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Why Electric?

Ten reasons why having virtually all vehicles on London roads would be an outstanding idea:

1. You could walk down Oxford Street or Regent Street without needing an oxygen mask;

2. Birds would stop falling out of the sky, asphyxiated, when they crossed the M25;

3. It would be quiet enough to hear the sweet song of birds, or at least the raucous yelling of seagulls;

4. Everyone would be able to hear the music they are playing in their cars, instead of it being drowned by the engine noise;

5. Cyclists will be able to hear you when you shout at them;

6. You will be able to hear what they cyclists are shouting at you;

7. All the other drivers will be able to hear the conversation you are having with the cyclist;

8. Watching tourists trying to scurry across the road through the traffic becomes even funnier;

9. London would insouciantly brush off rising oil prices, except in the square mile of the City;

10. Forget custom ring tones – think custom ersatz engine noises…

Gill-Hank Progress

After pestering as many as people as I could, publicly, via Twitter by posting links to my previous, I finally have somebody admitting ownership of the unit:

Dear Mr. Robert Hook,

Following your message on Twitter regarding the charge point located at Cadogan Road West, please be advised that we have been reporting this charge point as faulty to Pod Point.

Unfortunately, the charge point has still not been repaired as you have rightfully highlighted.

As a result, we have decided to remove this faulty charge point and install a brand new Source London unit. We are currently working with Berkeley (which you also mentioned in your message) to have the new charge point installed as soon as possible.

Should you have any further queries, please feel free to respond to this message.

Kind Regards,

—-
Thanks for using SourceLondon.
Your SourceLondon customer service

I have of course asked if the other two units will also be repaired or replaced, and asked for some indication of what “as soon as possible” means. I am getting a little tired of “As soon as possible”, as I’ve been hearing it for almost two months.

The Saga of Gill-Hank

Imagine, if you will, that you have arrived at a large and reasonably luxurious hotel, with a heavy bag in tow. The bag is not too much of a nuisance, it has wheels and so you can drag it along, but you sure wouldn’t want to have to carry it upstairs. You check in with reception, and head to the two lifts to go up to your 10th floor room.

To your dismay, you find that both lifts are out of order. You ask the concierge how long they will be out, and how you can expedite their repair, and she tells you that you need to contact the Help Desk number that is listed inside the lift. Sure enough, when you go back you can see that there’s a sign on the wall showing the name of the lift manufacturer and some contact details for them, and another larger sign with the name of a different company that operates and supports the lift. Heartened that this must be a modern and responsive company – after all, they have listed a Twitter handle, Webpage URL, and email address – you ring the Help Desk.

Oh no, says the bright young thing on the other end of the crackly phone, thank you for calling us but we just support the lift when it is working. For repairs you need to contact the manufacturer. Puzzled, you double check the number for the manufacturer, and ring them. This takes some time to go through the various levels of phone robot, before you reach someone you presume is human.

Thanks for letting us know, he says, we’ve already logged a fault in our system indicating those two units are malfunctioning, but our hands are tied and you need to talk to the building owners. You thank him and go back to the concierge to find out how to contact the building owners. Frustratingly, you discover that you cannot ring the building owners, but they do have a web form you can fill out and they will email you back. You hand over your credit card details to sign into the rather expensive WiFi, and settle down in the lobby with your laptop.

While waiting for the email response, you decide to try tweeting at the first company. Ding! Within seconds you get an automated response telling you the fault has been logged and should be repaired pretty soon. Ding! A manual response tells you that you need to talk to the manufacturer. Ding! The building owner’s mail arrives, disavowing all responsibility and giving you the phone number of the architects.

By this time you may be getting a little terse, and rather keen to be able to get into your room without lugging a heavy suitcase up 10 flights of stairs. You only want to use the lift, for God’s sake, and don’t care who is responsible for getting it working.

The architect finally answers, after the phone has rung out twice. Nope, not our problem. You need to talk to the building owners, or the concierge, or the manufacturer, or someone. We only designed the elevator scheme. The building owners then sold the elevator scheme to a French services company. No, sorry, they don’t have a phone number or email address. You hang up the phone, and watch parents putting their hands over the ears of their precious young things as they hurry out of the lobby.

With gritted teeth, you Google the name of the French company, in conjunction with variations on ‘elevator’, ‘lift’, ‘malfunctioning’, ‘incompetent’ and ‘possible malfeasance’, and start finding year old press releases and forums for elevator users. Digging into the forums, you begin to unravel the knotted mess.

It seems that the building owners sold the elevators to this French company, who also took on responsibility for running the help desk, or at least renting an office for a bright young thing to sit in and answer the phone and Twitter. The premise was that this French company would include the elevators in a brand new scheme trumpeted widely across the capital’s news organs, wherein a fleet of new user-pays, social-media-connected, environmentally friendly and vegan elevators would be rolled out. Some day. Real soon now. February at the latest. Maybe March.

These innovators also promised to take on at least part of the maintenance costs for units that they had not yet integrated into the New Scheme. Well, some of the maintenance costs. If the concierge contracts with the manufacturer to get the repairs carried out, then our French friends will pay up to £500 of the costs. Even though the manufacturers indicate that the average repair cost is about £5000.

Armed with this, you go back to the concierge, who shrugs and tells you they’d never heard of this arrangement, and besides, they don’t have the money to cover the repair costs. And no, they can’t put the repairs on your credit card. No, sir, sorry sir, we can’t carry your suitcase up to your room for you. Yes sir, we do understand your frustration, and would appreciate it if you could put the fire-axe down and accept a complimentary drink at the bar while you wait for the police to arrive.

Very roughly, this is the story of Pod Point electric car charger Gill-Hank.

We needed a car somewhat larger than our delightful little Fiat Panda, but were loath to purchase an enormous petrol or diesel guzzling behemoth. We’d seen the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV around through last year, and thought it looked pretty neat, but it did not come up into our heads until we started looking for a new car. It certainly looked an attractive compromise between being big enough for our needs, and green enough to mitigate our guilt noodling around on short hops through London. The deciding factor in the end was how we would charge it: our apartment block has a shared locked underground car park with no accessible power, but Pod Point Gill-Hank was right outside our front door, and so we took the plunge.

IMG_2705

There had been a charging point there since we moved to the building in early 2012, and somewhere in the last two years it was replaced by this newer unit from Pod Point. Then, sometime in mid-2015 some idiot backed into it and took it off the air.

In retrospect we should have done the research to uncover the… interesting… state of public charge points in London, but as it stood we contacted Pod Point on 11th February 2016, a week or so before we picked up the vehicle, to organise repairs. From that point the saga becomes Kafka-esque.

The history of the charger became more clear when I stumbled across this Financial Times article from February 6 2015: Boris Johnson leaned on TfL in May 2011 to set up the charging network, which was badged Source London Scheme, and TfL in turn leaned on the boroughs to wear the cost of installing and maintaining the units. It would have been somewhere around then that Greenwich Council or Berkely installed the first unit. Once in, maintenance was… neglected… on the units, with a chaotic patchwork of costs and conditions across London, until TfL flogged the whole thing off to BluePoint London in September 2014.

BluePoint London are a subsidiary of the Bolloré group, and picked up the network for the bargain price of £1 million, on the condition that they would also pick up the maintenance and support. Well, sort of pick up the maintenance – the arrangement was that they would cover up to £500 of the repair costs, after the relevant borough had organised the repairs with the manufacturers and then invoiced Bolloré. Given that the repair costs are potentially higher than £500, the boroughs have generally elected just to leave the units dead rather than continuing to wear the costs. This has allowed Bolloré’s representative Christophe Arnaud to say with wide-eyed innocence that everything must be going swimmingly, because BluePoint is not being pursued for reimbursement by the boroughs.

Digging around to find out more about BluePoint London is rather interesting. There was a fair amount of noise in the press in the last quarter of 2014 about the deal, much of it coming from press releases from Bolloré or BluePoint London, full of glowing promises that the network would be restored to full operating state post-haste. At that time 23% of the overall network was dead in the water, although the proportion was higher in the central parts of London. A quick look at the crowd-sourced ZapMap map, or the maps provided by PodPoint and Source Point London, reveals that the network is at least as stuffed now.

As an aside, there’s no indication that Gill-Hank, or it’s two older compatriots elsewhere on the Royal Arsenal, were ever operational.

There was another burst of activity in mid-2015, when BluePoint announced the imminent roll out of an electric car sharing scheme similar to the one that Bolloré run in Paris, certain to be up and running before Christmas. Or at the latest by February 2016. Writing in March 2016, I can say that I’ve not seen any indication of wheels on the ground, or anything other than a press release. Also in the news in May 2015 were announcements that BluePoint were running around re-negotiating the maintenance deal with individual boroughs, with a view to take on direct responsibility for the units that had rolled out under the Source London Scheme, although possibly not financial responsibility.

Greenwich was one of the boroughs that had signed up, with a certain amount of fanfare, so you would hope that their would be a smooth relationship between the borough and Blue-Point. In reality when we contacted them in late March, they first indicated that the units in question were on private roads and so they had no involvement, then said they would let BluePoint know, although they seemed surprised that this was something they might be involved with.

Before leading you through the saga, I do need to bring the dramatis personae on stage properly, as there is an entire HBO BlockBuster’s worth of characters to keep track of.

Woolwich Arsenal is (just) in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, which is run by the Greenwich London Borough Council. Despite the council offices and town hall being in Woolwich, it generally appears as if the only piece of Greenwich that they pay attention to is that part within one mile of the Cutty Sark. The Woolwich Arsenal site itself was flogged off to and developed by Berkeley Homes, who famously have an interestingly cosy relationship with Council and councillors, and a history of favouring style over substance.

Rendall & Rittner manage the site on a long-term contract with Berkeley, and provide all the day-to-day maintenance, concierge services, security and so on. Royal Arsenal Facilities Management is that part of R&R who have direct responsibility for, well, Managing Facilities.

Pod Point both manufacture charging stations and run a charging network, although within London it looks very much like their network is part of, or largely overlaps with, the Source London Scheme. It’s their name that is plastered all over Gill-Hank, their software running on it, and their RFID card that is supposed to be used on the other two units in the Arsenal. Rather puzzlingly they advertise a 3 Year warranty on leased units, and Gill-Hank is less than 3 years old, you would think that there shouldn’t be any complications around getting it fixed…

Source London were initially the retail arm and public web face of the Source London Scheme, although it’s very unclear how the financing originally worked, as the scheme was launched by Boris and TfL. This is something of a recurring theme in investigating this chaos, a number of players look to be not much more than smoke and mirrors, with no clarity around who owns what – if anything.

BluePoint London is part of Bolloré, but is virtually invisible outside press releases – they have no distinct web presence, no (easily) identifiable office, and possibly nobody directly working for them other than Christophe Arnaud, who lists himself as working for Bolloré Blue Solutions – it may be that BluePoint London is nothing but a very thin trade name for a particular branch or product out of Blue Solutions, but it still remains rather odd that an outfit that being very prominently held up in the media as providing the bright new future of an Electric London is a ghost…

Even the location of their office is a mystery. They might be at 125 Wood Street, London, EC2V 7AW or they might be in 33 Gutter Ln, London EC2V, and I am sorely tempted to wander over there some lunch time to see if I can find them. Possibly Blue Solutions is wearing BluePoint London like a mask, and in turn they are wearing Source London as a mask, but none of the publicly available information about these companies mention that – indeed the bulk of the Source London web site has not been updated since 2014, and still suggests that it is a TfL initiative.

So here’s the saga. Since Gill-Hank is prominently badged with PodPoint’s livery, and is running PodPoint’s software, and is on PodPoint’s map, so the obvious first point of contact we pursued was PodPoint. On 11th February 2016 we lodged a support call about Gill-Hank, and we received a response the next day advising that the unit would be soon fixed and they were sending us one of their RFID cards so that we could use the other units in the Arsenal.

Having heard nothing further, on 6th March we lodged a fresh call about Gill-Hank, and followed up on 7th March to advise them that the other two units in the Arsenal were dead as well. Around that time we also chased Royal Arsenal Facilities Management, who responded on 8th March:

Thank you for your email below and we are sorry to hear the issue you are also having with Pod Point. We have also been trying to contact them on the same matter and as of yet have had no joy. Please note that Pod Point are not contracted the estate management in any way however we will be taking other avenues to get these issues resolved.

On 11th March we got a response from PodPoint, who advised that they would get an engineer to visit and asking if I could send some photos of the damaged unit. In a phone conversation around this time I was told that PodPoint had been trying to contact both Council and Berkeley, as the repair would probably require fixes to the pavement as well:

IMG_2708

It as around this date that we realised we’d need to sign up to a number of different networks and get their RFID cards if were going to be travelling around the country at all, and on 12th March via Twitter had a conversation with PodPoint lamenting the many RFID cards, and being assured once again that the unit would be fixed very soon.

On 16th March, a little over a month since we first told PodPoint that the unit had been damaged and was non-functional, their engineer visited the site and confirmed that, yes, it had been partly torn out of the pavement, yes, the pavement would need to be fixed and the unit significantly repaired, and yes that they would need Greenwich Council or Berkeley to come to the party to assist with that. Again via Twitter we were assured that the unit was on the fix list, after I tweeted the picture of the damaged unit:

i’ll get someone to look at why one of our units is doing a mini impression of the Tower of Pisa… Thank you

and

Have an update already! We are working on getting it fixed, thank you for reporting it 🙂

I refrained from pointing out that it had been reported several times already.

PodPoint celebrated National Puppy Day (or was it International Puppy Day) on 24th March by Tweeting a picture of their office pug Sparky – I responded by sending a photo of our dog Bo beside the unit:

IMG_2880

Bo is wondering if Sparky will come and help fix Gill-Hank soon?

thanks Bo! We’re looking into it

Twitter seems to be the most effective way of speaking with PodPoint, and they sent me a direct message on 27th March:

Hi Robert! Gill-Hank is currently on our list of upgrades, however we are waiting for the paperwork to go through – which, sadly, is taking it’s time

to which I replied

thanks for that – is there some third party that you are waiting on which I can yell at?

I heard nothing further until the 29th, after I got a response from Royal Greenwich when I poked them directly:

Hi and thanks for that, It’s not ours, but we are flagging up to Bollere/Bluepoint now. Thanks again.

who’s is it then? PodPoint and SourceLondon say it is yours

Hi again. Have raised your query with the service lead. It will be reported to the right place! Thanks again for flagging to us.

More relevantly we got a final confirmation by email from PodPoint that they would not be repairing the unit:

Apologies for the delay in my response. Here is the latest on the matter: We have been in touch with Royal Arsenal Facilities Management and Greenwich Council who have informed us that these units were installed under the Source London Scheme which has since been taken over by a company called Blue Point who are now responsible for the maintenance of the charging equipment. We have contacted Blue Point to find out what is going to happen with these units, whether we should repair/replace them or whether the existing units will be replaced by their own charge units. While we have had no response my prediction is the latter. Unfortunately it is out of our hands to further assists in the matter unless we get a work order from Blue Point. I apologise and am aware of the frustration in the matter but there is no more I can do

I forwarded this to Royal Arsenal Facilities Management with a certain amount of polite WTF?, but did not hear
back from them until the next day. My partner also rang around on the 29th and spoke to Greenwich Council, who confirmed that from their point of view the unit was on a private road, and therefore not actually their concern, however that they would let BluePoint know. On the other hand when she spoke with Source London, they insisted that it was PodPoint’s problem, not theirs.

Weirdly on the 30th I did get a response on Twitter from the conversation with PodPoint on the 27th:

In this instance, it would be the local council. They do take a bit of time…,

to which I replied

Greenwich Council have said ‘not on a public road, not our problem’

Finally, on 31st March Royal Arsenal Facilities Management thanked me for the mail I’d forwarded, and said they had passed it on to Berkeley.

And there the matter rests at this time. The two units on the Arsenal site with Source London livery are non-responsive, and the PodPoint unit is visibly wrecked. We have no way of charging the car, and absolutely no indication of when or if the units will be repaired or replaced.

To recap the final statements via the various players:

  • PodPoint say they have spoken with Greenwich Council and Royal Arsenal Facilities Management, that both parties have said it’s BluePoint’s problem, and that PodPoint have tried to contact BluePoint with no response;
  • Source London (who are theoretically BluePoint) have said it’s PodPoint’s problem;
  • Royal Arsenal Facilities Management say they have had no contact with PodPoint, and have not been able to get a response from them, and have passed the issue up to Berkeley;
  • Greenwich Council believe they have no involvement at all, and have notified BluePoint;

None of which actually adds up. It feels like the whole thing could be resolved if we could get all the parties into one room together and instructed them to actually talk to each other. Resolving this should not be difficult – somebody has the paper work indicating that they are leasing, or own, the unit, thus making them responsible for getting the damned thing fixed. I don’t care who that is, or what deals have been done between the various players, or what the history of the scheme is, or anything else.

Just get the damned thing repaired so it can be used! If it truly is the case that nobody owns Gill-Hank and nobody is responsible for it… then nobody will mind if I take an axe to it and the other units to put them out of their misery.

TfL, Greenwich Council, PodPoint, Source London and BluePoint have all loudly and frequently asserted an interest in a greener London, where a key part of reducing air pollution is encouraging the use of electric vehicles, bolstered by a public charging network. As it stands, a network was built and largely abandoned, and consumers like us who are trying to do the right thing by going electric have been left stranded with no sign of anything being done other than intermittent press releases assuring us that the future is so bright we will need to wear shades.

PHEV Charge hassles

I’m still trying to sort out where we can charge the car – Delia has found a charging point nearby that we can use for a short period to bleed in a little bit of charge – while we wait for the PodPoint at our front door to be fixed. Which might be an indeterminate amount of time, as the PodPoint engineer came out during the week and confirmed that yes, it had been backed into, yes it was defunct, and yes they would need to embark on a complicated arrangement with Berkely, Rendall & Rittner, and Greenwich Council to get it fixed.

We just received the SourceLondon RFID card in the mail, which caused me to google off to find who on earth “Bluepointlondon” are. Which in turn led me to this article at the Financial Times.

The timeline turns out to be like this:

  • May 2011 Boris Johnson ordered TFL to build a network of charging stations across London. TFL coerced the boroughs and councils to install (at their expense) the charging stations, and Boris patted himself on the back for a job well done
  • September 2011 TFL flogged the network off to Bolloré for a total of £1 million, on the understanding that the new owners would pay for the upkeep.
  • The network falls apart because nobody is maintaining it
  • Bolloré believes it’s only supposed to reimburse anyone who makes repairs £500, but the repair costs is higher.

And so it’s a mad merry-go-round. Bolloré aren’t fixing the network they own, because as far as they are concerned it’s someone else’s problem. The manufacturers – PodPoint, Chargemaster and similar – are not maintaining the network because as far as they are concerned it’s someone else’s problem. TFL aren’t maintaining the network because they made it someone else’s problem, but are not sure whose. The councils aren’t maintaining the network because they cannot afford to. Meanwhile Boris Johnson strolls off taking credit for having built a network of charging points to take London into a green future, without actually having achieved anything that works.

Golf Clap.

Phun with PHEV

Well, that escalated quickly. We went from thinking in November/December that we needed a solution for carrying more kit around than would fit in the Panda, to driving away from Portsmouth on 11th March in a brand-new Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, paid in full (mostly from some money I had sitting in Australia, hoping the $AUD would be worth something some day).

Our logic wasn’t entirely illogical – we recognised that if we did not get a clunky Transit van or similar, we needed at least an estate wagon or SUV. It did not take us long to realise that most SUVs on the market emphasise the ‘Sport’ over the ‘Utility’ part of ‘Vehicle’, and mostly were no bigger (and provided no additional storage) than a family sedan. In some cases they were smaller. The next step up – the Range Rovers, Honda CR-V, Land Rover Discovery, Mitsubishi Pajero/Shogun and similar are eye-wateringly expensive, inconveniently large for getting around London in, and on the whole have lousy mileage. The ideal would have been the SUV that is surely on Tesla’s roadmap, but that is still years away, unless Musk brings one back from Mars. Really for our use cases, crossed with our desire to have an electric or hybrid vehicle that was not a Prius, the Outlander PHEV was the only good choice, despite it being more than we had initially thought about paying.

So far our experience – driving back from Portsmouth, driving backwards and forwards to Coventry, and a little bit of noodling around Woolwich and Charlton – has been excellent. The car is capacious, comfortable, and quiet inside the cabin. Also, it is red.

The hybrid mechanism is quite a neat solution: the batteries have a range of 20-30 miles, and the rear wheels are driven entirely off electric motors. While coasting or braking, energy is regained and fed back to the batteries. When there is insufficient charge, the petrol motor kicks in to run a generator to feed the electrical system. When there is not enough energy in the system, the petrol motor kicks in to drive the front wheels, either to the exclusion of of charging the battery, or while still diverting some energy to the electrical motors. To give you some idea of how effective this is, over the whole 360-odd miles that we drove in the past few days, the petrol engine was active for somewhere well under 20% of the trip, mainly kicking in to pull us up the long rising slopes – going down the other side would then recover most of the energy spent going up.

The mechanism is going to require a slight adjustment to how I think about managing the efficiency of the vehicle. We were sort of able to ignore the efficiency of the Panda, because it was a 0.9 litre turbo engine in a car that we could pick up with one hand. As long as we were not carrying anything other than ourselves and the dog, it was costing us about £0.13/mile (which is what the PHEV has cost so far!), and we could drive it like a tiny sports car. Mitsubishi have made it clear – and made it transparent – that the key metric in managing efficiency is Energy.

To enable this, the car comes with enough computing power and instrumentation to take it to orbit and back. There’s an endless amount of stuff for the passenger to fiddle with on the central screen that provides the GPS display, and key metrics are echoed to the dashboard directly in front of the driver. For myself so far I’ve found it good to have the display of the energy flow up – it echoes nicely with the ‘power’ meter that supplants an expected rev-meter, and gives very good feedback on how my driving habit and technique is consuming, conserving or generating charge. And speaking of habits, I am definitely in love with the cruise control.

Despite the inability of most drivers on the motorway to maintain braking distance between vehicles, the cruise control worked quite nicely on the motorway. It’s not something I’ve used before, and I found it quite eerie to have no sense of the acceleration and deceleration that accompanies manual maintenance of speed. It felt like the car was coasting all the time as it maintained rock steady speed, and it was directly observable that this mode was conserving or generating energy far better than I could ever do. For the first time, I am convinced that we’re very close to being able to eliminate manual control of the vehicle for most circumstances.

The only downside so far is charging the PHEV. We’d taken note of how many charging stations there were around us and along the motorways on ZapMap and similar, and thought no further about it, relaxed that there were plenty of options. That did not prove to be the case.

To begin with, many charging stations on the maps are not working as it turns out, and generally it’s not proving to be worth the effort of whoever had them installed in the first place to get or keep them maintained. Googling started to show up forums like this that reveal a common pattern of premises installing chargers, advertising their existence, and then abandoning responsibility for them. A good example of this is the two ‘Pod Point’ units in Woolwich Arsenal where we live. There is one literally outside our front door that some idiot backed into and took out of commission, and another further up the road that is not responding to the RFID card it requires. These were installed at some point in the past at the behest of Berkeley Homes by one company, and then later rebranded to Pod Point at a later time. We’ve been endeavouring to get these fixed, but spent a week on a four cornered quest between Pod Point, Berkeley Homes, Greenwich Council and Rendall and Rittner facilities management trying to find someone to take responsibility for getting it sorted: initially each player disavowed responsibility, or avowed they were waiting on one of the others, before eventually Pod Point were able to guarantee an engineer would get it sorted during this week (And I will wax very wroth if that does not happen).

The other part of the charging station problem is that the ‘free’ units around are installed by and/or run by a bewildering array of providers – ZapMap lists almost a dozen on their site, and many more in their app, as does the SpeakEV forum. Some of these networks have units that accept RFID cards from other networks, some have an app that works on some of their units but not others, and there is at least one (In the carpark of Wickes at Charlton) that nobody seems to know who to gain access from. The absolutely infuriating thing we found on the first day when we pulled in on the motorway to charge is that the free service required an RFID card from the network. That could only be obtained by filling in an application form on their website, and discovering that it could be up to 10 working days before the RFID card would be sent out.

This. Is. Insane.

As someone on the forum said:

“Can I ask a simple question… Why are there networks so stupid. As in Why insist on a charge card. It’s like going to buy petrol at BP and them saying, sorry you must join our member scheme or you can’t have petrol.

Giving we all carry debit cards isn’t it better to charge say 50p a go or even charge 20p kWh etc, rather than making you join a scheme and carry yet another “free” card. Is there something special about EV charging that means we need to be tracked. The only thing I can think is the cost of the electric is quite low so the cost of preceding card payments would be higher than running a cards scheme?

Even a coin operating parking meter style would be preferable to a charge card. Pay by the minute (though not £7.50 for half hour like chargemaster are doing on CCS).”

This feels very much like a market that is on the verge of transitioning to a single consistent access and payment model, and which will see the myriad suppliers whittled down to 2 or 3 competitors. As it stands, the charging points in place appear to be a mix of quasi-public venues that shopping centers, chain stores and local councils have thought it would be good PR to install, alongside a few providers (Ecotricity and Pod Point being prime examples) hoping to get market dominance in specific geographical locations. And there are a few chancers who are hoping to make a quick and ugly pound out of this mess. POLAR have got the cheek to be aiming for a monthly subscription for access and quite expensive charging fees, including a £1.20 ‘administration’ fee each time you plug in.

So as it stands, I’ve tried to figure out which RFID cards I need to buy – mostly at £20 a pop, and have so far ordered the following:

  • Ecotricity
  • Source London
  • Pod Point
  • Charge Your Car
  • POLAR
  • Elektromotive

However I expect that for some trips, I will need to check 10 business days out and see what other pissant regional scheme I have to sign up to.

Addendum:

This Telegraph Article talks about the source of some of the chaos in London around all this:

Ownership of the sites is split between London boroughs, manufacturers of the equipment, private businesses and landlords of commercial property sites. The fundamental stumbling block is defining responsibility and finding funds for maintenance of broken charging points.

Source London says it currently has no jurisdiction to repair broken points, because maintenance is the responsibility of charger manufacturers, some of whom are not cooperating. But that view is disputed by the two main charger manufacturers, Chargemaster, with 647 sites, and Pod Point, with 276.

Pod Point chief executive Erik Fairbairn said: “As part of the purchase of Source London, Bolloré purchased a commitment to fund maintenance agreements of every charge point in the Source London network. We have not yet seen evidence of them doing that.”

Although TfL set up and sold off the network, it is unable or unwilling to clear up where exactly the responsibility lies. It simply said: “Enforcement of these [maintenance] contracts remains the responsibility of the individual consortium partners,” without clarifying whether this means boroughs, Source London or charge point manufacturers.

A man is not dead while his name is still spoken.

Something I have been meaning to do for quite a time is to take up the idea of keeping PTerry’s name alive by adding the X-Clacks-Overhead header to parts of this site. Even if it is only in the overhead:

GNU Terry Pratchett.

Maven releases with Git

I’ve started to put various snippets of code up into GitHub, partly because they may be useful to other people, partly so that they are more accessible when I do not have my personal laptop with me. Yes, Virginia, I could put it all on a USB stick (and I probably will), but that poses another problem of keeping that content up to date. And I’m not keen on sticking my stick into random and unpredictably unhygienic places.

The model that I’m looking at is chosen because I’m comfortable and familiar with it, not necessarily because it’s the ‘best’ nor bleeding edge:

  • Version control is managed with Git, using the general semantics of pushing clean code to GitHub and in-progress code locally;
  • Code is modified through the Eclipse IDE;
  • Dependency management is done with Maven;
  • Builds, tests and code compliance checks are run via Maven – on-the-fly through the Eclipse IDE while code is fluid, from the command line when it washes up on islands of stability;
  • Maven collaborates with Git to prepare and tag a version for release;
  • Maven pushes to my personal Artifactory instance.

As I’ve written about before, in this world I’m keen on placing declarative road blocks on the build road to ensure that basic CheckStyle and code coverage expectations are met. I firmly believe that these kind of checks are equivalent to spelling and grammar checkers for written natural language. They do not guarantee good or correct code, but they do assist in picking up silly mistakes and promoting consistent style.

One of the things I dislike about Maven is the poor and hard-to-find documentation around plugins. Even the ‘official’ core plugins are poorly documented, with a strong emphasis on the ‘what’ instead of the ‘how’ and ‘why’. Please, when writing documentation, don’t simply catalogue your API or interface: the result is like giving someone a dictionary when they want to learn to speak English.

As a result of the poor documentation, a lot of the time we need to rely on samizdat and hope to find a blog or similar written by somebody who has already figured out the documentation. Case in point here is this rather nice piece by Axel Fontaine on how to integrate Maven and Git. There are still a few missing links in that document, so let me try to fill in the blanks.

There are three key bits that need to go into your pom.xml to get this working. First you need to include a <scm/> section, which I like to put up at the top of the pom.xml along with the other general project meta-data:

<project xmlns="http://maven.apache.org/POM/4.0.0" xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance"
    xsi:schemaLocation="http://maven.apache.org/POM/4.0.0 http://maven.apache.org/maven-v4_0_0.xsd">

    <modelVersion>4.0.0</modelVersion>

    <groupId>net.parttimepolymath.cache</groupId>
    <artifactId>SimpleLRU</artifactId>
    <version>1.0-SNAPSHOT</version>
    <packaging>jar</packaging>

    <name>SimpleLRU</name>
    <description>Simple least-recently-used cache.</description>
    <url>https://github.com/TheBellman/simplelru</url>

    <scm>
        <connection>scm:git:git@github.com:TheBellman/simplelru.git</connection>
    </scm>

I can never remember this stuff, and rely on cloning it from project to project. It is rather calming, like a religious ceremony or meditation. The important part here is the <scm/> tag, which tells Maven where it can pull and push code from and to. You also need to tell Maven where it will store released artifacts, using the rather poorly named <distributionManagement/> segment. I usually put this just below the <scm/> tag:

<distributionManagement>
    <repository>
        <id>central</id>
        <name>ip-172-31-6-67-releases</name>
        <url>http://54.209.160.169:8081/artifactory/libs-release-local</url>
    </repository>

    <snapshotRepository>
        <id>snapshots</id>
        <name>ip-172-31-6-67-snapshots</name>
        <url>http://54.209.160.169:8081/artifactory/libs-snapshot-local</url>
    </snapshotRepository>
</distributionManagement>

By including a <snapshotRepository/> it is possible to share snapshot or beta builds using the maven deploy operation, which I wont cover off here. One of the annoying things to trip over is access control to the destination repository, which needs to go into the settings.xml in the local user’s .m2 Maven directory:

<servers>
    <server>
        <username>robert</username>
        <password>...</password>
        <id>central</id>
    </server>
    <server>
        <username>robert</username>
        <password>...</password>
        <id>snapshots</id>
    </server>
</servers>

The documentation is opaque around this, and it is not obvious that the <id/> in the <repository/> for the distribution management is used to look up the login credentials in the <servers/> section of the settings.xml. While I appreciate the benefits of not wiring credentials into the pom.xml directly, it is easy for these two pieces of information to get out of synch, and easy to forget the existence of the settings.xml when your release falls over with cryptic errors because it can’t login to Artifactory.

The final bit of wiring goes into the <plugins/> section:

<build>
  <plugins>
      <plugin>
          <groupId>org.codehaus.mojo</groupId>
          <artifactId>versions-maven-plugin</artifactId>
          <version>2.2</version>
      </plugin>

      <plugin>
          <groupId>org.apache.maven.plugins</groupId>
          <artifactId>maven-scm-plugin</artifactId>
          <version>1.9.4</version>
          <configuration>
              <connectionType>connection</connectionType>
              <tag>${project.artifactId}-${project.version}</tag>
          </configuration>
      </plugin>

The first of these, versions-maven-plugin, is used during the release process to fiddle with the version of your released artifact, and maven-scm-plugin wires the release process back to the source code repository defined in <scm/>. Note that there are a couple of different ways to define the source code repository, and there are corresponding and roughly similarly named things that go in this configuration connectionType. The documentation can more-or-less help you here.

Assuming that you have committed and are in the required branch, then the process becomes pretty simple:

  1. mvn versions:set
  2. mvn deploy
  3. mvn scm:tag
  4. mvn versions:set
  5. commit and push to Git

The mvn versions:set as I’ve used it above is interactive, but if you have a look at the documentation you will find a variety of different automagic ways of using it without interaction – the article by Axel Fontaine for instance is a good explanation of how to wire this process into Jenkins/Hudson.

In the set of steps I’ve just outlined, steps 4 and 5 are post-release stages, where I can set the version in the pom.xml back to a snapshot, and get the new snapshot version preserved in Git. I recommend doing this at the time that the release is being done, rather than doing it the next time that work is done on the project, for two reasons. First, this echoes the behaviour of the maven-release-plugin. Secondly it reduces the chance of forgetting to set the version at a later time.

On “fencing”…

“So you do fencing then?”

Sigh. Yes, that question again. How best to explain what I actually do? Let us set a scene. It is important that you, the reader, try to place yourself into the first person view here, and enter this scene. After all it is 2016, and VR is The Next Big Thing. Immerse yourself.

So. You are in a public place, and you realise that the bloke across the room is spoiling for a fight. You get that gut-tightening feeling that comes from knowing that conflict is coming, a rumbling of thunder on the horizon that presages the storm. His mates are egging him on, priming him for the fight.

Oh crap. He’s got a rapier in his hand.

This is not a fantasy foil, a dainty needle languidly waved by some fool in a feathered hat. This is the real thing. A meter of sharpened steel, shaped to a needle point. Not a tool, or a self defence aid, but a murder weapon. This person is coming toward you to murder you. They are going to take that meter of steel and try to shove it through your face, or your throat, or your chest, or your gut. This is happening.

Widen the view. You have a rapier too. Your hand is shaking but you hold it out in front of you, trying to hide behind it, pointing it across the space and screaming inside your head “keep the hell away from me!”. They are still coming, fast. In less than half a second they are going to be in the distance to shove that giant skewer through you.

Tick. Tock. Think quick.

You have two choices. Stand there and be struck, or hit them before they hit you. Stick them with the pointy end. It’s the only way to stop them. They are going to kill you. Tick. Hesitate and you are dead. Tock. Can you really hit your opponent without being hit in turn? Tick. If you can reach them, they can reach you. Tock. Can you move aside?

Tick. Too late.

Widen the view. You’re wearing a fencing mask, and a padded jacket and plastron. The rapier has been blunted, with a rubber stop on the end. The bloke is your friend, and after this bout you are going to call it a day, and go for a pint and talk about technique and historical context and fitness and whether the images in Capo Ferro are intended to be lifelike or a Platonic ideal. Maybe two pints.

Real technique, counterfeit intent, safe (or at least safer) swords. This is HEMA rapier fencing, an attempt to explore or rediscover or recreate the physicality of serious martial practice that has been obsolete for 300 years. We try to find the balance point between safety and fun, and entering the mindset of someone doing something awful in anger or self-defence. This play is a game requiring fitness, speed and stamina, but it’s also a test of intellect, mindfullness and perception.

It is possible to discern historical links between rapier play and modern sport fencing, but the two forms are not comparable, just as the swords in play are definitely not comparable. Measurements varied over the period where something identifiable as a rapier was in use, but you can loosely say that a rapier is a sword optimised for thrusting with a narrow blade a little under a meter long, and weighing around one kilogram. By comparison a modern foil is 90cm, weighing around 350 grams.

HEMA rapier play is not “better” than sports fencing, or vice versa. The two are not meaningfully comparable, as the technique, weapon and context are dramatically different. HEMA is also not re-enactment, or LARP, or theatrical stage combat… but none of this is exclusive. Some of the best HEMA rapier fencers are involved in re-enactment or LARP. The learnings and skills from all these very different contexts can inform and enrich other contexts. We are blind men standing around the elephant that is the historical context of the rapier, doing our best to perceive the whole beast from our disparate positions.

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(Photo by David Rawlings, myself on the right fencing left handed with Joseph Sherlock)

CSS3 Oops.

Revising my resumé as part of an overall overhaul of my site, I realised that the presentation on mobile devices was not very good. Fortunately since I last did anything major, CSS3 has become widely implemented, so Media Queries are now an option for degrading onto smaller screens. To my pleasure it did (eventually) just work, but I’m embarrassed to say that I spent a good hour wondering why it was not initially working. It would have helped if I’d remembered that CSS files are read from the top down…

On a side note, I’m quite disappointed in the behaviour of the Safari ‘responsive design mode’. While it does allow quick switching of window size, as far as I can tell apart from tinkering with the user agent string it does not register as a mobile device from the point of view of CSS. I’m hoping to find a better way of designing against mobile, because it’s definitely suboptimal to push changes to a server just so that I can test them on the phone.

Robots. They are coming to take your content.

I am in the process of revising my site, and discovered for whatever reason that I had an empty robots.txt file present. I know it is only a voluntary ‘standard’, but as far as I know all the major players do respect it. As the overwhelming proportion of users use a search engine that respects the standard, it does form a useful way of shaping what shows up in the general public eye.

I can never remember the syntax though, so for your reference and my recollection – http://www.robotstxt.org

Addendum: I was not familiar with the semi-standard for site maps so I’ve added that as well to see what the effect will be.

Addendum:Ritta Blens has pointed me to another very useful tool for testing the structure of a robots.txt file: https://www.websiteplanet.com/webtools/robots-txt/