Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Upcoming reviews

I have decided to post reviews of some of the products I have been buying lately. Upcoming are:

  • Osram Lightify smart bulbs;
  • Samsung SmartThings IoT/home automation hub;
  • New Balance Minimus 20v4 trainers;
  • and the Pioneer AppRadio with Carplay.
Let me know if you are interested in any particular aspects of the above products and I will try to include that in the review.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Philips Hue Go Review

Around six years ago I bought some Home Easy home automation devices, which have served me quite well with their simple but robust functionality. Recently I have been tempted by some of the newer home automation devices, which offer more features than my Home Easy setup, while prices have been falling to acceptable levels. I therefore decided to donate my Home Easy setup to my mother and invest in some new devices: Philips Hue B22 bulbs, and a Philips Go light. Soon to be added to this haul will be the Samsung SmartThings hub, and some Osram Lightify bulbs. Of the devices I have purchased so far the one that has surprised me the most is the Philips Go light, which will be the subject of this review.

In my haste to pick up one of these devices I bought mine from a Maplin store, for £79.99. The transaction went smoothly, though Maplin keep Hue devices in their stockroom, thus the purchase takes a little longer than normal while a member of staff retrieves the item.

The box itself was not in pristine condition. I do not know whether that was down to Philips or Maplin, however I was more interested in the contents than the packaging. Unfortunately once I broke the seal and opened the box I discovered that the Go lamp was a little dirty, and the front cover of the unit was sitting slightly proud of the body. This was easily resolved by pushing it back into place, but this was a little disappointing for a brand new device from Philips.

I already have a Hue bridge set up, and connecting the Hue Go was simple: I plugged it in to a power source, searched for new lights via the hue app, and added the Go. The app found the lamp, and it has worked quite well every since. That said, it does not always respond to commands on the first attempt. This may be because the lamp now sits on my bedside table and is the furthest device from my bridge.

In Use 
Unlike other Hue lights, the Go does not require a Hue bridge to function; a button on the back of the unit allows the user to alternate between seven preset colour and brightness outputs. Connection to the bridge allows for a great deal more variation, however. The Go is capable of reproducing 16m colours, as well as having LED specifically for 'white' light, unlike the Bloom or Iris units. The Hue Go is rated for a maximum of 300 lumens. This is less than half of what the hue B22 bulbs I have are rated at, however the output is surprisingly bright.

I intend to use the Go primarily as a bedside light, and it is more than adequate for that purpose. I also used it on battery power while I was taking a bath; the output was also sufficient to bathe my entire bathroom in a relaxing purple hue.

While I have not yet tested the maximum battery life, Philips claim the device will achieve 2 - 3 hours depending on light output. This seems achievable.

One of the main reasons I wanted to use a Hue light at my bedside was so I could simulate sunrise and sunset. I use an app on my iPhone for this purpose, and the Go has proven itself to be ideal; it is able to dim very deeply for the beginning stages of the simulated sunrise, while the ultimate light output is sufficient to wake me up. It certainly beats my alarm as a way to be roused in the morning!

I will update this review as I use the Go more, however I am very pleased with it so far.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Five Fingers Update

So, four weeks on, I thought I would update you with my Vibram Five Fingers experience.

I wore the five fingers for the first two weeks and haven't worn them since. The simple reason for this is that I don't own enough toe socks to wear them every day, yet. Once I buy some more toe socks, I will revert to wearing the five fingers every day, which I suppose gives you an indication of how much I like them.

There are some problems, though:

  • The drawstring digs into my feet, just above my toes, and actually caused them to scab a little. That's quite unpleasant and I will need to find a remedy.
  • The toes on my right foot are very, very slightly longer than those on my left. This means that they are a little squashed into the five fingers and I start to experience discomfort after walking around in them all day. I need to find a way to stretch the toes a little - any suggestions are welcome!
  • Bounding down stairs two at a time (as I ordinarily do) is near-impossible as a result of the lack of padding afforded by the Five Fingers. There is no way to correct this other than taking stairs one at a time. At least I will be less likely to fall down them, I suppose.
Some of the most notable benefits that I have noticed are:

  • My gait, when wearing the Five Fingers, is completely neutral.
  • Driving in the Five Fingers is fantastic as it allows me to feel the pedals and make smaller, more precise adjustments than I could with normal shoes on, whilst still protecting my feet adequately.
  • Balance and posture both seem to be aided by the Five Fingers.
  • Other people love them. A number of people have asked questions, professed a desire to buy a pair and taken surreptitious photographs of my feet. Many think that they look 'weird', but the comments have never been any more derogatory.
So, I am going to continue wearing the Five Fingers... check back in the coming months for more updates about them.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Vibram Five Fingers

When I run, I tend to encounter some joint or muscular pain that I feel I should not experience. I'm not a doctor, so I can only guess at the causes, however my stride is long, I strike my heel hard and I over-pronate (quite extremely). It is for these reasons that I was intriqued by the concept of Vibram Five Fingers.

In case you haven't come across them before (and most haven't), five fingers are essentially thin rubber soles (with synthetic uppers) that are roughly designed to mimic the shape of your feet. I say 'roughly' since everybody's feet are different and so a mass-manufactured product can never achieve an absolutely perfect fit. Anyway. They have five individual 'fingers' for your toes, enabling each toe to move independently and ensuring that they have sufficient room to spread out, as they naturally should. The pictures speak for themselves, really.

Yesterday I bought myself a pair of five fingers (classics in black, for the record). They are stocked by a few shops in London, and I went to Sportec in Whitechapel.

Sizing the Vibrams is difficult. For them to be comfortable and effective a tight fit is required. Obviously, though, everybody's feet are different (and quite often an idividual's feet are different to each other). After trying several pairs on I went with euro size 41s and they are such an ideal fit, it's difficult to believe that they weren't tailored to my feet. Either Vibram have done a fantastic job of finding good average measurements that allow for a wide range of foot shapes, or my feet are particularly well suited to the five fingers.

Many people have compared wearing the five fingers to going barefoot. This is not quite true. In comparison to wearing 'normal' shoes or trainers they are indeed almost like going barefoot, but the rubber sole acts to protect the skin of your feet from anything nasty underfoot and as an unintended consequence slightly restricts the movement of your toes. I expect, however, that the majority of the important benefits to going barefoot are also experienced from wearing this footwear.

All advice, both from the manufacturer and wearers of five fingers, has been to slowly acclimatise your feet to the novel items and not to simply don them and immediately go about your normal business. I decided to ignore all of this, of course, and after having them on my feet for two hours went for a six mile run. After the run (and eight hours of sleep) here are my reflections:

  • My gait changed entirely whilst running in these. In fact, my entire running style changed. My strides became shorter and faster, I stopped over-pronating, I stopped striking my heel hard on the ground and my calves had to work a lot harder.
  • As a result of the above muscles that had been practically dormant got a workout and became reasonably sore. My calves, particularly, were very sore this morning (though they tend not to bother me at all when I run ordinarily).
  • My heels are quite sore and so I am treading quite lightly today.
  • Sensitivity to, and awareness of, the variety of surfaces over which one runs in London is extremely heightened. This actually inspires quite a lot of confidence. Running on grass, dirt and gravel I found that I was more aware of the limits of adhesion than I would be whilst wearing normal trainers.
  • I encountered some broken glass on my run and the five fingers easily protected my feet.
  • The 'bungee cord' that retains the Vibrams feels a little tight and can cause slight discomfort.
  • The 'classic' five fingers look espeically odd with trousers because of their open design. To counter this, and in the interests of hygene, I have ordered some black toe socks (ankle high) to wear with the five fingers.

Those are my initial thoughts on the Vibrams. It is my intention to continue wearing them constantly for a few weeks to allow my feet to adapt and see if there are real benefits to them. I will report back periodically.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Javier and I

So, as many people already know I have recently gotten engaged to Javier Romero. Given that this has been a surprised to many people, Javier has written up an explanation of how we came to be together which is reproduced below:

"Wow… So many messages! Thanks, everyone, for your well wishes.

There have been many questions asked, and we realise that our engagement has caught many of our friends and family by surprise. So to being everyone up to date, I thought to write up the following…

First, to answer the basic questions:

• As for when we’re celebrating the engagement, it’s 15th November 2008 (if you’ve not got the invitation, let me know and I’ll send you the details on Facebook, which is where we’re organising the party)
• As for where we’re getting married, it will likely be in Rodden’s Scottish homeland (“civil partners” will be our legal status)
• As for when we’re getting married, it’ll be when we can afford a party worthy of the landmark! We’re thinking one to three years on
• As for when we’re getting children, it’ll be when we can afford the nanny! A dog may be in order first… heh
• As for what we look like together, here are some photos I quickly assembled from this year: http://picasaweb.google.com/javierromero1973/MyLifeWithRodden2008

Second, to answer the most basic questions of all: Just when and how did this happen? I’ll summarise this first; those who want the mushy long version can read blow.

The abridged version…

Rodden has been my best friend, as most of you know; I met him last June thanks to former business partner of mine. Well, Rodden and I realised this summer that, over time, we had fallen for each other. In fact, given that over months and months we have grown to know each other so well – the good and the bad – we also realised that we want to spend our lives together. As many of you know, though, we had stopped short of calling ourselves a “couple”; given our past experiences, we each saw the concept of “boyfriend” as temporary and saw our friendship as too important to jeopardise by taking that route. A trip to Scotland in August made us recognise finally, though, that we were just fooling ourselves: we were each others’ core relationship, and had been since the beginning. So rather than become “boyfriends”, well, we decided to get married instead. Hurrah!

The less-than-abridged version…

What would have happened had his face not been randomly generated on my friend’s profile? What would have happened had I not tried to see what a Facebook “poke” was? What if he had not messaged me in return?

In June ’07 I finally gave in to multiple requests and joined Facebook. One of my first Friends there was a former business partner of mine, Brian. I clicked onto his profile, and I saw this cute photo on his randomly generated list of some of his other Friends on the website. So I clicked on this person’s photo, got his profile, and saw that I could “poke” him… so I did (though not really knowing what that meant). Minutes later, he – Rodden Shaw – replied, thanking me for the “poke” and we started chatting.

So began a great friendship. It turned out that he worked a mere two buildings down from where I live (and often work), and so this former lodger of Brian’s – who turned out to be this outstandingly intelligent, interesting, and sweet person who had been compelled to grow up so quickly in his 20 years as he had been living on his own for years already – ended up becoming my lunch and coffee break partner for the months to come. We saw each other every week, often more. Having broken up with Daniel (a man whom I loved dearly but who’s brusque nature and drinking I could no longer handle) that same June, Rodden and I related to each other well as men who were very happy being single cute gay guys in London. From day one, I thought the world of Rodden, and he was undeniably cute, but his friendship came to mean the world to me. I knew I was coming to love him… BUT only as a friend.

Time passed, and come November I had met someone who made me think I could do relationships again: Johannes. It was a beautiful and intense affair with a gorgeous man. Oddly, I realised I loved Johannes when I found that he could distract me from Rodden (no one had ever done so in the previous months). But that relationship came crashing down only two months later around the winter holidays. And when I found myself without a date on 31st December, it was Rodden who came to the rescue in black tie, giving me the best New Year’s Eve ever.

2008 proceeded with more men as Rodden and I seemed to become more open to the idea of a boyfriend… Rodden came to have high hopes for a relationship with his friend, Rolf, and I met this amazingly sweet and sexy Irish guy called Colin; later Rodden became boyfriends with a British chap in Belgium called Richard. Our hearts flew and fell, and with every crash we found that we kept coming back to each other for consolation, counsel, and compassion.

Things started to change on 31st May at the party of our friend, John. Though Rodden wanted to stay on, I wanted to go home as a month’s worth of non-stop partying was catching up with me – Rodden offered me the key to his flat. No, nothing happened that night, but it felt such a welcoming and intimate gesture. As summer went on… and as I started to fall into a depression as my business had been struggling, and my cash flow suffering as a result… Rodden was there for me more and more. On one night that was especially bad, Rodden even took a series of night buses at 2am to come and comfort me, spending the weekend with me to make sure I was okay.

We talked and talked and talked all month. And so much started to come out, so much started to be shared. One night in late June we were talking and realised that we had become – and had been for some time – each other’s core relationship. Rodden said “soulmate” and, well, I had to admit to myself that he was right.

As the summer progressed, we just grew closer and closer. However we were two people who saw relationships as fundamentally temporary as that is what our pasts taught us. So though we knew we had these feelings, we kept insisting to ourselves and the world that we were “single” – our friendship was just not worth risking over the experiment of being “boyfriends”. Yes, we joked about being “the most coupley non-couple” in the world, but we psychologically needed to be “only” best friends.

Scotland changed everything though. In early August we went to spend a few days with his mother and meeting his family in Rodden’s place of origin, the Isle of Bute. Together every hour of every day, the feelings were too strong to hold back. We knew it: we were a genuine couple. And we loved each other, and had done for a very long time. And… we wanted to spend our lives together.

Less than three weeks later, in a moment of deliciously intense inspiration, I decided to make it formal and proposed to Rodden, who agreed to become my husband I realised that boyfriends break up, but that betrothal splendidly circumvents that. So… hurrah for us!

What’s funny is that, in telling our friends about the engagement, so many people have been saying how they saw this coming since as early as New Year’s Eve. How funny that last year’s two most confirmed bachelors have ended up like this…

Javier Romero"

Friday, 9 May 2008

Cyclists, bloody cyclists!

I should immediately preface this post by pointing out that I myself am a cyclist who commutes to work on a daily basis. On my route every day I see cyclists displaying an astounding lack of regard for various laws pertaining to road use (and applicable to all road users, including cyclists). 

Two offences particularly irritate me: cycling on the pavement (this is not acceptable under any circumstances, in the same way that doing 120MPH on the motorway is unacceptable even at 2am with no other traffic visible) and 'jumping' red lights.

A surprising number of cyclists also disregard their own safety (and that of no one else) by not wearing helmets or not using lights when necessary. Frankly, any cyclist who fails to take these most basic steps to protect themselves ought to have little right to recourse if injured. They also, in my view, have little right to express dissatisfaction with the habits of other road users.

There are two particular examples of my two main bugbears that particularly enrage me:

I work on Albert Embankment, beside the SIS ("MI6") building. Every day when I leave work I turn right and, in order to do so cross 5 lanes to reach the bus lane on the left side of the road. This can be achieved in absolute safety since the traffic is often sparse and slow on this stretch of road. For some reason, though, my colleagues have decided that it is preferable to cycle on the pavement and past the entrance to SIS in order to reach the cycle lanes at Vauxhall Cross. This stretch of pavement is wide, but packed with people walking to Vauxhall station and the risk to pedestrians from cyclists appears to be rather high. The cyclists travel faster than pedestrians yet the pedestrians are not necessarily aware of their approach, meaning that they could easily (and legitimately) step into the path of a cyclist with no notice. 

Whilst cycling home last Friday I happened across a colleague of mine on his way home about 5 miles from our office. I don't think that he spotted or recognised me. I stopped for a red light at a crossroads and he sailed on through, past me. Shortly after this the light turned green and I overtook him in the next lane (I was about to turn right) and, again, stopped for a set of traffic lights at a very busy crossroads. Again, he passed straight through the junction. This is not the sort of behaviour that I would have expected of the individual in question, which makes it all the more annoying.

There is no doubt in my mind that the majority of cyclists are careful, law abiding road users whose lives are often put in jeopardy by cars, buses, vans, lorries and any other type of vehicle you can think of, however it's about time that we all start observing the law when using the road for each other's benefit as well as our own. When we do not do so we ought to take responsibility for our own actions.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Appalling Neglect!

October 2007 was the last time I bothered to update the blog that nobody reads, so it's time for a new post, I think.

I moved into a new flat in October last year, quite probably just before my last post. It is in the One SE8 development in Deptford (the postal code is SE13, contrary to what the name of the development may infer). The video on the One SE8 website suggested that I was about to move to an urban Eden, where everyone was beautiful (as I would be), dinner would be delivered to my door, my apartment would be remarkably clean and tidy, I would regularly be massaged by a stunning man and life would generally be wonderful. It is fair to say that this has not been entirely borne out, though there are indeed many beautiful people who live there. It has ultimately transpired that whilst there are many pretty distractions in human form, the apartments and buildings are rather poorly manufactured and constructed.

The first sign that there was anything wrong with the apartment in which I now reside was that light bulbs would constantly fuse and, in doing so, trip the lighting circuit. This was frustrating but since incandescent light bulbs are rather incredibly cheap these days it wasn't hugely inconvenient or painful. To try to remedy this situation I have replaced those very bulbs with their 'energy efficient' cousins. I must admit that my understanding of their workings is rooted in GCSE physics and is therefore not worth mentioning, but I believe that they are not prone to 'fusing' in the way that incandescent bulbs are.

Anyway, moving on, the next thing that I noticed was that a couple of the light fittings in the flat did not work. They still don't work, in fact. Given that they are halogen and all interlinked via a transformer this is odd, to say the least. Since I dislike halogen 'spot lights' as a general illuminator it doesn't pain me particularly that they do not work, however it is another problem to add to the list.

When I go away I switch my boiler off completely in an attempt to save money and to not waste energy. Whenever I would return from a trip and switch the boiler back on (by using the master switch in its timer) the integrated fuse would blow (though the circuit breaker would not be activated). Eventually this timer actually caught fire, though not in a particularly dramatic manner (it extinguished itself). This is the last of the electrical problems that I have experience thus far, but they are part of a larger impression given by my apartment that indicates incredible cost cutting on the part of the developer.

What is particularly odd about this 'cost cutting' is that a great deal of money has been spent creating an impression of decadence and sophistication within the rest of the development. There is a pool and gymnasium, a 'corner' shop, a restaurant, large pieces of art work, glass sliding doors at the entrances to most of the buildings, pleasant and relatively expensive OTIS lifts, exterior decoration that wastes a great deal of space to the benefit only of the aesthetic, automatic gates, 5A lamp circuits in each apartment, etc. In essence there is a great deal of style but very little actual substance. This is in stark contrast to my favourite 'development' in London, the Barbican.

The Barbican is the most prominent and identifiable piece of brutalist architecture in London and it is, in my opinion (though not in that of many others) simply fabulous. It remains Europe's largest multi-arts complex and, most importantly, the residents there are treated to a way of life that few can enjoy.

When you live there one of the most noticeable things is the almost absolute absence of noise. Depending on where you live in the development you may hear the sound of fountains and a waterfall, or a little bustle from some of the public areas, but what you very rarely hear are the hallmark noises of almost any large city: sirens, horns, shouting, animals, children... essentially all of the little things that are annoying when on your doorstep. This is despite the fact that the development exists near the heart of the 'square mile', the original City of London.

Possibly more incredible is the fact that your neighbours rarely disturb you and vice versa. Most of the walls are made of rather thick concrete and whilst that makes hanging paintings a tedious process that requires a workman (contractually), the only noise that shall emanate from next door is the sound of their light switches.

It is more than a little sad that this fantastic piece of modern architecture is overlooked and derided by so many people, especially given that it works so well functionally speaking. Hopefully, one day, it shall receive the common recognition that it so richly deserves.