Friday, 21 September 2012


I'm off on holiday next week.

I would usually take the first week in October, but there was a bit of a conflagration of events at work which meant I was asked to take a week either side.  A week later would put it just that wrong side of getting into the chilly weather so I went for the last week in September.

My plan for this holiday is basically the same as all my late summer holidays.  I'll be spending a week in Devon, partly with my Dad (it's his birthday this time of year) and partly just in a random bit of Devon where I'll be doing lots of walking.

I'm sure I'll also be taking far too many books, manga, magazines, DVDs and fansubs with me to consume in the time available as per usual as well.  Actually my plan this time is to focus on the last of those - fansubs.

Since my hobby of scanning in anime magazine basically collapsed my watching of fansubs has also virtually stopped as well.  I used to cheekily watch a few at work as well, but I'm so busy nowadays that's almost impossible.

I'm therefore hoping to get through a good chunk of them (mainly 2 or 3 episode samplers) over this break.  I've also come up with a plan for how I might re-invigorate the scanning hobby as it was something I used to quite enjoy doing, even if I also complained about it a lot.

Anyway, obviously no blogging next week while I'm away.  I may take a few pictures while I'm out walking and upload them afterwards, but I'm not too hopeful - the forecast for the week is looking quite damp so I'm kinda expecting that I won't be taking my camera out with me.

Thursday, 20 September 2012


This weekend it's the Singapore Grand Prix.

It has the uniqueness of being F1's only night race (one of the Arab ones happens in the evening, but Singapore is properly in the night).  And that's about it.

It's a street race has all the traditional street race issue - narrow, almost impossible to overtake, boring layout, slow and too long.

As you may be able to tell I'm not really looking forward to it.  Of course I may be proven wrong.  Valencia is usually as dull as dishwater, but this year it was a cracker.

However, I've had the feeling in the last few races that the close-ness and random-ness that has tended to characterise this season has started to settle down a bit.  The top teams have started to distance themselves from the pack.  Saying that it's not a big difference - Sauber did spectacularly well at Monza, for example.

Apparently they put on some interesting events for the spectators at Singapore - they have a big concert with big-name stars and there's a big Ferris wheel you can go in.  I'm not sure if that's generally open to the public outside of the races, but certainly during the race you have to get special tickets for it.

But even with that I don't I'd fancy going.  I assume it would be horribly hot and humid, even at night and I'm not sure I really see any particular appeal of watching F1 cars at night.  So it doesn't appeal on the telly and it doesn't appeal as one to go too - it's therefore a bit of a classic of Bernie's new era or tracks!

The championship overall remains in real contention.  Alonso has a big lead and is consistently getting the best out of a car that still isn't the best, even with the improvements Ferrari has made.  However, McLaren seem to have finally gotten over their mid-season "jitters".

They started the season with the best car and two of the best drivers, but a combination of issues (pit stops, crashes, unreliability) and perhaps either not updating the car in the right direction or letting others catch up seems to have put them further back than you would have expected at the start of the year.

Singapore actually sits on its own, but it's the only one that does in this final stretch - the last two were double headers and all of the remaining six are too.  It's going to be an intense end of the season!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012


I have to confess that I've never been a huge fan of the borrowers.

I mean, I'm not saying I actively dislike it; it's just something that's never really appealed to me.  I don't really know why - it's a fairly neat idea and clearly has enduring appeal, but I dunno, it's just never really clicked with me.

I am actually really referring to adaptations there.  I know it was originally a series of books, but I've never read any of them.  Perhaps I would like it more if I did.  However, I have seen several adaptations - in particular a series by the BBC when I was a kid.

I mention all this to give background.  And also just in case you didn't realise that Arrietty is an adaptation of The Borrowers.  Arrietty is essentially the lead character, but it's interesting Ghibli went with that as a title, rather than The Borrowers.

Especially since it seems like a reasonably faithful adaption to the core of the story.  I obviously say that not having read them, but the adaptations all seem to have the same core story too, so I'm guessing it's to that far odd.

Perhaps they did it to help make it feel a bit more unique given that they're relocated it to Japan.  I don't really see this as a big issue myself.  Moving it to Japan hasn't been accompanied by any weird changes to the basic ideas so localising it probably makes sense from a sales point of view.

Another thing to note is that Arrietty isn't a Miyazaki film - people tend to assume all Ghibli output is Miyazaki and he was the Exec Producer, the originator of the idea to adapt The Borrowers and the screenwriter so he had a big part to play but the film is directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi.

Interestingly Hiromasa was actually responsible (key animation) for one of the bits I enjoyed most in Ponyo where the fish escape from submarine.  And Arrietty has some really nice touches in the animation, although I have to confess some of it was also a bit clunky - the budget perhaps didn't quite match the ambition.

It's also perfectly reasonable, and is particularly suitable for a younger audience.  The real problem with it is that it lacks a bit of depth.  Unlike previous Miyazaki penned stories there isn't really much in the way of depth - it's all there on the surface.

So yeah, nice enough, but I'm not sure I'd want to watch it again and again.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012


So I thought I'd blog today about the sort out of my telly corner I did while I was setting up the BT vision box.

Basically the BT vision box represented something of a crunch point for the TV stack, particularly in terms of plugs.  I have a long-lead gang plug that has six sockets and surge protection and in days gone past this was plenty for the TV corner.  However, just recently I've added a few things to it that meant I've actually changed another ganger off it too.

But even with this extra capacity I didn't have a slot for the BT vision box.  Part of the problem has become redundancy versus convenience.

A while back I decided to get Blu-Ray, but I was not keen on the players and proper multi-region machines cost an absolute fortune.  There are machines where, like with some DVD players, you could essentially 'crack' them to be multi-region, but this generally involves farting about with firm-ware that you constantly have to update.

My solution then was to get a PC I could use as a media centre.  I blogged at the time how this turned out to be a huge faff as well, but I've come to a point of it working okay.

Now being what it is this PC can obviously play multi-region DVDs, but because of the faff involved I ended up keeping my multi-region DVD player.  I'm not really explaining this very well. Basically when trying to add the BT vision box I already had these electrical devices to account for:

A 6-point surge protected ganger with the following plugged in:
  • TV
  • PVR
  • DVD player
  • Dolby digital Amp
  • Sub-Woofer
  • four point ganger

The four plug ganger had the PC plugged in but meant I could also plug in the following as needed:
  • 2 * lamps on timers (my landlord is paranoid about security and likes me to have these on during winter)
  • Bass guitar amp
  • VCR (yes, kicking it old school)

So as you can see at worst case that adds up to more sockets that I had available.  In practice I never needed all things on at all times, but faffing about around the back of stuff to unplug things (and making sure you got the right plug!) was a pain.

There were also a couple of other issues.  Firstly my picture through my PVR (via the aerial input) has been quite poor lately.  It has a lot of interference and no amount of switching plugs and cables seemed to fix it.  The solution was simple - use the SCART, but they were in an unknown box in the shed.

Secondly I don't use my VCR at all - now that we've switched over to digital I don't need to keep it as a back-up.

Thirdly there was the redundancy of having the DVD player and the PC.

And lastly my Amp has only 2 optical digital inputs.  As such a bit of rationalisation was in order and I decided to have a bit of a clean-up too.

I've taken the VCR out of the loop, but in the end I decided not to get rid of the DVD player.  Instead I've switched the optical cable it had to the box.  My theory now is that if I want to just quickly watch a DVD the player is there, but if I want to watch it properly with the full sound thing I will have to use the PC.

Hopefully as I get used to it I will find the DVD becomes properly redundant like the VCR.  However, part of the issue there is I've been using a wireless mouse and keyboard and while the keyboard works well, the mouse is a pain as I like to take the batteries out and that means re-synching it every time I use it.

I also found my other SCART cables and plugged the PVR in via SCART.  The noise is all gone and the picture is a little better, though as I was afraid it has a few issues with up-scaling, but then that's a pretty standard issue many people have.

So there you have it - my only plugging in I need to do is for the base amp / lamps and I'm fine with those.  Although as mentioned yesterday the BT box's LEDs are incredibly bright and it's weirdly fronted so I can't easily block the light.  I may try and stick some tape over it (I'm unsure if this is where the receiver is for the remote signal) or simply plug it in when needed.

Monday, 17 September 2012

fuzzier than expected

So I spent some time this weekend setting up and playing with the BT vision + box.

First disappointment is that the "+" doesn't stand for HD.  Indeed complaints abound on BT's support site that BT vision isn't HD.

Well, I say it isn't HD - some of the on demand type content is HD, so the box is obviously capable of outputting HD.  It's just that the Freeview side of it isn't HD.  Which is bonkers.  you could understand it when if first launched, but why put out a new bit of kit that has some HD on demand content and HDMI and optical audio connectors but only has SD tuners - it even has two tuners so can record two things simultaneously, but it's not HD. Weird.

The second disappointment is that some of the content only appears to be available if you get the 'unlimited' package.  Note that even though it's "unlimited", there's still stuff you can only get by paying for it.  So it's unlimited apart from the limitations.

Now I understood this going in - it says on the website you have to pay for some bits if you've not got the unlimited package.  that's fine - pay for what you want.  Except the granularity suggested by the website is very broad - films not available at all, everything else you pay 50p and up for.  Except that's not actually true - some of the non-film bits you also can't get unless you have the unlimited package.  And I mean not at all - you can't pay to get them individually, you need the full unlimited package.

The third disappointment wasn't so much a disappointment, but that getting this unlimited package would not be particularly good value.  Okay, you get all that stuff in the package, but most of it I've either seen or don't really want to see.  I mean there's stuff I'd like to see, but not enough to make unlimited good value for money by a long way.  Certainly not since most of the stuff I'd want to see you can pay for.

On the up side, the stuff available via the full-on paying methods (i.e. you pay irrespective of which package you've got) isn't too bad at all.  There's a reasonable selection of films, for example.

However, unlike the other films you can only get via unlimited it wasn't at all clear if they were available in HD.  Certainly some of the trailers looked quite high definition, but that may just be because the trailer is at a higher bit rate.  I shall have to give the searching another go and see if that reveals the answer, or just give it a try if not.

Another up-side was that the iPlayer and the other catch-up devices work quite well.  Well, iPlayer crashed the time I tried to give it a go properly, but then it's crashed when I've used it normally too.

A good thing there of course is that iPlayer is available in HD so those programs I can't watch as HD on Freeview I can't watch on the catch-up.  And since I record and watch back 95% of my viewing that should suit me fine.

The last disappointment is the amount of light it puts out.  Now this is a bit of a specific to me one, but I live in a bedsit, which means my TV stuff is in the same room as me.  I also have difficulty sleeping when there are bright sources of light and the vision box really pumps out a lot of light.

Now I'm used to that to some extent and am adept at covering panels with clocks on at night to block the light.  The problem is the vision box has a weird curvy front panel and it's so bright that this didn't really work last night.  I'll have a fiddle over the next few days, but I've a feeling I may end up unplugging it and only plugging it back in when I want to watch some on-demand stuff.

Overall then I'm a bit disappointed - I certainly don't think it's worth £4 a month.  I mean my PVR is way better at doing Freeview and easier to use and the few things the vision box does better are actually really only at their best if you pay 3 times that.