Interview with Gadget and Technology Expert Martin Bailey
Martin BaileyMartin Bailey is an unashamed geek. His passion for technology started aged 11 when he bought a Sinclair ZX81, and quickly learnt basic programming before migrating to a ZX Spectrum, BB C Micro and then onto PCs in the early 1990s.

His career has mainly been in sales and marketing, but has now completed the loop and is back working with innovative, cutting-edge technology at two award-winning software companies.

Martin has previously written numerous guides to make technical know-how accessible, including Marketing Your Business, Learn to use a PC in 90 minutes and Building a Website Using a CMS in 90 minutes. But today we will be chatting about his seventh book, The Useful Book of Gadgets, Gizmos and Apps – so without further ado, allow me to introduce our special guest, Martin Bailey.

Hi Martin, thank you for stopping by Activia’s Expert Insights. Could you tell us a bit more about yourself and what you do?

I wear a few hats. I’m General Manager of one software company – JETCAM International (based in Monaco) and Marketing Manager for another – Southampton-based ERP software developers 123 Insight Ltd. I’ve been writing books now for 13 years, with my latest being my seventh.

Have you always been fascinated by gadgets and technology? How did this passion begin?

I was a ‘Sinclair baby’, selling my Scalextrix set at the age of 11 to buy a Sinclair ZX81 and never really looked back. I cut my programming teeth learning BASIC on the BBC Micro, which I still have to this day, moved onto PCs and now use a range of software day-to-day, covering areas such as video editing, web design and DTP. What I enjoy most is that at the end of most working days I have something that didn’t exist at the beginning of it – be it a document, graphic, web page, etc. It’s that creativity using technology that fuels the passion for me.

Your new book, The Useful Book of Gadgets, Gizmos & Apps, is due to be published in October - could you tell us a bit more about it?

gadgets-gizmos-and-appsI’d actually started writing a different book when I had the idea for this one. It’s about solving life’s little problems one gadget at a time, and covers gadgets that many people may not have heard of. It’s designed to be quick to dip into, with each gadget taking two pages.

The idea was born after a few people had asked me what the best gadget was to solve some unusual problems, and I was able to recommend low-cost or even free solutions. I wanted to shy away from this being simply an educational book on mainstream hardware, software or apps.

Everyone has a smartphone, uses social media and so on, but not everyone is aware of some of the amazing technology out there if it’s not mainstream. The feedback from those that have read it has been fantastic, and it’s ranged from uber-geeks to technophobes – everyone has taken away something different from it.

After a career in sales and marketing, why did you decide to pursue a career in technology and software?

When I started work back in the 80’s I always knew that I wanted to work with technology. That migration started when I moved into sales for a small computer company, followed by marketing within the same sector. What I love about my roles now is that every day is different and I can work from literally anywhere. One minute I can be writing a case study and the next I can be working with programmers on understanding forthcoming functionality so that I can work out the best way to convey it to prospective customers in the most effective way. Software is much more fluid than hardware, with new opportunities appearing all the time.

Are you working on any other new projects you can share with us?

I’d started another book last year, based on building websites and being able to update them yourself, so I’ll be getting back to that soon. I’m also at the early stages of a new book on marketing for small businesses. Work-wise, I’ve got several interesting case studies queued up for 123insight and the creation of a multi-screen video wall for JETCAM for use at a trade show, whereby different videos will be shown on each monitor in sync with a timeline. It’s powered by the sub £30 Raspberry Pi computer, which is a low-cost way to build something that should be quite a potent crowd-puller and will be highly configurable and re-usable in the future. Like I said, every day is different!

What is the most interesting thing you learned while researching for, and writing The Useful Book of Gadgets, Gizmos & Apps?

I was already aware of and using a few Open Source (OS) software products but was not aware of how wide an area Open Source is. For example, you can download OS furniture designs which you can build yourself. There are so many great OS software products out there – office suites, accounting, video editing etc. - that you can literally run a business on it.

In your opinion, what was the craziest gadget or piece of technology you found while researching for this book?

The Petcube is pretty ‘out there’ – a small cube that allows you to remotely see, talk to and even play (using a remote laser) with your pet via an app on your phone. You can even share the camera to allow anyone to see your cat or dog, which I personally find a bit creepy. There were a few gadgets that I confined to an appendix that are, to put it kindly, ‘perhaps before their time’ – a smart umbrella, the TV hat and the ‘inner selfie stick’ (which I think needs no further description) are a few that spring to mind.

Pet cube

Out of all the tools you mention in your book, which do you find most useful in your daily life?

I’ll mention three – Scanner Pro, which turns your phone into a photocopier and can immediately sync anything you scan with cloud services such as DropBox, meaning that receipt you just scanned will immediately pop up on your PC, ready to email.

Second is my SECRID RFID-shielding wallet. Not only does it protect my cards from potential scanning by criminals but pulling the trigger at the bottom neatly fans out the cards at the top, which never ceases to surprise people.

Finally, is a great website for sourcing ‘digital services’ such as business card design or promotion on social media, with most services starting from $5. I’ve used it to get design ideas for the book cover, brochure design and even to get an amusing video created for my wife’s birthday. It’s a great way to get fresh ideas at a nominal cost.

How can gadgets and apps help to improve one’s productivity?

Again, it’s all about finding the balance of beneficial functionality versus usability. A great example of a product I use regularly is CamCard, a business card scanner. Whenever there’s a lull at a trade show I’ll scan all of the cards of the people I’ve met, adding notes about our conversations. I’ve got a searchable database in my pocket of all the people I’ve met at tradeshows for several years, and within moments of scanning a card I can email it to someone else if need be. If an item is cumbersome to use then the benefits may be outweighed by the amount of time you spend using it, so always take a step back and re-evaluate if what you’ve selected is actually the best tool for the job.

What advice would you give to someone who struggles to get to grips with new gadgets?

Persevere! I have a friend who struggles with anything more technical than a light switch, but the trick is to try to understand what any interface is asking of you. Also, YouTube is a great resource – if you’re struggling with something then the chances are that someone else has and they’ve made a video on it, and a video is much more accessible that reading reams of text. Don’t learn ‘just’ enough to get the job done – go the extra mile to understand the limits of any technology you’re using. You may not need it now but if you do in the future you can take immediate advantage of it.

Do you think it is possible to be successful without technology in today’s work environment?

Yes, but I think the opportunities are diminishing. The Internet has touched virtually every industry, and the speed of information and social media means that things can happen much quicker than they ever did before. To be successful in most areas and to be able to act and react quickly it is expected today that you would have a reasonable understanding of technology, and in some areas you need to be better than average if you are to excel. I think the older generation expect youngsters to just ‘know everything’ but in my experience this is actually rarely the case. If you fit into that category then investing some time to better understand the technology you need to use today might well pay dividends tomorrow.

What do you see for the future of technology?

I actually dedicated a full appendix to this in the book! Gadgets for healthcare will see a massive explosion. The smartwatch has not yet made a major impact, with battery life being an impeding factor for many. As new sensor technologies become available, expect your wrist to tell you all manner of frightening statistics on your current health status in the future! The super material graphene will expand its reach, and exoskeletal suits providing support or even a boost to lifting strength are not far off, which will reduce lifting injuries and help the elderly, for example. It’s not all rosy though, with cybercrime no doubt focussing on the IoT (Internet of Things) to gain access to any smart device that you connect to the internet within the home or business.

And finally, do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

There are plenty of gadgets that over-engineer problems, or solve problems that simply don’t exist. Crowd-funding websites are full of ‘the world’s first…’ product that nobody really needs. Conversely, knowing that certain tools are available to you and making good use of them can put you ahead of your competitors. It’s about finding the right tool for the job.

Thank you for providing us with such unique and interesting insights Martin!

Martin’s new book, The Useful Book of Gadgets, Gizmos & Apps, is coming out on the 4th October 2016, and you can pre order it on Amazon. Or, if you’d like to connect with Martin, you can find him on Twitter at @themartinbailey.