Sharp viewing

Like many others, I recently finished watching Sharp Objects, the HBO mini series starring Amy Adams and based on the book by Gillian Flynn. I’ll be honest and admit I only watched this because it has the lovely Amy Adams in it, I didn’t particularly enjoy Gone Girl the book or the film, and whilst I did like Sharp Objects as a novel, I was worried how it would unfold on screen.

My review of the book at the time I read it (2014), included this:

I thought it was so well written, it really drew you in with evocative prose and snappy dialogue. Each paragraph made you feel exactly what those involved were feeling, particularly the sticky, prickly, sickly feeling that grew and grew towards the end.

The mini series was EXACTLY the same. It was beautifully shot, so that I could barely keep my eyes off the screen (slightly awkward when I usually multi-task my TV viewing), and I loved the flashes of scenes intercutting with each other. The way music would start and stop, loud and uncompromising, and the way even the quiet moments weren’t quiet – eery soundtracks or noisy night insects would continue the creepy feeling that emanated from the very first moment.

Amy Adams was brilliant, of course, but actually the trio of Amy, Patricia Clarkson and Eliza Scanlen were all incredible and made an absolutely captivating family (for all the wrong reasons). The story was told slowly but it was never dragged out, and you just gradually got a feeling that this town has more secrets than we will ever get to know.

There’s vague talk of a second series but I hope that never materialises. As this IndieWire review explains (spoilers in the link):

With so many principles still kickin’, a twist ending that casts the series in a whole new light, and a quality product from start to finish, a quick reaction to the finale may be to demand more. But the longer you sit with it, the more fitting this ending feels. “Sharp Objects” was told in flashes; it’s only fitting it ends with a bang.

Just less than 100 percent

Mr C and I are on a bit of a health kick at the minute – nothing crazy, just trying to make better choices – and that means ditching the share bags of Cadburys for something a bit more refined and, dare I say it, grown up.

I’ve been perusing the dark chocolate aisles in awe and wonder, there’s such a wide selection, flavours, percentages and choices, it can be quite overwhelming!

The salted caramel is a particular favourite but I also liked the 70% cocoa. I was impressed by the percentage steps, 80%, 95%, etc and thought it would be an easy step up to 99%.

Tried the 99% last night and bluergh, it was disgusting! How do people eat this stuff? Bitter, dark, basically like eating a spoonful of cocoa powder.

It wasn’t until the light of day (having opened the packaging in movie mood lighting), that I saw the instructions.

Important: Tasting Advice

Excellence 99% is a unique chocolate that reveals all the strength and richness of cocoa beans. To fully appreciate all its flavours, we recommend that you progressively develop your palate through our range of high cocoa content chocolate bars, starting with Excellence 70%, then 85% and finally 99%.

The best way to experience Excellence 99% Cocoa is to break off a small piece and allow it to melt slowly in your mouth.

To taste the full bouquet of aromas, try accompanying your tasting with some coffee.

Who knew? Firstly, I hadn’t realised that chocolate could be such a connoisseur’s art, although I probably should have given the volume of choice in the shops. And I also didn’t realise that I had embarked upon such a journey without realising it. Fancy jumping right to the end of the path without taking the intervening steps! That is so like me.

But, for now, back to 70%, and I’ll enjoy that for a bit before moving up a percentage. The chocolate adventure is underway!

Rain, rain, rain today

There are all sorts of weather apps available out there, from the quirky Carrot forecasts to the more staid Met Office offerings. Their use very much depends on how you like your weather forecasting – long range and high level, a broad overview of the country at large, or as I prefer, very localised to-the-minute weather predictions.

That’s where Rain Today comes in. It’s a great app for one purpose – telling you whether it is raining, or whether it’s going to in the very near future. Obviously you can look out the window for the present weather conditions, but knowing whether you need to take a brolly on that short errand you’re going to run can be very useful.

The app has temperature and precipitation details, but my favourite part of the app is the satellite style rain tracker. You can see the blue clouds of rain, if there is any, where they have been and where they are heading towards in the next hour. It helps you know whether to risk that run to the shop for a pack of biscuits, probably less of a priority if there’s a band of blue moving rapidly towards your location.

I use Rain Today in conjunction with other apps, because it doesn’t look much further forward than an hour or two. But for those immediate decisions based upon whether you’re going to get wet if you step outside your front door, it’s the perfect product.

A fine example

I love Julie Adenuga’s Beats1 show, airing in the UK between 2 and 4pm every weekday. I try and listen to as many as I can, usually on demand, and there’s often little snippets of conversation that make you laugh or make you sit up and take notice.

On Friday’s show, where Example and Rebecca Judd joined Julie in the studio to take a look at the new releases that day, there was an example of the latter. Example was discussing the time he bought a car for a fan – as you do – and his co-hosts were sharing their shock and awe at such a kind gesture. Example was having none of it though:

Example: I bought them a proper car, year. It was a PR stunt, but you know he tweeted me and said ‘I can’t listen to your new mixtape because it’s not going to be on CD and I’ve only got a CD player’ and I said ‘Well, I’ll just buy you a new car with an aux cable’ and people were like ‘why don’t you just buy him a new stereo?’ and I was like ‘well that’s not a very interesting PR stunt, is it?’

But I tell you why, because if you go on social media, say on Instagram, and you want to promote your post promoting your new mixtape or album or whatever. Instagram, they only let, say 20% of your fans see your post. So you have to promote the post. So if you want, say, I’ve got half a million followers, if you want all of them you have to spend about four and a half grand for everyone to see the post. So why not just buy a car for a fan for three grand instead? Money well spent. You haven’t got to pay the corporation and everyone gets to see the post. Because what will happen is the post goes viral because everyone comments and likes it.

Rebecca: Are you allowed to be saying all this?

Julie: It’s Example!

Example: I’m just telling you I’ve worked out the system. I beat the algorithm.

Really interesting way to beat the system and give your love straight to the fans. Or at least one very lucky fan, anyway.

Feeling the pressure

I was lucky enough to get a chance to see Pressure, a play by David Haig that is currently in the West End. The play tells the incredible true story of James Stagg, a meteorologist who was tasked with predicting the weather conditions for the D-Day landings.

With Stagg predicting severe storms and Irving P. Krick – Hollywood’s meteorological movie consultant – predicting beautiful weather, the future of Britain, Europe and the United States rests on one single forecast.

At first, the play feels like it is just about that fish-out-of-water scenario, the genius in his field having to deal with mere mortals who don’t really get him or appreciate his efforts. But gradually it becomes about more than that. The isolation, the unsettling feeling that something bad is going to happen, that epic responsibility of all the D-Day participants lives resting on your shoulders.

Add to that the stress of an absent wife about to give birth, as well as pressure from a future American president and you’ve got a significant and remarkable drama.

I was totally absorbed in the story from the very start. The writing is smart and clever, littered with meteorological terms that aren’t dumbed down for an audience that may not have done so well in geography at school (that’s me!). The acting (including Haig himself, as well as Laura Rogers and Malcolm Sinclair) was outstanding, particularly once the decisions are made and it’s just a matter of waiting to see what happens.

For a brief moment, I felt uncomfortable that the second half was just dragging things out but then I realised, that tense anticipatory feeling was exactly what these people would have been going through at the time. Tense is exactly the right word to describe this play but it was absolutely brilliant. If you get a chance to see it, and have even a passing interest in the un-told stories of key WWII players, then grab tickets if you can.

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?