Friday Five – Christmas jumpers to win the competition

It’s that time of year, when offices start going a bit crazy with decorations, Christmas lunches, office parties and goodness knows what else. A trend I have noticed is the Christmas jumper competition, and whilst your snowmen and santas are all well and good, I’ve found a couple of Christmas jumpers that might be slightly more fun to wear.

  1. There are loads of good Star Wars ones out there. “I find your lack of cheer disturbing,” is a good one, but I’ve picked the Yoda one, because you know, Yoda knows best.
  2. This one is kinda subtle in the sense that you have to have seen Stranger Things and know what it’s all about to get it. It’d be a good way to find your fellow Stranger Things fans at a party where you don’t know anyone.
  3. Wibbly wobbly timey wimey. There’s not much else to add.
  4. The design of Christmas jumpers to have a lot of lines of various patterns lends itself very well to platform gaming, so you have to go to the master: Mario.
  5. And of course, where would we be if we didn’t have a Back to the Future jumper?

Podcast of the Month – Witness

Yesterday, I talked about the concept of diving headfirst into a new subject of your choosing and just going for the learning ride. This is something I’ve struggled with before, and particularly when it comes to history.

I didn’t enjoy history that much at school, but have since found a fondness for finding out how the world has come to be in the position it is in today. The trouble with history is it is a HUGE SUBJECT. Almost like it encompasses everything that has ever happened or something.

So, one way of getting a history fix without biting off more than you can chew is the brilliant Witness podcast from the BBC World Service. They are short ten minute shows that cover just one topic, and hear from the people involved themselves – either via actual interviews, voiced words, or historical documents. The structure of the show gives a great introduction to the topic, followed by the crux of the story itself, and then a small summary of how things panned out or if they are still ongoing.

Recent topics I’ve loved include:

The show is available as a podcast to subscribe to, or you can just peruse the archives for topics you might find interesting. It seems like all the shows are available indefinitely which is always a bonus with BBC content.

Live long and learn

There’s something brilliantly wonderful and overwhelming about diving into a subject you don’t really know a lot about.

I’ve done this a few times: with films, with music and most recently with sport – getting fully involved with tennis, and this month, jumping feet first into Formula E with a new podcast and everything.

At first, it seems totally overwhelming. There’s so much you don’t know, an entire history that you’ve missed out on (not so much with Formula E, being just a baby motorsport series), and so many connections you’re going to miss. What you have to do is push that to one side, ignore all the voices telling you it’s too big a subject, it’s too late, you might as well just watch re-runs of The Big Bang Theory instead.

What’s brilliant about it, and what I am only just starting to understand, is that the lack of knowledge or of knowing where to start, is really the key to it all. You just pick one thing and start there. Do the next thing. Gradually, you get more and more knowledge and it all starts to fall into place. Those are the joyous moments, when things click together and you get a glimpse, however briefly, of the bigger picture.

In just a few weeks, you can look back at where you started from and think: what was I worried about? And in a few months, you’ll be proud of coming so far. And if you’re anything like me, suddenly two years have passed and you’ve somehow managed to listen to 200 albums in that time, passed comment on them all, and now enjoy Beats1 radio rather than cowering away from all the songs you’ve never heard of.

So if you’ve got a burning desire to learn about something new, just do it! It seems a big deal now but, in the end, you’ll be glad you did.

(Oh also, those moments where the streams are crossed. When your sports people make cameos in film. Or musicians rock up to watch the Wimbledon final. Those are fun too.)

Playing with playlists – Colour chart

I always think November is a colourful month. Autumn is really kicking in, so the trees are rapidly changing hue and shedding their leaves. There are leftover Halloween themed items around, so orange and purple and green are scattered on doorsteps and in shops. Plus, of course, firework night – as annoying and loud as it can be – has a main promise of lighting up the sky with various shapes and colours.

So, that being the case, my November playlist is all about colour too.

  1. Little Blue, Beautiful South
  2. Red, Taylor Swift
  3. Back to Black, Amy Winehouse
  4. Yellow, Coldplay
  5. Mr Blue Sky, ELO
  6. Back in Black, AC/DC
  7. Paint the Town Green, The Script
  8. Green Light, Lorde
  9. Black or White, Michael Jackson
  10. White Flag, Dido
  11. Purple Rain, Prince
  12. 99 Red Balloons, Nina
  13. Purple Pills, D12
  14. Black Eyes, Blue Tears, Shania Twain
  15. Behind These Hazel Eyes, Kelly Clarkson
  16. Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell
  17. Black and White Town, Doves
  18. Fields of Gold, Sting
  19. Into the Blue, Kylie Minogue
  20. Little Red Wagon, Miranda Lambert
  21. Men in Black, Will Smith
  22. Pink, Aerosmith
  23. Red Alert, Basement Jaxx
  24. Supermassive Black Hole, Muse
  25. Welcome to the Black Parade, My Chemical Romance

Life beyond wires

I’ve recently been using Apple’s Bluetooth earphones, otherwise known as AirPods. They weren’t my first choice – I don’t really enjoy the look of them, and was reluctant to get rid of my sturdy camouflage black wired earphones. Unfortunately, I upgraded to a new iPhone, one of the ones without the headphone jack, and that meant adjusting to a whole new world.

The AirPods are both brilliant and awful. Here’s how.

Pros

I love the freedom that comes with wireless headphones. I didn’t think I would, for some reason that I now cannot fathom. Having your phone tucked away in a bag or a pocket and being unencumbered by wires catching on door handles makes for a legendary upgrade. Of course any Bluetooth ears would do this, but these are my first and that makes them a little bit special.

I really like some of the intelligence that comes with the AirPods. They know when I have put them in my ears (for the most part), and I really like the automatic pausing or switching to mono when you take one or both of them out. I haven’t really engaged too much so far with the tapping to achieve things, although I can see that double tapping an ear to restart music will be useful.

Quick switching between devices isn’t as seamless as I hoped it would be but it still removes some of the pain of Bluetooth management. You should be able to get the AirPods to play from whichever screen you’re in, the same way you can Airplay when desired. I find that I still have to go into the Bluetooth screen of the settings app more than I’d like, but I can’t describe the joy at not having to disconnect. The wonder of not having to find which device the product was last connected to, just tap connect and go. It could be smoother and it could be quicker but it’s still strides forward.

Cons

I’m not so keen on having another product on my person that requires battery management. Thankfully, my phone upgrade has meant battery on that front isn’t as much of a problem as it once was, so I can focus all my attention on the AirPods. That’s good, because they are quite needy.

The real issue comes from there being three separate items that have a battery level. On the one hand, it’s clever and useful that the case also charges up the ears, but on the other hand, it’s another thing to have to charge. Then each ear has its own level, so you can listen to both, or sacrifice one while the other charges. It’s a handful.

And don’t get me started on actually seeing how much battery is left. Getting this screen to appear is a feat of endurance.

On the face of it, having to charge up your earphones doesn’t sound that complicated, but when you find yourself out on a walk with all three battery levels at 1%, you realise that you’ve gone wrong somewhere along the way.

Other niggles are smaller. My ears (or one in particular) took a while to get used to the shape of the AirPods, and it was actually sore for a couple of days. They don’t mould or bend in any way. You get what you’re given. They’re not exactly the best sounding product on the market, and they’re not noise-cancelling in any way. Taking them out of the case can be fiddly, and I quite literally always put them back in the box the wrong way round.

For me, at the moment, the benefits outweigh the negatives, but I am finding I have regressed to a less needy, more wired pair of headphones for my iPad that still accepts such caveman concepts. I’m eyeing up some other Bluetooth options too, but overall I’m quite happy that the transition to the non-headphone jack future hasn’t been as awful as I’d thought it would be.

Apple released a new holiday-themed AirPod advert, and whilst it’s very good, let me be clear, life with them is nothing like this.

Dots and dashes

A while back I wrote about the Amazon Dash buttons and how my initial tests left me frustrated and underwhelmed. I’ve recently started using them again and although a couple of the issues are still there, I’m now converted.

It was this year’s Prime Day that kickstarted me into using them again, as some of the buttons were on offer. I picked up a couple that I’d been in two minds about and since then, I’ve started using them properly.

I think part of the problem I was having before is that I had buttons that weren’t really products kept in one place, or I kept changing the products associated with the button (from apple juice to crisps, for example). Now, I’ve set up the buttons, and put them in place next to the storage of the product so that they really can just be pushed when you need to restock. It makes all the difference.

The benefits then become clear, as advertised. You run out of something, you hit the button and never have to think about it again. You don’t have to remember to put it on a shopping list and you don’t have to lug whatever it is through a supermarket. Not huge problems but one’s solved by the push of a button.

My previous complaints were thus:

  1. Limited choice
  2. Buttons slow to arrive
  3. Goods slow to arrive
  4. Selection of goods changes

There’s a greater choice of buttons now, although once you get into using them, you start wanting them for everything. They were quite slow to arrive, but thankfully the delivery of the products hasn’t been slow and the selection of goods has remained stable.

So a lot of the problems have been fixed. In fact, the only issue I have had this time round is that there was an inadvertent order when a button fell off its sticking place and hit something on the way down. No damage done though, and you do have the option to cancel an order in case of such a situation.

Essentially, one year on, and I’m converted. Still waiting on that Doritos button though.

Mugs that come with hugs

It’s about time for the (sometimes) annual collection of novelty mugs, and this time I’ve got a selection of five that feature top secret ninjas, a bit of computer geekery, and of course, a panda. Let’s start there in fact.

five-mugs-pandaThis panda hug mug is adorable, although it’s disappointing the hug is being given to the biscuits you are just about to eat, rather than yourself.

As with many mugs like this, I worry about putting chocolate biscuits right next to the hot beverage. There’s going to be a melting situation if they are there for any length of time. But that probably just means you need to eat them quicker. Biscuits gobbled up, hug from panda, a pretty good start to the day.

five-mugs-loadingThis loading tea mug is quite minimalistic but speaks to the nerd in me. I can’t quite decide if the tea is loading as you’re pouring it and making it in the first place, or if it is loading as you are ingesting it, but either way, I quite like it.

The only issue is that loading screens are not usually a positive thing, you see one for longer than a few seconds and you get stressed. Perhaps it’s not ideal for every day use!

five-mugs-ampAs I’m sure you’re all aware, I’m obsessed with music these days and talk about little else. That being the case, this amp mug is perfect! I’m not totally convinced that the shape of it would make for easy drinking but I like the idea of having a cup of tea and being reminded “it’s time for guitar practice!”

I’m also not totally sure what kind of music genre “mug rock” is, but it sounds like something I want to get on board with!

five-mugs-cauldronThere are a few Harry Potter novelty mugs around, but this cauldron mug is my current favourite. There are travel mugs and normal mugs and house mugs and all sorts, but a cauldron shaped mug is an interesting idea.

I wonder if you really should be drinking out of the cauldron, where usually that would be used for potions but it’s always worth a try, you never know what magical powers might take over you!

five-mugs-ninjaFinally, everyone needs a ninja in their life, so why not in mug form?