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:


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

Shared Parental Leave: Pro’s & Con’s

It was only very recently that shared parental leave became an option. Before, women took their maternity leave – this must be at least two weeks after the birth, but could be up to a year and could start from the 11th week before the baby is due. While entitled to 52 weeks, maternity pay is only available for 39 of them, if eligible.

Men, on the other hand, only got one or two weeks. This couldn’t start before the birth and had to have been taken within 56 days of the birth.

The new parental leave means mum and dad can share up to 50 weeks parental leave and 37 weeks pay. This came into force to allow men and women equal opportunities both at home and work – putting the decision of how and where they spent the time, in their hands.

However, a new study has revealed that just 1% of men have taken up this opportunity since it became an option a year ago.  

If you are trying to whether to take advantage of shared parental leave – first check out Money Advice Service to see if you are eligible – then read these pro’s and con’s to see if it is right for you:  

Pro: You can both bond with your new baby

While women are spending 24/7 with their new baby, men could be out of the house for more than 9 hours a day. During this time mum is bonding with the baby and dad isn’t. Splitting the time means men get as much chance to bond with their new baby as mum does. Plus, you both get to witness those special first moments – which you can’t get back.

Con: You could lose out financially

You will receive 90% of your average weekly earnings or £139.58 a week – depending which is lowest. If the partner on the lowest salary goes back to work and the one on the higher salary stays at home, you will lose out financially.

If you are in a position to do this – great! However, having a baby is expensive and you may find that you can’t afford to take advantage of shared parental leave.   

Pro: Women can smash through the glass ceiling  

It has been an ongoing argument that women are unfairly treated in the workplace and miss out on promotion due to the fact that they will, likely, at some point, have a baby.

In fact a recent report found that the number of expectant mothers who were forced to leave their jobs due to their pregnancy, has doubled in the past decade.

However, hopefully, with men now being in the same position as women when it comes to having a baby – in terms of taking time of work – perhaps this number will start to decrease.

With the option for women to return to work and men to stay at home, women have a much better chance of progressing and eventually smashing through that glass ceiling.

Con: it could cause tension and arguments

Perhaps you both want to spend the majority of the time at work or neither of you want to go back to work – choosing instead to spend time with your new bundle of joy.

This could cause tension and arguments as you try to agree on the best way to split the time.

Pro: you can share responsibilities  

Men may be at work bringing in the money, but women are raising your child while doing the majority of the chores around the house. By splitting the time you can share all the responsibilities equally. You will also have a better sense of what it is like to be in each other’s shoes – strengthening the bond between the two of you, as well as with the baby.

Revisiting the Moroccan idyl


I still own that hat, the t-shirt and the rucksack.

In the days before children, when we had time and holidays were something we could enjoy rather than endure, we went on an “adventure style” holiday to Morocco with one of those backpacker style travel companies. The advertising blurb was a bit misleading as we were put in a full sized coach, and the opportunity for me to get proper use out of my Tilley Endurables hat were somewhat limited.

Morocco is an incredibly diverse country, it has deserts, mountains and coastline, all of which give rise to a very diverse culture, depending on which part of the country you are in. Yes, you can go on an effective mini break to Marrakesh, as it’s only an hour longer to fly there than it is to Rome, and there isn’t much to choose between Marrakesh and Venice either. Considering you’re journeying to a Africa, an entirely different continent, it is remarkably close- we’ve spent longer in the car driving to Cornwall.

Town-in-dessert-1Morocco is an Islamic country, replete with all the wonderful and historic Islamic art and architecture that goes with it. Although on it’s northern most tip, there is less than 9 miles from Morroco to Spain, it’s fairly obvious you’re not in Europe any more!

Aside from one trip to Northern Italy, we’ve not taken the kids abroad yet as Ned is only four. But now we’re back from our UK holiday that cost well over a grand for a weeks self catering, we’re considering casting the net further afield next year,ans specifically looking for something that might have a kids club where the kids can be offloaded for some peace and quiet do stimulating activities to keep them entertained.

Although we’ve had a hot summer, it’s been hot for the UK and the coast has had, as always, a cooling breeze, and what we’re all really hankering for is a week or more in the unflinching sun, with maybe a trip to a waterpark for a day or two (I happen to know there is a big one on the outskirts of Marrakesh, which maybe makes a stay there ideal), but with plenty to look at in terms of museums and culture. My better half is a museum professional and we both agreed that our tour round Morocco meant we had precious little time in Marrakesh, something we felt that we would need to remedy in the future.

Food-1One of the things we’ve been very good on from the start is ensuring that our kids eat a wide range of food, both exotic and more local. They’re at home with a butternut squash curry, love a aubergine and Parmesan risotto, as much as they like a sausage casserole or linguine.  I’m a big fan of Rick Stein and we’ve even tried cooking some of his Moroccan specialities, like the lamb tangine you can find here but to be honest, the chance to actually take them to a genuine Moroccan restaurant, in Morocco, and have them tuck in would be great. They’ve all got pretty healthy appetites and little or no food prejudices, so perhaps we had better do it before they develop them…

Review: Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo and the Two Strings has an impeccable heritage, the production company behind it made kids classics such as the Corpse Bride, Paranorman, Coraline and more recently Boxtrolls. Laika Entertainment specialise in blending stop motion characters seamlessly with animated backgrounds, and of course making deliciously dark and different kids films.

Kubo and the Two Strings follows the titular character Kubo, as he embarks on a quest to retrieve some magical armour to protect him from his wicked aunts and Grandfather Moon. Kubo you see is a bit special, and can do all sorts of clever things with his shamisen (an ancient Japanese guitar) and his origami paper. When his mother is killed by her sisters, he flees and wakes to find a magical snow monkey and a samurai cursed to be a human beetle waiting to help him.


There are many strengths to Kubo and the Two Strings; most notably the beautiful animation, the wonderful score (the traditional Japanese rendition of when my guitar gently weeps over the end credits is sublime) but it is really the story that captures the heart. A film that doesn’t talk down to children and treats them as capable of vicariously experiencing heartbreak is a brave film and Kubo is a brave film. Yes, it’s not for the littlest ones but any child who fails to be moved by the spectacle in this film is suffering from superhero burnout and should be made to watch this film repeatedly until they’ve rediscovered their humanity.

Although Kubo has been given a PG rating, I would consider it more suitable for 8+ from the feeback from our children. The action is exceptionally intense in places; it was too much for the 4 year old, who had enjoyed Boxtrolls and bits were a little scary for our 7 year old. The nine year old loved it though, as did we. In context, if the script and dialogue were entirely unchanged, but the movie was live action, it could easily be a 15 certification. That isn’t an implied criticism but in fact a strong point in the movies’ favour as it doesn’t condescend or talk down to kids and it deals with strong themes such as loss and disappointment in a very tender manner.

With Kubo and the Two Strings, Laika have hit the jackpot because in a summer filled with great kids films (Swallows & Amazons, Pete’s Dragon, Kung-Fu Panda 3) and some notable action movies like Captain America Civil War, they have trumped the lot of them. This is quite simply the best film I have seen this year bar none.

Kubo and the Two Strings is out on general release on 9th September. If your kids are too young, pop them with a babysitter and go and see it yourself!

How The Internet Can Increase a Dad’s Skillset

Do you want to learn a new skill, but don’t have the time or money to take a traditional class-based course? If so, it may be time to turn to the internet. Most users only use the internet to search for information or socialise with friends and family on social media websites, but it is also the perfect platform to learn on. Below are some of the most effective ways dads can increase their skillset using the internet.

Technical Documents, Manuals and Online Testing Websites

A range of websites provide all the documents, manuals and instructions required to complete a wide range of courses and improve certain skills. With websites like Toptests, you can even prepare for your driving test by taking online mock theory tests.

Video Sharing Websites

Video sharing websites are amongst the most popular websites in the world, with millions of hours of visual and audio content available from sites like YouTube, Vimeo and Daily Motion. Much of the content on these sites is of little value, but there are also huge numbers of useful videos available that demonstrate and show you how to improve a wide range of skills. The advanced search capabilities on these websites make it even easier to find the content you need quickly, so video sharing websites are an affordable and useful resource to have.

Audio Websites

Learning through audio files is another effective way to obtain new information and develop your talents. iTunes and a range of other audio websites contain millions of hours of audio content which you can listen to at your own pace, whenever you want to and can be played on a wide range of devices.

Membership Websites

A wide range of experts in different areas are willing to share their knowledge online for a fraction of the cost of traditional classroom based courses. They normally do this by giving you access to a private membership website that usually contains video, audio and written content, as well as areas where you can interact with your tutors and other students.

Live Streaming and Video Conferencing

The latest advances in telecommunications and video technologies make it much easier to communicate with people located anywhere in the world. Video conferencing in particular, is an extremely effective and affordable way to learn from others. Once you have the video conferencing software on your laptop, tablet or mobile device, you can start taking your lessons.

Mobile Apps

Almost everyone has some kind of mobile device and a range of different mobile training apps are available that help train and develop people’s skills. This is the perfect solution for dads who want to learn on the move and don’t have the time to sit behind a computer or go to a classroom to learn.

Thanks to the internet, the training world has been turned on its head as more content becomes readily available online. This has many benefits for anyone who wants to learn a new skill and will continue to make life easier them.

The Difference Between The Good & The Bad Sports Supplements

Sports supplements are big business these days. No longer the preserve of people with impossibly large muscles and back-breakingly difficult workout regimes, the industry has gone mainstream. Now casual shoppers can happen upon sporting products on the supermarket shelves and, as a result, the industry has blossomed into a multi-billion pound operation.

But not every product is as good for you as you’d hope. With the size of the industry, it’s sadly true that some of the products on the market don’t measure up to expectations. Here are the things that mark out the difference between the good and bad sports supplements: View Full Post