Smartbrick

I love my smartphones, and I’ve been using them for a long time now. I think my first real smartphone was an O2 branded HTC Universal, followed by a Nokia N95. I’ve also had various models of iPhone (3G, 4, 4S, 5 and currently using a 6) and both a Nexus 4 and 5.

The common factor between all these devices was my choice of service provider: O2. I let myself get suckered into upgrade after upgrade to get the latest and greatest model, and always lived in hope of them improving network coverage in my neck of woods.

You see, I live in the middle of nowhere. We’re right on the limit for both getting ADSL and having pizza delivered, and our nearest neighbour is a quarter of a mile away. It’s a wonderful location, but not without its frustrations for a self-confessed lover of technology like myself. The problem is getting worse as my older children start to suck up more and more of our available bandwidth with Netflix, YouTube, and Xbox Live.

Coupled with the poor broadband connectivity is less than stellar coverage from O2. I can get 3G in Carlisle, but around where I actually spend 99% of my time I get GPRS or nothing. To add insult to injury, the GPRS connection rarely works for anything other than push notifications. This means that whenever I leave the house, unless I’m headed for “civilisation” I’m carrying the eponymous “smartbrick” in my pocket.

The christmas before last my brother-in-law was shocked and delighted to discover he could get a 32Mbps 4G signal from EE in my living room, compared to the paltry ~2Mbps my BT ADSL was providing to a house full of gadgets during a family christmas.

Being tied into a contract prevented me from switching to EE at the first opportunity, but as my contract is due to expire I’ve been checking out my options. EE with their 4G-in-my-living-room is a clear contender, but with my work at Automattic (by the way, we’re hiring!) I also have to travel several times a year – usually to the United States. Neither O2 nor EE have particularly great roaming prices there, and having had my fingers burnt with a few bills on my return from travels, I’m keen to get the best bang for my buck. Especially when roaming I rarely turn my data on – except in emergencies – so despite being in “civilisation” my phone remains a smartbrick unless I’m near a WiFi connection.

This lead to me Three. They have very reasonable pay-as-you-go bundles (I really want to be done with long term contracts), but most importantly they have a “feel at home” romaing deal which means I can use my full allowance in the US and other countries. A quick warning: the “all you can eat” data allowance in the UK is capped at 25GB when roaming. The cheek of it! Oh, and they have 3G-in-my-living-room, which is a massive improvement on O2.

So for my current trip to New Orleans for a team meetup (I’m typing this on the train to the airport in our excellent WordPress app, and using my Three 3G to post it) I’m trying out their “feel at home” deal and I’m looking forward to being able to use my smartphone as Apple intended!

A smartbrick no more!

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Auntie Lolita’s Omelette

When I was young my mother used to make “Auntie Lolita’s Omelette” which is, of course, good old Spanish omelette. Lolita was my mother’s friend and as such friends-of-parents do, she gained the “auntie” prefix despite being no relation to us.

Now I can’t remember whether I actually liked the dish or not; as a child I was a finicky eater and typically existed on baked beans and fish fingers so probably not! :-)

As my years have advanced my palette has developed and I now regularly eat food my younger self would have run screaming from (or at pushed it around my plate until my parents gave up trying!). I’ve also become fond of – and I would like to think quite good at – cooking. For my birthday last year my mother bought me a cast iron skillet, which was something I’d been hankering after for a while, and I became a convert to cooking with cast iron. Although I cook almost every day in the cast iron pot my parents bought gave to my wife and I at Christmas, the skillet typically gets used for pancakes, bacon, sausages and the odd omlette.

For some reason the spanish omlette popped into my head this morning, and so I decided to make one for lunch. I got out the peppers and onions out of the freezer (whenever I’m making a larger dish I keep some back and freeze them for use in smaller dishes), chopped up a bunch of chorizo (we use a lot of this in our household), cubed and boiled some potatoes and got started. Everything goes into the skillet with a little bit of oil and while they are browning/crisping I beat six whole eggs and generously seasoned with salt and pepper. Once I was happy with the contents of the skillet, I poured in the eggs, gave it a stir to even out the contents and put the whole skillet in the oven for 15 minutes.

Despite my (older) kids being well used to all the ingredients used, I still expected them to reject the “new” dish. I was wrong; they wolfed it down and I had to hide the remainder for my wife to try when she gets home. :-) 

 

A lovely, simple, filling dish that I suspect will become a regular request. 

Beware: Low flying quadcopter

For Christmas this year I got my son a quadcopter. This wasn’t a completely selfless gift; I obviously wanted to have a go myself. :-) Above are the results from my first outside daylight (this part is important) flight.

I got him the UDI U818A 2.4GHz 4 CH 6 Axis Gyro RC Quadcopter with Camera RTF Mode 2. The camera is VGA (640×480) only, and struggles with low light – hence needing to film in daylight. Another limitation is battery life: up to 2 hours charge for 6-8 minutes flight time. Suffice to say we have some more batteries on the way!

This is a great starter kit, and has sufficiently whetted my appetite for more. I can see an AR.Drone or Phantom Vision in my future. :-)

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Audio to go

I’ve been hankering after a Bluetooth speaker for a while, but never seemed to get around to purchasing one. When I was in Kauai last week for a team meetup, one of my colleagues used his speaker continuously to good effect and reminded me how much I wanted one.

While the holy grail (for me) continues to be the Bose® SoundLink® Mini Bluetooth Speaker, I’ve also heard good reports about the significantly cheaper HMDX HX-P230RDA-EU Jam Bluetooth Wireless Portable Speaker – Red (available in several colours). However, I kept putting off getting one for, well, reasons.

This morning while picking up some pain au chocolate and baguette in Lidl, I spotted a diminutive “SILVERCREST” (one of their many in-house brands) Bluetooth Mini Speaker for £9.99, so how could I resist? (It would seem plenty of others couldn’t resist either; there were six this morning, and none when I was back there this afternoon!)

I’m no fool: I know a £10 device is not going to compare to something from Bose, but I can happily report that it was well worth a punt. The volume is far greater than you would expect from something of this size, and while there is some distortion you have have to ramp up the volume to trigger it. It has a built in rocker button that allows you to play/pause and change tracks forwards and backwards (assuming your device supports the correct Bluetooth profile; it works fine with my iPhone). It is too soon to comment on battery life, but claims are made of up to 8 hours from a 3 hour charge – I’m assuming this is when used with the auxiliary connection, and 4-ish hours with Bluetooth will be more likely. Charging is through the ubiquitous micro-USB cable.

On the negative side, although the casing finish is good (I got the plain black one), the controls are utilitarian. There is a rubber base, but when a track with significant bass is turned up it did start slightly moving around, so beware of placing it near the edge of the table! Finally the aforementioned auxiliary connection is through a custom 3.5mm to micro-USB cable which will almost certainly be impossible to find if I ever need it. :-)

I’ve not yet tried the built-in microphone, but it is a nice-to-have feature.

As with all Lidl/Aldi style deals, good stuff like these will disappear very quickly, so if you see one pick it up; I doubt you’ll be disappointed. If you do miss out, I did spot some on Amazon that looked identical (although with a different brand) yet even cheaper, so there may be bargains to be had.

Morning coffee

Desperately seeking caffeine

I’m a Monster addict. I typically have one can a day, and often two (occasionally more!). When I travelled to Portland, OR with my wife I was in heaven to discover the 24oz Mega Monster cans.

I know it’s not good for me, and over the last year I’ve been trying hard to wean myself off them – without much success. With four kids, a full time (fantastic) job, two school governorships, and – you know – life I feel like I need a little extra.

As a Brit I also like my tea; when I’m off Monster my tea consumption goes up and vice versa. However I don’t get the same kick from tea (unless I load it up with sugar, which defeats the health benefits); that oft-quoted fact about tea containing more caffeine is before the tea is brewed.

Since I’m a professional coder I feel like I’m letting the side down by not drinking coffee. I’ve tried – repeatedly – but I’ve never really enjoyed coffee. The smell, the taste. I’ve been told this is because I’m drinking the wrong stuff (instant == bad), but on the few occasions I’m somewhere that does decent coffee (or, you know, Starbucks) I typically go for my preferred Chai Tea Latte. It’s a hard habit to break. :-)

Every so often I’ll have another try at coffee; buying a different brand and/or loading it up with sugar & milk, but it never really works and back to the Monster/tea I go.

Last night while picking up a bit of shopping I spotted some Nescafe Azera Latte instant sachets on offer and – having seen one of my coffee drinking friends like the brand – I picked some up on a whim. We’ll see how this attempt goes…

BTW, the awesome handle-less cup in the photo was purchased on another trip with my wife to Copenhagen, Denmark.