Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

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 knifes 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.

Hótel Búðir

Sunday, July 3rd, 2016 | Reviews, Travel

hotel-budir

Hótel Búðir, spelt Hotel Budir in English, is a hotel located on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. It does not have a hot tub, or proper blinds for the windows, but what it lacks in these features it more than makes up for in location. Not to mention the friendly staff, excellent food and lovely decor.

hotel-budir-view-1

You could definitely have a worse view. The other window, and the bathroom, look out across the Snæfellsjökull glacier.

bathroom-view

The hotel seems to have a bit of a rock and roll attitude. Some of the rooms only seem accessible by crossing the roof. This is definitely worth a visit even if you are not in one of those rooms, simply for the panoramic view.

budir-roof

Their restaurant is busy, but the food is tasty, beautifully presented and comes in reasonable-sized portions.

budir-church

Just up above the hotel is Búðir church. It has been re-built several times since the original.

budir-church-silhouette

Beyond the church is the ocean, and a surprising amount of sandy beach.

elina-on-the-beach

Without a doubt, Hótel Búðir offered us the most beautiful location of the trip. Mountains, a glacier, a waterfall and the ocean, all visible from the same room.

Ion Hotel, Iceland

Saturday, July 2nd, 2016 | Reviews, Travel

ion-hotel

The Ion Adventure Hotel is located in Þingvellir, Iceland. You get there by taking route 36, unless it is winter, in which case you have to go a different way because the road is closed. Winter remember, is October to May.

With the whole area to choose from, they decided to build the hotel next to the geothermal power station. You really can smell the sulphur, which smells like eggs, but it didn’t bother us.

power-station
“We have the whole of Iceland to choose from: where shall we build our hotel?” “Next to the power station!” “But won’t it smell of eggs the whole time?” “Yes, it will be a feature.”

The location is very convient for exploring Geysir, Gullfuss and Þingvellir. All of these are within an hour’s drive. When both the clouds clear and the wind blows the steam from the power station out of the way, you get a beautiful view.

ion-hotel-spa

They have a huge huge tub (it is an eight metre pool, half a metre deep). If anything it was too hot, especially for Elina and the bump. I loved it. I went in twice a day, once after breakfast and once before going to bed. It was only really that Elina insisted on doing things that caused me to get out.

Once end of the building is given over to their Northern Lights Bars. We didn’t see any of the Northern Lights, given it was light the whole time, but we did get a beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding countryside.

northern-lights-bar

Click to see in full size.

They have a restaurant, and also offer a bar menu (which seems to be bigger than the restaurant menu) in the Northern Lights Bar.

ion-hotel-food

The room itself was nice. There was desk and chair, the bed was comfortable, and it came with a floor to ceiling window looking out onto the snow-capped mountain. The curtains did an excellent job of blocking out the light.

ion-window-handle

Some of it felt a bit dated, and maybe in need of a little love. The above shows the handle on our window. However, the window did open fully, and much of the hotel was modern: every room had an iPad Mini and their communal areas were filled with Sonos Play:3s.

I would definitely stay here again. The staff were friendly, the room was nice and the view was excellent.

Grillmarkaðurinn, Reykjavik

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016 | Food, Reviews, Travel

grill-market

Grillmarkaðurinn, Grill Market in English, is a sister restaurant to Fiskmarkaðurinn. As you might be able to guess from the names, this one is a little less focused on fish and a little more focused on meat. However, there is still a lot of crossover.

They make a good seafood soup for example, and can cook a decent steak too. The real winner of the meal was Elina’s grilled redfish. It came with a crab roll that could have been a main course in itself. I did not enjoy it as much as Fish Market, but it was still a fine meal.

Fish Market, Reykjavik

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016 | Food, Reviews, Travel

the-fish-market

Fiskmarkaðurinn, known as Fish Market in English, is a restaurant in downtown Reykjavik.

They were fully booked when we rocked up and asked for a table. However, they said we could eat in the bar area. This was actually a stroke of luck. The seating was comfortable, and even a pregnant woman can eat at the little table. It was screened off from the main restaurant, giving us some piece and quiet.

We created our own tapas by ordering four starters and sharing them all. Each dish was carefully prepared and presented with it’s own unique accompaniments. These do not always get the attention they deserve in Iceland, but this was not the case here.

fish-market-food

It was, in my opinion, the best food we had in Iceland.

They even have a cookbook, which I purchased a copy of. It is full of ingredients I think I will struggle to find in Leeds, so it’s even more impressive that they can source them in a country whose entire population is half that of Leeds.

Icelandair

Monday, June 27th, 2016 | Reviews, Travel

icelandair

We flew to Iceland with Icelandair. How original. It was the most expensive airline we have ever flown with. It was a little over £600 for return tickets for the both of us.

Seat reservations

This was a disaster. We pre-booked our seats so that we could sit together. However, when it came to checking in online, our seats were changed so that we were no longer together. I spoke to both the baggage drop-off people and the people at the gate, but none of them could help. In the end, the woman sat next to me was kind enough to swap with Elina so we could sit together.

However, what is the point of having a seat reservation system that you do not honour. It is actually worse than having no seat reservation system as at least in that case you would know to check in straight away.

Ryanair have a brilliant seat reservation system. It costs you some cash, but we had a whole stewardess whose entire job seemed to be guarding our seats so that nobody else sat there. When Ryanair blow you out of the water for customer service, maybe you should take a look at what you are doing.

We had no problems on the return flight, and received the seats we had booked.

Delays

On the outgoing flight, we boarded on time. However, we then sat on the tarmac for an additional forty minutes before going anywhere as the luggage was loaded, then unloaded, then loaded into a different part of the plane.

On the way back, our flight time was pushed back by one hour fifty minutes. This worked out well for us, as we were notified beforehand and meant we could sleep in a little bit longer, but the fact that it was changed was still annoying. Even after this, it took off twenty minutes late.

Entertainment system

Every seat comes with a built-in touch-screen entertainment system. This was pretty annoying. Before the flight takes off it shows adverts for the whole time. Elina finds flickering screens irritating but there was no way to turn it off.

Once the flight started it turned off automatically. You then had to turn it back on and watch another two minutes of adverts before it let you do anything. It then had a limited range of media available. There were maybe a dozen TV shows to pick from, including three episodes of Friends and three episodes of Family Guy. There were also films, a flick tracker, some games for the kids and a few other features.

Economy comfort

Our outgoing flight was economy comfort rather than economy as by some bizarre twist, this worked out to be the cheapest option. I think it was a mistake to do this because it was much nicer than flying coach and now that I have experienced it, I do not want to go back.

On Icelandair you get a bigger, nicer seat. It is only two seats each side (coach is three) with a generous armrest in the middle that you can put things on. You also get a blanket, a bottle of water, a pair of headphones and hot food and drink included, including alcohol.

Economy

On the way back, we were back in coach. This was fine, the leg room was pretty standard for a plane and having nobody in the seat next to us provided us with a great place to put our coats. You still get the entertainment system and free soft drinks.

Chuck Norris Grill

Sunday, June 26th, 2016 | Food, Reviews, Travel

chuck-norris-grill

After a week of eating fish, we were in the mood of something different. Realistically, there is only so many times you can walk past a place called Chuck Norris Grill and not venture in.

The decor did not disappoint.

chuck-norris-grill-wall

Disappointingly, the food itself was not Chuck Norris themed. They could manage a reasonably-well cooked steak however.

chuck-norris-grill-food

Having been battered by Icelandic prices for a week, it was nice to go somewhere a little cheaper. I do not have a desire to go back, but it is a reasonable joint to visit once.