One might safely assume that our readership is split into two camps: those who played with Hasbro Transformers as children from the 1980s onward and those who dutifully bought them for those children, while slightly baffled by the toys’ phenomenon in all its spin-off guises—animated TV shows, comic books, movies, and video games.
For the uninitiated, Transformers are humanoid robots that can transform into vehicles, animals, and other objects. Discovered in concept by Hasbro at the Tokyo Toy Fair in 1983, they were on show as a Japanese toy line called Microman, by the Takara company, and have been going strong ever since. It’s inevitably more complicated than this, but, broadly, Transformers come in two flavors, Autobots (good) and Decepticons (evil).
Maybe it’s not such a surprise that these humanoid-machine hybrids captured the global imagination. The idea of taking on a different physical form and swooping hither and thither equipped with superpowers goes back into pre-history. And who hasn’t fantasized, even as a 21st-century adult, about their car transforming into a flying vessel to beat traffic—or even discarding their city clothes and becoming a muscular superhero?
But imagining you could transform into a machine, or even playing a Transformers video game on-screen, packs a minuscule experiential hit compared with the extraordinary, three-dimensional, hyper-immersive, physical assault on the senses provided by Robocom VR, the ultra-enhanced virtual-reality gaming machine from a Beirut start-up.
Their $100,000 Transformers VR Simulator, licensed by Hasbro and built in Lebanon, transforms the user into a human-size Transformer. Strapped into the machine like an astronaut in training, you have an Oculus VR headset placed on your head and are launched into ferocious gun battles with the Decepticons on city streets.
The level of immersiveness the machine creates is beyond anything you are likely to have seen. You are physically tossed and pitched alarmingly, almost violently, one moment, spinning around to shoot a bad guy you sight up in your V.R. visor. The next, you’re swinging onto your back to deal with an aerial attack. It would be possible, one imagines, to become blasé about the experience of playing in the machine, but even for a non-gamer it is exceptionally exciting. Breathtaking, actually.
Robocom VR machines have been featured as an attraction in malls in the Middle East for a couple of years, but now the energetic tech retailer Smartech has the exclusive on Robocom VR machines to buy. Smartech, founded by an Israeli pro-soccer player, Jacov Nachtailer, started with a booth in London’s Selfridges store. The Robocom VR is also currently on show—and can be tried out—at Printemps in Paris and is due to be at Neiman Marcus in San Francisco later this year.
Your columnist is in the process of buying an 1816 house on one of London’s most historic greens. The place was last remodeled by a renowned TV-drama director in 1964 and, before that, would have been well known to its eccentric near neighbor, George III, the English king who carelessly lost the American colonies.
Whether the walls or anything else were straight when it was built is moot, but even in the 58 years since a builder last crossed its threshold, the little house has been on the move in every which way. The dimensions are completely unpredictable, to the extent that measuring it up so it’s possible to plan a modern kitchen or bathroom, or just to work out how much flooring to order, is impossible with a regular measuring tape.
Imagine how floored we were, then, when this fancy, multi-function two-dimensional laser measurer arrived from Hozo Design in Hong Kong. Meazor can perform many complicated tasks beyond the needs of a regular homeowner—there are functions for architects, craftspeople, and others.
But being able to set the Meazor up on its included tripod, have it map a (preferably emptied) room to precision in a few seconds, and then Bluetooth its inch-perfect map to a phone, tablet, or computer is a huge labor-saving novelty.
A collection of old 35-mm. color slides—the type we used to take for about 50 cents a shot on vacations before loading into a projector to view—can be an invaluable family possession, but one which is more likely to go moldy in the garage than ever be brought out for nostalgic projector evenings. If you have a sizable trove of such slides, you might wish, to paraphrase Paul Simon, someone would take your Kodachrome away.
Which is a shame. Aside from capturing scenes from decades ago, old color slides have a dreamy, grainy quality that can’t be convincingly replicated with digital cameras. But digitizing slides is a drag. You either need to buy a scanner and, ideally, remove each slide from its plastic or cardboard mount, or to take the photos to an expensive professional lab. All severely non-optimal.
But with this quite ingenious app developed in Israel, you can scan slides using your smartphone and a laptop or P.C. Not only is the process perfectly good enough for most non-professional uses, but it’s fast and strangely addictive. You hold the slide in one hand, sight it up with your phone in the other, hold down a big red button for three seconds, and watch as the image is captured, then its quality improved and perfected using cloud-based A.I. techniques.
Photomyne, the company behind SlideScan, has a suite of related software photo services you can use if you join (rather than use the free basic service), along with cloud storage and community-photo-appreciation features that some, although we suspect few, users might like.
So why do you need a computer to digitize slides, you may ask, when your smartphone and Photomyne’s cloud are doing all the processing grunt work? The answer is that Photomyne has devised a clever way to provide the steady bright-white backlight essential for copying transparencies. You just type in photomyne.com/backlight to be taken to a bright, pure white screen—your own temporary light box.
Louvre X CASETIFY
A glance across a lunchtime-restaurant table and it was instant love—with an iPhone case. It was of beautiful quality and superbly printed with a detail from Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s 1814 painting La Grande Odalisque, a reclining nude. At the bottom of the case was the logo of the Louvre, in Paris.
Life could not continue without this. However, a search later that afternoon of the Louvre online store was not successful. But googling for “Louvre” and “iPhone cases” brought to light an equally wonderful-looking case from a popular San Francisco accessories retailer, depicting Raphael’s St. Michael Vanquishing Satan, also at the Louvre.
It turned out to be a truly horrible buy—cheap quality with a grim, fuzzy print in a distorted aspect ratio. The company decently refunded the $47 price, with an explanation that brightened a dull day: “The low resolution is part of the artist’s original file,” they said. An entertaining response, even if blaming the poor I.T. skills of an artist who died in 1520 was possibly a bit of a stretch.
The hunt for the real, official Louvre cases continued, ending in success with the proper, Louvre-branded Ingres model originally sought, from Casetify, a Hong Kong–based firm. They have a small range of Louvre products, all for various iPhone and Samsung models, but the quality is supremely good, and the envious glances across restaurant tables are now directed toward this writer.
As well as the beautiful Ingres, Casetify has (inevitably) Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and Eugène Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People.
Based in London and New York, AIR MAIL’s tech columnist, Jonathan Margolis, spent more than two decades as a technology writer for the Financial Times. He is also the author of A Brief History of Tomorrow, a book on the history of futurology