❅ 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.

 

Winning

I really should enter competitions more, after all, as the old saying goes: you gotta be in it to win it! Last year I won an Open University student union pencil case during freshers week. This year, I won some bespoke vegan ‘food supplements’ after a last-minute entry to a give away that I happened to see on the Vegan Society‘s web page.

I haven’t started using the supplements yet, as I still have a pot of multivitamins to finish, but once they’re done I’ll start on the new stuff. However, my initial thoughts on these vitamins aren’t exactly positive.

The box is rather funky, with the London skyline doodle running around the edge. The contents are ARTEFACT‘s ‘Concept I Immunity & Vitality’, with each capsule containing Vitamin D2 and B12, and extracts of Maca and Goji Berry. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not adverse to vitamin pills. As I said earlier, I take a daily multivitamin, and actually, the reason I take a multivitamin (as opposed to just an iron or calcium supplement), is to also boost my B12 and D intake.  For vegans, getting enough B12 can be an issue, and as I’m an indoorsy, computer person, my D levels are also probably lacking, so I take a multivitamin to cover all my bases.

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It’s when you get to talking about other supplements that I get a bit reticent, in this case, the added Goji and Maca. Goji berries are supposed to be a ‘superfood’, and are touted as having the ability to improve immunity, cardiovascular disease and life expectancy; aid well-being, brain activity and digestion; and help prevent cancer. However, all these claims are lacking some serious scientific evidence. Maca is claimed to improve libido and fertility, increase your mood and energy levels, help learning and memory, and reduce menopausal symptoms. But again, the scientific evidence to support these claims is extremely minimal and wholly questionable.

Moreover, as a scientist, I’m rather averse to pseudo-scientific claims and meaningless jargon and ho-boy! does the blurb to these pills have that in spades.

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The main ingredients are maca and goji; both emerged as resistant, powerful, and sublime in an adaptation process from their respective regional growth conditions. [ARTEFACT]

Sublime? Really?

…Leaning upon goji’s protective and stabilizing nature as the baseline (e.g., through antioxidants, immunomodulation, antidiabetic, and cardiovascular protective activities as well as anti-aging in folkloric texts) lies the potent and versatile maca as an agent to further improve lifestyle dynamics (mental and physical health) such as sexuality (e.g., libido, reduced menstrual discomforts, fertility in folkloric hearsay), cognitive capacity (e.g., concentration, alertness, memory), and resilience (e.g., immune-booster and strength). [ARTEFACT]

They’re literally saying that some of what they’re claiming this stuff can do is based off unsupported tales, including the setting of the baseline (whatever the hell that baseline is supposed to be). Meanwhile, the other stuff they’re claiming has pretty much no scientific back up. Honestly, I could feel myself getting stupider as I read this, which kinda went against what these pills are allegedly supposed to achieve.

I checked on Amazon as to how much a pot of these “”””lifestyle improving”””” pills cost. £32.32!!!! That’s some extremely expensive waffle right there.

Anyway, I’ll post an update down the road once I’ve taken them for any length of time.

Monthly Reads – August 2017

Bit of a late posting for this one as the last book I read took me into September….

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August kicked off with me reading the novella Social Engineer (Brody Taylor Thrillers #1). I got it free for signing up to the author’s (Ian Sutherland) newsletter, mainly because, as an ICT student and social media fan, I was intrigued by the premise of the book, and who doesn’t love a freebie?

As a novella, it’s a short read, but that being said, it was a very good read. My reading of it happened to coincide nicely with the section in my Open University studies covering online security, and several times I nodded in understanding at the narrative.

The Novella is a pre-cursor to the main Brody Taylor Thrillers series, and introduces the main hero/protagonist; white hat hacker Brody Taylor, who uses a combination of hacking and social engineering to gain entry to companies as a means to ‘pentest*’ them. Ian Sutherland (himself an IT man) name drops the likes of Facebook and LinkedIn, and how important information can be gleaned from them for nefarious (or in the case of Brody, slightly more honourable) purposes. There are certainly some ideas included in the story to bear in mind next time you’re casually making those holiday snapshots public!

Overall, I found the story to be well written, enjoyable, and there was a good twist in it that I didn’t see coming. As an introductory novella, it’s certainly done its job, and I’m seriously considering reading the rest of the series in the future.

*”Penetration testing (also called pen testing) is the practice of testing a computer system, network or Web application to find vulnerabilities that an attacker could exploit.” [Definition via WhatIs.com]

Although I had my eye on some other cyberpunk novels, I decided to save some cash this month. Also, allegedly, I get a copy of I Robot with my Open University module on robotics, so I have that to look forward to in September. In the intervening time, I decided to work through my Kindle backlog and read some of the free fantasy books I’d downloaded onto my old 3G.

17696116Using a random number generator gave me Bubba and the Beast (Maven’s Fractured Fairy Tales, #2). I had not read the first book. Turns out, this was even shorter than Social Engineer, and I polished it off in two nights. To be honest, it wasn’t that great. The story basically revolved around a disgraced fairy having to find a troll a boyfriend. The writing was chaotic, I had a hard time following the narrative at times, and it ended rather abruptly. I will not be bothering to read any more of the series.

17406473Next up, the Fates gave me Earthchild, by Allie Bates. This was a full-length novel, and it kept me occupied for the rest of the month and then some. It was fair to say that I didn’t know what I was about to read (again, I had downloaded years ago when it had been free). What I found myself reading was akin to a novel-length wet dream whose every other sentence seemed to focus on hyped-up sexuality and eroticism, specifically with a focus on the two main characters. There was some plot in there, something to do with Scotland, missing lairds, and castles, but the rest was pretty much erotica, and TBH a little bit rapey at times. That being said, it was an ok read, and it kept me gripped enough to finish it, but I’ll be glad when I get my copy of I Robot.