iPhone 12 Product Red Review

Posted on 9th November 2020 by Mark Tiddy.

My review of Apple’s latest handset is now live over on my YouTube channel.

Finishing A Bootcamp and Landing a Job in Tech during a Global Pandemic

Posted on 27th September 2020 by Mark Tiddy.

Back in October 2019 I started my Full Stack Web Development bootcamp with CareerFoundry, a part-time, self-paced bootcamp which is taught through their online learning platform but also assigns you a tutor who is there to mark your work and offer support when you get stuck and a mentor (someone who can help you understand more about what it’s like to work in the industry). Let me know if you’d like a full blog review of this course.

The course was going well, I was able to complete the work, go on tangents to try and understand things more and when I’d glance at the job situation locally I felt like there were plenty of potential opportunities.

Then the global pandemic happened. Countries across the world entered lockdown, people lost their jobs and jobs boards emptied, especially those advertising junior positions.

At this point there were a couple of things I decided to do:

The first was to simply accept that any timeframe I had set myself needed to shift. I was in a fortunate position whereby I had a full-time job already in a career I’d enjoyed for the last 15 years and so my ’plan’ shifting a few months didn’t have a big impact. (I recognise that not everyone is so fortunate).

Secondly I decided to use my time wisely. The CareerFoundry bootcamp offers 6 months of job-search support at the end of the course and so I decided to wait a couple of months to complete my final task of the course in order to make the most of that support. I worked through some more of their career course but most importantly I decided to learn more coding skills. A number of the local jobs that had been around pre-pandemic asked about WordPress, a platform I’d used for many years but as and when I needed to, so I spent some time learning more about the ins and outs. I picked up a couple of free projects using React and React Native to give me some client-work experience and I continued to practice the skills I’d been learning throughout my bootcamp. Reflecting on this now, this time really helped me level up my skills and become more confident.

Next Steps…

As things in the UK started opening up again and jobs started to be listed I completed my bootcamp and started applying for jobs. My extra practice and projects during lockdown enabled me to apply for a wider range of jobs but to also have some recent client experience I could talk about.

I’m not going to write that it’s been an easy process but these are the things I did that eventually landed me a Web Developer position:

  1. Keep a log of applications – This is important for tracking your progress but also for knowing what a company was asking for if they come back and give you a technical test, having a document you can quickly go to and pull up the original job listing is really helpful when someone calls you up. You’ll also find that when recruitment agencies are involved there can be multiple listings for the same job…a log can help you avoid applying more than once.
  2. Customise your CV/Resume – Quality is better than quantity and you need to stand out. If a company is asking for a ’Frontend Developer’ then change your job title on your CV/Resume to ’Frontend Developer’. If you have example projects listed on your CV then change these depending on the role you’re applying for. For example, if a job you’re applying for is asking for WordPress experience then talk about your WordPress projects or if they’re asking for JavaScript then talk about your recent React project.
  3. Customise your Cover Letter – Having a staple cover letter you use for everything is tempting but again, tweak it depending on the role you’re applying for. Talk about your experience, talk about what excites you about the company you’re applying for, mention specific projects you’ve done that show you’d be a good fit.
  4. Pace yourself – The CareerFoundry money-back guarantee only expects you to apply for 5 jobs a week. This is a good minimum to set to ensure you go for quality over quantity. It’s also important to keep practicing your coding at this time too and MOST IMPORTANTLY remember to take breaks and listen to your body, takings breaks, doing other activities and enjoying yourself. A good work/life balance is something that will help you keep going on what might be a very long process. Applying for jobs (and being rejected) can be tiring…trying to balance being excited about roles you apply for and not getting your hopes up can be really tricky, putting things in place to help you manage disappointment is really important for your mental health.

So, what landed me a job?

For me, the extra experience I built up during lockdown helped a lot, I also had some previous freelance experience alongside this which enabled me to talk about working with clients. I also found focusing on the above points made a big difference alongside the support from CareerFoundry, my career mentor was excellent and was really up for offering advice, looking through cover letters when I wasn’t getting responses and even doing practice interviews over Skype. 

Don’t get me wrong, landing a job in tech for a career changer in the middle of a pandemic isn’t easy…probably 75% of the jobs I applied for never got back to me, even some of those I did technical tests for never got back to me but persistence and balance was the key for me.

If you’ve got any questions do feel free to put them in the comments section below or come and join me on twitter @marktiddy

CareerFoundry – Full Stack Web Development Course Review

Posted on 17th September 2020 by Mark Tiddy.

Disclaimer: I am writing this as an independent graduate of the CareerFoundry course. I started in October 2019 and graduated at the end of June 2020. I’m writing this review (and posting a video review soon on my YouTube channel) because when I was trying to find out more about the course I struggled to find independent reviews. CareerFoundry have not asked me to write this review however they give all their students an affiliate link which means if you sign up to the course using this link then I do get a small commission. Finally, I wrote the content of this blog prior to landing a job in order to keep the content neutral.

Onto the review…
Prior to signing up to the course I did plenty of research around the various bootcamps (and deciding that giving up my job wasn’t an option). In the end I went for the CareerFoundry Full Stack Web Development Course.

My main reasons for choosing the course were:

  • It was remote and self-paced – This meant I could work it around my full time job.
  • The reviews I could find of the Web Development course were good.
  • The price made it an affordable option (at the time it was £3000 with upfront payment discounts making mine £2500 although I believe this has now increased to £5000).
  • The material focused on JavaScript and a MERN (MongoDB, Express, React, Node.js) stack which is a up-to-date approach and enabled me to really learn one programming language (JavaScript) in depth rather than touch upon lots of different ones.
  • You are given a tutor and mentor throughout the course who both work in tech, you also get a career coach when you complete the course.
  • The Job Guarantee was transparent. Many bootcamps offer a ‘job guarantee’ but the CareerFoundry one felt like it was written to reassure students of the effectiveness of the course rather than providing so many hoops to jump through no-one would ever qualify for a refund!

The Learning Platform & Content
As the course if fully remote you complete your bootcamp using CareerFoundry’s online platform. This platform is easy to use and shows you goals (such as how many sections you need to complete each week). The majority of the lessons are text-based and are laid out really well, each one has a step-by-step task at the end and these seem to get less prescribed as time goes on requiring you to put some of your new skills to good use and learn all about problem solving too. Typically your tutor marks most your work and provides feedback and a pass/needs more work and your mentor marks the final project of each section…you also have Skype calls throughout with your mentor too.

The content as a whole is excellent and I found that I learnt a lot, there’s also lots of ‘if you’d like to learn more follow this…’ links which enable you to go deeper. For me, the pace was spot-on and other than the Redux section which completely confused me I found the whole thing was explained and presented really well. The great thing about having a tutor is that when you get stuck you can reach out to them.

The Extras
The Full Stack Web Development course also offers some extras beyond the material of the course itself.

  • Mentor/Tutor – Both of these people are there to help you and already work in the industry. I ended up changing mentors halfway through but both were really good. My only piece of feedback for CareerFoundry would be that some more guidance for both students and mentors around what these calls should entail would be really helpful for making the most of them.
  • Slack – CareerFoundry offer a Slack community for students past and present. I found that I didn’t really use this as the majority of the discussions were around the UX/UI courses rather than Web Development but they were nice to have.
  • Career Course – Halfway through your main course you gain access to the career course. This course talks you through things like telling your story as a career changer, helps you write a CV and cover letter, shares good places to apply for jobs, helps you create a good LinkedIn profile and offers some interview advice. As part of this course you have a mentor who offers feedback on your submissions and can tailor their advice when you start applying for roles. My career mentor was excellent and I certainly owe some of my success coming out the course to him.

Summary
Overall I would certainly recommend the CareerFoundry Full Stack Web Development course. The communication from CareerFoundry was great, the course content was really good and they constantly related the content and principals into the workplace which made you feel like you were preparing to put your coding into practice as you went along. I also felt like they didn’t try and spoon-feed you everything but helped build your confidence in reading documentation, Googling and learning new things (skills that have really helped me as I’ve continued my learning after the course).

If you want to sign up using my affiliate link you can click here (If you do: Thank you!!!)

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Switchbot Thermometer and Hygrometer Review

Posted on 16th September 2020 by Mark Tiddy.

Switchbot recently reached out to me and sent me their thermometer and hygrometer monitor to review. After using it for a couple of weeks here’s my review. You can also watch a video review on my YouTube channel.

The Thermometer and Hygrometer is a small, plastic device with a LED screen (no backlight). It comes with 2 AAA batteries and a magnetic stick-on mount for sticking it on to a wall but you can also just place it onto a shelf.

Once it’s powered up the screen shows you the temperature and humidity level in your home plus the device’s battery level. You can also connect it to your phone using bluetooth and the Switchbot app allowing you to view graphs or data over hours, days, months, weeks and years. (The device itself stores up to 30 days of data).

It also has an impressive operating temperature working between -20 degrees Celsius and 80 degrees Celsius and humidity between 10% and 90%. This means you could even monitor the temperature of your fridge if you wanted to!

Once you’ve connected it to your phone you can see the temperature and humidity on your screen when you’re within the bluetooth range or if you hook it up to a Switchbot Hub mini you can monitor this anywhere in the world.

The other feature you gain when you hook it up to a Hub mini is the ability to ask Alexa for the temperature and hook it up to services such as IFTTT, allowing you to do things like turn on a plug (perhaps linked to a heater) when a temperature reaches a certain low.

And that’s it! The Swiss-made censors inside give you an accurate result, it’s got a great temperature range and costs just £25!

If you want one you can pick one up here and if you want the extra smart features you can get a Switchbot Hub Mini here.

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Switchbot Hub Mini Review

Posted on 14th September 2020 by Mark Tiddy.

The Switchbot Hub mini is a £29 smarthome hub for adding extra features to Switchbot devices and making your remote controls smart. You can watch a video review over on my YouTube channel.

The Switchbot Hub mini is a way of adding voice control and out of home control to Switchbot’s devices alongside allowing you to control any infrared remote control through you phone.

The Device

The Switchbot Hub Mini is pretty small and compact with rounded edges. It has a status light which you can disable and is powered via a microUSB cable.

It connects to your existing Switchbot devices using bluetooth and connects to your home wifi to enable voice control and out of home access. It’s worth noting that for it to work with remote controls it must be in the same room as the device you want to control (simply because that’s how infrared works!)…it also needs to be within bluetooth range of the Switchbot devices you want to control with your voice/out of home.

Set Up

Setting up the Hub is super easy…you download the Switchbot app, click the add button and then follow the instructions.

From there on you can adjust the settings in your other Switchbot devices to allow cloud access.

How well does it work?

In terms of how well it works we should talk about the three main features.

  1. Out of home control – Using the Hub allows you to control switchbot devices from anywhere…this works well every time and is great!
  2. Voice Control – The Hub lets you add voice control for your devices via Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri Shortcuts and IFTTT. Again, this works every time although Alexa commands need to be preceded by the phrase ‘turn on’ which means a scene that turns up your TV ends up with the command ‘Alexa, turn on turn up TV’ which is a little clunky but works every time (unlike Samsung’s official Alexa skill).
  3. Remote Control Mirroring – This feature lets you set up any existing remote control with your device which you can then operate from your phone. Setting up is easy with a few ‘one touch setup’ options for devices such as TVs and there is then the option to manually add missing buttons. The interface for a remote isn’t the prettiest but (and importantly) it works every time making this a great alternative to the Harmony Hub.

The final thing to talk about is scenes within the Switchbot app which have been really well thought out. They can operate on a timer (e.g. at 3pm) or on manual activation and you can even tag commands together…for example you might turn on a lamp and your coffee machine or (in my case) to turn up my TV volume it presses volume up 4 times. You can then link these scenes to the voice control services too.

Summary

All in all, the Hub has surprised me. I started not understanding the point of it and now I think it’s an essential accessory for anyone using Switchbot devices but also for anyone looking to make a remote control smart…and at £29 it’s a bargain!

You can pick one up here

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Switchbot Bot Review

Posted on 7th September 2020 by Mark Tiddy.

Switchbot are a company who have been on my radar for a while and so when they reached out to me recently and offered to send me 3 of their products I jumped at the opportunity!

I’ve made video reviews including a giveaway of these over on my YouTube channel.

So, what is the Switchbot Bot?

The Switchbot bot is a small smarthome product with a mechanical arm and the idea is simple…what if you could make any switch or button in your home smart?

The device itself comes with two pads for sticking the bot to the appliance of switch you want to use it with, two optional on/off switch accessories and the bot itself which comes in a choice of white or black and is small with rounded edges.

It runs on a CR2 battery which Switchbot claims will last for nearly 2 years (obviously I can’t test this!) and is connects to your phone using bluetooth 4.1 with an open field range of 80 meters.

Setting it up is as simple as downloading the Switchbot app and following the instructions on screen and once set up and attached to your chosen device you simply use the app to turn it on or off. There’s the option in the app to change the mode to ‘switch mode’ for using it with a light switch but whether you attach it to a light switch, coffee machine, lamp switch or whatever it works every time and sticks really well. (It does however struggle with slightly indented buttons)

And really…that’s it…almost. The Switchbot bot is a £25 option for making any button or switch smart…it’s simple but incredibly effective, complimented by a brilliant app.

However, if you just buy the bot the only way you can control it is via the smartphone app when you’re in range however if you’re planning to buy more than one then it’s certainly worth spending an extra £29 and picking up a Switchbot Hub Mini (There’s a full review of this device on the blog too).

The Switchbot Hub Mini takes the bot to the next level and offers you some extra features:

  1. You can use your bot outside of your home. The Hub connects to your wifi and to the Switchbot devices within bluetooth range of the Hub, it then enables you to activate switches using the app anywhere in the world.
  2. You can also then use the Switchbot with voice assistants such as Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri Shortcuts plus set up recipes either using scenes within the switchbot app or using IFTTT.

For me, as someone who uses Alexa all the time the Hub adds the functionality I need at a really good price.

If you want to pick up a Switchbot follow this link: Black | White

If you want a Hub mini click here

Adding CarPlay into a 2014 Upwards Toyota Aygo

Posted on 1st September 2020 by Mark Tiddy.

Note: This will also apply to the Citroen C1 and Peugeot 106.

The Toyota Aygo is a great city-car, it’s super economical on fuel and is fun to drive however whilst the built in Touch radio has bluetooth connectivity the ‘AppInCar’ technology shipped in the models prior to 2018 isn’t fit for purpose as it’s no longer supported so unless you’re using an iPhone 4 or earlier you can’t use it.

However, in 2018 Toyota updated it to include Apple’s CarPlay and Android in the new models but because this was a new unit with new software you couldn’t simply upgrade the software.

So, if you want CarPlay in your Aygo what do you do?

  1. You might buy a third party stereo and appropriate wiring and fascia kit however by the time you’ve picked up one with a short body (it can’t be more than 150cm deep…and anything above 100 is a bit snug!). In addition to this you really need a professional to fit it, especially if you want your steering controls and reversing camera to work. In total this means you’re looking at £500 upwards.
  2. You could ask Toyota to order in the new stereo. Now, my local dealer just flat-out said they couldn’t order it and other sources online suggest that Toyota charge £2000 for one! – In my opinion, not worth it.
  3. Find a 2nd hand one online! – This is the best option and the way I found mine. If you want one with DAB then the part number is 86140-YV020 and if you don’t mind whether you have DAB or not then the one without is 86140-YV010 (These are more common).

How to find a second-hand one?

Ebay might be your first thought however in 6 months of saved-searches I didn’t see a single one of these come up…even simple searches for ‘Toyota Aygo Stereo’ only yielded the outdated version I already had.

You could also try local breakers-yards!

Allegro.pl – A Google for the part number you want gives you a few options across Europe but they seem to appear more frequently on Allegro, a Polish eBay-style site. Using Chrome and Google Translate you can navigate the site and I found one that worked out at £190 and then I just had to get it shipped (the seller didn’t ship to the UK). In the end I used shippn which enabled me to have it shipped to someone in Poland who then forwarded it on. This cost an extra £70 but still meant the overall upgrade total was less than even the cheapest branded CarPlay stereo out there.

Fitting!

The final stage is the easiest…you simply follow my tutorial to remove you existing stereo and then all the sockets fit where the old ones did and everything works! Bingo!

I hope this blog has helped someone out trying to do the same thing as I was!

Removing a Toyota Aygo 2014 onwards Factory Stereo

Posted on by Mark Tiddy.

Note: This will also work for the Peugeot 106 and the Citroen C1.

Recently I needed to remove the factory stereo from my Toyota Aygo but not a single tutorial talked about the 2014 onwards ones…so here’s how (you can also watch a video here).

  1. Around the stereo and down under the dials is a large piece of plastic. This is held in by clips, gently pull it and work around the edges…the edges at the bottom at the hardest to remove.

2. Once removed you’ll find the cable for your hazard/warning lights button is connected. You can remove this by pressing the clip at the top and then place the plastic trip to one side or you can just leave it attached.

3. Next, you need to remove the vent grill at the top. This simply lifts off upwards.

4. Next you’ll find two screws where the grill was. Remove these using a Philips head screwdriver.

5. Finally it’s time to remove the stereo. It’s now only held in by 4 clips. These clips are sturdier than the ones on the trim so you’ll need to use some more force but be careful as the stereo is still connected at the back by cables.

6. Now it’s all loose just remove the cables and you can replace the stereo or do whatever it is you want with it. I removed mine to retrofit one of the newer Aygo stereos in order to get CarPlay…here’s that blog post!

Comica BoomX-D2 2.4G Wireless Microphones Review

Posted on 20th July 2020 by Mark Tiddy.

Read on for the written review or watch the video review on my YouTube channel.

A week ago I picked up the Comica BoomX-D2 microphones with the hope of improving the sound quality of my YouTube videos and I haven’t been disappointed!

Retailing at £225 these are very much a premium product and feel like it as soon as you open the box. Included in the box you get two microphones, a receiver, external lapel mics, ‘dead cat’ windshield accessories, a USB C cable, 3 connectors (for various phones/cameras) plus instructions.

Getting them set up is as simple as charging them, turning them on and plugging them in and the controls are nice and simple.

The transmitters have mute buttons, show you their current volume level and show their battery levels whereas the receiver shows its battery level and the volumes on the two receivers…which you can adjust by up to 12DB…great for balancing audio.

The design of these is something that has been really thought through, they’re nice and small and work exactly as you’d hope they would.

Comica claim they have a 50m working range (although this will depending on whether you’re indoors or outdoors) and whilst I don’t think I’ve been 50m from the receiver the range is certainly impressive and audio is clear. They also say they have 5 hours battery life which is about right.

But…what about sound quality?

In order to really put these through their paces I tested the sound in 4 scenarios (each time contrasting it with native phone recorded audio) and they excelled…here are my tests.

  1. Outdoors – Using the wind-shielded lapel mic and just the built in mic I tested these outdoors at various distances. The quality was great in both cases but (obviously) better with the lapel mic.
  2. Wind – Rarely, we have nice weather at the moment so I made use of our electric fan and recorded some audio with the built in mic and then a lapel mic with the ‘dead cat’ on. The lapel mic with the wind shield performed incredibly well with great results (you could still hear the wind but it was no where near as bad).
  3. Indoors – Spoken – Testing the built in mic and lapel mic for indoor spoken audio with limited background noise gave me very similar results…both sounded great but there wasn’t much difference in quality between the two.
  4. Indoors – Music – For this, I connected the 2nd wireless mic and attached one mic to me and one across the room. I then played some guitar and sang…the results were crisp and clear.

So…what’s the verdict?

Sound is usually a subjective thing but in this case there is very clearly a difference in quality between a phone mic and these and these will certainly be my go to mic for all future videos!

You can pick up a set on Amazon here.

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Teminice 4 in 1 Wireless Charger Review

Posted on 14th July 2020 by Mark Tiddy.

A few months back I picked up the Teminice 4 in 1 Wireless Charger from Amazon and this is my review.

Spoiler…I now own two of these!

If you’re well and truly part of the Apple ecosystem then you probably have a need for something that can charge your phone, watch, AirPods and pencil (1st gen) at once.

You’ve also probably noticed that most ‘all in one’ chargers require you to wire your existing Apple Watch charger in…which is great if you don’t want to use it anywhere else but it doesn’t give you a spare charger to use.

This is where the Teminice charger differs.

Out of the box you get the charger itself and a USB C cable…it doesn’t come with a USB to socket but any USB plug will work with it (and let’s be honest, we probably all have some of these kicking around!).

The design is pretty simple. It’s got rounded black edges, a status light on the front and a USB C socket on the back. The phone/watch charger has two upright positions and folds flat giving you a choice of setup. I think it looks pretty good!

In terms of spec, it charges any phone that supports wireless charging (with the case on your phone!) and has 10w, 7.5w and 5w modes depending on your phone*, it gives 2w to your watch, 2w to your pencil and 5w to your AirPods…if your AirPods support wireless charging you can charge them on the pad or the dock.

*For the 10w charging to work you’ll need a 10w charging brick!

It also has built in heat protection which means it doesn’t get hot when charging your devices…and, unlike many Apple Watch chargers out there it actually chargers your watch (although I find you need to angle it to the left slightly because of the strap weight).

And that’s all there is to say really…

The Teminice 4 in 1 charger is probably the best Apple charger out there. It works well, doesn’t get too hot, is portable and looks great!

You can pick one up from Amazon here.

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Building a Page to PDF Creator with Puppeteer & Google Cloud Functions

Posted on 6th July 2020 by Mark Tiddy.

I recently found myself needing to allow users of a website I was building for a client to download content as a PDF…it took quite a bit of working out how to implement this feature so I thought I’d write about how I finally managed it on the server side using a Firebase Function…and share a couple of failed attempts!

The Ways that Didn’t Work
Before I settled on the method below I had a couple of failed attempts…these were:

  1. html2pdf, jsPDF – There is a well documented method of achieving turning a page into a PDF using html2canvas and jsPDF (bundled into html2pdf). This runs on the client-side and was the first method I implemented and it sort-of worked however it didn’t work on all browsers or devices and occasionally gave weird results (such as flipping images 180 degrees!)
  2. There is a React library out there called React-to-PDF but it requires writing your PDF content using separate syntax more similar to React Native…as I wanted to take an existing page this didn’t meet my needs but is worth checking out.

What Worked…and how I did it
My final working solution was a Firebase Function (although this would also work on Lambda with some tweaks) that ran a express API and on a particular endpoint would use Puppeteer (a headless browser) to navigate to the part of the site I needed as a PDF and then return that PDF to the client. (I then simply linked this endpoint in my frontend code).

So, what are the stages of doing this?

  1. Set up a new folder for your project (e.g. page-to-pdf)

Run

npm init -y

This adds a package.json and then run

firebase init

This sets up firebase with your project…I’m assuming you’ve previously installed the firebase CLI and logged in. (Note: See the Firebase documentation for setting your computer up the first time including logging into your firebase account

  1. At this point Firebase has created a ‘functions’ folder for you. CD into this and Install Express, Puppeteer and Body-Parser
npm install --save express puppeteer body-parser
  1. Now our packages are installed create an index.js file in your functions folder. We’re going to add the following code just to get us started.
const functions = require('firebase-functions')
const server = require('./server')
const api = functions.funWith({ memory: '2GB', timeoutSeconds: 120 }).https.onRequest(server)

module.exports = {
api
}

In the code above we required functions (which we need for firebase functions to work). We then created an instance of our server (which we’ll code and create in a second) and then we set up our cloud function with a few preferences.

  1. Next we need to create our actual Express server and set up our commands to puppeteer. So, create a server.js file and add the following code
const express = require('express')
const bodyParser = require('body-parser')
const puppeteer = require('puppeteer')

const app = express()
app.use(bodyParser.json()).use(bodyParser.urlencoded({ extended: false }));

let browserPromise = puppeteer.launch({
args: ['--no-sandbox']
})

Above we simply set up our server by creating an instance of express called ‘app’ (which we imported into index.js in stage 3) and then added some bodyParser middleware.

The last line of code assigns puppeteer to a variable and adds the argument ‘–no-sandbox’…if we don’t add this then puppeteer doesn’t work on cloud functions.

  1. Next, below that code we need to set up our endpoints. I’m going to set up something fairly simple for the purpose of this tutorial, a get request which will include a url added by a user.
app.get('/turn-website-to-pdf', async (req, res) => {
const url = req.query.url;

const options = {
format: 'A4',
printBackground: true
}

const browser = await browserPromise
 const browser = await browserPromise;
  const context = await browser.createIncognitoBrowserContext();
  const page = await context.newPage();
  await page.goto(url, {
    waitUntil: 'networkidle0',
  });
const pdf = await page.pdf(options)
  res.setHeader('Content-Type', 'application/pdf');
  res.send(pdf);
  context.close();
})

There’s a reasonable amount of code there so let me explain what we did after creating our asynchronous API endpoint.

First we grab our url that we submitted with the request…this might look something like this if we wanted a pdf of Google

http://myapi.com/turn-website-to-pdf?url=http://google.com

Secondly, we set up some options for when we turn our page into the PDF. In this case we want an A4 format with the background included.

Next, We then carry out a variety of things with puppeteer.

  1. We assign the browserPromise we created earlier to a variable called ‘browser’
  2. We create a new context of that browser using puppeteer’s ‘createIncongnitoBrowserContext()’ function. We do this using incognito mode so we get the latest version of the website we’re visiting
  3. We then create a new page and then visit the url we passed in (in our case Google). We use lots of the await keyword because we’re in an asynchronous function

(We also pass a second argument in to waitUntil the network is idle…this means we don’t move on until our page has fully loaded)

  1. We then create a new variable called ‘pdf’ and assign it the result of Puppeteer’s pdf function passing in the options we set earlier.
  2. Then, we send it all back to the user. First setting a header telling the browser we’re sending back a PDF and then sending back the PDF itself

Finally, at the bottom of your code add this line so our index.js can actually access it

module.exports = app;

And that’s it…we’re ready to test

To test it locally just navigate to the functions folder in your terminal and run the ‘firebase serve’ commend which will provide you with a local link to your API.

Once it’s all working you can then run ‘firebase deploy’ to send it to your Firebase project. You can find the link to your cloud function in your Firebase project (firebase.google.com) and under ‘Functions’.

And you’re done!!!

If you want some extras and some troubleshooting notes read on…

** Extras **
The above is a pretty simple example but when I coded this I needed to visit a React SPA, log into an account and then access some content before saving as a PDF. I used a couple of extra Puppeteer functions to do this

await page.click('#somethingtoclick)
await page.focus('#somethingtofocuson)
await page.type('#textbox,'my text')
await page.waitFor(1000)

The above functions (in order) let you click an item with that ID (e.g. a button), focus on something like a text input, type something into that input and wait before moving on (This last one was essential for me as my React app had some animations I needed to finish before creating a PDF)

** Troubleshooting **
If you’re finding that your function doesn’t perform as you expect then it’s worth setting the headless parameter for your browser. This means when you run it locally you can see the browser open up and the magic happening…you can also then see where it gets stuck.

To do this we have to pass a second argument in when we create our browser promise.

let browserPromise = puppeteer.launch({
args: ['--no-sandbox'],
headless: false
})

That’s it! I hope that’s helped you out if this is what you were looking for!

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Tips for Learning to Code

Posted on 24th May 2020 by Mark Tiddy.

For over 10 years I’d been familiar with HTML & CSS and able to get by when I’d needed to and was even able occasionally able to hack about PHP in WordPress without (completely) breaking it but I’d always wanted to learn to code properly…but I’d tried…and it was hard, and I didn’t get it!

My previous attempts (up until 3 years ago) had included downloading a book on creating iOS apps in Objective-C (back before Apple released Swift) and finding myself more and more confused the more I followed the instructions.

Then a couple of years ago I started a Udemy course on iOS Development and the rest is history…I’ve got a few apps in the App Store, have (nearly) completed a remote Full Stack Web Development bootcamp and I’m really quite comfortable writing JavaScript (and using libraries/frameworks), creating iOS apps and HTML and CSS feel relatively easy…I can even dive into new frameworks/libraries and begin to get a grip on them from their documentation.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not expert and I’ve got a lot to learn however I wanted to share some of the things I’ve found have helped me during the learning process because learning to code is tough.

1. Come at it from many directions
Whilst working through my bootcamp content I’ve also been working through the freeCodeCamp curriculum (at a different pace). This has meant that I’ve revisited things a month or so later and this has been great for really embedding my knowledge.

I’ve also found YouTube and Medium really helpful places when I didn’t understand something…there was a point where I got really stuck on React-Redux…my bootcamp introduced both at once and it left me utterly confused…so I went in search of answers. Through articles, walkthroughs and videos I built a couple of really simple redux then react-redux apps to really embed my knowledge…then I went back to my bootcamp task and it all made sense!

Reading something from more than one perspective is really helpful.

2. Listen to those ‘I wonder…’ questions
There have been numerous times when as I’ve been coding something I’ve found myself thinking ‘I wonder if you could…’ and so I’ve gone off and Googled it, read up and given it ago.

If you wonder if something is possible when doing a project then why not have a look and have a go? It’s all great learning…but be careful, if you’re on limited study time make sure you keep an eye on the clock…it’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole.

3. Have a project (or two!)
When I was working through my iOS Udemy course I took a break to work on creating an app for an idea I had…and I managed to put it together and get it out there. This was great because it embedded my learning, caused me to learn more and creating something from scratch without a step-by-step is a lot of fun! (Google is your best friend!!!)

Currently I am working through my bootcamp stuff but also have a couple of side projects which I am messing around with for fun.

4. Give yourself space and time off…
Try not to overload your brain or put too much pressure on yourself. It’s important to keep some kind of work-life-code balance.

I’ve found downtime has been when my head has really worked through a bug in my code or understood a coding issue…running and driving have been particularly useful things to do to help think things through.

5. You will forget things…and that’s ok
If you’re on a bootcamp path then the chances are that you’re learning a lot of new things…you’re probably jumping from HTML to Express to React and back to HTML again.

You might have spent months writing something in React and then come back to Vanilla JavaScript only to realise you’ve forgotten how to do some things…and that’s ok!

I picked up Swift again recently after not writing it in ages and found that it took a little while to get my head back into it but, once I’d written some code and watched a video or two I was back in the zone.

Finally…
remember that it’s ok to Google, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask questions and that ‘getting stuck’ is part of the process.

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“Don’t be fooled by the blocks that I’ve got!”

Posted on 5th March 2020 by Mark Tiddy.

Way back in 2002 Jennifer Lopez told us to remember where we started as she sung ‘I’m still Jenny from the block’ and over the last few months as I’ve re-learnt HTML & CSS after nearly 15 years and started learning JavaScript I’ve come to believe that Jennifer’s advice is pretty essential for the programmer.

Whether you’ve learnt a programming language in the past and are revisiting it, learning a new language or learning to code having never coded before it’s important to remind yourself that there was a point where you knew nothing of the language you’re learning.

Let me explain why this is a helpful thing to remember…

Two years ago I purchased a Udemy course to learn how to create iOS apps and over the last couple of years have become increasingly more comfortable with Swift even creating a few of my own apps. I still need to Google how to do things and revisit some of the modules in that course but I’m comfortable enough to do that and know where to find (and understand) the solutions. There was, however, a time in that journey when even a basic concept such as a variable or function was new and difficult for me to understand.

Fast forward to learning JavaScript and I’ve found that I’ve whizzed through the basics of the language, finding that many of the concepts FreeCodeCamp and CodeAcademy are explaining to me are the same as in Swift, they just have a different syntax.

However, as I’ve dived into the server-side of JavaScript, packages and modules on the course I’m currently doing I’ve found that it’s been trickier to get my head around topics and that I’ll finish a module without feeling like I fully understand something and I need to remind myself that ‘that’s ok’.

If I could time travel and were to go back a couple of years and try to explain even the basics of JavaScript to my past self I know ‘past me’ would struggle to have a clue what I was talking about. Likewise, even looking back to some of my Swift course now I remember really struggling with APIs but now I feel like I’m more confident in making requests to APIs and dealing with the results.

So what’s my point?

My point is that whether you’re at the start of your coding journey, somewhere in the middle (like me) or a seasoned programme I suspect we need to remember Jennifer Lopez’s advice to remember where we came from.
If that concept feels tricky now then Google it to find out more, watch some YouTube videos on it, practice using it for some other projects, think about it whilst exercising or take a break but whatever you do remember that once you were clueless about concepts you now feel confident about and that as you persist with this new concept you’ll look back and wonder why you ever struggled to grasp it.

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Zigma Spark Smart Robot Vacuum Cleaner Review

Posted on 31st January 2020 by Mark Tiddy.

Read on for the written review, watch the video review here and pick one up here.

A few weeks ago Zigma sent me their Zigma Spark Robot vacuum cleaner with mopping function to review ahead of it’s UK launch. I’ve been using it for a few weeks and here are my thoughts.

The Zigma Spark is one of the most well thought out products I’ve come across for a while and it basically gets everything right.

The spec of this vacuum is pretty impressive: it has 1,500PA suction power which can be adjusted in the app, a cliff-detection setting to stop it falling, an impressive 600ml dust tray (double that of my existing robot vacuum) and up to 120 minutes of battery…which you’ll never get through unless you live in a mansion!

On top of that the bump on the top of the device is a laser which spins round to accurately map your room. This means you can watch the map fill in via the smartphone app as it cleans your house (it’s really quite mesmerising). This also adds a huge amount of logic to the hoovering routine, it covers the whole place once, knows its done and takes itself back to charge.

In the box you get: the vacuum, the charger, the dust tray, a spare filter, some spare brushes, a brush to clean the removable roller blade, a remote control and a mopping accessory with two cloths.

The design is black and will fit nicely into any home. The front bumper is soft to protect your furniture from bumps and the dust tray slides out easily. It’s pretty slim too which means it can get under some furniture.

Once it’s unboxed setting up is as simple as download the Zigma app (for iOs and Android), creating an account and following the steps. From there you can start it via the app, via Alexa or Google Assistant, via the remote or by pressing the button on top of the device.

The app has some really clever UI tweaks depending on the function the vacuum is performing to avoid overwhelming you with menus. For example when you start the vacuum process you can then adjust the suction power via a sub menu that appears, the same applies to water flow with the mopping function.

Within the app you can also view the map created (with a function to save maps to reload later coming soon), add specific areas to concentrate on cleaning or avoid and add virtual walls. You can even record your own voice (on the off chance you wish to make your vacuum speak in your voice!). The map updates in real-time which shows you just how accurate this device is at cleaning your rooms effectively.

But how well does it clean?

The simple answer? Incredibly well! – It picks up 99% of things with no issues and even during the toughest test I gave it which involved me emptying the cat little mat out on the floor it picked up pretty much everything after 2 trips round without flicking too much of it around.

The automation features which let you programme how often it runs automatically also mean you don’t even need to worry about starting it (you just have to empty the dust tray every so often).

The mopping function is another well thought out function. To use it you simply add water (which should be cold but floor cleaner is ok) into the tank and swap the tank out with the dust tray. The vacuum automatically detects that it has the mop and let’s you adjust the mopping pattern and water flow. The Y pattern option means that it goes over each part of the floor from different angles.

This function is great to have but certainly more for everyday mopping and not tough stains…it didn’t get a tomato stain off the kitchen floor (but did loosen it).

What’s the verdict?

The Zigma Spark Robot Vacuum packs in tons of features and most importantly actually cleans your house effectively. The laser mapping means it does it in a logical way, it can get into corners and rarely gets trapped.

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Pixel Universal Video Microphone for Smartphones and DSLR Cameras with Shock Mount – Full Review

Posted on 3rd January 2020 by Mark Tiddy.

Read on for the written review, click here to watch the video review or pick one up on Amazon here.

If you’re looking for an external microphone to improve the sound quality of your videos then the Pixel video microphone might just be the one for you!

Retailing at £40 the Pixel isn’t going to break the bank but does come with everything you need to get started. It comes with 3 shockproof mounts with shoe clips for fitting onto the top of cameras, tripods etc, a foam windscreen, a fluffy windscreen, an extension cable, a cable to connect it to a DSLR and a cable to connect it to a smartphone.

The microphone itself is made of metal, feels incredibly well made and is reasonable small. It’s a super-cardioid microphone with a reasonable range (see Pixel’s diagram below)

However, nice and fancy diagrams are the real proof is in how it performs.

Set Up and Performance

Using the microphone is as simple as plugging it in. I tested it with my iPhone X and once I got the cable plugged into my lightning to 3.5mm adapter the right way round (hint: the end with 3 black lines goes into your phone) it worked with whatever app I recorded audio or video with.

As well as recording a couple of YouTube reviews I was filming anyway I also ran some specific tests with the microphone. (You can watch them in the video review on my YouTube channel).

Music Test
I decided to play some guitar and sing. I recorded the same clip with my iPhone microphone and with the Pixel microphone. Both clips were generally pretty similar except the Pixel clip had less room boom and generally had more low end (which made it sound better).

Background Noise Test
This time I set my iPad up in the hall behind my camera and played some music from it with the door closed. I then recorded some video with my iPhone, with the Pixel and with the Pixel with windscreens on to see how well it blocked out the background noise.

The iPhone microphone clip has a lot of background noise but even the Pixel without a windscreen reduced this noise and adding the windscreens reduced this further.

Outside Test
Finally, I took the microphone outside and did tests on a couple of days. On the windier day the audio using the Pixel with the foam windscreen was clearer than my iPhone microphone audio.

On the day with less wind I found that the fluffy windscreen dramatically improved the sound of my voice and the foam windscreen also made a difference.

Verdict
Overall, the Pixel microphone is a great accessory that is well made and performs well (especially outdoors). It has plenty of accessories and a nice carry case and is certainly a great budget option for recording better audio for your videos.

Apeman C860 Dual Cam Dash Cam Review

Posted on 28th December 2019 by Mark Tiddy.

Read on for the full written review, check out the video review on my YouTube channel here or click here to pick one up!

A dash cam is becoming the essential driving accessory and I’ve been using a cheap one off Groupon for a couple of years (which I wouldn’t recommend!).

I would however, recommend the Apeman C860 one!

The C860 is a dual camera dash cam which means you have both a front and rear facing camera to fit in your car. The front facing camera also has a 3″ screen on the back and the rear camera connects to it.

In the box you get: both cameras, a suction mount for the front camera, a 6m cable for connecting the two cameras, a 9v power cable for the front camera (which even has a USB port on), a spludger for poking cables down the edge of your windscreen, a spare 3m sticker for if you need to reattach the rear camera plus a USB cable for connecting the camera to your computer.

In terms of specification the front facing camera/main unit has:

  • 1440p QHD video recording with 170 degree wide angle lens
  • Built in 420mAH hour battery which works well for parking mode during that trip to the shops (but not for the whole night!).
  • Space for up to 128gb of MicroSD card but even my 32gb one fits plenty of video on.
  • A G-sensor to detect crashes and protect the footage

The rear camera also has a 170 degree wide angle and shoots 1080p video

Both cameras have a Sony IMX336 sensor which means you have excellent quality video for both day and night.

Fitting and setup is nice and easy and the menu on the device is easy enough to use once you get your head around the controls. In the settings you can turn on or off parking mode, adjust crash detection sensitivity, set date/time, turn on or off numberplate water marking and a few other things.

The most helpful setting is the ability to let the display sleep even when the device is filming…this stops the screen being a distraction whilst you drive.

The buttons on the device also let you flick between front camera view, rear camera view or dual view (useful for parking).

How easy is it to use?

Actually…ridiculously easy!

The device switches on when you turn on your engine and starts recording. The loop feature (which you can adjust in settings) continuously records video in 3 or 5 minute bursts, deleting the oldest footage when space on your memory card fill up. It records both the front and rear camera footage as separate files.

It also records audio which is reasonable quality but I’ve switched it off because it feels a little invasive to record your passengers conversations.

The quality from the cameras is excellent. Footage is crisp, clear and well lit…even night mode leaves number plates readable. The quality went above and beyond anything I was expecting!

Summary

All in all for £80 you get a lot for your money and a pair of cameras that perform incredibly well, look good and are simple to use!

Ring Door View Cam Review

Posted on 16th October 2019 by Mark Tiddy.

The Ring Door View Cam is the latest smart doorbell from Amazon owned company ‘Ring’. Read on for the review, pick one up here or watch the video review here.

The Ring Door View Cam

Ring have been making smart doorbells for a while but they haven’t been without their fair share of problems. A dive into Amazon reviews shows all kinds of frustrations and so whilst I was slightly hesitant about picking one up a month or so ago I wouldn’t look back.

The Ring door view cam is slightly different from Ring’s other devices because it fits where the peephole on your door would be. This is handy because it means no new holes and puts half of the device on the inside of your door allowing for closer proximity to your wifi…this is probably why this device seems to work better than their other ones!

In the box you get the outside part of the device, the inside part, a battery, microUSB cable for charging, some stickers, manual, tools for fitting and a spare ribbon cable just in case you break one.

Fitting has a number of stages but is pretty easy to do when you follow the instructions Ring provide. You then set it up using the Ring smartphone app and you’re away (more on the app later). The battery slots into the inside part making it nice and easy to remove when you need to charge. The inside also keeps the peephole allowing you to have both low-tech and high-tech eyes to the outside world.

In terms of spec, the Ring Door View cam packs a 1080p HD camera with a 155 degree horizontal range and 90 degree vertical range (which is great), it has night mode and supports 2 way audio.

It also detects motion and knocks…meaning those delivery drivers who don’t know how to press a button still come through to your smart doorbell.

The door view cam connects to your wifi and supports 2.4ghz networks and then you get alerts to your smartphone or Alexa device (you can also purchase additional Chimes too). It also has a speaker and microphone built in.

Ring make no claims about battery life because it depends whether you have motion detection, HDR, night mode and other more draining features on but with everything switched on I got 1 month out of it. When the battery is getting low you get an email and notification.

The design looks sleek and modern and really doesn’t look out of place on my door (see image at the top of the review). The black front has a button with a blue light-up ring for when you press it and there’s silver edges. The inside is simple a white box with grey flap…which isn’t the prettiest but it’s ok!

So…does it work well?

Once you’ve set up the doorbell it works like a doorbell!

If someone knocks on your door or presses the button the blue ring light on their side lights up letting them know that it’s connecting. You can then open the app and see what’s going on (and talk to them), use Alexa devices to view the video or speak (depending on the Alexa device you have) or…open your door!

Notifications come through quickly and it’s nice and clear to speak through to visitors. It’s great if you’ve got a parcel coming and you want to tell them to leave it somewhere safe.

If you want a real doorbell noise you can buy a Ring Chime device or use IFTTT to do something like play a sound through a smart speaker when the doorbell is pressed (there’s a few seconds delay with the latter).

The main complaint from others using Ring devices seems to be around reliability which I’ve had no issues with at all…but…my router is in the same room as my front door and I have fast fibre internet so this probably makes a difference (you can check connection health of the device in the Ring app).

The other feature is the motion detection which adds a security side to the device. This feature can have its sensitivity adjusted and schedules set and notifies you when it detects motion.

If you live on a house backing onto a street then even low sensitivity picks up a lot but you can mute motion notifications and still have it record the video…this is a great security feature.

This is where a Ring subscription is essential. For £2.50 a month Ring will record, upload and archive footage recorded allowing you to check back later in the day. If you just want an instant access video doorbell then this doesn’t matter but if you really want the security features to be usable you need this plan.

The App

The Ring app is really well thought out and works well. The initial screen let’s you quickly view footage or snooze notifications.

Diving into the settings let’s you…

  • Adjust motion settings including sensitivity, set zones, turn it off and set schedules.
  • Video settings let you turn on HDR, turn on live view, restrict video and audio coverage and turn on night mode.
  • Notification settings let you play with alert tones
  • Knock detection lets you set sensitivity.
  • Then the other settings let you share your device with others in your house, change volume, location and device name.

The rest of the app let’s you check back on footage (if you have a Ring plan), view your camera in real-time and check device health.

So…is the Ring Door View Cam any use and who should be buying it?

I was a little hesitant about buying one especially after reading negative reviews of other Ring products but actually, whilst it’s pretty expensive, it actually does the job really well. It’s easy to fit, provides good quality video and is nice and easy to tweak and adjust settings.

If you want a video doorbell which works well and provides good quality video then certainly check it out…just make sure the wifi signal near your door is strong enough or be prepared to pick up a booster.

First look at the new Philips Hue Smart Filament Bulbs

Posted on 27th September 2019 by Mark Tiddy.

Check out my new video looking at the new smart filament bulb from Philips Hue

iLife V3s Robot Vacuum Cleaner – Review

Posted on 24th September 2019 by Mark Tiddy.

Robot vacuum cleaners once seemed like something out of the Jetsons but now they’re widely available and the iLife V3S sits towards the cheaper end of the spectrum (£150) (and is one of relatively few with decent Amazon reviews).

Here’s my opinion of it after 2 weeks of usage…(You can also watch a video review here)

Design

The iLife v3 has a round design and looks like every other robot vacuum cleaner out there. It has padded rubber edging at the front to prevent damage to walls and furniture and has brushes that stick out from underneath.

It comes in white and looks pretty modern. The body has one button on the top which is used to turn it on and start cleaning and the top also has a push area to open up the vacuum and remove the 0.3l dust bin.

The base has two chunky retractable wheels which help it climb over small raises but also maintain a close profile to the floor when it’s working. There’s also a small wheel for direction.

In terms of size it is 30cm in diameter and about 8cm thick…which is about average for these devices.

iLife pack a lot into the box and you get the vacuum itself, the charging base (which is mains powered), some spare filters and brushes, a remote control and batteries for the remote.

When it comes to battery life iLife claim you can get 2 hours and actually I find that it regularly performs better than this. When the battery gets low it event returns itself home to charge.

Usability

So, how does it work?

You set the iLife V3S off by pressing the button on top of the device or by using the remote (more on the remote later). It then bursts into life and sets itself about hoovering.

It seems to take a fairly random route around the house and I don’t understand the logic but it does seem to get everywhere eventually. There occasions when it gets a shoe lace tangled up in the brushes or when it gets trapped between table and chair legs but for the most part it’s goes about its duty trouble free!

It’s also really good at finding its way back to base at the end of the cycle…which amazes me considering the random route it takes!

But…does it actually clean?!

At this point in the review it’s worth saying that it’s not going to replace your traditional vacuum cleaner for deep cleaning but for keeping your house nice and clean on the day to day I’ve been really impressed!

Over the two weeks of daily use from it I’ve noticed our short pile carpet look cleaner and I’ve been amazed (and slightly disgusted) at how much it’s picked up from around the house.

iLife don’t commit to how much power the suction has but it’s certainly enough and the option to give it a boost with the spot cleaning is useful. It does flick stuff across the floor whilst cleaning but does eventually pick everything up.

It also has really effective anti-drop sensors which stop it falling down the stairs and doesn’t damage anything when it bumps into things.

Let’s talk a little about the remote control…

The bundled remote adds some extra functionality…

1 – You can start it using the play/pause button and use the arrows to steer it…you need to be close to it as the remote is only infrared
2 – The home button sends it back to base
3 – There are buttons for spot and edge cleaning…these don’t make a huge difference but are nice to have.
4 – You use the remote to set the time and a timer. This means you can choose for your robot to start work at a given time each day. This is handy however you can’t choose how long for or which days, it just happens daily, until it’s out of energy.

So, what are the downsides of this robot vacuum?

As an overall…actually relatively few
– It’s a little noisy at times…but still quieter than a normal vacuum
– Sometimes it gets tangled or trapped
– The timer function is basic…options for days of the week and length of time would be great to have.

But that’s it! Overall this is a great little robot vacuum which I love having around and would certainly recommend. It lacks some of the smarter features found with more expensive vacuums but does a great job at cleaning short pile carpet and wooden floors.

Think you want to pick one up? Find the iLife V3S on Amazon here

Car Phone Holders – Which to Choose?

Posted on 18th September 2019 by Mark Tiddy.

To watch a video version of this blog on my YouTube channel click here

We don’t talk much about car phone holders…mostly because they’re not an exciting topic however as our phones become our main source of navigation on a journey they might be one of the most essential accessories.

So here is a blog going over 4 of the most popular types of car phone holder with some pro’s and con’s.

1 – The Cup Holder

If your car has a cup holder in between the front seats then this is one option.

These types of phone holders typically have a chunky base which expands to wedge it nice and snugly in your cup holder whatever size it is. They’re not the cheapest and tend to cost around £15 but they’re pretty solid.

Once you’ve got the holder fitted in your cup holder the adjustable arm and phone holder let’s you adjust it to get the perfect position and you can adjust it to fit whatever size phone you have. You can also slot in a charging cable.

Pro’s
– Your phone doesn’t obscure your view of the road
– Your phone is nice and secure

Con’s
– If you’re using it for navigation you need it in your line of sight!

2 – The Vent Clip

These are probably the cheapest ones out there and the most basic ones cost a few pounds on eBay. They also are pretty minimal which is nice.

There are two types of these…those that your phone clips into (as pictured) or those with magnets which mean sticking something to the back of your phone (or case).

They’re easy to fit and because they slot in a vent you have plenty of options.

Pro’s
– They’re really inconspicuous
– Plenty of places to fit one

Con’s
– They occasionally fall out mid-drive…not fun!

3 – The Car Mount Clip 

The car mount clip sits in the middle of the price bracket at £8 and is my favourite…but also the most niche!

It has a clip to attach to your car somewhere (mine fits nicely in the centre of my car because I have a ledge) but other pictures show it just in front of the steering wheel. The phone then slots in a clip-style mount which means when you’re not using it it’s out the way.

Pro’s
– It’s solid…your phone is not going to fall out!
– You can get it in the right line of site for navigation

Con’s
– It’s pretty niche and won’t fit all cars

4 – The Suction Pad Holder 

This is probably the most common (and often the most ugly) one. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and vary massively in price although about £8 is the average.

They attach to your windscreen using the suction pad and clip in your phone. Some even come with a bonus sticker to let you attach it to your dashboard instead.

Once attached they tend to stay put although probably fall off once a year when the humidity changes!

Pro’s
– Widely available
– They let you put your phone wherever you like!

Con’s
– Some are super-ugly
– They occasionally fall off

So, what’s the best one?

If you’ve got space to clip one on then the car mount clip is my favourite, it’s both secure and in the line of sight. However if you don’t then any of the others will do the job. I’ve linked one of each below for you to check out.

Links

The Cup Holder Mount: https://amzn.to/32DHfam
The Phone Clip: https://amzn.to/2NdEyZl
The Car Vent Mount: https://amzn.to/2Q8TlXI
The Suction Mount: https://amzn.to/2NdwNCS

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1By One Bluetooth Smart Scales Review

Posted on 11th September 2019 by Mark Tiddy.

If you’d prefer to watch a video review of these scales then click here!

1By One are a company making budget devices and one of their products are the 1By One Smart Body scales.

These scales cost around £21 from Amazon with a choice of black or white. In my opinion they look pretty smart with their rounded edges. They’re also incredibly light. The top of them has resistant tempered glass and can take a weight of up to 180kg.

The scales are powered by 3 triple A batteries which even come in the box.

Standing on them causes them to act like a normal pair of scales and they tell you your weight in Kg or Lbs. You can choose which using the button on the base of the scales. It’s a shame there’s not a stone option but never mind!

However, using them with the 1byOne health app is where they really come into their own.

Once you’ve initially connected the scales in the 1byOne Health app all you need to do is open the app when you’re near the scales (and on them) and they automatically connect and show you your results. This app happens pretty instantly and the app shows some really useful information too.

It shows you your weight (you can choose whether you want it in KG, stone or Lbs) and your BMI at the top (calculated from your height data which you added when you set up your profile)

They also use the sensors on the device to calculate:

  • Percentage body fat
  • Visceral Fat
  • Percentage body water
  • Bone mass
  • Basel Metabolic rate

I can’t comment on how accurate they are as I’ve no other way to test it although the results are the same as my previous scales.

Tapping onto these pieces of data give you a handy scale to help you understand whether this is healthy or not.

The app also lets you track your data over time and you can set reminders to step on the scales. Other features let you weight a baby and add extra users to track the whole family!

Finally, you can also sync your data with a variety of other apps including Fitbit, Apple health and Google fit. This is great because it enables you to keep all your health data in one place, it even sends all those metrics across automatically once you’ve set it up.

All in all, for an incredibly reasonable price these scales look good, connect easily and seamlessly sync with other apps. If you’re looking for some connected scales on a budget then be sure to check these out.

Pick them up on Amazon;
Black scales: https://amzn.to/2ZCBLQ4
White scales: https://amzn.to/2PIzzlp
(Note: These are affiliate links which means using them helps out my blog)

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Ordering Your Apple Watch Wallet Payment Cards

Posted on 4th September 2019 by Mark Tiddy.

Ever wondered how to easily update the order of your payment cards on your Apple Watch without removing them? It’s pretty simple really…read on for a written tutorial or click here to watch a video tutorial.

One of the frustrating features both the Watch smartphone app and wallet app on the Apple Watch itself lack is the ability to re-order your payment cards however it’s actually pretty easy to do.

  1. Open up the Watch App on your phone and go to ‘Wallet and Apple Pay’
  2. Once there click ‘default card’. At this point you need to know the order you want your cards to be.
  3. Let’s say you have 3 cards, one is blue, one is grey and one is pink. We want the grey to be 1st, the pink 2nd and the blue 3rd.
  4. Step one is to select the blue at the default card. If you double tap on your watch to activate payment mode you’ll notice this card is now first.
  5. Next, back in the Watch app select the pink card as the default payment. (Again, if you check on your watch you’ll now see the pink card is 1st, followed by the blue one).
  6. Finally, back in the Watch app select the grey card.
  7. Go into the Wallet on your Watch and you’ll see that the cards are now in the order you want. Simple!
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Tile Mate Review

Posted on 28th August 2019 by Mark Tiddy.

Tile have been in the business of creating trackers for a while now and the mate is probably the one the everyday user will pick up. Read on for my review of click here for the video review.

I recently picked up a Tile Mate to throw in my suitcase for a recent trip with the hope of being able to track down my case were it to go missing and have a heads up when it was about to arrive on baggage claim. After two weeks of use what’s my verdict? Read on to find out!

Let’s start with an introduction to Tile devices.

Tile have been in the business of creating trackers for a while and currently have 3 in their range, the Pro, the Mate and the Slim. The Pro and Slim retail at £30 and the Mate at £20 (although you can pick them up for about £15 on amazon or cheaper in bulk).

The Mate is pretty small and has a replaceable CR1632 battery which (tile claim) should last for a year. The design is pretty simple with rounded edges and a white front with a tile button on and a grey rear with a speaker and battery compartment. It also has a decent size hole so you can attach it to your keys, bag, cat, dog, bike (or whatever you like!)

But how does it function?

The Tile Mate works in one of two ways.

Firstly (and most importantly) it works as a bluetooth tracker.

Setting up the Tile is done easily using the Tile app and you can give it a name and assign a product type to it.

Once it’s set up you can view your Tile devices on the smartphone app or on the Apple Watch App. From here you can choose ‘Find’ to make the Tile ring (if you’re in range)…this is surprisingly loud and let’s you customise the ringtone.

You can also view the most recent location and this is where the tile gets really cool because it could be the last time it connected to your phone or it could be an updated location courtesy of the Tile community.

The Tile community is basically everyone who owns a Tile and Tile devices will update their location when another Tile user is close by. This means if you were to have your bike stolen but it was to be near a member of the community you could have an idea of where it is (or at least where it had been). The Tile community is constantly growing and in the medium sized town I live in there are 461 Tile members nearby (at time of writing).

On the right is an example of my Tile being picked up by the community in our hotel room a couple of weeks ago.

You can also mark your Tile as lost to get a notification when it surfaces! (I did this for fun at baggage claim!)

Within the app you can also set up Siri shortcuts allowing you to find your tile using your voice and share your tile with someone else.

Tile also have a premium service which costs $3 a month or $30 for a year and gives you things like a new battery each year, extended warranty, unlimited sharing and location history (opposed to the last known location with the free version). I’m not convinced this service is really worth that much and so it’s not something I’ve signed up to!

The second function of the tile is to help you find your phone. A double tap on the Tile button on the device itself will make your phone ring…handy if you know where your Tile is but not where your phone is.

In summary, the Tile Mate is an affortable and very very good bluetooth tracker that I can’t really fault.

You can pick one up here.

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Travel Tech Essentials

Posted on 20th August 2019 by Mark Tiddy.

Now, if you’re like me then even when you’re on holiday (or vacation as they say in the USA) you need some tech with you and so here is a blog with my favourite travel tech including my top bank for travel, favourite apps and physical tech.

Prefer to watch this as a YouTube video? Click here!

As a bonus tip at the start of this video if you suffer with your ears popping and taking days to recover after travelling (which I do) then check out these reusable flying earplugs from Boots…genuinely the best £5 I’ve ever spent!

But let’s talk tech…

Travel Money

When you’re travelling to another country getting currency is the trickiest thing to work out and you probably don’t want to be carrying around a load of cash.

For this reason I signed up to Starling Bank a couple of years ago. Starling offer a debit card account and other than sending you a physical card everything else is done via their app.

There’s two reasons I’d highly recommend them

1 – No Fees! – If you want to use an ATM or pay using your card there are no fees wherever you are in the world…you just pay the conversion rate of the day. This makes spending money when travelling so simple!

2 – You can keep a check on spending as you go – Payment notifications come through instantly and even tell you how much your $11 payment just cost in £’s…this let’s you keep track of your money as you go along.

Check out Starling here.

Other Travel Apps

Alongside the Starling app I have a few other travel favourites

  • Triposo – A great app for travelling which let’s you download offline city or country tourist guides including places to eat, local attractions, tourist routes and even an offline map!
  • Google Translate – You can download languages to translate offline and translate by holding your camera over something (instant translation), scanning something or using audio translate.
  • Uber & Lyft – Both operate in a similar way and make it easy (and cheaper than a taxi) to grab a ride. Payments are easy because they go through the app and Uber is operating in loads of places now! (One of my Lyft drivers in the USA last year turned out to be a drummer of a band I listen to…what a coincidence!)
  • Duo Lingo – Finally, if you want to learn a new language before you go then Duo Lingo makes it fun to do that.

Physical Travel Tech

Now, let’s talk about the physical things I take with me. I’ve linked all of the tech mentioned at the end of this section.

The first thing I pack is USB cables for my devices…typically a MicroUSB cable and a lightning cable. I also travel with my portable charger, a Romoss Sense 4…this isn’t the lightest or smallest but has a massive 10400MaH battery so lasts forever…it also has 2 USB ports so I can charge 2 devices at once.

Next is a Universal Travel Adapter which I picked up this year. It has extendable plugs for USA, EU, Australia and the EU and space to charge 3 USB devices, 1 USB C and a plug! It’s super portable and compact.

For the ultimate travel wallet (and now my daily driver) I picked up a Trove Swift Reflex which fits all my cards in, has a handy pull strip for the most used cards and the Swift Reflex is even vegan!

I also have a Tile Mate which I throw in my suitcase. I’ve got a full review coming up next week on this but the mate lets me track my case if it gets lost and gives me a heads-up when it’s arriving on the baggage claim conveyer belt!

Then, of course, there’s my every day devices that come with me…

  • For reading I have a 2019 base model Kindle. It fits all my books on it, is small and has a backlight!
  • My iPhone X comes with me (of course) and has all my music and travel apps on plus takes brilliant photos. On top of that my contract lets me use my data as usual throughout most of the world.
  • My earphones of choice are my AirPods because they fit in my pocket, sound great and have awesome battery life.
  • Finally, I throw in a pair of wired headphones and an aeroplane adapter because I don’t like the earphones you tend to get given on a plane.

The only other thing that is now an essential for me is my Panasonic Lumix DMC TZ70 digital camera because it has a killer 30x zoom, great battery life and let’s me transfer photos to my phone via wifi and a smartphone app….the zoom on this camera is seriously good…check this photo out.

So that’s it! Those are my travel tech essentials…what are yours?

Here are links to all the things I talked about…
Romoss Power Bank: https://amzn.to/2TSyJRQ
Universal Travel Adapter: https://amzn.to/31U8Ofo
Tile Mate: https://amzn.to/2Z5HU6Z
Trove Wallet: https://amzn.to/2KYywbr
Kindle 2019: https://amzn.to/2MtQhms
iPhone X: https://amzn.to/2Z39MJ7
Apple AirPods: https://amzn.to/2Zh7sJR
Panasonic Lumix TZ70:  https://amzn.to/2Zh7QYP

Speeding Up a 2012 Unibody MacBook Pro

Posted on 1st July 2019 by Mark Tiddy.

Way back in 2012 I picked up my 2nd ever Apple laptop, a unibody MacBook Pro. I decided to (in theory) future proof myself by going for the 2.9ghz Intel Core i7 with 8gb RAM but decided against the retina model because I wanted to have a DVD drive and be able to do upgrades.

7 years later and this is still the machine I use everyday. I edit 4k video on it using Final Cut Pro and have produced whole albums of music (check out my band Backroom Stereo) and it is faster today than the day I got it thanks to a couple of simple and easy upgrades.

1 – The Hard Drive
A couple of years ago I splashed out on a 1TB SSD hard drive to put in my Mac (and upgraded that to a 2TB drive a couple of months ago). An SSD or Solid State Drive has much faster read/write speeds than a traditional hard drive and the speed increase was instantly noticeable.

SSD memory is getting cheaper and it’s certainly well worth doing. I’ve made a tutorial on YouTube for how to do this (and clone all your data) and I’d recommend Crucial hard drives (500GB model here, 1TB model here and 2TB model here).

2 – RAM
Upgrading RAM didn’t give me as noticeable difference as upgrading my hard drive but it has certainly made a difference. The handy system scanner from Crucial (linked here) can scan your machine and tell you how much RAM your machine can take (in my case, 16gb in the form of 2 x 8gb sticks). RAM isn’t that expensive so for £60 I picked up a 16gb kit and installed it a few days ago…already I’m noticing far less of the coloured wheel! Watch my tutorial here and pick up the RAM I chose here.

Overview
Doing both of these upgrades will seriously speed up your MacBook and I reckon it could give any of the new MacBooks a run for their money without me having to shell out for a brand new MacBook.

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Review: Roland SPD::One Kick

Posted on 14th June 2019 by Mark Tiddy.

The SPD One Kick is one of four percussion pads available from Roland. I’ve been using it for a few weeks so here’s my verdict.

Read on for the blog, pick one up on Amazon here or check out my video review.

I quite often take out my acoustic guitar and so solo gigs at open mics and the struggle I have is that you can’t easily add beat behind your voice. I’ve tried passive ‘cigar box’ style stomp boxes in the past and never got good results and then I came across the SPD One Kick which retails at around £170.

The SPD One is part of the SPD One Series from Roland which are pads designed for musicians…the kick (as the name suggests) largely focuses on kick drums but has other sounds too.

Design

The SPD One Kick is mostly made of metal and feels incredibly solid and well made. The pad that you hit or stomp has plenty of grip and can take a battering!

The top has four controls for adjusting: the sample, the volume, the tuning and the reverb or distortion. There’s also an indicator light and a variation button for switching between sound banks (allowing you to have up to 24 sounds)

The side has buttons for adjusting the threshold (how loud each hit is and how much that varies) and the sensitivity (how hard you have to hit the pad to get a result) plus a microUSB socket for connecting to a computer to add your own sounds (this isn’t as easy as it should be so check out my tutorial)

On the back you’ll find headphone and line out outputs, a power input and the on off switch. Then finally, on the bottom you’ll find a battery compartment, screw holes for mounting the device to something like a drum kit (mounting bracket included) and two pads to give it plenty of grip on the floor.

Spec

The SPD One Kick can be battery or mains powered and the battery powered option gives you up to 6 hours of usage (depending on the quality of your batteries).

It has 22 samples built in but the key ones are:

  • Standard Kick
  • Hard Kick
  • Percussion Kick
  • Stomp Box
  • TR Kick
  • Jingles
  • Cabassa / Guiro
  • Ankle Bracelet
  • Cowbell / Claves
  • Clap / X-Stick
  • Cymbal

You can also input your own samples in WAV format and they can be up to 5 seconds long. This is done Via USB.

Usage

The SPD One Kick is super easy to use and get used to and can be used with your foot, drumsticks or your hand…a little adjusting of the threshold and sensitivity helps you get the right setting for your means of playing.

My favourite sounds have been the TR Kick and the Std kick which I’ve used live with a little bit of reverb. I’ve found that in a live setting it’s reliable, easy to use and plenty loud enough (oh, and it sounds good!).

The ability to tune is useful too…especially if you want a deeper sounding kick!

The only thing I don’t really like are the sounds of the cymbal and the bells but it’s all down to personal preference!

I’ve managed to play it standing up with my guitar but it’s certainly much easier when sat down!

So, what’s the verdict?

I picked up one of these because I wanted something I could use in my live setup to add some beat as I always gig with just me and a guitar and it does exactly what I want it too and sounds really good in the process.

In terms of downsides, as I’ve mentioned, I’m not a big fan of the cymbal sound, adding your own sounds isn’t included on the bundled manual and for the price they don’t throw in a USB cable!

All in all however, if you want an electronic alternative to some of the passive stomp boxes out there then this is well worth picking up and it really adds something into my live setup and fits nice and easily in my guitar bag.

Don’t forget to check out the video review to hear the sounds!

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AmpliTube Max – Guitar Modelling Software – Review

Posted on 7th June 2019 by Mark Tiddy.

AmpliTube Max is a piece of guitar modelling software for PC & Mac but is it any good?

Read on for the blog, click here for the video review or click here to purchase.

AmpliTube Max is the maxed out version of IKMultimedia’s AmpliTube software which is designed as a stand alone programme or DAW plugin for Mac and PC. (There is a iOS version of AmpliTube available but it’s very much a separate piece of software compared to the PC version).

This review will focus on my experience of using it as a Mac user and if you watch my video review you’ll also see and hear some of it in action.

Amplitube Max costs around £470 usually but is currently on offer for £216 and so is by no means cheap however for the 300 pieces of gear you get (including some BIG names) it’s actually a really good price with the offer.

For your money you get.

  • 88 stompbox models
  • 80 amplifiers
  • 92 cabinets
  • 29 vintage and modern speaker models
  • 19 microphones
  • 24 rack effects
  • 2 tuners

The software also has a built in recorder and looper which I’ll touch upon briefly.

The Interface

On initial inspection the interface looks pretty complicated and to start with it is however after a while it all makes sense and is really quite intuitive.

The centre area (where you currently see an amp) changes depending on what you’re editing…so you see the racks, stomp pedals, recorder and all sorts here. The left hand side shows either the looper or recorder. The bottom has some extra controls (such as volume, record, tempo etc.) and the top has links to a preset browser and a few more things.

The preset browser is a great place to start as it gives you a feel for all the sounds built in and is a great place to search for a type of sound.

So let’s talk about some of the gear

Amps and Cabs

A good starting point is to choose your amp and cab (and you can choose these separately).

The amps include some big names such as the Fender Bassman 300 and the Orange Tiny Terror plus some Fender and Mesa Boogie models. These amps have all the controls the real thing would have and look and feel just like the real thing…I absolutely love the visual nature of this app throughout.

Once you’ve picked an amp you can move onto a cab.

The software will suggest a cab to match but you can choose from all the other available cabs too…then…if you want…customise the internal speakers in those cabs, choose one of two microphone types and move those microphones around, pick the room your recording in (and the ambient mics in that room) and then mix it all together…you could spend hours and hours just playing with cabs…it’s awesome!

Pedals, Racks and Inserts

When it comes to stomp boxes you can add up to six on each pedalboard and there are loads to choose from including some big names like the Fender ’63 Reverb or a Slash WahDist plus all the sorts of pedal you’d expect such as distortion, reverb, delay, was and loads more!

Like the amps you can customise all of these and twist dials and knobs until you get the sound you’re looking for.

Inserts can then be added between your rack and cabinet and include things like echo, compressors, reverb and pitch shift.

Then you have racks which come after the cab. Racks A and B allow you to add up to 8 such as delay, compressors, EQ’s and more!

Of course, the racks and inserts are all customisable too!

Finally there’s a couple of tuners!

There’s a normal tuner and an ultra tuner (which lets you do things like adjusting transposition). You can see the tuner in action and choose to mute or hear the audio.

Of course once you’ve set up your perfect guitar sound (and probably spend an afternoon doing it) you can save it and come back to it another time!

Next, let’s talk about the recorder and looper.

These features are very much secondary features and so I’m only going to briefly touch on these.

The recorder is an 8 track looper that let’s you easily record guitar, change the effects after recording and is a good way to get down some ideas.

The looper is a 4-track looper with an auto mode and is activated by the space bar or by clicking in the software. This is great for jamming!

You can save and export your recordings!

The DAW Plugin

Finally, the most exciting part of AmpliTube for me…the ability to use it within your usual recording software.

The plugin works with any compatible Mac or Windows DAW native compatible 64 bit applications…for me that’s Logic Pro X.

Loading the plugin to Logic is easy and it’s simply an audio FX on your recording channel and the plugin view is the same as the software (minus the recorder and looper). You can even access all the presets you created in the stand alone app.

Of course, once you’ve recorded some guitar or bass you can tweak the effects applied again!

For me, this is where the software comes to life because I can have the incredible sounds from AmpliTube Max with the power of my recording software.

So…what’s the verdict?

Let me answer that with 4 key questions and my answers…

Is it any good? – Absolutely! – IKMultimedia are brilliant at creating authentic sounding digital effects that cost a fraction of the real equipment. Companies like Fender and Orange wouldn’t be putting their name to something that didn’t have a high quality about it. AmpliTube puts high quality amps, cabs and effects in your hands and I’ve been blown away by just how customisable this software is.

Does it sound any good? – YES! – Not much more to add, it sounds incredible!

Is it worth the cost? – That’s a difficult question to answer because it isn’t cheap but if you’re likely to use it when recording guitar and bass (or even live) then the answer is probably yes…and whilst it’s by no means cheap it’s probably the same amount you’d spend on just one amp and a few effects.

Are there any downsides? – For me the main downside is that there isn’t a live mode like the iOS app has which means it doesn’t work as well with the iRig Stomp I/O as it could and you can’t transfer purchased content between iOS and Mac/PC versions.

I hope you’ve found this review helpful…if you want to hear some of the plugin in action then check out my video review.

Adding Custom Sounds to a Roland SPD One Series

Posted on 4th June 2019 by Mark Tiddy.

Adding your own sounds to a Roland SPD One series should be easy however it’s not included on the manual so here’s a little video tutorial

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iRig Pro Duo USB Recording Device Review

Posted on 29th May 2019 by Mark Tiddy.

iRig Pro Duo

The iRig Pro Duo USB recording device from IKMultimedia has been around a while but is still worth a review.

Read on for the full review, watch the video review here or pick one up on amazon here.

The iRig Pro Duo has since late 2015 and I’ve been using it in my home studio recording my music (check out Backroom Stereo) for the last year and so here are my thoughts…

First…Price

The retail price on Amazon is £150 but if you shop around or go second hand you can pick it up at a bargain price.

Design

The iRig Pro Duo is designed to be portable and so it’s a pretty small device, it’s also incredibly light.

The device has rounded edges and looks slick and modern. The top of the device has multi-coloured lights to show you things like gain, midi and phantom power information plus two gain controls.

In terms of inputs/outputs you’ll find…

  • Two quarter inch/XLR inputs (allowing you to have two inputs at once)
  • Midi in and out 3.5mm jack inputs/outputs
  • A direct monitor switch, headphone output (3.5mm) and volume control for the output
  • A left and right quarter inch jack output with volume
  • A switch for the 48v phantom power

This device can be powered via USB or using two AA batteries. You can connect is via USB to your computer or lightning to your iOS device for using with apps like Garageband.

If you want to know all the really tech-y specs then you can find them on the IKMultimedia website

Using the Device

As it is a USB audio interface you simply plug and play. As a Mac user I just have to plug it in, open Logic Pro X (my recording programme of choice) and I’m away!

To use the device you add one or two recording channels and you can record both of the inputs at once onto different tracks.

I’ve found that there is no lag when recording or hearing playback in headphones and that when recording guitar you can hear what you’re playing through the headphone output with no delay.

I’ve also been really impressed with the sound quality (there’s a sample in my video review)

The lights on top of the device are really useful for having the information you need (e.g. if your instrument is peaking).

The only feature I haven’t tested is the Midi function.

Of course, once you’ve recorded something you can then use it as an audio output whilst you mix and edit your tracks.

So, what’s the verdict?

4 years on from its release the iRig Pro Duo is still a versatile, portable and great performing USB audio interface and (for me) there’s no downsides to it at all!

Watch the video review here

Pick one up on Amazon here

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Issues Creating a Bootable Hard Disk Clone in Mac OS Mojave

Posted on 12th May 2019 by Mark Tiddy.

Recently I needed to add some more storage to my 2012 MacBook and so I picked up a whopping 2TB hard drive from Crucial…cloning drives isn’t something I’m new too…in fact, I already have Carbon Copy Cloner on my Mac which I use to create a bootable backup regularly and I installed a 1TB SSD in my MacBook a few years ago (which I’ve filled up…hence a new drive!).

I already owned a USB hard drive docking station and so plugged in the new drive to that, formatted it to APFS (the same format as my existing drive running Mojave) and then cloned my existing drive to the new drive in Carbon Copy Cloner.

Then the problems started…

I went to boot it via USB to check the clone had worked and was presented with this…

So, wondering if USB simply couldn’t handle it I went ahead and installed the drive into my MacBook Pro and went to boot it up and was presented (after it got halfway through the boot cycle) with a no entry sign.

So I tried reformatting it and then cloning again using Carbon Copy Cloner with the same results.

The help pages of CCC and google didn’t help me solve my issue so I reformatted again and tried the restore mode of data transfer using Recovery Mode.

This time, after a day of ‘restoring’ using disk utility in Recovery Mode it presented me with an error after verifying that read ‘Status Error 22’ (at least it was a new error!).

This time I found people on Google having the same issue as me but running different versions of Mojave (or even older versions of Mac OS) but no solutions.

I had three choices: I could assume the drive was faulty and contact crucial, I could assume there was a problem with my existing drive and go down the route of a clean install and then restoring via Time Machine or I could try a different way of connecting the drive…so for £6 I picked up this USB 3 USB to SATA cable off Amazon and tried my Carbon Copy Clone again (this time it look 3 hours rather than 16 thanks to USB 3 over 2!) and it worked!

I thought I’d write this post just in case anyone else has had the same issue and hope it helps someone out!

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Zoom IQ5 Lightning Microphone Review

Posted on 2nd May 2019 by Mark Tiddy.

The Zoom IQ5 is a few years old now but still a great option for improving audio quality on your iPhone/iPad videos.

Watch the video review here or read on…

I picked one of these up for £35 (bargain!) after looking at the other options out there (including the Zoom IQ6 and IQ7). It’s no longer available so you’ll have to search for eBay where they typically sell for £60-70.

However…it’s still a great option so here’s a review to see if this piece of tech is still worth picking up 5 years after its release.

In a nutshell, the IQ5 is a stereo condenser mic designed to help you get a better quality sound from your iPhone or iPad videos. I’ve had mine a couple of months and have been using it for every YouTube video I’ve created since and really think it improves the sound.

Design & Specification

It’s not the prettiest design out there but I think it looks pretty cool. The microphone itself is this spherical shape which rotates and twists to allow you to adjust it depending on where you are in relation to your recording device.

The front has two sets of switches. One for adjusting gain and one for width.

One side has buttons for adjusting gain, the other side is a mini USB port for charging your phone during use (no idea why they didn’t go with lightning!) and a headphone jack for monitoring the sound.

You can set the gain to auto, limited (which lets you use the gain slider to adjust it) and off and there’s width settings for 90 degrees, 120 degrees and a MS setting.

Let’s unpack what that means

90 degrees is a direct recording…the sort of thing you’d use for a video where sound is coming from one place.

120 degrees catches more width…you’d probably use this if you were recording a larger area such as a band playing. It captures more of the sound of the review. (There’s examples of all of these in my video review)

MS – This option records both 90 and 120 degrees and let’s you choose and mix in the Zoom Handy Recorder app. (more on the app later)

Using the IQ5

Using the IQ5 is super easy, you plug it into your iPhone or iPad and you’re away…it fits so snugly to your device you’ll have to remove any cases first!

Then to record you either use the Zoom Handy Recorder app or the video/audio app of your choice. I just use the native camera app to shoot videos and it automatically uses the Zoom IQ5 for audio.

There’s not much else to say. For me the audio is loud enough, clear, crisp and free of background noise*

*As long as you put your phone in aeroplane mode otherwise your video is a set of buzzes and crackles!!!

The Handy Recorder App

This app is meant to be (and advertised as) the comparison app to the IQ5 (and indeed IQ6 and IQ7) however I’m not the biggest fan of it!

The app feels it’s long overdue an update and looks dated…on newer iPhones it doesn’t even fill the screen. I’ve also found that you have to set your recordings to AAC format in the settings as WAV files refuse to export.

I do however like there’s options to upgrade firmware, make the auto gain settings more specific to what you want to record and all sorts of other extras.

The ability to monitor the sound is also really handy.

When you export audio you do this via Soundcloud or via Email…two functional options but updates to add other options like iCloud and Dropbox would be nice.

The Verdict

If you want something small and compact that improves the sound of your video shot on your iPhone or iPad then I’d really recommend this…I think it’s improved the sound of my videos and made them clearer.

I like that it sits on your phone without the need of clamps and I like that it’s adjustable, it does however feel a little plastic-y and I wonder how easy it is to break.

Do comment with any questions and checkout the posts on the rest of this site and my YouTube channel.

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All-New Kindle (with front light) Review

Posted on 24th April 2019 by Mark Tiddy.

A few weeks ago Amazon upgraded the entry model of their Kindle.

Read on for my review or:
Watch my video review here
Pick one up here

The all-new Kindle (as Amazon call it) retails at £69.99 with adverts or £79.99 without. The adverts only appear on the lock screen and home screen (not within books) and so I’m not sure it’s worth spending an extra £10!

It comes in an incredibly slim box which contains the Kindle, a USB cable and instructions (no mains plug adapter…but who needs another one!)

The design is similar to previous Kindles (although with more rounded edges than my previous 7th gen). It’s easy to grip and a huge amount of accessories are available to personalise it (I’ve gone for a nice grey cover which wakes up my Kindle when I open it).

It’s really light (although 10g heavier than the previous model) and comfortable to hold in one hand for long periods of time.

Inside you’ll find 4gb storage (fine for lots of books but if you want loads of Audiobooks you might struggle), wifi and bluetooth. Bluetooth is used for connecting wireless headphones.

The screen is a 6″ glare-free screen with a 167ppi resolution. This is a good size and clear to read even in bright sunlight. The e-ink style makes it much easier on the eyes than a tablet.

Amazon’s battery life description of ‘weeks of battery life’ isn’t helpful but it has a decent battery…after 2 weeks of use I still have some battery left although battery life is worse than my previous Kindle (probably due to the backlight).

The biggest new feature on what is essentially an incremental update is the new backlight. This is the first time the base model has had a light and this means you can keep reading in the dark without needing an external light.

It has 4 LEDs (1 less than the paper white) and even on the lowest setting it’s bright enough to read in the dark…a new feature worth upgrading for!

As with other Kindle’s you can buy books on the device, email documents to it (such as PDFs) and the screen is pretty responsive.

Overall this is easily the best e-reader around, it’s works well, has all the features you’ll want and gives you access to the huge library of books on offer from Kindle. The only reason you might splash out on a Kindle Paperwhite over this would be for more memory or a waterproof device.

Pick up a Kindle here: https://amzn.to/2L0C5kV
Get the case I have: https://amzn.to/2PpqFpp
Free 90 day trial of Audible: http://bit.ly/markstechvlogsauadible
Free 30 day trial of Kindle Unlimited: https://amzn.to/2vlXYjK


Riwbox XBT-880 Wireless Bluetooth Headphones Review

Posted on 15th April 2019 by Mark Tiddy.

For the last week or so I’ve been using the Riwbox XBT-880 Wireless Bluetooth Headphones…a budget pair of headphones that retail for £25 on Amazon.

Read on for my review, watch a video review here or buy some on Amazon here.

The Riwbox XBT-880’s are a budget set of wireless over ear headphones that also support wired use. They cost around £25 on Amazon and come in a whole variety of colours including black and grey (which is what I went for), black and gold, white and gold and blue and gold.

Their design is pretty simple. The headphones are mostly made of plastic and are adjustable and foldable. Each earpiece has a patterned edge and centre and the right hand earphone has a power button, play button and skip forward and back track buttons. This earphone also has a microUSB port for charging and 3.5mm jack for a wired connection (they come with a 3.5mm jack to jack cable with a microphone).

When wearing these I’ve found that they’re a bit looser than other headphones and so are comfortable for longer periods of time but there is some movement and noise loss.

They connect via bluetooth 4.2 which works easily and gives a decent enough range and their battery life is (they say) 13 hours use. I’ve found this is about right and a pretty decent length of time.

But how do they sound…

Firstly, in terms of overall sound I think they sound pretty good. I’ve tried them with everything from metal to dance-pop and you get a good range of frequencies and plenty of bass and I like the way my music sounds.

Secondly, they are really loud…and I mean REALLY loud.

I’ve had them around half volume and haven’t needed to take them above that even when wanting to really blast my ears. There’s no distortion either.

The only downside is that there’s lag when watching videos and so the video doesn’t sync up with the audio…this is a shame.

Finally, there’s a few extras to mention:

The earphone buttons let you skip, play, pause and adjust volume and these work pretty well. A short press on up or down adjusts volume and longer presses skip tracks back and forth…it does take a little practice to get the right button when you’re wearing them!

If you go for a wired connection you can make calls as the wire has a microphone built in. Calls are nice and clear at both ends. There is also a microphone built into the headphones themselves which has a slight delay and isn’t quite as clear.

So, what’s the verdict?

For £25 you can’t really go wrong!

They look decent, sound good and pack in way more volume than I was expecting!

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iRig Stomp I/O Guitar Effects Pedal Review

Posted on 10th April 2019 by Mark Tiddy.

Watch my video review below or scroll down for the written review.

What if you could have every amp, cab and effects pedal at your fingertips without having to buy a studio and spend loads and loads of money…well…that’s the idea of the iRig Stomp I/O pedal but does it achieve that?

In 2018 IK Multimedia released the iRig Stomp I/O. A guitar effects pedal board for the 21st century retailing at an RRP of £300.

The Stomp I/O is a digital foot controller for guitarists, bassists and vocalists which works with a PC, Mac or iOS device…but let’s be honest…it’s largely aimed at iOS usage.

Design

It looks like a traditional multi effects board. It has 4 switches and an expression pedal. It’s largely made of metal and looks smart and feels incredibly durable and well made.

The front also has a bay for putting your iPad or iPhone in and the rubber backing means it won’t move anywhere! There’s also a volume and gain control.

The rear of the device has loads of ports…there’s a input that takes an XLR or jack input, input from a USB or iOS device, a 48v phantom power button, headphone output, stereo outputs, midi in and out, external pedal/switch inputs for further expansion and a power cable slot. (No battery power here)

Functionality

The Stomp I/O can act as a 1 channel recording device and you can record using a USB to a computer programme like Logic Pro or you can use the recording function of the Amplitube app however this feature isn’t really worth talking about for a couple of reasons…

1 – You can’t record the effects you’ve set up unless you record in Amplitube which means you lose all the functionality of a professional application like Logic Pro. It works as a 1 channel recording device…if you want one!

2 – It’s clearly not the main purpose of this…

So let’s talk about using it as a pedal board

For this I’m going to focus on using it with an iPad because it’s the most practical way to use it because the iPad sits perfectly in the bay and can be easily seen from above.

You connect it via the bundled lightning cable and it even charges your iPad as you use it…a feature they could have easily forgotten but an essential one for long periods of use!

There are apps for vocalists and acoustic guitarists but I’m mostly going to write about the Amplitude CS app for electric guitarists because most users will be electric guitarists (the other apps function in a similar way).

It’s worth mentioning at this point that there’s some amps and effects in the app by default but also lots of in-app purchases so you may want to set some budget aside for buying extra pedals, amps, packs and microphones!!!

The iPad app looks (and is) pretty complicated but spend a few hours playing with it and you slowly begin to get your head around it…it’s complicated because there’s so much packed into it! (This is why the iPhone version isn’t really that useful!)

Let’s talk about the two main views on the app…

Default Mode

This is the main screen that loads when you first open the app. Here you see an amp on the screen, a link to the cab (where you can adjust microphones) and some pedals.

From this screen you can play around with every setting in your rig, add pedals, save and load pre-sets and change out your cab and amp…if you want a Fender cab with an Orange head you can!

There are endless combinations here but some of the presets included help you play around with sounds to start with. You can also set some as favourites.

There’s loads of in-app purchases here…paying for a second cab microphone is well worth it as it beefs up the sound and pedals typically cost £4 each with amps varying. You can also buy bundles (e.g. an Orange bundle around £15-20) or buy everything available (quite expensive!).

If you’re not in a hurry then it’s worth waiting to buy extra stuff as IK Multimedia frequently run promotions that see around 25% knocked off the price.

One of the best things is having licensed packs by the likes of Orange and Fender because this gives you some recognisable, great quality (and sounding) amps and pedals. The effects and sound of your guitar from this product and app are incredbly good sounding!


This default mode also has a tuner, a looper, option to add backing tracks, a built in recorder and a place for drum loops…great for messing around and jotting down ideas.

Live Mode

In my opinion this is where the pedal board and amp come into their own. The live mode has two main settings.

The first lets you scroll through banks (you can tap all the effects and amps to adjust as you go). The second mode let’s you use the pedal board as a way of turning effects pedals on or off…probably the mode you’ll use during a song!

Live mode is nice and easy to use and can easily be used live…it also has quick access (via your feet) to the looper and tuner.

The expression pedal is assigned to a Wah by default (if present) but you can assign it to any control of any pedal you wish!

So, what’s the verdict?

The iRig Stomp I/O is a really good piece of kit and does exactly what I want it to – it gives me a ton of pedals and amps without a huge price tag, providing me with a great array of sounds.

However it is far from perfect, so let me list some problems to bare in mind:

1 – If you want to use the pedal and its effects with your MacBook and the iPad/Iphone app then you have to purchase everything twice because purchases don’t sync between iOS and Mac devices.

2 – The app itself takes a long time to get your head around…they’ve packed a lot in but in the process created a load of extra functions that can feel clunky!

3 – The only way to record sounds you’ve perfected is through the recording function on the app, you can’t plug it into a recording programme like Logic meaning the recording device aspect of the device and the pedal board side are very much two separate things.

So, should you buy one?

If you don’t have the money or space for a huge rig but want a solid pedal board you can update and play around with until your heart’s content then this is for you!

I love the range of effects and amps and it’s a lot of fun,

The simplicity of the live mode makes it a very real option for gigging and being able to use it with acoustic and bass guitars is really nice.

If you want to get a feel for some of the functionality then scroll back to the top of this post and watch my video review!

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Mixcder E9 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones Review

Posted on 25th March 2019 by Mark Tiddy.

A week ago I was sent a pair of the Mixcder E9 wireless noise cancelling headphones to review and so for the last 7 days I’ve switched out my Apple AirPods for these. This is my review.

First up, in the box you get a load of extra things: a aeroplane adapter, a microUSB cable, 3.5mm jack-to-jack cable and a sturdy (but a little large) carry case.

Design
These headphones come with a matt-black finish all over apart from the sides of the headphones which have a glossy effect that looks like a vinyl record. They have physical buttons for switching on the ANC, play/pause/power and volume up/down. In my opinion, they look pretty good, sit comfortably on your head even for long periods of time and at 270g they’re pretty light too.

Specification
Inside these headphones you’ll find bluetooth 4 which gives a reasonable range (although not great through walls), a microphone for making calls, a 3.5mm jack port to enable you to use them as wired headphones and a microUSB port for charging. They also have indicator lights for when they’re charging and when the ANC is switched on.

Finally, for spec, they have a 500MaH battery which gives you (Mixcder say) 30 hours wireless running time (going down to 24 hours if you use ANC) and, if you use them as wired headphones they work for up to 80 hours. After using them for a week I was blown away by the battery life…it’s incredible!

Day to Day Use
As I said, I’ve been using these every day for a week for everything from commuting to working at the desk to running and I really like them. They sit really comfortably and have a pretty good sound.

I listen to lots of music (there’s literally everything from Taylor Swift to Slipknot in my collection) and overall the sound from these is really good. I personally found them quite bass-y (probably because I usually use AirPods) but you can adjust things like this to suit your preference in your devices audio settings.

In terms of volume they’re not the loudest headphones around but I’ve found 3/4’s volume is about the right level for me (and they don’t distort). I did try making a call with them and found that speaking with your ears covered feels really unnatural but also that the microphone was particularly effective meaning I repeated a lot of what I’d said!

I also found that they have relatively little lag so I’ve even been able to use them wirelessly to edit some video and watch some YouTube.

Finally, let’s talk about the noise cancelling. You can use this feature with or without music playing and it’s not the strongest ANC out there but for a budget pair of wireless ANC headphones it’s pretty good and it does make a noticeable difference, allowing you to listen to music at a quieter level whilst travelling without hearing loads of background noise.

Verdict?
Here are my pro’s and con’s…

Pro’s

  • Great pair of headphones for the price
  • Nice design
  • Good sound
  • Incredible battery life

Con’s

  • ANC isn’t as strong as it could be
  • The shiny part of the headphones is a little prone to scuffing

If you’re considering some wireless headphones these are certainly worth checking out!

Purchase Links

US: https://www.amazon.com/Mixcder-E9-Can…
UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mixcder-E9-C…
CA: https://www.amazon.ca/Mixcder-E9-Canc…

Save 20% when you sign up and buy them through this link: https://www.mixcder.com/mixcder-e9-wi…

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Apple Updates

Posted on 21st March 2019 by Mark Tiddy.

There’s been a few Apple product updates and refreshes this week so here’s a video summarising them!

100 Questions – Finalist of the Premier Digital Awards

Posted on 9th October 2018 by Mark Tiddy.

My app ‘100 Questions’ Youth is a finalist in the Premier Digital Awards in the ‘App of the Year and Best Use of Digital Media in Youth Work’ award

See the finalists here

New Vlog – Apple AirPods Review

Posted on 5th September 2018 by Mark Tiddy.

The latest post over on my YouTube channel is a review of the Apple AirPods



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