Category Archives: General Fluff

Black Friday 2021

Black Friday 2021 Deals page

Yes you can spend your money more ethically than with Amazon, but for as long as they continue to be the cheapest option and frequently the most convenient, it is hard to ignore. I’m posting a day early as most of these offers are live already anyway, but I’ll do a check around on Friday if there is anything worth adding or updating.

As usual, this is going to be a bit of a round up of Amazon’s stuff, but will include anything else good I spot. Also a couple of links to things not currently discounted for Black Friday, but may be a better option than things that are on sale. If you are looking to buy books and would rather support independent local bookstores, then it may be worth looking into Bookshop.org instead.

The Amazon links here, like elsewhere on my blog, are affiliate links where I get a small payment if you use them and buy something. Thanks. The rest of them are just ordinary links though so feel free to hit those without worrying about me benefiting…

Amazon hardware

Amazon’s own range of devices are frequently a solid choice for personal electronics. I use a few myself that are easy recommends.

Kindle Fires

Although these can be a bit annoying if you want to use apps that are not available in the Amazon app store, it is relatively straight forward to install the normal Google Play store onto the devices. These days you can basically convert them to just run as standard Android tablets. That said, they are excellent value for money specially if you wait for them to be on sale. As usual they are reduced for Black Friday, but always reliable for a good deal on “Amazon Prime Days” too.

I have used a couple of these, and one is still in use as my main tablet now. I don’t do any 3D gaming on it, but use it for watching all the main streaming services, reading comics & PDFs and for playing card and board games.

My preferred choices:

Fire HD 10 Plus

After last year adding the Plus model of the HD 8, this upgrade to the base HD 10 adds similar performance increases. At present I still use the older Fire HD 10 for reading digital comics, the 10″ screen means the whole page fits comfortably on screen and is as close as you can get to the experience of reading a physical comic. It’s also reliably in use every Sunday as I stream Red Zone on it while watching the Dallas Cowboys game on the big screen.

Oh and if you go for the one with Special Offers / Ads to save a few quid, you can always pay the extra later to have them removed.

Fire HD 8 Plus

Although reading comics is much more comfortable on the HD 10, if you’re going to carry the tablet around a lot the HD 8 is probably the sweet spot for display size vs portability. Again the Plus model is likely the way to go. The extra ram will keep it “zippy” for longer.

Fire Kids

There are a number of tablets aimed at young children that are also included in the sales. Have less first hand experience of these, but they are also included in the sale for a solid choice of inexpensive child’s tablet.

Firestick 4K Ultra HD

Increasingly redundant as more people move to Smart TV’s or connect other set top boxes with media apps like Blu-ray Players & game consoles, the firestick is still one of the better options for accessing apps on your TV. I’ve gone for the 4k model here, as even if you don’t have a 4k display, that bit of extra performance in the device should make it a bit snappier to use. If you do have a 4K display you may want to consider the newly released more premium Fire TV Stick 4K Max. It’s that bit more powerful, and will probably last you longer.

If you’re a bit of a techie there are plenty of modding options for Firesticks too, but personally I just have one set up for the apps my bedroom TV doesn’t have access too. Mainly Disney+ and NFL GamePass.

Kindle E-Readers

Kindle

The original Amazon device. Earlier models of these didn’t have any kind of light, with the “e-ink” displays doing their best to replicate paper. Still a solid choice for getting started with ebooks if like me you don’t enjoy reading on your phone.

Kindle Paperwhite

This is the kindle I use myself, and they have included it in the discounts this year for Black Friday. It is the e-reader I’d recommend, though I have seen the price drop below the current £105 in previous sales. The kindle oasis is nice but I’m not convinced it’s worth the significant additional cost, even with the current offer. Unless of course you are prone to dropping your devices in the bath / pool / sea. In which case the waterproof feature may appeal to you.

Alexa and Friends

I have changed my tune a bit on the Alexa front this year, after I purchased an Echo Show to replace my old radio alarm clock. Granted I do only use it to stream Radio 1Xtra and occasionally ask it about the weather, but I am happy with the device. If you are in the market for one of these, Black Friday is a good time to get a bargain.

A decent starting point if you mostly just want it for streaming music and playing things from your phone is likely the Echo Dot.

The Echo Show 5 is what I have, it’s decent as an alarm replacement although I personally keep the camera covered as I’ve only just come to terms with it listening to me, I’m not ready for it to be watching me too.

Otherwise, there are plenty of discounts across the whole range of Alexa enabled devices here.

Not on Amazon, but if Google is more your thing, they’re currently doing their Nest Hub for £59.99.

Amazon subscription offers

Kindle Unlimited

Kindle Unlimited is a pretty good value proposition if you read a lot (and are not concerned about having books to keep on the shelf). Some of the included digital magazines are pretty nice too for reading on a tablet. New subscribers can currently get Three months for £7.99 the usual price of one month.

Amazon Music Unlimited

I still struggle a bit with the way the music streaming industry treats artists, although I’m not sure Kindle Unlimited is much better for authors… However, they are a good way to discover new music, and listening to other people’s playlists is fun. Just remember if you want to support the bands you love, go see them live and buy their merch from them direct.

Black Friday has a free three months trial (instead of the usual 30 days) for new subscribers.

Audible via Amazon

The subscription model for audible is very odd. Rather than it giving you access to a library of books to just listen to (as you might expect) it is pretty much a subscription to get an audiobook a month to keep. If you are into audiobooks it’s certainly worth taking a trial and using it to claim the free books before cancelling. Given the high prices of audiobooks in general, the subscription is pretty good value anyway. The current offer is three months for 99p, which translates to at least 3 free audiobooks during that period.

Prime Video Channels

Currently the various add-on Prime Channels for Prime Video can be had for 99p a month for 3 months. The two I like are Shudder and Starzplay, Shudder is a dedicated horror movie and TV show channel. Starzplay (not to be confused with the content from Starz that got added to Disney+) has a lot of current tv and its own content. Currently the only place to see the excellent Power spin-offs, Ghost and Raising Kanan. BMF, all of Black Sails and the surprisingly good TV spin-off of the Step Up franchise, Step Up: Highwater.

Other Amazon links

Core Grafx Mini

Comfortably the best of the ‘mini’ consoles, I still love mine. Should you pick one up, I also recommend the 8bitdo additional controller rather than trying to get another wired official one. They look the part, are very comfortable to use, and best of all are wireless with no noticeable input delay (I use mine to play pinball and shmups without issue). There is a minor discount on the console, but they’re still great value so happy to keep harping on about it.

PC Engine CoreGrafx Mini

Smart Watches

I personally moved over to Samsung for my smart watch, when I got one free with my Galaxy S10. The Galaxy Watch Active2 seems to be a good price for Black Friday. There are also discounts across the fitbit range if that’s more your scene. Including the Fitbit Versa 2 that I’ve heard good things about.

Prime Day 2021

Amazon Warehouse

Amazon Warehouse is where they clear out items that have been returned, for whatever reason and usually for Black Friday there is an additional 30% off. This year is less generous at 20% but still worth a browse.

If you don’t mind things being “nearly new” it is certainly worth browsing. The goods are still guaranteed and the descriptions will tell you what condition to expect. I purchased my PSVR setup from the Amazon Warehouse Black Friday sale a few years ago, for about £100 less than RRP. The outer box was ripped but inside it was all mint, and the device still had all the plastic covers on.

Other sales to check out

Chaos Cards

A great resource for card and board games, and usually competitive prices anyway. Should be worth checking their Black Friday sale out, due to start at 10:00am on Friday.

Currys

Currys have come a long way in terms of competitive pricing and customer service in recent years. I’ve found myself using them quite a bit for games consoles, chromebooks and various general bits of tech. It’s still worth shopping around to compare prices, but I feel much more comfortable recommending them these days. Their Black Friday sale is worth a look.

Argos

As per previous years, Argos have a reasonable selection for Black Friday. Still best approaching for things you were going to buy anyway, but it’s Argos. You know what to expect.

GAME

Unsurprisingly, GAME have a tendency to have a more cynical approach to Black Friday, with items on sale being already available for the same price (or cheaper) elsewhere. Worth a look to compare prices if you’re after something specific, but definitely double check other places before buying there. I think this line up is even worse than last year.

Personal Goals – Couch to 5k

This is a sort of follow on of my post from 2019, Personal Goals and Single-Use Plastic. Looking back at that one, I have continued to build on my use of sustainable products and could probably do a new post about those. Also considering the things I talked about wanting to do in the future, I have achieved some of those too. Not least in finally building myself an arcade machine as a substantial hardware project.

As I wrote about in that previous blog, I still set myself goals every year, and have a reasonable success rate. They are personal though and not all ones I’d choose to share. For 2021 though, I decided to do something meaningful about those vague health ones. I decided to try the Couch to 5k programme. This got a particular boost when I realised that if I used the NHS provided app, I could choose to have Jo Whiley as my running buddy.

couch to 5k start

I originally started back in January, unfortunately I was only 4 runs in when I got sick with Labyrinthitis. After that it was a long time before I was even comfortable walking about again. I picked it back up in May, but I went almost back to the beginning and restarted with the second run in the programme.

The programme itself is fairly straight-forward. Running 3 times a week for 9 weeks, building on your progress. The first week is a series of 1 minute runs with 3 minute walking breaks. By the last week you’re running for a solid 30 minutes covering approximately 5k

Today saw me complete the programme, and I am pretty proud of that.

I still don’t actually like running, but I do like how I feel afterwards. I shall continue, aiming to just maintain running for 30 minutes 3 times a week.

Black Friday 2021

Prime Day 2021 – Deals page

The best deals on Prime Day sales tend to be (unsurprisingly) on Amazon’s own products and services. To take advantage of these deals you do need a Prime membership. If you haven’t already, you can just take up a free 30 day trial and the deals will be valid.

If you are looking to buy books and would rather support independent local bookstores, then it may be worth looking into Bookshop.org instead.

The links here, like elsewhere on my blog, are affiliate links where I get a small payment if you use them and buy something. Thanks.

Amazon hardware

Amazon’s own range of devices are frequently a solid choice for personal electronics. I use a few myself that are on sale for Prime Day 2021 and easy recommends.

Kindle Fire Tablets

Although these can be a bit annoying if you want to use apps that are not available in the Amazon app store, it is relatively straight forward to install the normal Google Play store onto the devices. These days you can basically convert them to just run as standard Android tablets. That said, they are excellent value for money specially if you wait for them to be on sale. As usual they are reduced for Prime Day.

I have used a couple of these, and one is still in use as my main tablet now. I don’t do any 3D gaming on it, but use it for watching all the main streaming services, reading comics & PDFs and for playing card and board games.

My preferred choices:

Fire HD 10 Plus

This is the latest version of the kindle fire I have myself. For reading digital comics, the 10″ screen means the whole page fits comfortably on screen and is as close as you can get to the experience of reading a physical comic. It’s also reliably in use every Sunday as I stream Red Zone on it while watching the Dallas Cowboys game on the big screen. Not to mention watching NetFlix in the bath.

Oh and if you go for the one with Special Offers / Ads to save a few quid, you can always pay the extra later to have them removed.

Fire HD 8 Plus

A new addition to the range is this “Plus” model of the HD 8. While I happily used the HD 8 for ages, the extra RAM and improved battery life of the Plus seems well worth the slightly extra price. It is likely to be longer before you’ll want an upgrade.

Although reading comics is much more comfortable on the HD 10, if you’re going to carry the tablet around a lot the HD 8 is probably the sweet spot for display size vs portability.

Fire HD 8 Kids

I don’t have kids myself, but now know a few people using these as an option for small children. They seem pretty robust and have plenty of options for parental control. There is also the slightly smaller HD 7 option which is a bit cheaper too.

Fire HD 8 Kids Tablet - Prime Day

Fire TV

Firestick 4K Ultra HD

Increasingly redundant as more people move to Smart TV’s or connect other set top boxes with media apps like Blu-ray Players & game consoles, the firestick is still one of the better options for accessing apps on your TV. I’ve gone for the 4k model here, as even if you don’t have a 4k display, that bit of extra performance in the device should make it a bit snappier to use.

If you’re a bit of a techie there are plenty of modding options for Firesticks too, but personally I just have one set up to access Netflix, Prime and Britbox on my aging bedroom TV.

Kindle E-Readers

Kindle

The original Amazon device. Earlier models of these didn’t have any kind of light, with the “e-ink” displays doing their best to replicate paper. These now have a built-in front light. Not quite as nice as the ones below but still a solid choice for getting started with ebooks if like me you don’t enjoy reading on your phone. Oh and the free trial of Kindle Unlimited is well worth it. You can read quite a bit in 3 months. Just remember to cancel if you don’t wish to keep the subscription after that period.

Kindle Paperwhite

This is the kindle I use myself, and is the e-reader I’d recommend. The latest model of it even boasts being waterproof. The kindle oasis is nice but I’m not convinced it’s worth the significant additional cost, and isn’t currently on offer.

Kindle Paperwhite - Prime Day

Alexa and Friends

Since my Black Friday post, I’m gradually coming round to these. Not least because enough of my friends have them that if they were spying, they’ve already got me covered. I’m going to embrace it and get myself an Echo Show 5 to replace my aging DAB radio alarm. There is a fancier Echo Show 8 that is new this year and also discounted, the new model of 5 isn’t on offer though. The 8 is probably worth a look if you’d like to have one of these for video calls.

For new customers to Amazon Music, this Echo Dot with free 6 months of Amazon Music Unlimited is a great deal (just remember to cancel the subscription to Amazon Music if you don’t want to keep it after the 6 months).

Otherwise, there are plenty of discounts across the whole range of Alexa enabled devices here.

Amazon subscription offers

Kindle Unlimited

Kindle Unlimited is a pretty good value proposition if you read a lot (and are not concerned about having books to keep on the shelf). Some of the included digital magazines are pretty nice too for reading on a tablet. New subscribers can currently get Three Months Free instead of the usual shorter trial.

Amazon Music Unlimited

I still struggle a bit with the way the music streaming industry treats artists, although I’m not sure Kindle Unlimited is much better for authors… However, they are a good way to discover new music, and listening to other people’s playlists is fun. Just remember if you want to support the bands you love, go see them live (if that’s ever a thing again) or buy their merch from them direct.

Prime Day has a free four months trial (instead of the usual 30 days) for new subscribers.

Audible via Amazon

The subscription model for audible is very odd. Rather than it giving you access to a library of books to just listen to (as you might expect) it is pretty much a subscription to get an audiobook a month to keep. If you are into audiobooks it’s certainly worth taking a trial and using it to claim the free books before cancelling. Given the high prices of audiobooks in general, the subscription is pretty good value anyway. The current offer is three months for 99p, which translates to at least 3 free audiobooks during that period.

Prime Video Channels

Currently the various add-on Prime Channels for Prime Video can be had for 99p a month for 3 months. The two I like are Shudder and Starzplay, Shudder is a dedicated horror movie and TV show channel. Starzplay (not to be confused with the content from Starz that got added to Disney+) has a lot of current tv and its own content. Currently the only place to see the Power spin-offs, all of Black Sails and the surprisingly good TV spin-off of the Step Up franchise, Step Up: Highwater.

Other Deals

LEGO

There are currently some really good deals across the LEGO range at the moment, including some of the cool tehnic and star wars sets.

This Friends set was popular and is a great price.

Prime Day 2021 - Lego Friends

Also the 3 in 1 creator pirate ship is pretty cool, although I was hoping for a deal on this one.

Prime Day 2021 - Pirate Lego

Smart Watches

I personally moved over to Samsung for my smart watch, when I got one free with my Galaxy S10. The Galaxy Watch Active2 seems to be a good price for prime day. There are also discounts across the fitbit range if that’s more your scene. Including the Fitbit Versa 2 that I’ve heard good things about.

Prime Day 2021

ASUS RT-AC86U Wi-Fi Router

This is the router I have, and it is excellent. Sure it also looks ridiculous but that’s part of the charm. It’ll be overkill for most people who are perfectly happy with the hub supplied with their broadband package, but if you’re looking for something with a bit more power and customisation, this is a solid choice.

Prime Day 2021

Amazon Warehouse

Amazon Warehouse is where they clear out items that have been returned, for whatever reason. For Prime Day there is an additional 30% off. If you don’t mind things being “nearly new” it is certainly worth browsing. The goods are still guaranteed and the descriptions will tell you what condition to expect. I purchased my PSVR setup from the Amazon Warehouse Black Friday sale a few years ago, for about £100 less than RRP. The outer box was ripped but inside it was all mint, and the device still had all the plastic covers on.

Black Friday 2021

Black Friday 2020 Deals page

No I’m not usually a fan of importing Americanisms like Black Friday, but I do like a bargain. Yes you can also spend your money more ethically than with Amazon, but for as long as they continue to be the cheapest option and frequently the most convenient, it is hard to ignore.

This is broadly going to be a bit of a round up of Amazon’s stuff, but will include anything else good I spot. Also a couple of links to things not currently discounted for Black Friday, but may be a better option than things that are on sale. If you are looking to buy books and would rather support independent local bookstores, then it may be worth looking into Bookshop.org instead.

The Amazon links here, like elsewhere on my blog, are affiliate links where I get a small payment if you use them and buy something. Thanks. The rest of them are just ordinary links though so feel free to hit those without worrying about me benefiting…

Amazon hardware

Amazon’s own range of devices are frequently a solid choice for personal electronics. I use a few myself that are easy recommends.

Kindle Fires

Although these can be a bit annoying if you want to use apps that are not available in the Amazon app store, it is relatively straight forward to install the normal Google Play store onto the devices. These days you can basically convert them to just run as standard Android tablets. That said, they are excellent value for money specially if you wait for them to be on sale. As usual they are reduced for Black Friday, but always reliable for a good deal on “Amazon Prime Days” too.

I have used a couple of these, and one is still in use as my main tablet now. I don’t do any 3D gaming on it, but use it for watching all the main streaming services, reading comics & PDFs and for playing card and board games.

My preferred choices:

Fire HD 10

This is the kindle fire I have myself. I upgraded from the original HD version of the Fire 8 model below. I was very happy with the smaller device, but for reading digital comics, the 10″ screen means the whole page fits comfortably on screen and is as close as you can get to the experience of reading a physical comic. It’s also reliably in use every Sunday as I stream Red Zone on it while watching the Dallas Cowboys game on the big screen.

Oh and if you go for the one with Special Offers / Ads to save a few quid, you can always pay the extra later to have them removed.

Fire HD 8 Plus

A new addition to the range is this “Plus” model of the HD 8. While I happily used the HD 8 for ages, the extra RAM and improved battery life of the Plus seems well worth the slightly extra price. It is likely to be longer before you’ll want an upgrade.

Although reading comics is much more comfortable on the HD 10, if you’re going to carry the tablet around a lot the HD 8 is probably the sweet spot for display size vs portability.

Firestick 4K Ultra HD

Increasingly redundant as more people move to Smart TV’s or connect other set top boxes with media apps like Blu-ray Players & game consoles, the firestick is still one of the better options for accessing apps on your TV. I’ve gone for the 4k model here, as even if you don’t have a 4k display, that bit of extra performance in the device should make it a bit snappier to use.

If you’re a bit of a techie there are plenty of modding options for Firesticks too, but personally I just have one set up to access Netflix, Prime and Britbox on my aging bedroom TV.

Kindle E-Readers

Kindle

The original Amazon device. Earlier models of these didn’t have any kind of light, with the “e-ink” displays doing their best to replicate paper. Still a solid choice for getting started with ebooks if like me you don’t enjoy reading on your phone.

Kindle Paperwhite

Not currently discounted as I write this, but worth checking in case they do add a discount come Friday. This is the kindle I use myself. It does see discounts down to around £80ish, and is the e-reader I’d recommend. The kindle oasis is nice but I’m not convinced it’s worth the significant additional cost, even with the current offer.

Alexa and Friends

I’m still not sold on any of the A.I. listening devices, and at present have disabled Alexa, Cortana and Google listening software on my electronics that support them. However, if you’re in the market for one, Black Friday is a good time for those too.

For new customers to Amazon Music, this Echo Dot with free 6 months of Amazon Music Unlimited is a great deal (just remember to cancel the subscription to Amazon Music if you don’t want to keep it after the 6 months).

The Echo Show 5 has a decent discount if you like your A.I. to be watching you as well as listening. I’m sure it’s fine, I’ve just watched too much X-Files.

Otherwise, there are plenty of discounts across the whole range of Alexa enabled devices here.

Not on Amazon, but if Google is more your thing, they’re currently doing their Nest Hub for £59.99.

Amazon subscription offers

Kindle Unlimited

Kindle Unlimited is a pretty good value proposition if you read a lot (and are not concerned about having books to keep on the shelf). Some of the included digital magazines are pretty nice too for reading on a tablet. New subscribers can currently get Two Months Free instead of the usual shorter trial.

Amazon Music Unlimited

I still struggle a bit with the way the music streaming industry treats artists, although I’m not sure Kindle Unlimited is much better for authors… However, they are a good way to discover new music, and listening to other people’s playlists is fun. Just remember if you want to support the bands you love, go see them live (if that’s ever a thing again) or buy their merch from them direct.

Black Friday has a free three months trial (instead of the usual 30 days) for new subscribers.

Other Amazon links

Core Grafx Mini

Again as yet not discounted, but have come down since the RRP anyway. These saw a good discount last prime day so will be worth checking on Friday to see if they have another deal on. (If not, they’re still well worth £75). Comfortably the best of the ‘mini’ consoles, I still love mine. Should you pick one up, I also recommend the 8bitdo additional controller rather than trying to get another wired official one. They look the part, are very comfortable to use, and best of all are wireless with no noticeable input delay (I use mine to play pinball and shmups without issue).

PC Engine CoreGrafx Mini

Injustice 2 Legendary Edition (PS4)

This is a good deal for one of the best fighting games ever. It’s not much of a discount from the regular price, but circa £15 for the complete edition with all the extra characters still feels like a bargain to me.

Doom Eternal (PS4/PC/Xbox One)

This seems a decent price, £17 for retail editions of the PC, PS4 or Xbox One version of the game. Also comes with a steel poster, which looks fun apart from it appears to be the same size as a game case. Not sure if that meets the definition of ‘poster’ but fun all the same.

Madden 21 (PS4)

Not a super great deal really but a fair price if you fancy this and haven’t picked it up yet. Particularly if you intend to get a PS5 in the next month or two as so long as you get the full PS5 with the disc drive, you can put this PS4 disc into it to access the PS5 version of the game for free. If “football” football is more your bag, the same applies to FIFA 21, at the same price point.

Amazon Warehouse

Amazon Warehouse is where they clear out items that have been returned, for whatever reason and for Black Friday there is an additional 30% off. If you don’t mind things being “nearly new” it is certainly worth browsing. The goods are still guaranteed and the descriptions will tell you what condition to expect. I purchased my PSVR setup from the Amazon Warehouse Black Friday sale a few years ago, for about £100 less than RRP. The outer box was ripped but inside it was all mint, and the device still had all the plastic covers on.

Other sales to check out

Magic Madhouse

Not a site I knew of before a couple of weeks ago, but their early Black Friday sale was brought to my attention, and a couple of really good deals on board games stood out. Also had excellent prices on the sleeves I needed for my copy of 7 Wonders: Duel. Very pleased with the service, so happy to recommend them here. They mostly focus on collectable card games like Magic the Gathering (as you might expect from the name), Pokemon etc. including selling individual cards. They do have a good range of general table top board and card games though too.

Chaos Cards

Another great resource for board games, usually good prices anyway. Worth checking their Black Friday sale too.

Currys

Currys have come a long way in terms of competitive pricing and customer service in recent years. I’ve found myself using them quite a bit for games consoles, chromebooks and various general bits of tech. It’s still worth shopping around to compare prices, but I feel much more comfortable recommending them these days. Their Black Friday sale is worth a look.

Argos

Looks like a promising selection from Argos for Black Friday this year, although the best deals seem to be on hair straighteners and I don’t know enough about those to say if it’s a bargain.

GAME

Unsurprisingly, GAME have a tendency to have a more cynical approach to Black Friday, with items on sale being already available for the same price (or cheaper) elsewhere. Worth a look to compare prices if you’re after something specific, but definitely double check other places before buying there.

What are your goals

Personal Goals and Single-Use Plastic

Quite a departure from my usual topics, I’ve been meaning to put this post together for months now. Would have been a good thing to write about in January, but hopefully my picking it up in August still makes sense. Also this probably should be two separate blog posts, but I didn’t just want to make a post called “single-use plastic” that was heavy on affiliate links but light on content. Instead, it’s a wall of text. Hurrah?

Personal goal setting

Every year I like to set a few personal goals. These are essentially New Year’s Resolutions as I set them in January, but I much prefer the term goal. Not sticking to something you “resolved” to do immediately frames itself as a failure. Goals feel more aspirational, and thus positive. “This year I’m going to try to achieve these things, and if I don’t, then I might try again next year”. I also find it useful to check in every few months during the year, to see how I’m doing, if I even still want to do these things, or if I want to adjust them a bit.

Fairly obvious ones:

  • I like to set a reading challenge on goodreads – although I also set a personal target of how many of them can be graphic novels (usually aim for 50% of the target with non-comics)
  • Diet, exercise, weight loss, same as everyone else
  • Career / professional development – these have focused around either changing jobs or continued study. I’ve been pretty good at achieving my goals in this area, but studying and working full time continues to take its toll.
  • Money, get a better grip of budgeting and the like. Generally one of those most likely to be carried forward every year. Haha.

Some things I’d like to do:

  • Previously this included starting a blog, then I had one to move to private hosting, and subsequent years have focused on keeping it going. This year I’ve tried to move towards proactively scheduling more posts in advance. Very much still a work in progress.
  • Now I’m on a podcast I’ve started to think about ways to develop that. At the moment I’m just trying to get ‘better’ at it.
  • Hardware projects, previous years included building my RetroPie arcade stick. I now have one to finish modding a Dreamcast arcade stick with better parts. Still in progress…

Finally, things I think I should do:

  • I always try to budget to be able to support things my creative friends put out, whether that’s people I know personally or ‘mutuals’ on Twitter. Not something I can always afford to do as much as I’d like, but I have been setting myself goals around my support of other people’s creativity i.e. via Patreon and Etsy. (Also, if I know you and you write a book, damn straight I’m going to buy it).
  • Tend to be one or two personal goals in here, and this year is the reason for this post. Pretty late to the game, I started with the simple intention of getting a reusable cup for the coffee shop, to avoid single use cups with plastic lids. (Yes I saw Blue Planet 2 and got the single-use plastic message as well). I also realised that by the end of last year, I was buying a 600 ml bottle of Pepsi Max every day. I decided I was done buying those plastic bottles, so the obvious extension was to buy a reusable water bottle too.

Falling down a single-use plastic rabbit hole

Disclaimer here: the links to products on Amazon are affiliate links, where I’ll get a small commission if you buy something. Secondary disclaimer: I am of course aware of the ethical issues around Amazon as a retailer. Feel free not to use them. However, these are the switches I’ve made this year, hopefully someone reading might discover something they’d like to try for themselves.

Travel cup

Travel Cup - Reducing single-use plastic

This was a bit of a challenge, it took me ages to decide what cup I wanted. I even bought new ceramic ones from HMV for me and my girlfriend, then discovered they don’t hold much liquid. Certainly not enough for a large mocha from my choice of coffee shop. (Didn’t stop me picking up a third one from NERG last month though). Then I realised that a Marvel Comics one my parents bought for me years ago was actually perfect, and have used it constantly since. My girlfriend went one better, and now has a bamboo one, like this. I’ll probably do that when my Marvel one dies, since I wouldn’t have chosen to buy a plastic one.


Water Bottle

Water bottle - Reducing Single-use Plastic

This was also difficult to decide which to get. A lot of the available ones have intricate “sipping” systems in the lids that make me think they would be difficult to clean. I went with a very simple metal bottle from Wilko that was about £5. I now have my eye on one of the fun designs from Chillys though.


Razors

Safety Razors

Probably the most daunting change, I decided I needed to stop buying plastic disposable razor head cartridges. The alternative meant getting involved in the whole “double edge safety razor” scene, and they are a bit terrifying. However, as well as being a great alternative to the plastic system I was used to, they’re incredibly cheap. I bought this Bamboo Razor Handle* and these 100 blades* which helpfully came with some shaving soap. I notice that the blades I bought are currently out of stock, there are plenty of options for these though. However, do check the packaging details. Some of the “Derby” branded ones have each 5 blades packaged in little single-use plastic cases. Pretty much defeats the point of making the change!

I am starting to get better at using the razor now too, although still manage to do myself minor injuries. Oops.


Toothbrush

Bamboo Toothbrushes - Reducing Single-use Plastic

An easy change, I was a bit sceptical at first as to what they’d be like to use, but I bought these bamboo toothbrushes* and have been very happy with them. I could do with a solution for my electric toothbrush too, but not sure what to do about that yet.


Sandwich wrap

Sandwich wrap

This was less about single-use plastic, but more the realisation that I was buying kitchen foil simply to wrap my lunch for work everyday. I assumed there must be a solution to this, and Google didn’t let me down, sending me to this Guardian article picking out 5 options. I had a look at them all, and decided to go with Re-Wrap-it. I’ve got this green and white one, because of course I have.


Metal Straws

So far I’ve resisted buying these as I very rarely use straws, but the deeply unsatisfying experience of a McDonald’s milkshake through a paper straw is making me consider it. More so given recent revelations that there are even issues with recycling the paper ones. These straws from Chilly’s are well regarded, but I’m tempted by the more portable, collapsible straw variety. I’m considering something like these straws from Amazon*, as I might actually remember to take them out with me.


Cling film

Something else I haven’t tried myself yet, but I’ve heard good things about using these bees wax wraps* as an alternative to cling film, so will probably give them ago.


*these are those affiliate links I was talking about. By all means use them if you’d like to kick me a few pence. ^^

A Brave New Home

I have finally taken the plunge and forked out for a domain and some web-hosting. Hopefully you’ll now be reading this on my new home at liberaljoon.com where I am advert free.

I expect there will be some teething issues, as the migration is only 60% automated and the rest is me fiddling away, but I hope you’ll stick around. Both of you.

All-Time Top 5 Christmas Movies

Various conversations on Twitter had me thinking about this recently. Thought I’d collate my personal Top 5, and as usual include comments on a few of the notable absences at the end.

So, in reverse order:


5. Christmas Vacation (1989)

Always been a fan of the Vacation movies, but I still think this is the best of them. It’s a shame Chevy Chase turned out to be so thoroughly unpleasant, the best thing about all the Vacation films is Clark Griswold’s earnest pursuit of quality family time in the face of ever escalating set-backs.

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4. Polar Express (2004)

I’m pretty much a sucker for a train movie at the best of times, but this ticks lots of boxes. Even the weird animation style works for me, and although the soundtrack isn’t going to be worrying Disney anytime soon, it remains a festive joy.

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3. Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

While the Polar Express is slightly let down by it’s soundtrack, the Muppet Christmas Carol excels. Somehow having a magic that the Muppet’s never managed with any of their other big screen outings, this is a masterpiece. One of my favourite performances from Michael Caine too, can’t be easy acting alongside puppets.

muppet-christmas-carol-1993

2. Scrooged (1988)

A firm Christmas favourite and essential viewing every year. Bill Murray (as usual) is outstanding in the lead role, and is still the best interpretation of the Scrooge character for me.

It’s all at once funny, dark, depressing and sentimental. Just like Christmas.

scrooged-poster

1. White Christmas (1954)

“Let’s just say we’re doing it for an old pal in the army.”

My personal favourite, and the greatest Christmas Movie of all time, is Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. Most of my reasons for loving it are sentimental, for how much it was part of my childhood. Usually start watching it in November, and get 3 or 4 viewings in by January.

white-christmas-movie-poster-1954-1020143863


Other Mentions

Die Hard (1988) – This is only absent from the list because it didn’t make the top 5. It is absolutely a Christmas Movie, and if you’re spending any time arguing to the contrary, kindly rethink your priorities.

Holiday Inn (1942) – While I still mostly enjoy breaking this one out over the festive season, some of the content which is easy to dismiss as being “of it’s time”, I find uncomfortable to watch. Not least an entire routine in blackface. Just as well that was left behind when remaking it into White Christmas.

The Santa Clause (1994) – This (and at least the first sequel) only just missed out on the top five.

Elf (2003) – I sort of like it, but Will Farrell grates so much that it would never make my top 5. Top 10 would also be a stretch.

 

 

Backlogs and the pile of shame

I think whatever direction your hobbies take you, if it involves consuming media you’ll be familiar with the concept of a backlog or “pile of shame”.  Over the past couple of years I made decent headway into my reading backlog, and am going to attempt to apply the same process to my gaming pile of shame.  If I thought about it too much I expect I’d also have a sizeable backlog of of films and TV shows to tackle, but let’s skip that for now…

At the start of 2014 I was setting some goals for the year, one of which was to return to reading for pleasure. I had been neglecting this as a hobby, but notably not cutting back on buying books… I discovered Good Reads and their annual reading challenge, and set myself a modest target of 20 books for the year.  Once I joined the site I  added my pile of shame to it, a pretty easy process of scanning barcodes. Next I created a shelf on there called “2014” and selected 20 books from my backlog that I thought I might like to read that year.  I didn’t force myself to stick rigidly to the list, but it was definitely helpful to have that narrower field to choose from when picking the next book to read. Obviously other books turned up during the year demanding immediate attention, but by the end of the year I had read 22 books, 13 of which were from my backlog, hurrah!

Come 2015 I started my new list with a revised target of 30 books, and started the 2015 shelf with the remaining unread titles from my 2014 one.  I had learned some lessons too. A nice balance of fiction and non-fiction is good, and also make sure the ratio of light reads to hefty tomes is considered.  (I wasn’t ready to tackle The Idiot and Crime & Punishment in the same year.) I blitzed the challenge in 2015 reading 50 books, although this was boosted by spending 5 months commuting for 2 hours a day, and took another 22 books out of the backlog. I’m now under way with a new challenge for 2016, although I kept the target at 30 books as I no longer commute.  I am confident that I’ve made the process into a habit, and am happy with the balance of new and backlog books I’m reading.

During this time I had started to wonder if I could take the same approach to my videogames. Thanks to my multi-platform lifestyle the gaming pile of shame is even bigger than my reading one ever was. There are a number of gaming equivalents to Good Reads, but with varying success in their implementation.  Backloggery was the first I tried, and although it seems to be popular I just didn’t get on with it.  At the end of 2015 I discovered Grouvee, which had the great first step of allowing me to import my Steam library which houses the vast majority of my games.  I manually added games from other platforms and then tinkered with the data.  I spent some time filtering out the games I’d already played, games I have no desire to play (bundle fodder) and those I dip into but don’t really have a point of completion (mostly multiplayer titles) to refine a ‘sensible’ backlog shelf of around 200 games. I have begun applying the same process I used for Good Reads and produced a 2016 shelf. I’m pretty terrible for games tourism and rarely finish games, so I am hopeful that this approach will help me focus.  I am also aware that the ‘cult of the new’ is likely to affect me more with games than it did with books, so I expect to be playing more new games through the year than going back to older ones, so I am only aiming to complete 10 games from the backlog and not setting any overall target.

Other things I’ve taken on board to help me get this under control:

  • It took a while to stick, but I’ve been repeatedly telling myself that it is okay to stop playing games I’m not enjoying. For many I expect this seems obvious, but you’d be surprised.  I might come back to them later, but I felt a definite sense of relief abandoning my games in progress on Fallout 3, Skyrim and the Last of Us.  All games I still think I’m supposed to really like, but I simply wasn’t enjoying.  I may come back to them when I’m in a different mindset, but if I do I’ll start again from scratch.
  • I’ve decided to start a small games journal for logging games as I complete them.  It’s unlikely to amount to anything I’ll share with anyone else, unless a particular game inspires me to write a blog post, but I think it’ll help motivate me to progress.

In case you’re interested, these are the current books for 2016. I’ve got 22 lined up so far.

My 10 games for 2016 on Grouvee are here, this includes finally replaying MYST, but this time the Masterpiece Edition of realMYST (versus the one I originally played through back on Windows 95) and also I really want to crack the 1cc on Space Giraffe now it’s Backwards Compatible with the Xbox One, and obtain the Long Neck Long March achievement for beating the game on one credit.  The rest are games I either have started at some point but never quite finished despite enjoying them or games I’ve always meant to play but never quite got round to.

I do wonder what other people do in order to reduce their piles of shame.

Wish me luck!

Christmas Songs

All-time Top 5 Christmas Songs

Determined to at least get one more post on here before the end of the year, and inspired by both the season and a recent re-watching of the excellent High-Fidelity, I felt compelled to assemble my own Christmas Songs Top 5.  In reverse order, for extra drama. Since this was written, I’ve also assembled a line up of Top 5 Christmas Movies too.

5. Glee – Deck the Rooftop

The only entry from Glee’s selection of Christmas Songs, I promise.  I love this, it’s just a shameless fun mash-up, and makes me happy. 🙂


4. Tim Minchin – White Wine in the Sun

This is beautiful.  Amusing and sentimental, and really hits home how I feel about Christmas, despite Christmas in Stoke not featuring much in the way of sun.

As always Tim is donating the proceeds of all sales of this song during November to January to an Australian autism charity, so well worth buying if you like it. More info on his White Wine in the Sun blog post.


3. The Pogues Featuring Kirsty MacColl – Fairytale Of New York

Pretty sure there is a law that this has to be on every list of great Christmas songs, (it should probably be number one, but what the hell…)   It is great though, and the first time I hear it on the radio is a much better start to the season than celebrating a bloody red truck…


2. Puff Daddy ft RUN DMC, Mase, Salt & Pepa, Onyx and Keith Murray – Santa Baby Remix

Merry Hip Hop Christmas!  This is so great, easily my favourite version of Santa Baby, with so many great rappers.  It’s very 90s, but if we didn’t listen to dated songs at Christmas, we wouldn’t have much left…


1. Mighty Mighty BossTones – This Time of Year

My all-time favourite Christmas song is coincidentally also by my all-time favourite band.  It’s joyous and I love it.  “This time of year gets me and it never lets me act like I don’t care.  This time of year’s my favourite time of year ’cause all of us are here together.”

Sorry about all that, I’ll get back to the games soon…

Forgive me WordPress, for I have sinned…

… it’s been three months since my last blog post.

Who knew it was actually the difficult sixth post that was so challenging?

As it happens I have 4 or 5 different posts half-written now, not quite happy with any of them and keep drifting onto something else.  Amusingly one of them is about my gaming backlog, and my tendency to only play a bit of a game and then move on.  Always intending to return but rarely ever doing it.  Perhaps I have a wider problem than just with gaming…

There have been some legitimate distractions however, along with busy times at work and the ongoing studying referred to in a previous post, I have even found time to play some games!

I do find it difficult (read impossible) to focus on writing for fun when there are college and workplace deadlines demanding my attention.  Today though I have finished my most recent assignment whilst sitting on the beach, and as I’m here I feel like writing more.

It’s amazing the difference the right setting makes to inspiration.  I should probably do all my writing for college sat on the beach.  Figures I’ll realise that 9 months into a 10 month course…  If I’ve learned anything from my brief blogging experience, it’s that I’m much more able to string words together with a pen and paper, than I am when staring at a word processor.

Anyway, an experiment.  While I have the weather for it, I shall endeavour to finish off my ‘in progress’ posts over the next few weeks, alongside drafting my final college assignment of the year, from my spot on the beach.  The only issue is finding an alternative venue with a similar inspirational level, for when it’s raining!