Review: Starbucks VIA Ready Brew

Aug 25
Posted on August 25, 2009 12:19 in Offline

A few weeks back I attended the London Bloggers meetup, sponsored by Starbucks coffee. They were there to promote their new instant coffee with the “great marketing name” of “VIA Ready Brew“…. Not sure who came up with that one.

Starbucks VIA Homebrew

So, Starbucks Instant Coffee, sounds like a bad idea from the start right? That’s at least what I thought but I have to admit that this is probably the best instant coffee I’ve ever had. I mean, it’s no espresso or anything but it’s definitely better than any of the other instant coffee I’ve ever tasted. Traditionally instant coffee seems to be highly chemical stuff that looks more like dried up turd than actual ground coffee. Starbucks’ instant coffee on the other hand actually looks like a really fine blend of espresso coffee, and actually also smells like real coffee.

In the end the taste is still nothing compared to a good espresso machine, but admittedly most Starbucks customers (and this is even more valid for Brits) like to add loads of stuff like milk, sugar and vanilla to their coffee anyway. I’d say Starbucks VIA Ready Brew is a really good way to get some semi-decent coffee of you’re on the road, or on holiday, and it definitely beats most other instant coffees any day. Though, if you want some real coffee, make your way to a real Starbuck (expecting loads of slack from anti Starbucks pundits) or to any other decent coffee place in London.

Starbucks VIA Ready Brewis available in Starbucks stores all across the world and goes for about $10 per 12 sachets.

Preview of James Cameron’s Avatar

Aug 21
Posted on August 21, 2009 18:52 in Movies, Technology

We got to see the 15 minute preview of Avatar, the new James Cameron movie (Director of Titanic, Alien, and many more classics). The movie has been in the making for over 10 years now and there has been a lot of hype surrounding the buildup to it’s premiere on the 18th of December.

The reason for all the hype around this movie is because of the technologies used in this movie. The movie relies a lot on computer generated content and many of the characters are fully computer generated. On top of that the movie will be shown in (IMAX) 3D. Normally when a director makes a movie like this, he would not be able to see the full product until after the post production. In Cameron’s setup though, he was able to preview something that resembled the final product on a screen while shooting the real actors, and change anything he wanted.

Now, before I go on I want to point you at this trailer. Have a look at it and I’ll continue my rant afterward.

We saw a 3D version of some of the scenes that were in this trailer, and a few more. All and all it was quite impressive, and I can imagine really enjoying the experience in the IMAX, and I will probably do so in December.

I don’t think it lives up to the hype though. The acting (mainly Sam Wortington’s main character) is a bit mediocre, and the story line seems to be very predictable. I don’t necessarily want to say that we have seen this story line before in a movie, but anyone who has ever played a 3D shooter must feel like this is a cheap and predictable story line. Even worse is the fact that because the movie relies so much on CGI that it almost looks like a really long trailer or cutscene for the next FarCry.

The added idea of 3D projection doesn’t work for me necessarily either. It is cool in the slow scenes, but in any of the fast ones my eyes simply can’t keep up with the image. I’m not sure if that’s me because I wear glasses, or because I’m simply turning old, but it takes away from the experience. It also makes the movie feel more gimmicky that it needs to be.

I do have to say though that the 3D experience is a lot better than what I saw in Harry Potter 6 where it really felt like I was looking at one of those old ViewMasters. I will write an article soon on why I do think 3D is the future of cinema, but why it simply isn’t there yet.

The movie premieres in the UK on December 18th and I think I’ll probably go and see it in the IMAX within a week of release, simply because I am a sci-fi geek and I do like these kind of movies.

What do you think? Discussion in the comments.

My Bookmarks For August 10th – August 20th

Aug 20
Posted on August 20, 2009 23:00 in Links

What do geeks do in the weekend? Swede!

Aug 20
Posted on August 20, 2009 13:47 in Video

What did I do last weekend, well, something typicaly geeky and crazy, and something I’m probably going to regret….

Twitter and The Case Against oAuth

Aug 20
Posted on August 20, 2009 10:00 in Problems & Solutions, Software

So I’m a big supporter of OpenID and oAuth, but sometimes I have to agree with big companies like Google in the fact that these technologies are really confusing to end users. The problem is that people don’t understand these technologies and while they shouldn’t it does allow for some people to take advantage of the less tech savvy amongst us.

Take Twitter for example, who fairly recently finally added oAuth to their product so that we now don’t have to give out our username and password to every funny little Twitter tool. Twitter’s implementation has no granularity in the oAuth authorisation which leads to people signing away full read/write permission to their account when they use their Twitter to log in to a game.

Yes, you read that right: developers use Twitter’s oAuth to let people authenticate themselves. It seems not everyone understand the difference between authentication and authorisation. This obviously leads to some developers abusing this new found power to do evil, much like the early Facebook App developers used the permissions they got from you to spam all your friends with invites to come and join that app you looked at once.

I agree that oAuth is a great technology, but inherently it’s going to get a bad name when companies like Twitter don’t implement it correctly. We could go and educate the user, but I think that’s an impossible undertaking that would better be avoided. oAuth (and actually OpenID similarly) faces a real problem when it comes to user experience that needs to be solved. I guess I’m not the first one talking about this but I’m wondering if there even is a solution.

Gadget Review: Flip Ultra

Aug 19
Posted on August 19, 2009 10:56 in Hardware, Video

We got to make a new Swede this weekend (more on that later), but instead of using a real camera we used a Flip Ultra (provided to us by Cisco).

I know a lot of people have been going crazy about this little camera, but I never understood it until this weekend. To give you a bit of background: in the years I’ve played with a lot of cameras both professionally and personally. We had a Sony PD-150 (mini DV) at our company ED-ME in 2005, and I had a Sony HDD digital video camera in 2008. You would assume I would view the Flip as nothing but a toy, and have to admit I did up till now.

The Flip

Flip

So what is the Flip? It is a little video camera that you hold like you’d hold a cameraphone. It’s actually quite similar to cameraphone as it’s about the size of one (an old one) and as light. There is a big red button on the back for turning recording on/off , and a four-way control for some of the “advanced” videos. When you managed to record your video you just plug in the Flip into the USB port of your PC with the nice flip-out USB connector (hence the name).

If you are a Windows user, you’ll get a nice bit of software that’s actually loaded and run from the Flip itself. It allows you to quickly edit and share your videos to major video sites. If you are on a Mac you can use iMovie or any other bit of video editing software.

The great thing about the Flip is that the digital files that it records your video to are actually editable in most software packages without needing any conversion first, unlike the kind of files you get on most JVC or Sony HDD cameras. So over are the days of Mini DV to digital conversion, or trying to figure out what to do with that .mod file.

The Downsides

There are some downsides to the Flip too. First of there is no image stabilization in the camera, and add that to the very unstable way of holding the device it makes for pretty shaky video. Most people probably won’t notice, but some might. Add to that the fact that there is no way of extending the camera with other accessories like lenses or microphones and you have a very limited device. The internal Mic is great but very limited, and if you ever want to add a better microphone to your camera you’re stuck with getting a new camera.

But inherently that’s not what this camera is made for. This camera is made for people that want to have a quick record-edit-upload workflow at a great price.

Making sense of Flip Ultra vs Flip Mino

The guys from Pure Digital who make the Flip have 4 models of it in production. There is the 4GB Flip Ultra, 8GB Flip Ultra HD, 2GB Flip Mino, and the 4GB Flip Mino HD. It took me a while to figure out what the differences are, but I figured it out. The difference between the Flip Mini and Flip Ultra is the form factor. The Mino is smaller and lighter and therefore can hold less capacity than the Flip Ultra. The Flip Ultra is also designable.

The biggest difference though is that because the Mino is smaller, it can only hold half the amount of video (60 minutes) as its bigger brother. Both the Mini and Ultra come in a larger capacity High Definition version which has the same form factor and video capacity as the normal versions (60 mins for the Mino, 120 minutes for the Ultra).

Where to buy?

I almost forgot! The best thing of the Flip is the price. The simplest model is about £95, the Mino HD is about £150 RRP. All and all a lot cheaper and easier than most other cameras.

Board Game Madness: Carcassonne – The City

Aug 18
Posted on August 18, 2009 8:00 in Games

Last week I managed to get my hands on a really cheap version of Carcassonne: The City (Amazon, Wikipedia). This game comes in a nice wooden box and normally costs about £30+ in the shops. The game is a not an expansion of the Carcassonne game, but instead the first spin-off from the main game that I’ve bought so far.

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The main reason for The City to be this pricey probably has a lot to do with the amount of wood that has gone into this game design. The normal game only has 24 little wooden meeples, but this version comes with an additional bag of wooden “wall” pieces. This gives the game a great haptic improvement over the original game, but obviously at a price.

The City can be played with 2 to 4 players, but I think 3 is probably the best. Make sure you play with people who’ve played Carcassonne before though, as this definitely seems to be a more advanced version of the regular game. The added dimension of walls and the point scoring and option limiting factors that are involved with it can be a bit overwhelming to new players.

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Overall I have to say I like the game and I’m glad I managed to get it for cheap on eBay. I’m not sure if it’s worth spending £30+ on, but if you’re a Carcassonne junky or you bump into a cheap deal make sure you get your hands on it.

My First Web App: Plain or Framework?

Aug 17
Posted on August 17, 2009 20:24 in Problems & Solutions, Technology

I was talking to the Hodge today about web development and how I think nobody in his right mind should ever make a web app that’s not based on some kind of rapid development framework. We agreed on this, but it made me think: what if you’re 100% new to web development? Should you try making your own plain 100% hand-made PHP/Python/Ruby scripts because it shows you all the underlying technology? Or should you instead start off with a framework and just read up on the underlying details later?

Discussion in the comments.