Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Best films never made (voting)

They're at it again :-)

The Reg have turned their earlier Best Films Never Made (that's my link to it) story into a poll now. Here's a link to the story with the poll : Reg Link.

Different list this time around, I definitely recognise a lot more on it :

The Algebraist – Iain M Banks ****
Altered Carbon – Richard K Morgan
The Atrocity Archives – Charles Stross
The Baroque Cycle – Neal Stephenson
A Canticle for Leibowitz – Walter M Miller, Jr.
Childhood's End – Arthur C Clarke
The Chronicles of Amber – Roger Zelazny
Cities in Flight – James Blish
The City and the Stars – Arthur C Clarke
Consider Phlebas – Iain M Banks ****
Cryptonomicon – Neal Stephenson
Deathworld – Harry Harrison
The Demolished Man – Alfred Bester
Dorsai – Gordon R Dickson
Downbelow Station – CJ Cherryh
Dragonriders of Pern – Anne McCaffrey ****
Ender's Game – Orson Scott Card
Eon – Greg Bear
Excession – Iain M Banks ****
A Fire Upon the Deep – Vernor Vinge
Footfall – Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle ****
The Forever War – Joe Haldeman
The Forge of God – Greg Bear
Foundation – Isaac Asimov ****
The Gap Cycle – Stephen R Donaldson
Gateway - Frederick Pohl
Hyperion - Dan Simmons
The Legacy of Heorot - Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Steven Barnes ****
Lensmen - E.E. "Doc" Smith
Lord of Light – Roger Zelazny
Lucifer's Hammer – Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle ****
The Man in the High Castle – Philip K Dick
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – Robert A Heinlein ****
The Mote In God's Eye – Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle ****
Neuromancer – William Gibson
Night's Dawn – Peter F Hamilton
Old Man's War – John Scalzi
On Basilisk Station – David Weber ****
The Player of Games – Iain M Banks ****
Protector – Larry Niven (have it, not read it yet)
Rendezvous With Rama – Arthur C Clarke
Ringworld – Larry Niven ****
Skylark – EE "Doc" Smith
Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson
The Stainless Steel Rat – Harry Harrison
The Stars My Destination (aka Tiger! Tiger!) – Alfred Bester
Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert A Heinlein (gave up on it)
The Technicolor Time Machine – Harry Harrison
Titan – John Varley
Use of Weapons – Iain M Banks ****

Same as before - the ones in Italic with ****'s are the ones I've read. 14 this time.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Just finished : Inversions

Started reading again :-)

I have cycles where I'll devour several books very quickly, interspersed with periods where it takes me ages to get through one. The latest is Inversions by Iain M. Banks.

He's a decent author but his books tend to be somewhat inconsistent. I think it's the aim behind the book. Is the book relating to galaxy shaping events or is there something more philosophical going on. I tend to deal more in absolutes and have trouble getting my head around philosophical stuff. Page turners for me tend to be more about will that starship make it through, which of the crew have the Sword of Damocles hanging over them. I like things to happen.

Maybe that's why I like watching rugby and cricket but find football tedious. Lots of narrative in football but very little in the way of game changing events (goals & sending offs).

Anyway - Inversions is a tale set in two countries in a far off planet. It's not earth but a similar analogue. The narrative alternates between a Doctor and her apprentice in one country and the bodyguard of the Protector (King) of the other. You have intrigue inside the court and intrigue between the countries. There's lots here that should make it interesting but to be honest, most of that is telegraphed long before the actual action happens.

Yep - it's more a philosophy message book than Armies Invade Spacefleets Clash. Must read Consider Phlebas or The Algebraist again soon as they keep the reader guessing much more in a "how the hell can the characters get out of this mess ????" kind of way.

Not a bad book, just not as many surprises here as in his other books. Not much "science" fiction here too. There's touches of sci-fi in there but it's very light.

What's next ? That'll be the Exiles Trilogy by Ben Bova. It's a trilogy two thirds written before I was born. I'm 100 pages out of 450 in so far and it's escaping the obsolence trap that a lot of older sci-fi books fall into. The tech is what you would expect from extrapolating from what we see today, in that it thinks we'll have Better versions of what we have now. Progress through evolution instead of revolution. Computer tech is a bit behind though. We have advanced in hardware (if not AI) far more than what anyone in the Apollo years would have expected.

Ben Bova's books can be a bit "Writing By Numbers" (the way David Weber has gone) but they usually keep the reader guessing along the way. And that's what counts, we don't want to know the outcome before we read it.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Another tick for the checklist

MoT & annual service again today - shiny car is still shiny.

For non-Brits, the MoT is an annual test all cars over here that are more than 3 years old have to pass to say they're ok to go on the roads. I thought I'd get whinged at this time around for brakes, as that was something noted on the last test.

What was the damage ? Nothing "needed" fixing. Well, nothing except the tyres which were changed a couple of weeks ago. They were still legal, just. Let's say it was more fun driving on the Fluffy Stuff end of last year than at the start of last year.

Advisories on :
Brake pads at the back (80% worn)
Brake discs at the back (same width as last year)
Exhaust heat shield (my first proper car actually ran better without the heatshield)
Coolant a bit low

Translation - nothing to worry about right now. The brakes is the same advisory as last year and with the low mileage I do, they will last. Exhaust heat shield explains some rattlies from a couple of weeks ago (think this was actually something different). Same again, not bothered.

So - another tick in the box. The only one left now is the letter that says the finance has finished paying off on the Focus. I don't actually need to wait for this but extra time means a bit more chance for the "There's Something Better Coming" feeling to be satisfied.

Hmm - that would be the same feeling that's had me holding off on upgrading the main PC, although with the PC I know there's something better coming soon. (It's called V68 Sandy Bridge chipset)

It's a lovely sunny day today so I thought I'd indulge myself in a wander around the centre of Bristol. Lots of good outfits on show. Lots of not so good outfits. Lots of good outfits worn really, really badly. Oh and a wardrobe malfunction by someone who intended to run across the road but she ended up going bouncy-bouncy instead.

Didn't buy anything, although I did stop off at ToyotaWorld Bristol South on the way back (yeah right - it's in the opposite direction). Prius T Spirit is definitely something that belongs in a scifi movie in the near future. Things like the dashboard computer which will require a few evenings learning the manual. There's even a head up display which I think could work nicely.

The dash in general wasn't nearly as plush as the Lexus though. It'll be a tough choice there :

Lexus - definitely fits the "luxury" bill. Not so sure about the level of toys and reports generally saying that they messed up the chassis.
Prius - Many toys. The car is a toy. It's the third generation of its type. It proved the tech while the Lexus just borrowed it. Build quality not quite the same as the Lexus but I'd prefer build quality effort to go into chassis and toys.

At the moment, my opinion is going to the Prius. It's a bit cheaper, the offers are better (saves £1000 in servicing) and it has extra toys :

Satnav - meh, I'd prefer to use a standalone Tomtom.
Smart (keyless) entry & start - not sure about this, could they get in with the key kept at the front of the house ?
Cruise control & reverse camera - £510 option on Lexus
Head Up Display - it works but I'm old fashioned and like dials.
Fancy trip computer - £1500 on Lexus for shiny knob thingy
Bigger car (inside) for same weight
Deals ...

What you miss from the Lexus is :
Heated front seats - my back would love these :-)
USB socket for iPod - meh. A headphone jack does the job.

So - still making my mind up, although today's MoT pass lifts another of those barriers. Dunno about resale value on the Lexus because it's too new but the Prius holds its value well ... 1 year old average mileage lost £4k, 2 year old higher mileage lost £6k (£18.5k) which compares very well with a 3 year old Guaranteed Future Value of £9k.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Best films never made

Spotted a story on the Register today - they'd (foolishly?) asked for suggestions on what was the best film never made.

And then they got an Inbox Explosion :-) Here's a link to the story with the full list.

Here's the list - the ones in italic with ****'s are the ones I've read. Need to get reading more !

  • Ace Trucking Co – John Wagner and Alan Grant
  • Against a Dark Background – Iain M Banks (it's waiting in the Pile)
  • Agent To The Stars – John Scalzi
  • The Amtrak Wars – Patrick Tilley
  • Anvil of Stars – Greg Bear
  • The Ballad of Halo Jones – Alan Moore
  • The Black Cloud – Sir Fred Hoyle
  • The Caves of Steel – Isaac Asimov
  • The Chanur Saga – CJ Cherryh
  • Chasm City – Alastair Reynolds ****
  • The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant – Stephen R Donaldson
  • The Chrysalids – John Wyndham
  • Citizen of the Galaxy – Robert A Heinlein
  • Creatures of Light and Darkness – Roger Zelazny
  • Daemon – Daniel Suarez
  • The Dark Wheel – Robert Holdstock
  • Desolation Road – Ian McDonald
  • The Difference Engine – William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
  • The Dispossessed – Ursula K Le Guin
  • The Dosadi Experiment – Frank Herbert
  • Earth – David Brin
  • The Expendables – Edmund Cooper
  • A Fall Of Moondust – Arthur C Clarke
  • Feersum Endjinn – Iain M Banks ****
  • The Fountains of Paradise – Arthur C Clarke
  • Glory Road – Robert A Heinlein ****
  • Hammer's Slammers – David Drake
  • Have Spacesuit – Will travel – Robert A Heinlein ****
  • Hinterlands – William Gibson
  • Icerigger – Alan Dean Foster
  • Inferno – Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
  • The Integral Trees – Larry Niven
  • The Invincible – Stanislaw Lem
  • Kiln People – David Brin
  • The Kraken Wakes – John Wyndham
  • The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K Le Guin
  • Liege Killer – Christopher Heinz
  • Macroscope – Piers Anthony
  • Mars – Ben Bova ****
  • The Mars Trilogy – Kim Stanley Robinson ****
  • Mindstar Rising – Peter F Hamilton
  • Mockingbird – Walter Tevis
  • Moving Mars – Greg Bear
  • Mutineers' Moon – David Weber ****
  • Nimbus – Alexander Jablokov
  • The Number of the Beast – Robert A Heinlein ****
  • Orbitsville – Bob Shaw
  • Only Forward – Michael Marshall Smith
  • Otherland – Tad Williams
  • Out of the Silent Planet – CS Lewis
  • Pandora's Star – Peter F Hamilton
  • Planet of Adventure – Jack Vance
  • Pushing Ice – Alastair Reynolds
  • Revelation Space Saga – Alastair Reynolds
  • Rocheworld – Robert L Forward
  • Rogue Trooper – Gerry Finley-Day
  • The Saga of the Well World – Jack L Chalker
  • Santiago: A Myth of the Far Future – Mike Resnick
  • The Sirens of Titan – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr
  • The Skinner – Neal Asher
  • Spinneret – Timothy Zahn ****
  • Startide Rising – David Brin
  • The Survivors – Tom Godwin
  • Tales of Pirx the Pilot – Stanislaw Lem
  • Time Enough for Love – Robert A Heinlein ****
  • Timescape – Gregory Benford
  • Transition – Iain M Banks
  • A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! – Harry Harrison
  • Ubik – Philip K Dick
  • The Uplift War – David Brin
  • The Void Trilogy – Peter F Hamilton
  • The Voyage of the Space Beagle – AE van Vogt
  • Vurt – Jeff Noon
  • Who Goes There? – Bob Shaw
  • The Wreck of The River of Stars – Michael Flynn
How many have you read ?

Still agonizing on car

Still weighing up my options on the next car.

What isn't helping at the moment is conflicting reviews. Some people hate the new Lexus, others think it's ok. I suspect it's a bit of a marmite car. Either that, or the quality coming out of the factory is not consistent. This is what scares me at the moment - I've previously bought used cars, which has good and bad side :

Good side to buying used :
You can thoroughly check out the car. Most Gremlins get bored quickly and surface early. If a car has Gremlins, they will usually start messin' with your mind quite quick. Buying used means you are test driving the car you would eventually buy. If it has specific quirks, you can walk away. If it's rough or otherwise coming apart at the seams, walk away.

Bad side to used :
Mechanical stuff wears out. Get a used turbo car and you should expect major bills to come on that turbo at some point. Same for the rest of the car. The best time to own anything is when it's shiny & new.
With a new car, the car you get is not the demonstrator, it has come over from the factory. You get the best years out of the car but you're also at risk if the factory puts in the Gremlins.

Lexus have a stormin' reputation but that inconsistency of reviews is a bit of a concern. There's also inconsistency in the performance shown in tests, with figures going from below 10 secs to 60 to 12 seconds. That's a fairly sizable margin that makes you wonder what the testers were getting up to. A hybrid car will only give maximum performance when there's juice in the battery, so if they've drained the battery before doing their 0 to 60, of course it won't be particularly brilliant. Similarly, if the battery pack is on a par with a Red Bull F1* car (their KERS hasn't lasted a race yet), that's seriously bad news for a hybrid.

*Let's just say the Infiniti hybrid (Red Bull's partner) is off the menu. Ok, it never got on the menu cos it's out of my price league but there you go.

I'm thinking again about the cheaper options - Honda's CR-Z and the Toyota Prius. Gotta be honest, I've not actually sat in a Prius to check it out properly. Maybe the Lexus has been rushed to market a little too quickly.

Another car thing that's melting my brain at the moment is finance.

There's a scheme called Personal Contract Purchase, which is something I'll likely go for. It works by deferring some of the payment to the end, as a Guaranteed Future Value (GFV). The GFV is what the car is expected to be worth after the period of the contract.
Start - car cost £25k.
Take a deposit off that - £5k - leaves £20k remainder
Set a Guaranteed Future Value - £10k
£20k - £10k leaves £10k to come from a loan.
The usual APR is 9.9%, making that £10k over 3 years cost £330 per month (35 payments) for a total of £11,554.

After the 3 years, you have the option to pay the GFV to buy your car, or you can hand it back, or you can say "ta muchly, same again please". Where my brain is melting is the difference between calculated loan and what they quote - for the Lexus, there's almost £3000 getting added in somewhere. With the Prius10, the offer quotes £429 per month with £15k of the £26k purchase price being outside the loan. If I work it out, that £429 should be £351.

I must be missing something ... Need those finance details spelled out in small words.

Simple rule - if you don't understand completely what you're being offered with finance, walk away. That goes for all those things where someone is trying to sell you something you either don't need (payment protection insurance) or have no real world purpose (warranties).

Depending on what happens on Saturday with the car service, I should have time to make up my mind :-) Maybe something better is just around the corner ...

Oh - only 2 (maybe 2.5) working days left until an extended break. Definitely feeling the need for it, especially judging by me having trouble getting my MathBoy Brain around that finance stuff ...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Recommending ...

One for the car people around Bristol ...

ATS Horfield

Happily recommending these people based on what I saw today ... After the KwikFit experience (they are so fired), this was a very happy contrast.

Kwikfit - order tyres in advance on the website, turn up at the arranged time a couple of days later to get them fitted. Fitting time for Kwikfit was average, what I didn't expect was them to say they hadn't got the tyres I'd ordered and I could have the more expensive Continental instead.

They're a nationwide organisation ! Not having what was ordered days before is total INCOMPETENCE. No excuse. And the customer doesn't go back.

ATS Horfield were a happy contrast :-) Customer (me) happily treated with respect by the guys inside. After the Kwikfit experience, I was unwilling to commit cash/credit card before appearing. With just turning up, you can't expect them to have just the right stuff there (huge variation in sizes, not much space available). I took what was offered. Alternative was Monday, which doesn't really fit in with my working pattern and their going home time.

Made me grin what their opinion of Continental was too "about the worst tyre you can buy". Refreshingly honest seeing as it's the most expensive in the catalogue. I agree. After Kwikfit shafted me with a pair of Conti's on the back, the car wasn't as confident through the corners.

Anyway - tyres done quick, even without making an appointment. Cheaper than expected, although that's mainly cos I went budget. Bit sad doing that to a performance (ish) car but it means not sinking much money into a car I'm not expecting to have next year.

Oh - they're accessible too. Bristol is an ok place to live but I try and avoid going into the city centre. The alternative tyre/garage places tend to concentrate in the centre.

PS I suspect I may be in Happy Mode. I'm recommending stuff to people ... Must be the Mini Eggs.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

In the Movies

The Crazies have been seeing lots of movies lately :-)

First up - Ironclad.

Here we have a retelling of what happened after the Magna Carta. This is Men Behaving Badly in medieval times ... Lots of blood, gore, things getting chopped off and stones being thrown at castles. It really doesn't hold back. Well worth seeing if you're not put off by Lady Of Manor throwing herself at the helpless Templar knight. This is no Hollywood Robin Hood let's get the people in the castle siege, it's properly done with :

Trebuchet's - yey !
Undermining of the keep
Thieving of the King's munchies
More big knifeplay than on Masterchef

Will be picking up that one when it comes to dvd/bluray.

Limitless wasn't as good. It's about a writer who needs to pop the pills in order to get anything done. One day he's a wreck, unable to get any words on the page and about to lose the girl. One pill later and he's in bed with the landlord's missus, finishes the book in 4 days and is about to launch on to a roller coaster ride.

Not a terrible film, it's actually quite well made. You're left feeling very uncomfortable about the message though. Do drugs & succeed. Not sure what I think of that, I see drugs as somewhat of a crutch and avoid using them wherever possible. (Except coffee & chocolate & E-numbers) I do recognise that people need the drugs to help them through but taking drugs as a short cut ? No.

Ok film - worth watching. I suspect you're supposed to feel uncomfortable about that message.

Sucker Punch is a very schizophrenic movie. The action sequences are awesome. The narrative that binds the action sequences together is pants. I'll end up buying it anyway for the occasional watch because the action sequences are That Good. And I'll fall asleep through the bits in the asylum.

Tonight's movie was the movie which I'll never buy because I just cannot remember that it's called Source Code (I honestly didn't have to look that up). Jake Gyllenhall stars as USAF Captain who is being sent back in time to the body of a fella on a train that's about to blow up.

This one is pretty well made too, with plenty of little touches dropped in that come up again later. I'll not say much more because pretty much anything said about this one is SPOILERS! And we know what the Doctor and River Song think about those. However ... It's been done before multiple times, although last time I saw something similar ... AKAKAKSPOILERDELETEDAKAKAK ...

It's just come to the cinema and it's the pick of the bunch above.

One last one which I've just seen is Kick-Ass. This one came to the cinema last year and I've just finished watching it off SkyMovies. The star of the show here is little Chloe Moretz, who does an amazing job as the pintsized HitGirl who tears (literally) her way through the mob people. I may well buy this movie ...

So - of all the movies above :
Ironclad - buy it
Limitless - meh
Sucker Punch - buy it for the action sequences, meh at the narrative
Erm...???...ohyeah-Source Code ! - watch it but won't buy
(think it's one that's only good if you don't know what's going to happen)
Kick Ass - buy it

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sometimes big is not better

Ok - so I'm posting as a means of getting a big picture on to the VR site !

(clicky for full 1080p goodness!)

Since getting the 23" widescreen monitor, I've noticed a problem. You can only look at one thing at a time (two if you can go crosseyed at will). The problem's basically :

I look at the centre - and die cos I missed being low on health.
I keep an eye on positioning - and miss my DoTs* running out
*(DoT = Damage Over Time spell)
I click on a targeted spell - and can't land it cos my User Interface gets in the way

Don't get me wrong ! Big screen = awesome. It's my own tunnel vision that's making me miss stuff :-)

What will/is changing in the way I have it set up are :
The health bars in left centre/low are Healbot. They're there for my priest and will get turned off at some point for the damage dealing mage. Don't need 'em.
Omen (right centre/low) tends to get ignored as I don't often get in danger of pulling the mob off the tank (we have good tanks). Plus the standard interface does that as well now.
Head Up Display. Going to try one of these out, see what happens. It'll put a couple of Big Stripy Bars up so I will have no chance of missing seeing I'm in for an Impending Dirt Nap.

All the other not so immediately useful stuff tends to be hidden off out of the way. That's not quite what I raid with though. We were on the way back from a wipe at this point, so I had my no3 bar active ready to make the raid a bit more intelligent. All my damage doing Stuff is on the no1 bar :-)

Oh yeah - look at those damage per second numbers. When I started in Warcraft, we were lucky to do that as a Raid. Progress !

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Scratch Honda off the list ...

Headed up to Mall today with the intention of having a bit of fun with the Honda people. Came away somewhat peeved.

Firstly, let's remember back a few weeks when I had a second look at the CR-Z. They had none in the showroom, so I got offered a chance to sit in a customer car that was waiting delivery. I balked at that.

Let's think about that - the garage may have allowed a complete stranger random type person sit in a car that was waiting to be picked up. What would you think if your nearly new car went in for its first service and the garage let someone have a look in it ? You would probably recoil in horror and swear never to go near that garage again.

That was a few weeks ago though. How about tonight ...

They passed the first test by allowing someone to have a look around without being too obvious about rubbing the hands together and going "Potential Customerrrrrr" in that goblin voice familiar to all the Warcraft players. You would expect at least one "can we help ?" from the staff though. I guess that depends on who's on duty at the time.

Still, lack of effort in grooming a potential customer is justifiably reflected in lack of interest by that customer.

Let's hit the "that's just plain rude" : Part of my expected fun was asking when they were looking to get in the "sporty" version of the "sports" couple. No knowledge admitted to by the salesperson about any improved versions being on the way. (There is allegedly a faster CR-Z coming as Honda have admitted to the current one not having the performance to match the looks)

What I didn't expect was that while trying to converse with the salesperson, that the salesperson would only be half listening while one of his colleagues was passing on a message.
1 - If a potential customer is there, full attention should be with the person possibly paying your commission
2 - Unless it's "GTFO THE BUILDING'S ON FIRE!" any message can wait
3 - Customer is King.

I found that distraction to be highly insulting and indicative of a group that don't really want my business.

Oh well. Makes the decision on what car to aim for a little easier :-)

Oh ! Almost forgot. Impressions of the CR-Zzzzzz from sitting inside ...

Seats. Ok and fully reflecting the sporty aim for the car. Bucket sporty seats although I couldn't easily find the adjustment to lean back the seat a bit to a position suitable for a normal person not a short armed long legged mutant.
Dash and interior. Fine for a modern car, as they are continuing the fashion of surrounding the driver with Stuff. Lots of mysterious controls with OOO SHINY!!!!
I suspect this car would work well for short doses but would rapidly become tiring on a longer drive.

Exterior & design. Whereas the Lexus had a CT200h on show with a few golf club bags in the back, the CR-Z is somewhat cramped. With seats, it's advertised as a 2+2 which translates to 2+2. The boot has a restricted entry with a high sill, whereas the Lexus boot has minimal sill height.
Again, fine for stuff like shopping but anything more serious (like lugging a heavy cricket bag around) will be a major pain.

I guess you can sum it up as Epic Fail on the side of the Honda people, although that should probably just read "Honda Person". A key part of car ownership is being able to trust the people who you're doing business with. Lack of trust makes you go elsewhere. Trouble is, if a finance deal is involved (or guaranteed servicing) then you can't go elsewhere. As soon as you buy, you're committed. So it pays (literally) to be careful who you do business with.

And I'll not be taking my business to Honda :
Product isn't up to standard.
Garage is untrustworthy
Staff aren't interested in selling cars
The competition blows them away in all respects

It may be shiny enough to con the petrol heads but not this petrol head.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Mother's Day & Cars

Been up to see my mum & dad this weekend.

Events like Mother's Day give an excuse for the mob to gather at their place for a weekend which usually involves being out & about on the Saturday, followed by a dinner where we'll linger over the table chilling out to music before heading back on the Sunday. It's also good to be made a fuss of by the Muttley.

There's also a kind of tradition where we'll keep looking out the window for the Mother's Day flowers delivery, before giving up, going out and the flowers arriving 10 minutes after we go out. They seem a bit better at delivering around Bristol than they are in Lincolnshire.

I had an ulterior motive as well for this weekend - getting a second opinion on cars ... I'm pretty sure I'll have a different car inside 6 months and there are currently 3 contenders :

1 - Honda CR-Z. This is a small coupe, advertised as a sporty 2+2. I've had a car like it before, a Ford Puma. The Puma was an outstanding little car, it combined power with poise. At 2 years old when I got it, the Puma also gave me quite a few years of reliable running.

You'd hope to get something similar out of the CR-Z ... However, from the specs it suffers from a bit too much weight and not enough power. The 0 to 60 benchmark is a bit artificial because you rarely do that but it's a good benchmark for how quick a car will be. 10 seconds to get to 60 does not a quick car make. The Puma was 9 on paper but quicker on the road (an overreading speedo helps).

I've had a look at the outside of the CR-Z's (the demonstrator was away when I went to look). It's a promising car, it just suffers from lack of power. With a bit more speed, it would justify that "sports" tag and become Interesting.

Verdict on CR-Z - curious but not quick enough to justify the Sports tag and therefore become interesting. Honda seem to agree, there's a quicker version on the way.

But - after the lukewarm reaction I had to my Focus ST170, I suspect I'm heading for the Cushy part of my car cycle where I go for comfort over speed. The ST170 is quick, especially if you go by the White Knuckled Passenger gauge but it just doesn't feel as quick as that Puma did.

2 - Toyota Prius. The original Geek Magnet. This is the latest version of Toyota's Hybrid car, where an engine and a motor combine to give power, economy and UberGreenieFriendly low emissions. There's a decent selection of toys here too.

It's not the quickest car but quick enough. That just happens to be the same pace as what gets set by the CR-Z, however this isn't pretending to be a sports car. The technology on show here is better. Instead of an engine with motor assist like in the Honda, the engine or the motor drive the Prius forward. For me, that means that for very short runs between traffic lights on my way in, the car can move itself on the motor using energy it has saved while braking.

It's impressive tech and what makes the Toyota system more interesting than the competition is that they've had 10 years of development to get the bugs out. It's never a good idea to be a Beta Tester, especially with cars ... Whenever you hear of CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) automatic gearboxes, remember that about 15 years before it came back for little cars, it was unsuccessfully tried in trucks. Engineers have a habit of looking at what didn't quite work right and fixing it in the next version.

Yeah - Toyota Prius. Looks very interesting from a "This Car Could Work" and techie point of view.

But - I've had dealings with the local Toyota garage before, where they tried the thing where they advise you to have work done on brakes & exhaust for the MOT test and they'd quite happily do that for you. A second opinion is always useful here. In the case of the Toyota garage, the same car passed its next couple of MOTs without the brakes or exhaust being mentioned.

Con job detected - no more business with that garage. True, that's about 10 years ago now so the people are probably different but the "you tried to rip me off" remains.

Besides ... There's better toys available :

3 - Lexus CT200h. This is what we went to see yesterday. Let me describe what we saw :

Roll up at the garage and go around the side to where the car park is. Come out of one space and go into another ... Reason ? We spotted the Customer Parking sign. It's a little thing but it was a professionally made sign with the customer's name on it. Curious and a sign (sic) that some effort is going in to make the customer feel special.

They had a couple of CT200h's outside as well but they're a bit new for the Used Car lot. Had my first yes/no there though, the Lexus IS series is probably a bit big for the type of car I get on with best. Head inside and we see the various cars on show. There's the Evil 4x4 (sister knew someone with one), the sumptuous soft top and a couple of CT200h's.

Me and my dad sit in one of them and there's a moment of awed silence (neither of us waste words but this was different). This is probably the highest quality car either of us have sat in. And we've owned things like Exec Edition Rovers, Vauxhall Senators, Rover Sterling, VW and so on. It even felt better than the dream cars you see at motor shows. There's me thinking it's the top of the range model. Nah - it's the middle one.

It had achieved what's quite rare with cars - it felt like it had rock solid quality. Probably more controls than an airline console too. There's a definite "this car is special" feeling.

Yep. We walked away from there quite impressed. The overall view was friendly staff who were keen to make you feel welcome in their showroom (even though there would be a bit of boredom behind this judging by the Kindle hiding behind the receptionist's counter)

Verdict on Lexus - it's up a few notches in the Quality Scale. It costs more than the Prius it is loosely based on but justifies that cost through Toys & Quality.

Reviews by magazines are mixed, however I get the feeling there's a bit of "Not German" snobbery coming in.

Little things count, a person is more likely to become a customer if they feel valued. Ford are a bit Sheep Dip. Rover talked the talk but their garages badly let them down. Vauxhall used to make excellent cars but went a bit strange in the 90s. VW think it's a privilege for the owner to have one, not a privilege that the owner has chosen them. Honda seemed quite desperate for me to look at their car.

In terms of Sleepy spending money, I don't think the second opinion is going to be a moderating voice this time ... The mob was as impressed as I was with the general Lexus browsing person experience.

I won't buy yet but let's just say that the car tax is due soon on the Focus and out of the options we get of 6 months or 12 months, I think I'm choosing 6 months. One advantage I'll have this time is that I'll be able to choose my own time to switch, whereas with the Puma dying my last car was a bit of an emergency buy.

PS Happy Mothers Day to all those Moms who read this ! Us kids appreciate all you do for us, whether that be that guiding voice, that hug or that infallible rust detector. My mum's not got much engineering knowledge but she can smell rust on a potential car from a mile away.