Beheaded

Having succumbed to the Christmas lurgy that traditionally appears this time of year, neither of us are in an acceptable state to celebrate the new year with friends (definitely not wanting to give this particular bug to friends, it would not be good way to start a year), we are partaking in a Game of thrones marathon. The perhaps ‘soon to be no more’ HMV were offering the 7 Disk Blue-ray box set in their sale and it proved to be irresistible (as it means not having paid for Sky for 7 years, it’s a bargain).

Given the opening scenes of Game of Thrones one of my Christmas presents seemed a particularly appropriate accompaniment to this new year’s eve activity, ‘Beheaded – strong ale -‘. This is a decidedly excellent Cornish ale. Keltek Brewey‘s own description of the beer is very accurate.

Beheaded. Our strongest ale; dark and deceptive with a smooth slightly sweet first impression and none of the alcoholic twang often associated with strong beers. It’s complex indulgent flavour is legendary.

Well I wouldn’t say legendary, that must be hyperbole, as according to the label the brewery has only existed since 1997. So not quite time to be legendary … yet; but it is damn fine beer all the same.

How to listen to podcasts

Well, Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode on their eponymous film review podcast would say “You just listen to podcasts”. For the uninitiated, this is their standard response to any tech. related question, such say “How do you Snapchat?”. However the way I listen to podcasts has changed considerably since I first discovered them, and it certainly wasn’t that easy back in 2006.

My first discovery of podcasts came soon after winning a 2GB iPod Nano from a prize draw that I was inadvertently entered into for buying a Virgin Lobster phone back in 2006. I needed a discrete mobile to chase interviews for a new job at the time, so just bought the lowest cost small pay as you go phone and two weeks later received the iPod in the post. A very nice surprise.

Although most people would have used iTunes to fill their iPod I was using Ubuntu Linux at the time and had to use a pod-catcher, GPodder I think, to collect the episodes. Then they had to be transferred to the iPod, that involved installing some other software to manage the proprietary Apple file transfer.

By the time the iPod died in 2008 (inevitable as my pocket has proven to be an arduous place for technology to survive), I had a more capable Nokia 6800 (the Batman phone) that could also play MP3s; so this became the target for my pod-catcher’s transfers.

Once I moved on to my HTC Desire S, with the Android OS, I tried a number of pod-catcher apps eventually settling upon Pocket Casts. The podcast app made things so much easier with episodes downloading automatically whenever WiFi was available. I’ve stuck with Pocket Casts since and it has improved with further updates, an is now on version 7.

The Bugle

“An audio newspaper for a visual world”

The Bugle is a weekly dose of satire from Andy Zaltzman and a rota of regular co-hosts. The podcast was started by Andy and John Oliver back in 2007, but was relaunched in 2016 with the guest co-hosts in place of John after his US success made it impossible for him to contribute.

Definitely ‘Not Suitable for Work’ the irreverent and often surreal satire pulls no punches. Often the shows are capped off with a cringe inducing pun run.

This week’s episode being a review of the last 6 months is an ideal opportunity to sample the show as it features excerpts from most of the regular hosts.

The Bugle can be found on The Bugle website where links to the feeds can be found. The Bugle is part of Radiotopia a collective of independent podcasters.

Single-use plastics

Single-use plastics has been a hot topic this year. David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II has really brought the problem of single use plastics to the fore in the UK.

Meanwhile back in October the European Parliament emphatically backed (by 571 votes to 53) the European Commission’s proposed directive to ‘clampdown’ on the 10 most commonly found categories of single use plastics products found on European beaches. Details on the directive are published here.

The UK Government are making some commitments toward reducing single use plastics. Currently that mainly appears to be via plans to tax plastics that have less than 30% recycled material. The Budget claimed that the government is pursuing “a package of measures closely coordinated across government, that will deliver a sustained reduction in single-use plastics, without placing undue burden on businesses or consumers.“. This was stated in the Budget 2018 Single-use Plastics Factsheet. I suspect that there’s more rhetoric than commitment from the current government, with all their Brexit debacle distraction. Fortunately if consumer sentiment persists at the current level, that is likely to have more impact on the end of single-use plastics.

We will all have to adjust to a life with more considered use of plastics. The one single-use plastic innovation that I am struggling to see an alternative to, is plastic dental floss applicators. Prior to these becoming available I’ve really struggled to use dental floss. Fortunately dental floss applicators are not on the EU hit list, according to their factsheet, so I’m OK for now; hopefully someone will invent a suitable alternative.

Funds vs Shares

I’ve been actively learning about investing since 2014. Although primarily interested in investing in shares I have recently been investigating Funds. Funds invest on behalf of the fund holders into a diverse range of investments. There are a wide variety of Funds with different goals.

As a ‘retail’ investor I have more limited options in how I invest than a fund manager would. Fund managers have other markets they can access, such as investing in non-listed companies, infrastructure or property. Depending on the rules/constitution of a fund its managers can also access other financial instruments such as currency hedging or leverage (borrowing to invest).

There has been some debate about tracking funds, which follow market indexes, versus active funds that have managers making decisions that hope to outperform the market. Given the recent trouncing of share prices in the UK and US stock markets, it will be interesting to see if these tracking funds remain in favour.

Close run thing

Following a busy Boxing Day there is only 15 minutes left to get a blog post in. A buffet lunch with the family involving recipes from Nigel Slater along with game pie and the Christmas cabbage. We had three of the recipes from the ‘Nigel Slater’s 12 Tastes of Christmas‘ program involving salmon, mushroom and nut burger things followed by a fruit salad with pistachio nut ginger snaps.

We finished up the evening with games and a Christmas pub quiz that had been shared at work, whilst drinking Saxby’s Sloe Gin Slider over ice.

Wood

As a teenager I found that working with wood was incredibly frustrating. Wood being a natural material, has variant qualities with knots and other inconsistencies relating to changes in the grain across the materials. Metal and plastics, on the other hand, although each type has different properties when being worked have consistent qualities, each piece will behave pretty much the same as the next, work on one end of the piece and it will be the same as the other. Wood on the other hand insists on being planed in one direction and will cause gouging and ripping if pushed in the wrong direction.

More recently, I’ve come to appreciate the qualities of wood. Firstly using the correct, and high enough quality tools, along with the patience to learn how to use them properly and wood can be a really rewarding material to work with.

Wood has a beauty and quality that’s not present in other materials. See the grain patterns revealed in the slabbing of a white oak log.

Or see the craftsmanship that reveals the qualities of the wood in some of the guitars featured in this Crimson Guitars,’What’s on the Bench’ video.

Christmas Cabbage

Red cabbage is a traditional accompaniment to our Christmas dinners, not matter what the choice of meat, fish or nut loaf. Christmas cabbage has two functions, tasty accompaniment to the Christmas dinner and provides a marvellous aroma to the house when preparing it on Christmas Eve. So here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • One red cabbage
  • 3 onions
  • 3 to 5 cloves of garlic
  • 3 bramley apples
  • 3 table spoons of olive oil (or any other vegetable oil)
  • 2 heaped teaspoons of ground cinnamon
  • one whole nutmeg ground fresh
  • half a dozen or so cloves
  • a good healthy sized splosh of sherry or white wine
  • a few tablespoons of water

Method:

This requires a large saucepan with a lid a chopping board and a big sharp knife.

  1. Trim, peal, and coarsely chop the onions.
  2. Set the onions in the pan to soften in the olive oil stirring occasionally whilst preparing the apples, keeping the lid on the pan (between stirring).
  3. Crush peal and finely chop the garlic and add it to cook with an onion.
  4. Peal, core and finely slice the apples.
  5. Once the onions have softened to a pale golden texture add the apples to the onions (you don’t have to wait until all the apple is chopped add it as you go) keeping the lid on the pan though.
  6. Add the sherry and the water to the softened onions and apple put the lid back on and continue to cook slowly whilst chopping up the cabbage.
  7. Add the chopped cabbage and stir in well.
  8. Now add the spices, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves then stir in again.
  9. Put the lid back on and simmer on low heat for an hour or so or until the cabbage is tender.

The key thing with this recipe is to have a big enough saucepan and not to worry about too much a quantities. If its a large cabbage then use large onions, or more onions. The same goes for the apples, garlic, sherry and spices.

The Advent of the Electric Car

It’s looking like we are reaching the tipping point for the advent of the electric car. The first practical affordable electric car was the Nissan Leaf, but the limited milage afforded by its limited battery capacity was not a practical proposition for many potential purchasers.

Tesla’s electric cars the Model S and the Model X whilst offering a good specification and workable range have been beyond the price bracket for most of us. The promised $35k Model 3 is still not with us, so to-date Tesla remains a premium brand for up-market purchasers only.

Despite the lack of an affordable alternative for the internal combustion car to-date Tesla has had a remarkable impact on the Automotive industry, taking the lions share of their market segment in the US market has shaken the automotive industry into addressing their electric future. The Tesla cars have proven not only that electric vehicles are a practical alternative but also for most cases has the potential to offer a better driving experience.

Whilst we have seen much publicity and hype about the recently released Jaguar and the imminent release of the Porche Taycan, these are only attempts to reclaim a portion of the luxury car market back from Tesla. As established incumbent automotive manufacturers they are able to produce a quality product with potentially a better quality cabin than Tesla. Despite the design being electric first the Jaguar iPace turns out to be an expensive electron guzzler with a higher drag co-efficient than even the bulkier Tesla Model S, and the Porche may well be aiming at a Tesla Roadster’s customers.

Whilst General Motors Bolt electric car has been a qualified success in the US it has become totally irrelevant to the European market, where they no longer have an interest due to their disposal of Vauxhall/Opel.

This year we have seen the release of two practical crossover style electric cars the Kia Nero and the Hyundai Kona. These have a practical real world range and less eye watering price. The Nero and Kona however are still multi-drive train platforms, designed to be built with either internal combustion engine (ICE) or electric drivetrain, so are likely still a compromised design with all the electrical workings sitting under the bonnet in the place of an ICE power unit. They also suffer from an inability to actually produce enough vehicles to meet demand due to constrains on battery production/sourcing. But they are almost affordable practical vehicles.

If Volkswagen can be believed, their production version of the ID concept to be delivered in late 2019 will be an electric first design and have sufficient supply of batteries to deliver an electric alternative to at the price of a diesel Golf. This might be the first real contender for the prize of a practical everyman electric car.

Battery cost and availability is the key that will tip the balance of automotive production from ICE to electric. Over the next 5 years we are likely to see the price per Kilowatt drop to a point where it becomes significantly less expensive to produce electric cars than petrol or diesel.

We wish you a Merry Christmas and an ASCII new year


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