BMW i3 test drive

Friday 26th June 2015

Can't decide whether to buy a BMW or save the planet? Now you can do both (sort of), with the BMW i3.

I'd like our next car to be electric so I booked a test drive in the i3. I want to see whether it's the car for me, and to see how it stacks up against the Tesla Model S, which I drove back in March.

There are two versions of the i3, a pure electric that gets 80 - 100 miles on a full charge, and a range extended version (called REx, the mode I drove) which has a teeny (650cc) petrol engine that just charges the battery when needed - it's not attached to the wheels. REx gets 160 - 180 miles on a full charge plus a tank (nine litres) of petrol. 

The product specialist who showed me round the car said that BMW's aim is for half of all sales to be electric cars within five years. He also said that the nine litre petrol tank can be annoying because most petrol stations have a minimum delivery of five litres, so you have to wait until it's more than half empty before filling it.

It has suicide -- er, "coach" - doors for the rear passengers, which I've always loved and are done really well here - there's no pillar between the front and rear doors, which makes it easy to get in and out of the back.


The good bits

It's got all the usual BMW refinements, plus it's almost entirely silent - the electric motor emits a very quiet whine when you floor it, and I didn't hear the petrol engine at all.

It's pretty light at 1300kg for the REx version, the body is made mainly of carbon fibre and the insides are apparently some kind of recyclable plant material.

It's a lot of fun, fast and feels extremely smooth to drive - the acceleration is quick, but not as quick as the Tesla. But then it's about a third of the cost of a full-spec Model S. It feels more like a comfortable daily driver than the Tesla.

More importantly it doesn't feel like driving an electric car. It just feels like driving a normal automatic, which is great because if there's one thing most people hate, it's change.

The driving position is quite high up, so there's good visibility although I couldn't see the end of the bonnet which made me a little nervous of parking it.

There are three modes:

  • Comfort: normal driving
  • Eco Pro: improved range, limited to 80mph
  • Eco Pro +: maximum efficiency, limited to 56mph

In reality I didn't find it limited my speed in either of those modes - I read afterwards that hard acceleration (is there another kind?) will disable the speed limiter.

The regenerative braking is extremely aggressive, something I noticed with the Tesla as well. Coming up to traffic lights you need to keep your foot on the gas otherwise you'll stop way too early. The product specialist called this "one foot driving" because you rarely have to touch the brake. I get the same sense that only the right side of my body is driving the car, but then I'm not used to automatics.

Best of all, it's got a fairly sensible key, unlike the Tesla's showy model car.


The bad bits

As with any car, there are always negatives. With the Tesla, my main complaint was how showy the car looked, but with the i3 the problem is how weird the whole thing looks. I'm all in favour of interesting design, but the i3 has a face that only its mother could love.

To be honest, the front of the car reminds me of a snub-nosed middle white pig. In a car park it's easy to find because it's 10cm higher than everything else, and although it looks small it's only 50cm shorter than our tank-like Audi A4 estate.

It's got a teeny tiny boot, which we couldn't fit the dog in, and the frunk is dedicated to charging, so there's no space there either. I think we'd struggle to get all our camping gear into the car just for a weekend away.

Finally, I feel that the "open-pore eucalyptus wood" dashboard rather overstates the eco credentials of the car, and is bound to get stained the first time you tip coffee onto it.


Is it really an electric car?

This is what annoyed me most about the car. The sales pitch is focussed on how eco-friendly you will be if you give BMW £36,000, and I wouldn't be surprised if they bring out a version that runs entirely on your own sense of satisfaction at single-handedly saving the planet.

In reality you're going to want the range extended version, unless you only use it for driving to the shops, and in that case you've accidentally bought a hybrid. And if I wanted a hybrid there's a much wider range of cars that don't look like pigs and cost a lot less too.



It's great fun to drive and I like it a lot, but it's not pretty and I kind of feel like I'm cheating if I buy one. I'd like to see how BMW's electric vehicle range grows over the next five years.

Am I being too harsh? Leave a comment below.



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Cornish holiday

Friday 19th June 2015

If you're not interested in beautiful beaches, breathtaking views and lush gardens, please think twice about visiting Cornwall this summer on your holiday. Visitors please note: beaches may contain sand and owl sanctuaries may contain owls.

Here are a selection of real-life comments I found on TripAdvisor for Cornwall's most popular tourist attractions:

Minack Theatre

Photo By Harald Bischoff (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Minack Theatre
#1 of 55 things to do in Penzance
"It's different..."   
The play was by Shakespeare and honestly, we watched for an hour and didn't have a clue what was going on. All the 17th century talk was just boring for us.



Charlestown Shipwreck & Heritage Centre

Photo by Andrew Thomas from Shrewsbury, UK [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Charlestown Shipwreck & Heritage Centre
#5 of 31 things to do in St Austell
"Rather boring"   
Utterly boring for someone who has no interest in boats.



The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Photo by Edwinb (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Lost Gardens of Heligan
#1 of 31 things to do in St Austell
"Waste of money"   
Great if you like to look at trees and grass.



The Lizard and Kynance Cove

Photo by Andy Wright from Sheffield, UK (Kynance Cove  Uploaded by [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The Lizard and Kynance Cove
#1 of 6 things to do in The Lizard
"Nothing exciting"   
I decided to ask the locals what was being offered in this deserted wasteland and all they said was "pasties roun'ere and sea down 'ere".



National Maritime Museum Cornwall

Photo By Vernon39 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

National Maritime Museum Cornwall
#4 of 58 things to do in Falmouth
"Very poor"   
Too much having to turn handles.



Tamar Otter and Wildlife Centre

Photo By Robek (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tamar Otter and Wildlife Centre
#1 of 19 things to do in Launceston
"Not much to do"   
The deers are very friendly, a bit too friendly for me.




Photo By Tom Chambers (originally posted to Flickr as Porthcurno Beach) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

#1 of 2 things to do in Porthcurno
"Porthcurno beach"   
Sand very uncomfortable to walk on.



Lizard Peninsula

Photo By Nilfanion (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Lizard Peninsula
#1 of 42 things to do in Helston
"Southern Point"   
Seemed a little old fashioned and Victorian.



Screech Owl Sanctuary

Photo By Dario Sanches from São Paulo, Brazil [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Screech Owl Sanctuary
#1 of 7 things to do in St Columb Major
Still mainly owls ... the children soon started saying "another owl another owl".



St Michael's Mount

Photo By Viosan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

St. Michael's Mount
#1 of 6 things to do in Marazion
"Skip the Castle, Stick to the Sea"   
Yet another egomaniac's demonstration of power



Truro Cathedral

Photo By Tim Green (Flickr: Truro Cathedral) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Truro Cathedral
#1 of 38 things to do in Truro
"A lesson in how not to welcome visitors"   
Could the cathedral authorities please note that there are no signs at either the front or rear door about headgear.



Watergate Bay

Photo By Proper Handsome (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Watergate Bay
#5 of 58 things to do in Newquay
The only thing to do was to walk, drink and eat.



Do you have any other good examples? Leave a comment below:


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Ice cream vans in games

Friday 12th June 2015

Ice cream vans and video games are inseparable. Here's a quick run-down of the history, thanks to YouTube:


Twisted Metal - Playstation 1 (1995)   

I believe this is the earliest use of an ice cream van in a game. As far as I can tell, the van had no music. It was driven by a killer clown called Sweet Tooth.


Micro Machines 3 - Playstation 1 (1997)   

The ice cream van featured in the track Breakfast at Cherry's, great game but sadly no music.


Carmageddon 2 (1998)   

Finally, some music! Another appearance of Sweet Tooth.


Grand Theft Auto 2 - Playstation 1 (1999)   

For me, this was the one that started it all. It's the first use of an ice cream van in the GTA series, with a short but catchy tune.


GTA 3 - Playstation 2 (2001)   

This is a classic. The van is called Mr. Whoopee and features a single ice cream swirl and a chocolate bar on the roof. The van is slow with bad steering, but that's not why you're driving it. In the mission "I Scream, You Scream" you use the van to lure your opponents to their doom.   


Tony Hawks Pro Skater 3 - Playstation 2 (2001)   

A bit of a weird, snub-nosed ice cream van, but it features good strong tune so we'll let it go.


GTA Vice City - Playstation 2 (2002)   

The return of the Mr Whoopee van, but with ice cream breasts and cherry nips! It features the same tune as in GTA 3, which is slightly disappointing. The "Distribution" mission has you selling drugs to pedestrians.


GTA San Andreas - Playstation 2 (2004)   

GTA rules when it comes to ice cream vans. San Andreas saw the return of the truck, named Mr Whoopee sporting a giant willy and new tunes.


GTA 4 - Playstation 3 (2008)   

GTA 4 marked a new, more serious era for the series. Gone are the genitals, although it has several different tunes and the faster you drive, the faster the tempo of the music. It still has terrible acceleration and top speed.


GTA V - PS3 / PS4 (2014)   

Sadly, GTA V doesn't feature an ice cream van at all! It's been replaced by a Taco van which doesn't have a jingle. It's a sad day for ice cream lovers in Los Santos.


WatchDogs - PS4 (2014)   

It looks like Watchdogs has taken the ice cream crown from the GTA series, with a lovely van and nice music.

Today I'm starting an official campaign to make Rockstar Games include ice cream vans in the next version of GTA. I hope I can count on your support.



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Making soap

Friday 5th June 2015

I've wanted to try this ever since I saw Fight Club! I've seen several methods for making soap, but I'm always attracted to using dangerous chemicals, so lye seemed the obvious way to go.

Lye, sodium hydroxide, is an incredibly caustic chemical with a bad boy reputation for removing fingerprints and dissolving corpses. During the second world war, Leonarda Cianciulli liquidised three victims in Italy using the stuff, and Santiago Meza López, "The Stewmaker", claims to have disposed of 300 bodies with it. 

I decided to make a floral lavender soap and a macho coffee soap inspired by The Art of Manliness. They say that coffee soap is very good for cleaning harsh smells from your hands.

I used The Sage to get the right quantities of oil, water and lye, and off I went!


Lavender soap

  • 1 litre (916g) of olive oil
  • 286ml cold water
  • 115g lye crystals
  • 20g ground lavender
  • 20g lavender flowers
  • 10ml lavender essential oil
  • Food colouring (optional)

Coffee soap

  • 1 litre (916g) of olive oil
  • 136ml cold water
  • 115g lye crystals
  • 3 double espressos (totalling 150ml)
  • 1/2 cup of coffee grounds


You'll also need:

  • Eye protection, a face mask and gloves - I can't overstate how dangerous lye is
  • 1 litre of vinegar - in case you spill lye on yourself you'll need to neutralise it really quickly
  • Thermometer
  • Bowls and stirring tools that aren't aluminium or wood - lye will eat through these
  • A stick blender - it reduces the stirring time from an hour to 5-10 minutes
  • Moulds to pour the soap into - I used four old takeaway containers with lids
  • Towels to wrap the moulds

The pictures are all from the lavender soap, but it's the same process for making the coffee version. 


First you'll need to make the lye solution. Put on all your protective gear. Mixing lye with water is extremely exothermic, and so it's really important to add the lye crystals to the water and not the other way around! If you're making the coffee version, wait for the espressos too cool, then mix with the water. Make sure you've got 286ml of liquid in total.

Do this outside as the fumes are really nasty, and add the crystals bit by bit, stirring continually. By the time I'd added all the lye, the water had jumped from 10°C to 95°C. You really don't want it to boil.

Now you need that to cool down to 50°C maximum, so leave it outside and heat the oil to about 50°C as well. Once the lye has cooled, pour it gently into the oil and gently mix together. Add the ground lavender and the lavender oil, plus the colour if you're using it, then blend with the stick blender for 5-10 minutes until it's the consistency of thick custard.

Pour some of the lavender flowers into the bottom of the moulds, then add the gloopy soap, seal the moulds and wrap in towels to keep the heat in. Leave for 24 hours for the soap to set.

The next day, pop the soap out of the moulds, cut them up and leave to cure for 6-8 weeks. This allows all the lye to react with all the oil to make soap, called saponification.

Here's a short video I made of the process:

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