Category Archives: Technology

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Thoughts on Nike+ FuelBand

In November I’ve got a Nike+ FuelBand as an early Christmas present. At first I was a bit skeptical of it since I thought that a fitness tracker can’t really tell me anything I won’t already know about yourself, but actually using it has proved quite fun.

Nike+ FuelBand along with Fitbit and Jawbone Up have found a relative success on the markets so far. At CES this year a whole load more fitness trackers have been announced – the market is rapidly expanding and it is only going to get more competitive. A huge boost in popularity of these devices remind me a bit when Foursquare launched a couple of years back. Suddenly such a trivial activity as going out for a meal or a drink became competitive and fun – Foursquare has turned it in to an exciting social game. Now activity trackers could change how we stay fit and active. Only this time around you won’t have to actively log anything yourself, instead wearing a tiny device that it does it all for you.

In the recent years Nike has been expanding it’s Nike+ ecosystem, strengthening it’s hold on the new sports electronics market, Nike+ FuelBand represents it’s latest effort. It is a simple device worn around a wrist that has a 3-axis accelerometer, constantly recording your activity. It then calculates your activity as well as steps and calories. The FuelBand is beautifully designed and engineered – you can tell that Nike has made an effort to create an excellent product. An array of white LEDs making up the screen is beautiful to look at and single-button interface is simple without any unnecessarily menus or options cluttering up the experience.

For anything more then looking up your current scores you have to use the mobile app. Syncing is handled by Bluetooth and is extremely quick and easy. The app can show your activity for a given week, month or year. This is where the FuelBand is most useful. The more you wear it, the more interesting and complete this information becomes, giving you an insight in to your life that you might not have otherwise known.

Though using FuelBand has been really enjoyable, it is not without it’s shortcomings. The biggest one is that it is simply not waterproof. A persistent activity tracker worn on your body is just begging to be protected from water so that it could keep on collecting data no matter what you do. The whole point of it is to record your activity for entire day and show exactly how active you have been and when. The fact that you can’t do it with anything involving water defeats the purpose.

For example now I’m on vacation and I have been much more active here then normally, however my daily NikeFuel scores do not reflect that. I even fail to meet my goals most of the time because I can’t wear the device when swimming. Of course I could put it on every time when I get out of the pool or the sea but it’s hardly practical and still does not change the fact that activity in the water can’t be recorded. Nike should have known better.

Nike+ perhaps represents a big leap for sports electronics from a niche market of specialized devices for athletes to a wide consumer market. A device like this can show a truly insightful information helping you stay fit and healthy. With the market rapidly growing it is really exciting what would come next.

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New blog theme

Last time I’ve redesigned my website when I was still in the university, though I was happy with it at the time it didn’t look quite modern anymore. Pages were a bit cluttered and UI elements got in the way of content. I needed a clean minimal design that could serve as a good platform for my blog and photos while being more subtle and non-intrusive.

An ability to create child themes in WordPress makes designing themes a breeze. My new theme is based on the recently released with WordPress 3.5 new default theme Twenty Twelve. Choosing it offered me quite a few advantages:

  • A robust community-designed theme that uses the best WordPress practices;
  • Mobile-first responsive layout;
  • Support for a wide variety of browsers and platforms;
  • Minimal default styling, making it perfect for building upon;
  • Additional post formats, allowing publishing other content then blog posts.

My new theme is optimised for mobile, tablet and desktop screens. There is no sidebar, articles take up most of page width so nothing would get in a way of the content.

When I blog I always like to take a photograph to go with the text. Before on my website they used to look small and obscured by sidebar widgets. Now featured images are large and go from edge to edge of the content box. This makes photos really stand out, especially the wide shots. Each article container has rounded corners and a box-shadow with featured image sitting right on top. It makes blog posts look a bit like cards arranged vertically.

The text is now also more readable and visually pleasing thanks to Google’s Open Sans font. For the headings I used a beautiful sans-serif typeface Raleway by The League of Moveable Type. It’s thin and light letters look especially good in large type.

This is still very much a work in progress as several aspects need tweaking and improving,  namely I still need to add a proper image gallery among other things. But I wanted to update the design as soon as possible. It’s probably better to make incremental improvements rather then let the grass grow under my feet.

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iPhone 5 unboxing and first impressions

I finally got around to getting the iPhone 5. Due to an overwhelming demand Apple offers reservations of the iPhone 5 at the retail stores, helping you to avoid long queues and disappointment. It’s quite quick and easy process, once your reservation has been confirmed you can choose a convenient time to pick it up the next day.

Much has already been said about the iPhone 5, but to me the first thing I’ve noticed was an exceptional build quality. It feels in your hand like a precisely engineered slab of anodized aluminum. The iPhone 4/4S were great no complaints there, but the new iPhone takes it to a whole new level.

Another thing I love about the iPhone 5 is the new taller screen. I must admit that I was a bit anxious about it before getting the phone as I thought it might be awkward to use in one hand. After using the new iPhone for a little while the shorter 4S screen fells small and squashed. The new taller screen is so natural and organic, it kind of makes me wonder why Apple didn’t do it sooner. It is a joy to use and look at and the added real estate makes all the difference when it comes to reading, playing games and watching videos. Any list-based app like Mail or Reminders benefit immensely from an additional space and I love the ability to fit more apps on the home screens.

Of course there is no new iPhone without unboxing pictures. Sadly it was already getting dark and the weather was quite cold and windy, so these definitely aren’t the best pictures ever.

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Chrome Experiments in London

This summer Google opened Web Lab exhibition at the Science Museum in London, showcasing the incredible things that can be done in a web browser and of course promoting Google Chrome along the way. Recently I’ve paid a visit myself to see what it’s all about.

The exhibition is in quite a sharp contrast to some of the museum’s other displays. For example I found a Mac running System 7 (first released all the way back in 1991) that was still being used for a medical exhibit. If anything it is of course a testament to Apple’s engineering, a computer that’s still running daily for two decades.

But anyway, Google Web Lab is meant to showcase latest cutting edge technology. Entering a spacious basement filled with weird music, you immediately notice everywhere futuristic devices and décor. It reminds me somewhat of a sci-fi spaceship, but in a good, a little bit geeky sort of way. You are then given a card by one of the attendants, that will serve as a passport to all the “experiments” that you try, allowing you to not only save your progress, but also to retrieve it once you get home. Some of the experiments are equipped with cameras and microphones, with your recorded footage going straight to the YouTube.

There are five experiments you can play with, all controlled on the client side through Google Chrome. One traces a remote image to its physical location on the map, accompanied by a nice visuals on the wall. Another one let’s you compose music by dragging objects on the grid that represent instruments in front of you. And my favourite experiment takes a picture of you and draws it on the sand with a robotic arm. The whole process from photo to a finished sand painting takes about a minute and results are pretty awesome.

Google is trying to connect something purely virtual with a real physical world. It’s quite difficult to do because they are so far apart, especially when it comes to browsers. If anything, Google is bringing the Web closer then ever, albeit in quite an unusual way.

Photos after the break

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My Degree Show

This June I was really happy to get my work shown at the Menier Gallery at London Bridge. It was my university degree show, where all the students could show what they’ve been working on.

For my project I’ve collaborated with the National Theatre to build an iPad app, based around a timeline of all Shakespeare productions at the Theatre since it’s foundation in the 60s. It’s really exiting project to work on, especially thanks to all the rich content that the theatre collected over the years. All the footage, such as posters and images have extremely high production values and quality. It’s really interesting to find the best way to present this footage in a digital form on the iPad.

I’m still working on the project, but it’s nearing completion very soon.

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World of Warcraft server blade

World of Warcraft is one of my favourite games ever. I used to be a little hesitant about MMO games in general but I could not resist to try WoW after seeing a Wrath of the Lich King cinematic trailer. In fact it looked so good that I even thought it was a new Hollywood blockbuster. Needless to say I got hooked instantly and after 3 and a half years I’m still absolutely captivated by the game.

Warcraft universe is so vast, expansive and highly developed that few other games can attempt to match it. Blizzard put so much work in it that when you play the game it feels fluid and natural – like a parallel world that lives on it’s own. Over the years playing World of Warcraft I’ve met so many amazing people. This was an experience unlike anything else.

Unfortunately lately time constraints mean that I can’t play the game as much as I would like to (I don’t play at all at the moment), but I found other ways to enjoy Warcraft, namely collecting stuff. I have Collectors Editions of the game, books, etc. – the usual stuff. But during last year’s BlizzCon it was announced that retired server blades that were used to run the actual game are going to be auctioned off for a charity. This is what got me really excited! This is the ultimate collectors item! And not only it helps the environment by getting rid of e-waste, preserves an important part of gaming history but it’s also helping a good cause: all the benefits are going to St. Jude children’s research hospital in Tennessee.

I was fortunate to be able to get a blade server that used to run my realm, Azuremyst EU. Operational datas engraved on a metal plaque are October 24, 2008 (a few weeks before I joined the game) to June 15, 2010. Below is a text about it and signatures of the World of Warcraft team. All the components and circuits are covered by a sheet of plexiglass engraved with WoW logo, held by magnets. All in all pretty cool stuff!

It’s quite interesting to have a real physical object, a huge server weighting 10kg in a world where almost everything is digital. Collectors Editions of the game with all the goodies inside, mouse pads, T-Shirts, books they are all physical objects as well, but are just representations of a digital work created on a computer. Mostly images printed on various objects. The blade server is something different, it is closely related to the game, yet it’s not based on it’s IP. It is nice to have an analogue object in a digital world.

Below are a few pictures of my server blade and more can be found on Flickr.

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iPad 2 Unboxing

Today I finally got an iPad 2! It was quite a struggle for a last couple of weeks since Apple Store in Brighton is always out of stock of a model I want and independent stores even have waiting lists for iPads. So I’m really happy now!

I’ve chosen a white iPad 2 with 3G wireless. White colour looks fresher then black and 3G I think is a must. iPad 2 is slimmer and lighter then the original and games like Infinity Blade looks absolutely amazing thanks to the dual-core Apple A5 CPU. Camera is a welcome bonus. I made a couple of immersive panoramas with the 360 Panorama app that are quite cool.

Here’s the usual gallery of unboxing pictures.

Gallery after the break

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Apple TV 2nd gen unboxing and first impressions

I had my first generation Apple TV for 4 years now since 2007. The time has come for an upgrade, luckily I was given the new second gen. Apple TV for my birthday.

It is a huge improvement over the original in both hardware and software. First of all it’s tiny compared to the original, saving space and packaging. Thanks to the A4 processor Apple TV now consumes only less then 2.5W when streaming HD video, it’s 25 times less then conventional 60W lightbulb. In the sleep mode it only consumes 0.8W. Original x86-based Apple TV was rather power-hungry, getting really hot all the time even in the sleep mode. I had to unplug it from the socket most of the time, but that was hardly convenient. It really shows how efficient ARM processors really are. Power consumption is quite important for me as I’m always trying to cut back where I can.

The biggest new feature of the new Apple TV is of course AirPlay. It let’s you stream most of media content from iPhone or iPad to your TV, be it photos, music or videos. There is no settings or configuration required. It’s just magically works like all things from Apple. You tap on the AirPlay button , select Apple TV and that’s it, your content is on the big screen. It’s amazing!

Another nifty feature is that Apple TV pulls photos from my Instagram set on Flickr and displays them as a screensaver. This was possible on the 1st gen. Apple TV as well, but is very neat nonetheless. I love when my IG photos start flying across my TV screen.

Unboxing pictures after the break

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Apple Store 2.0 is here

As rumoured today Apple replaced traditional paper price tags with iPads. I went to my local Apple Store in Brighton to check it out. I was lucky that the store wasn’t too busy so I was able to take a few pictures.

The iPads are incased in solid blocks of transparent plastic. You can check specs, compare different models or price plans if it’s an iPhone or an iPad. Also you can see support plans and other information. Interacting with such screen feels like an obvious and organic thing to do and you don’t get a feel as if it’s a cool tech demo but not really practical. There is a wealth of useful information to explore, it’s so much better then the old paper tags/signs.

Killer feature of course is ability to call Specialist right from the device. In the past I could spend a very long time in the busy Apple Store trying to get help, but it looks like it’s going to be a thing of the past now. Retail stuff were excited about new displays too and a very kind Specialist showed me how the feature works. When you call for assistance ‘Specialist’ button changes to ‘You are in the queue.’ and ‘Let’s meet here.’ with text animation similar to slide to unlock on iOS lock screen. Specialists can then see the list of calls on their iPod Touch-based EasyPay devices. I’m not sure if Specialists have to check manually or if they are notified with push messages. This will definitely improve retail experience of a lot of people.

There are a few other things to note:

  • All the iPads are black;
  • iPads reset back to the first screen after a few minutes of inactivity;
  • It doesn’t look like anything is connected to the Dock connector on the right, so the cable might run through the back panel;
  • Pressing home button doesn’t seem to do anything.

Pictures after the brake

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Android smartphone for £20

For £20 I can buy about two diners at home, 5 beers in a pub or a new DVD. I never thought that I can buy a new smartphone for this much. But this is exactly how much T-Mobile is charging for it’s budget Android offering. I didn’t need a new phone, but considering such a low cost I thought why not to get myself a new toy.

The phone is a branded version of Huawei U8110, sold as Pulse Mini. Yes, it’s pink. Unfortunately only pink colour was available at a time with other being black/grey. But pink is not too bad, it’s more leaning towards reddish hue, looks similar to T-Mobile’s trademark magenta. The specs look quite decent for a budget phone, you get Android 2.1 Eclair running on Qualcomm 528MHz CPU with 256MB RAM, it has all the usual features you would expect, HSDPA, aGPS, Wi-Fi b/g, Bluetooth, 3MP autofocus camera and 2GB microSD card included.

Of course with it being a budget phone, there must be compromises. The biggest one by a wide margin is a resistive screen, it brings back the memories of Windows Mobile 5/6. The plastic on the phone feels a bit flimsy at times and the camera is completely rubbish. I got a feeling that it was put there just for a tick on the specs sheet. But for £20 you can forget a lot. All this issues don’t matter that much at this price point. I would never use it as a primarily phone, but it’s suitable for traveling to use with local SIM or maybe as a GPS tracker when running or cycling.

Access to Android Market is probably one of the biggest strengths of the device. That’s also probably why T-Mobile describes it on the box as “Smartphone with Android Market”. I managed to quickly set up Dropbox to sync files between my MacBook Pro, iPhone, iPad and Pulse Mini. Installed RunKeeper Pro to make use of the phone’s GPS for tracking my lengthy bike rides. This would allow me to keep iPhone 4 for something more fun.

But would the Pulse Mini be useful in the long term? Probably not, not for me at least. I can see myself using it occasionally when I need a second phone, but that’s about it. What I think it excels at is being an excellent tech toy that can do so much for so little money.