2016 in Review

A lot of people are cynical about the whole ‘year in review’ thing. After all, what is a year but just another way we divide up time, like hours, minutes and months?

Of course a year is not an just arbitrary measure. A year is the time it took for our planet to orbit the sun. Just consider that for a moment. Then consider than our sun is itself orbiting a black hole at the centre of our galaxy, which is itself spinning and drifting through intergalactic space. You may think you’re going back to the ‘same place’ when you return to a familiar spot on earth, but in actual fact no person has ever returned to the exact same point in the universe more than once. Isn’t that just a mind-blowing thought?

I digress, though I think it’s important for us not to forget about our place in the universe when looking back on our past, and considering our future.
So here are a few moments of 2016 that stood out for me, looking back on some of the experiences I had last year.

NY Parade
2016 started off in an unusual manner for me. Instead of waking up feeling dazed and hungover, I woke up feeling fresh and relaxed as I headed to London to see the New Year’s Day parade. It was the first time I’d seen it, and it was a really fun experience. How heartwarming it was to see all these people, some of whom had travelled a long way from across the globe, putting on a show for London. Topped off with some nice food and the fact that it didn’t rain, it was a fantastic day out. I would highly recommend going to the parade to see in the new year, as opposed to my usual style of drinking too much cheap Champaign and not really remembering any of it.

As January progressed I returned to visit a flat I’d seen just before Christmas with the intention of making an offer. It was a good size and a good price, although it was very close to a major motorway meaning noise from traffic could have been an issue, but I’m a realistic with these things and release you can’t have it all. There was a slight problem however. With it being a flat I knew there would be service charges and ground rent. I wanted to see what these were before I made an offer, as these could be an important part of my monthly budget. The estate agent couldn’t tell me, and weeks went by without them giving me any new information. I decided to take it upon myself to go to the block, and look through the main entrance in order to see if I could make out anything on the windows or noticeboards referencing a management company. Lo and behold, there was a leaflet with a phone number pinned to a notice board. I phoned the management company to ask them what their costs were and if they could tell me anything about the ground rent. The management company seemed surprised that the flat was even up for sale, as it was apparently reserved for a ‘Help to buy’ scheme where the purchaser only buys part of the property. This wasn’t what I wanted, and the estate agent disputed this. After about three weeks later I had a voicemail from the estate agent saying they had some ‘good news’ and that I should call them back. I didn’t. Something about this property and the fact that nobody else seemed to be putting in any offers smelt fishy. I’m glad I didn’t put that offer in now, as although it would have bend a good sized apartment, the commute to work would have been pretty crazy and the noise would have been unbearable. A lucky escape!

db3As I set off on my journey to work on the morning of the 10th January, I put the radio on to hear David Bowie’s “Heroes” playing. Being a natural cynic, I thought to myself how bloody typical, he’s just released a new album and they’re playing one of his oldies. Then the song faded out and the radio DJ gave a recap of the morning’s grave news: David Bowie had died aged 69. Unlike any celebrity death before it, this really struck a chord with me. I found myself actually grieving for someone I’d never met. I think that it was partly because his music had been a big part of my life growing up, and also that I distinctly remember seeing him on the Jonathan Ross show in the early 2000s. I worked out that back then (it seems like yesterday) he was the age that my Dad is now. Those 12 or so years went by so quickly. It brought home how brief life can be, and that’s even if you’re lucky enough to make it to 68.

As March rolled around I decided to make a big change in my life and move back home. I had been renting a room since I split with my girlfriend a year earlier, and although the room was pleasant and the house was very clean and tidy with good people as housemates, I knew that by moving back home I could save shedloads on rent and top up my savings with the hope of putting down a deposit on a nicer house, or even just reducing the amount I’d need to borrow on a half-decent house. Moving home after 4 years was weird at first, but after about a week it became routine. It’s amazing how quickly you fall back into old routines. I was blessed to have family who live so close and who had room for me.

Barcelona
What’s the first thing I did having moved back home, with a lot more disposable income burning a hole in my pocket? Book a holiday of course! I was originally intending to do a bit of solo-traveling, but when I told a friend I mine that I was thinking of going to Barcelona, he said he’d come too. It was my first visit to Spain, and based on my experience of Barcelona I think it’s a beautiful country. So much culture and great architecture in such a short square mileage. I’d definitely like to go back again sometime soon. Highlights include exploring the seafront, the art galleries and touring the Nou Camp.

Manic Street Preachers in Swansea
As May drew to a close and the beginnings of summer could be smelt around the corner, I took a trip to Swansea to see the Manic Street Preachers at the Liberty Stadium. The Manics are my favourite band, and this was like a mini-festival exclusively for die-hard fans of the band. It was here that I got into Public Service Broadcasting who were the first support act. I’d seen them back in 2013 also supporting the Manics, but it wasn’t until this gig that I fully appreciated their music. The next support act were the Super Furry Animals, who to be honest I don’t care much for, but they’re a decent enough warmup act. Finally the Manics came on and played their colossal 1996 album “Everything Must Go” – it’s crazy to think that it’s 20 years old now. It was here that my brother asked me to be his best man for his wedding next year. A great night, with a festival like atmosphere, despite the rain.

Connected Podcast Meetup in London
At the beginning of June I went to a Podcast meet up in London. It was great to meet Federico Viticci from the Connected podcast, as well as chat to other listeners of the show. Not many of my friends share my interest in technology so it was good to be able to fully geek out while enjoying a few beers and some food.

10kThe summer was pretty quiet for me. Still focusing on my saving and having already been away to Spain back in the spring, I wasn’t planning on going on holiday again. I did get convinced into running a 10K run at work, however. I’m really glad I did as it was a lot of fun and has definitely whet my appetite for taking part future events. Until then I’d been focused on running as a solo activity. Even now I enjoy the ‘me time’ that I get with running, but running with other people and with people cheering me on from the sidelines was a cool experience and one I’ll hope to repeat. Who knows, maybe a half marathon could be on the cards in 2017?

In the last week of August I put an offer in on a flat I’d seen and to my amazement it was accepted. This one felt right in a way that the first one didn’t. It was in a semi-rural location (By that I mean quiet, surrounded by lots of trees and single-track country roads, but it’s half a mile from a train station and it still has fibre broadband.) and has a garden and a garage. The commute was going to be an extra fifteen minutes into work, but that’s a small price for living in a good location (When your neighbour’s car looks like it might have cost half the value of your house, you know it’s a pretty decent area!). Unfortunately being a leasehold the mortgage agreement took absolutely ages to go through. I waited with baited breath.

santa-cruz
While taking a week off on the Isle of Wight (My parents have a place there so it’s a pretty cheap week away.) I received a text message from my boss asking if I’d be free to go to Santa Cruz for a few days in a in two weeks time in order to take meetings with clients. Obviously I didn’t have to think much about the answer to that one. I was lucky enough to be able to tack on a few days holiday before the business meetings, and stayed up in San Francisco for four days. I really love the States, especially California so I was not going to let any chance to visit again go by. The meetings were a success and Santa Cruz was a beautiful as everyone had told me it was. It felt more like California I know from Beach Boys songs than San Francisco or Los Angeles, with the prominent surfing culture and the frequent smell of weed! San Francisco was equally as exciting, such a great vibe down on the bay-front. Although it’s full of English people. I sat down at a bar in a diner and to my left was a bloke from the same town as me int the UK (he’d even done the same 10K I’d done a few weeks earlier), and to his left (but not with him) was a British girl who lived about 60 miles north of where I live. What a crazy small world it is.
Apple Watch Series 2
As October began I’d still not made any progress with the mortgage offer – it seems mortgage companies are in a unique position of power. There’s not a lot of market forces driving them to offer a good service, as people are just going to go with the best rate. Not having bought any new technology this year so far, I splashed out on a new Apple Watch Series 2. Better to make the most of not having a mortgage while I can, I told myself. The original version had become my favourite gadget. I find the idea of a smart watch so much more compelling than a phone. A computer that’s always on, and always on me. The new model was properly waterproof and can measure swims, it also has a markedly better battery life. I went for the stainless steal model this time, as I think it looks classier, i was wiling to pay the extra this time as I now know that it’s money well spent. When I bought the original model last year I wasn’t sure if it would be that useful so I just went for the cheapest version. It should last me at least 2 or 3 years if I look after it. Unless Apple release one that has cellular connectivity, I really can’t see a reason to upgrade again any time soon. Overall I’m super impressed, I just wish it could work without a phone so I could have my watch on me at all times for communication needs, and just use an iPad when I need to do something more complex.

Towards the end of the month I went to see the Duke Spirit in London, another of my favourite bands. Being a London based ‘art rock’ band the crowd were quite a bit different to what I’ve come to expect at Manics gigs – not much in the way of a mosh pit, but still great music and some good support acts too.

robot_aiNovember was also pretty quiet for me. Apart from regular calls to nag my mortgage broker of course.  I found my work getting more interesting. Working with the latest craze in tech, ‘Artificial Intelligence’, otherwise known as Machine Learning: The ability to use clever probability mathematics to make computers do human-like things such as image recognition and language translation. Some say it’s nothing more than brute force statistics, no different to a weather forecast. Others think it really is the key to inventing machine intelligence. Whatever you call it, I think it’s reached a point where the Internet was in 1998. Nearly every startup for the next 15 years will be taking an idea and applying machine learning to it, just as they have done with the Internet during the past 15 years. It’s super cool, but also a but scary. Bus drivers, airline pilots, lorry drivers (to name a few) will likely loose their jobs to machine learning algorithms during the next 15 – 20 years, if the technology continues to progress at the rate it is now. Does this pose an existential question to our consumer-based society? With fewer jobs, how does anyone earn any money to pay for those automatised taxis? Or will the AI revolution, like the industrial revolution before it, create a multitude of new jobs we can’t even begin to imagine today? I’ve no idea, but I do know it’s an exciting time to be working in the tech industry.

As the year drew to a close, I finally completed on my flat purchase. I’m still using an upside down cardboard box as my coffee table, but I have all the basics: A fridge, a cooker and Internet access. I’ve never lived alone before but I’m actually quite enjoying it.

Overall I feel that 2016 was a transition year for me personally. I moved on from some old friendships, formed new ones, and moved into a new home. I feel I’ve gown as a person more than any other year. I realise I’ve been incredibly lucky to have visited some cool places and purchased my own flat. That said, I’m a strong believer that what you own, or the destinations you’ve visited is not a measure of success or happiness. Having good friends and family coupled with good health are all that really matters, the rest is just a nice bonus. A technique I’m going to try for next year is to write an idealised version of 2017’s review before 2017 starts, and then try and make all the things I want to do actually happen.

Congratulations on making it to the end of this article, wishing you Happy New Year!

iPhone SE

I did it. I bought a an iPhone SE. Not just any old iPhone SE, a Rose Gold one.

Why this madness?

iPhone SE, Rose Gold
iPhone SE, Rose Gold

The last phone I bought was an iPhone 5 back in December 2012. I was pleased with the phone and only gave it up last November when I decided to start using my company issued iPhone 6 as my main phone. The reason for switching was mainly because its ageing A6 processor was beginning to start showing its age, and the lack of M-series motion co-processor meant any motion tracking applications needed to keep the entire phone awake when in use, so battery life wasn’t that great for me. The iPhone 6 also has a much better camera. I’d refrained form upgrading my personal phone for so long because the iPhone 6 and the 6S did nothing for me – they don’t look particularly good, and they’re way too expensive for anything but the 16GB model, which I would not recommend to anyone but my worst enemy.

Modern processor niceties aside, I wasn’t too happy with the size of the iPhone 6. It was awkward to use with one hand, and impossible to put in a pocket while running – I needed to strap it to my arm instead. So when Apple announced the iPhone SE a few weeks ago, I knew this was the phone for me. The classic, beautiful iPhone 5 design and more importantly a usable size, but with the far superior camera and processing smarts of the iPhone 6S. I feel like this is a product Apple made just for me.

Upon going back to the smaller size everything felt so much nicer. The phone just sits in the hand much more naturally, and I can reach any part of the screen without using two hands or performing a balancing act in order not to drop it. There is also something particularly cool about using such powerful applications as Pixelmator, iMovie and Numbers on a 4 inch screen – there is a certain elegance in making an app that can do so much with such little screen real estate.

I went for the 64GB mode, which makes this the first iPhone I’ve ever owned with more than16GB of storage space. What a difference it makes. 16GB was fine back in 2009 when I had a 3GS, but in 2012 it made no sense, and it’s worrying that Apple still sells them. I can for the first time actually install apps without needing to delete something else first. Before I had to consciously keep applications installed to a minimum, in order that I could have 2 albums downloaded (for running) and space ready to take photos (usually 500MB or so). Now I don’t have to worry, and I can even install games. If anything, the storage upgrade is more significant than the superior processor and camera.

Finally I went for Rose Gold – why? I just felt like a change. I’ve always had the black iPhone, and Rose Gold was this year’s “new colour”. People can joke that it’s a girly colour, but honestly, I’m confident enough with my own masculinity to use a pink phone and not give a damn what anyone else thinks.

Overall I think it’s a brilliant upgrade over the iPhone 6. More usable, nicer camera and much faster. It is missing the barometer (sad face) and the front-facing camera isn’t as good, but that’s a small compromise, there’a also no camera bump.

The future of commerce is so close

A couple of months ago Apple Pay was finally enabled for my bank account and credit card, which meant I was finally able to pay for things by either placing my phone on the card reader, or by bashing my watch against it instead.

I look forward to a day when I can leave the house with nothing in my pockets – my watch will have a cellular radio and be capable of keeping me in contact with the people that matter, so too will it allow me to unlock my car/house, in addition to letting me pay for things. While the first two in that list might be a few years away (decades at the rate I upgrade cars), my watch can actually make payments today, how cool is that?

The reality is somewhat less cool. The problem is the payment limit. Since Apple Pay uses the existing 'Contactless' payment systems, it's also hampered by the same £20 limit. While this limit makes sense with a contactless debit card (there is zero authentication), both the Apple Watch and iPhone are secure; the iPhone asks for your fingerprint, and the watch asks for a PIN when you first put it on, as long as it says in contact with your wrist it is authorised for Apple Pay.

This authentication is also a hindrance – why would I fiddle about trying to get my phone to detect my fingerprint (while everyone in the queue is staring at me) or roll three layers of sleeve up to try and get my watch to be recognised when I can whip out my wallet and tap my debit card? The key point is that I still have to have my wallet on me in case the shop in question doesn't support contactless, or the amount comes to over £20. Don't get me wrong, Apple Pay is much better than entering a PIN, it's just not as fast as tapping your card.

So what needs to happen? I'd like to see the limit raise for Apple Pay purchases to something more reasonable, most cash machines allow you to take out £300 in a day, so why not the same for an arguably more secure system such as Apple Pay, while keeping existing contactless limits where they are of course

Google Photos

Google announced a new service recently called 'Google Photos', and I was instantly intrigued. I don't use many Google services apart from search, but keeping memories safe is top of my priorities when it comes to online services.

I currently use OneDrive (and before that, Dropbox) to backup photos and was thinking of using Apple's iCloud Photo Library in addition to this. I like the idea of having every photo I've ever taken (in recent memory at least) available from the photo picker in iOS, and on my Mac. However from what I've heard in reviews, doing this slows down iOS devices (I have an iPhone 5, which not being the latest device from Apple means it's inevitably slowed down anyway) and I also want more control over what gets stored on my device. Apple may make nice looking products, but when it comes to storage they are stingy as hell, and my phone is forever warning me that I'm running low on space. I tried iCloud Photos for a few months and found it didn't save space on my phone as promised, I still ended up with the majority of space on my phone used by the photos I'd taken. It's also not cheap – you get 5GB 'free' from Apple – no matter how many devices you own. So me, with an iPhone, 2 iPads (home and work), as well as a Mac get the same as someone with just an iPod Touch. Out of this 5GB comes any backups you make (which is the majority in my experience), any emails you receive to your iCloud email account, and of course any photos you upload to iCloud Photos. Buying more space is expensive considering you've already paid a premium for the hardware in the first place.

So a combination of being expensive and not that good made me decide to stick with OneDrive (despite the fact it can be buggy, it's at least cross platform and a good price, you get 1TB of space and Microsoft Office for less than £10 a month). Then Google announced Google Photos….

Screen Shot 2015-06-07 at 08.24.25

With any Google product there are two things you need to consider: How long will it last before they shut it down, and what are they doing with my data?

I hope this product lasts, and doesn't go the way of Google Buzz, Reader, Notebook, iGoogle or Latitude (and Google+ ?). With Google, you never know. That's a big risk when you're trusting it with your lifelong memories. Luckily it's free (if you are happy for all images to be down-sampled to a maximum of 16 megapixels – my camera is nowhere near that resolution, so I am) so I would urge anyone using it to also use a service like Dropbox or OneDrive who have a better reputation when it comes to shuttering services.

What are they doing with the data? I've no doubt the GPS coordinates tagged inside every photo will be extremely useful to Google for targeting me with adverts. It's basically my location history. I'm fine with this really.

The app itself is very well written. If you have 3000+ photos to upload like me, then you'll want to download the helper application that will sit in the background and upload instead of using the browser interface. The web interface scrolls very smoothly and makes it easy to go back a decade without trying to load everything in-between. Unlike the OneDrive web interface, it correclty uses the EXIF data in images to pull out the date, rather than the file's timestamp. In OneDrive it looks like I took all my photos in March 2015, because that's when I copied them accross from Dropbox. Google Photos isn't so stupid, thankfully. Like Apple's iCloud Photos, you can make edits from within the Google Photos interface. Apple's approach cleverly stores what you changed in a photo, as opposed to the end result. This means you can adjust the brightness on one your phone, but undo it and add a filter on your laptop without any loss in quality (it doesn't create a losssy JPEG each time). I'm not sure if Google is doing something simular, but it wouldn't supprise me.

So all in all, I am impressed – I'm just worried it will be switched off in 4 years when Google get bored of it.

 

Outlook for iPad

Last month Microsoft released Outlook for iPad (based on Acompli, an app it has previously purchased). Since the company I work for uses Exchange 2013, I was able to take advantage of this and try it out. The interface is a breath of fresh air for anyone, like me who is stuck using Outlook 2013’s confusing and dated interface. My favourite feature is the ‘Focused’ inbox with automatically shows you a view of messages deemed important. Newsletters, alerts and other noise are quietly hidden away so you only get to see emails from real people. The ‘other’ inbox is only a swipe away, and the focused view is only that, a view; so it won’t have any effect on your desktop email view. This is surprisingly accurate and didn’t require much training. Replying and managing email is pleasant, with the ability to swipe to archive or flag email quickly.

Outside of the corporate word, the app supports Outlook.com, Gmail and other well-known email providers. I like to keep work and personal email separate, so I haven’t tried these.

 

Attachments

Another surprising feature of Outlook for iPad is the ability to connect to cloud services such as Dropbox and Google Drive 1. A lot of network administrators will loose sleep over this, but ultimately it’s a step forward – especially for users of Office 365 who will be able to access all of their ‘OneDrive for Business’ files and attach them to emails wherever they happen to be.

A week point however is the lack of a system extension, so it’s not possible to share a link from Safari to Outlook, or send and document directly from Word for iPad. I’m sure this is on the way, but I do think it should have been included in the initial version.

 

Calendar

The calendar seems quite basic. It doesn’t seem to do a great job of letting me see other invitees ‘free/busy’ information (the main benefit of using the desktop version of Outlook), but it’s serviceable for a version 1.0 release. It’s quite buggy, for example, I tried to update an appointment start and end date, but it just didn’t work. No crash, no error message, it just didn’t do anything. I’m sure Microsoft’s latest purchase, Sunrise indicates Microsoft is putting some thought into its calendaring strategy, and so major improvements should be on the way. I’m not sure about the unified app approach – I’ve always wished Outlook on the PC were separate applications instead of one big conglomerate (especially since it’s still full of model dialog boxes! I digress…) – separate apps seems especially fitting for iOS, and I can only think it’s a branding decision to go with one big ‘Outlook’ app on iOS.

 

Security Concerns?

The first release had no security requirements at all, so if your system administrator had mandated users have a passcode on their device, Outlook would ignore it. This has been resolved, though unfortunately it requires you set a PIN at a system level on the device, rather than just for the app (as had been the case with the pervious OWA app). I liked the fact I could have more lax security on my personal device (e.g. ‘Ask me for a PIN after 1 hour’) while the app could be much more strict (‘ask me for a pin after 5 minutes’) – this worked in the old OWA app, but not anymore; which is a major disappointment. Some system administrators might lament the fact the then app will store your emails on Amazon’s AWS servers (soon to be Azure, I have to believe), but it does allow the app to do lots of cloud processing that ultimately benefits users. The fact that Microsoft just released the app without any warning and a way to block the app is probably the bigger concern in my views, as I can understand organisations who have various security practises (ISO et al) not being very happy about being caught off-guard like this.

 

Conclusion

Overall, Outlook for iPad solidifies the iPad as a tool for business and makes me think that one day, many users will be able to use an iPad (or similar device) exclusively at work.

It’s missing some key features at the moment (you can’t set your ‘Out of Office’), but I’m certain they will come in time. The bigger question is whether tablet-devices will ever replace traditional PCs in the workplace. This is probably the subject of a future blog post, but with Outlook, Office and the cloud it’s becoming an increasing possibility. I personally use Outlook for iPad as more of a sidekick device than a laptop replacement, but then my job does involve using a lot of traditional desktop software such as Visual Studio, or macro-enabled spreadsheets. That said, for many enterprise users, an iPad with a decent hardware keyboard is now a viable alternative, if not for the small screen size.

 

 

 

1. Great to see Microsoft embracing interoperability, in contrast to Google, who refuse to support Windows Phone.

The Nifty MiniDrive

As anyone who owns a MacBook air will know, these amazing laptops fall down in one key area – storage capacity. Of course you’re free to plug in an external hard drive to get extra space, which with USB 3 will be super snappy. External hard drives are a bit clucky however, especially when you want a laptop to be portable and easy to use say, on you lap.

Luckily, the 13 inch MacBook Air models have an SD card slot, so it is possible to add in an SD card and gain additional storage that’s easily portable. The problem with most SD cards is they extrude from the side of the laptop – meaning anyone who leaves a card in all the time is likely to damage or loose it.

Enter the Nifty MiniDrive

Photo 17-05-2014 12 08 25

The Nifty MiniDrive looks great when inserted into my 2013 MacBook Air

The nifty MiniDrive promises to solve this problem by offering a microSD adapter that fits into the SD card slot. Unlike a normal SD card, it sits flush with the edge of the MacBook. What a brilliant idea. For £76.87 was able to increase the storage on my MacBook by 50% by ordering the Nifty adapter along with a 64GB microSD card – a bargain right? It depends…

Really slow

When I tried to move my 20GB iPhoto library on to the drive, iPhoto crawled to a halt and was unusable. I’m pretty tech savvy and so I of course took this on as a challenge and spent quite a lot of time trying to solve this; by rebuilding photo thumbnails, repairing permissions, making sure the drive was formatted HFS+, and even rebuilding my library from scratch. In the end I came to the conclusion that the microSD card supplied was simply not up to the job.

Battery Life

One of the best features of the MacBook Air is the ability to leave it in sleep mode for days on end without the battery draining much. I noticed after I’d started using the MiniDrive that my battery seemed to go down a lot while it was in sleep mode. After some digging, I discovered that Mac OS X will put the laptop into a “deep sleep” mode (similar to Hibernate on Windows) after a few hours in normal sleep to save on battery life. The problem I found is that Mac OS X will never do this if an SD card is inserted. That means standby time is significantly reduced when the Nifty MiniDrive left in, and the while point of the Nifty MiniDrive is that you leave it in. I must stress this is not the fault of the Nifty MiniDrive (any SD card will cause this to occur) but I was surprised to see it wasn’t mentioned on their FAQ page, as it could be a problem for some people.

So what’s it good for?

iTunes and Steam

I found it was quick enough to store my iTunes library on, and Steam had no trouble storing and loading games on it. Team Fortress 2 ran absolutely fine from the Nifty MiniDrive. For anyone with a MacBook bursting at the seams with games and music, the MiniDrive is probably worth getting. You could also theoretically move your Dropbox or OneDrive folders onto the drive.

Backups

Another often quoted use of the Nifty MiniDrive is as a Time Machine backup drive. This can work well in theory if you want to make use of Time Machine’s versioning features, but as a total backup solution, having your backup inside your laptop at all times means if your laptop gets lost or stolen then so does your backup, so for me this was a non-starter.

Worth buying?

So would I recommend the Nifty Minidrive? My answer is yes if you’re aware of it’s limitations. For people who routinely shutdown their Macs instead of using sleep, they shouldn’t notice any big changes in battery life. If you need to store large, rarely used files then you shouldn’t notice the performance issues either. Hopefully the next version of OS X will iron out the battery life issues, and faster microSD cards will be released in the future, making it a good investment.

24 Season 8

24 seasons a DVD cover

 

 

I've been a long time fan of the TV show '24' and back in April I finally got round to watching the final season, season 8 as it became available on Netflix. I've got the rest of the series on DVD but had been waiting for the price on iTunes to drop below £20 – so I was very thankful when all 8 seasons appeared on Netflix.

 

For those of you who don't know by now, the premise of the show is that it follows Jack Bauer a federal agent over 24 hours, in real time. I've never been disappointed by a season of 24, although by about season 6 it did seem like it was starting to repeat itself. Season 7 added something new to the mix by moving the show out of Los Angeles and into Washington and so I was quite looking forward to season 8. Spoiler alert: Seeing terrorists raid the Whitehouse was a truly shocking moment (especially for fans of 'The West Wing')

 

This time we get a day in New York City. It starts with Jack Bauer sitting at home with his Granddaughter. Quickly events unfold that require Jack to return to action. The first 10 – 16 hours of this show were good TV, very good. However the final 8 episodes were AMAZING TV, adrenaline filled suspense with just enough intelligence to pass itself off.

 

After I watched Homeland I feared I'd find 24 outdated, and in some respects it did – the over-the-top set design of CTU, the inevitable mole, the fact that dramatic events only ever seem to happen at 55 minutes past the hour – however I was very impressed with this season, and I'm so glad that 24 is to return for a 9th season, albeit for only 12 episodes. The last 5 minutes were almost tear-jerking.

 

So if you have Netflix, block out a week in your schedule and catchup on this brilliant show.

 

Kindle Paperwhite

I decided to upgrade my Kindle Keyboard to the new Kindle Paperwhite. I wouldn’t usually upgrade such a device so soon (2 years after buying it) but my girlfriend was thinking of buying the basic £69 Kindle, so I used that as an excuse to let her have my old one, so I could try out the new one with the light 🙂

My first impression is that the lighted screen is beautiful to read from, and will make it easy to read in pitch-darkness. That’s the real benefit here, whether in bed at night or outside in the sun the screen just looks great. You may read reviews complaining about some unevenness in the lighting along the bottom of the screen, yes I noticed that but it’s really not an issue at all, since that part of the screen only shows your progress information anyway, not text from the book.

Unfortunately the touch screen is a major step backwards in page turning, instead of 2 large buttons on each side of the device for backwards and forwards, there’s an invisible grid on the screen tap over to the far left to go back, tap in the middle to right to go forwards, and at the top to bring up the menu. It feels clumsy and makes this device stop short of being the perfect reading device. The touch screen does make the virtual keyboard easy to use, so buying books is much easier. However I spend about 0.0001% of my time on the Kindle inputting text so I’d be happy do to without that. I often find myself getting lost in a book because I mistakenly went forwards instead of back.

So I’m mixed about this one. Great screen, but missing physical buttons. I guess Amazon need to save something back to make people upgrade again next year? 😉

Goodbye HTC Desire S, Hello iPhone

Did you read that right? Yes I posted to this blog in 2010 when I replaced my old iPhone 3GS with HTC’s Desire S. and 2 years before that when I replaced my Nokia N95 with the iPhone.

At the time of getting my Android phone I wasn’t too happy about the state of the iOS ecosystem. Apple was banning apps left right and enter, and the iPhone 4 didn’t excite me much. I took the plunge and switched to Android, and was immediately pleased with what I got. Over time however I came to regret that decision. What I took for granted in iOS was missing from Android – quality.

Quality is a difficult concept to describe. We all know it when we see it, but it isn’t always obvious to see when you’re looking for it. In the case of my HTC Desire S, quality means the small details in the user interface that you would never notice until you have to do without – take for example making a phone call to someone who isn’t available, I’d go to my recent contacts list (3rd in the list), tap their name, and wait while it rings. After 20 seconds it would hit voicemail. This was an urgent call, so I wanted to call back straight away. I hit ‘Hangup’ and went back to the recent call list, thinking to tap the name – still 3rd in the list. Just as I tap it however, it moved from 3rd in the list to 1st, and I end up calling someone else instead. The phone was just slow. It may have been dual-core compared to my single-core iPhone 3GS, but that comparison is like sitting a motorbike and a lorry next to each other with the same engine, and expecting them to hit 60 at the same time.

Then there was the lack of updates – it took a year for me to get Android 4.0 and when I  finally did it was through a HTC developers site (and made the phone even slower).

The on-board software was buggy and confusing. There seemed to be 2 of everything. A HTC Twitter app, the official Twitter app. A HTC mail client, and GMail, HTC Facebook and well, you get it. On the other hand with iOS you get minimalistic software that actually does useful stuff.

It wasn’t all bad of course, as by original blog post stated. You do get a lot more freedom, but I found myself not caring since Apple seems to be far more reasonable these days when it comes to App Store Approval (and I actually quite like the fact that Apps can’t take over system functions so easily).

So, I am glad to be back Smile