Tag Archives: apps

Skylar’s Favourite Self-Isolation Entertainment

 

It has now been more than three weeks since I left the house, and like many people around the world, I’m starting to go a little stir crazy. Rather than climb the walls, I thought I would share with you all some of the ways I’ve been entertaining myself since self-isolation began (and before).

These are a few of my favourite things. I hope you enjoy them, too!

Films and Television

If you follow me on Twitter, you know I recently subscribed to Disney+ (£5.99/$6.99 per month), and it is money well spent. Nearly every films Disney Animation Studios has made there, including some of my all-time favourites. I have already watched The Great Mouse Detective and One Hundred and One Dalmatians, both of which were childhood favourites. Hercules is my favourite Disney film of all time, and its infectuous music and beautiful, sunny animation is sure to brighten your day. I also recommend The Three Caballeros, an underrated 1944 film which features Carmen Miranda’s sister as the first human to ever interact with a cartoon character on film (she dances with Donald Duck).

If you’re looking for more adult fare, I suggest Last Holiday, a charming romantic comedy from 2006. Starring Queen Latifah as a woman who is wrongly given only weeks to live, it is funny and poignant and replete with gorgeous scenery as Latifah’s Georgia Byrd flees her mundane job at a New Orleans department store for the glitz and glamour of the opulent (and real!) Grand Hotel Pupp in a Czech spa town called Karlovy Vary.

Also guaranteed to make you laugh until you cry is Pride, a wonderful film based on a true story about a group of lesbian and gay Londoners who raise funds for striking Welsh miners during the Miners’ Strike of 1984. Showing that we all have more in common than we often think, its a little film with a lot of heart and a wonderful cast that includes Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy, and George MacKay.

If binging a television series is more your speed, my favourite comedy of all time is The Golden Girls, a sitcom about four pensioners sharing a house in 1980s Miami and starring American national treasure Betty White. It is streaming on Hulu in the United States. Another personal favourite of mine is Schitt’s Creek, the story of a wealthy family which suddenly loses it all and finds themselves exiled in a small, backwater town. Don’t let that fool you, though; it’s a laugh-out-loud hilarious show with a lot of heart. (It is streaming on Netflix in the US and UK.) Finally, one of the most underrated British comedies of all time, Hebburn is a must-watch. Set in the eponymous northern town and chock-full of Geordie accents, Hebburn is a humurous look at a working class family in modern Britain. (Not currently streaming anywhere as far as I’m aware, but you can watch some episodes on Daily Motion.)

YouTube and other Websites

Back in November, I started writing “daily recaps” for a soap opera I created. Set in a fictional college town, it revolves around the lives and loves of a group of professors, administrators, students, and donors of a private university in Kentucky. In February I started putting it on Wattpad, and it has grown from “recaps” into 5000 word “episodes” during this lockdown. Obviously I want you to read my soap opera (entitled College Heights, a reference any of my fellow Hilltoppers will get), but there’s a lot of great fanfiction and other writing on Wattpad, too. Netflix’s The Kissing Booth was based on a Wattpad story, for example. Or, maybe you’re a budding author who wants to try their hand at fiction? Wattpad is a great website to post things you don’t want to submit for publication.

Maybe nonfiction is more your jam, though. If so, I have become obsessed with This Victorian Life, a website run by Sarah A. Chrisman, a woman who – with her husband, Gabriel – lives as a full-time Victorian. She has written a number of nonfiction books about the Victorian era and has a series of historical fiction called The Tales of Chetzemoka. I read the first one and enjoyed it, but the website is what keeps me coming back. Sarah posts poetry from the Victorian era, blogs about her life, and videos she uploads to YouTube. The Chrismans have engendered some controversy (it’s not entirely clear Sarah and Gabriel believe women should have the right to vote, for example), but that doesn’t diminish how fascinating their lives are and how endearing Sarah herself is. A highlight of the website and her videos is the Victorian recipes she shares. I tried this one a couple months back!


In fact, since we’re all stuck inside now is the perfect time to try a new recipe. Simply Sara Kitchen has become my favourite cooking show on any medium. With a salt-of-the-earth sensibility and charming personality, Sara cooks all your favourite American comfort foods, from fried chicken to Johnny Marzetti casserole in an easy-to-follow format, making sure even the most novice of home chefs can enjoy delicious, down home food.

Another YouTube channel I watch religiously is Company Man. At some point we’ve all wondered about a company we use, whether it’s asking ourselves how Amazon got so big or what ever happened to Blockbuster. Company Man traces the rise and fall of all kinds of iconic companies, and with it examines the history of American capitalism over the past 150 years. Though he never reveals his face, he is an utterly affable man and his voice is incredibly soothing. The content, though, is what keeps me sticking around – it’s endlessly fascinating to see how these companies have changed, adapted, or not as the case may be. My personal favourite is a video he did on Ocean Spray (yes, the cranberry company), which has a far more interesting story than I ever realised.

Music

Imagine being quarantined without a streaming service? One silver lining to this pandemic is that it happened at a time when so much good music is at our fingertips. I use Apple Music and LiveXLive (formerly Slackr), both of which have their pros and cons. One thing I like about LiveXLive is that its stations are almost like radio. Jess, who hosts the Weekly Country Countdown, and Parker are two of my personal favourite presenters. Apple Music allows you to create playlists and buy music, though. There are a plethora of others out there if neither of these meets your needs.

As far as what I’m listening to, I have found myself coming back to three artists in particular. The first, Dame Vera Lynn, was “Forces’ Sweetheart” in the Second World War. “White Cliffs of Dover” and “There’ll Always Be an England” are two of my favourites, but I dare you to listen to “We’ll Meet Again” and not cry given the current circumstances.

Another artist I love is Alexander Rybak. The winner of Eurovision 2009, Rybak is an amazing violinist and folk singer from Norway. His songs are innovative and infectuous and never fail to leave a smile on my face. He is also an energetic and captivating live performer.

Finally, it’s an oldie but a goodie – Buzzfeed Quizzes. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent mindlessly finding out which member Jonas Brother I am going to marry or which European city I should move to. Go ahead and laugh, but I know you want to know which member of One Direction is your soulmate. (Mine’s Louis. Stay jealous.)

Books

For the past several weeks I have been slowly making my way through John M. Barry’s The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History. It’s a dense read in the best of times, but given everything that’s happening I have found I need to take several breaks from it. Still, it’s a riveting history of not only the most devestating pandemic in human history but also American medicine in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

If you’re looking for something that induces a little less existential dread, my favourite novel of all time is Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, the story of Achilles told from the perspective of his lover Patroclus. Beautifully written, excellently crafted, and achingly told, it is a masterpiece of modern fiction and won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2012. Another, more whimsical, romance is Casey McQuiston’s Red, White, and Royal Blueabout a British prince who falls in love with the son of the US President. If nonfiction is more your style, Alkarim Jivani’s It’s Not Unusual: A History of Lesbian and Gay Britain in the 20th Century has long been a personal favourite of mine. If you want something more sandalous and juicy, Ramin Setoodeh’s Ladies Who Punch dishes all the dirt on more than twenty years of The View, America’s most dramatic talk show – both on- and off-screen. If you’re looking for a good biography, Last Night at the Viper Room by Gavin Edwards tells the story of my favourite actor of all time, River Phoenix.

Apps

One of my favourite boardgames of all time is Clue, or Cluedo as it is known in the UK. There’s an iPhone app that allows you to play Cluedo against a computer with varying degrees of difficulty. It does cost £3.99/$3.99, but it’s well worth the investment.

Another great app is Redstone Games’ crossword puzzles. I do about two to three of these puzzles a day, and like Cluedo they have settings from easy to very hard (though the very hard ones still only take me about 15 – 30 minutes, depending on how distracted I am). The app is free, though you can pay to have the ads removed. (I have not and do not find the ads distracting at all.) The only drawback to this one is some of the words/clues repeat, which can take a bit of the challenge and fun away. But overall, it’s a great app.

Ever wonder what your hair would look like purple? Or blue? Or both? I’ve been using this hair color app for years to see what my hair, and even celebrities’ hair, would look like if it was dyed any colour of the rainbow – or, indeed, the rainbow. It might sound silly, but you would be surprised how much time you can end up spending just trying on different hair colours. It’s easy to use and free to download.

Everyone has been downloading Houseparty and Zoom, but I suggest trying Marco Polo. Rather than being a FaceTime/Skype substitute, Maro Polo lets you leave video messages for your friends and family which they can watch at their leisure. Even though we’re all stuck at home many of us are still leading busy lives, which means we don’t always have time for lengthy video chats. Marco Polo is an excellent substitute which still allows you to see your loved ones (and for them to see you), but on your timetable.

 

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

New app launches to help LGBT voters find out if their MP is pro-equality

lgbtwhip

Screen capture from The LGBT Whip, a new web-based app which launched this week.

As Britain goes to the polls today, some LGBT voters may have a clearer picture of which candidates support their equality thanks to a new website launched this week.

The LGBT Whip is the brainchild of Chris Ward, a developer from Vauxhall who also helped develop the LobbyALord app used by marriage equality campaigners in 2013. While LobbyALord was intended to help win equal marriage, The LGBT Whip takes a broader approach to equality issues, and is intended to illustrate, rather than change, a candidate’s position.

It is also a “recognition that as all parties are moving to the centre and their policies support LGBT rights, a lot of their candidates don’t,” Mr Ward said, adding “we need to look from a more granular level of where and what candidates stand for.”

The web app, which was developed at a 24-hour hackathon at Facebook and on which Ward collaborated with several others, including his partner and his brother, is fairly straightforward. Voters input their postcode, and a list of candidates for their constituency appears. From there, they can select up to three candidates to compare:

The first frame shows what happens when voters select their postcode. The second frame shows a list of of candidates, while the third frame compares them on the issues.

The first frame shows what happens when voters select their postcode. The second frame shows a list of of candidates, while the third frame compares them on the issues.

I chose to use Brighton Pavilion as an example, because its former MP and Green Party candidate Caroline Lucas did answer the 10 questions. She is one of what the developers estimate is only 20% of candidates who have, though. And while Mr Ward is “cutting them some slack” because “it’s a very busy period,” some candidates have left him disappointed. “We’ve had a number of candidates, who should know better, responding with an automated response saying ‘I support LGBT rights.’ Well if you do you, spend some time answering these ten very simple questions.”

The questions include historic positions, such as Section 28, as well as issues currently being debated, like banning conversion therapy. For those former MPs who haven’t responded, their votes have been gathered and made available. Candidates who have never sat in parliament “have a clean slate,” because, as Mr Ward put it, “I’d rather go by what they actually do in the voting lobbies than what they say to a journalist, because that’s what makes the law.” It was important to ask about both the past and the present, he said, because equality can be lost just as it was won.

Though MPs who voted against LGBT rights in the past can’t erase their slate, they can still show they’ve come round to equality, as has already happened.

“One Labour MP in particular…e-mailed and said ‘I know I’ve not been great on this in the past, but this is what I think now,’” Mr Ward says. “So it’s almost a recognition of the progress those individuals have made. So they’ll have a red cross on their history, but next to that they might have a green tic, almost essentially saying ‘I’m sorry about this. I’ve changed my mind.’”

But the site doesn’t just give politicians a chance to show they’ve evolved. It also gives voters a unique tool with which to hold MPs accountable. “It goes beyond the election,” Mr Ward said, and gets at “the full democratic process” of holding politicians to their word. “We have pledges at hand. We have e-mails from candidates. And when it comes to these votes or these things being discussed in Parliament, we can hold them to account.”

Ultimately, though, this is an app designed to assist LGBT voters in finding candidates who support equality. “I hope it helps (voters) make an informed decision on the basis of LGBT rights.” This way, he says, “when they go into the voting booth…they’ve made an informed decision with all the facts at their disposal.”

LGBT Whip is the result of a collaboration between Chris Ward, Peter Burjanec, Joshua Gladwin, Hereward Mills, Chimeren Peerbhai, Matt Ward, and Adriana Vecc. Though currently only available for the UK general election, the team has plans to eventually expand to include the Scottish Parliament, Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies, and possibly even foreign elections, including the 2016 US general election. It is dedicated to the memory of Ms Peerbhai’s mother, Debra Diane Rich, who recently passed away from cancer in America.