Rock, paper, scissors… you know the rest

I’m currently working my way through the various options for learning how to code via Swift Playgrounds, and branched out recently to the standalone session that lets you adapt a version of the well known game Rock Paper Scissors.

The demo first lets you play the game so you can see how it works, then it asks you to personalise the game with a variety of options. I think it wants you to pick the colours that each player uses and perhaps adjust the hue of the background, but I went for a slightly more ambitious personalisation scheme.

Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock. Sheldon would be proud.

Florence in the machine

I was all ready to write a glowing post about how much I love the Apple Design Awards that take place during WWDC week, but it turns out I have already done this, two years ago! Back then, I was looking for more from the Apple crew in terms of discoverability of the best apps out there and their update to the app store to include a great Today tab has done just that. Featuring stories, lists, behind the scenes videos and more, it’s a nice way to find new content, or learn more about apps you already use.

So with all that sorted, there’s only one thing left to talk about this year’s Design Awards, and that is Florence.

This is such an incredibly beautiful app, it’s hard to describe it in words. The pictures are so much better.

But to try and sum it up, the app guides you through the story of Florence, who breaks free from her mundane life when embarking on a new relationship, navigates the highs and lows of life with a partner, and eventually finds herself. As the reader/player, your job is simply to interact very briefly with each scene – piecing together jigsaw puzzles or shaking polaroid pictures – to move the narrative along.

I’m not usually too bothered about limited interactivity apps – where it’s not so much a game as a story that you occasionally get to prod at. Even the quite more exciting Back to the Future game series frustrated me by its limitations on occasion.

But this is something else. This is such a simple, lovely, relatable story, told well, with very intuitive actions that help to flow the tale rather than interrupt the story. The clean cello soundtrack adds to the ambience so that you’re invested in Florence and her story. It’s not a groundbreaking story (girl meets boy, mild relationship drama, girl finds happiness), but it’s a groundbreaking experience.

And it’s not by fluke. The behind the scenes story Apple posted told just how much work went into making this app the wonder that it is.

“The story of making Florence was one of discovery. For each moment in the relationship we wanted to portray, we often had to try many different images and interactions before we found the right combination that would evoke the right feeling in the player. These would range from art style tests to storyboards, to fully functional levels that for one reason or another, were cut from the final experience.”

It’s not a long story, really, so you can get through it in one or two sittings depending how long you stop and survey your surroundings, but it’s worth every moment. I’ve played it through once and even though I now know what happens, I can see myself playing it again.

Well, I’ve got to have something to do between now and next year’s Design Awards, haven’t I?

On the record 2018, Part 4: Synth music is right up my street

The year is certainly picking up bit by bit and I’m starting to love more of the albums than I’m not. Having said that, there are still a couple in the list below that I was hugely looking forward to but then found myself disappointed by. That happens, I guess!

In other news, I discovered new-found fondness for Manic Street Preachers and Depeche Mode, two very different bands. Read on for more!

Week 16

  • Resistance is Futile, Manic Street Preachers
    My first pass through this album left me thinking ‘pretty good, sounds just like what you’d expect from the Manics.’ Apparently that hasn’t always been the case for the last few albums, so that’s a start. On the second pass through, it all started growing on me. The first three songs are brilliant, and the rest stacks up pretty well too. Definitely one to re-listen to a few more times yet.
  • Get Rich or Die Tryin’, 50 Cent
    I was quite excited to listen to this but actually it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Solid hip hop and the singles are good but it didn’t blow me away. A bit too much Eminem, as well.

Week 17

  • 44/876, Sting & Shaggy
    You would never put these two together, would you? What a weird partnership but it totally, totally works. This is such a gentle but good album to listen to. It’s clear and open, honest and simple. From the UK to Jamaica, criss-crossing styles all the way. Nice and relaxing and probably perfect for summer.
  • Misplaced Childhood, Marillion
    I only know the song Kayleigh from this, played as the last song of series two of Car Share, but I can’t say I particularly liked this album. It’s okay as music goes but I really don’t like the way the tracks all blend into each other and nothing particularly stood out for me even after two listens.

Week 18

  • Speak Your Mind, Anne-Marie
    I’ve loved pretty much all of Anne-Marie’s singles, so this album was a long time coming and delivered exactly what you want – more of the same! Fun pop with the occasional serious edge, but lots of catchy choruses that draw you in from the start of the album to the very end.
  • Speak and Spell, Depeche Mode
    Well this was a revelation to me. I loved the album, and the band that I am now calling The ‘Mode, much to Mr C’s disapproval. I’d never realised it before but am suddenly growing to understand that synth music is right up my street and Depeche Mode are one of the key bands in this genre. Good stuff.

Week 19

  • Cool Like You, Blossoms
    Having recently discovered a love of synth it was brilliant to find that Blossoms are basically a modern synth band. I really enjoyed the album, although I’m not sure it’s quite as strong as the first one – I’m going to have to listen to that one again now!
  • All Saints, All Saints
    All Saints was my first ever album purchases, and so I know it quite well. I really like the funky nature of it, the kick-ass attitude of these girls who were trying to be the antithesis to the squeaky clean pop acts out there. It seems a lot safer compared to more recent artists but it still holds a fond place in my heart.

Week 20

  • Voicenotes, Charlie Puth
    I’ve been looking forward to this one and was disappointed when Charlie pushed the album back to make sure it was finished to his own high standards. Eventually got to listen though, and enjoyed it. I’m not sure it’s better than the last album, and the Boyz II Men song, whilst good, brings the mood right down in the middle where it would be better at the end. But otherwise, a good solid set of songs.
  • The Weight of These Wings, Miranda Lambert
    I did not enjoy this. I’ve enjoyed some of Miranda’s other songs, but this one was back to the roots country, with slide guitar and crazy Southern accent and all. Not only that but it’s a double album, so lasts about 90 minutes. It was a bit of a slog to get through it twice, I’ll be honest.

Bumblebee – ‘A mystical bond between man and machine’

In direct contrast to my post this week about struggling to care for the Westworldian robots, now I’m all over-excited at the thought of this Transformer’s spin-off featuring the one and only Bumblebee.

Of course, part of that is because Haiz is in it, but equally, it’s hard not to love that big yellow beast, isn’t it? I wonder why I care more about the machine with headlights for shoulders than the one that looks and feels and is acted by a human being.

I only had a vague interest in Transformers in the first place, and the previous film efforts haven’t done a huge amount to help. Will this be better? Who knows?

Still, the cassette tape bit is fabulous.

Violent delights

I started watching West World after a recommendation from a colleague. The last time this happened, Mr C and I became totally and thoroughly obsessed with The Big Bang Theory and this time looked set to be no different.

We both sat down to watch it and loved it. The intriguing concept, glossy visuals, great cast, musical puzzles, twisting narrative and never-ending feeling of wondering where it was all going, these all added up to a great viewing experience. Even the occasional overly violent scene was an acceptable compromise for the greatness of everything else.

I was eagerly looking forward to the second series, but it’s been such a let-down. For the first few episodes, I was hoping things would pick up, the story would develop, and we would get more than just Dolores marching about being vague and mysterious. Even the glimpses of different worlds weren’t enough to keep my interest.

The fourth episode almost revived my hopes. It was a wonderful slow burn of an episode with a time-travel style central plot, some fabulous ethical questions raised, topped off with a great couple of reveals at the end. Then the next episode was the exact opposite, introducing new characters we were supposed to instantly care about, ramping up the violence to horrifying levels and moving the plot forward only an inch.

We called it a day there and then.

Upon seeing this review headline for the very next episode, we felt vindicated in our decision.

I think the problems can be narrowed down to two very simple things:

  • You’re asking people to care about robots. That works, to a degree. We anthropomorphise everything and I do care about the nice ones. The ethical questions are undeniable. But when there’s episode after episode following a robot searching for a child that doesn’t exist, it’s really hard to jump on board. I don’t know if the inevitable conclusion that the robo-child in question doesn’t recognise or care has happened yet, but those feelings certainly hit us quite quickly.
  • The first series didn’t suffer so badly from walk-itis, but that’s all the second series was. It’s a running joke in our, and many other, households that the Lord of the Rings trilogy is boring because it’s just people walking. Series 2 of West World is exactly that. A handful of separate groups of people walking through the western outback, searching for things that are either dull or not clear at all.

It’s a shame because I love a good high-concept TV show. But unlike LOST, we’re not sticking this one out to the bitter end but jumping ship before the disappointment levels get too high.

Tina Fey, the athlete

Tina Fey in a green dress at the Emmys

Credit: Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock.com

I’m pretty in love with Tina Fey as it goes, but watching her episode of the David Letterman Netflix interview show only served to make me love her more. She talks sense, she’s eloquent, confident but modest and a bit of a comedy genius, what’s not to like?

Two highlights from the show, but make sure you watch the whole thing if you can.

On being a woman in comedy and how the culture is starting to change:

I think the great thing about Saturday Night Live, the system is actually very fair because there is a huge table read in the middle of the week… they read like 40 or 50 sketches. You always get to write what you want and you’ll always get your shot to perform it in that table read. And if it plays, it will go, most likely.

What started to improve was, as the chemistry of that room started to become more diverse, things started to play better… there were just literally more women in the room, so they would sometimes laugh at stuff that the guys weren’t purposely not laughing at but didn’t appeal to them.

On bouncing back from a comedy mistake:

So, of course, in our climate, you go “Do I make a Twitter account and apologise?” But at a certain point, I decided that the culture of apology is not for me. So what I do is, I promise, I swear to god, anybody who was mad at me, I hear you and I will learn and I will continue to change… but I’m also not gonna stop trying. You just have to be an athlete about it and go, yep, I broke my ankle on the landing, next time we try again.

Super-sub bass

The BBC hosted their replacement for the absent Glastonbury festival this weekend, putting on four huge shows across the UK and welcoming the great and the good of the music world to play at them. There was far too much content to enjoy in one weekend, so I’ll be perusing the iPlayer for at least the rest of this week and maybe longer.

Crowd cheering at a gig, stage obscured by smoke

One performance that did stand out, however, was the Manic Street Preachers on Friday. I’ve been growing more and more fond of this band, from a sort of “mild indifference nodding at the occasional tune” to a more steady “well I need to listen to the entire back catalogue asap” situation.

The band were scheduled to perform in Belfast but unfortunately had to go on without bassist Nicky Wire due to a family emergency. All best wishes to him, of course, but I found the situation entirely intriguing. They went on instead with a super-substitute bassist, who did a stand up job under what must have been huge pressure.

The guy was adorable, in his efforts to ignore the limelight and just get through the songs without making any errors, rarely making eye contact with the band even, and stubbornly ignoring James Dean Bradfield’s efforts to give him any credit for turning up. I loved it.

But it got me wondering all sorts of questions about what went on behind the scenes. Do you just have super-sub instrument players waiting to go on? Was he a bod that just knew the sets and could step up without a second thought? If that’s the case, who then does the job he would ordinarily be doing? Also curious if it’s his own guitar, if he brings it along with him wherever he goes, if he ever jams with the band in their downtime.

It was also interesting to ponder how this was a unique set of circumstances that wouldn’t have worked out if it was any other way. If it was James who couldn’t participate, then presumably they would have to call the gig off. The super-sub bass didn’t appear to sing, didn’t even have a microphone, so presumably if there were bigger backing vocals required, again, they would have had to rethink. And also… at what point does it not become fair to go on?

For example, if I was going to see U2 (that’s a big if, trust me), and the Edge wasn’t there, I’d want my money back. It can work sometimes if you replace them with someone more famous – I know Chris Martin of Coldplay has done some super-subbing as singer in the past – but for the most part, people want to see who they came to see. I guess also it’s more relaxed at festivals than a specific artist’s gig. This way, there’s a huge bill of people and you’re unlikely to be there just for the one band, but even so, at what point does a band not still be the band as advertised?

Just some thoughts, no answers, and in this particular instance it didn’t seem to harm the set too much to have a competent, if slightly less flashy, bassist hammering out the notes.