The Expanse Season 2 Has Arrived On Netflix UK

After what feels like a lifetime, season 2 of The Expanse has arrived on Netflix UK. Season 1 took us to about halfway through Leviathan Wakes, the first book in the series while season 2 finishes that book off and takes us part way through Caliban’s War.

The Expanse, if you’re new to the franchise, follows the adventures of James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante as they try to manoeuvre a complex political landscape consisting of the United Nations, Mars Congressional Republic, and the Outer Planets Alliance. Toss a mysterious aggressor into the mix who seems intent on causing a war, and you’ve got not only some great sci-fi but also a great story of intrigue.

Suffice to say this is one of my top TV picks, but if you’re in the mood for reading ahead the books are well worth a look too (I ended up reading them all so far).

Check out Season 2 of The Expanse on Netflix UK or, if you don’t have a Netflix account, you can pick up season 1 on Amazon.

Why I don’t like advert blockers (and why I use one)

People shouting about advertsAdvert blockers – the scourge of publishers and saviour of browsers. Or, at least, that’s the way they’re portrayed in myriad blog posts and articles across the Internet. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, advert blockers do exactly what the name suggests; they block adverts from appearing when you’re browsing the Internet.

Before we get going, it’s worth mentioning that I don’t run adverts on Geek-Speak. I used to but haven’t for quite some time. I also ran adverts on my YouTube channel until very recently but, again, no longer do.

Despite the fact that I don’t run adverts on my own content anymore, I understand why people do. I know running a website can be a costly business and publishers want to recoup some of that cost. Advertising is one way to do that. And that’s why I’ve always thought advert blockers are an unfair tool to be using when browsing the net. If a publisher has gone to the trouble of providing content for you to consume, it’s perfectly acceptable for them to include some way for them to make a living from their work. As I mentioned above, this argument isn’t entirely personal to me but it was at one point… and could be again.

If everyone on the net starts blocking adverts, publishers start to see their revenues drop. If publishers start to see their revenues drop, they’ll either go out of business or find another way to make their money, say by introducing paywalls or (and I hate this) asking you to fill in a survey before getting to view the content. In short, the money to run the Internet has to come from somewhere and if it’s not via advertising which, let’s face it, is free to you and me, it’ll be by some other means that won’t necessarily be as free!

OK Chris, but didn’t you mention you use an advert blocker?

Yes. I’ve just started. And I feel dirty.

Oh alright, I don’t feel dirty. Let me explain why I started using an advert blocker and what I think it means for the future of the Internet.

I started using an advert blocker because of bad adverts. Most of the sites I visit have adverts on them in one form or another and that’s perfectly fine. What started to get on my nerves was the number of sites I was visiting that had completely irrelevant adverts on them. I’ve lost track of the number of times I visited a site to take a look at someone doing car repairs (yes, I really do enjoy watching those videos) only to find the sidebar peppered with “Local mum tells you how to make £2000 a month from the comfort of your sofa” or the dreaded picture of a bride in a skimpy dress with the headline, “The photographer got more than he bargained for at this wedding!”. I mean, seriously. Those have nothing to do with the subject I was actually interested in and visited the site for.

Some of the adverts were bordering on pornographic. I’m an adult, but it gets a bit tricky when your wife notices some dodgy pictures on your computer screen and you have to convince her you really were trying to learn about MIG Welding.

After one bad advert too many, I came to a decision. That was it. I was going to have to install an advert blocker. The sad thing is I recognise it will block other less intrusive ads and, potentially, reduce the income of publishers I trust and care about.

So what can publishers do?

Stop showing bad adverts! I know that sounds really simplistic but if some adverts weren’t so annoying people wouldn’t need to resort to using ad blockers. Adblock Plus has a feature that allows you to let some “acceptable ads” through the filter, and the criteria look pretty sensible. Take a look at the Adblock Plus Acceptable Adverts page for details on that.

An alternative would be to stop showing adverts altogether and introduce another means of generating income like a paywall or subscription. That’s not going to be popular, but there has to be some means of income if a publisher wants to pay its hosting fees and salaries.

Is a paywall likely to work for smaller publishers (like me) though? I mean, if you were able to only see the introduction of this post would you have paid to read the rest? I think I’m a pretty good writer, but even I think paywalls aren’t the best means of generating income for small bloggers. Services like Patreon might be the way forward here though. Patreon lets you become a content creator’s “patron”, paying an amount of you choosing to support the content creator in their work. So, for example, you could decide to pay $1 per month to support Geek-Speak. It’s not a subscription as such because the site would be open to non-patrons as well as patrons, but it’s a way of showing your appreciation.

Before you think I’m about to go on the scrounge, I don’t have a Patreon set up (although I do have a link to send me a little Bitcoin if you enjoyed this at the end of the article). It is something I’ve thought about doing, however; especially as my desire to post more and more YouTube videos grows. It is very much a nascent thought, though, and not something I have plans to do in the immediate future.

So what do you think?

What do you think about ad blockers? Are they a problem for publishers? Will they cause a shift in how publishers make their money? And will that shift be for the better or worse?

Are adverts an annoyance to you, or are they a necessary part of life on the Internet?

And what do you think about ideas like Patreon? Does it seem like the future of supporting creative content? And, purely for interest at the moment, would you support a Patreon for content creation on Geek-Speak and our YouTube channel (admittedly, if I were to post content more often)?

As ever, let us know your thoughts in the comments.

The Day Facebook’s App Strategy Suddenly Made Sense

I’ve been annoyed at Facebook for some time. Not because of anything particularly serious, but because of the irritating habit they have of creating standalone apps for various functions.

For example, there are now apps for:

  • managing your pages
  • sending and receiving messages
  • sharing private photos with friend and family
  • managing groups
  • managing adverts (as an advertiser)
  • … and more.

This is all before we get to what I would call the “main” Facebook app. You know, the one that lets you use Facebook as a social network.

All of the core functions used to be in the Facebook app. You could send messages, chat, manage photos, and, of course, post to your timeline and your pages. So why on earth has everything been separated out into different apps? It frustrated me no end.

And then one day it made sense to me. I decided I was spending too much time on Facebook but I didn’t want to leave altogether because I manage a couple of pages; one for Geek-Speak and one for my IT company. So I deleted the Facebook app.

Suddenly I wasn’t tempted to spend all day looking through my friends’ status updates. If I wanted to do that I had to load the site in the browser and that pretty much meant I would only do it when I was sitting at my laptop. Yes, I know Facebook works in a mobile browser, but I never really got into the habit of using it like that. The key thing is that I was still able to send and receive messages for my pages, still able to keep my pages updated, and still able to keep up with what was happening in a few groups that interested me without the temptation to get bogged down in what I previously thought of as the central Facebook experience.

Now, you may very well be reading this and thinking, “Duh – tell me something new”, but I had never considered ditching the personal part of Facebook before and now that I have… well… Facebook’s app strategy makes sense to me. It lets me tailor which parts of the platform I want to use. Sure, if I want to use everything it means I have to have a load of apps on my phone, and that’s still a bit annoying, but it also means I can cut out any particular app and disregard that part of Facebook.

I still check Facebook regularly, and I’m still fairly active on my personal timeline… just less so than I used to be, and you know what? I feel better for it.

This blinding flash of the obvious has been brought to you by the letter F :)

Rhett & Link: Facebook (old but good)

I’ve been looking through old posts on Geek-Speak lately, deleting ones that were very much of their time and no longer relevant, and rediscovering some stuff I’d forgotten about.

Here’s one from the depths of the archive – Rhett & Link’s Facebook song. It’s odd to see Facebook looking as it did all those years ago, but the song is still fantastic. Enjoy :)

Darth Vader on Harmonica (old but good!)

Yes, it’s been around for ages, but I still laugh when I watch this. Darth Vader on harmonica :)

Where do you fit in the universal scale?

Whether we consider something “big” or “small” often depends on the context we see it in. Place a Spitfire next to a Boeing 747 and the Spitfire seems small. Try to fit it into your living room, though, and it suddenly seems a lot bigger!

Scale of universeIf you want to get an idea of where we humans fit in the scale of the universe, there’s a great site to help you do just that. Handily, it’s called “The Scale of the Universe 2“.

As well as letting you move up and down the size scale (using the scrollbar), you can click on the various items you see to learn a little more about them. It’s a genuinely fascinating site and makes me appreciate just how much stuff is happening on too small a scale for me to see… and just how small humankind is in comparison to the rest of the universe.

One slight word of warning, you’ll need Adobe Flash so you may have difficulties if your browser has automatically disabled it. Assuming you’re good to go, though, head on over to The Scale of the Universe 2 and take a look.

See how Rogue One leads into A New Hope [spoilers]

First, SPOILERS AHEAD! Do not read any further if you don’t want to know the ending of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Still here?

Are you sure now?

Alright, here we go. Rogue One ends just before the opening scene of A New Hope. If you’ve seen A New Hope, you already know the story of Rogue One; it’s pretty much the opening crawl. While I appreciated Rogue One would fit nicely with the rest of the Star Wars canon I hadn’t realised just how much attention to detail had gone into making the two match up.

Rogue One ends (These are those spoilers, remember? One last chance to look away) with the Rebel Fleet taking a pounding from the Imperial Navy. Darth Vader makes a supremely memorable assault on the Tantive IV in an attempt to stop the Rebels escaping with the Death Star plans. We get to look inside the Tantive IV and get a brief on-screen appearance from a CGI Princess Leia.

Vimeo user Barre Fong has spliced the end of Rogue One with the opening of A New Hope, and it’s plain to see there was a great effort to make everything look just as it should. Sure, you can occasionally see the effects in A New Hope are a bit dated (after all, it did come out in 1977) but it still stands up well and you could almost believe it’s a continuation of the same movie.

Take a look at the video below and enjoy just how well Disney and Gareth Edwards made these two great movies join up (and look soon, because I have no idea if or when the video will be pulled off Vimeo).

If you would like to own Rogue One for yourself it will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on the 10th of April.

Help your children learn to code with Code.org

Computers are everywhere. They make modern televisions, washing machines, and cars work, they control the flow of electricity into your home, they control the sequence of traffic lights on your local roads, and they are used to track and transport the food to your local supermarket.

You get the idea.

Hour of Code - Star WarsI passionately believe that learning to code is a valuable life skill for children to pick up as early as possible, and I was impressed that my children’s school held an Hour of Code event back in December of last year. That’s where I came across Code.org, which has loads of resources for introducing children to coding. I mean, I would have killed to have a Star Wars programming course when I was little… kids today don’t know they’re born!

If you’re looking to get your little ones interested in making technology work for them, you could do a lot worse than checking out Code.org. Who knows, you might even learn something yourself!

Classical orchestra and chilli peppers? How do they keep going!?

What happens if you give the Danish National Chamber Orchestra super-hot chilli peppers? Well, I know I’ve munched on a few chillis that turned out to be too much for me so you might be thinking you know how this is going to go.

Watch the video below, though (from 2014) and I think you’ll be surprised as just how disciplined these folks are to keep going while obviously suffering!

A Soft Murmur … of background noise while you work

A Soft MurmurSome time ago, I wrote about a website called Coffitivity. Coffitivity plays the background noise of a cafe so that you can have some ambience while working. I work alone (not in the Chuck Norris sense, it’s just that I work from home) so sometimes a bit of background noise can be welcome.

More ambience sites have sprung up since then, and one of my new favourites is A Soft Murmur. But why is it different?

Simply put, it’s because it offers a variety of sounds. The coffee shop is still in there, but you can mix it with thunder, rain, white noise, singing bowls, and more. Each sound has a slider (on the desktop version of the site) so you can get the relative levels you want. Personally, I like listening to the rain and thunder so that’s the combination I usually go with.

I find having a little background noise does help with my concentration, and these sites have an advantage over “live” noise in that I can turn them off anytime I want to. It’s kind of hard to get everyone in my local coffee shop to be quiet on demand! The disadvantage, of course, is there’s no counter to buy coffee from!

Have a listen at http://asoftmurmur.com/ and see if it works for you.