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.

Hasbro Monopoly Fortnite edition
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 congregation moved outside the church to 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. The Rev Scobell described events from his perspective to The Times: "I was myself knocked down, and for a moment, while under the feet of the mob, game myself up for lost". 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 and 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

Tuesday 25 September 2018

My TRE Talk Radio Europe technology for September 2018

Here's a summary of the tech I mentioned in this afternoon's 'gadget guru' chat on TRE Talk Radio Europe:

Apple Watch 4

This month Apple has announced three new iPhones - the iPhone XS, the iPhone XS Max and the iPhone XR - as well as a new Apple Watch. The smartwatch is particularly notable because it includes a couple of impressive features.

Probably the most significant update from previous models is that the Series 4 Apple Watch can act as an electrocardiogram (ECG). There are electrodes built into the front and there’s a heart rate sensor in the back. If you’re concerned about heart health, these readings could help you - and help your doctor, too.

The other major new feature is a fall detector: if you fall over, the watch can sense this and call for help.

There''s a choice of two sizes and various specifications: pricing starts from £399 / €429.

Vivosmart 4 fitness wristband

The new Garmin Vivosmart 4 is – as the name suggests – the fourth generation of this particular fitness-focussed smart wristband. What’s so special? It includes a pulse oximeter, which can keep track of your blood oxygen level. This helps with tracking your sleep; not just the amount but the quality as well.

It also includes a heart rate monitor that links with your stress level and your sleep quality to work out the best time for you to start a workout.

Pricing is around £120 (€135).

Segway Drift W1 electronic skates

Remember the Segway, which was an incredibly clever two-wheeled platform that you could stand on and ride? There was just one problem: in the UK (and an assortment of other countries) you couldn’t ride it on the road – and you couldn’t ride it on the pavement either.

Since the launch of the Segway PT in 2001, the company has changed ownership a couple of times – but it's not gone away.

And so we're introduced to the Segway Drift W1. These, according to the company, are self-balancing e-Skates. In reality, they have the appearance of a motorised roller skate crossed with platform shoes. Pricing is £359 (just over €400), with delivery expected next month.

When you stand on the skates, you'll find they balance themselves, so all you need to do is lean forwards to go and lean sideways to steer. Your maximum speed is 7½ mph (12km/h), which is two or three times faster than walking, and your rechargeable batteries will keep you moving for up to 45 minutes.

Just one bit of bad news. Unfortunately, it’s not just the technology that’s similar to the original – it’s also the legal situation. Here in the UK, usage is restricted to private property – with the owner’s permission, of course.

Locky smart key

Gnerally speaking, smart locks have one big disadvantage: you need to change the lock in your door. But what if you could keep your lock and turn your key into a smart key? That’s exactly what this particular Kickstarter project is all about.

Locky is a little device that clips onto your key, like a fancy key cover. Inside that fancy cover is a tiny battery that lasts for around a year, some clever sensors and a Bluetooth connection.

Basically, the sensors work out if you’ve turned your key in the lock. The Bluetooth connection then links with an application on your phone to warn you if you’ve left home without locking the house. It’s also capable of warning you if you’ve left your key behind and can even help you find the key if you put it down somewhere. Plus it keeps a record of key use, so if all your family have a Locky on their key, you know if someone’s in and when they returned.

Most importantly, it’s still a mechanical key. It can’t be hacked and it unlocks your door even if the battery goes flat.

The company reckons they’ll start shipping these in March next year for around £60 each but there are currently special offers if you commit early.

Tuesday 21 August 2018

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

Here is a quick reminder of the technology I mentioned in today's conversation with Dave Hodgson on TRE Talk Radio Europe:

Samsung Galaxy Note9

Is it a giant phone or a small tablet? Either way, the newest member of the Samsung Galaxy Note dynasty looks pretty similar to its predecessors at first glance... but there are some substantial differences when you get closer. What we find is a bigger screen than ever - this one is 6.4 inches from corner to corner, with 2960 by 1440 pixel resolution - and a faster processor than the Note 8.

The stylus on the new Note9 also takes a leap forwards because it has a Bluetooth connection. Inside is a tiny rechargeable battery that means the pen isn't just for drawing on the screen but can be used as a remote control for the camera, to play and pause videos you're watching, even to control an on-screen presentation, And best of all, the battery recharges whenever you pop it back into its storage slot inside the phone.

Will toe 4000mAh battery last all day? That depends what you're doing with the phone but, for most of us, I'd say it will. Equally high capacity is the storage: there are various versions of the Note9 available including one with 512GB of built-in memory.

Plus, of course, it's got a camera - there's a dual-lens 12 megapixel set-up - and built-in stereo speakers that have been tuned by audio specialists AKG. There's even a headphone socket, which is always a good thing as far as I'm concerned.

Pricing depends on the amount of built-in memory you want, starting from £899 contract-free.

Apple MacBooks

Here we have two new laptops from Apple. one with a 13-inch screen and one with a 15-inch screen. Although neither of these are touch-sensitive screens they are impressively high quality and there is a touch-sensitive bar at the top of the keyboard instead of conventional function keys. This was introduced a couple of years ago and changes its appearance depending on what you're doing.

However, the main keyboard is brand new. Apple says it's now quieter - and if you don’t want to type, both devices include voice-control app Siri.

Also inside is a choice of faster processors. The 13-inch model now runs quad-core chips rather than dual-core chips, which means it'll be up to twice as fast, while the 15-inch one has six-core processors, giving you up to 70% more speed. There's more system memory, which is all about running programs more effectively, and up to 4TB of solid state storage.

Pricing is from £1,749 for the base spec 13-inch model up to £6,209 if you want the highest specification of 15-inch MacBook.

Travis Touch translator

This is a translation device that can translate and understand over a hundred languages. Because it’s a separate hand-held device, you don’t need to worry about opening an app on your phone and running the battery flat.

The designers have built in technology from sixteen different translation services, including Google, Microsoft and IBM. Travis Touch then chooses the best service depending on the language you’re using and the language you’re translating to. It’s designed to use WiFi or a mobile connection and has its own SIM card slot, although it can do some basic stuff without being online.

There’s a 2.4-inch touch screen for controlling the device – hence the name – but you can also use voice commands in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Japanese to select the languages you need. You simply speak to it and it’ll speak the translation back to you.

Pricing is expected to be $269 when it arrives in shops, although there’s currently an option to pay less if you order via crowd-funding site Indiegogo.

Nespresso Barista

Nespresso is a company that’s become well-known for making coffee pod machines.

The Nespresso Barista is not one of those machines. It’s more like a companion for those machines. You make an espresso, then the Barista turns it into a cappuccino or a latte or an iced coffee...

The design looks a bit like a Thermos flask crossed with a Bluetooth loudspeaker; it plugs into the mains and stands 21cm high. There's a base with a metal jug that fits on top, a whisk that clips inside and a lid.

On the base is a touch-sensitive display with a choice of coffee options. You select the one you want – let's say a cappuccino – and then put all the ingredients you need into the jug. The device heats the milk, whisks it up and you pour it onto your espresso. It comes with a little recipe book, so if you’re not sure what you should be doing with your iced coffee or your mocha, you can check first.

It can also connect with an app on your phone to get updates for new recipes.

The only real downsides are that it’s pretty much just making one cup at a time and it doesn’t brew the coffee for you. But, as an alternative to an all-in-one machine, this is more affordable – and it’s way more sophisticated than a mere milk frother. Pricing is around £179 (€195).

Monday 30 July 2018

St Michael's church, Rock

The story of St Enodoc's church is relatively well known. Located in the village of Trebetherick, a short wander inland from the sandy beach of Daymer Bay, it's an intriguing destination for visitors to Padstow and Rock. Centuries earlier the wind-blown dunes had virtually swallowed the church until its excavation and renovation in the mid 19th century. These days the site is best-known for being the final resting place of former poet laureate Sir John Betjeman, whose funeral party had to struggle across the adjoining golf course in heavy rain. Map of Porthilly

But if you head in the opposite direction - turn right when you get off the Padstow ferry and walk east along the seafront at Rock - you'll find a lesser-known church with an equally fascinating story. And a much gentler walk, too.

In many ways, St Michael's church is the older sibling of St Enodoc. Both are close to the coast, with St Michael's church sitting alongside the shore of Porthilly Cove. Both are within the parish of St Minver and were known originally as the North and South chapels of the parish. Both were restored substantially during the Victorian era. Both even have a similar font; the one in St Michael's is a copy of the font at St Enodoc's. St Michael's church, Porthilly Cove, Rock, Cornwall

St Michael's was originally built in the 12th century, possibly as a chapel for monks who lived at a nearby farm. The medieval four-holed granite cross outside may be even older; it was moved from the west side to the south side of the church in the 19th century. Today the church is generally a quiet place, hosting Sunday services and summer weddings. It's usually open to visitors from around 9am until early evening.

St Michael's church, Porthilly, Rock PL27 6JX

Tuesday 24 July 2018

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

Here's a reminder of the technology I talked about in my July 2018 TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' chat:

BlackBerry KEY2

A long, long time ago in the world of mobile phones – about ten years, I suppose – if you needed a phone for work, there was really only one brand to consider: BlackBerry. Not least because BlackBerry phones had a physical keyboard for writing your email messages.

BlackBerry is still around – and last month it launched the KEY2 smartphone, which it’s calling ‘the most advanced BlackBerry smartphone yet’. Actually, to be totally correct, it’s TCL Communication that’s making the phone: they’ve licensed the BlackBerry brand.

What do you get? Well, you still have a physical keyboard, now combined with a 4.5-inch touchscreen as well. In fact, this keyboard is improved even from the previous model; the keys are 20% higher is should make them more comfortable and more accurate to use. And when you don’t need a keyboard, it can function as a trackpad for scrolling though web pages.

Pricing is around €649 (£579) without a contract. If you want a smartphone for business – especially if your business involves writing a lot – it’s certainly worth looking at. If you want a phone for watching videos and taking photos, there’s plenty of competition.

Square Off

This looks like a conventional chess board with wooden pieces, although it’s a bit thicker than usual and you’ll spot a charging socket and an on/off switch if you look closely. You set it up as normal - the pieces are magnetic - and then get ready to play. Each square is an inch-and-a-half across, to give you some idea of scale.

The board can connect wirelessly with your phone, turning it into a chess computer with different levels of play. But unlike most other chess computers, you don’t need to move your opponent’s pieces: the board moves them itself, using a magnetic arm that’s hidden underneath.

The manufacturers also say you’ll soon be able to play against millions of other people around the world. That’s where the mobile phone connection really comes into its own. If each of you has a Square Off board, you’ll see your opponent’s pieces move on your board. On the other hand, you’ll be able to play against people who don’t have a board as long as they’ve got the right app on their phone.

There are two versions available: the regular one is currently on sale for $329 (around €280) plus shipping; there’s also an even smarter one for $399. The dearer version includes space on the board for captured pieces and what’s undoubtedly my favourite feature: a reset button that sends all the chess pieces back to their original positions when the game is over.

Nano Cure Tent

The premise behind this is pretty simple: if you snag a regular tent on a fence or on brambles, it lets in the water. This particular tent is made from high-tech fabric that seals little holes if you rub them with your fingers.

What actually happens is that the fabric doesn’t actually break but the fibres are pushed apart when it’s pierced. Rubbing it with your fingers causes those fibres to move back into shape.

Up to four people can sleep in the tent; it's is available for $200 (around €170) via crowd-funding site and, if all goes well, they’re expecting to start shipping in December.


This is a biometric wearable that's all about focusing on your work and not getting distracted so much. And yes, there’s surely a fair amount of irony that you’re using an electronic device in order to stop being distracted by electronic devices.

Foci clips to your waist, perhaps your belt or whatever else you’re wearing. It claims to track focus, distraction, stress and fatigue, with feedback shown on your phone as a coloured ball. The device itself will vibrate when your focus drops. If this happens, the app can guide you to get you back into 'the zone'.

You’re probably wondering how Foci works. The answer is that the device monitors small differences in your breathing between when you’re focused and when you’re distracted. These readings are sent wirelessly to your mobile phone and processed by the UK-based company behind all this. As well as getting instant feedback you can also see how you’ve performed on previous days.

I’ve not used one but from the reviews I’ve seen it seems to work well although it’s (understandably) not perfect, which in itself could be a distraction.

This is another crowd-funded product: at the moment, you can order via Indiegogo for $73.

Friday 29 June 2018

Hemingway and happiness

Here's a quote. Here, also, is a quote that annoys me.
'Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know', said Ernest Hemingway, according to Twitter and an assortment of quotation databases. Dear old Ernie, the Nobel Prize-winning writer who killed himself in 1961 after treatment for depression. It's almost like he was talking about himself, isn't it? A portent.

Or perhaps these are the words he gave a character in one of his novels and aren't necessarily what he believed at all. Yes, that's what's really going on here. The words are spoken by Marita in 'The Garden of Eden', a book constructed from Hemingway's unfinished notes and published after his death. And, yes, they're the words Hemingway wrote. But they're no more a definitive example of Hemingway's viewpoint or mantra than any of his other pieces of fiction.

That's what annoys me. Picking a sentence spoken by a character and stating it as though the words reflect the author's personal opinion. I might as well quote J.K.Rowling as saying "You know, I really hate children".

Sunday 17 June 2018

Why I don't care about you quitting Facebook

You say you're giving up Facebook? That's an intriguing perspective: the world's biggest social media network has faced plenty of criticism in recent years. In fact, for the past decade many of my own Facebook posts have been about the negative effects of using it. Oh, the irony, eh?

What's the best thing about leaving, do you think? The freedom from intrusive advertising? An escape from being tracked when you visit other sites across the web? Getting away from having your viewpoint manipulated by activists based in foreign states?

Nope, none of those. Apparently it's a bit of schadenfreude, delighting in Facebook's emailed attempts to win you back. That's like telling me you've become a vegan because lamb's too chewy. 

Anyway, surely, after you've quit, Facebook can't keep sending... Oh, I see. Despite your opening line, it seems like you've not actually left. You've not pressed the big red button and jettisoned your account into the void. You've just turned your back for a moment to see what divorce feels like. And, unlike millions of people, you're in the fortunate position of not relying on Facebook for much of your online access.

But let's put my cynicism aside for a moment. You feel as though there are now "new acres of mind opening up". That's positive, even though you offer no objective evidence for it. When I'm a bit sad I'll sometimes have a cup of tea and a piece of cake but I wouldn't claim it as a cure for depression.

One of the genuinely interesting points here -  about the way that Facebook keeps reminding us about the past instead of letting memories fade naturally with time - is lost in the middle, tied up with stuff about mental decluttering (you might as well recommend that we don't read The Guardian every day) and enjoying events in the moment (which could as easily be warning me off using a camera). And, like everything else, it's unsupported.

I know, it's an opinion piece. But I'd like a bit more proof, please. Where's the meat?

Wednesday 6 June 2018

June 2018 'gadget guru' technology: TRE Talk Radio Europe

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

Apple iOS 12 operating system

Last year Apple used its Worldwide Developer Conference as an opportunity to announce a new intelligent loudspeaker for the home, a new iPad and new desktop computers. This year it’s all about the software: iOS 12, which is a new version of software for iPhones and iPads.

Apple iOS 12 is all about being faster, more secure and more reliable. Apple says applications will generally be quicker to start and the camera will be ready up to 70% faster. You can train Siri, the voice activated assistant on your iPhone, to work with apps. And it’s better at working things out itself, so if you’re running late for a meeting it’ll offer to send apologetic messages and if you’re in the cinema it’ll remind you to turn the ringer off. But the big thing that’s grabbed a lot of attention is the opposite of this: the Do Not Disturb option, which has been improved to make it easier for you to ignore your phone. You can make this time-based or location-based, so it’ll go quiet when you’re visiting the library and will switch the alerts back on when you leave. There’s also a timer to limit access for children and perhaps for yourself, along with reports to see what you’re using your phone for and when you’re using it most.

iOS 12 is available this month as a beta version for people who fancy testing it - and for everyone else it’ll be online in the Autumn as a free download for everything from the iPhone 5s and iPad version 5 onwards.

Sony DPT-CP1 digital paper tablet

While Apple and its many competitors are busy making devices with bright, colourful screens, Sony is one of the few manufacturers that hasn’t given up with what are often called electronic ink or e-ink displays. These look like paper and actually feel a bit like paper, because the screen isn’t glossy but has a slightly rough texture. What’s the point? Well, a screen that isn’t shiny is much easier to see in the sun. Great for reading electronic books, for example. And if you’re relying on ambient light rather than a backlit display, it’s often easier on your eyes, too.

The new Sony CP1 is pretty much the digital equivalent of an A5 piece of paper; with a 10.3 inch screen that has a resolution of 1,404 pixels by 1,872 pixels. The whole thing is less than 6mm thick and, because it doesn't have a colour display, the battery is likely to last for over a week between charges. It’s got 16GB of storage and can share pdf document files with Apple, Android and Windows devices via an app. But it’s not just a reader: you can also write on it with a stylus, either creating new documents or making notes on existing documents. It’s on sale in Japan and America for $599.99 [just over €500].

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15

A new laptop isn’t generally all that exciting. But there’s an innovation on this the new ASUS ZenBook Pro 15 that’s worth talking about. And, indeed, on the ZenBook Pro 14, which is similar but a bit smaller. The Pro 15 model has a 15.6-inch 4K ultraHD display that’s said to be particularly good at rendering colours accurately. On the back is a new type of hinge design that ASUS calls ErgoLift, which slightly raises the laptop keyboard to make typing easier. And inside is an Intel Core i9 processor, a 1TB solid state disc and a copy of Windows. It’s less than 2cm thick, it weighs less than 2kg and it’s expected to sell for around $2,299 [€2000] when it goes on sale next month. So far, so good.

But the interesting part is the touchpad. Usually you’d expect a grey touch-sensitive pad below the keyboard. On here there’s a 5½-inch colour touch screen, so it looks like a mobile phone embedded in your laptop. It works as a mouse substitute – and it can also work as a tiny laptop screen, perhaps for messaging, as a calculator, for playing music or for checking your diary.


Ovis suitcase with AI

Whether you’re going on holiday or on a business trip, dragging a suitcase behind you can be – well, a bit of a pain. If only your suitcase had some kind of robot brain to steer itself alongside you as you walked. Believe it or not, that’s exactly what is being offered here. It’s a self-driving hands-free intelligent suitcase created by a Chinese company called ForwardX Robotics.

Unlike a regular suitcase, this one has a camera connected to a Qualcomm processor running an artificial neural network that does its best to understand what it sees. It's the same kind of technology you get in self-driving cars. The case keeps up with you at a speed of 3 metres per second but when you grab the handle it cuts the motor automatically and turns into a conventional suitcase. That’s also good news if you forget to charge it because, as you’d expect, it runs from rechargeable batteries. If you’re worried about security, there’s a wristband you wear that vibrates when your case is more than a couple of metres away from you and also lets you know when the battery is running down. You also have the option of GPS tracking for an extra cost. It’s not perfect: it can only handle a slope of up to 6 degrees and it doesn’t cope well in very crowded places, but that’s no great surprise, really.

Shipping for the first batch is expected by the end of the year: at the moment you can find it on crowd-funding site Indiegogo, where you can pledge $319 [€275] for a single suitcase.

Tuesday 8 May 2018

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

Here's a summary of the technology I mentioned in this month's TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' chat:

Snapchat Spectacles

In simple terms, Snapchat enables you to send photos and videos from your phone to your friends. A couple of years ago, the company behind Snapchat launched some sunglasses with a built-in video camera. A hands-free camera, you might say. And now, as summer 2018 heads towards us, we can now buy version 2 of the Snapchat Spectacles. Are they better? Yes, they are. To start with, the design has been tweaked: still very retro but now less bulky. The new specs can take photos as well as videos. And they’re water resistant, which I’m sure is more about taking them to the beach rather than wearing them in the rain. The sound quality has been improved, picture quality is better and there’s faster wireless transfer when sending everything to your phone. As before, they come with a carrying case that includes a rechargeable battery, so you can recharge up to four times when you’re out and about. Pricing is £149.99.


This is, quite simply, a personal folding straw. It fits in a little case that attaches to your key ring and it pops into shape when you take it out. What’s rather nice is there’s also room for a little cleaning tool in the case – although it’s also able to go in a dishwasher. Outside, the straw is stainless steel. Inside it’s medical-grade TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer). The whole thing fits inside a case that’s 7.3cm long but the straw extends to 23cm (9 inches). Shipping is expected by the end of the year; at the moment you can pledge around £15 (€17) plus shipping for one, via crowd-funding site Kickstarter.


If you play tennis, you may well want an autonomous robot that collects tennis balls. This thing looks like a cross between a tiny wheelbarrow and a shopping trolley that’s fallen over: three foot long and 16 inches wide. You could say it works in a similar way to a robot vacuum cleaner, although it also has a separate camera sensor that you clip onto the net post. Overall control is from an app on your phone. It’ll hold up to 80 balls, it travels at up to 1.4mph and it’ll run for up to five hours on a 90 minute battery charge. On Kickstarter you can pledge the equivalent of $700 (about £520 / €590), which is 30% off the expected retail price (excluding shipping and import taxes). Delivery is expected January 2019.

Diveroid Mini

Here's a device for scuba divers that turns an Android or Apple smartphone into a dive computer. What you get is a battery-powered waterproof sensor that’s slightly less than two inches across. This connects wirelessly via Bluetooth to an app on your phone. (You’ll need to put your phone inside a waterproof case before you hit the water; the sensor then clips to the outside of this.) When the Diveroid sensor is connected to your phone, you’ll get an interactive dive computer with an on-screen compass, a logbook you can share with other divers plus automatic colour correction for underwater photos and videos. You’ll get warnings if you’re going too deep or coming to the surface too quickly. Product delivery is due from the end of July; current pricing is $89 (approx. €75) plus shipping via crowd-funded site Indiegogo.

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Kurt Vonnegut and 'educating a woman'

Educating a woman is like pouring honey over a fine Swiss watch. It stops working. 
author Kurt Vonnegut in 1985

This statement is quoted in The Chauvinist's bedside book (1994), authored by David Olive.

However, there are two issues here. Firstly (and least significantly), it's not an accurate quote. The original line, from the 1970 play Happy Birthday Wanda June, is actually "Educating a beautiful woman is like pouring honey into a fine Swiss watch. Everything stops."

Secondly (and more importantly), this isn't a personal statement by the author but the words he wrote for Harold Ryan, a character in the play. Vonnegut's work is mocking hyper-masculinity and misogyny, not celebrating it.

As Penelope, Harold's wife, points out in her opening lines: "This is a simple-minded play about men who enjoy killing - and those who don't."

More information: Reddit; Goodreadsthe Daily Script;

Tuesday 10 April 2018

My April 2018 gadget guru conversation with TRE Talk Radio Europe

Here's a quick reminder of the technology I mentioned in my April 2018 TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' chat:

New Apple iPad

This is the latest version of the 'standard' iPad with the 9.7-inch screen. Officially it’s the sixth generation, although that’s not counting a couple of other updates since 2010.

What’s changed since the last one? It’s got a faster processor inside; the same one you’ll find in the iPhone 7, in fact. The other notable update is the inclusion of support for the Apple Pencil and some other stylus devices. These let you write on the screen with something that looks like a pen instead of using your finger. You don’t actually get an Apple Pencil with it; you need to buy one separately.

And the Apple Pencil itself isn’t new: that’s been around since the launch of the iPad Pro in 2015.

In summary, what you get is a tablet computer with what Apple calls a ‘retina’ screen because the individual pixels are too small to see, a ten hour battery life on a good day, an eight megapixel camera on the back, a smaller camera on the front, either 32GB or 128GB of storage, a fingerprint reader for security and an overall weight of 450g.

UK prices start at £319 (up to £539, depending on spec), with an Apple Pencil costing you an extra £89.

Vion Bluetooth multimeter

If you do anything electrical around the house, you’ll probably have a multimeter in your toolkit. It’s a multi-purpose tester for anything from fuses to sophisticated electronic components. You plug a couple of probes into the front, touch them on the connections you’re checking and then see the resulting readings on a meter.

Allectrics, Inc. has done away with the meter part completely. You get two probes... and that’s pretty much it. They connect wirelessly to your mobile phone via Bluetooth – and it’s your phone that takes care of the display part. Not only does it remember the measurements, it’ll even speak the essential figures if your phone is in your pocket. The smartphone app can even help with diagnosing electrical problems.

Current pricing via Kickstarter is $50 plus shipping (around £35 / €40) – with delivery expected in June if all goes according to plan.

CloudRain smart garden irrigation

Hot on the footsteps of the smart home we have the smart garden, thanks to a new German company called CloudRain. Their product is designed to water your garden after checking local weather information so it knows what to do.

First, you need some kind of garden watering system. If you’ve got one, great. If not, you’ll need to buy some hosepipes or sprinklers.

You then fit special valves to your hosepipe system. If you’ve already got electrical valves that you can control from switches in your house, great. If not, CloudRain will sell you some that don’t need batteries or mains power because they have tiny solar cells to keep them working.

Next, you fit a control box. This works wirelessly with CloudRain’s solar powered valves and can also be wired into existing electrical watering systems.

Finally, you set up the app and it will then adjust the calculations depending on the weather.

This is another project on Kickstarter: for €259 you’re promised a controller, one special valve and a watering kit for up to 40 plant pots. There are various options available; delivery is expected in June.

ProofVision outdoor TV

If you’re saving time by not watering your garden, you’ll have more time to sit outside and enjoy it. You may even watch to sit outside and watch TV – but that’s not as easy as it sounds, because regular TVs and laptops aren’t designed to be watched in direct sunlight. They can’t really handle the heat, either. What you need is a television that’s been specifically created for this kind of thing – and that isn’t cheap.

That’s where ProofVision comes in. They’ve launched an outdoor television that is way more affordable that these things previously were.

For just under £2000 you can buy a high brightness 43-inch outdoor TV that adjusts itself to handle the glare, is water resistant and also handles any temperature between -20 and 60 Celsius – so you don’t need to bring it indoors in the winter. It has a Full HD screen and is less than 7cm deep. Of course, this isn’t just for houses – it’ll appeal to pubs and shops as well.

Monday 26 March 2018

Anger often comes to us, but more often we come to it

"Very many men manufacture complaints, either by suspecting what is untrue or by exaggerating the unimportant. Anger often comes to us, but more often we come to it. Never should we summon it; even when it falls on us, it should be cast off."
Seneca, On Anger (English translation by John William Basore)

Wednesday 7 March 2018

March 2018 gadget list for TRE Talk Radio Europe

Here's the technology I mentioned in this month's TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' conversation:

Nokia 8110 4G mobile phone

Some people may remember the original Nokia 8110 from its nickname, the banana phone, because it had a slight curve. And some may remember it from its starring role in The Matrix, although the phones in the film had been modified.

What we have here is an update to the original Nokia 8110 phone, now from HMD Global. It still slides open to reveal the keypad and to answer calls – and you can still slam it shut to end your conversation.

Unlike the version from 1996, this new Nokia has some apps, so you can use Facebook, Twitter and Google. It has a 2.4-inch screen, it comes with a version of the classic Snake game, there’s a 2-megapixel camera and it’ll even take care of your contacts, calendar and email. Colour choices are Black or Banana Yellow.

Battery life is up to 25 days of standby time from a single charge. The phone’s expected to go on sale from May, priced at around €79 without a contract.

Samsung Galaxy S9 mobile phone

Last year’s Samsung Galaxy S8 and the bigger S8+ have been replaced by the Galaxy S9 and the S9+.

Physically, they’re still similar sizes with a 5.8-inch screen for the S9 and a 6.2-inch screen for the S9+. One of the big differences for 2018 is in the camera. The S9 has a Dual Aperture lens with a choice of f1.5 or f2.4 apertures, so it can let in more light for clearer photos when it’s dark. The S9+ goes one step further – one step closer, you might say – with the option of a telephoto lens as well. The cameras can also record extra-slow-motion video.

They run the latest version of the Android operating system and should go on sale at the end of next week; expect to pay around £739 / €849 without a contract.

Eyeball security camera

Eyeball cameras are different from most security cameras. To start with, they’re supplied in a pack of three, they’re wireless, they detect movement, they detect noise and each has a rechargeable battery that can run for around 12 hours. They’re very much designed to be taken with you when you travel, perhaps on holiday or on a business trip, and used in conjunction with a smartphone.

So – you go to a hotel. You put one of your cameras on the bedside table. You can connect it to WiFi but even if you don’t, there’s a memory card slot for recording in 4K quality. When someone walks into your room, the motion detector spots them and you can get an alert on your phone. You can then watch a video stream on your phone if you want.

You can use them at home as well. The cameras are smart enough to know when you’re there – it’ll detect your phone using the WiFi – so you’ll only get alerts when an unauthorised person is there.

Eyeball cameras are being offered via the Indiegogo crowd-funding platform. Special offer pricing is currently $229 excluding delivery for a pack of three in the carry case, with availability expected in October.

Google Clips camera

Google Clips is different sort of clever camera. It was announced in October last year and has recently become available, although it’s still not officially on sale in Europe.

The camera itself is just two inches square. You point it at your subject. (If you’re not sure about the direction, you can use a mobile app to check.) Then you turn it on and leave it. That’s when the clever stuff starts. This camera is designed to capture special moments that might otherwise be forgotten. It uses technology – artificial intelligence, you might say – to work out what the interesting moments are and then to show them to you. It saves a collection of short video clips that can be saved a regular photo, as a video or as an animated GIF.

There’s 16GB of built-in storage and a battery that’ll last for about three hours non-stop, although the camera will go into standby mode if nothing seems to be happening. Pricing is $249.

Saturday 24 February 2018

It's all about what you've done...

The podenco is a distinctive-looking dog: tall and slender with a pointed face and oversized ears. Imagine a thin greyhound with 10% bat DNA and you’re almost there. Now imagine four of them in the back of a small car. My car. Their enthusiastic faces and their wagging tails are framed in the rear-view mirror. This wasn’t part of the plan. It’s October 2017. My plan is to meet Suzannah for a cup of coffee and, almost inevitably, cake. But before we do that, her hounds need some exercise. We could walk the dogs around the block… or we could pop them in my car and take them into the fields. They love a run in the fields. Four pairs of doggy eyes gaze hopefully at me. How could I say no?

Our relationship hasn’t always been quite so laid back. Once we were unhappily married to each other. Today we’re neither. To be honest, Suzannah’s career focus has become something of an inspiration to me. I’m not sure if that’s because of everything or despite it. Anyway, the reason we’re meeting is because Dr Suzannah Stacey MRCVS is closing The Sussex Veterinary Acupuncture Referral Centre, which she’s been running for several years, she’s selling her home and she’s moving to Spain. There she’ll be helping to run the new Hope for Podencos Rescue Centre, which will be partially funded with the money from her house.

Podencos are remarkably tolerant creatures, as our cramped car journey proves. Unfortunately this doesn’t always help them. These dogs are sometimes deliberately underfed and neglected in Spain by owners who believe this improves their hunting ability. And if that doesn’t work, they’re likely to be abandoned or killed. With unwanted podencos often seen as unsuitable pets, it seems these elegant hounds need some human advocates.

Hence the rescue work and the associated charity. "When you get to the pearly gates, it’s all about what you’ve done", Suzannah tells me as I finally sit down with a piece of pear and chocolate cake. "It’s ‘have you made a difference?’" She’s definitely making a difference: already working with a small group of people who are rescuing dogs and – thanks to a friendly Spanish airline – transporting some to new homes in the UK.

Suzannah and her own rescued dogs – Ollie, Elsa, Eleanor and Lucy – drive to Spain in November. Her Instagram and Facebook posts show the new centre with dogs scampering around in the sun. I regularly check online, determined to visit before too long and maybe even to write the defining story of podenco rescue in the 21st century. She tells me she has all the background information I need.

A Facebook message informs me about Suzannah’s death just a few weeks after Christmas. Sudden, unexpected, tragic. A potential tragedy for the charity, too: with paperwork incomplete, they won’t receive the money needed to complete the purchase of the Spanish centre.

And then... well, not a miracle but certainly hope. Light in the darkness. An online campaign to save the centre in Suzannah’s memory manages to raise half the money needed in a few weeks. Although it’s still €60,000 short of its target, the deadline for payment has been pushed back. Raising the rest of the money feels achievable. It would be easy for me to look back at my last conversation with Suz as portentous. Maybe it was.

Monday 5 February 2018

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

Here's a reminder of the technology I mentioned in my February 2018 TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' conversation:

Sonic Soak

Sonic Soak is a little cylindrical device that's made of stainless steel, just over four inches long. It’s attached with a wire to a separate controller that plugs into the mains.

You put whatever you’re cleaning into a tray or bucket with some water, pop the cylinder in there as well, turn it on and it creates ultrasonic waves that travel through the water. Fifty thousand vibrations per second create little bubbles that burst, and that’s what does the cleaning.

What can you clean? Clothes, especially those that are only suitable for hand washing, like silk or lace. (It’ll work with up to four litres of water and up to four pounds of clothes.) You can clean jewellery and silverware. You can clean children’s toys and baby’s bottles. You can even clean fruit and vegetables.

Not only does it use much less water than a conventional washing machine, it also uses less energy.

The device is being produced by a company in Los Angeles called Sonic Soak, which is launching the product via crowd-funding site IndieGoGo. Standard pricing is expected to be $250 plus shipping but there are special pre-launch offers.

Mycroft Mark II

Here’s another crowd-funded product. Mycroft is a voice-controlled assistant, like Amazon Echo and Google Home.

Unlike some other products, the company lets anyone look at its software so you can see exactly what happens. Does it save your voice recordings after you've talked to it? No, it doesn’t. Does it sell your information to advertisers? No, it doesn’t. Does it create its own targeted advertising? No, it doesn’t.

So what does it do?

Mycroft is a smart loudspeaker that’ll find answers when you talk to it, it’ll play music, it’ll take care of your diary and it has a little touch-controlled screen as well – which is nice if you ask it for things that work visually, like countdown timers or weather forecasts.

The unit sits just under eight inches tall. Inside there are six individual microphones to pick up your voice, it plays stereo with two-inch drivers putting out 10W of music, there’s a Bluetooth connection, a USB socket and a memory card slot. At the moment it just speaks English but developers are working on other European languages.

When it comes to talent, the joy of open software means other people can build skills for Mycroft. So as well as the usual weather and news stuff you might ask a smart loudspeaker, it can potentially control your lights, check your email, log into Facebook… if it’s online, there’s a good chance your Mycroft can talk to it.

Shipping is expected before the end of the year; pricing is $129 (around £90) plus shipping via Kickstarter.

Shell smartwatch

Shell is a smartwatch that can turn into a 4G smartphone and also has what the designers say is “the world’s first built-in manual charging solution”.

There are little wings that pop out the side of the watch. Squeeze them for a few minutes and they’ll give you a few more minutes of talk time on your watch.

Also in the watch is a 360-degree rotating camera that’ll take 12-megapixel photos. Battery life is up to five days of standby or five hours of talktime.

There’ll be three models to choose from: the Signature Model starts at $250 [approx. €200/£180], there’s also a lower-priced adaptor that’ll let people turn their existing smartwatch into a smartphone and a higher-priced version that includes a two-way walkie-talkie as well.

Shell is currently due to launch on IndieGoGo.

Ryze Tello drone

A Chinese company called Ryze has recently announced a £99 (€109) drone called the Tello, with help from drone specialists DJI and chip manufacturer Intel.

This drone literally fits into the palm of your hand. It weighs around 80g (including the rechargeable battery) and is 10cm long.

Does that affect its performance? Of course it does. There’s a maximum range of around 100 metres and a maximum flight time of 13 minutes before it needs recharging. In fact, it’s so small you won’t want to take it outdoors if there’s any kind of breeze at all.

Despite this, it carries a 5 megapixel camera that can also shoot 720p video and has built-in electronic image stabilisation. It also has a collision detection system, it can fly itself if you take your hands off the controls and it sends live video to your phone or tablet. You can also program it, which means it’s not just a toy but could encourage young engineers to learn coding.

Tello is due to go on sale from March 2018.

Monday 8 January 2018

TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' technology from January 2018

Here is a quick reminder of the technology I mentioned in my January 2018 TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' conversation:

LG 4K Ultra-HD projector

The HU80K could be described as the equivalent of a 150-inch 4K ultra-high definition television - but actually, it's not actually a television at all. Instead, it's LG's first 4K UHD projector, which has already won a CES Best of Innovation award.

What's most notable about this is the size: not the picture but the projector itself, which is around half as big as some of its competitors. Despite this, it can project a 150-inch image at 2,500 lumens - that's brighter than a number of rival products - and it even supports HDR for better contrast.

Unlike traditional projectors, it sits upright and can be moved around easily. There are a couple of 7-watt speakers for sound and it'll even connect to the internet like a smart TV, as well as offering USB, Ethernet and HDMI ports.

Verdera Voice Lighted Mirror

American company Kohler says this is the first announcement of a bathroom mirror that has Amazon Alexa built-in. Alexa is one of those intelligent assistants that can answer questions and interact with smart home appliances.

Inside Verdera you’ll find a dual microphone for voice control, stereo speakers in sealed casings, a motion-activated nightlight and LED lights for everyday use. The whole thing connects to your home broadband by WiFi.

Now, that’s all very clever. You can get Alexa to read you the news headlines when you’re cleaning your teeth. You can even turn on the lights in the mirror. But it can also control other 'smart' products from Kohler.

Maybe you'd like to control your shower or even run the bath by talking to the mirror. Water temperature, music, steam… all these things can be controlled by your voice.

Acer Swift 7 laptop

Here comes Acer with what they’re calling the World’s Thinnest Laptop. It’s the new version of the Acer Swift 7, which they’ve whittled down to 8.98mm thin. It runs Windows 10 on an Intel Core i7 processor and includes a 4G LTE connection, so you can use mobile data as well as WiFi.

Rather than running with a mechanical hard drive, it’s got a 256GB solid-state disc and a battery that’ll last for up to 10 hours. It’s equipped with a 14-inch touchscreen and a backlit keyboard, plus a fingerprint reader for extra security.

Kodak Mini 2 Instant Photo Printer

Portable photo printers - for phones, tablets and laptops - are getting smaller. The Kodak Mini 2 Instant Photo Printer prints credit card-sized photos (2.1-inches by 3.4-inches) using 4Pass dye-sublimation printing technology. (Dye sublimation refers to the heat process, while 4Pass means there are four layers of colour.)

This, according to Kodak, is the world’s smallest dye-sublimation photo printer. It’ll work with Android devices, iPhones and iPads – and it means you can print your own photos, stuff from social media or even web pages. There’s also a mobile app for editing shots and cropping them to fit on the photo paper.

The printer itself runs from rechargeable batteries and is 5.2 inches long, 3 inches wide and 1 inch deep. You buy the paper and the ink as a single unit that’ll print 20, 30 or 50 pictures.