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.

Christmas ideas for gadget geeks

OK, so we looked at Christmas ideas for sci-fi geeks yesterday, but what if gadgets are your thing instead? Well today we’ll have a look at a few gadgety ideas that would make nice Christmas presents.

Zippo Hand Warmer

zippowarmerThe Zippo Hand Warmer comes from the iconic lighter company and offers a stylish way to keep your mits warm this winter. Fill it with lighter fluid, light it, and experience the warmth. I was initially a bit worried at the prospect of carrying a liquid-fuelled flame in your pocket, but apparently the warmer uses “catalytic combustion” to burn the fuel without an actual flame. This is a nice, practical gift for the cold months.

The Magic Wand Remote

magicwandRecently seen on Dragon’s Den, The Magic Wand Remote will make changing the TV channel into a scene from Harry Potter. It can learn up to 13 different infra-red codes from your existing remotes, which can be activated with a swish, twist, or range of other gestures. I just love the thought of being asked to turn the volume up and using the magic wand to do it instead of the boring old remote.

Zagg Smartbuds

zaggbudsThe hands-free headphones you get with the iPhone are OK, but nothing special. Enter the ZAGGsmartbuds, with their noise-cancelling microphone, comfortable earpieces, music controls and premium length “tangle free” cord. This item was suggested by Pete Cattell after he bought a pair for his daughter. Pete tells me they’re comfortable, have a good sound (with particularly well defined bass) and seem pretty robust. Even better, according to ZAGG, they should work with most smartphones (check with them for compatibility first!)

Autoloader Screwdriver

autoloaderscrewdriverWhether it’s for opening up your PC to install a new graphics card, putting up shelves to house your collection of LEGO minifigures, or just because you feel the need to have one, a screwdriver is always a good thing to have in the house. But I always find I lose the bits, or lose that one particular screwdriver I need for a particular job. This pump-action auto-loading screwdriver aims to solve that problem. Just pull back on the handle, twist until you’ve found the bit you need, and push the handle forward again… the required bit is loaded and ready to go. It might even cut down on toolbox related clutter!

Amazon Kindle

kindleIf you have a bit more money to spend, you might want to consider the Amazon Kindle eBook reader. My dad bought himself one a little while ago and I have to say I’m really impressed. The display has a very paper-like look that makes it feel like reading a book, and the battery life is nothing short of amazing. And, of course, there’s the huge range of books available for it, making it likely this is one present that will still be getting put to good use well after the traditional Christmas socks have worn out. Available from and

OK, so there’s a few gadgety ideas for Christmas, but what would you have included? What’s the must-have gadget on your list? Let us know in the comments.

Links to products in this post are affiliate links

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 and

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 and

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 <–

The Fallout universe is closer than you think…

To celebrate the release of Fallout New Vegas last week, I thought we’d revisit an old post on a related subject. Feel free to chip in with your thoughts!

You know, when I watch the news these days I’m stunned that humanity has survived for as long as it has. Pollution and sunburn are bad enough, but what about rogue comets and the much hyped possibility that the world will end in 2012? To cap it all there’s a black hole at the centre of the galaxy that we’re just lucky hasn’t eaten the Milky Way for lunch (strange, Milky Ways are tasty).

If you’re really worried about how you’re going to survive in the event of a huge disaster, there’s a company who are more than willing to relieve you of your cash in return for shelter. Vivos are planning a network of underground shelters, each with accommodation for up to 200 people, across the US.

The Vivos underground shelter’s kitchen is stocked for a year, so you’re not going to see generations of people growing up there with no outside contact, but the idea of a little community forming under such adverse conditions is intriguing. I wonder how long it would be, though, before you went stir crazy and started attacking the other residents? Better hope there’s something good in the DVD collection to try and prevent that!

If you explore the Vivos site you’ll see that, when applying for a Vivos membership, you have to list your skills and explain why you would be a valuable community member. When you turn up at your designated shelter you’ll be assigned an ongoing responsibility based on your skillset, like providing security, medical care, or meal preparation.

What captures my imagination is the obvious attention that’s been given to ensuring the shelters are suitable for community living – medical and dental areas, dining and relaxation zones, vaults for storing valuables and even a detention area all point to this being something you walk into fully expecting that you might be there for a while. It reminds me so much of the vaults in Fallout and, while I understand the desire to ensure that you’re prepared for almost any disaster, I can’t help thinking this is just a setup for a sci-fi movie!

Maybe when the BBC reports an incoming asteroid I’ll wish I’d thought differently. Oh, and that I both lived in the US and had the money to secure a space :)

Watch the virtual tour below:

So, what do you think? Is this a genuine necessity or just an attempt to extort money from gullible customers? Do you know of any similar schemes elsewhere in the world? Whatever your thoughts, share them in the comments.

Via GizMag

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

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?

A shout-out to my blogging dojo

AAA kyu test at Soshinkan dojo-6570John Donne wrote that “no man is an island, entire of itself – every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”. He was spot on, and while he was writing about death, the connectivity of mankind is relevant in so many areas. Woah, that’s a bit deep… what I’m trying to say is this: community matters, and I want to give a shout out to some of the bloggers who regularly influence and inspire me. It’s my hope that you’ll find at least some of them as inspiring as I do.

Their order here isn’t significant, other than it being the order they appear in my feed reader!

  1. Adam Howie – Adam probably doesn’t know this, but he’s a big part of the reason I blog. Something happened in 2003 that prompted me to find an easy way to express myself, and I’d been interested in this “blogging” thing that Adam did… so I asked him how he got set up and did likewise. Besides the historical link, though, Adam is a talented artist, thoughtful writer, and as much of a geek as I am. He doesn’t post that often, but when he does it’s worth checking out.
  2. Kim and Jason Kotecki – Kim and Jason are on a mission to help people rediscover the childlike joy of life… instead of being grumpy old adults. Their “lemonade stand” has a load of fun products for sale to help with that, but it’s the posts that really draw me in. I still feel like a child in an adult’s body, and Kim and Jason help me remember there’s nothing wrong with that.
  3. Johnny Laird – Johnny and I met through the machinations of Thomas “Headphonaught” Mathie, but have mostly interacted online because of where we both live. Johnny is big on community, a brilliant networker, and my partner in our upcoming Blogging Dojo project. He describes himself as, “Blogger, connector, communicator, change agent & social activist…friend of the geek & radical”. If you want to learn about new voices in the blogosphere, some older (but worthwhile) ones, and to be presented with interesting posts on a regular basis, Johnny’s your guy (and he does a mean carbonara too).
  4. Mike Cliffe-Jones – Mike and I “met” while we were both taking Darren Rowse’s 31 Days to Build a Better Blog course. Mike commented on one of my posts and we just seemed to hit it off. We share interests in blogging (obviously), Formula 1, and cars in general. More importantly, though, Mike is a genuinely nice and helpful guy who’s done plenty to make me pull my socks up as a blogger. I often read his posts and then need a bit of time to think about it – either because he’s just given me a new idea, called to attention something I need to improve on, or inspired me in some way. He’s also one of the very few writers who can actually bring me to tears on occasion… not an easy thing to do! Mike is living proof that blogging can provide a full-time income and, because of that and all the reasons above, I make sure to keep up to date with what he’s writing.
  5. Arnold Aranez – Arnold blogs under the name “Mr Gadget” about, unsurprisingly, gadgets. He’s a great source of information on upcoming tech, and also runs a successful company selling gadgets online. I’m still very pleased with the Ravage USB stick I bought from him! What makes Mr Gadget stand out beyond the many other gadget sites is the personal interaction with Arnold. He’s on Twitter, and despite us having opposite sleep patterns (he’s always going to bed just as I get online, and vica versa) we still manage to have some good banter. For gadget news with a personal touch, I recommend Arnold “Mr Gadget” Aranez.
  6. Robert Bravery – Right, a pastor who’s also a tech-head and blogger… that’ll be me, then, won’t it? Nope, it’s Robert “The Brave Programmer” Bravery who wears programming, blogging, and ministry hats in South Africa. Robert’s blog covers topics like how to set up a blog, writing for the Internet and, basically, how to be a better blogger. He has a great style, and often posts cartoons to comment on current events or the idiosyncrasies of blogging and programming. There’s a good community of commenters on the site too, and the discussion around some of his posts is great to read through.
  7. Kevin Tea – Kevin has been a guest author on Geek-Speak, so you might have come across him before. He blogs about cloud computing on his own site, and is a great source of information on new webapps, tools, and productivity packages. Keep an eye on his writing and you’re sure to find something to make your life easier… or just a new toy to play with while your wife wonders why the old way wasn’t good enough :)

So… these are the guys I consider my blogging dojo. None of them have asked to be included here, and none of them have to do anything because of their inclusion. These are just the guys I keep most up to date with, and the ones I’d say inspire me most with their writing and interaction. They’re also the people I want to give back to by being part of their community – commenting, sharing, and supporting where appropriate.

Why am I telling you about them? Because if I think they’re worth reading, you just might too. Why not check their sites out and see what you think of them?

Image credit: Soaringbird – creative commons licensed

Friday Fun: The Dreamerz

I’m a big fan of both chilled-out gaming and point and click games… and if you are too then you’ll love this week’s Friday Fun. The Dreamerz sees you trying to reassemble a dream machine that’s broken down and allowed everyone to have nightmares. You’ll be pointing and clicking to find the right components to put the machine back together and, most likely, having quite a relaxed time while you do it.

The puzzles will take a bit of thinking, and sometimes just a bit of experimenting, but I think this game is brilliant.

You will need flash and sound to play The Dreamers.

–> Click here to play <–