Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist

Archive for the 'Gadgets' Category | back to home

12 January 2012

I remember this phenomenon from my computer journalism days. I had assumed this was long gone but it’s still around as captured by BBC News Online. Doubly depressing because the CEO of CES seemed to be defending the practice. And triply depressing because I suspect its place at the number one spot of the BBC’s video coverage on News Online at the moment is nothing to do with its critical stance and everything to do with the models being shown to illustrate the story.

Update: And even more depressing than the above – @aleksk tweets i received the worst & most graphic abuse i’ve ever had online when i applauded the ban of booth babes at E3 on Guardian Gamesblog in 2006.

All of which reminds me that on one press trip a major tech vendor took journalists for a ‘jolly’ to the Lido in Paris (like the Folies Bergeres) – you can imagine how the female journalists on the trip felt…

17 December 2009

Due to recent breakages and having an income after years of studenthood I find myself looking for a bunch of consumer electronics goods at once and I’m coming to realise that:

1) Even in this most-covered commercial area, there are annoying information gaps (products that are UK/European models are much less often-reviewed than US ones).
2) Being able to find reviews of any individual product is no substitute for buyer’s guides that would help you sift through dozens of similar products by your own criteria.

So can you help me find the following?

  • A cheap (sub-£150) digital camera that is good in low-light conditions (ie shoots well indoors without a flash)
  • An inexpensive 22″ TV with reasonable speakers and (if possible) support for high resolution connection to a PC for use as a monitor (am currently considering the John Lewis 22″ or the LG22H2000)
  • A cheap mobile phone with decent calendar/organizer function (ie an up-to-date version of what Palm used to sell as an organizer alone) – preferably with keyboard – am currently considering the INQ Chat or the LG GW520 – should be on three because of their Skype support and cheap internet.

Other suggestions?

21 July 2009
Filed under:Gadgets,Personal at9:21 am

I’ve been doubly digitally deprived of late – I have lost internet access for three days – that was bad enough. But this coincided with the loss of my new iPod Touch. I hadn’t really realised how much I have come to rely on it as a filler of spare moments with (mostly) speech podcasts, snippets of web pages and the odd game. Also as a note taker and organizer that was – crucially – at hand wherever I was.

I would like to say that now that I have been forced to live without continuous distractions I have discovered the pleasures of living in the moment and being fully aware of my surroundings. But in fact I just find the situation frustrating. Perhaps I need a longer period in a media isolation tank – but as a media studies academic it may be that my media addiction just comes with the territory.

29 June 2009

I replaced my five year old PowerPC-based iBook G4 with a practically identical MacBook last week and I know at least one other reader is contemplating the same thing so here are some impressions and a few problems/requests for help.


  • As you might expect, I got more storage – 500Gb instead of 80 – which means I can now have all my music and all my pictures and all my movies on one machine instead of having them distributed on different ones.
  • My battery life has gone back up from c. 1hr to supposedly nearly five (as yet untested).
  • Having a built in webcam is pretty entertaining.
  • Making the transition was very easy even though it involved a change of processor architecture as well as a change of machine. Only a few applications broke and almost all the application settings remained intact. I was working on the new machine within a half day of connecting it to the old one.
  • Thanks to a “back to school” offer the new macbook came with a (nearly) free iPod Touch which was significantly better than the first generation one I had in that it includes a volume control and can accept a microphone.


  • The down arrow already seems to be coming loose though the machine has not been subjected to any physical stress I can think of.
  • Even with nearly double the RAM (2Gb) and I would have thought several times the raw processing power, the new machine feels very little faster. Moore’s law suggests I should see a 4x speed increase – where is it? One can’t blame The Great Moore’s Law Compensator – the tendency for software to get more and more bloated as processors improve – because I am running the same software I was last week. Are there a lot of non-native applications still on my machine running in emulation? Will I see a dramatic boost if I “top up” to 4Gb of RAM?
  • It’s not noticeably lighter either though I believe it is supposed to be slightly lighter and it is just different enough in shape that I had to buy a new case for it.

Help, please?

  • Adobe AIR seems not to work despite uninstalling and reinstalling it twice so BBC iPlayer and Tweetdeck don’t work either. Any ideas?
  • I installed Windows 7 RC via Bootcamp but none of the games I have installed to date via Steam run – in the case of TF2 I get the “splash screen” and the icon briefly appears in the dock but then it disappears without even an error message. Should I try installing parallels, fusion or one of the other multiple-OS enabling apps and try that? Any other ideas?
  • Any ideas about how I can get my Macbook to recognise the existence of an external monitor when it is running Windows 7? If I do get it to play games I would prefer to play them on my 19″ monitor.
9 March 2009

By way of background, I have been thinking seriously about switching to Freesat (our house can’t receive Freeview). In addition our DVD recorder appears to be dying, and our TV set is at least 22 years old so it surely has to die soon, which would mean going HD. Knowing that HD is the future it seems silly to buy a new device that only played and recorded at standard definition. So logically a box which offers Blu-ray recording and built-in Freesat recording would be a sensible purchase, since both functions would be useful now or in the future. Imagine my delight when I heard that just such a device was about to arrive here – the Panasonic DMR-BS850. So what would I expect to pay for that? Well the Humax Freesat DVR is £300 and a Panasonic Blu-Ray player starts at £180 or so. I’d expect to pay another £100 or so to be able to record onto Blu-Ray as well but I’d also expect a little cost saving for buying everything in a single box. So maybe they’ll charge £550? Nope – it seems Panasonic plans to charge nearly double that sum for their new gadget. Bah!

I guess what I’ll do is buy a Humax box, possibly a cheap replacement DVD recorder (£130) when this one flakes out and wait for my TV to die and for Blu Ray pricing to become rational…

24 December 2008

Remember I couldn’t get Google Talk to run on my non-Intel Mac? I can’t get the new Mac beta of BBC’s iPlayer to run either (well it runs but it isn’t recommended for non-Intel macs according to the BBC and the frame rate is lousy on my G4).

9 December 2008

I just heard about the nabaztag (Armenian for rabbit – hello Leslie!) via Jeremy Hunsinger and though I am not quite sure what it does I am sure I would like to get a “digital pet” like this one one of these days. OK it’s a lot of money for what would probably end up being a glorified alarm clock but smart appliances intrigue me.

The Chumby (below) is more capable and flexible but also somewhat more expensive (and less cute). It’s not distributed here either, it seems.

A Chumby

29 November 2008
Filed under:Gadgets,Personal at3:37 pm

We looked high and low for an MP3 player suitable for a two year old and were only finding ones costing around £30 and over-complicated. Then we found the Sansa Shaker:

Not only is it cutely designed (you can shake it to switch tracks, “shuffle”-like) and simple to use – it has a built in speaker as well as two headphone jacks, runs on an ordinary AAA battery and comes with 512Mb of upgradeable memory (though with only the ability to go back and forth one song at a time that storage is enough for anyone). Best of all, we found it for £10 including postage at 7dayshop – an online store we had not hitherto run across – while other shops were charging £25 and up . It just arrived and appears to be as advertised. Unfortunately for other would-be buyers, 7dayshop no longer lists it for sale. Perhaps their stock’s been bought up by other merchants?

Compare and contrast with the MP3 player I bought five years ago – it had 1/4 the capacity and cost 12x the price!

23 November 2008

Evernote doesn’t work nearly as well offline as I had hoped – am sticking with it for the moment out of sheer cussedness but it’s less convenient than my old solution. The iPod Touch update that adds podcast downloading wirelessly which I was also looking forward to doesn’t let you automatically add new podcasts you are subscribed to – it only lets you subscribe to new ones or add podcasts manually (and then only if you already have at least one file downloaded for that podcast). The Touch doesn’t have a built in password protection option for files – how dumb is that? (I’m trying out SplashID Lite as a data store for starters). And the new S2 Skypephone which I am thinking of getting as a cheaper alternative to the Nokia 6220 is all very well but as far as I can tell there’s still no way to sync it with one’s address book using my Mac’s iSync (and my memory of the PC syncing software available with the original Skypephone is that it was dire).


15 November 2008

Evernote, which has had a lot of good press for its note taking/todo application, has finally added offline reading to its feature list for the iPhone and iPod Touch… kind of. It’s feature rich enough that I have switched to using it over the previous work-around I found (using the address book as a todo list) but I’m hoping they’ll upgrade the app more soon.

Next Page ?