Archive for April, 2015


Thursday, April 30th, 2015 | Reviews, Tech

Yousician is a software application that teaches you to play guitar. It is available for iPad, iPhone and Mac (and possibly other platforms). I have been trying out on my iPad because I imagine, and other reviewers have commented, that the iPhone screen is just too small to be practical.


It starts off slowly with a skill test, some basic notes and chords. Each “mission” starts off with a video that you have to watch, then you have to do the exercise. The app listens to your playing and checks you are playing the right note. If you hit a high enough percentage, you pass the mission and unlock the next one. If you fail, you have to retry.

A ball bounces between the notes to tell you when to play them. It falls at different rates though. It flies in an arc, and sometimes will come down steeper than others, so getting the timing spot on is very tricky. I sometimes felt like I was playing an arcade game rather than learning guitar. In the end I adopted slightly different strategies for timing my chords and my individual notes.

It is also slow to get going. I think I must have spent 2-3 hours on it just to get through the basic stuff and up to a standard that I found a challenge. This is despite the “skill tests” it recommended I took to get ahead. Also at one point it decided to remove the chord names and replace them with individual fingering, which was annoying, though thankfully disappeared after a few songs. After that I thought it got very difficult very fast, so it would be nicer to have a more adaptive curve.

Given it is so similar to Rocksmith, it is impossible not to compare it. It is not as well made as Rocksmith. You have to download each mission each time you play it – so even if you have done it before, it re-downloads it. Also all the videos are just embedded YouTube videos, so again you will need internet access for these. There is no offline mode.

It is difficult to gauge how accurate it is, because it could be me missing the notes, or it could genuinely be missing them. On the whole, it is fairly accurate. I started by playing with my guitar amp and the iPad’s microphone. This I found the timings difficult to get right. Eventually I plugged my Apogee Jam interface into the iPad and this made things much better.

It also allowed me to play chords wherever I wanted. For example it recommended I play A5 with the root note of the open 5th string. I played it on the more typical place of a closed power chord on the 6th string and it did not complain.

You are limited to about 30 minutes of game time per day on the free version. It’s not this straight forward though because you have to wait exactly 24 hours between free sessions, so you can only use this if you move your practice time back half an hour every day. This time is also interrupted by ads telling you to upgrade. The game doesn’t pause when these adds appear, so an add will finally disappear only to find you’re about to finish a song having missed all the notes.

Premium gives you unlimited access for £14.99 a month. When I first tried to upgrade to premium it failed every time, and I had to wait until the next day. It’s recurring billing and bills your iTunes account, though you can easily disable auto-renew in iTunes.


Yousician is like Rocksmith, only not as good. Given the price and the build quality, I would recommend going with Rocksmith instead, though Yousician certainly has its charms.

Let’s Learn Finnish

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015 | Public Speaking, Video

For my third Toastmasters speech for the Speaking to Inform manual (The Demonstration Speech) I did an introduction to Finnish.

The video quality sucks as I did not get time to manually set the exposure. Audio is fine though and I’ve also included the slides below.

The Rosie Project

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015 | Books

The Rosie Project is a novel about a guy named Don and his struggles with relationships. He falls somewhere atypically on the autism spectrum, probably Asperger syndrome.

It was a novel I had looked forward to reading, so I was pleased when it made it into my current reading sprint. I identified strongly with the protagonist. He has so many useful ideas like efficient, running his life from a whiteboard and a proper meal schedule. Though with the obvious difference that he is autistic (and doesn’t even realise it) and I’m not.

The ending was predictable and formulaic. Good news, obviously. Have you ever read a novel that doesn’t end like it should? They’re rubbish. Even George R. R. Martin knows deep-down that what he does is awful and wrong. Gripping, but rubbish.


Giving notice

Monday, April 27th, 2015 | Life

Before you get married, you have to give notice. This means going down to your local registry office (as it has to be your local) and saying you want to marry. They then put a notice up for 28 days to allow people to object. How people object I don’t know, because I have never checked their notice board to see if anyone is trying to marry twice, but apparently they can.

Currently, it costs £35 each. However, as UK marriages are strictly limited to no more and no less than two people, why it costs £35 each rather than £70 per couple is unclear.

When we went down they checked our ID. We took passports and driving licences, which is all we needed both being EU citizens – no other documents or passport photos or anything were required.

After checking the ID we were then separated to ensure neither of us were being forced to marry. This is fine except she never actually asked either of us if we were being forced to go through with the marriage. Neither of us are, but it seems the whole point should be to ask us. Instead we just had to confirm each other’s full names, date of birth, address and occupation.

Things you should know about antidepressants

Sunday, April 26th, 2015 | Foundation, Health & Wellbeing

Recently we were discussing antidepressants at the mental health charity I run and I thought it would be worth sharing a few points that came out of the discussion.

Antidepressants are approved by NICE

There is often a lot of scepticism around antidepressants. Irving Kirsch has a whole book about it. However, not only have the drugs been shown to work in clinical trials (I’m not sure how much faith I put in this since All Trials) they are also approved by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence. They are not immune from bias of course, but they generally don’t mess around because the NHS has a limited budget and it’s their job to make sure it is spent on stuff that works.

Antidepressants are trial and error

There are a number of different drugs on the market, some of which do different things and at different doses. These affect people in different ways. That means that what helps some people might not help others, and what gives some people side effects will be fine for others.

It also means that your prescription is trial and error. There is a good chance the first one you get prescribed will not work, either because it is the wrong drug or because you need a different dose.

That means if the first thing you try does not work, try not to get disheartened.

A side effect of antidepressants is suicide

April is suicide month sadly. More people kill themselves in April than any other month. The working theory is that the improved weather conditions provide people suffering from depression to go out and doing something. Unfortunately, this something is sometimes taking their own life.

If true, this would also explain why one of the side effects of antidepressants is suicide. Luckily the limited data available on it suggests that if you inform patients to expect these feelings and be aware of them you mitigate the risk.

A new look for 2015

Saturday, April 25th, 2015 | Tech

We’ve been using the Brand New Day theme for years now and we love it. It has a big happy picture of the sun, which is just the pick-me-up when your down because something is broken and needs fixing.

However, it does not work well on mobile devices. This is a real problem for us because if you’re on our site, it is often because your computer is broken and you are trying to fix it. So there is a good chance you are searching around on a mobile device to work out how to get it to turn back on again.

Our new theme works much better on mobile devices and provides a cleaner way to access the information. We hope you will like the change too!


Saturday, April 25th, 2015 | Books

I had some hopes for this book. Russell Brand and I are superficially alike. That is to say, we both have long tangled hair and a tendency to stand up for justice rather than kowtowing to authority.

However, the revolution that Brand proposes is perhaps-unalterably bound up in a movement towards a religiously-inspired spiritualism. Brand would argue that that is the point. They need to be connected together.

He opens the book with a prayer and talks about his belief in god. Which god you ask? Doesn’t matter. Brand seems to accept all the contradictory claims of various religions as true. But what does that matter when you believe that science cannot explain everything. Especially Consciousness. I’ll be writing to Dan Dennett for my money back then.

Some of the claims drift into the beyond ridiculous. Whether or not you think that the entire working class is being oppressed and knowledge of other alternatives is being carefully controlled and discredited, a group of people doing mediation does not drop a city’s crime rate by 20%. I couldn’t even find the study that Brand was referencing, but you do not need to know that it does not make sense.

That’s the bad stuff though. There is also lots of good stuff in the book.

He writes in an engaging style. It’s entertaining, it slips in and out of poetry and moves seamlessly between the fun and the serious. It is self-aware enough to realise that many will regard Brand as a champagne socialist.

Some of which is contentious. For example, he claims that the US election has been won by the side with the most money. He points out that isn’t claiming this always has happens. It is just that it has happened every time ever so far. Thought provoking, though you could argue that the side with the most support should be able to raise the most money.

Other points are less contentious. Wealth inequality is increasing. We are severely damaging the planet. The currently democratic process fails to engage people. We all know this he states again and again. And we do. That is to say, most people would accept these ideas (though not all). Few would argue that 85 individuals should have the same net worth as 3,500,000,000 others.

Every election we discuss low voter turn-out. People don’t seem to care. Except clearly, people do care about democracy in general. The nation phones into premium rate lines to vote for X-Factor every week. Even I voted in Eurovision. It’s the current political system, a feeling that they have no voice and no power that people are disenfranchised with.

Whether his socialist utopia will work is another question. His experiences with the Buy Love Here project does not bode well, nor does the evidence that human nature is rather unpleasant.

However, at worst you can argue that Brand becomes the reductio ad absurdum to his own ideas. That does not mean he doesn’t have a point.


The Defence Diaries of W. Morgan Petty

Friday, April 24th, 2015 | Books

When W. Morgan Petty, resident of 3 Cherry Tree Drive, Canterbury, heard there might be a nuclear war soon, he took the most sensible course he could. He declared his house and gardens a Nuclear Free Zone. With Roger, who helps out in the garden, by his side they set about preparing for the post-nuclear period which his house would of course now survive intact.

It’s very funny and a reasonably-short read so does not get old. However, been set in the 80’s it is now dated and the young people will struggle to get the references more and more.


The Masters

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015 | Sport

So, it’s happened then. For half a decade of working in sports betting I have gone no more into golf than my every-other-year concession to watching the Ryder Cup. However, I’m currently working with Sky Sports and it it is impossible to ignore not to get caught up in the buzz. This year I actually sat down and watched some of The Masters.

I say sat, I was really lying in bed. However, I managed to get through nearly an hour of it without failing asleep, which I suspect means I am getting old.

Not like Jordan Spieth. 21 years old and now a Master champion. I should point out at this point that he is ageing, he hasn’t found some magic cure for that. However, his fresh young face puts even Sebastian Vettel to shame. He dashed any hopes of Rory McIlroy completing his set of all four major championships (not that McIlroy even managed second), and now aged 25, it’s probably game over for him…


Standing for election

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015 | Religion & Politics

I wanted to document some of the challenges I had had registering myself as a candidate. It’s not impossible, but if you haven’t done it before, there are definitely some things you need to be aware of.

You do not have much time between the election starting and getting your forms in. Leeds City Council opened submissions on 1 April and closed them on the 9th. However, this was over the Easter weekend, so you actually only had 5 working days to submit them.

I downloaded the forms from their website and then went to the town hall to hand them in. The man on the front desk said I could give them to him and he would pass them on. However, the next day the elections office phoned me back saying that I had filled out the wrong forms and I had to submit them in person.

This was on the 2nd, and on the 3rd they closed for Easter, so I had to go down on the 7th and get the forms back and make an appointment for the 8th to submit them. This left me only the evening on the 8th to get them all filled out.

This is all doable, though it is very difficult if you have a job. They are only open 10am to 4pm and because they are busy during elections, you have to go down and speak to them if you want a response. When I tried to phone them back on the number they had called me on I got an automated message saying that the number was Leeds City Council, but you had to phone the “published number” and then hung up on me. The problem is they do not publish any numbers. I had to go onto their live chat to get their number, and then the number said it was going to be over 20 minutes before they answered it.

Again, none of this is impossible. However, it is difficult if you have a job. I am quite lucky that I work in Leeds and my current client is fairly flexible. However, there is clearly a lot more that could be done to make the democratic process open to ordinary working class people.