Friday, 25 August 2017

The Camp 3

Is camping - and scouting in general - still relevant to the youth of today?

Friday, 11 August 2017

Pickering Hike (Summer Camp 2017)

A condensed version of this report was originally published in issue 15 of 8th Mag.

After the arrival of the Hewinses on late Tuesday morning, the Rover quartet left camp for their day of hiking. The circular hike, planned by Liam, was supposed to be approximately 12 miles in distance and take up most of the day.

The Rover squad began in high spirits as they walked westerly towards Newbridge, through the quarry, along the road, and onto a footpath which led straight up to Cawthorn Roman Camp. Unfortunately, they mistook a worn track at the side of a field of wheat as the public footpath. The one they wanted was actually running parallel to them, just through a line of trees. The Rovers came up with a cunning plan of climbing over a fence and cutting through the trees to get themselves back on course - however it was far easier said than done.

Harry battered through nettles, thorns, and deer to lead the bunch through what turned out to be a small wood rather than a thin line of trees. With only minor grazes and stings, they were soon back on the right route.

On arrival at Cawthorn Roman Camp, Liam consulted the map and found a viewpoint where he suggested they have lunch. Finding this viewpoint proved difficult though. The paths at the Roman Camp were not traced on maps so Liam told the group to just bear right whenever they came to a crossroads. Those of you who are good at angles will know, if you take four right turnings, you end up exactly where you started. So, about 20 minutes after leaving the car park at the Roman Camp, the Rovers had accidentally returned to the car park at the Roman Camp, even more hungry the second time around.

It was at this point where the other Rovers insisted on checking a map and having lunch next to the actual Roman Camp remains (a two-minute walk from the car park).

For lunch, they devoured a whole apple pie and a can of squirty cream, amongst other things.

Newton upon Derwent would be their next stop however it was a long and boring three-mile walk along roads to get there. Liam walked slightly ahead so he was out of earshot of the death threats the other Rovers were mumbling at him by this point.

Exhausted a sweaty, the Rovers arrived one by one in Newton upon Derwent. All they wanted now was to enjoy a cool and refreshing Diet Coke in a local Public House. Sadly, the only establishment in the village did not open on a Tuesday so they instead sat outside and caught their breath there.

A gentleman in Newton approached the Rovers and struck up conversation with them about their route. Liam explained to the bloke that they were heading for Levisham. The geezer correctly guessed that the Rovers would be tempted to head straight down the valley; he warned against this as the path would be extremely steep, dangerously slippery, take them through a field of angry bulls, and there was no guarantee that they would be able to directly cross the beck at the bottom. The wise old man instead advised them to retrace their steps back up to the north end of Newton upon Derwent and follow the winding road that would eventually take them to the train line crossing at the bottom of the valley. He showed them on the map that it meant adding another half a mile onto their route but the descent down the valley would be far safer.

Once the Dumbledore of Derwent walked away, the Rovers said bollocks to him and set off down the steep but direct path. A decision they would come to regret...

The pathway was almost vertical in some parts causing James and Ben, especially, to skid and slide. At the bottom, Harry did manage to find a beck crossing he thought would be appropriate however it required balancing on a dubious looking branch. Liam went first. He placed one foot on the branch and kept the other foot firmly on the field, slowly putting pressure on the branch to see how much it could take. He spent five minutes in this dance with the branch before deciding to just risk it.

SNAP! The branch, unsurprisingly, was dead and Liam's leg went groin-deep into the water. The bed of the river was not even what stopped him from going in deeper, it was that his other leg snagged on the tree. That's what he gets for listening to Harry.

In hysterics at Liam’s wetness, the Rovers plodded along the side of the bull field towards the actual crossing, looking to see if there was anywhere else they could cut across to reduce their route. After going through swampy areas where the mud was coming over the sides of their boots, they eventually found a stronger tree to climb along and over the beck. Only problem here was, the other side of the beck was somebody's back garden; so, they hotfooted it towards the railway crossing.

The assent from Levisham station to the village of Levisham was far nicer than the descent from Newton upon Derwent. Although steep, the footpath was in good condition, and the views became increasingly breath-taking the more they climbed.

Once in Levisham, they stopped at The Horseshoe Inn for a Diet Coke or three. It was at this point where the Rovers were seriously considering ending their hike. They inquired with the bartender about local buses and numbers for taxi services. But eventually, they reluctantly decided that they might as well finish the route on foot. Liam promised them it would be a flat walk back to camp (spoiler alert: it wasn't). At exactly 17:25 they headed south out of Levisham and along the river back towards camp.

The last leg of the hike was familiar to Ben and Harry as it was along the same pathways they had trekked for their Senior overnight hike some five years prior.

In the end, the Rovers ended up walking 15.3 miles. And despite all the walking, they still had the energy to cram a large cod and chips into their gobs for tea. All in all, despite their feet looking like that Nazi whose face melted off in Raiders of the Lost Ark by the time they got back to camp, Ben declared it a "bloody good day and one of the best walks I’ve been on for a while."

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Nine months in London

I’ve been living in London for around nine months now. During that time, I have been to some wonderful places, met some awesome individuals, experienced things you simply can’t anywhere else in the world, and learnt some important lessons. So, what follows is a brief rambling on my time in the big smoke.
The view from the Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street

Portobello Road
London is amazing. From the dozens of weekly markets to the scores of museums and galleries, I never seem to run out of things to do. They say that the best way to explore a city is by foot - and that is very true. On a weeknight you can usually find me getting lost in the Hackney Marshes, along the Regent's Canal, down in Canary Wharf, in the narrow and windy streets of the City of London, or in any other direction from Mile End. Walking provides a fuller understanding of London. I have discovered that I can walk to Kings Cross station in just under a hour, Westminster in just over an hour, and going north along the River Lea is probably the best place to go if you want to see scenery which mildly resembles the countryside. That being said, it has also been useful living next to a well-connected tube station.

It turns out, I like laughing. London is a great place for live comedy - and entertainment in general. They have loads of comedy clubs which I frequent - as well as work at. The Comedy Store in Soho is by far the best and if you’re ever in London, I’d highly recommend any of their nights because they’re all top notch.

Most TV shows with a live studio audience are filmed in London. They make a fun night out and they’re free! I’ve been to the recordings of Alan Carr, Have I Got News For You, and No Such Thing As The News.

London also has one of the most iconic theatre scenes in the world. Admittedly, I have not seen a single West End play or musical since moving to London however I have seen a couple of fringe performances (‘Andrew Hunter Murray: Round One’ was fantastic).

Since moving to London, there has been a couple of terrorist attacks. The second of which at London bridge, only a few days ago, I was reasonably close to. A friend and I were walking under the Millennium bridge when a group of police cars whirred past and a Guardian news alert popped up on our phones informing us on an “incident” on London bridge which we could see in front of us. Unalarmed by this, still unsure what was actually going on, we caught the tube at the next station.
Trafalgar Square

So, do I feel safe in London? Yeah, I do actually. Terrorism is a threat but it’s not something that’s going to make me reconsider going out. In terms of general safety, I feel safer in London than I do in Darlington. Even in the early hours of the morning, London’s streets are bustling with night owls so I never feel on edge when walking alone. Up north, the streets can be eerily quiet.

Student Stuff
In terms of student lifestyle, I think London has a club or two - don’t know for sure (not going to lie, I have not been to any). I have however been to flat parties which didn’t live up to expectations either. This might be down to the fact that student accommodation in London tends to be the size of a large cardboard box. So, it can get rather cramped at times. More likely down to the company though.

I’ve met some amazing people in London from many backgrounds. I’ve never been short of fascinating folk and intriguing thinkers with enviable drive. That being said, there are lots of painfully dull and pitifully stupid students as well.
Looking East: Mile End

Things I've learnt about myself:

I'm not going to lie, I know myself pretty well. University has not caused me to have any eye-opening epiphany moments which have posed as a catalyst to a spiral of self-discovery. Instead, here are two things that people have pointed out to me.
  1. People think I’m older than I am.
    I’ve met a couple of people who genuinely assumed that I was in my mid-30s. Even people at the University never guess I’m a first year (unless they’re in my class, of course). I like to this this is down to my mature attitude, professionalism, and bank of dad jokes I have stored in by head. However, it’s more likely down to the slowly greying hair, the ever-darkening bags under my eyes, and the bloated beer belly I saddle around proudly. (FYI I drank and rated over 40 different beers in 2016 - and I only turned 18 last April. Time well spent.)

  2. Darlington has its own accent - or is it just me?
    People are just as bad at trying to guess my hometown as they are my age. I don’t ask people to try and guess where I’m from, most just take it upon themselves to ask me if I’m from Yorkshire, “above Newcastle”, or - as one person guessed - Scotland. This has led me to believe that Darlington has its own unique sound. 

Read more >>> Six weeks in London

Friday, 9 June 2017

Kensington: the last undeclared seat

The parliamentary constituency of Kensington in west London will be the 650th of 650 seats to be declared in the 2017 general election. The reason for the delay is that there have reportedly already been two recounts. These continued until almost 7am this morning when vote counters were finally told to go home and get some rest.

A recount in a close seat, that's nothing unusual right? No. However, Kensington isn't usually a close seat. In fact, after the 2015 general election, the Conservatives had a 20% lead over the Labour candidate in terms of vote share. Moreover, since the constituency was created in 1974, it has been a safe Conservative seat as it homes some of the richest people in Great Britain with house prices climbing into the tens of millions. If the reason for the delay is confirmed to be because of a close race between the Conservative and Labour candidate, this will be one of the biggest stories of the election.

General Election 2017: Vote share compared to seats

General Election 2017: How close were the pollsters to being correct?

The graph below shows the actual vote share (thus far) compared to what the final opinion polls from various companies predicted earlier this week. The Survation poll was closest to being correct.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Google announces Android O and Android Go

Today, at the Google I/O developer conference, two new versions of Android were announced: Android O and Android Go.

'Smart Text Selection'
on Android O
Android O, like many Android releases in recent years, appears to be a small update which does not radically overhaul the user interface - or even do anything too noticeable. The highlights of the update will include: picture-in-picture capabilities, notification dots on app icons showing when there are notifications (like what Apple has been doing since the first version of iOS), and a new long touch feature which will display more options (presumably Android’s equivalent to Apple’s Force Touch).

Android O brings autofill from Google Chrome to apps so your passwords are remembered. Also, Google introduced 'Smart Text Selection’ for copy and pasting. It uses ‘machine learning’ to guess how many words users want to copy. This is to avoid “fiddling around with text selection handles.”

As you would expect with any software update, Android O will have increased security, a longer battery life, and offer better statistics for develops so they get more of an insight into crashes and bugs.

Google also announced Android Go; a version of Android with affordability as a top priority. It is for smartphones with less than 1GB of RAM and it will be shipping from 2018.

Android Go has a simpler OS, smaller apps which use less memory, and Data Saver automatically turned on. App developers are being encouraged to create smaller apps which will be promoted on the Play store for these phones. YouTube is paving the way as they have made a ‘lite’ app which is basic but allows users to download videos for offline playing or play videos with reduced quality.

Google has obviously seen a gap in the low-end market and Android Go is their way of bridging that gap. It might make Android a more appealing option to first time buyers in less economically developed countries. As for Android O, the updates may be small but they make for a better all-round user interface.

Google Lens: Android’s New Smart Camera

Today, at the I/O developer event, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced Google Lens, a new camera app for Android.

Pichai began the event by acknowledging the gradual shift in how users interact with technology. Moving from mice and multi-touch to voice and VR. Google Lens fits into the latter of those categories.

The Google Lens app uses a smartphone’s camera to identify plants, buildings, and other kinds of objects before showing users what they can do with that information. For example, by holding the camera in front of a router, Google Lens will scan the Wi-Fi username and password then automatically connect the phone to the network. Also, the camera can extract information from movie/theatre posters to add events to Google Calendar accordingly.

The Google Lens app is a natural progression from Android N’s Google Assistant which analysed the information from any app to show users more information and functions relating to it. Instead of the screen, Google Lens takes the information from the world around you. It doesn’t just rely on the camera though. It pulls information from location services, the gyroscope, and other useful sensors to show augmented information.

Google’s VP of Engineering, Scott Huffman, demonstrated how Lens could be used to translate foreign words in real-time augmented reality however this is a feature that Google Translate and other similar apps have had for years now.

In the future, Google says Lens will be able to remove objects from a photograph - even large ones. In their demonstration, Huffman removed the chain fencing from a picture of a girl playing baseball. It is unclear whether this was a real example or simply a mock-up though.

Google Lens also works for pictures that you have already taken. By browsing your Google Photos albums, Google will be able to identify buildings, cars, and paintings to offer context. Google is also making it possible to extract website addresses and phone numbers from screenshots. OCR technology is nothing new but convenient I suppose.

The Photos app will also encourage you to share pictures with the people in them. Using facial recognition, Photos will scan faces and prompt users to share them with those people with a click of a button. Others can then add their photos to the album. Facebook currently runs a similar service however it is unlikely that Facebook Moments has anything close to the 500 million active monthly users like what Google is boasting.

The second new major feature in Google Photos is shared libraries. Users can now automatically share pictures of a certain person or from a certain date with someone they are close to. For example, if you want all the pictures you take of your children to be automatically shared with your wife, Google Photos can now do that. It can even share your whole library.

Shared libraries is a feature that is all shits and giggles until you get too close to your secretary at work. She invites you out for ‘work drinks’ which you assume is platonic but she has other intentions. Before you know it, you’re staggering out of a bar, half a bottle of wine still in your hand, and hailing a taxi to go back to her place for a night you’ll never forget. She suggests you take a playful selfie in the back of the cab, you put your arm around her and strike a pose kissing her on the cheek. Then BAM! It’s automatically shared with your wife who has spent all evening looking after your two young children - one of which is really struggling in school, you arsehole. What I’m getting at is that shared libraries can only end badly.

Google has thought about this though and are now offering a printed photo album service. It is called Google Photo Books and it will select your best photos to get printed in a physical album. A perfect present for your partner who you’re desperately trying to win back.

By in large, the updates to Google Photos and Google Lens seem to only build on what other services already offer and the innovation is small. Regardless, it is helpful that Google is pulling all this technology together and it is reassuring that Google continues to update these services. Google Lens will be available on smartphones running Android O however to me Lens would be suited better for an augmented reality headset more than anything else – a product line that Google has not touched since Google Glass in 2011 (which is now dead).

Saturday, 22 April 2017

General Election 2017: Predicted winners and losers

Theresa May has called a general election for 8 June 2017. Here is who I predict will be the biggest winners and losers coming out of that.

Labour leader: Jeremy Corbyn
Lots of Labour MPs are say they are not standing for re-election, Jeremy Corbyn still struggles to control the Parliamentary Labour Party, and the party, in general, has been looking unelectable for the past few years now. This disarray adds up to electoral failure. The Fabian Society says the best-case scenario is a loss of 40 seats however that number could be much higher and MPs are considering possibilities from 20-100 losses.

The Liberal Democrats only have nine MPs so they don’t have much to lose. Whether they will win back the trust of young people after they raised tuition fees last time they were in government is something that I am curious about. They are currently selling themselves as the soft Brexit party; they have said that they want Britain to remain in the single market so it is likely that the Lib Dems will hoover up votes from many die-hard remainers.

The figurehead of UKIP Nigel Farage resigned as leader, their only MP Douglas Carswell said that he is standing down and would be voting Conservative, and their current leader Paul Nuttall failed to win the Stoke by-election earlier this year. UKIP’s main purpose was to get Britain out of the European Union and now that’s happening, UKIP’s place in British politics is uncertain. They received 12.6% of the popular vote in the 2015 general election and I think they would be very lucky to get anywhere near that amount of support this June.

Some generous estimates say that the Conservatives might win another 150 seats this June. More sensible predictions consider seats that they’re likely to lose to the Lib Dems and say their gains to be closer to 80 seats. Editor of The Spectator Fraser Nelson says that the election will have been worth it for Theresa May if the Conservatives win at least a further 50 seats. Regardless of how big their majority is going to be, one thing is almost for certain: they are going to win. In the popular vote, they are currently polling at twice that of the Labour party and Theresa May is making stability a key theme of her campaign - something which the Conservatives claim to be good at.

In 2015, the Scottish National Party won all but three seats in Scotland so they have a lot at stake. For the past two years, the SNP have presented themselves as a stronger, Scottish alternative to the Labour party. Nicola Sturgeon is a commendable leader and MPs such as Mhairi Black have offered the media emotive sound bites in the House of Commons. However, the EU referendum might have changed attitudes in Scotland and there have been reports of bullying and intimidation from the power-obsessed SNP. Whether the Scottish Conservatives manage to snatch any seats from the SNP will be something to look out for.