Friday, December 21, 2012

XKCD on recent Instagram kerfuffle

XKCD sums up the recent Instagram outrage

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Duck & Waffle (and Sushisamba) Heron Tower review

Duck & Waffle is a new experimental fusion restaurant on the 40th floor of Heron Tower in Bishopsgate, London. One of the few venues in London that offers even us plebs a chance to dine 180 metres above ground, it is also surprisingly good value. In other countries, we may scoff at the idea of dining more than 50 metres above sea level as anything special. No thanks to London's archaic planning permission law, you get very few choices here.
Despite being opened 24 hours a day, booking is recommended, particularly for peak times (lunch and dinner). Duck & Waffle offers four menus throughout the day. These menus also changes on a regular basis. Their signature dish, if you haven't guessed already, is their namesake duck 'n' waffle, which consists of... a leg of crispy duck confit, waffle and fried duck egg. Simple, and rather neat as well. They also offer traditional English breakfast, though I am not quite convinced by the trotter braised beans.

Auto Trader Ignition

A couple of weeks ago I attended the launch of Auto Trader's ignition interactive magazine on the iPad's Newsstand. ignition is an interactive magazine, one that is made from the ground up to take advantage of our digital time. According to Auto Trader, the publication will be editorial focused and will help users with their purchasing decisions.

Now, I am not really an automobile person. Living close to London, I don't need to be. Still, there is a time in the future when I would definitely need to own a car. But even as a none car owner, I am already aware of Auto Trader for their new and used classified listings. It's the one magazine everyone I know will look first when researching for vehicles. I approached using the app from a perspective of a person attempting to buy their first ever car. You know, searching the classified listings for the most affordable second hand Ferrari, like all first time buyers do.
Back to ignition, during the launch, a version of the app was available to demo on one of their iPad tablets. I was impressed by how well done the app was. I must confessed, I do not own an iPad, so that was my first time reading an interactive publication.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Nokia Lumia 920 camera review

Nokia has a lot riding on the Lumia 920. Their flagship Windows Phone 8 device is supposed to be the device to propel them back into recovery. The Lumia 800 which I praised a lot last year had plenty of faults, one of which includes the sub-standard camera expected from Nokia - but hei it was a stop-gap device, one they engineered and got onto the market in nine months. The Lumia 920 on the other hand, is pretty much their first real made from scratch Windows Phone smartphone, one not bound by previous pre-Windows Phone era projects.

Nokia also prides themselves as a big camera company, one that makes smartphones with the absolute best imaging hardware - that many of their fans insists will bring about the downfall of dedicated photographic companies like Nikon and Canon. The Lumia 920, the second of their device to has the PureView brand attached to it, is one such device. Never mind that physics dictates that a device the size of the Lumia 920 can't possibly bet as good as a five year old compact or even the PureView 808, we were told that it was technically brilliant.

No, it isn't.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

KitSound Mini Buddy portable speaker review

There's nothing quite like a surprise present is there. Thanks to the wonderful people at Three UK, this little fellow drop by the post this morning. As it isn't technically Christmas yet, let's just call it a late birthday gift. ;) It's a Mini Buddy portable speaker in the form of a confused looking primate, from a company I have never heard of before, KitSound.

While not quite as exciting as the SoundWave SW50 bluetooth speaker I touched on a couple of months ago, the Mini Buddy at least looks the part. The single large 36mm driver resides at the back of its, uhm, head. It might not look like it, but good lord is this thing loud! Initially believing this to be more of a novelty toy, this monkey looking portable speaker is actually rather good sounding, considering the price.

Inside the Mini Buddy lies a Li-ion battery that can be charged via a supplied micro USB cable. Sadly, the speaker won't work via USB, but the universal 3.5mm headphone jack via a short cable will work on almost every mobile phone and DAP ever released. A simple on/off switch ensures the battery wouldn't be wasted when the speaker isn't busy annoying your fellow bus passengers.

With an impedance of 4ohms, it is rather sensitive. While this allows it to be incredibly loud, there are obvious distortions the louder you go, though still surprisingly crisp for what it is (certainly more so than most laptop speakers I have used). You probably wouldn't want to trade your Klipsch monitors for this!

Still, for £10, these speakers are neat and cute looking portable speaker for kids or anyone who wishes to have something just a bit louder than their phone for a trip to the beach where sound quality isn't an issue anyway. Generally, for kids at least, speakers are safer than in-ear headphones.

Incidentally, the Mini Buddy speaker I received was the Monkey version, which fits me perfectly considering I was born in the year of the monkey. There are loads of other versions too, including a penguin and devil, plus a more expensive deadmau5 version that lights up.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Orange Buffalo review

Food trucks are all the rage these days. Having been to quite a few, many are pretty dodgy, but you do find the odd gem once in a while. One such example, Pitt Cue Co. formerly trading in a cart under Hungerford Bridge, is so renowned for their pulled pork, they can get away with charging 'restaurant prices'. They have since opened a restaurant in Soho, where punters would regularly queue for an hour just to have a sit at their tiny basement room. But it is worth it. (If you haven't figured it out, Pitt Cue Co. - do it!)

Anyway, The Orange Buffalo is another such food joint that is destined to be remembered with equal greatness. Found on the Ely's Yard carpark in The Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane, the food cart sells New York style buffalo wings. Now, I have never been to New York, so I can't vouch for its authenticity. But having been to the Orange Buffalo four times, all I can say is that the wings are flippin fantastic, authentic or not.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Nokia Lumia 920 impressions

Believe it or not, this is the first time I've managed to test a Lumia 920 since, well, since it was announced. I have had a very brief hands-on during my disastrous trip to the Windows Phone 8 "launch party" at Victoria House, Bloomsbury, if you remember my tweeting rants from the night. Well never mind about that for now, surely you would want to know more about Nokia's newest flagship.

Since the release of the phone last month, I have done my best to avoid reading any reviews of Windows Phone 8 or the Lumia 920. Naturally, being on twitter, facts from various reviews and opinions from my tech reviewer and blogger friends do somehow get my attention at times. I wanted to approach the OS and phone with a fresh perspective. Now, as a fan of Windows Phone 7 rather unusual but beautiful homescreen, I did not welcome the initial announcement of the redesigned homescreen on Windows Phone 8. In fact, I downright loath it. But like everything else, there's a difference between what you see on your laptop's screen and what you see in real life.
Curve it
Before I continue, these, for the specs-lovers out there:


  • Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8960 SoC with dual core 1.5Ghz Krait and Adreno 225
  • 1GB RAM and 32GB built-in flash storage (no expansion slot)
  • 4.5" LCD IPS capacitive touchscreen with 768 x 1280 resolution (332 ppi)
  • Quad band GSM and 3G (LTE on select models)
  • 42 Mbps DC-HSDPA and 5.76 Mbps HSUPA
  • 8 Megapixel autofocus camera with dual LED flash and 1080p30 video recording
  • 1.3 Megapixel front camera with 720p30 video recording
  • Bluetooth 4.0 and WiFi 802.11b/g/n
  • Contactless charging, NFC
  • microUSB
  • 2000mAh battery

Random International: Rain Room at the Barbican

The power to control the rain is one that many of us wish we have - to let it rain as nature intends, and yet to stay completely dry at all times. Even if technology has somewhat allowed us to partially control the weather, it appears unlikely we will ever wield complete control of the rain in our life time.

But thanks to a recent art experiment by Random International at the Barbican Centre's The Curve room, we can now at least imagine what it would feel like to control the rain. From 4 October until 3 March 2013, visitors has to put their complete trust in the workings of the 'Rain Room', a room where it always rain - except where you stand. Sensors installed overhead allows one to stay dry in a room filled with constant shower of water.

Here I am endangering a Lumia 920

We visited the Barbican yesterday just before opening time where we were greeted with a very long queue. After a 1 1/2 hour queue, we finally managed to enter the room and, in the process of walking towards the rain... I got soaked! You see, there is a slight problem with the installation - if you are wearing a black jacket, it wouldn't work! Once the black coat was removed, the 'rain' would simply switch off wherever I walked.

So there you go, that's my little advice to you. Get down there and experience this great thing once. It is opened daily from 11am until 8pm (10pm on Thursday, plus random closes for maintenance, so check ahead). Entry is free, just don't forget to bring a book as the installation is very popular and queues can last up to three hours. Also, ditch your black jacket.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Samsung Galaxy S III mini-review

 When the Samsung Galaxy S III was announced back in May, I walked away unimpressed by Samsung's efforts. While it was fast and has all the specs to make even the geekiest person giddy with excitement, the design, choice of finish and display was a let down to me. I expected more for the follow up to the mighty Galaxy S II.

Still, would a chance to use it for two weeks change my mind? As part of my #GemaltoNFC challenge, I was loaned one for two weeks. This was mainly to test the NFC payment feature. But for two weeks it also became my main phone where I tweet, check in and Instagram'ed pictures of coffee.

Powering the S3 is the Exynos 4212 SoC. This chipset contains a quad core ARM Cortex A-9 CPU (a now outdated architecture) and Mali-400MP GPU. This is impressive enough, but hardly noteworthy considering the move towards newer more efficient architecture such as Qualcomm's Krait and ARM's own Cortex A-15. The 1GB RAM is plenty, though many manufacturers, Samsung included, has since moved on towards using 2GB of RAM. Overkill for a smartphone? Well, at least you can multi-task easily. 16GB of flash storage can be augmented with a microSD card slot - a endangered feature these days one I am glad Samsung has decided to latch on to. Thanks to Samsung's generosity, you will also get 50GB of extra Dropbox storage.

With quad band GSP and quad band 3G DC-HSDA+ support, the phone is pretty much a world phone. A LTE version has also since been released. It also contains WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity, A-GPS support (with GLONASS) and digital compass. Oh, and it also comes with wireless charging capability, a totally useless invention.

I mentioned earlier about how I found the screen disappointing. It isn't so much as the screen technology or colour saturation - all of which are great. The 4.8" Super AMOLED display has a great viewing angle, and works well in both outdoors and indoors condition, and it is very bright to boot. The over saturation isn't to everyone's taste but you can always dial down the saturation level in the settings. Sadly, the use of Pentile sub-matrix kills this otherwise nice looking screen. The screen's touchscreen sensitivity also appeared to be downgraded.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Specialty Coffee Map London

Blue Crow Media's London Best Coffee app is one of my favourite app, and is one my partner use religiously. Alongside my Foursquare list of London coffee shops, the Independent Coffee Book and the app, we've never had a bad cup of coffee in London, ever.

The app is both available on Android and iPhone only, which is a bummer for Windows Phone users like me. Thankfully the developer at Blue Crow Media has decided to release a bog standard paper version. The fold up version costs just £3 and I picked mine up at Rapha Cycle Shop in Soho last week. Ever since then I always carry the paper copy in my wallet.

The two sided map is pocket size and it covers the main central of London including the Soho, Fitzrovia, Bloomsbury, City of London and parts of Shoreditch. As expected, the map isn't that extensive due to the limitation of an analogue medium but it is still good to have a back up with me whenever I am using a phone that doesn't support the app or my phone's battery is dead and I am really dying for a caffeine fix.

About 100 coffee shops and their addresses are listed on the map, though about half of them are 'off map' with a rough direction on where they are located. These includes coffee shops as far away as West Norwood, Forest Hill and Richmond. Only coffee shops using beans from independent roasters such as Square Mile, Nude Espresso, Climpson & Sons, Monmouth, Has Bean etc. are included.

For only £3, the Specialty Coffee Map makes for a nice cheap and cheerful investment for any self respecting coffee addict, or even as a gift for anyone who happens to be living or visiting London.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Gemalto NFC Contactless Challenge: Wrap Up

Two weeks ago I embarked on a challenge: to go contactless for 1 1/2 weeks. On some days, I had to go fully on contactless payment for the entire day. On others, I had to tick off challenges issued by Gemalto and my social media followers. To make it a bit more interesting, I was pitted against Ewan of MobileIndustryReview. It was a crazy 10 days, as far as spending money is concerned. If you are interested, you can read my extensive diary of some sorts, detailing the daily challenges I had to endure.

While the use of NFC and RFID is widespread, contactless payment is a rather new thing in this country. If you have visited London, chances are you've used RFID technology, the precursor to NFC, thanks to the prevalent Oyster card. Most new built residential buildings uses a key fob entry system, which are based on RFID technologies. Chances are your passport, libraries and pets have RFID embedded in them. It really isn't that new a technology, but it is evolving into something much more than just tagging.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

deadmau5 at Nokia Lumia Switch Party

Yesterday evening Nokia hosted a Lumia #Switch Party at the Flat Iron Square in Southwark. The event celebrated the launch of the Lumia 920 and 820 Windows Phone 8 smartphones, and is a sequal to last year's mind blowing '4D' projection performance at the Millbank Tower in London.

That one

So how could Nokia and deadmau5 top last year's crazy display? Well they didn't, but then again, they didn't exactly have to. As this year's performance location was kept secret (the event was exclusive to Nokia staffs, competition winners and a few guests), it was billed as a more intimate event. The rather heavy handed approach by security did annoy us a little bit (the event was oversubscribed) and  it didn't help that no one knew exactly where they should be facing so everyone just pushed forward towards the Shard.

Sure, the effects did not blow our mind like last year's, but the music at least did. Using the surrounding buildings around Flat Iron Square as props and special effects for the gig, deadmau5's cracking performance matches the area perfectly. Props to Nokia for the invite and deadmau5 for an entertaining, if chilly, night.

You can find more pictures of deadmau5 on my flickr.

Motorola RAZR MAXX mini-review

The RAZR MAXX has been my main phone for almost three months now, and it is a cracker of a device. Right, on paper the phone is decidetly mid-range now, if not because of the massive 12.54Whr battery - which is still untouched in the industry - at least in the UK. It is a rather old device in smartphone terms but is perfectly usable for most people. Motorola has even since released a successor called the Droid RAZR MAXX HD, though this is limited to the American market for the time being.

What I love about the MAXX is its build quality. I am currently also carrying the Samsung Galaxy S III, and in comparison, the MAXX feels like a Rolls Royce where as the Samsung Galaxy S III's cheap'ish construction is more like a Toyota Yaris, albeit a soup'ed up turbo version. There's nothing wrong with that by itself, it is just that the MAXX feels luxurious and capable of taking a beating. Three months as my daily driver, the RAZR MAXX still looks new.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Gemalto NFC Contactless Challenge: Day Nine

The second to final day of my #GemaltoNFC Contactless Challenge revealed some unexpected results. The first was McDonalds, a fast food joint I would not normally visit expect I did so this morning because, you know, you kinda have to visit once to test their contactless machines. You can chalk that up as a fail though, as the machine simply failed to read the Samsung Galaxy S III, spurting out nonsensical messages like 'access denied' or 'merchant denied' or something to that effect.
Contactless not accepted here
A visit to the local Sainsbury's also yielded a negative feedback as they do not accept contactless, even on the self service machines. With many Waitrose, Tesco and Marks & Spencer stores now deploying contactless, Sainsbury's is well behind their rivals.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Gemalto NFC Contactless Challenge: Day Eight

After a week of almost using contactless exclusively as part of the #GemaltoNFC Contactless Challenge, I am comfortably leading Ewan 194-152. Ewan has jetted off to Barcelona, where he will be testing GSMA's favourite mobile city's NFC infrastructure. As for me, I am continuing my quest to uncover more shops that features contactless. Despite leading Ewan, I know he isn't one to give up easily. So do hit me up with more contactless challenges!
Monday was a fairly quiet affair as far as contactless went. Boots was my first port of call where I collected a bunch of photographs and developed film negatives (yes we still use those!). The pictures turned out okay (expired film, plastic lens and all), but it was the reaction of the cashier which was priceless. "I am an old lady, you won't see me ever using those! I am happy I could send texts and make phone calls!" was the reply when I implied NFC was the future!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Gemalto NFC Contactless Challenge: Day Six & Seven

It's been a week since me and Ewan of MobileIndustryReview started our Gemalto NFC Contactless Challenge. During the weekend I decided to take it slow, aiming to complete the remaining challenges at a leisurely pace as well as discovering new stores offering contactless. Four challenges remained: get a hair cut, groceries, watch a movie at a cinema and buy a round of drink - all of which I have to pay for using contactless payment.
On Saturday I truly believed I finally cracked one of the toughest challenges we have been set - the hair cut. As I walked into the Alternative Barbering Co. in St Albans, a sticker by the door proudly claims that PayPass (Mastercard's brand for contactless) is accepted. Well I was wrong, sort of. While getting my long overdue hair cut, I chatted with the owner who duly informed me that they once did, but not any longer. This is due to a number of factors including that the system was tied to Barclaycard and nobody used it. The PDQ terminal is still capable of accepting a contactless module, but until NFC payment becomes more widespread, it just doesn't seem worth it.
Still, St Albans isn't quite as contactless-free as I imagined. I sent a couple of pair of shoes to the cobblers at Timpson to fixed and they happily accepted my phone. I did have to split the bill first as the bill was well over the £20 limit. The Steamer Trading Cookshops also accepts contactless payment, though I can't imagine it being used a lot. It doesn't quite seem like the sort of store where a quick turnaround is required. The more the better I say.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Gemalto NFC Contactless Challenge: Day Five: Wallet-less

We are half way through Gemalto's NFC Contactless Challenge. I do hope my blog posts here chronicling the challenges has been helpful to anyone sitting on the contactless fence, and if you have any questions hit me up either here or on twitter using the #GemaltoNFC hashtag. The previous four days has been a rollercoaster ride. There has been bright moments when I saw nothing but a bright contactless future, and there are dark times when I thought it was dead.  Day five was no different.

For once the day started not with an NFC related disaster but my own stupidity. For probably the second time in my entire life, I forgot my wallet. Not only did I not have my debit card, I also did not have my Oystercard and cash! I did have some loose change in my pocket, but these weren't enough to last a whole day. I have gone through an entire day purely on contactless on Tuesday, but this was the first day I would not have a backup. I have to rely purely on the Samsung Galaxy S III phone Gemalto has loaned me, and the few loose change I had in my pocket.

I felt exposed, almost naked even.

Gemalto NFC Contactess Challenge: Take the Boat (Thames Clipper)

As a former now almost Londoner, I can categorily state that the best way to see London is through the local river bus service, the Thames Clipper. It is also my favourite method of traveling across London. The Thames Clipper operates between Embankment Pier and Woolwich Arsenal Pier, so if you live or work near one of the piers serviced on this route - I truly envy you. It would be a dream to move into a home just by the Thames.

The Thames Clipper is the only commuter service in Britain (that I know of) which offers commuters and tourists alike the ability to pay as you go via contactless payment. This is in addition to accepting contactless Oyster card and regular plastic payments just like on the regular Tube, Overground and London bus services. These contactless payments are only acceptable on-board the boats. Nobody at the ticket booths are equipped with the equipments necessary to process contactless payment.
The 'I am on a boat' moment
Well the important thing is you could pay on-board the boat, and the good news is I did complete my 'Take the Boat' Gemalto NFC Contactless Challenge this time. The bad news is I found the process far too slow compared to using a bog standard Oyster card. There has been calls for Transport for London to replace RFID Oyster card with regular contactless bankcards and after witnessing how slow it was to take payment, but I can't see that happening, ever. Not with the current technology at least. My attempt to pay today was twice declined by the bank, and once failed to go through because the mobile network was poor in the middle of the river. It only successfully went through on the fourth attempt, and only after the staff switched to a different terminal.

Now imagine this happening on the Tube.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Gemalto NFC Contactless Challenge: Day Four: A Day of Failures

I am so used to starting these NFC blog posts with the first fail of the day so for once I thought I would I would get right to the point. The first NFC fail today comes courtesy of Starbucks, the multi-national behemoth and purveyor of all things wrong with the multi-chain coffee industry. Starbucks has recently been in our headlines for all the wrong reasons, but that's not the purpose of this post. A quick search reveals that they have been deploying two new form of payments - Square in USA and NFC in the UK.

Personally I do not understand the significance of deploying Square at their stores as they already have dedicated payment terminals, and magnetic cards are inherently insecure, but that's just me. Then again I am not American, and I am digressing a bit here again. Anyway, after ordering a drink so complex there are actually guides online that teaches you how to do it, I attempted the pay. The store I visited does not in fact accept contactless payment, but you probably knew that already. That's £2 something I am never going to see again, but hei, it's all in the name of research!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Gemalto NFC Contactless Challenge: Day Three: Catching Up

Day Three: London's Burning
It is day three of my Gemalto Contactless Challenge, and I have finally made up some lost ground and caught up with Ewan:

Ewan: 76 points
Me: 101 points

My first NFC fail of the day comes courtesy of YO! Sushi. You may remember me blogging about them on day one where I attempted to buy lunch from their branch at St Pancras International. Giving them another chance, I visited the branch just opposite of St Paul's Cathedral. This branch is listed on Barclaycard's list of venues that accept contactless payment.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Gemalto NFC Contactless Challenge: Day Two: Surviving an Entire Day on Contactless

I woke up to day two of the Gemalto Contactless Challenge, confident enough to start taking names. Okay, not really, but I was much more prepared than yesterday. Today my main task is to go the entire day only on contactless, meaning I will only be relying on the Gemalto issued Samsung Galaxy S3 for my breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner and whatever else I require. Ewan was ahead and points were at stake. No more screw ups - I just have to get it right today!

Well no. The morning started with my quest to send Gemalto a postcard. I visited the Post Office on Farringdon Road and I immediately recognise the NFC card readers they have installed on the counters. Unfortunately for me and Gemalto, it appears that the postcards on display (and in fact every physical items sold in the store), can only be paid at the shop counter which is managed separately from the Post Office. This counter would only accept chip & pin, with a minimum of £5 spend. And the other Post Office in nearby Moorgate does not even sell postcards! Who would have thought sending a postcard in London would be so challenging? (In hindsight I was perhaps foolish for believing postcards would be widely available in none-touristy areas)

Irritated and hungry, I figured I could do with breakfast now, so I decided to pay my favourite coffee shops in Holborn a visit. The first was the delightfully name Department of Coffee & Social Affairs, part of the Coffeesmith chain of specialty coffee. Approaching as a 'researcher' again, I asked if they accept contactless. Despite the modern looking PDQ the barista was adamant they do not accept contactless payment.
Defeated once again I headed to Prufrock Coffee. The counter happened to be manned by World Barista Champion Gwilym Davies, who happens to be a London coffee hero to me (and many others). They acknowledged that they do accept contactless payments via cards, but not phones as they believed they required a different hardware to accept payments via phones. Still, I insisted on at least trying to pay via my phone and it worked!

Gemalto NFC Contactless Challenge: Become a Museum of London expert

Today I visited the Museum of London as part of the Gemalto Contactless Challenge to complete the 'Become a Museum of London expert' challenge. Our task here is to use NFC to learn about the exhibits. Believe it or not, despite living in or around London for close to a decade, I have not once visited it, so for me this visit is more than just testing out the NFC tags dotted around the museum.

It is about learning more about the history of my home, this amazing city Londontown. Every significant event that ever transpired in London, from prehistoric times before Londinium was even founded by the Romans to the Blitz of World War II to last year's Occupy London movement, are recorded here. It was a fascinating visit.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Gemalto NFC Contactless Challenge: Day One: Adjusting to life with contactless

Today is the first day of my Gemalto Contactless Challenge and I almost did not go contactless. It isn't so much as not wanting to go contactless, but being prevented to do so. Nevertheless, after a rocky start, I was soon swiping like a pro.

My typical day begins at St Albans. This is where I live. The main railway station is manned by First Capital Connect, also known as one of the worst railway network in Britain, but never mind that. Here, anyone who doesn't own a season ticket but wishes to go into London has to buy their tickets from either the few self service machines dotted around, which does not accept contactless payment yet. Mind you, with the daily peak time travelcard costing more than £20 so you wouldn't be able to pay using contactless anyway.

So I went to the counter and asked the gentleman behind if they accept contactless payment. Blank stares. Uhm, wireless payment, NFC etc.? What, he quipped? Finally, I whipped out the phone and waved it around the payment terminal (I will be doing this a lot this week). His facial expression changes from confusion to realisation - I guess he's probably seen one of those Galaxy S III ads - and with a firm 'No', that was that. 'Kay.
Sorry phone, no NFC here
Soko Coffee operates just outside platform four exit, which I use probably 99% of the time. It is an independent mobile coffee kiosk operated from a modified scooter fitted with an espresso machine. Oh, and they serve gorgeous coffee. Unfortunately they do not accept NFC payment. To be fair to Charlie (the owner), the amount of delays we experience at St Albans station meant that most of us who do bother to queue for Soko's amazing flat whites will have all the time in the world to fish for change.

Gemalto NFC Contactless Challenge begins now

It's here! As part of the Gemalto Contactless Challenge, a Samsung Galaxy S III was delivered to me yesterday preloaded with a Barclaycard app, and some spare cash.

From today, for a week and a half, me and Ewan of Mobile Industry Review will be competing against each other in a series of challenges. These challenges includes going through a whole day entirely on contactless, taking the Thames Clipper, buying flowers for the other half using NFC and visiting the Museum of London. We will also have to do a single challenge issued by our readers, so if you feel like sending us on a crazy quest, don't feel shy and let Gemalto know.

So, is wireless payment technology ready to take off in London? I guess we will find out soon enough. In the meantime, I will be providing updates on this blog as well as tweeting our conquests using the #GemaltoNFC hashtag on twitter.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Shoot! Existential Photography

Shoot! Existential Photography is a special exhibition at The Photographers' Gallery in Soho, London. It examines a popular attraction that appeared at fairgrounds around Europe after the first World War where people would attempt to win a photograph of themselves by shooting the centre of a target with an air gun. A successful bullseye will trigger a camera nearby. It's the ultimate in self portrait photography.

The exhibition inspects the number of artists, photographers and general public who celebrates this unique game. On display are works by the Swiss artist Rudolf Steiner. Steiner would literally shoot a picture of himself, with the bullet hole being the aperture of a pinhole camera, in a series called 'Pictures of Me, Shooting Myself Into A Picture'.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

In Defense of Instagram

St. Paul's from Bankside
This is a blog post I never thought I would ever write. Funny how a few months can make...

See, six months ago I was that guy on Twitter who did not get Instagram, even writing it off as a fad - a mistake that dear Mark Zuck would regret ever making. But after signing up a few months ago out of curiosity, it is now the second most used social network after Twitter. In fact, it will probably soon usurp Twitter as my favourite social network, what with Twitter clamping down on clients and other minor irritations. Proof, if you will, that one should never write things off completely or be closed minded.
Giant robots
It is actually not difficult to see how Instagram, once I had the guts to try it, easily won me over. Once I got over the initial urge to use the default and, more importantly, optional image filters, I've come to realised that if you approach Instagram as a social platform, it really isn't any different to Twitter. In fact Instagram is more or less Twitter for pictures. While Facebook and Twitter continues to grow bloated with features we never wanted, Instagram simply wins because of its ease of use and focus on visual communications.
Fcuk the Olympix

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

iZettle launches in the UK, hands-on

iZettle is an European startup specialising in providing small businesses an ability to use their smartphone as a conduit for allowing payments using a proprietary iZettle card reader. It's a concept aimed at providing small business and merchants the ability to charge customers without resorting to expensive solutions. This is similar to Square in US, only it's a bit more secure as it uses a chip solution rather than magnetic strip and is EMV approved. Yesterday, iZettle, alongside their partners at Mastercard, American Express and EE, announced their entry to the UK market.

According to iZettle, 50% of missed sales by merchants are due to their inability to accept plastic. This is true even in build-up areas in London - I can hardly remember how many restaurants and coffee shops I had to give a miss because there was a 'only cash' sign. There are a million card payment in the UK, but 12-15 million iOS devices plus a heck lot more Android smartphones, so this service will allow plastic payments for small businesses who would normally be unable to afford more expensive specialised solutions.

In terms of security, the iZettle is, on theory at least, more secure than Square as the reader is chip-based rather than magnetic. On the other hand, the iZettle solution isn't chip and pin enabled, which is technically a more secure method of making payment than chip and signature. Still, according to iZettle, apart from the UK and France, their core European market is more comfortable with chip and signature, and I know my father personally prefer chip and signature payments.
An Android iZettle terminal
At the iZettle launch in London yesterday, we were demonstrated by actual merchants who has been using the device for the past few months. Using it couldn't be any simpler, the merchant selects the items you have purchased, insert the card payment and after the app makes a secure wireless connection with the bank, remove the card and the customer is asked sign the screen. An email receipt (complete with geo tagging) will then be sent to the customer. In all it took about a minute from insertion of the card to confirmation message.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Distant Worlds: Final Fantasy 25th Anniversary Concert: London

The Royal Albert Hall hosted the first of this season's Distant Worlds: Final Fantasy orchestra, a worldwide event celebrating the 25th anniversary of the series. The first game was released in Japan on 18 December 1987 by Square on the Famicom (NES) platform, popularising the RPG genre. Since then, 13 main numbered games within the series has also been released, including various none-numbered spin-offs and sequels. The next game in the numbered series would be Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII and is a further sequel to Final Fantasy XIII.

It was a great evening, and I have always enjoyed concerts at the Royal Albert Hall. The famous Kensington venue, while traditional in architecture, seems apt for a wide range of performance styles and music genres. In fact, the last time we were there was last year for the BBC Radio 3's Big Red Nose Snow and, before that the Cirque Du Solei's Totem (thanks London Midland!) circus!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Science Museum Lates

Science Museum does a neat free event at the end of the month called the Science Museum (duh) Lates. It's an evening dedicated to all things entertainment and science. Best of all, it's adults only, meaning, no pesky things known as kids are allowed in. Rejoice!

We and a couple of friends decided to check out October's Science Museum Lates, which happened to coincide with Halloween. After braving the freezing October evening and large queues (who would know science would be so popular?), we got in all excited. In addition to the normal Science Museum stuffs, the day also hosted special science of alcohol events and lectures where visitors learned about this history of gin, sake tasting and brewing your own ginger beer.
It's not all just fun though, visitors also got to learn about how a typical Friday night is like for London ambulance crew having to deal with alcoholics who don't know when to quit. The resident IMAX theater also featured the Punk Science comedy routine behind the phenomenon known as beer goggles, but we sadly had to skip.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Politics and Police do not mix

So, I've just received my polling card for the Hertfordshire Police & Crime Commissioner election. As this was the first I've heard about it, I quickly read up about this reform (after all the national media has not once made us aware that there was going to be an opportunity to elect a local police commissioner). What I found disturbed me.

Each candidate for the Hertfordshire police commissioner are affiliated to a political party. Worse still, every single candidates are seasoned armchair politicians with no actual experiences in policing! You know, the type of stuff police are supposed to do like catching robbers, investigating bankers, protecting the people, filling tedious paperwork etc.
FFS, even the rosettes are affiliated to the three main UK parties!
Policing should be impartial. The last thing we should want as a democratic country is having the police in the pockets of political party with an agenda. And because of the amount of resources needed to campaign, many independents or actual police who actually know their shit, can't even afford to stump up the deposit (which is more than the deposit required to stand for Member of Parliament!) needed to run. Of course politics and police do mix, they already do at dangerous levels. Quite why any sensible person would want policing to be more political is beyond me.

It's an invitation to an American-style political lobby system (ie. wide spread corruptions) and the only reason this reform exists is likely to create a new class of self serving politicians who will be earning £100k a year, which by the way, more than your MP earns a year.

I would hate to waste my vote and yet I do not want to vote for a police commissioner who is affiliated in any way or form with any political party. But as Hertfordshire will not have any independent candidates I will likely not vote come election day. Political parties and agendas should not influence the police organisation, and I say that as a person who is always suspicious of them, the cynic I am.

IMAX vs lieMAX

Today a friend of mine tweeted into my timeline about IMAX plans for five new theatres across Europe. IMAX claims that this will bring the total amount of IMAX screens in Europe to 132. Milton Keynes will be one of the lucky bearers to receive one of these screens at Odeon & UCI's multiplex. Lucky them, or so you might be led to believe.

Before I start ripping into IMAX, I want to address what seems to be a general confusion within the paying public on what constitutes an actual IMAX screen. There are many who believes whenever they watch a film in an IMAX branded cinema that they are actually watching an IMAX film. Let me clarify.

There's IMAX, and there's IMAX.

More specifically, there's IMAX the experience, and there's IMAX the brand. Many theaters these days contains IMAX branded screens. These may be IMAX branded, but they are certainly not IMAX in the classical sense. These screens, commonly referred to by IMAX enthusiasts as lieMAX, are essentially retrofitted theaters powered by a pair of 2K projectors system. And they costs the same as watching on a real IMAX screen.
IMAX films are shot using a format known as 15/70, meaning they use a 70mm sideways. Each frame is 70mm high and runs on 15 perforations per frame. That's massive, around ten times the surface area of academy 35mm format. Being an analog format, the amount of resolution a 15/70 IMAX film holds is difficult to calculate, but some has estimated a horizontal resolution close to 12,000 pixels. By comparison, a 2K digital format has a maximum horizontal resolution of a parltry 2048 pixels.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Gemalto Contactless Challenge

You may have read a teaser tweet or two about it a couple of months back, but yes, the contactless challenge is back on the table. For a week in November, Ewan of Mobile Industry Review and I will be competing against each other in Gemalto's contactless challenge.

First a bit of info about Gemalto. Gemalto is a major player in the international mobile digital security industry, providing services and products such as secure SIMs in mobile phones, e-passport and chip terminals. There is a good chance that if you've visited a bank in the past few years, or if you do online banking, you will have handled a device or went through a system powered by Gemalto.

NFC are the next big thing in mobile, and one of its primary uses is to enable contactless payments. So, for a week from Monday 19 November, armed with a pair of Samsung Galaxy S III, Ewan and I will be unleashed onto the mean streets of London. Like the geekiest scientists you can think of, we will be testing London's NFC infrastructure to its fullest, prodding every payment terminals we can find with our phones.

In simple terms, we will be given a set of challenge to complete to see who can best each other at spending. :) Oh please do not make us purchase train tickets with contactless payment, as I won't be able to leave home!

Expect updates in the forms of blogs and video blogs on here, Gemalto's blog and Ewan's website, as well as our twitter accounts.

Hold on to your butts!

Facepalm: EE 4G LTE tariffs revealed

When EE announced they would be the first mobile service provider in the UK to launch a LTE 4G network, I was genuinely excited. After all, we have been waiting for years whilst other countries speed by us implementing a now very mature LTE network. This is Britain after all, an apparent first world country, and being subjected to delays in LTE was frustrating. The announcement by EE was a light at the end of the tunnel, or so we thought.

Now we wish they never bothered. This morning my twitter feed was full of feedbacks towards EE by fellow mobile tech friends. None were positive. Why? Because EE has just announced their 4G LTE tariffs and it is a damp squib:
The tariffs here are based on 24 month contract, so add another £10 per month if you want to go for a 12 month contract - the sensible thing to do, but not at the price. So there you go, £36/£46 for 500MB of data is the cheapest you can go on a contract if you want a new subsidised LTE smartphone. You do get access to BT WiFi hotspots, but who cares about those?

If you have a LTE phone, you want to use that little LTE radio in it, not some poxy tethered WiFi hotspot, which there are plenty of which are free these days. There are no unlimited data tariffs as well, with the maximum tariff being 8GB for a cool £56. You do get unlimited calls and texts, but didn't EE get the memo that people are using calls and texts less these days, or at least substituting them with Skype and Whatsapp? It makes me question whether the people running EE really understands the market and the data centric devices they sell.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Tonkotsu review

Tonkotsu is a new'ish ramen noodle house, founded by the same people who brought us Tsuru Sushi & Katsu. Not quite unlike the more specialty udon-based Koya nearby, Tonkotsu is aimed at people keen to expand their Japanese noodles palette beyond the usual Wagamama chain of bland pan-Asian restaurants without straying too far from the comfort of home.

The pork-based Tonkotsu is served in thin noodles and delicious pork belly. The thin noodles aren't particularly fantastic, though I do love the broth and pork belly (who doesn't?). The Tokyo Spicy ramen on the other hand is a mixture of pork and chicken stock and comes with medium thick noodles (my preference when it comes to ramen), topped with pulled chili pork. Pulled pork, in my opinion, is one of the most overrated dishes to trend this side of the century, but they do taste well here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lag Lag Lag

This is one blog post I am dreading to write, but I had to even if it invites a horde of fanboys over to stampede on the comment section. Last week I received a call from my brother who is now the proud owner of a Samsung Galaxy S3. I asked for his impressions and the first thing he mentioned was there is some lag. Lag? How is that possible? This monster has four fricking Cortex A9 cores. That's two more cores than I have on my laptop!

Then I remember what pretty much every Android smartphones review I ever wrote - each one has noticeable lags even the One X (which I loved - thanks HTC Sense!). Most are fine, and I am sure the Galaxy S3's lag isn't detrimental to its usability. But for a flagship phone with four cores, it shouldn't even lag, at all. Today I played with a friend's Galaxy Note 2, and boy, does the thing lag like it's entering a competition to see whether it can a trophy in lag. Even excusing the amazingly awful lag from the S-Pen stylus (something which never happened with old style resistive touchscreens), the Note 2 was practically unusable.

This isn't an Android witch hunt. In fact, I have been using a RAZR MAXX for more than a month now and since updating the ICS, the handset has been relatively lag free (shocker!). Only on rare occasions would the device stutter, and that's only because I have ten apps running in the background. I know Motorola gets a lot of stick for their lack of support, but I am pretty happy with the MOTOBLUR-free ICS update. Add to the fact that the RAZR MAXX has a massive battery, you would need to pry it off my dead fingers. And this is a device that has two partly Cortex A9 cores.

But, but, but, I hear some geeks protesting, you can install custom ROMs. I am sorry, but that's just no excuse and certainly isn't something one should use to excuse bad support. When one purchase a £450 smartphone, one should always expect that it runs the best as it could. Even as a self proclaimed geek, rooting and installing a custom ROM isn't something I would like to do. I have done my fair share of ROM 'hacking' back in the PalmOS days, and I can think of a thousand things I would rather do (like writing this) than downloading and installing nighties these days. No reviewers should excuse slowdowns because you can root.

Perhaps manufacturers just can't be bothered, hoping against hope that their poor coding could be fixed through sheer brute force. But there is a fundamental problem that, if even through multiple cores, a device would still not run as smoothly as it should. Google is attempting to fix this through Jelly Bean, but Jelly Bean isn't available for every smartphones out there is it? And what's to say that any improvement by Jelly Bean or subsequent version wouldn't be reversed by future iterations of TouchWiz, Sense etc.?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Imbue ArtVend art vending machine

While on a quick pit stop in Brighton on Saturday, we decided to grab brunch at the local independent cafe The Marwood Coffee Shop. Here we stumbled onto a vending machine so brilliant, we actually spent £16 in under an hour (we had to go to the bank to get £2 coins!). The concept is so simple and yet so ingenious and forward thinking, I tip my hat at its creators.

You see, the vending machine ain't just any ordinary vending machine. It's an ArtVend, meaning it despense a piece of art work screen printed on DVD size plywood panels, in this case arts by local Brighton street artist Imbue. Why DVD size plywood panels you ask? Well the vending machines were once used to sell pornographic DVDs, so there!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

EE to switch on 4G LTE this month

EE, the company that resulted from the merger between T-Mobile and Orange, has announced that the UK's first 4G network will officially launch on 30 October 2012. That's right, in just 27 days you will enjoy super fast 4G from the comfort of a compatible smartphone.

After years of unnecessary delay and politics infighting within the industry, not to mention OFCOM's incompetence, LTE is almost here. That is if you are lucky to be living in one of the ten cities EE will be launching initially.

Still, EE has promised that the rollout of their LTE network will eventually cover 16 cities, or a third of the UK population, by the year's end. Smartphones compatible includes the recently launched Apple iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE, Huawei Ascend P1 LTE, HTC One XL and Nokia Lumia 910.

Details such as pricing and tariffs announcement will be made at a later date. In the meantime, you can check out my EE 4G LTE hands-on (ps: it's pretty fast).

Monday, October 1, 2012

Burger & Lobster (Soho) review

Our new favourite food joint, Burger & Lobster on 36, Dean Street in Soho, deserves a short quick review on this blog purely because of how its success is build upon a simple concept - whole lobster meals for £20.

That's right. £20. The menu consists of only three items, a burger, lobster and lobster roll, all of which costs £20. Lobster, unsurprisingly, is the most popular item on the menu though I have seen numerous number of burgers and lobster rolls on tables as well.

I won't comment on the burgers as I personally can't see why anyone, unless they are allergic to seafood, would want to order a burger when you can get a whole lobster for £20, however awesome it may be. Plus Honest Burgers is just down the road if you want a fantastic burger.

In any case let's continue talking about the lobsters. I was told that the £20 lobsters weigh around 1lb 2ozs. You can also go bigger for £10 extra though I've never opted for that. Each items comes with a bowl of chips and salad. Lobsters can be served plain steamed or finished with a grill - and I do suggest you opt for it to be grilled.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Look for Longer: How many London Underground stations can you find?

Last week I received an email from an unnamed agency who offered to send me a sneak peek over an upcoming project called Look for Longer (#lookforlonger). I have been promised that it would be a mind boggling cryptic challenge aimed at testing Londoner's knowledge of the city. When you combine by love for London and fun, it's difficult to say no.

The package arrived a couple of days ago and it was nothing like I expected. It was a beautifully drawn medium sized poster, which I will be framing, and the biggest magnifying glass I've ever held. The poster contains puns in references to London Underground, Docklands Light Railway and Overground stations such as Angel, Elephant & Castle, Bond Street, Knightsbridge, King's Cross, Swiss Cottage, Marble Arch, Seven Sisters and many more. How many tube stations are referenced in this poster I do not know (update: 75), but I bet there are plenty more to be found. If you love London and are into a bit of fun, you will enjoy poking through this poster with said magnifying glass.

As to what this campaign is aimed at, I am totally in the dark myself. Stay tuned on 3 October when the campaign is officially unveiled.

Update: The campaign has been launched and it is a both a game and competition courtesy of CBS Outdoor. Brilliant stuff. Do check it out!

As of last week, I've found all 75/75 stations, plus a red herring. ;)

Update: I don't actually condone checking out all the solutions posted by various commentators below, but if you are really stuck, do ask!