technology, Travel

A few thoughts on in-car technology

View of the cockpit from the drivers seat

This is a post about how in-car technology has clearly moved on since our 2001 car was built.

Last week I rented a Nissan Note for our week in the South of France. I grabbed the keys and found my silver car in a long line of shiny new cars. I pressed the unlock button on the key fob and jumped into the driver seat. Everything lit up like a runway and my immediate thought was what the heck do I do now AND don’t touch anything. I moved to put the key into the ignition and realised it didn’t have a keyhole but those ‘push to start’ buttons. The car knows i’m the driver as it senses the key fob close enough. The last time I saw this feature was on Top Gear with a Ferrari. At this point I think must people will try and press the button to start the car but they’d be wrong. You need to press the clutch at the same time or the car won’t start – i found this out a few years back when I wasted 15 minutes failing to work it out on a previous rental. Once the engine started I decided to check my surroundings properly. My dashboard displayed a range of completely comprehensible details, which I later learned stood for ‘range of fuel left’, how green I was currently driving, current fuel level, gear etc. My steering wheel also had a number of buttons which I steered clear of initially. These controls allowed me to change the radio settings, activate cruise control (which I played with at 130kph to learn…!) and mess around with bluetooth devices.

In short, things have moved on in 10-15 years but not massively and I was a little bit disappointed. In addition to the above, I had a front and rear camera to assist parking (a bumper is a much simpler feature ha PLUS I built a parking sensor in college in 2000 for under a fiver), LCD display control unit with GPS and some odd flashing lights for whenever I was very close to a car or wall when driving – something that is required to drive those amazingly twisty narrow roads like the D44 between Plan De La Tour and Le Muy.

We are looking at buying a larger car yet I can’t help wonder who would pay for all these ‘features’ which basically poorly replace good road craft. Also I can’t imagine the LCD screen or many of these features still working perfectly in 10-15 years.

The best features? a cup holder next to the driver seat and a cubby hole under the boot, which probably is possible with a small spare instead of a full blown wheel I lug around.

At least now I can rest easy just looking for a second hand car with a decent cup holder and the will to carry me around.

A few details:

  • Approx £190 for seven days rental from the airport
  • We covered 650KM for £40 fuel




mobile, Travel

Nexus 7 on the midnight train

Fresh back from Copenhagen, I declare that my nexus 7 tablet makes an excellent travel companion.

The tablet made the flight bearable as I watched some funny Louis C.K comedy to take my mind off the fact I was off the ground. Like nearly all hostels, the Danhostel Copenhagen Downtown has wifi in the main lounge area. But instead of the common desktop PC, they let guests make free use of several laptops and an iPad in exchange for I.D. On top of this they had a charging station behind the counter so that anybody could safely charge mobile phones and USB devices like my tablet (it really needs a name: Frank Mobile, FM for short ok?).

I found out about the charging station as my lack of foresight had me bring a generic charger that failed to breath any life into FM. Luckily Copenhagen was so much fun that I didn’t actually ever flatline.

Me and the brothers (an aside: we got called “semi-black” in a bar cue #awkward moment lost in translation) mostly used the music in our hostel room with a dash of twitter/facebook stalking thrown in for good measure.

The size of FM is perfect for my backpack, a North face “Big shot” and sat easily in the front zip. I fashioned a case from a used Amazon parcel cardboard box with rubber band which did the trick. I have yet to stumble across an affordable case so this will do for now.

At this point it is worth highlighting the cost. At £199, I felt totally happy to use the device everywhere and not cringe whenever I handed it over or rammed my bag into a carry compartment. The price point is pretty compelling and my fellow travelers will be investigating devices at this price point (amazon fire and maybe the rumoured Apple iPad mini). The only disappointment for my brothers was that most UFC sites still use flash for video, can’t win every time.

The apps we used in no particular order were Flipboard, google reader, youtube, Google chrome, Google email.

I forget that I am a nerd and have a need to code, but that for most of the world, email, facebook, youtube and web browsing is plenty enough internets. I did sit in the bar over the 6 days looking at travelers from all reaches of the planet. I observed that none of them had a laptop, it was either the Apple iPad or various flavours of mobile phone. Anybody who says that a mobile phone isn’t heavily used for reading is a mug.

An interesting discovery was that one USA traveler was using the 2nd Gen Kindle purely for the 3g connectivity, for email and twitter no less. 20 bucks well spent was the simple answer.

So next time I travel I will be bringing my new travel friend along.

personal, technology, Travel

Coping with flying

I have a fear of flying and have sadly turned down some great opportunities to see the world and meet great people. Eventually I decided that the risks paled in comparison to the regret I would have in later years.

I started off quite enjoying flying, my first flight was in 1996 from Bristol to Ghana (6.5hrs) via Amsterdam (1hr).

After that I did the USA (6hrs) and Canada (7.5hrs). Then I had a shocking flight returning from the Caribbean and decided a white-knuckle ride wasn’t my thing.

so I then turned down some amazing trips (so my family keep reminding me) to visit Portugal, New Zealand (twice) and some other spots.

I can’t pin point why I have this fear as I am a passenger in cars, bikes, trains, buses and all sorts of vehicles quite easily.

My brothers were going to Amsterdam and although I turned it down they booked me a seat anyway…. a short huff (under 1hr) they said with family would ease me back into the travel.

Needless to say I was petrified and drank like a fish as that’s what you’re supposed to right? (more on this later).

After surviving this I got brave and we went to Italy (2.5hrs) where I was just as scared.

I decided to list what I didn’t like and then investigate further – the result of which is now I am still scared but I can tolerate many of the things that trigger my fear. I thought i’d list them in the hope this brings some relief to others:

  • I struggle to sleep days before a flight – acknowledge little can be done but that you aren’t the only one laying awake thinking about it either
  • drown out the sound of other people, put some music on in the waiting room – somebody always has a bad plane story so just drown others out
  • the plane looks odd compared to others – stop looking at the darn thing, just follow the person in front. Do not look at the plane except maybe to glance at the pilot
  • take something to read as you can use this during take-off and it at least gives me a distraction from trying to look out the window
  • That large knock shortly after take-off is the sound of the wheels returning to the carriage – this used to freak me out so much
  • other people annoy me so listen to some music instead or watch a video
  • I accept that I will have highs and lows during the flight – i focus on my breathing and the reason that I am travelling
  • Talk to a pilot – within 1-3 people I bet you’ll know a pilot who will be happy to chat about the bits you hate the most
  • Drinking doesn’t help at all i just need to use the toilet more which involves getting up so i have ditched this method
  • those herbal things are useless

All of the above have helped me in the last 2-3 years cope with flights and these have evolved to allow me to fly to New Zealand, Asia and other part of Europe.

I am still a sweaty, grumpy mess but trust me the other end is worth the hassle. See you in the sky!




Missing a trick – Hotel guestbooks

It is a constant struggle to identify good hotels/hostels – this time we were lucky that a colleague suggested ‘The Havelock‘ on the Isle of Wight, a place which has exceeded our expectations and we couldn’t have been happier.

On the front desk the owners have a guestbook which reflects the happy stay of many guests . What’s wrong with that? Nothing except we are already here and so the comments don’t  really add value much to anybody – although my better half suggests it can be good for local recommendations.

Those comments would be very helpful to anybody who is considering the hotel via the website. I propose that all hotels transfer those comments to their own websites on a regular basis. This would help interested potential guests AND surely help keep fresh material on the site – who loves this more than a search engine and a bunch of hotels with static sites vying for a higher search ranking that’s who.

It is good that The Havelock is on tripadviser as at least those comments can help you decide.