Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Industry vs The Consumer

Piracy is a word that's been thrown around a lot in recent years. This article got me thinking what kind of service would appeal to me personally, as a viable alternative to downloading. Spotify is a prime example of how to do music right. I'm an avid subscriber, and have no qualms with shelling out £5/month for a reasonable selection of music. Its not perfect, but its good enough for me, which is all that matters when it comes to curbing piracy. The TV/movie industry should really take a look at this model. There is so much wrong with the current TV industry I really don't know wear to start. I don't pay for a TV license, its simply too expensive for the amount of use I'd get out of it. So I simply don't watch live TV broadcasts, which doesn't bother me in the slightest - I'd much rather watch shows when I want to watch them. Which brings us to the TiVo/Sky Plus model. This appeals to me slightly more, being able to select shows, and have it record them in decent quality as they are broadcast. But again, the combined cost of Sky Plus AND a TV license is way too high.

The BBC Iplayer/4OD type thing is all well and good, but doesn't offer me the flexibility I need - I can't watch it on my Xbox with XBMC, and I can't download shows onto my android to watch offline. Even if I could, they would be unnecessarily time restricted, for no good reason. And the quality could be better. But free is a good price, so I won't complain too much, but they certainly leave a lot to be desired.

Lovefilm/Netflix. Well I tried Lovefilm and for a while I enjoyed it, until I realised that the Blu-Rays I was getting weren't playing in Blu-Ray quality, but some gimped quality, as I wasn't using an HDMI cable. Turns out Blu-rays need all the hardware/cables/monitor to be HDCP compliant for the good quality footage to be unlocked, and don't even think of being able to play them easily on Linux, as you'll be sadly disappointed. It took me quite a while to be able to rip one onto my hard drive, and transcode it into something smaller than 30Gb, and I still wasn't happy with the result, when the alternative to simply download it is so quick and easy. So Blu-Ray isn't the solution either. Getting DVDs instead from Lovefilm kept me happy for a while, but I have noticed a sudden decrease in the quality of DVDs in recent years, probably a ploy from the publishers to slowly wean the audience onto "HD" sources. Not to mention DVDs are often so crippled with intentional errors from their draconian DRM that they often stutter and refuse play on my DVD player and computer. That leaves the streaming of videos, which I've only tried on Lovefilm, and not Netflix, so I can't speak for both, but the quality of the streaming of Lovefilm is pretty poor, and again, there is no way of downloading the whole thing for uninterrupted offline viewing. Oh, and its Microsoft Silverlight now, so there goes my custom, as I use Ubuntu.

HBO Go. Well I don't live in the USA, so there goes my ONLY chance of keeping up with Game Of Thrones in a legitimate manner. I would love to have a way of getting hold of this series as it was being aired (or within a day or two). Waiting for the DVDs/Blurays I would've had the story line ruined by other people who had watched it, believe me this has happened on more than one occasion, so watching them as soon as possible was quite an important factor on my choice of how to watch them! If I could've downloaded my choice of 480p/720p/1080p mkv (NO DRM is hugely important to me buying this product), for a small fee per episode, I might've gone for it. But what would make the whole experience more satisfying is if I got "rewarded" for my purchase. In the same way as Steam shows you a library of things you've purchased, with the option of re-downloading whenever/wherever you are, should you ever loose your copy, or want to put a reduced resolution version on a portable device. But Steam also manages to make you feel proud of buying products, knowing that your friends on steam's Community social network will see the purchase, and its nicely integrated.

Another form of media consumption that I really liked was KickStarter/Pledgemusic. Committing to buying something you like, similar to preordering I suppose, but your reward is being kept up to date on the progress of the latest filming, photos from the set, or other perks. This would be an interesting way of getting people of part with their hard earned cash for a franchise or product they are interested in.

So in summary:
* DVDs - No good, the quality is way below par, and often has problems playing in some players due to DRM
* BluRay - No good, not supported in Linux, requires new hardware to play properly. Maybe when the Xbox720 comes out...
* Physical media - Not ideal: no space for it in my flat, can only watch once all episodes have aired
* Rental services - Need 100% coverage, suffer from same problems as Physical Media
* Streaming services - Usually low/medium quality. Sometimes have time restrictions. Don't allow for offline download. Some don't allow for caching. Some are region locked to specific countries
* Bittorrent - Perfect, flexible, easy and quick

All they have to do is come up with something easier than bittorrent, and they'll be sitting on a gold mine. Maybe not as lucrative as the idea of everyone who watches their content paying the full BluRay price, but that is just a pipedream in this digital era.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Random Weekend Casserole

I like to collect squashes, or is it squashs..? Squashai? Anyway, they're cute, and make good decorations for my table, plus they have such good armor that they'll happily survive the entire year without going bad.



Still, if its between me and fixing hunger, a pretty gourd will definetly come second to a delicious bowl of squash casserole.

I didn't have a recipe, didn't even know what I was going to create, I just went for it, knife in hand. And it wasn't half bad, so I thought I'd record my experiment here, for the next time a pumpkin comes to visit.



Half a big squash, cubed (any kind will do)
1 carrot, roughly chopped
Half a bulb of fennel, sliced
1 cup of millet seeds
3 sundried tomatoes, chopped
3 bulbs of garlic
1 red chilli
Small handful of dried fruit, apricots or sultanas
Small handful of chopped nuts, eg walnuts, pecans and/or hazelnuts
1 can of tomatoes
2 tsp paprika
Pinch of safflower/saffron
3 cups of hot vegetable stock
1 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes

Pour some olive oil into a big lidded casserole dish, and throw in everything, season with salt and pepper, and finally drizzle over done more oil. Stick in the oven at 190c for an hour with the lid on, then stir, and give it another 20 mins without the lid. Chopped parsley/spring onions would make a good garnish once out if the oven.

The great thing about this kind of dish is you could basically stick in anything and it would still be nice! I used up a globe courgette in there too although I wouldn't recommend them in here for the fussy eaters: Mine came out a bit bitter, which I don't care about at all, but for the more delicate palette, stick to veggies that are tasty in their own right, like spinach, butternut squash, sweet potato, leek, cabbage. Avoid aubergine, courgette, tempeh, or anything that needs to be imbued with a different flavour.

I recently watched a film called The Ramen Girl, and you'll never guess what it inspired me to cook... Whilst I wouldn't particularly recommend the film, nothing beats a delicious bowl of noodles in a warming gingery miso broth.



Fried onions, chilli, garlic and ginger in my favourite cast iron skillet, spiced with shichimi http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shichimi and cooked with a few leaves of savoy cabbage, sweetheart cabbage, pak choi, and carrots. Soya sauce, mirin and rice vinegar for liquid flavouring. The broth was simply dried shitake, miso paste, and wakame and hot water, which I used to "clean" my pan out once I'd finished with it. Topped with pickled mustard greens, and nori flakes.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Blueberry Muffins

I think this is the easiest recipe I'll ever post! And damn they are tasty, I made a batch of 12, and am currently down to 9 as I write this, with still plenty of evening left for more to be demolished...

Blueberry Muffins

Lemon+Blueberry Muffins

Ingredients
1½ cups (180g) plain white flour
½ cups (70g) wholemeal flour
1 tbsp wheatgerm [optional]
½ tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
½ tsp baking powder
Zest of two lemons
1 tbsp poppy seeds [optional]
¾-1 cup (180g) sugar
1 cup (235ml) soya/oat milk
½ cup (78ml) sunflower oil
2 tsp (10ml) lemon juice
1 tsp (5ml) cider vinegar
1 tbsp ground linseeds
1½ cup frozen blueberries

Preheat the oven to 200ÂșC. Mix together all the liquids with the sugar and linseeds, until the sugar is dissolved. And the flour, baking soda/powder, salt and zest, and mix to incorporate (but don't overmix, just enough to wet the flour). Coat the blueberries in a teaspoon of flour, then add them to the batter, and fold in. Fill a greased muffin tray with the batter (should make about 12), and bake for 22-30 mins, until a wooden skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool for 5-10 minutes before attempting to turn out onto a wire rack.

Good luck saving them for your friends, and not devouring as soon as you get them out of the oven. Warning: Hot blueberries hurt.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

All You Can Eat?

As always, the highlight of my travels is the food, and this time is certainly no different. Vegetalia is cute cafe tucked away in the back-waters of Fuengirola. Once through the labyrinth of alleys it revealed itself like an oasis in the desert. And if you manage to find it before the end of lunchtime, you'll be rewarded with an all-you-can-eat buffet, where almost everything was vegan. For the few things that weren't, the lady was happy to bring out a customized version especially for us.



Plate one of five. I walked away from this place delightfully stuffed with mounds of food. Much like one of the stuffed peppers we ate. Well you are what you eat, as they say...

Vegetalia
Santa Isabel 8
Fuengirola

Next in the agenda was the amusingly named Bombay To Goa, which we stumbled upon in La Cala. The guys here understood our request for no dairy, and happily bought us out a veg-friendly biryani, channa massala, aloo gobi and brinjal-something-or-other, and it was all delicious! Good indian cuisine seems harder to find in Spain, although I suppose the bar is set relatively high living around Birmingham.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Costa del sol

Its not even midday, but as they say,"when in rome". I'm sat on the balcony, overlooking a stunning panorama of the mediterranean, with a bowl of olives, monkey nuts and a glass of cool beer. This is the life!



Later we are heading to Vegetalia for an all you can eat buffet.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Where Megatron and Rapunzel Collide

Today I woke up in a bit of a daze, was it all a dream? Or did I really see Cinderella dancing with a Pokemon?

Black Waltz

The top hat and goggles on my bedside table brings me back to the harsh reality that Ayacon has come to an end, and that for another year, I have to endure the monotony of the real world. Okay that was pretty bleak, but if you've ever spent an entire weekend at a cosplay convention, you'll probably know what I mean! I've been reliably informed that this glum feeling has a name: Post Con Blues.

Bit of a Contrast!

Aya, where do I begin? Its a 3 day convention for the anime and manga fans. Its a weekend of comedy, informative lectures and dressing up. Its a party.

A three day party, from which I still haven't quite recovered.

Masquerade

Cosplay chess, watching karaoke, buying merchandise, getting my butt wooped at Bleach fighting game, watching hobbits play DDR, learning about steampunk, hearing about how to plan a trip to Japan, live bands, a violinist who played some of my favourite tunes whilst sat outside relaxing in an open-air amphitheatre... I could probably go on for a while!

Yuna, before a brutal game of chess

But it wasn't perfect, not far from it, but I had set my expectations too high by time it came around to the final event, the Ball. I've never been to a ball, I missed graduation ceremony at uni, and wasn't around for the school proms either. So my idea of a ball had been mostly modelled by the picture painted in hollywood. I was hoping for that scene in FF8. I was hoping everyone would be dressed like Kayleigh in Firefly, and the dance floor would be full if people waltzing in big flowery ball gowns. I was hoping a beautiful princess would come and sweep me off my feet.

Time Travellers Ball

Well there was definitly no dancing, at least not by me, which maybe was a good thing in hindsight, as I've never waltzed before, and I was wearing big boots that might've trampled the unwary. And actually, there were a handful of impressive ball gowns being worn, and a few people were dancing to the slow romantic songs. And I did get talking to a lovely woman with the prettiest steampunk outfit. So some may wonder what I'm complaining about... To tell you the truth I'm not even sure, I'm guessing the post-con-blues is to blame.

Always Be Prepared...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Ladybird Challenge

All through summer I longed for an effective way of dealing with common garden pests. Slugs and snails have decimated my beans and courgettes, cats have defaced my soil, and ants have been teaming up with aphids in an attempt to ruin my tomatoes, chillis and herbs.



Whilst there's certainly no silver bullet (although these would definetly be effective against cats...) I certainly welcomed the arrival of these little guys.

How many can you spot?