Flu and Film Reviews

Despite an encroaching cold, I managed to go to the cinema a couple of times this past week.

giphy-downsized.gifFirst I caught up with Despicable Me 3 (which is probably where I picked the lergy up from). To be honest, the film wasn’t a patch on the previous two films. I laughed, but it was usually at the minions. There was one moment that got me thinking, and not about the story line. [non-spoiler alert]. There’s a moment when Dru and Gru are on a beach, talking, and Dru is sat, playing in the sand. It was just a small action, but the fact that they included this random little detail (who hasn’t sat on the beach and absent-mindedly dug a hole?) and the detailing of the sand itself, made me realise just how far and how intricate animation has become. It was a cool little revelation, but it couldn’t elevate the film above its mediocre delivery.

spider-man-2319337_1280Then, with a scratchy throat, I went and saw Spider-Man: Homecoming. The cinema was packed, which surprised me, considering how long the film’s been out, and I ended up getting a cricked neck in one of the front rows. Thankfully, the film was a hoot and a half, and I hardly noticed the fact I was sat practically horizontal in my seat. Bringing Spider-Man into the MCU’s fold was a good move in my opinion. The action was fast, the dialogue was funny, and there was a much lighter tone to the whole thing (a key ingredient to Marvel’s big-screen appeal over DC). I can’t honestly fault the film, and I’m actually looking forward to more Spidey films. Oh, and the Marvel end credit scene was also incredibly trolley! *Bravo!*

So, to sum up, if you haven’t seen either film, I’d say go see Spider-Man on the big screen, and wait for Despicable Me 3 to come out on DVD … or on the TV.

Summer of Code, aka Computer says, “No”

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So I thought I’d test myself with the Open University’s Summer of Code. Each day, a new problem is set, requiring participants to write a script to solve it. It’s mainly for transitioning second to third years, but as I’ve done a bit of coding in my spare time in the past (using Python) I thought I’d give it a shot.

For my uni course, I’ve been using Sense to do assignment scripts, though not by choice. Sense is a basic programming language using command ‘blocks’, as opposed to having to write out the commands yourself. The OU uses this programming language to teach coding. Sense is ok, but it does ignore certain principles that Python uses, such as the first character in a string in Sense is at position 1, not 0 as it is in Python. It’s also pretty limiting … as I was to find out.

I managed, with a few hiccups, to do the first two day’s tasks using Sense. However, the third task highlighted how basic Sense is. There’s no easy way to convert from letters to the equivalent alphabet numbers. Or rather, not without using a hell of a lot of if-elseif-else blocks that would grind my laptop to a halt. It also didn’t help that it took me half an hour to actually figure out what the problem entailed, as it was written in a rather unclear fashion. After two hours of struggling, and realising I’d left my Python course notes several 100 miles away in Amsterdam, I had to give up. I was rather irked, to say the least. Especially, considering I’d aced the previous two tasks.

Day four wasn’t much better, but by this point, I was getting the impression it was because the questions were overly complicated, rather than the coding itself. If I couldn’t figure out how to do them on paper, how was I expected to do them in code? The tasks were supposed to take two hours to solve, but most of that time was taken up with me going, “WTF??” It also didn’t help that the questions would sometimes have mistakes in their convoluted explanations, making things even less clear.

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I gave myself a break from day 5, and tried afresh on day 6. This time, I did progress a little further in answering the question than I had the previous couple of days, but again, I got stymied, so I decided to call quits on the whole thing.

It wasn’t an entirely defeatist move. As it is, I’m also doing a free Open Learn badged course on “English: skills for learning“, which is designed to help “develop the English reading and writing skills needed to succeed” with university work. As I have my final module assignment to do (it’s a doozy), and as one of my next modules will be “English for academic purposes online” I prioritised, and figured out of the two time-sinks, learning how to write a proper assignment was more important than goofing around with unintelligible questions, and contrary scripts.

The past week or so has also made me realise I’ve pretty much forgotten all the Python I’d learnt. Though, in fairness, I haven’t touched the language since 2015. So it looks like I’m going to have to shoe-horn in some refresher learning. Codecademy do a lot of free programming courses, and I’ve already covered jQuery, HTML, CSS and Java with them. However, I did my Python with Coursera (when it used to be a good MOOC provider), which means I can do some Python refresher with Codecademy. I just need to find the time!

Monthly Reads – July 2017

So, I kept up my 1+ chapter a day reading (usually just before going to bed) and I’ve finished reading Snow Crash. In addition, I’ve played catch up with my X-Men reading, and have finished off the third volume of Death Note (a series that’s still keeping me gripped).

I need to get into better practice at writing book reviews so, with that in mind, I shall review Snow Crash….

July reads

Hiro Protagonist; hacker, pizza delivery driver for the Mafia, and soon to be the saviour of the US … or what’s left of it. Brace yourself for Sumerian and Samari swords!

I won’t go too much into the story. If you want a summary, you can read the book blurb, or check it out Wikipedia. Basically, there’s a virus that can affect hackers by rewriting their brains, it’s about to be let loose on the US’ general populous, and only our ‘Protagonist’ can stop it.

I suppose you could say that Snow Crash occurs in an alternative reality. The America of the 21st century in Snow Crash is a hell of a lot different than what we actually see, with much of America having been taken over by sovereign territories and franchises. Yet some of the ‘futuristic’ tech seen in the narrative can be seen around us today (or is in development). Take the Metaverse. It speaks of a mashup between Second Life and virtual reality; an immersive virtual world entered via customisable avatars. The wheels on Y.T.’s skateboard? They sound very similar to the idea shown in this video.

So, despite the landscape being very different, the tech aspects of the story are actually quite believable.

Snow Crash was, as I’ve mentioned previously, my first foray into cyberpunk, and overall, I found it to be quite an enjoyable read, however, I do have a couple of gripes.

Firstly, the story rests on the idea of an ancient virus being transmitted either visually (in the case of hackers), physically (via drugs), or verbally. Ignoring whether this would actually be possible (it is fiction after all), the hows and why of the ‘virus’ lead to some rather intensive, theology-driven chapters, incorporating Sumerian history, myths and legends, and at times, I felt I was reading a religious education textbook, as opposed to cyberpunk. I’m guessing Hiro had a background in R.E., because I was completely lost at times.

My other grumble is with the developing backstory of Hiro and Y.T., or rather, the lack of it. The two characters become a team, hunting for information to sell to the CIC, yet this part of their narrative wasn’t covered very much. I guess quite a bit of time passed with them working together, yet what they did seemed, for the most part, not worth covering, so this meant their closeness as friends came across as quite forced.

It also took me a while to get to grips with the tech-derived lingo, and settle into the narrative, but once things got going I enjoyed the story. Would I recommend it to other readers? Hacker-infused theology reading aside, as a first delve into cyberpunk, it was entertaining, so I’d say, “give it a go!”

Next up … Social Engineer (Brody Taylor Thrillers, #1)

Kawaii: Embracing the Cute

calico-cat-1732371_1280Does it have big eyes?
Does its cuteness overwhelm?
That’ll be Kawaii
Kawaii, a haiku, by me.

Following on from my previous Kawaii post, I’ve come across a few more Kawaii pieces to cheer up my existence.

I found a couple of bargain Kawaii-like pieces in Shoe Zone of all places. I’m not sure the bag constitutes Kawaii, I think it’s more pretty than Kawaii (what do you think?), but the owl wallet definitely gets my approval.

Now my ‘Soot Sprite’ has a place to hang.

I got these adorbz stickers from Amazon. They were pretty cheap, so they were just an add on to my main order. What I didn’t realise was they were getting shipped from Asia. It took them nearly a fortnight to turn up!

I also splurged (inadvertently) on a Pusheen reusable bottle. I say inadvertently because I bought it from Claire’s Accessories and there was no price on it. It wasn’t until it got tilled through that I had the “how much???” moment. But hey, if it helps cut my use of disposable plastic bottles to help save the planet then its worth it. And actually, in the end, it pays for itself via tap refills.

That’s pretty much all I’ve collected so far. With university module payments coming up (ugh!), I’m gonna be cutting my expenditure back for a few months … unless I see something I simply can’t live without.

A Second Life in Second Life

So I’ve recently done a section on virtual worlds in my Open University module (My Digital Life), and a lot of it was about the use of Second Life in the realms of education, business and pleasure. It got me thinking and intrigued about the place again. Many years ago I tried logging in, but my old PC simply couldn’t handle it, and my foray into the world died before it even started.

By the end of the section, I had succumbed to curiosity. Armed with my more powerful Linux laptop, I signed up again, got a new avatar, and I entered the world at the OU’s remaining island (Deep Think).

I didn’t meet anybody while I was there, which was probably a good thing. It gave me a chance to wander round and get a feel of the place undisturbed. But more importantly, I had major problems using the edit avatar menu, and on several occasions I inadvertently ended up butt naked. Being alone certainly saved my avatar’s blushes.

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I’ve called my cat Mor’du

After my wander, I went and visited the International Space Flight Museum, which was actually pretty cool.

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I went back a couple of times, mainly to tweak my avatar’s look. I also visited another museum, namely the Museum of Natural History of Vienna, where I looked at dinosaurs, and managed to get trapped under the floor. But again, I didn’t see anyone else.

Do I think I’ll be going back to Second Life? Probably not. But it’s handy having an avatar if a get-together is ever on the cards.

Everything is (Buffer) Awesome

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Since Hootsuite decided to downgrade its free version options, I’d been seriously considering Buffer’s Awesome Plan, especially after my fortnight’s free trial of their Businesses Plan. However, at $102 per year (and that’s with their 15% yearly subscription discount) and me not having an income, it seemed rather a large fee. Then one day I was scrolling through Twitter, reading what people had been saying about the plan, when I saw something that immediately made me sit up…. The words student discount…. And there’s me being a student!

The tweet was old, so I had two questions to get the answer to. Did they still do a student discount, and was it available to Brits?

Armed with only my university email address, I shot Buffer a message, and soon got the answers back…. Yes & Yes!

Thanks to the 15% annual discount, and a student discount, The yearly fee dropped to $51 (a manageable £38!). I signed up on the spot, and ho-boy, has it changed my morning routine for the better.

Firstly, I can link up to 10 social media accounts to one buffer account. As it stands, I’ve now linked:

*I still post to the charity’s Facebook account via Facebook’s scheduler as it allows other admins to see the posts, and make changes if necessary.

And at 100 post slots available for each, the time, it is being saved.

Before, thanks to being constrained by post slots, I would have to fill up different applications. Buffer for my retweets, Facebook posts, and LinkedIn; Hootsuite for plain text posts; Tweetdeck for posts with images, and when I’d run out of room on Hootsuite and Buffer; Facebook scheduler when I’d run out of room on Buffer; Pinterest didn’t even factor in; and I had bookmark folders for tweets and posts that simply couldn’t be fitted in anywhere at the time (e.g. for the charity account and my LinkedIn). I would quite often have to generate multiple copies of the same post, switching between scheduling platforms as space and post type dictated. Not anymore! Now I can create one post, and instantly have it schedule across all my different social media accounts, with the barest tweak to any text before they go (like adding hashtags to tweets). Plus, I no longer have to worry about backlog posts because I have more than enough available slots for each account.

Another time saver has come from being able to cross post between different account types. My social media accounts can be divided into three profiles: Charity org, me as a marine biologist, and me as a sci-fi novelist. I had different buffer accounts for each hat I wear, and I would have to log in and out of them to schedule posts. So, say, I came across an a marine-related article when scheduling stuff for my marine platforms, that I fancied sharing on the charity’s profile. I would have to wait until I’d done all my scheduling for my marine accounts, log out of the accounts, log into the charity’s accounts, recreate the posts, and schedule them again. Not so now. Now, if I find a post that I want to share across several profiles, I can simultaneously schedule them across several profiles. Job done!

The biggest issue I have is getting into the new posting rhythm. It doesn’t feel right just creating one post for multiple accounts. Several times I’ve sat there, staring at the post, second-guessing myself whether everything’s ok with it, and that I’m good to press the ‘Schedule’ button. Also, I have to be wary to make sure I deselect all the unnecessary platforms before publishing (I don’ think MARINElife’s followers are too interested in my science fiction posts).

Despite that, my time spent scheduling posts has been cut from approximately 2.5 hours, to about 1.5 hours. It’s come to the point that I’m able to slot in some Open Learn studying in the morning.

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So, if you’re contemplating signing up for the Buffer Awesome Plan, I heartily recommend it, especially if you’re a student or a charity (the 50% discount applies to you too).

Kawaii: A New-Found Love

The night is dark and full of terrors, so why not kawaii?

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Kawaii
kəˈwʌɪ
adjective: (in the context of Japanese popular culture) cute.
“she paints elephants that are extremely kawaii”
noun: the quality of being cute, or items that are cute.
“even in a cosmopolitan city like Tokyo, kawaii is everywhere”
[Thank you Google]

No, but seriously, I love the idea of Japan’s Kawaii. Not so much the girly, frilly outfits, because as a woman knocking on 40’s door, I’d look pretty horrendous dolled up in Lolita fashion, but it’s the little things I like. I want to add a splash of kawaii to me and my surroundings, to brighten my existence, without making my world look like Hello Kitty’s thrown up in it.

So I’ve set myself the task of adding touches of kawaii to my day-to-day life, but (and here’s the important thing) without breaking the bank.

My first stop was The Range (a UK general purpose store). I mainly went to find some cute stickers for my bullet journal, but I stumbled across a pack of adorable owl pencil sharpeners. That’s proper kawaii right there!

I then stumbled across this little fellow in Matalan of all places. I’ve seen Spirited Away, so as soon as I saw it I thought, “Soot Sprite!”

Oh, and WHSmith stocks some adorable kitty pencil top erasers that are way too cute to use. Here’s mine checking out the exercise section of my journal.

I’ve also recently found a couple of bargain pieces in Shoe Zone of all places, namely a bag and wallet, which I’ll share in my next Kawaii post. For now, I urge you to brighten your life and embrace the cute!