To those I know with birthdays.. and in the week before, have a great one.

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A year or so back I began to seriously consider purchasing a tablet. Not because everyone else was getting one or I wanted a new shiny toy to play with (although who doesn’t like a shiny new toy) but because it would fill a genuine gap in my computing lifestyle. I work in IT and computers are part of my life in a big way. I go online when I get up to see what is going on in the world and after a full day of using computers I’ll usually spend another couple of hours online when I get home. I don’t however own a smartphone and really feel no desire to get one. Likewise I have no laptop and can’t really see me getting much use from one. But a tablet, now there was a possibility. Something small – say 7″ – so I can surf the net on the sofa and fit it easily in a bag if going away for a weekend.

I was reluctant to get one straight away for two reasons however. The first was cost. I only needed something with a basic feature set as I wasn’t planning on doing much beyond basic web surfing. Why would I need 3G, a huge screen, GPS and multiple cameras for that? Unfortunately every tablet released seemed to either be trying to jam as many features in as possible to compete with the iPad (and had a price tag to match) or was very cheap and frankly rubbish. No one seemed to be trying to produce a simple, good quality tablet aimed at the masses (and me); until the Kindle Fire was released that is.

The second was whether I actually needed a tablet. If I was going to be shelling out for one – and even a cheap one was going to cost a couple of hundred no doubt – I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to get bored of it in a matter of weeks and see it sat on my desk 99% of the time mocking me for the waste of money it was…

So time went by and whilst I considered a refurbished, imported Nook Color or waiting for the Kindle Fire to be released in the UK, I didn’t look too seriously. Then last week I spotted the 16GB Blackberry Playbook on offer for £169. In a rather uncharacteristic impulsive buy (that still took me close to a week to make), I ordered one. With cashback (I love TopCashBack) it cost me £166.45 although I am working on a plan to make it pay for itself to some extent (more on that another day)…

Blackberry Playbook

So far, my worries that it would end up lonely and unused are unfounded.

It feels like a solid, well made piece of kit and is the just the size and weight I was after. The screen is crystal clear and I find it very easy for both reading text or watching video on. It has a few features I wasn’t really after such as a magnetometer, GPS, mini HDMI port and two cameras but at this price I just see those as added perks should I ever need them. It maybe lacks some things I would have liked as well such as an SD expansion port or USB (it has a micro USB port but you can’t plug a USB device in without rooting the Playbook) but I doubt I would have really used them that much anyway.

Of course the bit I was most interested in was the browser as that would be what I would spend most of my time using and I am pleased to say I find it very, very acceptable. Pages load very quickly and I can have multiple tabs open with little apparent affect on response (within reason of course). I haven’t found many site that it can’t handle. Whilst maybe not ideal I have also found that disabling javascript makes for a much quicker browsing experience for many of the sites I visit daily (like the Guardian) and whilst you lose some functionality, it is often not essential functionality. And for those pages where it is, it takes a couple of taps to enable it again. Another big bonus is that it also supports Flash (which again is very easy to turn off quickly if you wish).

One criticism is that there are not many apps for the Playbook. This is true. Of course if – like me – you aren’t that bothered about apps anyway, this isn’t a big problem. Maybe I’d like Skype and a free RDP client might be useful for when I’m feeling really lazy and want to set something to record on my HTPC without having to go over to the TV and set it up but I can cope without both. The next upgrade to the client OS – 2.0 – is due out in about a week and this apparently adds an Android app player so the number of apps should increase considerably. At the end of the day though I doubt I’ll ever use more than a handful of apps anyway. Likewise for gaming, I have found a few free games that can keep me entertained should the need arise but with a proper gaming PC upstairs that should’t be often.

Bottom line is I’m very happy with the Playbook and with the next OS update I suspect my experience will improve even more. I can now sit on the sofa with Miss C and get my internet fix without having to abandon her to go use the PC upstairs. People say RIM are a troubled company and question the wisdom of buying something from them right now – especially a tablet that failed miserably to take the world by storm. But it is a high quality device which provides a great user experience and is likely to be supported for a few years yet. Maybe at this price people will start to see it as the great tablet it is and it’s popularity will rise. So if you are looking for a tablet bargain, consider this one closely…

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Apparently it is fairly common for iOS App developers to steal your address book.

“I did a quick survey of 15 developers of popular iOS apps, and 13 of them told me they have a contacts database with millons of records.”

The original discovery was made a few days ago with one particular app. Makes me glad I don’t have a smartphone. Although I do now have a Playbook (more on that soon)….

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Something new from Google Solve for X which describes itself as “a forum to encourage and amplify technology-based moonshot thinking and teamwork”. The video probably helps it make more sense. A bit.

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Atheism in America – godlessness is the last big taboo in the US.

I’ve often wondered if the reason we in the UK are less religious nowadays is that we are more enlightened or that we are simply too lazy to bother with all that religion stuff….?

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In the news

According to one traffic monitoring company, the Daily Mail (no link juice for them) is now the Worlds most popular online paper.

A sad day for humanity…

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Can’t help but be impressed by what people can achieve in their spare time.

Castle Story.

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Was going to post this article weeks ago but didn’t quite get around to it. Better late than never.

Cruises and the people that vanish.

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A few months back I posted about a Humble Bundle I was considering getting and in the end I did donate a few quid to charity in order to purchase it. Maybe not as much as I should but most of the games didn’t really appeal to me. Not that they aren’t good games, they have just so far failed to draw me in to playing them – another time maybe.

The one exception was Trine which is a physics based puzzle game. Again I wasn’t sure I’d be interested but after giving it a quick try I was pleasantly surprised and worked my way through to the end. Think it is the openness of it – there isn’t one set way to do things, you can make your own solution to ‘How do I get onto that ledge?”, as long as the laws of physics allow it….

Whilst I’m a bit late promoting it this time around, the Humble Indie Bundle (which included the Indie Bundle 3 if you paid enough) has just been and gone. Given the days of entertainment Trine gave me for the modest amount I donated, I gave this bundle a go too. Nothing has really hooked me yet – maybe having just got Crysis for Xmas has sidetracked me slightly – but I think Gratuitous Space Battles has the potential to be a big time-waster for me.

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Weekend in Ashford in the Water

Strange name for a place really as it’s more on the water than in it. Unless they suffer from flooding I suppose. Still, it was the last minute destination of choice for Miss C and I for a long weekend break. Having had a very pleasant time, thought the least I could do was blog about it for any other would be traveller who might be considering a trip there.

Within walking distance of Bakewell in the Peak District, the village itself is very picturesque. Not much there – few small shops, a couple of pubs, a church and a post office as far as I could see – but what more do you need? The first night there we decided a pub meal was in order so picked one of the two at random and chose the Ashford Arms.Staff were brilliant and the food… the food was really really nice! Good hearty stuff but a little more up market – very gastropub.

Whilst the Ashford Arm had rooms, we opted to stay in the Riverside House Hotel. Strange mix of a place really. On the one hand it’s a 3 star rated establishment and that does show a little. The odd bit of dried fruit under the bed, a spider that had made it’s home in the window frame and decor that needed a little sprucing up in places. That said, we aren’t fussy people and having to wipe spider web off my nose first thing in the morning as I peaked out the window didn’t really bother me at all but I can imagine that for some people it would not be acceptable.

Then you have the staff and their customer service and it’s the opposite side of the coin. We really could not fault the level of service they provided. The room came with the usual tea, coffee (not instant) and biscuits but you also had bottled water, a fruit bowl, nut selection, chocolates and (my personal favourite) a small decanter of sherry!! Oh how I wish more hotels did that…

On the second night we opted to eat in the hotel restaurant which was a little pricey maybe at £45 a head but it was a special occasion and the food sounded top-notch. We’d already read the reviews so knew what to expect price wise anyway. Being a Sunday we were the only people in the restaurant. Our hostess for the evening made sure we knew this from the start and assured us that we didn’t need to feel uncomfortable, something she did a fine job of preventing. Always there when we needed something but leaving us to eat and chat without being bothered the rest of the time.

I’d probably have to say that this was the most fancy meal I’ve ever had. There was an interesting selection of food (such as my trio of pork belly all done in different styles) which were all presented very nicely. The £45 covered three course but if you count the canapes, virgin mary and blackcurrant jelly (palate cleansers) and coffee you are up to seven. I’d also count the homemade bread selection (I loved the treacle bread) and say 8 courses but Miss C disagrees. The only problem we found was that we were absolutely unable to eat anything else by the end! The chocolates that came with the coffee looked so very tempting for me but I simply could not eat anything else by that point. We even skipped drinking wine to leave a little more room. Maybe that actually detracted slightly from enjoying the food as I started to think a little more about how full I was than paying proper attention to enjoying the flavours. Still, I would definitely eat there again but maybe skip the huge cooked breakfast in the morning and stave myself all day in between.

Having booked the hotel last minute it was half price and we felt the price reflected things accurately. As other reviews have said, they’d be less inclined to pay full price. If you do decide to go (both to Ashford and the Riverside Hotel):

Do: Eat in the Ashford Arms, walk to Bakewell and eat at the Riverside.
Don’t: Worry too much about getting spider web on your nose at the Riverside and just enjoy the sherry.

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