Blog


Dash Cam Review - Proofcam RAC 02


IMG 20150513 092730


[Edit: I’ve disabled the videos for now until I figure out how to improve the experience since they are huge]

I’ve always been a gadget fan and interested in dash cams.  Like most people, I think I’m a great driver and everybody else is horrible!  A dash cam has other benefits of course and thankfully I’ve not seen any serious accidents but I have witnessed some pretty bad driving, as posted here on my blog and on Youtube.

My current dash cam is a cheap Chinese unit that I got for about £25 from Geek.  I’ve only had it a few months but it has captured a few “dumbo” moments on the roads around Basingstoke.  Before that I’ve tried a variety of things including an Android phone running Autoguard, and some really cheap clip on units that were 480p and battery powered.

When ProofCam contacted me on Twitter and asked if I would take a look at one of their units in exchange for receving one, I said I would - providing if I didn’t like it I would say so and return the camera.  So - full disclaimer - this unit was provided by them to me at no cost. I’m going to keep it, because I do like it - but more about that later.

Price and Specs

The Proofcam RAC 02 is an RAC-branded HD dash cam with an external GPS dongle for approximately £105 - £150.

  • Sensor: 3 MP 1/3” CMOS
  • Lens: f2.8 / 170˚ field of view
  • Resolution: 1080 FHD @ 30fps or 720p @ 60fps
  • LCD: LCD 2.7” TFT
  • Video format: .mov
  • TF card support: ≥ class 4
  • Battery: 3.7v 250mAh Li-ion
  • Dimensions: 82 x 50 x 37mm
  • Weight: 60g

The unit can be purchased here or from Jessops, and also from the RAC online shop here.

Unboxing

The unit comes in a small box, and the package includes:

  • The camera
  • Suction mount
  • 4GB SD card
  • GPS receiver dongle
  • Lighter socket power adaptor with 4m cable
  • User manual
  • Window Sticker

The unit is very small and the case is mostly matt black, although the lens itself is a shiny silver.  This is actually one of the things that I don’t like about the unit - the bling of the silver lens.  Even though the unit is small, I’d be hesitant to leave the device in place if I park up the vehicle, and there could be some reflection from the lens onto the windscreen which might be annoying.  If I had a choice, I’d prefer the whole unit to be matt black.  The unit is well made though and felt sturdy, without a cheap plastic feel even though it is not heavy.

On the back of the unit is the LCD screen.  Again, I should point out another flaw (compared to my cheap Chinese unit) - the screen is always on.  My personal preference is to have the recording light flash, but for the screen to be dimmed after a certain timeout.  When driving at night I don’t like any bright screens in my peripheral vision, and most GPS units have a “night mode” for this reason.  It would be better if the RAC 02 had a similar feature.

On the bottom of the unit are 5 buttons - ‘Menu,’ ‘Select / Mic toggle’, ‘Rec/Stop,’ ‘Photo’ and ‘Power/lock’.  In my usage, I never found it convenient (or safe) to actually try and press any of the buttons.  But if there was a passenger who could do it, or when completely stationary and safe, it might be ok to try and snap a photo or to lock the current clip.  I just never felt comfortable reaching for the unit and trying to perform any action.  In fact, the way the unit works almost without any intervention is key to safety and comfort - I really don’t want to be distracted by the camera or the novelty of it.  I just want to have it come on automatically, record away, and turn itself off when the engine is switched off.

The unit can record sound or be muted.  The quality of the sound seemed good enough to me, although I didn’t analyse it very closely.

It is really great that it comes with everything needed (the SD card) right out of the box - that can’t be overstated!  However, in HD mode, I was only capturing about 50 minutes of video before the card became full and the camera started recycling the clips.  This might be good enough for most people - but I’ve ordered a 32GB card to give myself some additional space.

Performance

The video quality is excellent.  In HD mode recording, registration plates are clearly visible in daylight recording, even at high speeds on 2 lane roads and the oncoming vehicle is not too far away to the side.  However, on a dual carriage way at speed, the reg plates become too hard to read without grabbing a frame and zooming, and possibly doing some image manipulation.  Of course, night time recording is a different matter, and that is to be expected.

I tried the 720p setting, and have some sample video.  I thought the higher framerate might help legibility and reduce motion blur but that didn’t seem to work very well, so I’m keeping it at 1080p.

Sample videos and stills

Here are some sample videos and stills from various day and night conditions.

1080p

1080pClearRegExample
1080pMorning00
1080pMorning01
1080pNiceRide
1080pWideAngleCurve


720p

720pMorning00
720pMorning01


Summary

The picture quality is really very good, especially for daytime driving.  The wide field of view is good without being distorted with any fish eye effects.  The picture is very stable, and the GPS input for speed and location recording is a great feature.  The unit is easy to install and configuration is minimal - very much “plug and go”.  If only the display had a timeout feature and the lens had less bling, this thing would tick all the boxes for me.

Even with those issues, I really think this is a great unit for the price, so I’ll be keeping it unless they ask for it back.  Thanks @Proofcam!


Another day, another lunatic

Another dash cam derring don’t, this guy overtakes a lorry and almost has a head on with a Transit.  I was a safe distance back because I didn’t want to be part of the action, so the camera recording isn’t super clear or good quality.  But, I could see the oncoming traffic before the guy started his maneuver and I can’t believe he went for it anyway.



What is this, Le Mans?


This is the reason I have a dash cam.  Dude has a nice car and all but clearly he can’t see out of it.  When it became obvious that he wasn’t going to yield, I put my brakes on.  Maybe he was counting on that?  Do you think I should have slowed to let him in to begin with? There was a guy right behind me that almost came into me and lots of traffic to my right, so no place to move over.  Merge conflict or what...

NSConference 7

I’ve just returned from NSConference 7, perhaps the last of the NSConference series.  As usual the conference had a great vibe and the talks were all excellent.

My hope is that Scotty will redefine NSConference in such a way that it will happen again next year, perhaps in a slightly different format, maybe a different location, or something else entirely.  One thing is certain - Scotty doesn’t like to sit still for too long, maybe the itch will need to be scratched and he’ll return for another last NSConference.  Fingers crossed.

Snazzier (?) AppCode

At the recent and wonderful NSConference, I spoke to a number of developers who either hadn't tried AppCode, or if they had, dismissed it immediately because it doesn't use native UI.

My first reaction was - hmm "non-native UI probably shouldn't be enough of an issue to instantly dismiss it, given all the other cool stuff it can do."  But then I thought, well, I don't like the ios7 UI very much - to the point of it putting me off using my iPhone lately since some hipster designers vomited light contrast pixels onto a white background in the name of usability.  So if somebody recoils at the thought of non-native UI in a developer tool, I guess I can relate - beauty is in the eye of the beholder and what works well for some doesn't for others.  But I digress.

The point here is to show that AppCode can be tweaked to look similar to Xcode - for some degree of similarity.  Whether that similarity goes far enough to satisfy those who really want native UI is unclear but here are some screenshots that show how I've customised my AppCode (and how I like it to look), along with how I've configured my color scheme and fonts in Xcode.  And hey, if you don’t like my Xcode, well tough - it’s mine dang it!

The two screenshots below say it all... if this is interesting enough for me to describe in more detail I'd be happy to share - everything is done via the preferences screens in AppCode and is hardly rocket science.  But still, happy to go into more detail if it helps somebody out, just let me know - I'm @chwalters on Twitter.


A Tale of Five Droids - All less than a ton (c-note!)

For an Android project I’m working on I wanted to have a selection of test devices without having to spend a fortune.  To keep costs down, I went to the Geekbuying website and purchased a variety of phones, ranging from very cheap to cheap.  I paid customs/import duty on these devices, but no shipping charges since Geekbuying was offering free shipping at the time I placed the order.  The only criteria I had was for WiFi and no separate charger - i.e., chargeable via the USB connector.  I didn’t care about RAM, 3G/4G, etc or CPU speeds.

I have to say that these phones all represent tremendous value for money, and I’d probably even use the top two (Zoppo and iPegTop) as a day-to-device if I didn’t already have one.  All of them offer dual SIM slots; two are dual-core and the other three quad-core CPUs.  The screens on the very cheap devices are definitely not the best, but wait til you see the price!  Perfect for testing or for giving to a less demanding user who just wants some basic functionality without spending a fortune on the latest from Apple or the top-end Droids.

Obviously these run Android, so for some of you that might be the biggest issue if you prefer iOS.

What is clear is that educated consumers can (I believe legally) get fairly powerful but inexpensive devices with some very real but minimal downsides, depending on their requirements.  In my case I had no DOA units; the devices all seem well put together; and there were no issues with shipping or payment.  So far I’ve only tried PAYG SIMs in the iPegTop z26, and it works well - but lack of 3G on the low-end or perhaps non-standard radio bands means the buyer needs to be careful if they want to use the device as an actual phone instead of as a WiFi only terminal.

In addition, none of these devices run the latest version of Android.  In my case, a random selection of operating system versions was exactly what I needed but this will probably cause others to think twice.

Here is a quick photo album of what I went for:

But, buyer beware - be careful! Check the specs carefully should you choose to go this route, and don’t shoot me if it doesn’t work out for you - YMMV with this approach.  This article also explores reasons why this kind of purchase might remain a geek-only activity for the foreseeable future.


Fire in the Hole! (Super Spicy Toad in the Hole)

15-The-Reveal-After-Eggs-Baked-In-20140125122427


For this weekend’s brunch themed Capsicana Twitter cook-off, I made a super-spicy version of the classic “Toad in the Hole.”  Instead of normal sausages I used Spicy Bath Pig Chorizo, and with loads of chillies including three dried bhut jolokia, this dish was far from bland.

Surprisingly this dish won the cook off, and I say that because there were so many outstanding entries.  Take a look at them by searching for the hashtag #CapsicanaCookoff.

Already looking forward to the next cook-off.  They are a ton of fun, you should enter!

I used the batter recipe from Pamela Gwyther’s “Best of British Cooking” and then assembled a cast of terribles to mix in.  The result was pretty darn fiery but not intolerable - I think the stodgy batter resisted the pepper onslaught quite well.


Zapier Integration List (as of 26 December 2013)

I went to look at the list of API providers that Zapier supports and found that I hadn’t heard of many of them.  So I did a quick exercise and did a very, very quick visit to each of the service providers.  I captured the URL and a brief description of the services, and tried to categorize them by my own notion of what they do.  I made a spreadsheet to capture this info.  If you have any suggested changes, please let me know (or if you think I should use a different format, etc.).  For what it’s worth, the file is in my public documentation repository on Github, so feel free to fork away, etc.

A list of API's supported by Zapier.  Taken from their status page and then did a very brief lookup to find out the URL and create a brief description of the service:

https://github.com/chwalters/PublicDocs

Burritos Del Mar

Burritos del Mar

This month’s entry in the http://www.capsicana.co.uk/capsicanacookoff

Guajillo sauce - mix guajillo powder, some grated cheese, chopped garlic and onions with sour cream and let rest in the fridge for an hour or so.

Toasted bhut jolokia pumpkin seeds - toss the seeds in olive oil and salt and toast gently in a skillet.  After start to swell pull them off; rest then add bhut jolokia powder and mix well.  Take care with the powder!

Poach a cod loin and a “fruit of the sea” seafood packet (squid, mussels, and prawns) gently in white wine, garlic, onions and a dash of cumin.  Set aside.  Cook rice and add black beans, more garlic, onions and a dash of salt.  Mix seafood, rice and beans together to form the filling for the burritos.

Soften large flour tortillas in a pan (or very briefly microwave) to make them easier to roll.  Fill the tortillas and roll.  Add to slightly greased baking tray.  Bake in the oven until heated through.

Heat guajillo sauce in saucepan but don't boil it.  Add a bit of cheese to thicken.

If wet (see below) cover with sauce and cheese and bake.

Serve burritos wet or if preferred, dry.  If wet, smother burrito with sauce, and then top with a few of the pumpkin seeds.  If dry, serve the sauce in a bowl on the side and use it for dipping.

Serve with side salad and diced avocado and red onion spritzed with lime.  Or make some guac!


Creamy Crab Quesadillas with Pear and Mango Salsa

aka "Having fun on Twitter!"

Today I made creamy crab quesadillas with pear and mango salsa for the monthly "#capsicanacookoff"

CrabQuesadillas


Filling

To make the creamy crab filling, I used a tin of Costco fancy crab meat that I had in the fridge and mixed it with 1/2 a container of Philadelphia cream cheese, adding the equivalent of 2 cloves of garlic - I used puree, powder or minced fresh garlic would also work.  Add a finely diced medium red onion, and fresh coriander to taste.  After I mixed up the filling I added some grated cheddar and mozzarella to the mix until I had a nice thick consistency that was still spreadable.  Salt and pepper to taste, I didn't think it needed it!

Salsa

I had a fresh pear from the tree in the garden, and I thought it would taste nice in a salsa.  So at the supermarket I picked up some mango, six mixed chilli peppers (including a scotch bonnet!).  All of the chillies, another small red onion and 1/2 dozen cherry tomatoes were finely chopped and spritzed with lime juice and loads of fresh finely chopped coriander was added.

Cooking

Take a flour tortilla, microwave it for 15 seconds to make it soft and pliable.  Place the tortilla on a plate, then fill with the cream cheese mixture, fold in half.  Fry on medium heat one at a time in an lightly oiled skillet until the tortilla is just brown and the filling gets melted, flipping as required but at least once.

Serve on a plate with sour cream garnish, loads of the salsa, and a bit more fresh coriander and pomegranate seeds.  Margaritas to drink along with the quesadillas optional but recommended!

Links

http://twitter.com/capsicana

http://twitter.com/catlilycooks


© Chris Walters 2016