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.

Now you can ‘photoshop’ your own selfies in seconds – thanks to ‘beautification’ mode

The camera doesn’t lie. Or does it? For years we’ve been talking about ‘photoshopping’ models to make them look thin or remove their blemishes, but it’s now easier than ever before to do it with your own smartphone.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been playing with the latest Huawei P10. Although I’ve got massive reservations about the latest Android 7 platform after being so used to Apple iOS, I must admit that this phone is quite impressive – at least as far as the camera is concerned (I’m less impressed with the battery life but I’ll come back to that another time).

Like the iPhone 7, it’s got a dual lens camera system on the back which is great for creating arty pictures with a beautiful depth of field. One is monochrome (20 megapixels), the other colour (12 megapixels). What’s more both lenses are produced by Leica which is renowned for its high quality camera gear.

Another useful feature is the portrait mode which Huawei claims can track 190 points on a face. Handy if you want to airbrush a few of your imperfections in a few seconds!

Using the beautification tool, you can enlarge your eyes, whiten your teeth, even narrow your face. In addition you can improve your complexion and top up your tan at the same time.

Above you can see my before (left) and after (right) selfies. The effects are quite subtle and the picture is a little soft, but I especially like the teeth whitening feature which makes me look a bit more healthy. The bronzing feature works well too.

OK it hasn’t exactly turned me into Brad Pitt, but you can see some subtle improvements. Who knows with a bit more time in the editing suite, I may even look presentable!

And below here’s a shot of my little puppy Poppy without beautification mode switched on – because she doesn’t need it. I do think this camera is very, very good for a smartphone.

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Switching from iPhone to Android – why does it have to be THIS difficult?

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Who would have thought that trying to transfer everything from an iPhone to one of the new Huawei phones above could prove so difficult

Let’s get one thing straight. I’m a big fan of my iPhone 6S. It works and it does everything I want from a phone. It’s a little on the chunky side now and of course the battery life could be better, but apart from that no real complaints.

However, just recently my head has been turned by Android, particularly the latest models from Huawei, including the P10 pictured above. In part, it’s because I was given one in Barcelona last week at an MWC event, but it’s also because many of them look quite nice, especially in the different colours.

Also I felt it was about time after being an Apple evangelist for so long to see what the opposition is up to so I could put together a rational argument when it comes to debating the merits of Apple iOS v Android down the pub (yes I have interesting friends).

I was given a dazzling blue Huawei P10 and it’s a classy looking number with a good sized screen, slim and very lightweight. If I was going to make a sexist comparison on the day after International Women’s Day I would say it’s like trading in the wife for a younger, slimmer model. But of course I wouldn’t say that – at least not out loud.

There’s just one big problem: switching from iPhone to Android. Honestly, I think getting a divorce would be less painful than this, especially if you are trying to switch using an Apple Mac rather than  a PC. Of course if you have a Gmail account it’s a massively help, especially with syncing your contacts, but for everything else you are kind of on your own (Huawei does have software to help with the process but of course it’s PC only).

Transferring images was the first problem. For this I used the excellent Send Anywhere app that enabled me to send large images from my iPhone to the Huawei P10 once I’d keyed in an activation code. I have to say it worked very well, although timed out on me a couple of times when I was trying to send particularly large batches of images.

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Above: The Huawei P10 in dazzling blue. It comes with a great dual lens camera system, courtesy of Leica

Text trauma

However, this was nothing compared to the problem with transferring text messages. I’ve had a few issues with texts before, but nothing quite like this. Thanks to an article here on Tech Republic, I was able to start the process after figuring out how to backup my iPhone in iTunes without the encryption switched on. It turns out this meant having to delete all of my existing profiles within iTunes in order to switch the encryption off!

But as if that wasn’t tricky enough, the next step was even harder. I had to find a file called improbably 3d0d7e5fb2ce288813306e4d4636395e047a3d28 and then load that into another app called iSMS2droid to begin the process. Certainly not easy when the only way I could find of transferring the file to my new Android phone was to download some software to my Apple Mac called Android File Transfer which displayed the Huawei’s folder on my desktop.

Once I’d found a folder on the phone to put the text message file into, I was able to start the lengthy process of transferring text messages. It’s fair to say that iSMS2droid isn’t the friendliest app around but then it is free and it did do the job. So began the lengthy process of transferring 20,000 text messages from my iPhone to my shiny new Huawei P10!

One of the things I love about the iPhone is iMessage which enables you to send message to other iPhone messages free of charge (what my mother-in-law calls ‘blue messages’, because they are shown in the colour blue in Messages rather than green). However, another advantage is that you can control all of your text messages (including green messages from Android devices) via your Apple Mac – useful if, like me, you’ve got big hands that frankly struggle with a small smartphone keyboard.

Unfortunately there’s just no way of fully recreating this experience with Android. There is a clever little app called Android SMS for iChat that does at least allow you to send and receive text messages via Messages on the Mac via a platform called Jabber. However, the main downside is that if you want to send more than five messages a day then you will have to pay for the Pro version of the software which will cost you a hefty $9.99 a month or $4.99 a month if you commit to 12 months. What’s more it uses quite a bit of power so will take its toll on your battery life.

What next? iPhone or Android 

So how’s it been so far? OK but not great. Like a messy divorce, I’m still coming to terms with everything that’s going on. In many ways the Huawei P10 phone is really good (the screen and the camera seem much better than the iPhone and it’s nice and slim too), but I’m not sure I can go the distance with Android.

I do like the flexibility of the platform (I’m running the latest Android 7.0 Nougat) but it’s just not as slick as the iPhone. Graphics don’t seem as sharp and one of the main frustrations at the moment is that it doesn’t seem possible to prioritise WiFi networks – something that was possible with earlier versions of Android – without downloading yet another app (this one is called WiFi Prioritizer and does what it says on the tin).

That’s really annoying when you’ve got BT Infinity in the house and it keep defaulting to the awful BT WiFi with FON all the time which rarely works.

Finally, another problem I seem to be experiencing is poor battery life. I’m quite surprised because one thing that Android fans always tell me is how much better battery life is on Android phones than iPhones. But this actually seems much worse. Unless I’m in Ultra Battery mode when just about everything  I need to use is switched off, it runs down in about half a day with normal use. Charging up also seems to take an age compared to the iPhone.

It’s still early days of course. But maybe the grass isn’t greener after all.

A full review of the Huawei P10 will follow on ShinyShiny next week.
You can read my interview with artist Chris Levine about his collaboration with Huawei here. 

 

 

 

Let’s forget the Nokia 3310. The future is much smarter and more interesting

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Artist and photographer Chris Levine (left) appears in a selfie with me at Huawei’s launch of its latest P10 smartphone at the Metronom gallery in Barcelona

While all the hype may be around the relaunch of an old favourite, the Nokia 3310, which I’m already completely bored hearing about, for those of us who prefer to look forwards rather than backwards, Mobile World Congress in Barcelona offers an exciting glimpse into the not too distant future.

Thanks to Huawei (pronounced Waa-Wey, though I’m still not sure how), I was privileged enough to get a brief glimpse into this future in Barcelona at the weekend.

From the minute I landed at the city’s fabulously named El Prat airport where literally hundreds of different companies all holding name boards had descended to meet their guests, I could sense the anticipation and excitement around the latest hi-tech products, about to be unleashed at Mobile World Congress.

Ostensibly, I was there as a guest of Huawei to meet various artists at Barcelona’s Metronom gallery . The one thing they have in common? They’ve all used the latest Huawei P10 smartphone to compose the images displayed in a pop-up exhibition that runs until March 2nd.

And while the Chinese smart phone manufacturer which is, believe it or not,  the third biggest in the world after Apple and Samsung, isn’t the first company to collaborate with the artistic community in order to gain kudos and credibility, it is the first one I’ve seen which has done a really convincing job.

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I was simply blown away by the quality of some of the images which I’d expected to offer good resolution, but which also seemed well lit too, thanks to various post production facilities within the cameraphone.

Talking to light artist and photographer Chris Levine, who is perhaps most famous for taking pictures of the Queen with her eyes closed (here he is above with one of those images), you could see that he was genuinely excited about the quality and potential that new smartphone technology offers photographers.

Sure, he hasn’t quite ditched his iPhone 6S completely yet, but he told me that the Huawei P10 provides the best quality for photography he’s seen from a smartphone yet, thanks to its Leica dual lens system. Is he telling the truth? I think so judging from what I’ve witnessed, but I’ll let you know when I test out the dazzling blue P10 (which doesn’t seem so dazzling to me) which they gave me to keep!

You can read the specs of the Huawei P10 here on my tech blog Tech Digest here. My interview with artist Chris Levine will follow later this week on ShinyShiny.

Above: Some photographs taken by Chris Levine using the Huawei P10 smartphone. 

Below: Andrew Garrihy, Chief Marketing Officer for Consumer Technology, Huawei Technologies, talks about the strategy behind the Huawei P10 launch including its collaboration with colour company Pantone and camera manufacturer Leica in this YouTube video below.

Apologies it’s a little shaky – I would like to say it’s because of all the glasses of champagne at the launch but I wasn’t even drinking at the time!

How do we help boys and men with mental health issues? Natasha Devon MBE offers her advice

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On Monday I went to a very interesting discussion about mental health issues, specifically about how they concern boys and men (it was held at City of London School where my son goes). It was given by Natasha Devon MBE who was the government’s ‘tsar’ for mental health.

I say was because in the end she had the job for less than a year before being sacked in May 2016 for speaking her mind about government testing in schools.

Basically she thinks there’s too much of it and it is causing untold stress on the children. Having spent some time as an exam invigilator in schools, and seeing what the kids have to go through, I can kind of agree.

After all in what other situation that children are likely to encounter in their lives, will they have all their possessions taken away from them, including their sacred mobile phones, and asked to work in silence while writing on pieces of paper for two hours?

That said, I haven’t really come up with a more practical solution for testing people’s abilities before leaving school or going to university.

However, given that testing isn’t going to end any time soon, what can we do to practically improve our children’s mental health? The way Devon sees it there are three main areas to focus on.

These are improving critical thinking, developing healthy coping mechanisms and talking more! Children are often poor at all three it seems and boys are much more reluctant than girls to talk about their problems, either with each other or with an adult.

Speaking specifically about access to online porn, Devon said there is really no point in trying to prevent access. “If they want to find it they will,” she said. However the key with all online content is “to encourage them to think critically and give them the necessary armour so they don’t simply accept ideas.”

She was particularly critical of adverts, such the Lynx Angels advert of a few years back, complete with Sexy Boy soundtrack, which portrays women as these ethereal sirens (personally I think she may be missing the tongue-in-cheek humour, but then again maybe teenage boys who watch it are too!)

Men, she believes, are usually encouraged by media to confirm to a traditional heterosexual stereotype: “Rich, buff and stoic are all seen as masculine values…we need to redefine what strength is and show that men can be masculine and have feelings too.”

Undoubtedly the prevalence of social media hasn’t helped teenagers when it comes to self-esteem issues either. Rather than seeing only what our peers are up to, as previous generations had to, we’re now living in a world where we are presented with an online version of what everyone in the world is up to which may – or frequently may not – match reality.

Extreme levels of stress, coupled with low self esteem may result in bullying or self-harm too, typically seen as children cutting themselves. However increasingly Devon claims that boys are engaging in fights they know they are going to lose just to hurt themselves.

Even more worryingly over 80 per cent of suicides are male. Devon highlighted a case of a a young graduate friend, James Mabbett, who killed himself at the age of 24 without any warning. Described as the life and soul of the party, and oozing charisma from every pore, he simply hanged himself one evening in his hotel room.

It’s a terrible story, but Devon believes a lot more can be done to prevent needless deaths like this. One way is to keep children’s stress levels in check is by encouraging them to develop healthy, rather than unhealthy, coping mechanisms.

So instead of turning to alcohol or self harm, we need them to find an outlet that isn’t related to the things that cause them stress. That may be relaxation or meditation although is perhaps more likely to be helping them be creative in music, art or drama.

Finally, and it’s been said many times before, boys and men need to talk more! However, Devon believes this needs to be in environments where men feel comfortable, perhaps where they don’t need to make eye contact with one another, she suggests. For example, it could be in the the gym or taking part in sport, but almost certainly isn’t in a female counsellor’s office!

In one example she gives she talks about how a boy had one of the best conversations with his father while the two of them were painting a wall together! Whatever works.

Natasha Devon runs Self Esteem Team, an organisation that works  with teens on mental health, body image and self-esteem. She can also be found on Twitter @NatashaDevonMBE

 

 

Yes vinyl is great, but it’s not going to replace digital any time soon

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I love comebacks as much as the next person. After all I was brought up on the Rocky films! But I’m always astonished by how things are twisted by the media to give tech stories a particular – and usually more sexy – spin.

If you read the coverage on the BBC and in the Guardian in particular about the latest revenue figures for vinyl you could almost be fooled into thinking that people are ditching digital – burning their iPhones, and rushing out to buy vinyl and record players instead. Maybe in Shoreditch they are, but elsewhere in the country it’s a very different picture.

Yes, the revenue raised from vinyl has outstripped the revenue from digital downloads for the first time, but let’s all get a grip! There are other factors at work here. In particular, people are shifting their digital consumption away from downloads and towards streaming services like Spotify and Deezer.

At the same time we are seeing the price of digital downloads falling through the floor while vinyl prices rocket. Take the lovely Kate Bush’s live Before The Dawn album as an example. Buy this triple album on vinyl and you’ll be looking at spending over £50. Download it digitally and it’s around £12. Quite a difference.

Then of course there’s Christmas. Who wants to wrap up a digital download when you can get a nice touchy feely album – one hopefully featuring images and artwork from Kate Bush – instead?

Yes it’s lovely, but vinyl is still only 2% of the music market in terms of volume and I don’t think it will grow too much more any time soon.

You can read my more detailed piece on Tech Digest here

Keep an eye on your home (or just your dog) with Blink’s smart home security system

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David Laubner, Blink’s Head of Digital Marketing and Sales, demonstrates the US firm’s latest wireless security system

Home security used to be such a hassle and an expensive one too. When I first started covering smart homes for magazines around 15 years ago, I visited these luxurious places with banks of CCTV screens, all hooked up to state-of-the-art cameras and controlled via bespoke Crestron touch pads. Sometimes they would even have their own security people whose job it was to monitor the cameras 24/7.

Now you can do pretty much the same thing for around £200 and 10 minutes of set up, if that. A number of solutions have come to the market, including those from Netgear Arlo. However, yesterday I was lucky enough to be invited to The Ivy Restaurant (darling) in Central London for a demonstration of a new home security system from US firm Blink.

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A wireless device, the Blink security camera can be set up anywhere in a few minutes

I have to say it looked really good (and not just because the Apple and Crumble Pie with brown butter ice cream was to die for). I’m going to write a proper piece on my blog Tech Digest about how it all works later today, but suffice to say it’s a modular wifi based security system with the possibility of connecting up to 10 cameras on one hub (more than enough for most properties).

Actually it’s really a home monitoring system, rather than a security system as such because it doesn’t sound an alarm. However, what it will do is alert you via email if someone has triggered the sensor. It will also record up to 60 seconds of video footage for each ‘event’ which is stored securely in the cloud, free of charge.

At this time of year the set up would be particularly good for catching out courier firms who claim to have come to the door to deliver a parcel but didn’t leave it ‘because you were out’ (that old chestnut). Alternatively it’s good to see what your dog gets up to while you are out, such as jumping on the sofa or finding any scraps of food left on the table.

In the US, some people even use the Blink cameras to monitor who their teenage kids bring home on an evening (which seems to be taking things a little too far to me) while some have even caught burglars in the act and reported them to the police.

The police have even turned up and the camera has caught them making an arrest which all seems very exciting!

Prices start at £109.99 for a one camera system while a three camera system will set you back £259.99. Additional cameras are £89 each. 

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.

So what’s all this Black Friday stuff about anyway?

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Black Friday queues outside Currys PC World. It all looks remarkably civilised!

This Friday isn’t any old Friday. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have probably have heard that it’s Black Friday – the day after US Thanksgiving which has come to herald the start of Christmas shopping. It’s usually the case that anything that’s big in the US tends to be big over here. And Black Friday is no exception.

After an inauspicious arrival in the UK in 2013 (which saw very little interest from the British public), the following year saw rather too much interest from British bargain hunters resulting in virtual riots in several supermarkets, particularly over super cheap flat screen TVs (mostly badged Polaroid).

Since then, the phenomenon has grown slowly but surely with more of an emphasis on online sales and also focusing over a longer period rather than just a day in order to prevent more mindless violence over consumer goods.

I was asked to give a quote for the Argos website about Black Friday for its website which you can see below. I also thought I’d write a piece on the origins of Black Friday for Shiny Shiny.

These, it seems are still open to some debate, despite the official version of events telling us that the term Black Friday comes from when retailers collectively move out of making a loss (in the red) to turning a profit (in the black).

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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.