Wednesday 20 February 2019

Offline with Samsung and Apple

I remember a few years back hankering after a device that was phone-sized, doing all the things that phones do - except for one thing. Telephony! I didn't want a phone, I wanted a pocket computer!

A Psion, I guess, but more. A powerhouse device that sits in the pocket and can take photos, play music through speaker/s, manage files, show TV and film, hold a reading library, gather news, be a shopping portal, note-keeper, link to online documents, be able to play podcasts, hook up for online banking, be an updated and updatable calendar/diary, contact list, email client, offline reader, online reader, GPS and Mapping travel aid, photo storage device, clock/alarm, weather station, web browser, social media client, voice recorder, video recorder - and so on. All the things that we have now come to expect phones to be, but without the complication of phone contracts, cellular connectivity, PAYG and anxiety associated with being out of range and out of touch. And into the bargain, amazingly improved battery life without cellular connectivity draining it constantly. Remember the AA's of the Psion lasting 2 weeks to a month?

Then came along the iPod Touch and this seemed to be it. A shift in expectation, psychology and approach. Accepting that the very capable device in the pocket was almost every bit as capable as the phone in the other, but that you had to think about not being always connected. I don't remember it being a big difficulty, once you'd accepted the parameter. I got used to working from wifi zone to wifi zone - and that would be even easier in this day and age where it seems every cafe, library, airport, train, bus station and public building has a facility. But I didn't live in the Apple world, so it soon became disconnected from my data and I was doubling up on lots of stuff and having an Apple account that I really didn't need. No big deal for many, I know.

Then along came the Samsung Galaxy Player in 2011 and that seemed to be it for me! The very device I was looking for, but sadly, like a lot of Samsung ideas, it only lasted one generation and was soon dropped, not supported or updated as Google marched on and left it behind. It was also a Samsung and, at the time, that stuck in the throat because of the thick overlay and complications and bloat it came with. The more modern Samsung Phones, like the Note9 and S9/10 are far from that, have huge storage facilities for offline use as well as an amazing tick-box list combination of hardware attributes not available anywhere else - including of course with the Note, a stylus!

The need is simple, I think. The reason that it's not popular is that Big Brother wants us online as much as possible. Giving people the choice to run their digital life offline seems to be too much when we live in a world where revenue streams come from pushing adverts at people to get them to part with the money that they would previously have shelled out on hardware or software. As a business model, you can see what's going on - and if I were in business, I'd do the same.

I expect by now you're wondering where this drivel is leading, so I'll tell you! It's leading to two places. Firstly, I read that Apple are likely to very soon relaunch an iPod Touch (or similar) which will enable the above - and allow people to shift emphasis to managing their digital life offline much of the time. Kudos to them, I say. Secondly, it got me thinking about the Samsung Galaxy Note9 which I have here rockin' 512GB of storage with another 512GB on a microSD Card, connectivity by cable to TV's and Monitors via DeX or just HDMI-out - and how that could be thought of by the user not so much as a phone but rather a pocket-computer, as they rip out the SIM Card.

I have to admit that I have struggled to keep my SIM Card in the Note9 because I so love other phones and I'm a serial SIM swapper! I don't want my phone to be this big pocket computer. I want my phone to be a smaller phone-sized-phone, as we used to say. The Nokia 8 Sirocco is a good example, but so are many compact devices still available, with screens under 5" and not 6.4" and more. So, the idea is that one has the powerhouse pocket computer in the bag, glove-box, coat pocket, in the house on a Qi charger, wherever - with the battery being sipped with no SIM Card - for use, topping up, connecting and updating, sending/receiving as you come and go into WiFi zones. A pocket computer that can hold 1TB of stuff offline, no clouds here, that you can plug into keyboards, mice, displays when needed - but then use another device as a phone. Into the bargain, the phone is used less so its battery lasts longer too.

I know this isn't rocket science, and most people want to be connected all the time with everything they have, so wouldn't be able to resist putting in a data-SIM to keep that connected too. But the point of these thoughts were to think back to the older days when everything wasn't so connected and when hardware supported big storage. Look at the amount of phones and other devices now which only have 64GB storage or 128GB and no expansion. Even my laptop computer has a fixed 256GB SSD. We're encouraged not to store stuff outside of the cloud - but I say that there's still a place for it. Well done to Apple and Samsung for retaining that option and allowing some of us to think and behave differently. I wonder if Samsung will follow Apple again and try another Galaxy Player - and if so, will a generation of people re-emerge who are not addicted to being online and living in clouds.

Tuesday 12 February 2019

Allocacoc PowerCube

This is an attractive and useful little extension lead and multi-power socket which I've been meaning to post up for some time. It's very simple in many ways but has been thought out well with useful design and features.

Firstly, it's got a good 3M cable, which is reassuringly thick and heavy-duty looking. You can get a 1.5M version too, but as usual with AmazonUK pricing, it's more expensive! It comes with a 'dock' which, if you want to, you can attach to a tabletop (or whatever you can screw/stick it to with the supplied double-sided pads or screws) though when in use, this takes up one of the cube's 4 x 3-Pin UK plug sockets around the four faces.

The four sockets are arranged usefully in an offset fashion to allow for stupidly-shaped plugs and their attached bulk, which we've covered in Whatever Works many times, assigning to Room 101! However, if we can't change the behaviour of Chinese manufacturers standardising on plug orientation, this is next best thing. They don't, however, swivel, like we have seen on some other units recently. The payoff for that though is that it's very sturdy and made of extremely solid plastic, if strangely light.

On the 5th side (opposite to the sixth, which has the incoming power cord) are two USB-A ports which are rated 2.1A, so absolutely fine for charging stuff overnight and more. As you can see, it's about 3 inches cubed and is very handy. Currently about £20 at AmazonUK so yes, you can certainly do cheaper, but it is very good unit.

Wednesday 6 February 2019

Burn After Reading

This comedy crime drama was delivered in 2008 by the Coen Brothers and is great fun! They've gathered their usual suspects to play the lead roles and it puts me very much in mind of O Brother, Where Art Thou.

John Malkovich plays Osbourne Cox, a CIA analyst who is hauled into his boss one day and told that because they consider that he has a drink problem, he's being demoted to a less responsible position. He tells them to shove it and resigns. He starts to write his memoirs. His wife Katie, played by Tilda Swinton is having an affair with George Clooney's Harry. Harry is also married to Sandy, but between them all, they really could be sleeping (or playing sex games) with pretty much anyone they know - or indeed just met!

Linda is played by Frances McDormand and she works in a gym with Chad, who's played by Brad Pitt. She is dissatisfied with her body and wants plastic surgery, but can't afford it. At this point, by chance, a CD falls out of the gym bag of an employee of a solicitor who's handling Katie's divorce on the hush. Linda and Chad look at the contents, make some assumptions about it being CIA information, rather than the memoirs of Osbourne and look to make a quick buck. Hope you're keeping up with this!

Before you know it, Linda's off to the Russian Embassy to try to sell what's on it, having failed, with Chad, to get money out of Osbourne - who's really confused as to who they are, what the CD is and how it's blackmail worthy anyway! He's also very, very angry and anyone who gets in his way usually gets a mouth full of abuse, deserved or not!

And so the farce goes on. It's beautifully stitched together and excellently delivered by the whole cast. McDormand steals the show with her amazing facial expressions, think Fargo, and naivety around the situation. Brad Pitt plays the half-brained half-interested buffoon perfectly, Tilda Swinton is excellent in her cold and clinical role, George Clooney creates characteristics for Harry which he can have great fun with, including a half-explored hypochondria and John Malkovich, as you'd expect, plays the irate Osbourne with gusto and relish! Everyone is clearly having great fun with the material and the story holds together nicely.

It's an absolute scream from start to finish, engaging and funny. It's quite dark in places but not grizzly. There's one scene where someone's having their head axed in, which should really have been a nasty head-turner, but the way it's delivered it just becomes comic, along with most of the rest of the film. The Coen Brothers really have turned out some fabulous films and this is up there with the best of the darkly comic ones. Don't miss it like I have for a decade!

Monday 4 February 2019

AA Car Essentials Emergency Snow Shovel

Winter is generally short-lived here in the UK, but when it comes, we should all be prepared. Fortunately, most of us have space to spare in the boot of our cars to chuck stuff in which might only be needed once in a blue moon.

This snow shovel not only relies on snow, but also that you're out in it - and get stuck - and need to dig yourself out! A trail of conditions which might not often be met, over here anyway. But when and if it does, you'll remember having thrown it in the back all that time ago!

It takes up no space at all as it has a smart folding design which closes in on itself and fits inside the handy supplied 'shovel blade' sized and shaped pouch. The blade itself is made of heavy metal and fits into the central 'tube' which, in turn, heads off towards the folding-out handle.

The 'tube' and handle are also very sturdy and solid-feeling, made of heavy and thick plastic. The handle is big enough for the biggest hand to get a grip and the 'tube' in the middle has a locking 'collar'. So you fold out the handle and blade whilst the locking collar is loose, then re-tighten the collar, it all locks into place, ready for action.

Wouldn't believe that the very day it arrived all the snow had disappeared here for me to test, but it really does look like it'll do the job and certainly not fall apart anytime soon. So for a few quid, best grabbed and lobbed into the boot!

I got this on a flash sale when it was only £6.50, but I'm afraid it's now back up to 'normal' price of £14. To be honest, now having handled it, and although I probably wouldn't have paid £14, I would now if I'd had the opportunity prior. Recommended. AmazonUK

Sunday 3 February 2019

Smilla's Sense of Snow

This English-language Danish 1997 Bille August film is a sci-fi thriller/drama, based on Peter Hoeg's bestseller about a woman trying to get to the bottom of the suspicious death of a small boy whom she'd befriended in her apartment block in Copenhagen.

The troubled Smilla Jasperson is played by Julia Ormond (Legends of the Fall, First Knight) and she does so excellently, convincingly and with style. Smilla is one of a community of people who have ended up in Copenhagen and since as a child being removed from her home in Greenland, has been a square peg in a round hole. Always in trouble, not settled and pining for a climate where snow and ice envelops her. She can't do much about it though as rich daddy keeps her from having to work and with no means of her own, has to stay put.

Other exiles live in the same apartment block, one of which is a small boy who she comes home one day to find scattered over the pavement, 5 stories down. As so the thriller starts to unfold. The links between these people start to become clearer, what happened in Greenland so that they had to leave, how a mining company with pots of cash seem to have secrets and potentially reasons for covering up this, that and the other, a love-interest who lives on the ground floor and may be a little more than he appears and treks across snowy arctic regions to get to the bottom of what's going on! Yes, it's thrills and spills all the way, with a climax which James Bond would be proud of creating! But it's far from a mindless 007 outing. It's a good story, well delivered, with interesting characters and a plot that will keep the audience on the edge of their seat for at least some of the time.

Richard Harris (A Man Called Horse, Orca, Unforgiven) plays the boss of the mining company, mostly from a distance. He only has a handful of lines, but as usual, brings presence and class to proceedings. Gabriel Byrne (The Usual Suspects, The Crying Game, Stigmata) is the love interest with a twist and plays his role well, though you get the feeling that it's not really stretching him much. It's Ormond in the lead who really commands here and has by far the most of the screen time. She holds it together and depicts well the character that nobody wants to warm to, but most would respect.

The film is shot in 4:3 which is a bit of a shame on this occasion as so much more could have been made of the sweeping arctic scenery in the second half of the film. Instead of which, the edit is tight and focused. It's a good film which I'd recommend if you can get hold of it! I had to import a DVD from the Czech Republic and it took 3 weeks to arrive! It's a cracking little film which you'll sometimes catch in the middle of the night on Channel 4 or Film4. Look out for it.

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