Thursday 12 November 2015

My November gadgets for TRE Talk Radio Europe

I was back on the air this afternoon as TRE Talk Radio Europe's 'gadget guru'. Here's the technology I talked about this month:

BlackBerry Priv

Once upon a time, BlackBerry was virtually the only serious smartphone maker. If you wanted a phone that could receive email, you bought a Blackberry. How times have changed.

The newest BlackBerry phone is called the Priv, which is short for privacy, because taking care of your personal data and messages is one of the things BlackBerry has built its reputation on. But it has another worry these days: downloadable apps. Android is the most popular system out there, so – if you want loads of people to buy your phones – making an Android phone is a sensible choice. That’s what BlackBerry has done. The company has previously enabled Android apps to work on its own operating system but this is the first device that actually runs Android.

Let’s look at the specs: it has a proper, physical QWERTY keyboard that slides away when you don’t need it, a 5.4-inch Quad HD touch screen and an 18-megapixel camera. If you want more figures, it weighs 192g, it measures 147mm x 77.2mm x 9.4mm when closed and it runs a 1.8GHz 64-bit hexa-core processor, with power from a 3,410mAh battery.

SIM-free (i.e. no contract) price is £559, which equates to just under €800.

Tag Heuer smartwatch

Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer has been making watches for over 150 years – and now they’ve announced their first smartwatch. In fact, they’re pretty much the first of the luxury Swiss watchmakers to produce a proper smartwatch. Unfortunately, despite the company’s heritage, you can’t really call this one a Swiss watch because it’s full of electronics that aren’t made in Switzerland.

Anyway, it’s called the Tag Connected, it’s made of titanium and is available with a choice of seven rubber straps. It runs the Android Wear operating system, which is good news for anyone with an Android phone. It’ll do basic things with an iPhone, like letting you know when messages arrive, but if you want to connect it with other apps, you’ll need an Android phone.

The design is very much classic Tag Heuer and at first glance could easily be mistaken for a sports chronograph. One of the interesting things here is that Tag is offering a guaranteed trade-in after two years if you decide that you’d prefer a mechanical watch instead. You’ll need to make another payment – actually it’s around as much as you’ve already paid for the smartwatch – but arguably it’s a win-win for serious watch buyers.

There’s been a great deal of thought about the display, which looks a lot like an analogue chronograph. But because it’s digital, you can change it, with a choice of exclusive Tag faces that aren’t available to other Android watches. And, unlike some smartwatches, it always shows you the time because the screen never completely switches off (unless the battery runs out). Despite that, it’s expected to run for 25 hours before needing to be recharged. Pricing is £1,100 (around €1,600).

Ion rechargeable belt

If you use your phone a lot – or if the battery is getting old – it won’t always last all day. Some people carry a charger with them. Some people carry a spare battery or a rechargeable battery pack with them. But soon you won’t need to do either – because you’ll be able to wear the battery pack. That’s the idea behind the Ion Belt, which is currently raising funds on It looks pretty much like a standard belt but it includes a 3000mAh battery, which is enough to completely recharge most smartphones. So, before you put the belt on, you charge it up through a socket inside the buckle. When your phone dies, there’s a USB socket on the end of the belt – all you need to do is attach your standard charging cable. It’s even got LED indicators to show how much charge is left. Assuming all goes well, it’ll be available from June next year; if you’re prepared to take the chance of ordering before production starts, you can get it for $99 (£65 plus taxes & shipping) at the moment.

Noke Bluetooth padlock

The product name is pronounced No Key, which is a big clue here. This claims to be the world's first Bluetooth padlock. The theory means there’s nothing to lose: no keys to forget, no combinations to remember. It simply unlocks when your phone – iPhone or Android – is nearby, even if it's in your pocket. You can let friends and family access it but you still stay in control – you can restrict the time they access it, if you want – and you can see a record of who’s been locking and unlocking it. You can even see where it’s been taken.

Noke is powered by a battery that's expected to last for a year. If your smartphone battery dies, you can unlock Noke with a sequence of clicks: a bit like a combination lock but by pressing the hasp. And if the lock’s battery dies – which the app will warn you about, so it shouldn’t – you can attach another battery from the outside to jump-start it. UK pricing is £59.99 (€85).

Christmas is coming, the cups are getting red...

Starbucks. In the last few years I've heard some bad things about the coffee retailing giant. Purveyors of high-calorie beverages. Tax avoiders. There was even a suggestion their logo was similar to that of a satanic order. Even so, describing them as being in league with the devil might seem hyperbolic. Yet it seems some Christians would disagree.

The beginning of this story is pretty straightforward. As Christmas approaches, Starbucks introduces red takeaway cups. The red cups also mark the introduction of limited-availability festive drinks, including eggnog and gingerbread flavours.

Every year, Starbucks changes the design of its cups. We've seen carol-singers, snowflakes, Christmas trees, snowmen - and this year, simply plain red. That has enraged some Christian activists, who claim the company is involved in 'Christian Culture Cleansing' and is avoiding saying 'Merry Christmas' to customers.

Even US presidential candidate Donald Trump has weighed in, offering "Maybe we should boycott Starbucks? I don't know. Seriously, I don't care." as well as "If I become president, we're all going to be saying Merry Christmas again, that I can tell you."

Except... well, Starbucks is still talking about Christmas. It's produced a special Christmas Blend of coffee. It's selling Christmas gifts. And pretty much all the previous on-cup imagery can be traced back to non-Christian traditions, so removing it was arguably most offensive to pagans rather than any religion that had 'borrowed' it.

Voices of reason include Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, who pointed out "I don't think it's like Starbucks had the Christmas crib on their cups to begin with", and actor/producer Candace Cameron Bure, who said "A Santa, a snowflake, some holly, a polar bear, some jingle bells or plain red cup don’t define Christmas for me as a Christian".

A religious boycott prompted by takeaway coffee? That sounds like a storm in a... no, too easy.

Sunday 8 November 2015

Derren Brown: "one of the big secrets of happiness is from the Stoics"

Derren Brown on the BBC Radio 2 Steve Wright show, 3rd November 2015
"In real life, we're fed so much the idea nowadays that you should control things: in order to be happy you should sort of set your goals, believe in yourself enough and you can make stuff happen to conform to what you want. And I think, actually, in real life, one of the big secrets of happiness is from the Stoics. And Stoicism was a popular philosophy for 500 years before Christianity took over, and one of their main axioms is that you don't try and control things that are out of your control. You're only in control of your thoughts and your actions; everything else in life, if it's not under your control - what other people do and what they think and what they think of you - if you just let that go and decide that it's fine and stop trying to control it, you naturally remove a whole load of anxiety and frustration from your life."