Monday, January 26, 2015

Review - Breaking Bad

I'm a little late to the Breaking Bad party… I totally missed watching this when it was broadcast; and to be honest, wasn't all the interested.  But - when your parents are the one’s to tell you how good it is, well, you have to listen. Right?

What’s more, it was my parents who bought us the box set!
So.  No more excuses.  
No more reasons (I don’t have Netflix, and it’s not on Amazon Prime)!

Not forgetting to mention my eldest son.  He’s been almost begging me to watch it; and I promised him that once I’d seen the first episode, I would write my review.  Ethan - this is for you.

For those of you who don’t know what the story is about; allow me to enlighten you.  Walter White is a chemistry teacher, who one tragic day receives some life-changing news.  Not wishing for his young wife, unborn baby and son to go without, he decides use his training to cook and sell crystal meth, in partnership with one of his former students.  That’s the brief synopsis - there’s so much more.

The box set contains almost 50 hours of the full five series and bonus material, across 21 discs!  I have watched the first 3 episodes… so I still have some way to go.  Other reviewers have also mirrored my own feeling, that the story-line is just too weird!  Which may explain my reticence to watch this at all.

I also agree that, having watched the first episode, I couldn't wait to watch the next.

Bryan Cranston, as Walter White, plays the part wonderfully well (he did win an Emmy Award back in 2008 for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series) and he portrays this sorry character with real empathy.  I have no idea what’s coming up, but I expect he will grow as the series continues.

The first episode is 55 minutes (I thought it would be less, given the US television predilection for “commercial breaks”) so I was pleasantly surprised.  The following episodes were 45 minutes a piece, so with about 34 hours to go; either I need to take a week off work to watch them all, or at one episode per week; this will take me just over 6 months to complete!

Have you seen Breaking Bad? Did you enjoy it?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

One From The Archive - What Did We Do Before...Sky+

I originally wrote this in 2011.  Since then there has been an explosion in "on demand" video capabilities; from Chromecast to Roku to Apple TV to YouView  and many more.  So, this post may be a little dated; but the overall premise remains the same.

Now here's a subject close to many peoples hearts.

How on earth did YOU cope without Sky+.  It must be the single best revolution in televisual history (ignoring HD and 3D)

NB: Whilst I refer to Sky+, I haven't forgotten there is an alternative, in Virgin Media (except; they're not available down our street!)

So - let's remember the 'old' days.  The wonderful days of VHS and Betamax.  Those cassette tapes on which we lovingly recorded our favourite programmes; with labels stuck on, peeled off, renewed; as we shuttled the tape back and forward, finding the programme, keeping tape libraries of our favourite programmes.

Now, thanks to the advent of Sky+, we are not only able to record our favourite programme, but we can record a whole series and it's much easier to skip the adverts (although the advertisers might not be too chuffed at the idea!!)

Have we become slaves to this technology?
Of course we have.

What's more; if the Sky+ box has to be replaced then *Kaboom* - all the recordings are gone too.  At least with video tape; you just put the tape in the new machine (assuming it hadn't been chewed up in the old one!)

So, is Sky+ a good thing?  Undoubtably, yes.  What's next?  I have no idea.  Already, Sky+ hard drives are growing to cater for the many hours of programmes; there's now a 1Tb (Tera-byte) version which can store up to 500 hours of viewing.

I have one question.

With todays' busy lifestyles, when on earth do you think you'll find the time to watch almost 21 days of entertainment?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Driving With Care

Have you noticed how stupid some drivers can be in any given weather condition?

For example, this weekend saw thick fog.  I mean, really thick.  So thick that I couldn't see the main road from the house! 

I had a meeting to go to, which meant I had to venture outside!  
First, de-ice the car (inside and out, I kid you not!)

It’s thick fog.  I’m sure you've all heard the acronym for FOG - Foot Off Gas; or to put it bluntly, Slow Down.

And what about using your lights?  
You know?  
Those sparkly things on the front and the back of your car...  
There are even special, high intensity lights; known as FOG lights, designed especially for these conditions.  Are they on?
No?  Then how do you expect me to see you?

As I drove, the matrix signs on the motorway were non-existent; hidden by the blanket of fog.  The concentration needed to see the other vehicles was tremendous.  It was hard enough trying to see the junction, to exit the motorway.

On the side-roads, cars were just appearing out of the gloom; again, no lights so it wasn't until they were nearly on me that I saw them. So dangerous to other drivers, not to mention pedestrians.

For the record; I did have my lights on; and all fog lights.  

I’m in no way, the perfect driver, but I drive within the limits of the conditions, and it’s so annoying and worrying when others don’t have the same consideration.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

AFC Bournemouth - The Journey Continues

It's so exciting right now.

The result at Rotherham has taken The Cherries another step closer to the Premier League, with a goal difference of 10 and a point clear of second place Ipswich.

It's a busy time for the team, as, on Tuesday, they visit Leeds for a Championship game.

Next Sunday there's a little distraction in the form of the FA Cup 4th round match against Aston Villa (which, of course, I hope they win), then it's a home game against Watford, on the following Friday.

On the 7th February, I'm hoping to go and see them play against Wigan.

In the meantime, I have the scarf wrapped around me on these cold, wintery, mornings and the belief that they can go all the way to the top.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Top Gear - Awesome Trailer

The Top Gear boys have done it again, with this great "Lego" trailer

I love Top Gear.  I'm not a petrol-head, but I do enjoy the banter, the Star in the Reasonably Priced Car, and their adventures are great fun (even if totally staged).

This years Christmas special featured the now famous trip to Argentina, from where they had to escape due to negative feeling from the locals, due to a car number plate referencing the Falklands War (in 1982).

What was more incredible is that you get a complete sense of the size of an adventure like that, where three presenters become 30+ people making the programme.  Incredible.

If you've never seen Top Gear, then check out the BBC website

Anyway.  Sit back and enjoy...

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Winter Tale

It's a cold night.
It's trying to snow.
I'm wrapped up in my coat
Waiting for the tram to go.

It's oh so cold,
The wind has a chilly bite.
The snowflakes softly fall,
Glistening in the lamplight.

The homeless sit begging,
They make a sad sight.
I feel unhappy that I can't help,
All of them tonight.

Oh winter please be kind
To these nameless folk I see.
Keep your icy fingers away
So they'll be warm as can be.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

One From The Archive - What did we do before....Mobile Phones

First introduced in the mid 80s; the first UK call was made from Trafalgar Square.... it was on the Racall Vodafone network. Now just Vodafone.

We've all seen pictures of the big, bulky, phones, that weren't very portable!  How technology has moved on.

However, has the invention of the mobile phone had a positive impact on our daily lives?

From a business perspective, it means decisions can be made more quickly, resulting in quicker turnaround of ideas/products.  Undoubtably, in an emergency, a mobile phone can help to save lives.

From a personal security point of view, having a means to communicate gives us peace of mind.
The smartphones we see today, also have access to email, news feeds, countless apps; as well as being media players, with built in cameras, to capture the moment, before uploading to your favourite social network.

However; being available all the time means bosses expect you to speak to them whenever they want.  The intrusion in public places is disrupting... listening to one half of a conversation is annoying; especially when they have a loud voice.  They help to make arrangements, but in the past, wouldn't you just wait until you got home?  If you're running late; so what? Once upon a time, you'd just be late!

Much is written about the operating system, from Apples' iOS, open-source Android, the revitalised BlackBerry and Windows Phone too.  There is much to suit everyone - I'm not going to spark further debate in this post about what's best.

With the advent of social networks, such as facebook, twitter, snapchat, instagram etc, we are increasingly 'dependent' on our mobile.

Personally, I know that I depend on my phone.... I'm also accused of not putting it down!
I'm not arguing for a return to how it used to be.
Some would call it progress.

We managed before, but nowadays I don't think we'd manage too well without.

Our Green and Pleasant Land

Every day I commute to work on the train and once out of the urban sprawl that is Manchester and Stockport, we soon enter the green pastures of Cheshire.

When you actually look, we live in  beautiful place.  The land is green and lush.  The old farm buildings give lie to their age, and rickety barns remind us of our heritage as a farming society.

As the journey continues, we pass Jodrell Bank Observatory; with the huge Lovell telescope pointed skywards, listening.  You can visit the Discovery Centre, to find out about this and more.

Of course, Cheshire isn't the only green land; in fact, for dramatic scenery, combined with the peace and quite of the country, you only have to venture an hour north of Manchester, to The Lake District.

Here, you will find rolling hills, dotted with small villages.

The rugged landscape of the Lake District is in contrast to the relatively flat landscape of Cheshire
In today's day and age, we're mostly too busy to stop and look. Our daily lives flash by without any consideration for what we could be missing.

We're amazingly quick to criticise that our wi-fi speed isn't fast enough, or there's no mobile phone signal - but once in a while we should stop.

The next time you're out in the country, do just that.


Listen to the sounds of nature, take a deep breath of fresh air and get a real sense of belonging.

Friday, January 09, 2015

AFC Bournemouth - Ready For The Big Time

Since Eddie Howe returned to take the reins, The Cherries have gone from strength to strength in their campaign to rule the Championship. And rule it they currently are; topping the league before Christmas, and continuing to pull in the positive results.

The question is... Are AFC Bournemouth ready for the Big Time?

They had a brilliant run through the League Cup, until Liverpool came to visit, and they're through to the 4th round of the FA Cup, with Aston Villa waiting for them. My 8 year old son reckons Bournemouth could spoil it for them!

Having been a follower of AFC Bournemouth since my youth, there is now the very real chance that they could soon meet the mights of Manchester (United and City), Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea etc.

But. Is this a good thing? The financial force of these teams is way beyond anything the south coast team can consider, especially in the early days.  Sure, television rights and sponsorship deals will soon boost the coffers, but is it enough.

There's also the consideration of the stadium. The Goldsands has a capacity of 12,000 supporters.  Could they host the away followers of such huge clubs?

They're talking about expansion; but will it come soon enough?

Finally, there’s the pressure of staying in the top flight.  It’s one thing getting there, it’s something else to retain the momentum and keep their place.

Don't get me wrong. It's a very exciting prospect and I'm sure that behind closed doors the clubs owner, Max Demin, and the directors will be considering all the permutations.

In the meantime, Eddie and his team must continue to work hard to protect their position, so when the time comes, they can hit the Big Time in style.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Review - Amazon Prime

This may come as a surprise (not!) that I like Amazon.

I am fully signed up to Prime, and also have their Fire TV and a Kindle.  I don't (repeat - don't) have their phone and neither do I have an Amazon tablet.

I did consider the Fire HD, but I didn't want their version of Android!

So - for the last few years, I have paid my dues, and taken advantage of the goodness that comes with an Amazon Prime subscription.

What do you get for your hard-earned cash?

1.  Unlimited Free next day delivery.  That was their first offering, and it still stands.  However; even this is now being amended - if you accept a 3 day delivery, they'll credit you with £1 towards music! Seems a bit strange to me.  I'll let you into a secret.  This isn't always the cheapest way to buy something.  There could be cheaper prices on Amazon.  It's always worth a look.

2.  Prime Instant Video.  An all you can watch buffet of film and television.  This was launched to counter the Netflix effect.  In fact, Amazon are catching their competitor with more up-to-date films than ever before.  Plus, they offer their Amazon Original Pilot series.  The viewers have the power, using their comments and votes, to decide if a pilot episode of an Amazon Original should be granted a full series.  Genius.  What's more; we've seen some gems, and others are to follow.  Transparent is one such show; Mozart In The Jungle another.

3.  Prime Photos.  OK.  I admit; this isn't one I use a huge amount - mainly because I use Google for photo storage.  However, I can store unlimited numbers of photos in Amazon Cloud Drive, and it won't cost me a penny more.

4.  Kindle Owners' Lending Library.  This is actually pretty good; and I've used it quite a lot.  As a Kindle user, it's great to be able to borrow a book and once read, return it and borrow another.  There is a limit of one per month; so not a free-for-all; but a worthy part of the service.

What is hard to work out is whether the £79 annual fee is value for money.

At just over £6.60 per month, I have access to loads of good films and TV shows.  Delivery of my purchases don't cost extra (a hard one to quantify, as I don't purchase something every month!)  Photo storage doesn't mean much (to me).

A search on the internet suggests that the average price of an e-book is around £3.00. Multiply that by 12 and you can see that half the subscription covers the Kindle Library.

On average, a film rental online costs £3.50.  Just one a month = £42.

Therefore, for £1 short of the annual fee, I can watch 12 films and rent 12 books.  Of course, in reality; I can watch many more films, and catch up on TV series (Ripper Street anyone?)
One a week? More?  The value of Prime increases the more I watch.

Is Amazon Prime worth the subscription?  It's not for everyone, but it works out OK for me.

Monday, January 05, 2015

The Truth About Travelling With Children

Travelling with children… the very thought strikes fear into parents around the world.  I suppose it depends on the type of travel.  Let’s face it, jumping into the car and heading off should be easy.
Flying, on the other hand, has stresses of its own, and the idea of working your way through the airport system (check-in, security, waiting in the departure lounge) is hard enough without children in tow.

This story, however, is about travelling by car.  As I've already mentioned; this should be easy. None of the children are babies (14, 13, 12, 8 and 8) and so are quite capable of “entertaining” themselves.  You’d think!

First, there’s loading the car - or in our case, a minibus.  There’s 9 of us.  Yep… 9!

We hire a large minibus for the duration, so that we have plenty of luggage space.

Who will sit next to who?  Arguments ensue…
“I don’t want to sit there”;
“I want to sit in the back”;
“Why can’t I sit next to him?”

Maybe we should draw lots, to see who sits where!
At least I know where I’m sitting - and that’s up front, with a job to do...

The vehicle loaded; more likely than not, I've put the wrong bag in the back, so need to ferret it out for use during the journey!

Finally, everyone is on board and seat belts fastened.  Doors shut; engine started.
“Mum, please can I have the iPad”,
“Where are my headphones?”... and we haven’t even left the drive.

I take a deep breath and engage first gear.

Expected journey time - 4 hours.
Time until first request for food? 30 minutes!

Then… silence.

Silence reigns for the next couple of hours, as films are consumed, games played and music listened to.  After that, the next phase of the journey - the “Are we there yet?” questions.

These begin innocently enough; just a quick calculation of how long to go; and more silence.
For about 20 minutes!
“How long to go now?”
“I told you 2 hours, just 20 minutes ago”

More silence.  Games, music, movies.  FIVE minutes later another voice pipes up
“Are we nearly there?”

Aggravation creeps into the reply
“Weren't you listening 5 minutes ago?  It’s about 90 minutes.”

The pattern continues for another 80 minutes; interspersed with more requests for snacks.
Then the magical moment, as I tell everyone that we’re almost there.

After just 2 minutes:
“I thought you said we’re nearly there!”
“I did; just 5 or so minutes.  Look out of the window and you’ll see where we are.”

Finally - we pull up outside the house and as I toot the horn to announce our arrival, the kids unbuckle their belts, slide open the door and run into the arms of their waiting grandparents.

Suddenly the stresses, aggravations and repetitions of the last few hours are swept away.

We’re here. Until the return journey....!!


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