Who proofread this?

Philadelphia Sign

Sign spotted at ASDA Llansamlet, 19th May 2012

Spelling mistake on a commercial poster…that’s mildly amusing.
Spelling your own product name incorrectly, when numerous correct examples exist elsewhere on the same poster, including a photo of the product itself? Priceless.

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London Calling

A couple of weeks ago, I’d been offered the possibility of attending an assessment day in London, for an exam marking job (ironically, if successful, the job will be work-from-home, but that’s another story!)  Unfortunately, partly due to internet problems at home, and partly due to the supposedly gadget-mad Jamie not accessing his dedicated job-related email account via other means, I received the email at 7pm…inviting me to attend at 12:30pm earlier that day. To say I felt disappointed would be an understatement, since I’d received nothing but rejection letters up to that point (perhaps pessimism was another factor in my late receipt of the message; I wasn’t expecting an email that required any action from me, let alone so quickly). Even though it came with no guarantees of a contract; this was the first positive thing to happen to me in the world of post-PhD employment, and I’d gone and dropped the ball!

Thankfully, after sending them an email to let them know I would be interested in attending a subsequent assessment day, I was invited to go along on the afternoon of May 3rd. Serendipitously, Virgin Soldiers (one of my favourite bands of all time, and still receiving enough votes to keep their song ‘Moving On’ in my radio show’s Unchart Top 5 after over a year) were playing that very evening, at 229 The Venue, Great Portland Street. James Beeny (from the band) couldn’t believe the coincidence, and neither could I. The plans were (hurriedly) hatched, with mum being a calming influence, and expressing a wish to accompany me as a fellow, massive fan of the band!

Traveller's Tavern, Belgravia, London

The Traveller’s Tavern, near Victoria Coach Station, Belgravia, London. (Photo: www.taylor-walker.co.uk)

We’d be leaving Swansea on the (only) Megabus at 4:30am, which was due to arrive in London’s Victoria Coach Station at 9:30am, but due to diversions it didn’t until around an hour later. Can’t complain about the coach; we were treated to a double-decker, which (on the top deck at least) was cool and comfortable. I even had an electric socket so that I could charge my phone, although I didn’t bring my laptop, so I couldn’t try out the Wi-Fi. I expected to stop at Cardiff, Bristol and Newport en route, but not at the University of the West of England‘s Frenchay Campus in Bristol, which brought back memories of when I used to see the very first Megabus double-deckers (which were not coach-style) parked up outside my own Swansea University…sadly they don’t stop there any more…but I digress. Didn’t get much sleep on the coach, though, which didn’t bode well as I’d been awake since the previous day, and couldn’t have slept early the night before due to my midweek radio show at 11pm…and the assessment day involved a ‘basic skills test’. I was beginning to worry just how ‘basic’ these would be…I don’t like complete unknowns, not when it comes to me being tested at least.

A short walk from the coach station, we happened upon the Traveller’s Tavern. We’d planned to have breakfast in London, but as we’d arrived late, we opted for just a coffee each, which was served with a welcoming smile. This wasn’t the turbulent stereotypical London we expected to encounter on ‘landing’; everything was relaxed and laid-back, outside and inside.

We didn’t get much further down the road when we encountered da Scalzo, an Art-Café Pizzeria, which tempted us inside with the offer of bacon butties (me) and porridge with berries (mum). This was also lovely, though I was worried as to the financial direction that our London adventure was taking. I could get more money out of the cash machine, but that’s not really the point; I’d come in search of money (i.e. the marking job!) and already had the outlay of the transport costs, which weren’t being reimbursed.

At least one money worry had been alleviated; since we planned to stay to watch Virgin Soldiers, we’d be too late for the (only) return Megabus at 6pm, so I’d booked a return train ticket instead. It was only slightly more expensive, and presented me with the option of also purchasing a day travelcard for the Tube (London Underground), an option I never thought to consider as I was originally going to buy another Oyster card and pay for single fares. Seeing as I’d now be travelling from Victoria to Holborn, Regent’s Park and Paddington at least, this seemed like a sensible option at £7 (Zones 1-2).

Even though my only experience of the Tube had been the largely overground line from Paddington to Euston Square, this made me feel like the authority on this form of transport within the Nemeth family (despite mum being far more experienced). Neither of these stops were anywhere near preparation for Victoria’s Tube station; the nauseatingly speedy escalator was far steeper that I anticipated, so much so that I nearly fell over unceremoniously as it went from flat to sloping. Also, even though it said ‘keep to the right’, I’m hardwired to always keep to the left, so I did for a little while before someone politely said ‘excuse me’…then I processed the signs…then I realised why it was so important. Some people are in such a rush that they are not only negotiating the incredibly steep escalator without losing balance, but are actually running down them at quite some rate. It’s a pace I’m not used to, particularly not on this scale. Yes, in Swansea, someone might walk down an escalator in a shop, or even run down ‘for fun’, but they’re likely to be the only one for a period of minutes, leaving a large vacuum behind them. At the Tube station, there’s a panorama of ‘runners’ across several escalators (for me, seeing more than two escalators in one place was already highly unusual in itself). I can’t have been the only one who found this amazing; there was someone further down, facing the wrong way, pointing a camera upstream. The trains on these lines seemed much faster too, so much so that the perception of movement remained with me all day.

I’ve never been motion-sick, but combined with my nerves for the ‘basic skills test’, my stomach did feel rather unsettled. You had to be graduating soon or be a recent graduate to be an eligible exam marker, but unlike other (under)graduates, the last time I’d sat an exam was over four years previously, except for the viva…but this was based on a piece of work that I’d been effectively living through this past four years. The test wasn’t easy and called on all of the proofreading skills I’d honed at the student newspaper and over the course of correcting my thesis, but luckily it was a test of literacy only; I’d been worried they were going to pull out some equation that I hadn’t seen since A-Level, and that my mind would draw blanks, despite it being ridiculously simple to solve. Still, even though I consider myself literate, I managed to get a question wrong! I suppose 39/40 isn’t bad for a physicist who hasn’t taken a formal English qualification in nearly 11 years, but I still want to go back and find out if I really got Question 28 wrong, or if it was a glitch. I double-checked every answer, too…there was no time limit, so it seemed silly not to; I took time over the easiest questions, and took even more time over the ones that posed a challenge. Still, it doesn’t matter, I passed (try telling that to my brain, though!)

Princess Louise, High Holborn

One of the side corridors in the Princess Louise, High Holborn, owned by Samuel Smith’s Brewery. (Photo: www.designweek.co.uk)

As a matter of celebration, we popped into the Princess Louise pub in High Holborn, which was just around the corner. The treat wasn’t really the cider, though. In our neck of the woods, pubs with intact original features seem to be an endangered species, with more and more being ‘gutted’ in the name of ‘improvement’, with little cosies (as I’d call them) being banished in favour of open-plan expanses. The Princess Louise was so refreshing, by being everything but ‘modern’. We opened one door to find another door, and another. A series of sections, each one different, each with beautiful wooden screens and glass panels…then there was the mosaic floor, and the mirrored walls. It felt wonderful, before even a drop of alcohol had touched my lips, and to think we’d happened upon it by chance. In fact, if I’d been on my own, I’d have gotten myself into such a fluster that I might’ve breezed straight past the pub without even having noticed it existed, and I’d have missed out on so much. In a busy, unfamiliar place, I felt at home. We asked a member of staff about the pub, and they explained how the owners (Samuel Smith’s Brewery) had striven to restore all of the original features. It would seem the work has paid off. Perhaps I’m an old soul, but I prefer my pubs (and any building, for that matter) with character, and the Princess Louise has this in plentiful supply.

We decided to head to the gig venue early, to avoid rush hour. We got to Great Portland Street without a problem, but arriving so early meant that we were in for a long wait. Mum suggested we find a chip shop, but something so ‘ordinary’ was not to be seen in the immediate vicinity. There was an enormous Pizza Express, of a size rivalled only by Swansea’s largest McDonald’s, but we had something simpler in mind. A quick search on Google Maps revealed the nearest chip shop was the Fish Bone, Cleveland St., Camden. After a fair trek (I underestimated the distance slightly…mum wasn’t pleased, and her feet were less so), we were relieved to find we could eat in. I don’t dispute their claim to being a ‘traditional fish & chip restaurant’, but it is the first chip shop in which I can ever recall having the opportunity to order a Greek coffee with my burger and chips!

We walked back to the gig venue, and we were still early! However, our timing couldn’t have been better, as Virgin Soldiers began to arrive. It was lovely to have a chance of a catch-up before the gig, as I’d already warned them we might have to shoot off early (we had to be in Paddington by 10:45pm). The last time I’d seen the band live (and the first time) was in Tunbridge Wells; I remember the event like it was yesterday…it’s hard to believe it was over a year ago. I didn’t bring any of my usual cache of radio-related gadgets this time. In fact, I didn’t even bring my camera. This was a deliberate move; I didn’t want to have to worry about the security of such paraphernalia whilst walking around London, but I also thought it would be nice to meet the band and enjoy the music without harbouring any ‘media’ expectations, especially with such limited time.

The gig started a little late, but this is par for the course. The venue had been laid out with seats and sofas down the sides, but with plenty of standing room in the centre. Joshy Connor was up first, a solo singer/guitarist who performed emotively, as well as wowing us with his command of the guitar. In fact, he used a different tuning for each song…I play a bit of guitar myself, but 1) not like Joshy, and 2) one set of chords in ‘standard tuning’ is enough for me to remember, and I don’t even know all of those properly, so how he kept track of all of this and kept all the lyrics in mind, even finding time to slot in riffs fairly frequently (sometimes whilst singing) is beyond me, and a worthy achievement in itself even if the songs had been rubbish, which they weren’t…the songs were fantastic, too! Following Joshy, we had the mighty Florida Room. I try to avoid direct comparisons to existing bands, but sometimes they help to give a context to my opinions, and convey the feelings that are invoked. I started to wonder if they could be the next Muse, but then I started to think they were more of a Maxïmo Park; I’ve never seen either of these bands live, but I imagined this is what it might sound and look like. In fact – dare I say it – perhaps Florida Room combined the elements I like best from both bands, and even took things a step further? It was a tight, energetic performance, with perfectly-placed harmonies to boot. I tend to be forgiving of tuning issues with vocals – it can be really difficult to hear yourself, let alone each other on stage – but no such allowances were necessary…the harmonies were pitch-perfect.

I would have attempted to write a full review of the night as a standalone blog, but that wouldn’t be fair to the last band – Talk In Colour – who I didn’t get to hear at all. An electronic/classical fusion, they seem fascinating from what I’ve read and heard on their website, and I’m sure they were also great live…they had a huge harp with them on stage, too! Annoyingly, whilst serendipity had served me well in the hours before the gig, it then abandoned me. When I’d booked train tickets (and decided against staying the night in London), Virgin Soldiers were due to be off stage by 9:20pm, and we’d planned to leave at 9:50pm to make absolutely sure we didn’t miss our last train (i.e. we’d have caught all of VS’s set, and a little bit of the last band, too). Now, Virgin Soldiers weren’t due on stage until 9:20pm, and (following some technical problems) they weren’t able to get underway until around 9:40pm. We knew we’d have to leave at some point during Virgin Soldiers’ set, but we were in even more of a panic due to the Tube website announcing that there were delays caused by a ‘trespasser on the line’ (stupid person – assuming it was a person – didn’t they know I was trying to stay at the gig as long as possible?!) Even though we were cutting things far too fine for our liking, we still only caught two songs…TWO SONGS! I suppose it’s two songs more than we’d have heard if we’d caught the Megabus at 6pm; we did get to hear two out of the other three acts live, and if we’d wanted to stay later we’d have had to fork out for accommodation (remember, I wasn’t being reimbursed by the job people). Still, I’m really glad the day worked out as it did. Thinking about it, if I’d booked accommodation, we’d have been checking in and sorting out other such mundanities instead of waiting outside the venue when Virgin Soldiers arrived…perhaps serendipity hadn’t abandoned me after all.

Thistledown

Thistledown will be playing at Swansea University‘s Summer Ball on 5th June 2012!

The annual event, a popular end-of-year or end-of-university bash organised by Student Swansea Events and Swansea University Students’ Union, features headliners Pixie Lott and Tim Minchin, as well as many other live music acts, DJs, arenas, bars and even a funfair.

More information can be found at their Facebook event page: http://www.facebook.com/SB12GreatBritishGardenParty

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Flying off the edge of the PhD ‘cliff’

I think I’ve finally sussed why I’m so resistant to moving away to find a job. It’s nothing to do with the act of moving away itself (well, a little, but I could overcome that). It’s because I generally like change to happen slowly, and so many things beyond my control have resulted in a rollercoaster of rapid changes recently. The enormity of university finally coming to an end (i.e. really, this time) has been gradually hitting me over the past few months, and such a major constant in my life simply falling away means I’m clutching at the remnants (music, radio, etc.), and I’m highly resentful of the expectation that I should give these up too.

In retrospect, the end of my PhD now feels like the scene in one of the trailers for the recent rebooted Star Trek film. The young James Kirk increases speed towards a cliff, intending to brake before flying into the abyss, but fails to do so. Unlike Kirk, however, I didn’t jump from the car and cling on to the cliff edge with my bare hands as the car plummeted, but went into freefall. In fact, I don’t think I even bothered to brake. Being expected to ‘take the leap’ into the unknown world of postdocs is like being told “have faith, there WILL be an inflatable at the bottom of your fall to catch you!”, but I can’t see it. I also have a grappling hook gun, and I’m being asked to ‘choose’ not to use it!

I come up with weird analogies I know, but that’s what it feels like. The grappling hook represents restarting all of the things I’ve given up, and making more connections to strengthen my roots. All I have to do is pull the trigger, and I’ll be fine, but the longer I leave it, the further I’ll have to climb to get back.

However, if I hit the bottom, even if it’s a soft landing, what if I decide to fire the grappling hook then, and it falls short, simply plummeting back towards me and landing with an almighty clattering sound?

Gig review: Stars and Flights w/s Frontline Fire, The Peppermint Hunting Lodge @ The Duke, Neath

The Duke (full name: The Duke of Wellington, though I’ve only ever heard one person utter its full name, causing me to wonder where on earth they were talking about) is a fairly unique venue. Many of those who wander Neath (South Wales, UK) town centre during daylight have been deceived into thinking that the pub is inactive, but – especially musically – this couldn’t be further from the truth, with the venue being a desired ‘rite of passage’ for local bands, and host to an international diversity of usual and unusual acts.

The first time I ventured into The Duke was a fair few years ago, to see Supergene, a band that had been featured on ITV Wales’s ‘Unsigned’ show (which sadly no longer exists). From the minute I heard their music, I knew that I HAD to see them, but nearly didn’t go inside the pub due to being intimidated by its outer appearance. Luckily, I had my cousin for backup, and headed through the doors to a welcoming friendly bunch, some of whom were musicians, and some of whom were good friends who I wasn’t expecting to see…nor were they expecting to see me in The Duke (being of the opinion it wasn’t ‘my kinda place’). It’s yet another cautionary tale to remind us not to always judge a book by its cover, or in this case a pub by its exterior.

Supergene were (and still are) amazing, but this review isn’t about them, of course. Fast forward to 2012, and I (along with mum and dad) have come to see Frontline Fire, a three-piece rock band from Port Talbot (South Wales, UK), who I recently featured on The Unchart on Off The Chart Radio. Perhaps this makes me naturally biased – I do try not to be when writing a review – but in my honest opinion they set the bar at the highest position of the night. The acoustics of The Duke being what they are, the balance wasn’t perfect when they kicked off, but the band demonstrated self-awareness and could be seen adjusting their amps to reach an ‘optimum sound’ fairly quickly. Their set was tight, punchy and enthusiastic, creating a large and rich sound which was more than the sum of its parts. All of the musicians played brilliantly, but it was difficult not to notice some particularly intricate electric guitar work. They also interacted well with the crowd, and this was reciprocated in their response to the music.

Next up were cleverly-named band The Peppermint Hunting Lodge (though it was actually mum who spotted the joke…clue: we think it’s a nod to a certain well known gentleman’s club). They took great care over their soundchecks, spending a significant time setting the volume of the synthesizer, but once they started it was clear this was motivated by a desire to sound ‘just right’. Self-professed pioneers of ‘spacerock’, their music was certainly innovative, and I’ve always had a high regard for performers of fast-paced electronic-heavy music who choose not to rely on pre-programmed rhythms (it’s tricky to pull off the necessary tightness convincingly, especially song after song). The vocal harmonies – I think deliberately – replicated a double-tracking sound that could have been generated by an effects pedal, but the fact that they achieved this in real-time without electronic assistance was a nice touch. The combination of elements certainly bounced, resulting in a no-holds-barred melting pot of bass, guitar, drums and synth. The playing of the electronic and non-electronic instruments complemented each other really well, another quality which is difficult to achieve live, and deserves credit. Sometimes the aforementioned metaphorical melting pot could’ve been said to be overfilled, with a couple of the songs reaching my screamo limit, but additionally – since the quality of the singing was good throughout – I didn’t feel it was artistically necessary to ‘feature’ quite so much of it. Having said that (my screamo prejudice aside), overall I liked it. The crowd response was slightly more muted, and I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps the fact that this band hailed from the Forest of Dean, whereas the other two bands originated much closer to home (Port Talbot and Neath respectively) had repercussions on the number of fans in attendance.

The proud hometown headliners were Stars & Flights, a band whose name I’ve heard mentioned an enormous number of times over the past few months, which perhaps put them at an unfair disadvantage in terms of my expectations. I was waiting to be blown away by the band with such a reputation preceding them, but instead I received a gentle breeze, in an underwhelming rather than a soothing sense. It’s not at all fair for me to say that they were ‘bad’ – they weren’t – but in context, the running order now felt completely back-to-front, and my opinion remained unchanged to the end. The drummer and bassist looked like they were having fun, but they and the vocalist felt separate somehow, and the resulting sound ended up being lacklustre. I feel horribly harsh for saying so, but especially after being treated by the previous two bands (in very different ways!), I’m afraid I was left wanting. The level of local support was obvious in the crowd response, however, which was the loudest of the night.

LINKS
The Duke, Neath (Myspace)
Frontline Fire (Myspace)
The Peppermint Hunting Lodge (Myspace)
Stars & Flights (Myspace)

Minchin Impossible

Tim Minchin is well-known for his whimsical, satirical, and downright hilarious musical contributions. Comedians in general are often tempted to tread dangerously close to the line that should not be crossed, with some (such as Jimmy Carr, for example) seemingly getting away with skipping over the line and back again under the guise of being ‘cheeky’. Unfortunately, Mr. Minchin seems to have discovered a hard line, rocketed past it, and didn’t get away with it at all.

The furore surrounds the song ‘Woody Allen Jesus’, which was due to be broadcast on The Jonathan Ross Show on Friday 23rd December 2011 (also featuring Tom Cruise and the Downton Abbey girls amongst others), but the footage was left on the cutting room floor after ITV’s Director of Television made an executive decision to remove it from the show. The news sparked several Twitter messages and Facebook statuses, as well as a variety of opinions voiced as comments on Tim’s own blog (to read Tim’s side of the story on his blog, and to view the readers’ comments, click here).

Having watched the video outtake on YouTube, I’ll admit I’m in two minds. In summary, the song attempts to draw parallels between Jesus and contemporary famous figures, which in many ways (since Tim is never anti-Jesus or anti-Christianity in the song itself) could be perceived as praising Jesus in his own unique way. However, whilst I’m all for free speech, and not someone who is super-religious, there are parts of the song that don’t sit well with me. Linking Jesus to Woody Allen (“short, Jewish, philosophical, a bit hesitant”, as Tim says on his blog)…that’s mildly amusing. I particularly liked the link to the Komodo dragon. The problem seemed to stem from the zombie link (Tim’s not alone in making this connection of course, death followed by resurrection etc.). Zombies are generally portrayed as evil (or at least mindlessly violent), which Jesus certainly wasn’t, whether you believe He was the Son of God, God himself, or simply an inherently good man. Worse, perhaps, was the reference to Jesus having a “fetish for drinking blood”. Maybe I’m wrong, but to my knowledge, He and his disciples only ever did this once (and this was metaphorical…He may have turned water into wine, but never turned wine into blood).

I often wonder why some of us refrain from saying something we think may offend, or at the very least, try to find a more tactful way to deliver the same message. On the other hand, there are those (comics particularly, perhaps) who go ahead and say it anyway. With free speech comes responsibility for the consequences. Tim Minchin comments on his blog that he is “f****** disappointed”, but I get the impression he’s disappointed that ITV’s Director of Television wasn’t more open-minded and appreciative of his work, rather than being disappointed in himself for not being more careful in dealing with controversial material. As a performer, I imagine Tim thinks predominantly of the immediate and future reaction of his fans, whereas ITV have ‘little’ things like the Ofcom Broadcasting Code to consider. Comedy receives some leniency, but there’s obviously a limit.

My mum’s hypothesis is that the material may have been pulled from the show more for Jonathan’s sake than anyone elses. Mr. Ross sums things up fairly well in his own words, saying to Tim after his performance, “you’ve got some balls doing that on a Christmas show”. Coming from Ross’s perspective (in case you’ve forgotten, I refer you to Sachsgate), this must mean it was pretty dangerous stuff!

Should it have been pulled? I’m not sure. If I’d been in charge, I’d have laughed too, but I think I’d have found it very difficult to justify NOT pulling it. It was undeniably clever, and as always with Tim Minchin, musically brilliant. Problem is, it was also venturing into ‘no-go’ areas of religion…at Christmas! Tricky.

(Having said all this, I haven’t stopped being a fan, I’ve just become a slightly more sceptical one…)

Thistledown’s new recordings…I’m on them!

Thistledown have released full-length previews of tracks from their new EP.

Thistledown at The Bay View, Swansea (Photo © Damien Rosser Photography)

Lead singers Loz Fancourt and Nathan Laurence have been performing contemporary original folk music, separately and together, at several local festivals and venues in the Swansea area. Thistledown’s sound has evolved from Loz and Nathan’s collaborations with several local musicians over the past few years, including Jamie Nemeth (Henry Marten’s Ghost, Bigfoot), Adam Carter (Nucleus), James Beck and Josh Ace (Ringolevio, Chineapple Punks).

The current five-piece line-up include Loz (guitar, lead vocals), Nathan (guitar, mandola, flute, lead vocals), Jamie (fiddle), Adam (drums, backing vocals), and Billy Morris on bass guitar, creating a catchy folk-rock sound that has been described by one fan as “modern celtic”.

‘The Girl In The Ink’ contains numerous references to the Swansea music scene, already prompting some fans to quote the song on their social network statuses, and has already received airplay on Off The Chart Radio, where it is currently being featured on their weekly listener-driven unsigned chart show, The Unchart. This song, as well as ‘Rags and Riches’, ‘You Are’ and ‘I’ve Been Told’ (featuring James Beck on electric guitar) can be listened to using the player below.

Their next gig will be at The Uplands Tavern, Swansea on Boxing Day. The event is free, with support from Josh Ace and Steffan Tucker.

If you enjoy Thistledown, why not give the band a ‘like’ on Facebook?

Tech Review: Kobo eReader Touch

If Nemeth reads his own blog on his Kobo, will he break the Nemethsphere?

eReaders – or more specifically – eBook-readers with electronic paper (e-paper) displays have been around since 2004, but the mighty promotion of the Kindle by Amazon has certainly influenced the awareness of the general public. Now, it seems, WHSmith want to join this elite group of brand-powered eReader retailers with their launch of the Kobo. I’ve bought the touchscreen edition (Kobo eReader Touch), currently retailing in-store at £109.99.

The next fact might astonish you…I don’t read eBooks! My criteria for a suitable eReader therefore differ significantly from the average bookworm. In fact, it’s been a while since I read a non-science-related book throughout, electronic or otherwise. However, I have collected rather a lot of research papers as PDFs, which I need to refresh myself on before my viva (a spoken exam that’s based on my PhD thesis). I’ve also wanted a device with an e-paper display for a long time, but common sense (and a plummeting bank balance) meant that not just any eReader would do.

The Kobo eReader Touch has been the first, in my opinion, to ‘fit the bill’. Most eReaders will cost you the best part of £100, or even slightly more. For this price, and considering that I won’t be using the device (pre- or post-viva) predominantly for eBooks, the Kindle (with its proprietary eBook format) is an option I shied away from, despite its popularity. In fairness to the Kindle, it can import several file formats via the internet or a PC with Amazon software, but the Kobo supports a wide range of formats natively.

I dragged-and-dropped my entire collection of research papers onto the device, which appears as a standard Mass Storage device (just like any Flash drive), keeping the files in their existing directory structure. Whilst the Kobo got a few PDF titles wrong, and doesn’t separate the files according to the directory structure, it considers all documents of all formats with equal importance, allowing you to access PDFs, ePUBs, JPGs etc., just like any eBook. This has it’s pros and cons, but is something I desired (for example, there is a website for folk tunes which gives sheet music as JPGs). Having watched several online videos of the Kobo being unboxed and tested, I was familiar with the Home screen of the device. I’ll admit that the menu item ‘Books’ caused me some concern, since I envisaged having to delve beneath several menus to eventually uncover a ‘read PDFs’ option. I am glad to report this is not the case! In fact, the menus on the Kobo are generally easy to navigate, and nothing on the device is obscured. Even the device’s unsupported ‘extra features’ are only two levels below the Home screen, which includes a sketch feature, Sudoku (which I’ve never had the time or the patience for, but I don’t object to it being there and someone else might enjoy it) and a basic web browser. In fact, the browser contains another subtle surprise of relevance to researchers. Many reviews stated that whilst eBooks could be bought from the Kobo bookstore via WiFi, they implied that PDFs could only be transferred to the device via USB. However, clicking on a PDF download link in the web browser will send the file directly to the main memory, where it can be read immediately, just like any eBook.

The touch interface comes into its own when reading PDFs. Luckily, many research papers are in two-column format, and a double-tap will zoom a single column to a comfortably-readable level (200% zoom). With only a few minutes’ use, the scrolling feels intuitive, and is certainly superior to fiddling with a laptop touchpad to scroll around a PDF on a screen that isn’t as nice to read from as e-paper. With good light (and good eyesight), it’s even possible to read an entire A4 page on the 6″ display, which isn’t a million miles away from saving paper by printing two-pages-per-side (A5-size), which many researchers do regularly. At 167 ppi (pixels per inch), the Kobo’s display is just over half the resolution of typical laser printer output at 300 dpi (dots per inch). It’s a noticeably lower resolution, but the text is clear. It’s also likely that the Kobo has a resolution at least comparable to, or even higher than the screen you’re reading this on right now, assuming you’re sat at a computer of course. For comparison, the screen on the laptop I’m using now is 13.3″ diagonal and has around 128 ppi resolution, but is only half an inch taller than the Kobo’s screen is long. I have been known to resize a PDF to fit vertically, in order to read it whilst typing in the other half of the screen.

As a Star Trek (and general sci-fi) fan, I’m ecstatic to finally own a PADD, or at least the nearest I can get to it in the 21st-century. In Star Trek, the PADD is a multipurpose tablet with a display and very few buttons, but is generally intended to be read rather than actively ‘used’. Similarly, an eReader isn’t intended to be constantly updated, like a smartphone or tablet with its widgets and other animations. Instead, it’s designed to provide an easy-to-read, static display most of the time. When I do need to ‘use’ the Kobo, however, I find the interface pleasant to use, responsive, and NOT irritating…apart from the odd mistyped character using the on-screen keyboard, I’ve never found myself shouting “no, that’s not what I wanted to do…never mind” at my Kobo, something I can’t say about any other touch devices I’ve borrowed (such as my sister’s iPod Touch) or even my own computer. Some have criticised the screen refresh of the Kobo (and other eReaders) to be ‘slow’, but I find it’s more responsive than I expected it to be, and I’d argue it’s ‘responsive enough’…sometimes it’s good to be slowed down in your tracks, anyway (think how many times you’ve opened several windows on a PC by impatient repetitive clicks, for example, due to the expectation that something should happen instantaneously on command). Plus, to a sci-fi fan, the aesthetics of a slightly-delayed response has an appeal which I’m sure was unintended by the manufacturers!

Admittedly, this is a biased review since the Kobo is the only eReader I own (though I have tried the Kindle). Comparing displays on the Kobo, the newest Kindles and Sony eReaders (as well as others) is a moot point since many now use the same 6″ e-Ink Pearl display. For me though, for text entry, a touch interface or a keyboard would be a must…the idea of using a D-pad to navigate around an on-screen keyboard makes me physically queasy, and takes me back to my days of playing Lemmings on the Game Boy, resenting having to type in a four-letter code using just the up, down and ‘A’ keys in order to restart the game at a particular level (though bizarrely it did teach me to be able to recite the alphabet in reverse). On entering the fifth character, I’d be making a concerted effort not to throw the non-keyboarded Kindle or the non-touch Kobo at the nearest wall. Perhaps my frustration stems from the fact that I’m a touch-typer; as a consequence, my QWERTY thumb-typing is many times faster than the average person’s two-finger-typing. Giving me an on-screen keyboard and a D-pad would be like Michael Schumacher being given a BMX to ride around Brands Hatch while everyone else used their F1 cars. I’d find it excruciating…it’s hard enough for me to tolerate texting on a standard mobile keypad nowadays!

So, in summary: I love my Kobo already. I don’t read eBooks, but the Kobo store comes with loads of free classics if I’m ever tempted. It reads PDFs natively, and I can carry my four-year cache of PDF-format research papers around in a device the size and thickness of a small table mat, all of which only fill up half of the 1.5 GB internal memory (making the 4 GB expansion card I bought for it redundant for now). The battery allegedly lasts a month; I haven’t even had the device that long, but it hasn’t run out of charge yet. The onboard web browser can download PDFs directly to the device. Though not-at-all related to a specific eReader, the free and open-source software Calibre, amongst other eBook management functions, can be used to import news onto the Kobo via RSS feeds, making it a newspaper too.

Jamie is happy…as happy as the Kobo’s startup screen.

Un-physics 3

Perhaps this should really be entitled ‘Un-physics 2a’ as it’s been posted so shortly after Un-physics 2.

I heard an advert today on Nation Radio, for a bar called The Old Library in Cardiff. After some information about the venue and the quality of the food, we were informed that we must get our party bookings in before November 31st.

Yes, I definitely heard right, and you definitely read correctly…November 31st.

I’m not an elitist, but whilst I can understand some confusion over the number of days in February, I guess I took it for granted that everyone remembered at least the first couple of lines of the school-taught phrase:

Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and…November.

(I’m so tempted to ring up on December 1st, apologising profusely for missing the deadline…”I knew I should have phoned up on November 30th, but I made the mistake of putting it off just one more day!”)

Un-physics 2

Last night’s ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ (or TOWIE, as some would abbreviate) provided a whopper to restart my Un-physics posts!

“Did you know…the sun and the moon are, like, two different planets?”

I’m afraid I don’t follow the series closely enough to tell you which ‘character’ said this, though I’m sure someone will be able to tell me (I know what she looks like). I’m just glad I wasn’t near a wall; either the wall or my head would have been seriously damaged by me hitting my head against it repeatedly.

There are some things I can forgive. Pluto used to be a planet, Sedna (by the same token) isn’t really a planet either, according to scientists, but at least the distinction between a small rock and a big rock is more of a grey area (pun intended).

Perhaps I could even forgive calling the moon a planet.

But the sun? I’m pretty sure it’s a star. A swirling ball of gas. Planets can’t be described in that way! Well, except for Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune…but…but…that’s entirely different…they’re not stars!

plan·et (noun): A celestial body moving in an elliptical orbit around a star.

The star is our sun, therefore cannot also be a planet orbiting itself. The moon technically orbits the earth, but the earth-moon system orbits the sun, so this is open to debate. There are no nuclear reactions going on inside the gas giants either…not that I’m aware of, anyway. The sun and the moon are very different ‘planets’ indeed!