Saturday 30 November 2013

Geeks of the Week!

The Radio Channel (DARC) is a high-rate (16 kbit/s) standard for encoding data in a subcarrier over radio station broadcasts. Decoder software for DARC does not exist, according to search engines. To read the actual data frames, I'll have to acquire block synchronization, regenerate the pseudorandom scrambler used and reverse its action, check the data against CRCs for errors, and implement the stack of layers that make up the protocol. The DARC specification itself is luckily public, albeit not very helpfully written; in contrast to the RDS standard, it contains almost no example circuits, data, or calculations. So, a little recap of Galois field mathematics and linear feedback shift registers for me.

 Doctors Who?  Or, perhaps ...
Stephen Hawking.

In fact, neither. These are the pearls of dubious wisdom that drop from the lips of ...
... the delectable Oona Räisänen!

Oona has a strange hobby; she decodes computer data as broadcast in radio signals and telephone lines; in a way she's an upmarket hacker. And she comes from Finland.

In company with fbb and myriads of other sad and slightly silly souls, she writes a blog ...
... telling the world at large (well, those bits of the world that can understand what she's prattling on about!) what she has just decoded.

And so to Helsinki bus services.
Public transport in Helsinki consists of bus, tram, metro, train, and ferry services. The system is managed by Helsinki Region Transport (HSL/HRT) and covers Helsinki, Espoo, Kauniainen, Vantaa and the outlying Kerava, Kirkkonummi and Sipoo.

Oona discovered that information for the real time electronic displays ...
... was being sent as part of a VHF radio signal via a Data Radio Channel; in other words carried piggy-back in the spare bandwidth of the speech and music signal that you hear on your tranny.
It's that fuzzy stuff at the right hand end. [fbb  apologises for any technological inexctitudes; there is a link to Oona's blog at the end of this post if you wish to get it right!]

Cleverly she was able to decode these signals and she found, firstly, route number and destination names ...
Here's a chunk of the map for the 23N:-

Place names are shown in in Finnish and Swedish.

Ruskeasuo (ruots. Brunakärr) on kaupunginosa Helsingin kantakaupungin luoteiskulmassa Mannerheimintien molemmin puolin. Peruspiirijaossa Ruskeasuo kuuluu yhdessä Laakson ja Meilahden kanssa Reijolan peruspiiriin. Ruskeasuon asukasluku on noin 6900 (1.1.2008) ja työpaikkoja alueella on noin 6100 (31.12.2005).

Languages are fascinating. There's a word with four "u"s in it - kuuluu. fbb thinks (rubbish, google translate thinks) that it is part of the verb meaning "belongs to". Maybe stick to English Wikipedia?

Ruskeasuo (Brunakärr in Swedish, verbatim "Brown swamp"), is a neighbourhood of Helsinki (Helsingfors in Swedish), about 3 kilometres north of the city centre.

Then she found evidence of times ...
... and, intriguingly, a sentence in German, "Bus 61 nach Flughafen aus Haltestelle 1" (Bus 61 for the airport from stand 1)! As with all geekish activity, the fun is in the searching and sorting and Oona has concluded her project by making her own real time screen.
Of course, conspiracy theorists will be aghast to know that facilities are readily (?) available to decode stuff that flies invisibly through the air. Link this to the recent news that the USA is listening in to phone calls and emails from supposedly "friendly" politicians and nothing electronic is safe or sacred.  Spookeeee!

Talking of Doctor Who and Geeks. Some dedicated whovian has posted a video on YouTube showing every version of the show's introductory captions over the past 50 years. This you must see!

Geeky or what?

Then there are sad, sad people around who seem to enjoy such esoteric activities; people who can tell you that the lowest bus route nunber ever used in Sheffield was ...

and the highest for a normal daytime service was ...
fbb, a geek? Perish the thought!

And, of course, the next Doctor Who is to be Peter Capaldi. But he has already appeared in a story about Pompeii ...
... nothing to do with his forthcoming assumption of the Doctor's persona.

Or, maybe ...
fbb is much indebted to No 2 son for guiding his old man to the Oona blog (read here). No 2 does clever computer stuff including writing games and designing flashy publicity for a caff ...
... so please feel free to pop in and enjoy. Teo's is just round the corner from the bus station ...
... in San José del Cabo; MEXICO!

 Next bus blog : Sunday 1st December 

Friday 29 November 2013

Have You Seen "Les Usines d'Ugine?" [5]

What do you do with a single track railway, passing through gorgeous countryside, closed to passengers in 1938  and progressively closed to freight by 1999?
The summary above reveals that Annecy to Annecy ZI remained at least nominally in use until 2008. Google Streetview confirms his by showing tracks in place ...
... through the town and veering right into the ...
... industrial estate (aka "Zone Industriel" aka "ZI"). From there the through line went straight down the road, through a tunnel under the hill in the distance ...
... and out the other side (behind the lorry!).
From this point onwards, almost all the way to Ugine, the track becomes not a railway track but a long distance cycle track!


From just outside the city centre of Annecy the cycleway runs alongside the much-rebuilt main road south to Ugine. Happy riders of their vélocipèdes are segregated from the busy road as far the Colmyr Park and Ride.
A little further on, where the railway used to cross the road, the cycle path veers left and takes up the former track bed.
A French rider describes the ride from the opposite direction:- 

Ce matin, j'ai roulé sur la piste cyclable qui va de Ugine à Annecy. Le temps était idéal. Il n'y avait pas trop de monde même si toutes les places de parking étaient remplies.

Aux passages de routes, il faut vraiment faire attention, les voitures ne s'arrêtent pas.

Après Doussard, on voit enfin le lac. Quel paysage!

Je passe un tunnel juste avant Duingt. J'arrive à Saint Jorioz. Il y a de plus en plus de monde (beaucoup de vélos).

Encore un petit effort, et j'arrive à Annecy. C'est les vacances, on est dimanche, il y a beaucoup de touristes.

Tout le long du lac, on peut faire des pauses sans problème pour boire ou manger.

 Sometimes the trackbed doubles as a proper local access road ...
... but, mostly, barriers ensure that only cyclists, pedestrians and "les rollers" ...
... have exclusive use.
Hey! Isn't that cheating?
For reasons of bulk, fbb has never been a keen cyclist - not since slimmer student days; but, for those who enjoy green and healthy travel, this route must be truly invigorating with its breath-taking views and excellent facilities.

In the UK, the conversion of railways into footpaths and cycleways does occur; but generally for shorter stretches.

Now if Matt Baker's not too busy in Summer 2014 ...
There is a proposal re-open the railway with some local councils being in favour; but the cycleway is so popular and the width of the trackbed insufficient for heavy rail and light bike that cyclists will almost certainly reign supreme. For once, subject to reservable rickshaw rides for the rotund, fbb agrees.

After all, there is the bus!
Probably with better views than on a bike?

 Tomorrow : Geek of the Week : Saturday 30th November 

Thursday 28 November 2013

Have You Seen "Les Usines d'Ugine?" [4]

The railway (single track) from Albertville to Annecy via Ugine had a troubled start. In 1857 a law was passed to establish the railway line. At this stage the area was part of the Kingdom of Sardinia which in turn was one of the constituent parts of what became modern Italy. 
To complicate matters there was a war with Austria and a bit of territory swapping as a result. In 1860 France claimed Savoy and the area round Nice with the people voting overwhelmingly to become part of France; voting which was probably rigged!
Accordingly the areas coloured stripey green on the map came under French rule. It was in 1881 that a new "déclaration d'utilité publique" (a sort of enabling Bill) was passed and the project ground slowing into action! Government "interference" in the privatised railway industry is as old a the iron horse itself!

Mais les travaux ne commencèrent pas pour autant et les discussions financières entre les autorités régionales et le gouvernement, entre le ministre et la Compagnie P.L.M. et dans le détail desquelles nous ne pouvons entrer retardèrent les décisions nécessaires jusqu'en 1892.

It was all about the "funding package" - isn't it always thus?

Les travaux furent donc mis en train au printemps de 1895.

The 46km (28.5 miles) line opened on 3rd Jun 1901; 44 years after the project was first mooted.

A few pictures remain of the line in use. Here is a 1910 shot of a train at Ugine ...
... and a better view of the station, now the local Tourist Office.
The station at Faverges ...
... has been obliterated by industrial development.
Continuing towards Annecy, the little halt at Lathuile is pictured in its heyday.
Google Streetview is less comprehensive in France compared with the UK and the road past the former canopied building is not covered. But a fuzzy aerial shot shows that even this little piece of history is extant, complete with canopy!
Articles on-line mention that a connection is available here with steamers on the lake. The modern map for "round the lake" uses the name of the larger community "Doussard" but the stop is close(ish) to Lathuile.
Here is a 1910 vessel rounding the promontory dominated by Duingt Château ...
... and similar today, but with less afforestation.
Pre-railway, of course, the boats would have been the only way to travel around the Lac d'Annecy; but now the service is very much a tourist activity with vessels designed and built to get the best possible views of lake and mountains.
Our last photo of this short-lived line is of a train passing near to Sévrier (the scene of driver David's picture of a much cannibalised Lodekka as featured in blogs of the recent past)
click on the picture to enlarge (a little)

The view of lake and church is obscured by trees and houses, but the background white building ...
... (now an hotel) helps to place the location. Note that the train is a mixture of freight and passenger rolling stock, typical of the line's early years.

This taster of the line from Ugine, which lasted just 37 years, concludes with our virtual and historic arrival in the splendid station at Annecy.
click to enlarge and enjoy the bus!

The station was largely rebuilt in 2001 and a new, larger, circulating area added in 2012.
There is no sign of the original!

But, we hear you cry, fbb said that the line was closed; but not closed!

We finish our French ferro-equinological  farrago on Friday (that's tomorrow!)

 Dernier blogue ferrovaire : Vendredi le 29 Novembre