Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Kenwood stick blender review

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017 | Reviews

Our arsenal of kitchen gadgets now contains a stick blender. Despite my reservations about the reliability of my stand mixer, we opted for Kenwood because of a mixer of price and better the devil you know. Also, it has three blades, which is one whole extra blade than normal.

Gordon Ramsay uses a bamix, but that was out of my price range.

The model I settled on was the Kenwood HDP406WH Triblade.

User experience

Initially, I was pretty annoyed by the Kenwood. it has almost no instructions. What attachment does what? It is not clear. It is heavy and hard to lift for any period of time. It gets hot if you use it too much. The power cord is too short.

However, I always give myself a bit of time to cool off before posting a review because I know I usually feel different after a few weeks.

It has been useful. I realised the secret was to use physical force. It struggled to blend everything initially. However, it if you really force the thing down into the jug, it does the job. Whether this will have long term implications I am not sure. But there is really no other option: being able to blend is an essential product feature of a blender.

Attachments

I have not worried about the other attachments. I don’t need them. Perhaps the soup blender may be useful, but you can do the same thing with the standard attachment. Everything else, I will continue to do in the food processor.

Shopify

Thursday, February 16th, 2017 | Reviews

I have been using Shopify to build out an e-commerce store. It has a lot of love it and hate it features.

It is easy to set up. You create your store and select a theme. Then you upload your products with some images and at this point, you are basically done. They have an integrated cart system and credit card processing, or you can add in a third-party payment processor. They have an apps store where you can install add-ons to your shop.

All of this for $30 per month.

On the downside, there is very little customisation. Making basic changes to the layout are impossible. Just adding extra text, for example, is not possible. The only way you can really make the store look the way you want is to create a custom template. There is some good documentation for this, but it requires a lot of diving into code and the propriety systems that Shopify use.

The store configuration is also limited. Products get a description field and that it is. You have to put everything in there. There are no features or specifications, or anything you could use to filter on later. The only way to do it is to use product categories.

The add-ons are good, but most charge you an extra $10 per month. You can only accept payments in your local currency: so if you are based in the UK, you cannot sell in dollars.

Overall, Shopify allows you to get set up and selling very quickly. However, it lacks the customisation you will want down the road.

Coinbase review

Monday, January 2nd, 2017 | Reviews

Coinbase is generally regarded as the biggest and most accessible way to get into Bitcoin.

Unfortunately, my experience has not left a great impression.

Registration

Registering with them is a big hassle. First, you have to go through phone verification. Which would be fine if it worked. But it doesn’t. The text message never arrived, even after I retried it. In the end, I had to wait 24 hours, delete my phone number and re-add it to get it working.

Then you move onto identity verification where you have to submit a passport scan.

But this isn’t easy either. The pop-up window that appears has a link to the page. Except it is the wrong page and you get a 404 page. The only way to find the correct page is to trawl through your account settings to find the verification page.

Next step, submitting a picture via your webcam. This step doesn’t work either. The website cannot read my passport from my webcam. They have another option to do it via your phone and luckily this option did work.

Deposits

Coinbase has lost their ability to accept UK deposits. Therefore the only way to deposit money into your account is using the SEPA payment to their Estonian bank account. You know, like all legitimate operations ask you to do.

Bank account verification

The next thing you need to do is to verify your bank account so you can make a deposit. I did this via the SEPA payment and everything seemed to work.

Except, a few days later, my verification mysteriously disappeared. So, I opened a ticket with Coinbase support. This was difficult. You have to go through an almost endless series of FAQs before you are allowed to contact support.

Once you do, they wait an hour and then send you an automated email with more FAQs, telling you to get back in touch if that doesn’t solve your problem. This is based on their very limited set of support categories which make it impossible to ask the correct question.

Once you have done this your request sits in their support queue.

Support

Their customer service appears to be none existent. I raised a support ticket about my account not working and, at time of writing, they still haven’t responded to me.

Spam texts

Shortly after registering with Coinbase, I began receiving a series of spam texts, and even a spam call, about investing in Bitcoin and trading on markets. I have no evidence that it was Coinbase that leaked my details, just the correlation that it started happening when I registered with them.

Summary

I would recommend looking at alternatives to Coinbase. Their systems are flaky, I worry about their data protection and, most of all, they don’t seem to respond to support requests. That isn’t a disaster if you have £10 in there, but a massive problem if you have £1,000.

I’m not the only person who has had a horrible experience. They have one star on Trust Pilot. I have never seen anyone with a rating that low.

Lunch at Bird and Beast

Monday, December 12th, 2016 | Food, Reviews

bird-and-beast

We were not in love with Bird & Beast, Leeds the first time we visited. It was just chicken, and we can go to Nando’s for that.

However, I visited for lunch a few weeks ago and I am pleased to report that they have really upped their game. The chicken now comes with a variety of delicious sauces and toppings, and they have expanded their menu too. I assumed I was the beast on their original menu, but now they have options for red meat-lovers and vegetarians alike.

Birthday at Roast and Conch

Sunday, December 11th, 2016 | Food, Reviews

roast-and-conch

We have previously had a good experience at Roast and Conch, the Hotel Chocolate, Leeds restaurant. Unfortunately, at a recent visit for my sister’s birthday, it failed to live up to its prior reputation.

Service was slow, especially drinks, which were repeatedly forgotten.

My starter, fried whitebait, was well-cooked but needed more sauce. My main, a burger, needed more seasoning. It was cooked all the way through, despite me asking for medium-well. The bun was toasted so much that it had dried out and become crispy. The chips could have done with longer in the deep-frier.

Dessert was a little better, as you would expect from a chocolate shop, but there was simply too much of it. Portion sizing seemed to be an issue in multiple places. Both mine and Elina’s starters were large, whereas Elina’s main was tiny, and really could have done with a side being suggested.

The hot chocolate was nice. However, we asked for the whipped cream on the top, which, when you punched through to the drink, overflowed. This would not have been so bad if the cup had been served on a saucer, or had a handle, but it came with neither.

To finish things off: a fire alarm. Not a quick burst that was easily turned off. It rang from the moment we asked for the bill to the moment we were walking out of the restaurant. You would think that staff would clarify to people whether they should evacuate or not, but such a courtesy was not extended to many patrons.

Definitely not a good evening for Roast and Conch.

Victoria Gate

Friday, November 11th, 2016 | Reviews

victoria-gate

What a massive fucking disappointment.

I thought it was going to be really big. But it isn’t. Nor does it have any shops you would ever go in. At least Victoria Quarter has nice things to look at. The shops here are both unjustifiably posh, and yet still boring.

It does have a John Lewis, but what a poorly designed store that is. There are no stairs. How do you build a department store and forget about the stairs? This led to delays in the escalators to the point where they had to have a staff member on one each managing the queue. Meanwhile Elina got stuck in the lift because they were so crammed.

iA Writer review

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016 | Reviews, Tech

ia-writer

Recently I trialled using iA Writer as my word processor of choice for writing. Previously I would use Google Docs, which has been very good. It has all the features you would expect from a word processor and automatically generates a navigation structure on the left hand side so you can quickly jump around the document.

iA Writer is very different in that it is a pure text editor. It uses the Markdown syntax, so instead of a WYSIWYG editor, you get text on one side, that you have to use markup in, and a preview pane on the other. The big advantage for me, over Google Docs, is that it can handle large files. Google Docs works great, but as you start getting up to 50,000+ plus it starts to really struggle.

iA Writer handles these large files fine, but the rest is a mixed bag.

It looks really nice

The idea behind iA Writer is to allow you to concentrate on the words. This is does very nicely. You get a simple interface that you can take full screen to remove all distractions, and the layout and style are well thought out. You can enable typewriter mode so the current line is always centred on the screen, though this feels a bit like a gimmick so far.

The image support is not great/strong>

You can embed images in your articles, but you have to give them a URL. Markdown requires this, but I would have expected URI support. So I could just drop an image into the directory and say image 5 is “example.jpg”. Not so. The only way to do it is to upload it to the web, or use a full file path, such as file:///Users/me/Documents/Book/images/example.jpg.

Preview panel scrolls independently

This is one of the most annoying features: the text panel and the preview panel are not properly synced. As I scroll down one, the other one scrolls, but at a slightly different speed. Therefore the text and preview panel are always out of sync. You cannot see what you are working on, and if you scroll to that point in the preview panel, you lose your place where you are writing.

There is no navigation

Google Docs automatically generates a navigation bar on the left, based on all of your chapter titles and sub-headings. iA Writer does not do this, so the only way to navigate around a large document is to remember all of your headings and use the text search to locate them again.

This comes up a lot because you have to put references in the bottom of the document, so I am constantly scrolling down to the bottom, adding a reference, then trying to find where I was writing so that I can insert the appropriate footnote marker and continue working.

Summary

iA Writer is a nice piece of software. However, it feels like nobody has put a really large document in there and thought “is this usable?” Given it is specifically targeted at writers, I am not sure how they imagined it would be used, or maybe did not think through the use-cases beyond somebody writing fiction linearly.

Kezie Foods review

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016 | Food, Reviews

kezie-foods

I ordered some exotic meat from Kezie Foods. They offer a great range of non-mainstream options including horse, kangaroo, camel, crocodile and edible insects.

The problem is that they are delivered via a standard courier. You might wonder how they keep them frozen in transit. The answer seems to be that they do not. They put the products in a polystyrene case that they pack with dry ice. This is supposed to keep everything frozen for 48 hours.

However, when I received their delivery, everything had defrosted. I spoke to their customer services and they were very nice about it, arranging another delivery. The problem is, the exact same thing happened the next time.

Maybe I have somehow misunderstood the definition of frozen. But it feeling exactly like defrosted meat does not seem correct.

So I am giving up. I cooked what I could from the latest batch and will leave it there. At least until I can progress my backup plan of starting an ostrich farm. The products themselves seem good quality: the meat I did manage to eat very good.

Swn y Don review

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016 | Reviews, Travel

swn-y-don

During our recent trip to Anglesey we stayed in a villa named Swn y Don in Cemaes Bay. It was a big place with a living room, dining area, large conservatory, two kitchens and five bedrooms.

conservatory

The coastal path runs right next to the garden so you get people walking right past. Not that they were interested in us, but it did mean we had to observe the rules about wearing swimwear while in the hot tub.

It made for a very nice view though.

view-from-garden

Beyond that there was a rocky cliff down to the water, so no access to the beach. You could walk down into the village if you wanted one.

Hot tub

The hot tub was really good. It was ready when we arrived and continued to work throughout our stay. The water was a little grimy by the end of the week, but we found the chlorination tablets to clean it up.

There was also a BBQ on the patio which was large and allowed us to cook for everyone. Both of these were advantages over Ullapool where we had to take our own BBQ and hot tub!

Connectivity

This was probably the biggest annoyance about the place. They had broadband, but we had to restart the router and modem several times a day to get it working. This would not have been so bad if I could get any photo data, but there was no signal anywhere on the property.

Kitchen

The kitchen was narrow and made for a bottleneck when someone was in there. However, there were two fridges, a freezer and a wine cooler, meaning we had plenty of space for food and drink. The cooker was amazing! Five gas burners, including an extra large one, plus a separate grill and two ovens that became hot really quickly.

cooker

Cooking was sometimes a challenge because the kitchen was missing a lot of the tools I have at home. It had an electric whisk, but no soup pot or cake tin, and all the knives were pretty blunt. All the doors had keys in them, which was really useful as we could all take different ones when we split up.

Summary

It is a beautiful house and a lovely location. I would definitely stay here again, especially if North Anglesey ever get some proper broadband and phone signal.

Freakonomics Radio

Thursday, July 21st, 2016 | Reviews

freakonomics-radio

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything is a brilliant book by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. I won’t dwell too much on the book here, but following its success, Dubner began to produce a radio show called Freakonomics Radio that looked at the hidden side of other things.

I subscribed to the podcast using the Podcast feature of my iOS device. It’s the first time I have used it and so far it is okay. You just add the podcast and it queues up new episodes, and you can also go back through the archives and queue up old episodes. However, it does not seem to download the episodes, or has some performance issues. There is normally a few seconds delay between me clicking play and it starting.

Freakonomics Radio on the over hand, is very good.

The first episode I listened to was on “why are there so many mattress stores in America?”. Other episodes have taken on a diverse range of topics including science, food, self-improvement, economics (obviously) and interviews.

You can find the show at Freakonomics.com.