Sunday 26 September 2010

Bristol pub crawl

This weekend didn't quite go as planned, but it still worked out rather fantastically! The "plan" was that Lucy, Carys, Amy, myself and later on Andy would go into Bristol city centre and try and do the Monopoly pub crawl (since there's now an official "Bristol Monopoly"). This started by us all getting a taxi to the train station (my first taxi in probably 15+ years?) and then getting a train into Bristol (last train I went on was January 2009 so not quite as exciting). Sadly we had no idea what time the train was leaving and it turned out we missed it by a matter of minutes and we had to wait half hour, but that didn't really matter, we were all in high spirits! When on the train we bought tickets and asked the ticket man if we could drink alcohol on the train and he gave a very emphatic YES - Hurrah!

We're on a train with alcohol!

Oh and you know how I wrote about my Kindle a few days ago? Well a woman on the train had one too - Double hurrah! (I didn't ask her what she was reading though!) After a fairly short train journey we arrived in Bristol Temple Meads (the main station) and departed and headed to the first pub on the Monopoly board... and that's where it all fell apart - yep we didn't even make it to the first pub! Although we had a map and we were trying to follow it, someone bright spark came up with the idea of going in the first pub we saw and we'd just go from there... so we did that and entered "Ye Shakespeare". I saw some really interesting Strawberry K2 alcopop behind the bar so I tried that, but to be honest it wasn't very nice. We attempted to play "21" card game, but I kept messing it up :( I've played it before, but the rules were slightly different (we didn't have reverse direction or skipping people) but soon we all finished our drinks so we moved on to the Llandoger Trow (or the Smugglers bar as one of the entrances was labeled!)

After the previous disaster of a drink I decided to stick to "brand name alcopops" so picked a WKD Blue. Yep they're sickly sweet, but I do love them! Technically I prefer the red ones more, but no one ever seems to sell those - boo! Soon though it was time to move on and we were all feeling a bit peckish so we entered the awesomeness that is... SUBWAY! :) I've only been in Subway once before and this experience was just as great. I ordered as 12inch Italian BMT (or at least I think that's what it was called) and had it on cheese and herb Italian bread or something like that. I'm not really sure, but it had pepperoni, salami, ham, melted cheese and I added onions and jalepenos to it and it was extremely tasty!! :)

Stopping in Subway

After some wandering round we ended up in a massive open area next to a festival that was going on and we were debating whether to pay to go in or not and decided against it in the end so headed to find another pub, but on route we found the Planetarium instead! It was closed at this time of night (or at least I assume it was closed), but it's housed in a large sphere so much hilarity ensured with us all taking pictures of our reflections in the silver ball:

Reflections in the a giant silver ball

Next we headed into some bar next to some sort of waterfront/marina, however that didn't work out too well. When asked "What cocktails do you do?" the woman behind the bar looked at us blankly "We don't sell cocktails" and sure enough the entire bar had zero spirits, alcopops, coke or anything you'd normally find in the bar fridges, just tons of WINE. Oh. At this point Lucy's boyfriend met up with us and we headed to the "Bristol Ram". I drank a Redbull and Vodka and we all had a shot of Sambuca and listened to the live music for a while... but it's a pub crawl... can't stay still for too long! And then we went to the place called "Illusions Magic Bar" and it was BRILLIANT. It was your stereotypical pub/bar layout inside except for in one corner there was a little area with a guy doing card tricks and he was REALLY good. We all managed to get on the seats right in front of him so not only did we get to see his tricks up close, but we got to be part of the act too!

Illusionist in the "Illusion Bar"

I'm not sure I've ever actually seen magic up close (only televised?), but this guy was really good and not only were us seated people captivated, but the 20 or so people stood behind as well! I know this is obviously what they're supposed to do, but his ability to turn one card into another, even when he slowed it right down... fantastic! Aside from cards he also got out some sponge balls that split into multiple balls, but he did this WHILST other people were holding them. Carys had to hold one for him and even though he didn't touch her hand, when she opened it again it was a completely different shape/multiple balls AND completely different sized object... WOW. Can you tell I was really impressed? :) After the "show" ended (~15 minutes with 5 minute break before he starts again) we left those seats so someone else could watch the next one up close and went to get a drink. I'd already switched to soft drinks though by this point... Apple and Raspberry J2O - I'm not really that heavy a drinker, especially not when I'm actually out/not at home. After we'd finished our drinks we moved to "Ha Ha bar" (what a name!) and once inside Lucy and Amy bought a some sort of cocktail between them:

Some kind of a cocktail

I can't remember what it was called, but watching them create it with all the various things going in layer by layer was really interesting! We stayed in here for about 30 or so minutes until they told us they were closing so off we went to find somewhere else!

We initially went in Wetherspoons, but after being in there only 2 minutes we left to find somewhere better and we ended up in Coolers Nightclub. It's no secret that clubs really aren't my thing (I don't dance and holding a conversation is impossible), but at the same time I find it quite fascinating to watch all the social interactions going on around the club and how people behave, especially to the different music. Like for examply there was a lot of alternative music playing and all of a sudden they switched to "We are your friends" (Justice Vs Simian) which is very much electronic/dance and the whole dancefloor just STOPPED. It was like people had no idea what quite to do... but within 30 secodns it got moving again. I'm probably explaining it really badly, but little things like that amuse me. I think everyone else was a bit concerned that I wasn't enjoying myself, which was kind of them to worry, but it was all fine and although we were apparently in there two hours it certainly didn't feel like it! Although when we came out my ears were ringing for about 10 minutes afterwards!

Carys, Amy and Lucy

Feeling it was time to call it a night we headed to the taxi stop and fairly soon managed to get a taxi all the way back to Lucy/Andy's where people collapsed off to bed fairly soon. Personally I wanted to read for a little while, but that turned out to be a huge mistake... I'd bought my Kindle along (love it!) and started on "The Da Vinci Code" and was hooked... two hours later it's 5am and I'm still awake... Oops. I did manage to read nearly half the book though, it's gripping stuff! Eventually though I went to sleep and had about 4-5 hours sleep, poor Andy though had to go out early to play/teach hockey so probably had less!

Sunday morning the rest of us got up (Andy left ~8am or so!) and Lucy made us bacon sandwhiches. Everyone got themselves sorted and Amy headed off home. Lucy, Carys and myself headed back into Bristol and Cabot Circus (no real plan, just having a look around) and eventually we ended up at "Patisserie Valerie" Café. I've never heard of them, but it seems they're a bit of a chain and there's 3 in Bristol alone!

The original plan was to get a drink and some cake (the cake is what they specialise in), but we all decided to get a portion of chips first. I had a lovely chocolate milkshake too, but sadly as I expected it went way too fast:

Patisserie Valerie the next day!

So I also ordered a strawberry one :) Carys didn't want a cake by this point and the cake Lucy wanted was sold out so I ended up eating cheesecake all by myself... but I didn't care... it was yummy. Although I think I was laughed at for the way I ate it haha. I always maintain that the best bit about cheesecake, is the base. Sure you could just make biscuit crumb type base, but unless it's actually had cheese soaking into and softening it up, it doesn't taste as nice :) So basically I try and eat the entire cheesecake leaving the base until last. Or at least that's the plan, it didn't go so well this time! After this we headed back and all said our goodbyes and went our separate ways!

Spent the rest of the evening just chilling with the TV (The Day After Tomorrow was on), harvesting my crops on FarmVille and basically being unproductive lol. :)

Thursday 23 September 2010

Kindle 3

Wow it's been a whole month since I last wrote, wow... well anyway... the most exciting news I have is that my Kindle 3 arrived and it is AWESOME. Yes so awesome that I must write it in capitals and believe me I was tempted to bold it as well, but I thought that'd probably look a little silly. :)

It was due to arrive on September the 10th, but it shipped early and I was really happy when it arrived on the 9th and I'm really not disappointed and as my friend Lucy described it: "It's a thing of beauty!"

About the size of a regular paperback

Look how thin it is!

If you've got this far and you don't actually know what a Kindle is (I assume you haven't visited Amazon in the past 4 months as there is a huge image on their front page) it's an e-book reader and I'm now environmentally friendly, no more treebooks for me! :) It's their 3rd generation model so they've had some time to work out the kinks and it has the latest E-ink Pearl display and that adds extra contrast to it and I have to say it's a delight to read from. E-ink screens are different to LCDs in a few ways because they use considerably less power (it only takes power to turn the page (update the screen), it only comes in greyscales not colour, it works perfectly fine in even the brightest sunlight, but the main reason is it doesn't look "computerised", it literally looks like text on a printed page. It's kind of weird to look at because it looks like paper... yet it's obviously not.

Also unlike a traditional treebook, there are multiple fonts to choose from as well as you can change the size of the text at any time you want. It can also read the books out to you using text-to-speech, although I admit it sounded a bit mechanical (it can only read the text out if the publisher has enabled it in the book). Weight wise it feels like a normal book and it's very comfortable to hold and you can certainly hold it one handed without getting any sort of discomfort.

Amazon's e-book store is really quite impressive and so far pretty much everything I've wanted to read has been available for purchase (and as you might expect, cheaper than the paperback prices) and digital versions have the added bonus of convenience. There's no having to go out to a shop to pick up the latest book by your favourite author and no waiting for it to be delivered either and there's no fear of it being sold out either. You browse the store (either from your computer or the Kindle itself) and there's a one-click checkout and... tada. They actually promote it that one of the features is that you can get a book in 60 seconds (because obviously we're all *that* impatient...), but they weren't lying either. In fact, I purchased a few books directly from the Kindle and they only took between 30 and 40 seconds each INCLUDING the download time. Wow. Yes in 30 seconds I had a new book on my Kindle all ready to read, you can't really ask for much faster than that!

It's also capable of playing MP3 files and proper Audible audiobooks (also an Amazon company!) and it has some mini games built in too! (Minesweeper and Gomoku - a sort of connect five), there's a built in web browser (which if you have the 3G versions mean free Internet everywhere!) and in fact considering it's mainly an e-book reader... it does quite a lot really! It even works in the dark... sort of:

Even works in the dark! (with the lighted cover)

Closeup of the text in the dark using lighted cover

The screen itself isn't backlit (like I said above, it's like paper and paper doesn't light up!), so Amazon also sell covers for it some of which include a built in extendable light. What I really like about this cover is that it's designed to look like a journal (it even has a stretchy band to hold it closed or to hold it open with the cover behind it) and the Kindle firmly snaps into the metal contacts inside. If you have the lighted version you can then extend a light (as demonstrated above) and it takes its power via the metal connectors and using the Kindle's own power - no need for extra batteries or something else to charge.

I know that in my pictures the light clearly isn't uniform and the top right corner is brighter, although I assure you that's just my bad photography. In reality it's perfect readable and I really like that when I can read in a pitch black room and if I move the light on the book is consistent unlike if I was using a regular lamp.

I really should mention the battery life... anyone want to guess what it is? *30 days* No really. Like I mentioned near the top, it only takes power to change the page so even with moderate use, looking at my own usage, 30 days doesn't seem unreasonable. Of course if you start using the lighted cover and turn 3G and WiFi on then it reduces the battery life to between 9 and 21 days... but still... THAT'S PRETTY GOOD! It charges via Micro USB (or included adapter and normal plug socket).

The only thing I didn't like was the "off" screens: When you suspend the device it puts a random picture on the screen (not blank!), but most of these pictures were of dead poets/writers and frankly some of them look really creepy! If you see the forums there are tons of people asking Amazon to allow user defined screens or even just to turn them off, but all Amazon says is thanks for the suggestion. Given that people have been asking for this since Kindle 1 and we're now on Kindle 3 I don't think it's likely to happen anytime soon, but thankfully someone already worked out how to Jailbreak the Kindle so less than two weeks after getting mine... it's already been jailbroken and the suspend screens have been patched and it nows displays the images that *I* want to see when I turn it off - hurrah! :)

Oh and I should actually finish by saying about what it's like to read books on it (especially since that's its main job!) - It's a delight. As previously mention I can select a font/size that I'm comfortable with and put bluntly, it just works. Turning the "page", is now so fast that my eyes have barely made it back to the top of the page and I certainly couldn't turn the pages of a real book this fast.

The first week I got it I read "PS, I Love you" (Cecelia Ahern) and yesterday I finished "Angels and Demons" (Dan Brown) and I'm going to start on "The Da Vinci Code" tomorrow and I have loads of books lined up! (The Lost Symbol, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Dear John, One Day,... the list goes on). It can hold approximately 3,500 books, more than I intend to own/read anytime soon and by the time I actually get that many (!) I'm sure there will be a newer Kindle with even better capacity!

Changing subject slightly, I've recently finished Bellwether (Connie Willis) which was really enjoyable and I intend to look into some of her other books and I finished "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" (J. K. Rowling) too. As well as the "The Da Vinci Code" mentioned above, I'm also currently reading "The Host" (Stephenie Meyer) and "Harry Potter and The Half-blood Prince", but sadly that one is an actual book as J. K. Rowling seems to be literally stuck in the 14th century along with the whole witchcraft (and wizardry!) subject as she hasn't/won't release her books in electronic form... c'mon Ms Rowling... it's 2010, e-books aren't even new! But anyway...

So yeh... Kindle... probably the best thing I ever bought and I know that's one heck of a statement to make, but I could not be happier with it. It wasn't even that expensive either... £109 for the WiFi only version and £149 for the WiFi+3G version. The official cases are a bit of a rip off though, £30 for the non-lighted one and £50 for the lighted one - Ouch! Still... I consider it money very well spent, It made reading fun again!