Category Archives: gadgets

The Humble Cycle Clip

When I first started this blog back in 2006, my intention was to review a selection of significant product innovations and the impact they have had on our lives.

My post on the Paper Clip remains one of the most popular, but over the years I have rather neglected this topic.

But thanks to my daily ride aboard my Brompton folding bicycle, I found myself in need of one of the most simple products of all time – the humble bicycle clip.

This time the objective is not to hold pieces of paper together, but to prevent trousers getting caught in grubby oily cycle chains, ruining the sartorial elegance of the trouser owner.

Now, some simple hearted folk might say that socks were perfectly capable of fulfilling this important role, in addition to keeping feet warm. But having tested this approach thoroughly, I’m convinced there is a better way.

My first choice was the traditional steel sprung cycle clip available from ‘all good bicycle shops’. And I was happy with this method for a few weeks. But gradually I became annoyed at the way they often slipped down during riding, or how they pinched my growing calf-muscles. They are also quite fiddly to store between journeys. The temptation is to hook them over the handlebars. But this inevitably results in them rotating around and dropping to the ground with a clang, followed by scrabbling in the road to pick them up.

Steel cylce clip

I turned to Google for a better solution, and found a coalescence of positive reviews around the leather trouser strap from Brooks England. This long established British firm are known for making the best leather replacement seats for bicycles. The product is almost as simple as its shiny rivals, and consists of a steel band, which in this case is covered in soft leather. The difference is the band rolls up into a neat little ball when not in use.

Brooks cycle clip

The cost compared to a steel clip was a challenge, but I decided the potential benefit was worth the investment. And I was proved right. As with all well designed products, daily use is either almost unnoticed or a small pleasure. The way my Brompton folds away is an example of the latter.

Not only does the band fulfil its primary purpose of holding my trouser leg firmly in place, despite the jarring of London’s badly potholed roads, it is simplicity itself to fit, and sits nice and securely on my handlebar when not in use. What more could one ask of a product?

12 amazing reasons why In through the Outfield is back and better than ever

Neil InfieldApologies for the rather hyperbolic headline above, but according to social media experts a catchy headline is the number one way of getting visitors to your blog. And as I have been rather neglecting In through the Outfield in recent months, I think it needs a bit of a boost.

In fact according to , Alasdair Inglis from Grow, Your online content must be more like terrible journalism.

Use clever, attention catching headlines

Headlines are probably the single most important aspect of your post. You could write mind-blowing, world changing content but if you don’t write good headlines, no one’s going to click through and read them. Therefore they need to be attractive and intriguing enough to make readers check out your blog.

Here are some great tips to help create better headlines:

  • Go with numbers or numbered lists. There’s a reason why your Facebook feed is choking on articles like “11 sexist cats that look like Ryan Gosling”. Learn from sites like Buzzfeed and maybe one day your content can annoy the whole of the internet, too.
  • Use compelling, emotive adjectives. Whilst this isn’t your high school creative writing class, using more engaging words like: “amazing”, “beautiful”, “inspiring” etc will make your article sound much more interesting.
  • Make your headlines are intriguing, but not too vague. Upworthy do a great job of this, giving you just enough information to whet your appetite, whilst not giving away the payload.
  • Use keyword research. Make sure you know what the most searched terms are for what you’re writing about and make sure that they’re in your headline. If your target audience is searching for “How to write better headlines”, make sure that your blog post headline will show up on their search.

Right – now that we have got that important information out of the way, I can explain why I am back in the blogging saddle after my unplanned sabbatical. I am now commuting to work at the British Library from Eastbourne, which has extended my daily journey to over two hours each way. However this gives me plenty of time for reading, snoozing or even blogging, as I cruise through the beautiful Sussex countryside alongside the South Downs at the mercy of the Southern railway service.

Sunset over Fulking Escarpment

Sunset over Fulking Escarpment in the South Downs National Park, England (© Matt Gibson/Loop Images)

The other factor enabling me to revive my blog is of course technology. I spent many weeks researching the best computer to support my newly extended commute. I looked at getting a bigger and smarter phone than my current almost perfect Motorola Razr I (small in size, long in battery life). The new breed of smart phones are amazing, but unless you have fingers much smaller and more nimble than my clunking great ones, typing anything more than a short note is too painful. And although the recent ones have pocket-stretching sized screens, they are still too small to work on a blog post or effectively surf the web. But the real killer blow, is when you actually use any of their amazing features for more than a few minutes, their battery life disappears to almost nothing.

Next came a choice of tablets, of Apple or Android flavours. They have long battery life, bigger screens and are nice a light and compact to carry around. However, they don’t have keyboards, and as a touch-typer since my teens I can’t stand typing on a screen. It’s a bit like having to ride a moped once you have experienced a proper motorbike – there is just no going back. Admittedly you can buy a keyboard attachments, but the keys are incredibly cramped and obviously an after-thought, rather than designed-in. Also I need to run Word and Powerpoint from time to time, which meant the Microsoft Surface came closest to my rather demanding requirements. However their poor battery life put paid to that.

That left laptops, or Ultrabooks, as the small, thin and powerful ones are now known. However, when not typing or editing presentations I liked the idea of some light entertainment to help pass the time on train. And I have watched fellow commuters struggling to get a good viewing position on their laptops to watch the latest instalment of Game of Thrones. More research led to the new breed of ‘hybrid’ machines, and the appropriately named Yoga series from Lenovo.

I finally settled on the Yoga Pro 2, with its 3,200×1,800-pixel touch screen, claimed nine hour battery life, backlit full size keyboard, and flexible screen.

lenovo-laptop-convertible-yoga-2-pro-orange-front-1

I have already tested out what Lenovo call the Stand mode to view BBC shows downloaded from iPlayer. And it works really well, with the keyboard tucked behind out of the way. I’m not sure how often I would get to use the Tent mode, and I have to admit that it makes a pretty clunky tablet when folded flat. This isn’t helped by Windows 8, which still needs some work to compete with Android as a touch interface.

So there you have it, new technology combined with an something of an epically long commute (nothing compared to these hardy Scots) are the keys to getting this blog back on its feet again.

Bringing the Victorian teasmade up to date

Swan_teasmadeMy partner managed to snap up a bargain ultra-modern teasmade at the weekend, and we have already had a first successful early morning brew-up.

The idea of waking up to a freshly made cup of tea in bed is of course not a new desire. And for Victorians who could not afford servants to get up early and light a fire, there was the (expensive) option of the clockwork teasmade and alarm clock.

Victorian Teasmade

Copyright Maurice Collins

Some of you might remember this invention had pride of place in our Weird and Wonderful exhibition way back in 2008. Maurice Collins, the collector of these amazing inventions is still going strong and has been featured on several television and radio shows.

In the clip below he demonstrates the somewhat dangerous aspects of the teasmade involving clockwork driven matches and paraffin.

I am sure he would want me to point out that all proceeds from his collection are directly donated to the learning disability charity Kith and Kids.

The perfect Christmas present – the gift of time

Mondaine watch

I guess in this ‘time poor’ era we could all do with an extra couple of hours a day, but in the meantime for me, a new watch will have to do.

For some years I have aspired to own a Mondaine watch. Based on the iconic official Swiss Railways clock-face, they are simple and elegant. The design with its distinctive red second-hand have indicated the famously punctual Swiss trains at their stations for more than 60 years.

So I was more than a little surprised, and extremely happy to be given one as a Christmas present from my partner. Especially as I hadn’t mentioned my interest in owning one.

Canary Wharf ClockIf you want to see an example ‘in the flesh’ in the UK there is a little cluster of them at Canary Wharf in London Docklands.

My intellectual property expert colleague Phil mentioned that the design was the cause of  court case between Mondaine and the giant Apple computer company. The story was covered by the Daily Mail website in October and November of last year.

Bet Apple wish they could turn the clock back: Swiss firm accuses iPhone 5 of copying their iconic face design.

Apple ‘paid £13million to Swiss national rail operator’ after using its iconic clock design without permission

There is some irony here, as this was the same time that Apple was suing Samsung in the United States for copying elements of the iPhone screen design.

 

Mondaine clock face

Image from DailyMail.co.uk

The secret doors of the British Library

BL DoorsBefore you get too excited, this is not a post about our collection of ‘naughty’ books. I have been at the library for seven years now and have yet to discover where they are located (not that I have been looking you understand).

This is about a secret contained within – not behind the doors of the British Library. At the entrance to each of the seven reading rooms in the St Pancras building stand pairs of impressively large wooden doors.

Colin St John Wilson who made the architecturally controversial building his life’s work, demanded only the best materials for the fixtures and fittings. Consequently the sheer weight of the Canadian oak that these impressive doors were constructed from, meant they could not be opened by ordinary mortals. This created something of a dilemma as the opening of the building  approached. I’m afraid I can’t prevent images entering my mind of stereotypically puny academics and weedy librarians breaking into a sweat, as they struggled with these mighty doors in vain.

To address this actually rather serious accessibility issue, building engineers came up with an ingenious and virtually invisible mechanical solution to the problem.

A small copper wire is curled in a spiral around each door handle. When grasped by a visitor the natural electrical charge within their body triggers a switch which is located in the door hinges. This powers an electric motor to push the door open. However this action is silent and so subtle that almost no one notices the assistance they are being given by the mechanism.

As a fan of ergonomic design and Cyborg Anthropology, I am impressed by this clever solution.

So the next time you encounter one of these magical doors, I suggest you touch the handle and stand back to give yourself time to admire this technological marvel of the British Library.

Apple is the most successful brand in history because it is meaningless

ohyo_bottleDuring this years Global Enterprise Week I finally had a chance to catch-up with Guy Jeremiah one of our Success Stories.

Although his collapsible bottle was becoming a great success in the UK under the brand Aquitina, Guy was advised he should change its name before taking on the United States market.

Unfortunately Aquatina is quite similar to Aquafina, a brand of bottled water owned by PepsiCo. Naturally Guy’s advisor was concerned that the cost of going through the courts would bankrupt the business, even though he would win the case.

So a new name was needed for the brand, and the advice was to use a made-up word. By definition, no one would be able to claim ‘prior-art‘ with a newly invented name. After much experimenting Guy and his team came up with the name ohyo (pronounced yoyo).

We had a chat about the importance of the Ronseal (says what it does on the tin) approach to a name, versus the advantages of using anonymous name like ohyo. My feeling is that a descriptive name is great when you are starting out, such as Man and Transit Van. But you never really know where your business will go, or how diversified it will become. In which case your expressive name can become unhelpful. For instance Carphone Warehouse, is no longer a warehouse and doesn’t sell phones for cars.

In the case of Apple Computer, the name was effectively pulled out of a hat the day before it was needed for company registration. Its generic nature meant that once the Computer bit was dropped, the company was free to make anything they liked and stick an Apple logo on it.

According to Walter Isaacson’s recent biography of Steve Jobs, “I was on one of my fruitarian diets,” he explained. “I had just come back from the apple farm. It sounded fun, spirited, and not intimidating. Apple took the edge off the word ‘computer.’ Plus, it would get us ahead of Atari in the phone book.” He told Wozniak that if a better name did not hit them by the next afternoon, they would just stick with Apple. And they did.

You may notice a similar looking collapsible bottle at the checkout of you local Marks & Spencer branch, as ohyo have licensed their product to M&S.

ohyo_bottles

 

 

 

Playback Rewards, a success story in the making

playbackrewards-logoMost of the inventors and entrepreneurs we help in the Business & IP Centre realise that it takes hard work and patience (and some luck) to become successful.

For Alistair Kelman the man behind Playback Rewards it has taken three years of seven day weeks with no holidays.

I have often seen him working in the Centre, and for the past couple of years he has been giving me regular progress reports on his patented invention. These updates have been an alternating mix of positive and negative news, as hurdles appear and then are overcome. Or amazing opportunities arrive, but then disappear again.

Alistair_KelmanThroughout this roller-coaster of events, Alistair has remained positive, and bounced back from setbacks (an essential ingredient for an entrepreneur). He has also taken a flexible and pragmatic approach to commercialising his invention (another necessary requirement – but sadly rather too rare for inventors).

For the last few months I have been waiting for permission from Alistair to talk about his invention on my blog, and now he has given me the green light. I am excited because Playback Rewards has the potential to be our biggest success story so far, by far.

Alistair started working on his ideas for revolutionising television advertising at the Centre at the beginning of 2009. He filed his first patent later that year, which was granted in February 2011. He then worked for months, almost on a daily basis at the Centre, developing, researching and refining the commercialisation of his invention.

In late 2010 Alistair ran out of money for his patent. But managed to persuade Stephen Fry to put in a little to keep the project on the road. As you can see from the video Stephen recorded ???, he liked Alistairs’ ideas and wanted to help. Then on Christmas Day 2011 his company was mentioned in an article in the Sunday Times.

Five months later Playback Holdings Ltd won a place in the semi-finals of the CISCO BIG awards, where it stands the chance of winning $100,000 for the business. Alistair feels that which everyone should know about this amazing programme.

As part of his entry for the CISCO i-prize competition Alistair has made a video Magic in your pocket which explains how the service would work.

On 6 July Playback Holdings Limited starts its Series A  fund-raising via an Financial Services Authority (FSA) approved crowdsourcing  platform called Seedrs. This innovative investment method allows ordinary people to invest between £10 to £100,000 in any of the start-ups on its platform.

The full story behind Playback Rewards, and where they are going is on their website www.playbackrewards.com.

The ingenious Tapsell gates of Sussex

Tapsel_gate_at_St_Andrew's_church,_Jevington

Image from Wikipedia

On one of my regular wanderings up on the South Downs, I recently chanced across an intriguing type of churchyard gate.

For my undulating perambulations I often carry a day-pack filled with waterproofs, extra layers and ‘emergency rations’ (in my youth I was a Boy Scout, so ‘Be Prepared’ is my motto). So conventional gates are an unsatisfactory ergonomic experience.

The most common obstacle is the stile, which often involves an unsteady climb and descent on frequently wobbly and slippery planks of wood. Kissing gates appear more straight-forward, but the hinges are often rusty, and half the time your rucksack gets snagged as you squeeze through the narrow gap. Then there is the traditional five-bar gate, which if new, requires Herculean strength to prise the spring-lever open, or once old, has collapsed on its hinges and has to be lifted out of the mud and dragged open and closed again.

As you can see from the photo above the Tapsell gate is a much more ingenious device, as it balances on a central spindle. The gate opens with the slightest of touches, and can be pushed right round so it comes to rest on the fixed stops of the gate posts in a closed position. In effect you only ever have to open the gate, and you never have to wait for someone coming the other way as they can pass by on the other side simultaneously.

According to the little leaflet I picked up in Jevington church written by Rosalind Hodge, the Tapsell gates even allow coffin bearers to comfortably pass on either side without breaking step. Apparently, the bearers could even rest the coffin on the gate if they needed to pause before entering the churchyard.

Sadly, very little seems to be known about who invented this style of gate or when. The most likely source seems to have been a branch of the Tapsell families of Sussex, some of whom were carpenters.

For me, the most intriguing thing of all about these gates is just how few there are. Currently only six examples survive, but it seems not that many were made even at their peak.

This brings me neatly back to a regular discussion I have with inventors. So often they assume that their great idea must be entirely new because they haven’t come across it before in the shops. I explain that of the seventy million or so patents registered in the UK, only a tiny minority ever actually became commercially successful.

The sad truth about inventing (or any innovation come to that) is having a good idea is not nearly enough. I fact I would say it is the easy bit. The hard part is proving the commercial viability of the idea (usually to understandably cynical investors), and then find a way to market it successfully.

Too many follow the path of Ray Kinsella the character played by Kevin Costner in the film Field of Dreams, “If you build it, he will come”. And this proves to be very much the exception rather than the rule.

The law of unintended consequences and e-books – Fifty Shades of Grey

50_shades_of_greyThe law of unintended consequences is an interesting topic in its own right, with perhaps the most well known example being the unexpected use of text messaging on mobile telephones.

The latest example according to David Sexton in the Evening Standard is the way e-book readers have allowed more women to read adult fiction. Apparently the lack of a racy cover and give-away title when reading a discretely packaged Amazon Kindle or Apple iPad, allows more and more women to indulge their tastes in public. No longer do they need to fear the snorts of derision or disapproving looks as they plough their way through the latest Bodice ripper.

Apparently the growth in e-books (one in eight of adult fiction books is now purchased digitally) has allowed for a rapid growth in what some call ‘Mommy porn‘, or literotica.

The UK market leader in this genre is E L James and her début adult romance novel Fifty Shades of Grey. According to her official website;

E_L_JamesE L James is a TV executive, wife and mother-of-two based in West London. Since early childhood she dreamed of writing stories that readers would fall in love with, but put those dreams on hold to focus on her family and her career. She finally plucked up the courage to put pen to paper with her first novel, Fifty Shades of Grey.

It is claimed 250,000 copies have already been sold in different formats, and has topped the New York Times Bestseller list.

So, the next time you see a fellow commuter looking a bit hot and bothered, it may not be due to the faulty heating system on the train, but caused by something hot and steamy in her e-book reader.

Totseat – our Scottish Success Story

totseat logoIt was great to hear from Rachel Jones the inventor and founder of Totseat who are based in Edinburgh.

She told me how the first Totseat was created from her wedding dress (with an understanding husband watching while she chopped it up). This followed on from a disastrous meal out with a small child – and various filthy high-chairs being proffered from the downstairs loo.

Totseat-DenimThe purpose was to create a safe haven from any adult chair for a small child – i.e. replacing a traditional high-chair when none was available, or they are too filthy to use. Rachel created a cotton Totseat from the original silk version, and enlisted the help of a friend to make it child safe. Soon lots of her friends wanted one too.

Being somewhat neurotic, Rachel took safety to heart and enlisted help of BSI test house, paediatricians, physiotherapists and the Child Accident Prevention Trust. With the safety attributes firmly embedded, she made 20 prototypes, with slight variables, (all by hand) and lent them to 20 families – along with a disposable camera – requesting as many testing experiences as possible.

Rachel then visited the British Library Business & IP Centre to see what other brands were ‘out there’ on international basis. As well as looking at trademarks, names, patent and design rights.

Several months and 900 testing experiences later Rachel had a ‘final prototype’, and managed to secure an appointment with John Lewis for a ‘reality check’. But it turned out that John Lewis loved it. Her reaction was, ‘yikes’!

She continued to use the Business & IP Centre for Mintel and Keynote research papers on state of ‘the nation’ (Childcare industry, nursery industry, accessories etc). She found this invaluable, as access to these reports are otherwise totally out of financial reach – and this sort of information remains a key part of their business planning and strategy.

Since going into production four years ago UK growth has been strong in high street stores, and now export growth is surging ahead with 40 plus countries. Totseat is now the leading product in its class, with multiple award wins, recognising its design, and safety attributes.

And now Totseat has been joined by Oobicoo, which was short-listed for Best Soft Toy 2012. The adorable, cuddly, soft toy tot Oobicoo is made from gorgeous soft plush and, at 60cm tall, is the perfect size to be an instant baby brother, sister or best friend.

Rachel describes the British Library as a ‘magnificent mind-space’ whether exploring, befriending or nurturing information for both day to day and strategic business.