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

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.

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.

Review: Head Games

Motorsport has long had signs encircling tracks pointing out to spectators that motorsport is dangerous. From the biggest Formula One circuit to the lowliest kart track that message is loud and clear. Is it time for other sports to begin proclaiming the same thing? That is the question that Head Games deals with.

While the risk of injury in motorsport comes from the vehicles themselves, in other sports it comes from the act of playing the game itself. If you don’t stop the opposition in their tracks in American Football they will just keep running past you, in ice hockey it is also part of the game. This leads to hard blows to players’ heads. A blow to the head is never good news though and the NFL has been forced to come to terms with this. The movie primarily focusses on American Football but points out that concussions can come from practically any sport (the film dwells on women’s soccer for a while). Head Games is detailing the work done by Chris Nowinski and his team at the Sports Legacy Institute in Boston as they continue their research into how to find signs of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) – which can lead to symptoms of dementia – in people still living. Previously it has only been possible to have access to, and find signs in, the brains of the deceased. The film points out that unsurprisingly getting repetitive blows to the head is bad for you and the fact is brought home by showing us a former NFL player who can no longer recite the months of the year between January and June in order or remember a six digit sequence of numbers. The film also shows a study that NFL retirees have 19 times the risk of dementia of a normal member of the public.

The movie stops short of telling people not to play these violent sports but does suggest that perhaps parents should think twice before letting their children play, or keep playing after having a concussion. Head Games makes its points well and there is still a lot of research to be done by this relatively young team. If the movie is able to get a debate going and help make these sports safer then it has done its job.

It is obvious that after spending the nineties denying the effects of head shots, the NFL can no longer ignore the facts regarding concussions. For the past couple of seasons the rules have begun changing to start to minimize the risks and stop potential damage to the league’s reputation. As younger players start seeing the men they idolize clashing heads less often the hope is these changes will filter down. One thing to note is that concussions take a long time to heal, the NFL currently takes players out of the game but more often than not they are back the following week. The league perhaps needs to look into increasing the time that these players sit out before returning.

It may look like the league has been neutering the show but if it means one fewer suicide and more players retiring in decent health then it is surely worth it. What does this mean for us in the British leagues? We need to acknowledge that the problem is out there. Make sure no player enters the game with a concussion. If we see a player take a blow to the head then make sure he is fit to re-enter. While I have seen few, if any such hits in the British game it should still be a point of emphasis for coaches that players should not go in with, or aim for, the head.

As the movie points out one concussion is really too many.

Trailer for Head Games:

Microsoft Surface Impressions

I had the chance to play with Microsoft’s new Surface RT yesterday so I thought I would give a few impressions. I will preface them by saying that I don’t currently have a horse in the tablet race. The iPad has done a fantastic job in popularizing the concept (as apple products tend to do) but I am not a huge fan of the iOS interface with its grid system. On mobile I prefer android and have a fondness for Asus’s Eeepad Transformer range of tablets. I was eager to see what Microsoft would bring to the table.

The tablet itself is a nice piece of kit. The hardware seems sturdy and the stand does not feel like it will snap off easily, I also love how easy it is to connect and disconnect the keyboard from the device. Surface is well featured with usb, microsd and a port that will allow you to connect it to monitors and televisions. There are two downers though, the first for me is that the device is too heavy. I disconnected it from its keyboard and played with it off the desk for a while and it was giving me a bit of an arm ache. It was noticeable that the device was heavier than an iPad and less comfortable to hold. The other downside comes from the keyboards. The first major issue is that to use the keyboard functionally you need the device on a table. If you place it on your lap the stand will not be stable and it will be a poor experience. The second issue is that the colourful surface touch covers are horrible to use. They are pretty much flat and there is no movement or feedback when you press a key. It makes it very difficult to discover if the keys you are pressing are actually registering and it was not enjoyable. Fortunately Microsoft also offer a black keyboard cover that has a much nicer keyboard and although the level of travel is still small you have a much better idea of what you are doing. I could get on with the black keyboard, I couldn’t with the coloured ones. Spend the extra money… The final thing I will say on hardware is that Apple have gotten me used to the dimensions of the iPad which made the RT feel very wide and thin, this made it feel strange in the hand. The advantage of this is that it means that video tends to fill the screen.

The tablet I played with did have some videos preloaded and they predictably worked well, the store on the device also seemed to be offering movie rentals at very decent prices as well. The music player didn’t seem overly well laid out and it was hard to hear the sound quality in the store, even with sound all the way up I could hear nothing. The supplied apps were generally pleasing, calendar, contacts and mail all have a nice clean feel and I would be happy using those. The image features were pretty standard and the inbuilt cameras seemed ok for what they are. The sample pictures and general colour display on the device did not seem as vibrant or enticing as on the iPad though. In terms of the general Windows 8 interface, it is starting to win me over as a tablet and phone layout. It has the ability to display information easily and once you get used to where things are I would rate it as better than the iOS grid. It took me a while but I also worked out some of the gesture controls that are not standard on other devices, for example swiping from off screen to bring up the open/recent apps on the left or the search/settings on the right. It took me a while to work out how to control IE but swiping from the top/bottom does the trick. These gestures work well once you know them and it made the experience easy to control. What was less impressive was the responsiveness of the tablet. Sure it runs apps and all of that fine, my problem was a more base issue of the device not picking up what I was tapping on. It occasionally took me two or three attempts to open an app, the worst was trying to play music which took me a while to get working. A delay and a lack of feedback to tell me if something was in the process of opening did not help.

So overall I enjoyed playing with the surface. Would I buy one? No, but the interface is up there with android as my favourite. I am sure that Microsoft will fix (or already has fixed) the responsiveness problems I faced but there is a more general issue of the device being too heavy and being impractical for lap usage. I guess that means that I am giving the interface and OS a plus mark for use on tablets, especially given the bonus of the integrated windows desktop experience and office suite, but I am not sold on the surface hardware. Time will tell on how the competition stacks up in the RT marketplace but if I had to buy a tablet today I would be going android.

Image from the Microsoft Surface website