Meilenwerk Berlin – a classic car museum with a difference

During the recent summer holidays I decided to escape the heat of Madrid and head north where I spent among other places, a week in Berlin. My rationale was that all the Germans will have gone to Spain for their summer holidays so it should be nice and quiet. I’d been to Berlin before so there was no great pressure to rush around seeing all the tourist sites. But one thing I did want to see was Meilenwerk Berlin. I had read about this place on the TopGear website and it sounded amazing. I was not disappointed.

Jaguar XK

Meilenwerk is essentially a storage warehouse for classic cars. One pays 130€ per month (extremely reasonable in my opinion) and one is then able to store one’s Rolls Royce, Mercedes, Ferrari etc in a climate controlled glass box. In addition there are specialist garages attached to the facility for Jaguar, Mercedes, Citroën and other marks. Meilenwerk also have a large number of cars for sale, some such as the Mercedes SL’s with astronomical price tags. But the best bit is that this whole facility is open to the public and completely free to enter.

Mercedes SL convertibles

I spent a few happy hours wandering around admiring all the cars on display. There were not just super-expensive exotica but also some more ordinary classics such as Citroën DS and Mercedes E-klasse but they were all in excellent condition. I’m not sure if there is a requirement that your classic be in mint condition to store it there or not but they certainly were. And the restoration facilities seemed to be very busy with some beautiful examples as well.

In addition to the couple of photos I have published here you can view the full collection on my photo site. Check them out here: https://picasaweb.google.com/111758461119985213903/MeilenwerkBerlin

Meilenwerk also have facilities in Stuttgart, Düsseldorf & Zürich which look equally impressive. The address in Berlin is Wiebestrasse 36 – 37, 10553 Berlin. I highly recommend a visit.

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DS progress

Following the thwarted attempt to collect my DS myself on a trailer some time ago I enlisted the help of a professional car transporter who picked up the car and took it to a new, more reputable garage (Herman Janssen) in Bennekom in the Netherlands. Finally I can report I have found a garage that is not only honest but fast and exacting and really seems to know what he is doing.

Rather than the 4000€ quoted by the thief in Middelburg he fixed my broken axle and electrical problems for around 700€. Finally I was able to take my car for a test drive without it breaking down!

It still had a problem with not selecting reverse on the hydraulic semi-automatic so I left the car there with instructions to fix this also. Unfortunately this was quite complicated and took Herman three days to fix. To his credit he only charged me for 16 hours work and also fixed a number of other things to make the car ready for the road such as lights and the horn. This is all done now and apparently the car is ready for collection.

Unfortunately since my last post I have moved to Madrid, Spain which makes popping to Bennekom slightly more problematic. I am thinking now of what I should do with the car but in the meantime I guess I will have it transported to a storage garage while I think about it.

All in all, having finally dealt with someone honest, I am feeling a lot better about the whole experience even though it has cost me more money. I think I will head to the Netherlands in a few weeks to check it out.

I will keep you posted on whether I decide to sell it or keep it. I am moving to Milan, Italy in February which is also not such a suitable place to drive a classic Citroën but I will think about it.

A week in Spain

I have decided that I would like to move to Spain for six months or so to learn Spanish (and to avoid the Belgian winter). As I am planning to move back to Australia in mid-2011 I am running out of time for more European experiences. Therefore, the plan is to move to Spain in January 2011, but I was unsure exactly where to go.

As you will see from previous posts I have been to Barcelona a couple of times and I really do love it. It is a great combination of old medieval centre and modern city. It’s not too big and not too small. It’s also by the beach and has great weather. But the fly in the ointment is that they speak Catalan rather than Spanish. Of course everyone can speak spanish as well but it’s not what you hear on the street and I think that will be detrimental to the immersion learning experience. So I ruled out Barcelona which basically left Seville and Madrid. And here I am on holiday for a week to check them both out.

I’ve already had a couple of days in Seville and I can report that it is a very pretty city with an unusual mixture of Islamic and Catholic architecture, often bizarrely intertwined. The main cathedral has a Moslem minaret from the time of the Moors but it is now a catholic cathedral and the minaret has a new bell tower on top. If only religions themselves could coexist so harmoniously.

Seville is supposedly the warmest place in Europe and it didn’t disappoint. I was out in a tee shirt with just a light jacket and it was sunny and warm. The city is completely flat so the best way to see it all is by using the city bicycle scheme which I did. Once you have joined you can take a bicycle from any of the hundreds of depots and then return it to another one. If you take the bicycle for less than half an hour it doesn’t even cost anything. I used this extensively and it saved my poor feet.

After a day and a half I think I had seen most of what there was to see. It isn’t a large city after all. So I bid adieu and boarded an AVE train to Madrid, 550kms to the northeast, in the centre of Spain. These trains are wonderful, smooth highspeed trains complete with movies like an airplane and the trip took only 2 hours and 30 minutes. I was also impressed that it departed and arrived on time to the second. Not consistent with my mental image of Spain at all! Japan yes, Germany maybe, but not Spain. I stand corrected.

The central plateau of Spain is very arid and there is almost no vegetation or features. It is, as scenery goes, quite boring. Luckily i had the movie and my iPad to entertain myself.

Madrid pops out of the desert quite suddenly. Unlike most cities, particularly in the US and Australia, there are no sprawling suburbs of McMansions. Instead it is featureless desert and then, right on the outskirts, high-rise apartments. I’m told that Madrid has virtually no detached housing. As a result the city is quite compact and it took only a few minutes to travel from the edge to the centre.

Immediately I could tell that this was a much bigger city than Seville. It has large boulevards and a lot of traffic all going very fast. It also surprised me with the size and grandeur of the buildings. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Spain did have an empire after all but I had always thought of it as a poor cousin to France and Germany. Not so. The buildings along Gran Via would rival and in some cases surpass what Paris or Berlin can offer. I will post photos in a future blog when I am back at my PC #iPadlimitation.

I’ve spent a few days in Madrid now and I have walked miles. It doesn’t seem to have a bike scheme and it is quite hilly anyway. There is an excellent metro but i haven’t used it much because you can’t see anything down there. I’m staying very centrally in the bohemian Chueca area which is convenient, and delicious, lots of little restaurants.

I think it is safe to say that Madrid has won. There is a lot more to see and do here compared to Seville and it also seems to be a little easier for the non-Spanish speaker to get by. I even have the potential to pick up some work here.

So there’s the verdict. Madrid in January. I hope it doesn’t snow…

Fuel Economy Run

Today I had to drive from my home in Antwerp, Belgium up to Bennekom in the Netherlands to visit my Citroën which is being repaired there. This is a round trip of 315kms and I thought, just for fun, that I might try an economy run to see what figures I could achieve in the BMW 123d. Those of you that know me or have read my previous posts about driving round the Nürburgring and on German autobahns might think it strange that I would want to drive slowly and economically. But I like a challenge and I’m also a little bit cheap so saving some fuel money is never a bad thing.

My goal was to beat the manufacturer’s claim of 5.2litres/100km (54MPG Imperial/45MPG US). This is a combined cycle claim so beating it on a trip consisting of 95% motorway should be easy but these claims are generally wildly optimistic and recorded under optimal conditions in a lab and therefore I wasn’t sure it would be possible. My average combined fuel consumption before I set off was 7.9litres/100km, a far cry from 5.2litres, and an indication that I had my work cut out for me. However it is worth noting that I drive everywhere at warp 5 with little or no regard for fuel consumption and, as this blog post will show, the most important factor in fuel economy is driving style.

I initially planned to brim my fuel tank with diesel so I could do a more accurate calculation but the service station near my house had a queue and I don’t queue. So instead I just zeroed the trip computer and headed off with less than half a tank of diesel and the trip computer showing a remaining range of just 220kms, a figure based on recent driving history. It looked like I would need to fill up enroute pending a miracle. As it was after 10am traffic on the Antwerp Ring was light and I eased out into the middle lane trying to resist the urge to mash the accelerator into the floor. Initially things weren’t looking good with a figure of around 5.5l/100km showing on the display. However, once I settled down to a comfortable 110kph that figure started to drop slowly but surely until it dropped under 5.0l/100km. Maybe it was going to be possible after all.

The thing about driving super-economically is that it requires a lot of concentration. The thing you absolutely want to avoid is braking as this just wastes your kinetic energy away in the form of heat (in most cars anyway) and this means that you need to plan far ahead, watching for trucks that might pull into your path, watching for slowing traffic up ahead, and trying to avoid having to stop quickly for a red light. It is much better to take your foot off the accelerator and coast in gear if you notice slowing traffic up ahead than it is to brake at the last second. Modern petrol and diesel engines use precisely zero fuel when they are in overrun i.e. when you are coasting in gear and using the engine resistance to decelerate. It is much better to let the engine slow you down than to put your foot on the clutch and use the brakes.

The other enemy of the economical driver is the hill. Fuel consumption when climbing a hill is understandably much higher than driving on the flat. Happily for me, I was driving in the Netherlands which is completely and utterly flat. So flat that the altimeter in my car showed 0 metres above sea level for almost the entire trip. The highest we got was 10 metres above sea level and that was while crossing a huge bridge over a canal. Methinks that real estate purchases in the Netherlands won’t be such a great investment in the event of sea level rises. Although there were no hills on my journey, there were a lot of bridges so I would gradually build up some extra speed before the bridge then allow the speed to decrease slightly as I went up the incline. Trying to maintain a constant speed up an incline will double your fuel consumption. And any speed that you have lost on the way up can be regained on the way down without penalty.

After an hour or so I had worked out that around 110kph was the sweet spot for economy. I could maintain that speed with an instantaneous fuel consumption figure of 3.5l/100km. Going even 10kph faster would push that figure above 4.5l/100km and going slower would start to hold up traffic and that is not practical. My combined figure after an hour was 4.6l/100km and I really wasn’t doing anything special other than driving with a very sensitive foot on the accelerator. I experimented with using the cruise control but found I could get the figures lower myself. Cruise control can’t anticipate traffic conditions or changes in elevation and is a bit of a blunt instrument. I should note that I did make one concession to fuel economy. As it was not a particularly hot day I turned off the A/C and just left the vents open to fresh air. This can make a big difference.

When it comes to economy, the BMW has a few tricks up its sleeve. It has a gear change indicator which shows the optimal point to change up and down and tells you which gear you should be in. It also has an alternator which disconnects from the engine except when you are decelerating so that it never uses fuel to charge the battery. It uses regenerative braking as well to capture some of that kinetic energy which would normally be lost as heat when braking. When you are driving in town it also automatically stops and starts the engine at traffic lights. The standard tyres are low rolling resistance tyres which also aids in fuel economy but I actually replaced mine with regular performance tyres as I didn’t like them so I might have reduced my fuel economy chances there slightly. And instead of using hydraulic power steering which uses a pump running off the engine it has electric power steering which is powered by the battery. All these things, plus the fact that it is an incredibly efficient diesel, add up to a noticeable improvement in fuel economy. Bravo.

I arrived at my destination with the display showing 4.5l/100km and feeling relaxed on account of the fact that I had been taking it easy just cruising along and I didn’t need to be constantly on the lookout for speed cameras. Maybe I don’t always need to drive like my hair’s on fire…

4.4l/100km

My trip home was similarly uneventful although traffic was a little heavier resulting in a few annoying stops and the resulting increase in consumption as I accelerate again. However, by the time I arrived back in Antwerp, the trip computer was proudly displaying a combined figure of 4.4litres/100km (64MPG Imperial/53MPG US). This is not bad for a car that has 204 horsepower and 400Nm of torque, can accelerate to 100kph in 7 seconds and will hit 250kph on the nearest available autobahn. In my opinion it could be a lot better too were it not for the fact that it is a relatively heavy car for its size. My biggest hope for the next generation 1 series is that BMW will invest in weight-saving.

I achieved these figures simply by driving conservatively and turning off the A/C. I imagine it would be possible to drastically slash the consumption even more if one employed hardcore hypermiling techniques like slipstreaming trucks but I’m more interested in the practical everyday possibilities.

High-speed double-decker Mercury train

Mercury train

This is awesome. Don’t just talk about it. Build it. Immediately. I will come to Britain just to ride on it. Thank you.

http://gizmodo.com/5587918/britains-train-expert-unveils-his-next-transportation-icon

iPhone 3G upgraded to iOS4 – update

I’ve had the “redsn0w 0.9.5 beta” jailbreak on my iPhone 3G for a few days now so I thought I’d give my impressions. I’ll admit that there is a slight performance reduction but only on some functions and on balance I still think having the multi-tasking is well worth it. Strangely, the 2 functions that seem to suffer the most performance anxiety are the iPod and Phone functions. Opening iPod takes slightly longer than before and it demonstrates some reluctance to start playing with a hint of lag. Phone also has a bit of lag that it didn’t display before, taking some extra time when ending a call before it reverts back to the previous function. Allowing phone to remain open in the multitasking quicklaunch window affects performance the most so I just make sure I close it when I’ve finished my phone call. I don’t actually use my iPhone for making phone calls that often if I’m honest…

Other than this occasional lag I’ve found the performance to be much the same if not better than before. When you are in an application everything still works smoothly and instantly. And since yesterday the Facebook app has been updated to fully support multitasking which means that it is instantly available. Given that this was quite a slow loading app before multitasking that is definitely a win. I refer to Facebook quite a lot during the day… sad I know. Flicking to Twitter, Mail or Safari is also smooth and instant. My most used apps are Mail, Safari, Twitter, and Facebook and I tend to leave them open all the time. Other apps that I use occasionally such as Phone or iPod I will generally close afterwards to reduce the load on the processor. One does have to accept that the 3G wasn’t designed for this and some accommodations must be made.

So in summary, yes there is some small performance reduction in a few areas but on balance the multitasking is worthwhile. And I will be saving a lot of time because I no longer have to wait for Facebook to load!

iPhone 3G upgraded to iOS4

iPhone 4

Because I live in Belgium and we are usually the last country to receive updated products from the House of Apple I was fretting slightly about the upcoming iPhone4 launch and the fact that I would be forced to wait. I began plotting and scheming to either travel to France where they sell unlocked phones or to the UK when I heard that they are also offering unlocked versions. I was prepared to do anything to get one quickly. Anyone who read my previous rants about my iPhone might have noticed that I implied that I would never buy another Apple product. Yeah, I didn’t believe me either…

In the meantime, before iPhone4 launched, iOS4 was made available for download. This is the latest operating system for all of Apple’s mobile platforms, the various iPhones and the iPad and it can be installed on my old 3G. In the past I might have been found loitering around the Apple website poised to click on download the second the shiny new OS became available. However, this time I didn’t bother as I know from previous experience that the Apple website usually slows to a crawl or crashes during those first few hours as all the other (more dedicated than me) fanboys suck up all the bandwidth. Instead I stayed in bed.

In the morning, when it had been available for a few hours and was already installed on hundreds of thousands of iPhones around the world I got up a little early hoping to do the install before going to work. I downloaded the file in a few seconds via iTunes, plugged in my iPhone and clicked “Yes, I would like a shiny new operating system please” or words to the same effect… There was a warning message that this might take up to an hour but I hoped it would be quicker. Anyway, I left it running and went to take a shower and get ready for work expecting that it would at least be substantially done by the time I was ready.

You can see where this is going can’t you. Yep, it wasn’t. Not even close. It’s not the installation that takes time, it’s the damn full back-up that it insists on doing before it will begin the installation, something I don’t understand given that the iPhone is supposedly backed up every time you synchronise it with your PC. The little green indicator had barely moved and a quick mental extrapolation based on time passed vs back-up quantity achieved indicated that it would be finished at 8:32pm sometime in September 2012. I didn’t think work would appreciate me being quite that late so I cancelled it. Thwarted.

After suffering through a day at work knowing that I was currently one of the have-nots, I rushed home and began again. Again, the back-up began at a glacial pace. Empires have been built and overthrown in less time than this back-up was taking. And staring at the little green bar didn’t appear to be making it go any faster. I took a deep breath and decided to watch a movie to pass the time. I forget which movie it was as I was too busy checking the status of the excruciatingly slow-moving green bar over my shoulder.

Graphical representation of eternity

After about an hour, when the aforementioned green bar representing the back-up status reached half-way, the back-up was complete. Wait, what? Ahhh now I understand. Apple have employed the same technology in their green back-up status indicator that was in the fuel gauge of my 1980 Datsun Sunny. That would also move slowly through a smooth, confidence-inspiring arc from Full to Half Full as you drove along, at which point it would pause for a few miles before flicking straight to Empty accompanied by a coughing, spluttering sound from the engine as the car ran out of fuel… again. Clever.

With the back-up complete my iPhone began a complicated process of installing, rebooting, installing some more, and rebooting again until suddenly (magically if you believe Steve Jobs) it was finished. With trembling hands and a degree of trepidation I swiped to unlock and see what had become of my 3G with it’s new soul. If I’m honest, at that point, other than a new graphic under the lowest row of apps, it didn’t look any different. No wait, the calculator app has a redesigned icon! Woohoo!

Now I knew not to expect a huge difference as I’d already read that, although the 3G would get iOS4, some of the features would be disabled because it doesn’t have the processing power of the 3GS or the iPhone4. So no multi-tasking unfortunately. Having more than one application running at the same time on a 3G would make it too slow says Apple. It’s a pity as the lack of multi-tasking is my biggest bugbear on the 3G and the main reason I want to upgrade to the iPhone4. Hang on…

The other missing feature that is bundled into the multitasking functionality is the screen orientation lock, a very useful feature that I covet. This simple little feature locks the screen in portrait orientation so that if you are reading something lying on your side the screen doesn’t keep switching to landscape mode. Handy but also absent.

My iPhone

I’d been reading on various technology blogs how people were finding the performance of iOS4 on the 3G and it was a mixed bag. Some people complained that their 3G slowed to a crawl, others noted no difference either way, whilst some reported a slight increase in performance. I am happy to report that I fell into the latter camp and my 3G did in fact feel a little snappier in its transitions between screens and when opening applications. Still far slower than a 3GS but certainly no worse than it was before. And I am now able to arrange my apps into folders, a very convenient feature that reduces the number of screens I have to flick through to find my apps. I spent many happy hours organising and reorganising until everything was just so.

So you might think this is it, my 3G has been upgraded to iOS4 with no noticeable blunting of performance, and I have an extra couple of features that His Jobsness deems suitable for my out-of-date iPhone. I should be happy. And for a week, I was. But then yesterday I was reading Gizmodo, my favourite tech blog and I discovered a new jailbreak that enables multitasking on the 3G running iOS4! I scanned the comments to see how other people were finding this hack and there didn’t seem to be any horror stories. My confidence was buoyed by the fact that A, my 3G seems to perform quite well with iOS4 and B, I can always restore it back to factory if it all goes to hell.

So I downloaded the patch, followed the instructions (which incidentally require a level of button-pressing coordination that I usually only possess on Wednesdays), and installed “redsn0w 0.9.5 beta”. This went smoothly and took far less time than installing iOS4. And voila, my 3G now has multitasking and no, it has not become particularly laggy or slow. Swiping through the screens is still snappy and not at all like dragging my finger through treacle. Some screen transitions are maybe not quite as smooth as they were before but everything still works smartly even with 4 or 5 apps open at once and while listening to music. This really emphasises the over-controlling nature of Apple when it comes to product releases. I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t have released iOS4 for all iPhones with the proviso that performance on the 3G could be compromised and then allowed the users to choose if they wished to enable multitasking or not. Instead they simply deny us choice and force us to go for a black-market solution or jailbreak.

It is worth noting that at this point in time not all apps are properly enabled for multitasking, an issue that even iPhone4 owners will experience. Some like the Mail app, Safari, and Twitter are fully iOS4 compatible and when you switch away from them and then back again they are open immediately and exactly where you left them. Others, such as Facebook seem to need to reload each time even though they remain in the quick access multitasking window. I assume that more and more apps will be updated to be compatible with multitasking over the coming weeks.

Anyway, as I mentioned at the beginning of this missive, I was hankering after the new iPhone4. I don’t think I am in such a rush anymore. I still want it because I know it will be faster than mine and it has yet more features such as video recording and a superior camera. But my 3G no longer feels like it is missing essential features and I am more content. There have also been reports of significant issues with the iPhone4 such as reception problems, yellow spots or bands on screens, and the fact that they seem to shatter very easily if you drop them. Not that surprising given that they are made of glass I guess. I haven’t dropped my 3G in the 18 months I’ve owned it so that doesn’t worry me too much but I would like to wait and see what happens with the other issues before I cough up another 600€+.

And of course I should really be resisting such rampant consumerism for the sake of the planet. So for now, I’m happy with my illegitimately enhanced iPhone 3G. Let’s see how long that lasts….

His Jobsness