News Briefs Archive 2010

  

 

December

GSM Busted With Cheap  Phone Sniffers

Gizmodo reports that two researchers speaking at the Chaos Computer Club Congress have shown how to eavesdrop on GSM mobile phone conversations and text messages using just a few pounds worth of hardware, a laptop and some readily available Open Source software. The hardware in question is four cellphones – old models work just fine apparently. At last year’s event it had been shown that GSM conversations could be decrypted but the operators reckoned it wasn’t a problem as it was too difficult to isolate a single phone. Clearly relishing the challenge the group appears to have cracked the problem. To cut a very long story short, once they have a rough location for the target phone – easily accomplished using online trackers -- all they have to do is drive around the area, sending an invisible text message to the number – so-called network ‘sniffing’ -- until they get a response from the phone. Once it has been identified software steps in to obtain the encryption keys hidden inside the data that will allow it to crack the ‘session’. From start to finish the whole process only takes around 20 seconds. Of course it’s been always been possible for spooks and law enforcement agencies to listen in on your calls but it required a lot of very fancy, not to say expensive equipment. In spite of this revelation it’s still quite tricky and not the sort of thing your average nerd is going to be capable of. Nevertheless, if you’ve got something private or secret to say, maybe think twice about using your phone…

3012

 

Credit Where It’s Due

Poco 3D is claimed to be the world’s first credit-card sized full HD (1080P) 3D Camcorder. Features include a-5 megapixel resolution for still images, one-touch operation with image stabilisation, stereo microphones, 2.2-inch widescreen LCD display, magnesium chassis, 8Gb internal storage and two onboard lighting LEDs. It is expected to go on sake in the second quarter of next year for £200, though you can reserve one now for £100. Poco 3D comes from Iain Sinclair Design, who have been around for yonks, since 1964 in fact and have had a hand in many ground breaking products including, somewhat confusingly, a number of Clive Sinclair’s gadgets.

2712 

 

Poop Bug Stores Data

Cambridge University Science Magazine Blusci reports that a team of researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong have discovered a way to persuade a colony of 18 E-Coli bacterium cells to store and get this, even encrypt data in their DNA. E-Coli, as you may know, are the bugs that live in our intestines and are regularly responsible for outbreaks of food poisoning, so we can only hope they washed their hands afterwards. Anyway, so far they’ve managed to get them to remember the equivalent of around 1400 words of text but they calculate that one gram of the stuff could hold around 90Gb of data. Needless to say there’s still a fair way to go before the first poo-based memory sticks will be available as reading the data is apparently very difficult. Moreover there’s a problem with the bacteria scrambling the data as they mutate. However, it looks promising as a way of tagging bacteria with copyright information. One particular strain of bacteria, called Deinococcus radiodurans, has been found to be resistant to radiation and the electromagnetic pulse that occurs during a nuclear explosion so they’re speculating that it could be used to store valuable data when the Big One kicks off. Who says there’s no good news anymore…?

2312

 

NASA Goes Back to the Future

Or should that be back to the past? Anyway, the point is NASA boffins have been scouting around for cheaper ways to get people and payloads into space -- President Obama has told them to cut costs, or else. One of the ideas on the table is a combination of a Rail Gun and Scramjet. Coincidentally we mentioned Rail Guns a few days ago, basically they’re rows of powerful electromagnets that can propel metallic objects at very high velocities, to Mach 7 and beyond. Scramjets are jet engines that burn atmospheric oxygen, up to very high altitudes, thus saving the bother of having to carry huge tanks of the stuff into space. The basic idea is the Rail Gun gets the vehicle, mounted on a railway tracks, up to around Mach 4 and launches it skywards, at which point the Scramjet kicks in and builds up the velocity to get it into a low earth orbit.  Now, anyone of a certain age may find the concept of launching a rail-mounted spacecraft, with the assistance of what looks suspiciously like a scramjet type engine, eerily familiar. I refer of course to the 1960s TV series Fireball XL5, created by Gerry Anderson, who later produced the Thunderbirds series. Fireball X5 was piloted by the charismatic Steve Zodiac, his faithful co-pilot Robert the robot (onourwayome…) and who can forget the alluring Venus. Their intergalactic adventures enthralled me and a generation of kids, and I would like to think, one or two of them ended up working for NASA. 

2012

 

The End of VGA?
Plans are afoot in the PC industry to phase out the venerable VGA socket, which has provided PC to monitor connectivity since the year dot. The intention is to replace it with HDMI and Display Port connectors by around 2015. Leading the way are chipmakers Intel and AMD with the backing of several of the major PC manufacturers. It was sort of inevitable, some say long overdue. VGA is a analogue system and an anachronism as the display information generated by the PC’s display circuitry is digital in nature and VGA adaptors convert into an analogue form – originally for the benefit of CRT type monitors -- but these days pretty well all displays (LCD, LED and Plasma) are digital, so the analogue VGA signal has to be converted back again. Of even greater importance these days is the size of the VGA connector, which is proving to be a bit of a headache for makers of super-slim laptops and tablet PCs, in fact many of them don’t even bother to fit one any more.

1612

 

Rail Gun A Reality

Rail Guns have been a staple of sci-fi games movies and comics for years, and the idea of an electrically propelled cannon is not exactly new back, to 1918 in fact. But it’s only within the last few years they’ve become a reality, so hat’s off to US Navy boffins for setting the new benchmark. It has developed a prototype rail gun that can accelerate a projectile up to a speed of Mach 7, which give it a theoretical range of around 100 miles. Mind you, it took a burst of energy equivalent to 33 megajoules to achieve that, and the only way to pack that kind power is to store it in a very large number of big capacitors, enough to fill small warehouse by all accounts. Remember, it’s all done with magnets, no explosives required, so there’s no bang to speak of, or recoil and provided you can recharge it quickly enough, it can be ready for action in no time flat. Anyone thinking of ticking off the US navy might like to bear in mind that by the time it’s deployed on battleships, in 2025, it is expected that it will have at least double the power.

1212

 

A Laptop Money Can’t Buy

No, it’s not encrusted in diamonds or made from gold plated Dodo feathers, and quite honestly it’s not that much to look at but the CR-48 has to be on3 of the world’s most exclusive laptops. That’s because it’s one of a very small number of custom made test bed PCs designed to use Google’s Chrome operating system. Like as not it’s the shape of things to come for the first generation of machines. Key features include a 12.1 inch screen, full size keyboard, supersize touchpad, 3G and Wi-Fi built in, webcam, Flash Storage, 8 hours battery life and 7 days standby and it is expected to tip the scales at around 1.7kg. The first Chrome machines from Acer and Samsung are expected to hit the shelves in early summer or late spring next year.

0812

 

AVG Update Crashes 64-bit Windows 7

If you are running the 64-bit version of Windows and relying on AVG for your anti-virus protection you may be experiencing a bit of bother booting your machine. If you installed the update posted on Friday your machine may refuse to boot, thanks to a major bug in the download. The problem was spotted fairly quickly and the update was pulled within a few hours but it looks like a lot of people may have been affected. If you are lucky you can start Windows in Safe Mode (press F8 at startup) and run System Restore to a date prior to Friday the 2nd. However, it’s by no means certain that you’ll be able to as it damages the Windows boot files. If you can’t even get into Safe Mode then there are a number of other options on the AVG Official Forum, which also helpfully posts links to other user forums where you may find a remedy.

0512

 

Gas Up Your Green Lappy

Last year there was spate of stories about exploding laptop batteries. It was mostly down to manufacturing problems, which appear to have largely resolved but packing a lot of energy into a small space is always going to pose safety challenges. We had better hope that researchers at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have got their sums right because they are quite keen on the idea of using hydrocarbon gasses like methane to drive fuel cells that could potentially be used in small portable devices like laptops. Actually this idea has been around for quite a while but a new generation of platinum-free, ceramic thin-film micro solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) is making the technology smaller, cheaper and more attractive. They also run cooler than other types of fuel cell, which operate at around 300 degrees C., (and you though your laptop got hot…). It should also please the eco-lobby. Methane is comparatively cheap to produce from rotting organic materials like sewage, and the only waste products the cells produce is water. No one is saying what happens to the water but if it’s really hot maybe they could fit a tap on the side of the laptop so you could use it to make a cup of tea…

0212

November

Record Breaking Solar Cells Go Into Production

Back in 2006 we got mildly excited about an announcement from Boeing’s Spectrolabs, regarding a newly developed prototype solar cell with an unheard of 40% efficiency (15 to 20 percent remains the norm). Normally stories like this quietly disappear without trace and the world move on, but this one has come back to haunt us. Spectrolabs is now poised to put the C3MJ cells into production, and guess what? Efficiency is said to be in the order of 39.2 percent, or a whisker away from those laboratory prototypes. They are not stopping there, though, and the white coats reckon they’ll reach their 40 percent target next year. So what does this mean? Well, 40 percent efficiency means that at last solar cells might start to make sense. Current generations of photovoltaics are unlikely to ever generate the amount of energy that was used in their manufacture. With greater efficiency and mass production comes the possibility that the balance finally tips in the right direction, but only if the price is right. Boeing remain tight-lipped on that score but if they get their sums right this could be a significant milestone in renewable energy.

2911

 

Throwaway Kindles?

It may be this year’s hot Christmas pressie but already plans are afoot to make whizzy gadgets like the Kindle eReader look like a carved stone tablet. It’s called Electrowetting, it’s the brainchild of researchers at the University of Cincinnati and it’s a way of coating materials like paper with a microscopic film of droplets which, when exposed to an electrostatic field, change colour. The idea is that it can be used to display text and simple graphics, in other words, a bit like the e-ink displays used by eReaders. What that boils down to is a display that can be made out of paper and in theory, cheap enough to throw away when you’ve finished with it. Don’t get too excited, there’s a fair way to go and it’s still confined to the laboratory. There’s a sense of deja-vu on this one and over the past few years there have been more flexible and cheap as chips displays than you can shake a stick at, but you never know; this might just be the one…

2511

 

Happy Birthday Windows

In fact it was launched on the 20th of November, 25 years ago, but what’s a few days between friends. And yes even at the risk of teasing a few happy-clappy Apple fans I am not ashamed of admitting Windows and me are old mates. It’s easy to forget what proper computers were like back in 1985. Basically there was DOS, where you could only do one thing at a time and had to learn scores, if not hundreds of commands to make things happen, or early Mac, which was a bit wobbly and had yet to find its feet as a serious platform. Windows made computers easy(ish) for regular people to use, and helped make them affordable. To be honest Windows 1.0 wasn’t much good and version 2.0 not much better but Microsoft really got into its stride with Version 3, and in particular V3.1, which really got the ball rolling. In spite of the shaky start there were always ways of means of fixing things, and I can’t ignore the fact that finding solutions to its many foibles has kept me in gainful employment for the past quarter of a century. So many happy returns Windows, it’s all grown up now and W7 has more than made up for Vista, It is now so deeply entrenched that I have a feeling it will still be around in another 25 years, and still keeping people like me in beer vouchers…

2211

 

Beam Me Up Professor

The Prof in question being Martin McCall of the Department of Physics at Imperial College London who has determined that it may be theoretically possible to move an object from one region of space to another, and as an added bonus, no would see it happening. Confused? You will be, here’s one of the key passages on the Professor’s Metamaterial ‘Event Cloak’, item, published in the IOP Journal of Optics. We’ll leave it to you to figure out what it all means. ‘Our space-time 'event' cloak works by dividing illuminating light into a leading part which is sped up and passes before an event, and a trailing part which is slowed down and passes after. Light is then stitched back together seamlessly, so as to leave observers in ignorance.’

1811

 

Boom or Bust?

Remember boomboxes? Those great lumps of cheap battery powered hi-fi that you carried around on your shoulders became a familiar, if not always welcome sight (and sound) in the seventies and eighties, especially on public transport. Now here’s an unusual twist, the Homade Boom Dock is a teeny-weeny boombox with an iPod connector on the top. The styling is spot on with a choice of black and chrome or silver finish. There’s a pair of titchy speakers and a volume control, in fact everything you need to listen to your tunes without having to dig out the earphones. Obviously it’s not going to be very loud, and we suspect that the quality won’t be up to much either, but hey, it’s ironic and iconic at the same time, and really cute too. It’s not stupidly expensive either and is now on sale in the US for around £30, probably not too much more by the time it reaches these shores.

1511

 

A Wee Phone App

Boffins at the Medical Research Council are working on sensor kits, roughly the size of a USB dongle, that you plug into your smart phone. The idea is you drop a sample of urine on the sensor, it analyses the specimen sends the results back to a laboratory who then email or text you back with the results in just a few minutes. Current proposals include test kits for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), like chlamydia or gonorrhoea. The idea is likely to appeal to young adults, who are in the highest risk group, they are also more comfortable with the technology and less inclined to visit a GP or a genito-urinary specialist. Kits could sell for as little as £1.00 and be sold through vending machines in pubs and clubs. There’s no reason why they couldn’t be developed to cover other types of ailments that can be remotely diagnosed from bodily fluid samples so who knows where you’ll be poking your phone in the future…

1111

 

Lasting Impact

Doom mongers may be interested in this slightly scary website, called Impact Earth from Imperial College London. Basically it’s on on-line calculator that lets you work out what would happen if an asteroid, or other body – helpful suggestions include objects the size of a Humpback Whale, Empire State Building and School Bus – struck the Earth. You decide the size, density, angle of impact, impact velocity and target parameters and the calculator works out the damage in terms of global damage, energy, crater depth, ejected material, thermal radiation, seismic effects, airblast, Tsunami and much more besides. Let’s just say that an impact by the Empire State Building wouldn’t be too bad, but take cover if something the size of London fell to Earth…

0811

 

October

Tacs Back

It’s back to the future with a line of retro cellphones. French company Lekki is introducing a range of classic mobiles in funky colours. They’re kicking off with the 1996 Motorola StarTAC, one of the first and still one of the cutest clamshell designs, and featuring that wacky pull-out aerial. They will be selling for a tad under £100 and aside from the colourful case the phone is pretty much bog standard, so no cameras or fancy apps here, but who cares, it’s back to the days when the most important function on a mobile was the facility to make and take phone calls…

2910

 

Walkman Into the Sunset

I seem to be typing the phrase ‘end of an era’ with monotonous regularity these days, but this time it’s the real deal with news that Sony has stopped producing cassette Walkmans. This time it’s really personal and I was there from the very beginning, having first seen a pre-production prototype in Japan. I may even have been the first person in the UK to walk across Waterloo Bridge wearing one, as I was lucky enough to have one of the first samples of the original TPS-L2 to review. It certainly got a few stares and wearing headphones and singing to yourself in public back in 1979 usually meant you were or mentally ill. I still have it and a pair of MDR3 headphones and they still work; they were built to last in those days. Anyway, the last Walkmans rolled of the line a few weeks ago and they will disappear from the shops as stocks run out. It’s not the absolute end, though, and there’s a rumour that badged Walkmans may still be available in China for a while, but it’s not the same. So farewell old friend, and even if you were a bit hissy and clumsy, it was nice knowing you.

2510

 

Hair Bag

No, we’re not about to venture into the strange and scary world of high fashion. This girl’s headgear is entirely functional, and most of the time nigh on invisible. It’s a cyclist airbag, normally stowed away inside a collar that fits around the neck. Built-in sensors detects if the wearer is involved in a collision and whumph, a gas generator cartridge inflates the bag-cum helmet in 0.1 seconds, hopefully surrounding and protecting the head from serious injury. It’s the fruit of several years research by Swedish inventors Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin, who have called it Hövding or Chieftain. Although primarily a safety device the designers do see its potential as a fashion accessory for cyclists, protecting the user’s hair from the ravages of a conventional cycle helmet and it will be available in a variety of designs and fabrics to suit all tastes. If you get one just remember not to wear headphones or in-ear phones, could be nasty if it goes off…

2110

 

And You Think Your New Camera is Complicated

You are going to have to take our word for it but somewhere in there there’s a Canon digital DLR (DSLR). Our thanks for gizmodo for unearthing this Scandinavian concoction, it’s called the Swedish Chameleon and the one thing we can say for certain, probably, is that it costs around $3500 (and you have to provide your own camera…). The general idea is that it provides a very high level of stability, whilst at the same time allowing the user to access all of the camera’s controls, including things like focus and exposure, without taking their hands off the handgrips. The website say’s it’s ‘intuitive’, we’ll just have to take their word for it…

1810

 

Apple Smashes Records

Research by US consumer electronics warranty company SquareTrade indicates that the new sleeky thin iPhone 4 is even more prone to glass cracking than its notoriously fragile predecessor. Their figures suggest that almost 4 percent if iP4 owners report a cracked glass within the first four months of ownership, compared with 2.1 percent for the 3Gs model. It also appears that 82 percent of iPhone 4 accidents involve broken glass screens, compared with 76 percent on the previous models. In case you are interested, after glass breakages the next most common cause of problems is liquid damage – this account6s for 17 percent of claims and, failure rates due to accident, after four months is also up on the 3Gs model, from 3 percent, to almost 5 percent. The only piece of good news is that overall reliability is pretty much unchanged with normal failure rates for both models about the same, at around 0.25 percent, after 4 months

1410

 

The Look Of Life

You can pretend to be from the future with the Looxcie video camera and recorder with integrated Bluetooth headset. It’s meant to be used in collaboration with a smartphone to record your every waking moment, everything you see and hear -- they call it a Life Recorder. Why anyone would want to duo such a thing we cannot say, and there are definitely times of the day when it would be better to switch it off, but watching your day over again on the PC is probably a lot of fun if you’re the sort of person who enjoys reality TV. Anyway, back to the Looxcie and its accompanying Android app software can do a whole lot of things, including instantly emailing snaps to friends of posting clips on YouTube and Facebook, there’s an Instant replay feature and a red recording light to alert those it’s aimed at that there’s an idiot on the loose. The recording rate is a fairly sedate 10 frames per second and the price, if you are interested is expected to be around £150

11/10/10

 

Cardboard Computer

The planet is slowly drowning under a tide of old tech, and a very fair chunk of it is made up of old computers, so what are we going to do about it? Well, not much, if the steadily growing piles at my local dump are anything to go by, sure, many of the parts eventually get recycled, but here’s a way you can move the process along, with a computer made from cardboard. It’s called Recompute, and to be strictly accurate only the case is made of cardboard, the rest of the innards are standard PC bits, but it’s a start. Cases account for quite a large proportion of a PC’s carbon footprint, and a very sizeable slice of the recycling costs, but the philosophy goes beyond just the environmentally low-impact case. Recompute really only wants to sell you system units and DIY kits, and you are encouraged to re-use your existing mouse, keyboard and monitor, and any other hardware components that can be plugged into the motherboard. They seem to have thought of everything, the case good and strong, it’s well ventilated and treated so it won’t catch fire and cardboard is a good sound insulator so they should be very quiet, just don’t try using it in the rain…

0410

 

September

Blackberry Play The Pad Game

Blackberry’s role as the grown up’s smartphone is soon to be extended as the finally proves the rumours true and announces its new tablet device, called the PlayBook. It has a 7-inch gesture-reading touchscreen, a tad smaller than the iPad but reckoned to be a lot easier to handle. Top features include Flash 10 playback with 1080p HD video playback and recording, a 3Mp front facing cameras and a 5Mp cam on the back, HTML5 support, a facility to run 2 screens at the same time (for projectors and presentations), wi-fi,  bluetooth, HDMI, 3G and 4G versions in the pipeline, 1Gb RAM and the list goes on. Maybe not one for the iPad crowd but it looks like just the job for someone who needs a serious business tool.

2709

 

New Robot Threat Hairlighted

Those who know me are aware that I haven’t troubled the barbering community for many a long year but I feel that it is my duty to warn the rest of you, better endowed in the roof area, to beware of yet another robot threat. This time it’s from the normally trustworthy Panasonic, who have been doing decidedly dodgy things with a hair-washing robot. The story goes it’s for the comfort and care of the elderly and infirm, and the pleasure of the rich and pampered but it looks like a brain juice sucking machine to me. Apparently it scans the victim’s head then applies just the right amount of pressure with sixteen ‘human-like’ fingers as it runs through its shampoo, massage and rinse cycle. It can also recognise users, presumably by their head bumps, and apply the preferred massage. I’m safe, it can’t get me but the rest of you with a thatch, consider yourselves duly warned

2709

 

What Goes Around…

If you hang around long enough in this business you end up in a semi-permanent state of deja-vu. This week’s retro gizmo really has me in a spin; it’s a double revival. Allow me to explain. The Crosley Revolution portable USB turntable is a compact portable record player able to play LPs and singles, so far so good. Portable record players have been around for yonks but this particular design goes back to the Baird Wondergram from the early 1960s. A little over twenty years later, in 1983, it was reincarnated as the Audio Technica Sound Burger. The Crosley Revolution is an almost identical design but the modern twist is USB connectivity, so you can hook it up to a PC to transcribe your discs, and a built-in FM transmitter, so you can listen to playback through a nearby FM radio. Ironically the only thing that hasn’t changed much over the years is the price. Back in the day the Wondergram would have cost you 15 guineas, or around £100 in today’s money. The Sound Burger was also in the £90 - £100 bracket, and guess what, the Crosley Revolution will be selling in the US for just over £100.

2009

 

Indian Takeaway Bargain

Reports earlier this year of a tablet PC, designed and built in India that will sell for $35 or less than £25 were widely greeted with scepticism but now it seems that the Sakshat (it means ‘capable’ in Sanskrit) is going to happen. Originally designed as a laptop it has morphed into a tablet PC with 5, 7 or 9-inch touch screen and it now has a launch date of January 11th 2011. The spec is certainly impressive, it runs the Android operating system, there’s built-in wi-fi, a front-facing camera, USB, 2Gb of on board memory and support for 3G connectivity is rumoured. Now, before you get too excited that $35 price is being heavily subsidised by the Indian government for the educational market, nevertheless it has created a great deal of interest in the wider world. An export consumer version is almost certainly in the pipeline and with the massive economies of scale involved in its production the retail price could be very tasty indeed.

1609

 

End of the Line for Free iPhone Case

Prospective generation 4 iPhone owners now have until the end of the month to get their free rubber bumper case. This is the well-publicised kludge for the dicky antenna problem that supposedly drops the signal strength -- the so-called ‘death grip’ -- if you hold the phone the wrong way. The free case program will be discontinued on iPhones sold after the 30th of September, though the word on the street is that you’ll stil be able to get one if you grumble to Apple’s Support people.

1309

 

A Peak Into The Future

Forget faster processor speeds and bigger memory chips, the name of the game nowadays is data transfer. You may think that USB 2, Firewire HDMI et al are okay for a while yet but you would be wrong. HDTV and now 3D TV put huge strains on these old-schools data transmission systems, which is why you should be bracing yourself for USB 3.0 and Light Peak. Of course SuperSpeed USB 3.0 has been around for a while and with a top speed (currently) of 5Gbit/sec it should be enough for most applications, but with Light Peak, developed by Intel, the sky is the limit. 10Gb/sec transfer rates have already been demonstrated but since it is a fibre optic-based technology it is scalable and speeds of 100Gb/s are achievable. Fancy new data transmission systems come and go all the time and normally a well established system like USB would be expected to prevail but with Intel behind Light Peak it looks as though that once again there could be a good old fashioned format war in the offing.    

0909

 

Street Un-Wise

If you are planning a trip to Vancouver I suggest that you stay well away from 22nd Street, just north of Inglewood Avenue. Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail reports that the British Columbia Automobile Association’s Traffic Safety Foundation is trialling a projector that sends an image of a young girl chasing a ball into the street onto the road in a school zone. The idea is to shock careless drivers into paying attention and look where they are going. It sounds like a very dangerous trick to play on motorists. We predict it will cause accidents, rather than prevent them as unwary and dozy drivers swerve to avoid the illusion. The image can be seen at a distance of 30 metres, closer or further away it dissolves. We give it a week before the street is blocked by crashed and burning vehicles…

0609

 

iPhone Got Bottle

At last, what appears to be a proper use for the iPhone. Now this is what I call an app; it’s a case for the ubiquitous mobile, with a built-in bottle-opener. Cunningly named the iBottleopener, it’s a hard shell case with a soft-touch finish, but it’s the metalwork built into the back that does the business for thirsty owners. The good news is that it fits all 3G/3GS variants, it doesn’t block any ports or the camera, and presumably repeated use won’t harm your precious phone. The price is expected to be around £18, with worldwide shipping in the region of £5.00. You can express your interest now, and watch it in action at ibottleopener.com.

0209

August

Pioneering Kodak Cassette Contraption

This odd-looking device is almost certainly the first working electronic still camera. It’s the granddaddy of today’s digital still cameras and it was put together by a team of Kodak researchers, led by Steve Sasson, almost 35 years ago. All of the elements we’re familiar with are there, in one form or another. It uses an early experimental CCD image sensor to capture the image, a lot of discrete electronics to process the information coming form the sensor – chips were still in their infancy in 1975 -- and instead of a memory card it recorded images on a standard cassette tape. In fact it took almost 23 seconds to record a single image. Resolution in those pre-digital and megapixel days was measured in TV lines, 100 lines to be precise, or around a sixth of the definition of a standard 625 lines picture. Incidentally, before cameras went digital there were analogue still video cameras or SVCs and if you are interested take a look at an early Canon model over at our sister vintage gadget website Dustygizmos. 

3008

 

Ryno Hits The Road

The Segway is sooo last year. If you want to say ahead of the curve in personal human transportation then the Rynois the new way to go. This one-wheeled, self-balancing electric scooter is just the job for popping down to the shops, or a spot of commuting. It’s still in development, and they’re after funding, but the specs may well convince you to invest, or put your name down for one. The price will be in the region of $3500, it should have a range of up to 30 miles with a top speed around 25mph. Recharge time from flat is just 1.5 hours, it weighs in at 57kg, can climb 30 degree gradients and has a turning circle of zero to one metre.

2308

 

gPad for November?

Rivals to the iPad are hardly new, in fact we were reporting on clones and knock-offs weeks before the iPad hit the street but here’s one that may well send a shiver down the spines of the good folk at Apple. Gizmodo reportd that Google is planning to launch their own tablet PC on November 26th. As expected the gPad, which we’ll call it for lack of an official name, will be running Google’s Chrome operating system, it is being made by HTC and in the US, where it will naturally be launched first, it will be tied to the Verizon network. The specs are still speculative, as it were but the smart money is on a 1280 x 720 multitouch screen, a 32Gb solid state drive, 2Gb of RAM, webcam, 3G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. The really important stuff, like the price, will have to wait until nearer the date, but it’s a fair bet it won’t cost more than the iPad, and if Google really wants to get this thing off the ground, like as not it will be a good bit cheaper.

1908

 

Revive Moist Mobiles

Maybe it hasn’t happened to you yet, but the chances are that sooner or later your mobile phone, MP3 player or digital camera is going to get wet. The how and why isn’t important, but what happens to it next will decide if it survives. There are many possible strategies but most experts recommend that you quickly remove the battery, give it a good shake to remove as much water as possible then place your dripping device on a warm surface or radiator, leave it overnight and pray to your gods that it will be alright. But if you are in Japan there’s another option. JMC Risk Solutions have developed the ‘Dryer Box’, which the makers say uses a secret technology to get your gadget back on its feet in 30 minutes. The Dryer Box is now being installed in a number of Tokyo camera shops and a session will set you back around £8.00 on a no fix no fee basis; If and when it makes it to our damp shores we’ll let you know.

1608

 

Self Destructive Drive

This sounds like the sort of thing that anyone handling sensitive data may be interested in. It’s the Toshiba ‘Wipe’ drive, which combines self-encryption with automated data erasure. Everything that’s stored on the drive is automatically encrypted but the clever bit is that when the drive is powered down or removed the encryption key is deleted rendering all of the sensitive data it contains unreadable to drive copiers or scanners. There are obvious applications for computer users but Toshiba is also targeting high-end copiers and printers, which also have hard drives and can hold a lot of sensitive data that’s easily retrievable by those in the know. Could this be an end to all of those highly publicised stories about laptops being lost, stolen or accidentally sold? Probably not but it’s a step in the right direction.

1208

 

Smashing Pi into 5 Trillion Bits

This is the custom made computer, built by US undergraduate student Alexander Yee and Shigeru Koday that has just set the new record by calculating the value of pi to 5 trillion digits. And in case you were wondering it only took 90 days. By the way Gizmodo reports that the last digit is 2… For PC petrol heads the spec is as follows. It uses 2 Intel Xenon X5680 processors (equivalent to 24 hyperthreaded cores) running at 3.33 Ghz, it has 98Gb of RAM, 20 hard drives with a total capacity of 35 terabytes and it runs Windows Server 2008. Oh yes, and if you want to build one for yourself it’ll cost you the thick end of £6,300.

0908

 

Bright Light Cycle

Being a bit of a cyclist I know only too well that as soon as I mount my trusty machine I effectively become invisible to motorists and pedestrians, so anything that grabs the attention of those about to crash into me is very welcome indeed. Which brings us to Cyglo, a UK company, previously known as Night Bright Tyre that has figured out a way to embed LEDs into bike tyre treads and walls. The LEDs can be on all of the time, or flash, for even higher visibility and there’s no need to switch them on and off, they’re activated as soon as the wheels start turning. Now I would love to tell you how much they cost and where you can buy them from but they are not yet in production.  Word has it that all the paperwork is now complete with patents granted and funding in place so with a bit of luck it won’t be too long before the streets at night look like something out of Tron.

0508

 

GSM Mobile Hacked Via Laptop

It has long been supposed that the GSM mobile phone system was pretty secure and safe from hackers, well, it is, ish… Needless to say that there are ways and means for well-resourced and connected spooks and security agencies, but to date it has been beyond the ability of the average backyard nosey parker, but maybe not for much longer. Engadget reports that Chris Paget, who has a track record for breaking supposedly secure technology – in a helpful way of course, he’s one of the good guys. He has revealed what could be a sizeable flaw in 2G GSM. At the recent DefCon security conference he was able to trick a number of mobile phone users into making calls through his laptop. The idea appears to be absurdly simple. Basically he set up his laptop – connected to a couple of small antennas -- as a phoney (pun intended) mobile base station, indistinguishable to phones and most users from the real thing. His kit exploited a feature in the GSM system that tells the phone to log onto the base station with the strongest signal. No doubt the phone companies will dismiss it as a stunt but so-called ISMI capture is one of the techniques used by security agencies, though their equipment is a darn sight more complicated, and a lot more expensive, so watch what you say...

0208

 

July

Under the Hitachi Microscope

We don’t hear a lot from Hitachi these days, thanks to some regrettable cost cutting on the PR front, but apparently they are still in business and news has just reached us of a concept gadget called the Life Microscope. It’s appearance coincides with Hitachi’s 100th birthday bash in Tokyo and the idea is this wristwatch style monitor records the wearer’s every movement. It’s a bit like a smart pedometer, and in addition to how far you walk or run each day, it can also tell when you are awake of asleep, how much time you spend sitting down or at rest. All of the captured data can then be downloaded to a PC for analysis. No word yet on what the average punter is supposed to do with this information though it would probably be of interest to fitness freaks and doctors.

2607

 

New Wi-Fi Vulnerability Revealed

Or at least it will be in the next few days at the highly entertaining Black Hat Conference. This annual get together of security experts – on both sides of the fence – has become the place to reveal newly discovered computer and network loopholes and flaws. It’s usually to be followed by lots of nervous press releases from manufacturers and software companies, either promising fixes, or claiming the security issues are non-existent or irrelevant.

 

This one, reported by Engadget and uncovered by security researcher Craig Heffner, highlights a long-standing problem with wireless routers known as DNS Rebinding. Heffner developed a tool that managed to crack open more than half of the thirty routers it was tested on, including popular models from the likes of Belkin and Linksys. Internet and network traffic passing through hacked routers can be intercepted or redirected, potentially allowing remote access to files on a user’s computer. Although the full extent of this vulnerability has yet to be revealed Heffner says there’s a lot users can do to protect their routers. This includes changing the setup menu’s default password and IP address, which will help until the manufacturers come up with a more permanent solution. 

2207

 

Shake and Batt

Remember those rechargeable torches that you charge up by shaking vigorously? Well, Brother, the printer manufacturer has applied a similar technology to a range of double A and triple A cells. The Vibration-power Generating Battery or VpGB isn’t rechargeable as such, it only produces power whilst it is being shook, and it only produces a few milliwatts, so it’s range of applications is a tad limited but one obvious use would be for TV remote controls – it could be the only exercise some couch potatoes ever get, and joggers couple probably get up enough steam to power an MP3 player. Prototypes are up and running so it’s still a little way from the shops but if the price is right, if might be the last battery you ever have to buy for your TV handset.

1907

 

Hiss or Blast From The Past?

Believe it or not it’s almost 50 years since Philips first launched the Compact Cassette (the first models appeared in 1962) and although it’s been officially and effectively defunct for at least the past ten years, it refuses to die. Tens of millions of cassettes are still in circulation and festering away in attics and garages; many of them contain treasured recordings, but they will eventually fade away so here’s a way to save them. It’s the Hideoto cassette player from the Japanese company Tec. It can either be powered from a pair of AA cells and used like a regular Walkman personal stereo, or you can plug it into your PC’s USB port, which not only power’s the device but also allows you to copy tapes to your hard drive, or convert them to MP3s using the supplied software. It’s due out soon and should cost in the region of £35 - £40 when it reaches these shores.

1507

 

Hot Apple Fry

Traditionally in the days or weeks following a new Apple product launch the web is alive with stories of faults and foibles, and so it came to pass with the iPhone antenna and the signal strength debacle. Apple jumped in quickly to defuse the situation with sage advice on how to hold the thing, and a promise of a software update to reconfigure the signal bars, but here’s a new one. Gizmodo reports that a US user’s new iPhone overheated and caught fire when it was connected to their computer by a USB lead. The hapless owner touched the phone and received minor burns for their trouble. Apparently it was due to a faulty USB port and hopefully rare but Apple does seem to have a bit of a track record with flammable gadgets, so we’ll have to wait and see if this was just an unfortunate one-off.

1207

 

Future Firefox

More Firefox news, this time it’s an opportunity for you to get a taste of the next version of the ever-popular browser by trying out the beta version of Firefox 4. Mozilla are keen to know what you think about it, and there are a lot of new features to play with. The Add On Manager has had a major revamp, making it easier to customise the way Firefox looks and works, it supports HD Quality HTML5 high definition video, there are improvements to security and privacy, including fixes for loopholes in some web standards that could expose your browsing history. Crash protection has been uprated and if a rogue plugin causes problems Firefox should be able to recover without freezing and there has been some long overdue tweaks to reduce start-up time and page loads. In case you need reminding beta programs can be unstable and may contain bugs, so it’s probably not a good idea to ditch your existing version of Firefox just yet, and be warned that some add-on may not work, but that’s the sort of thing the folks at Mozilla want to find out, so if you fancy giving them a hand, why not give it a whirl?

0807

 

Budget Airline Beater

Anyone who has travelled with a budget airline recently will know all about the increasingly severe carry-on luggage restrictions. Soon all you’ll be allowed is a small paper bag. Well, here’s a way to beat them, the Scottevest SeC Travel Coat. Who needs a regulation-sized suitcase when you have one of these? It has internal pockets for everything, including – of course – a big one with touchscreen access for your iPad and two more ‘clear touch’ pockets for a smartphone and mp3 player. There are pouches and cable holes in the collar for your ear or headphones, pockets for a digital camera, memory modules and Bluetooth devices, and here are the ones we like best. At the bottom there are two shoe and wardrobe pouches for a couple of shirts and your spare footwear. Above those are two more for water bottles, drinks and airline approved liquid containers, your travel documents, keys and we have no doubt – this has yet to be confirmed – a kitchen sink and a toilet as well (the last two we made up). Price and availability has yet to be confirmed, and we have serious doubts that wearing one you’ll still be able to sit down but if you can get a netbook in that iPad pouch you can count us in…

0507

 

Windows 8 Details Leaked

It will come as no surprise to anyone that only a matter of months after the launch of Windows 7 that work is already under way on it’s replacement, Windows 8. So far the details have been fairly sketchy but according to Engadget someone at Microsoft’s HQ in Redmond has been careless and let slip a number of images, including a concept of what a W8 PC might look like. It's 

clearly meant for internal presentations and discussion. The feature list is more of a wish list at this stage but if genuine it provides an interesting insight into what the future holds.  One of the most welcome aspirations is faster start-up and near instantaneous wake from sleep. It will almost certainly support super fast USB 3.0 and Bluetooth 3.0, there’s talk of facial recognition for log-in, optimisations for slate PCs and laptops, one-touch factory reset, with protection for user files, for painless crash recovery, hard drive encryption, ambient light sensitivity and a broad hint that support for FireWire may be dropped. Don’t get too excited, it will be at least a year before anything tangible emerges and Windows 7 looks like it will be good for at least another five years, so there’s no need to put off buying a new PC just yet.

0107

June

Obama Gets Internet Switch

In addition to his big red nuclear button US President Obama has just been given what amounts to a big on/off switch for the Internet, well, parts of it anyway. The US Senate has nodded through legislation that gives him the authority to protect the infrastructure of the Internet during an emergency. It covers specific systems and assets, which, if disrupted could have catastrophic effects. For the record this bill is called Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act and is an update of an existing Communications bill, drafted back in 1934.

2806

 

The WORM That Won’t Forget

The WORM in question is Sandisk’s new Write Once Read Many times SD memory card. Now why, you may be asking would anyone want such a thing, a memory card that you can only write to once and cannot erase? Well, it’s clearly not much use to the likes of you and me but it has a lot of applications in the security and surveillance industry, police and military. The thing is that if its used to store data, video, audio recordings, surveillance, testimonies, electronic vote and so on, it cannot be tampered or fiddled around with, as would be the case with a rewritable memory, so it is suitable for evidential purposes. What’s more the data these cards can store is said to be good for at least 100 years, though quite how they worked that out, and whether or not they’ll still be around to make good on their warranties, is anyone’s guess.

2406

 

Pull The Other One

Here’s something we’ve all wanted to do but never dared try (or if you did, it almost certainly ended in fireworks…). It’s a UK standard three-pin mains plug that is designed to be safely pulled out of the socket by the cable. In fact the thinking behind it is quite subtle. It’s actually more of a safety feature, basically to stop you tripping over mains leads, and it gets around a little known safety regulations that says it shouldn’t be possible for a plug to spring apart and expose live wires or contacts if someone trips over the cable. Designed by Konstantinos Ladas, it’s still at a fairly early stage of development so no details as yet on the price or availability, and speaking as someone who has tripped over their fair share of cables, I can’t wait.

2106

 

XP End of the Line

It’s official, Windows XP, the most used, loved and loathed operating system in history is finally coming to an end. Actually it was killed off two years ago, but Microsoft kept it going by allowing netbook manufacturers to install it on their wares, until October 22nd 2010. There have been suggestions that this date would be extended once again, but no, it appears that Microsoft is sticking to its guns. It probably won’t cause too many problems, more than 80 percent of netbooks are now running Windows 7 and the gazillions of PCs still using XP aren’t going to stop working overnight. Support for this venerable operating system will continue to be available for many years to come, if not from Microsoft then from hundreds of thousands of websites and forums that by now must have catalogued just about every possible fault condition.

1406

 

Bath to the Future

Futurist flat dwellers are going to love this concept bathroom podule design for Whirlpool. It’s called the Sub-Tub and here we see it in the half-open position. When it is closed the top side has a couple of swish-looking of wash basins with a facing mirror, When it’s open, behind the washbasins (don’t forget to pull out the plug before you open it…) there’s a large OLED screen and below that there’s a bathtub, so you can watch the telly while you have a soak. It’s still very much at the wouldn’t-that-be-a-good-idea stage and there’s no word as yet as to how they’re going to avoid steaming up the screen, and the wisdom of having electricity and water in such close proximity but it all looks very exciting and if you pop along to the Behance studios website, who are responsible for the design, you can see what it looks like with a naked lady in it.

1006

 

Slice Up Your SIM

It’s just as well most owners of first generation iPads are Apple enthusiasts, they need to be to put up with the sainted gadget’s various shortcomings but here’s another one you may not have known about. If you’re after a 3G model and have visions of popping the SIM from your mobile phone or broadband dongle into it, think again. It uses the new MicroSIM format, so your SIM simply won’t fit. The good news is that it can be made to fit, with a pair of scissors and a steady hand, but here’s a better way. It’s called Cut My Sim, and its sole purpose in life is to use it’s stainless steel blades to trim a standard SIM down to size. It also comes with an adaptor so should the need arise you can convert your trimmed SIM back to the way it was. The first batch has just sold out but such is the demand that more are in the pipeline, and one can be all yours for around £15.00.

0706 

 

Laws Takes to the Skies

We always knew that one day someone would invent a death ray, and they have, but it’s still, shall we say, a touch bulky. In fact this one isn’t the first, far from it, but it’s clearly much further along than most of the other’s we’ve seen over the years. It comes to us courtesy of Wired and it’s called the Laser Weapons System or Laws. It has been put together by the US Navy’s technology division (NAVSEA) and it is designed to protect ships from aerial attack with a blast of high-power laser light. It works too and according to the report it has proved successful in trials, knocking down unmanned drones in a series of tests at China Lake in California. Technical details are obviously a bit scarce but by the looks of it, it will require a fair amount of power to do its stuff, clearly not something you can plug into a 13 amp wall socket, judging by those cables, which probably rules out a portable version for a while to come, but no doubt they’re working on it…

0306  

May

iPed Trumps iPad?

As I predicted some time ago Apple’s iPad would be mercilessly cloned, copied and ripped off, and it has come to pass. Japanese television station TBS has been reporting on one of the first, called the iPed, It has apparently just gone on sale in China for the equivalent of around £90, or around a fifth of the cost of an iPad and by all accounts it’s got a very promising sounding spec. This includes the Open Source Android operating system running on Intel chips with a decent touch screen all of the usual wi-fi and 3G connectivity options. It’s a little heavier than an iPad but otherwise they look pretty much the same (even better according to some commentators). The increasingly popular open source OS means freedom from Apple’s straightjacket controls on software and peripherals and the price is certainly going to raise a few eyebrows. If and when it reaches the west it’ll doubtless costs a bit more but there’s little doubt that machines like this could soon be flooding the market. Many of them will be truly awful but some, possibly including the iPed, have the potential to put a real dent in Apple’s market.

3105

 

Googlers Waste £84m

Last week you may have noticed that Google ran one of it’s occasional guest logos, but this one was different. Instead of a static image or cartoon it was a functional game of Pac-Man, in the shape of the Google logo, celebrating the game’s 30th birthday.  It was fantastically popular so much so that some clever Dick has worked out that users wasted some 5 million hours playing the game, costing businesses and industry around the world an estimated £64 million in lost working hours and productivity. Don’t worry if you missed it, it’s still available in the Google Logos archive at http://www.google.com/pacman/. If you didn’t get a chance to play with the hidden Easter Egg feature, all you have to do is click the Insert Coin button a second time and you get to play with Ms. Pac-Man as well.

2605

 

Head Start on Whiter Teeth

Yes, of course it’s obvious, they’re headphones for making your teeth whiter… Okay, maybe that needs some explaining. I am indebted to Chickpick for alerting us to Beaming White’s Forever White teeth whitening headset kit. It’s a DIY outfit that the blurb says will turn your off colour gnashers pearly white in an hour. You pop a cheek retractor into your mouth, douse your teeth with a peroxide gel, put on the headset with it’s LED gizmo, point them at your teeth and switch it on to activate the gel. Now all you have to do is sit back and listen to some soothing tunes from your personal stereo while it does its work. The kit includes the headset with it’s 2.5watt LED beamer, a battery pack for 3 AA cells, a 4ml vial of hydrogen peroxide gel – enough for 15 applications -- the cheek retractor and it all fits neatly in a sleek carry case.  It all sounds pretty simple but one word of warning, best do it in private, unless you want start an alien invasion alert.

2405

 

LED Li-Fi?

It’s one of those clever sounding ideas that pop up from time to time but now, with the rapidly falling costs of high efficiency LED light bulbs there’s serious talk of wireless waves being replaced by light beams in home and office networks. The plan is to send and receive data to and from suitably equipped laptops and other wireless devices using ceiling mounted LED lights. Researchers at Boston University have managed to achieve data throughput speeds of 10Mb/s so it’s certainly up to the job. There are plenty of advantages too, it should be reasonably secure, only devices in direct line of sight of the lights and receptors could access the network, it uses very little power, and it should put an end to the scare stories about the safety of wireless systems. It all sounds too good to be true but we can see a couple of problems. It’s going to be a lot more expensive, what with all the cabling and infrastructure and then there’s the apparently wasteful need to keep the lights on during daylight hours. But it’s early days and we are absolutely confident that the mighty brains working on the concept have that last one figured out…

2005

 

iPhone Goes Critical

Our unhealthy interest in radioactivity and love of gadgetry comes together in this item of news from the University of Utah. Researchers there have come up with a new app for the iPhone. It’s a visual virtualisation of the core of a nuclear reactor that allows the lucky user to predict the performance and life expectancy of atomic power plants. Don’t get too excited, though, from what we can see you can’t have fun by making it blow up or melt down, it’s a serious research tool and due to the sensitivity of the data it contains it is not publicly available but a spokesperson for the University says it’s something they’ll be looking at. Meanwhile, our sister site anythingradioactive is aware of several companies and a number of individuals who are looking at ways of turning the iPhone into a pocket Geiger Counter. It would involve an add-on detector module and an app to provide the fancy graphics, do the counting make the appropriate clicking sounds. It’s certainly do-able and stranger things have happened but we’re not holding our breath…

1705

 

OLED Obsolete?

If you have been keeping up with flat-screen technologies you will be aware that today’s LCD and plasma screens are already old hat and waiting in the wings is a new generation of screens using Organic Light Emitting Diodes or OLEDs. And very good they are too, promising brighter and sharper images from thinner panels, with lower power consumption thrown in for good measure. There’s already a couple of screens on the market, though at this stage of the game they are small and very expensive. At the moment OLEDs are more likely to be found in mobile phones and MP3 players, but no sooner have we girded our loins for the new displays than news arrives of OLET or Organic Light Emitting Transistors. OLETs hail from the Institute of Nanustructured Materials in Bologna and researcher Michele Muccini, who claims that the new semiconductor structure can be made into even thinner displays than OLEDs, and they will be between two and one hundred times more efficient at turning electricity into light. Early adopters, consider yourself duly warned…

1005

 

3D Seeing Double

Personally I can’t get enough of new media formats; the confusion surrounding new technologies and the occasional formats battle has kept me and a good number of tech journos in beer vouchers for years, and the lunacy shows no signs of letting up. Take 3D TV for example, there was no way the manufacturers could all get together and agree a common standard before launching it on an unsuspecting public. There just had to be several rival and incompatible formats, and there are, but this one comes with an extra twist, quite literally. The story, via Engadget is that Panasonic and Samsung are using the same technology for their LCD shutter glasses. Great, I hear you say, and the two systems are broadly compatible; however, in order to use one maker’s glasses with another’s TV, the glasses will be have to worn upside down as the wiring to the LCD lenses is the opposite way around. The good news is that there are plans for a common standard, but as with all new gadgets, it’s a minefield at the moment and if you want to play safe, give it year and wait for the dust to settle. That’s good advice in any case for 3D TV, unless you really enjoy watching Shrek and the tiny handful of 3D movies currently available.

0605

 

Farewell Floppy Old Friend

Although it has been effectively obsolete for at least the last five years, what may now be the final nail in the coffin of the venerable 3.5-inch (90mm) floppy disc has been hammered home by Sony. In an almost unnoticed announcement it says it has stopped manufacturing blank floppies, despite continuing sales of several million discs each year. Sony ceased production of drives last autumn but if you are still using them you can relax, for a while a least. There are at least three, and probably quite a few more companies still churning out blanks and there’s plenty of unsold stock making its way through the system, so you may have a year or so before supplies dry up.

 

Although the 1.44Mb capacity of a standard 3.5-inch floppy is now virtually useless for any sort of serious data storage, the format has served us well, despite its legendary unreliability. It was introduced in 1982 and although Sony didn’t actually invent it, it was based on Sony technology, developed from an unsuccessful 90mm disc format. It’s a salutary reminder that no format lasts forever and it follows that time is running out for the data storage formats we’re using right now. CD-ROM is now well past it’s sell by date and the chances are it will be next to go within the next 5 years.  

0305

 

April

McAfee Mess up XP

I’m guessing that not many XP users with McAfee virus protection will be reading this if they’ve recently updated their security software… There is a good chance that they’ve downloaded a rogue file, contained in DAT 5958, which can cause a major loss of functionality, repeated restarts and befuddled networking. Apparently many tens of thousands of computers have been affected, it could even run into millions and it’s all down to the McAfee update mistakenly zapping the critical svchost.exe file. This can start a catastrophic chain reaction that will not get better… The update has now been removed and McAfee boffins have been working around the clock to sort out a fix, which you can find in find in Alert 5958, and here which involves starting the machine in Safe mode and manually restoring svchost.exe, or downloading an automated tool. That’s fine if you are PC savvy and still have web access, if you are cut off and not happy with solo tinkering there’s a telephone helpline, which for the UK is 020 79490107.

2904

 

Plugging into Plants

Researchers at Stanford University are getting quite excited over a way of directly extracting electricity from plants, that’s clean and green and the only ‘waste’ product is oxygen. Apparently they’ve worked out a way to insert a microscopic gold ‘nanoelectrode’ into a plant cell – algae, the smelly stuff in ponds,  seems to be the favourite at the moment. When they hit the right spot, where photosynthesis occurs and light is converted into energy, the electrode picks up electrons, generating a tiny current. When they say tiny, they mean it.  A single cell generates around one picoampere. Someone has helpfully done the sums and it turns out you would need to tap into a trillion cells for one hour to get the equivalent amount of energy stored in a single AA cell. That’s a lot of electrode poking for such little return but there’s worse to come. Plugging into a cell kills it after around an hour. Clearly there is more work to be done but as with all these things, where there’s a will there’s a way. Who knows, maybe one day they’ll breed genetically modified cells with little battery connectors attached…

2604

iPad Alternative?

Even before the iPad was launched the crafty folks in China were busy working on fakes and knock-offs, though so far the turnout has been a bit disappointing. Now. however, news reaches us, via Engadget, of the Moonse E-700, a 7-inch tablet PC that’s rumoured to be going on sale soon for a little over £100. Apparently it will use a Cortex A8 processor, running the increasingly usable Android 1.5 software. It’ll have SD card for storage, built-in wi-fi, 5-hours battery life, 720p HD playback on its 800 x 480 resolution screen and a couple of things still on the iPad wish-list, including a built-in camera and USB port. It’s going to weigh in at a little under 400 grams, or around half the weight of an iPad. No details on a launch just yet but we wouldn’t mind betting it’ll be in the shops in plenty of time for Christmas.

1904

 

Future Light Fantastic

If you’ve just spent the last few years diligently switching from wasteful and inefficient incandescent filament light bulbs to compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) then here’s some good (and bad) news for you. Whilst CFLs are a lot better than filament lamps when it comes to saving power they have a sting (or two) in the tail. They contain a small amount of mercury, which is nasty stuff and needs be disposed of carefully, and a fair number of people simply don’t like the light they produce.

 

The answer is LED lighting, it's even more efficient when it comes to turning electricity into light, LEDs last longer than CFLs, they’re more easily dimmable than CFLs and the light can be tailored to suit almost any taste. The only trouble is that until now it’s been difficult to make a diffused LED light; they’re great for spots but poor at wide area illumination. Behold the new GE Energy Smart bulb, it has the lot, they look ultra-cool and they use the mighty Cree LEDs that are used in super powerful torches. It gives off a bright white, evenly diffused light in all directions. It’s very efficient; a 9-watt LED bulb produces the same amount of light as a 40-watt filament bulb or around ten percent less power than a CFL, and they reckon they’ll last between 17 and 20 years. So what’s the catch? It’s the price. At the moment they’ll set you back around £30 to £40 each. It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to figure out that the cost of re-fitting a whole house with this type of LED lighting is going to be astronomical and the payback time is going to in the order of 10 to 15 years. The good news is that juts like CFLs they will get eventually cheaper, so pencil this one in for 2012 – 2015, hopefully...

1504

 

Retro Goldringer

If you have more money than sense please let me know because I can do you a great deal on a phone that’s just like the new Prive Gold cellphone. The Prive is based on the classic Motorola ‘brick’ phone of the 1980s and it’s made of gold, encrusted with diamonds. As an added bonus the phone bit actually works too, which is just as well with a price tag of almost £140,000. Now this is where I can help. If you’re an aspiring bling gadget wannabee on a really tight budget. I have got a real Motorola 8500 quietly mouldering away in my loft. For a fraction of the price of a Prive – let’s say 10 percent of the cost of a real one -- I’ll spray my phone gold, stick on a few diamond-like gems, I’ll even transplant the guts of a modern phone for you, and all for just £14,000 now is that a bargain or what? Please form an orderly queue, I’m taking orders now…

1204

 

Big Toe Clicker

It’s called a Flip Flop Mouse and it’s not as weird as it sounds. This foot controlled mouse, designed by Liu Yi could be a boon to those who, through upper limb disabilities cannot use their arms or hands to control a conventional mouse. It’s been ergonomically designed to allow it to be gripped by the toes – just like a flip-flop -- and there are pressure sensors beneath the big toe and second toe that function as mouse buttons. It’s a wireless mouse, so there are no cables to get tangled and the only flaw we can see in the design is the lack of a heating element, so it could get a bit parky using it in the depths of winter

0804

 

And We’re Off -- iPad Problem part 1…

The soon to be sainted iPad has only been out (in the US at least) a couple of days and already reports are circulating of problems. According to Engadget it concerns the inability of many powered USB hubs, PCs and laptops to supply enough current to charge the iPad’s battery. Apple computers are apparently okay, as is the supplied adaptor of course, but it could be a nuisance for owners, who are used to being able to charge their iPhones or iPods from any handy USB port or adaptor. In fact the only people who will welcome he news are travel adaptor manufacturers who can smell an opportunity to sell a pricey accessory to Apple iThingy users a mile off.

0504

 

Wiggle Your Brain

There’s been quite a lot lately about 3D TV. Sky is busy trialling a service and several manufacturers are coming out with products in the next few months. I have to say I’m experiencing a certain amount of deja vu, having witnessed at least a dozen 3D TV launches in the past 25 years, but maybe this is the one…

 

Anyway, pretty well all of the technologies on offer require the viewer to wear glasses, usually either polarised, or LCD shuttered, which really isn’t much of an advance from the old green/red tinted glasses or Anaglyph method. There’s also a lot of work being done on lenticular sceens, which displays multiple images through a series of microscopic prisms so that each eye sees a slightly different view, and you don’t need glasses. But here’s another method that doesn’t rely on special screens or glasses. It’s called Wiggle Stereoscopy and it simply displays two images, shot on cameras spaced an eye’s width apart and shown in rapid succession. The 3D effect is quite good but the slow flash rate probably means it’ll never be much more than a curiosity, but make up your own mind. There’s some examples and links at: http://wiggle.sourceforge.net/, plus a facility to create your own wiggle stereographs and you’ll find the first Wiggle 3D music video from Blue Roses on You Tube.

0104

 

March

Changing Times for Wireless

Incontinence is certainly no laughing matter and we’re ever mindful of the fact that for most of us good health is only a temporary condition, nevertheless we couldn’t resist the briefest of wry smiles after hearing about the SIM System electronic underpants. The basic concept is that when sensors embedded in the wearer’s pads detect moisture it sends an alert via a wireless link to a monitoring station, at a nursing home for instance, so staff can provide prompt assistance to a patient, when they need it. Over a period of several days the timing and frequency of the alerts is analysed, which could help carers and medical professionals determine if there’s pattern and subsequently assist with treatment or care strategies. Hopefully we’ll never have need of such a device – though the odds don’t look good as we live longer – so it’s good to know technology can help if, or rather  when our plumbing lets us down. 

2903

 

Vampire Killers Coming Soon

Okay, here’s something else to be concerned about. It’s been dubbed Vampire Power Drain and it’s the small but significant power usage of idle gadget mains chargers and adaptors, or Wall Warts as our American cousins like to call them. Whilst the power drain of an individual charger usually amounts to only a few hundred milliwatts you don’t need to be a mathematician or environmentalist to understand that a several tens of millions of them quietly stewing away adds up to a big waste of energy. If you don’t believe it just feel your charger after it has been left plugged (but not connected to anything) after just an hour or so. It will feel slightly warm, and that’s wasted energy. To get back to the story, a number of companies are making a fuss about their new zero drain (or as near as makes no difference) chargers and adaptors. EcoCharge recently launched in the US boasts a standby power consumption of just 0.025 watts (compared with a typical 0.3 – 0.5 watts for most regular chargers. Other chargers with genuinely zero consumption are also in the pipeline. This is clearly good news for poor old Mother Earth but I have to state the obvious, that any charger can defeat the scourge of Vampire Power Drain by removing it from the mains plug, or switching it off, when it’s not being used.  Now that wasn’t difficult, was it…

2503

 

See Through Science

Here’s another of those intriguing scientific discoveries that you just know you’ll never hear of again, but you never know… There’s always that tiny chance this is another big one that will change our lives. It’s a rather exciting sounding ‘photonic metamaterial’ and in theory anything made from it, or encased in it becomes invisible. That’s right, we’re talking Harry Potter-type cloaks of invisibility. The precise details are still a tad sketchy but the boffins at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany say it works by changing the speed and direction at which light travels through the material, and they reckon that eventually it should be possible to hide any object of any size. So what’s the catch? Well, there’s clearly some work still to be done on scaling up the technology. So far it has only been able to render invisible a microscopic particle of gold measuring just a few microns across, but as they say, it’s a work in progress…

2203

 

Toyota Troubles a Cosmic Cause?

Reports have begun to circulate in the press that the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating a claim from an anonymous scientist that cosmic rays are behind the recent spate of Toyota malfunctions. It’s actually not as daft as it sounds; high-energy particles from our Sun and other sources can have a devastating effect on electronic gizmos and electrical circuits. Communication satellites are routinely put into standby mode during periods of intense sunspot activity and solar radiation has been blamed for major power outages. It sounds quite plausible and it should be easy to check, by correlating Toyota incidents with spikes in cosmic radiation. I suspect that it’s now only a matter of time before someone suggests that Toyota owners should wear tin-foil hats and stay off the roads during daylight hours…

1803

 

Sulphur Sparks Up Lithium

News of yet another super-efficient battery technology reaches us from Stanford University via Engadget. This one sounds interesting as it promises a battery with10 times the storage capacity or energy density as current Lithium-Ion batteries, and a fourfold increase in life expectancy. The key to this impressive trick is a nanotube Lithium-Sulphur cathode, and as a bonus it overcomes one of the problems with conventional lithium-metal cathodes. It’s called ‘branching’ and apparently during normal use branch-like structures grow through the insulating layer that separates the battery’s anode and cathode; this can cause short circuits and in extreme cases the battery can even explode. Past experience tells us not to get too excited; these developments have a habit of sinking without trace but like those intrepid researchers and their tireless search for the better battery we never give up hope…

1503

 

More Scary Robot News, Part 10

It’s much worse than I feared, reports have surfaced (via Gizmodo), of attempts to create a super race of robots in Russia. This image dates back to 1967 and shows a so-called domestic robot called Electron. Apparently he, or it is able to understand 112 commands, it can waltz and play chess and stands just over 7 feet tall. If the Ruskies could do all that 30 years ago what are their robots capable of now? There are more even scarier pictures of Electron and his chums on the Cyberneticzoo site. Flee before it is too late, just stay out of my tree…

11/03/10

 

Protect Your Gadgets & Goolies

Hats and trousers off to wtfheans for their newest jeans. They’re designed to protect that which men hold most dear, namely their gadgets, and the family jewels. First the gadget features, and these include a pocket specifically designed for an iPhone or iPod Touch (or similar device). It’s positioned to stop your precious getting crunched when you sit down, and padded with a microfibre material that promises to keep it safe, and even give it a quick polish when you put it in or take it out. There’s also a hidden pocket for a memory stick, to keep your data cost and safe. Lastly there’s added padding around the nether regions, which the maker’s say is meant to keep a chap’s undercarriage warm – though I seem to remember reading somewhere that this wasn’t necessarily a good thing, but I suppose it beats popping a pair of socks down there…

0803

 

Windows 7 RC Self-Destructs

Just in case any of you are still using the free release candidate (RC) version of the operating system, you will start noticing strange goings-in. The trial period has now ended and it begins with warning pop-ups, and unannounced twice-hourly shutdowns; anything you are working on will not be saved. This will continue until June 1st when it goes into ‘non-genuine’ mode, at which point a permanent warning notice appears on the screen, the wallpaper disappears and it will no longer be possible to download updates. Be warned, there are a number of fixes on the Internet that claim to be able to fix Windows 7 Release Candidate’s suicidal tendency but as far as I’m aware none of them work properly and some of them contain viruses or malware.

0403

 

Black and Blue

Can’t afford a Blackberry? Well, you might just be able to run to a Blueberry @9500, just don’t expect it to be compatible with Blackberry’s email service or apps. Yes, it’s a fake, and a pretty shameless one at that, and it’s not the first time the Malaysian company CSL has had a pop at Research in Motion, the Canadian manufacturer of the genuine article. On paper the spec is quite impressive, it has dual SIM slots, a Micro SD card reader, camera, optical trackpad, a number of ‘Islamic’ features, wi-fi and the cheeky beggars have even fitted it with an analogue  TV tuner. It’s priced to sell, at around £120 but there’s not much danger of you getting hold of one in your local high street, at least not above the counter…

01/03/10

 

February

Compact Flash 5.0 Promises Petabytes

That’s 144 Petabytes to be precise, and if you want that in good old Gigabytes, that’s around 150994944 of them. Data transfer speeds are said to be in the order of 32Mb per second, but before you get too excited, no such card or storage chip exists, yet... The newly announced spec from the Compact Flash Association is basically a re-vamp of the way data on a memory card can be accessed, using a faster and more efficient 48-bit address, which opens the way for the theoretical 144Pb storage capacity. It’s sounds impressive but it’s worth remembering that 64-bit systems can theoretically address up to 16-Exabytes of data, which is 16384 petabytes, or 16777216 terabytes in old money. It sounds terrifying, but I only have to think back to the late 1970s and my first home-built computer, which had an impressive1 kilobyte of memory A few years later and my first hard disc drive had a massive 10 megabytes of capacity; I remember thinking at the time that it would take years to fill it up… 

2502

 

Safety Stick

USB memory sticks are really easy to lose and when said stick contains secret, sensitive or personal data it is a real cause for concern. Of course, if you take the trouble to encrypt your data it needn’t be a problem, but who can remember to do that? It needn’t be a problem if your data is stored on a Corsair Flash Padlock; this has built in 256-bit hardware encryption with PIN coded access. The drive has a built-in keypad for setting 4 – 10 digit PINs and if anyone tried to have multiple goes it locks them out. It’s available with 8Gb of storage and with a selling price of around £45, that’s another very good incentive not to lose it!

2202

 

Electronic Gas Guzzler

You know how it is when you run short of oxygen? Well, apparently they do in Japan and I am indebted to Engadget for alerting me to the Oxyfit Mobile Oxygen Supply, dubbed the personal oxygen-booster;  just the job when you run a bit short of the old O2. In case you are thinking it’s just a bottle of compressed gas, think again. This is a high-tech oxygen generator, powered by a re-chargeable lithium-ion battery that keeps it running for up to 5 hours. It comes with a tube and respirator thingy and is housed in a backpack that weighs in at around 1.5kg. In case you are still wondering what it’s all about, the blurb says it can ‘boost brainpower and metabolism’, and let you run further, work longer and even lose weight! Oh yes, and it’ll cost you the thick end of £1700. Clearly sales of this device to lots of brainy, oxygen deprived rich kids should be encouraged, leaving more of the natural stuff for the rest of us.

1802

 

Microsoft Takes Action Over Activation

A word to the wise, if you are not sure about the legitimacy of that copy of Windows 7 you are running on your PC prepare for your chickens to come home to roost. This week Microsoft will be releasing an update that ferrets out the numerous bogus activation scams that allow PCs to run unlicensed, counterfeit or pirated copies of Win 7. The update uses over 70 ‘signature’ files to check for iffy installations. This is a new strategy, in the past activation checks looked for unauthorised OEM product keys; this method detects the much more subtle changes made to the operating system by the various activation hacks. If it finds anything suspicious Windows goes into unactivated mode with black wallpaper plus regular pop-ups and warnings to make sure the user knows that Microsoft knows they are running unlicensed software, although apparently no other functions will be disabled. 

1502

 

Cutting Edge Security

This has to be one of the oddest things yet designed to plug into a computer’s USB socket. See if you can guess what it’s for. The name might give you a clue, it’s called the Impressioner and the pointy end fits into a car door keyhole. Still confused, well, when you insert the device the tip reads the pins inside the lock barrel, passing the information back to the computer, which generates a code that can be read by a cutting machine to produce a perfect key. It’s the brainchild of a couple of US students, who, according to Popular Mechanics, came up with the idea whilst working for a locksmith. It came to them after seeing how much trouble experts were having making car keys for locks when they didn’t have the necessary ID codes. Before you ask it will only be sold to authorised locksmiths and it can be remotely shut down if it is being used fraudulently. This model can only cope with the basic mechanical car locks fitted to older cars so it’s not much use on the fancy electronic systems used on many modern cars, but they’re working on that too, apparently…

11/02/10

 

Windows 7 Battery Basher?

In amongst the pre-launch hype surrounding Windows 7 was the claim that it would be lighter on laptop and netbook batteries, extending running times, compared with XP and Vista. My own experiences have been reasonably positive, nothing dramatic mind you, but I certainly seem to be getting a few extra minutes out of my test machines now running Win 7. However, since the launch a growing number of users have been reporting the opposite effect with significantly shorter running times and in some cases, Windows 7 is telling them that their batteries need to be replaced. Microsoft is reported to be investigating the problem, which first arose during the pre-launch beta test and judging by the increase in complaints there does indeed seem to be a problem. One of the possibilities seems to be the PC’s BIOS as this is where Win 7 gets its information about the battery. If and when Microsoft gets to the bottom of it we’ll let you know.

0402  

 

More Disturbing Robot News

Here’s another piece of robot news to give you the willies. It’s a humanoid robot baby, called Diego-San, designed by the twisted techs in the Machine Perception Lab at the University of California and Japanese robotics company Kokoro. It’s supposed to be modelled on a 1 year old child and is apparently designed to help researchers study infant motor skills, so they say... If you ask me it’s all a bit weird, why invent a robot baby when the real things are plentiful and a lot cheaper to make. I can’t stress how important it is for everyone to be on their guard against this kind of thing, you’ve seen the movies, it’s happening people!

01/02/10

 

January

Wooden It Be Nice, part 5…

If many more gadget companies jump on the eco-green bandwagon we’ll have to add splinters and deathwatch beetle to the list of hazards posed by these devices. Based in France, Lexon are big on the use of sustainable materials with a growing (no pun intended) range of products encased in wood or made using bioplastics, derived from mashed up vegetables. It also includes a number of solar powered and wind-up widgets, like this rather natty looking bamboo radio, called the LA 81 Safe. You might also be interested in a bamboo clock radio, calculator and there’s even a bamboo coffee set.

2801

 

Wristy Business

It’s called the GeoSkeeper and it has to be the simplest mobile phone yet, though it’s primary role is not for making and taking phone calls. It’s aimed at the young, elderly and vulnerable and it’s intended for emergency use. The key feature is the emergency button, which can be programmed to send out an alert and provide whoever need to know with the wearer’s precise location, thanks to the built-in GPS tracker. The mobile phone has a speakerphone facility and calls can be made using the pre-programmed speed-dial button, to a doctor, parent, carer and so on. No details yet on price or availability but if you want to know more pop along to the Aerotel website.

2501

 

Now They Can Climb…

My long-running campaign to warn the world of the dangers of robots continues to go unheeded and more evidence – if it were needed – of their intention to take over the comes from Germany and Canada. According to Engadget research teams at the Technical University of Dortmund and University of Canada have developed a robot that can climb walls. Fortunately for us humans at this early stage said wall needs to have strategically placed metal loops, but the robot is autonomous and can figure out the best route to the top, and if you happen to be up there you just know what it’s going to do to you! How long before it can do without the hoops, surely a tree-climbing robot can’t be far away then there will be no place to hide.

2101

 

New IE Vulnerability behind Google’s Chinese Concerns

A new security loophole has been discovered in Microsoft Internet Explorer. According to Engadget this is behind the recent news that Google’s Gmail system had been compromised by Chinese-based hackers, attempting to intercept the mail of human rights activists. Microsoft isn’t saying too much about the flaw at the moment, just the usual ‘…vulnerability that could allow remote code execution’ blurb. Presumably this is to stop it going any further and allow time to sort out a patch. So far it only seems to have affected Chinese users of Gmail and IE but as usual the advice is to switch to a safer browser, like Firefox, if you are concerned about your online security.

1810

 

Coke Fuelled Phone

The sequence of photos tells the whole story but for those of you still perplexed by the thought of pouring a can of Coke into a mobile phone here’s the explanation. The images come from the website of one Daizi Zheng, a Chinese born designer, now living in London and his work is part of a project to design an eco-friendly phone for Nokia. His idea is to use a ‘bio battery’, which turns carbohydrates, specifically sugar, into electricity using an enzyme catalyst. The technology is still very much in its infancy but Sony has been busy in this area. Prototypes have been developed that are capable of powering small devices. Research suggests that they could last three to four times as long as current lithium ion batteries and there is every reason to suppose there will be on-going improvements in size and performance. Bio Battery’s eco credentials are impressive and there’s no nasty waste with water and oxygen the only by-products of producing energy. There’s still a lot of work to do but the concept is sound and one day topping up your mobile phone could have a whole new meaning!

1401

 

Wi-Di and Wi Not?

Wi-Di or Wireless Display is one of those about-time-too technologies that we’ve all been waiting for, but not for much longer it seems. Wi-Di is now a reality and the first devices, probably from Netgear and Toshiba, that will allow you to wirelessly stream HD video from your laptop to your HDTV will be going on sale in the US in next few weeks. Wi-Di is based on the WiMax N Standard and laptops that use it must be Intel based and running Windows 7, so it’s not for everyone and will take a while to filter through but it could be big! The only question now is how to say Wi-Di? The obvious pronunciations ‘widdy’ and ‘we-die’ are a both bit weak so my money is on the favourite, ‘wide-eye’.

1101

 

Sony Backing SD but Sticking With Sticks

One of the more interesting items to come out of this year’s Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas is news that Sony are about to start making SD memory cards. Apparently it doesn’t mean the end of the Sony Memory Stick, which Sony has stuck grimly with, even though just about everyone else uses the near universal SD format. You can see why they’re doing it, though, SD cards and the many mini and micro variants are used in everything from cameras to mobile phones and MP3 players, and just about everything in between. Obviously it would be crazy for Sony to miss out on this massive market. Nevertheless, it reminds me somewhat of a time, back in the 1980s, when Sony suddenly started building VHS recorders, swearing blind they were still committed to making Betamax VCRs…

0701

 

Print a Pancreas

We have become accustomed to printers being able to do all sorts of clever things, but here’s one that tops them all. It’s called the 3D Bio-Printer, developed by Invetech, and if you haven’t guessed by now, it is designed to ‘print’ biological structures by placing cells of almost any type into the required 3D patterns. Using a preformed scaffold users can construct replacement tissues for diseased or damaged organs, apparently they can even print you a new tooth. This is the first production model and the manufacturers are hoping researchers will develop ways of using the machine to solve real world problems. Don’t get too excited though, it’s still very much at the development stage and we doubt very much that you’ll see one in PC World anytime soon, but if you do, you can bet the refill cartridges are going to cost a packet, and we dread to think what’s in them…

0401

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