Koi Pond for the iPhone/iPod Touch

Koi Pond for the iPhone/iPod TouchSince I’ve had my iPod Touch for a few days I’ve been experimenting with a number of interesting apps. I’m going to be reviewing a few apps here on my ArsGeek blog from time to time so you’ll have a better idea about spending your $0.99 on them.

First up is Koi Pond developed by The Blimp Pilots. The premise behind this app is simple really, it’s a virtual koi pond that resides on your iPhonepod. From the App Store:

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Imagine gazing into a pond of crystal clear water. Picture bright, playful koi swimming through its shallow depths. So close. . . . Can you touch them?

You run your fingers across the cool surface of the pond. Water ripples away from your touch. The koi, disturbed, dart away. Only to quickly forget and swim close to you once more. . . .

Now imagine all this on your iPhone or iPod touch!

Koi Pond is really very lovely to look at. The water is done wonderfully, reacts well to touch and has nice splooshy sound effects. Even the plants react when brushed with your finger. The fish act naturally and will dart around your screen if disturbed, as advertised. As you can see from the screen shots, everything is proportional and really shines on your screen.

There are several settings you can control, such as the hue of the water, the number of fish and number of plants.

The upswing is, it’s really a relaxing app to gaze at. I’ve gotten in the habit of leaving it on and sitting next to me on my desk while I work for the relaxing visual. This app shows off what the iPhonepod is capable of graphically.

There are just a few suggestions I’d make for the next version. It would be nice if it wouldn’t allow the <p></p>iPhonepod to autolock while it’s running. To keep it going next to me, I have to turn autolocking off – not a huge deal but I’ve often forgotten to turn it back on again at the end of the day. Or better yet, a timer function.

A few more effects in a newer version would also be great! Rain, wind blowing gently over the water, the ability to feed the fish. None of these effects are necessary though to make this a worth while app.

Koi Pond was released July 30th, and has found itself #1 at the App Store in a relatively short amount of time and with good reason. It’s pleasing to the eye and I’ve already gotten a number of comments on it from other folks just wandering by. If you’re looking for a beautiful way to show off your device and a great way for a little relaxing visual, go spend your buck on this rather than a candy bar and enjoy.


ArsGeek reviews the Neuros OSD


The first two observations I made when I opened my Neuros OSD were that the unit was a lot smaller than I was expecting (about five and a half inches by five and a half inches in size) and that it looked nice. This was no flat looking boxy apparatus, nor was it a standard component. It was curved, it was sleek, black and more aerodynamic than any other DVR I’ve come across. When I saw it, I immediately decide to publish this review on Arsgeek blog.

I liked the size and the look immediately. Not only was this thing slick looking, but I could easily grab the RCA cables and the Neuros and bring it over to a friends house to watch whatever I’d recorded.


There are a few things that are fundamentally different about this video recorder which may take a little getting used to. First, this product is open. Not open as in the wind blows through it, but open as in anyone can hack around with the firmware, making changes and if they are for the better, giving them to the community. The second change is that this recorder really doesn’t have any storage of it’s own to record to. You’ll need to provide storage in the form of one of the many popular memory cards (complete list below), a USB drive or your networked share.

Taking the Neuros out of the box another thing became apparent. This would be an easy device to set up. You plug two sets of RCA cables into it and plug them into your source (digital cable in my case) and your output (a TV set with me). I plugged the unit in, stuck a 4 GB USB flash drive into the side of it and using the handy remote I turned it on. I set the playback device as Television, the recording device to my USB drive, the quality to normal and started recording. A half hour later I had a full television show recorded on my USB drive. Every port, every slot and every plug is clearly labeled in nice, white lettering. That’s great as well.

I took the Neuros out of my living room and plugged it into the bedroom television along with my USB drive and tested the playback. The quality wasn’t amazing but it was certainly good enough. In fast panning shots I noticed a bit of degradation but on the whole it’s not noticeable if you’re watching a sitcom or just about anything other than sports. You can also select different quality levels – recording at a higher level produces larger files but better frame rate and clearer images.


With the way storage is going right now, you can easily obtain a 4 GB SD card and pop it into the Neuros for easy recording. Need more storage and want to compete with other devices, not a problem if you have an external USB drive. You’ll need to plug another device in (the drive) but it’s certainly feasible to easily attach 300GB worth of storage.

Something interesting I was able to do was transfer an DivX file from my Archos 605 and pop it onto my USB drive. From there I could play it back via the Neuros without problem. This little device handles an incredible range of formats for video, audio and even image playback. I love that it plays .ogg files – this is my first device other than my Linux computers that supports Ogg Vorbis.

The interface on the Neuros is not the slickest I’ve seen but it’s also still under development. With each new firmware release the interface changes for the better. I enjoy the IR device that when placed over the IR receiver on my cable box can change the channel for me. It’s nice to be able to set up the Neuros to record several shows on different channels and then let the box do the channel changing for me. The Neuros is very easy to use, as simple as any device out there and is a fantastic example of Open Source in action.


This product can really be as powerful as you want it to be. If you’re an average home user, you pop an SD card into it and record content for as long as your storage holds out. If you’re a little more advanced, you connect it to your network, update the firmware (or download the firmware to your local PC and put it on an external drive to connect to the Neuros), record video to play directly on your PSP and stream video over your network. If you’re an advanced user and hacker, well you can change the way the Neuros works and make the experience better for everyone.

Pros: This device will record from just about anywhere, play on just about anything and use just about every format out there. Really, you won’t find more flexibility than here. It’s also open which I like on a very basic level. The firmware is constantly changing and making this product better. You can make it as simple or as complex as you’d like it to be. Everything you need to start recording, from the Neuros to the cables to batteries for the remote is included in the box. It’s not horribly expensive and it looks like a sports car.

Cons: In terms of user interface, there is still a bit to be done. Several times my unit froze up on my and had to be power cycled to get it back. I’d love to see a nice program guide for a more TiVo like interface. Wireless would also be great. And even though it’s listed in the pros, one con is that the firmware is constantly being updated to improve the user experience. If you’re not one to have this unit connected to your network at all times (like say, my parents) then you’ll never get the newest updates unless I show up at your house and plug it in for you.

At $229.00, the Neuros OSD won’t break the bank and will give you a full feature, take anywhere, record anything on anything and play on just about everything device. You will have to spend more money on storage if you don’t have anything laying about. With the price of flash memory coming down and the capacity going up, it won’t be long until you’ll be able to pop 30GB of USB flash memory into this box for less than the price of the box itself. I’d love to see S-video out on this, as well as wireless connectivity. Another cable snaking across the floor is not something I’m anxious to have. I’m interested to know if the Eye-Fi wireless SD card would work well with this.

For me, I love fooling around with my Neuros. If you’re at all technologically inclined, you’ll love it too.


Video Standard

* Compatible with NTSC, Pal and Secam (input only) standards

Video Recording

* ISO Standard MPEG-4 SP encoding (MP4, ASF)
* QVGA (320×240) @30fps with AAC-LC/MP3/G.726 audio for smartphones, PSP™, iPod™, iPhone™ and PDA’s.
* VGA setting (640×480) @30fps for PC, TV playback.

Video Player

* MPEG-4 SP with MP3 audio, 30fps up to D1 resolution (720×480)
* Quicktime 6
* MPEG-4 AAC-LC stereo
* MP4 format at up to D1 resolution
* H.263 with MP3 audio
* FLV (for Playback of YouTube videos)
* AVI (including Divx and Xvid)
* MP4
* WMV (up to QVGA)

You can also see a more detailed table of supported video formats for playback.

YouTube browser

* Watch YouTube videos on your TV
* Search the entire Youtube library using keywords
* build a list with all your favorite videos

Photo Viewer

* JPEG decoder (baseline up to 32M pixel)
* GIF (nonanimated)
* Thumbnail view
* Zoom in/out (2x, 4x)

Audio Player

* Stereo MP3/WMA @ 30-320kbps (CBR & VBR)
* Ogg Vorbis
* Stereo MPEG-4 AAC-LC
* G.726


* Schedule (timer) recording
* Customizable slide shows
* One-click record
* IR Blaster to control your set-top box
* Run 3rd party applications

USB Host

* Record to and playback content from any USB mass storage device


* Connect to your network
* Save recordings to network storage
* UPnP support
* Stream Audio/Video from Internet
* Download multimedia content from Internet
* Connect to Windows Networks (Samba client support)

Complete System Includes

* Standard A/V RCA Interface Cables (European units also contain SCART adapters)
* 110-240V AC/DC Power Supply
* Stand
* IR Blaster
* Remote Control
* Abbreviated Users Manual

Dimensions and Weight

* 14 x 14 x 3.2 cm (5.5 x 5.5 x 1.25 inches)
* Weight 230g (8oz)


* System updates and 3rd party applications available at www.neurostechnology.com/support/
* Automatic built-in software update

Storage Card Compatibility

* Memory Stick: Duo and Pro Duo
* Compact Flash: Type I and Type II
* Microdrives with CF type II interface
* Secure Digital (SD)
* Multi Media Card (MMC)
* USB thumbdrives
* External Hard Drives


Your chance to win one of two Creative Zen Stone MP3 players or a Phillips MP3 player

Our last contest for a Flip Video camcorder went very well and ended with one lucky reader taking home a 1 hour digital video camcorder. It’s time for us to do it again!

zenstone.jpgRecently I had a chance to review the Creative Zen Stone. This little MP3 player impressed me to no end. Sound quality is great, it holds 16.5 hours of music in it’s 1GB of flash memory, has a 10 hour or so battery life and it weighs just about nothing. I liked this little player so much, I decided we had to give away two of them!

In addition to the two Zen Stones, I’ve also got a Phillips 512MB/Mo MP3 player to give away. The Phillips 512MB/Mo holds up to 200 songs in MP3 or WMA format, connects directly via USB and also serves as a voice recorder.phillips.jpg

In short, enter this contest and you could win one of two Zen Stones or a Phillips 512MB/Mo player.

On to the good stuff – how do you enter? It’s easy. Simply leave a comment on this post and you’ve got yourself one entry to win.

Want to score three more entries? Do a short write up about this contest on your site. Link back to ArsGeek’s main page at http://www.arsgeek.com and to this contest http://www.arsgeek.com/?p=1962 in your article. Then use the contact form to contact us and let us know you want three more entries. Once we’ve checked out your write up and verified the two links, we’ll give you three more entires in this contest and post a link to your site here on ArsGeek.

The rules:

  • The prizes can only be shipped to the US (and territories), Canada, Mexico and of course, US Military addresses. All prizes shipped via the USPS.
  • When entering, you’ve got to supply a valid email address. We won’t use this for anything other than contacting you if you should win.
  • You’ve got to be 18 or older to enter.
  • All decisions made by the judges are final.
  • We’ll ship the prizes but cannot guarantee that they’ll arrive unharmed at your door (although we’ll pack the things right).
  • Each entry will be assigned a number, given in chronological order based on when the entry was received. A random number generated will then be used to determine the winners.
  • The contest closes at midnight (EST), July 8th. The winners will be determined and announced on the ArsGeek blog on July 9th.

Good luck and happy listening!


Hands on with the Creative Zen Stone


After a long wait, I finally got my hands on this little MP3 player and got a good chance to try it out. (Edit: Now you can get one as well! We’re giving away two of these, as well as a Phillips 512MB MP3 player/voice recorder.)

This is the tiniest MP3 player I’ve gotten my hands on yet. It’s 53.67 x 35.34 x 12.82 mm, which translates into wicked small. It also weighs 25 grams or .0055 pounds in weight. This is tiny! Falling out of my pocket if I don’t get a case tiny.

In the box: The Zen Stone, ear buds and a 3” USB connector. It retails at $39.99

The Stone has about 1GB of capacity, and not only is it a music player but you can use it as a mass storage device as well, which translates into a 1GB thumb drive. It’s capable of playing MP3s, WMA and Audible files and connects to USB 1.1 or 2.0.

Sound quality is quite good. Taking on my self to be a guinea pig for you all, I loaded one of my favorite Sevendust songs onto it, and cranked it up until my office was shaking along with the music. Perhaps it wasn’t quite that loud, but it’s certainly loud enough for me, and then some.

The feature that I like best about this little player is actually the lack of a ‘feature’ I’ve found on most other players. That is, you don’t need any software to load music onto it or organize your tunes. All you need to do is treat it like any other thumb drive, and drop your music right into the Zen Stone. You can set up different folders to organize your tunes, and using a slide bar control on the Zen skip through your folders until you’re at the one you want. So there’s no software, but there’s no annoying hooks on how you organize your music. And best of all, I simply plug it into my Ubuntu laptop and start organizing tunes!


The controls, while small, are manageable. Play and pause are straight forward, and also act as the power button. Push the control disk to the left or right to skip backwards or forwards, up or down to raise or lower the volume. The unit is charged directly via the USB connection, although a separate USB charger is available for an extra cost.

The one control that is taking me a bit of time to get used to is the blinkenlight. There’s one LCD that flashes various colors to indicate the state of the Zen. Blinking green when connected to the computer means file transfer in progress. When not connected, it means it’s playing music. Red blinking means low battery. Red steady means paused and low battery. 3 blinks in red means battery depleted or no music files on board. If during playback, red blinking means a file format was encountered that the Zen Stone doesn’t know. If you get a red blinking light while turning it up, it means the max volume has been reached. Finally, Orange is the charge level. 1 blink means below 25%. 2 blinks means 25-75%. 3 blinks means 75-99% and steady means fully charged.

Phew! See what I mean? Perhaps there’s a better way to convey all of this information, but on a unit this small I’m not sure what that would be.
All in all I’m very taken with my Zen Stone. This little beauty holds roughly 250 songs, which is more than enough for me, and is the perfect size, so I don’t feel like I’m lugging along YAC (Yet Another Contraption).

If you’re into small size and great playback, then you’ll love this as much as I do.


ArsGeek and Pure Digital Technologies present the Flip Video Camcorder contest!


NOTE: This contest is over, but you can enter our newest tech contest and get a chance at winning one of three new MP3 players.

ArsGeek’s rapidly approaching it’s first full year on the web! To celebrate we want to give away something really cool. And what could be cooler than a 60 minute Flip Video digital camcorder from Pure Digital Technologies?

You can read my reviews on the Flip here. Trust me when I tell you that you’ll love this little DVR. It’s easy, fun and most of all exceeded all of my expectations for a $150 camcorder.

So how do you win? It’s simple! Leave a comment on this post and you’ll get one entry towards winning this handy little camcorder. A winner will be drawn at random on Thursday, May 31st and announced on the site that day.

Want to score some more entries? If you write a short bit linking to this contest post and to my main page from your website or blog, you’ll get an additional two entries for a total of 3 entries in this contest.

To clarify, you’ll need to write a short bit about our contest, and link to http://www.arsgeek.com/?p=1741 and to our main page at http://www.arsgeek.com. Feel free to grab our logo!

Once you’ve done this, use our contact page to send us the URL where we can find your post. Anyone who gets extra entries by linking to us will also receive a link back from us in a post on the main page and also on our linkback page. We’ll be checking each page before we assign extra entries.flipfrontusb.jpg

Here are the rules:

  • You can’t work for ArsGeek or Pure Digital Technologies.
  • When posting a comment or emailing us your link, you must use a valid email. This is how we’ll get in touch with you to let you know if you’ve won and find out where to ship the prize!
  • Our decision about the prize winner is final.
  • We’ll ship this to your door but can’t guarantee that it will make it there in one piece. Sometimes accidents or the USPS happens.
  • You’ve got to be a resident of the US or Canada. Sorry to those who live outside these boundaries.

Don’t want to wait until the contest ends? The 30 minute Flip Video camcorder is on sale at Best Buy for $99 through May 27th.

Here’s how we’ll pick a winner. Each entry will receive a random number. At the time of the drawing, one number will be pulled and matched with the contestant’s entry. That contestant will be contacted via email and we’ll ship out the camcorder.


Forbidden Lego

Title: Forbidden LegoForbidden Lego
Author(s): Ulrik Pilegaard, and Mike Dooley.
ISBN10: 1593271379
ISBN13: 978-1593271374
Publisher: No Starch Press
Cost: $24.95
Format: Paperback, 192 pages.
Published: July 2007
Reviewed by: ArsGeek

Here’s a book that I’ve been waiting to review for some time now. The folks at No Starch Press were kind enough to offer me an advanced copy and I eagerly dug into it.

This is not your typical Lego book, as if there were anything as a typical Lego book. Here’s a well illustrated and funny guide to building five projects that actively break a number of Lego rules (such as involving parts that aren’t manufactured by Lego, launching projectiles and modifying Lego bricks by cutting or gluing).

Not only do the authors go far beyond the design scopes of your typical Lego project but they are themselves former Lego designers and builders who worked at the sacred facility in Denmark. Pilegaard and Dooley have a unique and fascinating insight when it comes to designing Lego projects and they’ve brought this to us in the form of this book.

The book contains an Introduction where we meet the authors and learn a bit about them and their Lego experiences. Next comes How to Build Great Things, a chapter devoted to describing the process of designing a project at Lego from start to finish. I found this chapter fascinating as I’d not had a ton of exposure to just how Lego engineers create their version of the Millennium Falcon or a new Technics set. Fans of Lego in general will enjoy this chapter for it’s descriptions of the build process and the tantalizing tidbits given about the Lego facilities themselves.

Following the Introduction and How to Build Great Things we get into the meat of the book. Five forbidden Lego projects. Each project is laid out in an easy to understand manner with an introduction to what it is that’s about to be built and a short history on how the idea came about. When we reach the instructions for building the project the authors have given us a gorgeous full color image of the finished project along with schematics showing how the contraption itself works. Following this is a well organized full color list of all the parts, Lego and otherwise that will need to be obtained to build the project.

Next come the instructions for building. They’re very well laid out, easy to follow and look much like a standard instruction booklet that comes with any new Lego set purchased, with the obvious exception of showing where the occasional part needs to be glued or modified.

The Paper Plane Launcher (PPL) is the first project in the book. Here is an amazing contraption used for launching paper airplanes at great speed which is sure to impress your friends and overawe any children you may have. Elegant in appearance and not terribly hard to construct, the PPL can be made in 47 steps with no modifications to any parts and no parts foreign to Lego (with the exception of the paper airplane). Plus you’ve got a gun-like contraption that can send your paper creations soaring into the sky. How cool is that?

Next we have the Candy Coated Catapult. A unique piece of artillery designed to launch edible bliss into your lap from a good distance that would be sure to make any good Roman cry with delight. With the inception of a plastic spoon (or in a pinch a spork) and a piece of cardboard as the non Lego parts in this build, the CCC resembles nothing so much as a geometrical tank from Battlezone stripped of it’s locomotion. Perhaps a touch more complex than the PPL and driven by a 9v battery powered engine, the CCC can be build in 65 steps. Alternately for those of us concerned more with the environment and less with hurling candy via batteries, there’s an alternate hand crank design provided by the authors.

The Ping Pong Canon looks to break just as many Lego rules and is also something that I would classify under “intensely cool”. Ping pong balls are the only non Lego part used in this project, which ends up looking like some sort of mildly intimidating home defense system. The firing system is quite ingenious and will have 5 ping pong balls bouncing around the place in no time. This is a 70 step project.

Project #4 is the All Terrain Lego. A chassis system that will require you to modify some of the Lego parts and also get more power out of your dual 9v engines by ramping them up to 18v each. Here you’ll find a chassis that can handle your shag carpet with ease, and plow through a Lego wall like an angry Hulk. It will take you 56 steps to complete this build.

The last project is undoubtedly my favorite (although the PPL comes in a close second). Meet the High Velocity Automatic Lego Plate Dispenser or HVALPD! Looking like a cross between a high tech pistol and a very fancy water faucet the HVALPD can dispense 14 Lego roof plates in 8 seconds. Using two motors and taking some 93 steps to complete this is certainly the most advanced project in the book and also certainly the most likely to be built. Who wouldn’t want a fully automatic Lego gun?

Of course, no book about making projectile shooters out of Lego would be complete without a warning. While the authors bring up the point that probably the most harmful thing you could do with this book is throw it at someone, caution should be used whenever you’re making a project that involves projectiles. Don’t shoot them at yourself, your friends, your pets, the authors, this reviewer or anyone else.

This book will not go on my bookshelf. No, this book will go on a specially constructed (out of Lego, of course) pedestal at the center of my living room. I love the design, I love the subject matter and I know that my friends and family will pick it up and thumb through it before even saying hello. It’s that much fun. If you don’t believe me, check it out for yourself and be sure to have a bunch of Lego bricks hanging around because you’ll want to dive right in.