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 • 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.
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.
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.
WED • 28 OCT 2015
Emission scandal – the death of VW?
Personally when I first heard the story I wasn’t surprised at all and almost didn’t understand the issue the press had, as I thought all car companies did what they could to limit emissions in the same way they do for fuel economy. I have written before about the dangers of diesel fuel and the thought that a slightly different profile in the software management of the engine could make such a real-world difference to the environment is laughable. Yes the software helped to get the emissions, within a lab, to an arbitrary figure (that politicians and scientist deem fair and safe) but to think that the reduction it makes has any impact whatsoever as someone pulls away in second gear or does a ton on the motorway is ill-informed. Diesel is dirty full stop, but having a few million VWs running around with slightly different emission outputs from the lab will make no difference to the millions of busses, cabs and lorries running around the world or the ships moving our cargo.
I am not condoning VW’s actions, but the fact that if they had put a little switch on the dashboard to engage their secret ‘eco’ mode and defaulted the car to it when the engine was turned on then there would have been no issue. Even if everyone was well aware that customers would immediately disengage it as it would dent performance or economy. Why do you think cars have sport modes? So all the performance can be kept but for regulatory purposes the car can be sold as standard with a great economy or emission figure. My VW Golf GTE for example always defaults to electric only mode when I turn it on knowing full well that it will be depleted within 30 miles. Technically the Hybrid mode is better for day to day driving, but that would get a lower score on the economy tests run in the labs and as such my car is sold with a 188 MPG average. The reality is I drove 120 miles the other day and averaged 39.8 MPG – and that was with a fully charged battery. Now that to me is criminal, not VW, but the laws and measurements we put in place that have no relevance to the consumer. I am not saying my GTE is bad because it did such a poor average, which was because I was driving fast down a motorway, instead of bustling around the streets of London (where I regularly see 100 MPG). Ultimately though the focus should be put on our politicians and rule setters as to why we allow these ridiculous tests to continue.
Who for example has asked why the US is so anti-diesel? Is it because the US car industry is so underdeveloped in the manufacture of diesel engines and they do not produce enough fuel to sustain widespread adoption. Or is it because they are so worried about NOX? Let’s just say America will not be losing any sleep over VW’s recent loss announcements. Personally it gives me more ammunition to persuade my wife that any future purchase for the Daniell household will need to be petrol or electric based. Hopefully such future purchases will still be able to be made from VW even with the announcement that they are going to be cutting their R&D spend by billions, another travesty as money that could be spent on developing cleaner technology will be used to line the pockets of the rule setters.
WED • 23 SEP 2015
It is easy to tick boxes
Surely this was the inevitable outcome from the government supporting BT as the primary partner in rolling out ‘superfast’ (I still don’t know what that really means) broadband across the country. I have written before about moving into a brand new flat in 2014 which was still wired by BT using copper cables, instead of a future proof technology such as fibre which could support potential speeds of over 100 Gb/s. As it is, the technology BT has invested in, Fibre to the Cabinet, ensures we are going to be dependent on phone lines, copper and technical issues for decades to come. So while I appreciate BT’s view to maximise on their existing footprint, as any self-respecting business would probably do to maximise shareholder return, it has proved to be a costly mistake for the rest of the industry and consumers.
The other knock-on effect by handing BT so much responsibility has been the enormity of the task. The business continually has to invest in new staff and equipment to get anywhere near to delivering against the targets put upon it. No wonder the rest of the industry is frustrated. One such issue was recently highlighted to me by a neighbour who said to me that he had finally got ‘fibre broadband’ as it had just been enabled in our building.
“No”, I replied, it has been in our building since January 2014 when BT first enabled the local cabinet. What has transpired is that while our building has been enabled, the actual cabinet quickly ran out of capacity and it has taken over a year to deliver more capacity to it so that the rest of the residents could receive the service.
So is that due to BT being overstretched, or possibly a lack of hardware available? Or cynically could you read into this that actually on paper, at least, our building has been enabled and so therefore met a target, even if not many people can actually order it.
The same could be said where I live in the country. For the past nine months, I have been inspecting a shiny new cabinet that has appeared at the end of my drive. ‘Fibre Broadband is coming’ said a BT engineer to me who came to fix my broken phone line. Maybe, but at the moment all I can see is an empty box in preparation for it. Are we going to get the same issue in our village, that only a few will be able to enjoy it until it reaches capacity when it is finally enabled? And has the very presence of the cabinet thwarted any plan from an alternative fibre provider from investing into connecting up our village?
SKY and TalkTalk through their partnership with CityFibre have already started to look at rolling out Fibre to the Home (proper Fibre Broadband) and I believe will be looking to bring up to 70,000 homes online in York. Vodafone has a national fibre network that they own through their acquisition of Cable & Wireless. What Ofcom need to do is allow BT to do what they do best and enable everyone else to build and develop their own technologies to the home. They need to ensure that we have a level playing field; already other providers such as City Fibre, IFNL and Gigaclear have managed to build their own fibre networks on private investment. We can then let history decide if BT’s focus on a copper phone network was the right choice.
WED • 26 AUG 2015
The internet going around in circles
Another area that looks to be reverting back to the good old days is the internet, well actually retail. For many years we have been told about the death of the high street as retailers move online or new online only retailers set up shop. However with the internet comes downsides, notably the issue around same day delivery, testing goods and returns. Some of these issues are looking to be resolved with Amazon recently announcing same day delivery. But for those of you who have sold items on eBay or tried to return an item bought on the internet, the hassle of having to find packaging and posts goods is tiresome to say the least.
Today news comes that Ebuyer (a great resource for cheap electronics) is losing their MD over a disagreement about the direction of the business. He believes the business needs to look at opening up high street stores and the rest of the management team disagree. However having the ability to distribute goods directly to customers and upsell through a personal interaction is a benefit long lost in the world of the internet. Even the likes of Amazon are desperately trying to work out their high street strategy as they look for new areas of growth. Who would have thought that a company like Argos would have had the right model for an internet sales goliath like Amazon?
So I don’t think the high street is dead, it is just being reinvented as we look to regress from the internet (as far as retail is concerned) and look to do what we used to do, but only better.
MON • 13 JUL 2015
The future is electric
With the business now operating across a wider group, the need to visit company offices and customers meant I needed a practical car, not just a play thing. Now being a petrol head I should have immediately started looking at hot hatches like the Audi S1 or the new RS3, but I also wanted a car I would not worry about and the more exotic the metal the more precious I become. The joy about the GTE is the Golf shape is relatively common and in a dark blue (I would have gone lighter but it wasn't an option!) it doesn't draw attention. I have found myself quite happy to park in multi-storey car parks without feeling the need to inspect the inevitable damage upon my return.
But what really stands out is the deployment of the electric engine and how gloriously addictive it is. I can see why people love their Tesla's as I now try to drive as much as possible without the engine running. Obviously this is limited when the battery charges to only 27 miles and drops away as I start making the most of the torque. But what really works is the mixture of petrol and electric. In the hybrid mode the ability to get the car moving using electric power means the petrol's inevitable inclusion is smooth and unnoticeable. You have to look at the rev counter to see if it has come alive.
A journey, avoiding the motorway, will average around 80 mpg. There is an advance mode in the gearbox to increase engine breaking, which I great as I have a tendency to try and not use the brakes. Shorter trips have seen 300 mpg as plugging the car in to charge back up is possible. Motorway miles are not as impressive as the small 1.4 litre engine has to work hard to keep at my average speed and cart around 300kg of useless battery and electric engine. So on long trips economy drops to 40mpg and down into the 30s when the 'recharge' option is selected.
Having said that I have almost ignored the economy and have been more sold on the benefit of the electric motor and how much it compliments the petrol engine. I can see why companies like Rolls Royce are looking at it for their next Phantom - it provides a level of refinement engines can't match.
Now I spend my days trying to organise meetings I need to drive to so I can make the most of my new car and it's electric thrill.
THU • 04 JUN 2015
The Speed of Change
Our parents saw it as a key investment in our education and it was an introduction to an industry that has become my career. Back in the days of the 1990’s our first machine had 8 MB RAM, 500 MB Hard Drive, Windows 3.1 and an x386 processor. There was even a ‘turbo’ button on the front. Who, by the way, would sit there with this not engaged? Anyway I spent many a happy hour deleting everything on the machine, having to reformat it, taking it apart and putting it back together again. I have built my own machines until recently and take great pleasure in specifying all the hardware and bringing it to life. I even started my own company do this while as school.
So it was yesterday evening that I found myself building my brother’s machine when we thought about how far the industry has come. His machine now sports eight cores (processors) at 4 Ghz, 32 GB of RAM, 4TB of hard drive space with SSD technology and a graphics card with 2GB of dedicated RAM and a dual core processor. Even his operating system can’t cope with the power and we have to now look at upgrading that as well.
They have been saying for a number of years now that Moore’s Law can’t continue. But with new advancements being made continuously I think we should be considering development speeding up, not slowing down. Even in our industry who would have through speeds of 100 Mb/s are achievable using a copper phone cable when 10 years ago we thought 0.5 Mb/s was fast.
FRI • 22 MAY 2015
The pinnacle of combustion
I must say for many years I have held a special place for Rolls Royce in my virtual garage. It is a car that is the best is can be, does luxury properly and doesn’t pretend to be ‘sporty’. Even with 21’ rims and air suspension the car glides over everything, delivering the world famous magic carpet ride. The Wraith is probably the best example of the brand for someone who likes to drive and is a little bit younger than most people you would expect to be riding around in a Rolls. It is an awesome example of motoring and by lending me one for the weekend they have only increased my desire to one day own one.
Sitting so high up, cruising down the motorway with the power reserve meter showing 99% of power still remaining, it is rather powerful. But power isn’t really the main draw, the large V12 6 litre engine is there to create effortless progress, and it is surprising how quickly you end up going especially as you are so isolated from the outside world. Being a two door doesn’t make the car much smaller than its four door brother, but I prefer the lines and the swooping tail. I especially like the starlight headlining which can be surprisingly bright (if you turn it up) and all the technology festooned to the model I have been lent – especially the night vision with pedestrian detection.
Certainly being part of the BMW group has enabled Rolls Royce to take all the expensive technology and craft their own car. It certainly feels like nothing else, let alone a BMW. With the world turning more environmentally friendly and new kids on the block such as Tesla I was worried that cars like the Wraith wouldn’t make sense. But it is even economical (when compared to a SUV), and if I am led to believe that most Rolls Royce owners have seven other cars, then for the little time it actually spends on the road it is more moving art than car.
WED • 29 APR 2015
Geneva Motor Show
I have been to car shows before but nothing prepares you for the scale of the event, the extravagance of the stands and the choice of metal on display. Make no mistake Geneva is the car show of the year. Odd when the country is so against cars and makes you feel like a bad person for owning one. I would highly recommend a visit next year if you get a chance. It is worthwhile though making some enquiries with some local car dealers, so that you can try to wangle some VIP tickets. With the crowds that greeted me on the Saturday the ability to get onto the stands made it much more enjoyable.
My car of the show was probably the new Ford GT40, one of the few I didn't get an option to sit in. It honestly has nothing to do with the colour...
FRI • 27 FEB 2015
Should internet access be considered a utility?
So ignoring for the moment the issue of ‘not being able to charge to speed up connections’ I believe the changes are needed, and the structure provided provides a clearer market in which these providers can operate. I don’t believe the end user will see prices reduce, only climb, as the American market has a number of large operators who will see this regulation as an opportunity to push up costs. Back in the UK however I am less sure by the need to regulate internet access like a utility at this point in time and maybe the steps we take should be similar to those of the FCC.
Don’t get me wrong I believe at some point internet access should be seen as a utility, but at the moment with one major provider owning and operating the majority of the network in the UK, the ability to continue to deliver choice and investment is surely curtailed. The gas or electricity networks are on the whole uniform in the service received by the majority. They are also delivered in a way that makes them highly reliable and consistent, something lacking from our current data network delivery. I am sure that I wouldn’t want my gas supply to be as reliable as my home internet line was over Christmas (water on the line apparently), and I certainly don’t believe the 2 Mb/s service I receive is the same as my brother who has actual Fibre to the Premise (FTTP) delivering 200 Mb/s into his flat.
We, well my business, Fluidata, looked at this a number of years ago and believed we would make it our long term goal to build the national grid of data networks, something we have made great progress with in the last few years. There is a real need to piece together all the disparate networks across the country, and specifically the true fibre networks, rather than just the ADSL, FTTC and Cable networks that the majority of consumers currently use. Only when this is complete and the majority of homes have true fibre connections can government realistically push the industry towards utility status.
For the time being the support in helping these businesses roll out true FTTP is surely to the benefit of the country rather than potentially undermining this activity by regulation that the current infrastructure cannot support.