Friday Fun: Angry Birds

Angry BirdsYou’re bound to have seen, or at least heard of, Angry Birds – the avian-themed physics game. Did you know it’s available to play online, for free? It’s intended as a technology showcase for Google’s Chrome browser, but I’ve tried it in Safari and Firefox with good results too (sorry, haven’t tried it in Internet Explorer). This is an HTML5 game, so will require one of the most recent browser versions.

So, if you fancy seeing what all the fuss is about, or if you just want a quick game without having to get your phone out, click on the link below and have fun. There is sound… so probably best not to do this at work ;)

–> Play Angry Birds <–

Friday Fun: Death vs Monstars 2

Death vs Monstars 2 game screenshot

OK, that sounds like quite a freaky title for a game but it’s not that bad. Death vs Monstars 2 is a simple little game where you fly around the screen trying to avoid incoming enemies. You’re constantly shooting back and, in a strange way, aim by moving away from your enemies. It took me a little time to get used to it… while you can also lock your aim by clicking the mouse button.

The key to survival is to pick up the coins and use them to upgrade. You won’t last long if you just stick with your basic abilities, so get collecting… and then get shopping.

You’ll need Flash to play Death vs Monstars 2. Sorry, no HTML5 goodness this week.

–> Play Death vs Monstars 2 <–

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron Xbox 360 Review

Optimus and the ArkTransformers: Fall of Cybertron brought back fond childhood memories from the very outset while, like its predecessor War for Cybertron, being new enough to feel fresh. Feeling very much like a prequel to the G1 Transformers story, there is, again, plenty to enjoy here.

I admit I’m a bit of a fan of prequels. I like seeing how stories start, and I love it when I recognise some story element that will become important later on. So when Transformers: Fall of Cybertron opened with the Ark leaving Cybertron, it immediately felt familiar. We join the battle between Autobots and Decepticons as the Ark is leaving their home planet and, after some pretty significant events onboard (I won’t spoil it for you) we then jump back to explore how we got to that point in the first place.

The designs of the various Transformers seem to have been given some serious thought: you won’t see Bumblebee as a VW Beetle, or Optimus as an articulated truck… this is before they’ve even seen Earth, remember. The Cybertron forms still fit with the Transformers’ characters, though – Bumblebee is a fairly small vehicle, while Optimus is a rather hefty tank.

Last time out, when I reviewed War for Cybertron, I commented that I always prefer the bad guys in a franchise and had been very pleased that that game started with you playing the Decepticon side. This time, we play a large chunk of the game as the Autobots before we get the chance to play the “baddies”. Don’t worry, though, because after putting in a whole load of work for the Autobots we then get to undo some of it for the Decepticons. It’s cleverly done, because it felt very much like I was progressing a story rather than actually undoing my own work. Maybe it’s because we know that we’re building up to that battle on the Ark, I don’t know.

I was really pleased that, while playing Fall of Cybertron, my son took a big interest in what was going on. He’s 3, so doesn’t play on the Xbox 360 much, but he was so captivated by what he saw on screen he kept asking for a go. I’ll admit I didn’t think he would do too well, but he picked up how to play the game pretty quickly. OK, some of it was random button pressing, but it was kind of cool to see him getting the on-screen character to transform from robot to helicopter, fighting his way through the levels and even, at one point, getting past a section that I had been struggling with. So I’ve taken the decision to introduce him to a bit more of the Transformers universe. We’ve started watching Beast Machines, but the part I’m looking forward to is when the original Transformers series arrives from LoveFilm!

When I was little, my favourite Transformers toy was Metroplex – a massive robot that, rather than turning into a vehicle, transformed into either a city or battle station. It was a really pleasing moment when he made his appearance in Fall of Cybertron. I had actually forgotten all about him, but when he turned up it was a strange but happy moment of remembrance – I thought that toy was just amazing.

A major component of the latter sections of the game is the Dinobots. Grimlock (the T-Rex) is mentioned very early on in the game, but Fall of Cybertron takes a different approach to their story. In the original cartoon, the Dinobots were created by the Autobots after they learned a little about Earth’s history, while in Fall of Cybertron… well, I won’t spoil it for you, but it is different. I never saw the Dinobots as central characters in the Transformers story, so I wasn’t too bothered by their re-imagined creation epic.

If there’s one thing I didn’t like about Fall of Cybertron, it’s the moments where you are asked to perform an action. There are many moments where the instructions take the form, “To repair <whoever>, press X”, or , “To struggle, press X”. It doesn’t feel like genuine interaction, although in some of those instances you can ignore the instruction and take on the consequences. I’m not sure what I would have preferred, perhaps something that allowed you to explicitly select between multiple options, but overall this wasn’t much of a problem… just something I think could have been done better.

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron was another chance to revisit something I loved from my childhood and, importantly, in a way that stayed relatively true to the original storyline. Even if you’re not a long-standing Transformers fan, though, it’s still a great game; fun to play, and looks and sounds good. It’s well worth checking out and, if you have children, it might even provide that excuse for getting your old toys and videos out again.

Fall of Cybertron is available on multiple formats from and

Friday Fun: Infectionator 2

Infectionator 2 screenshot

Zombies? Oh, go on then. This week’s Friday Fun has you, not trying to stop the zombie spread, but making it happen. Infect populations and watch as your undead army spreads throughout the globe! Mwuahahahaha! …ahem…

You can upgrade your abilities too, if those pesky humans just refuse to succumb to the virus.

You’ll need Flash to play.

–> Play Infectionator 2 <–

Coffee in history: The surprising effects of your favourite caffeinated beverage

This is a guest post by William Judd.

Coffee beans in a heart shapeCoffee is the second most-traded good in the world, after petroleum, and it is a ubiquitous indulgence in the western world that’s consumed by millions each morning. It’s hard to become that big without turning up in some odd places, and coffee has definitely done it all. Did you know that coffee was a key part of the development of stock exchanges, computing equipment and even revolutions? Read on to find the secret life of coffee.

5. Coffee breaks

The coffee break is commonplace across all kinds of businesses in the western world and beyond; a routine social gathering where workers take a few minutes to talk with their colleagues and higher-ups over a warm cup of coffee. The coffee break’s popularity in the United States is thought to be down to the work of behavioural psychologist John B. Watson, who developed Behaviorism and later worked with Maxwell House, a large coffee brand in the United States. The coffee break may have its origins even further back this though, with Time writing in 1951 that coffee breaks were written into union contracts. The true origin of the coffee break apparently originated in the late 19th century in the small town of Stoughton, Wisconsin, where the wives of Norwegian immigrants took regular breaks with coffee. The town still celebrates Stoughton Coffee Break Festival each year.

4. Haitian Revolution

Saint Domingue was the most treasured colony of the French empire in 1791, with the Caribbean colony producing about 60% of the world’s coffee and 40% of the world’s sugar at the time. Around 452,000 slaves worked to harvest the coffee, controlled by only 40,000 whites and 28,000 free blacks and mulattos. While the white plantation owners were scared of a slave revolt and prepared accordingly, when the revolution came in 1791 they were unable to stop it. The conflict continued until 1804, when plantation owners were roundly defeated and the plantations burned. The revolution brought a stop to slavery in the colony, which was reformed as the independent Haitian Republic. The revolution was the most successful slave revolt in the Americas, and was one of only two successful revolts against European powers before the 19th century – the other being the United States. Coffee production has never recovered, but that seems a trivial price to pay.

3. Espresso machine

According to my part-Turkish flatmate, the first espresso machine was developed in Italy by an inventive business owner irritated with the long coffee breaks his workers took. He devised a machine that forced water at high pressure through coffee grounds, producing a single-serve coffee drink that could be produced quickly. While it’s a cool story, I sadly haven’t been able to find any citations for it. According to what I have been able to find, the first espresso machine patent for an industrial espresso machine was developed in 1884, but it wasn’t until 1901 that key improvements including single-serve were perfected. Espresso has continued to evolve as a rapid single-serve beverage, most noticeably with the development of encapsulated single-serve coffee pods in 1959.

2. Stock exchanges and businesses

Coffee houses quickly became popular places for wealthy businessmen and intellectuals to meet in Europe and the United States; indeed such establishments were nicknamed penny universities (after the cost of the drink and the quality of the discussion therein). The biggest stock exchange in the world was started by 64 traders at the Tontine Coffee House in New York; it is now called the New York Stock Exchange. A number of other massive firms also began life as coffee houses, including the East India Company (which started life as the Jerusalem Cafe) and Lloyds of London (which began as Lloyd’s coffeehouse).

1. Webcams

My favourite instance of coffee prompting scientific enquiry came in 1991, when the very first webcam was developed. It was engineered in the Computer Science department at Cambridge, where a camera was pointed at a coffee pot and hooked up the network. Computer scientists working in the university could connect to a web page to check the level of coffee in the pot, potentially saving themselves a wasted trip. The same coffee camera was still running in 2001, when the development of high-speed Internet allowed the past vision of video telephones to finally become a reality. The webcam has since become ubiquitous on portable computers like laptops, mobile phones and tablets although the coffee cam has since shut down.


So there you have it – five interesting instances of coffee in history. I hope you’ve discovered something interesting about coffee. If I’ve left anything off, let me know in the comments below!

Small Worlds [Friday Fun]

Small Worlds ScreenshotI’m not quite sure what to make of Small Worlds. It’s an exploration game but it feels like an art installation too – it’s simple, but the design and the music give it a distinctly melancholy feel.

The graphics are low-tech, but don’t let that put you off. There’s a strange feature that sees the resolution increase as you explore more of the map. It’ll never get up to photo-realism or anything (more Commodore 64) but it’s pretty innovative. I really enjoyed playing this, and it shouldn’t take you too long to complete.

Small Worlds requires Flash and has sound. The music is a big part of this game’s appeal, so I’d strongly recommend keeping the sound on while you play.

–> Click to play <–

Friday Fun: Sushi Cat

Sushi cat screenshotFriday Fun this week is a bizarre game where the aim is to help a cat get as fat as possible so that he can meet his dream “girl” (she’s actually another cat, in case you were wondering).

Drop him in at the top of the screen and he’ll fall down like one of those fairground coin-drop games, eating any sushi he meets on the way. The game isn’t too long, so you’ll be able to complete it fairly quickly. It’s nice and entertaining, though, and has a good mix of easy and more difficult levels.

It uses flash and has sound, but you can put the sound off if you like. Have fun!

–> Click to play <–

Friday Fun: Snake

Snake - the classic mobile phone game

Some retro gaming for you this week – mobile phone retro gaming at that, too. This week’s Friday Fun is Snake, which was a staple of mobile gaming before mobiles got all fancy and clever.

You’ll need Flash to play. See if it brings back memories for you!

–> Click to Play <–

5 Overhyped Disaster Predictions from Recent History

This is a guest post by Gary Nicholson, on behalf of Policy Expert.

Successful prediction of disasters can help us save money, time and in some cases, even lives. However, throughout recent history, and for as long as the media has been around, such predictions have left us wanting to run for the hills only to amount to nothing. Almost as if the powers that be are playing a little Boy Who Cried Wolf scenario. Here are some of the best examples of overhyped predictions.

Y2K bug

Image credit: roberthunt1987

The year 2000 bug, also known as the Millennium Bug, referred to a digital computer problem which was predicted to occur from 1st January 2000. The problem was suspected to come from software which used the last two digits of the year rather than all four, creating a series of problems which was believed to have the potential to cause catastrophic damage across the digital world.

As the world celebrated the new year, we also held our breath in preparation for what the year 2000 would bring. However, it soon became clear that the preparation had been for nothing. A few minor glitches were reported, however the digital world mainly continued business as usual.

The Harold Camping problem

Image credit: Lord Jim

There have been numerous doomsday scenarios over the years, all of which have so far proved to be completely incorrect. For example, Harold Camping famously predicted that on Saturday 21st May, 2011, the Rapture would come and the universe would be completely destroyed within six months. He made a similar prediction in 1994, and both have been proved to be spectacularly wrong.

Solar Storm 2012

Image credit: NASA

In March 2012 scientists fearer that a solar storm within the Earth’s magnetic field could cause substantial damage to satellites and power grids. However, later reports showed that this prediction had been wildly overhyped, as there was no significant solar activity when the storm occurred.

The Malthusian Famine

Image credit: Wikipedia

Thomas Malthus’ population theories are still used as a key basis of our understanding of the world’s population growth and our relationship with food and other resources. However, despite the highly regarded key principles that Malthus’ theories were build upon, one less successful prediction was the idea that by the 1970s mass starvation would hit the world due to the imbalanced relationship between food and people. Of course, what Malthus did not predict is the world’s ability to innovate and adapt to the ever increasing population, and this prediction proved to be well and truly incorrect.

The Energy Crisis – Crude Oil

Image credit: AZRainman

The idea that the energy crisis is over hyped is a fairly controversial topic, as it is easy to argue that this prediction is at least partly correct. However, many scientists predicted that by 2010, all crude oil would have run out, and there simply would be no more left by now. This would drastically alter our modern day lifestyles, and force us to revert back to a stripped back, more ecological way of living.

Oil is by no means an ‘easy’ resource to obtain – it’s very existence causes wide political and economic issues – however, domestically, we are still able to fulfil our highly energy dependent lifestyles, and prove this theory wrong.

What do you think of our selection of overhyped disaster predictions? Are there any you disagree with? Any you would add to the list? As ever, feel free to let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment.

All images in this post are used under Creative Commons license.

Friday Fun: The Slow Mo Guys

No game this week… instead, this week’s Friday Fun is a video from the Slow Mo Guys. If you’ve ever wondered what a bursting water balloon looks like in slow motion, popcorn, or a flaming tennis ball (yes really!)  you need to check out their YouTube channel.

The one I want to show you today involves a watermelon and hundreds of rubber bands. I really want to try this out :)