Get 25% off everything at StudioPress

Studiopress ThemesBlack Friday and Cyber Monday are slightly strange events in the UK, given their close association with the US holiday of Thanksgiving. But, still, who are we to pass up on some bargains?

If you’ve been looking for the opportunity to snazzy up your WordPress blog for a while, you couldn’t do much better than checking out this great deal from StudioPress. StudioPress are the makers of the Genesis theme framework and some gorgeous child themes. You’ll want to check out their site and see what’s on there… there are some really beautiful designs. Although I haven’t used Genesis on this site (I plan to, I just haven’t got round to actually making the switch) you can see a few of the designs in real-world situations on my photography and consultancy sites.

If you do choose to buy anything, use the coupon code THANKS at the checkout to get a 25% discount.

1. Get the Genesis Framework for only $45.

2. Snag most Genesis / design combos for a song and save close to $20.

3. Wipe the entire shop clean and get the StudioPress Pro Plus All-Theme Package. Get Genesis plus every design they’ve made, plus every design they make in the future, and save more than $74 off the regular price and over $875 off the retail price — and that’s just the existing 43 designs!

All you need to do is use the code THANKS when you check out and you’ll save 25% on anything and everything at StudioPress.com.

This deal ends promptly at 7:00 pm Pacific time on Monday, November 28, 2011. Hurry up and claim your new WordPress theme before the code expires!

A History of the World in 100 Objects

A History of the World in 100 Objects - book cover

A History of the World in 100 Objects by Dr Neil MacGregor

Have you ever wondered what future generations will make of our lives when they look back? Will our descendants wonder why we continued to burn fossil fuels to drive our transportation network? Will they be fascinated by the details of how we recorded our favourite television shows on Sky+? Will they even be able to see many of the photos we are taking these days and storing in digital format?

I love history and archaeology, and the idea of objects from the past telling a story is compelling. That’s why I loved reading through Neil MacGregor’s “A History of the World in 100 Objects”. Neil has been Director of the British Museum since 2002, and presented a series on Radio 4 on the same subject as the book I am reviewing here.

The 707-page (including indices) book takes a look at various objects from different ages and area of mankind’s journey through time. It isn’t a purely chronological affair, but the objects do generally follow a progression from ancient to modern.

What sort of objects? How about an Egyptian mummy, which tells us something of how people lived in those times, but also how they died and what they believed happened to them afterwards. Or a bird-shaped pestle, which, Dr MacGregor writes, helps us understand the changing scene surrounding what we ate, and the fact that humans display an impressive intelligence in knowing how to cook.

We move through objects like the Standard of Ur, and a tablet which seems to tell the story of Noah’s Ark from a different time and place. Objects detailing the social climates are the most elusive and intangible to me. They tell us what people enjoyed as much as what they did.

The most modern objects are, I think, the ones that I was most interested in finding out about. Not just because they may be things I remember (not all of them are!) but because I wanted to see what Dr MacGregor would select as being the important objects to define this present age. We see a plate commemorating the Russian revolution, a throne made from various parts of weapons, and a credit card among other items. These got me thinking…

What would you choose to represent life today? A computer? A smartphone? Credit card? Car? What do you think will actually last long enough to be picked up by a scholar in a few hundred or thousand years time, allowing him or her a window back into the 21st Century? Will ditigal information survive? These are all questions I don’t really have an answer to, but I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Coming back to the matter at hand – the book – it’s a genuinely fascinating walk through history from the point of view of the objects dropped along the way. It’s great for anyone interested in history, or archaeology, or just for looking at some beautiful pictures of artefacts. And it’s hard not to read it without thinking, “I wonder what impression we will leave for future scholars”.

A History of the World in 100 Objects is available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

Eco Apps, mobile recycling and more tips for a greener mobile life

This is a guest post by Richard Osbourne who is a self confessed gadget geek and a regular contributor to technology and mobile blogs and news sites.

A large emphasis is being placed on ways to be friendly to the planet these days. While many people are unaware of ways to give back to mother earth, starting with their mobile phones may be the best place to begin, especially since mobile phone subscriptions are increasing to over 4.6 billion in worldwide. Mobile technology has been creeping its way into just about everyone’s lives over the recent years, so being eco-friendly with these devices becomes nobody’s responsibility but our own. Let’s take a look at a few ways we can use our mobile devices and not harm our environment.

Recycle, Recycle, Recycle!!

One of the easiest ways to be environmentally friendly is to recycle, and just about everyone knows this simple rule. With technological advancements happening at racing speeds and new phones being developed and released almost on a daily basis, as a person gives up that old phone it is imperative to remember they can recycle it. While many service providers have bins for recycling old phones a person might also want to keep in mind they can easily make money from reselling their phones. With a quick visit to one of many phone recycling sites you can see just how much your old phone is worth. Yes, recycling is that easy plus many sites will either pay you for your old phone or donate to a charitable cause on your behalf!

Monitor Mobile Phone Energy Usage

There are many energy monitoring sites which enable mobile phone users to compare mobile devices and see which ones use less energy, which in the end enables a person to leave as small a carbon footprint as possible. And for those phones that are a must-have, yet use a lot of energy, a scan of the manual may reveal different settings that can be activated to help cut down on its energy usage.

Green Apps

This one may sound crazy but environmentally friendly apps do exist. In fact, there are actually a large number of apps that fall under the ‘green’ category. These apps can perform a range of different functions including providing consumers with ideas and tips on how to live a ‘greener’ life, and some apps even allow a user to scan bar codes on products and items and see what the products environmental impact is. This makes purchasing products that are friendly to mother earth about as simple as it gets. Other apps with an environmental spin include maps to connect you with ‘green living sites’ nearby, and tips on which cars are most efficient and how to drive them to the best effect.

Environmentally Friendly Broadband

OK, lastly, there are several broadband service providers that donate a portion of any proceeds they obtain to different charities or that go for carbon neutral status.. When seeking a mobile broadband service provider, keep in mind that partnering with an environmentally friendly service provider is the ‘greenest’ way to go.

Over To You

So, there are some ideas on how you can go green with your mobile life. Do you have any tips you would add to the list? Have you heard or used a mobile tool to help you live in an environmentally beneficial way? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

Merry Christmas from Geek-Speak

It’s Christmas day! What are you doing on the Internet!? :)

Really though, I wanted to wish you a very happy Christmas. I hope you have a fantastic day. I also wanted to say a very big thank you for reading the site up to now, I very much appreciate knowing that there are people who enjoy my often random ramblings.

Have a great day today, and try not to overdose on turkey! Happy Christmas again.

There will be a short break in posts until the first Monday of 2011 – so have a great New Year when it comes around too.

Winter gadgets and goodies

Well, winter has well and truly arrived here in the UK. Some parts of the country are reporting feet of snow – here it’s about 1 foot. I’ve given up on trying to clear the driveway, although I can see some of my neighbours making a valiant effort… and here comes the snow again!

Anyway, I thought this would be a good time to think about some winter gadgets and goodies – assuming the postie is still delivering to your area!

  1. The Zippo Hand Warmer makes the list again, because of the combination of stylish looks and practical use. Sometimes gloves just aren’t enough, so having a little heater in the palm of your hands can make all the difference. Don’t forget that the hand warmer also needs lighter fluid to work.
  2. AeroPress Coffee Maker – In need of a quick heat and caffeine boost? You can’t beat the taste of proper ground coffee, but it’s a bit of a pain to make when you’re in a rush. The AeroPress uses air pressure and a micro-filter to quickly brew that much-needed drink.
  3. Smartouch Touchscreen Gloves – I love my iPhone… I also love having warm hands… but if I want to do anything with my phone I have to take my gloves off or the touchscreen won’t work. My wife, on the other hand, has a pair of gloves with foil threads throughout which allows her to use her iPhone without taking them off. They aren’t Smartouch gloves (they were a present and we don’t know where they were bought from) but Smartouch seems to work the same way – conductive threads on the index finger and thumb allow your touchscreen to recognise your touch. If you have a device with a capacitive touchscreen, these gloves should work for you.
  4. HotCans self-heating food – I can’t decide if this is brilliant or insane, but you might remember a few years ago it was possible to buy self-heating cans of coffee. HotCans are similar, but they’re actually cans of food. Just the thing to warm you up when you’re stuck in a snow-induced traffic jam.
  5. Giant Microbe Christmas Tree Ornaments – A few years ago I bought myself a couple of giant microbe plush toys… the common cold, bad breath and e-coli if I remember correctly. Now you can have the same geeky, biological, and slightly disgusting things on your Christmas tree – or give them to a friend and see if they put them on their tree. The pack includes the common cold, e-coli, an amoeba, kissing disease, and a neuron (brain cell).

Just a few wintry ideas. Personally, I have a pair of Smartouch gloves on pre-order so I can use my phone while staying warm. Is there anything you would add to the list? What winter goodies would you like? Let us know in the comments.

Contact form glitch – now fixed

Good morning all – this is a public service announcement :)

I noticed yesterday that a higher number of people than normal were visiting the contact page on Geek-Speak, but that no e-mails had been sent to me. Now, it could be that people just visited the page and didn’t want to send e-mails, but I decided to do a bit of poking around anyway.

Long story short, the contact form was broken. Even though it was reporting that messages had been sent successfully, they hadn’t. If you’ve tried to contact me using this form recently I apologise – chances are I haven’t received your message.

It’s fixed now, though, so if you have something you needed to say please try again and I should get it this time!

My apologies for the inconvenience, thanks for your patience.

Friday Fun: Ghost Hacker

There’s a plethora of Tower Defence flash games out there – some pure defence, and some with a story tacked on to increase the immersion. Ghost Hacker is a story-based one, with you playing an AI that appears to be a Tron-style digitised person.

You’re set to work against some “evil” AIs who, well, I won’t spoil the story but it doesn’t all go according to plan.

In the end the story is just a hook to hang the game on, and if you’re familiar with tower defence games you’ll know what to expect. Oncoming enemies, a goal to be defended, and a selection of upgradable “towers” with which to do so. The weird thing is that although most tower defence games are the same, I also find them quite addictive.

So, you know what to do by now… you’ll need Flash, and there’s sound but you don’t really need it.

–> Click to play <–

Driving a sub-thousand pound car for a year

This is a guest article by Dan Rous of HouseOfRous.co.uk

Think the title of this piece sounds like a Top Gear challenge? Well in my case, it was a reality. In May 2009, my wife got a temporary job that meant we needed a car each. We already had our family car – a 52 plate Citroen Xsara Picasso, so weren’t looking for anything too big. However, thanks to a friend of a friend, we got a good deal on a 51 plate Nissan Primera – still quite a decent size car – with decent mileage and for less than £1000! But wait – it gets better! The Picasso soon reached 100,000 miles and rather than risk potential costly repair bills, we returned to our now friend of a friend of a friend car dealer to strike a deal. I traded our Picasso for an S reg (1998) Fiat Punto SX that was on the forecourt for £995, and walked away with a decent amount of cash in my hand too. This would be my car to go to and from work – 26 miles each way – and occasional child free outings. Having said that it was still a 5 door car and had room for the two car seats in the back – but not much else.

But why am I telling you all this? I mean, this is a geek/gadget/tech website and here am I telling you that I got hold of a 12 year old car for under a grand. Well this site has carried car reviews for those with modern tech and hybrid tendencies, and also recently looked at retro tech and asked what could be the classics of the future. Now, I’m not going to say the Punto is a classic car, but this model certainly had a bit of a mixed generational personality.

On-wheel controls... snazzy

On-wheel controls... snazzy

For starters, lets just get the basic blurb out the way. This was a 1998 Fiat Punto 1.2 SX 16v with around 67000 miles on the clock. It was a five door hatchback and for its age, was in good condition. So here’s where the car starts playing with your gadget head. Its old – we get it. You have to physically put the key in the door to unlock it. But it does have central locking. When you get in, you find electric front windows. You also find steering wheel mounted radio controls. Even the 51 plate Primera doesn’t have them! And then its back to reality with the manual tilt and slide sunroof and the radio that has one of those cassette player things.

For its performance, we’re back to messing with your head again. It had approximately a 50 litre (11 gallon) petrol tank and with a mix of driving, would give between 35 and 40 mpg. Not too shabby at all for a 12 year old car I think. To put some context on this, I did a journey from my home in Glenrothes to Milton Keynes and back – about 410 miles each way. Now on the way down I didn’t hang around and the return journey found me crawling in M1 and M6 traffic. But the car still let me do each journey on one tank of fuel – handy for avoiding those lovely service station prices. So old, but still economical.

Cassette... or "tape-based mp3 player" as the yoof of today call 'em

Cassette... or "tape-based mp3 player" as the yoof of today call 'em

In the course of the last year, the only thing I had to have done (apart from a standard service) was the exhaust tail pipe and one tyre after a puncture. Everything else was spot on and I didn’t breakdown once. Again, quite impressive for an old car and adding to the economical benefits of the car too. I have now just sold the car ahead of putting it through its MOT and think the rest of the exhaust was needing repairing but, although I don’t have a strong mechanical mind, I don’t think anything else would have been needed. So my sub £1000 car survived another year on the road. If this was a challenge I think I would have won because I still got a good price for a car that only had 5 days left on its Tax and MOT.

So I have sadly parted with the car. And yes, I am sad, but practicality has meant my wife now has a larger car for childminding purposes, and it does make sense to hang on to the larger of our two cars. I’m sad because my “little dodgem” (as a good friend dubbed it) was a nippy and fun car. It was my companion on my commute to work. We did about 14000 miles together. It was new but old. Techy and retro rolled into one. It was great value. Question is, would I undertake a similar challenge again? I think the answer would be yes. Especially if I found a deal on a car with a reach into different generations of technology. So, the Primera is MOT’d til May next year. Plenty of time to keep an eye out. Bring on the next challenge!

Have you had experience running an “older” vehicle? Would you recommend driving a brand new car, or do you always buy second hand? Tell us your story in the comments.

After that, why not check out some of our other car-related posts?

Community is Key

I was interested to see a video from Darren Rowse on the blog of Andrew Jones yesterday, talking about how churches should use social media. I know for many of you the subject may fall outside of your area of interest, but stick with me. If you want to watch the video, I’ve embedded it below (you’ll need flash to watch it).

Darren’s thoughts have really made me think, both with my pastor’s hat on and my blogging hat. What I’m thinking is this… Community is Key. I’ll save my thoughts on how this relates to the Church for elsewhere, but I want to record my thoughts on how this relates to everyday blogging here.

See, the blogs that I feel most drawn to are those with a good community. Guys like Mike and Robert have all built up cracking communities around their sites. There’s a common adage that content is king in blogging, and I can certainly understand that point. But given the choice between two sites, both sporting excellent content, it’s the site with the more engaging community that really draws me in. In fact, I might even put up with some slightly inferior content if the community is engaging enough.

How do you create community?
I think it’s one of those delicate things you’ve really got to work at, but if you push too hard it’ll just fade away. One thing I’m absolutely certain of is that it can only be done by genuine interaction – listening to each other, discussing with each other, and sharing with each other.

That’s hard – especially on the Internet where there seems to be so many people happy to insult each other while hiding behind their computer screens. But when it works, the effort of creating… maybe building is a better word… a good community is well with it.

We’ll look at some of the ways community can be built around blogs on Monday, but in the meantime I wanted to know what you think? Is community important when deciding which websites you’re going to visit time and time again? How do you think it can be built up? Let us know in the comments.

Are “value” and “price” related?

This is something of a theoretical question, although I have a few ideas germinating that might make it less academic at some point! Those of you who have published ebooks, written training courses, and those of you who have bought such things please answer me this: are value and price related?

Let me explain myself a bit. Say you see a few people offering website basics ebooks/training courses. The sort of thing that takes you from “I have no idea how to set up a site” to knowing what is required from a technical point of view, what tools are available to help actually write the site, and tips on how to make that site accessible to as many people as possible. Those people are offering their courses at different price points ranging from £1 to £50. Does the price affect your perception of the material’s value?

In my own mind I think there must be some sort of sweet spot. £1 seems to say to me, “I want to make money from this, but I don’t really think it’s that good”. £50 displays immense confidence that the material is good enough to command that price (and I’m aware that some ebooks/courses cost a LOT more). My dad once told me, “if you pay dirt cheap prices, you get dirt”. Does that apply here? I wonder if people look at an ebook and say, “if it only costs £1 it must be rubbish”, or am I way off track?

I’d love to know what you think. I’m really aware that my thoughts are sort of half formed, so please feel free to contribute in the comments and help shape the discussion!