Remembering 2013

5. Taking my mother to Silverstone and Brands Hatch
The last time I went to Silverstone to watch F1 was 2010 and our rear windscreen got smashed, so while memorable it was not a great experience. This time I took my mother along for the first time and we greatly enjoyed qualifying day as our man Lewis Hamilton took pole position. After my trip to the States it was also great to be able to head to Brands Hatch in the autumn to watch another fantastic title showdown (even if the weather was wet and horrible).

4. Thanksgiving
After our first Thanksgiving in America it was nice to be back in England again with all of our friends round for turkey. A lot of them we had not seen since our barbeque the previous summer and so we had lots of catching up to do.

3. Getting very cold at an NFL playoff game and going to Wembley
I was not going to pass up the opportunity of seeing Denver play a home playoff game while I was in the city. I therefore stumped up the cash and got myself all kitted up to see them take on Baltimore. Unfortunately the game itself ended in an embarrassing loss, the temperature was a long way below 0, and I nearly got frostbite in my foot… but the experience was something I will not forget. Added to that, I got to go to both NFL games at Wembley and although the games were not brilliant it is wonderful being able to watch the sport on home turf.

2. Getting an awesome job
I began job hunting about two months before I was scheduled to leave America, it took me a month to find the perfect job and I ended up leaving the country a fortnight early for it. I am greatly enjoying working for Tempered Vision in Basingstoke, I’ve got a great boss and we have been working on some interesting projects.

1. Buying a house
The biggest thing that happened in 2013 was our getting on the property ladder, in fact since returning from America most things in our lives have changed. The house is the icing on the cake though and we are now very happily living in Billingshurst, just 8 miles down the road from where I grew up.

 

Film of the year 2013

2013 was one of those years where the report card of films released would say “could do better”. Sure there were plenty of decent movies in cinemas but few will be defined as greats. That didn’t stop Beth and I from watching around 20 new releases each though. Once again… we don’t agree very much.

Beth’s list:

10. The Wolverine
9. Hunger Games: Catching Fire
8. The Great Gatsby
7. Rush
6. About Time
5. Despicable Me 2
4. Star Trek: Into Darkness
3. The Lone Ranger
2. 42
1. The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug

It’s more interesting to me to remember when and where  and with whom I saw each of these films than actually ranking them 1-10. Hobbit is my top choice because it’s the one I looked forward to the most throughout the year. Not expecting it to stick closely to the book, I wasn’t disappointed but rather enjoyed the parts where it veered into back stories and material from Tolkien’s other writings.  42 was a powerful and insightful film about prejudice and sportsmanship and doing justice. I also enjoyed it because we had such fun seeing it with friends on a snowy night last spring! After these op choices the rankings get a bit fuzzy: 3 could be 4 or 5, 5 could be 6 or 7 etc. I enjoyed The Lone Ranger for Johnny Depp’s performance and the way it brought an old TV show to a new generation. I enjoyed  Star Trek as much as the first one and look forward to more. I enjoyed Despicable Me for the minions, of course! I’d like to see About Time again and notice more details I missed the first time around. Rush was exhilarating and emotional. The Great Gatsby was glamorous and brought to life an old book I was forced to read at school. Hunger Games and Wolverine both made for fun evenings out with friends and family and made the top 10 list easily, beating out a few others I saw this year like The Harry Hill Movie, Man of Steel, Oz the Great and Powerful, Identity Thief, and A Good Day to Die Hard.

Image from the Hobbit film site

Jonathan’s list:
10. The Wolverine
9. Now You See Me
8. About Time
7. Iron Man 3
6. 42
5. Hunger Games: Catching Fire
4. The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug
3. Rush
2. Star Trek: Into Darkness
1. Gravity

Gravity is the first film that I have seen in 3d that wowed me. Even then, the act of watching it on the biggest screen I could find added more to the experience. The effects made this movie, the storyline itself was strong but this film lived through its effects, and those had to be seen on a large screen. A DVD is not going to give the same experience but I do not think that is a reason to hold anything against this masterpiece. Again Abrams did a good job with Star Trek, Benedict Cumberbatch made the film and for the longest time I expected it to take the top spot. Rush was easily one of the best racing films of all time and handled the subject matter expertly. I will be coming back to that film many times through the years. But Gravity offered something different and new, it, for me, deserves its top spot.

Image from the gravity film website courtesy of warner bros.

Previous winners:

Beth

2012 – Trade of Innocents
2011 – King’s Speech
2010 – Toy Story 3
2009 – Beth was indecisive and picked 5 films
2008 – Juno

Jonathan

2012 – Django Unchained
2011 – Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
2010 – Inception
2009 – The Wrestler
2008 – The Dark Knight
2007 – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Game of the year 2013

A Slight change to the format this year. Previously, this category only involved games that were released in the calendar year in question, instead I am changing it to games I was introduced to during the past year as some of the games played over the last year should get recognition.

It was also helped by my only playing seven games that came out in 2013, this was the year that I finally got a PS3 and so I have a whole juicy library to catch up on.

5. Far Cry 3 – PC – 2012
Far Cry 3 was the game that I sunk the most time into this year. I loved the exploration of the island and while the story didn’t really hold my attention, the gameplay was great and made for a fantastic experience. I had less fun on the PS3 version due to annoying controller glitches that reared their ugly heads during combat and often led to my demise.

4. Bioshock Infinite – PC – 2013
The most beautiful game I have ever played and I really enjoyed the storyline, the combat just felt tagged on and ruined the experience for me.

3. Xcom Enemy Unknown – PS3 – 2012
This is second only to Far Cry in the number of hours I have sunk into it and I suspect it will eventually eclipse the Ubisoft game over time. The ability to create my friends as an alien killing super team and then have them wiped out just after the point in the storyline I got to in the previous playthrough always  gets me reloading and beginning again. The turn based controls work wonderfully with a controller and the experience is superbly put together.

2. Splinter Cell Blacklist – Xbox 360 – 2013
Purists can keep bleating about how this and the preceding Conviction are not real Splinter Cell games. While that may be true, I don’t care, this is much more fun. I love being able to sneak through levels unseen but at the same time, I love that the game allows you options if you do get spotted. Or if you are in a bad mood, you have the chance just to go in guns blazing without dying immediately.

1. Grand Theft Auto V – PS3 – 2013
Considering the size of the game space it is impressive how good GTA5 looks. The gameplay is tight and the driving controls are sooo much better than GTA4. The story may be poor and often trying too hard to be controversial, but I have such a good time just driving around exploring the island that I can ignore it. Rockstar have taken great elements from their other games of the past few years and created a masterpiece. They have created my game of the year for the second year in a row.

 

Past winners:

2012 – Max Payne
2011 – Portal 2
2010 – Mass Effect 2
2009 – Colin McRae: Dirt 2
2008 – Mass Effect
2007 – Super Mario Galaxy

Value for money

For a while now I have been pondering a decent equation for working out an item's value for money. It is hard to quantify whether something is worth what you are paying for it. It is also a subjective thing, what is it worth to you.

I decided therefore to come up with an equation to work it out, and here it is:

(D + (P/2) * E) / C

Duration – amount of time to be spent with/doing the item in hours

Prep – time spent enjoying the idea of the item or raving about it afterwards

Enjoyment – How much you enjoy the item out of 20 (20 is best)

Cost – Cost in pounds sterling

Here are a couple of examples:

Lord of the Rings – 3hrs + 0 = 3hrs; 3hrs * 16 = 48; 48/12 (cost £12)=4

Karting – 0.5hrs + (10hrs/2) = 5.5hrs; 5.5hrs * 20 = 110; 110/30 = 3.66

Therefore watching Lord of the Rings is better Value for Money than Karting…

It works for most things, people are better than commodities (helped because you spend more time with them and hopefully enjoy them more).

For things like insurance and bills you can rename enjoyment as usefulness and use the same formula… Obviously free things are great value for money…

 

Ice Soccer

Snow and I have not been getting on that well recently. Sure it is pretty while it falls but then it just sits around and stops me going places.

It did have one fortunate consequence though. Two weeks ago it meant that Ethan and I could invent the soon to be worldwide sensation of ice soccer.

Two players take to a quarter acre pitch and draw out a 40sq ft goal in the snow. It doesn't matter the exact dimensions as long as the area is approximately 40 sq feet. As such my goals tend to be long but narrow and Ethan's tend to be more square.

A five yard line is then drawn ahead of the goal all the way across the pitch. This is where you kick from if a goal is scored or the ball goes behind your goal.

The aim of the game is to get the ball to touch any portion of your opponents goal. It can land in and bounce out, glance a corner, whatever. If it touches the ground inside the goal area it is in.

You are permitted two touches of the ball. The first is your save of the previous players shot and the second is taken from where the ball ends up and is your shot.

Game of the Year 2012

While it was a great year for movies in 2012 it seemed to be a fairly lackluster year for games. I am also finding myself with gradually less time to play the big releases when they came out. It seemed to be a year when small games could shine though. In a year when I played just 12 new games the bottom of my top 10 may not exude quality but the top games were all ones I have greatly enjoyed.

10. Worms Revolution – PC

9. Catherine – XBOX360

8. Fez – XBOX360

7. Mark of the Ninja – PC

6. Mass Effect 3 – XBOX360
The first two Mass Effect games were my Games of the Year and the first game was my game of the last decade. Mass Effect 3 was therefore a bit of a letdown. It wasn’t just the terrible ending, it just felt dull compared the supreme second entry. The series went further away from its RPG roots as the series progressed and ended up mainly as a Shooter. This diluted what made the series interesting in the first place.

5. Thomas Was Alone – PC
A nice little Indie game that makes you care about little blocks with its charming narrative and fun puzzle gameplay

4. Trials Evolution – XBOX360
I loved Trials 2, the only problem was that it was single player, Trials Evolution added an exciting multiplayer that had my friends and I chuckling away. The user made multiplayer tracks just added to a great experience.

3. Spec Ops the Line – PC
A great narrative makes some for some occasionally iffy shooter mechanics, you want to keep playing to find out what happens next.

2. F1 2012 – PC
The third time is a charm for Codemasters’ F1 series, the first game was good because it was the first entry for years. The second didn’t really hold my interest as it largely fixed the bugs from the first game while confusing with an odd menu system. The third game does away with the menus altogether and seeks to just get you racing quicker. The controls take a little getting used to but once you do they feel pretty tight. I am enjoying this game.

1. Max Payne – PC
After LA Noire lost me with its narrative and repetitive gameplay Max Payne did a great job of building my trust in Rockstar again. The controls are tight and exciting, the narrative is interesting and keeps you playing and the bullet time effects are great fun. All that plus it is a great game to look at and has a lot to offer. It is my game of 2012.

image from Rockstargames.com

Guest Post: Sports in 2012

Once again I asked my father to give his view of the best and worst sporting accomplishments of the year. Here is his (unedited) list for 2012:

 

Sports in 2012 – Or how to not mention the Olympics

Team of the Year – Chelsea. For knocking Barcelona out without leaving their own half and then winning the Champions League using the same tactics.

Sportsman of the Year (on two legs) – Andy Murray. For crying at Wimbledon and then winning the US Open. We all love him now.

Sportsman of the Year (on two wheels) – Bradley Wiggins. For winning the Tour de France. Special mention to Sky Sports for an excellent series about Team Sky, never realised you could lean on the support car if you were feeling a bit tired.

Sportswoman of the Year – None. Sport and Women should not mix, it messes up their hair and makes them perspire.

Overseas Sportsperson of the Year – Peyton Manning. For a great return in 2012. Probably won't win it in 2013!

Overseas Team of the Year – Spain. For winning Euro 2012, bet no one saw that happening.

Other notable events in 2012
Good
AFC Wimbledon stayed up
Bad
AFC Wimbledon only just stayed up

Good
Managed to stay awake for the Superbowl
Bad
New York Giants won it

And Finally (I know I said I wouldn't mention it but it has been impossible to avoid)

Good
Team GB won lots of medals and apparently some were won by GIRLS!
Bad
As predicted lots of empty spaces – not that I'm bitter about not getting any tickets

What you need to know to be a PHP developer

 

If you want to be a web developer it is not enough to simply know PHP (or ASP.net if you go that way). It is important to also know which skills are most in demand for a web development role.

I decided to find out so did a search for PHP on a variety of UK based recruitment sites. In total I tallied 60 positions for their required/optional skills and ordered by the number of times each appeared.

Here are the top 10 skills that you want in 2013 if you are to be a PHP developer, the percentage is the number of jobs that ask for the skill:

  1. PHP – 100% (kind of makes sense a PHP developer would need to know PHP)
     
  2. MySQL – 78.8% (By far the most popular of the database options, only alternatives mentioned were SQL and PostgreSQL each under 10%)
     
  3. HTML – 73.1% (Helpful for putting that PHP onto actual web pages)
     
  4. CSS – 71.2% (Make those web pages look pretty)
     
  5. Javascript – 69.2% (Add some function to those web pages. Most of those mentioning Javascript also mentioned jquery, two mentioned mootools)
     
  6. LAMP – 28.8% (Creating sites on Apache Linux)
     
  7. OOP – 26.9% (Object Oriented Programming, most did not mention it by name but mentioned frameworks like zend, symfony, cakephp etc. I also tallied these individually but each reached under 10% with Symfony and zend each getting 7%)
     
  8. Subversion – 21.2% (The oldest of those generally used still rules the roost, GIT was the only other one mentioned with 9.6% of the ads asking for it)
     
  9. AJAX/JSON – 19.2% (allowing us to send and receive data in the background of our web pages)
     
  10. XML – 17.3% (XML is another markup language that enables things like rss feeds and is both human and machine readable)

Just below these ten we have mentions of actual products with WordPress, Drupal and Magento developers all in demand.

Number eleven though is something you either have or you don’t… communication skills. Good luck shy guys.

While this is a small sample set gathered over a single day in January 2013 this top 10 makes a lot of sense. Only one job asked for any type of certification (and they said they would pay for the applicant to get it if they were successful but lacking it), several asked for degrees but were generally unpicky about the subject, the majority asked for experience. Get coding!

Film of the Year 2012

 

2012 was a fantastic year for cinema. In 52 weeks I managed to see 27 films and I generally enjoyed all of them. That makes a top 10 difficult to accomplish. Beth may have struggled to think of more than six great films but I had an initial shortlist of 15 that needed to be trimmed.

Without further ado here is Beth’s list:

10. Woman in Black
9. Avengers
8. Pirates in an Adventure with Scientists
7. The Lorax
6. Skyfall
5. Lincoln
4. Hobbit
3. Brave
2. Les Miserables

1. Trade of Innocents
This was not an easy film to watch – it should not be. I picked this film as my number one because I believe it is the story that most needed and deserved to be told. Though fictional, it could be the true experience of thousands of girls around the world. Trade of Innocents explores sex-trafficking in Cambodia, through the story of a couple working to rescue and rehabilitate girls, and their dealings with local corrupt authorities, impoverished families, and rich tourists exploiting the sex trade.  It calls to our attention the slavery that still exists around the world, and even in our own neighborhoods. Hopefully this film will break your heart.

And now my list:

10. Skyfall
9. Lincoln
8. Wreck-it-Ralph
7. Pirates in an Adventure with Scientists
6. Avengers
5. Les Miserables
4. Dark Knight Rises
3. Hobbit
2. End of Watch

1. Django Unchained
I got to go to an advance screening of Django in early December and it was everything a Tarantino movie should be. Copious violence, fantastic screenwriting and some superb acting. There was not a weakness in the cast and I found the movie very entertaining. In a year with the Hobbit, Les Miserables and Batman – films I loved every bit as much as I expected to – it is great that End of Watch and Django were even better.

Remember 2012

My 2012 had a rather defining moment. It was the point when we decided to come to America for eight months. Our options were to stay in Canterbury, move to Sussex or come to America. We chose the latter and it should be no surprise that this decision sits at the top of this list but here is my full top 5 of things I enjoyed in 2012.
 
5. British American Football
 
There were problems with the finals weekend in 2011, but no such issues this year, as we took over Don Valley stadium and streamed live online. The crowds in the stands may have been small compared to the size of the stadium but it was a great (but wet) event with over 6000 people watching from home via GridironTV. 

It rounded off what was a pretty special season. The London Blitz retained the title but had stiff competition all year from their cross town rivals London Warriors who topped them twice in the regular season. I am proud to be involved with the league and hope that the future remains bright and we can continue to build on our following.
 
4. Brugges
 
In early July Beth and I took the Eurostar to Brugges for a fantastic long weekend. It is a wonderful medieval city and even though it may be constantly overrun by tourists is more than a little magical. We stayed in a fantastic hotel right on the canal and would happily go back again.
 
3. Leaving BBQ weekend
 
 
Before coming over to America we invited all of our friends to Canterbury for karting and a BBQ. The karting was a great start to the day with a close race between Craig, Ceri and I. Craig led for a good portion of the race before I eventually managed to sneak past. The two of us pulled away and I was able to take victory. In the evening more friends arrived and we ate good food until late. It was a nice send off.
 
2. Denver Broncos
 
My love of the Broncos strengthened this season as I was given the chance to go to their eight regular season home games in 2012. I saw them lose just once on home soil and had a great time at each game. It helped that in the off season they signed one of the best quarterbacks to have ever played the game in Peyton Manning and that they lost just three times on their way to number one seed in the AFC for the upcoming playoffs.
 
1. Coming to America
I have been given a great opportunity. While Beth studies I have been able to find out what life in America is like. This is something that was not possible on previous two week visits. I am still enjoying my stay and while there are things that I miss about the UK there are almost equal numbers of things I like about Colorado. I have also been able to expand the number of states that I have visited with a trip to Wisconsin to see Beth’s Aunt, Uncle and Grandma. This trip also took us into Chicago for a trip up the Willis Tower, the Chicago Aquarium and of course pizza (which was amazing). We are sure to have a lot of fun in our remaining four months and look forward to all that time may bring.
 
It has been a great year and here is to an even better 2013 as we continue to enjoy America and then return to England looking for new jobs and a place to call our home.
 

As usual my other lists will be coming soon with film later this week and games next week… sport will turn up at some point too.