❅ S-no-w Fun (Part 1)

For the first time in forever, I had a Xmas party to attend, namely with the organisation I volunteer for; MARINElife. However, as their main base of operations is in Bridport, that was where the party was organised (in a hotel on the coast of Eype), and as I’m based near Caernarfon, that meant a long train journey, plus some hotel juggling, in order for me to be able to attend. That was no issue, albeit rather expensive, but then, for the first time in around seven years, it S.N.O.W.E.D! Literally the day I begin to make my way down south it starts, and I’m there, waiting on Bangor station, watching as the big flakes head on down to the ground. Marvelous!

Still, I carried on regardless, and headed on down to Exeter for my first stop-over. Shropshire is when things got a little dicey, and I sat on the train worrying that I was about to get stranded in the middle of nowhere…

…only to see green fields again 10 minutes out of Shrewsbury. Phew!

I made it safely to Exeter, and spent the night in an overpriced Premier Inn room (I had to pay double as they were short of rooms and I was put up in a disabled room), battling with their joke of an internet connection. Seriously, what company in their right mind toggles their wifi speed to 500K and forces you to pay out for a 2MB connection? Not only that, but the connection kept repeatedly cutting out on my laptop, forcing me to do a hard restart every 5-10 minutes in order to reconnect (cause Windows 10 is damned if I’m going to be able to toggle a switch to reconnect like I can with my android phone and tablet).

One frustrating, and very cold night later, I was off to Bridport, courtesy of an early National Express coach. There I got picked up by one of the MARINElife lot, who dropped me off at the hotel so I could get ready for the night’s festivities.

Fast forward to the evening, and I have a major problem. I work for MARINElife through the medium of the internet, I communicate with them by email, and so I was waiting for a group of people amongst whom I only knew the face of one; the Chairman (I’d pretty much forgotten what my pickup looked like by this point). The problem was compounded by the fact that the hotel was hosting a second company’s party night, so there was no way for me to know who belonged to which group. So there I was, sat on my own, nursing my apple juice, and starting to have anxiety-filled introvert regrets.

However, turns out this ignorance worked both ways. My pick up, who had briefly seen me bundled up in coat and bobble hat, didn’t recognise me sat in the corner, all scrubbed-up in my party gear. Subsequently, she, and the chairman (who had arrived at some point, but had managed to avoid the bar where I was), went up to my room to be met with silence. They hammered on the door to no avail, and even went as far as getting an emergency key to gain entry to check I wasn’t dead. Why it never occurred to them to text me I’ll never know. Anyway, the Chairman finally made his way into my line of sight, but it wasn’t until I stood in front of him and announced myself, did anyone twig to who I was.

Confusion done, the party finally got underway. I got to meet a few of the main volunteers, plus our organisation’s patron, Maya Plass who, funnily enough, did the same course at Plymouth uni as me, just a few years behind me.

As the only vegan in the group, I got my own set menu, which varied in quality. The starter of roast almond and broccoli soup was rather nice, and the main course of roasted nuts in tomato sauce on a roasted courgette was odd but tasty. However, the chef clearly lost inspiration when it came to my dessert, which was ‘fresh fruit salad’, i.e. a bowl of chopped fruit. It wasn’t even dressed up with a scoop of vegan ice cream, or a drizzle of vegan cream, but as I was hungry, I ate the lot, and it’s remarkable how filling plain fruit can be.

These days I don’t drink (other than a toast on New Year’s Eve), so socialising as a sober, painfully shy introvert is hard going. I did a lot of listening, which was difficult as all the noise and words meld together into a barely penetrable wall of sound. I didn’t dance. A few years back I would have (I used to love going to clubs and dancing to trance and dance music), but the years have chipped away at my confidence, and the dance floor now looks a scary place to be. Not that it mattered too much, as the disco music was pretty much all 70’s stuff, and not my kind of jam. I did relent to peer-pressure at one point and managed half a song on the dance floor last thing, before eventually calling it a night just before 1am, with an early morning ride with a soon-to-be very hungover Maya to look forward to.

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And all the while, it’s snowing in the Midlands and South Wales….

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Thor-some Sauce

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I managed to go and see Thor: Ragnarok the other night, and boy was it awesome. The laughs came thick and fast, and there was plenty of action. The Thor series definitely went back to its roots, but this time without the tepid love action courtesy of Jane’s inclusion, which I always felt was a bit weak and shoe-horned in.

Honestly, I would have given Thor: Ragnarok 10 out of 10 on IMDB if it weren’t for two minor things. First, Cate Blanchett’s Hela was rather hammy (why do women badies have to chew up the stage so much?). Secondly, Bruce Banner was more ‘bumbling’ than he has been in the past. That being said, if I could’ve, I would’ve given this a 9.5 as these are pretty minor gripes compared to the film as a whole, which was fantastic.

Overall, I think this is one of the best entries into the MCU, beaten only by the original Avengers film. Actually, they may even be level-pegging. So if you haven’t seen this instalment, do so. You won’t be disappointed!

Double Jeopardy

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Can you believe it’s nearly the end of the year? 2017 is coming to an end, and here I am, still unemployed, and still living in my mate’s spare room. Will things be any different come 2018? Who knows. I did have a job interview last Thursday, and am waiting to hear back from that, so fingers crossed, but funnily enough, it wasn’t my only interview that day.

It all started the day before, when it just rained. It rained in the morning, it rained in the afternoon, it rained in the prevening, and it rained in the evening. There was not one single break in the clouds. The downpour was relentless. Nevertheless, my housemate got home from work at 6pm, and nothing was amiss. Then, around 8pm, just as he was starting to watch the Apprentice, and I was watching Ghost Busters 2, there was an urgent knock on the front door.

My mate opened the door to find our neighbour stood there, whereupon he asked if he could use some of my mate’s sand (he’s been laying concrete foundations) to fill his sandbags. My mate was like, “yeah, sure,” while at the same time thinking it was a bit of an odd request. It was at that point that he focused on the driveway behind our neighbour, to find it had turned into a torrential river. Cue some expletives!

So we did what we do best. My mate went out to help my neighbours, and me, in my PJ’s, stayed in the warm and dry and took pictures of the carnage to post on social media*.

In the end, neither our house, or there’s, came a cropper. By the time the sandbags had been filled, and my mate had rescued his stuff from the lake in our back garden, the rain had finally stopped. Two hours later, and the torrent was just a mere trickle, and the lake had disappeared off down the river that runs between our two properties. Phew!

Anyway, the next morning I go on Twitter and find a DM from a researcher at BBC Radio Wales, wanting to know if they could interview me on the radio 😱 I hummed and ahhed about it for over an hour. Then I figured, as I had a job interview later that day, why not get a bit of vocal practice in? So I said sure.

Long story short, I went live on air and had (what felt like 30 seconds, but was actually two minutes) an interview with whomever the hell was hosting the show. Personally, I haven’t listened to it, and I don’t want to as I hate the sound of my voice. My mate did though and said I was very articulate. He may be lying to be kind, who knows. Anywho, it’s available to listen to online (I went live around 10:20) so if you want to check it out, you can find it here ( I guess that means I’m about 1hour & 20 minutes in).

*Disclaimer: I did offer to help, but my services weren’t required.

 

7 Reasons for Self-Published Authors to Give Thanks This Year

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you who celebrate it. I don’t, but I saw this rather apt post by Outskirts Press and couldn’t not share it. Yep, it’s true! The internet, despite all its problems, is a gift to us indie authors….

Self-Publishing News for Self Publishing Authors

As Thanksgiving draws near, it’s time to take stock of everything there is to be grateful for. Family, friends, love, laughter … and the rich life of a self-published author! There’s never been a better time to be an independent author. Here are just a few reasons we’re thankful to be self-publishing in these exciting times:

  1. eBooks. Just having the ability to offer books in an easy-to-order format has opened up a massive sales channel for independent authors. As readers move from hardcopy to electronic books, the ability for anyone to get their book in front of these customers is priceless exposure — and offering an ebook is easy.
  2. Social media. When knocking on doors, making phone calls, buying ads and getting media coverage aren’t on your busy holiday calendar, reaching out to large audiences is still achievable, thanks to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram…

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Popcorn for the ‘Little Grey Cells’

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So, somehow I missed out on seeing Blade Runner 2049 in the cinemas. Is it me, or was its run in British Cinemas way shorter than usual? Anyway, it’s no bad thing, as it’s been years since I watched the first, and I would’ve liked to have seen it again before watching the new one. I’m sure there’ll be a double box set out sometime in the future. However, with having missed Blade Runner 2049, I was in need of something else to see at the cinema, and urgently, as my mate’s free, Sweet Sunday, tickets were due to expire.

There was Thor: Ragnarok, but as that’d only been out for about a week, I figured it would still be packed, so we (and by ‘we’, I mean ‘I’) opted for Murder on the Orient Express. Mainly because the poster showed it to be a rather star-studded film. Plus, although I think I’ve seen one of the story’s previous incarnations, like Blade Runner, I had no recollection of what transpired, so I could go see the film with my brain a spoiler-free zone.

Looking at the reviews of the film on IMDB, people seem to be pretty bent out of shape over the fact that it was a remake, and harp on about not needing another one. Fair enough, but as there are already several versions out there, what’s one more? There has been one other film (1974), and two TV versions (2001 & 2010) of the story, and if someone hasn’t seen any of these adaptations, or if, like me, can’t remember what happened if they have, then another remake is fine. And let’s be honest, Poirot is one of those series that gets a rehash every few years with a new lead. Moreover, I don’t hear people getting their underwear in a bunch over the various Sherlock remakes that keep getting churned out. So live and let watch I say.

Overall, I found the film quite enjoyable. It was a slow, methodical burner, rather than an epic film, but then that’s what you get from the material, and given that everyone was stuck on a train, it had a somewhat claustrophobic feel to it. Additionally, although I’ve grown up with David Suchet as Poirot, I didn’t find watching Kenneth Branagh in the role too jarring. Plus, his moustache was way more epic than Suchet’s. I did have an inkling as to who the murder could’ve been about halfway through, and as it turned out, my guess was right. Whether that was good ol’ Belgian detective work on my part, or a long-forgotten neuron firing, I’ll never know. So ignore the bar-humbug nay-sayers. If you’re looking for a quiet film to go see on a rainy afternoon, then this will fit the bill nicely.

 

Free Course: A Review – Internet of Everything (IoE)

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During my short break between Open University modules, I decided to do one of the OU’s free courses on OpenLearn. As I have a mind towards the web, I chose to do the Internet of Everything (IoE), which was listed as an introductory level science, maths & technology course. The general blurb seemed interesting enough, and it made the course sound like something that would keep my interest….

The internet of everything (IoE) is the networked connection of people, process, data and things. As more people, data and things come online, we develop processes to harness the vast amounts information being generated by all these connected people and things. The goal of this free course is to introduce fundamental concepts and technologies that enable the IoE.

[OpenLearn]

My studying of it didn’t go completely to plan, as I decided to start my second set of proper university modules as soon as the module websites opened, which truncated my free time rather. Still, I persevered, and shoe-horned in the alleged 15 hours worth of studying time. My stubbornness paid off, and I passed the course. I’m not sure what my overall grade was, but I passed each section’s test with results of over 80% (despite one question in the final assessment quiz being duff, and asking me for two answers when only one was correct).

Week 1: What is the IoE? – quiz score 87%
Week 2: Pillars of the IoE – quiz score 80%
Week 3: Connecting the unconnected – quiz score 97%
Week 4: Transitioning to the IoE – quiz score 90%
Week 5: Bringing it all together – quiz score 86%
Final assessment quiz score 87%

Anyway, with the course done and dusted, I have a few gripes/warnings to make for anyone else considering undertaking it.

First off, it took longer than 15 hours. There’s a lot of technical detail and waffle in this course, and I’m sure getting through it took me twice as long as it was supposed to. Which is saying something, as I usually breeze through OpenLearn courses in less time than they state it should take.

This brings me to my second gripe, which is, although the blurb says it’s an introductory-level course, I would disagree. Coming at it with computer knowledge already in hand (like I did, having just completed an ICT module) is a good idea if you want to better understand the material when it goes into TCP/IPs, gateways, security, and the like. Otherwise, the module text may come across a bit more technical than you’re prepared for.

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Thirdly, although it’s listed as a STEM-type course, in a lot of places it feels more ‘business management’ in its wording, and because of that tone, I did get bogged down and bored in places. The overall tone of the course was probably down to the people who were responsible for creating it, which leads me to my final complaint…. The course is a collaboration between The Open University and Cisco Systems, which means the material provided comes across as a protracted advert for Cisco Systems at times.

Despite these issues, at the end of the course I did feel as though I understood better what the IoE meant (it’s different to the IoT, but includes the IoT), and how it can be integrated into our lives and businesses, but I doubt I’ll be drawing on this knowledge in the future.

So, in summary, if you have a bit ICT knowledge to hand, and want to know more about what the IoE is, how it’s being implemented, and what it means for businesses in the future, then you may want to consider this course. However, be prepared for a lot of business-type waffle, and be aware that the course may take you longer to work through than it states. The test quizzes are no walk in the park either, so be prepared to actually re-read the material before doing them.

Pumpkins and Pass Marks

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Another one of those posts that’s just a couple of smaller topics mushed together.

First up, I got my results back for my TU100 (My Digital Life) module, and I’m more than happy with the results, having passed it with a distinction. Initially, my score was a more than respectable…

Overall Examinable Score: 94%
Overall Continuous Assessment Score: 86%
Result: Distinction

But the next day I got an email saying they’d miscalculated my score. *Dun dun dun…!* However, this turned out to be good news, as they’d failed to take into account my online-exam, and my overall continuous assessment score (OCAS) went up to 90%!

I must say, I’m genuinely surprised by my OES score. I was expecting it to be in the 80’s. One of the questions asked me to write a couple of pieces of text as if applying for a job, which considering I’m still unemployed, I figured I’d do badly at. There were also some calculations I had to do, and while the maths was simple, last time I did calculations in a TMA I lost marks for layout. I also had to do some argument mapping, which I sucked the big one at during the practice goes in the module. All in all, I was positive I’d lose major marks over these, yet I managed to get 94%. Unfortunately, you don’t get the marked version of the final assessments back, so I have no idea what I rocked, and what I could’ve done better at, which sucks. Now all I have to do is keep this momentum up for the next five-and-a-half-years. Easy! *ahem*

October ended with good ol’ Halloween. Me being me, I gutted and carved a pumpkin, nearly crippling my hand in the process.

The guts I used to make soup, which allowed me to use up the last 2 bottles of utterly disgusting BrewDog’s Nanny State (vegan and alcohol-free) IPA I had. I’d bought the stuff as something different to drink on a Saturday night, but I didn’t make it through the first bottle. Ugh, it was too bitter and so rank! So, I veganised this Pumpkin Soup with Beer and Cheese recipe, using Oatly Cream in place of whole milk, and Tesco’s vegan Jalapeno And Chilli Cheese. The result was passable. The bitterness of the beer still came through (tbh, I doubt anything short of a nuclear explosion could eradicate that stuff’s taste), but the soup’s overall creaminess helped reduce the gag factor.

The seeds I roasted…or rather, I burnt to a crisp. Honestly, it’s a toss of the coin as to whether I get them right. So far, I’ve only ever once managed to cook them okay, and that time was not this year. So into the recycling they went.

So that’s all that done for another year. Not long to go now till Yule!