Thursday, 31 December 2009

rashbre central rehearses auld lang syne

New Year full moon
Okay, maybe the Buck's Fizz was a trifle strong and maybe we do have cloth ears, but we accidentally leaned on the iPhone record button during the practice session for Auld Lang Syne. We'll need to download the words if we are to sing more than the first verse later.

Of course, its also a fine full moon to enter the new decade, which may explain some of the madness.

Press here for our bad singing. It will be worse by midnight.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Triffids

John Wyndham_1951_The Day Of The TriffidsSomething of dilemma about whether to watch the second part of the new Day of the Triffids show, having missed Part 1.

Normally I'd be iPlayering my way through the first episode, but I was sort of intrigued to see what they'd done with the plotline and London scenes, so shamefully I skipped straight into Part 2.

I noticed the opening credits said 'Written by' someone that wasn't John Wyndham, and then referenced his book a little later. I did think that was a little bit 'the wrong way around' for something so iconic. But then the plot modernisation was a bit odd too.

Wyndham (to my recollection) doesn't explain how the plants originated, except that it could have been some form of off world experimentation. A good device.

In this one, we have scientists (I assume in Part 1) creating plants to be used as bio-fuel. Except they are carnivorous. Oops. A bit of a blooper there. Wouldn't it be better to use the plants to do what they are good at? Use sunlight and CO2 to grow? No, let's chuck them a few cows to eat before we turn them into fuel.

I get the idea of modernising the story, but not if the end result has a flaw that makes the rest of the story like a few Survivors offcuts.

I did like the scenes in the Abbey, with Vanessa Redgrave dispatching various sacrifices to the woods. There was enough creepiness around this to create some proper darkness. Eddie Izzard made a suitably insane villain and I suppose reminded us that this was wholesome ensemble Sci-Fi rather than a dark tale of apocalypse.

A circular reference here could be that this was the planet that first messed with the plants. After they have taken over they could shoot off to invade somewhere else where Wyndham's original story can play with greater authenticity.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

In which Petite France offers festive delights

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There's a subtle sales role within La Cure Gourmande. They ever so gently offer you a modest bon-bon or biscuit and maybe a basket to make carrying things easier.

Let's just say we now have enough biscuits for any amount of New Year celebrations. Oh, and chocolate.

Strasbourg's old town has many small alleys, twists and turns and knows how to decorate stylishly for Noel. In one area, the lighting across the middle of the cobbled street was chandeliers.

We visited the Russian Market, the various Christmas fairs and even the local co-op for those last few wine bottles to supplement a planned festive fondue during the New Year season.
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Monday, 28 December 2009

twisting the day away

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Back along the twisty roads on the North side of Lake Thun. Complete with those tunnels like the ones on the Corniche in Italy and made famous by various James Bond movies.

Later we'd be going through some of the urban tunnels cutting through Basel. They remind me of some kind of club lighting scene, with their lime green verticals and pulsing white lights.

Our destination is the old part of Strasbourg, as a stopping off point on the way back to the UK.
Strasbourg, Petite France

Sunday, 27 December 2009

mountains, snow, lakes, sunshine

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Early morning drinking on the side balcony as the sun begins to rise from behind the mountains. Our day filled with joys of the slopes rounded off as we see the sun setting behind the Jungfrau.
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We'll be heading to the lakes next, where there will still be sights of the mountains although no snow on the ground, but hopefully sunshine. Then we will plot our course across to Strasbourg for some time in Petite France, before beginning the journey back to the UK.
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Saturday, 26 December 2009

Boxing Day on a Glacier

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Well, we managed to get ourselves up in amongst the mountains today. This is around Jungfrau, Monch and Eiger and there's part of the Eigergletscher in the foreground.

As predicted, today had mainly sunshine, so although the temperature was minus 12 degrees Centigrade, it really didn't feel cold. Maybe the schnapps in the coffee helped later on.
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The pictures are pretty random at the moment, as I don't have any of my usual technology to sort and sift, instead making do with a USB cable and an iPhone.
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Friday, 25 December 2009

Christmas sunshine

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Most people I've spoken to during Christmas seem to be having a pretty good time. We're mainly out of electronic contact this year, with hastily uploaded picture and a post 'prepared earlier' on a word processor against the off-chance of a few minutes bandwidth.

We are in amongst the Alps at the moment, but rather eyeing the higher peaks, subject to sufficient good weather. I managed to catch the Christmas Day snap above in between a couple of snow flurries. Tomorrow promises more sustained sunshine.
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Thursday, 24 December 2009

festive good wishes

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And when we decided to make sure our Christmas was snowy, we couldn’t have predicted the weather back home. Nonetheless, the pristine snow here, around half a metre deep, is just about right for the full-on effect.

Add a few mountain ranges and some gluhwein and it all begins to make sense. Santa was around during the evening too, and dropped a few peanuts, oranges and -er- Diam bars.

Wishing any passing readers the very best for the season. I'm mainly 'off the air' at the moment until the reindeer have passed by.
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gratuitous Christmas morning piste scene

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The cake shop detour

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We have rule of thumb when we drive around in Europe that if we are within around 100 miles of Stuttgart, then we’ll drop into Böblingen. I lived there for a couple of years and its good to visit some old haunts.

A ritual is a visit to Cafe Frech, for a coffee and a cake. I lived next door to this cake shop and several of us would meet there informally on a Saturday morning to plan the weekend’s mischief.

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We also still know a fair number of the surprisingly many cafes, bars and restaurants in the town and usually take advantage of one or two during a fly-by. And true to form, the roads were clear as we arrived, it then snowed overnight and gave us what amounted to a ‘before’ and ‘after’ view of the town.

I’ll have to save Böblingen for a proper post another day.

dream sequence?

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"träume nicht dein leben, sondern lebe deinen traum!" - "Don't dream your life, instead live your dreams" said the diagonal writing on the wall above my bed.

I realised it was around 3am and through the open curtains I could see fresh gentle snow flakes replacing those that had melted during the day.

I moved slightly and the waterbed echoed with several new ripples. Today there will be Schwarzwälderkirschtorte.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

pie eyed

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"Great mince pies, which recipe did you use?"

Mum's twinkle of eye, "The one from the Carol Concert."

We reached around to pick out the programme from the shelf, where it was filed between 'The Triangle' and an Adobe Photoshop CS4 primer.

Sure enough, last week's Albert Hall concert had included a recipe for mince pies.

"The extra orange and apple is a great tip..."

We all nodded in agreement.

Meanwhile, Ian was on his second plateful. The temporary family time was a useful respite from Uni and an excuse to power down and eat something that didn't look like an alien species food experiment. Sandwiched next to Ian was David, lost in his own world of butter thin margins. It was all, he explained, about knowing the best way to open the packet.

We paused at this profound thought.

Then Elizabeth was explaining the shopping phenomenon of Christmas Eve. "Its called Panic Buying," she assured us. "Most of the clothing will be returned to the stores. Men need to remember to 'buy small' rather than large if they are to escape some of the inevitable criticism."

I suggested an emergency purchase desk could be set up in the entrance of certain key stores, with a subset of emergency gifts and some sensible 'panic buying assistants' to help the last minute errant shoppers.

Ron was chattering about the recent trip to Twickenham ostensibly for a rugby match. Attending by public transport had created a unique opportunity for beer consumption which he and a few accomplices had found advantageous for many hours. The encounters with last train commuters sounded suitably improbable. You really did need to be there.

"More mince pies, anyone?"

Monday, 21 December 2009

interlude avec neige

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Well, the train tracks may have been iced up, the trains stuck in the tunnels and the M20 reduced to a parking lot, but we found an excellent way to get to France, propelled by some of the finest mince pies on the planet.

There was nothing for it but to switch to the clearly posted signs for the Ferry and to dig deep into a Langham's breakfast on the ship before settling into the quiet comfort of the Club lounge. To be honest, it all passed so quickly that we nearly didn't have time to grab some Swiss Francs for later in the week.

As luck would have it, we were parked right by the front ramp from the ship, so we were first onto the road. After Calais, the French roads were decidedly quiet, with the main excitement being the occasional snowplough cutting a finely etched perimeter to the road surface.

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And so we arrived. There was trauma amongst the ducks and swans. They'd had to up sticks and move to a remaining small pond of water in amongst the ice.

The drive was also rather snowy as the picture above suggests, and don't get me started on the moat. If anyone ever wanted to invade, just wait until the winter months to see the design defect in this particular form of defence. The idea of pouring hot water in to keep the moat defending just won't, well, hold water - even with a government grant. Stlll, the house has been here since the thirteenth century, so mustn't grumble.
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Anyway, its time to draw the shutters for the evening, put another log on the fire and then maybe stroll along to the Orangery for a tipple and a nibble.

It's starting to feel a bit like Christmas.
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santa claus

santa
Yes, its official, based upon two web counters.

My highest accessed posts in December include the word "Santa".

Sunday, 20 December 2009

EuroTunnel, Ferries, Weather, Motorways Updates for Xmas Travel

Nutcracker advent calendar and 5 santas
Countdown for the holiday season is well and truly under way. As I'm trying to get to France at the moment and the tunnel information on the Eurotunnel site is singularly useless, I thought I'd improvise a few links.

1 BBC Motorway information (M20) is the key one to watch Click Here

2 BBC Eurostar update Click Here

3 SE Weather forecast from the Met Office Click Here

4 Highways Agency Motorway Traffic Flow - select M20 Click Here

5 BBC Five Day Calais Weather Click Here

6 Traffic Master National live traffic jam reporting Click Here

7 meteofrance French weather shows orange alert for North France Click Here (Thanks, maximumbob)

8 Eurotunnel phone line (UK) 08444 63 00 00 (Thanks, Catherine)

There - that took all of ten twelve minutes to assemble.

Shame that Eurotunnel couldn't do something similar.

I've switched to the Ferry.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

snow go slow blow (Yo Ho Ho)


The last time I drove to France (earlier this year), there was an Operation Stack in effect on the M20. It is where they close the motorway and convert it into a lorry park.

Well, guess what? I have tickets to travel again this weekend, using the Tunnel to avoid the problems of the Ferries at this time of year.

Except.

Port of Calais is closed.

The M20 motorway to Folkestone is closed

Four or five trains were inserted into the French end of the tunnel in some form of destruction testing spree. "Hmm, one won't work, let's try another, and another."

Thankfully everyone has been rescued, but I wasn't expecting the journey to be such an adventure.

I may need a different Chris Rea track this year.

meanwhile, in a nearby Lane

The Lane
Most of the main roads seem to be cleared of snow again, although side roads and some of the lanes around here seem to still have their share.

My thermometer says its -2.5C despite sunshine although snow on the sunny side seems to be melting fast. I need to get the car ready for tomorrow's expedition and will almost certainly encounter more of the white stuff.

Friday, 18 December 2009

no comments?

screenshot_01
I've received an email that says if I don't upgrade Haloscan commenting in the next two weeks, it will all disappear.

The new system is called Echo and I'm not expecting it to work properly at the start. I see my blog now has Echo comments from today and Haloscan prior.

Also that the little counters that say whether there are comments have stopped working. And my customisations.

UPDATE
In fairness to the people at Echo, they do seem to have responded pretty quickly.

I seem to now have all my comments cutover to the new system, and also have the comment counter updating.

There is still a problem with the recent comment box in the sidebar (which I have demoted to the end of the sidebar for the time being).

The look and feel of the new comment box is different but It can still run as a popup layer like Haloscan did (or as a web page or inline) so once I've found the CSS I can re-customise it.

Elapsed period of wobble = about 15 hours.

UPDATE 2
I suppose I'll call it 'path of least resistance'. I plinked the $10 for the upgrade and I seem to have all my old comments still visible and a little box appearing to take new ones. Theres a load of other new social networking facilities and voting systems which I've suppressed, so the end effect is functionally similar to the Haloscan I had previously, except the most recent comment is now at the top of the list.

When I have more time I may adjust some of it, but I suppose I've crossed the bridge now and the blog is still functioning.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

den lille havnfrue

lille havnfrau
The little mermaid became a daughter of the air in the real version of the story. She'd walked on legs as painful as swords whilst unable to speak and then through self sacrifice moved onto a path towards an eternal soul.

Putting 35,000 delegates into the mermaid's city and expecting debates to reach conclusion was perhaps optimistic. It can become more like crowd control and revert to the safety of procedure and form, rather than content and outcome.

With factions and passing statesman showboat agendas, there's a risk that the main purpose is swamped. At its basic, there's a few main greenhouse topics like:

- Will industrialized countries reduce emissions of greenhouse gases?
- Will Chindia limit emissions?
- Will the developed world supply dosh to help developing countries?
- How will the process and money get managed?

Its a shame if it all becomes a cynical exercise in table shape wrangling after two years of preparation. I'd call that high carbon footprint industrial tourism.

In the story, the mermaid's destiny is shaped by good deeds from children of the earth.

Let's hope so.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

don't tap it, whack it

Terry's (Kraft) Orange
I've never really enjoyed Hershey chocolate.

It reminds me of some form of detergent. I've sometimes thought that it should be dispensed rather than sold.

Maybe its because it has to be tropicalised or made extra safe for storage or something, but it doesn't seem to have any of the qualities of chocolate other than a slight approximation of the color.

Therefore it worries me when I hear that Cadburys - which includes Green and Black amongst its range - is rumoured being bid for by this particular company.

The other bidders for Cadburys are Kraft, the makers of cheese slices. Perhaps surprisingly, I think they manage to produce chocolate that it more edible than the premier American brand.

Perhaps Cadburys can launch a Creme Egg attack to avoid getting whacked?

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

51.8% APR seems a trifle high

what credit crunch?
A fairly thick envelope was waiting amongst the mail when I returned yesterday. It looked like junk mail but was just slightly too opulent, too much saying "Open me". So instead of binning it, I decided to see what wonders were within.

I had been selected.

Yes, for a new kind of credit card. It claims it could do my ironing, and help with maths homework as well as telling me the weather in Bangkok.

I could have been smitten.

But there, on the thinner paper amongst the shiny brochures, was the spindly typeface of the agreement. I flicked to the back, where the even smaller print had been squeezed onto the page, such that "IMPORTANT INFORMATION" was in 8 point font.

But there was still a big box.

Typical APR 51.8%

I'm guessing I must be a very big risk to this company. They explain that the number is only the figure quoted under the Consumer Credit Act regulations and that this means it is distorted.

I've decided to put the papers into the bin anyway.

One less credit risk for them to worry about.

Monday, 14 December 2009

city of glass

Blurry rainy LHR T5
Probably my last plane flight of the year, arriving back at Heathrow today and taxi-ing back through drizzle to a glowing Terminal Five.

The newspapers were full of the news of the imminent strike by the plane crews, so I may have to reacquaint myself with some other airlines in early 2010.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

blackberry powered

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Working today, but my laptop has a temporary wobble.

Its been doing automatic updates and flashing its disk light for about an hour. No access to office facilities until its finished. I've quite a few things to do, and its a little irritating that its chosen now to do some kind of major maintenance.

There are some things that can't be done using a blackberry.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

so tyred

Tescos in the rain
Not my local Tescos this weekend. Some shopping though. Mince pies, cream, crisps, luminous vests, tyre chains.

Job done.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Saturn untied

winter shopping
The acceleration of December is occurring.

There's that point somewhere in mid November when Christmas and the end of the year seems far in the future, but then an initially imperceptible acceleration occurs across the next two or three weeks.

Shopping and general social preparations alongside work-related deadlines. And weekends pre-allocated. I've some extra business trips to work in too.

This year its not been so cold yet either. Hardly any frosts in the morning.

Early darkness, long midday shadows and glittery stars and orbs festooning the streets as give-aways of the season, but surprising sunshine and blue skies between the rain.

I've realised that I still have plenty to do before the holiday season starts. I must somehow compress time for the varied tasks of the next two weeks.

Whoever first thought of the reasons for celebrations at this time of year, it somehow feels right, as we approach the point where the days will start to lengthen again.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

viewfinder for Lumix cameras

Helios Viewfinder
This is really a 'rashbre snapped' post, but I've added it to rashbre central as well.

Something I've wondered about for a while, but haven't wanted to spend lots of money on, was the effect of adding a small direct viewfinder to a compact camera.

Sometimes I'll use big SLR cameras with bulky lenses, but its also good to have something more portable. I typically use a little Lumix camera (LX3 or GF1), which can be unobtrusive, but both only have a rear screen for taking pictures. Its OK, but sometimes a 'to the eye' style seems more natural.

I've just received a little clip on viewfinder from an inexpensive eBay auction and added it to one of the cameras.

Its amazing.

It won't give me the exact view through the lens, but is a good way to frame a shot like a using a traditional film camera. It even has markings for three different lens lengths, 35mm, 85mm and 135mm.

It's a great match for the Lumix 20mm f1.7 (40mm equivalent lens) and surprisingly accurate for framing.

I'm hooked.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

the wall to wall is calling

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Another time capsule arrived today from Apple and seems to be working.

That's one dead and gone, one dead to return to the Apple Store and one dead and replaced. Maybe I should have switched technologies? Actually, I do separately back up my photos and music to another RAID5 system, but that's a manual process.

The idea of the time capsule is pretty good. The device to be backed up knows when the time capsule is accessible and quietly backs up everything that has changed, more or less continuously. Its a great model because its completely 'hands off'.

When it works.

time capsule overheating fix

Time capsule heat sink
Stop apple time capsule overheating. Lay old disk drive on top rear of case as heat sink. Inelegant but practical.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

santa north pole norad xmas physics stats update

Santa passes Big Ben
I was interested to see a sudden unexpected boost in my readership over the last few days and realised it was linked with an old post about Santa Claus.

Unfortunately, the post no longer linked to the latest Santa Claus tracking system, so I suppose there could be disappointed children of all ages wondering where the proper link has gone.

Well, its here, complete with English, Spanish, German, French, Japanese and Chinese language support and a little festive tune.

An ideal gift this year is, of course, this.

And for those of you who are more interested in the technology, NORAD's FAQs provide the following:
NORAD Sleigh technical data
Plenty of people have calculated Santa's speed to cover the world, famously Joel Potischman and Bruce Handy who did the physics of the speed and payload performance criteria for Santa's sleigh. Like most, I'm respectful of this but am also intrigued by some of the assumptions in the original calculation:

The most notable corrections to be applied are:

- Santa delivers no gifts to naughty children (not even coal)
- Naughty to nice ratio is 1:9
- As confirmed by NORAD, one Santa distributes all of the gifts.
- There is only one family per household.
- Santa bypasses non Santa belief system houses.
- Reindeer have recently eaten fresh magic acorns.

Calculation Assumptions:

- World population = 6 billion
- Children under 18 = 2 billion
- Global Santa based belief systems: 33%
- Max children requiring delivery therefore 667 million
- Children per household: 3.5 (may seem high?)
- Number of households requiring distribution 189 million
- Eastern orthodox using Jan 5 instead of Dec 25 = 16 Million
- Target Households = 173 million on Dec 25
- Target Households after naughty to nice = 156 million
- Estimated child bed time 21:00 (9pm) with 7 hours sleep.

(child sleep duration on Dec 24 may also require revision)

Gives circa 31 hours (24+7) for all deliveries
Time is 1860 mins or 111,600 seconds

Average number of homes to visit per second = circa 1400.
So average delivery per household is 715 microseconds, which is why Santa normally appears a bit blurry (I previously thought it was the sherry)

Land surface minus Antarctica is around 79 million square miles. Distribute destinations evenly = 0.7 miles between households creating a total distance of circa 110 million miles.

So 110 million miles in 31 hours = 3.6 million miles an hour or circa 1000 miles per second or Mach 4770 at a linear speed.

This explains Rudolph's red nose because of air resistance creating around 20 quintillion Joules of energy per second, which would convert a non reindeer nose to charcoal at such energy levels.

Luckily Santa has lots of special powers so these mere physics facts are no problem to such a superhero.

And ps. my list is in the chimney awaiting collection.

Monday, 7 December 2009

unexpected retail moment

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I've stayed at this myhotel in Brighton once before. I think it was only for a single night, but the pink space capsule look left quite an impression. It is very central and has a real buzz, with a bar that converts from evening chill-out to night-time hub with a mix of live music and then later live DJs.
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Its also central for the varied shops, with the Laines offering the esoteric and implausible, well differentiated from the average High Street. However, even after the Happy Herbs available in the room, I still decided that the silver "grenades for your Xmas tree" decorations were probably not my thing.
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And I'd describe it as happily lively, rather than like Beth's description of Oxford Street. We saw mainly good humoured groups of people wandering around, plenty of attractive and unusual stop off points mingled with glimpses of the sea and unexpected screeching of gulls. I seemed to be carrying additional bags by the time we returned to the hotel.
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Sunday, 6 December 2009

Postcard from Brighton

Brighton Pier
Logistically challenged mission this weekend as I find myself on tour to Brighton. We are staying in a rather bright hotel which seems to attract a particularly extrovert form of clientele.

We've already met others and managed a quick trip to Havana. Later, we head to a music gig and I suspect there will be more time in the rather unique shopping areas.

I hope I have time for at least a seaside ice cream.
seaside ice cream

Saturday, 5 December 2009

the further one travels, the less one knows

electrobay
With Copenhagen's energy summit getting fired-up, we are all thinking about the climate a little bit more at the moment.

One of the popular discussions is around new forms of transportation power, such as electric cars. I'm a believer in 'treading lightly' but I suspect some of the calculations will need refinement for electric cars to become mainstream.

The 'rule of thumb' equation for electric cars consumption goes something like 60mph = 20KWh. In other words, a car travelling at 60 mph for an hour uses 20 Kilowatts of power - roughly 10 fan heaters or 333 60 Watt light bulbs. As a quick cross check, the Toyota Prius peak output is between 43KWh and 73KWh, depending on model - higher than my figures.

To keep things simple, I'll assume that the 60 miles represents the equivalent of an average car's daily travel (ie 20KW) but that it only gets recharged on working days. Thats 220days x 60miles = 13,200 miles per annum or 220days x 20KWh = 4,400KWh per annum. 13,200 miles seems about right as an average.

Now for the average power consumption of a house. I looked this up on a US web-site. US homes have more central heating and are quite appliance rich, so their government statistics are a handy reference. Its around 960 KWh per month, according to the average of all of the States.

So a home uses 12months x 960KWh per annum (call it 12,000KWh) for simplicity. A single car uses 4,400KWh per annum.

Or around 1/3 of a home.

UK has around 25million homes and 33million cars. Lets make that 1.3 cars per household. That's average 5,700KWh per annum. Or an average of around a half a home of charge per night.

Now put the car electricity onto the household power grid. Most people would recharge at night. Say between 7pm and 7am. 12 hours. Thats 12 hours to deliver half of a house's average daily consumption.

Looks to me as if thats pretty much full continuous load.

So does that mean the whole grid needs uprating to support eCar charging? How big is the carbon footprint to do that? Maybe we will find out over the next few days - or perhaps it will take a three year study?
Trafalgar Square, with bikes

Friday, 4 December 2009

bah gum, there wern' 'arf an explosion

dead time capsule number 1
I seem rather unlucky with these Time Capsule dedicated backup devices. The new one that arrived yesterday has also failed. It was maybe half way through backing up an iMac, when it suddenly stopped working and the little indicator light went out. I've re-plugged it since but to no avail.

Its a trifle embarrassing, because this is actually the third one that has died. When the first one (pictured) went wrong, I put it down to bad luck. I'd had it less than two years and was a bit miffed that the backup device lasted such a short time, but it was out of warranty so I didn't think there was much I could do.

Then a couple of weeks ago another one failed in the same way. Dead except for the little lights for ethernet which momentarily flash when I plug in the mains cable. Again, its around 18 months old.

This third new one was in the middle of backing up 600 Gigabytes from one computer when it expired. Its a 2 Terabyte unit and is supposed to have a 'server grade disk' inside it.

Its pretty obvious to me that all three have suffered from power supply faults. I actually had the latest one plugged into an anti surge power adapter as well, so I've done what I can to protect it. I noticed it ran rather hot, so I'm guessing heat + electronics=fried apple.

I called Apple about the latest one and they are sending a replacement. I asked if they'd had this happen before, but was told by the technical guy that he'd never heard of anything like it.

Of course, I couldn't resist a quick google and was surprised when the Time Capsule Memorial Register popped up.

screenshot_03

Along with the very handy link to the BBC's summary of UK Consumer Protection Law and the six year 'fitness for purpose' rule. I'll see how I get on at the Apple Store with the other dead one.