Fresh - July 18th

Self-service pub
This is the stuff of dreams. While EastEnders may make it look easy to buy drinks in a London pub - either asking for 'the usual' or 'a beer' and somehow magically receiving the desired beverage - the reality is that, more often than not, you'll find yourself queueing for ages or, depending which part of London you're in, waiting for somebody who's thumbing through a phrasebook and asking for a flagon of mead or 'the local speciality, please'. (This assumes that their phrasebooks are comically incorrect in a Pythonesque fashion, which is how I like to believe these things work.)
The Thirsty Bear in Blackfriars has a clever system whereby you don't even need to stand up to get a pint. Each table is equipped with an iPad ordering system as well as a beer tap; once you've set up a tab, you can pull your own pints as and when you want, as well as using the tablet to browse the menu and order food to be delivered to your table. You can even monkey around with Facebook on there, if you find that your co-drinkers become tiresome. What's not to like?

thirsty bear

Nappy Days
As a new parent to an enthusiastic and prolific little poo-machine, I'm painfully aware of the quantity of nappies that babies get through. The fact that they all go to landfill is a bit of a concern; presumably they don't take as long to break down as, say, things that are fully plastic, but it's still a lot of bulk to be burying. (Clearly I'm not that concerned about it though, or I'd be using washable cloth nappies. Judge me if you will, but I think that life's too short to be spending that amount of time rinsing babyfilth out of rags...)
Thankfully, a new scheme from Zero Waste Scotland could pave the way for a broader recycling scheme for the future. Their pioneering trial collects bags of nappies from the roadside as with regular rubbish, then delivers them to recycling plants where they're turned into things like garden furniture, bollards, railway sleepers, fencing and roof tiles. This isn't as disgusting as you might think - presumably all the wee-wee burns off in the refinement process - and, if successful, the scheme could spread across the globe and save a whole lot of mass from going underground.

Easy SMS
The habit of modern kids (and, worryingly, grown-ups too) to talk in txt-spk is a rich seam of material for comedians and social commentators - it's annoying when someone emails you in text-speak, for example, because how much time is it honestly saving them? It just makes them look thick.
But we're quick to judge; languages evolve through usage, and if everybody starts spelling 'someone' as 'sum1' then what can we do? Grumble to ourselves and make wisecracks about them being illiterate, that's what.
Of course, rather a lot of people are actually illiterate. And with the increasing cheapness and thus global prevalence of smartphones, it follows that a lot of people are receiving text messages that they can't understand. Not just in a middle-class scoffing 'what does 'c u l8tr m8' mean?' way, but genuinely not understanding. So a group of boffins in Lausanne have developed Easy SMS, an app that allows the illiterate to read and respond to texts. On receiving them, each word is translated into a symbol or image (or can be read aloud in a synthesized voice), and replies can be made by the same symbols, which the app then translates back into words. So, according to this promotional video, you can arrange to go to the cinema with a friend on the proviso that it doesn't have subtitles.

Daniel Bevis

18th July 2012