Review: TP-Link AV1200 Gigabit Powerline ac Wi-Fi Kit

As far as mouthfuls go, the TP-Link AV1200 Gigabit Powerline ac Wi-Fi Kit is definitely up there with the best of them. I’m going to try to refer to them as the AV1200s from now on, otherwise my word count will treble and you’ll get lost in terminology!

Before I start talking about performance though, it’s best to talk about what the TP-Link AV1200 Gigabit Powerline ac Wi-Fi Kit is actually for. The purpose is simple, the technology behind it complicated but basically devices like the AV1200s are part of the Powerline standard, that look to provide a wired network connection to parts of the house you either can’t cable up or that have really poor WiFi reception. Poor WiFi can have any number of reasons behind it- distance, the number of walls between where you are and the router, interference from neighbours WiFi networks, the number of devices you have connected over WiFi or even the type of WiFi network you have, or the quality of the router you are using.

TP-linkPowerline neatly bypasses this by using your electricity cabling as a wired network. The principle is simple, you plug one AV1200 in near your router, and another in the room/space that doesn’t already have a wired connection or a decent WiFi signal. There are numerous different designs from different manufacturers, some have WiFi, some don’t, some act as passthroughs so you don’t lose a plug socket, and some don’t. Powerline isn’t a new standard, it has been around for at least a decade now but over the last ten years, the speed has increased dramatically. The first Powerlines I bought were 100Mbps, the AV1200s are 1,200Mbps. Although I should say, it’s always been the case that these headline figures should be taken with a pinch of salt and that real world performance won’t be that high. A case in point is the AV500 Homeplugs that these TP-Link AV1200s replaced. Despite being called AV500 for 500Mbps, the devices had network ports only capable of 100Mbps because that was a much more realistic transfer speed for them to work at. View Full Post

Summing up Summer: The next Coleridge in the making

Although as a poet probably most famous for either The Rime of the Ancient Mariner or Kubla Khan, Samuel Taylor Coleridge will always have a soft spot in my heart for a quote attributed to him about the typical British summer:

”Summer has set in with its usual severity.”

I don’t know the context, it was written in a letter in May 1826 to a friend called Charles Lamb but I like to think it was a rail against the weather pissing down on poor old Samuel from a great height. View Full Post

Review: NETGEAR NIGHTHAWK R8500

I’ve now been using the Netgear Nighthawk R8500 as my main router for two months (thanks Netgear for lending it to me for such a prolonged period), and this time has given me ample opportunity to assess it in different real life working conditions.

The Netgear Nighthawk R8500 usually retails for a rather hefty £399, but it is currently on a limited time special offer price of £299 at Amazon. That sure is a lot of money but if you think about the cost of all the devices you connect to your router, how much you pay for your internet and other subs, does it actually make sense to pay a lot less for something that doesn’t allow you to enjoy your stuff properly? That’s really the question I’m looking to answer for myself, as I look to replace the router function of my Superhub 2 on a more permanent basis.

If you haven’t read it, I wrote a post when I received the R8500 on the value of having something a step up from the usual integrated router than Virgin, BT or Sky build into their cable/ADSL modems. View Full Post

Review: Swallows and Amazons (2016)

Swallows and Amazons

In a summer full of hyper-kinetic action movies, most of them either animated or so full of CGI they might as well be, and all aimed at kids, Swallows and Amazons is a true breath of fresh air. Swallows and Amazons has things like characters, a plot you can follow and tracking shots that last more than half a second.

It’s an old fashioned movie, set in 1935, and it’s all the better for it. There is no attempt to update the setting or throw knowing nods to the contemporary world in to it, the direction works well with the setting, and if Captain Flint is now a spy, rather than a travel writer writing his memoirs, the injection of mild peril that this gives the film doesn’t stray too far from the spirit of the original.

The story sees the Walker family, Mrs Walker, John, Susan, Tatty and Roger (and the baby), go on holiday to the Lake District. Mr Walker is at sea with the Royal Navy in the South China Sea. The kids can run wild in the country side, and they get special permission from father to going sailing on the lake (for those who have read the book, the wonderful telegram “Better drowned than duffers, if not duffers, won’t drown”, is in the film). They camp on the island, and have a run in with the Amazons- owners of another small sailing boat. The Amazons uncle, living in a houseboat, is stalked by a pair of Russian spies, a plot line in addition to the book, that adds a bit of movie style adventure to the story. View Full Post

Argh! It’s an EXAM

The big irony in life for me is that I still have the occasional nightmare about exams. Missing an exam, turning the paper over at the end finding another question as the answers are being collected or even not being able to find the exam hall, I have had them all. It’s ironic because I’ve failed two exams in my life, my GCSE (extra curricular) Latin and my TC1 Tax paper (part of my ACA accountancy qualification). I’m usually pretty good at exams, and certainly have nothing to fear from them, so it is quite odd that I still get anxious over them while I’m asleep.

Fear of exams got elevated to a whole new level for me earlier this week though when I took our eldest to his first drumming exam over in Watford. When he started learning the drums about 18 months ago, neither of us expected him to be able to sit an exam because he doesn’t deal with strangers or new situations very well, so when his teacher talked him in to sitting it we were pleased. We also weren’t entirely confident that he would actually sit it but you never know…

Fast forward to this Wednesday just gone, and we’re sitting in the reception of the examination centre. It’s sweltering, and we’re just waiting for the practice room to become free so the lad can loosen up before his exam. It turns out we don’t have much loosening up, just a few tears of worry, and an examination of all the posters on the wall: Who are they? That’s the Who, the two on the left are dead; Who is that? That’s Kurt Cobain, he’s dead. Who’s that? Bob Marley, dead. Who are they? The Stereophonics. Are any of them dead? Not as far as I know.

Yes, it got a little bit morbid but soon enough the chap came through to take the lad through his paces. I had to wait outside and let me tell you, it was horrific. I can’t remember ever feeling so tense in my entire life. Doing exams, or the stress of waiting for the envelope to arrive with the results in, none of that held a candle to waiting outside while my offspring was doing his drumming exam. Goodness only knows how I’ll ever cope with GCSEs or anything. I’m still a wreck two days later.

Hot weather= BBQ, enter the Paladone Gentlemen’s Club Grill Sergeant BBQ

Grill Sergeant BBQ

Paladone organised the Dad’s Play Date I did a couple of months ago, and recently they offered me a small portable BBQ called the Grill Sergeant to try out. Given how the weather has massively taken a turn for the better, it was the ideal time to give it a try!

The Gentlemen’s Club Grill Sergeant BBQ has a 12 inch grill, costs £29.99 and looks like an extra from South Park, in a good way. You can spend less on a BBQ but what your £29.99 gets you is a well made BBQ, with no sharp edges, a properly treated steel shell, and a pot for the charcoal briquets.

Firing up the Grill Sergeant BBQ, we found there was enough room for 10 chicken drumsticks, although there wasn’t an enormous amount of breathing space, it worked okay.

Chicken on the BBQ

Pretty soon all our chickeny needs were satisfied, job done and thank you Paladone. It’s pretty easy to pack up the Grill Sergeant BBQ and hoist it down to the park (if your park allows BBQs) or round to that mate who doesn’t own a BBQ, it’s pretty portable. The lid helpfully clips on too, so you’re not left juggling with  all the bits when you move it around. Although the legs are removable, you will need a screwdriver to do it, so I’ve just left them on for bumbling around with the Grill Sergeant.

 

THE SCARECROWS’ WEDDING at the Leicester Square Theatre

The Scarecrows' Wedding (image from Edinburgh Festival 2015). Photo Steve Ullathorne [139546]

Hot from a successful run at the Edinburgh Festival, Scamp theatre’s adaptation of the Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s wonderful children’s book The Scarecrow’s Wedding is now running at the Leicester Square Theatre until 4 September.

Suited to the intimate atmosphere of the Leicester Square Theatre, Scamp Theatre’s production’s strengths lie in it’s simplicity- three actors on stage for a little under an hour- and it’s songs, which are folksy magnificence that also tie in to the book really well.

It’s the songs that are the strength of the Scarecrow’s Wedding. Played by the cast on guitar, banjo, and fiddle they are beautiful, capturing the nature of book perfectly. Our kids have always loved Julia Donaldson books and (whisper it) we even like the books that Axel Scheffler illustrates without the involvement of Donaldson.

The two scarecrows are played by a lad and a lass with real brilliant good-natured goofiness. The farmer though is a really difficult role to play as he’s part narrator, part farmer, snail, toad, and outrageous French scarecrow. Michael Palmer is brilliant as the farmer and all the other roles, although some of his changes of role might confuse the very little children- for example we thought it was brilliant the way that Palmer became Toad, resplendent with a green space hopper, but it was only really Fifi and the boy (7 and 9) that followed this, it just left Ned (4) a bit confused.

Ned however was up and out of his seat at all the songs, clapping along to every single one. It was easy to do so, as the songs were very catchy.

At 55 minutes the play doesn’t outstay it’s welcome but maintains an air of utter charm throughout. If you’ve got kids and are planning a day out in London, it’s well worth booking some tickets. You’ll find yourself humming the tunes for days afterwards like we have!

The quest for better gifts is governed by the law of diminishing returns

THE CITYI was proud of myself recently when I managed to get something pretty damn unique for our wedding anniversary. We’ve been married 12 years now and every year it gets harder to find something that is a thoughtful gift. This year I commissioned Rachael Smith to do a cartoon portrait of our family, which turned out really well. But that’s that idea done and done forever- as a surprise it’s not something I really do again because part of the fun is in the uniqueness of it and something can only be unique once.

It started off as something that was easy to do when we started dating about 16 years ago (16 years 2 months and 9 days to be precise, but who’s counting?) but as every year passes, I struggle to live up to my own lofty expectations.

the kids picture albumSomething else I did was rifle through around 30,000 pictures to make an annual style photobook for Mothers Day. It was a work of some considerable time and effort but, one photo of Fifi with her eyes shut aside, it was pretty much perfect.

Again though, this is something you can only really do once. This is where some of the more tailored and thoughtful offerings on gift websites  can help. Personalised mugs or cushions, something a little bit quirky or a voucher for an experience that you’d not normally do (although with my wife that’s a hard task- she’s been in airships, and used to regularly do archaeological digs!) are something a little out of the ordinary that show thought and showing thought is definitely the most important thing. When you both work and both earn money, it’s often not the amount you spend on a gift that’s important, it’s the thought and love that’s gone in to it.

At least that’s what I tell my kids after I’ve had to ask them what the latest sculpture they’ve made me for Fathers Day is anyway!

 

The secret cuddle paradox

IMG_20151121_103104969I’m not entirely sure where the concept of the secret cuddle originated. It was probably with Ned. It’s the sort of thing that his 4 year old mind would come up with. And it’s made things tricky.

But let’s rewind things a tad and deal with the paradoxical concept of a “secret” cuddle. Basically it involves snuggling up on my lap for a nice cuddle and shouting as loudly as you can “Me and Daddy are having a secret cuddle!!!”, complete with the multiple exclamation marks (they’re important you see). This usually brings at least one other child running and causes what might be considered a fracas in true Top Gear style- punches are often thrown.

The secret cuddle itself stems from a bit of child oneupmanship (is that one word or three or even four? I can’t be bothered to check). They all like to have a bit of attention but after a while that’s not enough and they have to have the attention at the expense of someone else. Any of my kids could theoretically turn out to be a modern day Conan the Barbarian, who when asked what was best in life, replied, “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women!” They all seem to have that ruthless streak in them…

 

Get your Lions ready, Voltron Legendary Defender is on Netflix!

Voltron Legendary Defenders is now on Netflix and it’s ace. When I was little big Japanese robots were a big thing, both metaphorically and literally. We had Go-Bots, Transformers and while my brother was busy making Hurricanes and Spitfires, I was equally busy gluing giant Japanese robots together. The only problem was, my dad refused to help with the painting as he preferred Hurricanes and Spitfires.

While I might not have watched Voltron in the 80’s, Voltron himself is immediately familiar.

Voltron Legendary Defender

No, that’s not Voltron but the Black Lion, one of the five robot lions that do the ever popular thing of combining together to make a giant robot! (My all time favourite giant robot made from things combining together is the Dai X in Starfleet but that was only made out a paltry 3 spaceships.)

The above poster gives away the fact that Dreamworks is involved in Voltron Legendary Defender. This is the proverbial “good thing”, the animation is smooth and fluid, whilst keeping the spirit of the original Japanese style. If you were to bung on pretty any cartoon series made for TV in the 80’s now, you’d be shocked at the frame rate. A lot of cartoons ran at 12 frames per second, and those that didn’t often only had the backgrounds running at 24, and the characters at a lot less. Tweening- the creation of frames between “key frames” that marked a change, wasn’t really cost effective for TV and was only seen in the cinema. Consequently, I bet you’ll be surprised how jerky your childhood favourites actually are.

Modern techniques and a name like Dreamworks associated with Netflix’s Voltron put these sort of problems to bed, meaning that Voltron Legendary Defenders looks nice. Very nice.

Tasty eh?

The plot sees a group of young human space pilots discovering the blue Lion and getting swept up in to a conflict between the evil Emperor Zarkon and the Alteans, who with their Lions that formed Voltron, were the only thing that stopped then universe being conquered.

Having human pilots enter the fray obviously allows for the exposition the viewer needs to understand what the heck is going on, and the aliens that they team up with aren’t THAT alien but it works well none the less.

Voltron Legendary Defender PosterOf course the proof is in the pudding and it was with some slight trepidation I plonked the kids down in front of the telly. A couple of hours later they were most of the way through the first season of 13 episodes of Voltron Legendary Defenders- we love the way Netflix dump seasons in their entirety!

The first couple of episodes show how the pilots become the paladins- the pilots of the Lions that combine to make Voltron. The boy did query why they Lions didn’t simply be Voltron all the time as it seemed that in an arse to kick ratio that Voltron considerably outstrips the Lions but that was a minor point really.

Netflix sent us a Voltron themed goody bag which the kids have had great fun squabbling over. While they were squabbling over wristbands and baseball caps, I pumped up the Voltron branded basketball and did this:

Voltron Legendary Defender is out now on Netflix as part of a monthly subscription to the service.