All posts by Admin

iPhone 5 – benefits of the larger screen

The new iPhone 5 was released a few weeks ago. Despite the enormous initial uptake, many people have yet to see the handset and may be wondering how it compares with previous models. The larger screen isn’t necessarily so obvious, as the screen takes up more of the handset’s length, in addition to the unit being slightly longer also, however the net result is a pleasingly larger area to work with. What better than to make some direct comparisons:

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Gameplay of Air Supremacy benefits from a wider viewing area with more space to use controls

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Articles in Flipboard can fit more text on screen – 11 lines compared to 7 on the 4S….

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…while there’s a couple of extra topics viewable on screen at once.

Of course perhaps the biggest benefit from the larger iPhone 5 screen is the new 16:9 ration – meaning viewing video now uses every pixel of the screen.

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Feeds are no substitute for real content on Twitter

A while ago a service called paper.li came on the scene, which offered to pull together feeds into a daily digest of ‘news’, which it would then tweet from your account. It was never much good, tweeting the same message each day and giving little indication as to each digest’s contents. Should you delve deeper and actually click on the link, you’ll find that as often as not the stories will have little or no relevance to that of the Twitter account they’re being featured on. Many people tried paper.li for a short period, but most quickly realised its shortcomings and got rid of it. Most, but not all.

Some still use paper.li and other broad feed aggregators to fill their Twitter accounts, possibly under the mistaken belief that this is providing valuable content for them, whereas in fact it’s driving away many potential followers. The simple fact of the matter is that nothing compares for on-topic, audience focused tweets written by a real person. Of course this takes time and effort – an argument I repeatedly see being made when I confront organisations on their use of feeds.

Yes, tweeting takes time, but it’s only 140 characters. It’s the equivalent of typing a couple of short sentences, and in those sentences you could be providing your stakeholders, users or customers with information only you can provide; dates of events or meetings, a call to arms, sharing of news, and a great many other possibilities besides. You don’t necessarily need to tweet every day so long as when you do tweet, the contents are useful for your audience. That’s not really so difficult or time consuming, is it?

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Two takes on a Ploughman’s lunch

Take a certain route on the back roads between Rickmansworth to the Chalfonts and you’ll pass a curious old pub called the Dumb Bell. We’ve spotted it a few times and have long intended to pop in to see what this somewhat remote hostelry has to offer.

At the weekend we finally did just that. Inclement weather drove us to escape the house but not venture too far, so recalling this pub we drove the three miles or so for Sunday Lunch. It’s a somewhat rambling establishment with a sizable beer garden and a front dining room capturing all the charm of an eccentric’s living room.

A particular attraction of the Dumb Bell was its Ploughman’s Lunch. Tara is already a fan of the Ploughman’s in the Old Orchard pub in Harefield, and we were keen to see how this alternative offering compared.

The Dumb Bell Special Ploughman’s Lunch: £6.95
Menu description: “A hearty platter of freshly prepared salad and coleslaw with mature cheddar cheese and honey glazed ham, spicy pickled onions and homemade chutney all served with the bread of the day”
Tara’s view: Plentiful portion, nice salad, tasty homemade bread

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The Old Orchard Ploughman’s: £8.95
Menu description: “Mrs Appleby’s White Cheshire and Colston Bassett stilton with bread, ham, pickled onion, apple, celery and chutney”
Tara’s view: Good cheese variety, nice thick ham

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So two rather different culinary interpretations of a classic, each with their strengths. Which would you prefer?

The Dumb Bell is also worth mentioning for its generous Sunday carvery. £7.95 for slices of as many as 4 meats, if you like, and all the trimmings. Great value.

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A foodie tour of the South Lakes

South Lakeland was the destination for a few days away over Easter and we made the most of the opportunity to try some of the area’s delicious food and produce.

Our visit took in towns and villages in the south of the county of Cumbria, which is dominated by the Lake District and bordered by the Yorkshire to the east. It’s a largely rural area and famed for the quality of its livestock, the farming of which remains an essential element of the local economy, along with tourism.

Cartmel

The exploration began in Cartmel, a small village punching far above its weight owing to its racecourse, Michelin starred L’Enclume restaurant and some nationally renowned foods. There’s also the curious priory, where the tower sits at 45 degrees to the rest of the building in a piece of either architectural genius or madness.

We enjoyed perusing the village’s picturesque streets and attractive shops, universally built in the unmistakable Lakeland limestone. On a recommendation we began in Cartmel Cheeses, an emporium that would delight the most highbrow cheese aficionado. Rounds of cheese are piled high and following some tasting we emerged with some sheep cheese, creamy Lancashire, soft French cheese and Stinking Bishop. The car carried a certain aroma after that!

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Make your smartphone happy for a tenner

I like to think I command an above average knowledge of Scottish phrases: Auld Reekie, dreich and many a mickle maks a muckle being among them. However, I’ve got to admit that giffgaff is a new one on me. It turns out to be an Old Scottish word meaning ‘mutual giving’, but it’s also the name of a UK mobile phone network offering some rather attractive bundles.

For the reasonably priced sum of £10 a month, giffgaff offers unlimited data, which prices it below even Three’s £15 PAYG offering. As a smartphone user, data is my top priority when it comes to network deals, yet finding data without paying through the nose has becoming increasingly difficult, as most networks have imposed strict 1GB or even 500Mb data caps over recent years.

Now these may sound like plenty of data for a mobile device to use over a month and yes, it’s fair to say that I don’t normally get near to this limit. The thing is, I’ve realised that I’ve learnt to curb my use of apps so I don’t risk breaching the limit, which has meant I’ve been avoiding media-rich content such as audio and video. I have in fact been failing to make full use of my smart phone because of data caps and it was time to put it right.

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Gastro pub discovery: the Jolly Cricketers

We’re fortunate to have some excellent gastro pubs in the area, and this week we discovered one of the best.

The Jolly Cricketers is located in the affluent village of Seer Green, near Beaconsfield and Chalfont St Giles.

It’s a good looking historic pub on the outside, but it’s on the inside that it reveals its secret – serving up some truly fabulous food, and recently voted the best gastro pub in the South East.

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Any Human Heart

William Boyd’s book Any Human Heart follows the life of writer Logan Mountstuart (LMS) through some of the most defining and turbulent years of the Twentieth Century. The book is based on the journals of LMS, an approach which allows a uniquely personal insight into the deepest feelings of the character. This works brilliantly, as it captures character’s humanity – his lust, frailty, fortune and despair, and lays it bare before us on the page. In doing so it reveals something profound about all of us, how we live our lives with the hand we’re dealt and interact with the events of our time. Indeed it’s this passage through every decade of the past century that provides the book with a second compelling strand of narrative. Through his long life, LMS encounters the bright young people of the 1920s, is forever changed by WWII and has a particularly memorable run in with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, amongst an array of others.

I’ve taken this book quiet slowly over quite a number of weeks, dipping into just a few pages each evening, and progressing LMS’s life little by little. By the conclusion of Any Human Heart I found I can scarcely recall the early years, which rather accurately reflect the memories of the man himself, looking back 70 years on from his earliest journal entries. By doing this, I felt I’ve followed LMS on his journey, albeit in microcosm, allowing me some of the same reflection of LMS’s actions over the weeks I read the book as the character applies to himself over the years of his life.

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The journey through life, one radio station at a time

Radio stations may often serve as background audio but our choice of station is often read as an indicator of our stage in life. The formative years are intimately associated with Radio 1, whereas Radio 4 is often portrayed as a middle-aged and full of dreary domesticity – albeit almost exclusively by those who don’t listen to the station.

These days I’d comfortably pledge my allegiance to 6music. As a station, it speaks to me and where I am now, while indulging in shared culture I can relate to. 6music’s core audience is, I imagine, around mid-20s to mid-40s, and its presenter line-up is full of names the audience grew up with, including the likes of Adam and Joe, Marc Riley, Stuart Marconie, Mark Radcliffe, Cerys Matthews, Craig Charles, and others. The music on 6music evokes delight, surprise and serendipity, all in a way that’s somehow attuned to my musical tastes. It is the farthest cry possible from the dismal repetition of commercial radio, which I choose to avoid at all costs.

Although I struggle to define the demographic, I suspect 6music is expertly speaking to a group that I happen to neatly fit into. It’s perhaps for those who have cast aside self-consciously following the trends of the latest hot indie bands that defined our university years and have moved on to wanting new musical discoveries, but now entirely comfortable in our own musical tastes.

The strange thing is that this progression is often one that’s done unconsciously. I only realised that I’d mentally moved on from listening to Radio 1 while on car journeys where I found myself feeling entirely out of touch with the music and callers on the air. Was I ever in the position of those Radio 1 listeners with the radio on revising for some exam? At one time, yes, but it seems a far cry and thoroughly distant from my life today.

And so, without seeking to be defined, I have, I suspect, made the move from one demographic group to the next; one of several I’ll likely make during my lifetime. Yes, radio may only be background audio, but it’s someone we choose deliberately and it continues to say something about us.

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Queen’s Birthday flypast at RAF Halton

WWII aircraft at RAF Halton's Charity Flying Weekend

The Queen’s official birthday is celebrated by trooping the colour and a flypast by the RAF in central London. If the idea of the tourists crowds don’t appeal, it’s happily possible to watch the flypast from the comfort and attractive surrounds of Buckinghamshire.

RAF Halton holds a Charity Flying Weekend each year to coincide with the trooping the colour flypast, and welcomes visitors to what is normally a military aerodrome.

The 2011 event was held in conjunction with the Chilterns MS Centre, who held their Summer Fete, and the Berkhamsted-based De Havilland Moth Club, who had arranged various flying displays.

We arrived shortly after midday, so in good time for the flypast at around 1pm. We were struck by just how popular it was, given that we’d only heard about it through having come across photos of the previous year’s events and looked up the 2011 dates. The parking area was filling up quickly with hundreds of cars, although still had room enough for us.

Spectactors at RAF Halton watch Battle of Britain Memorial Flight approach

We had no idea what to expect, however there was a good selection of stalls – many in military green tents that were rather in keeping with the event. Arts and crafts, traditional fete games (Tara won a coconut from the coconut shy), and the usual food and drink were all there, so everything you’d need. Many visitors had also come well prepared though with some impressive picnics, table and chairs in evidence. Well prepared to enjoy the day.

Turning towards the aircraft, the inter-war De Havilland Moths were much in evidence, with much to-ing and fro-ing. A nice selection of WWII aircraft were also on the ground. The main event was the flypast – which included most but not all of the formations seen flying down the Mall a few minutes earlier. While the Red Arrows went elsewhere, we saw the fast jets, transporters, hawker jets and the always superb Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, which gave us three fabulous passes.

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Wallingford

The South Oxfordshire market town of Wallingford was the destination of one of our February half-term days trips. Visually appealing, set by the river Thames, the town oozes history, from iron age earthworks to castle ruins and the huge number of attractive historic buildings. The style of the town immediately reminded us of Thame, a larger Oxfordshire market town located 16 miles away, which we visited in 2010. Both feature a distinctive market place with a town hall at its centre, and flanked by the main shopping streets.

We arrived in Wallingford late in the day, too late to visit sights such as the castle gardens that close at 3pm, although we glimpsed some of the castle ruins from the Thames path. The riverside area is quiet and largely undeveloped, unlike in larger towns, and following the path takes you quickly into countryside. The Thames Path also offers fine views of the Wallingford’s bridge. A stroll over the bridge itself gives some idea of the size of the Thames at this point, which while much narrower than in London, remains impressive. Continue reading

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