Review: Paper Mario: Color Splash on Wii U

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In all the excitement over the Nintendo Switch it’s easy to forget that the Wii U still has a slow but steady run of top notch games coming out for it. The issue with the Wii U has never been about the quality games, more the volume of them. The Nintendo Switch looks like it’ll have the third party support that the Wii U has missed but that doesn’t stop the games that do come out on the Wii U being (mostly) ace. We’ve had great fun with Mario Kart 8, Mario Maker, Mario Sunshine 2, Yoshis Island, Captain Toad and so on. In fact I’d go as far to say that Mario Kart on the Wii U is probably my favourite racer of this current generation.

Now with the release of Paper Mario Color Splash, we have another absolutely beautiful game to get our grubby mitts on. View Full Post

5 Reasons Why Paintball is an Awesome Christmas Activity for Your Kids

paintballing-action-shotThinking of new and exciting activities for children at Christmas can be difficult, but paintballing is the perfect way to bring something unique to this year’s festivities.

For most parents, the weeks leading up to Christmas turn into an annual routine. Doing the same activities with your kids year after year can become stale for both yourself and them, so why not switch things up a bit and think outside of the box?

Paintballing not only gets you and your kids out of the house for the day, but also provides an exhilarating experience that’s tough to rival. Here are five reasons why paintballing should be on your list of activities this Christmas.

  1. Break the Mould

While there’s no doubt the traditional Christmas activities provide a great overall experience for children, there’s a lot to be said for something unexpected. It’s certainly safe to say that paintballing is something a bit different to your average yuletide fun.

Although it may not have the (jingle) bells and whistles of many of the other festive activities, it does have the adrenaline-fuelled action that will undoubtedly liven up your children’s Christmas.

2 It’s a Fun and Effective Form of Exercise

With an abundance of modern technology giving your kids more than enough reasons to stay indoors, as well as the cold of winter beginning to creep in, getting them to exercise can prove to be a tough task.

Fortunately for you, it just so happens that not only is paintballing for kids is ridiculously good fun, but it’s also a great form of exercise. A day of running, jumping, ducking and diving will prove to be an efficient full-body workout.

It should be noted that if you decide to join your kids for a day of paintballing, they will have energy levels that will far surpass your own. You may well be the man or woman of the house, but in a game of paintball, you’ll find that your kids will run the show.

  1. Get Out of the House for the Day

If your family is fond of the great outdoors, spending your Christmas inside by the fire may not be your cup of tea. If this is the case, paintballing provides your kids with one of the most exciting outdoor activities out there.

The varied terrain and scenarios of the different paintball maps will not only allow your kids to immerse themselves in some outdoor action, but also give them a few hours of fresh air, which can come few and far between during the winter months.

It won’t take long for cooped up kids to become bored and restless, so a day of intense paintball fun will provide them with the ideal outdoor activity to burn off that extra energy and frustration.

Between the present buying and various activities going on over Christmas, you may not want to be paying out for another day out, but paintballing can be enjoyed on a relatively tight budget.

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  1. It’s a Great Bonding Exercise

The value of bonding with your children cannot be stressed enough — and not only that, but helping them to bond with others is an important life lesson, too. A day of paintball provides the platform and scenarios to make it an effective bonding experience.

Team tactics play a vital role throughout a day of paintballing. The excitement and satisfaction of successful teamwork will prove to be one of the highlights of the day for your children. Not only does this add some authenticity to the combat environment, but it also allows them to develop further team-building skills, which can then be applied to other activities.

  1. Time to Blow Off Some Steam

While the life of a child may seem like a care-free jaunt compared to the stresses and strains of adulthood, they still need to blow off some steam from time to time. Many families have a Christmas routine that’s kept to with military precision, leaving kids little or no time to do their own thing.

Sometimes, throwing a spanner in the works of Christmas routines is the best way to make it more enjoyable. Letting them run wild with friends wielding a paintball gun will allow them to enjoy themselves and forget anything that has been bothering them.

If you decide to join in the festive paintballing, you’ll find that it’ll have a similar effect on you, too. Whether it’s problems at work or just the Christmas hustle and bustle getting to you, you’ll be surprised how a day of paintball can help you to blow off some steam.

As you can see, paintballing carries many benefits that go far beyond just running around, shooting your friends with a paintball gun. Your children get to enjoy an activity that breaches the norm of the festive period, bringing a whole new level of excitement to the build-up to Christmas.

Looking for a great Christmas present for the kids this year? Grab some paintballing gift vouchers for just £9 per person!

Clever DIY hacks for the home

One of the many benefits of harnessing your inner DIY enthusiast, besides the cost savings you can make, is the particular pleasure you get from personally creating something attractive or useful, or both, for your home. DIY jobs today have moved on a bit since it was Dad’s role to put up the obligatory shelf, which often ended up having an unwanted wobble or slope. Today there is a whole host of ways in which you can add extra touches to your home and opt for eco-friendly methods of doing this, whether you like to recycle, refurbish or repurpose or whether you want to ensure your materials are from a sustainable source. Here are a few ingenious ideas to help you get started.

Something extra special

Many DIY projects are the result of realising that you, your partner or your children need something in the home. That might be a tool rack, for example, an extra kitchen unit or a play table for the kids. There’s also the situation where you’re not happy with how your home is functioning – maybe there’s not enough storage, doors and windows need better draught proofing or there are underused nooks and crannies that are crying out for attention. Sometimes, of course, you happen on an item that’s worth keeping because it’s decent quality but could easily be converted into something more useful. No matter the reason you decide to do it yourself, there are some fabulous ways to make a real difference in your home.

Look for good guidance

Your first step with any project is to make sure you are equipped with the knowledge, the right tools and sufficient help to carry out the job in hand. One good way to be sure your work will be high quality is to consult with your local suppliers of materials or some of the DIY experts who work for relevant retailers.

Flooring

To make a major impact on your home consider changing the flooring in one or more rooms. Minimalism has dominated interior fashion and design for several decades now and as a result many people have opted to get rid of traditional wall to wall carpeting in favour of hard floors, usually in ceramic, stone or wood, with or without rugs depending on the room.

If you plan to do this make sure you examine the existing floorboards and note the quality. It may be useful to take a few pictures and to consult with a supplier. Small holes should be filled with wood filler, which can then be stained and varnished to match the rest of the floor. If some floorboards need to be replaced aim to source reclaimed alternatives as this flooring always has the most character.

Doors and windows

It’s always worth paying attention to the openings in your home as this is where heat escapes. This is also the case with the roof. Even windows that are already double glazed can allow noise from outside to penetrate and one good solution is to use shutters to dress your windows, as this provides you with privacy, control of daylight and noise and also maintains the clean lines that designers are so keen on. Before ordering always consult a DIY shutter guide that tells you how to measure to make sure the shutters will fit properly.

Furniture and storage

Great ideas for furniture abound at the moment and a quick search of some of the relevant sites offers clever and sometimes quirky ideas to help you create something unique for your home. An old telephone seat, for example, with a slightly raised table at one end can be very easily converted to a play table for children, complete with storage basket for small toys where the table used to be.

To give your bathroom a makeover look for an old chest or dresser that can be smartened up, then plumb it into the available space, replacing the wooden top with a marbled counter including wash hand basin, taps, etc.

Ad old door makes a great DIY headboard if used horizontally rather than vertically. Once it has been sanded down you can remove any old door furniture, add an attractive trim along one edge and repaint it in the colour of your choice.

It must be said that if you have a good eye and a bit of creative flair you will find a wealth of possibilities when it comes to potential DIY projects. If in doubt, take a look around at other people’s projects and always consult an expert when you need help.

A month with the Panasonic ALL05 wireless speaker

sc-all5-k_specPanasonic have introduced a range of wireless speakers, ranging from the ALL05, through to the ALL09 and the swanky ALL7CD that has a built in CD player. There are tons of BlueTooth speakers out there but the ALL05 is a little different. It also has WiFi and that makes it a rather different beast- you don’t have to even be at home or in the same room to use it. Think SONOS without the inherent limitations of the closed app environment and you’d be closer to the mark, although the companion APP does work in a similar way to the SONOS APP, it does allow for direct play from Spotify as a “connected device”.

The ALL05 is both mains and battery powered (up to 9 hours on battery) but it’s key feature is it’s water proof- that’s water proof, not water resistant, and it can survive submerged to a depth of one meter when it’s running on battery power.  View Full Post

Review: Lego Scooby-Doo! Haunted Hollywood

coverThere are some great LEGO animations out there, we love the LEGO Justice League and Batman stuff, and the Ninjago cartoon but now, the two best world’s have collided. Now we have LEGO animation married to Scooby-Doo. Metaphorically, not literally. That should be obvious.

We were invited to a screening of the new Blue-Ray/DVD/digital download LEGO Scooby-Doo movie at Bricklive a couple of weeks ago. We loved it, and so did the traders who courted the LEGO obsessed 9 year old out of sixty quid of my money. I should be thankful that nobody on earth could have talked me out of the £400 that a trader wanted for the LEGO Death Star or the £5,000 someone wanted for the UCS Millennium Falcon. It was a great day out though, and that day was rounded off nicely by watching a movie before the drive home.

Lego Scooby-Doo! Haunted Hollywood has a runtime of 75 minutes, which is short for a movie but plenty long enough for a Scooby-Doo LEGO feature- with the Scooby gang, there is no need for introductions or character development, you can simply get straight on with the mystery and that’s more or less what they do. View Full Post

Review: Netgear’s Orbi WiFi System

orbi wifi system

A couple of weeks ago I was invited by Netgear to come and have a look at their new Orbi WiFi System in the flesh. I left full of optimism and with a test unit tucked under my arm. If you want to skip the whole part where I explain what Orbi is and how it works, you can go straight to where I plug the thing in and set it up by clicking here.

Orbi and home WiFi networking 101

A while a go I borrowed a Netgear Nighthawk R8500 router for a month. For the uninitiated, the Nighthawk is roughly the same size as a small desktop computer and is a beast in terms of performance. It also has a manual that harks back to the halcyon days of computer games on the Amiga or Atari ST- it was the size of a brick. It was a bit of a revelation as far as speed and WiFi penetration went, something that is becoming more and more relevant as we connect more and more devices to our internet connection.

At last count, we had almost 30 connected devices, with the vast majority being over WiFi rather than Ethernet- hard wiring up large sections of your house tends to make a mess and require some serious hardware in the first instance (SDS drill, a drill bit the size of your forearm and, if you’re going to do it properly, a crimping device). View Full Post

Review: STM Velocity Swift laptop shoulder bag

img_20161002_155500.jpgMy man bag of choice for the last three years has been the awesome STM Linear. Although marketed as an iPad sized bag, it’s taken my ASUS Transformer Pad, and various other bits and bobs with ease. It’s rugged but smart (so usable for work). But things change, and now I’m rocking a Microsoft Surface 3, it’s not quite big enough. Fortunately the nice people at STM averted the disaster and offered me the STM Velocity Swift to review.

The STM Velocity Swift shares all the traits I loved out the Linear; it’s tough but stylish and smart, and it’s brilliantly well padded. My Linear is three years old and I’ve used it a lot but it’s still pretty much as good as new. A couple of months in with the Velocity Swift and its a similar story. It still looks as good as new, despite the hard use it has.

In case you’re wondering how big the capacity is, the inside of the STM Velocity Swift is just smaller than A4. This means you need to fold any foolscap paper to get it in but the increase in size over the Linear means I can get my Surface 3, a PS Vita, my Nvidia Shield tablet and, at a push, my Bamboo Spark. If I ditch the Spark, I can also get either a mains charger or a battery pack in too with no difficulty.

However unlike a lot of cheaper generic laptop bags that are designed for budget 15/15.6 inch laptops, this is designed for smaller devices, so they fit, are protected and don’t rattle around. On top if that it’s also pretty stylish too. Rather than clipping shut, the Velocity Swift has compartments that (dual) zip shut, with the exception of the rear back pocket, which doesn’t close.

Internally there are a couple of non removable dividers to kept your tech separate, the largest of which takes either an oversized tablet or an ultra portable (nettop, MacBook Air, Surface 3 sort of size).

The STM Velocity Swift comes in 3 sizes, 11, 13 and 15 inch. There isn’t a great deal in price between the three (RRP is £50) but that old adage of you get what you pay for definitely rings true here, and given the bags heritage, I’ve no doubt I’ll be using it as long as I have used my STM Linear.

How to Break Up with Your Bad Spending Habits

What’s your worst habit? Biting your fingernails? Snacking between meals? How about overspending? Bad spending habits are something that many of us struggle with, so much so that the average UK household is going to be in £10,000 worth of personal debt by the end of 2016. So, getting a better handle on our finances is something that plenty of us would like to learn how to do! But do you know how to do it…?

Well, we’ve put together some top tips for breaking up with your bad spending habits. Follow these steps if you want to be richer, happier and more financially secure in future.

First, bear in mind that it (reputedly) takes 21 days to break a habit. If you’re going to really commit to changing your attitude towards money, you’re going to need to prove that you can stick to a budget for at least 21 days straight. There can be no ‘cheeky shopping trip’, no coffee on the way to work ‘just this once’, and certainly no ‘quick pint’ in the pub if you haven’t budgeted for it. If you’re not ready for that yet, assess whether or not you’re actually ready to change your spending habits.

Second, you’re going to need to re-condition your behaviour. If you’re a bit guilty of spending too much money on your cards, for instance, cut them up. Or, only allow yourself to draw out cash once a week or once a month. This way, you’ll force yourself to spend nothing more than the actual money you’re carrying with you. This is much better than allowing your bank account to see an unending stream of activity as you bounce from café, to shop, to ATM. This is a really important step, as we know that spending money on plastic doesn’t really feel like spending money.

Third, get into some good habits. This could mean installing a banking app on your mobile phone and setting an alarm that prompts you to check it every day. This might seem excessive, but making a set time for you to routinely check your bank balance will ensure that you’re not burying your head in the sand where the state of your finances are concerned.

Then, go a step further and start to automate some healthy habits. For instance, you could set up a direct debit that automatically pays a sum of money into a savings account after payday. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount, but anything you can spare will eventually add up to a much larger sum. This will get you in the habit of living on less, and you’ll probably even get a kick out of seeing your savings account grow month by month too – all without having to be particularly proactive.
Finally, get a handle on any existing debts you have. Pay off the debts with the highest interest rates first, and think about switching your debts to a cheaper lender if you can. Whether you’re paying back a credit card, repaying a payday loan or keeping up with a logbook loan, it’s often possible to switch lenders so that you can get a cheaper rate or better terms and conditions.

Review: Bamboo Spark smart notebook

spark-gadget-pocketThere is a big disconnect between the very modern digital world we live in and our kids are growing up in and something as simple as drawing and for me that is the bridge that the Wacom Bamboo Spark builds so well. Although ostensibly marketed as a smart note book, and the handwriting recognition is pretty good (at least on par with Android’s built in handwriting recognition), for me the review unit that Wacom kindly provided was a chance to check out how easy it is to digitise the kids drawings.

My kids are at home on tablets and touchscreen computers, as well as being fairly keyboard and mouse proficient but when it comes to drawing, they still dig out their felt tipped pens and pencils. Ironically I have plenty of devices with a stylus- my Surface 3 I’m writing this on has a snazzy one, my Nvidia Shield tablet has one too and we tried (cheaper) capacitive styli. They all work to varying degrees but none of them are the same as writing on paper with a pen and that’s where the problem comes for kids.

I was recently at an evening with Dave Gibbons, the rather famous British comic illustrator who has drawn, amongst other things, Dan Dare, Harlem Heroes, Ro-Busters and Rogue Trooper, Green Lantern, and the legendary Watchmen. He said that he now draws entirely digitally but it took a lot of time and effort to translate his style on to a graphics tablet, something I’m fairly sure our 7 and 9 year olds wouldn’t be able to stomach.

Before you ask, yes it is possible to scan drawings using a multi function printer or a dedicated scanner but to be completely honest, I’ve never found the results brilliant and pretty much everything has been pixelated. The benefit of a system like this is that it’s designed for exactly what you want to use it for.

The Bamboo Spark comprises a folio cover and a smart pen. Although it comes with a pad of paper, you can put your own in as the clever tech is nothing to do with the paper, it’s to do with the electromagnetic resonance technology in the back cover that interacts with the pen. Turning the folio on is easy, there is a slider at the bottom, and telling it that you’re about to start drawing is simply a case of pushing the big friendly circular button, it’ll flash and show you it’s okay to write.

The results are pretty cool:

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Because you’re drawing normally with the Bamboo Spark, the digital image you end up with is exactly the same as the one on the page, there is no dithering, odd sizing or anything. It’s so simple, even a child can use it.

The Bamboo Spark retails for £120 but you can pick it up for £80 (from Amazon). When you finish the pad of paper, it’s simply a case of replacing it with one of your own. Ink refills are inexpensive, so there is no real additional cost after purchase but a device that will serve you well for quite some considerable time.

 

A day out at the The Duxford Air Show: Meet The Fighters

A little while ago we were invited as guests of the Imperial War Museum to their Duxford site in Cambridgeshire for their autumn airshow, Meet the Fighters. Since wifey was due to be away with Fifi, I thought it would be an ideal boys day out and I’m pleased to say I wasn’t wrong.

Typically we managed to pick the one day of the whole week where the weather was properly atrocious; it was windy, and it rained an awful lot. Fortunately for us, the planes still flew and it was great to see the Hurricanes and Spitfires up, and there was also plenty to do in the museum itself, which is on a huge site that covers an entire old (WWII) airfield itself. View Full Post