Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Fuelling to the brim, how much extra does it cost?

I've always had an interest in fuel efficiency, particularly in cars as it's something I can easily relate to. Most of my experimenting has been in a 1.9TDi Seat Leon with a 54.5 litre tank, admittedly with mixed results. I once managed to travel 950 miles on a single tank, drafting behind lorries at 45 mph the majority of the time to average 79 miles to the gallon. I've also run out of fuel twice, once on a remote section of unlit Scottish motorway 10 miles from the nearest exit and not an experience I'd like to repeat.

Despite averaging nearly 80 mpg once I've found it an almost impossible task to repeat, mainly because it's extremely boring to never exceed 45 mph or 1500 rpm. I've found I'm more interested in working out efficient ways to drive as opposed to putting them into practice.

What I'd now like to work out is how much money you could save by carrying the minimum amount of fuel needed to complete a particular journey. It's generally accepted that an extra 45kg in your vehicle could reduce the average mpg by up to 2%, with Northern Ireland being pretty lumpy and the road surfaces quite heavy I'm going to use the full 2%.

Using a Seat Leon, 1.9TDi (54.5 litre tank) as an example:

Diesel weighs approximately 0.85kg per litre meaning a full tank will add 46.3kg to the car. This will reduce the average mpg by around 2.05%, compared to a car with a tank 2% full.

If the vehicle averaged 50 mpg with a tank 98-100% full, the average mpg should increase to just over 51 mpg when the tank is 0-2% full. The only issue being it's almost impossible to drive anywhere with a tank just 2% full, a better comparison would be a daily commute.

Say you had a daily commute of 30 miles, averaging 50 mpg you would only need 2.75 litres of fuel or a tank filled 5% to complete that journey. If you did that journey with a full tank the average mpg would drop to 49, improving the average as fuel is brunt and the car gets lighter. The tank 5% full will obviously need topping up on a daily basis.

When carrying roughly 12 gallons of diesel (full) the average mpg will drop by 1 mpg, 0.92 mpg carrying 11 gallons, 0.83 mpg with 10 gallons and so on. Over the course of an entire tank the vehicle will have traveled 6.5 miles less than if you'd put just 2.75 litres in the tank every day, costing an additional 87 pence.

It's clear that fueling specifically for a particular journey just isn't worth it, not to mention the fact you'd only save money if nothing ever went wrong. I'd question the sanity of anyone that would spend an extra half an hour at the pumps every week to save less than a pound. The exact savings will obviously vary slightly from car to car, the bottom line however will stay the same.

You'd be far better off removing the spare tyre along with the passenger seats.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

How much does the Royal Family cost the UK?

The British Royal Family is probably the most well known family in the world. Simply by looking at the television ratings of the most recent Royal Wedding and the Diamond Jubilee, it's clear that people around the world go nuts for British Royalty. Saying that, how much do the Royals cost the British taxpayer? Is it really worth keeping them around?

The simple answer is yes, it's actually very profitable.

Firstly it's important to note that the Royal Family received £30 million from the British taxpayer in 2011, significantly lower than the £35 million received in 2010 as a result of austerity measures. While not an amount to be sniffed at, £30 million for the upkeep of the Royal Family is pretty good value for money. To help explain why, we need to go all the way back to King George III. George III wasn't terribly good with money and despite owning massive amounts of land, he racked up huge debts. He decided to surrender the profits from his land to Parliament for the remainder of his life in return for a fixed salary and his debts removed. This agreement between Parliament and the Royal Family has continued to this very day with every Monarch since George III voluntarily agreeing to surrender the profit from the 'Crown Estate' in exchange for living and state expenses.

The Crown Estate today is one of the most value property portfolios in the UK with an estimated worth of £7 billion generating profits of roughly £240 million during the last tax year. Once you subtract the £30 million of taxpayer money, the Crown Estate made the UK £210 million. It's a pretty good deal.

Another way the Royal Family contributes to the UK economy is through tourism. While difficult to measure exactly it's estimated the Royal brand is worth roughly £40 billion, adding around £7 billion annually to an ailing economy. To look at a specific example, it's been estimated that the Diamond Jubilee celebrations were worth an additional £2.4 billion to the UK economy. Even if you subtract the £1.2 billion lost through the extra bank holiday the Jubilee still turned a pretty large profit, hours of a miserable looking Queen on television really was worth it.

I don't consider myself a Royalist in any sense, I'm simply interested in the bottom line. With the United Kingdom's finances in pretty poor condition it would seem keeping the Royal Family is in everyone's best interest.

As always, opinions welcome.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Nevin Spence

Corinthians 5:6-8: So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

I wish I had faith, a quality Nevin Spence had in abundance. His unwavering belief in a higher being was something I respected a great deal, contrary to what our constant bickering may have suggested. 

Nevin had an answer for every argument I threw at him, annoyingly I couldn't provide a response for the majority. When I spoke of what I deemed to be his blind faith he replied "Who said it's blind? God is as real to me as anything else", I've never wished to be wrong so much. 

In a society were people are judged and criticized at the drop of a hat, Nevin was one of the exceptions. I can't recall him ever saying or doing anything intended to hurt the slightest of feelings, he was without a doubt the most upstanding person I've had the pleasure of knowing. I can only dream of being half the man he was, a true gent. 

He joked last week that our debate on religion would be settled by the second coming or death, I never considered he'd have his answer within days. I hope with every fibre of my being I'm wrong and he's looking down as I write, safe at home.

I'll miss you mucker, take care.

Memories and stories you may have of Nevin would be well received in the comments section, RIP.  

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Illegal downloading, will you end up in court?

As it stands the UK is roughly two years away from the implementation of the Digital Economy Act. The Act will hope to give the movie, music and television industries long sought after protection against online piracy. Under the Act ISPs will be required to send warning letters to those suspected of illegally downloading copyright material. If the customer receives three letters in a 12 month period their personal details may be passed on to the copyright holders enabling them to begin legal proceedings.

It's almost impossible to say whether the Act will significantly reduce online piracy. The possibility of ending up in a court room may be enough for some to start parting with cash in return for digital media. Although for the persistent offenders of Act, how likely is it that they'll see the inside of a court room? Using France as a reference point, it would seem that ending up in court is pretty unlikely.

In France rights holders claimed three million IP addresses had illegally downloaded copyright material over the past two years. Hadopi, France's anti-piracy agency only deemed one million of those worthy of receiving a letter of warning, 10% of those went on to receive a second and a minuscule 0.34% received a third. Hadopi was only able to bring 14 people, or 0.0012% of those who received a first warning letter to court. In my opinion bringing 14 people to court is hardly a victory for rights holders, especially as Hadopi is run at a cost of 12 million euros a year.

It could be argued that Hadopi is reducing online piracy evident by the fact 90% of those who received a first warning did not receive a second. I believe however this is a result of offenders taking more care in a bid to fly under the radar. It's pretty simple to download through a proxy server, if you wish you can even pay companies a monthly fee to encrypt your traffic to the point it's almost impossible to determine the material you're downloading.

It would seem come 2014 consumers illegally downloading in the UK will have three options available:

1. Stop downloading illegal material and start parting with cash.

2. Subscribe to a service like BT Guard and download through a proxy server.

3. Ignore the warning letters if they come and face a possible day in court.

I'd advise taking option number two, it's by far the cheapest and almost guaranteed to keep you under the radar of rights holders.

As always, thoughts welcome.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Oscar Pistorius, sour grapes or at a disadvantage?

So much of the Olympic and Paralympic coverage has been centered around the 'Blade Runner', Oscar Pistorius. He was the first double amputee to compete at the Olympics and in no way was he just making up the numbers, reaching the 400m semi-finals and 4x400m final. Considering the fact he competes with, and beats able-bodied athletes it's understandable that he's always a favourite for any race he enters limited to athletes with below knee amputations. Any athlete who beats Pistorius would be deemed to have caused a substantial upset, enter Alan Oliveira.

Oliveira beat Pistorius over 200m in the T44 final, unfortunately Oliveira's run was over shadowed by Pistorius' comments moments after. Pistorius stated "I can't compete with Alan's stride's very clear that the guys have got very long strides", firstly this just isn't the case. Pistorius took 92 strides (49 in the first 100m, 43 in the second), Oliveira took 98 (52 in the first 100m, 46 in the second). Pistorius' stides are actually longer than Oliveira's, it's Oliveira who can't compete with Pistorius' stride length.

Secondly Pistorius stated "the guys' legs are unbelievably long", an issue Pistorius says he brought up with the IPC weeks before the games. The IPC has a formula to limit the length of blades based on what they estimate the athlete's height would be if they had both legs. Oliveira's blades are completely legal, falling within the measurements allowed by the IPC. Pistorius could actually lengthen his blades if he wished so I'm not entirely sure why he believes Oliveira's blade length is unfair.

Interestingly Pistorius also said "the guys are just running ridiculous times", despite the fact all these 'guys' are running slower times than Pistorius himself. Oliveira's winning time was 0.15 seconds slower than the world record Pistorius had set the previous day. Pistourius' comments would suggest he believes anyone who can run nearly as fast as him to be running a 'ridiculous time'. Sounds like sour grapes to me, especially considering Pistorius' trademark has been to come from behind and win by 'ridiculous' margins.

Another point to consider is how 'slow' Pistorius ran rather than how 'fast' Oliveira did. Pistorius covered the 200m distance 0.28 seconds slower than he did the previous day, 21.30 seconds (a new world record) compared to 21.58. Were the comments following the race a result of disappointment from a tired athlete? It's entirely possible, Pistorius running a much slower final would certainly suggest that. Let's not forget Oliveira has been able to prepare specifically for the Paralympics while Pistorius has been competing far more over the last month as well as dealing with substantially more media commitments.

Pistorius will always be remembered as the 'Blade Runner', the first double amputee to compete at the Olympics. The moment he shared with Kirani James following the Olympic 400m semi-final will not be quickly forgotten, however it was only a matter of time before someone else reached the perch Pistorius has solely occupied for so long. The debate over regulating blades will continue and it's definitely something the IPC and IAAF need to investigate, as technology improves regulations need to be set to ensure a level playing field. The place for that debate however is not after a Paralympic final. Simply it takes the spotlight away from those competing and I would have thought Pistorius would know exactly how it feels to be discussed for your adherence to rules as opposed to your athletic achievements.

Sour grapes? Possibly. It's the first time I've seen Pistorius speak in that way although it's also the first time he's been beaten on a world stage, there are no other interviews in which to compare. I believe he was simply beaten by a better athlete last night and his inaccurate comments were a result of emotions running high and giving an interview without really thinking about the impact his words would have.

As always I'm interested to hear any other views points or opinions on the matter, it's seems likely this will be a topic of debate for some time.