DVD intro’s

Dear DVD and Bluray editors,

When you’re putting together a DVD or Bluray to sell to the general public can I make a heartfelt request.

Can you please just bring up a functional menu ASAP!

Seriously, can we drop all the unskippable anti-piracy ads, trailers for other films from the same studio and animated menu’s and just sit at a simple menu waiting for us to select “Play Film”.

And what’s with ad’s being unskippable? remind me who the player belongs to again? and the disc? why do you think that I should have to sit through this five minute collection of stuff I don’t want to see just to get to the thing that I do want to see. and then when the menu does come up, it swishes and whirls and stuff moves and characters talk to you but you can’t actually do anything until it finishes.

All this crap is just making me want to download the film instead of paying good money for it. At least then all the nonsense is cut out and I just get the film.

If you want to see how to do it right, go look at the “Superbit” version of the Fifth Element. You put it in the player, there’s a 2 second Columbia logo and then it just sits at a menu.

I know it means that I don’t get to see your amazing artwork but frankly I don’t want to. Just let me watch the film I bought.

Visited the Playfactor-e the other day

So at a recent visit to the chillfactore Charlotte and I discovered there’s a children’s play centre on the other side of the same building, the playfactore. Had a peer in the front door and it all looks very impressive. The section for 5-11′s is seven stories tall at one end, with a slide from the top to the bottom. Looks awesome…

We couldn’t see the toddler section as it was round a corner, but two days ago Charlotte and I decided to take Becky there.

The toddler section (1-5yo’s) was not as impressive as the children’s section, but then again, it’s probably a good thing it wasn’t 7 stories tall. The toddlers section was alright though, nothing overly impressive but pretty decent. Becky spent a decent amount of time climbing up into the structure and sliding down the slides.

It also had a rather nice sensory room, with a bubble column and other colourful things in it, and another little area with sit-in cars. All in all, not bad but for toddlers, nothing outstanding.

The real kicker though was the price of entry. Normally we pay about £3.50 or so for entry to a play area. That gets Becky and us in and Becky plays until she’s too tired. We might buy lunch in the attached mini-café or pub, or simply go home.

The playfactore charged £5.95 for becky, which I might add is the off-peak price (normally £7.95) and then charged Charlotte and I £2.95 each just to be there! (again, off-peak price).

Okay, I get that the main kids area looks pretty awesome, but we weren’t in it. The toddler area is pretty decent, but no more than that. I really don’t think it’s worth it to go out of our way to take Becky there in preference to more local kids play-centres which are frankly just as good.

And why on earth are they charging adults to be in there? With Becky being under two, Charlotte and my role there is basically to help her climb the steps to get back to the top of the slides and keep an eye on her. Once she can climb up herself reliably and be a bit better on her feet, we’ll be sitting at a nearby table talking, reading a book or browsing the internet on our phones. We’re not there for us, but for her. Do any other play centres charge the adults to be there, or am I just being provincial in the smaller centres I’ve been to?

When Becky is over 5 and can go into the main kids area (with the multiple stories, giant slide and laser tag) then it might be worth trying again as the big play area looks impressive, but then it had better as the peak time 5yo+ children’s price jumps to £10.95! Plus the peak cost per adult (£3.95) and it starts to get very expensive. Not planning on hosting a kids party there anytime soon!

Frankly I don’t think we’ll be taking Becky there again for some time, not at those prices!

PS. they make a nice pizza though, cooked in a proper looking pizza oven. of course, that’s not cheap either…

Drops vs Flats

I’m still investigating what bike to buy. I know it’s been a while and I’ve still not bought anything but this is what I do. I do masses of homework into future big purchases before actually spending any money… well, when I say homework I mostly mean reading everything I can about the subject on the internet; reviews, forums posts, comparative equipment levels, statistics etc etc.

So I’ve been reading about lots of different bikes that I might like to short-list but there’s one big question I need to resolve before I can have a proper shortlist.

Do I buy a bike with flat or dropped handlebars?

To put it into perspective, my current bike is a flat-barred mountain bike and I’ve only ever ridden flat barred bikes (with an exception I’ll come to in a minute). Now I’m riding more and for longer distances, I’m noting that my hands get tired fairly quickly. I find myself sitting further upright and gently leaning with the top of my palms on the handlebars from time to time for a change (do you know what I mean?). I feel like I need some options for hand placement. Better grips and bar ends perhaps?

Of course my voracious reading leads me to dropped handlebars. The internet tells me that drops aren’t just for riding with head low and bum high, in what looks like a weird and uncomfortable position. Apparently the great things about them is the variety of positions one can put ones hands in. The tops, shoulders, hoods, hooks and drops are all positions on the bars one can swap between either when hands get tired, or to attain a certain postion, ie the tucked aero racer position in the hooks and drops vs the sit up position from the tops and shoulders, and the halfway postion on the hoods.

Well, this sounds appealing, and there’s lots of cool looking bikes with dropped handlebars but I’ve read enough to also know that for some people, it’s also quite a personal choice. I wouldn’t want to spend lots of money on a drop barred bike and then hate it.

Here of course, my ability to do homework on my laptop runs out and I have to have a go on one. I’m fortunate that a friend has kindly lent me a drop barred bike. I don’t recall what model but it’s a single-speed road bike with skinny tyres. I’ve taken it out once so far for a ride of a few miles and so far I’m more confused than before!

Admittedly the geometry of this bike feels very long, and I felt very stretched out on it. I believe this is because it’s a proper road bike and that’s not quite what I’m looking for however I’m hoping that despite this, I can come to some conclusion about drop bars.

That first ride was fairly short but interesting and I tried to experience the various positions available to me on the ride.

  • Tops – This position felt fine, if pretty narrow. I’m more used to having my hands much wider. Of course I had no brakes available here.
  • Shoulders – I probably ended up spending most time here. Wider than the tops and it was nice being able to put my hands in a forward oriented position rather than horizontal. Still no access to brakes.
  • Hoods – These kinda felt okay but too far away. I suspect this might well because the geometry of the bike was stretching me out longer than I really wanted. I had access to the brakes though, and I’d hope that in a less stretched bike I’d be happier with this position.
  • Hooks and Drops – I expected not to like this position too much as I thought I’d feel too bent into a strange shape, but actually I didn’t mind it too much for shortish periods. I got to pretend like I knew what I was doing :) best for access to the brakes too.

That makes it all look pretty successful, but what really got me was how out of control I felt! I felt wobbly and unsure most of the way round, especially at slower speeds[1]. when standing on the pedals to climb a hill (single speed, no spinning) it felt like I might fall off. Maybe the bike was just quite twitchy or maybe I’m really not used to having a control bar that’s so narrow? Maybe it’s just something that one gets used to and after a couple of weeks practise, it all becomes second nature? My fear is that I assume it will and it doesn’t.

Last weekend by the way I was in the Deansgate Evans cycles (where they were actually very helpful, unlike the Chill Factor-e evans the previous week) and I sat on one of these (which my uneducated mind still thinks looks pretty neat and much better specced that the name brand alternatives) and it didn’t feel nearly so stretched out. I suspect I might be a lot more comfortable on something that’s more relaxed. I might have to have a ride on it I guess.

Anyway, I could just go and buy a bike with flat bars and then perhaps go out of my way to make sure that I have some really nice grips and bar-ends to use (my homework has pointed out the Ergon GP5‘s already). This would cater to what I know, I’d feel dead comfortable with it pretty immediately and my hands ought to be a lot more comfortable. But of course, most road bikes have drop bars so I can’t help thinking that there must be something to this choice? Surely it can’t all be Lance Armstrong wannabees (or can it)? I don’t want to waste money on something I don’t like, but conversely I dont want to spend money on something just because it’s familiar and then outgrow it quickly…

Obviously I need some more rides on this borrowed bike to get a better idea and when the rain lets up I intend to go out again but I was wondering if anyone wanted to share their experiences or offer any advice?

[1] Oh, at one point on the ride I came up to a spot where the bike path crossed a main road. I got to the island in the middle without stopping but then had to stop for the second half. the bike I’ve borrowed has top-clips on the pedals which I’ve never used before. I came to a stop for the traffic and then very slowly, toppled over sideways (not into traffic thankfully) as I completely failed to get my feet out of the toe clips in time to catch myself… *sigh* not exactly a james bond moment…

So I’m looking at bikes…

I’ve kinda got into cycling recently using an old but more recently refurbished Nishiki Altron mountain bike I had as a teenager and I’ve really been enjoying it. I’ve been riding around the local area and I’m now trying to go a little further. My longest ride is just over 20 miles and I know that’s not a lot in the grand scheme of things but as I get the time I’m trying to improve on that. My next distance goal is 30 miles and after that, dunno, 50?

Now I’m thinking that perhaps I ought to buy something more modern. I have some frustrations with the old bike; the brakes (centre-pull cantilevers) aren’t great, the gears (Shimano Altus) seem to mis-change quite often and I’m hoping I’d benefit from something better.

I tend to ride on roads and cycle paths mostly. Some of the paths are paved but some are just gravel or forest path type things. I’m enjoying doing some distance though, seeing nice sights. I’m not planning on entering any races anytime soon for obvious reasons, but I’d like to continue enjoying my rides and be comfortable and do some miles.

So the question is, what should I buy?

I know I don’t want a mountain bike. I don’t ride that kind of terrain nor do I really want to.

A road bike maybe? well, I’ve never ridden a bike with drop bars before and I’m planning on borrowing one to have a go and see what I think. I’m kinda assuming that it’ll be fine for now but what I’m wondering is, how fragile are they?

obviously they’ll be fine/great on roads and paved paths, but how are they on unpaved paths gravel roads. could you do the trans-pennine trail on it for example or would it be likely to get damaged or would it just suffer punctures all the time? Would you want to ride on the trans-pennine trail or would it be massively uncomfortable?

Then there’s the legion of hybrids in-between. I was quite taken with some of the cyclocross type bikes out there (the more relaxed commuter type ones obviously). they look like slightly tougher road bikes with disc brakes, and I kinda fancy disc brakes and they must be better than what I have now. would that be a better choice?

Of course maybe I should ignore this drop bar malarky and get a flat barred bike instead? A local bike shop was pointing me towards a Giant Roam 1 for example.

so give me your opinions folks. Is the cyclocross style thing a great combination of speed and comfort or should I stop worrying and just buy some kind of racing snake ultra-light road bike in the sales and continue to ride everything I do now? Are drop bars over-rated and maybe I should find a nice flat barred bike to cruise around on?

I’d love to hear some opinions…

Bikes I’ve been looking at/reading about:

Cyclocross style:
Boardman Team CX
Specialized Tricross Disc
Pinnacle Arkose Three (I actually quite liked this one, I know it’s a house brand but it seems well specced and nice enough)
Genesis Croix de Fer/Day One Alfine (can’t afford the Alfine 11)
Cotic X

Road bikes
Pinnacle Evaporite
(Others.. I know even less about road bikes)

Flat bar bikes
Giant Roam 1
Cotic Roadrat Alfine

Whatever I get, I want it to be relatively low maintenance. I want it to brake well and shift gears cleanly and I’ll probably fit mudguards, maybe a rear rack too. I don’t want to get punctures either.

So my biking chums, give me the benefit of your accumulated wisdom. what kinda thing should I be looking at?

Becky more keen on riding

At 5pm tonight I asked Becky if she wanted to go for a bike ride and she said “yeah, hat on!”. A distinct change from when we first put a cycling helmet on her in Halfords and she cried the place down until we took it off.

Now she seems to like putting her helmet on and sitting behind me in her little kiddie chair. Ace!

[ride id=21518370 som="english"]

*lympics

I wasn’t keen on the idea of the UK hosting the olympic games as I thought it was a vast waste of money. It probably still is but I must admit that I’ve watched much more of the olympics and paralympics than I though I would. they’ve been very good.