On the record 2019, Part 2: Take-no-nonsense rule-the-world attitude

Even though I was prepared for the start of this year to be a quiet one – they always are, not many people releasing straight after Christmas – I still think the music industry has taken far too long to get going. Even with a long list of albums brought forward from last year to catch up on, I still want new stuff!

It did start to pick up, with Ariana and Avril releasing new stuff. And Mr C’s choices are directly influenced by Carpool Karaoke each week, so it’s always a surprise what he comes up with.

Week 6

  • VIDA, Luis Fonsi
    So I know of Fonsi from his work with Demi and, of course, Justin, and those songs as well as other collaborations are all featured on this bursting at the seams album. It’s good music too, great rhythms and some catchy beats. Some of the slower numbers weren’t really to my tastes but overall a solid album and well worth a listen.
  • Savage Garden, Savage Garden
    Ah, love Truly Madly Deeply so the rest only has to follow on from there. The album starts off with the most famous songs which gets things off to a good start, although then it does mean you’ve done the best by about track four. Nevertheless, the rest of the album is great and reminded me favourably of the late 1990s.

Week 7

  • thank u, next, Ariana Grande
    I was surprised at the quickness of this album from Ariana after the last one, and if I’m honest, I wasn’t as keen. Sweetener took a while to grow on me but had a vibe that I quite liked. This one seemed to veer too far in the mean direction – 7 Rings has a hook that just annoys me, and the I’m Bored song is harsh. Thank U Next is great, but that may be the only one I take away from this album.
  • Fore!, Huey Lewis & the News
    I was aware of Huey from the Back to the Future soundtrack but I didn’t have much clue of his other work. Somehow, I had heard of a few more songs than I thought, and it turns out, I really enjoyed the whole album. It’s quite eighties but in a nice soft pop rock way that made me feel happy, and it’s always good when a record leaves you feeling like that.

Week 8

  • Can’t Say I Ain’t Country, Florida Georgia Line
    Somehow I have nothing really to say about the songs on this one, it was just your regular country tracks. The thing I didn’t like, as always, was the handful of tracks that were some irritating guy leaving voicemails about random stuff. I just don’t want that kind of thing interrupting my music – it wasn’t funny but even if it was, it wouldn’t stand up to more than one or two listens.
  • Road to Ruin, Ramones
    I really liked this album! It’s punk but not too extreme, great tunes, a fab sound that grabs you by the elbow and sweeps you along to the end, rocking out all the way. I didn’t think I was going to be a fan but I really enjoyed the full album.

Week 9

  • Head Above Water, Avril Lavigne
    I wasn’t expecting much from this, if I’m honest, Avril’s first album was so good and I’ve not really been too bothered about anything since. But actually, it was quite good. I don’t know if it was groundbreaking pop but Avril’s clearly moving on to slightly more grown up pop and taking a direction that had a few memorable songs, and a few less interesting. Worth a listen and may be a grower.
  • Hello, I’m Dolly, Dolly Parton
    This is Dolly’s first album, a collection of hard-core country songs in the old school style: short, snappy, thirty minute album but already showing Dolly’s take-no-nonsense rule-the-world attitude. I liked it, maybe not as much as some of Dolly’s later stuff but it’s a good start to the journey.

Week 10

  • 1Up, T-Pain
    I wouldn’t normally have picked this album but Julie Adenuga was playing A Million Times over and over, sometimes back to back, and I grew to really like it. So I thought the rest of the album would be worth a look, and it was good. Not exceptional, but a good hip-hop album that does the job if that’s what you’re looking for. That song is a standout though.
  • Something To Be, Rob Thomas
    I love Rob Thomas’ single Lonely No More and his feature on Smooth, but apart from that I don’t know too much about him. I’ve listened to a Matchbox Twenty album as part of this adventure but this time it was Rob’s solo work under the spotlight. I loved it! Good songs, great voice, definitely adding to the library.

Weirdly, in week 9, both albums had a song on called Dumb Blonde – despite being completely different styles of record. Last time I talked of how I could now watch the Taylor Swift Reputation tour video on Apple Music now I had finally listened to the album. Still haven’t done that yet, and there’s talk about her having new music to release into the wild too. So much still to get through.

Swift lessons

Learning Swift programming isn’t easy, but I must admit the language has stuck with me far more than any other attempts I’ve made to learn programming languages in the past. I credit much of that to the 100 Days Of Swift schedule that I mentioned last time – a brilliantly structured path that gives you code snippets to learn, example apps, and challenges to keep practicing.

With that in mind, here are five things I’ve uncovered so far in my journey.

  1. Practice with challenges. Learning the various Swift fundamentals is good and working through tutorials is a vital part of moving forward. But I’ve found the key to really reinforcing the lessons is the call to add functionality to your practice apps without guidance. In the 100 Days of Swift, every app we’ve made comes with three additional challenges, and then every few days there’s a bigger task of creating an app from scratch. Using your head, thinking about how best to achieve something, that’s some of the most important work in coding.
  2. It’s also worth mentioning that you don’t have to learn everything off by heart. You just need to understand what you’re doing and build up a library of code that you can refer back to. As with most learning these days, it’s not about being word perfect, it’s about knowing what to search for and where to look. Copy and paste that code all you like, as long as you know what it’s doing and how to tweak it for your current project.
  3. Don’t be scared of the documentation. If I’m honest, I still actually am quite scared of the documentation, but the few times I’ve dived in there and had a look, I can see it is really well done, very useful, lots of details. I’m probably not at the level where this is a regular feature of my studies, but I’m still impressed with what I’ve seen.
  4. Try not to get carried away. At the moment I’m limited to Swift practice at the weekends, which means when I do sit down to open up Xcode, I want to do ALL THE THINGS. And then suddenly it’s late and you’ve had some wine and your brain is fried. It’s easy to get carried away, and I can’t pretend that I’ve got this under control yet, but it’s quite important not to get burnt out.
  5. Try not to get carried away, part 2. Once you reach a point where you’ve made a couple of apps that work, and when you go to set up a new project, you know the early stages off by heart, you start to think you can take on the world. You can, of course, but not all in one go. My app ideas aren’t going to revolutionise the world but already I want to make this to do this, and that to do that and another one to do something else. It’s quite hard to remember that I’m still very new at this, I’ve only really got the basics down, and that building apps takes time, effort and work. Becoming the next app millionaire isn’t something that happens overnight!

Here’s a video from another fabulous iOS engineer and Swift advocate, Sean Allen, who covers 9 things he recommends for newbies – some of which I’ve mentioned above but others I hadn’t even thought of.

Get home before the morning comes

I recently finished watching Russian Doll on Netflix, the show created by Natasha Lyonne and Amy Poehler, featuring the former as Nadia who relives the same night over and over. It’s Groundhog Day-style drama and although it was a bit of a rollercoaster to get there, by the end, I really loved it.

Here are a few thoughts:

  1. The good thing about reliving the same time period over and over is that makes it essentially time travel and we all know that’s my favourite genre.
  2. The first episode was interesting, but I thought it dipped for the next two until Alan turned up. Once there were two of them, and they were workshopping their way towards a solution, it really picked up steam.
  3. I like that it’s not about the science at all. Although initially, Nadia wants to know how, why and what’s happening, gradually it becomes more about the humans and the relationships, what they’ve done and how they’ve got there.
  4. Sometimes it’s nice just to have thirty minute episodes of something, so you can whip through it as quick as you like.
  5. Natasha Lyonne is really, really brilliant. We all know it and have known it for a long time – she’s the best thing in American Pie, she outshone the entire ensemble cast of Orange is the New Black, so of course. But even so, I could listen to her just say cockroach every day for the rest of my life.
  6. That song. How much effort must go into picking just the right song that will be repeated over and over and stick in the viewer’s mind until they can’t remember a time before they heard it? Gotta get up, gotta get out, etc, etc.
  7. Also, omg, Paulie from Rocky showed up and all my worlds collided.

Definitely give this one a watch if you have Netflix.

Podcast of the Month – The Good Place

Whilst I am up to date with The Good Place (makes a change!), I hadn’t realised there was a podcast from the makers that dated back to the end of series one. Recently I heard some chatter about how good the podcast was, and so I quickly subscribed and started catching up. The chatter was right, this show is really good.

Obviously you should only listen if you have watched the show they are talking about, but once you’re in the know, the extra insight you gain from this podcast is incredible. Hosted by actor Marc Evan Jackson, who is in the show, the podcast gathers a rotating guest list of other actors (including stars Ted Danson and Kristen Bell), as well as creators, writers, directors, producers, wardrobe, set designers, visual effects, anyone who is involved in making The Good Place as good as it sounds.

Jackson is a natural host, funny and charming and bringing out the best in his subjects, but everyone that appears on the show has great stories and bring you closer to the show, letting you dive into the details that you might not even have thought of. Things like the fact that whenever the group would have to write essays on ethics, those would actually be written in the style of the character – Tahani’s mentioning some celebrity or other, Jason’s in several different colours of pen with ink blobs here and there. The tiny details are what makes the show great and the podcast worth a listen.

The topics covered are wide in scope, from the making of a television show, to how people got their start in the business, to the ethics behind making a show about ethics, and as such, you never know what you’re going to get with each episode, making each a joy to listen to.

The only annoying thing about any of it is that it makes me want to rewatch the first couple of series again so I can spot some of the things they are talking about. And there’s so much TV out there, rewatching isn’t really on my agenda at the moment. But maybe I can make an exception. I probably need the points, anyway!

Tennis but not as you know it

A couple of weeks ago, BTSport’s tennis coverage switched to the latest rounds of the Fed Cup – the self-styled World Cup of tennis wherein players team up according to their country and battle it out to win the tournament and be best across the globe.

The British team were playing on British soil for the first time in several years, and were doing pretty well, so it was some constant and slightly one-sided broadcasts that we watched but even so, it was brilliant! I’ve not really paid this tournament any attention before but now I’m hooked!

Three things to love about Fed Cup tennis:

  • The team nature. It’s not very often you see tennis players working as a team. Sure, there’s doubles but here we had players sitting on the sidelines roaring for their teammates as they all tried to do their best for their country. It’s such an individual sport, and one that relies so heavily on the mental side of things, that to see the impact having a consistent level of support does is really interesting.
  • The team captain. I’m fascinated by this team captain business, wherein all the pressure rests on your shoulders but you can’t really do anything except decide who plays when and then have a quick word with them each time they sit down. It must be pretty frustrating and nail biting, but equally must deliver a great sense of pride when/if it all comes together.
  • Great tennis. For whatever reason, most of the people playing said it all meant so much more when playing for your country, and that means we got to see some really great tennis.

Three things not to love about Fed Cup tennis:

  • Trying to figure out how it works. I have studied this calendar for plenty long enough and not gotten anywhere, it makes no sense to me. Also, were Britain playing in a sort of pre-qualifying match whereas Romania were already in the next round but playing at the same time?
  • Lack of Hawkeye. I think because Britain were playing a prior round (maybe?) they were in Bath, which was a decent location but perhaps lacks some of the conveniences of the more high profile tennis destinations. Everyone involved seemed to be complaining about poor line calls and there is no recourse without Hawkeye. In this day and age, it’s so frustrating to return to places that don’t have the technology because you know that it could just solve the problems so much easier.
  • Tie breaks. It felt like every set that Britain played ended up going to a tie break and oof, those things are stressful at the best of times let alone when everyone involved wants it SO BADLY.

Still, none of those things has put me off and I am intrigued to know what happens in the next round. If only I could figure out when it actually is.

Speaking my language

My Swift journey so far has been stop/start in nature, but recently it has become one of those hobbies that occupies a significant portion of my mind, one that I think about a solid 90% of the day. That’s good, really, because it’s a useful skill, coding, and one I am still very much at the early stages of grappling with.

I’m never quite sure how much detail to go into here, really, because is it interesting to read about someone else learning how to code? I don’t know. What I am confident in, though, is sharing the resources that are helping me along the way.

My current focus is on the really quite excellent 100 Days of Swift from Paul Hudson over at Hacking with Swift. Each day there’s some new stuff to learn or try out, with reviews and tests and even a bonus wordsearch to reinforce what you’ve learned. The structure of the course really helps to give you something to grab on to and stick with, and that’s what I’m aiming to do. 18 days and counting! I really recommend checking it out if you’ve ever wondered about diving into Swift.

If you’re still not convinced, then Paul has previously created the best video I’ve seen about programming – combining both my relatively new loves of Star Wars and Swift to convey what is actually a really good message for programmers and non-programmers alike. Sure, there’s a bit of nerdy stuff in the middle, but the first third about change and the final third about community really applies to everyone.

I hadn’t realised the diversity issue at the top of the Swift org chart, but it’s definitely something that could do with being addressed. The more people coding, the better, and the more people coding, the more representation and diverse opinions we’re going to need and hopefully going to get.

I’m under no illusions that I can influence anyone in the Swift world or get anywhere even near the org chart, certainly not at the slow pace I’m going. But hey, it’s about spreading the word and championing those that are doing the same, and I hope to learn and share a lot more about the people doing good in this arena.

Here’s to life-long learning!