Thursday, July 19, 2007

Hasta Siempre, my Friend

...We shall be reunited in Time.

As of 1100 this day, our steady and faithful companion, Jake of 13 years, made His life transition—in a dignified manner—as part of our protracted and hard fought battle against the will of Canine Lymphoma with his family (my wife, Lisa and I) by his side.

At this time, we would like to express our heartfelt thanks to our loving family members, dear friends (including Al, Craig, Leon, Lorlei, and Steve) and to the heroic oncology staff of Ann Jeglum, DVM (Veterinary Oncology Service) of West Chester, PA—who supported us through these most difficult and trying times.

Your support shall never be forgotten.

Bob & Lisa

Ps. True Love is not about holding tight, but letting go...

Machine Bears False Witness Against Me

Upon my return home this evening from the office, I was greeted by a letter—from the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission—accusing me of failing to pay a toll based upon the "testimony" of a computerized system (sound familiar?).

It so happens that I have been an EZ-PASS customer in good standing since the inception of the system, in PA, and so obviously there is a glitch or bug.

And while this inaccurate account of events by a machine should be easily corrected by a mere phone call, I do believe the timing of the delivery of an automated accusation is very fortuitous as it ties directly back to recent concerns I expressed about the rapid expansion growth potential of related automated red light camera systems in this country.

Are machines actually capable of lying?

What would the HAL-9000 'think'?

Or are machines merely capable of error.

In a court of law how will the distinctions be made when someone's being charged with a "crime"? Would that someone be afforded the right to cross examine the witness? How can one cross examine a machine or computerized system for a truthful and accurate account?

A machine is not cognizant and can not affirm the principles of the Ninth Commandment [and I am afraid a good number of citizens of this country are following suit*] nor is it subject to the same standards of swearing under-oath [to GOD], as men must do prior to giving testimony.

Is this the necessary and unfortunate by-product of a society well on the road to pure secularism? Where is the humanity in that?

Sooner or later our collective societies are going to have to address these questions.

In this instance, I believe, we can not afford to have a machine do the job of man.

For now, I am just going to scratch my head and make a phone call...

Veil Guy.

*Note: It is my personal belief that the 10 Commandments are not the inspiration of humanity to serve god, but an Inspiration by GOD to serve humanity—as a foundation for creating and maintaining civil societies.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Give 'em a Brake!

You've probably seen the signs or similar ones like "please so down, my daddy works here."

If not, I am referring to construction zones and the request from the construction workers and the states which fund them to obey the reduced speed limit zones required to maximize traffic safety at these workers' workplaces.

If you've been keeping up, you already know that my personal Dinan 540iS sustained significant damage several weeks ago while I was testing some radar detectors on the road.

Why $300 apiece tires are
worth every penny. It's a testament to how well Michelin Pilot Sports are engineered. The one tire which sustained the blowout didn't lose pressure, remained drivable, and protected my life! Each of these tires transferred enough force to bend metal while maintaining their structural integrity!

And to be brutally honest, I was traveling at a somewhat higher rate of speed than I should have been at this extended length construction zone on I-95S in Chester, PA, even though there were no workers present at the time.

My indiscretion cost me more than the mere fine of a speeding ticket, it cost me several thousands of dollars in bent rims and damaged/blown-out tires. Had I been traveling at a more leisurely pace it is possible that this damage may have been avoided as well as the potential of being involved in multi-vehicle accident.

Does this relieve the state of culpability or responsibility for maintaining safe passageways even through construction zones? No.

Get the Flash Player to see this player.

Press play to view videos of the construction road hazard.
While the E500's more compliant suspension and taller profile tires appeared to soak-up the impact of the uneven road surfaces, the 540's M-technic sport-tuned suspension and low profile tires did not fair as well. Notice on some of the videos, certain trucks' rear wheels actually coming off the road! Now that's FORCE.

But, being realistic, some of the blame must rest on my shoulders.

Fortunately, my preferred BMW dealer has provided me a loaner BMW, so my inconveniences have been minimal—beyond the out of pocket costs—as their level of customer service is not to be believed.

However, driving today to a business meeting, I came across another construction zone in Fort Washington, PA and during my on-ramp approach to route 309 South I nearly hit a very large rusted metal sign-post that somehow managed to be lying across practically the entire lane. Had I been speeding (I was not) I would have had less time to react and avoid this very very dangerous impasse—and subject my loaner vehicle to serious undercarriage, wheel/tire damage!

That would have made two damaged vehicles in two different construction zones in as many weeks!

Given the danger, I immediately stopped my vehicle on the on-ramp and turned-on my hazard flashers as a Pennsylvania State Trooper pulled up behind me to allow me to remove this 10-pound metal object from the roadway.

As I continued on my journey, I reflected upon the recent events of the last several weeks.

I don't know if it is my imagination or not, but it appears, at least in the North East, there is an extensive amount of road construction going on, more so than I can ever recall seeing.

I believe I am also experiencing with greater frequency, unsafe driving conditions in many of these construction zones—coming from debris, mis-aligned road seams, or poor road patching—to name a few.

During my visit to Ohio this past weekend in which I went speed trap hunting with Staton, Steve and we came across a construction zone which warned of high fines and possible jail time for speeding convictions. It all sounds very harsh, that is, until you stand on the other side.

I managed to do just that during my return trip home.

When I came to the Eastern Ohio Turnpike toll booths, I had to pull-over to the side of the road and search for my wallet. When I found my needed fare, I walked to the toll-taker booth.

If you have never done this before, I will tell you that it is a little scary with six lanes of rapidly approaching and converging traffic each direction. I got a healthy dose of reality about how inherently unsafe this environment is for the toll-workers (never mind the air quality factor).

In Pennslvania, we have an automated toll metering system called EZPASS which allows cars to pass through the toll-booths without stopping. In our state, the speed limits are very low (to protect the workers who still work there). However, I routinely observe other drivers blowing through these toll-booths at much higher speeds. This is unfortunate as it presents a serious health risk to the toll-workers.

You guys already know I tend to drive fast on the open highway (which I consider a minor transgression) however I do respect the posted limits at toll-booths, because clearly, in this case excessive speed can kill.

As I continued my journey today on route 309 south, I thought about other areas where I try to be cognizant and respectful of posted limits and I came up with a couple of others: school zones and residential neighborhoods.

Each of these areas have something in common with each other— they each involve pedestrians or children.

Given my recent misfortune, I am going be mindful of these areas and try to drive more responsibly (ie; slowly), safely, and courteously.

I support efforts by those which help to ensure and maintain safe passage for all at these sensitive areas.

One never knows what "potential hazards" lie ahead.

Perhaps your interests would be well served by also being mindful of such things.

Happy and Safe Motoring!

Veil Guy.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Whistler Pro 78/ Whistler XTR-690 Update, Update

Given the recent buzz about Whistler's new radar detectors, in the wake of our review, there has been some mis-understanding about the availability of the new code developed by the engineering team of the Whistler Group that I wish to correct, for the record.

While it is true that Whistler is making improvements to the code to address some of the subtle issues we pointed out and to further squeeze some more performance out of their new platform, they are taking their time with it as they are going to do it right, instead of fast—it is still in the beta testing phase.

When the new beta code has passed all the QA testing, we will be the first to be notified as to when the revision will become available and then so shall you.

It is a rare pleasure to behold a company so openly committed to improving their product(s) for the sake of satisfying their customers—they've made me a fan.

In the meantime, you can be confident that any purchase of either the Whistler Pro-78 or the Whistler XTR-690 can be easily updated at the appropriate time, so there is no need to delay being protected by either radar detector by waiting for the update (realize, the majority of our review was based upon the original models).

Keep posted, as we will be the first to report when the update becomes generally available and please don't contact Whistler directly—about this issue—as doing so will only serve to slow them down.


Veil Guy

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Hiding Amongst the Noise

On my return trip from Ohio this afternoon and early evening the Valentine One really came into its own on the Western [portion of the] PA Turnpike.

And I have seen this now with each of my last three return trips from Ohio. Enough to know that it isn't by accident or coincidence.

I am referring to the use of K-band police radar in steady-state mode.

If you thought instant-on radar was lethal [and it is] steady-state when embedded in between radar drones is even more so, in my opinion.

With the Valentine, it is fairly easy to distinguish between mere weak "false" signals and approaching bona-fide instant-on radar—after becoming intimately familiar with the audio signal alert ramps and alerting quickness of the V1.

It is also pretty clear when one approaches a steady-state radar drone sign as well. The alert ramp is readily identifiable. Since PA state troopers use K-band radar pretty much exclusively in an instant-on mode from a stationery position, it is generally very easy to distinguish between a drone and a speedtrap.

Unless, of course, the police radar speedtrap is masquerading as a radar drone or speed sign.

In each of my last three return trips home from Ohio, I nearly blundered upon these sneaky traps at speeds which would most certainly land me a ticket. Fortunately for me, I stayed off the phone when in the left lane—a lesson learned that I hope will not be soon forgotten. As such, my situational awareness was not undermined.

For these types of encounters, the V1 again stands alone in its unique ability to provide the hardcore enthusiast driver with additional information that other radar detectors do not— such as bogey counts, directional information, and the best audio signal ramp in the business.

For some, this amount of information may result in overload. For others [the few, the proud] every additional piece of intel that can be gathered about one's environment is welcomed and appreciated.

Quickly flashing/changing arrows, increasing bogey counts [while annoying at mall parking lots] can convey essential information to the driver who is rapidly approaching a threat on the highway.

Don't get me wrong, other radar detectors would be alerting to such sources as well providing plenty of time and most [drivers] would be adjusting their speeds accordingly [if needed], but the level of information that Valentine provides about these kinds of tricky encounters is simply unmatched by any other radar detector—regardless of sensitivity—and its been that way for a long, long time.

These are some of the reasons the V1 will continue [for the foreseeable future] to be the standard against which all other radar detectors will be measured.

In my particular instance, I enjoy having the best of both worlds, so I like augmenting the V1 with the Bel STi Driver [in TEC display mode].

It used to be that my favorite pairing was the RX-65 Pro and the V1 together. It is now the V1 and the STi Driver. What a powerhouse combo*.

All told the mileage put on this long weekend was 1295.7. BMW is going to hate me.

Veil Guy.

*Again, don't get me wrong. I still love the diminutive Beltronics RX-65 Pro.

Police Laser Action on July 15th 2007 in Ohio

Now that I was batting 0.500 with my two laser encounters in Ohio—one at night and one in the day I was interested to see how VEIL faired with more LTI police laser action and to really explore the capabilities of laser reception with some of our radar detectors.

This morning, Mike, Steve, and I went hunting for laser. Steve definitely knows the speed traps in Ohio, without a doubt.

Steve was telling us how Vermilian PD operates laser off an overpass positioned by a tree in what would be a very difficult speed trap to spot from the 2W highway.

Sure enough, he was there lasering cars and issuing citations as quickly as he could pull the trigger—being very selective in the vehicles he targeted.

We managed three passes in which we were lasered at very close range (about 500 feet initially) two out of three times. The first time we had 4.5-5 seconds of warning starting at about 72-75mph under braking. On the second pass our warning was about 3.5-4.0 seconds at about the same initial targeting distance. In each case, our trusty V1 (v3.813) alerted. I am afraid this Pro 78 stayed silent to these off-axis laser hits. Since we weren't getting instant punch-throughs at such an initial close range with our metallic silver bmw 328xi with Veil only against an LTI, this re-enforces my belief that the performance of a Veil'd vehicle further improves with off-axis shots like the ones we experienced today from the overpass. That is a good thing, because I have wondered how well any given laser jammer will perform as the angle of the laser shot increases off-center.

My own comprehensive test of laser detectors demonstrated that the LTI police lasers are harder to detect than other police lasers.

Once again, the Valentine demonstrates that it is the top dog in the laser reception department. No other radar detector even comes close; the level of laser reception performance that VR has achieved with their V1 is scary good and [it] is the strongest aspect of performance (relative to every other detector).

If you drive with Veil only (no jammer) and laser is used where you drive, this is the radar detector to own, period.

Up to this point, I have encountered four police laser speed traps and won three out of four. Its about 1400 and we are going to be calling a weekend. Mike will head back to Lexington, Kentucky and I'll head back towards Philly.

Perhaps we'll see some more laser on the Ohio turnpike going East. If so, I'll post my experiences.

Thanks Mike, Steve, and Coleen for a wonderful weekend. We've got to do it again soon. Perhaps you'll be able to convince the Veil Gal to ride the coasters of Cedar Point, next time around...And let us not forget our pact!

We came together as enthusiasts and leave officially ordained as the first speed trap hunters!


Veil Guy

Friday, July 13, 2007

I have the need for speed!

Today, I had the need for speed...and that need was satisfied.

How about these numbers: 0-120mph in less than 4.0 seconds. Speed and acceleration, for me, are two of the greatest thrills one can have in one's lifetime.

These numbers, however, weren't experienced on Ohio's highways; they were experienced at one of the best amusements in the entire worldCedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio on the coast of lake Erie—on one of the quickest and fastest roller-coasters ever fabricated.

But let's get to the best action first.

Even though today was Friday the 13th, it turned out the 13 was my lucky number. On the way to Cedar Point route 2W with both Staton and Steve riding along and no sooner was Steve talking about Ohio's propensity to laser in this certain stretch of road, did we spot a cruiser situated in the center medial strip as we crested a hill. I was tooling at about 81-82mph at the time with a V1 and an STi Driver mounted on the windshield.

As I began to brake, the V1 alerted to laser by about three seconds prior to the STi Driver. The total duration of the alert was about 6-7 and ended when we crossed the threshold of about 400-500 feet.

I first was thinking: not two tickets in two days, but as we passed [him], Staton saw that the officer was already pointing his LTI at another vehicle.

So, Veil when paired with the V1 tilted the odds in my favor, no doubt. And not being on cel phone certainly didn't hurt, either.

For now, I will be leaving my dependable V1 on the windshield. Without a doubt, there is the V1 and then there is everything else in the laser reception department. Thank you VR for making laser such a priority in your radar detectors. With Veil, laser can be tamed even with a metallic silver car that is inherently unstealthy against a difficult laser gun and today proved this.

I may not be able to win 'em all, but today was definitely a win in our column.

That was only the beginning of what turned out to be one of the most enjoyable days in a long, long time.

Mike, Steve, and I spent a day a Cedar Point experiencing the limits of engineering and the human body on some of the most intense roller-coasters you'll find.

We experienced: Millennium Force, Top Thrill Dragster, Maverick, Iron-Dragon, Raptor, and Magnum XL-200.

Although Mike and Steve felt the park's new Maverick was the best [and it was awesome, without a doubt] my vote for my personal favorite goes to the Top Thrill Dragster.

It is pure adrenaline rush being catapulted from 0-120 in under 4 seconds using a launching device not entirely unlike that of an aircraft carrier. This coaster reset my thrill-gauge. I have flown in "dog-fight combat" maneuvers, cliff dived, rock-climbed [nearly killed myself when I fell 60 feet without a belet rope], Australian rappelled straight down the side of a building, scuba-dived wrecks, walked the Great Wall, been on Afrikkan safaris, "Croc-hunted" with a camera lens, sought-out the Komodo Dragon in Indonesia, horse-backed with "Curly" in the expansive ranges of southern Arizona, and drag-raced. As thrilling as each of these activities are in their own right, they pale in comparison to the sheer rush I got on this coaster.

On a scale of 1-10 of my thrill factor meter, this coaster is a 12!

My need for speed was so satisfied after that ride, that we drove back at a leisurely pace. No need to worry about laser tonight.

Steve, Coleen, and I have made a pact. One day we're jumping out of a plane together!

Happy and safe motoring!

Veil Guy.

PS. Some personal highlights:

L to R: me, ma Shirl, sis Jan, tracker Ken, and photographer/guide Nigel
Having hot afternoon tea when 134F in the shade.
Kings Pool, Okavango Delta,
Botswana, Afrika.

My buddy. Up close and very personal with an extremely rare granddaddy 14-15 foot 'gator
living in the wilderness of the Fakahatchee Strand Everglades, Florida, USA.
Picture taken by myself at distance of under 3 feet from snout.
(That's 12 feet closer than
Bear Grylls is willing to do so on Man vs Wild)
Steve Irwin would have been proud...You set the standard. RIP

Mess with the Bull, Get the Horns

450 mile journey to Ohio on July 12th 2007

You mess with the bull and sometimes you get the horns.

As a friend in the business told me last night, you drive fast enough and long enough and eventually you are going to get nailed, it's purely a numbers game. And nailed I was—after many many thousands of miles of successful encounters.

But let's start with the good stuff first. I decided to cut my tether to the high-end radar detectors and drive my entire trip from Pennsylvania to Ohio using only a Whistler Pro-78.

All I can say is this detector is a real pleasure to drive with. It has a very high level of composure and feels thoroughly sorted out.

I threw everything at this radar detector and did not pull any punches with it on my drive of the Pennsylvania and Ohio Turnpikes. And it handled it all beautifully, alerting when it needed to and staying quiet when it didn't. Approaching an instant-on K trap around Somerset, the Whistler Pro 78 alerted to advanced trigger pulls to cars that were ahead of me and allowed me to adjust my speed with plenty of time before it was my turn.

I had the rare pleasure of pairing up with another vehicle [driver] that wasn't afraid to test the limits of their car and their driving skills on the western portion of the PA turnpike where the road gets windy. We finally met up at a gas station, where we chatted a little while (hope you'll be a regular reader of the blog, dude).

Unfortunately I didn't fair as well in Ohio this time around as I did in Pennsylvania. And the fault was mine, not the Whistler Pro 78.

It was about 21.40, it was dark and I was on the cel phone. The Whistler had announced LASER, but it wasn't until the tone alert that I realized what was happening. I suspect my inattentiveness cost me about 1-1.5 seconds of reaction time. As it was I was able to peel about 8 miles per hour off my speed, but alas, it wasn't enough—87 in a 65 zone. Distance punch through occured in this instance at 1300, meaning he initially targeted me at about 1500-1550 feet, given that my closure was occuring at roughly 140 feet per second.

In my opinion, several factors collaborated to work against me in this particular instance:

1) Most importantly, being distracted from my environment while being on the phone. It cost me precious reaction time.
2) Driving an '07 metallic silver 328xi which has a pretty lousy frontal laser cross-section. That front bumper has a lot of vertical surface that was not treated with Veil.
3) Driving at night, when the range of police laser goes up significantly.
4) He was shooting me almost directly from the front, with his LTI.
5) I wasn't supplemented with a jammer (such as the Blinder xTreme M-25) or a black bra (think, defense-in-depth).
6) I was driving a bit too fast and the margin of speed to peel off was too much, had my initial speed been closer to 80mph (instead of 95mph) I would have had a fighting chance.
7) Jwardell's comments on the alerting nature of the Pro 78 are spot-on. The audio alerting mechanism may be better served reversed (like the radar bands). Instead of the detector alerting first with the voice LASER, the attention of the driver would be grabbed more quickly and urgently with the tone alert first followed by the band announcement. For now, I am going to disable voice alerting. That should help provide me some additional reaction time (every millisecond counts).
8) I was pretty much all by myself in the left-lane, with not many cars around me.
9) I was tired after driving almost 400 miles non-stop and that couldn't have helped my reaction time.
10) I've gotten a little too casual of late, feeling completely immune to the wrath of speed enforcement.

I have had two night encounters driving with Veil only, this one included. The previous encounter was against the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) with another rental/loaner (red Dodge Magnum wagon) and I was successful at avoiding that one—in what was a similar targeting scenario. So, with Veil only in the evening, I am batting .500.

From now on, I am going to try to remember to get out of the left-lane and slow down a bit when I am on the cel phone, especially at night.

For now, I am going to look at this experience as taking one for the team.

Happy and safe motoring!

Veil Guy

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Lucky Seven

400 mile journey on July 7th, 2007

Today was July 7th, 2007.

Do you know what that makes this day? 7-7-7.

So the question I had to ask myself, today, was...Did I feel lucky?

The answer was yes. Of course, this time around I had a little help. Before traveling to my usual destination of West Point in upstate New York to conduct some more testing of the Beltronics Vector 955 and the Cobra XRS 9930—both models acquired from Danny and Frank at Cricket Ventures (—I made sure this time to apply some Veil to my Silver '07 328xi sedan. This is the same vehicle I repeatedly drove through the New Jersey police laser speed traps of July 4th.

my little friendly radar detectorsI also had help from my little friends.

As it turned out, I was indeed lucky, too lucky. After putting about 400 miles on today, not one police laser trap was to be found. Actually I considered that I was unlucky as I was really locking forward to them—especially now that I had some protection.

At any rate, I managed to clock some more time with the Beltronics Vector 955, Whistler Pro-78, and the Cobra XRS 9930. These experiences will find their way into a more formal review of these radar detectors.

I managed to record an unfortunate vehicle fire that managed to shut down all north-bound lanes on I-287 outside of Parsippany New Jersey late this afternoon. It wasn't pretty, that's for sure. At least it didn't appear that anyone was hurt, which is always a good thing.

I did notice what appears to be a trend—traffic stops involving more than one patrol car. All, but one, traffic stop today that I saw had multiple cruisers behind the offending vehicle.

Although I didn't encounter any laser today, Ka (34.7Ghz) was found with great frequency, more so than even X-band. That certainly played to one of the Whistler Pro-78's strengths. The Beltronics 955 is no slouch in this department, either, to be sure.

And while the BEL V955 appears to edge out the Whistler Pro-78 with both X-band and K-band, in general, the BEL Vector 955 also appears to have a propensity to false to laser—more so than any of these others or the RX-65 Pro or the STi Driver.

Both radar detectors are terrific in their own right, though, and I feel well protected with either.

That's pretty much what I got from today and after some 400 miles, I was hoping for more red-meat.

Oh well, you can't win 'em all.

Veil Guy

©2007 Veil Corporation. All rights reserved. No part may be duplicated without expressed written permission of the author.

Friday, July 06, 2007

A Closer Look at Automated Enforcement: Red Light Cameras/Speed on Green Cameras/Radar-LIDAR Speed Cameras



court martial

One of my favorite episodes of Star Trek (TOS) was a story—by visionary Gene Roddenberry four decades ago—about the perils of using a high-tech witness against Captain Kirk. His trial nearly cost Kirk's entire career and fine reputation of being a Starship Captain. This experienced rocked him to his core beliefs [in himself].

The similarities don't stop there—as the primary charge that Kirk had to face was whether he jettisoned his "friend" Finney out of the observation tube when the defense condition was yellow or red.

The video of Kirk on the bridge, indicated that he ostensibly jettisoned Ben when conditions were simply yellow. That wasn't the way Kirk had remembered it, he was virtually certain the he had given his crew member enough time to get out of the tube and pushed the jettison button when conditions were severe (during a red alert). The [computer video log] evidence suggested otherwise.

Some of Star Treks' most unforgettable dialog—which took place during Kirk's trial— from that episode follows (courtesy of the IMDB):

Captain James T. Kirk: [after listening to Cogley pontificate about books] You have to be either an obsessive crackpot who's escaped from his keeper, or Samuel T. Cogley, attourney at law.
Cogley: Right on both counts. Need a lawyer?
Captain James T. Kirk: I'm afraid so.

Portmaster Stone: [interrupting counsels arguing between themselves] Counsels will kindly direct their remarks to the bench.
Cogley: [moving to the judge's dais] I'd be delighted to, sir. Now that I've got something human to talk about. Rights, sir! Human rights! The Bible, The Code of Hammurabi, and of Justinian, Magna Carta, The Constitution of the United States, Fundamental Declarations of the Martian Colonies, The Statutes of Alpha III. Gentlemen, these documents all speak of rights. Rights of the accused to a trial by his peers, to be represented by counsel, the right of cross-examination. But most importantly, the right to be confronted by the witnesses against him; a right to which my client has been denied.
Areel Shaw: Your Honor, that is ridiculous! We've produced the witnesses in court. My learned opponent had the opportunity to see them, cross-examine them...
Cogley: All but one! The most devastating witness against my client is not a human being; it's a machine, an information system: the computer log of the Enterprise. And I ask this court adjourn and reconvene aboard that vessel.
Areel Shaw: I protest, your honor.
Cogley: And I repeat: I speak of rights! A machine has none; a man must. I ask that my motion be granted. But more than that, gentlemen, in the name of a humanity fadng in the shadow of the machine, I demand it. I demand it!

Cogley's (Roddenberry's, Mankiewicz's) points, of course, were true then as they are today and will be in the future.

Which bring us to something a bit more terrestrial. We are at the nascent stages of very similar technology being deployed here on earth in the 21st century (not 24th! Orwell may have been off by four decades, Roddenberry was off by four centuries!!!).

Like other related automated traffic enforcement systems which are being deployed around the world, red light cameras have recently come to Philadelphia, PA. But just how much public discourse occurred before these systems were put into service.

Was there any real look or discussion into the potential use of such systems to create a situation—where people will be so afraid to run a yellow light—that an unhealthy dynamic may be created which could increase the possibility of rear-end collisions? Will there be public discloser as to how many tickets and how much revenue will be produced [for the city and the manufacturer/operator of such a system]? Is this information subject to the freedom of information act?

If the "name of the game" is enhancing driver safety and accident reduction (noble-sounding goals, of course), then shouldn't the locations of all of these systems be publicly disclosed so that drivers can be situationally aware and be prepared for them, well in advance? Wouldn't this knowledge alone serve as a deterrent [to red light running]? Or is this too logical a thought?

Has society really had an opportunity to vet this new technology? Or is corporate profit-taking really driving the rapid deployment of these new-fangled systems?

Tough questions all, indeed, for which I don't currently have the answers. Perhaps, in time, these answers will come to light (pun intended).

For now, they are an unfortunate reality. So let's have a look at just one such system.

American Traffic Solutions is the manufacturer of the red light camera systems newly deployed in Philadelphia.

Interestingly enough, ATS lists their products as services. Which means a private [for profit] company is in the business of traffic enforcement.

Their mission statement:
"Our mission is to deliver effective technology and services that reduce operating costs or generate revenue that pay for its use." (Emphasis is mine)

The red light camera model deployed is the Axsis™ RLC-300. ATS also produces Axsis™ SC-300 digital radar speed cameras.

I observed these red light camera systems for about two hours on the 4th of July and while it appears that they do utilize a strobe (at a great distance relative to the intersection itself) it appears that these systems are capable of recording a total of 10 seconds of video (5 seconds before and after an alleged violation) which appears to render any countermeasure system relying on a flash or flash-back mechanism entirely useless (if they were ever really effective, in the first place). These systems also appear to have the capability of recording a "violation" from more the one vantage point simultaneously.

One metric measurement I made was the yellow-light transitionl timing between intersections that are controlled by the AXSIS RLC-300 system versus ones that were not on the same primary road, Roosevelt Boulevard.

I am pleased to report that I did not find any discrepancies between the monitored and non-monitored intersections. The timing appeared consistent. Northbound/Southbound travel on the Roosevelt Boulevard appeared to be subject to a 4.5 second yellow-light transition period. Eastbound/Westbound yellow-light transitioning for the cross-roads appeared to be a consistent 3.5 seconds (shorter because of the cross-roads' relatively lower speed limits).

Get the Flash Player to see this player.

Click chapter buttons to view all four videos of the AXSIS RLC-300 in action.

I have heard of some horror stories [from someone familiar with this industry] where yellow-light transitioning was shortened to increase the infraction rates (ie; create more revenue), but in fairness to the manufacturers/municipalities I have never observed such corruption (which doesn't mean the potential isn't there). I hope that doesn't happen, because, while shortening a yellow-light transition may, in fact, create a higher incidence of red light running and higher revenues as a result, it would also dramatically increase the risk for accidents at the very intersections that these systems proclaim to be reducing!

But to be entirely fair to American Traffic Solutions, the Philadelphia Parking Authority, and the city of Philadelphia, aggressive driving, speeding, and red light running have historically occurred on the Boulevard (12 lanes of traffic at times).

I have seen it often, myself, over many years. There have also been a relatively high amount of vehicular/pedestrian accidents as well on this road. Twelve lanes is a lot to cross when on foot, particularly if vehicles are traveling well in-excess of posted limits and/or in an aggressive manner.

Are there better/more effective alternatives to "controlling" this environment and enhancing overall traffic safety? Perhaps.

Simply extending the time by a second or two between red-light/green-light transitions may likely lower incidents of traffic accidents at these intersections in a more dramatic/meaningful way than the utilization of such systems.

Has this ever been tried? If so, have the outcomes been honestly accessed? How about the collective re-timing of a series of red lights which can serve to smooth the flow-rate of traffic? Or the upgrading of the red lights themselves to more sophisticated motion-sense/lane-approach-sense types with adaptive timing depending upon the time of day?

Each of these alternatives would likely be superior since they address the red light running problem at the initial source. The red light systems, themselves.

How many times have you been frustrated when sitting at an extended red-light when no cross traffic exists? How about times when you wish to make a left-turn across the on-coming traffic but not having a left-turn arrow dedicated to the purpose of allowing such traffic flow? Simple fixes, indeed. How about implementing systems like our European friends which systems transition from green-to-yellow-to-red-to-flashing-yellow-to-green. Providing more information to all drivers, from each vantage point, can't be a bad thing.

Is these thoughts too logical? Or isn't there much money in doing such things? Which brings me back to my earlier question, what is the real purpose of these systems?

Could a greater level of manned-enforcement techniques be implemented to not only reduce mere red-light running, but aggressive driving, rapid lane changing, and speeding? All these aspects are likely contributors to accidents involving pedestrians and other vehicles alike. These systems only claim to address just one of these contributors. What about the others? Will signs do it alone?

By having manned enforcement, doesn't that social interaction between enforcement and community enhance overall public safety and cooperation? Don't these automated systems forgo this "halo" effect, since no one [individual] is actually watching?

And finally, when traffic violations occur which are secondary to another primary criminal offense, won't these unmanned automated systems miss these other criminal behaviors that a manned/patrol presence would catch—during a traffic stop?

In a post 9/11 world, can we afford to miss future opportunities to catch another Timothy McVeigh—who was stopped for a traffic violation—and compromise our national security, as a result?

Again, all meaningful questions in search of cogent answers. Why isn't this dialog taking place in the public arena and/or main stream media? Are the "news" media focusing too much on other important news-worthy stories—like Paris Hilton's cell phone call records, instead? (Sorry I even mentioned the name).

Meanwhile, this technology is steadily creeping into our society, without much debate. It appears that the City of Philadelphia is currently piloting this project with American Traffic Solutions in preparation for state-wide deployment!

The AXSIS RLC-300 appears to be positioned about six car lengths away from the beginning of the intersection from each direction being monitored. The digital cameras/video, appears to be located about 12-15 feet in height from the ground with another six feet provided to the strobe for still picture illumination.

These systems appear to be directly connected via some network (the Internet/private VPN) to a locally controlled (by ATS) data center which, I imagine, has immediate access to the data generated (unlike older legacy film-based systems). All very efficient and painless, except for the unsuspecting driver who receives a ticket in the mail well after an "incident" occurs.

There usage is destined to increase in the Philadelphia area (South Philly is on the list) as American Traffic Solutions has established a regional office conveniently in the area to operate these systems. This, no doubt, is a growth market for the bean-counters.

At this point, I honestly, don't now the process for contesting such a ticket (or its legality). Since the condemning/accusing witness is a machine, how can we as citizens of this country [or elsewhere] successfully cross-examine the actual witness [the machine] providing the incriminating "testimony"? Where's the due process in this?

I suspect that evidence brought against an accused defendant doesn't meet certain legal standards (although I am not a lawyer) and is probably unconstitutional as a result. What probably needs to happen is a court challenge which will rise to a State Supreme Court, which will likely be appealed to the Federal Supreme Court to be adjudicated.

If and when that time comes, I hope the likes of the "Supremes" (PDF) will be Star Trek (TOS) fans!

Until such a time, GPS detectors— from the likes of such companies as Escort (with their Passport 9500i radar detector), SpeedCheetah (with their innovative GPS rear-view mirror with radar detector interface), or the Cobra XRS-R9G (and integrated radar/laser/GPS-detector)—seem to be the best defense to the scourge of automated red light cameras, speed-on green cameras, photo radar speed cameras, and photo lidar speed cameras.

Of course, if you find these developments disturbing, don't sit idly by, contact your local representative(s) and voice your concerns. Remember, we each have a powerful leveraging tool— the power of the vote!

And one final point I'd like to make—which I have addressed before on this blog about good driver etiquette as compared to traffic controlling/monitoring systems.

About 40 years ago, I traveled to Bermuda for several weeks. As we drove around the island we came to the only accident that I had seen my entire time, there. Can you guess where the accident was located? You guessed it, the one and only intersection on the island that was controlled by a red light!!! Ironic as hell, isn't it? And something I'll never forget.

Happy and Safe Motoring.

Veil Guy

Related Reading (From all sides):

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Independence Day 2007

Happy 4th of July everyone!

I hope you guys had a nice holiday, even though it fell on hump day.

I am going to give you guys a multiple choice question...let's see how well you know me.

What do you think I did today?

a) Spent the day relaxing by the pool with a drink (or two).
b) Spent the day with my wife and family watching the holiday parade.
c) Spent the day hanging out with family and friends and barbecued.
d) Spent the day testing radar detectors on one of the heaviest traffic enforcement days.

If you guessed either a, b, or c, you don't know me that well.

That's right boys and girls, answer d is the correct one...I used today to accomplish a host of different things.

Click on pictures to play video.

Again, thanks to Danny of Cricket Ventures ( for providing me a retail unit of the Beltronics Vector 955 (V995 for short) radar detector for comparison testing.

He was curious to know how I found the performance of Beltronics' "budget" radar detector as compared to the new Whistler Pro-78 and Whistler XTR-690 and wanted to know my take on this.

So I did just that, ran a performance comparison between the two detectors over a period of about 6-7 hours and about 300 plus miles—while being exposed to X, K, Ka, and Laser.

I'll have full review of the Beltronics V955 soon, but until then, suffice it to say that it is a very solid performer which appears to provide RX-65 Pro like performance, but with a reduced feature set. In other words, it is a top-performing radar detector that provides a very strong showing relative to the Whistler Pro-78 Whister XTR-690, and Cobra XRS-R7/XRS-9G radar detectors even though it is not as fully optioned as those other models.

In any event, the Bel Vector 995 makes a most welcomed addition to my windshield.

I had intended to drive to upstate New York, as per my usual route, but I found that I had my hands full in New Jersey on I-78. The State Troopers (as well as the local departments) were out in full-force today and police laser was the tool of choice. I've said this before: there is no doubt that the popularity of police laser is increasing.

There was a stretch of about one mile on I-78 where they were tag-teaming traffic with laser two to three at a time. I attempted to make many repeated passes but only managed to get laser about 30-40% of the time because they were picking them off that fast, quicker than it took for me to set-up to make my run and that was even after I had warned the approaching traffic with flashed headlights‐people were simply not paying attention to their surroundings (no situational awareness) and were paying a steep price, indeed. for they were in revenue producing mode today—kicking out an estimated 15-20 speeding citations every hour.

The interesting thing I got out of this experience was how used to VEIL I have become. You see, I have a loaner car for the week, in the wake of the tire/wheel/suspension damage sustained with my 540i in a PennDOT construction zone last week. I didn't manage to put VEIL on the 328xi prior to my drive and there was no laser jammer installed on it either.

Every time I got lasered today, even with the mighty Valentine 1, the laser warning would only last about a second—meaning they were getting my speed instantaneously. I have been so spoiled with VEIL, I have forgotten how lethal police laser really is to most motorists who do not know about [VEIL], don't use it, and don't even own a radar detector.

VIDEOs: What it's like to be target without VEIL.

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Host radar detector: Whistler Pro-78

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Host radar detectors: Beltronics Vector V955, Whistler Pro-78.
Note: both detectors were placed together just for this laser shot to give them the same field of view.

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Host radar detector: Valentine One 3.861

Video commentary: If you look closely, prior to us being targeted, you can see certain vehicles ahead hitting the brakes as they either visually identified the speed trap (after it was too late and they were already targeted or while they were being targeted with a radar detector that picked up the police laser shot.

In either case, you'll notice that these great radar detectors did NOT provide advanced warning to police laser. Which is why the use of a countermeasure like VEIL is so critical. With a radar shot at the distance we were following, we would have likely received advanced warning to the speed trap. With police laser, we don't have that luxury.

The last situation you want to be in is being pulled-over for speeding on the 4th of July holiday, especially if it's raining—which it was today. Again, why more drivers don't at least own a radar detector and know how to properly use it, remains a complete mystery to me.

ATS redlight camera RLC-300 systems at Roosevelt Boulevard Safety Corridor, Philadelphia, PA.
ATC RLC-300 red light camera
american traffic solutions AXSIS RLC-300

After I had my fill of police laser, I decided to mosey on down to the greater Philadelphia area to closely check out the automated red light camera systems currently being deployed along the Roosevelt Boulevard. I believe I counted six monitored intersections—for which I took notes.

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Monitored Intersection: Grant Ave & Roosevelt Boulevard, Philadelphia, PA.

My understanding, until today, was that there were only two such systems in use. I counted at least six. I also spent time measuring the transition timing of these monitored traffic lights at these intersections to see if any monkey business was evident. I will have more on these annoying systems in the near future.

In the meantime, wishing all of you a happy, healthy, safe, and ticket-free Independence Day holiday!

Veil Guy

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Whistler Pro-78, Whistler XTR-690 Radar Detector Update II

I NEED COUNSELING. I know this because, I've been obviously addicted to testing radar detectors every spare moment I have, lately.

While putting on another 350 miles today on a variation of my usual Northeast route, I couldn't help but feel a connection to another product tester of "similar sorts" (yeah right)— retired Brigadier General Charles Elwood "Chuck" Yeager.

He too field-tested new products, albeit at a somewhat higher rate of speed, than say a '07 BMW 328xi (which by the way, is one of the best cars I have ever driven). I can only imagine the fun he had in his experiences—since he never managed to kill himself testing various new hyper-speed aircraft.

chuck yeager testing the Bell X-1
Chuck Yeager testing another Bell model (X-1)

This weekend didn't start out too well, I am afraid. During a drive to southern NJ (while testing, of course), I damaged all four sport alloy rims and several tires— on my Dinan 540—driving through a construction zone on south I-95 approaching Route 322-East in Chester, PA. The road surface was not even and by the way the impact felt (abrupt), the difference in road surface must have been at least an inch between two slabs. It's a testament to how well Michelin Pilot Sport tires are made that they didn't blow out right then and there. I'll post some pictures of the damage soon. In the meantime, I had to settle for an '07 328xi to be the test-mule this weekend.

At any rate, I did manage to sneak some testing in today with the updated models (with the beta firmware) that I received from the Whistler Group (— the revised Whistler Pro-78 and Whistler XTR-690 radar detectors.

All I can say is Mr. B. (or should it be Dr.?) and his engineering staff know what the hell they are doing, because inside of one week (since my review of the Whistler Pro-78 and Whistler XTR-690 radar detectors), they have managed to take a great radar detector and make it even better!

Ergonomically, the pulsating auto-dimming issue has been resolved as has the too rapid display alerting relative to the audible alert. This revised radar detector now handles a rapidly changing lighting environment better than the Beltronics STi Driver.

To test Whistler's radar reception improvements (with POP OFF) required me to find three known bona-fide stationery steady-state radar sources at X (10.5Ghz), K (24.1Ghz), and Ka (34.7Ghz). Since my original radar Whistler radar detectors were sent back to the Whistler Group to have them reprogrammed (I am told the same courtesy will be extended to any existing Whistler owner of the Pro-78 & XTR-690 who wish to have their unit updated), I made repetitive back-to-back two-way comparison runs between my model with POP ON versus POP OFF with each one of these radar sources.

Here's what I found:

  • With X-band, the performance pick-up was imperceptible.

  • With K-band, the performance pick-up was noticeable.

  • With Ka-band (34.7Ghz variety), the performance pick-up was quite noticeable.

Particularly with Ka from the front, when compared to one of the Bel STi Drivers, when POP was OFF, the Whistler Pro-78 tended to be the first to respond, even if only by a tick or two. Yes, you read that right, first. On one such pass, the Whistler Pro-78 appeared to initially mis-identify the weak glimpse it had of Ka-band and alerted to X-band, releasing, and subsequently reporting the proper band of Ka (of 34.7Ghz).

Note: I have occasionally received weak 'false' x-band alerts on the highway from the Whistler Pro-78 while the Bel STi Driver has remained silent. Base-upon the aforementioned experience, I suspect these falses were actually weak Ka that were mis-identified.

Apparently, the reason the performance differences on X-band and K-band aren't as noticeable is rooted in the wave-propagation characteristics of those frequencies/wavelengths relative to Ka-band and not so much the radar detector, itself.

After closely watching this Whistler Pro-78 do its thing, I noticed something for the first time, subtle as it is, but it was new [to me] nonetheless. It appears that Whistler Pro-78 has two distinct single alert ramps!

And, in my opinion, the best [and quickest] visual alert ramp I have ever seen on any radar detector, regardless of price. In fact, the visual strength indicator is so quick and precise, it feels more like the old analogue signal strength meter of the original Escort radar detector of the eighties, remember that one?

The Whistler Pro-78 visual strength indicator—although a digital LED—acts more like a PEAK meter than a VU meter (which is slower and less precise) like every other radar detector— its five main display elements can display fractionally which amounts to a total of 15 discreet signal strength bars.

If you carefully watch the display during a steadily approaching radar source, you will notice that the display will move faster up-and-down than the tone alerts.

See the resemblance between Whistler and Vaal?

I also found that when I operated the Whistler Pro-78 with POP ON, the radar detector tended to false [to other radar detectors] more than when the Whistler Pro-78 was operated with POP OFF—at which time it was extremely false-resistant.

Therefore, my recommendation for operating this radar detector is with POP OFF, SWS OFF, and no additional filter modes enabled—just the FILTER display.

As counterintuitive as it sounds, you'll actually be able to drive with a more sensitive and quicker radar detector which actually falses less. Now that IS having your cake and eating it too.

Each passing day I drive with the Whistler Pro-78, I come to know that at a retail of $229, it's the bargain of the century and at a street price of $179, it's the steal of the century. The same goes for the Whistler XTR-690 which provides identical radar/laser reception performance.

If I had to ever show up to a gun-fight sporting my Whistler Pro-78, I know I could more than hold my own with it.

I would like to think had General Yeager been riding shotgun, he'd be having some fun recollecting his past trials and tribulations in the cockpit with me, although, I know in my heart—if he had been in the car—he'd be doing the driving!

Veil Guy