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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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

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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 ;)

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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.

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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.

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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…).

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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.

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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.

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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…

McDonalds

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.

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But.

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!).

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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 :)

Mettricks

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.

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

Costa

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.

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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.

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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 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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Repair all the Things!

Imagine if there was a somewhere within walking distance of where you live that you could take your faulty, ripped, wonky and broken stuff to get it repaired?

This is exactly the idea behind “Repair Cafe” – and there just so happens to be one in Southampton!

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The Repair Cafe operates from the United Reformed Church in Shirley High Street on the first Saturday of the month, every month from approx 10:30am to 1pm. It is run with calm efficiency by Angela and staffed by a small squad of volunteers who attempt to help people fix things of every shape, size and description.

What kinds of things? Bikes, vacuum cleaners, laptop computers, FM/AM radios, phones, hair straighteners, sewing machines, jewelry, clothes… and probably other stuff I can’t think of.

There are also people who need help with software problems – which could range from how to download and edit a Word document to changing the font-size on their email software.

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In the most recent one in November I saw someone bring in a Betamax Video recorder. These are no longer made having lost out to VHS (which itself lost out to DVD, which itself has lost to Bluray…) It was looked at by a volunteer electronics engineer.

This comprehensize toolbox was custom-made  by the owner Neville. Very cool.
This comprehensize toolbox was custom-made by the owner Neville. Very cool.
An example of ingenuity -  this is a homebrew headtorch with magnifier lenses!
An example of ingenuity -
this is a head-torch with built-in magnifier lenses!

Yeap – you get very kind professional people giving their time for free at these places. Although I could not repair that myself, I helped this particular person by looking up local companies that do BetaMax to digital transfers – and they left happy :)

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I’ve been volunteering at the last two Repair Cafes and I can tell you that it gives a warm fuzzy feeling to help people in your local community. You also get a buzz from being a bit of a “superhero” because there are things you may know or do that might be like magical super-powers to others.

Henry vacuum cleaner getting some TLC - this picture also points out a cup of tea and brownie - did I mention that volunteers get a token for one cup of tea and cake for FREE?!?
Henry vacuum cleaner getting some TLC – this picture also points out a cup of tea and brownie – did I mention that volunteers get a token for one cup of tea and cake for FREE?!? This puts the CAFE in Repair Cafe

I mentioned Angela earlier who is the organizer. She told me that there are plenty of people in other areas of Southampton who would love to be able to bring their stuff in but are unable to drive – or would find it awkward to take their broken vacuum cleaner or bike on the bus!

I known that Angela is keen to get a repair kitchen going in the area of Bitterne.

So, this blog post is a call-to-arms to anyone out there willing to chip-in to attain that warm fuzzy “help the community” feeling I talked about.

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Be a local superhero and get in touch with the organizer Angela via email

Learn more:

Southampton Repair Kitchen on Facebook

Transition Southampton – ideas for sustainable living around Southampton

PS: I cycled to the Repair Cafe despite the rain (makes it interesting!). My slightly dodgy rear brake was looked at by the friendly bike guys – thanks guys!

In Praise of my Home Town of Southampton

When we look at the news today we often see terrible things happening in other parts of the world. Some of these are environmental (tornadoes, floods) and man-made (war, conflict). If you’re reading this in West Europe or North America you are in the top-tier of humanity in benefiting from life in a prosperous, peaceful society. This is a thought that we don’t dwell on enough in our busy daily lives. So… with that in mind, I thought it is way past time that I write something about my home town: Southampton.

OK, so technically my home town is actually a small village on the outskirts that isn’t in Southampton at all (it’s in the borough of Eastleigh – voted one of the best places to live for quality of life in the UK). Let’s not split hairs though – Southampton right? Southampton.

One of my favourite things to do is to get on my bike and cycle from my village of West End into Southampton city centre. I normally plan this to get a delicious cooked lunch or to go see a movie – or both! From the city centre you can roam around and be along the waterfront featuring huge cruise ships, survey the modern West Quay mall from the surviving ancient city walls or take a wander through an intact Tudor house and garden.

I normally do one of two routes – these Google Fit track maps roughly shows the routes – I like the second one because it takes me through a fun twisty bit through Southampton University and a pleasant track in Southampton Common. The other route takes you along the River Itchen and right by St Marys Stadium. I like to switch between the two.

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The Southampton Common portion of this track is inaccurate for some reason :/
The Southampton Common portion of this track is inaccurate for some reason :/

Anyway, it was on just such a trip recently that I decided to take photos to illustrate some of the amazing places of my home city.

So let’s imaging we’re starting off on a typical bike ride from my village of West End – this is a village with a generous green space nearby called Hatch Grange. It’s most famous inhabitant was Sir Barbe Baker also known as “Man of the Trees” for his outstanding contribution to tree conservation.

This photo I took shows the spectacular avenue of tree’s in Hatch Grange during autumn:

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Let’s me detour into a mini-priase about West End village itself – from reading alot of stuff from MMM recently, he advises living “within a mile of your house” to help decrease your consumption footprint. I feel lucky where I live because in 5 minutes I can walk to the local supermarket and get everything we need for a weekly shop. There is also a super-friendly local barber (shout out to Bob the Barber at Beales ), a bakery (viennesse fingers!), a post office and even fish & chips for those Friday night splurges :)

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West End is hilly in places and that means you get some good views over the rolling hills of Hampshire
West End is hilly in places and that means you get some good views over the rolling hills of Hampshire

So back to the bike ride – I’m going to post some random photos I took from the latest ride/walk. Please check the captions for the narration ;)

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My journey took me by a boxing gym and I had a friendly chat with the owner who let me take some photos - those boxers have to be fit to move that tyre
My journey took me by a boxing gym and I had a friendly chat with the owner who let me take some photos – those boxers have to be fit to move that tyre
There is a cargo train railway connecting the docks to the wider rail network - it is always a rare sight when it is in operation and so I snapped a few photos of  the seemingly endless carriages
There is a cargo train railway connecting the docks to the wider rail network – it is always a rare sight when it is in operation and so I snapped a few photos of the seemingly endless carriages
I passed bt St Marys Church - this is near to where Southampton FC had it's original ground hence why they are nicknamed "The Saints"
I passed bt St Marys Church – this is near to where Southampton FC had it’s original ground hence why they are nicknamed “The Saints”

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The Holy Rood church is one of four major churches and it's damage from WWII is very visible. It commemorates those of died at sea.
The Holy Rood church is one of four major churches and it’s damage from WWII is very visible. It commemorates those of died at sea.
There is a long stretch of road from the watefront right through the spine of the city called the QE2 Mile - named for the royal cruise ship. This anchor for that might vessel rests here along - I caught a double-rainbow in the background :)
There is a long stretch of road from the waterfront right through the spine of the city called the “QE2 Mile” – named for the royal cruise ship. This anchor from that might vessel was donated to the city and rests here near the Holy Rood church. I caught a double-rainbow in the background :)

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Southampton has a lovely big central park which looks very striking in the autumn. Look closely and you can even find some interesting looking wildlife...
Southampton has a lovely big central park which looks very striking in the autumn. Look closely and you can even find some interesting looking wildlife…

Probably my favourite places to eat is Mettricks – this is a locally-owned small chain of tea & coffee houses. What I like about them is the fact that they source ingredients from local farms and that they make sure to treat their staff like family. This means to get happy staff and good service and from going there for the last year I can certainly verify that. It also just has a nice cosy atmosphere and the coffee is superb. Best in Southampton in my humble opinion. Below are some photos from the Guildhall branch – this is probably my favourite one because of the spacious upstairs seating area. Try the Met fruit’n’oat bar for a nice after-meal dessert :)

Here are some photos – notice the bookshelf of board games and the trndy lighting. The walls feature cherished photos of the Mettrick family.

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On having breakfast at the Old Town branch, I finally completed this card showing that I have visited all four Mettricks branches around the city thereby earning me a free coffee. It was a fun way challenge and got me out further out on my bike to reach the Woolston branch :)
On having breakfast at the Old Town branch, I finally completed this card showing that I have visited all four Mettricks branches around the city thereby earning me a free coffee. It was a fun challenge and got me further out on my bike to reach the Woolston branch :)
The Guidhall all shiny and fresh after the rain shower
The Guidhall all shiny and fresh after the rain shower – Mettricks can be found across Guildhall Square just to the right…

Sometimes you find weird and wonderful events in the square – this photo from late August shows “Dinner in the Sky”

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Southampton Central Mosque
Southampton has a self-sufficient Muslim community as evidenced by the large and modern central mosque
This tourist map shows most of the interesting features of the city centre
This tourist map shows most of the interesting features of the city centre
John Le Fleming, major of Southampton  in the 14th century, looking out over the city walls. I wonder what he would make of the city today...
John Le Fleming, major of Southampton in the 14th century, looking out over the city walls. I wonder what he would make of the city today…
21st century modern restaurants on the left... ancient Medieval defence walls on right
21st century modern restaurants on the left… ancient Medieval defence walls on right

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These pictures show a pub that has capitalized on the city being the maiden port of the Titanic and several restored Medieval buildings - the merchants home is definitely worth a look.
These pictures show a pub that has capitalized on the city being the maiden port of the Titanic and several restored Medieval buildings – the merchants home is definitely worth a look.
This stained glass window features four of Southamptons most famous churches - two of which feature in this blog post. This is from St Michaels church which is the oldest Medieval building in the city.
This stained glass window features four of Southamptons most famous churches – two of which feature in this blog post. This is from St Michaels church which is the oldest Medieval building in the city.

That is all for now – in the near future I’ll do a “Part 2″ from the other cycle route and snap some more photos. Then there are Southampton’s speciality shops (whole-foods, retro video games and more) to write about. Until then, let me know in the comments what you like (or don’t like) about your home town.

Financial Independance through Bad Ass-ity

I’ve been thinking a lot about financial independence these days.

One thing that has spurred these thoughts is the two periods of annual leave I took in August. During this time I didn’t go abroad, I did not go hiking to Everest and neither did I stay out late, ending every night in a drunken stupor (I don’t drink anyway). I pretty much stayed in Hampshire enjoying the simple things like walking, cycling, catching up with friends, personal projects, the odd spot of eating out and the occasional trip to London.

It was kind of bitter-sweet towards the end of each annual leave because sometimes it felt like another week would be good. Not that I hate my job, far from it, the thing I like most about my work is the people I work with – a bunch of well-balanced, talented, friendly dudes.

All this got me thinking… what would I need to do to perpetually be on annual leave? eg. have an income from something that pays ALL my expenses and simply allows me to live a fairly simple life as described above?

A bit of Googling turned up the blog of Mr Money Moustache – also known as “MMM” or “Triple-M”. I urge you to check out his “Start Here” post but in a nutshell, his idea is pretty simple: by living frugally and saving 50% of your take home salary you can be financially independent in 10 years.

OK so there is a bit more to that. For instance, living frugally might not sound like fun to some of you reading this: What about the latest iPhone I want to buy? And that car I desire? Or the latest videogames? Or that all-expenses guided luxury vacation to Veneuzela?

Well, there is nothing that terribly wrong with those things. But MMM’s point is that those things do not necessarily bring you lasting happiness. They bring short term happiness definitely but as someone who has owned a nice, fast car after a short while it becomes “just another car” – it stops being special. Then you need to save up for another more expensive, faster, more polluting car in order to get the same buzz! The scales to many things such as phones all the way up to houses and private jets (!).

The things is, after absorbing some of his posts and listening to several interviews with him on YouTube (link below) – I feel I have arrived at some of his conclusions independently and know them to be true. I’m not financially independent though – MMM is well ahead of me on that front. He retired at age 31 and by all accounts has a very happy, fulfilled life with a wife and one child all living at under $25,000 a year (that is about £18,560 in UK money).

So what do I mean by “arrived at some of his conclusions independently”? Well, here are some things I do that are in tune with the “Moustachian Way of Life” (thats what fans of MMM call it)…

* cycle as much as you can to get around – it is good for you, fun, exhilarating and you can discover some amazing short-cuts and places not far from your home.

* do not spend more than you can afford (except on big, important purchases things like your home… and maybe your car)

* if you want something, try to make use of what you have – or sell something first to justify it (I did this with video-games, complete it and sell to fund the next one – I enjoyed games much more this way)

* eat a sensible diet, preferably home cooked/prepared with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables – minimize processed food

* keep eating out to an occasional treat, not an everyday things

* if you prepare your own lunch then you can save a lot of money in a year… and you will really value eating that cooked lunch at the canteen on a Friday when you allow yourself a day off from tuna sandwiches :)

* move more – walking to get your groceries, doing your own garden work and home improvement, do not employ a cleaner

* keep fit and active, you can get your own home gym (used weights from Gumtree/eBay etc) or fit exercises into your life in novel ways

* read real books by real authors – the internet is largely advert-driven and aside from authentic writings from blogs like MMM is not something to read for self-education

* realise that spending and consuming is not a long-term, sustainable recipe for happiness

* live life in balance – consume things in moderation, do not be overly frugal

* save money where you can, in other ways be generous, especially spending on friends & family

* avoid world news topics and worrying over geo-politics you have no control over

* try to avoid convenience (eg. take the stairs rather than lift)

Do you identify with any of the above? If not, then I would urge you to try some of these things even as an experiment.

If you want to get the MMM message in a nutshell then I recommend you listen to this fascinating 30 minute interview. The key thing is that MMM is not “anti-money”, he admits of his own weaknesses which in his case is a luxury home (but attained with hard-work and developed largely by his own hard work in doing it up!). His blog message is “anti-waste” and to shine a light on the problems of over-consumption in modern American society. He seems to be very authentic in his position of being very happy living on relatively modest means – and I believe him.

Anyway, the list above shows how I’ve arrived at this mindset already. Especially the idea that consuming more shiny things does not really bring lasting happiness. That is not to say you should go without basics. However the feeling of getting shiny new car will fade after a while into just a desire for something reliable to get you from A to B. Therefore it is best to go for something sued and sensible. For me a new car does not excite me unless we’re talking a BMW i8 – even then I know the “wow” feeling will probably last a few months or so and then fade into “just another car to maintain”.

I think as one gets older, we get wiser. We know ourselves and what we can sustain, what makes us happy and what does not. You can leverage this ability to focus on the what makes you happy/unhappy to cut out the crap and double-down on the stuff that truly brings happiness. Try to calculate how much you would save over 10 years if you cut out some “expensive indulgences” and replaced them with “bad-ass” versions of them – this can range from your daily £5 latte coffee, your new expensive mountain bike (which you hardly ride anyway) to your new VW Golf which you bought on credit thinking it a good deal and “just what everyone else does” ;)

You also realize that “less is more” and the relentless march towards “faster, more convenient, smaller, cheaper” does not necessarily mean “and better for you”. Case in point: I still use a dead music format: MiniDisc.

Yep – I really enjoy MiniDisc even though I can’t fill discs like an mp3 player and I savour the time taken in crafting a disc with music I sourced for free in legal, ways. Less is more. You’d never see me with a Spotify subscription ;)

I’m not perfectly frugal though, neither am I “mustachian” (a term that describes the teachings of MMM). I could do more of my own home improvement projects. I really admire people who do their own major home improvement like Mr Money Mustache. I am making some small changes in that direction though.

Over to you, give me examples of your own “bad-assity” in the comments!

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