Thursday, March 4, 2021

USB charger standardisation in Europe

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



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


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


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. 


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


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.

Tweet anyone?


I may be an ancient Macfanboy but I'm not backward in adopting new technology. Not for me the ancient G4 and a copy of Apple Works. Give me the latest OS and the rammiest computer money can buy. I just like new things. But I have to say that I feel deprived because I cannot get used to Twitter. Everyone, especially the podcasters, rave about Twitter. Tour_1

Tweeting is the new publishing and anyone who doesn't tweet every minute of the day is somehow a Luddite. Well I've tweeted and twotterd and can't see the point of it. During the over-hyped mini riots of last week's G20 meeting in the City, I thought I'd monitor events on Twitter. Well, I have to say most of the comments were illiterate and difficult to read ("BG @twitbox:  pleze relay video of assault on innocient rioter") and I couldn't really see the point of it. I've tried, I really have, 'onest officer. 

I twittered MacOldie but was profoundly embarrassed to record I was eating a bacon sandwich in Fouberts' caff. Who on earth, except my digestive system, is interested in this? Maybe I am too old/out of step/slow of learning but I do wonder sometimes.

Internet Use ‘Good for the Brain’


Using the internet can counteract the age-related physiological changes that cause the brain to slow down, according to a report from the University of California. It is already accepted that tasks such as crossword puzzles stimulate and exercise the brain and keep the effects of ageing at bay. 

I have thought for a long time that computer use, not necessarily internet surfing, can have the same beneficial effects. It now seems that there is a glimmer of proof in the new report. According to the lead researcher, Professor Gary Small, the results indicating that emerging computerised technologies may have physiological effects and potential benefits for middle-aged and older adults.

It is all part of keeping an active mind and I find it sad that many older people are completely opposed to computer use and pour scorn on anyone who wants to send them an email. For older people, computer use and access to the internet provides a new opportunity to learn and make new friends. At a very basic level, the internet is a means of reducing purchase costs of many every-day items and major purchases.

Learning and using a foreign language is also good for the brain, as I know from my own experience, and retirement is an ideal opportunity to start a new language.

Bluetooth Headsets


Am I alone in wondering about the effectiveness of Bluetooth headsets? I've been trying out the iPhone Bluetooth headset and love the design and the nifty way of charging via the combined iPhone/headset adaptor cable. It works well, although I have experienced some of the problems I've noticed with previous in-ear bluetooth devices. Callers often claim they cannot hear you properly. You do have to shout a bit. I have also never liked the multi-function single button--one press for this, two quick presses for that. I'm often left wondering just what is happening and what I've initiated.

I have tried the Apple device over several days but am not convinced that it is for me. I feel a bit nerdy wearing it in my ear and, frankly, it isn't all that secure. I can imagine it falling out and getting lost. I actually prefer the standard wired headset/microphone which comes with the iPhone. At least I can listen to music or a podcast and select a call easily. And callers are not always complaining. I have now improved on this by the purchase of the Sennheiser iPhone earphones. They are very comfortable, the sound is great and the microphone (with activation button) is very conveniently placed on the cable. Also, I have the feeling that it is less nerdy to appear to be listening to an iPod than to be ever ready for a phone call by wearing a bluetooth device.

Mac User Groups


This evening I'm paying my first visit to the London Mac User Group (LMUG) and it turns out to be a friendly and informative affair at The Hobgoblin pub in Balcombe Street NW1. For anyone new to the Mac world, a MUG is an ideal introduction and a way of getting to know some fellow users. Meetings usually take place every month and the format includes a presentation by an expert and a very useful question-and-answer session. Similar MUG groups operate throughout the country. You can find a complete list of local groups at Mac Users UK.