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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?


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