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Camping 2.0

August 12, 2010 2 comments

I just got back a few days ago after a full week camping (at Point Farms Provincial Park, on Lake Huron in Ontario, Canada – great site if you are interested).

camping 2010

It was more fun than this, really!

For me, camping is all about a tent, the odd tarp, and having to scrub the smell of wood smoke off you when you eventually get home. I don’t buy into using trailers, small or otherwise, if you’re not at least somewhat exposed to the elements, why bother? The main appeal is that it’s just you and the family, no TV, internet, or other distractions. A good chair or hammock, and a good book is also recommended – I got through 2000 pages last week, loved it! I read “Order In Chaos” (book 3 of the Templar Trilogy from Jack Whyte), and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (by Stieg Larsson), and highly recommend them both. Cards and board games by lantern, sitting around the camp fire, and days on the beach (well, beach for the women folk in the family, I just burn, so avoid beaches!)

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Did I mention the S'Mores? Or the Beautiful Lake Huron sunsets - free with each site!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Les Stroud (Survivorman), or Bear Grylls either, but I do like my camping reasonably authentic. That’s why I read with some consternation recently, that Ontario Provincial Parks are looking to introduce WiFi to the campsites. In fact they are trialling it at The Pinery, near Grand Bend, not far from where I was in fact.

My wife works remotely now, so has her laptop and Blackberry, and she is on both constantly. I’m also on my iPhone ALL THE TIME. This was a week where we could not worry about those devices and really get away, with no temptation to go online, since there was no signal – neither her Blackberry (on Telus) or my iPhone (Rogers) got even a single bar 🙂 I’m a Twitterholic, and a big gamer, but I didn’t miss my Wii, Xbox, or PS3 for the week. The kids are big online addicts too, especially my older daughter, yet I don’t recall seeing her laid in the fetal position, twitching, with withdrawal from Facebook… I don’t think she even mentioned it. If your kids are bored while you are camping, you are doing it wrong!

The Provincial Parks are citing a loss of customers to private camp sites that offer free wireless service, specifically mentioning the KOA ones. Every time I see a KOA site they look like a bed episode of Top gear, with trailers parked in some field somewhere right next to each other – waiting for Richard Hammond to set them on fire! The Provincial Parks on Lake Huron are great, with spacious lots, many of them quite private, and easy access to fantastic beaches. Why do people need wireless?

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A few more camping pics

The World Cup is finally here!

June 12, 2010 1 comment

Well, the World Cup 2010 is finally here, and as usual, there is plenty going on off the field too.

Four days and almost a dozen games in, the biggest talking point is the vuvuzela. Never mind that the players can’t hear anything, neither can we as fans. You can’t hear the crowd singing either. You would think you would be easily able to drown out a constant droning noise during a football match, well, the married men should be able to! It kills all atmosphere, though, and is beyond annoying. The atmosphere is as flat as the pitches.

The vaunted Jubilani ball is as big an issue. It is making goalies look stupid, and was the deciding factor in three games… so far! Even when it isn’t moving around in the air, the Jubilani is making goalies prepare differently in all situations. The ball is as big an issue for outfield players, making set-piece takers look like Sunday leaguers.

As in World Cups past, FIFA have decided to intervene and introduce another pointless “directive” to officials, this time they have targeted the scourge that is the penalty run-up. WTF? Forget the real problems in the game, let’s focus on the minutiae again… sigh.

More bitching? Why yes, as if the overly-round and light ball isn’t enough to deal with, the ridiculously high bounces are also causing issues. Pitches that are part artificial turf aren’t helping.

On the pitch, little of note, although Germany’s performance stood out. If FIFA wanted to have games decided by anything BUT talent, job done. Great disappontment so far, and since FIFA have decided to do nothing about the vuvuzela, I don’t see it improving.

Its been a long road, getting from there to here!

June 12, 2010 Leave a comment

For anyone paying attention, you’ll notice it’s been just over a month since my last blog. You’re probably expecting me to apologise, and trot out the usual excuses – “life intervened”, “too busy”, “haven’t had time” etc etc … well I’m not. I had plenty of time, just check my Raptr gaming profile, or my Twitter feed.

So why just stop for no apparent reason? Why indeed. Last night was the season finale of Stargate Universe (SGU), a show I have really enjoyed, but one of those that took a pointless mid-season break. Get it now?

I can understand the summer break in TV shows, it is all about money after all. I could even understand a short Christmas break, but a couple of months? Or longer – SGU was off the air for about 4 months here in Canada! They are just taking the piss.

Caprica

Caprica next on the block?

I don’t recall how many shows I’ve lost touch with, and just lost interest in, over the years due to day and or time changes, or just due to them taking the dreaded “hiatus”. My wife and I used to love Boston Legal, but after it took an extended break, switched times and days etc, I lost touch and didn’t even realise it was back on. Caprica looks set to become the next victim of my apathy. Nine brilliant episodes, then poof! That show was advertised, prior to its debut, for longer than it ran!

It doesn’t help that PVRs, TV on DVD, services like Hulu, and on-demand have changed the way people watch TV. Personally, I don’t watch live to air TV anymore, or very rarely. My PVR is my best friend, and I often wait for entire seasons to be done, just so I can watch them back to back. I don’t watch ads, so I doubt any TV folks care what I have to say, but I don’t believe I’m alone in my viewing habits.

Stargate Universe

Are they taking the piss?

TV on DVD has really complicated the landscape, and I am really worried that we will see more and more mid-season breaks. Why? There is big money in TV on DVD. SGU took the opportunity to release a half-season DVD set (Season 1.0) … WTF? Was it really a case of taking the opportunity, or a planned move to gouge the fans? Perhaps I’m being cynical, but I don’t like the direction in which the industry is developing it’s new model. The rest of the SGU Season 1 (called Season 1.5) is due for release July 27th – which, coincidentally, is my birthday!

Don’t get me wrong either, as I stated in previous blogs, I love TV on DVD. We are currently working our way through The Sopranos, and I’m dropping (not so) subtle hints that the Chuck Season 2 DVD set with the 3D glasses would be a great Father’s Day gift… Yvonne Strahovsky in lingerie, IN 3D… now that’s entertainment!

My concern is that the window from air to DVD is being artificially manipulated just to get the cash in more quickly. Yes, it’s a cut-throat business, and I hope someone on the inside comments on this blog. I would love to be shot down here, and have all this paranoia devalued, but sadly I don’t see that happening.

Anyway, rant over, I have to go watch SGU: Incursion Part 2 … I have it on my PVR from last night.

More Olympic Musings – We all become experts, don’t we!

February 18, 2010 Leave a comment

The 2010 Winter Olympics have certainly had their problems, what with the weather, ice conditions, snow conditions, and the usual griping, debatable judging decisions, and of course the odd accusation of cheating – doping I’ve heard of, but magnets on your sled in skeleton?

All that aside, I’m still loving the whole thing. I much prefer the more obscure events, the ones you don’t see every week on TV anyway. Luge, Skeleton, Biathlon, Freestyle skiing, it’s all fantastic to watch. One thing I notice every Olympics is that we all seem to become experts at events we only see every four years. During the brilliant Gold Medal freestyle run by Alexandre Bilodeau we were sitting around dissing various athletes as they came down those moguls … “his knees are all over the place … he’s not sliding from mogul to mogul” etc. etc.  This from one person who can’t ski, and three who consider a mogul anything that is not dead flat! The same happened with speed skating. One bottle of wine later and we were critiquing the finer points of skating technique. Well, I was, the wife was discussing the finer points of the male skater’s skin-tight costumes … were the Japanese men really wearing thongs? It would explain a lot of Japanese game shows and web sites!

Kidding aside, it’s hard not to feel amazingly proud and patriotic watching these athletes compete. I simply cannot imagine training for four years and ending up losing a medal by a few HUNDREDTHS of a second, like Kristina Groves did today. The Olympics is about so much more than medals though. The effort these athletes put forward is beyond inspiring. More than that, to see the absolute joy of athletes who simply perform to their best, or beat their personal best but don’t come close the podium, is wonderful.

The Winter Olympics Are Here – What did you think of the opening ceremonies?

February 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Being Canadian it’s a must that you do an Olympic themed blog, and the opening day of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver certainly provided plenty of things to comment on.

Firstly, the terrible accident that claimed the life of a Georgian slider has really cast a pall over the opening of the Olympics. We really forget just how dangerous many of these events are.

The opening ceremonies are normally something I overlook, but being in my home country, I wasn’t going to miss them. I wasn’t disappointed. Even for someone like myself, who was born elsewhere, and moved to Canada in my teens, It was impossible not to feel a real sense of pride and surge of patriotism.

I was tweeting during the opening ceremonies, and was surprised to see a lot of negativity at certain points … especially regarding lip-synching. Who cares. I was moved by our National Anthem, and care little if it was live – how could it be in that arena.

The athletes are always the big draw, and it is amazing to see countries at their first Olympics, or having just one athlete. That is the true spirit of the Olympics. I have to admit, though, I was disappointed to see several countries with pro hockey players as flag-bearers. I don’t think the pros should be here, and especially not taking such a role. The amateurs are what this is all about. The reception for the Georgian team was especially poignant, and of course, the Canadian athletes coming in was a real thrill.

The light show was phenomenal, especially the whales, fall leaves, breaking ice, and prairies. The polar bear was also amazing, with the sensitivity and acknowledgement of the local native communities reflecting very well on Canada. The music was also a highlight for me, and while KD Lang’s “Hallelujah” was stunning, the fiddling was a real showstopper. I won’t comment on Nelly Furtado’s dress as it might take the blog from a G to a PG rating, but in the words of a famous Canadian – Schwing! Not sure about the shoes though.

One of the most gratifying moments for me was seeing Terry Fox’s Mother helping carry the Olympic flag. Then to see Rick Hansen carrying the torch in – these are after all the Olympics & Paralympics.

After KD, things sort of went downhill though. Speeches are always tough to fit in to a big event like this, and were made tougher with the acknowledgement of the luge accident. I was really confused with the Patti LaBelle impersonator too, and why she was screeching a poem? It would have been fun to see KD Lang wearing that dress!

Then we had the most awkward pause in Olympic history, while the hydraulics were being tweaked, and eventually abandoned, for the lighting of the flame. You have to feel sorry for the poor Canadian who didn’t get to light the torch.

Finally, seeing Gretzky carry a torch in the back of a car for 15 minutes, in torrential rain … thrilling. In fact, he had to carry three torches, as they don’t stay lit that long. Despite a bit of a damp squib of an ending, overall the ceremonies far exceeded my expectations, and I really enjoyed them. Let’s hope the games themselves are as interesting… and with Canadians everywhere craving our first gold on home soil, I’m sure they will be.

I’d be interested to hear how non-Canadians felt about the opening ceremonies, and your thoughts on the Olympics in general.

What techy/nerdy things were ‘must haves’ for you over the last decade?

February 12, 2010 3 comments

There are far too many things I consider that I can no longer live without! Some gadgets, some trends, all life savers in their own way. The Top 5 are below, with some honourable mentions.

And in no particular order …

1) TV on DVD
With the shortening of the window from broadcast to DVD release, TV on DVD really seemed to come into its own in the last decade. (Stargate Universe is taking the you-know-what though, releasing a ‘Season 1.0’ DVD before they even complete the season!) I have to admit, I love me my TV shows, but I simply can’t stand half of the crap on these days. It’s mostly reality shows I hate, and there seem to be a LOT of them. Finding a good show you missed the first time round, and then being able to sit night after night and just enjoy it all is fantastic. It also gives you a chance to unearth some real gems – like the UK version of “Life on Mars”, and the follow-up “Ashes to Ashes” (both available from BBC worldwide). Catching up on a still-running show is a pain though … we are now fully caught up on Chuck and almost so on Dexter. After weeks of continual enjoyment, waiting a week for the next episode seems an eternity 🙂

2) TiVo / PVR
If you have to watch a current show, a PVR is the way to go. It’s not just for the odd time you miss a show either, being able to skip ads, or fast-forward through them if your TV provider only offers crappy low end PVR’s. I would be lost without my PVR. Pausing live TV, skipping back to re-listen when the kids start fighting and you miss something – it’s a God-send if you’re a parent. When you think back to the days of VHS tapes (or Beta if you picked the loser), and SP, LP, SLP, snapping tapes, crappy recordings etc. etc., the PVR just seems so civilized. TiVo wasn’t available in Canada when I first got my PVR, perhaps any users can enlighten me to what I’m missing, and whether it’s worth moving up to?

3) Universal Remote
Much like the PVR, I didn’t know how much I needed a Universal remote. I have a rechargeable Logitech Harmony model, and it easily replaced four remotes. The setup is not quite as easy as they make out (you need a net connection, to install the required software, to know the models of all your equipment, and be fairly tech-savvy). Once set up though, your profile allows changes easily, and you can transfer the profile easily if you upgrade or switch models of remote. The only thing it can’t control is my PS3, but I know Logitech does offer an adapter. RF models or adapters are also available if your equipment is out of line-of-sight. You may think why bother, but getting a decent, high-end Universal will more than pay you back.

As an aside, I would like to thank all the useless 10-pin bowlers at Dell Canada. My wife won our Harmony remote by bowling a meager 135 at a Dell event!

4) Xbox 360
Avid followers of my blog will know that I was a pretty hardcore PC gamer until fairly recently. Even after my first 360 RROD’ing it’s still my primary game platform now though. The vast library of games, and those damn achievement points, make it virtually indispensible – in fact, we have two of them in the house. I don’t share well with others, so the kids had to get their own! I sometimes worry that my kids’ childhood memories of ‘playing’ with their father will be of co-op Left 4 Dead, and not picnics, swings, and such – but as long as they are happy memories, is that a bad thing?

5) PS3
We are a 3-console household, having all the next-gen consoles … you will note we are now at #5 on the list, and no Wii though. The PS3 is simply a great piece of hardware. Not only is it rivalling my 360 in terms of game-hours played, but being our Blu-ray player and media server, it is definitely used more than the 360. The wireless streaming of content to my TV from the TVersity software on my PC is virtually seamless. A little IP spoofing later and voila, Hulu direct to my TV. The 360 was useless wirelessly for this.


Honourable Mentions

We still play the Wii now and then, but the lack of serious games make it more a novelty. Wii Sports still gets played the most, and to be honest, I’m disappointed I got Guitar Hero and Rock Band for the Wii, instead of waiting until I had the other consoles. Wii Fit had some potential too, and it’s failure probably says more about my lack of willpower than anything bad about the product – although it did rather rudely tell me I was fat. I guess the truth hurts!

I never embraced on-the-go Internet, I never saw the point of it. I finally got an iPhone just this Christmas, so one week of the last decade is far too little time to make this list. Having my first data plan, and a smart-device capable of easily making use of it, has been great though. I’m not sure if my Twitter followers like the idea of me being able to share so frequently,  however.

I consider Xbox Live as a separate beast from the 360 itself, and what a beast it is. 20 Million users, and unlike Twitter or World of Warcraft, I don’t see it plateauing any time soon. My Gold membership is up next month, and to be honest, I won’t miss it. I play online so infrequently now it won’t get renewed. yes, it’s only $5 a month, which is nothing for what it is, but that’s at least three extra coffees from Tim Horton’s every month!

The indisputable winner as gadget of the last decade was the iPod. Again, I never had one. I had mp3 players, and loved my Sony-Ericsson Walkman phone, but rarely used it, as my commute is short, and I’m not often away from direct sources of music (read that as ‘rarely off the couch’).

‘On Demand’ will probably be the way of the next decade, but made enough impact over the last  few years to signal its intention. TV shows and movies have been On Demand for a while now, and it sure beats the days of waiting for that movie or show to start on pay-per-view. On Demand is all about control, and the digital infrastructure is now in place for it to really make an impact. Digital delivery and On Demand may be the death knell for the neighborhood video store.

I’m often told that once you go High Def you’ll never go back. I have had a HD capable TV since the last soccer World Cup in 2006 – I love LG, really I do! I have just never gone that extra step and got the HD-PVR and package to utilize it. I’m pretty happy with the definition I have. Perhaps it’s like the Harmony, I may not be able to live without it once I go that route, but for now, I can’t miss what I don’t have.

Blu-ray movies are pretty much the same as above. We own about a dozen Blu-ray movies now, and while I see the quality, it’s more the capacity that excites me. The disks mean lots of room for special features, extra content, additional commentaries – the works! So why are companies cashing in by re-releasing old movies with little or no content on Blu-ray? I guess I answered my own question there – but I’ll still watch First Blood about every month 🙂

What do you consider indispensible in your life?

My Golden Globes 2010 Review

January 18, 2010 2 comments

Yes, the Golden Globes are a bit of a departure from tech gadgets and video games, but everyone loves an award ceremony, and they are great for taking shots at – so why not!

I usually prefer the Golden Globes to the Oscars, they seem to be a bit less biased toward the media circus and PR campaigns that lead up to this silly season in movies and TV … it seemed that way, but maybe not any more. The Usual Suspects (not the movie unfortunately) dominated, and the same big star bias was evident. Who are the Hollywood Foreign Press Association anyway? From “humble origins” (their words), they have grown to an organization that, while know mostly for the awards show, does stellar work for charity. They donated more than 1 Million dollars to entertainment-related charities alone last year.

As with all award shows, the red carpet is a big deal for the fashionistas – I’m not much into fashion, and don’t know haute couture from Hors d’œuvres, but it’s pretty easy to pick the fashion disasters from the winners. I thought Cameron Diaz, Kate Hudson, and Sandra Bullock were the big disasters of the night, although there were a few over-frilly numbers that were also in contention. Contrary to most opinions, I thought Jennifer Aniston looked great – but then I’m male!

I’m a big fan of Ricky Gervais, everything except The Office in fact. His running dialogue with Steve Carel is getting pretty old, but I enjoyed the rest of his intros and patter. Unfortunately, I’m not really sure why they bothered though. The show wasn’t really set up for a host. Gervais made some cameo appearances, most seeming to be of his choosing, but he was wasted… bad joke. Just like the Mel Gibson one. As usual, the bias toward the luminaries was evident, with Meryl Streep being allowed to drone on unintelligibly for what seemed an eternity, while other lesser-lights were violin-ed into verbal submission, and marched off stage as quickly as possible.

I followed several social media types online during the awards, and it was neat to see how even stars in the auditorium were posting – Neal Patrick Harris posting a great pic of him and Micky Rourke! Honestly, I found the actual awards pretty boring, it’s the candid crowd shots that are fun! It was fun, however, to see Lithgow, Barrymore, Waltz, Downey Jr., Bacon and especially Jeff Bridges win. It was far more disappointing to see James Cameron’s Avatar bandwagon roll on – regardless of the fact it is actually quite an average movie (special effects aside). I really keep trying hard to like Cameron, but it’s a losing cause. He is to movies what Molyneux is to video games – they both believe they are God. Best Director? Lets be honest, it was closer to an achievement award than for this movie. Speaking of lifetime achievements, Scorsese was brilliant, as usual. A well deserved Cecille B. DeMille, interesting introduction, and a classic Scorsese acceptance. He really is classic old school.

I imagine the Oscars will be pretty much the same. I think i’ll need far more wine to get through that though!