Blog

Welcome

As an actor, writer and rock singer it’s been in my mind for some time to create a website, having navigated the stage, the page, the pub gig, the choppy waters of Twitter and Insta and the high seas of YouTube with some success. So when a colleague introduced me to Edinburgh University’s 23Things, the stars aligned… So welcome to my shiny website.

Below you’ll find my thoughts on the performing arts world and beyond: on technology, family and day to day life, I hope they make you smile. Feel free to add comments, or if there are any topics you’d like me to cover get in touch via the Contact page.

Thanks for stopping by. I’m off to learn some lines…

Andrea x 

Just a Cat

I had fun playing with the app Just a Line. It lets you film a short clip and draw over the top of it. If you move the camera while drawing, your doodle becomes 3D. Apparently you can share the augmented reality fun if you pair your phone with another one, but sadly the app wasn’t available on my son’s Sony Experia. So instead of enjoying a virtual game of noughts and crosses, I sat on his top bunk and played with my cat instead. Similarly to Pokemon Go, this app seemed to make my phone very hot and drain the battery very quickly, so I ended up deleting it. Which is a shame as it was good fun. Even more of a shame is WordPress won’t let me upload the cat videos I made, so you’ll just have to use your imagination. Or contact me and I’ll send you them. Or, you know, get a life.

i-Corona

Edinburgh University’s Thing 21 (a module on online learning and digital games) could not be more relevant at this time. The UK, along with many countries across the world is on lockdown as social distancing becomes the first line of defense against the rapid and unmanageable spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID19. As schools are shut parents like myself are scrambling to get to grips with home schooling while simultaneously juggling our own home workload, so ways to peak kids’ interest – keeping them entertained and educated at the same time are becoming vital.

This is learning by stealth.

The Hour of Code is fantastic free resource to get computer game obsessed kids (and adults) using their screen time for good. We tried the game Code Combat: Escape the Dungeon and let’s just say FOUR hours later my 11 year old is still going strong. That’s four full hours of learning coding, he doesn’t concentrate for four full hours on ANYTHING! The game starts by getting the user to type basic commands to move their chosen character through a dungeon maze (when I first saw it I thought it was more of an online game than anything else). But the commands grow more and more complex with every level as you start to learn increasingly complex Python programming language. I’m so impressed by the way Code Combat teaches real coding in an incremental, fun way that I’ve signed him up for the premium version. I learned coding in High School and University, so I’ve been able to help him out the couple of times he’s got stuck, but I wonder how long it will take for him to get beyond my level – I suspect not long.

The second site we looked at was GeoGebra. It might just be a case of an old laptop and a huge demand on the internet right now, but we found the site a bit slow and buggy. However, we loved flexing our logic skills completing the puzzles, particularly the Chinese Match ones, which you can get to by following the above link. And at least I’ll know how to keep the family entertained if the power goes out and I’ve got a box of matches to hand! I guess because the site is open source, the content can vary greatly, but from what I saw it’s best suited to older kids and adults. For example I found this puzzle infuriating. Can they fit? Well can they? The site doesn’t tell you. Please comment below if you know!

Another site is the National Museums of Scotland online games. These games are quite short and simple and more overtly educational – which you would expect from a museum trying to teach you about stuff. The Dress a Pict game would have been a lot more fun if you had more “wrong” clothing choices you could have dressed them up in; and the Plane Builder had my son clicking to infuriation trying to find the “right” combination of body, wings and engine. We found a common theme through all the games was lack of flexibility – it would have been better if they allowed you to create the obvious right answer AND make creative solutions to flex your problem solving skills, or just let you play more with the wrong answers for fun. Still, it is a great free way to enhance kids’ learning on a particular topic while the actual museum is closed.

I’m not a big fan of Sumdog, as it doesn’t seem to teach you anything, it just quizzes you on what you already know, with a few colourful games and avatars thrown in. My son has been using it for maths practice on and off throughout Primary school, but if you’re battling against the clock with your peers, you’re never going to get a high score if you’re dyslexic. I worry about what that does to his confidence when he looks at the leader-board and compares himself to others. That said, he seems to find it fun enough.

Lastly we’ve been having fun learning German on Duolingo. You can pick from several languages you want to learn, if I had more time I’d learn Gaelic, but I don’t, so never mind. It’s a great interactive website and I’m amazed that it’s free. You can chose the length of time you want to commit to every day, we’ve gone for 10 minutes which keeps it manageable, fun and doesn’t seem too daunting. Hmm maybe I will be able to squeeze in 10 minutes a day to learn Gaelic after all, or maybe Italian, or…

It has been so impressive how teachers have managed to communicate with their classes and set daily tasks through apps like Microsoft Teams for consistent, continual learning; and how parents are sharing online resources for home schooling to help each other out. There is a rapidly increasing number of online learning sites and I’m starting to realise the trick is not to feel pressure to try them all.

Plus I can’t help but feel the digital genie is out of the bottle and this may just change the way we learn and work forever.

Innovative, fun, free digital resources are a welcome tonic to the dark news of deaths, excessive panic buying and idiots stealing hand gel from hospital wards…

It’s challenging times, but I hope the overarching lessons of self discipline, creativity and resilience will last our kids for years after the virus has become a distant memory.

Be kind, stay well and stay at home.


LinkedIn

I’ve always found LinkedIn a bit of a tricky fit. It’s a bit too “worky” for me to want to check at home, and a bit too “job hunty” to want to check at work. So message requests tend to pile up before I get round to reading them, and it’s usually from people I don’t know trying to sell me something anyway.

I know people who swear by it and have found excellent contacts and jobs though the site, so maybe I’d feel differently if I were actively looking for work. But I also find it a bit inflexible – it wants to pin you to a particular industry or job type – which doesn’t really work for me as I have simultaneous creative and sustainability careers running in parallel.

As with digitising anything, it is good to keep a CV online, in case your own computer system has a meltdown and you lose everything. Whenever I log in to LinkedIn I do tend to find relevant, interesting articles about the green fleet industry; and am spared the fluffy memes I’ve seen a million times on the other networks. And if I were to initiate serious job hunting mode, it probably would be the first place I’d start.

Altmetrics

Altmetrics is a way to measure and display the reach of journal articles. Although it claims to measure their impact, it is really just recording their popularity, as there is no easy way to drill down to see the resulting real world change that may have occured. I looked at a research article from the Lancet called ‘Clinical features of patients infected with 2019 novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China’. Unsurprisingly it had a very high altmetric score of 10061 and had been mentioned widely across the various media platforms around the world. A high score doesn’t guarantee a high quality article: it may indicate unique, new, useful information; it may indicate it has been written in a way members of the public can more readily understand; or it could just be down to luck that it has been picked up and shared more than another research paper of equal or greater quality. Twitter mentions are a great way of mapping the global reach of an article, but there is no indication of whether the Tweets are negative or positive – they could all be saying the article is a load of rubbish and it would still get a high score. Thankfully you can gain a bit of context by clicking the media tabs to see the most recent tweets, News articles, Youtube videos etc, to get a feel for the tone of the discourse. Altmetrics does have it’s limitations, but it it seems the most comprehensive and user freindly tool we have for tracking impact at the moment.

Augmented ‘reality’?

The year is 2016, groups of youths gather menacingly in public places. What are they up to? Dealing? Scheming? Plotting to overthrow Boomers once and for all?

Actually, they are catching cartoon ‘animals’ on their smartphones. Yes Pokemon Go famously got youths out into the great outdoors… to stare at their screens and ignore the great outdoors.

It was – and I’m sure still is – an addictive little game which drained your phone’s battery as quickly as it drained your enjoyment of the simplicity of nature. Yes it was a thrill to catch your favourite Pokemon at your favourite football stadium, or to catch them anywhere really, the technology at the time was astounding. But there were stories of graves being vandalised, flowerbeds being trampled and near misses as screen-transfixed-teens walked onto roads.

One day my son (who was 8 years old at the time) witnessed me competitively obsessing about Pokemon in a leafy beauty spot, so he gave me the sage old advice to “just enjoy the walk.”

I think augmented reality works really well when it enhances or explains what’s around; but when it overlays it for its own entertainments sake, it is a nice novelty, but you could just be missing out on the important beauty of plain old reality.

Hunting for Treasures

Geocaching is a great fun free family activity and an excellent way of turning a ‘boring’ walk into a treasure hunt adventure. All you need is a smartphone and the Geocaching.com website, downloading the app might make things easier, but the website works just fine.

Geo – meaning Earth, and Cache – a French word invented in 1797 meaning a temporary hiding place to stash items (such as weapons or jewels!) mash them together and you’ve got a worldwide treasure hunt – yay!

The first thing to know is how to properly pronounce ‘cache’ – its ‘kash’. You have now saved yourself a half hour argument and can get straight on with the fun…

As with any new activity it can be a bit confusing to start, so save yourself another half hour of fumbling despair and read the beginner’s guide – hidden away on their website, just like a cache should be I suppose https://www.geocaching.com/help/index.php?pg=kb.chapter&id=141

There’s even a charming video to keep you right:

It’s amazing how many geocaches there are scattered around that people who don’t know about the geocaching world, or ‘muggles’ are oblivious of. So on a chilly Sunday afternoon, I tore my son away from his screen and off we went to find our first cache. I had treasure in my pocket to swap with whatever we found (essential) and a pencil to mark the log (also essential). I knew the local area quite well, so it was easy to find the rough location from the online map. There was also a hint on the website which told us the box we were looking for was at the base of a tree, which really helped to narrow things down. Of course it’s vital not to ruin the mystery for others, so I can’t tell you which tree it was, but rest assured we found what we were looking for.

In these days of solitary screens, geocaching is a welcome tonic, an excellent way of getting family or friends together to enjoy the great outdoors and collaborate in the magic of a hunt. Yes we found the small treasure, but we also found something much bigger, quality time and happy memories to last a lifetime. We can’t wait to find our next one…


Dreadful Penny

This Saturday – 25 January 2020 my new all female rock band Dreadful Penny will be making their debut.

There are many gruesome stats about the lack of gender balance in the music industry, so come and support women on a (rock and) roll to change that. Girls Rock School supports the best established and upcoming female led rock bands in Edinburgh and the showcase nights are always riotous good fun. Come and join Dreadful Penny, plus many other top acts.

Girls Rock School Edinburgh Winter Showcase, Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh Art College, Lauriston Place, Saturday 25 January, 7pm-10pm, Entry on door £5 (£3 concessions), 18+ (14+ if accompanied by adult) All welcome.


One note

I feel like Microsoft Onenote is the app none of us will be able to do without in a year’s time. It’s a great way of organising information in a clear, colourful, hierarchical structure including: text, pictures, calendar entries, websites and even handwritten scribbles.

It’s great for project managing, you can gather and compile important information from a variety of sources and sort it into logical steps. It’s also useful for digitally storing that business card you know you would otherwise lose in a few days’ time. You can then add notes about what you thought of the person and how they might be a useful contact in the future. It’s even great for capturing those those genius ideas you have when you’re out and about. You can take a photo or write some notes on your phone, then organise and expand on them when you get to your home computer, as the notebooks sync with all your devices.

I’m the type of person that has far too many tabs open in my web browser – sometimes even 2 web browsers – at any one time; which perfectly reflects my busy brain. I can see myself using Onenote just about every day from now on, so I can curate organised, multimedia notes of this information and give my RAM and brain a rest! Being dyslexic, I also love the accessibility features that the inbuilt immersive reader brings too.

It’s definitely worth watching some tutorial videos, both Microsoft’s own and good old youtube, as its not the most intrinsic app. But with practice, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is as big as Word in a year’s time.

Happy New Year

Today I have been looking at inspiring acting quotes on Tumblr:

“Why sit around and say, ‘I’d like to do something?’ You’ve just gotta do it. You might fail at first, but your failures are what are going to allow you to move onto success.”

Joel Edgerton https://actingref-for-actorsandanimators.tumblr.com/

Speaking of failure, this background artist’s handiwork really made me smile:

So bring on the New Year and bring on lots of productive, spectacular failure.


Danny Ricciardo

Having never owned an iphone, I’ve always felt a wee bit left behind in the world of podcasts. When you Google anything, you have the option of searching All, Images, Videos, News and even Books, but not Podcasts (surely this feature would be great and is coming soon though, right?!) But it’s good that more and more podcasts are becoming available on android type devices with sites such as Podcast Addict and Audioboom.

Having being forced, er I mean ‘encouraged’ to like F1 by my boyfriend, I can happily now listen to F1 podcasts as I drive around in my (couldn’t-get-further-from-an-F1-car) car and better understand the sport.

One character (besides the obvious wonder dream machine that is Lewis Hamilton) stands out for me: Daniel Ricciardo. The killer instinct behind the cuddly smile is a fascinating juxtaposition and it would take someone with the face of a shark and the heart of a minnow not to want him to do well.

He’s even described himself as a “Honey Badger” – fuzzy on the outside and feisty on the inside. What’s not to love about that.