Saturday, 11 October 2014

Five Gadgets That I Love

          1) Sat Nav - Like many other writers, I have driven all over the country, in search of
schools in the back streets of towns I've never visited before, and libraries ditto.

     So I love my Sat-Nav. It saves me all that, 'Am I on the right road? Should I turn round? Should I stop and check the map?' It saves me squinting at tiny, tiny print in A-Zs (though they remain arguably the most useful books ever printed.)
          The Institute of Advanced Driving frowns severely on anything that distracts from driving. So I've permanently silenced the CD player and radio in my car - and I would never dream of using a mobile phone, even a no-hands one, while I was driving anyway. But when it comes to my Sat-Nav, I don't care. I will not give up my Sat-Nav.
          I argue that, by sparing me all the fret and worry about whether I'm on the right road, it enables me to concentrate more on driving, and makes me a better driver.
Kindle Fire

          2) Kindle Fire or other tablet. From the moment I first used an e-reader, I was hooked. Yes, books are beautiful objects. I have been a fan of books all my life. I didn't expect to like e-readers - but now, I don't care, I hardly ever pick up a paper book.
           Even though I live in the West Midlands, it's not an area rich in those cosy little bookshops we keep being told about, with a choice selection of books, and informed, helpful staff. In days past, I would have to travel to Birmingham, and when I got there, the book I wanted was - it was almost guaranteed - not in stock. I could order it, of course - and in 6-8 weeks they would notify me that it was going to take longer.
           Whereas Amazon, for all its many sins, can be almost guaranteed to have any book I want in stock - and very likely as an ebook, which will be cheaper, and will zip to me through the ether in seconds. Remember a book while you're lying in bed at 12-30 at night, and about two minutes later, you're reading it.
          But quite apart from that, I prefer reading an e-book. You don't have to grip a tightly bound, heavy book, and hold the pages open by main force. The number of times a paper book has sprung shut and lost my place! - An ebook always opens at the right place. You can mark places, and the bookmark never falls out.
          And more - I can check emails on my Kindle Fire. I can play games and music on it. I can look at my photos. I can (using Docs to Go) write on it and then email my writing to myself. And, having read the Game of Thrones books on it, I then watched the series on my Kindle Fire.
          When I had to stay away from home recently, I not only had reading material and documents on my Fire, but downloaded films and programmes. So I sat in my B&B, eating the biscuits, and watching 'Brave' (which I enjoyed no end, especially the prim queen transformed into a bear.)
          As I write this, my Fire is within reach. It always is. I carry it about the house with me. I take it to bed with me. When I leave the house, it goes with me, in my bag. I love it.

          (3) Yogurt Maker. This is certainly one of the most used
gadgets in my house. I get through a lot of plain yoghurt, and buying it in the supermarket was expensive, and meant I was always running out unexpectedly. 
          A friend, learning that I was thinking of buying a yoghurt maker, told me that I didn't need to buy a gadget. She explained how her mother made yoghurt, by wrapping a bowl of milk in blankets and putting it in the airing cupboard. But I don't have an airing cupboard. "Well, use a hot-water bottle and a duvet," my friend said.
          It all seemed a lot of trouble if you haven't been raised to it.  So I bought the famous Lakeland Yoghurt Maker for twenty quid. Two or three times a week, I put into it 2-3 spoonfuls of live yoghurt from my last batch, pour on a litre of full-fat long-life milk, switch it on - and leave it for 8 hours.
          At the end of that time, I have a litre of plain yoghurt, with no added sugar and no preservatives.
          Once it's made, you can, if you like, add any flavourings you want - fruit, ginger, cinnamon - marmite, if you want. But put aside the yoghurt to make the next batch first, because the flavouring might upset the bacteria that make the  yoghurt.
          Every two months or so, when my yoghurt is getting thin, I buy a small pot of live, plain yoghurt, and use that to make the next batch.
         (4) Digital cameras. Need I say more? Easy to use, and no
more buying film, and then having to pay for it to be developed. Whether you want to take arty, atmospheric shots of mountains and clouds, photos of a family birthday party, or close-ups of flowers or insects, you can take hundreds of snaps, edit them, turn them into t-shirts, mouse-mats, mugs...
          My partner keeps hundreds, maybe thousands, of shots on camera sim-cards, plugs them into his tv, and uses them as references for painting.
          He was always a keen photographer, and had weighty cameras with even weightier lenses which he didn't enjoy carrying on long walks. I introduced him to digital cameras, and was with him in Ludlow when he tried out his first. It was only about 6 megapixels.
One of mine
          We sat on a bench at one end of a long street, and he took photos of some old houses at the street's distant other end. Then he sat and looked at the photos he'd just taken, cropped them, blew them up and, after some moments of silence, said, "That's me done with my old cameras." He has upgraded to better and better digitals, though, and almost always has one in his pocket.
         I also love digital cameras for giving a whole new lease of life to a friend of mine, who was becoming a bit detached from life, always looking back to the past - but to whom digital cameras have made an almost miraculous change. Now there are frequent outings to take photographs of birds and animals, photographs taken in the back yard, editing photographs on the computer, sharing them with fellow enthusiasts via Flickr and getting all kinds of compliments and tips in return... Submitting them to competitions, seeing them on the BBC website, turning them into cards and calendars... I feel I could almost kiss the digital cameras responsible for this change.

          (5) The 'flashy-flicker' in my Tesco supermarket. I grew to hate the 'do-it-yourself' check-outs, because they kidded you they were going to be quicker, but were almost always slower and more frustrating than queuing at a check-out with an operator. There were always several things that the thing couldn't scan, and you had to wait for someone to come and check it. I gave up on them.
The 'flashy-flicker'
          But now they have a hand-held gadget, which you take round the store with you. You scan everything you buy, and put it into your own shopping bags. And it works! I've used it several times now, and it actually is quicker and more convenient.
          When you've finished  your shopping, you take it to a special check-out centre, and flash a bar-code stuck to one of the tills. This transfers your shopping to the till. If you haven't been chosen for a random check, you then pay. And get out of there.

     Finally, my brother pleaded for the inclusion of the humble, overlooked USB. People use them all the time now, but hardly notice them. - The USB that allows you to carry photos and data about on a little memory-stick - that allows me to plug my sat-nav into the computer and update it, to plug my camera in and move photos to the computer.
          It allows Davy to plug his camera or sim-card into his television and look at his photos on the bigger screen - and would allow me to connect my Fire to the TV and share 'Brave' with others, if I didn't prefer to selfishly watch all by myself.
Ajay Bhatt

          Ladies and gentleman, I give you Ajay V. Bhatt, the inventor of the USB, or Universal Serial Bus, without whom most of my favourite gadgets wouldn't be half so useful, or easy to operate.

          So what are your favourite gadgets?


madwippitt said...

Great choice of gadgets! Except for the sat-nav - I still love my road maps and atlases. Sat Nav gives you no real idea of scale and distance between furrin parts of the country. Wait till it drives you into the middle of a field one day!
But I would happily swop it for a CD player as I only have a cassette player in mine which limits my choice of audio books to listen to en route on long journeys. And which are essential for maintaining a state of awakeness on motorways, so surely must be a good thing?

Susan Price said...

Madwippit, the day my sat-nav guides me into a field, I will eat it.

Must admit, your point about distance hadn't ocurred to me. I almost always use mine in conjunction with Google Maps and the AA Route Finder, which gives you the mileage, and an estimation of how long it will take. (Which you always have to double, in my experience.)