Upcoming PS4 update will allow better parental controls

Up until now I don’t doubt that the Xbox ecosystem has been much better than Sony’s Playstation set up when it comes to parental controls for kids using their own profiles. This is however about to change quite dramatically, you can read the full details of this change and all the others, in the following PS blog:

Play Time Management

We’re introducing Play Time Management, which will allow family managers (and adult family members who are set as guardians) to manage PS4 playtime for child family members on family on PSN. Managing Playtime is easy; go to Settings > Family Management on your PS4, or log into your PlayStation account on your web browser from your PC or smartphone, to check and manage your child’s playtime each day. If needed, the family manager/guardians can apply playtime restrictions to make sure that the child is only playing for a set amount of time or within set playable hours. Notifications on PS4 will be sent to the child during gameplay so that he or she knows when they should save and quit. The family managers/guardians also have the option to add extra game time via their smartphone or PC. In addition, the family manager/guardians can choose whether or not to automatically log the child out of their PS4 once their playtime is over.

This is big news for parents, and finally lets us exercise the sort of control over access without it coming down to a fight every single time.

Heck, my most sure fire way of ensuring my eldest gets ready for bed usually involves me messaging him on the PS4 via the Playstation app on my phone, so the addition of another weapon to my arsenal that he can’t actually completely ignore is only a good thing.

The PS4 already has some good age related restrictions but being able to set time limits per day is a real killer function, even though I can see it leading to some tears and arguments. It’s a heck of a lot better than stealing the controllers and hiding them somewhere (and forgetting where you put them)!

MS already have a family timer on the Xbox One, so now I just have to decide the split between the two for the kids…

My life is ruled by batteries

Whether it’s Christmas Day spent putting triple As into toys that will only be used over the Christmas period, my smartphone battery anxiety as I head out for the evening with only 35% charge left, I’m increasingly becoming a slave to batteries. Even my watch needs charging every couple of days for goodness sake.

I’m spending a couple of hours out this morning, going straight from extra maths for the boy to guitar for Fifi. I had my laptop with me, left on to charge overnight, so I could catch up on some email, do some admin and done writing. Except that the wall switch wasn’t turned on so I was faced with 3% battery and a morning off sitting around twiddling on my phone. It’s not the end of the world but it’s a waste of a couple of hours where I can guarantee that I can’t feel guilty about what I should be doing and won’t be interrupted by kids.

Battery technology hasn’t improved inline with other technology. This has led to a lot of technology starting to stagnant in terms of actual processing power as they focus on keeping the power level constant while improving the battery life. I’m a heavy tech user and on a “bad” day I’ll need to charge my phone mid afternoon, despite every mainstream review saying that they get a day easily out of it. The obsession with thin hasn’t helped this; add three or four mm to the thickness of my phone, it’ll make it easier to hold and give me better battery life.

I’ve written this on my smartphone and the one thing it’s taught me is how badly I’ve ruined the predictive text with lazy thumb movement.

Scottish Friendly’s Payday Mayday challenge

I was invited to take part in Scottish Friendly’s Payday Mayday challenge this January. Scottish Friendly is a British financial services group. Their mantra is to make investments more accessible to everyone.

January is a bit of a nightmare month generally, as most of us get paid just before Christmas, spend a good chunk of our salaries on Christmas (and the sales!), before having to survive January on a meagre pittance. It’s small wonder that apparently 44% of of people make a New Year’s resolution to spend less then.

We were challenged with reducing our discretionary spending by 25% (that’s after the mortgage, which is our biggest outgoing and not something we can change as it’s about as cheap as we can go, and other fixed costs!) and although that’s something that sounds daunting, we were up for the challenge.

There’s a bit in Terry Pratchett’s Mort where the titular character has to clean out the stables (it’s a parody of one of the 12 Labours of Hercules, but you probably guessed that), and Mort uses a tried and tested system to break down the task into smaller bits:

“After a while he got into the rhythm of it, and started playing the privet little quantity-surveying game that everyone plays in these circumstances. Let’s see, he thought, I’ve done nearly a quarter, lets call it a third, so when I’ve done that corner by the hay rack it’ll be more than half, call it five-eights, which means three more wheelbarrow loads …. It doesn’t prove anything very much except that the awesome splendour of the universe is much easier to deal with if you think of it as a series of small chunks.”

Rather than baulking at the fact we’ve got to economise by hundreds of pounds, we decided to look at lots of little ways to save a few pounds here and there. So without further ado, here are my top tricks and tips for saving and cutting out that unnecessary spending.

Firstly we took the time to install the Hertfordshire County Library app on our iPads and tablets. Most counties do something like this as part of the library service but they don’t advertise it very well. As you can see the choice of magazines you can borrow is staggering, and given that magazines can cost £5.99 and more each, this has probably saved us over £30 a month on casual magazine purchases. A small step but one that takes us in the right direction.

Secondly, and one that appeals directly to my DIY ethos, we’ve made a pact to ditch all those coffee shop coffees. I got a bean grinder from my parents for Christmas (although if you want to buy one, it’s only the cost of a few Americanos). If you’re addicted to say your Starbucks, you can actually buy the beans in the supermarket (£3.55 for 200g of Starbucks house blend medium Arabica coffee). 50g of beans is enough to make a litre of coffee, so 200g should get you about 4 litres of coffee. A tall coffee is 350ml, and costs £1.95. Your £3.55 of beans can make 11 cups of  “tall” coffee, against the coffee shops price of £21.45. That’s a saving of almost £18 for ever 11 coffees you make at home! If you pick up a coffee every day on the way to work, that’s going to save you about £35 a month per person, and a lot of time queuing!

Encouraged by the fact I can now sip a freshly home-brewed coffee as I walk through the sleet and snow to work, we decided to move on to the other big daily cost, lunch. Neither of us particularly ever made a packed lunch, preferring to grab a meal deal or something that tickles our fancy. That’s £3-£6 each every working day, and that soon adds up over the course of a month- £120-£240 for the pair of us. This is it chaps! The opportunity to save a huge wodge of cash!

Enter Hugh “Fearlessly Eat It All” Fearnley-Whittingstall. A quick look on the River Cottage website showed his DIY pot noodles. They looked absolutely yummy, and about as dirt cheap as you can get to make. Yes, actual Pot Noodles aren’t expensive but they’re not filling either, these DIY ones can be big enough to constitute an actual meal and leave me deciding on a sandwich for tea. Some sliced carrot, spring onions, cabbage, chilli, ginger and (obviously) noodles are we were good to go. The cost was minimal, especially once we’d twigged stopping off at the market on the way home.

That’s three changes we made and we’re already over £300 a month up (and at best £350), without having to ruin the kids (or our) quality of life either!

The biggy that I wasn’t sure I was ready to make though was losing my gym membership. It’s increasingly difficult to go enough to get value for money as the kids have so many clubs and activities they go to. Even though it was our local authority gym and I get a discount through work, making it less than half the price of some of the premium gyms in the area, it was still £40 a month. I’ve made a promise to myself to do the four mile round trip to work on foot and have installed Couch 2 5K on my phone (as well as Runkeeper) and I’ve got my 9 year old daughter training me. It’s a good bit of father daughter time, even if she has to constantly stop to let me catch up!

So there you go, four changes, almost £400 a month saved. The trick will now be keeping up with it, otherwise I’ll have to cancel my sports TV package to make up the difference, and if anyone ever needed an incentive, that would be it!

Own your fears in 2018 with AXA PPP healthcare

A post shared by Alex Walsh (@daddacool) on

AXA PPP healthcare are launching a new campaign called Own Your Fears, looking at the way we can use our fears in a positive way to motivate us to change the way we live for the better. While fear is a natural instinct, we needn’t ‘fear’ fear or let it hold us back. If only there was a way to positively harness these fears and use them as a springboard into something better…

I can vividly reminding lying in my bed at the parents when I was ten or eleven, the realisation that my parents were mortal and one day would die striking me with such force it was almost akin to a physical blow. I’d been on the Junior Four (year six in new money) activity week at Butlins on Barry Island, back in the day when there was a Butlins on Barry Island*, it was the first time I’d been away from home and I missed my mum. When I came home they seemed older than I remembered, and it had me worried.

The only good thing to come out of the Phantom Menace was Yoda’s comments on fear:

Fear is the path to the dark side…fear leads to anger…anger leads to hate…hate leads to suffering

It can control you if you decide to let it.

Lets not.

I might not be ten or eleven now, in fact I’m actually 43 but in a funny way things have come full circle in terms of fear of a loved one dying. I’ve now three children and a lovely wife (or is that three lovely children and a wife? Probably both, just to be on the safe side) and my thoughts have turned more frequently to what would happen to my little family if I suddenly die. Part of this has been precipitated by both our sets of parents getting older, and in the case of my parents, battling illness, part of it by the realisation that my epiphany of mortality that struck me as a child happened at exactly the same age that my eldest is now.

I had a minor health scare myself last year that saw me get a ECG to ensure that the hyper-mobility I’d be diagnosed with hadn’t affected my heart. It hadn’t but there’s nothing like a heart scare to act as a wake up call is there? Every 40 something that works in an office environment, has three children and a wife is probably carrying a few extra pounds- offices are sedentary places, kids drive you to comfort eat and wives cook lovely lovely food- and things like that, along with the advancing years don’t help allay the fear.

I’m lucky in a sense that my family wouldn’t be financially ruined if I passed away tonight. There is enough in life assurance and death in service payouts to ensure that the mortgage would be paid off and my family would have about 5 years worth of my wife’s salary left over. The thing that causes me genuine gut wrenching fear is the idea that my family would be bereaved and have to live without me. That sounds a bit big headed but I found it difficult dealing with the death of my grandparents a few years ago and we weren’t even that close. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose a parent in your formative years. It certainly never seems to go well in those gritty Channel 4 dramas when that sort of thing happens.

Our littlest wouldn’t have me there to cling to my leg and whimper “I want Dadda” whenever I take him to a party round a friends house that he’s been to hundreds of times. My daughter wouldn’t have me there is give her a cuddle and tell her she’s brilliant when girl playground politics get too much for her. My eldest wouldn’t have someone to nod in (feigned) understanding when he talks incessantly about Warhammer. And my wife would be stuck if the router needed rebooting. Parenting is hard, I find it incredibly difficult at times, and I know I’d struggle without my awesome wife there, so I sort of figure that more or less the reverse is probably true (it might not be, she does make it look easy at times).

I have a choice, I can comfort eat my way through this fear, putting it to the back of my mind and having another bacon and egg muffin, or a I can face it, use it to motivate and empower myself and make a difference. People, it’s time to make a difference.

It’s too easy to make New Year Resolutions and then watch fatalistically as they slide when real life gets in the way. Besides, my kids aren’t going to feel safer if I tell them I’ve been out running a bit and my lower back aches as a result. No, to do this properly I’m going to have to enlist my family to help, give them joint ownership of Project Me, and trust that they can help me see this through. After all, we’re all in this together aren’t we?

I’m aiming to get fit and involve my family in getting me fit. I might exceed the weight limit for the mini trampoline we’ve got by a third (75KG maximum!) but that doesn’t stop me putting Eye of the Tiger on and doing my own training montage of press ups, sit ups and running on the spot, with one or more children either joining in or shouting encouragement (or insults). Nobody is immortal but being fit can help me live longer with a better quality of life.

I’m lucky of course that it’s fairly easy once you get over the initial hurdle of embracing it, to tackle a rational fear like your own mortality. Irrational fears are harder to tackle but AXA PPP healthcare can help you there too, as articles like this one on resilience show.

As I begin my journey, inspired by AXA PPP healthcare, they’re going to provide resources, like their Own Your Fears microsite, and support to me, to top up what my family can do. Together we can ensure that my kids won’t have to face the same worries about their parents dying that I faced, and I can harness the positive aspects of the fear of leaving them all to fend for themselves in the big mean world…

 

*it actually closed after Christmas that very year. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

Hori ONYX Bluetooth Wireless Controller for PlayStation 4

I love my PS4. I also love my Xbox One. I don’t really love the Dual Shock 4 controller though, the thumb sticks are in the wrong place for me and the overall ergonomics of the pad sometimes suggest to me I’m not doing as well as I might. I have no such issue with the Xbox One controller (any iteration of it), so when I saw that Hori had an officially licensed controller due out with what they helpfully refer to as “Offset Analogue Stick Layout”, I was excited.

Offset Analogue Stick Layout is another way of saying, hey! We’ve copied the thing that makes the Xbox One controller better!

I have several cross platform games on both the Xbox One and the PS4 (I have the X version of the Xbox One and the Pro version of the PS4 if you’re interested), and in some games, Star Wars Battlefront, Geometry Wars Evolved and Ultratron being the three that spring immediately to mind, I find them much easier to play on the Xbox One as the left analogue stick, usually the one used for movement, is situated slightly higher on the controller. View Full Post

Review: Spendor the board game

We had busy Christmas with a bumper delivery from the Board Game Club comprising of Splendor and Catan. We had fun with both over Christmas but today I’m going to run you through Splendor because who doesn’t love a bit of the Renaissance (even if the spelling is lacking in a “u”)!

Splendor is a card/token/resource building game played without a board (don’t know why I referred to it as a board game in the title, perhaps I didn’t want people to confuse it with an artificial sweetener) for two to four players. The instructions are almost entirely written for blokes like me in so far as they only take up about two and a half pages of paper. This is my cup of tea because I get very confused by instructions (just ask my wife).

The instructions say the game plays best with three players but we spent an evening playing it quite happily with two players. It takes a bit of time to get going but once you’re into the swing of the game, it speeds by- games last on average about half an hour.

The aim of the game is to collect 15 prestige points to impress the nobles. You do this by collecting tokens, trading them for development cards, which you can use to subsidise the purchase of further development cards. There are 6 different sort of tokens, and each development card has a different purchase price on it. To further add to the decision making process, some development cards don’t have prestige points on them. The strategy comes from deciding whether to forgo purchasing a card with prestige points on it for something cheaper that might aid you getting something better the next turn. There may very well be cards out to buy that will cost you more than the total number of coloured tokens available- this is where purchasing a cheaper level one development card with the right colour will help.

That might all sound complicated but it really isn’t, and it only took us a single solitary run through to get the hang of it.

The 30 minute game time means you can fit a game of Splendor into the smallest nook of spare time imaginable. Since it’s card based it doesn’t take much setting up and out of all the games we’ve had from the Board Game Club so far this is probably the one we’ve returned to the most.

Although the game is themed around the Renaissance, the mechanics of the game would work pretty well with anything right up to space trading. Now there’s an idea!

Splendor retails for £24.99, and is available from all good retailers, Amazon included.

Digging behind Star Wars Battlefront’s PEGI rating

I’ve always loved (most of) the Star Wars movies. The prequel trilogy don’t count but the new films are pretty good and our kids seem to agree, they’re all big Star Wars fans too.

EA have the video game rights tied up and the visuals that a big budget studio can create are stunning, as this mash up of the speeder bike chase from Return of the Jedi with the actual game shows:

Although the movies have strayed into 12A terrotry with The Last Jedi, overall (running from Phantom Menace to Last Jedi), the ratings run like this: U, PG, 12, U, U, U, 12, 12A, which shows that the films are pretty family friendly. I love how the original trilogy are all U certificate, despite the arm severing, smoking skeletons, hands being chopped of and so on. Kids in the 80’s could deal with that sort of thing.

Star Wars Battlefront 1 & 2 are both PEGI 16. PEGI is the Pan-European Game Information age rating system, it aims to give consistent ratings to video games much like the BBFC does for films. Rating a game significantly higher than any of the movies it’s tied in to is an odd decision. Especially when the game doesn’t contain any blood or gore. You shoot people with blasters and use lightsabres. View Full Post

Got an Xbox One S for Christmas?

I’ve seen a massive uptick on views of videos and posts mentioning Xbox’s in the last week or so, and I’m imagining that this has a lot to do with some of the stonking deals Microsoft had on it’s Xbox One S over the festive period.

The One S has been out a little over a year and it’s probably pound for pound the best value console on the market at the moment. For under £200 you can pick up a One S with a game or two, that will also play Blu Ray movies and the newer 4K/UHD Blu Ray movies that the PS4 can’t (this is rather embarrassing as Sony is actually on the standard setting body for Blu Ray).

Given that Microsoft now own Minecraft, it’s also a great console for playing Minecraft on, as our lad showed me last year:


Here are a few tips and tricks to get the most out of your Xbox One S, happy gaming! View Full Post

I don’t make new year resolutions

The idea that you do pretty much anything you want for most of the year and then make a half hearted attempt to set things right for a few weeks in January has never been particularly appealing to me. I mean, what’s the point in eating enough sausage and chips during eleven twelfths of the year to the point your skin colour resembles a savaloy, only to swear off them for an altruistic month or two before starting all over again.

If nothing else, it sets a bad example to the kids because seeing your debauched lifestyle month in month out and a short but futile attempt to alter it is hardly inspiring is it? I’m a firm believer that most things are okay in moderation and that’s something you should look to keep up all year long.

Having said all that, I have entered myself in a fun run in June with the kids and signed up to a run every day in January thing. But I did start running again in mid December, so that doesn’t count as a resolution right? Right?

 

Cock!Tails!

A post shared by Alex Walsh (@daddacool) on

I’ve decided to get a personal trainer to help me with my running. At the moment my brisk walk is only 3 minutes a kilometre slower than my running speed, so I need all the help and enthusiasm I can get. My personal trainer has this in spades, mostly because she is eight, almost nine, and my daughter. She is a natural athlete, has the build of a long distance runner and can out distance me at twice my speed without even getting out of breathe. That’s something to aspire to, and she’s very encouraging too. At the moment I’m on the threshold of around 7 minutes to the kilometre, sometimes ducking under it, sometimes (like New Years Day, on 6 hours cocktail fuelled sleep) considerably over it but I’m working on it and have been for three weeks now.

So here’s to not having expectations that a new year will bring a new you, the first of January is more important as the birthday of Ned than anything meaningful in terms of a new start in attitude or approach. He’s more interested in LEGO…

And a happy new year to all

I have half a cold. I’ve had half a cold since well before Christmas now (perhaps even as long as October by some reckonings). I’ve come to live with my half cold through necessity though. It’s expanded to a full cold on occasion but then subsided back down to half a cold again.

It’s an odd half cold though, I’m not low level unwell and snotty across the board, rather I have a full head cold but only on the left hand side. I have sinus headaches on the left, a completely blocked left nostril, I can blow horrible substance out of my left side but the right is as clean as a whistle.

This has (perhaps fortunately) meant that my Christmas drinking has been somewhat curtailed, and I’ve returned to work this morning feeling no more than a bit blocked up (on one side) rather than ready to die from a combination of liver failure and sleep deprivation.

The kids haven’t been so lucky, Ned spent his birthday sounding like a mini Barry White, and the other two are coming down with colds just in time to go back to school later this week. Share and share alike, that’s what I say.

Christmas was in many ways quite a good Christmas. Expectations were managed pretty well, the kids got some stuff they wanted without bankrupting us, we did some family stuff, played some games, watched some movies together and generally chilled out without trashing the house completely. In the context of our household, that was pretty exceptional. Nobody got food poisoning, nobody had sick bug, and Fifi even managed to take me running almost every day (bar Christmas day itself). The kids even relented and woke up a little later than normal on Christmas day. Last year they were up at 4am, this year just gone 6am. It was still early but those extra two hours made the world of difference. My body clock decided the natural time for me to wake up is around 8:40am, so getting up at 7 for work today was more than a little bit of a struggle.

All that remains is to see how far the unfounded new year’s optimism can stretch- let’s see if I can make it to the weekend…