Review: Good Girls Don’t Die

Good Girls Don't Die
Good Girls Don’t Die by Isabelle Grey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As with most of the books I consume I listened to this on Audible and apart from a few dodgy accents, the quality of the narration was very good.

The story was very engaging with realistic characters and a story line that drew me in and kept me listening. As with the best story telling, the author adds back story to the main character that makes her seem more believable and which is threaded in to the story line throughout the novel.

The author puts you in the mind of the detective as she follows up on leads and tracks the suspects. The novel is written from a female viewpoint (fortunately the lead character is female) but doesn’t have an overly feminist agenda so this shouldn’t put off male readers. Little details are pointed out and there are plot twists and turns as the book progresses, although many of these are predictable because you know you are only half way through the book!

I’m a suspicious character by nature so I’d suspected the serial killer but then again over the course of the book I’d suspected several of the characters as many had a motive for killing young women. There are enough twists and turns to keep the story moving and the book doesn’t feel drawn out or too long.

I found out that there is a sequel to this book and it impressed me enough to want to read it! That’s why I gave this book 5 stars ūüôā

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Review: Finders Keepers

Finders Keepers
Finders Keepers by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I bought this story on audiobook so I could listen to it on my way to and from work. The quality of narration is excellent and on a par with other Stephen King audiobooks I’ve listened to.

The story is cleverly written to link into the previous novel in the series being a direct sequel. If you hadn’t read the previous book you wouldn’t be at a huge disadvantage reading this one as King fills in the gaps and brings you quickly up to speed.

The story starts in the past and flicks between past and present as it sets the scene for the story and introduces the characters. Gradually the plot picks up steam and the pace starts to increase, and it isn’t until more than half way through the book that the link to the previous book in the series becomes clear and the characters meet.

I enjoyed this book but there isn’t a lot to it compared to some of King’s other novels and once again the ending is a bit of an anti-climax. I’d still recommend this book to others but I hope that King’s next book has a little more of the supernatural in and a better ending ūüôā

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Samsung Smartthings – my initial thoughts #ThinkSmartThings

I signed up to be part of the insiders project, getting a Samsung SmartThings starter kit for 6 weeks to review and play with.

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The kit itself is well boxed and presented although documentation was a little thin on the ground.  Set-up was fairly simple although for some reason I had to do it twice which meant popping the cap off each sensor and pressing the reset button for the hub to set it up.

The presence sensor didn’t survive this process and the plastic holding in the battery disintegrated. ¬†Support was mediocre and eventually (after nearly a week) I was given a second class label to return the sensor for it to be replaced upon receipt. ¬†This meant a trip to the post office to get a proof of posting, which slowed the returns process down. ¬†Fortunately the sensor was replaced within a few days of posting

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In the box is a hub which is the control centre for the whole system.  It has battery backup using 4x AA batteries (provided).  Also included in the box is a presence sensor, a door sensor (which also detects vibrations and temperature), a motion sensor (which also detects temperature) and an open/close sensor.   A remote controlled plug socket is also included (which also feeds back the energy consumption in Watts)

The limited range of sensors provided mean that it is hard to rig up any meaningful home automation system with only one actuator (the socket).  The hub has the ability to link with other automation kit you might own and it was a two minute job to painlessly link it to my Philips Hue lighting kit.

I’m still yet to find a compelling use case for the starter kit – that makes use of the sensors and devices on offer. ¬†The retail price for the kit is ¬£200 and there are many cheaper solutions that don’t involve smart technology for the use cases I see being tweeted with the #ThinkSmartThings hashtag. ¬†For example I have my hub turning my lighting on at sunset and off at bedtime. ¬†This sounds clever but I was able to do this before using IFTTT.com without the need to buy specialist hardware. ¬†The remote controlled socket is nice but most of the functionality can be replicated by a WeMo socket in the ¬£25-¬£30 price bracket and again with IFTTT integration.

I do have the system linked to my Foscam security camera so that when the door is opened it takes a snapshot (hoping I have left the camera pointing at the door). ¬†The SmartApp can take a burst of photos if required but I’ve had limited success (it depends on which side of the door the person opening it is stood when the photos are taken). ¬†An example of the typical shot is shown below (it isn’t meant to be broken up):

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The app is available for iPhone and Android which means that iPad users like myself are left with a crappy second best interface (again IFTTT has an iPad app – Samsung take note!). ¬†The Android app is buggy and doesn’t work well on Marshmallow with error messages warning you that presence detection isn’t working (so removing the option of using your phone as a presence sensor to let the system know you are in the house).

Key features have yet to be implemented (despite being labelled as arriving soon for over a month) such as OpenAuth to connect to external services like IFTTT. ¬†Account sharing isn’t implemented yet either so you can’t add your spouse or partner to your system – you all have to be logged in as the same user…

Configuring the system is a pain – whilst it isn’t impossible to work, it does lack the ease of use of comparable systems like IFTTT, and uses a combination of SmartApps and Routines to work your SmartThings hub.

Where Samsung have missed a trick is the sharing of recipes showing how to achieve certain events РI worked out how to turn my lights on and off on a routine but others might not.  Without wanting to sound like an IFTTT fanboy, they do have this licked with their recipe sharing system.  I have reached out to other insiders and browsed the SmartThings community but have yet to find any must-have uses for the system.

The availability of compatible sensors could be the making of this system but availability is limited in this country and the prices are usually higher than comparable SmartThings additional sensors (which start at £30 each).

I still remain to be convinced that Samsung SmartThings could be useful and I’ve tried hard to make it work for me. ¬†I would advise potential purchasers wait until Samsung has implemented a full feature set and there is an established user base with some good usage scenarios.

Review: The Martian

The Martian
The Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The measure of a good book is how much you want to read it (or in this case listen to the book – my copy came from Audible). I looked forward to the next installment to find out how our astronaut (Mark Watney) would survive being abandoned on Mars.

The book is quite technical and there is a lot of science in there. Most of it seems plausible and you should perhaps be more concerned about the number of times luck is on the side of Mark Watney than the accuracy of the science. The book does a fairly good job of exploring how it would feel to be left behind and to be the only living organism on the entire planet. There is plenty of Martian geography in the story and even reference to old Mars rovers that are not longer in use.

I would like to know what happens after the story – there were a number of plot lines that I felt would lead somewhere only to be abandoned at the end. The audio book is extremely well read and around 11 hours in length making it a good buy. I would recommend this book without hesitation.

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Update – my daily speed tests @virginmedia

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I posted a short while ago because I had been experiencing poor speeds with Virginmedia on my 50Mb connection.

Over the course of this week I realised I couldn’t remote into my home connection and realised I had been given a new IP address. ¬†As this rarely happens I wondered if this had fixed my poor speeds.

It’s early days yet and whilst not perfect it’s great to have a useable connection back in the evenings. ¬†You can see from my speed test results above that there is a noticeable difference in the connection speeds at peak times.

The utilisation fault referred to in my last post wasn’t due to be fixed until November so I’m not sure what has changed, ¬†hence the uncertainty over my recently improved speeds. ¬†My ego would like to think that my efforts on social media made a difference but it was probably just a scheduled upgrade.

I won’t be posting any more daily speed tests unless there is a deterioration in my download speeds again.

Of course this doesn’t excuse the act of over-selling capacity in my area, or the fact that so many people all over the country aren’t getting their promised connection speeds with Virgin. ¬† Competition is the best motivator for companies to improve and people experiencing poor speeds need to be vocal about them if anything is to be done.

Why I’m tweeting my speed test results every day – @virginmedia

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I’ve had slow speeds for well over a year now. ¬†I’ve reported them to Virginmedia but unfortunately they are unable to help. ¬†The reason being that there isn’t an actual fault with my hardware or my connection.

The reason I’ve been getting slow speeds is what Virginmedia call a utilisation fault. ¬†A utilisation fault isn’t caused by faulty hardware or equipment, it is caused by signing up more customers than your network can support. Unfortunately this type of fault isn’t very easy to fix and requires investment in network infrastructure and bandwidth.

Virgin have assigned a fault reference to this problem (F002970318), presumably because they can give it to people like me who phone up wondering why they get nowhere near their promised speed. ¬†I’ve been given a total of five dates for this to be fixed and it keeps getting pushed back, the date given now is mid-November, but I have no faith in Virginmedia to fix this problem.

What frustrates me even more are sales calls from Virgin offering me packages including 100Mb broadband. ¬†If they can’t deliver 50Mb, there is little chance of delivering 100Mb or greater. ¬†While this problem goes on Virgin media continue to sign up new customers who are oblivious to the fact that they will not get their promised line speed.

I’m told that Virgin can offer up to ¬£7.50 a month rolling credit to those affected, which is little consolation to those getting speeds of 5Mb at peak times (or worse). ¬†If you are in the Nottingham area then you will have to forget about¬†connecting to the city of speed and accept that your connection will be subject to slow speeds until Virgin complete the investment that is long overdue. ¬†You might also want to phone up customer service and ask for a discount, and share your connection speeds with others so that Virgin stop signing up customers with the promise of a service that they can’t deliver.

Feel free to get in touch if you are experiencing similar problems with your connection…

Six weeks with the Nexus 6

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Having spent over a year with a Nexus 5 I was itching for a new phone, something bigger (as the five inches of the Nexus 5 didn’t feel over-large) and had considered an iPhone 6+, a Samsung Note and a Nexus 6. ¬†A month of dithering was cut short by the announcement that Google had dropped the price of the Nexus 6 to just over ¬£300 so I bit the bullet and ordered. ¬†This turned out to be a good move as the Nexus 6 has since returned to ¬£479 on the Google store.

The first thing that struck me as I held it and tried to power it up was the sheer¬†size of the beast. ¬†It was remarkable difficult to hold in one hand and using it one handed seemed virtually impossible. ¬†I’ve always been a user of phone cases to help with grip (and the protection makes a good backup to my accidental damage insurance) and I ordered a couple from Amazon.

Fortunately a case solved the slippery case problem and the phone felt safe and secure in my hand although it is now larger and slightly harder to slip into my pocket (I’m far too old for skinny jeans which would not accommodate the frame of the Nexus 6).

The screen in gorgeous and I soon got used to the size and quality of the display.  An extra row and column of icons on the homescreen have yet to be filled but the space is welcome when reading text in emails or social media.

Battery life is much improved over the Nexus 5 and I find I rarely have to charge the phone, even with bluetooth media playing and moderate use.  My Nexus 5 was usually dead by 3pm so having a USB charger in my office became a necessity.

Software on the phone is virtually the same as both are Google Nexus phones with stock Android and none of the nasty skins that plague the phones from other manufacturers.

Notifications are an area where the Nexus has lost some functionality with the removal of the Notification LED below the screen.  Together with the Lightflow app I could pick up my phone and know what notifications had come through without having to wake the phone (for example red light for GMail, green light for work emails).  This functionality has gone from the Nexus 6 but instead the screen does periodically wake and give a black & white display showing the lockscreen notifications.  Not quite as good but useful anyway.

Six weeks on and one handed use is still not easy but with practice and the excellent Google keyboard it is possible to send simple texts and status messages. ¬†I don’t have the largest of hands but users with smaller hands will struggle with one-handed use.

Camera is excellent but the app is slow to load and slower still to focus. ¬†I’m still hoping that software updates will improve this but unless you need to quickly capture a fleeting moment it is possible to live with this delay. ¬†An example of the camera quality is shown below

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Another feature I find myself using is the always listening “OK Google” detection, although it took a couple of factory resets to get in working initially. ¬†It isn’t a must-have feature or deal-breaker but again it’s useful to have there when you need it.

Six weeks in I love my Nexus 6 although I came very close to returning it initially as the size took some getting used to. ¬†Of course now using the phone is second nature and I wouldn’t go back to my Nexus 5 (which feels like a toy phone in comparison)

Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or want to share your experience of using the Nexus.

Review: Blake’s 7: Lucifer

Blake's 7: Lucifer
Blake’s 7: Lucifer by Paul Darrow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is really mostly for us ageing Blake’s 7 fans. The book starts with the story of Avon and his current location. Throughout the novel (which is about the right length and easy to read) the story explains a little about the Quartet which rules after the fall of Servelan and the federation. We find out how Avon escaped death (I’ve waited 30 years to know how this happened!) and what he is up to now. The character of Kerr Avon is in keeping with the tv series and the writing (which is surprisingly good for Paul Darrow) is also in keeping with the series.

Perhaps only for hardcore fans of the TV series but a good complement for my growing collection of audioplays etc from Big Finish.

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The failings of Ultraviolet and the movie

There are many reasons that people pirate movies and software.  Cost is one of them but convenience and portability is another.  How many DVDs have you watched that forced their piracy propaganda down your throat? How many movies do you have on iTunes or Google play that you want to watch on an incompatible device?

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I’ve just upgraded my pc and reinstalled the Blinkbox app. ¬†It flashed up a notification telling me it had upgraded my library with ultraviolet (which lets you watch your purchased movies on other services – after all you have paid for them).

As you can see that doesn’t include all the movies in my collection – MY collection that I have PAID for. ¬†Blinkbox isn’t a bad service and I’m sure it will continue to stick around under TalkTalk – but what’s the point in a service if movie makers don’t sign up to it.

Unfortunately they seem more interested in milking us for all they can than making us happy repeat customers. ¬†No wonder the pirate bay hasn’t seen a decrease in traffic – I’m sorely tempted too!

 

Review: The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A brilliant idea for a book let down slightly in execution. Slow in parts and full of characters that have problems or personality disorders. I think Rachel’s landlady is the only “normal” person in the book. The plot twists and narration were enough to keep me listening to the end (I got my copy from Audible) but unfortunately I predicted the ending about three quarters of the way through the book (pretty obvious as you know the author is constructing a plot twist with a limited number of options or characters). I still enjoyed the book – and I’m glad I don’t have nearly as many problems as the characters in the book!

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