From little acorns

I’ve long been intrigued by the UK’s National Trails. They are long distance footpaths scattered around the UK that follow historical or geographical patterns, like Hadrian’s Wall, the Thames, or the best of the lot, the South West Coast. The South West Coast Path is the best of the lot because, as it says in the title, it follows the coast – and the sea is the best geographical feature there is. It also tracks through some of the most beautiful areas, with the gorgeous Cornish beaches, Devon cliffs, and the lovely Jurassic coast.

It was on my Life List to complete various walks that touch upon all the national trails, and that might still be an ambition of mine, but I’ve suddenly become completely obsessed with the Coast Path. The real passion started when Mr C and I visited Minehead and stumbled upon the start of the path.

There’s something totally exciting about being at the start of something, isn’t there? It makes you want to follow, particularly when there’s an arrow on the pavement showing you exactly which way to go.

At the time, we just walked a little way, and then turned back. I started plotting and planning in my brain, researching others who had completed the walk, wondering how and when we could squeeze walking 630 miles into our busy schedules.

Mr C solved the problem. During the current heatwave, we headed to Studland and found the other end of the Path.

Having walked maybe a kilometre at either end, “that’s good enough, right?” he asked. People will totally believe that we also completed the slightly more massive middle section?

I’m not so sure he’s off the hook that easily, but it’s a fun start. I don’t know how or when we will manage to squeeze in any more of the coast path, but I do know we’ve at least hit the highlights at each end.

A peak at the horizon

I’ve long been of the mind that AR is a far greater useful tool to humanity than VR will ever be – particularly since I had a go on the PlayStation VR equipment for just a couple of minutes and subsequently had to lie down for half an hour. That being the case, I’m trying to keep an eye out for awesome developments in AR apps, and PeakFinder is one of those.

The simple idea is that as you are walking around in the big outdoors, you point your phone in any given direction and get an overlay of what hills, peaks and mountains you are looking at. There are a few tweaks to give you greater views – raising your height above where you actually are being one of them – but generally, it’s just a great tool for placing yourself within the geography you are standing in.

You can also toggle between the arty style drawing of your view, or in true AR fashion, overlay the notes on top of the actual camera images. I think I prefer this view.

The app makers also say:

PeakFinder shows a 360° panoramic view from an arbitrary viewpoint of your choice. To render the panoramic views PeakFinder uses an elevation model that is integrated into the App. A database with a peak directory is included as well. For these reasons PeakFinder does not need an online connection for rendering the panoramic view and works completely offline from anywhere in the mountains.

So if you do head up that mountain and find yourself without signal, you’ll still be able to know where you are!

The app simply adds an extra layer of information to your trip outside, and is a lot of fun to use. Most importantly, it helps to plot which peak you’re going to tackle next (or nice flat stretch of beach, if you’re anything like me).

That little droid

In my adventures with Swift programming, I mentioned the R2-D2 toy/gadget that you can bring home and programme yourself. When I wrote about it, it was a delicious want rather than a need, but somehow over the course of a sunny few days off, I ended up with the very same Artoo bluetoothing himself to my iPad.

I’ve only been playing for a little while but first impressions are: This is the cutest thing ever! It bleeps and bloops, the tripod wheel comes in and out and it whizzes around making that scream noise that R2-D2 is so famous for. You can control it via a Sphero app, which makes it more of a remote control style toy, or you can actually sit down and programme it.

The Sphero team have created a Swift Playgrounds book to guide you through an adventure with R2, but I find it slightly more advanced from where I am, and the teaching is somewhat lacking. It’s more encouraging of a “just keep trying and see what happens, and we’ll give you hints as we go” rather than teaching you what on earth you’re supposed to be doing in the first place.

Apparently, you can also get these app-enabled droids to react when you play any of the Star Wars movies. I haven’t managed to get that functioning yet, but I’m also not sure that’s a bad thing. Apparently if you have more than one, they will actually interact with each other while the feature film plays out. That seems a sure fire way of never getting anything done again.

But no matter. R2 is cute, and I love it, and it’s a motivational tool to keep learning, because programming the little droid to spin his dome left and right and keep scanning for stormtroopers seems like the kind of business that could save the entire galaxy. Am I right?

The summer tennis tournament

I have, during the course of writing on this blog, mentioned many times the ways and means I am enjoying Wimbledon – whether that is indulging in endless TV and radio streams, analysing what options are available on various app stores, or even being lucky enough to attend the tournament itself.

This year, I am firmly back in my armchair, and have even indulged in a couple of days off work to ensure I capture as much of the opening matches as I possibly can.

That begins with the wonder that is The Wimbledon Channel. Their main radio stream is wonderful, featuring a rotation of hosts and guests, analysts and pundits, plenty of fun and games and interactive thought-provoking questions and quizzes, and, of course, most importantly of all, tournament-wide coverage. There are play-by-play streams for Centre Court and Court 1, but if you want to keep on top of everything that’s happening, then this is the radio stream for you.

On top of that, you’ve got the BBC’s excellent coverage. BBC and Wimbledon go hand-in-hand, naturally, but this year it feels like there’s even more to watch than ever. The action tends to get underway just before midday, and if you head on to the iPlayer, you’re confronted with many, many individual court streams to choose from. At one point, there were 14 different possibilities. There’s also the main television coverage, with Sue Barker, Clare Balding and the lovely Lee McKenzie holding the fort.

So, radio in one ear, tv coverage on the big screen, and an iPlayer stream on my mobile device. Is that enough? I don’t think so!

It’s not unique and has probably been around for a while, but this year I’ve been loving the official Wimbledon app’s ability to track your favourite players and give you updates about when they’re about to start playing, and how they’re getting on. You get notifications that they are warming up, that the match is about to start, as each set goes one way or the other, and the result at the end of it. My only complaint would be perhaps a bit more warning, and some court info, so you can track down the players before it all gets underway. But when you’re following as many players as I’m trying to, these notifications are priceless.

And talking of apps, it’s great that Wimbledon have gone all out and have a dedicated Apple TV app – not many people do, in fact not all TV broadcasters do, let alone a two-week sports tournament. That app has the aforementioned Wimbledon Channel, as well as highlights and scores. It also features a photo montage that unfortunately has oddly shaped stretched pictures – good idea, bad execution – and there’s no main coverage of matches, as obviously the broadcast rights lie elsewhere.

The iOS app has a few niggles – it asks you every time if you are going to be visiting Wimbledon, where this is a setting that surely only needs asking once. It also has a metric/imperial toggle on every stats page, where this could also be a setting people only choose once. The scrolling can be a bit janky, and the Today widget doesn’t function if you try and interact with it.

But those are small negatives against a tournament that is consistently upping its game in terms of coverage, bringing fans into the bubble that is otherwise pretty hard to get into, and keeping up the excitement even when some of the bigger names drop out early. I’ve been writing about Wimbledon coverage for at least ten years, and somehow, it is still just as fresh as if this was my first ever post. Great job, Wimbles, bring on the strawberries!

Swift progress

So, I mentioned Swift Playgrounds recently and thought I would share more of my experience with the app. I tweeted a summary that basically covered my history with trying to learn Swift.

I have tried, several times, to engage with this app. It’s totally up my street, after all – learning new things, in a fun and engaging way that is more like a game than an education. Getting ticks after completing each chapter helps too, I do love a good checklist.

But, up until now, I have always got stuck at the same point, to do with looping, and I would give up. This year, for whatever reason, I managed to push on through past that sticky point and have not only finished the first playgrounds book but also the second.

It’s really a very fun way of learning a new language, intuitive and helpful. If you do get stuck there are videos and further reading materials to help you out. And of course the entirety of the coding world to help you, or a Mr C if you happen to have one of those to hand.

The lessons start off really simply where you’re just asking a character to move forward, turn right, pick up gems. Things progress slowly to start with, to give you confidence, and then ramp up quite quickly to the point you are routinely employing ifs, fors and arrays.

There are a few areas where it doesn’t quite explain the fundamentals behind what’s going on which have seen me come unstuck a little, but this year’s  perseverance has allowed me to push on through, rather than giving up for another twelve months.

Having completed the main two courses, I’m now exploring the “further learning” options and boy are they interesting. There’s a Learn to Code 3, many game based books (Rock Paper Scissors being just one of them), and to progress even further, the enticing world of Sphero, Lego and other physical objects. I mean, how can I not?

So, as I said in the tweet, watch this space. I have zero ideas for apps and I’m not a coder, but I’m doing it anyway and enjoying the ride.

Part of an ongoing, never-ceasing, seemingly endless switch from desktop to mobile (Chapter 36)

I’m writing this post in the Ulysses writing app which, I just learned, can connect to WordPress and publish posts directly without having to interface with the awful WordPress app.

This is potentially the final stage in the “using the iPad for pretty much everything you need to do”, for which I have written a post previously and intend to write an update on very soon.

And just to fully test, here’s a recent picture from the beach.

On the record 2018, Part 5: A little bit warbly in places

With the exception of James Bay, my choices in this collection of albums are all about fab females doing their thing. Kylie’s new adventure, Jorja’s debut and Lily Allen’s return. I’ve got mixed feelings about most of them, but it was still a fun journey devouring them all.

Meanwhile, Mr C’s selections proved just how eclectic this album adventure business can be – from a Latin goddess, to the King of Pop, including rock and… well, whatever words can be used to describe Madness.

Week 21

  • Electric Light, James Bay
    I really enjoyed the previous album by James Bay so was looking forward to this – it’s a good follow-up, although I don’t think it quite lives up to the great poppy-folky standards of the last. The intro and interludes don’t really seem to add anything to the story, but the songs stand up and it’s an easy-listening endeavour.
  • I’ve Been Expecting You, Robbie Williams
    Ah, great times with Robbie. He’s hit and miss and has a career as varied as you could ask for, but this was early solo Robbie and probably when he was at his best. Some strong hits in here, mixed in with other good songs, there’s no real dip in quality and there’s a variety of tempos and sentiments to enjoy. Top work.

Week 22

  • Love is Dead, CHVRCHES
    I really loved this, which was a surprise as CHVRCHES have only really appeared on my radar recently. But it’s a really strong album, all the songs are solid rock although it’s worth mentioning that they all get quite samey towards the end. Love their work though.
  • Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Gloria Estefan
    Saw Gloria promoting the musical about her life and realised I haven’t listened to any of her stuff, although I know some of the songs, obviously. I quite liked this album, although at this point in my musical journey it felt a little cheesy. She’s got such a good voice and a personality that comes across in every song, so it’s a lot of fun.

Week 23

  • Golden, Kylie
    I was dubious about this one, really, and probably wouldn’t have listened except I really liked Stop Me From Falling. Unfortunately, the rest of the album was kinda what I was expecting. It’s listenable but it suffers from not being one thing or the other – not really proper country and not really pop either. It didn’t quite stack up for me but I admire Kylie for constantly trying new things.
  • A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, Panic! At the Disco
    We suddenly realised that most of the Les Mills tracklists are propped up by Fall Out By and Panic! at the Disco so it was about time I listened to one of them. Opted for the debut album by P at the D, and whilst I enjoyed the songs, I sort of couldn’t get over the titles having absolutely nothing to do with the content within. Good fun rock, but not something I can get on board with!

Week 24

  • Lost & Found, Jorja Smith
    I was really looking forward to this debut release from Jorja, as the huge coverage she’s had on Beats 1 has hyped me up as intended. I was really impressed with the album, it’s very mellow, chilled out and easy to listen to. I thought it went a little bit warbly in places, but for the most part a really great album from Jorja.
  • Bad, Michael Jackson
    Really loved this, obviously, some of the great songs from the great man all packaged up in one neat album. I actually knew a few more of the songs than I thought I did which made it even better. But really, marching along the streets on a sunny lunchtime walk, with Bad blaring in your ears is basically as good as it gets.

Week 25

  • No Shame, Lily Allen
    I’ve only recently realised how much I like Lily’s work so far, and this album is another great addition to her body of work. It’s slightly different to what has gone before, though, and has a much more mellow quality than the rest. It’s also quite depressing, if you listen to it all in one go, very much instilling the loneliness and restlessness that Lily must have been feeling at the time throughout the tracks.
  • One Step Beyond, Madness
    In stark contrast to the low-key Lily Allen I listened to the same week, Madness are just a barrel of fun. A lot of it sounds the same, it all has the same reggae beat underneath and you just go along for the ride – great fun.