Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tegan & Sara at Roundhouse, London

Went to see Canadian indie pop/rock band Tegan & Sara at the Roundhouse theatre in Camden last week. They were simply fucking brilliant - such natural performers, very talented and funny too. If you haven't heard of them I suggest you do so now, particularly if you are into the Canadian indie/new wave scene.

Shame that half the crowd does not seem to have heard of them and that Roundhouse employed a sound engineer who prefer loudness over clarity. Then there's the broken aircon, which didn't help on one of hottest days of the month so far...

Didn't bring my proper camera, and got there late (thanks London Overground for breaking down) so was pretty much near the back (there were a couple hundred fans by the time we joined the queue at 6pm). Instead shot loads of videos from my compact. The stills here are all from the video. I was hoping to upload a video, but am having massive issues trying to demux the proprietary mov file to something a bit more usable...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Studio Ghibli and Level-5's Ni no Kuni (The Another World) PS3

Level-5 and Studio Ghibli has revealed that they are developing a video game, Ni no Kuni (The Another World) for the PS3 console. This is the same game that is also being developed for the DS, though it will obviously feature upgraded visuals and animation.

It will also support the new PlayStation Move controller, though little is known how that would work. It will be released in 2011. Check out the amazing 720p direct screenshots and the trailer below.

Level-5 are masters in JRPG, and combined with the story telling expertise of Studio Ghibli, I honestly can not wait for this game. They better be planning on localising it.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Moo MiniCards

I first learnt of Moo MiniCards after first receiving some back at a bloggers meet a couple of months ago, and again at another meet last month. Moo allows customers to upload their individual images and have them printed on the back of the card (as well as the front, though generally most people uses that to include contact information, up to six lines are allowed). It sounded good on paper, so I decided to give it go.

The MiniCards are about half the size of normal business cards. There is a minimum order of 100 cards, and customers can actually upload up to 100 different images for each different card. The concept is brilliant, and I am convinced by their business model. At £11.99 per 100 MiniCards, it is also seem rather good value for money. It is a must have for people who are averse to conventional and boring business cards or who wants a bit of individualism in their cards. I uploaded 25 images and received four cards of each. Print quality is excellent and the QR code I decided to have in lieu of a logo was easily read by any smartphone with autofocus lens.

Along with MiniCards, Moo also print conventional sized business cards, postcards, greeting cards and stickers. They also sell accessories, like the Supernana felt MiniCard holder I ordered when I bought the MiniCards. The felt MiniCard holder is a bit bigger than I expected, and isn't as one-handed friendly as I thought it would be, so I may just order their plastic holder when I place my next order, or attempt a DIY one.

Get 15% off your first order by entering the promo code 2RB2CK at the checkout.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Nikon AF Zoom Nikkor 20-35mm f/2.8 D IF

Today I acquired a used Nikon AF Zoom Nikkor 20-35mm f/2.8 D IF lens in excellent condition, using the winnings I got from winning the #gumtreepeople contest (thanks @jonin60seconds, @nicolaj88 and @monsty). These lens were introduced in 1993 and subsequently discontinued in 2001. It has since been replaced the more expensive 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S. Despite being years old it is still a pricey piece of kit. Grays of Westminster wants £745 for a mint condition second hand example! No doubt the introduction of full frame FX cameras has increased its second hand value.

The 20-35mm is compatible with all Nikon digital SLR, though it won't auto focus with older DSLR like the D40. The lens are friggin heavy (585g), and it should considering it is a pro-class lens with plenty of metal used as materials, always a good thing in my books. It is also large and is roughly the same size as my 18-105mm DX kit lens. The optics are made up of 14 elements in 11 groups. It takes 77mm filters and focuses at 0.5 metres. According to this site, Nikon made about 45k of these before discontinuing it in April 2001.

Haven't found much to complain about yet, but then again I haven't shot much with it (only had it for a couple of hours). Some minor distortions at 20mm, but nothing to get hung up about. Until I get a FX camera, the 20-35mm doesn't go as wide as I would like but it does make a good portrait lens for my D90.

20-35mm f/2.8 vs 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6

Mainly metal construction

Aperture wide open

With HB-8 hood

Some resized (but otherwise untouched) samples:

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sony Walkman NWZ-A840 review

The Walkman I am reviewing is the NWZ-A845, which features a rather limited 16GB of storage capacity. The new A-series should have been Sony's premier and flagship Walkman, but for whatever reason Sony decided that the flagship Walkman should remain the X-series, which has an in-vogue touchscreen display. It isn't even cheap (£140 for a 16GB DAP isn't what I would term as value for money these days). The review also applied to the 32GB A846 and 64GB A847 should Sony ever decide to release the damn things here.

If some of these sounds familiar, it is because I've copied and paste of my other Walkman reviews where the features overlapped.


The A840 is solidly built. The front is dominated by a glossy scratch resistant glass with an OLED display beneath it. The rest of the DAP's case is made of some kind of metal, giving it an extremely premium look and feel. The A840's design is a natural progression to their popular S639/S739 DAPs and A820-series. It is also the thinnest Walkman ever built at just 7.2mm deep.

The A840 marks a return of the hardware buttons. This, in my opinion, is a welcomed move as I much prefer the tactile feels of buttons to touchscreen-only devices. You will find the usual volume controls on the side. The bottom contains both the WM-Port USB connector and 3.5mm headphone port. Unfortunately the buttons just aren't as good as the one found on previous Walkman DAPs. They just do not offer the same tactile feedback. But better to have them than none I guess.


The new A-series features a brilliant looking (better than the X-series in my eyes) 2.8-inch OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) display with a resolution of 400x240. This isn't Sony's first OLED PMP (that honours belongs to the Clie VZ90 released way back in 2004), nor their first Walkman with one. The advantage of using OLED is its power requirement, or lack of. OLED works without backlight due to the way its pixels gives off light when electrical current flows through the panel. This negates the need of bulky and power hungry backlight.

Because of the way OLED pixels directly emit light, they show a greater range of colour saturation, higher contrast and has a quicker refresh rate. Even when viewed at a 90 degree angle, the OLED display on the A-series remains equally as stunning as when viewed from the front. Black remains true black, unlike that of a normal LCD display (even one equipped with LED backlight). They also have a faster response time than a standard LCD screen, ideal for watching video. They work okay under the sunlight, no better or worse than most of their modern contemporaries.

UI & Controls

With the A840, Sony has decided to finally updated their none-touch UI to greatly resemble the the X-series. When you first switch it on you will be greeted with the familiar grid layout. It is as intuitive to use as the UI that graced their older none-touchscreen Walkmans.

The previous 'now playing' shortcut that can be toggled anywhere within the system by pressing the 'Options' button has been replaced by 'to playback' shortcut that isn't available everywhere, but a whole a bit more useful than the previous incarnation as it presents more shortcuts depending on where in the system you are on. Tracks can also be added to a 'wish list', which is useful for people with a subscription based music service. For people who likes to purchase CDs (like me), the feature is kinda redundant, but it is there for those who wishes to use it.

The system as a whole felt slightly slower, but I didn't find this a major issue for day to day usage. We are also still cursed with only two custom EQ slots, and the lack of quick find (the table with alphabets is missing) is also irritating, particularly if one is planning on installing hundreds of albums. On the other hand fans of podcasts (fancy word for pre-recorded radio) will be happy that the A840 supports them out of the box.


Sony is well known for bundling good sets of headphones with their mid to high end Walkmans, and they did not stop with A840. The headphone bundled here features a design similar to Sony's EX500 and EX700 IEMs with dynamic transducers. This is a hybrid canal earbud that is designed to work with Sony's noise cancelling system. The way the A840's noise cancelling engine works is by analysing the waveform of ambient noise collected via the microphone, and generate a reversed waveform that cancels out the noise. With the A840, you not only have a stock headphone that works pretty good (but not perfect) at cancelling out background noise, but also offers excellent sound quality (in comparison to the majority of bundled headphones).


The A840, unlike the X-series, has almost no extra features really worth mentioning. It is as it is - a no frills music player. Sure there's video support but nobody I knows buy a Walkman for the video. As such there's no silly stuff like YouTube or web browsing support (might as well, there's no WiFi here). There's also a FM radio for those still listening to such things and a folder for your Podcast (amateur radio).

You can't create, edit or delete playlists on the device itself (it must be done on a PC, which isn't really difficult). This is something that irritates many, but to me isn't a huge deal as I don't tend to use playlists a lot. But what I do wish is for Sony to bring back SenseMe, the auto-playlist generator that I loved so much on the S630/S730. It was a brilliant piece of innovation. Another thing I would like Sony to support is last.fm integration.

There is also a TV-out function, but this requires the purchase of a separate cable. The output isn't in HD, so I honestly think this feature is a mere token inclusion and should not be a factor in getting this.


It isn't really that amazing how far Sony has opened up when it comes to their newest and (not so) greatest Walkman. I swear the next person who complains about Sony and SonicStage I would personally... well, I can't slap them through the internet but I would if I could! They have ditched SonicStage for years!

Transferring content is a doodle. The player is MTP compliant, meaning you can just plug it in and immediately start dragging and dropping content into their appropriate folder (up to eight level deep). No proprietary and bloated nonsense like SonicStage or iTunes to worry about. For those who prefer some form of music management software, the A840 supports a hold host of applications including Windows Media Player, Sony Media Manager, iTunes and my personal favourite, MediaMonkey. And you can force it into UMSC mode if you desire. Connecting Walkman DAPs to Windows and Linux machine has never been easier.


The Walkman supports basic audio codecs such as MP3 up to 320kbps (as well as those encoded in VBR) and WMA. Lossless fans will be disappointed by the lack FLAC, WMA Lossless or even ATRAC3 Lossless. Gapless is also sorely missing, which in the case of this blogger, is more of an irritant than something crucial. The only way to play full CD quality music (including gapless) is through Linear PCM (not a problem with 64GB, but dear Sony release the darn thing already!). A couple of sound effects are present for those who likes to tinker around including the 5-band equalisers (four presets and two user definable, and great as ever), VTP Surround setting (which I advice to ignore), DSEE (this is only useful for low bitrate files), Clear Stereo and Dynamic Normalizer.

Sound quality

Out of the box, the A840 is one of the best sounding DAP on the market. This is because of the bundled ANC headphones which surpasses many (if not all) usual bundled headphones. You will need to set aside at least £30-40 to gain any sort of improvements, and even then it would only be slightly.

Now, the most important bit: how it sounds with a high quality headphone (in this case the reference headphone I used here would be my old and trusty Sennheiser IE 8). With the X-series, there was a very very slight hiss compared to the S630/S730 series. With the A840 the hiss has gone. Yes gone. I have never been bothered by the hiss on the X-series, but it is nice to know that it isn't audible on the new A840.

Sound signature is similar to the X-series and it should, they share the same S-master technology.

Like the X-series, the sound signature isn't neutral (based on my limited knowledge on what actually defines neutral...). Again it is pleasantly warm, unlike how you would expect from a 'digital amp', and exactly like how you would expect a Sony to sound. The amp here isn't as powerful (or it may be a bureaucratic decision) as the one that powered the X-series or S730/S630. With the old X-series I rarely ever go above 12/30 (max 15 before it gets too loud), but with the A830 I would need go increase it to 20s to get to a comparable loudness. Not a problem with my IE 8, but this may be an issue with people with more demanding headphones.

Clarity wise there is nothing wrong with the A840. Everything is tight and clean and the bass is powerful (at the sufficient volume). Bass head will be pleased to find that the Clear Bass setting is ever present (3 notches). Two user customisable EQ slots are available, in addition to the presets. The EQ is unsurprisingly effective and scales well. I know some audiophiles may scoff at the use of EQ, but whatever the EQ here does not distort the sound at all. On the other hand I suggest steering clear of other audio enhancements like DSEE and Clear Stereo, especially if you have good quality rips. Sound quality is good, but not on par with the X-series.

Sony has set the bar very high with the X-series, so the A840 always had plenty to prove. Unfortunately whilst the A840 is very good, it just isn't quite as good as the X-series. The headphone-out quality is still brilliant but because the amp is comparatively weaker, you wouldn't want to use it with a more demanding headphone.


I've never had a problem with any Walkman when it comes to their respective battery life. From their classic Walkman to MiniDisc players, it just isn't an issue. With the A840 series, Sony claims a battery life of 30 hours for audio playback. This will be sufficient for most people. Based on my experiences with other Walkmans (and I had many) I've no reason to doubt the claim.


The NWZ-A840 is a pretty darn looking Walkman. It has style and it delivers where it should - the sound quality. But in typical Sony fashion, they had to remove the one other feature which would have made this a hit - the higher capacity models.

The A840-series was supposed to be a strong follow up to the immensely brilliant X-series, a potentially great product that could help Sony gain back market share. But by not releasing the 32GB and 64GB options here, Sony has given owners of 32GB X-series and 16GB S-series no legitimate reasons to upgrading. Great sound quality isn't enough. The X-series sounds just as good, is more powerful and comes with more features and finally - is available at a larger capacity.

It is a good player, trust me on this, but there are better alternatives out there by Sony. I honestly do not understand Sony. They are made up of some of the best engineers in the world (when it comes to consumer electronics at least) and come up with a great sounding product, but decide to cripple their products with arbitrary limitations like volume and limited storage.

The limited volume should not be a problem if you are using a IEM, and I can recommend the A845 if you are fine with 16GB and do not mind the fiddly buttons. Otherwise spring more for the X1060 32GB.

+ Fantastic sound quality
+ Fantastic OLED screen
+ Amazing build quality
+ Good ANC bundled headphones
+ Good battery life
+ Drag and drop
+ Quick navigation and UI
- No gapless for MP3/AAC/WMA files
- No compressed lossless playback (in NWZ versions)
- Some functionalities not brought over from previous A/S-series
- Accessories a bit hard to come by
- None replaceable battery
- No 32/64GB available

Friday, June 11, 2010

Too long for twitter

Alex von Tunzelmann of The Guardian a bit annoyed that an Indian film maker is making a film about Hitler, lumpung the whole country together and declaring them as displaying a 'shocking ignorance of history'.

Uhm, how about the British and Hollywood media losing their ignorance about the rest of the world for once? From as long as I can remember the media and their tag along Hollywood friends have preferred to gloss over the forgetten victims of the second World War, or indeed any war.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Nespresso Magimix CitiZ M190 review

Now here's a review of a product you do not see everyday on this blog - an espresso machine. Yes, we've finally broken down and bought a Nespresso machine. We were initially sceptical about Nespresso's claim that their machines were able to produce authentic espresso, but after numerous sessions (as well as trying out their competitor's products) we think they are right on the money. The fact that we do not need (can't afford) a large expensive espresso machine or messy coffee grinders is also a factor in our decision to get this.

Because the internals are build to Nespresso's exact specifications, this review of the Magimix CitiZ M190 can also be applied to all other Nespresso CitiZ machines whether made by Magimix or other brands like Krups. There is also a version with milk frother for not much more, but you will lose the CitiZ only unique advantage - its size.

First the hardware itself. The CitiZ is a slim, compact and stylish machine that is perfect for those with small kitchens with limited work surface (like us). Using it is easy, just slot in a Nespresso coffee pod and press a button and viola - a perfect cup of espresso forms within seconds. The CitiZ allows for larger mugs as well as tall latte macciato glasses - useful for when you are looking for something other than a strong cup of espresso. Used capsules are ejected onto a tray where it can be disposed of easily. At the back resides a 1 litre water tank which shouldn't need replacing often unless you are a real addict. The volume of each espresso cup or mug can be programmed.

The CitiZ do lack many of the features found on the more expensive models, as well as the cheaper Essenza range (which is generally lighter, can store more used capsules and allows you to remove unused pods should you change your mind). What you do pay more for the CitiZ range is for its retro design (I am a complete sucker for good retro designs) as well as the compactness.

The CitiZ range was created for urban dwellers with small kitchens, so it really isn't a surprise on how much slimmer it is compared to the other machines within Nespresso's other range. The machine also comes with 3 years warranty (at least for UK residents, and subject to becoming a Nespresso Club member), and if the machine breaks they will send you a replacement whilst they fix yours, which is always a good thing.

There are 16 varieties of Nespresso capsules/pods (or as Nespresso puts it 'Grand Crus' - whatever), not including the various limited edition flavours. Each are unique not only in taste or source, but intensity (from a scale of one to ten), flavour and cup size (espresso, lungo, cappuccino). Three of them are decaffeinated, so you will at least have a choice for some late drinking, and four are lungo sized meaning they are designed for 110ml mugs.

The pods aren't actually that pricey - about 30-35p each, which is far cheaper than walking to a decent cafe, fighting the queue and then looking for a seat. The biggest issue I have with the Nespresso is there currently isn't a recycling scheme. So to recycle, as we have to manually dig out the used coffee grounds first (there are third party accessories designed to ease this task) before bringing them to the local recycling point. A recycling scheme by Nespresso where members can bring in used pods to a Nespresso boutique in exchange for a small discount on capsule purchases would encourage more people to recycle, and is something I hope the people at Nespresso is considering.

I won't comment about the individual taste, as everyone has their own personal preference and taste buds - but with 16 varieties there's probably something for everyone. I don't drink coffee religiously but my partner, Jenni, does. So while I can't stand anything above the intensity of six, she can't take anything other than intensity seven or above. Regardless every cup of espresso I've had was fresh and had a perfect layer of crema. Brilliant stuff.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Isle of Skye trip

We had a brilliant time in Skye. The weather was pretty awful the first couple of days (we stayed in our tent for almost the whole of the first full day due to persistent rain), though it did improve much later on (I've even got a nice tan now - many thought we went to some old people's resort in Spain instead). We did one walk - a 15 miler from our campsite in Sligachan to Sgurr Na Stri, where we witnessed, what we think anyway, is the most brilliant view in the British Isles. The sky was clearing, allowing us to appreciate the majectic wonders of the Black Cuillin ridge.

The rest of the time was devoted to exploring the island (we did walk about 5 miles around the Storr, though not to the summit).

Also would like to take the opportunity to say thanks to Gus of Highland Experience Tours for giving us a lift from Kilt Rock to Portree when it became clear that our bus was late. Also a quick hi to Dirk Werges, whom we had a long chat (about camping, walking, cycling and German ales) in the laundry room of Sligachan campsite. Dirk is from Germany and is touring the whole of Scotland for three months on a bicycle. Good luck and enjoy!

Finally, a big thank you to Nationa Rail/London Underground for suggesting us to take the St. Albans to St. Pancras International First Capital Connect railway service, get off at Kentish Town and taking the Tube to London Euston. Thank you for wasting our time and causing us to panic slightly as we found out that the Kentish Town Tube station was closed and would only open at 5:30pm, 9 minutes before our train service to Glasgow departs. We had to pay extra to take the bus (despite having valid Tube tickets) because we didn't want to be late.

What a moronic way to start a trip. Fortunately no such stupidity with Virgin Trains and the Citylink coach we took from Glasgow to Sligachan, Skye.

Pictures available here.

Petzl e+Lite review

Here's a mini review of the Petzl e+Lite emergency head torch/headlamp which I got not long ago. It is the original 2008 model without the whistle, but otherwise is exactly the same as the newer slightly more expensive Petzl e+Lite 'plus'. This isn't my primary head torch (well except in the summer) and instead is left in my rucksack as my emergency torch for times when I am without my primary head torch or when it fails.

The e+Lite is bundled with a translucent red case, designed to be waterproof up to a metre. There are five modes, all toggled via a handy dial switch on the front: economy - perfect for stumbling around the tent looking for keys, maximum mode - which is capable of creating a light beam up to 19m, flashing mode - self explanatory, red flashing mode - also self explanatory, and finally red beam - for when preserving night vision, this is an excellent mode for map reading when stumbling across in the dark.

Here it is next to my already diminutive but heavy Petzl Zipka headlamp with integrated headband. The e+Lite has three main white LEDs and one red LED. The switch can be 'locked' as well to prevent it from accidentally turning on. It is powered by two CR 2032 batteries, which can be bought at any good watch shop. The batteries are good to last up to 45 hours in economy mode or 35 hours in maximum mode.

Another shot comparing the size to the Zipka. The e+Lite is slimmer and the joint allows me to control the direction of the beam (the same can't be said about the Zipka). The headband can be removed allowing me to use the built-in clip to clip it onto my cap or jacket - making it even more portable and useful.

The e+Lite comes with 10 year guarantee. Is it a suitable proper head torch replacement? Depends. In the summer months and for walking from the campsite to the pub the e+Lite works perfectly as a head torch substitute. I wouldn't recommend using it as a primary head torch when walking in the fells though.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

NokiaNav recap

Here's the video recap of the NokiaNav event from a few weeks back, as brilliantly shot an edited by BennyCrime.