Category: misc

UKRI Fellowship at Then Try This

Here’s a major life event – I’m starting a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship with Then Try This!

This is a four-year, full time fellowship, developing a theme that I’m calling “Algorithmic Pattern”, building on my work with e.g. TidalCycles and the PENELOPE project to explore new technologies based on ancient pattern-making practices.

Getting such a fellowship is an involved process, requiring a lot of help from collaborators, colleagues and friends (thanks!) to even submit a proposal. I wrote an uncompromising and unusual ‘case for support’, involving a wide range of interdisciplinary collaborators, and with a 15% success rate for the programme it was very much a long shot.. At the start I treated it as an opportunity to map out all the things I wanted to achieve in my professional life, and as a kind of experiment in imagining how research could be done in an ideal world. So what seemed like a dream at the start progressed with rising stress levels as things slowly developed towards a reality.

To give you an idea of the process, I started writing the proposal (over many, many pages) back in January 2020, submitted it in June 2020, received and responded to five detailed peer reviews in November 2020, and was invited to interview in March 2021. Then followed a lot of spam-folder searching until I finally got the successful result in May. It still didn’t feel real though, there were financial checks and organisational due diligence procedures to go through, plus an embargo so I couldn’t tell anyone until this month (September 2021). I didn’t receive the final grant offer letter until this week. It’s happening!

One reason that this Future Leaders Fellowship proposal felt uncompromising and unusual is that the scheme is about developing ‘future leaders’, and I really don’t fit the conventional model of leadership. Building and leading research groups in academic institutions has a lot going for it, but often comes with a high administrative burden and other institutional overheads that can distract from the work. Also I think I will always be happier working with collaborators on equal terms, rather than directing a team. Happily, the five esteemed peers, and the sifting and interview panel members reviewing my application bought into a model of leadership that is about collaboration and creating new ways of doing research, rather than building hierarchies.

Indeed one really great aspect of this fellowship programme is that it supports alternative career paths, and unusually for fellowships, careers outside of academia. My proposal is built around the ethos of its host Then Try This (formerly known as FoAM Kernow), a non-profit, independent, open access research lab based in Penryn, Cornwall. I’ve collaborated on research projects with them for many years, and during this time have grown to love their approach to research outside of both academia and industry. For example:

  • I share their uncompromising approach to open access and open source, which is essential for open collaboration outside the restrictions of competition. Then Try This only publish open access, and we’re moving towards only citing open access sources as well. The same goes for software and hardware – it’s all free software/open hardware.
  • Then Try This have a no-fly policy, and consider the wider environmental impact of everything they do. I don’t think it makes any sense to think about the future without this kind of outlook. (Yet a kind of soft climate change denial is endemic in many universities, where senior academics fly many times a year, even for short meetings and conference weekends.)
  • They also take food seriously, menus are considered for every workshop (and for online lockdown workshops, posted to your home). I’ll try to live up to this!

These examples — access to research, sustainability, and sustenance — are just a few examples of what I think are prerequisites for meaningful research, that Then Try This is able to do well as an independent nonprofit. It’s really amazing what Amber and Dave have created and I know it hasn’t come easy. Not only did they put many hours into supporting my application, but also put years of work into creating a space that makes research like mine possible. You can find more about the organisation on the then try this website, including their articles of association and ethical policies.

Well there’s much more still to be said, including about all the amazing collaborators I’ll be working with and the strands that we’ll be exploring. So more posts to come (perhaps on an alpaca-specific blog), but for now I just wanted to share how excited I am to be looking ahead at four years of pure research within such a progressive non-profit organisation. Things can be done differently!

Humane research workshops

I’m thinking about a humane research workshop/conference model, compatible with mid 21st century climate and health emergencies. How about this:

  •  Two page papers/extended abstracts solicited via public call, and peer reviewed by at least three people each from a diverse panel.
  • Chosen papers are presented as pre-recorded 15-20 minute talks.
  • These videos are streamed two at a time, in sessions 12 hours apart, and then rewatchable at any time.
  • The first of these session has intro and just one talk. The following sessions have one video from previous session and one new one. The reason being that people can watch all the videos by attending half the sessions, and see half the videos as the first premiere.
  • Participants attend one session per 24 hours, at the time that best fits their time zone / sleeping pattern. Basically the workshop operates in two ‘phases’, offset by 12 hours, in communication with each other.
  • Those at a timezone compatible with both phases are encouraged to join the one which would otherwise have fewer people.
  • There could be six talks over four days.
  • Discussion is summarised / minuted as text, and shared between the two phases. Part of the final session is for live responses/discussion between authors.
  • Authors submit a final, potentially extended version of their paper, to include responses to other talks, published open access.
  • Multiple ‘hubs’ are organised (ideally at least one per continent, inspired by ICMPC/ESCOM) where people can watch and discuss the videos together, perhaps building in-person events around the sessions that may or may not be streamed online.
  • Bursaries could then made available for a few early career researchers to travel between hubs for cultural exchange, with support for local touring over ~1 month to make the most of the workshop’s emissions budget.


Giving up some responsibilities

It’s volunteer responsibility amnesty day every solstice, the next one on the 21st December 2021. This is good timing for me, so until then I’m going to add to this post with some responsibilities I’m giving up.

“I need to put a few things down. I hope other people pick them up and carry this work forward. But even if no one does, I need to stop, or at least pause for a while.”

I’ve picked up quite a lot of community responsibilities over the past couple of decades, and would like to pick up some new ones, but need to put some existing ones down first.

TOPLAP live coding collective

  • current responsibility – running the server hosting the wordpress blog (which is in turn maintained by the excellent Luis Navarro Del Angel) and the discourse forum, and (badly) running a discord chat server. Renewing/paying for the domain. I’ve been running a TOPLAP rocketchat too. No-one really has responsibility for TOPLAP as an organisation, it’s pretty defuse these days. I helped bring together the TOPLAP transnodal stream in February which was huge and amazing, but I feel we’re a bit lacking in the organisational structure to make it happen again. I co-ran a TOPLAP livecode festival in 2018 but don’t think I’ll have the capacity to do that again. *edit* oh and the toplap social media thingies on twitter, facebook and I think instagram..
  • want to keep doing this? No, I won’t have time next year. I don’t mind continuing to provide server space for the web and discourse server but it’d be better if someone else took it on really. That said very happy to support others taking things on, with advice and help.
  • next step I’d love for others to take over these responsibilities but I’m not sure how to go about that. Without action I fear TOPLAP will fade away, but maybe that’s not a bad thing if it leaves space for something else? The rocketchat has gone quiet now people have mostly moved to discord and telegram etc, so I’ll shut that down at the end of August 2021 (warning and consulting people about this some months ago). Drop by the forum or drop me an email if you’d like to get involved and pick up some responsibilities!

Algorave collective

  • current responsibility – overlapping with TOPLAP above, running the algorave website which these days is mostly a gig listing, although I fear quite a lot of algoraves don’t go listed. Renewing/paying for the domain. Similar to the TOPLAP transnodal stream there have been worldwide algorave streams celebrating its birthday etc but not for a while, could do with some organisation. Algorave is coming up to its tenth birthday next year and it would be nice to do a distributed event for that. Mostly though algorave is an unproductive brand which people seem quite happy to spread around the world without coordination, which is great. Still, it would be nice to have more communication between the different algorave organisers. I co-organise algoraves in Sheffield when there isn’t a pandemic on. *edit* Also the algorave twitter/facebook/instagram profiles/pages.
  • want to keep doing this? Again I don’t mind continuing to provide server space for the web and discourse server but maybe it’d be better if someone else took it on. Generally would like to move to more collective organisation.
  • next step I’d like to put some effort into making something happen for algorave’s birthday in March 2022 but then step back and focus on other things. It’d be great if other organisers reached out to each other to keep things moving and maybe working out what to do with

TidalCycles live coding environment for algorithmic pattern

  • current responsibility – is collectively run via a github repo with raph leading on the documentation which is excellent. Tyler kicked off an ace series of online meetups which have been great and are getting a lot of support.. and Andrea has taken on the Atom plugin and putting loads of work into pushing that forward. So I feel that tidal has a proper life of its own now which is great. I’m still accepting personal donations on the website but will soon switch this over to an opencollective page for a shared donations pool. In terms of Tidal as a free/open source project, I still lead on development, approving and commenting on pull requests, and am currently exploring a current rewrite. Julian Rohrhuber leads on SuperDirt as original and primary author of that part of the project. I also maintain the tidal social media profiles although they aren’t so active, and host the forum and tidal discord although that could be more organised/collectively run. I was running an online video course although won’t have time to add to that in the foreseeable future – all the materials are now in the creative commons. I also spend a fair bit of time answering questions from beginners up, and have mentored ‘google summer of code’ projects the last two summers.
  • want to keep doing this? Generally yes I want to stay involved, although the project needs to continue becoming more organised and generally get better at being welcoming of new users and contributors I think. Tidal itself needs to become more accessible, especially in terms of becoming easier to install.
  • next step The recent summer of code project by Martin brings us very close to a binary distribution of Tidal, automatically built on github actions, just needs a last push to get supercollider/superdirt bundled up and we’re away.. Would be great to have some energy from others into this, to get things working and tested on multiple platforms. Passing on primary organisation of the forum and social media profiles would be great too, they could all do with a refresh. More iterations of the tidal club multiday streams would be ace too. Having others lead on moderation of the discord would also be good. I still feel I want to lead on the development side of the core Tidal pattern library, but as others contribute more PRs this could shift naturally. It’d be great if someone could take on organisation of regular or semi-regular tidal ‘innards’ meetings to get people working on different aspects of Tidal to coordinate more, and make the most out of Martin’s summer of code work.

<more to follow in future edits..>

Routing voice and hifi stereo audio from Jack into zoom under linux mint

Mostly a note to self, but maybe this is useful for someone else trying to get hifi audio from jack into zoom using linux mint or similar, so I thought I’d make it a blog post.

Zoom processes voice separately from desktop audio. So to send music and voice separately, while jack audio is running, you have to have two feeds going from jack to pulseaudio.

I already have jack set up to connect to pulse, so desktop audio works as normal. I think this was just a case of installing the `pulseaudio-module-jack` package, and configuring jack to run `pacmd set-default-sink jack_out` after startup.

To add a separate stereo channel out of jack into pulseaudio, I ran

pacmd load-module module-jack-source channels=2

Then the new jack sink appears in qjackctl and I can connect up my music sound source (supercollider) to that.

In zoom I then share a window, with stereo hifi audio switched on. `pavucontrol` is super useful at this point, you can see zoom is listening separately for voice and desktop audio, which appears as zoom_combine_device. Unfortunately I couldn’t simply connect the zoom_combine_device to the new jack source, don’t know why. However it’s possible to create a ‘loopback’ device for connecting sources to sinks in pulseaudio. I tried with this:

 pacmd load-module module-loopback channels=2

Now I expected to have to more in pavucontrol to connect this up to zoom_combine_device, but somehow it did this automatically. I think I had to connect it to the second jack source but everything else ‘just worked’ somehow. Lucky me.

With a bit of experimentation I can hear that as expected, supercollider sounds different, depending on whether I connect it to the voice or desktop audio input into zoom. I’ve only tested by recording a solo zoom session so far, and can hear there’s more dynamic range with desktop audio. However I can’t hear it in stereo, which is really what I’m after. I’m hoping that’s just zoom recording in mono for some reason, and that in practice it will be in stereo.. After further tests, it all works very well, with hifi, stereo audio from supercollider, and voice treated as voice. So be aware that the record function in zoom does not have the same audio as the other person hears.. Great! I think though that both sides need to have stereo enabled in the zoom settings for the other party to hear it in stereo – I’m not 100% sure that this is the case, but it’s what I’ve read..

AI as collective performance

I’m excited to be working with some ace people planning a new project “AI as collective performance”, namely Mika Satomi (artist and designer), Berit Greinke (Universität der Künste Berlin and Einstein Center Digital Future) , Juan Felipe Amaya Gonzalez (performance artist) and Deva Schubert (freelance choreographer). We’re part of a cohort of ten projects, exploring the intersection on AI and culture, jointly funded by Stiftung Niedersachsen and VolkswagenStiftung.

Here’s the blurb so far:

The project AI as collective performance” deals with the explainability of algorithms and artificial intelligence. The goal is to develop a collaborative performance in which the processes behind AI become visible through choreography, interactive costumes, and live coding. Each person represents a node of the network that grows, changes, breaks patterns and creates new ones again. In this project, the human body acts as a processor. Here, a choreographer is also a programmer. By translating AI into physical movements, the complex technology becomes tangible and perceivable.

With these support funds we’ll be fleshing out this idea over the next few months, building prototypes, and working up a new proposal to realise it at scale. We start next month and created a blog already, we’ll get more details there as the project develops.

How to withdraw from Facebook

Facebook is a problem.. They happily show political adverts, heavily targeted and very under-regulated, as well as being slow to act against white nationalism and so on.The worst thing for me it was facebook turns us into. It privileges easy controversy, so your feed will be full of people getting angry at other groups but often not dealing with difficult issues in a reasonable and thoughtful way. If by some chance an interesting discussion does start up on facebook, it’s not properly shared or archived. There’s a lot to like, and there’s a lot of hidden facebook mechanics which we don’t know enough about to dislike. Anyway, I’ve recently moved towards participating on smaller, semi-private social groups off facebook and it’s much more enjoyable and productive.

Still, you might not be ready to leave it, wanting to keep in touch with friends and family, promote events and so on.. Using facebook’s own tools to step away can cause a lot of upset, as it will appear to your friends that you’ve blocked them.

A good alternative is to unfollow everyone and every page. If you’re like me that would normally involve 1000’s of clicks to remove all the weird and local pages and random people you’ve somehow friended over a decade or so. Here’s a way to do that automatically, although it takes a while (one unfollow per 2 seconds, to avoid facebook detecting and stopping your plan..), it is hands-off.

Here’s how, in e.g. firefox or chrome:

* Click the Arrow in upper right
* Select “News feed preferences”
* Click “Unfollow people and groups to hide their posts”

Now the tricky bit – to open the “javascript console”. This is what facebook doesn’t want you to do, as getting access to the javascript running in your facebook window is exactly what scammers want to do. (I’m not a scammer, but don’t take my word for it!)

This might be slightly different on your computer/browser version, but.. In firefox, It’s under the ‘burger’ menu in the top right (click the three horizontal lines), then “Web Developer” (that’s you!), and then “Web console” (not browser console). Under chrome, it’s a similar menu but three dots, then “more tools”, “developer tools”, then in the new frame that opens up select ‘console’ in the menu along the top.

At this point you should see a healthy warning telling you not to paste in code. If you decide to trust me and go ahead anyway, click the commandline area (it should have a ‘>’ or ‘>>’ in front) and paste in the following:

var unfollowButtons =document.querySelectorAll('div[aria-pressed="false"]'); unfollowed = 0;for(var i=0;i<unfollowButtons.length;i++) {setTimeout(function(element){; unfollowed ++;console.log('Total unfollowed ' + unfollowed + ' out of ' +unfollowButtons.length) }, i*2000, unfollowButtons[i]) }

The browser might get you to do something like type “allow pasting” first, to make doubly sure that you aren’t being scammed. If you do type something like that, you’ll need to delete those words again otherwise it’ll be part of the code and nothing will work..

You should see the displayed people and pages get unfollowed before you, one by one. It won’t do all of them though, just a couple of dozen that have loaded in that page.. To unfollow everyone and everything, you have to scroll down in the ‘unfollow people’ box until they’re all loaded up. Then run the code again.

Then you’ll have a nice calm facebook experience and hopefully will enjoy some improved mental health.

Hybrid live coding workshop

I’ve been working on the hybrid live coding interfaces research workshop with Shelly Knotts and Jack Armitage, happening online 28-29th July 2020. It was originally going to be colocated with NIME, but we decided to hold it a week later, and twice as long (six hours, spread over two days) so that we could include more people and make registration free.

The abstracts will be up soon, but you can already see the schedule and list of speakers on the website. There’s a really nice mix of talks, should be ace!

With all the responsibilities and stress of lockdown, we made it as quick and easy to propose something as possible. There’s no publication attached, but with it being a free event, and low-barrier to entry, we got loads of proposals. We’re using the very promising system from MIT to collect abstracts, which I highly recommend as a multi-user publishing tool supporting peer review and comments.

hellocatfood x yaxu

I’m really happy with this set with hellocatfood:

You can find some kind words about it over on the mighty CDM, including an exclusive talk-through of the performance between the two of us.

Accessible online courses

Warning – hurried, disorganised thoughts. I will very likely add to and tidy this up later!

I’ve started running a TidalCycles online course. I’m not a trained pedagogue or education researcher, but have run a lot of workshops over the years, and it seems to be going OK, with around 300 people signed up, as accessible as I could make it, while being financially sustainable for me. It’s felt a lot like setting up a space for a community – lots of micro-decisions that add up to the whole. Here’s what I’ve done, from a technical, financial and community perspective.

Firstly, I got people to register interest via this google form. To start with, this was just to collect information, to help me make the course as accessible as possible, work out how to structure it, and decide how much to charge.

I asked about barriers to entry, and the biggies were:

  • (Human) language barrier – lots of people not fluent in English, worrying about that. In response I’ve edited subtitles for all my videos, as many people find reading easier than listening, and (as opposed to automatic transcription) the automatic translation seems usable if people want to read in their own language. I also set up automatic translation in the course forum.
  • Time (working/caring responsibilities, formal education, timezone) – the amount of time commitment really varies, and people have joined from all around the world.. So a ‘live’ course wouldn’t work. Instead I’m making pre-prepared videos (which again allows decent subtitling), worksheets, and asking questions on the forum. I will have live q+a sessions, at different times to reach across timezones.
  • Internet speed – A few worried about this and I haven’t thought enough about it. Probably trimming Tidal’s large library of default samples would make it accessible (actually someone also gave lack of disk space as a barrier). It’s also probably another argument for not relying on live video.
  • Money – I live in the UK, which puts a large part of the world at a huge disadvantage in terms of exchange rate. I do need to get paid, though. Rather than a paywall, I settled on a Pay(-as-you-feel-)wall. I could have made it a student discount etc, or cheaper for certain countries, but there’s no real way to codify people’s ability to pay.. So I left it up to them, with the following guide, for a four week block of lessons:
    • £0 – for those who wouldn’t be able to participate otherwise
    • £12 (£3 per week) – standard
    • £24 (£6 per week) – those with extra cash to spare
    • £40+ (£10 per week) – those with institutional backing
  • Installation worries – Tidal installation can go wrong in a way that is difficult to recover from. I allowed myself plenty time to walk people through the process on the forum. This has worked fairly well, and we now have a forum full of problems and solutions, that I need to organise for greater good!

It was a struggle to find a pay-as-you-feel system that let people name their own price. Crowdfunding platforms like patreon are really geared towards squeezing as much money as possible out of people, with tiers etc. I needed to give everyone the same access but leave it up to them to decide how much to pay, from £0 up. Eventually I used wordpress, with the woocommerce plugin to take payments (via paypal and stripe), “product open pricing” to add pay-as-you-feel functionality (including support for £0), and “advanced order export” to allow export of orders into a csv for import into the course forum. WordPress plugins either seem to be free, or super expensive with a recurring charge.. I’m doing just fine with the free functionality of these. I have my own virtual server for hosting them.

I looked around for e-courseware that could help host the course, but couldn’t find anything suitable. I’ve had nightmares with things like Moodle in the past, and have the feeling that they’re all based around assessment more than anything. Instead I went for a general purpose discourse forum, which I’ve grown to love. It’s free/open source, widely used, has loads of plugins etc available, and is thoughtfully designed around healthy community discussion. Again, I’m self-hosting it.

Having a PAYFwall has some unexpected results. I hardly had to promote it at all to fill it up. Actually with the PAYFwall I feel motivated not to promote it, because it creates a really delicate balance. I’ve noticed this before, with the (in-person) tidal “summer school” weekend course we’ve also run on a PAYF basis. The more I promote, the more ‘semi-interested’ people I seem to reach, and the average payment goes down.. Therefore making the whole thing less viable. At the same time, I’m really happy that people who can’t spare £3 a week (I’ve been there) don’t miss out on the course, or on essentials for them or their families. As things stand, the kind people who are able to pay extra mostly cover those who can’t pay, and it all works out. I’m not going to ‘repay’ the years of work I’ve put into Tidal, but that’s not my aim.. It does look like a serious contribution towards properly funding my ongoing work on Tidal though, maybe its development but definitely its documentation.

Because I don’t know how long it’ll take to get through everything, I’ve just done PAYF for the first four weeks. I think it’ll probably be around twelve weeks in total. I’m expecting some drop-off in participation and PAYF income later four-week cycles, it’ll be interesting to see what happens.. I’ll survey people at four weeks to see how things are going, anyway.

The forum seems to be working well. I’m aware that as ever there is strong “presence privilege” at hand.. For example overall participants seem fairly gender balanced, but men seem to be posting a lot more than others. This is a familiar story with online forums, I’ll have to think about how to keep the culture healthy (ideas welcome!). I also need to work out how to make the course materials easier to find. Currently they might be getting a bit lost in the threads – I think this is just a case of getting around the discourse software, which is nicely configurable.

I have absolute beginners in mind, but a lot of people have joined who have already being self-teaching themselves Tidal. I think they’re happy asking more advanced questions, and picking up on previously under-documented features as I get everyone up to speed.

In terms of the videos, I did have in mind to edit them down with youtuber-style ‘jump cuts’, maybe paying a pro to edit hem. Through feedback I’ve decided not to bother – people seem to like “ums” and “ahs”, giving them time to take in information. So I’m just recording them ‘as live’ with OBS, uploading to youtube, then hand-editing youtube’s automatic transcription.. Then adding a worksheet to match the video for people to go through hands-on. I’ll be working on reference material too. The videos are fairly unscripted, I might write out what I want to say, to think it through, but I don’t then read from that as a script. I’ve found that recording once to get things straight in my head, and re-recording it from scratch makes the result snappier and more logical.. and for a 6-10 minute video, doing a couple of ‘takes’ is a time-efficient way to do things, rather than agonising over a script. I also use a green screen I bought on ebay a while ago, so I can superimpose myself in the corner of my screen.

To give you an idea, here’s a general “intro to live coding” video I did for the Sheffield creative guild, just before starting work on the course videos:

I think an important thing at some point will be involving more instructors, to give different perspectives on using Tidal. I’ve been talking to Lucy Cheesman (aka Heavy Lifting) about this, we worked on the last Tidal Summerschool together and from the post-workshop survey the participants clearly appreciated her teaching skills (as someone who, unlike me, has actually learned Tidal herself!) and alternative point of view.

The final question I have to think about is what happens after. My default position is releasing everything as creative commons, and I certainly want everyone on the course to always have access to the material.. But this is something I have to think about. I will likely either re-run the course, or let people go through in their own time. I’ll probably make everything creative commons (cc-by), but keeping the PAYFwall up, to help sustain documentation and development into the future.. and eventually turn the material into a reference book.

Owning an electric vehicle

It looks a little bit like this

Recently I bought a fully electric powered car, second hand. It’s a 24kwh, Nissan Leaf Tekna with a 2015 number plate approaching 28k mileage, bought from a dealer for £9.5k (plus an ‘admin fee’, which I later found out was optional, bah!).

It was £700 off in a clearance sale which seemed genuine – it looks like it had been sitting around in the dealer for 8 months. This is a concern as if a electric car battery is on high charge, having it sitting around unused can be a bad thing, and general car dealers might well not know this.

The car was listed as having an onboard 3.3kw charger, but it has the expensive option of a 6.6kw charger, which allows it to be charged twice as fast on middling kinds of chargers. It’s apparently quite common for dealers to not know what they’re selling, and in this case I think it made the car a reasonable deal.

There are scare stories of having to replace the main car battery every five years, I think thanks to rumours spread by Top Gear (a UK entertainment show that pretends to be about cars). The battery on this one is completely fine, with the dash showing the maximum of 12 bars of battery health, despite approaching its fifth birthday. It is possible for dealers to reset this so you have to be careful, but it’s stayed at 12 so I think it’s good. You can get more detailed information by plugging in an ‘OBD-II dongle’ and reading data off the battery management system using an Android app. However despite buying two different dongles (a wifi and a bluetooth one) I still haven’t got this working..

[Update: I got the bluetooth dongle working finally, not sure what was wrong.. It’s showing 91.4% state of health, not bad!]

Driving range is heavily dependent on driving style and weather – you get to drive further on a single charge in summer, but it seems I can comfortably get 60 miles at the moment and still have 10-20 miles range on reserve for peace of mind. You need this because sometimes public chargers are out of action, or “ICEd” – occupied by a fossil fuel-driven car (ICE = internal combustion engine) using a charging spot as a parking space. There’s a lot of discussion about the people who do this (sometimes known as ICEholes) on the forums.

There’s also a lot of misinformation on the forums. If you do get a OBD-II dongle working you can get an accurate-looking percentage about battery state of health, and this goes up if you do a ‘rapid charge’. But in truth, the state of health number is a guess, and it seems that doing too many rapid charges are actually bad for your battery health. At least this article seems fairly evidence based, and instead says that resting your battery on low charge seems to help it recover.

So what does it feel like to drive? After my old ford fiesta, it’s absolutely amazing. It’s super quiet, which means it’s really great for listening to music (on the bose 2.1 system). It has heated seats and steering wheel (this is amazing, and also much more efficient than the main heating system, which shaves some miles off the range). Plus 360 camera for parking (top-down, early grand theft auto style), and so on.. I learned to drive late in life, but hired a lot of cars in the past and have never really enjoyed driving at all before. I’d still much prefer a nice train journey for longer distance, but this is actually not bad.

EV drivers talk about ‘range anxiety’, and it is real. The longest drive I did so far was to the arcade club in Leeds, which happened to have free vend EV charge spaces. Thanks to the 6.6kw charger it was fully charged during our 2-3 hour visit, ready for the return journey. That was a ‘destination charger’ on ‘fast charge’. At home I’ve been using trickle charge off a standard 3 pin plug, which takes longer but charges fully overnight (I’ve ordered a podpoint which will allow the full 6.6kw charge at home). We’re planning a longer trip to the south coast which will need a few charges on the way.. This is where those rapid charges come in, in my old 24kwh model (newer Leafs are up to 64kwh) this means stopping around every 50-60 miles to charge up for 20 minutes or so. You basically have to stop for X minutes in order to go X miles, so it doesn’t really take you any longer to stop more often, as long as the chargers are all on your route. For battery chemistry reasons you can only rapid charge up to 80%, then it goes slow enough to not be worth waiting around for.. Which means your first leg from 100% can be a bit longer, and you can probably get back up to 100% over lunch.. Lets see how that goes.

[Update: just did a drive from Sheffield to Manchester, didn’t quite have the charge for the return journey, and had a stressful half hour or so finding a spare place to charge.. Took a few attempts in city centre traffic, but got a (free!) charge in the end. Not convenient though, I should have just parked up anywhere and got a rapid charge on the motorway on the way home, or just taken the train..]

Running costs are super low. Without an ICE, there’s not much to go wrong, and these cars have proved reliable. ‘Fuel’ is often free, or at worst several times cheaper than petrol/diesel. There’s no vehicle tax (for now), and on-street parking and all the council car parks in Sheffield is free (you have to register first). If/when EV sales take off, this is all subject to change.. But electricity will always be cheaper than petrol.

In terms of local air pollution, they’re great. Brake pads are hardly used (the energy goes back into the battery via a generator), cutting down on airborne fine particulates. You tend to drive more smoothly to conserve energy, which I naively guess means less tyre wear in the air. Plus of course, there’s no exhaust. We use green energy at home (good energy), and the chargers tend to run off green energy too. (I realise it all comes via the national grid, but please save me that argument..)

In terms of impact on the climate, things are less clear. The impact of manufacturing a car and battery is very high. Probably better than a ‘conventional’ ICE, and they seem to be lasting longer too, but hey. EVs are not The Answer. But still, at least when you drive them you’re not contributing to illegal and extremely dangerous levels of local air pollution.

That said, electricity companies are currently experimenting with using EVs for energy storage. All those batteries could really help solve how to smooth out renewable but intermittent energy from wind and solar. They’re testing whether they can do this without causing early battery degradation. Definitely plausible.

In privacy terms it’s a bit of a disaster.. I didn’t have to sign up with Nissan, but now I have, they seem to know where my car is at all times. On the plus side so do I, and I can check its charge remotely, and get loads of stats and stuff.

Anyway, it seems good overall. Eventually the battery will show degradation, but nonetheless I have a feeling now is a good time to buy second hand. Electric motors don’t wear like combustion engines, and third parties are starting to replace EV batteries with new ones of higher capacity than the originals. EV batteries are currently made with limited materials such as cobalt, so it’s not guaranteed that they’ll get cheaper.. But maybe technology will soon advance to the point where we work around these dependencies, and I’ll be able to swap in a new one for relatively little. That glosses over the conflict and pollution around battery manufacture, but again, that probably works out considerably better than oil..