Monday, April 22, 2013

Newton Faulkner - If This Is It ...

Just discovered this singer-songwriter, from local to me, Reigate (Surrey) - seems everyone 'in the know' has been aware of him for ages .... but I just love this song.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

And This Is Why #Adobe Sucks ...

From xkcd.

Come To The Dark Side... We Have Arabica Here ...

As a motorcyclist my licence is precious to me - so I don't really drink alcohol. And after working for an alcohol and drug dependency charity and seeing the effects of the demon drink, I'm even less attracted to the stuff. Except a very occasional glass of wine, at home.

Add to that ; the fact that most of my biker mates are the same, it means we tend to socialise in coffee bars and tea rooms rather than pubs. In fact on a 'biker day out' we tend to hop from one source of caffeine to another - it's been that way in the fraternity for 50 years, hence the term 'cafe racer'.

So I've become - sadly - a coffee snob. Sorry about that.

And when it comes to the decent stuff, I'm constantly searching for the best caffeine fix. To paraphrase author Lee Child in one of his Reacher books, my need for caffeine makes heroin addiction look like a little take-it-or-leave-it sideline.

So here's the problem... I also strive to shop ethically. I will not pass my money over to a corporation that; damages the earth; or poisons our environment; or uses child or forced labour; or refuses to pay it's whack in taxes.

The British High Street tends to have at least one outlet of the top three chain brands of coffee store in the UK. Here's why I now frequent none of them.


After making £ Billions of profit in the UK over the last few years and paying minimal or no tax, leading to a public backlash, it is only pressure of actions by groups such as UKUncut that has led to Starbucks 'volunteering' to pay up in 2013. That's nice of them.

So clearly Starbucks is out - just as well, as frankly what they call coffee I wouldn't soak my engine parts in it. To call it 'weak, flavourless - yet bitter - American crap' would be a compliment - and Starbucks cynical misuse and disregard of the FairTrade movement - while using the FT logo for marketing - has also been noted.

Caffe Nero

So in the last two years I've rather become a devotee of Caffe Nero; fine brews, and excellent staff, at least in my local Surbiton outlet, but that's all had to stop - as Nero's own issues with tax have been publicised.

And that's a damn shame, because their baristas are really well trained. They claim to make the best coffee this side of Milan, and I would not have doubted it.

Which leaves me with...

Costa Coffee

Costa have enjoyed quite an uplift from the misfortunes of Starbucks and Nero. The problem is, frankly, their blends are rather bland. To the average caffeine palette they might be fine - but I need more kick and more variety.

And Costa don't keep cinnamon behind the counter. That's just criminal.

The Independents

So I'm left with one choice - and in the end, the choice was obvious from the start. Local, independently-owned cafes have finally woken up to the demand for decent brews and started marketing themselves as an ethical choice. And started selling decent stuff.

In my area Surbiton - just outside London - I've tried them all and can now reveal that the best in Surbiton is :

[insert drum roll or dramatic pause as you see fit]

The PressRoom

Undoubtedly the best. And strangely enough, I can't put my finger on why. The coffee is first-rate - that really goes without saying, for me just to cross the threshold.

Service was efficient, effortless, and quick. The decor is relaxed and subtle without being 'let's-pretend-we're-in-Rome' pretentious. Wifi signal was pretty good, too, with the password given willingly and not grudgingly as I've had in other locations.

I just felt... comfortable there. Almost though, as a customer, I was actually - shock - welcome through their doors. I felt I could linger and not have the barista's eyes staring daggers at me just because my cup was nearly empty.

The Press Poom.
And looking around at my fellow customers, I could see that they, too, we're 'picky' people. And we'd found a home. People not from Surbiton come to Surbiton just to get their coffee here.

Try them. You'll never drink crap coffee again. They're on Twitter as @pressroomcafe and on Facebook here.

Thankfully others are waking up to the joys of the locally owned coffee shop - there are two good listings of London's best Independents here and here.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

ScandiCrime Is Back on #BBC4 - 'The Blinded Man' ...

Those of us with withdrawal symptoms - after series III of The Killing (or Forbrydelsen) and the distinct lack of TV showing of the missing Wallander's - will be glad to know that ScandiCrime is back on BBC4 !

This Saturday sees the introduction of a new team of 'tecs to the screen in Arne Dahl's 'The Blinded Man - from his 1998 book 'Misterioso' - on BBC4 as the Beeb continues - albeit with a break - it's talent for finding the best European Crime Drama.

The Intercrime Group

The Blinded Man introduces us to the Intercrime Group, a scratched-together team of detectives with varying skills charged with solving three murders.

This is the first of five two-part shows - so we have a good ten weekends to look forward to. I've seen a preview of the show - and it's very different from previous Scandinavian shows - less violence, more actual detection, and more interplay between the characters.

Seven very different personalties - Not a 'Sarah Lund' among them

The BBC4 show preview is here - but for the real lowdown I'd suggest you check out my favourite Crime Fiction website - Dead Good Books, with their article.

Les Revenants has become a cult already.
And more - the BBC article confirms the return of Bron ('The Bridge') next winter, and elsewhere I hear that Channel 4 will show the much-talked-about French sci-fi crime thriller and already cult classic Rebound (Les Revenants) - a unique piece of work that will shock you.

The only problem for me is that I'm currently in Norway on a motorcycle break. Hopefully I'll be back by Saturday - with a bit of good fortune, I should just be pulling the motorcycle in to the driveway as the opening credits roll.

If not, it'll be BBC iPlayer on catchup for me - so no tweeting the plot, please :-)

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Using #Linux - #Ubuntu vs #Mint - The Big Battle ...

Okay, so it's no secret I'm a big Linux fan. When neither your Desktop nor Laptop get a virus or a crash for 4 years - that's *four* years - and your hardware runs faster, and does everything you want it to do, there's really no debate.

However, I must admit every time a new release is available of the 'big two' - Ubuntu and Mint - I get tempted to peruse the extra features of the new kid in town. I really should settle.

Recently, with Ubuntu's opting for the Unity interface - I'm not a fan - I dabbled with Mint 14, and liked it. A lot. I prefer Ubuntu as the core system, so to avoid Unity I installed XFCE - effectively creating my own Xubuntu distro - and I'd say this *just* pips Mint 14 as an all-round perfect environment.

I lose the 'bells and whistles' that Unity has - but if I wanted prettyness I'd buy a Mac. What I gain is sheer balls-to-the-wall performance. And with a sort-of Dark Mac theme(ish) my desktops are pretty anyway.

So I've ended up with Ubuntu's power, Xubuntu's interface, Mint's user-friendliness and a Dark Mac-ish look.

That's the power of Linux - you put a little work in, you get what you want.

But for others, especially those new to Linux, the choice between the two is close - very close. The always interesting Lifehacker site recently compared the two from the point of view of a 'Linux newbie' - here's their verdict ...

Ubuntu vs. Mint: Which Linux Distro Is Better for Beginners?

Tech-Savvy Beginners: Go With Mint ...
"If you're a tech head looking to try out Linux for the first time, I highly recommend Mint. It has a lot more room for customization than Ubuntu, so even if there are things you don't love about the interface, you can change them. Mint has also become very popular, so it has a forum full of users to help you take your first steps in learning all about Linux."
True Beginners: It's a Draw ...
"After giving both distributions to a few beginners, it's hard to pick one as the "best." I'll admit that I'm not a big fan of Unity, and I originally thought Mint was going to beat Ubuntu hands down, but the Ubuntu team has put together something pretty good. We Linux users may not like it, but beginners are a different story."
The full review is here