These stunning—but pricey—sundials prove that time is money

“I make sculptures which happen to tell the time,” says David Harber, a teddy bear–like former TV cameraman who found himself down on his luck a while ago, but has now lucked out making sundials for the rich and famous.

Hollywood stars and Silicon Valley titans are among those clamoring to own Harber’s re-creations of one of the oldest of technologies. They are hand-built and personalized in an ever expanding workshop in the English countryside near Oxford, where those amused by the weather might think making rain dials would be a more likely local industry.

Around half of Harber’s sundials, as well as his more modernist garden statuary, sell in the U.S. and have lately been on display on the roof terrace of the Decoration & Design Building on Third Avenue in Manhattan.

To find that sundials are booming is to discover a world you thought must have died with the invention of the clock. Yet this is high analog technology with roots thousands of years old, and a matching vocabulary which would delight Scrabble players: “colures,” “Ptolemaic,” “compages,” and “gnomon” are all part of sundial talk.

Most of Harber’s sundials are what are known as “armillary spheres,” frameworks of rings representing the heavens around Earth. Given the mind-bending math in the design and orientation, correct to a fraction of an inch, an armillary is far more accurate—to a couple of minutes—than standard dials you can pick up in garden centers or on Amazon.

How Harber came to be in the sundial business is a study in good timing. He had run out of work and money and was renting a cottage in Oxfordshire for which he had no way of paying the rent. Sitting outside one day, he was attempting to make an armillary, as something to do with some scrap metal, while contemplating moving into his car with his infant daughter.

Along the road, by chance, according to Harber’s account, came the actor Jeremy Irons, who saw the device and asked if he could buy it. Irons agreed to pay the rent on Harber’s home for two months, and the deal was done. He also suggested Harber could make a living selling them. Irons’s recollection is a little different, but the same in essence.

The next buyer, as Harber recalls, was Dame Judi Dench. Thirty years later, a lot of Harber’s clients require him to sign NDAs, and the company has around 40 staff to run what was originally a one-man artisanal business. Spookily, when the company was well established, Harber discovered that, way back, there had been renowned sundial-makers in his family.

He accepts special commissions—he’s still waiting for someone to splash out on a giant sundial accurate to a few seconds, and he says he could do it. Prices for his regular work range from $15,000 to close to $100,000.

“Our sundials are the perfect marriage of art and science,” Harber tells Air Mail over lunch—roast pheasant—in a local pub. “If you have everything you need in life, to then acquire something so elemental and honest and simple is hugely exciting.”

The Garmin Varia RCT715 Bike Light

The Garmin Varia RCT715 Radar Camera Tail Light, from $200.

A bike light so bright it will do everything but blind the person behind you

“See and be seen” is a wise and time-honored maxim for cyclists, never more so than now, when so many drivers are either careless or seemingly intent on mowing down bike riders.

So this glorified rear cycle light from the Swiss-American navigation-and-fitness-gadget-meisters Garmin is quite the revelation compared to the simple bike lights of the past.

Garmin’s Varia Radar Tail Light RTL515 isn’t just a beacon bright enough to be seen in daylight from up to a mile away—it’s also a radar-enabled device, which, when connected to a smartphone mounted on your handlebar, is like having eyes in the back of your helmet. Anything approaching you from as far as 150 yards sets off visual and audible alerts.

Go for the $400 camera version of the light and you also get continuous recording of the scene behind you, with footage permanently saved if an accident is detected.

With all functions going—camera, taillight (in flashing day mode), and radar—expect 16 hours’ battery life per charge.

The Zvox AV52 Headphones

The Zvox AV52 headphones, $79.99.

Voice-enhancing cans that will help you pump up the volume

Zvox is a small, Massachusetts-based audio brand your columnist has been following since discovering them a few years ago, at the Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas. For a decade, the company, as founder Tom Hannaher puts it, has been “responding to a growing crisis of incomprehensible TV dialogue.”

More recently, Zvox came up with a feature called AccuVoice, which deploys technology derived from hearing aids to lift and enhance human voices above the murk of background noise. Included originally in television soundbars, AccuVoice is something close to a disruptive technology because it seems to be a matter of pride for movie- and TV-drama directors to render speech barely intelligible by anyone over 40.

People across the world swear by their Zvox soundbars, which turn muffled speech into sound that’s arguably a little harsh but gloriously audible. Now Zvox is migrating AccuVoice into headphones.

Their new AV52 is the second iteration of AccuVoice headphones, and combines noise-canceling and voice-enhancing technologies. These rather comfortable headphones can be used wirelessly with Bluetooth, or used wired, which make them superb for in-flight use or plugging into the television at home. They also have a noise-canceling microphone, which makes conference or Zoom calls from a loud office or coffee shop a lot easier for both you and others on the call.

The TP-Link Tapo P110 Smart Plug

The TP-Link Tapo P110 Smart Plug, $14.99.

For those who want to dip a toe into the smarthome pool but aren’t ready for full automation

This column tends to be somewhere between cautious and downright skeptical when it comes to smarthome technology. It usually seems to be a lot of pain for little gain, and is often plain dumb.

Your columnist used to see this mild atavism as a character flaw, until finding himself discussing his new A.I.-powered Google Nest thermostat installation with one of the biggest names in artificial intelligence.

“Nest is great,” the oracle said, “so long as you turn off the A.I. crap. People just don’t live the kind of regular patterns A.I. can understand.”

Too true, we feel. And yet even the most Luddite will occasionally feel the need for something that is truly a smarthome gizmo. Say, for example, you have an electric heater, a fan, an air purifier, or a particular light you want to be able to turn on and off from afar.

You don’t want a whole smarthome drama, but wouldn’t it be something to be able to go into a phone app when you’re out, and turn on just that one appliance?

Complicated? Expensive? It would once have been both, but now this laughably inexpensive—as in $15—smartplug from Tapo, part of smarthome-equipment specialists TP-Link, can do exactly what you want. You can control the Tapo P110 by Wi-Fi or Bluetooth using the associated Tapo app, and a single plug can handle an appliance up to three kilowatts.

Who knows? Once you’re used to it, you may even find yourself thinking it would be more convenient, still, to voice-control it using Alexa or her good friends Siri or Google Assistant. It will work with all of them.

Based in London and New York, AIR MAIL’s tech columnist, Jonathan Margolis, spent more than two decades as a technology writer for the Financial Times. He is also the author of A Brief History of Tomorrow, a book on the history of futurology