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.
THU • 22 OCT 2015
Robots will take over the world
Scientists have been astonished at how quickly we have advanced our computers and software in the past few years. We may not have hover boards as depicted in Back to the Future for 21st October 2015, but we certainly have a lot of automation in our lives all thanks to the internet and running from our pockets via smart phones. The ability for more and more of our lives to be automated is inevitable but does that mean a loss of jobs?
If we look back over human history, and recently the last hundred or so years, our society has seen hundreds, if not thousands, of manual or repetitive roles replaced by computers. Just take our industry which has seen Telephone Operators replaced by computers, or call centre staff replaced by websites and self-support applications. Older industries like farming now make do with fewer people than ever before but produce more than we thought possible. Does this mean there are less jobs in those roles, of course but the question is surely what new roles have been created. I am sure my Grandfather would have never considered his grandson would sit in front of a computer all day building data networks for businesses and that marketing, client communication, billing and support could all be over the same medium. And that a support network of billing software companies, web search optimisation businesses and call centres would be needed.
My point is that yes, thousands if not millions of jobs will automate over the coming years but at the same time new roles will appear that we cannot even imagine today. Bring on judgement day.
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.
THU • 16 JUL 2015
An old idea reinvented
I have longed to build my own home. Using old and classic materials such as oak and stone I would love to build a 'grand design' with modern twists while making the most of all available technology. For years I have talked to friends about the idea of taking a retired German submarine battery (apparently they aren't allowed to run a nuclear fleet) which has seen service and needs to be replaced and putting it in the basement of a new home. This would then power the house with clean, consistent energy while solar and wind could be utilised to top it up. Very similar to a UPS deployed within a datacentre environment. Now though Telsa has beaten me to it and commercialised the idea.
They say the simplest ideas are the best, and the idea of having a battery storing energy created locally is probably a very simple one. The challenge however has always been the battery technology itself, but with Telsa's advancement in developing new lithium-ion technology the product does look to be consumer ready. Also with the new Gigafactory going live shortly Telsa's ability to ship many units at such a competitive price should see high levels of adoption. Especially in the U.S. where grid reliability and access can be less reliable than we are used to.
So will it be a success? I hope it is, and hopefully I will be able to deploy such a pack in my home when I eventually manage to build it. I am not sure how effective it will be in existing homes because of the necessary rewiring that will need to take place but I am sure like any technology there will be early adopters. Can it change the world? Well actually if adoption is high enough then I think it could make a difference. Our ability to store energy is the biggest hindrance with solar and wind energy and I think this might be the shot in the arm it needs.
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.
WED • 10 JUN 2015
Have Microsoft gone mad?
For Microsoft the continuous battle from Apple, without any significant inroads into the mobile space, the concept of trying to persuade customers to upgrade to Windows 10 is a challenging one. With the duff Windows 8 turning people away from Microsoft, me included, Windows 10 needs to once more gain dominance on the desktop. That way Microsoft can at the very least hold onto their valuable MS Office income while also providing leverage to Xbox and mobile devices.
It is a bold move and one that I suspect will see Microsoft continue on its route to move into a rental income model. With the successful Office 365 converting customers to a direct relationship with Microsoft, partners, and importantly their margins, are being squeezed out enabling Microsoft to return further profits to the business. Maybe this is the start of the end for Microsoft charging customers upfront for software and future models will rely wholly on an opex model. That will devastate their revenues globally but probably increase profitability, so a move that investors can support.
I don’t believe for a second Microsoft will continue to offer Windows 10 for free, I believe the offer is only available to customers with a Windows 7 or 8 licence and for a limited time. I assume the majority of income still comes through the sale of new devices although that market has been devastated by the growth of tablets and smartphones. Maybe it is just a sign of Microsoft moving with the times.
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.
TUE • 12 MAY 2015
Mobile networks begin to innovate
But one aspect of owning a smart phone that lets it down is its ability to make voice calls. I don’t know quite if it is the phones fault, or over congested networks as adoption reaches peaks and everyone spends their time updating Facebook rather than making calls. Suffice to say I find I suffer a number of drops a day, better on EE than Vodafone, but nothing I had on my trusty Nokia 7210 (that only had the Worms game).
So I was surprised when I came across an option on my iPhone to enable ‘Wifi Calls’ which when enabled allows EE to connect to my phone over whatever WiFi network I might be connected to. I know apps have been around for a while that lets you use O2 or other networks over Wifi, but I wasn’t aware it was part of the phone and seamlessly registers to EE in the background. No longer am I searching for signal, especially in my office which seems to behave like a big faraday cage keeping all mobile signals at bay.
It is an amazingly simple feature, but complex I am sure behind the scenes, but one that has given my mobile a new lease of life as I don’t have to suggest to anyone that I speak to that they should call me on the landline. At the moment I understand the feature only works with Apple and Android phones and with EE in the UK but I am sure more will follow in the coming months.
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...
WED • 15 APR 2015
Take an interest and make a difference
While I appreciate my vote will make little difference to the outcome, I don’t feel for one second that I shouldn’t vote and use my opportunity to have my say. How could I have any criticism in the future on our government if I didn’t take the opportunity to help shape it in the first place? I think the problem is that we look at our government as this far away and irrelevant creature, something the SNP focused hugely on with the Scottish referendum, rather than actually closer to home.
For many years I have used every opportunity to help try and make my life and those around me a better place to live. I have been surprised about how easy it is to make a small difference just by taking some time to talk to someone about it. As a keen cyclist and driver I have been appalled by the state of our roads, however to be fair to my local council whenever I have raised an issue it has been dealt with. I put through so many complaints on one stretch of road in my village in Worcestershire that the whole road (about 2 miles) has just been freshly resurfaced. Even in Southwark they are quick to respond to my concerns about litter, potholes or security.
To be fair to our overlords, there is just too much that needs to be done, all the time. So without the public taking the time to highlight issues on what needs their attention they are unable to prioritise, or they do for the few of us that do contact them, leaving the silent majority frustrated at the lack of action.
What gets me is that is that surely the younger generations should be all over this? With the use of technology it is now very easy to highlight concerns on the street via apps like FixMyStreet or even Twitter. Businesses have for a long time focused on the needs of the consumer and do their best to listen to feedback, because if they don’t consumers vote with their feet and go elsewhere. In the world of government and politics it is very much the same but we have to work a bit harder and together to get our message across.
So don’t despair things can be done you just have to take five minutes out of your day to contribute and maybe you might see some positive change.
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.
FRI • 27 FEB 2015
The new Audi R8
FRI • 20 FEB 2015
Moving to the dark side
I understand the need for Microsoft to continue to develop their widely adopted operating system however since Windows 8 has launched I have struggled to get to grips with it. Certain features have been removed and the interface changed, and I am sure that will further be the case with the imminent release of Windows 10. With PCs becoming more powerful and software better written, the ability to customise or see the nuts and bolts of the software has slowly been removed making the software more functional. The problem with this and the new interface is that it got me thinking as to whether instead of getting to grips with another new version of Windows interface that actually I should now have a go with Apple’s OS?
Like a lot of people I have made an easy transition to Apple’s iPhone and iPad and use a lot of its functionality. But going from a pre-smart phone from Nokia to an iPhone is surely an easier task than unlearning years of Windows software shortcuts and moving to OS X Yosemite? Well this week I took the plunge with my sitting room computer and I have to say how impressed I am. After reading lots of reviews on Apple’s Mac software, I got the impression it was difficult to use, but within 10 minutes I was happily moving files around, upgrading software and customising my desk space. I believe the latest version is the closest yet to imitate Apple’s iOS, which is used on their infamous iPhone, so some users dislike it, but for a virgin user it helped it make more sense.
Going forward I can see more of my machines moving to Apple and crucially when my parents knock on my door for advice I am going to be steering them towards Apple’s cool looking PCs. As I say there is no need to know what is going on underneath the hood so Apple’s locked down machines and stable software mean I can now start treating my computer more like my car, in the sense that mechanically if something goes wrong I take it to an expert!