The rapid advance of technology might seem to be the defining feature of today’s world but tech is only one piece of a complex puzzle. From lightbulbs to TV dinners, shipping containers and public key cryptography, the BBC World Service reveals Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy.
The programmes are a little under 10 minutes long and examine an eclectic range of inventions, ideas and philosophies that underpin much of which is familiar to us. Some are obvious, such as the smartphone and iPhone in particular. Others less so, such as the Haber-Bosch process. The supporting evidence for each thing is provided via a reading list for every episode on the website. There’s no fake news here, Mr Trump.
The series is a little over halfway through (episode 30 is the latest) and all the past programmes are available for listening on demand from the BBC. For true hipsters, it’s on the Wireless – times vary with location.
Add it to your playlist for something a little less ephemeral and a little more enduring.
If you aren’t familiar with PlayOn, It is a portal to over 100 streaming websites, allowing you watch multiple shows. And the Cloud acts as a DVR, allowing you to download shows and then watch, even offline.
Now that Cloud capability comes to the Android platform. This includes shows on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, Yahoo View, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, HBO NOW, PBS, The CW, and YouTube.
The company announces “We have officially launched PlayOn Cloud for Android. Now you can record and download any show or movie from top streaming providers like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, HBO and more, with a simple touch of a button on your Android device.
There is more good news. Thanks to new optimizations and processing improvements that are designed to bring down the cost for all of this. The company claims it will now be $0.20 per recording. You’ll have to buy credits from the website.
If you have severed your ties with cable and satellite TV then PlayOn may be something you want to look at. That said, there are plenty of others as well.
SoundCloud has a limited time offer going on right now on SoundCloud Go+ which is great for people who have considered using SoundCloud but have not yet signed up. New users can get SoundCloud Go+ for 3 months for $1. This offer is not available in Quebec, Canada.
It should be noted that SoundCloud Go+, and SoundCloud Go, are two different plans. There is also a SoundCloud Free plan.
SoundCloud Go+ includes the following features:
Access the world’s largest music streaming catalog, a constantly expanding mix from established and emerging artists
Full access to all 150M+ tracks
Millions of premium SoundCloud Go+ tracks
It has more features than the SoundCloud Go plan, which does not give access to the premium SoundCloud Go+ tracks, and which has previews. SoundCloud Go was released earlier this year.
By “no ads”, SoundCloud means “no interruptive audio or visual experiences.” Those who want to buy the limited time offer need to give SoundCloud their credit card (or PayPal) information, and will be billed for $1.00. The free offer lasts a total of 90 days. When the 90 day free offer is over, your subscription to SoundCloud Go+ will automatically renew every 30 days at a rate of $9.99. SoundCloud says that you can cancel at any time.
Only new users are eligible for the limited time offer on SoundCloud Go+. However, people who are currently using the SoundCloud Free plan can take advantage of an offer on SoundCloud Go. Try it free for 30 days. When the 30 days is over, SoundCloud Go costs $4.99 a month.
Here on my desk I have an Optoma ML750ST LED projector. It’s a small short throw personal projector just 113 x 123 x 57 mm which makes it about the same size of a stack of CDs. Despite the diminutive form factor, the ML750 still comes with a good complement of ports and a couple of tricks. Let’s take a look.
White on the top and dark grey round the sides, the most noticeable feature of the Optoma projector is the disproportionately large lens on the front. It’s needed for the short-throw, which projects a large image from a short distance from the screen. Minimum distance is only 43 cm with a max around 3.5 m. At full distance, the image is around 5 m wide.
There’s a set of buttons on the top of the projector for turning it on, adjusting the image and selecting media (more on this later) but the main area of interest is round the back with a selection of connectors, ports and sockets, including HDMI and Universal I/O for VGA. The projector can read directly from media too and there are microSD and USB ports for data. A 3.5 mm stereo jack, power socket, IR receiver and Kensington lock round out the rear. Power is supplied via an external power supply, which keeps the size and weight down. There’s small remote control too.
On the bottom are three rubber feet and a camera screw mount. The foot at the front spins out to about a 1 cm to raise the projection up, and obviously the screw mount can be used with a tripod or ceiling mount. The large lens rotates smoothly through about 45 degrees to focus the image.
Connect up the ML750 to a PC or laptop and it appears as a WXGA (1280×800) monitor, and with a suitable OS you can do the usual tricks of either reproducing the current desktop or extending the desktop to the ML750’s display. The projector will lock onto the video signal and it sometimes took a second or two to pick up the VGA or HDMI. One of the benefits of an HDMI connector is that a media streaming stick like the Roku or Amazon Fire TV can be plugged straight in.
The ML750 does have a few other tricks up its sleeve (or USB port as the case may be). First of all, the projector has a built-in media player and Ms Office document viewer that will show films, play music and display Word, Excel, Powerpoint and PDF files directly from either a microsSD card or USB memory stick. Most documents that I tried worked fine, but some Powerpoint animations didn’t quite work as expected – to be fair, this is noted on Optoma’s website. The on-screen controls have big friendly icons in a subtle purplish hue.
If entertainment is more your bag, movies played well. Just for kicks, I connected up my new Sky Q and watched a couple of movies – it was all good fun with some big screen films. In a slightly darkened room, the picture was wasn’t bad – colours were good. The ML750ST puts out 800 lumens, according to the spec, whereas a powerful projector is 3000 lumens, so it’s not going to produce a bright image in a well-lit room. Bring the lights down and it’s fine. Sound from the built-in speaker was rubbish (what do you expect?) so take a feed from the source through a hifi or plug in some external speakers.
Next on the list of clever things is the USB WiFi dongle which plugs into the back of the ML750. Once connected to the “HDCastPro_XXXX” wireless network, you can use the complementary HDCast Pro app on your smartphone or tablet to play presentations and display media. You can zoom in and out of photos and documents, and the refresh is pretty snappy, though not quite instantaneous. It’s a handy feature and definitely much more relevant these days with the increasing use of tablets. The only downside is that while connected to the projector via WiFi, the tablet isn’t connected to the Internet…but Optoma’s thought of this, and with a little extra configuration the projector can be directly connected to the local WiFi network. The HDCast Pro app still works in the same way but now the smartphone or tablet is connected to the main wireless network and there’s normal connectivity.
Finally, Optoma have this really nifty software suite for projection mapping which helps create two dimensional visual displays, almost works of art. It’s quite clever but takes a good amount of work to do well. My efforts were a bit feeble so I’ll point you in the direction of Optoma’s website for now. I’m going to keep tinkering and once I have something half-decent I’ll bring it back to GNC.
Overall, I’m pretty impressed by the ML750ST. I’m used to projectors about the size of the phone book and the ML750ST was able to do everything they can do and more. The ML750ST isn’t exactly an impulse buy as it’s priced at GB£529 and the USB WiFi dongle is an extra GB£30, but as business purchase, it makes a great deal of sense, especially with HDCast application for tablets and smartphones. I wouldn’t recommend it for a permanent installation in, say, a training room because a brighter projector would be more suitable, but for ad hoc presentations and portability, the ML750ST is a good choice.
The projector can be bought direct from Optoma and thanks to Optoma for the loan of the review unit.
My Nexus 9 tablet has been a stalwart companion since replacing my Nexus 10 back in late 2014. It’s still a good Android tablet, though it was never a great tablet, and it’s accompanied me around the world on my trips for both business and leisure. Recently, performance began to suffer with all too regular crashes and I was getting worried.
The Nexus 9 arrived with Android 5 Lollipop and has been successively upgraded through Marshmallow and now Nougat. Sadly, it’s been confirmed by Google that 7.1.1 is that last OS version that the tablet will receive, while continuing to download security patches for now. Still that’s three years of good service but it’s also three years of OS updates and app upgrades filling the tablet with cruft.
After daily, sometimes hourly frustration, I decided it was time for a factory reset and profile restore. Google makes the process straightforward enough but it’s still necessary to check that any unique files are copied off the device. Once the restore is complete, you have to dig out passwords and log back into email, social media and chat apps, often complete with two factor authentication.
It’s even more annoying when you discover the Nexus 9 is still as flaky as ever. Nooooooo…..
I really didn’t want to give up on the faithful friend. Who does when a replacement tablet is going to cost a couple of hundred quid? As a last ditch attempt, I reset the Nexus 9 but this time, didn’t reload my profile and only added apps back in as I needed them. Result….the Nexus 9 has been rock solid since then (touch wood and all those other superstitions!)
You can find the option in Settings > Backup & Reset. Turn off Automatic Restore before doing the Factory Data Reset.
There’s my tip of the day. If your Android tablet keeps freezing or rebooting, do a factory reset but don’t bother restoring your profile. Keep it clean.
As the events of 2016 unfolded with the subsequent impacts on 2017, I’ve been thinking about the phenomena that has been dubbed as “post truth” and the sacrifice of critical thinking in return for likes and retweets. Those thoughts have taken me back to my school days and an enlightened English Literature teacher who encouraged us to challenge and critique the information presented to us.
As a naive schoolchild, one imagined that newspapers, magazines and television spoke “the truth”. It was a revelation that this was not the case but simply comparing the same news story in two national newspapers, say, The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian, it became evident the political tendencies of each broadsheet became written into the narrative, and there was no such thing as objective truth.
And I will never forget the propaganda of news reporting during times of conflict. Our military are “heroes” or “liberators” whereas the other side are “jack-booted stormtroopers” and “thugs”. We launch “pre-emptive strikes”, they have “cowardly sneak attacks”. Once you know about it, you’ll see it in much war reporting, particularly if the news organisation is from a country involved in the conflict.
But of even greater value is not to ask, “Is this true or false?” but “Why do they want me to know this?” Substitute in the government, organisation or web site of your choice, and this question will serve you well.
Fresh figures from the UK Cards Association shows that a quarter of card payments are now contactless in the UK. With 325 million purchases made using contactlessdebit and credit cards in November 2016, this accounted for 25% of all card payments.
Contactless payments are growing rapidly in popularity as it was only in August 2016 that the 20% barrier was broken. It’s impressive growth and no doubt helped by the 102 million credit and debit cards in the country. For comparison the contactless payment rate was 11% in November 2015, more than doubling in a year.
Interestingly, the average payment was GB£8.95, which reflects the convenient use for low cost items. The maximum for contactless payment is GB£30. Anything above that requires a PIN.
On a personal note, two out of my three regularly used credit/debit cards are now enabled for contactless payment and it is convenient, though I have to admit that I never saw putting in a PIN as very onerous or time consuming; it takes longer for the receipt to come out….now that would be a service improvement – imagine you could tie your email address to your card and that instead of printing a receipt, it was emailed directly to you. Genius!.
The UK Cards Association is the trade body for the card payments industry in the UK. The full press release is here. Safe PIN Entry image courtesy of UK Cards Association.
After the excess of Christmas, guilt often brings us round to New Year’s resolutions. It goes without saying that I’m going to lose weight and become fitter (I’ve a new Fitbit Blaze to help); spend more time with my family and friends; and not be late for events or appointments. All laudable goals.
In addition to these stalwarts of January, I’m going to commit to de-cluttering my life as much as possible. I’m not aiming for full out austerity but if there’s something that I’m never likely to use again it’s going. Boxes, bags, clothes, toys, tech, whatever. If it’s taking space without giving value, it’s time for it to find a new home outside of mine.
I have crates of old tech for that possible future when I resurrect a couple of 90s-era PCs to play Star Wars: X-Wing v Tie Fighter in head-to-head mode. Serial cables, gender changes, 10base2 network cards, floppy drives. Seriously, it’s never going to happen. Time to dump the lot and stop hoarding.
In addition to the physical, my digital life needs a good tidy too. My inbox is full of adverts and promotions from shops and stores trying to sell me more stuff which I don’t need. I’ve had enough. Instead of wasting twenty minutes of the day deleting unwanted emails, I’m ruthlessly unsubscribing and unless I’m actually going to read the email, it’s gone.
Social media…..what a time sink! For starters, all notifications are going. If I log on (at a time of my choosing) and see new pictures, great. Otherwise, I don’t want an email, alert or other distraction imploring me to DO IT NOW. Whatever it is, it can wait. Sorry Google+, Ello and Pinterest, but I’m slimming down on my social exposure and you’re out of here.
Finally, having a OnePlus 2 with 64GB means that in well over a year of use, I’ve never had to worry about running out of memory or storage. The downside is that my smartphone is full of apps and media, many of which never get any screen time. Some apps haven’t been used in months, so it’s time to uninstall those and reclaim the launcher space.
It’s a digital declutter! What are you going to do differently this year?
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