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Reader comments are becoming the bane of the internet. For every interesting article you may read online you can usually find a shitshow of stupidity and bigotry posted underneath. I am amazed intelligent sources of news and information still allow reader comments, it’s like producing a fine art painting and allowing any fool to scribble underneath it in crayon. Don’t read the comments.

And so I should really put my money where my mouth is. So from today I’m disabling comments on my own site. I’ve been lucky in that most interaction has been positive. But on the whole we don’t really need website comments anymore, that’s what social media can be used for and I also believe it’s a better way.

So by all means comment on anything you read here, you’ll be able to reach me on Twitter right here – @Grumpyrocker rather than a little box below the fold on this site.

Bring a Bottle?

I’ve just watched the first episode of Emma Kennedy’s entertaining new sitcom about family life in the late 1970s called The Kennedys. While the titular Kennedys were certainly classier than our northern working class family it was definitely all too familiar. The family’s first ever dinner party reminded me of a story about my parents from the early 1980s.

They had been invited to a dinner party. This was unheard of among our family and friends. Children might go round to their mates for tea, but grown ups didn’t. But dad must have been moving in some unusually lofty circles in the Catholic charity he was involved in and so mum and dad were invited to a dinner party.

“Bring a bottle,” they were told.
And I remember mum and dad agonising over what this could possibly mean. A bottle of what? Should it be empty? What kind of bottle, large or small? Why weren’t the hosts providing liquids? It was frankly baffling.

Now it should be said at this point that both my sister and I did have an idea of what sort of bottle they should take, but dad was having none of it, thinking we were going mad talking about buying “that” wine “stuff”. And of course he was always right.

And so on the day in question they got dolled up and headed out for their first classy dinner party with middle class folks. My dad armed with his pint bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale, my mum with her very small bottle of Babycham.

God I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at that dinner party.

Incidentally it was probably around this time we also tried pasta (not from a can) for the first time. Mum bought some real dried spaghetti and cooked it following the instructions on the packet. My sister and I found it very bland. “Maybe people have some sort of sauce with it,” mum suggested. We thought she was probably right and said that if we had this kind of spaghetti – not from a can – again, we could put some ketchup on it.

The Quest for the Alrightish Burger

Many years ago my late/first wife and I had a pet called George. We loved George, he was yellow and perky, ever ready to join us in our adventures. With his tail behind him he’d open up his jaws and hiss with delight every time we’d decide to eat with him. He wasn’t a snake though, he was a lean mean fat reducing machine aka a two sided grill. I’m not sure what happened to that George, his fate is lost in the mists of time that for me remains hazy – and not just because of the fat-coated steam that filled the kitchen.

Many years later I’ve returned to a similar adventure. Yes I bought a new George Foreman grill. Once again I can enjoy the delights of arguing who gets to clean the bloody thing and wondering how something can be so charred on the inside and yet so “never mind that’ll do” in the middle. I’m not sure how much fat he keeps from us, but George has proved handy for a variety of our regular meals. I think his contribution will likely be measured more in a slightly lower electricity bill than reducing waistbands.

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Yeovilton Air Day 2015

Queen of the Sky

Another July, another Yeovilton Air Day and this year I took the family along. As ever it was a tricky day for spectators and photographers as the flight line has everyone looking up into the sun. It was lovely to see the Vulcan fly one last time before her retirement at the end of the 2015 airshow season. The highlight of this year’s show for me was the Sea Vixen, it’s such an amazing looking fighter – fast jets tend not to be that pretty anymore.

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SMSL 793II DAC/Headphone Amp – Quick Review

You can pay an absolute fortune for a good headphone amp but much of this money goes into snake oil. A decent DAC chip is not expensive and amplification is not rocket science. SMSL is a Chinese company that’s making waves with good quality audio gear that means you don’t have to break the bank to get good sound. This DAC/Amp receives optical/coax digital PCM and sends it out of the headphone output at the front and via RCA line-out at the rear. The volume controls the headphone only – as it should – leaving the line-out to be a fixed volume. I’ve got this DAC set up on my desk where I feed it an optical signal from my motherboard, the line-out then goes to a hi-fi amp and speakers. The sound quality is excellent both in the phones and via the line-out. I’ve used the line-out to feed an SMSL SA-50 amp and a Marantz MR-603 hifi and in both cases the results were superb. Be aware like most headphone amps there is a little channel imbalance through headphones at the quiet end of the volume taper but this is gone at normal listening volumes.

Also as is often the case with excellent but inexpensive Chinese audio gear the power supply lets the side down with cheapness and potential electric death. My 793ii came with a two-prong switching power supply and a travel adapter. While the power supply seems fine – I didn’t like using it with the travel adapter and bought a 9v switching power supply from Maplin with a proper UK plug.

Quick Jurassic World Review

Just jotting down my initial thoughts having just got back from the cinema, having watched Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World in 2D. It was great.

The trailers weren’t exactly representative – a few red herrings – and that’s a really good thing. I liked all the leads, I like that it set up some well worn tropes then didn’t go through with them in the cliched way. I thought the effects were very good. It was all very grounded, very little CGI swoopy cam, and the realistic cinematography really helped sell the dinosaurs as animals. Certainly in 2D I was sold.

I liked the look of the film. Obviously colour graded – but not in the over the top way of many current films. It had a much more natural look – closer to the original JP. It was also shot in quite a tall ratio and I felt the overall tone, look and atmosphere of the film was not very modern – and I mean that as a huge compliment. It felt like a worthy sequel to Spielberg’s original and I enjoyed the references to the original film.

I liked that they addressed the feathers issue in a realistic and genuine way. I liked the kids – I think having younger cast members gives it that Spielberg feel but also guides the younger audience through the film. Pratt and Dallas Howard were really good.

As I said I thought the effects worked really well. There was a solidity to them that worked. I think at times it looked like there was an attempt to recreate the look of the original film’s T-Rex animatronic using CG rather than try to completely make a realistic animal. Whether my guess is true or not – the T-Rex and some others – moved and looked a lot like the way we enjoyed them in Spielberg’s original.

I think the director Colin Trevorrow did a great job. He managed to keep a film about some pretty bonkers stuff very grounded and human, with good acting and action sequences that worked really well. I liked the restraint in many scenes – he didn’t feel he had to keep showing us brightly lit CG dinosaurs all the time but went for classic suspense. Excellent production design, dialogue and characters that were smarter than most summer blockbuster fodder, and some huge scary dinosaurs – what more could one ask for.



Deadly goings on in our garden this morning as a Sparrowhawk captures a small bird. The prey was still very much alive at this point and screeching. The reason the hawk was standing like that was to defend itself as all the birds in the garden were dive bombing it in little squadrons to try to get it to leave. Meanwhile the poor sparrow wasn’t being finished off quickly and was very loud.

So I went outside with the hope of either getting the hawk to move off with its prey or leaving the prey behind. It picked up the sparrow and flew down under a tree, then over the wall and out of the garden – followed by lots of small birds trying to scare it away.

A Sad Day

Don’t be poor, or hungry, or have more than two children, or be disabled, or vaguely foreign, don’t need a new home, don’t get ill, don’t need a good education. Your country without soul, heart and compassion has abandoned you. Kindness is over, replaced by fear and austerity. Shame on you England.

New Parentmail “Upgrade”

The primary school our three children attend use a system called Parentmail. It’s simple and easy – we just get sent emails with information from the school – such as newsletters, parent’s evening appointments, school policy etc.

This worked very well. We can file the school emails and keep them together, star, highlight and keep control of the diary and information as one would expect. We parents are in control and can work with the information as we see fit.

Until now. Now the school has “upgraded” to a new PMX Parentmail system that seems like some throwback to the 90s. Now we receive an email that tells us we have an email. We then have to click and visit the parentmail site where we have to login to read the mails. There’s no way of storing these messages locally on our computer – instead we have to use this basic site.

Instead of being able to star and highling emails in my own gmail account, I now have what is essentially a whole other one-way email account that I can only access on the web. I used to be able to open pdf files from the school in my gmail, now I have to click through to this site, click several times more to get to the pdf then download it.

This of course also a waste of mobile data. Previously our phones would receive an email with all the relevant content in it. Now once your phone has receive the email telling you that you have an email – one has to use the app or site to then find out the information. It is so arse-backwards.

How on earth is this progress? It’s a very poor system and the previous one worked so much better. I would prefer a return to the school sending paper letters home than this very poor approach.