Return of Pinball: Yes Please

Flipping through Flipboard this morning and I’m greeted by the most fantastic and exciting headline I’ve seen in ages. First of all, it was more positive than most news and second of all it involved arcade based entertainment or what’s increasingly becoming retro gaming.

The article headline read “flipping heck: is pinball about to stage a recovery”. That’s sensationalist nonsense but when you actually read into the chances of pinball making a come back is highly likely. Retro is becoming cooler and cooler. People of all ages are now sporting corduroy trousers, tweed blazers and making perfectly good quality photos look distorted by age. That’s all relatively nice and all but it’s not that meaningful. Pinball however is absolutely awesome.

The BBC article suggests there may soon be a return of pinball machines to the pub which would certainly assist in the battle against my bank balance the pub already seems to be winning. I mean honestly, if you haven’t been hooked on pinball since they bundled that ridiculous space themed flipping game with Windows XP. I actually had my first pinball experience down at my friends house on an Addams Family pinball machine and thought it was absolutely incredible. There’s something incredibly tactile about it and it was exhilarating, satisfying and all in all good fun.

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From then on almost every time I have the opportunity to play a pinball machine I have.thrown in the cash and got lost in the music, lights and bonus rounds. Whilst I’m almost certain one of these wont turn up in my local, regardless of the re-establishment of the pinball industry, I welcome the return. Now all we need is a pac man table in every coffee house.

This Week – Anticipation Of The Return To Silicon Valley

I have had an absolute blast in Wales, London, Bristol and Bath the past few weeks but I am now ready to return to San Francisco to get some routine back in my life, study towards my degree and have a slightly reliable public transport system at my disposal.

Not having a car and living in a country town is enough to send anybody off the rails but fortunately for me, I’ve had going back to California to look forward to. The snow is starting to melt, the majority of Wales is going to preparing for floods and bread and milk will start to return to the shelves in the local shops. It is with that that I cannot wait to return to the California sunshine and walk around campus in a tee and flip flops.

I’m looking forward to getting more involved with the tech haven that surrounds me this semester, I’m looking forward to studying some fairly interesting modules and I’m looking forward to meeting new people. I’m dreading the thought that I may have left the flat in an absolute state and I really hope that the burrito shop on campus is open so that I can get my Mexican food fix on arrival.

This time next week, there will be a broader post of my first week of the Spring semester in San Francisco State University

Office Expectations

The other day, I decided to go to work with Dad, to spend some time in an office and see what the environment is about. Previously my official experience in work has been as a bar steward, a librarian and a freelance photographer. Not a lot to do with the office environment. I’ve dealt with people and requirements throughout my side-job as everyone’s favorite tech support and web designer but the office is somewhere I’ve not spent nearly enough time considering my future will undoubtedly be spent in one.

The reason I titled this as expectations is because whilst I’m very aware of what office life is like, courtesy of family and friends working in offices for years and because of the media; I still had in the back of my head that one day I would be working in an office like this:

Tim Ford's ideal office

 

How magnificent would that be? Either the super modern office in a sky rise building with delightful straight edged furniture or that office in a listed building with an antique cupboard full of whiskey and a chair so over sized but so comfortable at the same time. Unfortunately, when I approach the job market, the chances of walking into a job which comes one of these offices is not only unrealistic but 100% impossible.
That’s reality and I have no problem with that, I will count my pennies and aim to have such a desirable office in the comfort of my own home.

The reality is as follows:Timothy Fords likely office

When I graduate, I want a good job for a good company. I still have expectations and aspirations for myself and I have no problem with the reality that is shown above. There’s the cliché IT Guy room that is shown at the bottom and I take no shame in the nerdy indulgences I enjoy but if this was my personal office I probably couldn’t deal with the clutter. The above two are a lot more realistic in what one can expect from the modern office building. Clusters and team working spots are part of the modern approach to enterprises and as businesses are so heavily influenced by the motivational theories of work by legends such as Mayo and Herzberg.

Maybe I shouldn’t be thinking too far forward but those offices at the top are ideal and anyone who would be willing to take an undergrad Computer Science student on in a managerial role feel free to drop me a message.

Platform Independence For Applications And Media Please!

There has, for as long as I can remember been an unbelievable injustice in the purchasing of applications. I have often pointed out on various channels of publication that I cannot stand being locked into an eco-system such as Apple’s iOS and iTunes empire. The other day I got incredibly annoyed when I realized that I have Worms 2 on a computer, on a PlayStation one and I wanted it on my iPad to relive the glory days of the super sheep. I then realized that I would have to pay for the game again. Fair enough, £0.69 isn’t the end of the world but I’ve already bought this game twice, why should I have to buy it again. Then I had a second annoyance when I found out that if I want to download the same game for my iPhone, I’d have to pay for it again. The same game, the same operating system but a slightly different sized screen. This is essentially like saying when playing Portal 2 on Steam, hey if you change your monitor size. It’s like saying if you buy a new DS that you should have to buy a new cartridge and quite simply put this is a horrible approach to selling things to the consumer.

I’ve said from the moment that iBooks came out, that I wouldn’t buy a single iBook from Apple because I don’t want to be tied down to an Apple device. How am I to know whether Apple will remain a good product designer in the future, or in an even more far-fetched manor, how am I to know Apple will even be around in the future. Does that deem my books unreadable? Brand loyalty in the technical world gets you absolutely nowhere. The market is constantly moving and now more and more people are adopting Android phones over iPhone but those with their iBooks, iTunes music and movies are stuck with their inferior devices because they can’t jump ship without massive inconvenience and this is simply wrong.

This is an age old problem. Authors have forever had the problem of publishers. The middle man in between the writer and the reader. This is what has happened with the new operating systems all our smart phones, tablets and now mainstream computing systems have. Why should I have to buy Fruit Ninja on my Windows 8 laptop, my iPad and my Nexus phone. I shouldn’t. The middle man is squeezing profits from the developer, taking money for putting an Application in the limelight. I am obviously aware of how important app distribution platforms have been for developers but at the same time they are reducing profits for the developers and they are reducing freedom for the consumer. How is this fair?

It is extremely difficult to propose a solution to this however one platform of distribution that I have found to be fairly good with their “fairness scheme” is Valve’s Steam. I’ve been a PC gamer for years and had built a rig years ago primarily for gaming and with that I downloaded ever PC Gamers favorite game platform. I downloaded the orange box, GTA and countless other games and was happy as could be with my virtual store. It’s renowned for good prices and service. Years down the line Steam announced that they would be bringing the platform to Mac. By this point I had Two MacBook Pro’s that were my most powerful machines for on the road so I thought I’d give the Mac client a go. To my surprise all the games that were available for Mac that I had bought on the PC automatically started downloading. I didn’t have to buy them again because I’d changed operating system and quite rightly so. I’d already paid for the game and Valve were willing to honor that regardless of what operating system I chose to use. They are also working on a Linux client as I write this which furthers my respect for them.

Then we have Kindle. I can read my Kindle books on iOS, Windows, Unix, Linux, Mac OSX, Kindles, Androids etc. There is literally a never ending list of places I can read my books that I buy from Kindle and that is the best option for me as a consumer. Amazon have also recently announced that if you have bought a CD from them before, they will make the MP3 equivalents of the tracks available on their cloud player. Simply fantastic customer service and an enticement to shop with them.

The reason this is occurring in my opinion is because Google and Microsoft want to take the Apple approach to life. They want complete control over their ecosystems. They want to be making money of distributing other developers software, they want to be there from the start to the finish. Companies like Amazon and Valve are making their services better to compete. Valve’s Gabe Newell has openly spoke out against Windows 8 and suggests it will kill the PC gaming market. The eco-systems we use are becoming more closed and the only option is for consumers to use services that are not linked to the OS. Steam is great for big screen gaming but it wouldn’t solve my Worms 2 problem because iOS would never allow another Application distribution method to be accepted into it’s store and therefore never get to the mainstream public. Android users fair a little better as the operating system is open and you don’t have to go through Google’s Play to download everything. A chance of a Steam on Android is way higher than on iOS. Maybe in the future the closed operating systems of Apple will come back to haunt it.

Whilst I’m almost certain we will never see a true fully cross platform media and content store there are solutions. One that exists now and one I hope to exist as soon as this is widely regarded as a problem. The first is that you should always use a service (where possible) that is not connected to anything such as operating system. Buy your music on a CD or from Amazon or subscribe to Spotify. Get your movies from Netflix or LOVEFilm or download MP4’s from a legal distribution system and sync them to devices manually. Your Games, for PC/Mac/Linux use Steam. It’s the best there is. For books, use Kindle. As much as Amazon has had a monopoly on the book market for ages it’s the best distribution method available for being able to platform independent.

In the future, I suggest a global code for every game. Something along the lines of what we used to get with our PC Games and Software in the pre-DRM days that when typed in on an App store or website releases the download regardless of platform. That or simply make absolute every application free. Then people who have paid for an application will have a legitimate log-in and can log in on first opening on the app. Regardless of what device they are on. They will have paid for it at some point.

This week – Snow

Really, there is only one thing that is that interesting that happened this week and it was the snow. South Wales had an absolute huge dump of snow and it was going to be enough to go sledging, snowboarding and to build a snow man. So I did exactly that. I woke up and grabbed a warm jumper, some overly bright track suit bottoms and grabbed my old snowboard and headed up to a place renowned by snow enthusiasts in the town as “the flagpole”.

A glorious hill that the owners allow all the young people of the town to enjoy the snow on and it’s where people go every year without fail. This year the snow got compacted enough by a friend who was canoeing down the slope that it almost felt like it had a good piste bashing. I’ve managed to make it up there most of the weekend and whilst I can say it was great fun it really made for great exercise as well. Makes a lift pass look like a fair deal in most resorts. Maybe it’s something I’ll work on something for next year that will carry me up the slope. Something along the lines of a portable pulley machine depending in how cheap that can be done.

Nothing more to report. Flight back to California on Saturday. Can’t wait.

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This Week – Dentist, Television And The Return To London

I literally cannot remember the last time I was as bored as I was at the start of this week. I’ve never ever wished I had a motor of some sort my whole life. Usk is a great place to live in terms of safety, pub life and people but as soon as the freedom of coming and going when you please goes, it feels like a prison. There is only so much heading down the pub and chatting to the locals I can take (unlike some of the locals).

It was with the complete and utter boredom I was experiencing that I decided to start watching TV again. I’ve been heavily critical of the absolute tripe that has been on television in the US and when returning to the UK, I’m sad to say that it’s almost as bad. Reality show after reality show and soap after soap. There is nothing worth watching on any of the channels recently. The BBC seems to have dropped in quality tenfold since leaving and apart from the recently launched David Attenborough program, I really can’t think of anything worth watching.

So I had two dental appointments this week, one to repair a tooth that caved in literally after bring in the USA for 3 weeks and then another to have a new filling. I really wish I spent more time brushing my teeth as a young one but that’s too late now. I have only recently realised that I am indeed petrified of the dentist and if I ever have to have that injection again I’m pretty sure it’ll be the end to my existence. It was horrible, although after a few days I’m extremely appreciative of having my tooth repaired and being able to chew on both sides again!

With the most exciting thing happening that week being my walk down to the dentist I booked a train to London to catch up with friends from university and friends from UCL and LSE. It’s the first of friends in my year who’s houses/flats I’ve seen and it was a fairly predictable experience although enlightening as London was always going to be expensive and as I’ll be moving up there on return, it’s good to know what to expect. I would recommend that anyone who’s a fan of steak and around London check out Flat Iron. It’s a fairly hip restaurant that does the whole “no queues” thing and only offers one main dish but it all works out really well and at a fantastic price. The music is also awesome and the staff were something else. Most of my time was spent in Camden and with that I had a fair few cocktails at Bar 55 and a cheeky wrap at Britain’s best kebab house, Woody Grill. Honestly the meat there is the most realistic kebab meat I’ve ever tasted and the sauces on offer are delicious. After a brief walk round UCL in the snow and having some coffee with friends I hailed a cab to Paddington and headed back on a first great western to Newport.

This Week – Home Sweet Home

So I’m back in Wales and I’m already massively content. I’m eating better food cooked by the best cook on earth (Mum, of course) and I’m indulging in all the great things the USA lacks. It’s surprising how much more I actually appreciate being home now that I’ve been away and travelled a bit. 4 months seems like an eternity in a country that has no awareness of the drink squash.

I’ve been juggling most of my time between seeing friends and family, sleeping and eating and just making sure I don’t waste the short period of time I have here. Christmas was an absolutely delightful day for the food, the smiles and the family… Oh, and I got an iPad! I’ve also had to get the things out the way that I haven’t been able to do in America, i.e Asthma check up, Dentists etc.

Some notable nights include heading up to Bristol to catch up with a friend from University and have a few drinks and a night out. We headed to spoons on the Clifton Triangle for a few before visiting the Cider Boat known as the Apple. The night concluded with a view to the sketchiest boat in the world, Thekla. We saw a DJ called One Man who was pretty awesome all things considered. The only downside to the night was some lady tricking me into giving away my can of Red Stripe and I’m still not really sure how it happened.

This weekend I’ve spent in Bath visiting my friend from Kingston University Snow Sports. I absolutely adore Bath it is literally one of the nicest cities on earth and whilst often dismissed as pretentious and overly posh it’s actually not that bad. I even ate in a TGI fridays despite my abhorrence for the chain. We spent the night in a club called Weir lounge and whilst it was great fun in there, some kind gentleman decided to whip out an Asp and Threaten us outside which wasn’t a nice end to the night. Pretty funny story though seeing as we’d done absolutely nothing wrong. Peoples desire to come across as the hard man on nights out will always perplex me. Can’t be that hard if you require a whip out police baton to make a statement anyway. All was fine, nobody got hurt and hopefully that guy won’t be round those parts again as he bolted pretty quickly when the old bill turned up. Also had a fairly average curry from a place under my mates flat but it was exceptionally reasonable in pricing so I’ll let them off for the not-so-flavourful tandoori chicken they served me. The walk around the river was nice and I’ve got a lot of time for Bath as a city and I wasn’t really put off by the only rude-boy in town trying to threaten me with something that could of been pretty detrimental to my bone structure.

I wish everyone a happy new year and that 2013 bring them good fortune however they may see that fit!

Flipboard – The App I Never Thought I Needed

Back in the day, I imagine people waking up and heading downstairs at a sensible time, collecting the post from the floor by the door and then grabbing the newspaper that had been delivered early that morning, sitting down with a cup of tea, some toast and delving straight in to the latest news as pushed out by the tabloids.

That’s all a bit retro for me. I instead get up whenever I must, head downstairs and unlock my iPad. First thing is first, check the emails, decide it’s all tripe and then head for the latest app to become part of my daily routine. It is in fact Flipboard. Flipboard takes all your interests, your social networks and a bunch of credible sources and compiles something akin to a daily newspaper for you. It is so called because of the flipping motion that is involved.

I’ve actually started reading journalism from journalists I never would. I’m getting a much broader set of sources of information and whilst remaining heavily critical of all of them it is nice to read a different point of view sometimes and articles that I would never really read. Subscriptions of mine include Technology, Futurology (Cisco), Business and News. I care more for the first three than the latter as news can be filled with equal amounts of tripe as one might experience on Fox News however it is good to keep up with so called current affairs.

I actually almost always miss out on the social network side of flipboard because quite frankly social networks are become the bane of my life. I’ve removed a third of the people I’m friends with on Facebook from my news feed because I really don’t care about the people I haven’t spoke to in 3 years yet felt too polite to ignore them online. Seeing Facebook in a different format does not make me want to use it anymore than I already do. Twitter is also something I keep up with more in it’s own respective app than on Flipboard.

I can highly recommend Flipboard to all as it a great replacement for that morning paper and it has a nice variety of sources and the majority of finding things is done for you. Select your interests and away you go!

iPad Mini Review

I was lucky enough to receive a 64GB, 4G capable iPad Mini for Christmas of a relative and after being completely incapable of making a decision on which tablet/reader I should buy I’m actually very pleased that someone took the liberty of doing it for me.

All I’ve known for the past few months in terms of making the decision is that I don’t read enough literature. I read a hell of a lot of journalism, speculation and papers despite having a distinct hatred for sensationalism and everything that goes with it. I need to do something with my eyes other than stream through endless websites looking for something vaguely interesting to read. I’ve also been a very independent learner throughout my life and I think reading is a great way to learn during one’s spare time. So with that, I’ll come to the iPad. I’ve used countless iPads for countless hours since it’s release and my love-hate relationship with Apple really shone through during thees times. This outrageously restrictive device seemed an unbelievably brilliant computational device to use when you wake up in the morning, when you get back from work and for when you really can’t be bothered with a computer.

The iPad itself was a fantastic device for doing just this however, I always felt that if I bought the iPad, I’d probably end up buying a Kindle as well. The iPad seemed great at the time and it still is a good device but since spending some time with the mini, it seems grossly oversized, overweight and far less sleek. We all knew there was a market for smaller tablets than the iPad and that is precisely the reason Apple released the smaller iteration of it’s touchscreen slate. It’s not until you actually spend some time with the mini that you find it really is the optimal form factor for tablets. The size of the screen is perfect, the bezel is small enough to make the screen seem bigger than it really is and it actually is a decent weight so that if you want to spend some time on the device you can. I’ve shown no signs of getting gorilla arm yet either.

The device works well as a reader and the Kindle is my platform of choice so that I can read my books on whatever device I please and not stay locked into Apple’s vile eco-system. I have been reading the Great North Road by Peter F. Hamilton and whilst it’s an absolutely massive book my eyes get no more tired than they would if I was reading a paper book. Then when my eyes actually do go tired, I usually switch tasks to something a little less eye intensive. Say, a game of Worms 2.

There really is no need for me to go into the details of the OS as nearly everyone who’d be interested in buying an iPad would have had at least a little bit of time with iOS. Siri is as useless as ever (especially seeing as it doesn’t tell me rugby scored) and can only really be used here and there. The idea remains novel although like the majority of people; I’m still not that comfortable with talking to a computer. The main talking point here is the hardware and I have to say that Apple have done what they do best and created a fantastically luxury feeling device that is a simple joy to use and own. The finger prints on the black version that I own are of slight annoyance although by the time I purchase a case it won’t really matter. In fact it hardly matters because I never spend a dramatic amount of time looking at the back of my iPad. I’ll be damned if I mention anything about chamfer because it’s my least favourite word of 2012.

The cellular network has already proved useful for me particularly on trains and when out and about. Relying on hot-spots these days is a bit of a pain seeing as you need to do so much to just get connected and I have managed to get a super cheap plan form the guys over at GiffGaff (running through 02 network). It would seem only logical to go with EE these days however they don’t offer the plans I need and GiffGaff is without a doubt the cheapest way to get an iPad online. They’ll send you a sim in the post for free and you can be up and running in now time whatsoever.

I’m very grateful to of received this gift and the person who in fact bought it for me must have known me well. Given the chance to go and buy one of the iPads tomorrow I would of settled on this exact device. I’d highly recommend it. I’d highly recommend the black version. Cellular is only there if you really need it but it is a fair drain on battery and if you usually have a WiFi connection, save yourself £100