Monday 28 December 2015

Come, They Trolled Him

November 2015: Digital Cinema Media (DCM), which arranges advertising for many of the UK's biggest cinemas (Cineworld, Odeon and Vue), decides not to take an ad from one potential client.

"Astonishing, disappointing and rather bewildering", says the client, which happens to be the Church of England. DCM says its policy is not to accept any political or religious advertising. "Some advertisements - unintentionally or otherwise - could cause offence to those of differing political persuasions, as well as to those of differing faiths and indeed of no faith." An appropriately sensitive decision or a threat to free speech?

Much press coverage follows.

December 2015: Advertising network and Christian communications business Premier approach DCM with a potential ad to promote their 'Christmas starts with Christ' campaign.

DCM declines again, for exactly the same reason. ”DCM has a long-standing policy of not accepting political or religious advertising in the cinemas we represent."

Press coverage follows. Once more.

Friday 11 December 2015

TRE Talk Radio Europe gadgets for December 2015

This month's 'gadget guru' chat with Dave Hodgson on TRE included some ideas for Christmas presents...

Gamevice mobile gaming controller

At the moment, certainly here in the UK, you can’t move without seeing an advertisement for some kind of Christmas game console deal. Either you’re spending a few hundred pounds on a Microsoft Xbox or you’re spending a few hundred pounds on a Sony PlayStation.

All the while you’re probably carrying around a powerful computer in your pocket: your smartphone.

Now, mobile gaming is very popular but for many people it’s not as good as a console because of the way you control the action. That’s where this company called Gamevice comes on the scene.

They’ve made a games controller for iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s and 6s Plus devices. This kind of thing has been done before but what’s particularly nice with this product is the way it looks – it effectively clips on either end of your phone, leaving the screen in the middle. So you don’t have a separate controller; it all becomes one. It fastens magnetically and has its own rechargeable battery so it won’t drain the iPhone too quickly.

A typical console controller will have a four-way pad on one side, separate buttons on the other, perhaps a pair of joysticks and some kind of trigger or firing control for each hand. This does the same.

It works with over 750 iPhone games including some of the biggest: Minecraft, Final Fantasy 7, Halo, FIFA16, Tomb Raider, Grand Theft Auto… the company makes an app that lets you check which games work with its controller.

Pricing is £79.95 (€109.95) for the iPhone version – there’s also one available for the iPad Mini – and you can order online or find it in Apple stores.

Polaroid Zip instant photo printer

Once upon a time, in the olden days, we’d put film in our cameras, take photos and then get the film developed – which usually took about a week if you were relying on someone else to do it.

Then came the Polaroid camera, which produced instant pictures on special film.

And then came digital cameras and smartphones, which made it easier to print photos at home.

But there’s a bit of a trend away from printers at home – most of the time you don’t need one – which almost seems a backwards step, particularly when more photos are being taken than ever before.

So along came the Polaroid Zip instant mobile printer earlier this year. It connects to your phone via Bluetooth (and if you’ve got NFC technology on your phone, you can connect simply by touching the two devices together).

The Zip printer itself is around 4 inches long: 120mm x 74mm x 23mm, weighing 186g and running off rechargeable batteries that’ll last for around 25 prints.

It costs £109.99 (around €150) and needs special photo paper, which works out at around 50p a go. This is Polaroid’s own paper called ZINK, which is short for zero ink. That means you don’t need to buy ink cartridges; like the old-fashioned film, the clever technology is in the paper. And what’s rather nice is you can peel off the back of the photos and they’ll stick to things. Photos are around 2 inches by 3 inches and, unlike a wet Polaroid, won’t smudge.

If you want something a little different, there’s a similar product on its way that actually clips to an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy smartphone - this is the Prynt case - but that’s probably not going to be available until January next year.

Vinturi wine aerator

With red wine, most people tend to agree that it’s best to decant it or at least allow it time to ‘breathe’ before you start drinking – because it improves the aroma and the taste.

Which is all very well, but it doesn’t really work if you decide you fancy a glass of wine or if someone turns up for dinner with a bottle that you want to start straight away.

That’s where you need your Vinturi aerator. It’s made of clear acrylic. You hold it over a glass, pour your wine through and it’s ready to drink.

The way it works – and you can hear it work – is that the wine pulls in air through little holes on the side of the device as it pours through. Unlike other devices, it doesn’t need batteries and it doesn’t need any waiting time, it simply uses basic physics.

I was given one of these for Christmas last year and I love it. I’m a bit embarrassed because they’ve been around for a few years but I’ve only just discovered them. Apparently it’s even dishwasher safe, although I just run it under the tap when I use it.

Pricing is usually somewhere around the £40 mark but here in the UK a few places have them on offer at the moment.

Perhaps best of all, it's a Christmas gadget that doesn’t need batteries!

Millennium Falcon Multi Tool

The new Star Wars film comes out next week - and I’ve talked before about the Star Wars BB8 droid, which is going to be at the top of a lot of people’s Christmas shopping lists.

But I’ve found something else that’s much more practical and costs a fraction of the price. It’s a multi-tool in the shape of the Millennium Falcon (which, if you don’t know, is flown by Han Solo in the film).

Anyway, this is a modern version of the old bicycle spanner, which was a flat piece of metal with various hexagonal holes in it.

This Millennium Falcon Multi Tool is made on the same principle – and it can do 11 different things (12, if you include 'looking like a tiny spaceship').

There’s a screwdriver, a bottle opener, a wire stripper and a ruler as well as various spanners and a couple of other tools.

It’s officially licensed, it measures around 13cm long and 8cm wide – and it’s £9.99. Keep it in your glovebox, in your handbag, in your briefcase, in your backpack – or in your cycle bag.

Once again, no batteries required.

Thursday 10 December 2015

Lewes 'North Street Quarter' development

The South Downs National Park Authority has just approved a planning application from Lewes District Council and Santon North Street to redevelop the North Street Industrial Estate, formerly the location of John Every's Phoenix Ironworks.

These are the closing words of Neville Harrison, who chaired the planning committee meeting:
I really did come into this room with an open mind. I think we've had a very good debate. Lewes is in the National Park and it fought to be in the National Park, so there's a huge responsibility for us - but I think it's opened... there are some very big opportunities that being in the National Park offers.
I have watched this application develop from something which clearly would not have got anywhere near what is required for the National Park, to something that clearly is getting very close. It's not perfect - I'm sure we'll all agree that - but there's such a lot of good things here that I am persuaded that I will vote in favour of the officer's recommendation.
I thought by now somebody would have quoted Thomas Paine - but I think I should quote Thomas Paine, because Thomas Paine said "a moderately good thing is not as good as it ought to be". Well, maybe this isn't as good as it ought to be, but on the other hand "the best can be the enemy of the good". That's Voltaire. So I think we've got something which is pretty good here.

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Kapture review: the audio-recording wristband

The most memorable moments in life often go unrecorded. You don't have your camera in your hands. Your finger is still hovering over the 'pause' button on your audio recorder. Or you were simply too busy experiencing whatever was happening. It's all about the one that got away.

Just over two years ago, a new type of wearable device appeared on the horizon: Kapture, the audio-recording wristband. Kapture wasn't simply a recording watch, it was a life-logging time traveller. Instead of recording sound when you pressed a button, it would record constantly into a 'buffer' but would only save the recording when you tapped it. So it's the previous 60 seconds of sound you capture.

Each saved file would then be "downloaded to your smartphone where the duration can be shortened and you can name, tag, filter, and even share it". It connected via Bluetooth but only used the connection when it was actually saving and transferring a file. If your phone wasn't around, Kapture would save up to 25 clips in its own memory and could transfer them later.

This seemed the kind of thing I could use. Perfect for interviews when the interviewee starts talking before you've opened your notepad. Perfect for remembering the first cuckoo. Perfect for revisiting the best joke you ever told. Perfect for recalling directions and instructions you've been given.
And so, back in December 2013, shortly after Kapture's crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter ended, I pre-ordered one of the devices. Pricing was $99 plus $15 shipping to the UK; a total of $114.00 (around £75 at current exchange rates).

In March 2014, I received an update on the manufacturing and developing processes along with a warning that the anticipated delivery date had slipped to June. In June, the estimated delivery date was 'late summer/early fall'. The founders also promised that they wouldn't shave until they shipped the product and added "Remember, you won't be charged until we ship the product to you."
In July came an email that told me I'd be charged for the product on 1st August "as we begin ramping up for production". Delivery was expected in September. This became 'September/October' by the end of the month. I was indeed charged on 1st August - they didn't wait until shipping, despite the promise - and received an email a month later that talked about a shipment date in October. An October update mentioned production in December. November's update anticipated a 'control lot' in late December and the rest being produced in January 2015.

The delays continued: quality issues pushed shipments back to March 2015 for beta testers, with mass production starting in April. At least the founders could shave now. Those mass-produced devices reached the Kapture warehouse at the end of May, although they then needed CE certification before they could be distributed in Europe. Anyway, to cut a long story short, my Kapture was shipped at the end of October 2015 and arrived with £22.97 customs/handling to pay. (The equivalent of 20% VAT plus £8 for Royal Mail.)

Kapture device in box with optional orange strap
It's over a year later than originally anticipated but at least I've got it. The user interface has also been simplified since I placed my order; no longer do you need to choose between double-taps, triple-taps and quadruple-taps. It means that Bluetooth pairing is now much easier but there's no longer an option to turn the device off. Despite the simplification, I've had to work a few things out myself. For example, when you stop charging the Kapture, you need to give it a tap to start it recording again. That doesn't seem to be documented anywhere.

Still, let's talk about usage. Well, it works. Recording quality is acceptable, although most smartphones will do an equivalent or better job. Of course, you need to have the appropriate app switched on if you're using your phone. Horses for courses, and all that. I'm finding battery life is closer to 12 hours than the 24+ hours anticipated. What I've also learned is that particularly funny moments or particularly unusual sounds are, quite often, pretty unremarkable when I listen back to them. People talk over each other. Punchlines are mistimed. It doesn't take long for reminiscences to become rose-tinted.

Let's clear another thing up. Kapture clearly isn't a 'spy' device. Not only does the company insist that's not the aim, there's a blinking green LED every few seconds when the watch is buffering its audio. I reinforced this by choosing an optional bright orange casing. In addition, the moment you capture a clip - or should that be Kapture a Klip? - the device temporarily stops recording in order to store and transfer what's actually 59 seconds (not 60, but who's counting?) of audio. This means you lose out on the ability to record the following couple of minutes; not what a secret agent would want.
So, I unclip my Kapture from its magnetic charger, strap it to my wrist and give it a tap to start the buffering. When something remarkable happens, I tap it twice; it vibrates to confirm my instruction and saves a clip via my phone.

And that's where I have two particularly big issues.

Kapture device (worn by Mark Bridge)
Firstly, you can't really get clips off the device without sending them via Kapture's cloud service. Although they buffer on the device and then spend time on your phone before being uploaded, these temporary files are hidden away. Kapture lets you share your uploaded clips publicly or tag them as private - private ones are only accessible from your own phone, public ones are available to other users - but you still need to trust the security of Kapture's servers. Unlike uploading your photos to Facebook or Flickr, you don't have a copy of the original.

However, the biggest issue I have is that the current version of the app (running on my Android-powered HTC One M7) won't let me edit clips for length. I've got to leave all 59 seconds of audio there. When I try to cut anything out, the app crashes and renders the clip unplayable. Essentially, my unique recording is lost. Feedback from Kapture was to say "I'm sorry to hear you have lost a klip! Sadly it is very likely that it is un-recoverable." and to let me know that "We'll be reviewing a whole ton of app crashes and will be releasing a new version within the next couple weeks that should address those issues. Look forward to that!"

It's now more than a couple of weeks later, but I'm aware of how slowly time moves at Kapture HQ. So... I've got a Kapture that arrived around 18 months later than expected, that I paid for a year before it arrived, doesn't work properly and produces audio files that are out of my control. Do I like it?

Curiously, I do. Despite the delays, the disappointments and the failures, I'm still a fan. Knowing its weak points, I'm happy to stick with it. Would I have bought it if I knew in 2013 what I know now? Ask me in a few months, after the app's been updated and maybe there's been another User Interface tweak as well.

First published on, 1st December 2015.