Bravery in music & blogging

In life, there are many things about which I am insecure. One area in which I’m trying to be a lot more confident is my taste in music…
I love musicals. Fact.
I’m not averse to quite a lot of classical music. (Except opera – I feel that this is as unlikely to change as my attitude to seafood is.)
Christian soft rock gets played at church, I like singing it, thus I own quite a lot of it.
90’s Indie music will always have a special place in my heart and so will the music of my parents (well, my Dad mostly) – especially Simon & Garfunkel, Ella Fitzgerald, Joni Mitchell and the Beatles.
Sometimes, all you want from life is a Celine Dion singalong.

Despite my attempts at confidence, it makes me a little nervous when I let people into my world of music. Attempts to keep my Spotify account ‘respectable’ failed quickly – though I do keep a lot of my playlists hidden from general view, publicly listing only those into which considerable effort has gone. With my CD cases now in boxes, it’s difficult for people to see my ‘real’ music collection as it mostly only exists in my iTunes library – something that generally, isn’t accessible to anyone but me.

So, it was with a sense of trepidation that I recently handed over my iPod, containing my entire iTunes library, to a friend who had been iPod-less for quite some time. It was just a short term loan, prior to them acquiring an iPhone, but I was very conscious that my music taste was about to become very exposed. Thanks to my own iPhone and Spotify account, little by way of music has been added to it in the last year, but I’d kept it purely for the fact that, unlike my phone, it holds my whole collection. I needn’t have worried though – the next time I saw this friend it emerged that they’d been quite impressed with my taste. To quote: “Well, you did have four Blur albums.” (No similar comment was made about the four S Club 7 albums, for example.) [Btw, I used ‘quite’ as a qualifier in the sense that they weren’t that impressed, but somewhat surprised at the number of pleasant discoveries they made.]

Phew. However, there were other issues that I hadn’t fully considered…

Firstly, exposing your library of albums is one thing, but playlists are another. I know for a fact that I am not the only person in the world to create playlists for specific situations – I’m not talking car journeys or parties, I’m talking emotional turmoil moments. [How do I know I’m not alone? Because I was once given a copy of a mix-tape a friend had made as a tribute to some random guy she was mad about – I can but assume that other people do likewise.] It was only after handing over my iPod that I ran through the list of playlists in my head and, sure enough, there was one such item. If I share that it included Breaking Free (of High School Musical fame), Will Young’s Leave Right Now and the Destiny’s Child classic Survivor, you’ll appreciate just how high calibre it was. [Incidentally, I’m not sure what it is about me, Beyoncé and emotional moments – my current motivational song is Best Thing I Never Had.] *Cringe*

Within minutes of relinquishing the iPod, I had a terrifying realisation. (Yes, more terrifying than possible judgement on musical tastes.) There was a strong possibility that the pod contained tracks with me singing on it. In fact, I already knew that it definitely did – the three albums I’ve recorded were on there. [Just dropping that in there – did you know I’d recorded three albums? Obviously they’re not just me, and you can’t actually hear me on any of it – bar one track on the third album – but I’m on them all the same.] There was also the live concert recording that includes one of my most embarrassing moments. But none of these things were what had terrified me, it was the fear that some of my iPhone ‘voice memos’ were on there.

I’m not sure what most iPhone users use this function for, but in my world it comes in particularly useful at gospel choir rehearsals when you need to record parts for between rehearsals practising. Occasionally, one might want to use it to record an exciting moment at a gig, or an amusing bit of conversation. But the other primary use in my little world is for recording karaoke.

Shameful confession: Sometimes, when I’m all alone in the flat, I play karaoke tracks/YouTube videos and sing along – ok, that in itself is not shameful. What is shameful is that I record myself (on my phone) in order to monitor my progress and analyse my performance. How sad is that?! So, you can imagine my concern that an entire playlist of that dross might have ended up in the wrong hands! Fortunately, those particular tracks hadn’t made it onto the iPod – when I checked there was a recording from the Matthew Morrison gig and assorted bits from summer gospel choir rehearsals – all fairly uncringeworthy.

So that’s got an awful lot out into the open:
I’m not so ashamed of my taste in music, and I’ve divulged two potentially shameful habits that I won’t be ending any time soon. Who needs therapy when you have a blog?

The beautiful things about Jobs

This post has been brewing for a couple of weeks, in fact, I nearly wrote it last night. However, at just before 1am this morning, it suddenly became incredibly apt that I hadn’t written it yet. A post in praise of my brand new shiny toy with a piece of fruit on the front of it deserves publication on the day that Britain woke up to hear that Steve Jobs had died.

There’s no question that Jobs’ creations have changed computing, phones, film and music beyond recognition. (I think to say that he changed the world is possibly a bit of an exaggeration given how much of the world’s population need simpler things to enhance their lives – like food or healthcare.) Being something of a technophobe until recent years, Apple had very little impact upon my life until three and a half years ago. In fact, I went through a phase of deliberately avoiding owning an iPod because of its ubiquity – that ended when a gift enabled the purchase of a beautiful silver music playing device. That year, I needed a new laptop and I toyed with going to the Mac-side, but chickened out and played safe.

Buying an iPhone was always going to happen and sure enough, nearly a year ago (after at least three prophetic iPhone dreams) I succumbed. It may sound ridiculous, but that’s changed my life – I don’t get lost nearly as often as I used to; I can instantly prove myself right (or, occasionally, wrong); and, most importantly, it helps me fall asleep (programmes on iPlayer) or restores my sanity when I have insomnia. Ironically, it was in this last state that I heard the news about Apple’s co-founder – a quick look at Twitter on my iPhone in between attempts to sleep just before 1am showed a tweet from Gizmodo. Within seconds Twitter was ablaze with tributes – including one which noted:
“It’s crazy to think about how many people are sharing the news of Steve Jobs’ death using devices he invented.”

There will be countless tributes printed to Jobs’ undoubted genius, his passion for creating products that were intuitive and were what the public wanted – before they even knew they wanted them. My own personal tribute is the fact that I’m writing this post on a computer that’s the most expensive piece of technology I’ve ever bought, but that I chose to spend more on because I had confidence in it as a brand and a product. (Plus, obviously, I thought it would make me look cooler at college. I’m not sure yet if it does, it seems my typing skills are impressing more people…) 
A friend was visiting when the package arrived – I told her she’d be impressed with the packaging. 
She was.

What can I say? It’s shiny, it’s beautiful, it’s intuitive. By the time I next used a PC 10 days later my brain had switched to Mac-mode and I became frustrated at its inability to be smooth and efficient. (Not making that mistake again, darling Macbook now comes with me on office days.) I’m still getting the hang of it, but fortunately, I seem to be living with a Norwegian techy genius and have plenty of friends who have already crossed over to the ‘dark side’. (There was a Twitter debate last week as to whether it was dark or light, we concluded dark, I think…) I need to make a decision about Office for Mac versus iWork, but I’m currently undecided – Pages is beautiful and I love it, but I can’t help thinking that essays might be easier in Word (thoughts – anyone?). 
Steve Jobs, thank-you. We have much to be grateful to you for (not least the fact that with an iPhone, one need never be bored again) and it’s terribly sad to think of what might have been, had your life not been cut short. 

Paris by app

I was a little surprised to discover on board Eurostar that my mum and sister had only one photographic device with them – their iPhones – despite both of them owing fairly decent ‘actual’ cameras. (In fact, mother owns an SLR that I covet, but I could understand that it was too large for a trip where we were determined to travel light.) I suppose given the fact that my own camera is permanently about my person (except for right at this moment when I believe it’s lying in amongst a pile of clothes on my bedroom floor) it was presumed that I would be designated photographer for the trip – a role I was more than happy to fulfil.

A first trip to Paris is a memorable occasion and I wanted to ensure that I had good quality photos at the end of it, so my actual camera was an essential. However, that didn’t mean that I couldn’t have some fun with my iPhone too – especially once I’d spotted that Mim was making full use of the Retro Camera app on her phone. I’m a very big fan of iPhone photography apps, it’s like having an old-skool film camera but without any of the tricky focussing, developing, time-taken elements. So consider this post a photographic journey through Paris with the aid of a 21st century tool that turns everything into a mediocre photograph from the mid 20th century…

I’ve heard that there are a few decent photography apps that are free – but I don’t own any of them. However, Mim’s ‘Retro Camera’ is one and, from the limited pictures I can pull from her Twitter account [as she hasn’t put them on Facebook yet] it’s clear that you can have a lot of fun with it:

 The Eiffel Tower is fairly self-explanatory. That shot of me will be explained in a later photo. 
Needless to say, we spent an inordinate amount of time at the Arc de Triomphe messing around with apps. 

I believe it works in a similar way to Hipstamatic, in that you choose a lens and effect before you take the photo, yet its results are more similar to Instagram’s. Having been deeply confused by Hipstamatic initially, I’m now a massive fan of it. The limited view-finder you get on your screen means that you’re never quite sure what the photo will look like, which adds a frisson of excitement as you wait for it to develop (something that takes a couple of minutes, rather than days). It seemed to suit Paris very well, and I was very pleased with what I came home with:

That’s Mim responding to ‘look French’ and a rather good outcome to the tricky challenge of ‘doing a Liz’ via Hipstamatic. [Can’t use the front-facing camera.]
 More fun and games at the Arc de Triomphe. 
[All 3 of us had matching shoes – mum and I had the same style; Mim & mum the same colour – we’re a special family…] 


 Without question, the Moulin Rouge looks much more appealing this way & Montmartre cemetery manages to become a lot more brooding. 

Instagram is a canny app, which is why – until recently – it was my favourite. You can either take the photo from within the app, or take one on the normal camera and edit it later – I generally prefer the latter as it gives you more flexibility with what you do with it. There’s a wide range of filters and generally I like the results. (There’s a whole social network attached too, but I don’t really go into that.)

 Yes, I managed to ‘do a Liz’ and get the Eiffel Tower in shot – an advantage of the front-facing camera. Oh, and I realise that the Eiffel Tower’s leaning in that second photo – we were on a boat, it gets tricky! 

A little more niche is ColorSplash – a nifty app that allows you to highlight a particular aspect of a photo in colour, leaving the rest black and white. Morv introduced it to me soon after I got my phone when it was on special offer, but it’s been very handy now and again. In Paris, there seemed to be one logical use for it:

Yes, the classic Metropolitan sign – which then got even better with the use of Instagram:

Finally, my all-time favourite app – PocketBooth. Honestly, it’s genius and I never grow tired of it (though my friends might do, as I often subject them to it). This is what I was doing when Mim took the photo above:

Honestly, I may be practically 30, but it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever grow up. And that’s a good thing!

On mothers, birthdays and technology

It’s my Mum’s birthday today, so I thought I’d dedicate this post to her – and her iPhone…

Mum has been iPhoned up for just over two years. Yes, I was rather jealous when she acquired it, but could quite help wondering if this was really the right phone for her. Not so much the fact that she doesn’t really listen to music, so the iPod element would go unused, more the fact that its myriad functions might be lost on someone not quite so technologically savvy.

It didn’t take long for my fears to be realised. A few months later I was on holiday in America and keeping my parents informed of my adventures via semi-regular e-mails. One morning, sat at a computer in a hotel in DC, I read an e-mail from my Dad in which he said that he’d read my last e-mail to Mum over the phone as she was away with no internet. Some time later I thought about this and realised that, with an iPhone, reading e-mails was possible virtually anywhere. Once home I asked and, sure enough, she hadn’t got that feature of her new phone up and running yet.

It would be wrong of me to suggest that she can’t use it – she definitely can, unlike my Dad who will talk to us using it, but hands it back at the end of the chat with the words “here you are dear, I never know how to hang up on these things!”. Sure, there are the odd mistakes we all make – yesterday she texted to ask if I wanted salad or sardines for lunch (I deduced she meant sandwiches, given my hatred of fish). She’s got quite a useful array of Apps, from Tune In radio to the English Cricket Board and Irish Weather (perpetually grey cloud and rain, apparently). However, it seems she still has something to learn about the phone’s inbuilt functions.

Last month we had dinner next to St Paul’s. She was staying in Farringdon and wondered how she would get back – so I suggested she look it up on her phone. It seems she wasn’t entirely aware that this was possible, or that while in the map feature, you could use the phone to show exactly where you are. Canny, isn’t it? She was amazed. (So was I, but for entirely different reasons). Talking about this yesterday, it seems Google Maps has become a regularly used tool for navigation – who’d have thought it?

Yesterday brought a new revelation. My sister was telling how, over the weekend, she and her husband had been sat in the beer garden of their local and decided to listen to the News Quiz to drown out the noise that the other locals were making. Mum seemed surprised and asked how they had done this, to which Mim replied that they’d simply played it on her iPhone. Mum wanted to know if they had speakers with them, at which point we realised she had little knowledge of the iPhone’s inbuilt speakers…

I had to demonstrate with this week’s Wittertainment and she was rather impressed. In fact, this could be a revelation – listening to Archers podcasts in the bath, falling asleep to Women’s Hour on iPlayer [actually, iPlayer is something else we really need to convert her to] – all things that make my life much richer.

Happy birthday mother dearest! We only mock you because we love you – and because others mock us for being girls who don’t understand technology properly.

Assorted photographic randomness

One of the things I thought I wouldn’t get overly excited by amongst the whole ‘I’ve got an iPhone’ thing was the camera. I’ve carried my own camera (infinitely better than the iPhone’s) with me pretty much 24/7 for over a year and prefer good quality photos to shabby ones.

However, the temptation to take random photos and have them instantly uploaded to Twitter can be rather overwhelming, and thus, a week on from the iPhone’s arrival my camera roll includes a random collection of shots. There was a purpose to all of them, but not all have made it on to Twitter/Facebook, so I thought I’d share…

1. The office reception gets over-run with bean bags:

That’s a lot of bean bags (there were more behind me too). They were on their way to a youth conference, but sat there for more than a day looking ever so tempting. Is it just me, or would others be tempted to launch themselves upon them?

2. A Perfectly Posh Gingerbread House (& what was needed to make it):

I liked the look of Perfectly Posh in Bristol’s Clifton Village, but sadly it had just shut when we got there. I’m posh and I’m perfect, so I’m sure I’d have fitted in straight away… 
3. A sign outside an aquarium on Great Portland Street:
I know, very immature! But honestly, if they’re going to have that sign right on the pavement for all to see, it’s just asking for people to take photos. Actually, this wasn’t a surprise – I’d heard mention of it on Radio 1 (it’s just across the road from their studios) and vowed I’d look out for it. Despite frequent walks in that direction (is it wrong that I sometimes deliberately route journeys past Radio 1 in the hope of celeb spotting?) I’d never found the aquarium – until today. It vastly improved an otherwise uninteresting lunch hour. 
The thought process behind photographic tweets is rather random. That’s certainly the only explanation for how a photo of forlorn cherry tomatoes at the end of an M&S pesto salad ended up there. (Despite this year’s successful eating of this fruit, I still generally avoid them.) Apologies.