TUE • 29 AUG 2017
Ariel demonstrates the genius of UK engineering
It has been possible using a government grant and a few companies getting together to bring this technology to life. One addition for the car is a turbine engine which will provide power once the batteries are depleted providing unlimited range – especially important as I understand 15 minutes of track usage could deplete the 50KW battery pack!
I have been keen to get my next fun car and while the wait will be a long one, the car isn’t planned on being ready for customers until 2020, I have duly handed over a deposit and await further news on the development of this very exciting piece of British engineering.
TUE • 22 AUG 2017
Dogs in the Office
For some reason Landlords in London are behind the times and every office we looked at said there was a no pet policy. Why might you ask? Well there is no good explanation for it apart from ‘we have always had one’. So when we finally settled on our office in South Bank Tower we had to work hard with the Landlord to secure a ‘Pet Licence’. The main concession was that we were only allowed one dog in the office at any one time – and hence our BYOD (Bring your own Dog) calendar was born!
Interestingly I got feedback from the Landlord that since writing the Pet policy for us, every single tenant signing into our building (we were one of the first tenants) have requested such a policy. So it looks like we just have to change the mind-set one Landlord at a time! Certainly while we now have the option we don’t have a dog in the office every day. On average we see dogs probably around a quarter of the time due to owners not needing to bring them in all the time.
Certainly one of the benefits I have got from it has been the need to regularly leave my desk and take Tiffin for a walk. I had him in the office all of last week and only suffered one accident – purely because I was too busy to take him out when he asked – also I am sure our fake grass area didn’t help!
WED • 02 AUG 2017
Government needs to understand the facts on pollution
Personally I struggle to put the whole blame on the car manufacturers in that if they are asked to meet certain standards, which are poorly thought through, and more importantly measured or acted upon. Certainly the rush to hybrids is not going to solve the problem, I recently owned a Golf GTE (1.4 litre petrol and electric motor) which managed 200 mpg if I plugged it in all the time and only drove it a few miles or 25 mpg if I didn’t – certainly a Golf GTI or GTD provides better economy and lower emissions overall. I know of a few drivers who have received huge tax breaks for buying a hybrid only to not plug it in ever and just pay more for fuel, thus undermining any environmental benefit.
The problem is that we now have a backlash to diesel which still provides better economy and certainly with the larger cars offer as good as NOx emission results due to the addition of urea into the exhaust gas. We have had an Audi SQ7 on order for the best part of 9 months (blame the custom blue colour!) and I was seriously considering cancelling the order due to all the news on diesel. This is a car with a V8 triple turbo 4 litre engine capable of towing a mountain. If I had cancelled it my only choice would have been a select few SUVs with petrol engines that barely manage to get over 12 mpg. As it is we have taken delivery of the ‘beast’ and just returned from a weekend on the coast where it managed 600 miles to a tank and thanks to the urea technology emit no more NOx than a small petrol engine. It doesn’t mean I won’t be lambasted for having a diesel car, but the fact is, even to a petrol head, the technology and progress the industry has made is outstanding.
I am sure government however will push through stupid plans that are epitomised by the move in recent years to convert our coal power stations to biofuel. Take Drax, our biggest power station, which is being converted from coal to biomass wooden pellets. Not only does this new fuel require specialised storage (hangers to keep the pellets dry and filled with nitrogen to stop it combusting), whereas coal could be left outside in the rain, but it takes the fuel from Canada rather than the mines around the UK. The pellets are less energy dense so a larger proportion of them are required ton for ton to produce the same energy as coal and let us not forget the huge government subsidy we are paying to the owners.
Getting back to the issue around transporting all these pellets comes in the form of shipping which apparently is to blame more than 30% of inorganic particles in Europe’s air. Apparently 160 transport ships produce the same pollution (particulates and smog) as ALL the cars in the world. But there are not 160 ships transporting goods around the world, there are 6,000. So we are providing huge subsidies to companies to convert coal power plants to ship (at huge environmental impact) wood pellets from around the world so we save our environment?
After doing some research I was quite happy with our SQ7 purchase – certainly until there are some rules or regulations around shipping anything we do with cars is insignificant. I am not saying we shouldn’t be striving for the best when it comes to pollution and supporting our environment but on the basis of government policy over the last few decades we don’t seem to be making very many smart choices.
THU • 20 APR 2017
The majority were earmarked for Audi’s driving experience team who tour the country putting on great events, one went to each dealer and the handful left went to a few lucky customers. I was one of those and although I didn’t get to choose my specification I was able to nab the obligatory blue one.
While I am not a fan of dark car interiors, the car is super comfortable and even though it runs on 20 inch wheels the ride is respectable. And while it may not get the kind of respect the R8 received it does get the occasional ‘in the know’ nod from a passer-by which suits me and means I can be less precious about where I drive and park it.
I have even managed to fit my wife, daughter and dog in the car – and while we were not all superbly comfortable it was possible, something I couldn’t achieve in the R8! They all were able to enjoy with me the superb acceleration and that amazing engine noise courtesy of some rather fat sport exhausts.
On reflection I think it was a great buy but it has left me hankering for something more exotic and surprisingly my mind has turned back to Ariel and the fabulous Nomad…
THU • 27 OCT 2016
A better use of hybrid
One place however that has proved a real eye-opener in the world of hybrid has been the use of deploying the technology onto push bikes. E-Bikes as they are referred to bring the electric motor into the fabric of the bike and provides assistant to the rider. And I have to say it is amazing. I think previously I hadn’t been interested as the bikes that are E-Bikes were ugly and the motors large devices fitted to the wheels, whereas the new generation by Bosch and Yamaha are now fitted into the gears and are part of road or mountain bikes, even with suspension. This means there are no downsides, apart from some additional weight in choosing an E-Bike over the model you would have normally chosen.
On a recent trip to Cornwall my wife and I decided we would do a bike ride with some friends and also take our 6-month daughter to introduce her to one of our shared passions. The only issue was my wife’s broken leg and being on crutches which sort of ruled out cycling as an option. However the bike shop we used had an electric mountain bike which she could use and what a revelation! With a Bosch motor delivering assistance based on the setting from the control panel on the handlebars, she had immediate assistance and could minimise the pressure through her leg depending on the conditions.
Certainly if you are planning any big bike rides and have the option of trying an electric bike I would highly recommend it. For my wife at least it has also meant I can now argue that the baby seat should really go on her bike as she has the assistance to deal with the extra weight…
WED • 14 SEP 2016
You make your own luck
I met Jimmy when I joined my first fulltime job and worked under his tutelage for a number of years before leaving and setting up my own business. When I worked with Jimmy one of his key mantras that I remember him talking about regularly was that people aren’t lucky in life – they make their own luck. At the time I didn’t really get what he was on about, surely some people win the lottery, ie lucky, and many others don’t – not lucky. But as time has gone on I have slowly adopted it as my own saying as I realised how right he was.
It is easy to let life pass you by, but those who grab opportunities, take risks and push boundaries usually it pays off in the form of progress and change. Now to the outside world looking in, it might be that the individual was ‘lucky’ to get that job offer, meet their partner or live in that great house. However I am sure behind any lucky person is persistence and huge amount of effort.
When I spend time with students or new employees usually they say I am lucky to be where I am or do what I do. What they fail to see is the ten years of graft and sacrifices that got me to that point. At the time I didn’t really see it as sacrifices and graft but looking back it certainly was a tough time. The same goes with Jimmy, with his endless positive attitude and energy, I am sure some people looked at Jimmy and thought how lucky he must be. Super successful in his career, great wife, kids and home.
But then he had one of the worst pieces of news anyone can have, but being the guy he is, and the amazing family he has around him, he managed over the last year to overcome cancer and now finds himself starting to turn his experience from such a huge negative into a positive. He has a blog which detailed his feelings over the last year, and while he did it really for friends and family, it has been picked up and followed by many people all over the world.
This lead to the introduction to the Sprintathon and his invitation to run the last 100 meters in this world breaking attempt to run the fastest marathon. They have a very good video which is worth watching and they are raising money for Stand up to Cancer which goes towards the amazing work that helped make Jimmy better. Maybe he was lucky or maybe many thousands of people have worked tirelessly over many years to improve the chances of surviving cancer which along with Jimmy’s determination has meant that he gets to take centre stage and take a bow. Bravo.
THU • 21 JUL 2016
Do not underestimate the value of resilience
The datacentres concerned are some of the most popular sites in the UK and because of that the knock on impact is significant especially when customers such as BT support so many other partners, businesses and consumers. However BT have appeared to suffer more than others, but anyone within a datacentre can be out for quite a while when hardware is subjected to a power outage, even a brief one, as it can result in hardware not powering back on. With core hardware spending its whole life turned on, the sudden loss in power can result in a high number of failures, requiring engineer visits and hardware replacement – all of which takes time.
Precaution is key, and whether BT had or had not in place sufficient alternative hardware in that datacentre, it did have other working datacentres, so lessons need to be learned about the importance of uptime and mitigating failure where possible. Customers, and especially businesses and ISPs need to understand the risks of not just their networks but upstream suppliers to mitigate total outages. Datacentres for example run large UPS (uninterruptable power supplies) systems to cope with the switch from mains power to generators and while this provides a level of resilience, it needs to be checked and serviced regularly. Servicing and testing varies dramatically between datacentres so investing in smaller UPS systems for individual racks may therefore seem excessive but from experience it can provide a useful buffer should the worse happen.
Furthermore the number of backups and spares again goes someway to reinforce confidence. Gone are the days, in my mind at least, when datacentres can offer n+1 resilience (where ‘n’ is the required load and the +1 means an additional spare). So for example if a datacentre requires four generators to power the site then five would be installed. This is very different to a more resilient site that offers 2n where, for the same example, eight generators would be provided. The big issue with all of this of course is cost and this has a knock-on effect to the customer.
Ultimately though no datacentre is impervious to disaster, as BT and others experienced today, and while a whole site outage is very rare, the importance of having multiple datacentres is very important. While the costs grows significantly again, because not only is everything at least duplicated but now connectivity is required to all the suppliers, the likelihood of complete outage is seriously reduced. The graph shown is all our BT DSL users, with the red line representing customers coming into the affected London datacentre and the green representing our Manchester datacentre also connected to BT’s network. At the time of the failure all our DSL customers moved across meaning they had an outage of a few minutes while their routers would have logged off and on again – significantly better than just relying on London. But as I say having enough spare bandwidth (at least 50% capacity free) dormant for such an occasion, is another cost.
With customers more interested in SaaS applications and outsourcing operations, their removal from the actual nuts and bolts of the network design puts higher reliance on the supplier and the supplier’s supplier to do the right thing in terms of investment and design. Hopefully issues like those experienced today and yesterday will go someway to help steer investment back into resilience.
THU • 21 JUL 2016
No such thing as too much power
I recently got the opportunity to visit Bentley’s factory up in Crewe and I hadn’t realised how similar the Continental GT’s V8 engine is to the RS7 with similar power outputs and even the clever cylinder deactivation technology so that we achieved an average 27 mpg. Not that economy in cars like this really matters but it certainly would help me get over using it every day as I wouldn’t need to fill up every few days. While the RS7 isn’t as plush or special feeling as the Continental, it is a substantially cheaper car with more space and Audi’s superb build quality. Unusually for a lot of Audi’s this one seemed to have quite a character and I warmed to it like an old friend (as I had a number of A7s while waiting for the R8) with a noisy bottom. The exhausts are just incredible with cracks and pops on the overrun it certainly was characterful and my wife was subjected to lots of short burst of acceleration so I could really enjoy the sound.
With the Audi brand moving to digital dashboards and with technology in general around cars taking a substantial leap I was worried that the RS7 would feel dated, but actually I think it is a great blend between old and new. The engine is more than half of this car and is a fantastic piece of engineering, with the rest of the package delivering up a comfortable and spacious cockpit I started to doubt my decision to go for a TT-RS when actually the RS7 does so much, so well.
TUE • 14 JUN 2016
Does democracy matter?
One of the main issues for the leave campaign should be the fact that the EU has got unelected people deciding on British laws and policies. It is a reality I think they have failed to accurately articulate. So facts like when Austria was recently going to elect the right wing Freedom Party and the unelected EU policy makers were going to make it illegal for them to be involved in the EU if they did come to power, is surely undemocratic? So people elected by the people are suddenly deemed criminals by a body that, by law, overrules local law? Now whether it is right or wrong for Austria to elect such a party, is one thing, but to take an election and then disregard the result is surely not democracy? I am sure Greek people felt the same when the bailout referendum was ignored after being overwhelmingly defeated.
So whether we decide or don’t decide to be part of the EU the fact is that for many years we have not really enjoyed true democracy. And while the decisions being made might currently serve our interests the lack of true accountability surely should be something to be worried about in the future. Or does it actually matter?
If we look to America we have a potential presidential candidate of a rather ruthless ‘billionaire’ or the wife of a previous president. Have we not already had to endure the Bush dynasty (and nearly more with the likes of Jed running for Republican nominee), and now the American people have to choose between a narcissist or another Clinton? Surely out of 200 million there must be some better candidates? Or is that the point - the perception is that this is democracy in action but the reality is it doesn’t work and what we really have is a Russian version of ‘democracy’?
With the EU referendum soon to be decided it seems to me that if we have voted to remain then actually, as I suspect, we are happy to believe we enjoy democracy, even if the technicalities mean we don’t. And our concern lies more with short term economic stability rather than an ideal our forefathers laid down their lives for. For a country as patriotic as America I find it outstanding that nobody seems to question the quality of the candidates that they are going to put forward for election. Maybe in a few years we will be looking forward to the opportunity to ‘elect’ a Mrs Juncker for presidency.
MON • 13 JUN 2016
Is less more?
Granted the Audi TT RS coupe had already just been revealed at the Beijing motor show but for me this was a welcome treat and ended up with me placing a deposit for one. So it was an expensive trip, and granted this is probably why Audi Concierge will be a great success, but actually I am very excited about this purchase. Hopefully delivery will be before the end of the year.
So why when I have an Audi R8 am I all excited about its baby brother? Well firstly I have owned the previous generation Audi TTS a great car, and one of the few that I actually kept for over three years. I had four-wheel drive, great performance, a usable boot and even back seats for small people (or people without heads). And while it was a special car, it wasn’t so special that I couldn’t drive or park it anywhere and so with its ability to carry my wife and daughter I am hoping this new one will be just as perfect.
I think I have persuaded my wife that this car should be in addition to the R8 but with the new car sporting a new aluminium five cylinder 2.5 litre engine kicking out nearly 400 bhp the car is capable of 0-60 MPH in 3.7 seconds, 0.5 seconds quicker than my R8. So it looks like it is going to be hard to justify the premium especially when the TT has the new virtual cockpit (a screen instead of a speedo) and hopefully will arrive in an even more garish blue. Is less more? I think it might be.
WED • 30 MAR 2016
What about the Commonwealth?
With recent security fears in Europe there has been a lot of talk about security in the UK but as I understand it our intelligence comes from Five Eyes (FVEY) an intelligence alliance between the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. This can be tracked back to World War 2 and while Edward Snowden brought it more into public conscious, it is widely regarded as the most comprehensive known espionage alliances in history. Our ability to work with our Commonwealth brothers and, in this case, the US is well documented so why is it failing to get any real voice in the discussion on Europe and why have we not done more with it?
As I understand it when Britain joined the EEC after Charles de Gaulle rejected our application a number of times it was agreed that the Imperial Preference, a method of promoting unity through the Commonwealth countries, would have to be abandoned by the UK. This probably was the beginning of the UK turning its back on the Commonwealth as a trading block as it embraced the growing European market. But as we now see global trade grow and Europe decline is it worth looking to embrace a new trading focus? Certainly Europe’s protectionist view and the application of the common external tariff does nothing to help our consumers or Commonwealth producers.
One benefit could be immigration with the abolishment for our appalling point based system where highly educated people from the Commonwealth cannot move and live in the UK because of the current unlimited migration policy within the EU. By evening out migration so the UK can attract the very best talent from anywhere in the world certainly is worth considering. My own office for example has many different nationalities but the ability to keep people from Australia, America, New Zealand and India is difficult under the current system. Certainly feeling is strong and in a letter to David Cameron from Commonwealth supporters went as far as stating that ‘descendants of men and women who volunteered to fight alongside Britain in two world wars must stand aside in favour of people with no connection to the UK’. Strong sentiment and highlights the loyalty and dedication of Commonwealth members, something Britain should embrace.
TUE • 23 FEB 2016
Robots will take over the world
I am a great believer in advancements in technology and while our present is not quite what we would have imagined twenty years ago (I still don’t have a flying car) it is leaps and bounds further on in many other respects. The power of the Internet is only now being fully understood, and while the Information age has opened up vast amounts of data it hasn’t, until recently, started to make inroads into daily society as the preferred method of engagement. Tax discs have gone online, there is no need to ever visit a high street or supermarket, Amazon and Ocado have that licked, it is even easy to do my tax return. I can do my weekly shop on my iPhone in twelve clicks and 11 hours later it is all delivered on my doorstep in perfect condition. That has to be the retail equivalent of putting a man on the moon. But what does that all mean in the real world and jobs?
Well the global media seem to have woken up to the fact that many jobs are changing in response to this advancement, but worryingly it is the acceleration as technology continues to advance in leaps and bounds. Many years ago The Electric Telegraph Company (before it became hip BT) recruited many hundreds if not thousands of staff to man their telephone exchanges as Operators, as did other telephone companies across the world. Their job was to get calls connected and in 1918 managed to complete long distance calls in around 15 minutes. But soon came the advent of automatic switching and this once important role was made redundant. This was a quick change but fast forward to today and you have a whole industry about to buckle with phone calls almost being free in the advent of FaceTime, Skype and WhatsApp. We have seen the likes of Kodak, Nokia, Xerox, Marconi, CityLink and Amstrad to name but a few struggle with this change and this is only the beginning.
Why for example would TFL continue to tolerate being held to ransom by drivers striking when the technology to automate trains is available? Apparently all across the employment spectrum jobs from secretaries through to travel agents and credit controllers are all inline to be automated. It is reckoned that within 20-years over 35% of UK jobs will have been lost. That is over 10 million people looking for a new career.
The hope is that for every repetitive job that is automated a new job will appear, but realistically if we look the way our economy is going with increasing margins and the profits big business are reporting that isn’t actually happening. I am sure for example Google does not employ more people than all the libraries, mapping companies and media businesses it has displaced. Sure there are a lot of new opportunities but I am not sure all the people who have lost their jobs have been able to retrain as developers.
One of my biggest fears from ‘the rise of the machines’ is that we will end up with a bigger social divide with more have nots than haves. Unfortunately I am not confident our education system is going to be able to cope with the shift that is going to happen so quickly around us. Hopefully whole new industries will emerge that haven’t even been imagined yet.
FRI • 22 JAN 2016
One of the points David was making when he referred to Tiger Mothers, or as I have heard it described, Dragon Mothers, the need to push children while ensuring strict discipline seems to be an art lost and as a result are we ending up with weak, carefree generations. This on a global scale is worrying when we are competing against other nationalities, like the Chinese (where the term Dragon Mother comes from), who are turning out hard working, responsible adults who don’t feel the world owes them anything. I am not saying one way or the other is correct, and I am sure I will find out very soon how difficult it is, but one thing I am concerned about is our society’s push to reduce competition and access to failure.
Some of my biggest defining moments in my life have been around my failures rather than my successes. It is not as though my parents set me up to fail but they allowed me to experience failure, rather than protect me from it, and pushed me to do things that I didn’t want to do so that I could really appreciate the things I enjoyed. One good example of this is learning to play a musical instrument. My brother and I hated learning to play instruments but had to persist until we were about to leave school. Now to our parent’s dismay we didn’t become musical geniuses, looking back we did expand our experience, knowledge and appreciation that we could do something we didn’t like or were particularly good at. The fact that we were regularly tested in the form of grades used to be a big negative, but again a useful life skill that I regularly employ in daily life.
While music might have been my challenge, it could have well been maths or science, which again we are told as a country we are lacking, but it seems to me that if a student picks a non-science route through school then they are pretty much able to ignore a big part of our society. Science touches every part of our lives, and I am conscious that later in life the student who didn’t enjoy science in the classroom might very well have flourished in the working world. So the Tiger Mother approach is not just to discipline but to push. I am sure we all have a view as to how much pushing is needed, but I don’t think it means that the child can’t push back and become stronger through that defiance.
As I say another area of interest is in how generation-X (babies born after the baby boomers generation) are so depressed and unhappy with life. The theory goes that the baby boomer generation were told how tough their parents had it, living through wars with rations and strikes, only to overachieve on their expectations. My generation however thought they would see similar increases in lifestyle, wealth and happiness with minimal effort only for it not to appear on our plates and for hard work and focus needed to overcome the high levels of competition so abundant today.
What does the world have in store for the next generation? I don’t know but I do realise the difficulty in bringing up someone who can deal with anything the world throws at them.
THU • 03 DEC 2015
Recently I had the opportunity to visit Palmer Sport at the Bedford Autodrome for what must be one of the most existing and complete driving experiences available. Granted it is not cheap but considering you get the opportunity to drive in not only a Formula 3000 but also a Jaguar JP-LM, Defender, BMW M4, Caterham, Ariel Atom and GT50 gokart it does seem like you get value for money.
The day starts with a quick briefing before being whisked off in a dedicated bus which takes you and your group around the site. Each set of cars has it’s own track and hospitality suite so they are able to run the day with many different groups being able to use all the cars at the same time. The focus on the day is about lap time and everyone records times in every discipline while being taught by their local experts who sit in the cars with you.
After a few 100 mph 360s I started to get the hang of the Jaguar’s before moving swiftly on to the technical off road course and so the day continues until you are honestly exhausted and you start to dread the need to drive home. It certainly ensures you come away from the day thoroughly enthused with the petrol itch properly scratched. I certainly would recommend it to anyone keen to do more with a car who hasn’t yet made the jump to track days.
WED • 02 DEC 2015
Back to the floor
While returning from holiday I was greeted with the news that while scaffolding had been removed from my house, from a recent reroof, they not only knocked out my satellite dish but also my phone line. So I spent last weekend in the dark ages without mobile phone signal (as I use a booster and EE’s fabulous WifiCall technology), internet and television. Everything from listening to music (Spotify) or watching a film (Apple TV) was curtailed and I was focused instead to look for other forms of entertainment. While it sounds like I spend all my time in front of a screen the ability to bank, share photographs or do some research is reliant on a reliable and fast internet connection.
It did however give me an opportunity to test out our support team, the process BT Openreach now follow for booking engineers, and the list of issues with miscommunication with the engineers on the ground in actually fixing the problem. In the end it turns out it was a good thing that the scaffolders hit the line as it was actually broken in the cabinet as well.
What I always think about when I go through these processes is what my father would make of it. I am not saying he is a technophobe but in terms of industry jargon and feedback is it something he would be happy with would he have been able to get the same resolution. In the end it wasn’t as painful as I had expected, but it certainly could be better. Unfortunately a lot of that process might not change until the future of Openreach has been decided but there are certainly steps the industry can take to help the situation. For one thing our dependency on connectivity is at such a point that we certainly should be thinking about delivery in the same context of gas or electricity. I just hope enough people high up in our industry experience service as customers do rather than relying on their superior contacts or knowledge of the technicalities to mitigate them so we can drive forward with our need to improve.