Tag Archives: Just Technology

The Bluetooth Boy is now powered by WordPress!


After some thought and consideration, the Bluetooth Boy and the 6log blog have now moved to a new blogging platform.

6log used to run on the Simple PHP Blog, which was, well, simple, indeed, one of its best points.  But alas, some of the fancier features of the blogging world have passed it by, like mobile access, social network sharing and such sorts of goodies.  And with pressure of life and stuff I have been finding that the hand-cranked way I was loading HTML formatted blog posts, was just too time-consuming, so that my blog-rate had reduced to a crawl.


So, Single Retail Banana, Unhappy Voucher and the Crunchy Octopus have now found a home on an upgraded service based on WordPress 3.5.1.  The migration was aided by various bits that other people have left lying around the Web after their own efforts, mainly a migration script by Miguel Herrero (with significant mods to cope with the new WP term tag/category structure), and an SPHP permalink plug-in from Florian Klien.

So we shall see now, if I can fight my way through the comment spam…

comment spam seems to be endemic to WordPress linked blogs, compared to good old SPHPBlog – the first arrived as I was writing this post!

…and post a bit more frequently


Technology and the Zone of Uselessness

They let me out for a short trip to the shops today, and whilst I was waiting to pay, I watched an old geezer struggling to put his chip'n'pin card in the right way round.  Which set me off thinking about what happens when you get old, and at what point does the pace of technology evolution overtake and you are left in the dust, a crumbly, fumbling, useless old curmudgeon, no longer able to function properly nor interact sensibly with the environment.

To further the analysis we can consider this table of the evolution of user interfaces (keeping a fairly tight scope to cover mainly electronic means)…

Primary Mode
of Interaction
Examples Era of invention
Tap Telegraph key (button) Late Georgian
Shout Candlestick phone Victorian
Rotate Rotary phone, Wireless with Bakelite knobs, steering wheel (drive by wire) Victorian
Bash / Prod  QWERTY keyboard, keypad Victorian
Look Eye tracking Early Miss-Marple
Wiggle Joystick Wilson-WhiteHeatian for electrical (although Early Edwardian/La Belle Époque (for mechanical)
Blow Typing aids,
Blow controlled mobile phone, ignoring the Captains speaking tube…
Waggle Mouse Engelbarto-Xerox PARCian
Scribble GridPad, Apple Newton, Palm, Ipaq, Tablet PC Yuppie-time
Fondle & Stroke Smart phone, tablet SonyEricssonian-Jobsian
Wave Nintendo Wii, Xbox Kinect, data glove TomCruisian
Shout 2 Speech Recognition Rock and Roll, but it hasn't really happened yet properly, maybe JeremyClarksonian, when it does (JC is famously unable to use any voice operated equipment)
Think emotiv EPOC neuroheadset Yuppie-time

…and whilst you can see that a lot of stuff was actually invented a long time ago, having been around for over 100 years in some form, there has been quite a rush of invention in more recent years, hanging on the cot-tails of the primary evolution of computing technology, no surprise there, I suppose.

One of the more interesting insights, for me as an analyst and connoisseur of number crunching, is that whilst many of the newer inventions have been for various methods of computer control,  there is a paucity of newly invented data entry methods, beyond the humble and ancient keyboard.  

With the dominant design of the QWERTY keyboard to the fore, there have been really no successful disruptive plays, and most inventions have focussed on just reworking the layout (e.g., DVORAK, frogpad, FITALY and their kin).  Chord keyboards made a bid, but, of course, like any shorthand method you need to learn a new language, and they never took off.

The FITALY keyboard is a nice design that fits well with modern joy-pad units like xBox and smartphone touch interfaces, as it minimise the amount of clicks, or finger movement movement to type a letter so is quite fast , however at $49 for a tablet computer it is never going to amount to much

Extending the idea of chord keyboards and use of non-verbal language, there is undoubtedly some scope for non-keyboard data-entry devices using gesture control  to recognise sign language (and that hopefully avoid Gorilla-arm that afflicted early days vertical touch screen users).   Although, the new “language” learning problem still exists, and Babel will always be an issue, unless we all adopt Ameslan or Microsoftlan, or AppleJobsLan.

Now I believe that I can rightly consider myself  pretty well up on the world of technology and there is very little that fazes me.

In fact, many pieces of broken equipment will just fix them in my presence, or so it seems, when my family call the DadHelpdesk, and I just lean over languidly and in my calming presence, and the recalcitrant kit just bursts in to life (maybe with a judicious key press or two)

But don't ask me about *&^$*^%ing plumbing – compression joints, meh!

So I do think that my threshold of uselessness is likely to be pretty high (or do I mean low), and consoling me today, my elder son told me that “people don't get dumb, they just get old” (i.e, if they were stupid to start with, they will be stupid, old people), so maybe there will be some hope…

However, like VCRs, which kids can programme with ease whilst their parents just fumble, the evolution  of new technologies and UIs in particular, is much influenced by the volume of fluent, capable users, which itself flows with the generations.

To this, one area of technology that I do not really bother with is computer games beyond a half-finished PC version of Dune in 1992, I'm just not interested in playing them (I can feel my life slipping away).  Therefore I am not particularly adroit when it comes to using a joypad, and have not built up great dexterity and flexibility in my hands and fingers (unlike most teenage boys) for that type of device.  The one time I played Castle Wolfenstein, I spent the whole game bumping into walls whilst staring at the floor or sky!  And Second Life, oh so bad!

More so, I  have never been able to make the three-fingered boy scout sign – I never was a boy scout, also just not interested – my hands just don't bend that way.

And finally, I have a very highly tuned embarrassment inhibitor which tries to stop me doing things that would cause a red face (it doesn't always work, even with my personaility type…)

So what is my old-age technology nightmare scenario?

  • having to visit Castle Wolfenstein to get my pension…
  • …electronically bruised after a long, slow, meandering (virtual) walk from the entrance of the Cyberspace Business Park…
  • …inputting my data by waving my arms wildly whilst holding my walking stick trying not to fall over…
  • …and making complex mudra with my crippled and twisted old hands.

Ye gods!  Build me a Bluetooth neural uplink, and make it snappy!

Easter Snow: Devant le Deluge

First an earthquake, now a White Easter, if I were superstitious, I should be expecting some further meteoro- geo- or otherological event to be coming up soon.

The snowy countryside is certainly pretty…
..but maybe it could presage the inundation of the low-lying lands by the rising seas.

In that event, the Lincolnshire Wolds where I live (ringed in yellow on the map below), would become an island off the east coast of South Yorkshire.


Almost serendipitously, I read that the Met Office launched its new “traffic light” severe weather warning system, which was rushed out a day early to announce the snow-storms over the weekend.

I am sure that traffic light afficionados, highways engineers, and railway signalling engineers all over the country will be grinding their teeth because it really is nothing like a proper traffic light at all. It does have the good old red and green, which do not work for the one in 10 red-green colour blind men in the population, but bizarrely, it has both yellow and orange aspects, just to confuse the other 90% of the population. Very democratic, but not very ergnonomic.

My wife and I have been telling the neighbours for some time that we are going to build a jetty at the end of the lane and park a boat there ready for the floods. So in anticipation of the Deluge, and our future status as island dwellers, it seems an appropriate moment to take a leaf from the Met Office book and create a localised version of the Severe Weather Warning System, below. The legend is helpfully mostly coloured blue…


From Antiques to Comedy Electronics

Horncastle in Lincolnshire is quite well-known for its antiques shops where you can filch through piles of broken crockery, dusty books, rusty buckets and dead peoples sheets.

It is less well-known as a venue for comedy electronics. However appearances can be deceptive, as indeed I discovered when wandering through the town centre in the vain hope I might find a shop selling something less than ancient.

I was actually looking a phono-to-3.5mm jack convertor cable, but when I saw this…
…I had to have it.

No chance of losing this one down the back of the sofa!

Shaken, not Stirred

Well, that was exciting…It is not often that this remote and dusty corner of England shows up on the national news, but the earthquake of last night was certainly an interesting seismological experience.

Lincolnshire is not exactly an active seismic area, as the BGS press release shows
The last event of any note was in 1703 in the Humber Estuary, so it is the first time my house has had a good shake since it was built.

Having been briefly shaken out of bed last night, I have spent the morning working playing with Google Earth to plot the epicentre of the earthquake and see how close it really was. Just 3-4 miles, in fact, although the location moved from east to north of Market Rasen as the BGS updated its reported data in the morning.

Of course, Google Earth is like a chinese meal, you want another hit shortly after, so I also had to look up the official Dullest Place in Britain (Grid square SN8323) as determined by BBC Home Truths listeners who must have quite a bit of time on their hands to have scanned through the full set of OS Landranger maps to find the emptiest square.

This notable location is not so very far away in North Lincolnshire. I should however say that Lincolnshire Wolds are much more interesting than that, we do at least have contour lines, and we now also have our very own seismographs…

The interesting technological feature of the night was that almost as fast as thought itself, my daughter received many texts from friends from the local area, reporting example, that their parents were running around panicking, but that they were chilled (of course).

In the end, my wife summed it up stoically to my daughter:
“It’s just an earthquake, dear, go back to bed”

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Stupid PIN machine design

According to statistical studies, being taller than average is supposed to bring some advantages in love and money. However, being 6’4″ tall, my experience is certainly different when it comes to being a taller person in an average sized physical world, and I have for many years harboured a paranoid suspicion that there are some chippy design Napoleons out there (you know who you are) deliberately trying to make life miserable for people of greater than average stature.

Air travel is probably the worst: I cannot achieve the “brace” position, instead just bite the seat cushion in front and hope for the best. Also, much touted flat beds are just flying coffins to me, packed like a sardine as I am into a space just wide enough but 4″ too short. Sleep, huh!

Over the last couple of years, various pieces of technology have got closer to the ground to accommodate the needs of wheelchair users and other such. Whilst it would certainly be churlish and ungallant to complain about that in our post-modern world, I will however strongly criticise the engineers who come up with the appalling ergonomics of equipment requiring a CHIP & PIN machine, which they embed three inches into the metalwork at knee level. In the picture shown below, you can see the view I get of a supremely bad example at a local car park…

stupid pin machine

Come on, guys, get a grip and design something that works for everybody!

On Traffic Lights…

I was disturbed by Martin Cassini's report on Newsnight proposing the abolition of traffic lights, which surely don't deserve such a fate.

Being fascinated by many forms of technology and their place in their world, traffic lights are often one of the first things I have seen when I go on business trips around the world.

Although most other people will not have spotted it I am sure (or be remotely interested), there is actually quite a variation between countries, and the style of lights can maybe even indicate something about the self image of the parent country.

For example, Paris has those pointlessly tall, rather haughty and arrogant faux-gold painted posts (so tall indeed that they need little repeaters at driver level), largely ignored by everybody.

In Dublin, I have seen a huge variety of different types from that looked like they had been bought in job-lots from the US and UK when they had some money to spend – a bit like the apparel of a deranged and eccentric old maiden-aunt.

US lights are for the thrill-seekers amongst us who love that random moment when the red light flicks to green.

In Sweden, lights are very logical and have a green-amber phase instead of a plain amber to bring balance to the coruscating display.

In Switzerland, the lights are totally prescriptive, every red and amber filter light has a simulacram of the green arrow carved on it in black. No confusion there then, unlike the UK, where modern installations leave you wondering just which red light you should be watching (usually the wrong one).

Actually racking my brains, I cannot remember much about the traffic lights I encountered in Australia as I was negotiating the notorious “Melbourne hook turns “.

And to Nigeria, where the only traffic lights I saw there in the glittering capital of Abuja were switched off…

Creating Picture Blogs

I fancied the idea that it would be good to be able to create blog postings that look more like that standard text plus a picture.

I actually achieved the goal of tweaking SPHPBLOG so that it can display HTML cut out of a Microsoft Publisher created web page.

Of course, this suddenly makes production of each entry much more of a performance than just text + a picture, and raises the pain threshhold beyond that which would make me actually want to create anything.

So, now I am happy I could create Picture Blogs if I want to, I'll just give the simple format a go to see if anything flows from my virtual pen…

New Technology Awards 2006

Before the New Year gets too old, I thought in an atypical moment of whimsy that I would just briefly mark the transition into another year by putting forward nominations for a select few things that annoyed, amused or excited me in 2005.

Oscar Wilde award for Technology as Art – Beautiful but Useless

Mobile technology is a fertile area for lovely looking “boys toys” and gadgets that never work quite as you hoped when you get them out of the box…

Runner-up: The Filofax Digital Organiser with Nokia SU-1B Digital Pen – Beautiful leather, high quality paper, and a snazzy looking pen, but it fills your Outlook calendar with meaningless scribble and unreadable appointments due to poor handwriting recognition

Winner: The i-Tech Virtual Keyboard , for the second year running. Now it uses Bluetooth and needs no cables, just a perfectly flat table to work on and an RSI-inducing typing posture. Maybe third-time lucky.

George Orwell award for Techno-Paranoia

According to recent estimates, the UK has over 4m surveillance cameras, reportedly as many as the rest of the EU put together, and accounting for 1/5th in the world. Although there was some solace in the recently announced curtailment of speed camera installation, we seem to be the most observed nation in the world – Truman Show UK…

Runner-up: The Intelligent Road Stud Camera with its mate, the Intelligent Road Stud Sensor, which replace “cats-eyes” in the road with active systems that record speed, number-plates, weather conditions and such like, communicating with roadside boxes by GPRS mobile telephony.

Winner: The Government, which revealed “Bigger Brother” plans to develop a national “vehicle movement database” capable of processing over 35m identifications daily eventually storing information on 100m vehicles for up to two years. This is linked with the rollout of new Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras – every 400 yards on the motorways, if our most senior traffic police man gets his way!

Flat Earth award for `spin' over substance

There are so many candidates on their well-intentioned, misguided path to Hades that it is hard to choose. Fortunately, most of them come from outside the sphere of technology-based businesses.

Runner-up: “Deferred success” which achieved eponymous deferment

Winner: The inter-departmental Government spat over the funding of the UK `Respect Coordinator' – “Never mind the evidence, get a sense of conviction”, to paraphrase what senior ministers were told (allegedly)

If attempts, like these, to bring about the death of rational thinking, rigorous analysis and plain commonsense get you going, then two excellent books tried to resist the wave of irrationality: “How Mumbo-jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions” by Francis Wheen, and “Bad Thoughts: A Guide to Clear Thinking”, by Jamie Whyte

Best Newcomer

In the area of interesting technology developments is `e-paper' which showed its head in 2005. E-paper can be used to make flexible, foldable electronic display screens. It could significantly change the format and shape of computers, maybe to trouser-pocket sized, disposable full-colour moving-picture advertisements – the Kleenex Komputer…

Runner-up: The Seiko e-Paper Watch which looks like something out of Star Trek and will probably give you eye-strain reading the numbers

Winner: The Readius , a “concept car” from Philips in the form of an e-reader with a 5 inch roll-up display.

Time is too short to continue and nominate candidates for, say, the Nuremberg Award for nonsensical adherence to daft rules, the Watson-Hartree Award for getting the “numbers” wrong or the Mary Poppins award for magical revenue models and incredible business plans.

If you have any nominations for your own irrititants and stimulants, then do add a comment

Challenges of Rural Telecommunications

For those of you who have never ventured outside major urban areas, the pleasures of country living may yet have escaped you, especially with the easy availability of 8-20Mb broadband in many towns and cities.

Lincolnshire is a very rural county in a neglected corner of the UK, sandwiched between the bracing North Sea winds and the smoke and dirt of the declining industrial areas in the spine of England. In Lincolnshire we grow the potatoes and harvest the seas so that the ex-miners and steel workers can eat fish and chips with the knives and forks that used to made in the factory, that is now a call centre (or retail park).

It is one of the largest counties in the UK, yet it contains almost none of the population so has some interesting physical and economic challenges when it comes to telecommunications. Geographically, it is mostly flat with a couple of small lumps – I live on one, at the stately height of 130 metres above sea level, and Lincoln Cathedral is on the other, about 17 miles away to the South West. It is a bit like the The Netherlands, but the hills are much higher there. Their tallest is 321m, although only 1/3 is actually Dutch, the rest being shared with the Germans and Belgians – though Lincolnshire's hills might beat some of those in the Great Plains of America.

You expect to drive at least 5 miles to buy a carton of fresh milk, along roads that have the third highest death rate in Europe (after Greece and Portugal). These are mostly single carriageway roads, of course, there being few dual carriageways, and no motorways/freeways at all in the whole county. We are physically 150 miles away from London and about 40 years behind virtually, with communications technology genrally being “Miss Marple” to the rest of world's “CSI”.

This sort of geographic isolation and emptiness means that there is a dearth of modern technology here as nobody was able to defend the business case (until recently). When I had a fax line installed, it took three men over a day to string the new cables across the countryside from the access box about 3 miles away in the next village – all for the bargain price of BT's regulated fee of £99 at the time. I do however possess what must be one of the few ISDN video conferencing systems in the county, cows and sheep tend not to use them because the buttons are too small for their hooves and cleats, and the farmers just shout louder at each other after a good “dagging” session.

However, one of the biggest excitements (yes, I have finally got there) is that Broadband finally arrived and we got hooked up to a 1Mbps service so my emails now arrive much faster than before. The kids can also now enjoy online gaming with XBox and PS2, and learn new words from various Beavis' and Buttheads around the world. Of course, this all means very little to the outside world, but the lights of the cyber-culture just came on a bit brighter in this windy out of the way place.

The arrival of broadband has given me the excuse of finally solve one of my domestic technical challenges, that of getting the network throughout the house. In some places the walls are over 27inches thick and made of stone and well nigh impossible to drill so structured cabling is out. Being a stunted H-shape, there are usually quite a few feet of stone by line of sight between any two points in the house which also creates wireless challenges. Voice comms by using wireless DECT phones works OK (with a repeater), but WiFi just doesn't cut it – three networks down and counting.

I was therefore very impressed to discover PLC technology (based on the Homeplug standard) which links the Ethernet network over the power cables (originally 14Mbps, now 85MBbps and beyond) – quite adequate for piping Broadband connectivity. Bearing in mind the typical complexity of any networking solution, this just works with stunning simplicity straight out of the box!