100% but not the end

Just a celebratory post to have reached 100% completion on the main Spider-Man game. I think this is the only game that isn’t Tomb Raider that I’ve played to completion. And yet somehow there is still more to do with three DLC expansions to get 100% on. It’s not like Marvel to have more content than it’s possible to keep up with!

On the record 2019, Part 3: The actual singers sounded out of place

Every album I chose for the past five weeks was a solo female, and what a variety of genres they cover. From quirky pop to singer-songwriter and… well, whatever genre we’re putting Billie Eilish in. One of my favourite things about this album adventure is how the type of music I’m listening to changes week to week, sometimes pushing me out of my listening comfort zone and sometimes offering up real surprises. There’s more of that in this batch of albums, and I’m sure more to come in future too.

Week 11

  • Sucker Punch, Sigrid
    Great album, this one. I’ve been looking forward to it since Sigrid’s first single, because I love the quirky, unique and upbeat pop from the Norwegian. The album didn’t disappoint, packed with lots of great tunes. There was just one that I wasn’t a fan of and it slightly mars my enjoyment of the latter half of the album… but still a great one.
  • Tragic Kingdom, No Doubt
    A classic 90s album, this, and one that I’ve not listened to in its entirety before despite the tunes on it. My conclusion at the end of my second listen is that I really like the music, the ska/reggae feel to it. I’m not such a big fan of Gwen Stefani’s vocals. She’s a really great singer but some of the choices along the way aren’t my favourite.

Week 12

  • GIRL, Maren Morris
    What a fab album this is. Great country songs, with less of the pop influence of some of my other favourite country artists but still a great feeling to the whole thing. There are some really good individual songs on here, but also as a body of work it flows well and has a great relistenability (not a word) to it.
  • Please, Pet Shop Boys
    I’ve realised, now, that I’m not really a Pet Shop Boys fan. Obviously, I like some of the singles, and who doesn’t want a bit of West End Girls in their life? But if I’m honest, I found the rest of the album a bit of a chore. I wasn’t that keen on listening to it the second time round, but got through it. Not a favourite, unfortunately.

Week 13

  • Under My Skin, Gabrielle
    This album is a complete surprise. Firstly, I didn’t even know it had been released last year, it totally passed me by. Luckily the deluxe version was promoted and so I was keen to have a listen. It was really good! Nothing superbly outstanding but just a full album of great Gabrielle tunes. She has a wonderful voice and it’s all just very listenable.
  • Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John
    Somehow it has been more than three years I’ve been doing this album adventure and I haven’t yet listened to Elton, old or new. This being the first, it has some of the big classics on there, but I have to admit, it being a double album was a little bit long. It’s good, obviously, it’s Elton and his talent is unquestionable, but it did just feel like a lot to get through each time.

Week 14

    The hype for this album has been unreal but I was very nervous about listening to it. My feelings afterwards are mixed and complicated. I thought it was a really good album, maybe not quite so good as the hype, but up there as a great debut. However, it’s a very specific mood, and one that I can’t really put my finger on. When am I going to be in the mood to select this album for a listen? I’m just not sure.
  • Every Valley, Public Service Broadcasting
    Just like the Billie Eilish album I listened to this week, I don’t think this is one that I would reach for on the every day. I was worried, too, because I’m not a huge fan of talky talky bits in albums. But this, this really worked. I guess because it’s designed to be music behind carefully selected snippets, rather than people trying to be funny. It was good – fab music with moving anecdotes, so that the actual singers sounded out of place. Again, not sure when I’d seek this out, but really glad I heard it.

Week 15

  • Amidst the Chaos, Sara Bareilles
    I was kinda disappointed in this album. Seeing Sara on the recent Carpool Karaoke had me keen to check it out, the Armor song sounded amazing in the car. But it sort of didn’t translate for me. The songs were okay, but as a whole there didn’t feel like a lot of oomph to the album. Where’s the inspirational Brave-style anthem?
  • One By One, Foo Fighters
    I was surprised to read that the Foo Fighters fell out of love with this album because this is quintessential Foos to me. All My Life and Times Like These are fab tunes and propel the album on to more of the same. I enjoyed it, even if the band didn’t!

Five reasons to love Fleabag

Credit: Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com

If you pay any attention to TV and culture on the internet, you’ll likely have heard people raving about Fleabag. I’m sorry to say that I’m just going to add to the adoration here, because it really was that good. I have to admit, though, that I only caught on to the Fleabag bug recently, and revelled in the joy of binge-watching it.

I actually have to go one step further and admit that I probably wouldn’t have watched it at all if it wasn’t for Andrew Scott being in the second series. Thank goodness I did.

I can’t add much to the variety of reviews that have been out there, but I do want to point out five things that I really loved about both series. Supposedly there will be no more, and I think it was a satisfying end all round.

  1. All the characters are quirky. It’s not like Fleabag was the sensible one and everyone was crazy, or that she was being weird in a grown up world. Everyone was a bit weird. The sister, the friend with the guinea pig, the dad, the boyfriend(s), and the priest with his irrational fear of foxes! Everyone added to the rich tapestry of this mad, mad world.
  2. The fourth wall. One of my favourite things was how integrated breaking the fourth wall was. It wasn’t just the odd wink here and smirk there, although they were abundant. I like that we got side comments and raised eyebrows even in the middle of conversations, just before, after and maybe even during someone else’s speech. Interaction with the fourth wall isn’t new, but it felt fresh and inventive here.
  3. The tone. It’s almost impossible to describe it. Some of the topics and themes are very heavy, dark in places, but there’s enough comedy to balance it out. I’ve seen it described as a comic tragedy but I don’t feel like that’s quite the right term either. It’s a wonderful, disturbing, moving, hilarious, shocking and downright sad portrait of a family and the balance of light and dark is amazing.
  4. Those quotes. You’ve seen them. The dad talking about feeling the pain of love. The priest talking something of the same. Kristen Scott Thomas’s insightful rant about the pain women carry with them as a birthright. There’s some fantastic writing here. All hail Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
  5. Great editing. The cuts, the angles, the music, it all fits together so well to make a seamless piece of work. More noticeable in the first series I think, but the flashbacks were great – well timed and just enough to add context but not so long you forget the present.

We don’t get shows like this very often, so I’m glad this one is getting the praise it deserves.

Fit and funny

There’s always a big push these days to get people up and active and try and stem the sedentary lifestyles we have grown so used to. Given the many initiatives that are out there, I was wondering whether it wouldn’t be useful to have a celebrity or two making online videos that help try and show people how a) accessible and b) fun training and working out can be. It doesn’t have to be a chore.

Within the space of 24 hours, I stumbled across two YouTube channels that do just that. The first was from Kevin Hart, the comedian who is now on his second series of challenging friends and famous faces to various sporting endeavours. I watched three of the videos which veered from the relatively normal track and field with James Van Der Beek, to the downright crazy trampoline dodgeball with Anna Kendrick. But my favourite was with Rebel Wilson, who took on the karate challenge with Hart. The pair of them did so well that even the black belts couldn’t keep a straight face.

The second series I found was slightly less accessible, given that it’s presented by the very pumped up Zac Efron. He’s joined by the lovely Nina Dobrev (who is no stranger to working out) and the pair of them embark on some really quite difficult exercises. Even though the moves they were doing seemed quite out of my reach, it still made me want to grab a band and give it a go.

Also, I so want to get the jumper Nina is wearing at the start of the video.

Out of your hands

It’s always been a surprise to people that, despite being someone who avidly followed Formula One for a good ten years, I really don’t care much for cars. Recently someone asked me what car I drive, the vehicle I have sat in pretty much every day for two years, and it took me about twenty minutes to remember. I’ve always loved the freedom and independence being a driver gives you, but in terms of the mechanics, I couldn’t be less interested.

However, with the growing momentum towards self-driving and autonomous vehicles, I am, at last starting to pay attention. This is a world that I can get on board with – one where you don’t have to worry about the mechanics, of driving even, but you still get to control your own destiny.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m keen for the self-driving revolution to get here and get here quickly, because the transitional period with semi-clever cars has made me a worse driver than before. But of course, it’s the transition that is holding everything up. There are cars out there doing their self-driving thing fine. And if we all had them and the infrastructure was there, it’d be easy. Getting to that point is the hard part: self-driving cars and regular human drivers mixing together is where the trouble starts.

But, we’re seeing progress. And this week there were two headlines on the topic that caught my eye.

Road safety: UK set to adopt vehicle speed limiters

Speed limiting technology looks set to become mandatory for all vehicles sold in Europe from 2022, after new rules were provisionally agreed by the EU… Safety measures approved by the European Commission included intelligent speed assistance (ISA), advanced emergency braking and lane-keeping technology.

These are all ways of reducing the reliance on human intervention, and getting the car to do more of the work, essentially encouraging self-driving cars along their way. There’s also talk of black boxes and data recorded, which makes people very nervous. But as Theo Leggett, business correspondent, says in the post: “You can force people to slow down, you can watch what they’re doing, you can help them with emergency braking – but you can’t get rid of basic bad driving. Unless, of course, you have self-driving cars.”

In 1959, Volvo gave us the seat belt—here’s what its safety team is building now

And in extreme situations, where the car detects a high risk of a collision or the loss of control, it will intervene. “The human driver is really very good, but we are still humans, so it varies over time,” explained Malin Ekholm, who runs Volvo’s Safety Center. “When you’re really at your best, I’m happy to let you drive. But when you’re not, I would like to support you to make you better than you are in that particular situation. And how we do that, that’s where we have to have this conversation.”

I like how Ekholm makes it sound like he’s doing us a favour, “I’m happy to let you drive.” But really, he knows that his machinery could do a far better job. It feels like we’re at a bit of a turning point now. Previously, it was all about whether the self-driving car was ever actually going to come to fruition. Then it was about the extent of their capabilities – the various stages of autonomy and whether it might be something limited to smaller geographic areas.

Now it very much feels like the conversation is about how to convince people that they will be better off handing responsibility over to their four-wheeled counterparts. And for those that are reluctant, showing them that the cars are going to be developed in that direction (the make-everyone-a-better-driver-and-the-roads-a-safer-place direction) and you’re just going to have to be on board. Now, it’s not about whether it’s going to happen but how best to get everyone to the same page as quickly and safely as possible.

I’m watching this space with eager fascination.

Start with a black screen

It doesn’t matter what you think of Apple or their offerings this week from the latest announcement event. This video, that kicked off the reveal of their TV+ programming, is special.

Simple and pure, somehow moving and momentous, really digging into the wonder that is creativity.

I could watch it over and over, I really could.

And whilst we’re on the subject, I’m fascinated to see what Apple’s foray into content reveals. They’ve signed up with some remarkable people but that doesn’t mean anything is a guaranteed success. Some of the things they talked about on stage sounded great, others less so. Something for everyone perhaps.

The only issue I have with it (aside from the fact that there is TOO MUCH TV already and I can’t keep up) is that diving deep into content rather than just devices and software is only going to make yourselves a more divisive company – and boy, I think Apple has enough of that going on!

Don’t call me, call Kevin

A while back I stumbled across the YouTube channel of Call Me Kevin, a gamer who posts ten minute videos of how brilliant he is at doing badly. The commentary makes it all, of course, hilarious thoughts as he manages to create sprawling Sims houses with grumpy adults bumping into each other, or horrifying zoos with enclosures stuffed to the brim with hippos and the occasional keeper trying to keep a lid on the madness.

Recently, Call Me Kevin started up a new Twitch stream and somehow I was watching for that very first and quite stressful opening gambit. Oh, it brought back the glorious days of desperately trying to get on with a live stream whilst also battling any number of technical difficulties, software that doesn’t do what it says it’ll do, sound not appearing where you think it should, and all the fun of the fair.

That first stream went on for about two and a half hours, and unfortunately I had to duck out before any gaming actually happened. Next time, I tuned in, and have to admit the game being played wasn’t that interesting to me, but the stream was still highly entertaining. When you find the right people to follow on Twitch, it sort of doesn’t matter what they’re playing.

I was quite late to the party in terms of CallMeKevin’s videos on YouTube (1.8m subscribers!) but I was in early doors for the Twitch stream and I’m watching this space with great fascination.