Archive for the ‘Fun’ Category

The Bank of Mum & Dad hits the digital age

October 11, 2013

Blackwell’s latest foray into digital media should prove interesting. The Bookseller reports that they have released an App for students that allows them to order books and then electronically, and automatically, send the bill to their parents.

Blackwell’s digital director, Matthew Cashmore, described the new development as “really cool”. I’m not sure some of my friends whose children are just reaching university age would concur.

I also found myself imagining what life would have been like in my student days if such an App existed. I’m not sure of the full range of stock at Blackwell’s at the time but I’m thinking bills for copies of Lord of the Rings, scripts of Withnail, and Bert Weedon’s Play in a Day landing on my Dad’s doormat rather than Advanced Algorithm Design.


Book cakes

July 12, 2012

For all those of you at my recent book launch who complained that this blog has been slacking with respect to the lunch side of matters. These book-themed cakes were brought to the editing course I’m doing at the moment.

Not quite sure how they would handle “The loneliness of the long-distance runner”…

Famous books on cakes (cakes by


A spicy lunch

March 27, 2012

If your idea of a good lunch is a spicy snack, then you’ll enjoy reading my good friend Raz’s blog item on the secrets of a good Bombay Mix. It is an extraordinarily thorough review of what’s on the mix market and shows the attention to detail for which he well known in techie circles. Eat your heart out Which?

Down but not quite out

February 6, 2012

First of all, I should say, I’m a big fan of Nicholas Lezard. I consider his weekly column ‘Down and Out in London’, published in the hinterlands of the New Statesman, to be part of my weekly reward structure. The title of the column gives you the gist of the content, so I was a bit bemused to read recently about Marta, his cleaner. My point, in a recent letter to the magazine, was that only in London could a penniless book reviewer who lives in a hovel have a cleaner.

Well, this week he has responded to my concerns in some detail. Apparently Marta’s services (for which she is paid £12.50 per hour) come with the hovel. And in fact, as she only comes in to ‘do’ for a couple of hours a week, Mr L has had to encourage his feminist flatmate to take up some of the slack, an approach which seems to have proved to be entirely unsuccessful.

Bearing in mind my expertise I thought I might offer Mr L some advice: robots. Indeed for small fee (£12.50 per hour is a king’s ransom in Nottingham) I could even install a basic system, controlled via the Internet of Things (for more on this, see my forthcoming book, available from all good book shops).

Furthermore, in preparation for his life as a digeratus, he should perhaps consider reviewing Sherry Turkle’s latest book, Alone Together, in which the MIT professor outlines her thoughts on robotic technology and our relationship to it. As one of the book’s interviewees says: “Show me a person in my shoes who is looking for a robot, and I’ll show you someone who is looking for a person and can’t find one”.

While this might have a tinge of unrealistic expectation and an unwillingness to compromise, I think it’s much more helpful to think of it as pragmatism. And in my experience, it is always easier to get a robot to do the cleaning than a feminist.


December 16, 2011

From the blog that gave you the edible iPod and social computing for puddings, I now present… iPoetry. Following on from a mid-winter poetry reading by authors from Salt Publishing’s Modern Voices series earlier this week, I thought I’d round off the year with a poem by Manchester-based poet and fellow techie Adrian Slatcher, which he has kindly given me permission to reproduce. As you can see there is a strong hint of something Internet-related and it seems a fitting note on which to end the blogging year. This could be the unofficial anthem of the newly emerging Web Science agenda, which seeks to understand what we have created and where it is taking us, and of which I suspect we’ll be hearing a great deal in 2012.

A Colossal Machine

Rewinding our histories can’t play the tape,
For that requires a colossal machine,
That has long gone out of production,
Or has yet to be made. In part, it’s myth,
Yet we subscribe to it, our site feed
Syndicating the latest news, as if a thing
Can be dripfed to us through words.

The manual alone would be extensible,
Using a language shared by half the world’s tribes,
Competing to contribute to a shared goal.
The ultimate prize for the next life;
Our essence read, stored, accidentally erased,
Whilst the tests go on in private.
In my room I murmur a prayer.

Adrian has also done some interesting things with technology to link readings to user responses, but as this is only available on his iPhone I haven’t got a link to post. However, there is a video of Adrian reading Colossal at his website and if you are in the Manchester area today then he is appearing at the Whitworth Art Gallery this evening.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

Forget ubicomp, think sofacomp

January 21, 2010

Just before Christmas I took delivery of a WikiReader a small, handheld device that has the entire contents of Wikipedia stored on it. It’s a simple little thing – basically a souped-up version of those little electronic dictionaries that have been around for years. Hit the search key, type in a search term through the touch-screen keyboard on the black and white, 7cm square screen and it will display a list of options for you to select the right Wikipedia entry.

I decided to road test the device during the family Christmas. Obviously Wikipedia is always changing, but it seems to be stable enough for most articles (and you can order updated memory cards). In fact, it was a massive hit and saw near continuous action on the sofa. Whenever anyone had a question about a TV programme that was on, or an actor on the screen, or a word they needed the meaning of, or details of a place they were reading about in the paper, the cry went up to ‘pass the Wikireader’. Based on this experience I think the company in question may have a bit of a hit on their hands.

All this has helped my thinking around the endless speculation about Apple’s iSlate. If the device turns out to exist and if it is some kind of all-in-one tablet that provides access to a range of multimedia – e-books, films, music etc – then it could have a real place on the sofa. Who wants to get off the chair and head upstairs to log on to use the PC or fish the laptop out of the briefcase? The iSlate will just sit on the arm of the sofa. In our house at least, the WikiReader has shown the way. The next step in computing is to the sofa.


October 14, 2009

It has been some time, so I thought I would restart proceedings for the autumn with a quick link to Cambridge computing lab pioneer Quentin Stafford-Fraser. Here truly is a man after my own heart as in between blogging about 3G femtocells and recursion he’s found time to consider the future of puddings.

He proffers the idea of a social networking site for recipes as a means to further their evolution, although I have to say it’s not the first time I’ve come across this idea. When I first started working at Intelligent Content one of the development projects that (fortunately) never came to fruition was of a similar ilk – although the concept of social networks didn’t exist then, of course. Quentin has form in this area – he was one of the instigators of the Trojan Room coffee pot affair.

The utter twitterings of your local MP

March 5, 2009

Not content with bloating Hansard with their backbench ramblings, many MPs are starting to fill twitter space. A new service to help collate these twitterings, Tweetminster, was launched last week. It allows you to “track UK politics in real time” using a handy search tool and also a “Hot in Westminster” tag cloud.

All in all it’s a nicely laid out Web 2.0 style tool, but I suspect there will be much fun to be had with this one. Harriet Harmen, for example has said nothing in over two weeks. Is this because she has been busy secretly plotting to get her hands on the leadership? Or take a look at Michael Fabricant (the Guardian’s favourite MP) whose latest posting reveals he is in the cinema crying at a film. And then there’s Lembit Öpik…

The disappointing thing though, from the point of view of this blog, is the singular failure of our expense-accounted representatives to post what they are having for lunch.

Blog Bandits at 12 o’clock

January 16, 2009

Most people’s view of the air force is probably still pretty tainted by hazy, black and white memories of scenes from the ‘Dambusters’ film. The siren goes, the pilots drop their crosswords and still-smoking pipes and sprint from the officer’s Mess to the waiting spitfires. However, things have moved on considerably by the sound of it and it looks like Biggles is facing new threats.

Matt from Backpass blog has alerted me to an item on something that is doing the rounds of the websphere. The US air force has produced a blog assessment chart for use by their public affairs people. It takes the user through the potential threats from the blogosphere and provides advice on retaliatory action.

The enemy are out there, somewhere, Ginger…tapping away.

Twitter on toast

December 19, 2008

In a truly inspired combination of breakfast and technology, a man in Pittsburgh, USA, has connected his toaster to twitter. On his blog, Hans Scharler explains how he has wired his toaster up to the Web via a device called the ioBridge. You can follow the progress of toast production in his house and, quite wonderfully, his toaster already has 61 twitter followers. Even more interesting, perhaps, is that his toaster is in turn following eight other twitters. I don’t know about this passing the Turing test, but it shows some signs of basic artificial intelligence.

Seems a great item to end the technology year on and many thanks to my old college friend Martin for raising this one.

Merry Christmas everyone!