Avengers Age Of Ultron Razor

With Avengers: Age of Ultron released today it seems apt that I post this brilliantly tongue in cheek effort from Gillette.

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They have seemingly teamed up with the fictional conglomerate that is Stark Industries to highlight, amongst “others”, their new razor with Flexball Technology.

With a further four distinct models that offer “shaving rebuilt with Avengers inspired technology” it’s hard not to want them to actually release at least a limited run of Avengers themed razors, even if you still do have to shave in the traditional manner!

Coming soon, maybe.

The video clip is really well done, I had to double check the dates to see if I’d missed a belated April Fools’ effort from Gillette!

 

Art Of The Brick

Last weekend I managed to get myself along to the penultimate day of the Art of the Brick exhibition showcasing the works of Lego artist Nathan Sawaya.

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It’s something we (me, the wife, and the little one) have been meaning to go to for ages and we finally got ourselves (pushchair and all!) up to the Truman Galleries off Brick Lane to see the Lego works in all their glory!

Dreams are built… one brick at a time

The whole exhibition is superb and there are far more pieces than I had imagined that there would be.

Although it seems like there’s a lot of photos here, I could have put up so many more.  This is really just a glimpse of some of my favourite pieces from the exhibition.

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The ceiling of the Sistene Chapel

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Michelangelo’s David

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Venus de Milo

The large sculptures are extremely impressive, it’s hard to believe some of them are even made of Lego.  Nathan also has created a number of 2D pieces which, in many ways, are more remarkable (please excuse the photo quality, there’s only so much you can manage carrying a 4month old!).

Built up using the side of bricks they use colour and tone to convey the image.  Some are recognisable works of art built up in a relief of 2D and 3D to create depth, and others look like artistic patterns only to sync into a visible image when you take a step back.

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The Scream

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Mona Lisa

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The Great Wave off Kanagawa

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close up 3D detail

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The Starry Night

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The exhibition had break out spaces showing videos whiched offered a fascinating insight into how Nathan works.  From developing sketches to often chiselling apart large sections of a sculpture to redo them.  Plus a view of his superbly organised Lego workspsace of which I am completely jealous of!

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Some of the animal sculptures are remarkably lifelike.  Well, not like I thought “woah, there’s a dog in here“, but scaled up from the sort of sizes we play with Lego at home you start to blur the blocky edges and lose the square corners.

Curves and rounded shapes all of a sudden are possible and your eye interprets it as a whole new form.

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Our daughter making friends with the polar bear!

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An infinite knot

Hands are notoriously difficult to draw, I can’t even imagine how many attempts and amendments went into this giant Lego version!

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The integration of technology and humans

The swimmer sculpture was also particularly good.  Lit using a textured gobo projector it mimics the water ripples and, with the model’s reflection in the glass table top, creates a very powerful illusion of swimming.  Lots of people, me included, actually looked under the table and were surprised to see a distinct lack of Lego!

Lego brick swimmer

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Although you weren’t allowed to touch the sculptures (understandably!) there was nothing stopping you from posing with them.

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The resemblance is uncanny!

One of my favourites was the T-Rex skeleton comprising of some 80,000-odd pieces.  Stunning.

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Some clever pieces even needed a particular viewpoint before it became clear what you were looking at.

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The added benefit of attending the exhibition so late in the calendar was that they had added an additional gallery called In Pieces, a wonderfully playful collaboration with Dean West of Lego items hidden in plain sight of some quite brilliant photographic scenes .

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umbrella

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Suspended bricks complete the floating illusion

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CNN said that the exhibition was in the “top ten of must see global exhibitions”, and you can definitely see why.

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One of many tables in the gift shop!

Having just been inspired by approximately 1.5million Lego bricks through the whole show, and a short play in the gift shop, I then headed off to the Lego store to treat myself!

If you ever get the chance to see any of Nathan Sawaya‘s work I highly recommend it!

HTC One M9 Review

If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen that at the beginning of April I was fortunate enough to be offered a chance to spend some time with the brand new HTC One M9 handset.

I knew little about the phone beforehand, which meant I didn’t have any prevailing opinions about it.  I also haven’t had an HTC phone for about three years so I was very intrigued to see what their latest flagship model offered.

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From the moment it arrived you could tell it was a high end product.  Other manufacturer handsets I’ve had come in rectangular boxes finished in a matt cardboard, nice enough, but with HTC though you get a lovely textured finish to the box.  Nothing flashy, but enough to catch my eye.

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Unpacking
Inside you get the handset plus the usual accessories: charger/USB cable, headphones, quick start guide, instruction manual, and sim card access tool.

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The first thing that I noticed about the phone itself was the dual tone all metal body.

This immediately gives the feeling of a luxury product (especially compared to the plastic Samsung Galaxy handsets) and reinforces the high end nature.  With a background in product design I’m always impressed by beautiful design and manufacturing, and the M9 excels here.  Excellent build quality is something that HTC are becoming synonymous with and this handset definitely delivers.

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The rear side of the handset is gently curved so that it sits more naturally in your hand and, despite being larger all round that my Sony Z3, it actually doesn’t feel it.

The ergonomically designed nature of it lends itself to a very comfortable and slimline hold and doesn’t feel square or “boxy” like some phones can be.

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The handset is also noticeably lightweight, especially for one with a metal casing.

You expect weight savings when plastic is used, but HTC have designed this in such a way that you can have quality materials without compromise.

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Three were kind enough to provide me with a sim card  and I spent a week putting the M9 through it’s paces and testing as many features on it as I could, as well as trying to get “typical” use out of it too.  I say that because it’s all very well having some incredible features on a phone (and many nowadays do) but if you rarely use them it makes them a bit redundant.

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The sim card port is accessed with this little tool

First Impressions
The M9 measures 144.6 x 69.7 x 9.61 mm and weighs in at a tidy 157g (the iPhone 6 Plus weighs 172g and the Samsung Galaxy 6 138g for comparison) and offers a 5inch SLCF3 HD (1920x1080p) display at a pixel density of 440ppi.  It has 3GB RAM and uses Qualcomm’s octa-core Snapdragon 810  (4x 2.0 GHz and 4x 1.5 GHz) which is definitely high-end performance.

The scratch resistant coating on the two tone gunmetal grey finish kept it looking stunning even when regularly travelling in my pocket alongside keys and loose coins.

Having assessed the physical attributes of the phone I turned on the NFC and used Android Beam to transfer over my contacts from my existing handset and I was good to go.

Camera
Pretty good cameras are a given in mobile phones nowadays.  The camera in my Sony Z3 is as good as my point and shoot camera (gathering dust on the shelf at home), so a good baseline to see how the M9 stacked up.

On the face of it the HTC has a superbly specified camera: 20.7 megapixel dual LED flash on the rear and a 4 megapixel front facing.  Overall the camera was really rather good, with the exception of sometimes blowing out the highlights and use in low light (see below).

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The rich colours of the M9 (left) versus the Sony Z3 (right)

The main camera immediately gave me sharp images and rich colours with the settings all left on auto.  Delving into the HTC Eye menu offers you a range of photo modes, from Photo Booth and Panoramic, to the ever-popular Selfie mode.

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Bokeh mode (left) and Selfie mode (right)

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Split screen mode – main camera split with front facing camera (left) and Photo Booth mode – not particularly intuitive to use (right)

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Panoramic mode (click to view large)

The only downside with the camera is the lack of optical image stabilisation, which, in bright daylight isn’t necessarily a problem, but becomes more obvious in low light.

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Indoor photo with low light levels

You may have read mixed reviews on the camera, but a recent software patch seems to have resolved most, if not all, by the time they have made it out into the public.

The video option is where it gets interesting.  You can record in the usual high definition 1080p but 4K resolution is also offered as an option.  Granted most monitors and TVs still aren’t 4k-ready yet but the difference is visible even when compressed to YouTube!

Apologies for the shaky video – the slightly larger handset than I currently own didn’t fit in my bike mount so had to hold it in my hand over the bumps on the trail!

So you can really see the difference I tried a comparison of the 4K video (once the auto focus kicks in!) on the HTC One M9 versus standard HD on the Sony Z3.

Although visually superior, do bear in mind that 4K video is fairly memory-hungry.  The short 20second clip above consumes just over 100mb of space.

Speakers
It wasn’t long before I was downloading tracks from Play Music to test the speakers.

Although they are improving, in general mobile speakers and headphones aren’t great.  They’ll do for sitting on the train, but not much more.

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However, the HTC stands out here using their partnership with Dolby Audio to offer BoomSound in Theatre mode and Music mode with impressively crisp sounds (even when turned right up) and deep bass in both the headphones and the dual front facing speakers.  That probably has something to do with the 5.1 surround sound specification with built in amplifiers!

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Power Button
My only gripe with the physical state of the phone is the location of the power/lock key.  To be blunt, it is all wrong.

At first glance halfway down the right hand side seems logical enough, but in practise it doesn’t work.  It is the same size and shape as the volume keys and positioned far too close to them to easily differentiate.

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Spot the power button…

On more than one occasion I pressed it accidentally or pressed the volume key when searching for it.  Fortunately you can set a double tap on the screen to wake the phone up and so I soon resorted to this tactic.

Also, a slightly curious point that the charger socket was off centre.  There didn’t seem to a reason for this but I soon got used to it after initially missing the port a couple of times.

Android
The handset is running Android 5.0 Lollipop and it is superb.  Easily the best version of Android yet.  Combine this with HTC Sense 7 and you have a fantastic setup that runs smoothly, is very user-friendly, works well, and looks great.

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As part of Sense you also have an auto-update home screen.  At first I thought it was a but unnecessary, but it actually turned out to be quite useful.

Using your location it seamlessly transitions your home screen icon layout depending on where you are (Home/Work/Out).  I’d go from my home screen showing the usual social media and messaging at home, to my calendar and email when I arrived at the office.  Nice!

Battery
Crucial to any phone’s performance and longevity is the battery.  The M9’s battery life is quoted at 2840mAh which, to be honest, doesn’t mean a lot to me.

In real terms that meant I was averaging about 36hours from a single charge even with fairly heavy usage and deliberately running graphics-heavy games for long periods to test the performance.

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The last 10% of battery life did seem to drain faster than the initial 90% (which did catch me out once!) but anything in excess of 24hours is pretty good nowadays – if you only need to charge your phone every other day then that’s a win for me.

Other Features
I gave Car Mode a go on a short journey over Easter.  Easy to setup, easy to use and the Sat Nav view got me to my destination.  You can’t ask any more than that.  The only negative was the location of the lock key (again!) as my in-car cradle holds the handset horizontally and kept locking the screen!

The noise cancellng microphone worked perfectly well on calls as expected, even along the road side with heavy traffic.  This should be a given on mobile phones, if you fail here you probably need to revisit your phone design!

The Scribble app also worked rather well.  Rather than drafting messages or notes I used the voice record function on Scribble to record my comments and blog notes when using the handset all week.

Comparison
This isn’t a comparison review, it’s just an independent review of the standalone handset.  But to give the phone size some context here it is alongside the iPhone 6 Plus and Sony Z3 (the only other phones I had to hand).

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The HTC doesn’t have a heart rate monitor or finger print recognition compared to other brand flagship handsets, but actually, for me anyway, these sorts of features are a bit of a gimmick.  Yes they are nice features but actually how much do you use them?  I know the idea of them caters towards people increasingly combining fitness with social media, but I do a fair amount of exercise and Garmin looks after all my GPS and HR needs.  A large phone is quite a way away from replacing them and so the lack of these features is definitely not a dealbreaker for me.

Overall
Overall this is an excellent phone and, for the most part, anyone that gets it won’t be disappointed.  I think the niggling issues I had, like the power key, would be overcome once you became more familiar with the phone.

If you select the M9 you are looking at impressive build quality, great screen and audio features, a good camera, and good battery life all running on a brilliant version of Android.  Enjoy!

If you’ve got the new M9 then let me know what you think in the comments below, or if you’re thinking about one and have any questions then let know.

For more information visit the Three site here.

01 April 2015

Another April Fools’ Day and another chance for companies to try and catch you out with increasingly believable and creative jokes, and this year was no exception.

With efforts spanning across the spectrum from the likes of  Kiss FM (who didn’t really seem to understand April Fools’ Day), to Santander who seemingly forgot and hashed together a last minute Photoshop effort (albeit not a bad idea!), to the usual big contenders that demonstrated superb efforts.

The Guardian
One of the first stories to break this morning was the announcement that former Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson had joined the Guardian team backing the campaign for fossil fuel divestment.  Following the recent “fracas” Clarkson is hoping to “regain the trust of the British public” by “dedicating his time and financial resources to sustainable energy, road safety and forging mutual understanding and tolerance between people of different cultures and religions”.  Very good!

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Google
As ever, Google lead the way in brilliant April Fools releases.  My day started with the introduction of com.google for a suitably confusing stunt before I even realised what day it was!

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Then building on the success of the Google Maps Pokémon Challenge last year the real winner of today comes in the form of Google Maps – Pac-Man.  Head over to Google Maps, click the Pac-Man icon in the bottom left et voilà!  I wonder how many hours people lost today playing that – it really is superb!

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You can play anywhere in the world that has enough roads to constitute a level and, as Wired pointed out, the Taj Mahal even offers a Pac-Man-esque level layout.

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Virgin

Another big name brand that took part today was Virgin.  After discovering that his great-great-uncle founded the city of Branson, Missouri, Richard Branson has announced that he is moving the Virgin Group back to the American city where it all began.

The plan includes moving Virgin America, Virgin Hotels, and Virgin Limited Edition.

A number of other jokes caught my eye throughout the day as well.

Marmite Clear
A mere 15 years in the making and we now have a clear version of everyone’s favourite love it or hate it spread.  Apparently, psychologists say “eating dark-coloured foods for breakfast can provoke feelings of negativity” whereas this “light” and “positive” version “will keep you feeling chirpy all day long”.

Marmite Clear


SketchUp

Google’s SketchUp announced an improved user experience with the addition of Adventure Mode.


Monument by Fabian Cancellara
Pro cycling Team Trek Factory announced a new scent for the top step of the podium with Monument by Fabian Cancellara aka Spartacus!  Prepare to smell like victory.

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The Kimsicle
The rather disturbing “Kimsicle” was announced this morning as a new “buttock-enhancing” marshmallow ice cream lolly inspired by “Kim Kard-ass-ian” from The Licktators.

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Left-Handed Bike Horn

The When I Was A Kid toy store in Cambridge announced the development of a left-handed bike horn.  Available for a mere £5 “at last all cyclists are equal when it comes to their safety”.

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Hailo Piggyback
For when a taxi is just too much why not get a piggy back around town?

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How many fooled you?

 

Paint With Lego

I’m a little late to the party with this one as it first surfaced a couple of weeks ago but, still, what a beautiful animation from Jon Rolph aka @CheesyBricks.

Paint is a superbly executed take on what I can only presume is a Piet Mondrian piece.  Abstract art involving Lego?  Win-win.

 

Bioluminescent Forest

I’ve seen projection mapping on lots of physical objects and defined surfaces before, but this is the first instance I’ve seen it interacting with nature and the result is really rather beautiful.

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Photographer Tarek Mawad and animator Friedrich van Schoor spent six weeks on location to create the Bioluminescent Forest.  Immersed in nature it gives a glimpse into their imaginations if all elements of the forest had the ability to emit bioluminescent light.

As ever, worth hitting full screen on this one.

The drops of liquid light falling on the toadstools at around 2:15 is one of my favourite effects.

The final video is magical and ethereal mix, a “wonderland of blinking and twinkling organisms” that bring life to the more static areas of the forest.

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It must have taken high levels of patience to deal with the accuracy required, but the result is impressively worthwhile.

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They personified the forest to accentuate the natural beauty by creating luring luminescent plants and glowing magical mushrooms that speaks volumes to any visitor that enters the minds of the artists through viewing “bioluminescent forest”

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Using pretty much just a laptop, a projector and a digital SLR camera “everything you see was created live, without any effects added in post-production”.

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Behind the scenes footage can be seen here.

25 Years Of Photoshop

I’m a big fan of Adobe Photoshop, it is a core piece of software that we use at work and is incredibly powerful.  From pure photo manipulation, to creating images from scratch, to mixed media collages, it’s so much more than a tool for correcting red eye or airbrushing models.

Last week I learned, to my surprise, that Photoshop has just turned 25 years old!

25 years of photoshop

Rather naively I thought perhaps Photoshop had come about in the mid-to-late-nineties, but in fact it all started back in the late 1980s!  You can see the full timeline history here.

The introduction of layers with Photoshop 3.0 in 1994 was a huge step in how you work with the software, having started working with Photoshop CS myself around 2004 some ten years later I can’t imagine it not having layers!

If you’re in any doubt as to some of the marvellous effects that can be achieved with it just watch this celebratory video, Dream On.

To celebrate the tool that has helped shape creativity, artists from all over the world contributed their most amazing dreams—and their working files with layers.  These PSDs were then animated layer by layer to create a film made in Photoshop.

Creative Cloud is already paving the way for the future of the software, just imagine how powerful it could be in another 25 years!

All the incredible artwork from the video can be viewed on Behance here.


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