Home > August 2009

August 2009

#24Days: Toffee Apples….

Monday, August 31, 2009 Category : 0

For my sins I got a call earlier today to ask if I wouldn’t mind taking a look at an Apple MacBook to see if I could fix an issue with it, as it wouldn’t boot up.  Not having the first idea about Apple software, I figured that the hardware couldn’t be all that different and I wasn’t prepared to be beaten by a bunch of 1’s and 0’s.

 

So off I went to take a look. 

 

And it was at that moment I suddenly realised why I’ve never owned a Apple computer.  I used a Mac at school – it was the machine I learned to type upon – and yes they were rather old, they were also very basic, which makes me wonder why they actually cost so damn much to begin with?

 

With a bit of indication from the owner, we managed to navigate towards the diagnosis of the machine – it turned out that the hard disk was failing.  A quick Bing search revealed that the issue is fairly common and that the machine should be taken to an “Apple Genius” for repair.  I’ll type that again – take the machine to an Apple Genius for repair!  I didn’t want to take the machine to anyone linked to Apple, its a hard disk failure, on an out of warranty machine, I just wanted the machine to work and for it to be fixed.

 

Normally on a Windows based machine, you can switch off the S.M.A.R.T. hard disk detection – not on an Apple machine. So, regardless of the fact the hard disk was actually working and would allow the re-installation of Mac OS something or other, but after that point, wouldn’t boot into the operating system at all, because the disk has been detected as a near potential failure.  Thank you Apple!

 

It was clear what had to be done – I’m not giving in to any Apple “Genius”, so the screwdrivers came out.  After unscrewing what seemed like a million screws from the base of the machine, it was then impossible to remove the base of the machine to take a look at the insides.  Reminiscing of the time I opened up my Apple iPod just after the warrant expired to replace the battery, I remembered how much they like to make it impossible to tinker with the innards of anything donning the Apple logo, despite the fact that the laptop had been bought and paid for!

 

Finally located a “L” shaped bracket, we yanked the hard disk from the machine and were able to order another.  I only hope that Apple haven’t implanted some chip into their disk that only allows an Apple approved hard disk to be used in the machine – I wouldn’t put it past them.

 

Yesterday I read an article on TechCrunch by Sarah Lacy speculating that the era of the Apple Fan Boy was over or certainly waning, over the companies closed off attitudes and power plays with the market, likening their actions to those of Microsoft at the peak of their dominance in all sectors. 

 

Personally, I’m glad consumers are finally waking up to Apple – I abandoned them after issues with my iPod, swearing never to own another Apple product again.  After my encounter today with a MacBook, I feel all the more grateful that my trusty HP laptop is mine, easy to maintain and in the event of a failure, I can take to it with a screwdriver and easily replace those parts; no closed hardware, no closed software.

 

And if you’re wondering how I managed to have a MacBook in one hand and a screwdriver in the other and I never did any damage….one word: willpower!

#24Days: A Successful Prediction.....

Sunday, August 30, 2009 Category : 0

There is only one thing I want to write about today......and its been a long time coming!


All season I've spent time in an office surrounded by McLaren fans and doubters of Scuderia Ferrari, and I've kept my head held high for the past 22 months - then as soon as I no longer have to go back to that office a Ferrari driver takes the top step of the podium at Spa, Belgium after a dramatically exciting race with the Force India driver Fisichella (?)!

For the first time this season I watched the third free practice session on the BBC's red button service, and since then, I knew that Kimi Raikkonen would have another successful weekend, but I was quite reserved to see what happened in Qualifying, before I actually made the bold prediction of a Ferrari victory this weekend as long a good amount of fuel was in the car.

Later on Saturday, my feelings of victory were increased further with the publication of the car weights - Ferrari were on a good strategy with Kimi's car number 4 - Perfect!

Waking this morning, pulling on my Ferrari Polo Shirt, I was still confident of a Ferrari victory; the past two races, Kimi has been driving brilliantly following his stint in the World Rally Championship and gained two podium positions, my faith remained. Later I then read on Autosport that Kimi was fired up for this race too and had backed himself for victory. Knowing that Kimi was up for the challenge, reaffirmed my belief that a win was on the cards today - and just before the race started, when asked who would win, without a split second of hesitation, "Kimi" came my reply.

The lights went out and the race started - Kimi running wide in the first corner - but as in previous years when other cars have done that exact same move, he sliced his way back onto the track and was carrying a good dose of speed as he passed a BMW into second and was then hot on the heels of Fisichella for the lead. A three lap Safety Car period then followed after Button and Hamilton exited the Grand Prix, Kimi on the restart was phenominal - smelling the champaign, he knew he had to make the move and make it stick. Following the Force India through Eau Rouge, he jinked out from his slip stream and boosted past, now leading the Grand Prix, all he had to do was stay there.

It turned out to be no easy feat - the Force India stuck to the scarlet Ferrari for the entire race, never more than 1.2second behind, making their pitstops at exactly the same moments - once again the well drilled Ferrari crew remaining cool and calm to turn the car around and send it back on its way. The last 12 laps, after the final pitstops, seemed to be the longest 12 laps this season, Fisi seemily faster, yet the gap remained at 0.7seconds, the two cars at the front trading fastest times at tenths, then hundredths and then even thousandths within each other - incredible, I could hardly believe what I was seeing; a Ferrari verse a Force India!

Alas, Ferrari and Kimi finished the race and their first win of the season was in the bag! ....and I am a very happy Tifosi today! Forza Ferrari!

The big question still remains though, just will Kimi be racing with Ferrari next season or not? It's confusing times in the F1 driver market right now, especially at Ferrari with Massa out right now with no confirmation on if he will be driving again, rumours of Alonso signed up to race for the Scuderia and with Kimi driving his absolute best since his championship year, the situation is getting even more complex to predict. Normally, nay traditionally, we get the announcement on Ferrari driver contracts at the Italian Grand Prix, this year I'm expecting that announcement to be delayed until the end of the season. It'll be interesting to find out just who will be driving those scarlet cars next year.

Regardless, today is not about answering those questions, but about the return of Ferrari to the front of the pack - even if only for one race (car development for this year has halted and the situation to win was hardly "normal"). Next up - the Italian Grand Prix - Forza Ferrari!!

#24Days: Geek or Nerd?....

Saturday, August 29, 2009 Category : 0

#24Days: Bing....

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I love this advert for Bing.com, "its not just a search engine, its a decision engine"....

#24Days: The Pen Is Mightier…

Thursday, August 27, 2009 0

Today my quest I set myself was to track down the ‘perfect’ writing implement, a new pen.

 

A simple task you might think, but not so.  See, I am really looking for thee perfect pen; it should look good, feel good to hold and write superbly.  As I’m a techie, you’d think that finding a pen would be the last thing on my mind, but I do occasionally like to indulge myself in the art of handwriting something.

 

Ideally, I would love to buy a really awesome fountain pen; the very finest of hand writing implements, yet I find that a fountain pen would not be suitable for my work and my needs – no one likes to get covered in ink every time the capsule of blue or black ink runs out and needs to be replaced.  Therefore a ball point or similar is what is required.

 

The main use of the pen would be to to scribble down quick notes and the like though.  My first port of call was Staples, the office superstore – if anyone would have thee pen for me, it should be the “office superstore” right?  Wrong; I haven’t been in a Staples store for years and going in one today was a bit of a let down, the typical classic Parker pen and a small selection of ‘Cross’ pens, but nothing that stood out as the writing instrument for me.

 

So, it was off to WH Smiths, but alas their selection was even worse than that found in Staples.  Now, perhaps I’m setting my goals of a decent pen too highly and or my expectations are way beyond what is available within the stationary market right now and that is why I can’t find the implement for me.

 

Yet I feel let down and disappointed by the selection available – especially as the market to buy pens and stationary is now, as the kids get ready to go back to school.  Alas not.

 

Having exhausted the two stationers I know, the search continues and moves online.  I just hope I can find something there…. 

#24Days: Souper….

Wednesday, August 26, 2009 Category : 0

This last week I’ve gained a new ‘like’, and think I just might have spotted a gap in the market.  See, my new ‘like’ is soup, yummy, yummy, tasty soup.

 

I’ve been buying Marco Pierre White soup’s from my supermarket and I have to admit they are very much yummy and I’ve been enjoying them muchly for my lunch.

 

Walking around town today though, I noticed that there are a number of coffee houses and a number of sandwich shops which attempt to cater for pretty much any type of sandwich you could possibly ever want to dream up, but what there is not, is a place that serves a yummy, delicious soup as a lunchtime deliciously.

 

Think about it, it’s the perfect lunch.  Either buy it hot to sit in or take away, or buy it ready to microwave once you get to work – it comes in all flavours, it’s healthy, it’s simple to make and it’s a hot food alternative to a sandwich or a pasta pot. 

 

Every major restaurant (with the exceptions of the fast food chains – cos they are just weird), has a soup-of-the-day, which means that people do actually enjoy a good soup, thus it makes sense that instead of sandwich shops, soup shops should be opened up to expand the lunchtime market.

 

…forget the whole thing…you never read it hear, I’m going to do it myself and make my first million.  Go back to your business…..

#24Days: A Nokia Netbook?…..

Monday, August 24, 2009 0

Wow, this actually looks like it could be a pretty neat little Netbook from Nokia (the first from the mobile phone company).

 

It’s reportedly the first Netbook to run Microsoft Windows 7 and it has a built in 3G adapter meaning it should be connected wirelessly pretty much anywhere you can pick up a decent signal. 

 

Even more impressive is the reported 12 hour battery life and the fact that it looks like a tidy little machine.  Check out the advert below and tell me your not impressed…..

 

#24Days: A Mouse With A Cunning Plan Me'Lord....

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Following the discovery of this little blighter (click to enlarge and "awww" at the cuteness), last week, scurrying around in our yard after pieces of bread, traps were put down in a bid to capture said cheeky mouse and move him on from his current location.

Today, I discovered however that of the two traps put down, only one now remains. Which means that one of the traps has actually gone walk about. Now as everyone knows well, “the best laid plans of mice and men, gang aft a-glay”, but it seems this little mouse has his schemes well thought out and has managed to evade the trap and make the other completely disappear! Cunning little blighter!

So, today, off we went to a popular DIY hardware store to replace said missing trap. When we arrived at the store and tracked them down amongst the many aisles, what we found was a rather large selection of different types, sizes and trap configurations for your every day cunning mouse genius. There’s even an “electronic mouse trap” (I kid thee not), that takes batteries and delivers an electric shock to the pesky rodent – an electronic mouse trap? – would have thought?

My suggestions for a new trap (pictured to the right), were quickly dismissed, even though I though they would not only capture the mouse, but provide hours of endless entertainment in the process.

We now have two new mouse traps, in their own little boxes which needs a key to open it for some reason positioned out in strategic locations in amongst the foliage. Not that we’re hoping to catch the mouse, but merely to see the mouse re-calculate and make these disappear also in some way – we like to provide a challenge after all.

Cheeky mouse!

#24Days: Apple TV, Yeah Right….

Sunday, August 23, 2009 Category : 0

I’ve just read this report (found on Digg), about one analysts prediction that Apple will be making their own TV sets by 2011 which will have the Apple.TV (media center) built directly into it, allowing you to stream movies and content directly to the Apple branded TV screen.

 

Now, an Apple branded TV set is all very well and good, but really, is this something they need to released to the world?  When I buy a TV, you can be assured that I will be owning that TV for number of years – either until it is completely outdated or it blows up or develops a fault.  What I won’t be doing, is going out and buying a new TV set just because some company releases one onto the market place – no matter how many bells and whistles it has bolted onto the back of it.

 

I have an 32” LG HD TV, and connected to it is a Acer Media Centre PC which is currently running Windows 7 RC1, which primarily runs Windows Media Centre.  It has two TV cards in it so I can watch and record simultaneously and its connect to the internet, so I can stream YouTube and the world wide web directly (very useful for things like live webcasts I have to admit). 

 

My point is that attached to my TV is a device I can upgrade at any time and that is completely open and allows me to do just about anything with it.  Just the same way if I bought and plugged in a Apple.TV media centre I would get pretty similar results.  Now, if my Media Centre stops working, I have two options, I can either replace or repair, knowing that my TV will continue to run in its “normal” mode.  If my TV breaks down, I know I won’t have to spend a fortune replacing an entire screen and media centre solution all in one go.  So, far keeping the two devices separate makes absolute sense, no?

 

Apple, by combining them together, is only doing so in a bid to conquer the living room space from the computer console manufacturers.  That’s because Apple don’t have a console that sits under the TV that can stream content and play games the way Microsoft Xbox 360 or Sony’s PlayStation 3 does, so they’ve had to re-adjust the strategy and offer an alternative device – and this is what they’ve come up with.

 

I can imagine that they’ll sell a few too the die hard Apple fanboys – but who in their right mind is going to give up on their beloved Sony Bravia in favour of some unknown rebadged TV with a media centre bolted on the back of it?

 

Also, Apple being the ‘closed’ company that they are, I wonder if the device will actually allow other devices to be plugged into it?  I mean, Apple who protect their ‘experience’ at all costs, couldn’t possibly allow you to plug in your Nintendo Wii or your Blu-Ray player into their TV could they?  It might just ruin the Apple TV viewing experience?!  Heaven forbid.  So, that’ll have to be the first rule, no third party devices being able to run without prior Apple approval.

 

Another thought that just crossed my mind – I wonder how long it would take people to jailbreak their TVs once they got sick of the Apple interface in favour of further customisation?  What if you no longer wanted to download your movies from iTunes but instead from Netflix or Amazon at a cheaper cost?  Would Apple allow you as the view to do that, I think not, considering they won’t even allow other devices to sync with their beloved iTunes application.

 

So, will I be buying an Apple TV set?  I very much doubt it – I think I’ll put my money into upgrading my Media Centre, expanding my NAS (Network Attached Storage), and streaming my media in my own open way.

#24Days: Social Media Addicts Association

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Just watched this on TechFluff.tv and laughed at the sad truth behind it, I think just about everyone knows that I don't get the "Facebook" thing (although I have been using it a little more recently), but I do absolutely adore Twitter (which is the reason why I've been using 'Faceback').

Anyways, the video you are about to watch is from the "Social Media Addicts Association", enjoy......

#24Days: Have Ferrari Signed Alonso?....

Saturday, August 22, 2009 Category : 0


Have Ferrari signed Fernando Alonso? It seems the entire F1 paddock has made their mind up that he is going to be driving for the Scuderia next season, but the Ferrari team remain tight lipped.

Of course, if Alonso has signed on the dotted line for Ferrari, then one of the two existing drivers will need to be stepped aside for next season. Felipe Massa, despite his accident still remains a favourite with the team and Michael Schumacher's continued belief in him - as well as last years Championship run to second place.

Which leaves Kimi Raikkonen. Prized away from McLaren in 2007 to replace the outgoing Schumacher, won the championship in his first season with the team in a nail biting final race, and then fizzled out through 2008 with a car that wasn't to his liking - Massa showing him up almost. This season its been a mixed bag - some sparkling moment of pure Kimi Iceman driving and then some not-so-sparkling moments. He's been driving a Fiat/Abarth Punto Sporting in a couple of Rally races this season....is he losing interest in single seaters?

With Santander (a Spanish company and Alonso's personal sponser at Renault and then later McLaren when his move was announced), signed up to sponser Ferrari next season, could this be the biggest indicator?

We shall find out at the traditional Ferrari driver announcement location of the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in a few weeks time. I await with great interest.

24Days: So That's Where My Online Time Goes....

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I've just read on TechCrunch about an MIT Project known as "The Personas Project" (click here to visit), and I just had to give it a whirl!

It's very basic, all you need to do is tap in your name and it goes and searches the web for all your different activities and attempts to create a profile about you from what it finds. Now, that's all very well if your a big internet user like myself, but even when I typed "Craig Butters" into the search engine, it created a 50/50 profile split between "sports" and "something else". 50% sports? Me? I don't think so!

The second time I used "craigbutters", after my Twitter account and this website, that brought up some much more interesting results:



As you can see though, a lot of my time is spent online, and my next biggest activity is "social", "news" and "Travel". I'm not quite sure where the "Travel" comes into it, but apparently it's pretty much up there. The rest is pretty standard stuff gleamed from my Twitter profile - interestingly though, the last category is "accident", which is presumably from my blogging of Mr Felipe Massa's Ferrari accident a few weeks ago and not some morbid facination or accident proneness I have developing!

#24Days: Ruben's Message And Badoer's Ferrari First....

Friday, August 21, 2009 Category : 0

I saw this earlier and just had to stick it up on a blog post.....


It's Rubens Barrichello's crash helmet for this weekends European Grand Prix. As you can see the top is styled in Felipe Massa's usual Brazilian green and yellow colours, with a special message to Felipe himself after his horrendous accident at the last race, in Hungary.

Luca Badoer - the long time Ferrari test driver - will be driving Massa's car this weekend after Schumacher's neck failed to heal following a motorbike racing accident earlier in the year. So far, in Free Practice, Badoer finished last three seconds off the pace and 18th in the second session 2.6 seconds off the pace, which shows just how hard it is coming into F1 midseason with the testing ban.

Also, Badoer has been issued with two speeding fines for going far too quickly in the pit lane. No doubt Ferrari will be picking up the tab this weekend! We'll find out tomorrow how well he qualifies and I'll be watching careful come race day - he has the full support of the Tifosi and we're not expecting miracles, but lets hope he brings the car home this weekend and the focus on points can begin in earnest at the next Grand Prix.

Forza Ferrari!

#24Days: Fancy A Coffee?….

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After my wireless difficulties yesterday, today is the day when I can now blog about one of my favourite subjects and something which I have been excited about ever since Wednesday afternoon; coffee.

 

I am an absolute lover of Starbuck’s coffees and will take just about any opportunity to call in and enjoy a coffee (always pure, black coffee – no milk, no sugar).  And on occasion, I buy myself a bag of coffee beans (which are really coffee seeds, not beans), to brew and enjoy at home.  For me, there is nothing as good as a freshly made coffee, from fresh beans.

 

At the moment, for example, I’ve been enjoying one of my absolute favourites from Guatemala a coffee known as “Casi Cielo”, which is a medium roast and has fruity undertones and a delicate flavour.  It really is a tasty coffee.  If it’s not Casi Cielo right now, I also have a half used bag of Sumatra, a strong, bold coffee to alternate between.

 

But on Wednesday, during my trip to York I stumbled upon a bag of coffee in Starbucks that I just had to buy; “Sulawesi Toraja”, and the reason I had to buy this coffee was that it was branded as a “Starbucks Black Apron Exclusives”.

 

Now, I wasn’t even aware that “Black Apron Exclusives” were available in the UK but I have read about them on the website before.  These “Black Apron” coffees are limited editions beans that have been sourced from a remote location and are only grown in small crops.  Inside of the box, the inscription reads as follows:

 

“Coffees that are the best of the exceptional

In our search for the world's finest coffees, we sometimes come across amazing finds in very limited supply.  Offered under the Black Apron Exclusives label, these are intriguing coffees meant for those who want to experience truly distinctive and exotic flavours, unavailable anywhere else.

Each Black Apron Exclusives offering tells a unique story about its origin, its flavour characteristics and the extraordinary efforts required to bring it to you.  They're extremely rare and special coffees, carefully cultivated by dedicated farmers whose pride in sharing them will be matched by your delight in discovering them.”

 

As a coffee drinker, I just had to buy; the price for a bag/box is slightly more than Starbuck’s traditional coffee beans at £8.95, but for exceptional taste, exceptional prices I guess.

 

Yesterday, I opened up the box and took out the bag of beans, taking a smell for the vent – delightful – behind the beans, was a card that describes the coffee.  It read as follows:

 

“Sulawesi’s coffee has been a Starbucks favourite since we opened our first store more than 35 years ago, at Seattle’s Pike Place Market.  Back then, you would have encountered a coffee with big, spicy notes and a smooth, elegant mouthfeel.

Today’s Sulawesi coffee possesses complex flavours, wonderful earthy notes and a full body.  While we love this cup, we wanted to experience the coffee’s classic taste once again.  So we returned to the orchid-shaped Indonesian island and began searching.

Nearly all of Sulawesi’s coffee is grown by small landholders whose limited harvests are blended with coffee from surrounded villages.  To find this treasured flavour, we needed to sample coffee from one village at a time.

In the market towns of Sapan and Minaga in northern Toraja, Sulawesi’s most acclaimed coffee-growing region, we discovered flavours we hadn’t tasted in years.  These coffees are picked, sorted and milled by hand to maintain quality and are delivered fresh to market the day after harvest.  The beans don’t just evoke the classic Sulawesi flavour; they define it.

By working with exporters to purchase freshly harvested coffee from small villages, we’re helping to ensure that this distinctive Sulawesi flavour will be available for generations to come.”

 

Carefully brewing a freshly ground cup of this exclusive coffee yesterday, I enjoyed every part of it, from carefully opening the bag and taking that first real smell of the beans – the smell was strong and vibrant and the bean was darker than some of the regular Starbucks beans I normally use.  Whirring them up in the grinder and taking another smell, the scene this time much stronger and somehow richer; I was looking forward to drinking this cup.

 

I’ve never brewed a coffee so carefully ever before, but somehow I knew that I had to take my time over this one, to get it right and not compromise the flavour.  After finally brewing a full cup, it was time for the taste test. 

 

My God it was good; exactly like advertised.  The big, spicy notes and the smooth, elegant feel – but not only that I could taste almost a smokey, charcoaly taste that underpinned the coffee in a good way.  The taste was delicious and well worth the extra money for this bag of coffee after only one mouthful.

 

As I’ve been writing this post, I’ve just enjoyed my second cup of Sulawesi Toraja and the experience has been just as delightful as the first. 

 

On the back of the small booklet that comes with the coffee is a description from a guy called Dub Hay, who is the “Chief Coffee Buyer” (and yes, I so want that job), that I’m also going to share with you;

 

“We had driven into the jungle for hours, crossing riverbeds and rice fields, hitting nearly every bump along the way.  The driver of the rusted Land Rover turned to me as we passed a thick bamboo forest and grinned.  ‘This is as far as I took the National Geographic people.’

I smiled back, wondering how much farther we would go.  Hours later, we stopped at a small market town in northern Toraja.  Children ran towards us, interested, no doubt, by the novelty of a vehicle and its passenger from the West.

It was market day and villagers displayed their goods.  Their voices sang like birds as I passed by their dried fish, spices and peppers.  I came upon a farmer with green coffee carried in fresh from his village.  This was what I had hoped to find-the flavour of a distinct village’s coffee.  Discoveries such as this inspired our latest offering, Sulawesi Toraja from Sulawesi, Indonesia”

 

Only when you read these descriptions do you really start to think about the incredible journey most of the coffee we drink comes from, especially these hand picked exclusives.  The beans are grown in small villages that depend on the success of these coffee crops and the unique tastes and flavours of their individual variety.

 

I could write so much more about coffee and perhaps one day I might, but for now….anyone fancy a cup?  Cos I’m off to brew one now – you can bet I’ll enjoy every last drop!

#24Days: Disconnected….

Thursday, August 20, 2009 Category : 0

Unfortunately, my promised post from yesterday on Starbucks has had to be postponed until tomorrow because today I’ve been suffering from a lack of wireless connection.

 

It seems just about everything could connect to my wireless router apart from my laptop and no matter what I tried, it just wouldn’t connect, much to my frustrations.  After a long day spent trying to get it to connect, I finally gave in to reinstalling Windows 7 on my laptop.

 

After doing so, hoping it would work, it failed yet again.  My laptop’s wireless card has failed once before and I was able to get it repaired under warranty, but as the warranty has now expired, that was off the table.  At this point I was so fed up, I decided to drive to my nearest PC World and purchase a Linksys USB Wireless-N adaptor just to get me back up and running.

 

After almost killing an unhelpful sales guy who was far too busy counting USB memory dongles than actually trying to help customers buy kit, I tracked down the adapter I wanted and proceeded to the checkout.  After what seemed like an eternity queuing up to pay for it, I was eventually out of the store and on my way home.

 

I opened the box and fired up the laptop – only to find that it has now decided to start working as normal again!  Bloody typical!

 

…at least I’m now reconnected with the world again and I now have a spare wireless dongle to fall back on if I ever do need it.  But what a day its been trying to get connect – I recommend it to no one, its no fun what so ever!

 

Until tomorrow….stay classy!

#24Days: The Beauty Of York…..

Wednesday, August 19, 2009 Category : 0

With a day of work on the horizon tomorrow, the only natural thing to do today was engage in some sort of day-out-activity.  And what better way than spending the day in the glorious City of York?

 

Anyone who knows me well will know just how much I love the City of York.  It’s an awesome City and it only gets better as the weather improves – and today, the weather did more than improve, it shined!  Driving towards York this morning, it was unclear just what the weather was going to do with blue sky on one side of the windscreen, and dark clouds out of the other side – I risked it and decided to leave my coat in the car today, and thank the lord I did, because as soon as I walked towards the Park & Ride bus, the sun shone!  I even went back to the car to get my sunglasses for the day it was that bright!

 

Of course, when the sun comes out, the beautiful people of York and all around head out too.  For the first time ever, I’ve had to queue and wait at the Park & Ride – didn’t make it onto the first, or the second bendy bus.  Made it to the third bus and I was on my way towards the City Centre in no time.

 

Sat on the bus, two old ladies – presumably one who lives close by and the other clearly visiting from somewhere further afield, gasped and amazed commented on the beauty of the outskirts of York.  The river, the surrounding green fields, the “cottages” (the town houses on the outskirts), the architecture…….I swear I could’ve followed them all day as they gushed over the wonders of York.  Just made me appreciate it all the more as I wandered the City today.

 

As is usually the tradition when arriving in York, I headed straight for the bookstores – Borders, then Waterstones – buying myself the book of today (this comes in handy later). 

 

Heading off to lunch at Nando’s for some tasty, tasty chicken (Mr G, I’ve now located Nando’s York you’ll be pleased to hear for our next visit and Plonkers isn’t offering their ‘half a chicken' special).  Followed by a Starbucks (more on this tomorrow).  A wander around the Shambles and around the rest of the shops – pure delight.

 

Finally the last thing on my list of things to do in York on a awesomely sunny day; you’ve got to go to the park to lay on the grass with the gorgeous people.  The sun shining down on you, the sound of the river rushing by in the background, the wonder of everyone being friendly and nice people (rather than the usual scum in our local park), and of course that book that I purchased earlier.  I promise you, I could sit there all day and just enjoy life given the choice. Tis absolute bliss.

 

Back on the Park & Ride and back to my car, with the roof down and the music on, stereo turned up loud, it was time to cruise home in the warmth of the sun – what a day! 

 

I love York!

#24Days: Becoming A Scripting Genius….

Tuesday, August 18, 2009 Category : 0

What a wonderful surprise! This morning a parcel arrived at my door – quite unexpectedly – and much to my surprise, when I opened said parcel a book that I pre-ordered a couple of weeks ago arrived…despite the publication date not being until the 20th August – making the delivery two whole days early…..

….which of course means that I’ve managed to get a two day head start on getting the book actually read! What has arrived then “PowerShell 2 for Dummies”, in the hope of me actually taking the time to learn something that might be of benefit.

For the uninitiated PowerShell is a scripting language designed to replace the command prompt (or DOS), but with added oomph! And it is my intention to learn a little bit of it within my #24Days holiday and when I return to work, become a scripting genius!

Of course by the time I get to the end of the book, there’s every chance that I won’t be a scripting genius, but hey, at least I’ll have given it a whirl.

More importantly though….I wonder what will arrive tomorrow from the postie?!

#24Days: Time For the Return Of.....

Monday, August 17, 2009 0

Since Friday when I wrote my first #24Days blog post, about the change to my life (the one about finally discovering the joys of breakfast), I’ve been whistling a tune that is very recognisable and yet at the same time slightly annoying, especially this morning as I switched on my TV. Let me explain….

For my breakfast post, I searched out an appropriate image and just so happened to stumble upon the coffee pot that featured on a very popular show (more on that in a moment and 5 points if you managed to recognise where it came from), and since then I’ve been pondering the state of breakfast television. This morning I switched my TV on to find “Breakfast News” on the BBC, “GMTV” on ITV and Big Brother repeats on Channel 4, followed by repeats of classic “F.R.I.E.N.D.S” episodes that are constantly repeated on their digital channel i4? T4? E4? Something like that!

What I couldn’t find was a light hearted breakfast show designed to wake up the nation and send you off to work with a bit of a spring in your step, feeling good about the day ahead. And the reason for that is because Channel 4 pulled the plug on “The Big Breakfast” (congratulations and 5 points for those that guessed correctly*), and despite trying to replace it with something called “RI:SE”, they failed spectacularly and then just gave up and put Comedy Central’s line up on instead.

Lets face it,they were always going to fail with “RI:SE”, even the name isn’t that good – but even more so because everyone had been spoilt by the BB. Surely everyone remembers a young Chris Evans and Gaby Roslin perched on brightly coloured chairs, against and equally brightly coloured set based at Lock Keepers Cottages? With such classic games as “Don’t phone in, its just for fun” as every advert approached? The bathroom where aliens Zig And Zag lived and entertained, trying to be kept under control by “Christopher”?

Later of course came one of the best double acts in Breakfast history as Johnny Vaughn and Denise Van Outen revived the show back to former glory after losing their way a little with the departure of Chris Evans (who went onto produce and star in “Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush”, a show that his production company “Ginger Productions” (who also had a hand in the Production of the BB at the time), sold off the format around the world and made Evan’s his millions). But getting back to the point, Johnny and Denise revived the show and millions more tuned in each morning to enjoy the “Wakey, Wakey, Rise and shine…” song sung at the end of each show and partake in “The Pun Down”, a look at the newspaper’s best pun headlines.

As with all good things, it came to an end and so did Channel 4’s attempt to take on Chris Evan’s Virgin Radio Breakfast Show and Zoe Ball’s Radio 1 Breakfast Show (who were having their own battle over the airwaves at the time). Today, there’s a new breakfast show war – the listeners of Chris Moyles on Radio 1 (I’m not a fan), and Sir Terrance of Wogan on the UK’s most popular radio station Radio 2. Hardly the most gripping of battles (although it could soon hot up with the rumoured return of Mr Evan’s take over from Sir Wogan on the Breakfast Show slot – if you’ve never heard a Chris Evan’s breakfast show, you’ll have no idea what I’m talking about).

But, if I were Channel 4 controller, I’d be thinking very carefully right now about how to revamp morning television – and you could easily forgive them for opening up Lock Keepers Cottages once more and trying to bring back The Big Breakfast, with two bright, cheery young presenters and of course the welcomed return of Messer's Zig and Zag.




*Points are unredeemable and have no alternative cash value.

#24Days: Sky Fail....

Sunday, August 16, 2009 Category : 0

What is up with Sky+? Two days in a row now, it has failed to record programmes I’ve marked as “Record”.

I’m a reasonable guy, and I’m technical enough to understand that beneath all those millions of lines of code that makes these devices work that sometimes things can go wrong from time to time – a glitch every now and again is almost inevitable – but two glitches in two days in a row to me sounds like a much deeper problem.

The Sky+ recording service is one of those services that they promote heavily; “the ability to watch what you want, when you want” is the attraction of the service and the reason why most people rely on the service to view the shows they want, at the times that are convenient to them.

When the record fails though, the service suddenly transforms from being very useful to very annoying and frustrating – especially when you’re really looking forward to watching said recording.

My question is why does Sky+ fail to record? The EPG (Electronic Programme Guide) knows when the shows are broadcast and the machines knows that it needs to record that programme – and yet – it doesn’t take a copy of that broadcast and store it on your hard disk. How difficult could it be?

I run Microsoft Media Centre and I can record shows in just the same way as Sky+, yet I never get a failed recording. It’s the exact same process, only one works every time. Don’t get me wrong, I do love Sky+ and the only thing I ask is that it records those items I mark as record……every time!

In the US the Hulu (on demand, online TV service), is revolutionising the way TV is watched online – much the same as the BBC iPlayer can be used here in the UK – only across a much larger selection of popular TV shows and channels. Sky has an online service too and I’ve managed to use it once to watch an episode of “Lost” on my computer, but after reinstalling my PC, it seems that you can’t reinstall the Sky Player on your computer without first calling up customer services to reset your account – because you can only install the player on one nominated PC.

Now I get that Sky need to protect their programmes and customers subscriptions and the ability to watch Sky on multiple machines could cause people to share their username and password with non-subscribed customers, but in a world where households have multiple computers and TV is naturally shifting online anyway, why haven’t they changed their model to allow one log on per household and allow that logon to only access its programme library from only one place; if that logon attempts to logon from somewhere else, the other connection is severed? Surely it can’t be that difficult to set up and it would make a whole lot more sense than having to nominate only one PC.

It would also allow for a Sky Player via a mobile phone device. Again, further strengthening Sky’s position in the online world, fending off the competition from sites such as YouTube and Hulu.

Perhaps I’m moving too fast – if they could just fix the “Failed” recordings that would do me fine!

#24Days: Be In Awe Of Web 2.0.....

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You want to know why I'm so in awe of "Web 2.0"? Of social media being the centre point for businesses moving forwards? Watch this video.......failure to not be inspired will be punished....

#24Days: IT Skills Shortage….

Saturday, August 15, 2009 Category : 0

Yesterday I read an article by Hermione Way regarding the lack of up take in IT courses in the young folk of today and the reasons why this is resulting in a bit of skills gap in the IT sector in the UK – you can read and watch her video on the subject here. 

 

I don’t know how true the report is – I’ve never seen any numbers on the amount of people signing up for IT courses – but assuming it is, then the UK could be in trouble when it comes to fulfilling the IT jobs market of the future.  And as Hermione’s article points out, the only way to get kids of today interested in IT is to make the subject more appealing in today’s schools.

 

….and its absolutely right, when I did IT as a subject in secondary school, using old Acorn Archimedes machines on what must have been the slowest network in the world, the subject wasn’t filled with fancy technology lessons, highlighting the future possibilities of computers and the internet or anything of any real use.  Instead we learnt how to word process and set up spreadsheets and desktop publishing.  Hardly the types of things that would attract kids to sign up to those courses.

 

It’s obvious to me then, that in order to attract kids into IT, the courses have to become much more interesting – and I believe it can easily be achieved, thanks to the internet and some great web 2.0.  Kids may not like studying IT subjects, but they sure as hell know how to use social networking in the form of Facebook, Twitter, Instant Messaging and email. 

 

Forget “ICT” (Information Communication Technology), as it’s known now, what schools need to do is rename and rebrand the subject as “IST” or “Information Social Technology” (ok maybe that’s not the best rebrand in the world, perhaps “Digital Social Networking Technology” is better? Perhaps the name is not important?), and instead base assignments and investigation work around the web movement and understanding of the user interactivity and design of sites/ethical use of these very sites.

 

Kids are already using these technologies, so why not use them as a baseline for creating courses based around these things?  Mix in some basic computer use; Word, Excel, Databases, Computer hardware and networking – but mainly tech the power of the web; search, connectivity, networking (socially), etc.

 

Additionally, because the web is non-gender specific the course should be able to appealing to both boys and girls.  Yes, removing the “geeky” image away from IT might be next to impossible, but there are non-geeks that work in IT too and by focusing early courses on something that appeals across the genders and to as many people as possible, the subject of IT can become popular within schools again and maybe, just maybe the skills shortage in IT won’t be nearly as bad as thought.

#24Days: The First Change....

Friday, August 14, 2009 Category : 0

Today is the first day of my extended 24-day holiday. And whilst I have this time (all but one day), to myself, I’ve decided that a change in some of my daily activities is in order.

As a pretty much daily TechCrunch reader, I’ve been reading with interest with their fascination with a company called “BluePrint” which is a juice cleanse available in New York, but fast expanding to the San Francisco area. I was first made aware of the cleanse from Sarah Lacy’s blog, after she claimed that after her frequent travelling and jet lag she would often get ill and needed a solution – the cleanse was the solution she found.

Since then, she’s persuaded others in the
TechCrunch office to also join in with the cleanse and the most sceptical of the bunch – a Mr Paul Carr – eventually admitted to feeling much better after his quota of the cleansing juice. At $85 a bottle, its not cheap though, and they don’t do International deliveries yet (I would seriously think about giving this a whirl if it were available in the UK – and the price was reasonable), and although I have no doubt I could scour the web looking for healthy juice mixtures and a decent juicer/blender, it wouldn’t quite have the same scientific approach to it as the BluePrint cleanse.

So, what changes do I plan to make for the next three weeks? Well, the most important one – and although I realise not a cleanse – is to start eating a healthy breakfast. Anyone who knows me knows that my morning weekday alarm is set for 6:30am sharp, and has been for years, from the time I used to deliver newspapers as a kid, through college, and starting work at 8am in Hartlepool and later in Sunderland. For whatever reason, even though for the past two years I’ve been working much closer to home, my 6:30am alarm has remained and I’m pretty confident that some mornings my natural body clock could wake me up at this time without the alarm at all (although in the interests of not running late, I’m not going to put this to the test!).

Being up so early and out the door an hour later to travel to work, I’ve never – since I was a kid – got into the routine of having breakfast. Skipping the most important meal of the day hasn’t been a good thing. Therefore, I’ve decided that during my 24 days holiday, I will be making the time to enjoy a bowl of “Special K with Red Berries” for breakfast.

This decision isn’t intended as a cleanse or as a diet, but it is intended as a positive step towards generally feeling better and seeing if it actually does make a difference to me (all of the evidence seems to suggest it will). I will certainly keep you posted over the next 24 days on any progress.

Right now though, I’m off out to pick up some milk. The holiday starts here!

Seeing Birthday Double?....

Monday, August 10, 2009 0

No, you are not seeing double, what you are looking at are two cards - each identical, except that they were sent to me by either of my Nanna's!

Both obviously know me well by picking a card featuring a laptop, a mobile phone, a MP3 player, some car keys and most importantly a cup of black coffee! Just about all of my favourite things on one card!

The Birthday Grinch

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It’s that time of year again – the time of year when I am transformed from my usual mild mannered self into “The Birthday Grinch”!

This is a strange phenomenon that occurs every August and is an unusual character trait for someone born under the star sign of Leo – us Leo’s normally like to be centre of attention – yet every 10th August over the last couple of years, I’ve hated the attention of being the “birthday boy”, my argument being I much prefer Christmas time (where everyone gets presents and attention lavished upon them in the act of giving and receiving), to Birthday time. And ever since my good friend, Mr Greenwood, has labelled me “The Birthday Grinch”.

The act of getting one year old doesn’t bother me in the slightest – it happens to us all and it is only ever a number. The number means nothing, it’s the experiences and time in between birthdays that needs to be considered most importantly.

But this year seems to be slightly different, I’ve actually taken the effort to book myself a day off from work (these last few years, my birthday has fallen on a weekend or during a summer holiday’s week period), and I’ve managed to keep the Grinch firmly well hidden – despite being rudely awoken on my day off, forgetting to cancel the alarm clock.

Whilst I have no big plans for the day, I did find myself opening up an parcel from Mr G to find an “American Office” box set to keep me busy. It seems like such a nice gift, but when you realise that he’s been trying constantly to get me to watch and my instance that I don’t find it funny – it seems his persistence has finally paid off and I will now be watching the first three series.

Under my bed for the past few months has been an unopened box, and within it, contained my birthday gift from my folks and I’ve resisted all this time from opening it. Today, I finally got to peel the sellotape from the box and open a rather posh, bound book on Ayrton Senna. This thing is absolutely stunning – full colour photographs on every page and just a delight to flick through and read. As a fan, it really does seem to be a must have item.

Just when I thought my day couldn’t get any better, I was then fast tracking it to the post office to pick up another gift (I’m a lucky boy), from my good friend Princess Laura. Arriving at the post office and handing over my “Sorry we couldn’t deliver” slip, a medium sized box was passed back to me – getting back to the car, I couldn’t contain my excitement and I opened it in the car. Much to my absolute delight, a “Ferrari F1 Racers LEGO” set!

I raced home, and upon reaching the living room and getting the box opened up, I spent a good hour building the pieces up and putting the tiny little stickers all over it. It has kept me busy and entertained and I love it. Haven’t quite decided where it’s long term home will be yet, but I’m sure I will find a place for it where I can dream and imagine all of those epic Ferrari on-track battles!

Has the Birthday Grinch left me forever? Who knows, it may return next year with vengeance, but this year it seems to have stayed well away from my celebratory day.

Speed Blur...

Saturday, August 1, 2009 1

I've always admired and loved those classic blurry photographs of F1 cars in full motion, they always convey so much of the speed and forward motion of the car. And so, with a bit of spare time on my hands and a very good teacher, I've been trying to master the blurry photograph shot!

And here are the results:

(Click for enlarged image)


Alright, in this particular case the Ferrari isn't moving at full speed (or an
ywhere near that), but it does depict the driving legend Michael Schumacher in full-on blur! I've been pleased with the results and just had to share them with you all!

Please leave you comments!

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