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    • More +
      16.03.2014 17:30
      Very helpful



      a glimpse into the career of a hugely successful author

      Did you know that Terry Pratchett - bestselling author of the comedy-fantasy Discworld series - had his first short story published when he was just 13? It's pretty good, actually - very readable, if just a little rough around the edges, but you really wouldn't know it was by a just-turned-into teenager. If you're curious, then it's the first story here.

      The 33 stories (21 non-Dicscworld and 12 Disc) are presented in chronological order, by writing, which theoretically gives you a view of how the author's writing style improves. In fact, it almost seemed to me that Pterry's skill arrived fully formed and needed only to develop a little polish over the 50 years (wow - first time I've counted that!) since that first, teenage tale.

      Which isn't meant as too much of a sucking up comment, honest! I am a big fan of both Discworld and the non-Disc books such as Good Omens, and I enjoyed a lot of what I read here. It's fun seeing PTerry's sense of humour exploring different kinds of set-ups, and more the snippets that really aren't short stories so much as explorations. That works particularly well with the Disc stories (in part 2, as the book separates non-Disc and Disc) where I was already very familiar with the set up and could appreciate the random asides.

      For instance, the lyrics to the Ankh-Morpork national anthem are here! It is a most sensible anthem, consisting largely of the word 'nnnr', after the first verse - after all, that's how pretty much every national anthem is sung, anyway ;) As well as amusing in and of itself, it's brilliant to read that the piece - including full orchestral score! - was commissioned and performed by and on the BBC, to celebrate a season on (otherwise real) national anthems. How ace! Oh, and the town of Wincanton in Somerset is genuinely twinned with Ankh-Morpork, and here we can read Lord Vetinari's speech from the day - how funny!

      Perhaps more than the stories, then, the blurb that precedes each one absolutely fascinated me. Getting to read a bit about what was going on at the time, or what inspired the story, was often more interesting (for me) than the subsequent tale.

      That was particularly the case in several of the middle-of-the-book stories. I found there was a bit of a run of tales in the same style. It's a semi-reportage tone, with the narrating character basically having a bit of a whine. Thus we hear about a Russian factory worker complaining about his pigeon co-workers, or a disco attended by Death (sorry - DEATH) and as much as I might have liked the idea, overall I was just left slightly irritated at the style. Another intriguing idea - a 'Victorian-style' horror where the characters are trapped on the front of Christmas cards - was spoiled for me as I think if the foreword hadn't explained the setup to me I wouldn't quite have 'got' what was going on.

      Thankfully with short stories, even if you don't like them they're over quickly!

      Most of the stories were a lot more fun, although they tended more towards shorter-than-short (the 100-word challenge, for instance, which is a great little joke). The ideas weren't always original (I'm sure the idea of the fantasy character, killed off in his book and then appearing in the real world to quite literally 'meet his maker', has been done elsewhere) but mostly came right for the PTerry spin - like the idea of Merlin being a time traveller trapped in the past, rather than the 'remembering backwards' of the other versions.

      My favourite story from the selection was actually one of the longer pieces. Slightly unexpectedly, perhaps, is the revelation that Mr Pratchett can be both serious and a rather good pure sci-fi writer. 'The High Meggas' is the idea that became 'The Long Earth', co-written with Stephen Baxter - it sounds a lot like the latter's work, but nope, the idea was here first.

      In a similar vein, 'Rincemangle, the Gnome of Even Moor' is the precursor to 'Truckers'. Amusingly, despite being ten times shorter than the (admittedly still quite short) book, the short story contained the entirety of what I could remember. The character's name was obviously recycled later, too!

      The other longer, full short story in the book was one I'd read before, the Discworld short 'Sea and the Little Fishes'. As well as a full tale of Granny Weatherwax et al - rather a good one - here we also get an 'outtake', an extra bit that was removed largely for reasons of pacing. I love seeing things like that, revealing the editing process. As it turned out, the outtake was also highly familiar, as it was reused in a later Discworld novel.

      So while a bit of a mixed bag, overall I thoroughly enjoyed 'A Blink of the Small Screen'. The bits that I didn't like so much were brief and just that: didn't like so much, rather than outright hated. A couple of the stories and more of the ideas totally caught my imagination, but most I'm quite glad to see left in the short story or even shorter format. Above all of that, though, the glimpse into the creative mind, the idea generation (and recycling!) process and even occasionally the editing process were absolutely worth the money for me.

      Bonus: some of Josh Kirby's illustrations - some familiar, some not so, are scattered through the book.

      Look out later this year (2014) for the companion collection of short non-fiction.

      ~boring bits:~
      Paperback: 363 pages
      First published in 2012
      RRP: £7.99


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      • Lush The Brightside / Bath & Shower / 84 Readings / 82 Ratings
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        11.05.2013 15:49
        Very helpful



        my new favourite lush bath product!

        Last night I celebrated the end of my first week of my new job with a lovely, cheery bath. It was a double celebration: the Brightside - one of the few Lush limited editions I've been excited about enough to actually ask the company to make it permanent! - was one of the company's Easter limited editions, meaning it's no longer being produced, and out of stock both online and in my local store. However, after finding a stash in another store, I was able to crumble a good chunk of my now less-dwindling supply into hot running water, and lean back with a glass (of water!) and a big smile on my face :)

        Orange is one of my favourite 'happy' scents, and Lush has dubbed this bubble bar the 'triple orange'. Along with citrusy bergamot, this has mandarin and tangerine oils - perhaps the third orange is actually the bright colour, swirls of cheery orange and yellow which turned my bath water a deep shade. I absolutely LOVE it - I've had glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice that were less tang-full of orangey goodness scent, and it's something I find amazingly uplifting - just what I needed last night! :)

        Okay, back to the beginning. The Brightside is the same size, shape and swirly design (in different colours) as the Comforter bar, if you've seen that. Larger than most of Lush's bubble bars, it's easy to get four generous baths out of a Brightside (compared with two from the smaller bars, normally).

        The bar itself is soft enough to easily crumble under the running water, and for once I'm not disappointed in the scent. Okay, it's more concentrated in the bar but even diluted in the bath water it's plenty to keep my nose happy.

        Even using just a quarter of the bar gave me lots and lots of soft bubbles. The water is also 'softened' - I didn't feel any of the oils overtly, but my skin was left smooth and not dried out. Those oils include mandarin, tangerine and bergamot. Sit back - here comes the non-science bit! ;)

        Bergamot was one of the first aromatherapy oils I ever tried, and it's known - to practitioners and dabblers like me! - as a very uplifting oil, used to combat anxiety and tension. It's also used to soothe tired muscles. Mandarin is slightly softer than full-out orange oil, and is used to relieve stress and improve circulation, helping relaxation and calm.

        Tangerine oil isn't one I've tried separately, and indeed is sometimes lumped together as a form of mandarin. It's used in similar ways, including claims that they can help with stretch marks and digestive disorders.

        Whether you believe in aromatherapy or not, I think the combination of these citrus oils give a depth to the orange-y scent. For me, the experience was deeply relaxing, calming and uplifting, from the mix of hot water and a favourite happy-scent. If you don't like orange then - well, avoid this one!

        Does it linger? Hmm, not much, alas. I've found the scent fits well for both an evening or (very rare!) luxurious daytime bath: the orange-y aroma is mood-lifting without sending you to sleep, although the 're-setting' of my temperament is a sleep aid in itself! ;)

        And so - I declare this to be my new favourite Lush product! :) How unfortunate - and typical - then, that it was a limited edition! Alas, getting hold of these is only getting trickier - do look out for them in any local Lush stores (and stock up!) or otherwise also look out for the limited edition retro on the Lush website, which changes every couple of months or so.

        ~Boring bits:~
        Sodium Bicarbonate, Cream of Tartar, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Lauryl Betaine, Sicilian Mandarin Oil, Tangerine Oil, Bergamot Oil, Perfume, *Limonene, Gardenia Extract, *Linalool, Colour 14700, Colour 15510 (*occurs naturally in essential oils)

        ~Price: ~
        £4.25, but I got four baths out of that which is pretty good treat-value!

        ~Lush say:~
        The Brightside is the same size and design as our bestselling Comforter bubble bar. It's extra large, so you can easily break it in two and save the second half for another day.

        Everything's bright about this bubble bar, from the swirling orange and red colour to the juicy citrus fragrance. Simon calls this scent 'Triple Orange', and it's easy to see why - close your eyes and you can imagine you're lying in a sunny orange grove (without the danger of falling fruit landing on your head!) If you prefer to keep your eyes wide open, you'll enjoy the sight of vivid orange water and mountains of foamy bubbles.

        ~I say:~
        Brighten my day and bring it back for good, Lush, please!!! :)


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        • More +
          06.05.2013 21:58
          Very helpful



          functional and fun - loving it!

          My original choice of kindle cover didn't last very long before it looked horribly tatty, so when I decided to upgrade I was looking to move away from the (fake-looking) leather that scuffed so easily. Using that as my search on Amazon, the funky fabrics from Lente Designs really caught my eye.

          The single downside for me is that the 'book' opening style seems rather redundant with a kindle. You can fold it back on itself, though, and the snap-fastener will click back into itself to hold it in place - albeit with about an inch gap between the front/back covers, which can be handy for your fingers! This 'gap' happens because the spine of the cover is so nice and sturdy, and thus shows no ill-effects from being repeatedly bent backwards in this way - all good!

          Likewise, the strap that holds the magnetic (but safe) snap-fastener is thick and robust and looking just as good and still as firmly attached as the day I bought the case! In fact, the whole cover still looks great more than 6 months on, so I'm 100% converted to the fabric finish.

          By fabric I mean a tough canvas, but still a soft and pleasant feeling under my fingers. Okay, you are going to have to be a bit more cautious than with wipe-clean 'leather' in terms of liquids or stains - but you were being that careful with books and/or electrical items anyway, right?! ;)

          The inside is even softer, with a suede-like feel. There is a pocket 'fold' inside, and this is the only bit showing any kind of wear at all on mine, as the extra thickness pushes/rubs against the keys on my kindle and they've left a slight worn impression - not something bothersome, however.

          The cover attaches to the device with four corner straps - two fixed at the bottom, and the top two elasticated, but very firmly. It doesn't even wiggle, but is easy enough to remove if you want. My kindle has been well-protected.

          Mine is the daisy-pattern one shown above, but there are several varieties in bright colours, stripes or spots to suit most tastes - and also most devices, from the different kindles to iPads.

          I love mine: for just £15 it's doing it's job, lasting brilliantly, it's nice to hold (feel and weight) and fun to look at - completely recommended!


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          • More +
            06.05.2013 21:42
            Very helpful



            desperately disappointing - I'm now too spotty to be calm about my skin!

            Foundation is one of those things I find really tricky to buy, and it can be an expensive mistake. So when I spotted an offer from Avon it seemed like as good a time as any to experiment. For a bargainous £6 (usual price £10.50), I thought this 'Calming Effects' might be ideal for my slightly sensitive and still occasionally spot-prone complexion.

            What impressed me most in the description was the inclusion of lavender oil - I'm a big fan of aromatherapy - and if nothing else thought it would improve the scent of the foundation. No, not really! Still, lavender is excellent for burns and such, so it should in theory soothe the red and/or spotty bits of my skin, right?

            Wrong! Here's the kicker: adding *oil* (even lavender oil) to a product is going to make it - any guesses? - yup, oily! Add to oily-ish skin and you can see the disaster coming! I cannot wear this at all without having a bit of a break out :(

            Which nullifies the product for me anyway, but to be honest I wasn't that impressed with the coverage even before the spots arrived! It's a very thin (or 'light', if you prefer) product, so unless you do have pretty flawless skin already then the amount you need to cover even small imperfections is too much for any hope of skin breathing, I reckon - I found I needed around three 'pumps' from the bottle to approach a decent coverage.

            I notice that the description on the Avon website doesn't talk about spots at all, although it describes this as 'gentle' and 'refreshing the appearance of stressed skin'. Sadly, it did more to stress my skin than it was in the first place! Others do seem to get on with this (from the website comments) but for me it was too much for my slightly oily t-zone, made my flakier patches look dreadful, and brought me out in spots on my usually 'normal' bits - so I have no clue who this is going to work for. On the bright side, the colour - 'ivory' for my pasty Scottishness! - was quite good; that's not enough to overcome those negatives, alas!

            Overall, then: thanks, but absolutely no thanks!


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          • More +
            16.12.2012 13:24
            Very helpful



            an exercise in stating the blatantly obvious

            As both my degree course and current work contract draw to an end, I'm left with a clutch of shiny new qualifications and a lot of head scratching over what I want to do next. Being me, I turn to books to try and give me some kind of clue! "The Great Mid-Life Career Switch" appealed as my thoughts so far are more "not that!" (i.e. stuff I've already tried) than any positive direction. It's a scary position to be approaching middle (working) age and still seeking something that feels like a good fit. Perhaps here I would find some ideas?

            The first thing to notice is the length, or rather lack of - I suppose the subtitle, "15 important tips to help you change careers at half time" should have been a clue! Now, there are pros and cons to that: at around 50 sub-A5 pages this isn't going to take you long to read; at around 50 pages it's also not going to have a great deal of in-depth knowledge to impart!

            Really, this is the briefest of quick run throughs - yes, okay: 'tips' as advertised - outlining possible approaches. It's lots of 'whats' but absolute no 'hows', if you like. Although it mentions both redundancy and people like me just looking for a new... something... it is clearly aimed far more at the former. Indeed, the author himself apparently 'overcame' redundancy and set up his own business. Losing your job is usually a shock; I can imagine this "talk slowly and cheerily" approach would combat that somewhat. I, however, was just irritated!

            Right from the start I couldn't help but feel this book is for only the most clueless: do you really need to be told that your options include self-employment or finding another job? Or that if you want to change direction - ooh, controversy! - you may need new skills? The chapter entitled, "seek career guidance" sums up every flaw of this book: I *was* seeking career guidance, here. If you're not giving me that what ARE you providing!?

            For example, the topic of most interest to me was that of a portfolio career: having two (or more) concurrent jobs, perhaps using different skills. Alas, that's almost more on the subject than you'll get from this book! There's an odd tone to this one: less that this could be a great opportunity (as I see it) and more straining to justify that 'working two jobs' isn't something for which to apologise. Not helpful, certainly not for me!

            A few chapters are somewhat less insultingly obvious than others, perhaps, but only slightly. The chapters on 'Give yourself a fresh image' and 'Find inspiration' (by reading motivational texts) at least suggest that you look at a wider picture than just job listings. However, even here it's more a list of pointers to other places - "go read 'Feel the Fear'", for instance. Urm, right. I do wonder a bit about the specific titles, companies, etc mentioned - why these and not others? Some, like 'Business Link' are only applicable in certain bits of the UK, with no mention that this is the case - Scots should look for Business Gateway, for instance.

            Right in the middle comes a chapter that seems to contradict the nicely-nicely approach: basically suggesting that you can only possibly succeed if you're focused (on one thing). Seems a bit harsh for an audience likely to be a mess of swirly ideas and uncertainty! As this is where I'm approaching this book from I can only say thanks for that hint that I'm doomed to fail!

            The final chapter leaves the land of obvious, common sense advice for self-help territory - which I have nothing against, per se, but I'm not sure reading Richard Branson's autobiography is really going to be helpful, no matter how much you want to picture yourself in his shoes!! The parting message, that you should believe in yourself blah blah, isn't a bad one, but like the rest of the advice here it's just too weakly presented to have much impact.

            Overall: it's not a *dreadful* book, just rather pointless in my opinion - but as there's nothing here a quick search on the internet wouldn't cover better then I think it's rather a waste of (redundancy) money.

            The kicker was the appendix - 'Other helpful books from Infinite Ideas': ah, those folk! The ones who pull together lots of bite-size list-books on an array of topics, most of which seem to suffer from but are more suited to the same glossy, generalised approach. I have, in fact, downloaded several of these for my kindle - for free (although they're usually about 80p each): at that price (!) I wouldn't have half as many bones to pick with this volume. However, for the same price as a full sized novel (£6.99) I'd have to suggest this is a rather poor deal.

            ~Chapters (3-4 pages apiece):~
            1 Research other careers
            2 Seek career guidance
            3 Carry out a skills audit on yourself
            4 Retrain for a new career
            5 Increase your skill set
            6 Start your own business
            7 Buy a business franchise
            8 Give yourself a fresh image
            9 Be focused
            10 Network to develop your connections
            11 Find inspiration
            12 Take voluntary work
            13 Use an interim solution as a stepping stone
            14 Create a portfolio career
            15 Believe in yourself!

            ~Boring bits:~
            Paperback: 55 pages
            First published in 2010
            RRP: £6.99 (!)


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            • The Bourne Legacy (DVD) / DVD / 64 Readings / 63 Ratings
              More +
              22.08.2012 19:22
              Very helpful



              No one else seems to, but I like it!

              Once upon a time Jason Bourne woke, memoryless but in possession of a highly specialised skill set, to find himself pursued and in a danger he couldn't understand. As the pieces fell into place his survival became a matter of bringing down the organisation responsible for his situation. But such actions have consequences, and the ripples are wider than we've seen. And really - you didn't think he was the only one, did you?

              Okay, let's get this out first: *I* really enjoyed this movie, even if it seems no one else did! I'm quite shocked at how negative a lot of opinions and reviews have been about this sequel to the Bourne trilogy (Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum) - as far as I'm concerned it was a perfectly acceptable - nay, thoroughly enjoyable! - addition to the action thriller genre.

              So, what are some of the criticisms? First up is the fact that this is a Bourne movie without Bourne - the character is referenced, but there's no Matt Damon or (thankfully!) substitute playing the actual character. Some have suggested, then, that this movie should just remove any 'pretence' of being part of the Bourne franchise, and start fresh as a standalone.

              I disagree wholeheartedly: for me, what really gave this movie a bit of a lift from just run of the mill generic action/thriller was that very link to a series I already know. Legacy runs more or less concurrently with the events in The Bourne Ultimatum, and I loved the feeling that we were seeing a wider picture than we'd previously been shown. Films generally set up events; here we get to see some of the wider implications beyond an otherwise wholly-contained story.

              That's not to say you *have* to have seen the previous Bourne films - I had a few moments early on, when we really are seeing references to the other events, where I was worried about how long ago it was since my last viewing. However, it's absolutely fine to just know that there was a bloke called Jason Bourne, and he stirred up some trouble that's now kicking off what we see here.

              For, trouble it is indeed! With some rather dodgy super-soldier-like programs suddenly in danger of being made a little too public, the shady powers that be go into damage control mode in a big way. This is rather unfortunate for the 'programme participants', but one - Aaron Cross - manages to side-step the immediate fall out. Much like Bourne, however, that does leave him on the run.

              So... a bit similar? Well, yes - that one I will concede. There is little of massive originality here, compared to Bourne or a hundred other comparable movies in the genre. However, for me that isn't a huge negative - 99% of movies are, in my opinion, very very similar to a lot of other movies! At least in this instance it's sort of meant to be!

              What has changed from the previous instalments is our lead. I'm finding myself liking Jeremy Renner a lot, as a slightly less than typical action hero moving from supporting roles in movies such as M:I-4 and Avengers to the lead here. The character is a bit less generic than Mr Bourne as well, whether you like that or not, it seems! Other actors on show include Edward Norton, who is always great but actually fits the intense role here, and Rachel Weisz, who manages to portray a somewhat clichéd character without being annoying! A few familiar faces pop up from the other films, too.

              The final criticism I want to address is with the overall plot and pacing: some have described this movie as "one long intro". I do understand that, as there is a fair amount of set up; it takes a while to really get going; and the overall plot is indeed relatively slim. Again, I would argue the latter is a complaint across the genre, and given how over-complicated things could have been made, it's not the worst failing possible.

              In fact, the 'over-complication' of the ties back to the Bourne Ultimatum are probably enough for one movie. As I said, you don't have to have seen the predecessor, but the start of the film does spend quite a while flicking back and forth between people discussing that, dealing with it, and then the slightly-seemingly unrelated setting up the new main character. It can make for a rather uneven pace to begin with, so perhaps that's why I was reasonably happy to fall into well-worn familiarity of the chase/flight genre - although again, a lot of people seem to be unhappy about this *not* taking the same tack as Bourne, as if that makes it a lesser film/character - ah, I'll say no more!

              I confess I did rather stop reading reviews at this point, but probably one of them does flag what I genuinely did have a 'hmm' moment over. In the original Bourne movies, I don't remember anything to suggest that Jason was anything other than extremely well trained - albeit rather unconventionally! I could be wrong, but certainly there is a difference to the backstory here, with chemical and genetic enhancements being thrown into the mix. However, with one surprisingly un-farfetched line they do sort-of explain the differences, and certainly it all came together rather nicely in the character arc as far as I was concerned.

              So, overall I went into this very worried about this tagged-on sequel with new characters and (pretty much) none of the original. I was very pleasantly surprised at how well the story fitted in, neither rewriting nor ignoring the previous plot, but rather showing how the events there had much wider ripple effects.

              It seems, I think, that the big 'meh' over this movie is the suggestion that it just doesn't live up to previous instalments. What can I say - I like the first three, but not so much that I feel like some classic has been defiled.

              So Bourne Legacy is not a perfect movie by any stretch, nor particularly original - what is these days?! - but I am genuinely surprised at how poorly it's being received, as it was in my reckoning a well-presented burst of action/thriller with more than enough to keep me entertained. In fact, I thought it was better than the vast majority of the genre - enough to push my rating up to 4 stars.

              ~boring bits:~
              Running time: 135 minutes
              Rating: 12A
              Theatrical release: 13th August 2012
              DVD release: tbc

              Full cast and crew details can be found on imdb.


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              • More +
                10.07.2012 19:36
                Very helpful



                One of Lush's best masks for me!

                Lush's fresh face masks are a nice little treat for me, not least because you can pick up one for 'free' if you have five empty pots to return (black, retro white, or the clear shower jelly ones). I've cycled through all of the varieties in the range, more than once: not all are entirely appropriate for my skin, which at its worst tends towards oily and flaky on the t-zone, fairly normal elsewhere. This time, though, I went for the very appropriate for me Brazened Honey, which Lush touts with:

                "Been burning the candle both ends? A detox mask to put things right - It's hard to stick to all the rules. Eight hours sleep a night, two litres of water a day, plenty of exercise, five fruit and veg etc. This mask is for when you have overdone things and let the rules slide. A detox to get tired and dull skin back to being radiant and glowing."

                Well, that just describes my life all over at the moment - too much time stuck in front of a computer and not enough time taking best care of myself. No wonder my skin is dull; I'm just lucky I'm not having breakouts right now! Usually when I feel in need of a rescue mask I got for the calming calamine of Catastrophe Cosmetic but this time I was oddly spot-free and feeling more in need of some gentle pampering with no drying effect - Brazened Honey sounds ideal for this scenario!

                Now I must confess, honey is not actually one of my favourite smells as I generally find it too cloying. However, there's enough added herbs and spices here to balance it all out perfectly - in fact, look at the ingredients (below) and it's more like the honey is actually to balance out more spices than I'd put in a curry!! To me the whole thing smells slightly sweet steadied with a pleasantly almost-medicinal undertone.

                As with all of Lush's fresh range, you'll have to keep this in the fridge - it has egg in it and no preservatives. This does also mean you'll have to use it up pretty quickly although you get up to 3 weeks now (compared to an infeasible couple of days as these seemed to have a few years back). I always find I have plenty of time before the best before these days, and to be honest the added push to get the tub used up is a nice nudge to treat yourself a little more frequently than usual.

                Because it's come from the fridge this stuff is COLD when you scoop it out and on to your face! That scooping out is probably my only real complaint about this product: I always end up with the mask-goo all over my fingers and under my nails. This is particularly irksome with varieties like this one, which have exfoliating properties and thus bits. Me + Lush + bits = many a rant! ;)

                Once you have it on your face - carefully, please: I haven't stained anything sickly-yellow with stray bits of this mask in particular, but they can be dangerous that way! - and I'd suggest a reasonable layer, mostly to use the tub up in 4-5 uses rather than 7! - you just have to sit back and relax. I recommend a spot of meditation, or if you must, catching up on your literature review reading ;)

                The pot says 10 minutes, but I generally leave it a bit longer than that. I've never experienced any tingling or discomfort (beyond an itchy nose I can't really scratch!) with this at all. I do find it takes 15-20 to really dry, at which point you may notice that tightening sensation. For me the best way to get this off has to be in the shower - otherwise it's just too messy, ending up all over the sink (tiles, floor...)! I first dampen my face slightly (so, maybe I shouldn't be letting it dry so much, really!) to get the clay-like substance softened and moving, at which point you can rub it into your skin for a quite gentle exfoliation (far less rough than Love Lettuce, for those who have tried that). It comes off very well with enough water, not trying to stick until you've rubbed your face off!

                So, the important bit: the effect! I like Brazened Honey for precisely these times when I feel my skin needs a pick-me-up, but nothing more drastic. I've used this when my skin was its usual too-oily t-zone and found it did calm those grease levels. This time I felt I was almost heading the other way - a bit dry (for me, at any rate!) - and while it was also good for rebalancing that a little, I'm not sure I'd recommend this one for particularly dry skin.

                Looking at the ingredients clarifies this is probably exactly what Lush are aiming for - "balancing and calming" which I'd absolutely agree with. The mask base is a familiar kaolin (and talc), which are in most of my face masks as they absorb grease. The citric acid from the lime juice will also degrease, and the herbs - rosemary, juniper, sage, clove bud - are likely to help spots, particularly as they are held to have antiseptic properties. I've never come across turmeric (hello, bright yellow colour!) or cardamom in this kind of use before, but a quick google prescribes them as anti-inflammatory and detoxifying, as apparently are the fennel, parsley and coriander (really, this is sounding more and more like food!), whose "enzymes will help break down dead skin cells". Hmm, interesting - I'm not arguing, but the more obvious way to deal with dead skin cells is the exfoliation from the ground almond shells.

                And there's more! Ginger is something I know as a warming stimulant, with antioxidant and inflammation-reducing properties. Then there's the honey, egg and almond oil add moisturising benefits, stopping the more astringent properties of some of the rest. Overall, it's an odd, often opposing mix of just a vast number of different ingredients, but I'm surprised at how much it does work! After rinsing, my face is indeed less greasy but also rather soft, with none of that tightly-stretched feeling from stripping too much from your skin.

                The tub lasted me five masks, spaced over 3 weeks. The blend of exfoliation, oil-control AND moisturing really did make my skin nicely balanced over that period. Of all the Lush masks, this is perhaps the one I would use longer term - in fact, if you MADE me pick just one for ever more, this would be giving my favourite blueberry-and-calamine Catastrophe Cosmetic a very good run for its top spot!!

                So, are you ready to have your "tired, neglected skin" woken up?! I'm thinking I need to find a way to drink this mix, so it can spread that "calming and balancing" effect past my face, too! ;)

                ~Boring bits:~

                Quantitative Ingredients
                Talc, Fresh Organic Lime Juice, Sage, Rosemary and Juniperberry Infusion, Fresh Free Range Eggs, Honey, Glycerine, Fresh Fennel, Ground Almond Shells, Almond Oil, Bentonite Gel, Fresh Ginger Root, Fresh Parsley, Fresh Coriander, Ground Turmeric, Ground Cardamom, Clove Bud Oil, Ginger Oil, Vetivert Oil, Juniperberry Oil, *Benzyl Salicylate, *Eugenol, *Geraniol, *Benzyl Benzoate, *Linalool, Perfume
                *occurs naturally in essential oils

                Availability: best bought from Lush stores, in most major cities up and down the UK. They can be bought from mail order, but the fresh/refrigeration needs do add to the postage.

                Price: free with five Lush pots, or £5.75 (between about 82p - £1.44 per use, depending on quantity used)


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                • More +
                  03.07.2012 19:49
                  Very helpful



                  Three nested tales, loosely circling the Dark Tower

                  There's a storm coming, friends. A terrible ice storm crashing along the path of the beam, disrupting our journey towards the Dark Tower. We're hardy gunslingers, aye, but even our ka-tet needs to sit this one out. So let's hunker down for a bit, out of the killing wind, and I'll tell you a story to pass the time. Listen: "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed..."

                  I first read that line some 20 years ago now, and it still sends shivers down my spine. Stephen King's epic Dark Tower series stands among one of the most important tales in both King's work and my own reading history, transitioning me from 'cool' horror to the fantasy epics I now love.

                  Roland Deschain is a gunslinger (sort of a cross between a Knight of the Round Table and a Wild West marshal) in a world that is beyond old and breaking down. Things have 'moved on' even over the course of own life, and all he has left is the need to reach the Dark Tower - the nexus of all worlds. If you've read any Stephen King novel, chances are you've 'witnessed' one of the thin spots between realities...

                  Over the course of seven volumes, Roland collects a small band from our world: former junkie Eddie, wheelchair-bound Susannah (who once had two other personalities), and the boy-who-died, Jake. Each comes from a different time period of a very different place to the one they now find themselves in, joining the quest to reach the Dark Tower. The latter novels had a slightly rushed feel, in my opinion, and the final conclusion was... well, controversial - I can say no more! I love it, though! To hear, then, that Stephen King was releasing a new volume caused mixed feelings: authors revisiting popular series so rarely works. However, I'm super-pleased to be able to report that The Wind Through the Keyhole disappointed me not one jot!

                  Set between volumes 4 and 5 of the series proper, WTtK picks up with our band during an otherwise glossed-over long stretch of travel - nothing too much happens, you might as well not talk about it. And indeed, here we spend only the barest of time with that overarching narrative: it is merely the outer, bookending tale in a nested set of three.

                  For, as the 'starkblast' storm approaches, Roland, Eddie, Susannah and Jake - our ka-tet - seek shelter in an abandoned town hall. To pass the time, Roland is encouraged to tell a story and to maybe reveal a little more of his mysterious past. And so he takes the group back to a task he was given as a young and inexperienced gunslinger, to track down a skin-changer terrorising a small town. During that past adventure Roland also had call to hunker down and tell a story, which is repeated during his more recent telling - if you're not feeling slightly confused yet, you probably followed the plot of Inception very well ;)

                  In structure, WTtK bears a strong resemblance to the (chronologically) previous novel, Wizard and Glass. I remember the frustration with that volume when it appeared mid-series: after a long (8 year!) wait since the third book, it was crushing to find so little forward momentum in the main narrative, instead taking a near full-book detour back to the past. However, repetition of that 'flaw' doesn't seem to matter to me at all here.

                  Some of that is down to WTtK not being a tagged-on sequel (and if you've read all seven of the Dark Tower series, you may see how that might or might not work!!). Rather, it seems to me like a decent deleted scene now added to the DVD extras. I would suggest it was removed purely because it was unnecessary to the main narrative, and would have broken the pacing - and it would have been far too similar to the previous, much-complained-about, book. However, so many years on it's nice to revisit and get another - if unimportant - slice of the story. Throughout the series we were given tantalising hints of Roland's world and its history, but I for one always thought there was much more to tell.

                  We don't get a huge amount more of that story here, more a glimpse of Roland's early life. It's not even as revealing as Wizard and Glass in terms of events shaping the young gunslinger's character. We learn even less about our main quartet; really we just briefly check in with them, perhaps fondly remembering the journey we've already taken with them. And in my case at least, how much I'd love a pet like Oy the billy-bumbler! :)

                  Instead, the bulk of the book is really setting up to tell the dark fairy tale at its core. Remembered from Roland's own childhood, I wasn't initially captured by the new account, with seemingly little to do with the Dark Tower or the characters we've been following, and frustratingly pedestrian. Themes familiar from King's other works, such as domestic violence, seem rather dull given the scope of what we still don't know about a world containing 20-foot tall cyborg bears driven mad by the passing of unknown millennia!! However, stick with the telling and eventually things do become that bit more intriguing. In fact, through the medium of story-telling (within the tale within the narrative!) we actually see a much more direct slice of the Dark Tower mythology - but of course, it's only a folk story...!

                  Then, from this darkest of faerie tales, the narrative once more pulls back a level to finish off Roland's reminiscing - which I've heard very aptly described as a "supernatural western" - and yet again to put us back on the path of the beam, once more heading towards the Dark Tower.

                  If that sentence seems baffling, then it suggests that my disagreement with the marketing of this book is correct: I cannot see this as a suitable stand-alone starting point for those who haven't read the Dark Tower series. For those of us who already know and love Mid-World this is a lovely revisit - and bonus outtake, if you like! - but for strangers to the land then I think the lack of background understanding is going to both lessen this tale and give away far too much about the main series. Which, of course, you should read entirely! ;)

                  ~The Dark Tower series~
                  1. The Gunslinger
                  2. The Drawing of the Three
                  3. The Wastelands
                  4. Wizard and Glass
                  --> The Wind Through the Keyhole <--
                  5. The Wolves of the Calla
                  6. The Song of Susannah
                  7. The Dark Tower

                  A 'redux' version of The Gunslinger was also published: I love the original for all the reasons (over flowery writing, etc) King rewrote it 21 years on, and I love seeing the differences between the two!

                  ~boring bits:~
                  Hardback: 335 pages
                  First published in 2012
                  RRP: £19.99, but currently £8.99 on Amazon


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                  • Prometheus (DVD) / DVD / 68 Readings / 64 Ratings
                    More +
                    24.06.2012 16:48
                    Very helpful



                    Alien pre-prequel asking more questions than it even tries to answer

                    Across the world, across civilisations separated by impassable distances and time, archaeologists have discovered pictograms showing the worship of giants each pointing to impossibly identical star systems. It's an invitation, whispers Elizabeth Shaw (the original Girl with a Dragon Tattoo's Noomi Rapace), a chance to meet our maker. She wants to find God; boyfriend Charlie wants to talk to aliens, and the Weyland Corporation, represented by ice-cool Charlize Theron - well, they probably just want to make money, at any price. And the rest of the crew of the Prometheus, sent to follow that star map? Well, by the end of it I'm guessing they just want to go home: they set out on this quest with a mix of high hopes; the planet they find, however, is not what anyone expected. But from all the disappointments rises something terrifyingly unexpected...

                    I wanted so very badly to like this film. I adore all of the Alien films - yes, even the last two that everyone else panned. I'm a massive fan of director Ridley Scott, particularly the phenomenal Blade Runner. How could a movie set before Alien, exploring the identity of the mysterious 'Space Jockey' (an ancient, huge corpse with a telling hole in its chest...!) not be a sure-fire winner?! Answer: this. This movie is, for me, exactly how you take all those amazing ingredients and mix them all up into muddled brown sludge. And that, I'm afraid, is the only answer you're going to get out of this sprawling, messy movie.

                    Which is a damn shame, it really is. There is so much promise here, and indeed a fair amount to like. Lots and lots of people seem to have been able to focus just on those bits, but for me I've only been able to appreciate (some of) them in hindsight - the viewing experience was a bitter taste and a lot of "What on (or off of!) earth is going on!?". I think it's fair to say that a lot of the movies I watch require a large suspension of disbelief, but somehow - several of them, in fact! - I just couldn't manage that here.

                    Biggest irk - and without giving anything away - was that I found it very difficult to find an internal logic to the plot. In retrospect, and with a lot of reading around various fan opinions, I admit that part of this was my own fault in not 'getting' some of the set up - but there also seems to be a great deal of guess work required, too. That doesn't speak highly of the story-telling, as far as I'm concerned. I strongly suspect that I would have enjoyed this movie more without the 'Alien' link: being told this isn't a direct prequel (it's set in the same universe, but there's a discontinuity between the plots allowing for a lot of wiggle-room without matching up the 'seams', so to speak) didn't stop my brain from trying to see how *this* evolves into *that*, or how this reaction foreshadows future events on the Nostromo (which, incidentally, is what 'Alien' would have been called if following the same pattern as this movie). Alas, the gulf is just too wide, and I struggled with that jarring inability to see how we get from here to there.

                    Prometheus seems to try to emulate at least some of the atmosphere of the first Alien, where the very slow build of tension starts to play on your nerves until that big shock slams you halfway out of your seat! However, from the very first scene here (which I still don't really understand) I was so busy feeling confused and then frustrated and altogether NOT caught up in the whole thing, that I found this movie completely not scary, even when it was meant to be. Admittedly, not everyone in the audience seemed to have that same issue - some people were clearly quite scared indeed! - but that just left me feeling more disappointed.

                    It really didn't help that I really didn't like much of the cast of characters. Main woman Shaw was too obviously a Ripley-wannabe, but too wide-eyed then too frenetically manic to let me even start to want to care about her; thus I didn't invest as much in the story as the film really required. Her love interest seemed utterly bored with the proceedings, and the rest of the crew swayed between puzzlingly irrational, obviously disposable, and totally underused. Interestingly, the exceptions were the purposefully least likable characters: Charlize Theron is marvellously cool and cruel as the company woman, Vickers, and Michael Fassbender has rightly been well-lauded for his portrayal of android, David. David is easily the standout - well, everything, actually! - of the movie. His semi-humanised, still-outsider performance, from obsession with Lawrence of Arabia to the totally amoral reactions to events, was utterly intriguing for me.

                    Which leads me back to why the rest of the film didn't work for me: David's behaviour is never explained; it simply raises questions and leaves them with you. I was fine with that - in fact, I like it when movies don't shove everything down your throat (if knowing fans will pardon the Alien reference ;)). However, it strikes me that Prometheus does nothing *but* raise questions upon questions, until they stop offering an intriguing sense of mystery and simply become irritating. In my view, you simply cannot expect an audience to stay with you when you provide - not just 'not all' - but absolutely 'not one' of the answers to the conundrums you set up.

                    Overall, I can't help but feel that this movie was just over ambitious beyond its ability to make all the various elements work enough to keep it all together, at least in a satisfying or even semi-satisfying, manner.

                    Clearly a movie like this is going to have a hard fight to live up to the hype, which in this case was only exaggerated by a massive pre-release campaign. To my chagrin, I spent a lot of effort avoiding all the rather clever viral marketing (faux-TED talks from the Weyland Corporation, advertising for the David-model android) in an effort not to spoil the movie experience for myself. Alas, I fear these were the best bits of the whole package...

                    So is it worth viewing? Actually - and given my comments above, probably shockingly - yes. I can't raise my own rating beyond 2 stars, such was my disappointment with the movie, but I'm actually glad that so many others have obviously found the enjoyment that I wanted. The ideas and the scope of this movie are fantastic, at least to begin with, but then alas it fails on the follow-through on any level for me - unresolved plot, script (some absolutely dreadful lines in there!), characters, acting... And I'm still recommending it, albeit guardedly. Go in with much lower expectations, blocking out all memory of Alien, and enjoy the cool CGI, the 'space jockeys', and the creepily non-humanly human android, David. Most of all, hope for a sequel that answers some of those many, MANY unanswered questions!!

                    ~boring bits:~
                    Running time: 124 minutes, and still a lot of untold story
                    Rating: a fear-filled 18
                    Theatrical release: 1st June 2012
                    DVD release: tbc

                    Full cast and crew details can be found on imdb.


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                    • More +
                      14.06.2012 18:45
                      Very helpful



                      Useful design, but low quality

                      Much as I've grown to appreciate my Kindle, the lightweight portable library is just too delicate to be treated like a real book - even though I treat mine very well! - and the thought of just slinging it 'naked' into my bag fills me with horror: it feels like it could snap from a clumsy knock (or me sitting on it, more likely!), or certainly get scratched. That it so obviously requires a case without bundling one with it is sly marketing, methinks - although as Amazon feels it can charge a horrifying £50 almost certainly explains leaving it as an 'optional' accessory!

                      Of course, I'm not going to pay that amount of money and there are more than plenty of suppliers willing to offer me a cheaper alternative. In fact, I spent far longer trying to choose from the case options than I did over the reading device itself: what material, how should it open, what colour, etc. I finally ended up with two (indecisive as ever!) which between them give me what I'm after: something that cushions from random knocks, and something to give it a little more solid protection and soothe my fears over snapping the thing in half!

                      For that latter scenario, I finally went for this leather (I had my doubts on first glance, but it is, if clearly cheap quality) Duragadget cover, in black. It's basically two fairly thick (almost as much as the Kindle itself), rigid and slightly padded panels joined by two leather strip 'hinges' at the bottom and closed with another strip, this time magnetised (and I can confirm this does the e-reader no harm whatsoever). Attached to the back is a leather 'frame' to hold the Kindle - mine is the keyboard style, so there's a strip between the screen and the keypad, both of which are left uncovered. This holds the device reasonably securely, although time sees it slacken a little: I really wouldn't recommend having the case open and upside-down, or your 'book' will slide out!

                      The most attractive feature for me was actually the opening style. Most Kindle covers seem to want to replicate book-like openings, which is fine but redundant as far as I'm concerned. Instead this is more like a flip-book, but the cover then performs a useful task: it can be used to form a stand for the device. This is done via a small, magnetised flap on the back, which you pop out and then prop against one of the ridges on the now-folded-back front cover. The panel of ridges gives you a small amount of flexibility on the angle, too.

                      Does your Kindle *need* to stand? Probably not, and I can understand if you don't see the value without having tried it! However, I'd now seriously miss it if it were gone - because I'm a very lazy, in-bed reader, and this just works perfectly for propping the book up on my chest (or sitting on a table, or for lying on my side)! Okay, I still have to keep a hand on the page-turning button, but just one and it's far less tiring than holding the book up in front of my face :) A complaint around this, however, would be that the choice of angles is fairly limited. An extra 'ridge' at the bottom of the cover would have allowed for a very shallow angle, perfect for just raising the device from flat.

                      Rather perversely, if you're not using that handy stand then this cover does something very odd: it more than doubles the weight of your Kindle! It's still not massively heavy - less so than many books! - but it just seems very odd. Sure, it's easy enough to slip it out of the case if you're going to be holding it for any length of time, but I do worry that I'm also removing the protective element.

                      Now, I said up front that I'd ended up with two covers, and here's why: although this largely calmed my worries around breaking or scratching the Kindle, I was still unhappy that it wasn't enclosed. There's still plenty of scope for crumbs and dust to work their way into this cover. However, I am happy with the protection it's given me: my Kindle is scratch-free and even survived a short fall... onto its screen, with the cover open, ouch!! Luckily even the thin strip of leather around the edge of the screen seems to have been enough to prevent damage, phew!

                      But wait: I have more grievances! Biggest would be around quality. Okay, so you get what you pay for, and I guess I have £12.99's worth! BUT - this was back in Nov/Dec 2011; the price has now more than doubled to £30!! There is no way I consider this to be worth that much. As I said, I actually had doubts as to whether this was really leather: it looks okay but not great. On the other hand I did have a good clue from being able to see the 'inside' of the material: on the front of my brand new case was a small scuff-like mark... which had obviously been filled in with biro!! If I hadn't been in a rush to take my Kindle on holiday, I would so have sent it back for that!!

                      Alas, age has only worsened the appearance: the edges of the straps holding the cover to the back have peeled away after fairly minimal use. It's still fully functional, but - £13, okay, £30 - no way!! The Keyboard Kindle surely isn't so obsolete to justify a 'rarity' price on the covers?!

                      So, final tally: at £13 I'm happy with this as I like the 'stand' and it does seem to be protecting my kindle, and I can forgive the weight. But at £30 there's just no way I'd forgive the cheapness of the material!


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                      • More +
                        09.06.2012 12:51
                        Very helpful



                        Well-woven tale of magic, betrayal, and unlikely rebellion

                        For a thousand years he has ruled the world; having saved it from some cataclysmic evil it is now his to control as he wishes. Immortal and all-powerful in the 'Allomatic' arts - those using metal to grant enhanced abilities to gifted people - no one can dare to stand against him. And so life in the Final Empire is hard. Hard for the nobility, reliant on the whims of the god-emperor and constantly playing games of politics with other Great Houses - games that include assassinations, with the most powerful allomancers nigh-on unstoppable. And on the flip side, those not born to nobility have it even harder: skaa are property, beaten without cause, killed for little more. The skaa are downtrodden serfs, a millennia of conditioning all but breeding the fight out of them.

                        And then... from the swirling mists of the night, mists that no sane person dares to enter, comes something that should be impossible: a skaa with Mistborn abilities - and a mind to start a revolution!

                        I've been reading fantasy fiction for rather a long time now and I do have to admit that the bulk of it falls into some fairly well-worn (i.e. predictable!) ruts. That's not always a bad thing: hearing a familiar story retold well can still be enjoyable. However, it gets harder and harder to really get excited about any genre after a while, so anything that makes me sit up hours past bedtime (I'm usually too sensible!) hanging on every word to find out what happens - well, wow! :)

                        That's not to say The Final Empire is 100%, shockingly original - it still fits into the genre, still follows a few template patterns. But there are more than enough original elements, plus a gift for storytelling, combining to leave me enthralled.

                        What worked best for me was the pre-chapter excerpts from... something! This is itself a rather well-used device these days, but these little snippets first hint and then start to reveal just a little about a back story, another element and depth to what I was reading in the main narrative. The eventual revelation only heightened the need to keep reading and find out not just what was coming next, but *what the heck HAPPENED?* in this world's history!!

                        Of course, you do need that main narrative to be pretty gripping, too. This is where the more familiar elements come in: Vin is a young skaa girl, working as part of a thieving team (so, some skaa aren't quite as downtrodden as the rest, I guess?!). Like many a fictional young hero before her, she turns out to be a bit more special than anyone ever thought and we get to follow her training as she discovers her abilities in the Allomatic arts: a set of skills each requiring the 'burning' (via consumption plus inborn skill) of a specific metal or alloy, granting the practitioner enhanced strength, senses, or the ability to near-fly by 'pushing' or 'pulling' on external metal sources. Then there are the Mistborn - allomancers who can burn any of the metals, not just one. And, of course, there's the most audacious plan to overthrow a god!

                        However, along with a familiar theme Sanderson has created a strong world and set of characters, plus a 'logic' that remains consistent throughout. You can look up 'Sanderson's first law', which is about ensuring your system of magic doesn't suddenly become (deus ex machina) an excuse to fix unfixable problems! True to that law, the Allomancy system of magic does have its limitations and takes its toll on users. It's a very good premise to ensure that you aren't suddenly jolted out of the suspension of disbelief required for such reading!

                        The magical abilities are explored via the setting up of a 'crew' requiring one each of the Allomatic skills. Other than the main few, the characters are fairly loosely sketched, I feel: likeable, not too two-dimensional, but left relatively on the sidelines. Then there's the grim setting: in this world ash falls constantly - at least on the bits of it, mainly the main city, that we glimpse. Plants are brown not green, although there is some near-mythical knowledge that this isn't how it's always been. And that - that sense that things changed at some point in the world's history, but so long ago few have any knowledge of it at all - is something that provides tantalising hints that this book is all just part of a bigger story.

                        I think Sanderson balances very well the needs of characterisation, setting and plot, with a sense of casual flair for storytelling than I can only envy. It is perhaps my own preferences for world-building that throws that facet to the forefront for me, and makes me pay more attention to that element to the point that I am slightly less interested in the characters than wanting to explore more about the bigger imagining going on than just this one book.

                        Fortunately, The Final Empire is the opening of a trilogy (and a sequel is now available, too). I'm already looking forward to picking up the story and finding out more about this strange, intriguing world - and, I hope, that revelation about what did happen!

                        My rating: it's not quite perfect, but it just stands out so much for me compared to anything I've read recently in the genre that I have to give it a sleep-depriving 5 stars! :)

                        ~boring bits:~
                        Paperback: 643 (story) pages (Gollancz fantasy 2009)
                        First published in 2006
                        RRP: £8.99

                        (Review title totally stolen from the cover by-line!)


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                        • More +
                          27.05.2012 19:22
                          Very helpful



                          Rubbish movie, excellent music!

                          Film scores are my absolute favourite genre of music, and not just because I can listen to them in the background without distracting myself from work/study with words (and my tendency to try and sing along! ;)). A good film score conjures emotions of all kinds; whether you've seen the movie in question or not it's easy to close your eyes and picture matching scenes.

                          On the other hand, my knowledge of Daft Punk doesn't extend much beyond 'Around the World' (from 1997 - who let that be 15 years ago!?)! Surely a *dance music* (bleugh!) duo can't possibly make a particularly listenable album, even if it is a film score?! So aside from the fact that I had seen the (disappointingly lacklustre) movie I went into this listening experience rather expecting more electronic squawks and beeps. Such a surprise, then, to find this album full of very classical-sounding, orchestral music. Even several listens in, I was continually surprised by how heavily this leans towards more conventional film orchestration - with just enough electronica to lift it from the herd, make this album something a bit different and certainly one of my new favourite film scores!

                          Perhaps more surprising is the overall tone: I associate dance music with happy, upbeat (if often moronic) noise; the Tron Legacy soundtrack isn't just not dance, it's practically downbeat to the point of yearningly blue; solemn almost to the point of having something to prove. And then there's just the all-too-brief blast of something altogether other! Overall, just a great marriage, to my ears.

                          Now... I'm not hugely a fan of the track-by-track breakdown, but movie scores are different: there's a story to follow, after all! Word of warning then: if you haven't seen the movie there are a few, small possible spoilers below. I'll try to be brief - like the tracks, many of which are quite short (sub-2 minutes) with the whole album coming in at around the hour mark.

                          A very quiet start, slowly introducing the main theme that is to run through the rest of the album. It's a stately orchestral piece - giving some hint that this album may not be quite as you'd expect!

                          ~The Grid~
                          Jeff Bridges' spoken-word piece briefly explaining a little about the world of Tron, over a more electronic version of the previous track. I love the slight other-worldliness, which suits so well the movie's theme of putting real people into the computer's game-like world.

                          ~The Son of Flynn~
                          A very short, light track, dancing over the keyboard with the orchestra underneath. In the movie, we're being introduced to the now-adult Sam, son of Kevin Flynn, whose disappearance (some years after his ventures into the original Tron) forms the background to this sequel.

                          In the movies the Recognizers are a sort of policing force so this track appropriately brings in a darkness (along with a few brass-blasts reminiscent of 'Inception'). It also almost seems to lose the electronica in favour of a full orchestra - as I said, rather a surprise to expectations, perhaps, particularly as this is the point where the movie (in the cinema, at least) switched from 'conventional' 2D to 3D!

                          Veering back away from the orchestra a bit, and this track is more a bridging-piece rather than one of the movie's themes, as Sam is kitted out for his 'adventure' on The Grid!

                          Starts so quietly, it's almost a shock when the electronic pulse starts to build! A very short piece that stops rather suddenly, leaving you wanting more...

                          ...and this is it. Sam Flynn faces Tron's prime warrior-enforcer, a dark and mysterious character who gets a suitably threatening theme, merging a dark electric underbeat with powerful strings.

                          ~The Game Has Changed~
                          As does the score: at this point I feel we move from introducing the various themes into the 'storyline', as it were. As with the previous track, there's a blend of the old and new in the music - making it a clever choice for the trailer, where it featured.

                          This may sound very familiar, as it's been running with at least one advert of late. Galloping yet delicate strings lead us in to one of the outstanding tracks from the album, in my view, perfectly conjuring a sense of space and travel and momentum. And as with my other favourites, just not quite long enough for me!

                          ~Adagio for Tron~
                          Along with the classical name, this is a very classical-sounding piece. Sad, and beautiful, and my absolute favourite. You can actually get the sheet music for this! About halfway through there is a more modern element brought in to complement the instruments, but it fits perfectly, as does the track with the flashback it accompanies in the movie.

                          Segues seamlessly from the above; almost impossible to spot as a separate track!

                          ~End of the Line~
                          THIS is the signature track, me thinks. For those who haven't seen/remembered the movie, the End of the Line is the club run by a Bowie-esque Michael Sheen. It's not fast, not dance music, but somehow this track makes me want to move. My one complaint is that this really feels like a lifting in the album - like we're just "getting there" - and then it's finished, gone, and we don't come back here at all!

                          Easily the most upbeat track on the album, along with the loudest and closest to dance music. Not my favourite, but the overall album 'needs' this track, I feel. 'Deresovled' is how a program is killed; this is the attack on the club.

                          Really momentous, heavy-passion piece, with the electric fuzz noise behind it reminding me of Radiohead, and showing how old and new musical styles can meet well.

                          ~Solar Sailer~
                          Very reminiscent of the original Tron, perhaps because under the orchestral strings is a theme that very much reminds me of the old C64 or even ZX Spectrum games! Almost certainly deliberate, given the original soundtrack featured a track called 'The Light Sailer'. In both cases, the 'Sailer' is Tron transport.

                          This is a rather dark, semi-disturbing aspect of Tron's world (literally reprogramming!), and the theme is suitably dark and menacing. Back to very pure orchestral, with startled strings and lots of brass that wouldn't sound out of place near (Holtz's) Mars.

                          ~Disc Wars~
                          Mainly strings, but not the bass and then comes in a subtle bit of synthesizer. Thematically, an anticipation-raising piece. Despite the name, this track isn't accompanying the gladiator-like arena scene, where programs (and the occasional User!) battle each other with Frisbees. Ahem ;)

                          Quietly unsettling, with some swirly strings to match the movie's chase scene and that Planets-esque brass section going again. About halfway through there's a very subtle synth sub-bass going on.

                          A big change, both thematically and that the keyboards are more apparent. That said, the merging with the flute is absolutely gorgeous, if a little sad-sounding, matching the confrontation in the movie.

                          ~Flynn Lives~
                          This track is a builder, bringing back in the main theme and a sense of the pace slowly picking up in a rather stately manner - and, of course, the end scenes of the movie!

                          ~Tron Legacy (End Titles)~
                          This is probably what I expected the album to be more like, heavy on the synthesizer. Still, very listenable rather than just electronics beeping-noises under the main theme. Maybe it's just me, but there is quite a clear demarcation - that we are now listening to a set piece of music, rather than part of a score/storyline.

                          Sounds very much like that last bit of music you get after the titles have been running a while, and if you're still sitting in the cinema then you're waiting for a post-credit scene...! It's a gentle piece, nice enough but not - and probably not intended to - really stand(ing) out.

                          ~Sea of Simulation~
                          Very worth waiting for! This is the gentle electronica, vaguely Tubular Bells-ish, that seems so well to sit with the concept and period of (the original) Tron. It's quite dreamy, and a lovely end to the proceedings. It is also so much better than the same-named track from the original score!

                          That last comment hits on one of the oddities here: Tron is one of the movies of my childhood, remembered with huge fondness, and yet the (recently purchased) score is disappointing. Here, with Tron: Legacy, the absolute opposite holds true: the film so failed to live up to the anticipation, but the accompanying music has almost made me forgive it!

                          So yes, it's a somewhat sombre listen, but that doesn't mean depressing. I've just listened to it straight through - twice - for the review, and the layers of complexity are still revealing themselves, a year and a half on. I'm not a fan of dance music, or Daft Punk - I suspect fans of either of those are going to be at least disappointed if not utterly loathing of this album: if it is all a bit too mainstream film score-y for your tastes, the 'Tron Legacy: Reconfigured' album features remixes of (some of) the above 23 tracks, with a much more dance slant from what I can tell from the samplers. I'm intrigued, but personally I adore the strong orchestral themes with just that added spice of electronica bringing in something a bit novel.

                          Recommended, whether you liked - or indeed, saw! - the movie or not.


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                          • More +
                            03.05.2012 20:22
                            Very helpful



                            If you want to take your leadership skills up a level, consider this

                            Over the years, the single thing that's kept me from spending more time scribbling for Dooyoo has been studying. Not content with an epic MSc (which years on I'm almost finished...! ;)) via distance learning, over the past year or so I also 'found' (!) the time to complete a Level 5 Diploma in Management and Leadership. I must be mad! ;)

                            ~SIGNING UP~
                            My own experience is probably not typical, but it does colour a lot of this review so let's get it in at the start! My current role was not just a job, but part of a whole scheme aimed at semi-fast tracking 'the Leaders of the Future' (and more generally at recent graduates rather than aging students like me!). Sponsorship for this diploma was part of the 'deal', and included organised residential courses (plus time to attend them!).

                            More generally, the qualification follows a standard framework (set by the CMI - see below) and is thus offered by many different training providers and many colleges/universities, some of whom also offer distance learning options. The course content is modular, so it should be possible to pick up a few modules at a time, rather than going straight for the full thing - you would have to check overall time constraints with your provider, however!

                            Even though the qualification is standard, it's worth really checking into any training provider before signing up. What level of support are they offering? My own experience, with residential courses, was brilliant at making the whole process more interesting and less of a struggle, particularly as the tutors had ample experience to pass on in what the assessors were looking for with different question types.

                            Costs vary (certain universities offer modules for ~£30 each - students: get a couple under your belt while they're cheap!), but expect to pay around £2500 for the full qualification.

                            According to the CMI website, this qualification is designed for middle managers looking to head towards senior management. This utterly contradicts my own experience BUT it is *essential* to have some kind of management experience (and probably current!) to gain this level! One of the mandatory modules (see below) is to conduct a management project: my own work role (which I did tell you was a bit weird!) is set up as a project, and while not actually a full manager I am managing this particular project. You do have to be talking about a real experience, past or preferably present, in the assessment - not just theory.

                            That said, my previous employer wouldn't consider promoting staff to manager level unless they already had management experience - total Catch-22! I would suggest, then, that if you find yourself in a similar circumstance, it might indeed be worth looking at this qualification alongside asking for some increased responsibility to mimic that management role over a project, at least. Indeed, several of the modules could well be taken as a slow build up to proving your commitment (as well as earning towards a Certificate or Award).

                            ~QUALIFICATION LEVEL~
                            So, backing up a bit: what's a 'level 5' diploma? The UK National Qualifications Framework has nine levels, from entry level all the way up to PhDs. Level five covers HNCs, HNDs, and Professional Diplomas. To put that into perspective, an undergraduate degree (BA, BSc) is level 6, and a masters-level post-graduate degree (my other current studying!) will garner me a level 7. I feel like I should be calling 'house'! ;)

                            As this qualification is regulated by the Chartered Management Institute, the diploma in addition to three years management experience (which I don't have) entitles you to apply to become a Chartered Manager.

                            There are 22 different modules that can go towards making up the diploma (although not every training provider offers all of them!), each earning between 6 and 10 credits. The diploma is awarded on passing 9 of these modules with a minimum of 62 credits. The undertaken modules must also meet the category requirements: all of the core group A, one of the two from group B, and then three of your own choice from group C.

                            This makes the course quite flexible, and appropriate to the needs of different kinds of managers. The core content ensures a certain foundation level, and covers:
                            - Personal development as a manager and leader
                            - Information based decision making
                            - Resource management
                            - Meeting stakeholder and quality needs
                            - Conducting a management project

                            However, the final category allows for specialisation, e.g.: HR, operational risk management, or the more intriguing ethical organisational management or managing innovation!

                            If you start but don't finish you can still apply for one of the lower qualifications. Completion of any unit (apart from some of those more esoteric ones!) will achieve an Award; 13 credits (any two, almost) will gain you a Certificate. Quite a jump, then, up to the Diploma!

                            I didn't get any choice in my selection of modules, but even the horrendous (!) Marketing module (I'm sure several of my classmates felt the same about the Finance module!) gave me a valuable insight into the different areas a manager should be considering. A lot of the material came down to common sense (keeping stakeholders informed, following legal requirements, etc), but even at that the reminder that all these different strands formed part of any decision, any consideration - all valuable training!

                            I could go into great detail about the content of any/all of the individual units, but this review is already horrendously long and such information can be found online (see link below). I will comment, however, that expertise in the topic was not required beforehand (see me + marketing!) and nor were you left an expert in the topic at the end: the point was to introduce you to the management-level knowledge needed, so for instance the finance module made you aware of how the different accounting components fit together and how to 'read' them, rather than expecting you to end up as an accountant!

                            Each unit and question within came with very prescriptive assessment criteria, but specifics on how these were engaged can apparently depend on your training Centre/provider: exams, reports and role-play are all apparently acceptable! For me, I undertook four written assignments covering 2 modules each (3 for the last one). The questions had to be answered to hit the key points, linking theory to real-life practice from my own experience/job. I also had to provide sample documents, e.g. marketing plan. There were also very strict word counts, which turned into some of the biggest challenges!

                            I don't know if it was just my training Centre (unlikely), but there was no real concept of 'failure' - if you didn't pass on first attempt, then you were given feedback on where you'd missed the criteria and a second chance to submit. In my own case, I missed the point of one question, and was able to give a fuller answer to the examiner over the phone in order to pass!

                            All of which is very nice, but what value does it have in the Real World?

                            As mentioned, my own circumstance (and the rest of my 'classmates'!) is a little odd. I will be looking to use this qualification as 'proof' of my ability to take on a first management role. This clearly isn't how the diploma was intended as without management experience you really couldn't hope to pass the module on conducting a management project - Catch-22!

                            More generally:
                            On the negative side, I doubt many employers have heard of this so it's hardly a guarantee of a plush job. However, my own feelings were that any qualification was better than none in showing your aptitudes - and this *is* of provable quality - and further, it does expose you to a lot of very real and useful theory that can only make you a better manager!

                            There are two sides to it for me: most obviously is proving you're trying to educate yourself in preparation for more responsibility - a step up the management ladder. I suspect it's more valuable in my own case, where I don't have years of experience to put forward instead. However, it certainly can't hurt your chances of going for promotion, and might differentiate you from the competition for those rare vacancies!

                            Still, management is a discipline in and of itself, and I would argue that exposure to education in the topic can only be a good thing! I have had the misfortune to work for several managers throughout my career who seemed to prove the idiom, "promoted to your level of incompetence" - people who are promoted for career longevity, or being excellent technically at the role they are now expected to manage. A paper qualification doesn't necessarily mean performance improvement, but it'd be a start!

                            If you're looking for something to nudge your career up a notch, or just as valuably to put your current role on more solid foundations, I would thoroughly recommend the CMI Diploma. I've read lots of management tomes over the course of it all, but none really give you that feeling of proper understanding as being challenged to present your knowledge - with proper examples - to an external assessor!

                            On top of a new job and ongoing commitments to a post-graduate degree, this turned into a lot more work than I really expected! That said, getting notification that I'd successfully been awarded my Diploma last month was rather thrilling - I genuinely feel better prepared to take on management responsibility, confident that I have a much wider view of what such a role should encompass. Nothing will beat experience, but knowledge of the theory and 'best practice' certainly provides a much better foundation for being a GOOD manager: of people, of projects and workflow, and ultimately of myself, too!

                            ~USEFUL LINKS~

                            CMI website: www.managers.org.uk

                            In-depth guide including all modules and their descriptors, full assessment guidelines, etc (remove spaces):
                            www.managers.org.uk/ training-development-qualifications/ personal-development/ qualifications/ level-5-qualifications-mana-0


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                            • iLuv i301 / Headphones / 75 Readings / 71 Ratings
                              More +
                              18.03.2012 11:19
                              Very helpful



                              Excellent upgrade from the ones that came with your music player!

                              Keeping myself amused on a 9.5-hour flight to Vancouver required headphones, for both music and the in-flight movies. Knowing the set provided by the airline weren't going to be great, I decided I really needed a set of noise-reducing earphones, to block out as much of the engine drone as possible so my not-too-great hearing would actually be able to make sense of the movie dialogue!

                              Alas such things tend to be expensive so when I spotted this iLuv product (in an eye-catching funky indigo-like colour; available shades should suit any taste!) beside the checkout in Currys I figured that (a) at £7.99 there was no way they'd be any good, and (b) at that price I could afford to take the risk, and at least have a backup if my others didn't show up in time (which they didn't, so phew for impulse buys!). As a bonus, they fit more easily into my hand luggage than big 'cans'!

                              I was initially unsure about the foam-pad-like bits on the ear bud but from the first use I realised how much more comfortable they made these headphones compared to the (awful!) hard plastic iPod-standard ones. A couple of spare foam bits are included in the packaging, which is good 'cos they aren't the most securely fixed of items (although mine are still attached just fine!).

                              These aren't sold explicitly as noise-cancelling, but those foam bits do rather a good job for the price - given that a 'proper' set can cost £30-odd quid for a cheap (!) pair I'm actually rather impressed with my bargain option! To experiment, I tried the provided over-headset on the plane, and couldn't hear a word of the movie; with these it wasn't crystal clear (still fighting a bit with the engine noise) but I could easily follow the dialogue.

                              I've noticed the noise-blocking more in the office (open-plan, so yes we do all sit listening to music during work!). I've taken to wearing the iLuvs only lightly 'in' my ear, which lets me hear both the music and the important stuff going on around me (like, "cuppa?"!). Then, when it gets too noisy or I really need to concentrate more, I push the buds in slightly further (as I imagine they're supposed to be worn) and lo - I can barely hear the raucous phone call from the next desk at all! I have no feedback that I'm leaking noise outwards, but I tend not to listen to anything very loudly anyway.

                              In terms of general sound quality, I must confess that my standards are pretty low - I've been wearing those ones that came with my iPod and managing fine! However these do provide a slightly better quality, at least at my preferred low-medium volumes and for the treble. Serious base fans might want to look for something more sophisticated.

                              A slightly oddly positioned (halfway down the rather long wire) inline volume control takes the form of a small plastic wheel, so your device can stay in your pocket if you wish. It's got a decent sensitivity, never blasting my eardrums unintentionally - although I do occasionally forget to turn it up at all and spend time checking the adaptor is clicked in properly! That 3.5mm socket is compatible with your normal mobile music devices (and British Airways 747s!).

                              So overall, I'm rather delighted with my little just-in-case impulse buy! If you're looking for an inexpensive and comfortable upgrade from those 'freebie' ones, these are very well recommended!


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                              • Kindle 3 / Tablet PC / eBook Reader / 73 Readings / 63 Ratings
                                More +
                                15.03.2012 20:34
                                Very helpful


                                • Reliability


                                you won't lose out on much by skipping the keyboard!

                                I've long been against the idea of giving up my beloved 'real' books in favour of an e-book reader, but there's something about the prospect of 9½ hours on a plane that make the library-in-your-pocket idea near irresistible! There are other e-readers, but with its easy on the eye e-ink screen (no glare, no backlighting, so not like reading a computer screen!) that choice was simple. No, the real question became which version to go for: third or fourth generation, keyboard or not?

                                The newer Kindle 4 is slightly smaller and lighter (170g against 247g: neither exactly heavy!) and cheaper: £89 compared to £149. However, it also has only half the battery life and memory (2Gb rather than 4G), and neither 3G internet connectivity nor physical keyboard. The choice is yours!

                                While not exactly essential I've appreciated the handiness of the keyboard (the non-3G keyboard version is no longer available, alas). Wi-fi passwords were easier with the qwerty-keyboard (my fingers are small enough for the wee buttons!), only becoming irritating when forced to the on-screen (the only interface on the K4) symbol selector. It's made the pre-loaded dictionary much easier to use, too, and I have scribbled a few reminder notes.

                                The older version has a few other features not carried through like storing/playing mp3s and a dubious text-to-speech. More important is the reading experience: while there are few differences (eg slightly quicker page refreshes) nothing's changed too drastically.

                                Against my own prejudices, my Kindle is growing on me: it's so much easier to hold than a thick book, and I get just as caught up in what I'm reading - I notice pressing the button just as little as turning a physical page. The ability to change font sizes is hugely valuable. And for just reading (rather than battery-hungry online use) one full charge (via USB cable, or optional wall socket adaptor) will outlast a holiday - the best feature for the extra dosh, I think!

                                However, all is not joy. Maybe I'll change my views (and save shelf space!) but right now I still find it entirely objectionable to have to pay the same or even more for a 'virtual' book over the physical copy. I can't (won't!) take my kindle into the bath, somewhere I love to read. I don't like the fiddly sliding on/off button much; I can't flick: more than one page turn at a time is s-l-o-w. And I'm disappointed - although not surprised! - that the free 3G is really just for the Amazon store and archive. With wi-fi the on-the-go access to email and internet is handy, but this is not a smartphone replacement!

                                Still, it has been useful: I've loaded up all my work/study PDFs, although this isn't a well-displayed format unless you have one page per screen and good eyesight! I'd recommend the freeware program 'Calibre' (for your computer) for converting formats, to then transfer to your device either via email (and wi-fi) or USB connection.

                                There are also myriad free books available online, causing my reading material to diversify somewhat: from random non-fiction texts of varying quality to revisiting or discovering classics (check out Project Gutenberg, online). That 4Gb will hold *thousands* of books, and that's before the free cloud backup for my 'archived' texts (ie any I've downloaded from Amazon) - which I can get at anytime, anywhere thanks to the not-entirely-useless 3G!

                                So while I still love real books more, more ways to read is a good thing too!


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