All entries for December 2006

December 31, 2006

This is the year that was

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[01] What did you do in 2006 that you have never done before?
Bought a new car

[02] Did you keep all of last years resolutions?
Yes, because I don’t make them

[03] Have you any resolutions for next year?
See #2

[04] What countries did you visit?

[05] What would you like to have in 2007 that you didn’t have in 2006?
A house

[06] What date in 2006 will remain etched in your memory?

[07] What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Either getting my first full time job or finishing my degree. Since I couldn’t have gotten the job without graduating I’m going to go for the degree

[08] What was your biggest failure?
Not going to disclose

[09] Did you suffer any illness or injury?
Nope – fit as a fiddle

[10] What was the best thing you bought?

[11] Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
Lots of people! I don’t want to single out those that particularly stick in my mind

[12] Where did most of your money go?
See #10

[13] What did you get really really really excited about?
Again see #10, and graduating with my family all there and being nice to each other

[14] What songs will always remind you of 2006?
Sigur Ros – Hoppipolla

[15] Compared to this time last year are you :
[A] Fatter or thinner?
About the same

[B] Happier or sadder?

[C] Richer or poorer?

[16] What do you wish you’d done more of?
Driving tractors this summer. In fact, I wish I was still farming now. But one can’t have it all ways

[17] What do you wish you’d done less of?
Being irritable and stressed

[18] How will you be spending Christmas?
Spent it at home with family and Lindsey

[19] Which blog user did you meet for the first time?
I don’t think I met any new ones in person? I probably did but none stick in my memory

[20] Did you fall in love in 2006?

[21] How many one night stands?

[22] What was your favourite TV show?
Top Gear

[23] Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
No – the list has not grown

[24] What was/were the best books you read?
I really enjoyed Trojan Odyssey by Clive Cussler

[25] What was your greatest musical discovery?
Sigur Ros

[26] What did you want and get?

[27] What did you want and not get?
That’s a long list, and the most important things on that I don’t want to disclose

[28] What was your favourite film this year?
Mission Impossible 3

[29] What did you do on your birthday and how old were you?
I was 22. It was a weekday and tipping it down the whole day, so I spent the day at work (on a farm in Essex at the time) in the workshop, repairing ploughs and seed drills and the like

[30] What one thing would have made your year more satisfying?
Not having our oil pump fail at Formula Student

[31] How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2006?

[32] What kept you sane?
Holding tightly onto the past and looking optimistically to the future

[33] Which celebrity did you fancy the most?
Lucy Pinder

[34] Which political issue stirred you the most?
Energy and transport policy

[35] Who did you miss?
My Grandad

[36] Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned this year?
It goes on

[37] Quote a song lyric that sums up your year…
We’ll carry on,
We’ll carry on
And though you’re dead and gone believe me
Your memory will carry on [My Chemical Romance, Welcome to the Black Parade]

December 26, 2006

Sofia: nearly three months in

So it’s been nearly three months now since I picked Sofia (my gorgeous Focus ST-2) up from the dealers with 16 miles on the clock. For anyone considering one, I thought I’d write my own little update on how I’m finding the car now that I have covered nearly 4,300 miles in it.

Firstly, running costs. These are a mixed bag. I’m fussy about servicing – the handbook recommends a 12,500 mile service – but I’ve had the oil dropped at 3,000 miles and will do so again at 6,500, then have services at 10,000 and subsequent 10,000 mile intervals with an oil change every 5,000. Madness, some of you are thinking with your shiny new German stuff that costs an arm and a leg to service. Well I’ll let you in on a little secret – this costs peanuts. The labour for changing the oil (which is billed as a flat 0.4 hours) comes to £18.80 at my local Ford-approved garage (warranty intact!) and the oil and filter come to less than £25 (admittedly because I get these at Priveledge discount) but even outside of that you’d be looking at less than £70 a pop for an oil change, which is pretty reasonable compared to say a BMW M3 which can easily cost over £1,000 for a service. Servicing then, is reasonable. Insurance too wasn’t as much of a shock as I was expecting – for a 22 year old professional with two years no claims, IAM qualified, kept on a driveway in a safe location and covering 15,000 social and commuting miles a year, this came to £1120 fully comp with Directline, which wasn’t too bad I thought considering. Other running costs though are steep – I’ve averaged 25.6 MPG from Shell V-Power with a big mix of urban, motorway and country road driving. On the motorways at a cruise I reckon I’m bettering 30 MPG, but then I reckon it’s down to about 13 MPG or so when really giving it the beans on a countryside blast. Tyre wear too is high (although to be expected). At 3000 miles the tyres were down to 4mm outside and 5mm centre at the front, and an extra mm all round at the back. The tyres themselves I’ve been very pleased with – Continental Sport Contact 2’s – the grip is great in dry or wet weather, and if you turn the intrusive ESP off then you’re not struggling for grip most of the time, which is impressive given the power going through the front. I don’t know if I should make a switch to Michelin’s next time, as these are supposed to last longer – will have to decide in a couple of months when I need a new set. In any case, as the tyres are 225/40 R18’s, they aren’t cheap… Well over £100 each even through online retailers such as Factor in tyres before buying – on cars like these they make a significant part of the running costs.

The car itself I’ve found to be utterly excellent. Now I’m getting more comfortable with it I’m finding the limits of what it can do, so as opposed to feeling like something completely glued to the road I can now take it fast enough and drive it hard enough through the bends to make it interesting. It handles brilliantly, although grip in the wet under full acceleration is noticably lacking, with the wheel moving about in your hands as the front grabs grip where it can.

In terms of raw power, I’ve been finding the standard engine to be brutally quick but lacking that extra few percent to make it feel like a high performance engine. My plan remains to get a Bluefin engine management chip for this; I’d like other things like a cold air induction system and freeflow cat/exhaust system, but I’m shying away from such things due to warranty invalidation as well as things like enlarged exhausts melting bumpers (which has happened to others); so for now it will just be Bluefin on the mechanical modification front. I may look into fitting the Haldex four wheel drive system if grip becomes much more of a problem than it currently is. I’ve done just about all the cosmetic modifications that I want to now – a few finishing touches here and there as well as some decent aftermarket mudflaps (Ford don’t sell any for the ST) and some white side-stripes for Christmas (I think these are subtle enough to look classy yet add to the look of the car, despite protestations from my sister that they look “chavvy”). So just saving pennies for Bluefin now.

Next stop: Silverstone, full GP circuit, 31st January!

December 25, 2006


So, I spent a few days in the city of London, and despite my country bumpkin protestations I actually managed to survive and had a good time as well. The fog didn’t affect Lindsey’s flight or the trip up to the airport much, although finding the long stay car park with the poor directions around the airport roads was a pain… Eventually made it into the hotel though via the Heathrow Express and London Underground. Friday morning I awoke to a familiar rumble outside the hotel, flicked back the curtains and what was outside but a 1990’s Aston Martin V8 Vantage (Twin Supercharged one) aka my favourite ever car! We did the British Museum on Friday, which has some interesting exibits and lovely architecture, and then squeezed in a trip around Westminster which was awesome via Buckingham Palace and Green Park/St James’ park, during which we witnessed an F430 belt it down the long straight along St James’ park, and an Aston Martin Vanquish nail it as it left Parliament Square… We then headed out to the London Eye in the evening, where due to fog we had a great view of the next capsule but not a whole lot else… A meal at Carluccio’s Neal Street restaurant followed, which had some great food. We then met with one of Lindsey’s friends and her boyfriend for drinks, which was nice, and then when we reached chucking out time for a trip around Picadilly Circus trying to find a reasonable 24 hour bar, which was… Well I would have been happier catching a few hours sleep after a very long and sleep deprived week (in which I also caught manflu) but not to worry.

Saturday we met with Chris and had a great day out at the science centre, which is massive and if you spend some time looking at the interesting exhibits you’ll be there for weeks. We then went to see The Phantom Of The Opera in the evening, which was a great show, and at the end they came on dressed with tinsel and whatnot, and the Phantom came out in a big inflatable Santa Suit, and they all sang “We wish you a Merry Christmas”, which was great! On Sunday, we just did some sightseeing around the capital – walked through Kensington Gardens, Trafalgar Square, changing of the guard at Horseguards, the MOD and the Cenotaph, Tower Bridge, London Bridge and the Sherlock Holmes museum on Baker Street (during which we saw a stunning Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder) before heading back home to Somerset.

All in all, an enjoyable experience in which I found that short stays in cities can hold some appeal for me if there is enough interesting stuff there for me to do, and also it has served to reinforce my view that tubes work as a public transport system – the underground service was fast, regular and pretty easy to use. Top marks there. Buses still suck though.

December 20, 2006

Out of the office

I will be out of the office and unavailable from tomorrow until Christmas, as I will be in London with Lindsey. My advanced apologies for not responding to comments as quickly as usual. Normal service will be resumed next week. Laters peeps.

December 19, 2006

Awesome news!

At last!

December 15, 2006

The commute: advice sought

My current commute to Bristol is some 100 miles a day round trip, and includes a rarely smooth section of public transport at it’s worst (buses – shudder). Having had to stand around for ages in the cold and miserable winter weather for one evening too many waiting for a trip home, I’m re-considering how I’m thinking of getting to work once I move nearer to Bristol hopefully in the summer (my original plan was just to have a shorter drive to the park and ride, but I really want to not have to rely on buses). I’ll still be around 10 to 15 miles from the office, and Bristol is one of the most hellish places to move about in during rush hour. Furthermore, parking is, well… Limited. Which kind of rules out a car too really as a sensible choice, unless I want to be stuck in traffic lots and have to park my car outside someone’s house or in a dodgy car park still a sizeable walking distance from work. My new thought therefore is to get a bike licence and make full use of the advantages of two wheeled transport – shooting straight between lines of parked cars, using bus lanes (oh the satisfaction!) etc. Assuming that I can resolve the parking issue (should be somewhat easier with a bike than a car), does anyone have any advice/experience that they wish to pass on? I’m considering probably either a Yamaha R6, Kawasaki ZX-6R or Honda CBR600 as the pick of the sports bikes on the market today. I’ve never ridden a motorbike in my life (would probably need to do a week long direct access course or something), so all advice welcome.

December 10, 2006

Wind energy running out of puff

Writing about web page

What a surprise that this story is only two days old yet I found it hard to dig out the information…

Anyway, a report by the Renewable Energy Foundation (a pro-renewables group) has suggested that claims on wind power have been grossly overstated. Most turbines are marketed as having a certain power output (i.e. a 5MW turbine) in much the same way as a nuclear reactor might be referred to as a 1200MW station etc. What this fails to hit home is that this is their rated power at a rated wind speed, and the figure is easily misleading if you’re not in the know and leads to incorrect direct comparisons. The amount of power generated by a turbine is proportional to the cube of the windspeed, i.e. if you’re generating 5MW at 12m/s wind speed then at a still brisk 6m/s you’re generating a pitiful 625kW. The amount of energy over time you can expect to get from a power generator compared to it’s rated power is typically referred to as the capacity factor or utilisation factor. For wind farms, this utilisation factor is very heavily dependent on siting. There’s the background for you.

The report has found that in the wind sector (which is the most active and the one which most noise is being made about), some turbines are being built on sites with a utilisation factor of as little as 9%. For sites in the North of Scotland and offshore (where we should be building turbines, if at all), the utilisation factor is more like 50%. So ramping up wind power in sensible locations, if that is a route we choose to take, would result in the requirement to build a very large (and expensive) grid connection from Northern Scotland and the surrounding offshore area down to England, where most of our electricity is consumed. You see, it’s not simply a case of plugging it into a grid up in Northern Scotland and wishing the electricity to get to South England – we’re talking about Gigawatts of power here, and as there’s currently no need for such a connection to exist to such remote locations, there isn’t one.

Perhaps even more worrying, the report has built a predictive model of how a large scale network would perform using data collected from Ofgem and hour by hour wind data from the Met Office to predict the performance of such a network in the month of January had it existed for years 1994 to 2004. The results, alarmingly, show that even if wind farms were distributed nationwide, the power variation averages 94% of installed capacity due to wind variation, and the average minimum is 3.7% or 0.9GW in a 25GW wind turbine network. Power swings of 70% over a 30 hour period are the norm. Any person with a grasp of the fundamentals of power generation would take a look at the above and come to the same conclusion I did years ago: wind power is a nonsense for taking up baseload and entrusting security of supply to.

The government, however, doesn’t see this. It’s prediciton is that 75% of the 2010 Renewables target, and the majority of the “20% by 2020” target, will be made from windpower. I should point out at this point that the REF’s report is in keeping with the experiences of other EU nations with wind energy, and not a one-off anomaly.

So, where does this leave us? In the same position I thought we were in before I read the report. We currently are in a situation of increasing demand (and likely to increase dramatically further if the government is serious about us giving up internal combustion to move us about), and rising fossil fuel prices. People are running scared about CO2 emissions as if the apocalypse is approaching. The golden alternatives of wind (as by far and away the biggest hope of the renewables sector) and to a lesser extent other alternatives are inadequate and failing to even live up to their hoped-for minute contribution in the energy mix. Yet we still somehow have to meet our energy demands and ensure security of supply. The solution? Well to me it’s patently obvious – sequestration powerplants and nuclear. The sooner we get the doubters out of their daydreams and get on with some construction before it’s too late to replace our aging plant (we’re due to lose all four of our Magnox stations within four years for example), the sooner we will not have to rely heavily on imports from France and other nations, and the sooner electricity prices will escape the rapidly escalating costs of natural gas.

December 05, 2006

Film review: Casino Royale

Casino Royale
3 out of 5 stars

Well a lot of people seem to be reviewing this movie, and without giving commenting permissions for me to put my thoughts forward, so here goes my take on the 21st Bond film.

Let me start out by stating that I am a big Bond fan. There are few Bond films I don’t really enjoy watching; the combination of gadgets, cars, action scenes and silly humour is a brilliant formula in my opinion, and like so many blokes there are many things about Bond and his lifestyle that I idolise. Many people have commented on how different Craig’s Bond is to previous and how much they liked it; I would agree entirely on the differences that have been made but oppose them just as much as others welcome them.

The first thing that irked me was right at the start of the film – the start should contain the James Bond theme (originally performed by the Monty Normal orchestra but revised many times) and this one didn’t. The intro was quite cool, if a little violent and graphic for a Bond film, but then the credits sequence was rubbish and totally a break from tradition in a bad way. Little things like this continued to niggle me throughout the film, die-hard Bond fan that I am.

One of my worries prior to seeing this film was that Craig was going to be too soft a Bond, too much a placement for the large female fanbase he seems to have and not enough tough-guy suave agent. I’ll admit readily that I was wrong to consider him too soft in the way that I thought; Craig’s Bond is actually a lot more thuggish than any previous and not any better for it. In many of the scenes he is cut, bruised and bleeding, and the fight scenes are equally far more graphic and don’t have a place in a Bond film. With this thuggishness comes a partial loss of the immense suaveness and coolness of the character, which is pretty glaring at times. Meanwhile, and this is by far and away my biggest criticism of the film, he has gone soft in other ways. The cool, suave, emotionally tough character we knew from previous Bond films has gone and been replaced by a man prone to the emotional trappings of women. His initial flirting/sparring with Lynd was pretty damned good and for a while I was relaxed, but right at the end he blows it all by supposedly giving up his job for her etc. What a sucker. Bond’s coldness and immunity to serious emotional damage was perhaps the most admirable thing I found about the character previously, and now they’ve ruined it in an attempt to ‘modernise’ him.

Lastly, the film wasn’t at all gadget-heavy. I admit that some of the gadgets have gone too over the top, and in some ways it was refreshing to see a more sensible Bond film on this score. The main thing he used however was a mobile phone, and pretty much just to call people. No remote-control for your car or 10,000 volt protection system built in, just a cellphone. How rubbish. The main car of the film, the stunningly good looking DBS with an exhaust note sent from God himself, features briefly for about 20 seconds in the main chase before being written off in one of the most horrific images I think I’ve ever seen on the big screen – again totally rubbish, at least they could have filmed a decent chase first. The product placement was also irritating, it was so glaringly obvious it really stuck out like a sore thumb.

The one thing I will say in this film’s defence is that it wasn’t meant to be like the other Bond films. The gadgets can be explained away by the fact that he was a junior agent, the emotional vulnerability showing how his hardness was formed in younger years. The film does also have a fair bit going for it in the excellent script in places – some of Bond’s banter with M and Lynd is amongst the best ever seen in a Bond film for example, and the bad guy plot is both believable and well-written. So, the makers have had their chance to do something non-Bondlike, and made a good non-Bond film out of it. But it’s not a Bond film yet is branded as such, so it only gets the three stars from me as the differences annoyed me so. Make sure the next one’s a proper Bond or there will be plenty of upset fans like me out there. Grrr.

December 01, 2006

This has really boiled my piss

Writing about web page

So, the results of the Eddington report are out, and as expected it recommends per-mile road charging as a “no-brainer”. Aside from the massive technical issues that would arise with such a scheme and the infringement on my privacy by having my exact location known at all times by a government computer, this is a bloody disgrace of an idea and I am fuming about it. I hope the government sees sense and doesn’t go ahead with this. Let’s examine one of it’s key findings:

He has reported that road tolls could bring £28bn a year of benefits to bus and rail users.

I’m sure it could, but then so could actually charging bus and rail users £28bn a year for their services. I think that rail fare are currently ridiculously expensive, but nevertheless if they are running at a loss then something is amiss with either charging or the system and this needs to be addressed. My gut feeling is that it’s mostly down to disastrous management of public transport to date. Charging motorists yet more to subsidise a public transport system is not a good option.

Road charges could cut congestion by half, Sir Rod said in the report commissioned by Chancellor Gordon Brown.

Commissioned by Gordon Brown – that should tell you something. But anyway, cut conjestion by half where? Are ministers so thick that they think that vehicles will evaporate into thin air? It is true that some drivers enjoy driving, and most enjoy the personal freedom it brings. However, sitting in traffic on the M25 every day in the daily commute is no-one’s idea of freedom. Motorists detest congestion, and if there was a viable alternative to being stuck in the middle of a jam we’d take it. I myself, a massive petrol-head and fan of driving, use the park and ride into work every day. That should tell you something about our willingness to use alternatives where they exist and are viable. If I move near to a train station, I’d happily take the train into work if it was on time and didn’t cost a fortune. We drive in congestion because there is no alternative. Charging motorists £28bn a year won’t cause a decent public transport system to appear from thin air.

Let’s examine for a second the financial impact on this to the typical motorist. There are 28m or so vehicles on the road, which makes the average cost per vehicle to be a very easy to calculate £1000/year. So the average motorist will need to find another £1000 a year to run their car (at a typical average mileage of 12,000 miles this equates to an average charging cost of approximately 8p a mile). Consider this though – motorists already pay in massive amounts of tax. I don’t have figures to hand, but I hear figures of between 10% and 25% typically suggested as the amount that motorists pay being spent back on the roads. So at least 75% of motoring taxes are already being spent elsewhere. It’s no wonder we have such a shoddy road network in a bad state of disrepair with underfunding like this – another stat I picked up (again not officially sourced so take it as indicative rather than absolute) is that less than 0.2% of road surfacing that is needed nationally is actually afforded by highways agencies budgets; such is the state of their under-funding. Maybe if we got a bit more back of what we paid in, road widening would be completed quicker, road surfaces would be better, roadworks would happen faster etc and congestion would reduce.

What would pricing achieve? Well consider a typical busy congested major route. This would be priced higher in order to deter motorists from using it, so instead motorists (and lorries) would use rat-runs and minor roads, quickly sending these into even an even worse state of repair and creating more congestion on these minor routes. Meanwhile, these roads are not designed for large numbers of traffic and in many cases are less safe than large, straight and open motorways; accident rates, injuries and deaths would almost certainly increase as a result of this. Is this really in the best public interest? Again, I point out that this will not move people out of cars because there is no alternative. Even Transport 2000, a heavily anti-car lobbying group, acknowledges this:

The Transport 2000 lobby group said that, for road pricing to work, alternatives to driving must be improved.

The real reason these charges are being suggested is because the motorist is an easy target. We are utterly dependent on our cars because there is no good alternative in most cases, and as such the government has us to ransom and can name it’s price for our car use. Furthermore, they have the wonderful position of a number of fronts to hide behind – helping the environment, reducing congestion, aiding public safety – in order to force the motorist to swallow the pill. Well the time has come for us all to say enough. Motorists should not have to subsidise an inefficient, ill-thought out, overpriced, badly managed and misguided government transport system any more than any other tax payer in this country, and it’s high time politicians took note of this.

December 2006

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