Christmas Gadget Gift Ideas

It’s that time of year again! I thought I’d post a series of updates over the next month or so about what’s hot for Christmas this year. Today here’s my thoughts on some tablets and other gizmos.

Tablets are set to be one of the big sellers again this Christmas, and it’s going to be fun watching how it all plays out between the Nexus models, Tesco’s Hudl, and the Amazon Fire’s too. The market is more competitive than it’s ever been before!

Google Nexus 7 2013The king of the 7” tablets has to be the Google Nexus 7, starting at £179.99 on Amazon for the 16gb model which is £20 cheaper than direct from Google and other retailers. This tablet rocks (I own one!), and the only thing I find lacking is the omission of expandable storage (but this is the same across Google’s entire Nexus range)

I use my tablet daily for music, reading my uni lectures, streaming video from my PC (MediaHouse/PS3 Media Server) and for checking my emails. It’s also great for gaming with more and more games in the Play store as well as a good collection of emulators that you don’t need to jailbreak your device to use.

If this tablet breaks the Christmas budget, then the next device I’d consider are the Amazon Kindle Fire range; especially if present is for a child who likely won’t miss the Google Play marketplace. Most games are present, all the basic features are present, you just don’t get a proper Android experience. However, for people who already have a Kindle e-reader then they can simply login and download their existing content and use it all straight out of the box. Pretty nifty for your parents, perhaps… Currently Amazon are clearly the last gen Fire HD at £99, with the new model starting at a price of £199.

Something to put your tablet in? Well, you should check out the TabZoo cases that I’ve seen around in the last few weeks. They double up as cases and stands as seen in the photo below.

TabZoo Tablet Cases

You can buy a cheeky crocodile, a swanky tiger, a regal lion, or a panda in time for Christmas morning for around £15. Everyone I’ve told about them wants to get one. Hopefully I’ll be getting the tiger one for Christmas myself!

Other tablet essentials in my mind are screen protectors (You will scratch the screen at some point, no matter how ‘tough’ the glass says it is…), a stylus if you’re at all artistic (I’m not…) and if you travel at all you should look into a portable power source such as the Anker we’ve reviewed previously.


Nintendo announces 2DS

The non-3D 3DS you always wanted! No it's not April 1st. I checked too. Launching on October 12th (Same day as Pokemon X and Y) Nintendo says the 2DS is aimed at younger gamers and is priced at US$130.

The device is slab based in design forgoing the non child friendly fragile hinges. Out are the stereo speakers, and the wifi switch as well. The screens are sized the same as those of the standard 3DS but I don't know, release a 2DS with XL sized screens and I'd be all over that!

Nintendo are being rather clever releasing this on Pokemon launch day. Pokemon Generation Six just got affordable for everyone not wanting to spend £150+ on a console as well as the game! And access to the growing 3DS library is now going to be cheaper than ever, too.

As well as being good for kids, something like this would be perfect for my mother who wants to play the new Animal Crossing with me after taking over my Wild World town on her DS Lite. I now know what to get her for Christmas this year! Currently the 2DS is available at Amazon for £99.99.

In other Nintendo news, Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and Mario Party are both releasing in November. Mario Party is now known as "Mario Party: Island Tour" and features seven game boards, and of course AR mini games. Zelda is to be set after 'A Link to the Past' whilst not being a remake or a sequel but in the same overworld. I'm rather excited, are you?

New Style Boutique: The Unlikely Addiction

Not having researched the game New Style Boutique myself, listening to my boyfriend’s description of the game didn't interest me in the slightest. I assumed that it would be overly simplified and only really suitable to distract children whilst their parents enjoyed a well earned break. I thought that I wouldn't like a fashion game because it’d be boring a repetitive. How wrong I was.

Looking back now with well over one hundred hours of game play and with an average game play of over two hours, I realise not only how stupid I was, but how much better my boyfriend knows me than I know myself when it comes to gaming. Style Boutique is quite possibly the most addictive game on the planet.

Now to the actual game.  You begin as an assistant in someone else’s boutique, but very quickly (or maybe only so quickly because of how often I played the game) they leave their boutique to you. It is a little strange that someone that you've only just started working for leaves their business to you, but you soon get over the strangeness once you realise that you can now decorate the boutique yourself and design mannequins for the windows.  Your job is simply to dress people who come into your boutique in either the same style as they’re wearing or in the style that they ask for. Think that sounds a tad daunting? There is a menu that you can use when you are selecting clothes that filters them into categories if you aren’t sure, so you know for certain that you are correct. Of course you don’t have to use the filter, but it is helpful if you aren’t as familiar with one style, or are just feeling lazy.

Once you advance in the game, you also have the option to decorate your apartment at home, as well as dressing yourself and your faithful assistant in loads of fabulous clothes. To get clothes for your boutique, you get to go shopping to the display hall, which is full of different shops and buy clothes to sell with the prophets your shop. The more you sell, the more shops opens, so the more diverse the styles available. As an added incentive for buying new clothes for your boutique, you get a copy of every style that you buy for your wardrobe at home.

There are also competitions that you can choose to enter to win prizes as well as press for your boutique. There are several levels of contest and many stages of each level, so you won’t run out anytime soon. The aim of the contests is simply to put together the best outfit in the set style; you can still use the filters built into the menu to make the competitions easier if you so wish.

Still thinking that this might not be your thing? I urge you to give it a chance; I’m certainly happy that I did.


CLI Apps: Newsbeuter RSS Reader

I use Irssi for IRC, and ocasionally TTYter for twitter so when Google Reader finally died a few months back I had to find a replacement. I was looking for a console based application, and I found one in Newsbeuter. This is a linux console based program to read your RSS feeds with minimal fuss. It runs great on a shell server, and plays nicely with screen.
Main Newsbeuter Screen
Main Newsbeuter Screen 
It is configured with a simple text file list of URLs and associated tags (think, folders for your feeds). Once it’s configured simply run the program in your shell and learn the keybinds to get started. Shiftl+R reloads all of your feeds. Press Enter to go into a specific feed, Q to go back.  To filter based on tags simply press t at the main screen and select your desired tag. Simple.
Newsbeuter showing a Tupcast post.

Press ‘n’ to go to the next article, ‘s’ to save them (I beleive you can even set up scripts to add stuff to read it later but I’ve not really looked into it!), and once again ‘q’ to go back.
 My config file is found at ~/.newsbeuter/config and only has one setting. I tell newsbeuter to use the browser links, rather than my shells default of lynx. It copes with tables and layout much better in a text based environment. This is handy if I am away from my local machines and don't want to open feed links on a computer that isn't mine.

  browser links

 My list of URLs is found at ~/.newsbeuter/urls and is in the format URL tags like this:

  http://feeds.feedburner.com/tupcastblog  http://feeds2.feedburner.com/hackaday/ hack geek technology  http://feeds.bbci.co.uk/news/rss.xml news uk

In this example Tupcast has no tags set, Hack a day has three tags (hack, geek, and technology) , and BBC news has two. There is a special tag you can use to rename feeds in the program too. This works as follows to rename the ask reddit feed. “~New feed name here”.

  http://www.reddit.com/r/askreddit/.rss reddit "~Reddit: Ask Reddit"

The URL file is compatible with comments, just start lines with #. Useful for organising your list.

Newsbeuter URL config file

Putty URL Selection Trick
It is possible to make links easily clickable in Putty. Just go to your connection settings, then Window > Selection. You'll need to change the colon (:) to class 2. Set this, save your configuration and give it a whirl. When you double click any link, it'll automatically select the whole thing!

Serial Ports

A 'serial' port can refer to almost any type of connection on your computer. It simply means that data is in serial or one bit after another. (Ethernet, USB among others are 'serial' in nature in the way that they work).

What you may be thinking of is a common port on older computers with 9 pins. This port generally uses the RS232 Standard (although it can differ sometimes!). Most PCs had 9 pin serial ports on their motherboards, but other sockets could be used too. RS232 was originally introduced in 1962 as a standard for communication between terminals of the time period.

Many peripherals used (and still use) these ports, including:
  • Modems
  • GPS Receivers (Bluetooth makes use of 'virtual serial ports' extensively, for example)
  • Advanced networking equipment (Cisco, etc)
  • Mice and other input devices
Modern motherboards tend not to come with any RS232 serial ports on the motherboard. Sometimes you might find the header exists on your motherboard and you simply need an adapter but usually it's simpler to purchase a USB to Serial adapter which are well supported in modern operating systems including Windows 7/8, Linux and Mac OSX. 

Whilst serial is on the way out (and is mostly replaced by USB) it still has its uses and will likely to for the forseeable future. 

Pin Out

Find a reference to the various styles of serial pinouts here



Playstation 4 Launch - November 29th

Sony's new Playstation is launching October 15th in the US, and November 29th in Europe. Retailing for $399/€399/£349 the system promises to do opposite of what Microsoft had announced the Xbox One would do. Until Microsoft realised that people were seriously annoyed with them.

Announced games for the PS4 include titles such as DriveClub, Assassins Creed IV, and of course the yearly Call of Duty title. In my opinion the console looks to be the most interesting out of the three current gen contenders (I'd never consider the Xbox, the WiiU sadly doesn't have enough games to interest me yet) but I'd be holding off after I bought a 3DS at launch and had a PS3 early into it's life. The first year in any new consoles life is never that good, anyway.

PS Plus is going to feature once again, and will be needed for online play this time around marking a major shift for Sony from the PS3. More functionality is expected from the Vita including functionality to use it like the WiiU tablet controller which sounds pretty cool.

It's going to be fun watching from the sidelines this time around! Let me know how it goes if you do buy one at launch! It's only 101 days away now! To be honest, it'll probably be at least a year or two until I buy one. Maybe then I'll have started to sort out my backlog!


Uni Student Deal: Buy Office 365, Get Free Xbox Live Gold!

Like most students, you need some form of word processor and office suite for your studies. If you're anything like me you want to throw OpenOffice out of the window and banish it to deepest levels of hell (Argh, I don't want to talk about it... But seriously, the time you save in Word compared to annoyingly fiddling in open office is more drinking time!) and you don't particularly want to pirate software either what is the cheapest way to legally acquire a copy of Microsoft Office?

You could buy Office Home and Student for about £100, but a better option is Office 365 University which for £59.99 gives you the entire office suite for four years, as well as 20 GB of cloud storage space to back up all your important work. (If you don't backup anything take a long hard look at yourself. Then go back everything up. Now.)

In addition to this, you can run it on two computers: PC or Mac (that technically should be yours... I don't know how they'd really check though) and if you buy between now and the 28/09/2013 you'll even get a years free Xbox Live Gold thrown in to sweeten the deal.

Get 12 months of Xbox Live Gold with your Office 365 Subscription


PS Plus - My thoughts

Sony's PS Plus is a pretty cool service. For £40 per year they'll give you 65 games across PS3, Vita and PSP (Not very many for PSP, however..) It'll be required for online gaming on the PS4, but all indications seem to be that the basic offer is going to remain the same.


Saving mobile data usage with Ziproxy

So, for a month or so I'm stuck using Orange 3G mobile internet. It's not fun, and there is no other choice where I'm staying. At £12 per gigabyte it's pretty damn expensive. I figured there has to be a way to economise my internet usage (and that doesn't mean not using it...) and I found my solution with a piece of software called Ziproxy.


Warner Bros Mobile £0.69 Sale (iOS and Android)

This week Warner Bros is cutting prices on a number of their games across both Android and iOS. These should remain around £0.69 for this week to "celebrate summer". Check out the links to the respective app marketplaces below.


Out of all of these games I highly recommend Scribblenauts Remix. I played the DS versions, and had so much fun with them. Want to create a vampiric zombie rabbit? Go right ahead... You get the idea, they are awesome games. I played the iOS version a while back on an iPad and it translated really well to mobile devices so for £0.69 it's a bargain. I paid £29.95 for my DS version of Super Scribblenauts...