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.)

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?

Taking the 8 Plus for a walk

I’ve needed a new phone for a while, and was umming and ahhing about what specific iPhone to go for. In the end, I went for the 8 Plus and now I wish I had shut up and bought it sooner because the dual-lens camera is totally incredible. I’m not a natural photographer, but every single photo I’ve taken this past week or so is the best photo I’ve ever taken, thanks to the camera. The colours are gorgeous, the focus crisp, and portrait mode is something else entirely. Now I want to take more photos of everything, everywhere all the time, and I think that is worth every penny.

Taking the 8 Plus for a walk.

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Adventures in Netflix, part 2

Earlier this year, I wrote up some thoughts on Netflix original content, and having just finished up yet another fabulous Netflix series, thought I would post an update.

One Day at a Time (series 1)

I don’t know the original show that this was based on, and by all accounts it’s different enough to not matter, but I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. The Cuban family dynamic is one quite alien to me, but actually it draws you in pretty quickly, and you start to really feel for the characters. Sometimes I wondered how Penelope kept on going, but it was reassuring and quite uplifting that she did. Can’t wait for series two.

Designated Survivor (series 1, part 2)

Not much more to add to this than last time – it’s an interesting drama that clearly wants to emulate the success of House of Cards without the script to do it. Clunky dialogue, and heightened moments to increase drama that don’t always pay off. This second half of the first season was a little more politically heavy than the first, so I must admit to getting distracted by other things when watching. But the underlying story continues to intrigue.

Orange is the New Black (series 5)

Loved this. Was looking forward to it after the unexpectedly tragic and moving end to the fourth series. There were two fabulous things about this series – seeing people acting out of character but with total reason to do so, and the total breakdown of a society that has no real reason to try and stay together. The coming apart and the coming back together of groups, and what they would end up doing to each other was fascinating. The only bit that seemed totally out of place was the weird talent show in the middle.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schimdt (series 3)

Kimmy Schmidt is a weird series for me. I like it, but I don’t laugh at it particularly, and I don’t always think it’s good. I love the optimistic but slightly damaged Kimmy, and when the focus was more on her, the relationships she formed, and finding her way in the world, I really enjoyed it. Each series that goes by spreads the focus to others like Jacqui and Lilian, and of course, Titus, and it makes me like it a little less.

Anne with an E (series 1)

I know this series caused some consternation amongst fans of an original Anne of Green Gables remake, but I haven’t seen that one. I have read the books and I was surprised by the dark nature of the series. I quite liked it, although there was one moment halfway through when I really just thought I’d have to stop watching. Things kept going wrong to Anne to the point I wasn’t sure I could take it. I could though, and she could, and so the first series ended – bleak but really well made drama.

Stranger Things (series 2)

I haven’t watched anything on Netflix for a while, other shows have dominated my viewing. But the return of Stranger Things got me curiously excited. I enjoyed the first, although it took a while to grow on me, and I can’t say I was particularly anticipating the second series. The Netflix hype machine worked well though, and I started watching as soon as I could.

It was absolutely epic. No words, really. I laughed, I cried, I binge watched it in one weekend, and I can’t wait for the third series already.

City limits

Recently, I’ve been trying to watch more educational television alongside all the more sensational Netflix stuff or traditional half-hour comedies. This desire has meant checking out a lot of BBC Four and BBC Two, and I really enjoyed the four-part factual show on the latter: World’s Busiest Cities.

Presented by Anita Rani, Dan Snow and Ade Adepitan, the show delved into what makes four very different cities across the globe tick. After the first episode, I was a bit confused about what the aim of the programme was – it felt a bit like a random selection of insights into a city that didn’t necessarily tie together. However, after watching more episode, I realised that the randomness of it actually was the point. These cities are huge and sprawling and you never know what you’re going to find around the next corner.

Particular highlights for me included the ever-increasing Mexico City where people just rock up to a patch of land and start building, the fact that almost every city seems to have some tunnelling work going on (so Elon Musk’s aim for a super-quick boring machine will appeal to many!) and the madness of a Russian commute that takes more than two hours each way every single day to cover a very short stretch of ground.

The three presenters offer unique and differing ideas too, with Anita focusing on the people and culture, Dan quite naturally seeing how history is brought into the present, and Ade learning how the city works, rests and plays.

If you’ve got access to the iPlayer or fancy snapping up the programme on iTunes, I can highly recommend it, and I hope there are four more cities in the pipeline for a second series soon.