Mutterings of a Fool

Man, Dad, Runner, Chief dog walker

Tag: reviews (page 1 of 2)

Aldi Special buys – Cycle crazy

Ok people listen up, if you like cycling and you like a bargain then you need to get down to Aldi pronto. Last Thursday their cycling Special buys launched and it’s well worth a look. I’ve bought one of their cycling jackets in the past and have a bunch of their running clothes, they’re great value and quality. Sure they’re not the latest in Italian styling but when you’re on a budget I don’t think you can go wrong, the range includes jackets, tops, trousers, shorts, shoes and even lights.

Now you need to be quick because once it’s gone it’s gone but Aldi set me a bunch of samples so I thought I’d give you a little taster of what you could be missing out on. I think I have a career in modelling ahead of me right?

Aldi blue cycling top

Winter cycling shirt – £9.99

Aldi hi viz cycling clothing

Ultra bright cycling jacket – £9.99

Aldi hi viz cycling jacket

Hi viz rain jacket – £19.99

 

The one with the 41mp camera phone

Penguins!I don’t think blogging events come much better; free entrance to London zoo, lady of the manor and little monsters invited too, food and drink, a chance to meet reindeer and the icing on the cake a free phone. Unsurprisingly this was an event I said yes to very quickly both for the chance for a great family day out but also to have a play with a phone I’ve been curious about for a while.

Some of you know that I work in the tech industry, so Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 are things I hear a lot about but have never had a proper chance to actually play with. If you follow the tech industry at all you’ll know that this latest version of Windows hasn’t had the greatest reviews but I’ve always wondered if that’s simply because the testers aren’t used to a system that relies on touch so much.

Once the lady of the manor was settled at the event with the children and a whole pile of toys we were given an overview of Windows 8 and handed a very bright and yellow Nokia Lumia 1020. Not my personal choice in colour but actually quite nice using a handset that wasn’t simply another ‘me too’ device. It looks and feels very different from an iPhone that’s for sure.

Having had a Windows phone now for a couple of weeks I’m going to sit on the fence a little and say I’m still undecided. It’s such a different design to Android and iOS (which let’s be honest are essentially the same) that I need to give it more time in use before deciding if I like it or not. Is different good or bad in this case is really the question. But no matter what the final decision it does have some really nice features.

Bright enough for you?

Bright enough for you?

Kids Corner

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has children that see their parents using their smartphones and want in on the action. I’m also sure I’m not the only one who has had a child send an email or text from said phone while playing with it. Technology is a good thing and has some great benefits to our children’s learning but sharing a phone or tablet with them isn’t always easy.

This is where kids corner comes in, you can set up a separate profile on your Windows 8 tablet or phone where you can choose what apps your child has access to. This means no more sending emails to your boss containing gibberish of course managing to rack up some costs through using apps etc.

On my shiny new Nokia this means swiping to the right once set up and another log in screen appears. Your child can then swipe up to log in as you normally would but they see only the features and apps you want them to see. Now I’m not how much I truly want to share my phone, I already resist doing this today but that’s mainly because a phone to me is personal. It’s ‘my’ device so I don’t want someone else using it, but maybe that’s an adjustment needed as phones get bigger and more powerful.

Windows phone home screen

But for a tablet this feature would be perfect, I’m sure you could achieve something similar on other tablets but the fact this is already built into the software makes it very easy. Plus I would expect it to be more robust set up this way than simply a normal profile and you adjust the settings.

Customised start menu

The tiled start menu takes a bit of getting used to, but in terms of being customisable it’s streets ahead of anything else. You can choose exactly what to see on that menu, what size it should be and where it’s located. I’ve gradually tweaked mine until I have all the apps exactly where I want them based on my usage.

The resizing in particular I like and how it isn’t just horizontal rows of apps, once you’ve used it for a while it feels like it’s more intuitive and efficient than what I have on my iPhone.

Henry at London zooThat camera

I can’t finish without saying something about the camera, it’s quite simply awesome. I’m still learning about all the controls and settings I can adjust but in its simplest form as a point and shoot (which let’s face it is the main use of a phone camera) it takes some incredible shots. You’ll see a few here taken on the day at the zoo, the focus is fast and the colours on this autumnal day were captured really well.

If you want you can play with the ISO, shutter speed, aperture etc much as you would with a DSLR. I haven’t spent enough time on that but it certainly gives you the opportunity to get rid of anything but a DSLR. Sure we’re probably heading that way already with smartphones but this should at least mean you don’t have to compromise on picture quality.

That’s all for now, I’ve also been testing out some of the children’s apps so look out for a review of those soon. That’s if I actually let Matilda touch my shiny yellow phone!

Me and my boy

I really love to cuddle him and feel the prickles on his chin

This is a review post

We have a book called ‘I love my daddy’ which I of course take great pleasure in reading and asking Matilda if she loves her daddy like the girl in the book. Matilda loves the fact that the girl has a bunny just like her AND the daddy in the book is just like me. You know, handsome, talented, funny and makes awesome pancakes (the last one is at least true). One of the last pages in the book says ‘I really love to cuddle him and feel the prickles on his chin’ and when reading this Matilda of course feels my chin.

Braun series 3 razorNow being a blonde person I don’t really get a huge amount of stubble and can only grow a poor excuse for a beard, but I still love her rubbing my chin to see if I’m prickly. Which brings me onto the challenge that Braun have given me. They claim that their new series 3 shaver can tackle 3 day stubble and leave a smooth finish. I was a little intrigued by this as I’ve always been a wet shave man believing the might of the triple blade razor to be better than a machine any day. But of course willing to take them up on their offer.

So for the last 3 days I have been doing everything I can to make my stubble grow as long and tough as possible. I’ve visualised desperate dan in the hope my body will emulate his sandpaper face, I’ve eaten salmon and walnuts which apparently make hair grow thicker and I’ve rubbed a special oil on my chin every evening to give the hair some extra strength.

I then used the shiny new shaver (my first ever electric one) and asked the Simon Cowell of stubble judges, Matilda, to give her expert opinion on the finish. The first 3 times I asked her she told me to “get off daddy” but then I finally persuaded her to actually feel my chin and she said it was “good for tickling” which I’m going to take as a good thing. It certainly felt better to me than I expected and with a little practise would probably be even better.

Braun series 3

I’ll be honest and say that I don’t think I’ll ever convert completely from my wet shave, I enjoy the whole process too much and I don’t think an electric shaver will ever beat a wet shave done well. But I have started using this Braun shaver more regularly than I expected, it came in particularly handy when I ran to work the other day having left my car at work the prior day after my Christmas party. Having this shaver meant I didn’t need to try to find a suitable mirror and sink at work to use to shave. Instead I simply used the shaver while having my shower and I’ll never complain about being able to spend longer in the shower!

In fact I’ve actually found the shaver works better in the shower than after it and I’ve been able to get a better finish that way. I even managed to avoid leaving nice patches of stubble like I did the first time I used it. I don’t have other electric shavers to compare this to but I am impressed with how well it worked and price wise is fairly reasonable too. Given the time of the year perhaps a good present idea for the hard working dad in your life?

I’d like to give a special mention here to the PR people who sent me the shaver, they could have just sent a boring box with the shaver in it. But instead they sent it in a beautiful box with a snow globe and some chocolate coins for the children. They absolutely love the snow globe and such a nice touch, top marks.

Review; JBL Soundfly

I was invited to a PR event and given this speaker free of charge, however all views and opinions here are my own.

I don’t accept many invites to PR events as inevitably they are in London and need me to take time off work. But when an invite appears in your inbox inviting you to spend an evening with some fellow dads who blog, playing with gadgets, eating pizza and drinking beer it’s hard to say no. So it was almost a month ago now that I found myself jumping on a train at 5pm and heading into the big smoke where we were treated to an evening of playing with wireless speakers and headphones from those nice people at JBL (who incidentally you shouldn’t confuse with JML, very different companies, only a fool would make that mistake).

This also means that this review post is a little overdue, but I wanted to have some time to really test out this product before writing my post. It’s all very easy to see a new gadget and get all geeky and excited that it uses some new technology or is lighter/smaller/faster without really knowing if you’ll use it. After all what’s the point on spending money on something that becomes an expensive plastic paperweight?

In principle the JBL Soundfly is a nice bit of kit, it’s a speaker that plugs into your wall socket and via the magic of Bluetooth will play music wirelessly from any Bluetooth device. It also sounds great as was demoed at the event where 10 dads tried out their best and worst music choices to see how it fared. To my simple ears it sounded great and Daddacool who claims to be a officianardo of audio devices concurred.

Soundfly speaker

So that’s a tick in the box for the technical attributes, but what about at home? Well I got home and showed off my shiny new toy to the lady of the manor and she did her usual roll of the eyes and polite nodding as I extolled the benefits. ‘of course babe, sounds great babe, now can I go back to watching 24 hours in A&E?’

But then I come home from work a few days later and the Nashville soundtrack is blaring away in the kitchen (which is a great soundtrack from a show that I may watch occasionally, after Die Hard’s finished or course). I look round and there plugged into the wall is my new speaker and a wry grin from the lady of the manor tells me that she may actually quite like my new gadget and that me being a blogger isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Since then we’ve used it quite a bit. We both have iPhones with music on, sure we have an iPod with 3 years worth of music to listen to on it, but it’s getting old and we always have our phones with us. So now actually if we don’t want to listen to the radio the Soundfly is plugged in and we put the music on. I’ve also started listening to podcasts this way a lot, I used to listen to them on my commute but now that’s a lot shorter I’ve lost my opportunity. It’s really not fun walking around the house with earphones in but now that I have the Soundfly I can turn it on and listen to them again while I’m making sourdough or writing blogs.

The range is surprisingly good in that you can get a good 15m away through a few walls before you lose signal to the speaker. My only grip is that due to the shape it covers 2 sockets, so if like us you have lots of double sockets the second one isn’t usable. They also do a air play version for a few pounds extra, great if you already use air play in your house but potentially not quite as simple and straightforward as Bluetooth.

Matilda’s book reviews; Shirley Hughes

One of the rights of a parent is to indulge their own childhood memories a little and this most definitely applies to choosing books. I love rediscovering books that I read as a child and introducing Matilda to them, however we both know that there is no guarantee she will like them. She won’t hesitate to tell me ‘no daddy’ and push a book away with a look of disgust when she doesn’t want to read something.

One thing we both agree on though is that Shirley Hughes rocks. If we were limited to just one author to read I think we’d both agree that Shirley is the best choice. Sure Janet and Allan Ahlberg might push her close (remember the Jolly Postman obsession?) but there is something about her books that have us coming back again and again.

For me it could be the nostalgia or that the stories that don’t involve TV characters, computers or mobile phones. They tell stories about a simpler time, perhaps a bit idealistic but definitely close to the Darling Buds of May way of life I dream of. But more than that the illustrations are beautiful, no need for the bold brash colours you often find in children’s books these days. They challenge the child to spot the details, revealing new things each time you read them.

A collage of Shirley Hughes

One particular favourite is Alfie gets in first, I love how she uses the spine of the book as the door he gets stuck behind. Which leaves him on one page and his mother outside on the other page. A simple concept but one that shows the story so well.

The prose is eloquent, understandable for a child without being dumbed down. Sometimes rhyming and rhythmic, others classic fiction. For me the rhyming books are probably her best but both are interesting to read which is always important.

Matilda loves Alfie, we have 2 or 3 books featuring him and they are extremely well read, some of them she can now tell you the story as we’ve read them so much.  There is one book where his sister Annie Rose is crying in her cot, for some reason this always bothers her and we have to talk about how she’s really ok and he parents are going to see her.

Matilda reading

The other favourites are the nursery collection which are more educational teaching things like colours and numbers. What I love is that colours are taught by showing a scene with lots of things in that colour. Yellow has a sun and a cat in the scene for example. It seems to really sink in with Matilda and she loves spotting each of the things in the picture.

We’ve now started moving onto the Lucy and Tom books which have a few more words to the story and so work well now she is a bit older. Looking at the other books she’s written it seems like we have more to come for older ages too.

So now you know who our favourite author is tell me about yours. Who do you like reading and more importantly who do your children like? Any tips for slightly older books also much appreciated.

Review: The Expectant Dad’s Handbook

I was sent a copy of this book to review, but these truly are my own words and opinions. 

I’ve known Dean, the author of this book, for quite a while. When I say known I of course mean in the social media sense where we have chatted all things baby since before Matilda was born I think. So when he asked me to review a copy of his new book I was of course happy to oblige.

Daddynatal bookFor those of you that don’t know Dean, he’s the first professional male antenatal teacher in the UK and has his own business called Daddynatal that offers antenatal classes specifically aimed at dads. Having been through NCT antenatal classes and tried to find information as an expectant and new dad I realise that more can definitely be done to support dads as they become parents. Something that Dean is trying to address through the classes he runs and now his book.

The book is exactly as I expected it to be, it covers everything about birth and the birthing process but from the perspective of a dad. There is of course the information about types of birth, interventions etc that you would expect. But more importantly there is advice aimed specifically at dads and the role that we can play in the birth process.

I share Dean’s approach to being a parent and that is any expectant parent should be given the information they need to make an informed choice on what they want the birth to be like. We are all different and in my opinion any good antenatal teacher or book shouldn’t try to convince you that there is a ‘right’ way. Dean writes each section from this perspective, the advantages and disadvantages are given to help you come to your own choice. I think dad’s need to make sure they know these things so they can be part of the birth plan decisions and of course be their partners advocate during birth.

The final section of the book deals with life after birth with advice on how to support your partner feeding and ways you can help calm or soothe your baby amongst other things. I like that it also doesn’t just deal with the physical part of having a baby it also addresses the emotional, both for the dad and perhaps more importantly the mother and what the dad can do to support her.

I’m not surprised that I enjoyed reading this book, but I am really happy that Dean has written it. If you are dad to be or know one this is one book you should definitely read. It’ll also be a great resource to keep on your bookshelf and refer back to in the future.

Review: Dreambaby hallway gate 1m high

Henry has just reached the stage when he likes nothing more than climbing. Climbing because it’s fun without any real concept of what falling means. This means the sofa, high chair, slide in the garden and of course the stairs.

We have a stair gate that stops him getting into the hallway where the stairs are, but if we go through there to get ready to go out he spots his opportunity and stealth baby is gone quick as a flash. It’s that moment as a parent when you feel like you are herding cats, never easy.

But it is only a matter of time before he does escape and we end up with a baby slipping back down a wooden staircase. So when Dream Baby offered me a stair gate to review I barely hesitated before replying, especially when I saw they had some extra wide ones available. So it was I took delivery of a Dreambaby® hallway gate 1m high a couple of weeks ago.

The challenge with our stairs is that they’re wide at 1.1m so not many stair gates will fit them. Plus the floor space in front of the stairs isn’t big enough to allow a gate hinged at the wall to open properly. The gate we plumped for is plenty wide enough (and you can get extensions to make it even bigger) and it’s really high so no chance of any toddler climbing over it, or the dog for that matter.

Finally only the middle part of the gate opens so it solves the issue of space and with it self closing means when your hands are full of wriggling baby you don’t have to worry about that task.

To show you it in action and to prove that I really am a ‘man about the house’ I made a little video of me installing it. Enjoy.

If you want more information or to have a look at the stair gates and other safety equipment you can check out the Dream Baby website here.

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