A round of Golf

Friday 25th September 2015

Despite VW's recent emissions irregularities, their new hybrid Golf GTE is still an amazing car and delivers staggering fuel efficiency. It doesn't have a diesel engine so it's not affected by the current issues.

I've been looking for the right electric/hybrid vehicle for the last six months, and I think I've found the one I want.


Teeing off

The GTE is a hybrid, powered by a 1.4L petrol engine and a 75KW electric motor, so it's got better range than the Nissan Leaf.

It looks just like a regular Golf so it's got more boot space and less weirdness than the BMW i3, and it's getting on for half the price of a Tesla Model S.

The interior looks just like a Golf too, it doesn't have the space-age feel of the Tesla but there's everything you need. I'm really not a fan of the tartan seats - full leather would be an extra £1500 well spent.



Driving range

Like any 200bhp car, it's fun to drive. By default it starts in electric mode so it pulls away quickly and silently. The car decides how to mix the electric and petrol side of things, so most of the time you can ignore it.

If you want a bit more fun there's a GTE button which engages fun mode (my term) and uses the petrol and electric motors together. This makes it really nippy, although the 1.4L petrol engine whines a bit at high revs.


Green fees

VW claim that the car will do 166mpg, with a range of 31 miles on pure electric. The salesman who took me out for a drive said that he's got 150mpg out of it and doesn't have to put fuel in it very often, because he lives 20 miles from work.

Once the batteries get below a certain level, the car diverts a little energy from the petrol engine to keep them topped up.



This car ticks all my boxes. It's fuel-efficient but fun, and green without being boring.

  Model S 85D BMW i3 REx Nissan Leaf Golf GTE
Range (miles) 330 150 90 580
Power (bhp) 417 168 110 200
0-60mph (secs) 4.2 6.5 10.2 7.6
Luggage space Loads Very little Okay Loads
Style Flashy Weird Normal Normal
Cost (my spec) £62,800
£36,000 £22,040 £37,000


Hole in one

So why haven't I got one yet?

Because it turns out that I'm not the only one looking for a new car.

They're totally sold out in the UK - the dealer said that the earliest they could supply one is next spring.

This isn't great timing, we've got plans that may clash with that, but if it doesn't work out I'll be placing an order!



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Friday 18th September 2015

I've never understood nostalgia, it's always felt dishonest to me. Sure, I've got an Atari 2600 and play it very occasionally, but I'd rather get drunk and play GTA V ;)

But nostalgia seems to be a large and growing industry. The town where I live is dominated by antiques shops that pedal nostalgia, so I wanted to investigate it further.

Here's what I discovered.


Mal du Suisse

The word was first coined in the mid-1700s to describe a particular kind of home-sickness seen in Swiss soldiers. Also known as mal du Suisse, the Swiss illness, it was brought on by singing traditional Swiss songs, Kuhreihen, and led to "an almost irrepressible yearning for home".

Singing these songs was apparently forbidden because they led to nostalgia to the point of desertion, illness or death!

I can empathise with this: I used to suffer from almost unbearable home-sickness. From a young age I used to feel physically sick whenever we went on holiday even with my parents, and it lasted several days before I got over it.

My first few days at university were horrible and I continued to get home-sick even after I'd left home and moved to Brighton. It faded away in my mid-twenties but I know how those Swiss soldiers felt.


Modern life is rubbish

These days nostalgia has a different meaning - an interest in the past. Although this is usually an interest in your own past, personal nostalgia, it can be older than that. Organisations such as the Sealed Knot are examples of historical nostalgia.

Personal nostalgia can include collecting toys from your childhood, listening to old music or watching old TV shows. Reddit's nostalgia section lists Pizza Hut drinking glasses from the 80s, the distinctive plastic taste of water in the summer, and toy styrofoam aeroplanes among the top scoring links.

Nostalgia websites are big business: TV Cream lists every single TV show I ever saw as a child while The Nostalgia Machine generate music playlists from a chosen year. A vintage Star Wars AT-AT can fetch £100 on eBay, and you can bet they're not going to be given to small children to play with.

I wouldn't be surprised to see a rise in nostalgia cooking and even nostalgia restaurants that serve food from a certain era. How about a café dishing up overcooked, mushy school dinners from the 80s, served by bitter old women in aprons?


Homesick for a home I never had

That last example illustrates the reason why I'm so against nostalgia. The food of my childhood was dreadful, the TV shows were rubbish, the toys weren't that great and the music was pretty cheesy.

But put them all together, filter out the negative bits and you've got a perfect little world of your own creation. And the reason you can't return to this past is that it isn't real.

As this rather interesting paper says, "If one defines nostalgia as a yearning for an idealized past, the bittersweet nature of it becomes clearer. One can never return to this past, it never truly existed. And the present reality, no matter how good, can never be as good as an ideal which nostalgia has created."

Maybe I've got a better memory than most, or maybe my past wasn't as great as yours, but this is why nostalgia doesn't work for me. It feels fake because only the positive aspects of the past are remembered without discussing the negatives, or the positives of the present.

This is exemplified perfectly by the US magazine Nostalgia, which describes itself as re-living "the days when teenage couples sipped milkshakes at the soda fountain, when families gathered around the radio for nightly entertainment, when men wore hats in public and ladies only wore dresses." No mention of whites-only seats on the bus, chauvinist adverts or the threat of nuclear war.


The best days of my life

So far so good, but the more I researched nostalgia, the more I was surprised to discover the positive aspects.

In 1979 sociologists found that people were more likely to use nostalgia when they experience "fears, discontents, anxieties, and uncertainties" and overcame these negative emotions by "using the past in specially constructed ways".

It also described that "hurts, annoyances, disappointments, and irritations" are "filtered forgivingly through an ‘it was all for the best’ attitude".

In 1996 researchers studied what they termed mood repair in sad subjects who deliberately used positive nostalgic memories to improve their mood. Maybe there are benefits of nostalgia after all.

A fascinating series of studies published in 2006 looked at many different aspects of nostalgia. They reported that subjects who used nostalgia "scored higher on brief measures of social bonding, positive self-regard, and positive affect".

These people had "less attachment anxiety and avoidance, higher self-esteem" and "greater confidence in their ability to initiate interactions and relationships, disclose personal information, and provide emotional support to others." That's quite a list of positive attributes.

Krystine Batcho, a professor of psychology said that "loneliness has been shown to be a trigger for heightened nostalgia. [...] Nostalgia helps someone feel connected again. It helps to decrease the negative feelings of being alone."

A 2010 study by the Mental Health Foundation found that one in 10 people in the UK often feel lonely, and Britain was recently voted the Loneliness Capital of Europe so maybe nostalgia can help with this too.


Give it a whirl

So on reflection, Nostalgia seems less like a Swiss disease, and more like a psychological Swiss army knife!

This genuinely surprised me, and so I've decided to give nostalgia a try.

Want to come over to play Ghostbusters my Atari 2600 and eat Vienetta?



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Poker Scrabble

Friday 11th September 2015

I'm still obsessed with poker and a bit sad that Kat doesn't enjoy the game at all. It's all about maths and she loves maths! So in an effort to make the game more friendly I've invented Poker Scrabble, hope you like it.

Essentially it's the rules of Texas Hold 'Em but using Scrabble tiles instead of cards. The aim of the game is to make the highest scoring word using your two letter tiles plus five community letters.

To play, you'll need a set of poker chips and a set of Scrabble tiles. Depending on your house rules, you may allow players to look up words in a dictionary before they play, or afterwards.


The structure of the game follows Texas Hold 'Em exactly.


1. Blinds

The player to the left of dealer puts in the small blind, and the next player to the left puts in the big blind.


2. Hole tiles

Each player is dealt two letter tiles face down, moving clockwise from the player to the left of the dealer.

Good hole tiles are high value letters. Kat was dealt QI in a match a while ago, which netted her a big pot.


3. Pre-flop

The hand begins with a "pre-flop" betting round, beginning with the player to the left of the big blind and continuing clockwise. Betting continues until every player has folded, put in all of their chips, or matched the amount put in by the other active players.


4. The Flop

The dealer deals three face-up community letter tiles. The flop is followed by a second betting round. This and all subsequent betting rounds begin with the player to the dealer's left and continue clockwise.


5. The Turn

After the flop betting round ends, a single community letter tile is dealt, followed by a third betting round.


6. The River

A final single community letter tile is then dealt, followed by a fourth betting round.


7. The Showdown

On the showdown, each player plays the highest value valid Scrabble word they can make from the seven tiles comprising his two hole letter tiles and the five community letter tiles.

A player can use both of their two letter tiles, one, or none at all, to form their word. Players who use all seven tiles to make a word get a 50 point bonus.

The player with the highest value word wins the chips and play continues with the dealer moving round one position clockwise.

Kat is annoyingly good at this game.


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Making salt from seawater

Friday 4th September 2015

When I told a friend I was going to make salt, her reaction was 'why bother?'. True, it's pretty cheap but I was curious to see the point where it turns from being water to being salt. We had some friends staying and their kids were really interested to see the process, so maybe your kids would like to see it too.



I wanted to get some nice clean sea water, so we went out for a sail in St Austell Bay and collected 5 litres of water from a spot about quarter of a mile offshore.



When we got back, I left it to sit overnight so any big particles settled to the bottom, and then filtered it through a bunch of coffee filters. There were a few specks in the filters, but generally it was pretty clean.



Okay, so this isn't the most environmentally friendly way I could have done it, but waiting for it to evaporate in the UK would have taken weeks. As the water level went down it became more and more cloudy.If you're doing this at home, don't use steel pans! It went a bit rusty.

Eventually it became a white crystalline sludge, at which point we ran it through another coffee filter but this time we kept the solid material.



We spread the sludge onto a piece of baking paper and dried it in the oven at about 85°C for a couple of hours, until it was completely dry.



Once it was dry, the salt had caked into large lumps, so we pushed it through a sieve. Ta da!


In total we got 134g of salt from 5 litres of water. Average sea salinity is 3.5% so the maximum yield was 175g. There was a lot crusted onto the pan, and some of the salt will have evaporated with the water, so this is about right.


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