Dyrham Park is a great place to visit

..as seen on TV

..as seen on TV

Dyrham Park (pronounced “Durham Park”) is presently on the TV screen as one of the locations for the ITV production of Sanditon, a fairly speculative visualisation of an unfinished Jane Austen story. Apparently the "original” story ran out about half way through the first episode. There are 7 more episodes after that and so I think they should have probably added “from an idea by…” to the author credits.

Nevertheless, to my untrained eyes the plot and characters look pretty similar to “proper” versions of Jane Austen texts and we are happily trying to work out which characters are good and which bad and which chap the heroine will end up with. It seems to be boiling down to the “worthy” one or the “smouldering” one at the moment. My bet is on the bloke with the smoke coming out of his ears. Bad news for worthy folk everywhere.

Anyhoo, we didn’t really go to Dyrham Park purely on the strength of a TV tie in, we just fancied a day out in a nice place. In this respect it delivered really well. The location is lovely, the house fascinating, the views awesome, the food in the cafe tasty and we had a thoroughly nice time.

Fun with a fish eye….

Fun with a fish eye….

If you’re in the area you should go and take a look. Whether or not you’ve seen in on the TV.

I rather like "The Orville"

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Every now and then I wish that they still made programs like “Star Trek the Next Generation”. Well, it turns out that they do. Or at least there is one. It’s called “The Orville” and I reckon that it is worth seeking out. I got the entire series one on Apple iTunes for a knock down price and I rate it as good value. The scenario and the hokey nature of the plots are straight from the Captain Jean Luke Picard stable, but they’ve been given a nice contemporary edge with some smart dialog and neat bits of whimsy. And the characters are all essentially nice people who you end up caring about.

If you like your Sci-Fi to include machines that can make a nice cup of tea, and where things are done with good intentions, then you should seek it out.

Watch this TV Program from Martin Lewis


If you’ve got kids (or are a kid at heart) or just want to watch something inspiring I strongly suggest that you watch this program from Martin Lewis.

It’s billed as “Ten Things Your Kids Need to Know”. It makes some very good points about modern life and how the world of work is changing. It also makes a very strong case for university. Apparently there is concern that potential students are being put off by the debt that they think they will incur by taking a degree. The way Martin explained it was awesome.

He said that you will only start paying back your student debt when your income exceeds 25K (which is a nice problem to have). The amount of your payments will be 10% of the amount your income exceeds the 25K threshold. So, if you earn 30K, you will be paying back a tenth of 5000 a year, which is around 500 pounds.

Then, after 30 years your student debt is written off completely. So when you retire you won’t have the debt hanging over you.

From a planning perspective, you know the absolute maximum that going to university will cost you, based on your income. If you don’t bring in enough to cross the payment threshold then you don’t pay anything back. Your student loan will not lead you into debt, because you only start paying it back when you have money coming in.

It’s complicated, but worth getting your head round because, as Martin pointed out, going to university is a great way to realise your potential had have your horizons properly broadened.

I’m by no means at the beginning of my career, and yet I still found the content of the program inspiring and illuminating. Watch it. With your kids if possible.

"The Expanse" is rather good

The Expanse is a great big lump of space opera that must have cost a fortune to produce. (I tried to work in an "The Expense" gag here, but I couldn't make it work. Oh well.)

The spaceships are some of the best I've ever seen on TV and the narrative is rattling along at a furious pace. Set all around the solar system, a few hundred years into the future,  it has earthers, martians and belters (folks from the asteroid belt) at the brink  of interplanetary war.

There's political chicanery, space battles and some rather unsavoury extra-terrestrial stuff oozing around the place. Some bits of the plot seem to get a massive build-up and then disappear, but there's more than enough going on to keep you occupied now that Star Trek Discovery has finished its run.

Star Trek Discovery is really, really good

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I've liked Star Trek ever since I saw the very first episode on a cranky black and white telly when I was a kid way back in the sixties. For the last few years there's been a "Star Trek" shaped hole in my life that buying the boxed sets hasn't really satisfied. 

I was a bit worried when I heard about the latest incarnation of the franchise, as there were rumours of it being stuck in "development hell" and deadlines for release came and went. 

It turns out they were just working really hard to get things absolutely right. And they have. It is very, very good. A bit darker, with some real moral compromises at its heart, but brilliantly produced and acted, with some cracking story lines.  The first few episodes are mostly OK, with a bunch of Klingon subtitles I could well do without, but by episode 4 it really gets into its stride.

In the UK it's on Netflix, but in the 'states I you have to sign up to a particular CBS streaming service to get to see it. I'm not sure why I'm telling folks this, as if you're into Star Trek you've probably already watched a few episodes and drawn your own conclusions, but if you're late to the party then it's well worth seeking out and seeing. 

Home Repair Hints: How to fix a broken router

Lunch at Thieving Harry's at the marina. Great stuff.

Lunch at Thieving Harry's at the marina. Great stuff.

I've noticed for a while that our broadband at home has been a bit poor. Today I did a speedtest and found I was getting around a third of what I should have, data rate wise. So we did some more testing and were on the cusp of deciding that it was a problem with the line when I remembered that I might have a spare router up in the loft. 

Turns out I did. We plugged it in and instantly the speed was restored to something that is very nearly good enough to watch 4K video. In fact we were able to view some of the rather good Harry Bosh series from Amazon in quite sparkly detail.

Oh, and how to fix a broken router? You just need two things. A new router. And a dustbin.

Veronica Mars now Available in UK

For anyone that thinks that TV with smart, sassy dialogue and well drawn characters starts and end with shows written by Joss Whedon I'd like to draw your attention to Veronica Mars. It first came out a while back with an astonishing first season which sagged a bit into seasons 2 and 3 (although they were always watchable). 

Such was the dedication of the fans that earlier this year a Kickstarter funded movie was released which apparently holds together quite well. If you are new to Veronica, or want to re-live the whole thing from proper region 2 DVDs you can now get all three seasons, plus the movie from Amazon for a reasonable price. 

If you liked Buffy, you will love Veronica...

No Gas


At least we have electricity

Came home tonight to no gas. Which in my case (gas central heating) means cold house. A water leak had somehow got into the gas supply and as a result it had shut down.  They are having to dig up the road to find out where the problem is and we’ve turned on the PS3 and are watching Fringe to try and warm up.

Fringe is absolutely top notch telly. Where else do you get lines of dialogue like “So why do you think shape shifting soldiers from a parallel universe are stealing frozen heads?”. Why indeed?

Dollhouse Sunday

By gum, it really rained today. Far too wet for gardening. Much more sensible to stay indoors, play with the Zune software and watch a couple of episodes of Dollhouse, the new show from the pen of Jos Whedon, who created Buffy.

I’m starting to really like the program a lot. Some people reckoned that the early episodes were a bit weak, but I enjoyed them and it is starting to get very interesting as the characters develop.

The program itself is a sort of cross between Joe 90 and Probe.  “Dolls” or “actives” have their brains filled with the person they need to be to do their assigned job, be it escort, private eye or assassin (but never pool cleaner – or at least not yet). They are then sent out into the field to fulfil their task and then hauled back to be wiped and reused. 

When not at work they live in the Dollhouse of the title as amiable blank slates. Of course things don’t always work quite right, and so there are back stories of NSA investigations and rogue actives and the whole setup has a moral ambiguity which means you are never sure whether or not the Dollhouse itself is a force for good or evil.

The series aired on the Science Fiction channel in the UK, but I don’t think it made it to terrestrial, which is a shame. Fortunately you can pick up season one at a reasonable price,  and I reckon it is well worth the investment.

Who’s Captain Kirk?

For Father’s Day I received a box set of the original Star Trek season one. It looks fantastic because even though it was filmed years ago they used proper 35MM film. I started watching the first ever broadcast episode (The “Man Trap”) last night. When I saw this the first time it gave me nightmares for ages. It is not quite as scary now, but still darned good fun.

If you’ve not seen it before (although I find this hard to believe) you are in for a treat. If you have, it is still worth a look because of the way that they have redone the shots of the Enterprise. It now looks really good.

Shaun the Sheep Rocks

My Media Centre PC is now settling down nicely. I've stopped using the cable that crashes it and, guess what, it doesn't crash any more. I've just ordered another gig of RAM for it which should give it a bit more room to move around in.

A tip, you can get 10 quid off any order more than 30 quid at Ebuyer at the moment if you sign up to the Google ordering thingy. I've used it twice now, I'll take money from anyone...

Anyhoo, I told the Media PC to get all the showings of Shaun the Sheep 'cos I think it is ace. It is aimed at kids, so it goes down a treat with me. Just simple farmyard antics with the character from the Wallace and Gromit "Close Shave". My present fave is the one with the bees. Catch it if you can.

The Apprentice and bad hearing

"The Apprentice" has started again. This is a gameshow/reality TV thing where a bunch of people pretend to be interested in working for Sir Alan Sugar whilst playing to the camera as much as possible and preparing for a career in daytime TV. But it is quite compulsive viewing.

I had a weird moment where I thought I heard the announcer say "..all the contestants are competing for a single bacon seat...". I had just conjured up this a very strange vision of what they were after when I realised I had misheard.

Retro TV

With number one wife out for the evening number one son and I had free access to the big telly, and so a night of retro TV was in order.

First up was Thunderbirds, a puppet series which had me enthralled in the 1960's. I must admit it looked pretty darned good on the large screen, and the remastered sound was fantastic. Even after all these years it still packs a punch. In the episode that we watched all the trouble was caused by a "World Navy" exercise which went wrong when a missile strayed off course. Until now the idea of a world navy seemed quite sensible, but tonight I was wondering just who they would be fighting against. Anyhoo, it all ended well, although there were some rather large explosions. The really weird thing was that as we were watching a story of a gas rig in peril there was a real life drama of the same ilk playing itself out in the North Sea less than a hundred miles away.

Next we fired up "The Prisoner", a strange spy series of the sixties which was filmed in the wonderful Portmerion (which I really must visit one of these days). This stands up pretty well, it seems no more or less silly than things like "24" or Prison Break, with a cast of all the greatest TV actors of the time. Familiar faces kept popping up all over the place. Great fun.

Horizon: The Rise of the machines eh?

When I was younger the summers were longer, grass was greener, beer was cheaper etc etc. And the BBC science program 'Horizon' was worth watching. Against my better judgement I watched it again tonight, mainly because the subject was Artificial Intelligence or how modern computer science, brain research and general stuff means that in precisely 22 years we will be downloading our consciousness into hyper intelligent machines to make a Human Vsn. 2.0 which will then wage a war with the remaining klutzes on the planet in which billions will be killed.

 What complete and utter rubbish.

Apparently, one of the reasons that this all makes perfect sense is that around 20 years ago a nutcase sent a bunch of bombs to people in America to stop it happening. Yeah, right.

I kind of lost it when the narrator mis-quoted Moore's Law. Then we had a bloke who had managed, by plugging wires into the brain of monkey, to capture and replicate the moment of the monkey arm. Apparently this was a big advance. Along the lines of "Hey, we've made a tape recorder. Now we understand music". Do we heck.

Then we were whisked to another laboratory, where another man with bad hair and a big vat of liquid helium told us how he could make computers which can do this and that at the same time. I used to have one of those but I scrapped it for a machine which actually worked.

Before they could explain what this meant we were sent off to see a bloke who is taking lots of pills and walking on a treadmill so that he can survive the next 22 years, whereupon he can download his consciousness into the machines we will be making by then. He was doing this with such smug assurance that I ended up hoping that he would get knocked down by a bus in 2028 on the way to get his brain recorded.

Then there was the chap who was taking rat's brains to bits so that he could put them into a pile of Sun computers. And the scientist using the Basic Stamp (in the shops for fifty quid folks) to remote control a rat.

 By now my own consciousness was making a valiant attempt to crawl out of my ears and reach the TV remote.

There was nothing here that made me more scared of the future, and quite a lot which made me scared of the present. If these are the kind of people we are giving money and resources to I can see trouble ahead.

I'm sure that I've missed the point (definitely Human Vsn. 1.0 me), and that all these professors and well funded genius types are going to succeed in making something with a higher level of consciousness. I for one will welcome the day. I'll give it a camera and put it in charge of making better science programs. Then again, I reckon the monkey could have probably done that.


The BBC launched its new "Dr. Who for grown ups" today. Called Torchwood, it follows a team of alien artifact experts working to understand strange technology which has fallen through a gap in space/time and landed in Wales.

Or something.

It is high grade, imaginative hocum with a big budget look and I'm signing up. It is certainly not for kiddies, but this grown up likes it.

The first episode is very nicely plotted with a lovely twist at the end. The second overcooks things a little bit, but is still worth watching.

And it looks like there are some lovely plot arcs being slotted into place.

BBC 2 is repeating the program on Wednesdy night. Worth a watch.