Archive for Review

Abandoman

Myself and a friend were at the Vodafone Comedy Festival in the Iveagh Gardens over the weekend. We saw six comedians across two shows and one of them stood head shoulders above the rest. Rob Broderick, who performs as Abandoman – normally with James Hancox but he wasn’t there, totally stole the show.

Abandoman mixes the improvised hip-hop of a rap battle with the improvised comedy of Who’s Line is it Anyway to great effect. The entirety of his set was made up on the spot, buit from things as simple as what the audience members had in their pockets. I saw him at four o’clock on a rainy afternoon in a half filled tent – that’s not an easy gig by any standard – and he absolutely nailed it.

I think what I liked most about Abandoman was how easily I could go and see him again – and get a totally different show. Too often you see comedians rolling out the same routines they’ve been doing for years – it’s understandable, writing comedy takes a lot of time and effort – but Abandoman will give you a different show each time.

If you get the chance to see Abandoman live, take it. I certainly plan on keeping an eye out and whenever he’s next in Dublin I’ll go.

Harry Guinness is a professional magician based in Dublin, to hire him, or for more information, go to www.HarryTheMagician.ie.

All links to amazon in this blog are affiliate links, I have to pay webhosting somehow! However, that in no way changes my opinion of the product. If I wanted to make money off affiliate links, I wouldn't write really long review of €5.00 books.
Posted in Opinion, Personal, Review

Apps I like and Use: Instapaper

Every so often I’m going to post a quick review of some of my favourite apps – whether they are for OSX iOS or anything else. My previous review of Camera+ is here.

Instapaper

Instapaper LogoI use Instapaper more than I use almost any other app. Developed by Marco Arment, the original developer at Tumblr so that he would have great material to read on his way to work, Instapaper fills a need that you didn’t know you had: it gives you the ability to send interesting articles you find on the internet to your phone or tablet so you can read it later; even if ‘later’ has no internet connection.

By clicking on a little button in your browser, the content of whatever page you have open is stripped of ads, given basic formatting and sent to your phone or tablet. By opening the app on your device, you download the barebones article and can read it whenever you want. This even works with multi-page articles like some newspapers or magazine sites use. 90% of the time the formatting works perfectly, the other 10% of time it ranges from getting extraneous text, such as menus, at the top of the post (www.gizmodo.co.uk I’m looking at you) to being completely unreadable. However, Instapaper overcomes this by having a built in browser. The browser is also great for quickly following up on links in the articles.

Instapaper also integrates with other apps I use a lot like Twitter and Reeder, a RSS reader. The only app it does not integrate wish that I wish it did is facebook – but that is hardly Marco’s fault. In total, Instapaper integrates with almost 150 other apps!

One of my favourite features of Instapaper is the cross device syncing. If I start reading an article on my iPhone I can pick up at exactly the same spot on my iPad and vice versa. The iPad is a much more pleasant device to read on but I have it with me much less; it’s great to be able to start something on my iPhone when I’m out and then continue it once I’m at home with the iPad.

Instapaper has made me read a lot of long-form journalism. Articles that originally appear in Time or Esquire that you won’t, or can’t, read at your computer are perfect for reading over breakfast or on the bus. Instapaper has also made it really easy to find these articles with “The Feature” – a curated collection of the articles sent most to Instapaper. I have found some fantastic article through it.

Instapaper is available on the iPhone, iPad, Kindle Fire, Android and Kindle. The phone and table apps work as expected, click a button in your browser and the link is sent to your device. The kindle service works a little differently; a collection of up to ten unread articles are sent to your kindle either daily or weekly.

Instapaper is not free – it’s €2.99. It’s worth every cent. I have read more newspaper and magazine articles on Instapaper than in the paper equivalent in the last year. I’m happy to pay the price of one paper or magazine for such a fantastic tool. If you aren’t, then Instapaper isn’t for you – but you’re missing out.

There are free alternatives to it that I have checked out and they simply don’t stack up to Instapaper. The alternatives often bill themselves as having more features however, all the extra features are useless if the basic ones are poorly implemented. In particular, cross device syncing is a big test – and Instapaper is the only one that passed properly.

Harry Guinness is a professional magician based in Dublin, to hire him, or for more information, go to www.HarryTheMagician.ie.

All links to amazon in this blog are affiliate links, I have to pay webhosting somehow! However, that in no way changes my opinion of the product. If I wanted to make money off affiliate links, I wouldn't write really long review of €5.00 books.
Posted in iPad, iPhone, Mac, Review

Apps I like and use: Camera+

Every so often I’m going to post a quick review of some of my favourite apps – whether they are Mac, iOS or any other kind of app.

Camera+

Camera+ LogoCamera+ is the best camera app for the iPhone. It has all the features you’d expect from an iPhone camera app: the ability to set separate metering and focus points, a timer, burst mode and lockable white balance. There is also stability mode – handy for low light shooting – where the shutter only triggers if you hold the phone perfectly steady. The hardware volume up button can also be used as a physical shutter release.

However, it’s not the camera functions where Camera+ really shines but its editing and sharing features. Like a lot of photography apps, Camera+ includes a variety of filters to change the look of your photos; unlike a lot of other apps, such as Instagram,  Camera+ allows you to control the opacity of the filter. While Instagram photos often look over-filtered, with careful use of the opacity slider that is not an issue with Camera+. Also, the Scene Modes section allows for some basic adjustments based on what or where you were shooting.

The real star of all Camera+’s filters is the Clarity filter. Through some technological voodoo this filter massively improves pretty much any photo you apply it to – while the look might be slightly surreal at times, it’s something I’ve grown to like, and even to aim for (see my eyePhone review and some of my iPhone photos for proof!)

Sharing of photos is done through Camera+’s own servers: you select the photo you want to share, select how you want to share it (email, message or social media) and the picture is uploaded to www.campl.us with it’s own unique URL. Camera+ has replaced MMS for me. It’s far quicker, easier and cheaper to upload a photo to Camera+ and message someone the link than to rely on the expensive, slow and patchy MMS service that’s available in Ireland.

Camera+ is normally €1.59 in the iPhone app store but regularly drops to €0.79. I’d happily have paid twice that price though; I use it almost everyday. If you want to mainly share to facebook and Twitter then Instagram is a slightly more efficient app; but for sharing with a single person, editing and having the best iPhone camera app around then you can’t beat Camera+.

Harry Guinness is a professional magician based in Dublin, to hire him, or for more information, go to www.HarryTheMagician.ie.

All links to amazon in this blog are affiliate links, I have to pay webhosting somehow! However, that in no way changes my opinion of the product. If I wanted to make money off affiliate links, I wouldn't write really long review of €5.00 books.
Posted in iPhone, Photography, Review

EyePhone by Al Smith – Review

As I mentioned about last week, my ability to take interesting photos with my iPhone was really influenced by eyePhone by Al Smith. I said I’d do a review of it, so here it is!

eyePhone: Making stronger photographs with your camera phone by Al Smith, and released by Craft & Vision, describes Al’s theories for taking pictures with his iPhone. A professional photographer, Al never gave his phone’s camera a seconds consideration until caught with an eight-year old who wanted his photo taken on a swing and not even a point-and-shoot. His son pointed out that he could just use his phone and so reluctantly Al took it out, lined up a difficult shot that, with a DSLR, would have taken considerable thought and embarrassed that he – a professional photographer – was using a gimmicky phone camera, started to take the pictures. Instead of the noisy mess he was expecting, Al managed to capture a picture that he liked – and at that point he fell in love with his phone’s camera.

Al goes on to describe the limitations of the iPhone’s camera: fixed focal length and aperture; limited ISO range and shutter speed; only shoots in JPEGs with a tiny sensor; and it’s as “ergonomic as a slippery brick”. For anyone who doesn’t really know cameras, the English translation is that the iPhone, compared to a DSLR, is severely limited. However, Al suggests embracing these limitations as you would a theme or a project title. This is the first key point I took away from the book: that the trick to capturing great pictures with your camera phone is to run with it. You know that everything in your photos will always be in focus and that shooting at night is going to be about as successful as shooting underwater – but once you know that, you can deal with it. If everything is going to be in-focus, don’t try for perfect macro shots; if shooting at night isn’t an option, there’s always that other time of day – day time.

The second major point I took away was to develop a different style for your phone photos. No matter how hard you try, Al points out, your iPhone will never be able to take the kind of pictures your DSLR with a nice lens, a tripod and total control over the minutia of the shot will. However, where the iPhone comes out ahead of a DSLR is it’s portability, omnipresence and it’s ability to take and edit and share your pictures. Post-processing DSLR images is a time consuming task that requires expensive software and a good computer; post-processing iPhone images requires as little as five seconds and a 79 cent app. This point really resonated with me, when I shoot with my E500 I tend to shoot very realistic photos and convert a lot of them to black and white, it’s just what appeals to me. With my iPhone I’ve gone the opposite direction and have started shooting surreal, high contrast, high saturation images. If you check out some of my best DSLR photos (here and here) and compare them to some of my best iPhone photos (here) then the difference in style is obvious. It’s also obvious in the photos at the bottom of this post.

Al highlights a few apps that, for feck-all money, give your iPhone a complete photographic workflow. Despite the scorn that gets heaped down on Instagram, Al highlights it’s ability to quickly and easily share photos as the secret to its success. He recommends not using Instagram’s built-in filters, as they’re so recognisable, but using ones from other apps and then sharing the images through it. He also suggest replacing your go-to camera app with Camera+ (something I’d done ages ago!) as it gives you more control. Snapseed is also recommended for image editing – it has filters that go far beyond anything Instagram offers and gives you the ability to control there implementation. Al lists a few other apps but really recommends that you go out and find the ones that work for you.

For $5 eyePhone is a great buy. It’s short, at only 46 PDF pages, but the information and pictures in it make it more than worth the low price. Anyone with even a passing interest in making their camera phone photos look that much better should pick it up. I always have my phone with me and after reading eyePhone I feel I can now really get the best out of it. For comparison, below are some camera phone photos I took before reading eyePhone and after reading it. While I am still happy with the ones from before eyePhone, they are far more similar to my DSLR style and suffer in comparison to pictures taken by it. There’s also a few Instagram cliches. After eyePhone, the pictures have their own style that would be far harder and take a lot of time in Photoshop to replicate. Also, the reason they are all square is that they were all shared through Instagram.

Before eyePhone

Barge

Fishing Boat being destroyed

After eyePhone

Eva Surreal

Surreal Sunset

Surreal Ceiling

B&W River

Flat Tyre

Harry Guinness is a professional magician based in Dublin, to hire him, or for more information, go to www.HarryTheMagician.ie.

All links to amazon in this blog are affiliate links, I have to pay webhosting somehow! However, that in no way changes my opinion of the product. If I wanted to make money off affiliate links, I wouldn't write really long review of €5.00 books.
Posted in Photography, Review

American Gods by Neil Gaiman – Review

American Gods CoverAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman is firstly an excellent book, and secondly, a bloody hard book to describe – the latter especially, making this a difficult review to write. The version I read, or rather listened to, was the Tenth Anniversary Edition with the author’s preferred text.

American Gods tells the story of Shadow, a man recently released from prison for a crime he did commit, and his journey across America in the employ of an old hustler, Mr. Wednesday. On his release, Shadow soon discovers that all the gods and other mythological figures that had ever been believed in are real; and that there are new gods rising – gods of TV, highways and the internet – who seek to replace the gods of old. Throughout his journey Shadow encounters a vast cast of mythical characters; from Thoth and Anubis to Suibhne and Anasi as well as the new g. Trying to identify the mythical figures, and the foreshadowing that comes with knowing who they are, that Mr. Wednesday, Nancy, Ibis, Jacquel and all the others represent is a huge part of reading American Gods.

For all that it features a cast that includes gods, leprechauns and djinn, assigning a genre to American Gods is almost impossible. Even Gaiman seems unsure as to what shelf the book belongs on in a library – in his introduction to the Tenth Anniversary edition he points out that American Gods has won awards for best fantasy, science-fiction and horror novel. (A literary critic would raise their bespectacled nose and say that given the construction of the prose, depth of the allusion and Gaiman’s raw talent, American Gods “transcends” mere genre fiction and should be considered literature; in response to the hypothetical literary critic I’d say, bollocks, and point them to Lev Grossman’s article on the divide – or lack there-of – between genre and literary fiction). Regardless, American Gods does not suffer much from it’s identity crisis – anyone and everyone will likely enjoy it.

Plot wise, American Gods once again defies easy description. The main plot draws as much inspiration from Hollywood as it does from literature; it has elements of old-school heist and road trip movies as well as nods to the amateur detective novels of the 1920′s and 30′s. Various sub-plots weave romantic and horror elements in to the book. The main thing that can be said for American Gods’ plot is that it is excellent. The disparate elements drive the plot forward and the book, despite being over 600 pages, never begins to drag. Even when there is very little overt action occurring, Gaiman’s subtlety and fascinating characters keep the reader engaged. As with many multi-plot books, American Gods has multiple revelations built into the last 200 hundred pages which make it even harder to put down.

Gaiman has taken some flack for both the perceived dryness of his prose and his characterisation of Shadow. On the first point, I found Gaiman’s writing to be excellent, I can see how someone might find it dry but thing that if they do, it isn’t the book for them. Despite my distaste for the concept of literary fiction being superior to genre fiction, Gaiman’s prose has more in common with Martin Amis than J.K. Rowling. Also, Gaiman’s style relies heavily on allusion and so, if someone misses the references, a lot of the writing may seem odd or redundant. On the second point, I also found Gaiman’s characterisation of Shadow to be excellent. While Shadow’s reaction to events in the novel may appear to some to be unrealistic, given that he has just spent three years in jail as well as the constant barrage of life-shattering revelations on his release, I thought he acted fittingly. Also revelations later in the novel further explain any oddness in Shadow’s personality.

Interestingly, American Gods features plot points that appeal to me both as a magician and as an atheist. Shadow’s coin tricks are an important part of his character and a number of plots in the book. Initially a method for killing time in prison, they become a catalyst for several important scenes. Gaiman’s behind the scenes descriptions are both accurate and extremely well written. The skill required to describe a series of technical moves in a way that doesn’t alienate a large portion of the readers as well as to actually engage them is immense – however, Gaiman nails it. If more magicians could write even a tenth as well magic books might be bearable.

Gaiman’s underlying premise – that gods exist because people believe in them, the more people who believe the more powerful they become and when no one believes they become powerless – is a fascinating idea. In a sense, it’s true in the real world. Whether or not a god actually exists is immaterial to whether it not it has power, that people believe they exist is really all that matters. The more people who believe in the concept of a particular god, the more powerful that concept becomes. And when nobody believes in the concept, it loses all it’s power. Zeus, once all powerful, has now been reduced to a character in bad Hollywood films while if someone dares to so much as draw Muhammad, they will receive death threats – and sometimes, just death. The actual existence of a god is in no way required for the concept to have power. This is blindingly obvious in the world today. The Abrahamic concept of god wields immense power over all manner of public and private discourse, both here in Ireland, and around the world. Debates that should be focussed on the scientific and humanitarian facts around issues such as stem cell research, abortion and gay rights are stymied at every turn by the continuing focus on the “morals” dictated by the concept of a Christian god. Regardless of whether this god is real or not, the power the concept has is undeniable. To me, Gaiman has simply taken this concept to its logical conclusion, and characterised the concepts.

American Gods probably isn’t for everyone. It’s a dark, long and sometimes difficult read. However, if you can give the book the attention it deserves it is a very rewarding experience. I can honestly say it is one of the best books I have ever read. In particular, atheists should get a kick out of the portrayal of gods. I had put off reading American Gods for quite a long time because I didn’t really know what I would be getting into. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Do yourself a favour and go to amazon and order it now!

As a final aside, one line in the book really stuck with me and I thought I’d include it here:

“It’s easy, there’s a trick to it, you do it or you die.”

Harry Guinness is a professional magician based in Dublin, to hire him, or for more information, go to www.HarryTheMagician.ie.

All links to amazon in this blog are affiliate links, I have to pay webhosting somehow! However, that in no way changes my opinion of the product. If I wanted to make money off affiliate links, I wouldn't write really long review of €5.00 books.
Posted in Atheism, Review