Saturday, 6 December 2014

The Growing Popularity of Podcasts

If you haven't heard of what they are already, podcasts are basically radio broadcasts but on the internet. They're not a modern invention, infact they have been around for the past decade and the word 'podcast' was derived from an early 2004 article from The Guardian newspaper. Recently, services such as the Apple Podcasts app and soundcloud dot com have offered a platform for individuals and businesses alike to upload their audio to. However podcasts haven't been hugely sucessful. That might be about to change.

I've been aware of podcasts for many years now however never really listened to any until only earlier this week. It's not that I'm not interested in any of the genres of podcasts - because there are podcasts on a diverse range of topics - I just thought that there was better ways to digest information or hear stories. For example, TV documentarys and online news video features are media rich ways of consuming knowledge. And if I wanted to learn in a traditional way, I could pick up a magasine, newspaper, or book. Radio occupies some middle ground between traditional and modern media and podcasts also seem to be neither hear or there.

Nevertheless, after watching a recent episode of 'Top Shelf' from The Verge (below) and reading numberous online reviews of a mainstream, mystery podcast called 'Serial' I decided to download the Soundcloud app and try that podcast.

It would be a lie to say that I had never heard a podcast before because the BBC offer a wide range of podcasts (including radio shows on iPlayer) and I'm sure that during school, teachers have pushed me to listen to educational podcasts as part of my revision but Serial is definitely the first podcast I've decided to sit down and listen to by choice.

If you haven't been engulfed in the wave of buzz and excitement that Serial has created, it is a gripping, weekly spinoff podcast from 'This Ameircan Life' which is eloquently narrated by journalist Sarah Koenig. It is the telling of Sarah's investigation into the murder of Hae Min Lee in Baltimore in 1999... And it is fascinating! (Preview below)

Despite the positive reviews, I was skeptical about Serial incase it didn't live up to the hype around it however I've been pleasantly surprised. After the first episode I became addicted and I watched the first five episodes in 24 hours. I'll probalby watch the rest of the episodes before the month is out. Although it is just audio, I didn't feel like any visual aid was necessary.

However after Serial, will I continue to listen to podcasts, and if so, which ones?

I probably won't listen to podcasts religiously like I'm sure some people do however whenever I have a car journey or I'm sat around during the day having a break or waiting for someone, I'm now more lightly to put my earphones in and listen to a podcast rather than music. As for what podcasts, I've subscribed to weekly podcasts on topics that interest me from The Verge, The Guardian, BBC Radio 4 and some other less known names. Despite this, I still can't bring myself to listen to fiction podcasts.

If I want to hear a compelling ficitonal story I'm still 10 times more likely to read a critically aclaimed book or watch a five-star movie rather than just hear the audio. This is ignorant, I know, however video and audio seems a lot more appealing than audio alone when telling a when telling a fictional story.

Overall, podcasts are great. They vary in length and quality however if you find a series of them that you enjoy, you will become addicted and look forward to them as much as you look forward to your favourite TV show.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Innovation for the sake of Innovation

The digital era is amazing. We can contact one another from anywhere, at any time. We can make high quality film from our smartphones. And we can even interact with computers via our voices. This unbelievable advancement has happened in a relatively short space of time too. From 2007 to around about this year are debatably the golden years of technological innovation for commercial use. However, in an industry with an estimated yearly value of approximately £60bn in the UK alone, it’s hard to pretend that it’s not about the money. Intuitive innovations and sales figures go hand in hand. So why is Apple guilty for forcing U2’s ‘Songs of Innocence’ upon all of their customers in iOS8 and why do some Android devices come preloaded with third party apps such as ‘Trip Adviser’? Are technology companies running out of revolutions?

The graph below shows the amount of innovation since 2010 on iOS and Android. I’ve split the types of innovation into three categories… ‘New Native Apps’ - which are exactly like what it says on the tin; new apps developed by the company. ‘Main features’ covers completely new features or settings which are unique, new or significant. And ‘Secondary features’ are updates to native apps and smaller updates to settings (for accuracy, they only count as half an innovation).

Source: and Wikipedia – because Apple doesn't keep OS version history on their website.

(Inaccuracies in the graph have occurred as new apps have been hard to date as Google services operate all year round – updating their own apps and adding new ones any time during the year whereas native iOS apps are updated once a year when the latest version of iOS is released. This makes the Google innovations hard to track. Also, to a degree, the ‘Main features’ and ‘secondary features’ is down to personal opinion. Individuals may gauge one change in settings as a major improvement however some might not even notice it at all, so the graph attempts to show a general consensus of how consumers view new features.)

Innovation on a steady decline.
Although it’s not a steep decline in innovation as a whole, main features and new apps have definitely become less common. It seems companies have opted to improve upon the apps and settings they already have rather than coming up with something new completely. Why do they keep improving things that are pretty close to perfect already? For the sake of it – and fundamentally, to make more money.

So where have the big ideas gone? It’s not like the companies don’t have the money.

Android has been worse than Apple, Android stopped major innovation in 2012. Since then they've made the materialistic decision to focus on making Android more widely available and earlier this year they redrew Android but with material design all the way through.

Since 2011, a number of intelligent personal assistants with voice-recognition have appeared on the scene. If you’ve bought a smartphone this year you won’t have been able to escape Siri’s soft sound, Cortana’s concise call or Google Now’s unnamed woman. Apart from a few exceptions, I cannot see the point of intelligent personal assistants apart from to fulfill our wildest dreams of being able to have conversations with robots and computers like what we see in the movies.

Also, in the past year, Apple, Google, Samsung, and Microsoft have all invested in launching some form of health tracker. There are literally thousands of health and fitness tracking apps available so all four of these tech companies have launched a service that third party applications can plug into. These have the potential to give users extremely precise analytics about their personal health.

One year ago, these services were unheard of yet all of a sudden – as is the case regularly in technological innovations – it seems all the major technology companies have jumped on the bandwagon. This is either because everyone has recently had the epiphany that health is important causing this huge trend, or, the more likely reason, these large technology companies have ran out of inspiration and are clutching at straws. There is practical use for one central health app that other apps feed data to however smartphones have existed without them for seven years so are they really needed now? This might be another case of innovation for the sake of innovation.

Don’t even get me started on smartwatches.

This shortage of big ideas - like what were seen only a few years ago such as iOS 5’s ‘Newsstand’ app, ‘People Hub’ in Windows Phone, and ‘Google Now’ in Android Jellybean - might not even be a crisis, it simply means than this industry has worked efficiently to launch essential services and features. I suspect a slight loss of direction has occurred now because all the single-purpose objects such as alarm clocks, catalogs and photo editing software have all migrated onto smartphones, computers and tablets. Possibly, there are no practical innovations left to do.

From a hardware perspective, we have reached the climax of innovation too. Smartphone cameras are on par with expensive point-and-shoot cameras, mobile internet connection is speedy (some of the time anyway), and there are tons of sensors to monitor our every movement. Admittedly, battery life on most mobile devices could ideally be improved… and they would be if people weren't obsessed with having ridiculously thin smartphones. I would rather have a slightly thicker smartphone in my pocket if it meant getting another day’s worth of battery life. The innovations have been made already, they just need to be executed properly.

No matter what, innovation must continue, even if it is for a perpetuating reason - and for the sake of innovation. Consumer innovation is not so important, but in fields of medical science and astronomy, there is a lot of innovations to be made; endless possibilities.

Innovation in consumer products is slowing down and there is a rise in unnecessary features and OS redesigns (iOS 7 and Android Lollipop). Despite this, it is worth bearing in mind that nobody knew that they wanted a smartphone until they magically appeared in 2007, same story with tablets and, well, the whole internet. So maybe, whilst intelligent personal assistants and health tracking apps might seem like small innovations now, they might be paramount features in a decade from now in iOS 18 and Android V (possibly Viennetta?). I’m keen to observe what the technology industry will throw at us next.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Chromecast Review

Chromecast, made by Google, was released initially in 2013 for £30 and it is a dongle which plugs into your high definition television so you can stream apps from your phone to your television easily. It is compatible with a handful of apps on iOS and Android (mostly video apps such as Netflix and YouTube - but also Google Play Music).

I purchased one earlier this week, followed the instructions on how to plug in and set up – it magically connected to my Android phone immediately – however I soon ran into an issue; connecting to Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi in my house included quotation marks and exclamation marks which bizarrely caused an excessive amount of forward-slashes to appear and the Chromecast refused to connect. Only after I had removed the unwanted punctuation would the device connect. Once it had, I then needed to reset the Chromecast and my phone because I couldn’t stream anything despite the Chromecast icon telling me that they are aware of each other’s existence.

Backdrop on Chromecast
I’m sure if I didn’t have an awkward Wi-Fi name, set up would have only take a matter of minutes.

Chromecast doesn’t take long to load up (no time at all if you keep it turned on constantly by plugging it into a plug socket - however I opted to give the device power via my television’s USB port so it only is on when my TV is). Also, having holiday pictures from my Google+ gallery as the backdrop on my television when I’m not streaming is a nice touch.

I mainly use Chromecast to stream music from Google Play or videos from YouTube or Netflix and once I’ve launched the content on Chromecast I can close the app on my phone and simply use the phone as a remote whenever I need to. Chromecast streams straight from your rougher rather than through your phone.

Streaming from Netflix to Chromecast
I’ve used Chromecast for a week now on a daily basis and it has worked flawlessly (apart from the initial setup); content loads quickly, and because of how small it is, it never gets in the way. I have noticed through that it only takes two back to back episodes of House M.D (which got added to Netflix UK this month, by the way) before the Chromecast becomes worrying warm.

Overall, ‘The Verge’ described Chromecast as ‘one of the best impulse buys you will make this year’ which is a very true statement however this device doesn’t need to be an impulse buy, it is extremely practical for iOS and Android users who are seeking an inexpensive, smart content streaming solution.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Google 'Material Design'

Inbox by Gmail demonstrating
Google's new 'material design'
Google recently announced Android Lollipop; the most significant Android update since Ice-cream Sandwich in 2011. Although many new features have been added – some vastly more significant than others - the real talking point about Android Lollipop is what Google is calling ‘material design’.

‘Material design’ is a paper-like design language that will be implemented in most Google products over the next few months. It unifies mobile, tablet and desktop applications so they all have the same user interface with only slight modifications. The first major example of this is ‘Inbox’. Inbox is currently in beta and is a Gmail client made by Google. Once a user has been invited to use the app and website, their email is displayed in a format that has a resemblance to Google Now. It splits your email into relevant categories (e.g travel, promotions, and purchases) and it looks beautiful on any device.

Google does seem to have strict guidelines for designing apps with ‘material design’ specifying to developers how animations should look and how shadows should form however this is debatably necessary for apps to use ‘material design’ correctly.

‘Material design’ is native on Android Lollipop but is also included in Google’s iOS apps and on the web. It will be interesting to see how well ‘material design’ is received by consumers as it rolls out to Google products over the next few months.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Tattoos and Piercings (with Ellie Rycroft)

With an estimated 83% of Americans owning a piercing of some sort, and approximately 15% of Americans owning a tattoo, I thought it was about time that I investigated what the fuss is all about and where the line is between a tasteful tat, and awful art - and a perfect piercing, and what is just over the top.

So I spoke to ‘amazing’ Ellie Rycroft, self-confessed Tattoo lover, about her tattoo and piercing ideals.

First: tattoos. Ellie shared that she was a fan of most tattoos and a strong believer in letting people express themselves via body art. She said “everyone is allowed to express themselves and if they chose to do it in the way of body art, then they should be allowed”. Ellie then went on to say that in the future she would like a couple of tattoos, possibly on her rib cage or behind her ear, of some meaningful words/symbols. When I asked her if there were any tattoo that she doesn’t approve of, she said “I wouldn’t get some if they had no significance to me, but people need to understand that some tattoos are a form of expression for others”.

Most pierced person: Elaine Davidson
Then we moved on to piercings. Ellie already has ear piercings varying from the upper lobe on each side to her tragus and helix – six in total, but she says she wants more. She does agree however that Elaine Davidson who currently owns the Guinness World Record for the most piercing (462 of them) has went too far. Also, Ellie is personally not a fan of the implants you can get for piercings.

“Most people wear earrings to express themselves however for some it can be a confidence thing also.” Ellie revealed, “I have a horrible scar behind one of my ears and people used to point it out and start asking me questions about it, so I started to get piercings on that side and people didn’t notice anymore because the piecing got their attention insisted.”

To round up the interview I enquired whether Ellie had any favourite tattoos or piercings. “Justin Bieber, Rihanna, and Selena Gómez,” Ellie replied “because they all have meaning behind them.”

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Microsoft unveils Windows 10

Earlier this week, at a small press conference San Francisco, Microsoft unveiled the Windows 10 (yes, they've skipped Windows 9). Its predecessors, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 were heavily scrutinised and even the latest update to Windows 8.1 which made the software more mouse and keyboard friendly, earlier this year, didn't make the operating system more popular.

Windows 8 was introduced two years ago and put focus heavily on touch devices however still leaving a desktop mode so it was like having two user interfaces in one. This made Windows 8 too complicated for many users which is one of the factors for Windows 8's unpopularity.

Microsoft has pushed to make Windows 10 more appealing to businesses as many still use older systems such as Windows XP which came out over a decade ago. Microsoft planned to stop offering support and updates for Windows XP earlier this year however after a mass amount of security concerns Microsoft has extended the support life to 2016.

The Windows 10 start menu with both a list of programs and live tiles.
Anyway, Windows 10 looks aesthetically a hybrid of Windows 7 and Windows 8. If you are on a desktop PC you are automatically taken to the familiar Windows desktop with the start button in the bottom left corner and your open programs along the bottom. However, once you open the start menu you will see two columns: one of ye olde programs, the other one with Windows 8 live tiles. The Windows 8 apps are updated so they work in the desktop however they will still work on tablets also.

In Windows 10 you can set up multiple desktops so you can have completely different spaces for work and home despite being on the same PC. This is a feature that Windows fan-boys have been wanting for a while now. In the Windows 10 desktop you can also now snap up to four apps/programs - one in each corner. Also, despite looking no different, Microsoft says that command prompt has been updated a lot so it now supports pasting in directories and other new features.

Moving from one app/program to another has been made easier too with a new program manager which lets users seamlessly move from one app/program to another. Despite this, the Windows charm bar which debuted in Windows 8 remains for now, it is uncertain whether this will still be there when Windows 10 goes on sale sometime in Spring 2015.

When you're using a Windows 10 tablet the experience will be optimised slightly for touch (with the option still to return to the Windows 10 desktop). The transition and difference is shown clearly in this video:

Windows 10 is one operating system that will run across all of your Windows devices; from your Windows Phone and Surface, to your Windows desktop and XBOX One. Microsoft is boasting how there will be one universal app marketplace for all of these devices and each form-factor will just have its own slight modifications to cater specifically to that type of device.

I predicted this a year ago (sort of): Microsoft One

Friday, 26 September 2014

What's in my box?

I go camping at least five times every year. Sometimes for just a weekend somewhere local, sometimes for a whole week somewhere many miles away. One thing that I have taken camping with me, every time without fail since 2010, is my box - notoriously known by my friends as 'the-box-of-many-things'.
It is my camping life support machine; without it I would be lost. If it was up to me, it would be mandatory for anyone who goes camping to take a box-of-many-things with them.

I found it in early 2010 when it was going to be thrown away after dozens of years in service as a first aid kit and, like what you may do to a stray dog, I rescued it, took it in and declared it my own.

The essential things in the box are torches - I take two so I can see what I am doing when I return to the tent at night, a pocket/pen knife - for cutting sisal after I've tied a knot, sun glasses - on the off chance that there is sunny weather, these can come in very useful, a spare woggle - this is less of a necessity now, however when I was a Scout I was always losing my main one so a spare would always come in handy, and finally, string - not any string though. This string is specifically from your Nana's house. It somehow always comes in handy and only Nanas ever seem to own it.

Once all of your jobs are out the way it is nice to sit down with mates and have a game of FHM* Top Trumps or another card game. (*Other types of Top Trumps are available.) One of my favorite games which we have started playing this year is 'Cards Against Humanity' (not pictured). If you've never heard of it, you should Google them because it is a great game and has made us laugh until the brink of wetting ourselves.
I also pack chocolate in my box, but any type of sweet will do for when you feel like rewarding yourself.

Camp is great. The people who I go camping with are great. That's why I always carry my camera around with me at camp in a pocket. Hilarious things that I want to photograph at camp are often spontaneous so having my camera with me at all times is extremely useful. Earlier this year I discovered that the camera has a front facing screen as well, which is perfect for taking selfies.
I also have a notebook packed in my box so I can write down anything I need to remember about camp for the Scout log or magazine. There is also a pencil case in my box to store the pens and pencils which I might need.

Optional Extras
$wag glasses are paramount for those situations where you think some swaggy banter is needed. Just slip them on and boom... You're now #dench.
For under £3 you can purchase some fairy lights which are perfect for wrapping around tent poles to give your tent a more comfortable and homey atmosphere.

And that concludes the contents of my box; my lifeblood of camps.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Why are teenagers so lazy?

Have you ever been angrily woken up by your parents in the early afternoon and called lazy because they think you sleep too much? Well, according to recent scientific studies, this may not be your fault.

When you’re a teenager your body clock gets messed up; you don't want to go to sleep early however you love to have a lie-in in the morning, this is because of a hormone called Melatonin aka 'the darkness hormone'. This hormone is produced in the brain and is the thing which helps you fall asleep. In adults, Melatonin is usually produced at around 10PM however among teenagers it is 1AM!

Out of children, teenagers and adults, teenagers are actually the ones who need the most sleep because it is whilst we sleep when hormones are released which are essential if we want to grow. So, technically, the more sleep you get, the more likely it is you will have a growth spurt.

Stereotypical teenagers are seen by both adults and children as moody, depressed and quite impulsive. These are all side effects of being sleep deprived. This is why a few schools in America have pushed back the time of their morning lessons so teens can get a couple more hours in bed. Not only did the students become more enthused, the school also saw an improvement in grades!


‘Threes!’ is a simple yet fun game for iOS and Android. All you need to do it push and slide multiples of three together to make bigger multiples on a 4x4 grid. Every time you slide a number tile along the grid another number appears from the same direction. The game ends when you run out of space on the grid because you can’t put any more multiples together.

The addictive game, which isn't as mathematical as described, only came out on iOS at the beginning of February however has been a success from the start topping the app charts despite costing £1.49 (which is a pretty hefty price for an app) even with a “33.33333333% discount for a limited time”.
The game feels extremely seamless, with its own soundtrack which complements the attractive art work. Everything from its palette of colours to the type of cute, animated emoticons used at the bottom of the number tiles seem to have been taken into consideration when building this game. Undoubtedly, this attention to detail had paid off.

‘Threes!’ for Android launched at the beginning of March for the marginally cheaper price of £1.20 (still with the 33.333% discount of course) and, on the whole, it runs well however Android phones with smaller processors may struggle to keep up, so there might be some lag. Also, the loading time isn’t ideal when you want a quick game when you are queuing however I’m sure this will be sorted out in future updates.

I’m usually against paying for smartphone games however ‘Threes!’ is an exception that I would recommend you to purchase. The game’s slickness, high built quality and simplicity ensure once you’ve started playing you won’t be able to stop.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Sony, Asus and LG smartwatches rumoured to be announced at IFA 2014

At least three more smartwatches powered by Android Wear are due to launch at IFA in Berlin later this week. Hardware manufactures such as Sony, Asus and LG have all teased the press in these last few days leading up to IFA with trailers and ambiguous pictures of their future watches.

The LG G Watch R
The smartwatch LG has teased boasts a completely circular display - something that people were expecting to see on the much anticipated Moto 360 earlier this year however a small straight edge at the bottom where there are screen components disappointed many. The device from LG will be called the 'G Watch R' (R presumably standing for round) and it will be the successor to the LG Watch G which is a square Android Wear device launched at the beginning of summer. It has a retro yet sophisticated look which means at first glance could be confused for a regular watch. The device has a 1.3-inch plastic display, a snapdragon processor and, according to LG, is dust and water resistant. The LG G Watch R should launch before the end of this year. 

So far manufactures can only make limited customisations to Android Wear so making stylish and attractive hardware is paramount... And some dinky watch faces.

Sony, a popular hardware manufacture, is rumoured to announce their first smartwatch running Android Wear at IFA. In the past they have made smartwatches running a customised version of Android however these have been far from ideal. The device from Sony, apparently called the Sony 'Smartwatch 3', will have a 1.68-inch display however that is all we know about it. Its shape, style, colours, processor and additional features are still a mystery.

Sony is also rumoured to be launching the 'SmartBand Talk' alongside the 'Smartwatch 3'. This fitness tracking watch will apparently feature a curved e-ink display however there are doubts about whether it will be powered by Google Wear or not.

Finally, earlier today Asus released a trailer video for the 'ZenWatch'. The video isn't very clear however it looks like the smartwatch will have a square face in a rounded body. There are also rumours spreading that this device will be less than £120 which makes it great value for money.

Both the LG Watch R and the Sony Smartwatch 3 will have 340p displays. These are less than half of HD however this is high pixel density considering that the smartwatches less than 2-inches big. Pricing is also unknown for these devices but chances are we'll find out later this week at IFA.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Facebook aims Slingshot at Snapchat

This week Facebook has launched a new app in the US called 'Slingshot' to directly compete with, the picture messaging app, Snapchat. So should the makers of Snapchat be worried?

Snapchat, if you didn't already know, is a free picture and video messaging and sharing app for iOS and Android mostly used by teenagers. Users are able to send pictures and videos they take to their friends, or people who they don't know if they so wish, for a maximum of 10 seconds before the snap is gone to never to be seen again (unless it is replayed - which can be done once every 24 hours). Pictures and 15 second videos sent can have an overlay of filters, text and colourful drawings. The more you snapchat, the higher your snapchat score gets.

Snapchat, sadly, is quite unreliable; its servers have been hacked in the last year leaving thousands of user's data exposed on the internet for anyone to see, it has run into legal issues because of user's ability to screenshot snaps and it has also needed to deal with many complaints over ethics as studies show that many use the app for sexting.

Facebook had an app similar to Snapchat called 'Poke' which was retired earlier this year because it lacked engagement from users. Facebook then offered to buy Snapchat for $3 billion however the company surprisingly declined this. So, Facebook tried again to compete with Snapchat late last year when they added Snapchat like features into 'Instagram' so users could message other users with a photo or video. However this week Facebook has upped their game and have launched a stand-alone app to directly compete with Snapchat as a last effort to drag users away from Snapchat and get them using a Facebook service. This app is called 'Slingshot'.

'Slingshot' is scarily similar to Snapchat in the sense that you take pictures or videos, send them and they disappear after a specified number of seconds however Facebook has done this is an overly complicated way. The app is hard to navigate; users need to swipe all directions for different functions which, frankly, is just irritating however a price you are forced to pay for the stunning animations in the app.

The biggest issue with 'Slingshot' though is that in order to open a message, you need to send one back first which makes conversations very hard as you can't reply to someone if you don't know what they've said. Maybe 'Slingshot' isn't supposed to be a messaging app but more of a feed of temporary updates... which is fine as long as you have something to say yourself or the app will become very boring very quickly.

The only real positive I can find with 'Slingshot' is the 'select all' button which allows you to send your picture or video to all of your contacts at once. This is a feature which Snapchat addicts have been desperate for.

So will Slingshot be able to crush Snapchat - or even steal some of the 30+ million active Snapchat users? The app is very new - it isn't even out in the UK yet - and opinions haven't fully formed however it will only take weeks until we see if Slingshot's attack on Snapchat was a success.

Download 'Slingshot' here:

Thursday, 29 May 2014

'Medium' blogging platform

The 'Medium' home page
Medium is a beautiful, sleek blogging platform which will makes content look outstanding. Easy to read fonts, big beautiful images and unique page design all complement each-other perfectly like how blogging websites should be to make posts look crisp and clean - with nothing to distract readers from the words.

The clean layout of posts was founded in Summer 2012 by a man who used to work for Twitter. Since then it has became one of the most popular blogging platforms.

Once you've signed up with your Twitter account you are presented with a simple blank page with few options. You write a heading, subheading, select a picture for the title background and then write your story. There are also various formatting tools you can use before clicking the 'Publish' button to let anyone in the world read what you've got to say. You can also submit your words into a category so there is a higher chance of more people going to read it. 

A differentiation from other blogging sites is that on Medium posts are sorted by category rather than author. This has its advantages and disadvantages. Advantages: if you are a reader who wants to read up on a specific topic it is a brilliant tool and the collections are monitored by fellow users of the website. Disadvantages: all of the blogger's home page displaying only their articles can not be modified much apart from a header and profile picture. Medium is a gimmick free blogger's dream.

An example of the design language used for posts
You are engrossed in stories on Medium about whatever interests you and the site works a little like a news website with the most popular stories and your personal recommendations being displayed on the home screen. All pages follow the same design code as well. This means, unlike Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr and other blogging sites, your space on Medium looks rather impersonal. So if think you can manage having a blog without widgets, advertisements and links; if you are just about the pure content, then Medium is definitely for you.

Everything on the website is simple yet powerful at the same time. Things are displayed in a very basic manor however it still gives you everything you need. For example, under the 'Stats' menu, you are not bombarded with as much information like what you might get with other sites - however it is all there and displayed elegantly.

If you are looking for a modern way to share your stories on the internet, Medium is definitely the way to go. The site seems to have an awesome community and is straight forward to use. What more could you want from a blogging website?  

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Taking a photograph does not make you a photographer

Summer time: good weather and people in good spirit. Facebook is overflowing with selfies of happy people and their friends however some over-ambitions, professional photographer wannabe has uploaded some pictures that have no significance to themselves - or anyone for that matter. The photo is just of a landscape. Why have they uploaded this?

Uploading pictures of hills, fields or dunes is only acceptable if the 'photographer' has taken into consideration focus, aperture, shutter speed, lighting and other variables, or if it is taken with a SLR camera because at least then it means the quality of the pictures are high. However, if a person has just pointed their mobile phone's camera at a landscape and pressed 'capture' without thinking, the photos should no be going on Facebook or any social networking site (apart from Flickr - because nobody really uses that any-more).

The quality is low (most of the time anyway), which means that even if your view is good, you're not capturing colours correctly and when enlarged the photo can become pixelated. But most importantly, nobody cares; even the people who were with you at the time are more lightly to 'like' and comment on the photos that they are in rather than some landscape which may have well have just been found on Google Image Search. If it is a decent landscape you're photographing, there will be hundreds - if not thousands - of pictures of it which are easy to find with a simple image search - which makes the image very impersonal - however if it's not a good landscape, don't take the photo at all. And if you do take it and upload it, do not have the courage to call yourself a photographer... because your not... not even close to armature photographer!

To conclude, when having a whale-of-a-time walking through the countryside or at the beach, feel free to upload thousands of pictures of you and your friends/family however don't upload random pictures with no human subject; nobody wants to see it.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Monument Valley Review

Monument Valley is a trippy puzzle game for iOS and Android. You play as a princess named Ida and need to navigate your way though a Valley of impossible objects. There are 10 beautifully designed, colorful levels which encapture your imagination however they require lateral thinking to complete. As you progress through the addictive game platforms which can rotate, manoeuvrable columns and other creatures are added to add some complexity.

The 10 levels are sadly short and for £2.49 I would expect a lot more however all of the levels are a treat to your eyes and the sense of achievement you get once you have completed a hard level is inimitable.

The game costs £2.49 on both iOS and Android devices. It can be downloaded on smartphones however for optimal gaming experience, I would recommend you play on a tablet. If you do decide to play on your smartphone though, do not worry about the game lagging or crashing; surprisingly the heavy graphics don't take a toll on even low end smartphones.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Is there any such thing as true altruism?

Altruism, according to the Oxford English dictionary, is ‘unselfish concern for other people’. This is the concept that you can do a good deed for no reason whatsoever; not even to make you feel good about yourself or in hope you can ask for a favour back of them later. But does altruism even exist? Is it possible to do something simply for the interests of another person?

Above: Derek
Derek, from Channel 4 mockumentary series ‘Derek’, is a great example of an altruistic person. He is on a constant high and spends his simple life helping and caring for other people and animals. He is self-content and there is nothing to suggest his happiness is a side-effect of being altruistic. Unfortunately, he is fictional though.

In real life, Stephen, 19, has an incurable form of cancer — you may have heard about him and his amazing work on the news recently — and he has selflessly scrapped his bucket list and instead raised over £3 million for the Teenage Cancer Trust. This is extremely close to true altruism but surely Stephen must feel good about himself knowing that he is potentially helping hundreds, if not thousands, of other people.

A type of altruism does exist however it is not as perfect as you think. Altruism can be used as a way of dealing with anxiety. It doesn’t make the person feel any better about themselves however it distracts them from thinking about the thing which is making them anxious.

It is clear that if true altruism does exist, it is extremely rare. Philosophers and specialists who have studied altruism argue that “altruism is an impossibility”, even Jesus said “you shall love your neighbour as yourself” obviously knowing that people will always put themselves first.

I was talking to a wise person a few weeks ago about what the key to happiness is. They said not to be materialistic because wealth doesn’t make you happy, the only true thing which makes you happy is helping other people. If the apparent key to happiness is helping other people, surely altruism can’t exist, can it?

Evidence of this is theory is Baldrick, in Black Adder. He always seems happier than Black Adder himself despite being his servant (however this may also be because he is a ‘blithering idiot’ and lives in his own little world inside his head).

I refuse to live in a cynical world where people are motivated to do things only for self-interest.
So maybe there is no such thing as true altruism — but it doesn’t really matter? A consequence of doing a great thing is feeling good about it and you shouldn’t feel bad about that. To me at least, it is a win-win situation if you can help someone and feel good about doing it.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Android Wear

For the last couple of years, if you wanted a smart watch you would invest in the $249 Pebble. Pebble’s iconic story has been a dream for them since they first announced the idea; they became the most funded kick-starter project ever and since then they have been slowly expanding their range of products. This is all well and good for Pebble as a company; however the actual product wasn't anything special. The clunky design, short battery life and e-ink display not only made the Pebble impractical but also, most importantly, un-cool.

Thankfully, that all might change.

Today (18th March 2014) Google announced Android Wear, a modified version of Android, tailor made for smart-watches. As expected, the smart-watches will connect with your Android device. The operating system, of course, has dozens of health and fitness features including the ability to send real time information about your speed, distance and time whether you’re walking, running or cycling straight to your wrist. This means that Google Maps are built in, so you’ll be able to get directions and smart location information wherever you are.

An essential feature which predecessors lacked was the ability for all notifications from all your Android apps to be sent to the smart-watch. Crucially, Android Wear does that.

Google Now is at the centre of Android Wear. Google Now means that you will be able to do voice searches and use voice commands instead of needing to touch the small screen. The commands let you reply to messages, change the music track on your phone and do other gimmicky tasks – so you can show off in front of your friends.

Google emphasizes that Android Wear is ‘glance-able’ which means the information you are seeking will just be there when you need it. The example Google uses is a jelly fish warning for some surfers who are about to ride the wave. After they've see this warning, they decide to go surfing at another beach, jelly fish free, which Google has suggested. More basic features similar to this are already built into Google Now on Android smart-phones; Google Now can detect when you are home or at work and can give you specific information and reminders if you are at a certain location, so those features also can be expected front and centre on Android Wear.

I've been known to slate smart-watches in the past and although Android Wear looks pretty cool it’s still useless for most people. Yes, it looks cool and will allow you to show off in front of your mates however, like what I've said before, why do you need a middle man for notifications? It’s just plain lazy if you can’t slide your smart-phone out of your pocket to see notifications. The only excusable reason I would give someone to purchase a smart-watch is if they get a constant flow of new notification and need to be able to immediately tell which ones are important or not. If you are into gimmicky stuff though, the potential here is astonishing. Google recently purchased the learning thermostat ‘Nest’ and I could see it help home owners loads if they could just glance at their wrist and say a couple of words if they want the temperature turning down.  

So far, Google is known to be working with phone manufactures HTC, LG, Samsung and Motorola on wearable technology however Google says that fashion brands such as ‘Fossil’ will also be producing stylish hardware for this clean, simplistic software. The manufactures can be creative, they aren't limited to size or shape; Google has advertised both circular and square watches.

The operating system isn’t ready for consumers just yet, it’s the developer’s preview which has become available today, however we can expect to hear a lot more about Android Wear during I/O at the end of June.

Monday, 17 February 2014

The Wyvern Website

Finally, the Wyvern's online presence has migrated from that boring blog of basic content which was a waste of pixels to the sparkly, sexy and brand new Wyvern Website which you can check out for yourself at (because and were already taken).

The Wyvern has always been keen to have an website because the internet is everywhere, can provide live updates and it is un-restricting. Yes, we all love 'The Wyvern' newspaper from the bottom of our hearts however we are limited to 8 A4 sheets of paper which can not display videos, sounds or let users have an interactive experience. Also, by the time the newspaper is printed, most of the stories are old news. This isn't just a problem with 'The Wyvern' though, every news publication faces this problem and that is why circulation is decreasing and more people are getting the news via websites.

Anyway, we wanted The Wyvern Website to look fresh, professional yet still be easy to use, and we are all confident that we have achieved that.

The home page (aka the 'Starting Page') is a cycle of beautiful pictures accompanied headlines and captions which display for 6 seconds each before sliding up to reveal another page of content. We like this because it is original, clean and allows viewers of the website to see what is in the news that week and what we think they should have a look at.

The website unfortunately doesn't have a CMS (Content Management System) for journalists to upload articles which means that everything needs to be added manually. On the plus side though, this lets us be more creative with design - like what you can see on this report for the BBC School Report Practise Day.

When setting up the website, the editorial team thought carefully about the categories of news we would cover. We recognise that when people want national news they will go straight to the BBC News website or the Huffington Post website and, to be fair, we knew we couldn't compete with them so we needed a USP (unique selling point). We are a school newspaper - so we decided to embrace that and decide that we would cover school news, local news and sometime national news - as long as it is something which will fascinate our target audience (fellow teenage pupils).

The Wyvern's new website also has a page where readers can read 'The Wyvern' newspaper online and another page where readers can watch all of the videos that we have made over the past couple of years.

The Wyvern takes pride in this website, it hasn't been easy to make but it has been fun and we just hope you enjoy the truly original articles, intriguing interviews and fascinating features that we upload.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

'House of Cards' season 2 review

For those of you who have Netflix, and even some of you who don't, you might have heard of the Emmy and Golden Globe award winning drama named 'House of Cards'. The first series, based loosely on the 1990s British version with the same name, premièred on the streaming service 'Netflix' on the February 1st 2013. Season 1 was loved critics and regular watchers alike which meant any following seasons would struggle to continue the high standard; I'm pleased to report that season 2 did!

Season 2 of the American political thriller was released on February 14th 2014 and, like with season 1, all episodes were released at once meaning that people could spend Valentines day binge watching them.

The first episode of season 2 wraps up loose ends from season 1 in unexpected and astonishing ways which give a further glimpse into how the complex mind of Frank Underwood, portrayed excellently by Kevin Spacey, works. That episode sets the bar for the rest of the series and leaves the viewers craving more of the elegant cinematography and perfect dialogue.

I'll admit that House of Cards is very heavy on politics so chances are there will be certain twists in the plot which are over your head unless you know the subject very well however this doesn't detract from the enjoyment.

As an indication to you of how much you will love the second season of House of Cards, I managed to watch all 13 episodes in under 48 hours - so, I for one, can't wait until season 3 of House of Cards gets released on Netflix this time next year however until then there are more Netflix Originals  launching second seasons this year including 'Orange is the new Black'.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Please protect me from smoking in cars

I've always been passionate about trying to protect young people from tobacco and the dangerous effect that second-hand smoke has on us.

In 2011 I was lucky enough to go with the British Lung Foundation to Downing Street and hand in a petition on smoking in cars with children. I think that was the moment that I really felt like my voice mattered and so I continue to fight for my rights and those of other children.

Over the last few years people have been rigorously informed, through advertising campaigns and petitions, about the harm of smoke. But smoking is an addiction – that is a fact.

My father smoked since he was a teenager and stopped only last year. Thankfully, he never smoked when I was in the car with him but not everyone is as considerate.

Young people dislike the taste and smell of cigarette fumes. Friends who've been in cars full of smoke complain it makes them feel sick, often giving them a headache and they can taste and smell smoke on themselves for the rest of the day.

Cigarette smoke is also full of poisons like arsenic and there around 300,000 GP visits from children every year because of passive smoke. It can give children asthma attacks, ear infections and even cot death. You often see smokers opening their window to try to protect passengers, but much of the toxic smoke gets blown back into the car.

Despite many attempts to educate smokers of the dangers around 430,000 children are still exposed every week. That’s a shocking amount and many children are too scared to say anything, let alone complain. It is clear that education alone isn't enough.

A Mumsnet survey revealed that 83% of smokers supported the ban. So parents who smoke do care about their children's health, but maybe some lack the willpower to resist a quick fag in the car. Making it fineable to smoke in a car with a child would make sure fewer adults will light up, in the same way that more people wear their seatbelts now it's law.

Some might argue that it's not for the government to dictate what people do in private places but what about the hundreds of thousands of children's lives that are affected? Others might argue that a ban would be too hard to enforce or is illiberal. While it's true some people might ignore it, I believe most would abide with the new law and is it not more illiberal to deprive children of clean, poison-free air when they are in a car?

Something must be done and today MPs will have a chance to help put an end to children being subjected to harmful second-hand smoke in a car. I'm delighted that David Cameron has allowed a free vote in the House of Commons and I hope they will come out in force to protect us.

Liam Pape is a 15-year-old student at Darlington School of Mathematics and Science and was on the editorial team of their 'Branksome Bugle', who in March 2011 handed in a petition on smoking in cars at 10 Downing Street with the British Lung Foundation.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Android KitKat 4.4 is a smaller update than first thought

Android's latest operating system, Android 4.4 KitKat, was announced in the second half of 2013 and has slowly been rolling out to compatible devices. The flagship (and first) smartphone running the updated version of Android was Google's own Nexus 5.

'Immersive Mode' on Android 4.3 -
not on just Android 4.4.
The Nexus 5 is a standard Android smartphone with a crisp display, unpredictable battery life and a poor camera. Despite the flaws, the phone is ideal for android developers who want to update their apps to KitKat and test how well they will run. Some of the features in KitKat currently only work on the Nexus 5 which makes the Nexus 5 a more appealing smartphone however this is bad news for other Android handset manufactures. Android 4.4 KitKat is a small software update of minor tweaks anyway so making some of the features exclusive for some phones just makes the update almost pointless.

Other updates which Google claim are major in KitKat is activating a Google search in Google Now by just saying 'Okay Google', 'Hangouts' and text messages being combined in the 'Hangouts' app and a redesigned 'Quickoffice'. (Which reminds me, why does Google install both 'Google Drive' and 'Quickoffice' on all Android devices when they do the same thing?)

Anyway, all of the above are app updates which you can get if you run Android 4.1* or above! This means that when the KitKat update finally does come your way it means that most of the changes are unnoticeable.


Friday, 7 February 2014

Is Sochi a success so far?

The Winter Olympics have taken place every 4 years since 1924 (excluding 1940 and 1944 because of World War 2) and they host a variety of winter sports from freestyle skiing to short track speed skating.

This year the Winter Olympics are being held at Sochi which is a coastal town in southern Russia. An estimated £31.1 billion has been spent ensuring the games happen which makes it the most expensive Olympic games yet!

Journalists from around the world, eager to witness and report on the events, arrived in the city last week and since then, things have not been looking good for the games. Journalist have tweeting the truth about hotels and questioning if the building work has even finished. Reports show a variety of issues from a broken curtain rail, double booked rooms and no hot water to hotel receptions lacking a floor, yellow tap water and manholes not having covers.

It is fair to say that things aren't going smoothly in Sochi.

That is nothing though, compared to what the Russian deputy prime minister revealed accidentally in a press conference. He said: "We have surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall and then leave the room for the whole day," The Wall Street journal reports that an official aide then diverted the conversation and prevented follow-up questions concerning that matter.

Later that day, an official spokesperson said that the deputy prime minister was confused and the cameras were only in place for the construction of the hotels; they have been taken away since then. However, even if you believe that story, it seems peculiar that they were there in the first place.

Tragically, a few weeks before the Olympic opening ceremony a pest control company in Sochi informed journalists about a special contract they had recently received from the Russian government telling them to exterminate more stray dogs throughout the Olympics. A spokesperson for the pest control company said that thousands of stray dogs are roaming the streets and "biting children".

British government officials recently speculated on the security at the Sochi Winter Olympic games claiming that a terror attack is "very lightly to occur". This is probably the reason why Barack Obama, plus many more world leaders, have declined their invitations to the games despite Russia saying there is a "ring of steel" around the Olympic venues. 37,000 security officers have been deployed to ensure a terror attack will be very hard to pull off. Whether it is possible is the only question now.

From Russia with love

During January, Vladimir Putin (president of Russia) said that gay people were to stay away from Children. Interpret that as you wish however to me is says clearly that Russia is not planning to change its LGBT laws any time soon. Despite what Putin may claim, Russia is illiberal.

During Summer 2013 the Russian government passed an act banning 'Gay Propaganda' from children. Basically, this meant that children are not allowed to know that gay people exist which, conveniently for homophobes, stops any LGBT events happening anywhere in Russia.

Google has taken a stand though, making their 'Google Doodle' of Friday 7th February a rainbow of colours with silhouettes of Winter Olympians overlaying. Various publications have reached out to Google to comment on the doodle however they want the illustration to speak for itself.

Below the doodle was a quote from the Olympic charter:
  The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.

The Google Doodle from the day of the Sochi Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony

The four Olympic rings
On February 7th 2014 it was the Winter Olympics opening ceremony which took place at the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi. 40,000 people turned out to see the launch of the games which was debatably rather dull. The embarrassment of only 4 our of the 5 Olympic rings appearing did make the show slightly more interesting though.

Not everything about this Winter Olympics has been negative though. On the positive side, the Sochi Olympics has broken the world record for the furthest distance an Olympic torch has travelled.

The torch travelled a staggering 40,389 miles and even went into space!

The Sochi Winter Olympics have only just started and already they have been subject to mass amount of controversy and hysteria. This will definitely be a Winter Olympics not forgotten any time in the foreseeable future.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

What is the point in smartwatches?

The Pebble smart-watch
Smartwatches are a new piece of technology which started emerging at the end of 2013 and they have been all the trend at CES 2014. They are middlemen for your notifications - a device that sits between your phone and you.

The best smartwatches out at the moment are the crowd funded Pebble watch and the Samsung Galaxy Gear which are both reasonably trendy but have limited functionality and therefore not very practical. They don't look very good, they are frustrating to use because of the small screens and they are ridiculously overpriced.

Also, I thought the whole point of mobile smartphones was to reduce the amount of devices you need so you can do everything in one place. For example, the smartphone replaced watches, alarm clocks, calculators, catalogues, calendars, letters, board games, newspapers and many more things which you use every day. So isn't having a smart-watch a step backwards? If we are getting these devices back after they were replaced by smartphones can we expect to see a boom of smart alarm clocks next?

E-cigarettes to be unplugged for under 18-year-olds

E-cigarettes, if you didn't know, are plastic tubes which resemble real cigarettes. They dispense vapour and nicotine every time you take a drag. E-cigs are becoming increasingly popular because of interesting flavours, unique styles and even different coloured lights on the end which glow every time you take a drag.

It is estimated that 1.5 million people in the UK use e-cigarettes and, from what I can tell, there are currently two types of people who use e-cigarettes: people who have been smoking for most of their life, who have now realised that it is damaging their health and that smoking is a huge waste of money, so they have converted to e-cigarettes in an effort to quit altogether. And then there are young people from early teens up to late twenties who want to look cool without slowly killing themselves… so they have bought e-cigarettes.

The tobacco industry have spotted this market of young people so over the past couple of years more and more wealthy cigarette corporations have been adding e-cigarettes to their line of products. It is debatable whether they are just filling a gap in the market for e-cigarettes or if they are producing the fake fags as a stepping stone for young people in hope they will get hooked on real cigarettes.

However, in the past week, the UK government has threatened to reduce the teenage market significantly by proposing to ban under-18s from buying e-cigarettes. I think this is great news because it means that less young people are more likely to start smoking anything - whether it be harmful or not.

Facts about e-cigarettes:
The industry is worth around £24 million a year.
E-cigarettes get more popular every year (especially around 'Stoptober').
11% of smokers also use e-cigarettes.
567 young people start smoking every day (regular cigarettes).

Above: E-cigarettes at the Consumer Electronics Show last month.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Microsoft “Project Siena”

Microsoft seems to always have had problems building up 'app marketplaces' on their devices from Windows 8 to Windows Phone 8. Their problem is that developers haven't had any urge to immediately build apps for these operating systems because they are not the most popular in the market – Windows and Windows Phone has a tiny fraction of the market share compared to iOS and Android in both the smartphone and tablet market.

However Microsoft has decided to tackle this problem by launching a Windows 8 app in beta which allows passionate Windows 8 users to easily build apps for the platform without needing to write a line of code! This works in Microsoft's favour as it means that there will be a steady trickle of fresh apps entering the 'app marketplace'.

Once the app is downloaded and opened (link:, you are shown a two minute tutorial video and then your blank canvas is presented on your screen. You can add content via the bar on the right hand side of the screen then add excel functions and edit the functions at the bottom.

Of course "Project Siena" isn't as powerful (or as complex) as app building programs like Virtual Studio however "Project Siena" is perfect for creating catalogues, guides and information logs of all variety. Once you have finished the app you can add a splash screen, icon and publish it – for free – to the Windows 8 'app marketplace'.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

What I've learnt in 2013...

In the last year I've learnt lots of important things so here is a list of the most important things I've learnt:

  • Old people look young if they are happy. 
  • There is a place in Boston where everybody knows your name. 
  • There are pressure points in my hand. 
  • The NSA know if Area 51 is real. 
  • Other words for ginger include auburn, strawberry blonde and orange. 
  • The American Government shut down because they were all depressed that 'Breaking Bad' ended. 
  • I am secretly mocking people when I suck up to them. 
  • Nothing ruins comedy like arenas. 
  • The old cool is now uncool and vice versa. 
  • Orange is the new black. 
  • You can be clever as Voltaire but it won't get you nowhere if you want to sell disks. 
  • Just because you've had a crush on someone for a long time doesn't make it a good excuse for them to go out with you. 
  • Innuendoes and double entendre are different things. 
  • Everybody Lies. 
  • Everybody Dies. 
  • Ed Balls lives in a cul-de-sac with his Australian brother Harry. 
  • People at helium factories speak funny.
  •  Ben Maclean rhymes with margarine. 
  • May day is the new Christmas. 
  • Kevin is the American Keith and Jim is the American Tim. 
  • Atticus is a cool name. 
  • It's a long way to the top if you want to rock 'n' roll. 
  • Americans pronounce 'crisps' funny. 
  • I dislike small-minded idiots. 
  • Unhappiness causes people to do irrational things. 
  • French is hard.