Gadget Man – Episode 137 – Retro Gadgets Part 5 – VHS vs Betamax

We reach the fifth part of our series on Retro Gadgets and in this one, we focus on the 1st Format Wars where VHS fought Betamax for dominance in the VCR format battle for supremacy.

During the ’80s, video entertainment came home with the introduction of the Video Cassette Recorder and with it came competing standards.

The Format Wars - Betamax vs VHS
The Format Wars – Betamax vs VHS

The main standards were Sony’s Betamax and JVC’s VHS. Both were looking for market dominance, but who was to win?

Find out what happened and how we still witness mega-corporation format rules today.

Click on the play button above and don’t forget to subscribe using the widget above and I will see you very soon.

Matt

Gadget Man – Episode 136 – What is happening to iTunes?

Apple has now officially announced that they are splitting the iTunes app into THREE different services in the next few months.

The 3 apps will focus on Music, TV and Podcasts and will finally separate these services from the iTunes app which was initially written synchronise copy-protected music to and from the first iPods.

Apple WWDC19
Apple WWDC19 – Image Credit: Apple Inc

Listen in to my interview with James Hazell on BBC Radio Suffolk to find out what iTunes was and what it will become in the near future.

Don’t forget to Like, Subscribe and Share and I will see you very soon

Matt

Gadget Man – Episode 135 – Retro Gadget Part 4 – SodaStream

In this episode, I talk to Matt Marvell at BBC Radio Suffolk about the SodaStream.

The SodaStream is a fizzy drink machine which uses CO2 gas forced under pressure into an attached bottle of fresh water. After fizzing has taken place, the user adds their choice of flavoured concentrate to the water and thus create their own home-made carbonated drinks.

SodaStream
SodaStream

SodaStream was popular in the ’70s and ’80s with big-named brands such as Irn-Bru, Tizer and Fanta licensing their concentrate, with many other brands and flavours available.

The product has been modernised over its lifetime with Samsung building the product into some of its refrigerators.

In this episode of the podcast, we chat about our childhood memories of the SodaStream.

You can listen in my click on the link above or subscribing using your favourite podcast platform.

Don’t forget to Like, Share and Subscribe!

Thanks for listening

Matt

Gadget Man – Episode 134 – Retro Gadget Part 3 – Hostess Trolleys

Now we have reached the third part of our Retro Gadget series, we go left-field by selecting something that has been a part of peoples dining rooms for many many years.

Hostess Trolley
Hostess Trolley

Yes, I’m talking about the Hostess Trolley, a dining gadget that has been keeping our dinner party food warm for many years.

Listen in to the podcast by clicking on the play button above and subscribe using your favourite podcast app using the widget.

Don’t forget to Like and Share and I will see you very soon

Matt

Gadget Man – Episode 133 – Alexa is now reading Bedtime Stories

In this podcast episode, I speak to Mark Murphy at BBC Radio Suffolk about reports that Smart Speakers are now taking parents places by reading stories to children.

Intelligent Assistant Smart Speaker
Intelligent Smart Speakers are now taking over parental responsibilities in some cases.

BookTrust surveyed 1000 parents and discovered that 25% have used Alexa or Siri to read stories to their children.

Here I discuss the survey with Mark and how the changing face of parenting has lead to the use of smart speakers to step-in when parenting becomes too busy.

You can listen in to the episode by clicking on the play button above, or subscribe using your favourite podcast app by clicking the subscribe button.

Thanks for reading and listening in and see you next time.

Matt

Why Is My Computer So Slow?

A slow computer can be frustrating to use. Whilst PCs tend to slow down naturally with age, there are many individual factors that can cause a computer to perform slower. If you’ve noticed recently that your computer is taking ages to load, here are a few possible causes that could be worth looking into and what you can do to get your computer running normally again.

Computer is Slow

You need to restart your computer

This is a fairly simple cause, but one that many people overlook. If your computer is often left in standby, there could be background processes piling up. In most cases, whenever you close a programme, certain processes from that programme continue to run. These can start to slow down your computer as they build up.

You may be able to manually end these processes in task manager, but because it’s not always easy to determine which processes are which, shutting down your computer can be a much easier way of ending these background processes. Ideally, you should shut down your PC at least twice a week – this can also be important for downloading the latest software updates.

You need to declutter your computer

Too many files on your computer could be causing you to run out of hard drive space. Once your hard drive gets to 95% capacity you’ll notice that it starts to seriously slow down. However, many computers may start to slow down well before this simply because data is being stored in the wrong place (defragging your computer can solve this).

There are all kinds of ways to declutter your computer. Deleting unnecessary files is one way to free up space and help speed up your computer. When doing this, you may be able to move certain files to an external hard drive or the cloud so that they’re not taking up space on your computer’s hard drive. You can also find ways of freeing up application memory, such as deleting unwanted programmes and browser extensions – you can follow this link for more information on freeing up this type of memory. Defragging your computer could also help.

You need to upgrade your RAM

Even by clearing out your computer, you may find that certain files and software take up too much memory. Cheaper and older computers tend to suffer from this problem more and may not be built to meet the demands of today’s complex and flashy programmes (the likes of Microsoft Word and Adobe Photoshop are some of the biggest popular culprits).

Upgrading your RAM could give you more memory to work with, allowing you to use these more demanding programmes – you can find out more information on this here.

There are too many start up programmes

Does your computer take ages to load when initially starting it up? This is likely to be the result of having too many start up programmes. These are programmes that automatically load up when you turn on your computer.

Changing the settings of a few of these programmes so that they don’t automatically open up could help your computer to load more quickly during start up. It’s worth allowing certain programmes to automatically start up like anti-virus software, however you probably don’t need Spotify or Steam to automatically load up.

Your hard drive is faulty

A slow computer could be the result of a hardware issue. Hard drives can naturally wear over time and may often cause a computer to act slowly. It may only take two to three years of consistent use for this to happen. Hard drives can also be damaged if you happen to drop your computer or spill something on it. Dust may also accumulate in fans and cause a hard drive to overheat.

In all cases, this is something that may require the help of an IT technician. A new hard-drive may be the only solution – if you catch the problem early enough, you should be able to salvage all your files, allowing you to transfer them to a new hard drive and continue on as normal.

You’ve got a virus

It’s possible that there could also be a virus on your computer causing it to act slowly. If you’ve also noticed a rogue programme on your desktop or weird ads appearing in your browser, it’s possible that you could have malware installed – this is a malicious programme that will install itself on your computer and usually try to generate income by clogging your browsers full of ads. Some malware may even disguise as anti-virus software and tell you that you have viruses on your computer when it is in fact the cause of the virus!

A robust security programme should be able to detect and block these viruses. That said sometimes a virus may sneak past, especially if it’s a new virus and your anti-virus software hasn’t been updated recently. Taking your computer to a technician could help you to get to the bottom of the issue.

Your anti-virus software is being overprotective

Occasionally, anti-virus software can be to blame. Such software can use up a lot of processing power simply by scanning your computer in the background.

You may find that it does scheduled scans at certain times of the day – changing the time of these scans to late at night when you’re not using your computer could prevent them from interfering with your day-to-day computer usage. Make sure that you also don’t have two conflicting anti-virus programmes installed that may be working against one another, resulting in your computer acting slowly.

Gadget Man – Episode 132 – Retro Gadgets – Part Two – Sony Walkman

In the second of my 10 Retro Gadgets of the Week, I talk about arguably one of the most important inventions of the 20th century!

Don’t forget to listen in to the podcast link above where I talk about the gadget and its functions.

Sony Walkman

The Sony Walkman was a portable cassette player launched in 1979, it started a revolution in personal audio cassette players and altered the listening habits of people and brought music to the masses wherever they might be.

Soundabout, Freestyle and Stowaway

Originally invented as the Sony Pressman to allow journalists to record interviews using a compact device, it became a personal entertainment device shortly after, settling on the name Walkman after being names the Soundabout, Freestyle and Stowaway. It very quickly became very popular and Sony began marketing it under a single brand-name, the Sony Walkman was born.

Originally the Walkman came with two headphone sockets with individual volume controls and a Hotline button which lowered the volume levels and opened the microphone to allow for station announcements to be heard or the user to have conversations with other people.

Sony Walkman Hotline
Sony Walkman Hotline and twin Headphone sockets

Other manufacturers such as Aiwa, Toshiba and Panasonic soon followed suit launched competing products, but the devices all became known as a “Walkman” as the brand-name crossed over into popular culture and entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 1986.

Walkman Effect

The Walkman was used when walking, exercising and running. Sony launched the ‘Sports Walkman’ which offered a degree of waterproofing and allegedly drove the fitness craze of the late ’80s. It was during this time that cassettes began outselling vinyl as millions of people chose the Walkman for their entertainment.

As music delivery advanced forwards, Sony was quick to adapt the brand to suit new formats, thus they launched the Sony Discman for the CD marketplace, the Sony DAT Walkman, MiniDisc Walkman and Sony Watchman TV.

Without the Sony Walkman, we wouldn’t have modern personal music players and most certainly would never have seen the Apple iPod. Sony continued the brand of Walkman into the modern smartphone marketplace.

Don’t forget to listen to the podcast above! Like, Share and Subscribe and I will see you next week for the Retro Gadget No.3

Thanks to Matt Marvell at BBC Radio Suffolk for having me on his show as a guest again this week.

Matt Porter
The Gadget Man

Gadget Man – Episode 131 – Retro Gadgets – Part One – Casio MG-880 Music and Game Calculator

This week begins a 10 week series of Retro Gadgets. Technology which has featured in my life and evokes childhood memories.

Listen in on the audio recording above. I have included a surprise at the end which wasn’t recorded at the time. 

If you grew up in the  ’70s or ’80s, you may have experienced some of these gadgets. You might be still using them or maybe they are gathering dust in a drawer.

The first of these is an absolutely awesome gadget. A gadget which opened up the national curriculum to the use of calculators. It also introduced us to mobile gaming.  Leading thousands of young people to huddle around each other in the schoolyards of the early 1980s.

Casio MG-880

Released in the summer of 1980, the Casio MG-880 was ostensibly a calculator aimed at young people. The 1980s saw a revolution in the teaching techniques applied to mathematics in schools. Initially seen as a way of ‘cheating’. Soon, however, it was accepted as a legitimate means to ‘check’ calculations, whilst continuing to show workings-out’ in answers.

Casio had something up their sleeve though. Their customers not only received a calculator, but they also received a musical instrument and game. This was genius marketing, Casio tapped into the school market and rewarded the kids at the same time.

The Calculator

The calculator functionality allowed for addition, subtraction, multiplication and addition. In addition to this, results could be written to memory, recalled and directly subtracted or added to further calculations. Percentage calculations were also included.

It was a beautifully designed device which hasn’t aged at all.

The Casio MG-880 Pocket Calculator
The Casio MG-880 – a creation of a timeless design that hasn’t aged over its 40 years!

Music

MG-880 provided musical entertainment by either a preprogrammed ‘Oh When the Saints’ or by users composing their own music. Musical keys illustrated by the relevant Solfège above the enabled buttons allowed for simple compositions.

Musical keys on the MG-880 were illustrated by the relevant Solfège above each key
Musical keys on the MG-880 were illustrated by the relevant Solfège above each key

The sound came from a piezoelectric speaker. The result was a fine 80s sound that comfortably sits alongside games to follow. I was fond of playing the Star Wars’ theme. For for those interested is 1-5-4-3-2-8-5-4-3-2-8-5-4-3-4-2.

IYou can hear this being played at the end of the attached podcast. 

It was no secret that switching the calculator to ‘music’ mode in a lesson would result in its swift confiscation.

The Game (Digi-Invaders / Space Invaders / Invaders)

The ace in the pack was in the inclusion of the Game. This took the form of a button mashing invaders themed game utilising the simplest of graphics, the number display itself.

The invaders game required the using decimal-point to cycle through 0-9 and n which denoted the mothership. Digits slowly advance across the screen from right to left. The player matches the number and presses ‘fire’ to remove it. Each level became faster and more difficult. Lives are lost when invaders reach the base.

The game was an instant hit across the planet, from my school in Hitchin, England to schools in New Zealand, every child wanted to own one and more-so, they wanted to excel at the game. Millions of the devices must have been sold with a substantial amount of them confiscated by over-enthusiastic teaching staff!

As with all fads, the MG-880 fell out of favour to be replaced by more advanced handheld games and creating a new boom in entertainment. Perhaps thousands of them still exist in boxes on the shelves of staff-rooms around the world.

This was the beginning of Casio’s boom. Relentlessly creative, they produced some the most ingenious of technology of the 80s. From calculators to watches with built-in calculators and melodies, they were the kings within their marketplace.

Don’t forget to listen to the audio using the link above. It was recorded at BBC Radio Suffolk & broadcast on the 11 May 2019. Listen to the VERY END! I have included something geeky and special.

Thanks to Matt Marvel at BBC Radio Suffolk for inviting onto his show. Keep tuning in for the next 10 weeks for more gems!

 

Gadget Man – Episode 130 – Why are people not upgrading their phones as often?

Many of us will remember the halcyon days when upgrading our mobile phone handsets was a six-month event.

No so now it would seem, instead, we are waiting much longer and are clearly looking for greater incentives to part with our beloved devices and even more importantly, our money.

You can listen into my interview with James Hazell on BBC Radio Suffolk where I talk about why the smartphone market is slowing down. Click on the link above to hear what I had to say. 

A Short(ish) History

My first mobile phone was bought in 1993 (some 26 years ago) from Dixons in Derby. It was an NEC P100 and I think it cost me £50 and then £7.50 per month for the contract with Vodafone, no calls were included, so I paid 50p per minute if I did need to call anyone.

The phone itself ran on the old 1G analogue network at 900MHz which was very quickly superceded by the digital 2G networks split between 900MHz for Vodafone and Cellnet and the alternative 1800Mhz for Orange and Mercury One2One.

Note: if you don’t recognise many of these names, it’s because due to buyouts, rebrands and mergers, Vodafone remained, Orange became EE, Cellnet became BT Cellnet, then O2. Mercury One2One became just One2One and then changed to T-Mobile which in turn is merged with Orange to become EE. Then of course 3 launched a 3g service later on and of course, two dozen or so ‘piggy-back’ operators such as Giffgaff, Sky Mobile, Virgin etc, who don’t, in fact, run their own networks but instead using the Big Four’s network. 

So my first phone was relatively cheap in today’s terms and in fact in ‘yesterdays’ terms too. the NEC P100 was meant to be a durable portable phone which it was and I kept it for some years until the analogue network was phased out and I had to get a more modern phone. The 2G network roll-out in the UK caused a market explosion and along with it came the Nokia 5110 and then 3310 phones which completely dominated the marketplace.

This explosion in popularity came with reasonably cheap phones with cheap and short contracts, this meant that phones could be renewed quite regularly and soon cupboards would start filling up with unwanted and out of date devices, fuelling development and in reality, a war between manufacturers and networks to provide more and more functionality. Heading this surge was Orange and O2 who had struck up a deal with little known manufacturer HTC to produce the very first Microsoft Windows CE based ‘Smartphones’, long before the birth of the iPhone.

HTC was at the time manufacturing the Compaq and HP iPaq Pocket PC and by adding cellular functionality, the Orange SPV (Sounds, Pictures and Video) and O2 XDA (extended PDA) began to be sold and the Smartphone was born.

Suddenly our dumb phones became ‘Smartphones’ and with it rapidly increasing prices. These costs had to be passed onto consumers via increased contracts with longer minimum terms (mainly to allow for the handset and network infrastructure costs to be absorbed ). Minimum six-month contracts became twelve, then eighteen, then twenty-four months. All of this was necessary to pay for the device and network overheads!

The phone networks began bundling minutes (and later, data), in part to placate phone users who were starting to become caught up in the ever increasing contract times.  Subsequently, devices became more expensive, resulting in more expensive contracts.

With the launch of Apple’s iPhone, O2 and T-Mobile began offering ‘all you can eat’ data plans in order for these data-hungry devices to take advantage of the vast amount of content appearing. Once the iPhone 3G was launched, with its ability to consume vast amounts of bandwidth and data, the all-you-can-eat model was scrapped or altered with ‘acceptable usage’ policies to limit data consumption, unless you were prepared to pay more.

Now that the smartphone had become established as a Super-Gadget, the manufacturers began an ‘Arms-Race’ to establish themselves as the Go-To brand in the multi-billion dollar marketplace, the likes of Apple, Samsung, Nokia, Motorola, LG, Sony and HTC began pumping billions into product development, patent registrations, cross-licensing and all-out war!

In turn, the Smartphone industry has driven bigger, better, faster and more costly devices into the consumers’ hands! Meanwhile, in China, Xiaomi, Huawei and Honor are producing comparable and in some cases, better products, the market is now awash with products that were once competing with each other but are now blurring their differences making it difficult to see the differences

Summing Up

We now have a smart-device marketplace with astoundingly high-quality handsets costing £1000 plus! How can we justify paying over £100 a month for a mobile phone contract, when we are struggling to differentiate between ‘last-years’ model?

What is needed now is for the manufacturers to take a breath! They need to find out what their customers really want. Maybe we are becoming tired and bewildered of being told what functions we need by these companies and it’s time for them to start listening to their consumers.

Matt Porter
The Gadget Man

 

 

 

 

3 Uses Of Drones We Can Expect To See Soon

Drones are a technology which have been gaining a lot of traction in the media over the past few years, for good and bad reasons. There is a lot of controversy around drone use, and as they become cheaper and cheaper and more commercially available, so too do they become more of an intrigue from people around the globe. As well as personal uses, there are many infrastructure and business uses for drones, and it looks as if there are going to be many more in the future too. In this article, we are going to discuss some of the uses of drones which we can expect to see some time soon, which might well change many aspects about our world overnight.

Delivery

In some places, companies like Amazon have already started using drone to deliver goods to people’s’ homes and places of work. The main benefit of this is, of course, the incredible speed of delivery, and what they are hoping for is that one day soon they will be able to have one day delivery on almost all items, or at least smaller items which you might have delivered. This is certainly exciting, although many people are worried about the prospect of Amazon drones flying around everywhere. In order to get to grips with some of the concerns, take a look at this article on what you need to know about flying drones: you will see that there are many considerations that need to be considered.

Defense

In many respects, the army is already using drones, and has been for longer than we have known about them commercially. But increasingly, they are using smaller lightweight drones to enforce our home security, and that is a relatively recent trend which is nonetheless going to continue in an upward trajectory for sure. Defending airports is a good example, and these days one of the main things that they are defending against is other drones. This kind of usage of drones is clearly very important, and it’s already the case that when you catch a plane you are being defended by drones without knowing it.

Photography

While some events are already being photographed with the use of drones, again this is something that we can hope to develop more in the future, and it is likely that such technology will get better. Part of this will mean that the drones can get further away without breaking out, and that will encourage us to be able to find footage of far out places which would otherwise have been unreachable. This is not just exciting from a photography viewpoint, but also from a scientific discovery one. Who knows what kinds of things we might uncover just by making use of some great drone technology.

However we use them, one thing is for certain: drones are going to continue to be an important part of our lives, probably increasingly so.

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