12 things that have changed since cycling in the ’80s



It’s been a long time since I last rode a bike on the road, at least for any length of time. Probably around 30 years. While I like to consider myself a very sporty person, cycling is one thing that I’ve never really fancied doing in London. It just doesn’t seem that much fun with all the traffic on the road.

But since taking delivery of my first E-Bike (the £1600 Volt Pulse) I’ve decided to get back in the saddle and give cycling another go. I’ve quite enjoyed it (having a motor for those north London streets definitely helps), but here’s what I’ve learned from regular road cycling over the last few weeks:

1. Bike seats are really hard – Perhaps it’s because my first bike was a Chopper which had a nice large saddle and was very comfortable, but I’ve got a very numb bum indeed from the saddle on this bike and I don’t think it’s any harder than any other bike. Maybe it’s like when you learn to play the guitar and the tips of your fingers ache until you get used to it.

2 Bikes are difficult to climb onto – Is it just me or is getting on a bike a lot more difficult than it used to be? I’m sure it must be to do with ageing, but whereas I can still run, play football and swim regularly, getting on a bike for me is actually very difficult. I’ve taken to jumping on it from behind like an unruly horse, rather than swinging my leg around the saddle! And yes before you ask the saddle isn’t too high for the bike.

3. Traffic is ridiculous – I know it’s stating the bleeding obvious, but there are cars everywhere and they’re very scary. In a large car, other cars simply don’t chance it. On a bike you are literally bottom of the food-chain it seems and fair game for everyone to pull out in front of or open the car door into. Thankfully nothing’s happened yet (I’ve just given a lot of drivers my Paddington hard stare) but can understand why safety organisations encourage the Dutch Reach technique of opening car doors.

4. Speed-bumps aren’t my friend – In a reasonably big car I simply glide over speed-bumps. Not so on a bike. It feels like every large speed-bump is like a mini mountain I have to hurdle. As for pot holes, don’t even get me started. They’re the arch-enemy.  Continue reading

Celebrating 25 years of Goodwood FOS with autonomous cars!

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Pictured above Roborace which became the first ever autonomous vehicle to complete the Goodwood Hill Climb

This year the Goodwood Festival of Speed (FOS) celebrated its Silver Anniversary. During this time it has firmly established itself as the UK’s premier motor show, beating off competition from the British International Motor Show held at various venues in its long history from 1903 to 2008.

It’s not difficult to see the appeal either. Rather than just viewing cars in a sterile exhibition hall, like Birmingham’s NEC (where I spent many a happy year with my Dad back in the 1970s), you actually get to see, even sit inside, a lot of the cars in the open in a massive setting.

Great if it’s lovely and sunny like it was last weekend, not so good perhaps in the pouring rain which we normally experience in the final week of Wimbledon!

So big a setting is Goodwood in fact that it takes you several hours to cover the various areas on foot (and a fair amount of time to get in the venue too if you are driving which most people are).

Think of it as the Glastonbury for car buffs with various fields dedicated to different types of cars – much like different musical genres or bands. Some people even camp all weekend, as with a music festival, because there really is such a lot to look at.

Best of all you can see many of the cars racing throughout the day up the famous Goodwood Hill Climb – a stretch of race track measuring 1.86Km (1.16 miles) taking you past the beautiful Goodwood House, the seat of the Duke of Richmond.

As well as thousands of classic cars, race cars, motorbikes and even some planes and helicopters, all the major car manufacturers have vast stands at Goodwood (I was at this year’s show as a guest of Ford). This included Tesla which was showing off its latest, ‘affordable’ electric Model 3 car which should be available next year for a price of around £35,000.

There’s also a section at Goodwood called the Future Lab where you can see future developments in travel. Here I got to play with a very shiny lunar module from Japan-based iSpace which is hoping to become the first private company to launch a module to investigate the surface of the moon in 2020.

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Pictured with the latest and very powerful Ford Mustang which I got to drive around during the Goodwood Festival of Speed, courtesy of Ford.

I also got to see the latest delivery drones used by companies such as DHL to take parcels to remote areas which are difficult to access by road (ie. the Swiss Alps) as well as a completely autonomous race car called Roborace (pictured at the top of the page and below).

Indeed at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed Roborace made history by becoming the very first car to achieve the Goodwood Hill Climb without a driver (not even a midget one hidden inside as someone suggested).

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Designed by Daniel Simon, the automotive futurist best known for his work in Hollywood films such as Oblivion and Tron, the extremely low-slung vehicle (it’s amazing how low you can make it when you don’t need a human) expertly navigated flint walls and bales of hay on the Goodwood estate using a variety of sensors on Friday 13th of all days!

Roborace’s time wasn’t too shoddy either, averaging a little over 60 miles per hour to complete the testing course in around 1 minute 30 seconds (OK it’s a little off the record of 41.6 seconds set by a racing driver, but it’s still not bad).

Unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for the semi-autonomous Ford Mustang with humans inside. Developed by Siemens in conjunction with engineers from Cranfield University, it did eventually make it to the top of the hill but only in a time of over 4 minutes and only after an altercation with several bales of hay – see pic below.

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While the future of cars on the road may well be autonomous it seems we’ve got a few more years of enjoying car shows like the Goodwood Festival of Speed, complete with fully functioning human drivers on the road, first!

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. 

Furbo treat tossing dog camera! Of course

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I love gadgets. I love dogs. So what isn’t there to love about a treat tossing dog camera. Yes you did hear me right. The wonderfully named Furbo has come up with a gadget that lets you toss treats via the smart phone app to your furry friend.

So you could be sitting in a meeting bored out of your tiny mind when you decide to chuck a treat to your pet. Or if your dog is barking you can talk to him/her via the two-way audio provided.

Warning, at first the dog will freak out at the noise of the Furbo, but pretty soon they’ll get used to it. Also, the gadget does sometimes randomly spit out two or three treats so best to avoid if your dog is on a diet! Apart from that it’s great.

You can see my YouTube review video below.

Testing out swimming gear for the summer

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When I’m not teaching in secondary schools or writing freelance tech pieces I’m often swimming, usually during the Winter in the outdoor HEATED pool at David Lloyd in North Finchley.

But in the summertime I like to venture a little further afield and swim in lakes and the sea.

Sometimes I combine journalism with swimming (though not at the same time as the Mac gets a bit wet). So this month I’ve been testing out some new Arena gear I’ve been sent which you can read about on my swimming blog, Goggleblog here.

Next week I’ll also be testing out some underwater MP3 players or SwiMP3 players for gadget website, Tech Radar, now that I’ve finally got enough players that actually work! Watch this space.

Writing about running gadgets – not quite the same as actually running!

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Today I’ve mostly been writing about running and feeling guilty. Guilty because it’s ages since I’ve been running and I just can’t seem to get myself motivated. Five a side football yes, but there’s something about the solitary pursuit of running that just seems like too much of a commitment at the moment, especially on a cold winter’s day and especially with dodgy knees.

That said, it’s a virtually perfect day for a leisurely jog around the park or even a more demanding run around the wood. It’s dry, not too cold and not very windy. I’ve also got most of the gear, including a lovely Nike running jacket and a pair of Nike Flyknit running shoes I was given on a launch a couple of years back so I’ve really got no excuses.

The only thing I could possibly do with is one of these nice TomTom cardio  watches (pictured above) which measures the distance you’ve travelled, your speed and your heart rate as you run.

However, knowing me I’d probably spend most of my time looking at the screen convincing myself I was having a heart attack every time my heart rate went up over about 120 beats per minute and end up killing myself running into a tree instead!

You can read my Top 10 running accessories piece on Tech Digest here.

Our favourite Mannequin Challenge so far – underwater with the Little Rock Trojans swim team

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There’s certainly nothing new about The Mannequin Challenge. I first became aware of the  latest phenomenon during the US election when Hillary Clinton and her entourage filmed one on their plane.

Since then the world has gone mad with every man and his dog (quite literally in the case of this one featuring a very statuesque boxer dog) filming the Mannequin Challenge and setting it to the song Black Beatles by Rae Sremmurd – indeed it all seems reminiscent of The Harlem Shake a few years back, remember that.

However, I really like this one below from the Little Rock Trojans swim team in the US because it’s one of those that you watch and you really do think ‘How on earth did they do that?’

For Shiny Shiny today I’ve reviewed my Top 5 Mannequin Challenges so far. As this particular viral phenomenon fades, it makes me wonder what’s coming next.

The beauty of the world we live in now, is that broadcasters no longer dictate the next trend, it’s us the viewers! No doubt the next viral phenomenon is already being incubated somewhere, ready to be unleashed into the world.

Wired Audi Innovation Awards – it’s Child’s Play

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Last night I went to the Wired Audi Innovation Awards at Victoria House in London’s Bloomsbury Square. It was a great night with some amazingly interesting technology showcased. I particularly liked some of the educational uses of technology, particularly Kaspar the robot (pictured below).

Although he may look a bit like Chucky from the terrifying Child’s Play films, his look is deliberate. Developed at the University of Hertfordshire, Kaspar was found to be the ideal design for children with autism who are learning to interact with people.

Before developers created the robot, they even recruited a mime artist from London’s Covent Garden to model various guises to see how the children reacted. Apparently they found that a ‘simplified’ human look was the most appealing to children with autism.

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Meet Kaspar, the simplified human robot who is helping children with autism

Another interesting technology project for children came from Little Inventors. Simply put, it’s a project that turns the amazingly creative ideas of children into reality. At the Wired Audi Innovation Awards last night there were several ideas from Sunderland school children as young as 6.

I particularly liked the high five machine (see the original drawing below)  which at the press of a button gives you a High Five. It’s been designed using a mould of the child’s actual hand (Oliver, aged 6) and is for times when there isn’t anyone around to give you a high five if you achieve something really good. Isn’t that sweet?

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Another idea from one of the children was the War Avoider which lifts your house up into the air on big metal stilts in the event of a war or possibly even a flood! It also comes with a big invisibility blanket so your house can’t be seen by people wanting to do you harm.

You can see my interview with Little Inventors’ Chief Educator Katherine Mengardon in the YouTube video below (apologies for the sound, it was very noisy).
 

CMA Digital Breakfast: Personalisation of Content

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Pictured above: Daryll Scott, Director, Human Technology at Lab

I always love the CMA Digital Breakfasts. You get to meet some interesting people and find out more about topics you might not know too much about. Personalisation of content is a case in point.

Different people have different views about what it means but basically it’s about using data to find out more about who your audience actually is. New technology makes this easier than ever before, but the key is to use the data to guide your content and decision making rather than to become too obsessed with the stats.

Anyway, here’s a report from the last one I attended.

http://the-cma.com/news/cma-digital-breakfast-next-wave-of-personalisation-for-content-marketers