Do you, Sugru?

How many times have you bought a fantastic product that is perfect in every way, right up until the moment it breaks.  Or you’ve got something that performs a function, but isn’t quite right.  Historically, you’d end up going out and buying a replacement – something that may still not do the job.   Well, I’ve discovered a product which may help you reduce your ‘throw away and replace’ approach with a ‘make do and mend’ attitude.  Only without the make-do.

Sugru is a product I heard about in the late summer of 2010 and it immediately peaked my interest.  A product invented in the UK by an Irish woman,  it is a mouldable, self-curing silicone with lots of really nice features.  When you get it from its sachet, it has the consistency of too-warm bluetak – a sticky clay like substance that can be moulded into any shape you choose.  It initially sets within 30minutes then cures within 24hours to whatever shape you’ve moulded it from. When it sets, it turns into something with the consistency of hard-rubber.  It retains a slightly springy texture, the sort of resistance of a block-eraser.  It also self-adheres to many materials like glass, metal  & plastics, works between –60c and +180c, is thermally insulating,  waterproof, even dishwasher safe!  Sugru Sample

I bought some packs for Xmas and gave friends and family a sachet each to try, and kept some for myself.  This weekend, I went on a bit of a Sugru session because I had two things to try.   First of all, my car stereo security faceplate had broken – one of the retaining clips broke off with plastic fatigue.  However, I found that a bit of paper wedged in the slot  would hold it in place.  So I applied a bit of Sugru to the faceplate, left it for about 8hrs then tried it.  It worked!  Even better, the clip that holds the faceplate in had moulded a little indentation in the Sugru which held it even more securely.  Another 12hrs of curing, and you wouldn’t know that the thing was broken in the first place.  That’s £30 saved on a replacement facia or £100+ on a replacement stereo.

The second usage for it was to adapter a mobile phone holder.   I’ve got a small phone-chair which is designed to rest a mobile phone in and keep the screen visible. However, because of its shape, I couldn’t put the phone in its naturally portrait orientation and charge it at the same time – it would have to be landscape with the cable at the side, which was OK, but not all apps support rotation. So I moulded two Sugru ‘ears’ at the front of the chair, let it set, and now the results can be seen right. Its not perfect (my craft skills are somewhat lacking) but it certainly does the job.  Only a few pounds saved but it does the job perfectly.

Sugru seems like a brilliant product – the WD40 equivalent of a physical medium.  However, there are problems with it:- 

  • it seems expensive – about 95p per 5g sachet (which is what I used here).  However, its still cheaper than buying new!  
  • It can be a bit of a pain to handle – it seemed difficult to get small pieces of it to stick to the object I wanted it to adhere to, rather than my fingers.  Plus, whilst it is classified as “not dangerous” it may cause an allergic reaction.  Its probably no more dangerous than any other chemical based material.
  • It currently only has one cured state.  Sugru say that they can mix different formulations, but currently only offer this one.
  • Thinking of things to do with it.  With only a 6month ‘best before’ date, I will have to find things to use it on in the next few months.  However, there are lots of ideas on the Sugru website including repairing broken shoes, making tent pegs softer so that they could be hand inserted, and forming a bespoke golf-club handle.

I would seriously recommend picking up a pack (£6.50 for a 6 pack, £11.50 for a 12 pack) and trying it out on something – really clever stuff.

Ask a Stupid Question….

Get a stupid Answer.   Or maybe not today (September 28th) as today is ‘Ask a Stupid Question Day’.  According to wikipedia "the roots of this special day go back to the 1980s. At the time, there was a movement by teachers to try to get kids to ask more questions in the classroom. The kids would then ask stupid questions to make the teachers happy."

I think this is a brilliant idea designed to get people thinking about crazy problems and perhaps finding a solution, and it should be encouraged. In fact, according to various newspapers, schools are starting to embrace the day and get pupils to think outside the box, perhaps escaping from the conscripted nature of the National Curriculum. 

The telegraph has an excellent list of questions reproduced here.

Q: What’s the opposite of a camel?
A: The opposite of a camel is a soap dish: it has dimples instead of humps and lives in a mostly moist area.

Q: How long would it take to roast a fully grown Indian elephant?
A: An Indian elephant, average weight 5000kg, would take 2916 hours and 40 minutes to roast to perfection (based on 35 minutes a kilogram). You would need an extremely large serving dish.

Q: In Mars Bars, how much taller is Jeremy Clarkson than Tom Cruise?
A: A Mars bar is four inches long. Jeremy Clarkson measures 19.25 Mars Bars (six feet five), while Tom Cruise is 16.75 Mars bars high (five feet seven). That’s a 2.5 Mars bar difference.

Q: How long would it take a snail to slide around the world?
A: 34,519 days at 0.7 miles a day or 0.03 miles per hour, the average speed for a garden snail.

Q: What’s the funniest word in the world?
A: The funniest word in the English language is fartlek (an athletic training regime); other funny words include furphy, pratfall, parp and firkin.

Q: What is the best type of biscuit to make a mattress from?
A: The best type of biscuits to make a mattress from would be fig rolls or strawberry Newtons. They would be soft, but still provide some back support.

Q: I want to write a film script which makes me millions: what should it be about?
A: Based on the top-grossing films, your script should be about a young wizard and a robot looking for a ring on a pirate ship which sinks. Good luck.

Q: In an average lifetime, how much gas will a human expel?
A: The average adult has 14 occurrences of flatulence per day. Total expulsion is about 538ml, making approximately 14,727 litres of gas expelled in a life time.

Q: How long is a piece of string?
A: A piece of string is twice as long as half its length. It is usually shorter than the amount you need to wrap a parcel, but always long enough to tangle.

Q: When will I die?
A: You will die in a freak parachuting accident aged 98. Your memorial service, attended by more than 1,000 of your closest friends, will be at Wembley.

Brilliant!  Have you got any daft questions, or have you been asked any recently?  Why not leave them in the comments below.

Open Sauce (and how to get there)…

OK, so I’ve blogged about it before, but I wanted to talk about an Open Source development called OpenStreetMap. This is an Open software development using user generated mapping information to generate GIS data. 

So why the need for this, when TomTom, Google Earth et al all do an excellent job of providing mapping information.  Well, the simple reason is that companies own the copyright to their mapping data and information, meaning that if you want to use it, you have to pay a (some times hefty) licence for the privilege.  Alternatively, you COULD rip the information off one of these providers, but the chances are you’ll get caught.  Even a respected company like the AA has fallen into this trap, copying Ordinance Survey maps and reselling them as their own work.  You would think that a map is a map and its impossible to tell what’s been copied, but mapping companies are clever – they add subtle details into maps which won’t affect their day to day use, but act as markers to highlight plagiarists. For example, they’ll add a small fake road at the end of a street, where only terrace houses exist.  Or, they’ll add a kink in a road that doesn’t exist – it doesn’t affect the general use, but unless you go there and map the information yourself, you’d never know it wasn’t really like that.

So OpenStreetMap is designed to be the wikipedia of maps – people go out into their community, collect mapping data (using GPS logs, photo’s and notes) and then converting this into a digital map available to the community under a creative commons licence.  The process of generating a map is

1) Go out and get the data – Use a GPS to log your position, make notes of street names,  any points of interest along the way (such as pubs, post boxes and the like) and perhaps even photo’s of the area.

2) Map the data – Import your GPS track logs,  convert this into mapping data such as streets, street names, speed limits and the like.

3) Publish your work – Send the data to the OpenStreetMap server for use in the map.

If you visit and have a look around, you’ll notice that many Urban area’s of the UK are reasonably well mapped.  This is the case of my local area, apart from the side streets in my neighbourhood.  I’ve already added a couple of streets to see how reasonably easy it is, and now I’ve got the bug to start gathering and updating more data.  One useful feature of the service being opened is that you can make changes where you spot a mistake on the map – so for example, if you spot a speed limit has changed, whilst it might take TomTom 18months+ to update the map,  you can make the change there and then, and then that will be available to all.  Id highly recommend anyone with a GIS, mapping, geographical or community interest to get involved and expand the quality of the data – why not have a mapping party and get loads of people involved – all you need is a GPS logging device (many phones are now capable of this), somewhere to record notes, and a bit of patience actually map your area.

Finally a new phone…

Well, I’ve finally got myself a new phone, after the old Ameo started being a bit creaky and a bit bulky to carry around, and I’ve replaced it with a new Smartphone, the HTC Touch Diamond 2.


You may remember me blogging about this phone WAY back in February and now I’ve finally got my hands on this great bit of kit. And what’s even better is that is that the ‘unofficial’ development channels have had a chance to do some magic and work the phone into a real beaut…  The reason I now go for HTC devices is that there is lots of 3rd party development work, not only on applications, but on the underlying operating system.  

A few of the phone’s specs:

3.2” WVGA screen (800×480).
5mp Camera.
TouchFlo 3d interface.
Upto 32GB storage (8GB MiniSD fitted).
FM Radio
Delivered with Windows Mobile 6.1, but upgraded to a beta release of Mobile 6.5. 

I have to say, I’m amazing impressed with the phone and HTC have really stepped upto the bat to compete with the iPhone.  The biggest way they’ve done this is to ‘hide’ as much of Windows Mobile as they can within the TF3D interface.  This allows you to make calls, see texts and emails, launch programmes and change settings from within this ‘front end’ with finger gestures, rather than having to use a stylus.  A stylus is still provided for when a program doesn’t support touch gestures, but this is becoming less common these days.

Another massive improvement to the earlier TouchFlo implementations is the contact integration.  This is now designed to be like a mini CMS solution, meaning that each contact has a ‘profile’ area, where all communication with that person is logged, be it phone calls, text messages, email or even facebook feeds. That’s right, it links with your facebook profile and pulls down status updates, photo’s and other information from your facebook friends – Genius!  Hopefully the next revision will also support Twitter feeds which is the one thing missing!

The only trouble I’m having from the phone is that its too shiny!  The glass, and satin case pickup fingerprints merely through the power of thought, but hopefully I’ll get a case that will protect against this! 🙂

The King has left the Building…

Well, what a strange morning.  I’m not a massive fan by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve grown up with Michael Jackson’s song’s – he’s been present in the music industry since I remember.   I’m too young to remember John Lennon’s passing, being born a couple of months after he was murdered, so, other than when Diana died, this is the biggest ‘famous’ death I’ve known. No matter what you think of him,  he was a great show person and the world of music has lost a massive talent.  I’m not about to mourn, as in my opinion, we all have our time, and when your ticket is called, you must go forward to the cashier, but I will certainly acknowledge that this is history being made…

The Digital Britain Report.

So the Digital Britain report is out – a review of ‘digital’ services across the UK and how we can improve Britain’s take-up of these to make us a more competitive country in the world economy, led not by private businesses, but by the government.  Whilst its good to see, countries around the world have been addressing this for years, so its a shame that only now in 2009 that the politicians are waking up to technology.

The recommendations from the report will lead to a real shakeup of some services, potentially affecting the entire population, whether they like it or not.   The full report is HERE but I’ve summed up some of the points:-

    1. universal access to broadband by 2012, fund to invest in next generation broadband and liberalisation of 3G spectrum – government is keen to get the entire populous ‘online’ with at least a 2mb connection within 3 years.  To do this, they’re looking at having a 50p per month tax on each fixed phone line connection.  Our leaders are hoping that Rural area’s will be able to take advantage of 3G networks to supply the 2mb pipe they’re so keen push.  Which is great, but people don’t want Mobile pylons sprouting up across the country, so they’re going to need to address this.  In addition to this, the roll out of fibre to the cabinet by BT to bring upto 40mb/s to 50% of the population.  Virgin media are already working on 50mbps for their network, but many countries are already at 100mbps, and some looking at 1Gbps.  Too little, too late I think
    2. digital radio upgrade by 2015 – They’re talking of scrapping the FM and AM bands for national broadcasters, something which is going to upset a LOT of people, especially when the solution is the somewhat average DAB standard.  The FM frequencies will be made available to local broadcasters only as a temporary measure, presumably so that they can eventually be sold off for other services.   So, anyone like me who tends to buy 5-6 year old cars, don’t be expecting to be able to listen to the likes of the BBC Radio network when they switch it off, at least not without laying down a wedge to upgrade your radio to a DAB standard.  Most people are perfectly happy with FM and don’t see the benefit of DAB which is why, despite must protestation to the opposite,  Digital radio’s arn’t flying off the shelves.
    3. consultation on how to fund local, national and regional news, support for public service content partnerships – Discussions are already underway in allowing the BBC and ITV to share newsrooms in the regions – why bother sending two sets of journalists and AV people to report on a story, when often they capture the same information.  This could be an interesting approach and I’m all for it, provided that producers and directors within each broadcast agency are able to maintain their independence and take their own approach to reporting. 
    4. changed role for Channel 4 – Discussions have been ongoing to merge Channel 4 with BBC World, the commercial arm of Auntie Beeb.  The report hints at ruling this out, but allowing regulatory change such as to allow for a different focus and allowing C4 to compete with other corporate broadcasters.
    5. three year plan to boost digital participation – The BBC will be forced to take a slice of licence fee revenue (£200 million) to encourage the whole population to move to and embrace digital technology.  One interesting note from the report is that 3% of the populous surveyed by Ipsos Mori had never heard of the Internet.  Also 42% of people without internet access was due to self exclusion, with 37% of those saying that the Internet was of no interest.
    6. legal and regulatory attack on digital piracy – The Government are proposing to review copyright legislation and giving more power to Ofcom and ISP’s to first try and dissuade illegal downloading of copyright material by reducing access, before implementing criminal law for those hardcore downloader’s who cease and desist. Whilst this may go some way to addressing the issue, I personally believe that offering content at a lower cost and in a fair way (for example allowing the backup of physical medium for personal use) are the keys to reducing piracy on the Internet sea’s.

All in all, there’s nothing unexpected in the report, but there are some excellent idea’s & suggestions which act as good guidance.  The stone has been dropped into the mill pond, and I expect the ripples to radiate for some time.  However, there are some extremely contentious issues (especially in relation to the Radio) which I believe will cause a great amount of upset.  And the ‘rose tinted view’ of an all embracing digital UK will simply not live up to the expectations set out in this report. I hope they do, but I occasionally visit the real world to check on the state of things.

My Bargain of the Century…

IBLIKWIFI_large1_thumb_07EFC687I popped into my local Curry’s last night to look at headphones (see my previous thread on this topic) and whilst perusing the many isles where they store them, I happened to note the DAB radio section, and specifically the DAB/Wifi radio section, where upon I glanced upon the product you see on the right.

Its a Revo iblik wifi and its a clock radio that does…  FM, DAB, Internet Radio, Podcasts, UPnP media streaming, iPod dock and generic MP3 support.

Now, I’ve not got an iPod (having a deep mistrust of Apple products), but I have got access to all of the others.  And I have to say its amazing – rapid to setup, easy to use, excellent sound from something so small, it doesn’t look like a toaster or something from the 1950’s (why do DAB radio’s seem to have this requirement?) and works (so far) flawlessly.  I suppose that it shouldn’t be surprising how good it is when it retails at for £169.99.  Which is why its a bargain when I picked up an ex demo unit for just £29.99. Unboxed, it was just the unit & the power wart, where as the boxed unit comes with…  A box,  remote control, stereo cable and manuals.  Well, the box goes straight in the bin anyway, the manual’s are available online, I’ve got stereo cables knocking around and the remote can be bought for the princely sum of £10 from the manufacturer’s website, should I feel the need to be able to control my alarm clock from the bed with a remote rather than having to reach my arm to tweak it.

And it seems like a good investment – the Government seem to be pushing to take the FM frequencies off the BBC and force them to use DAB only (more on the Digital Britain report later), but not only do I get local radio, but I can listen to radio you might not normally hear – last night I listened to RTL Germany,  the Sacramento fire department and the Atlantic radar control.  Amazing stuff, and recommended if you can find it at 1/5th the price it should be!

Oh yes, and I didn’t pickup any headphones. 🙂

Stereo-typically poor headphones?

One frustration I come upon every few months is just how rubbish headphones are – I can guarantee that within 3 months of purchase, a set is completely destroyed and must be replaced.

I’ve tried all sorts – the cheap ones, the expensive ones, branded, unbranded – all of which end up in various states of disassembly.

The previous set was a ‘Technotrend’ pair bought from Tesco’s.  Their current state is that the backs have fallen off each ‘phone’,  one side no longer works, and the other side sometimes leaves the frontage that protects the speaker in your ear.

My current set (about 6 weeks old) has a back that falls off on one side and occasionally discharges an electrical shock at random intervals into the ear.  These ones are Phillips and were twice as much as said technotrend units.

I often listen to quiet music whilst I work to filter out background office noise and distractions, and I also find it helps to stimulate the brain.  So they do get used daily, but only in an office environment.  I’ve tried tens of sets over the years, and ALL show similar problems.  The only solution I can see are ‘over the ear’ units, but I don’t think these are appropriate for an office environment, as they’re hardly discreet, and are more difficult to use with a single ear (I like to keep one ear free to at least have some contact with the outside world).

A short discussion in the office seems to confirm that I’m not the only one that experiences these issues, and quite frankly its abysmal that no-one seems to build headphones which are resistant to their environment.  Unless you can suggest otherwise.  I do wonder on this World Environment Day (WED) how many millions – perhaps billions of these go into landfill every year? Such a waste.

I’m almost Physically Excited….

Last Night in the great city of L.A. Microsoft’s Xbox division treated us to upcoming releases for the Xbox360, and I’m so chuffed that that was the platform I bought into.

They’ve got some great stuff lined up – in the games category, they’ve announced Forza Motorsport 3, Metal Gear Solid,  Final Fantasty XIII (Release shedule), DJ Hero and Beatles Rock Band amongst others.  These are all massive franchises, and quite a coo to Microsoft to be bringing MGS to the 360 when it has traditionally been a Sony exclusive. Some of the above arn’t exclusives but they’re still exciting non the less. Plus, the big announcement of a motion ‘controller’ in the guise of Project Natal – A camera/motion sensor that allows you to participate in games like the old PS2 eye-toy of old, but in a HD style.  Plus, as well as the camera, it has voice recognition to allow you interact with the screen for example, playing a painting game you can ‘say’ the colour you wish to use then draw with it in your hands.  It doesn’t sound much but looks v.exciting.

As well as games, Microsoft seem to be bringing a lot more other functionality – you may have already read about Sky ‘Anytime’ coming to the 360 which is amazing, but they’re also bringing integration, Twitter and Facebook XBL plugins plus downloadable full retail xbox 360 games.

All in all, that is an amazing featureset coming up, and its not even covering everything all the external developers are doing.  Exciting times, and whilst I’m sure Playstation will be doing their bit,  I’m not certain that Nintendo will have much to offer from their Wii.

PS, if any of you are on XBL or Connect24, let me know your ID’s – maybe we can game sometime?

Wiimbledon 2009

OK – Great new Charity Idea for 2009 – The All Office Yawn Tennis Association Wii Championship Tournament.

A series of 16 or 32 draw competitions in the events ‘Mens Singles, Ladies Singles, Doubles and Mixed Doubles’  taking part during the two weeks of Wimbledon, using the tennis game on the Nintendo Wii game, Wii Sports.  Each stage of each tournament will use the ‘best-of-five’ rules, with the finals being the ‘best-of-five’ x 3 round.  The Winner(s) of each round go forward to play another winner from that round, until it is whittled down to entrants battling it out for a small prize.

Each player donates a nominal £2 for charity(e.g. £4 to enter a team in the doubles events), plus spectators would be asked to make a small contribution.

The competition to be held in the office and will require a Nintendo Wii hooked upto a projector or TV,  upto 4 WiiMotes and the associated score chart, and open to anyone wishing to participate where there are spaces to participate.

What do people think?  Great idea???  And there’s no reason why other offices and departments couldn’t run similar tournaments across the country, perhaps even with the winners from each one taking part in a Wall star’s Exhibition Tournament 🙂