Barcamp Manchester 2016: A report

Timeliness is perhaps not an attribute I can add to this post, but I self-guilted myself into finally writing about the simply amazing experience I had at Barcamp Manchester 2016.

My ticket was booked mostly on a spur of the moment, I had a rare opportunity for a few days away from Daddy Duty and I have family in the vicinity of Manchester that I see infrequently.  Efficiency with rocks and avians.

The venue, Citylabs 1.0, is superb.  Modern, bright, clean, great facilities, nearby coffee (Starbucks, 10% discount for attendees, lovely staff), ropey wifi (does any venue actually have good wifi?) and plenty of breakout space for the hallway track.

I was slightly at a loss for what to do, not because there was a lack of things to do but because I’ve almost never been to any tech event where I wasn’t part of the organising team.  It was genuinely odd not to have already been at a venue for hours before it started.

The conference was kicked with an introductory talk from Claire Dodd who did a great job of introducing the unconference concept – what people should expect and how they could participate – all stuff I was aware of, except she threw in a curve-ball.  Well, for me at least: you must give a talk.

This might be a surprise to my readers who know me personally, but I’m not actually terribly comfortable with standing up in front of a group of people and talking on any subject, not even one I know well, but I started to ponder something I could talk about that might be of interest to a techie crowd.

I sat and watched The Wall being filled in and a little idea dinged in my head.  I had brought one of my drones with me, the weather wasn’t too bad, maybe I could take some people to do a little flying.

I found a friendly local and, with the aid of Google maps, I found a bit of scrubland not too far away from the venue that might suffice and so I put up a notice entitled “Let’s go fly a kite drone!” and sat back for takers.  I got four.

A couple of hours later, Amelia, Andrea, Tom, Jack and I drove off to Stretford Meadows.  A possibly enthusiastic name for an overgrown piece of scrubland criss-crossed with rough paths that were a challenge for the wheel-chair user of our group.  However we persevered and found a passable takeoff and landing site.

The weather was cool and clear but there was a heck of a wind blowing and I was honestly slightly nervous about putting people who had literally never handled a drone before in charge of my rather expensive aerial photography rig.  I wanted the group to be as hands on as possible, so members of the group unpacked and assembled the drone and controller ready for use.

Three full batteries gave everyone a good chance to play.  There was some nervousness from some members of the group but the stability of the drone – it even impressed me with station-keeping in such winds – meant that an initially nervous pilot, quick to give up the controls, made sure she had another more lengthy go later on.  One were we all pleased to have her take.

The group were so positively responsive to tips and techniques for managing the drone that I even crossed an initial mental red line of doing all the takeoffs and landings myself.   Even an automatic takeoff and landing in high winds can be treacherous, my students who tried handled the situation well.

Battery life is finite, so after about an hour we had to go.  I had members of the group disassemble and pack the drone away and back to Citylabs we went.

It was the first time I’ve ever attempted to present drone flying at a tech event and I think it went quite well.  I was certainly blessed with intelligent and sensible participants who helped enormously.  Jack was kind enough to take all the raw footage from the day and produce a short film which you can view here.

The second day at Barcamp was mostly recovery for me.  It had taken over 7 hours to drive up, I’d had a very full day with the drone school and then taking a rare opportunity to go to a nightclub and I was definitely low on energy and facing a long drive home.

Instead of potentially falling asleep on presenters, I spent Sunday on the hallway track and had the pleasure of spending time talking to co-organisers of the event Rick Threlfall and Sophie Ashcroft.

Rick and I share an interest in aviation, he has logged a few more hours that me in light aircraft.  Sophie is a rising star in the open source community not least in terms of event management and I was pleased to put her in touch with a jaded old ratbag who might help her with sponsor curation.

Barcamp Manchester will return for 2017, dates not yet officially announced.  I hope to attend again, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.  An extraordinary event organised by an extraordinary team.

Buying a custom gaming PC from Overclockers UK

My current workstation and gaming PC is slowly disintegrating. I built it myself from components some 6 years ago and it’s simply wearing out.  Several USB ports don’t work and Windows sometimes bluescreens with errors that suggests bits of the motherboard are getting tired.  I don’t really have the spare time needed to build a high-end PC and make a great job of it, so I decided to treat myself to a pre-built custom system.   After hunting round, I settled on Overclockers as the company to buy from.

Their system configurator didn’t quite give me what I wanted, so I contacted them and asked if they could customise further which they could.   I put together my list of requirements, they send back a price.  I paid, cash wired to their bank account, upfront and sat back and waited for my new shiny liquid-cooled PC to arrive.

The system shipped.  It shipped to the wrong address.  I had provided Overclockers with a billing address and a shipping address.  They shipped to the billing address which is almost guaranteed to be unoccupied during regular working hours.

A simple mistake.  It happens.  I contacted the courier who were unable to redeliver again that day, but promised they would deliver it to the shipping address the next day.

Next day, my new shiny PC arrives.  I opened the smaller of the two boxes, one for spare components and so on, and immediately see a problem.  The spares and cables and whatnots are not branded with anything I specified, wrong motherboard and wrong graphics card.  I call Overclockers who suggest that the component boxes may have been mixed up and can I please open the main box and check. I do.  It’s someone else’s computer.  I later learn that my system has been shipped to somewhere else.  Overclockers’ mistake?  Courier’s mistake?  It doesn’t really matter. Overclockers have a courier come and pick up this system.

Meanwhile, my system makes its merry way back to Overclockers’ HQ and I, confusingly, get an email asking what I’d like done with it.   I suggest shipping it to the shipping address and could I please have an AM delivery so I don’t potentially waste a whole day.  I offered to pay for whatever that was going to cost.  Overclockers said it was no problem.  Super.

My PC finally showed up at Friday 8pm.   The more astute amongst you will spot that 8pm is not exactly an AM delivery.  Overclockers’ mistake?  Courier’s mistake?  I have no idea, the question has not yet been answered.

I unpack my new PC.  The first thing I notice is that there is a bolt rolling around in the bottom of it.  Stuff can come loose in shipping, so what.  I find that the bolt belongs to a radiator housing in the bottom of the case, there’s a hole, a loose radiator and tool marks around the hole.  Not ideal, but the system’s not going to be moved around much so no big problem.  Despite being an SLI system, there was no SLI cable installed linking the graphics cards.  Simple to fix, but a silly thing for an expert system builder to miss.

One of the customised things I asked for was the pre-cabling of some SATA drives bays: one for a blu-ray writer and two for a pair of big SATA disks I use for bulk local storage.   None of these were done.   I call Overclockers about this, and the loose bolt, and they say there’s not much that can be done without returning the system to them.  As I’ve no interest in another game of couriers, I grumble a bit but then do the cabling myself.

Over the next day or so I had almost no chance to really push the new system.  It ticked over happily, was lovely and quiet and lovely to look at too.  On Sunday night, though, the headphones went on, the office door was closed and I got on with a bit of GRID 2, with all the visual effects turned up to maximum.  I settled down for a couple of hours of hard racing.   After about an hour, the screen froze, went black, and all the system fans kicked into life.

I powered off, reached for my mini-torch and opened the case.  What I saw sickened me: liquid coolant leaking from the CPU block, down onto a graphics card and spilling on to the motherboard.  It was impossible to tell whether the CPU had simply thermally shut down or if the coolant had shorted something expensive.  It kind of didn’t matter.

The next morning I called Overclockers who arranged to pick the system up.  I asked if they could sort of the cabling and the loose bolts while they were at it.  They agreed.

A couple of days later, I got an email saying the system had been repaired and was on its way back to me.  The next evening I get a call from the owner of the billing address saying that a courier had tried to deliver something with my name on it.   They had shipped to the wrong address. Again.

I had now run out of patience and I asked for a full refund.   To their credit, Overclockers didn’t argue on this and they said one would be arranged.  As it was convenient for me, I asked to keep the Windows 8.1 licence and the SSD.   As it was convenient for them, I agreed to pay for these again separately, they would then issue a refund for the full amount of the original transaction.  I didn’t ask, but I kind of expected they would simply wire the cash back to my bank account.

After 3 days or so, nothing had showed up, so I called and they said that processing a refund might take up to 7 working days.

Today, 10 days on, nothing had showed up, so I called them and they said a cheque had been issued on the 4th and had been sent to……. you guessed it, the wrong address.  The owner of the address had not had a cheque arrive.

They offered to send a new cheque to the right address.  I suggested they simply wire the money to my account, I was told this was impossible due to the people who would have to do that being in Germany.  No, makes no sense to me either.  I asked if the cheque could be sent by special delivery, for which I was happy to cover the costs.   This was, of course, not possible.

So, 5 weeks after placing a cash order for a high-spec custom PC from Overclockers UK, I have no PC and they have a large amount of my money.

Please consider this post next time you’re thinking of ordering from them.

 

(Update: 15/4/2014:  A handwritten cheque arrived from Overclockers this morning. )

Hardware review: FOSCAM FI8918W wireless & wired IP camera

My daughter, Isabella, is at an age where she’s just starting to get mobile.  She can now turn from being on her back to being on her front and cannot often make it back again.   When she’s in bed this is a problem because I cannot tell the cry of “I’m stuck, come and turn me over” from “I’m not asleep yet, maybe yelling will get me some company”.

Some research and a poll conducted on the Dolphin Fan Mailing List suggest that the FOSCAM F18918W camera might do all I need at a price that seemed quite reasonable.

I ordered the camera online direct from FOSCAM, obtaining a small discount by using the coupon code “wifi1001”. UK first class delivery is free. It arrived the next day. Opening the box, you get the camera, two power adaptors (EU and UK), an Ethernet cable, a wireless aerial, a mounting bracket, screws & rawl plugs, an install CD and a small booklet of installation instructions.  I attached the wireless aerial, connected the network cable, plugged in the power and watched the camera perform its power-on calisthenics.

I popped the CD into my CD-ROM drive, and here’s where problem 1 occurs.  The CD is not recognised as being a CD.  I shrug, open a new browser tab and head to the UK FOSCAM website expecting to be able to download all the stuff I need.  Every attempt to download stuff results in me being asked to register. I do so, sighing slightly. I eventually get the link, click and I am diverted to a 404 page in a pictorial language I don’t recognise.  I notice the path is “/down/”, perhaps they meant “/download/”.  No, they didn’t.  I go back to the UK site and hunt for more links, none are forthcoming, so I call the number listed on the website.

After perhaps a dozen rings, the phone is picked up by someone with an American accent and the sound quality suggests IP telephony and that they most likely are really in America.  I explain the situation, asking for a download link for the setup tool.  The chap helpfully directs me to the “.us” website and leads me to a page where I can get setup instructions for setting up port forwarding for various brands of routers so that you can view your camera over the Internet.  I restate the problem more clearly, I don’t have the setup tools to configure the camera at all in the first place, and I’m not asking about routers, I just want to know where I can get the tools from.

He understands.  I am asked to send an email to a gmail account [sic]  asking for the tools to be mailed to me.  As he’s explaining this I locate a link on the .us website and download the tools.  They’re in a .rar file.  For some reason that always makes me think of warez puppies.

The tool installs, starts, and almost immediately shows me a list containing my camera with the address it has DHCPd.  I head to the URL and am confronted with a login screen.  I look for the login details in the pamphlet and find problem 2.  The login details are printed in black and white, but are printed over a black and white photo in the manual.  I know the username begins with “a” and it has no password.  It’s not “a” or “administrator”, it turns out to be “admin”.  I am admitted to the web GUI.

First task is to get it on the wireless LAN.  This proves tricky.  Clicking on the Scan button results in nothing, eventually I work out that changing the encryption protocol and clicking scan gets me an AP list.  I want to assign it a static IP address via DHCP.  I look for the wireless MAC address.  It is not listed anywhere in the GUI.  I examine the labels on the camera itself, one is the MAC address that my router says it gave an IP to, and matches the URL presented by the setup tool.  There is a second MAC address on the label, I take this to be the wireless interface MAC.  I am wrong.

I should mention annoyance 1 at this point.  Every change in setting requires you to reboot the camera.

I eventually manage to get the wireless interface to connect to my home wifi network; the MAC address is entirely different.  I sort out a static address for it and set up port forwarding.  And here’s where it gets good.

The camera does everything you would expect.  The remote control is brilliant, the sound lovely and clear, the night vision is great.  The pain of setting it up is entirely forgiven as it now Does Exactly What It Says On The Tin.  The image quality is perfectly good for baby monitoring.  The send-email-on-movement works perfectly well, the slightly ENGRISH menus will not get on your nerves at all.  The night vision lights are quite dim anyway and can be switched on and off remotely (as can the network lights) meaning the unit is barely noticeable even in the near total blackout of a nursery.

Despite the negatives above, I’m very happy with this camera. If you’re looking for an addition to your baby watching arsenal, you will do well to buy one of these.

 

 

Hardware review: Samsung Galaxy S2

I was terribly excited by the pre-release information about the Samsung Galaxy S2.  The photos and specs released showed it to be attractive, well featured and light.  Certainly everything I read suggested it would give the iPhone 4 a run for its money and might even give the upcoming iPhone 5 some competition.  I ordered the new handset on an upgrade deal from Orange and breathlessly awaited delivery.

The phone arrives in a box not at all dissimilar to that of an iPhone.  You get the handset, battery, data cable, charger cable and some leaflets.  Extracting the handset from the plastic wrap I immediately noticed the lightness and admired the shape of the phone.  It’s flatter than my iPhone 3GS but a tiny bit wider and longer. I flipped the phone to open the cover and install the battery and, sadly, here’s where the love affair starts to go wrong.

The rear cover is both large and flimsy, and certainly not splash proof.  Removing it had me gritting my teeth fearing I might snap it.  It came off much more easily than I expected due to it being held in by tiny sub-millimetre plastic flanges.  Examining them screamed “FRAGILE!” at me and I mentally added “Substantial case” to my shopping list. Installing the SIM and battery was as easy as you would expect. I crunched the panel back on, no proper insertion angle, just poke two corners in as best you can then press all the way round.

Powering the phone on for the first time put the love affair back on track.  The display is gorgeous.  It’s larger than the iPhone 3GS, nicer looking than iPhone 4, but proportionally takes up about the same percentage of the front of the handset.  The material is called Gorilla Glass and it’s beautifully smooth and slightly cooler than you would expect to the touch.  The surface does seem to take and hold fingerprints more than the iPhone’s, but this was a very hot and sticky day so maybe it was literally just me.

I have not used an Android-based phone before, for the past 2 years I have had an iPhone and before that I had a Blackberry.  I have possibly simply got used to the “Apple” way of doing things.  I am very willing and able to mock Apple products when I feel it’s needed, but one thing Apple usually get right is their user interface.  The S2’s interface is literally the worst I have experienced, a few of the gripes are:

  • No way to group icons.  On the iPhone I drop one icon on top of another, they become a group.
  • No easily accessible app switcher, you have to go menu hunting.
  • All the fonts are way too big, the smallest size is 12pt.
  • Text auto completion is both awful and broken (see below).
  • Pinch-zoom works in some places but not in others.
  • The supplied SMS and email apps are just plain ugly.
  • The email app subscribes me to all my IMAP folders, all 70 or 80, when I would normally want about 6. No unsubscribe option.
  • No strike-out-to-delete-motion facility for emails and text messages.
  • No equivalent to the double-tap-the-title-bar to scroll to the top function.

Some of the stuff mentioned above can be fixed by buying better pieces of software.  However for a £500 piece of kit, i would expect it to perform all the basic functions well and then have pieces of software I can then opt to buy to make things better.  I don’t expect to have to pay to make things work at the bare minimum standard I would expect for £500.

The text auto completion function deserves an entire paragraph of scorn.  Many of you will have used the official Twitter application for your iPhone.  You start a new tweet and you get your onscreen keyboard and an empty text box.  You start typing.  On the iPhone, when it wants to suggest a word you get a balloon come up near the word and you can tap to complete, or tap the X on the corner of the balloon to get rid of the suggestion. On the S2 you start typing and, when a word is suggested, suddenly the text box jumps up the screen and a set of words appear underneath in a really big font.  You type some more, maybe the words disappear and the box jumps back, you type another letter and it jumps again.  I started typing a word, “street’s” I think it was and promptly got into a fight with the predictive text as it doesn’t really seem to understand apostrophes.  We ended up in a bizarre state where it was suggesting “streetsunamis” [sic] and every attempt I made to delete and retype resulted in it not letting me type the word “street’s”.  Arrrrgh.  Let’s turn that off then.

I figured that maybe all the crap littering the phone (like the games that let you play once for free, then want money) might be an Orange branding thing.  So I figured I would wipe the phone and reinstall the OS, thus expunging any Orangey nonsense and letting me see the phone as its manufacturer intended.  Samsung has a piece of software called “Kies” which is kind of like iTunes but more Samsungy.  I went to the Samsung website, downloaded the 77MB installer and installed it.  I then ran it for the first time, without the phone plugged in, and it said “this isn’t the latest version of Kies” and would I like to update.  Blink.  Okay. More stuff is downloaded and installed.

I run the app, it seems to be happy and then I connect the phone.  Except I don’t, because it’s at this point that it’s not a mini USB connector as I had thought and I don’t have the right cable.  Determined not to be dismayed I go and buy the right sodding cable at PC World comedy prices.  I plug the phone in.  “MTP USB device failed to install”, or words to that effect.  I hadn’t rebooted since installing Kies so I do so.  I start Kies, plug the phone in and… same problem.  Googling the error makes me very sad indeed.  At this point I give up.  I simply want a phone that works and syncs stuff to my PC, I don’t want to dick around running a utility to locate files that might have names somehow incompatible with my running OS, or mess around with registry settings because I’m running a 64 bit operating system in the year 2011.  If I can’t run Kies, I can’t wipe the phone and reinstall it.

I’ve called Orange and arranged to return the handset.  It’s a lovely piece of hardware let down by awful third-rate software.

 

Hardware review: King of Shaves Azor 5 razor & AlphaGel

I’ve long been a fan of King of Shaves shaving products.  Originally they just produced excellent shaving oils but, a few years ago, branched out into producing a more complete set of men’s shaving accessories including the Azor razor, then the Azor M and, recently, the Azor 5.  Their main selling point is price.  They are significantly cheaper than other cartridge-based razor products, most notably those from Gillette.

I converse with the owner of King of Shaves on Twitter, Will King.  When the Azor M was released I swapped him a razor and gel for an antibodyMX t-shirt.  When the Azor 5 was released, I didn’t manage to blag a free upgrade but he did say that he’d send me some free blades if I wrote a review, good or bad.  So here you go, Will 🙂

I picked up my Azor 5 and some gel from Tesco.  The first thing to notice is the price, it was over a fiver cheaper than the equivalent offering from Gillette.  The packaging is as nice and shiny as you would expect from a modern product but, as someone who recycles a lot, it did seem like less could have been used without risking damage to the product.  You get the razor handle, 3 blades and a rather severely plain plastic holder.

The original Azor razor handle was quite plasticy and felt a bit flimsy when using it.  The Azor M greatly improved this, it was much heavier as it had metallic elements.  The Azor 5 handle is almost exactly the same, the plastic inserts being a different colour and it having a KoS logo embossed on it.  It’s the same weight, same feel and, importantly, the older Azor M cartridges work just fine with it.

As the “5” suggests, there are 5 blades in each cartridge compared to 4 on the Azor M. However what hasn’t been done is cramming the blades in to the same amount of space.  The spacing between each blade appears to be identical to the Azor M.  As most guys will know, one problem with the early multi-blade razors was that they would clog and jam quite easily, greatly shortening the useful life of the cartridge.

Put to work the Azor 5 performs as well as I would expect from a KoS razor.  Those blades are sharp and have little difficulty in dealing with 1 or 2 day old stubble.  Combined with KoS AlphaGel the shaving experience is smooth and low friction. With a new blade there’s almost no noticeable drag meaning no irritation or razor burn and I love the slightly antiseptic smell of the gel.  My usual shaving interval is somewhere between 1 and 2 weeks, and my stubble is quite thick and heavy.  Faced with that, the Azor 5 does no better than the Azor M; cutting through the longer hair means I had to frequently de-clog the blade.  That has been true of every multi-blade razor I’ve ever used, so it’s not specifically a problem with the Azor 5.

I am not clean shaven, I have a goatee beard and usually sport sideburns.  I found shaping the beard to be trickier and it’s harder to precisely cut the sideburns to an equal length.  The extra blades mean you’re not quite sure where the cutting starts.  An earlier Gillette razor sported a single thicker blade on the rear that made this a lot easier.  People who shave more frequently than I do will probably have less difficulty with this.

Overall this is a great shaving system and excellent value.  The replacement cartridges are much cheaper than the competition and are as sharp and long lasting.  My only slight niggle, and this is very slight, and that is I can’t buy them at my wholesaler, Costco.  I would also like to see the gel available in larger packs.  The size is convenient for my travel bag but I think I’d get better value from a larger sized pack I can leave on the bathroom shelf at home.

 

 

 

Game review: Sniper: Ghost Warrior

Sniper: Ghost Warrior is a standard first-person shooter based on the Chrome 4 engine.  The marketing suggests this game is aimed at those who prefer stealth and strategy over outright shoot’em’up action.   After a brief, optional, training run you are dropped into the action, sniper rifle in hand.

Visually I find the game very odd.  Environments are very rich indeed and this game features some of the best foliage I have seen in a PC game. Certainly better than Just Cause 2, somewhat better than Crysis, and yet, at the same time, you look at scenery such as buildings and vehicles and are disappointed.  There’s none of the beautiful detail that JC2 set the standard for.

As you start the game, it’s all pretty obvious, move from point A to point B, perhaps shooting some baddies on the way.  You quickly realise just how tightly scripted the game is, and how shallow some of the segments are, and you very quickly feel hemmed in by the tiny (I’ve been playing JC2) sections of world you can explore.

It’s when you start to move around that the worst part of the game makes itself obvious.  You are a sniper, wearing a ghillie suit and moving slowly and quietly around in dense jungle foliage.   Bullets will start pocking around you, you won’t have a clue where from bar a very vague red arrow in the middle of your screen.  What’s happened is that you’ve tripped over some enemy AI who’s managed to pick you out from a distance of about 150 meters.

You won’t be able to see him, but he’ll cheerfully keep shooting at you, not often hitting, until you stand up so your head is out of the undergrowth and eventually work out where he is.  By this time you’ll have moved enough that more eagle-eyed AI join in.  You die, you get to do it again.  It’s very very dull.

At this point you’ll realise that the sniping system is confusing and not very good.  Other than the target’s movement there are no real visual clues as to why the bullet mark is where it is.   It feels a bit random and sterile.

You’re not always just sniping, there are some sections of standard let-rip-on-full-auto.  You’re a fully trained, fit, agile sniper clearing out an oil rig.  Yet you somehow cannot make it over a knee-high rail to go down some stairs.  Eventually you’ll realise there’s a small panel you have to shoot to make a section of the rail disappear.  You’ll check your calendar to make sure it’s not 5 years ago.

The bullet camera is a straight ripoff, accidental or intentional, I don’t know,  of that given to us by Sniper Elite back in 2005.  Given the choice between the two games, I’d suggest picking up Sniper Elite and playing that instead.

If you’re really intent on buying this game, I’d just wait a bit.  It’ll be reduced in price quickly enough as it really is fairly poor.

Hardware review: Tomtom GO 750 LIVE

After some four years, and one warranty-voiding battery change, my trusty Tomtom GO 720 finally died.  As it chose to do so on a morning that I needed to drive around central London, and not having a clue about navigating roads around central London, I decided to buy myself the latest model.

The Tomtom LIVE series comes in three flavours, the 550, 750 and 950.  The only difference between them being the maps that are supplied out of the box and the size of internal memory, 1, 2 and 4G respectively.  I do sometimes drive over on the continent so I chose the 750 which comes with maps for UK and western Europe.  Opening the box in the car park and starting to use it, the annoyances appear quickly:

  • The power/data connector is no longer USB at the Tomtom end (though a USB2-connecting lead is provided).
  • The mount has changed rendering my current in-car mounting point useless.

Digging in to the box a bit more reveals the rather nice new windscreen-sucking mounting device.  You press the back of the mount against the inside of the windscreen and turn a plastic collar, no more ring-prints where you’ve used a bit of spit or water to make the horrid old sucker mounts grip properly. Physically, the 750 is a tiny bit flatter and a tiny bit wider than the 720, quickly leading to the next annoyance:  I can’t use my current protective case.  Gone is the rubberised finish on the rear of the case, the 750 uses the same gunmetal grey plastic all the way round making it feel a bit less solid than the 720.

The 750 starts up noticeably faster than the 720 does and, if you’re near a set of speakers, you’ll hear a bit of interference (just like with a mobile phone) as the unit starts to get data coming in. This is of course the “LIVE” service replacing all the old style add-ins.

I find the unit to be sometimes unresponsive to screen presses, this seems to be mostly when the unit is just firing up.  You’ll tap the screen and nothing happens, so you tap it again and a few seconds later both taps happen.  This usually means you’ve now mistyped a postcode or city name.  Once you get past these initial annoyances is when the 750 and the LIVE services start to shine.

I asked it to take from my current location (near Lakeside shopping centre) to Wells Street, just off Oxford Street.  Calculating the route was somewhat slower than I’d usually expect, but then I understood why.   One of the live services provides traffic information and the route plotted was calculated to be the fastest routing around such incidents where a more optimal route could be found.  A thermometer-like bar on the right hand side of the display shows the number and type of delay on the chosen route, your distance until the next delay, and the total time the delays incur.

Setting off following the suggested route took me along the A13 into central London.  At one point I was prompted that a faster route had been found saving 7 minutes and would I like to divert onto it, I answered yes and flicking through the options at the next convenient red light, I configured it to always divert onto a faster route where one was found.

The display manages to cram a lot of information into a small space without losing clarity. Mounted just below the rear view mirror, I rarely had to spend more than a half-second glancing at the screen to understand what the next maneuver was going to be.  There’s more granular detail provided and also a useful button to flip between a 3D and 2D view; You used to have to dig around in the option menu to do this on the 720. As with the 720 the spoken directions are clear, concise and timely though I found the mispronunciations of place and street names too distracting to leave on.

I found one nice feature by accident: the 750 understands average speed cameras.  One of my very regular journeys is from RM3 to E17 which takes me anticlockwise round the M25 from J28 to J27.  Currently this is nearly entirely all roadworks due to the widening scheme, all covered under average speed cameras.  The Tomtom 750 bleeped at me when I strayed over the speed limit while within this zone. Neat.  What what have been neater is if it told me what my average speed was since entering the zone.

After a week or so of use, overall I’m very happy with the 750.  The LIVE subscription is not inexpensive but I can see the time saved will make this worthwhile assuming quality of data is maintained.  I’m surprised a “keep your maps up to date” offer wasn’t included as part of the bundle as this would have been as easy sell to me.  I think this is a wonderful little device and I’m confident some of the quirks will be addressed in future software and firmware versions.  If you drive often to places you’re not intimate with, this is worth the expense.

Game review: Prince of Persia: The forgotten sands

“A PERMANENT HIGH SPEED INTERNET CONNECTION AND CREATION OF A UBISOFT ACCOUNT ARE REQUIRED TO PLAY THIS GAME.”

Won’t be buying that one, then.

Dear Ubisoft,

I didn’t buy Assassin’s Creed 2 because of the insane DRM. I didn’t buy Splinter Cell: Conviction because of the insane DRM, and now I’m not going to buy the new Prince of Persia because of the insane DRM.

I speak as someone who has bought a fair chunk of your software. Did you wonder why you’re losing sales yet?

Game review: Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2 is a game that has been on my “buy it as soon as it’s released” list since its initial announcement.  Finally we were going to get the seamless large-area free-roaming game that developer after developer has promised and, usually, failed to deliver.  The last best attempt was perhaps Far Cry 2 which did an admirable job, but JC2 manages so much more.

Before I get into the praise-singing, could I take a moment of your time to tell you the one thing that has irritated me about JC2?  Thank you:  Steam’s pricing.  I like Steam, really.  JC2 on Steam retails for £29.99. A physical box containing JC2 costs £24.99 from Tesco.  Tell me, @steam_games, how can it possibly cost more to deliver a game over Steam online than to deal with a physical product?

So I did what I usually do, bought the box set and downloaded the “no DVD” crack.  When will you chimps learn?

If you liked Far Cry 2 at all then you are going to just love JC2.  It’s all that’s promised in terms of free roaming adventure and when you’re bored with exploring you can deign to follow the storyline.  Graphically it’s utterly beautiful though even my fairly high end games machine struggled when I ramped all the settings up to maximum.

The controls are a tiny bit fiddly and driving vehicles with the keyboard is very imprecise.  This is especially a problem when flying the jet aircraft.  There is support for using an Xbox controller but, crazily, there’s no support for using a regular joystick making a number of the aircraft-based missions decidedly tricky and much less fun than they could be.

Weapon choice is a bit limited and, teethgrindingly, there’s no ammo purchases.  You can pick up ammo from departed enemies, if they had the same weapon as you, but your black market dealer will only sell you a whole new weapon with ammo, not just the ammo itself.  For some of the missions this becomes expensive but is somewhat mitigated by you being able to pick up certain turret weapons which inherit infinite ammo.  The drawback here is that your movement is severely limited when wielding these puppies.

One of the touted features of the game is the double grapple: attach anything to anything.   This works less well than it seems it should.   Attempting to attach aircraft together seems to work poorly, for example.

Overall, you should buy this game.  It’s fun, it’s fast paced, it’s big and it’s beautiful. What are you waiting for?

Game review: Assassin’s Creed 2

Following my original review of the first Assassin’s Creed game, I was dearly looking forward to reviewing the new episode in the series. Alas Ubisoft have taken the skull-smackingly stupid decision of making a single-player game need access to the Internet to work.

Don’t buy this game, you will be funding idiocy if you do.

What next, Ubisoft, will you be making me not buy the upcoming Splinter Cell, too?