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It's all a load of bollocks, quite frankly

>Technologic

>

It doesn’t help sometimes that my wife keeps telling me I’m ancient before my time. True, I am what can only be classed as a grumpy old man. But at 28 I’m really starting to believe her. Mainly because I really do not know how to use my portable telecommunication relaying device (that’s a mobile phone to the youth of today) properly. That, and I’ve started saying certain phrases that members of my staff have said that I’ve subsequently used to impersonate and mock them. The favourite is “Back in the day”. But worryingly I have actually started saying it seriously which makes me sound about 60. But then Jayne would argue the fact that my hair is rapidly going grey that I look it too.

Anyway, back in the d… oh shit, there we go already. But back in the day I thought myself as quite learned toward technological things and was considered by many to be a geek. I could build a computer, wire up a HiFi system quite nicely and program a VCR (how old does that sound?) to do everything include blow up the Pentagon. I even did bits and pieces of web design and computer programming. Hell, I even use to create multi-track recorded songs on the computer using loops, keyboards and this that and the other.

But give me my current portable telecommunications relaying device and I’m stuck. Only a 6 year old could program the events timer on my DVD recorder. And these days I’m lucky if I can just turn on a computer to do such trivial items as check Facebook and write this silly little blog thing. At work there are many programs I have to use, which I have been using in one form or another for getting on close to ten years. It still doesn’t mean I’m any good at using them. Only today, my wife and our friend were engrossed in an amusing conversation over the differences of many different varieties of Microsoft Office programs and how they’ve changed over the years. Seriously, my tiny little brain is retarded enough without having to cope with that. I mean, I’ve not progressed past Office 1997. The one I used whilst still at school. Sorry, for the young and uneducated, that is skool.

However I’ve now joined Twitter, which I admit I’m fairly late in getting into. But when I get into something I get into it in a big way so I’ll no doubt be tweeting whenever I can. This does mean I’m buggered as being a male I’m unable to multitask. I will now have to juggle Facebook, blog, Twitter and Media Player at once. Well Media Player if I’m not listening to vinyl or CD or other such mediums that young people would refer to as “old skool”. Although that particular way of spelling it winds me up. People who spell it like that seriously need to go back to school to realise the correct spelling of the word.

Which neatly brings me onto my equal love-hate relationship with MP3s. I like them for convenience and laziness as it means I can have whatever song that’s in my vast collection at the touch of a button whilst typing this inane drivel. It also makes it easier to have more music because with the vast amount of CDs, tapes, records et al that I own, I’ve run out of room to store them. But the minus side to me is I like to see the artwork of an album and what went into the making of it. It just seems a shame now that an artist can pour heart and soul into a piece of work, go through the motions of having the artwork designed, booklets etc, only for it to become a file on a computer that’s pretty meaningless. It just seems a bit cold. I also dislike MP3s for their inferior sound quality as my computer’s sound card outputty type thing is connected to my slightly vintage stereo separates system, which new would have been the cost of 10 iPods. It shows up all the flaws.

But back to phones. It goes to show as a friend phoned me (on the aforementioned device) to ask for advice on which new mobile was best on the market. I think it was something like an eye phone, a Black berry (which I assumed was actually some fruit) and something that was made up of initials, something like HTSCSFGHJVFHGFFG. Or it could have been PIACTWIR (which stands for Paul Is A Complete Tool Who Is Rubbish). Because I was a geek in a previous life, my advice was called upon. However the best answer I could give her was “Er….. what are you talking about?” to which her reply was priceless – “You’re rubbish”.

So, mobile phones are not my forte, and I prefer to play vinyl rather than MP3. I prefer to play the bass guitar than my XBox 360 and they are located inches apart. In a lot of cases I’d rather read than watch television. Don’t get me wrong, I do genuinely love technology and I love what it can do and I’m not totally allergic to it. Anything to make my life easier is fine by me as I’m a lazy sod at times. But my main pet peeve is when technology doesn’t change something for the better and/or over complicates things. It’s a total disaster zone as far as I’m concerned.

A microwave oven for instance is a good example. There are some posh microwave ovens, which technically is a contradiction in terms. All those different settings for essentially doing one thing: heating stuff. All I want to do is set the temperature, the time and switch it on. Nothing more, that is all it needs to do in life. Essentially that is all I want my mobile phone to do. Not heat food, obviously, because that would be stupid. Then again, there probably is a setting for it to do so somewhere that I’ve not found yet. No, I want to be able to use it as a phone and to send text messages primarily. The other add on bits are nice, but not at the cost of being able to make phone calls and send text messages (mk phn cls n snd txt msgs to you young people reading). Or maybe I should get a simpler phone and look much less of a retard than I already appear.

I used to keep up with technology back in the d… Oh bollocks, I’ve done it again. But it’s moving so fast I’ve been left so far in the shade I can feel the beginnings of hypothermia.

September 28, 2010 Posted by | Other Stuff! | 2 Comments

>Wake me up before he off roads

>Poor old George Michael, poor little soul, has had a hard time of late. Not only being arrested for some lewd acts and cruising and what not, but now he has finally been arrested and will be sent to jail.

Not that it’s taken long, he’s been had three times now for driving whilst under the influence of drug use. Stoned to you or me. That’s three times more than you or I would ever get away with and that’s what pisses me off. If we did it, we’d be put behind bars and banned from driving for 602 years. That is because we’re not famous. Unlike Georgie Boy who is famous for, other than his music, many dealings with the law. And he has the uncanny knack of getting away with it every time. Well, until now that is.

He’s going to jail. But don’t get too excited, he’s going to jail for eight weeks. Only eight weeks, for his third offence, third lot of recklessness and danger to other people, not to mention the writing off two perfectly good cars.  He was also ordered to pay a £1250 fine, £100 costs and a £15 victim surcharge. Now if you are not familiar with a victim surcharge, it’s basically a £15 levy added to any court costs and goes to the victim. So, the corner shop that George Michael drove into has been destroyed, but be rest assured the owner will receive the princely sum of £15. Yay, let’s all get stoned to celebrate. And drive into someone Else’s shop so they can get £15 to help their flourishing business.

According to the highly polished, accurate and informative news service MSN.co.uk (sorry, that should say the greatest work of fiction since Shakespeare) Gorge Michael has been banned from driving for five years, but that will no doubt be reduced to three minutes. He was also “in tears after being sentenced” and was also reported as stating “I can’t believe this has happened to me!”. Oh really, so you expect to drive whilst stoned and destroy someone’s shop and livelihood, and not expect anything to happen about it? You’re a bigger arse than I first thought.

You’re getting off (didn’t he do that before?) lightly dear boy, with your fortune you can afford those expenses and to pay £15 to Apu and his Kwik-E-Mart with consumate ease. Just think, the eight weeks will be over before you know it. It could be a lot worse. Now stop whining, crying and throwing a tantrum just because you’ve done something wrong and have to face the consequences. Get your giant egotistical head out of your arse and get on with it.

I’ll end this with a picture from one of my favourite websites Sniff Petrol. I need not say anymore. Except, sorry Sniffpetrol for plagiarising your caption for my title. Well, I’m not sorry, but I kind of needed to sound sincere. Worked, as you can see.

September 15, 2010 Posted by | Rants | Leave a comment

>Driving a Vertically Challenged car

>Well, I can’t refer to it as anything else. It would be politically incorrect of me to refer to it as an MG Midget, despite that’s what it is.

This is going to be a short blog entry for once. I’ve discovered I need an old car in my life, but what’s on the horizon, this isn’t going to be practical at all. After spending a small amount of time in an MG Midget, photographed here, I’ve decided I want one.

Why was I in an MG Midget? To drive it to the Cornish Festival of Speed, held at Tregrehan House in St Austell, which was a fantastic day out and well worth any person’s money to be honest. Lots of fantastic cars on display, of which this little MG was one of the exhibits, and lots of entertainment watching different types of cars compete for the fastest time on the sprint hill climb. Cars from Minis and Escorts through to single seat racers and purpose-built rally and racing machinery could be found competing.

So, why do I want an old car I can’t even hear you ask. It’s just back to basics pure driving, there’s nothing between you, the car and the road. No electronic driving aids. No computermabobs to break. And on a day like it was, with the roof down, blue skies, sun shining and the shades on, it was fantastic. Put it this way, I was glad I ended up driving the Midget rather than the Alfa Mito or Giulietta the other guys took. What’s happening? I’m hankering after an MG sports car and I don’t even own a flat cap, or even have a beard or drink beer with bits of twig in it. I still want one. Despite the fact that something broke on the journey back. The bearings in the dynamo packed up. This is a British sports car after all, and something falling off or breaking on every journey really is normal.

And yes, I have realised this is yet another rant-free blog entry. I’ve just had nothing worth ranting about as late. I promise normal service shall resume shortly.

September 13, 2010 Posted by | Motoring | Leave a comment

>Long Term Test – Fiat Stilo 1.4 Active

>Most car magazines tend to do long term tests on selected cars to show how reliable (or unreliable) they may be. But in these tests, cars tend to be kept for 6-12 months and then that’s it. So I’ve decided that the Stilo qualifies for one of these long term test jobbies seems I’ve owned it for just over five years and 50,000 miles.  If you’re a normal person, stop reading now. No, seriously. However, if you are a complete nerd like me, pray continue.

First, an introduction to the Stilo. A car launched to replace the old Brava and Bravo (and ironically replaced by the …er…. Bravo) in 3 and 5 door form. Whereas the 5 door version is as appealing as sawing your arm off, the 3 door is a fantastic looking car and that would be my car in the picture. A little time later, the versatile and smart Multiwagon estate version was launched.

So, just over five years ago I decided to purchase a 3 door 1.4 Active. An ex-demonstrator that had covered 180 miles over 12 months. A saving of £4,500 on list price was certainly order of the day. It did raise a few eyebrows, as the Stilo had a horrendous reliability record when first launched. It really did seem like as good an idea as Ben Collins wanting to reveal himself as the Stig, the big, greedy unknown arse bucket. However, my car is a Phase 2 Stilo which means it had a whole host of improvements to make it “better”.

So, first of all, how does it drive? It’s average, to be honest. The electronic steering has as much life as a corpse and as much communication as a monk who has taken a vow of silence. The handling is a bit Golf-like. However on the plus side, the ride is outstanding and the interior comfort is as good if not better than anything in its class. The engine, if underpowered in a car this size at just under 100bhp, is a gem and wants to be revved and is coupled to a six speed manual gearbox which is positive and slick in action. Which is just as well as it does need to be used a fair amount. Interior space is good, with ample room for five Mafia types and enough storage spaces and cubby holes that would shame Ikea.

As it’s poverty spec Active it is bottom of the range so it comes with some seats and an engine. It does have a few extra bits though such as alloy wheels, remote locking, electric windows, electric heated mirrors, trip computer, decent sound system with MP3, six airbags. Did I mention seats? And an engine?

So, we’ve established it’s a fairly run of the mill drive, but an excellent looker and it has some seats, but what has it been like for reliability? To be fair, pretty bloody good after 50,000 miles. As far as spending money on it goes, I’ve had it MOT’d (it’s been through three and passed every one, and I didn’t even have to bribe or sack the tester!), serviced it, replaced wear and tear items such as cam belt, brake pads and the exhaust, as well as tyres, petrol and insurance. It’s never broken down, never left me stranded, never failed to start. I can’t exactly mock the legendary Italian build quality either as nothing has ever fallen off and it’s pretty rattle free also.

In the six years, the blips which can be put down to the car include:
– One or two spurious warning lights coming on early on in its life. But it is a Stilo.
– Replacement wiper linkage at 2 years old due to noise (replaced under warranty)
– Speedo stopped working
– 1 of 4 coil packs failed after 5 years and 46,000 miles. The other three are originals. If you drove a petrol engined Renault, you’d be replacing these coil packs every 6-12 months.

However, it has had more replaced than it need to due to an accident in which Her Indoors hit a patch of diesel and span it 360 in the middle of the road, smashing into curbs before eventually mounting a boulder (oooh errr). Three damaged alloy wheels (two of which snapped clean) meant it had to have a new set of wheels and tyres, bent rear axle, stub axles, front wishbones, wheel bearings all round and a general sprucing up of the bodywork. All of which meant the insurance company had a bill just short of £3,000. That’s hardly the fault of the car, though.

The Stilo does have an iffy image problem, due to Fiat wanting to make a Golf clone, the early reliability issues, the styling of the five door model and the slightly average dynamics. But is the image it has deserved? Judging by our experiences with the Stilo, not a bit of it. Yes, the dynamics could be sharpened up a bit, but it’s still better to drive than the equivalent Golf, Renault or Vauxhall for example. It’s also proved to be a generally fault-free car, and considering the treatment the car has had from myself and She Who Must Be Obeyed, I personally think it’s stood up and made a case for itself pretty well.
See, if you bought one now, even an early one, most if not all of the bugs would have been ironed out, and because of the image these cars had, the depreciation was that steep that you can pick one up for less than a grand. Would I have another one? Yes, but as they make the Bravo now (which shares the Stilo’s underpinnings) I’ll have one of those. Would I recommend one? A resounding yes. It’s a used car bargain.

September 11, 2010 Posted by | Motoring | Leave a comment

>Road Test Number 2 – The complete Alfa Mito Range

>The Alfa Romeo Mito. It’s pronounced Me Toe, don’t you know. The name is conjured up between two place names – the Mi for Milan (used to be Alfa’s HQ) and To for Torino (where it’s built). Since its launch around 18 months ago, I’ve driven just about all different variations of Mito, some are good, two are excellent and two are aboslutely terrible and would never advise ever driving.

So, what is the Mito? Well, obviously, it’s a car. And it’s built by Alfa Romeo, only it’s not. The Mito is actually built by Fiat in Turin alongside the Grande Punto / Punto Evo as essentially it is the same car. Peel away the fancy bodywork and it’s all Fiat. The chassis, engines, the lot.

So, what’s available? In the current range there’s 4 choices of petrol engine, all 1.4 – two of which are normally aspirated with 77bhp or 95bhp. The other two are the Fiat Group’s new MultiAir efforts which develop 135bhp or 170bhp in Cloverleaf guise. There’s also 2 diesels – a 1.3 and a 1.6.

I’m not really going to go into trim levels because I’m not interested in that, I want to know what it drives like. Is it any good? Where am I? And why am I asking questions all the time? Do you know?

It’s a fine little car to drive really if you steer clear of the 78 Junior which is about as Alfa-like as a Ford Orion. I’d also steer clear of the 1.6 diesel because as a package, it fails spectacularly. The economy can be match by its petrol counterparts, it’s a lot dearer, it isn’t as good as the 1.3 diesel, it’s noisy, unrefined and the gearchange is apalling.

All models save for Junior have Alfa’s DNA (geddit?) system which offers three different styles of driving. D is for Dynamic, N for Normal and A for All Weather. When Dynamic is activated, assistance to the steering is reduced, torque is increased and the throttle response is much crisper and sweeter (In the Cloverleaf, it D mode also changes the suspension settings as it has an adaptive suspension setup). That said it needs to be because driving in Normal afterwards is dreadful. All Weather is pointless in the UK as the one week we have snow we’re all locked away at home in a complete panic because the world is about to end. So, just keep it in D to get the best out of the little Alfa.

Throughout the Mito range including the hot Cloverleaf version the main problem is the ride and the steering. The steering has quite an artificial feel about it and feels over-assisted in Normal mode. It’s better in Dynamic mode but there’s a lot of fidget and a lot of over-correction is needed. The ride is something you need to get used to. If you want to end up with your spine in kit form, the Mito is the car for you. If you choose ride comfort over anything else, choose the Punto.

Once you get used to the steering, the chassis is very good. It corners flat, turns in well and is coupled to a selection of slick, nicely shifting 5 and 6 speed manual gearboxes (except for the 1600 diesel). All the petrol engines are eager little things. Of all I’ve driven, I take a preference to the lowly normally aspirated 1.4 as it’s such an eager, rev-happy unit and, although not very quick or powerful (95bhp), it’s entertaining to drive it to within an inch of its life. The rest are turbo charged and when Mito was first introduced, 120 and 155 bhp turbo petrols were available, both absolute peaches. However, these have both been replaced by the new range of Multiair engines, rated at 135bhp and 170bhp in the range topping Cloverleaf. Which is my other favourite engine in the range. I really can’t be bothered to go into all the technical speak of the Multiair engine but in the 170 at least, it’s smooth, responsive and almost free of turbo lag.

The interior is well laid out and seems solidly built and a good driving position is easily found. Bluetooth connectivity comes on top end models and an MP3 compatible stereo comes on all models. Air con is standard throughout the range as are electric windows and mirrors.

However, if I am nitpicking with the car, I’m still not quite used to the frontal styling. It also annoys me that the speedometer view is partially blocked by the steering wheel. Rear seat space is so much at a premium that really all you can fit there are guitar plectrums. And the boot has a high sill. However the way it drives, the engines and the way the side and back end look, it’s a hit.

It will just be interesting to see what reliability and durability will be like.

So, what’s on the old score board Miss Ford?

Styling: 15/20
Performance: 18/20
Handling 15/20
Ride: 9/20
Comfort: 13/20

So, the Alfa scores 70 out of 100. Better than the subject of my first written road test, the VW Beetle. True, the Mito has some shortcomings and flaws – it’s steering is numb, the ride is hard, the 1.6 Diesel is rubbish, the front end styling is, in politeness, polarised, and the DNA is a gimmick. But it has other talents which are hard to ignore. It’s also cheaper than a Fiesta.

September 3, 2010 Posted by | Motoring | Leave a comment

   

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