It’s a Grand Place, Brussels

Grand-Place, Brussels

I was allowed to lift my head from my study books for two weeks recently, to head to Belgium for a fortnight work trip. It was crazy busy and there wasn’t a lot of time to be a tourist, but I did manage to snap a couple of pictures in Brussels.

Shopping Mall

It’s a lovely place, full of juxtapositions of old and new, and a big mish-mash of languages. I wish I could have had more time to spend nosing around, but had to settle for just a few glimpses of the sights.

I did get to have a waffle, though, so no major complaints. There are a couple more pictures up on Flickr, but now I have to head back to the books!

App idea – Daily Bibendum

Whilst avoiding the internet over the last week or so, I was very heartened to see this pop up in my Twitter mentions.

bibendum-tweet

I love Bibendum, with his endless smiling face and happy, happy wave.

It really cheered me up, and thus it occurred to me that what the world is missing is an app that sends you a daily Bibendum greeting. Just a different picture delivered direct to your device of the bulbous character brightening up your day.

bibendum

What’s not to like?

Casual Reader – Martians and Vampires

I post my book reviews over on Goodreads these days, but occasionally stumble across a title that really deserves a special mention here as well. I should issue a vague spoiler alert warning here, but I do try to avoid ruining the stories as much as possible.

casual-reader-the-martian

I picked this up on the back of a recommendation from a podcast, and it’s the first time in a long while I’ve been interested enough to buy straight away – rather than add to a wish list and peruse at a later date. I started reading and was instantly hooked.

The story follows the fight for survival of an astronaut abandoned on Mars when a mission goes wrong, the crew believe he’s dead, and they leave without him. Left to fend for himself with equipment that was only meant to last the length of the mission, our hero comes up with new and ingenious ways to try and extend his stay on the red planet.

I was absolutely riveted by the book, which I find odd because it’s mostly packed with endless logistics and an overload of science. Physics, chemistry, biology, all discussed in detail, and descriptions of plans and schemes that succeed or fail equally. Despite the fact it could be a dry read, the humour instilled throughout keeps it interesting, and every now and then you have to sit back and think – this is totally unbelievable and yet, so very, very believable.

I wasn’t at all surprised to see that Twentieth Century Fox have picked up the film rights for this one.

casual-reader-let-the-right-one-in

This was a really good read. Where vampires are all the rage at the moment, this was in a class of its own. It had the subtlety of Dracula, but equally the action, characterisation and even gore that you want of a modern book. I thought Oskar was a great protagonist, wide-eyed and innocent yet vengeful and conflicted.

The strands of the story wove together very well – the father and daughter that aren’t what they seem, the four friends who lose one of their own, and the group of boys bullying our hero. In the end, they all come together nicely, but I’ll tell you what – it’s Virginia I feel most sorry for.

Absolutely recommended, although can get a bit graphic in places.

Dublin’s finest

To celebrate finishing my latest batch of exams, Mr C and I took a dash across the water to Dublin – a place we both love.

dublin-travel-diptic

A spot of sight-seeing, with ominous rainclouds overhead. It is Ireland, after all.

cloudy-skies

The Spire of Dublin.

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As well as the occasional sight, we tasted the local wares.

giant-onion-rings

Our waitress brought us the wrong food and the wrong drinks, but eventually we got what we came for.

guinness

Our flights were delayed in both directions, but it was still a nice break before diving back into real life.

delay-dublin-airport

Nike’s FuelBand cutbacks – are fitness bands over already?

CNET published an exclusive story about Nike’s plans to shut down their FuelBand hardware section, including layoffs and a focus on software instead. This was rebuffed, sort of, by a spokesperson, although their quote was more about continued support of the existing bands, rather than expanding the line.

We will continue to improve the Nike+ FuelBand App, launch new METALUXE colors, and we will sell and support the Nike+ FuelBand SE for the foreseeable future.

Layoffs are never fun, and it’s a surprise to see that Nike are the first to fall out of love with fitness tracking – given the sporty nature of the company as a whole.

However, it’s not that surprising to me that the concept isn’t winning. I tried out one of the bands, and wore it religiously for a month or so. Then, like many others, I got bored of the whole thing, and it now rests somewhere on a shelf gathering dust.

That’s not to say that tracking fitness isn’t of interest, but like Nike, I think the future is in the software, rather than dedicated hardware for the cause. Runkeeper released a new app that tracks your steps, hoping to capitalise on the market of smartphone users that don’t like to jog everywhere. The only thing that tempts me to consider starting running again is the incredible Zombies Run – again, software, not hardware.

Investing in creating incredible apps and games for existing hardware seems to be the key, getting your stuff on the devices users actually engage with, rather than trying to force them to adjust their lives.

Fitness armbands are clearly trying to help, but although it might not sound like it, remembering to wear a band, charge it up, sync it, and walk more often is such a big change of habits that convincing the users to keep it up is tough. All you need is a zombie chasing after you, though, and it suddenly seems a lot more do-able.

I can’t help it, I opened a gate

If you’ve been following my adventures online for any sort of time, you might already know that I haven’t been big on the emotions. My Film Watch reviews, in particular, have shown that I’ve avoided getting swept up in romantic comedies, and those that are considered tearjerkers left me cold. Because everything is a Friends reference, I was kinda like Chandler.

You may also have noted the past tense in that first paragraph.

Something happened to me while I was watching Sport Relief this year, and I haven’t been the same since.

I can’t even put my finger on what it was. A combination of wine, the charity endeavours, tiredness from a long week, exam stress. Suddenly, I was watching Davina talking to a woman that she had helped as a child, and I was in floods of tears. I wanted to give them all my money.

Thankfully, Mr C was on hand to stop me bankrupting myself. I dealt with the hangover and moved on, but that new emotional feeling didn’t leave. It stuck around, particularly when it comes to the aforementioned watching of films.

I voluntarily opted for Pretty Woman, something I’ve been putting off for a long time. I was so invested in Saving Mr Banks that I cried buckets at the end. And here’s the real kicker, the film that is the reason for this self-indulgent post. Valentine’s Day.

After watching Pretty Woman, we realised there’s an awful lot going on in Valentine’s Day, one of those Love Actually clones directed by Garry Marshall of PW fame, that relates back to the story of Julia Roberts and Richard Gere.

The thought entered our minds that we should view the 2010 film again, to see all the homages to its predecessor, but looking back at my review didn’t inspire confidence.

This really was a terrible, terrible film. The redeeming features though: lots of famous people so good fun to see how they all interacted with each other. Quite amusing consuming wine and guessing what was going to happen in each of the relationships. We were right as much as we were wrong. That one surprise at the end was good. You couldn’t pay me to watch this again but I don’t necessarily want my two hours back.

You couldn’t pay me to watch it again, except that now I really, really wanted to see it. We actually did put it on in the background, whilst doing some other chores and jeez, I thought it was the best film ever. Cheesy and a rip-off of Love Actually, sure, but filled with fun stories and laughs, and a tangled web of relationships.

Which puts me in something of a dilemma, because whilst Mr C demanded I write this post to correct the wrongs I did Valentine’s Day, that doesn’t help the hundreds of other films I judged with a different eye. Do I need to go back and rewatch them all now that I’ve found I’m not a robot? There’s far too many to do that, but perhaps in the future I’ll have to start up another new blog: Film Watch, The Reruns.

Mr C may prefer this new multi-layered Christine, but I think I preferred it when my reaction was Chandler-esque:

Phoebe: Oh y’know what’s sadder than this? Bambi. I cried for three days with that movie. No wait two! Because on the third day my mother killed herself so I was partly crying for that.

Chandler: Well see now that I can see crying over, but Bambi is a cartoon!

Joey: (crying) You didn’t cry when Bambi’s mother died?

Chandler: Yes it was very sad when the guy stopped drawing the deer!

The Car is not a toy, but you can Play with it

The Verge posted a hands on video of the new Car Play interface from Apple – Siri in your car, basically.

It looks good. Well, no, it looks rubbish. But compared to what my current car does (which is nothing) and what other cars look like (which is awful), it’s not a bad step up.

The crucial thing about this new wave of in-car tech is that they are apps, they are upgradable, and so you don’t end up with a car with a CD player in it long after you ditched all those little round discs.

A while back, I wrote about my desire to get a new car, and even rounded up a few candidates. Terrifyingly, that was almost two years ago and I haven’t lifted a finger since then. I still desperately want some new machinery, but my existing car is clinging on. Now, with Car Play on the horizon and ready to talk to my phone, there’s something else to wait for.

Saving time on the internet

Time is my enemy at the moment. Life is a repetition of work, study, Sidepodcast, sleep. It is always better to be busy than bored, but frazzled is the word I’m choosing to use at the moment.

With that in mind, here are a few things I’ve been using to try and make life a bit easier.

News

The Yahoo News Digest app intrigues me greatly, because I always think I’m interested in the news but when I settle down to read or watch, I find I’m not. The great design of this app, plus the fact that it is a limited selection of must-read news, makes it more appealing to people like me. I like the idea of checking off the stories, and having the days that you have read marked off on a calendar.

yahoo-digest-uk

There are two news digests a day, one in the morning and one in the evening, and so far, I have only managed to get through both in one day once.

I’ve seen a handful of reviews suggesting the app is biased, and I think you’re always going to get an element of that when something is curated for you. However, each story seems to be handled pretty well, there’s a selection of facts, videos and more links to visit after each news item, so the coverage is okay by me.

I really like the look and feel of the app too. My only complaint is that getting back to the menu from inside a story is a bit clunky, but other than that, it gets a thumbs up.

In other “keeping up with the outside world” news, I’ve suddenly found myself following a handful more Twitter accounts, to the point where it’s hard to keep up. Instead of reading each and every link as and when I come across it, I’ve found the best solution to be sending links from the Tweetbot app on my phone to the Safari reading list. I’ve not really got into the reading list before, but am now finding its ease of use and syncing across many devices incredibly useful.

Lists

I’ve written on a few different occasions about the struggles to find a to-do list application that works for me. I think I’ve got the best I’m going to get out of Things. A terrible name for a great (if pricey) application, this doesn’t do anything particularly special over and above others but it’s working for me.

I’ve given up on the repeated tasks options that many apps give you, because none of them work how I want. Instead, when I want a repeated app, I’ll reschedule it for the next day once it’s done. It’s perhaps a step or two more work, but worth it for the extra control I get.

Listening

Whilst Apple have never come out and said they don’t care about podcasts anymore, their attempts to revitalise the app failed spectacularly. I couldn’t get on board with the wonky app, as detailed previously.

My podcast app of choice is Downcast, and it recently updated with a handful of better options in terms of double speed listening. It still boggles Mr C’s mind that I listen to things faster than x1 speed, but the recent Downcast rejig has seen my drop down from x3 to x2. Does that mean there are people listening to things even faster than me? Now it’s my turn to be a little bit boggled.

Writing

Finally, Ghost updated recently to allow better usability on mobile devices. I’ll admit, I’ve only tried it out briefly on the iPad, and it still wasn’t ideal. I think when the app appears, it will make life that little bit better, but the brilliant things about Ghost is, it’s so new and so clean, that every step is a step in the right direction.

To sing with you is the craziest thing

It wasn’t long ago I was waxing lyrical about how great Jimmy Fallon’s skit with Paul Rudd was – the pair of them taking on a lip sync battle with amusing results.

Now, the Tonight Show host is back again with another classic. This time, he’s roped in Billy Joel for a spot of crooning.

I love the use of the looping app in this, and how great they both are. I didn’t actually know Fallon could sing, but he holds his own against one of the greats.

On the one hand, I’m jealous we don’t have similar nightly talk show greatness in the UK. On the other hand, I’m glad because I don’t think I’d get a heck of a lot done!

On the flip side

We’ve recently invested some time and energy in using Flipboard to share posts, pictures and shows from Sidepodcast, which meant having to learn to use the crazy thing. Primarily an app, Flipboard allows you to browse through content from Twitter, sites and various web locations in a gorgeous looking magazine style.

There’s absolutely no doubting that it’s a good way to peruse content.

flipboard_screenshot

I found it quite hard to get my head around though. From the app, you have to find the content via some kind of stream that is already in there – ie, a Twitter account or someone else’s magazine. I couldn’t see there was an easy way to add content without navigating through many circles of hell.

It wasn’t until I watched a tutorial that pointed out there was a bookmarklet for my browser that it started to make any sense. (Can’t believe that sentence DOES make sense, but welcome to the future!)

So, I’ve created my own board, which I have been flipping into (this is the correct terminology, no?) all about films. With my own Film Watch posts in there, plus any interesting news and trailers I stumble across along the way, this is what I’m calling: Christine’s little empire.

If you browse things on Flipboard, and have been able to follow the ramblings above, then do feel free to check out the movie madness I’ve created.