Electric cars

Last week we welcomed our newest (and by quite some margin, youngest) car – a 2015 Nissan Leaf with the optional 6.6kw charger, it sadly means saying goodbye to our trusty workhorse shed Saab 9-5 Aero. I think the Saab has been in my ownership for the longest period of any car (almost six years), its comfortable, reliable enough and has the space, pace and grace to almost be a Jaguar.

But if there is one limitation of my Scandinavian shed, it is that the fuel it drinks is often quite a lot. Whilst I’ve eeked out 40mpg on a very conservative motorway jaunt in the past (and lots of motorway trips was the cause for the purchase), I find myself doing very short runs over the last two years, specifically to day care and back as I now work from home. This type of driving is not the Saab’s forte, and a good run around town sees the MPG crash down to below twenty and recently its started me thinking about what I use the car for.

In short, not much and certainly not to go all that far – perhaps I could find an electric car?

I had discounted the idea as after the wedding this year, I am not flush with cash but then I happened upon a very interesting deal for a Gen 1 Nissan Leaf (£200 down, £99 a month *36, 3 years servicing, battery owned, warranty etc), and I started to some calculations and that figure was either equal or less than my monthly fuel cost for the Saab, especially if you start to throw in service costs etc.

And so I chatted things over with the wife and pinged the dealer in question, over the last few weeks there has been some back and forth involving the local dealership when they gave me a counter offer a gen 2 car for £159 pm. The gen 2 has a better heating system, a crucial black interior (kids) and bigger boot that was more buggy friendly than the gen 1. This was over a 4 year period so not what we were looking for, fortunately the other dealer matched the deal over a 3 year term.

So the deal would be £1k deposit, £159 pm, 3 years servicing, 2 years warranty, battery warranty till 2020 and free home charger.
We’ve never undertaken a lease vehicle before, preferring the comfort of owning a car – but with the 2nd hand prices of EVs all over the shop, the risk is lower via PCP/hand back.

And at that price, we thought it was certainly worth a punt.

Daddy vs The Poopocalypse

Let it be said that on this day, on this day one brave soul answered the unexpected call of destiny.

Our hero, armed with just wipes and determination did battle with the insidious beast that was the 6 day poo. Truly he faced a sticky and implacable foe that had dark machinations to engulf the house alongside his young daughters clothes.

Our hero in-spite of the poopocalypse that confronted him, was unfazed .With a steely glint in his eye looked upon his nemesis and let fly his cry of battle “Oh my god that’s disgusting”.

Our hero wiped left and right, he harried the beast to the far corners of the change mat. Sensing that the beast was greatly weakened, our hero reached for the final next wipe….Only to find that his pack was empty! He was too far from his castle to hope for resupply and looked in horror as reinforcements began to appear.

Fear gripped our hero, fear the likes that would break weaker men, our hero grabbed his only daughter and ran – the beast gave chase.

This was a dangerous course, with no wipes or towel our hero would be defenceless if caught. But let it be said our hero is nothing if not crafty and he just appeared to run away. The beast harried them every step of the way but our hero finally reached his destination – the bathroom basin, where he could finally vanquish the beast. The gods, sensing that our hero was greatly weakened from his journey sent him two gifts, a shield of sponge and net of flannel

Our hero prepared for battle atop the highest point of the basin, tucking his baby daughter safely behind him.

The beast, undaunted by his unfamiliar surrounding, entered the arena of the final battle. Seeing the bedraggled state of our hero it began to laugh and belch clouds of noxious fumes.

Rain began to fall, it was if the gods themselves cried at the sight of such horror.

Our hero flung himself at the beast.

And so began a clash that shook the heavens, armed with flannel and sponge the hero lunged, parried and dabbed with all his strength. The beast was as canny as ever and managed to avoid many of our heroes mightiest blows and hide in expected places. But it was far from its lair in the deepest corners of the changemat and was not used to such wet conditions.

And so as the battle wore on, the beast gradually got weaker and more of it was washed away. Our hero knew that his foe was far from home and had little hope of reinforcement and pressed on. After many days the beast was reduced to a final smudge and as the sun broke through the clouds, with a mighty roar our hero gave the coup de grace and vanquished the horror of Honiton Road.

At the sight of hero and his daughter, the village cheered and laid out a mighty feast, our hero had worked up a might feast and wolfed down many a plate. After the feast he dressed his young daughter in fine new clothes and left her to play with her mother.

As night fell, our hero walked to the edge of the village and looked upon the distant darkening changemat lands and knew that he would meet his nemesis again.

Our hero gripped his sponge and flannel and smiled.

We need new adjectives

Once again a range of flagships will soon take to the stage and try to amaze us with their latest technological feat.

Save yourself some time.

Phone/Phablet X will probably be:

  • Thinner/ fatter/no change
  • Lighter/heavier/no change
  • Bigger/smaller/no change
  • More powerful/less powerful/no change

Those four traits can be applied to pretty much every aspect of these upcoming devices, better camera, faster processors, bigger screens, thinner screens. ‘All this power and its weighs just 10g more than last years version!’

Same shit, different day.

Smartphones like the iPhone 5C/S, Galaxy Note 3 and more will soon be unveiled on stage to a veritable cacophony of adjectives. We’ll be told by various people that these improved devices are ‘amazing’,  they will ‘astound’ (rather than confound), that this new wondrous device is ‘revolutionary’.

The problem is, the previous generation were announced with the very same language.

As it stands smartphones are getting less interesting, that’s not a slight on the work involved its just a fact of a mature market that needs to be disrupted.

Hacked.io & Firefox OS

I’m heading along to Hacked.io tomorrow, its the first hackathon I’ve attended in a personal capacity for a long time – its feels great to be an attendee for a change! Anyhow, FirefoxOS is naturally the talk of the town (well almost) and I’m planning to escape fatherhood duties for a day and finally get cracking on some Firefox OS development!

I’ve haven’t done all that much Front end dev recently, so its going to be a good little experiment🙂

So, why not join the fun?

Francisco Jordano and Ruth John will be hosting a two hour work shop on Firefox OS at Hacked starting at 14:15 and its a great opportunity to get started with the platform All  you need to get started is Firefox, your chosen IDE and the Firefox OS simulator add on!

If you simply can’t wait, check out Robert Nyman’s handy ToDo list tutorial and you’ll be well on your way to rocking Firefox OS

Insert Coin to continue: games go full circle

retro-consolesGames have been a hobby of mine for as long as I can remember, my earliest memory is playing Mario Bros on the NES on a friends rear projection screen. Not only were the graphics amazing, the screen was nothing short of massive. I held the stubby controller with a death grip and for my shame got into a fight with my brother when it was his turn – ah youth.

Since then I’ve owned a plethora including: NES, Master System, SNES, Megadrive, Mega CD, 32X, Multimega, 3DO, Amiga 500+, Sega Saturn (PAL), Sega Saturn (JPN that played video CDs), Dreamcast (JPN), Dreamcast (PAL), Gamecube (PAL), Gamecube (JPN/NTSC), PS2, Xbox (NTSC) Xbox (PAL), Xbox 360 (x3 due to RROD), Gameboy, Gameboy Pocket, Atari Lynx, Gameboy Advance, DS, 3DS and a brief flirtation with a Barcode battler.

And although my collection is a lot smaller these days and I don’t play nearly as much as I used to, I still love it. I am also fortunate to live near Southend seafront, which has ‘The Golden Mile’ a strip of arcades. Now in the heydays of the late 80s and early 90s, the arcades were the place to be. Cutting edge hardware and cabinet designs drew players from all around, I have many fond memories of playing hydraulically assisted  games like Afterburner 2  and Chase HQ.

Big screens, big graphics and big noise, to a youngster this was Mecca.

It was even reasonably priced to keep people coming back, 10/20/50p a go depending on the game, but this was not to last.

The rise of the consoles

The Arcade as a concept was on borrowed time, its main appeal was that it offered a something you simply could not get a home. Like any new technology, it emerged on the market and was so far ahead that people had no choice but to come to the arcade to get  access to it. Profits soared. However consoles soon began to catch up and games such as StarFox on the SNES offered a glimpse at what was to come, 3D graphics, once the domain of the arcade, were coming into the home.

With the advent on the PSX (soon to become the Playstation) and the Saturn, things began to change these consoles offered serious graphical power in compact environment. The Saturn handled competent Model 1 arcade conversions, the board that powered such classics as Virtua Racer and Virtual Fighter.  Not content with hosting home conversions of arcade boards, System 11 and ST-V offered console hardware as an arcade board. Offering arcade developers a juicy extra revenue stream once their game had run its course in the arcade.

But the consumer began to ask a question, why go to an Arcade when I can play a similar game at home. More importantly why go to the arcade and spend a lot of money each time, when I can buy the game and use it at home forever?

The arcade had become a commoditised technology, consoles had caught up to such a degree that the consumer saw little benefit to arcade games. So arcade manufacturers began to try anything to get consumers attention – Dual Cabs, Quad Cabs, Specialised controllers (basic pistols in Lethal Enforcers to shotguns in House of the Dead and MP5’s in Virtual Cop 3). 18 Wheeler by Sega offered consumers a Deluxe cab decked out as an American haulage truck, replete with massive steering wheel.  To cover costs, prices spiked to £1, £2 even as much as £5 for super deluxe cabs, forcing consumers to pay inordinate amounts for a short term hit.  Unsurprisingly, this approach did not succeed as it failed to address the underlying issue. Although the “tinsel” was better, the gaming experience was much the same as the cheaper, more convenient and cheaper consoles.

Consumers stayed away and one by one the arcade’s died, to be replaced with gaudy gambling machines surrounded by cabs that quickly fell into disrepair.

Consoles rule the world

In the mid 90s, as the arcades around the world crumbled; we entered what the golden age of gaming with that of the Playstation/Saturn. The reason for this simple, stepping from a SNES or Megadrive to CD based polygon based graphics, with CD quality sound and FMV felt like you had the arcade right at home. Playing arcade conversions of games Ridge Race and Sega Rally simply was not possible until that generation. The world had opened up for gamers, it was an amazing time for gaming as each new release sought to out do the last. Consumers bought them in droves, and continued to do so throughout each subsequent generation, until now.

Consoles now face the same problem that the arcades did so long ago, a new challenger has arrived to disrupt the status quo.

A new challenger appears….Smartphones

In the late 90s and early 00s the mobile phone offered little that compete with the power of home consoles (Nokias N-Gage gaming phone gets an honourable mention). Snake or breakout could hardly hope to best the likes of Metal Gear Solid or Panzer Dragoon Saga. However the clock was ticking and by late 2009 we started to see games explode on mobile, some offering “close to console” graphics. Phones and tablets now had the power to offer quick fix gaming anytime, anywhere. You were no longer required to stay in one place to get your fix and it was also a lot cheaper (sound familiar?).  For the casual gamer, there is little need to invest in a home Console, when they have everything they need in the palm of their hand.


We are yet to see the long term ramifications of this, but looking at the dismal sales of the Wii U they must worry not just Nintendo but Microsoft and Sony as well.  If you look at the Wii U its main selling point is a tablet controller that seems to say “Hey you like tablets? Don’t leave, we got tablets!”, it stinks of a company trying to shoe horn in a competitors feature. It feels like a Hail Mary. Microsoft and Sony are also making ‘innovative controllers’ a big part of their next gen systems with Kinect 2.0 and Move both to be included in the box. Yet for all its initial charm ‘waggle’ has never really held my interest and I feel that due to the amount of shovelware for both the Wii and Kinect plaforms the consumer is also burnt on the concept.

A perfect storm?

With the Xbox 360 generation of consoles one of the main selling points was HD gaming,  like the switch from 2d to 3D there was a clear easy to digest benefit to switching. However with this new generation there is not that clear, killer feature – sure the games will look prettier but I am still amazed at what they are pulling out of the current 360 (have you seen Halo 4? That is one damn good looking game!). Rumoured specifications, the consoles themselves are not as powerful as expected compared previous generations you would normally expect a power leap of 10-15 . Compare Ps1>2>3 or  SNES > N64 > Gamecube, when comparing them side by side it was instantly obvious which was the more powerful console.  So to review, a weaker than expected console, comes to market against a faster, cheaper competitor platform that is already in the hands of millions of consumers and has an consumer upgrade cycle of  18-24 months.

This in itself would present a challenging situation, but not insurmountable but add in the fact of global recession and the situation looks bleak. If consumers finances are under pressure already, spending upwards of £399 on a new console and games is unlikely when the consumer has a decent gaming device for ‘free’ on their phone.

The consumer wins? Not so fast

Free gaming platform, no need to buy another box and a wealth of games to play, this a good thing right? Yes and no. We are at a dangerous transition point and it runs the risk of doing serious damage to games (both mobile and console)

I am talking about Free to play and In App Purchases.

Free to play games offer a low barrier to entry but then ask the player to purchase in game items to progress, in app purchases are the method of acquiring said items. All fine in theory with the occasional game but it now feels that every game (indeed free or paid) is moving to this new model of  ‘buy now, pay later’. Boy do they pay!

Real Racing 3 is a beautiful game, almost console quality and its free to play. However if you are expecting to get through this game without reaching into your pocket you will be sadly disappointed. 148Apps has looked into how much money it would cost your to complete Real Racing 3:

To earn enough money to buy every car in Real Racing 3, what would it take? Our numbers show that it would take over 472 hours to earn enough money to buy all of the cars in the game. Or to purchase all of the cars with real money via in-app purchase, it would cost $503.22 at the current best rate.

To earn all of the cars in the game rather that buy them with real money, a player would need to finish 6,801 races with an average (per our RR3 stats) of 4:10 per race earning R$3,700 per race. That would equal 472 hours to earn the R$25,163,573 it would cost in the in-game currency to buy all 46 cars. That does not include the cost for repairs, maintenance, or upgrades which can be rather expensive.

If a player wanted to take the shortcut and buy all of the cars in the game with real money, that would cost $503.22 in in-app purchases. That’s assuming the current best rate of R$50,005 per US$1 when buying R$5,000,000 at a time.

Let’s compare the cost for Real Racing 3 to modern day console games, what could be purchased for that $503.22. For one example, a player could get a 4GB XBox 360, Forza Horizon (one of the newest racing sims on the 360), all of it’s DLC including over 127 cars, and a 22″ Vizio flatscreen LED TV. And still have $17.22 left over.

$503.22, granted most players will never pay that but the fact that its even possible worries me and the F2P model is already having negative consequences. Elmo from Joypod mentioned on this weeks podcast that when playing a free to play game he is instantly suspicious of when and where the game will tell him “no that’s enough gaming for you!” and ask you to pay up. F2P gaming is beginning to make the player suspicious about where they will get screwed, no matter how well its handled a pay wall (you may call it something else, but lets not kid ourselves) is a game breaking experience and that is a universally a bad idea. I’m sure that games companies will shout “but people don’t want to buy games anymore! What can we do?” well who’s fault is that? By flooding the market with free games consumers are now conditioned to think that games are a commodity or to use another word – worthless.

This is a hell of their own making.

In app purchases may offer a way out to beleaguered developers keen to generate revenue in difficult times. If that’s the case I have a question for you: when a gamer spends time thinking about when or where they will have to pay up instead of enjoying your creation, does that create a relationship based on trust? I think that, in desperation games developers are trying to make money at all costs, even if it burns the user because they have no where else to go.

Want to play one more time? Insert coin to continue – after all it worked for arcades right?

I think people are missing the point on how to use Surface

As you probably know, the Surface RT and Pro have integrated kick stands that prop the tablet at a 26 degree angle, this has proved to be a controversial addition. The case made out in many reviews is that the kick stand is fine and dandy when you are using it on a table but makes the Surface impossible to use on your lap.

Now, call me crazy but I like to make fair comparisons, and so in the interest of fairness I tried using my HP Touchpad without a case in the same circumstances:

  • Seated: worked fine, slides about a tad
  • Knees up:  worked fine

Amazing insight right? Now I tried doing those again with but this time using a bluetooth keyboard and it was a major PITA. This should not shock you, just because its possible to use a bluetooth or external keyboard on your knees, does not mean you should. Just as you might be able to use the Surface Kickstand and touch cover on your knees (or not as the case may be), doesn’t make it a good idea.

In fact, I would argue that most people would know this, so why is it being used to bash the Surface?

Surface at its core is a convergence device – full power pc when you need it, tablet when you don’t, so it begs the question – why use it like a laptop all the time?  It seems to me that people are stuck in the mindset that you can only use Surface with the touch cover and kickstand, but Windows Store apps can be used with the on screen keyboard. Sure if you want to use desktop apps on the go, then you will most likely need to use the touch cover but think about the use case for a second: what are you doing and do you really need to use the desktop app?

I would argue in most cases that you could use Windows Store apps for the majority of mobile situations, unless you need to spend serious time typing.

My typical usage of a laptop covers these sorts of apps:

  • Evernote
  • Mail
  • Chrome
  • Keynote/Pages
  • Tweetdeck
  • Some form of IDE (Visual Studio etc)

Now, apart from IDE’s everything else is covered by Windows Store apps and if I was on the train, tube or in a cab I would default to metro apps first. If want to spend time writing long form entries or messing around with APIs I would do it somewhere more comfortable i.e. a table and chair. Everyone makes a like for like comparison with the iPad but they seem to be forgetting that typing on a naked iPad is fine for around the house, but on the go it can slip and sometimes fall off. Which is why 99% of people have invested in some form of smart cover as it stops the iPad slipping around and gives you angled typing position.

Which, funnily enough are starting to become available for the Surface:

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It’s “worth to have apparently” but offers a decent solution to on the go usage i.e. RT Apps and on screen keyboard on the move and then keyboard goodness when you have a table.

Or to put it another way, exactly how you would use an iPad with a bluetooth keyboard.

Storage Wars: How much space do Windows 8 default Apps use?

This week Microsoft confirmed that the Surface Pro would have just 23GB free space on the 64GB model and 83GB on the 128GB variant.

Even if you factor in the ability to use external storage and memory cards, having 41GB of storage taken up by the operating system, recovery and default applications is poor. Windows 8 comes preinstalled with a range of default applications and you can view the size of them in metro settings but to save time I’ve collated a list of apps and their size in MB:

Bing Weather – 62.7
Bing Travel – 372
Bing Sports – 90.6
Bing News – 68.9
Bing Maps – 18.4
Bing Finance – 104
Bing – 10mb
Mail, People, Calendar, Messenger – 247
Reader -12.3
Sky Drive – 14.7
Zune Music – 40.04
Xbox Live games – 73.6
Xbox Companion – 61.6
Photos – 19.3

For a total of 1195.44mb (or 1.16GB)

Apps stay around longer than you want

If you navigate to the Windows Apps folder, which contains the metro apps (Its hidden by default and you will need to add your user to the admin group to view its contents) it appears that by default Windows 8 seems to retain all versions of the application. This means that for each update, the previous version of the app is kept, for example I have four versions of Zune Music, three versions of the Music, it’s not clear if they will ever get deleted or if the user has to do something to make that happen. Either way they all take up space unnecessarily and could easily be avoided when the app updates.

1.16GB is not exactly a lot of space, 5GB is taken up by recovery partition, the question is what else is taking up the remaining 34.84GB  and more importantly,  is there a way to remove it?