Monday 11 December 2017

TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' tech for December 2017

Here's a reminder of the technology I talked about for December 2017 in my TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' conversation this afternoon:

Simba Hybrid Pillow

This high-tech pillow says it’s “scientifically engineered to give you the best night’s sleep”.

How does it do this?  First of all, it’s designed to make sure you’re never too hot or cold. This is done with what the manufacturer calls OUTLAST technology. It absorbs, stores and releases heat all through the night, to keep the temperature of your head regulated. And there are panels in the side to let air circulate, so you never get too hot in the summer.

Then there’s the height. Simba's Hybrid Pillow contains nanotubes – hundreds of memory foam tubes – that can be removed or added to adjust the height and the firmness. And because they’re memory foam, they adjust to support your head and your neck.

On one side of the pillow is the OUTLAST material and a layer of duck down. Alternatively, there’s 300 thread count cotton on the other side. Pricing is £95 (around €110).

SmithFly Shoal Tent

Thanks to SmithFly – a company that makes equipment for fishing and outdoor sports – you can now get even further away from the crowds. Their Shoal Tent lets you camp on water. It’s actually an inflatable raft with an inflatable tent on top. Perfect for a pond or a river, subject to common sense, of course.

The whole tent part is held up by inflatable pillars, a bit like a bouncy castle. The fabric, much like a conventional tent, is waterproof - and the floor doubles up as your mattress. If you want, you can detach the sides for getting in and out. The raft is around 8 foot square with the bed part accommodating people up to 6' 3".

When you’re done, everything deflates and rolls up into a storage bag that’s about five foot long and two foot wide. The price is US$1,499 excluding postage – that includes the tent, the storage bag, a repair kit and a foot pump.

Razer smartphone

As well as dedicated game consoles like the Xbox and PlayStation, you can also buy gaming laptops. These offer loads of processing power and high-resolution screens. One of the companies that builds these computers is caller Razer – and they’ve just launched an Android-powered mobile phone.

The display is 5.7-inches across but, unlike other phones, refreshes at a rate of up to 120 Hertz. Most phones refresh at 60 Hz. Double that to 120, like the Razer Phone, and everything’s even smoother. Perfect for gaming, where things are moving all the time.

You’ve also got stereo loudspeakers with audio hardware certified by THX and Dolby Atmos. And it’s all running on a high-spec Qualcomm Snapdragon chip with plenty of memory and a big 4,000mAh battery.

Pricing is £699.99 SIM-free – it’s also available on contracts with Three UK.

Bluetooth Remote Camera Shutter Release

This is a great stocking-filler for anyone who has a smartphone. It’s the 2017 alternative to the selfie stick: a tiny little remote control that’s not much bigger than your thumb.

You set up your phone – perhaps on a little tripod, perhaps balanced on a wall – then you take a few steps away and press the remote control button for a perfectly posed photo. It’s also good at night time when you don’t want to shake the phone as you press the button.

The remote works with most current Android and Apple devices up to ten metres away. Price is around £5, depending on the manufacturer and the retailer. I've just ordered one from Amazon UK.

Sunday 12 November 2017

St Paul and the dinosaurs

I know I'm not the first to notice the biblical parallels in Jurassic Park but whenever either one of these is quoted, I can't help thinking of the other...

St Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 6, verse 12:
All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.

Dr Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park (David Koepp / Michael Crichton / Malia Scotch Marmo):
Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should.

Monday 6 November 2017

TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' technology for November 2017

Here's the technology I was talking about in my November 2017 'gadget guru' chat on TRE Talk Radio Europe this afternoon:

This is a 'head-up' display that’s designed to fit to a motorbike helmet, bringing fighter pilot technology to the road. You get GPS maps, a camera for recording your journey, a hands-free headset connection and the opportunity to listen to music. Nuviz is designed to stick to the bottom right-hand side of a motorbike helmet, offering a transparent screen that sits in front of the rider’s right eye and a controller that fits to the bike handlebars. From what I’ve seen, the Nuviz is a serious piece of kit for any motorcyclist who does a lot of riding in unfamiliar territory. UK price is £615.

Bowers and Wilkins PX headphones
Bowers and Wilkins started making loudspeakers back in the 1960s – that’s still what they’re best known for – and only expanded into headphones less than ten years ago. The PX is the company's first pair of wireless headphones with built-in active noise-cancellation. Inside the earpiece is a 40mm driver angled to send the music straight into your ears. They connect via Bluetooth, with buttons on the right-hand earpiece for volume control and playing or pausing - and can even stop your music automatically when you take them off. Expect to pay around £329.

Moto Smart Speaker with Amazon Alexa 
This loudspeaker is designed to attach to any of Motorola's Moto Z phones. It fastens on magnetically, which is rather neat, and gives you a pair of stereo speakers delivering 8 watts of music power. Inside is the same kind of technology as one of Amazon’s Echo loudspeakers, including a connection to the Amazon Alexa virtual assistant. It’ll listen out for instructions through its four microphones and will answer the same questions you might ask an Amazon Echo device. Except, of course, because it’s attached to your phone, you don’t need to be at home to do any of this. And because it’s attached to your phone, the phone screen can also show you answers whilst Alexa talks to you. Pricing is $149/£99.

USB fridge 
A few years ago, accessories powered by the USB socket on your laptop or desktop computer were all the rage. I thought this trend had gone away but it seems I was wrong, because I’ve spotted a USB fridge. How on earth do you get enough power out of a USB socket to power a fridge? Part of the answer is the size of the thing: it’s literally only capable of holding a single 330ml can of drink. It’ll cool to around 8 Celsius after five minutes, which isn’t as cold as a proper fridge but is perfectly acceptable, I’d say. Especially for £14.99.

Monday 30 October 2017

Rocket FM Lewes 'Talking Culture’ playlist from 30th October 2017

Here's a list of the songs I played during the 'Talking Culture' show on Rocket FM Lewes today:

The Whitlams: Thank You (For Loving Me At My Worst)
Katie Melua: The Closest Thing To Crazy
David Lee Roth: Just A Gigolo / I Ain't Got Nobody
Kate and Anna McGarrigle: Be My Baby
Paul McCartney: Silly Love Songs
Sara Bareilles: Love Song
Michael Nyman: Chasing Sheep Is Best Left To Shepherds
After The Fire: One Rule For You
Tracey Ullman: Breakaway
Peter Skellern: Hold On To Love
Mister Solo: Number One
Jill Sobule: I Kissed A Girl
Jimmy Cliff: Wonderful World, Beautiful People

Sunday 29 October 2017

Baffled at a Bookcase

...a library needs to be handy and local; it shouldn’t require an expedition. Municipal authorities of all parties point to splendid new and scheduled central libraries as if this discharges them of their obligations. It doesn’t. For a child a library needs to be round the corner. And if we lose local libraries it is children who will suffer.
Alan Bennett, first published in the London Review of Books and then in 'The Library Book' (borrowed from Ringmer library, which is threatened with closure).

Friday 27 October 2017

If you tolerate this...

Ridding our villages, towns and cities of libraries, which are essential in shaping a nation's consciousness, seems like a direct attack on the soul of the country.
Nicky Wire, from 'If you tolerate this...', originally quoted in The Guardian and published in 'The Library Book' (borrowed from Ringmer library, which is threatened with closure).

Thursday 26 October 2017

Ringmer library

My local library in Ringmer is threatened with closure, despite having moved to a new building last year. It seemed an opportune time to borrow Ali Smith's 'Public library and other stories' and to quote her correspondence with Sarah Wood about the opening of a new library:
It was a really fantastic moment in my life, in our lives, a moment of real change. The brand new building brought with it the idea that our local history was important - that books were important, but also that we were too, and that where we lived was.

Monday 23 October 2017

Rocket FM Lewes 'Talking Culture’ playlist from 23rd October 2017

Here's a list of the songs I played during the 'Talking Culture' show on Rocket FM Lewes today:

Michael Bublé: It's a Beautiful Day
Aqualung: Strange and Beautiful (I'll Put a Spell on You)
Sergio Mendes and The Black Eyed Peas: Mas Que Nada
Linda Thompson: Lonely Hearts
Thelonious Monk: It Don't Mean A Thing
Talitha Rise: Bloodfox
David Hasselhoff: Hooked On A Feeling
The Beach Boys: Break Away
Astrud Gilberto: Parade
Tom Petty: Free Fallin'
Patrick Duff: Mother Nature's Refugee
Dido: Life for Rent

Monday 16 October 2017

Rocket FM Lewes 'Talking Culture’ playlist from 16th October 2017

Here's a list of the songs I played during the 'Talking Culture' show on Rocket FM Lewes today:

Paul Simon: Wristband
Chris Farlowe: I Can’t Get No Satisfaction
Matt Dusk: Please Please Me
Techno Twins: Falling In Love Again
Juliet Turner: Toxic
Emma Bunton: Downtown
Caravan Palace: Lone Digger
Lena Zavaroni: Penny Lane
Eva Cassidy: Cheek to Cheek
Tricky: Ponderosa
Barenaked Ladies: Running Out Of Ink
Right Said Fred: Deeply Dippy
Pink: Just Give Me A Reason
Kate Bush: Hammer Horror
Cilla Black: You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’

Monday 9 October 2017

My October 2017 'gadget guru' tech from TRE Talk Radio Europe

Here's a reminder of the technology from my October 2017 'gadget guru' conversation on TRE Talk Radio Europe this afternoon:

Apple iPhone X

The new iPhone will be available from 3rd November. What's the big deal? Well, it's the display, the camera, the way it recharges and the built-in security. Oh, and the price. There are two versions; one has 64GB of memory (£999 / €1159) and there's a dearer version with a massive 256GB. The screen is Organic LED - often referred to as OLED - which is especially good for displaying colours and contrasts. This is a 5.8-inch screen, with 2438 x 1125 pixels - and the bezels on the edges have pretty much disappeared. What's also disappeared is the home button and the fingerprint scanner on the front. How do you unlock it? There's still a physical button on the side but the security part is handled by the camera on the front, which can now recognise your face. On the back is a 12 megapixel dual-lens camera with image stabilisation, while the front camera takes 7 megapixel photos. Inside you'll find wireless charging technology and Apple's new A11 chip, which is smarter and faster than its predecessors.

Google Pixel 2

The Pixel 2 is a phone that runs Google's Android operating system. It’s a direct replacement for the original Pixel, which came out a year ago. There are actually two versions – the Pixel 2 and the Pixel 2 XL; the only real difference is the size of the screen and the size of the battery. Both should be on sale from 19th October. The Google Pixel 2 has a 5-inch OLED display, while the XL has a 6-inch screen. What’s notable here is that the display can stay on permanently, showing you the time and date, message notifications and calendar reminders without you needing to press any buttons. Unlike the iPhone, there’s a fingerprint scanner for security – but just like the iPhone, there’s no 3.5mm headphone socket. You’re either expected to use Bluetooth or an adaptor that connects to the USB-C charging socket. It does, however, have a pair of front-facing loudspeakers. Both versions offer a 12 megapixel camera with optical image stabilization; price for the 64GB version of the Pixel 2 is £629.

Amazon Echo Show

Amazon isn’t just an online shop. It’s also produced Alexa, which is a voice-controlled service rather like Google Now and Apple's Siri. It works with Amazon’s Kindle tablets and also with the company's Echo loudspeakers. Alexa now has a new friend: the Echo Show. The clue is very much in the name: it can show you things because it has a 7-inch touchscreen. It sits on your table like a little television. So instead of reading you the headlines, it’ll show you the news or the weather forecast. You can check your to-do list on-screen, you can look at your favourite photos, you can even check security cameras if you're using a compatible system. As well as this, you can make video calls to other people with compatible Amazon devices - and you can play music from the Amazon library or various other online services. Price for the Echo Show is £199.99; it’s available in the UK from 16th November.

Bacon Express

We’ve talked about smartphones and smart speakers – now we’re looking at a very different kind of gadget. The Bacon Express is, in simple terms, a bacon toaster. You put up to six slices of bacon inside, you close the door, set your preferred level of crispiness and turn it on. After around ten minutes your bacon is done. After a launch in America earlier this year, it's now available in the UK for around £50.

Tuesday 3 October 2017

Designing the right incentive scheme

Some basic rules for an incentive scheme, as offered in 'Think Like A Freak' by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner:

1. Discover what people care about
2. Choose something that's valuable to them but cheap for you
3. Pay attention to how people respond - and learn from it
4. Create a cooperative incentive, if possible
5. Appreciate that some people will try to manipulate your scheme

Monday 11 September 2017

My TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' technology for September 2017

Here's the technology I talked about in my September 2017 'gadget guru' chat on TRE Talk Radio Europe:

Samsung Galaxy Note8

The Note8 is a phablet, with all the functions of a phone but the size of a small tablet. This device is the successor to the ill-fated Note7, so there are no surprises that it’s called the Note8… and also no surprises that it’s had a whole load more pre-production checking.

The most obvious feature of the Note8 is the size: it has a 6.3-inch quadHD display. Because the screen’s so big, you can comfortably run more than one application at once. What also makes the Note8 stand out are the two cameras on the back. This means you can take a photo and then adjust the depth of field – effectively the focus – afterwards. You can even take a close-up shot (it’s got a 2x optical zoom) and a wide-angle shot at the same time.

The whole thing is waterproof, too – and it comes with Samsung’s voice assistant, Bixby, which can help with tasks and reminders without pressing buttons. Price is £869 without a contract.

Caterpillar T20 rugged tablet

Caterpillar is a brand that’s usually associated with construction equipment – but for a few years they’ve also lent their name to tough phones. Now, specialist mobile company Bullitt Group, which produces Cat-branded handsets, has made a tablet computer with the same kind of protection.

The T20 is the first Caterpillar-branded tablet on the market, it’s got an 8-inch screen and it runs the Windows 10 operating system. As well as WiFi it’s got a mobile connection, so you’re not tied to being near a broadband connection.

But it’s the protection that’s really notable. This is IP67-certified: dustproof and waterproof for 30 minutes at a depth of one metre. It is drop-resistant up t a height of 1.8 metres and is vibration-proof, too.

The whole thing runs on an Intel Atom chip, it’s got a five megapixel camera on the back, a two megapixel camera on the front and toughened glass on the screen. Rather sensibly, it’s also supplied with a hand strap. Expect to pay £599 without a contract.

ILIFE V5s Pro robot vacuum cleaner

Robot vacuum cleaners are a relatively recent innovation. Imagine something like one of those aluminium food covers that restaurants sometimes use, rolling itself around the floor and picking up dust. These robot cleaners can get under chairs and tables without you needing to move the furniture – and you can set them to work when you’re going out, so you don’t need to hear the noise.

ILIFE is a Chinese company that’s quite big in this kind of thing. The ILIFE V5s Pro isn’t just a vacuum cleaner but can also mop the floor. It’s got a microfibre cleaning pad and a 300ml water tank that can give you over an hour of cleaning; up to 180 square metres. (The water tank takes the same space inside the machine as the dirt bin: you need to take one out and put the other in.)

As you’d expect, it’s clever enough to avoid crashing into your furniture or falling downstairs. Yes, there are compromises but they’re reflected in the price: you can pick one of these up for less than £200.

BeoVision Eclipse TV

This television comes from a partnership between Bang & Olufsen and LG, although it’s being sold under the B&O brand. Effectively, it’s B&O's sound and design plus LG’s 4K display.

As with most big, flat televisions you can fix it to the wall – but this one offers the option of a motorised wall mount. That means you don’t have to keep the TV or the furniture in the best position to watch things. With this, you can hang the TV in the place that looks best for your room – perhaps flat against a wall – and push a button on the remote control when you’re all sitting down. The TV then angles itself into the room.

The optional floor stand does the same. Switch on and it’ll spin to bring the TV away from the wall, then you can angle it to suit where you’re sitting: up to 90 degrees either way.

There are two sizes available: a 55-inch version and a 65-inch version. Pricing reflects the technology: it’s just under £9000 for the 55-inch TV and around £11,500 (€13000) for the 65-inch model.

Monday 14 August 2017

August 2017: my 'gadget guru' tech for TRE Talk Radio Europe

Here's a quick reminder of the technology from my August 2017 'gadget guru' chat on TRE Talk Radio Europe this afternoon:

Amabrush automatic toothbrush

Much like an electric toothbrush, this is powered by a rechargeable battery – but that’s pretty much where the similarity ends. The Amabrush looks more like a gum shield crossed with a dummy. Never mind the looks, though: this, the inventors reckon, will clean your teeth in just ten seconds.

The mouthpiece is flexible to fit different sized mouths and is made of antibacterial silicone. There are bristles on both sides to clean your teeth – and you can clean the brush itself by rinsing it under a tap. The bristle part of the mouthpiece will need replacing every three months or so at a cost of around €6.

If there’s more than one person in your house who wants to use the Amabrush, each can buy their own mouthpiece and share the vibrating control unit to keep costs down.

The company is currently taking pre-orders (via crowd-funding site Indiegogo) with an estimated delivery date of February next year. Pricing for a basic unit is €89 + €15 shipping to Europe, although you can pay a bit more and get a version that uses a wireless charger instead of the plug-in type.

Smarter FridgeCam

For a few years some companies have been talking about a ‘smart fridge’ that’ll help you keep track of the food you buy. Instead of designing a new fridge, one company has built a wireless camera that’ll fit inside almost any fridge... which is a whole lot cheaper. The company is called Smarter, the device is the FridgeCam – and the UK price when it comes out next month is expected to be just under £100.

What does FridgeCam let you do? Well, it connects to an app on your phone and lets you check the contents of your fridge from pretty much anywhere. As well as doing this, it’ll also help you track expiry dates, it’ll let you know when things are running out and it can even suggest recipes based on the things you’ve bought.

As well as reminding you when expiry dates are getting close, it can add products to your online shopping basket when they’re used up and it can even remind you to buy items if you’re going past the local shops.

It’s not actually a live camera – you can’t look inside your fridge when the door’s closed, not least because the light goes out – what is does is take photos when you put something in or take it out. This means its rechargeable battery lasts for a few months before you need to take the camera out and recharge it.

Drifter wireless loudspeaker

The loudspeaker in your phone isn't very big, so if you want better quality or more volume, you need to connect your phone to something else. Using Bluetooth technology means you don't have wires; you just need to keep the phone nearby.

That's all very well, but sometimes it's not convenient to keep your phone nearby. Perhaps you're worried about your phone getting wet or being dropped. In which case - drum roll, please - you need the Drifter. It's a wireless loudspeaker that can play music independently from your phone. How does it do that? Well, it has a 16GB hard drive for storing thousands of songs, plus WiFi and Bluetooth for connecting. There's a touch-screen for controlling it, there's even a built-in camera if you want to take photos. The whole thing is waterproof and is in a rugged case, so you can download your music and play it almost anywhere.

Current pricing is $150 + shipping.

Stikbox selfie stick

In the words of the company, "Stikbox is the first full-length selfie stick built into a smartphone case".

This is a 20-inch (53cm) selfie stick built into a phone case, so you don't need to carry a separate device for self-portraits. At the moment it's available for the iPhone 7 - which means your iPhone 6 will also fit - in a choice of black, white or pink, with plans to make them for the iPhone 7 Plus, Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus.

You slide your phone in; like any decent case you've got access to all the controls; and when you want to take a selfie you simply unfold the stick from the back of the case. It's also protective against everyday bumps and there's a Bluetooth-controlled button for taking photos. You can even use the case as a stand for watching videos.

The iPhone 7 version of the Stikbox costs £29.99.

Tuesday 25 July 2017

TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' tech for July 2017

Here's a short summary of the technology from my July 2017 'gadget guru' chat on TRE Talk Radio Europe:

Apple HomePod smart loudspeaker

This is a smart loudspeaker, which puts it in competition with the Amazon Echo and Google Home. Much like these, it connects to your home broadband and has built-in microphones, so you can control it by talking.

And you probably won't be surprised to hear that HomePod is designed to work closely with Apple iTunes; or, more specifically, with the Apple Music subscription service.

The device is just under seven inches tall, plugs into the mains and connects to your WiFi. Inside there's a little array of speakers to cover the high frequencies and a woofer for the low frequencies. It's also got six microphones, which helps it pick up your voice from any direction and also helps it adjust the music depending on where it is in the room.

What does it actually do? You can tell it to play music by artist, by genre, by album or by song. You can then tell it what you like and it'll learn your preferences. Because these are stored online, your preferences will also be available across all your Apple devices. And you can ask or specific questions about songs: who's singing, who's on bass guitar, that kind of thing.

Plus, because it's all powered by Apple's virtual assistant Siri, you can get news and weather updates, you can send messages and can even control some ‘smart home’ appliances. The magic words are "Hey, Siri" - without that, it won't do a thing.

Setting it all up doesn't require much more than plugging the speaker into the mains and holding your iPhone next to it.

HomePod will be available for $349 (US) in December; it’ll also launch then in the UK and Australia, although official pricing hasn't been confirmed yet.

Master Lock Bluetooth key box

Having a key box is a whole lot safer than leaving a spare key under the stone by the back door. They're great for keeping a spare key in case you lock yourself out, leaving a key for family or friends if you're not around - and, of course, very popular for holiday homes and rented property.

This one offers a Bluetooth connection as well; that's the wireless technology better known for connecting the hands-free headset on your phone. So - you fit the box to the wall. You put your spare key inside. And then you've got a couple of choices. There's a ten-digit keypad on the front, so it looks much like a conventional key box with a combination lock. But you can use your phone to set people up with their own code, which they can either enter on the keypad or they can download the Master Lock app onto their phone and do it from there. You can even set codes to expire, so - for example - your plumber can have access but only if they turn up in the morning.

The whole thing runs from a battery that lasts for around two years. It’ll warn you if the battery is running low; if you let the battery run out, you can touch a 9 volt battery on the bottom of the box to ‘jump-start’ it.

UK pricing is £109.

Minipresso portable espresso machine

You're out camping, you've gone for a drive, you're on a hike - or perhaps you're at work. Anyway, it's coffee time and you'd love an espresso. But carrying an espresso machine around with you just isn't practical. Until now.

The Minipresso NS is a cylinder that's 17.5 centimetres long. It doesn't need electricity. It doesn't need compressed gas or compressed air. It doesn't even need a coffee grinder, because it takes Nespresso coffee pods (or, indeed, any other coffee pod that's the same size). It just needs boiling water.

You put your capsule in, you put your boiling water in - it holds up to 70ml - and then you pump it. A little pump arm pops out the side of the cylinder; it's the same sort of pressure as pumping a bicycle tyre. There's even a cup that unscrews from the end of the device, so you don't need anything else.

The company makes another version that uses conventional ground coffee if you prefer. Either way it'll cost you around £50.

InkCase i7 Plus

If you were one of the first people to start using the Amazon Kindle eBook reader - or if you still have one of the simpler devices with a monochrome electronic ink screen - you'll know how amazingly long the battery life is, especially when you compare it with a tablet or a phone.

Now along comes a Kickstarter project that aims to give iPhone users the best of both worlds.

It's a case for your iPhone 7 plus. (There's also a version for the regular iPhone 7 but I'm going to talk about the Plus version because it's a little bit more sophisticated.)

The Oaxis InkCase i7 Plus adds an e-ink screen – a second screen to your iPhone. It’s got its own built-in rechargeable battery and lets you read eBooks, check your to-do list, read the news and even display photos. Talking of pictures, because it’s on the back of your phone with the main camera, there’s a selfie assistance feature so you can take better photos of yourself.

What’s also noteworthy is that it's not stupidly big: it just adds 4½mm to the back of your iPhone 7 Plus and only weighs 80g.

It won’t work with every app on your phone – neither would you want it to – but it will show your to-do lists, your calendar, your fitness data, news stories and a clock if you want, as well as supporting the .epub and .txt eBook formats.

If all goes according to plan, regular shipments will start in September. Pricing will be $69 for the regular size and $159 for the plus size but there are discounts on those figures for the next few days while the Kickstarter campaign is still running.

Tuesday 30 May 2017

TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' conversation from May 2017

Here's the technology I talked about in my May 2017 'gadget guru' chat on TRE Talk Radio Europe:

InstruMMents 01

I like a bit of hyperbole and I like a bit of technical language as well. So let me introduce you to the World's First Dimensioning Instrument.

If you want to measure a straight line, you probably use a tape measure. You can also go high-tech and use a laser measure, which shoots a beam of light across the room.

But how do you measure something that’s not in a straight line? Well, you can try to use a tape measure or even something as simple as a piece of string – but you’ll probably end up with estimates and approximations.

Or you can whip out the 01, which is – as the name suggests – the first product from a company called InstruMMents.

The 01 looks like an aluminium pen. It’s battery powered and connects wirelessly with an app on your phone. You pretty much just switch it on and roll the device along the surface you want to measure. The casing rotates, so all you need to do is move it along. It means you can measure a straight line up a wall, a curved line on a plan or even an irregular surface: perhaps measuring how much carpet you need for your stairs, Inside there’s a gear and magnet sensor system to track rotation and revolutions – and Bluetooth to send the data to your phone.

You could argue that this kind of measurement is already available to designers – and indeed it is – but they’ll potentially be spending tens of thousands of pounds on something that’ll track coordinates and measure dimensions.

Selfridges have claimed a UK exclusive launch for the InstruMMents 01 at £149.

Bosch EasyCut NanoBlade

This is a product that’s been described as a ‘pocket chainsaw’, which isn’t too far off the truth.

It weighs just 900g and is more like a cordless electric drill in its shape – but instead of a drill bit there’s a tiny chain with 44 teeth. Because it’s so small, you don’t get all the vibration you would with a regular chainsaw - and you also don’t need to oil or adjust the tension on the chain.

It’ll cut through 65mm of wood, which means it’s suitable for gardening as well as woodwork. It runs from a 12v rechargeable lithium-ion battery and the blades can be replaced, although apparently a single set can last for over 100 metres of cutting.

Price is £130 for the EasyCut 12. There are also a couple of corded mains-powered models with more power and more blade choices.

ION360 U smartphone camera

This is a clip-on camera and a rechargeable battery built into a protective case that’ll fit on a mobile phone. More specifically, on to an Apple iPhone 7 or a Samsung Galaxy S8.

ION360U smartphone caseAt which point, you’ll probably say: why do I want a camera and a rechargeable battery in a case? I’ve already got those on my phone.

Yes,but you haven’t got a camera that shoots 4K 360-degree images and video. That’s ultra-high definition pictures – still and moving – with the ability to view the recorded scene from different angles. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be recorded: the ION 360U can stream video live to Facebook or YouTube, which is where that extra battery is especially useful. It can even recharge your phone when you’re not using the camera.

You can either shoot up to two hours of 360-degree video or take loads of 8-megapixel 360-degree images.

The camera/case is due to start shipping from mid-July and is expected to sell for £299.99, although at the moment you can order a ION360 U unit for the special price of £219.99.

Disc Jock-e

This is not a Frisbee with a built-in Bluetooth loudspeaker. Let me make that absolutely clear. Not because that’s an incredibly daft idea but because Frisbee is a trademarked product and this is not a Frisbee. So what we have here is a flying disc with a built-in Bluetooth speaker.

It’s 25cm across, 4cm deep and looks pretty much like you’d expect a flying disc to look. Except there’s a USB charging socket and some chunky control buttons as well.

Connect it wirelessly to your phone or compatible music player and you can stream music when you’re in the garden or at the beach. And yes, you really can take it to the beach because it’s waterproof.

You can pause or play and change the volume from the disc itself; the speaker is in the centre, so it’s evenly balanced and flies as well as you’d hope. Just make sure your dog doesn’t get too interested.

UK price is £27.99.

Monday 1 May 2017

Finding your true voice for writing

Simon Armitage talks about the idea of a poet finding their true voice (from 'The Verb' 21st April 2017 on BBC Radio 3; this conversation started approximately 21 minutes into the programme). Ian McMillan asks "do you think you have to find a true voice?"
I think that's become a very convenient shorthand for blurb writers on the backs of books: "he has found his voice and he has found it early". In fact, I think it might have said that on the back of one of my books... as if it were there waiting under a stone and you just had to have a good rummage around the garden and you would come across this thing called 'your voice'. Because I think probably more realistically what happens is that when you start writing, you are experimenting, you're shopping around, you are writing portfolio collections, and what you notice eventually is that one version of your voice seems to be appreciated over others - and that's probably the voice that you start using in your poetry because you can see that it's an appealing one.

Thursday 27 April 2017


Iain Sinclair, talking about conversational sentences that begin with 'so':
"’s a signifier, a warning bleep letting the recipient know that nothing that follows has any billable consequence."

Tuesday 4 April 2017

TRE Talk Radio Europe: April 2017 'gadget guru'

Here's a list of the technology I talked about in my April 2017 'gadget guru' chat on TRE Talk Radio Europe:

Samsung Galaxy S8

This is the new flagship phone from Samsung. (You could say there are actually two flagship phones: the S8 and the S8+, which is pretty much the same as the regular S8 but with a bigger screen).

So what do we have here? Well, the S8 has a bigger screen than the previous S7 but is actually a smaller device. That’s a clever trick. The bezel – the edge round the screen – has pretty much been shrunk to nothing. This means the screen has become a slightly different shape than some other phones and it also means there’s no physical button to press for getting back to the home screen – you need a virtual button on the screen instead. Rather cleverly, it’s pressure-sensitive and there’s a little vibration module hidden behind the new virtual button, so you can still feel feedback even though there’s no click.

The S8 has a 5.8-inch screen and the S8+ has a 6.2-inch screen. They’re capable of supporting high dynamic range (HDR) video playback, which offers clearer pictures

The other big deal here is Samsung’s virtual assistant, which they’re calling Bixby. This is their equivalent of Apple Siri, Google Now and Microsoft Cortana. You push a button on the side of the phone – a real button – and you can control some of the built-in apps with your voice. At the moment it’s more about helping you use your phone rather than giving you answers to difficult questions.

Talking of control, there’s now an iris scanner, which means you can use your eye as a security alternative to fingerprints.

There are other improvements, of course, but they’re more incremental: improved cameras, although still 12 megapixels on the back, plus a more powerful processor. And rather cleverly, there’s an optional dock to connect it to a bigger screen and a keyboard, which can turn it into an Android-powered computer, if you want that kind of thing.

Pricing from £689.00 for the 64GB S8; £779 for the S8+.

New Apple iPad

For balance, I thought I ought to give the new Apple iPad a mention. Up until now, we’ve had the iPad Mini and then three levels of larger iPad: there’s the basic iPad, the iPad Air, which was thinner and a bit cleverer, and then the iPad Pro, for people who want a tablet with loads of power – more like a regular computer.

The new iPad is a successor to the iPad Air 2 – but it’s not called the iPad Air 3. It’s just called the iPad; those two lower levels have effectively become the same thing.

It comes with Apple's A9 processor, which is the same as the one in the iPhone 6s. That’s an update to the A8X processor in the iPad Air 2, although it’s still got the same 9.7-inch display as the Air 2 – what Apple calls a ‘retina display’ of 2048 x 1536 pixels – and the same cameras: 8 megapixels on the back, 1.2 on the front. It’s also got the fingerprint-sensing Touch ID button, which is good for security and can also be used for payments.

This is all about Apple making its product range easier to understand – and it’s also an acknowledgement that producing lightweight tablets is pretty much a given thing now, not a special feature. Having said that, the new iPad is slightly thicker and heavier than the tablet it replaces (but what’s 32g and 1.4mm between friends?)

UK pricing starts at £339 for the 32GB WiFi only version, which is £40 cheaper than the iPad Air 2 was selling for. If you want to upgrade your old iPad, this is well worth thinking about. If you’ve already got an iPad Air 2, don’t bother.

Ikea smart lighting

I’ve talked about smart lighting before – but when one of Europe’s biggest furnishing companies gets into it, you know it’s going mainstream.

One of the reasons smart lighting is becoming increasingly popular is because it’s easy to install. In some cases, it’s as simple as changing your bulb and downloading an app to your phone.

So – what does smart mean? For Ikea it can be remote control or it can be something as basic as dimming your lights (so do make sure you know exactly what you’re buying). Their smart lighting brand is called TRÅDFRI, which is Swedish for wire-free.

A good starting point is what’s being called a gateway kit. It costs £69 and includes two white LED bulbs, so they’re relatively low power. You also get a separate remote control and a gateway box that connects with an Ethernet cable to your internet router. You then download a special app that lets you control the lights from your phone and set up your own presets of warm or cool light. (You can’t change the colour to any great extent but you can change how warm the light looks.)

There’s also a motion sensor kit, which switches the lights on when you walk into a dark room and keeps them on for a pre-programmed time. The sensor itself is wireless and costs £25. Extra bulbs cost from £9 each, depending on the fitting you need.

At the moment the Trådfri app just lets you choose different types of light but later this year we’re told you'll be able to use it to schedule timers and turn your lights off remotely as well.

The only major downside is that Ikea’s products aren’t compatible with a lot of the other home automation stuff out there, so although the price is appealing, you won’t be able to tell Alexa or Google Home to turn on the light.

Atari Pong coffee table

In the early days of video games, they were available like fruit machines in pubs – and some were built into pub tables.

This piece of technology promises to let you play Atari PONG in your coffee table… but not quite as you might expect.

Atari Pong was one of the first-ever video games, in black-and-white, where a little white ball would bounce around the screen and you did your best to make sure it didn’t bounce off your side of the screen by controlling a bat that moved from side to side. Meanwhile, your opponent would be moving their bat to try and knock the little ball into your side of the screen.

At this point you may be expecting me to talk about screen sizes and processor power. I won’t be doing that because this is an analogue version of a digital game. It actually uses physical controls to hit a physical block. The entire game has been recreated by using magnets, springs and little motors. Of course, there are electronics in there – you get sounds and lights, much like the original, and you can see your score – but the gameplay is physical.

It’s got all the charm of the original but with the sophistication of a 21st century pinball machine. They’ve even given it a digital clock, USB ports to recharge your phone and the option of Bluetooth music streaming.

The whole thing is being funded via Kickstarter. (As ever with crowd funding, caveat emptor – read the terms and conditions.) Delivery is promised by the end of the year if all goes according to plan.

Tuesday 7 March 2017

My 'gadget guru' technology for TRE Talk Radio Europe March 2017

Here's a quick reminder of the technology I talked about in my March 2017 'gadget guru' chat on TRE Talk Radio Europe:

Alcatel A5 LED smartphone

Alcatel phones are produced by TCL, a Chinese company that now makes BlackBerry devices as well as everything from air conditioning units to TVs.

The phone that caught my eye is the Alcatel A5 LED, which was revealed at Mobile World Congress 2017. TCL is calling it the World’s First Interactive LED-covered Smartphone

Most smartphones have an LED at the top: a little light that changes colour when the battery runs down and flashes when you have a call or a message.

This phone has the back panel covered in LEDs. There are 35 of them that can be used for notifications. So you can have one kind of light show for incoming calls and perhaps a different one for messages, another one for alarms and another one for social media alerts.

But that’s not all. You can also have the lights moving when you play music, like a miniature night club.

And, yes, it’s a phone as well. It runs the Android operating system; there’s a 5.2-inch HD display, an 8 megapixel camera on the back and a 5 megapixel on the front with a flash, so you can take selfies in the dark.

Availability is expected from May, with an unconnected price of €199.

Gemini PDA

Some people - myself included - would be tempted to described the Psion 5MX of 1999 as the ultimate Personal Digital Assistant (PDA). It would just about fit in your pocket but had a 5½ inch screen, a QWERTY keyboard and ran for hours off a couple of AA batteries.

You had all your contacts and your diary on it - and could use it as a tiny computer for writing documents and running spreadsheets.

Jump forward almost 20 years to 2017 and we're presented with Gemini, which is likely to put a smile on the face of anyone who fondly remembers their Psion 5MX. For a start, one of the people involved in the project is Martin Riddiford, who was part of the design team for the Psion Series 5.

As with the old Psion 5MX, there’s a proper QWERTY keyboard and a standby time that’s measured in weeks, not hours. It’ll have a 5.7-inch colour screen – a touchscreen – and the option of built-in mobile connectivity, plus a choice between running the Android operating system or Linux.

It's currently being promoted on crowd-funding site Indiegogo; the company behind Gemini reckons it’ll have the first units delivered in November.

Final retail pricing is expected to be around $600 but there’s an opportunity for early backers to get one for around £350.

Coros Linx smart cycling helmet

This isn’t just a regular helmet but has high-tech safety features and a built-in hands-free kit as well.

The hands-free part uses Bluetooth wireless technology - but you don’t need to wear earphones. Bone-conducting speakers in the straps turn sounds into vibrations and send them directly to your inner ear. It means your ears aren’t obstructed, so you can still hear traffic and people’s voices.

The microphone for hands-free conversations is just inside the front of the helmet, which helps cut down on noise – and, of course, you can also use the helmet for having the sat-nav on your phone speak directions to you.

Because of all this connectivity, the helmet can even send an alert if you have an accident. There’s a sensor that can tell if you’ve fallen off: when that happens it’ll send a text message to your chosen contact.

It all connects to your phone via an app and there’s also a remote control that can be fitted to your handlebars. The helmet itself weighs 400g, so all this tech hasn’t added too much to the weight.

Pricing is £179.99.

Rocketbook Wave reusable notebook

This is, to all intents and purposes, a paper notebook. So you’ve got the freedom of writing or sketching or doodling as you would on any other piece of paper. But when you’ve finished, you can upload it to your phone. There’s a QR code at the bottom of each page – that’s one of those square barcodes – and when you point your phone's camera at it, the Rocketbook app on your phone takes a copy. You can have your notes saved automatically in Dropbox, or Evernote, or Google Docs or even email – whichever of those online services you prefer.

The book is designed to be used with the Pilot FriXion pen, which is erasable. If you make a mistake, you can flip the pen upside down and rub it out. What actually happens is that when the ink heats up to over 60°C, it becomes invisible.

Here's the unexpected bit. When you've finished your notebook and uploaded all your notes, you can put the whole thing in the microwave. Seriously. Give it a few minutes with a mug of water on top and all the ink will disappear.

You can do this for around five times before the paper stops working, so you could say it’s not an 80-page notebook you’re buying but the equivalent of 400 pages.

The price for the Rocketbook Wave Reusable Notebook is £32.99. And if you're not quite convinced, take a look at the forthcoming Rocketbook Everlast. That’s designed to wipe clean – literally – with a moist paper towel.

Miss Odeyne Spark

Miss Odeyne Spark
Several years ago a friend gave me a signed photograph of Miss Odeyne Spark, dated May 1905. I'm pretty sure it is actually signed, rather than printed with a signature - and I'm working on the assumption that the signature is that of Miss Spark. But who was she? Online copies of old newspapers have given me a glimpse of her career.

She's described as a dancer and comedienne in a number of English regional newspapers from late 1902. The Shepherd's Bush Empire, where she appeared in May 1906, called her a "Delightful Comedienne and Dancer". She's also mentioned as being on a vaudeville bill in South Africa earlier in 1906.

Variety in 1907 tells us "a case today under sharp Federation scrutiny [presumably the Variety Artistes' Federation] is that of Odeyne Sparks, engaged to open Oct. 7 at a Keith house for four weeks. She is considered a good turn here, and was booked through Hyman's agency, Mr. Feiber never having seen the act, his tactics toward Miss Sparks are construed by sound legal authority as intimidating." It goes on to say "if Miss Sparks concludes to face the music she will have ample artistic support".

The Cardiff-based Evening Express on 30th August 1910 reports that "Odeyne Spark is electrifying as a comedienne and dancer" at the Newport Empire.

Adelaide's Evening Journal of 19th January 1911 contains an advertisement that informs us Miss Odeyne Spark is "arriving to-day by the R.M.S. Malwa, direct from London" and that she is "one of England's daintiest and brightest comediennes and dancers".

The Advertiser reviews her show with "Miss Odeyne Spark, a bright comedienne from London, made her first appearance in Australia on Saturday, and proved herself an artiste with plenty of charm and originality. Clog-dancing is one of the strong points in her turn."

She proves popular in Australia: the Sydney Sportsman of 15th February 1911 describes her as "a recent arrival from across the herring pond" and notes that she "piles up encores nightly".

The Argus of Melbourne, Australia, dated 20th March 1911, tells us "A number of good new turns were given at the Opera-house on Saturday afternoon. Miss Odeyne Spark, described as a singer and a dancer, is neither a very excellent singer, nor does she dance very well, but her turn is a very bright one, as she has a good appearance and a pretty way of putting her work before the house. She had the gallery singing her chorus for her on Saturday, and that is a sure sign of approval. Her songs include one concerning the advantage of being named William, and another centred about the hobble-skirt."

A month later, the Amusements section of The West Australian (Perth edition) dated 25th April 1911 alerts us to the "Decided Success of Miss Odeyne Spark". It was around this time that some of her dresses were stolen from the Cremorne Theatre; William Parsons was sentenced to two months' imprisonment for the crime.

Odeyne Spark returned to England at the end of April 1911.

Friday 3 March 2017

How many words in a minute?

How many words in a minute? It's a question that appears to mix disparate disconnected units, like measuring an Olympic-sized swimming pool with double-decker buses or calculating the height of Nelson's Column in football pitches. Besides, there are also issues of size and speed - from the single syllable to the sesquipedalian, from relaxed to rushed. How many balls of string would it take to reach the moon? One, if it's long enough. As a child I was told that was one of the oldest recorded English language jokes - unless, of course, someone was having me on. Incidentally, your ball of string would only need to be a few metres across. Now that IS surprising. More recently, researchers have found a tenth-century double entendre in a poetry book at Exeter Cathedral. What's the punchline? And is double entendre hyphenated? We'll come back to those another time. Ultimately, any calculation can only be an average. Fortunately, I am an average man - although for copyright reasons I won't be quoting any of Rockwell's lyrics. Unlike his protagonist, I cannot afford to pay the price. But there is an answer to my question. One hundred and ninety nine and a ha...

Tuesday 7 February 2017

TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' chat from February 2017

Here's the technology I talked about in this month's 'gadget guru' chat on TRE Talk Radio Europe:

Nintendo Switch game console

This is due to go on sale next month, with the UK price expected to be £279.99 [around €325].

It’s being called a hybrid console because you can use it at home, plugged into a docking station that connects to your TV, or you can take it out the house like a tablet computer. The 'brains' of the console has rechargeable batteries and a six-inch touch-sensitive screen: imagine a small, fat iPad and you won’t go far wrong

The Nintendo Switch comes with two 'Joy-Con' controllers – part joystick, part controller – that can either be used separately or clipped to the console. So when you’re out and on your own, you clip them to the side of the device and the whole thing is like a giant controller with a screen inside. If you're out and want to play games with someone else, you can have one controller each – depending on the game you’re playing, of course. And when you’re at home and the Nintendo Switch is in its docking console, you can slide the controllers into a separate gamepad accessory that makes them easier to hold and use.

You get the console, the TV dock, two Joy-Con controllers, safety straps to stop you from accidentally throwing the controllers at your TV, the grip that connects both Joy-Con controllers together, the mains adapter and a cable for your TV all in the box. If you want a premium game, you’ll need to buy that separately.

Games can either be bought on cartridges or downloaded online, with over 80 already in the works – although there won’t be that many available when the console launches.

Braven Flye Sport Glo earphones

Cordless earphones have been around for a while. First of all you could get them for your HiFi at home but they needed a special transmitter. Next, along came Bluetooth technology, which let you connect to your phone or your tablet – but most of these still have some kind of cable attaching the left earphone to the right earphone.

Then last year Apple announced what it called AirPods, which are separate wireless earphones for the left and the right ear. Although it wasn’t the first company to do this, it’s certainly made this kind of thing more popular.

Which brings us to Braven, an American company that until now was best known for making Bluetooth loudspeakers. They’re getting into Bluetooth earphones – and one of their designs, the Flyte Sport Glo – is completely cord-free, like the Air Pods.

So you’ve got these earphones that hook onto each ear, with batteries that’ll last for around 4 hours before they need recharging. They come with a storage case that contains its own rechargeable battery, so you don’t need to search for a mains socket when you’re out. That case will fully recharge them five times. And, as with other earphones, there’s a built-in microphone so you can make and receive calls.

So what’s so clever about them? Well, first of all there’s a smartphone app that lets you adjust the sound: equalisation, boosting the bass and so on. They’re waterproof, which is what you want if you’re going jogging in the rain. And there’s a bright red laser light in the ear hook, which you can either have on constantly or flashing – it's designed to keep you safer if you’re outside when it’s getting dark. That, very literally, makes these earphones hard to miss.

Pricing is $249.99 [approximately £200 / €230]; they’re expected to be available this summer.

LOVE turntable

Despite what a lot of people expected, CDs didn’t kill off vinyl records. Not only are many album covers still seen as works of art, there’s a lot to be said for the sound quality you can get from vinyl – as long as you’re using the right kind of turntable and stylus.

I can’t promise that this gadget will please audiophiles but it’ll certainly intrigue them. The LOVE Turntable is being called an ‘Intelligent Record Player’ and also ‘the first high-end, smartphone controlled record player that you can use with or without its app’.

In simple terms, the LOVE turntable plays vinyl records. It’s got a traditional stylus but also connects to Bluetooth and WiFi and can be controlled by a smartphone app. You can connect it to Bluetooth loudspeakers or plug it into your home stereo system with a cable.

But it’s the design of the LOVE turntable that set it apart. There’s a base that’s 7-inches across and a separate arm that sits on top. The arm is 10-inches long and 3½ inches wide, with rounded edges. This contains the stylus and all the technology. Instead of the turntable tuning the record, the base stays still and the arm part moves anticlockwise round the record.

The physical design comes from Yves Behar, who’s been involved with all sorts of things, from fitness trackers to company logos. And the technical specifications look pretty good, too.

It automatically detects the size of your vinyl disc; you then use your phone to play records, to skip or repeat tracks, to change the volume, and even select the right speed. If you prefer, there are some controls on the arm itself.

Inside is a rechargeable battery that will last for 15 album sides before it needs charging.

This is a project on Kickstarter, so the usual terms and conditions apply. The retail price is expected to be $599 but early backers can get one for $319 plus $25 postage – that’s around €320 / £275. Delivery is expected in October.

Volta magnetic charging cable

This is another Kickstarter project - and it's another 'world first', according to the creators. It is, in fact, claiming to be the world's strongest cross-device magnetic cable.

Magnetic connections started to be used for chargers a few years ago. There are two main advantages. Firstly, because the magnet on the device attracts the magnet on the cable, you don’t need to look at what you’re doing. You can connect the charger in the dark or when the socket on the device is at the back and you can’t see it. And then, if you trip over the cable or accidentally pull it, the connection is more likely to simply disconnect rather than pulling your iPad off the table and crashing it on the floor – or breaking the charging plug.

With Volta, you put a little magnetic connector into the socket on your phone: there's one for the microUSB socket used on Android devices and another for the lightning connector on iPhones. You then replace your regular charging cable with the Volta cable.

It’s got gold-plated connections and copper wires, so you should get a good connection. It uses N52-grade Neodymium magnets, which are particularly strong. And it’s covered in three layers of military grade PVC, helping make it 15 times stronger than standard cables, according to the creators.

Retail price for a cable and two connector tips is expected to be 54 Australian dollars plus postage, which works out to around £40 / €45, although there are savings for early backers. Delivery is expected in April.

Friday 3 February 2017

The shame that attaches

"I recall the times in fall 2011, during the occupation of Philadelphia’s City Hall, when I’d do something frivolous, like browse in a bookstore, and be overcome by the shame that attaches to any private activity undertaken in a moment of public upheaval."
Nikil Savil, writing in n+1 magazine, issue 26

Wednesday 1 February 2017

Copy deadline

It's 1877. Newspaper reporter Archibald Forbes needs to write a report about the Russo-Turkish war but hasn't slept for the previous three days:
"I told the waiter to bring me a pint of dry champagne, unopened. I took the cork out, put the neck of the bottle into my mouth, drank it with all the fizz, sat up and wrote the four columns you read next morning in the Daily News."
From Famous War Correspondents by F Lauriston Bullard; quoted in The First Casualty by Phillip Knightley.

Thursday 19 January 2017

TRE Talk Radio Europe gadgets from January 2017

In this month's 'gadget guru' chat on TRE Talk Radio Europe I looked at some technology that had been on show at CES, the annual consumer electronics trade show in America.

Hushme voice mask

Hushme is being called the world’s first voice mask for mobile phones. It’s been created to stop mobile phone conversations from being overheard. That has two benefits: if you’re talking about something private – whether it’s personal or confidential – it prevents other people from listening in. And if you’re working in an open-plan office or even out in a public space, it makes life a little more pleasant for other people.

The device consists of a pair of Bluetooth earbuds and a mask that clips together in front of your mouth with magnets. If you’re not using it, you can leave it hanging round your neck like a large pair of headphones.

Built into the mask is acoustic insulation designed to stop your voice from getting out while still allowing your mouth to move. There’s also some kind of active voice suppression. Together, that should muffle your voice pretty effectively.

But what the company has also done – and you’ll either think this is brlliant or completely daft – is add loudspeakers to play noises that’ll mask your voice even more.

You can have something pleasant and natural, like the sound of rain or the sea, you can have animal noises and you can even have Darth Vader’s breathing or R2D2’s beeping from Star Wars.

If you want one, the company isn’t selling them yet but is planning a crowd-funding campaign later this year, with pricing expected to be around $200 (€190 / £165).

BACtrack Skyn wearable alcohol monitor

This is apparently another world first: it’s being described as the world’s first wearable alcohol monitor.

BACtrack Skyn is a kind-of bracelet that measures alcohol through your skin and synchronises with an app on your phone. Whenever you want to check, it’ll tell you how much alcohol is in your body and can also warn you when levels are starting to get a bit high. And this is all passive: you don’t need to blow into a tube or worse.

The way it works is by measuring your Transdermal Alcohol Content (TAC), which is the tiny amount of alcohol that passes through your skin when you’ve been drinking. Your TAC can then be converted into a figure for Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). That’s the figure the police talk about for drink driving.

If you’ve got an Apple Watch, there’s a version of the BACtrack Skyn that can replace your watch strap, so you don't need to wear two separate devices.

And this isn’t just about people who are curious about their alcohol consumption or who want to double-check they’ve not had too much: it also has clinical uses because it’s a practical way for doctors to keep a constant record of patients.

BACtrack Skyn will be available sometime in 2017. At the moment there’s no official idea of pricing but I’ve seen suggestions it could be around $100.

Withings hair coach

Claiming to be the world’s first smart hairbrush, this next device comes from tech company Withings and beauty specialists L’Oreal.

Inside there’s a collection of sensors including a microphone, a gyroscope and an accelerometer.

The gyroscope and accelerometer will detect how forcefully you’re brushing your hair. If you brush too hard it’ll vibrate as a warning. And the microphone is there to listen to the sound your hair makes, providing you with information about hairs breaking, split ends and frizziness. (Sadly it can't connect to iTunes for a spot of bedroom karaoke.)

The information from all the sensors is then sent to an app on your phone that analyses the way you look after your hair – it can even sense if your hair is wet or dry – and gives you a hair diagnosis of dryness, damage, breakage, tangling and so on. You can check if your hair is getting better or worse over time and can see recommendations to help with hair care.

It’s all powered by standard batteries and will be available this autumn at a price of around $200 (€190 / £165)

FLIR ONE thermal camera attachment

Back in February 2016 I mentioned a smartphone that had a built-in thermal camera. The company whose technology was inside that particular phone has now released a couple of clip-on thermal cameras, which means you don’t need to buy a new phone just for thermal imaging

Thermal imaging lets you take photos that show different temperatures as different colours, so you can use it for things like detecting heat loss around windows and doors, working out where insulation is failing, seeing if electrical equipment is getting too hot and – surely everyone’s favourite – going outside in total darkness to detect people or animals creeping about.

FLIR have announced the FLIR ONE Pro – which is a high-spec professional camera – and the new FLIR ONE, for people who haven’t used a thermal camera before. Each comes in two versions: one for the Apple iOS Lightning connector and the other for Android phones or tablets.

The new FLIR ONE is a little box that connects to the bottom of your phone and has an adjustable length connector, which means most people can plug the camera in without taking their phone out of its case. It’s even got its own built-in rechargeable battery.

There are actually two cameras in the device: there’s a thermal camera and a visible light camera, with the images combined to create a more detailed picture. It can measure temperatures between -20° to 120°C and can detect temperature differences as little as 0.1° C.

Pricing for the new FLIR ONE is from £199.99, with availability expected in the next few months.