Category Archives: work/life

Saving the planet one coffee at a time with my Keep Cup

Keep Cup logoSeven years ago I bought my first re-usable coffee cup for work. I was full of optimism and enthusiasm at the time Looking forward to a greener New Year with my Keep Cup December 2010. But sadly the reality did not live up to the expectation.

The main problem was the plastic which became increasingly tainted by coffee. I cleaned it rigorously and regularly, but to no avail. So after a few months I returned to using wasteful paper cups.

I diligently put the empty cups into our office recycling bin. But was shocked to discover that hardly any of them were actually being recycled. In fact out of the astonishing 2.5 billion paper coffee cups thrown away every year in the UK, a tiny proportion – just one in 400 cups is recycled. Apparently it is too difficult to separate the plastic coating from the rest of the cup.

Recently an Origin Coffee branch opened in the entrance hall of The British Library. In addition to their wonderful coffee and friendly staff, I noticed they also sell Keep Cups. But as well as the plastic version,  they also had the rather attractive glass and cork model below. After a few weeks of seeing it while  on the shelf my resistance crumbled and I handed over the £15 required to purchase.

Origin Coffee British Library

Origin Coffee British Library

I was glad to hear that many organisations are now working hard to find a solution to this wasteful situation. The race for coffee cup recycling solutions. But until they become widely available, a reusable cup remains the best approach.

I’m now a month into my Keep Cup, and it is remains crystal clear with no tainted coffee taste. So now I can enjoy my daily coffee, and feel good about it too.

KeepCup_Espresso_Small

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Touring

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle MaintenanceThe recent death of Robert M. Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance reminded me of my epic motorcycle trip around the USA and Canada in the summer of 1980. I was travelling light, so it was my only reading matter, read in instalments along the way.

I still remember the parts of the book about motorcycle maintenance reflecting my own limited mechanical experience. Particularly the advice about not rushing any work on the bike. The philosophical sections were a more challenging read, and I really struggled with them.

So this is the perfect excuse for a rather self-indulgent blog post consisting of a selection of slides from my trip across USA and Canada. I have also added a few photos from a family trip to the southern states 37 years later.

Neil - USA and Canada by bike - 1980 (7)

A slightly blurry 1980 version of me, grinning from ear to ear, just before setting off around the USA and Canada on my newly acquired second hand Suzuki GS750

Neil - USA and Canada by bike - 1980 (16)

My first camp site with my trusty one-man tent near Kitty Hawk (the home of powered flight)

Camping in the sultry heat of Charleston South Carolina

Neil - USA and Canada by bike - 1980 (75)

Heading towards the Pacific coast, over the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

Neil - USA and Canada by bike - 1980 (88c)

In parts of the USA you really need to watch your gas. I think this is somewhere near Durango

Neil - USA and Canada by bike - 1980 (121)

I had no problem getting my big bike through Chandelier Tree in northern California

USA trip Aug 2016 (210)

Looking older, but just as enthusiastic about our Minnie Winnie, which turned out to be quite a handful to drive compared to the Suzuki of 1980

USA trip Aug 2016 (255)

This time we camped in comfort with a shower, two double beds, an oven, a hob, a microwave and widescreen TV. But I still hankered after a tent, which we bought along the way

USA trip Aug 2016 (286b)

The open road circa summer of 2016, heading west towards Las Vegas on route 66. Actually not very different from how it looked in 1980.

USA trip Aug 2016 (102)

I literally rode around Las Vegas to avoid it on my 1980 trip. This time we went twice! And revelled in the absurdity of the place. Especially Old Las Vegas, known as the Fremont Street Experience

Thanks to a frustrating limit in Google My Maps, I have had to create four separate maps to plot my 1980 route.




The shoelace knot that never comes undone

Today there was an item on the BBC news about a scientific breakthrough in understanding why shoelaces come undone – Mystery of why shoelaces come undone unravelled by science.

FinishedSecureKnotHa! I thought. My shoelaces never come undone, thanks to a discovery I made about 15 years ago. The knot is called Ian’s Secure Shoelace Knot after the inventor Ian Fieggen, now known as Professor Shoelace.

As you will discover from his website, Ian is obsessed with shoelace knots. But it is the Secure Shoelace Knot (also known as the Seaman’s Shoelace Knot) that stands out for me, as it simply never come undone. It also prevents wear on the laces giving much longer life. So it saves annoying undone laces and having to buy regular replacements.

I strongly suggest you try this wonderful life-hack, and let me know how you get on. Here is a video with Professor Ian demonstrating how to tie it.

monkey-light-pro

How to be seen on the dark streets of London town

winter sun

Source LibreStock.com

The shortest day of the year is rapidly approaching. Winter Solstice is on 21 December to be precise. That means both my morning and evening cycle rides are in darkness or gloom.

I have taken several measures to improve my visibility to other road users, particularly car and lorry drivers, and of course those suicidal pedestrians with eyes glued to their smartphone screens.

altura-night-vision-safety-vest-cycling-giletI have recently replaced my Altura Night Vision Safety Vest Cycling Gilet, after leaving one behind on a cancelled train. And I’m confident it takes less time to be noticed than to say it’s name. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have seen people about to cross in front of me, stop, and do a double-take as the bright orange and yellow of my Gilet sears into their consciousness.

I have upgraded my rear visibility by adding a Blaze Burner light to the standard Brompton one. I’m still really happy with it despite some initial production problems. In fact I’m still running on my first battery charge after three months, which is pretty impressive.

 

fwe-20-lumen-front-tlight-black-ev244783-8500-2More recently I have added an additional front light which is designed for being seen, and not for showing the way ahead. In fact Evans describe the FWE 20 Lumen front light as the “definitive bright back-up safety light, taking up very little space on your bars but making sure you’re seen at night”. The 20 lumens is surprisingly bright, but the small form factor means it has run out of puff after just one week.

A couple of weeks ago I also replaced my reflective spoke clips, as the old ones were starting to lose their shine.

brompton-spokes-at-night

I think they look pretty good on my Brompton, and help when crossing T junctions.

Should I be doing more?

When I am out on the mean and dark streets of London, I wonder if I am doing enough to draw attention to myself. I have seen quite a few fellow cyclists who are outdoing my humble effort by a quite a margin.

Here are four examples:
The Lumos helmet means you carry all your lights on your head, instead of scattered around your bike. So you don’t have to worry about them being stolen or the hassle of taking them off to charge or the change the batteries. It also includes left and right indicators with a handlebar controller. Yours for just 179 US dollars.

Lumos helmet

And if you just want to let people where you are going next the the Cyndicate system is for you.

cyndicate

 

But by far the most impressive sight I have seen are Revolights.

revolights

They look pretty spectacular in the photo above, and even more so in the video below.

But when you actually see them on the road they are truly stunning. Sadly they don’t currently make a size to fit my bike, and they cost 199 US dollars. A tad more than my admittedly less awe inspiring reflector spokes above, but maybe I should start saving.

Monkey Light Pro Wheels

I haven’t actually seen any Monkey Light Pro wheels from Monkeylectric on my rides, but they do take attention seeking to the next level.

monkey-light-pro

Have you seen anything brighter on your travels?

On National Biscuit Day – to dunk or not to dunk – that is the question

Source Paul Bailey Flickr

Source Paul Bailey Flickr

I’m not generally a fan of National Days, for instance Trivia Day and National Dress Up Your Pet Day. But I am prepared to make an exception for National Biscuit Day which occurs this Sunday 29 May.

For me, biscuits will always be associated with drinking tea. Because, as that memorable slogan from 1978 for Rich Tea biscuits put it, “A drink’s too wet without one”.

And some might say that biscuits are too dry without tea. Although that didn’t stop my brother munching his way through whole packets at a time as a teenager.

If you want to explore tea, biscuits and cake in more detail, have a look at the quintessential British blog nicecupofteaandasitdown. Their mission statement reads; “Well I think we should all sit down and have a nice cup of tea, and some biscuits, nice ones mind you. Oh and some cake would be nice as well. Lovely.”

cup-339864_640Thanks to last year’s Daily Mirror quiz, we know that the UK’s favourite biscuit is the Chocolate digestive.

According to Amy Lloyd, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel, “The ritualistic nature of eating biscuits with a hot drink appeals to consumers, demonstrating how ingrained this occasion is within British culture but emphasising the need for the biscuit category to expand beyond the tea-drinking audience.” Biscuit sales soar as recession drives people to ‘comfort food’. And this is certainly true for my regular visits to my elderly parents.

So that leads me nicely into the whole topic of dunking biscuits. To dunk or not to dunk, that is the question (to badly misquote Shakespeare).

This is a controversial topic that has seen many articles on either side of the the debate. One was triggered by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal announcing that scientifically, biscuits taste better dunked in tea.

food-1338148_640

Who can resist a chocolate finger?

For the pro-dunkers, expert advice can be found at biscuit.org. Key advice includes avoiding dunking embarrassment by ensuring your biscuit will fit inside the diameter of your tea cup.

There are even more articles on the search of the perfect dunking biscuit. According to teadunking, the plain digestive biscuit is the favourite. Whereas TV chef Jamie Oliver’s top three are Hobnobs (plain and chocolate) and Ginger Nuts. But according to scientific research reported in the Daily Mirror, Rich Tea is the King of the dunkers.

Then again, a survey of 3,000 dunkers in the Daily Telegraph ‘proved’ that Chocolate digestive is nation’s favourite dunking biscuit.

As with so many things in life, you have to make up your own mind. And I’m going with the Ginger Nut for the perfect combination flavour and firmness after being dunked.

cookies-1264263_640

Chocolate cookies run Ginger Nuts a close second in my book

Photos from Flickr and Pixabay

Kutsuwa

In search of the perfect pencil sharpener

Pixabay.comThe pencils only rule at the British Library means I have become closely acquainted with the ancient art of pencil sharpening.

Having tried many different types over the years and found them all wanting, I finally splashed out on a Kutsuwa RS015BK.

The previous designs were either too blunt or too flimsy to produce a properly sharp nib. Or they broke off the end of the pencil lead just as it was on the point of being ready to use.

Kutsuwa Co., Ltd. was founded in 1910 as a stationery wholesaler in Osaka, Japan. In 1965, they started to design and manufacturer its own branded products. The model I chose came in a range of vibrant colours as one might expect from a Japanese manufacturer, but I went for the boring black model.

Kutsuwa

It is still early days, but so far I am very happy with the way this machine produces wonderfully sharp pencils, easily and quickly, as well as collecting the messy cuttings in a waste box.

So the lesson learnt here, once again, is if you want a good pencil sharpener you need to pay that bit extra.

Perhaps I should have researched this topic more thoroughly before spending my money. The Pencil Revolution contains many reviews of sharpeners. Or I could have read The art of sharpening pencils on Mathew James Taylor’s blog. Where I would learnt about the standard point, the chisel point, the needle point, or the bullet point. Although I definitely wouldn’t have chosen his favourite rather disturbing sharpener below.

living-dead-dolls-sadie-pencil-sharpener

I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover the ultimate sharpeners on the Manufactum website, as they specialise in goods made with traditional manufacturing methods and materials. They include the beautifully simple Dux Dual Pencil Sharpener Aluminium and the outrageously expensive but indestructible Caran d’Ache Steel Pencil Sharpening Machine.

Dux Dual Pencil Sharpener Aluminium

Dux Dual Pencil Sharpener Aluminium

Caran d’Ache Steel Pencil Sharpening Machine

Caran d’Ache Steel

trollybags

TrollyBag – the shopping bag of the future with a patent

Logo_packingsortedMy dad has always been something of an early adopter, keen to try out new ideas and inventions. He bought a Sharp EL-801 one of the first pocket calculators, a Sinclair ZX 80 computer, and VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet. So I shouldn’t have been surprised to find a shiny new set of Trolley Bags in his cupboard the other day.

A little research shows the colourful product was invented in Ireland by Paul Doyle in 2010 and is protected by a patent for A Re-usable Bag System.

With the imminent charge for plastic bags in England, the time is right for Trolley Bags to clean up. The Single Use Carrier Bags Charges (England) Order 2015 comes into force on 5 October. And the order requires sellers who employ more than 250 people to charge 5p for a “single use carrier bag” which is less than 70 microns (0.07mm) thick.

trollybags

Espacenet screenshot

trollybag patent drawing

Yummys

A name that is well and truly tasty

On my regular drive to my parents house I pass several food vans catering to the hungry driver.

Their names vary from the mundane Joe’s Food Shack, to the humorous such as Mrs Doyles, which alludes to the iconic character appearing in the legendary Father Ted comedy series.

Source Channel 4

But my favourite is a tiny little white van with a bright red Yummy’s logo and a 1950’s style waitress winking out at the passing motorists. When you add in their strapline Well Tasty, I think they get credit for an effective promotion in a competitive market.

Yummys

Fun and games with removals firm names

Bearded Bros RemovalsOn my travels around Sussex I recently found myself looking at the back of a van with this very distinctive image staring back at me. On further inspection I discovered it wasn’t the reincarnation of ZZ Top, but Bearded Bros Removals of Brighton. As you can see from this screen shot below, they are acually quite a friendly bunch.

Bearded Bro's Removals I Man

This started me thinking about removals companies and how some of them attract customers using unusual and memorable names.

When I moved house last year we used Rhino Removals. Who happily did lived up to their reputation rather than their name, and were nice and gentle with packing up and moving our household. I’m not sure the artwork they use on the side of their vans is helpful from this point of view.Rhino removalsI did a little bit of research using the Business & IP Centre company databases and came up with list of fun names for removals firms. I was glad to see there was an Aardvark Removals there, which must date back to the days of alphebitical printed listings. Having two A’s at the front of your name ensures you are the first in the list,

My favourites two are Movers Not Shakers and Exodus Removals & Transport. But I’m also a fan of United States based The Sultans Of Schlep!

Which company would you choose?

  • A Nice Man With A Van
  • A1 Moves Ltd
  • Absolute Removals Limited
  • Ants Removals Limited
  • Anytime Removals Limited
  • Aussie Man & Van Limited
  • Big Van Removals Limited
  • Busy Bees Removals Limited
  • Chariots Of Chelsea Limited
  • Clockwork Removals
  • Exodus Removals & Transport Limited
  • Fantastic Removals Ltd
  • Fast Removal Services Ltd
  • Flexible Movers Ltd
  • Friendly Movers Limited
  • Full House Removals And Transport Limited
  • Gladiator Removals Ltd
  • Humpit Removals
  • Jumbo Vans Ltd
  • Just Moving Ltd
  • Kiwi Movers Ltd
  • Max Storage Limited
  • Move It Mate Removal Services Limited
  • Movers Not Shakers Ltd
  • Movingto Ltd
  • Neat Removals Ltd
  • No Fuss Removals Limited
  • Polish Movers Limited
  • Prime Time Man And Van Limited
  • Real Man And Van Limited
  • Reliable Removals Limited
  • Son Of A Gun Limited
  • South Park Removal Service Limited
  • Stork Removals And Storage Limited
  • The Green Man And Van Ltd
  • Van Girls Ltd
  • Vantastic Removals Limited
  • Vertigo Transport Ltd
  • We Move All Limited
  • Wehustle Enterprises Limited
  • Wise Move Limited

 

The safest thing on my bicycle is my Mirrycle

mirrycle_logoDuring my year of cycle commuting across the capital (15 learnings from a year of Brompton cycle commuting in London) I have become increasingly safety conscious.

My first step was to buy a cheap and cheerful cycle helmet, mostly to placate my concerned partner. At that point I was still doubtful about its value as there was some evidence to the contrary (Cycle helmets are useless, says brain surgeon). However, after a few months mingling with cars, buses, lorries and other cyclists, I started to appreciate the fragility of the human head. Especially when it has the potential of coming into contact with any of these solid metal vehicles, or even just a patch of hard tarmacadam road. So recently I upgraded my helmet to an ‘urban’ model with more protection, and hopefully a tad more style.

giro-sutton-helmet

My Giro Sutton bash hat

Next came a choice that drops me off the bottom of the fashion scale. My fluorescent orange and yellow safety vest may be a faux-pas from a style perspective, but it certainly gets me noticed – which is the point of wearing it. I have lost count of the number of times I have seen car drivers and pedestrians glance in my direction, then doing a double-take and stopping their imminent move into my path, as the bright colours of my vest hit their brain receptors.

I spent my formative years riding a motorbike on London roads, so I know that anything on two wheels is effectively invisible to most other road users. I still remember the “I’m sorry – I didn’t see you” from when I was knocked down by a car in the Walworth Road in 1989. And I really want to avoid hearing it again.

In those days it was the engine driving the wheels rather than my legs, and the two rear-view mirrors were something of an irrelevance. The acceleration of my motorbike meant I needed to focus on what was in front of me, not behind me.

Mirrycle-Barend-Mirror-MTB-2

I can see behind with my Mirrycle mirror

On a pedal powered bike it is more of a fifty-fifty front and rear. I still need to concentrate on the road ahead for rogue pedestrians and cars pulling out in front of me. But I also need to be aware of what is coming up behind me. Is it a taxi who is going to squeeze me into the kerb, or a bus desperately trying to get the stop in front of me, or a monster truck who’s air draft is going to blow me over.

I am even at risk from young Lycra clad cyclists, who I’m sure see an old codger like me riding a Brompton in a suit, as someone they can whiz past. So the ability to see them bearing down on me at speed, and so give them space to pass, is very helpful to both of us.

I still look round behind me quite a bit too, using what the Police call the lifesaver. This tends be before a manoeuvre, or to make eye contact with a driver who is about to cut me up.

Knowing what is going on behind me gives me choices and avoids dangerous surprises. So that makes my Mirrycle perhaps my most valuable investment in terms of safety on my trusty Brompton. In fact based on my experience I would recommend that every bike should be fitted with at least one mirror as a standard safety feature.

Update November 2015

Interesting to see Garmin have now come out with a radar system for detecting vehicles sneaking up behind you. I still think my mirror will do for now.