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Oct 19, 2012

The House of Marley Get Up Stand Up

House of Marley Get Up Stand Up iPod/iPhone dock and speaker

iPod docks are ten-a-penny now. What many of these products lack though is great, original design. And lets face it Apple's products are all about design. The iPod wasn't successful because it was a music player. It was successful because it wrapped all that clever technology up in a must have design. The House of Marley  have stepped up to the mark with an original design that won't put your iPod/iPhone to shame!

The House of Marley "Get Up Stand Up" minimises plastic and brings wood back to the fore in home hi-fi design. The design is based around a curved birch wood panel with a walnut finish into which are set two each of 11.4cm woofers and 2.5cm tweeters which are backed with a decent power amp. The wood itself is sourced from sustainable sources (Forest Stewardship Council)

"We thought back to how people used to admire the large floor speakers back in the 1970s and 80s and how those speakers were design elements in the home..." said Rohan Marley, on behalf of The House of Marley. I can remember back to those times and yes - we used to put speakers on stands - making them part of the furniture.

Like many produces this system also has a 3.5mm jack so you can use other audio sources, but this is very much aimed at the Apple audience that want to show of that latest iPhone 5 they rushed out to buy!

The MARLEY "Get Up Stand Up" is available for purchase at HMV and other selected retailers for a RRP of £299.99:

http://hmv.com/hmvweb/home.do

Feb 29, 2012

Is the Raspberry Pi this generation's ZX80?

Listening to the Today Programme this morning it was interesting to hear the article on the launch of the Raspberry Pi, a tiny piece of circuitry aimed at getting people (children mainly) back into programming. How we ever, as a country, managed to loose this skill and interest is quite frankly beyond me.

My computing "career" started as a 14 year old visiting the local girls grammar school once a week with a couple of other "geeks" (a term yet to be coined) to use their teletype and 110 baud acoustic-coupler link to an ICL 1900 mainframe at Kent College. This was followed by writing Mastermind on a programmable calculator and eventually the arrival of my very own Sinclair ZX80 which, to my mothers surprise, arrived in a Jiffy bag! It's still in my loft.

Computers and computing were new, they were exciting and.... well actually they did absolutely nothing. Take a ZX80 out of a bag and plug it in and you have a system that does... well... nothing. Not a thing. You couldn't even buy software to run on it. And that was the key - they were exciting but anything you wanted them to do you did yourself. With each step forward there would be a real sense of achievement. Armed only with the ZX80, a circuit diagram, an ancient black and white TV set, a copy of the Z80 op-codes and time that should have been dedicated to O and A levels I had my very own version of Space Invaders.

My daughter recently went through the process of choosing her 'A' levels. Sixth Form has moved on and there is now a bewildering array of courses on offer and to offer these schools now club together in consortia. As one of the first year at my school to take Computer Science A level (we had no teachers and so the subject was gallantly taken on by the deputy head and a sociology teacher) you may well imagine my surprise to find none of the colleges now offer Computer Science as an A level subject. A surprise it seems that's shared by Google's Eric Schmidt who went so far as being "flabbergasted".  Not one college. Despite one of the colleges being a science and technology specialist!

Where is this rambling going?

Oh yes - the Raspberry Pi. It should come as no surprise in the days of smart phones to find this tiny circuit board hosts a full blown computer. From the Arm processor, 1080p graphics driver, USB ports to the SD-card memory slot everything you'd find on a laptop is here.

The SD card slot provides the primary storage media and this has to hold your operating system plus anything else you want. Given the system has two USB sockets secondary storage could presumably be achieved through a USB hard-disk.

So what can you do with it? There's a nice video from Robert Mullins, co-founder of the Raspberry Pi foundation which demonstrates the system in operation. Basically he boots into a version of Linux (there are several flavours available that will run on the constrained hardware) and from there demonstrates an educational programming language which I presume is analogous to yesteryear's BASIC.

The big question is "will the Raspberry Pi encourage children to take up programming", which is it's primary goal? That's going to depend to a large extent on schools, on teachers driving their pupils enthusiasm. My own interest was sparked by a maths teacher and an after school maths club - not everything has to be part of the appalling National Curriculum and compulsion is general the enemy of enthusiasm!

One thing is certain - for the Raspberry Pi to succeed schools are going to have to encourage projects where there is not currently an off-the-shelf solution - why write Space Invaders when you can buy it for £10?

Feb 24, 2012

Decluttering with musicMagpie

musicMagpie on iPhone

Games, music, CDs! There's no shortage of them and many of us probably have more than we really need, especially if you're one of those people that like to get there hands on the latest entertainment at the earliest opportunity!

What do you do with all these products when you're finished? For many of us they very quickly become shelf-candy, gathering dust and looking very sorry for themselves! musicMagpie is one option for those that wish to declutter their shelves and make a few bob into the bargain.

musicMagpie started out with some software for your PC that would let you scan bar-codes of unwanted products with your web-cam and provide you with an easy to access marketplace. They've now made things even easier with an iPhone app - instead of finding your missing web-cam simply install the app on your iPhone and 'click' the bar code is scanned and you can watch the pennies and, hopefully, pounds start to accumulate.

You can download the iPhone app directly from the musicMagpie website where you'll also find full instructions on how you can use their service.

I've not tried it yet but when I get a moment I'll definitely be taking a long look at the dust gathering on the seldom played games stacked on my shelf. If you have used musicMagpie please do post your feedback below!

Feb 24, 2012

GEAR4 AirZone Series 1

GEAR4 AirZone Series 1

The ability to stream music wirelessly around your house isn't new. I've reviewed a number of wireless speakers in the past that connect via Bluetooth to a suitable device and hey-presto - wireless.

Bluetooth has limitations though - basically the source of music needs to be in the same room as the speakers.

Apple are looking to make things easier with their AirPlay technology. Rather than use Bluetooth AirPlay instead piggybacks your WiFi network. All recent Apple products come with WiFi and as long as you've gone through the pain of configuring WiFi in your house you can make use of the system.

Apple's part in the puzzle is providing the music source - iPad, iPhone, iPod or Apple Mac laptop or desktop.

You'll need some speakers of course. GEAR4 have just launched their AirZone product. This can attach to AirPlay and you can beam your music directly to the speakers from anywhere within WiFi range.

For those of you that don't want to attach wirelessly (is there really a point if you're in the room with your iPod?) then there's a traditional iPad/iPhone/iPod dock, built in FM radio and a line-in socket allowing you to play other audio sources.

RRP is £199

Feb 23, 2012

5,000 Free, limited edition artworks to celebrate trafalgar square sculpture unveiling

Artists Elmgreen & Dragset invite viewers into virtual world powered by Aurasma

Fourth Plinth

The tradition of viewing art is set to be transformed with today’s launch of radical interactive content to accompany the new commission by Elmgreen and Dragset for the Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square.  In collaboration with s[edition], the leading digital platform for collecting contemporary art, the Scandinavian artistic duo invites visitors to experience the sculpture in the virtual world using augmented reality.

For the first time, visitors can further engage with the Fourth Plinth commission, which is funded by the Mayor of London with support from Arts Council England. They will be able to access exclusive content via the s[edition] iPhone app, powered by Aurasma, the world's leading augmented reality platform, and using the Aurasma app for smartphones. When devices are pointed at the sculpture’s plaque, users will receive a three-dimensional rendering of the sculpture, along with unique footage of Elmgreen & Dragset presenting their work.

The artists have also collaborated with s[edition] to create a digital limited edition artwork celebrating the commissioned sculpture. Designed to be viewed on digital devices from iPhones to televisions, the limited edition features a unique digital rendition of the bronze sculpture on the plinth. To commemorate the unveiling, s[edition] will offer members of the public the chance to own one of 5,000 limited editions, worth £35 each, for free before 5pm GMT on Friday 23 February 2012.  The editions are limited to one per person and can be accessed via the s[edition] website: www.seditionart.com/elmgreen_and_dragset/powerless_structures

Michael Elmgreen said: “The internet has created possibilities for experiencing artworks in a totally different way. You do not need to be there in a physical sense at the location to actually get an impression of the work. So it broadens the possibilities to reach other audiences apart from the people in Trafalgar Square.”

Ingar Dragset stated: “When we developed the sculpture itself in a 3D format, we used the computer as well as a tool. It is a big part of most artists’ working process. What you see with our s[edition] limited edition is the computer manipulated sculpture turning around, with the blue sky in the background, and it loops endlessly.”

Robert Norton, co-founder and CEO of s[edition], said: “It is thrilling to be partnered with Elmgreen & Dragset and Aurasma on such a groundbreaking initiative.  This is the first time we have seen major artists  bring the physical and virtual worlds together using augmented reality powered by Aurasma, and we believe it will pave the way for the future.”

Martina King, Managing Director of Aurasma, said: “This ground breaking collaboration with s[edition] brings digital art to 3D life, augmented into the real world.  People will be able to use the simple tools in the app to add a 3D model of the artwork to their homes, offices gardens – even the street.  We’re delighted to see Aurasma’s unique technology being used to change the way people see and interact with art using their mobile devices.”   

Commissioned by the Mayor of London and supported by the Arts Council England, Elmgreen & Dragset’s new sculpture for the Fourth Plinth was unveiled on 23 February 2012 in Trafalgar Square, London. Entitled Powerless Structures, Fig 101, the artwork features a 4.1m high golden bronze sculpture portraying a boy on a rocking horse with his right arm thrust high in the air. Powerless Structures, Fig.101 is supported by AlixPartners with Louis Vuitton.

The Mayor of London Boris Johnson said: "The year that we host the greatest show on earth is an unprecedented opportunity to celebrate London's status as a globally renowned cultural capital. Elmgreen & Dragset have created a gleaming sculpture for the Fourth Plinth, which will be a high profile attraction during a summer like no other - with its nod to equestrianism I hope it augers well for medal glory at the 2012 Games!"

Available for iPhone and Android smartphones, Aurasma uses advanced image and pattern recognition technology to seamlessly blend the real world with interactive digital content called “Auras”.  Auras can be created for images, objects and physical places. Users can even use the simple tools in the app to create and add their own Auras to the world. A 3D version of Powerless Structures, Fig 101 will be available on the Aurasma platform for users to place into the real world, view and share.

www.seditionart.com

www.fourthplinth.co.uk 

Apr 12, 2011

Flip Video..... RIP

Flip Video Mono HD

We've reviewed many of the innovative 'Flip' video family of products over the last few years. Pure Digital Technologies, the creative little company behind Flip, left all of the well established camera and video vendors playing catchup. Larger, slower, less innovative companies see the acquisition of these agile small start-ups as their way to 'catch-up'. Innovation by proxy as it were. This was the case with Pure Digital Technologies - although in this case rather than an established camera company the suitor was networking giant Cisco. Now this was obviously not a particularly good fit for a company whose main exposure to the consumer market was through those little boxes that sit in the corner, only really because you have to have one. Ask your average consumer about Cisco and you're likely to be matched by a blank stare.

Not unpredictably Cisco now finds itself in a hole. In the US tech sector if you're not growing spectacularly then you're history and Cisco so don't want to be history. In a story repeated time and again a large company flush with cash buys companies seemingly at random for prices that seem absurd (Cisco paid $590m almost exactly 2 years ago) only to close them without a backward glance a short period later.

Why does this happen so often? It seems that very few large companies have what it takes at the head to generate any sensible strategy or to ignore the short-term quarter driven view of investors to see the long game. Companies that can do this are few and far between and it doesn't last forever. Regardless of what you think of Apple, they do innovate, they do take a long term view and they have a healthy disregard for short-sightedness!

Apr 1, 2011

Not sure about 'tablet computers'?

ViewSonic ViewPad 7 Android powered tablet computer

Tablet computers have been around for a good few years but it took the iPad to open the flood gates and now everyone seems to want one. Is this just a fad or are tablet computers or 'pads' something worth your hard earned cash in these 'austere' times?

While the iPad grabbed the initial spotlight and launched this sector into the mainstream consumer market, Google's Android operating system soon started to appear with products from numerous vendors. Like the idea but still not sure what all the fuss is about? Worried that after the initial enthusiasm that cool Tablet might end up sat on the sideboard gathering dust?

ViewSonic are pretty sure that this won't be the case and that once you've tried this new experience in computing you'll be hooked! To that extent they are offering customers a "Try for Free" opportunity. Buy a Google Certified ViewPad 7 and try it for 30 days. If you're not completely satisfied with the experience you can return it for a full refund, including return postage up to £10.

This offer is only available until the end of April - so take the opportunity now. Full details are available on ViewSonics dedicated ViewPad Try for Free website.

Mar 30, 2011

Lights, Camera, Action - LeapFrog's Short Film Festival Competition

Leapfrog

If the news is to be believed the ever increasing number of TV talent shows is leading a whole generation to dream of a future in front of the cameras or on the stage as a superstar. Lest we not forget that for every star of stage and screen there is a whole team behind the scenes doing a lot of very hard work.

It might be a little less glamorous being behind the scenes but no less rewarding to see the fruits of your labours on the big screen. To encourage the younger members of the family to get behind the camera, and to celebrate the success of its innovative educational gaming console and super cool video camera accessory, LeapFrog is searching for the best young directors in the UK, with one lucky short film maker in with the chance of winning a family trip of a lifetime to Florida.

The new competition is open to kids between the ages of four and nine, along with a little help from their families, can upload short (90 second) films to the competition site where they will be entered into the competition. The films have to be on the subject of "a family day out", and with the weather (hopefully) improving what better way to spend a warm spring day?

The competition closes on the 17th of April though so all you budding directors need to get out from in front of the TV and get the film rolling (OK - I guess there isn't a lot of actual film involved these days!).

A special judging panel will review the entrants and select the top-10 to attend LeapFrog’s Short Film Festival premiere. Taking place on May 31st in the heart of London’s bustling Covent Garden at the spectacular London Transport Museum (worth a visit in itself!). This is an amazing opportunity for young film lovers to see their own movie première at the cinema complete with red carpet and eager 'paparazzi' snapping away!

The winner will be announced on the evening after all the finalists films have been screened.

What are you waiting for - time to get out that camera and start to make some (short) movie magic! When you're ready here's the competition site!


Dec 2, 2010

On-demand TV over the Internet?

Box Office 365 example service

OK - you might be thinking this isn't such a new idea. There's the BBC i-Player and a range of other similar products out there. Many are even accessible through a set-top box rather than just your PC.

This new service from BiBC (British Internet Broadcasting Company) however is intended to deliver content directly to your Internet Connected TV - no box sitting in the middle. You didn't know you could get Internet connected TVs? Well they are new. BiBC will deliver their content over the Samsung Internet@TV service and the NetRange MMH platform from Loewe and so will be available on the latest range of TVs, Blu-Ray players and home cinema systems from these companies. The service is also available on Philips web-enabled televisions.

This kind of delivery has been dubbed "OTT TV" - Over-The-Top TV. I'm not entirely sure why!

Anyway - given the reach of the Internet BiBC will be making the same service available immediately across many European countries.

So.... what content can you get? Initial channels will include content from Cartoon Network, ITV, Hit Entertainment, AudioLounge and BoxOffice 365 and prices will start from as little as £2.99. Worth a look if you're investing in a new TV any time soon!

Oct 28, 2010

The annual Dream Toys event has taken place today in London

This years Dream Dozen, in alphabetic order, are:

  • City Airport, Lego UK (£84.99)
  • Fireman Sam Deluxe Fire Station Playset, Character Options (£29.99)
  • FurReal Go Go Walking Pup, Hasbro (£59.99)
  • Jet Pack Buzz Lightyear, Mattel UK (£39.99)
  • Kidizoom VideoCam, VTech (£59.99)
  • Monopoly Revolution, Hasbro (£29.99)
  • Moon Dough Barn, Spinmaster Toys UK (£19.99)
  • Nerf N Strike Stampede ECS, Hasbro (£54.99)
  • Paper Jamz Guitar, Wow Wee Europe (£24.99)
  • ‘Pumpaloons’ – action game, Drumond Park (£19.99)
  • Sylvanian Families Motorcycle and Sidecar, Flair Leisure (£24.99)
  • ZhuZhu Grooming Salon, Character Options (£22.99)

Top Girls Items

Product Made by RRP
AniMagic Tender Care Twins Vivid £19.99
Baby Alive Bouncing Babbles Hasbro £24.99
Baby Born Magic Feeding Doll Zapf Creation £34.99
Barbie A Fashion Fairytale Doll Mattel UK £21.99
Barbie Puppy Swim School Mattel UK £21.99
Bratz 10.10.10 MGA Entertainment UK £9.99
FurReal Go Go Walking Pup Hasbro £59.99
JLS Collector Dolls Vivid £14.99
Moxie Girlz Art-titide Dolls MGA Entertainment UK £14.99
Ocean In My Pocket Coral Reef Corinthian £19.99
Sylvanian Families Motorcycle and Side Car Flair Leisure £24.99
ZhuZhu Grooming Salon Character Options £22.99

And the top toys for Boys?

Product Made by RRP
All Around Chuggington Train Set Learning Curve £59.99
DUPLO Toy Story The Great Train Chase Lego UK £34.99
Fire Engine Playmobil (UK) £39.99
Fireman Sam Deluxe Fire Station Playset Character Options £29.99
Thomas Zip, Zoom & Logging Adventure Mattel UK £54.99
Kidizoom VideoCam VTech £59.99
My Pal Scout Leapfrog Toys (UK) £19.99
Peppa Pig Lullaby Peppa Character Options £19.99
Play To Learn Mr Colour Maker Tomy £24.99
Play To Learn Pic ‘n’ Pop Tomy £39.99
Storio VTech £59.99
Toy Story Collection Lots 'O' Huggin Bear Vivid RRP £39.99

The only items I have so far looked at are both from Paper Jamz their Guitar (highly commended) and the Paper Jamz Drums (5x5 award)