I’m Seoul excited!

And I just can’t hide it…

Sorry for the terrible pun, but it couldn’t be avoided. As of this morning, our trip to Japan has been updated and we’re including a visit to Seoul, South Korea as well! We’ve never been, despite discussing it quite a few times in the past.

So why the late change to the plans? Two main reasons:

  1. I was determined to retain my British Airway gold status for another year and @FrankDJS (henceforth know as King of Aviation Geeks) calculated that this was indeed possible. But only if we cancelled and rebooked our flights with some changes. And added a couple of extra flights. More than a couple, actually…

This sounds like a lot of extra work for something ephemeral, but I can hand-on-heart say that the last year of BA Executive Club Gold status has been a real help on my many, many business trips. Several free upgrades, extra baggage allowance and the comfort of a business lounge to get work done (or simply slump, head-in-hands at the end of a very long day).

  1. We’d be re-thinking how we’d spend our time in Japan and considered changing our plans to visit Nagano and Kanazawa.

Cancelling the BA flights was at minimal expense and we’ve rebooked with FinnAir. Not as crazy as it sounds! We fly from Heathrow to Helsinki and after a brief stopover, go from there to Seoul. Why via Helsinki? Well take a look at the earth – going to Asia via the north makes for a quicker journey.

After a few days in Seoul, we fly to Tokyo and immediately on to Osaka. At that point, we’ll start using our First Class JR rail passes and make our way back to Tokyo.

We’re planning a series of day-trips out of Tokyo to take advantage of the passes, as well as doing some of our favourite things within Tokyo. This will include a trip up to Nagano to see the snow monkeys, which is definitely do-able with travel via Shinkansen. We’ll once again be in town for the annual Halloween parade (amazeballs!). That aside, everything’s up for discussion.

It’s all a bit mad, really. We still fly out on October 20th, so this is a relatively last-minute change to the plan. Also, we usually plan our trips in some detail – reading up on where to go and what to see. The decision to add Seoul to the itinerary went something like this:

“How about Seoul?”

“We’ve never been there, have we?”

“Look, it’s only two hours flight from Tokyo.”

“Done! Let’s book it.”

I don’t think we’ve ever made a travel decision that quickly before. There is so much to do and see in Seoul, 48 hours will only let us scratch the surface. But I’m sure I can eat my fill and take a few thousand photos of the city and its people in that brief time.

So now all we need to do is find a hotel in Seoul and a hotel in Osaka. Our hotel in Tokyo remains unchanged (especially as it was prepaid!). Oh and @FrankDJS has to learn Korean, which I’m sure is totally doable in three weeks. It’s only fair as I’ve been studying Japanese.

Right?

Hey brain: why you no work?

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It’s Saturday afternoon and I’ve had three (that I’m aware of) epileptic seizures this week. Maybe more on the horizon. My overwhelming reaction is one of disappointment. Quickly followed by boredom.

I had a couple of nighttime seizures earlier in the week, which left me feeling like I had the mother of all hangovers each following morning. The kind where you can’t bend over to tie your show-laces without searing head-pain and the feeling that your brain is about to pour itself out of your skull via your nostrils. The kind that leaves me fumbling for words and feeling quite spaced out for hours afterwards.

I then had a night of only four hours sleep Thursday night, due to a crappy hotel in Dublin and its proximity to some particularly shady nightclubs. (Top tip: never stay in Harrington Hall on Harcourt Street, unless you like to listen to screams, fights and club music all night).

So, this morning’s absence seizure wasn’t entirely unexpected. I’ve had a busy week and have missed a lot of sleep. The perfect formula for unwanted brain-spasms.

Still, unexpected is one thing. Unwelcome is something else. I slept for about 10 hours last night, but still woke up feeling hollowed out inside. Managed to get as far as Starbucks and back today before I had a passing absence seizure in the hallway of our apartment and took myself off to bed for an hour.

And that was after cancelling my training run this morning. Only a few weeks until the Royal Parks Half-marathon, so I should really be out there, pounding the pavements.

But not today.

(And no, the irony isn’t lost on me – I’m training to run a race to raise money for Epilepsy Action, while my own epilepsy prevents me from training…)

I’m feeling better, but still not myself. I’d actually like to sleep now, but I’m afraid that if I do, I won’t sleep tonight and we’ll be back to square one.

We’re due to go to the cinema this evening and I’m really going to have to see how I feel after dinner before committing. Unless my brain tidies itself up by then, I’m not sure how it’ll cope with a couple of hours of ‘The Magnificent Seven’.

In summary, epilepsy sucks donkey balls. But then we knew that already, right? So I’m really only writing this to make myself feel better about the whole thing, put it into context and move on. I think my epilepsy tends to make me more introspective. Hopefully not self-pitying though. This is where getting the terminology right is key: I live with epilepsy, I don’t suffer from epilepsy.

So, as ever, tomorrow is another day. I’ll chalk this one up to experience, rest up and recharge my batteries. But if epilepsy was my flat-mate, I’d be leaving them a post-it note on the fridge right now.

Next!

Unboxing the iPhone 7 Plus

Excitement levels to the max! I actually got my iPhone 7 Plus yesterday, but it was delivered while I was working up in Birmingham and I was just too exhausted to even look at it when I got in.

Ten hours of sleep later, I backed up my iPhone 6s Plus to my iMac, then set up the new iPhone 7 Plus using that back-up. All in all, it took about 30mins from the moment I opened the new phone’s pristine packaging.

Now, for your viewing pleasure, some hastily-taken and bleary-eyed photos of the new objective of desire on my desk

I’ve made a few phone calls, listened to a couple of podcasts and done a bit of tweeting with the new phone. It’s good. No, it’s great. It’s super-fast and responsive and while it’ll take a bit of getting used to, the new ‘taptic’ home button is a nice idea.

I’ve had to use the lightning-to-wired headphone dongle that came with it (super light, but I’m worried it’ll break easily?) as I don’t have a lightweight pair of bluetooth headphones. And based on how much cash I’ve thrown Apple’s way this month, it’ll be a while before I buy any! It’s not a deal-breaker, but the fact that my phone is matte black and the adaptor is shiny white really makes it stand out. And, dare I say, look quite cheap and nasty.

The above pics were taken with the iPhone 6s Plus, so I’m looking forward to giving the iPhone 7’s camera a go this weekend to see just how much better it is. Expect a fuller review of the new phone in the coming weeks, once I’ve used it more and taken it on a few trips.

But so far, so good.

Memories of Japan: Dotonbori, Osaka

We last visited Osaka in the Autumn of 2014 and one of my standout memories of the trip is the nightlife around Dotonbori. This compact neighbourhood is just buzzing and characterised by its brightly lit and fairly eccentric restaurant frontages. Many indicate was the restaurant is famous for, but some are harder to decipher if you’re not local!

Many of them move, albeit slowly, and some even make noises. Walking down the street is an assault on the senses when you add in the aroma of food coming at your from all directions. It’s a little overpowering at first, but we soon got used to it.

We spent time there in the evenings, after long days exploring the city and its region, so we possibly didn’t take advantage of all it had to offer. If memory serves, we had a few early nights while there. Especially after my afternoon at SpaWorld, where I was soaked and boiled into a state of pure relaxation. Onsen heaven.

But it left me in a state of consciousness that wasn’t great for wandering brightly lit and busy streets. It was all I could do to stay awake and pop conveyor-belt sushi in my mouth.

I’d definitely go back to Osaka some day, even though it’s not on the agenda for our next trip to Japan in October. There are too many other places to see! I’ll just have to get my fix for neon and nightlife while we’re in Tokyo.

Coming soon: The Siege at Jadotville

This looks excellent! A new film about the Irish UN force who served in the (then) Congo during the 1960s. It’s a true story about how a tiny Irish force took on a massive attack from mercenaries and local rebels.

From the Irish Times review:

“Few will sit through Richie Smyth’s stirring action film without thinking of Zulu. The 1961 siege at Jadotville in The Congo, during which an Irish battalion resisted repeated attacks from Katangese secessionists, bears comparison with that heroic defence of Rorke’s Drift. The contexts are, however, very different. Adapted from a book by Declan Power, Kevin Brodpin’s script works hard at explaining how a UN force ended up entangled in one of the era’s messier post-colonial disputes.”

I’ll definitely add it to my Netflix queue, but agree that this is the kind of thing that needs to be seen on the big screen. Hopefully somewhere near me will be showing it.

For those interested in the history that lead to Irish soldiers fighting in the heart of Africa in the 1960s, here’s the Wikipedia entry. Veterans of the siege were only this month formally recognised by the Irish Government.

Seeking sauna solitude

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I’m spoiled. I know this. We have a sauna, a gym and a pool in our apartment block. And while the gym is maddeningly over-subscribed (it’s one way to get to know your neighbours – up close and personal!) I usually have the sauna all to myself.

And we know how much I love a sauna.

I’m very infrequently joined by anyone else in the building. So I sit, alone with my thoughts and a bottle of water. Or sometimes a magazine. Or, sadly, a journal article. But mostly my thoughts. All alone.

Right now, I’m working in Birmingham. Or just outside Birmingham, to be more specific. I’m staying in a large hotel which has a gym, pool and sauna. Knowing this in advance, I packed appropriately and spent about 90mins down there late this afternoon.

After throwing myself at various pieces of gym equipment (I have an appointment with the beach in Sitges that I need to get ready for), I made my way down to the sauna. I was, unfortunately, not alone. I had the sauna to myself for mere moments before a middle-aged guy joined me and proceeded to make some of the most disgusting mouth and throat noises I’ve ever heard. He then fucked around with the egg-timer on the wall, resetting my timing (doesn’t matter, as I usually only leave once approaching the “Oh my god, I’m going to pass out” or “I think I can see the future” stage of heat stroke).

He gasped. He panted. He continued to clear his throat and nostrils. I managed five more minutes, tops. Which was a shame as the sauna was surprisingly hot. Hotel saunas are usually closer to a typical tube carriage in June. Hot, but only if you’re fully clothed. This one was eyeball-searingly hot. Just how I like them.

I moved across to the steam room, where I was joined by a couple of talkers, who also coughed like they were about to expire. I gave that give minutes and then went for a swim. The pool was pretty much empty and I swam up and down, furtively checking the water-proof claims of the new Apple Watch series 2.0 as I went. (It still works!).

After my swim, I headed back to the sauna and steam room, but both were occupied by chatty people and I quickly realised that I’m going to have to work hard to get used to sharing a sauna with other people again. 🙄 I cut my losses and headed for the showers.

Still, the time I spent on the cross-trainer in the gym beforehand helped tire me out and now I’m perusing the room service menu wondering how many calories my gym-time has bought me…

Filing this one firmly under ‘First World Problems’ and moving on.

iOS 10: Lots to learn

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After a less than satisfactory upgrade to iOS 10 earlier this week, I’ve been learning about its bits and bobs through day to day usage. What follows is a far-from-detailed review of the update, which is no way been approaches the thoroughness of some of the excellent reviews (e.g. iMore, MacStories).

So, in no particular order…

I like the widget-type functionality on the new search screen. You can get here by swiping right when on your home screen. It’s editable, so you can see the key information and updates that are more interesting and useful to you. I have it set up with a widget from ToDoist (of course!), a summary of my Activity

, the weather and headlines from the Guardian. I’ll be interested to see what other apps add widgets in the coming weeks. But for now, it gives me a nice, brief summary of key information that interesting to me, without too many clicks or swipes.

The new expanded notifications are also a big improvement. You can act of notifications from within another app (e.g. respond to a text message) and the new design of the notifications leaves me feeling less harassed by them as they pop up on the screen. You may feel differently about them, of course.

I’m torn when it comes to the app store for Messages. While it’s fun to be able to send GIFs more easily (@FrankDJS is enjoying this in particular 🙄) some of the noisier message settings are just plain annoying. Lasers. Confetti. Invisible ink. To me, it all smacks of gimmicks and makes it harder to read the messages. But I’m obviously turning into an old fart. so let’s move on to something more positive.

As an OS, it’s running faster on my iPhone 6s Plus. Noticeably faster. I like the changes to the interface for the most part and the fact that the screen comes to life when to pick it up is a piece of common sense functionality that is both simple and incredibly helpful.

I haven’t really explored what’s new in Photos or Music, especially as I’ve become quite the fan of Spotify in recent months. It was my main source of music when using Android and it’s recommendations engine is second to none. I’ve discovered more great music with Spotify this year than I ever have before. So I’m loathe to move back to Apple Music and deal with its tendencies to recommend pure unadulterated shit. Pardon my French.

I’ve not been as impressed with Siri as I’d hoped. Yes, it now works with a series of external, non-Apple services, but this is limited right now. So while you can control Spotify with it, I still can’t use it to control ToDoist. Being able to verbally add tasks to my inbox via Siri would be magical and a big timesaver. Hopefully it won’t be too long before there’s an integration.

If you have the time, and the inclination, I can recommend Federico Viticci’s in-depth review of iOS 10 over at MacStories. It’s epic. Truly. Otherwise, you can do what I’ve also been doing: just get stuck in and use it, googling the answers to challenges when you encounter them.

Apple Watch series 2.0 has arrived!

While I won’t be getting my new iPhone 7 Plus for a few days yet (le sigh), my new Apple Watch arrived this morning. What’s more, I somehow had the self-control to leave it in its box until I’d finished all my must-dos today.

It’s gorgeous, but hard to differentiate from the series 1.0 watch by looks alone. It is, however water-proof, faster and with built-in GPS. The differences will be obvious once I’ve been using it for a few days, no doubt. I’m especially looking forward to taking it into the pool with me.

It might get me swimming a bit more. We have a pool in our apartment building, but I don’t use it anywhere near enough. No excuse!

And now, some unboxing photos…

Set-up was a breeze and incredibly fast. Impressively fast and a lot easier than first time around. I’m looking forward to pairing it with the iPhone 7 Plus, when it eventually arrives. I’m experiencing real iPhone 7 jealousy today, as @FrankDJS’s new iPhone 7 arrived at the same time as my watch.

I should have mine by the 22nd. I’m sure I’ll survive 😉

An iOS 10 headache

Now, you can tell me I only have myself to blame, but I tried to update my iOS devices as soon as the iOS 10 update became available from Apple yesterday evening.

My iPad Pro 9.7″ updated smoothly and easily. I haven’t gone through all the details, but with a couple of hours’ use, I can say that I like iOS 10 on the iPad. It actually seems snappier and more responsive.

My iPhone 6s plus, on the other hand, was bricked by the over-the-air update. And I wasn’t alone. A quick look on Twitter highlighted that people all over the place were looking at their iPhones with the same mix of anger, frustration and shock.

Apple released a statement saying they’d noted the error, but for me, it was too late.

Cue several hours trying to update the phone, or even get it back into some semblance of working condition. I finally got it working four hours later – most of that time was spent trying to download software via iTunes. An app I rarely, if ever, open these days.

I never connect my iOS devices to iTunes unless it’s absolutely necessary. Back-ups are done over the air, everything important is in the cloud and there’s nothing mission-critical on either device that isn’t backed up somewhere else.

The iTunes experience with my iPhone just served to remind me what a bloated, outdated piece of crap the application is. I actually ended up completing the iOS update over-the-air again, as iTunes kept crashing.

The phone is working just fine now, but that was a colossal waste of my time. So much for “It just works”. It doesn’t.

Twitter was awash with helpful advice from tech writers but also quite a bit of schadenfreude from aficionados who pointed out “this happens every time” and “you have to be mental to update iOS on day one”. Not helpful, guys.

If the update is available on a given day, are we supposed to engage in some kind of ‘cargo cult’ mentality, cross our fingers and wait an arbitrary amount of time before it’s ‘safe’ to update? O should we trust the company that released the software update?r

I was super-keen to get iOS 10 on my devices as I think it’s a great advance for the platform. The shoddy update process left a really bitter taste in my mouth and I’d encourage Apple to think twice before releasing macOS Sierra next week. I won’t be updating my Macbook and iMac on day one – I couldn’t bare a similar experience.

The next Apple update will be treated with extreme caution. Which is a shame.

On a related note, I’m waiting for the delivery of my new iPhone 7 Plus. I’m expecting it in about a week. Much of the noise around its launch concerned the removal of the headphone jack and Apple spoke about the bravery involved in moving to a wireless future.

It would be nice if they could make this wireless future a reality when it comes to OS updates, removing iTunes from the equation completely. I dread to think what I’d have done if I was nowhere near my Macbook or iMac.