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?

Friday, November 11, 2011

10 years of iPod

I skipped posting about the passing of Steve Jobs simply because so many others wrote so much better than I ever could. But it was indeed a sad day.

Better, I think, commemorate the arrival of the ubiquitous iPod.

Except, 10 years ago, it was a niche hard drive based mp3 player in a fledgling market dominated by the Nomad Jukebox and Archos Jukebox.

Unlike these players, Apple presented their player as a slim Lucite and stainless steel encased jewel, to be handled only with white cotton gloves.

Ok, so the last bit's not true, but this player did kick off a whole industry in aftermarket cases that continues to this day.

I think I had probably got an email flyer from Apple announcing the iPod - I knew there and then I had to have one and pre-ordered one straight away. This is the only gadget I have ever pre-ordered.

At that time I was using my most excellent Sony MiniDisc MZ-R55 for portable music.

The truth was, that having just acquired an iBook, I was ripping more and more of my CDs to the harddrive and listening through iTunes (which existed before the introduction of the iPod, fact fans), and it was getting increasingly cumbersome to get stuff onto MiniDisc. That and the fact that MiniDisc, as a format, didn't really solve the problem of transporting a goodly selection of music around - the discs actually being fatter than the CDs they replaced.

It's worth noting that Sony did beef up MiniDisc with the addition of higher capacity discs and USB connection to PCs, but it was too late to stave off the assault of MP3 players in general.

If I have one regret it's that the iPod just did not sound as good as that Sony. In fact, the MiniDisc was one of the best sounding portable players and could probably hold it's own today. Pity it was such an inconvenient format.

That MZ-R55 went for a pittance on eBay, but I still have the iPod. It still works, holds some charge, and more importantly, syncs with my current iTunes 10.5 library. I'm using a beast of a firewire cable to charge it right now. Take that, weedy iPod touch cable!

I've also just done a little compare and contrast and, yes, the original iPod still sounds weak. So does the Macbook Pro, surprisingly. No, the best sounding device I have is the not so portable iPad. Funny, that.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ok, so...

...I've gone and done it.

That's right, I've joined Twitter, so help me.

Follow if you dare with the button on the right.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

HP Touchpad Hands On

Ok, so I literally spent about two minutes with HPs ill fated Touchpad down at my local PC world.

First impressions - yup, it's a little bulky and carries a real heft... but I think that was more down to the security device and umbilical attached to the back of the unit.

Honestly, other than the smooth plastic casing that makes up the rear, it didn't feel much different from my iPad. But my iPad is a first generation product, and next to iPad 2, the Touchpad faces stiff competition.

Anyway, I was keen to try WebOS, the operating system under which the Touchpad runs.

Initially, the experience is very pleasing - smooth transitions and animations greet you as you prod and swipe your way through the user interface. The photo viewer worked as expected but the pinch to zoom gesture suffered by being a bit laggy but not by much. But, it has to be said, laggier than our old iPod Touch which operates on much inferior hardware.

How about the web browser? Well, the pulsing 'opening app' icon is certainly reassuring - it tells me that the machine hasn't hung and is in fact doing something.

Not quite sure what it was doing, because it took at least 10-15 seconds to show the browser window. To be honest I wasn't counting because I didn't expect it to take so long. 10-15 seconds? Really? For the browser?

At this point I got caught up the the stores' wifi encryption and couldn't proceed any further without the assistance of a purpleshirt.

But anyway. 10-15 seconds to open the browser?

Now, to be fair, this is mitigated by the fact that the calendar and photo apps opened much quicker and it's easy to swipe between them. So you could endure the wait for the browser once per session and just jump between the stuff you have open. It's much better than Apple's home button double-click approach, as it actually looks like a multitasking UI.

As I said, this was just a few minutes of hands on with an eagerly anticipated device.

It's a real shame HP have decided to ditch the Touchpad so soon after launch. WebOS holds much promise and is sufficiently fresh and different from iOS that those seeking non Apple or non Android options for tablet computing would be more than satisfied with this offering.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

iPad App of the Week - NodeBeat HD

I discovered NodeBeat [iTunes link] by accident after seeing it demoed on Youtube.
Based on the idea of note generators and receptors, the app offers a quick and easy way to make pleasing sounding ambient audio on the iPad.
My video below gives you an idea what it's about.

Actually, it was while playing around with this app I was reminded of an old Jean Michel Jarre track, Arpegiator, from the Concerts in China album. See what you think [iTunes link].

Friday, August 05, 2011

Perfect Storm

When nice weather arrives, you just can't resist the allure of running around the garden with a water pistol. Ok, there are plenty of other ways of enjoying the sun, but bear with me here.

Now, this isn't any old water pistol. The Nerf Tornado Strike takes its style cues from something you might find in or around
District 9, the white, blue, and day-glo orange aqua armament being as satisfying to brandish as it is to look at. Sporting a detachable shoulder stock, the Super Soaker feels reassuringly sturdy as you run around the garden SWAT style.

Unlike most fill-at-the-tap water pistols, the Tornado Strike utilises a interchangeable water clip system so you can truly lock and load - carry several for extended soaking sessions.

The weapon is primed with a chunky forward grip with which a single pump will unleash a spinning torrent of the wet stuff. It's range is satisfying at several metres and woe betide anyone caught up close.

But as much as I like the water clip system, it's capacity is limited, only offering 5 or so full blasts before a refill is required. Which kind of defeats the purpose. All Hasbro had to do was throw in a spare clip. Admittedly, it wouldn't make that much of a difference, just that the action of swapping an empty clip for a full one during the heat of battle would double the fun instantly.

Luckily, spare clips are available on Amazon, so I may pop over there before the sun shows it's face again.

And alas, as I write, dark clouds are forming on the horizon. Typical.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Shuttling off

What's this? Two posts in as many days? My eyes!

I didn't think I needed to write about this, but seeing as it's one the biggest, most complicated gadgets the world has ever seen, I though it apt post some words on this day.

Of course, I'm talking about the Space Shuttle, and the successful launch of Atlantis - the last ever shuttle launch - not more than about two hours ago as I write.

To echo other comments I've read online, I'm surprised by how emotional I've been about the whole thing. I think it's because, like the space race generation before me, the shuttle launches have taken place over a large proportion of my life.

It seems that, with the ending of the Shuttle programme, and the ending of supersonic passenger flight in the shape of the Concorde, the world is taking retrograde steps in the progress of mankind.

That's not in any way belittling the advances in other fields of science - medical progress, the development of portable computing power - personal phones, tablets, really quite powerful battery operated computers - these were the stuff of science fiction when the shuttle first launched in 1981. I don't think we even had a home computer back then.

But the image of the shuttle stack sitting on the launch pad, the sheer brute force of these engines - in my mind represented the ultimate in human endeavour.

So despite being surrounded by small tech - great tech - I'm saddened by the loss of one of the greatest technological feats in our short history.

There are some exciting technologies in the pipeline, I'm sure, but I don't find the same attachment to BDBs* as a delivery mechanism.

And the world is a poorer place for that.

*Big, dumb boosters

Thursday, July 07, 2011

The littlest 'bot

I stumbled across Robo-Q at a local discount store - they had a pile of them selling at 8 GBP so just had to pick one up, er, for research purposes of course.

Tomy's Robo-Q claims to be the smallest autonomous robot. There's no denying he's small - measuring just 3.4 cm tall - but a robot? Let's see...

Like these indoor 'copters, Robo-Q charges his tiny battery from the handset. Like Apple's magsafe connector, the little contacts on his belly attach magnetically to the corresponding nodes on the controller. He takes quite a long time to charge - up to 20 minutes - which is disappointing, since his run time is short at only a few minutes per charge.

The [noisy] controller has a few simple controls; a sliding speed control, a left/right control and a button marked 'Auto'. Robo-Q lives in a bubble within the controller itself when not in use, ready to be deployed when needed. Well, not really - see 20 minute charge, above.

Robo-Q himself is kitted out with two IR transceivers, two little arms that can be 'posed', and two little legs that do the walking.

His motive force is provided by two tiny actuators, aka coils, in his legs, and the design of the foot allows him to shuffle forward as the feet flick back and forth. Steering is done by flicking one foot more frequently than the other.

But Robo-Q rarely walks straight - often employing a graceful curve before heading over the edge of the table.

This is where the handy controller comes in - you can manually steer Robo - and one can only imagine the unbridled fun it must be to have two different Robos in the same room independently controllable. Remember the discount store I mentioned earlier? That's right - they only had the one model all operating at the same frequency... so no Robo-Q footy world cup for me.

That 'Auto' button on the controller does just that - it sends Robo-Q into a wall-seeking frenzy. Or rather, it's an aversion to walls - he steers clear of such obstacles, the idea being that, like some lab animal, he can negotiate his way out of a maze.

Of course that's bollocks - unless your maze is uniform and white (but not too reflective) the little bugger will ignore most things you put in his path and instead pounds his little head into that box of tissues you thought would work.

Similarly, he can be ordered to 'follow' an object - well mostly his oversized, multi-faceted 'ball'. This he has some fun with this before kicking it too far and losing interest.

Uh oh. Your five minutes are up. Batteries flat. Time to charge up again.

So enjoy my short vid of Robo-Q in some maze action. Soundtrack by me courtesy of Garageband on iPad. Sorry.

You can find a much better video here.

And if you want more, you can watch the crazy Japanese promo here.

Friday, April 15, 2011


It's not often I'm fooled by technology. I like to know how stuff works. It helps me evaluate the relative merits of the common consumer gadgets on a purely technical basis.

But on the run up to Christmas last year, as I was browsing the technology section of our local department store, I got completely taken in by one gadget in particular - Amazon's Kindle.

I'd played with Sony e-readers previously while killing time in an airport, but this was my first close encounter with a Kindle.

Well, actually, a dummy Kindle. Because of the two on display, only one was a working model - the thing I was uselessly prodding was a mock-up, with a printed sticker for a display. I really was convinced the thing had just hung and needed a hard reset.

So not only is the actual Kindle as light as an in-store fake, the screen - the e-ink display - is as convincing as a printed label.

I was impressed.

However as an iPad owner one has to make do and to be honest at that point I had yet to fully read a book - a novel - on it, from cover to cover. So to speak.

So now, it's late April, nearly a year of iPad ownership behind me and I have actually got around to reading again, the idea of getting down to some good old science fiction (Philip K. Dick) as impetus.

A few novels later, using both the Kindle app, and Apple's own iBooks, what's it like, reading on an oversized iPod?

First is the weight. iPad, 1st generation, weighs 690 grams. A large hardback picked randomly weighs in at 898 grams. Yet amazingly the book seems lighter. Crazy, I know. Something, I suspect, to do with the relative density of the two. But my gut tells me the book weighs less.

What does this prove? It proves that the iPad is a heavy old thing that needs propped up for lengthy sessions. I tend to use it landscape, resting it - well, balancing it really - between my thumb and forefinger. Mostly, though, I look to rest it up against something, like a leg, or an armrest. Or just an arm.

Anyway we knew this already. And iPad doesn't get heavier the more books you add - one of the key benefits of an e-reader.

Another important factor seems to be about location i.e. where one does one's reading. For example, on a recent flight, the iPad proved awkward to position to avoid reflections from the bright sunlight cascading through the window. This is true of viewing anything on iPad in bright daylight, something the Kindle excels in.

Conversely, in a darkened room, with the brightness of the iPad dialled as low as it will go, the reading experience is perfectly comfortable, the soft light from the screen invisible to a dozing partner.

Beyond physical aspects, the actual process of reading is just like, er, reading. Forget the arguments over eye-strain - sessions of up to one and half hours (an yes I know many people read for hours on end) were perfectly fine. In fact I'd go as far as saying that the experience is so convincing, I'd lose the notion I was reading a device, rather than a book.

Which brings me to the software.

As a book reading experience, I found the Kindle app closer to the real thing. A simple tap or swipe enough to bring up the next page. In contrast, although iBooks will flick pages on a tap, the whole, beautiful page animation thing only served to get between me and the words. I found it easier to swipe back a page on Kindle on the occasions I needed to review the last words before the page break - you know, when you lose track of the syntax of a sentence.

In conclusion, this leaves iPad as a perfectly good e-reader, but without the crisp outdoor readable display and the almost weightless feel of Kindle.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Nintendo 3DS

OK, so the above patently isn't a 3DS, but it did remind me that for better or worse I've owned nearly all Nintendos' handheld devices.

There was the original Gameboy, a Gameboy Color, the Gameboy Advance, a phat DS and a slim DS. I still have a space reserved on the list for a Gameboy Micro, but fear my eyesight isn't up to it. (And they still fetch quite a lot on eBay...)

So, after a cursory look at the 3DS in a store, I came away suitably impressed with the depth of field the screen lends to the action. It is true that you have to find (and keep) the 'sweet spot' for the stereoscopic effect to work, but even with the older systems gamers tend to hold their devices in a constant comfort zone anyway, so the 3DS shouldn't require too much effort. Pity about the battery life, which got better on older models as the tech matured. Maybe they're keeping that improvement for V2.

It seems likely, then, that I'll get myself a 3DS to keep the lineage of portable Nintendo systems going (I'm allowed to skip the DSi, OK?) and also for the inevitable Advance Wars 3DS. Happy days.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Rubik's Touch Cube

The Rubik's Touch Cube is a great idea on paper that actually made it to product. The familiar look of the Rubik Cube is replicated here not with crude stickers on a rotating frame, but with multi-coloured LEDs projected onto a blank shell. As the name suggests, the cube is operated by touch, and not only that, but by gesture control.

Even before you reach the product, the packaging is premium quality. One would expect nothing less as this is not a cheap toy, even if I did pick mine up at a bargain price at the local Costco. The packaging consists of two halves of quality boxwork, with the cube nestled in a neatly cut foam inner lining. Beneath this is the charger and cradle.

The cube itself is a well constructed item and despite its looks, each face consists of smooth, clear plastic. Actually, this plastic film picks up scuffs really easily - if you have an iPod you'll know what I mean. Also, as it's a sensitive electronic device, you'll need to handle it like any other electronic device - I wouldn't like to drop it or leave it buried at the bottom of the toy cupboard.

Now, in a normally lit environment, this is a light up cube. So far so good. But in moderately dim or even darkness, the cube is positively dazzling in intensity. The pictures don't do it justice, for the colours are rich and vibrant. Each facet has the ability to show one of the six Rubik Cube colours.

The red, green, orange and blue are achieved using discrete LEDs, the white with (I'm guessing) a combination of the red, green and blue LEDs, while yellow is the green and blue LEDs mixed. The effect is arresting, because of the brightness and evenness of the light. It's almost like holding a movie special effect, it's that good.

Each face carries it's own function, operated by the centre facet under which is a microswitch. These need to be double clicked to operate, I guess to avoid accidental operation. There's a power button, scramble and unscramble, volume (yes), a hint button and an undo button. The other cool aspect of this cube is that only the upper face is sensitive to touch at any time. So the device must have some sort of gyro aboard to determine this.

Stroking a slice in either axis will cause the cube to simulate a twist, complete with an unconvincing and repetitive sample of a real cube being twisted. The touch also responds to a diagonal 'rotate the top face' type gesture, but this is harder to successfully pull off, as it often sends another face spinning inadvertently. In the end, one resorts to one dimensional stroking to achieve the desired move.

The scramble option applies 20 random moves to the current state of the cube, enough to get any cube fiddler started. Unscramble appears to work by applying a minimum move type algorithm to the current state of the cube and a lot of the time it's not completely obvious what's going on other than a series of unrelated moves. More on this later.

The hint option makes the cube wink the next move you need to make towards completion, again using the same algorithm.

Undo is obvious, but is most useful for those mistaken moves, especially when handling the cube or getting the orientation set. Solving the cube with my own archaic level-by-level approach is doable, even easy with a bit of re-training of the muscle memory - the need to keep the operating face uppermost can be frustrating at times and the undo facility (which can undo a whole series of moves) is really useful.

Now let's look at what I'd call the missed opportunities of this device.

Remember that each facet is individually settable to one of the six colours. Forgetting that the designers could have used a tri-colour LED with a huge colour palette, there was still an opportunity to set the device to display an evolving set of patterns and colour shifts. Throw in a microphone, and the cube could pulse away randomly to music. In a half hearted attempt at this, it does at least scramble and unscramble itself whilst on charge, lending a nightclub glow to the immediate surroundings.

Taking that idea further, why not add an mp3 player? Not only would you have sound to light, but it could be it's own sound.

Moving on, there's the solving algorithm. Yes, it solves itself, but doesn't in any kind of meaningful way, to me at least. It would have been better to allow the option to solve via both methods - layer by layer is arguably easier to memorise as a novice as there are only half a dozen or so simple move combos you need to know to solve the cube from any position. If, like myself, you do solve by layers, then choose the hint option, the cube goes off on a tangent and messes up your work to that point.

Lastly, and kind of obviously, there's the battery. Disappointingly, for a puzzle that's meant to be studied for hours to get the hang of, a little over an hour of play is offered by the inbuilt NiCd cells before the thing, rather alarmingly, flashes red all over a few minutes before shutdown. And it takes ages to charge, easily several hours. I guess in the age of rapid charge Li Ion batteries, going back to NiCd is a bit of a culture shock.

And while the little charging cradle is neat - the cubes' little metal contacts making, er, contact when the device is propped on one corner - extended play would have been possible if a simple cable attachment had been designed in.

Despite these failings, the Touch Cube represents the ambitious attempt of a toy manufacturer jumping on the 'touch' revolution that has swept through the consumer electronics industry, and for that alone, they must get a little credit.

Shortcomings aside, I really like the Touch Cube. There are a zillion websites and mobile apps devoted to helping solve the original cube, but this is the first fully electronic cube that does what it says on the tin, in a really satisfying way.

Now, if only my 5x3x3 cube could solve itself...

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