Digital Life: The route out of traffic hell
Remember that scene in the movie Falling Down where a frustrated Michael Douglas ran into a traffic jam, sparking a murderous rampage? We've all been there, minus the stabbing, shooting and beating with a baseball bat, presumably.
If you're in a hurry, nothing is more unwelcome than the sight of a string of red brake lights appearing ahead of you. You can bet Michael Douglas wouldn't have gone postal if he owned a TomTom Go Live 1000, the first full satnav in Ireland to incorporate traffic warnings.
Such services have been available in the UK and on the continent for years, based on information culled from the average travelling speeds of fleet vehicles or the movement of mobile phones along key routes.
But it was only in recent months that we in Ireland got a sniff of live traffic information thanks to Irish company iTraffic. While iTraffic sells smartphone apps with traffic warnings, they're no substitute for a full satnav.
TomTom incorporates similar services into the Go Live 1000, which receives information about road congestion via its own mobile phone chip. If the satnav detects a bottleneck on your route ahead, it offers to divert via less clogged roads.
Anyone can see the traffic information at the TomTom website (routes.tomtom.com) and the usual culprits such as Dublin's quays are almost always highlighted. But the real value is when the jams crop up where you least expect and the Go Live 1000 alerts you in time to route around them. As you might expect, the information is most reliable around city areas and less able to detect sudden gridlock in smaller towns.
In addition to congestion warnings, the TomTom can pinpoint not just speed cameras but also warn of enforcement zones -- historically dangerous roads that gardai have targeted for speed traps.
Thanks to the mobile phone chip, the TomTom can also search Google for local businesses or points of interest and then direct you to their location.
Of course, the Go Live 1000's bread and butter is its satnav prowess. It may not be the prettiest device but it's fast at finding routes and TomTom's gussied-up interface matches the improved response from its iPhone-like touchscreen.
None of this comes cheap, of course, the Ireland/UK version of the Go Live 1000 costs €280 (€300 for Europe-wide maps), which includes one year's subscription to traffic/Google info. Subsequent years cost €50.
But if you spend your days criss-crossing the city or country, any time saved from traffic hell means money well spent.
Even if you hate videogames, you probably know Bejeweled. Your aunt probably plays it, maybe even your granny. But so do hardcore raiders in World of Warcraft during their dungeon downtime. All will admit it's more addictive than crack.
In the 10 years since PopCap's game first appeared, it's become almost as ubiquitous as Tetris, a testament to its simple but enduring gameplay. It made PopCap what it is today, a company with its European HQ in Dublin with plans to double its workforce here.
Several Bejeweled revisions, including this one, have stuck to its winning formula, content to tinker on the margins.
Bejeweled 3 takes no big risks but spins off its gem-zapping shtick in a half-a-dozen different directions. The main game remains the same, albeit sweetened by heightened production values in graphics and soundtrack.
The new Quest mode is where the imagination kicks in, wrapping match-three into tense time-based challenges involving styles such as mining and poker.
Alas, though, there's little of the Facebook-enabled social-networking that made Bejeweled Blitz such a friend-baiting blast.
Raving Rabbids: Travel in Time
The barking-mad bunnies are never less than entertaining with their slapstick antics, burping and squealing their way into their fifth outing. But there are signs the creators are running out of ideas as Travel in Time proves no more than an adequate collection of mini-games.
Despite laughs aplenty initially and a host of unlockable costumes, many of the games, including knock-offs of Guitar Hero, Just Dance and Mario Kart, are too awkward or shallow to keep you coming back for more.
PDC World Championship Darts Pro Tour
If Phil 'The Power' Taylor had to throw a cucumber instead of a slender silver arrow, serious questions would be asked by the world champion. Yet that's effectively what this PS Move version of darts requires you to do as the fat controller mimics the throwing action.
In fairness, the motion control works accurately and if darts is your thing, this version is on the money. But compared to the polish of a big sports game like FIFA, PDC suffers big-time.
Michael Jackson Experience
Move along, nothing to see here. This is not the big-budget Jacko game we've been expecting (delayed for another few months).
Instead it's more of a track pack for Just Dance, complete with all its motion-tracking flaws. Buy a Jackson DVD and dance along to that instead.
Bits and bytes
Dream away the commute
- Amid the grim weather, you might be idly thinking about some summer sun, if you've any money left after Mr Lenihan has had his way with your pay packet, that is.
Now eBookers has launched its mobile website, perfect for day-dreaming through your daily commute while gazing at sun-kissed beaches.
Smarten up your phone
- Your mobile phone bill can be bad enough without the hit from those premium-rate texts you didn't really sign up for. Helpfully, though, telecoms watchdog ComReg has launched Phone Smart, a new website that takes the mystery out of premium texts and calls.
It will show you how to stop getting these expensive messages and to whom you can complain when all else fails. Useful features included a number checker, so you can work who is sending those pesky texts.
The land before iTunes
- This month marks the 10th anniversary of the launch of iTunes, which started life as Mac-only music software and mutated into a globe-straddling retail behemoth.
Steve Jobs introduced iTunes at Macworld 2001, describing in effusive terms that "music revolution" that had begun thanks to MP3. We doubt even Jobs could have predicted the success of iTunes that was to follow.
A decade of Wikipedia
- Also celebrating its 10th anniversary last week was Wikipedia, the much-maligned collaborative encyclopaedia.
Launched on January 15, 2001, by two unknowns, Larry Sanger and Jimmy Wales, the idea seemed laughable -- allow anyone to write or edit articles, relying on the 'hive mind' of the internet to correct any errors.
But, barring the occasional efforts of pranksters, it has turned into a remarkable online resource, as reliably informative about medical issues such as DNA mutations as it is about trivia such as the colour of Colm Meaney's uniform in Star Trek: The Next Generation.