Thursday, 28 September 2017

red cars at sunset

I've been using one of those telemetrics systems in my car recently. It's the type that tracks the journey, provides feedback about driving style, as well as providing rudimentary monitoring of the car's diagnostics.

My regular work driving to a specific office used to clock up around 55 miles per day, mainly along commuter motorway in rush hour. Add in a few long journeys and I'd be clocking up many miles per year, with a rolling average of around 60,000 over three years.

My newer driving has a different pattern, which is quite bi-modal. I'm surprised at the number of ultra-short journeys of between 2-5 miles but less surprised at the number of 80 mile plus journeys.

The gadget lets me be more scientific about the capture of recent journeys, so despite the dilution through the short journeys (dare I say bicycle-worthy journeys), my average journey is still clocking around 25 miles.

There's a dilemma in this, because my split journey types are probably representative of many people, yet the types of new vehicles are not quite ready for this type of scenario.

My example. My current V6 turbo-engined car averages 40 miles around town and maybe around 50 on longer journeys. Its range between fuel stops is around 500 miles. But it's a now-unpopular diesel.

I look around at new cars on offer and realise that we must be between innovation cycles. The manufacturers are trying to move to greater use of electric, but are stuck with manufacturing plants and designs that predominately use petrol and diesel. Watch normal telly at the moment and every advert break is filled with red cars driving along twisty roads. Follow the herd?

It means that many of the hybrids around are rather ineffectual. They might have a 20 mile electric range, which is okay for short journeys, but their combined cycles are running less that 40 mpg, despite claims of 100 mpg. Ironically the hybrid diesel electrics seem to give better mileage, but surely that must be a temporary combination? The car press don't know what to make of it all either, with reviewers saying these mashups have great acceleration rather than great range.

Then there's the pure electric cars. Teslas seem to offer the best mileage, but are still only 200 mile range for their best £90,000 plus cars. I looked up the nearest high speed charging point to me. It's about 3 miles away, but is the only one within an 80 mile radius. I suppose I could make longer journeys more leisurely, but there's a different stress having a fuelled car on a quarter tank, compared with having a battery car on one blip. I followed a 2016 plated Tesla around a roundabout the other day, it was on the flatbed of a rescue truck.

I suppose in another three years there will be a wider range of plausible hybrid alternative vehicles. I'll stay with my current vehicle until that point. At least I can drive it to Newcastle-upon-Tyne without refuelling. Although I might need to update the sat-nav.

Monday, 25 September 2017

bugged

Mother Nature is gradually reassembling in the back garden, since the building work.

The new muddiness attracted plenty of green shoots, which necessitated a quick change of plan as we planted turf to keep the area under some control until we can decide what to do with it. That probably won't be until next year.

At the front, the vast tracts of Devonshire mud are similarly sprouting small green shoots, in what was presumably agricultural land until the recent makeover. There is a plan for the front, but that also involves further diversion of the stream and potentially the re-siting of some high tension power lines. Bring in the big diggers again.

So at the front we have foxes, an occasional deer but mostly a couple of crows which strut around the various ponds. We've had the starlings doing their murmuration thing too, but only in low hundreds.

The back is rather more scaled back, such that wildlife comprises the smallest midges, a few of the garden fence spiders (they look like ruggedised house spiders). My short term favourite is the Green Shield bug, which, as H2G2 would say, is 'mostly harmless'.

I confess to not being particularly aware of these commonplace insects until a few days ago, and had classified them as a variety of grasshopper. These bugs stay green in colour, probably so that they don't get confused with the less attractively named 'Stink Bug'.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

empirical realism without a mandrake in sight


Machiavelli's home town had a boost of politicians over the last few days. I skimmed through the Florence pronouncements looking for interesting bits. Theresa May was suitably serious for her speech. She had to cover up that David Davies has been skiving and that consequently everything is even further behind schedule. Implicated civil servants are already writing CYA memos for the enquiry in however many years time.

May ruled out using the EEA or a free trade agreement for ongoing relationships. That means something new and innovative, although it's hard to spot imagination and creativity in the moves so far.

The self-righteous spin of her statements will become future text book materials. "They (The British people) want more direct control of decisions that affect their daily lives; and that means those decisions being made in Britain by people directly accountable to them." It doesn't mention all of the fibs used to those same people in the run-up to the original vote.

Further on, that stray sentence about global matters. Intriguing for a UK about to 'go global' in its aspiration. "The weakening growth of global trade; the loss of popular support for the forces of liberalism and free trade that is driving moves towards protectionism; the threat of climate change depleting and degrading the planet we leave for future generations; and most recently, the outrageous proliferation of nuclear weapons by North Korea with a threat to use them."

Inevitably the semi-colon inserters made sure that this speech refers back to the prior Lancaster House session, as if there has been some fundamental progress over the intervening period. More like regurgitating the main point of the negotiation as if something new: "...we will need to discuss with our European partners new ways of managing our interdependence and our differences, in the context of our shared values."

The reality of the new positioning statements is somewhat different.

1) There will need to be an extra open-ended two years inserted for transitioning to the new, undefined arrangements.
2) There will be significant tens of billions of costs for everything. These amounts will be announced on a trickle feed basis, to confuse us all and not make it sound like too much.

So my net. There still isn't a plan. It will cost a lot of money. It will take lot longer. And that's before the impending scatter of the Tory game-board. Again.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

turning the tables

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Home is changing on an almost daily basis at the moment. We've new items going in and some pre-existing ones being moved out.

A sofa arrived earlier in the week and unlike a previous one which was yellow by accident, this one is yellow by design. The John Lewis delivery guys recognised me straight away, having brought the new telly a few days ago.

A large table also turned up, which is destined for the office, and I've had fun assembling it, using a recently acquired new power drill. My previous heavy duty Bosch drill had finally expired, and I was surprised to work out that I'd had it since around 1995.

I could also use the new power drill to dismantle a complicated and rather heavy coffee table, which is no longer part of the plan and may soon be taking a ride in the boot of my car.

I've also a couple of smaller tables stashed in the garage and am considering a small side project with some of that Annie Sloan chalk paint to see whether they can be re-purposed into something for the music room. My idea is meeting some resistance at the moment, and anyway first I'll need to clear some cat-swinging space in the garage.

Although, if the weather remains sunny, then the seafront beckons.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Of Wolf Hall, bringing up the bodies and new reflections


The affectionate introduction by a local person described the town we were in as 'twinned with the 1960s'.

We were here to listen to Hilary Mantel, most known as the populariser of historical novels, including the much lauded and televised Wolf Hall.

Dame Hilary Mantel began with musings on everyman. The thought that anyone, once deceased, would live on in myriad ways, based upon individual peoples' impressions and interpretations. That this thinking had informed portrayals in her novels.

She believed that facts were not the same as truth. It applied in Tudor times, and it's still a factor in 'post truth' modernity. The approach creates a lens to the past. And important as what happened, it was important to convey what it felt like.

Some scorn historical 'novels' for this very interpretation and potential romanticising of events. Mantel differs. History had to patch over gaps in knowledge. Provide a way to arrange a sequence. I'd rather have nuanced interpretation than the bombast of a David Starkey view in any case.

Hilary Mantel started by describing her own family past. A large family in the prior generation and then a small one in her parents' generation. We heard of her own initial attempts at novel writing, including her almost ten year grapple with the French Revolution.

No-one was interested, particularly from a British perspective. There were also large gaps in the history. Mantel realised that there would need to be something different if she was to succeed.

She remembered a childhood visit to Cardinal Wolsey's place, to sit in his window, to rest her arm where his had surely been. That became a stimulus for her Tudor novels. To write it from an individual perspective, to recognise, back in the early 2000s, that there was an impressive anniversary approaching. to write her novel to what would become a 500 year deadline.

In this we see Hilary Mantel's commercial awakening as well, a realisation that to be successful the story needed to have popular appeal.

Fast forward (we can do that wth history) to the point where the books are successful and Hilary Mantel becomes involved in stage productions. This was clearly a re-boot for Hilary, who says she learned so much more from the team working and the pragmatism in choices involved with the performing arts.

Great to hear of someone already successful going through a thorough re-learning. There was plenty more in the talk, it was clear that we were listening to a thoughtful enthusiast of her skillset.

It could have been a more direct trailer for "Wolf Hall III: The Mirror and the Light." Instead we'll have to speculate a little longer as we find out how Thomas Cromwell reflects and sometimes forgets whilst the plotters gather to finish him.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

digging the fibre

Well, I've ditched my temporary, cobbled-together, low-speed, home-made broadband. The new fibre system has been connected and I'm now getting speeds officially up to 200 Mbit/sec.

I say officially, because when I tested it after installation, it was clocking 220 Mbit. An unusual surprise compared with the usual stories of underperformance from broadband.

I'd asked the installation guy, and he said I'd get the full speed it I used a wired connection, but the speed would drop if I used wifi. True when I used the official hub for the wifi. When I -ahem- connected the Apple wifi hub to the official one, the speed somehow shifted back to maximum. Useful to know.

A small snag though. The next day the builders managed to put a digger through the cable. So no broadband and no telly.

Oh well.

Friday, 8 September 2017

time to check it


Along to the Phoenix for Thursday evening. A chance to test a few factors. How long to get to the central city in the evening? How difficult to park? Were there charges? How far to cross the centre?

All easy peasy. The main consideration was that the car park closed unnervingly early at 11pm. No charges after 6pm.

Then to meet up in the bar before the show. Chatting enough that we had to be herded into the show.

A sort of extended front room set. Arts lab, Beckenham was the look. Probably 1970s, judging by the lampshades. Then it was Bowie tunes. A mixture of styles from the players known as Bowie Lounge.

The lyrics were unmistakeable, although some of the interpretations were quite different. It looped through Bowie eras, and didn't try too hard to tell a specific Bowie tale. Bowie used to use William S Burroughs influenced cut-ups to render some of his lyrics and there was a similar fractured approach to any story telling in this performance.

We also witnessed a stage edge scratchy analogue video installation and a Billy Name-esque photographer wandering throughout the performance, like an enigmatic reference to The Factory.

And did the audience like it? By the end they were dancing in the aisles and would probably have been on the stage as well.

I'll classify this first skirmish into my new area's local night life as successful, even with the eleven o'clock car park curfew. But, as someone else pointed out, it was a school night.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

theme for an imaginary western


Part of our relocation involves picking up threads with new people and so I'll be starting these new adventures over the next few days.

So as I walked through this recent late summer London scene of the Fever Tree winnebago closed up, a Jack Bruce lyric drifted into my head. The one about the imaginary western.

When the wagons leave the city
For the forest and further on
Painted wagons of the morning
Dusty roads where they have gone


I'm thinking how our own wagon has rolled to the new place. Despite the current almost desert-like scene opposite (which I describe as a mini Grand Canyon), we'll soon have an entire new landscape.

Oh the sun was in their eyes
And the desert was dry
In the country town
Where the laughter sounds


Maybe not Slartibartfast, and go easy on the crinkly edges.

Here's Jack Bruce.

Monday, 4 September 2017

cut grass - done


The recent turf-laying has now created the need for grass-mowing. The turf has knitted together and the individual strands of grass become some 20-30cm tall.

The heavy old petrol mower with its Briggs & Stratton engine from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin didn't make the move from the last place, so we're starting again.

Petrol was the past choice because of the shape of the garden, with a couple of areas well outside the reach of cables.

This time I'm going electric again, but cordless. That's where the different battery tech pops up. There's a selection from between 18 volt to 80 volt, with commensurate pricing. Plus the decision on the number of amperes - broadly speaking I'll go for the largest possible amps, but only take the voltage needed for a smaller bladed device.

Hence this small Ryobi. So light I can carry by its handle with one hand. And, after that first choppy cut, it looks as if subsequent ones will be fine.

However, something important to watch is the way that the coverage per charge gets represented. We all know about misleading car miles per gallon, there is a lawnmower equivalent. I'm guessing that a reduction by a third to a half compared with the advertised coverage will be needed, at least for the first cuts.

I suppose the theory could be to get the grass down to a billiard table smoothness, at which point the full potential may be achieved with an expert groundsman in charge of the mower.

But for me it makes sense to buy extra batteries and use a fast charger.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Topsham Turf Ferry and Otter ale

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A weekend trip on the Topsham Turf Ferry, across to the Turf Hotel, a popular pub by the Exeter canal and the River Exe.
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The 15 minute ferry ride is a pretty one and gives a good view of Topsham, the one-time port for Exeter.
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There's no direct road to the pub and most people will walk, cycle or come along the river.
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I enjoyed a casual burger and a pint of Otter served outdoors, although there was plenty on offer from the kitchen like the tasty sea bass, scallops and trimmings, on this occasion washed down with a late summer Pimms.

The pub is on National Cycle Route 2, which is very well signposted from the pub leading towards Dawlish in one direction and Exeter in the other. It will eventually run all the way from St Austell to Dover, some 361 miles.

Another section of the same cycle route runs along by the end of our new road as it weaves its way along both sides of the River Exe, and there's plenty of cyclists of all kinds using it.

But we were boat passengers this time, although soon to be back by cycle.
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Friday, 1 September 2017

September means indoor spiders.


The start of September makes a good opportunity for a spider post.

This year for me may be different until the ecology of the new place settles down. I'm already aware that the foxes have had to create a new route since the arrival of bricks and mortar on their previous cut-through.

But the spiders here look different too. In London there would be a fair smattering of common house spiders, some of those little jumpy ones and certainly some of the black bodied ones. A kind of de-riguer London attire for spiders.

Around here it's all somewhat more 4-wheel drive. Okay, 8-leg drive. The spiders I've seen seem to be the same colour as the reddish soil, have extra long front legs and look somehow ruggedised.

So far there is limited evidence of webs and I'm guessing the intrepid ones here are the hunter types.

We shall see, this September = Spiders month.