Thursday, 29 August 2013

Thursday 13-ish binge series list

film reels
Some of use have been batting around lists of television series to watch. Mainly the type that can be binge watched, through box-sets or streaming.

It also means there's a few that get excluded because of their ubiquity on normal television. Friends, Frasier, Doctor Who, Torchwood, Startrek spring to mind because they are always on normal television, often being shown out of sequence.

Here's my quick list of a few series I've watched/re-watched largely in blocks of viewing. I won't rank them, instead add a few comments.

  • Weeds : The one about the housewife who sells weed to support her family. It starts in a 'Little Boxes' housing estate in suburban USA and after various mishaps moves to the Mexican border and further beyond. A few years old, quite funny and handling a few taboo subjects. At various stages it gets new things thrown in to keep the mix running. I've not seen the last two series because of non-UK availability. Would definitely re-watch.
  • Breaking Bad: Ostensibly similar plot to Weeds, stepped up to crystal meth lab but played more earnestly than Weeds. Shows the spiral of a regular teacher as he crosses further to the dark side. Some very sharp writing. On its last few episodes now. Quite intrigued by how the end may play out. Seeing the last few shows makes me think I'll need to watch it all the way through at some time.
  • The Sopranos: One of the original binge sets. I remember sometime in the last century(?) getting the first set on DVD when it was the only set available. Then I missed 2-3 series because of work schedules but decided I'd need to watch it from the start. I only managed this after the last series had finished. Along the way it played around with most of the Goodfellas and similar movie ideas and then finished in a clever way. I'm not sure of I'd watch it all again though. There were some characters that I found too irritating (like Tony's mum).
  • Orange is the new Black : A kind of 21st Century Tenko set in a womens' prison in upstate New York. Much acclaimed although I struggled through the first five or so episodes. Up to the one with the chicken, where it started to settle in and became quite good. The first few episodes were almost trying too hard but then it settled into a more thoughtful style whilst still taking a run at many subjects. It's only run one series through to an unfestive climax although I'm sure I'll watch the next.
  • House of cards : The Kevin Spacey remake of the UK series, extended in an American context from 3 episodes to around 13. I was surprised how good this was, even with the similar storyline and some slightly cliched sections. I may well watch it again at some time, although I watched the UK version after I'd finished the US series.
  • Green Wing : About a UK hospital. Somewhat bonkers and surreal. I keep this for emergency entertainment on my iphone.
  • Black Books : How could so much fun be had with a bookshop and a few bottles of wine. Also on my emergency humour ipod playlist
  • Spaced : A rather north London comedy which references US films and genres. Very funny but might not travel well. I hear they tried to make a US pilot, but it would be a very odd concept. Really moment in time
  • 24 : Jack Bauer making 100s of decisions in every episode. Intense and one of those series that inevitably gets watched in multiple episode chunks. "just one more" but can be exhausting. Maybe I'll go back to the furniture showroom episodes at some point.

I know there's more, including some generally popular ones. I won't include Arrested Development (didn't like it) nor Portlandia (wanted to like it but couldn't get into it). I didn't really like The Office (UK nor US versions) either and wouldn't watch blocks of it.

I can think of others that should be included but I haven't ever watched in blocks. X-files, West Wing?

There's some UK shows like Faulty Towers or The Young Ones which are more a part of heritage. I wouldn't seek them out but still laugh when I see an episode of them.

And I could have mentioned The Killing (which I enjoyed, but watched close to the episodes being broadcast) and Top of the Lake (ditto). The French series 'The Returned' started well but lost my interest by the end when it started to turn into an alpine version of Shaun of the Dead.

So that's my starter list...Anything else I should have mentioned?

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

a question of balance

spinnerI've got too many air-miles to get properly jetlagged. I suppose it used to happen, but for as long as I can remember I just slam myself into the new time zone.

The soul takes a while to catch up, but the basic functionality is there from landing, through car collection and to whatever.

It's apparent when doing one of those red-eyes back to an office after a short night. London to Moscow. San Francisico to New York. Europe to Tel-Aviv. The night somehow just goes missing. Like after a good party, but less fun.

The dreams aren't fooled that there is still a need for adjustment.

Some people say they can't tell whether they dream in colour or monochrome. I know I dream in colour, with occasional lapses into bird-vision. Added spectrum and extra wide. I know, it's useful for finding berries.

The peculiar part of post flight catchup is being asleep and knowing it's a dream but not being able to break out of it. It can sound a bit Christopher Nolan, but it's odd to have that awareness of being asleep and in a dream.

Detached. Waiting for the soul to catch up.

Monday, 26 August 2013

fitbit one experiment

Newcastle rain
I was in the Broad Chare in Newcastle a few weeks ago when we started talking about the gadget telemetry we can all use. I didn't start the conversation, although we did talk about the Garmin bike stuff that I use for heartrate, cadence, speed and similar.

We started by talking about those little pedometer systems (Ages ago I tried the Nike footpad thing, for example) and we got onto the newer ones like Fitbit.

They work on the pedometer principle, and use bluetooth to send information to the internet. I know people who use them and who target the 10,000 steps a day target.

Fast forward to the Apple store in Santa Barbara and I found myself buying one as an experiment.

10,000 steps in a day. Can't be that hard?

I tried it the next day. 2,500 steps. Hmm, maybe a rethink required. Admittedly it was holiday time so a bit lazy on beaches and around pools.

Next morning I'd decided to take an early stroll along the beach. Before 7:00 I'd clocked 2,800 steps. Not even had a cup of coffee. Surprisingly, I'd also walked a couple of miles, but it hardly felt like it. This was interesting.
Santa Barbara, Stearns Wharf, early morning
It's a pretty easy care kind of system. As long as the pen-cap sized device is somewhere on me, it seems to detect the steps and quietly resychronises without me even taking it from a pocket.
Fitbit One
It also checks for flights of stairs, which I thought was pretty clever - more exertion climbing than walking flat. It says it uses an altimeter and initially I didn't believe the description, because my mental picture of an altimeter involved big mechanical parts.
MEMS exampleOf course, nowadays with Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS) both a three plane counter and an altimeter are readily available. Presumably they'll get put into phones along with the GPS and other direction finding gear.

So the little tracker unit is counting changes of altitude of 20cm or more accompanied by exertion. Every 3 metres upwards = 1 flight of stairs. It can tell the difference between me walking up stairs, using an escalator and being on a plane (which it ignores).

Altogether, pretty good.

It just sent me an email to say I'm 1,800 steps short of 10,000 today. I reckon I'll make it.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

final approach to London

Los Angeles to London
Sunrise above the clouds. Over the U.K. and heading back for London.
Los Angeles to London
Passing the shard, as we turn around towards the airport.
Los Angeles to London
Soon enough onto final approach over a few familiar landmarks, the City, the Thames.
Los Angeles to London
Maybe the Houses of Parliament.
Los Angeles to London
And then Battersea Power Station and Chelsea Bridge Wharf. Almost back.
Los Angeles to London

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Leaving Los Angeles

BA 747
A sort of combined post today, covering the return trip from L.A. to London. In the other direction we had those fancy seats with the beds and the fold down screens, more like a little room. On the way back we were by the window, so here's a few snaps as a sort of geography test.

Here's just after takeoff from L.A. That's probably Anaheim somewhere in the middle of the picture. I can't see Disneyland though.
Los Angeles to London
The next one is of the edge of the San Bernadino mountains, before we head off into the desert.
Los Angeles to London
I'm guessing that this is Diamond Valley Lake, just around the hills from Palm Springs. They flooded the valley to get extra water reserves for L.A and San Diego.
Los Angeles to London
...and then some proper desert, around Barstow. Spot the train line too.
Los Angeles to London
Or maybe this one will help. Quite a few freight cars. We're at 36,000 feet now so it's quite a long view.
Los Angeles to London
This one is easy. Its the area created from the Hoover Dam. I've driven over the Hoover Dam at night; it arrives out of the desert and reminded me of an encounter with the X-Files. The dam itself is about where the slightly chunky bit is at the top of the 'larger' lake. It's surprisingly small from the air.
Los Angeles to London
The next one is the edge of Arizona, looking towards the Grand Canyon area. We didn't fly over the canyon, but it's on the edge of the shot.
Los Angeles to London
And then clouds below us.
Los Angeles to London
And the moon from above the clouds.
Los Angeles to London
Next post I'll add the London end of the flight. Dinner and breakfast in between.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Catching up with Breaking Bad's last few episodes

Breaking Bad
I've been watching Breaking Bad through all of the series and there's only a few to go now.

The proposition is of a teacher with cancer who goes into the drugs business to make quick money for his family. He hooks up with a waster guy and they create a crystal meth lab, initially in a camper van.
Breaking Bad
It's one of those series in the debate about changing viewing habits as people consume whole series from streaming libraries now instead of watching advertising riddled real-time television.

It's not got the same level of buzz in the U.K. compared with America, where there's all manner of spin offs for the last few episodes.

An example is the idiots' guide for the first four series, which give a usable recap of the show.

To go with the last few episodes (Series 5, Part 2), there's been various television appearances including the main character, Bryan Cranston, who walked around Comic-con wearing a mask portraying his character, to avoid identification.

The series creator, Vince Gilligan, was interviewed in the UK a few days ago on Front Row about the show and admitted that the first series had low viewing figures when originally released, but it then picked up via the streaming offers.

Vince Gilligan is an interesting guy, having originally created some X-Files episodes, after he sent a script in on spec, and then later won the first series of Breaking Bad. He's also been interviewed extensively in the US, including this in-depth one. He explains the trail blazing of other series like Sopranos but also the need to make Breaking Bad's lead different. A regular guy who goes darker as the series runs.

As well as the serious trailers and interviews, theres a whole series of mini spin offs including the "Breaking Bad as a Sitcom" (try adding a laughter track and it does go a bit weird), "Breakbad Mountain", a variant of Downton Abbey called "Breaking Abbey" and various appearances of Breaking Bad characters in cartoon series.

Here's the sitcom, and a few outtakes.

And maybe a few outtakes from Series Five.

I'm up-to-date, but theres' still a few episodes to go. Anything could happen. Crooked lawyer Saul could even get a spin-off show...
Just call Saul
I'm expecting it to feature in the Emmys.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

in which I mislay my macbook air

macbook air
Breathe...

I know the macbook air is small, but it shouldn't be forgettable.

A few years ago, in the days of those bulky Thinkpad docking stations, I managed to leave my laptop plugged in back at the office, when I was due on a business trip. I only noticed when I was already checked in at Heathrow and buying currency for the trip. Fortunately, I was able to survive on other technology for that 1-dayer.

This time, I managed to leave the macbook air in the airport lounge as we swept everything together for the flight.

I'm usually pretty good at that 'afterwards' look back at where we've just been (in restaurants, hotels etc.) to check for leftover items such as mobile phones, jackets etc. and am often the one who spots the missing item left by others.

Not this time and it was only as we were getting out the electronics for the security scanner at the airport that I noticed the laptop was missing from my backpack. I did that double take and rummaged around in the bag to make certain.

Oops.

I sought out an important looking official, who had been issuing instructions to us all about shoes and belts and he kindly escorted me back through the system to an exit so that I could leg it back to the lounge.

A different kindly person was standing outside the lounge, with my laptop in its little case. He immediately recognised me and handed it over as I exchanged grateful thanks.

...and relax.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

a walk on the beach before heading for L.A.

seals at Santa Barbara
The seals around Santa Barbara have a pretty cushy life. This little band hang out on one of the channel bouys every day, maybe popping into the water for an occasional forage for food.

The rest of the time its California sun bathing.

For me, it's time to head to Malibu, and then back to Los Angeles. I'll be on the wifi in the LAX lounge by the time I can post this one.

Even if my feet are still on the beach.
statutory feet on beach shot

Monday, 19 August 2013

we reach Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Pier
So here we are in Santa Barbara, just a few moments from the Stearns Wharf pier.

Santa Barbara is one of those places with a great balance of sunshine, sea, mountains in the background and a continuous stream of interesting and cool things happening.

Perhaps time for boating or watersports?
Untitled

It could be watching people fishing on the pier.
Santa Barbara Fishing

Maybe its joining in the cycling around the numerous cycleways. Come to think of it, perhaps its cycling to the pier to go fishing?
fishing, with bicycle

Maybe the casual practicing of tightrope walking in the park or watching the dogs that wear sunshades?
Santa Barbara is so cool even the dogs wear shades

Perhaps watching a sunset?
sunset

One thing is for sure. The right car and surfboard can help this kind of road trip.
WDN SUV

aebleskiver time in Solvang

Solvang Flare
Towards sunset and we found ourselves in that little part of the USA resembling a miniature Denmark. There's the little mermaid on one of the street corners, a windmill and many half timbered houses in a Danish design.

It was faintly disorientating with the cross between some Danish words, then finding shops selling native american goods.
little mermaid USA
For us, Solvang was an overnight stop on the last part of the journey towards Santa Barbara.

We stayed in a pretty motel, kind of Danish style, dined al fresco and in the morning sought out the aebleskiver which are a kind of cross between a round waffle and an apple cake.
aebleskiver
I'm not sure if they are really designed for breakfast, but with a cup of coffee they sure tasted good.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

movie set towns

San Juan de Bautista
Just off the 101, something else that has struck our English eyes are the various towns that look as if they could be movie sets from another era.

Understandably, there's always a few places that are preserved and maybe have a tourist bias, but for parts of this trip we've skipped around some of the well-known places that we've visited on other occasions.
in San Juan Bautista
There's a compressed kind of history, with many places developing in the 1800s and sometimes there's the story of their greatness and then decline. We saw that in some parts of Oregon and can see similar now in California.
ideal truck for grocery shopping
Somehow everything keeps going and in a few places we can't help but wonder how it all works, with small prospering towns miles from anywhere.
San Juan Bautista, CA


the sidewinder sleeps in a coil

reasonable watchfulness should be sufficient to avoid snake bite
As well as the tourist places we've been suitably off the beaten track.

I'm used to looking out for scorpions in the desert (shake out the boots), bears in the hills (bring a bell) and even the coyotes on the beach (don't go out after dark).

The sign about rattlesnakes was still a helpful reminder to be vigilant, because the adjacent area did look tempting for a stroll. Combined with the 110F temperatures (43C) we decided that maybe we'd leave that particular excursion.

Mad dogs and Englishmen, out in the midday sun.

livin' on the fault line

San Andreas Fault Marker
We noticed a few signs for roads with names like San Andreas and decided we were pretty close to the fault line.

At the next interesting intersection we headed further inland to take a look. There would surely be some signs of the San Andreas Fault.
Edge of the Fault Line
We didn't expect to find a restaurant perched on its edge, nor that the old Camino Real skirted the edge of it, including one of the missions being perched right above the line.
Fault line marker?
We could see an internal marker which was a way to check for subsidence.

I've been in a couple of reasonable size earthquakes around Seattle and San Jose, but these folk really live on the fault line. Queue an old Doobie Brothers track...

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Along the Santa Cruz Boardwalk

Santa Cruz Boardwalk
We had to do some proper candy-floss type seaside too, so stopped off at Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz BoardwalkIt's got all the traditional seaside ingredients, a pier, a boardwalk, a massive wooden big dipper, arcades and general raucousness.

We explored the big rides, the stalls and the places selling salt water taffy.

Near the middle is a place called the Cocoanut Grove. There were various tales of the events and spectacles of this place from earlier times.


Perhaps a simpler type of amusement, but some spectacles that can't be repeated in the modern world.
Santa Cruz Chair-o-plane

Mission Ranch

Clint Eastwood's Ranch
We'd worked out that Clint Eastwood's ranch was only a few minutes away from where we were staying. We were almost neighbours.

So we decided to pop around.

It's on Dolores, and known as the Mission Ranch with a rich and varied history and some 17 owners.

Juan Romero was the original owner, a native American, who deeded the property for $300 to a storekeeper. Then it became a dairy with the owners running it for around 60 years. Later it was a private club and then an officers' club with a lively reputation in World War II.

Clint Eastwood bought the ranch in 1986, stopping it from being redeveloped into condominiums. Instead he sought craftsmen to restore the style of the original buildings, now each showing a different architectural period.

It's a popular venue now, with a patio and restaurant that can't be booked. We arrived at around 3:30pm to see people already waiting to grab a table on the patio for 4pm. There's a great view which includes an appropriate old horse-drawn wagon, on this occasion surrounded by sheep.
spot the sheep