New Flikr

Tim Ford Flikr
TimFordUK Flikr

From the moment I took an interest in photos and images, Flikr has always been a name that was synonymous with professional content. Flikr was never meant to be like Facebook where you constantly upload streams of fairly poor quality photos, it was meant for photos that look good and that’s why it was the go to place for the pros. I’m by no means a pro but I’ve always had a Flikr account, although much to my dismay one of them was lost due to my complete lack of involvement for some time.

Now though, under the ever-changing Yahoo and Marissa Mayer management, the photo sharing service has been well and truly relaunched and it’s an absolutely beautiful looking website. I have to say, it’s quite difficult to make photos look beautiful together because they vary so much in colour and content but this seems to work incredibly well simply by putting all your photos together in a sort of stream. It looks so much better than Facebook’s album solution yet holds a striking resemblance. Never ending photos all the way down to your very last one.

The big announcement though came with the idea that everyone can have a terabyte of photo storage. That is absolutely mad. A terabyte is a lot of data even in terms of RAW and it shows that Flikr (every time I type that I realize how much I hate how it’s spelt) really is still after the pros in the game. There was a little bit of a mess at launch though, the pros who had paid for ad-free had just found out it was going to cost more to go ad-free with the new version and they didn’t seem that chuffed that the free users were now receiving this insurmountable amount of data.  There was also a hiccup suggesting that users would never be able to fill that amount because of a limit of 300mb per month upload limit that has now been debunked as an error and that people will actually be able to utilize the massive amounts of data flikr is offering them. It was a bold move by Yahoo! and hopefully this will encourage places like Google Drive and Sky Drive to up their offerings of storage as the race to be the place to store your content goes on.

Now If I could only get some more time to spend with my SLR I might be able to take some good photos to upload to the newly and beautifully designed Flikr.

Study Abroad At San Francisco State University

So my year at San Francisco State University has finally come to an end. It’s been an absolute blast. The city is one of the best places I’ve had the fortunate opportunity of taking residence in and the people that have made this year so enjoyable could make even the worst of places seem like the best.

 

Tim Ford at Treasure Island San Francisco
Treasure Island San Francisco

Everyone should have done study abroad. It’s a cliché as hell thing to say and any person who works in the study abroad office is probably trying to ram it down your throat enough to make you want to avoid anyone that’s done it for the rest of eternity but they really are suggesting it for good reasons. When I was on my first year at Kingston I applied to do Study Abroad on a whim. I wasn’t really planning on taking it because I was actually really daunted by the idea. I’ve always been an advocate of travel and I really wanted to check out the Tech capital of the world but realistically, I had a very close knit group of friends at home and a pretty comfortable life living between London and Wales. I had no need to really move away from my comfort zone but I can’t express how glad I am I did it. My curiosity increased for study abroad after a visit to Mumbai of all places.  I thought to myself if I can head to India and be comfortable there a westernized country like the US would be no problem to live in for a while.

Originally I applied to do a semester but realized that getting housing on return would be a massive pain so I extended to a year before leaving. If your going to do it. Do it for the year. It will make your life so much easier as it’s a massive inconvenience extending once your abroad.

So after a ridiculously long stint in the ghastly embassy in Grovesnor Square, I’d secured myself a Visa and had my first meeting of the year with America’s “If It ain’t capitalism it’s broken” philosophy. I say this because despite living less than 15 Miles away in Kingston Upon Thames, they happened to see it necessary to charge me £15 to send my Passport back to me by some repugnant courier. Now I’m not suggesting capitalism is the wrong way and I’m by no means some raging political activist that’s got a problem with the system but you will realize how much better the Yanks are at capitalism than us in the UK and when your constantly signing waivers and things that inevitably end up with you getting charged for some hidden fee it starts to get annoying.

But that’s all before I’d even got here. On arrival, I opted for on campus housing which opened my eyes to America’s love for bureaucracy. I’m pretty sure it must of been over ten million forms I’d filled in before being taken to my room to fill in a form about the form I’d filled in previously stating that I’m alright to fill in forms and wont sue if the form is wrong. Seriously, if your studying abroad you’ll get so bored of forms that when offered the chance to give up your privacy to log in using facebook instead of signing up for an account you’ll jump at the chance.

That was that. I had a place to live in San Francisco next to a 24 hour Subway sandwhich shop and less than 10 minutes walk from any of the classes (on return to Kingston, I will start saying lecture again) I would have to attend. This was nice although on the public transport system I had to take a 20/30 minute hybrid bus/tram/train thing called the MUNI to get down to the heart of San Francisco. I will never ever miss the MUNI. It’s a good municipal transport system but it’s kind of dirty, there’s always a loon that seems to have a problem with your existence or makes you feel awkward beyond belief and when everyone seems to be driving past you in a gas guzzling 4X4 and getting there twice as fast you start to wonder what good taking public transport is doing for the environment. Not only that, if I bought a car at the start of the year it would have got it’s moneys worth without a doubt. In fact I actually ended up buying a bike in the second semester and deeply regretted not having one for the first because it came in ever so handy at times of need of transport that didn’t involve sitting next to one of the local homeless drunks that doesn’t mind rubbing his dirty clothes all over you.

Tim Ford Snowboarding

My first experience down town alone was petrifying. Some guy tried to nick my phone in   Starbucks and obviously half the blighters in town could see in my face that I was uncomfortable in my surroundings and liked to capitalize on that. See, even the homeless people in America know when they can capitalize on a situation. It took me a while to adjust to the homeless people of San Francisco but after a while you realize they are just as much part of the city as the Trans-america building or the Golden Gate Bridge and they really are harmless.

TimFordAlexNielsen

I didn’t completely fall in love with the city for a good few months because I was a student stuck in my British ways with limited amounts of money and a bunch of Australian neighbors who just loved taking me to different bars to lose my marbles. Great fun it was too. Although I feel I’ve made a lot more of the city towards the end of the year because there was literally no urgency in my mind to do anything at the start. This semester I’ve accomplished twice as much sight seeing and touristy stuff as well as travelling. Last semester I made it to Vegas and Tahoe and that was it. This semester I made it to LA, Santa Barbara, Tahoe, Yosemite and many other places that I forget without looking through my pictures folder. I’m leaving now and I feel like I’ve made the most of my time here and I’m really chuffed with how I spent all my time.

P1090109

Money was tight at a lot of points and I really regret not applying for a credit card at home. Honestly I was extremely fortunate that friends had credit cards and let me pay them back for things like car rentals and hotels because absolutely nowhere will accept debit cards for things with deposits. I opened up a Bank Of America account as soon as I arrived and that was definitely worth doing and if anyone is planning on coming to America and wants an easy way of getting money here I’d recommend getting a Barclay’s current account as they waive ATM fees at Bank Of America because of the global banking alliance. That’s made things a lot easier for me. I know people don’t really like credit cards if they don’t need it but getting a credit card for study abroad is something I think is crucial and I wish I did. If only even for emergencies.

The boys in Vegas.
The boys in Vegas.

University itself has been a mixed bag for me. I absolutely hate the system in which American universities run their degrees. The British system is so much better in the way the administration works just by the fact that you get the courses you need to complete your course. I did 3 graduate courses, and 5 undergraduate courses despite being a second year student. Some classes I almost didn’t get because of the registration system even though I get priority registration. They didn’t want me to take any of the classes at one point because I didn’t have the pre-requisites. Classes that don’t exist in the UK. They were telling me that I can’t do CSC415 if I don’t have a physics class. I was then asked if I knew anything about magnets. Yes, yes I do but what relevance it had to the class? none. Unbelievably shabby system and it’s an absolute shambles. My flat mate was on his third year of his criminology degree yet only took one criminology class in the second semester of that year. See the problem there? Then the classes here are ridiculous as well, the difficulty ranged massively, professors have enough power to make the grade almost irrelevant. There is no set grading boundaries, some mark on curves some don’t. Some will alter your grade because they think your capable some won’t. Extra credit is offered sometimes other times it’s not. 90% + is required for top marks and even if you get 3 A’s a B+ can bring you down to an A- and that’s that for the course. There is seriously so much wrong with this system and all the students here recognize it too. Some of my friends found there courses dramatically easier than at home some dramatically harder. Some classes I took were akin to A Level IT, others like PhD CompSci.  It was hard work but it’s all over now. The classes I enjoyed were absolutely great but the ones I didn’t stressed me out a lot. I’m looking forward to returning to the much more logical and sensible British system.

Tim Ford Yosemite
Tim, Rachel, Rachel, Julian and Alex at Yosemite.

The best part of all of the time I’ve spent here though and by far the best aspect of study abroad is the friends you make. I’ve friends from the homeland but friends from all over the world as well now. I’m no stranger to internationals. I lived in the international halls last year and one of my best friends was the reason I went out to Mumbai but my network of friends has expanded to all corners of the globe now. I’ve friends in Norway, Germany, Austria, America, Mexico and many others. In fact I’m flying straight from SFO to Australia to rendezvous with the neighbors of last semester and will be expecting them over in 2015 for the Rugby World Cup.  I absolutely loved everyone I had the pleasure of spending time with over the past year, I’ve made so many friends for life and not just friends for study abroad and I couldn’t be more pleased about that. Even if San Francisco was the biggest dive on earth (which it certainly isn’t) I could have had a good time because of the amazing people I’ve spent time with.

Honestly, if you get the chance to Study Abroad. Go. You won’t regret it and it will be one of the most memorable years of your life.

 

 

 

Xbox One Criticism Doesn’t Bother Me

New XBOX ONE

 

So many people have been harping on about how the Xbox One doesn’t play 360 games, charges for second hand games to be played (even though that hasn’t been entirely confirmed yet) and that it comes with Kinect and that’s a problem.

I really couldn’t care less about any of those problems. I don’t own a Xbox 360 so that is the first problem off my list. I also don’t ever buy second hand games. I literally haven’t had a second hand game since the GameCube and to be honest, I don’t have to share a copy of Fifa between three friends.

As for Kinect, I actually had never used it until I popped into San Francisco Westfield the other day to check out the new Microsoft Store (Props MSFT, looks good) and happened to get roped into a game of Kinect Sports or whatever it’s called. It was actually pretty good fun and accurate enough to work in the middle of one of San Francisco’s biggest shopping havens. I’m not all over talking to my Telle but if nobody is about why not?

Having owned a PS3 and spending less time on it than any console I’ve ever purchased before and really only using it for it’s media functions such as LOVEFiLM and iPlayer the Xbox One is really same sort of device. Having really made use of Microsoft services recently with the likes of my Windows Phone, Windows 8 install and the online services such as Sky Drive and Outlook.com, if these are integrated well that will make for a great cloud experience. I love how the chances are if I take a photo on my Windows Phone, it’ll shoot it up to SkyDrive and I can show my family on the TV when I get home without any messing about.

It’s really down to the games for me though, if they PS4 doesn’t have any amazing exclusives then I’ll probably jump ship and get an Xbox One. It’s an ugly little box but it will do everything I need it to, it will hopefully seamlessly integrate to my current Microsoft Services and that’s all I need. All I’ve seen around the web so far though is the same old moaning nerds having a winge about the next generation even though they are all gonna go out and buy it anyway.

PressReader – The Newspaper Lives On

I was contacted some weeks ago about an application named PressReader. Given that (for better or worse) I absolutely always stay up to date on the news, I was excited at the prospect of trying out the application that allowed me to read full newspapers as if they were hot off the printing press on my iPad Mini.

PresshReader starts with an rather mysterious launch page that I personally think looks like it should be more a start screen for a game of Cluedo than a modern representation of the paper but soon the functionality is revealed and you can revel in the journalistic pleasure of today’s news.

As I am currently in America yet like to keep up on the British news, press readers Global variety of papers was very welcome.  My trial of PressReader allowed me to download as many newspapers from as many countries as I liked and this is available to you for $30 a month or if you would rather a pay as you go tariff  you can check out a paper for .99c a download. Personally, the monthly payment I think is a better option because if your into your news and you’d like to read from multiple papers, why not have the option for the same price as buying a paper every day. This works great if a certain paper may be running a feature you may be interested in or you’d like to read something from a politically different view for example, reading the Guardian article on Nigel Farage and then the Independents. I have subscriptions to the Guardian, Independent and San Francisco Chronicle and they are delivered to my iPad as soon as they are available and I read all three every day.

PressReader also has a top stories section in which the most read stories from newspapers around the world can be selected and read. I didn’t make much use of this as I know what papers I like and what articles I’m looking for before I read but this can be of assistance to those just looking for something to read.

PressReader has great accessibility features. The app will actually read the entire paper to you if you wish. Then you have the benefit of being able to zoom and have crisp text at almost any size you wish so if your hard of sight you may still be able to read the paper or have it read to you. When in the SmartFlow feature fonts can be changed and sizes can be adjusted which is a welcome feature for those particular about how there text looks when reading on a digital device. This actually works really well.

So Newspapers are Newspapers and PressReader allows you to view them from start to finish in the way that you would a physical one. You can zoom as you’d expect with pinch-to-zoom and you can read the paper much like a real one. There is however another option, you can use PressReaders innovative SmartFlow feature. This takes you out of page view (normal paper view) and takes you into a view where the article can be read in a more fluid motion. A full page effect of any article if you will. This actually works really well and makes reading the Newspapers a lot easier. Articles compatible with SmartFlow have their headlines highlighted in blue so a simple tap will have your article show up in an easy to read and rather nice format. Pictures also appear very clearly and actually look a whole lot better than they would on their print counterparts.

Reading a Newspaper on the iPad certainly lacks the tactile feel that one gets when reading the paper and it’s slightly more risky getting you iPad out on the tube to read the paper than it would be to grab an evening standard and sit there unworried about your chances of losing or breaking said paper. When at home there is not these worries and reading the paper on PressReader is a massively pleasant experience. There is no more stops to the newsagent which may aid you in avoiding buying a twix every day because you feel obliged to accompany your paper with a snack. No chance the paper boy might not come because it’s tipping down with rain and you get the chance to switch up which papers you read at will. Missed an article from a paper a few days back? You can download the previous editions of papers as well. Want to send an article a friend? you can print the page and send it to them if you like. You can even print screen the article and send them it via email to save some more trees if you like. You can carry thousands of newspapers at all times with you to keep you entertained.

If I was to suggest some changes I personally would like on the app would be some sort of pencil function that allowed me to scribble little notes on the newspaper. This would be great for research and for those fun little puzzles included in some newspapers. I’m partial to a sudoku once in a while you see. Obviously it would be nice to save those scribbles as well. In general the application is pretty good looking and suitable to function although I don’t think the logo or the splash screen fit in very well with modern design languages and would prefer something a lot more simple and a lot brighter and enticing. If only there was a way the folks at PressReader could also design an algorithm that takes all the miserable and depressing news that the papers are pushing out these days and turn it in to something happier and funny that would also be a welcome feature.

This application is available for all major devices and available in their respective stores. The website for PressReader is here and I’d recommend checking it out if your looking for a new way to consume your news, especially if you are a tree-hugging fan of the print media.