Awesome awesome Christmas spoon rest

My friend Linda is a dab hand with making clay things, she in the past has made me a wonderful Christmas tree ornament and a house-warming gift too! This year for my Christmas present she asked what I wanted and I said I still needed a spoon rest for utensils while cooking. Well, that set her mind off into creative land and a few months later a combined washable stainless steel spoon rest and a custom made base for it! She took the colours in my kitchen following some photos from me and knows I am a bit of a peanuts/snoopy fanatic so that is what inspired the design. I absolutely love it!!!! Thank you Linda.

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Google Chromecast!

The device

The device

Today Google launched their chromecast device in the UK. I’ve been wanting one of these since they launched in the US in July 2013. I was tempted to import one when they first came out but I ended up waiting and as it was released today I popped down to Currys and bought one.

Upon getting the device out of the box the first thing I noticed was the weight. Honestly I expected something plastic and light feeling but I was pleasantly surprised to find it has a lovely matt finish, feels really solidly built and has a nice weight to it, one that makes it feel quite premium. Obviously as this will be plugged into a TV 100% of the time aesthetics are not an important feature but Google have done well here with the design and made it look and feel very nice indeed.

On with the set-up, currently at home I use Plex Media Server to run all my media at home. Plex works with my PC, phone, tablet, and PS3 quite nicely. It also now fully supports chromecast so in buying this I was quite hopeful of a nice simple way to stream all my media to my TV (the PS3 works well enough but isn’t fantastic in terms of interface). Additionally my android podcast manager works with chromecast too now so I am looking forward to being able to use that to stream my video podcasts onto a bigger screen.

Once out of the box it really was as simple as plugging the device into the TV and a USB port (or plug socket if you don’t have a USB port) and changing the channel. The first thing you will see is the Get started screen which tells you to go to http://www.chromecast.com/setup page. You can go to this page from a laptop, tablet or phone and it will direct to the appropriate app store. From there I downloaded the chromecast app for android to my phone and upon opening the app it discovered the chromecast device and said it needed setting up. The phone then made an ad-hoc wireless connection with the chromecast and asked you to input the password for your WiFi.

After doing that I assume it sends the connection details to the chromecast and instructs it to connect to the WiFi network and wait for communication from the phone, when mine did this I got the “connecting” screen (see gallery below) and at that point my phone had some trouble connecting back to my home WiFi network. I believe this to be the fault of my ISP supplied broadband router which appears to be a bit temperamental when it comes to disconnecting and reconnecting. The chromecast meanwhile just sat on the “connecting” screen and after a couple of retries on the app on the phone it eventually established a connection over my home WiFi connection to the chromecast.

After that it instantly went to an updating screen. downloaded the latest firmware for the device and installed it, the process took a couple of minutes in total and once complete and the device had rebooted it presented me with the “Ready To Stream” screen. The chromecast app on my phone offered me a button to learn more about chromecast but that was all so I closed the app and loaded up the Android YouTube app, instantly it told me I now had a chromecast button and so after searching for some appropriate content I pressed the cast button. It asked me which device I wanted to cast to (from a list of one) and after selecting that device the TV started playing the video. It really is as simple as that, use any of the supported apps and you will find a cast button which allows you to stream the content. From a PC you can stream an entire webpage too so pages such as Vimeo which do not yet have a dedicated app for chromecast can be streamed direct to the device from a web browser.

For me the biggest thing was the Plex integration, the Plex Android app is already very good and that continues to work in the same way, now there is simply a button to send the content to the chromecast instead of playing it on the phone. This makes watching local media very easy on a TV, however there is one caveat, the local media needs to be on a server device such as Plex (or other media servers as support grows). Currently there is no way (that I have found) of streaming media stored directly on a phone or tablet to the chromecast. The same goes with music, use Google Play Music to stream songs from their online catalogue and you are fine, but try to stream an MP3 that is stored on the phone and it says it cannot stream side-loaded content. The same went for my podcast manager (Beyond Pod), while it downloads the video podcasts to my phone and stores them, if I choose to cast an episode to my chromecast it is actually streaming the content from the originating site, not from the video stored on the phone. While that is not a major problem it is one that I think needs addressing in due course. The Google Movies app it should be noted worked very nicely too but again a downloaded movie can’t be streamed it just streams it over the internet.

Other things I noticed about the chromecast, once connected to a WiFi network, anyone can use the chromecast app to stream something to that device without any sort of permission or authentication (barring the authentication of the WiFi network). I can see why that has its advantages but I feel that there should be some way to make the device private to a person, for example, I now have the device setup in my bedroom on one of my computer monitors which means I can easily watch YouTube or a movie from my bed, however should one of my two house mates be so inclined they could simply load the chromecast app and send whatever content they want to my device in my room mid movie and I am powerless to stop that. There are ways around this by fiddling around with the wireless network and such but those ways wouldn’t really be possible to the average user with an average broadband router (we have a secondary ASUS RT-N16 which would offer a simple solution to make the chromecast private).

Secondly the content seems to have to stream through the sending device, so using iPlayer to watch say, an episode of Top Gear I can see that the data is going through the phone and then to the chromecast. It does not simply send the URL of the media to be streamed and leave the chromecast to do it, the phone downloads the content and then sends it on to the chromecast. I can do other things on the phone I can even play a game, or just switch the screen off and put the phone down but there is always an app running and sending/receiving data. This obviously will have an effect on battery life, though in the few hours testing I have done I was surprised how little it seemed to affect it.

Lastly for the moment, the device does not seem to have a standby setting, after a time of inactivity it regresses to a slideshow of photos with the time in the bottom right corner, however I would like it to power off after a further period, as it is plugged into my PC monitor (which I appreciate is not specifically what the device is designed to be plugged into) to have the slideshow going round means my monitor never enters standby mode. If the chromecast had a standby mode this would resolve that issue, but again the chromecast is designed to be attached to a TV with a remote that means it can just be switched off when needed.

Overall, for £30 it is a fantastic device, it works simply and effectively and as more and more apps come online and as the firmware gets updated to support more and more things this device will continue to be a little cracker. Even if you just want to watch Netflix, YouTube or iPlayer on your TV for that price you won’t find a better solution and dare I say for triple the price you won’t find a better solution.

I’ll be back in a week or so once I have used it a bit more to update this page with further thoughts.

The High Street 2013

So an interesting conversation is happening on my Facebook at the moment, with the news that HMV are talking with administrators and the likelihood being that, come the morning, the company will indeed be in administration, we started to discuss the state of the high street. Points were raised that the high street is going to look a very different place soon, less shops more cafés, more mini cinemas etc… With the coming of the digital shopping age I tend to agree with these points, however it doesn’t have to be this way. HMV failed to jump on-board the digital bandwagon, there are many things they could have done to bring in revenue, they just stubbornly stayed with the traditional model and thus they are where they are today.

For me the modern day high street store needs to not be the huge profit centre that head offices across the globe expect. They need to be customer retention centres… Now I don’t mean the after sales service style of customer retention, I am talking about the pre sale customer retention.

How can you retain someone who’s not a customer yet? Simple, a customer walks into a store and sees a screw driver set for example, the cost is £20 in store, this price is higher due to the overheads of the shop, that is expected, however this customer isn’t in a hurry, he/she knows they can get it online cheaper (£11) so they look at it, decide to purchase and then go home and buy it on Amazon or wherever for a cheaper price. The shop the customer was in failed to retain that potential customer. The money went to another company…

Now rewind that scenario, the customer walks in sees the screwdriver set and decides to buy it online, goes to put it down but sees a sticker on the box saying “scan me I’m cheaper online” looking around the customer sees a kiosk in the shop, he/she takes the set and scans it, puts in their address and pays using chip and pin paying the cheaper online price. Now, that customer has saved money buying online AND here is the important bit, the original company gets the money. The customer goes away satisfied they have saved some money too and is thus more likely to reuse the store he/she is in.

Meanwhile the customer needing the screwdriver set instantly can come into the shop and buy it off the shelf.

I for one, have been in shops where I have scanned bar codes of products with the Amazon app on my phone and purchased the item cheaper while standing in the store still holding that product. If there had been a way to do that paying my money to the shop I was in I would have done that, I am not fussed who I buy it from, I just want the best price and a convenient shopping experience.

The traditional high street store can be saved but only if companies wise up and modernise…

2012 in review

So let’s start on a positive note; another year has passed, 2012 is done and we are still alive! The planet hasn’t been consumed in some disastrous fireball or meteor storm (what do the Mayans know eh).

With that said it’s not been the best of years in general, the UK economy remains somewhere near the bottom of the toilet, doing just enough to not head completely into the drain. Unfortunately Greece and Spain managed to meet that drain and with unemployment rates hitting 25% caused some pretty sizeable amounts of violence and riots in both countries.

A number of famous people have died this year too, Witney Houston, Davy Jones, Robin Gibb and Andy Williams all from the world of music. Bob Holness, Neil Armstrong, Eric Sykes, Tony Scott and Terry Nutkins all also passed this year as well as Patrick Moore, Gerry Anderson and Clive Dunn amongst others. I would like to put in a special mention for Sarah Burke a female freestyle skier and pioneer of the superpipe who passed on the 19th of January, she was a real inspiration to many, rest in peace Sarah.

The year also saw more than it’s fair share of military action around the world. From the violence in Syria to the fighting in the Gaza Strip and the continued operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. I whole heartedly say I hope we see a lot less violence this year.

The BBC didn’t have the best of years either!

Of course one of the biggest stories of 2012 was the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy on the east cost of America. While the damage and loss of life was truly awful, it was a lot better than it could have been. Lessons were learned from Katrina in 2005 and the right preparations were taken.

2012 wasn’t all doom and gloom though, there were some pretty amazing points to the year too!

A crazy Austrian man jumped from a balloon 24 miles above the earth and ended up falling at 833.9mph to be the first human to break the sound barrier unaided!

The Olympic games happened, hosted in London and to a lot of people’s surprise (mine included) was a wonderful success! Team GB and ParalympicsGB both had amazing success at the games.

Bradley Wiggins did something no other Briton has ever done and won the Tour de France completing the 2172 mile race in 87 hours 34 minutes and 42 seconds and if that wasn’t enough he only went and won a gold medal at the Olympics too!

The Queen celebrated 60 years on the throne which gave us a nice excuse for an extra day off and chance to hold a few parties around the country. Plus she jumped out of a helicopter too!

Additionally Barack Obama was re-elected for another term in the oval office. Some may feel this should be in the doom and gloom section but this is my review of the year and I think it’s a damn good job!

Personally, this holiday period has given me a chance to reflect on a year that has seemed to whizz past “quicker than a fart on an oil slick” (10 points for the person that can name the game that quote is from). I made a few “resolutions” last year and as with most people they didn’t last. I did manage to do a few things I wanted to this year, I lost some weight (1.6 stone) and generally got a bit healthier. I climbed Snowdon (something I have wanted to do for years) and I gained my first aid certification again (did it many years ago).

So all in all this years had the good, the bad and the down right excellent going on. I’ve seen friends go through the bad and the good, I’ve re-established some long-lost friendships and made some new friends along the way.

I’m not going to make any resolutions this year, however I am going to set some goals (yes there is a difference (to me anyway)) I would like to accomplish. Firstly I would like to lose another 1.4 stone (3’s a rather nice round number). I’d like to extend my first aid training further (working on that one at the moment more to be revealed at some point soon). I would like to climb Snowdon again and knock some time off my last climb. I’d also like to be come quite a bit more organised and proactive.

I will end here as I’ve rambled on enough, if you have read this far well done, give yourself a pat on the back!

To all my friends, family and anyone who reads this I wish you all the best and a happy and prosperous new year!

Andrew

Flying High!

Over the years I have been lucky enough to have numerous chances to go flying. Not just in commercial jets but in light aircraft that I was allowed to control. It started when I was 14 and at college, as an after class activity the school ran a Combined Cadet Force (CCF) of which I was a member and Sergeant of the RAF section. As part of this I was able to go Air Experience Flying at both RAF Wyton and RAF Cambridge. Over 5 years in the section I was able to build up 35 hours flying in a Bulldog trainer and 45 in a Grob Tutor.

I was also lucky enough to get a chance to fly in a couple of different types of gliders, including flying solo in a motorised Vigilant glider as part of a gliding scholarship.

The feeling of being in a glider is second to none, from the 0-60 in 4 seconds during a winch launch to the total silence of  being in the air soaring around on a bunch of thermals, I really have never found a better experience. I urge anyone with any interest to try this, only having a brief look at Google I found this link http://s.hrtn.me/40 that would be an awesome place to start. I am sure it might not be for everyone but I know a lot of people who tried it and have fallen in love with it.

My plan in the next few years is to obtain my Private Pilots License (PPL) up to an Instrument Flight Rated (IFR) status. This is not to seek a career in the airline industry but simply to allow me to continue doing something I love.

End of an era

The 1st NASA space shuttle was launched on April 12, 1981 which also was the 20th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s space flight. The orbiter was named Columbia (official designation OV-102) and it took just 8 and a half minutes to get into orbit. Today @ 5.56am EDT Atlantis the 4th shuttle to be completed and delivered to NASA in April 1985 will land from it’s latest mission to the international space station. This landing is set to be the most historic shuttle landing in history as it marks the completion of the shuttle program. The last ever flight of NASA’s own re-usable shuttle started 12 days ago, millions of people across the world watched the historic and awe inspiring launch and millions are set to watch the landing also.

It’s the end of an era for NASA, for the USA and for the world; an era is defined as, “A long and distinct period of history with a particular feature or characteristic.”  and the Shuttle program has certainly been that. There have been good times and there have been bad times, all of them emotional. Lives have been lost and of course they will never be forgotten, but the program continued and extraordinary advances have been made from the 30 years of the shuttle program.

NASA will continue, and for the moment with the assistance of the Russian space agency keep putting astronauts into space. They are turning to the private sector for their next re-usable crafts, for more information on this the BBC article here has a comprehensive overview.

For now however, let us pause and think on what an amazing era this has been. I found this poem written by a NASA employee Terry Sibile who worked on the shuttles, for me it sums up today perfectly.

‘Twas the Shuttle’s last Christmas by Terry Sibile 

‘Twas the Shuttle’s last Christmas
and our spirits were low,
For the program was ending
and soon we’d all go.

We’d processed the Shuttles
with infinite care
And followed each mission
as if we were there.

We made every effort
to achieve all our goals;
We offered our talents,
our hearts and our souls.

Our work was much more
than a meager career;
‘Twas an honor and privilege
beyond all compare.

As this marvel of science
was applauded worldwide,
We looked on each Shuttle
with unfettered pride:

Columbia, Challenger,
Discovery, and then
Atlantis, Endeavour
all ferried brave men

And women to realms
past the confines of Earth,
Uncovering knowledge
of infinite worth.

We rejoiced with each mission’s
success, and we grieved
For the losses too painful
for us to conceive.

And over the years,
something wondrous took place:
We became kindred spirits,
united by Space.

And so, as we part,
I will bear a great loss.
And hope in the future
our paths again cross.

But until then, my friend,
this wish I confide:
Happy Christmas to all
— we had a great ride!

 

I will end on this, a simple but heartfelt note. “Thank you NASA, thank you.”

Santander, British Grand Prix – Sunday

Stop screwing up our planet….

Before you stop reading this, I am not about to go on about pollution from cars, or energy plants or even in the wake of the disaster in Japan nuclear energy. What I am going to talk about is the small things people do.

I am currently lucky enough to be spending a 2 week skiing break in the French Alps. As I was out on the slopes today I stopped to admire what is a stunning view of the mountain range and I looked down to see an empty beer can lying in the snow that some moronic person had just discarded without any iota of thought for the environment. I go skiing most years and I see this far too regularly. Each and every time it sends me into a flat out rage. I and many other people are in this idyllic location enjoying the scenes and the snow and the fact that someone can’t be bothered to clear up after themselves is obscene.

It takes somewhere between 80-200 years* for a beer can to decompose, whoever disposed of that can on the side of the mountain purely because they were too lazy, stupid or “important” to take his/her trash to the bottom of a lift and put it in a bin didn’t even contemplate that fact.

That can would have sat there for years to come and could have hurt or even killed wildlife in the area as well as polluting the ground it lay upon as it slowly decomposed. What’s even more appalling is the fact that this spot was less than 200 metres from a lift and a bin….. If each of us were as callous about the environment as the person who left that can then beauty spots such as the Alps or the Rockies would soon deteriorate into horrible garbage filled messes. We’re already screwing up the planet with cars and other forms of pollution surely we can all have the common sense to take our rubbish with us an dispose of it properly.

 

*Source (http://www.thatdanny.com/2008/06/06/how-long-does-it-take-a-plastic-bag-or-a-glass-bottle-to-decompose/)

Angry Birds for PC

This is bad, very bad! “Hello my name is Andrew and I am an angrybird-a-holic”