Category Archives: Technology

The Sunday Morning Breakfast Machine

I found this so funny that I just had to share it with you. Che is a regular reader of Elektor magazine. It’s a magazine that deals with everything related to electronics, robotics and related coding.

One of the articles tells the story of a retired mechanical engineer and a retired airline pilot that built a breakfast machine to serve breakfast to their respective wives on Sunday mornings.

The electronics are apparently complex and it took them a punishing 1,000 hours to build it. It is able to brew tea or coffee depending on your preference, hand you the morning paper, make soft-boiled eggs, makes toast and even clears up afterwards. That is if you consider the dishes being dumped off the side of the table into a bowl “clearing up”.

The inventors admit that the purpose of the invention was to make people laugh. This they’ve achieved.

It reminds me of the breakfast machine constructed by mad inventor Dr Emmett Brown in the movie Back To The Future. I half expected these 2 entertaining and innovative individuals to be whisked off in the flying DeLorean by Marty McFly.

Note to the inventors: Now, can you please make it run from Monday to Saturday as well, do freshly squeezed orange juice and put in some more work on the “clearing up” functionality.  Oh and while you’re at it, can you please include feeding of the dog cat as well…

Featured image courtesy of Carbon Costume.


Science-Fiction Science-Fact

I remember. It was 1969. I was 4 years old and my sister was born a month before. I remember my Dad’s excitement which was infectious. It spilled over and I couldn’t help but be excited too.

It was the year of the moon landing, and us, in Mozambique, were following the preparations and the journey. TV hadn’t yet come to the country, so the news we got was via radio or the newspapers. The year of my sister’s birth was an exciting one – I got a baby sister to play with and people from Earth landed on the moon.

I was reminded of these memories the other day when I visited the Space Exhibition hosted by South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology. My whole clan met up and had a most enjoyable morning looking at the exhibits and seeping in the history of space exploration as we know it to date.

I was verrrry chuffed when the the first step on the long timeline had a Portuguese flavour to it! In 1535 the Portuguese navigator, João De Castro,  first measured the magnetic declination off the Cape coast. So this makes him not only one of the first explorers of the seas but one of the first explorers of outer space. I know I’m reaching but stay with me.

João de Castro (7 February 1500 – 6 June 1548)
©2016 Regina Martins
©2016 Regina Martins









I found it interesting that among life-size replica of the lunar vehicle a replica of Jules Verne’s Columbiad was placed. As a child I devoured Jules Verne’s books but From The Earth To The Moon was not one of them. I must have missed it somehow.

Look at this space suit – based on the Mercury design, it’s the Gemini G-2G prototype, the third of five such prototypes. It had a shiny silver outer and had thermal and radiation protection for possible use outside the capsule.

Gemini G-2G prototype spacesuit ©2016 Regina Martins
Gemini G-2G prototype spacesuit
©2016 Regina Martins

When I saw this capsule I couldn’t imagine getting inside it myself. Astronauts had to be a maximum of 1,80m tall and the seats had to be moulded to their bodies. All onboard systems were mechanical and it was used for suborbital flights between 1959 and 1963.

Mercury spacecraft ©2016 Regina Martins
Mercury spacecraft
©2016 Regina Martins

My favourite exhibit was the full-size model of the battery-operated Lunar Rover.

Lunar Rover ©2016 Regina Martins
Lunar Rover
©2016 Regina Martins

Also on display was the Mariner IV probe that investigated Mars, Venus and Mercury. The US Mariner programme generated the first pictures of Mars. This model represents Mariner 4, launched in November 1964 and performed the first successful flyby of Mars.

The Mariner IV probe ©2016 Regina Martins
The Mariner IV probe
©2016 Regina Martins
Sample of moon rock ©2016 Regina Martins
Sample of moon rock
©2016 Regina Martins

The rest of the exhibits were equally exciting – a scale model of the Saturn V rocket – it remains the only vehicle to have carried astronauts beyond low Earth orbit.

A model of the space shuttle, the MIR space station and a sample of moon rock, samples brought back by the Apollo astronauts.

Off course, no space exhibition is complete without a replica of Darth Vader’s suit! This is a limited edition prop version from the 1980 Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. It’s 2.02m tall. Although Star Wars is science-fiction it expands the imagination of what space travel could be like.

Darth Vader's suit ©2016 Regina Martins
Darth Vader’s suit
©2016 Regina Martins

For Posterity.


The Age-Old Question about Technology

Remember when you were a child? Did your parents ever tell you to turn the music down?

Like most kids I could never understand when my parents told me that the music was too loud or it was just noise. When I grumbled they said that one day, when I grew up, I would understand. Well, I grew up and I still don’t understand.

As a teenager I could never understand when adults said that they were not interested in “new-fangled” technology, and “Oh, I could never learn something new now. I’ll leave it to the young-people.” You know people like that right?

Since these people are perfectly intelligent individuals holding down responsible jobs and have families I can only think that it’s got to do with their personal beliefs. I mean, do they think themselves no longer capable of learning new things?

I was recently at a family lunch and heard the same conversation I seem to hear more and more when getting together with people I went to school with.

It goes something like this:

“Facebook, I’ll never be on Facebook, it’s a waste of time.”

“…I’m not interested in other peoples twits (sic), it’s like stalking.”

“I don’t have time to waste on the internet. I’ve got better things to do.”

Does this sound familiar?

I wonder if it’s because they feel like outsiders and worry about ridicule since groups of internet savvy people can come across as being in closed ‘cliques’ with their own terms, customs, codes, slang and mannerisms?

It’s well known that communicating in a mutually understood and exclusive code allows a feeling of bonding between individuals.

In this context there are 2 types of “cliques” – the clique who wants to try new technologies and trends, and the clique who doesn’t. Both are closed groups and the apparent “cliquiness” may be unintended and perceived as arrogant exclusivity.

Neither is right nor wrong. It’s simply two ways of viewing the world.

Perhaps some people resist new technology only because it’s an unknown. Or perhaps they fear technology because it takes effort to learn how to use it rather than fearing the technology itself. I’m convinced that once their interest is sparked they’ll embrace it, like my parents, who’ve both embraced technology. And they were the ones that told me to turn the music down!

So where does that leave me? I love gadgets and new technology. I’m an early adopter of almost all tech I can think of. If it’s new, I want to try it. I don’t consider myself better than other people who shy away from new technology.It’s just that I don’t ever want to stagnate or to stop learning. One can never learn enough.

It’s useful to remember that what is ‘old technology’ to some was once new technology to the older generation. To the younger generation ‘new technology’ isn’t new, it’s always been there, since they can’t remember a time before that when it didn’t exist.  The older generation may have grown up with, for example, wireless transistor radio. They used it, embraced it, took it for granted even, never even thinking of a time before radio was invented.

Yes, logically they would know that over time inventions have occurred, but our perceptions are perhaps not based on logic and from the moment we are old enough to be aware of ourselves and our surroundings, that is the world we reach for and use.

Perhaps the trick is to just remember to keep on doing that. And keep the music loud and clear. Don’t you agree?

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Anyone can be a marketer

Before Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other social media platforms, brands had to pay loads of money to market themselves.

They had to find companies whose sole business was marketing and PR. These had the skills, contacts and people to do ad campaigns, adverts and press releases. It took time.  It took money. Reach was localised. Feedback loops were long.

We’re living in very interesting times for marketers. Anyone can market themselves. Social media has made it accessible and affordable. Reach is global. Feedback loops are short – immediate even!

All the specialist info someone needs is on the internet – just google and there’s a plethora of sites and blogs willing to provide info for free.

Anyone can create a video of their product and upload it to YouTube. Anyone can figure out how to make a an article, video or image go viral. Anyone can be a marketer.


Movie star invented technology that led to WiFi

A beautiful face, a beautiful mind. But it was the beautiful face that most people will remember her by. Even though she was also smart.

Hedy Lamarr (9 November 1914 – 19 January 2000) was born in Austria at a time when women were not intellectually encouraged or acknowledged for being anything other than wives and mothers.

She had a relatively successful acting career, which was not without its controversies. But she was also an inventor, and had a special room in her house kitted out for this. Together with composer, George Antheil,  frequency hopping was invented.

Frequency hopping is the basis of spread spectrum communications technologies such as Bluetooth, WiFi and CDMA. “It is a key component in wireless data systems.” (†)

They discussed the fact that torpedoes could easily be intercepted by the enemy through frequency jamming. They figured out that a piano roll could change the signal between the torpedo and its control centre (e.g. a ship). These “hops” would be synchronised between the torpedo and the ship “at short bursts within a range of 88 frequencies in the radio-frequency spectrum (there are 88 black and white keys on a piano keyboard). The specific code for the sequence of frequencies would be held identically by the controlling ship and in the torpedo. It would be practically impossible for the enemy to scan and jam all 88 frequencies, as this would require too much power or complexity.” (†)

The US navy was not interested in this technology during WW2. They eventually used this technique much later during the Cuban blockade and after the patent had expired.

During WW2 she wanted to join the National Inventors Council but they recommended that she use her celebrity status to help the war effort.

Finally, at the 1997 Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Sixth Pioneer Awards she and George Antheil were honoured for their achievement.

She made no money from this invention and many of us who daily use WiFi technologies are not even aware that this was made possible by movie star, Hedy Lamarr.


Note: The idea for this post was from a snippet published in Elekor Magazine’s weekly newsletter.