On the record – Some ballads and some brass (Weeks 21 to 24)

I’ve really, really enjoyed the older albums this week, and although the new ones have been interesting, Mr C has been picking some proper classics! Nice mix of genres again, we’re deliberately trying to mix it up depending on what each other has chosen, and I must admit I am loving listening to so much music constantly. I do worry that I’m forgetting some of the earlier ones, but I know that the really good stuff sticks with me and that’s all that matters.

As always, my choices from 2015 or 2016 come first in the list, with Mr C’s choices from any other time second. Get to the end of the post and you’ll see the updated top ten – a process which I’ve been wrestling with and now understand why Mr C’s end-of-year agony isn’t quite as funny as I thought.

Title Artist Year Notes
Week 21
Dangerous Woman Ariana Grande 2016 I liked this far more than I expected. It was the perfect mix of pop and RnB – a lot of it reminded me of the RnB from the 90s, which is my era of music. I also really enjoyed the bonus Macy Gray!
Tracy Chapman Tracy Chapman 1988 I properly loved this album, so much that I listened to it twice straight through, and was then humming Fast Car for the rest of the week. Brilliant, lyrical, moving. I love it, although it did open my eyes to why some people aren’t such fans of Boyzone. Oof.
Week 22
7/27 Fifth Harmony 2016 Very catchy pop, high production values, but not totally special. Influences of Beiber and even occasionally Taylor Swift. Enjoyable enough to listen to, with plenty of good songs, but not all that memorable.
The Marshall Mathers LP Eminem 2000 Love the rhythms here. Subject matter can veer too far for me, I couldn’t listen to Kim the second time round. But then again, Stan is an absolute classic so it’s swings and roundabouts.
Week 23
Black Dierks Bentley 2016 Good modern country – mentions both the moon and time machines, so I’m confident that he wrote it all with me in mind. Branches out occasionally with some ballads and some brass, but otherwise it’s a nice comfortable country album.
Metallica Metallica 1991 I was nervous about listening to this but it’s about as accessible as heavy metal can be. I ended up quite enjoying it, although listening to all that angst in one go did make me anxious. The intensity and the harsh vocals can be a bit much but I still loved a few of the tracks along the way.
Week 24
Last Year Was Complicated Nick Jonas 2016 Really good album. If you like the single Close, then it’s very much more of the same. So many songs packed together, though, made me realise how often Nick uses the falsetto and that grinds my gears when it is overused.
Pet Sounds The Beach Boys 1966 Wonderful album, stacked full of shorter but well-crafted songs. God Only Knows is just under three minutes of perfection. I wasn’t expecting there to be instrumentals, and as a whole Sloop John B stands out as not quite fitting in, but otherwise it all works well.

My top ten after twenty-four weeks of listening to a wide variety of albums is below. The only change this time is that Tracy Chapman jumped in at number three, meaning we lose Bjork from the list. Had a real struggle trying to decide if Pet Sounds should sneak in at number ten – basically pitting You Can Call Me Al against God Only Knows, two of the greatest songs ever. In the end, I stuck with Paul Simon.

  1. Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A.
  2. Come On Over by Shania Twain
  3. Tracy Chapman by Tracy Chapman
  4. Let Go by Avril Lavigne
  5. Get Weird by Little Mix
  6. The First Time by Kelsea Ballerini
  7. Chaos and the Calm by James Bay
  8. Thriller by Michael Jackson
  9. Play by Moby
  10. Graceland by Paul Simon

BBC Good Food Show 2016

The BBC Good Food Show has been on my to do list for a while, and this year I finally managed to find time to attend the show for a few hours. It’s bad timing really, because I haven’t been cooking or baking as much as I used to, but even so, I’m still keen on seeing what the best of the kitchen world has to offer.

In all honesty, I was a bit disappointed. I was hoping the show would have innovation and cool kitchen tools, areas for increasing food knowledge, cooking skills and creating more interesting dishes. Generally, I just wanted a bit of inspiration.

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There was the occasional stall that had an interesting gadget on it, but for the most part, there were three types of stall:

  1. eat on the day stands, ie burgers and ice creams and such
  2. test out artisan products, such as cheese or gourmet sausage rolls
  3. extension of physical or online shop, ie the sprawling Lakeland aisles

I wasn’t that hungry when I arrived at the show, and the mixture of competing smells did nothing for my appetite, so the taste tests and lunch stalls weren’t that interesting. And I felt a bit irritated at having to pay an entry fee for what amounts to a Lakeland shop, when I can get to one for free in the high street.

Oddly, for me, the most interesting part was the Lexus stand. Beautiful shiny cars, and a magazine to take home about design. Not really anything to do with food though. The food show was twinned with Gardener’s World, and there were more fascinating stalls in that section than in the Good Food area.

Previous visits to trade shows have seen me come away with bags of leaflets and freebies, that Mr C dismisses as tat. This time, I just had a few booklets, and I picked up a flapjack or two for the journey home. A disappointing experience, but at least another check on my to do list.

WWDC design awards leave me wanting more

Apple’s WWDC took place last week, and whilst the keynote speech that kicks the event off was interesting for its new developments introduced, it wasn’t my favourite part of the week. Apple have done a great job upping their game in terms of providing coverage of the conference for those who can’t make the trip. They stream all the sessions live, and record them all for later watching on demand.

They’re quite nerdy, and I like to see what’s going on but much of it goes over my head. The one stream I really do love, though, is the Apple Design Awards. For two years in a row now, I’ve watched the presentation and in both years have found apps that I didn’t know about that are doing a really great job with the tools available.

Last year, I was introduced to Crossy Road, something I still play to this day. This year, a few more were brought to my attention, including Streaks (which I had downloaded before but has been updated since then), and Ulysses writing app (which looks amazing but is a bit pricy for my current needs). It’s also brilliant to see the work being done on app accessibility, with a brilliant voice-assisted DJ app getting the nod this year.

The fact that the design awards stream was my favourite part of the week-long conference for the second year in a row makes me wish Apple could do something more frequently. Their recent efforts to keep the app store refreshed and more content rising to the top is good, but the new and notable section only goes so far. You get to see what apps are considered exciting, but there’s no real explanation about why.

A monthly podcast or video stream, maybe even something on their 24/7 worldwide radio broadcast would go a long way to helping promote the great and the good from the app store, particularly those that are doing good work in design and accessibility but are otherwise being overlooked.

The bus of the skies

I feel like I saw this Chinese elevated bus concept previously – perhaps at the drawings stage of design, but now there’s a scale model to show how it really would work.

It looks incredible, wonderfully futuristic, and it’s a brilliant idea. BUT, I do get the feeling it wouldn’t work with human beings behind the wheel of the cars. What if someone has to get out for a second – or pull over? What if there’s a crash underneath it. Where do the lorries go?

It’s a genius piece of thinking, but I’m surprised they are going to trials as it doesn’t seem entirely practical. I could watch that video over and over though.

Podcast of the Month – Anna Faris is Unqualified

This podcast popped up out of nowhere but instantly became a regular part of my audio entertainment. It’s a simple concept – Anna invites over her Hollywood friends, has a bit of a chat with them, and then takes calls from listeners with relationship and other problems. Anna and the guest attempt to dispense advice, but make sure to point out they’re unqualified to do so.

anna-faris

It’s a lot of fun, Anna is genuinely sweet and insightful, and seems to care enormously about not only her guests but every single person that calls in to ask for help. I didn’t know much about Anna before, other than seeing her roles in films like House Bunny and Yogi Bear, and so it’s really interesting to find out what she’s really like (hint: not like those films).

The podcast is recorded in an intimate fashion, with Anna and her friend/producer Sim talking huskily in the privacy of her dining room and sometimes her kid and her husband (Chris Pratt!) pop in to add a bit of atmosphere to proceedings. The friendly, close and intimate setting allow both Anna and her guest to open up and reveal surprisingly personal information. It makes for a fascinating listen, and the revolving selection of guests have been incredible – Chris Evans, Ellen Page, even Lisa Kudrow!

It’s lovely to hear someone enthusiastic about podcasting, about helping people, about simply sharing a small part of their life in a way they have full control over. I highly recommend giving it a listen – although warning, it is in no way family friendly.

Living the LEGO dream

I love this video about some of the work the LEGO Master Builders get up to – how they come up with ideas, design their projects and build the finished articles. The best bit, of course, is the glimpse inside the warehouse of LEGO bricks – row upon row of baskets stacked full of bricks, organised and wonderful.

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The other thing this video brought to mind is that, whilst we live in a world where getting your dream job is more and more possible, there are still some jobs that still make you think “how on earth do you become one of those?”

The healthy month of May

I’ve been wondering why I’ve felt quite tired recently, and then I realised. It’s because I’ve suddenly started focusing on my health and fitness again, ramping up the amount of exercise I actually do. Three years of concentrating on exams can have a detrimental effect on the time available for little things like: joining a gym, going for a walk, dancing around the kitchen, that kind of thing.

That’s all done and dusted (for now at least!) so I’m focusing on fitness which, for me, begins with the Apple Watch and it’s pesky three-ring strategy. Stand goals are relatively easy, but it took a considerable effort to get Stand, Move and Exercise maxed out every day. First I did it for a week, then that turned into two weeks, and then I thought, can I? Could I possibly? Will I be able to keep this up for a whole calendar month?

may-move-goals

I did!!

Now there’s pressure to keep it up for two months, and there’s the added problem of trying to balance achievability against the excitement of the watch suggesting you up your move goal for the week. But it’s a lot of fun, and who doesn’t like to get a badge at the end of it all?

Five reasons I prefer women’s tennis

I enjoyed watching the first week of the French Open at Roland Garros, but the second week has been a bit of a washout. These days it always feels a bit weird for me to watch men’s tennis because we get to view so much of the WTA via BT Sport’s brilliant almost-constant coverage.

Having seen a few men’s games this past seven days, I’m convinced that we’ve got the good end of the deal. When I was younger I used to prefer the men’s game because I knew more of the players, plus it was faster and more interesting to me. Now I’ve completely changed my opinion and prefer the women’s tour – and here’s five reasons why.

tennis-eastbourne-juniors

  1. Availability. As mentioned, there’s an abundance of women’s tennis available to us thanks to BT Sport, and their coverage is excellent. The commentators are knowledgable, with a mixture of those present at the tours and in a studio back at base, and there’s a minimum amount of pre- and post- match discussion. There are great update montages to keep you on top of things, and matches are often replayed when there’s no live coverage so you can catch up with what you’ve missed.
  2. Shorter matches. I’ve talked before about how I think tennis should switch men to three set matches all the time too, and I’m more and more convinced this is the way forward. More often, five set matches become a test of endurance rather than skill, and considering the amount these tennis athletes have to play, their fitness isn’t really in question. Three set matches can last anywhere from 40 minutes to three hours, and that seems like a reasonable stretch of time to play, and to watch.
  3. Competition. Most sports seem to go through cycles where one person or team is more dominant than the rest. Tennis is no different, and on the women’s side, we have had years of watching Serena Williams demolish the competition. As brilliant as Serena has been, it’s refreshing to see others starting to rise to the top – new faces winning Grand Slam competitions, and others gradually starting to claw something back from Serena’s huge lead in the WTA rankings. A bit of healthy competition helps everyone!
  4. Different style. Where I used to prefer the men’s tennis for being faster, nowadays, I like the slightly slower action provided by the WTA. One thing I noticed watching some of the men play over the past few days is how they have a totally different style, mostly waiting for the last possible moment then whipping the racquet at the ball to get maximum velocity. They still craft shots and winners but it feels totally different to how the women work their way around the court and piece together the puzzle of a point.
  5. A sport fighting the good fight for equality. The WTA fought a long time to get equal prize money as the ATP, and although the situation isn’t perfect, tennis is one of the more high-profile sports where the fight for equality is taking a turn in the right direction. As an F1 fan, it’s hugely refreshing and wonderful to see things working out.

Having said all that, the French Open has been a right royal disappointment this year. All those weekend days washed out with rain, none of my favourites getting through on the women’s side, and Andy Murray making a right old meal of every match. Roll on Wimbledon!

That tale as old as time

Beauty and the Beast was never one of my favourite Disney films but with Emma Watson in the live action remake, I’m interested to see how it comes to the big screen. A teaser trailer was released this past week, with just a few glimpses of the lady in question, and no sign of the beast at all.

I’m a bit concerned that this teaser doesn’t really do much to make it look live action, up until you see Emma’s lovely face. Until then, it could just as easily be the cartoon in slightly sharper detail. Hopefully future trailers will offer up a little more because even though I said it wasn’t my favourite, I’m still secretly a little excited for it.