Monday, February 17, 2020

Changing language: Program, programme, application, app

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I have always been fascinated by language and, in particular, by the evolution of the English language. I am old enough to remember when the merest mention of geeky "hardware" or "software" would prompt gales of laughter from the technically challenged. Yet these two words are now respectable and fully understood concepts. No longer is there the slightest titter when they are used.

Ever since computers were first told what to do, we have had the (American) word Program. I've always had the view that Program is a computer programme, while the English spelling is reserved for radio and television output. Now, though, thanks again to Apple, it looks like program as a term for a computer application is on the wane--if it has not already fully waned. 

Now it is "app" or "application", with app becoming more acceptable even in the broadsheet press. No self-respecting mobile platform is now complete without its own app store. Now, also, we talk routinely about PC or Mac apps instead of programs. 

I also find it fascinating the way English (or should I say American?) computer terms are dragged into foreign languages and, probably, carry a frisson of sophistication that is missing in the local equivalent. Germans now talk about downloading as just one instance; they even use the charming past tense version downgeloadet

How RedLaser can save you cash

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Today I set out to buy a Logitech Harmony One remote control, enthused by a recent MacWorld podcast. I trekked down London's techie heaven, Tottenham Court Road, and was surprised not to find one. Eventually I tracked down unit in John Lewis's ("never knowingly undersold") department store on Oxford Street. It was priced at £149.95, about £30 under the recommended list price. I was tempted. 

But I whipped out my iPhone and RedLasered the barcode (that is, I pointed the camera at the barcode and pressed the button in RedLaser). Within seconds I had a list of prices from alternative suppliers and found the same item at Amazon for £118. 

So, again, RedLaser has saved me a lot of cash. Not only this, the iPhone's versatility and superb web browsing enabled me to order the Logitech from Amazon while standing in John Lewis's tech department. I couldn't have done that on my old and trusted Palm Treo. 

RedLaser is a superb application and can save you loads of cash over the year. I've also found it useful as a means of remembering things I've browsed in shops: all that's needed is a simply scan of the bar code on the box. 

As an aside, though, it was remarkable at home many web sites were selling the Logitech at well above recommended retail price.

iTunes Uni: new campus for the masses

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This one slipped under the radar as far as I'm concerned. In addition to all the usual iTunes goodies, including podcasts, we now have the iTunes University. As an avowed podcast fan, I was fascinated to find that university lectures and, in some cases, complete courses, have their own iTunes section and are available for downloading now. I'm halfway through a series on Old English by Dr. Stuart Lee of Oxford University and I have also downloaded two audio tours of the British Library which I will try out on site at the Library in the near future. The concept is excellent and the list of content grows by the day. Definitely worth a browse.

MacOldie welcomes contributions

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MacOldie (the blog, that is) is one year old and interest and support is now coming from all over the world. It's a tough task blogging every day and there are both prolific and fallow periods. Contributions from readers are always welcome; just email them to me (address at the top of the left-hand column). I reserve the right to edit stories but will preserve your style. And, if you wish, you can use your own by-line.

Michael

Red Laser: iPhone app makes shopping fun, saves cash

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Red laserEvery so often along comes an iPhone app that is really superbly useful and you wonder how you managed without it. Such an app is Red Laser. The concept is simple but brilliant. 

Out shopping, you often see products you'd like to buy but decide to go home and research prices before getting out the credit card. Well, Red Laser does this for you in seconds, even before you've replaced the box on the shelf. All you do is open the app and point the iPhone camera at the barcode. you don't even need to press the shutter because Red Laser senses when it has done a successful scan. 

Immediately, Red Laser searches Amazon and Google and produces a list of competitive prices. Here in the UK it sticks to British suppliers, as you'd wish. I tried it today at the Apple Store. A Kensington mini-USB hub was £9.95. Red Laser found it on the web for £8.81. So, taking into account the shipping costs, it made sense to buy from Apple. 

This is altogether brilliant and certainly makes shopping more fun and more productive. Apart from the chance to compare prices, it is a quick way of noting possible purchases and then researching comparative data on the internet later. Red Laser currently costs £1.19: a guinea well spent.

USB charger standardisation in Europe

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By Michael Evans

AS FROM NEXT YEAR all mobile phones sold in Europe must be capable of being charged via a USB cable and this is a welcome development. No longer will there be dozens of different types of charger, all with different connectors. Consumers will be able to keep one charger--a USB device similar to, for instance, the iPod power unit--and use it for all future phones. The word is that mobile phone manufacturers will cease to provide chargers in the box, merely a USB cable for connecting to a computer or universal charger. EU officials believe this new law will save thousands of tons of useless chargers being dumped every year. 

One problem, though, is the bewildering array of USB connectors found on a wide variety of devices. For some years the USB Mini connector has been common on cameras (for data transfer, not for charging) but recently we've seen the USB Micro-B connector appearing on devices such as the MiFi and the Morphie Juice Pack for iPhone. While this connector, the flatter Micro-B, is likely to become the de facto standard for most small devices, it is currently new and little supported. Micro USB I wanted a USB-A to Micro-B cable for the MiFi and had great difficulty locating one in Tottenham Court Road. One shop asked £15 for a one-meter cable and I thought this excessive. Fortunately, the internet came to the rescue and I found Cable Universe who supplied a 1.8-meter for £1.73, including tax. This is a very fair price and I bought two for under a third of the £15 in-store offer.

I then turned my attention to the Sony Reader which, in addition to the Mini USB connector, has a jack socket for charging. Strangely, the device will charge though the USB cable provided it is connected to a computer running the Sony reader software, but it will not charge from a hub or from a wall charger via the USB Micro socket. I discovered, though, that the reader shares its jack and charging arrangements with the Sony Playstation, so I was able to buy a USB-A to Jack cable from a local games shop.

Armed with just three USB cables (with Apple, USB Mini and USB Micro-B plugs) I can now travel light, with only one USB charger--either the handy Apple device or a multi unit such as the four-outlet Kensington charger available from the Apple Store online. This should be the future, but we do need to standardise on the smaller Micro-B USB plug. Experts tell me that the Micro-B is both smaller and sturdier than the Mini, so let's hope we find this on more devices.


PUMA segways in

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HOT ON THE WHEELS of the Segway comes the PUMA, a new two-wheeled rickshaw which uses Segway balancing technology and can reach 35 mph. Apparently it is a collaborative effort between Segway and General Motors.  

This confection is billed as another revolution in urban transport and I am grateful to the guys at Engaget (again) for their initial impressions. Apparently, it is quite fun to ride but is let down by the lack of infrastructure--that is, somewhere to ride it. It is unlikely to be allowed to mix it with road traffic, it is too big (and too fast) to use the footways and certainly too dangerous to be allowed into cycle lanes. Apparently GM believe towns and cities will be redesigned around the PUMA.

I tend to agree with other commentators that mass acceptance of electric-powered transport will not happen until we can repackaged something approximating to a real car and endow it with real-world performance, safety and range. Something like a Fiat 500 or Toyota Yaris with 100 mph, a range of up to 200 miles and a recharge time of under five minutes would fit the bill. Until that happens, and it depends largely on power-storage technology, the revolution ain't going to happen.

MacOldie is launching a competition to define the new verb "to puma".

i-Doodz for your own avatar

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IMG_0025Regular readers will know that MacOldie is far too ancient to be turned on by computer games. He's made of far more serious stuff than that. However, one little fun application for the iPhone has got the MacO juices running. That's i-Doodz which was used to create that nice picture of Fergus MacOldie clutching his iPhone in front of his iMac. 

The Doodz are a couple of British guys, one an artist and one a computer nut, who put their talents together to produce a handy little application which enables users to create their own avatar. It is a good illustration of the way in which many entrepreneurs have taken advantage of the billion-download iPhone Apps Store.

When you open i-Doodz you're presented with a selection of chubby naked bodies on to which you hang shoes, hair, underwear, tops, pants, hats and accessories. This is a really fun application and actually has a useful purpose. MacOldie has never looked so handsome, I'll wager. 

New to the i-Doodz stable, apparently, is i-Doodz Sexy, which is no doubt far too exciting for MacOldie's venerable ticker and he hasn't yet downloaded it for fear of shock.  Nevertheless it might appeal to more adventurous blogees who want to while away the hours on their own iPhone.

MacOldie on MacDesertIsland

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DSCN0202SM Our Mac musings are now established in a virtual Mac desert, the island of Mykonos in the Aegean Sea. Great scenery, great beaches, sun on the rise, but No Mac's Land for our favourite computer brand. There is one friend on the island who owns a G4 PowerBook and I sort of know of a white MacBook which comes to visit a neighbour's pad occasionally. 

And I suspect there must be at least one other Mac on the island because I often see a black Mini Cooper sporting an Apple logo on its rump down by the harbour. Strange, that, how many Mini Coopers there are with Apple logos. Maybe its an on-going thing between Mac owners and Mini drivers. 

Anyway, as you've gathered, this isn't the place to be if you need another Pro power brick in a hurry. The stores here on the little island (such as they are) cater exclusively for PC owners and, to some extent, that's typical of Greece as a whole. 

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As far as I can see, Greece is one of the few European countries without official Apple representation. Here you have to deal with a Greek importer and they have what appears to be a very sketchy operation. They do have an "Apple Store" in central Athens, on Akademias Street, but it is an extremely strange place. With all the Apple products encased in glass boxes, it's more like a mini annexe of the new Akropolis Museum. And don't ask to buy anything. Don't be ridiculous: you must order from the web site, which appears to direct all orders to Ireland. Fortunately for Athens-based Apple nuts, there are a few computers for sale in two or three electronics multiple stores such as Multirama and Public. It's no wonder Macs aren't popular, however, because the back-up service is extremely poor.

All in all, Greece isn't the place for Mac fans. I miss my regular fix at the shrine of the blessed Steve Jobs in Regent Street, and I dread anything going wrong because Apple Care doesn't seem to operate here. Until the worst happens, MacOldie will continue to click away on the blogging keys and keep you informed of developments here in the city of white-framed paving stones. At least the sun shines between postings.

Steam-powered iPhone charger

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180px-Stephenson's_Rocket Despite my love of the latest gadgets, I do have a soft spot for old mechanical contraptions such as typewriters, trams, cars and, of course, steam engines. So I am grateful to Engadget for news of the latest development in USB-charging power. An enterprising mechanic has harnessed a small steam engine to a generator in order to produce enough power to charge and run any device that can take a USB feed--including our beloved iPhone. Now this is much more fun than simply plugging the thing into the wall socket. It makes a lovely noise and you really get all the visual and audible clues that your device is being charged.


As Engadget says, this could be yet another example steampunk. There has been a recent revival in the construction of fantasy machines which look like Victorian science fiction but often contain modern equipment. An example would be a Mac Mini hidden inside a fantastic re-creation of Charles Babbage's difference engine. 

I rather fancy a replica of Stephenson's Rocket in my garage, powered up to provide light and heat. What a wonderful concept! Come to think of it, that steam USB charger isn't as daft as it sounds. All you need is a drop of paraffin and you have enough power to charge a phone. When all else fails, this could be the answer.