Tempting – Battlelore: Command

Yeah, this little gem looks pretty cool. Yes, it comes in a bit  pricy at under $10, but then again, it looks like there’s some serious gameplay value.

The fine folks at PocketTactics pulled together a rather positive review:

I’m starting to feel a bit spoiled. Seriously, what was the last major board game release that ended up a dud? It sure as hell isn’t BattleLore: Command, the latest release from Fantasy Flight Games, which, despite a major omission, is still a strong contender for digital board game of the year.

If you’re a fan of board games or just strategy games in general, BattleLore: Command is going to trip all your triggers.

How your mobile phone or tablet could save your life

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Believe it or not, there are many ways your mobile smart phone could be used when you find yourself in the middle of an emergency situation,  aside from the obvious — making a phone call for emergency assistance, I mean.

The recent events in Japan and New Zealand have shown that when disaster strikes, getting the most accurate information is likely the best way to make choices that could save your life.

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Provided the event hasn’t taken out the local mobile network, your mobile phone’s browser will help, linking you with many local, national, and international news services, as well as many different channels of communication (email, voice chat, twitter, etc).

Hardware
f1.jpgBut there are other ways your smart phone can help. For example, many smart phone’s display screens are bright enough to be used as a makeshift flashlight when the power goes out. Color Flashlight is a leading Android app and Flashlight 4 is one of the most popular ones in Japan right now.

As well, most phones these days know where they are in the world, either by triangulating between communications towers, wifi sources, or built-in GPS systems. Tie this in with any of the popular mapping applications and you have a good visual understanding of where you are. Helpful when you have to find an alternate route or transportation system in an unfamiliar city.

An app for that? You bet!
As you can imagine, there are many things that you could need in an emergency. And, of course, there are some apps that can help.

During the Tsunami warnings following the Japan earthquake, information like that provided by this Hawaiian-developed Disaster Alert app helped keep islanders informed about the impending waves.

And after an event, finding people and shelter is a priority.

Google launched their Google Person Finder during the Christchurch earthquake, and updated it for the Japan event.

And the American Red Cross has released their free Shelter View app.

So as you can see, with just a few bookmarks, perhaps an hour of app-store browsing, and a few dollars investment, you can have a pretty good emergency preparedness kit all tucked neatly into your mobile data phone.

I think it’s time I started on mine, what have I missed that I should add?
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Need a mic? Find a Yeti.

In the last few years it’s gotten a bit easier to use a microphone to record audio on your home computer — USB headsets with quality microphones have been available for a while, but only recently have USB desktop microphones oved out of the niche and specialty retailers into the mainstream, driven mostly by the development of podcasting and Garage Band recording systems.

But quality desktop microphones were expensive — the keyword there is were — now we’re seeing a bunch of new, high quality USB desktop microphones in the retailers at a much more reasonable price-point.

The Blue Yeti is one such microphone that has quickly developed a bit of a reputation for itself, in a good way, of course. So let’s take a look at some of the reasons the Yeti is getting some buzz.

All this on a microphone?
First off, the Yeti isn’t just a microphone. Inside the sturdy, heavy, burnished aluminium case is actually 3 condenser microphone capsules, strategically located to provide 4 recording patterns. I’ll get into those in a moment.

And it’s a THX certified microphone:

THX certification is either pass or fail. And product pricing is never a driving factor. If a product meets the THX testing standards, then certification is granted. With all of this testing from THX, the consumer is assured that the TV, receiver or speaker  system they are purchasing meets the highest standards for quality and compatibility right out of the box.

backcontrols.jpgAlso inside the unit all the hardware necessary to translate the analog audio into digital audio, and then pump it out the mini-USB port and into your computer.

This hardware includes a pre-amp (controlled by the Gain knob on the back) and a zero-latency headphone jack so you can monit or the microphone audio without having to plug your headphones into your computer, and  experience that annoying bit of audio lag (latency).

Three, no four mics in one.
Cap_300.jpg You see this neat shot of the three condenser mic capsules? Well the way the Yeti uses them is kinda cool, because these three mics working together give the Yeti the flexibility of four distinct microphone pickup patterns.

The illustration below shows the patterns and their best usages.

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Mobile Recording Studio
One of the other reasons I wanted to take a look at the Yeti was to explore it’s functionality in a highly mobile environment — specifically how it worked when connected to the USB input in Apple’s Camera Connector Kit for the iPad.

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By combining a high-quality microphone with some of the sophisticated digital audio editing software for iPad (such as MultiTrack DAW), a potentially powerful podcasting setup could be created.

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Sweet Sounds
Yep, the Yeti works as a very nice and clean mic in a mobile situation.

I recorded some audio of my wife setting up her acoustic guitar, and while I’m no sound engineer, was quite impressed with the sound! Much better than any of the home / consumer mic’s I’d tried previously.

Stereo Normalized by bgrier

And, of course, I recorded the first paragraph of this blog post to give you an indication of what voice sounds like through the Yeti. The Yeti was connected through an inexpensive USB hub to the iPad, which was running Multitrack DAW. Yeti gain was up a bit, and the mic was set into the Cardioid pattern.

Yeti Mic Test by bgrier

Then Apple Changed Things
Sadly, in the last OS update, Apple changed the way power was supplied through the Camera Connector Kit USB port — and the Yeti stopped working *when connected directly to the iPad*.

The workaround is that you now need to put a powered USB hub between the Yeti and your iPad in order for the system to work again.

Mostly Mobile
So, as things stand, I’ve got a mostly mobile recording and podcast studio.  The one major drawback with the Yeti is it’s heft – it weighs in at 1.85kg.

Add to that the need for a powered USB hub now, and things are a bit more complicated — but not enough that I’d not consider using the Yeti / Hub / iPad combination in a mobile setting.

Need a mic? Find a Yeti.
If you compare prices on similar mics, you’ll find the Yeti extremely inexpensive — considering the number of additional features you get built in (multi-pattern, THX certification, internal Pre-amp, etc), well worth a serious look, or listen.

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Looking for a smart phone? Consider the Palm Pre 2. Seriously.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been checking out the Palm Pre 2 — the next generation keyboard / touch screen dataphone from HP. Previously I’d not considered a webOS phone much of a contender against the traditional leaders (Blackberry and iPhone), but this little unit changed my mind.

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In this review, I’ll touch on the things that appealed (or didn’t) to me about the unit. I won’t be going into a long description about each and every feature though, so if you’re interested in that, you can read more here.

For a $99 phone (with 3 year contract) there’s a lot going on inside this little black box. Continue reading “Looking for a smart phone? Consider the Palm Pre 2. Seriously.”

Protecting your tech

When ever I get a new tech device, especially one that’s small, portable, and has a display screen, I immediately look to protecting that screen and device. I’m kinda clumsy at times, and anything that can protect my hardware from *me* is a worthwhile investment. I dropped my iPod Touch down the stairs last year, without a case, and the screen developed a hairline crack that killed about 2% of the pixels. The Touch works fine otherwise, but it’s annoying to have to deal with that flawed display part.

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Protection
On my camera, I protected the view-screen with a clear adhesive protector.

In the past, with my various Palm devices, I’d gone with an aluminium-lined leather book-style case, and a clear adhesive plastic screen protector.

For my iPod Touch, I have a simple leather pouch, and my wife has a flip-style case — also with an aluminium panel over the screen, and a rather nifty full-body ‘skin’ from BestSkinsEver.com. It’s transparent, made from reinforcing plastic used in helicopter blades, and very tough.

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For my iPad, I opted for a portfolio-style leather case from Fossil, and a full body clear skin similar to the one on my wife’s iPod Touch. She’s got an Apple silicone iPad case.

Defence in depth
So you see a bit of a pattern here. I’m using two layers of protection on my devices; a robust and shock-absorbing case to carry the device in, and a clear protective skin to protect the unit from scratches and wear. The skins make it easier to keep the devices clean, and I have less worry when using them in a mobile environment — if the skin gets too scratched, simply peel it off and replace it.

Your turn, how do you protect your mobile devices?



This post of is one of many I publish weekly at the Future Shop Techblog. Read more of my stuff here.


Desktop, mobile or web app?

Twitter is in the midst of rolling out it’s new, all-encompassing interface, and I’ve been able to take a look at it in ‘preview’ mode.

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My verdict: quite nice, but it won’t replace desktop twitter apps for me, just yet. Tweetdeck and Seesmic Desktop both offer greater functionality than the new Twitter interface.

Though I’ve not delved into every nook and cranny of the new Twitter look, the one shortfall that immediately came apparent was the way content is presented. I like the multi-pane look of Tweetdeck, and really enjoy being able to scan-at-a-glance all the content coming in through various filtered streams.

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The Twitter web interface just doesn’t offer that. If you’re interested in more of what the new Twitter interface has to offer, read on to the bottom; I’ve inserted the ‘official’ video there for your review :smileyhappy:

Moving to mobile, Twitter certainly has raised the bar on the iPad app — it blows everything else I’ve used on the iPad out of the water!

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For me, the coolest feature is the integrated web view of any website or photo links embedded in tweets. Someone spent some time thinking about how people will want to use Twitter on the iPad. Essential.

But that’s just me. If you’ve got access to the new Twitter interface, what do you think? And how ‘bout mobile? Are you a TweetDeck-everywhere type of user, or do you mix and match? Let us know what and why in the comments!



This post of is one of many I publish weekly at the Future Shop Techblog. Read more of my stuff here.