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Two Perfect Christmas Cocktails for the Holidays

Christmas Old Fashioned Cocktail

With the peak festive season fast approaching I set about creating the perfect two cocktails to serve at my house this Christmas.

Based on a few ingredients you may well have lying around, these are both classics with a seasonal twist – the Christmas Old Fashioned and the Port Martini.

Once you’re done enjoying some fine drinks with friends, don’t forget that you can now use pocket breathalysers to keep track of your condition, as I looked at in my review for Gadget Buddy, head on over to their site to check it out 🙂

Note on measures: roughly speaking 1 oz = 30 ml = 1 shot

Christmas Old Fashioned



2 oz dark rum
¾ oz tawny port
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
1/3 oz sugar syrup
Maraschino cherries


Stir the liquid ingredients with ice in a mixing glass if you have one, if not stir in a tumbler. Old Fashioneds are renowned for their need to be stirred properly. Stir for a full minute to ensure dilution and cooling. Fill your Old Fashioned glass (a rocks glass or tumbler is perfect) with ice and strain the mixture in. Top up with ice if possible. Spear 3 cherries with a cocktail stick and rest on the rim.


Port Martini

Our second Christmas-themed cocktail is another classic with a yuletide twist. The vodka martini gets a burst of warm, ruby flavours from a good port, and a wonderfully spicy nose from the floating star anise. This is a fantastic drink but dangerously easy to slurp and very strong!



2 oz vodka
1 oz tawny port
1 star anise


Fill a cocktail shaker 2/3 with ice and pour in your liquid ingredients. If you’ve ever wondered which order to pour your ingredients in, many bartenders agree that they go in order of expense, cheapest first, so if you spoil it for any reason you’re least likely to waste the expensive booze! For this cocktail that very much depends on how much you splashed out on each ingredient.
Shake for half a minute until the shaker starts to frost on the outside and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Gently float a star anise on the surface and serve.


Abbey Road with Alan Parsons

Vintage Mixing Desk at Abbey Road Studios, London

This weekend I went along to Abbey Road in London, the world’s most famous recording studio, to attend a talk by Alan Parsons. As a producer and audio engineer he’s worked on some of the facility’s most legendary output including work by The Beatles and Pink Floyd, before becoming an artist in his own right.


Being something of a music production geek (I used to teach music technology) I had to go and see inside the famous Studio 2 where The Beatles recorded most of their work.

As well as getting the chance to see some pretty cool vintage equipment, all of which could do less than a Smartwatch app today, they had some famous instruments out including the Mrs Mills piano – a Steinway Vertegrand from 1905 used by countless artists and which can be heard on many Beatles tracks. I couldn’t help but play a couple of cheeky chords on its hallowed ivories 😉


Alan shared some great stories, which were a fascinating glimpse into working life there during the 60s and 70s, and explained the various roles he played in now classic albums.


By far the highlight of the evening was him talking through Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon whilst multi-tracking it through one of the vintage desks. Bringing up different parts in the mix and explaining them. He had to get the band’s permission to do this for us, as he was essentially remixing the tracks live. It gave the audience a unique glimpse into a seminal rock album, which was fascinating even if like me you weren’t too familiar with it.


Among the various grey boxes on show – it must look pretty nerdy to the untrained eye – was one of Abbey Road’s eight Studer J37 four-track tape recorders. These were used to record albums such as Sgt Pepper, with the more complex arrangements requiring them to have several machines bouncing down to each other to create more tracks. How this compares with modern software is mind-blowing, and yet producers here still achieved amazing results with such primitive hardware.


Another classic instrument was this Hammond RT-3 organ, which makes some incredible sounds and features on plenty of Beatles and Pink Floyd tracks.


A mixing desk created by EMI, back in the day when record labels were also developers of recording technology. This is the TG12345 Mk2, meaning it was the second in a line of four, so in use from the late 60s until the mid 80s. Alan used this to multi-track DSotM for us.


Loved this photo of four excited Liverpool lads posed against that very wall for a photo. Amazing that they spent their career working in this room, evolving from a Mersey beat foursome to the biggest and most influential band ever.


Overall it was really worthwhile, and I’d definitely recommend going to an event here if you get the chance (they don’t happen often). It’s made me go away and re-assess prog rock classics from Alan Parsons, Pink Floyd and the like with fresh, less dismissive, ears. I get why people worship this place too. There’s something undeniably special about being in a specific room where era-defining art was conceived and produced, and where modern heroes came to work each day.


The Podcast Renaissance Continues: What You Should Be Listening To


It looked for a while that podcasting was on its way out along with the now-discontinued iPod it was named after, but thanks to factors such as Serial, the phenomenally popular podcast which follows Sarah Koenig’s re-examination of a Baltimore murder trial, and the fact that more people are streaming web audio in their cars, the online audio format is seeing something of a resurgence. Serial has set new records for podcasting and it can only be bringing more listeners to podcasts. Also, it’s rumoured that Spotify will soon include them in its product. A record 15% of Americans now say they’ve listened to a podcast in the last month, and Google Trends shows search results for ‘podcast’ are at their highest level since January 2007!

So, time to get involved. Here are the podcasts you need to be listening to:

About A Minute – an interesting interview, lasting about a minute

The Bugle – John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman give their unique, satirical take on the world’s events

TED Talks – presentations from inspirational people

The Godless Spellchecker – an atheist explores spirituality and religion through interviews

Sodajerker on Songwriting – exploring the craft of songwriting through interviews with the very best

Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything – modern human stories

99% Invisible – design and culture

Radiolab – great radio documentaries

The Moth – true stories, well told

Reply All – exploring the interweb

Freakonomics Radio – as in the books, a look at how we could optimise society

Documentary on One by RTE – archive of radio documentaries

Longform – a look into non-fiction writing through interviews

On Being – what does it mean to be human?

And here are some of the best BBC Radio 4 shows as podcasts. Even the ones that might sound boring are brilliant due to R4’s world-class presenters and production:

The Moral Maze – exploring moral questions in a classic format

Thinking Allowed – on society and how we live today

The Digital Human – how we live with technology

On The Hour – ridiculous spoof radio spots from Chris Morris

A History Of Ideas – ethics, law and philosophy

The Bottom Line – business with Evan Davies

More Or Less: Behind The Stats – tearing apart stats reported in the news

The Infinite Monkey Cage – great balance between humour and hard science by Brian Cox and Robin Ince

Any podcasts you love not listed? Tell me in the comments!


8 Things I Realised After Owning the Apple Watch


The Watch is essentially an iPhone accessory

Whilst you’re made aware that you should only buy this product if you’re an iPhone owner, when you start using it you find that it is essentially a Bluetooth accessory, albeit a very fancy and clever one. It must be near to your phone to do pretty much anything except tell the time, listen to any music you’ve loaded onto the watch (up to 1GB, though this doesn’t include streaming music such as Spotify) and check health stats. It’s obvious why Apple made this compromise, because for the watch to have its own internet connection and more processing power it would have to be unwearably huge.

But it’s not an iPhone on your wrist

Whilst it’s an extension of your iPhone it’s a totally different device with different uses. It is not, for instance, at all useful for consuming content. Apps like Instagram, Digg or Guardian quickly go in the bin (though the latter’s alerts are useful). This is all about quick access to the most boiled down information and notifications. Once you realise this you go searching for apps you never thought about needing before…

You discover the App Store all over again

The apps you use on your phone most probably aren’t the ones you’ll use on your Watch. Your wrist is no place for the Facebook feed, Instagram, blog feeds or even Twitter. You start to want the essential data – minutes until next train home, miles cycled this week, time of high tide today, next calendar event, number of visitors to your site today etc, as well as one-tap utilities. There are great apps like Numerous which can help pull numbers from all over the place, as well as the IFTTT apps which allow you to create buttons to do all kinds of stuff from warming up your house to sending a map of your location to your partner instantly.

Some of the big apps are a disappointment

Another reason to go hunting in the App Store is that many of the apps you’re familiar with haven’t done a great job of extending their offering to your wrist. To be fair that is because no-one really knows how we’ll ultimately use this new device, and possibly some were rushed, but Twitter for instance shows either Top Trends or Timeline. The format and layout is fine but is that what you really want on your wrist? Would interactions be more important? The Apple apps are mostly fine but you’ll likely find better alternatives in the App Store such as Dark Sky’s superior weather app with brilliantly useful forecasts.

You need some time to properly set it up

Out of the box the watch is great. It pairs with your iPhone and automatically loads Watch extensions for any apps on your phone. However, for most users who have a lot of iPhone apps this causes instant bloat of the Watch homescreen, glances and notifications. You have to rethink how you want those apps to talk to you, and more fundamentally what information you actually want on your wrist. It took me hours and mostly involved turning off existing iPhone apps, trying new apps for different things and endlessly tweaking the settings using the Apple Watch app on my iPhone.

You’ll likely reactivate notifications

If, like me, you’ve switched all notifications off for all but the crucial apps (Phone, Twitter and WhatsApp for me), you’re likely to re-activate some of those for the Watch. Whilst I’m generally against being nagged by technology I’m currently enjoying being told about impending rain showers, breaking news and travel disruptions. Fortunately you can set different notification rules between your iPhone and Watch using the Apple Watch iPhone app.

This is a classic first version of a new Apple product

Using the Apple Watch it’s pretty easy to see where the improvements will come in future versions. They simply revolve around speed, reliance on iPhone and possibly screen resolution. The first two are related because everything on the Watch that relies on the web takes a few seconds to use your iPhone’s connection and possibly runs the app in the background on your phone to process that information. I also suspect the Watch isn’t packing a huge amount of CPU or RAM. If it was a standalone device everything would be quicker and there would of course be a much larger market for it outside of iPhone users. The screen resolution is already impressive but will no doubt be something they can boast about raising next year.

Apps hold the key to this being a truly mainstream product

Now it’s over to app developers to experiment, listen to users and create highly useful snippets of functionality from their iPhone apps. There are already thousands of compatible apps, but it will take time for them to be refined in response to how we use them.

But will the Watch endure?

With this new product line, Apple could be guilty of solving a problem we never had, which is usually a recipe for a fad. My personal opinion is that this is just early days, and the mainstream will start to care about Apple Watch once there are more apps and genuinely useful reasons to have it. Wearable technology and voice-activated cloud intelligence like Siri are advancing and converging fast. What our ’smart’ future looks like is unclear, but only by getting products like Watch to market can Apple find out, and have a chance of leading the smart revolution.


Am I Right Or Left Wing?


The 7th May general election is growing near, but people in the UK are struggling to get behind any of the leaders due to the depressing fact that normal people seemingly don’t get into politics.

So it’s likely to come down to which party’s wavelength you’re generally on, and whether you’re right-wing or left-wing. Here’s a great visualisation from Information Is Beautiful which may help clarify which direction you swing in.


So are you right wing or left wing?

In the UK the former means you should vote Conservative, or to go further to the right, UKIP. The latter leaning would see you voting for Labour, or to go a little further to the left, the Green Party. The Lib Dems are mostly left-wing with some right-wing policies too.

My personal leaning is to the left, simply because I believe that a society’s ultimate purpose is to make its people as happy as possible. For me the left-right argument is much like the dilemma many of us face personally. Do I want to be successful and rich? Or do I want to be happy, even if that means not being the best at everything and having lots of money. Do I really care if Britain has the best economy or defence on the planet? Or do I want to see a doctor when I need and know that people less fortunate than me are being taken care of?

Either way, get out and vote on 7th May. Despite what people like Russell Brand say, unless we all get more engaged with politics the current leaders are the best we’ll ever have, and deserve.


Strap In: Smartwatch and Virtual Reality Wars About To Kick Off, Will Either Succeed?


As this year’s Mobile World Congress draws to a close, the big takeaways from Barcelona’s annual tech-fest are:

  • smartphones have all gotten a little better, again
  • smartwatches are landing in a big way this summer
  • VR is going to be mainstream by Spring 2016

Whilst the likes of Samsung – with the slick new Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge – and HTC with their One M9 have done a decent job of bringing improved phones to the market, mainstream wearable tech – products that the majority will actually buy – is what’s getting everyone inside Fira Gran Via really excited.

The smartwatch going mainstream is largely due to Apple’s Watch hitting the market this April. As with any technology, Apple getting involved adds instant legitimacy and vastly raises the prospect of mainstream adoption due to their superior design of hardware and software, launched with seductively-crafted marketing. But can the smartwatch become more than just a notification platform for your phone, with some health tracking thrown in? To really break smartwatches Apple needs to:

  • give developers a platform to do more than add notifications to existing services or apps
  • look beyond health, which is only of interest to health geeks for now at least
  • have battery life that doesn’t pale in comparison to Pebble’s 10 days
  • create a watch that feels as good to wear as a luxury watch, after all $350 is a lot for a poorly put together accessory
  • make Siri work for his/her money – the wrist could be where Siri becomes truly useful and widely adopted by the majority, so Apple must nail the integration

Unfortunately, there are still way more reasons for Apple Watch and the whole smartwatch category to ultimately fail. The most challenging one is that even the cult of Cupertino will struggle to convince the average smartphone user they need a fancy watch. Smartphones and tablets play movies, TV, games and offer a full internet experience. We were doing all that stuff when those new touchscreen devices came along so were happy to sate our existing appetite on a high quality, portable platform. The smartwatch however requires us to adopt totally new behaviours, and history shows we’re not so great at that. It will take a killer app or piece of functionality to compel the masses to buy one, and what that is is anyone’s guess right now.

Virtual Reality

Like smartwatches, VR headsets are coming to the market heavily tied to specific platforms. The main players are the Vive by HTC and Valve, Samsung’s Gear VR, Project Morpheus for Sony Playstation and of course the Oculus Rift, the crowdfunded headset now owned by Facebook that got us interested in VR all over again. Then there is a second tier of highly affordable headsets into which you simply slot your phone and run compatible apps, a category not to be dismissed due to its accessibility and backing by Google. Their Cardboard prototype has inspired a slew of similar products including its own collaboration with Mattel to create the retro View-Master, a 21st century redux of the popular 3D slide-viewer we loved as kids.

Whilst comparisons with 3D TV are probably unfair – VR clearly has more consumer and industrial uses – the big question that will always hang over any new technology is why? Why do I need to spend money to get this? Why do I need to change the way I do stuff? Why should I convince all my friends this is the best thing ever so they get on board and share the benefits with me? So many questions, but think about how easily the iPhone answered all those and ushered in the smartphone era, and then think how impossible it is to find an answer when they are asked of 3D or curved TV. Can VR answer these? Quite possibly, and the winner of the battle for VR supremacy is likely to be one who is already in our home, delivering content we love. That’s why it may well be Sony Playstation who have the most users of VR by Christmas 2016, with the rest battling it out for PC gamers’ hard-earned cash, likely a larger but more fragmented and competitive market.


I Took a Month Off Social Media: 7 Things I Found Out


Today I’ve started using social media again after a month-long hiatus. It wasn’t a January detox thing, more just that I got busy writing a book, realised I’d been absent from Twitter, Instagram et al for a while and decided to round it up to a month and see what the effect on my personal, social, professional lives were.

1. I got lots of stuff done

The obvious outcome, but it was having lots to do that caused my hiatus in the first place. Having to burn through stuff every day meant everything else became deprioritised, and having social media pages open soon felt counter-productive.

2. But I still found ways to procrastinate

When researching stuff it’s so hard not to get lost down rabbit holes of fascinating yet useless information. Clicking through news articles, Wikipedia and Google Books can wipe an hour out before you know it. These are ultimately good rabbit holes though, rich with knowledge. For instance, when researching cognac (all will become clear why soon!) I read all about the phylloxera epidemic. Did you know that almost all European vineyards were wiped out in the late nineteenth century by an accidentally imported aphid from America? The only solution was grafting resistant American vine roots onto European ones and consequently there are almost no genuinely ‘Old World’ wines. Pretty useless info but one of many interesting passages in recent history which I lost hours to whilst researching this book.

3. I felt less connected to people

Much as I loved being left alone to get on with stuff, I started to feel further from people. I realised that I have several acquaintances (ex workmates and the like) who I rarely, if ever see face-to-face. But because we like and comment on each other’s online stuff, it feels just as real a friendship as if we regularly bumped into each other. Some people are really curmudgeonly about this aspect of social media. But what the “if I want to speak to someone I pick up the phone” brigade forget is that I would never pick up the phone to these acquaintances, and sadly, without social media we would fade into each other’s past.

4. I ended up switching off all notifications

To really switch off from social media you have to switch off notifications on your computer and phone. And once you’ve silenced social you may as well stop that iPhone game from telling you when new levels are available and all the other useless distractions we’re subject to, including email. Whether having a coffee with a friend or trying to write so many hundred words before dinner, just doing one thing without distraction felt so good and calm. Try it, it’s pretty liberating to be allowed to forget it all.

5. How much I had to talk about with friends didn’t change

I’ve heard a lot of social media skeptics say that the newsfeed robs you of conversation when you meet friends because you know all about their life already. I think that’s totally untrue and in fact the opposite is more likely. Seeing a few photos from your Italy trip is more likely to spark a conversation rather than negate the need for one.

6. No-one missed me

I know, believe it or not, not one single person messaged me to see if I was still alive, or alright. Obviously I’d seen and talked to the people I know best, but it puts your contribution to the wider world in perspective when you realise that tweets about your everyday life aren’t particularly important. I’ve always been pretty keen on giving value in my content, like useful links and pretty images, but the last month has hopefully made me step up my game!

7. Overall, I still think social media is a great thing

We knew that anyway, but standing back for a second makes us realise that just as the power of books can’t be dismissed by quoting the existence of dross like – How to Poo on a Date: The Lovers Guide to Toilet  ,Etiquette, the power of the open internet cannot simply be brushed off with a mention of the pointlessness of Buzzfeed and lolcats. It has opened up previously unthinkable channels for discovering art, connecting with almost half the world’s population, giving a voice to us all and hopefully one day facilitating the prevail of reason and peace.

So yeah, good to be back 🙂


Your Weekly Social Media Diet

So many social media sites, so little time. This is my plan for keeping on top of it all, and getting more out of your social media life.


Breakfast – catch up and schedule

Get the latest on what’s happening and find shareable content with Digg Reader for news and blogs, YouTrends for the latest trending videos, Reddit for trending funnies and Twitter for the big conversations globally or in your area. Instantly share the most interesting stuff using Buffer (and its brilliant Chrome plugin), which staggers your updates throughout the day. This keeps your Twitter and Facebook filled with good content, taking the pressure off in case you have a busy day. 

Lunch – respond and engage

This is when everyone jumps on Facebook and Twitter so a good time to check in on the ‘big two’. Use TweetDeck to view Twitter and respond to  engagement from your Buffered posts – thank any retweets and mentions with replies or favorites. Then have a scan for any recent developments worth commenting on or adding to your Buffer.

As you’re probably at a computer, this is also a great time to show some love on Pinterest, trawling through your feed to find great images to like and re-pin.

Dinner – longer reads

Chances are you’re in the majority that have flirted with Google+ but don’t use it regularly. I find that people get great value out of it once they start, so get the ball rolling by posting something and actively joining a conversation in a Community relevant to you or on your timeline, every afternoon. It’s a heavily American audience so early evening is a good time to start posting if you’re in UK/Europe.

This time is also when a lot of commuters are bored on the train, reading Twitter, so your Buffer should have a few scheduled slots between 5pm and 7pm. A good time to post links to well-written content (like the best stuff on Medium, for example)

Supper – prime time conversations

The peak of social media traffic in the week is always at around 8pm, in line with TV’s prime time. Conversation on Twitter is largely driven by real-time conversation around TV, so if you’re watching a popular show get tweeting about it with the hashtag, make any witty observations and retweet other people’s. Share relevant bite-sized content on the topic such as memes – as opposed to long blogs or videos.

If you’re really keen, now is a good time to put a few things in your Buffer so you have content going out to followers in other time zones while you sleep.


It goes without saying you should try to maintain your weekday activity where possible, especially the ‘breakfast’ and ‘supper’ ones, but here are some weekend-specific to-dos:

Saturday – capture your moments

Typically the quietest day in social media as people spend the least time at screens on Saturdays, instead opting for shopping, seeing friends and doing stuff around the house. This is however when you’re likely to do your most interesting stuff so take lots of pictures with your phone’s camera app, and then Instagram them both on the day and later. Think of your fun weekend activities as opportunities to capture photos for use throughout the week.

Sunday – putting time into bigger content pieces

In opposition to Saturday, Sunday is traditionally the busiest day online, particularly in the mid-afternoon post-lunch lull. It’s when the most people are online, they have the most time and are most relaxed – meaning the best content to put out here is long-form content such as blogs, articles and videos. It’s also when you have the most time to properly produce and promote it.
Write a blog post or record your video blog or podcast in the morning, post it in the afternoon and then take the time to promote it across all your platforms. Beyond putting links with great hooks such as questions or counter-intuitive statements (e.g. Why Drinking is Good For You, Could Drinking Really Be Healthy?) generate conversation where possible through reaching out to passion centres of the topic e.g. tweet at influential people in that sphere asking them what they think, go to the Google+ Community or sub-Reddit and ask people there what they think. Remember to not take a promotional tone, but a human and conversational one.

Weekly Tasks

Twitter – follow new people, @mention influencers and keep an eye on your Buffer analytics to learn what’s working and what’s not. Use ManageFlitter to find new people to follow and clean out your Following list if bloated.

Blog – at least one post per week, but always as many as you can manage. Use Google Analytics to see what worked and where traffic is coming from.

Pinterest – find new boards and people to follow to keep your feed fresh. Pin cool stuff from around the web (sites like Tumblr, FFFFOUND!, editorial and interest-specific sites).

Periodical Tasks

Review your blog theme and any widgets you’re using. Is everything up-to-date? Is your bio still true or relevant across all networks? Do you still have links to sites you’ve abandoned?

Use ManageFlitter or Klout to chart your growth on Twitter and in social media over the year.

Most of all, have fun and enjoy it. I don’t get round to all of the above but now I’ve actually written it down in this post I’m going to start trying! Let me know any useful habits of yours in the comments below!