Sunday, December 7, 2008

UK Music Industry in Trouble?

In these economically uncertain times, you may be losing count of which companies are going into administration (or bust!). Last week saw major UK retailer Woolies call in the administrators, this shook the music industry badly, as Woolies own one of the biggest distributors of music EUK. Stories of panic by record companies going direct to retailers such as Asda to make sure they get their latest releases to the public in the run up to xmas.

Also hitting the music industry at the other end was the news that the major independent music distributor Pinnacle has also called in the administrators. This has effected huge numbers of artists on hundreds of record labels, many of which would have been releasing material for the christmas market, now they are left without a distribution channel to get their products to retailers.

So, getting that much sought CD this xmas may be a little more difficult in some cases. With disruption in the distribution and major record companies fighting for shelfspace in asda the future of music sales as a physical product could well be shortened. With more and more choice in Digital Downloads and the price of these often being so much less than the actual CD, more people will opt for downloading.

The weak link in the chain of getting music from the artist to the consumer is showing to be the distribution network. Music is being made, and music is being demanded, yet if the product can't get to the consumer the business is in real trouble.

Enter Amazon UK MP3
Amazon seemed to have timed their entry into the MP3 download business at just the right time to make the most of this. With many of top selling albums such as The Kings of Leon's new release - Only By The Night being discounted to £3 for the MP3, when compared to almost £9 for the CD.
Amazon are a very forward thinking company and are always keen to grab new opportunities, so I can say that in 2009, they are likely to be working with independent artists in much the same way that iTunes do. Providing music on demand with the newest and oldest acts in music will surely be another thorn in the side of major record labels and independents as profits are squeezed even further. Amazon mp3's are also not copy protected like those provided by iTunes, meaning you can easily transfer to other mp3 devices you own.
So, maybe great news for the consumer of digital downloads this christmas but it could be quite a bleak christmas for the record companies and the musicians getting smaller fees. Only time will tell how this will effect the British music industry over the next year.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Gadgets for Christmas - Part #2 Desk Gadgets

I've been hunting down some desk gadgets that would make ideal presents for Christmas. Having found quite a few freaky and unusual gadgets ideally suited to desk use here are a few of my favorites.

This Miniature Henry vacuum is going to be well loved by those who eat their lunch over their keyboard, or have to keep their own desk space clean. Powered by 2 AA batteries (not included as usual!), this little palm sized hoover will brighten up anyone's "admin time". With interchangeable nozzles and enough length on the hose to reach behind the monitor. Just one of these in every office in the country will make cleaning your desk a pleasure. Simply unscrew the top to empty, though a tip on preserving battery life is to keep in a locked drawer, or Henry the Hoover will be in constant use on other peoples desks!
prices as of 18th Nov 08 -
Iwoot - £9.99
Amazon UK - £9.99
Ebay - from about £14.99

I mentioned the USB Cup Warmer in my previous post about Christmas Gadgets, this time I'm flipping it and going for the USB Fridge! Perfect for keeping that cold can in sight whilst working and knowing it is staying cold! Big enough for one standard soft drink can, chills to 8.5 degrees after being plugged in for 5 minutes. Neat or pointless, you decide but the inclusion of an led fridge light is a fine touch of detail to this retro style desk fridge.
prices as of 18th Nov 08 -
Iwoot - £19.95
Amazon UK - £14.99
Ebay UK from about £13.99

For those looking at buying for a Dr. Who fan, this rather unique TARDIS USB hub (that's Time And Relative Dimensions In Space if you didn't know!) will be the centerpiece of any desk, or possibly even the whole office. When you plug a USB device into it the light on top flashes, but that's not just all.... It also makes a sound like that of the TARDIS taking off, though if you don't want to disrupt the whole office every time you plug something in, prefering to save the audio effect for 'special moments' you can switch off the sound. Though as an alternative you may want to look for the R2D2 USB Hub for those who are more into their Star Wars.
prices as of 18th Nov 08 -
Iwoot - £19.99
Amazon UK - £14.99
Ebay - from £14.99

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Gadgets for Christmas - Part #1

With only a few weeks left until Christmas are you still looking for the right gift for your gadget-loving buddy/partner/boss/etc?

I'm going to showcase a few of the gadgets I've been looking at recently from a few of the top Gadget Stores in the UK.

IWOOT for GadgetsFirst store up is IWOOT (I Want One Of Those!), they really have a great range of gadgets and some of the oddest gifts available. Just randomly surfing their website will bring up countless of new and classic gadgets. What caught my eye today was a pair of Wind-up Walk Talkies, great for the eco-geek, The Wi-Fi Watch, easily tell when you are in a Wi-Fi zone, and a USB cup warmer so that your cuppa will stay warmer whilst your distracted by your computer!

There were many items on iwoot that turned my head, but the one gadget that I have to showcase, purely on novelty value, is the Poptastic Keyfob - Electronic Bubblewrap that you can just pop & pop! For a reasonable £4.99 you can have the satisfaction of thousands of bubbles to pop with none of the waste! Everyone knows someone who gets really excited about the prospect of popping bubbles, imagine how excited they will be with one of these on their keychain!!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Eco-Gadgets from Oxfam

Oxfam have been one of the biggest names in charitable works for a number of decades now. Few people will be able to say they haven't at least visited an Oxfam shop at some point or other. Whether it is looking for that essential item to make that fancy dress costume zing, or a cool ethical gift or fairtrade produced card Oxfam is often the first choice.

But did you know Oxfam now have an online store?
That sells Gadgets???

I was very surprised when I discovered this and quite excited that they also intend to increase their range of eco-gadgets in the near future. When visiting the Oxfam Online Store it may not be immediately obvious where the gadgets are hiding. Currently their store is divided into 3 areas -

Oxfam Unwrapped - For the stranger ethical gifts for that hippy aunty such as a Goat (£25) or a Sheep (£29) for that Rugby playing work colleague. If you don't think much of the facilities at your local boozer perhaps clubbing together with a few friend to buy them a Toilet for £50 will give them a hint!

Oxfam Secondhand - Everything from secondhand clothing to Books & Music, household bric-a-brac, boardgames and toys. More or less what you would find in the local Oxfam shop, but online.

Oxfam Ethical Collection - Fair Trade products are one of the cornerstones of modern Oxfam shops, though the online store provides a far wider variety than most local shops. Appearing here are items such as Fairtrade Backgammon sets from Peruvian producers, Handcrafted Ceramic Chess Sets from Indian fair trade producers and fair trade foods from around the globe.
The quality fashion clothing from fair trade producers around the world had me stunned as to how cool they were and how much variety was available. Each of the fair trade products has detail of where it was produced and by whom. This information really helps to connect you to the product as though it was made by someone you know especially for you!
What About The Gadgets! - Sorry, I got slightly distracted with the rest of the store, and I'm sure you will too!

Oxfam EcoGadgets - are unexpectedly hidden in the Home section where you can buy Ceramic Incense Holders, Embroidered Journals and Recycled Wine Glasses.
Well, what about the gadgets? Currently the range is fairly small, though I have been tipped off that the range will be expanding over the next few months. At the moment you will find a few wind-up items such as Torch, Lantern & Radio, a couple of Solar powered chargers, for batteries or phones/mp3 players and a very cool looking nightlight that will only cost 50p to power for the whole year!
Though I do like the night light, what I'm going to be putting on my Christmas list is the Wind-Up DAB-radio. I'd never come across one of these before and was surprised they existed! Hopefully I'll be reviewing it in the new year! Meanwhile I'll list some of the specifications it is advertised as having and I'm sure you will be impressed!

- Powered by internal battery or AC via mains adapter
- Battery charged by winding or AC adapter
- Wide variety of DAB stations
- 5 Memory presets
- Customise your own station order
- Stereo RCA output sockets
- Stereo headphone socket

And finally, the bit that most impressed me was the length of time it is advertised as being able to play for on a single charge - 6 hours of DAB listening, or up to 36 hours of FM!!! Impressed? I certainly was! The bad news comes a little later in a few of the reviews I read, 1 minute of winding is alleged to give 1 hour of FM use, and I guess you are already doing the math here, 3-5minutes of DAB radio due to the power hungry processor and LCD screen, thoughother reviews stated in practice that you didn;t get much more than a minute of DAB.
If you've ever used a wind-up device you'll know even 3minutes winding will seem like an eternity, and if forced to use in those conditions you will be re-tuning for FM and scanning for a replacement station. Though for a portable DAB radio the FreePlay DEVO is a great compact solution, being rechargeable means you can take it out for the day to catch your favorite DAB show in the park or at the bottom of the garden.

The other thing I should point out here is that although Oxfam introduced me to the Free Play DEVO DAB wind-up radio I was surprised by the price difference between various suppliers. Currently (17th Oct '08) the Oxfam price is £79.99 + £3.50 delivery for this, whilst it is available for on Amazon UK for £34.66 with free shipping!

As I can't yet review the product and most of this post has been about the Oxfam Online Store, I'll end this review with a couple of conclusions.

The pages load quickly and have a fresh look to them making for a pleasant browsing experience. The categories could maybe do with some work, though as their are so few 'gadgets' I can understand why they appear to be lumped in under Home. Well, so far so good, the only place they really lost points here was in pricing. OK, they are a charity, they do good work and many people would be happy to pay a little extra to buy something from oxfam knowing the profits will be going to a good cause. But 100% more than other retailers? I do hope they will be looking to keep an eye on others selling similair products and provide more competitive pricing in the future!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Green Computing - Cut The Carbon Footprint of Your PC!

I really hadn't given a lot of thought on how to cut the carbon footprint of my pc, thinking there was no way to cut it further than using screensavers and sleep modes. Well, I'm going to share with you a couple of different ways of cutting your pc's carbon emissions.

A home user running a single computer can make a valuable contribution by saving up to 135kg of CO2 per year and approximately £50 in electricity by using the ecobutton
The Eco-Button
The first method is fairly simple and cheap, it relies on a little bit of software and a small button attached by USB to your pc, which quickly sends your pc into a deep-sleep mode, using less power than your pc would on standby and quickly waking at the touch of a key when you need it. It's much faster than navigating through your start menu, so it's more likely that you'll actually use it.
Eco-ButtonAlso, As it's cheap (approx £15) it's quickly pay for itself in energy savings. It will work with all OS's, Vista, XP, windows 2000 & laptops. Also available is downloadable software to monitor your energy use and the savings you are making with your eco-button.
You can find the eco-button for sale at
Nigel's Eco Store


Some older computers and some HP computers may have difficulty in reactivation. This is a problem with the computer bios and not the software. It will work with all OS's, Vista, XP, windows 2000 & laptops. Also available is downloadable software to monitor your energy use and the savings you are making with your eco-button.
I found using the ecobutton with my old HP that reactivation was achieved by actually hitting the main pc on button, keyboard click, mouse clicks and clicking the ecobutton didn't work. Although when in the ecobutton powersaving mode the button would stop glowing/flashing by clicking on it.

The standard 200W PC:
running 8h a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks in a year = 400 kwh at 10c/Kwh = $40
running 24/7 days a week, 50 weeks in a year = 1680 kwh at 10c/Kwh = $168

A 30W "green pc":
running 8h a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks in a year = 60 kwh at 10c/Kwh = $6
running 24/7 days a week, 50 weeks in a year = 252 kwh at 10c/Kwh = $25,2

*UK prices for electricity are at least 10/Kwh so just change the $ to £

Very PC
The more astounding discovery when researching energy saving pc's was the range of Business and Home PC's designed and Built by Very PC. With PC's that had an average power usage starting from 29watts I was astounded, my current monster pc uses almost 20x this!
VeryPC was awarded the title of Environmental Innovator in the PC Pro Awards 2007. Justly so, as their range of pc's and innovations in energy saving have been revolutionary in the way that they combine high performance computing with energy saving designs.

The GreenPC Treeton is a tiny pc delivering quite a punch. At the size of a shoe-box it contains a dual-core AMD 2.1GHz processor, integrated ATI X700 graphics with HDMI, up to 2GB RAM and up to 250GB hard disk. The standard option machine has a base energy consumption of just 29W (according to the London Environment Centre), a fraction of typical PC's!

For the green business or corporate sector looking to cut their carbon emissions, energy bill and present green credentials to their customers Very PC also have extensive experience of providing networking solutions and business servers.

The Janus GreenServer is an ideal solution to a company wanting a powerful server base, with up to 4TB of storage! The Janus Server is in fact two servers , split down the middle, Each Server contains 8 processor cores, up to 32GB RAM, and up to 2x1TB Hard disks. The Default configuration has this unit Running at 112W idle per server in the base specification.

Next time you switch your PC on, have a think about it's carbon footprint!

Or even consider offsetting some of your other carbon emissions with Carbon Clear

I recently wrote more about Green Computing On Squidoo - Go take a look!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Review - Phillips Sonicare HX6932/10 Flexcare Rechargeable Toothbrush & Sanitizer

The easy conclusion would be that this power toothbrush is going to deliver the best brushing of your teeth outside of a Dentists! After making such an incredible statement I will now back it up with my findings.

This toothbrush isn't exactly revolutionary in using ultra-sound to clean your teeth as well as the brush. It also isn't the first to provide lights to indicate battery condition or lights to indicate brushing mode. In fact the only revolutionary thing about this brush is it's docking station which contains an Ultra-violet Sterilizer for cleaning your brush head after use! Maybe not that revolutionary after all you may imagine as toothbrush sterilizers aren't exactly new.

So what is so special about the Phillips Sonicare HX6932/10 Electric Toothbrush & Sanitizer?

* The Lithium-Ion battery used is far superior to the Nickel-Cadmium used in most Toothbrushes so will give longer life and will allow full charge to be attained for longer. Lithium-Ion is also more environmentally friendly than Ni-Cad.

* The Ultra-Sound may not be new, but Phillips have come close to perfecting it's use in the Sonicare HX Range. The Ultra-Sound waves provide effective cleaning and deplaqueing upto 4mm away from the brush head, reaching between your teeth and into your gums.

* The sanitizer built into the charging station is actually an awesome idea. Santizers are often overlooked, along with the germs and bacteria that breed on your brush while it sits in the bathroom for 3 months at a time! A decent sanitizer can cost half as much as this combination, whilst Phillips have included it for the equivalent of £20/$20 extra from effectively the same brush (HX6902/HX9552) without the sanitizer. The chrome front also does look pretty cool!

Anything Bad?

Well apart from the price tag, surprisingly little!

* The noise may be a little difficult to get used to at first, even for the experienced user of an electric toothbrush. After getting used to the high pitched whine, though others will swear the sound isn't unusually loud as they won't be able to hear it as it is in your head! It's the ultra-sound vibrating through your teeth and jaw to your ears and it can seem to be very loud until used to it.

* The vigorous action may also be a little too much for those not used to such a powerful cleaning action. Also it may take upto 10 uses to remember to place the brush in your mouth before hitting the on button. Until this time you'll use a lot of toothpaste when the initial blob is flicked off the brush the second you hit the on switch. Phillips have designed in a gradual increase in power for the first few brushes to get you used to the power packed by this brush.

* The UV Sanitizer is good, but it's not the best, UV bulbs will need replaced probably about the same time the warranty runs out, though the brush battery should sill have plenty of punch in it. Currently it's unclear whether the bulb can be replaced. Personally I'd prefer a Steam Sanitizer, but I'll be happy with this one and keep the number of wires and plugs down to the minimum in the bathroom!


Awesome Brush! My teeth only felt this clean previously when they were done by the dentist or dental hygienist! Some great modes for cleaning, from hurry, to thorough, to gum massage for those 'sensitive' days. My only regret is not having found a brush as good as this before!