November 2009 Archives

iPhone - Every Little Helps

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O2's iPhone exclusivity ended with the announcement that Orange and then Vodafone would be supplying the Apple gadgets to punters.  Orange have already launched, while Vodafone are set to begin distributing the popular handset in 2010. Now there's a fourth player in the market.


Yes, Tesco.  The shop where you get your oven chips, Brillo pads and White Lightning. 

Just last week I overheard someone on Twitter moaning that they were on a train full of folks toting iPhones. People wearing tracksuits and reading The Sun, old age pensioners and mucky kids with jam on their faces.

Normal people. 

"Has the iPhone stopped being cool?" he tweeted.  Of course, some wags replied that the iPhone had never cool.  It was, at best, geekily chic; totemic of IT's affluence in the noughties - a time where programming and interface design have been the only steady jobs left.  

But even though O2 had an exclusive contract, the iPhone was always too beautiful for geeks.  And, unlike the PC market, there was no monopoly to hold back Apple's populist championing of form and function. The iPhone was unlike any mobile out there. It was (and is) the perfect marriage of industrial design, operating system and, in the App Store, backend service. Of course everyone wants one.

Has the iPhone jumped the shark? We think that its moment of kudos has passed. Gadget geeks may graduate to other handsets;  to the Motorola Droid and the HTC HD2.  That means the rest of us can continue enjoying one of the best mobile platforms ever conceived, free of the need to be cool.

By the way - we got a sneak peek at the packaging for the Tesco iPhone launch:


Video: Creative Zii EGG Android

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I keep hearing that iPods etc. are 'multimedia devices'. This might be true but they're really mp3 players that have been turned into a multimedia player. But with the much fabled Apple iTablet on the horizon Creative have put together their Zii EGG Android device to be released within the next few months.

The device runs  Android on top of Creative's ZMS-05 chipwhich allows developer to develop for Creative's Plasza platform as well as Android.

I used to be a Creative mp3 nut, but lately their players have been a couple of years behind so I'm quite excited to see them pushing the boundaries again with what looks like an impressive device.

Creative released the ZEN X-Fi2 which had some plusesbut ultimately failed because of it's poor touchscreen. It looks like they've learnt from the experience by putting a 10-point multitouch capacitive input.


  • 32GB of built-in memory and a full SD slot
  • 320 x 480 screen
  • 3-axis accelerometer
  • Front and rear facing cameras
  • HD playback
  • 1080p video output
  • X-Fi audio processing
  • WiFi
  • GPS
  • Bluetooth 2.1+EDR

Video: Dell Mini 3i - comes in porn palette colours!

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So, I'm sure you've heard that Dell will release a mobile phone. I was surprised at Palm entering so I guess anything's possible.

It runs on the Ophone OS which was created by China Mobile. Here's a video demo:

The specifications are listed below but what I love is the fact that it comes in Chippendale calendar colours 'oiled bronze' and 'red passion' (or 80s soft porn colours if you want). Why oh why would anyone want to put something called 'oiled bronze' or 'red passion' up against their ear is anyone's guess.

I can imagine the conversation:

Bell Boy: Oh cool, nice phone what is it?

Dell Boy: This? This my friend is my Red Passion. Wanna touch it?

So anyway, is this phone any good?? Short answer is I doubt it. I'm guessing it'll be a budget smartphone which isn't a bad thing but it's definately not a heavyweight contender.

The mini 3i will be released in China and Brazil.

  • 640x360 touchscreen display
  • Bluetooth
  • 3 mp auto-focus camera with flash and video
  • MicroSD slot
  • GPS with pre-loaded maps

Dawn in your Bedroom

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It's 8.30 on a bright November morning and I'm guessing that I'm the only blogger on the Computer Weekly site up and without a hangover.  Last night was the blog awards... but while my colleagues were pouring champagne down each other's pants, I was tucked up early in bed.  Testing an alarm clock.

One of the perks of being an International, jet-setting gadget blogger (if occasionally jumping on the Transpennine Express counts as jet-setting) is that you get sent gadgets to try.  After blogging about the Lumie Visor the other week, the company kindly sent me an alarm clock to give a go. My reputation clearly precedes me.

No ordinary alarm clock, this.  It's a Lumie Bodyclock Advanced 200.  Instead of waking you with the bludgeoning tones of Chris Moyles barking inanities into your face, it gently nudges you from slumber with a simulated sunrise.  A strong bulb gradually fades up until there's bright dawn in your bedroom.  Perfect for early morning meetings.

The advanced version we've been testing also has a nightlight feature that fades down when you go night night. If traffic and drunken revellers are a problem in your area, or you suffer from tinnitus, there's a built in white noise generator that'll mask any overwhelming background sound.  It has all the other bog-standard features you'd expect from an alarm clock too - rude beeping to get you out of bed if the light's not enough, configurable LED clock and snooze features.

I've been testing it for over a week - and it's certainly converted me.  You wake up slowly and naturally, rather than sitting bolt upright with drool hanging from your mouth, screaming for your mother.

The only issue I had is that I like an extra nudge - and had to set a separate radio alarm to go off in tandem. Lumie also produce a model with an FM radio built in.  Last time I checked, analogue radio was resolutely on its way out though. The digital switch over for radio is rumoured to come in 2015 - and a DAB alarm clock can be bought for under £50 these days.

Lumie Bodyclock alarms start at £58.67. The Bodyclock Advanced 200 we tested is £97.82.


Video: Computer Geekly's Weekly roundup!

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We saw a niche in the market. We thought long and hard. The demand grew. The ideas overflowed. And now it's finally here, the Computer Geekly video.

So what is it? Information and entertainment

Every week, Hermione Way of TechFluff fame will take the three BIGGEST stories coming out of the tech industry that you might have missed and puts her own unique twist to keep you entertained.

Download Magic Mouse drivers for Windows

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4074387265_affa2b3424_m.jpgApple's Magic Mouse is a joy to behold and shouldn't be restricted to just Mac users... and it hasn't.

You can now download the Magic mouse drivers here and enjoy flicking and stroking your mouse in front of a PC!

Source: Uneasy Silence

Picture from Cimm on flickr

ChromeOS: The Operating System for Gadgets?

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google-chrome.jpegYesterday evening (yesterday afternoon in the USA) Google formally demonstrated Google Chrome OS to a throng of salivating journalists. It's been known about for a while, but this was the first time anyone was able to look at it working. Those cynical scribes, almost to a man and woman, hit Twitter and the blogs soon after with a general response that can be largely summed up as "so what?"... Of course, there were positive voices here and there but, on the whole, it feels like most commentators were competing to be the little boy who saw the Emperor naked.

Chrome OS isn't an operating system in the traditional, desktop computing sense. It's designed to boot up from solid state hardware in about 7 of your Earth seconds, and be ready to use. Instead of applications on your local drive, the apps are online. They're Google apps like Docs and GMail, services like Facebook and Twitter. Although the OS has already been found out in the wild, you won't be able to buy Chrome OS in a box. You'll have to buy a device with the OS already embedded. 
My take is this: Chrome OS is for a growing audience of service users - people using the web, Facebook, emailing each other... It's for that generation of folks who have grown up with computers and mobile devices to whom SMS and Bebo are second nature, but who wouldn't know a spreadsheet even if their name appeared in one on Wikileaks. It's not necessarily for business users or digital specialists - though they can be online service users too.

The criticism I'm seeing splits into two camps. The first is should the Windows/Apple hegemony be quaking? It's a moot question - because until cloud computing is powerful enough to replace Exchange, Office and the MS monopoly in business, there will be a need for traditional laptops running Windows. Specialist apps will need a local OS for the time-being. Graphic designers will still want Photoshop on their Mac Pros. Gamers will still want machines you can max out with RAM and fit with the latest graphics card. 

What Google seem to be asking though, is why do you need all that just for getting your emails?

The second lot of criticism seems to be - "HAHA it's not an operating system at all! I am clever and techy and it's just Linux on a ROM chip!". This says more about journalistic expectation than the apparent intention of Chrome OS. People expected an OS that fit their existing view of Windows, OS X and the *NIX family. Google's offering is something different. It's "just a browser". That's kind of the point.

Could it fail? Yes, it most certainly could. There's a history of thin client devices coming to market and being given a jolly good ignoring by the general public and business. Oracle and Sun invested heavily in them during the 90s for example, with very little take up.

But, here's why I think the concept could work now in the consumer market. Next year is shaping up to be all about tablet PCs and netbooks: portable, lightweight computing devices that straddle the niche between smartphone and laptop. See where I'm going? Chrome OS will be debuting on a device, will be coming into a market and competing with similar products from Microsoft (the "Courier" project) and Apple (the mooted "Slate") - as well as in all probability ASUS, Dell and a bunch of others. So - this won't be a "wilderness" product; something no one understands. And, it'll be cheap, be branded with a name everyone knows and it'll be fast.

Could the public's willingness to accept Linux on netbooks be an indicator that they'll be happy to work with Chrome OS on a netbook or tablet? We don't have a crystal ball - just balls of steel. And we're willing to wait and see rather than condemn Chrome OS before the products have even come to market. In the meantime, you can find out what all the fuss is about on YouTube.

Mini MIDI: Korg's Nano Controller range

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I am that ubiquitous thing: a tech journalist with a secret past as a part-time musician.  I know it doesn't sound like a natural match but - believe me - we are legion.  It's always nice when my twin obsessions (gadgets and noise) come together.  I've just been checking out Korg's NanoSERIES range of USB MIDI-controllers.  These things are very cool. And very weird.

To explain.... MIDI is the protocol for translating musical notes into bit and bytes.  That includes routines for volume, tone, key pressure and so on. Budget MIDI-controllers are rarely very exciting - little plastic keyboards or USB mixers with lots of knobs.  Boring. Functional.

Then along comes the Korg Nano range.  Taking a more designery (I'm assured by Google that this is now a word) approach to gadget fashioning, they're three neat looking, strange little USB units with different MIDI control functions. The nanoKEY is a slick mini-keyboard, with chunky keys for porky fingers like mine.  Smaller than a laptop QWERTY, it'll easily fit on your desk, we suspect. Then there's the nanoKONTROL - a similar board with lots of knobs. If you've ever tried using a music recording program you'll know there are an interminable number of volume, balance, equaliser, level, send, effects and (fill in the blank here) controls.  With this, you can assign software controls to nine real live twisty knobs and sliders and eighteen switches. Not enough control for you?  Add another one. Or a third. Brilliant.  A just released new plug-in for Apple's GarageBand makes it even more useful.

That just leaves our favourite: the NanoPAD.  It's a similarly sized deck with a dozen sensitive pads that you can tap, smack or hit with a drumstick. Instant drumkit, just add a laptop. And some software.

All the Nano range are under £50 - with the nanoKEY available for £39.  When mine arrives, I'll give you a more in-depth overview. 

Here's Korg's offical video, Check out the chap rocking out at the bus stop...

Kindle for PC, Available Now

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Kindle for PC - Amazon's Windows based electronic book reading software - is now available for free download. Yay.  Amazon have only sent me 4 emails reminding me of the fact so far.  Even though I grabbed it last week.

First impressions? I'm sure this beta version will make a lot more sense if you actually have a Kindle.  The standalone functionality enables you to download and install electronic books wrapped in Kindle DRM, and share them with your device.  Which is super.  You can bookmark pages, synchronise your reading progress between devices and quickly navigate through your download library.

If you don't actually have one of Amazon's coveted e-readers, you can still use the software to buy new books - though not all titles are available in the UK. Still, 300,000 books is a pretty good selection. Disappointingly, the overall functionality of the PC software isn't as good as some existing free solutions.  Adobe Reader comes to mind.  Try dragging a PDF to Kindle for PC and it'll just look at you funny.

You also miss out on the unique selling points of an e-reading device; electronic ink, portability and so on.  We could, at a pinch, see ourselves installing this on a netbook - and that would save us the price of a real Kindle; currently about £155.  Give it a few months though, when 2010's inevitable tablet PC war begins. Then Kindle for PC will be worth another look. 

Orange Users Can Now Tweet by SMS

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Orange are the latest UK mobile operator to strike a deal with Twitter, following the lead of Vodafone and O2.  You can now receive updates from the service by SMS - and send Tweets by text message too - if you use the provider. Not only that but they've enabled picture messaging too, which is apparently a bit of a first.  So, hurrah for that.

Fun fact: Twitter was first conceived as an SMS messaging service, not the online, real-time, instant messenger that it's become. In Europe, at least, this ambition was thwarted by the fact that our mobile operators charge for SMS transit - so Twitter were unable to extend the free service they launched in the USA to our shores. Put that in your next pub quiz.

Alas, I wasn't alerted to the Orange deal by a press release or even the message that now greets Twitter users when they log directly into the site.  No - I was woken up this morning at 2 AM by a text message from @goodbyebuddy, the Twitter service that tells you when someone's unfollowed you. So, thanks for that @MediaAsia. No longer will you be able to enjoy my often sweary micro-thoughts on obscure 80s goth bands or my pithy mini-reviews of cancelled American TV shows.  I'm sorry I didn't follow you back, but I wasn't all that interested in the new Chupa Chups marketing campaign or which TV channel has secured Premier League football rights. In Hong Kong.

By the way, if you're an Orange, Vodafone or O2 user you can change your SMS settings on Twitter by going to the site and choosing Settings > Mobile

Video: Sony Ericsson Rachael: Android + Heart = Smartphone

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Sony Ericsson have taken a real beating of late, and despite the Satio looking like a powerful piece of kit, it's just not very clever. They seem to have made a note of this and ditched Symbian for Android. The video below will add a wow factor I can't put in words.

As long as the hardware matches the slick software then I can't see this going wrong. As with all Sony Ericsson's it will have a killer camera so I think I'm sold... as long as it doesn't look ugly. I once dated a Rachael and if this phone looks anything like her then I hope it comes with a massive stylus ;)

Video: Sony unveils 3D-360 degree display - Great for looking at

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Sony is at the forefront of 3D tech and this prototype is an example of their ambition.

3D has been restricted to flat screens but we all know that 3D should be something you can walk around etc. a bit like real life but without the touching.

If you ask me it looks like a soft toy trapped in time. Don't get me wrong, I like it but just look at his little face.

It's got 24-bit colour imagery and you can look at it from any angle without those cool glasses.Sony sees this as being something that can be used as a TV, in digital signage, 3D photo frame or something to help you shop online with.

Review: Google Maps Navigation

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There's been a bit of kerfuffle on the Internetworks about Google Maps Navigation lately.  Here are the Cliff's Notes:  A recent, Android-only update to Google Maps added turn by turn navigation to the app.  That means that anyone with a supported mobile phone, unlimited data and a built in GPS can now use Google Maps Navigation as a route planner and in-car navigation tool.  For nowt.

Unfortunately, Google Maps Navigation has only launched in the USA so far - and only on Android 2.0 devices.

But in all the Twittering and gnashing of keys, no one seems to have noticed that the current incarnation of Maps on Android - available here in the UK - is pretty handy right now.  You can already do route planning, turn by turn navigation and 3G location.

I've been trialling an HTC Hero on Orange (full deposition coming later this week) and used the opportunity to give the current navigation features a go.  My verdict? They're very handy - great for stomping around an unfamiliar city or taking a country walk - but the likes of Tom Tom and Navman don't have to worry too much.  Not yet anyway.  

The new and improved Google Maps Navigation on the other hand, that includes juicy features like Street View navigation and voice control.  And you'll never have to update a map again.   

Doom Everywhere...

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16 years ago, when I first downloaded the demo for 3D fragfest Doom to my Fujitsu 386 DX PC, I thought it was the canine's orbs.  This week I've been playing it in my web browser at, on an Android powered HTC Hero (on loan from Orange), on an iPhone and on a Mac.  Doom is the first person shooter that simply refuses to die.

And while I'm here getting all misty eyed about blasting cacodaemons, it's worth noting that the latest incarnation isn't the lovely looking but ludicrously unforgiving Doom 3 - but Doom Resurrection; a version of the revamped 3D shooter for the iPhone.

Sing along with me! "Ner ner, ner ner ner, ner ner ner, ner ner ner ner ner ner ner!"  Hmm.  Perhaps the original Doom theme doesn't translate all that well to text...


Review: Spotify for Android

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Thumbnail image for spotify-android-playlist2-large.jpg

Spotify for Android. Please note: these are not my playlists... Robbie Williams. Bleurgh.

I love Spotify.  No one has paid me to say this.  Well, technically, someone has.  Someone will pay me for this entry - but I am free to say "Spotify is as rancid as an old plum that's been stored for ten years in a tramp's boot" if I want.  But I don't want, because I love Spotify.

The famous streaming music app has completely changed the way I access and listen to music. And I do listen to music a lot.  From Vivaldi to Vampire Weekend and every stop in between.  Except Keane.  No one likes Keane.

While my collection has been partially digital since I picked up my first iPod from New York's Apple shop in 2003, there have still been CDs.  Not anymore though. Spotify just made them redundant.

Of course, there are some notable artists you won't find on Spotify yet. There's no Pink Floyd or Peter Gabriel. There's little Husker Du. The problem isn't that those artists haven't agreed to appear - it's that deals have yet to be brokered with their labels.

But there's still plenty to love about Spotify.  An easy to use interface that isn't a slave to iTunes, support for Boolean searching, shared and collaborative playlists and streaming music that's of perfectly listenable 160Kbps quality. 

And, loving Spotify as I did, I thought the company had shot itself in the foot.  Its revenue model is based on two prongs.  The first; advertising interrupts your listening pleasure if you use the free version.  And, we have to admit, the advertising can be pretty annoying.  Especially when your carefully composed playlist of 70s German electro is interrupted by Robbie Williams honking out his new single. The second; you can trade up to Premium for £9.99 a month - or £119.88 a year. 

A tenner a month sounds a bit steep - but if you're a real music fan, it's equivalent to a CD every 30 days or 10 tracks a month on iTunes.  Still, I was wondering - what true incentive is there to go Premium when Spotify's already giving you so much for free?  And then I tried Spotify for Android. 

Now I get it.

Spotify's mobile applications - Spotify for Android and Spotify for iPhone are beautifully designed music player apps in a mobile world overpopulated with appalling, thrown together twitch and flick interfaces.  Realising that screen real estate is at a premium, Spotify for Android packs all its functionality into four simple tabs in understated Spotify charcoal and green; Playlists, Search, Playback and Home.  The search page is actually better than in the desktop version of the app - enabling you to choose between title, artist or album with the click of a tab. And instead of flipping through a stack of bitmap thumbnails to find music, it's all available in easy to navigate lists.  Goodbye, pretty but user-unfriendly cover-flow. Goodbye forever.

The mobile app is free to download - but there's an apparent catch.  You need to be a Spotify Premium user.  After a few days carrying Spotify for Android around on an HTC Hero though, we're failing to see the problem.  With unlimited data - bundled with many mobile contract packages these days - Spotify turns your handset into a digital music player with almost limitless capacity.  And, if 3G bandwidth is a problem, it's easy to download playlists for offline listening.  You just click "Offline Playlists" and tick which ones you want to back up when you've got a WiFi connection. You can store up to 3333 tracks, which is, more than enough for a couple of week's holiday off grid.

I've read other reviews of the mobile versions of Spotify and there's one thing they don't make clear enough.  Spotify for Android doesn't cost £9.99 a month as some insinuate - it's free with Spotify Premium.  You get Spotify Premium on your desktop and on your mobile for the same price.  That means no more adverts, 320kbps resolution, and offline listening on both your mobile phone and desktop computers.  Who needs to actually buy music anymore? If you're Spotify savvy - not you.

O2 Fire first Shot in iPhone Price War

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In a move that appears to be designed to upset Orange's apple cart, O2 have just announced that users of their iPhone Internet Tethering bolt-on  who sign up on or before 31 December 2009 will be entitled to the standard Home Broadband package for free. Tethering - which enables you to use your iPhone as a 3G modem when you're out and about - costs £9.79 a month with a 3GB allowance. Now you can get online for free at home as well.

The "Total Connectivity" offer applies to new or existing customers - who can also choose to have heavily discounted Home Broadband Premium or Pro access instead.  The standard broadband package includes up to 8Mbps speeds and "unlimited" usage.  Premium users get an up to 20Mbps home broadband connection for £2.45 a month when they buy the iPhone Tethering bolt-on as well for £9.79.

That iPhone price war might be kicking off after all...

UPDATE - 10th November:

Orange begin selling the iPhone today, and O2 respond by starting a scheme to unlock Pay Monthly phones that are out of contract for free... a fee of £15 will be charged to PAYG iPhone customers. More details at O2's "Unlock Your iPhone" microsite.

This Green and Mobile Land

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I've been looking into some green options for charging my mobile.  Not just because I'm keen on the ice caps not melting and flooding Norfolk either.  When you're on the move in business, as I am half of the week, it seems like a good idea to have something in your laptop bag you can charge your lifeline phone with.

I have an HTC Touch Diamond, that I habitually charge using a USB cable plugged into whatever laptop I'm toting around (sometimes it's a Fujitsu Siemens PC, sometimes it's a MacBook Pro. I also use an old 12" Apple Powerbook like a netbook - because I'm that retro).

But what if there are no powerpoints on the train? Or what if you don't have a laptop with you? Or what if the sky starts falling in, Chicken Little?  In my online travels this week I discovered a couple of options I might be using in the future.  First up is the nPower Personal Energy Generator. Alas, we don't think it has anything to do with nPower in the UK - this company's based in Cleveland, Ohio and will run into trouble if they ever start marketing their green products here... A pity, because the PEG looks brilliant: a small gadget that charges your mobile using kinetic energy. Yes, kinetic energy.  You plug it into your phone and it juices it up as you walk, or run or jump up and down.  A one hour walk should charge most mobiles to 80%. Priced at $148, it's available for pre-order at - though no info as yet about whether they ship to the UK.

A cheaper option is a cute little doohickey called the YoGen mobile charger - available in generic miniUSB flavours and for microUSB. At $39.99 - it's available now and charges your phone using an innovative string pull system. It's a bit like the cord you had to tug to get your talking Action Man to say "This is your commander speaking". Or, if you were me, your mate's talking Action Man...  A couple of minutes string pulling gets you enough power to make an emergency call. Keep going for an hour and you'll have a fully charged phone...

Of course - if you want to buy British, Trevor Baylis is the man for green power products. The inventor of the wind-up radio also manufactures an Eco-Pro Torch and Mobile Phone Charger. It's a torch! It's a mobile phone charger! It takes ages to wind! And it's about £23.99 from online stores.

Left 4 Dead 2 - Demo Available Now!

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While downloading Machinarium from Steam yesterday I noticed that the long awaited Left 4 Dead 2 demo was available. Had, in fact, been available for public download since the 4th of November. Just in case you have no idea what I'm talking about, Left 4 Dead is the latest first person shooter that all the craziest kids are playing; a survival horror game you can play alone or co-operatively online.

I made a mental note to grab it for three reasons:

* I love Valve.  Half Life is my favourite game of all time.  Apart from Portal, which actually is my favourite game of all time. And Half Life 2, which really is my favourite game of all time.

* Half Life 2: Episode 3 has been in development hell for approximately ten million years.  Actually, 25 months.  But it feels like ten million years - and I was jonesing bad for some first person shooting action.

* No one shuts up about Left 4 Dead on Twitter.  It's all "L4D is ground breaking this" and "mould busting that".  And, listening to all that praise? Empathising with all that rampant,  second hand fun? That was difficult, because there was no way to try Left 4 Dead except to buy it.  A demo was made available briefly on Steam, but withdrawn within days. In my experience forking out £25 for a game without playing a demo is a bit like meeting up with someone you found on named Helga, without seeing a photo first. Unwise.

500MB of download later I'm getting ready to have me some lovely first person shooty bang bang action, in the dark, with my speakers turned up.  A nicely rendered cinematic at the beginning gives you an idea what to expect.  Four ordinary folk who are trapped in a zombie infested city miss out on being rescued because blah, blah, blah, hurry up and let me start killing things.

My wish was soon Valve's command, as I chose to play a single player campaign as some dude called Cleetus or Doofus or it doesn't really matter because within seconds, oh my giddy Aunt, there were swarms of very fast moving zombies leaping and running towards me and all I had to protect myself and my friends was a sub-machine gun which needed reloading every 30 seconds and, of course, the ability to shove individual zombies in the swarm (arms flailing, viscera splashing everywhere) back two inches by feebly right clicking on them. 

HA HA HA! Ha ha! Ha.

Left 4 Dead 2 gave me the screaming ab dabs in a way that no game has managed since... oooh ...the original Quake back in 1996. It's the combination of desolation and expectation and mundanity, followed by a sudden, unbidden onslaught of horrific and dizzying violence. Again and again and again. You pick off some lone shuffling zombies, you are attacked by a horde of them, everything goes quiet, you move around a bit.  If you're lucky enough to have a health pack, you heal. Rinse and repeat.  There's little sense of progress.  There's little sense at all.  But it's utterly and terrifyingly thrilling.

Still, after an hour's relentless, bloody assault, I couldn't wait to return back to the tranquil and comforting whimsy of Machinarium again.  And now, the bad dreams just won't stop...



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My esteemed colleague Faisal Alani set a dangerous precedent when he wrote about Pro Evolution Soccer 2010. Yes, we can write about games here, it said, under the radar - on the QT and the hush, hush... Which is just as well, because I just lost an entire afternoon of my life playing the gorgeous Machinarium - a new(ish) adventure for PC and Mac from Amanita Design. 

You're a Wall-E style robot venturing through a deliciously hand-scribbled steampunk environment. With a new point and click puzzle to solve on every level, ambient, tinkling music follows you through the cluttered cityscape. Your course is blocked at every opportunity and you have to work out how best to the use the objects lying around to help you get past each obstacle. With so much detail etched into every scene, there's never any rush to move on though.

It's tranquil, fun and cute with a capital C.  At least, it is when things are going swimmingly... Like all the best puzzles, there are moments when lateral thinking simply isn't good enough - and only wandering around clicking frantically on everything within clicking distance will help. There are hints on every level too, but real gamers don't do walkthroughs, do they?  Ahem.

The first three levels can be played for free, online at on any platform that runs Flash - and you can download the full PC version for £14.99 through Steam.


Video: The Cookie Monster created Google! Well, he sang about it 27 yrs ago

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We all love the Cookie Monster and of course we also love Google so whenI heard that there was a video of the Cookie Monster singing about Google I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.

What's amazing is the fact that this track was recorded TWENTY SEVEN YEARS AGO, sixtten years before Google was created. Coincidence? I don't think so.

It will surprise you to know that the Cookie Monster is... the creator of Google. I know it sounds bizarre but think about it. It all makes sense now, the crazy colours, Google Wave (he's always waving) and the fact they named one of their products 'caffeine' which is in coffee which goes well with, yep you guessed it, cookies.

cookie monster google.jpg

Google celebrated the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street with another one of their trademark homepages and, I think, to pay homeage to their leader.

It sounds so crazy it's believable. Of course it could be that he's singing about googly eyes but I'm not having that.

So, clear your cache before you switch your computer off. In fact you can clear your cookies as well... oh.

200 Quid for an Apple: The Beatles go Digital

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The back catalogue of Liverpool's greatest musical export - and, no, we don't mean The Teardrop Explodes - are finally going to be available in glorious digital stereo. But, you won't be able to download them. Not just yet.

I'm writing about it here because, following the model of EMI's digital exploitation presentation of Radiohead's first 7 albums, the digital versions of The Beatle's official long players will first be released on a USB stick. A USB stick embedded in a plastic apple.

The 16GB flash drive will feature all 14 official fab four platters, from 1962's "Please Please Me" to "Past Masters" - a double set that collects Beatle songs not featured on other albums.  From details released at, it seems like the digital release, limited to 30,000 copies, will feature all the extras bundled with the recently issued remastered stereo box set - including mini-documentaries and album artwork. The tunes will be presented in lossless 44.1 khz, 24 bit FLAC and 320 Kbps MP3 formats.

While these high quality Beatle releases are very welcome, I can't help feeling that the famous fab quality control machine has developed a bit of a glitch.  You could argue that the package - an "exquisitely crafted" sculptural replica of Apple Corp's famous Granny Smith logo - will be an interesting objet d'art; a talking point in years to come.  For me, it's just 200 quid's worth of injection moulded Apple; another sign that record companies have yet to find a format as conducive to beautiful design as the 12" record sleeve. I think I'd prefer to stump up for the remastered CDs and rip 'em into iTunes myself.

The package will be released on December 7th in the UK and, rather ghoulishly, December 8th in the USA; the 29th anniversary of John Lennon's death.


Shedding Light on SAD

Karl Hodge | No Comments
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The clocks went back last week. For some it brought brighter mornings and the promise of crisp, winter weather. For others it's the beginning of four months of utter misery; an entire season where every morning's a struggle to escape from the cosy cocoon of their beds.

You're not alone if you're in the latter camp. SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) hits an estimated 10% of the population in varying degrees. Some feel a familiar seasonal sluggishness while others may be disabled by the condition, exhibiting all the symptoms of major depression during the winter months.

The Seasonal Affective Disorder Association says that 85% of sufferers respond to a very simple treatment though; light therapy.  When exposed to a strong light source (about ten times the luminosity of domestic lights), for a couple of hours a day, many people with SAD find the symptoms subside.

And, wouldn't you know, there's a gadget for that.  Lumie have a long history in the manufacture of light boxes for SAD treatment. They also produce visors that can be worn while working or at the office.  From just £160, Lumie's battery powered range of visors direct between 1,000 and 3,000 lux of therapeutic light directly into your eyes - resetting the wearer's body clock and chasing away the winter blues.

I haven't tried one... yet. The visors look a little bit too Star Trek for me - and I can imagine getting a few funny looks if I took one into the office. But I do use a Lumie Brightspark. That's a desktop light box, ideal for use while you're sitting at a computer. And, most mornings, I leap out of bed eager to start work. Unfortunately, that also includes weekends...


When's Fair Usage Ever Fair?

Karl Hodge | No Comments
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O2's iPhone exclusivity finally ends on November 10th when Orange start shipping the Apple devices to eager customers.  Today they published details of the tariff - and Twitter is all-a-fluster with Orange's use of the term "Fair Usage".  You see, all the Pay Monthly plans come with "unlimited" mobile internet.  But the small print at the bottom says that a "Fair Usage" policy of 750MB/month applies to mobile internet browsing and WiFi.

750MB a month doesn't seem particularly unlimited. Let's make a comparison.  Standard mobile internet packages for your PC - those things that come with a USB dongle - usually start at 1GB.  No one calls those packages "unlimited", especially as they're at the bottom rung of the ladder.  

For example, Orange's own dongle offering starts at 500MB per month (on a 12 month contract) and goes up to 10GB a month - with stops at 1GB and 3GB along the way. They can't all be unlimited, can they?

In real terms, 750MB a month might be enough for checking emails and logging in to Twitter in the morning - but start flicking through your friend's photos on Facebook or log in to Funny or Die, and see how long it lasts.  

O2 has what it calls an "excessive usage" policy in place on its unlimited iPhone plans - with no top end defined.

But don't let all that detract you from the real news:  Yay, iPhones!  And, overall, it does look like Orange's offering is slightly cheaper than O2's...



via @conorfromorange on Twitter:

"...for our new iPhone offers we are using a fair usage policy of 750MB for Mobile data, & 750MB for free Wi-Fi access with our Wi-Fi partner"

So that's actually two lots of 750MB, depending on how you access the 'net.


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