Audio

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

 

 

 

 

Gadget Man – Episode 129 – Gadgets in the Home

It was great to be on BBC Radio Suffolk this morning, talking with Wayne Bavin about Gadgets used in the home.

Following the first episode of Hard to Please OAP’s on ITV1, I spoke to Wayne about Gadgets which are used regularly and less regularly in our homes.

It was fun to chat about Soda-Stream, Amazon Alexa, Sandwich Toasters, Waffle Irons and all the good and bad tech now found in our homes.

You can listen in to the latest podcast to hear what I had to say and also how I managed to link this to watching an old episode of Terry and June.

Enjoy listening and don’t forget to Like, Share, Subscribe and I will see you next time!

Matt

Gadgets Featured in this Podcast on Amazon
Gadgets Featured in this Podcast on Amazon

 

Gadget Man Episode 128 – The World Wide Web turns 30!!

It only seems like yesterday when I was talking about the World Wide Web turning 25 years old and now before we know it, it’s now 30 years since the first HTML web page was authored and published by Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

The Web is, without doubt, the greatest invention of all time. It has made our planet smaller, brought together people from all walks of life and from every corner of the globe. It has made the world a much more accessible place, we can reach out to our idols and they can communicate back to us. We can transverse the globe and watch sunrises on opposite sides of the planet as they happen.

It truly is a modern wonder of the world. Cheers, Sir Tim!!

Sir Tim arriving at the Guildhall to receive the Honorary Freedom of the City of London - Image Credit - Paul Clarke
Sir Tim arriving at the Guildhall to receive the Honorary Freedom of the City of London – Image Credit – Paul Clarke

To find out how Sir Tim Berners-Lee is working towards a better Internet, visit his website.

To find out how CERN is celebrating, visit the World Wide Web at 30.

With the wonders of the web brings ‘Smart Assistants’, they are on our phones, computers and now independently as ‘Smart Speakers’, another true wonder borne from the internet, serving our every need and answering the answerable. These ubiquitous electronic pucks offer a gateway to enormous artificial intelligence-driven knowledgebases that are themselves learning as well learn from us, Machine Learning is driven by millions of users.

Of course, every now and then our assistants flicker or make strange noises, we might wonder if these are simply glitches or the first sparks of self-awareness?

I spoke to Mark Murphy at BBC Radio Suffolk about both Smart Speakers and the 30th Anniversary of the Web. Listen in above and don’t forget to LIKE, SHARE and SUBSCRIBE. See you next time!!

Gadget Man Episode 127 – What happens to my passwords after I’ve gone?

Who would have believed that at the dawn of the World Wide Web 30 years ago that almost all of our lives would be controlled via logins and passwords exchanged over the internet?

Whilst it is incredibly convenient to be able to access our bank accounts, insurance policies, email, social networks, discussion forums and many many other services. It is also very important to remember that ALL of the services require user names and passwords.

So, what happens when suddenly the owner of all these credentials passes away or becomes unable to continue to access the services independently?

On this episode, James Hazell discusses just that with both myself and a solicitor to explain what can be done to avoid all of our lives being locked away indefinitely.

You can tune in to the podcast above or subscribe via your favourite Podcast app. If you enjoy what you hear, don’t forget to Like, Share and Subscribe and I will see you next time!

Gadget Man – Episode 126 – Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp were DOWN!!!

For the last 24 hours, there has been collective panic across the digital world! Was this panic caused by the continued disaster that is the Brexit negotiations and repeated House of Commons votes?

No, it was because the worlds largest Social Networks were failing all around us. Literally MILLIONS of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp users were panicking at the loss or at least interruption of their services.

There are many reasons for these failures, Facebook has denied DDoS attacks, but there is a myriad of other reasons, software corruption, network failure or hardware issues. There has even been the discussion of AI being involved in the problems!

** UPDATE – 14/03/19 21:59 ***

Facebook has now officially explained the reasons for the issues suffered over the past 24 hours as follows:-

Facebook Datacenter - Image Credit: Facebook Inc.
Facebook Datacenter – Image Credit: Facebook Inc.

Currently, we haven’t had an explanation and as soon as we do (see above), I will post it on this blog, until then, you can listen in to me talking to James Hazell at BBC Radio Suffolk about the problem.

Before I go, make sure you watch The Truman Show, in particular watch the very end, as the show draws to an end, everyone goes back to their normal lives. Maybe, we should too.

Don’t forget to Like, Subscribe and Share using the appropriate buttons.

Gadget Man – Episode 124 – Keyless Car Theft Explained and How to Stop it

How many of us own and drive a vehicle with a keyless entry system? Well, it appears that many thousands of us that do have woken up this morning to a very worrying report from the General German Automobile Club (ADAC),

In order to unlock your keyless entry vehicle, you simply need to carry your key-fob. As you approach the vehicle, it recognises the encrypted signal transmitted from the fob. This, in turn, instructs the vehicles central-locking system to unlock the doors when you either touch the door handle or press the button on the door-handle. There is no requirement to insert the key into the ignition as the car is fitted with a start/stop button. If you own a car with both keyless entry and start/stop system, you aren’t alone, they are now widely used in hundreds of models or cars and in some cases motorbikes.

Now for the bad news. A recent study by the General German Automobile Club (ADAC) has discovered that the technology is far from secure in all but THREE cases and in fact the method of stealing a keyless vehicle is extremely simple.

In order to steal a keyless vehicle, a thief simply employs a rudimentary transceiver which takes the relatively weak signal transmitted and received from the fob to the car and amplifies it, it is then possible for the signal to reach from the fob to the car and hey presto, the car is unlocked and can (in most cases) be started.

Once the car is running, the need for a key is obsoleted and the car can now be driven until it is depleted of fuel. In most cases, the cars are taken abroad and the retrofitted with standard locking and start systems. As long as the car does not stall, it will run for as long as the fuel tank will take it.

NO AMOUNT of hacking or decryption is needed, it is reliant solely on the amplification of the already transmitted signal!

Arnulf Thiemel, car-technician at the ADAC.
Arnulf Thiemel, car-technician at the ADAC. Image Credit: ADAC

Arnulf Thiemel, car-technician at the ADAC, said “The ADAC demands that vehicles be protected against any kind of manipulation and illegal access. For the affected vehicles, there must be solutions put in place to improve the security.  All new  vehicles should also be equipped with a methodologically that ensures secure safety solutions which also withstands neutral side checks”

Which cars and manufacturers were affected?

Unfortunately, it would appear that EVERY manufacturer tested has at least one model which could be stolen using the method above.

Alfa Romeo, Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Citroen, DS Automobiles, Fiat, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Infiniti, Jaguar, Jeep, KIA, Land Rover, Lexus, Mazda, Mercedes, MINI, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Opel, Peugeot, Renault, Seat, Skoda, SsangYong, Suzuki, Subaru, Tesla, Toyota, Volvo, Volkswagen and motorcycles from BMW, Ducati and KTM. 

The following vehicles could NOT be opened using this method but if already open it was STILL POSSIBLE to start and drive the cars.

BMW i3 (2014)
Infiniti Q30 (2016)
Mazda 2 Skyactive 90 Kizohu (2018)
Volvo XC60 T5 (2017)

The following vehicles could NOT be opened or started using this method.

Jaguar i-Pace (2018)
Land Rover Discovery (2018)
Land Rover Range Rover (2018)

The vehicles above are currently immune from this method of attack. This is because they employ a variation of the keyless system by broadcasting using ultra-wideband frequencies. Basically, the equipment used to amplify the signal is ‘currently’ unable transmit or receive at the radio frequencies used in these models of cars.

Jaguar-Land Rover filed the patent for this method of keyless access in 2017. We can now only hope that they freely license these patents to other car makers or a comparable technology can be developed.

What Now?

All too often our deep-rooted human needs to be ‘waited upon’ result in solutions which in the first instance appear to solve a problem that really didn’t exist, but in real-world use turn out to have a sting in the tail. In the case of the study by ADAC, it would appear that there are very urgent questions to answer and drivers should be aware of the security issues surrounding their vehicles.

Faraday Cases?

Prior to speaking to BBC Radio Suffolk, many listeners talked about using Faraday Cases or Bags to house their keys. The theory behind this was to block the signal completely whilst the car isn’t in use (ie. whilst the keys were stored in the home or place of work).

Faraday Bag for Keyless Fobs from Amazon

I personally believe that keeping the keys away from the car or placing them in a container which COMPLETELY blocks radio signals is the only way to avoid the potential theft of vehicles using this method. However, radio signals can travel through types of metal, so be ABSOLUTELY confident that anything you purchase to secure your fobs, does indeed work as described.

Immediate Steps to Take

If you are concerned about the security of your keyless car fob, contact your car’s manufacturer as soon as possible and ask them what steps they have taken to secure your car? Ask them if there are software updates to improve security? Ask them if these systems can be deactivated until such time as they can be completely secure?

Listen in!

This morning I spoke to Mark Murphy on BBC Radio Suffolk about the use of Faraday Cage technology to try and reduce the chances of Keyless entry cars being stolen. Listen in to the stream above. If you like what you hear or read, don’t forget to LIKE, SHARE and SUBSCRIBE. See you next time!

Matt
The Gadget Man

I previously spoke about this topic a while back, you can read and listen at this link Gadget Man – Episode 113

Gadget Man – Episode 123 – The Demise of the Yellow Pages

Earlier in the week, I spoke to Mark Murphy on BBC Radio Suffolk about the demise of the Yellow Pages directory.

The Yellow Pages was always sat alongside the equally large Phone Book, but had gradually declined over the years since the introduction of the Internet and increasing dominance of search engines such as Google which has made searching for and finding businesses much easier and informative.

Having rebranded as Yell.com many years back and diversifying it’s business interests as an ‘Internet’ brand, the directory has had a long and some might say “painful” death. In the way the Phone Book died in part due to privacy concerns, the Yellow Pages has died due to lack of interest. In our fast-moving world, there is no longer a place for archaic, expensive and out of touch printed directories. The internet now provides so much more. We will just need to find something else to keep the kitchen table from rocking!

You can listen to the on-air discussion we had about the Yellow Pages by clicking the link above. Don’t forget to Like, Share and Subscribe to the Podcast using your favourite Podcast service including iTunes, Google Podcasts, TuneIn and more!

See you next time!

Matt
The Gadget Man

Header Picture Credit: Comedy Nose – https://www.flickr.com/photos/comedynose/

Gadget Man – Episode 122 – Are We Influenced By Movies And Media?

Last week, I spoke with James Hazell on BBC Radio Suffolk about the new film classifications and how they can be applied to online video streaming sites.

I also discussed YouTube’s ban on videos that contain or encourage dangerous pranks that endanger people or could cause harm to people copying them.

BBFC Ratings
BBFC has revised it’s classifications

Following a public consultancy of more than 10,000 people, the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) has now revised its classifications to make it more consistent across platforms, including online services.

David Austin, Chief Executive Officer at the BBFC, said: “Over the last five years the way we consume film and video has changed beyond all recognition. That’s why it’s so important that there is consistency between what people watch on and offline.  The research shows that parents and teenagers want us to give them the information and guidance that they need to view what’s right for them.

We’re here to listen to what people want, which is why they trust our age ratings.  So it’s encouraging to know that we’ve been classifying content in line with what people want and expect when it comes to difficult themes around credible real life scenarios. We also know that people are more comfortable with issues such as action violence, if it’s in a way that they are expecting – such as a Bond or Bourne film. We are updating our standards around depictions of sexual violence and very strong sex references to reflect changes in public attitudes.”

Image Credit: Netflix
A scene from Bird Box – Image Credit: Netflix

In discussing YouTube enforcing rules banning videos which either put people in danger or promoted acts which might lead people copying those acts to either suffer harm or place others in danger, we discussed recent movies such as the Netflix production; Birdbox which led some people to challenge others to go about day-to-day activities whilst blindfolded and may have led a driver in the US to become involved in a motor vehicle accident.

Trinity and Neo from The Matrix
Trinity and Neo from The Matrix – Image Credit: The Wachowskis / Silver Pictures / Warner Bros

On a lighter note, I owned up to buying a pair of ‘Neo from the Matrix’ inspired sunglasses and my continuing search for ‘The Dude’s Cardigan’ from The Big Lebowski.

The Big Lebowski
The Big Lebowski – Image Credit: The Coen Brothers / Working Title Films

You can listen in to the stream, by clicking on the play button above, or you can subscribe to The Gadget Man podcast using the links above listen in via iTunes, Tune-in, Google Podcasts and more! Don’t forget to show your support by ‘liking’, ‘sharing’ and ‘subscribing’.

Matt
The Gadget Man