A clever way to use a mobile phone

By | February 1, 2012
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In the Computers newsletter this time:
  • A clever way to use a mobile phone
  • A nifty little website
  • A confusing error message made simple

I don’t normally write about mobile phones but I recently came across something really clever that I think might catch on. And since it’s about shopping online, it sort of falls under the category of using the internet. Besides, I thought it was interesting!

Anyway, if you don’t give two hoots for mobile phones (or even one and three-quarters), I’ve also got a very simple, but handy website for you and a contender for the “most confusing error message” award explained.

An easier way to check prices
Mobile phones. They’re not just phones anymore. Most of them have built in cameras, diaries and even web access.

And ones called “smartphones” (like the Apple iPhone – probably the most popular smartphone) are basically like full blown computers in a phone.

To be honest, it’s something I’ve never really got into. I think the internet is amazing and there are some brilliantly useful things you can use it for – but I use it at home or at work. I don’t think I’d use it while out shopping, for example.

But I recently came across something that could change that, if it catches on.

An online shop called Kiddicare (they sell prams, cots and lots of things for babies and toddlers) has created a clever program (or “app”, short for application – for some reason if it’s on a mobile phone it’s an app, rather than a program. I don’t think there’s a good reason why) that could save parents money. (Don’t stop reading if you’re not a parent of a baby – I’m sure other online shops will copy the idea soon)

You use the app when you’re out shopping for baby things. Say you’re looking for a car seat and you find one you like the look of in Tesco. The only thing is, you think you might be able to get it cheaper elsewhere – for example by buying online at Kiddicare. You could go home and look it up on your PC. But then if it turned out it was cheaper at Tesco, you’d have to go back in… and you’d have to remember the exact name of the model you liked.

But with this app you use the camera in the phone to take a photo of the barcode on the car seat. It uses that to look up the product on the Kiddicare website (so you need a mobile phone that can access the internet) and shows you the price and other details of it if they also stock it. So with just taking a photo of the barcode, you’ve instantly checked the price. If you want you can order it then and there, on your phone

It’s a really clever idea.

Now, I’m not saying it would always be a good idea to use it. If you’ve gone into the local baby stuff shop (ours is called Baby Bitz) and the owner’s spent half an hour taking you through the different types of car seats and how they work, it would be a bit rude to say “Thanks very much” and then scan the bar code and say “Oh, it’s £1.50 cheaper at Kiddicare, I’ll get it there”. After all, in a way you’re paying for the help and advice they’ve given you as well as the actual product. But if you’re just wondering around a supermarket, then why not?

The interesting thing is that Kiddicare is now owned by Morrisons, the supermarket. How long before a mobile phone can tell you “You’d have saved £11.23 if you’d done that shop at a different supermarket”

Mail Big File – a useful website
The other day, I was musing on very simple websites that just do one thing, but can be really useful.

This is one of them. If you want to send a big file to someone (say a video clip or a really big document) you might not want to email it in the normal way, especially if your (or their) internet connection isn’t too great. It can clog up the email.

That’s where this website comes in. You go to the site (http://free.mailbigfile.com), type in their email address and yours, click on choose a file and select the file you want to send, then click on send. (You can also click on “Message” to include a message if you like – otherwise they might not know what it was.)

It sends them an email with a link in it – when they click that link it takes them to a webpage where they can download the big file at their leisure.

Nifty – it’s something I’ve used a few times. I don’t use it a lot, but when I do, it’s really handy.

The dreaded “404 error”
Computer programmers must be pretty clever to write the programs they do. Otherwise they simply couldn’t do the job. But I always wonder how people so clever can sometimes be so, well, so daft.

One of my particular pet hates is some of the daft error messages computers come up with when something goes wrong. (My favourite is “An error has occurred because an error has occurred”)

Giving code numbers instead of a proper explanation is just one example. The one you’re most likely to see is if you’re trying to look at a web page and get a screen saying “404 error”.

Depending on the website owner, you might get more information as well – or you might not.

If you see the “404 error”, all it means is your PC wasn’t able to find the particular page of the website that you’re after. (For example if you’re on a newspaper website and clicked on a link for the weather forecast page.)

There are a few possible reasons. It could be that the link was set up wrong – so it doesn’t point to the right address. It could be that your internet connection had a very brief snag when it stopped working. It could be that the website has just stopped working. It could even be that at the split second you looked, they were just in the process of deleting the old page and replacing it with an updated one.

The thing to do is simply try again – if you press the F5 key at the top of the keyboard it will have another go. If it was a brief snag or anything like that, then it should work this time. If it’s something longer term (eg the website has gone completely down), you might have to just try again later on. But it’s always worth pressing F5 first – roughly half the time it’ll just work when you do.

Right, that’s it for this time. Oh, except to say “oops” for starting the last issue by saying “Merry Christmas in advance”. As you might have guessed, I’d copied the previous issue to get the formatting the same and deleted all the text except that bit. Ooops! It didn’t help that two lines later I mentioned my liking for a nice single malt, leading some people (well, I’ll be honest, one or two of the people who work here) to suggest maybe the whisky was why I’d got it wrong. I tried to claim I just meant very much in advance but I didn’t get away with it. Ah well!

Tim Wakeling
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