All Bike Lights Are Crap

Controversial title. All of them..? Really? OK, not all of them but most of them in my experience.

It’s fairly simple: I want a light that can be attached/detached easily, I want the battery to last a reasonable time with a fair amount of light thrown out and I want it to remember the last mode I used so I can get going with minimum faff.

Pretty simple eh? You would be suprised how many bike light manufacturers do not get these basics right. Oh and I’ll throw in one more – it should be easy to turn on and off while wearing gloves! Yes, gloves – because we don’t all live in sunny California. You might as well ask for a moon on a stick because this simple thing seems to be met with “…Wow, really? Thats crazy talk!” by most light manufacturers.

OK WG relax. So which lights would I recommend? Read on…

IMG_20190406_120059Lets start with the best first. The CatEye Volt 400XC is a fantastic front light that pretty much meets all my criteria. It’s also priced reasonably (I think I got it for £25 from Amazon). I’ve probably charged it just once since buying it a month or so ago with weekend use even during the day. It will flash the power button in red once battery is low which is very handy and it has a common micro USB charge port.


It can be detached and re-attaced with gloves fairly easily and throws out just the right amount of light (400 lumens is the sweet spot for most suburban cyclists) to illuminate the path ahead without being blinding to others. I’ve tested this cycling through Southampton Common at night (there are no streetlights in that park so it gets very dark). It also has a visually pleasing day-pulse mode which saves battery when using it in daylight. The body is tough shiny plastic rather than alumnium but thats fine as it saves a bit of weight. I normally carry a laptop bag and bike lock so saving weight and being efficient is important to me.


Following that is a decent and simple LED rear light from ApaceVision – again from Amazon. It has several light modes but I just use the blinking one to keep it simple. The LED light is bright and makes you feel safe that you are being seen. What I liked about it is the memory function and the “it just works” factor. Also nicely waterproof and comes with plenty of rubber mounting bits for different size tubes. ApaceVision customer support was also very good when I lost a rubber clip thingy and needed a replacement. It uses a Micro USB charge port. I would have liked some indicator of low battery though because it has mysteriously lost all charge sometimes…

I tend to keep this light attached to the bike when I lock it. The reason is that it does not stand out a great deal and unlike the Lezyne Microdrive below, it is not that expensive.

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Moving on we have a ViaVelo LED front light which I bought from Tesco for £15 some years back. Unlike the others this one uses 3 AAA batteries rather than USB charging. Now this light is not going to win any awards for the amount of light it throws out (maybe 150 lumens) but what it does have is a visually pleasing 3-flash pulse mode for daylight rides :) It also has a quick release handlebar clip which many other lights (even the CatEye) do not have. You could easily mount two of these for a kind of “car headlight” effect and get better light output, in fact I saw a rider have just such an arrangement this weekend.

I use this ViaVelo light on my fast training bike for daytime rides. The downside is the light it throws is pretty poor for dark areas with poor or no streetlights. The upside is that on/off switch is easy to use even with gloves, it has a positive microswitch-style button. This model seems to be made by generic Chinese manufacturers under the name M-Wave Apollon 1.3 1W Front LED Light and I have seen good UK traders selling them on eBay. A good choice for a simple no-nonsense, mainly daylight, front light.

Sidenote: I would love it if CatEye XC400 had a seperate quick-release bracket like the ViaVelo above. It has a clip and rubber mount which is pulled around the handebar to make a secure loop. It fairly easy to clip it on and off but not as easy as the ViaVelo one.


Moving round to the final light is the Lezyne Microdrive rear light. This little guy is compact and solid with a metal case and USB charging. It has it’s own holder clip bracket which stays on the bike thereby allowing you to easily and quickly remove it. The on/off button is a large rubber blister which is easily accessed even with gloves. The button will briefly glow green, yellow or red depending on the charge level – very fancy! It has a Micro USB charge port. All this shows it’s premium Lezyne brand heritage but you pay for it in the price. It’s a fine light and I might use this rather than the ApaceVision is that one ever gets stolen.

The absolute best thing about the Lezyne though is the lighting modes – it has one mode which is like an angry red pulse and reminds me of the murderous A.I. “HAL 9000″ from the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”


Which Lights I had trouble with…

Lezyne Microdrive front light – I actually got this as a pair with the Lezyne rear light described above. I bought it from well-known UK bike retailer Halfords. It throws out a serious about of light, about 500 or 600 lumens. I bought it for evening and night mountain biking. However I found that attach/reattach was a bitch and the button did not have a positive feel so turning it on and off was not easy wearing gloves (you kinda have to hold it down hard). I think newer models have improved this but try it out yourself in-store. I also lost the rubber USB charging port cover at least once :/ It’s kinda this big hunk of rubber with no clip attaching it to the light body. It’s really just suited to mountain bike riding in my opinion where the lights need to stay firmly attached to the handlebars while subjected to large bumps and shocks.


ApaceVision Eagle - on the face of this, this combo of front and rear lights looks like a winner. Waterproof with multiple light modes etc… However I found the battery life was just average and the lighting modes were either too bright or too dim. The pulse mode was also too bright and I remember passing one pedestrian who remarked “I’m glad I’m not epileptic!”. The on/off button was a bit fiddly too but at least had a memory mode. I found the light also got warm after 30 minutes use, not sure whats up with that.


FWE Evans front light 450 lumens – I really wanted to like this :( It is keenly priced for a 450 lumen unit, throws out an excellent amount of light, has a smooth premium aluminum body and a nice microswitched on/off button which is backlit with a blue LED when it’s switched on. It even has a seperate handlebar clip so you can attach/reattach quickly… So what was the problem? For one the battery did not last very long or maybe I had a duff unit – this was a big source of annoyance because after charging it I went out for a ride and on getting on my bike in the evening… only to discover that the battery had died! I do not need to tell you how nerve-wracking it is to cycle on roads at night without a bike light. In the dark areas on the way home I actually had to let it accumulate residual charge and then switch it into pulse mode, after which it died after 30 seconds. At least my rear light was charged and OK… Anyway, that experience led me to return the light. A real shame as in all other areas this was almost up there with the CatEye XC.


I later read in some of the reviews on the Evans website that newer lights have an upgraded Samsung battery so maybe I had a non-Samsung one? At any rate, it was bad quality control and put me in a dangerous situation so I was majorly put off.

Honourable Mentionbig_1544451

BTwin CL 500 LED clip light – as an additional/backup light you really can’t go wrong with these little bad boys! Keenly priced, waterproof and with micro USB charge port. They also have several clip options so you can attach them to BTwin brand pannier bags or your handlebars. The light has both white and red LEDs built in with two modes – constant or flash.

The Joy of Books

Books are amazing. They are these small handheld items of compressed knowledge – some of them hold a lifetime of wisdom…  others are engaging and creative stories that spring up as a result of many days of mental hard work.

In our modern connected world it is the power of video that gets the most attention. It’s not suprising though is it? We humans are hard-wired to take in information visually. If there is a smartly dressed and attractive person delivering the information it definitely gets our attention (be it the weather forecast on BBC or a YouTube video).

I acknowledge and enjoy the power of video but over the last few years I’ve started to make an effort to read books that are regarded as must-read or just those that I think will help propel me upwards on my journey of self-improvement.

I wanted to highlight some of these (and a few personal favourites) and why they have had such an impact on me… so read on!

* Guns, Germs & Steel (Jared Diamond, 1997)

This well known book by anthropologist Jared Diamond seeks to answer the question of why Europeans came and conquered the “New World” rather than the other way round.

This is a question, a “shower-thought”, that I had pondered for a while. I have this fascination with ancient history and why the world looks as it does today. If I had a time machine I think I would call up Jared Diamond first and invite him to visit any time period he chose (as for me I would fast-forward to the 24th Century to see if it really does look like Star Trek :)

They made a TV series of the book with Jared Diamond himself, however I urge you to read the book as it is very accessible and aimed towards the ordinary person.

* Bounce (Matthew Syed, 2010)

This highly-rated work was the very first audiobook I ever read (listened) and is absolutely fascinating look into the “Talent Myth” – this is the belief that some of us are born with innate talents that others do not posses.

It is not only engaging and interesting but also enthusiastically narrated by James Clamp. It might seem odd for me to mention the narrator but I found that some audiobooks are let down by the narration however not in this case.

In my field of Software Engineering I have come across colleagues who have seemingly magical abilities when it comes to writing software or picking up abstract concepts. After absorbing this book and from talking to some of these colleagues I now know better, it is not magic or some innate ability but the result of many hours of things you don’t see: personal learning & discovery outside work hours, writing non-perfect software that fails in production and then learning the lessons and learning from other more experienced software engineers.

* Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy (Timothy Zahn, 1991)

What the heck? I’m including an iconic bit of pop-culture in this list?! Yeah mofo, it’s MY list :)

I should say that I’m not a serious Star Wars geek but in the mid-1990s teenage me picked up these books one random weekend because I was amazed someone was writing stories set after Return of the Jedi (that was 1983). Turns out the author Timothy Zahn had crafted a wonderful story that captured the feel of the beloved movies perfectly. Every word the characters spoke were as if they were lifted from a real movie and spoken by the original actors.

I later learned that Timothy Zahn recorded the movies to audio cassette and used to play them back in the car for his son on long cross-country trips. Believe me, it shows in his writing!

“Thrawn” refers to Grand Admiral Thrawn, a character from the story who has since become so popular that he is now part of the official canon of Star Wars. After raving about these books to my brother, I promptly bought the rest of the trilogy and read them all in a week. You don’t have to even like Star Wars to enjoy them, it’s simply a good story set against a well-researched science fiction backdrop.

As a side-note I got in touch with Timothy Zahn on Facebook and he always replies promptly. One of my life goals is to meet him one day and get him to sign my copies :)

* Mr Money Moustache Blog (Peter Adeney, 2012+)

OK, I cheat a bit – this is not a book… but a blog by a wonderfully articulate, mild-mannered yet bad-ass retired Software Engineer living in Colorado, USA. However if you collect all his blog posts from 2012 onwards to present day they could easily be taken as a book of sorts.

Oh, and no it’s not just about money. The secret agenda behind it is to trick people into living the best life possible for a human being by developing something called “bad-assity” :)

For a Quick Start I strongly encourage you to start here and here to learn about the F.I.R.E. movement and what MMM is all about.

This guys writings strongly resonated with me and put into words some nebulous thoughts, hunches and feelings I’ve had rattling around my brain for a while. I’m not the only one – his blog has a global audience.

For a British slant on this theme please check out The Escape Artist.

So that is my list!

I’m currently reading The Seven Habits of Highly Succesful People and listening to an audiobook on Elon Musk. Next I want to read Anti-Fragile.

For a more comprehensive list on what is highly regarded by people I regard as peers, I encourage you to check these lists:

…but now over to you – what has made an impact on you?

So you deleted your Windows 10 partition table… now what?

You know the scene. You are helping a friend with a couple of corrupted/dead microSD cards. You want to access tools on a Linux machine but you moved to Windows a long while back.

You only have your trusty Windows 10 laptop that you’ve had a year onto which you have meticulously set-up your data and apps and other custom bits and pieces (ssh scripts, Virtual Machines). So what do you do?

My first thought was to use an existing Debian VirtualBox to do this. However I soon found out that VirtualBox does not yet support microSD device pass-through. USB devices work fine but not microSD… :(

So what now? Being an experienced Software Engineer you insert a SystemsRescueCD liveCD USB into your Windows 10 laptop and then boot into a SystemRescue system. You then fire up gParted, plug in each microSD card in turn and proceed to examine the state of each card.

For the first card you spot some oddities and use “dd” to write zero’s to the whole device. Once that is done you create a new partition table. Eject and insert it. There are still weird things happening. You still see the old partition layout. Curious. You give up and declare this microSD card unusable.

Next you try the other microSD card your friend has given you. It’s late, 2131hrs, and you’re tired, it’s a working day and tomorrow is a Friday. Yay end of a busy week. With gParted open you insert the microSD card and without thinking much, proceed to delete the partition table and answer “Yes, I really want to do this destructive action” to the dialog prompt…

Hmm, something odd. Where is the card in the device list from /proc/devices … Oh no. No no no. The device was not detected by the system. Therefore it did not appear as the default device in gParted. Therefore I just deleted the partition table… of my perfectly fine and working laptop HDD. Arghhhhhhhhhhhh!

OK… calm down. Do not panic. I have a running system and that system happens to be SystemRescue OS. I can recover from this if I just keep my head straight.

The data is still present on disk it’s just the disk layout table, telling the OS where to find each partition is just not there.

Thankfully, I had SystemRescue USB at hand. On this are handy tools to help recover from just such an eventuality. After all it does not have “rescue” in the name for nothing!

After some Googling of similar problems I discovered the tool I needed is called “testdisk” –
this attempts to scan an entire disk to find partitions (and guess it’s type). In running this myself I found that one can simply just use the defaults options it gives me.

In other words, the default options “just work”. Just let it run and find the partitions. It will present a candidate partition table to you. You can use the “p” key to view the contents of each partition it finds as an extra check (examples from all three partitions below).

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Make sure you also make the first partition bootable (indicated by the asterisk *).


Windows 10 normally will have three partitions: a boot partition, the system (where Windows 10 actually lives, all your apps, photos, userdata, etc) and a recovery partition.

After checking that everything looks OK, accept the partition table and write it to the hard disc.

This is what your partition table should look like post-write by testdisk
This is what your partition table should look like post-write by testdisk

Now at this stage if you boot the system you will probably see some scary black or blue screens. You need to do another step which is to rebuild the “Boot Configuration Data”.



The way I did this was to get a Windows 10 install media USB (or CD), boot into it and follow this guide to get to the command prompt.

At this point I did:

bootrec /rebuildbcd

…then reboot. For me that fixed it. Phew! Thank Zangief for that!

I've never seen such a beautiful sight :)
I’ve never seen such a beautiful sight :)

If that does not work for you I recommend trying these in order:

 bootrec /FixMbr
 bootrec /FixBoot
 bootrec /RebuildBcd

More info here

Moral of the story is: do not do sysadmin work as root when you’re tired (obvious in hindsight!)

Note: I did an additional un-needed step after I wrote the candidate partition table to the HDD. This was to use “testdisk” to “Write TestDisk MBR code to first sector”. This was not needed since we will use the Windows 10 install media to write the MBR.

To the Isle of Wight and back… the Green Way

One recent weekend I took a boat ride to the Isle of Wight for a spot of lunch. How very civilised… right? As you can see from the photos the weather was ideal. Did I take car ferry and relax on the top-deck? Or did I take a high-speed catamaran?

Nope – something different… I crossed in a hybrid-electric powered water boat!


The boat is owned by a local company called REAP Systems who are pioneering hybrid electric marine engines. So after registering my interest in joining one of the test rides, the day finally came and thankfully it was a fine, sunny Saturday morning.


I cycled from my home to the Southampton Dry Stack where the boat was being kept – I needed to keep the “green” theme to the day! I thought I was running a bit late so I picked up the pace, cycling hard, powered past St Mary’s Stadium… half-expecting there to be an impatient group of people waiting for me… only to find that it was just me and Denis from REAP Systems. No worries though – this meant I could pester him with all my newbie questions.




A German-born engineer, Dr. Dennis Doerffel patiently explained the technical operation of the boat to me. Essentially, the main (“fast”) power is a 6 cylinder, 24-valve diesel engine from car-giant Hyundai that has been adapted for marine use under the brand name Seasall.


The “hybrid” nature of this engine refers to the addition of an electric motor plus battery that charges itself from the diesel engine. The electric motor can also provide an alternative propulsion source.



It would be an over-simplification to just say “oh, they just added an electric motor and battery to a car engine” because alongside this is an array of sophisticated electronics that control, monitor and measure both the diesel and electrical system. It is this which is the “secret sauce” of REAP systems.


The cockpit of the boat has been retro-fitted with a colour-coded touchscreen display that lets the driver select between the two power sources. It also gives momentary operating data such as battery-level, power output, fuel consumption rate, engine temperature and so forth. Denis also told me that among the electronics is a telemetry/logger unit that is powered by Linux running on a humble Raspberry Pi!

Denis and I got talking about the business side of REAP and he explained to me the challenges facing REAP systems. Their vision is to produce well thought out hybrid-electric “kits” which manufacturers can order and follow to adapt their own combustion engine systems. To do this requires good, reliable, repeatable steps and documentation that covers different scenarios. We all know that engineers never “do documentation” that well (this is also true of Software Engineers – my own profession ;).

However, in the “cut and thrust” of the enterprenurial business world, documentation is the kind of stuff that is important to customers. Furthermore it’s not easy to attract the support of serious investors. One novel idea to promote the project is to take the boat to the Venice Film Festival to hopefully attract some of the more Green-inclined stars. Apparantly the actor George Clooney is a big proponent of green/electric vehicles and was one of the first to own a Tesla car.



Back to the boat ride,I originally thought that I would be a passive passenger, sitting on the couches in relative luxury and sipping some iced lemon water as we cruised across the Solent… Not so! While on-board, Denis gave me short induction of the safety features and other basics. I was really pleased because it made me feel like I had a purpose and that Denis trusted me, a complete stranger, to help run the boat. I get bored easily so that was another reason I was grateful. Anyway, it turned out to be very wise thing to do because it was an eventful trip.

How so? For one thing, the engine overheated about 15 minutes into the trip. The temperature gauge read 110 degrees centigrade and the engine cut out suddenly. A look towards the engine cover showed some ominous white smoke coming out… this looks bad. The back-up boat driver, Brian, came up alongside and pointed out that the water cooling system was ejecting “green” liquid. It was actually the coolant and antifreeze mix. What had happened was that the coolant hose had come loose at the last service. This drained the coolant tank and prevented the engine from staying at a safe operating temperature.

“Oh crap” I thought, was this the end of the trip? Thankfully no… I learnt that boat owners tend to accept he need to make ad-hoc repairs and fix problems on-the-fly.


Brian towed us to Hythe Fueling station where we docked and filled up several plastic water bottles with regular water. We used this to fill the coolant tank and let the engine cool down. I could tell that Denis was calm on the exterior but there was some underlying anxiety of permanent expensive damage done to the engine from the overheating…


Denis explained to me earlier that he always takes the hybrid boat out with a volunteer back-up boat. In fact, that morning we set off a bit late because he had trouble getting in touch with Brian (the back-up boat driver). I realise now why he was keen to hear from him, since we definitely needed backup that day. Brian had a “RIB” boat which was very fast compared to our humble hybrid machine. He was accompanied by his girlfriend, Gloria.

Both were friendly folks and Brian was an experienced sea-hand. I later learnt over lunch that Gloria was from Argentina. All the more surprising is that Brian is originally from the Falkland Islands (surprising because the UK briefly went to war with Argentina in 1982 over sovereignty of the Islands). While talking to him, I could not quite place his accent but this must be how all Falkland Islanders sound like.

Brian was full of humorous sayings: he told me that the phrase “boat” is actually an acronym meaning “Break Out Another Thousand”. He also told me that owning a boat is enjoyable exactly two times – when you buy it and when you sell it!

So, back to the overheated engine. after we got the engine temperature down we used a spare jubilee clip to secure the coolant pipe to the engine. It seems that some sloppy maintenance caused it to come loose. I mentioned to Denis that one of the Southampton Dry Stack staff pointed this out to us before we set-off but we dismissed his warning thinking that he was referring to the overflow valve :(

This photo from just before the ride shows the un-attached coolant feeder port.
This photo from just before the ride shows the un-attached coolant feeder port.

Anyway, with the engine cooling down we were able to get it going again and were soon powering our way over the waves of the Solent toward Cowes. Brian was powering ahead, showing off a bit by making effortless wide circles in his fast RIB craft. I was amused to see Gloria lying down at the front of the RIB during all of this, calmly taking selfies.

I have cycled over the Itchen Toll Bridge a few times... here I am going under it for the first time!
I have cycled over the Itchen Toll Bridge a few times… here I am going under it for the first time!

I have to say that for the rest of the day I felt like a sailor – I had never seen the Solent from this aspect before, I got involved with tying down the boat to dockside using secure knots, I was bringing the fenders up (and down) from the side of the boat on orders from Denis. It was a bit of an adventure.

We made it to Cowes without incident and had a relaxing lunch at a Tapas resteraunt. It was here that I got to know these folks a bit better. We all shared some stuff happening in our lives. Paradoxically, I felt I could open up to these guys more exactly because they were strangers – since I may never see them again there was no risk attached. It was funny that at the start of the day they were strangers… but by the end of lunch they became likable, normal human beings with normal problems.

Thankfully the return journey back to Southampton Dry Stack was uneventful. We were treated to some semi-scary close-ups of 4 or 5 absolutely huge cruise ships which Southampton is famous for. Brian was having a lot of fun in his RIB, jetting alongside the huge cruise ships so that Gloria could take some photos before nimbly jetting away.
I spotted one of the biggest, the Independence of the Seas. At one point we were directly in it’s path as it turned in the shipping lane …yeah, this would be a bad place to have another over-heating problem.


Other water craft spotted included some jet-skis, a huge and very expensive looking luxury yacht (with tinted dark windows, the kind owned by Russian oligarchs and James Bond villains) a sleek powerboat and a Red Jet. Red Jet is a 30 minute catamaran hi-speed ferry service that runs between Southampton and Cowes and operated by Red Funnel.

I also spotted some interesting birdlife – black cap terns which are like more delicate, sleek seagulls, however these ones prefer to keep close to the sea, never really venturing inland like regular seagulls. Denis told me that he has spotted wild seals in the Itchen river.

We made it back at about 7pm, the late hour due to being under electrical power for most of the return journey. This meant we cruised at a sailboat pace back to Southampton Dry Stack – this was OK for me as it gave me time to appreciate a different view of the city I’ve called home for the last 12 years. The tide was coming out so we had to overcome some resistance from the current.

I thanked Denis for the day and wished him well, then unlocked my bike and cycled home in the cooler evening air for some dinner.

Bike Security Reminder: Please lock your bike properly!

I’m here today to relate a story about my friend who had his bike stolen last September from Gunwharf Quays. It was in broad daylight in a busy area with lots of shoppers and people walking close by.

This photo was taken by me when we discovered the missing bike. It should have been there next to the red foldable one.
This photo was taken mere minutes after we discovered the bike had been stolen. It should have been there next to the red foldable one.

How did this happen? The answer is simple – the lock my friend had used was little more than a piece of a wire. Quickly and stealthily cut with a pair of pliers.

Here is a similar cable (lock with glove for scale) - this is only good for securing your helmet.
Here is the kind of cable lock I mean (with glove for scale) – this is only good for securing your helmet.

Do not make the same mistake my friends, get a decent U-lock or D-Lock such as this. This lock conforms to the Sold Secure “Silver” certification standard – which is an independent lock testing standard. You want to aim for “Silver” or above when it comes to choosing a lock for your bike. Another good lock is this one from Kryptonite.


May 2019 Update: this is the lock that WG has been using for the last year – tough and compact and Sold Secure Gold rated:


If I’m cycling somewhere like the New Forest where I’m not sure that cycle lock hoops are available then I will take a thick cable lock like this one below so it’s easier to attach to posts and fences etc:


At the very least when locking your bike you MUST put the lock through the rear wheel, large triangle of the frame and loop it around a fixed bike post.

So, what to do if your bike is actually stolen? Sadly not that much. You can report it to the Police and if they recover it they might contact you. Some Police forces have a Twitter account where they publicize recovered bikes (like this one).

In my friends case above I actually located the bike on Gumtree a few days after it had been stolen. What I did was to set-up a search alert using the keywords and location of the theft (in this case “mountain bike” and “within 5 miles of Southsea, Hampshire”). Normally the thief will live locally (these unfortunate people normally sell them on to fund a drug habit or other addiction).


After I set-up a daily search alert on Gumtree I made sure to check the alerts every day for a week… Sure enough a few days later his bike appeared! It was being sold by a guy in Southsea – within about a mile of Gunwharf Quays. The seller’s name was “Jordan” and I contacted the guy feigning interest.

I sent my friend the link and he reported it to the Police. Sadly the Police probably would not be able to recover it and are generally have other more important crimes to deal with :/
That was no comfort to my friend but he is of a chilled, live-and-let-live disposition so it was cool with him.

He did relate one tale of someone finding their stolen bike on Gumtree, arranging to take a test ride of it.. and then cycling off into the distance, re-united with their bike once more. I can’t ever condone that though since it might incur a violent encounter with the original theif.

Stealing your own bike back though? I’ve love to see a video of such an incident – complete with a Go-Pro rear-facing camera capturing the look on the face of the original miscreant ;)

Further reading: How Not to Get Your Bike Stolen

Digital Detox Experiment: Leave your phone in the car

It’s been a really busy time in the life of the Wise Geek. Lots happening in both the business and personal sides of my life.

During one of these super-busy days, the week-day started like any other: Alarm at 6:30am, hit snooze, hug my cat who jumps onto my bed, proceed to ignore snooze alarms until 7am… and then a frenzy of activity until I leave the house at 8am. In all of this hurried activity I forgot my phone. I only noticed this once I had arrived at the office car park. I parked in my usual spot and opened the center console/armrest where I keep my phone while driving.

Shit. No phone.

Now what? I can’t drive back as I just got here and my office is 20 miles away. Oh well, lets just remember it tomorrow…

However, something interesting happened in my mindset that day. I just felt more chilled, less anxious, relaxed and was able to focus on my day-to-day work much more effectively.

I also noticed a change in small habits like not reaching for my phone to check emails and stuff during toilet breaks and tea breaks. Not walking everywhere with my head lowered towards the screen like some kind of zombie. Instead I was able to “look up” and breathe deeply a bit more that day. I just felt more human and less on-edge.

In short I had experienced an involuntary “digital detox”.

A digital detox is a concept where-by you willingly give up checking things with a screen for some time, eg. a phone, laptop, computer… The idea is that it lets you get some balance back by stepping out of the digital bubble created by WhatsApp, email, texts, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat etc.

A bunch of hippy-dippy nonsense? Maybe. All I can say is that it worked for me :)

So much so that the next day I decided to keep my phone in the car at the start of the day and then only check it at 5pm when I finished work for the day.


That day and the following days I felt the same chilled, relaxed sense of calm. I really did.

So, I would encourage yoiu – nay, I would challenge you to try it. Leave the phone somewhere inaccessible at the start of the day and see how you feel. Try to keep it up for 5 days in a row and monitor your feelings and moods before and after.

I think you might be surprised at the results. If so, what does that say about modern life and how everyone seems to be glued to their screens these days?

Southampton Shop Spotlight: Retro Time at the Loft Ladder

The second in my “Southampton Shop Spotlight” series is very similar to the first – and I apologize! You can probably guess my shopping habits right?

Before I get into the spotlight, this leads me on to an idea: do you have a shop/store in Southampton that has impressed you lately with it’s service, range of products, uniqueness or quirky-nature? Then please get in touch with me using the “Contact Me” form and I’ll gladly host your write-up!

Onwards with the spotlight… Retro Time


Did you know that West Quay isn’t the only shopping mall in Southampton town centre? There is the oft-forgotten Marlands just up the high street towards the London Road end.

Unlike the uber-commercial West Quay, Marlands has an ace up it’s sleeve in the form of an upper level featuring something called “The Loft Ladder” – explained on the Marlands website thus:

Step up to the first floor and explore our uniquely designed space full of brilliant ideas, fabulous gifts and exciting talented individuals. If you’re looking for something different, this is the place to come.

An innovative retail concept with space designed specifically for smaller independents, fledging companies and creatively driven enterprises. Join a community of vintage, urban, arts & crafts retailers.

One of these shops is “Retro Time” manned by the multi-talented Steve.

As the name suggests, you will find all manner of Retro goodies here from Vinyl records, record/fashion bags, games consoles (including a large selection of handheld systems like Gameboy Advance and PSP), video games and those beeping electronic games from the 80’s.












There are also hobby/geeky things like Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon cards along with hardback “coffee table” type books covering Star Wars, Marvel/DC History, Halo, Final Fantasy and suchlike.


Look carefully and you might find pocket binoculars, board games and even a sat-nav – it’s all part of the experience :)


It’s not all retro stuff – as you can see they have a selection of PS4 and Xbox One games (we’ll allow it Steve ;)


The surrounding shops feature products like home-made leather goods, indie clothing and ethnic jewelry – so maybe you can convince the girlfriend/wife to visit with you while you checkout the geeky stuff ;)

Since all the retro stuff is all used pre-loved, you can also sell your unwanted retro stuff here for others to enjoy again.

Give them a try! Check out their Facebook page, it has details of the newest stock, offers, promotions etc

Southampton Comics

I cannot mention Retro Time with mentioning the equally wonderful Southampton Comics who share the same floor-space.




These guys alternate every weekend between Mark (aka “The Space Ligers”) and Gavin (aka “The Gavster”) – each with their own range of comics. Both are friendly and knowledgeable dudes with Braniac-levels of encyclopedic knowledge of all things comics.


If you’re unsure what to read or want to get started then just ask them, set a budget and they will pick out good stuff for you.

Go there for a huge selection of comics from the usual Marvel/DC range to indie titles and graphic novels. They also have a selection of mini-figures and jewelry themed along comics/TV lines (I’ve personally been meaning to buy the Thundercats logo pendant…).



Check out their Facebook page for offers, promotions, events, video messages etc etc etc :)

The Great Coffee Experiment

I think we all agree that Coffee is a wonderful invention. It kick starts our days and gives us a feeling of warmth or a good chat with friends.

Readers of this blog might have already read my visit to the Southampton Repair Cafe. I volunteered once again the other week but this time it was slightly different: in addition to the usual repairers there were a bunch of organizations promoting various community and anti-waste causes.



One of these was “EthiCo” – sety-up by a bunch of Southampton University students with the aim of reducing plastic waste around the campus. On their stand they had toothbrushes made from bamboo and re-usable coffee cup called a KeepCup. After chatting with them for a while I was impressed enough with their gumption and their cause to buy a KeepCup from them.




This got me thinking: can I really use this everywhere in Southampton..?

The EthiCo guys told me that some cafe’s will give a small discount or more loyalty points for using a re-usable cup. I had to try it out myself…


I wasn’t sure what kind of reception I would get at the well-known “chain of the golden arches”. In my mind I was expecting some inflexibility: “no sir, we can only give you the coffee in our certified, anti-litigation McCup with the McLid and McSleeve”.

So it is with some interest that I approcahed the McDonalds in the West Quay Retail Park and… I’m happy to report that they gave me my Latte in my re-usable cup.



A few days later I cycled to Eastleigh town centre and decided to try the McDonalds there. I asked if they could give me it in my reusable cup and they said they could only give me it in their own cup – and that I could then pour it into my KeepCup!

Uhhh, yeah OK.

To be fair, the server chap seemed amenable to my request but I saw him ask his manager who then refused my request. The server empathised with me about the cup being a waste.

It would seem the it’s all down to the attitude of the staff or manager in McDonalds. For this reason McDonalds gets two out of three coffee beans. A shame as their coffee is pretty good on both the taste-buds and wallet.

Cafe Thrive

This a is a relatively new Vegan cafe/resteraunt on Hanover buildings sandwiched between Rice Up Whole Foods and British Heart Foundation. Look out for the black and white logo (the pasta place next-door is also black and white so don’t get confused!).



Given the laid-back friendliness I already experienced here I could predict that they would just “get it” and sure enough they gave me a delicious Assam blend tea in my Keep Cup with no fuss whatsoever. They even gave me the Oak milk in a cute bottle alongside it.

Well done guys, you get the maximum three coffee beans out of three :)


The family-owned chain also exudes an environmentally-friendly vibe due in part to the locally sourced nature of all the food. I should have no problem here right?

As you can guess, I did indeed have no problem. The staff in Mettricks Old Town gave me a coffee in my Keep Cup twice now. No muss, no fuss.

Mettricks gets three coffee beans out of three.

The Art House

As the website puts it: Your one and only creatively-inspired, community-run, organic, love-filled, not-for-profit, quirky, slightly wonky, home-grown, 100% original, local cafe / gallery / venue / home-from-home in Southampton.

With an introduction like that you can probably guess if my re-usable cup was accepted: it was :)

Much like Cafe Thrive, these guys were chilled and friendly bunch. They also had a wide variety of non-dairy milk substitutes (Oat milk being my favourite which they prepared up to a lovely creamy froth).

I sat upstairs which as the photos show has oodles of character – it is more like somebodys lounge. I sipped my lovely coffee over reading an artbook about famous street-artist Banksy.




I give The Art House three coffee beans out of three.


No issue here – simple and straightforward and damn good coffee :)

They also gave me a discount for using a re-usable cup. Got nice, frothy Soya milk on top.


Three coffee beans out of three. Well done Costa.

Coffee #1

A friend of mine claims these guys serve the best coffee in Southampton. We’ll see about that son…

I think there are two branches: one on Commercial Road not far from West Quay and the other in Portswood High Street towards Highfield Lane. I tried the Commercial Road branch and they accepted my reusuable cup without any issue.

However as I was having it within the premises, they stated that no discount was forthcoming. They pointed out the ceramic cups for that purpose. Fair enough I guess (but what if I decide to leave the cafe after 5 minutes? I cannot take their cup) They also had milk alternatives, but this was limited to Soya milk although they say Coconut milk is coming soon.

So I got my coffee in my KeepCup and you would think all is well right? Wrong. Now every other barista filled my KeepCup to the top of the cup but here I got a small volume of coffee that consisted mostly of mostly dried milk. Check photo below.

Now to be fair, I should have told them about and I’m sure they would have fixed it but I came there to do a bit of work on my laptop before rushing off somewhere else so I wasn’t really in the mindset to get up and confront them over it.


And while I am in rant-mode: the guy cleaning the crockery was so damn loud that I’m sure he was pissed off that day or something – clearly the Santa hat he was wearing did NOT fulfill it’s function of delivering Christmas cheer :(

And finally: no free WiFi! Holy First World problems! Luckily I was within range of the Lloyds Bank free WiFi next door which I was able to connect to without any tedious “create account” feature.

My wallet got plundered too... :/
My coffee got plundered too… :/

So these guys get one coffee bean out of three – must do better next time guys… Maybe I’ll try the Portswood branch but for now you rank below the fast-food chain.

Cafe Giordano

Cafe Giordano is in West Quay food court. The food court itself is populated by weary shoppers, self-conscious teenagers and spaced-out families… but the cafe is situated towards the cruise ship port with a large airy window. It is actually a civilized oasis of calm in the commercial shopping chaos nearby.

Pleased to say they accepted my KeepCup without issue :) You guys get three coffee beans out of three.

Good old Cafe Giordano with their hot Eastern European blonde cafe staff
Good old Cafe Giordano with their attractive Eastern European blonde cafe staff (not pictured)

Hey! What about <insert cafe here>?

There were a bunch of others to try but I have yet to approach.

One is the intriguingly named “Coffee Lab” at the corner of London Road opposite the city park. This is the kind of place that is the target of the recent McDonalds ads. The ads poke fun at boutique coffee places that go over-the-top in brewing the “perfect” cup.

There is of course Starbucks which I just didn’t get to. I will update this article once I try them out but I’m expecting a similar experience to Costa.

I don’t think Southampton has a Cafe Nero but Eastleigh has – that would be another one to try.

Do you have any suggestions? Make a comment below! :)

Where can I get a KeepCup?

I bought my KeepCup from the EthiCo guys but you can also find them on Amazon 

If you want to get really fancy, you can buy a KeepCup with a glass base and cork mouthpiece.
If you want to get really fancy, you can buy a KeepCup with a glass base and cork mouthpiece.

Southampton Shop Spotlight: Retro Hut

Remember the days video-games didn’t ask you to pay for level two onwards? Or when you didn’t need a fibre-optic cable to actually get the game?

Or perhaps you fondly remember those warm-yet-scratchy sounding vinyl discs with amazing cover artwork? Some featuring striking designs such as a prism of light being split into a rainbow of colours.

Wouldn’t it be good to find somewhere local in the real world that you actually walk to where you can have a friendly chat with the proprietor (and other like-minded shoppers) and re-live those good ol’ days?

Well, I have good news: Southampton boasts several such shops and I’m here to introduce one of the finest of those establishments: Retro Hut

If you venture a relatively short distance north from Southampton Central train station you can find Retro Hut – if all else fails just look for the life-size Dalek from Doctor Who (not a joke, there is one outside).



Rob from Retro Hut has been on the scene for more than a year and has built up a reputation of being a down-to-earth and very fair chap. He is also a lovely chap to speak to and will even take requests if you’re looking for something specific.

Retro Hut will also buy your unwanted retro stuff which you can even trade for new stuff. There’s nothing like the honest feel of cash in your hand to spend – much better than using a card where you can succumb to temptation ;)





Inside the shop you will find retro video games, hardware and accessories from the 8-bit and 16-bit console era – along with more recent PS2, Xbox, GameCube, Xbox 360 and PS3 stock. There is also a selection of vinyl discs, comics & magazines, electronic games, Transformers, LEGO, superhero figures and if you look closely you will find an amazing coffee table book that chronicles the history of video-games.

Some exotic stuff passes through here – one time on a random visit Rob showed me a copy of a very rare and valuable Super Nintendo PAL game: The Firemen.


Outside you may also find a selection of bicycles – I saw several BMXs, kids and adult bikes on display.

My connection with Retro Hut is just as a happy customer, I urge anyone with an interest in anything retro/pop-culture to give them a visit :)



They have a Facebook page too where Rob features photos of weird and wonderful new stock.

Southampton Human Festival

Human Festival? What on Earth is that? Is this Star Trek or something? When is the Cardassian festival? :D”

Despite the slightly odd sounding title – the Southampton Human Festival is actually a celebration of the humanities. The humanities is just the study of how human experience is documented and processed. Still a bit mystified? Read on and some of the workshops and displays of this festival might give a better idea.

I first heard about the Human Festival on one of my bike rides into Southampton, I think I picked up the flyer in Rice Up Whole Foods on Hanover Buildings. They have a little section at the back of the shop with local events and suchlike.

It was held at the Avenue Campus of Southampton University which is within an enjoyable bike ride of me – and the “human” in the title is what got me interested as I’m all about living modern life in a more “human and sustainable” fashion. Naturally I was going to attend! The event was yesterday and it was a surprisingly thought provoking and inspiring gathering.


I met a couple of researchers studying climate change by analysing deep soil samples. They had a couple of microscopes on their table which one showing a much deeper soil sample than the other and within you could clearly see the change in plant seeds from forest trees to grasses and cereals. What caused this? Climate change or a co-incidence with the ride of farming in the Neolithic period of human history?


Another chap was talking about the “Metamorphosis” movement in urban transformation. This was of particular interest to me ask it talks about upgrading the cycling infrastructure in Southampton :)
What suprised me is how far parts of Western Europe are in terms of more liveable urban centres. Think free bike kitchens where you can pump up your wheels and put you bike on the stand to do maintenance. Think also residential areas where there are gardens and allotments in the middle of the street! I think that is a brilliant idea and the chap at this display was brimming with enthusiasm. This chap mentioned that Southampton has a lot of cultural history that is accessible on foot (I know this to be true – see my previous blog entries). He even runs a Facebook group called “Southampton Cultural Connections” to promote this stuff. One this he mentioned was the original Roman settlement at Bitterne (aka “Clausenteum”) – according to Wikipedia this is not accessible but I’m going to try it soon.

I also had a short walking history tour of Southampton Common where I learnt that there was once a race-course there and that the town tried more than three times to create a reservoir (the Boating Lake is one failed example). The main through-fare down the north end of common is also called Coronation Avenue – it is named to commemorate the ascension of a British monarch in the last few centuries. I cycled through that with new appreciation after I left the festival.


Back inside the festival, I got to have myself 3D laser-imaged by a £40,000 laser imaging scanner. They even saved the image scan for me on a USB stick which they presented to me afterwards. This scanner is used my the Geological department to study erosion and the Lab manager told me of all the world-wide places he and his team have travelled in their research.




Some of the displays covered some unusual things you would not think of… such as Medieval Graffiti! This attempts to study and document the “graffiti” – small carvings and etchings – made on the walls of churches. The reasons for these markings are sometimes very touching. I learnt that there are some markings on the Bargate near West Quay and I asked how to find them. If do find them I’ll be sure to update this post with photos.


There were so many things going on that I could not attend them all. Ranging from new technology to clean up oil slicks to the study of our ancient humanoid ancestors. They were things for all ages too – I saw some creative writing workshops packed with lots of children. Obviously the next generation of writers were being inspired by this festival. There were also short story workshops for adults.



One thing I didn’t realise is that Southampton University is ranked number one in the world for Marine Archaeology. There was an entire room dedicated to this with a very impressive Virtual Reality headset tour of a real shipwreck and several divers/researchers were present talking passionately about their work. They even had a 3D printer and several 3D models of actual shipwrecks that you could touch and look over. Does that mean that laser imaging scanner can work underwater? Amazing.




There were displays showing how we can transform retail shopping experiences from the sometimes draining “shop till you drop” affairs to something more civilised and efficient. Personally I wanted to attend the Astrodome (a large black indoor upside-bouncy-castle type thing) put on by the University Astrological society but I ran out of time :(

All in all a very worthwhile and interesting time – really opened my eyes on what is going on in our city. A big thank you to Southampton University, the exhibitors and student volunteers!