Across the pond, cinemas still fail to impress

Whilst I was in Houston, I went to the cinema. I haven’t been to a cinema in years, and have pretty good reasons for not doing so, but I thought hey, why not see how the Americans do it? Alright, in all honesty, I just wanted to see how big the popcorn was. It was huge.

You can’t really tell because there’s no scale, but the drink is twice the size of normal UK sodas, and thus the popcorn is even more enormous.

I went to see Maleficent which was a decent enough film, although I went with someone who was looking forward to watching a film without their kids... and we ended up watching a kid’s film. Oops.

Obviously I didn’t get to Film Watch it so my review in brief: Angelina Jolie was excellent, but I was slightly more taken by the guy playing the crow-man. It’s always fun to see a fairy story you know well told in a different way, and I thought it was an interesting take. Parts of it felt a bit violent for the genre, particularly the big war at the beginning, and poor Angie’s screams when she woke up that terrible day.

Anyway, review over, what I really wanted to say was, my reasons for not going to the cinema are still in place. In fact, I am more resolute than ever.

On this occasion, there was a screaming baby next to me. Why bring your baby to a cinema? And why not leave the room when it screams? Who knows what goes through people’s minds.

There were also some noisy kids. I know I was in a movie aimed at children, so I was expecting some limited chatter, but this was out of control. It got to the point where a slightly aggressive guy at the back shouted out: "Hey, I didn’t pay $60 to spend my father’s day listening to your kid shouting." I was glad it was dark and I couldn't see where the menacing voice was coming from.

The offending child was escorted out by their guardian and returned only slightly more subdued.

Thus, I still don’t really get what the attraction to the cinema is. There are benefits to the surround sound speakers and the big screen, but I don’t really need that big a viewing experience. The sound was excellent, and something I couldn't really get at home without spending thousands of pounds. But is it worth the effort? It probably depends what kind of film you’re watching. On something like Gravity, I expect it was amazing. On Maleficent, it was just Angelina’s crisp British accent that little bit more booming.

The sound is the only plus point I can find. The rest, noisy people, not being able to pause, not being able to Film Watch, all make me sure that we have our setup just right and I’m really not missing an awful lot by staying at home.

Ghost of an idea

Recently, I sat down and wrote a draft in Ghost about Ghost. Meta. It was an update on my experiences so far, which ended up as a bit of a complaint. I'm still in love with the concept of Ghost, but the gist of my dissatisfaction was two-fold.

1) On Film Watch, I miss the comments. Moving to Ghost meant either switching on Disqus or going without comments. I opted for the latter, because I dislike that Disqus has rubbish integration, layout and login options, plus it stores the comments when I'd rather have a feeling of control over them.

As it turns out, Film Watch is something that feels like it needs comments. Discussing my reviews and what other people think about the films is something I really miss. The options here then, Disqus as mentioned above, returning to Wordpress or just putting up with it.

2) Here on, I'm happy to remain without comments, but I was struggling to find a decent theme. Most of the themes out there follow a couple of standard layouts – one main cover page with text below, a top or sidebar with text below or to the side, or some kind of scrolling timeline reminiscent of Facebook. They all appear to have hamburger menus and I hate that.

Again, I was pondering the options, and they seemed to be stick it out, return to Wordpress, or design my own theme. None of which were too appealing. I pondered whether it actually mattered, because I'm not writing as much as I used to at the moment, or if it could be that the theme isn't encouraging me to write as much as I could be.

That's what I was thinking up until today, however, when I finally stumbled on a theme that made me feel a bit better about life, the universe, and hamburgers. I've implemented it and although it's not perfect, I prefer it to the old one.

So that's one crisis averted. I think with Film Watch, I'll end up going back to Wordpress which will be annoying because I did that "see you later suckers" thing when I moved over. Oh well, I can do humble pie pretty well.

There are two handy tools I used whilst setting up this new theme which I think you need to know about.

Kuler from Adobe. I used to use this a lot when I designed my own headers, but I haven't been down the colour-picking avenue for a long time. If you're ever lost for what colours you should use to go with others, this is the ideal tool. It boggles my mind some of the combinations it comes up with, and yet they all do actually work. I just heard about this on a podcast recently and wanted to have a quick peek. It's essentially a very stripped down and basic online tool for creating very brilliant graphics. It has lots of free options to choose from - layouts, backgrounds and most importantly, fantastic text designs. You can also use stock imagery for $1 a time, although I'm sure the free stuff would last a lifetime. It's missing a level of precise control for the detailed artist but it's so fast to create something that I don't think I'd be able to do at all otherwise, let alone achieve so quickly, it's worth checking out.

In the sky with diamonds

I'm not a huge fan of fireworks, but even I can appreciate a close up view of some pretty lights in the sky. This video was taken in Florida with a quadrocopter helping the camera get close to the action.

The legality of flying drones is in question at the moment, but until that's decided, we can revel in the joy of videos like this.

Adventures with Netflix abroad

When I stepped off the plane in Houston, I didn’t think Netflix was going to work. I have a UK account, obviously, and I figured that it just wouldn’t function across the pond. That was crazy thinking and when I opened the app I was overjoyed to see not only my current shows but also a selection of new and exciting things that we don’t get in the UK.

Now, I was a bit of a wimp and didn’t bother to watch any of the US only options. Part of that was because I was desperate to start the new series of Orange is the New Black and didn’t want to waste time on anything else. The other part of me didn’t want to start something over there and then not be able to finish it in time. It’d be pretty rubbish to get back and not be able to finish a series for a hideously long time.

When I came home, I opened Netflix again and found all the US-centric shows still on the menu, but they wouldn’t open. Instead, I was faced with an error and content not found. After restarting every which way, I eventually had to opt for the reset button in the settings. Suddenly, everything I’d watched over the previous fortnight was gone, my place in Orange is the New Black had been lost and it was like I’d never been away.

So, it seems like Netflix is smart enough to get you from the UK to the US library, making the transition so easy you might not even realise it’s happened. But the other way round is not to be encouraged and you’re left floundering in a sea of not-quite-as-good TV selections.

In the end, I found my place in Orange is the New Black and went on to finish it. What a great second series. So on balance, I can forgive Netflix almost anything if they keep coming up with the goods like that.

One step closer to colonising the moon

Continuing my space-mad theme at the moment, before I disappeared for two weeks, I was most excited to read this story about wifi on the moon!

MIT have been experimenting with beaming things off multiple satellites in an attempt to reach the moon, and they reckon it’s possible, if a little tricky.

"Communicating at high data rates from Earth to the moon with laser beams is challenging because of the 400,000-kilometre distance spreading out the light beam. It's doubly difficult going through the atmosphere, because turbulence can bend light-causing rapid fading or dropouts of the signal at the receiver."

When Mr C and I move house, our check list of things to look out for includes capacity for parking (on the moon, I think there will be space), risk of flooding (again, not so much an issue on the moon), and access to the internet. With those three checked off the list, all we need now is the pesky little details like a steady supply of food, water and oxygen, and then we can call in the removals team!

Twiggy, the water-skiing squirrel

Watching a bit of Vevo TV on the Nashville channel (it’s more entertaining than it sounds), I stumbled across this video from Brad Paisley. It’s a terrible song but a great video, have a peek!

It’s a water-skiiing squirrel!

At first I thought, jeez, some animals must have been harmed in the making of this video, but a little closer investigation revealed it’s an actual squirrel that has been trained to water ski. Meet Twiggy, the water-skiing squirrel.

Apparently there are several squirrels with this ability, they are trained and well looked after, and kept as pets once their skiing days are over.

As always, the only thing I want to know is at what point did someone say, you know what we should do with our lives to leave our mark and be a useful member of society? Got it! Train up squirrels to be good at water sports.