Wednesday, 5 December 2018

December 2018 'gadget guru' technology for TRE Talk Radio Europe

Here's a quick reminder of the technology I talked about in today's TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' conversation with Dave Hodgson:

1. Meater wireless thermometer

Christmas is on the way and, if you’re a meat-eater, there’s a good chance you’ll be cooking a turkey or maybe even a goose for dinner. One of the challenges of roasting anything big is making sure the inside is cooked. What you need is a cooking thermometer – but how about a wireless cooking thermometer that connects to your phone or your tablet?

Meater looks like a regular stainless steel meat thermometer but without a display, It connects via Bluetooth to your phone, which means it has a range of up to 10 metres from your oven, although there’s a boosted version called Meater Plus that’ll work up to 50m away.

First, you install the special Meater app on your phone. Next, you charge up your thermometer and then you link it to your phone. The charger doesn’t plug into the mains; it uses a regular AAA battery that should work for up to 100 charges.

Stick the thermometer into the meat, open up the app and choose the type of meat you're cooking (or, indeed, whether you're cooking poultry or fish). You then select the cut of meat and the associated temperature, so if you like your lamb 'pink'.

The Meater app then gives you an estimated cooking time (and, perhaps obviously, will alert you when the meat is cooked). You can also check progress from the sofa – or the other side of the kitchen. In fact, if you use one of Amazon's Alexa smart home devices, you can link the two together and ask Alexa how your roast dinner is coming along.

Pricing for the regular version is £79 / €89 and for Meater Plus is £99 / €109.

2. PlayStation Classic games console

Here’s a bit of nostalgia. It’s 24 years since Sony launched its original PlayStation games console in Japan. For Christmas this year, Sony is bringing back the PlayStation Classic, with 20 games from the 1990s built in. Except this new PlayStation will be almost half the size of the original.

What you get is the console (it looks like a shrunken version of the original but doesn’t need any software disks), two controllers (again, scaled-down replicas of the originals) and an HDMI cable to plug it into your television. All that’s missing is a USB power adaptor, which seems a bit mean but I’m sure you’ve got one kicking around from an old phone.

And then you’ll be able to play classics like Final Fantasy VII, Tekken 3, Ridge Racer Type 4, Grand Theft Auto and so on. These aren’t updated versions of the original games: they ARE the original games.

PlayStation Classic launched this week in Japan, the US and Europe, with an anticipated UK price of £89.99 and a European price of €99.99.

3. Big Mouth Billy Bass

About 20 years ago, one of the best gifts you could give the person who had almost everything was Big Mouth Billy Bass. He looked like a stuffed fish mounted on a wooden plaque but could sing 'Don't Worry, Be Happy' and, rather disturbingly, would also turn to face you.

Well, Billy Bass is back. The company that made him – Gemmy Industries – has updated Billy with a Bluetooth connection and compatibility with the Amazon Alexa digital assistant.

This means is you can now use him to play all types of music, not just his theme song. But better than that, Billy can now answer any questions you ask Alexa. If you have an Alexa device, you can connect it wirelessly to Billy Bass and Alexa’s voice will come out of him. Billy’s little fishy mouth even moves when Alexa talks. Alexa, what’s the weather? Alexa, what’s the temperature of my turkey?

At the moment 'new Billy' only seem to be available in the USA: I’ve seen him on Amazon for $39.99 plus shipping.

4. Monopoly Fortnite edition

Fortnite is a video game launched last year by a company called Epic Games. In the game, you and 99 other people are dropped onto a cartoonish island. Your aim is pretty simple: survive until the end of the game.

But I’m not here to talk about the online game. What I'd like to introduce is the real-world antidote to Fortnite. It's made by Hasbro, the company behind much-loved board game Monopoly, where you throw dice, move around a board, buy houses and try to make more money than anyone else.

Now they’ve invented the Fortnite Edition of Monopoly. Instead of moving round the streets of London, you move around the Fortnite island. Instead of earning money, you collect Health Points. You build walls, not hotels, and every time you pass Go you unleash the Storm, which can take health Points from your opponents. Ultimately, the person left with Health Points at the end of the game is the winner. If you’re a Monopoly fan and you want to get the rest of your video-playing family into it, this could be just what you’re looking for.

It’s suitable for two to seven players, age 13 and up. Pricing is around £25 (€28).

Thursday, 15 November 2018

How Lewes bonfire was transformed by the Pope

In September 1850, Pope Pius IX appointed an Archbishop of Westminster and twelve other bishops. This recreated a structure for the Roman Catholic church that hadn’t existed in England for almost three hundred years.

The announcement was seen as hostile by many people around the country. Anthony Wohl, former Professor of History at Vassar College, notes that “several Catholic churches had their windows broken, and ‘No Popery’ processions were held throughout England”.

Lewes Bonfire 2013Effigies of the Pope and Cardinal Wiseman (the new Catholic Archbishop) were burned in Lewes outside the White Hart. In an opinion piece about bonfire celebrations, The Sussex Advertiser of 12th November 1850 (quoted by Brian Pugh in Bonfire Night in Lewes) said “since Dr Wiseman’s insolent usurpation the celebration of this anniversary has partaken to a much greater extent than formerly of an anti-Romanist character; and the substitution of the Cardinal for the almost forgotten Guy Fawkes seems inevitable.”

It’s around this time that ‘bonfire bishops’ started to make an appearance, writes Brigid Chapman, in Night of the Fires. “Soon they were preaching patriotism as well as Protestantism, and getting lots of column inches in their local newspapers as a result.”

Jeremy Goring, in Burn Holy Fire, points out that a Sussex Express article about the 1850 Lewes bonfire celebrations mentions a memorial tar barrel “ignited in sight of the spot where the papists were wont to light the faggot and burn to death their unyielding Protestant brethren”. He says this is the first time the paper had mentioned the martyrs of 1555 in connection with the town’s annual bonfire night.

However, he questions the timing of this interest in the Sussex martyrs. “Contrary to what the Sussex Express reporter maintained”, writes Jeremy Goring, “the strength of anti-Romanist feeling in Lewes probably had less to do with the past cruelties of Catholics than with the present activities of Anglicans.” He goes on to say “It is significant that the protests against the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy, culminating in a great bonfire in Lewes High Street, first took place at the very time when Frederick Teed, rector of nearby St Michael’s, was introducing what many regarded as reprehensibly ‘popish’ practices.”

This hostility towards Anglicans demonstrating any affection for 'high church' or Roman Catholic rituals was particularly obvious in the 1857 'Lewes Riots', which centred on the funeral of Emily Scobell. Emily was the daughter of the Rev John Scobell, rector of All Saints and Southover churches. Although her father's views were evangelical, she'd left home to join an organisation at the opposite end of the ecclesiastical spectrum: the Society of St Margaret, a Sussex-based religious group that worked to nurse the sick. This group had been set up by John Mason Neale, an Anglican clergyman who was often seen as pro-Catholic. Miss Scobell, who died after catching scarlet fever from a patient, had wanted to be buried alongside her mother at All Saints church. Her body was brought to Lewes by the Rev Neale and a group of eight sisters of the Society of St Margaret, who were met at Lewes railway station by a crowd shouting 'No Popery', according to Brian Pugh in Bonfire Night in Lewes.

After the funeral service, the Rev Neale wanted to enter the family vault in which Emily and her mother were buried. At this point the crowd became increasingly angry. "The nuns' habits were torn and Neale lost his cassock", notes Lewes History Group. Fortunately all nine left Lewes safely that evening, but not before half the group had been besieged in the King's Head pub for almost an hour.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, an effigy of John Mason Neale was paraded through Lewes during the following year's Bonfire processions.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' tech for November 2018

Here's the technology I talked about in my November 2018 TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' conversation:

Palm smartphone

Remember Palm organisers? Well, the Palm name is back – and this time it’s on a tiny smartphone that saves you from taking your regular smartphone out of your pocket or bag. It weighs 62½ grams, it’s 50mm wide by 97mm tall and it’s 7.4mm thick. On the front is a 3.3-inch touchscreen and inside is a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor running the Android operating system. The front and back are made from Gorilla Glass 3 and the phone is rated for IP68 water and dust protection. It even finds room for a 12 megapixel camera on the back and an 8 megapixel camera on the front.

What’s the point? Well, I suppose it’s a bit like having a smartwatch on your wrist – except this is potentially smarter but not quite so convenient. This 'companion phone' connects to your regular mobile number, so you can leave your big expensive phone at home and just take the little one.

There are two bits of bad news for Palm fans. Firstly, there’s not really any connection with the old company except the name. And the new Palm phone is currently only available from the Verizon network in the United States. So even if you spend $349.99 to get hold of one, you’ll need another phone on a Verizon contract to make it work.

Facebook Portal video screen

Facebook Portal is a smart display screen that offers hands-free video calling. There’s a choice of two devices: one has a 10.1-inch screen and one has a 15.6-inch screen (the bigger one is called the Portal+; it’s better quality and can also be adjusted more, but other than that they’re pretty similar). Both have Amazon's Alexa voice-controlled personal assistant service built in. They also have Facebook Messenger and a 12-megapixel camera, which means you can chat via video, with facial recognition enabling it to automatically zoom in on your face as you move about. So if your friends have got Facebook Messenger on their smartphone or their tablet, you can ask your Facebook Portal to call them. And because it runs on Amazon Alexa, you can also ask for sports results, weather forecasts, listen to music, do your shopping or control smart home devices. It can even be a picture frame when you’re not using it.

At the moment both devices are only available for pre-order in the United States, with the regular Portal costing $199.

Google Home Hub

Facebook has its Portal, Amazon has its Echo Show, now Google has its Home Hub. This is another voice and touch controlled information centre for your house. However, unlike the Portal, there’s no camera – so you might feel happier about having it in the bedroom.

Google already has voice-controlled assistants but this adds a 7-inch screen, so you can ask it for maps, for videos, for photos, for music, for recipes, you can look at your calendar, and so on. Plus it’ll connect with compatible smart home devices to dim your lights, adjust the thermostat or watch security cameras.

Google’s Home Hub is currently only available in the UK (£139), the USA and Australia.

iBubble underwater drone

This is described as “the world’s first intelligent autonomous and fully wireless underwater drone”. It’s from a French company called Notilo Plus, which specialises in underwater exploration, and essentially it’s a remote-control submarine that can drive itself.

You fit your camera inside, strap on your special wristband and the iBubble will follow you underwater for up to an hour and down to 60 metres - almost 200 feet - without bumping into things. You can tell it to follow you, to go ahead of you, to film from the side, to circle around you, to come to you or to stay still. It can also be connected to an optional cable and directly controlled from the surface using an app on your phone or tablet.

The retail price of the iBubble is $4,099 (around €3,600), excluding VAT and the cost of a camera. It’s designed to work with newer models of GoPro and other action cameras that use the same type of mount.

Monday, 29 October 2018

Rocket FM Lewes: 'Talking Culture' 29th October 2018

The music on my Rocket FM Lewes 'Talking Culture' show this afternoon included:

Pentatonix: Can't Sleep Love
Harriet: Afterglow
Rufus Wainwright: Across The Universe
Johnny Cash: Hurt
Mary Gauthier: I Drink
Ward Thomas: Guilty Flowers
Show of Hands: Walk With Me
Ellie Goulding: How Long Will I Love You
Justin Hayward: The Best Is Yet To Come
Norrie Paramor and the BBC Midland Radio Orchestra: Thank You For The Music

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Be a person instead of a source of fragments

In his blog post You don’t have to live in public, Austin Kleon points us towards Jaron Lanier's book You Are Not A Gadget. He quotes Jaron's list of things "you can do to be a person instead of a source of fragments to be exploited by others", which are often counter-intuitive for the online services we use. Spend time crafting our work, don't force it into social media templates, express yourself...

However, it's Jaron's introductory phrase - be a person instead of a source of fragments to be exploited by others - that particularly resonates with me. Perhaps it's because I hear parallels with "if you're not paying for the service, you're the product, not the customer". But probably because I don't do it enough.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Rocket FM Lewes: 'Talking Culture' 22nd October 2018

The music on today's Rocket FM Lewes 'Talking Culture' show included:

Beth Nielsen Chapman: Almost Home
Jamie Cullum: I Could Have Danced All Night
Julie Andrews: Just You Wait
Frank Sinatra: Get Me To The Church On Time
Beyonce: Love On Top
BBC Midland Radio Orchestra: Go West
Garth Hewitt: Oscar Romero
Was (Not Was): Walk The Dinosaur
Amy Winehouse: Tears Dry On Their Own
Celine Dion: Here There And Everywhere
Feist: Mushaboom
Britney Spears: Everytime
Barbra Streisand: Taking A Chance On Love

Monday, 15 October 2018

Rocket FM Lewes: 'Talking Culture' 15th October 2018

I'm presenting 'Talking Culture' on Rocket FM Lewes for the next three weeks. My guests in this week's show were:
Simone Riley, the current chair of Chalk Gallery,
Lulah Ellender, who wrote Elizabeth's Lists,
Vivienne Lynn, whose art is currently on show at Martyrs Gallery.

Today's music included...
Simon & Garfunkel: Keep The Customer Satisfied
The Partridge Family: I Think I Love You
Nickel Creek: Ode to a Butterfly
Norrie Paramour and the BBC Midland Radio Orchestra: Copacabana
Eddi Reader: Patience of Angels
Marc Cohn: Walk Through The World
The Chefs: 24 Hours
Charlie Dore: Here Comes The Sun
Renaissance: Northern Lights
Bellowhead: Betsy Baker
Kathy Mattea: Where've You Been
Josh Groban: Granted