Geeky Sci-Fi Christmas Present Ideas

Christmas is coming… fast! While some of you might be organised enough to have already bought your presents, it’s a given that many of you are still thinking desperately about what to buy. “Geeky” is such a wide term so we’re narrowing it down today to sci-fi. If you have a sci-fi geek in your life (or if you are one!) here are a few ideas that might do down well for Christmas:

The Alien Quadrilogy

aliensquadThe Alien movies range from the slow-paced Alien, through the macho Aliens, and on to the so-so Alien3 and Alien Resurrection. I have no hesitation in saying my favourite is Aliens but I think all four are well worth a watch. Especially when you can get them all in one box set at a decent price. Great whether you’re looking to introduce someone to the Alien movies or buying for a fan.
Available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

Replica Colonial Marines’ Pulse Rifle

pulserifleOK, this one’s for the really BIG Alien fans because, let’s be honest, you’re not going to spend over a thousand pounds unless you’re seriously into your movies. The blurb from Forbidden Planet says this is one of the most iconic movie weapons… and I’d have to say I agree. If you ever watched Aliens and thought, “I wish I could have one of those”… well, here’s your chance.
Available from Forbidden Planet

The Complete (reimagined) Battlestar Galactica

bsgWhile the original Battlestar Galactica had a certain 1970s attraction, the new series brought everything bang up to date. It dealt with some serious issues and, crucially, wrapped them all up in some fantastic sci-fi. It might have felt like the writers didn’t really know where things were going at times, but the reimagined Battlestar Galactica was just brilliant.
Available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

Dalek “To Victory” Propaganda Poster

tovictoryMy daughter’s favourite Doctor Who story of the year was “Victory of the Daleks”. The story saw Daleks being used by Winston Churchill during World War II. This brilliant propaganda poster makes a brief appearance in the programme, and ended up as the wallpaper on my iPhone. It’s somehow compelling to see a Dalek rendered in the style of a 1940s public notice poster, and it’s now available for your Christmas enjoyment.
Available from Forbidden Planet

Amy Pond “standee”

amypondHow many of you remember Leela? She was the Doctor’s companion when Tom Baker was at the helm. To be honest, she was before my time, but I hear the audience figures for Doctor Who suddenly shot up when this scantily clad young woman joined the crew. I have a sneaking suspicion a similar thing has happened this season, with kissogram Amy’s entrance. There are a number of cardboard standees available, but I have to be honest, it’s the Amy Pond one that caught my eye.
Available from Forbidden Planet

V (reimagined and classic)

vThere’s quite a trend to “reimagine” classic TV shows these days, and V has also received the updated treatment. Series 1 of the new V has been captivating and is out now on DVD, available from HMV. If you’re buying for a purist, though, you might want to think about the classic series which, presumably because it’s a little longer in the tooth, is available for a fantastic price. The 5-disc “V: Complete Series” is also available from HMV.

OK, so those are my suggestions for some great sci-fi Christmas gifts. What would you include? Is there anything that’s high up on your Christmas list you want to tell us about? Feel free to do so in the comments.

Links to products in this post are affiliate links.

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 <–

Beginner’s Guide to Blogging – now free!

CD Ebook-267x300[1] Back in March of this year I wrote a review of the excellent Beginner’s Guide to Blogging course. At that time the course cost $47 and was well worth every penny.

Now, however, things have changed. For the better, I might add. Mike is now offering the Beginner’s Guide to Blogging for free… gratis… not a sausage…

This is a great chance to pick up a very useful blogging resource, and one that I’ve happily paid for in the past, for absolutely nothing.

Can’t say fairer than that, can you?

Get your free copy of the Beginner’s Guide to Blogging today.

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?

Mindmapping – by far my favourite note-taking technique

I found myself thinking today about the way I take notes. I listen to a lot of speeches and lectures, as well as podcasts, and often want to take notes about what I’ve heard. The problem is that trying to write everything down verbatim is too difficult unless you’re a shorthand genius. I’m not… so I summarise… and when I look back at my notes I wonder what on earth they actually mean!

A far better way to keep summarised notes, and make sense of them afterwards, is to use mindmaps. Now, I said I found myself thinking about this and wanted to write about it. Turns out I’d already done it about two years ago, so rather than duplicate that I’ll just point you to the original series on mindmapping.

Have a look and see what you think. Don’t forget to keep checking back too, as I have another site to add to the mindmapping tools in the original series too. Go on, take a look, and see if mindmapping can help you take better notes.

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.

Let’s go back in time…

Blogs are a bit like living organisms – they grow and change as they get older. So delving into the archives and reading early posts is a bit of an eye-opener.

I had several blogs before this one, and looking at my very first blog post ever is a painful experience for a few reasons. Firstly, I started blogging because I was going through a rough time, and that’s reflected in my early writing. Secondly, I’ve become much better at expressing myself over time and I just think my early writing’s a bit pants.

I was looking through the early posts on Geek-Speak yesterday and re-reading my first. It’s weird – there was no opening announcement. No “this is what I’m doing”, just a post about how blogging can take the place of traditional news outlets. If you’re interested, you can read it here. Prior to this I’d had a “personal” blog and one for sharing thoughts on faith, but I started to lose my passion for writing on both those areas and moved on to this. I’m guessing I just launched into it without an intro because I didn’t have any readers yet!

What about you, though? If you blog, have a look at your very first post. How did you start your blog off? Do you remember what you were thinking or feeling at the time?

I’d love to read some of your first posts, and I’m sure others reading this would be interested too. If you’re happy to do so, why not share a link in the comments and tell us a little of what was on your mind?

If you don’t blog yet, but want to learn some of the fundamentals to doing so successfully, check out The Beginner’s Guide to Blogging.

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!

Are online friendships “real”?

Online friendships are a strange thing. It used to be that you made your friends by meeting them at work, school, or some sort of club event. Whatever was the case, a key element was the physical meeting. In this digital age, though, we are forming more and more friendships without ever having met each other.

I often talk about my friend in LanzaroteSouth Africa, or Coventry, and the obvious question gets asked:

How did you meet them?

Well… on the Internet.

Oh right, so you haven’t actually met?

Not in person, no.

And suddenly the whole thing feels a bit inferior to a “proper” in-person friendship.

You might recall a post a while back about a friend called Dan. Dan was a contributor to this blog, fellow Formula 1 fan, geek, and all round good guy. And we never met. He didn’t live a million miles away (the UK isn’t that large, after all) and we didn’t speak every single day, but I definitely counted him as a friend. The post I mentioned was one informing you that he had died unexpectedly and, just after that, the whole arena of online friendships came to the front of my mind. So many people would think that a friendship based on e-mail, Twitter and team blogging isn’t a strong one but, let me tell you, when I heard he had passed away it felt every bit as strong as the death of my wife’s and my Best Man.

When I look at the friends I have online I realise I genuinely care about them – I’m happy when they tell me something good has happened to them, and I’m genuinely distressed when they tell me something bad. I would talk to them about much the same stuff as I would someone in the same room. We don’t get to actually do stuff together, but we get to talk about our common interests and differences.

And so I’m wondering, is it fair to see online friendships as inferior? Does meeting in person actually matter? Or is it becoming increasingly irrelevant? I’d love to know your thoughts.

Comments are now closed on this post – they close automatically after a period of time to try to cut down on spam comments. However, why not head over to our Facebook page and leave your thoughts there, or connect with me on Twitter?

Declare your motoring geek cred with PetrolThreads t-shirts

It’s funny how things seem to come along in twos and threes – last week I wrote about Slick Attire, who I’d first noticed because The Gadget Show’s Jon Bentley wears some of their tees while doing his reviews. This week my friend Rob sent me a link to another car-related t-shirt site: PetrolThreads.

There are some great designs including the classic mini and the Mark II Escort (aaahhhh, those were the days!).

All tees are priced at £20 – check the site out and express your petrolheadism (is that a word?) with PetrolThreads.