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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

S.A.D. - A Winters Tale

About three years, I wrote about suffering from S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder); and I recently re-published it again.
People sometimes view those with a 'disorder' as weak.  On the other hand, it's a sign of strength that it's not brushed under the carpet, so-to-speak, and to talk openly about the issue, the symptoms, and importantly, what can be done to help.
So, with no apology for re-hashing a previous post, and in an attempt to get this winter disease more publicity, this is my Winter Blues story...
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"I want to tell you a story.  Are you sitting comfortably?  Then I'll begin....

I have always said that I'm a summer person.  Maybe it's because I was born in July.  I like the bright sunny mornings, late evening sunsets; and, hopefully, the sunshine in-between.

Like most people, I'm not a great fan of winter.  Dark, cold, icy, wet, windy, miserable days.  Oh, sure it's not bad to look at from the warmth of home, watching the trees being blustered about and the rain lashing down against the windows.  The logfire burning in the fireplace, lights turned dow..... oh, please!!
The reality is, it's dark, cold, unpleasant, and no-one enjoys it.

A couple of years ago, around this time, I started feeling down.  I mean really down. I just wanted to curl up and be left alone.  I couldn't concentrate on anything.  Reading a book (something which I love doing) was hard work. Actually going to work was no pleasure.  I also had a constant headache.

I couldn't put it down to anything in particular.  I knew it was happening,  but didn't know why!  I did know that they were the classic symptoms of depression, but I didn't want to take any medication.  This was a sudden onset, and I wanted to see what happened.

I decided to visit the doctor, who was happy enough to sign me off work for 2 weeks; for stress. 
I told friends and family I was working from home.  They know me as a happy, cheerful kinda guy, and this would have worried them.

During those two weeks, I had an epiphany.  I was going to give up my job and "go it alone".  I spent the days researching business, speaking to agencies, planning my new start.

With my two weeks almost over, and still feeling depressed, I went back to the doctor, who had no hesitation in prescribing me another fortnight.  That took me to the end of January.  By the end of the month, I had created my business, written my letter of resignation and was all set to go.

Still, I had no idea what was wrong.  Sub-consciously I started to feel brighter, maybe because I had made such a life changing decision.

At the end of February, I left the company I had spent 13 years working for and 3 days later I started life as an independent freelancer.

You'll notice that it's almost springtime.  The mornings were brighter, and so was my mood.

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Following those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, we'll now jump forward until the end of 2008. 
The beginning of December, in fact.

Once again, my mood deteriorated.  I was cold, wanted to be alone, and at times just wanted to cry.  My headaches had returned.  Now I was stumped.  I recognised this was a repeat of the last year, and I realised that it couldn't be because of my work.  I'm my own boss now, something that I love.

What the hell was it?

I remembered hearing about Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) and did some research into what it is, and how to deal with it.

Another trip to the doctor later (and this time not wanting time off work, or medication) he agreed that it sounded very much like it.  He suggested the use of a light box; to help boost the hormones that keep me 'up'.

The lamps I had seen were big and unwieldy. I wanted something small and unobtrusive.  The lamp I use is portable enough to fit into a small bag.  It has been a life-changer.

I started to use it again, last week, to combat the dark mornings since the clocks changed.  I can honestly say that I have no feelings of depression.  I'm not curling up, I don't feel chilly and I'm not ready to burst into tears.  No headaches either.

I still don't like winter. But at least I can now get through it with a smile on my face."

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It hasn't all been plain sailing, and it's taken a couple of attempts at getting the right 'dose', but I can certainly feel the benefits.
If you think you may be suffering from 'the blues', speak to your doctor, or contact the S.A.D. Association.
You can read my post about the SAD Association here.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Review - The Adventures of Tintin

In the past, I have been critical of 3D films.
I don't like the glasses; and the worst part is, they make the picture darker - the colours aren't as vibrant and the lighting is dull.  I commented on this when I saw Captain America, and I noticed it again yesterday.

Don't get me wrong; The Adventures of Tintin is a remarkable film.  I love anything by Steven Spielberg; and he has captured this perfectly.

The use of motion-capture technology, to record the movements of real actors, and then transform them on-screen, is really starting to make its mark.  I'm not going to pretend I know anything about the wonders of this computer wizardry; but I will say it is certainly effective.

Why oh why, then, did they then have to go and add the 3D aspect?  Why not just make the film in good old traditional 2D and allow us to see the colours and images as intended.

Indeed, when this makes the transition to DVD; as of course it will; then that release will not be in 3D.

I digress, of course.   The story of Tintin is The Secret of the Unicorn; and the race against Ivanovich Sakharine to the fortunes of the Haddock family; which lie deep beneath the ocean.

Daniel Craig plays the 'baddie' Ivanovich Sakharine, with Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock. (When was the last time we actually saw Andy Serkis on screen?  King Kong; Lord of the Rings, and now this - we only ever see his virtual being!)
Nick Frost and Simon Pegg are terrific as the bumbling Interpol policemen, Thomson and Thompson.
Jamie Bell is great as the titular Belgian journalist.  The story moves at a great pace and the set pieces are well performed (even simulating Indiana Jones for one sequence!)

I have to admit; when the ending was in sight; I was prepared to sit there and carry on - it certainly finished with the door open to the next part of the adventure; I just hope we don't have to wait too long to see it.

If you get the chance to see this on the big screen, you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Google+ - Have you looked yet?

Around the middle of July, I wrote about how I was decamping from facebook, and moving over to Google+.

I wrote a more informed update a week later.

There were various reasons for leaving, including:
a) It was new (and still is fairly fresh)
b) There are no silly ads
c) There are no people calling for help to build their cities / farms etc


Now, nearly three months on, I can honestly say how refreshing it is to go there.  There are still no adverts (yet!) and it's easy to filter the streams, to view what you want to see.

I still drop in to facebook occasionally (to have a nosey); although my status updates are limited, and I've stopped posting my foursquare check-ins every time!!

The number one reason I like it is the informality of the site.  I feel free to write what I like; complete strangers (although some of them have become more friendly) comment and re-share; we chat, banter, share photos; and generally have a laugh.

More importantly, it's a place where I can find information about anything.  I just have to post a question, and within minutes (if not seconds) there's an answer.  Granted, it may not be the answer I'm looking for; but the fact that there is an army of folk out there, all willing and able to chip in, is great.

On facebook it's much more cliquey.  I don't feel that I can just 'butt in' to a conversation.
On Google+ there are no such issues - see a post, add a comment; and around it goes.

Some serious, some extremely funny.

There is music, video, photos, links to blogs - you might be reading this via Google+

It's strange that there was such a noise about the changes that facebook were making; and yet the inertia to try something new hasn't materialised in the volumes expected.  Sure, it's strange to move; but I'm not suggesting you do what I did and go cold turkey.

Take a look around.  Follow some of the people, read their comments and posts.

Post a couple of your own, and see what reaction you get.

There are some truly great people to be discovered; and whilst you may not know them in real life; they're still people, with the same emotions, daily troubles etc, that you have.  Interact with them.

So; come and take a look.

Don't be shy.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11th Revisited

I wrote this a couple of years ago - it seems like a good idea to publish it again...
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First of all, today is my sister's birthday.  Happy Birthday Sis...

However, for one, obvious, reason, this was overshadowed 8 years ago, on "the day the world changed".

From that day on, thousands of lives around the world would never be the same again.

I write this as someone who had no personal or emotional involvement whatsover.
I didn't lose anyone.
I wasn't worrying about anyone.
Nevertheless, as a human, it's not possible to ignore the torment and suffering of those that were.

I can't pretend to understand their feelings.  I never will.  However, as I have been sitting and watching the numerous television programmes about the events in New York, I silently wonder what it must have been like.

How being trapped in the buildings must have felt;
What were the feelings of those on the ground, watching, helpless;
The police and fire departments all called into action;
No-one being in control of the situation;
Friends and family, watching the drama (because that is what it was) unfolding before them as television pictures were beamed around the world.

I remember exactly where I was when 'it' happened.  I can visualise my desk, my laptop, the work I was doing.
I also remember the mutterings that started around lunchtime; quiet talk, which, as the minutes drew on, became louder; colleagues first of all complaining that they had lost internet access.

"The BBC News site has gone down" was a common call.

Of course, the site hadn't gone down, it just couldn't cope with the demand.
I remember also trying the Sky News site, with limited success.
It was limited because, when I navigated to "the story", I lost it - but prior to that, there were images of The World Trade Center buildings, along with the headline.

Not much work was done that afternoon.  We were thousands of miles away, across the Atlantic, but nevertheless, we were caught in the drama.

That was the extent of my 'involvement'.

As the years go by, the memories slowly fade, however, whenever we fly, they are renewed as we go through security and controls at the airport.  They are there because of the atrocities of 9/11.

My thoughts and best wishes go to anyone and everyone who has lost a loved one; may you find strength in their memory.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Review - BBM Music


You've all heard about BBM, the instant messaging on BlackBerry.  Heaven knows, I’ve written about it enough!!

Recently, the people at RIM launched BBM6, the instant messaging with social interaction built in. 

Now they've launched BBM Music, a way to share and discuss your musical tastes with your BBM friends.

I've been testing this for the last week, and must admit that, although I am completely (almost) out of touch with the latest toons, this is a great way to listen to favourites, and discover new 'sounds'.

It's very clever. Once you've launched the app, you can start to select your music from a catalogue of millions.  The major music labels are on board, so there's plenty to get you started.

Next, find people who have shared music; it all feels a little lonely at first, but there are soon people inviting you to 'add them'.  This is a separate list from your standard BBM contact list (although you can become BBM friends too).

You have the ability to add comments to individuals, either to congratulate them on their musical taste, or anything else.

Since it runs in 'the cloud', nothing is stored locally, although your music selection is cached to your SD card, meaning you can listen in areas of poor coverage.

You can select up to 50 tracks in your own library, but multiply that by your contacts, and you could have limitless amount of music.  Of course, if a contact removes a track, you will also lose access to it, unless you add it yourself.  I guess that helps keep the selection fresh.  It works both ways of course, so I can change my selection at will!

The idea is, that once you have allocated your 50 tracks, you can swap up to 25 of them each month; meaning that after 2 months, you can have a completely new set of music.

So, you can listen to your own selection or listen to the selection from all your contacts. At the time of writing, I have over 410 tracks at my disposal; and growing.  Now, I admit that they won’t all be to my taste; but it sure is fun listening to new and undiscovered (by me) music.

Currently, the service is in Beta testing (which is the final phase before general release) and during this time it isn't costing me anything; however, there is talk about a £5 / month charge for this service.
Would I pay for it? 
It’s cheaper than Spotify (for which there is no BlackBerry app anyway!) and whilst I don’t own the music, at just 17p/day I get access to tons of music and I can renew and refresh as I want.

It's also a lot of fun....


Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Mini Break

Summer time; a time for holidays and days out.  That's what we did lately with just two days of the weekend.  Combining education and entertainment; we visited two places that are poles apart.

Day One - Hampton Court Palace

A home of King Henry VIII, this was a most eye-opening day; brought to life with re-enactments as the day went on.

Taking a "day in the life" of the king, his Queen and the courtiers; each hour saw the story move on, as we learned a little more about life in the royal household.



The first part started in Base Court, the main courtyard of the palace, and we were then taken indoors; where we were introduced to the king himself.  Next, we met his wife (Kathryn Parr - wife number 6) and her mother; along with the Lord Chancellor and his physician.

An audio tour is included in the cost, as are velvety cloaks, so you can really get into the spirit of the day.

The weather was great, which meant looking at the magnificent gardens (and a ride on a horse-drawn carriage) was a lovely experience; and to look at the buildings; and realise they are almost 400 years old; the history just oozes out.

Day Two - Legoland Windsor

Talk about a contrast.  From the historical to the hysterical.

Legoland Windsor offers something for everyone; in terms of rides, entertainment and imagination.

First of all, the setting.  High on a hill, with uninterrupted views across Berkshire; with Windsor Castle in the foreground, and on the horizon the arch over Wembley Stadium, with the skyscrapers of the city in the distance too; it's a breathtaking start to the day.

The weather held; which was just as well; some of the rides are extremely 'wet' and we needed time to dry out.  They were a lot of fun.


The slapstick style stunt show was fun to watch; and the kids found it very entertaining; so do I, if truth be told.

Miniland is the main attraction; in terms of Lego - miniature models, built entirely of the little plastic bricks; bring well-known landmarks to life.  There was even a reconstruction of the Royal Wedding, at Buckingham Palace.

One area that tends to let theme parks down is their mealtime offering.  It's not easy catering to the masses; but there was one "all you can eat" pizza and pasta (and salad) buffet that was actually quite good; and it was fairly priced too.

Of course, they want you to stay as long as possible, and from next year you will even be able to sleep in your very own Legoland hotel, with lego bed and bathroom (no - I made that bit up!)  It's an attempt to  keep you in the park for longer, spending more money on their ever increasing range of merchandise - of which there is lots.  I couldn't resist the lego ice-cube tray!

Two very different, but very much fun days out.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Midweek Musical Interlude 6

This week; something different, to get you in the mood for the final few days of the week.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Review - InstaPhoto for BlackBerry

It's not often you find an app on BlackBerry that works well on one device, and then you get to download it for another, without paying again.

For that InstaPhoto should be applauded.

I intially bought the app on my PlayBook; it's a great way to add pre-defined filters to photographs, and then post them directly to Facebook or Twitter; or just save them locally.

I then thought this would be really ideal on the Torch, and went looking.  However, it wasn't until I saw an article that said it would be free if already owned, that I dived in and downloaded.





  • Easy to get started, simply choose a pre-existing photo or take one with the camera. 
  • Camera integration runs directly within app, allowing you to take a photo and start instantly!
  • Images save to a custom gallery folder, and are featured when you load the app.
  • Large preview images allow you to see an effect clearly before making a selection.
  • Simple controls with stunning pre-set effects, it’s easy for anyone to use with just a tap of the finger!
  • Unique effects creating interesting themes for your photos; periscope, mugshots, torn, postcards and many more!


The only negative, from my perspective, is that all photos are cropped to a square.  It's a shame the original photo can't be used, or the cropping work a little more freely.  Maybe this is something they can include in a future release.

All in all, this is one app that really helps add some creativity to your photos; and the cropping comment aside, is well worth the download; especially as you can have two copies (PlayBook and handset) for the price of one.


Monday, August 15, 2011

What Did We Do Before.... DVD on the move

"Are we there yet?"

Those immortal words, uttered by small children, bored in the back seat of the car, as the family goes on a day out.  I remember it; and it happens now, with my own children.

Long journey, to little people, can seem like an age, and whilst, once upon a time they were the preserve of the rich (and famous) it's now possible to fix a couple of screens the headrests and watch a DVD, to while away the miles.  Indeed, in some cars, they are now part of the general spec; and included as standard.

So, what did you do before them?

I remember playing travel games.  Eye Spy was a favourite; and looking for certain colours of cars.  We'd listen to the radio; sing songs and our parents would generally have to work very hard to keep us entertained.

We still do that now; but as long-distance travel has become more frequent, mainly due to families living further apart (for whatever the reason) the DVD certainly helps to 'kill' some time.

What games did you used to play?  How do you entertain the children now?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

10,000 Up

Every so often I like to revisit some of the posts I've written previously, and as My Blog and I approaches 10,000 views, I decided to see which of my posts have been the most popular.
The numbers show how many times a post has been read; and I'm surprised at the appearance of a couple of posts, since I didn't think they'd make as big an impact as they have.

When I started this blog, it was primarily a way to express thoughts and views, and over time it's evolved.  I admit there have been periods where I've been lazy, and other times where I've written post after post in one session.

It's a great way to relax and get the creative juices flowing.

If you've ever wondered whether you should write a blog, my advice is - just do it.





Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Midweek Musical Interlude 5

The fifth outing for the Midweek Musical Interlude - a coffee-break for the week.

Today it's Katrina and the Waves...

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Review - Captain America


Marvel recently unleashed their latest Avenger movie, Captain America, and I have to admit it's actually rather good.

I'm not a comic officionado, and wasn't a big comic reader when I waz younger, so my take on the films is purely stand-alone; with nothing to reference to.

That doesn't mean I don't 'get' the series of Avengers, having already had Iron Man and Thor, the Hulk and Spiderman.



It was good to see Howard Stark; the father of the aforementioned Tony Stark alter-ego Iron Man.

Back to the story.  Here's the synopsis from IMDb
It is 1942, America has entered World War II, and sickly but determined Steve Rogers is frustrated at being rejected yet again for military service. Everything changes when Dr. Erksine recruits him for the secret Project Rebirth. Proving his extraordinary courage, wits and conscience, Rogers undergoes the experiment and his weak body is suddenly enhanced into the maximum human potential. When Dr. Erksine is then immediately assassinated by an agent of Nazi Germany's head of its secret HYDRA research department, Johann Schmidt aka the Red Skull, Rogers is left as a unique man who is initially misused as a propaganda mascot. However, when his comrades need him, Rogers goes on a successful adventure that truly makes him Captain America and his war against Schmidt begins..  
It's totally comicbook, the action sequences are fantastic, as are the performances by Tommy Lee Jones as the colonel, and Chris Evans as our hero.  The effect that makes Evans look smaller and weaker before his transformation is well done; in one scene he looks like a doll, next to Peggy Carter, played by Hayley Atwell.

Indeed, there are some other big names, with Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark and Hugo Weaving as the 'baddie' Johann Schmidt (Red Skull).

Samuel L Jackson reprises his role as Nick Fury (from S.H.I.E.L.D); towards the end of the film.

We saw it in 3D, and I've written before about my feelings about 3D films.  However, as with  Harry Potter, I was pleasantly surprised, as it served to show the film, rather than be used as a gimmick.  I do think that film-makers and studios need to find a way to make the picture brighter.

Should you see it?  For pure entertainment value, it is certainly worth it.

Monday, August 08, 2011

One From The Archive: What Did We Do Before .... The MP3 Player

Cast your minds back to 1979.

That was the year that the Sony Stowaway portable cassette player was launched.  The first truly portable, personal, music player.  At the time it was a revolution in the electronics industry, and a boon to the sales of pre-recorded cassettes.  It became possible to listen to your favourite artist/music whilst on the bus or train.  Indeed, it became a must-have for the health addict, who carried one whilst out jogging.





Even without an on-board speaker, they were quite large and bulky, and as time moved on, they became slimmer and lighter; although still constrained by the size of the cassette.

The Stowaway name soon changed to Walkman; and over time, this name has become a generic term for a portable media player.  Sony still use the name today.

Due to the physical limitation, only so much tape could be contained in the plastic box; and in some cases, the quality of the tape meant they snapped easily, and the recording no longer available to listen to.

In utilising half the width of the tape, this meant we could record on one side, flip it over, and record again; thereby doubling the amount of music we had.  Since music was sold on vinyl records; many hours were spent copying them to cassette, so we could carry the music with us, on our walkman.


It was also difficult to find a favourite track, as there was no indexing on cassettes; you had to 'guess' how much to fast-forward or rewind.  Ah! Those were the days...

Now skip all the way forward to 1998 (bypassing the portable CD player!)

The MP3 player had begun to catch the imagination.  MP3 is the industry standard for electronic music files, and that's just what your music became.  A file, stored on the computer, that, when played on a compatible device, allowed you to take your music with you.

It was now possible to jump straight to the track of choice, and because an MP3 file size is quite small, it became possible to have, quite literally, hours of music in your hand - dependent on the size of the on-board memory.

It wasn't until 3 years later, in 2001, that Apple entered the fray with their iPod - and the course of music distribution and listening changed forever.

It's always nice to reminisce about the 'good ole days' and how we marvelled at the small technology within the early walkmans; however, the MP3 player had a dramatic impact on the way we consume our music (and movies) on the move.

It's hard to see what's next....


Thursday, August 04, 2011

Formula 1: The Season So Far

At first glance it seems like a pretty one-sided affair; with Sebastian Vettel appearing to have secured his second successive drivers championship (and Red Bull too).

However, over the last few races, the competition has really started to heat up, and the teams head into the summer break in the knowledge that the Red Bulls are, finally, beatable.

Indeed, it is the McLarens who have benefited the most, and taken advantage; although they've made it hard on themselves, with a missing wheel nut for Jenson, and a drive-through penalty for Lewis.

The circuits have offered up there excitement, and the weather has had an impact too.  In fact, the television audiences have been tremendous over the last few weeks.

I'm not going to go into all the facts and figures; this website does it so much better; with stats on almost every aspect of every team and their drivers.

We also know that next year the sport fans will have to choose Sky, to watch every race; due to the BBC relinquishing some of their rights.  In a way, this is understandable, if not frustrating; especially given how popular the sport has become.  However, they do have to manage their budget, and whilst the majority of fans aren't happy; I'm sure Sky will put their stamp on it.  At least, I hope they do.

So, now the teams are in a forced shut-down for 2 weeks, and will then be hard at work preparing for the Belgian Grand Prix, at Spa.

I love watching F1 - this season especially; and I'm looking forward to part two.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Midweek Musical Interlude 4

Time to rock with Bryan Adams this week.

No further introduction - get into the Midweek Mood with the Summer of '69

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

AFC Bournemouth - The Season Ahead


The start of the new football season is almost upon us, and I, for one, am looking forward to seeing Bournemouth on a revitalised charge, in their attempt to conquer League One.

There's been lots of too-ing and fro-ing in the transfer market, with some of their key players, understandably, deciding to move on to bigger clubs.  I hope it works out for them.

Also, as pointed out by chairman Eddie Mitchell, it's a very northern bias, so this means The Cherries will be visiting the north-west during the season; I've already pencilled in the games I could get to see; starting with the Huddersfield game on 10th December.

There have been a number of signings over the summer, and new captain Adam Barrett replaces Jason Pearce, who left Dean Court to join Portsmouth.

Having beaten Cardiff City 2-1 in a pre-season friendly, it will be a positive team that goes into the first game of the season on Saturday, away to Charlton Athletic.

I, for one, am quite looking forward to the new campaign.


Monday, August 01, 2011

What Did We Do Before... Digital Photography

Remember the day when you took your instamatic Kodak camera on a day out; took the camera to a development shop, like Boots; and waited a week for them to be sent back?

Sometimes, there would be stickers on the really bad ones, saying things like "Hold steady to prevent blurring"!



Do you remember the 'smell' of the chemicals on the roll of film, as you loaded your SLR?

Today, there's a whole generation who haven't experienced photography with the medium of film.  Today, it's all about digital.  A small memory card to store images.

Whilst I'm an old romantic at heart (OK, less of the old!) I do think progress is important, but, is digital photography progress?

SLR cameras, in particular, with 35mm film can take photos far superior than digital cameras.  Indeed, when the digital cameras first arrived, they were all, pretty much, instant style; point and shoot.  Giving very little control to the photographer.

Also; there is an inherent 'lag' between pressing the button and the shutter reacting.  So the picture you thought you're taking is slightly different.  The pose, lost in that second of lag...

That's changed now, and today it's possible to buy a digital SLR, that has just as much control, only with a small viewfinder on the back of the camera.

So, the question today, is have we benefited from digital photography?  There is no wastage; we can take our pictures, store them electronically; delete the ones we don't like, store and re-use the memory card.
The modern digital camera is far removed from the earlier models, affording greater quality and control.

On the other had, the romance of photography is lost, with the dark-room now all but a memory; and a program in your PC.

What do you think?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Review - BBM: Social Just Got Integrated


Here's a quote from BlackBerry:
"Did you know that seventy percent of BlackBerry® Messenger (BBM™) users use BBM every day to communicate with friends, family and colleagues?"
Well, now, social just got more integrated, as the next version of BlackBerry Messenger has been released.

For those who don't know, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) is the instant messenger application for communicating between BlackBerry handsets.  I say 'communicating' because it is more than chat.  It's possible to send files, photos, voice recordings and video and it doesn't cost anymore than the data plan you already have.

I've written about it before, and even with the introduction of other cross-platform services, such as WhatsApp, it is a major selling point for BlackBerry.  Even Apple have tried to emulate it, with iMessenger.

So, what's new? What have RIM (the makers of BlackBerry) come up with now?

BBM6... A bright, shiny new, version that integrates with other applications.

For example, you could be playing a game online, and use BBM to invite others and chat about the game.

Or, using Foursquare (the location-based, notification, service) I can let my BBM contacts know where I am, even if they don't use it.  What's more, if they then click on the link within my status update, they can download the app for themselves.

Sports fan?  Using ScoreMobile (a great free app that tracks major sporting events; including the English Premier League) you can chat with friends about the game, in the application.  Clever eh?

It's a whole new way to interact, and share information, the apps you love to use and get more involved.

If you have a BlackBerry, then head over to App World and download the latest version of BBM.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Midweek Musical Interlude 3

Something completely different; from Ghost - The Musical.  If you saw the show in Manchester, or since it's move to London, then you'll remember this.

Not quite the upbeat music I've offered previously, but it's such a lovely song; and the complete soundtrack was released at the weekend. If you've seen the show, you'll know what I mean.




Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Batman Live

When Batman Meets Robin; that's the premise of this amazing acrobatic, magical show featuring all the 'baddies'; The Riddler, The Penguin, Two Face, The Joker, Haley Quinn and Poison Ivy.

The show opens as Bruce Wayne walks home from the cinema with his parents, who are mugged and eventually are shot. We've seen this in countless other stories.

The setting then moves to the circus, where we meet the Flying Graysons, gracefully swinging on the trapeze; until they too, are murdered; leaving Dick Grayson an orphan.

It's not a new story, but it's a new way of telling it, with a set and stunts and THAT car all live and in action.

The backdrop of the stage is a large screen, which uses DC Comic style graphics to portray the setting; and it achieves the objective astonishingly well.

The Batcave doesn't disappoint, and there was a cheer as the Batmobile made its entrance.  And what an amazing machine it looked too.

They say the production cost around £7.5m - and it's all on the stage or in the effects.  There are even a couple of illusions, that really do make you go "how did they do that?"

It was a shame that the arena wasn't full; indeed 6 blocks were draped over and out of action; which made the audience look much smaller; indeed the seats we booked were changed; and I think we came out better for it.


You can see the view we had in the photo.  This is the opening stage setting - it really did wow!

From Manchester, the show now moves around the country. Full details can be found here.

If you get the chance; it's well worth going to see.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Google+ v Facebook - The Experiment Continues

Last Friday,I took the unilateral decision to quit facebook. For a week.
It was quite irrational, and there was quite a reaction; but, the question is, have I regretted it?

Like many others, I have started to use Google+, a new social  interaction platform.  It's clean, crisp, and there is a  multitude of potential.  There is, however, a however...



Inviting people to join is a big task - most are entrenched in their ways; and there are times I have missed out on seeing what people are up to.  Thanks to an extension in Google+, I can now view status updates within Google+ so I don't need to miss out anymore.

But; and here it is; I haven't missed the inane games (and being asked for help to achieve levels) and ridiculous adverts.  My news feed (the Stream) contains mostly of stuff I want to see; and I can filter it, to see the people (Circles) I'm interested in.

This isn't meant to be a promotion for Google+; now I've been using it for over a week, it's more of an informed article about what it offers.

With Google+ anyone (and I mean anyone) can join another conversation and not feel bad for chipping in.  It's open and friendly.  You can join in conversations with people you don't have an association with - usually, by the end of it; you're in each others circles.

I like the fact I can post a one-line comment (similar to Twitter) or post a whole paragraph (as much as I want!)

There has been much discussion about Google+ over the last week; as more people have joined in.

So, here are my 10 reasons why you should try Google+ :

  1. It's open and friendly
  2. Easy to control your Circle of friends
  3. Private messaging available - to just one person, or a select few
  4. Control which Circle your friends are in - they can be in more than one
  5. Easily filter what you want to see; either everything, or just one Circle; it's up to you
  6. Photo uploads to web albums
  7. You have control over what people see
  8. "Meet" a wide range of people
  9. Hangouts - Real-time video calls with up to 10 other people
  10. Sparks - A way to find articles on the web that interest you, and you can freely share them amongst your Circles

Circles seems to be the biggest, single advantage of Google+ over facebook.  This is how Google promote them.  You can find out more at http://plus.google.com




Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Customer Is King

Many, many, years ago, when I was just a young boy, I used to spend time with my dad in his shop.  He used to sell hi-fi components, car audio systems, accessories and more.  It was a wonderful shop; located just outside the centre of Bournemouth.

As a boy, I used to love the new equipment that was for sale.  Long before the days of digital technology; not an iPod in sight.  This was the day of the first Walkman (does anyone remember the Sony Stowaway?) and portable music.
The days of turntables and cassette players.
The shop was a haven for electronic enthusiasts who bought their resistors, transistors, bulbs, fuses, cable and connectors; not in packets, but individually.  I remember the rows and rows of little drawers behind the counter, each housing many variants of components.

My dad would build a rapport with his customers, the like of which I've never seen or heard of anywhere else.  He would treat them with respect, laugh and joke with them; many times juggling two or more customers at the same time; at the end, everyone would be chatting, resulting, more times than not, in the all important sale.  The customer really was king.

I also remember, halfway up the stairs, pinned to the wall was a poster.  Similar to the one here; it has always had a lasting impression.

Years later, I still remember it, and it's a mantra that holds true today.

The shop may no longer be; indeed, many shops have fallen by the wayside; but so too has customer service.  Now, it's warehouse style stores, with indifferent members of staff; who really don't care whether you buy, or not.

Move your buying experience online, and it's a whole new ballgame.  We like the ease, accessibility, and often cheaper prices than would be seen on the high street.  Unfortunately, that comes at a cost; because now we don't look into peoples eyes; we look at a web-page.  Often designed to tempt us, but nevertheless, a static screen, with information, pictures and more to get us to spend with them.

Most of the time it all works well.
Occassionally, it doesn't go so well.

What then?

I have recently had cause for concern, when, after a free trial, I bought and downloaded some software for my phone.  It was more a utility; in that it sat silently in the background, running backups, and more.
When I changed my phone, I checked that it would still work, and their website assured me it was compatible.

Except it's not.  It won't run, there are errors and all in all; it's a total shambles. 
OK, I thought.  A quick note to their support team, to find out what can be done.

I got their standard response.
Another note was sent; with a bit more information.
Nothing.
I have now sent an email everyday for 3 days, with absolutely no response. Zero. Nada. Nothing.

What do I do? I'm at a loss.  I know that BlackBerry won't be bothered, simply because it's not their software.
I do know one thing.  I won't be buying anything else from that software company again.

And - if I don't hear something soon, I'll happily broadcast their name here, on Facebook and Twitter.

Customer service obviously means very little to them. 

I am obviously not a king!

Have you ever suffered bad customer service with an online store?  Was it resolved to your satisfaction?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Midweek Musical Interlude 2

This week, for the Midweek Musical Interlude; it's another Michael - this time Michael Jackson; or at least, his music.

The video is courtesy of the Filipino, Philippines "Dancing Inmates" from Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC), a maximum security prison.  They were treated to a visit by Jacksons choreographer, Travis Payne, and were taught some moves from "This Is It".


Very impressive.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Review - Harry Potter and the Film in 3D

Last weekend saw the final chapter of the Harry Potter story released in the cinemas.

Actually, due to the length of the book; it was released in 2 parts; the first last November, and now Part 2.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows closes the book on seven years of following "The Boy Who Lived" through his trials and tribulations at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry.

I'm not going to re-tell the story; that's covered in copious other places.

I do want to tell you what I thought of the film.

I'm not a proponent of 3D. In fact, I've written about that before. I believe it's a gimmick; another way for film studios and cinema chains to take our hard-earned cash.  Let's face it, since the majority of us don't have 3D television; only a 2D version of the film will be available to buy on DVD / Blu-Ray.

So - what's the point.

OK - a little unfair maybe; and to be honest, the film was amazing. Fantastic.  It totally captured the essence of the book.  The special effects were incredible and seemed so natural; not surprising I suppose, given the nature of the film.

So, to the 3D - I must admit that it wasn't intrusive.  It also felt natural to watch; as there were no gimmicky "look at this in 3D" moments.

If you haven't yet seen it; then what are you waiting for? 2D or 3D; this is a wonderful end to a beautiful series.






Monday, July 18, 2011

One From The Archive - What Did We Do Before.....The Internet

We take the internet for granted.  In the grand scheme of things, it's relatively young, but over the course of the last few years, the world has changed beyond recognition.

I'm not going to go into the history of this life changing 'system', but there can be no denying the positive impact that the internet is having.

Technology is moving at  a crazy pace, and it seems that everyone has a presence somewhere on the web.  Whether through business or social networking.  I wouldn't be in my current job if I hadn't used the internet.

Keeping in touch with friends and family around the world is also another example of how the internet has changed the way we live.
Email has replaced traditional letters, video calling and conferencing means we can see as well as hear.

Unfortunately, the abundance of information that is freely available, also means that for the few, the internet is a place where destruction and depravity takes place.

We are constantly being warned of the dangers of the internet; especially for the young ones.  However, I believe that the internet is a danger to everyone who does not assume a careful approach.  You wouldn't leave private information lying around in public; so don't do the same here.

If you don't want people to know things; then, for goodness sake, don't broadcast them on a publicly accessible forum.

Passwords are imperative to our safety and security.  Don't write them down.  Or, if you can't remember them, use a secure site like Lastpass.com.  Here, you only need to remember one password, and all the others are kept securely.

There are many places where advise can be got for free; about how to keep safe and secure, including governement sites.

Banking and phising emails are another way that criminals try to get their hands on your hard earned money.  If an offer seems too good to be true - it probably is.  As for banking; NEVER respond to an email from your bank; unless you are 100% certain it came from them.  Some web browsers will now warn you that the site may not be what you think it is.

So - The Internet is wonderful for keeping in touch with distant family and friends.  It's great to bag a bargain and essential for communication.  It's also a haven for those more unscrupulous types.

Take care.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Hello Google+ - - - Goodbye Facebook!!

Recently heralded with great excitement and enthusiasm, this new social networking site from the famous search giant is in it's infancy; with an incredible 10,000,000 (yes, that's 10 million) users.

Amazing, since it hasn't even been officially released to the masses!!

I was itching for an invite to 'have a look' and a Twitter friend kindly obliged.


It's taken some getting used to.
What am I saying - it's taking some getting used to; but it dawned on me the other morning that I didn't go straight to facebook, to see what's happening.  My first port of call was Google+.

Circles
One of the big benefits are in what Google has called "Circles".  The ability to create what are, essentially, lists of different people, so it's possible to target updates, comments and discussions, to relevant parties.
It's clear, crisp and fresh.

For example, I have Circles for my Family, Real Life Friends, my Twitter Friends and Work colleagues.  You could have Circles of many different categories, and you can have people across multiple Circles.  It's so easy to drag and drop names around.  I'm still 'playing' with getting the right people in the right place...

Conversations are at the heart of Google+, but one huge benefit is the control you have over who sees what.  Now that you have Circles, you can have a one-to-one chat with someone, include more people in a discussion; or throw it open to the world.

Oh - and if you have an Android handset, by all accounts, the Google+ app is excellent.  I can't vouch for it.  However the mobile version of the site, on iPhone and iPad, will leave users wanting; as with BlackBerry (although my PlayBook does manage very well with the full, desktop version).

Hangouts
Instant messaging is available with integration to Google Chat; and with Google Hangouts, you can also video chat with up to 10 other people at at time - great for families, friends, and even businesses for video conferencing.

Photos
Finally - the ability to add photos to your online album, and share them with certain people.
Like I mentioned earlier, on Google+ you can share what you want, with who you want; so if you only want certain people to see your photos of a night out - you have the control.

Whether publicly, a group of people, or just one person.  The choice is yours.

After the video, you can read about my new 'experiment'.



The Experiment


So; from today, and for a trial period (although, who knows, it could become permanent) I will be leaving the facebook world behind me!


I say this with a few caveats:

  • My Blog and I will still be published on Facebook- so you can still get your dose of my thoughts etc; but if you haven't 'Liked' my page, this could be the last post you read.
  • My Foursquare updates will continue - mainly because they are automated. And I know you like to know if I get my morning coffee!
  • I will react and respond to messages - I won't ignore you.
  • I won't be updating my status, and I won't be commenting (or liking) any statuses.
  • I won't be chatting either - If you want to chat; come on over to Google+ (or BBM or text me!)

No-one in the house thinks I can do this!

I can and I will...

At the moment, you can join Google+ by invitation.  Over the next few days you  may start to receive messages that I've added you to a Circle.  Don't be shy.  It costs nothing to look, and you may be pleasantly surprised.

I'm also still on Twitter, so you can follow me there @doonytime

So - Goodbye facebook; or should that be à bientôt.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Review - Dropbox: Share and Share Alike

Review time once more, and if, like me, you move files around between your devices and computers, you'll know what a pain it is.

Find a USB or memory stick, plug it into the computer, transfer the files to it, unplug it and plug back into the other PC, drag the files off and continue.  What a faff!!

The antidote for this - an application called Dropbox.  Launched just over 2 years ago, Dropbox removes the need to dig around and find a memory card.

The premise is simple.  Drop the file you want to transfer onto a folder on your PC or laptop, and retrieve it on another device, within seconds.

The application is free to download, on as many devices as you like.  For example, setup Dropbox on your laptop, PC or iPad.

Dropbox is also available on iPhone, Android and BlackBerry mobile phones.




So, I can create a file on my laptop (or download photos from my camera).  I can then move them into the Dropbox folder, and, hey presto, I can now access these files on any of the other devices.

When working on the files, such as word documents or spreadsheets, when you save them, they will automatically sync, keeping a single document up to date in multiple places.  A log of all the changes is also available; so if necessary, you can revert to an earlier version.

There are a huge number of benefits, not least the fact that the documents are stored in "the cloud", which means they are protected; and with 2Gb of storage available when you sign up, that's quite a lot of space.  If you need to, you can buy additional space.

Sharing
Another big benefit is the ability to share folders or files.  Businesses can share files easily with their staff in the field, photos can be shared with family and friends.

You don't even need to worry if you need to access your documents on a public PC, such as in an internet cafe or the local library.  Those folk at Dropbox have created a simple website where, once logged in, you can access the files there.

It's an ingenious method of transferring and sharing files; which also removes the need to email files to yourself, colleagues or family, and whilst the memory card / USB stick isn't about to become obsolete, it does mean you don't need to carry one with you all the time.

In summary, file-sharing / storage is not the most exciting of subjects, but nevertheless, Dropbox is totally free to download and use; including the initial 2Gb of storage; which for most people is more than enough.

Sharing has never been so easy.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Midweek Musical Interlude

Music - I love music; so to help you through the week; I thought I'd treat you to a little something different.  If there's a music video you'd like to see, then let me know in the comments, and I'll see what I can do...

This week - Michael Bublé

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Formula 1 Update

Well, it seems that Sebastian Vettel is not invincible, and I'll bet there were strong words for the pit crew, who effectively ended his chances of winning the British Grand Prix.



Mind you, I bet Jenson wasn't too impressed either, as one of the McLaren boys forgot to tighten the wheel-nut, forcing him to retire.  That was a shame, because he was doing OK, and in the mix.

As for Lewis Hamilton, he drove a blinding good race, even if he did have to preserve his fuel supply.  The team told him to slow down; but he kept the pressure on, and had a final, grand, battle with Massa, right down to the chequered flag.

Mark Webber, who qualified on pole, failed to take advantage, and after a solid race, even catching team mate Vettel, was told to hold position in second, and not try to overtake.  He finished third, but I bet he's feeling aggrieved at not being allowed to challenge for second.

All in all, it was an interesting weekend at Silverstone; the new pit straight, the Wing and, even though I wasn't there, the atmosphere, makes it a special place to go racing.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Coming Up...

Just wanted to let you know that there's plenty planned for this week, right here, on My Blog and I; including the start of a new weekly series and a new music slot...

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Formula One - Update

It's been a while since I posted about Formula One; and what a season it's been up to now.

Sebastian Vettel is running away with the drivers championship; he just appears to be unbeatable; even to the extent that Lewis Hamilton threw in the towel (and then retracted that comment, and said he would always be fighting the championship!)

There has been little controversy; except where Hamilton has been concerned; with ex-driver Niki Lauder complaining about his driving; and that if something wasn't done; he (Hamilton) would end up killing someone.

Jenson Button (McLaren) drove the race of his life in Canada; coming from the back, to win (after Vettel, uncharacteristically, made a mistake).  It was a drive of sheer genius.

Ferrari have been working hard; and Alonso and Massa have both been driving well; with the Spaniard being the marginal better, overall, driver.  It's just a shame they can't convert to big points.

The last race, in Valencia, now holds the record as the race with most finishes - all 24 cars that started the race, managed to finish under the chequered flag. That, in itself, is an achievement.

The F1 circus comes home this weekend; as all attention is turned to Silverstone.  It's a circuit I've been to a few times; and the atmosphere is just incredible.  I hope the rain stays away, and all the teams have a great weekend.

The current championship points and statistics are available from www.f1fanatic.co.uk here

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Attack of the Midges

Last weekend we planned to go camping. The car was packed up, and as soon as the boys were home from school and changed, we set off.

The chosen destination was in a village called Keld, right at the north end of the Yorkshire Dales; in Richmondshire.

The journey, for the most part, was uneventful, along the M6 motorway , to junction 38.  Then things became a little more interesting.  We turned off, onto a single-lane track, and for the next 7 miles, the journey was akin to a fairground roller-coaster, with roadkill for show.

Of course, not knowing where we were going on heightened the atmosphere in the car, as we had no idea how long it would go on for!

Needless to say, we arrived at the campsite and selected our spot.  This was carefully selected so as not to be too far from the conveniences (well, you don't want to traipse too far in the night!)
However, there was one drawback, which we only discovered as we were putting the tent up - midges!!

Thousands of the blighters, swarming all around us.  At first I ignored them, but I could feel them in my hair and around my ears.  Although it was warm, I resorted to wearing a long-sleeved hoody. With the hood up.

Too late. Bites appeared on my left hand (bizzarely, my right hand was unscathed!)  It wasn't until later when I realised the extent of the attack!  I did consider posting a photo of the bites; but I didn't want to ruin your appetite!!

We lit campfires, in an effort to keep them at bay.  No use.  The evening was becoming ever more unbearable.  Shame really, the site wasn't bad at all.

The following morning, it looked as though I'd taken a  red pen and stabbed dots up my arms, around my neck and behind my ears.  They weren't ichy, just very unsightly.

It got me to thinking; where in the grand scheme of things, do midges fit in? What is their point?

We had a walk in the morning, but our minds were made up.  We didn't want to remain company with the midges, and decided to pack up a day early.  It hasn't put us off camping; in fact we're already looking at where to go next.  Wherever it is, I will be armed with midge spray.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Review - BlackBerry PlayBook Apps

OK.

I know I haven't had it for long, but too often the so-called pundits have complained about the lack of apps available for the new BlackBerry tablet.

So, to try to redress the balance, here are my views on a handful of the apps available:

Bluebox
I've mentioned Dropbox in a previous blog, and this is an app to access Dropbox files, on the PlayBook.  It's a neat app, which allows you to download, upload, move, delete and more, your files from a central storage location.  You can access Dropbox files from almost anywhere (unfortunately, it's blocked at my work!)





Instaphoto
I discovered this the other day, and it's a great app for adding filters to photos.  There are 25 to choose from, anything from gothic, to the 60s, Polaroid, faded; you name it, there's a filter to add that je ne sais quois to your pictures.







GeeReader
If you use Google Reader to follow those news items you want, then this is a great addition for the PlayBook.  I love getting my news on the go; and have a news reader on my phone.  This is the equivalent and it works beautifully.  What's more, because of the flash capability, I can open the video reports too!





Doodleblast
Couldn't resist including a game on here.  The PlayBook comes pre-loaded with Need For Speed and Tetris; but this game is a tricky little teaser.  You are presented with a number of obstacles and a box at the bottom of the screen.  You also have a bottle of ink; with which you have to draw lines to direct the balls that fall, into the box.  It's not as easy as it sounds; and each level reduces the amount of ink available.  It's extremely addictive.


That's only a small selection; and as time goes on, I may well bore you with more reviews!

Friday, July 01, 2011

Thespian Tendencies

It might have escaped your notice that I was recently in a show!  It was an amateur production; songs from the shows, sketches; that sort of thing.

I say it was amateur; only in that we did it for the love of it.  However, the professionalism shown by everyone involved, in conjunction with the theatre where we put it on; made it a highly polished show.


It was the first time I had ever been involved in anything quite like it; being the shy, retiring, type that I am!!

So, I went to the first meeting; attended the auditions, and rehearsals.  There was certainly some commitment needed, and towards the opening night, tiredness creeped in with the later nights.  The people were wonderful; and I was accepted into the group straight away - I met some extraordinary people.

BUT - it was amazing. I had an fantastic time and learned a lot.

I learned that I can step up and do these things.  It gave me a new level of confidence.
There was another reason for doing this; I wanted to show my children that it is possible to do it - with a little (alright, a lot) of effort, you can be part of something great. I wanted them to see that performing is nothing to be afraid of.

When the curtain opened, the butterflies were fluttering around; however, after the start, I just enjoyed myself.  I hope that enjoyment came across.  The audience seemed to soak up the acts; the solos, the big chorus numbers and the sketches.

The show ran for three nights; and it was a shame when it ended.  However, the reviews and feedback were fantastic.

I'm looking forward to hearing about their next production; who knows, maybe I'll get involved in that too.  Apparently I look quite good in eye-liner!!!

Co-incidentally, this week my son has been in his school play - I'm off to see it on Monday night.  By all accounts, it's a great play, and all the children have worked very hard too.  He has worked hard rehearsing his lines at home and I can't wait to see it. I know he'll make me proud.

Have you ever taken part in a show, large or small?  What was your motivation for doing it?  Would you do it again?

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