Monthly Archives: September 2013

Google Glass


Bob joked that one day we might ask our friends, ‘Are you one of those glassholes?’

I approach new technology with about as much enthusiasm as a trip to the dentist.

So the prospect of hearing about Google Glass at a small event in central London doesn’t make me rub my hands together in childlike glee. I would rather have a front-row seat at London Fashion Week, sadly now over.

Fortunately the man introducing us to Google’s big innovation is an amiable American named Bob, who speaks in plain English and doesn’t appear to be overly techie or robotic. I should also point out that he doesn’t work for Google and hasn’t been paid to give us the PR speech about how this will change our lives for the better.

Bob is on a whirlwind visit from New York. He’s been wearing Google’s hi-tech glasses for about three months and is incredibly enthusiastic about the experience. He tells me, in fact, that he hasn’t been this excited about a product since the launch of Apple’s iPad. I’m waiting for his enthusiasm to rub off on me, but I’m still skeptical. Bob hasn’t seen my phone yet, which does nothing but make phone calls. Imagine that!

His demonstration kicks off with a presentation about what Google Glass can do, which is much the same as any smartphone. You can film, take pictures, make video calls, get directions, search the internet and translate languages with the simple vocal command ‘ok glass’ followed by what you want to do. Touch technology also allows you to control functionality or scroll through different options.

The picture quality is good – the embedded camera is 5MP – but you can’t frame the picture like you would with a phone or traditional camera, so that would take a bit of getting used to if you’re as useless at photography as I am.

Filming is an entirely different story. The sound quality varies hugely depending on where you are. If you’re somewhere really noisy, the film will come out practically unusable because Google Glass doesn’t filter out ambient noise. You also have to learn to keep your head extremely still while filming, otherwise the shaky result might give your viewers motion sickness.

‘It requires you to be massively disciplined,’ admits Bob, who adds that wearing Google’s glasses means learning a whole new set of behaviors.

A big downside to extended use is the battery life, which averages about two hours if you’re not using the glasses for battery sappers such as filming. If they get stolen, there are also security issues because at the moment there is no lockdown mechanism. You also won’t be able to wear a pair with prescription glasses, although a solution is being developed.

Bob has tested people’s reactions to the glasses in public and it varies. In the United States, he says, there were people ‘swarming’ to him. But here, in the UK, there’s more caution, with people pretending not to notice. Bob calls it the ‘I’m looking at you, I’m not looking at you’ attitude.

The big question remains how it might change our lives. At the moment it’s too early to say. It’s hard to envision this piece of hi-tech kit becoming as ubiquitous as the iPhone. The cost, at the very least, would need to come down substantially. Estimates put the retail price at about $1,000 to $1,500. Optional extras include buying dark shades that fit the frames – I would call this the Hollywood look and it’s certainly not for everyone.

There’s also no guarantee the product will even make it into the mainstream market. A limited number of people in the United States will be able to get their hands on a pair later this year or early next. ‘This might just be a great experiment,’ Bob says, explaining at the same time that approximately 8,000 people are currently working on the product at Google’s headquarters.

He does, however, predict that Google Glass is part of a trend of wearable technology. Personally, I’d rather be wearing something else, preferably by Marc Jacobs.


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Back-to-school blues

Chatterbox and Raging Bull

My two little scholars before we left for London

When I was kid I dreaded every single September. I wasn’t one of those kids who liked going back to school. The only thing I remember liking was buying new shoes.

Thirty years later and nothing has changed. I still don’t like September, and I still love buying new shoes. My kids went back to school last week, but why do I feel like I’ve gone back with them? The older these kids are getting, the more I feel like I need to pass certain tests as a parent or else flunk out.

It’s a brand-new school this year for the third year running, so I feel once again like I need to make new friends. By friends, I mean local parents who might invite the kids over for a playdate. As a working parent, I need favors from parents, and these are favors I might not be able to reciprocate that quickly. Here I am again, facing the prospect of getting to know a group of strangers and engaging in idle chit-chat. Not my strong point. (Grade: C)

Then I need to figure out the school’s policy towards homework and what the 7-year-old Chatterbox and the 4-year-old Raging Bull will be expected to do in the academic year. Today that meant going to a ‘curriculum meeting’ with their teachers. I get there two minutes late and already there are parents sitting down taking notes. Taking notes! I feel like I’ve stepped into a time machine and got out at the sixth grade.

I recognize these parents. I know their type. They’re the ones who always got straight ‘As’ and were the teacher’s pet. In other words, they were my enemy. I was the kind of kid who slouched in the back row and tried really hard to look invisible. Funnily enough, this is where I end up for the meeting, sitting as far back in the room as possible and feeling confused by the information being thrown at me. It’s a feeling I know only too well.

I have no idea what the teachers are talking about. I hear information about homework, dinosaurs, school trips, swimming lessons, PE bags, snacks, balls, jump ropes and just about everything you can imagine.

I’m not reassured by the parents who are scribbling away furiously. If one of the teachers suddenly announced a pop quiz, these parents are ready. It’s week two and already I feel like I’m failing. (Grade: D)

Then there’s the after-school activities. I’m flunking this too. The school year has caught me off guard because I spent five weeks in California, lulled into a false sense of security by the warm sun. Suddenly I’m thrust into this whirlwind of activity and I realize I’ve missed out on getting the kids into dance lessons and music lessons. Or maybe a language club.

Everything around here – in my little corner of north London – has a waiting list. London is filled with waiting lists, you see, because there are too many damn people living here and everything is just too small. So there is a waiting list for the after-school club, there’s a waiting list for ballet, waiting lists for tennis and music lessons. There’s no chance of these kids doing anything vaguely artistic or sporty because they just need to wait. (Grade: D)

And finally there’s homework. Little did I know that I would be back to doing homework, nearly 20 years after I finished my college degree and thought I’d banished those dark days of studying forever. Hell no. As a parent you are expected to do homework, because if you don’t do it, the children won’t do well in school and it will all be your fault. Of course, you could have a bookworm genius who doesn’t need help, but the average child will need cajoling and prompting. The average child will need someone to sternly watch them like a hawk or that homework will never get done. These are my children.

Don’t be fooled: a homework grade is simply a reflection of how well you have done your homework as a parent.

I’ve seen the competition. I think I’m going to have to get studying. At least I can use the cold weather as an excuse to buy new shoes.

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Blog on holiday

Shamu show

The Shamu show was not the highlight of my summer

The blog has been on vacation – and you probably haven’t noticed because the Earth keeps turning on its axis and it’s getting distinctly chilly in London. Autumnal. There was one day of raging-hot temperatures – a show of last-summer bravado – but I fear it might be truly OVER.

With that in mind, I’ll recap on summer’s last few weeks before it becomes nothing but a dusty memory in my brain:

  • We all got lice. I had one of those moments as a parent, an epiphany you might say. I discovered that parenthood will continue to surprise you, no matter how long you’ve been at it. I also learned that lice are incredibly tenacious and remarkably evolved to survive. Damn them. So I thought I had zapped them a few weeks ago, only to discover that they came back with a vengeance and attacked me. There is something distinctly surreal about having your nearly 70-year-old mother combing through your hair looking for the parasites and remarking, ‘You do have a lot of grey hair.’ Thanks, Mom.
  • I went to Sea World in San Diego. Americans just know how to do theme parks. Thanks to the sponsorship of Anheuser-Busch, I also got to enjoy a refreshing Bud Light lime. The only downside of the day, really, was the Shamu show. I couldn’t help but notice that the mammals hardly seemed happy, with their dorsal fins flopping about and a lack of space. And I also noticed that the trainers no longer get in the water with the orcas. I guess it’s just one accident or death too many. So there is no more diving off Shamu’s nose. In fact, all the orcas do nowadays is splash water at people, which seems a tad undignified if you ask me.
  • I went to the San Diego Zoo. Can’t recommend it highly enough. If you suffer a pang of guilt at the thought of sea otters and walruses performing tricks at Sea World, the SD Zoo is a reminder that not all cages are either visible or entirely bad.

    But I did like the zoo

  • I got behind the wheel of a car for the first time in over a year and learned that I hate driving just about as much as I remembered I did. If I move back to southern California, I really do have to get over this perpetual feeling that I will end up in a car crash.
  • I discovered that the top posting on my blog is none other than the one about my verruca (plantar’s wart) disappearing after 13 long, painful years. I don’t know why this has captured everyone’s imagination, but I suspect there are quite a few people with warts out there.
  • I now officially have two children in school. I’ve gone from pushing them around in a stroller to holding their hands as they cross the street to ‘Big School’. I didn’t cry, but I’m rather astounded the baby phase is over. At the time, however, it felt like it might go on forever, particularly when I was awake with a crying infant at 3am. Now I sneak into the kids’ room when they are fast asleep and look for the babies they once were in their sleeping faces.
  • I turned 40. That’s right, I’m middle aged. I now fully understand why it’s middle age, because precisely half the population appears to be younger than me. In my head I never look much older than 30, so I am always surprised when I meet someone and think how terribly old they look, only to discover that they are actually younger than me! So then I have to ask myself, do I look that old? I don’t truly know, but I have started spending almost as much time plucking grey hairs as I do on makeup. That must tell you something.
  • A friend in San Diego gave me a letter from my past. It was dated January 1997 and mentioned my arrival in London all those years ago. In the digital age we have forgotten the permanence and power of letters. Here it was, my thoughts on the city that has become my home, written on three densely packed pages. I wasn’t very impressed, but I explained how this experience in a foreign country was bound to make me a better person and how travelling opened my eyes to another world. The English Husband got mentioned as ‘one of the most decent people I have ever met’ but sadly with Girlfriend. I want to write to the previous me and tell her, you will never believe your future.
  • I saw my family for nearly six weeks and discovered that the true downside of travel is that you always have to say goodbye, whether to your vacation, your days of freedom, the people you love or your experiences. Goodbye is the hardest word.

That is the summer in a nutshell. The light is changing here in London. The harsh summer glare has been replaced with something softer and gentler. It went, as always, too fast.

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