NFL International Series: New York Jets at Miami Dolphins – Wembley , London – October 4th 2015

The last time I went to see an NFL match was when the Miami Dolphins lost to the New York Giants back in 2007. Then we had a baby and my mind drifted from live NFL matches and onto nappy changes and so on. Fast forward a few years and I totally missed the Dolphins beating the Oakland Raiders in 2014 – in person that is, I saw it on TV. I could have gone to see other games, but as a 30 year Dolphins fan they are my team of preference to see live. This year it was the New York Jets who were set to take on the Dolphins at Wembley, and I got tickets when they first went on sale for my Dad and I. Being the weekend of his 70th birthday it seemed rather fitting, given that it was him who I first started watching NFL with back in 1985.

The day before the game I got an email telling us about the Fan Plaza which would have events going on in the Wembley grounds and would start at 9.25am. So that meant a second parking ticket had to be booked, as the first one only allowed me to park from midday. Oh well, such is life, and these opportunities don’t come along very often – once a year in fact. Once there we queued for some merchandise, a rare opportunity to get Miami Dolphins gear in person and not online, where you risk getting the sizes completely wrong. One hoody, cap, programme and mini helmet later and it was off to the NFL Lab, to jump, throw, run and block. All stats would be entered on their system and sent back to the Fan Pass app that we used at various points during the day to give people access to our details, err, I mean participate fully in the activities.

NFL International Series: New York Jets at Miami Dolphins - Wembley , London - October 4th 2015

NFL International Series: New York Jets at Miami Dolphins - Wembley , London - October 4th 2015

Player Card from NFL Lab

More queuing for merchandise came after pizza and drinks, and this time I came away with a keyring, lanyard and t-shirt – didn’t want to risk getting home and regretting not buying anything. Our seats were right at the top on the Dolphins goal line, but the view was fantastic and we could see every play, which as a Dolphins fan that day wasn’t necessarily a positive thing. Growing up a Dan Marino fan it’s unfair to compare subsequent Dolphins quarterbacks, but Ryan Tannehill is not making much of a name for himself in his own right. It doesn’t help that his offensive line left him unprotected for most of the game, so gave him very little time to make any decent plays. Under pressure he did throw two great passes, but for the most part it was all the Jets, and the 27-14 scoreline is a bit flattering to the Dolphins. Hats off to Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick who threw a 40 yard pass to Brandon Marshall which ended up being a 68 yard play, their first of the game!

NFL International Series: New York Jets at Miami Dolphins - Wembley , London - October 4th 2015

NFL International Series: New York Jets at Miami Dolphins - Wembley , London - October 4th 2015

NFL International Series: New York Jets at Miami Dolphins - Wembley , London - October 4th 2015

NFL International Series: New York Jets at Miami Dolphins - Wembley , London - October 4th 2015

Result aside, it was a fantastic day and one that both my Dad and I both enjoyed immensely. It’s not just a game of American Football, as the pageantry of the whole day makes it feel more like a festival. The NFL bring so much to London for these games and we only scratched the surface, and I’m very glad I queued 30 minutes to get my photo taken with the 1972 and 1973 Superbowl trophies – could be a while before we see one of those in the Dolphins locker room again.

Miami Dolphins 1972 & 1973 Superbowl Trophies

At first my Dad was a bit unsure of the stop start nature of the game, but he soon got into it and has agreed to be my NFL buddy to any future games I go to. As well as being a great day, it renewed my enthusiasm for NFL to levels I’ve not had since the early 1990s. NFL Now and a variety NFL podcasts allow me to be all consumed in the latest goings on, while I consider the possibility of getting NFL Game Pass. The new weekly BBC round up show starts in early November, so I have that to look forward to, and with the International Series being extended until 2025, there’s a lot to be excited about as an NFL fan in the UK.

Rediscovering Photography

I have constant camera envy, and have over the years bought many cameras, and for the most part used them for a short while and then sold them on. At the moment I’ve been pondering premium large sensor compacts such as the Sony RX100 and Canon G7X, with a side of Panasonic GM1 interchangeable lens system thrown in. I love macro photography, which always brings me back to compact cameras such as the Panasonic TZ10 which I’ve had for years and still use. Would a DSLR set up with dedicated macro lens get me much better results? Yes, but at a prohibitively high price unfortunately. I say that, because until I can dedicate enough time to learn the craft of photography properly I won’t allow myself to spend that much.

Only today I was browsing camera review sites and decided that instead of looking at new equipment I should use what I have got and experiment a bit, hone my skills, actually keep it up as a regular pursuit and then look at a camera upgrade down the line, should it be deemed necessary. I put the aforementioned TZ10 in my bag this morning, and so with a banana peel from lunch on my desk, I decided to have a play. The photos weren’t of the best quality, and the focus areas were too tight for my liking, but after a play with colour levels in Photoshop I actually ended up with something I kind of like and dare say am just a tiny bit proud of.

Banana photo taken with Panasonic TZ10

It’s a start, and my aim is to try to take a new and interesting photo every day, or as close to that as I can. With an upcoming holiday in the wilds of Norfolk I should get lots of opportunities, so let’s hope that reignites the spark.

Ranking the 12 Bon Jovi Albums

There have been more than 12 Bon Jovi albums, but live albums and compilations don’t count over at JoviTalk, the biggest Bon Jovi community on the internet where they are currently ranking the albums. Bon Jovi have been my favourite band since listening to Slippery When Wet in 1986, and while I have periods of not listening to their stuff, I always go back to the boys from New Jersey, especially particular albums. Instead of just posting my reply over on the JoviTalk forum, I thought it might be nice to post it here too, with a bit of extra chat too.

Bon Jovi Albums

The number one spot is always hotly contested for me, between the aforementioned Slippery When Wet and the album that came after it, New Jersey. Slippery When Wet was what made me a Bon Jovi fan, but it was also the first album that I ever truly loved, which at 12 years old some may consider quite late. I’d listened to lots of music before then, but more odd songs here and there, and whatever was played in the car by my parents. It was Slippery When Wet that made me appreciate the album, and listening to it from start to end.

Bon Jovi Albums

New Jersey felt like the natural progression, with Bad Medicine being almost as much of anthem for the band as Livin’ On A Prayer. It was a landmark album for me too, being the first I ever owned on CD. I remember putting it in my Step-Dad’s CD player for the first time and hearing the long drum intro, wondering when we were going to get to the meat of the song, full of anticipation and impatience of what this 4th Bon Jovi had in store. Some days I’ll have Keep The Faith jostling for the top spot too, and with songs such as the title track, In These Arms, Bed Of Roses and the fan favourite Dry County, that’s no surprise.

So, on with the ranking..

  1. 7800
  2. Bon Jovi
  3. Bounce
  4. Lost Highway
  5. What About Now
  6. The Circle
  7. Crush
  8. Have A Nice Day
  9. These Days
  10. Keep The Faith
  11. New Jersey
  12. Slippery When Wet

Slippery When Wet just means so much to me to not take the number one spot, but New Jersey is as close that top spot as can be, without actually being there. Crush would probably go above Have A Nice Day if the latter didn’t have Last Man Standing on it, which is one of my favourite Bon Jovi songs. Without that it would lose points for having Last Cigarette and Wildflower, two of my least favourites. Worth adding that if solo albums were included then Jon Bon Jovi’s Blaze of Glory would be in fourth place, possibly even third.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Richie Sambora going AWOL from the band – will he return, and will we get another Bon Jovi album with him? Only time will tell.

Macro Photography Test: Sony DSC-HX60 vs Fujifilm X10

I used to spend many an hour with my old Panasonic TZ20, rummaging around hedges looking for bugs to snap. I’ve had my Fuji X10 for a couple of years, but never done any macro photography with it, and my Sony DSC-HX60 is a recent purchase, whose cheap price was the decider against the much more expensive Panasonic TZ60. With a nice sunny evening yesterday I decided the time was right to test them both out. First of all, the full photo as taken, straight out of the camera:

Dandelion Taken with Fujifilm X10

Dandelion Taken with Fujifilm X10

Dandelion Taken with Sony DSC-HX60

Dandelion Taken with Sony DSC-HX60

On seeing these photos I was quite disappointed at the lack of sharpness, and wondered if these two cameras, the Sony a lot newer, and the Fujifilm newer and higher spec, were as good as my 5 year old Panasonic TZ10. The depth of field is pretty similar which surprised me somewhat, given the superior sensor of the X10. I cropped the images at 100% in the centre to see what the quality is like at full size.

100% Crop of Dandelion Taken with Fujifilm X10

100% Crop of Dandelion Taken with Fujifilm X10

100% Crop of Dandelion Taken with Sony DSC-HX60

100% Crop of Dandelion Taken with Sony DSC-HX60

There’s not much difference in quality, but the Fuji seems to have focused on the stamen (tentacle type things growing out towards the lens) where as the Sony has focused on the centre of the flower and petals, further back. One thing that I will have to look into is setting macro mode on the Sony, as that was not something I could see how to do, and had to rely on automatic settings. One thing the Sony does have going for it over the Fujifilm is more natural colours, with the Fujifilm producing a more orange tinge.

I’m also keen to dig out my Panasonic TZ10 and photograph the same flower. It could be that the new Sony was a false economy at the keen price, and I should have been looking at the new model Panasonic. Overall though I’m quite disappointed, which is not a new feeling during my photography experiences!

I’m off to Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016 in London

Even if you aren’t interested in Star Wars in the slightest, you’ll have done well to avoid any of the buzz on social media this past weekend from Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim. The new teaser trailer for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens premiered there, and within minutes went viral all round the world. Rightly so too, as it seems to have swayed anyone who wasn’t convinced after the first teaser trailer and turned every cynic into a fanboy once again. As someone who hasn’t been to a Star Wars Celebration since it was last in the UK, when it hit London in 2007, I was thrilled to see the announcement that next year’s event will once again come from London.

Star Wars Celebration Europe

Star Wars Celebration Europe

As I type this right now I’m hoping I manage to get tickets, as it’s only 7.30pm, and tickets don’t actually go on sale until 8pm – I’m confident though, so I am writing this post in advance, hoping I’m successful! The price for the 3 day event, which runs July 15th – 17th, is just £70, which shocked me somewhat. I was expecting a lot more, though if you are lucky to get one of the 200 VIP tickets at £350, you can pay a lot more. The benefits of VIP are worthwhile, but they will go in nanoseconds.

Real Time Update: VIP tickets did go in nanoseconds, maybe less, but I got normal tickets, lanyards, a t-shirt and guide and with added VAT and taxes/shipping (confusing that was added on top of VAT and they are tickets we pick up at the venue) it was a fair but more than I was expecting. But what the hell, this is my Mecca, and I’m on my way to Star Wars Celebration once again – whoo hoo!

Star Wars Cellebration Europe 2016 Tickets

Star Wars Cellebration Europe 2016 Tickets

 

I only went for one day in 2007, and didn’t queue for any talks or signings – the exhibits, market areas and galleries were enough to keep me satisfied. Next year will be a different story though, as I’ll be queuing like a demon for as much as I can, and anyone that knows me knows how much I hate queuing, so this Star Wars Celebration thing must be pretty good! Luckily I’ll be going with my good buddy Mark, who is an expert at queuing from his experiences at the Disney D23 expos, so he’ll kick my lazy butt into gear should I start moaning.

The next thing to consider is cosplay, which is something I have never done, but always thought about. I’d love to go as a Biker Scout, but the armour and helmet are very expensive, and I can imagine queuing in all that would not be particularly comfortable. I think a Jedi would be much more up my street as a virgin cosplayer, and a trip to Jedi Robe in London is on the cards. Maybe I could mix things up and go as a Jedi Trooper – Jedi from the neck down but with a trooper helmet. I have 15 months to get myself sorted, so plenty of time, and I may even get adventurous with my costume, but don’t count on it!

It would be remiss of myself to end this article without including the images of the classic Star Wars inspired trading cards I made from the 2007 Star Wars Celebration Europe in London, featuring yours truly. Just a pity I didn’t design at a higher resolution back then!

Star Wars Trading Card 1/6

Star Wars Trading Card 1/6

Star Wars Trading Card 2/6

Star Wars Trading Card 2/6

Star Wars Trading Card 3/6

Star Wars Trading Card 3/6

Star Wars Trading Card 4/6

Star Wars Trading Card 4/6

Star Wars Trading Card 5/6

Star Wars Trading Card 5/6

Star Wars Trading Card 6/6

Star Wars Trading Card 6/6

By the time Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016 comes around we’ll all have seen Star Wars Episode VII and projects such as Rogue One will be well on the way, so it’s fair to say it will be a quite incredible few days. Hope to see you there.

Record Store Day 2015 at David’s Music in Letchworth

Last year I turned up at my local record store, David’s Music, in the afternoon for some live music, without a a second thought for the exclusives on sale and whether they’d still be in stock. Of course they weren’t, and so I ended up getting the Beach Boys Surfin’ Safari reissue on eBay 2 weeks later, and at an inflated price. This year I went a little earlier, but it seems that 9.30am, 90 minutes after the store opened, was still within the expect a big queue time frame.

45 minutes and the weekly shop later and we returned, the we being my 6 year old son and I. Still a big queue, but what the hell, we joined it in a naive hope that it would move quickly. I wasn’t actually sure what was on offer this year, but one tweet to David’s Music later and one of the staff came out with a list for me. See, that’s one of the great things about David’s Music, not only do they have a fantastic selection of vinyl, and other forms of media too, but the staff are top notch, and the makes a huge difference. I decided on 7″ singles by Simon & Garfunkel, The Who and Brian Wilson, while my son Lucas chose Bears in Space by The 2 Bears – I’m thinking he knew something I didn’t, or just really likes bears.

Queue Outside David's Music for Record Store Day 2015

Queue Outside David’s Music for Record Store Day 2015

As records went out of stock the staff would come out and tell us, and that is exactly what happened with Simon & Garfunkel and The Who. Chatting to the guy in front of us in the queue and it turned out he wanted the Brain Wilson record too, so even if I made it to the front while there was still daylight, this chap might grab the last remaining copy of the one thing left on my wish list potentially still available. Even with this uncertainty looming, we stayed in the queue.

At 90 minutes I did wonder if it was wise, and whether it was all really worth it, but the doubt soon disappeared after the staff confirmed via their Twitter account they had 8 copies of Brian Wilson still in stock – surely that was enough to afford me a copy? Once inside we got to the counter pretty quickly, which seems strange as the queue outside moved far more slowly – must be a bigger on the inside Tardis type phenomenon.

I did manage to get the Brian Wilson single, which features two songs from his recent No Pier Pressure album: The Right Time and Sail Away, and is packed in an old school sleeve, complete with hole in the middle. I also got a Black Friday 2014 Bon Jovi release Live 2, with 2 live tracks on each side: I’ll Be There For You / Lay Your Hands On Me and Bad Medecine / Runaway. Bon Jovi have been my favourite band since listening to Slippery When Wet in 1986, while The Beach Boys I discovered a few years later. So even though only one was a Record Store Day 2015 release, both tickled my fancy and then some.

Record Store Day 2015 Purchases from David's Music

Record Store Day 2015 Purchases from David’s Music

Next year we’ll be sleeping overnight outside the shop, at least that’s what Lucas declared in this video we recorded just a few hours after our Record Store Day Experience:

The lesson learned is get there early for Record Store Day 2016, very early, and choosing a shop as good as David’s Music is also a huge positive too. I’m thinking reading up on the releases beforehand might be of benefit too, at least then I’ll know if there’s something I want, which for a vinyl collector is highly probable. It was a fun experience, and the atmosphere in the queue and inside the shop makes all the waiting worthwhile.