The Mince Pie Roundup – 2014

mince-pies

This year I’ve decided to review the once-a-year treat that is the mince pie. There’s plenty of choice and this year and I’ve been piling on the Christmas pounds for your mince pie happiness. Here’s the low down.

Supermarkets

Asda
Shortcrust: 5/10 – This from the extra special range had a great filling but was let down by a under baked pastry. Unforgivable.

Iceland
Shortcrust: 7/10 – After going viral with their ‘Minge Pie’ typeface issues, these dinky pies are a bargain at £1.50 for 12. Surprisingly they are well baked and the mince is tasty with a pleasant nutty crunch.

Sainsbury
Shortcrust: 9/10 – Really nice mince to pastry ratio, and the mince itself is probably the best I’ve tasted.
Puff Pastry: 6.5/10 – Brilliant mince pie, however I think they have slightly over done it with the pastry, minus points for the flaky mess.

Morrisons
Shortcrust: 6/10 – Not a bad attempt, let down by the tasteless mince meat.
Puff Pastry: 4/10 – This didn’t put me in the festive mood at all, too dry.

Tesco
Shortcrust: 7/10 – Lovely mince pie, pastry cooked really well, mince good but not excellent.
Puff Pastry: 8/10 – Tesco have nailed the puff pastry on this one, it would have received a really high score had the mince been up to Sainsbury standard.

Costco
Shortcrust-cake: 5/10 – This won’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with Costco, but these are 3x the size of your standard. Call me a traditionalist but I’m not sure if these even meet the ‘pie’ brief since they have a mince/cake filling, sorry but it’s a little wrong if you ask me.

Aldi
Shortcrust: 6/10 – I’ve been a huge advocate of Aldi and in past years I remember their mince pies being extremely good, however I was disappointed with this years offering. Pastry fine, mince ok. A little sugar on top and some booze in the mince would’ve gone a long way.

Lidl
Shortcrust/Crumble: 7/10 Full marks for inventiveness, the crumble topping is inspired and certainly brings something new to the party. Quite a hefty pie borderline too big, but it is Christmas after all.

Bakery

Martins
Shortcrust: 8.5/10 – For a chain bakers such as Martins these pies look surprisingly homemade, not the prettiest but don’t let the exterior fool you, they are fantastic.

Greggs
0/0 – The branch I visited didn’t even bake mince pies, tut tut tut.

Branded

Mr Kipling
Shortcrust: 5/10 – The most worrying thing about these pies is how long they last (best before the middle of 2015!)

Chains

Pret a Manger
Shortcrust: 6/10 – At the pricier end of the market, £1.30 per pie isn’t what you’d call cheap but they are deep and well filled. The mince wasn’t to my taste it’s a little stodgy and doesn’t really pack any punch. It could have been luck but mine was still warm which definitely adds a couple of points.

Starbucks
Shortcrust: 5/10 – Even pricier than Pret at £1.55 but just as disappointing probably more so. The mince had a nice texture but it wasn’t matched in taste, pastry was nothing a bog standard Mr Kipling couldn’t manage.

So their you have it, my roundup for 2014. Have you stumbled upon a glorious mince pie? Let me know in the comments below, or tweet me @ricriley

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So You’re Looking For Running Shoes?

I’ve now been running at least once a week for 4 years now, and my trusty old trainers have been with me every step of the way. Needless to say I’m about 2 years overdue a new pair.

My first pair (Brooks Adrenaline GTS 7) have been superb and I’m a little apprehensive about changing, since a specialist running shop analysed my running style on a treadmill to pick them out for me. This probably cost me an extra few pennies but it was worth it at the time. These days I’m a little more frugal and stumbled upon this great infographic that’ll hopefully help me with my decision, I can’t take it lightly, I might still be with them in 4 years time!

Running Shoes Infographic: How to Choose the Best Running ShoesCheck out REI’s wide selection of running shoes

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Are games lacking innovation?

I recently picked up the new Tomb Raider and really enjoyed the first couple of hours, it doesn’t quite offer the unique experience the original but what does? This isn’t down to just Tomb Raider though its all games, think of the major titles in the gaming world right now:

Call of Duty
FIFA
Grand Theft Auto
Football Manager
Metal Gear Solid
Skyrim
Need for Speed
Tomb Raider

Some of these titles have been going for 15 years. Maybe I’m just getting old but I really miss the buzz of playing something unique. When first person shooters became popular there were many variations, being a teenager I went in the hunt for the most violent possible, step forward Soldier of Fortune. Not the best game ever, but a game in which you could brutally dismember your enemies was a first. Something for you to tell your friends!

What happens now, “have you played the new Call of Duty?”, “Yep”, “Same as the last one isn’t it”, “Yep”.

Now don’t get me wrong games have come a long way, but I think that gameplay and storys have taken a back seat to the impressive graphics.

Here are some of my old favorites that I’d love to play again:

Blade Runner
Grim Fandano
Monkey Island
Day of the Tentacle
Full Throttle
Tetris
Grand Prix 2
Command and Conquer
Age of Empires
Half Life
Quake 3 Arena
Halo
Mario 64
Goldeneye
Worms
Sega Rally
X Wing vs Thai Fighter
Theme Park
Theme Hospital
Indiana Jones

What are your oldies but goodies? Theres no reason why some of these could be ported to the iPad and I’d snap their hands off.

But my initial point remains, I can’t remember the last time I played an original game, probably Loco Roco on the PSP.

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Django Unchained – The Good the Bad and the Ugly

Last night I went to see the new Quentin Tarantino movie Django Unchained, I thought it was thoroughly entertaining. On reflection there was just a few elements that just didn’t sit quite right for me, and I can’t quite work out whether these were deliberate on or not.

The Good

Anyone that’s seen Inglorious Basterds can testify that Christopher Waltz is a superb actor and again he delivers a cracking performance, his on screen charm cannot fail to raise a smile from the grumpiest of movie goer. Waltz’s absence in the last 30 minutes is noticeable, though the final actions scenes of comic book violence sort of make up for it.

The movie is filled with references from westerns and early 70s blaxploitation movies, and delivers an experience unlike any film I’ve seen in the last 40 years of cinema, surely that can only be a good thing?

The Bad

About an hour in to the movie Jonah Hill makes a cameo appearance as part of a group of racist southern cowboy’s. The scenes were comical, but his face just didn’t seem to fit, he looked like a 90s stoner who had accidentally wondered on to 70s western.

Quentin Tarantino’s cameo was equally bizarre, he appears in the latter stages as an Australian slave trader. It just seemed a little unnecessary, I was also a little frustrated by the geeks in the audience wittering “Look its Quentin”.

At just under 3 hours long it’s quite slog and it never got boring, but there did seem to be a lot of pointless dialogue that didn’t really add anything to the story.

The Ugly

The soundtrack isn’t one of Tarantino’s finest, and I’m a massive fan of all of his previous ones. It mixes legendary western soundtrack composer Ennio Moricone (The Good the Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West) with 2Pac and Rick Ross. It could be argued that it’s used for comic effect, I’m not so sure.

It’s rare that as a viewer I’m confused but on several occasions flashbacks and dream sequences were cut in from nowhere. There are many scenes where Django has visions of his long lost wife, one upon entering the plantation where she was being held, for a moment I couldn’t figure out if this was a vision or not. Bad editing or deliberate?

Leonardo DiCaprio is a big talking point in this film, he plays evil slave plantation owner Calvin Candie. DiCaprio is a fantastic actor and he plays a good part, but I wouldn’t have cast him for this role. I feel Calvin would have been much more suited to a nasty old man, rather than a blue-eyed 30 something.

Did I mention Jonah Hill, if I did it’s worth mentioning again…

Conclusion

The very fact that I’ve felt the need to blog about this film means it must be something special. It’s certainly unique and somehow mixes heavy brutality with tongue-in-cheek fun. A classic it isn’t, great fun it is.

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Let The Espresso Commence

espresso © by gocarts


Two short hours ago I bought a shiny new second hand espresso machine from eBay. It’s a Gaggia Classic, often toted as the bare minium entry level espresso machine. It was a close call between this and a La Pavoni lever machine. After lurking on eBay for what has seemed like a lifetime, eventually I found the right one at the right price.

I’m extremely excited about the prospect, but after talking about espresso for so long I just hope I’m cut out for it. I’ve scoured the internet for months (maybe years), and its obvious that coffee is serious business. You can’t pull a shot of espresso on youTube without a barrage of abuse from Uber Barista’s waiting to put you down. I must now step up to the coffee machine and prove myself, but I don’t think I’m ready.

It appears my coffee splurge isn’t over. Accessories and upgrades are now what I need if I’m going to become the Home Barista to end all Barista’s, and the list looks like this:

  • Tamper – to tamp those coffee grounds to the correct consitancy, the plastic tamper supplied with the machine just isn’t good enough.
  • Grinder – probably most important of all! I only have a feeble Hario Mini Mill. The ‘Uber’s’ over at Coffee Geek inform me that a grinder that costs less than £150 is a waste of space.
  • Knock Box and Tamp Mat – Once you’ve made an espresso that tastes like ‘Jesus in velvet trousers’, you need somewhere to knock those spent grounds.
  • Rancilio V3 Steam Wand – That plastic piece of crap on the side of the Gaggia is apparently just that, it must be replaced!
  • Standard Basket – With the Gaggia Classic they have tried to be cleaver by creating their own pressurised basket, this doesn’t work, get rid of it and buy a normal one.
  • Shot glasses – I can’t believe I don’t own any already. Without these I might have to guess when I’ve poured the correct amount.

My machine isn’t even in the post yet and I’m already wondering how to upgrade it. I can see this being an expensive adventure, and I’m sure I’m just scratching the surface.

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Start Brewing Your Coffee Differently

Chemex © by doubleshot_cz

A ‘decent’ espresso machine is still at the top of my to-buy list, which makes me sad, but I shouldn’t despair since their are many other cheaper alternatives. They may not offer the same intense taste of an espresso, but they do offer unique tastes and brewing experience that can often be overlooked when you have the conveience of a quality machine.

The following list I hope will introduce you to new ways of brewing your coffee, and if not I hope it will give you some pointers on how to do it properly. If you’re a coffee fan I urge you to try as many of these as possible.

So you’ve got your beans and a decent grinder, now you need to decide how your going to brew your cuppa, so lets start with the most simple and widely used way of brewing coffee.

The French Press / Cafetiere – Amazon Link
My first taste of fresh coffee came from one of these pots and I still love to pull it out from the back of the cupboard from time to time. Don’t think for a second that coffee geeks and connoisseurs don’t enjoy well made coffee from a french press. Make it correctly and you can get some amazing results from these little brewers. Don’t forget that they are also great for brewing loose tea!

So I imagine everyones first question is, how much coffee do I use? Well I’d like to refer you towards the Has Bean brewing guide.


They use 75g of course grind coffee per litre of water.

With brewing coffee consistency is key, so I’d recommend using scales and timers as much as you can. I can’t take any credit for these measurements but I do think they are a great starting point from clever coffee brains better than mine. If the guide doesn’t perfectly suit your taste, play about with your timings until you receive the desired results, but make a note of what suits you.

Moka Pot/Bialetti – Amazon Link
Maybe my favourite method of brewing, which produces a very strong and rich coffee. A lot of people call this an espresso brew but they are wrong, it takes 15 bars of pressure to create a ‘proper’ espresso, anything less then it isn’t. The Moka Pot only produces about 1.5 bars, but this doesn’t mean it isn’t delicious! This time I’m going to give you my guide to brewing the perfect cup with your Moka Pot.

  1. Boil the kettle (ideally with spring water)
  2. Unscrew the Moka Pot and fill the basket in the middle with medium grind coffee. Level the coffee with the top of the basket, but do not tamp it down.
  3. Fill the bottom half of the pot with the boiled water, make sure you only go up to the line, if it’s not got a line then just below the valve.
  4. Put the basket on top and screw the pot back together.
  5. Place the pot on a medium to high heat on one of the smaller hobs.
  6. Open the lid and wait.
  7. As soon as the coffee starts to trickle in to the top half, turn the heat down to low, this slows the extraction process and makes sure you get the best out of your beans.
  8. When the pot starts to spit or gurgle instantly take off the heat.
  9. Pour in to a warm cup and enjoy.

The Aeropress – Amazon Link
This is my ‘on the go’ brewer. Its a very simple but brilliant device, its a plastic plunger that allows you to manually apply pressure to force brewed coffee through a filter paper. I’d say that it produces a very clean french press tasting cup. One of the biggest advantages to the Aeropress is the clean up process, once plunged you end up with a ‘puck’ of extracted coffee grounds that easily pop straight in to the bin, leaving the device free of any mess.

There is actually an Aeropress World Championship that takes part every year, where barista’s from all over the world attempt to produce the best cup of coffee for a selection of judges. All of the barista’s have their own technique to getting the most out of their Aeropress. Take a look at all of the recipes used from the previous winners here:
http://worldaeropresschampionship.wordpress.com/recipes/

Again I can also reccommend the Has Bean brew guide:

The Kalita Kantan – Has Bean Link
This is the first one on my list that I have yet to try. The Kalita Kantan is a cheap disposable drip brewer. Simply unfold the paper and cardboard and place it on top of your cup, fill the pouch with 15g of ground coffee, and then pour your water over the top. It doesn’t get much easier or portable than that!

Originating from Japan they’re not available everywhere but Has Bean stock these at a great price:
http://www.hasbean.co.uk/products/Kalita-Kantan-Paper-Filter.html

Turkish
If you enjoy strong espresso type coffee then you’ll love turkish coffee. The only problem you may face here is creating the ultra fine flour style grind. Luckily enough my Hario Mini grinder can just about manage this with a little elbow grease.

Turkish coffee was always something I enjoyed whist abroad but to be honest I never knew it was so simple. After a couple of searches on youTube I found some very helpful videos demonstrating that making a Turkish Coffee consists of not much more than boiling water and finely ground coffee in a small pan. Heres what I found:

The Chemex – Company Link
The Chemex is maybe a somewhat snobby way of brewing your coffee, but I can guarantee you that people will be very impressed when you serve your coffee in a Chemex! The Chemex is basically a coffee dripper on a big scale, using filter papers and a specially designed carafe to can create some of the best brewing results there is, I know that it is really highly regarded amongst many coffee geeks.

Now Chemex are an american company (I think) and therefore they are fairly cheap to purchase over in the states but cost more than double over here in the UK. This is their website, but I suggest that you head over to eBay for a better price on there:
http://www.chemexcoffeemaker.com/products/classic.html

Also take a look at another brew guide from Has Bean:

The Siphon Filter – Amazon Link
Now this is without doubt the most impressive way to brew coffee. Siphon Filters usually originate from Japan, who are actually the worlds biggest coffee drinkers (so they know a thing or two). Now I don’t think that I can explain how these actually work, its sort of a mixture of the Moka Pot, Magic, and the Chemex. The video explains it much better than I could. Now they are noteriously difficult to get right, but I’m sure it will be good fun trying!

Syphon, Intelligentsia from The D4D on Vimeo.

I hope that I’ve introduced you to some new tecniques, if you have any advice of know of any others I’d love to hear from you.

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Now I’m Posting From My iPad

20120423-163751.jpg

Whist I was over in the states I picked myself up the ‘new iPad’ and so far really liking it. Being a designer, most of my work will still be carried out on my laptop of course, but general web browsing I’ll be using the iPad from now on. Here are some of the benefits of using an iPad over the laptop:

Instant on
I know that the current line of MacBooks practically turn on instantly from standby, but for the odd time you shut your computer down do you really want to wait a minute or two to google something?
Portability
I have a 15″ laptop and it is quite a weighty beast, the iPad does most of the things I need and I’ll barely notice it in my bag.
Dictation
I didn’t find this one until today, but I think it’s really useful, especially on larger words that you may not want to type. The microphone button on the keyboard makes it very easy to shout out the odd word, and it does a good job, fast as well.
Battery life
I think my MacBook claims to have 10 hours battery life, but it rarely makes it. The iPad manages it with ease.
Better screen
These days the iPad is much more impressive and higher quality than your standard computer screen.

I’m hoping that this new gadget will help me get cracking with some blogging. We shall see…

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The Pursuit of Coffee Perfection

I hold my hands up I’m a coffee addict, I’ve been pursuing a home-brewed cup that rivals a Starbucks Caramel Macchiato for quite some time. But finding the recipe is only half of the story, I found out very quickly that making good coffee is going to cost me more than I initially thought. Websites such as coffeegeek and homebarista told me that decent espresso machines will set me back at least £1000! I could buy 333 Macchiatos from Starbucks for that.

Since I’m on a budget I started with an Aeropress (recommended by many forums), which is a plunger type device that claims to make 4 espressos. This device is fantastic and it does make a great cup of coffee, but I wouldn’t call it an espresso, it’s just not strong enough.

Not fully satisfied with my new purchase I took to the internet again looking for a stronger coffee fix. Again looking for the cheap option I found Mypressi a similarly cleaver device to the Aeropress, just fill it with water from your kettle and using compressed gas it provides the correct amount of pressure required for good espresso.

Right so let’s say I buy a Mypressi I’m still not finished, how do I create that wonderful steamed milk? Espresso machines usually include a steam wand but unfortunatly the Mypressi doesn’t have that luxury. The only solution I could find was a stove-top milk steamer by Bellman, a nice piece of kit which should do the job perfectly, but more money! Looking a little further this was just the tip of the iceberg, I made a list of what I would need to buy, but also trying to keep the price as low as possible:

Mypressi: £100
Grinder: £30
Stove-top Milk Steamer: £50
Milk Jug with Temperature Gauge: £12.50
Good quality coffee (from Has Bean): £6
Starbucks vanilla syrup: £6
Starbucks caramel syrup
: £6
Tamper: £20
Open portafilter: ?

Total: At least £230

Expensive stuff indeed, I was gob-smacked when I found out how much it costs. If anyone knows how I could get this any cheaper please let me know 🙂

Update: I have now bought the Stove-top Milk SteamerMilk Jug with Temperature GaugeStarbucks vanilla syrup.

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Apple TV & XBMC

I recently bought the ‘newish’ Apple TV 2, and it’s a brilliant little box. ATV2 actually has fairly limited use in the UK since there are no streaming services supported other than Apples movie rental service. The box therefore just serves as an iTunes streamer from your computer. That is until you jailbreak and all of a sudden that cute little rounded box turns into a media streaming behemoth.

Jailbreaking allows you to install your own code/apps on to your Apple TV. The main app being XBMC (Xbox Media Centre) which is an open source media centre and has now been developed now for all platforms. Once installed you’ll be able to play just about any format of video, music and even pictures.

It’s taken me about a week to setup exactly how I’d like, and if I knew what I did now it might of only taken me an hour. So I though being the nice kind of guy I am I’d write a little guide.

I used/use:
Apple TV 2
MacBook Pro
Mybook World Edition 1tb
Sony Bravia 32″
Thomson Router

Jailbreaking with Seas0nPass

This process should be fairly straight forward, you’ll need a micro USB cable not supplied with your Apple TV to connect to your computer (I used a Kindle connection cable).

Download and install Seas0nPass on your computer from here: http://support.firecore.com/entries/387605-jailbreaking-101-seas0npass

Seas0nPass will download the latest firmware and patch it, don’t worry if  iTunes fires up during this process it is normal.

Once you’ve completed your Jailbreak, plug it back into your TV and hook it up to your network. If you have a mac then you can use Terminal to send these commands to your box. If your using windows you’ll need to download an SSH client like Putty.

Installing XBMC

Put these commands in one at a time.

  1. Open up your terminal/ssh application and enter the following command to log in to your ATV2:
    ssh root@Apple-TV
  2. You will be asked for a password: default password is alpine
  3. Continue to enter the following commands:
    apt-get install wget
    wget -O- http://apt.awkwardtv.org/awkwardtv.pub | apt-key add -
    echo "deb http://apt.awkwardtv.org/ stable main" > /etc/apt/sources.list.d/awkwardtv.list
    echo "deb http://mirrors.xbmc.org/apt/atv2 ./" > /etc/apt/sources.list.d/xbmc.list
    apt-get update
    apt-get install org.xbmc.xbmc-atv2
    apt-get install com.nito.updatebegone
    reboot

Installing the latest build (recommended)

  1. Open http://mirrors.xbmc.org/nightlies/darwin/atv2/ in a web browser and copy the url of the most recent file in that listing.
  2. Open up your terminal/ssh application and enter the following command to log in to your ATV2:
    ssh root@Apple-TV
  3. You will be asked for a password: default password is alpine
  4. Continue to enter the following commands:
    wget URL-FROM-STEP-ONE-HERE
    dpkg -i FILENAME-FROM-STEP-TWO-HERE
    rm FILENAME-FROM-STEP-TWO-HERE
  5. You should now have the latest build of XBMC for ATV2.

Setting up XBMC with a Network HD

Now if you look on your TV you should have XBMC as a menu item, click on it to launch.

If you have lots of Movies and TV Shows already on your HD, it will really help things if your can seperate them into two different folders beforehand.

One mistake I made was using UPnP as my protocol, unfortunately this meathod breaks the scraper that retrevies all of your movie/tv information. You want to use a Samba network. For me I had to enter the source manually which looked something like the following SMB://MYBOOKWORLD/ From there you should now see all of your files, add two separate sources Movies and TV Shows.

If you hold the menu button down on the folders you should get a context menu. Here you can setup the scraper for all of the information.

Sidenotes

You may also want to know that to turn off your Apple TV you need to be on the apple dashboard and hold the select/main button down for 3 seconds. Took me a while to figure that one out.

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End of an era

I’m a little late tapping out this blog in the wake of recent sad news of Steve Jobs’s death, but I felt I had to blog about the way Apple has change my life for the better.

Usually designers have a immediate bond with apple products but I was a very late adopter. Throughout my childhood my schools were kitted out with shiny new apple computers, but I never quite saw the appeal and I always wanted a PC!

My first Apple product was a black iPod Video 30gb (which I still use on my dock), I had owned many MP3 players previously but the Apple scroll-wheel was just too cool to resist. I immediately loved my iPod which without doubt is a design classic and will probably never grow old.

This is when Apple started to grab my attention. Very soon after the iPhone is released, an unbelievably slick touch screen which was just too expensive for me to buy, so unfortunately I decided to upgrade my phone to ‘the next best thing’ a touch screen ‘windows mobile’ *shudder*. For the next 12 months I was constantly stabbing a screen with a slide out pen and installing numerous firmware updates hopping to make it faster/better. When this phone decided to break itself in my pocket, I then swore to myself that from this day onwards I would never settle second best ever again. I knew I wanted an iPhone but I was stuck to my contract so I would have to bide my time.

During the meantime I was also looking out for a new laptop, all I had was a virus ridden Windows Vista desktop. Being a designer I read lots of blogs and they all talked about their macs as if it was a glowing magical box of tricks. I had been secretly admiring the newly designed aluminium MacBook Pro for quite some time, but due to my new motto I had to get one! Being the cautious type I did a little research over at macrumours.com which informed me that there would be an EVEN MORE AWESOME Macbook Pro released very soon. For the first time ever I was actually getting excited about a laptop. Waiting for the updated MacBook became one of the longest waits of my life (the longest ever time between MacBook refreshes) I became almost obsessed as I awaited the announcement by the man himself Steve Jobs.

I had always been of the opinion that a room full of people clapping and wooping about products just seemed a little too american for me. But I was fascinated with Jobs, people looked at him like god, he even spoke with the confidence of god, I had to find out more. After reading Steve’s wikipedia entry I couldn’t help respect this guy. He’d saved Apple from the brink by negotiating with huge rival Bill Gates, now Apple stand as the largest company in the world, having released many iconic and innovative products. All seemingly down to one man and his vision. Steve was also a master of the slideshow presentation, he stands on stage watched by the faces of several hundred adoring fans, and he beams with delight knowing that his newest product is cool. If you’ve never watched the man present, you should.

After watching Steve stroll the stage demonstrating how much better the new MacBook Pro was than its predicessor, I was worried that when I finally got my hands on one it would be a disappointment, but far from it, it blew me away, it looked amazing, it was lightning fast and a joy to use, I couldn’t even throw away the box because its so beautiful.

Then comes the iPhone 4 I was now a fanboy and queuing on release day outside the phone shop to make sure I can get my hands on one, and just as Jobs said, it was amazing.

So far all Apple products give me the same feeling, joy, and neither of them have they grown old. Steve Jobs has definately made my world a happier place, and it’s sad to think that he’s gone. I prey that his soul still lives on in Apple and they continue to release products that make millions of people like me happy.

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