Pop Quiz Clock Takes Math Back to the Blackboard

DCI Mathematics Pop Quiz Clock

Pop Quiz Clock Takes Math Back to the Blackboard
Do you want a brain teaser every hour? This Pop Quiz Clock may be just the thing to keep your gray matter in tip-top shape! [Image shared by Amazon]
Do you want to feel a little bit smarter every hour? Well, I can’t promise that you will with this Pop Quiz Clock from DCI, but I can promise that you will look smart in front of friends and family members who don’t have a geeky time pendant like this in their house.

The Pop Quiz Clock has a 11.5″ diameter face, is made of metal, and has been powder-coated in a matte black finish reminiscent of the school blackboard most of us grew up with — very stylish. I doubt that school would have been as boring if the clocks had looked like this, and maybe we might have learned something in mathematics class. I should point out that this clock won’t drain your battery budget as it’s powered by a singular AA battery.

The Pop Quiz Clock is as Easy as Pi

The reviews for the Pop Quiz Clock seem to mostly be arguing, in the one star region, about the fact that the equation for 9 o’clock is using 3.14 as the approximation to represent pi. I really doubt that the makers of this clock, DCI, want to take up the whole clock face with 3.1415… as a true representation of pi. The geeky amongst you may find that the answer is 9.004777… but does this have any bearing on whether or not the Pop Quiz Clock does a good job?

The answer is no. The whole point of this clock is to tell the time, and give you a little bit of a brain teaser while it’s at it. It’s not designed to be perfectly accurate with the equations and simple mathematical problems. The spirit of this timepiece is to be simple. Therefore, you have my permission to slap anyone who thinks that it’s smart/clever to point out that 9 o’clock is an approximation using the line “Where they placed the 9 o’clock equation is also an approximation.”

In all seriousness, this is a great clock that would look great in any home.

Take some time out to grab a Pop Quiz Clock for yourself or a geeky friend!

iBath Shower Curtain is App-solutely Spec-tubular

iBath Shower Curtain
The iBath Shower Curtain will app-solutely cover you, but please remember: your iPhone doesn’t like the water! [Image shared by Amazon]
Do you ever wonder if the late Steve Jobs showered with a shower curtain full of apps like this iBath Shower Curtain? In all truth, he probably didn’t — but you can!

This 70″ wide by 72″ long shower curtain is covered with icons of the kind of apps that might be associated with showering and general restroom/bathroom usage — depending on where in the world you come from. The iBath Shower Curtain makes a great, quirky, colorful addition to any shower. The shower curtain is equipped with metal ring reinforcements to keep the material from tearing as well as the metal rings to attach it to the shower rail, itself. The curtain comes in black for that retro iPhone 3GS look, or white, to fit in with most shower or bathroom areas.

When it Comes to Quality, the iBath Shower Curtain is No Phone-y

This shower curtain is the app-solute essential for any iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch fanboy or fangirl in your life. It’s certainly not a phone-y, but just remember that this curtain does not have any multi-touch sensitivity and won’t shave you even if you touch the corresponding icon. This shower curtain also does not have Siri built in, though that would admittedly be a pretty awesome feature.

Ding! “Siri, could you get my back?”

I will take the time to remind you that although this shower curtain is app-based, you should not take your iPhone into the shower with you — or it might be a bit of a shocking experience. I would also suggest that you take the time to hang and use this shower curtain immediately upon receipt; leaving this curtain lying around could prompt the child of the house to make it into a cape.

And so, the latest superhero is born: App-Man or App-Girl!

Be safe, citizen, and be clean! Get your own iBath Shower Curtain today!

Portal 2 Sentry Turret – Collect All 20

Portal 2 Sentry Turret
Would you like a Portal 2 Sentry Turret to guard your person? Unfortunately, this one just sits pretty. Maybe the other 19 in this collectible set will be more threatening? [Image shared by Amazon]
“This next test involves turrets. You remember them, right? They’re the pale, spherical things that are full of bullets. Oh, wait. That’s you in five seconds. Good luck.” — GLaDOS, Portal 2

I’m sure any fan of the Valve titles Portal or Portal 2 would love to have a 3-inch collectible figurine of a menacingly cute Portal 2 Sentry Turret — in my opinion, the most adorable killing machines ever invented for a video game.

NECA, The maker of this set of turrets, has made collecting them a lot of fun. You get a random figurine in a blind box, and there are a total of 20 to collect: 10 in their open configuration, and 10 in their closed configuration.

Why Would I Want a Portal 2 Sentry Turret?

To further quote from the game:

“[Science] isn’t about why. It’s about why not.” — Cave Johnston

The whole point of owning a Portal 2 Sentry Turret is to proclaim, loudly and proudly to the world, that you’re a Portal or Portal 2 fan. There’s nothing quite like coming across a fellow fan of the series and knowing that they, too, do their thinking with portals. It’s the modern version of thinking outside of the box.

Do you like thinking outside of the box?

Or perhaps you prefer thinking inside the box — thinking about what kind of Portal 2 Sentry Turret you’re going to receive in the post, perhaps? I know that I will be ordering three, or five, or 20 of them! I could get them one by one or as an entire army! Oh, the power I shall wield! The power!

What would you do with your Portal 2 Sentry Turret (or 20)?

Audio Technica AT2020 Review

Audio Technica AT2020
Audio Technica AT2020
What are your thoughts on this microphone?

Have you ever bought a cheap USB microphone thinking that you’d suddenly get better quality audio from it? Yeah, I did that for three years. I went from cheap USB microphones to quite expensive wireless USB headphones with microphone. I’m no audiophile, but I can appreciate great-sounding audio. I joined LockerGnome back in April of last year; it’s been a year now, but the novelty hasn’t really worn off.

When I started off I had, and still use, a Corsair Vengence 1500 headset. It cost me around £100 and got the job done, however it did — and still does — have an annoying habit of giving me an annoying hum on the microphone. So I’ve been offered an RMA (return merchandise authorization) for this one from Corsair at no charge — bar shipping and handling. Corsair’s customer service has been stellar.

Enter the AT2020

After the second unit from Corsair started giving me the same hum, I decided that I needed a microphone that wasn’t going to constantly annoy me. I should point out that, by this point, I was a few months out of hospital and I needed a shiny new microphone to do my long-forgotten blogcast. I had asked around the LockerGnome office and the general consensus was the Audio Technica Cardioid Condenser AT2020 or the Samson CO1U. I had used a Blue Snowball before, but it had an unfortunate accident where it fell less than a foot onto a carpeted floor and then refused to work. (Yes, yes. I am a clumsy beggar.)

The Audio Technica AT2020 is a great and powerful microphone. I love it to pieces, but there is one word of warning: be careful when attaching the microphone to its special fitting. This special fitting allows the microphone to be screwed into a normal microphone stand and it’s beautiful, but it is so easy to crossthread the attachment to the microphone itself! Yes, that happened to me.

When working properly, the attachment allows the microphone to be rotated 360 degrees around the attachment point. It is truly ingenious, in my opinion, and those of you who have worked on motorbikes will know the fitting to be almost like a “banjo” coupling that allows oil to get to vital parts of the engine, no matter the position of the coupling.

Crossthreaded Problem

I contacted Audio Technica, UK and was told that I’d have to pay an extra £50 to RMA the microphone back. That would be a fair price if it weren’t such a common fault; so many people have managed to crossthread this fitting on forums that there are entire sections about how to fix this issue!

My dart and oil combination
Like I said, I kid you not, this is my setup for lubrication.

There are a few ways to deal with the problem of crossthreading the attachment — one of which is not allowing the microphone to move freely. My method is, I kid you not, the end of a dart barrel in some olive oil in a shot glass (pictured). The sharp point allows me to get the oil where it is needed and that then allows the microphone to move freely within its attachment. However, that was a final attempt before I actually paid the £50 and sent it to Audio Technica for a fix. It has saved me £50, but the usual warnings of “Doing this may void your warranty,” “Don’t try this at home,” and “I’m a professional, get me out of here” all hold true.

You Don’t Like the AT2020?

Actually, the complete opposite is the case — despite the crossthreading issue, which I can take on the chin as being my fault. The audio quality of the AT2020 is phenomenal, in my opinion. I got a cheap microphone stand, the type from a standup comedy club; it sits in one of the pre-cut cable tidy holes in my desk. It’s not completely professional, but I’ve never claimed to be anything more than myself and I have never called myself a professional (apart from above to make a very childish joke).

The AT2020 is a very capable microphone and is also very durable. It has lasted me, at time of writing, nearly six months. For me, if anything can last that long in my “care,” then it’s a good device. Are you as clumsy as I am? Do you like the AT2020? Is there another microphone — like the CO1U — that I should try? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Fairway Solitaire: a Hole in One

Fairway Solitaire: a Hole in OneEver played solitaire? Ever played golf? Each game seems to have its own legions of devotees who can think of spare little else when they’ve got a hankering to scratch the nagging itch that accompanies their gaming addiction. If you count yourself in either camp (or both camps), then Fairway Solitaire might just be the game that serves as your undoing.

Consider this your fair warning.

Fairway Solitaire by Big Fish Games is, as you may have guessed from the introduction/warning (if not the name itself), primarily a game of solitaire that has a golfing twist to it.

For the uninitiated, traditional solitaire is a solo card game in which you match cards one higher or one lower in order from Ace to King (Ace-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-Jack-Queen-King). Golf is a violent game that was invented by the Scottish for those times when they wanted to club something mercilessly and repeatedly, but there were no other Scotsmen around.

Fairway Solitaire blends the two traditions and meets them somewhere in the middle. There are six courses to a level and each course has between three to six holes; each hole is different, providing varying degrees of challenge to the player. To up the thrill factor, the game also includes typical golfing hazards like rough grass, water, and sand traps. A meddlesome gopher and three witty commentators (one of whom is Scottish!) critique and wisecrack throughout the game. Admittedly, this commentary can be a little distracting, but it is also exceptionally funny.

Make no mistake: Fairway Solitaire is addicting — but in a thoroughly enjoyable way. I’m not selling off any heirlooms to sustain my lifestyle while succumbing to the urge to fill the occasional spare minute — or hour — with just one more round of Fairway Solitaire. I’m not robbing any convenience stores or depriving friends and family of attention while I’m off impressing virtual gophers and commentators. I’ll say this much, though: In the past 36 or so hours since I’ve gotten my hands on Fairway Solitaire, I’ve spent well over 10 hours playing it. It’s more of a devil on my shoulder than a monkey on my back, but its addition to my gaming arsenal has pushed all else to the side for the foreseeable future. I both curse and commend the assignment to write this review for bringing Fairway Solitaire to my attention in the first place.

At the time of this writing, Fairway Solitaire is only available for the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. It’s usually 69p in the UK and 99 cents in the US, but starting today (Friday, October 26th), you can go to the Fairway Solitaire giveaway site to get it for free! You have no commitment or requirement to get the code, and this promotion is open to the general public. Whether you pay nothing or you dig deep into your pocket for the spare change to cover its usual price, Fairway Solitaire will give you more fun than its weight in cost — that’s a personal guarantee.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go match cards and club things!

PCSpecialist PowerGlide Extreme Review

PCSpecialist PowerGlide ExtremeFor the purpose of this review, the PowerGlide Extreme PC unit was kindly sent to me via PCSpecialist, a UK-based company that deals with custom-built computers. It delivers to the UK only; sorry in advance to those of you who imagine that you’d like this PC based on the following review but live in other parts of the world. The PowerGlide Extreme is a touchscreen computer and my unit has an Intel core i5 Ivy Bridge processor inside with 8 GB of DDR3 RAM and the graphics are provided from an Nvidia GeForce GTX 670 card. In short, this system is no slouch, but that should come as no surprise with an awe-inspiring name like PowerGlide Extreme.

Let’s jump into the full review, shall we?

Case

The case, designed with the computer’s all-in-one design in mind, is surprisingly thin considering the components inside and the fact that they’ll get extremely hot. Fear not, loyal LockerGnome reader: the case is almost packed out with fans. This is no bad thing, though I can hear some of you yelling at your screen: “How can this be no bad thing? The noise must be unbearable!” I can tell you, in good conscience, that the noise is minimal; the only time you hear the fans are on start-up, when the computer literally roars to life like a well-tuned Ferrari.

There are five USB 2.0 ports and two USB 3.0 ports as well as your usual sound, networking, and graphics ports that come as standard. The GTX670 also gives you two DVI ports. Q: How do you keep this computer standing up? A: A cute little kick-stand is provided at the back of the device! The PowerGlide Extreme also has a nice little feature that is pure genius (in my opinion): hot swappable hard drives. This lets you take 2.5-inch internal laptop hard drives and hot swap them through a little slot in the top of the device. This means that you can buy a small Solid State Drive of 150 GB and then a 1 TB 2.5-inch drive to store your documents or whatnot. This is, of course, if your data is still tethered to your computer and you’ve not been seduced by the popular allure of cloud-based operations.

Power

I was actually quite surprised by the amount of juice that you have to put into the PowerGlide Extreme. It takes three hefty transformers to power this computer. I am assuming one is for the screen, one is for the computer itself, and one is for the auxiliaries. All of the power plugs into the right-hand side of the computer in a nice little triangle. PCSpecialist has told me that these three transformers — or power packs — are a necessary evil when you’re running a high-end GPU, and the PowerGlide Extreme can run most of Nvidia’s current line.

Performance

I’ve had the unit for around two weeks and I’ve been using it almost non-stop. The first few days I used Windows 7 — which came pre-installed — and the machine coped pretty well with it considering that Windows 7 was never truly optimized for touch. However, when I installed Windows 8, the unit came alive. This unit was no slouch to begin with, but Windows 8 seemed to give her a whole heap more “power” and performance. The folks at PCSpecialist have told me that I’m the first person to run Windows 8 on this machine, and they haven’t even run tests in-house yet! I’ve given them my feedback and have one little niggle, which is that the plastic around the screen does slightly inhibit the swipe in of the Windows 8 menus.

The Core i5 Ivy Bridge, coupled with the 8 GB of DDR3 RAM, is pretty spectacular, even as a mid-range workhorse. The Nvidia graphics give you a seamless performance when playing games like Dirt or Battlefield 3, and even on games like Portal 2. In fact, on Portal 2, you can have all graphics settings maxed out and there is not a problem; the game will run at 100-200 FPS even in your darkest battle with GlaDOS or Wheatley!

Price

The PowerGlide comes in two packages. The PowerGlide Performer and the PowerGlide Extreme. I would suggest going for the Extreme version if you can afford it (and it’s the one upon which this review has been based). The Performer starts at £650 and rises to £1200. It includes a 21.5-inch capacitive touch-screen monitor, Ivy Bridge processor, Intel HD Graphics (only), and up to 16 GB of DDR3 RAM. The Extreme starts at £750 and rises to £2000. It gives you a 24-inch capacitive touchscreen monitor, Ivy Bridge processor, a dual slot graphics card for high-end GPUs like the GTX 670 (there’s no support for ATI at the moment), and up to 16 GB of DDR3 RAM.

The Performer would be great if you’re looking for a touchscreen that will run Windows 8 and you don’t need a high-end GPU for gaming or video editing or the likes. The Extreme would be best suited if you’re a gamer or someone who likes making videos for YouTube.

Let’s Review

PCSpecialist PowerGlide ExtremeThe PowerGlide Extreme from PCSpecialist is one of the nicest machines that I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. It has bags of power and performance and, for the money, is a machine that would make your Windows 8 experience optimal, in my opinion. The screen is sharp and clear, the sound is rich and full, and the speed and performance of both Windows 7 and Windows 8 on this machine can only be described as truly great.

This is a machine that you can only buy from PCSpecialist, and as I warned at the very beginning, is only available to the lucky citizens of the United Kingdom — like yours truly. I am sorry for those of you around the world who like the sound of this machine but can’t get your hands on it. I am sure that if PCSpecialist continues to grow, it will find a way to bring its products to you. I am going to be honest with you and say that I will be sad to see this machine leave. It is for demonstration purposes only and, as such, must go back to PCSpecialist.

Would you be interested in buying this machine? Would this machine suit your Windows 8 needs? Does this machine change how you think of Windows 8? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Could iOS 6 Shared Streams Be an Alternative Instagram?

My Shared Stream - at time of writing.

My shared stream -- at time of writing.Here is something that I found quite interesting when I actually sat back and thought about it. Instagram for iOS and Android is extremely popular. The service, if you didn’t already know, allows users to take a square picture, add a filter to the picture, and then send the picture out to their social networks. Apple has now launched shared photo streams with the next iteration of its mobile software: iOS 6. Is it just me who sees the shared photo stream as being a “better” Instagram? I know that better is relative, but many people don’t like Instagram because of the square pictures and the filters. So hear (well, read) me out.

Picture Size/Shape

Instagram gives you one single size and shape: a square. The shared photo stream of iOS, on the other hand, gives you the choice to share whatever size and shape you please. You can share a panorama, rectangle, or square, and that would be your choice as the photographer. Perhaps you missed capturing your cat being cute because Instagram’s square format cut out a major portion of the shot. Please don’t get me wrong; I love Instagram. I just think that iOS 6 shared photo streams could be a great alternative when you need more than one choice for image formatting.

Filters

Part of Instagram’s charm, in my opinion, is being able to add filters that modify and enhance the picture you’ve just taken. However, there are many of you who think that the filters are absolutely horrible and you refuse to use Instagram as a result. Whilst it’s true that you don’t need to add a filter to your Instagram image, you do feel compelled to add one. The shared photo stream allows you to share just the picture without the feeling of “Oh, it’s added a filter! Let’s keep it.” Sure, you can still add filters with iPhoto for iPhone, but this option isn’t as in your face about it. This seems like a win/win in my book for people who like the features of both, but that’s just me.

Sharing

Instagram gives you the opportunity to spam your Twitter feed or your Facebook timeline with pictures of what you’re eating or the finger that you managed to accidentally chop a bit off of. I would say that the shared photo stream puts you in better control of how you publicize your stream. You could push out notifications to your Twitter feed or Facebook timeline once every day, or have it update as part of your links in your profile. The only drawback that I can see is that Instagram takes you to the picture directly and shared photo streams don’t, from what I can see. I’d think that all Apple would have to do is add a way to “like” a photo and a way to comment and it has an Instagram competitor for iOS.

I hope you lovely ladies and gents can see where I’m coming from with this and can agree with me — or at least agree to differ. I certainly think that it’s an interesting idea and I will be testing it out over the coming days. Here’s where you can see my shared stream, and I’ll also post it on my profile, too.

What are your thoughts? Would you use this to replace Instagram? Would you use it as an alternative to Instagram? Would you use both? Tell me in the comments section below.

PS Waverley: The World’s Last Seagoing Paddle Steamer

PS Waverley: The World's Last Seagoing Paddle SteamerWell, here we are again; it’s always such a pleasure. This post is about something that is quite near and dear to my heart — it’s definitely something I’m geeky about, but it’s got tech aspects that some LockerGnome readers might appreciate, as well. Paddle Steamer Waverley is the world’s last seagoing paddle steamer. She was built in 1946 for the London and North Eastern Railway Company (LNER), so I suppose that puts her squarely in the ranks of the railway’s now famous locomotives like The Flying Scotsman or The Mallard. Waverley was the last “traditional” paddle steamer to be built on the River Clyde. Waverley is/was/will be the last “Clyde Steamer” in current passenger operation.

Regardless of what fuel is used, the two boilers power a 2,100 diagonal triple-expansion steam engine. This engine is the original built by Rankin & Blackmore Limited, Greenock. This engine, Number 520, is not the most efficient engine in the world nowadays, but at the time it built, it was the most efficient steam engine available. Truth be told, the engine is around 70% inefficient, with most of the energy lost through heat. However, the engine cannot be replaced with a new diesel engine for a few reasons. One, Waverley’s engine room is open so that we, the general public, can see the engine in operation — quite majestic it is, too. Two, Waverley would cease to be a paddle steamer if its heart were to be so savagely ripped out and replaced. Waverley was originally coal-fired in 1946/7 when she entered service, although the plans — so I’m told — said that she was to be oil-fired. Oil was more efficient for Waverley because of her two small boilers; coal didn’t get complete combustion. It wasn’t uncommon to see Waverley’s front funnel (the rear one is for storage), belching black smoke between 1947 and 1957 when the coal was finally replaced with oil.

The DEPV (Diesel Electric Paddle Vessel) Talisman, which was built before Waverley, showed the latest in the era’s technology being powered by a diesel electric engine. I should point out that diesel is different to light, medium, and heavy fuel oil, and it could be disastrous if you use the wrong type of fuel. The Talisman was withdrawn from service in 1966 due to her diesel electric engines failing and having to be replaced twice. Some have said that she was withdrawn too early and that, if she was built now, the technology would be there and she could rival Waverley’s success because she would be cheaper to operate.

This was not the case with Waverley, which fell into the hands of the PSPS (Paddle Steamer Preservation Society). At this point of Waverley’s story, she was part of the merged Caledonian Steam Packet Company and David MacBrayne LTD, currently still operating as r Caledonian MacBrayne. While she was part of the new Caledonian MacBrayne fleet, the paddler was sold in 1975 to Douglas McGowan of the PSPS for the sum of £1. Since then, Waverley has been sailing around The Clyde, Western Isles, South Coast, and Bristol Channel.

I’ve been sailing on Waverley since I was around the age of five. Technically speaking, I’ve been supporting Waverley for 21 years, if not more. So you could say that I’m part of the geeks who make up the regulars who sail on board every year — or at least I try. Waverley holds special interest for me because she’s steam powered and because she looks just so different from the current “boxes” that we call modern ferries. The picture below is of one of these modern ferries.

The Bute and The Argyle were built in 2009/2010 by a shipyard in Gdansk, Poland. They are quite ugly, in my opinion, and can’t really do the job that they were designed for (as the people of the Isle of Bute will tell you). They operate the service between Wemyss Bay and Rothesay, Isle of Bute. Due to their high-sided design, they easily catch the wind and, during windy days in Wemyss Bay, they can’t dock and have to divert to Gourock. This impacts the timetable and passenger satisfaction. You would expect the Islanders to revolt, but CalMac holds the monopoly on that route. CalMac also holds the monopoly on the only other route off the Island, which is between Colintraive and Rhubodach.

Waverley has been entertaining visitors and locals alike for generations, and is always looking for money to keep the steamer afloat and be able to entertain visitors for years to come. The ticket price may be steep, but Waverley is something special. I would not be giving Waverley any kind of advertising if I did not think that she was worth a donation. Waverley is a registered charity and I would ask anyone to donate as much as they can comfortably afford to keep her in steam and sailing for generations ahead.

If you are willing to donate a little something, then I would advise that you contact Waverley Excursions via email. Thank you.

Are there any local attractions that feature functioning tech from yesteryear in your neck of the woods that similarly drive your geeky passions? Drop us a comment and let us know about it!

T-Mobile (UK) Huawei E358E Review

T-Mobile (UK) Huawei E358E ReviewI have taken the initiative to purchase, with my own money, a “MiFi” unit. I have a few reasons for getting this: One, I’m going into hospital in a few days and I want something to keep me attached to my social networks, friends, and family. Two, I want to be able to write and upload these articles on the go since I didn’t purchase an iPad with 3G. This MiFi unit seemed to be the best deal out of the MiFi units that were available.

T-Mobile has actually surprised me, so far, with its speed. I have been an O2 customer since the beginning of its operations, however, I think T-Mobile has managed to secure a new customer purely because its network is just so quick and the fact that it can get — and keep — a connection. I probably should mention that I am, once again, aboard Paddle Steamer Waverley both to test and to use this MiFi unit.

The MiFi Device

The MiFi device itself is extremely small and thin compared to what I expected. It seems to be about five by 10 centimetres around one-and-a-bit centimetres thick — and, yes, that is a technical measurement! To the layman, it is a little smaller than an iPhone 4/4S. The original battery has a lifespan of around four or five hours per singular charge. The original battery got me from Glasgow at 9 a.m. until we arrived back at Largs at around 8 p.m. that night. However, I should point out that I didn’t keep the device on all the time.

T-Mobile UK

After using it in anger for the first time, I think it’s safe for me to say that I love having this device with me both when I’m out with my iPhone and certainly when I’m out with my iPad. The device seems to be able to capture and keep a connection that is both useable and fast. I’ve been using O2 since it took over from BT Cellnet back in the late ’90s and, any time I tried to change to another carrier, I found the experience to be absolutely infuriating — enough to always change back to O2. But now, I think that T-Mobile UK has secured itself a new customer.

The plan that the MiFi device is on is a 10 GB data allowance with free browsing. This is £15 per month on an 18-month contract. The next closest package for 1 GB data allowance from Three UK was £20 a month on a 24-month contract. I think I got the best deal all round.

Using the Device

The device is exceptionally easy to use. There are three buttons on the right-hand side — the WPS button, power button, and the reset button, hidden behind a flap — and on the left hand side there is a little flap to gain you access to the microSD card slot. WPS stands for WiFi Protected Setup and allows users with a WPS device to make secure connections to a PC or other devices, one would assume. I haven’t, as yet, had a chance to use WPS.

I have also set up my SSID to read, at time of writing, ThisDamnScotsman. If you’re out and about in the Glasgow area, you might see my WiFi SSID join your list of networks. I might be in a cafe, restaurant, bar, pub, or onboard Waverley. Come and say “Hi” and buy me a drink. My only stipulation is that you’re not crazy.

Final Thoughts

It’s been a long day of sailing, so I suppose it’s a good time to wrap up my thoughts. The device is small and light enough so that you don’t feel like you’re carrying another phone — which to all extents and purposes, you are. T-Mobile UK has managed to secure a new customer, perhaps for life, because of how good its network has been compared to O2’s network. I am happy to answer questions on anything that I may, or may not, have missed in this article. I think it’s fair to assume that I like this MiFi unit and that I will be using it as much as I can.

What are your thoughts on MiFi in the UK and in the USA?

How to Install Bukkit for Minecraft

How to Install BukkitHere’s my second Minecraft-themed post in the same amount of days. I would have made this article yesterday, but I wasn’t feeling all that great — or maybe I was so wrapped up in playing Minecraft that I just didn’t get around to it. Don’t judge! So here we are again today. Minecraft is a great single player game, in my opinion. It is more fun, however, if you play it with your friends. You have two options: Minecraft Vanilla from Mojang, which has no protection should you open it up to the public. The second option is Bukkit, which is also now part of Mojang. Bukkit allows you to create a multiplayer server without limits — seriously.

Bukkit has a lot of plug-ins for its recommended builds, and these plug-ins can be game-changing, like Industrialcraft, or they can be for server security, like NoCheat or PermissionsX. The point I made above is a relevant one. If you know what you want Minecraft to do or how you want it to act, you can build a Bukkit plugin that will allow a server to function that way. Bukkit is also working with Minecraft to bring developers the Minecraft API, but I think I’m getting a little ahead of myself here. Let’s talk about how to install Bukkit.

Installing Bukkit

You have two options when installing a Bukkit server: The easy way and the “not for the faint-hearted” way. I will go through the simple way because — and I’ll be honest here — I don’t completely understand the other way. The other reason is because I’ve already got a server running via the simple method. I will deal with the Windows and the OS X versions in this article.

Windows Install

  • Open up your browser and go to this forum post: Easiest Way to Install CraftBukkit
  • Scroll down till you find Windows
  • Click on Installer + Operating Panel
  • Once the .exe has been downloaded, open the .exe file and follow its instructions.
  • Enjoy playing with Bukkit!

Mac OS X Install

  • Open up your browser and go to this forum post: AutoBukkitServer [Easy]
  • Click on Download AutoBukkitServer!
  • Once the file has been downloaded, open the file and follow its instructions
  • Enjoy Bukkit!

Once you have installed Bukkit, chances are you will have to open ports on your computer if you want to make this server public. I don’t recommend that you open your computer up to the public unless you know what you’re doing. However, the information can be found at Port Forward if you are interested. Neither LockerGnome or I take any responsibility for your actions or any repercussions of those actions. I should also point out that you will use “localhost” as the IP to connect to your server. If you want other people to connect to your server, you will have to find your IP address, which can be found here: WhatIsMyIP.com/.

If you want to use the Bukkit server as a test bed for a server that you’re already operating, then I would suggest that you wait for the upcoming launch of Minecraft 1.3 because the client and server will be working together — or so it seems from the weekly snapshots.

How to Create and Install Minecraft Skins

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything with regards to Minecraft, so today I’ll deal with two of the many frequently asked questions regarding Minecraft. First is how you install a Minecraft skin. Many of you will already know how to do this and, if you do, then this article isn’t for you. However, I will also deal with creating a skin to install in the first place.

Choosing or Creating a Minecraft Skin

This can be as complicated or as easy as you want it to be. There are many skin generators that will help you build your own or choose a pre-made skin by other users. I will deal with these separately including websites. I’ll also point out that there are also programs that you can use to build your skin, but I think the website options are the easiest method.

How to Install Minecraft SkinsBuild Your Own

Miners Need Cool Shoes is one of the well-known skin creation websites. It also has an iPhone/iPad app if you are so inclined. This site gives you a standard skin to get an idea as to where everything goes and you can make it up as you go along. It also allows you, via the armory, to create your skin from parts.

Novaskin is one that I’ve only recently heard of but, unlike the above, gives you a full 3D model to work on. This can make your job so much easier or so much harder depending on how you like to build skins. I like it and hence its inclusion in this article.

Pre-made

The two above allow you to choose pre-made skins by their users, but there are other sites that deal only in pre-made skins.

The Skindex is the first website I found out about and it’s where I got my first skin.

Minecraft Skin Search is also a good resource if you don’t want to waste time building your own skin.

Installing Your New Minecraft Skin

This process is devilishly simple. Once you have built or chosen your skin, you will download a .png image file.

  • Log into Minecraft.net.
  • Click on Profile(in white at the top of the website).
  • (once in the Profile page) scroll down to the white button that says Choose File.
  • Find the .png file that you’ve just downloaded and click Open.
  • Below the Choose File button, there is a button marked Upload. Click it.
  • Job done. Log into Minecraft and enjoy your new skin.

It really is that simple and easy. This article is for those of you who haven’t used Minecraft yet or are thinking of buying it. It may seem simple and easy to you, and to me, but there are users who don’t know how to create or install Minecraft skins and, as such, it is always a good idea to fill in the blanks so that they can fully enjoy the game.

I should point out that you can only install one skin at once and Minecraft does not have any function, that I know of, that will allow you to store multiple skins. Also the skins do not translate to Minecraft for Xbox or iOS (Pocket Edition).

Do you have any favourite skins for Minecraft?

10 Things I Find Distracting

As I mentioned in 10 things to think about when writing articles, I have been writing here at LockerGnome for the past two months or so. During that time I’ve written articles about a wide variety of subjects that are both directly about technology and the processes of using technology. Here’s one that can be applied to the use of technology — or just your average daily life. I’m going to share my top 10 things that I find distracting.

10 Things I Find Distracting

Music

I’ve been using music to help time speed by for, at least, six years. During that time I’ve found that certain types of music make time slow to a glacial drip and some don’t slow time down or speed it up significantly. I listen to pretty much anything, though there are genres that I won’t listen to purely because they give me a headache. But the fact is that I find most music distracting — especially when I can hum or sing along with the words.

Phone

I get two or three emails a day and I do tend to get distracted by them purely because my phone always goes off when I’m trying to write or brainstorm for an article. I don’t have the ability to just leave the email or iMessage or whatever it is alone and focus on the article I’m writing or brainstorming for. I have to read it or even look at the title, then delete the email. I have found no way past this, so I find my phone a distraction, too.

Skype

If I leave Skype on, it is even more distracting than Music and Phone combined! This is caused by the same thing that makes my phone a distraction. I would turn my phone off or put it on silent, but I’d never forgive myself if anything important happened and I missed it. However, I can turn Skype off without a second thought. The important people on my Skype all have my phone number should they need me in an emergency, anyway.

Food

In my case, I don’t mean eating food. I am chief cook and bottle washer in my household, so I’m the one expected to cook. I usually put out dinner at 5 p.m. because that’s when it’s expected. So the distraction comes during the time I’m either working on my first article or on my second. Why is this distracting? I have to break my train of thought at 4 p.m. and start thinking about what I’ve to cook. Tonight, in case anyone is interested, it’s chili con carne.

Writing

This is a strange one; I’m not gonna lie. When I’m writing one article, I frequently get ideas for other articles, and this causes me to stop and address them. If I don’t, I’ll forget them, and if I do, I find that I’m not as focused on the article at hand as I’d like to be. As a result, I often wind up rewriting half of it because I’m not as “in the zone” as I was before the distraction and I need to approach it from an angle different from the original.

Environment

I find my room distracting because of the way it’s set up. I am doing most of my writing while sitting/lying on by bed. This is less than ideal for promoting wakeful thoughts, as you can imagine. I do intend to move into the current spare room and turn it into a small office or even buy a shed with Wi-Fi access and power so that I have a private space to work.

Games

As many of you know, I do enjoy playing games, and Minecraft is the game I play the most. I have a couple of servers that I visit on a fairly frequent basis, and that can get quite distracting when I’m trying to brainstorm an article and all my brain can think about is building something out of redstone or trying to build a trap with pistons and the like.

Twitter

I do find Twitter to be quite a distraction when I’m trying to get work done. Although I don’t tweet all that much, my Twitter handle is @thisdamnscots if you’re interested. I am more interested in the people I follow and what they have to say. I will even tweet the odd funny/sarcastic reply to the people I’m following. I feel compelled to get into tweeting more, but I do recognize it as a distraction.

YouTube

I must be one of a small few who can spend hours and hours on end watching YouTube videos. When writer’s block strikes, I can fool myself into thinking that I’ll just watch this one video and I’ll get right back to work. An hour or so later, I still have writer’s block and I’ve lost an hour of time that I should have spent brainstorming or writing.

Just Being Me

I am my biggest distraction. I am well-versed in the art of procrastination. It’s not that I don’t want to do things; I am just no good at starting things. Everything else just seems more important. I’ll sit here trying to think of an article, but I’ll remember that I’ve got to update my website, touch up my Minecraft server, deal with the bills, buy stuff for birthdays due, and other such things. I suppose it means that I am my own worst enemy when I’m trying to work.

How about you? What are the wicked distractions that haunt your desire to be productive?

CC licensed Flickr image by TORLEY

10 Things to Think About when Writing Articles

I’ve been writing articles for LockerGnome for around two months now and I’m not planning on stopping any time soon. The experience has been amazing and it’s a great way for me to do business, as it were. I had only been writing for about a month or so prior to being invited into the inner sanctum of LockerGnome. In order to help others, I thought that it might be a good idea to share my 10 things to think about when writing articles.
10 Things to Think About when Writing Articles

Tell a Story

This is something that I do quite well, apparently. I don’t necessarily go out of my way to tell a story, but I do type it out as if I was talking to a friend. This does make the article a whole lot easier both on my part in writing it and on the part of the reader. I used to write my articles and then record them for the lazy to listen to instead of read. I dubbed these recordings “blogcasts” since they were my blogs as a podcast.

Is There Such a Thing as Being Too Eloquent?

Unfortunately, yes. It is completely possible for you to use far too many big and fancy words that will only confuse your readers and distract them from absorbing what you’re trying to say. I do use big words from time to time, but as I said above, I tend to write like I’m talking to a friend. Some of my friends are smarter than I am and some of them not so much, so I mix and match my wording to suit both. I also like to think that everything you can say by using big words can be expressed just as well without. Keep it simple!

Make Things Easy for Your Readers to Follow

If you make quick successions of sudden topic changes without the reader being notified, then they will quickly become confused as to what point or points you’re trying to get across. I have a habit of suddenly interjecting my thoughts into the proceedings and it’s thanks to our editor that I can do so in the correct form.

Presenting Opinion as Fact

This is something that particularly “grinds my gears.” There are plenty of people who either don’t know what the fact is or deliver opinion as fact. I try to give fact wherever possible, but when the fact isn’t forthcoming, I’ll give my opinion. However, I will always try to make it obvious that the previous statement was my opinion and wasn’t fact. Sometimes the fact is stranger than fiction and it’s not so difficult to believe someone’s opinion as fact if they are making things sound good enough.

Being Too Serious?

This can be your downfall. I know that sometimes you don’t have a choice in the matter, and serious writing is all you can do. I do both silly and serious from time to time because it can be a nice change of pace. I do have to say that even in the most serious environment you can get away with lightening the atmosphere. If you can add a little bit of humor or a clever play on words, it can be all that’s needed. You just have to know how and when. And even at the time of writing, I still don’t know how and when sometimes.

Being Too Frivolous?

Opposite to being too serious, are you making a joke out of everything? A joke and a bit of comedy or a funny play on words is fine, but are you overstepping the mark? Is the message or point you’re trying to get across being lost in a sea of frivolity? It can be difficult to mix a serious point with comedy, and sometimes you don’t have to. If you try to make light of a serious point you will — most of the time (in my experience) — detract too much from the point you’re trying to make and make it almost meaningless.

Deadline?

At LockerGnome we do have a daily deadline. However, it doesn’t matter to me so much because it’s at such a time when I’ve already been up for eight to 12 hours and I’ve gotten my articles for the day finished and waiting for approval. However, it’s a good point. I know there are plenty of people, myself included, who love the challenge of working to a deadline. I also suffer from writer’s block under this kind of pressure and thinking about any other subject in the world seems more important.

Minimum Word Count

There is probably a more eloquent way of wording this. Do you have a minimum word count to work to? I try to keep my articles at, or very close to, 1,000 words. I know there are places that will reject articles that are less than 5,000 words. I don’t mind a moderate word count goal because it gives me enough space to get my thoughts in order and let you see the progression.

Do You Have an Editor?

Fortunately, at LockerGnome, we do. He’s the one who makes the rest of us look good. I am certainly glad that he’s around because I am still not 100% on my grammar and sometimes a whole word will go awry — my version of a typographical error. I have a lot of respect for Fogarty, our editor, and I think that’s something that you should have if you work with an editor. If you don’t have respect or at least an understanding for their role, then things could get heated and it will never end well. In any case, it never hurts to have a second pair of eyes double-checking your work before it gets sent to the outside world.

Does It All Make Sense?

I hope the answer is yes. However, if you don’t have an editor, there are ways to make sure that your writing makes sense. Read through your article two or three times. I would even go as far as putting it through a text-to-speech generator to see if it sounds right. If it doesn’t sound right, then you can rewrite that section. It’s great at picking up errors in spelling or even when words go awry.

Do you have any tips for writing? Let’s read ’em!

CC licensed Flickr photo by Arda Balkan

10 Things to Remember when You Complain

This article does hit close to home. I’ve both been on the receiving end of complaints and I’ve made a fair few as well. Complaints come in two forms: The complaint that’s well-written and makes some good points, and the complaint that is nothing but foul language and makes you — as the reader or recipient — want to throw it away and pretend it didn’t happen. I hope that the following 10 things will make you think before you write that complaint but, if valid, make that complaint work better for you.

10 Things to Remember when You Complain

Don’t Complain when You’re Angry

This seems to be the classic problem when people complain. They will call you or write to you when they are at their most upset and not thinking clearly. I’ve done it myself and I did regret doing so. The thing to do is to calm down and write it when you are in a calmer state of mind — even if that means the next day.

There is a Human at the Other End

Always remember that, no matter your complaint, there’s a human being at the receiving end. While dealing with customer service, for instance, some people seem to forget that they are talking to someone who may or may not be well-paid or well-treated by the company or who has to listen to these complaints and there’s nothing he or she can do about them. But assuming that the person who receives your complaint is empowered to help you, it’s imperative that you make them care about the problem. I will always try to get them interested in my complaint and give them a reason to help me. I believe the saying is “you get more bees with honey than you do with a stick.”

Be Specific

No one can begin to try and help you if they don’t understand what it is you’re complaining about. The more vague the complaint, the less likely the problem at its core will ever be solved. I don’t think anyone will (or can) help you if you make a directionless complaint like, “Yeah, you did something the other day that I didn’t like; please do something about it!” If you have an idea in mind about how the problem can be remedied, offer it constructively when making the complaint. Be specific.

Give Full Information

There are some companies out there who will fob you off with a “sorry, not our fault” letter if you don’t give them full and complete information. Much like being specific, giving full information often really helps your complaint. If you can tell the company the name, make, and model number of the item you’re complaining about, they will usually be willing to help you a little bit more — though I think this may be purely because you’ve proven that you’re not just some idiot who simply doesn’t like the product.

Show Proof of Your Claims

This is something that I’ve had to do on occasion because I’ve had companies outright lie to me. Not just little white lies, but full-on “nope, that wasn’t us” denials. I now take pictures of pretty much everything and keep them in case I need to use them. I agree that it’s sad that I have to find ways of getting proof for my own peace of mind, however, I really do advise that you do this. It’s surprising how often a company will change its tune when you say “I have geotagged photographs proving X,Y, or Z.”

Strong Words are Okay; Vulgarity is Not

This goes back to points one and two. If I’m in the position of having to listen to you rant on about how my company is a disgrace, I will, but the second you swear at me, I will stop listening to you and say, “OK, Sir/Madam, I will listen to your complaint and I will try and deal with it for you, but if you continue to swear at me, I will terminate the call.” In short, I am paid to listen to you rant about product or service failures on behalf of my company, but crossing the line into vulgarity is an affront that I’ll take more personally. I have only had to terminate a call once and, admittedly, it was by accident — but it happened at the right time.

Don’t Exaggerate

If someone or something hasn’t turned up and you are calling to complain about it, do not exaggerate about the length of time it’s taken. My previous points also make another appearance here. If you exaggerate about something and you are caught out by the company or person in question, then you have just lost the battle. Why? Well, for all they know, you’ve probably exaggerated about other things and, therefore, your words mean nothing.

Always Tell the Truth

This is an additional point to the one directly above, but it’s completely relevant to stay as a point on its own. If I found out, as a freelancer, that a client had lied to me or was still not telling me the whole truth, I would end the contract with them there and then. I do not and will not work with liars. End of story.

Keep It Short

If you are complaining on the phone, remember that, nine times out of 10, the operator will have to type out everything as you say it. So keep it short and to the point. The same goes for a written complaint. The person at the other end has to read and understand what you’re complaining about. If you ramble in your letter or on the phone, you may forget half of the points that you want to bring up — or the points that you are trying to make won’t be written down or properly identified.

Keep a Copy of Everything

If you are complaining via Twitter, keep a screen shot and/or print out of how the company replies. Do the same with emails, letters, and phone calls if at all possible. This is you gathering proof if you should have to take the company to court for whatever it has or hasn’t done to — or for — you. The more proof you have, the better.

Do you have any personal rules of thumb either as the one making a complaint or the one dealing with a complaint? Share them with us in the comments below, please! And if you do use this space for complaining, please keep the above in mind and make it constructive.

10 Things I Dislike About iOS

This article is a counterpoint to my 10 things I like about iOS. I have used iOS since iPhone OS 1.1 and as much as I have — for the most part — enjoyed the updates that Apple has brought to the OS, there are things that I’ve not liked. No OS is completely perfect, and that is something that I’m sure most reasonable people would agree with.

10 Things I Dislike About iOS

No Widgets

Although I did say that I like the neat and tidy OCD/OCT friendly iOS home screen, I would like to have the ability to add widgets. I’d love to be able to do what Android users can and see the weather at a glance. I’d even love to have the dynamic tiles that Windows Phone 7 users have.

No Dynamic Background

I do like having a static background, but a dynamic background image like Windows 7 would be an awesome feature. I know that it may reduce battery life or some other reason that Apple has for not bringing this to iOS, but I’d still love to have it. It would be great to have a background that would change with the time of day. A view of the ocean that changes to suit the time of day would be something that I would certainly be interested in, but I doubt I’ll see it any time soon.

Newsstand

This app annoys me no end! I don’t use it and I don’t want to use it. I want to put it into a folder because of the next reason. However, Apple has closed that loophole. I don’t mind it so much on my iPad, but I really dislike it on my iPhone because I don’t want to use that screen for reading — although I can and do use it for reading certain things.

Inability to Delete Standard Apps

Is it just so hard for Apple to allow us the choice to delete apps that we don’t want to use like Compass, Stocks, or Contacts? Contacts, especially, because they are already housed within the Phone app; why is a second app required? I don’t want to jailbreak my device to get the ability to delete things that I don’t need!

No True Multi-tasking

I don’t think the multi-tasking that iOS has is true multi-tasking. In my opinion, true multi-tasking is not stopping the app when you leave it. Although, by that definition, the Music app is clearly able to multi-task — you are stopping the app but still allowing music to play. I understand why Apple has built this the way it has, but I’d like to have more control over it.

Notification Centre

I just don’t like notification centre. I like that it’s a step up from the original push notifications, but other than that I hate it. I’ve only gotten notifications for the apps that I need to get notifications from, but they still annoy me. There are also some apps — now removed from my iPhone and iPad — that will disregard notification centre’s settings when you don’t want notifications from them.

Camera App

The Camera app is good, but extremely basic. I would like to see the ability to take three or more shots at once, a way to make it easier to take shots without blur, or even a way to intentionally add motion blur to a shot. I don’t want the app to turn into Instagram, but it would be nice to have some more features.

iCloud Syncing

As much as I like iCloud and having that backup as peace of mind, I dislike how long it takes for photos in the photo stream to get from one device to another. It’s supposed to be done, by my understanding, over Wi-Fi and shouldn’t take too long, but I’ve had pictures on my iPad that my iPhone never gets a hold of. It’s not a big deal, but it is mildly annoying.

Secure Locking

I want a better way to securely lock my iPhone and iPad apart from using a pin number. I like the Android dot-to-dot style security, although I’m not sure if it is entirely secure. However, it would make getting into my iPhone and iPad a lot less of a fuss and bother. I have to — on average — unlock one of my iDevices every hour or so and it really does get annoying.

iTunes

I hate iTunes with a passion that cannot be described — as this is a family website. As much as iTunes is an optional way to sync your iDevice, you do still have to use it if you want to keep iTunes as a second backup. You also need to use it if you’re going to jailbreak your device. I find the program extremely infuriating and I would like if iOS didn’t have to use it in any form. However, I doubt that will ever happen.

Final Thoughts

I do think that iOS is a pretty decent platform, but I’m under no illusion that it’s perfect. No platform is perfect: fact. There are many things that many people hate about iOS, Android, Windows Phone 7, OS X, Windows, and Linux. The point is that, when you find a platform that you are happy with — in my case Windows 7 and iOS — then that’s all that matters. It’s a bit like friendships in that aspect. If you can like a person despite their faults, then that’s all that matters.

Which operating systems are you “friends” with?