Monday, July 15, 2013

Radio Minimal

No, not a radio channel dedicated to the works of Philip Glass (although I'm fairly certain one exists, somewhere), but a simple radio rig utilising an iPod Nano and a pair of X-Mini MAX capsule speakers.

Now, these aren't going to blow your socks off, especially coupled to the Nano's anaemic maximum volume, but they're sufficient for a little personal sound if, as I have been doing all weekend, working on DIY projects indoors and out.

They can't be driven hard anyway - the sound just gets too brash, but as an alternative to expensive one box bluetooth speakers, these give adequate sound plus better stereo separation.

The Nano's FM reception is better with headphones, but the curious mini-USB L/R input cable just about picks up enough signal for decent out and about radio.

And of course, there's the backup of your music selection on the Nano itself should the radio become too tedious.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Sharpie Liquid Pencil

This does what it says on the tin: it's a pen, that writes like a pencil, but doesn't have a lead that can break or needs sharpening.

I got mine off the shelf in Hobbycraft (they have a big Sharpie display) and immediately after unpacking, I noticed a tiny bit of sealant on the nib - something to watch out for when opening a fresh pack.

It feels very much like a smooth ballpoint pen when writing, actually quite pleasant, but the marks it leaves behind are graphite grey which is a very odd experience initially. Sharpie claim a #2 lead - HB - but I'd say it was more a 'B' (#1) in weight.

There is a little unevenness in the line weight of the markings, but this is consistent with using a pencil. Like a ballpoint, the line thickness is defined and doesn't alter as you write. I find if you don't use the pen for a while it does dry up a bit, but like any ballpoint, you can get it going again with a quick scribble on a scrap of paper.

The top of the pen has a prominent eraser - like those you get on mechanical pencils, except this is exposed and not under a little cap. There's a good reason for this - it feels natural to rub out mistakes with this pen, and it works, too. Because the 'lead' is quite dark, erasing isn't quite as successful as it can be with a regular pencil but effective nonetheless for the odd correction. After a couple of days, your writings become permanent.

With the twin pack, Sharpie include six spare erasers - I dare say to see out the life of the ink. In reality, any eraser will do.

This pen has a nice silicon grip on the barrel - the only odd design choice is that when the nib is clicked down, the top clip clicker assembly is loose... to be fair the buttons on most biros are like this but still it's a bit odd.

The Sharpie Liquid Pencil ultimately is a product no-one was asking for - pencils, mechanical or otherwise are cheap, easily available and work. Apart from addressing the issues of broken leads and sharpening... these are things you just get on with while using a real pencil.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Mr Fixit

As one of the office 'Computer Guys', I often get called upon to fix other people's computers. More often than not, they tend to be laptops.

This time it was a faulty Sony VAIO VGN-FZ18M.

The fault was with the GPU, a nVidia 8400GT. This is a well known fault - Sony and nVidia admitted fault and extended the warranty to 4 years after purchase.

Of course many folks may just be encountering the fault (like this example - dashed lines across the screen with a failure to boot or get stuck in a restart cycle) and may be beyond even the extended warranty.

There are few, if any, guides for stripping down this particular VAIO on the internet.

So I decided to write my own, and it can be found here (PDF). File hosted by

The guide describes how I repaired the GPU with a paint stripper. Yes, a paint stripper. It was an all or nothing fix.

Rather incredibly, it worked. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

It's in the bag...

Click for the big picture
Seems the thing to do if you run a tech site is to write about what you carry about in your bag on a daily basis. And while 'run' might be a bit optimistic for MyGadgetLife (more like 'curate'…) I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon and post about the stuff I carry about with me pretty much everywhere.

First up is my trusty Swatch Irony. And it is an irony, since it's constructed mostly from aluminium, making it extremely lightweight and comfortable to wear. I've had this watch for nearly fifteen years - it keeps perfect time, is water resistant, has a stopwatch and tachymeter markings. One day I might figure out what they're for…

Next is my Nintendo 3DS. I love this for it's sheer quirkiness. Not only are there three cameras on board (the stereo pair at the front and one rear facing), there are no less than six - count 'em - six status LED dotted around. Astounding. What were they smoking when they designed this thing? "Only 5 LEDs? Are you quite MAD?!? More LEDs dammit!" But in Japanese. 

The 3DS is more than just the 3D - there has been some significant evolution between it and it's predecessor, the DSi. I'm talking about the 3D still and movie abilities, the augmented reality abilities (in 3D, natch), the gyroscope, the analogue stick, the drop in charging cradle. The ability to receive stuff while it's sleeping… neat. Oh and let's not forget the Mac-a-like 'snoozing' LED when you snap the lid shut.

Currently [still] playing Advance Wars DS.

Moving on, then. A simple aluminium case for caring my work permits and passes. Available from Muji.

Below that, an iPod nano. This was acquired through Apples nano replacement program late last year. The old nano… well the old nano was a great piece of engineering what with its classic polished stainless steel and lucite casing, scroll wheel and postage stamp sized screen. So when Apple announced potential problems with the battery and could we please send our (pretty much mint condition) Original nano back, well it was done with mixed feelings. So while I appreciate Apples' generosity in replacing the nano Original with a new model (and let's face it, they can afford to do this), I can't help the feeling that our old nano might end up in MOMA and that I might have to pay to see it again.

To go with the nano, there are my earbuds. In this case a pair of Ultimate Ears MetroFi 220s. These I purchased when massively discounted from their RRP. They sound great, significantly better than my old Sony EX71s and a pair of Sennheiser buds that make my ears hurt. The white earbud case is one I designed myself and had 3D printed. You can get one for yourself over at Shapeways.

Next is my Messograph pen, with built in Vernier calliper. For those times you absolutely have to know the dimensions of something to the nearest 0.1mm. Actually, this is a really well made item - chrome plated brass for the angular barrel, finely machined brass innards and aluminium clip to finish off. I like the little copper coloured rivets that hold the clip in place. As a pen, it's a bit awkward to hold, but the gas pressurised ballpoint writes nicely enough. Get yours from Cultpens.

The Sandisk memory stick is only 2Gb, but is stuffed with Portable Apps. With Inkscape, Gimp and Open Office, there's very little you can't do on any PC you happen to be near.

Up from that, a Kingston 16Gb memory stick, for, y'know, stuff.

The little Amzer micro-USB cable reel neatly avoids any cabling tangles at the bottom of my bag. Amazon.

That purple thing? A multi card reader. It cost a pound. A single GBP. And, yes, I did worry it might fry my $1000 laptop before plugging it in for the first time. But it didn't, it works great and so far hasn't dumped it's payload of malware. I am of course kidding… or am I?!?

Ok along from that is my Android, yes, Android powered Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S phone. Much better than the old HTC Magic. Has an 8Mp camera and does 720p video. Has a great screen and even the battery life is acceptable. It's a great phone.

Last is of course the iPad. If you hate the iPad and everything Apple stands for, I suggest you stop reading now.

I can't stress enough how transformational the iPad is as a device. As soon as it was announced I knew - just knew - that it would change our relationship with 'computers' for good. Now, of course, there are many, many competing devices of similar form factor and function, so the following equally applies to them as well as the iPad.

I pretty much use the iPad for all the main software categories - gaming, photos, music, movies, internet, email, calendar, books, interactive books, maps and productivity. That last category covers things like writing, photo editing, music creation and editing PDFs.

All in a sleek, solid state, aluminium and glass enclosure. Remarkable.

Apple's camera connection kit, pictured alongside the iPad let's me pull images off SD card and, curiously, allows me to attach a USB MIDI keyboard to interface with all that lovely music software.

So that's my bag. It keeps me amused, informed, entertained, creative and enlightened. All in one place.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Yearplanner V4.0 available

It's taken me a while to get around to updating it, but here it is, Yearplanner Maker V4.0!

This update streamlines the Control Panel dialog, but more importantly introduces a new feature: split years. So if you begin a chart in June, it'll run to May the following year.

I've included a security disclaimer/guide for those struggling to get it to run under Excels' default macro security settings (hint: you need to turn security off).

In addition, there's a few lines describing the basic use of the Control Panel.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Tokyoflash Seven

Movie props. I love them. Particularly those from science fiction movies.

It's hard, of course, acquire genuine props, so I keep a keen eye out for good quality replicas. It's handy if they're low cost, too.

I often think of the Playmates Star Trek toys - which were toys, but sufficiently detailed and 'working' as to make them closer to props than some of the wood and rubber mockups often used in filming the TV episodes.

In that vein of owning a nearly-prop from an instantly identifiable movie franchise, I leapt at the chance of picking up one of the latest creations from the freaky watchmaker, Tokyoflash.

You see, they've only gone and made the Tron watch. Only it's called the Kisai Seven, down to the obvious licensing restrictions.

Amazingly, the watch is the result of a design submitted last year, and had such positive feedback that Tokyoflash took the concept and made it real.

But show anyone (ok, any geek) this timepiece doing its thing, and they'll say Tron watch, so good is this non-prop. (They'll also say 'Er, so what time is it?' More on that later.)

It's so 1982

Don't be put off by the plastic casing as it's actually of very high quality. In fact, the whole construction of the piece is very good, comprising of smoked inserts on the face, metal side panels and buttons to the right. The Kisai logo is laser etched on the clasp as well as the lefthand case panel.

The plastic part of the case curves halfway around the wrist and while this may sound cumbersome, it really isn't. I have those thin wrists that demand a regular leather watch strap be pulled to the last but one hole most of the time. But the rigid bracelet offered here seems just right. The strap length is altered by literally snipping off any excess material and refitting the clasp components.

While I had one, worrisome,  shot at doing this, I managed a snug, comfortable fit with little movement up and down the wrist. The lightweight nature of the watch helps here. Tokyoflash do state that if you botch up the strap fitting they'll send you another strap free of charge.

Getting back to the bracelet style watch face, there's a very good reason why the case extends around the wrist in the way it does. It's because it contains part of the timekeeping display.

Behind the smoky circular lenses are arrangements of LEDs - the inner ring showing the hour, the outer ring the minutes in groups of five, with the actual minutes counted off on the LEDs in the bracelet.

The effect is great. It's straight out of Tron. It's Sam (or Kevin, depending which generation you're from) Flynn's watch, and he's right there, on the grid.

Echoing the functionality from their earlier Pimp watches, Tokyoflash have added the facility to have the watch glow selectable from 5 and 30 second, or 5 minute intervals.

This feature can be quickly turned off and on via a button combo, and to be honest it's something I don't use that often. I prefer the old school press a button to light up approach. Actually - for a Tokyoflash piece - this watch keeps relatively good time.

The watch is powered by a Lithium Ion cell, which allegedly allows it to run for 30 days. Tokyoflash's neat solution to charging is done by undoing a tiny screw, then plugging the watch into a USB port. The charging process is shown on the LEDs within the strap. 

Where the designers have misstepped slightly is in readability of the time. Nothing to do with how the time is represented - that's straightforward enough - it's the lack of distinction of the LEDs through the lens that is the problem here. A little brain training does the job as is usually the case with watches from Tokyoflash.

The time is, er, 12:17?
Produced also with blue LEDs, the Tokyoflash Seven makes a highly distinctive and unique timepiece.

Unfortunately, at the time of writing, the Kisai Seven is listed as sold out on the Tokyoflash site - probably due a limited initial production run.

But it's worth checking in from time to time (no pun intended) to see if this cool non-prop is back in stock.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Face Raiders


I couldn't find a quick answer after a spot of googling for the following problem: how to delete a face from Nintendos Face Raiders on the 3DS.

I found the solution after a spot of prodding the buttons: what you have to do is choose Face Collection, choose the face to delete, then press and hold X then press A.

Now you have access to various customisation options, including delete.

I know - it's probably in the manual. But who reads manuals?