cover you've got is the cover you need.
  6. If you're sending your phone to be repaired, take a photo of it as you send it to record its state as sent for repair.
  7. Make a note of all calls you make, when they were made, who you spoke to and what was discussed - including the state of the claim.
  8. Help the Insurance Company get hold of information if they need it.  It hurries things along.

Charging my iPod's discharged battery

I have an old and venerable 30G iPod Gen 5 which has served me well for a few years.  It's had a new battery, a new logic board and a new rotary switch, but it works fine.  Until a week ago, when I switched it on and it didn't respond.  The battery was flat, so I plugged it into the charger and waited overnight.  Then I left it a whole week.  The battery remained uncharged - even after a week of being connected to its charger!

Now I have noticed on previous occasions that the iPod will deep-discharge the battery if it is left unused too long and then not even a normal USB charger will rescue it.  Until recently, I have been able to get round this by using the iPod interface on my Becker car radio, which always seemed to be able to wake up the iPod and charge it.  But I've changed the radio in my car now and the new one doesn't do quite the same job.  So.  Do I just replace the iPod battery or do I look to try and charge the iPod some other way?  Being reluctant to give up on a technical problem I chose to try to charge the unit another way - after all, if the Becker could do it so should another charger - if it charges the same way and, what have I got to lose?

The Becker iPod interface is not based on USB, so its design is not constrained by the specifications of USB.  I therefore suspect that it is capable of providing more power to the iPod than a USB port and therefore has more chance of getting the charging circuit in the iPod to start charging a deeply discharged battery.  Since, by now, a number of laptops and chargers had been tried and failed to charge my iPod I had a look on the Internet to see what else I could learn.

I rapidly found that the specification for USB power was that the USB voltage is nominally 5v (more specifically, no more than 5.25 V and no less than 4.75 V (i.e 5V±5%)).  A USB outlet should also be capable of providing upto 500mA too.  So I knocked up a charging circuit based on my bench power supply, an old USB lead and a digital voltmeter.  I then put 5V across the power leads of the USB cable and connected the iPod lead between the power source an the iPod.  Guess what?  It didn't charge the battery!  So I carefully adjusted the voltage of the power supply until it read 5.25V.  Still no charge.  Perhaps my battery was dead after all!



Back to searching the Internet.  It turns out that just supplying the power is not enough: there also has to be a signal to the unit being charged that charge is available and this was what was missing from my simple circuit.  Not one to give up lightly, I looked at the Internet again, this time looking for DIY USB chargers and chanced upon this indestructible project which seemed to answer my problems.  Turns out I was supplying the right voltage; I just wasn't turning the charging circuit on in the iPod.  It seems that the iPod looks for a voltage pattern between the two data leads to identify a valid, dormant USB port before turning on the charging circuit.  The indestructible says that you need four resistors arranged as a bridge so that 2.7V is present on D- and 2.0V is present on D+.  I set up four resistors on a breadboard and went to work.


And for those who want to know exactly what I connected up here is a schematic:


Once this was set up I switched on and plugged the iPod into the makeshift charger.  Within a few seconds I got a warning message on the iPod that the battery was very low - success!!  The iPod had woken up at last and was beginning to charge up..


Now I have enough juice in the iPod to bring it back to life, I have transferred the iPod to a proper charger and it is now charging merrily as I write this blog.

The morale of the story?  Well, there are three:
  • Don't let your iPod get as deeply discharged as I did mine
  • Don't assume that 'any old USB charger' will do - if one doesn't work, then try another.  Or try a computer.  Or another lead.
and
  • Don't assume that a dead iPod is a broken iPod.

Identifying insects in the garden

Being a keen amateur photographer, I try to experiment with different techniques and approaches so that I get photos I can be proud of. I use a digital SLR for most of the pictures I take, falling back to a small point-and-shoot or even my phone camera when I see a shot but don't have my camera kit with me.
I'm fond of taking pictures of small insects, using a type of photography called Macro Photography - basically the taking of pictures of small creatures sometimes too small for the eye to see clearly.
Often, I'll take a picture of an insect that I can't readily identify so I am then left with the job of identifying the subject of my photograph by trying to match descriptions and lists from the Internet.  Usually I'm lucky, but only by perseverance and judicious use of search engine terms and commands.
Let's look at an example to see what I mean:


Some of you will know straight away what this is, but I didn't, so let's try to identify this from this photograph.  First of all, how would we describe this?  It was found on the inside glass door to our conservatory and was about 25-30mm long.  From the photo it has six legs, no wings and a distinctive twin tail from the end of the abdomen.  It is also almost colourless.

(For the technical among you, the photo was taken using a reversed-mounted 50mm prime lens on a Pentax K200D.  Exposure was 1/180th of a second, no flash and the speed of the camera was set to ISO 200.  Due to the very narrow depth of field available, the camera was mounted on a sturdy tripod and the exposure triggered using a remote control)

Starting with an obvious search:


I got the following results very quickly, only one of which in the first screen had any decent relevance to my search:

The Dragonfly article on Wikipedia was no use this time.  The pictures there - and the description - did not match the insect I photographed.  The article on Pond Insects did seem worth a look as it mentions in the extract ... "These nymphs are about 2.5 cm long, and usually have three tails attached to .... "  Clicking on the link and reading through the article gave me slightly more detail to go on.  Under the Mayfly section was the following phrase:


"These nymphs are about 2.5 cm long, and usually have three tails attached to the abdomen. They also have 3 pairs of segmented legs ending in claws"

The size is about right, the number of legs is right, but three tails attached to the abdomen?  Let's look a bit closer.  Next search would be for "Mayfly nymph" and resulted in a number of useful links - and a few images.


The first thing you can see is that none of the pictures presented actually look like my photo above.  The second is that you can now see some results showing that the 'Mayfly' is used as a fly-fishing bait to catch fish.  This means that, as ever, we have to question the relevance of the search results to our actual quest.  We're not interested in fly-fishing, so we do not need to click on these links.  Starting at the Wikipedia search result we learn that there are a number of stages to the life of a Mayfly and it is likely that this photo is therefore of a young Mayfly that has moulted from a nymph to a Subimago, the last stage before it grows its wings and becomes a full adult.

Interestingly, Mayflies are so-called because they usually become adults in the Spring.  The photo above was taken in late September, in Surrey, UK.

I've used similar techniques to identify other insects I have taken in photographs - such as this Thick- or Fat-legged flower beetle seen here apparently  talking to a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly:


There are many online collections of photos of insects and wildlife that you can (and should) peruse.  Some of the photography is simply stunning and it is well worth looking through some of these if you have any interest in our wildlife.  I have provided some links below to get you started.  There are many, many more to find - just use a search engine to look for UK wildlife:

UK Safari
What's That Bug
Wild About Britain

Do we really need Daylight Running Lights (DRLs)?

So Daylight Running Lights are with us now on all new cars in the UK.  But do we really need them and how do we drive with them? Do they work - or are they actually too bright and in fact contribute to accidents rather than reduce them? 

Early Daylight Running Lights
Daylight Running Lights, or DRLs are not new.  They were first introduced in the UK on the Volvo 240 in the mid-70's and were designed to be on whenever the engine was running.  They looked like bright sidelights and were in fact 21W bulbs fitted alongside the existing 5W sidelight bulbs. 

Ever since then attempts have been made by various governments around the world to introduce some means of making road vehicles more visible on the roads - and by so doing, reduce the number of accidents on our increasingly crowded roads.  Many of the earlier schemes (such as the UK's 'dim-dip' feature in the '80s) failed because of the difficulty in agreeing common standards for manufacturers to follow. Later on, there was much discussion throughout Europe about whether cars and motorcycles should be driven with dipped headlights on at all times and many countries introduced their own legislation regarding the use of headlights while the European Commission considered how it could introduce common standards across Europe and then set the associated technical standards for new cars in line with these standards.

The conclusion of all this work is the introduction of daytime running lights laws that means that in the UK for example all new cars must be fitted with Daylight Running Lights or DRLs from 7th February 2011. Vans and trucks will follow with their own DRLs from 2012.  But is this law - and the specification of DRLs actually a good thing?

Accident Research
We're all for reducing the number of collisions and fatalities that take place on our roads, but how do we measure these accidents so that meaningful statistics can be produced?  In the UK, the Police Forces have been recording all 'injury road accidents' where injury or death has taken place since 1926 and this data (referred to as STATS19) has been published by the Department for Transport since 1951.  The form to be filled in is available on the UK Dept of Transport's National Archive web site and the 2011 report can be seen on the UK Government's Department of Transport web site.  It is analysed nationally and the results are used extensively by Government, Local Councils, Research establishments and manufacturers in studies as diverse as street lighting, traffic calming, road construction, signs, driver training and also aspects of vehicle technology - including seat belts, air bags, better tyres, better brake systems and improved visibility.  An idea of the level of detail recorded can be had from looking at the forms used to record accidents, and a useful summary graph, produced by Peter Eastern, can be found on the Wikipedia web site:



This is where we can start to consider the true effect of the introduction of DRLs

The reason put forward for the introduction of DRLs is "to increase the visual contrast between vehicles and their background so that the presence of a vehicle is made more obvious to other road users".  Studies that have been carried out by the bodies promoting DRLs claim that DRLs will make a difference to certain types of accident.  The UK Government, for example, projects a 6% reduction in accidents without compromising other non-DRL road users (pedestrians, cyclists, mopeds etc) whereas the European Commission projects between 3-5%.  However, Lightmare, (a British web site set up by Roy Milnes and Ken Perham) specifically targets the increasing use of bright lights on British roads and the wider detrimental effect this is having on road safety.  They comment that statistics about DRLs from eight European countries over a 15-year period show that road fatality rates dropped faster in non-DRL countries such as Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands than fatalities in pro-DRL countries such as Finland, Norway and Sweden.  Indeed, Austria has gone as far as to ban their introduction despite the EC legislation on the basis of these statistics.  Other campaigners say that speeding and alcohol are the main underlying factors behind road deaths, not difficulty in seeing cars that don't have lights on. They say that training motorists to look out for vulnerable road users would be one of the most effective safety measures that can be introduced. 

So despite all the research, we still have no firm conclusion.  So how can we judge if DRLs are actually effective?

Well, there is a section in the STATS19 report form that is labelled 'Contributory Factors'.  The Officer attending the accident has to complete the form and he can record up to six relevant factors that contributed to the accident.  While DRLs are not mentioned specifically in the form, one factor that is listed is 'Dazzling headlights', (Code 705).  We would need to wait for a year or two while statistics are gathered, but it would be interesting to see how this factor featured in accidents before and after the introduction of DRLs and the new legislation.  This would therefore provide the confirmation or otherwise that the new legislation is effective.

Are DRLs too bright?
The Lightmare team are particularly worried that the European standards that have been introduced are too powerful for our normal use and that the lights on current cars are now far too bright to be safe.  The  regulations (ECE Regulation 87, Revision 2: Daytime running lamps)  are clear in terms of the specification of the light (brightness and angles, construction and approval) and the use (to make the vehicle more easily visible when driving during daytime).  The standard stipulates that the direction of these lights is to be fixed to point directly in front of the vehicle (unlike dipped headlights that are aimed so as not to dazzle the oncoming driver).  Now consider that the light levels specified for DRLs are between 400cd and a maximum of 1200cd.  To give a comparative reference level for this amount of light, dipped headlights are typically around 800cd - and these are by law aimed down and away from oncoming traffic.  Therefore, with current legislation, DRLs can actually be brighter than dipped headlights but without the beam pattern that prevents dipped headlights from dazzling oncoming road users.  Nice.  No wonder Lightmare are so concerned!

Finally, far from being considered primarily as a 'safety feature', manufacturers and the motoring press are treating DRLs as a 'stylish addition' to a car, concentrating on the look of DRLs as adding character to a car rather than contributing to its safety.  This needs to stop, as it means that drivers reading this information are being encouraged to buy/specify the lights as a fashion accessory rather than to treat or think of them as a safety feature.  We are seeing more and more of this now, with drivers using fog lamps in good weather or fitting non-standard (and often illegal) HID headlamps to make themselves look 'cool'.  They're not.  They are only increasing their chance of contributing to an accident as they are increasing the chances of dazzling oncoming drivers while travelling.  Sites like Lightmare can help by providing the education that these drivers need to stop this happening and, when enough drivers are aware of the perils, we can bring pressure to Government and to the European Commission to update the standards and reduce the dazzling effect of DRLs and other overbright automotive lights.

So what can you do?  Well, if you agree that the current high-brightness automotive lights are too bright for our roads, then you should visit Lightmare's web site and sign their petition.  Given enough people signing the petition, the Lightmare team will be able to lobby the UK Government and the European Commission to change the legislation and reduce the unnecessary additional lighting that is being used on our roads.

The fight has started...

Family meals ARE good for you.

Sitting down regularly to a family meal may be alien to many of you but it's something we've known ever since our childhood and we've made it central to our own family way of life.  Our four children have grown up with this and we hope they'll see it as important enough to their own lives to want to continue the tradition.

There's no secret recipe for a successful family meal, but we reckon that they should be regular, there should be no TV, no snacks and no rush.  Just prepare the food and sit down together to enjoy the meal, each others company and just .. see what happens.  Food can vary from salads and light meals in the summer to roasts, stews and full meals when it's cold.  We serve up at the table and people are encouraged to eat as much of what they want, so fads and sensitivities are quietly taken care of. It's just as easy to prepare a vegetarian dish or a different meat dish alongside the main dish for these who can't enjoy the main meal and these days we make sure we do a little planning up front for what people eat.  In any case, it's the togetherness that's important.  The food is almost a bonus.

As the children have grown up so the family meal has evolved too.  We've had to adapt when we eat and how often as it's as difficult to make a toddler sit still through a long meal as it is to insist on fixed times during teenage years where our children had other activities that overlap mealtimes.  However, during all of this we rarely let a week go by without all of us sitting down together for a meal and often we shared two or three such meals every week.  Even now, with our children grown up and moved out, we usually enjoy  a family get-together once a month - with the added benefit these days of being able to eat out, as well as in!

It's not an experiment; we don't score points but we do encourage everyone to talk and participate and everyone is equal.  There are no real rules other than normal decorum and politeness and it is a great way (if a little daunting) for new friends to become acquainted with the family.  We firmly believe that this type of meal - with everyone joining in - has provided our children with a rich environment for language (at an earlier age) for stories, debates, family history - or just plain fun.  By encouraging them all to talk during these family meals we've brought up teenagers who could (and would) converse with adults rather than just grunting and we are convinced we have had a happier family life as a result.

There are one or two 'taboo's' at a family meal.  We don't have 'family conferences' at the table, nor do we try to resolve conflicts within the family (important when bringing up teenagers) but we will all help sort out issues that are discussed.  Also, it's very important that the family meal is not a platform for the 'head of the household' to preach either!

It would seem that others also think that family meals are good for you.  The UK's Daily Mail newspaper reported that children who have family meals are 'less likely to be overweight and binge on junk food' and there is a therapist in the States who comments on a large number of scientific studies that confirm what we parents have known intuitively for a long time: sitting down to a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain, and the body. She cites that "Recent studies link regular family dinners (5 or more meals a week) with a host of teenage behaviours that parents pray for: lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. Dinner conversation is a great booster of vocabulary for young children, and stories told around the table about parents and grandparents help to build self-esteem and resilience. The icing on the cake is that regular family meals also lower the rates of obesity and eating disorders in children".

So if you've not tried them, turn the TV off, organise a time when no-one is busy (and that includes both spouse/partner and children) and plan a meal.  Try to set aside a couple of hours and try to think of some subjects to kick off discussions.  Make sure (for the first few meals) that everyone gets to speak and the quieter ones round the table are allowed to speak up.

Finally, don't give up if the first one doesn't work.  Just try again (perhaps after discussing maybe why the first one failed).  Drop a comment below if you already have regular meals, or if you'll be trying them, or if they didn't work.  I'd like to hear from you.

Cooling modifications on my laptop

Recently I bought an eBay special - a small, powerful laptop to carry around on my photographic trips and on holiday so that I am not carrying too much weight (particularly as hand-luggage). It's a Dell XPS M1330 laptop, some three years old with performance enough for Windows 7 and some older games and plenty of storage to keep track of my photographs and videos and the odd movie to watch.

However it has one extra feature that is not so good though - a high-performance graphics chip that gets very hot and is known to fail. This problem affected a number of laptops of this age - notably those fitted with the nVidia GeForce 8400 GS or 8600 graphics chips. There were plenty of stories in the press too about law suits, overheating laptops and motherboard failures affecting laptops from Apple, Dell and HP.  So why did I choose this model?

Here's why:  It has more than enough power for coping with work and web surfing, it weighs less than 2kg and has an excellent 13in 1280 x 800 resolution screen. Battery life is good and the reviews were all very positive. Further, before I bought the laptop, I found out that you can significantly improve the cooling capability of the laptop with a simple modification that costs a few pounds and takes less time to complete than it took to write this article.  I won't go through the actual steps here, but instead will refer you to the excellent guides on the Notebook Review forum.  In a nutshell the computers cooling components are taken apart, cleaned up and re-assembled but this time with an additional copper shim to help the transfer of heat from the Graphics chip (known as the GPU) to the outside air.

And how successful was the modification?  Well, I tested the laptop by playing one of my favourite games, Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven to make sure that the laptop was pushed hard to force up the temperature of the GPU.  With the ambient temperature of the room at a steady 20 degrees Celsius I monitored the GPU and CPU temperatures using a program called RealTemp which is capable of recording the temperatures of the graphics chip and the CPU cores to disk every five seconds.  I ran the tests before making the modification and again afterwards and the results recorded were impressive.  When playing Mafia before making the modification the GPU temperature reached a maximum of 87 degrees Celsius.  While not reaching the maximum temperature of the chip, it nevertheless means that the laptop will heat up over time because the heat generated in the chip ends up being dispersed through the chip to the motherboard and then to the case, rather than being taken away from the chip to the outside air by the heatpipe.  After making the modification and replaying the game, the maximum temperature only rose to an impressive 68 degrees Celsius.  That's a drop of 19 degrees Celcius with no other changes made - no artificial cooling, no change in ambient temperature.  I even drove the same route within Mafia.

Here is a graph showing the results:

On the left of the graph I played Mafia without modifying the cooling.  The short gap in the results shows where I made the change.  The increase at about 15:20 is where I started to watch a DVD.  At 17:15 I started playing Mafia.  As you can see, the temperature does not get as hot as before, so all in all a very successful modification that will hopefully mean I have no cooling issues with this laptop.  Certainly I have noticed that the fan does not spin up as often and the laptop stays cooler longer.

Get your daily newspaper delivered to your Kindle ... for free

Many of us have an Amazon Kindle and are used to reading e-books on the device.  But what about reading newspapers and periodicals on the Kindle?  How about receiving a newspaper on your Kindle by email - one generated by you with just the news you want in it?  Well, with a bit of magic from a very useful program called Calibre you can do exactly that.

There have been other articles and forum posts that show that this can be done but this article will step you through it.

What's needed?
Obviously you'll need a Kindle but in addition, you'll need a working Kindle email address and access to a PC or laptop and a copy of Calibre.  Calibre will run on Windows, Linux and Mac computers so you should have no problems running the program.  Please consider donating to Calibre (there's a click-through on the site linking to PayPal) though to help fund its development.

First step.  Setting up Calibre
The first thing to do is to set up Calibre to be able to email your Kindle account.  So, start Calibre


When the opening screen is presented, click on the Preferences icon top right of the window.


From the window that opens, click on the Sharing Books by Email button under Sharing.


Click on the Add email button and enter your Kindle email address (<your.email>@kindle.com) obviously replacing <your.email> with your own identity.  [nb - see note at the end of this article about possible costs]  Make sure Auto send is ticked as shown here.
You will also need to set up access to your email system so that Calibre can send the email 'from' you 'to' your Kindle.  I used my Gmail account.  You should set up yours, of course.


Finally test the email by clicking on the Test email button and click on the green tick Apply button and then Close.

(Quick note about your Kindle email:  Before you can use your Kindle email account in this project, you'll have to visit your Amazon account and make sure your Kindle email is set to allow emails from your chosen email address to be sent to your Kindle.)

Next step.  Set up your news feed
Now we set up a source of News for our first Kindle newspaper.  For this example I'll set up the BBC News channel.  In the Calibre main window, click on the button labelled Fetch News
From the list that is presented, slide down until you reach the English (UK) section and click on the little triangle on the left to expand the selection.  Then click on the BBC News entry.  This brings up a scheduling screen with the ability to set up automatic jobs that go and fetch the news, automatically formats it and then sends it to your Kindle.  For now, though, just tick the box that says Schedule for Download and click on Save.


Now, if you open the Fetch News window again you will see a new entry at the top - Scheduled.  This is where your scheduled news items are recorded so you know what's going on.

Testing your setup
To test your entry, click on Scheduled, select an example news source and then click on the Download Now button and hit save.  You should now see the Jobs: 1 status with a revolving line showing that Calibre is working on your request for you.

This will take a little time, as the program goes through the news headlines presented by BBC News, goes and fetches each of the stories behind the headlines, downloads each of them to your computer, re-formats them for the Kindle and then creates an e-book for the job complete with a contents page.  Once it has done that, it then sends the result directly to your Kindle.  Here is the job summary screen showing how long the job took to run.


And here is the BBC News job we've just run, displayed on my Kindle.


I would be interested to know how you get on.  Please let me know if this was of use to you or if there are steps that could be better explained.

[UpdateSince originally writing this article Amazon have introduced lots of more modern Kindles to the old Gen 3 ones I used in this example.  I understand they all work with the process outlined in this article.  However, please note that if you have a Kindle capable of receiving directly over 3G, note that Amazon will charge for the delivery of what it calls 'Personal Documents' - such as the ones we create here.  If you do not wish to pay these charges, you should use the <your.email>@free.kindle.com address.  Here, the emails are delivered free, but are only collectable via WiFi or by USB upload from your account.  Please be aware, therefore, that by emailing content to your Kindle over Whispernet you may incur a charge from Amazon.  See Transferring, Downloading, and Sending Files to Kindle for more details.]

Tracking the badgers in the garden...

Background
If you've read my other posts you'll know we've got badgers in the garden and earthworks to suggest a sett too.  The question to be asked is: is the sett active? To find out requires a bit of investigation, so I'm looking through where I place the Trail Camera and how the badger is filmed to try and backtrack the badgers movements.

I know it would be easy to say that we should put the Trail Camera over the sett to see for sure, but this hasn't been successful, partially because of the overgrowth there and partly because the camera is not as sensitive as I would like.

Evidence
The success of capturing on video by feeding the badger has prompted me to look at where I site the camera in an attempt to see if I could work out where the badgers were coming from in the garden.  I'll do a simple plan of the garden shortly, but for the moment let me show you a couple of photos to explain my thinking:

First a wide angle view showing the area of the garden I'm looking at:



The area I've filmed the badgers in is on the left centre of this picture and the camera has been attached to each of the trees visible on the left of the picture looking towards the boundary of the garden at the back of the picture.  The sett mentioned above is in amongst the trees on the right.


Yet, as I said above, despite putting the camera so it overlooks the sett, I've had no photographic evidence of the badgers there.  However, in the area to the left of the trees I have had fairly repeatable results (admittedly with the bribery of some scattered nuts) with the camera attached to any of the trees there.


(note here the addition of a silvered plasticised sheet arranged over the IR LED's (but with a hole over the day/night sensor - thanks to a suggestion from Ron)) This provides better exposure at night and avoids whiteout during the videos.  This photo shows the camera mounted slightly higher than normal (at about 600mm, whereas the previous camera positions have been set lower at around 300mm).  This was very quickly successful last night with a more circumspect badger walking round the top of the field of view but this time only 15mins after I put the nuts out...  Was he waiting for me???  Who knows.



The consistency I have noted in each of the videos is that, more often than not, the badger approaches the feeding area from the left.  Not from the right, which would be the case if approaching from the sett.  So over the next few nights I'll position the camera on a different tree to see if the different view will give us some more information.

Update for 10th April:  Walnuts eaten but no images.  Camera didn't trigger.  :(
Update for 11th April:  Walnuts eaten but no images.  Camera didn't trigger.  :(
Update for 12th April:  Walnuts eaten and an image - nicely this was the badger looking for a scratching post - the camera was dirty when I recovered it this morning!


Update for 13th April:  Walnuts eaten but no images.  Camera didn't trigger.  :(
Update for 14th April:  Camera set up to record while we were away on holiday.  Various animals and birds captured, so will compile a composite movie of them all.

Conclusion
I still think this camera is flawed.  Insensitive PIR (only works upto 2m); infuriating 5sec delay (I get frequent empty videos because the subject has wondered off after triggering) and the LED's are too bright close to so I get whiteout.  This means to get images that are useful, I have to:
  • Make sure subjects are within 2m of the camera to trigger it
  • Hope that the subjects hang around the camera for more than 5secs and stays around for a further 15 secs to register a worthwhile capture
  • Mask out the infra red LED's cos all the action is too close to the camera and the LED's are too powerful at that range
Come on, ProStalk: Why design it one way but have to use it another to get any results?  It's time I designed my own camera, methinks...

We've badgers in the garden...

We had been worrying about the sudden spate of small shallow holes appearing in the garden - some with a deposit of animal poo in - over the past three months


I'd already been round the garden to see what other clues there were and, while in an area of trees, I came across a number of holes tucked away at the top of the garden:




You can probably estimate that these holes were between 20-30cm across.  To see if the holes were still active, we put a stick across one as you can see in the last picture.

We suspected badgers as the prime candidate, but suspecting is one thing; having photographic evidence is quite another, so I set up the Trail Camera on the tree on the left in the first picture to see what was doing the digging.  For a number of nights I didn't see anything on the camera (despite seeing that nuts and dried fruit put out in front of the camera were being eaten!)  This increases my confidence that the sensor for the trigger on the camera is not sensitive enough but reading another users' experiences with the camera I decided to persevere this time trying video rather than still shots.  The first night I tried this produced this rather fine example:



Still no evidence of activity from around the holes but that is where the camera is now situated, so I will leave it for a week or so and see what I can see by the weekend.

Well, it's Thursday night, and I scattered a few old walnuts around and set the camera up again.  This time I put a sheet of metalized anti-static plastic across the Infra Red LED's to reduce the light output and hopefully improve the pictures.  As suggested by Ron Bury on a previous post I punched a hole in the sheet to leave the daylight sensor fully exposed to the light in the garden.

I was rewarded by two decent films of a badger again.  They're linked below for your pleasure:
and
It would be good to know what you think.  Please feel free to add a comment below.

ProStalk PC2000 - is the PIR working?

I was given a ProStalk PC2000 Trail Camera by my children as a Christmas present in December 2010 and have been trying to use the camera in my garden - unfortunately with little success.  All I have been able to capture is the tail of a fox and plenty of pictures of me walking away from the camera after fitting it.  Now the reason for this could be me; it could be the camera - or it could be the wildlife are all playing tricks - so I decided to run a series of tests to see what was happening.
Looking at the situation with my engineering hat on it seems that the the only pictures I have had 'triggered' by the camera are when the triggering subject is close (ie within 2m of the sensor). This means that at night, the IR flash is too strong and I only get whiteout (see my blog post about this here)
Outdoors, all I have managed again is close-triggered shots, which, with the 5sec minimum delay between trigger and shot, means I get an empty picture, or a picture of the departing animal's tail.


With the above in mind I looked up the specification of the camera and then set out a test:

Specification
  • Resolution: 2MP
  • Size: Ultra Compact 82x122x41mm
  • Display: TN Digital screen without backlight
  • Motion Sensor: One PIR, 45Degree, 45 feet range (at 4 Degrees environment temp)
  • 15 LED IR with a range of 10 meters
  • Photo Take Delay: 5s-60min (Default 1 Min)
  • Storage Image Size: SD Card up to 32G
  • Resolution: 1600x1200 (2.0M)
  • Movie Resolution: AVI 640x480
  • Powered by 4 x AA Cells
  • Working Time: 6 Months, (6,000 images)
  • Shutter Speed: 0.9seconds
Testing
For the test, I carried out the following:
  • Brand new Duracell batteries inserted in the camera.
  • Camera set up as recommended by the suppliers
  • Mounted the camera on a pole, with sticks marking 5m from the camera and 10m from camera 

  •  Arrange for a small animal look-alike (my nephew, in the picture at 10m point) to walk in front and wait five seconds on the 5m/10m mark
  • Repeat this activity five times at 5m and again five times at 10m
  • Analyse the results
The camera specification talks about the IR flash and photographs working upto 10m away so with this in mind, I have to assume that the PIR sensor would also work to the same dimensions. However, the results from my test were quite conclusive: The ONLY pictures I had from the camera during this test were when I was setting up the 5m and 10m marks and when my nephew walked directly in front of the camera.

Both these were close passes at less than two metres. No photos were triggered for any of the walkthrough tests at 5m or at 10m.  Disappointing to say the least.

So far, the supplier has replied with:
We would recommend that you move the trail camera closer to the subject like a trail, path or feeding station about 1m-3m away. This give a large enough subject in the footage. If we had a way to set this, then this would be better.
My thinking is that the pictures show that sharp focus on the camera is from about 3m to infinity, so for best results I need the subject at least 3m from the camera.  Additionally, why should I have to use a camera that focuses from 3m to infinity with an IR flash designed for up to 10m range at a trigger range of 1-3m?  Image quality is reasonable, considering the optics, but I would rather the unit was more sensitive. I'm looking to record squirrels, rabbits, foxes, badgers and an occasional deer in my garden, so reasonable sized mammals should trigger a properly working camera.

Or am I being too optimistic?

Update
Last night I tried another test.  I put the camera at 300mm height on a tree close to an area that is being dug up in the garden.  In this area I scattered a few Brazil nuts and raisins and waited overnight.

In the morning I found no nuts left and no photographs of animals.