Guide to becoming a chocoholic

I was catching up with some recent Desert Island Discs episodes and the most recent conversation was with Julie Bentley. Ms Bentley is the Chief Executive of the Guide Association and she spent much of the talk with host Kirsty Young defending the concept of Girl Guides. Are they still relevant? Should they be modernising and discussing sex education as they apparently have recently, or rather preserving the youth of today?

I know that if I was a kid now, I probably wouldn’t give the Girl Guides, or Girlguiding as it has been rebranded, a second look because there’s just so much else to do out there. The only part of it that seems particularly interesting anymore is the badges, because hey, getting badges is part of what modern life is all about. Most of the health apps I’ve been testing recently give badges for achievements, and Playstation have an entire eco-system surrounding tasks and trophies for doing particular things in each game.

So, this is an early start for getting kids into that way of life. The podcast made me think about badges, and Bentley discussed how they have been updated for a more modern participant. Instead of homemaker, there’s independent living. Instead of sewing, there is craft. That makes sense to me. The world is changing, and you can’t keep people coming back with birdspotting, insect collecting, etc.

I had a quick look at the badges available to budding collectors these days and whilst many of them look reasonable and actually quite interesting, I was stunned at one in particular. Chocolate. Firstly, chocolate is not a skill. Secondly, is this really the kind of thing the youth of today are interested in? Clearly any sensible person enjoys a bit of chocolate here and there, but how deep do you want to get with your Dairy Milk? The tasks to get this badge are surely not what any chocoholic is going to be interested in.

Chocolate

  1. Find out about the history of chocolate, including how it first came to the UK. Act out the story with your Patrol.

  2. Find out about fair trade chocolate products. Compare a fair trade bar with an ordinary bar. How do they compare on price, packaging and taste?

  3. Do a Patrol or family survey. Keep a record of how much chocolate everyone eats during one week. Discuss your results with your Patrol. What conclusions can you draw?

  4. Design a wrapper for a 21st century chocolate bar. Invent its name as well as its design. Draw out your design or make a mock chocolate bar.

  5. Set up a tasting session for your Patrol to try a variety of chocolate products, eg chocolate drinks, bars, mousses or biscuits.

  6. Make at least two of the following using chocolate: ribbons, curls, leaves, baskets, writing, boxes, cut-outs, ganache.

  7. Make up a game using chocolates and play it with your Patrol.

  8. Make a selection of sweets using melted chocolate. Work out how much they cost and compare the price to bought chocolates.

Actually there are a few skills in there that I can see would be useful. Researching. Crafting. Analysing the market. Eating chocolate. Well, maybe not that last one. Is the real trick here that there are useful things hidden behind a simplified idea? Kids wouldn’t want to do a “sweets market research and analysis” badge, but they may be more tempted to sew a chocolate bar on their shoulder?

A similar worrying badge is Party Planner which has only three tasks – choose a theme, plan a party, make stuff for the party. Again, this seems on the surface to be a vague and useless badge, but there are organisational, social and crafty skills required.

So, is this just one of those things where a grown up looks nostalgically back at how things used to be and marvels at how they are now? Or is it a real society change that means the badges have to be bright and colourful and simplistic on the surface, almost tricking people into the real tasks underneath?

I guess it’s probably a bit of both.

The hype around Serial

If you listen to podcasts in any capacity, you're unlikely to have missed hearing about the new spin-off from This American Life called Serial. It's a documentary series focusing on one story and following it for as long as it takes, rather than the multi-storied This American Life style episodes. And whereas TAL is all about the radio with podcasts attached on the side, Serial is designed to be a podcast first and foremost - variable lengths, both in individual episodes and potentially seasons as well.

The hype that surrounds this podcast has been absolutely staggering. There are podcasts about the podcast, spoilerific and spoiler-free. There are blogs reviewing and highlighting the facts from each episode. There are discussion forums and endless debates about the rights and wrongs, and my Twitter stream has been filled with people literally counting the days until the next episode arrives.

I listened to the first seven episodes and thought it was good. The editing and production values are fantastic, the storytelling captivating and the presenter inquisitive and pretty well-balanced, considering the subject matter.

And the subject matter? That's where it falls down for me. This first series tracks a murder case - a teenage girl was killed, and her ex-boyfriend jailed for the crime. It happened fifteen years ago, he has always professed his innocence, and some of the evidence against him does seem a bit lacking.

After seven episodes, I came to a halt. Half of me wants to listen on but the other half doesn't. It makes me feel grubby. The premise, at first seeming innovative and exciting, now feels misguided and unsettling.

Serial is a podcast where we unfold one nonfiction story, week by week, over the course of a season. We'll stay with each story for as long as it takes to get to the bottom of it.

These are real people's lives. Everyone that talks to the show is obviously comfortable with the format, but there are plenty who must have been affected by the murder that don't get to interact. The poor murdered girl's parents don't get much of a say in how many people are now obsessed with the case.

The length of the podcast is a mystery, as is the end goal. Is there going to be an angle of vying for the prisoner's innocence, for overturning the case? Or is this all just a bit exploitative, dragging everyone through the case again with little to show for it at the end?

What if they never get to the bottom of the case? As a podcast that has really leaned on it's storytelling capabilities, I'm wondering if they're going to end up with a tale that just has no end. There's going to be a lot of people left unsatisfied if that does happen. I've already seen complaints that it feels a bit wandering now, getting further away from the crux of the case. Serial never promised a definitive answer, but there has to be something to wrap things up, doesn't there?

At first, I was on board the Serial train, but the longer it goes on and the bigger it gets, the more people obsess over the intricate details of these people and their lives, the less inclined I am to listen on. There should absolutely be space to investigate real life situations, particularly if it involves righting a wrong, but at what point does it cross the line from investigative journalism to just plain seedy entertainment?

Merry Minionmas

Despite this being an advert (although it's for free popcorn so who can argue?), it's worth sharing because the minions get all Christmassy and start singing carols. If you watched their last attempt at singing and were put off, understandably, then do give them a second chance.

I'm so glad the minions have their own film coming out, although do wonder if they will be required to communicate better and thus lose just a little bit of their charm.

Jurassic World - spared no expense?

The first trailer for Jurassic World was released yesterday, and I hadn't realised I was going to be excited about the film until I saw it and gasped. A lot. The music! Chris Pratt! The gates! The shark!

When I first heard about another Jurassic Park sequel, my heart sank because, let's face it, they already ruined it enough with the second one. But then watching this trailer - which is both brilliant but with all the cheese of the first one that makes it a classic - I realised that it already being ruined wipes the slate clean. They can't do any worse, so why not try?

And oh gosh, that music really does get me.

I saw a couple of tweets wondering why, if people actually lived in the world where Jurassic Park happened, they would actually go to the park. What could go wrong? Also, these scientists creating their own breed of dinosaur are so ridiculously arrogant about it. Really, what could go wrong?

Something tells me we're going to spend a fun 90 minutes finding out.

Connecting the dots

The connected life. Wearable tech. Automated homes. The internet of things. All these names cover the next wave of technological interest and advancement, and whilst they may all be less than desirable monikers, the actual concepts and gadgets that are being created are absolutely fascinating. I've been a keen gadget hunter for a long time, particularly over the last few years, and having barely scratched the surface of research regarding wearable technology and digital home products, I think the next few will be particularly expensive!

Wear it well

I'm keen to test out as much of this stuff as I can but where do you start? There are two main branches of technology that interest me at the moment. The watch/wearable with fitness tracking and notifications. I've talked about dipping my toe into the waters of this world, and my interest in the Apple Watch, but I've got a lot more to say about this over the next few weeks.

So far, the devices have all been interesting but then cumbersome after the initial novelty has worn off. The latest gadgets, and those still to come, look far more interesting and useful. Microsoft going cross-platform with their wristband, Jawbone releasing a family of fitness tracking products, and the apparent battery-constraints on the upcoming Apple watch are all key details to this genre.

Home pride

The other half is home automation, and here I am really only just starting to get a feel for the subject. It's been around for a while and I have long since coveted the fridge that can tell you when it needs restocking, or the oven you can turn on from your phone, but there's so much more to it than that. From tracking the air quality in your environment, to making the kitchen a lot more fun to be in, as well as better security and safety in the home, there's a lot still to be done in this area and that makes it a great one to keep an eye on.

It's not just about what life is like inside, either. Phones can tell where you are, and where you're going, and the iPhone manages to piece it all together to work out your recent routes and thus advises how long it might take to get there. Driving home one day, Mr C and I were pondering whether the future involves the next step - your technology knowing you are heading home, advising you on any traffic issues to be avoided. At a certain distance, it puts on the oven because it knows you'll want dinner when you get home. It could also know what time of year it is, and maybe even the temperature, so can know whether to put on the heating or not.

Stuff like this sounds frivolous and luxurious, but streamlining daily processes can make life a little bit more pleasant and can save wasted time and energy. If everything is ready for you when you get home, you'll have time to later go for that walk that will then get your step count up so your wristband doesn't tell you off for missing targets!

Some people are nervous of the way this automated movement is going, and I can understand some of the reservations. But for me, it's a genre that is unfailingly interesting, and something I absolutely want to get involved with and explore.

Even better than the real thing

U2 were due to perform a week-long guest slot on Jimmy Fallon's nightly chat show but of course Bono went and fell off a bike and broke himself. (BTW, why do people keep cycling when all I ever here from cyclists is tales of woe?) So, rather than drafting in someone less good, last minute, Jimmy upped the stakes and decided to become Bono himself.

It's so good, he's really amazing. After hearing him do some of the loop videos with singing greats, I knew Fallon had something of a voice, but this is a full on production. Tour next, please!