Stunning Portugal scenery in the new Audi A6

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Just got back from a great trip with Audi taking their latest A6 for a spin around the mountain roads of the Douro Valley near Porto.

I’m going to write a full review next week, but suffice to say for now it’s a great car – although probably one for the corporate executive who is more likely to be at home on the motorway than on mountainous country roads!

For a start it’s quite a big beast of a motor, plenty of room inside and quite wide. However, it handles very well and comes with plenty of power (3 litre engine as standard though a smaller 2 litre is available).

I liked it primarily because of the onboard tech which is getting more and more advanced. There’s touch screen control with haptic response of course (so you can feel the movement of the buttons) as well as voice control.

Press the talk button on the steering wheel and ask for a pizza restaurant and it will tell you where the nearest one is. Say you are feeling cold and it will even turn the heating up automatically for you in the cabin.

There are also a whole host of great assist features for driving including 360 degree cameras which really help with parking and assisted cruise control which will keep you a safe distance from the vehicle in front.

It really is quite a clever car although all of this intelligence doesn’t come cheap so you better get saving!

You can read the full review on Shiny Shiny here.

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Fellow journalists hard at work

Agile working: does it work? Telegraph Business feature

people-woman-coffee-meetingAgile working can help boost productivity and improve staff morale, but companies need to plan their strategy carefully so that it doesn’t become a disorganised mess. That’s the conclusion of a piece I’ve written for The Telegraph here.

In the 20th century, organisations that wanted to succeed needed to make sure that all employees turned up to a place of work during designated hours, usually between 9am and 5pm.

However, with advances in technology, particularly smartphones and faster home broadband, this is no longer the case. Today, it’s often argued that flexibility helps organisations get more from their teams.

Many businesses now offer flexible working to help individual employees with their work/life balance, while some go much further, implementing ‘‘agile working’’ practices to enable all staff to work wherever and whenever they want, with the help of the latest technologies.

But does agile working really allow staff to work more smartly and collaborate on projects more easily or does it just lead to increased confusion and greater security risks? You can read the full piece here. 

Coworth Park: Luxurious surroundings for a luxury DS car launch

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I recently went to the very lovely Coworth Park near Ascot, on the borders of Berkshire and Surrey. It’s a strange part of the world in some ways, a beautiful bit of countryside nestled between some not so beautiful parts of the world – I’m looking at you Bracknell and Slough!

Like a lot of country houses that have been converted into hotels, Coworth Park is predictably stunning. But what I thought was amazing was the attention to detail, from the sweeping wooden staircase to the interior control lighting in each of the bedrooms and a free standing copper bath in the bathroom.

Then of course there’s the spa which is quite simply out of this world – especially the large and beautifully lit pool which you can see pictured above.

I was there with a company called DS Automobiles who I must admit I knew very little about before going on the trip. But basically it’s a luxury car brand from France named after the iconic Citroen DS, first launched in the 1950s.

IMG_20180131_114531.jpgAnd although it’s difficult to get as excited by the design of the latest DS car, the DS 7 Crossback SUV (pictured above in the grounds on a rainy Wednesday), there’s no denying it’s a luxurious vehicle inside.

Quite simply it’s stuffed to the gills with tech including 14 Focal loudspeakers and a load of semi-autonomous driving and safety features including Night Vision mode (handy if you don’t want to run over deer on the country roads).

What I particularly liked though were the car’s massage seats which were very comfortable indeed – perhaps a little too comfortable for driving – and the detailing of the interior upholstery.

Like Coworth Park itself, there’s certainly no shortage of luxury with this latest DS car – a lot more Ascot than Slough.

You can read my full review here on my tech website, Tech Digest: https://www.techdigest.tv/2018/02/review-ds-7-crossback.html

Are dockless bikes the future for city transport?

Ofobike48.jpgAlthough I’m not a cyclist by any means, I am fascinated by the culture around cycling. In particular, the whole rise of dockless bikes systems which I must admit I knew nothing about until I met up with the guys from Ofo.

It’s actually a fascinating company. Started in China about four years, Ofo (so called because the letters look a little like a person cycling) is now available in 20 countries and around 250 cities (Sheffield being the latest one in the UK, following on from the roll out in Cambridge, Oxford, Norwich and parts of London).

Using the app, you can locate the bright yellow bikes on the street (they are shown as yellow dots on the map). As long as you’ve got your credit card details stored, you can then unlock the bike by scanning in its QR code.

Prices seem very good: 50p for half an hour (compared with £2 on a Boris Bike) and the bike itself is lightweight with a shopping basket, lights (powered by a dynamo) and three gears – good enough for most areas of London.

The only downside is that the punctureless tyres are a little hard which can make the ride a bit of a bone shaker, especially if you are going over cobbled streets.

You can read my full review here: https://www.shinyshiny.tv/2018/01/review-ofo-dockless-bicycle-system.html

 

Beatboxing in 360 VR. Whatever next?

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I may be showing my age, but when I first started off as a tech journalist back in the early 1990s, TVs were virtually square, weighed a ton, and most people were listening to grunge music coming out of Seattle.

Nearly 30 years later, everyone has a super light flat widescreen TV and early adopters (admittedly mostly gamers at the moment) are getting into virtual reality headsets for an even more immersive experience. Thankfully the music has changed a fair bit too!

For the last few weeks I’ve been working with Kodak, testing out its little VR camera, the Kodak PixPro 4K VR360 and looking for different types of content to shoot in 360 to do it justice.

Obviously the first things that spring to mind are action videos which is why we went to Go Ape to film as well as a skateboard park in Tottenham.

Both were great in showing off the immersive experience of 360 filming, although shooting with a camera strapped to your head or holding it as you negotiate a zip wire (especially if you a broken hand like my son did at the time) are never easy. Thankfully we didn’t break the camera though!

Live music in VR

However, what interests me are alternative uses for VR and 360 outside of the obvious genres. For example, YouTube now has its own virtual reality channel where you can check out thousands of the latest 360 videos in different categories.

These include a live MTV version of Ed Sheeran singing Shape of You at the 2017 VMAs and, for those of a certain age, Duran Duran’s performing Hungry Like The Wolf filmed to commemorate this year’s Duran Duran Appreciation Day (#DDAD17) – who knew?

In both you can choose to see a close up of the performers on stage or pan round and check out the audiences just as you would do if you were there in real life (there is of course a considerable difference in age between the two audiences!)

For our 360 video, filmed with the Kodak PixPro,  we chose to hire the talents of our very own wolf: Frankie Rowley-Walker, a.k.a Wolfie.

In the video below he shows off his beatboxing skills in full VR 360 (you can check out his own music channel here //soundcloud.com/user-27733578.)

And while the audience is a little smaller than for Ed Sheeran and Duran Duran (just two cameramen and a stray dog), the experience is nevertheless very immersive.

Sometimes I miss the early 1990s. But I must admit when it comes to the size of the TVs and the music, I much prefer 2017!

You can see Frankie performing in our YouTube video below:

And if you want the full 360 experience with footage taken entirely from the Kodak PixPro VR360 then go here:

You can see all of the videos shot with the Kodak PixPro camera here.

 

Telegraph (22/11/17) – Taking on the money launderers

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Great to have a full page in yesterday’s Telegraph Business Section on money laundering. It’s such a massive topic at the moment and such a huge problem around the world – but especially in the UK because of its reputation as a financial services centre.

Although money laundering has been around since the beginning of time, it’s now estimated to cost the UK government a whopping £80 billion a year in lost revenue – obviously money that could be spent on hospitals and schools.

While technology, especially cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, may be helping money launderers hide their ill gotten gains, it’s also helping banks and governments spot suspicious transactions more easily using artificial intelligence/machine learning.

In this article I interview BAE Systems’ Rob Horton about how they are helping financial institutions to take a more proactive approach to detecting money laundering in their organisations.

You can read the full article by clicking on the link below:

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Experiencing London in virtual reality with the Kodak PixPro 4K VR360

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For the last few weeks my son Archie and I have been busy filming in and around London for a series of YouTube videos.

You see, we’ve partnered with Kodak on two of my tech blogs, TechDigest.tv and ShinyShiny.tv to produce four themed videos designed to showcase what their latest VR camera, the Kodak 4K VR360 can do.

Despite the weather not always being  that great, it’s been good fun so far, acting like a tourist and filming the likes of Buckingham Palace and Big Ben.

Yesterday we were in a nearby wood filming the leaves falling from the trees and dogs sniffing around the camera while next weekend sees us travelling to the newly opened Go Ape adventure park at Alexandra Palace to bring you VR footage from the high ropes.

You can see our first ‘taster’ video below with another, London’s Top 10 VR landmarks, due later this week.

While this first one isn’t filmed completely in VR, look out for future videos in the series for which you will need your Google Cardboard type headsets or Oculus Rift to enjoy fully.

Review: Paddington 2 movie


The follow-up to the 2014 movie sees Paddington in trouble once again, this time as he tries to get his paws on a pop up book for Aunt Lucy’s birthday. Paddington aficionado Chris Price reviews this perfect heart-warming family film for ShinyShiny.

First of all, I must declare an interest. I’ve loved Paddington since the original TV series of the 1970s, inspired by the Michael Bond books of the 1950s onwards.

What I loved – apart from the depiction of Paddington as this naïve, trusting and very polite outsider – was the animation.

Only Paddington was depicted in complete 3D whereas the others were coloured cardboard cut outs in front of a black and white backdrop. It was distinctive and simple, but I think worked well for the 5 minute long short stories on TV.

You can read the full review here. 

The MG GS – an MG but not as we know and love it

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For the last 10 days or so I’ve been riding around in this SUV. Which means I’ve been able, quite literally, to look down on other road users, and generally drive around like I own the place.

Actually it’s not been too bad. I’ve quite enjoyed the elevated driving position, although when it comes to parking I’ve been worried that I’m going to crush the vehicle behind me – even with a rearview camera and screen which I don’t quite trust.

What I can’t quite get over though is that this big beast is actually an MG. Yes the same manufacturer which brought us the MGB GT – a classic car which I owned in the 1990s and loved on the odd occasion when it actually started – is responsible for something which is so completely and utterly different. The absolute opposite in fact.

The reason for this, of course, is that MG is no longer Morris Garages but owned by SAIC, China’s largest vehicle manufacturer. As a result, the new owner is in the process of rolling out several new models which seem to have very little in common with the original MG ethos.

Maybe that’s a good thing? Maybe people don’t care about funky looking sports cars anymore and just want practical SUVs to put their kids, their shopping and their dogs in? Especially if they have a reasonable price tag attached – this SUV costs from a little over £15K on the road though the model I tested was nearer £20K.

But it seems a shame to buy a brand like MG and not to design something a little more, well, in keeping with the heritage. It’s OK but there’s really very little to distinguish it from a Nissan Qashqai or KIA Sportage and that to me seems a bit of a missed opportunity.

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In short it handles well, has bags of features and a decent leather trim. But it lacks a little in power, has quite a small boot for a big car (see pic above) and doesn’t really get the heart pounding.

Of course it’s early days for the new MG (I haven’t seen a single new MG on the road since I took delivery of this MG S) and, in the words of D:Ream, things can only get better.

Certainly the MG E-motion, the electric supercar concept unveiled at the Shanghai motor show in April (pictured below) looks more like what I would expect a bang up to date MG to look like.

And I can’t wait to get hold of one of these. Bugger practicality and an elevated driving position. Give me a car that makes me feel like I’m 20 again bombing round the streets. But if you could make it a bit more reliable than my MGB GT please I’d be grateful!

Full review to follow on TechDigest.tv later this week.

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Huawei Eco-Connect Europe 2017: Connected cows, delivery drones and more!

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You’ve probably never heard of Huawei, pronounced Waa-Wey. But chances you will have come across them at some point and not realised.

As well as manufacturing various digital set-top boxes, including the YouView box rolled out by TalkTalk in the UK, the Chinese giant is also the world’s third largest mobile phone manufacturer.

Earlier in the year I was fortunate enough to be invited to Mobile World Congress in Barcelona by Huawei and was given one of their P10 smart phones. And I can honestly say it has the best digital camera I’ve ever seen on a smartphone – much better than the iPhone 7.

This time, I’ve come to Huawei’s Eco Connect Conference in Berlin to find out what some of their commercial partners are up to for a piece I’m writing on digital banking for The Telegraph. I’ll also be writing up some of the content for my own tech blog, Tech Digest.

Yesterday I learned all about various applications for the Internet of Things, iOT, most memorably how they work with agriculture tech companies to make dairy farming more efficient.

Not only do farmers can use IoT sensors to detect when a calf is born in order to ensure everything is OK, they also know when is the best time for a cow to mate with a bull – the ideal ‘rutting’ period as it’s known!

Less graphic perhaps was finding out about applications for narrowband IoT, a low power wide area network which can be even be used underground to monitor water usage/wastage for the development of smart cities.

Today, it was the turn of companies like DHL to show how they are using augmented reality glasses, drones and robotic trolleys to make the process of sorting items at their depots more efficient. DHL is even using drones to send important deliveries such as medicines to mountainous regions in the Alps, cutting down delivery time from days to minutes.

But you’ll be pleased to know it hasn’t all been work, work, work. I’ve also had time to take in Berlin, a city I’ve been coming to on and off for 25 years. Yesterday we went to former Eastern Berlin where I took this picture below of the famous Fernsehturm TV tower near Alexanderplatz.

Built in the 1960s by the German Democratic Republic (GDR) as a symbol of Communist power, it’s easily the most striking of Berlin’s buildings. It’s fair to say though that technology has moved on a little bit in the last 50 years with many of us now watching TV programmes over IP (Internet Protocol) – via our Chinese manufactured Huawei set-top boxes of course!

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