Another year at Le Mans

Posted by under Life, on 25 June 2015 @ 10:20pm.

So! I went to Le Mans again this year for the 24 hour WEC race and now consider it my ‘main holiday’ each year. It combines camping which I’ve done for many years now, and racing which I’ve grown to enjoy over the last 3 years. I’ve never seen myself as a motorsports fan until I first attended Silverstone 3 years ago when I got my first DSLR camera. The only reason I went was to try out the camera, but it wasn’t long before I was hooked!

Although there are several classes of cars that take part in Le Mans, I primarily follow the LMP1 class and support Audi. I’ve supported Audi from the beginning really for one reason – they’re the only car in the race running with a diesel engine. I’ve enjoyed diesel technology for many years and it’s the only type of car I’ve owned. The torque is immense compared to petrol which is one of the things I like from it, and it’s one of the advantages for Audi when racing too.

Unfortunately, Audi were given a performance break when they first entered a diesel engine into the race which has slowly been taken away from them, so like all the other teams they’re having to find a way to extract more performance from it each season. Compared with a few years ago, these cars now use 30% less fuel per lap! This is all thanks to performance and fuelling tweaks, and the hybrid systems.

There are several types of hybrid system in use. Audi use a flywheel recovery system which uses a motor-generator on the wheels to generate electricity. This then powers another motor-generator connected to a flywheel in a vacuum, which spins up to a very high speed to store the energy. When it’s needed, it reverses the process and deploys it back to the wheels. Porsche, Nissan and Toyota use a similar motor-generator system but instead use supercapacitors or lithium batteries. Toyota use supercapacitors and the rest use lithium batteries. Each have their benefits and downfalls, but Audi seems to have found the best balance over the technologies as they’ve always seemed to excel. That is until this year.

There are 4 energy storage classes to go with the hybrid systems too. It’s a measure of energy that can be captured and deployed per lap and it’s split up into 2, 4, 6 and 8 megajoule classes. Interestingly, each of the 4 classes was used this year. Nissan used 2MJ, Audi used 4MJ, Toyota used 6MJ and Porsche used 8MJ. Naturally the higher the capacity used the more weight you have to carry so the balance has to be just right. Some how, Porsche managed to use all 8MJ effectively and their straight line acceleration is immense, meaning they can take on any car after a corner and get past them. Unfortunately for them, Audi can go quicker through the corners and that’s where they were re-taking positions. Those two differences makes the cars quite evenly matched over a full lap. I do wonder however if Audi will opt for the full 8MJ in 2016 or not. Toyota are switching from supercapacitors to lithium batteries because the supercapacitors just don’t cut it now. They were much slower than Audi and Porsche this year and they’ve pretty much written this season off as data collection and testing because they just can’t keep up.

The technologies used in Le Mans is destined for road cars, so to see that they can benefit so much from this tweaking and the hybrid systems just goes to show how much this sort of racing is worth doing. Whilst hybrids may not work too well on the road (depending on the type of driving you do – around town hybrids excel, on motorways they don’t), they work very well for racing where there are frequent amounts of heavy braking and accelerating where the energy can be used.

I congratulate Porsche for their Le Mans win this year, breaking a very long streak of wins for Audi. After their downfalls last year, Porsche came right back with improvements to their reliability and knocked the socks off all the other teams. Audi may have won Le Mans if it wasn’t for a hybrid system issue in one of their cars which caused it to lose its pole position. But in any case, the race was still very close at the end. A series of circumstances for both teams slowed them down in different ways. Audi just happened to suffer a little more.

Maybe next year Audi will bounce back and regain their title at Le Mans. I’m certainly hopeful!

Le Mans Photo Gallery:





Feeling a bit neglected… Not me, the blog!

Posted by under Electronics, Life, on 9 January 2015 @ 9:03pm.

It’s been a while since my last post – I’ve neglected the blog for the first time since I started it a few years ago. I’ve had plenty of things going on but most of it isn’t worth talking about. That said, I have a few projects on the go and have bought a few things since then.

For Christmas, a friend bought me a dashcam. One of the functions of it is that it powers up and starts recording on its own when you start the car. Unfortunately it only does this if your cigarette lighter socket is turned on and off with the key. Annoyingly, mine isn’t and it’s permanent live. When discussing with a friend months ago we came up with the idea of making something that would turn it on and off based on battery voltage, so he went ahead and made one. It works great, but now I’m in need of the same thing so I’m making my own variation too. I’ll probably make a full post about it when it’s done, I’m just waiting for a few parts to complete it such as a project box and an Arduino Nano chip to run it.

My second version of the PWM charge controller is going to be built at some point too. I realised how much power the USB version of the Arduino Nano was really using compared to how low I could get it, so I’m building another version to replace it with a non-USB Nano board. That way I can reduce the power consumption to 0.5mA when asleep during the night instead of the 4mA or so that it uses now. That 4mA uses a lot of power and is especially noticable now that it is winter and the day time solar is already very low. The charge it takes out isn’t being put back in again during the day and it’s power consumption during the day is higher too, so eventually it would end up killing the battery if left alone. I’ll be experimenting a bit more with the processor speed vs power consumption as well since it doesn’t need a massive amount of processing power to do what it is doing. If it’s running too quickly then it’s just wasting power.

Since my last post I have also bought myself a Quadcopter, or a drone as they are sometimes known. It’s a Blade QX2 350 and is packed full of features. It has a GPS hold function which means it’s incredibly easy to fly and almost impossible to crash into the floor at speed. This function is also known as aerial photography mode as it’s very stable and smooth in operation. I also bought a camera for it which is an SJ4000 and looks just like a GoPro albeit slightly larger. It’s comparable in quality to the cheaper GoPro too and much cheaper. It’s a Chinese knockoff style camera but it works well enough and because it was cheap I don’t mind if it gets knocked around a bit. To go with the camera I also bought a 2 axis electronic stabilised gimbal (which I proceeded to break on its first flight due to a fly-away crash) and it works incredibly well (I’ve fixed it now to the tune of £22 for new casing). It looks like this year I might be building a Quadcopter too with an FPV (first person video) setup on it. Watch this space, and check out my YouTube channel for on board videos.


Tomorrow I have a new case for my PC arriving, the Corsair Vengeance C70. I’ve needed a new case for a while and since I got an Amazon voucher for Christmas from my dearest mother (thanks Mum!) I put that towards it and paid the rest myself. It will replace the horrible case I have now which was an old desktop style server case with the disk drive bays missing. I’m attending a gaming LAN party later in the year and a new case which looks the part for that will definitely be a bonus. Next on the list will likely be a new graphics card as my HD 7770 1GB is feeling dated already, even though I have only had it a little over a year (or is it two? Time flies so quickly these days…). When you can’t even get 30FPS out of Flight Simulator X on medium graphics, you know it’s dated! I’ll probably make a post on that when and if I get it too.

This year I’ll be attending several WEC racing events again, and a 24 hour Brit Car event too which will be a welcome change. Le Mans of course is still on the cards and my photography skills will be further put to the test at all of these events. I’m getting better each time which you can probably tell if you have seen these events in the gallery. Again, watch this space for updates.



My friends new IT business – A shameless plug!

Posted by under Life, on 12 August 2014 @ 11:23pm.


My friend Dave started his new business last year, E2E Technologies Limited, which deals with getting the right IT solution for your business in and around the Wirral area of Cheshire and the general North West area of the UK. They deal with small and large businesses alike and no job is too big or small for them.

E2E Tech has over 15 years experience in the field of IT support so you can be sure your business is in the right hands.

If your business is in the Wirral area and needs some IT support, give them a call and say Andy recommended them!

Their website is

Thanks =)



24 Heures du Mans

Posted by under Life, on 23 June 2014 @ 8:51pm.

After visiting Silverstone for the WEC the last 2 years, this year I was persuaded by my friends to take a trip to Le Mans for the 24 hour race. For me this involved quite a bit of preparation since it’s the first time I had been out of the country for over 10 years. As such, my passport had expired and I had to go through the lengthy 8 weeks of trauma of applying for a new one – my first adult one as it happened. There is always the anticipation waiting for it’s arrival in case there was something wrong and they refused it. Thankfully for me nothing did go wrong and I got my renewal in plenty of time.

Going to France is quite a challenge for me mostly so because of the language barrier. I don’t speak much French at all. I can say hello, goodbye, thank you, count to 10 and that’s about it. Luckily for us, a friend of ours who went with us speaks fluent French so all was well on the translation front providing he was actually with you. He did require a bribe, though he never did stick to that (I’d best keep that quiet…!). This said, with pointers from my friends I managed to muddle through. Most of the people I had to speak to such as those in shops and restaurants actually spoke basic English too which helped when I got stuck. I’m sure they appreciate the effort we put in, but I really do need to learn more than a few words for next time.

Anyway, the trip was of course started with the car journey. I wasn’t looking forward to 12+ hours stuck in a car with only one other person for company. I don’t make a particularly good passenger at the best of times (I prefer to drive, but that wasn’t possible this trip). Sitting still for so long makes me ache, and ache I did after we got just half way down. I was fine once we got out of the car though.


We took the channel tunnel coast to coast since it was the quickest way to get there and the journey was already long enough as it was without messing about with ferries. It was my first time on the train there so it was a new experience. I have to say it was a little different to what I expected but not unusual per se. You could get out of the car if you wanted to and walk around the carriage. I was under the impression you had to stay in the car when you were on it (that shows how little I bothered to look into it before hand too). It was nice to get out of the car for 30 minutes that’s for sure. Once we reached the other side it was back in the car for another 4-5 hours before we got to the town of Le Mans.

Driving on the wrong side of the road was a new experience. The last time I was abroad I didn’t have a driving license so I never paid attention to the roads much. This time it was different as I became aware of road signs that I had never seen before (though it was easy enough to work out what they were). The road layouts were different too, and as we found out there are some roads you’re not allowed to drive on too such as dedicated bus lanes! Thankfully it was 5am and nobody saw us except one guy in a hatchback…

A few hours before we got to Le Mans I was tired. I’d been up for 24 hours almost by that point and all I wanted to do was sleep. I did drift off in the car a few times but kept being woken up by either Radio Le Mans going to an ad break or the GPS warning us constantly that there are speed cameras on the road we were on (but no specific locations, we did it legally). Once we arrived I was as awake as I would be had I been asleep all night.

We set up the tents straight away in the hope of going to sleep. That sort of didn’t work out as by the time we put them up it was around 9am, the sun was up, and the inside of the tent didn’t take long to become like an oven. You try sleeping in a tent that is 40°C inside and you’ll see why! We abandoned that idea and set up our gazebo tent to shade us from the sun. After faffing about for a while we decided to go and get some breakfast from McDonalds and do some shopping.


Ordering from McDonalds was my first use of French since we got there. My friends just told me to look for a meal on the board and then stick “menu” after it when you ask for it. Seems easy enough, and indeed it was. “Bonjour. McChicken menu s’il vous plait”. OK so that’s probably not totally correct French but it got me by. They could tell I wasn’t French and helped me out with a bit of English when needed, so all was well. The other guys had done this trip a few times and knew a bit more French than I did so they were a bit more accustomed.

I will tell you this, McDonalds in France is much nicer than in the UK. Everything feels fresher and less processed, plus when we ordered everything was made fresh. It hadn’t been waiting on the heated food racks for hours on end. While I wouldn’t have McDonalds for breakfast in the UK, it seemed almost normal in France. Plus it’s only while you’re on holiday so who gives one?!

For the beginning of the week we didn’t do an awful lot. We hung around the campsite, we went shopping, but come Wednesday the practice sessions had started so we finally had some of the car action we came to Le Mans for. Even on day 1 we were not disappointed at lack of action at all. Audi wrote off their number 1 car in a spectacular crash (I didn’t witness first hand but saw pictures online). Thankfully the driver was fine, but he didn’t race this year (someone took over). Audi had to rush to rebuild the number 1 car by Saturday, and they managed it. Audi engineers at their finest!



It was interesting to see other parts of the track, as that’s what we did on the evenings leading up to the 24 hour race on the Saturday. Some spots were brilliant for pictures, others were poor mainly due to the sheer number of people that were there trying to get a good view, or fences being between you and the track obscuring the view. I did manage to get a lot of good pictures which you can see on my gallery.

The main race on Saturday began at 3pm local time and would ride through to the same time the next day. I missed the start on the main straight and chose to watch it at Porsche curves instead. This was mainly because I was burning so much from the extreme sun we had all week. Even with SPF 50 sun cream it was still making it through. I did get a lovely tan off it by the end of the week along with some burning where I hadn’t applied as much sun cream than I did elsewhere. Watching from Porsche curves meant I could go back to the tent when I was getting too hot or I was burning again, since we were camping on the campsite there.

By the time the evening came we went to another part of the track for a couple of hours to enjoy the sunset views. I did get some pictures there but my entry level Nikon D3100 doesn’t have very good low light capabilities unless you go to silly high ISO levels. By doing that you get far too much noise in the image making for a terrible photo. The pictures I did take on a lower ISO didn’t come out well at all even with exposure compensation. Next year perhaps I’ll try a higher ISO anyway and see what happens if I have the same camera still.

When we got back to camp we went to bed. We had to endure the cars going past the whole night. While some people find it therapeutic, I don’t! I had some ear plugs and my radio ear defenders on to drown the noise out. It didn’t block it out completely but it blocked it enough to get some sleep. I probably managed about 4-5 hours sleep in total that night which is more than I thought I would get being a light sleeper and all. By the time it was 8am the sun was heating the tent up to an uncomfortable level and I had no choice but to get up.

Over breakfast we discussed what happened in the race overnight. As it turned out all of the LMP1 class cars had their own share of problems. Porsche were out with failures on both cars, Toyota suffered a complete failure of the electrics in one car and another was still behind after a crash earlier in the race, and Rebellion had minor issues throughout. Audi had both their remaining cars suffer turbo failures, but these were replaced and both cars were leading the field by morning. Needless to say it was a tense overnight race.

For the finish we went to the main straight after lunch. The sun was blaring again so I used an umbrella as a shade much to the annoyance of some people sat around me. Thankfully when my wallet decided to drop out of my pocket the guy behind me kindly pointed it out to me, so thank you strange man! It had all my money and debit card in it, so that could have ended up being quite bad. I think next year I’ll split it up and leave some hidden elsewhere or something as that could have been a disaster. I wouldn’t have been without money since I have friends to help out, but it would have been a horrible loss.

Finally 3pm came, and after a lengthy race, Audi took the two leading positions followed gracefully by Toyota then Rebellion. Porsche even managed to get a car out for the last lap too. Once the cars were in the pits everyone was allowed to pile onto the track for the closing ceremony. This is a lot different from Silverstone where they wouldn’t dream of letting you on the track at any point. Once that was over though we had a nice walk along the track back to the camp site. On the way we got to see some of the damage the Audi caused to the track wall when it crashed earlier in the week. There wasn’t much left except some large black marks but you could tell from those that it hit hard.


The end of the race marked the end of the holiday in a sense. When we got back to the campsite everyone was packing up and leaving. There were only a couple of people staying the extra night. Going home the same day as the end of the race would have been far too tiring so we opted to stay overnight. We did pack most of the stuff that night to save time in the morning. To celebrate the end of another Le Mans the guys all said it was customary to have a fire, so that’s what we did. Anything that could burn that was going in the bin got burned! Sadly we quickly got told off by the ACO (the campsite owners) and they made us put it out. Oh well!


The journey home the next day definitely felt quicker than on the way down. Perhaps it’s because we didn’t spend the entire day awake before we left! When we got to Calais we went to spend the last of our Euros in the supermarket and stocked up on cheap wine, sweets and chocolate. Then in the channel tunnel we went into duty free and spent whatever else we had left.

All in all, I enjoyed the holiday a lot more than I thought I would. I’m still new to the sport of WEC but it’s growing on me every time I go to a race or watch one online. I definitely think I’ll be going next year! I’ll also be going to Silverstone again no doubt, and we were perhaps planning to do Spa as well. Time will tell as two trips abroad in a year will be expensive.






Fiber broadband woes

Posted by under Life, Technology, on 6 February 2014 @ 11:02pm.

Up until about 2 weeks ago I was enjoying a lightening quick 80Mbps down and 20Mbps up from my BT Infinity 2 connection, but one day this all changed and I began to have problems. I noticed I was getting frequent disconnections which would cause my home server to stop pinging. Initially I consulted the BT forums to be told it was an issue with the BT Home Hub 5 firmware, however now I am not so sure.

About 2 weeks ago I was getting sick of the pings stopping, even though my connection felt relatively stable. I decided it was time to investigate further to see if it was a problem with my connection or the Home Hub. I started by running a piece of software called RouterStatsHub which allows you to graph your connection stats for easy troubleshooting. Immediately I noticed I had a drop in speed from my usual stable 80Mbps down to 65Mbps. My maximum line speed (the speed the line is capable of, not what you’re synced at) had also dropped from about 100Mbps to 80Mbps. This suggested a fault on the line somewhere.

I continued to investigate and I discovered that when I picked up the phone, or someone rang in, my noise ratios would plummet. This is consistent with a bad line too as it should stay perfectly stable regardless of whether the phone is in use or not. At this point I realised it was time to get a BT engineer to come and look at the problem. I called technical support and got a mid-week PM appointment.

I took a half day off work for the appointment. The slot was 1pm to 6pm, for which I was in for the whole time. 6pm came around and nobody had showed up! I was annoyed beyond belief so I called BT to find out why. Their online chat rep told me it was because they called to confirm but there was no answer, so the appointment was cancelled (!!!). They then called me and put me through to level 2 support who could arrange a new appointment. I asked them the same question and was told a different answer. They told me that nobody turned up because there were no resources available, IE they were completely over-worked and nobody was assigned. They didn’t think it was a good idea to bother telling me this! I asked what sort of compensation they would give for their missed appointment and was told £10 is all they will give… I had no choice but to accept it but I also asked about discounts but was told they can’t apply any until the fault is fixed. I have to call back to sort those out.

Engineer day: Terrible line noise and lots of
disconnections and shows when the
engineer started work

We finally got around to arranging a new appointment and I asked for a weekend slot. They told me they don’t work weekends. At this point I had already looked online and a friend also did and found that they did in fact do weekend appointments, so I pushed the issue. The rep said she would check again, and what do you know, there was a weekend slot available, two in fact! I could have an AM or PM appointment. Since I would be in all day I took the AM slot so the tech could have all day to work on my issue.

Saturday came around and he turned up at about 10.30am and got to work. He ran lots of diagnostics and listened to what I’d done to test the line. He spent all day trying to locate the problem but all he found was errors on the line. He was here until 5pm when he admitted defeat for the day and was going home. Unfortunately during his tests he had also switched parts of the line but couldn’t get it to sync again. This meant I was going to be without a connection until at least Monday. I was annoyed but I understood. I was thankfully able to utilise a neighbours BT FON connection, although this wasn’t particularly reliable due to the signal strength being low.

Line noise after the fix, including
DLM decreasing the noise margin (lower is better)

Monday came around and the technician worked on the line again from about 2pm. About 3.30pm he called me to say I was temporarily back online but on 40Mbps instead. This was due to a fault in the green cab in the road which meant that some of the hardware needed to be swapped out. This wasn’t going to happen for a day or two though but at least I had a connection again.

Come Wednesday I was back on 80Mbps again but my sync is still only 67Mbps. This is due to DLM (dynamic line management) keeping my speed down until it’s satisfied my line is stable. This could take about 7-10 days to return to it’s full speed, which I’m now waiting for. However the fault is now fully fixed. I can pick the phone up and experience no drops at all in noise margin and my maximum line speed is above 90Mbps again.

I can’t say I’m 100% happy with BT’s response to my problem due to the missed appointment and no communication about it, but the technician I had did a fantastic job. He was polite, kept me informed and most importantly he kept to his word. From that perspective I couldn’t have asked for better support.



Fiber broadband is finally here!

Posted by under Life, Servers, Technology, on 4 December 2013 @ 11:45pm.

For many the fiber broadband revolution started many years ago. Those people that got virgin media for example were given quick speeds from an early age. Those of us stuck on ADSL however weren’t so fortunate. The line length was always a factor and prevented most people getting a fast connection. You would have to be no more than 500m away from the exchange to get anything over 15Mbps. Now that fiber is here that’s a thing of the past.

The new fiber cabs are no more than 200m away from most properties. And because it uses VDSL technology instead of ADSL you also get a bump in speed from that as well. It’s currently capable of 300Mbps with trials of higher in progress. Its something we should have got many years ago.

Anyway the point of this blog is that its finally arrived for me! I’ve been checking weekly for almost 2 years waiting to see the long awaited ‘available now’ message and this week it finally happened.

I initially signed up online and was given a date of early January. I was surprised by this as other people got theirs much faster. I decided I’d be OK with it as I understood they were quite busy. But after speaking to a friend who ordered at the same time as me he got his for next week! I asked how and its because he had phoned up and not done it online. I decided to try my luck phone up to see if I could get an earlier date. Thankfully they could! I was expecting a 2 week wait but they said they could do it next Monday! Brilliant!

I was expecting 65Mbps based on BT’s estimates which isn’t too shabby at all. But when I signed up the email I got said 79.9Mbps. I thought it might have been an error but checking their estimate page again it had been changed! So with any luck I’ll get the maximum that the up to 80Mbps package offers (the fastest package you can buy right now).

I’m just waiting for the BT home hub to come in the post in the next few days and then I’m all set. The engineer is scheduled for Monday to get it swapped and all working. Wish me luck! I’ll probably make another post with my speed test results soon enough!



When other peoples problems become my problem

Posted by under Life, on 30 October 2013 @ 9:39pm.

The past couple of days have been pretty much normal except for one thing. Twice in two days other peoples problems have been translated into something that became my problem. I’ll admit straight away it was me that made it my own problem, however let me explain why as you can probably relate.

Take scenario one. I was aware of a situation where someone walked out in work. Later it was brought up in conversation and suddenly the person snapped at me like I had said something offensive. At this point all I knew was I managed to piss the person off and I got lashed back at for it. I don’t deliberately piss people off of course, sometimes it just happens. If I was pushing a point I’d understand getting snapped at, but I wasn’t. It was the first time I had mentioned it and it happened completely without warning. Not only did it take my by surprise but it was embarrassing too. Thankfully for me the lash back was said quietly and without a fuss but there were a few people who heard it. Some of them later agreed it was out of order but as it didn’t involve them there was nothing they could do.

The second scenario was in reply to something I said to a colleague over Facebook as a reply to a status they posted. Someone thought it appropriate to tell me that my reply had a lot of things wrong with it (in their opinion of course) and that they didn’t know where to start. I politely asked them to tell me privately what the problems were. I was confronted with a lecture on what I should and shouldn’t have said to this person given the situation. Now I don’t mind being given advice but being plain and simply told what I did was wrong and being snotty about it is just insulting. The way I came across may not have been the best but it certainly wasn’t intended to insult the person I was talking to, and apparently telling the truth no matter how much it hurts or how inappropriate it might be is completely wrong in the eyes of the person I got the lecture from.

I took both of these personally and eventually decided enough is enough. I have now removed nearly all of the people I work with from Facebook except for those I actually consider a friend and not just a colleague. There is a fine line between work and home and it got well and truly crossed in the last few days. Even though only one was an actual confrontation I don’t see any reason to keep these sorts of relationships outside of the workplace. In future though, it would be a good idea for those who have personal issues to keep them out of the workplace too. But that’s just my opinion of course.

As a final note to anyone who works with me, I don’t hate you and I don’t want to hate you, but maybe you could keep your own issues to yourself and perhaps be a bit more tactful on how you approach problems you have with me or something I’ve done.



2 years blogging

Posted by under Life, on 26 September 2013 @ 10:22pm.

It’s come to my attention that next month (just a few days away) will mark my 2nd year blogging regularly. I’ve surprised myself by managing to keep it up, and I hope to continue to do so. You might have noticed I only blog once a month or so. It’s not that I don’t want to blog more, it’s just that the topics to blog about don’t seem to come up! So if you find my blogs interesting, do stick around, maybe comment if you find it interesting. The RSS feed is the best way for you to keep track of new posts. You can access it with the orange icon in the top left.



Camping 2013 and Solar Power

Posted by under Electronics, Life, on 4 August 2013 @ 11:27pm.

I got back from camping yesterday, and what a week it’s been. We went back to Shell Island this year as we really enjoyed it last year. Unfortunately we didn’t get to go on the beach much last year as the weather was awful compared to this trip. There was still wind and rain but in between we got serious amounts of sun so we were able to get to the beach a fair bit this year! Some days it was so hot that on one of them I managed to get sun burned in just a couple of hours even with SPF30 cream on! The rain we got was a cracking amount too… If I were to guess it looked like a full days worth of rain fell in 20 minutes. It went from totally bone dry to a sodden puddle laden field in just 20 minutes. I have never witnessed rain that heavy before.


The rain was so bad that 2 of us had to move our tents because a few inches of water had settled underneath! My tent is a few years old now so it’s not as waterproof as it once was. That showed during this rain because it leaked from every possible place it could. Even after moving it the rain was still coming through on light showers so I had to put a spare tarpaulin over the main sleeping area to keep it dry. Thankfully the underside wasn’t leaking as much. I’m still going to get myself a new tent though as it is about time it was replaced.

Getting onto the island was fun this year too. When I arrived (on my own this time but meeting up with others, many of us arrived at different times this year), I was stopped in my tracks at the last 500 yards by the tide. For those who don’t know, the island is not an island as such but it is tidal. Some days the tide covers the road by about 1-2ft making it dangerous to cross by car. I knew it was going to be covered but wasn’t sure how much. Anyway I waited in line for about 45 minutes before I was able to get across. I didn’t want to go through the salty water, but everyone else was doing it and I would have held up the line if I didn’t move along! Thankfully it wasn’t a lot and the excessive rain we had some days cleaned off most if not all of the salt.


As repeated every year, my power supply box was once again a center of attention and use by everybody on the trip. One of the guys met a friend on the site and even showed it to him, and he was also impressed. This year not only were phones were charged and Nintendo DS’s charged, even some portable speakers which give much better sound quality than a phone needed a charge too. This year however was different in one more way. Unlike previous years, this time I took along a small solar panel. The last time I did this was in 2006 when I took my jump start pack, CCFL and 2×1.5w solar panels. The panel I took this year was a small 10w panel I got off ebay for £20. 10w doesn’t sound like much (and in reality it’s not) but it was enough to prevent the battery going too low.

Last year the power box was so dead that the LED voltmeter didn’t even register a single light. This year, we returned home with 60-70% showing on the box and that was even with much more use of the power inverter compared to other years. I’d call that a big success. I don’t know how much power was generated or used but clearly it was quite a lot over the course of the week. Next year I will have a new setup for the box which will incorporate a digital meter run off of an Arduino along with current sensors (hopefully) which will be able to tell me how much power I have generated and how much I have used. I do need to do some more testing and experimenting with these however. The blog will be kept up to date on developments with this.

Next year I hope to have a 20w panel, a smaller battery (to save weight), the new circuit based on the Arduino, more powerful USB sockets and more of them in general, an integrated and hard-wired inverter with a socket on the front and perhaps more. It’s a big project but it’s keeping my basic electronics hobby happy.

Anyway, until next time…



Searching for a new car is difficult

Posted by under Life, on 23 May 2013 @ 11:58pm.

Bear with me, this is going to be a wordy post…

After my whole issue with the Passat over the last 14 months, enough was enough and it was time to start looking for something else. There is lots to think about when looking for a new car, and one of the biggest is your budget. Part of the problem for me is that the Passat isn’t paid off yet, I still have over £1200 to pay on it. That said, I could pay it off any time, but of course that then immediately leaves me with that amount less in my bank account.

Remaining payments aside, I had to work out how much I could reasonably spend without looking into a new finance deal. This figure came out pretty small. After paying off the Passat. which I have to do before I can sell/part exchange it, I would be left with about £1000 to spend on a car, plus the (likely) £2000 the Passat is worth, so call it £3000. To get something decent for that would be a struggle.

Originally I was looking at a Ford Focus 1.6TDCi, 2010. It was £8000 or so. It’s a nice car, but after a test drive I wasn’t so sure if I liked the engine as it seemed a bit under powered. For that reason I hesitated and needed to put more thought into it. A few days later I suddenly thought to myself, “why am I thinking of spending so much money on a car?”. It’s a good question. Is it really worth spending that much on a car? I decided it probably wasn’t so that idea got scrapped pretty quickly.

So what now? I set about looking at what I could get reasonably. The first car to spring to mind was something I had owned before, a Peugeot 306. I knew them well, I knew they were reliable and not particularly uncomfortable (I’ll get back to this bit). I had a look on Auto Trader and there were a few to look at. I made some phone calls the next day and managed to arrange to go and look at one.

It was a 2001 306 HDi, the electronic version of the engine. Surely a big mistake but when I got there it wasn’t an opportunity I could dismiss. It was £900, a bargain really considering its condition. I snapped it up on the spot and the next day I picked it up. It needed a little TLC in the form of one new tyre and the injector lines needed tightening, but besides that it was in good shape. I couldn’t get those fixed until the weekend so I kept driving the Passat.

It took a few days to get the injectors right and in that time I drove it a fair number of miles. Every time I drove it I just kept thinking “I don’t like this”. It took me a while to figure out what it was, but I realised that I missed the luxury of the Passat. In comparison the Passat is a dream to drive. It’s smooth, comfortable, quiet, doesn’t rattle or squeak, etc (even if it is unreliable). I mentioned it to my friends and one replied saying it’s because I had driven a cruising car and I would find it very hard to go back. He was dead right. I just couldn’t see myself going back to a smaller more uncomfortable car, even though I’d owned the same car twice before.

What have I done with the 306 then? Nothing. It’s fixed, but it’s just sat outside the house not getting used, so I’ve offered it to my Mum to drive while I wait for the V5 document to arrive so I can sell it, but that’s a few weeks away. It’s not a big loss though. I’ve spent £35 on it since I got it on a tyre and fuel. Fixing the injectors was free besides the time. I will easily be able to make my money back as they are still fairly popular cars if the guy I bought it off is anything to go by. He said the phone never stopped ringing for viewings when he was trying to sell it.

So this outlines how hard it is to find a car. No wait, it’s easy to find a car, but it’s not easy to settle on one. Some people won’t care about some of the things I have as at the end of the day, it drives – it gets you from A to B, and hopefully back to A when you’re done. But I couldn’t get used to it. I still don’t know if it’s just the comfort I missed or if it was something else as well. All I know is that it’s not the right replacement to the Passat and I need to keep looking.

What do I get? That’s the big one playing on my mind, simply because every car has it’s own set of faults. There isn’t a single car in existence that doesn’t have problems and that makes it a difficult choice. I decided 6+ months ago I would never touch another VW, or anything by the VAG group (VW, Audi, Skoda) ever again – first impressions and all (VW didn’t do much to help me either). I’ve thought about Ford considering lots of people in the family have owned Fords without a problem. I’ve also thought Peugeot, but newer than the 306. One friend keeps trying to get me to go Volvo, but again I just don’t know. At the end of the day I think it’s going to be a “choose something you like, look up it’s faults and deal with it” situation. Time will tell, but for now I am keeping the Passat but I don’t know how long for.



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