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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Tap Master: Simple, Colourful and Fun Free Tapping Game for Android

Tap Master intro screen.
Image provided by developer and used with permission.

Tap Master is that rare tapping game, one I can play. It has to be said that I’m worse than useless at all these side-scroller or up-scroller games where players have to guide their character through a maze of obstacles. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have a smartphone at the time Flappy Bird came out, or maybe it’s just because I’m hopeless at tapping games, who knows?

Tap Master game screen.
Image provided by developer.
Used with permission.

But Tap Master is different. A 5 x 5 square of coloured dots, and all players have to do is tap all the dots of the same colour as indicated. No moving screens, although the dots change colour when they are tapped, assuming they’re the colour the player is supposed to be tapping. The further on in the game, the more dots are the same colour, it seems to me. That does at least make tapping them easier, as there is more margin for error on the part of fat-fingered players. Each round is against the clock though, so there’s no time to hang around.

Scoring screen from Tap Master.
Imge supplied by developer.
Used with permission.

For those in the know about gaming, it will not be surprising to learn that the developer of this little gem is based in Kazakhstan. The mighty Tetris was developed by Alexey Pajitnov from the then USSR over 30 years ago, and its influence still resonates in the former Soviet areas today. Tapping games are also ideal for mobile phones, as the tap or swipe reflex is intrinsic in the use of these touchscreen devices.

Certainly Tap Master adheres to the standard rule that a game should be easy to learn and difficult to put down. The highest score at time of writing is 264, although it is not clear whether this is on the current version of the game or not. The latest release from late December 2015 has a start timer of 10 seconds per game, so this will naturally limit the score per game that players can achieve, at least for starters. If the high score is taken from the cumulative number of game or taps, this would be a much easier figure to reach than the number of points possible in a single game.


Tap Master is an ideal coordination game for all ages, and I can imagine it being used in preschool to teach young children about reflexes and colour recognition, or in a recovery and rehabilitation program for people with dexterity issues or brain injury. In-app purchases are available, so long as players reach that stage. Most of the reviews so far are 5* positive, perhaps not unusual for a game that is so easy to play. This game should not be confused with the similarly named Tap Master Modrian or Tap Tap Master. If it doesn’t have dots, it’s not the game I’m writing about here.
 

The developers reckon Tap Master is a good brain training game, as well as improving hand-eye coordination. No matter a player’s level, once signed in with Google, there is a leaderboard and social media sharing buttons. Due to the speed of levels, it’s great for playing on the move, when waiting for a bus, or in a few spare minutes before a meeting. It’s certainly a good game to play when smartphone users are bored, needing a quick break from something more important, or looking for a game they can leave or finish quickly.
Tap Master logo. Image supplied by developer and used with permission.

Tap Master: the addictive game players didn’t know they needed until they tried it.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Android App Review: Random Quotes App and Widget

Random Quotes logo. Supplied and used with permission.

The Random Quotes app, available for free on Android through Google Play, features inspirational, knowledge-enhancing and humorous quotes on various topics.
 

Instead of needing to follow a Facebook or Twitter feed, Android phone owners can have the app (also available as a widget) on their phone and set it up just as they want it. Users can select quotes by author, topic or keyword and have the opportunity to change font and background with a few clicks. A word of advice though; the demonstration video suggests the settings tab is at the top right within the app, whereas on the version I downloaded, Settings was accessed via a tap on the shortcut button on the phone, bottom left.
 

Random Quotes has been available for at least 18 months and is now on version 5.6, which was released at the end of November with fixes for minor bugs and improvements, according to the developers. On the Google Play page, there is a video demonstrating how easy it is to use and showing how to access the various areas to search and change settings. Android phones with version 4.2 and above can use the app as a daydream setting when charging. A new quote will be displayed every hour. Users simply need to enable the app as a source for the daydream stream in the appropriate settings on the phone.
 

Reviewers mainly seem pleased with this latest version. Any lower starred reviews are for earlier releases and as the developers have made changes, so the bugs have been ironed out slowly. The daydream setting, accessible while charging the phone, is popular, as is starting the day with a quote. It is easy to share favorite quotes via social media, with links to all the major platforms. The author attributions are also hyperlinked so interested readers can research more about the origins of the quote as needed. Quotes come from a wide variety of sources, including Shakespeare’s plays, the works of Dickens, ancient and modern authors, scientists, philosophers and celebrities.
 

This piece is just one of several reviews of this app available on the web. Downloaded between 5,000 and 10,000 times across its history, the app has generally received positive reviews for the amount of work which has gone into it. Random Quotes has an extensive database of quotes with simple customization to make it feel a little more personal. The app runs smoothly with an uncluttered layout and is easy to work once users have found out where all the menus are.
 

For anyone who needs a ‘Quote of the Day’, an inspiration to meditate over, something to inspire an article, or just an interesting few minutes, Random Quotes is recommended as an easy way to find that quote.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Nvidia Shield gaming tablet - a tablet built for games

Nvidia Shield gaming tablet, cc by 2.0 by Maurizio Pesce at flickr

The Nvidia Shield Android gaming tablet from Google is a specialist bit of kit. The most recent version is the mark 2 (the original version now being called the Shield Portable), which is an 8 inch tablet with resolution similar to the famed Nexus 7. The mark 2 is lighter than the original version of the Shield but still relatively heavy for a tablet. Users like me who have a tendency to put things down just about anywhere will be happy to hear the back of the Nividia Shield has an anti-slip surface to keep it safe. In common with many tablets the Shield also has front and rear facing cameras and a selection of USB, HDMI and MicroSD card ports. Just don’t try using it to take photos in front of me at gigs, or I might become rather annoyed rather quickly at my view being blocked by someone else’s tablet.

The Shield runs a standard Android operating system; its power comes from the Tegra K1 processor inside. Despite that power, the battery should last around five hours for gaming or ten hours for surfing/watching, according to official figures. That sounds like a pretty good deal to me, especially as my 18 month old Android phone has much less power but lasts around the same length of time.

Prices on CompareGamingTablets.com have yet to be finalised, as that area of the site is still under construction. But previous articles elsewhere online have offered a price between £240 and £340, which, given the power of the tablet, is not out of the way. The device is available as a 16GB WiFi or 32GB 4G LTE version, both of which support WiFi streaming from a PC on the same network. (The wireless controller is an additional outlay.) Users can also stream games remotely, which requires knowledge of router protocols and available bandwidth speeds. Depending on a user’s available bandwidth and speed, the tablet may drop out at times, just as all connections will do when the signal is lost. Sometimes the presence of online gaming partners appears to hold a lower speed connection in place, according to some users. This may be because the remote connection circumvents the connectivity issues somehow.

Users are recommended to upgrade to a top spec router (5GHz dual band preferred) for optimum performance in both WiFi and 4G LTE modes of the Nvidia Shield. There are over 100 games capable of running on the Nvidia Shield tablet, plus emulations, but as always, some are better rendered than others. And all of this depends on the strength and capability of the internet service. My personal guess is that seasoned players of remote multi-player games and/or MMORPGs will already have all of those tweaks and more besides.

It may seem as if the company is making players pay out for having the full package on the Shield, but gamers can be funny about having things bundled together, and would rather buy what they want for their individual preferences rather than having every conceivable add-on thrown in for free. (I never use the stylus that came with my phone, for instance, whereas my father will only use a stylus.)

Horses for courses, as always with gadgets, but if gaming is important to you then the Nvidia Shield is a distinct contender for the latest tablet gaming experience.

Monday, November 30, 2015

SUCK: Vaping made awesome. Vaping done right.

The EVOD electronic cigarette as sold by SUCK.direct
Image provided and used with permission.

Regular readers will remember that a few months ago I wrote about the VitaStik, an American brand of e-cigarette vaping device which was being launched in the UK. The same people behind that initiative have now introduced SUCK.direct, a website for vaping products with the tagline ‘Vaping made awesome. Vaping done right.’

The company’s website introduction says that it doesn’t spend a fortune on packaging or sleazy marketing gimmicks. Because the business is online-only, they can keep costs lower for those smokers who prefer to have the choice to vape as well as, or instead of, smoking regular cigarettes. Although the firm is still fairly new, not only does it profess to offer the best possible prices, the blurb suggests it will have an increasing range of products and be donating 10% of profits to charity.

Whatever a smoker’s reasons for looking at the range available here, there appears to be a definite divide between those who are vaping as a step towards giving up completely and those who vape when they are unable to smoke. And for some, the choice will be harder than others. Some people swing between vaping indoors (when allowed) and smoking outside for months. Others seem to be able to set their mind to vaping the instant they decide to give up cigarettes. Yet others say that a vaping device solves the need that they have for ‘something in their mouth’ at a given time. Hence the name of the website. A vape can also be a dummy, something to suck, as well as something to inhale from.

The coils in the e-cigarettes sold by SUCK will generally last around a month on average. A pack of five will set customers back £7.99 (price at November 2015). The main e-cigarette itself costs at least £19.99 with a choice of two models, and the batteries are both rechargeable and replaceable after 300-400 charges. The guys at SUCK suggest that their products can save a 20-a-day smoker over £2,000 a year, given that one pack would cost only slightly more than the pack of five coils but the vapes last a lot longer.

The eLiquid range from SUCK complies with all the latest product directives relating to vaping products, including child proof tops, tamper proof collars and production dates/batch numbers. There are twenty different flavours to choose from, at £3.95 each. All buyers must be 18 or over to purchase anything from SUCK, this being the legal age of consent for smokers in the UK. The flavours are available in different strengths, ranging from 0.6% to 1.8% nicotine. The site also stocks replacement parts and accessories for the EVOD and KSN2 series of e-cigarettes.

Now, my personal knowledge of vaping devices is limited, but for those in the know, SUCK.direct appears to have a complete range of equipment. The site caters to the UK market, as rules and regulations about vaping elsewhere in the world can differ. Free delivery is offered on orders over £25, and for first time buyers, the company offers 20% off the total order price.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Android app review: Endless Rotating Wallpapers

Endless Rotating Wallpapers app logo.
Image suggested and used with permission.


In this house, we have two identical phones, often charging side by side. The only way we can tell them apart is by the wallpaper. My husband’s wallpaper is a picture of his favorite actress. Mine is a photograph of my high score on my favorite retro computing game.

However, for those people who prefer stock photos for their wallpaper, then Endless Rotating Wallpapers (with images supplied by Wallhaven images) may be an app to consider. There are almost 150 selections of wallpaper to choose from, and users can exclude as well as choose to select keywords. After selecting the keyword/s, users have to make sure they check the settings (bottom left touchkey on the phone on mine) to make sure it takes the selection. The resulting wallpaper images should scroll around, changing at the frequency set (anything from a minute up to a day) and displaying random images tagged by the chosen keywords on Wallhaven.

I have to say that on my phone, an S4 Mini, it is not great for multiple selections, but works really well on one or two choices. Users have the option to choose many different options, basically grouped into people, animals, landscapes, fashion or abstract themes. The option for paid content is available, so I am wondering whether the more discerning will end up paying to save their favorite images and build up their own unique rotating screensaver in due course.

Many of the selection criteria are slanted towards a certain human trait, such as hair or eye color, style of dress or similar. This does make me wonder whether the target audience is a certain age group and male. But then I see keywords such as ‘cats’ or ‘landscape’ and I have to wonder. The instructions on the Google Play page state that scrolling wallpaper images should be enabled to make the best of this app. If this is not set as standard then the advice is to try a different launcher.

Wallhaven has thousands of high definition wallpaper images, constantly refreshed and updated. The site (and therefore also the Endless Rotating Wallpapers app) has more images being added each day, so users will potentially see new choices regularly too. Unlike some apps, which drain the battery constantly scanning for updates, with Endless Rotating Wallpapers only one wallpaper will be downloaded when the screen is off. The app is designed for both phones and tablets, and can download new images over wifi and/or 3G – user’s choice whether it downloads on the move or not.

Personally. I’m still on the fence about this app, mainly because I’m attached to my own images as wallpapers. But for those people for whom a phone is a necessity rather than a personalized accessory, Endless Rotating Wallpapers will be ideal for expressing just enough about them to make owning a phone fun.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Grasshopper feng shui art statues hopping in to Explosion Luck

Your Honor grasshopper art statue for sale at Explosion Luck

Now here’s a truly unique gift. The new range of grasshopper art that is now on sale at Explosion Luck is as individual as that one difficult person to buy for that everyone knows.

These statues are limited edition art; every one handcrafted, every one individual. Regular readers will know that I love the feng shui gifts at Explosion Luck, especially as they often depict animals or nature rather than being portraits. The range of significance behind these unusual gifts and unique gift ideas means that someone wanting to give a friend or relative a meaningful present can find something suitable here. I love these because they’re so colorful, bold, bright metallic greens and pinks, deep reds and blues, inky blacks. In fact they’re a unique gift idea for a woman who likes unusual gifts or has a passion for statement colors.

The grasshopper is believed to bring luck and positive feng shui energy to wherever it lands, and with these cheerful characters there is a choice of backstory and colors to chime with anyone’s décor or humor. For the social media maven, there is Twitty, the blue and green grasshopper who comes from a family of 140 characters. For the judge or lawyer, Your Honor is the purple grasshopper in the header picture, who maintains that an insect should not be judged by its antennae. The red and yellow one is St Nicky, wishing Hoppy Holidays to all.

A grasshopper art statue may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about unique gift ideas for men online, but these statues are exactly that. Striking and meaningful, they are mounted on a piece of date palm tree wood and presented in a clear display case measuring 4" x 4" x 5". Each grasshopper is all ready for display just as it is in the container. What could be easier? Explosion Luck offer free shipping on these products within the continental US too. Interested potential buyers from abroad should contact the company before placing an order.

For a selection of awesomely unusual gifts for men and women, look no further than Explosion Luck. I think this grasshopper range is their most unusual gift line yet, with the jewel-bright colors drawing the eye and the meaning of good luck and positive feng shui symbolized by the insect. Every item shown on these pages is the only one of its kind. Handcrafted in detail, these unique gifts at Explosion Luck are tailor made to show the care with which a piece has been chosen specifically for the recipient.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Android App Review: Beyond Pool 3D (Hole-in-One)



 Video from Beyond Pool 3D (Hole-in-One).
YouTube link supplied and shared with permission.

You too can become a pinball wizard, a pool champion or a billiards king with the latest version of the Android game app Beyond Pool 3D (Hole-in-One). Playing alone or, soon, in Challenge mode with others online, players must attempt to dodge walls and other obstacles, catch stars and still land the ball in the pocket at the far end of the game table, all on one pull.

The game has many different variables, where players can adjust brightness, sensitivity, vibration, tracking and even camera angle. For the first time player there are tutorials on the first four levels indicating how to best approach each layout, and the number of adjustments players can make more or less guarantees some degree of success.

Beyond Pool 3D (Hole-in-One) is a well coded game which runs smoothly and copes well with being played on a phone or in a low signal area. As it’s a point and pull game rather than a tapping game, it’s easier to control the direction of the ball too, making it very satisfying for both casual and serious gamers alike. The technique is similar to a bubble shooter game, while the look of the game is decidedly retro and calls to mind the classic pinball arcade games of the 70s and 80s. There are also elements of the skills involved in playing pool, billiards and snooker too.

The aim with each level is to hit the star and then hole the ball. Preferably on the first attempt. Two points are awarded each time the ball hits a cushion, and 100 points when the ball is holed. Players have five attempts to nail the level, then can refresh the screen for another five, as many times as necessary. They can view their progress on the menu and also see their best score for each level. There doesn’t appear to be any finite number of times that players can try one level unsuccessfully either. I needed fifteen attempts at one level so perhaps that’s just as well.

Beyond Pool 3D (Hole-in-One) has just undergone an upgrade, with hundreds of new levels available and a tie in with Giftiz, a site which offers the chance to win real gifts through gameplay. In addition, players will be offered the chance to get hold of levelpacks when they reach the higher levels of available play on the standard game. Earlier glitches and bugs reported by reviewers appear to have been fixed in this release.

The developer, NLightniN, has a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, a Google+ profile and a YouTube channel. They are proactively developing the game and welcome feedback from players. If you choose to download Beyond Pool3D (Hole-in-One), be ready to share your thoughts, as the latest update is less than a month old and the team is still working on improvements.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Explosion Luck offers unique Feng Shui gifts for Christmas

Explosion Luck logo.
Supplied and used with permission.


It’s a known fact that some people are nearly impossible to buy gifts for. They’re the kind of person who has everything, has visited every interesting country or city and considers that gift cards are boring but necessary. (My dad is one such. For Christmas this year he wants an Amazon gift card. For his birthday he had an Amazon gift card.) However here, on Explosion Luck I think I might just have found something suitable to give him that isn’t a gift card.

Explosion Luck specialize in awesomely unusual gifts for men. Fortunately for me. This year they have a range of 9” high tabletop art screens. The fish design is particularly apt for dad, as his pride and joy is the fish pond in the back garden and he spends hours devising ways to keep the herons from having a free fish supper. He’ll be able to use it to hide his iPod when streaming music in the dining room, I reckon, and the colors will fit with the existing décor in there too.

I think most people have someone like that in their house, impossible to buy gifts for. So if you’re looking for unique gifts for men online, just as I am, you could always take a look at the Feng Shui art on Explosion Luck’s site. There are many different collections including sand art, tapestry wall hangings, small ornaments and sculptures, paintings, boxes and pendants. Every Feng Shui item has a meaning, so whether it’s a bear painting or sculpture for the arctophile in your life, symbolizing courage and protection, or a Tibetan thangka tapestry depicting the Medicine Buddhas and bestowing good health, there is bound to be a unique gift idea for them somewhere on this site.

My mother-in-law is another challenge to buy presents for. She always gives us a box of chocolates and a bottle of wine each, while we have tried everything from gift cards to scarves, gloves or bags and more unusual gifts for her such as paintings and a new French press cafetiere with some of her favorite coffee. Nothing seems to quite fit her personality, but she does like small gadgets, ornaments and trinkets. If we bought her a sand art picture she would be able to display that in one of the rooms and remember that we bought it for her. If one of your female relations is into antique jewelry, then among the unique gift ideas for women, the thangka pendants bring a variety of blessings to the wearer. Depending on the deity depicted, the pendants are said to bestow peace, serenity, inspiration, love, wealth or health.

Whether you’re looking for cool gifts for guys or meaningful Feng Shui art or Feng Shui jewelry, Explosion Luck will have something for you. I keep coming back to this site because the range inspires and motivates me, plus the items are unusual gifts and unique gift ideas. The blog post The Best Holiday Gift Guide For 2015-2016 - Feng Shui Art Gifts gives more detail about the meaning behind each type of gift for those still seeking inspiration.

Good luck, and happy gift hunting.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The useful Auto SMS/USSD/Call Android app

 Auto SMS/USSD/Call video on You Tube.
Link supplied and shared with permission.

 Do you always forget birthdays? Do you need to know your balance regularly to ensure you don’t overspend?

As the saying goes, ‘there’s an app for that’! You’ve heard of autotweets, you know how to schedule blogposts and perhaps even Facebook or LinkedIn posts. Now, this is the app which can send balance requests, make automated payments, send texts on time and even make a phone call at a predetermined time for you.

Auto SMS/USSD/Call is a longwinded name for an app designed to save time and simplify life. The app, from Golden T Studios, is available for free on Android, although there is also a paid Pro version available. It will act like an extension of your diary and allow you to schedule automated reactions to regular occurrences. It’s dead simple to use and will ensure that you are in touch with your family, friends and finances at times that suit you and meet your obligations.

Imagine being able to send a happy birthday text to anyone in your contact list on their special day. Even if you send a card as well, a text lets them know you have thought of them on that day. Those pesky ‘happy new year!’ texts? Well, they might not go through, but at least you can schedule them to try. SMS, USSD and call schedules can be set for daily, weekly monthly or annual repetition. Reminders are programmed on a simple text-based interface to be sent once in the future, a number of days after the previous encounter or a certain time after a call. If you have an MLM business or a marketing strategy which includes call to action emails, you can substitute an SMS or set a reminder to call a new customer at a suitable time. There is also a manual option using the widget for one off future requirements. The planned listings look much like an autotweet list, where you see a list of what has been scheduled and when it is next programmed to be sent.

When you’re on the bus to work before 7am, you can set a reminder to call someone at a reasonable time of day, then forget about it until your phone obligingly sparks into life at the pre-programmed time. Shift workers can schedule texts to leave at the time of day a friend would expect to hear from them, even if this is at the time when they will be sleeping off their latest night shift. Time zone differences are no problem either, as once you know the time in the place you want to send the SMS, you can simply set the phone to send at the right time for your recipient, then leave it switched on so the app can run.

Auto SMS/USSD/Call supports dual SIM on some devices and allows use of a user defined code to simplify requests for money transfers. The app will show requests scheduled for the next 24 hours which will run as long as the phone is turned on. If not, they will run as soon as it is powered up again. For people who prefer routine, but whose life doesn’t always let them indulge their preferences, this is a useful addition to their phone. For those who keep meaning to do something but never get around to it, this app is a good way of ticking off the calls and SMS messages on the daily ‘to do list’.

The Auto SMS/USSD/Call YouTube video shows just how simple this app is to use. The app has a 4.7* rating on Google Play and most people say it saves them money on phone calls or internet charges to be able to check balances via the app, send texts when they aren’t able to and generally manage the routine enquiries that everyone needs to make at times.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Android game review: Neon 2 Cars Racing Saga

Neon 2 Cars Racing Saga -
Universal Games
Image supplied and used with
permission
Neon 2 Cars Racing Saga by Universal Games is a free game on Android phones. It’s a double handed tapping format, meaning players use both hands at the same time to control different elements of the game. Suitable for all Android versions from 2.3 up, it has been available since September and has been downloaded thousands of times since release.

From the same developer who released the equally cute and addicting game Penguin Run a few months ago, Neon 2 Cars Racing Saga takes the tapping genre to a whole new level. Console gamers will love its double handed style, while retro fans will appreciate the uncluttered, clean lines of the design with bright neon edged shapes on a black background.

The idea is simple. You are the driver of both cars. Blue is controlled by your left hand and pink by your right. You have to collect circles and triangles. Circles earn one point, triangles two. Crash into a square or miss collecting a circle and it’s game over. Tap to switch lanes to catch the circles and triangles or to avoid the squares. Easy to say, not so easy in practice. 

As you might expect, this simple racing game is quite addictive. As usual, I’m taking my time to get used to a new game. Playing double handed on a smartphone isn't easy either and so my scores are correspondingly low. The top score is over 500, so I have some way to go yet. The game is optimised for a tablet, which makes sense as on a phone there’s more chance of tapping your own fingers than moving the car out of the way quickly.

Racing games are fun and appeal to all ages. They’re ideal for whiling away the tedium of a long journey and encourage players to keep trying to improve their score. The speed element to a racing game adds an extra layer of skill and the smooth coding on this new game makes it look as well as feel fast.
Neon 2 Cars Racing Saga.
Image supplied and used with
permission.
 
Even now it is amazing how much fun can be had from a game with an ultra-simple design and a handful of colours. Neon 2 Cars Racing Saga brings back memories of the classic arcade games of the 80s and the early home computer games market. I’m not the only person to think this game echoes the feel of the 80s film Tron, either. It’s the little glowing edges of the cars that does it, I think.

As you would expect with an Android game, this is a fully integrated experience. Log into your Google Play account and you’ll be automatically connected with the leaderboard and can share your progress on social media too. Not that I want to - I’ve always been pretty useless at electronic racing games despite being a complete petrolhead/gearhead in real life for many years.

Great coding, fully integrated social media, striking graphics in a cartoon gaming style, what’s not to like? And with the smooth coding you really do get the impression of speed. No glitches on my phone, at least, even when I was playing on the move and going through an area with low or no signal. 

So, if you’re after a simple looking, challenging action game, or a car game for your kids or for yourself, try Neon2 Cars Racing Saga. It’s free, after all, so there’s no penalty if you find it’s not to your liking. On the other hand, you may well be surprised. You could find it’s one of the best Android games you’ve played in a while.

Neon 2 Cars Racing Saga
Image supplied and used with permission.

Neon 2 Cars Racing Saga
Image supplied and used with permission.
               

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Flying-Drones.Expert, a site for information about drones

Flying-Drones.Expert logo.
Image supplied and used with permission.

A few months ago, I wrote about the FLYBi drone crowdfunding effort. Now I hear there’s a whole website devoted to reviewing the drones which are already on the market.

Flying-Drones.expert has comprehensive reviews of the best of the currently available drones. These are either by single machine or grouped under headings such as ‘Best Drone Under $100’ or ‘Cheap Drone with Camera’. Many of these models are available via Amazon or eBay for those interested in trying the technology themselves.


The Use of Drones section is about more than how to safely manage a drone (see the article ‘How to Fly a Quadcopter’ for information on that side of things). It also covers comparison reviews of various drones and articles on drone use for professional video recording, in a commercial setting and for stills photography using an onboard camera.


The News tab rounds up many recent news stories involving drones. There’s more on Amazon’s plans to use drones for deliveries and the tale of the Californian who shot down his neighbor’s drone because he thought it was over his property. Many of the stories come with a US bias, although UK fliers are becoming more popular too.


The Models tab is subdivided into Directory, Manual, Photo and Review sections so readers can more easily find relevant posts. Links to manuals for many of the popular models are included for quick reference, while the photo gallery shows various views of models in flight, assembled on the ground and in their carrying cases.


The Flying Drones Guide tab rounds up the different price ranges of drones and reviews some of the capabilities. For an idea of that drone video cameras can do, check out the Best Flying Drones Video tab.


One of the most useful and informative posts on the site is the comparison between prices of drones available on eBay and Amazon, which gives a complete breakdown of models for sale from under $100 to over $1000, including a brief description and shipping costs for each. If someone is considering a drone as a present for a friend or relation, the post is a good starting point to make an informed short list of potentially suitable models.


Flying-Drones.expert has a lot of information on current models, prices and flying tips. The site can help those just starting out with a cheap drone, or provide pointers for upgrading to the next model. Owners should always fly their drones responsibly, and be aware of any local rules regarding their use, especially near restricted areas such as military installations or privately owned land like large country estates or outdoor venues.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Japanese Matcha tea - green tea with an added punch

Matcha Japanese tea: green is good.
Image supplied and used with permission.

Being known as a teapot on legs, I was intrigued to hear about Vivid Supplements, a UK based site selling Japanese matcha tea.

Matcha (which means ‘powdered tea’) is a type of green tea. It is available from Vivid Supplements in powder or capsule form. The site has just launched although I hear the fashionistas at New York Fashion Week were swigging matcha like no tomorrow this year.

The Japanese variety of matcha is held to be the best quality. All tea leaves absorb nutrients from their environment, but Japanese matcha has a lower amount of lead content than many teas. Experts suggest only drinking one cup of matcha a day in order to minimise any risk. Matcha consists of the whole leaf, ground. It’s not in a bag and steeped. Lead traces aside, it has near-legendary health benefits and according to Vivid Supplements, 137 times the amount of antioxidants than the more usual bagged green teas. The intense flavour comes about because the tea bushes are shaded before they are picked. This starts the process which leads to the unique flavour of matcha. Not only is the flavour intense (described as ‘spinach’ or ‘grass’ by some and more technically as ‘umami’), so is the healthy hit. The polyphenols deliver a big dose of protection against heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure and the effects of aging. In addition, matcha helps regulate blood sugar and boost metabolism, which makes it a great drink for when you’re trying to lose weight. It does contain caffeine though, so should be treated with caution in the evening.

Traditionally, as the tea of Japanese tea ceremonies, matcha is taken just as it is, made into a paste and with hot-but-not-boiled water added to it. There are versions around which add sugar or milk to the powder, but that reduces its effectiveness and makes it taste more like bubble tea than green tea. Although matcha has caffeine in it, there is no buzz as there is with coffee. Hence its association with meditation, as it promotes a feeling of calm without drowsiness and heightens the benefits which meditation can bring. Meditation and matcha are perfect partners, as meditation has also been shown to reduce cortisol (which makes you stressed and hungry) and lower blood pressure, among many other benefits.

However, modern living has meant that people rarely have the time for an intricate tea ceremony, so, Vivid Supplements are also offering a capsule version of matcha for an on-the-go lifestyle. This is ideal for frequent travellers, as a bag of capsules is much more practical to pack than a packet of powder. For smoothie and home cooking fans, the good news is that matcha powder can also be incorporated into many other dishes - the internet has lots of ideas on that score.

A bag of 60 capsules or 30g of powder costs £14.99, free UK shipping. At present Vivid Supplements only ships to the UK and Europe, and European customers may also be subject to customs charges. However, it’s worth it to try something which brings so many benefits.


Just some of the benefits of matcha Japanese green tea powder.
Image supplied and used with permission.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Live Better, Live Now with the help of this Houston-based practice

Live Better, Live Now logo. Supplied and used with permission.


Live Better, Live Now is a diverse group of certified practitioners available to offer counseling, coaching and consulting in a variety of specialisms. The Live Better, Live Now site is a hub of information from this network of qualified health professionals who are experts in various areas of life and work resilience. Both physical and mental health assistance is covered, including assistance with coming to terms with medical diagnoses and addiction, career improvement, stress management and life coaching. The group also counts specialists in young adult counseling among its members. Grief and loss plus the associated topics of seniors and aging are also covered. There is also a professional counselor in women's issues.

In addition, this assembly of qualified helpers provides professional oversight of counselors in training and assistance for nurses suffering under the burden of their role. Group therapy is available, plus contact to expert support networks, and critical incident stress management help for individuals and businesses.

Just about every workplace and home will have someone who needs one or more of these counseling services at some point in their lives. Modern living is inherently stressful to many, leading to long term effects on their mental and physical health and wellbeing. The site acts as a first point of contact and information for those looking for guidance on any of the individual areas. It taps into the current feeling that individuals and employees need to develop mindfulness, resilience and coping strategies, because retreating into substance abuse and violence is no longer an acceptable option.

The collective is based in Houston, Texas. The founder, Benjamin Carettin, MA, NCC, LPC, is a Houston native who has been working in the field of mental health since 1992, and has an array of further qualifications to permit a wide understanding of the human condition.

His partners in the Live Better, Live Now initiative are the equally well qualified practitioners Mavis Downey, PhD, LPC, who specializes in psychotherapy, counseling psychology and coaching; and Rebecca Rucker, Counselor, MA, LPC-S, LMFT, BCC, who specializes in anger management and behavioral issues, impulse control disorders, coaching, matters of self esteem and questions around spirituality. Rebecca is also skilled at making dual diagnoses.

Between them the three specialists cover a wide variety of counseling and coaching requirements, offering both individual and group sessions, the latter facilitated through the Greater Houston Wellness organization.

When someone is faced with news of a cancer diagnosis or heart condition which may limit their abilities for the rest of their life, it often helps to be able to talk to someone who can put things in perspective. Depression is a common result of these diagnoses, alongside grief, perhaps a feeling of victimhood and low self worth. Talking certainly does help, as does keeping active as much as possible and, naturally, spending time with family and friends. On this site are links explaining the counseling process clients are likely to experience, should they be recommended for a course.

Modern life is stressful, and provides regular mental challenges. The team at Live Better, Live Now offer both life coaching and executive coaching to help clients deal with these situations. An individual approach helps assess the issues each client is facing and provides tailored assistance using coping strategies and affirmation techniques to allow the client themselves to make necessary changes in their life.

Tied in with this area is the career transitions support offered by Rebecca Rucker. This follows a similar path, through coping strategies and affirmation techniques, to the life coaching and aims to leave the client able to face change with a more positive mindset.

Mavis Downey offers help in the areas of elders, aging and geriatric support, caring and feelings of grief and loss. To help her clients, she uses a wide range of therapies in the broad disciplines of psychotherapy, counseling, psychology and coaching.

Women’s issues is another area which can bring all kinds of challenges, not just to the women themselves, but also to their partners. Mavis Downey provides help in this area too, working with couples and individually to smooth out the mixed up feelings that women’s issues can often cause.

Of course, addiction is also an area which counseling can address, dealing with the reasons which led to the addiction, as well as the best way of moving on from it. The Live Better, Live Now team offer a mix of Eastern philosophy and Western practices which seem to work well for many who are also receiving medical care for their dependency. The aim is to keep the patient in the community rather than in hospital, so as to allow them to practice coping mechanisms in everyday life and familiar settings.

The hub site at Live Better, Live Now also features a blog and links to relevant information on social media, as readers would expect these days.

Naturally, this level of experience, depth of knowledge, and counseling doesn’t come cheap, and clients can expect to be charged between $95 and $150 per session. But to get their life back on track after just about any life altering event is worth it, surely?

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Ecover Washing Up Liquid -

Ecover Lemon & Aloe Vera Washing Up Liquid.
#GotItFree from BzzAgent.co.uk. Thanks guys.



The claim that a washing up liquid washes 40% more plates incomparison to its previous formula is one which cannot be ignored. In this house, that’s a lot of dishes.

So when BzzAgent Jono contacted me and asked if I was up for a free trial of the latest Ecover washing up liquid, of course I said yes. I’d used the brand back in the day when I could afford to pay the extremely high prices then charged by supermarkets for environmentally friendly products, but buying a house and getting married had put paid to any money I might have had spare. I was interested to try it again and see whether the good memories I had of it were still true, 20 or so years later. It’s quite sobering to think that Ecover have been in business for 35 years, so when I discovered them in the mid-90s, they were already an established, niche brand.



A 120ml bottle of Ecover Camomile & Marigold Washing Up Liquid.
Also free from BzzAgent.co.uk
A few weeks later, my Bzzkit arrived. One full size 500ml bottle of Lemon and Aloe Vera fragrance Ecover Washing Up Liquid, plus 3 120ml bottles of Camomile and Marigold. My friend has already laid claim to one of the 120ml bottles, because like me, she’s always happy to try new products. One of the others is sitting ¾ empty on the sink at the moment, alongside the abandoned bottle of ‘leading brand’ which I think we only bought because my husband was in charge of the shopping that day and the ‘leading brand’ was on offer. Normally, it would not darken my doors for any number of reasons, including that I do not wear gloves to wash up and I find the composition of this ‘leading brand’ too harsh on my skin.


Just some of the dishes waiting to be washed by Ecover's
washing up liquid. Soaked overnight in plain water.
Both my husband and I have now tried the Ecover washing up liquid. Our initial thoughts are that it does indeed live up to its claim of washing 40% more plates. We have tried it on the remnants of our normal fare, pastas, chilis and chicken dishes. It coped well with the aftermath of the roast we made last week for our friends, and has even managed to come out tops in cleaning the blender after a soup making blitz and the pizza tray after our usual Friday night homemade special.

The things I like most about it are:
1.    The bubbles are there, but not all encompassing. The ‘leading brand’ I mentioned earlier has a distressing tendency to make bubbles like no tomorrow, which makes the dishes difficult to dry.
2.    The smell is mild and friendly when it lingers after finishing the washing up.
3.    Ecover is gentle on my hands. No rough, dry, stiff fingers and palms with this brand.
4.    It’s environmentally friendly.


I have a feeling that this discovery may lead to a permanent change in my washing up liquid purchasing habits, as Ecover ticks all the important boxes for me. The slightly higher price which we may have to pay is more than worth the trade off in terms of a better washing up experience. I’m tempted to try the other items in the range too, just so I can see how they compare to our regular products.



Just a few glasses and a couple more plates and baking trays
for the attention of the Ecover fairy shortly. #GreenCanClean

Friday, October 23, 2015

Android Game Review - Halloween Flappy Bat

Halloween Flappy Bat.
Much snappier than Halloween Bet on the Bat, don't you think?

Image supplied and used with permission of developer Mapedy

So, another tapping game has come to my attention. This is therefore another attempt by yours truly to prove that I’m not an old dinosaur and can actually play these modern games on a modern smartphone.

This one is now called Halloween Flappy Bat, having originally been named 'Halloween Bet on the Bat 2015'. It comes from Mapedy, a Romanian developer better known for map apps. You know you have a surefire hit when the game can tie into every celebration going and is easy to replicate with different skins and themes. That’s exactly what has happened here, the basic Flappy Bird idea from a different developer, with a Halloween twist.

So if Halloween is your favorite time of year, or you like playing games themed to the season, download and play it now. It’s free, brand new and has been downloaded less than 100 times so far. The idea is simple, just as with the original Flappy Bird. The bat has come out of his cave, but he needs help to get out of the forest. By tapping, you have to help him navigate past ghosts, spiders, mummies, Dracula, the devil and zombies, among other things. Easy to say, not so easy to do. Side scrollers are fiendishly difficult unless you have the touch, and I can emphatically say I do not.

Halloween Flappy Bat is compatible with all Android-powered phones or tablets as well as Android TV and smartwatches. The simple gameplay makes it a rather addictive app, and this trait does at least allow me to say that I have been able to score a few points on the latest tapping game. The music and background sounds are suitably spooky, and the graphics as jewel-bright as you would expect from a brand new game on a smartphone. All the usual buttons are here: when logged into your Google account, you can compare your score against all the other players on the leaderboard, play your way through the achievements list, share a link via social media, and leave a review on the app’s Google Play page.

Halloween Flappy Bat is a fun, addictive game for teens and up, but due to the intricate tapping movements required, may not be suitable for younger children. A large amount of detail has gone into the design of the game, that much is obvious. The graphics are cartoon style cute rather than scary too, which just adds to the appeal, at least from my point of view.

If you’re looking for a timely version of the tapping game craze, or feel that you need a new challenge from your usual tapping favorites, then Halloween Flappy Bat is the game for you. The top score at time of writing is somewhere in the mid-30s. There must be a tapping aficionado out there who can beat that, surely?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Destinee's Creations Annual Couture Fashion Gala - November 12-14, 2015

Destinee's Creations Annual Couture Fashion Gala.
Promotional image provided and used with permission.

Destinee's Creations Annual Couture Fashion Gala takes place in Richmond, Virginia from November 12-14, 2015. Now in its third year, this event is a one-stop shop for everything to do with couture and beauty. Not only will guests see a stunning fashion show of the latest designs from Destinee's Creations, they will also be able to see the work of many other designers, find out about the latest trends for the new season and watch makeup and beauty stylists at work. Other shows include a dance performance and a live band.

Of course, the great and good of Virginian society will be there, as befits any couture event. Local and national celebrities are on the guest list and each ticket purchased will raise money for local non-profit The Gray Haven. This Richmond-based organization has been helping victims of human trafficking and slavery for several years, and Destinee’s Creations has chosen to be a part of that effort this year.

Destinee’s Creations is about more than beautiful designer fashion and fundraising for a non-profit, though. The company has a selection of makeup and beauty products to choose from as well as the couture. Under the same brand, and badged as The Beauty Collection by Destinee’, are the Rare Beauty by Destinee’ range of cosmetics, a signature perfume and lotion and the Euphoric Seduction range, also of perfume and lotion. So the wearer’s whole look can be perfectly coordinated and complementary to each part.

Destinee’s Creations is clearly aiming for the upmarket lifestyle brand market, and indeed has already provided a ‘red carpet-ready’ dress for model Bridgetta Tomarchio, who has appeared in TV shows Californication and The West Wing, among others. During this gala, the company will decide the recipient of the Destinee’s Creations Designer of the Year Award from among the participating designers as well as allowing guests to mix and mingle in a Social Hour or experience the Fashion Lounge and Expo.

The Fashion Lounge and Expo will showcase the best of fashion design: designers and models, the buyers who choose what the customers see, journalists who write about it and anyone involved in the business of bringing fashion to the rest of us. The Social Hour allows guests to meet the exhibiting designers and event partners and will be a chance for ticket holders to learn more about the fashion and design business from those who make it happen.

Tickets are available from EventBrite and start at $15. VIP Admission at $55 pays for complimentary champagne and hors d’oeuvres while Platinum admission is $99, with potential guests at that level being asked to contact the organizer to discuss terms before purchasing.

For couture fashion and more, it sounds like if you’re in the Richmond, VA area in mid-November, you need to have a ticket for Destinee’s Creations Annual Couture Fashion Gala. For more information contact Destinee’s Creations email address.