Competition: Win Creative Labs ZiiSound D5 Bluetooth Speakers and More

I was recently approached by Creative Labs, who offered me goodies to use in a competition here on That Canadian Girl. The part of their pitch that caught my attention (and made me laugh) was the mention of Sound Blaster sound cards. Do you remember them? Back in the 80’s? I do. This gave me an idea…

The 80’s was such a defining era with the birth of computer video games, Nintendo’s first NES, bad permed hairdos, leggings and shoulder pads… Ok, let’s forget the fashion of the 80’s, it wasn’t its best asset.

Which brought me to scheme this little competition. Want to win one of these two prizes?

Tell me about your best gaming memory from the 80’s

What’s your best gaming or technology-related memory from the 80’s (or early 90’s)? Leave a comment below – including pictures or videos of yourself in those days will not only make you more likely to get a prize (your entry will count twice), you will also be full of win! You have until end of day, Wednesday 21st July to enter, at which point I’ll announce the winners and share the best entries. 🙂

Win ZiiSound D5 Bluetooth speakers

Creative Labs ZiiSound D5 Bluetooth Speakers

Win a Creative Zen 16GB in special edition red with EP-3NC earphones

Creative Zen 16GB MP3 player and EP-3NC headphones

Below are the terms of the competition if you’re new to it, otherwise you’ve got a week to give me your best 80’s stories. Good luck!
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The Unavoidable Apple iPad Review

In a “sun set to rise tomorrow morning” announcement, I can now confirm that, as a convert to the Church of Steve, I bought an iPad on the day of launch.

While it may seem like a given to you, wise readers, I had somehow convinced myself in the two days before launch that I did not need a shiny iPad and would wait a few months to buy one. Of course, by 10:30am on the day of launch, after watching the stream of excited tweets from those who had bought one, I grabbed my car keys and heading into town to pick up a 3G iPad.

In order to put it through its paces, I decided to leave my laptop at home a few weeks ago while we were on holiday for a week. The iPad would be the closest thing to a computer I’d have access to. (Well, Andrew did have his MacBook, should all hell break loose and access to our webservers was needed for some reason, but the aim was to steer clear of it.)

First observations

Battery life

As soon as I opened the box and sync’ed the iPad with iTunes for the first, I simply couldn’t put it down. After a day and a half of non-stop use, the battery still had plenty of juice. Since then, the battery seems to have gotten even better with a few full cycles.

Keyboard

I expected the worst of the keyboard, and it’s nearly as bad as I thought. I can type at a fair pace on it, almost as fast as I do on a normal keyboard. It’s miles better than my first eee PC, which had a ridiculously awkward keyboard. The hiccup is that I have to look at my fingers. As a result, I’ll be getting an external Bluetooth keyboard of some sort soon.

eBook reading

I left for the holiday with a half-read paperback of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I knew I’d finish reading it within mere days, but I was too late to grab a copy of the two following titles (The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) before going away so I picked up a copy for the Amazon Kindle, a bit wary of reading on screen.

It turned out to be a great read while indoors or outside in the evening. Even with polarised sunglasses out in the sun, it was just about usable – though only in landscape mode as the screen “disappeared” when in portrait mode, as is often the case with polarised lenses. I wouldn’t have been keen to take it to sandy beaches or too close to the pool (but then I don’t do beaches anyway!) whereas I wouldn’t have been too fussed to see a paperback get wet or covered in sunscreen.

The Kindle reader is, to date, my favourite of the available eBook readers. It has a huge selection of popular, current titles and all paid books I’ve downloaded to date have been well formatted. Much of the Project Gutenberg books are also available, but generally not very well laid out.

It probably won’t replace paperback novels on holiday, but certainly will be the end of carrying books – whether business or leisure reading – on long train journeys.

iPhone apps

I didn’t have very high expectations for upscaled iPhone apps, but most look good enough that they’re usable. They’re obviously no match for the iPad-specific apps that take advantage of the larger real estate, but until these become more common, many of the games and useful apps work fine in 2x mode. Some of the games would benefit from simply rotating to be the “right” way around for an iPad used in its protective case, and are progressively being updated.

3G functionality

I can’t really comment on using 3G as the Apple Store didn’t have the Three SIMs when I came in store, but I can already tell that it’ll be very useful. There certainly isn’t ubiquitous wifi around here, so 3G will make the iPad useful when travelling around the UK.

Favourite iPad apps

[Note: None of the links are directly to iTunes, since iTunes link are a bit annoying. Most links are to the developer site or app announcement.]

  • Evernote is incredibly swish in iPad version and as useful as ever
  • The Amazon Kindle app makes for easy reading
  • NewsRack is an excellent local RSS reader, sync’ed with my Google Reader account
  • Weather Pro HD looks fabulous and provides an overdose of weather data my husband really loves
  • Things, a to-do list app, looks great if you need a slick but simple app that can sync with your Mac and iPhone’s lists, though I admit that I haven’t bought this one
  • GoodReader and DropBox work brilliantly hand-in-hand – find the file you put in your DropBox, then view it in GoodReader

Much to my disappointment, I’ve yet to find a Twitter client I’m satisfied with. Tweetdeck is hopeless and crashes regularly, Twitterific makes poor use of space and the other options also haven’t won my heart.

I also hope a grocery delivery company like Tesco creates a good iPad app for food ordering – however, as they can barely get the web-based ordering to look good, I’m not getting my hopes up just yet.

Favourite iPad games

Well, what? You didn’t think I’d gone all grown up on you, did you? Of course, I’ve always loved iPhone games, from the simplest to the quirkiest, so some of my first downloads were game apps.

Some of the early HD games I picked up include:

There are also a few good contenders for 2x gaming (using the double size button to play iPhone games on a larger scale), including Fare City and Fruit Ninja. If either of these come out with a gameplay variation for iPhone, I have no doubt they’ll be great fun.

Where I view it being useful

In the past few years, I’ve often lugged my very heavy MacBook Pro in its (lovely but also heavy) brown leather and pink satin Lin & Leo bag to London for the day. Getting home at night, I’d feel completely lopsided with a sore back. Yet, my laptop would have had very little use in the meetings – so little in fact that I wondered whether to take it at all.

With the iPad, equipped with the super-useful DropBox app, I can have access to all the key files I need that day – just in case. With the SIM giving me Internet access anywhere, I can stay on top of things in a way that’s more comfortable than by pecking at the iPhone keyboard. By leaving my phone alone, it also means that I don’t burn down the (less impressive) iPhone battery and can still call home on the return journey to ask my husband to put a bottle of wine in the fridge.

Beyond navel-gazing at my own needs, I can see the iPad being a game changer for people who like to browse the web while watching TV – which seems to be most of my generation. It’s a cracking screen for browsing and effortless to use as there’s no learning curve for software.

I’d be curious to hear about the favourite apps and most interesting use you’ve been making of the iPad. What drove you crazy Mac people to get one too? If you don’t have one, do you think it’s all hot air or are you green with envy?

In the meantime, I’ll look forward to iOS4 for the iPad, to see how much multitasking and the new fine touches we’re seeing on the iPhone will add to the user experience.

LiveScribe Pulse pen: Where were you all my life!?

As an early birthday present to myself, I bought a Livescribe Pulse Smartpen earlier this week. It arrived yesterday and I’ve just been blown away by it so far.

The pen improves on regular pens in two key ways:

  1. It registers anything that is written on paper, effectively scanning my handwriting as I go, which means that as soon as I get back to the computer, the pen transfers it to the LiveScribe software for future reference.
  2. It records all audio in the room, which means I can take a few headline notes without writing down every single piece of information.

Back in university, I had some form of RSI in my right wrist, so I made it a habit to record lessons on tape so that I didn’t need to write everything. In reality, I could never find the time or energy to dig through the 3-hour lecture recording to find the 5-minute segment that interested me, so it was pretty much a pointless exercise.

With the LiveScribe, it all becomes much easier: Tap the pen on the headline note relating to the audio clip you need, whether it’s a title or a graph, the recording will automatically go back to that point and start playing.

Normally, I’d shrug and say that this is a gadget for geeks and will never reach into the real world. Past similar gadgets have existed and gone nowhere fast. The biggest difference? This one prices its accessories reasonably.

The pen itself is £120-£150 so it’s a small initial investment, but Moleskine-style notebooks cost about £1 more per unit than their traditional Moleskine counterparts, and the A4-sized school notebooks are £16.99 for a pack of 4. The paper is thicker than with the Moleskine, which makes me happy as I’m a heavy-handed writer. Next time I need to get some notebooks, I think I’ll get a 4-pack of the pink flip notepad which is far cheaper than Moleskine journalist flip notepads. (Plus it’s pink, wayhey!) The ink isn’t overpriced either, and in a pinch, since it writes like a normal pen, it’s possible to use the pen without the fancy paper (unlike stylus-based systems).

The pen does raise some interesting ethical and legal questions: What if I forgot to mention to someone that I’m recording our conversation? Or maliciously chose to record a private conversation? Of course, I have no intention of doing that, but the technology is now becoming available and affordable to people who aren’t MI5 or hired spies (albeit in a pen the size of a large cigar!) so we’ll undoubtedly be seeing these issues show up on the Information Commissioner’s agenda in the future.

As far as I’m concerned, this is a great new addition to my arsenal of tools to support my sieve-like memory and no one needs to worry about me using it stealthily. I’ll be too busy showing off the piano party trick it can do!

Now you can watch my first pencast below…

My cats’ routine
brought to you by Livescribe

[Note: Before you ask, this isn’t a sponsored post and LiveScribe didn’t give me a free pen. I just am that much of a geek that I get excited over pens.]

iPhone 2.0: Does it really matter?

So it’s happened. Saint Jobs announced the Second Coming of his child, the Holy iPhone.

The 3G iPhone has arrived

Like Ben, I sat in front of my MacBook watching MacRumors, TUAW and Cali Lewis liveblog and report on the Keynote. Unlike Brian, I wasn’t mad (or privileged) enough to attend the Keynote at the Moscone Center, in SF.

Keynotes are a bit like circus acts. The event is rehearsed to the second, we all watch and wait with bated breath for the grandiose final scene, wondering whether anyone’s going to fall flat on their face along the way. While the keynote was light on substance, the short of it is the new iPhone hardware includes 3G, GPS, and there are a number of software changes – MobileMe particularly appeals to me.

However, the biggest change isn’t in the physical device. It’s all in the perception. Last time around, Apple was looking for early adopters, geeks and IWOOTs* to test-run their product in a giant, live usability testing session. Now that they’ve been able to watch us use the device, it’s time to reach out to the normobs with lower upfront costs. While the tariffs are still in the upper end of the scale, unlimited data makes it completely worthwhile.

As an existing user, I’m grateful that under O2’s reign I’m not given the “brand new customers only” treatment. I can upgrade without getting stung for breaking my contract. All first generation owners shedding their skin in prep for the Second Coming means there’ll be a number of orphaned first-generation iPhones floating around. Mine, for example, will most likely find a new home with my father-in-law, Roy. I’m curious to see what the trickle-down impact of giving second hand iPhones to unlikely buyers like Roy will have on the profile of future buyers.

I think Apple will continue to own marginal marketshare, because the iPhone remains too expensive, too complex and too closed for most, but it’s about to take a significant leap ahead. Are you jumping with me? Or kicking back and shaking your head at the fangirl* that I am? 😉

[* Def. IWOOT: “I want one of those”, otherwise known as saddos like me who can’t resist the latest gadget, even at exorbitant prices.]
[* A fangirl who began supporting Apple back in 1986 when it definitely wasn’t cool to own a Mac!]

[Cross-posted to the Taptu blog]

RAC Traffic report: More technology isn't always better

I love tech. I truly do. In fact, I’ve got a severe condition called “gadgetitis”, which becomes particularly acute around tech expos and Christmas time where all sorts of new techy goodies are released. And I love beta versions, even though they’re flakier than Paris Hilton. I love sneak previews, even if the app turns out to only be worthy of the TechCrunch deadpool. It’s a terrible addiction and as far as I know, there are no cures.

By the same logic, I almost always say that the more technology, the better. Almost.

Today’s an exception. This is my plea to the RAC, once my most reliable source of up-to-date traffic news, to step away from the Flash animations and return to this old technology called text. The wonderful thing about text is that it’s clear, succint and doesn’t require any fancy plugins. It’s easy to use when on the road with only a phone at hand.

RAC Traffic website goes Flash - ack!

This new animation completely fails from a usability point of view:

  1. It doesn’t respect the KISS rule: Keeping it simple means it’s more widely accessible. Not everyone has Flash enabled. My iPhone certainly doesn’t. :S
  2. It’s utterly useless to someone who isn’t local. Very few cities, towns and villages are identified, no matter how close you zoom in. Why aren’t the primary non-motorway roads identified? It’s certainly not because the map is too cluttered!
  3. The usefulness of the information displayed is questionable, especially in comparison to the detailed alternative that used to be available. Is the slowdown due to sheer traffic density or are we dealing with a 6 car pile-up where the motorway might get closed? That’s far more likely to affect my decision of what to do next than telling me vehicles are travelling at 10mph.
  4. The colours, which represent severity of traffic, aren’t accompanied by a legend, so the user has to guess what the scale is!

With the holidays coming and more people on motorways driving long distances to see family and friends, it can be a lifeline, helping us make a quick decision on whether a detour is needed. I’m afraid that the RAC designers didn’t do their homework here. Back to the drawing board, guys!

[Crossposted to the Taptu blog here!]

Wondering what to get me for Christmas? How about Powerbook earrings?

Powerbook Power button earringsThese are just awesome! I would absolutely love to have power button earrings.

Posh frock, nice shoes, and geek earrings. Fun, a bit odd and unusual. How good would that be?

925works also does other stuff, like bracelets and necklaces, made out of coins, spoons, and other types of metal.

Otherwise, I’d happily settle for this Tetris scarf or these HTML earrings, which are unfortunately out of stock. :S

Tomorrow, the iPhone will change the world

On the eve of the launch of the iPhone in the US, I thought I’d finally come out clean with my views on it.

[Yes, I know you’re all sick to death of hearing about the iPhone, but bear with me; I’ve been quiet about it since the day it was announced, and even today, I haven’t completely made up my mind on how I feel about it, and I need to verbalise my thoughts.]

It’s going to be a shiny, sleek and unique gadget. It’s going to take the world by storm, and wallets by the throat. We’re all going to drool over it, have a flick at the screen and a poke at the SDK (well not me, but you know…) Oh and we’re going to hear about it for a few more bloody months…

I want to wish the iPhone into being as good as we all hope it will be, but I can’t help but have some reservations.

First, that’s one great big screen to try and protect. Don’t know about you, but my phone, my keys and my lipglosses often have happy little tea parties in the bottom of my handbag, and I’m not sure the iPhone would be keen on the company. Granted the plastic screen has been replaced with a tougher glass one, but even while protected in a big iPod sock-type-thing, it’s a big screen against which pressure can be applied by a not-so-careful owner.

Also, the battery life is bound to be pretty poor with such a screen to power, regardless of their claims (scroll down this article for the comparison). I already found Shitbrick* and my N95 to suck the life out of the battery something senseless the moment I used the web browser, so while they’ve upped the claimed battery life, I struggle to believe that it’ll really be that great.

But my main concern is really, honestly… just how long it’ll be before I can get my greasy mitts on an iPhone… Not necessarily OWN one, but have a good little play for a few days and decide whether we’re made for each other.

Until then, however, I’m thoroughly enjoying the company of my wonderful and versatile N95. *cradles N95 in her arms* Don’t worry you’re not going anywhere anytime soon, little thing! It’s lived up to expectations, and continued to amaze me. Will the iPhone also live up to expectations?

Well, I guess we’ll find out tomorrow morning, won’t we?

[* That’s the loving name I gave to my N70 after it started throwing a wobbly at random, telling me to “Close down applications. Running out of memory!” when nothing was open, then being too busy throwing that wobbly to let me calm it down. What a pile of crap, paperweight at best!]

Gadget lurve: Coffee and little friendly robots

Recently, I’ve been falling in love with inanimate objects. I self-diagnosed I had a problem when I found myself talking to said objects while home alone. Either it’s cabin-fever from having spent the past few days in the house or I’m just losing my marbles. (Generous reward if marbles are returned)

First gadget I’m in love with is my new Senseo coffee machine. I bought it from Amazon about a month ago, and literally picked the cheapest single-serve coffee machine I could find.

In the past, my dilemma with making coffee at home was that, with Andrew not being a coffee drinker, it was difficult to find the right coffee maker. Normal filter coffee machines made too many cups at once, Bodum coffee makers were out of the question because of the amount of grinds at the bottom of my cup (some people disagree on this one, and it’s possible I’ve been doing it wrong all along, but I just don’t like the one-person Bodum), and we live in a small town with no Starbucks or coffee shop within any reasonable distance (thank god, or I’d be very broke).

So I thought for £45 (doh, it’s even cheaper now, it’s down to £35!), it wasn’t a great loss if it turned out to be rubbish. I only tend to have one cup of coffee a day, and only in the morning, so after settling myself down for a day working from home, I made my first cup. And I have to say, it makes great coffee, and takes no time at all.

Before seeing the pods, I was somewhat concerned of the waste I’d be causing, but it turns out that the pods are nothing more than a paper filter, wrapped around pre-ground coffee. While snooping around SingleServeCoffee, I heard about the Ecopad, which was presented as both a more environmentally-friendly solution and a way to use ANY coffee type you liked instead of the few that are offered in pod form. Promptly ordered two Ecopads, but have yet to use them, as I’m still using up the pre-made pods I ordered on CafeCo (Great site, but they forgot to include the little coffee bean stressball in my order!)

I haven’t tried very many coffee machines, but based on my experience, not only is this coffee very drinkable (and strong!), it’s also easy to make and the machine is easy to clean – Just press both cup size buttons at the same time and let it run a water cycle through. So highly recommended for the casual coffee drinkers who might like to cut down on the share of their salary they donate daily to Starbucks.

The second gadget I’m in lurve with these days is Asimo. I think I even had a dream where I was running in a field of flowers holding hands with my best friend Asimo… Ok maybe I should’ve kept that to myself. That’s ok, AWESOM-O-lovers will understand me. 😉

This one stretches beyond just Asimo, though. I’ve been talking to Keira, my little Nabaztag/tag bunny, and she’s been responding. She even sang me “Au pays de Candy” last weekend, and my family knows how much this means to me (put that video online and I’ll have to kill you!).

Mmmmkay, I’ve probably spent more time with non-sentient, robotic little beings this week than I have with real people, and it’s sending me loopy. So of course, I’ll communicate this via my blog, while listening to music via the Airport Express, then Twitter some work colleagues who are at SxSW and check the latest YouTube videos I’m subscribed to

Right, I think I need to get away from technology, go live in the woods, do some camping and hunt for my own food for a while.

Three is company!

No, don’t worry, I’m not announcing we’re having a baby! We’re having a bunny!

Keira, my Nabaztag/tag bunnyThat’s right, Keira, my Nabaztag/tag has been with us since before Christmas, but only recently has it become usable. First there were all the server issues at Violet in Paris. Then there was the unavoidable busy times with the holidays, Pepsmedia and well, being sociable for a change?

But yesterday, I was working from home and gave a work colleague instructions on sending messages to my bunny. I later found myself in fits of laughter when Keira started humming Jingle Bells Rock for me.

I’ve yet to write any clever services for it (read: Get Andrew to write them) but it definitely has potential in that area. In the meantime, it’s just a nutty entertaining talking clock, who occasionally also does a bit of Tai Chi, and loves to sing Philippe Lafontaine – Coeur de Loup when given the opportunity!

Oh hello there!

I'm Véro - a crafty, knitty, spinny gal who enjoys making (and drinking) a cocktail or three. If you've stumbled here, you might enjoy browsing some of my older posts with the tags over to the right or finding out more about me.

Say hi in the comments or on Twitter! :)

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