The Escapers Official Blog

The DVD rental shop

Seems like an anachronism in this day and age, but in my neck of the woods, it’s still got it’s place.

First of all, it’s cheap, about $3 AUD for a new release rental. That’s a bit cheaper than the download places like iTunes. Second of all, it works, every single time. My internet is unreliable, Netflix works maybe 90% of the time. That may not seem so awful, but if you’ve had a hard day and just want to look forward to a film you’ve wanted to see for a while, then the DVD or Blu-Ray is the gold standard, it works practically 100% of the time. When it does not work, it’s because of a scratched disk or something, which means that if you’ve rented 2 or 3 movies, the others will almost certainly work. So far, I’ve had zero failures from my local DVD rental store.

Thirdly, even when my internet does work, Netflix does not really manage the resolution of regular TV, let alone the glory of Blu-Ray, or even upscaled DVD. I’m not a resolution hound, but I don’t really want to see pixels and artifacts. DVD is easily good enough for me, Blu-Ray is overkill, but both wipe the floor with Netflix on my sort of bandwidth.

Don’t get me wrong, that Netflix works at all on 200k a second is a miracle, it’s amazing. I love Netflix, they’ve got a superb product which generally speaking, works on my shockingly poor ADSL line. My reality is though, my internet is not 100% reliable, it’s not 99% reliable, or anywhere close to it. The DVD is.

Hell, I even enjoy the walk over the creek to go browse the selection.

Review: BlackBerry Q5

I seem to be out and about a bit more these days, and the limited email capability of my Nokia Asha was becoming a bit of a pain. So I decided to get a new phone. I pretty much insist on QWERTY keyboards on my phones. It used to be about being a much faster typist on one (and I still am), but the real reason now is more about a sheer bloody-minded point of principle. I don’t like how everyone just followed Apple into making touch-only phones. It’s not that touch only phones are bad, but their total lack of imagination is.

Anyway, BlackBerry Q5…

It’s much chunkier than an olde worlde BlackBerry, but still feels nice in the hand.

Hardware

It does not have the physical trackpad or the back/menu buttons of the old BlackBerry models. Apparently that’s coming back with the Q20 due to ‘customer feedback’. Sounds like someone at BlackBerry thought a way to stave off a further decrease in their fortunes was to actually make phones that their customers liked, and had a history of buying.

It’s not so bad not having these buttons, I’d like to have them, certainly, but I’ll live.

It’s OK built, not great, but for a $300 AUD phone, it’s acceptable.

The keyboard gets a bad rap in other reviews, but it feels OK to me.

The screen is very nice, bright, and sharp.

Software

It feels like a Playbook trying to emulate an older BlackBerry. This is not so terrible. The Playbook was actually pretty nice, and old BlackBerries are nice.

The email is all changed, you don’t need the ‘BlackBerry service’ from your carrier any more, nor does your business need to run BES. So no more requirement for BIS or BES. This is great, I probably would not have bothered if I’d had to get on the phone to my carrier.

The BlackBerry app store takes PayPal, this is extremely good. Other could, but won’t, learn from this.

It’s all pretty quick, and kind of basic feeling, I like basic feeling, it’s a phone, not a workstation.

Contacts, calendars etc. sync on just fine, my 4 email accounts all work perfectly.

This all feels more polished and more ‘ready to go’ than older BlackBerries, I’m kind of impressed.

There is a lack of buttons on apps, we’re meant to swipe in different directions to do different things. Can’t say I like it, I like the clarity of menus etc. but it’s hardly a deal breaker.

Conclusion

It’s a fully functional QWERTY phone, which is quick and works well. This makes it different to all QWERTY Android phones. Everything works as it should. There are few stand-out features, but what it is, is an affordable BlackBerry 10 phone. If you’re like me, stubbornly refusing to buy a non-QWERTY phone, and want something that isn’t crap*, like all the Android ones, then you could do far worse, I know I have.

All things considered, I’d say this:

It does not work as well as the old BlackBerry system. It’s just not as usable. The lack of some hardware buttons has not been adequately replaced with swipe gestures.

It is however more powerful. The app store and web is better. The email is better just because you don’t need to sign up for BIS etc. This makes BlackBerry an easier choice in some ways than it used to be.

BlackBerry is not the powerhouse it was, but they still make good smartphones. They’ve slipped up a bit trying to copy others, but I think they are trying to correct that.

*I’m not saying all Android phones are crap, I’m saying all the QWERTY ones are.

Flux 5.1

Flux 5.1 is out now!

Quite a few bug fixes, and a few new features, mainly Assisted content editing…


And, now, areas like the Inspector, or Snippets can now be put into their own palettes! This works really well when you have a 2nd screen hooked up.

Microsoft Surface

So, I got a Surface, I’ve been using it for a while, so here are the deets…

Physically, it’s a nice device, the little stand at the back it actually very useful, and much, much better than the iPad case solution for the same problem. MS got this right. Overall build quality is not as nice as the iPad, it’s not as solid feeling.

The Surface has some useful stuff, a USB port, this is good, no required little adapter I’ll inevitably forget.

Overall, the Surface is a better physical device, it’s got features that I wish the iPad had.

Software - It gets a bit different here, email frequently crashes, it’s barely useable now, the web browser doesn’t crash since the last update, but it does go a bit ‘flaky’.

The calender can’t sync with Google, this is a biggie for me, Windows *Phone* can sync with Google, but the tablet can’t? Seriously, MS and Google need heads banging together.

Quality of apps on the iPad is better, not just the Apple supplied stuff, but 3rd party too.

Fundamentally, Apple took a phone OS and inflated it to a big screen, MS took a desktop OS and brought it down into a tablet. This really makes itself obvious in battery life, the Surface is bad, like, erm, really bad.

On the plus side, the Surface *should* be more powerful, in terms of apps, it’s a desktop OS after all, but only the Metro side of it, the traditional Windows Desktop is there (yeah I know, weird), but it can only run IE and Office, which just tells me they couldn’t get a Metro version of Office out the door in time (or at all).

More about Metro, it’s pretty, even very pretty, iOS 7 plays a good game, but for me, Metro still has the edge, it’s austere, well though out (for the most part), and easy on the eyes, I found iOS garish after using the Surface for a while, not ugly, but overwhelming colourful, too much for my tastes.

The main reason I don’t use the Surface much, is it’s basically out of battery power every time I reach for it.

The Surface is a good device if you can live with it’s limitations, I found it good in the kitchen, the little stand keeps it upright for following recipes and such. It’s a good effort, and it can keep up with the iPad in some respects, even better it with the flexibility of USB, but the software needs work, a lot of work. Battery life needs to be seriously looked at.

It tries to be a tablet and a laptop, and is not brilliant at being either, it’s an odd concept, that may suit some people, those people may need to keep a petrol generator close to hand.

Apple could learn from the hardware, the iPad is almost a sealed unit, the Surface is a bit more ‘open’, it’s not enough to make a real difference, but it’s something.

For an iPad replacement, no, it’s just not good enough. To replace a laptop? It depends, if you use a Macbook Air, then no, stick with that, it’s better in every respect, probably battery life included. If you just browse the web on an aging netbook, then maybe, just maybe, the Surface is good enough for you.

Oztops - The Results

As per the instructions, I left it about 4 days, this should result in a less sweet cider, more ‘dry, i.e. more alcohol.

So, did it work?

Yes, totally, I got a decent cider, better than a lot of shop bought ones, quite fruity, not as dry as I’d like, but bear in mind I used regular Apple juice, not cider apple juice, so this is hardly surprising, and no fault of Oztops.

The cider is actually quite delicious, it’s cloudy, but a lot of decent ciders are, it’s not a problem, it should not be compared to ‘cider’ like Strongbow.

The cider is sparkling, not fizzy like Cola, more like a champagne, which is great, as I don’t like overly fizzy drinks.

It’s my most successful home brewing experience, it’s also the easiest and the cheapest. It also happened in 4 days, not 4 weeks for home brew beer (and that’s pushing it), so almost immediate gratification. Maybe longer brew, or more yeast could completely consume the sugar, and make a drier drink, I’ll need to research it. 

I’ll be doing this again very soon, maybe have a couple on the go simultaneously, I’ll try a few different types of juice, see what works the best, but so far, Apple is going to be tough to beat.

An awesome product, 10/10, 5 stars, would brew again.

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Philomena

Philomena is the ‘based on true events’ story of a woman who has her child taken from her over 50 years ago by Catholic nuns in Ireland. With the help of an ex-journalist, she sets out to find the child that was taken from her.

It’s an excellent film, Judi Dench is excellent as always and convinces as her character from the first word. Steve Coogan seems to play himself, but is entertaining, and his relationship with Judi Dench works very well.

Despite the traumatic subject matter, it’s easy to watch, and perhaps less upsetting than I would have expected. The story is told with a light touch, and the makers don’t seem to want to drag tears out of you, typical for films of this type.

Well worth seeing, one of the better films I’ve seen this year.

Oztops

Cheap, Alcoholic, my two favourite words. That’s the promise from Oztops, an Australian device for making useless fruit juice into booze.

Despite the name, Oztops will ship overseas, so you don’t need to hitch a ride on the back of a Kangaroo to get it, just go to the website, and order it.

The idea is simple, you get  yeast, enough for 50-70 *litres* of booze (Americans, who don’t understand metric, go look it up, it’s not difficult.) That’s a lot of booze, almost enough for a whole week.

You also get a few special bottle caps, which have little valves, that allow the gases out, but don’t let anything bad get in. The bottle caps fit on standard fruit juice bottles, the genius of this is that it’ll be sterile already, no washing out big plastic containers, you just pour away a small amount of the useless fruit juice, to allow space for fermentation, add a tiny amount of yeast, and pop on one the special caps, wait a few days, a you’ve converted pointless fruit juice, that would otherwise be given to children or poured away, into alcohol! Due to the pressure created by the special cap, your booze should be naturally carbonated.

The caps are reusable, just a quick wash, and they are good to go again.

I’ve just got one of these on the go, using Apple juice, but you can use almost anything, apparently citrus doesn’t work too well, but as long as it has no preservatives, give it a go. If it’s successful, there will be more to come…

Licorice Lovers

We’re Licorice lovers round here at The Escapers, and if you don’t like licorice, we don’t want your custom*.

Now, I’ve put off buying this particular licorice, as it’s covered in chocolate. That’s like covering a steak in apple sauce, nothing wrong with either ingredient, but together it just makes no sense. Finally I caved (that’s what comes of going to the supermarket whilst hungry), and purchased the controversy.

Now I’m not normally one to gloat when I’m right (OK, I am), but I was right, it makes no sense, it just doesn’t work. Licorice should be chewy, bitey, almost a little sour, chocolate just makes it into a stodge.

The licorice takes OK, the chocolate seems kind of cheap, together, what qualities the licorice has are submerged by the chocolate. This isn’t right, it isn’t proper, and I certainly shall not buy again.

*Just kidding, you can eat kittens, so long as we get your money.

Whoosh 2.0

It’s been a long time coming, but your favourite Amazon SES Bulk Emailing client (if you don’t know what those words are, then this app may not be for you.) has just been updated to 2.0. My personal favourite feature is the ability to download list data from an URL, so you just setup a PHP script to return the data from your database, and job done! No more exporting and importing.

www.theescapers.com/whoosh

Winter’s Tale

This is one of those films where you simply need to accept what you are shown. You don’t question motives, realism, or anything of the sort, you just accept what you are shown.

I enjoyed this film, it’s easy to watch and the New York scenery is beautiful. It feels like a movie one should watch at Christmas, and it’s probably going to appeal to all ages.

If you’re not normally into romance, or fantasy, then you’d still do well to give it a try, if only for a change.