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.

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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.

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.

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.

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!

Monthly Reads – May 2017

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To be honest, I find it hard to moment to read these days. I have my uni course, my novel editing, my volunteer work, and my fitness stuff, and it all eats into my time. This will be the first in, what I hope will be, a regular update on what I’ve been reading. And with any luck, it’ll galvanise me into reading more…. Even if that just means X-men comics.

So I’ve been on a bit of a Manga kick lately. I guess watching the Ghost in the Shell film piqued my interest again (and not just in Manga, but in Japanese culture in general, but that’s possibly a story for another day). I’ve watched anime before, but never read Manga, as I had no idea where to start, and I didn’t want to read something rubbish and be put off the genre. So I did a bit of digging, and the title that kept popping up was ‘Death Note’.

The general synopsis of the book is this:

Light Yagami, a genius high school student, discovers the “Death Note”, dropped on Earth by the Shinigami Ryuk out of boredom. The notebook allows the owner to kill anyone whose name is written in it, as long as the writer has seen the person’s face. Light plans to use the book to free the world from criminals, and then rule over it as a god. His killings catch the attention of Interpol, and the world-famous detective “L”. L creates a small task force from the local police (including Light’s detective father) to help discover who the killer is. And so begins a game of cat and mouse between Light and L.

Death Note started off as Manga, and has been made into an anime series, a live-action series, several live-action films, video games, and is now being bastardised for American audiences on Netflix. Considering the time spent by various quarters into adapting it into different media formats, I figured this was the one to go for. That, and I only ever found good reviews about it. Therefore, I went and bought the first volume and got to reading.

The ‘books’ are collections of several chapters, each originally printed as standalones, and serialised in a Manga magazine. Each volume contains about 12 of these chapters, and run out about 200 pages. The interesting thing about this series is that the layout of the books follows the original Japanese format, meaning that it’s set out back to front, to be read right to left. As someone who’s used to reading her comics the ‘normal’ western way, it was a bit disjointing at first, but after a few pages, I got into it. And the story itself? Well, I bought and read the first volume in late April. It’s now mid-May, and I’ve finished reading the second volume. So it’s pretty safe to say the story has me hooked. Looks like the Death Note series is going to be part of my monthly comic purchase, alongside my Essential X-Men, for a while, especially as there are 12 volumes to get through.

So if you’re looking to delve into Manga, and aren’t sure where to start, I can wholly recommend picking up Death Note.