Category Archives: Geek Culture

The Names Now Forgotten



Picture by David Gerard

I’m packing up an old laptop to give away to a friend and checking through the bag to ensure that all the parts are there. As I do, a handful of PCMCIA cards fall out, all with names, products and technical details that are now part of history. A Xircom 10/100  Base TX Fast Ethernet adaptor. A US Robotics Sportster V32/V34 bis modem card. A 256 MB CompactFlash Card in CF-to-PCMCIA Type 1 adaper. A generic 11b wireless card.

Even the term PCMCIA has been relegated to history, first by being renamed as PC Card and then by being superseded by ExpressCard. But what happened to Xircom and US Robotics? The former was bought by Intel in 2001 though products were sold under the Xircom brand until 2005. USRobotics merged with 3Com in 1997 before being spun out again in 2000. It was later acquired by a private equity firm in 2005 and it’s still in existence, focusing entirely on modems.

So many companies and products have fallen by the wayside; Ad Lib sound cards; 3dfx graphics card; Hayes modems; Conner hard drives; Handspring PDAs. The list is long and illustrious. Some merged, some were bought out, some failed to compete and died. Others are still with us and it’s market forces and competition in action. Technology changes too and hot products become obsolete. Internal modems are no longer needed as we’ve all got ADSL and cable broadband wireless routers.

As I look round my office, I wonder how many of the names and products I currently see will still be here in 10 years’ time? Samsung…Dell…HP…Yamaha…Sony…Plantronics…Toshiba…Sun (already part of Oracle)…Logitech…Microsoft…AMD…Maxtor (now Seagate as well). I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.


Legends are Reborn: HP-12C and HP-15C Calculators



To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the HP-12C financial calculator, HP are producing a limited edition of this classic calculator along with a reproduction of the 15C scientific calculator. Launched in 1981, the 12C became the de facto “badge of honour” for any self respecting businessman. Still a cult classic with fans the world over, it’s the longest selling HP product.

There’s some great reminiscing going on over at HP’s The Next Bench, including interviews with 12C’s creator, Dennis, who demoed the calculator to Bill Hewlett thirty years ago.

Pictures from the HP Museum by David Hicks.

Young’uns raised on Casio and Sharp calculators will be surprised that these use Reverse Polish Notation (RPN) for the entry of formulae, rather than the more usual “1 + 1 =” approach. RPN would say this is “1 ENTER 1 +”, if I recall right.

I remember my father having HP calculators – they had little red LED displays before LCDs appeared – and him showing me how RPN worked. And the way the buttons kind of rocked back rather than simply pressing down. Glorious and I want one. I shall have to keep my eyes on the HP’s UK site – the standard 12c is available but I’d be more interested in the 15C which hasn’t been around for years.

It’s good to see that HP can produce something that lasts longer that the TouchPad.


Scientists Need To Stand Up



If you were to draw a Venn diagram of the whole of science, I’d like to think that us geeks fit in there as a subset. Many of us come from a scientific background and appreciate science, scientific method and the benefits it brings to humanity. This isn’t to say that we don’t value art, but rather we have critical approach to life that uses evidence and method rather than doubt and misinformation. Theories aren’t always right but we value the outcome when they are disproved.

Regrettably science and scientists have often failed to engage with public, either retreating into academia or else becoming the boffins in the backrooms of organisations that capitalise on their work. The Internet has given plenty of space for pseudo-science to become widespread and thought of as fact. Validated research and evidence rarely gets the weight it deserves.

The New Statesman has published an excellent article on how the scientific community needs to take a look and learn from other social groups such as gays and blacks which have managed to get the respect that they deserve. Scientists need to stand up and speak out against pseudo-science and misinformation.

The UK’s Government Chief  Scientific Adviser John Beddington said, “We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of racism. We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of people who [are] anti-homosexuality… We are not – and I genuinely think we should think about how we do this – grossly intolerant of pseudo-science, the building up of what purports to be science by the cherry-picking of the facts and the failure to use scientific evidence and the failure to use scientific method.


Reese’s Minis with Chris Pirillo



Jeffrey Powers shoots the breeze with Chris Pirillo over a few Reese’s Minis, the latest offering in the Reese’s line of peanut butter cups from Hersheys.

You’re probably wondering why Hersheys came to CES to launch candy. Watch the video to find out. Frankly, it’s tenuous but it’s fun.

Love them or hate them, Reese’s Minis are available now in USA and Canada.

Interview by Jeffrey Powers of The Geekazine Podcast.

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Tune In



The most useful computer is the one in your pocket.

What really makes any computer useful is the software that you are able to run on it.

When I was a kid in the early 1960’s, one evening my Dad brought home a battery-operated AM transistor radio. I was immediately transfixed. That simple AM radio and I were inseparable. That was the start of my interest in technology and gadgets.

When podcasts came along, I stopped listening to conventional radio back in late 2004. Podcast listening is a much more efficient experience.

Can conventional radio listening be made into a more effective, efficient experience?

The answer? Yes it can. “Tune In” available for free from the Android Marketplace turns your phone into the most effective, amazing radio tuner/playback device you’ve never had.

Want to “Tune In” to local stations? Tune In knows where you are, thanks to your phone’s built-in GPS chip. You are instantly able to pick from all sorts of local radio station streams.

However, it doesn’t stop there. Want to listen to a particular song? Type a song or artist name into the search box, and Tune In will present you with a variety of stations currently playing that artist or song.

Select stations based on radio genre, music genre, or geographic location. In fact, find stations broadcasting from virtually anywhere in the world.

“Tune In” turns your Android phone into a powerful radio capable of searching and tuning in to thousands of conventional radio stations that are broadcasting from across the world.

“Tune In” certainly isn’t the first app to present streaming radio stations. However, “Tune In” does a great job of presenting streaming stations in a format that can capture one’s imagination on a truly portable pocket playback device that is connected to the world 24/7.

I can only imagine if I were a kid today and had access to a smartphone…


OTT Tsunami



We’ve been hearing quite a lot about Internet-delivered video content lately. Trends sometimes seem to advance slowly over a long period of time but then tumultuous market shifts seem to happen overnight.

Blockbuster just filed for bankruptcy. Blockbuster was unable to reconfigure their business structure to compete effectively with Netflix. It seems that Netflix has won the ongoing war.

Streaming video and video podcasts have been around for several years – these are not new ideas. However, what is new is the proliferation and increasing popularity of set-top boxes.

Back in the 1980’s backyard satellite TV dishes were a hobby among people that were looking for something different and as many choices as possible. That quest for choice ended up going mainstream in the form of commercial cable and satellite providers offering hundreds of channels.

Starting in 2004 people began experimenting with Internet-delivered content in the form of podcasts. I believe that podcasting happened as a direct result of broadband availability getting to a certain critical mass, combining the existing elements of RSS, MP3’s, etc. into a new form of communication. This new form of communication offered something very different along with unprecedented levels of choice.

Internet-delivered content of all kinds is rapidly becoming mainstream.

I believe 2010 is the year of the app. Apps suddenly seemed to have come out of nowhere to seeming to pop up on every device imaginable. Why the sudden popularity of apps? Desktop and laptop computers have been around for a long time, along with full-blown applications. What has really happened is that computers have now shrunk down to the point where they not only are in our pockets in the form of smartphones, but they are also showing up in HDTV sets and plenty of other devices. These devices we are running these apps on are actually quite powerful computers in their own rights.

There is now a wide variety of content that is heading for every computer-enabled screen you own, especially your HDTV.