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Archive for November, 2012

Far Cry 3 Coming Soon

I’m so excited.. I can’t wait.. Warning – non-family-friendly language in the video.

Far Cry 3

Update April 1, 2013 – What can I say, it took me weeks to get through the game and I had trouble focussing on anything else during that time – absolutely marvellous scenery and atmosphere. WELL worth buying.

DIY Smart TV

If you have a bang-up-to-date expensive Smart TV – just ignore this. Otherwise if you’re on Sky HD you might find this useful.

For some time now, having given up on toys such as the Apple TV box and similar and while pondering the new Android box, I’ve been running a laptop (for lack of noise – and immunity to power glitches) next to the TV to run Plex – which has to be one of the best free Media players on the planet. Running on a laptop it gives you access to all your media using a standard Microsoft-type remote IR control. I’ve trained up a “One-For-All” to handle the Sky HD box, the TV and the laptop. My media is held on a Netgear ReadyNas – a black box with disks in it which reliably stores and makes available my pictures, music and video to the home network.

PlexPlex is a fine, easy to use software interface to your media and has available loads of plug-ins such as YouTube, Ted TV and lots more. With the laptop plugged into one of the TVs spare inputs, switching between Sky and Plex is a simple button press. The laptop is set to run external monitor only and hence can run without heating up or using it’s internal display.

With the likes of the BBC iPlayer and ITV’s equivalent it has for some time been possible to catch up on TV you’ve missed – the only problem being the players are not integrated into Plex so you have to fiddle with a keyboard and mouse – not ideal in a living room– and the quality is not as good a modern HD TV.

Along comes Sky On Demand according to the ads on TV. On pressing the RED button on my Sky remote,  I seemed to have only a small subset of what I’d expect – only seeing material that has already been automatically recorded on the “reserved” space on the HD box (this happens all the time – and explains why you don’t have as much room as you’d expect on your Sky box). Incidentally if you have the original Sky HD box you really should consider upgrading (either upgrade – or you can replace the hard drive yourself with a little work) as modern HD materials EAT disk space and so the latest units have larger hard drives – One Terabyte is good. I realised that Sky was choosing what it thought I would like (wrong) and storing them in a reserved part of the hard disk- but that’s it. No ability to do REAL on-demand from the Internet.

Typical 5-port routerLast night I decided to investigate and On-Demand is actually free – but you have to register for it on the Sky website. But first things first – you need a wired network connection to the Sky box – I’d not even think about wireless considering the amount of data we’re talking about downloading. 

I swapped my wired network connection from the laptop to the Sky box and sure enough – recognised immediately. As it happens I’d bought a TP-Link 5-Port Gigabit Unmanaged Desktop Switch from Amazon for £15 and so I simply plugged the network lead into that – giving 4 remaining outputs – one for the laptop, one for the Sky box and 2 spares. Perfect.

Now armed with broadband to the Sky box, going through Sky’s rather convoluted website www.sky.com/ondemand I was convinced I was going to end up paying more while signing up – but sure enough… no. After 5 minutes checking on the web I was still kitted out with Sky Anytime stuff as before and the promise now of the FULL package. But pressing the RED button produced nothing new – all I had were the same few inappropriately pre-recorded programs I’d always had available. To make matters worse, Sky have two access points on their website, the other being www.sky.com/tvondemand – which is confusing but turns out it’s the same thing and can be ignored.

Having signed up on the web, I gave up late last night, resigning myself to ringing Sky today to ask why no On-Demand… but when I got up this morning – lo and behold…. an overnight update left me with the full works. BBC iPlayer, ITV player, Channel 5 player and a host of icons for Sky stuff – all with no extra cost.  How it works? Simple – so for example I wanted a copy of the Harry and Paul Episode 3 from a couple of weeks ago on the BBC (I never watch BBC live and didn’t even know the program was on). Clicking the iPlayer icon I selected the episode – and a download began. 1.2Gig is needed for this 30 minute episode (see what I mean about broadband – this is going to eat up a LOT of data) and after about 10 minutes, despite the download being only 20% complete, a “Play” icon appeared.

I pressed Play and sure enough, not the normal web-streaming medium quality but the full, crystal clear HD playback stored on the Sky HD box just as if I’d scheduled a recording in the normal way. For reasons best known to the BBC this recording will only be available to me until part way through December but by then I’ll have watched the best bits of this superb episode to death. Harry’s Scottish accent “Everything is much, much better in Scotland than England, oh yes” and Paul’s Gypsy woman “I curse you” are the funniest thing on TV IMHO.

Add to this Apps for iPhone which not only let you set recordings on your Sky HD box from anywhere on the planet but also talk directly to the Sky box over the WIFI when you’re at home and let you control the box as if you were using the remote control (but better). There’s an iPad App but it kept failing on me and the Android equivalent right now does not give you local WIFI control. but given a little time these apps are going to be superb– the iPhone version works really well now and is FAR better than using the normal Sky remote for selecting material, but the larger screen of a tablet would be my choice as the TV programme guide is so limited compared to what you can do on a tablet.

And there you have it. A sparkly new Smart TV is one way, but not the only way.

Interesting Video about Social Media and it’s Impact

Social Media Impact

An Eventful Week

Actually, Eventful month, more like it!

AlicanteThe Journey through SpainBetween trips to Dublin in the Republic of Ireland as a guest of ESBA (European Small Business Alliance) where I visited Google’s HQ down there and managed a trip around the Guinness factory, then onto Spain for a short “break” (Alicante, Murcia, Mojacar, Galera, Malaga) then back up to Edinburgh for a series of meetings, it’s been pretty much non-stop and throughout the whole thing I’ve had the flu – not exactly ideal timing.

Marriatt Hotel just outside of EdinburghAfter Edinburgh I came home to an all-morning Skype meeting to talk about Intranets while looking forward to enjoying a peaceful weekend, forgetting we had a boatload of prior arrangements. On Saturday we travelled to Whitley Bay to a dentist appointment (100 mile round trip) and there on to a rather nice Italian restaurant in North Shields.

I used to live in Tynemouth and spent a lot of time in North Shields, which was enough to put anyone off for life as back in the day it was, well, a dump, but like everything else, “things change” and North Shields Fish Quay is really quite pleasant now with a boatload of restaurants, cafes and takeaways for every taste.

Sign outside a store at the QuaysideWe had lunch – and when I say pizzas at £3.75 you might laugh but they were as good as pizzas  from some well-known Newcastle Italian restaurants at well over twice the price. Between four of us, we had wine, beer and coke, starters, garlic bread, main course and either coffee or deserts for £40 all in (that’s a tenner each). I can WELL recommend a trip to the Quayside and we’ll definitely be going back. Good food, good views and surprisingly little smell of fish!

QuaysideWhile at the quayside, we popped into an indoor market full of second-hand furniture and I spotted a LED floodlight for a tenner. I took a chance as it might not have worked – indeed the guy running the stall was off on holiday and so a lady from a nearby stall handled the deal, offering me the lamp for £8 – we didn’t even have to barter. When I got it home it worked a treat, so as soon as it’s not bag-bitingly cold that’s going up in my back garden to save me standing in cat-poo in the dark.Quayside

Did I mention, the weather on Saturday was CRACKING considering it is November in the Northeast of England – as you can see, clear blue skies (that image on the right was taken mid-afternoon and is not in any way enhanced).

From there we went on to the Tynemouth market which is in the train station down there on Saturdays and is quite a large affair, well worth checking out. By then my ears were freezing and the first thing I bought was a new furry hat.

There was a stand with some great looking pies and so the next purchase was a corned-beef pie for dinner (and beyond.. it was big). We visited the stall of a fellow who claimed to be manufacturing LED lighting (though he did mention getting stuff made in China and his lights did look remarkably like the ones you get off the shelf from China) and I’d planned to put his details in here to help promote local business. He had a new  company and his son had been in the business for some time, so he said. We listened intently then took his business cards.

QuaysideWe had a quite night in on Saturday evening once I’d retrofitted Maureen’s car with some new red LED strip foot-well lighting and we spent the rest of the night catching up on Fringe, Continuum and a couple of other EXCELLENT American TV shows – there are a ton of really good US productions right now on Sky and it’s down to finding time to keep up – only made possible because of the Sky HD box recording everything. That and a slice of corned-beef pie finished the evening off nicely.

Sunday morning I checked out the LED lighting market guy – sadly his own website, referred to twice in his literature, doesn’t actually exist despite careful checking – and as for his son, that company looks to be merely a subsidiary of a Hong-Kong company. I do like to “shop local” where possible but he was talking about 5w lamps at around £8 each. After that I think I’ll just stick with buying directly from China via EBay – a bit of a disappointment but not completely unexpected. In you’re keeping up to speed you’ll know that UK prices are still way over the top for these. Check out this link for a good price from a UK supplier. Yes, that’s for 10 !!! Not checked this supplier out yet but I’ve some 8w ordered for Hollyberry Cottage so I’ll let you know if they’re any good in a future item.

After catching up with the email mountain and some reporting, we returned the Asus Transformer to PC World – it simply would not charge – which is very inconvenient. After a trip to the skips to get rid of a very old printer we arrived at PC World – to their “Knowledge Centre”. I don’t know about you but the phrase suggests knowledge to me – but nothing has changed at PC World, the guy took one look at it and sent it off to Asus. They had no test leads, nothing they could us to make use of any of that “Knowledge” – so just more hype then.

To finish off the day we visited the MetroCentre in Gateshead to see the movie Skyfall. Absolutely the best Bond ever and I’ve seen them all several times. Cracking movie – don’t wait for video – go see it now while you can. Entertaining, funny, full of suspense. Judy Dench deserves a medal.

Today it’s back to the grind and I’m hoping this week to fit in some time to get back up to speed with my Internet Thermostat design which thanks to constantly moving around has been on the back-boiler for a while.

A quiet day at home

Simba (front) and Ollie (rear) on my workbenchBetween endless meetings and a holiday, I’ve not spent a lot of time at home recently and this coming week will be no exception. I’m not looking forward to travelling up to Edinburgh for endless meetings- not least because it will be freezing cold up there.

The cats certainly noticed my absense – my two boys – Simba (front) and Ollie have been all over me since we got home last night. As I dozed off last night, I could feel one of them sliding under my arm for a late night hug….and this morning when I awoke, he was trying to suffocate me… since then they’ve been following me around endlessly… as you can see here. Quite content to just be nearby and not after food or anything.

Strange creatures. Click the image for larger versions.


Ollie (front) and Simba

Once a tax-payer, always a fool?

I’ve been working now for something like 42 years without a break, that is I’ve never claimed dole and for some of that period, in addition to financing the national health I paid for private medicine merely to try to minimise any down-time if I was ill (because really that’s all that actually happens with private medicine in the UK by and large – if you get anything seriously wrong you still end up being treated by the same doctors)

When I was young I recall there was something called National Insurance – the second word being the important one – the idea was that you were insured against unemployment. You paid money – and the more you earned, the more you paid. If for any reason you fell on hard times and became unemployed, the amount you got back was to some extent dependent on what you’d put in.

Today of course that entirely sensible mechanism is history. We’ve sleep-walked into the most ridiculous situation wherein those who pay in the most, at best get no more than others – and overall get even less.

My dad spent most of his life working hard, employing people and paying taxes. At one time I recall our engineering company employed over 30 people, some of whom stayed with us for most of their lives. When he died, my mother lived in modest comfort near the coast. She might have expected more but the recession of the 70s put pay to much of the wealth my dad had worked hard for, but at least she had her own home and modest savings. When some time ago she needed to go into a nursing home as her days were drawing to a close, we found ourselves responsible for administering her estate and witnessed, horrified, as the nursing home funds ate into what funds she had. This despite being surrounded by others, some of whom may have not worked a day in their lives getting similar care and only a few miles North in Scotland, people in similar situation having the same care for free (well, paid for by UK tax-payers).

Today with retirement not yet there for my generation but on the horizon, we read that the government openly admits that care bills will continue to soak up most of our savings. A rising number of elderly face losing “almost all of their wealth” to pay for social care.

This is not about Conservative or Labour politics, it is about a generation of utter financial  incompetence on behalf of those we trust to run the country. Those of use who have “played our part” and helped countless unemployed including those who have never done a day’s work, including those who’d like to pull the system apart yet continue to scrounge from it, throughout all of this we’ve gone about our daily businesses and paid our share of taxes – and for what – to get ripped blind when we are least able to look after ourselves.

A lifetime of contributing to a broken system that in the end will let us down while continuing to fund perfectly healthy people who can’t get their own act together and those who would do us harm.

So who are the fools – the corporates and banks who’ve been ripping us off all these years, or the poor suckers who’ve financed everything with their taxes?