2015-04-18 09.04.28

Record Store Day Virgin

Many years ago I had a large record collection but as time moved on I spent more time listening to CDs and then MP3s and we needed the space at home and so they went. Now vinyl is cool again and each year independent record shops in the UK take part in Record Store Day one of the few imports from the US I approve of.

As part of this artists and record labels release albums just for the day. These are limited pressings, sometimes original works, some with special covers or coloured vinyl and so on.

I had never been before but this year it just happened to fall on a day when we were free and so I decided to make a visit to The Sound Machine in Reading who were taking part.

Not having been before I had no idea of what to expect but from what I had read elsewhere I knew that there would be a queue at opening time. While I was keen to go I wasn’t going to get there at 5am! I had found out that the opening time was to be 8am and so I aim for then but due to me forgetting that the bus times were different on weekends I was slightly later and, as expected, there was a queue.

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It took a hour for me to reach the shop door by which time I had made a new friend! Given the number of people there wasn’t any opportunity to browse and all those around me seemed to have a list of requirements anyway.

And this is what it was all about. I went with two things from the list that I wanted to get if I could: a Genesis boxed set and a copy of original Genesis guitarist Anthony Phillips Geese and the Ghost with a signed insert. I had sort of convinced myself that with only 1,000 copies of each spread over all the independent record shops taking part that each shop would only have a small number of copies and, given the queue in front of me, long gone.

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As you can see they had both and then came the biggest shock – the price. I paid £108 for the boxed set and the single LP. Ouch! However, by the time I had queued for an hour and they had what I was looking for I wasn’t going to walk out with nothing.

Now all I need to do is buy a turntable…!

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Portchester Castle

Fresh from an exploration of a hidden London gem on Saturday we visited somewhere that has been hiding in plain sight pretty much all my adult life.

For four years I went to Portsmouth University (or Polytechnic as it was then) and twenty odd years later my son did the same. In the intervening years I was a regular visitor. Somehow it was only very recently that I bothered to look across Portsmouth Harbour from the M275 and noticed that there was a castle across the water. This transpired to be Portchester. How I could have missed it I am not really sure. Probably I was too busy concentrating on driving to notice.

This weekend while visiting some friends I got to take a look and it is equally impressive close up. Portchester itself is a beautiful little place spoilt, as so often, by the stream of cars on their way to, in this case, the castle.

Built in a defensive position overlooking the harbour to be ready for any sea attack it now offers a great view back to Portsmouth city with the Spinnaker Tower prominent. The castle buildings cover a relatively small area of the whole grounds which includes within its walls an active church. The central area is just grass today but you can imagine it teeming with people and buildings in the Norman times. You can also get great views by going up the tower.

If you are down Pompey way it is well worth a visit, especially if you are a English Heritage (or Heritage England as I think they are now called) member and can get in for free. Although the majority of the grounds are free, you pay to go into the museum and up the tower.

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Hidden London – Camden to Paddington

I like London. It’s a great city. I wouldn’t want to live there and nor would I want to have to commute up there everyday to work but it is a beautiful and richly varied city.

A great example of this is the almost jarring contrast between Camden Market, with it’s brash high street and shops with large footwear adorning the frontages, and the canal-side walk from the lock to Paddington. This weekend we did the walk for the first time and is a beautiful 2.5 mile stretch of path.

At one end lies Camden Town with it’s market selling mainly tee shirts with humorous slogans, mobile phone covers and other tacky souvenirs. A number of the shops had 3D objects attached to the outside signifying what they sold: shoes, clothing etc. In a way it reminded me of the touristy shops along the 192 in Florida and those selling buckets & spades at the seaside.

At the far end is Camden Lock on the Grand Union canal. It’s a pretty spot, teeming with tourists and noisy but walk just a very short distance along the tow path and suddenly it is quiet as few bother to make the trip, which is their loss.

The tow-path is very quiet and, for the most part anyway, lined with trees. At one point you pass through London Zoo and you can see a bird enclosure on your right. A little further up on the left hand side are several large buildings. It is not clear if they are houses still but there is no doubt that they are worth a bob or two.

Eventually you reach a point where the canal passes through a tunnel which you cannot walk along and have to make your way through over the top. Once the water emerges you can see a number of boats moored where people are living permanently. While this seems great when the weather is fine like it was the day we passed I do wonder what it would be like in the winter.

Then you reach Little Venice where once again there are a number of private boats that are residences – it’s a lovely area.

Finally you reach Paddington station and there is an entrance that takes you right to the ticket barriers of the underground.

If you have the time I would definitely recommend the trip – you won’t believe that you are in London.

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Spot the April Fools’

Over the years the amount of effort put into creating April Fools’ jokes has increased exponentially, with some more plausible than others (see above). Some, such as Google and Amazon go to the trouble of creating really slick websites and videos such as these from Google (love the girl’s reaction at the end):

And Amazon for its Dash button:

But what happens when you release a new, genuine, product on 1st April such as, well, Amazon with it’s Dash button because it’s for real.

I woke up, checked the tech stories, saw Amazon Dash and initially dismissed it as an April Fool but then I saw it on the BBC website and thought about it and that it might actually make sense. Later other stories started appearing suggesting tht it was for real.

So why did Amazon release it so close to April 1st? I can only imagine that Amazon thought they would get increased exposure by linking it as people checked it out and blogged about it – just as I have done!

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Always the Bridesmaid…

I have written about my younger son’s playing of League of Legends before. Yesterday was the culmination of months of games in the NUEL (National University eSports League) with over 300 teams having been whittled down to the final two with Mat’s UoB Storm pitted against Nottingham Bears. Unfortunately they lost out but it was still a mighty achievement and we are incredibly proud of what he has achieved.

Thinking about Mat’s participation reminded me of a post I wrote way back in 2009 about something I saw, with Mat as it happens, at Gadget Show Live and my comments. Part of the show was seeing the Guitar Hero World Champion in action. This is what I said at the time:

He must have been about 16 and while quite impressive you can’t help but think that his parents would probably have been more pleased if he put in the same amount of effort on revising for his GCSEs than the enormous amount of practice he must have put in on Guitar Hero!

One of the boy’s parents subsequently contacted me to say how proud they were of their son and how well he had done in his exams.

Fast forward six years and I find myself in a similar position with Mat in the final year of his degree and as parents wanting him to do well and here’s the thing – he is, very well. It seems that, my offspring at least, are capable of managing their time more so than perhaps I have given them credit for.

It’s hard as a parent to realise that your children have grown up and don’t rely on you anymore but sometimes you’ve just got to let go. It seems that they are quite capable without our support – it must have been they way their mother brought them up!

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Gyroscope vs. Exist – Quantified Self Aggregator Review

I’m fascinated by the Quantified Self movement where people collect masses of data about themselves and aggregate it to show some meaning. For example you might every day record your weight, steps taken and the weather and map them out to see if there is any correlation between them. This is exactly what both Gyroscope and Exist do to one extent or another.

Both work in the same way by linking your account with the feeds of other providers such as FitBit, Runkeeper, MyFitnessPal, Forecast and others and bringing it together in a graphical form. Exist has been around for over a year now while Gyroscope has launched only this month but is based on the original site of the creator.

Gyroscope

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The first thing to say about Gyroscope is that it is beautiful, it looks like something out of a science fiction movie. The graphics are fluid and your information is presented in a really engaging way.

Information is grouped into three areas: Sport (such as FitBit, RunKeeper etc), Explorer (Foursquare checkins) and Digital (Twitter). A slight oddity on sport is that it has me down for one trip to a gym in Wales when in reality this was a business presentation. Still a workout where I was made to sweat I guess but not quite what most would expect to see here. Also this section for me is weighted towards cycling when, in fact, my most recent activities have been walks which aren’t really shown.

The other problem with Gyroscope is that it seems to have stopped updating which is a shame as that limits its usefulness but given that it is early days for them I’m sure these sorts of kinks will be ironed out.

You get a pretty full featured account for free with Gyroscope and there is a paid plan (currently $7 a month) that adds themes, your own domain and early access to features but for most the regular plan is going to be sufficient.

Exist

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Exist has been around longer and it shows in that the sources you can import are greater and the site feels more rounded. They also take a much more analytical approach to the data than Gyroscope.

The main dashboard covers all your stats in one place and can be pretty overwhelming with the amount of the data that is presented. However, what you also get is an eight and 30 day overview of your data too making it easy to see progress and any trends.

Don’t want to work out trends for yourself? Exist has got you covered with trends, correlations and averages. So, for example, it is able to look at steps and productivity and say “You are moderately less likely (53%) to be productive when you walk more”. It is here that Exist scores over Gyroscope which feels like a slick way of presenting your data whereas Exist allows you to make something of it. And this is what quantified self should be about – analysing the data that you collect so that you can act upon it otherwise it is just a pretty way of collecting data.

One thing that I would like to see from Exist is the ability to go back in time. At present the dashboard shows you data for today after which the data is consigned to bar charts and then after 30 days disappears altogether. I would love to be able to go to a specific day and see all the data for it.

Exist also offers two things that Gyroscope doesn’t – the ability to record your mood on a five point scale with a short text description and an api that allows you to get some of the data out for other uses – I use this to send a formatted summary to Evernote for example.

Conclusion

In some ways it is a bit unfair to be comparing two products that are at different stages of their development but Gyroscope has been around a while albeit not open to all.

The bottom line is that if you want to simply be able to visualise your stats in a slick fashion then Gyroscope is for you. If you want more from your data to help you understand and to make changes then Exist is the one.

2015-03-20 09.22.29

Solar Eclipse

As I write this and look out of my window it is a beautiful day. The sun is shining down and there is not a cloud in the sky.

Wind back to this morning when the solar eclipse was supposed to be happening it was grey and overcast with zero chance of seeing what the BBC described as ‘Breathtaking’. I think that this is a prime example of ‘sod’s law‘.

So I have drawn a picture of what it would have looked like had the skys been clear…

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Recognising the Value of Free

There’s a real problem with free in that it has zero cost (obviously) so people seem to think that means it also has zero value.

I hate to see any waste and my heart sinks with everything that gets put into the bin and not recycled. My kids are fed up with me saying that I am just saving the planet’s precious resources for their children. Despite, or perhaps because of, my views on recycling they have switched off but I am not sure what excuses the members of Freegle have.

Freegle, Freecycle and sites like them exist to allow people to reuse and repurpose items that they no longer want or need and allow others to taken them from you – for free. I’m all for it and regularly offer items.

Just recently we had a big clear out of things from my younger sons room now that he is away at Uni and it looks like he won’t be moving back in with us. All these items went onto our local Freegle. It is not untypical to get a response within minutes of the item being posted, quote often with some elaborate story attached as to why they are worth of the item. This emotional pleading doesn’t work on me as I just want the item out of my house but away from landfill.

After a while I’ll settle upon someone to receive the item. Sometimes this is the first person to respond, sometimes not. One of three things happens now:

1. they respond, fix a time, turn up and take the item 😀
2. they don’t respond :-(
3. they respond, fix a time and don’t ever turn up 😡

A variant on 2 is where I subsequently get an email after I have written to find out what happened and am told that “something else came up and they couldn’t make it at the allotted time”. I would say that two thirds of all posts fall into the don’t turn up or don’t respond categories. TWO THIRDS!

Which raises a question. Why are people so fucking rude? And I suspect that the answer is that they just don’t see any value in an item that has no monetary value attached to it. Perhaps what they also don’t stop to consider is that I might have a bookcase sat in my hall waiting for them or that I made arrangements to be in that evening when they said they were going to come.

So I am re-evaluating my use of Freegle and prioritising charity shops and friends on Facebook as more reliable methods of reusing items and, quite frankly, the people aren’t so fucking rude.