10 things I remember about swimming in the 1970s

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What else to do on a rainy Bank Holiday Monday than reminisce about the 1970s when swimming meant burning your skin off with Vosene Shampoo, ducking each other’s heads under the water and throwing yourself off the 10m diving board without bellyflopping. Oh and public information films. Who remembers this one below about Dave who shamefully couldn’t swim and lost his ‘bird’ as a result? You can read the full feature 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.

‘Going back to nature’ in Nissan’s X-Trail SUV?!

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‘Let’s offroad’, said no one in a Nissan X-Trail, ever

Yesterday I ditched my 21st century gadgets and reverted to my inner caveman. I left the comfort of my warm home office and instead found myself learning how to use a type of fungus to light my own fires on an exceptionally cold day in Sussex (I think I’m still thawing out now.)

Only I didn’t. Not really. Basically it was all an elaborate, tongue-in-cheek publicity stunt to link Nissan’s latest 2 litre X-Trail SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle) to the concept of Adventure with a capital A. Nevermind, that the biggest adventure this particular 4×4 will face is probably a trip to the admittedly quite steep Marks and Spencer’s car park in north London’s Muswell Hill.

The idea is that this is a vehicle for rugged, bearded, check shirt wearing, adventurer types who love nothing better than foraging for their own food and slinging a bit of roadkill on the back seat for supper. Not (of course) a relatively cheap and cheerful SUV which people will buy for the higher driving position and large amounts of legroom (as well as the fact there is the possibility of a dog-friendly edition for pet owners. See here).

OK I get it. But I must say that really I would much rather sit inside in front of a warm log fire, lit quickly with a Zippo, than rummaging around for bits of twigs and getting my hands dirty in dark bits of fungus that look suspiciously like sheep poo. In the same way as I would much rather make a call on my mobile than tie two bits of string together and put a tin can on either end.

Given the age we live in though, it’s perhaps not surprising to hear that there are even companies that specialise in these ‘back to nature’ excursions, including the one we were with: Hunt, Gather, Cook. A kind of culinary paintball for angst-ridden Londoners.

Founded around seven years ago by a guy who left a chef’s job in the capital and who described himself as a ‘fire enthusiast’ (don’t we call them arsonists), it specialises in taking people into the wilderness where they can learn different animal slaughter techniques. Nice.

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For a man who had to hide in the bushes with three quarter length trousers and no socks in virtually sub-zero temperatures, the ‘bearded hipster’ was a surprisingly cheerful chap!

Thankfully as a vegetarian, I was spared having to kill any innocent creatures to satiate any primal needs. Instead, the biggest challenge I faced was finding a ‘bearded hipster’ in a farmer’s field, see picture above, and making a fire so that he could have a much needed soya cappuccino. It’s all in day’s work!

But the day wasn’t just spent larking around the countryside making fires and rescuing pretend, stranded hipsters. As well as genuinely taking the X-Trail off road – albeit on the nursery slopes compared to the black runs intended for more serious SUVs – I also interviewed a guy who is setting off in a modified Nissan Leaf on the 10,0000 mile Mongol Rally with only his wife for company. Now that’s a brave man.

You can read the story about the Mongol Rally here: http://www.techdigest.tv/2017/04/adventurer-chris-ramsey-to-undertake-10000-mile-mongol-rally-in-nissan-leaf-electric-car.html. Full YouTube video to follow. 

 

I test out some of the best pet gadgets for ShinyShiny

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I really don’t need much of an excuse to write about pet gadgets. But as it’s #NationalPetDay in the US tomorrow, I thought I’d put together a feature on ShinyShiny, showcasing some of the best and most interesting out there.

What’s great is that thanks to the IoT (Internet of Things) any product can now become ‘smart’, whether that’s a dog collar or a camera so it’s now possible to monitor your pet more closely than ever before.

For example with a smart collar, available from a company like Nuzzle, you can track on a map exactly where your furry friend is. Furbo, on the other hand, takes things a little further, allowing you to talk to your dog via a two-way audio connection, view what they are getting up to in high definition video, even dispense treats from a machine!

Other smart devices for pets though I’m not so sure about including the Pellet which is basically a doorbell for pets. The idea is that the dog presses a big buzzer which sends an alert via an app to their owner that they want to go outside to play or go to the toilet! Sounds a little more hassle than its worth to me.

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