Monday, 1 August 2016

Dexter - All Eight Seasons

I’ve just finished a four month watch of Dexter. Eight seasons, twelve episodes per season, giving a total of almost one hundred episodes/hours. Lost time? An epiphany of tv-perfection?

Sort of both.

The journey begins as we meet Dexter Morgan, a lab technician working for modern-day Miami Metro Homicide department. He specialises in “blood spatter analysis”, but seems to be brought into each and every key murder scene, whether there is blood or not. The rest of the Department is made up initially of some two dimensional characters; the Lieutenant and Sergeant seem to manage two or three detectives, including Dexter’s sister, plus Dexter and his Forensics boss, Vince Masuka. There are plenty of other non-speaking bods wandering around doing police-type things, but the character list is kept quite tight. 

Rather importantly, Dexter is also a sociopathic serial killer in his spare time. Thankfully, as the main protagonist, he bounds his killing behaviours within a strict “Code”, taught to him by his father as a child, ensuring that he only kills deserving and dangerous baddies. Good people are safe. Phew.

Season One, after some initial exposition and setup, moves reasonably quickly into it’s season-long story arc, circling around the so called “Ice Truck Killer”; a serial killer using a quite distinctive mobile truck to kill and dismember his victims. It turns out that the “ITK” has a more than passing link to Dexter and his family, and things quickly turn very personal.

Episodes fall into a rhythm of “crime scene of the week”, but the seasonal arc starts to play a stronger part and by the end of the season, we’ve learned a lot about Dexter, his family and background, and the other main characters have started to be fleshed out.

And so this continues for a further four or so seasons. Seasonal arcs are maintained, and a longer term multi-season arc is developed. Without spoiling, this aims to ask the question “Can Dexter’s life continue in it’s current form?”.

Around season 5 things start to move into the end-game of the wider arc, and things start to get interesting. We have had a number of high profile characters die, and things really become balanced on a knife edge for Dexter.

The final two seasons (seven and eight) become a single story over twenty-four episodes, focussed on the battle between Dexter’s murderous proclivities against Dexter’s increasingly standardised life. Is Dexter a sociopath? Can he control his instincts to kill? Can he love and is it real? 

There’s so much ground covered it is difficult to sum up in a few paragraphs and without spoiling any key plot points. There’s a lot of good, namely:
  • Masuka’s comic relief turning more serious in the final seasons
  • Dexter’s sister Debra’s love life and ultimately the bond she has with her brother
  • How many hats does Angel Batista own? (More than ten)
  • Is Maria LaGuerta a good person or a bad person?
  • James Doakes - a superb counter to Dexter asking the obvious questions that no-one else asks about Dexter and his oddness.

There are also some bad:
  • The first five season’s formulaic approach to episode construction became repetitive, although this went away in the final three seasons
  • Dexter’s opportunities to simply not be at work in the day because increasingly ridiculous. I mean, everyone else was there.
  • The only person to EVER phone Dexter in the first five seasons was his sister. As soon as his phone rang I’d shout out, “It’s Debra!!”. It was.  Every time.
  • Dexter’s (dead) dad’s commentary became increasingly annoying. I began to call him “State the Bleeding Obvious” Morgan.

I enjoyed the development of characters, and although the premise limited somewhat the plot lines, I found the writers did what they could to create interesting scenarios, some posing serious questions about what love is. In some cases, Dexter was used as mirror for human behaviour to great effect. I became slightly inured  to the repetitive killing, especially by Dexter who killed at least fifty people in the course of doing “good” (see here if you don’t believe me). The ending worked well and I was sad to leave the remaining characters.

In conclusion, and to answer my first question, I found the middle seasons repetitive whilst the writers tried to come up with new situations, but the final three seasons were gripping, interesting and genuinely thought-provoking.

Goodbye Dexter….

Monday, 30 November 2015

iOS Family Sharing Fun

I do have quite a lot of Apple stuff. I used to scoff at the fanbois, as I upgraded my water-cooled graphics card in my beast-PC (before searching for a driver that actually worked). I guess I've inadvertently crossed into minor-fanboi (?) territory, mostly through bent of volume. iPhones, iPads, a Macbook, various networky things, and a heavy reliance on an Apple TV to watch hundreds of episodes of Breaking Bad and The Sopranos.

My other half has an iPhone (I bought it for her), and my step-daughter also has an iPhone (I bought that too).  The younger kids also have one of our "old" iPads. I was excited to sign us up to  "iCloud Family Sharing" last October when iOS8 was released. The main features of Family Sharing are:

1) Share all purchases with the whole family. No more duplicate purchases of songs, books and apps. Once they're bought, you can all access them. So no need to buy that Adele album 3 times.
2) All purchases from one card. i.e. mine. Sometimes not so good a feature.
3) Family members can see where each other are (unless a teenage family member disables this. More below on this).
4) Setting of certain family members as "children" which means that the adults of the family get to review and approve any purchases first. So, for example, if your seven-year old tries to download something dodge, you must approve it first from your own device. Brilliant! Mostly (see below).

So, all good stuff. There's some debate as to whether or not it's right for one of the kids to be able to remotely wipe my device, but hey, that just sounds more family hilarity to me. And do I want the kids to be able to track me? Hmmmm....

The Bad - 1
I particularly appreciated the approval process. We don't let the kids have access to anything, and there are some apps and social media that we'd rather they didn't have, and so they can't get them unless we say so.  I learned, however, that there are two exceptions to this:

1) If the said application has a matching website that can be accessed through the Safari browser. You can't download the Facebook app, for example, but you sure as hell can get to
2) If the said application had been previously downloaded by the child prior to being added to Family Sharing. So hypothetically, you could have deleted, say, Facebook from a child's device, and then added them to Family Sharing (smugly). The child's device would still be able to re-download  the Facebook app, without invoking the approvals process, because the child's device thinks that as it had it previously, it was approved. This is rather a loophole akin to starting to make all drivers take a driving test, apart from those people who were already driving around. They don't have to get a license (this is actually true here in the UK, as my grandad, now dead, was driving before mandatory tests were introduced, and therefore never took one).

The Bad - 2
I've another gripe around the location tracking. It's great to know where your errant teenagers are, but if they don't want you to know, they can just go into settings and disable Location Tracking. This is a bit rubbish as it defeats the primary purpose of having a tracking mechanism. The fix we have applied to this is to set a restriction within General Settings to not allow any changes to Location Services.  bit ham-fisted, but it works.

The Really Really Bad - 3
My final, and biggest annoyance is one that suddenly popped into being a few months ago. As mentioned above, we have a five and seven year old who share an old iPad for gaming purposes. They understand the concept that some things cost money, and that we will approve all purchases, even "free" games. So they find the game they want within the App Store, and submit it to be approved by a grown-up. The problem is that all of a sudden, whenever I am asked to approve an app/purchase, I now need to type my own password to approve each and every app. I have a modern iPhone 6S Plus, which comes with the simply amazing TouchID, allowing me to use my fingers/thumbs to sign in to iCloud, approve purchases and lots of other cool stuff. My actual iCloud password is really complex and more than 15 characters in length. You can imagine, that when TouchID suddenly stopped working for approving app requests from the family, I've rapidly started to lose patience with typing, typing and re-typing this password. I've even now limited the kids to requesting only one app a day, as getting seven requests at once for free, harmless games, required about half an hour of me carefully typing my password in. At first, I thought that this was a setting I'd inadvertently changed. But looking around on the inter-web, I'm clearly not alone. This is called a Bug.

Family Sharing is an evolving service, and over the past 12 months has had numerous updates, so I'm guessing it will continue to improve. It's become a must-have staple within our household, and I certainly recommend it to other families with an iOS ecosystem.

I'm just running out of the patience to re-type my password 20 times a day, and am thinking of changing it to something like "peter" or "123" to save my fingers.....

100,000 Genome Project and Me

The "100,000 Genome Project" is run by Genomics England. It's aim is to fully sequence 100,000 genomes from 70,000 people in the UK, providing a new genomic medicine service within the NHS, potential genetic diagnoses  to some participants and to enable new research, never before possible.

To simplify:

1) DNA: the chemicals used to encode all of the data in our chromosomes
2) Chromosomes: 22 pairs, plus the X chromosome (x2 for women, x1 for men), plus the Y chromosome for men.
3) Genome: our full set of genes, including the DNA between the genes

Sequencing of the entire set of ~20,000 genes that make up the human genome was out of reach of science until 2003, when the international (although led by the US) Human Genome Project completed after 2 decades of work, publishing for the first time in 2004. Since then, both techniques, methods and a decade of technological advances have now fully commercially developed the process to the point where in 2014 "the long-awaited $1,000 human genome" was announced by Illumina.

The 100,000 Genomes Project ("100kGP") will sequence the entire genome of 70,000 NHS patients with rare diseases and/or cancer. Family members are included, and for cancer patients, the genome of their  tumour is additionally sequenced. The hope is too fully sequence rare and, in some cases unknown, diseases and disorders, allowing them to be understood. This may even allow pre-natal fatal screening for some of these disorders. There may even be cures.

With the death of our 16 month-old daughter, Luna, this year, we were asked if we would like to participate in the project. We had already allowed for certain genetic samples to be taken whilst she was still alive, and authorised further specific samples just after her death. We also provided genetic samples.
It was a simple and painless process, somewhat marred by the ginormous amount of paperwork to be completed prior to starting. We were walked through a 10-page booklet comprising of around 40 or so questions, along with explanatory notes. I fully understand the need for this process in this litigious age. The shadow of certain "organ scandals" hung heavy in my memory as we were lead by the hand through each and every question. 

In brief, the 10 page booklet said this: 

"Hello. We will pass your samples onto other companies for some of this research. These companies will be hoping to make a profit from any potential break-throughs that the project unearths. I mean, who else would bother doing this research for free now that state-funded research is a distant memory? Also, don't get your hopes up that we'll find anything at all. Hey, if we find anything particularly shit in your DNA, do you want us to let you know?"

 This is a necessary commercial bargain, and one to which I (mostly) happily submitted to. It is unfortunately a reality that the only way that cutting-edge medical research can be afforded is through the promise of commercial reward. I agree, that in a sepia-tinted reality, the world's brightest and best would flock together, funded by all, to enhance human knowledge. We just don't have that particular filter on our Instagram reality.

I don't hold out any particular hope that anything remarkable will be found  in our own samples, or even for a retrospective diagnosis for Luna. At best, I just hope that our little, mostly selfless, blood-letting might add a page to the library of medical science.


There's no such thing as a free DNA-lunch.

Friday, 6 November 2015

New Apple TV and no Audio

So I'm a bit of an Apple fan and I'm also a bit of an AV tech fan. I've had a 3rd generation Apple TV for years, and it's a great, if simplistic, piece of kit. It's got limited functionality, but what it does, it does well and reliably. I was quite excited as the new Apple TV was announced, and on launch day, submitted my order.

Prior to the new one arriving, I moved our "old" one from the living room, where it sat proudly underneath my 50" Pioneer Kuro television, and demoted/banished it to the bedroom.

On delivery day, I excitedly ripped off the (very well done) packaging, chucked away all of the instructions (remember, I'm an "expert"), and placed the larger, shinier Apple TV in pride of place in the living room.

Then something bad happened.

I plugged in the (already present) HDMI cable to my tv, the (already present) power cable, and the (already present) optical audio cable to my amp.

Actually, I only completed the first two of these actions. The new Apple TV doesn't have an optical Audio out socket. Oh dear. You see, the new Apple TV just has an HDMI cable, which as we know is clever enough to transport both video and sound to your TV. But my TV doesn't have speakers, because it's a posh TV, and I have a separate little amp under the TV that my devices all connect to, all using the same 5.1 speaker setup. Its not a super expensive one, but it works well.

So what can I do? at the moment I can't use the new Apple TV with my living room AV setup, as the sound that comes out of it goes straight to the TV, which doesn't have any speakers, and there's no way to send the sound (and video) from the HDMI cable through the amp first and then into the tv. If I had a super-posh amplifier it might have pass-through HDMI which would take the single HDMI feed, extract the sound, and then pass on the video image to the TV over another HDMI cable.

I don't have one of these though.

So, I guiltily replaced the old Apple TV back in the living room, and took the new one into the bedroom.....

The option as I see it is to

1) put speakers on the TV/get a new TV (bad)
2) buy a new (posh) amplifier that has fancy pass through HDMI ports (bad)
3) don't use the new Apple TV in the living room!

Overall, I'm liking the new, updated UI, and the App Store has a lot of potential.  I'm just not sure why the optical audio has been removed...

So having done some digging, it seems that there are some methods to strip out the audio from the HDMI signal, and redirect it to your amp/audio device. The problem is that they're £200+......

I can't be the only person with this first-world problem?

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Luna's Legends - 3 Weeks to Go!

Hello fellow Hikers and Legends.

As promised, here is a further update on what is happening in 3 week's time:

When is it again? 
The walk itself takes place on Saturday 5th September. Sophie and I are staying over in a local B&B on the Friday night due to the very early start next morning, and on the Saturday night as we will be tired and will want a few celebratory drinks/food afterwards.
It's completely up to you whether you stay over at all, or just one night or two. Remember though that we are starting the walk at 0530 on the Saturday morning! And that after 12 hours of walking, most people will not be in a fit state to drive home.

If you haven't booked anywhere yet and are struggling/panicking about this, give Sophie or I a shout and we will help you.

Where is it?
Er... Yorkshire?

For the avoidance of doubt, we are doing the YORKSHIRE Three Peaks Challenge. That is the three highest mountains in Yorkshire. We are NOT doing the National Three Peaks Challenge. That involves flying to Scotland to do Ben Nevis. So don't do that please. We won't be there.

The three peaks in question are:
1) Pen-y-Ghent (691m)
2) Whernside (728m)
3) Ingleborough (723m)

(For reference, the highest mountain in the UK is Ben Nevis (Scotland) which is 1344m and the highest mountain in the world is Mount Everest (Nepal) at 8848m. This information is specifically included for anyone called Sophie taking part in this challenge.)

And we will walk them in the order above. It's a round trip so we start in the village of Horton-in-Ribblesdale and finish back there after walking a total of 24 miles. Ouch.

Stop Off Points/Support Vehicles
There are 2 points during the hike between peaks 1 & 2, and 2 & 3 where it would be possible and perhaps smart for us to park a car containing some water/food/etc. This means that we can reduce the amount of stuff we have to lug around on our backs. I have some large water containers that I can fill up, but I need one or two volunteers who won't mind parking their car the night before. The locations are:

1) Ribblehead Viaduct Car Park
2) Old Hill Inn/Low Sleights Road

If anyone is staying on the Friday night and could help me set this up, I think it would be really useful for the whole team. Apart from just giving us somewhere to store extra water/food, it also provides somewhere as a "drop out" point and shelter for anyone with injuries or who cannot complete the whole challenge.

I'm happy to volunteer to drop my car at one of these places, or to act as a taxi the night before/on the day for others. Let's discuss this together on the Facebook page and see who could help here?

How Much Water do I need to bring?
OK, I've been asked this a few times. I would recommend that you aim to take 2 to 3 litres of water with you on the trek. If we can get the "support vehicles" parked up the night before, then this could reduce. I'll be taking 2 litres. There are places on the route where you can buy a drink, if needed.

How Much Food?
Fatty! So I'm going to take a few packs of pre-packed sandwiches, a couple of sausage rolls (I'm proper Northern, me....) and some chocolate. If we need to, there is at least one place that we can get some food on the way (there are actually 2 pubs we will be passing.....?). Again, if the support vehicle idea works out, then we can stash some extra food in the cars to eat when we get there.

What Gear do I need to bring?
You really haven't been reading these posts, have you?! Go back to Facebook and read my previous article.

What if I need to do a Wee/Poo on the way?
Did I really just type that?? As above, there are 2 pubs on the route. If you've got, ah, some bowel condition which means you really can't go without a toilet for more than a few hours, then bring your own loo roll and we can all laugh and point as you dig a hole and get all natural. Seriously though, if people get desperate for a wee on the way and we're not near a pub, then I guess you'll just have to find somewhere quiet to do it. I won't look.

Will you have a First Aid Kit, Peter? 
Yes, although the major issues will be (a) blisters (b) falling of the top of a mountain to your death.
I can help with (a), but not (b). I'll pack some blister plasters, but I'd recommend that you have a pair of hiking socks and a pair of boots THAT YOU HAVE BROKEN IN. As per previous posts, do not turn up with labels still on your boots because i) you might get laughed at ii) you will get blisters iii) you won't finish the course as you'll be in agony from a tiny blister on the back of your heel.
If anyone else wants to grab some blister plasters from Boots then that would be helpful.

So that's it for now; watch this space for more updates!!


Wednesday, 22 July 2015

IOS 9 Beta

So I joined the iOS9 Public Beta earlier this week, and I must say it's been a pretty crap experience:

1) Interscreen swipes are jumpy and slow
2) Apps (both 3rd party and native) crash on a regular basis
3) Launching of apps is significantly slower

I've ran Apple betas in the past, and I'm fully signed up to the fact that a Beta is not the finished product. I just find it interesting to note the (perceived) "unreadiness" of this Beta. Remember that Beta is the step before release. I wonder whether or not Apple is struggling to keep up with the annual hamster wheel that it has created. With growth comes sludge.....

Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge for Luna

Luna’s Legends – Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge 

Safety First!

As you all know, I am very health and safety conscious, and am often found lounging at home in a high-vis vest, or shaking my fist at people careering past me at 70mph on the motorways. I often tell the children “taking the fun out of something is a good thing as long as we make it super-safe”.

Joking aside, I thought it would be good to help people prepare for the event with some words of caution and some pointers in terms of equipment that you should bring/buy/get.

PART 1: Don’t mess with a mountain, even a small one

So even though here in the UK our hills and mountains are pretty small compared to other areas of the world, we have something that makes them just as dangerous; exceptionally unpredictable weather.
It is really common to set out on a lovely summer’s day hike and two hours later to be huddled on the floor unable to move due to heavy fog or high winds. I’m not exaggerating. So with that in mind, I would like people to understand:

  1. We will be operating under safe hillwalking practice.  We are hiring a local guide, as I’m not comfortable being responsible for a larger group of inexperienced hikers in an area that I do not know well myself.
  2. We expect everyone to pay attention to the kit list and come prepared appropriately (see below)
  3. On the day, we need to flexible enough to decide to change goals if the weather or conditions do not support finishing the day safely.
  4. Please do some research on the route we are taking (start here). We will commence from Pen-y-Ghent.
  5. I would suggest doing some long walks for training. On the day it will likely take us between 9 and 12 hours, and although we will be taking it easy and staying together, it will be hard work.

So not wanting to spoil the mood, this is a pretty tough challenge, and I don’t want people thinking that this is a fun stroll up a few hills…

PART 2: Kit List

Regardless of the weather looking ok, bring the following:


1. Base layers. DON’T WEAR COTTON!! It will get sweaty and won’t breath and you will a) stink b) feel awful. Try stuff like this:

2. Warm Mid-layer. This is usually a soft shell or fleece. It keeps you warm and goes under your top layer

3.Outdoor waterproof layer. This is the coat that goes right on the outside, and keeps you dry. Preferably Gore-Tex or other breathable material. Will have a hood that can fit over a hat and keep you snug. Might have amusingly titled “pit zips”. Either way, get something decent. It will last for years.

4. Hiking trousers. Not jeans please. Something like this as an example.
5. Waterproof Trousers. a separate pair packed away that you can put over your trousers when you need them.  I’ve used these ones for years, but you can buy similar ones everywhere. Not exactly fashionable but when everything is wet it means you can actually sit down without getting a wet bum!

6. Warm Hat and Gloves

7. Footwear. No trainers (obviously). Make sure they have decent soles (Vibram etc), and have ankle support. Doesn’t matter if they are leather or synthetic, we aren’t ice climbing in winter. But please please please do not turn up with a brand new pair of boots you have not worn before. Make sure you do a few miles in them first!

8. Warm walking socks and a spare pair in case you get soaked

I would say that ALL of the above is mandatory. Item 6 we may not need if the weather is good but you really need to have them just in case.

Other Equipment
  1. Rucksack. Some of the stuff above you might not even wear on the day, so you’ll need a daypack or a rucksack to put it all in. I’d say  a 20 to 30 litres pack should do the job. Also, stick a black bin liner in it as a) useful as a rubbish bag b) also can be used as a waterproof liner if your rucksack turns out to be not that waterproof.
  2. Map and walking compass – don’t bring if you don’t know how to use them! I will have maps/compass and so will the guide.
  3. Torch – just in case. Nothing ginormous but something that a) has batteries in it b) works. LED Head torch is fine (and amusing for the rest of the party); normal torch also fine.
  4. Water containers. I will need to check but I’d normally bring 2-5 litres of water. So a couple of containers. Your shiny new rucksack might have little pockets on the side to hold them #cool
  5. Sunglasses and sun cream. Even if it’s pissing down, chuck some in.
  6. If you have a walking GPS, then bring it! Phones don’t generally work on mountains so you should never rely on them.
  7. A whistle. Dig one out from your raving drawer and stick it in. I got rescued once by the North Wales Mountain Rescue team in heavy fog and we used whistles so they could find us! They’re about a quid and will last for about 8000 years so a good investment. #notsocool
  8. Food. So snacks you can eat on the go. Also pack sandwiches for at least 2 meals, plus some high energy snacks/food.
  9. Don’t bring anything you aren’t happy to carry on your back for 12 hours. So pack light.

Sophie’s amendment – Bring a small hip flask containing alcohol, to have a celebration swig at the top of each mountain...

We will release a more detailed itinerary in a few weeks about where to meet, the route, where people are staying etc. If you have any questions on the above though, drop Peter a line on or on those social networks thingies.