Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Thunder Lords

Yesterday was a very long day. But very enjoyable and definitely worth it.

I went on a work trip to Lords cricket ground (the true home of cricket) to watch the Inter Services Twenty 20 championship. First up was RAF vs Royal Navy, which was a close one won by the superior fielding of the RAF. Was a bit disappointing watching the Navy fielding, as they allowed 1's to turn into 2's and allowed singles which really shouldn't have been runs. If I'd been on the field, I'd have gone very quiet due to Anger. And I'm strangely a noisy one in the field ...

So after one game out of the way, I head off to the shop for some teasing of myself looking at £300 bats ... And to buy more stuff :
New mug
Lords shirt
Rules of Cricket linen poster

Was going to buy a fridge magnet too (I collect them) but I wasn't about to put a Prise-It-Off-Shelf-With-Crowbar fridge magnet in the same bag as an iPod. The fridge magnet (or the iPod) may never have been the same again.

I picked the right moment to hunt Stuff - while I was in there the heavens opened. This wasn't just a deluge, this was the beginning of the Great Flood. One of my Facebook (send us an email and I'll tell you who I am on there) pics was subtitled "Expecting imminent arrival of HMS Noah's Ark".

For an idea of how hard it was raining here's a bit of BBC iPlayer video (UK only) from yesterday's Tennis ... (and Youtube for everyone else!)

It was enough to keep them off the field for a few hours, so we lost the middle game of the scheduled 3. The final game was RAF vs Army, with the RAF continuing the excellent fielding of the first game. We also had the highly comical situation of a runner being required. That's always good for chaos. Unfortunately we didn't see all of the last game because it was approaching bedtime for the coach driver and we had to go home so he could get tucked in.

(I suspect we'll be using a different coach firm next year ...)

The coach was bizarre actually. Not only did he find the most traffic possible (we were late to the game), he also stopped in 2 service stations. For all of about 5 seconds before setting off again. Bizarre !

As well as the cricket, we get a chance to meet up with old colleagues again. Good company makes the day. And Lords is a fantastic arena, at most other stadiums we'd have been going home after the deluge instead of seeing if they could get the third game in.

PS One of my offbeat theories got more evidence - the more raingear people wear, the more bedraggled they appear when it gets wet.

Friday, June 24, 2011

More car nuttiness

Escaped from work earlier today and due to general traffic conditions, I ended up in the centre of Bristol.

Which is the side of the city that the Lexus garage lives ... Dangerous.
Actually had a look at them this time, although after finding out what I wanted to know I engaged the "Sort yourselves out before I consider talking to you".

The Lexus I'm after only came out at the end of last year, so used ones are only just starting to hit the market. You'd think that with a few thousand miles on the clock, they'd be a bit cheaper than new. Let's have a peek at what's out there :

New - option I'd go for is Cruise Control + sensible colour.
Base price - £25,200 (with leather)
Sensible colour - £510
Cruise control - £510 (satnav is not wanted but would be an extra £1850)
Total - £26,220, with satnav that would be £28,070.

There's a couple of CT's with leather in a Bristol Lexus and a bunch more appearing around the country on the used market. I saw 2 CT's today, one was £25.5k (not leather), the other was £27.5k.

That's only £570 off the price of a new one !!!! For a car with 5500 miles on the clock.

No thanks - general attitude to that is : "I will only set foot in your shop when you've sorted your prices out". With the price being so close, the only advantage to getting Used is that you get your toy NOW, instead of in 3 months. The major disadvantages are that there are miles on the car already plus you're forced to have a particular colour.

And the £27.5k car is yellow.

I have had a yellow car (and actually kinda liked it). The yellow showed a great contrast with the rustbeard that car had. I guess it's better than Prius White.

The really sad thing is that I had to go to the garage to find out how much they are looking for on this car, there seems to be a conspiracy among the Lexus garages where all but a couple of the prices for CT's have gone "POA". Which usually translates to "If you have to ask, you can't afford it". Let's just say - I can afford it, I just don't recognise there being any value in what they're asking and there's therefore no reason for me to entertain thoughts of spending money.

And I currently have the luxury of time, which I intend to indulge :-)

PS Also in the news - Return of the SNOW QUEEN !!!! Good for us, good for the IT Girl. Happy days.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Daft advert claims - debunk time !

Just caught an ad for energy saving tyres that promised to save 80 litres of fuel over the life of the car.

Sounds ok - What's that mean exactly though ?

My Focus does between 28 and 36 miles to the Imperial Gallon. Call it 32. That's 7 miles per litre. (7.04 - close enough). So over the life of the tyre, which I'd expect to be 20,000 miles on the fronts, that's an extra 560 miles.

The 20,000 miles should take 2857 litres of fuel, with the oh-so-green energy saving tyres it'll take 2777. Petrol here costs about 133.9p/litre, so those 80 litres saved works out to about £107. I'll do those 20,000 miles over just under 3 year so that's a saving of £36 per year.

That's kinda - meh. And it's even worse with the rear tyres as they did 40,000 miles.

Mind you, I paid £80 per corner on my last set of tyres, so that £107 saved actually means Free Tyres ! Probably at the cost of having less grip around corners though, like my current pair of Famous Brand (not saying who - ads = bad) tyres on the back of the Focus.

With the next car it's better, because it's expected to do double the economy. 68mpg instead of 32. Not looked at the Next Car yet, although it's just the other side of Bristol. Friday pm is looking like a good opportunity to go peek, plus I'm having a sense of looking to out cagey the apparently cagey garages. I'm feeling a bit like Truck Roadkill at the moment, so I'm shepherding my energy carefully at the mo with just crashing out in the evenings. Gaming is really suffering to the point where it goes several days between putting the pooter in Game Mode.

Saying that though, Otis Cookies from the canteen were Awesome earlier. It even resulted in one of those Crazy Just Bounced Off Wall Emails to the long-suffering Mrs Sunshine.

I guess the lesson which I just distracted myself from is : Don't trust adverts. When they make a claim that sounds believable, see if you can work out what it actually means and from there, whether the claim is actually relevant to you.

Friday, June 17, 2011

To the garage ! Or not ...

Was intending to take a trip to the Lexus garage today to have a look at cars ... Didn't happen though, at least not today.

I now own my current car (had the "your loan is finished" letter come through) so that's the last of the barriers to changing now out of the way. The change is getting closer, as a few things are ticking away :

The Focus is out of its "Just Been Serviced" perkiness and has slowed down a bit. It still has its power but seems less free with it.
The rear brakes will need changing within the year due to pads & discs wearing out. What is it with me and brakes on cars ? I don't think I'm that heavy on them ...
Car tax - shouldn't be an issue as there's 5 months left but see below.
Impending mechanical failures ... The paranoia is ticking away saying that summat's gonna break.
Continuing pressure to raise base interest rates.

I still need to verify the choice with a test drive but it's looking fairly certain that my next car will be a Lexus CT200h SE-L with a couple of extras (see link for Toy Count + Pics). I was thinking that it would have to be a new model, as it's too new a car for used ones to be hitting the market in any reasonable quantity. However ...

Dunno if you've seen the news reports (how could you miss them !) about a massive earthquake in Japan ... One of the consequences is that the much vaunted Just In Time manufacturing principle falls to bits when the supplier base doesn't have the resilience through diversity to support operations after a disaster like the earthquake. That's lead to extended delivery times for new stuff as they run out of parts.

If that sounds a bit callous and unfeeling, it's unintended. I was one of the people keeping an eye on the news with fingers crossed that the casualty reports didn't increase. I just hope they get themselves back on their feet quickly and one sign of that will be that they crack the problems that lead to these extended delivery times. That will mean that Normality has triumphed over Earthquake Chaos.

Drawback No 1 of buying New : delivery lead time of over 3 months.

With that amount of time (possibly more), I have to wonder if I'd be buying another 6 months worth of car tax for my Focus (£143) due to the new one not turning up before the current car tax expires.

Drawback No 2 : Off the forecourt depreciation.

It's a fact that as soon as you drive your car away from the garage, it's lost a fair percentage of its value. Getting an ex demonstrator or other car with a few thousand miles on the clock means the garage takes that first few £1000 of lost value.

The penalty - you know that your bum isn't the first occupant of the driver's seat. You know, after owning 6 used cars I think I can live with that. And it's not like you can thrash a car to death inside 5000 miles, it would actually be an achievement in a CVT hybrid ...

Drawback No 3 : New costs more.

Even after the depreciation, it looks like the finance terms aren't particularly favourable ... Let's have a look :

Lexus CT200h SE-L with pretty paint + Tailgating Enhancement (aka Cruise Control)
Cost £26,220 new on the road.
The finance terms I'd go for include a big deposit (£9177), 10,000 miles a year and 3 year loan term. They use a wizz called Guaranteed Future Value that defers part of the loan until after the 3 years.
Cost - £9,177 early, £260 for 35 months and £12,141.90 of Guaranteed Future Value for a total of £30,392.

Guaranteed Future Value sounds great until you realise - there's probably interest going on it and that £12k means you're needing to set aside £4k per year (£333 per month), although that could be earning interest in savings until it's needed. That makes approx £593 per month going towards the car. That's more than my mortgage !

How about used ?
There's a CT200h in Swindon with 4000 miles on the clock that's listed at £25.5k. Similar spec to what I have my eye on, it would actually cost slightly more if new. Finance info :
£25.5k - £9,177 deposit again, £526 for 36 months, no GFV to pay at the end. Total of £28,191 on the same interest rate.

You can probably tell I'm going right orf the idea of being tied into a GFV contract ... Especially as it adds on an extra £2000 that I don't think a savings account would make up. Can I afford the £526 and big deposit ? You betcha :-) Although it does mean I'll shelve the PC upgrade plan for a little while longer. I'd probably do the loan over 4 years for £412 per month and £29k total.

So :

Buy new and be the first to own the car ... after waiting 3 months for it to arrive. I dunno about you but I prefer to play with my toys as soon as I buy them.

Buy used - at work we used to have a saying : Cheaper, Faster, Better. Well - a used one is cheaper, I'd get it much sooner and it would be More SHINY ! We don't hear that saying so much now because the procurement buzzword it belonged to went out of fashion a few years ago. It still applies though.

And there just so happens to be a blue mini-Lexus waiting at Bristol Lexus for me to have a look. Maybe after work on Monday because I finished too late today (CURSE YOU WORK NETWORK PROVIDERS !) to get there and back for a chill out ahead of driving tonight.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Books everywhere ?

I'm a Culture fan.

They're the centrepiece of a series of books by Iain M. Banks, starting with the outstanding Consider Phlebas where the benevolent Culture dominate the galaxy. There's 3 distinct type of being that inhabit this universe, humans, drones and Minds. The Minds run the universe for the benefit of the humans and are the ones firmly In Charge. I'll not say too much more there as Consider Phlebas gives an excellent introduction to the Culture. Excession is the next best.

I've just bought the newest ... Surface Detail. I'm amazed it took me this long to find a copy, it's been out in paperback for just about a fortnight now and I've literally only seen the paperback in one shop ... (Waterstones at Bristol's Cribbs Causeway). Got it now and in a 3 for 2 offer where I found 2 easily and then took half an hour to choose a third.

New books :
Iain M Banks - Surface Detail - 3 for 2
Chris Wraight - Battle of the Fang - 3 for 2
Charles Yu - How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe - 3 for 2
(yes - I was really struggling to find a 3rd!)
E.E. Doc Smith - Triplanetary - Hay
R.A. Heinlein - Between Planets - Hay
R.A. Heinlein - Beyond This Horizon - Hay
Larry Niven - Convergent Series - Hay

While away for the week I managed to read :

Ben Bova - Exiles Trilogy

This one continues Ben Bova's favourite theme of near future scifi. The basic premise is that scientists in fields including genetic engineering have been identified as a disruptive influence and the world government has decided to get rid of them.

The trilogy weighs in at about 480 pages (shorter than a lot of single books) and tells the tale of the originals escaping from Earth, the machinations of the second generation and finally the arrival of the last generation. They're ok as books go but they don't develop as deeply as other authors. That's good and bad, some authors can flog the dead horse and drag out a story for far too long. With these, there's not really enough meat on the bones.

Dan Abnett - Ghostmaker

This is the second novel in the Warhammer 40k Gaunt's Ghosts series. It's a bit disjointed because the narrative jumps from short segments on Monthax to what amount to flashbacks focusing on one of the Ghosts at a time.

It works after a fashion but the focus is not as tight as in the first book in the series. Hoping for better from the third in the series (Necropolis) which I'll read after gapping to different authors for a couple. It kept me reading because the characters are interesting enough for you to want to know what happens with them. The Warhammer 40k universe is brutal enough such that anything can happen, no character is safe.

There's a contrast here between Ghostmaker and Exiles. Ghostmaker gives a good look at individual characters during their flashbacks but the narrative suffers for it. Exiles keeps a reasonable narrative going but at the cost of limited characters.

Alistair McLean - HMS Ulysses

Last book I managed to read while away is set in World War Two and is centred around the fictional ship HMS Ulysses, an advanced heavy cruiser charged with defending the convoys of war materiel being shipped to Russia.

This book is quite possibly more brutal than the Warhammer 40k books. At least in WH40K the characters get some respite, here there is none. Everything is against the crew of the Ulysses, including the elements, the naval hierarchy and not least, the Germans.

We should never forget what we ask of our Servicemen and women. Books like HMS Ulysses bring home the fact that conditions they face can be every bit as bad (or worse!) than what we read in books or see on the screen. And they don't have the option of putting the book down when they've had enough.

If you can find a copy of this one, it's well worth a read. Very instructive.

What's next ? I had started Triplanetary by E.E. Doc Smith but with the arrival of Surface Detail, I'm swapping to that because it fits the A to Z that I'm a bit too close to schedule on, having read 11 of 26 in 5 months.

Last note - I've reawakened the techie blog with a post about that Easytether app. Managed to avoid using too much GeekSpeak too :-)

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Back again, off again

Hmm - week away, where to start ?

The Crazies, including the Sleepypete, Cyberkitten, Craziequeen, Bionicdwarf, RCA and the HamsterKat went to Herefordshire last week under the pretence of visiting the Hay festival. We were holed up in a cottage near Clohengar. Well recommended that cottage, although with 6 of us the single loo was in high demand.

So - here's a few numbers from the stats junkie :

2.5 books read (was in the middle of one)
4 books bought (all written before I was born I believe)
5 cds bought (technically*)

*Yes - I went to Hay and bought more cd's than books. Maybe that's a sign of Modern Times. Or it could have been that 2 of the cds were for RCA and were part of a 4 for £10 deal.

Much music listened to
Lots of tasty dinners from Craziequeen and RCA
159 tracks added to the library (I bought a couple more things after coming back)
135 miles from me
450 megabytes of internet consumed (see gremlins below)
101 chavs spotted (at least !) in Hereford
6 movies watched
1 cathedral and 1 chapel visited
1.1 castles scouted (Hay castle only counts 0.1)
1 tour guide lusted over (BD and CK have pictures)
Too many biscuits bought (I had to bring some uneaten ones back)
And a bunch of technical gremlins taken out back and shot

Fun, relaxing week. Really don't want to go back to work tomorrow. Although that last could have something to do with me taking a trip down south for the day. I got my prep for that out the way before we broke up.

Bit more detail ?

I love helping people out (sometimes whether they like it or not, which can get me into trouble) and big aspect of that this week was the internet connection ... Since I changed to an Android phone (SonyEricsson X10i mini) I've been finding new stuff it can do. This last week's new thing was being able to provide an internet connection :

Take 1 Android phone (with slightly dodgy in-the-country 3g signal)
Connect to laptop
Apply software to both (Easytether Lite)
Laptop can now speak to internet
Peek in wifi networking setup, think wotdat ?
Create "Ad-hoc wifi network"
And share the phone connection across to the wifi network
Voila - several laptops seeing the internet through my phone.

There are limits to the Easytether Lite software, in that the free version doesn't support https or a few other things. So no logging into MSN Messenger or sites that need a certain level of authentication. For everything else, it worked perfectly. It's so useful that I'm seriously considering paying the £6 to upgrade my Lite copy to a bought copy. The massive advantage of this software is that it works without breaking into the phone to activate "Root" access. Translation - no warranty worries. I highly recommend Easytether.

I did find other wibblies (Windows issues) going with the sharing though, I may well add these to the Techie blog (linked in blogger profile*) at a later date because I'll be using GeekSpeak for it.
*(it was in the links list but I removed it because I'd not added anything to it for almost a year)

I could do with another holiday now to recover from the last.