Categories
Film Review

Star Wars Holiday Special

This post is at the special request of one of my readers who complained that I didn’t include the Star Wars Holiday Special in my recent Star Wars viewing marathon. [Side note: Suggestions for future blog posts are always welcome.]

The most obvious reason for not including it in my viewing marathon was that it’s not on Disney+ which is where I was watching all of the other films and TV series. It’s apparently never been released officially since its original showing, so I didn’t feel too bad about searching it out on YouTube.

The other big problem is that it’s not part of the current Star Wars canon. Yes, whilst it stars all of the main characters and some of the concepts from it may potentially be canon again, it’s an incredibly low quality production and it just doesn’t feel like a Star Wars film.

The only thing I liked about this film is that it shows real life in the universe outside of wars or major events. In the main films there’s not much time to show how real people (or wookies) spend their time. This film did that, but in an annoying comical exaggerated way which I didn’t like. There are now plenty of (canon) examples of real life in the TV series (Star Wars: Rebels and Star Wars: Resistance) which aren’t confined by the movie film format so this isn’t too much of a concern for me.

I also didn’t like the interlude sections which were mainly random musical sideshows. I really didn’t need to see Chewbacca’s child watching the world’s worst video of a robot that breaks down every 5 seconds whilst giving instructions on how to build a radio, or Chewbacca’s Dad enjoying what is clearly adult VR content. The animated interlude featuring Boba Fett was interesting though, especially since this is technically his first appearance in the Star Wars universe (by production chronology, not by universe chronology).

Another major character point that made me not like this film, and would be a major problem for me if this was canon, is that if this film is Chewbacca going back to his family, that also means that he left his family, including his young son, alone to just go travelling with Han Solo for no specific reason. Although the Holiday Special implies that he goes back to them fairly regularly (or at least video chats them), I can’t imagine Chewbacca leaving his family for such a long period to go off with Han, particularly as he’s possibly away from the events of the film Solo, even all the way out to Episode IX (a period of around 45 years).

At the time it came out, this was probably (but more likely not) a welcome addition to the Star Wars universe which at the time only consisted of one film. Nowadays, we have far more films and TV series, and I don’t think there’s really a place for the Star Wars Holiday Special. And if I count this in my Star Wars viewing marathon, do I also need to add the various Lego Star Wars series, and how about Star Wars: Ewoks and Droids? And the original Star Wars Clone Wars TV series? And what about the books and comics which actually are canon?

I would say it was maybe worth the one watch for completeness, but would I watch it again? Probably not. Would I recommend it? Not for the general viewer.

Categories
Money

Student loans

Somehow it’s been 10 years since I finished university. With this week’s news about the new student loan repayment tool, I thought I would write a post looking at my student loan repayment over this time (Disclaimer: I actually started writing this post weeks ago, it’s just fortuitous that it’s in the news at the same time).

I started university in 2006, the first year that the (then) new and ridiculously expensive tuition fees of £3000/year came in. For a four year course, this amounted to £12,000. I also received the maintenance loan at another £3000/year. In fact, each year was slightly higher than the previous year because of inflation, and on top of this, interest was added from day 1, so that by the time I graduated, I owed £26,823.07.

This doesn’t start getting paid back until the April after graduation, so when I did start paying it off, it had reached a total of £27,056.05.

The repayments are based on a percentage over a certain earning amount. As a recent graduate, my starting salary wasn’t especially high and so my first repayment in April 2011 was £52. And whilst I don’t have the exact figure, the loan gained approximately £35 in interest that month. This certainly wasn’t going to be quick to repay.

(Note: some years have interest added monthly (where known), whereas other years only have interest added annually, therefore the slight increases each April can be ignored from the trends)

Fast forward 9 and a bit years from when I started repaying and (as of today) I’m down to only owing £16,365.82. By my estimation that’s around 40% paid. At the current repayment amounts and interest rates I should be paid off in just under 7 and a half more years.

Having produced a graph of the amount owed over time, I was hoping it would highlight some really interesting trends but there’s not really much to say about it. For the first couple of years, the repayments were only slightly higher than the interest gained and so the total mostly flat-lined. Increased wages (most noticeable in early 2014) have caused the total to decrease quicker. There have been some drops (and rises) in the interest rate and in the earnings threshold too, but these have been relatively small and have had less impact on how quickly it’s paid off (possibly balanced out by salary inflation?). Without any major increases to my salary or the interest rate (both fairly unlikely), the downwards trend should continue at its current rate.

What does seem sure (at least at the moment) is that I’m not going to get to the 25 year point where any outstanding debt is written off. Come back in another 7 years and 4 months to see how things have gone.

Categories
Life event

Mebbies aye, Mebbies naw (Revisited)

I first started growing a beard/not shaving in mid-2014. How do I know this? Because I wrote a blog post about this at the time. I even ran a vote and 60% of people said I should keep the beard (there were only 5 votes though, possibly including myself).

At the weekend, after 6 years, I shaved off my beard. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Partly as I couldn’t remember what I looked like without it, but also because I had just let it grow for the whole of lockdown to see how long it could get, and it was getting slightly straggly and in need of some trimming. At the weekend I was also going to get my hair cut (after 6 months) so I decided it was the best time to try going beard-less.

The old days when I could do “fun” things with my beard vs. my current beard-less visage

Lots of people have commented on how different or much younger I look. I’m still slightly surprised myself when I see my reflection. I thought I would conduct another vote to see if consensus has changed in the last six years.

Should I grow the beard again?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

As before, leave a comment with any additional thoughts. Should I try to grow it even longer? Should I keep it shorter? Stay clean-shaven?

Categories
Film Review

A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far Far Away

So, not actually that far away, actually just a few metres away from where I am now, but fairly long ago. Back on the Easter weekend (10-13 April), I decided that since I had four days free and we were still near the start of lockdown and there wasn’t much to do outside, I would watch all of the Star Wars films over the four day weekend.

I then expanded this to include all of the Star Wars TV shows that were on Disney+, apart from The Mandalorian (because I was in the process of watching that separately) and anything that was Lego Star Wars (because that’s not canon). Whilst I’ve seen all of the films before, this is the first time I’ve watched any of these TV shows [side note: I was a fan of the previous, now non-canon Clone Wars TV series]. Last weekend I finally finished my challenge of watching them all in canon chronological order. Here’s my thoughts on each show/film:

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (Lifetime watches: A lot)

Whatever anyone else says, this is clearly one of the best Star Wars films. It has so many quotable lines, it introduces the Jedi properly and has a load of new planets. Anyone who says Jar Jar is terrible should really be blaming Episode II where he becomes a recurring character – he was really just a one-off character in Episode I. It probably helps that I was 11 when this film came out and so was probably target market.

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (Lifetime watches: A lot)

Another of my favourite films (you can tell I’m a prequels fan). I’m a big fan of clone troopers and this story is a great introduction to the clone wars series.

The Clone Wars (TV series) (Lifetime watches: 1)

This series is the reason why I didn’t complete my challenge in a four day weekend. With seven series leading to a solid 86 hours of watching, there was no way I could achieve my task. Once I realised it wasn’t possible, I slowed down quite a bit. Which is actually a good thing, because it turns out the 7th (and final) series hadn’t been fully released when I started, but I could now time my viewing activity with the new episode releases. This is my favourite of all the Star Wars TV series and I could easily watch much much more of the clone wars (if it was ever released).

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (Lifetime watches: Slightly less than a lot)

This is the first (and so far only film) that I’ve ever watched on release day at the first possible showing. It was during my GCSE exams and I didn’t have an exam that day so what else would I do? It’s also one of the few films that I’ve seen in the cinema more than once. The only problem is that you always know where the film is heading (Emperor Palpatine, Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi etc) but it’s fun to see the journey there.

Solo: A Star Wars Story (Lifetime watches: 3)

And probably the worst of all the films. Watching in context with the Clone Wars adds a lot of background (crime syndicates, Darth Maul) but it doesn’t help this film improve in my ratings.

Star Wars: Rebels (TV Series) (Lifetime watches: 1)

Following the Clone Wars, this series was always going to struggle. It took a while to care about the characters, and most of them are incredibly annoying. However, by the end of season 4, I was wishing there would be more episodes, as these TV series really help to fill in the back story around the films.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Lifetime watches: about 5)

Another of my favourite Star Wars films (which probably says quite a lot about me). This film is also incredibly sad when you realise that everyone is going to do. And I say that having seen this film several times now.

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (Lifetime watches: A lot)

I can’t remember the first time I saw this but I must have been 9 or 10. Quite literally a classic film. Watching it now, there’s a few things which could be changed for continuity purposes or for better graphics, but that’s opening up a whole can of worms…

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (Lifetime watches: A lot)

This has always been my least favourite of the original trilogy films, probably due to the lack of massive space battles. There’s definitely a lot more going on story-wise though, which I don’t think I’ve always appreciated before.

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (Lifetime watches: A lot)

This was the first ever Star Wars film I watched. It was at the end of a school year in one of those video-watching-lessons-instead-of-real-lessons slots. Annoyingly I had to go to a recorder lesson part way through so I missed some of it. This was my favourite Star Wars film for years (at least until newer stuff came out), but I’m not sure if Episode IV now beats it for me.

The Mandalorian (TV Series) (Lifetime watches: 1.5)

I wasn’t planning to include this in my viewing marathon as not all of the episodes were out and I was watching it through separately. However, by the time I got to this to point, all of the episodes were out so I included it, even if it did mean re-watching a few episodes I had watched very recently. I quite enjoyed the Mandalorian but it took me a couple of episodes to get into it. The hardest part for me was remembering that he wasn’t a Jedi and couldn’t just use the force to do things.

Star Wars: Resistance (TV Series) – season 1 (Lifetime watches: 1)

I don’t know what it is about animated Star Wars TV series and having really annoying characters but this is another example of it. (Maybe because they’re aimed at children/teens?) Once you get over that, this series really adds a lot of background to the Resistance and the First Order which really helps to understand what’s going on episodes 7-9.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (Lifetime watches: 3)

I first watched this film at the IMAX at the Science Museum which was impressive. The film itself is fairly average and just seems like a copy of Episode IV (which may be what they are going for).

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (Lifetime watches: 2)

The sequel films fit into the wider universe, but I don’t really feel like they sit at the same level as the prequels or the original trilogy (feel free to @ me). This film very much blurs into the previous one (although I did watch them back to back so that could be why). This is the film which I’ve watched the fewest number of times, so that may also influence my views.

Star Wars: Resistance (TV Series) – season 2 (Lifetime watches: 0)

And this is where my watching marathon ended because Star Wars Resistance season 2 isn’t on Disney+ UK yet. By the time it is added, The Mandalorian season 2 will probably also be out so I’ll have even more to watch through.

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (Lifetime watches: 3)

I watched this film twice at the cinema. Probably not because it’s good but because I went with two different lots of people. The second time I watched it in 4D so it had moving seats and an airblower in your face and a thing that poked you in the back. It added a bit to the experience but it didn’t help to fill in the major plot holes in the film. Maybe (hopefully) they’ll add another TV series to do that.

Final Thoughts

Other than there being far more to watch than is possible in just one weekend (albeit a four day weekend), my main takeaway is that the TV series really add a lot more background to the films and do a much better job of explaining things. Maybe more of the films should be in an episodic format. Would I watch it all again? Maybe, although probably not for a while. At least not all in one go.

Suggestions for what I should watch next are welcome.

Categories
Miscellaneous

Running along

After thinking about it for a long time, last week I finally got round to replacing my old running shoes (I had been waiting for shops to reopen, but I went online in the end).

In the fifteen months I had these shoes I ran just under 1200km*. That’s way, way over the recommendation of replacing running shoes after 500-800km. My usage averages out to about 2.3km per day. Obviously I didn’t run every day – some days I ran more and some days I didn’t run at all.

*I’m not sure this is quite right as there’s some activities which I wouldn’t have used these shoes for but are recorded with them. Conversely, not all my runs get recorded so it may balance out. Anyway, it still shows I went way over the recommended usage limits.

Distance (in km) against time

There’s a few interesting trends to pick out from this data:

  1. It’s possible to see where I had big races in my schedule. I ran half marathons (21km) in March 2019 (the Big Half), September 2019 (the Great North Run) and early March 2020 (the Big Half again). These all show as an increase in training over the proceeding weeks (more distance covered), a small step increase for the race and then a reduced mileage afterwards.
  2. I also ran a half marathon in August 2019 (the Thames Meander Half Marathon) which again shows as a small step increase, but this was part of my training for the Great North Run so doesn’t have it’s own associated training increase/decrease either side.
  3. I appear to have taken a fairly long break from running in March-April 2019. This was partly from resting after the previous race, but also mainly because I was out of the country. I had taken an older pair of shoes to save on weight (not because my older shoes were lighter, but because I could use them for non-running purposes too – something I wouldn’t do in my almost new shoes).
  4. I also ran less in December 2019-early January 2020. I had a cold/illness at this point (even if my family didn’t believe me) and I didn’t feel like running for most of the Christmas period.
  5. Since the most recent race at the beginning of March, and during the lockdown, there’s been a steady stream of runs, some slightly longer ones but balanced out by some extra rest days. Without any races planned, I guess that’s what my regular running pattern looks like (i.e. when not training for a race and not resting after one).

Anyway, after almost 1200km and four half marathons, it was definitely time for them to be replaced. Time to see how their replacements hold up…

Categories
Miscellaneous

Working From Home vs. Working in the Office

I mentioned last week that I’m no longer working from home, but am now back in the office all the time. Today I’m going to do a comparison of the two.

Commuting

The most obvious difference about working from home is not having to commute to work. My total commute is just over an hour each way, so I should be gaining an extra two hours a day. It’s not quite that simple in practice, but for the moment, working from home is the winner here.

Winner: Working from home

Working hours

Not having to commute meant that I could start work earlier. But conversely I was also in no rush to get home at the end of the day. And having access to email at all times meant that I was never really far away from work (when in the office, I don’t do anything work related after leaving the building). But I did make up for this by having much longer breaks. For example, the flexibility of being at home meant that I could just pop to the supermarket when it was less busy during the middle of the day, rather than at the end of the working day on the way home from work.

Whilst working from home is much more flexible, I much prefer the structured working hours of being in the office.

Winner: Working in the office

Exercise

Whilst I’ve been working from home, I’ve been doing PE with Joe most mornings. This has primarily been due to the early lockdown rules around not leaving the house unless essential. Whilst an indoor workout session is fun and probably worthwhile every now and then, I much more prefer going outside for a run. If I’m up and outside for going to work, I’m much more likely to go for a run either before work, after work or during lunch time. If I’m at home I’m much more likely to spend my lunch break watching TV, whereas at work I often take the time to go for a run which is much better for clearing the head during the working day. And occasionally, in order to use public transport less, I’ve even run all the way home from work (although not recommended when it’s hot).

Winner: Working in the office

Money

My normal commute to work costs between £8 and £11 per day depending on how I get to work. That’s quite a significant saving each week and makes working from home the all out winner here.

I also normally buy lunch from the canteen at work which costs around £5 to £5.50 per day. Working from home means having to buy more meals in my weekly shop. Financially that’s probably cheaper than buying lunch each day, but the benefits of paying for lunch include not having to cook it myself and not having to do as much washing up, both of which make a considerable time saving so I consider it to be worth the extra cost. But the saving from not commuting is a much more considerable saving.

Winner: Working from home

IT

I can’t access the work network from home, which limits what I can do. But I do have a much more powerful computer for the things I can do at home. I’m calling this one a draw.

Winner: Draw

Environment

My living room is south facing and gets ridiculously warm when the sun is shining in. Conversely my office is designed to be a workplace so it has air-conditioning and is kept at a constant temperature all the time. My office also has proper desks and office chairs, whereas at home I just have a dining room table and chair. I know which one my back prefers.

One of the advantages of being at home is being able to able to have music playing in the background which just isn’t possible in an office environment. Mainly because there are other people there. People to talk to. Real people. (Sorry Alexa.)

Winner: Working in the office

Conclusion: Working from the office wins by 4 to 3. Not a huge victory as both have their advantages. Working from home has a lot more flexibility, but the office is just a better environment for actual working. I think working in the office the majority of time with the occasional day at home would make for the best compromise. We’ll have to see how things shift when the lockdown fully ends and the “new normal” begins.

Categories
Lessons from the lockdown

Lessons from the lockdown #4

The lockdown seems to be coming to an end (at least in England) and I’m now back at work full-time, but I still have a few more “Lessons from the lockdown” posts to post.

Today I’m looking at my utility (gas, electricity, water) usage and how it’s changed (or not) since the lockdown came in. I’ll stick the disclaimer up front: my meter readings are irregular and the data isn’t discrete enough to do a specific analysis by day/week, but it should show the general trends.

Gas

The most obvious thing in my gas usage over the last couple of years are the massive peaks over the winter period as I have a gas heating system. The lower usage last winter is either because I’ve had my flat much colder, or because the new double glazing actually does help to bring down heating costs.

The lockdown has coincided with a period of reasonably warm weather so I’ve had the heating turned off for a while. The only other use for gas is for cooking food on the hob. I have had to do more cooking whilst I’ve been at home, which may account for the slight recent rise and drop as I’ve gone back to work, but this is all within the realm of statistical anomalies. My current gas usage is almost at the lowest point it’s ever been (at this property anyway).

Electricity

My electricity usage on the other hand has never been higher. Electricity usage is fairly non-seasonal, despite the longer winter evenings needing more lighting.

Generally just being at home and running more electrical devices has probably caused this massive spike. The massive ramp up in electricity usage recently coincides with both buying a new computer and being at home more to use it. The good news is that it appears to be dropping which could be linked to being back in the office more often, but only time will tell.

Water

Water usage has fluctuated the most over the last couple of years. There is a definitive spike in usage during February/March this year, but then a massive drop before increasing again. It’s possible that some of these seemingly anomalous readings are caused by rounding errors when the meter is read. The actual usage is probably somewhere between the two peaks and the average trend is shown by the dotted line.

Either way there does seem to be an upward trend in water usage. With being at home more, there’s much more water being used than normal. From washing hands more often due to coronavirus, to the things I would normally do in the office (filling my water bottle, using the toilet etc), it’s not surprising that water use is higher than previously. Again, the good news is that the water usage seems to be on a downward trajectory too as I return to work.

Categories
Discussion

It’s not right

I spent a long time thinking about today’s post and drafted quite a few versions, but I decided that the straight-forward option would be the best.

I’m a white male who has grown up in a predominately white community. I’ve had certain opportunities which have not been open to every person in our society. Living in multi-cultural London has made me much more aware of the differences and the struggles that others have faced that I’ve never had to.

Last night I was talking to some friends who were telling me their stories of the racism they’ve experienced. A guy the same age as me has been stopped by the police over 50 times, including five times in the same day, just because he’s black. I’ve never been stopped by the police once. Yes, he grew up on a South London housing estate, but we now live in the same area. He still gets stopped. I don’t. His wife said that she’s been stopped too, even when just going to the newsagents to buy a paper for her parents. Again, it’s just never happened to me. Another friend told a story of how some people followed his car and tried to attack him, again just because he’s black. My friends went on to explain that they have to work three times harder at everything, just to get to the same position as a white person. I’ve vaguely been aware of these sort of stories, but it was certainly an eye-opening conversation for me to hear it directly from people I know.

Talking about it is a good first start, but we all need to do much more. I know that I haven’t always been the best at recognising the unfair advantages I’ve had, and this blog post doesn’t go nearly far enough, but I intend to do my best to rectify it where I can.

#BlackLivesMatter

Categories
Pondering

High Rise Living

Sorry, this is a quite a conceptual post this week. I’ll try to be more interesting next time.

I was lying in bed the other night and I realised that I lived in a block of flats. That’s not a new thing and something I was already aware of – I’ve lived in several flats since I moved to London. What I realised though was that the flat above me and the flat below me have the same room layout. And the ones the other side of them do too. That means that there’s several bedrooms directly above and below mine. If my neighbours have their beds in the same positions as me, there are several people all sleeping in a parallel orientation, separated only by a couple of metres and a solid concrete floor. In mathematical terms, we’re at the same x and y coordinates, but differing in the z-axis.

Additionally, I have neighbours on either side of me. And although one is two kitchens away, the nearest is only the other side of a concrete wall. Possibly even closer than the two metres recommended for social distancing.

But what’s happening in their parallel flats? Do they have the same internal room layouts? What decorations do they have? What do they get up to in their flats? What are their lives like?

I live in London so of course I don’t actually know any of my neighbours. I think the new couple downstairs have young children, possibly including a new baby. And the people upstairs may also have a young baby. But who knows? I’ve never met any of them other than in passing.

The other day I received this letter (and I’m assuming all my neighbours did too):

I don’t normally hear my neighbours, although I do often have music playing or the TV on. I’ve never noticed a noisy neighbour. Does that mean that I’m the problem? I feel like my volumes are kept at a “moderate level”, plus I’m normally in bed between 10pm and 7am. And is it saying that they’ve had *complaints* from a number of flats, or that they’ve had *noise disturbances* from a number of flats?

Either way, it has made me wonder what my neighbours can hear of me. I can sometimes hear their activities but can never make out anything distinctively. So can my neighbours hear me? Maybe sometimes, but probably nothing significant. But Alexa, she hears everything.

Categories
Miscellaneous

Under the keys

On Saturday I was cleaning my computer keyboard. Whilst doing so, I noticed there was a lot of fluff stuck underneath the keys. My engineering instinct kicked in and I immediately dismantled my entire keyboard to get to the parts underneath.

Once cleaned I then realised I hadn’t any idea which keys went where. There’s a few obvious ones, the F keys, QWERTY, the number pad. But then there’s a lot of random ones, mainly punctuation and features such as “sleep” and “wake up” which are fairly unique to my keyboard. And then there’s other keys such as the left ctrl key and the right ctrl key. Do they have a specific orientation? And what about the up/down and left/right arrow keys?

So I started off with doing all of the keys that were obvious or I could make a sensible guess at where they went and got surprisingly far:

Who really knows how the bottom row of letters goes? (I realised shortly after that the M key was in the wrong place)

But I actually know more keys than I thought I did. Not in my conscious mind, but in my subconscious and my finger muscle memory. When do I ever look at the keyboard when typing? All I had to do was pretend to type and see where my fingers were hitting and that’s where the keys had to be. And that’s how I got back up to a full complement of keys.

Note: There were initially a couple of minor mistakes. I had the [ ] and – = the wrong way round. And the ‘Scroll Lock’ / ‘Pause Break’ / ‘Print Screen SysRq’ keys in the wrong order (but who even uses those? – apart from when I accidently hit them because of the bad design of this keyboard). The * and / keys in the number pad were also the wrong way round but again they’re right in the periphery.

So that took up about an hour of my bank holiday and also gave me something to write about today. Want to challenge yourself to see if you know where all the keys on a keyboard are? All you need is a keyboard and a screwdriver.