Saturday, 30 May 2009

Review: Logitech V450 Nano Wireless Mouse

As many of you will know from reading my previous blog post I finally ditched my wireless Mighty Mouse. To replace it I first bought a Logitech V470 Bluetooth mouse, however the bizarre behaviour of the mouse to sleep every few seconds (yes, seconds!) to preserve battery life became a real annoyance, especially as every time it woke up the mouse pointer would jump a very noticeable inch across the screen. That mouse got sent back within a few days, and to replace it I bought a Logitech V450 wireless nano. I’ve been using this mouse for about a week now and so I thought I’d share my thoughts with all of you.


The first thing you notice about this mouse is how compact it is. Measuring approximately 4 inches long and 2.5 inches wide this mouse is really small, and as such is perfectly suited to travel. This form-factor works very well for myself, I haven’t found the mouse uncomfortable to use for long periods, nor does it feel

too small for my hands, though you would be well-advised to try before you buy if you have large hands.

The mouse itself is made from plastic and rubber, the plastic forms the top of the mouse (including the buttons and battery compartment), and the bottom, with rubber aesthetically placed along the two sides for gripping. The plastic itself, whilst feeling a tad scratchy and cheap, is perfectly acceptable for the price, and with a matte finish allows better grip then perhaps a glossy finished mouse would. The buttons have a very definite and pleasing click to them, and the notched scroll wheel is perfectly fine for the job (if not a bit noisy when scrolling up, at least on my model). This model has 5 buttons in total, the obligatory left and right-click, depressing the scroll wheel gives you a thi

rd click, and pushing the scroll wheel left and right gives you a fourth and fifth click respectively.

Now then, onto the main reason why this particular model has been suffixed with the word ‘nano.’ This is not, as you may have thought, due to the pleasingly small form factor, but rather due to the amazing 2.4GHz wireless receiver this mouse employs. This is by far one of the most impressive wireless dongles I have ever seen, one of my major irks about wireless mice is that they require a large ugly receiver stick to be placed in a USB port. This mouse still requires this, but the size of the receiver is approximately 5 mm in length (not including the USB plug),

making it one of the smallest receivers I have ever seen. In fact, when plugged into the USB port on the side of my keyboard the receiver is invisible. This is especially useful for notebook users as the device can be left in a USB port without it causing too much, if any, of the trouble associated with leaving a dongle in a laptop. What is especially neat is that Logitech provide a slot inside the rather over aggressively springy battery compartment for the receiver, so if the mouse is transported you always have a place to keep this tic-tac of a dongle.

The mouse itself uses laser-tracking, and has been pretty much spot on for all my uses, no cases of over-tracking, flying pointers or confusion of movement due to different surfaces. In addition Logitech claim the mouse to have a 12 month battery life. Obviously I can’t really comment thus far, and I assume this is in reference to a much less demanding user than myself who takes the time to turn the mouse off for extended periods of time. All I can hope is that it doesn’t eat batteries like the bluetooth mice I’ve been used to.


This mouse works with both OS X and Vista (and probably most other OS’ too). On my iMac the mouse worked immediately when plugged in, and could have been left as it is using OS X’s built in preference pane, however, I like to see my options and installed the Logitech Control Centre. This piece of software (called SetPoint on the Windows side) is not particularly graceful, pretty or intuitive, but it gets the job done. From it I was able to tweak the tracking speed (had to reduce it to the slightly slower speed Macs default to compared to Windows), and assign the buttons to a multitude of functions including expose, spaces, and browser window management. For all the ugliness of this utility it provides far more options than Apple’s Mighty Mouse ever did, something for which I am grateful.

I have heard some unfortunate stories of this utility causing Kernel Panics and BSODs, which doesn’t surprise me as it feels like a rushed piece of software. Luckily there are many 3rd party mouse utilities on both OS X and Windows which could happily do the job of the LCC for free.

The Bad

It’s not all sunshine and lollipops for this product though, there are some distinct weaknesses. Firstly, as eluded to earlier the scroll wheel is noisy, on my model in particular when scrolling upwards you get a rather unpleasant rattling plastic noise. Secondly, I’ve had some issues with using the mouse wheel as a button. Initially I set the mouse up so that a left tilt of the wheel got me into expose, a right tilt cleared my windows, and a middle click brought up dashboard. When it came time to bring up dashboard, however, I found it only working a couple of times, the rest gave me a strange expose/dashboard experience of windows flying apart and widgets disappearing and reappearing from nowhere. This lack of a definite middle click that can be easily defined from the left and right tilt has made me disable the middle button, which is a shame as it makes the mouse only useable as a 4-button rather than a 5-button. In addition the nasty packaging the product comes in, and the slightly over-excited battery compartment release are not major problems, but just remind you that this is actually quite a cheap mouse, something you would otherwise never notice.


This mouse does represent amazing value for money, the small form-factor and amazingly small receiver make this product a complete winner in my eyes. If you have larger hands you may wish to treat this mouse more cautiously, however, even as a secondary travel mouse this would be ideal. The rubber grips are a nice touch, as is the low-battery warning light and storage compartment under the battery cover. My own experience with the scroll wheel button, and noise, have not deterred me from using it (if you read my post about the Mighty Mouse you’ll know I can put-up with a fair bit from mice), and the poor software is unfortunately to be expected with this kind of thing. But for everything you need a mouse to do this one ticks all the boxes and then some, would not hesitate in recommending it to anyone.

Score: 8/10

Friday, 29 May 2009

Why can't Apple make a good mouse?

After being an OS X convert for a little over a year I’ve finally given up the battle with the Mighty Mouse. First I had the wired version which came with my iMac, and admittedly I thought it a little uncomfortable, but hey, I have lots of things to get used to with switching, perhaps the idiosyncrasies of an Apple mouse are one more thing. After playing awhile I managed to get used to the awkward left click (where you have to physically life your left finger off the mouse, otherwise it has a preference to treat uncertain clicks as a primary click), and even began to find the squeeze buttons useful, so I upgraded to a bluetooth version.

So far so good, everything seemed fine and I was really enjoying the mac experience. But then the problems began, starting with an odd tendency for my right-click technique to just stop working for no apparent reason. In fact, on some occasions I even lifted my entire hand off the mouse, clicked the right-hand side, and still no contextual menu! This began to get frustrating, so I resorted to the tried and tested method of holding down ‘control’ and clicking (the obligatory mac ctrl+click). Now you may think, dear readers, that this may have seriously irked me enough to ditch the Mighty Mouse, but no I did persist. This was partially due to the money the mouse had cost me, but also because I read a very interesting article exploring Apple’s persistent emphasis on a single-button mouse. I’m not sure where the original article is, but I shall reiterate the main points here to illustrate why limited right-click ability was not a deal breaker for me. Basically, the one-button mouse has a twofold advantage, firstly, it’s simpler and therefore more intuitive to only have one button to use, and secondly, it prevents bad programming. In relation to the first point, as the original author rightly pointed out, many problematic calls made to IT services are from people who have trouble understanding that some programs require you to access ‘hidden’ functions by clicking with a different button, upon which they’re unsure whether they should be further clicking within the contextual menu with the right button or the left. For those of us used to power-using with right clicks these mistakes seem pretty silly, however, they do highlight an important fact, right-clicking is not necessarily an intuitive function. In relation to the second point, the Apple philosophy is the not-so-crazy idea that all a programs functionality should be available without the need for contextual menus (something I do really agree with), because lazy programmers will often tack-on features into contextual menus as an easy-fix, which represents poor design and un-intuitive computing (something I may write an article about soon). All this amounts to the fact that right-clicking is much less of a necessity in OS X than it is in Windows (though perhaps I just prefer keyboard shortcuts these days, it seemed more necessary in Windows but it may not be), meaning that troublesome right-click behaviour was still not a deal breaker.

My real issue with the Mighty Mouse came when the little scroll ball (or mighty nipple, if you like) just stopped working. I cleaned it, I blew into it, I held the mouse upside down, nothing. That was really the last straw with me, I need to scroll, I really hate using the scroll bar in browser windows, dammit Apple! For a company who can seemingly revolutionise touch-screen computing, create the thinnest laptop in the world, and apparently come out of nowhere and create arguably one of the most successful mobile phones of all time a mouse seems like a small ask. But no, the Mighty Mouse is an absolute failure, Apple tried to be too clever and it just doesn’t work. I gave the Mighty Mouse a year of my life, and it repaid me with nothing. I just hope that soon Apple will suck in their gut and say ‘actually the Mighty Mouse was a problem, here you go, have a mouse with some physical buttons everyone can use.’ But you know what, I bet they don’t, because at times Apple are just far too stubborn to admit when they’ve made a mistake.

I now have a Logitech VX Nano, and you know what, I couldn’t be happier. Come on Apple, get a grip.

Thoughts? Comments? Feel free to leave them here.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Do Psystar deserve to go bankrupt?

As many of you may know the online computer manufacturer Psystar have filed for bankruptcy during their long-standing legal battle with Apple over supplying computers with OS X pre-installed. Specifically, Psystar was intentionally breaking Apple’s EULA by claiming that the proprietary nature of the OS was against fair-play rules of the market place. Apple, in-turn have started a very lengthy and expensive legal retort that not only claims a break of their EULA, but that the methods used to install the OS infringed upon the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, presumably because the PCs in question had to use a hacked version of OS X. This filing for bankruptcy seems to show the court case is slowly coming to end, with Psystar running out of money, presumably because it’s backers may have stepped down. This in itself is an interesting point, as the equity creditors will have to revealed in court, so those who have been secretly supplying cash to Psystar (who, lets face it, are a tiny company who would never have been able to keep this court case running for so long on their own) will be can only speculate on who it may be, if it turns out to be a big competitor to Apple I’m sure there will be even more hell to pay.

All this legal mumbo-jumbo aside, the real focus of this blog entry is to consider whether Psystar were in the right not necessarily legally, but morally, to provide OS X on their machines.

First of all the reasons behind Apple’s iron grip on its OS must be considered. I think this may be an easy one, basically it’s because OS X adds value to a machine in a way Windows could only dream of. If Apple produced their products with Windows installed I very much doubt their market share would be anything like it is now, and furthermore I doubt their pricing could be sustained either. The core to the Apple computing arm is the OS, clear and simple, it’s the OS you pay the premium for, and as such Apple don’t want anyone else using it, because despite how nice their products are from a hardware point of view a large percentage of people would stop buying them if they could get the OS elsewhere for less.

Secondly, Apple sells an experience. As Steve Jobs has said ‘those who love software build their own hardware,’ which neatly sums-up Apple’s entire view of the computer market. As anyone in the know will tell you, the majority of BSODs on Windows are due to bad drivers, namely the hardware and the software aren’t playing nice, and one of them inevitably throws a tantrum. The whole of Apple’s ‘it just works’ ethos would come crashing down if OS X were licensed out to other companies, because then OS X would be become completely open to all the Windows problems mac users often claim superiority over.

With this in mind I can see how Apple would have a momentary heart-attack when they discovered some tiny company has taken their OS and are selling it to people on potentially incompatible hardware. Now, Apple are ruthless when it comes to legal-battles, really ruthless, and despite the fact Psystar wont have made even the tiniest of dents to Apple’s revenue stream they went straight after them. But are Psystar really that bad? After all they’re doing what Apple have refused to do for years, make their products affordable for the average user. Macs are seen as luxury items, and as such there is a premium, but sometimes Apple comes across as plain greedy (take their online prices for RAM upgrades). Now I’m all for more affordable macs, but obviously you don’t want the quality to falter either, it’s a balancing act, but lets be honest the one reason holding many switchers back is the price, and I’m pretty certain there’s something Apple could reasonably do about it.

I must say, I quite like the peppy little underdog throwing a finger up to the big companies, however, I also understand that if someone buys a Psystar machine and has a problem using OS X (which was never designed for that computer) they wont blame Psystar they’ll blame Apple, thereby denting the reputation of the OS. Now I’m not trying to sound too much like a fan-boy (though that ship may have long sailed), but what I don’t like are uninformed lies, and someone who buys from Psystar, has a problem, blames Apple and then goes around telling everyone that OS X sucks is lying. It would be like buying a pirate DVD of an incomplete screening of a movie and saying the movie sucked because the image quality was poor and the special effects were bad.

Despite Apple’s reputation for nasty legal battles, I must say I think they were in the right this time. Psystar broke the law, but more than that, I think they were morally unjust in potentially creating poor computing experiences on the back of Apple’s OS. In addition, the continuing claims by the company that they didn’t do anything wrong, and that because of their size they didn’t have to keep financial records are a joke. It’s going to be interesting seeing who’s been behind them all the way, but as far as I’m concerned Psystar got everything they deserved.

What’s your view? Comments are always welcome (as long as they are posted in a considerate nature, this is a debate not an argument).

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Why horror matters: celebrating Sam Raimi’s much overdue return to the genre

I think Mark Kermode got it right when he said that the reason why horror films and comedy films never get a mention at the Oscars is because critics generally don’t like films that induce a physical reaction, they prefer films that make you think. In a sense this has been the main issue for both horror and comedy, because in some ways the physical reaction both these genres create is somehow perceived to cheapen the content, to make the genre less important. However, horror movies in particular speak to people on a much deeper level, they remove all pretence of our higher-cognitive status and replace it with pure instinct, which is why the horror genre is so important, and despite what you may think, why horror movies really encapsulate the spirit of the cinema.

As many of you may know Sam Raimi, now most famous for directing the Spider-man trilogy, started his career by creating two of the greatest horror films of the 20th century, the Evil Dead and the Evil Dead 2. The Evil Dead especially is one of the most important films of the 20th century as it was one of the the top movies in UK video nasties list of the 1980s. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this milestone in censorship the video nasties was a list of movies (not all horror) that were considered so vile, so depraved, and so violent that they could corrupt the audience viewing them. This blatant breach of any persons right to view whatever they choose without somebody else deciding for them was spearheaded by a women named Mary Whitehouse, a British christian campaigner who believed she knew better than the rest of the country, and subsequently got 39 out of a list of 74 titles prosecuted under the obscene publications act (you can find the full list here: Happily, since then nearly all the films have been re-released in one form or another, with a total of 37 titles released uncut. What is most relevant, however, is that in response to the banning of the Evil Dead, Sam Raimi has this to say:

It doesn’t matter whether a film like the Evil Dead is cut, what matters is that if you give people permission to decide what you can and can’t see then they will start taking away much more important liberties

This is clearly a man who understands the importance of the horror genre, censorship in whatever shape or form is designed to limited our experiences, to limited and control our feelings and our physical reactions, whereas the horror genre is constantly trying to push the boundaries and do what cinema has always been designed to do, give people that physical thrill that is sometimes so missing in real-life. Now, I don’t want to come across badly, clearly there is a line of taste and decency, but for those of us who want to discover that line for ourselves we shouldn’t be told we can’t by somebody else.

Horror movies are very much a masochistic experience, there is a great adrenaline high from being truly scared or truly disgusted. Those of us who enjoy this experience understand that there are difference facets to horror movies, and that being overly obscene is one thing, but being scared is something else entirely. This is a difference Sam Raimi understands, Evil Dead 1 and 2 were not designed to be scary, they were gore-fests, they revelled in the masochism of gaining enjoyment from the suffering of others, which sounds terrible to admit, but of course we understand it’s all make-up and special effects, real suffering is something else entirely. Raimi also understands the ‘sweet-and-sour’ way in which horror and comedy can be two sides of the same coin, laughing one minute and being horrified the next is a real roller-coaster ride that knocks the intensity up a notch. This man is a very clever film maker.

Alas, some of us thought Sam may never drip blood down our screens again since moving to the Spider-man trilogy, especially as my hopes had been that the inclusion of Venom in part three would give Raimi scope to expand horror into the wrong I was. But horror fans rejoice as the return is upon us with Sam Raimi’s latest offering ‘Drag Me To Hell’. The film is yet to be released here in the UK, but when it is I will definitely be first in line. The horror genre lately has been a little stale, it seems no one is capable of creating a film that isn’t a remake of something else, a trend epitomised by the decision of an american studio to remake the Brazilian movie [REC] less than a year after it has been released (do check out [REC] by the way, it is a fantastic film). What we need is someone who has the CV to pull big bucks from studios, but with the sense to know what to do with it, to create something really original and show the world the true spirit of horror.

The slasher sub-genre has all but dried up, no one makes zombie movies anymore except George Romaro, slow-moving long-haired Japanese girls are getting somewhat tiresome. We need something new, and Raimi is just the man to do it. Hail to the king baby, the man is back, may his return prompt the kick up the backside this genre sorely needs, for without horror we’ve lost that true sense of being alive.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Whatever happened to point-and-click adventure games?

Is 17 years too long to have waited to review a game? Hopefully not, as I have just finished playing the LucasArts classic ‘Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis’ for the first time, and I must say it was brilliant! Hard to believe I know, but that little pixelated world from way back in 1992 gave me so much more pleasure than anything I’ve played recently. Yes I know it has its flaws, and it’s probably the most linear game I’ve come into contact with for quite some time, but it reminded me how much I love adventure games. There is something wonderful about them, a certain je ne sais quoi, an intelligence and a love of great story telling. A great adventure game is like a beautifully crafted novel, it has a sense that real love went into creating it for you, that everyone responsible for it put their heart and soul into its development. These games are both precious to those who made them, and precious to those who play them, and I don’t know of any other genre where that can still be said.

A friend of mine recently asked me what my top three games of all time were. Obviously not something you can answer immediately, so I paused, flicked through 11 years worth of gaming nostalgia, considered all the attachments and feelings I had for particular titles, genres and platforms, and finally settled on three games that hold a dear and special place in my heart:

1.Grim Fandango

2.Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge


Notice anything about the top two? They are both from that seemingly long forgotten genre, the puzzle solving point-and-click adventure. My recall of these games (Half-Life included) brings back many a memory of complete immersion in these fantastic worlds, a host of characters you could not easily forget, hours of frustration and the most overwhelming sense of satisfaction when you figure a tricky puzzle out. But most of all, beautiful story lines, story lines that aren’t clich├ęd but have a sense of talent and intelligence behind them. In some ways the point-and-click adventure game was simply a vehicle for a wonderful story (I’m thinking specifically about Grim Fandango here), a story which always seemed original and always seemed fresh in comparison to the hammy and predictable narratives of other genres. And best of all the game made you feel good, it made you feel clever, they were tests of logic and reasoning, they weren’t just mind-numbing shoot everything in-sight, you really had to think. Unfortunately that’s a trend which only the Japanese seem keen to uphold in survival horror games like Silent Hill (which I believe has been sold off to an American developer now...sad, very sad).

If there is one thing I regret about being an OS X convert is that many of my adventure games no longer work, and without a copy of XP there’s no real chance of me being able to get them to work either. In light of this I was really excited to discover a utility called SummVM (, which is a cross-platform emulator for LucasArts games based on the Scumm engine (enter Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Sam and Max). From this I thought I’d try a title I never had before, hence my discovery of the fantastic Fate of Atlantis, which, incidentally would have made a much better movie than the god-awful Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls. However, playing this game was both a blessing and a curse, because despite loving ever minute of it, I just knew in the back of my mind that these games just aren’t being made any more, and that’s truly a very sad thing.

Or are they? To paraphrase Mark Twain, perhaps rumours of their death has been greatly exaggerated. Despite the disappearance of some of the major players in the genre, and despite the fact that you’re unlikely to find any such games lining the shelves of the XBox 360 or PS3 sections, the games have found a potential new home, the handheld market. The rise in popularity of the Nintendo DS has actually paved the way for a selection of puzzle-based adventure titles, culminating in the recent re-release of Broken Sword 1 on the platform, a truly remarkable thing for lovers of the genre. In addition, this has sparked a potential new console market, with the Broken Sword port making its way to the Wii also. The genre is far from dead, but its numbers are dwindling, and I fear that if there’s just no interest companies will stop all together.

It is a real shame to think there may never be another Monkey Island, or another Broken Sword, or an Indiana Jones game that isn’t a poor Tomb Raider knock-off. I suppose these titles seem a little old in their ways, and perhaps their conventions may seem a little strange, but at their heart was the desire to tell a great story, to intellectually challenge the player, and to create a memorable experience. Maybe it’s just me, but nothing else seems to come close to that anymore.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Switching 101 or: why that little red x just wont close your application

Here is a re-post of an entry I placed on explaining the differences between window behaviour in OS X and Windows, enjoy!

When you tell people that your are a principle OS X user there are usually three types of reaction. First is the fairly technology ambivalent general member of the public who will say ‘oh really,’ and continue with their daily lives, probably completely unaware of what OS X is. Secondly is the Windows fanatic who will take this statement as a challenge, viciously prompting you to prove why OS X is better than Windows, usually to a slurry of statements about hardware being the same and cost differences. And thirdly is the type of individual who inspired me to write this blog, the curious one who asks you to show them OS X, explain the differences, and highlight the advantages and disadvantages over Windows or Linux.

It is this kind of user with whom I often find myself sitting down and sharing my stories of switching, and showing them the ins and outs of Apple’s OS, calmly answering their questions and demoing the features. However, there are two questions I always get asked, why doesn’t the green plus make a window go full screen, and why doesn’t that red cross close the application. Both these questions concern window behaviour in OS X, and for those who have ever been confused, unsure, or just unaware of the difference I dedicate this entry, because there is a rhyme and a reason why windows behave the way they do in OS X, and if you sit close children I shall explain.

First, let us deal with the easier of the two explanations, the green plus button. Now, as those in the know will often tell you this button is not called ‘maximise’ (or ‘maximize’ if you live over the pond) but ‘zoom’. This difference may seem trivial, however it highlights the important difference between the two behaviours, the same way in which ‘fullscreen’ commands are never called ‘zoom’ commands as this would imply that the resolution remained constant but the image was stretched to fit. When a user presses that green button the window is resized to fit all the necessary content, whether it be a webpage or a Pages document. To put it more simply, the window resizes so that the user has no need for horizontal scrolling. But what about all those apps which seem to go fullscreen when I press the green icon I hear you cry! Well, there will be two reasons for this, firstly the program is a Windows port and the developers did not both to learn about window behaviour in OS X, or, the windows content is not fixed in place, and is relative to the window size, in which case it will resize to the last biggest size set by the user. Simple eh! It all makes sense when you know how.

Now then, let us deal with the Windows switchers number 1 error in OS X, thinking the red button closes an application. To understand why this doesn’t happen a few things must be made clear. Unlike most (if not all) Linux distributions, and Windows, OS X makes a clear distinction between the program itself, the functions of the program, and the contents of the program. This distinction will admittedly seem foreign to users of any other OS, however, it works as follows: the program itself is the dock icon, the functions of the program are the menu bar, and the contents of the program are the windows. Once this distinction is understood then the behaviour of the windows becomes apparent, and makes an awful lot of sense. Closing an application is either a function of the application, or something you do to the program as a whole, and as such this function is provided either via the menu bar or the dock. The red, yellow, and green buttons are on the window, and are therefore a function of the window meaning green zooms the window, yellow minimises the window, and red closes the window. The key difference is that in Windows, despite the fact the minimise and maximise buttons only affect the window in question, the cross closes the entire application. If you do not consider a window to be the whole application, the close button should only close the window, simple!

I hope that all made sense, I was very aware that I was writing ‘window’ and ‘application’ an awful lot. If there is one thing to understand from all this (other than I’m a sad bastard for writing a blog entry about application behaviour) is that in OS X a window is a window, and as such the coloured buttons on the window will only affect the window.

Now there is more to all this, however, I feel I have tortured you all enough. Sufficed to say some apps will close when you press that red x (shock horror!), however, this is to do with the usefulness of having an application like System Preferences open but running in the background, namely none. I am also not going to delve into the murky waters of why this method of using applications is better or worse than the Windows or Linux way, all I will say is that it is what it is, if you wanted to understand why then hopefully by now you do, or else I must apologise for putting you through this geeky exploration of the logic behind OS X.

Until next time, adieu.

The beginning...

So here we are, and a big welcome to all of you!

So I decided to start a blog, a big hello if you already know me, and an even bigger hello if I don't. I wont begin with the standard 'My name is...I live in...' because frankly that is boring, and no one will ever read this if it is boring! Rather, I shall simply state that I hope people will be interested in me and what I decide to write about.

These posts will drift between my main interests, tech mostly, with a hint of irony and sarcasm for good measure. I will try my up-most to be interesting and entertaining, and hopefully a little informative too.

My blogs will also be posted at, and you can follow me on Twitter @martynmcf.