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Chris O.

6 Level 6 Contributor
  • 654 Reviews
  • 3,310 Helpful Votes
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Experience: Computers & Technology, Clothing & Fashion, Entertainment

Member since August 2009

  • Reviews

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  • First Reviews

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Review Distribution

About Me

I last made serious contributions here in 2010 - please note the dates before commenting on anything I wrote back then.

654 Reviews by Chris

1/13/11
Wovox promotes the transparent workplace, by which they mean, either you, or your boss, or any member of the public at all who has relevant material, can upload photos, videos or tales of your workplace and staff and have them published for all to see.

This is all theoretically voluntary and anonymous and free, which means you can post images of that staff toilet that hasn't been cleaned for years, but then your boss can post stories of you spending half your day on it, too. According to the site:

"And if this brings out any hurt, be happy! At least now you know where the pain is.
Bad reputation's an opportunity, not a threat. "

If for some reason your boss doesn't see it that way, you can enhance your reputation as a forward-thinker by explaining it to him. What could go wrong?

The makers of the site may well be on to something here, though parts of the site read as if, having glimpsed the potential, they've begun celebrating a bit early. By the time you read the part urging you to send a video or tell a story about how much your cracked coffee cup means to you, you do begin to wonder if they'll still think it's a great idea when they sober up.

It's a pretty cool idea though, Wikileaks for the Dispatch Department featuring hot packing secrets from around the coffee machines, and with the right material and nurture it could rapidly become required reading for bosses' wives everywhere. On the other hand, it leaves open so many possibilities for deliberately misleading, dishonest and downright inflammatory material that it should be easy to discredit more or less anything.

Before rushing to upload, you should check out the conditions of the Creative Commons Share-Alike license 3.0, which applies to all content. Broadly, it means that anyone, including the site owners, has permission to remix and reuse anything you upload, for profit or not. If you're OK with that, then join the others already posting here including the folks at Google, and several other extraordinarily clean, modern and attractive workplaces. Me, I'm waiting for the underground Chinese boot factories, though I'd settle for some shots of the SiteJabber offices. I still don't believe they have more than the one chair. Whose workplace would you want to see and read about?
1/13/11
It's never been hard for me to write a review larger than the site I'm reviewing, but in this case it would hardly be possible to do otherwise. There's nothing here, other than a graphical uploader. Drop your image over the page, and it's automatically uploaded and saved to the "cloud" with a URL that you can share at once.

That's it, or at least all of it you can see. There's no indication about acceptable file formats or sizes, so apparently anything goes, and a 3.6 Mp image from a cell phone uploaded in a moment. You'll have a shareable URL just seconds after uploading.

This has to be an early testbed but even as it stands, and if the tech behind the scenes is as solid as it looks, it's a great, idiot-proof utility for anyone with no tech savvy and/or no time to mess around. Worth a try, and a bookmark for now, though I'd like to know what data is being collected from my uploads and be reassured that my copyright remains intact.
1/13/11
I wanted to promote this one because the Computer History Museum, an unique project just a few miles up the road from me in Mountain View, California, is reopening this week (January 2011) after a complete refit at the cost of $19 million. It all began back in 1975 as a display in a closet, but now occupies a 25,000 foot gallery with more than a thousand exibits. You might give pride of place to the Cray-1A, once coveted and protected by government agencies as the fastest machine in the world. Or the Difference Engine 2, an accurate reproduction of the original machine designed by Charles Babbage in the 19th century.

The new museum is a huge step up from the earlier presentation of the collection, which was more attractive to technology geeks and those in the know, than to the general public. Now, the entire history of computing - all 2000 years of it - is on show, along with many examples of the local inventions cooked up here in Silicon Valley.

The website is informative in several fields, and although it takes a certain fortitude to face "The History of FORTRAN" and some solid geek credentials to be attracted to the 250 assorted equipment marketing brochures, there's a much wider range of articles here if you dig around enough. That's one of my complaints, to be honest: it's just not dumbed-down enough yet. Modern museums recognize the need to catch the attention of an uncommitted online viewer within those magical few seconds before they wander away to look at something else, and that's not happening for me here, yet. There will be many interested in the history of computer chess, for sure, but of all the people interested in the broader tale of the computer gaming industry only a tiny percentage are likely to expect to find only chess on offer under the heading of "Mastering The Game". Pong, at least, please.

If you can't make it to the museum itself, though, the site will give you some idea of what's being developed there. Whether you think a Cray is ever going to be a genuine antique, or that an early Apple Mac could really be worth thousands already, your kids should get an idea of the history behind the games consoles that occupy so much of their lives. I just wish the site would be more kid-friendly and less museum-like, but it's early days.
1/13/11
Blastr, yet another site with an uncomfortable vowel movement, is the SyFy Channel's premium entertainment blog. As such, it features "hot news about movies, TV, games, books, top celebrities and more. Red-carpet photos. The newest movie trailers. Sneak peeks at upcoming TV shows and seasons. Exclusive on-set interviews", and it promises, to come, "Top 10 lists, exclusive Q&As, satire, dispatches from the front lines of science fiction, fantasy and the supernatural, funny stuff and a lot more."

This, as far as I can tell, makes it about the billionth entertainment blog I've seen, offering more or less the same content in the same This-Isn't-Really-Wordpress blog layout, except this one can advertize material from the TV channel for free.

OK, there's nothing particularly bad about it all, other than the title. It's a reasonably entertaining entertainment blog, but it's rubbing shoulders and other body parts with so many other almost-identical pages of almost-identical content in identical styles, that even "funny stuff and a lot more" isn't likely to drag me here for anything readily available everywhere else. Fine if you're passing, but for me at least, not a bookmark.
1/8/11
Back in 1973, in Mawangdui, China, three tombs from the Han dynasty were discovered. The first belonged to an aristocrat named Lady Dai, an unfortunate co-incidence of name that has probably caused much confusion amongst American tourists looking for that other one, and the second and third contained the others of the Dai family. Also discovered were many great treasures of Chinese society and science, including the earliest known example of a written pharmacology. I can't help but wonder if it was as difficult to read as whatever language that doctors use on prescriptions these days. Anyway, it illustrated the great age of Chinese traditional medicine, which like much Chinese science and culture can be traced back to roots beginning between four and five thousand years ago.

We've all heard about, and in some cases experienced, acupuncture, one of the best-known disciplines in Chinese health care and the one most commonly practiced in the west. But aside from a vague idea that it calls for sticking needles into people, a lot of westerners don't know much more and are, of course, often counseled by their medical practitioners to avoid believing in "alternative" treatments. We may have an even vaguer idea about Chinese herbal remedies, but unless we're in or near to an established Chinese community, that's the extent of our knowledge.

So this is an interesting site covering the history and practice of TCM, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and it's one of a trio of sites which promote the practice, as well as the products involved and the practice of care (see: http://www.icm.com.hk/). It's well presented and packed with information, including both the western and Chinese descriptions and definitions of a wide range of illnesses, and traditional cures, ingredients, foods and tonics. Whilst you may not care for some of the dietary recommendations - I couldn't see myself settling down to a bowl of sea horses and animal testicles - and you may be concerned that despite assurances, endangered species are still sought for medical purposes by the Chinese themselves, you should come away from this site much better informed about this very different form of health care.

Chinese medicine is directed largely at preventing illness, hence much more attention is paid to sensible, healthy lifestyles and diet than here in the west, where we seem to focus a lot less on health education and more on fixing up already-sick people. So there will always be contention between the two systems, but there are also many potentials for them to become complementary. If a bowl of boiled animal testicles might cure me where my local doctor couldn't, would that be too much to swallow?
1/8/11
Tracy Bonham's new album, a return to recording after an absence of five years, seems to divide the opinions of critics between those who regard it as disappointing for various reasons related to their personal expectations, and those who love it. As I fall into the latter category, my inclination is to tell the critics that their personal expectations are entirely their own problem. Having been a musician myself I know well enough about critics; they're people who ask you to perform their favorite tracks every time and then complain because you never do anything new. In this case, I think Tracy has delivered something that sits very comfortably between new and old, which therefore has irritated critics at both ends of the expectation spectrum and pleased everyone else enormously.

I first saw Tracy Bonham when she was performing with Blue Man Group, a gig which most people would give an arm and a leg to get. And she left a lasting individual impression, which I have to say is pretty hard to achieve when you're on stage with an act famous for grabbing the attentions of an audience and not releasing them until the very last moment of a performance.

A highly trained and talented singer songwriter and violinist, Tracy Bonham has been classified as everything from folk to rock to indie (I read one critic whingeing that she'd failed the hard rock community by being too indie) and honestly I don't want to classify her at all. I do recommend you go visit this site and listen to a couple of the downloadable tracks, and unless your musical tastes are extraordinarily narrow, I'd be highly surprised if you don't like the new album even if you come to it uneducated about this woman's vocal and musical talents.

Masts Of Manhattan is the new album, and is themed around Tracy's new lifestyle: married and in love, living in the country and traveling to the big city, finding a balance between the two and having some thoughts about those who don't try, as in one of the songs here, "We Moved Our City To The Country", which contains the memorable lines,

"We'll bathe in puddles in the parking lots of Home Depot,
We'll lower our voices when we speak upon our cell phones,
I hear a young sparrow, oh it's your ringtone, it's your ringtone,
Well let it ring cause it sounds nice here in the country"

Anyone else who has seen the result of city folks trying to be "authentic" in the countryside of England, as I have, will immediately relate to that one, and sadly it seems the same thing happens here in the USA too. But this isn't a sad song; there are no sad songs on this album, much to the annoyance of critics who complain about a lack of substance. There's some trademark wry wit and more direct humor, shared with an appreciation and response to love and partnership. There's a directness introduced by the relatively sparse production (another cause for critics to complain along the "very nice, dear, but you shouldn't really have tried to do it yourself" line) and an eclectic mix of rhythms and styles that's won a place for this on my replay-list, which is a very short list indeed.

The website has much more information, the usual gig list - again including one with BMG this year - and if you root around the discography you'll find some older tracks to download and listen to including one that brought a younger and more edgyTracy Bonham to the attention of the public some years back, "Mother Mother":
http://www.tracybonham.com/sounds/TracyBonham-MotherMother.mp3
12/27/10
Go here if you want to opt-out of behavioral advertising, which is the sort that follows you around the web and serves up ads based on your browsing preferences. It's done by storing cookies, and unless you're extraordinarily tidy you're going to have at least a few you don't want and probably didn't know you had. There is a very long list of behavioral advertising networks, and they all want to get their cookies onto your computer for one simple reason - it's been claimed as proven that behavioral ads are considerably more than twice as profitable as those routinely served up to everyone, regardless of their browsing habits.

Now since you might be wondering why an advertising organization responsible for supporting the very thing it's offering an opt-out from would go to the trouble, thereby potentially shooting itself in the foot, the answer appears to be that it also wants to take the opportunity to remind you that opting out is a bad, bad thing.

See, advertising is what they describe as the basis for the economic model that allows everyone to offer free content. In other words, if you opt out, before long there won't be any free content for anyone, any more. You'll be endangering "the advertising engine driving the growth of the internet", too, with the clear implication that opting out also leads to stagnation and the end of new ideas. And it'll all be your fault.

Still, if you're determined to bring down the web by destroying the ad networks responsible for providing the free content and the constant growth we've come to know and love, so be it. And here's the place you can do it, as long as you understand the appalling lack of responsibility that your antisocial behavior demonstrates.
12/18/10
Stack Exchange is an index to a collection of question - and - answer sites that cover a range of topics as varied as general physics, Ubuntu, Wordpress, cooking, photography and many other subjects attractive to geeks and nerds such as myself. Why do we think there are only three generations of fundamental particles? Who knows? Suppose that $g$ is a bijection on the real line, and $g^{-1}\circ f\circ g$ is a $C^\infty$ function whenever $f$ is $C^\infty$. It seems howlingly obvious that this can only happen if $g$ is …

Well, I'm fairly sure you don't need me to explain that.

The good thing is, that unlike just about every similar site out there, there's no registration required, not even for free. Just ask your questions. And there seem to be some really good answers and problem solvers here.

If you acquire a reputation for utility and knowledge, you'll also acquire points that give you some extra goodies, such as the ability to create new tags and take part in chat.

Definitely worth a look if you need to know how forgiving you need to be on new employees, or what you can do with frozen eggs (both genuine questions), and "throw them around" hasn't been a successful answer for either, so far.
12/12/10
I'm quite partial to crystallized ginger, you know? It's that sugar-coated crunchy treat that comes in jars. So when I saw someone advertising crystallized boots, I thought, well I've never really considered eating one of those but I'll give it a go. Anything's possible with enough sugar. But alas, it turns out that the product is just a real boot with Swarovski® Elements crystals on it, which no doubt looks a lot more attractive than it tastes.

So anyway, the 'crystallized boots' are one of a series of new ranges under a new name, by the same company that trades at www.australianuggboots.com.au. You can also choose from the Trendy range, the Harmony range, the Home range and more, and all come without even the whisper of the word "ugg", so as not to upset those nice people at Deckers, Inc, who own the trademark in most of the world.

These are, therefore, Uggs, but not Ugg Australia Uggs, and unlike Ugg Australia Uggs, they are made in Australia, which is one of the few places in the world where ugg boots not made by Ugg Australia can be labeled as Uggs. Though because of the confusion, they often aren't labeled as such, which is ironic given that there are so few places where doing so is legal. And if you can't follow that, you probably shouldn't be buying online anyway.

These look good, I have to say, though I am at a loss to see either the attraction or the explanation for the "stealth" range, which don't look remotely stealthy to me. But the sparkly ones are pretty, or at least as pretty as an enormous clumsy sheepskin boot is going to get. And they're legitimately Australian, for anyone who wants to own an Australian-made product instead of the Chinese-made Ugg® Australia one. Just looking at the selection, I'd guess you could do a lot worse, and as long as getting one specific label isn't important to you, you should at least take a look at these. They aren't cheap, though - expect to pay up to $540 US or £350 a pair.
12/1/10
A great example of a free, open source application fulfilling a need created by commercial products, Calibre may well be the only e-book app you'll ever need. More than equal in quality and function to anything you'd pay for, it's been designed as the perfect tool and it comes very close.

The main features are that it will catalogue all your e-book files into a virtual library, regardless of format; it will act as a well-appointed viewer for any file format; it will connect to various e-readers; it will convert e-book files of any format to any other format, and it will grab articles from several hundred of the most popular news feeds on the web and turn the feeds into e-books that you can read offline.

I can't say there's much if anything to fault here, really. The creator and developer writes, "Reading is very important to me and one of my goals has always been to prevent either the fragmentation or the monopolization of the e-book market by entities that care solely for short-term goals," and there's nothing to fault there, either.
12/1/10
Board track racing, or motordrome or velodrome racing, was a crazy American sport popular in the first two decades of the 20th century. Competitors on motorbikes and various other modes of racing vehicle would dash around a wooden track pitched as high as 60 degrees from horizontal at the corners, leading to amazing speeds and frequent and fatal distasters. It died gradually, as did the competitors and audiences, until the cost and danger led to its eventual obsolescence.

The concept of a relatively high-powered bicycle driven by a 4-stroke gas/petrol engine is back, this time for the modern cyclist more concerned about staying upright on a horizontal road surface and saving money on the daily commute. Enter the Derringer bike, from Los Angeles, a machine capable of up to 180 mpg and a top speed of... well, it depends whether you're going downhill or not. The originals could reach 100 mph or more, as a guide. And the bikes are light and manageable enough to pedal, too, with a freewheel making the transition from internal combustion to person-power a simple matter.

The bikes probably justify the description of 'artworks' since each one is custom-built to order for its owner and no two are alike. If you have to ask the price, you can't afford one. But you can dream.

Board track racing info source:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Board_track_racing
12/1/10
Yngwie Malmsteen may look more like Mel Smith in a wig these days than the slim, athletic guitar god of his youth, but boy, can the man still play. Even if he's frankly a bit past the tight leathers-and-bare-chest routine, he's such a fine player that you'd forgive his little indulgences.

If you've not heard the justifiably-famous Swedish guitarist and composer yet, and you're at all into rock metal guitar, you could do a lot worse than pick up his latest album, "Relentless", which was released this month. It's classic Malmsteen, which means astonishing sleight of hand in the generally neo-classical mode that he once called 'baroque and roll'. He is often compared with the classical violinist and composer, Paganini, whose hallmark was the agility of his finger work, and I can see why (and of course, the comparison is encouraged by the man, or at least his agent). On the other hand, someone said of Paganini that he was "a phenomenon rather than a development", and I can see the comparison there, too.

Malmsteen helped found a distinctive style of guitar playing called "shredding" which is characterized by firing off arpeggios at fantastic speeds (and often in self-indulgent solos of fantastic length). Somewhere into the 80s, the genre began to lose popularity and it never really came back, making Malmsteen into something of a cult figure rather than a mainstream star. But he's still out there, playing in his distinctive Bach-inspired style, in the same leathers and bare chest, only he wears a Rolex these days and the pants are a few sizes larger than they used to be. And he's still rated as one of the top ten rock guitarists, ever, sharing the company of the likes of Joe Satriani and Steve Vai in the super-supergroup, G3. For a man of his sheer physical size, it's a wonder that his hands can move so fast; but he never seems to slow down and a couple of years ago, players of the x-box game "Guitar Hero" became able to win the "Malmsteen Award" if they could hit 1000 correct notes in succession.

Listening to the new album, the man seems to have got faster, if anything. I'm no music critic so I wouldn't attempt to analyze it, other than to say it's very much what you'd expect from a man who is without doubt one of the very fastest and most fluid rock guitar players of all time. If you want to hear how far a Stratocaster can be pushed in terms of notes per second, you'll love this. And you might also find some inspiration in knowing that the man is entirely self-taught, too.

For a player with such an energetic style, the website is curiously conservative and even a bit subdued, with rather lacklustre reviews filled with the expected stock phrases: "guitar legend", "signature virtuosity", 'blinding speed" and so forth, and frustratingly small photos. If you want to know about the man, you really need to listen to him play.
11/24/10
Camerapixo is a Polish online photo magazine, featuring and promoting work by independent photographers from around the world. From what I've seen of it, this is above-average work for a free publication and well worth the relatively small download.

As far as I can tell, the work of independent photographers is welcomed. I don't read Polish, and decided not to wait for the Google translation, but it's worth checking out to see if the style suits your work. The URL I've given is the section where you can view and download the magazines, though there is also a main site at camerapixo.pl that's entirely in Polish. You'd need to be able to translate this to some extent to get the most from it.

However, as for the photography, that doesn't rely on language at all so don't let the geography put you off. There's some really good work here. At the time of writing the current theme is kids and babies, a vein which you might think has already been mined to the very bottom, yet there are some shots here that still breathe some life back into a very well explored topic. And the standard set by the photographers here is high enough to impress. Check it out, if you're jaded by the usual western photo mags.
11/22/10
Today I found out about todayifoundout.com, a site packed with trivia that goes to greater lengths than usual to explain the uncommonly-known. More than just a lunchtime-killer, it's also surprisingly educational.

I discovered, for example, the differences between an idiot, an imbecile, and a moron, and not just by watching election TV advertising. In case you didn't know, and you didn't, those with an IQ between 0 and 25 are idiots; IQs between 26 and 50 are considered imbeciles; and those who have an IQ between 51 and 70 are considered morons. And as to why milk is white, well I'll leave that one for you because it's over my head. As, in fact, are the flies which are landing on the ceiling, also explained here.

An excellent time-waster that might, for once, not waste your time.
11/17/10
Geek Buddy is a new service introduced by Comodo, a very well known provider of desktop and cloud security applications and SSL certifications. At the time of writing, the service is being offered as a free trial for 30 days, after which there's a fee of $4.95 a month or about $50 a year.

The service is a remote assist which connects you to your friendly "geek buddy", who is an expert capable of fixing almost any computer problem and, given the nature of the company, especially viruses and the like.

So here's my first and only experience of trying out this service. I had a virus, and I had the free Comodo app so I thought, what the heck. I'm not busy and a chat with someone in India who also has time on his hands will keep me busy for a bit. So I clicked the Geek Buddy icon and after a short wait during which I was asked to select the nature of my problem and approve a remote connection, the chat window appeared and I met "Barney", whose avatar image was suspiciously blank, and his bio, likewise.

Barney was keen to get hold of my cursor and go take a look around, which was hopeful, and he was helped - should have been helped, I ought to say - by the AV immediately popping up a virus alert which even had the name of the virus in it. So he didn't even have to look for it or run any kind of scan.

After dismissing the alert window, and several more that popped up, he was able to find a whole bunch of unwelcome executables which had popped up in a "Temp" folder. He took about as long to find them as I had done, previously.

So he then deleted them and proudly declared that he had found the infected files and removed them manually, thanks to Comodo AV. Ah yes, I typed back, but they'll be right back. And of course, about five seconds later, up popped another alert and within about half a minute there was another batch of Trojan-created apps in the temp folder. In any case these were not infected files, they were the symptoms of the infection, and he'd done nothing to remove that, or repair any damage, at all.

This led to Barney spending much time playing with the 'msconfig' Windows program, and peering at logs, and clicking on alert windows generated by his own company's software, and moving around in what seemed to me a pretty random manner. As things were getting worse, I typed "please stop, you are making it worse", which he ignored. So I typed "please tell me whether you can fix this virus or not" to which he replied "let me see". And that, as I recall, was the last I heard of him, because some minutes later - while I was typing up a caustic trouble ticket on the Geek Buddy site from another device - a "temporarily disconnected, trying to reconnect" message popped up. And a few minutes after that, it disappeared, and so did Barney, leaving my PC at least as badly infected as before and, it later turned out, even more so.

A day later, nobody had replied to my trouble ticket. What a waste of time. The thing that was most evident was that presented with the name of the offending Trojan within the first minute of his inspection, my Geek Buddy didn't even bother to go look it up online, where he would have found several sites offering tools and techniques to remove it. He had no idea what to do, at all.

I'd give this one a miss, if I were you, unless you hear some trustworthy testimonials other than mine. Or just don't ask for Barney.
11/16/10
At the time of writing, Yahoo! Has just launched this attempt to become the last word on online content creation, and it's a largely successful project that's going to be enormously popular. With an audience whose attention needs to be caught within three seconds, writers on the web will be attracted to any authoritative advice on how to capture readers and hold their attention.

Writing standards for the web have developed in a different direction from those expected of other media. Attention spans are limited. Ornamentation, however enjoyable for more relaxed readers, is out. Paragraphs are short. Repeating a point may cost you an impatient reader.

Out go unnecessary exclamation marks, though Yahoo! Will be keeping the one on the end of its own trademark. Writers will learn not to use apostrophes in excess, even if they already know where to put them, which most don't, and there are slapped wrists all round for using "there" instead of "their" and "were" instead of "we're". We shall gloss over the decline in education which has led to writers being unable to tell the difference, which is another story entirely.

The Guide, which is available in all good bookstores right now and as a downloadable e-book, is a must for anyone who wants to be sure that their writing online conforms to some sort of acceptable model. Yahoo! Wants us to accept that their model is the right one, and though there will be some disagreements over that, they've identified a need and fulfilled it with a good deal of authority borne of the mass of online content their own writers generate.

The website is an expanding community resource for writers and Guide users, not a replacement for the Guide itself. It includes updated information, live help from editors and even some instructions on basic coding rules.

Whether you agree with the opinions of Yahoo! Editors on what makes for good style, this is a project and a publication which you can't afford to overlook if you're writing or seeking to write online, for profit or pleasure.
11/6/10
Yet another tech blog, from AOL, home of Engadget and Download Squad. This one is more oriented toward Facebook and Twitter news, has the usual celebs and reviews of new products and apps, and scores an extra point for having a fun section called LOLZ which I thought was mildly amusing in a geeky way, rather than silly but somehow hilarious in a LOLCATZ sort of way.

I felt it deserved inclusion if only because the "Hot Topics" of the day included Nicaragua, Martha Stewart, Justin Beiber and Humidifiers. Who could see that and not be tempted to read more?
11/6/10
Although dynamism.com does sell gadgets and watches as well as computers and web devices, frankly, one gadget and a half dozen watches mean that you're coming here for the laptops, netbooks, handhelds, and especially, the sought-after Viliv series of handhelds, which includes the gorgeous Viliv N5, an ultra-mini 1.3Ghz atom-powered Windows-7 running handheld computer with a 4.8 inch screen, bluetooth, 3G, a gig of memory and so much cool you could chill your martini with it.

Also up for grabs here are Archos internet tablets, high-end Panasonic and Toshiba notebooks and the chokingly-expensive Fujitsu U/G90N, which at $1400 and upwards is about the same size as a cellphone and about as easy to drop, so don't take it into the restroom with you.

Due to the patchy watch and gadget sections, the site does look like some of the more dodgy electronics sites at first view. But this is not fake gear, it's a legitimate dealer and distributor. If you're in the market for a notebook or handheld and you want high-end quality, this one should be well up your browsing list.
11/6/10
Firebox is not a web browser, just in case you thought I'd made a typo. No, it got its name as a development of hotbox.com, which began life back in 1998 when everyone thought Geocities was a pretty cool idea and people used Yahoo to search the web. Things have changed, but one thing that hasn't is the sudden spending urge people have before the holiday season, for a pen that converts into a golf club for dad, an illuminated mirror that you can thaw steak out on for mum, and a toy car that transforms into a real nuclear weapon for little Billy. Fido the dog is already looking forward to one of those collars that translates him into English and then sends messages to Twitter, but since he hasn't yet got it, nobody understands him when he asks.

The rest of the family make a beeline for sites such as Firebox, which subtitles itself "amazing gifts" and which has the biggest range of stuff that you can only justify buying other people on birthdays and holidays, while you secretly hope they'll do the same for you. It's huge. It's like the toy shops of old, when you were only 5 and everything was a million times bigger than it is today, except now it's online, which does take something off the experience for anyone who can even remember toy shops. But it's presented in much the same way, with dozens of goodies on each screen, and if you want you can press your nose up against the monitor and pretend you're gazing in awe through the store window.

It's not all toys, oh no. There are gifts for teenage boys (the psychedelic Underwater Disco Lightshow will go down a bomb in the bathroom, but you'll need to get rid of that odd herbal smell, later); dads will be slobbering over the Moller Skycar, which clocks in at a cool £324,000 (free shipping), and you can treat the daughter of the house to a My Butterfly, a staggeringly realistic (it says) butterfly in a glass jar, which flies around exactly like a real butterfly in a glass jar would if it hadn't died of suffocation.

Lastly we come to the lady of the house, without whom the family wouldn't have been possible, but the site does find itself a little challenged to offer a major treat in this area when you select expensive gifts for her. The Power Gorilla, which does conjure up one or two potentially appealing images, turns out to be an emergency laptop battery; the "Wattson", which is for homes but not at all elementary, is a clever wireless device that tells you how much you're currently blowing on electricity; and the wi-fi bathroom scales, which store all your embarrassing data online for posterity, are going to leave a lot of mums expressing their gratitude with less than total enthusiasm.

However, for just about everyone, THE gift of the entire site, transcending age, gender, sexual orientation, weight, height and income, is the USB Snakescope Camera, which sells with the slogan "Stick it where the sun don't shine". For £29.99, you get a tiny USB camera, with lights, on the end of a semi-flexible tube about 18 inches long, which you can bend around corners and insert into all manner of previously inaccessible areas.

The people writing the copy for this are having a field day with it, and I quote:

"Thanks to its long, robust, semi-flexible insertion tube (no s$#*!ing at the back) and adjustable twin LEDs, it can explore all kinds of difficult to reach nooks and crannies, even wet ones because both camera head and cable are waterproof. It's ideal for shoving down your plughole! "

Now the bad news (heh) it doesn't work with a Mac, which makes Windows suddenly a whole lot more attractive. And you'll need to have it plugged in to a PC of some sort all the while, though being USB, that's not necessarily too much of an issue. USB cables and booster devices are widely available. And although we're not there quite yet, wi-fi USB is definitely on the cards, someday.

So there you are, all sorted for Christmas this year. USB snakescope cameras all round, then. I'll leave you to explain to Granny about what she could do with hers.
kristianb20
Kristian B. – Firebox Rep
Hey Chris,

Thank you so much for taking the time to write us such a thorough and thoughtful review. We really appreciate the feedback!

We hope to see you back on the site for some more awesome goodies soon.

Firebox
11/6/10
*******@dognextdoor wooof, bark, bark, whimper, woof, bark, woof. Is that 140 characters yet?

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