The sheer brilliance of Spinvox

Column “Dork Talk” published on Saturday 16th August 2008 in The Guardian “Dork Talk” – The Guardian headline

Stephen Fry is stunned by the sheer brilliance of the Spinvox, which translates voicemail into text

However uninterested you may be in technology, it is likely that you use a voicemail system. If you have a mobile, then it will probably be the one provided as standard by your network. You dial 121, or 123, and dance the ghastly Menu Minuet until you’re done. The Apple iPhone has introduced a patented “visual voicemail” system, which presents a list of onscreen messages enabling you to play them in whichever order you like, but for 15 years that has been it so far as innovation goes.

But now we have SpinVox, a most extraordinary service that takes your voice messages, translates them into text and then sends them to you as either email or SMS text message. Or both.

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Photograph: Steve Forrest/Rex Features

Here’s how it goes. I call you up, but you are out, or busy, and I am played your outgoing message: “Yodi, this is Dork Talk Reader, sorry I’se not in, but like leave a message after the tone, innit, and I’ll be in your face laters.” I leave my message: “Sorry to miss you, darling Dork Talk Reader. Do call back when you have a moment. I have momentous news. I guarantee it will rock the foundations of your world. Toodle-pip.” Now, if you, Dork Talk Reader, are a SpinVox subscriber, within minutes or less you will get a text as from my number that looks like this, inverted commas included:

“Sorry to miss you darling dork talk reader. Do call back when you have a moment. I have momentous news. I guarantee it will rock the foundations of your world. Toodle (?) pip” – spoken through SpinVox <*n> where <*n> refers to the number assigned to the message. You can call a SpinVox number (which will replace your old network voicemail number) and press *n to hear my message the old-fashioned way.

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This blog was posted in Guardian column

MacBook Air spawns digital anagrams

Column “Dork Talk” published on Saturday 9th August 2008 in The Guardian “MacBook Air spawns digital anagrams” – The Guardian headline

Stephen Fry ponders the preposterous twist of circumstance that made ‘laptop machines’ an anagram of ‘Apple Macintosh’

‘Laptop machines”, by one of those preposterous twists of circumstance that make you wonder who is running things and why they haven’t got anything better to do, just happens to be an anagram of “Apple Macintosh”. If an anagram is a derivative rearrangement of essential elements, then one might be disposed to argue that such has been their rise in influence and prestige that almost every new digital product seems to be an anagram of Apple.

The MacBook Air, a superlight machine with solid-state hard disk, no CD/DVD drive and only one USB port, caused something of a splash when it landed in the laptop lake a few months ago. Designed as a travelling wireless subnotebook, Apple seems to have timed its emergence better than poor Palm, whose ill-fated Foleo now looks to have been a great idea just six months (which is one and a half digital years) ahead of its time. In February, I wrote enthusiastically about the Asus Eee, like the Foleo an Open Source, solid-state machine weighing less than a kilo. As the misguided fad for PC Tablets fades into memory, subnotebooks seem to have become the Next Big Thing.

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This blog was posted in Guardian column

Barebones recording

Column “Dork Talk” published on Saturday 2nd Auguest 2008 in The Guardian
“Barebones recording” – The Guardian headline

Stephen Fry on sprightly camcorders the size of a packet of Rothmans. They’re cheap, they’re light and they’re fun.

Dork Talk on YouTube

Video. Your mobile phone might be capable of it, your compact digital camera almost certainly is and there are dozens of dedicated camcorders available that can write moving picture information to all kinds of media at all kinds of qualities for all kinds of money. Why, then, a basic handheld video camera that can do nothing else? a) What is the point? and b) Where is the market? The answers, refreshingly, are a) Fun and b) The young.

I am looking at the Flip Ultra from Pure Digital (£94-£99), and the Vado Pocket Video Cam (£89.99) from Creative. Each is the size of a packet of Rothmans; a light, “barebones” camcorder with a small LCD screen; basic playback, zoom, record and bin-it buttons; a built-in speaker; tripod mount connections; 2GB of memory; and a cunningly recessed USB cable. The most striking distinction between the two is that the Flip takes standard AA batteries, while the Vado has a lithium-ion unit, charged through its USB connection to a PC or Mac. The Vado has a two-inch screen to the Flip’s 1.5.

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This blog was posted in Guardian column

Well worth the wait

Column “Dork Talk” published on Saturday 26th July 2008 in The Guardian
“Well worth the wait” – The Guardian headline

“Ah, but mine can do this! will soon be heard in every cafe and bar.” Stephen Fry is back with an extended review of the iPhone 3G and its downloadable apps

I’m so happy to be back. My thanks to all those who were kind enough to be in touch to say that you missed me. You were well served by my distnguished stand-ins, however, and thanks go to them, too, for keeping Dork Talk alive. But let’s get straight to business: an extra-long column for openers, for this month sees another Apple launch.

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A happy customer at the Apple store in London (Photograph: Sang Tan/AP)

Whatever one’s view of Apple as a manufacturer of digital equipment, as an author of operating systems and designer of software, as a multinational corporation, as a lifestyle statement or as a quasi-religious cult, it remains a matter of ineluctable fact that the introduction of the iPhone just over a year ago changed the smartphone market for ever. An incredible three-quarters of all mobile web browsing is now done on the iPhone, despite its market share being far smaller than that of either Windows Mobile, BlackBerry/Java or Nokia/Symbian devices. iPhone users report an unprecedented level of customer satisfaction (between 82% and 90%, compared with the second placed BlackBerry at 50%). This is not a surprise to anyone who has lived with an iPhone for even a short while, and even less of a surprise to anyone who has also had to work with a WinMob phone.

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This blog was posted in Guardian column

Deliver us from Microsoft

Column “Dork Talk” published on Saturday February 2nd 2008 in The Guardian
“Deliver us from Microsoft” – The Guardian headline

Stephen Fry introduces the open source platform that will see off Windows.

In recent weeks I have banged on about Open Source, expending two articles on Firefox alone. Open Source applications make their code available to everyone. Disagreements and rabid balkanisation within the Open Source community aside, for our purposes the term might as well refer to free software whose licence allows you to share the source code, alter it, use it, do with it what you will.

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This blog was posted in Guardian column