On the record 2018, Part 6: One actual song done six different ways

And then, just like that, we’re over halfway through the year and the adventure. I feel as though the last few weeks have taken another dip wherein I haven’t enjoyed the albums quite as much as others, but then up popped George Ezra and the sun came out and the world was just a little bit better.

The rest of the albums vary in quality and in interest to me, but I’m still really enjoying the variety.

Week 26

  • Wildness, Snow Patrol
    A good, solid album this one, but perhaps a little bit on the depressing side – whilst I quite like the defiance of Don’t Give In (a really good song), there’s also a track called “What If This Is All The Love You Ever Get?” which really was a downbeat listen as you might imagine. Good album though, you just have to be in exactly the right mood for it.
  • Pure and Simple, Hear’Say
    I like this album because it’s familiar to me, I know most of the songs, and listened to it quite a lot when I was younger. It’s not good though. This is the pinnacle of manufactured pop, and that shines through from start to finish. I think Hear’say came too late in the pop cycle to really have any major success – they were more of a nineties band but hit in the early 2000s. Earlier, they might have done better, but as it is, we’ll have to put up with Monday Monday being the best they can do.

Week 27

  • High As Hope, Florence + The Machine
    I’ve not always been a Florence fan, but the latest single Hunger had really turned me around so I wanted to check out the rest of the album. I’m not sure it lived up to the lead single, really, it was a mellow listen but didn’t really capture my attention as I’d hoped it might. Also, a couple of the tunes were so reminiscent of the music on Westworld that it was quite distracting. Hunger is still a winner though.
  • Wanted On Voyage, George Ezra
    George’s second album very quickly became one of my all-time favourites, so I wanted to see what the debut effort was like. I really enjoyed this too, although I think I prefer the second one as a complete piece of work. Loving Ezra’s relaxed summer-time feel though, it just fits the mood at the moment perfectly.

Week 28

  • Palo Santo, Years and Years
    Really loved Sanctify when it was released, so was keen on hearing the rest of the album, and it loved up to my expectations. A really solid pop work, with many of the feelings from Sanctify spread across the rest of the songs. I think it didn’t quite get into my soul as much as it should have on only two listening, so I may have to listen a few more times, but otherwise a winner.
  • The Fabulous Johnny Cash, Johnny Cash
    Yay for the third album along my journey through the history of Johnny Cash. Whilst this is very similar to the previous two albums, I felt like I preferred it to the second record but not quite as much as the first. Good songs, great guitar work, and nice rhythms that keep you entertained. What’s not to like?

Week 29

  • mau5ville: Level 1, deadmau5
    I quite liked the last album I listened to by deadmau5, it wasn’t my usual kind of thing but I really got on with the dance beats. This one was a bit of a departure for that and it wasn’t quite my cup of tea. Good songs, but they’re all the same thing and with the guest vocalists it wasn’t so much dance music as just one actual song done six different ways. Good, but not great.
  • Out of Time, R.E.M.
    I vaguely remember being disappointed by the last R.E.M. album I listened to – good songs, obviously, but not a cohesive work that I liked. This time, I really dug it. The singles stand out, as always happens with such classic songs, but the rest of the tracks fill in really well to make it a good listen from start to finish.

Week 30

  • Expectations, Bebe Rexha
    This is a really good, strong pop album, some nice songs from Bebe, but I have to be honest, it wasn’t all that memorable. I’ve forgotten pretty much all of it only a day or two after the last time I listened to it. Also, it feels like she popped Meant to Be on the end begrudgingly, whereas it actually would have fit earlier in the track listing quite nicely.
  • International Velvet, Catatonia
    Mulder and Scully popped up on a radio stream I was listening to and I thought it would be fun to listen to a full album, but actually it turns out I was only really bothered by the two main singles. I had that weird feeling, too, when you know someone’s super distinctive voice for just one or two songs, when you hear them singing other stuff, it sounds really odd!

Podcast of the Month – Pop Culture Happy Hour

I’ll admit, my podcast listening habits these days are like a rollercoaster. Some weeks I listen to barely anything, other weeks I am re-subscribing to shows and listening non-stop. It’s an adventure. One show that has been with me for a while, though, is NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour. I’m a little way behind on it, but actually that works in my favour, because I’m also quite far behind on the culture they are covering.

Each show looks at a specific piece of culture, usually a new film or TV show, but occasionally dipping into award shows or music or other relevant events. Three main anchors welcome a fourth rotating guest to review the media in question and the resulting conversations are often fascinating. They can veer from a simple ‘I like this, I don’t like this’ to a deep discussion about race, gender, stereotypes, breaking down walls, the very world we live in these days and seamlessly flit between the serious and the fun.

I really like this show because although there are many outlets out there that cover the media we like to consume, there’s something about these conversations that really suck you in and make you listen. They seem like they’re really discussing how the culture impacts the world we’re living in, or reflects it back to audiences, but without getting bogged down in heavy exposition.

The section of NPF that releases the podcast says:

Monkey See is all about pop culture, aspiring to be both a friend to the geek and a translator for the confused.

I think that’s a really hard balance to strike, but Linda Holmes and her team do an impeccable job.

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.