Author: Neil Hughes

I am a Freelance Writer, Blogger, LinkedIn Author and Podcaster. You can follow me on Twitter at @neilchughes or contact me via my site TechBlogWriter.co.uk if you want to reach out or appear on my podcast. You can also find me over at the LinkedIn's Publishers and Bloggers Group where I collaborate and support like-minded bloggers.

Muizenberg Beach Huts

Cape Town Adventure

I have been asked by several people about our recent trip to Cape Town. Rather than write the same email 15 times, I thought I would share the details behind our trip.

After securing flights at a great price thanks to Jack’s Flight Club for my wife’s birthday, we quickly found ourselves with a trip to Cape Town on the horizon. But where do we stay? After a little research, I quite liked the idea of combining the best of a city and beach break so narrowed down our options to Camps Bay, Sea Point and Simon’s Town.

As a man of a certain age, there was something incredibly appealing about Simon’s Town being a quaint little town with delicious food, and waking up to a beautiful view of the harbour. It is 45 minutes away from the main city but everything we wanted to do was on the doorstep and I loved the idea of retreating from the hustle and bustle at the end of each day.

I am a simple man of simple pleasures and my only demands from any accommodation is Free Wi-Fi and Free Breakfast. Simon’s Town Quayside Hotel had all this and a killer view to wake up to each morning, and for seven nights, it only cost £435 through Booking.com, so it seemed like a no brainer.

Day One: Boulders Beach The Penguin Colony

A short 15-minute walk from the Simon’s Town Quayside Hotel is Boulders Beach where you will find the famous colony of African Penguins. Two breeding pairs arrived at Boulders Beach in 1982 and founded their little colony. Since then, numbers have grown to around 3,000.

Boulders Beach Penguins Simon's Town Guide

In the afternoon, we took it easy and decided to soak up harbour life in Simon’s Town.

Day Two – Cape Town Explorer

As Cape Town is a 40-minute drive away and we were not driving, I wanted to find a private tour that would enable us to see Table Mountain, Robben Island, Bo Kaap and VA Waterfront all in one day. My Google search led me to Anna-Marie Smith who provides custom-designed private tours for optimum flexibility, maximum enjoyment, and best combinations for individual preferences.

Anna-Marie was the perfect guide who ensured we saw everything we wanted plus a few surprises too. She shared her passion for the natural outdoors, wildlife, and cultural heritage of the Western Cape to provide a and rewarding travel experience in a world-class destination.

Following Anna-Marie’s advice, we purchased tickets in advance for a morning slot to Table Mountain and a 1pm Ferry to Robben Island and she took care of everything else.

Top of Table Mountain looking down at Lions Head, Robben Head, Green Point Stadium from 2010 World Cup and little old me

Day Three – Snorkel With Seals

The idea of taking a boat into the middle of nowhere and jumping into the water with the Cape Fur Seals and have a blast with the clowns of the sea was too hard to resist. The destination was Partridge Point which is home to a few hundred seals.

My wife was a little nervous about how to get in and out of the boat and is not a very confident swimmer. But the staff at Pisces Diving were first class and instantly put her at ease and ensured she too had the time of her life. The seals are extremely curious and playful and entertained divers and snorkelers alike. They mostly hang around the surface when they are in the water but also dive down to 25 meters to Scuba divers.

An experience that will stay with us both for the rest of our lives.

Snorkeling With seals Simon's Town

Day Four – Shark Cage Dive

When staying at Simon’s Town Quayside Hotel, breakfast is served at the Saveur Restaurant which is a 2-minute walk away. Next, to the restaurant, you will find Apex Shark Expeditions where you can experience a shark dive in a metal cage.

On the way, we encountered a school of dolphins before anchoring by seal island which is home to over 80,000 seals. Based on the weather, Apex will decide on the best spot to weigh anchor and begin attracting sharks to the vessel. The cage is then deployed, where it floats next to the boat.

Once a shark approaches the boat, bait is kept in the water to keep the shark around long enough for identification, viewing and cage diving purposes. The sharks come very close to the boat. Although it might sound scary, it really isn’t, but it is an amazing experience that you will never forget. We were also incredibly fortunate to encounter a school of dolphins on the trip which made the day even more special.

Day Five –  Muizenberg Beach Huts and Kalk Bay

From our hotel in Simon’s Town, we got an Uber to Muizenberg Beach to check out the Instagrammable red huts for around £6.00. Bright, vibrant and very photogenic, the Muizenberg beach huts continue to be an Instagrammer’s delight and a perfect backdrop and location for film and commercial shoots. The beach with its huts is a perfect setting for safe swimming, family outings, learning to surf, sun-bathing and ice-cream eating.

Muizenberg Beach Huts

Once we had secured our cool pics, we hailed another Uber to Kalk Bay which cost £3.00. Forbes Magazine’s Ann Abel finds up-and-coming neighborhoods slightly out of the mainstream where local creatives live and work. In her list of the 12 coolest suburbs in the world, you will find the quaint and rustic Kalk Bay. With its old world charm and fab restaurants like the acclaimed Olympia Cafe, Kalk Bay is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.

The main road is filled with colourful clothing and bric-a brac stores, coffee shops and art galleries. And there’s music if you’re in the mood at spots like the iconic Brass Bell and the laid back Cape To Cuba restaurant. Having soaked up the cool vibe and grabbing something to eat and a cold beer, we used the free wi-fi to grab an Uber back to Simon’s town for only £5.00.

Day Six – Cape Point

A combination of having no public transport and Simon’s Town being a little out of the way, getting to Cape Point was more of a challenge than I expected. The first option was to get a boat cruise around Cape Point. But we wanted to get off and walk up to the lighthouse so this was out of the question. With no apparent trips from Simon’s Town, it was looking like we would need to get an Uber to Camps Bay and get the Red Bus trip to Cape Point, but this seemed very inefficient.

The problem with getting a cab is that the paid entrance gate to Cape Point is 15km away from Cape Point itself. So you need to pay the entrance fee of the cab driver and they will have to wait for you. Luckily, we befriended an Uber driver who advised he would take us to Cape Point, wait for 2 hours while we look around and then take us back to Simon’s Town for 500 South African Rand which is only £25.

The driver picked us up at 08:15 and we arrived at 08:50. South African residents only have to pay around £4.00 entrance fee so we covered this and he waited in the car for us to return. From here, we had a few options. It’s a 90-minute return hike to Cape Point, or you can buy a single or return ride on the Funicular and be at the top in just a couple of minutes. We got the first Funicular ride of the day at 09:00 and were the first people at the top before the busloads of tourists arrived.

Simon's Town to Cape Town

We stayed for two hours and was back in Simon’s Town by lunchtime.

Day Seven – Simon’s Town and Long Beach

Our hand was forced today as all the roads were closed due to the Cape Town Cycle Tour running through Simon’s Town. We enjoyed a lazy day cheering on cyclists, soaking up the atmosphere and visiting the nearby Long Beach.

Long Beach Simon's Town

Day Eight

As we headed to the airport for our flight back to the UK, my wife and I began discussing the possibility of one-day retiring here in Simon’s Town and waking up this view every day. I cannot think of a better compliment than that.

Quayside Hotel Simon's Town

In 7 days, we both fell in love with how diverse activities in Cape Town. Where else in the world could you hike up mountains, swim with sharks, dance with penguins and swim with seals? As I stood with my head in the clouds at Cape Point while fending off baboons, I found myself reflecting on the incredibly humbling trip to Robben Island and being inspired by the story of Nelson Mandela.

Our Cape Town adventure was full of experiences that we will never forget and I wish you the best on yours too.

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Room 217 Stanley Hotel

The Shining Jack Torrance Speech And A Night In Room 217 Of The Stanley Hotel

The Shining has so many memorable and dramatic monologues. There are probably more than a few frustrated writers that could relate to Jack Torrance played by the intense Jack Nicholson as he delivered a foul-mouthed, annoyed reaction to wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) when he shouted, “You’re Distracting Me.”

Wendy, let me explain something to you. Whenever you come in here and interrupt me, you’re breaking my concentration. You’re distracting me. And it will then take me time to get back to where I was. Understand? I’m gonna make a new rule.

Whenever I’m in here, and you hear me typing, whether you don’t hear me typing, whatever the f*** you hear me doing in here, when I’m in here, that means that I am working. That means don’t come in. Now do you think you can handle that? Why don’t you start right now and get the f*** out of here?

I recently stayed in room 217 of the Stanley Hotel. This is the room that Stephen King spent a night back in the 70s in but the entire hotel was empty. After a few nightmares and seeing a few spooky things, it inspired him to write The Shining. A few years later Jim Carrey filmed the Dumb and Dumber movie here and also decided to spend a night in room 2017. But he only lasted half a night and to this day refuses to talk about precisely what happened in this very room.

The Shining used to be continuously streaming on channel 42, but because of copyright issues, it has since been removed. So I took a walk down to Estes Park to pick up a copy of the DVD. So to set the scene, we’re staying in 217, we have a copy of the Shining on DVD, and a glass of bourbon on the rocks just like Jack Nicholson did in the movie. About an hour into the film at the moment where things start to go a little bit dark where Jack Nicholson starts talking to a ghostly barman, the DVD player powered off.

This was more than a little spooky because we were watching the movie in the dark. But, hey I’m a tech guy, so I tried to troubleshoot the problem. I traced the power of the DVD player to the back of the big bulky unit which was very difficult to move. I completely removed the power, and after around three attempts I managed to get it working again and sat back in bed to enjoy the movie. 20 minutes later, things started to go a little dark again, and the power went one more time. But this time it was not coming back.

I couldn’t even remove the disc and concluded that either the DVD player is faulty of there’s something in this room telling us it didn’t want this to watch it, I don’t know which it was so I gave up. In the morning when I was preparing to check out the DVD player was working absolutely fine and removed my disc without any issues.

If you have stayed in room 217 or thinking about spending the night, please contact me and share your experiences, after all, All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Spotify Running Playlists for House of Cards’ Frank Underwood, Claire Underwood and Doug Stamper

Ironically, nothing reminds you that you need to go out for a run more than binge viewing your way through another House of Cards season. Running plays a big part in the TV show and many are still trying to find out the hidden meaning behind the old woman telling Claire Underwood not to run in the cemetery in season one.

Have you ever wondered what Frank and Claire Underwood listen to on those infamous late night runs? Have you been tempted to purchase a North Face vest and live out your very own House of Card’s fantasy while running through the streets of your hometown? For those of you that bravely or nervously answered yes to both of the questions, Spotify has a treat in store for you.

Three running playlists appeared on the music streaming service as Season 5 hit Netflix. We are led to believe that the plalists were created by Claire Underwood, Frank Underwood and even the even the quiet, cold and calculating Doug Stamper gets his own playlist too. We are used to seeing our favorite antiheroes Frank and Claire Underwood wearing all black, putting on a pair of headphones, and heading out for a run before plotting their next dark and dastardly move. But, now you can hear what music they are supposedly listening to.

Sure we could dismiss Spotify’s actions as a stupid and cringeworthy PR stunt that went too far. But, if the motivation to get you away from the couch and out for a run is to pretend to be a character from your fave TV show, I don’t see any harm in that.

It’s fair to say that all three of the Spotify playlists contain an eclectic mix of tracks. Claire Underwood goes for girl power with the likes of Florence and the Machine, Beyonce, Tina Turner. Even though a bizarre appearance of We Are The World appears, it’s Foreigner’s, Cold As Ice that reveals more than she would like you to see.

Frank Underwood predictably opens up with Sinatra’s My Way. I cannot help but think that he is also very aware of the irony of including the often misunderstood protest song Born in the USA. Although I struggle to think of Frank singing Danger Zone from the top of his voice while running through a deserted graveyard. (more…)

Why There Is More To Wendy Williams Than ‘Talk-Show Wendy’

We are living in an age of instant gratification where even businesses are guilty of concentrating on the sprint rather than the marathon. We also convince ourselves that successful people are lucky or born with an exceptional talent. But dismissing someone’s work ethic as luck is quite possibly the biggest insult there is.

In a world of shortcuts, the harsh reality is that there is no secret sauce to cook up a dish of success. As for all those online courses and eBooks that promise to help you get rich quick, the inconvenient truth is that it’s only the author that is going to make money fast.

The truth that nobody wants to hear is that the only path to greatness requires hard work and dedication. The countless hours that it takes to master a skill and the sacrifices along the way that it takes to make it possible. Or as my teenage son tell me, it’s all about the grind.

However, the story of how individuals are investing 10,000 hours to master a skill rather than binge-watching TV shows on Netflix is one that is seldom told. For example, Wendy Williams is best known for her long-running daytime Emmy-nominated talk show, “The Wendy Williams Show.”

However, there is no such thing as overnight success. When running on the comparison treadmill, many choose to conveniently forget about how Williams built a fan base throughout a 23-year career in radio.

Rather than comparing herself to others in the industry, she decided to use her unique and authentic voice to build her brand. An audience of over 12 million people allowed her to become one of the most popular personalities in radio.

Wendy was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in November of 2009 and became one of only a handful of women to achieve the honor. The nurturing of relationships with an audience builds a trust that should never be taken for granted.

A part of what I love about my show is the connection I have with my audience and fans, whether it be in the studio, or while they’re watching at home. – Wendy Williams

Refreshingly, despite enjoying phenomenal success with an Emmy-nominated daily talk show, she is keen to show the world that there is much more to her than talk-show Wendy. Although from the outside people might see an actress, comedian, entrepreneur, designer, or New York Times best-selling author, Wendy Williams is much more comfortable being seen as a mother and a businesswoman. (more…)

Drone Deploy Offers Real-Time Drone Mapping With Fieldscanner

Drones are a guilty pleasure for many tech fans who can be seen flying their latest gadget on a beach near you this summer. In a world where people feel the urge to go the extra mile to make their travel videos stand out on Facebook and Instagram, there is an argument that the aerial footage from your holiday is a cool feature to have in your arsenal.

Meanwhile, businesses have been using the similar footage for showcasing their work from a unique vantage point. But, you could be forgiven for thinking that ultimately the footage rarely delivers any real value or tangible results to individuals or businesses.

Under your radar, DroneDeploy has been bringing something new to the table that will change the way you think about drones. The cloud software platform is designed for commercial drones and is transforming the way businesses leverage aerial data across multiple industries such as agriculture, construction, mining, inspection and surveying to name but a few.

To put this technology into perspective, DroneDeploy users have mapped and analyzed over 8 million acres in over 135 countries. The recent introduction of Fieldscanner is already proving to be a real game changer with farmers by giving them an eye in the sky.

A real-time view of a farmer’s fields that can reveal crop damage, pest problems and the effects of weather is proving to be invaluable to the 21st-century farmer. Anyone looking for ROI can instantly see the benefits of increased efficiency, decreased costs and increase yields.

(more…)

How to Listen to Podcasts on the Amazon Echo

So you treated yourself to an Amazon Echo or Dot. After checking the weather, news, traffic updates, sports headlines, and the numerous easter eggs to amuse your friends, most of you reading this will quickly want to make practical use of the new digital assistant sitting patiently in your home.

The beauty of podcasts is you can listen and learn about subjects you are curious about in almost any location. But did you know you can ask Alexa to play your favorite show with one voice request?

Amazon has partnered with the free podcast and internet radio service provider TuneIn which features over 100,000 radio stations and 5.7 million podcasts. The best part about this function is you don’t need to worry about an account signup, login, or any configuration to add the ability to your Amazon Echo.

Thankfully, you are free to request any of these by simply asking Alexa. For example, to listen to my show, you would simply say:
“Alexa, play the Tech Blog Writer Podcast.” And it will play the latest episode of my show.

How to Listen to Podcasts on the Amazon Echo

How to Listen to Podcasts on the Amazon Echo

Assuming you know the name of your favorite radio station or podcast, all you need to do is ask Alexa, and you can carry on doing your chores or cooking a nice meal while listening to your favorite show.

How Do I Skip An Episode Of A Podcast On Amazon Echo?

The only downside of listening to podcast episodes on Amazon Echo is that it will automatically play the most recent episode. If you are a few shows behind then you can merely say “Skip” or “Next” to go to the next episode.

Unfortunately, you can’t use an episode’s name to locate a particular episode at the moment. Here is a list of the commands that you can use while an episode is currently playing on your Amazon Echo:

  • “Back” to go to the previous episode
  • “Pause”
  • “Continue”
  • “Stop”

However, there’s no way to skip forwards or backwards within an episode which can be frustrating when listening to a show littered with sponsored ads.

That’s all you need to start listening to podcasts or radio stations from all over the world on an Amazon Echo or Dot device in the comfort of your home. It can be quite handy when you have your handsful to say “Alexa Play the…” and has enabled me to catch up with the growing number of podcasts that I love.

I would love to hear how you are getting on with using voice control to listen to podcasts. What shows do you like? Do you find the feature useful? And do you have any additional tips?

Let me know your thoughts by commenting below or tweet me @neilchughes.

The Warriors (1979) Cyrus Speech

I am a man of a certain age that still remembers vividly the moment when The Warriors first appeared on TV. Back in the days where everyone watched the same shows or movies, you could walk into an office or school the following day, and there would be a universal water cooler moment.

Whether it be the day that Alien was first screened and the infamous scene with John Hurt or the legendary scene in Walter Hill’s ‘The Warriors’ where he portrayed gang leader Cyrus and said the words “Can you dig it?” Fast forward into my formative years, and a band called the Mock Turtles even had a hit with Can You Dig It?

Upon hearing that actor Roger Hill died at only 65 back in 2014, I felt an incredible urge to protect his legacy and the precious memories his performance gave me.

Here is both text and video from his legendary monologue as Cyrus in The Warriors way back in 1979.

Cyrus full speech from The Warriors 1979

I say the future is ours…
…if you can count!
– Come on, Cyrus, we’re with you!
– Go ahead, bro!
Now, look what we have
here before us.
We’ve got the Saracens…
…sitting next to
the Jones Street Boys.
We’ve got the Moon Runners…
…right by the Van Courtland Rangers.
Nobody is wasting nobody. (more…)

4 Days in Reykjavík, Iceland

When planning a father and son trip to Reykjavík, it was easy to pick up cheap budget flights by booking six months in advance. But, Iceland is notoriously expensive, even a three-star hotel can set you back £200 a night.

However, we picked up a reasonably priced apartment from Airbnb that acted as the perfect base for our travels. We got the Flybus from the airport and got off at the Reykjavík Marina which is just a 5-10 minute walk away from the apartment. There is free wi-fi nearly everywhere in Reykjavik and even the tour buses have a handy USB charging dock to charge your phone or cameras much to the delight of my son.

All the trips we booked through Reykjavík excursions also picked up from the Marina too. The Blue Lagoon books up in advance so make sure you book before you travel to avoid disappointment. It’s a unique experience that has to be ticked off your bucket list.

Next up was a Game of Thrones tour. The day covers many memorable locations from season four such as the Bloody Gate. You also get to see where the Hound and Brienne of Tarth fight for Arya Stark and the stomping ground of the White Walkers. The trip is a great day out that lets you see some beautiful scenery and add something different to your holiday.

Next up we went on the South Shore Adventure where we got to see the gorgeous Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls. Seljalandsfoss is part of the Seljandsá river, which has its origins in Eyjafjallajökull glacier.

The waterfall was also used in the films Thor: The Dark World and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. We also went to Reynisfjara black sand beach, with the Reynisdrangar rock formations, columnar basalt and hundreds of puffins.

Finally, a must see for any visitor to Reykjavik is the Golden Circle Tour where you can see some of Iceland‘s most stunning sights. Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area, and the Gullfoss Waterfall will blow you away.

Make no mistake, Iceland is a beautiful country, but it also happens to be one of the most picturesque too. The breathtaking Nordic landscapes look like something from another planet. Maybe this explains why Hollywood directors spend so much time there.

The only downside is how expensive everything is. A Big Mac will set you back around £12, lunch around £20 and if you fancy a beverage of the alcoholic variety then expect to pay £8 a beer, £16 for a cocktail and £17 for a bottle of wine.

Thankfully, we came to Iceland for none of the above, but to appreciate the country for its beauty and this is priceless. Maria Helena was the perfect host at our Airbnb accommodation, and we left with amazing memories of our time in this fantastic city.

West Coast America Itinerary (San Francisco, LA and Vegas)

Tours of the West Coast USA are often overpriced, and you end up missing more than you actually see, so decided to see if I could put something together cheaper myself. Before putting my plan into action, I secured cheap flights through Skyscanner. We would fly into San Francisco for four days and will then fly into Vegas for five days. Now the fun part begins, how much can we squeeze into a ten-day adventure?

San Francisco

As we were not planning on spending too much time in our hotel and the City is notoriously expensive, our requirements were quite basic. A clean room in a good location with free Wi-Fi and breakfast were top of the list and Cornell Hotel de France fitted the bill perfectly.

Our perfect base was within walking distance to Powell Street, Chinatown, etc. but my favorite part of the hotel was how it oozes character.

Dylan’s Famous City Tour

As we only had a few days to spare in San Francisco, we didn’t have time to get our bearings so decided to book Dylan’s Famous Tour, and it was probably the best decision we could have made. On one day, we get to see everything the city has to offer and even had a chance to escape the hustle and bustle to spend over an hour in Muir Woods National Park.

The tour covered Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, City Hall, Twin Peaks, The Mission, The Castro, Pacific Heights, Presidio, Golden Gate Bridge, Fort Point and Tenderloin. It was the perfect introduction to San Francisco and enabled us to see where we would like to return to and soak up the vibe.

Although the tour is a little pricey, there was an offer at the time that gave us a discounted bike rental.

Bike Across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito

High on my bucket list was to cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge and head down to Sausalito. A little research revealed that it would be a steady 9-mile ride and downhill getting there, but getting back is a little on the steep side.

We were faced with two options.

1. Cycle down to Sausalito and then face the challenging ride back
2. Cycle down and get the ferry back.

We chose an alternative and hired electric bikes, which many will consider cheating, but we loved every minute of it. I must confess that it felt good to glide past people effortlessly while they were swearing and sweating on the big climb back.

If the weather is good, I cannot recommend cycling down to Sausalito enough. Cycling across the iconic Golden Gate bridge not once but twice is a memory that will stay with you forever, and Sausalito is incredibly beautiful too.

San Francisco Movie Sights Tour

As a film buff with strict time constraints, we decided to go on the San Francisco Movie Sights Tour. The 3-hour tour includes clips from over 50 of the most famous movies filmed in San Francisco. Actors-turned-guides lead you on this interactive city tour, as they match clips with locations right outside the bus’ windows and share their wealth of San Francisco and cinema knowledge.

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Are Facebook’s 8 Billion Views the Result of Freebooting?

Mark Zuckerberg recently revealed that Facebook is now generating 8 billion videos views a day from only 500 million people, and if you are proficient with numbers, you will notice that these figures don’t quite stack up. Most people scroll down their Facebook timeline with the mute button on their device while navigating away from auto-playing videos and are blissfully unaware that after only 3 seconds this is classed as a view and allows advertising income to be gained from the video.

Over on YouTube, a video has to be playing for 30 seconds for the view count to be recorded. Many are starting to notice that there is a billion dollar industry emerging known as “freebooting” where people can steal YouTube content and promote via Facebook creating unreal view counts and forced virility as Facebook videos are automatically prioritised over YouTube videos.

However, a video is currently going viral and receiving widespread support after pointing out the struggles for content creators suggesting that Facebook is purposely “rigging” their algorithm for their own personal gain.

Very often the original creator of video content will obtain a few views from their own YouTube channel whereas the video can achieve millions of views on Facebook, which generates advertising income for the social media behemoth rather than the content creator(s) who rely on revenue for advertisements.

Primarily the content creators are not receiving money or recognition from these videos whereas Facebook and the video stealing accomplice receive the returns.

YouTube’s copyright infringement system seems to be quite stringent by comparison, and it seems clear that Facebook’s is turning a blind eye to protect their cash cow while the video stealer appears to get away with a lucrative swag bag every time with no threat or fear of any consequences.

(more…)