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...