YouTube Pandemic Comfort

This is a bit of a random frivolous post but as I’ve heard from one or two others, “random” YouTube channels have been a bit of a comfort or relief during the more intense moments during the rolling lockdowns that have been necessary during the last few months.

I’m amazed at how some have managed to continue to create content during these tricky times and others have understandably been a bit quiet while (I hope and assume) the content creators focus on more important things in life than indulging strangers.

Channels where I watch Everything

Audiology Associates UK – This is one of the few channels that I watch every video posted. It’s a channel from a practice in South Wales; an area I am quite fond of between work and Motorcycling – Off Road Skills have been based there for years and are a group of thoroughly good people. And yes, it’s a bit of an indulgence being that it is almost entirely videos of ear wax removal (which raises an ewww yuck from Mrs L).

Matt’s Off Road Recovery – This is a video channel of a family Off Road Recovery business based in Southern Utah. Like Audiology Associates I watch every video they post from the engineering work on their new recovery truck (an old corvair) to a lot of tourists and Razer drivers stuck in various types of sand or sometimes snow. Although we get a decent amount of snow in the UK and Scotland we don’t have snow apart from on a few beaches – certainly no desert conditions. As with most of the other channels I like, Matt and the rest of the team are informal and down to earth but are continually problem solving in their specialist area. It’s got quite a charm and in a way reminded me of the ensemble cast in an American Sit Com – it doesn’t play for laughs but holds together really well around Matt.

Regular Watches

These are channels where I watch regularly but perhaps not everything. For instance the depth of material or length may need more attention or focus, meaning that I can’t multitask or my attention span needs to be longer.

Bjørn Nyland – Bjørn is a “YouTuber” from Norway who has a channel that focusses on Electric Vehicles but isn’t afraid of straying on to sustainable transportation and basically following his curiosity. He is very productive so I dip in from time to time to see what he has reviewed (he and Norway seem to get every new EV going) and to see how Volkswagen are doing against the other manufacturers and whether it is time for me to commit to an EV. He is very methodical which means his content can be quite detailed which is a good thing.

Misha Charoudin – Misha used to work at Rimac Automobili and followed his passion to work at apex nürburg doing a bunch of “stuff”. With the owner at apex he delivers a spectrum of content around the Nordschleife and I particularly like the mix of material which is delivered in an open and informal way. I particularly like the way that they share the basics of running a rental and experience business and how they balance operations with giving a good experience for customers.

The Hoof GP – A chap based in Dumfries and Galloway that trims cow hooves and does his bit to share cattle husbandry. A compelling watch like the ear wax removal videos – and another cheerful but serious presentation style.

Corridor Crew – A production crew based out of California, I particularly like their Stuntmen React videos. This is quite unusual for me as I generally don’t like the reaction format but they manage to balance the dynamic and more importantly get practitioners that are eloquent and passionate about their profession. The amount of effort and work involved in “entertainment” is amazing. Their content has a great amount of depth and I dip in to this when I have the mental bandwidth.

Occasional Watches

These are channels I subscribe to and check regularly but don’t necessarily watch everything.

Robert Mitchell – Robert is the owner at “Apex” and although I don’t watch his material as much as Misha above, for completeness include it here.

James Hoffman – If you like or are interested in Coffee then subscribe to James Hoffman. In a way my viewing habits are a victim of James’ success. The coffee brewer, grinder and anti-static grinding “hack” I use almost every day are straight from his videos. Unfortunately now that I have a process that works for me and with coffee from a local, Scottish roaster I find myself watching less as it is all working!

I don’t subscribe but…

Artisan Electrics – I stumbled across this because it featured a number of installs of electric charging. As well as the EV Charging posts I really enjoy the problem solving videos which show the benefit of having a sound methodology.

Bigclivedotcom – what’s there not to like about a channel featuring a Scottish Chap with a goatie beard ? This is a highly detailed and educational channel about electronics, which generally involves pulling cheap electronics apart and uncovering the odd horror or pleasant surprise. Oh and trimming tips with funnels.

post 10 – not a lot to say about this channel but it includes a number of fascinating videos of drains being cleared of leaves and other debris with a rake. Strangely compelling at times.

Speed up your DNS in the UK – really ?

Being male I’m probably obsessed with fiddling when I could probably spend my time doing something productive. One obsession is tuning (I spent more than the value of my first car on “performance parts”) which I’ve slowly cured over the years and now refuse to modify my cars.

Funnily enough one thing that has made a real difference to my internet performance now that I have broadband is to ignore the popular opinion on websites and actually benchmark my home dns performance and then stick to it.

In my case I’m fortunate to have a decent router that has a caching dns service (rather than simple pass through) and I’ve set this to query the fastest dns server I can get to on my connection. All connections on my LAN point to the dns server on my router by getting the settings through DHCP.

Rather than blindly pointing to Google or Cloudflare, please benchmark your performance by using a DNS performance tool. As I’m very old I like to use GRC’s DNS Benchmark. Yes I’m a Windows user so I probably excluded a bunch of readers but for the rest of us it is a simple .exe and creates an INI file (remember those?) when you create a custom resolvers list.

If you are like me and don’t live in the US then run the program (this is what apps used to be called) and create a custom resolver list, then run a benchmark and adjust your network.

Read and weep – in my case Cloudflare takes ten times as long to resolve an cached dns lookup as my router and Google thirty times as long. Unfortunately the cliche is that the fastest dns is that provided by the vendor of my connection. Your mileage may vary, which is why you should test.

Now to deal with the challenge of dns settings when you have failover between two ISPs!

My Third EV Drive (Polestar 2)

If you’ve seen an earlier post on the blog you will have seen that I hired a Tesla Model S for a long weekend in March 2020 and had a great time in what seems to be a different era as it happened just before responses to Covid-19 kicked in and holidays got cancelled.

I recently drove my third EV ever (the first had two wheels and was a BMW) when Polestar unexpectedly brought their test drive programme to Scotland and to a location only about an hour’s drive away from where I live.

More details to come but we drove the Performance Pack version and it was awesome. Different feel to the Tesla S due to the way the interior is organised. An excellent vehicle and I’d definitely consider it for a longer evaluation.

Polestar 2 Performance Pack

I got my leaky BMW Motorrad System 7 Helmet Fixed

I like BMW Motorrad safety helmets; having a big head I struggled to get helmets big enough to fit and getting a size 64 BMW System 5 years ago got me started. Since then I’ve had a System 6 and currently have a BMW Motorrad System 7.

One issue I had with the current helmet was a leak in heavy rain. This would typically happen on my commute home which has a short stretch of motorway in a Westerly direction. It’s also fairly open so would conspire to add a headwind to the rain that frequents Scotland all year round. At roughly the same stage in my short ride home it would start dripping inside the visor from roughly at the center. It would drop straight down without impeding vision and not splashing – I think it would just soak in to the fabric at the front closure of the flip front.

When it came to the end of the riding season I mentioned it to the local dealer and they told me there was now a kit to fix the issue, which was a combination of a new visor plus new surround. Unfortunately I was a few days out of warranty but the cost wasn’t that bad compared to the amount I had spent combined on the original helmet and getting the communications unit fitted. When I got the helmet back it had a brand new shiny visor which is much the same with a pinlock but it now has a little latch at front center which engages with a matching hook in the surround – to make closure more positive I guess.

With lockdown I am just back on the road and being a lovely sunny day to get out on the bike I haven’t ridden since the helmet got it’s change so I’m not in a position to comment whether the fixes have dealt with the problem. What I did do however is make the same mistake that I did when I invested in the BMW pinlock visor for my System 5. The new visor comes with a protective film on the pinlock (blue coloured) and I didn’t realise this properly until I was several miles up the road. Top tip, remove the protective film!

I hired a Tesla Model S for a weekend

Last year (2019) I got the idea of hiring an electric car in to my head and started looking around for options. I spotted that EVision Electric Vehicle Hire had a collection point in Durham and started planning a weekend away involving a weekend hire and travelling by train to Durham.

When I got to the latter stages of my plans I reached out to EVision and they explained that the iPace that I had set my heart on was only available from their head office but that they had a Tesla Model S or BMW i3 available. I started considering the former.

Then a circular email drops from Enterprise Rent a Car saying that they hire Teslas and I was able to confirm that the local Livingston Branch (to which I can either walk or get a bus from my door) could hire one for the weekend. Unfortunately for EVision (who are really really helpful, respond quickly and have great communications) the prospect of picking the car up locally meant I could build a drive in to the road trip (a slight benefit for my wife) and I could save on the rail fare.

I’m just back from returning the Tesla to Enterprise Rent A Car in Livingston (March 9th, 2020) and here are my experiences (ok it was awesome but I want to ramble).

Presales and Sales Support

As I mentioned above EVision were excellent and the main reason I didn’t go ahead with them was down to location. Their head office (where the full range of vehicles is available) is in Strood, Kent which is almost but not quite the other end of the country to Scotland.

I booked the Tesla through the enterprise website and being an IT person allowed me to verify that the location, dates and type all matched. Of note was that the booking was for “Luxury Elite Electric” which was teasingly “Model S or similar”. As with most hire companies they don’t generally guarantee a specific model.

As this was my first drive of an EV (and I like planning) I started wondering about the Tesla and pinged an email asking about charging and cabling. The reply explained that the Tesla would be coming out from Edinburgh Airport and that cables would be included.

On the morning of the hire I popped up to “check a couple of details” and was delighted to see a grey model s charging outside (model confirmed!) with the mobile connector through the window. The quick glance confirmed that the standard cables were included for what was a March 2018 Model S 75D. This is basically the so-called mobile connector with it’s two plug options, a picture of which you can see on the Tesla Owner’s club knowledgebase.

The helpful chap at the hire centre confirmed that Supercharging was included and the car also had a card for ChargePlace Scotland.

As it was, in my preparation I’d signed up for a ChargePlace Scotland RFID car as it was only £20 and I was a bit excited at the prospect. As it was this was useful for later.

The car

Having searched about and read some poor reviews about Enterprise “loaners” for Tesla Service in the US I was relieved to see the spec of the car when I picked it up. Forgive me if I get the details wrong but the salient bits where:

  • Tesla Model S 75D Dual Motor Registered in March 2018 – the two times I checked the firmware it was up to date.
  • Autopilot working – I had to sign an “Addendum” to do with GDPR and telematics. The team were at pains to point out that it was the car, not Enterprise that would be watching me. I didn’t turn all things on but there were a couple of moments when the car was “unhappy” and indicated this through the steering.
  • LTE Maps – I think this is known as premium. Basically the routing took traffic in to account and showed busy roads in Amber or Red.
  • Leather Seats – the interior was slightly quirky compared to German cars but had leather seats and bits of brown “wood”.
  • Reversing Camera and Parking Sensors – these are a saviour when driving an unfamiliar, larger car.
  • Mercedes Automatic Controls – when I was travelling via Heathrow Terminal 5 on a weekly basis I got to drive a lot of Avis Mercedes hire cars and the controls on the Model S were very familiar. Interestingly the wiper and cruise controls were also the same. The steering wheel adjuster is also down there on the left of the steering wheel!
  • Supercharging included – now I understand one reason why Telsa have been successful. Supercharging was included in the rental and you just turn up and plug in.

What I Learned

This was my first hire of an Electric Vehicle and my first drive of an Electric Vehicle ever, so this is a mix of both sets of learnings:

  • Hire cost varies by location – I’m not sure if Edinburgh Airport has a premium or Livingston has a discount but the price differential between the same hire at either location is significant. For instance, while I look at the base hire cost for a weekend in April it is coming through online at £690 vs £360.
  • Telsa Navigation knows superchargers – The navigation (which appears to be based on Google Maps) will give you the option of selecting a supercharger en route if it works out that you will not reach your destination with your current rate of charge. What it doesn’t appear to do is be able to factor in that your destination will not have charging. What I ended up doing is anticipating my needs and diverting to a supercharger to prepare in advance.
  • It would be great to have a Type 2 charging cable – I had a couple of fairly long conversations about this with the people at Enterprise Rent a Car Livingston (who have all been really engaged and helpful). I found a number of non-tesla destination chargers in Durham that were un-tethered i.e. a type 2 7kw charger that could have been used to add charge while shopping or out for a meal. Unfortunately Tesla only recently started providing these with their cars.
  • Charging rates vary – you will see a lot of mentions of the speed of charging in modern EVs and how long it takes. For reasons I’ll admit I probably don’t understand completely, the charging rate of Rapid chargers like the Superchargers is not constant and reduces as the battery fills. At the superchargers I saw a maximum of 106 kW and a minimum of 11 kW. Things tail off as you reach full capacity so the best use of time is to only charge to “Daily” as the level said on the car I hired. Unfortunately on the 75D this meant about 180 miles range which ran a bit close for the travelling I was doing.

Tesla Superchargers

When I confirmed that my EV was likely to be a Tesla I took a look at the supercharger map on the tesla website. When I made the booking there were a couple of new sites scheduled in Scotland at Eurocentral and Berwick but the latter is still shown as being planned almost 6 months later.

Photograph of Tesla Model S supercharging at Richmond.
Supercharging at Holiday Inn Scotch Corner (Richmond)

What was reassuring was that our hotel in Durham was inbetween two Superchargers with Washington to the North and Richmond (Scotch Corner) to the South. I also discovered that Edinburgh Airport has a two space supercharger in one of the car parks near the terminal – in my previous job I travelled weekly from Edinburgh Airport and knew the car park well as the Taxis would pass it as a short cut to the drop off area.

In the end I used three Superchargers:

  • Edinburgh Airport – The car when collected had about 50% charge and wouldn’t make it to Durham. Navigation on the Tesla knows this and offers Superchargers to include on the route. The nearest to my home in Livingston is Edinburgh Airport. There was a model 3 charging in one position and unusually the chargers are not at the back of the spaces i.e. you park nose in. Access via a rather narrow entrance is to buzz through and the helpful security folks will raise the barrier.
  • Washington – there were 5 cars already charging when we got to Washington and the car set the charge limit to 85% saying that it was a busy station. I didn’t contradict this and popped in to the Campanile with my wife for a comfort break and a cup of tea. The service was friendly and really cheap (£2.40 for two mugs of PG Tips tea) and I have no complaints. As my first experience of a “normal” reverse in supercharger I was too far away in my first attempt (and there was a Tesla dealership guy doing something on his laptop and I didn’t want to run him over) but had no problems once I figured out how close to run the reversing camera. We ended up going back to charge up the night before we headed home and the Toby Carvery along the road was awesome. What was interesting for this was how much longer it takes to charge a battery to 100% – the charge estimator was way out.
  • Scotch Corner – we visited this twice, once each on the way to York and on the way back. It was quieter each time and I carefully observed the etiquette of parking on a different unit (they are in pairs). These Superchargers are in the car park of the Holiday Inn which we stayed in a couple of years ago and is a handy location for the A1 down to York from Durham. From a tourism perspective, Richmond is well worth a visit as a lovely market town.
Model S Supercharging at Washington, Tyne and Wear Supercharger.
Supercharging at Washington, Tyne and Wear

Public Charging

My wife and I have been to Durham several times to go to the local police event bikewise so when I discovered that EVision had a collection point in Durham I started planning combining this with a stay at our “usual” hotel Bannatyne – my wife really likes the Sauna that you can use as a resident.

I seemed it was meant to be when I discovered that the Bannatyne Health Club has an Instavolt charging station which with CCS would have been perfect for keeping the iPace charged.

When it turned out that I would be getting a Tesla instead I did lots of reading and discovered that CCS is an adapter and dc fast charging retrofit for the Model S. But I also discovered that Jedburgh and Consett (on our normal route to Durham from Livingston) had charging.

My plans had to ratchet down when I confirmed on the morning of the hire that the only cable the car had was the mobile connector and as a 2018 car was unlikely to have CCS support. The only other connector in the bag was for the round type of socket that I associate with building sites.

Apart from a few visits to superchargers, the only public charging point I used was in the Cannongate car park in Jedburgh. For information this is the car park beside the tourist information office and the little bus station. The charge point is on the immediate left as you turn in and has two parking spaces with a 45 minute restriction. The unit looked really new and had three connectors; CCS, Chademo and Type 2 and all tethered so I was able to use the latter and my wife and I popped up to the main street for a snack.

Image of Public Rapid Charger in Cannongate Car Park in Jedburgh, Scotland which I used on my drive home from Durham to Livingston.
ChargePlace Scotland Rapid Charger at Cannongate Car Park, Jedburgh

The unit was free with ChargePlace Scotland and I tried the card included with the hire which didn’t work. My own card (brand new and still stuck to the card!) worked immediately. It was interesting to see the different statistics to Supercharging that AC charging presents on the screen. I was a relief to see the route planner had gone from a predicted 9% battery on arrival to 22%.

Picture of the touchscreen display in the Tesla Model S while charging on AC at the Cannongate Charging facility.
AC Charging at Cannongate Car Park, Jedburgh.

Having done a bunch of research beforehand my wife indulged me a little in checking a couple of the local public charge points. We parked in the Prince Bishops multi-storey car park to go for a meal at the Fat Hippo and they have just installed several pod point chargers on Level 1. I had been hoping to try that one out had I had a Type 2 cable. I had a look to see if the Tesco Extra at Dragon Lane had charging under their charging scheme and it didn’t but was able to find a couple of pod point chargers in the car park of Lidl across the road in Damson Lane. For our trip to York we used the Poppleton Bar park and ride and there was a single charger in the actual car park. This park and ride is interesting in that there are “public” chargers in the bus lane to charge the electric buses that take you in to the city centre. Although you could probably use them for your own EV, they were in busy use when we were there with an attendant running up and down plugging the buses in.

Image of number 59 route electric bus at Poppleton Bar Park and Ride outside York.
Bus charging at Poppleton Bar Park and Ride, York

In Summary

My personal car ownership journey has been fairly conventional (and European), starting with Ford, then Vauxhall, then Audi, then a couple of Fiats (which both blew up) and back to German cars with Volkswagen were I’ve been since. As such I have a bit of an attitude towards American cars (too big, can’t go round corners) and therefore Tesla (too big, can’t go round corners). And from a gadget and environment perspective really want Volkswagen to build a golf-like car that handles and is electric and deals with my range anxiety.

The Tesla Model S was a revelation – yes it was big, but the handling was fine and reminded me a little of the Audi R8 I drove last year without the noise. I now see why the fans like them despite the eye watering cost. As with most cars, the interior fades away once you get on with things.

I’ll admit the range on the 75D had me concerned and it took a bit of management to deal with the gap between Edinburgh and Washington. The Edinburgh Supercharger is at the Airport and has only two bays so a bit tricky. The distance is 140 miles so not far off what an 80% charge gives on the 75D. I found myself spending 3 times as long and charging to 95% instead. On the way back we took a shorter but more rural (and narrower) route and charged at Jedburgh for comfort.

The hire wasn’t “cheap” at just over £400 with all the bells and whistles but for a weekend for a car of that cost was comparable with an E Class Mercedes for something with a lot more performance and technology.

Would I do it again ? Maybe – I’d really like to try the Model 3 but the Model S appears to be the only general option at Enterprise though I believe they may have some Model Y on their prestige range. The weekend price was as about as high as I would go for a discretionary spend but worked really well for my wife and I to get a full feel for Tesla. I really hope Volkswagen manage to make the ID.3 as interesting to drive as my Golf GT.

Year 1 with my R1250 GS Adventure

With overnight temperatures dropping in Scotland and salt being laid to mitigate icing, my motorbike is now tucked up for the winter and I’ve had a little time to reflect on the few months I’ve had of ownership.

With the finance concluding on my R1200GS Adventure earlier in the year I did the deal and went for the subdued choice of the Exclusive in Kalamata Olive. The Rallye was a little too bright for me and in the absence of a triple black was my natural choice.

In summary the styling has really come on with the latest generation of the adventure and the tank and bars are more integrated with the visual centre of mass having shifted down and forward to make the bike look smaller.

The engine and suspension are simply amazing – I didn’t have the adaptive suspension on my 1200 so it is impressive, the engine is better again (and I didn’t really explore the best of the 1200) and the various gadgets are a bit of fun.

My only criticism is the same as ever – the ergonomics are more mainstream meaning I miss the colossal seat to peg height of the older adventure, and I still miss the funny indicators of the old bmws.

A brilliant machine and I’m really looking forward to getting back out on it.

MoPOP Museum of Pop Culture Seattle

I changed jobs just over a year ago and an awesome part of my new Employer’s approach to staff development is that they send members of the team to conferences and training.

I had the privilege of attending a boot camp for cloud architects in Bellevue, run by Microsoft for their Partners and also had a day in between travelling from Scotland to Seattle to have a look at the city with my colleagues.

We basically got lost after visiting Pike Place Market, we thought we were heading towards lake Union but hadn’t read the map quite correctly. So we looked around and spotted the Space Needle fairly nearby (it’s a bit of a spottable land mark) and headed towards that.

The majority view was that we didn’t want to spend the money on going up the Space Needle so we went next door in to MoPOP Museum of Pop Culture. As I discovered this has a fairly significant connection to Microsoft as I saw one exhibit after another from the Paul G. Allen collection and it slowly dawned that a founder of the museum was also co-founder of Microsoft.

This place is amazing; it starts with the swoopy architecture which has a monorail bursting through it. Then the inside is all modern clean lines with doors and stairs leading to themed exhibits.

There are closed off exhibitions behind doors that cover elements like films or people or open areas that open out to the full height of the museum.

Well worth a visit.

Microsoft Certified Professional Exam Status

Where do I start? Migrating this blog over the weekend has led to a bit of a review and the realisation that a lot of the blog posts relate to my journey preparing for and sitting (and generally passing!) Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) exams.

The last exam related post on this blog is Passed 70-631 WSS Configuring Today which was posted just under 10 years ago – yikes. I’m delighted to see that posts in the meantime related to Motorcycling and Off Road Skills so that would indicate some wider interests other than work.

As I write I am two weeks from passing my most recent Microsoft Exam Continue reading “Microsoft Certified Professional Exam Status”

AlistairL Blog migration from SubText to WordPress

In the spirit of the web I thought I would share a little more detail on how I migrated the content from my existing platform to new. This blog started in 2004 on a platform called subtext and with my dev skills fading in to the background and the original platform not being maintained anymore I was looking for something easier to run with (and a more current platform).

In the end the migration only took a couple of hours given preparation of a development machine which I was doing for a home lab Continue reading “AlistairL Blog migration from SubText to WordPress”

A new home for AlistairL

It has been a long time running but this is the second (more visible) post in the process of moving my blog from a hosted .net site running in SubText to something that is a bit more modern (yeah, 3 years behind the curve again – just look when I created this).

I’m going to do some checks of content etc but the plan will be to be a bit more active on to a platform that has a future.

The unfortunate side effect is that the comments haven’t come across – the api in the very old version of SubText that I was using didn’t have commenting. I’ve got a backup of the full original database but I’m not optimistic that posterity will bring back the comments (all over 10 years old now).

I need to get the domain switched over – what fun!