FIVE GOLD GIFTS #4 – Panono Panoramic Ball Camera

panonoChristmas is the best time of year for those who are normally too sensible to throw away their money on cheap electrical gadgets.

The Panono Panoramic Ball Camera is neither a gimmick, nor is it cheap or throwaway… even if it can be thrown and when it is, takes panoramic images using 36 embedded camera modules at various angles. This produces a 360° spherical spectrum, composed of 36 joined pictures.

The camera costs $549, a ‘premium’ Christmas present, not one for the stocking unless you happen to be in the higher echelons of our unbalanced capitalist society. But if you have the budget and you like unusual pictures, this is one for YOU.

FIVE GOLD GIFTS #3 – Maui Jim Waterways

WaterwaysAt first look, the European winter isn’t the best time to buy sunglasses, either as a present or for a personal style statement, but think again.

Think of the time between Christmas and New Year, let’s call it the seasonal perineum, the awkward gap between Christmas’s genitalia and the New Year’s arsehole, an unknown place where anything could happen.

Those long nights of excess and those mornings of very bright sunshine; the perfect time to cover your eyes… and the Maui Jim Waterways are the nuts. While the name itself may sound like it is trying to describe the aforesaid perineum, these sunglasses are still a recommended buy.

Depending on good your search skills are, price is between £109 and £140, but this is a better link than most. This is probably the most emotive review I’ve ever made, now I can’t stop thinking about my perineum.

FIVE GOLD… GIFTS #2 – EnerPlex Packr

EnerPlex_PackrNew to the UK this winter, after huge success in the US, the EnerPlex Packr is a ‘solar-integrated’ backpack that allows travellers and trekkers to charge up their smartphone when away from conventional charging stations.

In good sunlight, its three-watt solar panel can power up most smartphones in less than five hours and can charge almost any portable USB enabled device. Moreover, the backpack looks cool and will inevitably be a subject of discussion on the trek to Annapurna or at a hipster’s inter-city meeting point.

The Packr is available in orange, green and black with a SRP of £79.99, a reasonable price and one that middle-class parents may see as a secondary present, but extended family members may see as a primary one.

FIVE GOLD… GIFTS #1 Madonna by Caroline Sullivan

madonnaThis is the first in a series of five recommended gifts for Christmas, as might be alluded to by the highly intelligent pun in the headline.

This book, retailing at £25, is a story of Madonna’s career on the 30th anniversary of her Like A Virgin album* and is told in pictures, which should give you an idea of the market it is targeted at; that of the coffee table decoration.

While Madonna’s recent pictures for a magazine show a 50-year-old woman in full ‘mammorial’ splendour, this is a book for people (women) who see Madonna as an icon and inspiring figure.

Documented by New York music journalist Caroline Sullivan, this is the type of gift men should buy for their partners, but one that is unlikely to interest them too much… it’s not that TYPE of book. Good value at twenty-five quid though.

* A collection of songs, usually recorded around the same time that alluded to the record album cover that included the songs, fused onto a round piece of plastic known as a vinyl record

Books for Christmas

We’re approaching peak panic-buying time. It’s getting to the time of year where every online purchase elicits a chill as you wonder if something’s going to hit your letterbox (or more like the sorting office) in time.

With that in mind, here are some of the best books I’ve read this year. There’s still time to order online or (better yet) go to your local bookshop and buy a copy.

How to build a billion dollar app by George Berkowski – I have to admit, the title of this book stopped me from buying it for a few weeks. It sounded a little bit too evangelical. The reality is that this is a brilliant book. Berkowski is one of the people behind the global growth of Hailo, so he knows what he’s talking about. Full of useful interviews, interesting tidbits and step by step guides to specific stages that people will hit as they build an app based business, this is an essential read for anyone who thinks that 2015 will be the year they build the next Uber.

Hooked by Nir Eyal – probably my favourite book of the year if I’m honest. This ties in nicely with Berkowski’s book – it’s all about creating habit-forming products, which is the quickest way to get to your billion dollar app valuation. There are tons of insights that I can guarantee will help make your idea or app better. Eyal makes brilliant use of case studies to illustrate his point. There’s also workbooks and tons of online resources behind the book that make it even more useful. A must read – even if you can’t be arsed starting an app but do want to understand the behind the scenes stuff that brings you back to Pinterest or Instagram over and over again.

Don’t call it that by Eli Altman – names matter. This may come as no surprise to you, but you’d be amazed at how frequently people choose almost incomprehensibly shit names for their companies. This book is a step by step guide to picking a name, finding out if it’s available, testing it in the real world and more. It’s also funny, which always helps.

Dataclysm by Christian Rudder – people talk a lot about big data, but it’s never entirely clear if anyone knows what it means. This book is not entirely about big data, but it is about the data we expose about ourselves – whether intentionally or inadvertently. It’s packed with brilliant stats and case studies. It can make for slightly depressing reading if you’re single, but don’t let that put you off…I loved it.

Startup Rising by Christopher M. Schroeder – I do quite a lot of work across the MENA region and the sheer potential that exists there never ceases to amaze me. Schroeder’s book is a brilliant examination of the characters and businesses that are building companies and ecosystems across the region. Fascinating stuff regardless of whether or not you’ve spent time in that part of the world.

No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald – no matter what you think of Edward Snowden’s revelations, the details of how the story broke are fascinating. Greenwald’s book is as compelling as any thriller I’ve read in the last few years. The fact that it’s true just makes it all the more chilling.

Spam Nation by Brian Krebs – spam is a universal plague. Krebs is one of the best writers on cyber-security out there. This book introduces us to some of the characters (mainly Russian) who populate the incredibly shady world of spam. Worth reading if you’ve always wondered where those ads for Cialis come from…

A few others that I’ve already reviewed on these pages – the Dark Net is an incredible look at the obscure and hidden highways and byways of the Internet. Your Brain on Porn is a grim read about the effect that always-on, always available porn is having on people. The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz is a brilliant read about the less glamorous but no less important parts of business – like failure, firing people and more. Made With walks a similar road to Startup Rising – it looks at some of the emerging business across the ‘Interland’ – from Morocco to Indonesia.

In the interest of not being seen purely as some sort of tech/business book reading automaton, it’s also important to flag a few others. Thirty one nil by James Montague is a journey through the world of football’s outsiders. It’s also one of the best football books I’ve read in a very, very long time. Age of Ambition is a compelling look at fortune, truth and faith in the New China. Heaven’s Bankers is a complex, occasionally dense but ultimately rewarding book about Islamic finance. A slightly different side of Dubai is on view in Joseph O’Neill’s The Dog – occsaionally cringe worthy, frequently unbelievable and a quite remarkable skewering of life in the Vegas of the Middle East. Here are the young men is one of the best debut novels I’ve read in quite a while – think American Psycho set amongst a group of middle class, suburban Dublin teens. Amazing. Lastly, City of Lies of a beautifully written book about the Tehran we rarely (if ever) hear anything about in the mainstream media.

If you pick up any of these and enjoy/love/hate them, let me know! Happy reading.