Category Archives: technology

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?

Farewell Boris Bikes – hello to the Brompton folding-bike experience

Brompton logo smallDuring my daily commute from Eastbourne to St Pancras and all the way back, I have been doing some ‘commuter observing’. And I have noticed most ‘hard-core’ travellers have two specialised devices in their possession. The first is a computer screen of some kind, to help distract from the long train journey by delivering various forms of entertainment.

This can vary from reading ebooks on a Kindle or similar, to watching the latest instalment of Game of Thrones on an iPad or Andriod tablet. Occasionally I have even spotted commuters actually doing work on the train.

Now that I have settled on my somewhat garish clementine orange Yoga Pro ‘laptop’, it is time to move on to the second of these devices.

And that takes us from new technology to an invention nearly 200 years old – the velocipede, more recently known as the bicycle.
Brompton Logos B&W on top

But for the serious commuter just any old bike won’t do. Or more specifically, won’t be allowed by the train operating companies. Having endured standing room only on trains for many years, I am sympathetic with banning of full-sized bicycles during the rush-hour times. Although, perhaps bringing back the guard’s van would be a way of accommodating conventional two-wheelers.

In the meantime, the only solution is a folding-bike, and this explains why they are such a common sight on my morning and evening journeys. With the rapid increase in cycling in London over the past few years has come an increasing choice of bikes, and folding-bikes in particular.

Using my information search skills I conducted thorough research into the subject, and came up with a shortlist of two manufacturers. Both had excellent reviews, and both cost just under £1,000. The first was of course the Brompton, which is by far-and-away the market leader. And a proud ‘made-in-Britain’ product exported around the world.

So being perverse I decided to go for the alternative brand. I found a shop near Eastbourne which stocked both makes, and explained my wishes to the salesman over the phone. He assured me that I would come out of the shop with a Brompton rather than the brand I wanted. And it turned out he was right. After a short discussion, the superiority its ingenious folding system and 25 percent smaller size when folded, won me over to the Brompton.Brompton folding bike

But why I hear you asking, have you abandoned the wonderful Barclays Bike Hire Scheme you blogged about in 2010? The answer – sadly, is that the Boris Bike service (which should really be called ‘Ken Bike’ in recognition of Boris’ predecessor Ken Livingston’s decision to implement the project) is not reliable enough for my needs.

A combination of glitchy technology and lack of bikes has always been something of a problem. But  since moving to Eastbourne, at least fifty percent of my attempts to hire a bike have failed. And doubling the annual subscription to £90 has only added insult to injury. The unreliability of the Barclay’s scheme added significantly to the stress of my morning journey. And as the secret to successful long distance commuting is to remove as many variables as possible, it had to be replaced with something more reliable.

Today is only day-one of my folding bike commute, so it is too early to say how effective this serious investment in improving my commuting experience will  turn out to be.

 

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.

Getting in touch with my inner Geek thanks to Geek Magazine

I’ve talked quite a bit over the years about geek related topics, but  have never considered myself a proper geek. However in June this year, on my way to the SLA annual conference in San Diego, I chanced across a copy of Geek Magazine in an airport newsagent. Geek Magazine coverMaybe it was the catchy headline ‘Star Wars – yes it’s cool again’, or perhaps the iconic cover image of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, which took me back to my teenage years. However, once beyond the cover I was soon hooked on the combination of interview and reviews of a wide range of topics ranging from technology, music, video-games, movies and of course comics (not forgetting comic book heroes). The writing combined nerdy enthusiasm for the wide range of topics covered, along with a surprisingly intelligent style and dry sense of humour. Even more impressive was their knowledge of and appreciation of the British contribution to Geekness. In the current issue, six whole pages are devoted to the record breaking, classic science fiction television series Dr Who. As you can probably tell by now, I was so impressed I decided to subscribe, and after filling in the appropriate form back in July I awaited eagerly awaited its arrival. After three months I was beginning to think the subscriptions department might have mislaid my request. But then one morning, just when I had given up hope, a rectangular package popped through my door. I  recognise there is something of an irony, in this day of electronic publishing that I had to wait over three months for the issue to arrive. But since having read it from cover to cover I’ve decided it was definitely worth the wait. Geek Magazine

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.

Web in Feb 2013 is nearly here

WebinFeb logoOur annual Web in Feb will be here very soon so have a look at what we have on offer and start booking up before they sell out.

Search Engine Optimisation for small businesses workshop

Tuesday 5 February 2013, 10.00 – 14.00

Learn how to improve your website so that search engines, like Google, list or rank it better and higher.

Science and technology information for the business user

Tuesday 5 February 2013, 14.00 – 16.00

Get a competitive edge by exploring our incredibly rich resources on technology-based products.

Social media for business innovation

Wednesday 13 February 2013, 10.00-12.30

Learn how to improve your products and services by using  social networks including: LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

Marketing masterclass for small businesses

Wednesday 13 February 2013, 14.00-18.00

This workshop will introduce you to new ways to think about how your online marketing and will give you the opportunity to apply these marketing strategies directly for your business.

Insider trends: The future of e-commerce

Monday 18 February 2013, 18.00 – 20.00

Get the latest trends to get a head start on  the social media revolution.

Manage your business on the web

Tuesday 19 February 2013, 18.00 – 20.00

Save precious time and money by learning about the different web applications out there which can help you run your business, many of which are free.

Introducing copyright workshop

Thursday 20 February 2013, 14.00-16.00

Find out how copyright protection is different from other forms of intellectual property and why it is essential for your business to protect the works created online.

What next for your invention? Plan, prototype or protect?

Thursday 21 February 2013, 13.00 – 17.30

Join this practical workshop to learn all the key issues that need to be covered when you plan, prototype and then protect your online or digital devices.

How to crowdfund for your business

Tuesday 26 February 2013, 18.00 – 20.00

Explore the latest Crowdfunding trends to raise capital and discover an approach to Crowdfunding that works best for you.

Managing money and saving time with Sage One

Wednesday 27 February 2013, 18.00 – 20.00

Find out about the online mobility of the cloud-based accounts and payroll software.

Mobile Marketing Demystified

Thursday 28 February 2013, 14.00 – 16.00

Get an introduction to the next frontier of marketing – apps and mobile websites.

 

Writing about ‘Web in Feb’ on Twitter? Use our hashtag and see what everyone else is saying: #webinfeb

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.

Making your website mobile friendly with Telnames

Business_Startup_logo

Once again the Business & IP Centre had a stand at the Business Startup Show (this year bigger than ever and moved to Olympia). Although not quite the same draw as Caprice Bourret or Brad Burton, the session I ran with Julie Hall from Women Unlimited was full to bursting.

I always try and find some time to get around the exhibition and see what catches my eye. This year it was Telnames, a new service that claims to ‘create a mobile site that you own and control within minutes’. With the rapid take-up of mobile internet use, I can see the potential for a service like this. According to their website, by 2013 more people will use mobile phones than PCs to get online, and research indicates that 6 in 10 visitors will leave a mobile-unfriendly site.

The man I spoke to was an ex Yell employee, and explained that Telnames has ambitions to become a big player across Europe. I wondered how they would convince small business to pay for an additional service. His answer was simple – £14.95 a year all inclusive. My response was at that price it is a ‘no-brainer’, which by coincidence is the term they use on their home page.

It will be fascinating to see if this service really takes off in the way the salesman predicted.

Telnames_screenshot

Yamasaki YM125 motorbike – the ultimate in brand flattery

Yamasaki--logoThey say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I think the Yamasaki YM125 may well be the ultimate expression of that in the biking world. Yes, I’m back on my favourite topic of motorbikes again, but this story is all about trademarks and branding.

This rather unexpected brand name takes me back to my early youth, when the British Bike industry still ruled the world, but Japanese imports to the UK were just beginning. Needless to say the old British Bikers would have nothing to do with these young upstarts from Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Honda. Their short-sighted criticisms would often be expressed in dismissive pithy phrases such as ‘I wouldn’t be seen dead on one of those Jap-crap Yamasakis’.

So it is something of an irony that China is beginning its inroad to the established Japanese market hegemony with this portmanteau word based on two of the biggest Nipponese brands. Even more so, the bike spearheading the attack is a copy of the best-selling Honda CG 125. You can make your up own mind how much of a facsimile the YM125 is, by looking at the photos below.

Although not yet available in the UK,  Bike Magazine recently imported one in ready-to-build crated form. After two hours putting it together they weren’t entirely impressed by the build quality, but they were by the on the road price of £896, and the 95 miles a gallon fuel consumption.

Certainly Richy1986, who posted this critical review on Review Centre listing 25 faults, was not impressed with his bike. Yamasaki YM125-3 – Cheap Rubbish!!!

Yamasaki--125-3

Honda-CG-125