My Apple Watch: First Impressions

I am a very lucky young lady. I have a fiance who loves to cater to my whim and desire, and so when he found me drooling over the Apple watch on launch day, it was only a matter of time before he got me one. I held out though. I’m not some crazed Apple fan-person who will buy the latest product for the sake of it. I didn’t like the iPhone 6 when it came out (although I am warming to it). Instead, I love Apple products for their beautiful and thoughtful design, intuitive interfaces, and impressive processing power.

So, this week I got my Apple watch. 38 mm, black leather strap with a traditional buckle. Because I’m a traditional kind of gal.
Before D bought it, I’d spent hours watching and reading the various promos and reviews, which on the most part, seemed to come up good and bad in equal measure. I’m no tech expert, but I wanted to share a few of my first impressions after a couple of days with this bad boy on my wrist.

My Apple Watch

Packaging 

Ohmygosh I just love the iPackaging. I think it must appeal to my stationery fetish – its a petit mort as every sheet of plastic is peeled away, and every tab lifted. And the packaging for the Apple watch is the jewel in the crown. It took me five whole minutes of quivering over the box before I got it out. Yum yum yum. Oh, and I was very pleased that it came in a squarish box, as opposed to the long ones I’ve seen on other videos. Much better form factor. Yum. 5/5 Would unbox again

On my wrist
I’m not used to wearing a watch. In fact, I rarely wear bracelets because I’m conscious that anything there makes my hand look fat. Vain I know, but there you go. Anyway, I just love the look of this watch on my wrist. Its sleek, and stylish, and fits well, although I am still adjusting to how tight it needs to be. I’m just not used to something so black and shiny and so very much fixed on the top of my wrist. Also, by the end of day 1, I’d got a very clammy upper wrist. I think is very much a personal thing, and it will take time to feel completely comfortable. I’m hoping, too that the leather will soften a bit. 4/5 Cool but clammy

Showing off 

Oh wow! Is that the Apple watch?! Why, yes, yes it is. I’m among one of the first of the people I know to have one, and it has attracted the expected amount of green admiration. I’ve felt a combination of guilt of having one, the need to justify it, and the desire to show it off. If you’re not impressed by the face of a clock, the Apple watch doesn’t really do itself any favours. There’s not a great deal to show off, and the functionality really does shine when you’re just using it. It’s just a pretty thing that is pretty good at doing a job that people don’t really think they need. And one more pet peeve: its an Apple Watch, not a bloody iWatch!  3/5 Beautiful but boring

The Interface

Like I said before, I love Apple products because of their intuitive interfaces. I’m an intuitive kind of person, and I’ve always found it relatively straightforward to adapt to new iDevices. Not so with the watch. It is a completely new, and relatively steep learning curve that deviates considerably from the normal way of doing things, and it just feels strange. Take, for example, the force touch. An amazing piece of engineering and very clever way to add functionality to such a small screen, but do you know what it feels like? It feels like a right click. It feels like, whenever I’m force touching, I’m accessing a little-used menu or changing a setting that shouldn’t really be fiddled with that often. It doesn’t feel natural or easy, and in most of the watch apps, it’s not immediately obvious what I’m going to get from a force touch. Again, I know it’s all about getting used to it, but I was shocked at how tricky it seems.  3/5 Force touch my what, now?!

Watch Apps

I’m going to be honest. I’m pretty disappointed with what I can do with my watch. And I’m pretty sure that’s down to the functionality of the apps. I’ve explored to the greatest possible extent the force touches, wheel turns and etherial gestures that the apps could possibly be demanding, and have still found the majority of them lacking. Oh, I’ll happily get the notifications from my phone “Arch Enemy has liked a photo you are tagged in!”, but there’s no native Facebook app for me to check which photo. I’d like to look again at that important email I received minutes ago, but I have to navigate through the bubble menu to get at it – no glances for mail. I can’t reply to an email, not even with a standard ‘OK’ or ‘Great!’. I can’t add an item to my calendar, I can’t send my watchless fiance a picture of a comedy penis, I can’t review my whole Wunderlist to do list, I can’t easily review the forecast for when I get home from work, I can’t add f*cking punctuation to my texts (that deserves a rant of its own), the map navigated me to a Priory Road in London, instead of my home street. And why oh why is Activity buzzing me incessantly to say “Well Done! You’ve achieved 43% of your standing goal!”, like I’m supposed to be pleased with myself?!

am impressed by the speed and the neatness of a lot of the apps, and especially by Siri, but I just find that the functionality has been pared down waay too much for my lifestyle. I want to interact with the world, not just be aware of it.  2/5 Why can’t I just reply?!

OK. Texts. 

I’m a bit of a grammar nerd. I truly believe that if something’s worth saying at all, it’s worth saying well, with a well-worded sentence and appropriate punctuation. Since I had my first phone, I’ve been writing texts, even short ones, as sentences. My iPhone made that even easier – it spell-checked, it autocorrected, it put lovely full stops and capital letters in. And now, my watch, which is exceptionally good at understanding what I’m saying is hurting me with its cold lack of expression.

 

Me (via siri on watch): How are you feeling

D: “A bit better. Did you use your watch for that last message?”

Me: Absolutely

Me: Not sure I can handle this

D: “I know, right?!”

D: “Wait. Are you ok? Was that about the texting or something else”

Me: I’m fine

D: “Are you ‘fine’? Or really fine? Like, fine fine, or not fine?”

Me: Stop teasing me

D: ; )

Ok I know I can put in punctuation if I say “What time are you home question mark” – but really? Am I expected to be comfortable with telegrammatic dictation in 2015? Surely those clever people in Mountain View can come up with a way of recognising my tone of voice, or at least giving me options for sentence construction. I feel as though this has all been rushed, and in Apple’s desperation to get a functional voice-driven personal assistant, we are being expected to abandon the niceties of text-based communication, which is something I resent. Is it going to learn from me? Are my common messages going to be remembered (I send D a lot of “I love you”‘s, to remind him that I appreciate my expensive gifts)? How is it going to deal with homophones?  2/5 It’s fine

 

So this has turned into more of a rant than a review, but with such high hopes, I think it’s inevitable that the first impressions will be niggles and disappointments. Don’t get me wrong, I’m seriously impressed by the power, design and potential of this watch. But it has left me wanting more. More functionality, more intuition, more intelligence.

I’ll write something else in a couple of weeks, when I’ve had chance to acclimatise to the sheer newness of this gadget. Overall, I’m extremely happy that I have a beautiful and powerful game changer on my wrist. But it’s not going to change any games right now, at least not for me. I can’t make the best use of a ‘smart’ watch until it is smart enough to know what I want, or at least offer the opportunity for me to tell it.

 

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London Cabaret Awards – A Personal Fiasco but an Entertainment Triumph

“Ooh you all look like you’ve been dipped in glue and rolled around a vintage clothing store!”

Never was a truer word spoken than by compere Jamie Anderson, opening the inaugural London Cabaret Awards on The Battersea Barge last week. The boat was crammed to the ceiling with glitter, wigs, false nails, false lashes, false boobs and genuine smiles, and all were clearly determined to make merry with friends old and new. As new London Editor for Broadway Baby, it was my pleasure to be a part of it, even given the personal nightmare I had in getting there.

I had a business meeting during the day, so had come to London in normal enough clothes, but with a bag full of corsetry, stockings and feathered epaulettes. After a struggle into the steel-boned creation in the loo of an extremely overcrowded Costa on Shaftesbury Avenue, I set off on the ill fated journey across London. Wisely, I had decided to put on the heels and the epaulettes once I was there, but the corset did little for my mobility, at speed, through the subway at rush-hour. Following an extensive detour owing to severe delays on the Picadilly line, I eventually arrived at Vauxhall with twenty minutes to spare before the beginning of the champagne reception. I walked.

Being a barge, I knew it was on the river, and my rough mental map told me in which direction to walk. It didn’t, however, tell me how far to walk, and just how much of that would be along a dual carriageway. In a corset. Finally spotting a sign advising me to turn right for the Battersea Barge, I did so, and was heartened to see a number of taxis dropping off revellers. Good, I thought, I’m going in the right direction. Carrying on, more taxis and even a tour bus with blacked-out windows passed me. Gosh, I thought, this is a fancy affair. All this time I am walking through what seems to an industrial estate, with cement lorries, and refuse trucks. Very ironic, I thought. But the road took me right up to Battersea Power Station, where there was a huge queue and a great many photographers. I even think I was snapped a couple of times in my ridiculously overstated outfit, before I realised that this was, in fact, a completely different event and I was, in fact, nowhere near where I wanted to be. By this time it is fifteen minutes into the champagne reception and I am lost on an industrial estate in Battersea. In a corset. I walked.

I spent the next 45 minutes walking, investigating every alleyway and signpost until I eventually found a teeny tiny sign that directed me down a labyrinthine set of walkways which, eventually, led me to the Battersea Barge. Already exhausted, but determined to go through with my extravagant outfit, I slip on my heels and prepare to put on my feather epaulettes – only to find them gone. Somewhere, somehow, in London I have lost a pair of black feathered shoulderpads. Kind readers, if you find them, pity me and my bare shoulders in an industrial estate in Battersea, in a corset.

By the time I made it onto the barge, the champagne was finished, the guests were already pleasingly drunk, and the awards were about to start. No one noticed my shockingly bare shoulders, for which I am glad.

Photo by Claire Bilyard

Compere Jamie Anderson

That was enough of a fiasco for one night, and the Cabaret Awards did not disappoint with extravagance, fake eyelashes or inebriation. Hosted by the quite delicious Jamie Anderson through choppy waters, the show and ceremony was underway with much whooping and heckling, as could be expected from a cabaret audience made of cabaret performers.

Awarded first were the glass stars for the best drag act, to Jonny Woo, the best burlesque performer, to Kiki Kaboom, and the best cabaret venue, to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.

There followed a wonderful set by the Four Femmes on the Thames, a 40’s inspired music act reminiscent of the Puppini Sisters. With tight satin frocks and tighter harmonies, the four girls oozed charisma and thinly veiled drunkenness, and their performance was a real treat.

Photo by Claire Bilyard

The Four Femmes on the Thames

The next set of awards went to Dicky Beau, for best alternative performer, and to Mat Ricardo, for best speciality act. Zoe Charles, teacher at ‘The Cheek of It’ burlesque school, was awarded the unsung hero award.

Following a brief interval, Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer treated the audience to his special brand of ‘Chap Hop’, accompanied by a miniature banjo and a spiffing moustache. Mr B was a hug hit on the Edinburgh cabaret scene in 2011, and both he and yours truly hope he will be recognised for an award next year.

Photo by Claire Bilyard

Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer

More awards, to the Double R club, for best ongoing production; to Dusty Limits for best compere; and to Bourjeois and Maurice for the catchily titled best music-based act, were heralded with renewed vigour by the thoroughly inebriated audience.

Josephine Shaker provided the final break in the proceedings, tapping her heart out on a thoroughly sick-making stage, performing a fascinatingly androgynous strip, and being generally ignored by the increasingly rowdy contents of an increasingly crowded barge.

The final awards, almost drowned out by good natured heckling were, for best one-off production, to La Soiree, for the Time Out Audience award voted for, unsurprisingly, by the audience of Time Out, to Alp Haydar, and finally the Outstanding Achievement Award, to a seemingly very deserving Duckie. The crowd simultaneously climaxed, and Jamie Anderson’s closing comments went unheard and unheeded. A song to end the night affirmed an excellent time had by all.

Winners Dusty Limits and Kiki Kaboom

Yours truly had to rush off to catch to the last train home, much to my chagrin, for there is nothing I love better than an alcohol and burlesque-fuelled afterparty. But despite the dramatic failure of the first part of the evening, the awards themselves were a gin-soaked romp, and as one particularly drunk burlesque nominee announced, “We are all winners”. I look forward to many more cabaret awards, with the continued blossoming of the London cabaret scene. I even know where the bloody barge is now.

The gulf between the green economy and me

When I was 17, I fancied myself as a bit of an environmental activist.  I was devastated by the devastation of the Amazon, and choked by the choking of the oceans with plastic.  I joined Greenpeace and got an activist’s pack, including a stencil which I dutifully cut out.

But that was about as far as it went. I never sprayed my stencil onto anything, never did any flyering, and never chained myself to any railings.  It would seem my sense of self-preservation was a little bit stronger than my cares for the World’s preservation.  I’m a little ashamed to admit that, but I don’t really believe I am alone.  If I was in the minority, maybe we wouldn’t have the environmental issues we do, and I would be admitting a much more heinous crime of selfishness.

Would everyone in my position admit such self-preservation?  Not without producing a few excuses: we didn’t know; we didn’t know what to do; we didn’t know how to make a difference.  Not everyone wants to hijack an oiltanker to make a difference, and they shouldn’t have to.  For us to be able to deal with the climatic and ecological changes to our planet today, the baton must be carried by more than the few, fierce, selfless activists, but by all – as a part of everyday life.

UNEP’s World Environment Day (5th June), will address this issue with this year’s theme: ‘Green Economy: Does it include you?’

Like the majority of people in the UK, I am not intimately involved in forming our country’s economic policy, but I am environmentally minded. But what are the opportunities for an ordinary person to be green, without being an activist?

So I thought I would assess my own greenness, eight years on from my Greenpeace days. What has slipped unnoticed into my world?

Light bulbs: When I get home each night, I go through the same ritual.  I switch on the light in my room, and then I go and do something else for 5 minutes.  Why?  Because my house has been imperceptibly infiltrated by energy-saving bulbs, producing a laughably small amount of light when switched on, and taking hours to ‘warm up’. Apart from this very minor, first-world irritation, energy saving bulbs are one of the triumphs of subversive green policy making.  Have you tried to buy a tungsten bulb recently?  They might as well be illegal, for the trouble you have to go to.  Low energy bulbs are now made easier on the eye and on the pocket, and are a shining beacon of successful, if small, steps to greenness.

Green Energy: Wind turbines!  What a wonderful way to make use of Britain’s prevailing southwesterlies.  Personally, I find wind farms some of the most graceful, beautiful and striking examples of green engineering, but they attract a surprising number of antagonists – mostly on ecological grounds (surprisingly not on grounds of impending invasion). But are we close to meeting renewable targets, or are we even trying? Can I have my own wind turbine? Please?

Sustainable and Organic: Many foods and products now proudly tote logos proclaiming their sustainability. The Red Tractor for British farms, and FSC for sustainable wood are both fairly ubiquitous in the marketplace, offering green alternatives at no expense or inconvenience.  The Organic revolution is still floundering though, with organic goods prohibitively expensive for all but the lavishly rich or the more pressingly green-conscious.

This is a pretty small list.  Although it could be made longer, it would begin to include options, like organic food, that require a strength of will, awareness, or purse, that most people don’t have time or inclination to invest in.

Does the Green economy include me?  A bit, I suppose, if you count my light-bulb ritual and my love of wind farms.  But until all unfriendly solutions go the quiet but definite way of the tungsten lightbulb, I won’t hold my breath for willing or active advocacy.

This blog post is submitted as an entry to the UNEP/WED blog competition.

Hear Hear – My problem with BBC science

After reading Martin Robbin’s collateral rage on twitter while he was writing his Guardian blog on the state of science on the BBC, I have to admit I was a little nervous to read the post itself, and have only just steeled myself and done so.  I would recommend reading it before continuing with this, so the ensuing rant seems less….ranty.

Why should I be so concerned?  Surely it’s just his opinion and I will either agree with it or not.  But in a sense it meant much more to me.  I love the BBC, I really do.  I am to the BBC what Sam is to Frodo, what Tristan is to Isolde.  I will vehemently defend it to the last as a fundamental crutch on which our nation depends, and as a responsible custodian of our trust.  And yet there has been a secret seed of dissatisfaction gnawing away at me for some time.   Swallowing my denial, I sat down this morning and read.

And I agree.  I agree with what the good Mr Robbins says, but was also surprised to find that his kernels of irritation were different to mine, albeit with the same result.  I am coming out now and saying that I cannot watch most BBC science programming, and I am ashamed when I hear it on the radio.

Perhaps my point of view is one that is a little more personal.  As an aspiring journalist and science communicator, I last year spent three months working (for free) with the BBC, with Horizon, online newsgathering, and radio production.  I’ve already spoken at length about what an enriching experience it was for an amateur, but it was the chance to see the inner workings of these long revered institutions that really fundamentally changed my viewpoint.

With regard to television, Martin Robbins said:

The BBC’s drive to avoid bias is admirable, but – whether through laziness or fear – journalists have fallen into the trap of believing that avoiding bias means avoiding any kind of judgement.

From my time at Horizon, I can attest to that.  Working in Development, I was charged with the thankless task of coming up with new programme ideas that excited the non-scientist editor.  If he deemed them not exiting enough, or not balanced enough at first glance, you could go and work them up for a week, and present them again.  But by then, the story was old, and the editor had lost interest.  Almost without fail, the only ideas that made it through were related to health, happiness, and any other branch of social science that could be bulked out with the inevitable conscious-twanging shot of unhappy children.

Now, I don’t have a problem with social sciences, but should they be the exclusive content of Horizon?  As a child and a teenager, I watched Horizon with wonder, never hoping to understand the details, and accepting that maybe even the scientists didn’t.  But it sparked in me a curiosity and a passion that has brought me to where I am today.  I realised then that I actively avoid BBC science documentaries – I didn’t even watch Adam Rutherford’s Cell, despite having consulted and provided fossils for it.

Why?  Because it is hollow.  It is dull.  As Martin Robbins says, it stays:

 …in the safe world of recreating GCSE-level text books in glorious 1080p…

And that is now all it is good for.  Wide panoramas of dramatic Argentine mountaintops (with the ubiquitous Cox-akimbo), or comical captures of thieving penguins, but NO SCIENCE. Where is the passion? The glistening eyes and wistful expression of Sagan? Where are the strong personal stories of Gorillas in the Mist? They are gone to be replaced by sllooow explanations of why you get fat when you eat too much, by a presenter who has excellent diction, but has never even done an alcohol immersion test.

Therein lies the rub.  At Horizon, the non-scientists outnumber the scientists.  I know the point is to make programmes that are accessible, but contrary to popular belief, not all scientists speak only in latin, and you only have to turn to the immense online community of professional and aspiring science communicators to find fascinating new takes on old ideas.  Think what they could do with a BBC budget and connections?  In my honest opinion, Horizon have fallen off the wagon in favour of fluffy school science and the frontiers of science communication have left them far behind.

BBC testcard.  More interesting than science programming

Martin Robbins also touched on another half buried rage ball of mine.  John Humphry’s. How does that man sleep at night? You really have to congratulate the Today programme on finding the most brashly opinionated and unabashedly ignorant man in Britain and persevering in letting him loose daily on some of the best minds in the country.  In this I wholeheartedly agree with Mr Robbins, and can only repeat what he so eloquently put (presumably because he wasn’t fighting the urge to punch something Welsh):

When his guests provided answers, such as Rutherford’s neat explanation of the economic benefits of investing in scientific research, they aroused an “mm” or were ignored. Worse, Humphrys seemed almost proud of his own ignorance of the subject…

I now use the Today programme as an alarm clock.  I think I average about 5 seconds from deep sleep to hurling the radio across the room.  It has never failed.

This is all turning into a bit of a rant, so let me say something positive.  BBC Science does get some things right, and that is its news.  Whether written online, presented on the 6 O’Clock, or prerecorded for a weekly roundup, the newsgatherers hit the spot.  Outwardly, they seem to regularly strike the perfect balance between quirky, serious, and engaging.  .  They  are not all scientists, but they have something the feature programmers drastically lack – passion.  They invest emotion and interest in scientists’ findings, and their curiosity is infectious whether reading, listening, or watching them, or working with them.  Give them a prime time airing and much of the BBC’s ills could be cured.  The two months I spent with them were two of the best of my life.

What is it about newsgathering that is so much more alive than feature programming?  Perhaps the endless onslaught of new information selects for those who are flexible and can think on their toes.  Perhaps seeing a feature documentary through is a soulless task, unavoidably stripping out any enthusiasm that may have once been there.  All I can say with confidence is that somewhere along the way, the BBC have got the equation wrong, and it risks losing the unquestioning belief of the public, as well as my (almost) unconditional love.

So I can only thank Martin Robbins for exposing my guilty secret, the embarrassing truth, that I would sooner watch the cringing comedy Twenty Twelve, than any science on the BBC.